MR. GLASCOCK IS MASTER.
Caroline Spalding, when she received Nora's letter, was not disposed to give much weight to it. She declared to herself that the girl's unpremeditated expression of opinion was worth more than her studied words. But she was not the less grateful or the less loving towards her new friend. She thought how nice it would be to have Nora at that splendid abode in England of which she had heard so much,—but she thought also that in that splendid abode she herself ought never to have part or share. If it were the case that this were an unfitting match, it was clearly her duty to decide that there should be no marriage. Nora had been quite right in bidding her speak to Mr. Glascock himself, and to Mr. Glascock she would go. But it was very difficult for her to determine on the manner in which she would discuss the subject with him. She thought that she could be firm if her mind were once made up. She believed that perhaps she was by nature more firm than he. In all their intercourse together he had ever yielded to her; and though she had been always pleased and grateful, there had grown upon her an idea that he was perhaps too easy,—that he was a man as to whom it was necessary that they who loved him should see that he was not led away by weakness into folly. But she would want to learn something from him before her decision was finally reached, and in this she foresaw a great difficulty. In her trouble she went to her usual counsellor,—the Republican Browning. In such an emergency she could hardly have done worse. "Wally," she said, "we talk about England, and Italy, and France, as though we knew all about them; but how hard it is to realise the difference between one's own country and others."
"We can at least learn a great deal that is satisfactory," said Wallachia. "About one out of every five Italians can read a book, about two out of every five Englishmen can read a book. Out of every five New Englanders four and four-fifths can read a book. I guess that is knowing a good deal."
"I don't mean in statistics."
"I cannot conceive how you are to learn anything about any country except by statistics. I have just discovered that the number of illegitimate children—"
"Oh, Wally, I can't talk about that,—not now at least. What I cannot realise is this,—what sort of a life it is that they will lead at Monkhams."
"Plenty to eat and drink, I guess; and you'll always have to go round in fine clothes."
"And that will be all?"
"No;—not all. There will be carriages and horses, and all manner of people there who won't care much about you. If he is firm,—very firm;—if he have that firmness which one does not often meet, even in an American man, he will be able, after a while, to give you a position as an English woman of rank." It is to be feared that Wallachia Petrie had been made aware of Caroline's idea as to Mr. Glascock's want of purpose.
"And that will be all?"
"If you have a baby, they'll let you go and see it two or three times a day. I don't suppose you will be allowed to nurse it, because they never do in England. You have read what the Saturday Review says. In every other respect the Saturday Review has been the falsest of all false periodicals, but I guess it has been pretty true in what it has said about English women."
"I wish I knew more about it really."
"When a man has to leap through a window in the dark, Caroline, of course he doubts whether the feather bed said to be below will be soft enough for him."
"I shouldn't fear the leap for myself, if it wouldn't hurt him. Do you think it possible that society can be so formed that a man should lose caste because he doesn't marry just one of his own set?"
"It has been so all over the world, my dear. If like to like is to be true anywhere, it should be true in marriage."
"Yes;—but with a difference. He and I are like to like. We come of the same race, we speak the same language, we worship the same God, we have the same ideas of culture and of pleasures. The difference is one that is not patent to the eye or to the ear. It is a difference of accidental incident, not of nature or of acquirement."
"I guess you would find, Caroline, that a jury of English matrons sworn to try you fairly, would not find you to be entitled to come among them as one of themselves."
"And how will that affect him?"
"Less powerfully than many others, because he is not impassioned. He is, perhaps—lethargic."
"No, Wally, he is not lethargic."
"If you ask me I must speak. It would harass some men almost to death; it will not do so with him. He would probably find his happiness best in leaving his old country and coming among your people."
The idea of Mr. Glascock,—the future Lord Peterborough,—leaving England, abandoning Monkhams, deserting his duty in the House of Lords, and going away to live in an American town, in order that he might escape the miseries which his wife had brought upon him in his own country, was more than Caroline could bear. She knew that, at any rate, it would not come to that. The lord of Monkhams would live at Monkhams, though the heavens should fall—in regard to domestic comforts. It was clear to Caroline that Wallachia Petrie had in truth never brought home to her own imagination the position of an English peer. "I don't think you understand the people at all," she said angrily.
"You think that you can understand them better because you are engaged to this man!" said Miss Petrie, with well-pronounced irony. "You have found generally that when the sun shines in your eyes your sight is improved by it! You think that the love-talk of a few weeks gives clearer instruction than the laborious reading of many volumes and thoughtful converse with thinking persons! I hope that you may find it so, Caroline." So saying Wallachia Petrie walked off in great dudgeon.
Miss Petrie, not having learned from her many volumes and her much converse with thoughtful persons to read human nature aright, was convinced by this conversation that her friend Caroline was blind to all results, and was determined to go on with this dangerous marriage, having the rays of that sun of Monkhams so full upon her eyes that she could not see at all. She was specially indignant at finding that her own words had no effect. But, unfortunately, her words had had much effect; and Caroline, though she had contested her points, had done so only with the intention of producing her Mentor's admonitions. Of course it was out of the question that Mr. Glascock should go and live in Providence, Rhode Island, from which thriving town Caroline Spalding had come; but, because that was impossible, it was not the less probable that he might be degraded and made miserable in his own home. That suggested jury of British matrons was a frightful conclave to contemplate, and Caroline was disposed to believe that the verdict given in reference to herself would be adverse to her. So she sat and meditated, and spoke not a word further to any one on the subject till she was alone with the man that she loved.
Mr. Spalding at this time inhabited the ground floor of a large palace in the city, from which there was access to a garden which at this period of the year was green, bright, and shady, and which as being in the centre of a city was large and luxurious. From one end of the house there projected a covered terrace, or loggia, in which there were chairs and tables, sculptured ornaments, busts, and old monumental relics let into the wall in profusion. It was half chamber and half garden,—such an adjunct to a house as in our climate would give only an idea of cold, rheumatism, and a false romance, but under an Italian sky, is a luxury daily to be enjoyed during most months of the year. Here Mr. Glascock and Caroline had passed many hours,—and here they were now seated, late in the evening, while all others of the family were away. As far as regarded the rooms occupied by the American Minister, they had the house and garden to themselves, and there never could come a time more appropriate for the saying of a thing difficult to be said. Mr. Glascock had heard from his father's physician, and had said that it was nearly certain now that he need not go down to Naples again before his marriage. Caroline was trembling, not knowing how to speak, not knowing how to begin;—but resolved that the thing should be done. "He will never know you, Carry," said Mr. Glascock. "It is, perhaps, hardly a sorrow to me, but it is a regret."
"It would have been a sorrow perhaps to him had he been able to know me," said she, taking the opportunity of rushing at her subject.
"Why so? Of all human beings he was the softest-hearted."
"Not softer-hearted than you, Charles. But soft hearts have to be hardened."
"What do you mean? Am I becoming obdurate?"
"I am, Charles," she said. "I have got something to say to you. What will your uncles and aunts and your mother's relations say of me when they see me at Monkhams?"
"They will swear to me that you are charming; and then,—when my back is turned,—they'll pick you to pieces a little among themselves. I believe that is the way of the world, and I don't suppose that we are to do better than others."
"And if you had married an English girl, a Lady Augusta Somebody,—would they pick her to pieces?"
"I guess they would, as you say."
"Just the same?"
"I don't think anybody escapes, as far as I can see. But that won't prevent their becoming your bosom friends in a few weeks time."
"No one will say that you have been wrong to marry an American girl?"
"Now, Carry, what is the meaning of all this?"
"Do you know any man in your position who ever did marry an American girl;—any man of your rank in England?" Mr. Glascock began to think of the case, and could not at the moment remember any instance. "Charles, I do not think you ought to be the first."
"And yet somebody must be first, if the thing is ever to be done;—and I am too old to wait on the chance of being the second."
She felt that at the rate she was now progressing she would only run from one little suggestion to another, and that he, either wilfully or in sheer simplicity, would take such suggestions simply as jokes; and she was aware that she lacked the skill to bring the conversation round gradually to the point which she was bound to reach. She must make another dash, let it be ever so sudden. Her mode of doing so would be crude, ugly,—almost vulgar she feared; but she would attain her object and say what she had to say. When once she had warmed herself with the heat which argument would produce, then, she was pretty sure, she would find herself at least as strong as he. "I don't know that the thing ought to be done at all," she said. During the last moment or two he had put his arm round her waist; and she, not choosing to bid him desist from embracing her, but unwilling in her present mood to be embraced, got up and stood before him. "I have thought, and thought, and thought, and feel that it should not be done. In marriage, like should go to like." She despised herself for using Wallachia's words, but they fitted in so usefully, that she could not refrain from them. "I was wrong not to know it before, but it is better to know it now, than not to have known it till too late. Everything that I hear and see tells me that it would be so. If you were simply an Englishman, I would go anywhere with you; but I am not fit to be the wife of an English lord. The time would come when I should be a disgrace to you, and then I should die."
"I think I should go near dying myself," said he, "if you were a disgrace to me." He had not risen from his chair, and sat calmly looking up into her face.
"We have made a mistake, and let us unmake it," she continued. "I will always be your friend. I will correspond with you. I will come and see your wife."
"That will be very kind!"
"Charles, if you laugh at me, I shall be angry with you. It is right that you should look to your future life, as it is right that I should do so also. Do you think that I am joking? Do you suppose that I do not mean it?"
"You have taken an extra dose this morning of Wallachia Petrie, and of course you mean it."
"If you think that I am speaking her mind and not my own, you do not know me."
"And what is it you propose?" he said, still keeping his seat and looking calmly up into her face.
"Simply that our engagement should be over."
"Because it is not a fitting one for you to have made. I did not understand it before, but now I do. It will not be good for you to marry an American girl. It will not add to your happiness, and may destroy it. I have learned, at last, to know how much higher is your position than mine."
"And I am to be supposed to know nothing about it?"
"Your fault is only this,—that you have been too generous. I can be generous also."
"Now, look here, Caroline, you must not be angry with me if on such a subject I speak plainly. You must not even be angry if I laugh a little."
"Pray do not laugh at me!—not now."
"I must a little, Carry. Why am I to be supposed to be so ignorant of what concerns my own happiness and my own duties? If you will not sit down, I will get up, and we will take a turn together." He rose from his seat, but they did not leave the covered terrace. They moved on to the extremity, and then he stood hemming her in against a marble table in the corner. "In making this rather wild proposition, have you considered me at all?"
"I have endeavoured to consider you, and you only."
"And how have you done it? By the aid of some misty, far-fetched ideas respecting English society, for which you have no basis except your own dreams,—and by the fantasies of a rabid enthusiast."
"She is not rabid," said Caroline earnestly; "other people think just the same."
"My dear, there is only one person whose thinking on this subject is of any avail, and I am that person. Of course, I can't drag you into church to be married, but practically you can not help yourself from being taken there now. As there need be no question about our marriage,—which is a thing as good as done—"
"It is not done at all," said Caroline.
"I feel quite satisfied you will not jilt me, and as I shall insist on having the ceremony performed, I choose to regard it as a certainty. Passing that by, then, I will go on to the results. My uncles, and aunts, and cousins, and the people you talk of, were very reasonable folk when I last saw them, and quite sufficiently alive to the fact that they had to regard me as the head of their family. I do not doubt that we shall find them equally reasonable when we get home; but should they be changed, should there be any sign shewn that my choice of a wife had occasioned displeasure,—such displeasure would not affect you."
"But it would affect you."
"Not at all. In my own house I am master,—and I mean to continue to be so. You will be mistress there, and the only fear touching such a position is that it may be recognised by others too strongly. You have nothing to fear, Carry."
"It is of you I am thinking."
"Nor have I. What if some old women, or even some young women, should turn up their noses at the wife I have chosen, because she has not been chosen from among their own countrywomen, is that to be a cause of suffering to us? Can not we rise above that,—lasting as it would do for a few weeks, a month or two perhaps,—say a year,—till my Caroline shall have made herself known? I think that we are strong enough to live down a trouble so light." He had come close to her as he was speaking, and had again put his arm round her waist. She tried to escape from his embrace,—not with persistency, not with the strength which always suffices for a woman when the embrace is in truth a thing to be avoided, but clutching at his fingers with hers, pressing them rather than loosening their grasp. "No, Carry," he continued; "we have got to go through with it now, and we will try and make the best of it. You may trust me that we shall not find it difficult,—not, at least, on the ground of your present fears. I can bear a heavier burden than you will bring upon me."
"I know that I ought to prove to you that I am right," she said, still struggling with his hand.
"And I know that you can prove nothing of the kind. Dearest, it is fixed between us now, and do not let us be so silly as to raise imaginary difficulties. Of course you would have to marry me, even if there were cause for such fears. If there were any great cause, still the game would be worth the candle. There could be no going back, let the fear be what it might. But there need be no fear if you will only love me." She felt that he was altogether too strong for her,—that she had mistaken his character in supposing that she could be more firm than he. He was so strong that he treated her almost as a child;—and yet she loved him infinitely the better for so treating her. Of course, she knew now that her objection, whether true or unsubstantial, could not avail. As he stood with his arm round her, she was powerless to contradict him in anything. She had so far acknowledged this that she no longer struggled with him, but allowed her hand to remain quietly within his. If there was no going back from this bargain that had been made,—why, then, there was no need for combating. And when he stooped over and kissed her lips, she had not a word to say. "Be good to me," he said, "and tell me that I am right."
"You must be master, I suppose, whether you are right or wrong. A man always thinks himself entitled to his own way."
"Why, yes. When he has won the battle, he claims his captive. Now, the truth is this, I have won the battle, and your friend, Miss Petrie, has lost it. I hope she will understand that she has been beaten at last out of the field." As he said this, he heard a step behind them, and turning round saw Wallachia there almost before he could drop his arm.
"I am sorry that I have intruded on you," she said very grimly.
"Not in the least," said Mr. Glascock. "Caroline and I have had a little dispute, but we have settled it without coming to blows."
"I do not suppose that an English gentleman ever absolutely strikes a lady," said Wallachia Petrie.
"Not except on strong provocation," said Mr. Glascock. "In reference to wives, a stick is allowed as big as your thumb."
"I have heard that it is so by the laws of England," said Wallachia.
"How can you be so ridiculous, Wally!" said Caroline. "There is nothing that you would not believe."
"I hope that it may never be true in your case," said Wallachia.
A couple of days after this Miss Spalding found that it was absolutely necessary that she should explain the circumstances of her position to Nora. She had left Nora with the purpose of performing a very high-minded action, of sacrificing herself for the sake of her lover, of giving up all her golden prospects, and of becoming once again the bosom friend of Wallachia Petrie, with this simple consolation for her future life,—that she had refused to marry an English nobleman because the English nobleman's condition was unsuited to her. It would have been an episode in female life in which pride might be taken;—but all that was now changed. She had made her little attempt,—had made it, as she felt, in a very languid manner, and had found herself treated as a child for doing so. Of course she was happy in her ill success; of course she would have been broken-hearted had she succeeded. But, nevertheless, she was somewhat lowered in her own esteem, and it was necessary that she should acknowledge the truth to the friend whom she had consulted. A day or two had passed before she found herself alone with Nora, but when she did so she confessed her failure at once.
"You told him all, then?" said Nora.
"Oh yes, I told him all. That is, I could not really tell him. When the moment came I had no words."
"And what did he say?"
"He had words enough. I never knew him to be eloquent before."
"He can speak out if he likes," said Nora.
"So I have found,—with a vengeance. Nobody was ever so put down as I was. Don't you know that there are times when it does not seem to be worth your while to put out your strength against an adversary? So it was with him. He just told me that he was my master, and that I was to do as he bade me."
"And what did you say?"
"I promised to be a good girl," said Caroline, "and not to pretend to have any opinion of my own ever again. And so we kissed, and were friends."
"I dare say there was a kiss, my dear."
"Of course there was;—and he held me in his arms, and comforted me, and told me how to behave;—just as you would do a little girl. It's all over now, of course; and if there be a mistake, it is his fault. I feel that all responsibility is gone from myself, and that for all the rest of my life I have to do just what he tells me."
"And what says the divine Wallachia?"
"Poor Wally! She says nothing, but she thinks that I am a castaway and a recreant. I am a recreant, I know;—but yet I think that I was right. I know I could not help myself."
"Of course you were right, my dear," said the sage Nora. "If you had the notion in your head, it was wise to get rid of it; but I knew how it would be when you spoke to him."
"You were not so weak when he came to you."
"That was altogether another thing. It was not arranged in heaven that I was to become his captive."
After that Wallachia Petrie never again tried her influence on her former friend, but admitted to herself that the evil was done, and that it could not be remedied. According to her theory of life, Caroline Spalding had been wrong, and weak,—had shewn herself to be comfort-loving and luxuriously-minded, had looked to get her happiness from soft effeminate pleasures rather than from rational work and the useful, independent exercise of her own intelligence. In the privacy of her little chamber Wallachia Petrie shed,—not absolute tears,—but many tearful thoughts over her friend. It was to her a thing very terrible that the chosen one of her heart should prefer the career of an English lord's wife to that of an American citizeness, with all manner of capability for female voting, female speech-making, female poetising, and, perhaps, female political action before her. It was a thousand pities! "You may take a horse to water,"—said Wallachia to herself, thinking of the ever-freshly springing fountain of her own mind, at which Caroline Spalding would always have been made welcome freely to quench her thirst,—"but you cannot make him drink if he be not athirst." In the future she would have no friend. Never again would she subject herself to the disgrace of such a failure. But the sacrifice was to be made, and she knew that it was bootless to waste her words further on Caroline Spalding. She left Florence before the wedding, and returned alone to the land of liberty. She wrote a letter to Caroline explaining her conduct, and Caroline Spalding shewed the letter to her husband,—as one that was both loving and eloquent.
"Very loving and very eloquent," he said. "But, nevertheless, one does think of sour grapes."
"There I am sure you wrong her," said Caroline.
MRS. FRENCH'S CARVING KNIFE.
During these days there were terrible doings at Exeter. Camilla had sworn that if Mr. Gibson did not come to, there should be a tragedy, and it appeared that she was inclined to keep her word. Immediately after the receipt of her letter from Mr. Gibson she had had an interview with that gentleman in his lodgings, and had asked him his intentions. He had taken measures to fortify himself against such an attack; but, whatever those measures were, Camilla had broken through them. She had stood before him as he sat in his arm-chair, and he had been dumb in her presence. It had perhaps been well for him that the eloquence of her indignation had been so great that she had hardly been able to pause a moment for a reply. "Will you take your letter back again?" she had said. "I should be wrong to do that," he had lisped out in reply, "because it is true. As a Christian minister I could not stand with you at the altar with a lie in my mouth." In no other way did he attempt to excuse himself,—but that, twice repeated, filled up all the pause which she made for him.
There never had been such a case before,—so impudent, so cruel, so gross, so uncalled for, so unmanly, so unnecessary, so unjustifiable, so damnable,—so sure of eternal condemnation! All this she said to him with loud voice, and clenched fist, and starting eyes,—regardless utterly of any listeners on the stairs, or of outside passers in the street. In very truth she was moved to a sublimity of indignation. Her low nature became nearly poetic under the wrong inflicted upon her. She was almost tempted to tear him with her hands, and inflict upon him at the moment some terrible vengeance which should be told of for ever in the annals of Exeter. A man so mean as he, so weak, so cowardly, one so little of a hero;—that he should dare to do it, and dare to sit there before her, and to say that he would do it! "Your gown shall be torn off your back, sir, and the very boys of Exeter shall drag you through the gutters!" To this threat he said nothing, but sat mute, hiding his face in his hands. "And now tell me this, sir;—is there anything between you and Bella?" But there was no voice in reply. "Answer my question, sir. I have a right to ask it." Still he said not a word. "Listen to me. Sooner than that you and she should be man and wife, I would stab her! Yes, I would;—you poor, paltry, lying, cowardly creature!" She remained with him for more than half an hour, and then banged out of the room flashing back a look of scorn at him as she went. Martha, before that day was over, had learned the whole story from Mr. Gibson's cook, and had told her mistress.
"I did not think he had so much spirit in him," was Miss Stanbury's answer. Throughout Exeter the great wonder arising from the crisis was the amount of spirit which had been displayed by Mr. Gibson.
When he was left alone he shook himself, and began to think that if there were danger that such interviews might occur frequently he had better leave Exeter for good. As he put his hand over his forehead, he declared to himself that a very little more of that kind of thing would kill him. When a couple of hours had passed over his head he shook himself again, and sat down and wrote a letter to his intended mother-in-law.
I do not mean to complain [he said], God knows I have no right; but I cannot stand a repetition of what has occurred just now. If your younger daughter comes to see me again I must refuse to see her, and shall leave the town. I am ready to make what reparation may be possible for the mistake into which I have fallen.
Mrs. French was no doubt much afraid of her younger daughter, but she was less afraid of her than were other people. Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt; and who can be so familiar with a child as its parent? She did not in her heart believe that Camilla would murder anybody, and she fully realised the conviction that, even after all that was come and gone, it would be better that one of her daughters should have a husband than that neither should be so blessed. If only Camilla could be got out of Exeter for a few months,—how good a thing it would be for them all! She had a brother in Gloucester,—if only he could be got to take Camilla for a few months! And then, too, she knew that if the true rights of her two daughters were strictly and impartially examined, Arabella's claim was much stronger than any that Camilla could put forward to the hand of Mr. Gibson.
"You must not go there again, Camilla," the mother said.
"I shall go whenever I please," replied the fury.
"Now, Camilla, we may as well understand each other. I will not have it done. If I am provoked, I will send to your uncle at Gloucester." Now the uncle at Gloucester was a timber merchant, a man with protuberant eyes and a great square chin,—known to be a very stern man indeed, and not at all afraid of young women.
"What do I care for my uncle? My uncle would take my part."
"No, he would not. The truth is, Camilla, you interfered with Bella first."
"Mamma, how dare you say so!"
"You did, my dear. And these are the consequences."
"And you mean to say that she is to be Mrs. Gibson?"
"I say nothing about that. But I do not see why they shouldn't be married if their hearts are inclined to each other."
"I will die first!"
"Your dying has nothing to do with it, Camilla."
"And I will kill her!"
"If you speak to me again in that way I will write to your uncle at Gloucester. I have done the best I could for you both, and I will not bear such treatment."
"And how am I treated?"
"You should not have interfered with your sister."
"You are all in a conspiracy together," shouted Camilla, "you are! There never was anybody so badly treated,—never,—never,—never! What will everybody say of me?"
"They will pity you, if you will be quiet."
"I don't want to be pitied;—I won't be pitied. I wish I could die,—and I will die! Anybody else would, at any rate, have had their mother and sister with them!" Then she burst into a flood of real, true, womanly tears.
After this there was a lull at Heavitree for a few days. Camilla did not speak to her sister, but she condescended to hold some intercourse with her mother, and to take her meals at the family table. She did not go out of the house, but she employed herself in her own room, doing no one knew what, with all that new clothing and household gear which was to have been transferred in her train to Mr. Gibson's house. Mrs. French was somewhat uneasy about the new clothing and household gear, feeling that, in the event of Bella's marriage, at least a considerable portion of it must be transferred to the new bride. But it was impossible at the present moment to open such a subject to Camilla;—it would have been as a proposition to a lioness respecting the taking away of her whelps. Nevertheless, the day must soon come in which something must be said about the clothing and household gear. All the property that had been sent into the house at Camilla's orders could not be allowed to remain as Camilla's perquisites, now that Camilla was not to be married. "Do you know what she is doing, my dear?" said Mrs. French to her elder daughter.
"Perhaps she is picking out the marks," said Bella.
"I don't think she would do that as yet," said Mrs. French.
"She might just as well leave it alone," said Bella, feeling that one of the two letters would do for her. But neither of them dared to speak to her of her occupation in these first days of her despair.
Mr. Gibson in the meantime remained at home, or only left his house to go to the Cathedral or to visit the narrow confines of his little parish. When he was out he felt that everybody looked at him, and it seemed to him that people whispered about him when they saw him at his usual desk in the choir. His friends passed him merely bowing to him, and he was aware that he had done that which would be regarded by every one around him as unpardonable. And yet,—what ought he to have done? He acknowledged to himself that he had been very foolish, mad,—quite demented at the moment,—when he allowed himself to think it possible that he should marry Camilla French. But having found out how mad he had been at that moment, having satisfied himself that to live with her as his wife would be impossible, was he not right to break the engagement? Could anything be so wicked as marrying a woman whom he—hated? Thus he tried to excuse himself; but yet he knew that all the world would condemn him. Life in Exeter would be impossible, if no way to social pardon could be opened for him. He was willing to do anything within bounds in mitigation of his offence. He would give up fifty pounds a year to Camilla for his life,—or he would marry Bella. Yes; he would marry Bella at once,—if Camilla would only consent, and give up that idea of stabbing some one. Bella French was not very nice in his eyes; but she was quiet, he thought, and it might be possible to live with her. Nevertheless, he told himself over and over again that the manner in which unmarried men with incomes were set upon by ladies in want of husbands was very disgraceful to the country at large. That mission to Natal which had once been offered to him would have had charms for him now, of which he had not recognised the force when he rejected it.
"Do you think that he ever was really engaged to her?" Dorothy said to her aunt. Dorothy was now living in a seventh heaven of happiness, writing love-letters to Brooke Burgess every other day, and devoting to this occupation a number of hours of which she ought to have been ashamed; making her purchases for her wedding,—with nothing, however, of the magnificence of a Camilla,—but discussing everything with her aunt, who urged her on to extravagances which seemed beyond the scope of her own economical ideas; settling, or trying to settle, little difficulties which perplexed her somewhat, and wondering at her own career. She could not of course be married without the presence of her mother and sister, and her aunt,—with something of a grim courtesy,—had intimated that they should be made welcome to the house in the Close for the special occasion. But nothing had been said about Hugh. The wedding was to be in the Cathedral, and Dorothy had a little scheme in her head for meeting her brother among the aisles. He would no doubt come down with Brooke, and nothing perhaps need be said about it to Aunt Stanbury. But still it was a trouble. Her aunt had been so good that Dorothy felt that no step should be taken which would vex the old woman. It was evident enough that when permission had been given for the visit of Mrs. Stanbury and Priscilla, Hugh's name had been purposely kept back. There had been no accidental omission. Dorothy, therefore, did not dare to mention it,—and yet it was essential for her happiness that he should be there. At the present moment Miss Stanbury's intense interest in the Stanbury wedding was somewhat mitigated by the excitement occasioned by Mr. Gibson's refusal to be married. Dorothy was so shocked that she could not bring herself to believe the statement that had reached them through Martha.
"Of course he was engaged to her. We all knew that," said Miss Stanbury.
"I think there must have been some mistake," said Dorothy. "I don't see how he could do it."
"There is no knowing what people can do, my dear, when they're hard driven. I suppose we shall have a lawsuit now, and he'll have to pay ever so much money. Well, well, well! see what a deal of trouble you might have saved!"
"But he'd have done the same to me, aunt;—only, you know, I never could have taken him. Isn't it better as it is, aunt? Tell me."
"I suppose young women always think it best when they can get their own ways. An old woman like me has only got to do what she is bid."
"But this was best, aunt;—was it not?"
"My dear, you've had your way, and let that be enough. Poor Camilla French is not allowed to have hers at all. Dear, dear, dear! I didn't think the man would ever have been such a fool to begin with;—or that he would ever have had the heart to get out of it afterwards." It astonished Dorothy to find that her aunt was not loud in reprobation of Mr. Gibson's very dreadful conduct.
In the meantime Mrs. French had written to her brother at Gloucester. The maid-servant, in making Miss Camilla's bed, and in "putting the room to rights," as she called it,—which description probably was intended to cover the circumstances of an accurate search,—had discovered, hidden among some linen,—a carving knife! such a knife as is used for the cutting up of fowls; and, after two days' interval, had imparted the discovery to Mrs. French. Instant visit was made to the pantry, and it was found that a very aged but unbroken and sharply-pointed weapon was missing. Mrs. French at once accused Camilla, and Camilla, after some hesitation, admitted that it might be there. Molly, she said, was a nasty, sly, wicked thing, to go looking in her drawers, and she would never leave anything unlocked again. The knife, she declared, had been taken up-stairs, because she had wanted something very sharp to cut,—the bones of her stays. The knife was given up, but Mrs. French thought it best to write to her brother, Mr. Crump. She was in great doubt about sundry matters. Had the carving knife really pointed to a domestic tragedy;—and if so, what steps ought a poor widow to take with such a daughter? And what ought to be done about Mr. Gibson? It ran through Mrs. French's mind that unless something were done at once, Mr. Gibson would escape scot free. It was her wish that he should yet become her son-in-law. Poor Bella was entitled to her chance. But if Bella was to be disappointed,—from fear of carving knives, or for other reasons,—then there came the question whether Mr. Gibson should not be made to pay in purse for the mischief he had done. With all these thoughts and doubts running through her head, Mrs. French wrote to her brother at Gloucester.
There came back an answer from Mr. Crump, in which that gentleman expressed a very strong idea that Mr. Gibson should be prosecuted for damages with the utmost virulence, and with the least possible delay. No compromise should be accepted. Mr. Crump would himself come to Exeter and see the lawyer as soon as he should be told that there was a lawyer to be seen. As to the carving knife, Mr. Crump was of opinion that it did not mean anything. Mr. Crump was a gentleman who did not believe in strong romance, but who had great trust in all pecuniary claims. The Frenches had always been genteel. The late Captain French had been an officer in the army, and at ordinary times and seasons the Frenches were rather ashamed of the Crump connection. But now the timber merchant might prove himself to be a useful friend.
Mrs. French shewed her brother's letter to Bella,—and poor Bella was again sore-hearted, seeing that nothing was said in it of her claims. "It will be dreadful scandal to have it all in the papers!" said Bella.
"But what can we do?"
"Anything would be better than that," said Bella. "And you don't want to punish Mr. Gibson, mamma."
"But, my dear, you see what your uncle says. What can I do, except go to him for advice?"
"Why don't you go to Mr. Gibson yourself, mamma?"
But nothing was said to Camilla about Mr. Crump;—nothing as yet. Camilla did not love Mr. Crump, but there was no other house except that of Mr. Crump's at Gloucester to which she might be sent, if it could be arranged that Mr. Gibson and Bella should be made one. Mrs. French took her eldest daughter's advice, and went to Mr. Gibson;—taking Mr. Crump's letter in her pocket. For herself she wanted nothing,—but was it not the duty of her whole life to fight for her daughters? Poor woman! If somebody would only have taught her how that duty might best be done, she would have endeavoured to obey the teaching. "You know I do not want to threaten you," she said to Mr. Gibson; "but you see what my brother says. Of course I wrote to my brother. What could a poor woman do in such circumstances except write to her brother?"
"If you choose to set the bloodhounds of the law at me, of course you can," said Mr. Gibson.
"I do not want to go to law at all;—God knows I do not!" said Mrs. French. Then there was a pause. "Poor dear Bella!" ejaculated Mrs. French.
"Dear Bella!" echoed Mr. Gibson.
"What do you mean to do about Bella?" asked Mrs. French.
"I sometimes think that I had better take poison and have done with it!" said Mr. Gibson, feeling himself to be very hard pressed.
Mr. Crump arrived at Exeter. Camilla was not told of his coming till the morning of the day on which he arrived; and then the tidings were communicated, because it was necessary that a change should be made in the bed-rooms. She and her sister had separate rooms when there was no visitor with them, but now Mr. Crump must be accommodated. There was a long consultation between Bella and Mrs. French, but at last it was decided that Bella should sleep with her mother. There would still be too much of the lioness about Camilla to allow of her being regarded as a safe companion through the watches of the night. "Why is Uncle Jonas coming now?" she asked.
"I thought it better to ask him," said Mrs. French.
After a long pause, Camilla asked another question. "Does Uncle Jonas mean to see Mr. Gibson?"
"I suppose he will," said Mrs. French.
"Then he will see a low, mean fellow;—the lowest, meanest fellow that ever was heard of! But that won't make much difference to Uncle Jonas. I wouldn't have him now, if he was to ask me ever so;—that I wouldn't!"
Mr. Crump came, and kissed his sister and two nieces. The embrace with Camilla was not very affectionate. "So your Joe has been and jilted you?" said Uncle Jonas;—"it's like one of them clergymen. They say so many prayers, they think they may do almost anything afterwards. Another man would have had his head punched."
"The less talk there is about it the better," said Camilla.
On the following day Mr. Crump called by appointment on Mr. Gibson, and remained closeted with that gentleman for the greater portion of the morning. Camilla knew well that he was going, and went about the house like a perturbed spirit during his absence. There was a look about her that made them all doubt whether she was not, in truth, losing her mind. Her mother more than once went to the pantry to see that the knives were right; and, as regarded that sharp-pointed weapon, was careful to lock it up carefully out of her daughter's way. Mr. Crump had declared himself willing to take Camilla back to Gloucester, and had laughed at the obstacles which his niece might, perhaps, throw in the way of such an arrangement. "She mustn't have much luggage;—that is all," said Mr. Crump. For Mr. Crump had been made aware of the circumstances of the trousseau. About three o'clock Mr. Crump came back from Mr. Gibson's, and expressed a desire to be left alone with Camilla. Mrs. French was prepared for everything; and Mr. Crump soon found himself with his younger niece.
"Camilla, my dear," said he, "this has been a bad business."
"I don't know what business you mean, Uncle Jonas."
"Yes, you do, my dear;—you know. And I hope it won't come too late to prove to you that young women shouldn't be too keen in setting their caps at the gentlemen. It's better for them to be hunted, than to hunt."
"Uncle Jonas, I will not be insulted."
"Stick to that, my dear, and you won't get into a scrape again. Now, look here. This man can never be made to marry you, anyhow."
"I wouldn't touch him with a pair of tongs, if he were kneeling at my feet!"
"That's right; stick to that. Of course, you wouldn't now, after all that has come and gone. No girl with any spirit would."
"He's a coward and a thief, and he'll be—damned for what he has done, some of these days!"
"T-ch, t-ch, t-ch! That isn't a proper way for a young lady to talk. That's cursing and swearing."
"It isn't cursing and swearing;—it's what the Bible says."
"Then we'll leave him to the Bible. In the meantime, Mr. Gibson wants to marry some one else, and that can't hurt you."
"He may marry whom he likes;—but he shan't marry Bella—that's all!"
"It is Bella that he means to marry."
"Then he won't. I'll forbid the banns. I'll write to the bishop. I'll go to the church and prevent its being done. I'll make such a noise in the town that it can't be done. It's no use your looking at me like that, Uncle Jonas. I've got my own feelings, and he shall never marry Bella. It's what they have been intending all through, and it shan't be done!"
"It will be done."
"Uncle Jonas, I'll stab her to the heart, and him too, before I'll see it done! Though I were to be killed the next day, I would. Could you bear it?"
"I'm not a young woman. Now, I'll tell you what I want you to do."
"I'll not do anything."
"Just pack up your things, and start with me to Gloucester to-morrow."
"Then you'll be carried, my dear. I'll write to your aunt, to say that you're coming; and we'll be as jolly as possible when we get you home."
"I won't go to Gloucester, Uncle Jonas. I won't go away from Exeter. I won't let it be done. She shall never, never, never be that man's wife!"
Nevertheless, on the day but one after this, Camilla French did go to Gloucester. Before she went, however, things had to be done in that house which almost made Mrs. French repent that she had sent for so stern an assistant. Camilla was at last told, in so many words, that the things which she had prepared for her own wedding must be given up for the wedding of her sister; and it seemed that this item in the list of her sorrows troubled her almost more than any other. She swore that whither she went there should go the dresses, and the handkerchiefs, and the hats, the bonnets, and the boots. "Let her have them," Bella had pleaded. But Mr. Crump was inexorable. He had looked into his sister's affairs, and found that she was already in debt. To his practical mind, it was an absurdity that the unmarried sister should keep things that were wholly unnecessary, and that the sister that was to be married should be without things that were needed. There was a big trunk, of which Camilla had the key, but which, unfortunately for her, had been deposited in her mother's room. Upon this she sat, and swore that nothing should move her but a promise that her plunder should remain untouched. But there came this advantage from the terrible question of the wedding raiments,—that in her energy to keep possession of them, she gradually abandoned her opposition to her sister's marriage. She had been driven from one point to another till she was compelled at last to stand solely upon her possessions. "Perhaps we had better let her keep them," said Mrs. French. "Trash and nonsense!" said Mr. Crump. "If she wants a new frock, let her have it; as for the sheets and tablecloths, you'd better keep them yourself. But Bella must have the rest."
It was found on the eve of the day on which she was told that she was to depart that she had in truth armed herself with a dagger or clasp knife. She actually displayed it when her uncle told her to come away from the chest on which she was sitting. She declared that she would defend herself there to the last gasp of her life; but of course the knife fell from her hand the first moment that she was touched. "I did think once that she was going to make a poke at me," Mr. Crump said afterwards; "but she had screamed herself so weak that she couldn't do it."
When the morning came, she was taken to the fly and driven to the station without any further serious outbreak. She had even condescended to select certain articles, leaving the rest of the hymeneal wealth behind her. Bella, early on that morning of departure, with great humility, implored her sister to forgive her; but no entreaties could induce Camilla to address one gracious word to the proposed bride. "You've been cheating me all along!" she said; and that was the last word she spoke to poor Bella.
She went, and the field was once more open to the amorous Vicar of St. Peter's-cum-Pumpkin. It is astonishing how the greatest difficulties will sink away, and become as it were nothing, when they are encountered face to face. It is certain that Mr. Gibson's position had been one most trying to the nerves. He had speculated on various modes of escape;—a curacy in the north of England would be welcome, or the duties of a missionary in New Zealand,—or death. To tell the truth, he had, during the last week or two, contemplated even a return to the dominion of Camilla. That there should ever again be things pleasant for him in Exeter seemed to be quite impossible. And yet, on the evening of the day but one after the departure of Camilla, he was seated almost comfortably with his own Arabella! There is nothing that a man may not do, nothing that he may not achieve, if he have only pluck enough to go through with it.
"You do love me?" Bella said to him. It was natural that she should ask him; but it would have been better perhaps if she had held her tongue. Had she spoken to him about his house, or his income, or the servants, or the duties of his parish church, it would have been easier for him to make a comfortable reply.
"Yes;—I love you," he replied; "of course I love you. We have always been friends, and I hope things will go straight now. I have had a great deal to go through, Bella, and so have you;—but God will temper the wind to the shorn lambs." How was the wind to be tempered for the poor lamb who had gone forth shorn down to the very skin!
Soon after this Mrs. French returned to the room, and then there was no more romance. Mrs. French had by no means forgiven Mr. Gibson all the trouble he had brought into the family, and mixed a certain amount of acrimony with her entertainment of him. She dictated to him, treated him with but scant respect, and did not hesitate to let him understand that he was to be watched very closely till he was actually and absolutely married. The poor man had in truth no further idea of escape. He was aware that he had done that which made it necessary that he should bear a great deal, and that he had no right to resent suspicion. When a day was fixed in June on which he should be married at the church of Heavitree, and it was proposed that he should be married by banns, he had nothing to urge to the contrary. And when it was also suggested to him by one of the prebendaries of the Cathedral that it might be well for him to change his clerical duties for a period with the vicar of a remote parish in the north of Cornwall,—so as to be out of the way of remark from those whom he had scandalised by his conduct,—he had no objection to make to that arrangement. When Mrs. MacHugh met him in the Close, and told him that he was a gay Lothario, he shook his head with a melancholy self-abasement, and passed on without even a feeling of anger. "When they smite me on the right cheek, I turn unto them my left," he said to himself, when one of the cathedral vergers remarked to him that after all he was going to be married, at last. Even Bella became dominant over him, and assumed with him occasionally the air of one who had been injured.
Bella wrote a touching letter to her sister;—a letter that ought to have touched Camilla, begging for forgiveness, and for one word of sisterly love. Camilla answered the letter, but did not send a word of sisterly love. "According to my way of thinking, you have been a nasty sly thing, and I don't believe you'll ever be happy. As for him, I'll never speak to him again." That was nearly the whole of her letter. "You must leave it to time," said Mrs. French wisely; "she'll come round some day." And then Mrs. French thought how bad it would be for her if the daughter who was to be her future companion did not "come round" some day.
And so it was settled that they should be married in Heavitree Church,—Mr. Gibson and his first love,—and things went on pretty much as though nothing had been done amiss. The gentleman from Cornwall came down to take Mr. Gibson's place at St. Peter's-cum-Pumpkin, while his duties in the Cathedral were temporarily divided among the other priest-vicars,—with some amount of grumbling on their part. Bella commenced her modest preparations without any of the éclat which had attended Camilla's operations, but she felt more certainty of ultimate success than had ever fallen to Camilla's lot. In spite of all that had come and gone, Bella never feared again that Mr. Gibson would be untrue to her. In regard to him, it must be doubted whether Nemesis ever fell upon him with a hand sufficiently heavy to punish him for the great sins which he had manifestly committed. He had encountered a bad week or two, and there had been days in which, as has been said, he thought of Natal, of ecclesiastical censures, and even of annihilation; but no real punishment seemed to fall upon him. It may be doubted whether, when the whole arrangement was settled for him, and when he heard that Camilla had yielded to the decrees of Fate, he did not rather flatter himself on being a successful man of intrigue,—whether he did not take some glory to himself for his good fortune with women, and pride himself amidst his self-reproaches for the devotion which had been displayed for him by the fair sex in general. It is quite possible that he taught himself to believe that at one time Dorothy Stanbury was devotedly in love with him, and that when he reckoned up his sins she was one of those in regard to whom he accounted himself to have been a sinner. The spirit of intrigue with women, as to which men will flatter themselves, is customarily so vile, so mean, so vapid a reflection of a feeling, so aimless, resultless, and utterly unworthy! Passion exists and has its sway. Vice has its votaries,—and there is, too, that worn-out longing for vice, "prurient, yet passionless, cold-studied lewdness," which drags on a feeble continuance with the aid of money. But the commonest folly of man in regard to women is a weak taste for intrigue, with little or nothing on which to feed it;—a worse than feminine aptitude for male coquetry, which never ascends beyond a desire that somebody shall hint that there is something peculiar; and which is shocked and retreats backwards into its boots when anything like a consequence forces itself on the apprehension. Such men have their glory in their own estimation. We remember how Falstaff flouted the pride of his companion whose victory in the fields of love had been but little glorious. But there are victories going now-a-days so infinitely less glorious, that Falstaff's page was a Lothario, a very Don Juan, in comparison with the heroes whose praises are too often sung by their own lips. There is this recompense,—that their defeats are always sung by lips louder than their own. Mr. Gibson, when he found that he was to escape apparently unscathed,—that people standing respectably before the world absolutely dared to whisper words to him of congratulation on this third attempt at marriage within little more than a year, took pride to himself, and bethought himself that he was a gay deceiver. He believed that he had selected his wife,—and that he had done so in circumstances of peculiar difficulty! Poor Mr. Gibson,—we hardly know whether most to pity him, or the unfortunate, poor woman who ultimately became Mrs. Gibson.
"And so Bella French is to be the fortunate woman after all," said Miss Stanbury to her niece.
"It does seem to me to be so odd," said Dorothy. "I wonder how he looked when he proposed it."
"Like a fool,—as he always does."
Dorothy refrained from remarking that Miss Stanbury had not always thought that Mr. Gibson looked like a fool, but the idea occurred to her mind. "I hope they will be happy at last," she said.
"Pshaw! Such people can't be happy, and can't be unhappy. I don't suppose it much matters which he marries, or whether he marries them both, or neither. They are to be married by banns, they say,—at Heavitree."
"I don't see anything bad in that."
"Only Camilla might step out and forbid them," said Aunt Stanbury. "I almost wish she would."
"She has gone away, aunt,—to an uncle who lives at Gloucester."
"It was well to get her out of the way, no doubt. They'll be married before you now, Dolly."
"That won't break my heart, aunt."
"I don't suppose there'll be much of a wedding. They haven't anybody belonging to them, except that uncle at Gloucester." Then there was a pause. "I think it is a nice thing for friends to collect together at a wedding," continued Aunt Stanbury.
"I think it is," said Dorothy, in the mildest, softest voice.
"I suppose we must make room for that black sheep of a brother of yours, Dolly,—or else you won't be contented."
"Dear, dear, dearest aunt!" said Dorothy, falling down on her knees at her aunt's feet.
Trevelyan, when his wife had left him, sat for hours in silence pondering over his own position and hers. He had taken his child to an upper room, in which was his own bed and the boy's cot, and before he seated himself, he spread out various toys which he had been at pains to purchase for the unhappy little fellow,—a regiment of Garibaldian soldiers, all with red shirts, and a drum to give the regiment martial spirit, and a soft fluffy Italian ball, and a battledore and a shuttlecock,—instruments enough for juvenile joy, if only there had been a companion with whom the child could use them. But the toys remained where the father had placed them, almost unheeded, and the child sat looking out of the window, melancholy, silent, and repressed. Even the drum did not tempt him to be noisy. Doubtless he did not know why he was wretched, but he was fully conscious of his wretchedness. In the meantime the father sat motionless, in an old worn-out but once handsome leathern arm-chair, with his eyes fixed against the opposite wall, thinking of the wreck of his life.
Thought deep, correct, continued, and energetic is quite compatible with madness. At this time Trevelyan's mind was so far unhinged, his ordinary faculties were so greatly impaired, that they who declared him to be mad were justified in their declaration. His condition was such that the happiness and welfare of no human being,—not even his own,—could safely be entrusted to his keeping. He considered himself to have been so injured by the world, to have been the victim of so cruel a conspiracy among those who ought to have been his friends, that there remained nothing for him but to flee away from them and remain in solitude. But yet, through it all, there was something approaching to a conviction that he had brought his misery upon himself by being unlike to other men; and he declared to himself over and over again that it was better that he should suffer than that others should be punished. When he was alone his reflections respecting his wife were much juster than were his words when he spoke either with her, or to others, of her conduct. He would declare to himself not only that he did not believe her to have been false to him, but that he had never accused her of such crime. He had demanded from her obedience, and she had been disobedient. It had been incumbent upon him,—so ran his own ideas, as expressed to himself in these long unspoken soliloquies,—to exact obedience, or at least compliance, let the consequences be what they might. She had refused to obey or even to comply, and the consequences were very grievous. But, though he pitied himself with a pity that was feminine, yet he acknowledged to himself that her conduct had been the result of his own moody temperament. Every friend had parted from him. All those to whose counsels he had listened, had counselled him that he was wrong. The whole world was against him. Had he remained in England, the doctors and lawyers among them would doubtless have declared him to be mad. He knew all this, and yet he could not yield. He could not say that he had been wrong. He could not even think that he had been wrong as to the cause of the great quarrel. He was one so miserable and so unfortunate,—so he thought,—that even in doing right he had fallen into perdition!
He had had two enemies, and between them they had worked his ruin. These were Colonel Osborne and Bozzle. It may be doubted whether he did not hate the latter the more strongly of the two. He knew now that Bozzle had been untrue to him, but his disgust did not spring from that so much as from the feeling that he had defiled himself by dealing with the man. Though he was quite assured that he had been right in his first cause of offence, he knew that he had fallen from bad to worse in every step that he had taken since. Colonel Osborne had marred his happiness by vanity, by wicked intrigue, by a devilish delight in doing mischief; but he, he himself, had consummated the evil by his own folly. Why had he not taken Colonel Osborne by the throat, instead of going to a low-born, vile, mercenary spy for assistance? He hated himself for what he had done;—and yet it was impossible that he should yield.
It was impossible that he should yield;—but it was yet open to him to sacrifice himself. He could not go back to his wife and say that he was wrong; but he could determine that the destruction should fall upon him and not upon her. If he gave up his child and then died,—died, alone, without any friend near him, with no word of love in his ears, in that solitary and miserable abode which he had found for himself,—then it would at least be acknowledged that he had expiated the injury that he had done. She would have his wealth, his name, his child to comfort her,—and would be troubled no longer by demands for that obedience which she had sworn at the altar to give him, and which she had since declined to render to him. Perhaps there was some feeling that the coals of fire would be hot upon her head when she should think how much she had received from him and how little she had done for him. And yet he loved her, with all his heart, and would even yet dream of bliss that might be possible with her,—had not the terrible hand of irresistible Fate come between them and marred it all. It was only a dream now. It could be no more than a dream. He put out his thin wasted hands and looked at them, and touched the hollowness of his own cheeks, and coughed that he might hear the hacking sound of his own infirmity, and almost took glory in his weakness. It could not be long before the coals of fire would be heaped upon her head.
"Louey," he said at last, addressing the child who had sat for an hour gazing through the window without stirring a limb or uttering a sound; "Louey, my boy, would you like to go back to mamma?" The child turned round on the floor, and fixed his eyes on his father's face, but made no immediate reply. "Louey, dear, come to papa and tell him. Would it be nice to go back to mamma?" And he stretched out his hand to the boy. Louey got up, and approached slowly and stood between his father's knees. "Tell me, darling;—you understand what papa says?"
"Altro!" said the boy, who had been long enough among Italian servants to pick up the common words of the language. Of course he would like to go back. How indeed could it be otherwise?
"Then you shall go to her, Louey."
"Not to-day, nor to-morrow."
"But the day after?"
"That is sufficient. You shall go. It is not so bad with you that one day more need be a sorrow to you. You shall go,—and then you will never see your father again!" Trevelyan as he said this drew his hands away so as not to touch the child. The little fellow had put out his arm, but seeing his father's angry gesture had made no further attempt at a caress. He feared his father from the bottom of his little heart, and yet was aware that it was his duty to try to love papa. He did not understand the meaning of that last threat, but slunk back, passing his untouched toys, to the window, and there seated himself again, filling his mind with the thought that when two more long long days should have crept by, he should once more go to his mother.
Trevelyan had tried his best to be soft and gentle to his child. All that he had said to his wife of his treatment of the boy had been true to the letter. He had spared no personal trouble, he had done all that he had known how to do, he had exercised all his intelligence to procure amusement for the boy;—but Louey had hardly smiled since he had been taken from his mother. And now that he was told that he was to go and never see his father again, the tidings were to him simply tidings of joy. "There is a curse upon me," said Trevelyan; "it is written down in the book of my destiny that nothing shall ever love me!"
He went out from the house, and made his way down by the narrow path through the olives and vines to the bottom of the hill in front of the villa. It was evening now, but the evening was very hot, and though the olive trees stood in long rows, there was no shade. Quite at the bottom of the hill there was a little sluggish muddy brook, along the sides of which the reeds grew thickly and the dragon-flies were playing on the water. There was nothing attractive in the spot, but he was weary, and sat himself down on the dry hard bank which had been made by repeated clearing of mud from the bottom of the little rivulet. He sat watching the dragon-flies as they made their short flights in the warm air, and told himself that of all God's creatures there was not one to whom less power of disporting itself in God's sun was given than to him. Surely it would be better for him that he should die, than live as he was now living without any of the joys of life. The solitude of Casalunga was intolerable to him, and yet there was no whither that he could go and find society. He could travel if he pleased. He had money at command, and, at any rate as yet, there was no embargo on his personal liberty. But how could he travel alone,—even if his strength might suffice for the work? There had been moments in which he had thought that he would be happy in the love of his child,—that the companionship of an infant would suffice for him if only the infant would love him. But all such dreams as that were over. To repay him for his tenderness his boy was always dumb before him. Louey would not prattle as he had used to do. He would not even smile, or give back the kisses with which his father had attempted to win him. In mercy to the boy he would send him back to his mother;—in mercy to the boy if not to the mother also. It was in vain that he should look for any joy in any quarter. Were he to return to England, they would say that he was mad!
He lay there by the brook-side till the evening was far advanced, and then he arose and slowly returned to the house. The labour of ascending the hill was so great to him that he was forced to pause and hold by the olive trees as he slowly performed his task. The perspiration came in profusion from his pores, and he found himself to be so weak that he must in future regard the brook as being beyond the tether of his daily exercise. Eighteen months ago he had been a strong walker, and the snow-bound paths of Swiss mountains had been a joy to him. He paused as he was slowly dragging himself on, and looked up at the wretched, desolate, comfortless abode which he called his home. Its dreariness was so odious to him that he was half-minded to lay himself down where he was, and let the night air come upon him and do its worst. In such case, however, some Italian doctor would be sent down who would say that he was mad. Above all the things, and to the last, he must save himself from that degradation.
When he had crawled up to the house, he went to his child, and found that the woman had put the boy to bed. Then he was angry with himself in that he himself had not seen to this, and kept up his practice of attending the child to the last. He would, at least, be true to his resolution, and prepare for the boy's return to his mother. Not knowing how otherwise to manage it, he wrote that night the following note to Mr. Glascock;—
Casalunga, Thursday night.
My dear Sir,
Since you last were considerate enough to call upon me I have resolved to take a step in my affairs which, though it will rob me of my only remaining gratification, will tend to lessen the troubles under which Mrs. Trevelyan is labouring. If she desires it, as no doubt she does, I will consent to place our boy again in her custody,—trusting to her sense of honour to restore him to me should I demand it. In my present unfortunate position I cannot suggest that she should come for the boy. I am unable to support the excitement occasioned by her presence. I will, however, deliver up my darling either to you, or to any messenger sent by you whom I can trust. I beg heartily to apologise for the trouble I am giving you, and to subscribe myself yours very faithfully,
The Hon. C. Glascock.
P.S.—It is as well, perhaps, that I should explain that I must decline to receive any visit from Sir Marmaduke Rowley. Sir Marmaduke has insulted me grossly on each occasion on which I have seen him since his return home.
THE BATHS OF LUCCA.
June was now far advanced, and the Rowleys and the Spaldings had removed from Florence to the Baths of Lucca. Mr. Glascock had followed in their wake, and the whole party were living at the Baths in one of those hotels in which so many English and Americans are wont to congregate in the early weeks of the Italian summer. The marriage was to take place in the last week of the month; and all the party were to return to Florence for the occasion,—with the exception of Sir Marmaduke and Mrs. Trevelyan. She was altogether unfitted for wedding joys, and her father had promised to bear her company when the others left her. Mr. Glascock and Caroline Spalding were to be married in Florence, and were to depart immediately from thence for some of the cooler parts of Switzerland. After that Sir Marmaduke and Lady Rowley were to return to London with their daughters, preparatory to that dreary journey back to the Mandarins; and they had not even yet resolved what they had better do respecting that unfortunate man who was living in seclusion on the hill-top near Siena. They had consulted lawyers and doctors in Florence, but it had seemed that everybody there was afraid of putting the law in force against an Englishman. Doubtless there was a law in respect to the custody of the insane; and it was admitted that if Trevelyan were dangerously mad something could be done; but it seemed that nobody was willing to stir in such a case as that which now existed. Something, it was said, might be done at some future time; but the difficulties were so great that nothing could be done now.
It was very sad, because it was necessary that some decision should be made as to the future residence of Mrs. Trevelyan and of Nora. Emily had declared that nothing should induce her to go to the Islands with her father and mother unless her boy went with her. Since her journey to Casalunga she had also expressed her unwillingness to leave her husband. Her heart had been greatly softened towards him, and she had declared that where he remained, there would she remain,—as near to him as circumstances would admit. It might be that at last her care would be necessary for his comfort. He supplied her with means of living, and she would use these means as well as she might be able in his service.
Then there had arisen the question of Nora's future residence. And there had come troubles and storms in the family. Nora had said that she would not go back to the Mandarins, but had not at first been able to say where or how she would live. She had suggested that she might stay with her sister, but her father had insisted that she could not live on the income supplied by Trevelyan. Then, when pressed hard, she had declared that she intended to live on Hugh Stanbury's income. She would marry him at once,—with her father's leave, if she could get it, but without it if it needs must be so. Her mother told her that Hugh Stanbury was not himself ready for her; he had not even proposed so hasty a marriage, nor had he any home fitted for her. Lady Rowley, in arguing this, had expressed no assent to the marriage, even as a distant arrangement, but had thought thus to vanquish her daughter by suggesting small but insuperable difficulties. On a sudden, however, Lady Rowley found that all this was turned against her, by an offer that came direct from Mr. Glascock. His Caroline, he said, was very anxious that Nora should come to them at Monkhams as soon as they had returned home from Switzerland. They intended to be there by the middle of August, and would hurry there sooner, if there was any intermediate difficulty about finding a home for Nora. Mr. Glascock said nothing about Hugh Stanbury; but, of course, Lady Rowley understood that Nora had told all her troubles and hopes to Caroline, and that Caroline had told them to her future husband. Lady Rowley, in answer to this, could only say that she would consult her husband.
There was something very grievous in the proposition to Lady Rowley. If Nora had not been self-willed and stiff-necked beyond the usual self-willedness and stiff-neckedness of young women she might have been herself the mistress of Monkhams. It was proposed now that she should go there to wait till a poor man should have got together shillings enough to buy a few chairs and tables, and a bed to lie upon! The thought of this was very bitter. "I cannot think, Nora, how you could have the heart to go there," said Lady Rowley.
"I cannot understand why not, mamma. Caroline and I are friends, and surely he and I need not be enemies. He has never injured me; and if he does not take offence, why should I?"
"If you don't see it, I can't help it," said Lady Rowley.
And then Mrs. Spalding's triumph was terrible to Lady Rowley. Mrs. Spalding knew nothing of her future son-in-law's former passion, and spoke of her Caroline as having achieved triumphs beyond the reach of other girls. Lady Rowley bore it, never absolutely telling the tale of her daughter's fruitless victory. She was too good at heart to utter the boast;—but it was very hard to repress it. Upon the whole she would have preferred that Mr. Glascock and his bride should not have become the fast friends of herself and her family. There was more of pain than of pleasure in the alliance. But circumstances had been too strong for her. Mr. Glascock had been of great use in reference to Trevelyan, and Caroline and Nora had become attached to each other almost on their first acquaintance. Here they were together at the Baths of Lucca, and Nora was to be one of the four bridesmaids. When Sir Marmaduke was consulted about this visit to Monkhams, he became fretful, and would give no answer. The marriage, he said, was impossible, and Nora was a fool. He could give her no allowance more than would suffice for her clothes, and it was madness for her to think of stopping in England. But he was so full of cares that he could come to no absolute decision on this matter. Nora, however, had come to a very absolute decision.
"Caroline," she said, "if you will have me, I will go to Monkhams."
"Of course we will have you. Has not Charles said how delighted he would be?"
"Oh yes,—your Charles," said Nora, laughing.
"He is mine now, dear. You must not expect him to change his mind again. I gave him the chance, you know, and he would not take it. But, Nora, come to Monkhams, and stay as long as it suits. I have talked it all over with him, and we both agree that you shall have a home there. You shall be just like a sister. Olivia is coming too after a bit; but he says there is room for a dozen sisters. Of course it will be all right with Mr. Stanbury after a while." And so it was settled among them that Nora Rowley should find a home at Monkhams, if a home in England should be wanted for her.
It wanted but four days to that fixed for the marriage at Florence, and but six to that on which the Rowleys were to leave Italy for England, when Mr. Glascock received Trevelyan's letter. It was brought to him as he was sitting at a late breakfast in the garden of the hotel; and there were present at the moment not only all the Spalding family, but the Rowleys also. Sir Marmaduke was there and Lady Rowley, and the three unmarried daughters; but Mrs. Trevelyan, as was her wont, had remained alone in her own room. Mr. Glascock read the letter, and read it again, without attracting much attention. Caroline, who was of course sitting next to him, had her eyes upon him, and could see that the letter moved him; but she was not curious, and at any rate asked no question. He himself understood fully how great was the offer made,—how all-important to the happiness of the poor mother,—and he was also aware, or thought that he was aware, how likely it might be that the offer would be retracted. As regarded himself, a journey from the Baths at Lucca to Casalunga and back before his marriage, would be a great infliction on his patience. It was his plan to stay where he was till the day before his marriage, and then to return to Florence with the rest of the party. All this must be altered, and sudden changes must be made, if he decided on going to Siena himself. The weather now was very hot, and such a journey would be most disagreeable to him. Of course he had little schemes in his head, little amatory schemes for prænuptial enjoyment, which, in spite of his mature years, were exceedingly agreeable to him. The chestnut woods round the Baths of Lucca are very pleasant in the early summer, and there were excursions planned in which Caroline would be close to his side,—almost already his wife. But, if he did not go, whom could he send? It would be necessary at least that he should consult her, the mother of the child, before any decision was formed.
At last he took Lady Rowley aside, and read to her the letter. She understood at once that it opened almost a heaven of bliss to her daughter;—and she understood also how probable it might be that that wretched man, with his shaken wits, should change his mind. "I think I ought to go," said Mr. Glascock.
"But how can you go now?"
"I can go," said he. "There is time for it. It need not put off my marriage,—to which of course I could not consent. I do not know whom I could send."
"Monnier could go," said Lady Rowley, naming the courier.
"Yes;—he could go. But it might be that he would return without the child, and then we should not forgive ourselves. I will go, Lady Rowley. After all, what does it signify? I am a little old, I sometimes think, for this philandering. You shall take this letter to your daughter, and I will explain it all to Caroline."
Caroline had not a word to say. She could only kiss him, and promise to make him what amends she could when he came back. "Of course you are right," she said. "Do you think that I would say a word against it, even though the marriage were to be postponed?"
"I should;—a good many words. But I will be back in time for that, and will bring the boy with me."
Mrs. Trevelyan, when her husband's letter was read to her, was almost overcome by the feelings which it excited. In her first paroxysm of joy she declared that she would herself go to Siena, not for her child's sake, but for that of her husband. She felt at once that the boy was being given up because of the father's weakness,—because he felt himself to be unable to be a protector to his son,—and her woman's heart was melted with softness as she thought of the condition of the man to whom she had once given her whole heart. Since then, doubtless, her heart had revolted from him. Since that time there had come hours in which she had almost hated him for his cruelty to her. There had been moments in which she had almost cursed his name because of the aspersion which it had seemed that he had thrown upon her. But this was now forgotten, and she remembered only his weakness. "Mamma," she said, "I will go. It is my duty to go to him." But Lady Rowley withheld her, explaining that were she to go, the mission might probably fail in its express purpose. "Let Louey be sent to us first," said Lady Rowley, "and then we will see what can be done afterwards."
And so Mr. Glascock started, taking with him a maid-servant who might help him with the charge of the child. It was certainly very hard upon him. In order to have time for his journey to Siena and back, and time also to go out to Casalunga, it was necessary that he should leave the Baths at five in the morning. "If ever there was a hero of romance, you are he!" said Nora to him.
"The heroes of life are so much better than the heroes of romance," said Caroline.
"That is a lesson from the lips of the American Browning," said Mr. Glascock. "Nevertheless, I think I would rather ride a charge against a Paynim knight in Palestine than get up at half-past four in the morning."
"We will get up too, and give the knight his coffee," said Nora. They did get up, and saw him off; and when Mr. Glascock and Caroline parted with a lover's embrace, Nora stood by as a sister might have done. Let us hope that she remembered that her own time was coming.
There had been a promise given by Nora, when she left London, that she would not correspond with Hugh Stanbury while she was in Italy, and this promise had been kept. It may be remembered that Hugh had made a proposition to his lady-love, that she should walk out of the house one fine morning, and get herself married without any reference to her father's or her mother's wishes. But she had not been willing to take upon herself as yet independence so complete as this would have required. She had assured her lover that she did mean to marry him some day, even though it should be in opposition to her father, but that she thought that the period for filial persuasion was not yet over; and then, in explaining all this to her mother, she had given a promise neither to write nor to receive letters during the short period of her sojourn in Italy. She would be an obedient child for so long;—but, after that, she must claim the right to fight her own battle. She had told her lover that he must not write; and, of course, she had not written a word herself. But now, when her mother threw it in her teeth that Stanbury would not be ready to marry her, she thought that an unfair advantage was being taken of her,—and of him. How could he be expected to say that he was ready,—deprived as he was of the power of saying anything at all?
"Mamma," she said, the day before they went to Florence, "has papa fixed about your leaving England yet? I suppose you'll go now on the last Saturday in July?"
"I suppose we shall, my dear."
"Has not papa written about the berths?"
"I believe he has, my dear."
"Because he ought to know who are going. I will not go."
"You will not, Nora. Is that a proper way of speaking?"
"Dear mamma, I mean it to be proper. I hope it is proper. But is it not best that we should understand each other? All my life depends on my going or my staying now. I must decide."
"After what has passed, you do not, I suppose, mean to live in Mr. Glascock's house?"
"Certainly not. I mean to live with,—with,—with my husband. Mamma, I promised not to write, and I have not written. And he has not written,—because I told him not. Therefore, nothing is settled. But it is not fair to throw it in my teeth that nothing is settled."
"I have thrown nothing in your teeth, Nora."
"Papa talks sneeringly about chairs and tables. Of course, I know what he is thinking of. As I cannot go with him to the Mandarins, I think I ought to be allowed to look after the chairs and tables."
"What do you mean, my dear?"
"That you should absolve me from my promise, and let me write to Mr. Stanbury. I do not want to be left without a home."
"You cannot wish to write to a gentleman and ask him to marry you!"
"Why not? We are engaged. I shall not ask him to marry me,—that is already settled; but I shall ask him to make arrangements."
"Your papa will be very angry if you break your word to him."
"I will write, and show you the letter. Papa may see it, and if he will not let it go, it shall not go. He shall not say that I broke my word. But, mamma, I will not go out to the Islands. I should never get back again, and I should be broken-hearted." Lady Rowley had nothing to say to this; and Nora went and wrote her letter. "Dear Hugh," the letter ran, "Papa and mamma leave England on the last Saturday in July. I have told mamma that I cannot return with them. Of course, you know why I stay. Mr. Glascock is to be married the day after to-morrow, and they have asked me to go with them to Monkhams some time in August. I think I shall do so, unless Emily wants me to remain with her. At any rate, I shall try to be with her till I go there. You will understand why I tell you all this. Papa and mamma know that I am writing. It is only a business letter, and, therefore, I shall say no more, except that I am ever and always yours,—Nora." "There," she said, handing her letter to her mother, "I think that that ought to be sent. If papa chooses to prevent its going, he can."
Lady Rowley, when she handed the letter to her husband, recommended that it should be allowed to go to its destination. She admitted that, if they sent it, they would thereby signify their consent to her engagement;—and she alleged that Nora was so strong in her will, and that the circumstances of their journey out to the Antipodes were so peculiar, that it was of no avail for them any longer to oppose the match. They could not force their daughter to go with them. "But I can cast her off from me, if she be disobedient," said Sir Marmaduke. Lady Rowley, however, had no desire that her daughter should be cast off, and was aware that Sir Marmaduke, when it came to the point of casting off, would be as little inclined to be stern as she was herself. Sir Marmaduke, still hoping that firmness would carry the day, and believing that it behoved him to maintain his parental authority, ended the discussion by keeping possession of the letter, and saying that he would take time to consider the matter. "What security have we that he will ever marry her, if she does stay?" he asked the next morning. Lady Rowley had no doubt on this score, and protested that her opposition to Hugh Stanbury arose simply from his want of income. "I should never be justified," said Sir Marmaduke, "if I were to go and leave my girl as it were in the hands of a penny-a-liner." The letter, in the end, was not sent; and Nora and her father hardly spoke to each other as they made their journey back to Florence together.
Emily Trevelyan, before the arrival of that letter from her husband, had determined that she would not leave Italy. It had been her purpose to remain somewhere in the neighbourhood of her husband and child; and to overcome her difficulties,—or be overcome by them, as circumstances might direct. Now her plans were again changed,—or, rather, she was now without a plan. She could form no plan till she should again see Mr. Glascock. Should her child be restored to her, would it not be her duty to remain near her husband? All this made Nora's line of conduct the more difficult for her. It was acknowledged that she could not remain in Italy. Mrs. Trevelyan's position would be most embarrassing; but as all her efforts were to be used towards a reconciliation with her husband, and as his state utterly precluded the idea of a mixed household,—of any such a family arrangement as that which had existed in Curzon Street,—Nora could not remain with her. Mrs. Trevelyan herself had declared that she would not wish it. And, in that case, where was Nora to bestow herself when Sir Marmaduke and Lady Rowley had sailed? Caroline offered to curtail those honeymoon weeks in Switzerland, but it was impossible to listen to an offer so magnanimous and so unreasonable. Nora had a dim romantic idea of sharing Priscilla's bed-room in that small cottage near Nuncombe Putney, of which she had heard, and of there learning lessons in strict economy;—but of this she said nothing. The short journey from the Baths of Lucca to Florence was not a pleasant one, and the Rowley family were much disturbed as they looked into the future. Lodgings had now been taken for them, and there was the great additional doubt whether Mrs. Trevelyan would find her child there on her arrival.
The Spaldings went one way from the Florence station, and the Rowleys another. The American Minister had returned to the city some days previously,—drawn there nominally by pleas of business, but, in truth, by the necessities of the wedding breakfast,—and he met them at the station. "Has Mr. Glascock come back?" Nora was the first to ask. Yes;—he had come. He had been in the city since two o'clock, and had been up at the American Minister's house for half a minute. "And has he brought the child?" asked Caroline, relieved of doubt on her own account. Mr. Spalding did not know;—indeed, he had not interested himself quite so intently about Mrs. Trevelyan's little boy, as had all those who had just returned from the Baths. Mr. Glascock had said nothing to him about the child, and he had not quite understood why such a man should have made a journey to Siena, leaving his sweetheart behind him, just on the eve of his marriage. He hurried his women-kind into their carriage, and they were driven away; and then Sir Marmaduke was driven away with his women-kind. Caroline Spalding had perhaps thought that Mr. Glascock might have been there to meet her.