SHEWING WHAT HAPPENED
DURING MISS STANBURY'S ILLNESS.
It was on Christmas-day that Sir Peter Mancrudy, the highest authority on such matters in the west of England, was sent for to see Miss Stanbury; and Sir Peter had acknowledged that things were very serious. He took Dorothy on one side, and told her that Mr. Martin, the ordinary practitioner, had treated the case, no doubt, quite wisely throughout; that there was not a word to be said against Mr. Martin, whose experience was great, and whose discretion was undeniable; but, nevertheless,—at least it seemed to Dorothy that this was the only meaning to be attributed to Sir Peter's words,—Mr. Martin had in this case taken one line of treatment, when he ought to have taken another. The plan of action was undoubtedly changed, and Mr. Martin became very fidgety, and ordered nothing without Sir Peter's sanction. Miss Stanbury was suffering from bronchitis, and a complication of diseases about her throat and chest. Barty Burgess declared to more than one acquaintance in the little parlour behind the bank, that she would go on drinking four or five glasses of new port wine every day, in direct opposition to Martin's request. Camilla French heard the report, and repeated it to her lover, and perhaps another person or two, with an expression of her assured conviction that it must be false,—at any rate, as regarded the fifth glass. Mrs. MacHugh, who saw Martha daily, was much frightened. The peril of such a friend disturbed equally the repose and the pleasures of her life. Mrs. Clifford was often at Miss Stanbury's bed-side,—and would have sat there reading for hours together, had she not been made to understand by Martha that Miss Stanbury preferred that Miss Dorothy should read to her. The sick woman received the Sacrament weekly,—not from Mr. Gibson, but from the hands of another minor canon; and, though she never would admit her own danger, or allow others to talk to her of it, it was known to them all that she admitted it to herself because she had, with much personal annoyance, caused a codicil to be added to her will. "As you didn't marry that man," she said to Dorothy, "I must change it again." It was in vain that Dorothy begged her not to trouble herself with such thoughts. "That's trash," said Miss Stanbury, angrily. "A person who has it is bound to trouble himself about it. You don't suppose I'm afraid of dying;—do you?" she added. Dorothy answered her with some commonplace,—declaring how strongly they all expected to see her as well as ever. "I'm not a bit afraid to die," said the old woman, wheezing, struggling with such voice as she possessed; "I'm not afraid of it, and I don't think I shall die this time; but I'm not going to have mistakes when I'm gone." This was on the eve of the new year, and on the same night she asked Dorothy to write to Brooke Burgess, and request him to come to Exeter. This was Dorothy's letter:—
Exeter, 31st December, 186—.
My Dear Mr. Burgess,
Perhaps I ought to have written before, to say that Aunt Stanbury is not as well as we could wish her; but, as I know that you cannot very well leave your office, I have thought it best not to say anything to frighten you. But to-night Aunt herself has desired me to tell you that she thinks you ought to know that she is ill, and that she wishes you to come to Exeter for a day or two, if it is possible. Sir Peter Mancrudy has been here every day since Christmas-day, and I believe he thinks she may get over it. It is chiefly in the throat;—what they call bronchitis,—and she has got to be very weak with it, and at the same time very liable to inflammation. So I know that you will come if you can.
Yours very truly,
Perhaps I ought to tell you that she had her lawyer here with her the day before yesterday; but she does not seem to think that she herself is in danger. I read to her a good deal, and I think she is generally asleep; when I stop she wakes, and I don't believe she gets any other rest at all.
When it was known in Exeter that Brooke Burgess had been sent for, then the opinion became general that Miss Stanbury's days were numbered. Questions were asked of Sir Peter at every corner of the street; but Sir Peter was a discreet man, who could answer such questions without giving any information. If it so pleased God, his patient would die; but it was quite possible that she might live. That was the tenor of Sir Peter's replies,—and they were read in any light, according to the idiosyncracies of the reader. Mrs. MacHugh was quite sure that the danger was over, and had a little game of cribbage on the sly with old Miss Wright;—for, during the severity of Miss Stanbury's illness, whist was put on one side in the vicinity of the Close. Barty Burgess was still obdurate, and shook his head. He was of opinion that they might soon gratify their curiosity, and see the last crowning iniquity of this wickedest of old women. Mrs. Clifford declared that it was all in the hands of God; but that she saw no reason why Miss Stanbury should not get about again. Mr. Gibson thought that it was all up with his late friend; and Camilla wished that at their last interview there had been more of charity on the part of one whom she had regarded in past days with respect and esteem. Mrs. French, despondent about everything, was quite despondent in this case. Martha almost despaired, and already was burdened with the cares of a whole wardrobe of solemn funereal clothing. She was seen peering in for half-an-hour at the windows and doorway of a large warehouse for the sale of mourning. Giles Hickbody would not speak above his breath, and took his beer standing; but Dorothy was hopeful, and really believed that her aunt would recover. Perhaps Sir Peter had spoken to her in terms less oracular than those which he used towards the public.
Brooke Burgess came, and had an interview with Sir Peter, and to him Sir Peter was under some obligation to speak plainly, as being the person whom Miss Stanbury recognised as her heir. So Sir Peter declared that his patient might perhaps live, and perhaps might die. "The truth is, Mr. Burgess," said Sir Peter, "a doctor doesn't know so very much more about these things than other people." It was understood that Brooke was to remain three days in Exeter, and then return to London. He would, of course, come again if—if anything should happen. Sir Peter had been quite clear in his opinion, that no immediate result was to be anticipated,—either in the one direction or the other. His patient was doomed to a long illness; she might get over it, or she might succumb to it.
Dorothy and Brooke were thus thrown much together during these three days. Dorothy, indeed, spent most of her hours beside her aunt's bed, instigating sleep by the reading of a certain series of sermons in which Miss Stanbury had great faith; but nevertheless, there were some minutes in which she and Brooke were necessarily together. They eat their meals in each other's company, and there was a period in the evening, before Dorothy began her night-watch in her aunt's room, at which she took her tea while Martha was nurse in the room above. At this time of the day she would remain an hour or more with Brooke; and a great deal may be said between a man and a woman in an hour when the will to say it is there. Brooke Burgess had by no means changed his mind since he had declared it to Hugh Stanbury under the midnight lamps of Long Acre, when warmed by the influence of oysters and whisky toddy. The whisky toddy had in that instance brought out truth and not falsehood,—as is ever the nature of whisky toddy and similar dangerous provocatives. There is no saying truer than that which declares that there is truth in wine. Wine is a dangerous thing, and should not be made the exponent of truth, let the truth be good as it may; but it has the merit of forcing a man to show his true colours. A man who is a gentleman in his cups may be trusted to be a gentleman at all times. I trust that the severe censor will not turn upon me, and tell me that no gentleman in these days is ever to be seen in his cups. There are cups of different degrees of depth; and cups do exist, even among gentlemen, and seem disposed to hold their own let the censor be ever so severe. The gentleman in his cups is a gentleman always; and the man who tells his friend in his cups that he is in love, does so because the fact has been very present to himself in his cooler and calmer moments. Brooke Burgess, who had seen Hugh Stanbury on two or three occasions since that of the oysters and toddy, had not spoken again of his regard for Hugh's sister; but not the less was he determined to carry out his plan and make Dorothy his wife if she would accept him. But could he ask her while the old lady was, as it might be, dying in the house? He put this question to himself as he travelled down to Exeter, and had told himself that he must be guided for an answer by circumstances as they might occur. Hugh had met him at the station as he started for Exeter, and there had been a consultation between them as to the propriety of bringing about, or of attempting to bring about, an interview between Hugh and his aunt. "Do whatever you like," Hugh had said. "I would go down to her at a moment's warning, if she should express a desire to see me."
On the first night of Brooke's arrival this question had been discussed between him and Dorothy. Dorothy had declared herself unable to give advice. If any message were given to her she would deliver it to her aunt, but she thought that anything said to her aunt on the subject had better come from Brooke himself. "You evidently are the person most important to her," Dorothy said, "and she would listen to you when she would not let any one else say a word." Brooke promised that he would think of it; and then Dorothy tripped up to relieve Martha, dreaming nothing at all of that other doubt to which the important personage downstairs was now subject. Dorothy was, in truth, very fond of the new friend she had made; but it had never occurred to her that he might be a possible suitor to her. Her old conception of herself,—that she was beneath the notice of any man,—had only been partly disturbed by the absolute fact of Mr. Gibson's courtship. She had now heard of his engagement with Camilla French, and saw in that complete proof that the foolish man had been induced to offer his hand to her by the promise of her aunt's money. If there had been a moment of exaltation,—a period in which she had allowed herself to think that she was, as other women, capable of making herself dear to a man,—it had been but a moment. And now she rejoiced greatly that she had not acceded to the wishes of one to whom it was so manifest that she had not made herself in the least dear.
On the second day of his visit, Brooke was summoned to Miss Stanbury's room at noon. She was forbidden to talk, and during a great portion of the day could hardly speak without an effort; but there would be half hours now and again in which she would become stronger than usual, at which time nothing that Martha and Dorothy could say would induce her to hold her tongue. When Brooke came to her on this occasion he found her sitting up in bed with a great shawl round her; and he at once perceived she was much more like her own self than on the former day. She told him that she had been an old fool for sending for him, that she had nothing special to say to him, that she had made no alteration in her will in regard to him,—"except that I have done something for Dolly that will have to come out of your pocket, Brooke." Brooke declared that too much could not be done for a person so good, and dear, and excellent as Dorothy Stanbury, let it come out of whose pocket it might. "She is nothing to you, you know," said Miss Stanbury.
"She is a great deal to me," said Brooke.
"What is she?" asked Miss Stanbury.
"Oh;—a friend; a great friend."
"Well; yes. I hope it may be so. But she won't have anything that I haven't saved," said Miss Stanbury. "There are two houses at St. Thomas's; but I bought them myself, Brooke;—out of the income." Brooke could only declare that as the whole property was hers, to do what she liked with it as completely as though she had inherited it from her own father, no one could have any right to ask questions as to when or how this or that portion of the property had accrued. "But I don't think I'm going to die yet, Brooke," she said. "If it is God's will, I am ready. Not that I'm fit, Brooke. God forbid that I should ever think that. But I doubt whether I shall ever be fitter. I can go without repining if He thinks best to take me." Then he stood up by her bedside, with his hand upon hers, and after some hesitation asked her whether she would wish to see her nephew Hugh. "No," said she, sharply. Brooke went on to say how pleased Hugh would have been to come to her. "I don't think much of death-bed reconciliations," said the old woman, grimly. "I loved him dearly, but he didn't love me, and I don't know what good we should do each other." Brooke declared that Hugh did love her; but he could not press the matter, and it was dropped.
On that evening at eight Dorothy came down to her tea. She had dined at the same table with Brooke that afternoon, but a servant had been in the room all the time and nothing had been said between them. As soon as Brooke had got his tea he began to tell the story of his failure about Hugh. He was sorry, he said, that he had spoken on the subject, as it had moved Miss Stanbury to an acrimony which he had not expected.
"She always declares that he never loved her," said Dorothy. "She has told me so twenty times."
"There are people who fancy that nobody cares for them," said Brooke.
"Indeed there are, Mr. Burgess; and it is so natural."
"Just as it is natural that there should be dogs and cats that are petted and loved and made much of, and others that have to crawl through life as they can, cuffed and kicked and starved."
"That depends on the accident of possession," said Brooke.
"So does the other. How many people there are that don't seem to belong to anybody,—and if they do, they're no good to anybody. They're not cuffed exactly, or starved; but—"
"You mean that they don't get their share of affection?"
"They get perhaps as much as they deserve," said Dorothy.
"Because they're cross-grained, or ill-tempered, or disagreeable?"
"Not exactly that."
"What then?" asked Brooke.
"Because they're just nobodies. They are not anything particular to anybody, and so they go on living till they die. You know what I mean, Mr. Burgess. A man who is a nobody can perhaps make himself somebody,—or, at any rate, he can try; but a woman has no means of trying. She is a nobody, and a nobody she must remain. She has her clothes and her food, but she isn't wanted anywhere. People put up with her, and that is about the best of her luck. If she were to die somebody perhaps would be sorry for her, but nobody would be worse off. She doesn't earn anything or do any good. She is just there and that's all."
Brooke had never heard her speak after this fashion before, had never known her to utter so many consecutive words, or to put forward any opinion of her own with so much vigour. And Dorothy herself, when she had concluded her speech, was frightened by her own energy and grew red in the face, and showed very plainly that she was half ashamed of herself. Brooke thought that he had never seen her look so pretty before, and was pleased by her enthusiasm. He understood perfectly that she was thinking of her own position, though she had entertained no idea that he would so read her meaning; and he felt that it was incumbent on him to undeceive her, and make her know that she was not one of those women who are "just there and that's all." "One does see such a woman as that now and again," he said.
"There are hundreds of them," said Dorothy. "And of course it can't be helped."
"Such as Arabella French," said he, laughing.
"Well,—yes; if she is one. It is very easy to see the difference. Some people are of use and are always doing things. There are others, generally women, who have nothing to do, but who can't be got rid of. It is a melancholy sort of feeling."
"You at least are not one of them."
"I didn't mean to complain about myself," she said. "I have got a great deal to make me happy."
"I don't suppose you regard yourself as an Arabella French," said he.
"How angry Miss French would be if she heard you. She considers herself to be one of the reigning beauties of Exeter."
"She has had a very long reign, and dominion of that sort to be successful ought to be short."
"That is spiteful, Mr. Burgess."
"I don't feel spiteful against her, poor woman. I own I do not love Camilla. Not that I begrudge Camilla her present prosperity."
"Nor I either, Mr. Burgess."
"She and Mr. Gibson will do very well together, I dare say."
"I hope they will," said Dorothy, "and I do not see any reason against it. They have known each other a long time."
"A very long time," said Brooke. Then he paused for a minute, thinking how he might best tell her that which he had now resolved should be told on this occasion. Dorothy finished her tea and got up as though she were about to go to her duty up-stairs. She had been as yet hardly an hour in the room, and the period of her relief was not fairly over. But there had come something of a personal flavour in their conversation which prompted her, unconsciously, to leave him. She had, without any special indication of herself, included herself among that company of old maids who are born and live and die without that vital interest in the affairs of life which nothing but family duties, the care of children, or at least of a husband, will give to a woman. If she had not meant this she had felt it. He had understood her meaning, or at least her feeling, and had taken upon himself to assure her that she was not one of the company whose privations she had endeavoured to describe. Her instinct rather than her reason put her at once upon her guard, and she prepared to leave the room. "You are not going yet," he said.
"I think I might as well. Martha has so much to do, and she comes to me again at five in the morning."
"Don't go quite yet," he said, pulling out his watch. "I know all about the hours, and it wants twenty minutes to the proper time."
"There is no proper time, Mr. Burgess."
"Then you can remain a few minutes longer. The fact is, I've got something I want to say to you."
He was now standing between her and the door, so that she could not get away from him; but at this moment she was absolutely ignorant of his purpose, expecting nothing of love from him more than she would from Sir Peter Mancrudy. Her face had become flushed when she made her long speech, but there was no blush on it as she answered him now. "Of course, I can wait," she said, "if you have anything to say to me."
"Well;—I have. I should have said it before, only that that other man was here." He was blushing now,—up to the roots of his hair, and felt that he was in a difficulty. There are men, to whom such moments of their lives are pleasurable, but Brooke Burgess was not one of them. He would have been glad to have had it done and over,—so that then he might take pleasure in it.
"What man?" asked Dorothy, in perfect innocence.
"Mr. Gibson, to be sure. I don't know that there is anybody else."
"Oh, Mr. Gibson. He never comes here now, and I don't suppose he will again. Aunt Stanbury is so very angry with him."
"I don't care whether he comes or not. What I mean is this. When I was here before, I was told that you were going—to marry him."
"But I wasn't."
"How was I to know that, when you didn't tell me? I certainly did know it after I came back from Dartmoor." He paused a moment, as though she might have a word to say. She had no word to say, and did not in the least know what was coming. She was so far from anticipating the truth, that she was composed and easy in her mind. "But all that is of no use at all," he continued. "When I was here before Miss Stanbury wanted you to marry Mr. Gibson; and, of course, I had nothing to say about it. Now I want you—to marry me."
"Dorothy, my darling, I love you better than all the world. I do, indeed." As soon as he had commenced his protestations he became profuse enough with them, and made a strong attempt to support them by the action of his hands. But she retreated from him step by step, till she had regained her chair by the tea-table, and there she seated herself,—safely, as she thought; but he was close to her, over her shoulder, still continuing his protestations, offering up his vows, and imploring her to reply to him. She, as yet, had not answered him by a word, save by that one half-terrified exclamation of his name. "Tell me, at any rate, that you believe me, when I assure you that I love you," he said. The room was going round with Dorothy, and the world was going round, and there had come upon her so strong a feeling of the disruption of things in general, that she was at the moment anything but happy. Had it been possible for her to find that the last ten minutes had been a dream, she would at this moment have wished that it might become one. A trouble had come upon her, out of which she did not see her way. To dive among the waters in warm weather is very pleasant; there is nothing pleasanter. But when the young swimmer first feels the thorough immersion of his plunge, there comes upon him a strong desire to be quickly out again. He will remember afterwards how joyous it was; but now, at this moment, the dry land is everything to him. So it was with Dorothy. She had thought of Brooke Burgess as one of those bright ones of the world, with whom everything is happy and pleasant, whom everybody loves, who may have whatever they please, whose lines have been laid in pleasant places. She thought of him as a man who might some day make some woman very happy as his wife. To be the wife of such a man was, in Dorothy's estimation, one of those blessed chances which come to some women, but which she never regarded as being within her own reach. Though she had thought much about him, she had never thought of him as a possible possession for herself; and now that he was offering himself to her, she was not at once made happy by his love. Her ideas of herself and of her life were all dislocated for the moment, and she required to be alone, that she might set herself in order, and try herself all over, and find whether her bones were broken. "Say that you believe me," he repeated.
"I don't know what to say," she whispered.
"I'll tell you what to say. Say at once that you will be my wife."
"I can't say that, Mr. Burgess."
"Why not? Do you mean that you cannot love me?"
"I think, if you please, I'll go up to Aunt Stanbury. It is time for me; indeed it is; and she will be wondering, and Martha will be put out. Indeed I must go up."
"And will you not answer me?"
"I don't know what to say. You must give me a little time to consider. I don't quite think you're serious."
"Heaven and earth!" began Brooke.
"And I'm sure it would never do. At any rate, I must go now. I must, indeed."
And so she escaped, and went up to her aunt's room, which she reached at ten minutes after her usual time, and before Martha had begun to be put out. She was very civil to Martha, as though Martha had been injured; and she put her hand on her aunt's arm, with a soft, caressing, apologetic touch, feeling conscious that she had given cause for offence. "What has he been saying to you?" said her aunt, as soon as Martha had closed the door. This was a question which Dorothy, certainly, could not answer. Miss Stanbury meant nothing by it,—nothing beyond a sick woman's desire that something of the conversation of those who were not sick should be retailed to her; but to Dorothy the question meant so much! How should her aunt have known that he had said anything? She sat herself down and waited, giving no answer to the question. "I hope he gets his meals comfortably," said Miss Stanbury.
"I am sure he does," said Dorothy, infinitely relieved. Then, knowing how important it was that her aunt should sleep, she took up the volume of Jeremy Taylor, and, with so great a burden on her mind, she went on painfully and distinctly with the second sermon on the Marriage Ring. She strove valiantly to keep her mind to the godliness of the discourse, so that it might be of some possible service to herself; and to keep her voice to the tone that might be of service to her aunt. Presently she heard the grateful sound which indicated her aunt's repose, but she knew of experience that were she to stop, the sound and the sleep would come to an end also. For a whole hour she persevered, reading the sermon of the Marriage Ring with such attention to the godly principles of the teaching as she could give,—with that terrible burden upon her mind.
"Thank you;—thank you; that will do, my dear. Shut it up," said the sick woman. "It's time now for the draught." Then Dorothy moved quietly about the room, and did her nurse's work with soft hand, and soft touch, and soft tread. After that her aunt kissed her, and bade her sit down and sleep.
"I'll go on reading, aunt, if you'll let me," said Dorothy. But Miss Stanbury, who was not a cruel woman, would have no more of the reading, and Dorothy's mind was left at liberty to think of the proposition that had been made to her. To one resolution she came very quickly. The period of her aunt's illness could not be a proper time for marriage vows, or the amenities of love-making. She did not feel that he, being a man, had offended; but she was quite sure that were she, a woman, the niece of so kind an aunt, the nurse at the bed-side of such an invalid,—were she at such a time to consent to talk of love, she would never deserve to have a lover. And from this resolve she got great comfort. It would give her an excuse for making no more assured answer at present, and would enable her to reflect at leisure as to the reply she would give him, should he ever, by any chance, renew his offer. If he did not,—and probably he would not,—then it would have been very well that he should not have been made the victim of a momentary generosity. She had complained of the dulness of her life, and that complaint from her had produced his noble, kind, generous, dear, enthusiastic benevolence towards her. As she thought of it all,—and by degrees she took great pleasure in thinking of it,—her mind bestowed upon him all manner of eulogies. She could not persuade herself that he really loved her, and yet she was full at heart of gratitude to him for the expression of his love. And as for herself, could she love him? We who are looking on of course know that she loved him;—that from this moment there was nothing belonging to him, down to his shoe-tie, that would not be dear to her heart and an emblem so tender as to force a tear from her. He had already become her god, though she did not know it. She made comparisons between him and Mr. Gibson, and tried to convince herself that the judgment, which was always pronounced very clearly in Brooke's favour, came from anything but her heart. And thus through the long watches of the night she became very happy, feeling but not knowing that the whole aspect of the world was changed to her by those few words which her lover had spoken to her. She thought now that it would be consolation enough to her in future to know that such a man as Brooke Burgess had once asked her to be the partner of his life, and that it would be almost ungenerous in her to push her advantage further and attempt to take him at his word. Besides, there would be obstacles. Her aunt would dislike such a marriage for him, and he would be bound to obey her aunt in such a matter. She would not allow herself to think that she could ever become Brooke's wife, but nothing could rob her of the treasure of the offer which he had made her. Then Martha came to her at five o'clock, and she went to her bed to dream for an hour or two of Brooke Burgess and her future life.
On the next morning she met him at breakfast. She went down stairs later than usual, not till ten, having hung about her aunt's room, thinking that thus she would escape him for the present. She would wait till he was gone out, and then she would go down. She did wait; but she could not hear the front door, and then her aunt murmured something about Brooke's breakfast. She was told to go down, and she went. But when on the stairs she slunk back to her own room, and stood there for awhile, aimless, motionless, not knowing what to do. Then one of the girls came to her, and told her that Mr. Burgess was waiting breakfast for her. She knew not what excuse to make, and at last descended slowly to the parlour. She was very happy, but had it been possible for her to have run away she would have gone.
"Dear Dorothy," he said at once. "I may call you so,—may I not?"
"And you will love me;—and be my own, own wife?"
"No, Mr. Burgess."
"I mean;—that is to say—"
"Do you love me, Dorothy?"
"Only think how ill Aunt Stanbury is, Mr. Burgess;—perhaps dying! How can I have any thought now except about her? It wouldn't be right;—would it?"
"You may say that you love me."
"Mr. Burgess, pray, pray don't speak of it now. If you do I must go away."
"But do you love me?"
"Pray, pray don't, Mr. Burgess!"
There was nothing more to be got from her during the whole day than that. He told her in the evening that as soon as Miss Stanbury was well, he would come again;—that in any case he would come again. She sat quite still as he said this, with a solemn face,—but smiling at heart, laughing at heart, so happy! When she got up to leave him, and was forced to give him her hand, he seized her in his arms and kissed her. "That is very, very wrong," she said, sobbing, and then ran to her room,—the happiest girl in all Exeter. He was to start early on the following morning, and she knew that she would not be forced to see him again. Thinking of him was so much pleasanter than seeing him!
MR. OUTHOUSE COMPLAINS THAT IT'S HARD.
Life had gone on during the winter at St. Diddulph's Parsonage in a dull, weary, painful manner. There had come a letter in November from Trevelyan to his wife, saying that as he could trust neither her nor her uncle with the custody of his child, he should send a person armed with due legal authority, addressed to Mr. Outhouse, for the recovery of the boy, and desiring that little Louis might be at once surrendered to the messenger. Then of course there had arisen great trouble in the house. Both Mrs. Trevelyan and Nora Rowley had learned by this time that, as regarded the master of the house, they were not welcome guests at St. Diddulph's. When the threat was shewn to Mr. Outhouse, he did not say a word to indicate that the child should be given up. He muttered something, indeed, about impotent nonsense, which seemed to imply that the threat could be of no avail; but there was none of that reassurance to be obtained from him which a positive promise on his part to hold the bairn against all comers would have given. Mrs. Outhouse told her niece more than once that the child would be given to no messenger whatever; but even she did not give the assurance with that energy which the mother would have liked. "They shall drag him away from me by force if they do take him!" said the mother, gnashing her teeth. Oh, if her father would but come! For some weeks she did not let the boy out of her sight; but when no messenger had presented himself by Christmas time, they all began to believe that the threat had in truth meant nothing,—that it had been part of the ravings of a madman.
But the threat had meant something. Early on one morning in January Mr. Outhouse was told that a person in the hall wanted to see him, and Mrs. Trevelyan, who was sitting at breakfast, the child being at the moment up-stairs, started from her seat. The maid described the man as being "All as one as a gentleman," though she would not go so far as to say that he was a gentleman in fact. Mr. Outhouse slowly rose from his breakfast, went out to the man in the passage, and bade him follow into the little closet that was now used as a study. It is needless perhaps to say that the man was Bozzle.
"I dare say, Mr. Houthouse, you don't know me," said Bozzle. Mr. Outhouse, disdaining all complimentary language, said that he certainly did not. "My name, Mr. Houthouse, is Samuel Bozzle, and I live at No. 55, Stony Walk, Union Street, Borough. I was in the Force once, but I work on my own 'ook now."
"What do you want with me, Mr. Bozzle?"
"It isn't so much with you, sir, as it is with a lady as is under your protection; and it isn't so much with the lady as it is with her infant."
"Then you may go away, Mr. Bozzle," said Mr. Outhouse, impatiently. "You may as well go away at once."
"Will you please read them few lines, sir," said Mr. Bozzle. "They is in Mr. Trewilyan's handwriting, which will no doubt be familiar characters,—leastways to Mrs. T., if you don't know the gent's fist." Mr. Outhouse, after looking at the paper for a minute, and considering deeply what in this emergency he had better do, did take the paper and read it. The words ran as follows: "I hereby give full authority to Mr. Samuel Bozzle, of 55, Stony Walk, Union Street, Borough, to claim and to enforce possession of the body of my child, Louis Trevelyan; and I require that any person whatsoever who may now have the custody of the said child, whether it be my wife or any of her friends, shall at once deliver him up to Mr. Bozzle, on the production of this authority.—Louis Trevelyan." It may be explained that before this document had been written there had been much correspondence on the subject between Bozzle and his employer. To give the ex-policeman his due, he had not at first wished to meddle in the matter of the child. He had a wife at home who expressed an opinion with much vigour that the boy should be left with its mother, and that he, Bozzle, should he succeed in getting hold of the child, would not know what to do with it. Bozzle was aware, moreover, that it was his business to find out facts, and not to perform actions. But his employer had become very urgent with him. Mr. Bideawhile had positively refused to move in the matter; and Trevelyan, mad as he was, had felt a disinclination to throw his affairs into the hands of a certain Mr. Skint, of Stamford Street, whom Bozzle had recommended to him as a lawyer. Trevelyan had hinted, moreover, that if Bozzle would make the application in person, that application, if not obeyed, would act with usefulness as a preliminary step for further personal measures to be taken by himself. He intended to return to England for the purpose, but he desired that the order for the child's rendition should be made at once. Therefore Bozzle had come. He was an earnest man, and had now worked himself up to a certain degree of energy in the matter. He was a man loving power, and specially anxious to enforce obedience from those with whom he came in contact by the production of the law's mysterious authority. In his heart he was ever tapping people on the shoulder, and telling them that they were wanted. Thus, when he displayed his document to Mr. Outhouse, he had taught himself at least to desire that that document should be obeyed.
Mr. Outhouse read the paper and turned up his nose at it. "You had better go away," said he, as he thrust it back into Bozzle's hand.
"Of course I shall go away when I have the child."
"Psha!" said Mr. Outhouse.
"What does that mean, Mr. Houthouse? I presume you'll not dispute the paternal parent's legal authority?"
"Go away, sir," said Mr. Outhouse.
"Yes;—out of this house. It's my belief that you are a knave."
"A knave, Mr. Houthouse?"
"Yes;—a knave. No one who was not a knave would lend a hand towards separating a little child from its mother. I think you are a knave, but I don't think you are fool enough to suppose that the child will be given up to you."
"It's my belief that knave is hactionable," said Bozzle,—whose respect, however, for the clergyman was rising fast. "Would you mind ringing the bell, Mr. Houthouse, and calling me a knave again before the young woman?"
"Go away," said Mr. Outhouse.
"If you have no objection, sir, I should be glad to see the lady before I goes."
"You won't see any lady here; and if you don't get out of my house when I tell you, I'll send for a real policeman." Then was Bozzle conquered; and, as he went, he admitted to himself that he had sinned against all the rules of his life in attempting to go beyond the legitimate line of his profession. As long as he confined himself to the getting up of facts nobody could threaten him with a "real policeman." But one fact he had learned to-day. The clergyman of St. Diddulph's, who had been represented to him as a weak, foolish man, was anything but that. Bozzle was much impressed in favour of Mr. Outhouse, and would have been glad to have done that gentleman a kindness had an opportunity come in his way.
"What does he want, Uncle Oliphant?" said Mrs. Trevelyan at the foot of the stairs, guarding the way up to the nursery. At this moment the front door had just been closed behind the back of Mr. Bozzle.
"You had better ask no questions," said Mr. Outhouse.
"But is it about Louis?"
"Yes, he came about him."
"Well? Of course you must tell me, Uncle Oliphant. Think of my condition."
"He had some stupid paper in his hand from your husband, but it meant nothing."
"He was the messenger, then?"
"Yes, he was the messenger. But I don't suppose he expected to get anything. Never mind. Go up and look after the child." Then Mrs. Trevelyan returned to her boy, and Mr. Outhouse went back to his papers.
It was very hard upon him, Mr. Outhouse thought,—very hard. He was threatened with an action now, and most probably would become subject to one. Though he had been spirited enough in presence of the enemy, he was very much out of spirits at this moment. Though he had admitted to himself that his duty required him to protect his wife's niece, he had never taken the poor woman to his heart with a loving, generous feeling of true guardianship. Though he would not give up the child to Bozzle, he thoroughly wished that the child was out of his house. Though he called Bozzle a knave and Trevelyan a madman, still he considered that Colonel Osborne was the chief sinner, and that Emily Trevelyan had behaved badly. He constantly repeated to himself the old adage, that there was no smoke without fire; and lamented the misfortune that had brought him into close relation with things and people that were so little to his taste. He sat for awhile, with a pen in his hand, at the miserable little substitute for a library table which had been provided for him, and strove to collect his thoughts and go on with his work. But the effort was in vain. Bozzle would be there, presenting his document, and begging that the maid might be rung for, in order that she might hear him called a knave. And then he knew that on this very day his niece intended to hand him money, which he could not refuse. Of what use would it be to refuse it now, after it had been once taken? As he could not write a word, he rose and went away to his wife.
"If this goes on much longer," said he, "I shall be in Bedlam."
"My dear, don't speak of it in that way!"
"That's all very well. I suppose I ought to say that I like it. There has been a policeman here who is going to bring an action against me."
"Some one that her husband has sent for the child."
"The boy must not be given up, Oliphant."
"It's all very well to say that, but I suppose we must obey the law. The parsonage of St. Diddulph's isn't a castle in the Apennines. When it comes to this, that a policeman is sent here to fetch any man's child, and threatens me with an action because I tell him to leave my house, it is very hard upon me, seeing how very little I've had to do with it. It's all over the parish now that my niece is kept here away from her husband, and that a lover comes to see her. This about the policeman will be known now, of course. I only say it is hard; that's all." The wife did all that she could to comfort him, reminding him that Sir Marmaduke would be home soon, and that then the burden would be taken from his shoulders. But she was forced to admit that it was very hard.
HUGH STANBURY IS SHEWN TO BE NO CONJUROR.
Many weeks had now passed since Hugh Stanbury had paid his visit to St. Diddulph's, and Nora Rowley was beginning to believe that her rejection of her lover had been so firm and decided that she would never see him or hear from him more; and she had long since confessed to herself that if she did not see him or hear from him soon, life would not be worth a straw to her. To all of us a single treasure counts for much more when the outward circumstances of our life are dull, unvaried, and melancholy, than it does when our days are full of pleasure, or excitement, or even of business. With Nora Rowley at St. Diddulph's life at present was very melancholy. There was little or no society to enliven her. Her sister was sick at heart, and becoming ill in health under the burden of her troubles. Mr. Outhouse was moody and wretched; and Mrs. Outhouse, though she did her best to make her house comfortable to her unwelcome inmates, could not make it appear that their presence there was a pleasure to her. Nora understood better than did her sister how distasteful the present arrangement was to their uncle, and was consequently very uncomfortable on that score. And in the midst of that unhappiness, she of course told herself that she was a young woman miserable and unfortunate altogether. It is always so with us. The heart when it is burdened, though it may have ample strength to bear the burden, loses its buoyancy and doubts its own power. It is like the springs of a carriage which are pressed flat by the superincumbent weight. But, because the springs are good, the weight is carried safely, and they are the better afterwards for their required purposes because of the trial to which they have been subjected.
Nora had sent her lover away, and now at the end of three months from the day of his dismissal she had taught herself to believe that he would never come again. Amidst the sadness of her life at St. Diddulph's some confidence in a lover expected to come again would have done much to cheer her. The more she thought of Hugh Stanbury, the more fully she became convinced that he was the man who as a lover, as a husband, and as a companion, would just suit all her tastes. She endowed him liberally with a hundred good gifts in the disposal of which Nature had been much more sparing. She made for herself a mental portrait of him more gracious in its flattery than ever was canvas coming from the hand of a Court limner. She gave him all gifts of manliness, honesty, truth, and energy, and felt regarding him that he was a Paladin,—such as Paladins are in this age, that he was indomitable, sure of success, and fitted in all respects to take the high position which he would certainly win for himself. But she did not presume him to be endowed with such a constancy as would make him come to seek her hand again. Had Nora at this time of her life been living at the West-end of London, and going out to parties three or four times a week, she would have been quite easy about his coming. The springs would not have been weighted so heavily, and her heart would have been elastic.
No doubt she had forgotten many of the circumstances of his visit and of his departure. Immediately on his going she had told her sister that he would certainly come again, but had said at the same time that his coming could be of no use. He was so poor a man; and she,—though poorer than he,—had been so little accustomed to poverty of life, that she had then acknowledged to herself that she was not fit to be his wife. Gradually, as the slow weeks went by her, there had come a change in her ideas. She now thought that he never would come again; but that if he did she would confess to him that her own views about life were changed. "I would tell him frankly that I could eat a crust with him in any garret in London." But this was said to herself;—never to her sister. Emily and Mrs. Outhouse had determined together that it would be wise to abstain from all mention of Hugh Stanbury's name. Nora had felt that her sister had so abstained, and this reticence had assisted in producing the despair which had come upon her. Hugh, when he had left her, had certainly given her encouragement to expect that he would return. She had been sure then that he would return. She had been sure of it, though she had told him that it would be useless. But now, when these sad weeks had slowly crept over her head, when during the long hours of the long days she had thought of him continually,—telling herself that it was impossible that she should ever become the wife of any man if she did not become his,—she assured herself that she had seen and heard the last of him. She must surely have forgotten his hot words and that daring embrace.
Then there came a letter to her. The question of the management of letters for young ladies is handled very differently in different houses. In some establishments the post is as free to young ladies as it is to the reverend seniors of the household. In others it is considered to be quite a matter of course that some experienced discretion should sit in judgment on the correspondence of the daughters of the family. When Nora Rowley was living with her sister in Curzon Street, she would have been very indignant indeed had it been suggested to her that there was any authority over her letters vested in her sister. But now, circumstanced as she was at St. Diddulph's, she did understand that no letter would reach her without her aunt knowing that it had come. All this was distasteful to her,—as were indeed all the details of her life at St. Diddulph's;—but she could not help herself. Had her aunt told her that she should never be allowed to receive a letter at all, she must have submitted till her mother had come to her relief. The letter which reached her now was put into her hands by her sister, but it had been given to Mrs. Trevelyan by Mrs. Outhouse. "Nora," said Mrs. Trevelyan, "here is a letter for you. I think it is from Mr. Stanbury."
"Give it me," said Nora greedily.
"Of course I will give it you. But I hope you do not intend to correspond with him."
"If he has written to me I shall answer him of course," said Nora, holding her treasure.
"Aunt Mary thinks that you should not do so till papa and mamma have arrived."
"If Aunt Mary is afraid of me let her tell me so, and I will contrive to go somewhere else." Poor Nora knew that this threat was futile. There was no house to which she could take herself.
"She is not afraid of you at all, Nora. She only says that she thinks you should not write to Mr. Stanbury." Then Nora escaped to the cold but solitary seclusion of her bed-room and there she read her letter.
The reader may remember that Hugh Stanbury when he last left St. Diddulph's had not been oppressed by any of the gloomy reveries of a despairing lover. He had spoken his mind freely to Nora, and had felt himself justified in believing that he had not spoken in vain. He had had her in his arms, and she had found it impossible to say that she did not love him. But then she had been quite firm in her purpose to give him no encouragement that she could avoid. She had said no word that would justify him in considering that there was any engagement between them; and, moreover, he had been warned not to come to the house by its mistress. From day to day he thought of it all, now telling himself that there was nothing to be done but to trust in her fidelity till he should be in a position to offer her a fitting home, and then reflecting that he could not expect such a girl as Nora Rowley to wait for him, unless he could succeed in making her understand that he at any rate intended to wait for her. On one day he would think that good faith and proper consideration for Nora herself required him to keep silent; on the next he would tell himself that such maudlin chivalry as he was proposing to himself was sure to go to the wall and be neither rewarded nor recognised. So at last he sat down and wrote the following letter:—
Lincoln's Inn Fields, January, 186—.
Ever since I last saw you at St. Diddulph's, I have been trying to teach myself what I ought to do in reference to you. Sometimes I think that because I am poor I ought to hold my tongue. At others I feel sure that I ought to speak out loud, because I love you so dearly. You may presume that just at this moment the latter opinion is in the ascendant.
As I do write I mean to be very bold; so bold that if I am wrong you will be thoroughly disgusted with me and will never willingly see me again. But I think it best to be true, and to say what I think. I do believe that you love me. According to all precedent I ought not to say so;—but I do believe it. Ever since I was at St. Diddulph's that belief has made me happy,—though there have been moments of doubt. If I thought that you did not love me, I would trouble you no further. A man may win his way to love when social circumstances are such as to throw him and the girl together; but such is not the case with us; and unless you love me now, you never will love me.
"I do—I do!" said Nora, pressing the letter to her bosom.
If you do, I think that you owe it me to say so, and to let me have all the joy and all the feeling of responsibility which such an assurance will give me.
"I will tell him so," said Nora; "I don't care what may come afterwards, but I will tell him the truth."
I know [continued Hugh] that an engagement with me now would be hazardous, because what I earn is both scanty and precarious; but it seems to me that nothing could ever be done without some risk. There are risks of different kinds,—
She wondered whether he was thinking when he wrote this of the rock on which her sister's barque had been split to pieces;—
and we may hardly hope to avoid them all. For myself, I own that life would be tame to me, if there were no dangers to be overcome.
If you do love me, and will say so, I will not ask you to be my wife till I can give you a proper home; but the knowledge that I am the master of the treasure which I desire will give me a double energy, and will make me feel that when I have gained so much I cannot fail of adding to it all other smaller things that may be necessary.
Pray,—pray, send me an answer. I cannot reach you except by writing, as I was told by your aunt not to come to the house again.
Dearest Nora, pray believe
That I shall always be truly yours only,
Write to him! Of course she would write to him. Of course she would confess to him the truth. "He tells me that I owe it to him to say so, and I acknowledge the debt," she said aloud to herself. "And as for a proper home, he shall be the judge of that." She resolved that she would not be a fine lady, not fastidious, not coy, not afraid to take her full share of the risk of which he spoke in such manly terms. "It is quite true. As he has been able to make me love him, I have no right to stand aloof,—even if I wished it." As she was walking up and down the room so resolving her sister came to her.
"Well, dear!" said Emily. "May I ask what it is he says?"
Nora paused a moment, holding the letter tight in her hand, and then she held it out to her sister. "There it is. You may read it." Mrs. Trevelyan took the letter and read it slowly, during which Nora stood looking out of the window. She would not watch her sister's face, as she did not wish to have to reply to any outward signs of disapproval. "Give it me back," she said, when she heard by the refolding of the paper that the perusal was finished.
"Of course I shall give it you back, dear."
"Yes;—thanks. I did not mean to doubt you."
"And what will you do, Nora?"
"Answer it of course."
"I would think a little before I answered it," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"I have thought,—a great deal, already."
"And how will you answer it?"
Nora paused again before she replied. "As nearly as I know how to do in such words as he would put into my mouth. I shall strive to write just what I think he would wish me to write."
"Then you will engage yourself to him, Nora?"
"Certainly I shall. I am engaged to him already. I have been ever since he came here."
"You told me that there was nothing of the kind."
"I told you that I loved him better than anybody in the world, and that ought to have made you know what it must come to. When I am thinking of him every day, and every hour, how can I not be glad to have an engagement settled with him? I couldn't marry anybody else, and I don't want to remain as I am." The tears came into the married sister's eyes, and rolled down her cheeks, as this was said to her. Would it not have been better for her had she remained as she was? "Dear Emily," said Nora, "you have got Louey still."
"Yes;—and they mean to take him from me. But I do not wish to speak of myself. Will you postpone your answer till mamma is here?"
"I cannot do that, Emily. What; receive such a letter as that, and send no reply to it!"
"I would write a line for you, and explain—"
"No, indeed, Emily. I choose to answer my own letters. I have shewn you that, because I trust you; but I have fully made up my mind as to what I shall write. It will have been written and sent before dinner."
"I think you will be wrong, Nora."
"Why wrong! When I came over here to stay with you, would mamma ever have thought of directing me not to accept any offer till her consent had been obtained all the way from the Mandarins? She would never have dreamed of such a thing."
"Will you ask Aunt Mary?"
"Certainly not. What is Aunt Mary to me? We are here in her house for a time, under the press of circumstances; but I owe her no obedience. She told Mr. Stanbury not to come here; and he has not come; and I shall not ask him to come. I would not willingly bring any one into Uncle Oliphant's house that he and she do not wish to see. But I will not admit that either of them have any authority over me."
"Then who has, dearest?"
"Nobody;—except papa and mamma; and they have chosen to leave me to myself."
Mrs. Trevelyan found it impossible to shake her sister's firmness, and could herself do nothing, except tell Mrs. Outhouse what was the state of affairs. When she said that she should do this, there almost came to be a flow of high words between the two sisters; but at last Nora assented. "As for knowing, I don't care if all the world knows it. I shall do nothing in a corner. I don't suppose Aunt Mary will endeavour to prevent my posting my letter."
Emily at last went to seek Mrs. Outhouse, and Nora at once sat down to her desk. Neither of the sisters felt at all sure that Mrs. Outhouse would not attempt to stop the emission of the letter from her house; but, as it happened, she was out, and did not return till Nora had come back from her journey to the neighbouring post-office. She would trust her letter, when written, to no hands but her own; and as she herself dropped it into the safe custody of the Postmaster-General, it also shall be revealed to the public:—
Parsonage, St. Diddulph's, January, 186—.
For I suppose I may as well write to you in that way now. I have been made so happy by your affectionate letter. Is not that a candid confession for a young lady? But you tell me that I owe you the truth, and so I tell you the truth. Nobody will ever be anything to me, except you; and you are everything. I do love you; and should it ever be possible, I will become your wife.
I have said so much, because I feel that I ought to obey the order you have given me; but pray do not try to see me or write to me till mamma has arrived. She and papa will be here in the spring,—quite early in the spring, we hope; and then you may come to us. What they may say, of course, I cannot tell; but I shall be true to you.
Your own, with truest affection,
Of course, you knew that I loved you, and I don't think that you are a conjuror at all.
As soon as ever the letter was written, she put on her bonnet, and went forth with it herself to the post-office. Mrs. Trevelyan stopped her on the stairs, and endeavoured to detain her, but Nora would not be detained. "I must judge for myself about this," she said. "If mamma were here, it would be different, but, as she is not here, I must judge for myself."
What Mrs. Outhouse might have done had she been at home at the time, it would be useless to surmise. She was told what had happened when it occurred, and questioned Nora on the subject. "I thought I understood from you," she said, with something of severity in her countenance, "that there was to be nothing between you and Mr. Stanbury—at any rate, till my brother came home?"
"I never pledged myself to anything of the kind, Aunt Mary," Nora said. "I think he promised that he would not come here, and I don't suppose that he means to come. If he should do so, I shall not see him."
With this Mrs. Outhouse was obliged to be content. The letter was gone, and could not be stopped. Nor, indeed, had any authority been delegated to her by which she would have been justified in stopping it. She could only join her husband in wishing that they both might be relieved, as soon as possible, from the terrible burden which had been thrown upon them. "I call it very hard," said Mr. Outhouse;—"very hard, indeed. If we were to desire them to leave the house, everybody would cry out upon us for our cruelty; and yet, while they remain here, they will submit themselves to no authority. As far as I can see, they may, both of them, do just what they please, and we can't stop it."
MR. GIBSON'S THREAT.
Miss Stanbury for a long time persisted in being neither better nor worse. Sir Peter would not declare her state to be precarious, nor would he say that she was out of danger; and Mr. Martin had been so utterly prostrated by the nearly-fatal effects of his own mistake that he was quite unable to rally himself and talk on the subject with any spirit or confidence. When interrogated he would simply reply that Sir Peter said this and Sir Peter said that, and thus add to, rather than diminish, the doubt, and excitement, and varied opinion which prevailed through the city. On one morning it was absolutely asserted within the limits of the Close that Miss Stanbury was dying,—and it was believed for half a day at the bank that she was then lying in articulo mortis. There had got about, too, a report that a portion of the property had only been left to Miss Stanbury for her life, that the Burgesses would be able to reclaim the houses in the city, and that a will had been made altogether in favour of Dorothy, cutting out even Brooke from any share in the inheritance;—and thus Exeter had a good deal to say respecting the affairs and state of health of our old friend. Miss Stanbury's illness, however, was true enough. She was much too ill to hear anything of what was going on;—too ill to allow Martha to talk to her at all about the outside public. When the invalid herself would ask questions about the affairs of the world, Martha would be very discreet and turn away from the subject. Miss Stanbury, for instance, ill as she was, exhibited a most mundane interest, not exactly in Camilla French's marriage, but in the delay which that marriage seemed destined to encounter. "I dare say he'll slip out of it yet," said the sick lady to her confidential servant. Then Martha had thought it right to change the subject, feeling it to be wrong that an old lady on her death-bed should be taking joy in the disappointment of her young neighbour. Martha changed the subject, first to jelly, and then to the psalms of the day. Miss Stanbury was too weak to resist; but the last verse of the last psalm of the evening had hardly been finished before she remarked that she would never believe it till she saw it. "It's all in the hands of Him as is on high, mum," said Martha, turning her eyes up to the ceiling, and closing the book at the same time, with a look strongly indicative of displeasure.
Miss Stanbury understood it all as well as though she were in perfect health. She knew her own failings, was conscious of her worldly tendencies, and perceived that her old servant was thinking of it. And then sundry odd thoughts, half-digested thoughts, ideas too difficult for her present strength, crossed her brain. Had it been wicked of her when she was well to hope that a scheming woman should not succeed in betraying a man by her schemes into an ill-assorted marriage; and if not wicked then, was it wicked now because she was ill? And from that thought her mind travelled on to the ordinary practices of death-bed piety. Could an assumed devotion be of use to her now,—such a devotion as Martha was enjoining upon her from hour to hour, in pure and affectionate solicitude for her soul? She had spoken one evening of a game of cards, saying that a game of cribbage would have consoled her. Then Martha, with a shudder, had suggested a hymn, and had had recourse at once to a sleeping draught. Miss Stanbury had submitted, but had understood it all. If cards were wicked, she had indeed been a terrible sinner. What hope could there be now, on her death-bed, for one so sinful? And she could not repent of her cards, and would not try to repent of them, not seeing the evil of them; and if they were innocent, why should she not have the consolation now,—when she so much wanted it? Yet she knew that the whole household, even Dorothy, would be in arms against her, were she to suggest such a thing. She took the hymn and the sleeping draught, telling herself that it would be best for her to banish such ideas from her mind. Pastors and masters had laid down for her a mode of living, which she had followed, but indifferently perhaps, but still with an intention of obedience. They had also laid down a mode of dying, and it would be well that she should follow that as closely as possible. She would say nothing more about cards. She would think nothing more of Camilla French. But, as she so resolved, with intellect half asleep, with her mind wandering between fact and dream, she was unconsciously comfortable with an assurance that if Mr. Gibson did marry Camilla French, Camilla French would lead him the very devil of a life.
During three days Dorothy went about the house as quiet as a mouse, sitting nightly at her aunt's bedside, and tending the sick woman with the closest care. She, too, had been now and again somewhat startled by the seeming worldliness of her aunt in her illness. Her aunt talked to her about rents, and gave her messages for Brooke Burgess on subjects which seemed to Dorothy to be profane when spoken of on what might perhaps be a death-bed. And this struck her the more strongly, because she had a matter of her own on which she would have much wished to ascertain her aunt's opinion, if she had not thought that it would have been exceedingly wrong of her to trouble her aunt's mind at such a time by any such matter. Hitherto she had said not a word of Brooke's proposal to any living being. At present it was a secret with herself, but a secret so big that it almost caused her bosom to burst with the load that it bore. She could not, she thought, write to Priscilla till she had told her aunt. If she were to write a word on the subject to any one, she could not fail to make manifest the extreme longing of her own heart. She could not have written Brooke's name on paper, in reference to his words to herself, without covering it with epithets of love. But all that must be known to no one if her love was to be of no avail to her. And she had an idea that her aunt would not wish Brooke to marry her,—would think that Brooke should do better; and she was quite clear that in such a matter as this her aunt's wishes must be law. Had not her aunt the power of disinheriting Brooke altogether? And what then if her aunt should die,—should die now,—leaving Brooke at liberty to do as he pleased? There was something so distasteful to her in this view of the matter that she would not look at it. She would not allow herself to think of any success which might possibly accrue to herself by reason of her aunt's death. Intense as was the longing in her heart for permission from those in authority over her to give herself to Brooke Burgess, perfect as was the earthly Paradise which appeared to be open to her when she thought of the good thing which had befallen her in that matter, she conceived that she would be guilty of the grossest ingratitude were she in any degree to curtail even her own estimate of her aunt's prohibitory powers because of her aunt's illness. The remembrance of the words which Brooke had spoken to her was with her quite perfect. She was entirely conscious of the joy which would be hers, if she might accept those words as properly sanctioned; but she was a creature in her aunt's hands,—according to her own ideas of her own duties; and while her aunt was ill she could not even learn what might be the behests which she would be called on to obey.
She was sitting one evening alone, thinking of all this, having left Martha with her aunt, and was trying to reconcile the circumstances of her life as it now existed with the circumstances as they had been with her in the old days at Nuncombe Putney, wondering at herself in that she should have a lover, and trying to convince herself that for her this little episode of romance could mean nothing serious, when Martha crept down into the room to her. Of late days,—the alteration might perhaps be dated from the rejection of Mr. Gibson,—Martha, who had always been very kind, had become more respectful in her manner to Dorothy than had heretofore been usual with her. Dorothy was quite aware of it, and was not unconscious of a certain rise in the world which was thereby indicated. "If you please, miss," said Martha, "who do you think is here?"
"But there is nobody with my aunt?" said Dorothy.
"She is sleeping like a babby, and I came down just for a moment. Mr. Gibson is here, miss,—in the house! He asked for your aunt, and when, of course, he could not see her, he asked for you." Dorothy for a few minutes was utterly disconcerted, but at last she consented to see Mr. Gibson. "I think it is best," said Martha, "because it is bad to be fighting, and missus so ill. 'Blessed are the peace-makers,' miss, 'for they shall be called the children of God.'" Convinced by this argument, or by the working of her own mind, Dorothy directed that Mr. Gibson might be shewn into the room. When he came, she found herself unable to address him. She remembered the last time in which she had seen him, and was lost in wonder that he should be there. But she shook hands with him, and went through some form of greeting in which no word was uttered.
"I hope you will not think that I have done wrong," said he, "in calling to ask after my old friend's state of health?"
"Oh dear, no," said Dorothy, quite bewildered.
"I have known her for so very long, Miss Dorothy, that now in the hour of her distress, and perhaps mortal malady, I cannot stop to remember the few harsh words that she spoke to me lately."
"She never means to be harsh, Mr. Gibson."
"Ah; well; no,—perhaps not. At any rate, I have learned to forgive and forget. I am afraid your aunt is very ill, Miss Dorothy."
"She is ill, certainly, Mr. Gibson."
"Dear, dear! We are all as the grass of the field, Miss Dorothy,—here to-day and gone to-morrow, as sparks fly upwards. Just fit to be cut down and cast into the oven. Mr. Jennings has been with her, I believe?" Mr. Jennings was the other minor canon.
"He comes three times a week, Mr. Gibson."
"He is an excellent young man,—a very good young man. It has been a great comfort to me to have Jennings with me. But he's very young, Miss Dorothy; isn't he?" Dorothy muttered something, purporting to declare that she was not acquainted with the exact circumstances of Mr. Jennings' age. "I should be so glad to come if my old friend would allow me," said Mr. Gibson, almost with a sigh. Dorothy was clearly of opinion that any change at the present would be bad for her aunt, but she did not know how to express her opinion; so she stood silent and looked at him. "There needn't be a word spoken, you know, about the ladies at Heavitree," said Mr. Gibson.
"Oh dear, no," said Dorothy. And yet she knew well that there would be such words spoken if Mr. Gibson were to make his way into her aunt's room. Her aunt was constantly alluding to the ladies at Heavitree, in spite of all the efforts of her old servant to restrain her.
"There was some little misunderstanding," said Mr. Gibson; "but all that should be over now. We both intended for the best, Miss Dorothy; and I'm sure nobody here can say that I wasn't sincere." But Dorothy, though she could not bring herself to answer Mr. Gibson plainly, could not be induced to assent to his proposition. She muttered something about her aunt's weakness, and the great attention which Mr. Jennings shewed. Her aunt had become very fond of Mr. Jennings, and she did at last express her opinion, with some clearness, that her aunt should not be disturbed by any changes at present. "After that I should not think of pressing it, Miss Dorothy," said Mr. Gibson; "but, still, I do hope that I may have the privilege of seeing her yet once again in the flesh. And touching my approaching marriage, Miss Dorothy—" He paused, and Dorothy felt that she was blushing up to the roots of her hair. "Touching my marriage," continued Mr. Gibson, "which however will not be solemnized till the end of March;"—it was manifest that he regarded this as a point that would in that household be regarded as an argument in his favour,—"I do hope that you will look upon it in the most favourable light,—and your excellent aunt also, if she be spared to us."
"I am sure we hope that you will be happy, Mr. Gibson."
"What was I to do, Miss Dorothy? I know that I have been very much blamed;—but so unfairly! I have never meant to be untrue to a mouse, Miss Dorothy." Dorothy did not at all understand whether she were the mouse, or Camilla French, or Arabella. "And it is so hard to find that one is ill-spoken of because things have gone a little amiss." It was quite impossible that Dorothy should make any answer to this, and at last Mr. Gibson left her, assuring her with his last word that nothing would give him so much pleasure as to be called upon once more to see his old friend in her last moments.
Though Miss Stanbury had been described as sleeping "like a babby," she had heard the footsteps of a strange man in the house, and had made Martha tell her whose footsteps they were. As soon as Dorothy went to her, she darted upon the subject with all her old keenness. "What did he want here, Dolly?"
"He said he would like to see you, aunt,—when you are a little better, you know. He spoke a good deal of his old friendship and respect."
"He should have thought of that before. How am I to see people now?"
"But when you are better, aunt—?"
"How do I know that I shall ever be better? He isn't off with those people at Heavitree,—is he?"
"I hope not, aunt."
"Psha! A poor, weak, insufficient creature;—that's what he is. Mr. Jennings is worth twenty of him." Dorothy, though she put the question again in its most alluring form of Christian charity and forgiveness, could not induce her aunt to say that she would see Mr. Gibson. "How can I see him, when you know that Sir Peter has forbidden me to see anybody except Mrs. Clifford and Mr. Jennings?"
Two days afterwards there was an uncomfortable little scene at Heavitree. It must, no doubt, have been the case, that the same train of circumstances which had produced Mr. Gibson's visit to the Close, produced also the scene in question. It was suggested by some who were attending closely to the matter that Mr. Gibson had already come to repent his engagement with Camilla French; and, indeed, there were those who pretended to believe that he was induced, by the prospect of Miss Stanbury's demise, to transfer his allegiance yet again, and to bestow his hand upon Dorothy at last. There were many in the city who could never be persuaded that Dorothy had refused him,—these being, for the most part, ladies in whose estimation the value of a husband was counted so great, and a beneficed clergyman so valuable among suitors, that it was to their thinking impossible that Dorothy Stanbury should in her sound senses have rejected such an offer. "I don't believe a bit of it," said Mrs. Crumbie to Mrs. Apjohn; "is it likely?" The ears of all the French family were keenly alive to rumours, and to rumours of rumours. Reports of these opinions respecting Mr. Gibson reached Heavitree, and had their effect. As long as Mr. Gibson was behaving well as a suitor, they were inoperative there. What did it matter to them how the prize might have been struggled for,—might still be struggled for elsewhere, while they enjoyed the consciousness of possession? But when the consciousness of possession became marred by a cankerous doubt, such rumours were very important. Camilla heard of the visit in the Close, and swore that she would have justice done her. She gave her mother to understand that, if any trick were played upon her, the diocese should be made to ring of it, in a fashion that would astonish them all, from the bishop downwards. Whereupon Mrs. French, putting much faith in her daughter's threats, sent for Mr. Gibson.
"The truth is, Mr. Gibson," said Mrs. French, when the civilities of their first greeting had been completed, "my poor child is pining."
"Pining, Mrs. French!"
"Yes;—pining, Mr. Gibson. I am afraid that you little understand how sensitive is that young heart. Of course, she is your own now. To her thinking, it would be treason to you for her to indulge in conversation with any other gentleman; but, then, she expects that you should spend your evenings with her,—of course!"
"But, Mrs. French,—think of my engagements, as a clergyman."
"We know all about that, Mr. Gibson. We know what a clergyman's calls are. It isn't like a doctor's, Mr. Gibson."
"It's very often worse, Mrs. French."
"Why should you go calling in the Close, Mr. Gibson?" Here was the gist of the accusation.
"Wouldn't you have me make my peace with a poor dying sister?" pleaded Mr. Gibson.
"After what has occurred," said Mrs. French, shaking her head at him, "and while things are just as they are now, it would be more like an honest man of you to stay away. And, of course, Camilla feels it. She feels it very much;—and she won't put up with it neither."
"I think this is the cruellest, cruellest thing I ever heard," said Mr. Gibson.
"It is you that are cruel, sir."
Then the wretched man turned at bay. "I tell you what it is, Mrs. French;—if I am treated in this way, I won't stand it. I won't, indeed. I'll go away. I'm not going to be suspected, nor yet blown up. I think I've behaved handsomely, at any rate to Camilla."
"Quite so, Mr. Gibson, if you would come and see her on evenings," said Mrs. French, who was falling back into her usual state of timidity.
"But, if I'm to be treated in this way, I will go away. I've thought of it as it is. I've been already invited to go to Natal, and if I hear anything more of these accusations, I shall certainly make up my mind to go." Then he left the house, before Camilla could be down upon him from her perch on the landing-place.
THE REPUBLICAN BROWNING.
Mr. Glascock had returned to Naples after his sufferings in the dining-room of the American Minister, and by the middle of February was back again in Florence. His father was still alive, and it was said that the old lord would now probably live through the winter. And it was understood that Mr. Glascock would remain in Italy. He had declared that he would pass his time between Naples, Rome, and Florence; but it seemed to his friends that Florence was, of the three, the most to his taste. He liked his room, he said, at the York Hotel, and he liked being in the capital. That was his own statement. His friends said that he liked being with Carry Spalding, the daughter of the American Minister; but none of them, then in Italy, were sufficiently intimate with him to express that opinion to himself.
It had been expressed more than once to Carry Spalding. The world in general says such things to ladies more openly than it does to men, and the probability of a girl's success in matrimony is canvassed in her hearing by those who are nearest to her with a freedom which can seldom be used in regard to a man. A man's most intimate friend hardly speaks to him of the prospect of his marriage till he himself has told that the engagement exists. The lips of no living person had suggested to Mr. Glascock that the American girl was to become his wife; but a great deal had been said to Carry Spalding about the conquest she had made. Her uncle, her aunt, her sister, and her great friend Miss Petrie, the poetess,—the Republican Browning as she was called,—had all spoken to her about it frequently. Olivia had declared her conviction that the thing was to be. Miss Petrie had, with considerable eloquence, explained to her friend that that English title, which was but the clatter of a sounding brass, should be regarded as a drawback rather than as an advantage. Mrs. Spalding, who was no poetess, would undoubtedly have welcomed Mr. Glascock as her niece's husband with all an aunt's energy. When told by Miss Petrie that old Lord Peterborough was a tinkling cymbal she snapped angrily at her gifted countrywoman. But she was too honest a woman, and too conscious also of her niece's strength, to say a word to urge her on. Mr. Spalding as an American minister, with full powers at the court of a European sovereign, felt that he had full as much to give as to receive; but he was well inclined to do both. He would have been much pleased to talk about his nephew Lord Peterborough, and he loved his niece dearly. But by the middle of February he was beginning to think that the matter had been long enough in training. If the Honourable Glascock meant anything, why did he not speak out his mind plainly? The American Minister in such matters was accustomed to fewer ambages than were common in the circles among which Mr. Glascock had lived.
In the meantime Caroline Spalding was suffering. She had allowed herself to think that Mr. Glascock intended to propose to her, and had acknowledged to herself that were he to do so she would certainly accept him. All that she had seen of him, since the day on which he had been courteous to her about the seat in the diligence, had been pleasant to her. She had felt the charm of his manner, his education, and his gentleness; and had told herself that with all her love for her own country, she would willingly become an Englishwoman for the sake of being that man's wife. But nevertheless the warnings of her great friend, the poetess, had not been thrown away upon her. She would put away from herself as far as she could any desire to become Lady Peterborough. There should be no bias in the man's favour on that score. The tinkling cymbal and the sounding brass should be nothing to her. But yet,—yet what a chance was there here for her? "They are dishonest, and rotten at the core," said Miss Petrie, trying to make her friend understand that a free American should under no circumstances place trust in an English aristocrat. "Their country, Carry, is a game played out, while we are still breasting the hill with our young lungs full of air." Carry Spalding was proud of her intimacy with the Republican Browning; but nevertheless she liked Mr. Glascock; and when Mr. Glascock had been ten days in Florence, on his third visit to the city, and had been four or five times at the embassy without expressing his intentions in the proper form, Carry Spalding began to think that she had better save herself from a heartbreak while salvation might be within her reach. She perceived that her uncle was gloomy and almost angry when he spoke of Mr. Glascock, and that her aunt was fretful with disappointment. The Republican Browning had uttered almost a note of triumph; and had it not been that Olivia persisted, Carry Spalding would have consented to go away with Miss Petrie to Rome. "The old stones are rotten too," said the poetess; "but their dust tells no lies." That well known piece of hers—"Ancient Marbles, while ye crumble," was written at this time, and contained an occult reference to Mr. Glascock and her friend.
But Livy Spalding clung to the alliance. She probably knew her sister's heart better than did the others; and perhaps also had a clearer insight into Mr. Glascock's character. She was at any rate clearly of opinion that there should be no running away. "Either you do like him, or you don't. If you do, what are you to get by going to Rome?" said Livy.
"I shall get quit of doubt and trouble."
"I call that cowardice. I would never run away from a man, Carry. Aunt Sophie forgets that they don't manage these things in England just as we do."
"I don't know why there should be a difference."
"Nor do I;—only that there is. You haven't read so many of their novels as I have."
"Who would ever think of learning to live out of an English novel?" said Carry.
"I am not saying that. You may teach him to live how you like afterwards. But if you have anything to do with people it must be well to know what their manners are. I think the richer sort of people in England slide into these things more gradually than we do. You stand your ground, Carry, and hold your own, and take the goods the gods provide you." Though Caroline Spalding opposed her sister's arguments, and was particularly hard upon that allusion to "the richer sort of people,"—which, as she knew, Miss Petrie would have regarded as evidence of reverence for sounding brasses and tinkling cymbals,—nevertheless she loved Livy dearly for what she said, and kissed the sweet counsellor, and resolved that she would for the present decline the invitation of the poetess. Then was Miss Petrie somewhat indignant with her friend, and threw out her scorn in those lines which have been mentioned.
But the American Minister hardly knew how to behave himself when he met Mr. Glascock, or even when he was called upon to speak of him. Florence no doubt is a large city, and is now the capital of a great kingdom; but still people meet in Florence much more frequently than they do in Paris or in London. It may almost be said that they whose habit it is to go into society, and whose circumstances bring them into the same circles, will see each other every day. Now the American Minister delighted to see and to be seen in all places frequented by persons of a certain rank and position in Florence. Having considered the matter much, he had convinced himself that he could thus best do his duty as minister from the great Republic of Free States to the newest and,—as he called it,—"the free-est of the European kingdoms." The minister from France was a marquis; he from England was an earl; from Spain had come a count,—and so on. In the domestic privacy of his embassy Mr. Spalding would be severe enough upon the sounding brasses and the tinkling cymbals, and was quite content himself to be the Honourable Jonas G. Spalding,—Honourable because selected by his country for a post of honour; but he liked to be heard among the cymbals and seen among the brasses, and to feel that his position was as high as theirs. Mr. Glascock also was frequently in the same circles, and thus it came to pass that the two gentlemen saw each other almost daily. That Mr. Spalding knew well how to bear himself in his high place no one could doubt; but he did not quite know how to carry himself before Mr. Glascock. At home at Boston he would have been more completely master of the situation.
He thought too that he began to perceive that Mr. Glascock avoided him, though he would hear on his return home that that gentleman had been at the embassy, or had been walking in the Cascine with his nieces. That their young ladies should walk in public places with unmarried gentlemen is nothing to American fathers and guardians. American young ladies are accustomed to choose their own companions. But the minister was tormented by his doubts as to the ways of Englishmen, and as to the phase in which English habits might most properly exhibit themselves in Italy. He knew that people were talking about Mr. Glascock and his niece. Why then did Mr. Glascock avoid him? It was perhaps natural that Mr. Spalding should have omitted to observe that Mr. Glascock was not delighted by those lectures on the American constitution which formed so large a part of his ordinary conversation with Englishmen.
It happened one afternoon that they were thrown together so closely for nearly an hour that neither could avoid the other. They were both at the old palace in which the Italian parliament is held, and were kept waiting during some long delay in the ceremonies of the place. They were seated next to each other, and during such delay there was nothing for them but to talk. On the other side of each of them was a stranger, and not to talk in such circumstances would be to quarrel. Mr. Glascock began by asking after the ladies.
"They are quite well, sir, thank you," said the minister. "I hope that Lord Peterborough was pretty well when last you heard from Naples, Mr. Glascock." Mr. Glascock explained that his father's condition was not much altered, and then there was silence for a moment.
"Your nieces will remain with you through the spring I suppose?" said Mr. Glascock.
"Such is their intention, sir."
"They seem to like Florence, I think."
"Yes;—yes; I think they do like Florence. They see this capital, sir, perhaps under more favourable circumstances than are accorded to most of my countrywomen. Our republican simplicity, Mr. Glascock, has this drawback, that away from home it subjects us somewhat to the cold shade of unobserved obscurity. That it possesses merits which much more than compensate for this trifling evil I should be the last man in Europe to deny." It is to be observed that American citizens are always prone to talk of Europe. It affords the best counterpoise they know to that other term, America,—and America and the United States are of course the same. To speak of France or of England as weighing equally against their own country seems to an American to be an absurdity,—and almost an insult to himself. With Europe he can compare himself, but even this is done generally in the style of the Republican Browning when she addressed the Ancient Marbles.
"Undoubtedly," said Mr. Glascock, "the family of a minister abroad has great advantages in seeing the country to which he is accredited."
"That is my meaning, sir. But, as I was remarking, we carry with us as a people no external symbols of our standing at home. The wives and daughters, sir, of the most honoured of our citizens have no nomenclature different from that which belongs to the least noted among us. It is perhaps a consequence of this that Europeans who are accustomed in their social intercourse to the assistance of titles, will not always trouble themselves to inquire who and what are the American citizens who may sit opposite to them at table. I have known, Mr. Glascock, the wife and daughter of a gentleman who has been thrice sent as senator from his native State to Washington, to remain as disregarded in the intercourse of a European city, as though they had formed part of the family of some grocer from your Russell Square!"
"Let the Miss Spaldings go where they will," said Mr. Glascock, "they will not fare in that way."
"The Miss Spaldings, sir, are very much obliged to you," said the minister with a bow.
"I regard it as one of the luckiest chances of my life that I was thrown in with them at St. Michael as I was," said Mr. Glascock with something like warmth.
"I am sure, sir, they will never forget the courtesy displayed by you on that occasion," said the minister bowing again.
"That was a matter of course. I and my friend would have done the same for the grocer's wife and daughter of whom you spoke. Little services such as that do not come from appreciation of merit, but are simply the payment of the debt due by all men to all women."
"Such is certainly the rule of living in our country, sir," said Mr. Spalding.
"The chances are," continued the Englishman, "that no further observation follows the payment of such a debt. It has been a thing of course."
"We delight to think it so, Mr. Glascock, in our own cities."
"But in this instance it has given rise to one of the pleasantest, and as I hope most enduring friendships that I have ever formed," said Mr. Glascock with enthusiasm. What could the American Minister do but bow again three times? And what other meaning could he attach to such words than that which so many of his friends had been attributing to Mr. Glascock for some weeks past? It had occurred to Mr. Spalding, even since he had been sitting in his present close proximity to Mr. Glascock, that it might possibly be his duty as an uncle having to deal with an Englishman, to ask that gentleman what were his intentions. He would do his duty let it be what it might; but the asking of such a question would be very disagreeable to him. For the present he satisfied himself with inviting his neighbour to come and drink tea with Mrs. Spalding on the next evening but one. "The girls will be delighted, I am sure," said he, thinking himself to be justified in this friendly familiarity by Mr. Glascock's enthusiasm. For Mr. Spalding was clearly of opinion that, let the value of republican simplicity be what it might, an alliance with the crumbling marbles of Europe would in his niece's circumstances be not inexpedient. Mr. Glascock accepted the invitation with alacrity, and the minister when he was closeted with his wife that evening declared his opinion that after all the Britisher meant fighting. The aunt told the girls that Mr. Glascock was coming, and in order that it might not seem that a net was being specially spread for him, others were invited to join the party. Miss Petrie consented to be there, and the Italian, Count Buonarosci, to whose presence, though she could not speak to him, Mrs. Spalding was becoming accustomed. It was painful to her to feel that she could not communicate with those around her, and for that reason she would have avoided Italians. But she had an idea that she could not thoroughly realise the advantages of foreign travel unless she lived with foreigners; and, therefore, she was glad to become intimate at any rate with the outside of Count Buonarosci.
"I think your uncle is wrong, dear," said Miss Petrie early in the day to her friend.
"But why? He has done nothing more than what is just civil."
"If Mr. Glascock kept a store in Broadway he would not have thought it necessary to shew the same civility."
"Yes;—if we all liked the Mr. Glascock who kept the store."
"Caroline," said the poetess with severe eloquence, "can you put your hand upon your heart and say that this inherited title, this tinkling cymbal as I call it, has no attraction for you or yours? Is it the unadorned simple man that you welcome to your bosom, or a thing of stars and garters, a patch of parchment, the minion of a throne, the lordling of twenty descents, in which each has been weaker than that before it, the hero of a scutcheon, whose glory is in his quarterings, and whose worldly wealth comes from the sweat of serfs whom the euphonism of an effete country has learned to decorate with the name of tenants?"
But Caroline Spalding had a spirit of her own, and had already made up her mind that she would not be talked down by Miss Petrie. "Uncle Jonas," said she, "asks him because we like him; and would do so too if he kept the store in Broadway. But if he did keep the store perhaps we should not like him."
"I trow not," said Miss Petrie.
Livy was much more comfortable in her tactics, and without consulting anybody sent for a hairdresser. "It's all very well for Wallachia," said Livy,—Miss Petrie's name was Wallachia,—"but I know a nice sort of man when I see him, and the ways of the world are not to be altered because Wally writes poetry."
When Mr. Glascock was announced Mrs. Spalding's handsome rooms were almost filled, as rooms in Florence are filled,—obstruction in every avenue, a crowd in every corner, and a block at every doorway, not being among the customs of the place. Mr. Spalding immediately caught him,—intercepting him between the passages and the ladies,—and engaged him at once in conversation.
"Your John S. Mill is a great man," said the minister.
"They tell me so," said Mr. Glascock. "I don't read what he writes myself."
This acknowledgment seemed to the minister to be almost disgraceful, and yet he himself had never read a word of Mr. Mill's writings. "He is a far-seeing man," continued the minister. "He is one of the few Europeans who can look forward, and see how the rivers of civilization are running on. He has understood that women must at last be put upon an equality with men."
"Can he manage that men shall have half the babies?" said Mr. Glascock, thinking to escape by an attempt at playfulness.
But the minister was down upon him at once,—had him by the lappet of his coat, though he knew how important it was for his dear niece that he should allow Mr. Glascock to amuse himself this evening after another fashion. "I have an answer ready, sir, for that difficulty," he said. "Step aside with me for a moment. The question is important, and I should be glad if you would communicate my ideas to your great philosopher. Nature, sir, has laid down certain laws, which are immutable; and, against them,—"
But Mr. Glascock had not come to Florence for this. There were circumstances in his present position which made him feel that he would be gratified in escaping, even at the cost of some seeming incivility. "I must go in to the ladies at once," he said, "or I shall never get a word with them." There came across the minister's brow a momentary frown of displeasure, as though he felt that he were being robbed of that which was justly his own. For an instant his grasp fixed itself more tightly to the coat. It was quite within the scope of his courage to hold a struggling listener by physical strength;—but he remembered that there was a purpose, and he relaxed his hold.
"I will take another opportunity," said the minister. "As you have raised that somewhat trite objection of the bearing of children, which we in our country, sir, have altogether got over, I must put you in possession of my views on that subject; but I will find another occasion." Then Mr. Glascock began to reflect whether an American lady, married in England, would probably want to see much of her uncle in her adopted country.
Mrs. Spalding was all smiles when her guest reached her. "We did not mean to have such a crowd of people," she said, whispering; "but you know how one thing leads to another, and people here really like short invitations." Then the minister's wife bowed very low to an Italian lady, and for the moment wished herself in Beacon Street. It was a great trouble to her that she could not pluck up courage to speak a word in Italian. "I know more about it than some that are glib enough," she would say to her niece Livy, "but these Tuscans are so particular with their Bocca Toscana."
It was almost spiteful on the part of Miss Petrie,—the manner in which, on this evening, she remained close to her friend Caroline Spalding. It is hardly possible to believe that it came altogether from high principle,—from a determination to save her friend from an impending danger. One's friend has no right to decide for one what is, and what is not dangerous. Mr. Glascock after awhile found himself seated on a fixed couch, that ran along the wall, between Carry Spalding and Miss Petrie; but Miss Petrie was almost as bad to him as had been the minister himself. "I am afraid," she said, looking up into his face with some severity, and rushing upon her subject with audacity, "that the works of your Browning have not been received in your country with that veneration to which they are entitled."
"Do you mean Mr. or Mrs. Browning?" asked Mr. Glascock,—perhaps with some mistaken idea that the lady was out of her depth, and did not know the difference.
"Either;—both; for they are one, the same, and indivisible. The spirit and germ of each is so reflected in the outcome of the other, that one sees only the result of so perfect a combination, and one is tempted to acknowledge that here and there a marriage may have been arranged in Heaven. I don't think that in your country you have perceived this, Mr. Glascock."
"I am not quite sure that we have," said Mr. Glascock.
"Yours is not altogether an inglorious mission," continued Miss Petrie.
"I've got no mission," said Mr. Glascock,—"either from the Foreign Office, or from my own inner convictions."
Miss Petrie laughed with a scornful laugh. "I spoke, sir, of the mission of that small speck on the earth's broad surface, of which you think so much, and which we call Great Britain."
"I do think a good deal of it," said Mr. Glascock.
"It has been more thought of than any other speck of the same size," said Carry Spalding.
"True," said Miss Petrie, sharply;—"because of its iron and coal. But the mission I spoke of was this." And she put forth her hand with an artistic motion as she spoke. "It utters prophecies, though it cannot read them. It sends forth truth, though it cannot understand it. Though its own ears are deaf as adders', it is the nursery of poets, who sing not for their own countrymen, but for the higher sensibilities and newer intelligences of lands, in which philanthropy has made education as common as the air that is breathed."
"Wally," said Olivia, coming up to the poetess, in anger that was almost apparent, "I want to take you, and introduce you to the Marchesa Pulti."
But Miss Petrie no doubt knew that the eldest son of an English lord was at least as good as an Italian marchesa. "Let her come here," said the poetess, with her grandest smile.