PARKER'S HOTEL, MOWBRAY STREET.
Within a week of the occurrence which is related in the last chapter, there came a telegram from Southampton to the parsonage at St. Diddulph's, saying that Sir Marmaduke and Lady Rowley had reached England. On the evening of that day they were to lodge at a small family hotel in Baker Street, and both Mrs. Trevelyan and Nora were to be with them. The leave-taking at the parsonage was painful, as on both sides there existed a feeling that affection and sympathy were wanting. The uncle and aunt had done their duty, and both Mrs. Trevelyan and Nora felt that they ought to have been demonstrative and cordial in their gratitude;—but they found it impossible to become so. And the rector could not pretend but that he was glad to be rid of his guests. There were, too, some last words about money to be spoken, which were grievous thorns in the poor man's flesh. Two bank notes, however, were put upon his table, and he knew that unless he took them he could not pay for the provisions which his unwelcome visitors had consumed. Surely there never was a man so cruelly ill-used as had been Mr. Outhouse in all this matter. "Another such winter as that would put me in my grave," he said, when his wife tried to comfort him after they were gone. "I know that they have both been very good to us," said Mrs. Trevelyan, as she and her sister, together with the child and the nurse, hurried away towards Baker Street in a cab, "but I have never for a moment felt that they were glad to have us." "But how could they have been glad to have us," she added afterwards, "when we brought such trouble with us?" But they to whom they were going now would receive her with joy;—would make her welcome with all her load of sorrows, would give to her a sympathy which it was impossible that she should receive from others. Though she might not be happy now,—for in truth how could she be ever really happy again,—there would be a joy to her in placing her child in her mother's arms, and in receiving her father's warm caresses. That her father would be very vehement in his anger against her husband she knew well,—for Sir Marmaduke was a vehement man. But there would be some support for her in the very violence of his wrath, and at this moment it was such support that she most needed. As they journeyed together in the cab, the married sister seemed to be in the higher spirits of the two. She was sure, at any rate, that those to whom she was going would place themselves on her side. Nora had her own story to tell about Hugh Stanbury, and was by no means so sure that her tale would be received with cordial agreement. "Let me tell them myself," she whispered to her sister. "Not to-night, because they will have so much to say to you; but I shall tell mamma to-morrow."
The train by which the Rowleys were to reach London was due at the station at 7.30 p.m., and the two sisters timed their despatch from St. Diddulph's so as to enable them to reach the hotel at eight. "We shall be there now before mamma," said Nora, "because they will have so much luggage, and so many things, and the trains are always late." When they started from the door of the parsonage, Mr. Outhouse gave the direction to the cabman, "Gregg's Hotel, Baker Street." Then at once he began to console himself in that they were gone.
It was a long drive from St. Diddulph's in the east, to Marylebone in the west, of London. None of the party in the cab knew anything of the region through which they passed. The cabman took the line by the back of the Bank, and Finsbury Square and the City Road, thinking it best, probably, to avoid the crush at Holborn Hill, though at the expense of something of a circuit. But of this Mrs. Trevelyan and Nora knew nothing. Had their way taken them along Piccadilly, or through Mayfair, or across Grosvenor Square, they would have known where they were; but at present they were not thinking of those once much-loved localities. The cab passed the Angel, and up and down the hill at Pentonville, and by the King's Cross stations, and through Euston Square,—and then it turned up Gower Street. Surely the man should have gone on along the New Road, now that he had come so far out of his way. But of this the two ladies knew nothing,—nor did the nurse. It was a dark, windy night, but the lamps in the streets had given them light, so that they had not noticed the night. Nor did they notice it now as the streets became narrower and darker. They were hardly thinking that their journey was yet at an end, and the mother was in the act of covering her boy's face as he lay asleep on the nurse's lap, when the cab was stopped. Nora looking out through the window, saw the word "Hotel" over a doorway, and was satisfied. "Shall I take the child, ma'am?" said a man in black, and the child was handed out. Nora was the first to follow, and she then perceived that the door of the hotel was not open. Mrs. Trevelyan followed; and then they looked round them,—and the child was gone. They heard the rattle of another cab as it was carried away at a gallop round a distant corner;—and then some inkling of what had happened came upon them. The father had succeeded in getting possession of his child.
It was a narrow, dark street, very quiet, having about it a certain air of poor respectability,—an obscure, noiseless street, without even a sign of life. Some unfortunate one had endeavoured here to keep an hotel;—but there was no hotel kept there now. There had been much craft in selecting the place in which the child had been taken from them. As they looked around them, perceiving the terrible misfortune which had befallen them, there was not a human being near them save the cabman, who was occupied in unchaining, or pretending to unchain the heavy mass of luggage on the roof. The windows of the house before which they were stopping, were closed, and Nora perceived at once that the hotel was not inhabited. The cabman must have perceived it also. As for the man who had taken the child, the nurse could only say that he was dressed in black, like a waiter, that he had a napkin under his arm, and no hat on his head. He had taken the boy tenderly in his arms,—and then she had seen nothing further. The first thing that Nora had seen, as she stood on the pavement, was the other cab moving off rapidly.
Mrs. Trevelyan had staggered against the railings, and was soon screaming in her wretchedness. Before long there was a small crowd around them, comprising three or four women, a few boys, an old man or two,—and a policeman. To the policeman Nora had soon told the whole story, and the cabman was of course attacked. But the cabman played his part very well. He declared that he had done just what he had been told to do. Nora was indeed sure that she had heard her uncle desire him to drive to Gregg's Hotel in Baker Street. The cabman in answer to this, declared that he had not clearly heard the old gentleman's directions; but that a man whom he had conceived to be a servant, had very plainly told him to drive to Parker's Hotel, Mowbray Street, Gower Street. "I comed ever so far out of my way," said the cabman, "to avoid the rumpus with the homnibuses at the hill,—cause the ladies' things is so heavy we'd never got up if the 'orse had once jibbed." All which, though it had nothing to do with the matter, seemed to impress the policeman with the idea that the cabman, if not a true man, was going to be too clever for them on this occasion. And the crafty cabman went on to declare that his horse was so tired with the load that he could not go on to Baker Street. They must get another cab. Take his number! Of course they could take his number. There was his number. His fare was four and six,—that is if the ladies wouldn't pay him anything extra for the terrible load; and he meant to have it. It would be sixpence more if they kept him there many minutes longer. The number was taken, and another cab was got, and the luggage was transferred, and the money was paid, while the unhappy mother was still screaming in hysterics against the railings. What had been done was soon clear enough to all those around her. Nora had told the policeman, and had told one of the women, thinking to obtain their sympathy and assistance. "It's the kid's dada as has taken it," said one man, "and there ain't nothing to be done." There was nothing to be done;—nothing at any rate then and there.
Nora had been very eager that the cabman should be arrested; but the policeman assured her that such an arrest was out of the question, and would have been useless had it been possible. The man would be forthcoming if his presence should be again desired, but he had probably,—so said the policeman,—really been desired to drive to Mowbray Street. "They knows where to find me if they wants me,—only I must be paid my time," said the cabman confidently. And the policeman was of opinion that as the boy had been kidnapped on behalf of the father, no legal steps could be taken either for the recovery of the child or for the punishment of the perpetrators of the act. He got up, however, on the box of the cab, and accompanied the party to the hotel in Baker Street. They reached it almost exactly at the same time with Sir Marmaduke and Lady Rowley, and the reader must imagine the confusion, the anguish, and the disappointment of that meeting. Mrs. Trevelyan was hardly in possession of her senses when she reached her mother, and could not be induced to be tranquil even when she was assured by her father that her son would suffer no immediate evil by being transferred to his father's hands. She in her frenzy declared that she would never see her little one again, and seemed to think that the father might not improbably destroy the child. "He is mad, papa, and does not know what he does. Do you mean to say that a madman may do as he pleases?—that he may rob my child from me in the streets?—that he may take him out of my very arms in that way?" And she was almost angry with her father because no attempt was made that night to recover the boy.
Sir Marmaduke, who was not himself a good lawyer, had been closeted with the policeman for a quarter of an hour, and had learned the policeman's views. Of course, the father of the child was the person who had done the deed. Whether the cabman had been in the plot or not, was not matter of much consequence. There could be no doubt that some one had told the man to go to Parker's Hotel, as the cab was starting; and it would probably be impossible to punish him in the teeth of such instructions. Sir Marmaduke, however, could doubtless have the cabman summoned. And as for the absolute abduction of the child, the policeman was of opinion that a father could not be punished for obtaining possession of his son by such a stratagem, unless the custody of the child had been made over to the mother by some court of law. The policeman, indeed, seemed to think that nothing could be done, and Sir Marmaduke was inclined to agree with him. When this was explained to Mrs. Trevelyan by her mother, she again became hysterical in her agony, and could hardly be restrained from going forth herself to look for her lost treasure.
It need hardly be further explained that Trevelyan had planned the stratagem in concert with Mr. Bozzle. Bozzle, though strongly cautioned by his wife to keep himself out of danger in the matter, was sorely tempted by his employer's offer of a hundred pounds. He positively refused to be a party to any attempt at violence at St. Diddulph's; but when he learned, as he did learn, that Mrs. Trevelyan, with her sister and baby, were to be transferred from St. Diddulph's in a cab to Baker Street, and that the journey was luckily to be made during the shades of evening, his active mind went to work, and he arranged the plan. There were many difficulties, and even some pecuniary difficulty. He bargained that he should have his hundred pounds clear of all deduction for expenses, and then the attendant expenses were not insignificant. It was necessary that there should be four men in the service, all good and true; and men require to be well paid for such goodness and truth. There was the man, himself an ex-policeman, who gave the instructions to the first cabman, as he was starting. The cabman would not undertake the job at all unless he were so instructed on the spot, asserting that in this way he would be able to prove that the orders he obeyed came from the lady's husband. And there was the crafty pseudo-waiter, with the napkin and no hat, who had carried the boy to the cab in which his father was sitting. And there were the two cabmen. Bozzle planned it all, and with some difficulty arranged the preliminaries. How successful was the scheme, we have seen; and Bozzle, for a month, was able to assume a superiority over his wife, which that honest woman found to be very disagreeable. "There ain't no fraudulent abduction in it at all," Bozzle exclaimed, "because a wife ain't got no rights again her husband,—not in such a matter as that." Mrs. Bozzle implied that if her husband were to take her child away from her without her leave, she'd let him know something about it. But as the husband had in his possession the note for a hundred pounds, realized, Mrs. Bozzle had not much to say in support of her view of the case.
On the morning after the occurrence, while Sir Marmaduke was waiting with his solicitor upon a magistrate to find whether anything could be done, the following letter was brought to Mrs. Trevelyan at Gregg's Hotel:—
Our child is safe with me, and will remain so. If you care to obtain legal advice you will find that I as his father have a right to keep him under my protection. I shall do so; but will allow you to see him as soon as I shall have received a full guarantee that you have no idea of withdrawing him from my charge.
A home for yourself with me is still open to you,—on condition that you will give me the promise that I have demanded from you; and as long as I shall not hear that you again see or communicate with the person to whose acquaintance I object. While you remain away from me I will cause you to be paid £50 a month, as I do not wish that you should be a burden on others. But this payment will depend also on your not seeing or holding any communication with the person to whom I have alluded.
Your affectionate and offended husband,
A letter addressed to the Acrobats' Club will reach me.
Sir Rowley came home dispirited and unhappy, and could not give much comfort to his daughter. The magistrate had told him that though the cabman might probably be punished for taking the ladies otherwise than as directed,—if the direction to Baker Street could be proved,—nothing could be done to punish the father. The magistrate explained that under a certain Act of Parliament the mother might apply to the Court of Chancery for the custody of any children under seven years of age, and that the court would probably grant such custody,—unless it were shewn that the wife had left her husband without sufficient cause. The magistrate could not undertake to say whether or no sufficient cause had here been given;—or whether the husband was in fault or the wife. It was, however, clear that nothing could be done without application to the Court of Chancery. It appeared,—so said the magistrate,—that the husband had offered a home to his wife, and that in offering it he had attempted to impose no conditions which could be shown to be cruel before a judge. The magistrate thought that Mr. Trevelyan had done nothing illegal in taking the child from the cab. Sir Marmaduke, on hearing this, was of opinion that nothing could be gained by legal interference. His private desire was to get hold of Trevelyan and pull him limb from limb. Lady Rowley thought that her daughter had better go back to her husband, let the future consequences be what they might. And the poor desolate mother herself had almost brought herself to offer to do so, having in her brain some idea that she would after a while be able to escape with her boy. As for love for her husband, certainly there was none now left in her bosom. Nor could she teach herself to think it possible that she should ever live with him again on friendly terms. But she would submit to anything with the object of getting back her boy. Three or four letters were written to Mr. Trevelyan in as many days from his wife, from Lady Rowley, and from Nora; in which various overtures were made. Trevelyan wrote once again to his wife. She knew, he said, already the terms on which she might come back. These terms were still open to her. As for the boy, he certainly should not leave his father. A meeting might be planned on condition that he, Trevelyan, were provided with a written assurance from his wife that she would not endeavour to remove the boy, and that he himself should be present at the meeting.
Thus the first week was passed after Sir Marmaduke's return,—and a most wretched time it was for all the party at Gregg's Hotel.
LADY ROWLEY MAKES AN ATTEMPT.
Nothing could be more uncomfortable than the state of Sir Marmaduke Rowley's family for the first ten days after the arrival in London of the Governor of the Mandarin Islands. Lady Rowley had brought with her two of her girls,—the third and fourth,—and, as we know, had been joined by the two eldest, so that there was a large family of ladies gathered together. A house had been taken in Manchester Street, to which they had intended to transfer themselves after a single night passed at Gregg's Hotel. But the trouble and sorrow inflicted upon them by the abduction of Mrs. Trevelyan's child, and the consequent labours thrust upon Sir Marmaduke's shoulders had been so heavy, that they had slept six nights at the hotel, before they were able to move themselves into the house prepared for them. By that time all idea had been abandoned of recovering the child by any legal means to be taken as a consequence of the illegality of the abduction. The boy was with his father, and the lawyers seemed to think that the father's rights were paramount,—as he had offered a home to his wife without any conditions which a court of law would adjudge to be cruel. If she could shew that he had driven her to live apart from him by his own bad conduct, then probably the custody of her boy might be awarded to her, until the child should be seven years old. But when the circumstances of the case were explained to Sir Marmaduke's lawyer by Lady Rowley, that gentleman shook his head. Mrs. Trevelyan had, he said, no case with which she could go into court. Then by degrees there were words whispered as to the husband's madness. The lawyer said that that was a matter for the doctors. If a certain amount of medical evidence could be obtained to shew that the husband was in truth mad, the wife could, no doubt, obtain the custody of the child. When this was reported to Mrs. Trevelyan, she declared that conduct such as her husband's must suffice to prove any man to be mad; but at this Sir Marmaduke shook his head, and Lady Rowley sat, sadly silent, with her daughter's hand within her own. They would not dare to tell her that she could regain her child by that plea.
During those ten days they did not learn whither the boy had been carried, nor did they know even where the father might be found. Sir Marmaduke followed up the address as given in the letter, and learned from the porter at "The Acrobats" that the gentleman's letters were sent to No. 55, Stony Walk, Union Street, Borough. To this uncomfortable locality Sir Marmaduke travelled more than once. Thrice he went thither, intent on finding his son-in-law's residence. On the two first occasions he saw no one but Mrs. Bozzle; and the discretion of that lady in declining to give any information was most admirable. "Trewillian!" Yes, she had heard the name certainly. It might be that her husband had business engagements with a gent of that name. She would not say even that for certain, as it was not her custom ever to make any inquiries as to her husband's business engagements. Her husband's business engagements were, she said, much too important for the "likes of she" to know anything about them. When was Bozzle likely to be at home? Bozzle was never likely to be at home. According to her showing, Bozzle was of all husbands the most erratic. He might perhaps come in for an hour or two in the middle of the day on a Wednesday, or perhaps would take a cup of tea at home on Friday evening. But anything so fitful and uncertain as were Bozzle's appearances in the bosom of his family was not to be conceived in the mind of woman. Sir Marmaduke then called in the middle of the day on Wednesday, but Bozzle was reported to be away in the provinces. His wife had no idea in which of the provinces he was at that moment engaged. The persevering governor from the islands called again on the Friday evening, and then, by chance, Bozzle was found at home. But Sir Marmaduke succeeded in gaining very little information even from Bozzle. The man acknowledged that he was employed by Mr. Trevelyan. Any letter or parcel left with him for Mr. Trevelyan should be duly sent to that gentleman. If Sir Marmaduke wanted Mr. Trevelyan's address, he could write to Mr. Trevelyan and ask for it. If Mr. Trevelyan declined to give it, was it likely that he, Bozzle, should betray it? Sir Marmaduke explained who he was at some length. Bozzle with a smile assured the governor that he knew very well who he was. He let drop a few words to show that he was intimately acquainted with the whole course of Sir Marmaduke's family affairs. He knew all about the Mandarins, and Colonel Osborne, and Gregg's Hotel,—not that he said anything about Parker's Hotel,—and the Colonial Office. He spoke of Miss Nora, and even knew the names of the other two young ladies, Miss Sophia and Miss Lucy. It was a weakness with Bozzle,—that of displaying his information. He would have much liked to be able to startle Sir Marmaduke by describing the Government House in the island, or by telling him something of his old carriage-horses. But of such information as Sir Marmaduke desired, Sir Marmaduke got none.
And there were other troubles which fell very heavily upon the poor governor, who had come home as it were for a holiday, and who was a man hating work naturally, and who, from the circumstances of his life, had never been called on to do much work. A man may govern the Mandarins and yet live in comparative idleness. To do such governing work well a man should have a good presence, a flow of words which should mean nothing, an excellent temper, and a love of hospitality. With these attributes Sir Rowley was endowed; for, though his disposition was by nature hot, for governing purposes it had been brought by practice under good control. He had now been summoned home through the machinations of his dangerous old friend Colonel Osborne, in order that he might give the results of his experience in governing before a committee of the House of Commons. In coming to England on this business he had thought much more of his holiday, of his wife and children, of his daughters at home, of his allowance per day while he was to be away from his government, and of his salary to be paid to him entire during his absence, instead of being halved as it would be if he were away on leave,—he had thought much more in coming home on these easy and pleasant matters, than he did on the work that was to be required from him when he arrived. And then it came to pass that he felt himself almost injured when the Colonial Office demanded his presence from day to day, and when clerks bothered him with questions as to which they expected ready replies, but in replying to which Sir Marmaduke was by no means ready. The working men at the Colonial Office had not quite thought that Sir Marmaduke was the most fitting man for the job in hand. There was a certain Mr. Thomas Smith at another set of islands in quite another part of the world, who was supposed by these working men at home to be a very paragon of a governor. If he had been had home,—so said the working men,—no Committee of the House would have been able to make anything of him. They might have asked him questions week after week, and he would have answered them all fluently and would have committed nobody. He knew all the ins and outs of governing,—did Mr. Thomas Smith,—and was a match for the sharpest Committee that ever sat at Westminster. Poor Sir Marmaduke was a man of a very different sort; all of which was known by the working men; but the Parliamentary interest had been too strong, and here was Sir Marmaduke at home. But the working men were not disposed to make matters so pleasant for Sir Marmaduke, as Sir Marmaduke had expected. The Committee would not examine Sir Marmaduke till after Easter, in the middle of April; but it was expected of him that he should read blue-books without number, and he was so catechised by the working men that he almost began to wish himself back at the Mandarins. In this way the new establishment in Manchester Street was not at first in a happy or even in a contented condition.
At last, after about ten days, Lady Rowley did succeed in obtaining an interview with Trevelyan. A meeting was arranged through Bozzle, and took place in a very dark and gloomy room at an inn in the City. Why Bozzle should have selected the Bremen Coffee House, in Poulter's Alley, for this meeting no fit reason can surely be given, unless it was that he conceived himself bound to select the most dreary locality within his knowledge on so melancholy an occasion. Poulter's Alley is a narrow dark passage somewhere behind the Mansion House; and the Bremen Coffee House,—why so called no one can now tell,—is one of those strange houses of public resort in the City at which the guests seem never to eat, never to drink, never to sleep, but to come in and out after a mysterious and almost ghostly fashion, seeing their friends,—or perhaps their enemies, in nooks and corners, and carrying on their conferences in low, melancholy whispers. There is an aged waiter at the Bremen Coffee House; and there is certainly one private sitting-room up-stairs. It was a dingy, ill-furnished room, with an old large mahogany table, an old horse-hair sofa, six horse-hair chairs, two old round mirrors, and an old mahogany press in a corner. It was a chamber so sad in its appearance that no wholesome useful work could have been done within it; nor could men have eaten there with any appetite, or have drained the flowing bowl with any touch of joviality. It was generally used for such purposes as that to which it was now appropriated, and no doubt had been taken by Bozzle on more than one previous occasion. Here Lady Rowley arrived precisely at the hour fixed, and was told that the gentleman was waiting up-stairs for her.
There had, of course, been many family consultations as to the manner in which this meeting should be arranged. Should Sir Marmaduke accompany his wife;—or, perhaps, should Sir Marmaduke go alone? Lady Rowley had been very much in favour of meeting Mr. Trevelyan without any one to assist her in the conference. As for Sir Marmaduke, no meeting could be concluded between him and his son-in-law without a personal, and probably a violent quarrel. Of that Lady Rowley had been quite sure. Sir Marmaduke, since he had been home, had, in the midst of his various troubles, been driven into so vehement a state of indignation against his son-in-law as to be unable to speak of the wretched man without strongest terms of opprobrium. Nothing was too bad to be said by him of one who had ill-treated his dearest daughter. It must be admitted that Sir Marmaduke had heard only one side of the question. He had questioned his daughter, and had constantly seen his old friend Osborne. The Colonel's journey down to Devonshire had been made to appear the most natural proceeding in the world. The correspondence of which Trevelyan thought so much had been shown to consist of such notes as might pass between any old gentleman and any young woman. The promise which Trevelyan had endeavoured to exact, and which Mrs. Trevelyan had declined to give, appeared to the angry father to be a monstrous insult. He knew that the Colonel was an older man than himself, and his Emily was still to him only a young girl. It was incredible to him that anybody should have regarded his old comrade as his daughter's lover. He did not believe that anybody had, in truth, so regarded the man. The tale had been a monstrous invention on the part of the husband, got up because he had become tired of his young wife. According to Sir Marmaduke's way of thinking, Trevelyan should either be thrashed within an inch of his life, or else locked up in a mad-house. Colonel Osborne shook his head, and expressed a conviction that the poor man was mad.
But Lady Rowley was more hopeful. Though she was as confident about her daughter as was the father, she was less confident about the old friend. She, probably, was alive to the fact that a man of fifty might put on the airs and assume the character of a young lover; and acting on that suspicion, entertaining also some hope that bad as matters now were they might be mended, she had taken care that Colonel Osborne and Mrs. Trevelyan should not be brought together. Sir Marmaduke had fumed, but Lady Rowley had been firm. "If you think so, mamma," Mrs. Trevelyan had said, with something of scorn in her tone,—"of course let it be so." Lady Rowley had said that it would be better so; and the two had not seen each other since the memorable visit to Nuncombe Putney. And now Lady Rowley was about to meet her son-in-law with some slight hope that she might arrange affairs. She was quite aware that present indignation, though certainly a gratification, might be indulged in at much too great a cost. It would be better for all reasons that Emily should go back to her husband and her home, and that Trevelyan should be forgiven for his iniquities.
Bozzle was at the tavern during the interview, but he was not seen by Lady Rowley. He remained seated down-stairs, in one of the dingy corners, ready to give assistance to his patron should assistance be needed. When Lady Rowley was shown into the gloomy sitting-room by the old waiter, she found Trevelyan alone, standing in the middle of the room, and waiting for her. "This is a sad occasion," he said, as he advanced to give her his hand.
"A very sad occasion, Louis."
"I do not know what you may have heard of what has occurred, Lady Rowley. It is natural, however, to suppose that you must have heard me spoken of with censure."
"I think my child has been ill used, Louis," she replied.
"Of course you do. I could not expect that it should be otherwise. When it was arranged that I should meet you here, I was quite aware that you would have taken the side against me before you had heard my story. It is I that have been ill used,—cruelly misused; but I do not expect that you should believe me. I do not wish you to do. I would not for worlds separate the mother from her daughter."
"But why have you separated your own wife from her child?"
"Because it was my duty. What! Is a father not to have the charge of his own son? I have done nothing, Lady Rowley, to justify a separation which is contrary to the laws of nature."
"Where is the boy, Louis?"
"Ah;—that is just what I am not prepared to tell any one who has taken my wife's side till I know that my wife has consented to pay to me that obedience which I, as her husband, have a right to demand. If Emily will do as I request of her, as I command her,"—as Trevelyan said this, he spoke in a tone which was intended to give the highest possible idea of his own authority and dignity,—"then she may see her child without delay."
"What is it you request of my daughter?"
"Obedience;—simply that. Submission to my will, which is surely a wife's duty. Let her beg my pardon for what has occurred,—"
"She cannot do that, Louis."
"And solemnly promise me," continued Trevelyan, not deigning to notice Lady Rowley's interruption, "that she will hold no further intercourse with that snake in the grass who wormed his way into my house,—let her be humble, and penitent, and affectionate, and then she shall be restored to her husband and to her child." He said this walking up and down the room, and waving his hand, as though he were making a speech that was intended to be eloquent,—as though he had conceived that he was to overcome his mother-in-law by the weight of his words and the magnificence of his demeanour. And yet his demeanour was ridiculous, and his words would have had no weight had they not tended to show Lady Rowley how little prospect there was that she should be able to heal this breach. He himself, too, was so altered in appearance since she had last seen him, bright with the hopes of his young married happiness, that she would hardly have recognised him had she met him in the street. He was thin, and pale, and haggard, and mean. And as he stalked up and down the room, it seemed to her that the very character of the man was changed. She had not previously known him to be pompous, unreasonable, and absurd. She did not answer him at once, as she perceived that he had not finished his address;—and, after a moment's pause, he continued. "Lady Rowley, there is nothing I would not have done for your daughter,—for my wife. All that I had was hers. I did not dictate to her any mode of life; I required from her no sacrifices; I subjected her to no caprices; but I was determined to be master in my own house."
"I do not think, Louis, that she has ever denied your right to be master."
"To be master in my own house, and to be paramount in my influence over her. So much I had a right to demand."
"Who has denied your right?"
"She has submitted herself to the counsels and to the influences of a man who has endeavoured to undermine me in her affection. In saying that I make my accusation as light against her as is possible. I might make it much heavier, and yet not sin against the truth."
"This is an illusion, Louis."
"Ah;—well. No doubt it becomes you to defend your child. Was it an illusion when he went to Devonshire? Was it an illusion when he corresponded with her,—contrary to my express orders,—both before and after that unhallowed journey? Lady Rowley, there must be no more such illusions. If my wife means to come back to me, and to have her child in her own hands, she must be penitent as regards the past, and obedient as regards the future."
There was a wicked bitterness in that word penitent which almost maddened Lady Rowley. She had come to this meeting believing that Trevelyan would be rejoiced to take back his wife, if details could be arranged for his doing so which should not subject him to the necessity of crying, peccavi; but she found him speaking of his wife as though he would be doing her the greatest possible favour in allowing her to come back to him dressed in sackcloth, and with ashes on her head. She could understand from what she had heard that his tone and manner were much changed since he obtained possession of the child, and that he now conceived that he had his wife within his power. That he should become a tyrant because he had the power to tyrannise was not in accordance with her former conception of the man's character;—but then he was so changed, that she felt that she knew nothing of the man who now stood before her. "I cannot acknowledge that my daughter has done anything that requires penitence," said Lady Rowley.
"I dare say not; but my view is different."
"She cannot admit herself to be wrong when she knows herself to be right. You would not have her confess to a fault, the very idea of which has always been abhorrent to her?"
"She must be crushed in spirit, Lady Rowley, before she can again become a pure and happy woman."
"This is more than I can bear," said Lady Rowley, now, at last, worked up to a fever of indignation. "My daughter, sir, is as pure a woman as you have ever known, or are likely to know. You, who should have protected her against the world, will some day take blame to yourself as you remember that you have so cruelly maligned her." Then she walked away to the door, and would not listen to the words which he was hurling after her. She went down the stairs, and out of the house, and at the end of Poulter's Alley found the cab which was waiting for her.
Trevelyan, as soon as he was alone, rang the bell, and sent for Bozzle. And while the waiter was coming to him, and until his myrmidon had appeared, he continued to stalk up and down the room, waving his hand in the air as though he were continuing his speech. "Bozzle," said he, as soon as the man had closed the door, "I have changed my mind."
"As how, Mr. Trewillian?"
"I shall make no further attempt. I have done all that man can do, and have done it in vain. Her father and mother uphold her in her conduct, and she is lost to me,—for ever."
"But the boy, Mr. T.?"
"I have my child. Yes,—I have my child. Poor infant. Bozzle, I look to you to see that none of them learn our retreat."
"As for that, Mr. Trewillian,—why facts is to be come at by one party pretty well as much as by another. Now, suppose the things was changed, wicey warsey,—and as I was hacting for the Colonel's party."
"D—— the Colonel!" exclaimed Trevelyan.
"Just so, Mr. Trewillian; but if I was hacting for the other party, and they said to me, 'Bozzle,—where's the boy?' why, in three days I'd be down on the facts. Facts is open, Mr. Trewillian, if you knows where to look for them."
"I shall take him abroad,—at once."
"Think twice of it, Mr. T. The boy is so young, you see, and a mother's 'art is softer and lovinger than anything. I'd think twice of it, Mr. T., before I kept 'em apart." This was a line of thought which Mr. Bozzle's conscience had not forced him to entertain to the prejudice of his professional arrangements; but now, as he conversed with his employer, and became by degrees aware of the failure of Trevelyan's mind, some shade of remorse came upon him, and made him say a word on behalf of the "other party."
"Am I not always thinking of it? What else have they left me to think of? That will do for to-day. You had better come down to me to-morrow afternoon." Bozzle promised obedience to these instructions, and as soon as his patron had started he paid the bill, and took himself home.
Lady Rowley, as she travelled back to her house in Manchester Street, almost made up her mind that the separation between her daughter and her son-in-law had better be continued. It was a very sad conclusion to which to come, but she could not believe that any high-spirited woman could long continue to submit herself to the caprices of a man so unreasonable and dictatorial as he to whom she had just been listening. Were it not for the boy, there would, she felt, be no doubt upon the matter. And now, as matters stood, she thought that it should be their great object to regain possession of the child. Then she endeavoured to calculate what would be the result to her daughter, if in very truth it should be found that the wretched man was mad. To hope for such a result seemed to her to be very wicked;—and yet she hardly knew how not to hope for it.
"Well, mamma," said Emily Trevelyan, with a faint attempt at a smile, "you saw him?"
"Yes, dearest, I saw him. I can only say that he is a most unreasonable man."
"And he would tell you nothing of Louey?"
"No dear,—not a word."
SIR MARMADUKE AT HOME.
Nora Rowley had told her lover that there was to be no further communication between them till her father and mother should be in England; but in telling him so, had so frankly confessed her own affection for him and had so sturdily promised to be true to him, that no lover could have been reasonably aggrieved by such an interdiction. Nora was quite conscious of this, and was aware that Hugh Stanbury had received such encouragement as ought at any rate to bring him to the new Rowley establishment, as soon as he should learn where it had fixed itself. But when at the end of ten days he had not shown himself, she began to feel doubts. Could it be that he had changed his mind, that he was unwilling to encounter refusal from her father, or that he had found, on looking into his own affairs more closely, that it would be absurd for him to propose to take a wife to himself while his means were so poor and so precarious? Sir Marmaduke during this time had been so unhappy, so fretful, so indignant, and so much worried, that Nora herself had become almost afraid of him; and, without much reasoning on the matter, had taught herself to believe that Hugh might be actuated by similar fears. She had intended to tell her mother of what had occurred between her and Stanbury the first moment that she and Lady Rowley were together; but then there had fallen upon them that terrible incident of the loss of the child, and the whole family had become at once so wrapped up in the agony of the bereaved mother, and so full of rage against the unreasonable father, that there seemed to Nora to be no possible opportunity for the telling of her own love-story. Emily herself appeared to have forgotten it in the midst of her own misery, and had not mentioned Hugh Stanbury's name since they had been in Manchester Street. We have all felt how on occasions our own hopes and fears, nay, almost our own individuality, become absorbed in and obliterated by the more pressing cares and louder voices of those around us. Nora hardly dared to allude to herself while her sister's grief was still so prominent, and while her father was daily complaining of his own personal annoyances at the Colonial Office. It seemed to her that at such a moment she could not introduce a new matter for dispute, and perhaps a new subject of dismay.
Nevertheless, as the days passed by, and as she saw nothing of Hugh Stanbury, her heart became sore and her spirit vexed. It seemed to her that if she were now deserted by him, all the world would be over for her. The Glascock episode in her life had passed by,—that episode which might have been her history, which might have been a history so prosperous, so magnificent, and probably so happy. As she thought of herself and of circumstances as they had happened to her, of the resolutions which she had made as to her own career when she first came to London, and of the way in which she had thrown all those resolutions away in spite of the wonderful success which had come in her path, she could not refrain from thinking that she had brought herself to shipwreck by her own indecision. It must not be imagined that she regretted what she had done. She knew very well that to have acted otherwise than she did when Mr. Glascock came to her at Nuncombe Putney would have proved her to be heartless, selfish, and unwomanly. Long before that time she had determined that it was her duty to marry a rich man,—and, if possible, a man in high position. Such a one had come to her,—one endowed with all the good things of the world beyond her most sanguine expectation,—and she had rejected him! She knew that she had been right because she had allowed herself to love the other man. She did not repent what she had done, the circumstances being as they were, but she almost regretted that she had been so soft in heart, so susceptible of the weakness of love, so little able to do as she pleased with herself. Of what use to her was it that she loved this man with all her strength of affection when he never came to her, although the time at which he had been told that he might come was now ten days past?
She was sitting one afternoon in the drawing-room listlessly reading, or pretending to read, a novel, when, on a sudden, Hugh Stanbury was announced. The circumstances of the moment were most unfortunate for such a visit. Sir Marmaduke, who had been down at Whitehall in the morning, and from thence had made a journey to St. Diddulph's-in-the-East and back, was exceedingly cross and out of temper. They had told him at his office that they feared he would not suffice to carry through the purpose for which he had been brought home. And his brother-in-law, the parson, had expressed to him an opinion that he was in great part responsible for the misfortune of his daughter, by the encouragement which he had given to such a man as Colonel Osborne. Sir Marmaduke had in consequence quarrelled both with the chief clerk and with Mr. Outhouse, and had come home surly and discontented. Lady Rowley and her eldest daughter were away, closeted at the moment with Lady Milborough, with whom they were endeavouring to arrange some plan by which the boy might at any rate be given back. Poor Emily Trevelyan was humble enough now to Lady Milborough,—was prepared to be humble to any one, and in any circumstances, so that she should not be required to acknowledge that she had entertained Colonel Osborne as her lover. The two younger girls, Sophy and Lucy, were in the room when Stanbury was announced, as was also Sir Marmaduke, who at that very moment was uttering angry growls at the obstinacy and want of reason with which he had been treated by Mr. Outhouse. Now Sir Marmaduke had not so much as heard the name of Hugh Stanbury as yet; and Nora, though her listlessness was all at an end, at once felt how impossible it would be to explain any of the circumstances of her case in such an interview as this. While, however, Hugh's dear steps were heard upon the stairs, her feminine mind at once went to work to ascertain in what best mode, with what most attractive reason for his presence, she might introduce the young man to her father. Had not the girls been then present, she thought that it might have been expedient to leave Hugh to tell his own story to Sir Marmaduke. But she had no opportunity of sending her sisters away; and, unless chance should remove them, this could not be done.
"He is son of the lady we were with at Nuncombe Putney," she whispered to her father as she got up to move across the room to welcome her lover. Now Sir Marmaduke had expressed great disapproval of that retreat to Dartmoor, and had only understood respecting it that it had been arranged between Trevelyan and the family in whose custody his two daughters had been sent away into banishment. He was not therefore specially disposed to welcome Hugh Stanbury in consequence of this mode of introduction.
Hugh, who had asked for Lady Rowley and Mrs. Trevelyan and had learned that they were out before he had mentioned Miss Rowley's name, was almost prepared to take his sweetheart into his arms. In that half-minute he had taught himself to expect that he would meet her alone, and had altogether forgotten Sir Marmaduke. Young men when they call at four o'clock in the day never expect to find papas at home. And of Sophia and Lucy he had either heard nothing or had forgotten what he had heard. He repressed himself however in time, and did not commit either Nora or himself by any very vehement demonstration of affection. But he did hold her hand longer than he should have done, and Sir Marmaduke saw that he did so.
"This is papa," said Nora. "Papa, this is our friend, Mr. Hugh Stanbury." The introduction was made in a manner almost absurdly formal, but poor Nora's difficulties lay heavy upon her. Sir Marmaduke muttered something;—but it was little more than a grunt. "Mamma and Emily are out," continued Nora. "I dare say they will be in soon." Sir Marmaduke looked round sharply at the man. Why was he to be encouraged to stay till Lady Rowley should return? Lady Rowley did not want to see him. It seemed to Sir Marmaduke, in the midst of his troubles, that this was no time to be making new acquaintances. "These are my sisters, Mr. Stanbury," continued Nora. "This is Sophia, and this is Lucy." Sophia and Lucy would have been thoroughly willing to receive their sister's lover with genial kindness if they had been properly instructed, and if the time had been opportune; but, as it was, they had nothing to say. They, also, could only mutter some little sound intended to be more courteous than their father's grunt. Poor Nora!
"I hope you are comfortable here," said Hugh.
"The house is all very well," said Nora, "but we don't like the neighbourhood."
Hugh also felt that conversation was difficult. He had soon come to perceive,—before he had been in the room half a minute,—that the atmosphere was not favourable to his mission. There was to be no embracing or permission for embracing on the present occasion. Had he been left alone with Sir Marmaduke he would probably have told his business plainly, let Sir Marmaduke's manner to him have been what it might; but it was impossible for him to do this with three young ladies in the room with him. Seeing that Nora was embarrassed by her difficulties, and that Nora's father was cross and silent, he endeavoured to talk to the other girls, and asked them concerning their journey and the ship in which they had come. But it was very up-hill work. Lucy and Sophy could talk as glibly as any young ladies home from any colony,—and no higher degree of fluency can be expressed;—but now they were cowed. Their elder sister was shamefully and most undeservedly disgraced, and this man had had something,—they knew not what,—to do with it. "Is Priscilla quite well?" Nora asked at last.
"Quite well. I heard from her yesterday. You know they have left the Clock House."
"I had not heard it."
"Oh yes;—and they are living in a small cottage just outside the village. And what else do you think has happened?"
"Nothing bad, I hope, Mr. Stanbury."
"My sister Dorothy has left her aunt, and is living with them again at Nuncombe."
"Has there been a quarrel, Mr. Stanbury?"
"Well, yes;—after a fashion there has, I suppose. But it is a long story and would not interest Sir Marmaduke. The wonder is that Dorothy should have been able to stay so long with my aunt. I will tell it you all some day." Sir Marmaduke could not understand why a long story about this man's aunt and sister should be told to his daughter. He forgot,—as men always do in such circumstances forget,—that, while he was living in the Mandarins, his daughter, living in England, would of course pick up new interest and become intimate with new histories. But he did not forget that pressure of the hand which he had seen, and he determined that his daughter Nora could not have any worse lover than the friend of his elder daughter's husband.
Stanbury had just determined that he must go, that there was no possibility for him either to say or do anything to promote his cause at the present moment, when the circumstances were all changed by the return home of Lady Rowley and Mrs. Trevelyan. Lady Rowley knew, and had for some days known, much more of Stanbury than had come to the ears of Sir Marmaduke. She understood in the first place that the Stanburys had been very good to her daughter, and she was aware that Hugh Stanbury had thoroughly taken her daughter's part against his old friend Trevelyan. She would therefore have been prepared to receive him kindly had he not on this very morning been the subject of special conversation between her and Emily. But, as it had happened, Mrs. Trevelyan had this very day told Lady Rowley the whole story of Nora's love. The elder sister had not intended to be treacherous to the younger; but in the thorough confidence which mutual grief and close conference had created between the mother and daughter, everything had at last come out, and Lady Rowley had learned the story, not only of Hugh Stanbury's courtship, but of those rich offers which had been made by the heir to the barony of Peterborough.
It must be acknowledged that Lady Rowley was greatly grieved and thoroughly dismayed. It was not only that Mr. Glascock was the eldest son of a peer, but that he was represented by the poor suffering wife of the ill-tempered man to be a man blessed with a disposition sweet as an angel's. "And she would have liked him," Emily had said, "if it had not been for this unfortunate young man." Lady Rowley was not worse than are other mothers, not more ambitious, or more heartless, or more worldly. She was a good mother, loving her children, and thoroughly anxious for their welfare. But she would have liked to be the mother-in-law of Lord Peterborough, and she would have liked, dearly, to see her second daughter removed from the danger of those rocks against which her eldest child had been shipwrecked. And when she asked after Hugh Stanbury, and his means of maintaining a wife, the statement which Mrs. Trevelyan made was not comforting. "He writes for a penny newspaper,—and, I believe, writes very well," Mrs. Trevelyan had said.
"For a penny newspaper! Is that respectable?"
"His aunt, Miss Stanbury, seemed to think not. But I suppose men of education do write for such things now. He says himself that it is very precarious as an employment."
"It must be precarious, Emily. And has he got nothing?"
"Not a penny of his own," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
Then Lady Rowley had thought again of Mr. Glascock, and of the family title, and of Monkhams. And she thought of her present troubles, and of the Mandarins, and the state of Sir Marmaduke's balance at the bankers;—and of the other girls, and of all there was before her to do. Here had been a very Apollo among suitors kneeling at her child's feet, and the foolish girl had sent him away for the sake of a young man who wrote for a penny newspaper! Was it worth the while of any woman to bring up daughters with such results? Lady Rowley, therefore, when she was first introduced to Hugh Stanbury, was not prepared to receive him with open arms.
On this occasion the task of introducing him fell to Mrs. Trevelyan, and was done with much graciousness. Emily knew that Hugh Stanbury was her friend, and would sympathise with her respecting her child. "You have heard what has happened to me?" she said. Stanbury, however, had heard nothing of that kidnapping of the child. Though to the Rowleys it seemed that such a deed of iniquity, done in the middle of London, must have been known to all the world, he had not as yet been told of it;—and now the story was given to him. Mrs. Trevelyan herself told it, with many tears and an agony of fresh grief; but still she told it as to one whom she regarded as a sure friend, and from whom she knew that she would receive sympathy. Sir Marmaduke sat by the while, still gloomy and out of humour. Why was their family sorrow to be laid bare to this stranger?
"It is the cruellest thing I ever heard," said Hugh.
"A dastardly deed," said Lady Rowley.
"But we all feel that for the time he can hardly know what he does," said Nora.
"And where is the child?" Stanbury asked.
"We have not the slightest idea," said Lady Rowley. "I have seen him, and he refuses to tell us. He did say that my daughter should see her boy; but he now accompanies his offer with such conditions that it is impossible to listen to him."
"And where is he?"
"We do not know where he lives. We can reach him only through a certain man—"
"Ah, I know the man," said Stanbury; "one who was a policeman once. His name is Bozzle."
"That is the man," said Sir Marmaduke. "I have seen him."
"And of course he will tell us nothing but what he is told to tell us," continued Lady Rowley. "Can there be anything so horrible as this,—that a wife should be bound to communicate with her own husband respecting her own child through such a man as that?"
"One might possibly find out where he keeps the child," said Hugh.
"If you could manage that, Mr. Stanbury!" said Lady Rowley.
"I hardly see that it would do much good," said Hugh. "Indeed I do not know why he should keep the place a secret. I suppose he has a right to the boy until the mother shall have made good her claim before the court." He promised, however, that he would do his best to ascertain where the child was kept, and where Trevelyan resided, and then,—having been nearly an hour at the house,—he was forced to get up and take his leave. He had said not a word to any one of the business that had brought him there. He had not even whispered an assurance of his affection to Nora. Till the two elder ladies had come in, and the subject of the taking of the boy had been mooted, he had sat there as a perfect stranger. He thought that it was manifest enough that Nora had told her secret to no one. It seemed to him that Mrs. Trevelyan must have forgotten it;—that Nora herself must have forgotten it, if such forgetting could be possible! He got up, however, and took his leave, and was comforted in some slight degree by seeing that there was a tear in Nora's eye.
"Who is he?" demanded Sir Marmaduke, as soon as the door was closed.
"He is a young man who was an intimate friend of Louis's," answered Mrs. Trevelyan; "but he is so no longer, because he sees how infatuated Louis has been."
"And why does he come here?"
"We know him very well," continued Mrs. Trevelyan. "It was he that arranged our journey down to Devonshire. He was very kind about it, and so were his mother and sister. We have every reason to be grateful to Mr. Stanbury." This was all very well, but Nora nevertheless felt that the interview had been anything but successful.
"Has he any profession?" asked Sir Marmaduke.
"He writes for the press," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"What do you mean;—books?"
"No;—for a newspaper."
"For a penny newspaper," said Nora boldly—"for the Daily Record."
"Then I hope he won't come here any more," said Sir Marmaduke. Nora paused a moment, striving to find words for some speech which might be true to her love and yet not unseemly,—but finding no such words ready, she got up from her seat and walked out of the room. "What is the meaning of it all?" asked Sir Marmaduke. There was a silence for a while, and then he repeated his question in another form. "Is there any reason for his coming here,—about Nora?"
"I think he is attached to Nora," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"My dear," said Lady Rowley, "perhaps we had better not speak about it just now."
"I suppose he has not a penny in the world," said Sir Marmaduke.
"He has what he earns," said Mrs. Trevelyan.
"If Nora understands her duty she will never let me hear his name again," said Sir Marmaduke. Then there was nothing more said, and as soon as they could escape, both Lady Rowley and Mrs. Trevelyan left the room.
"I should have told you everything," said Nora to her mother that night. "I had no intention to keep anything a secret from you. But we have all been so unhappy about Louey, that we have had no heart to talk of anything else."
"I understand all that, my darling."
"And I had meant that you should tell papa, for I supposed that he would come. And I meant that he should go to papa himself. He intended that himself,—only, to-day,—as things turned out—"
"Just so, dearest;—but it does not seem that he has got any income. It would be very rash,—wouldn't it?"
"People must be rash sometimes. Everybody can't have an income without earning it. I suppose people in professions do marry without having fortunes."
"When they have settled professions, Nora."
"And why is not his a settled profession? I believe he receives quite as much at seven and twenty as Uncle Oliphant does at sixty."
"But your Uncle Oliphant's income is permanent."
"Lawyers don't have permanent incomes, or doctors,—or merchants."
"But those professions are regular and sure. They don't marry, without fortunes, till they have made their incomes sure."
"Mr. Stanbury's income is sure. I don't know why it shouldn't be sure. He goes on writing and writing every day, and it seems to me that of all professions in the world it is the finest. I'd much sooner write for a newspaper than be one of those old musty, fusty lawyers, who'll say anything that they're paid to say."
"My dearest Nora, all that is nonsense. You know as well as I do that you should not marry a man when there is a doubt whether he can keep a house over your head;—that is his position."
"It is good enough for me, mamma."
"And what is his income from writing?"
"It is quite enough for me, mamma. The truth is I have promised, and I cannot go back from it. Dear, dear mamma, you won't quarrel with us, and oppose us, and make papa hard against us. You can do what you like with papa. I know that. Look at poor Emily. Plenty of money has not made her happy."
"If Mr. Glascock had only asked you a week sooner," said Lady Rowley, with a handkerchief to her eyes.
"But you see he didn't, mamma."
"When I think of it I cannot but weep"—and the poor mother burst out into a full flood of tears—"such a man, so good, so gentle, and so truly devoted to you."
"Mamma, what's the good of that now?"
"Going down all the way to Devonshire after you!"
"So did Hugh, mamma."
"A position that any girl in England would have envied you. I cannot but feel it. And Emily says she is sure he would come back if he got the very slightest encouragement."
"That is quite impossible, mamma."
"Why should it be impossible? Emily declares that she never saw a man so much in love in her life;—and she says also that she believes he is abroad now simply because he is broken-hearted about it."
"Mr. Glascock, mamma, was very nice and good and all that; but indeed he is not the man to suffer from a broken heart. And Emily is quite mistaken. I told him the whole truth."
"That there was somebody else that I did love. Then he said that of course that put an end to it all, and he wished me good-bye ever so calmly."
"How could you be so infatuated? Why should you have cut the ground away from your feet in that way?"
"Because I chose that there should be an end to it. Now there has been an end to it; and it is much better, mamma, that we should not think about Mr. Glascock any more. He will never come again to me,—and if he did, I could only say the same thing."
"You mustn't be surprised, Nora, if I'm unhappy; that is all. Of course I must feel it. Such a connection as it would have been for your sisters! Such a home for poor Emily in her trouble! And as for this other man—"
"Mamma, don't speak ill of him."
"If I say anything of him, I must say the truth," said Lady Rowley.
"Don't say anything against him, mamma, because he is to be my husband. Dear, dear mamma, you can't change me by anything you say. Perhaps I have been foolish; but it is settled now. Don't make me wretched by speaking against the man whom I mean to love all my life better than all the world."
"Think of Louis Trevelyan."
"I will think of no one but Hugh Stanbury. I tried not to love him, mamma. I tried to think that it was better to make believe that I loved Mr. Glascock. But he got the better of me, and conquered me, and I will never rebel against him. You may help me, mamma;—but you can't change me."
SIR MARMADUKE AT HIS CLUB.
Sir Marmaduke had come away from his brother-in-law the parson in much anger, for Mr. Outhouse, with that mixture of obstinacy and honesty which formed his character, had spoken hard words of Colonel Osborne, and words which by implication had been hard also against Emily Trevelyan. He had been very staunch to his niece when attacked by his niece's husband; but when his sympathies and assistance were invoked by Sir Marmaduke it seemed as though he had transferred his allegiance to the other side. He pointed out to the unhappy father that Colonel Osborne had behaved with great cruelty in going to Devonshire, that the Stanburys had been untrue to their trust in allowing him to enter the house, and that Emily had been "indiscreet" in receiving him. When a young woman is called indiscreet by her friends it may be assumed that her character is very seriously assailed. Sir Marmaduke had understood this, and on hearing the word had become wroth with his brother-in-law. There had been hot words between them, and Mr. Outhouse would not yield an inch or retract a syllable. He conceived it to be his duty to advise the father to caution his daughter with severity, to quarrel absolutely with Colonel Osborne, and to let Trevelyan know that this had been done. As to the child, Mr. Outhouse expressed a strong opinion that the father was legally entitled to the custody of his boy, and that nothing could be done to recover the child, except what might be done with the father's consent. In fact, Mr. Outhouse made himself exceedingly disagreeable, and sent away Sir Marmaduke with a very heavy heart. Could it really be possible that his old friend Fred Osborne, who seven or eight-and-twenty years ago had been potent among young ladies, had really been making love to his old friend's married daughter? Sir Marmaduke looked into himself, and conceived it to be quite out of the question that he should make love to any one. A good dinner, good wine, a good cigar, an easy chair, and a rubber of whist,—all these things, with no work to do, and men of his own standing around him were the pleasures of life which Sir Marmaduke desired. Now Fred Osborne was an older man than he, and though Fred Osborne did keep up a foolish system of padded clothes and dyed whiskers, still,—at fifty-two or fifty-three,—surely a man might be reckoned safe. And then, too, that ancient friendship! Sir Marmaduke, who had lived all his life in the comparative seclusion of a colony, thought perhaps more of that ancient friendship than did the Colonel, who had lived amidst the blaze of London life, and who had had many opportunities of changing his friends. Some inkling of all this made its way into Sir Marmaduke's bosom, as he thought of it with bitterness; and he determined that he would have it out with his friend.
Hitherto he had enjoyed very few of those pleasant hours which he had anticipated on his journey homewards. He had had no heart to go to his club, and he had fancied that Colonel Osborne had been a little backward in looking him up, and providing him with amusement. He had suggested this to his wife, and she had told him that the Colonel had been right not to come to Manchester Street. "I have told Emily," said Lady Rowley, "that she must not meet him, and she is quite of the same opinion." Nevertheless, there had been remissness. Sir Marmaduke felt that it was so, in spite of his wife's excuses. In this way he was becoming sore with everybody, and very unhappy. It did not at all improve his temper when he was told that his second daughter had refused an offer from Lord Peterborough's eldest son. "Then she may go into the workhouse for me," the angry father had said, declaring at the same time that he would never give his consent to her marriage with the man who "did dirty work" for the Daily Record,—as he, with his paternal wisdom, chose to express it. But this cruel phrase was not spoken in Nora's hearing, nor was it repeated to her. Lady Rowley knew her husband, and was aware that he would on occasions change his opinion.
It was not till two or three days after his visit to St. Diddulph's that he met Colonel Osborne. The Easter recess was then over, and Colonel Osborne had just returned to London. They met on the door-steps of "The Acrobats," and the Colonel immediately began with an apology. "I have been so sorry to be away just when you are here;—upon my word I have. But I was obliged to go down to the duchess's. I had promised early in the winter; and those people are so angry if you put them off. By George, it's almost as bad as putting off royalty."
"D——n the duchess," said Sir Marmaduke.
"With all my heart," said the Colonel;—"only I thought it as well that I should tell you the truth."
"What I mean is, that the duchess and her people make no difference to me. I hope you had a pleasant time; that's all."
"Well;—yes, we had. One must get away somewhere at Easter. There is no one left at the club, and there's no House, and no one asks one to dinner in town. In fact, if one didn't go away one wouldn't know what to do. There were ever so many people there that I liked to meet. Lady Glencora was there, and uncommon pleasant she made it. That woman has more to say for herself than any half-dozen men that I know. And Lord Cantrip, your chief, was there. He said a word or two to me about you."
"What sort of a word?"
"He says he wishes you would read up some blue-books, or papers, or reports, or something of that kind, which he says that some of his fellows have sent you. It seems that there are some new rules, or orders, or fashions, which he wants you to have at your fingers' ends. Nothing could be more civil than he was,—but he just wished me to mention this, knowing that you and I are likely to see each other."
"I wish I had never come over," said Sir Marmaduke.
"They didn't bother me with their new rules and fashions over there. When the papers came somebody read them, and that was enough. I could do what they wanted me to do there."
"And so you will here,—after a bit."
"I'm not so sure of that. Those young fellows seem to forget that an old dog can't learn new tricks. They've got a young brisk fellow there who seems to think that a man should be an encyclopedia of knowledge because he has lived in a colony over twenty years."
"That's the new under-secretary."
"Never mind who it is. Osborne, just come up to the library, will you? I want to speak to you." Then Sir Marmaduke, with considerable solemnity, led the way up to the most deserted room in the club, and Colonel Osborne followed him, well knowing that something was to be said about Emily Trevelyan.
Sir Marmaduke seated himself on a sofa, and his friend sat close beside him. The room was quite deserted. It was four o'clock in the afternoon, and the club was full of men. There were men in the morning-room, and men in the drawing-room, and men in the card-room, and men in the billiard-room; but no better choice of a chamber for a conference intended to be silent and secret could have been made in all London than that which had induced Sir Marmaduke to take his friend into the library of "The Acrobats." And yet a great deal of money had been spent in providing this library for "The Acrobats." Sir Marmaduke sat for awhile silent, and had he sat silent for an hour, Colonel Osborne would not have interrupted him. Then, at last, he began, with a voice that was intended to be serious, but which struck upon the ear of his companion as being affected and unlike the owner of it. "This is a very sad thing about my poor girl," said Sir Marmaduke.
"Indeed it is. There is only one thing to be said about it, Rowley."
"And what's that?"
"The man must be mad."
"He is not so mad as to give us any relief by his madness,—poor as such comfort would be. He has got Emily's child away from her, and I think it will about kill her. And what is to become of her? As to taking her back to the islands without her child, it is out of the question. I never knew anything so cruel in my life."
"And so absurd, you know."
"Ah,—that's just the question. If anybody had asked me, I should have said that you were the man of all men whom I could have best trusted."
"Do you doubt it now?"
"I don't know what to think."
"Do you mean to say that you suspect me,—and your daughter too?"
"No;—by heavens! Poor dear. If I suspected her, there would be an end of all things with me. I could never get over that. No; I don't suspect her!" Sir Marmaduke had now dropped his affected tone, and was speaking with natural energy.
"But you do me?"
"No;—if I did, I don't suppose I should be sitting with you here; but they tell me—"
"They tell you what?"
"They tell me that,—that you did not behave wisely about it. Why could you not let her alone when you found out how matters were going?"
"Who has been telling you this, Rowley?"
Sir Marmaduke considered for awhile, and then remembering that Colonel Osborne could hardly quarrel with a clergyman, told him the truth. "Outhouse says that you have done her an irretrievable injury by going down to Devonshire to her, and by writing to her."
"Outhouse is an ass."
"That is easily said;—but why did you go?"
"And why should I not go? What the deuce! Because a man like that chooses to take vagaries into his head I am not to see my own godchild!" Sir Marmaduke tried to remember whether the Colonel was in fact the godfather of his eldest daughter, but he found that his mind was quite a blank about his children's godfathers and godmothers. "And as for the letters;—I wish you could see them. The only letters which had in them a word of importance were those about your coming home. I was anxious to get that arranged, not only for your sake, but because she was so eager about it."
"God bless her, poor child," said Sir Marmaduke, rubbing the tears away from his eyes with his red silk pocket-handkerchief.
"I will acknowledge that those letters,—there may have been one or two,—were the beginning of the trouble. It was these that made this man show himself to be a lunatic. I do admit that. I was bound not to talk about your coming, and I told her to keep the secret. He went spying about, and found her letters, I suppose,—and then he took fire because there was to be a secret from him. Dirty, mean dog! And now I'm to be told by such a fellow as Outhouse that it's my fault, that I have caused all the trouble, because, when I happened to be in Devonshire, I went to see your daughter!" We must do the Colonel the justice of supposing that he had by this time quite taught himself to believe that the church porch at Cockchaffington had been the motive cause of his journey into Devonshire. "Upon my word it is too hard," continued he indignantly. "As for Outhouse,—only for the gown upon his back, I'd pull his nose. And I wish that you would tell him that I say so."
"There is trouble enough without that," said Sir Marmaduke.
"But it is hard. By G——, it is hard. There is this comfort;—if it hadn't been me, it would have been some one else. Such a man as that couldn't have gone two or three years, without being jealous of some one. And as for poor Emily, she is better off perhaps with an accusation so absurd as this, than she might have been had her name been joined with a younger man, or with one whom you would have less reason for trusting."
There was so much that seemed to be sensible in this, and it was spoken with so well assumed a tone of injured innocence, that Sir Marmaduke felt that he had nothing more to say. He muttered something further about the cruelty of the case, and then slunk away out of the club, and made his way home to the dull gloomy house in Manchester Street. There was no comfort for him there;—but neither was there any comfort for him at the club. And why did that vexatious Secretary of State send him messages about blue books? As he went, he expressed sundry wishes that he was back at the Mandarins, and told himself that it would be well that he should remain there till he died.
When the thirty-first of March arrived, Exeter had not as yet been made gay with the marriage festivities of Mr. Gibson and Camilla French. And this delay had not been the fault of Camilla. Camilla had been ready, and when, about the middle of the month, it was hinted to her that some postponement was necessary, she spoke her mind out plainly, and declared that she was not going to stand that kind of thing. The communication had not been made to her by Mr. Gibson in person. For some days previously he had not been seen at Heavitree, and Camilla had from day to day become more black, gloomy, and harsh in her manners both to her mother and her sister. Little notes had come and little notes had gone, but no one in the house, except Camilla herself, knew what those notes contained. She would not condescend to complain to Arabella; nor did she say much in condemnation of her lover to Mrs. French, till the blow came. With unremitting attention she pursued the great business of her wedding garments, and exacted from the unfortunate Arabella an amount of work equal to her own,—of thankless work, as is the custom of embryo brides with their unmarried sisters. And she drew with great audacity on the somewhat slender means of the family for the amount of feminine gear necessary to enable her to go into Mr. Gibson's house with something of the éclat of a well-provided bride. When Mrs. French hesitated, and then expostulated, Camilla replied that she did not expect to be married above once, and that in no cheaper or more productive way than this could her mother allow her to consume her share of the family resources. "What matter, mamma, if you do have to borrow a little money? Mr. Burgess will let you have it when he knows why. And as I shan't be eating and drinking at home any more, nor yet getting my things here, I have a right to expect it." And she ended by expressing an opinion, in Arabella's hearing, that any daughter of a house who proves herself to be capable of getting a husband for herself, is entitled to expect that those left at home shall pinch themselves for a time, in order that she may go forth to the world in a respectable way, and be a credit to the family.
Then came the blow. Mr. Gibson had not been at the house for some days, but the notes had been going and coming. At last Mr. Gibson came himself; but, as it happened, when he came, Camilla was out shopping. In these days she often did go out shopping between eleven and one, carrying her sister with her. It must have been but a poor pleasure for Arabella, this witnessing the purchases made, seeing the pleasant draperies, and handling the real linens and admiring the fine cambrics spread out before them on the shop counters by obsequious attendants. And the questions asked of her by her sister, whether this was good enough for so august an occasion, or that sufficiently handsome, must have been harassing. She could not have failed to remember that it ought all to have been done for her,—that had she not been treated with monstrous injustice, with most unsisterly cruelty, all these good things would have been spread on her behoof. But she went on and endured it, and worked diligently with her needle, and folded and unfolded as she was desired, and became as it were quite a younger sister in the house,—creeping out by herself now and again into the purlieus of the city, to find such consolation as she might receive from her solitary thoughts.
But Arabella and Camilla were both away when Mr. Gibson called to tell Mrs. French of his altered plans. And as he asked, not for his lady-love, but for Mrs. French herself, it is probable that he watched his opportunity and that he knew to what cares his Camilla was then devoting herself. "Perhaps it is quite as well that I should find you alone," he said, after sundry preludes, to his future mother-in-law, "because you can make Camilla understand this better than I can. I must put off the day for about three weeks."
"Three weeks, Mr. Gibson?"
"Or a month. Perhaps we had better say the 29th of April." Mr. Gibson had by this time thrown off every fear that he might have entertained of the mother, and could speak to her of such an unwarrantable change of plans with tolerable equanimity.
"But I don't know that that will suit Camilla at all."
"She can name any other day she pleases, of course;—that is, in May."
"But why is this to be?"
"There are things about money, Mrs. French, which I cannot arrange sooner. And I find that unfortunately I must go up to London." Though many other questions were asked, nothing further was got out of Mr. Gibson on that occasion; and he left the house with a perfect understanding on his own part,—and on that of Mrs. French,—that the marriage was postponed till some day still to be fixed, but which could not and should not be before the 29th of April. Mrs. French asked him why he did not come up and see Camilla. He replied,—false man that he was,—that he had hoped to have seen her this morning, and that he would come again before the week was over.
Then it was that Camilla spoke her mind out plainly. "I shall go to his house at once," she said, "and find out all about it. I don't understand it. I don't understand it at all; and I won't put up with it. He shall know who he has to deal with, if he plays tricks upon me. Mamma, I wonder you let him out of the house, till you had made him come back to his old day."
"What could I do, my dear?"
"What could you do? Shake him out of it,—as I would have done. But he didn't dare to tell me,—because he is a coward."
Camilla in all this showed her spirit; but she allowed her anger to hurry her away into an indiscretion. Arabella was present, and Camilla should have repressed her rage.
"I don't think he's at all a coward," said Arabella.
"That's my business. I suppose I'm entitled to know what he is better than you."
"All the same I don't think Mr. Gibson is at all a coward," said Arabella, again pleading the cause of the man who had misused her.
"Now, Arabella, I won't take any interference from you; mind that. I say it was cowardly, and he should have come to me. It's my concern, and I shall go to him. I'm not going to be stopped by any shilly-shally nonsense, when my future respectability, perhaps, is at stake. All Exeter knows that the marriage is to take place on the 31st of this month."
On the next day Camilla absolutely did go to Mr. Gibson's house at an early hour, at nine, when, as she thought, he would surely be at breakfast. But he had flown. He had left Exeter that morning by an early train, and his servant thought that he had gone to London. On the next morning Camilla got a note from him, written in London. It affected to be very cheery and affectionate, beginning "Dearest Cammy," and alluding to the postponement of his wedding as though it were a thing so fixed as to require no further question. Camilla answered this letter, still in much wrath, complaining, protesting, expostulating;—throwing in his teeth the fact that the day had been fixed by him, and not by her. And she added a postscript in the following momentous words:—"If you have any respect for the name of your future wife, you will fall back upon your first arrangement." To this she got simply a line of an answer, declaring that this falling back was impossible, and then nothing was heard of him for ten days. He had gone from Tuesday to Saturday week;—and the first that Camilla saw of him was his presence in the reading desk when he chaunted the cathedral service as priest-vicar on the Sunday.
At this time Arabella was very ill, and was confined to her bed. Mr. Martin declared that her system had become low from over anxiety,—that she was nervous, weak, and liable to hysterics,—that her feelings were in fact too many for her,—and that her efforts to overcome them, and to face the realities of the world, had exhausted her. This was, of course, not said openly, at the town-cross of Exeter; but such was the opinion which Mr. Martin gave in confidence to the mother. "Fiddle-de-dee!" said Camilla, when she was told of feelings, susceptibilities, and hysterics. At the present moment she had a claim to the undivided interest of the family, and she believed that her sister's illness was feigned in order to defraud her of her rights. "My dear, she is ill," said Mrs. French. "Then let her have a dose of salts," said the stern Camilla. This was on the Sunday afternoon. Camilla had endeavoured to see Mr. Gibson as he came out of the cathedral, but had failed. Mr. Gibson had been detained within the building,—no doubt by duties connected with the choral services. On that evening he got a note from Camilla, and quite early on the Monday morning he came up to Heavitree.
"You will find her in the drawing-room," said Mrs. French, as she opened the hall-door for him. There was a smile on her face as she spoke, but it was a forced smile. Mr. Gibson did not smile at all.
"Is it all right with her?" he asked.
"Well;—you had better go to her. You see, Mr. Gibson, young ladies, when they are going to be married, think that they ought to have their own way a little, just for the last time, you know." He took no notice of the joke, but went with slow steps up to the drawing-room. It would be inquiring too curiously to ask whether Camilla, when she embraced him, discerned that he had fortified his courage that morning with a glass of curacoa.
"What does all this mean, Thomas?" was the first question that Camilla asked when the embrace was over.
"All what mean, dear?"
"This untoward delay. Thomas, you have almost broken my heart. You have been away, and I have not heard from you."
"I wrote twice, Camilla."
"And what sort of letters? If there is anything the matter, Thomas, you had better tell me at once." She paused, but Thomas held his tongue. "I don't suppose you want to kill me."
"God forbid," said Thomas.
"But you will. What must everybody think of me in the city when they find that it is put off? Poor mamma has been dreadful;—quite dreadful! And here is Arabella now laid up on a bed of sickness." This, too, was indiscreet. Camilla should have said nothing about her sister's sickness.
"I have been so sorry to hear about dear Bella," said Mr. Gibson.
"I don't suppose she's very bad," said Camilla, "but of course we all feel it. Of course we're upset. As for me, I bear up; because I've that spirit that I won't give way if it's ever so; but, upon my word, it tries me hard. What is the meaning of it, Thomas?"
But Thomas had nothing to say beyond what he had said before to Mrs. French. He was very particular, he said, about money; and certain money matters made it incumbent on him not to marry before the 29th of April. When Camilla suggested to him that as she was to be his wife, she ought to know all about his money matters, he told her that she should,—some day. When they were married, he would tell her all. Camilla talked a great deal, and said some things that were very severe. Mr. Gibson did not enjoy his morning, but he endured the upbraidings of his fair one with more firmness than might perhaps have been expected from him. He left all the talking to Camilla; but when he got up to leave her, the 29th of April had been fixed, with some sort of assent from her, as the day on which she was really to become Mrs. Gibson.
When he left the room, he again met Mrs. French on the landing-place. She hesitated a moment, waiting to see whether the door would be shut; but the door could not be shut, as Camilla was standing in the entrance. "Mr. Gibson," said Mrs. French, in a voice that was scarcely a whisper, "would you mind stepping in and seeing poor Bella for a moment?"
"Why;—she is in bed," said Camilla.
"Yes;—she is in bed; but she thinks it would be a comfort to her. She has seen nobody these four days except Mr. Martin, and she thinks it would comfort her to have a word or two with Mr. Gibson." Now Mr. Gibson was not only going to be Bella's brother-in-law, but he was also a clergyman. Camilla in her heart believed that the half-clerical aspect which her mother had given to the request was false and hypocritical. There were special reasons why Bella should not have wished to see Mr. Gibson in her bedroom, at any rate till Mr. Gibson had become her brother-in-law. The expression of such a wish at the present moment was almost indecent.
"You'll be there with them?" said Camilla. Mr. Gibson blushed up to his ears as he heard the suggestion. "Of course you'll be there with them, mamma."
"No, my dear, I think not. I fancy she wishes him to read to her,—or something of that sort." Then Mr. Gibson, without speaking a word, but still blushing up to his ears, was taken to Arabella's room; and Camilla, flouncing into the drawing-room, banged the door behind her. She had hitherto fought her battle with considerable skill and with great courage;—but her very success had made her imprudent. She had become so imperious in the great position which she had reached, that she could not control her temper or wait till her power was confirmed. The banging of that door was heard through the whole house, and every one knew why it was banged. She threw herself on to a sofa, and then, instantly rising again, paced the room with quick step. Could it be possible that there was treachery? Was it on the cards that that weak, poor creature, Bella, was intriguing once again to defraud her of her husband? There were different things that she now remembered. Arabella, in that moment of bliss in which she had conceived herself to be engaged to Mr. Gibson, had discarded her chignon. Then she had resumed it,—in all its monstrous proportions. Since that it had been lessened by degrees, and brought down, through various interesting but abnormal shapes, to a size which would hardly have drawn forth any anathema from Miss Stanbury. And now, on this very morning, Arabella had put on a clean nightcap, with muslin frills. It is perhaps not unnatural that a sick lady, preparing to receive a clergyman in her bedroom, should put on a clean nightcap,—but to suspicious eyes small causes suffice to create alarm. And if there were any such hideous wickedness in the wind, had Arabella any colleague in her villainy? Could it be that the mother was plotting against her daughter's happiness and respectability? Camilla was well aware that her mamma would at first have preferred to give Arabella to Mr. Gibson, had the choice in the matter been left to her. But now, when the thing had been settled before all the world, would not such treatment on a mother's part be equal to infanticide? And then as to Mr. Gibson himself! Camilla was not prone to think little of her own charms, but she had been unable not to perceive that her lover had become negligent in his personal attentions to her. An accepted lover, who deserves to have been accepted, should devote every hour at his command to his mistress. But Mr. Gibson had of late been so chary of his presence at Heavitree, that Camilla could not but have known that he took no delight in coming thither. She had acknowledged this to herself; but she had consoled herself with the reflection that marriage would make this all right. Mr. Gibson was not the man to stray from his wife, and she could trust herself to obtain a sufficient hold upon her husband hereafter, partly by the strength of her tongue, partly by the ascendency of her spirit, and partly, also, by the comforts which she would provide for him. She had not doubted but that it would be all well when they should be married;—but how if, even now, there should be no marriage for her? Camilla French had never heard of Creusa and of Jason, but as she paced her mother's drawing-room that morning she was a Medea in spirit. If any plot of that kind should be in the wind, she would do such things that all Devonshire should hear of her wrongs and of her revenge!
In the meantime Mr. Gibson was sitting by Arabella's bedside, while Mrs. French was trying to make herself busy in her own chamber, next door. There had been a reading of some chapter of the Bible,—or of some portion of a chapter. And Mr. Gibson, as he read, and Arabella, as she listened, had endeavoured to take to their hearts and to make use of the word which they heard. The poor young woman, when she begged her mother to send to her the man who was so dear to her, did so with some half-formed condition that it would be good for her to hear a clergyman read to her. But now the chapter had been read, and the book was back in Mr. Gibson's pocket, and he was sitting with his hand on the bed. "She is so very arrogant," said Bella,—"and so domineering." To this Mr. Gibson made no reply. "I'm sure I have endeavoured to bear it well, though you must have known what I have suffered, Thomas. Nobody can understand it so well as you do."
"I wish I had never been born," said Mr. Gibson, tragically.
"Don't say that, Thomas,—because it's wicked."
"But I do. See all the harm I have done;—and yet I did not mean it."
"You must try and do the best you can now. I am not saying what that should be. I am not dictating to you. You are a man, and, of course, you must judge for yourself. But I will say this. You shouldn't do anything just because it is the easiest. I don't suppose I should live after it. I don't indeed. But that should not signify to you."
"I don't suppose that any man was ever before in such a terrible position since the world began."
"It is difficult;—I am sure of that, Thomas."
"And I have meant to be so true. I fancy sometimes that some mysterious agency interferes with the affairs of a man, and drives him on,—and on,—and on,—almost,—till he doesn't know where it drives him." As he said this in a voice that was quite sepulchral in its tone, he felt some consolation in the conviction that this mysterious agency could not affect a man without embuing him with a certain amount of grandeur,—very uncomfortable, indeed, in its nature, but still having considerable value as a counterpoise. Pride must bear pain;—but pain is recompensed by pride.
"She is so strong, Thomas, that she can put up with anything," said Arabella, in a whisper.
"Strong;—yes," said he, with a shudder;—"she is strong enough."
"And as for love—"
"Don't talk about it," said he, getting up from his chair. "Don't talk about it. You will drive me frantic."
"You know what my feelings are, Thomas; you have always known them. There has been no change since I was the young thing you first knew me." As she spoke, she just touched his hand with hers; but he did not seem to notice this, sitting with his elbow on the arm of his chair and his forehead on his hand. In reply to what she said to him, he merely shook his head,—not intending to imply thereby any doubt of the truth of her assertion. "You have now to make up your mind and to be bold, Thomas," continued Arabella. "She says that you are a coward; but I know that you are no coward. I told her so, and she said that I was interfering. Oh,—that she should be able to tell me that I interfere when I defend you!"
"I must go," said Mr. Gibson, jumping up from his chair. "I must go. Bella, I cannot stand this any longer. It is too much for me. I will pray that I may decide aright. God bless you!" Then he kissed her brow as she lay in bed, and hurried out of the room.
He had hoped to go from the house without further converse with any of its inmates; for his mind was disturbed, and he longed to be at rest. But he was not allowed to escape so easily. Camilla met him at the dining-room door, and accosted him with a smile. There had been time for much meditation during the last half hour, and Camilla had meditated. "How do you find her, Thomas?" she asked.
"She seems weak, but I believe she is better. I have been reading to her."
"Come in, Thomas;—will you not? It is bad for us to stand talking on the stairs. Dear Thomas, don't let us be so cold to each other." He had no alternative but to put his arm round her waist and kiss her, thinking, as he did so, of the mysterious agency which afflicted him. "Tell me that you love me, Thomas," she said.
"Of course I love you." The question is not a pleasant one when put by a lady to a gentleman whose affections towards her are not strong, and it requires a very good actor to produce an efficient answer.
"I hope you do, Thomas. It would be sad, indeed, if you did not. You are not weary of your Camilla,—are you?"
For a moment there came upon him an idea that he would confess that he was weary of her, but he found at once that such an effort was beyond his powers. "How can you ask such a question?" he said.
"Because you do not—come to me." Camilla, as she spoke, laid her head upon his shoulder, and wept. "And now you have been five minutes with me and nearly an hour with Bella."
"She wanted me to read to her," said Mr. Gibson;—and he hated himself thoroughly as he said it.
"And now you want to get away as fast as you can," continued Camilla.
"Because of the morning service," said Mr. Gibson. This was quite true, and yet he hated himself again for saying it. As Camilla knew the truth of the last plea, she was obliged to let him go; but she made him swear before he went that he loved her dearly. "I think it's all right," she said to herself as he went down the stairs. "I don't think he'd dare make it wrong. If he does;—o-oh!"
Mr. Gibson, as he walked into Exeter, endeavoured to justify his own conduct to himself. There was no moment, he declared to himself, in which he had not endeavoured to do right. Seeing the manner in which he had been placed among these two young women, both of whom had fallen in love with him, how could he have saved himself from vacillation? And by what untoward chance had it come to pass that he had now learned to dislike so vigorously, almost to hate, the one with whom he had been for a moment sufficiently infatuated to think that he loved?
But with all his arguments he did not succeed in justifying to himself his own conduct, and he hated himself.