SHEWING WHAT HUGH STANBURY THOUGHT ABOUT THE DUTY OF MAN.
In the conference which took place between Sir Marmaduke and his wife after the interview between him and Nora, it was his idea that nothing further should be done at all. "I don't suppose the man will come here if he be told not," said Sir Marmaduke, "and if he does, Nora of course will not see him." He then suggested that Nora would of course go back with them to the Mandarins, and that when once there she would not be able to see Stanbury any more. "There must be no correspondence or anything of that sort, and so the thing will die away." But Lady Rowley declared that this would not quite suffice. Mr. Stanbury had made his offer in due form, and must be held to be entitled to an answer. Sir Marmaduke, therefore, wrote the following letter to the "penny-a-liner," mitigating the asperity of his language in compliance with his wife's counsels.
Manchester Street, April 20th, 186—.
My Dear Sir,—
Lady Rowley has told me of your proposal to my daughter Nora; and she has told me also what she learned from you as to your circumstances in life. I need hardly point out to you that no father would be justified in giving his daughter to a gentleman upon so small an income, and upon an income so very insecure.
I am obliged to refuse my consent, and I must therefore ask you to abstain from visiting and from communicating with my daughter.
Hugh Stanbury, Esq.
This letter was directed to Stanbury at the office of the D. R., and Sir Marmaduke, as he wrote the pernicious address, felt himself injured in that he was compelled to write about his daughter to a man so circumstanced. Stanbury, when he got the letter, read it hastily and then threw it aside. He knew what it would contain before he opened it. He had heard enough from Lady Rowley to be aware that Sir Marmaduke would not welcome him as a son-in-law. Indeed, he had never expected such welcome. He was half-ashamed of his own suit because of the lowliness of his position,—half-regretful that he should have induced such a girl as Nora Rowley to give up for his sake her hopes of magnificence and splendour. But Sir Marmaduke's letter did not add anything to this feeling. He read it again, and smiled as he told himself that the father would certainly be very weak in the hands of his daughter. Then he went to work again at his article with a persistent resolve that so small a trifle as such a note should have no effect upon his daily work. Of course Sir Marmaduke would refuse his consent. Of course it would be for him, Stanbury, to marry the girl he loved in opposition to her father. Her father indeed! If Nora chose to take him,—and as to that he was very doubtful as to Nora's wisdom,—but if Nora would take him, what was any father's opposition to him? He wanted nothing from Nora's father. He was not looking for money with his wife;—nor for fashion, nor countenance. Such a Bohemian was he that he would be quite satisfied if his girl would walk out to him, and become his wife, with any morning-gown on and with any old hat that might come readiest to hand. He wanted neither cards, nor breakfast, nor carriages, nor fine clothes. If his Nora should choose to come to him as she was, he having had all previous necessary arrangements duly made,—such as calling of banns or procuring of licence if possible,—he thought that a father's opposition would almost add something to the pleasure of the occasion. So he pitched the letter on one side, and went on with his article. And he finished his article; but it may be doubted whether it was completed with the full strength and pith needed for moving the pulses of the national mind,—as they should be moved by leading articles in the D. R. As he was writing he was thinking of Nora,—and thinking of the letter which Nora's father had sent to him. Trivial as was the letter, he could not keep himself from repeating the words of it to himself. "'Need hardly point out,'—oh; needn't he. Then why does he? Refusing his consent! I wonder what the old buffers think is the meaning of their consent, when they are speaking of daughters old enough to manage for themselves? Abstain from visiting or communicating with her! But if she visits and communicates with me;—what then? I can't force my way into the house, but she can force her way out. Does he imagine that she can be locked up in the nursery or put into the corner?" So he argued with himself, and by such arguments he brought himself to the conviction that it would be well for him to answer Sir Marmaduke's letter. This he did at once,—before leaving the office of the D. R.
250, Fleet Street, 20th April.
My dear Sir Marmaduke Rowley,—
I have just received your letter, and am indeed sorry that its contents should be so little favourable to my hopes. I understand that your objection to me is simply in regard to the smallness and insecurity of my income. On the first point I may say that I have fair hopes that it may be at once increased. As to the second, I believe I may assert that it is as sure at least as the income of other professional men, such as barristers, merchants, and doctors. I cannot promise to say that I will not see your daughter. If she desires me to do so, of course I shall be guided by her views. I wish that I might be allowed an opportunity of seeing you, as I think I could reverse or at least mitigate some of the objections which you feel to our marriage.
Yours most faithfully,
On the next day but one Sir Marmaduke came to him. He was sitting at the office of the D. R., in a very small and dirty room at the back of the house, and Sir Marmaduke found his way thither through a confused crowd of compositors, pressmen, and printers' boys. He thought that he had never before been in a place so foul, so dark, so crowded, and so comfortless. He himself was accustomed to do his work, out in the Islands, with many of the appanages of vice-royalty around him. He had his secretary, and his private secretary, and his inner-room, and his waiting-room; and not unfrequently he had the honour of a dusky sentinel walking before the door through which he was to be approached. He had an idea that all gentlemen at their work had comfortable appurtenances around them,—such as carpets, dispatch-boxes, unlimited stationery, easy chairs for temporary leisure, big table-space, and a small world of books around them to give at least a look of erudition to their pursuits. There was nothing of the kind in the miserably dark room occupied by Stanbury. He was sitting at a wretched little table on which there was nothing but a morsel of blotting paper, a small ink-bottle, and the paper on which he was scribbling. There was no carpet there, and no dispatch-box, and the only book in the room was a little dog's-eared dictionary. "Sir Marmaduke, I am so much obliged to you for coming," said Hugh. "I fear you will find this place a little rough, but we shall be all alone."
"The place, Mr. Stanbury, will not signify, I think."
"Not in the least,—if you don't mind it. I got your letter, you know, Sir Marmaduke."
"And I have had your reply. I have come to you because you have expressed a wish for an interview;—but I do not see that it will do any good."
"You are very kind for coming, indeed, Sir Marmaduke;—very kind. I thought I might explain something to you about my income."
"Can you tell me that you have any permanent income?"
"It goes on regularly from month to month;"—Sir Marmaduke did not feel the slightest respect for an income that was paid monthly. According to his ideas, a gentleman's income should be paid quarterly, or perhaps half-yearly. According to his view, a monthly salary was only one degree better than weekly wages;—"and I suppose that is permanence," said Hugh Stanbury.
"I cannot say that I so regard it."
"A barrister gets his, you know, very irregularly. There is no saying when he may have it."
"But a barrister's profession is recognised as a profession among gentlemen, Mr. Stanbury."
"And is not ours recognised? Which of us, barristers or men of literature, have the most effect on the world at large? Who is most thought of in London, Sir Marmaduke,—the Lord Chancellor or the Editor of the 'Jupiter?'"
"The Lord Chancellor a great deal," said Sir Marmaduke, quite dismayed by the audacity of the question.
"By no means, Sir Marmaduke," said Stanbury, throwing out his hand before him so as to give the energy of action to his words. "He has the higher rank. I will admit that."
"I should think so," said Sir Marmaduke.
"And the larger income."
"Very much larger, I should say," said Sir Marmaduke, with a smile.
"And he wears a wig."
"Yes;—he wears a wig," said Sir Marmaduke, hardly knowing in what spirit to accept this assertion.
"And nobody cares one brass button for him or his opinions," said Stanbury, bringing down his hand heavily on the little table for the sake of emphasis.
"If you'll think of it, it is so."
"Nobody cares for the Lord Chancellor!" It certainly is the fact that gentlemen living in the Mandarin Islands do think more of the Lord Chancellor, and the Lord Mayor, and the Lord-Lieutenant, and the Lord Chamberlain, than they whose spheres of life bring them into closer contact with those august functionaries. "I presume, Mr. Stanbury, that a connection with a penny newspaper makes such opinions as these almost a necessity."
"Quite a necessity, Sir Marmaduke. No man can hold his own in print, now-a-days, unless he can see the difference between tinsel and gold."
"And the Lord Chancellor, of course, is tinsel."
"I do not say so. He may be a great lawyer,—and very useful. But his lordship, and his wig, and his woolsack, are tinsel in comparison with the real power possessed by the editor of a leading newspaper. If the Lord Chancellor were to go to bed for a month, would he be much missed?"
"I don't know, sir. I'm not in the secrets of the Cabinet. I should think he would."
"About as much as my grandmother;—but if the Editor of the 'Jupiter' were to be taken ill, it would work quite a commotion. For myself I should be glad,—on public grounds,—because I don't like his mode of business. But it would have an effect,—because he is a leading man."
"I don't see what all this leads to, Mr. Stanbury."
"Only to this,—that we who write for the press think that our calling is recognised, and must be recognised as a profession. Talk of permanence, Sir Marmaduke, are not the newspapers permanent? Do not they come out regularly every day,—and more of them, and still more of them, are always coming out? You do not expect a collapse among them."
"There will be plenty of newspapers, I do not doubt;—more than plenty, perhaps."
"Somebody must write them,—and the writers will be paid."
"Anybody could write the most of them, I should say."
"I wish you would try, Sir Marmaduke. Just try your hand at a leading article to-night, and read it yourself to-morrow morning."
"I've a great deal too much to do, Mr. Stanbury."
"Just so. You have, no doubt, the affairs of your Government to look to. We are all so apt to ignore the work of our neighbours! It seems to me that I could go over and govern the Mandarins without the slightest trouble in the world. But no doubt I am mistaken;—just as you are about writing for the newspapers."
"I do not know," said Sir Marmaduke, rising from his chair with dignity, "that I called here to discuss such matters as these. As it happens, you, Mr. Stanbury, are not the Governor of the Mandarins, and I have not the honour to write for the columns of the penny newspaper with which you are associated. It is therefore useless to discuss what either of us might do in the position held by the other."
"Altogether useless, Sir Marmaduke,—except just for the fun of the thing."
"I do not see the fun, Mr. Stanbury. I came here, at your request, to hear what you might have to urge against the decision which I expressed to you in reference to my daughter. As it seems that you have nothing to urge, I will not take up your time further."
"But I have a great deal to urge, and have urged a great deal."
"Have you, indeed?"
"You have complained that my work is not permanent. I have shewn that it is so permanent that there is no possibility of its coming to an end. There must be newspapers, and the people trained to write them must be employed. I have been at it now about two years. You know what I earn. Could I have got so far in so short a time as a lawyer, a doctor, a clergyman, a soldier, a sailor, a Government clerk, or in any of those employments which you choose to call professions? I think that is urging a great deal. I think it is urging everything."
"Very well, Mr. Stanbury. I have listened to you, and in a certain degree I admire your,—your,—your zeal and ingenuity, shall I say."
"I didn't mean to call for admiration, Sir Marmaduke; but suppose you say,—good sense and discrimination."
"Let that pass. You must permit me to remark that your position is not such as to justify me in trusting my daughter to your care. As my mind on that matter is quite made up, as is that also of Lady Rowley, I must ask you to give me your promise that your suit to my daughter shall be discontinued."
"What does she say about it, Sir Marmaduke?"
"What she has said to me has been for my ears, and not for yours."
"What I say is for her ears and for yours, and for her mother's ears, and for the ears of any who may choose to hear it. I will never give up my suit to your daughter till I am forced to do so by a full conviction that she has given me up. It is best to be plain, Sir Marmaduke, of course."
"I do not understand this, Mr. Stanbury."
"I mean to be quite clear."
"I have always thought that when a gentleman was told by the head of a family that he could not be made welcome in that family, it was considered to be the duty of that gentleman,—as a gentleman,—to abandon his vain pursuit. I have been brought up with that idea."
"And I, Sir Marmaduke, have been brought up in the idea that when a man has won the affections of a woman, it is the duty of that man,—as a man,—to stick to her through thick and thin; and I mean to do my duty, according to my idea."
"Then, sir, I have nothing further to say, but to take my leave. I must only caution you not to enter my doors." As the passages were dark and intricate, it was necessary that Stanbury should shew Sir Marmaduke out, and this he did in silence. When they parted each of them lifted his hat, and not a word more was said.
That same night there was a note put into Nora's hands, as she was following her mother out of one of the theatres. In the confusion she did not even see the messenger who had handed it to her. Her sister Lucy saw that she had taken the note, and questioned her about it afterwards,—with discretion, however, and in privacy. This was the note:—
I have seen your father, who is stern,—after the manner of fathers. What granite equals a parent's flinty bosom! For myself, I do not prefer clandestine arrangements and rope ladders; and you, dear, have nothing of the Lydia about you. But I do like my own way, and like it especially when you are at the end of the path. It is quite out of the question that you should go back to those islands. I think I am justified in already assuming enough of the husband to declare that such going back must not be held for a moment in question. My proposition is that you should authorise me to make such arrangements as may be needed, in regard to licence, banns, or whatever else, and that you should then simply walk from the house to the church and marry me. You are of age, and can do as you please. Neither your father nor mother can have any right to stop you. I do not doubt but that your mother would accompany you, if she were fully satisfied of your purpose. Write to me to the D. R.
Your own, ever and ever, and always,
I shall try and get this given to you as you leave the theatre. If it should fall into other hands, I don't much care. I'm not in the least ashamed of what I am doing; and I hope that you are not.
THE DELIVERY OF THE LAMB.
It is hoped that a certain quarter of lamb will not have been forgotten,—a quarter of lamb that was sent as a peace-offering from Exeter to Nuncombe Putney by the hands of Miss Stanbury's Martha, not with purposes of corruption, not intended to buy back the allegiance of Dorothy,—folded delicately and temptingly in one of the best table napkins, with no idea of bribery, but sent as presents used to be sent of old in the trains of great ambassadors as signs of friendship and marks of true respect. Miss Stanbury was, no doubt, most anxious that her niece should return to her, but was not, herself, low spirited enough to conceive that a quarter of lamb could be efficacious in procuring such return. If it might be that Dorothy's heart could be touched by mention of the weariness of her aunt's solitary life; and if, therefore, she would return, it would be very well; but it could not be well so, unless the offer should come from Dorothy herself. All of which Martha had been made to understand by her mistress, considerable ingenuity having been exercised in the matter on each side.
On her arrival at Lessboro', Martha had hired a fly, and been driven out to Nuncombe Putney; but she felt, she knew not why, a dislike to be taken in her carriage to the door of the cottage; and was put down in the middle of the village, from whence she walked out to Mrs. Stanbury's abode, with the basket upon her arm. It was a good half mile, and the lamb was heavy, for Miss Stanbury had suggested that a bottle of sherry should be put in under the napkin,—and Martha was becoming tired of her burden, when,—whom should she see on the road before her but Brooke Burgess! As she said herself afterwards, it immediately occurred to her, "that all the fat was in the fire." Here had this young man come down, passing through Exeter without even a visit to Miss Stanbury, and had clandestinely sought out the young woman whom he wasn't to marry; and here was the young woman herself flying in her aunt's face, when one scratch of a pen might ruin them both! Martha entertained a sacred, awful, overcoming feeling about her mistress's will. That she was to have something herself she supposed, and her anxiety was not on that score; but she had heard so much about it, had realised so fully the great power which Miss Stanbury possessed, and had had her own feelings so rudely invaded by alterations in Miss Stanbury's plans, that she had come to entertain an idea that all persons around her should continually bear that will in their memory. Hugh had undoubtedly been her favourite, and, could Martha have dictated the will herself, she would still have made Hugh the heir; but she had realised the resolution of her mistress so far as to confess that the bulk of the property was to go back to a Burgess. But there were very many Burgesses; and here was the one who had been selected flying in the very face of the testatrix! What was to be done? Were she to go back and not tell her mistress that she had seen Brooke Burgess at Nuncombe then,—should the fact be found out,—would the devoted anger of Miss Stanbury fall upon her own head? It would be absolutely necessary that she should tell the story, let the consequences be what they might;—but the consequences, probably, would be very dreadful. "Mr. Brooke, that is not you?" she said, as she came up to him, putting her basket down in the middle of the dusty road.
"Then who can it be?" said Brooke, giving her his hand to shake.
"But what do bring you here, Mr. Brooke? Goodness me, what will missus say?"
"I shall make that all straight. I'm going back to Exeter to-morrow." Then there were many questions and many answers. He was sojourning at Mrs. Crocket's, and had been there for the last two days. "Dear, dear, dear," she said over and over again. "Deary me, deary me!" and then she asked him whether it was "all along of Miss Dorothy" that he had come. Of course, it was all along of Miss Dorothy. Brooke made no secret about it. He had come down to see Dorothy's mother and sister, and to say a bit of his own mind about future affairs;—and to see the beauties of the country. When he talked about the beauties of the country, Martha looked at him as the people of Lessboro' and Nuncombe Putney should have looked at Colonel Osborne, when he talked of the church porch at Cockchaffington. "Beauties of the country, Mr. Brooke;—you ought to be ashamed of yourself!" said Martha.
"But I ain't,—the least in the world," said Brooke.
Then Martha took up her basket, and went on to the cottage, which had been close in sight during their conversation in the road. She felt angry with Dorothy. In such matters a woman is always angry with the woman,—who has probably been quite passive, and rarely with the man, who is ever the real transgressor. Having a man down after her at Nuncombe Putney! It had never struck Martha as very horrible that Brooke Burgess should fall in love with Dorothy in the city;—but this meeting, in the remoteness of the country, out of sight even of the village, was almost indecent; and all, too, with Miss Stanbury's will just, as one might say, on the balance! Dorothy ought to have buried herself rather than have allowed Brooke to see her at Nuncombe Putney; and Dorothy's mother and Priscilla must be worse. She trudged on, however, with her lamb, and soon found herself in the presence of the three ladies.
"What,—Martha!" said Dorothy.
"Yes, miss,—here I am. I'd have been here half-an-hour ago amost, if I hadn't been stopped on the road."
"And who stopped you?" asked Priscilla.
"Why,—Mr. Brooke, of course."
"And what did Mr. Brooke say to you?" asked Dorothy.
Martha perceived at once that Dorothy was quite radiant. She told her mistress that she had never seen Miss Dorothy look half so comely before. "Laws, ma'am, she brightened up and speckled about, till it did your heart good to see her in spite of all." But this was some time afterwards.
"He didn't say very much," replied Martha, gravely.
"But I've got very much to tell you," continued Dorothy. "I'm engaged to be married to Mr. Brooke, and you must congratulate me. It is settled now, and mamma and my sister know all about it."
Martha, when she was thus asked directly for congratulation, hardly knew at once how to express herself. Being fully aware of Miss Stanbury's objection to the marriage, she could not venture to express her approbation of it. It was very improper, in Martha's mind, that any young woman should have a follower, when the "missus" didn't approve of it. She understood well enough that, in that matter of followers, privileges are allowed to young ladies which are not accorded to maid servants. A young lady may do things,—have young men to walk and talk with them, to dance with them and embrace them, and perhaps even more than this,—when for half so much a young woman would be turned into the streets without a character. Martha knew all this, and knew also that Miss Dorothy, though her mother lived in a very little cottage, was not altogether debarred, in the matter of followers, from the privileges of a lady. But yet Miss Dorothy's position was so very peculiar! Look at that will,—or, rather, at that embryo will, which might be made any day, which now probably would be made, and which might affect them both so terribly! People who have not got money should not fly in the face of those who have. Such at least was Martha's opinion very strongly. How could she congratulate Miss Dorothy under the existing circumstances? "I do hope you will be happy, miss;—that you knows," said Martha, in her difficulty. "And now, ma'am;—miss, I mean," she added, correcting herself, in obedience to Miss Stanbury's direct orders about the present,—"missus has just sent me over with a bit of lamb, and a letter as is here in the basket, and to ask how you is,—and the other ladies."
"We are very much obliged," said Mrs. Stanbury, who had not understood the point of Martha's speech.
"My sister is, I'm sure," said Priscilla, who had understood it.
Dorothy had taken the letter, and had gone aside with it, and was reading it very carefully. It touched her nearly, and there had come tears into both her eyes, as she dwelt upon it. There was something in her aunt's allusion to the condition of unmarried women which came home to her especially. She knew her aunt's past history, and now she knew, or hoped that she knew, something of her own future destiny. Her aunt was desolate, whereas upon her the world smiled most benignly. Brooke had just informed her that he intended to make her his wife as speedily as possible,—with her aunt's consent if possible, but if not, then without it. He had ridiculed the idea of his being stopped by Miss Stanbury's threats, and had said all this in such fashion that even Priscilla herself had only listened and obeyed. He had spoken not a word of his own income, and none of them had dreamed even of asking him a question. He had been as a god in the little cottage, and all of them had been ready to fall down and worship him. Mrs. Stanbury had not known how to treat him with sufficient deference, and, at the same time, with sufficient affection. He had kissed them all round, and Priscilla had felt an elation which was hardly intelligible to herself. Dorothy, who was so much honoured, had come to enjoy a status in her mother's estimation very different from that which she had previously possessed, and had grown to be quite beautiful in her mother's eyes.
There was once a family of three ancient maiden ladies, much respected and loved in the town in which they lived. Their manners of life were well known among their friends, and excited no surprise; but a stranger to the locality once asked of the elder why Miss Matilda, the younger, always went first out of the room? "Matilda once had an offer of marriage," said the dear simple old lady, who had never been so graced, and who felt that such an episode in life was quite sufficient to bestow brevet rank. It was believed by Mrs. Stanbury that Dorothy's honours would be carried further than those of Miss Matilda, but there was much of the same feeling in the bosom of the mother towards the fortunate daughter, who, in the eyes of a man, had seemed goodly enough to be his wife.
With this swelling happiness round her heart, Dorothy read her aunt's letter, and was infinitely softened. "I had gotten somehow to love to see your pretty face." Dorothy had thought little enough of her own beauty, but she liked being told by her aunt that her face had been found to be pretty. "I am very desolate and solitary here," her aunt said; and then had come those words about the state of maiden women;—and then those other words, about women's duties, and her aunt's prayer on her behalf. "Dear Dorothy, be not such an one." She held the letter to her lips and to her bosom, and could hardly continue its perusal because of her tears. Such prayers from the aged addressed to the young are generally held in light esteem, but this adjuration was valued by the girl to whom it was addressed. She put together the invitation,—or rather the permission accorded to her, to make a visit to Exeter,—and the intimation in the postscript that Martha knew her mistress's mind; and then she returned to the sitting-room, in which Martha was still seated with her mother, and took the old servant apart. "Martha," she said, "is my aunt happy now?"
"She is strong again; is she not?"
"Sir Peter says she is getting well; and Mr. Martin—; but Mr. Martin isn't much account."
"She eats and drinks again?"
"Pretty well;—not as it used to be, you know, miss. I tell her she ought to go somewheres,—but she don't like moving nohow. She never did. I tell her if she'd go to Dawlish,—just for a week. But she don't think there's a bed fit to sleep on, nowhere, except just her own."
"She would go if Sir Peter told her."
"She says that these movings are newfangled fashions, and that the air didn't use to want changing for folk when she was young. I heard her tell Sir Peter herself, that if she couldn't live at Exeter, she would die there. She won't go nowheres, Miss Dorothy. She ain't careful to live."
"Tell me something, Martha; will you?"
"What is it, Miss Dorothy?"
"Be a dear good woman now, and tell me true. Would she be better if I were with her?"
"She don't like being alone, miss. I don't know nobody as does."
"But now, about Mr. Brooke, you know."
"Yes, Mr. Brooke! That's it."
"Of course, Martha, I love him better than anything in all the world. I can't tell you how it was, but I think I loved him the very first moment I saw him."
"Dear, dear, dear!"
"I couldn't help it, Martha;—but it's no good talking about it, for of course I shan't try to help it now. Only this,—that I would do anything in the world for my aunt,—except that."
"But she don't like it, Miss Dorothy. That is the truth, you know."
"It can't be helped now, Martha; and of course she'll be told at once. Shall I go and tell her? I'd go to-day if you think she would like it."
"And Mr. Brooke?"
"He is to go to-morrow."
"And will you leave him here?"
"Why not? Nobody will hurt him. I don't mind a bit about having him with me now. But I can tell you this. When he went away from us once it made me very unhappy. Would Aunt Stanbury be glad to see me, Martha?"
Martha's reserve was at last broken down, and she expressed herself in strong language. There was nothing on earth her mistress wanted so much as to have her favourite niece back again. Martha acknowledged that there were great difficulties about Brooke Burgess, and she did not see her way clearly through them. Dorothy declared her purpose of telling her aunt boldly,—at once. Martha shook her head, admiring the honesty and courage, but doubting the result. She understood better than did any one else the peculiarity of mind which made her mistress specially anxious that none of the Stanbury family should enjoy any portion of the Burgess money, beyond that which she herself had saved out of the income. There had been moments in which Martha had hoped that this prejudice might be overcome in favour of Hugh; but it had become stronger as the old woman grew to be older and more feeble,—and it was believed now to be settled as Fate. "She'd sooner give it all to old Barty over the way," Martha had once said, "than let it go to her own kith and kin. And if she do hate any human creature, she do hate Barty Burgess." She assented, however, to Dorothy's proposal; and, though Mrs. Stanbury and Priscilla were astounded by the precipitancy of the measure they did not attempt to oppose it.
"And what am I to do?" said Brooke, when he was told.
"You'll come to-morrow, of course," said Dorothy.
"But it may be that the two of us together will be too many for the dear old lunatic."
"You shan't call her a lunatic, Brooke. She isn't so much a lunatic as you are, to run counter to her, and disobey her, and all that kind of thing."
"And how about yourself?"
"How can I help it, Brooke? It is you that say it must be so."
"Of course it must. Who is to be stayed from doing what is reasonable because an old woman has a bee on her bonnet. I don't believe in people's wills."
"She can do what she likes about it, Brooke."
"Of course she can, and of course she will. What I mean is that it never pays to do this or that because somebody may alter his will, or may make a will, or may not make a will. You become a slave for life, and then your dead tyrant leaves you a mourning-ring, and grins at you out of his grave. All the same she'll kick up a row, I fancy, and you'll have to bear the worst of it."
"I'll tell her the truth; and if she be very angry, I'll just come home again. But I think I'll come home to-morrow any way, so that I'll pass you on the road. That will be best. She won't want us both together. Only then, Brooke, I shan't see you again."
"Not till June."
"And is it to be really in June?"
"You say you don't like May."
"You are such a goose, Brooke. It will be May almost to-morrow. I shall be such a poor wife for you, Brooke. As for getting my things ready, I shall not bring hardly any things at all. Have you thought what it is to take a body so very poor?"
"I own I haven't thought as much about it, Dolly,—as I ought to have done, perhaps."
"It is too late now, Brooke."
"I suppose it is."
"Quite too late. A week ago I could have borne it. I had almost got myself to think that it would be better that I should bear it. But you have come, and banished all the virtue out of my head. I am ashamed of myself, because I am so unworthy; but I would put up with that shame rather than lose you now. Brooke, Brooke, I will so try to be good to you!"
In the afternoon Martha and Dorothy started together for Exeter, Brooke and Priscilla accompanying them as far as Mrs. Crocket's, where the Lessboro' fly was awaiting them. Dorothy said little or nothing during the walk, nor, indeed, was she very communicative during the journey into Exeter. She was going to her aunt, instigated simply by the affection of her full heart; but she was going with a tale in her mouth which she knew would be very unwelcome. She could not save herself from feeling that, in having accepted Brooke, and in having not only accepted him but even fixed the day for her marriage, she had been ungrateful to her aunt. Had it not been for her aunt's kindness and hospitality, she would never have seen Brooke Burgess. And as she had been under her aunt's care at Exeter, she doubted whether she had not been guilty of some great fault in falling in love with this man, in opposition as it were to express orders. Should her aunt still declare that she would in no way countenance the marriage, that she would still oppose it and use her influence with Brooke to break it off, then would Dorothy return on the morrow to her mother's cottage at Nuncombe Putney, so that her lover might be free to act with her aunt as he might think fit. And should he yield, she would endeavour,—she would struggle hard, to think that he was still acting for the best. "I must tell her myself, Martha," said Dorothy, as they came near to Exeter.
"Certainly, miss;—only you'll do it to-night."
"Yes;—at once. As soon after I get there as possible."
DOROTHY RETURNS TO EXETER.
Miss Stanbury perfectly understood that Martha was to come back by the train reaching Exeter at 7 p.m., and that she might be expected in the Close about a quarter-of-an-hour after that time. She had been nervous and anxious all day,—so much so that Mr. Martin had told her that she must be very careful. "That's all very well," the old woman had said, "but you haven't got any medicine for my complaint, Mr. Martin." The apothecary had assured her that the worst of her complaint was in the east wind, and had gone away begging her to be very careful. "It is not God's breezes that are hard to any one," the old lady had said to herself,—"but our own hearts." After her lonely dinner she had fidgeted about the room, and had rung twice for the girl, not knowing what order to give when the servant came to her. She was very anxious about her tea, but would not have it brought to her till after Martha should have arrived. She was half-minded to order that a second cup and saucer should be placed there, but she had not the courage to face the disappointment which would fall upon her, should the cup and saucer stand there for no purpose. And yet, should she come, how nice it would be to shew her girl that her old aunt had been ready for her. Thrice she went to the window after the cathedral clock had struck seven, to see whether her ambassador was returning. From her window there was only one very short space of pathway on which she could have seen her,—and, as it happened, there came the ring at the door, and no ambassador had as yet been viewed. Miss Stanbury was immediately off her seat, and out upon the landing. "Here we are again, Miss Dorothy," said Martha. Then Miss Stanbury could not restrain herself,—but descended the stairs, moving as she had never moved since she had first been ill. "My bairn," she said; "my dearest bairn! I thought that perhaps it might be so. Jane, another tea-cup and saucer up-stairs." What a pity that she had not ordered it before! "And get a hot cake, Jane. You will be ever so hungry, my darling, after your journey."
"Are you glad to see me, Aunt Stanbury?" said Dorothy.
"Glad, my pretty one!" Then she put up her hands, and smoothed down the girl's cheeks, and kissed her, and patted Martha on the back, and scolded her at the same time for not bringing Miss Dorothy from the station in a cab. "And what is the meaning of that little bag?" she said. "You shall go back for the rest yourself, Martha, because it is your own fault." Martha knew that all this was pleasant enough;—but then her mistress's moods would sometimes be changed so suddenly! How would it be when Miss Stanbury knew that Brooke Burgess had been left behind at Nuncombe Putney?
"You see I didn't stay to eat any of the lamb," said Dorothy, smiling.
"You shall have a calf instead, my dear," said Miss Stanbury, "because you are a returned prodigal."
All this was very pleasant, and Miss Stanbury was so happy dispensing her tea, and the hot cake, and the clotted cream, and was so intent upon her little methods of caressing and petting her niece, that Dorothy had no heart to tell her story while the plates and cups were still upon the table. She had not, perhaps, cared much for the hot cake, having such a weight upon her mind, but she had seemed to care, understanding well that she might so best conduce to her aunt's comfort. Miss Stanbury was a woman who could not bear that the good things which she had provided for a guest should not be enjoyed. She could taste with a friend's palate, and drink with a friend's throat. But when debarred these vicarious pleasures by what seemed to her to be the caprice of her guests, she would be offended. It had been one of the original sins of Camilla and Arabella French that they would declare at her tea-table that they had dined late and could not eat tea-cake. Dorothy knew all this,—and did her duty;—but with a heavy heart. There was the story to be told, and she had promised Martha that it should be told to-night. She was quite aware, too, independently of her promise, that it was necessary that it should be told to-night. It was very sad,—very grievous that the dear old lady's happiness should be disturbed so soon; but it must be done. When the tea-things were being taken away her aunt was still purring round her, and saying gentle, loving words. Dorothy bore it as well as she could,—bore it well, smiling and kissing her aunt's hand, and uttering now and then some word of affection. But the thing had to be done; and as soon as the room was quiet for a moment, she jumped up from her chair and began. "Aunt Stanbury, I must tell you something at once. Who, do you think, is at Nuncombe Putney?"
"Not Brooke Burgess?"
"Yes, he is. He is there now, and is to be here with you to-morrow."
The whole colour and character of Miss Stanbury's face was changed in a moment. She had been still purring up to the moment in which this communication had been made to her. Her gratification had come to her from the idea that her pet had come back to her from love of her,—as in very truth had been the case; but now it seemed that Dorothy had returned to ask for a great favour for herself. And she reflected at once that Brooke had passed through Exeter without seeing her. If he was determined to marry without reference to her, he might at any rate have had the grace to come to her and say so. She, in the fulness of her heart, had written words of affection to Dorothy;—and both Dorothy and Brooke had at once taken advantage of her expressions for their own purposes. Such was her reading of the story of the day. "He need not trouble himself to come here now," she said.
"Dear aunt, do not say that."
"I do say it. He need not trouble himself to come now. When I said that I should be glad to see you, I did not intend that you should meet Mr. Burgess under my roof. I did not wish to have you both together."
"How could I help coming, when you wrote to me like that?"
"It is very well,—but he need not come. He knows the way from Nuncombe to London without stopping at Exeter."
"Aunt Stanbury, you must let me tell it you all."
"There is no more to tell, I should think."
"But there is more. You knew what he thought about me, and what he wished."
"He is his own master, my dear;—and you are your own mistress."
"If you speak to me like that you will kill me, Aunt Stanbury. I did not think of coming; only when Martha brought your dear letter I could not help it. But he was coming. He meant to come to-morrow, and he will. Of course he must defend himself, if you are angry with him."
"He need not defend himself at all."
"I told them, and I told him, that I would only stay one night,—if you did not wish that we should be here together. You must see him, Aunt Stanbury. You would not refuse to see him."
"If you please, my dear, you must allow me to judge whom I will see."
After that the discussion ceased between them for awhile, and Miss Stanbury left the room that she might hold a consultation with Martha. Dorothy went up to her chamber, and saw that everything had been prepared for her with most scrupulous care. Nothing could be whiter, neater, cleaner, nicer than was everything that surrounded her. She had perceived while living under her aunt's roof, how, gradually, small, delicate feminine comforts had been increased for her. Martha had been told that Miss Dorothy ought to have this, and that Miss Dorothy ought to have that; till at last she, who had hitherto known nothing of the small luxuries that come from an easy income, had felt ashamed of the prettinesses that had been added to her. Now she could see at once that infinite care had been used to make her room bright and smiling,—only in the hope that she would return. As soon as she saw it all, she sat down on her bed and burst out into tears. Was it not hard upon her that she should be forced into such ingratitude! Every comfort prepared for her was a coal of hot fire upon her head. And yet what had she done that she ought not to have done? Was it unreasonable that she should have loved this man, when they two were brought together? And had she even dared to think of him otherwise than as an acquaintance till he had compelled her to confess her love? And after that had she not tried to separate herself from him, so that they two,—her aunt and her lover,—might be divided by no quarrel? Had not Priscilla told her that she was right in all that she was doing? Nevertheless, in spite of all this, she could not refrain from accusing herself of ingratitude towards her aunt. And she began to think it would have been better for her now to have remained at home, and have allowed Brooke to come alone to Exeter than to have obeyed the impulse which had arisen from the receipt of her aunt's letter. When she went down again she found herself alone in the room, and she was beginning to think that it was intended that she should go to bed without again seeing her aunt; but at last Miss Stanbury came to her, with a sad countenance, but without that look of wrath which Dorothy knew so well. "My dear," she said, "it will be better that Mr. Burgess should go up to London to-morrow. I will see him, of course, if he chooses to come, and Martha shall meet him at the station and explain it. If you do not mind, I would prefer that you should not meet him here."
"I meant only to stay one night, aunt."
"That is nonsense. If I am to part with either of you, I will part with him. You are dearer to me than he is. Dorothy, you do not know how dear to me you are."
Dorothy immediately fell on her knees at her aunt's feet, and hid her face in her aunt's lap. Miss Stanbury twined round her fingers the soft hair which she loved so well,—because it was a grace given by God and not bought out of a shop,—and caressed the girl's head, and muttered something that was intended for a prayer. "If he will let me, aunt, I will give him up," said Dorothy, looking up into her aunt's face. "If he will say that I may, though I shall love him always, he may go."
"He is his own master," said Miss Stanbury. "Of course he is his own master."
"Will you let me return to-morrow,—just for a few days,—and then you can talk to him as you please. I did not mean to come to stay. I wished him good-bye because I knew that I should not meet him here."
"You always talk of going away, Dorothy, as soon as ever you are in the house. You are always threatening me."
"I will come again, the moment you tell me. If he goes in the morning, I will be here the same evening. And I will write to him, Aunt Stanbury, and tell him,—that he is—quite free,—quite free,—quite free."
Miss Stanbury made no reply to this, but sat, still playing with her niece's hair. "I think I will go to bed," she said at last. "It is past ten. You need not go to Nuncombe, Dorothy. Martha shall meet him, and he can see me here. But I do not wish him to stay in the house. You can go over and call on Mrs. MacHugh. Mrs. MacHugh will take it well of you that you should call on her." Dorothy made no further opposition to this arrangement, but kissed her aunt, and went to her chamber.
How was it all to be for her? For the last two days she had been radiant with new happiness. Everything had seemed to be settled. Her lover, in his high-handed way, had declared that in no important crisis of life would he allow himself to be driven out of his way by the fear of what an old woman might do in her will. When Dorothy assured him that not for worlds would she, though she loved him dearly, injure his material prospects, he had thrown it all aside, after a grand fashion, that had really made the girl think that all Miss Stanbury's money was as nothing to his love for her. She and Priscilla and her mother had been carried away so entirely by Brooke's oratory as to feel for the time that the difficulties were entirely conquered. But now the aspect of things was so different! Whatever Brooke might owe to Miss Stanbury, she, Dorothy, owed her aunt everything. She would immolate herself,—if Brooke would only let her. She did not quite understand her aunt's stubborn opposition; but she knew that there was some great cause for her aunt's feeling on the matter. There had been a promise made, or an oath sworn, that the property of the Burgess family should not go into the hands of any Stanbury. Dorothy told herself that, were she married, she would be a Stanbury no longer;—that her aunt would still comply with the obligation she had fixed for herself; but, nevertheless, she was ready to believe that her aunt might be right. Her aunt had always declared that it should be so; and Dorothy, knowing this, confessed to herself that she should have kept her heart under better control. Thinking of these things, she went to the table, where paper and ink and pens had all been prepared for her so prettily, and began her letter to Brooke. "Dearest, dearest Brooke." But then she thought that this was not a fair keeping of her promise, and she began again. "My dear Brooke." The letter, however, did not get itself written that night. It was almost impossible for her to write it. "I think it will be better for you," she had tried to say, "to be guided by my aunt." But how could she say this when she did not believe it? It was her wish to make him understand that she would never think ill of him, for a moment, if he would make up his mind to abandon her;—but she could not find the words to express herself,—and she went, at last, to bed, leaving the half-covered paper upon the table.
She went to bed, and cried herself to sleep. It had been so sweet to have a lover,—a man of her own, to whom she could say what she pleased, from whom she had a right to ask for counsel and protection, a man who delighted to be near her, and to make much of her. In comparison with her old mode of living, her old ideas of life, her life with such a lover was passed in an elysium. She had entered from barren lands into so rich a paradise! But there is no paradise, as she now found, without apples which must be eaten, and which lead to sorrow. She regretted in this hour that she had ever seen Brooke Burgess. After all, with her aunt's love and care for her, with her mother and sister near her, with the respect of those who knew her, why should the lands have been barren, even had there been no entrance for her into that elysium? And did it not all result in this,—that the elysium to be desired should not be here; that the paradise, without the apples, must be waited for till beyond the grave? It is when things go badly with us here, and for most of us only then, that we think that we can see through the dark clouds into the joys of heaven. But at last she slept, and in her dreams Brooke was sitting with her in Niddon Park with his arm tight clasped round her waist.
She slept so soundly, that when a step crept silently into her room, and when a light was held for awhile over her face, neither the step nor the light awakened her. She was lying with her head back upon the pillow, and her arm hung by the bedside, and her lips were open, and her loose hair was spread upon the pillow. The person who stood there with the light thought that there never had been a fairer sight. Everything there was so pure, so sweet, so good! She was one whose only selfish happiness could come to her from the belief that others loved her. The step had been very soft, and even the breath of the intruder was not allowed to pass heavily into the air, but the light of the candle shone upon the eyelids of the sleeper, and she moved her head restlessly on the pillow. "Dorothy, are you awake? Can you speak to me?"
Then the disturbed girl gradually opened her eyes and gazed upwards, and raised herself in her bed, and sat wondering. "Is anything the matter, aunt?" she said.
"Only the vagaries of an old woman, my pet,—of an old woman who cannot sleep in her bed."
"But what is it, aunt?"
"Kiss me, dearest." Then with something of slumber still about her, Dorothy raised herself in her bed, and placed her arm on her aunt's shoulder and embraced her. "And now for my news," said Miss Stanbury.
"What news, aunt? It isn't morning yet; is it?"
"No;—it is not morning. You shall sleep again presently. I have thought of it, and you shall be Brooke's wife, and I will have it here, and we will all be friends."
"You will like that;—will you not?"
"And you will not quarrel with him? What am I to say? What am I to do?" She was, in truth, awake now, and, not knowing what she did, she jumped out of bed, and stood holding her aunt by the arm.
"It is not a dream," said Miss Stanbury.
"Are you sure that it is not a dream? And may he come here to-morrow?"
"Of course he will come to-morrow."
"And may I see him, Aunt Stanbury?"
"Not if you go home, my dear."
"But I won't go home. And will you tell him? Oh dear, oh dear! Aunt Stanbury, I do not think that I believe it yet."
"You will catch cold, my dear, if you stay there trying to believe it. You have nothing on. Get into bed and believe it there. You will have time to think of it before the morning." Then Miss Stanbury went back to her own chamber, and Dorothy was left alone to realise her bliss.
She thought of all her life for the last twelve months,—of the first invitation to Exeter, and the doubts of the family as to its acceptance, of her arrival and of her own doubts as to the possibility of her remaining, of Mr. Gibson's courtship and her aunt's disappointment, of Brooke's coming, of her love and of his,—and then of her departure back to Nuncombe. After that had come the triumph of Brooke's visit, and then the terrible sadness of her aunt's displeasure. But now everything was good and glorious. She did not care for money herself. She thought that she never could care much for being rich. But had she made Brooke poor by marrying him, that must always have been to her matter of regret, if not of remorse. But now it was all to be smooth and sweet. Now a paradise was to be opened to her, with no apples which she might not eat;—no apples which might not, but still must, be eaten. She thought that it would be impossible that she should sleep again that night; but she did sleep, and dreamed that Brooke was holding her in Niddon Park, tighter than ever.
When the morning came she trembled as she walked down into the parlour. Might it not still be possible that it was all a dream? Or what if her aunt should again have changed her purpose? But the first moment of her aunt's presence told her that there was nothing to fear. "How did you sleep, Dorothy?" said the old lady.
"Dear aunt, I do not know. Was it all sleep?"
"What shall we say to Brooke when he comes?"
"You shall tell him."
"No, dearest, you must tell him. And you must say to him that if he is not good to my girl, and does not love her always, and cling to her, and keep her from harm, and be in truth her loving husband, I will hold him to be the most ungrateful of human beings." And before Brooke came, she spoke again. "I wonder whether he thinks you as pretty as I do, Dolly?"
"He never said that he thought me pretty at all."
"Did he not? Then he shall say so, or he shall not have you. It was your looks won me first, Dolly,—like an old fool as I am. It is so pleasant to have a little nature after such a deal of artifice." In which latter remarks it was quite understood that Miss Stanbury was alluding to her enemies at Heavitree.
THE LIONESS AROUSED.
Brooke Burgess had been to Exeter and had gone,—for he only remained there one night,—and everything was apparently settled. It was not exactly told through Exeter that Miss Stanbury's heir was to be allowed to marry Miss Stanbury's niece; but Martha knew it, and Giles Hickbody guessed it, and Dorothy was allowed to tell her mother and sister, and Brooke himself, in his own careless way, had mentioned the matter to his uncle Barty. As Miss Stanbury had also told the secret in confidence to Mrs. MacHugh, it cannot be said that it was altogether well kept. Four days after Brooke's departure the news reached the Frenches at Heavitree. It was whispered to Camilla by one of the shopmen with whom she was still arranging her marriage trousseau, and was repeated by her to her mother and sister with some additions which were not intended to be good-natured. "He gets her and the money together as a bargain—of course," said Camilla. "I only hope the money won't be found too dear."
"Perhaps he won't get it after all," said Arabella.
"That would be cruel," replied Camilla. "I don't think that even Miss Stanbury is so false as that."
Things were going very badly at Heavitree. There was war there, almost everlastingly, though such little playful conversations as the above shewed that there might be an occasional lull in the battle. Mr. Gibson was not doing his duty. That was clear enough. Even Mrs. French, when she was appealed to with almost frantic energy by her younger daughter, could not but acknowledge that he was very remiss as a lover. And Camilla, in her fury, was very imprudent. That very frantic energy which induced her to appeal to her mother was, in itself, proof of her imprudence. She knew that she was foolish, but she could not control her passion. Twice had she detected Arabella in receiving notes from Mr. Gibson, which she did not see, and of which it had been intended that she should know nothing. And once, when she spent a night away at Ottery St. Mary with a friend,—a visit which was specially prefatory to marriage, and made in reference to bridesmaids' dresses,—Arabella had had,—so at least Camilla was made to believe,—a secret meeting with Mr. Gibson in some of the lanes which lead down from Heavitree to the Topsham road.
"I happened to meet him, and spoke two words to him," said Arabella. "Would you have me cut him?"
"I'll tell you what it is, Bella;—if there is any underhand game going on that I don't understand, all Exeter shall be on fire before you shall carry it out."
Bella made no answer to this, but shrugged her shoulders. Camilla was almost at a loss to guess what might be the truth. Would not any sister, so accused on such an occasion, rebut the accusation with awful wrath? But Arabella simply shrugged her shoulders, and went her way. It was now the 15th of April, and there wanted but one short fortnight to their marriage. The man had not the courage to jilt her! She felt sure that he had not heart enough to do a deed of such audacity. And her sister, too, was weak and a coward, and would lack the power to stand on her legs and declare herself to be the perpetrator of such villany. Her mother, as she knew well, would always have preferred that her elder daughter should be the bride; but her mother was not the woman to have the hardihood, now, in the eleventh hour, to favour such an intrigue. Let her wish be what it might, she would not be strong enough to carry through the accomplishment of it. They would all know that that threat of hers of setting Exeter on fire would be carried out after some fashion that would not be inadequate to the occasion. A sister, a mother, a promised lover, all false,—all so damnably, cruelly false! It was impossible. No history, no novel of most sensational interest, no wonderful villany that had ever been wrought into prose or poetry, would have been equal to this. It was impossible. She told herself so a score of times a day. And yet the circumstances were so terribly suspicious! Mr. Gibson's conduct as a lover was simply disgraceful to him as a man and a clergyman. He was full of excuses, which she knew to be false. He would never come near her if he could help it. When he was with her, he was as cold as an archbishop both in word and in action. Nothing would tempt him to any outward manifestation of affection. He would talk of nothing but the poor women of St. Peter-cum-Pumpkin in the city, and the fraudulent idleness of a certain colleague in the cathedral services, who was always shirking his work. He made her no presents. He never walked with her. He was always gloomy,—and he had indeed so behaved himself in public that people were beginning to talk of "poor Mr. Gibson." And yet he could meet Arabella on the sly in the lanes, and send notes to her by the green-grocer's boy! Poor Mr. Gibson indeed! Let her once get him well over the 29th of April, and the people of Exeter might talk about poor Mr. Gibson if they pleased. And Bella's conduct was more wonderful almost than that of Mr. Gibson. With all her cowardice, she still held up her head,—held it perhaps a little higher than was usual with her. And when that grievous accusation was made against her,—made and repeated,—an accusation the very thought and sound of which would almost have annihilated her had there been a decent feeling in her bosom, she would simply shrug her shoulders and walk away. "Camilla," she had once said, "you will drive that man mad before you have done." "What is it to you how I drive him?" Camilla had answered in her fury. Then Arabella had again shrugged her shoulders and walked away. Between Camilla and her mother, too, there had come to be an almost internecine quarrel on a collateral point. Camilla was still carrying on a vast arrangement which she called the preparation of her trousseau, but which both Mrs. French and Bella regarded as a spoliation of the domestic nest, for the proud purposes of one of the younger birds. And this had grown so fearfully that in two different places Mrs. French had found herself compelled to request that no further articles might be supplied to Miss Camilla. The bride elect had rebelled, alleging that as no fortune was to be provided for her, she had a right to take with her such things as she could carry away in her trunks and boxes. Money could be had at the bank, she said; and, after all, what were fifty pounds more or less on such an occasion as this? And then she went into a calculation to prove that her mother and sister would be made so much richer by her absence, and that she was doing so much for them by her marriage, that nothing could be more mean in them than that they should hesitate to supply her with such things as she desired to make her entrance into Mr. Gibson's house respectable. But Mrs. French was obdurate, and Mr. Gibson was desired to speak to her. Mr. Gibson, in fear and trembling, told her that she ought to repress her spirit of extravagance, and Camilla at once foresaw that he would avail himself of this plea against her should he find it possible at any time to avail himself of any plea. She became ferocious, and, turning upon him, told him to mind his own business. Was it not all for him that she was doing it? "She was not," she said, "disposed to submit to any control in such matters from him till he had assumed his legal right to it by standing with her before the altar." It came, however, to be known all over Exeter that Miss Camilla's expenditure had been checked, and that, in spite of the joys naturally incidental to a wedding, things were not going well with the ladies at Heavitree.
At last the blow came. Camilla was aware that on a certain morning her mother had been to Mr. Gibson's house, and had held a long conference with him. She could learn nothing of what took place there, for at that moment she had taken upon herself to place herself on non-speaking terms with her mother in consequence of those disgraceful orders which had been given to the tradesmen. But Bella had not been at Mr. Gibson's house at the time, and Camilla, though she presumed that her own conduct had been discussed in a manner very injurious to herself, did not believe that any step was being then arranged which would be positively antagonistic to her own views. The day fixed was now so very near, that there could, she felt, be no escape for the victim. But she was wrong.
Mr. Gibson had been found by Mrs. French in a very excited state on that occasion. He had wept, and pulled his hair, and torn open his waistcoat, had spoken of himself as a wretch,—pleading, however, at the same time, that he was more sinned against than sinning, had paced about the room with his hands dashing against his brows, and at last had flung himself prostrate on the ground. The meaning of it all was, that he had tried very hard, and had found at last that "he couldn't do it." "I am ready to submit," said he, "to any verdict that you may pronounce against me, but I should deceive you and deceive her if I didn't say at once that I can't do it." He went on to explain that since he had unfortunately entered into his present engagement with Camilla,—of whose position he spoke in quite a touching manner,—and since he had found what was the condition of his own heart and feelings he had consulted a friend,—who, if any merely human being was capable of advising, might be implicitly trusted for advice in such a matter,—and that his friend had told him that he was bound to give up the marriage let the consequences to himself or to others be what they might. "Although the skies should fall on me, I cannot stand at the hymeneal altar with a lie in my mouth," said Mr. Gibson immediately upon his rising from his prostrate condition on the floor. In such a position as this a mother's fury would surely be very great! But Mrs. French was hardly furious. She cried, and begged him to think better of it, and assured him that Camilla, when she should be calmed down by matrimony, would not be so bad as she seemed;—but she was not furious. "The truth is, Mr. Gibson," she said through her tears, "that, after all, you like Bella best." Mr. Gibson owned that he did like Bella best, and although no bargain was made between them then and there,—and such making of a bargain then and there would hardly have been practicable,—it was understood that Mrs. French would not proceed to extremities if Mr. Gibson would still make himself forthcoming as a husband for the advantage of one of the daughters of the family.
So far Mr. Gibson had progressed towards a partial liberation from his thraldom with a considerable amount of courage; but he was well aware that the great act of daring still remained to be done. He had suggested to Mrs. French that she should settle the matter with Camilla,—but this Mrs. French had altogether declined to do. It must, she said, come from himself. If she were to do it, she must sympathise with her child; and such sympathy would be obstructive of the future arrangements which were still to be made. "She always knew that I liked Bella best," said Mr. Gibson,—still sobbing, still tearing his hair, still pacing the room with his waistcoat torn open. "I would not advise you to tell her that," said Mrs. French. Then Mrs. French went home, and early on the following morning it was thought good by Arabella that she also should pay a visit at Ottery St. Mary's. "Good-bye, Cammy," said Arabella as she went. "Bella," said Camilla, "I wonder whether you are a serpent. I do not think you can be so base a serpent as that." "I declare, Cammy, you do say such odd things that no one can understand what you mean." And so she went.
On that morning Mr. Gibson was walking at an early hour along the road from Exeter to Cowley, contemplating his position and striving to arrange his plans. What was he to do, and how was he to do it? He was prepared to throw up his living, to abandon the cathedral, to leave the diocese,—to make any sacrifice rather than take Camilla to his bosom. Within the last six weeks he had learned to regard her with almost a holy horror. He could not understand by what miracle of self-neglect he had fallen into so perilous an abyss. He had long known Camilla's temper. But in those days in which he had been beaten like a shuttlecock between the Stanburys and the Frenches, he had lost his head and had done,—he knew not what. "Those whom the God chooses to destroy, he first maddens," said Mr. Gibson to himself of himself, throwing himself back upon early erudition and pagan philosophy. Then he looked across to the river Exe, and thought that there was hardly water enough there to cover the multiplicity of his sorrows.
But something must be done. He had proceeded so far in forming a resolution, as he reached St. David's Church on his return homewards. His sagacious friend had told him that as soon as he had altered his mind, he was bound to let the lady know of it without delay. "You must remember," said the sagacious friend, "that you will owe her much,—very much." Mr. Gibson was perplexed in his mind when he reflected how much he might possibly be made to owe her if she should decide on appealing to a jury of her countrymen for justice. But anything would be better than his home at St. Peter's-cum-Pumpkin with Camilla sitting opposite to him as his wife. Were there not distant lands in which a clergyman, unfortunate but still energetic, might find work to do? Was there not all America?—and were there not Australia, New Zealand, Natal, all open to him? Would not a missionary career among the Chinese be better for him than St. Peter's-cum-Pumpkin with Camilla French for his wife? By the time he had reached home his mind was made up. He would write a letter to Camilla at once; and he would marry Arabella at once,—on any day that might be fixed,—on condition that Camilla would submit to her defeat without legal redress. If legal redress should be demanded, he would put in evidence the fact that her own mother had been compelled to caution the tradesmen of the city in regard to her extravagance.
He did write his letter,—in an agony of spirit. "I sit down, Camilla, with a sad heart and a reluctant hand," he said,
to communicate to you a fatal truth. But truth should be made to prevail, and there is nothing in man so cowardly, so detrimental, and so unmanly as its concealment. I have looked into myself, and have inquired of myself, and have assured myself, that were I to become your husband, I should not make you happy. It would be of no use for me now to dilate on the reasons which have convinced me;—but I am convinced, and I consider it my duty to inform you so at once. I have been closeted with your mother, and have made her understand that it is so.
I have not a word to say in my own justification but this,—that I am sure I am acting honestly in telling you the truth. I would not wish to say a word animadverting on yourself. If there must be blame in this matter, I am willing to take it all on my own shoulders. But things have been done of late, and words have been spoken, and habits have displayed themselves, which would not, I am sure, conduce to our mutual comfort in this world, or to our assistance to each other in our struggles to reach the happiness of the world to come.
I think that you will agree with me, Camilla, that when a man or a woman has fallen into such a mistake as that which I have now made, it is best that it should be acknowledged. I know well that such a change of arrangements as that which I now propose will be regarded most unfavourably. But will not anything be better than the binding of a matrimonial knot which cannot be again unloosed, and which we should both regret?
I do not know that I need add anything further. What can I add further? Only this;—that I am inflexible. Having resolved to take this step,—and to bear the evil things that may be said of me,—for your happiness and for my own tranquility,—I shall not now relinquish my resolution. I do not ask you to forgive me. I doubt much whether I shall ever be quite able to forgive myself. The mistake which I have made is one which should not have been committed. I do not ask you to forgive me; but I do ask you to pray that I may be forgiven.
Yours, with feelings of the truest friendship,
The letter had been very difficult, but he was rather proud of it than otherwise when it was completed. He had felt that he was writing a letter which not improbably might become public property. It was necessary that he should be firm, that he should accuse himself a little in order that he might excuse himself much, and that he should hint at causes which might justify the rupture, though he should so veil them as not to appear to defend his own delinquency by ungenerous counter-accusation. When he had completed the letter, he thought that he had done all this rather well, and he sent the despatch off to Heavitree by the clerk of St. Peter's Church, with something of that feeling of expressible relief which attends the final conquest over some fatal and all but insuperable misfortune. He thought that he was sure now that he would not have to marry Camilla on the 29th of the month,—and there would probably be a period of some hours before he would be called upon to hear or read Camilla's reply.
Camilla was alone when she received the letter, but she rushed at once to her mother. "There," said she; "there—I knew that it was coming!" Mrs. French took the paper into her hands, and gasped, and gazed at her daughter without speaking. "You knew of it, mother."
"Yesterday,—when he told me, I knew of it."
"And Bella knows it."
"Not a word of it."
"She does. I am sure she does. But it is all nothing. I will not accept it. He cannot treat me so. I will drag him there;—but he shall come."
"You can't make him, my dear."
"I will make him. And you would help me, mamma, if you had any spirit. What,—a fortnight before the time, when the things are all bought! Look at the presents that have been sent! Mamma, he doesn't know me. And he never would have done it, if it had not been for Bella,—never. She had better take care, or there shall be such a tragedy that nobody ever heard the like. If she thinks that she is going to be that man's wife,—she is—mistaken." Then there was a pause for a moment. "Mamma," she said, "I shall go to him at once. I do not care in the least what anybody may say. I shall—go to him,—at once." Mrs. French felt that at this moment it was best that she should be silent.
THE ROWLEYS GO OVER THE ALPS.
By the thirteenth of May the Rowley family had established itself in Florence, purposing to remain either there or at the baths of Lucca till the end of June, at which time it was thought that Sir Marmaduke should begin to make preparations for his journey back to the Islands. Their future prospects were not altogether settled. It was not decided whether Lady Rowley should at once return with him, whether Mrs. Trevelyan should return with him,—nor was it settled among them what should be the fate of Nora Rowley. Nora Rowley was quite resolved herself that she would not go back to the Islands, and had said as much to her mother. Lady Rowley had not repeated this to Sir Marmaduke, and was herself in doubt as to what might best be done. Girls are understood by their mothers better than they are by their fathers. Lady Rowley was beginning to be aware that Nora's obstinacy was too strong to be overcome by mere words, and that other steps must be taken if she were to be weaned from her pernicious passion for Hugh Stanbury. Mr. Glascock was still in Florence. Might she not be cured by further overtures from Mr. Glascock? The chance of securing such a son-in-law was so important, so valuable, that no trouble was too great to be incurred, even though the probability of success might not be great.
It must not, however, be supposed that Lady Rowley carried off all the family to Italy, including Sir Marmaduke, simply in chase of Mr. Glascock. Anxious as she was on the subject, she was too proud, and also too well-conditioned, to have suggested to herself such a journey with such an object. Trevelyan had escaped from Willesden with the child, and they had heard,—again through Stanbury,—that he had returned to Italy. They had all agreed that it would be well that they should leave London for awhile, and see something of the Continent; and when it was told to them that little Louis was probably in Florence, that alone was reason enough for them to go thither. They would go to the city till the heat was too great and the mosquitoes too powerful, and then they would visit the baths of Lucca for a month. This was their plan of action, and the cause for their plan; but Lady Rowley found herself able to weave into it another little plan of her own of which she said nothing to anybody. She was not running after Mr. Glascock; but if Mr. Glascock should choose to run after them,—or her, who could say that any harm had been done?
Nora had answered that proposition of her lover's to walk out of the house in Manchester Street, and get married at the next church, in a most discreet manner. She had declared that she would be true and firm, but that she did not wish to draw upon herself the displeasure of her father and mother. She did not, she said, look upon a clandestine marriage as a happy resource. But,—this she added at the end of a long and very sensible letter,—she intended to abide by her engagement, and she did not intend to go back to the Mandarins. She did not say what alternative she would choose in the event of her being unable to obtain her father's consent before his return. She did not suggest what was to become of her when Sir Marmaduke's leave of absence should be expired. But her statement that she would not go back to the islands was certainly made with more substantial vigour, though, perhaps, with less of reasoning, than any other of the propositions made in her letter. Then, in her postscript, she told him that they were all going to Italy. "Papa and mamma think that we ought to follow poor Mr. Trevelyan. The lawyer says that nothing can be done while he is away with the boy. We are therefore all going to start to Florence. The journey is delightful. I will not say whose presence will be wanting to make it perfect."
Before they started there came a letter to Nora from Dorothy, which shall be given entire, because it will tell the reader more of Dorothy's happiness than would be learned from any other mode of narrative.
The Close, Thursday.
I have just had a letter from Hugh, and that makes me feel that I should like to write to you. Dear Hugh has told me all about it, and I do so hope that things may come right and that we may be sisters. He is so good that I do not wonder that you should love him. He has been the best son and the best brother in the world, and everybody speaks well of him,—except my dear aunt, who is prejudiced because she does not like newspapers. I need not praise him to you, for I dare say you think quite as well of him as I do. I cannot tell you all the beautiful things he says about you, but I dare say he has told them to you himself.
I seem to know you so well because Priscilla has talked about you so often. She says that she knew that you and my brother were fond of each other because you growled at each other when you were together at the Clock House, and never had any civil words to say before people. I don't know whether growling is a sign of love, but Hugh does growl sometimes when he is most affectionate. He growls at me, and I understand him, and I like to be growled at. I wonder whether you like him to growl at you.
And now I must tell you something about myself,—because if you are to be my sister you ought to know it all. I also am going to be married to a man whom I love,—oh, so dearly! His name is Mr. Brooke Burgess, and he is a great friend of my aunt's. At first she did not like our being engaged, because of some family reason;—but she has got over that, and nothing can be kinder and nicer than she is. We are to be married here, some day in June,—the 11th I think it will be. How I do wish you could have been here to be my bridesmaid. It would have been so nice to have had Hugh's sweetheart with me. He is a friend of Hugh's, and no doubt you will hear all about him. The worst of it is that we must live in London, because my husband as will be,—you see I call him mine already,—is in an office there. And so poor Aunt Stanbury will be left all alone. It will be very sad, and she is so wedded to Exeter that I fear we shall not get her up to London.
I would describe Mr. Burgess to you, only I do not suppose you would care to hear about him. He is not so tall as Hugh, but he is a great deal better looking. With you two the good looks are to be with the wife; but, with us, with the husband. Perhaps you think Hugh is handsome. We used to declare that he was the ugliest boy in the country. I don't suppose it makes very much difference. Brooke is handsome, but I don't think I should like him the less if he were ever so ugly.
Do you remember hearing about the Miss Frenches when you were in Devonshire? There has come up such a terrible affair about them. A Mr. Gibson, a clergyman, was going to marry the younger; but has changed his mind and wants to take the elder. I think he was in love with her first.
Dorothy did not say a word about the little intermediate stage of attachment to herself.
All this is making a great noise in the city, and some people think he should be punished severely. It seems to me that a gentleman ought not to make such a mistake; but if he does, he ought to own it. I hope they will let him marry the elder one. Aunt Stanbury says it all comes from their wearing chignons. I wish you knew Aunt Stanbury, because she is so good. Perhaps you wear a chignon. I think Priscilla said that you did. It must not be large, if you come to see Aunt Stanbury.
Pray write to me,—and believe that I hope to be your most affectionate sister,
P.S.—I am so happy, and I do so hope that you will be the same.
This was received only a day before the departure of the Rowleys for Italy, and was answered by a short note promising that Nora would write to her correspondent from Florence.
There could be no doubt that Trevelyan had started with his boy, fearing the result of the medical or legal interference with his affairs which was about to be made at Sir Marmaduke's instance. He had written a few words to his wife, neither commencing nor ending his note after any usual fashion, telling her that he thought it expedient to travel, that he had secured the services of a nurse for the little boy, and that during his absence a certain income would, as heretofore, be paid to her. He said nothing as to his probable return, or as to her future life; nor was there anything to indicate whither he was going. Stanbury, however, had learned from the faithless and frightened Bozzle that Trevelyan's letters were to be sent after him to Florence. Mr. Bozzle, in giving this information, had acknowledged that his employer was "becoming no longer quite himself under his troubles," and had expressed his opinion that he ought to be "looked after." Bozzle had made his money; and now, with a grain of humanity mixed with many grains of faithlessness, reconciled it to himself to tell his master's secrets to his master's enemies. What would a counsel be able to say about his conduct in a court of law? That was the question which Bozzle was always asking himself as to his own business. That he should be abused by a barrister to a jury, and exposed as a spy and a fiend, was, he thought, a matter of course. To be so abused was a part of his profession. But it was expedient for him in all cases to secure some loop-hole of apparent duty by which he might in part escape from such censures. He was untrue to his employer now, because he thought that his employer ought to be "looked after." He did, no doubt, take a five-pound note from Hugh Stanbury; but then it was necessary that he should live. He must be paid for his time. In this way Trevelyan started for Florence, and within a week afterwards the Rowleys were upon his track.
Nothing had been said by Sir Marmaduke to Nora as to her lover since that stormy interview in which both father and daughter had expressed their opinions very strongly, and very little had been said by Lady Rowley. Lady Rowley had spoken more than once of Nora's return to the Mandarins, and had once alluded to it as a certainty. "But I do not know that I shall go back," Nora had said. "My dear," the mother had replied, "unless you are married, I suppose your home must be with your parents." Nora, having made her protest, did not think it necessary to persevere, and so the matter was dropped. It was known, however, that they must all come back to London before they started for their seat of government, and therefore the subject did not at present assume its difficult aspect. There was a tacit understanding among them that everything should be done to make the journey pleasant to the young mother who was in search of her son; and, in addition to this, Lady Rowley had her own little understanding, which was very tacit indeed, that in Mr. Glascock might be found an escape from one of their great family difficulties.
"You had better take this, papa," Mrs. Trevelyan had said, when she received from the office of Mr. Bideawhile a cheque payable to her order for the money sent to her by her husband's direction.
"I do not want the man's money," said Sir Marmaduke.
"But you are going to this place for my sake, papa;—and it is right that he should bear the expense for his own wife. And, papa, you must remember always that though his mind is distracted on this horrible business, he is not a bad man. No one is more liberal or more just about money." Sir Marmaduke's feelings on the matter were very much the same as those which had troubled Mr. Outhouse, and he, personally, refused to touch the money; but his daughter paid her own share of the expenses of the journey.
They travelled at their ease, stopping at Paris, and at Geneva, and at Milan. Lady Rowley thought that she was taken very fast, because she was allowed to sleep only two nights at each of these places, and Sir Rowley himself thought that he had achieved something of a Hannibalian enterprise in taking five ladies and two maids over the Simplon and down into the plains of Lombardy, with nobody to protect him but a single courier. He had been a little nervous about it, being unaccustomed to European travelling, and had not at first realised the fact that the journey is to be made with less trouble than one from the Marble Arch to Mile End. "My dears," he said to his younger daughters, as they were rattling round the steep downward twists and turns of the great road, "you must sit quite still on these descents, or you do not know where you may go. The least thing would overset us." But Lucy and Sophy soon knew better, and became so intimate with the mountain, under the friendly guidance of their courier, that before the plains were reached, they were in and out, and here and there, and up and down, as though they had been bred among the valleys of the pass. There would come a ringing laugh from some rock above their head, and Lady Rowley looking up would see their dresses fluttering on a pinnacle which appeared to her to be fit only for a bird; and there would be the courier behind them, with two parasols, and a shawl, and a cloak, and an eye-glass, and a fine pair of grizzled whiskers. They made an Alpine club of their own, refusing to admit their father because he would not climb up a rock, and Nora thought of the letters about it which she would write to her lover,—only that she had determined that she would not write to him at all without telling her mother,—and Mrs. Trevelyan would for moments almost forget that she had been robbed of her child.
From Milan they went on to Florence, and though they were by that time quite at home in Italy, and had become critical judges of Italian inns and Italian railways, they did not find that journey to be quite so pleasant. There is a romance to us still in the name of Italy which a near view of many details in the country fails to realise. Shall we say that a journey through Lombardy is about as interesting as one through the flats of Cambridgeshire and the fens of Norfolk? And the station of Bologna is not an interesting spot in which to spend an hour or two, although it may be conceded that provisions may be had there much better than any that can be procured at our own railway stations. From thence they went, still by rail, over the Apennines, and unfortunately slept during the whole time. The courier had assured them that if they would only look out they would see the castles of which they had read in novels; but the day had been very hot, and Sir Marmaduke had been cross, and Lady Rowley had been weary, and so not a castle was seen. "Pistoia, me lady, this," said the courier opening the door;—"to stop half an hour." "Oh, why was it not Florence?" Another hour and a half! So they all went to sleep again, and were very tired when they reached the beautiful city.
During the next day they rested at their inn, and sauntered through the Duomo, and broke their necks looking up at the inimitable glories of the campanile. Such a one as Sir Marmaduke had of course not come to Florence without introductions. The Foreign Office is always very civil to its next-door neighbour of the colonies,—civil and cordial, though perhaps a little patronising. A minister is a bigger man than a governor; and the smallest of the diplomatic fry are greater swells than even secretaries in quite important dependencies. The attaché, though he be unpaid, dwells in a capital, and flirts with a countess. The governor's right-hand man is confined to an island, and dances with a planter's daughter. The distinction is quite understood, but is not incompatible with much excellent good feeling on the part of the superior department. Sir Marmaduke had come to Florence fairly provided with passports to Florentine society, and had been mentioned in more than one letter as the distinguished Governor of the Mandarins, who had been called home from his seat of government on a special mission of great importance. On the second day he went out to call at the embassy and to leave his cards. "Have you been able to learn whether he is here?" asked Lady Rowley of her husband in a whisper, as soon as they were alone.
"I did not suppose you could learn about him, because he would be hiding himself. But is Mr. Glascock here?"
"I forgot to ask," said Sir Marmaduke.
Lady Rowley did not reproach him. It is impossible that any father should altogether share a mother's anxiety in regard to the marriage of their daughters. But what a thing it would be! Lady Rowley thought that she could compound for all misfortunes in other respects, if she could have a daughter married to the future Lord Peterborough. She had been told in England that he was faultless,—not very clever, not very active, not likely to be very famous; but, as a husband, simply faultless. He was very rich, very good-natured, easily managed, more likely to be proud of his wife than of himself, addicted to no jealousies, afflicted by no vices, so respectable in every way that he was sure to become great as an English nobleman by the very weight of his virtues. And it had been represented also to Lady Rowley that this paragon among men had been passionately attached to her daughter! Perhaps she magnified a little the romance of the story; but it seemed to her that this greatly endowed lover had rushed away from his country in despair, because her daughter Nora would not smile upon him. Now they were, as she hoped, in the same city with him. But it was indispensable to her success that she should not seem to be running after him. To Nora, not a word had been said of the prospect of meeting Mr. Glascock at Florence. Hardly more than a word had been said to her sister Emily, and that under injunction of strictest secrecy. It must be made to appear to all the world that other motives had brought them to Florence,—as, indeed, other motives had brought them. Not for worlds would Lady Rowley have run after a man for her daughter; but still, still,—still, seeing that the man was himself so unutterably in love with her girl, seeing that he was so fully justified by his position to be in love with any girl, seeing that such a maximum of happiness would be the result of such a marriage, she did feel that, even for his sake, she must be doing a good thing to bring them together! Something, though not much of all this, she had been obliged to explain to Sir Marmaduke;—and yet he had not taken the trouble to inquire whether Mr. Glascock was in Florence!
On the third day after their arrival, the wife of the British minister came to call upon Lady Rowley, and the wife of the British minister was good-natured, easy-mannered, and very much given to conversation. She preferred talking to listening, and in the course of a quarter of an hour had told Lady Rowley a good deal about Florence; but she had not mentioned Mr. Glascock's name. It would have been so pleasant if the requisite information could have been obtained without the asking of any direct question on the subject! But Lady Rowley, who from many years' practice of similar, though perhaps less distinguished, courtesies on her part, knew well the first symptom of the coming end of her guest's visit, found that the minister's wife was about to take her departure without an allusion to Mr. Glascock. And yet the names had been mentioned of so many English residents in Florence, who neither in wealth, rank, or virtue, were competent to hold a candle to that phœnix! She was forced, therefore, to pluck up courage, and to ask the question. "Have you had a Mr. Glascock here this spring?" said Lady Rowley.
"What;—Lord Peterborough's son? Oh, dear, yes. Such a singular being!"
Lady Rowley thought that she could perceive that her phœnix had not made himself agreeable at the embassy. It might perhaps be that he had buried himself away from society because of his love. "And is here now?" asked Lady Rowley.
"I cannot say at all. He is sometimes here and sometimes with his father at Naples. But when here, he lives chiefly with the Americans. They say he is going to marry an American girl,—their minister's niece. There are three of them, I think, and he is to take the eldest." Lady Rowley asked no more questions, and let her august visitor go, almost without another word.