"What's all this that you have been saying to Miss Lawrie?" began Mr Whittlestaff, with all the dignity of anger.
"What have I been saying of to Miss Mary?"
"I am not at all well pleased with you."
"I haven't said a word again you, sir, nor not again nothing as you are likely to do."
"Miss Lawrie is to become my wife."
"So I hears her say."
There was something of a check in this—a check to Mr Whittlestaff's pride in Mary's conduct. Did Mrs Baggett intend him to understand that Mary had told the whole story to the old woman, and had boasted of her promotion?
"You have taught her to think that she should not do as we have proposed,—because of your wishes."
"I never said nothing of the kind,—so help me. That I should put myself up again you, sir! Oh no! I knows my place better than that. I wouldn't stand in the way of anything as was for your good,—or even of what you thought was good,—not to be made housekeeper to— Well, it don't matter where. I couldn't change for the better, nor wages wouldn't tempt me."
"What was it you said about going away?"
Here Mrs Baggett shook her head. "You told Miss Lawrie that you thought it was a shame that you should have to leave because of her."
"I never said a word of the kind, Mr Whittlestaff; nor yet, sir, I don't think as Miss Lawrie ever said so. I'm begging your pardon for contradicting you, and well I ought. But anything is better than making ill-blood between lovers." Mr Whittlestaff winced at being called a lover, but allowed the word to pass by. "I never said nothing about shame."
"What did you say?"
"I said as how I must leave you;—nothing but that. It ain't a matter of the slightest consequence to you, sir."
"Very well, sir. I mustn't demean me to say as anything I had said wasn't rubbish when you said as it was— But for all that, I've got to go."
"Yes, in course."
"Why have you got to go?"
"Because of my feelings, sir."
"I never heard such trash."
"That's true, no doubt, sir. But still, if you'll think of it, old women does have feelings. Not as a young one, but still they're there."
"Who's going to hurt your feelings?"
"In this house, sir, for the last fifteen years I've been top-sawyer of the female gender."
"Then I'm not to marry at all."
"You've gone on and you haven't,—that's all. I ain't a-finding no fault. But you haven't,—and I'm the sufferer." Here Mrs Baggett began to sob, and to wipe her eyes with a clean handkerchief, which she must surely have brought into the room for the purpose. "If you had taken some beautiful young lady—"
"I have taken a beautiful young lady," said Mr Whittlestaff, now becoming more angry than ever.
"You won't listen to me, sir, and then you boil over like that. No doubt Miss Mary is as beautiful as the best on 'em. I knew how it would be when she came among us with her streaky brown cheeks, ou'd make an anchor wish to kiss 'em." Here Mr Whittlestaff again became appeased, and made up his mind at once that he would tell Mary about the anchor as soon as things were smooth between them. "But if it had been some beautiful young lady out of another house,—one of them from the Park, for instance,—who hadn't been here a'most under my own thumb, I shouldn't 've minded it."
"The long and the short of it is, Mrs Baggett, that I am going to be married."
"I suppose you are, sir."
"And, as it happens, the lady I have selected happens to have been your mistress for the last two years."
"She won't be my missus no more," said Mrs Baggett, with an air of fixed determination.
"Of course you can do as you like about that. I can't compel any one to live in this house against her will; but I would compel you if I knew how, for your own benefit."
"There ain't no compelling."
"What other place have you got you can go to? I can't conceive it possible that you should live in any other family."
"Not in no family. Wages wouldn't tempt me. But there's them as supposes that they've a claim upon me." Then the woman began to cry in earnest, and the clean pocket-handkerchief was used in a manner which would soon rob it of its splendour.
There was a slight pause before Mr Whittlestaff rejoined. "Has he come back again?" he said, almost solemnly.
"He's at Portsmouth now, sir." And Mrs Baggett shook her head sadly.
"And wants you to go to him?"
"He always wants that when he comes home. I've got a bit of money, and he thinks there's some one to earn a morsel of bread for him—or rayther a glass of gin. I must go this time."
"I don't see that you need go at all; at any rate, Miss Lawrie's marriage won't make any difference."
"It do, sir," she said, sobbing.
"I can't see why."
"Nor I can't explain. I could stay on here, and wouldn't be afraid of him a bit."
"Then why don't you stay?"
"It's my feelings. If I was to stay here, I could just send him my wages, and never go nigh him. But when I'm alone about the world and forlorn, I ain't got no excuse but what I must go to him."
"Then remain where you are, and don't be a fool."
"But if a person is a fool, what's to be done then? In course I'm a fool. I knows that very well. There's no saying no other. But I can't go on living here, if Miss Mary is to be put over my head in that way. Baggett has sent for me, and I must go. Baggett is at Portsmouth, a-hanging on about the old shop. And he'll be drunk as long as there's gin to be had with or without paying. They do tell me as his nose is got to be awful. There's a man for a poor woman to go and spend her savings on! He's had a'most all on 'em already. Twenty-two pound four and sixpence he had out o' me the last time he was in the country. And he don't do nothing to have him locked up. It would be better for me if he'd get hisself locked up. I do think it's wrong, because a young girl has been once foolish and said a few words before a parson, as she is to be the slave of a drunken red-nosed reprobate for the rest of her life. Ain't there to be no way out of it?"
It was thus that Mrs Baggett told the tale of her married bliss,—not, however, without incurring the censure of her master because of her folly in resolving to go. He had just commenced a lecture on the sin of pride, in which he was prepared to show that all the evils which she could receive from the red-nosed veteran at Portsmouth would be due to her own stiff-necked obstinacy, when he was stopped suddenly by the sound of a knock at the front door. It was not only the knock at the door, but the entrance into the hall of some man, for the hall-door had been open into the garden, and the servant-girl had been close at hand. The library was at the top of the low stairs, and Mr Whittlestaff could not but hear the demand made. The gentleman had asked whether Miss Lawrie was living there.
"Who's that?" said Mr Whittlestaff to the housekeeper.
"It's not a voice as I know, sir." The gentleman in the meantime was taken into the drawing-room, and was closeted for the moment with Mary.
We must now go down-stairs and closet ourselves for a few moments with Mary Lawrie before the coming of the strange gentleman. She had left the presence of Mr Whittlestaff half an hour since, and felt that she had a second time on that day accepted him as her husband. She had accepted him, and now she must do the best she could to suit her life to his requirements. Her first feeling, when she found herself alone, was one of intense disgust at her own weakness. He had spoken to her of her ambition; and he had told her that he had found a place for her, in which that ambition might find a fair scope. And he had told her also that in reference to John Gordon she had dreamed a dream. It might be so, but to her thinking the continued dreaming of that dream would satisfy her ambition better than the performance of those duties which he had arranged for her. She had her own ideas of what was due from a girl and to a girl, and to her thinking her love for John Gordon was all the world to her. She should not have been made to abandon her thoughts, even though the man had not spoken a word to her. She knew that she loved him; even though a time might come when she should cease to do so, that time had not come yet. She vacillated in her mind between condemnation of the cruelty of Mr Whittlestaff and of her own weakness. And then, too, there was some feeling of the hardship inflicted upon her by John Gordon. He had certainly said that which had justified her in believing that she possessed his heart. But yet there had been no word on which she could fall back and regard it as a promise.
It might perhaps be better for her that she should marry Mr Whittlestaff. All her friends would think it to be infinitely better. Could there be anything more moonstruck, more shandy, more wretchedly listless, than for a girl, a penniless girl, to indulge in dreams of an impossible lover, when such a tower of strength presented itself to her as was Mr Whittlestaff? She had consented to eat his bread, and all her friends had declared how lucky she had been to find a man so willing and so able to maintain her. And now this man did undoubtedly love her very dearly, and there would be, as she was well aware, no peril in marrying him. Was she to refuse him because of a soft word once spoken to her by a young man who had since disappeared altogether from her knowledge? And she had already accepted him,—had twice accepted him on that very day! And there was no longer a hope for escape, even if escape were desirable. What a fool must she be to sit there, still dreaming her impossible dream, instead of thinking of his happiness, and preparing herself for his wants! He had told her that she might be allowed to think of John Gordon, though not to speak of him. She would neither speak of him nor think of him. She knew herself, she said, too well to give herself such liberty. He should be to her as though he had never been. She would force herself to forget him, if forgetting lies in the absence of all thought. It was no more than Mr Whittlestaff had a right to demand, and no more than she ought to be able to accomplish. Was she such a weak simpleton as to be unable to keep her mind from running back to the words and to the visage, and to every little personal trick of one who could never be anything to her? "He has gone for ever!" she exclaimed, rising up from her chair. "He shall be gone; I will not be a martyr and a slave to my own memory. The thing came, and has gone, and there is an end of it." Then Jane opened the door, with a little piece of whispered information. "Please, Miss, a Mr Gordon wishes to see you." The door was opened a little wider, and John Gordon stood before her.
There he was, with his short black hair, his bright pleasant eyes, his masterful mouth, his dark complexion, and broad, handsome, manly shoulders, such as had dwelt in her memory every day since he had departed. There was nothing changed, except that his raiment was somewhat brighter, and that there was a look of prosperity about him which he had lacked when he left her. He was the same John Gordon who had seemed to her to be entitled to all that he wanted, and who certainly would have had from her all that he had cared to demand. When he had appeared before her, she had jumped up, ready to rush into his arms; but then she had repressed herself, and had fallen back, and she leant against the table for support.
"So I have found you here," he said.
"Yes, I am here."
"I have been after you down to Norwich, and have heard it all. Mary, I am here on purpose to seek you. Your father and Mrs Lawrie are both gone. He was going when I left you."
"Yes, Mr Gordon. They are both gone, and I am alone,—but for the kindness of a most generous friend."
"I had heard, of course, of Mr Whittlestaff. I hope I shall not be told now that I am doing no good about the house. At any rate I am not a pauper. I have mended that little fault." Then he looked at her as though he thought that there was nothing for him but to begin the conversation where it had been so roughly ended at their last meeting.
Did it not occur to him that something might have come across her life during a period of nearly three years, which would stand in his way and in hers? But as she gazed into his face, it seemed as though no such idea had fallen upon him. But during those two or three minutes, a multitude of thoughts crowded on poor Mary's mind. Was it possible that because of the coming of John Gordon, Mr Whittlestaff should withdraw his claim, and allow this happy young hero to walk off with the reward which he still seemed to desire? She felt sure that it could not be so. Even during that short space of time, she resolved that it could not be so. She knew Mr Whittlestaff too well, and was sure that her lover had arrived too late. It all passed through her brain, and she was sure that no change could be effected in her destiny. Had he come yesterday, indeed? But before she could prepare an answer for John Gordon, Mr Whittlestaff entered the room.
She was bound to say something, though she was little able at the moment to speak at all. She was aware that some ceremony was necessary. She was but ill able to introduce these two men to each other, but it had to be done. "Mr Whittlestaff," she said, "this is Mr John Gordon who used to know us at Norwich."
"Mr John Gordon," said Mr Whittlestaff, bowing very stiffly.
"Yes, sir; that is my name. I never had the pleasure of meeting you at Norwich, though I often heard of you there. And since I left the place I have been told how kind a friend you have been to this young lady. I trust I may live to thank you for it more warmly though not more sincerely than I can do at this moment."
Of John Gordon's fate since he had left Norwich a few words must be told. As Mrs Lawrie had then told him, he was little better than a pauper. He had, however, collected together what means he had been able to gather, and had gone to Cape Town in South Africa. Thence he had made his way up to Kimberley, and had there been at work among the diamond-fields for two years. If there be a place on God's earth in which a man can thoroughly make or mar himself within that space of time, it is the town of Kimberley. I know no spot more odious in every way to a man who has learned to love the ordinary modes of English life. It is foul with dust and flies; it reeks with bad brandy; it is fed upon potted meats; it has not a tree near it. It is inhabited in part by tribes of South African niggers, who have lost all the picturesqueness of niggerdom in working for the white man's wages. The white man himself is insolent, ill-dressed, and ugly. The weather is very hot, and from morning till night there is no occupation other than that of looking for diamonds, and the works attending it. Diamond-grubbers want food and brandy, and lawyers and policemen. They want clothes also, and a few horses; and some kind of education is necessary for their children. But diamond-searching is the occupation of the place; and if a man be sharp and clever, and able to guard what he gets, he will make a fortune there in two years more readily perhaps than elsewhere. John Gordon had gone out to Kimberley, and had returned the owner of many shares in many mines.
JOHN GORDON AND MR WHITTLESTAFF.
Mr Gordon had gone out to South Africa with the settled intention of doing something that might enable him to marry Mary Lawrie, and he had carried his purpose through with a manly resolution. He had not found Kimberley much to his taste, and had not made many dear friends among the settled inhabitants he had found there. But he had worked on, buying and selling shares in mines, owning a quarter of an eighth there, and half a tenth here, and then advancing till he was the possessor of many complete shares in many various adventures which were quite intelligible to him, though to the ordinary stay-at-home Englishman they seem to be so full of peril as not to be worth possessing. As in other mines, the profit is shared monthly, and the system has the advantage of thus possessing twelve quarter-days in the year. The result is, that time is more spread out, and the man expects to accomplish much more in twelve months than he can at home. In two years a man may have made a fortune and lost it, and be on his way to make it again. John Gordon had suffered no reverses, and with twenty-four quarter-days, at each of which he had received ten or twenty per cent, he had had time to become rich. He had by no means abandoned all his shares in the diamond-mines; but having wealth at command, he had determined to carry out the first purpose for which he had come to South Africa. Therefore he returned to Norwich, and having there learned Mary's address, now found himself in her presence at Croker's Hall.
Mr Whittlestaff, when he heard John Gordon's name, was as much astonished as had been Mary herself. Here was Mary's lover,—the very man whom Mary had named to him. It had all occurred on this very morning, so that even the look of her eyes and the tone of her voice, as those few words of hers had been spoken, were fresh in his memory. "He used to come to our house at Norwich,—and I loved him." Then she had told him that this lover had been poor, and had gone away. He had, since that, argued it out with himself, and with her too, on the theory, though not expressed, that a lover who had gone away now nearly three years ago, and had not been heard of, and had been poor when he went, was of no use, and should be forgotten. "Let there be no mention of him between us," he had intended to say, "and the memory of him will fade away." But now on this very day he was back among them, and there was Mary hardly able to open her mouth in his presence.
He had bowed twice very stiffly when Gordon had spoken of all that he had done on Mary's behalf. "Arrangements have been made," he said, "which may, I trust, tend to Miss Lawrie's advantage. Perhaps I ought not to say so myself, but there is no reason why I should trouble a stranger with them."
"I hope I may never be considered a stranger by Miss Lawrie," said Gordon, turning round to the young lady.
"No, not a stranger," said Mary; "certainly not a stranger."
But this did not satisfy John Gordon, who felt that there was something in her manner other than he would have it. And yet even to him it seemed to be impossible now, at this first moment, to declare his love before this man, who had usurped the place of her guardian. In fact he could not speak to her at all before Mr Whittlestaff. He had hurried back from the diamond-fields, in order that he might lay all his surprisingly gotten wealth at Mary's feet, and now he felt himself unable to say a word to Mary of his wealth, unless in this man's presence. He told himself as he had hurried home that there might be difficulties in his way. He might find her married,—or promised in marriage. He had been sure of her love when he started. He had been quite confident that, though no absolute promise had been made from her to him, or from him to her, there had then been no reason for him to doubt. In spite of that, she might have married now, or been promised in marriage. He knew that she must have been poor and left in want when her stepmother had died. She had told him of the intentions for her life, and he had answered that perhaps in the course of events something better might come up for her. Then he had been called a pauper, and had gone away to remedy that evil if it might be possible. He had heard while working among the diamonds that Mr Whittlestaff had taken her to his own home. He had heard of Mr Whittlestaff as the friend of her father, and nothing better he thought could have happened. But Mary might have been weak during his absence, and have given herself up to some other man who had asked for her hand. She was still, at heart, Mary Lawrie. So much had been made known to him. But from the words which had fallen from her own lips, and from the statement which had fallen from Mr Whittlestaff, he feared that it must be so. Mr Whittlestaff had said that he need not trouble a stranger with Mary's affairs; and Mary, in answer to his appeal, had declared that he could not be considered as a stranger to her.
He thought a moment how he would act, and then he spoke boldly to both of them. "I have hurried home from Kimberley, Mr Whittlestaff, on purpose to find Mary Lawrie."
Mary, when she heard this, seated herself on the chair that was nearest to her. For any service that it might be to her, his coming was too late. As she thought of this, her voice left her, so that she could not speak to him.
"You have found her," said Mr Whittlestaff, very sternly.
"Is there any reason why I should go away again?" He had not at this moment realised the idea that Mr Whittlestaff himself was the man to whom Mary might be engaged. Mr Whittlestaff to his thinking had been a paternal providence, a God-sent support in lieu of father, who had come to Mary in her need. He was prepared to shower all kinds of benefits on Mr Whittlestaff,—diamonds polished, and diamonds in the rough, diamonds pure and white, and diamonds pink-tinted,—if only Mr Whittlestaff would be less stern to him. But even yet he had no fear of Mr Whittlestaff himself.
"I should be most happy to welcome you here as an old friend of Mary's," said Mr Whittlestaff, "if you will come to her wedding." Mr Whittlestaff also had seen the necessity for open speech; and though he was a man generally reticent as to his own affairs, thought it would be better to let the truth be known at once. Mary, when the word had been spoken as to her wedding, "blushed black" as her stepmother had said of her. A dark ruby tint covered her cheeks and her forehead; but she turned away her face, and compressed her lips, and clenched her two fists close together.
"Miss Lawrie's wedding!" said John Gordon. "Is Miss Lawrie to be married?" And he purposely looked at her, as though asking her the question. But she answered never a word.
"Yes. Miss Lawrie is to be married."
"It is sad tidings for me to hear," said John Gordon. "When last I saw her I was rebuked by her step-mother because I was a pauper. It was true. Misfortunes had come in my family, and I was not a fit person to ask Miss Lawrie for her love. But I think she knew that I loved her. I then went off to do the best within my power to remedy that evil. I have come back with such money as might suffice, and now I am told of Miss Lawrie's wedding!" This he said, again turning to her as though for an answer. But from her there came not a word.
"I am sorry you should be disappointed, Mr Gordon," said Mr Whittlestaff; "but it is so." Then there came over John Gordon's face a dark frown, as though he intended evil. He was a man whose displeasure, when he was displeased, those around him were apt to fear. But Mr Whittlestaff himself was no coward. "Have you any reason to allege why it should not be so?" John Gordon only answered by looking again at poor Mary. "I think there has been no promise made by Miss Lawrie. I think that I understand from her that there has been no promise on either side; and indeed no word spoken indicating such a promise." It was quite clear, at any rate, that this guardian and his ward had fully discussed the question of any possible understanding between her and John Gordon.
"No; there was none: it is true."
"It is true. I am left without an inch of ground on which to found a complaint. There was no word; no promise. You know the whole story only too well. There was nothing but unlimited love,—at any rate on my part." Mr Whittlestaff knew well that there had been love on her part also, and that the love still remained. But she had promised to get over that passion, and there could be no reason why she should not do so, simply because the man had returned. He said he had come from Kimberley. Mr Whittlestaff had his own ideas about Kimberley. Kimberley was to him a very rowdy place,—the last place in the world from which a discreet young woman might hope to get a well-conducted husband. Under no circumstances could he think well of a husband who presented himself as having come direct from the diamond-fields, though he only looked stern and held his peace. "If Miss Lawrie will tell me that I may go away, I will go," said Gordon, looking again at Mary; but how could Mary answer him?
"I am sure," said Mr Whittlestaff, "that Miss Lawrie will be very sorry that there should be any ground for a quarrel. I am quite well aware that there was some friendship between you two. Then you went, as you say, and though the friendship need not be broken, the intimacy was over. She had no special reason for remembering you, as you yourself admit. She has been left to form any engagement that she may please. Any other expectation on your part must be unreasonable. I have said that, as an old friend of Miss Lawrie's, I should be happy to welcome you here to her wedding. I cannot even name a day as yet; but I trust that it may be fixed soon. You cannot say even to yourself that Miss Lawrie has treated you badly."
But he could say it to himself. And though he would not say it to Mr Whittlestaff, had she been there alone, he would have said it to her. There had been no promise,—no word of promise. But he felt that there had been that between them which should have been stronger than any promise. And with every word which came from Mr Whittlestaff's mouth, he disliked Mr Whittlestaff more and more. He could judge from Mary's appearance that she was down-hearted, that she was unhappy, that she did not glory in her coming marriage. No girl's face ever told her heart's secret more plainly than did Mary's at this moment. But Mr Whittlestaff seemed to glory in the marriage. To him it seemed that the getting rid of John Gordon was the one thing of importance. So it was, at least, that John Gordon interpreted his manner. But the name of the suitor had not yet been told him, and he did not in the least suspect it. "May I ask you when it is to be?" he asked.
"That is a question which the lady generally must answer," said Mr Whittlestaff, turning on his part also to Mary.
"I do not know," said Mary.
"And who is the happy man?" said John Gordon. He expected an answer to the question also from Mary, but Mary was still unable to answer him. "You at any rate will tell me, sir, the name of the gentleman."
"I am the gentleman," said Mr Whittlestaff, holding himself somewhat more erect as he spoke. The position, it must be acknowledged, was difficult. He could see that this strange man, this John Gordon, looked upon him, William Whittlestaff, to be altogether an unfit person to take Mary Lawrie for his wife. By the tone in which he asked the question, and by the look of surprise which he put on when he received the answer, Gordon showed plainly that he had not expected such a reply. "What! an old man like you to become the husband of such a girl as Mary Lawrie! Is this the purpose for which you have taken her into your house, and given her those good things of which you have boasted?" It was thus that Mr Whittlestaff had read the look and interpreted the speech conveyed in Gordon's eye. Not that Mr Whittlestaff had boasted, but it was thus that he read the look. He knew that he had gathered himself up and assumed a special dignity as he made his answer.
"Oh, indeed!" said John Gordon. And now he turned himself altogether round, and gazed with his full frowning eyes fixed upon poor Mary.
"If you knew it all, you would feel that I could not help myself." It was thus that Mary would have spoken if she could have given vent to the thoughts within her bosom.
"Yes, sir. It is I who think myself so happy as to have gained the affections of the young lady. She is to be my wife, and it is she herself who must name the day when she shall become so. I repeat the invitation which I gave you before. I shall be most happy to see you at my wedding. If, as may be the case, you shall not be in the country when that time comes; and if, now that you are here, you will give Miss Lawrie and myself some token of your renewed friendship, we shall be happy to see you if you will come at once to the house, during such time as it may suit you to remain in the neighbourhood." Considering the extreme difficulty of the position, Mr Whittlestaff carried himself quite as well as might have been expected.
"Under such circumstances," said Gordon, "I cannot be a guest in your house." Thereupon Mr Whittlestaff bowed. "But I hope that I may be allowed to speak a few words to the young lady not in your presence."
"Certainly, if the young lady wishes it."
"I had better not," said Mary.
"Are you afraid of me?"
"I am afraid of myself. It had better not be so. Mr Whittlestaff has told you only the truth. I am to be his wife; and in offering me his hand, he has added much to the infinite kindnesses which he has bestowed upon me."
"Oh, if you think so!"
"I do think so. If you only knew it all, you would think so too."
"How long has this engagement existed?" asked Gordon. But to this question Mary Lawrie could not bring herself to give an answer.
"If you are not afraid of what he may say to you—?" said Mr Whittlestaff.
"I am certainly afraid of nothing that Mr Gordon may say."
"Then I would accede to his wishes. It may be painful, but it will be better to have it over." Mr Whittlestaff, in giving this advice, had thought much as to what the world would say of him. He had done nothing of which he was ashamed,—nor had Mary. She had given him her promise, and he was sure that she would not depart from it. It would, he thought, be infinitely better for her, for many reasons, that she should be married to him than to this wild young man, who had just now returned to England from the diamond-mines, and would soon, he imagined, go back there again. But the young man had asked to see the girl whom he was about to marry alone, and it would not suit him to be afraid to allow her so much liberty.
"I shall not hurt you, Mary," said John Gordon.
"I am sure you would not hurt me."
"Nor say an unkind word."
"Oh no! You could do nothing unkind to me, I know. But you might spare me and yourself some pain."
"I cannot do it," he said. "I cannot bring myself to go back at once after this long voyage, instantly, as I should do, without having spoken one word to you. I have come here to England on purpose to see you. Nothing shall induce me to abandon my intention of doing so, but your refusal. I have received a blow,—a great blow,—and it is you who must tell me that there is certainly no cure for the wound."
"There is certainly none," said Mary.
"Perhaps I had better leave you together," said Mr Whittlestaff, as he got up and left the room.
JOHN GORDON AND MARY LAWRIE.
The door was closed, and John Gordon and Mary were alone together. She was still seated, and he, coming forward, stood in front of her. "Mary," he said,—and he put out his right hand, as though to take hers. But she sat quite still, making no motion to give him her hand. Nor did she say a word. To her her promise, her reiterated promise, to Mr Whittlestaff was binding,—not the less binding because it had only been made on this very day. She had already acknowledged to this other man that the promise had been made, and she had asked him to spare her this interview. He had not spared her, and it was for him now to say, while it lasted, what there was to be said. She had settled the matter in her own mind, and had made him understand that it was so settled. There was nothing further that she could tell him. "Mary, now that we are alone, will you not speak to me?"
"I have nothing to say."
"Should I not have come to you?"
"You should not have stayed when you found that I had promised myself to another."
"Is there nothing else that I may wish to say to you?"
"There is nothing else that you should wish to say to the wife of another man."
"You are not his wife,—not yet."
"I shall be his wife, Mr Gordon. You may be sure of that. And I think—think I can say of myself that I shall be a true wife. He has chosen to take me; and as he has so chosen, his wishes must be respected. He has asked you to remain here as a friend, understanding that to be the case. But as you do not choose, you should go."
"Do you wish me to stay, and to see you become his wife?"
"I say nothing of that. It is not for me to insist on my wishes. I have expressed one wish, and you have refused to grant it. Nothing can pass between you and me which must not, I should say, be painful to both of us."
"You would have me go then,—so that you should never hear of or see me again?"
"I shall never see you, I suppose. What good would come of seeing you?"
"And you can bear to part with me after this fashion?"
"It has to be borne. The world is full of hard things, which have to be borne. It is not made to run smoothly altogether, either for you or for me. You must bear your cross,—and so must I."
"And that is the only word I am to receive, after having struggled so hard for you, and having left all my work, and all my cares, and all my property, in order that I might come home, and catch just one glance of your eye. Can you not say a word to me, a word of kindness, that I may carry back with me?"
"Not a word. If you will think of it, you ought not to ask me for a word of kindness. What does a kind word mean—a kind word coming from me to you? There was a time when I wanted a kind word, but I did not ask for it. At the time it did not suit. Nor does it suit now. Put yourself in Mr Whittlestaff's case; would you wish the girl to whom you were engaged to say kind words behind your back to some other man? If you heard them, would you not think that she was a traitor? He has chosen to trust me,—against my advice, indeed; but he has trusted me, and I know myself to be trustworthy. There shall be no kind word spoken."
"Mary," said he, "when did all this happen?"
"It has been happening, I suppose, from the first day that I came into his house."
"But when was it settled? When did he ask you to be his wife? Or when, rather, did you make him the promise?" John Gordon fancied that since he had been at Croker's Hall words had been spoken, or that he had seen signs, indicating that the engagement had not been of a long date. And in every word that she had uttered to him he had heard whispered under her breath an assurance of her perfect love for himself. He had been sure of her love when he had left the house at Norwich, in which he had been told that he had been lingering there to no good purpose; but he had never been more certain than he was at this moment, when she coldly bade him go and depart back again to his distant home in the diamond-fields. And now, in her mock anger and in her indignant words, with the purpose of her mind written so clearly on her brow, she was to him more lovable and more beautiful than ever. Could it be fair to him as a man that he should lose the prize which was to him of such inestimable value, merely for a word of cold assent given to this old man, and given, as he thought, quite lately? His devotion to her was certainly assured. Nothing could be more fixed, less capable of a doubt, than his love. And he, too, was somewhat proud of himself in that he had endeavoured to entangle her by no promise till he had secured for himself and for her the means of maintaining her. He had gone out and he had come back with silent hopes, with hopes which he had felt must be subject to disappointment, because he knew himself to be a reticent, self-restrained man; and because he had been aware that "the world," as she had said, "is full of hard things which have to be borne."
But now if, as he believed, the engagement was but of recent date, there would be a hardship in it, which even he could not bear patiently,—a hardship, the endurance of which must be intolerable to her. If it were so, the man could hardly be so close-fisted, so hard-hearted, so cruel-minded, as to hold the girl to her purpose! "When did you promise to be his wife?" he said, repeating his question. Now there came over Mary's face a look of weakness, the opposite to the strength which she had displayed when she had bade him not ask her for a word of kindness. To her the promise was the same, was as strong, even though it had been made but that morning, as though weeks and months had intervened. But she felt that to him there would be an apparent weakness in the promise of her engagement, if she told him that it was made only on that morning. "When was it, Mary?"
"It matters nothing," she said.
"But it does matter—to me."
Then a sense of what was fitting told her that it was incumbent on her to tell him the truth. Sooner or later he would assuredly know, and it was well that he should know the entire truth from her lips. She could not put up with the feeling that he should go away deceived in any degree by herself.
"It was this morning," she said.
"This very morning?"
"It was on this morning that I gave my word to Mr Whittlestaff, and promised to become his wife."
"And had I been here yesterday I should not have been too late?"
Here she looked up imploringly into his face. She could not answer that question, nor ought he to press for an answer. And the words were no sooner out of his mouth than he felt that it was so. It was not to her that he must address any such remonstrance as that. "This morning!" he repeated—"only this morning!"
But he did not know, nor could she tell him, that she had pleaded her love for him when Mr Whittlestaff had asked her. She could not tell him of that second meeting, at which she had asked Mr Whittlestaff that even yet he should let her go. It had seemed to her, as she had thought of it, that Mr Whittlestaff had behaved well to her, had intended to do a good thing to her, and had ignored the other man, who had vanished, as it were, from the scene of their joint lives, because he had become one who ought not to be allowed to interest her any further. She had endeavoured to think of it with stern justice, accusing herself of absurd romance, and giving Mr Whittlestaff credit for all goodness. This had been before John Gordon had appeared among them; and now she struggled hard not to be less just to Mr Whittlestaff than before, because of this accident. She knew him well enough to be aware that he could not easily be brought to abandon the thing on which he had set his mind. It all passed through her mind as she prepared her answer for John Gordon. "It can make no difference," she said. "A promise is a promise, though it be but an hour old."
"That is to be my answer?"
"Yes, that is to be your answer. Ask yourself, and you will know that there is no other answer that I can honestly make you."
"How is your own heart in the affair?"
There she was weak, and knew as she spoke that she was weak. "It matters not at all," she said.
"It matters not at all?" he repeated after her. "I can understand that my happiness should be nothing. If you and he were satisfied, of course it would be nothing. If you were satisfied, there would be an end to it; because if your pleasure and his work together, I must necessarily be left out in the cold. But it is not so. I take upon myself to say that you are not satisfied."
"You will not allow me to answer for myself?"
"No, not in this matter. Will you dare to tell me that you do not love me?" She remained silent before him, and then he went on to reason with her. "You do not deny it. I hear it in your voice and see it in your face. When we parted in Norwich, did you not love me then?"
"I shall answer no such question. A young woman has often to change her mind as to whom she loves, before she can settle down as one man's wife or another's."
"You do not dare to be true. If I am rough with you, it is for your sake as well as my own. We are young, and, as was natural, we learnt to love each other. Then you came here and were alone in the world, and I was gone. Though there had been no word of marriage between us, I had hoped that I might be remembered in my absence. Perhaps you did remember me. I cannot think that I was ever absent from your heart; but I was away, and you could not know how loyal I was to my thoughts of you. I am not blaming you, Mary. I can well understand that you were eating his bread and drinking his cup, and that it appeared to you that everything was due to him. You could not have gone on eating his bread unless you had surrendered yourself to his wishes. You must have gone from this, and have had no home to which to go. It is all true. But the pity of it, Mary; the pity of it!"
"He has done the best he could by me."
"Perhaps so; but if done from that reason, the surrender will be the easier."
"No, no, no; I know more of him than you do. No such surrender will come easy to him. He has set his heart upon this thing, and as far as I am concerned he shall have it."
"You will go to him with a lie in your mouth?"
"I do not know. I cannot say what the words may be. If there be a lie, I will tell it."
"Then you do love me still?"
"You may cheat me out of my thoughts, but it will be to no good. Whether I lie or tell the truth, I will do my duty by him. There will be no lying. To the best of my ability I will love him, and him only. All my care shall be for him. I have resolved, and I will force myself to love him. All his qualities are good. There is not a thought in his mind of which he need be ashamed."
"Not when he will use his power to take you out of my arms."
"No, sir; for I am not your property. You speak of dealing with me, as though I must necessarily belong to you if I did not belong to him. It is not so."
"It is not so. What might be the case I will not take upon myself to say,—or what might have been. I was yesterday a free woman, and my thoughts were altogether my own. To-day I am bound to him, and whether it be for joy or for sorrow, I will be true to him. Now, Mr Gordon, I will leave you."
"Half a moment," he said, standing between her and the door. "It cannot be that this should be the end of all between us. I shall go to him, and tell him what I believe to be the truth."
"I cannot hinder you; but I shall tell him that what you say is false."
"You know it to be true."
"I shall tell him that it is false."
"Can you bring yourself to utter a lie such as that?"
"I can bring myself to say whatever may be best for him, and most conducive to his wishes." But as she said this, she was herself aware that she had told Mr Whittlestaff only on this morning that she had given her heart to John Gordon, and that she would be unable to keep her thoughts from running to him. She had implored him to leave her to herself, so that the memory of her love might be spared. Then, when this young man had been still absent, when there was no dream of his appearing again before her, when the consequence would be that she must go forth into the world, and earn her own bitter bread alone,—at that moment she knew that she had been true to the memory of the man. What had occurred since, to alter her purpose so violently? Was it the presence of the man she did love, and the maidenly instincts which forbade her to declare her passion in his presence? Or was it simply the conviction that her promise to Mr Whittlestaff had been twice repeated, and could not now admit of being withdrawn? But in spite of her asseverations, there must have been present to her mind some feeling that if Mr Whittlestaff would yield to the prayer of John Gordon, all the gulf would be bridged over which yawned between herself and perfect happiness. Kimberley? Yes, indeed; or anywhere else in the wide world. As he left the room, she did now tell herself that in spite of all that she had said she could accompany him anywhere over the world with perfect bliss. How well had he spoken for himself, and for his love! How like a man he had looked, when he had asked her that question, "Will you dare to tell me that you do not love me?" She had not dared; even though at the moment she had longed to leave upon him the impression that it was so. She had told him that she would lie to Mr Whittlestaff,—lie on Mr Whittlestaff's own behalf. But such a lie as this she could not tell to John Gordon. He had heard it in her voice and seen it in her face. She knew it well, and was aware that it must be so.
"The pity of it," she too said to herself; "the pity of it!" If he had but come a week sooner,—but a day sooner, before Mr Whittlestaff had spoken out his mind,—no love-tale would ever have run smoother. In that case she would have accepted John Gordon without a moment's consideration. When he should have told her of his distant home, of the roughness of his life, of the changes and chances to which his career must be subject, she would have assured him, with her heart full of joy, that she would accept it all and think her lot so happy as to admit of no complaint. Mr Whittlestaff would then have known the condition of her heart, before he had himself spoken a word. And as the trouble would always have been in his own bosom, there would, so to say, have been no trouble at all. A man's sorrows of that kind do not commence, or at any rate are not acutely felt, while the knowledge of the matter from which they grow is confined altogether to his own bosom.
But she resolved, sitting there after John Gordon had left her, that in the circumstances as they existed, it was her duty to bear what sorrow there was to be borne. Poor John Gordon! He must bear some sorrow too, if there should be cause to him for grief. There would be loss of money, and loss of time, which would of themselves cause him grief. Poor John Gordon! She did not blame him in that he had gone away, and not said one word to draw from her some assurance of her love. It was the nature of the man, which in itself was good and noble. But in this case it had surely been unfortunate. With such a passion at his heart, it was rash in him to have gone across the world to the diamond-fields without speaking a word by which they two might have held themselves as bound together. The pity of it!
But as circumstances had gone, honour and even honesty demanded that Mr Whittlestaff should not be allowed to suffer. He at least had been straightforward in his purpose, and had spoken as soon as he had been assured of his own mind. Mr Whittlestaff should at any rate have his reward.
THE REV MONTAGU BLAKE.
John Gordon, when he left the room, went out to look for Mr Whittlestaff, but was told that he had gone into the town. Mr Whittlestaff had had his own troubles in thinking of the unlucky coincidence of John Gordon's return, and had wandered forth, determined to leave those two together, so that they might speak to each other as they pleased. And during his walk he did come to a certain resolution. Should a request of any kind be made to him by John Gordon, it should receive not the slightest attention. He was a man to whom he owed nothing, and for whose welfare he was not in the least solicitous. "Why should I be punished and he be made happy?" It was thus he spoke to himself. Should he encounter the degradation of disappointment, in order that John Gordon should win the object on which he had set his heart? Certainly not. His own heart was much dearer to him than that of John Gordon.
But if a request should be made to him by Mary Lawrie? Alas! if it were so, then there must be sharp misery in store for him. In the first place, were she to make the request, were she to tell him to his face, she who had promised to be his wife, that this man was dear to her, how was it possible that he should go to the altar with the girl, and there accept from her her troth? She had spoken already of a fancy which had crossed her mind respecting a man who could have been no more than a dream to her, of whose whereabouts and condition—nay, of his very existence—she was unaware. And she had told him that no promise, no word of love, had passed between them. "Yes, you may think of him," he had said, meaning not to debar her from the use of thought, which should be open to all the world, "but let him not be spoken of." Then she had promised; and when she had come again to withdraw her promise, she had done so with some cock-and-bull story about the old woman, which had had no weight with him. Then he had her presence during the interview between the three on which to form his judgment. As far as he could remember, as he wandered through the fields thinking of it, she had not spoken hardly above a word during that interview. She had sat silent, apparently unhappy, but not explaining the cause of her unhappiness. It might well be that she should be unhappy in the presence of her affianced husband and her old lover. But now if she would tell him that she wished to be relieved from him, and to give herself to this stranger, she should be allowed to go. But he told himself also that he would carry his generosity no further. He was not called upon to offer to surrender himself. The man's coming had been a misfortune; but let him go, and in process of time he would be forgotten. It was thus that Mr Whittlestaff resolved as he walked across the country, while he left the two lovers to themselves in his own parlour.
It was now nearly five o'clock, and Mr Whittlestaff, as Gordon was told, dined at six. He felt that he would not find the man before dinner unless he remained at the house,—and for doing so he had no excuse. He must return in the evening, or sleep at the inn and come back the next morning. He must manage to catch the man alone, because he was assuredly minded to use upon him all the power of eloquence which he had at his command. And as he thought it improbable so to find him in the evening, he determined to postpone his task. But in doing so he felt that he should be at a loss. The eager words were hot now within his memory, having been sharpened against the anvil of his thoughts by his colloquy with Mary Lawrie. To-morrow they might have cooled. His purpose might be as strong; but a man when he wishes to use burning words should use them while the words are on fire.
John Gordon had a friend at Alresford, or rather an acquaintance, on whom he had determined to call, unless circumstances, as they should occur at Croker's Hall, should make him too ecstatic in his wish for any such operation. The ecstasy certainly had not come as yet, and he went forth therefore to call on the Reverend Mr Blake. Of Mr Blake he only knew that he was a curate of a neighbouring parish, and that they two had been at Oxford together. So he walked down to the inn to order his dinner, not feeling his intimacy with Mr Blake sufficient to justify him in looking for his dinner with him. A man always dines, let his sorrow be what it may. A woman contents herself with tea, and mitigates her sorrow, we must suppose, by an extra cup. John Gordon ordered a roast fowl,—the safest dinner at an English country inn,—and asked his way to the curate's house.
The Rev Montagu Blake was curate of Little Alresford, a parish, though hardly to be called a village, lying about three miles from the town. The vicar was a feeble old gentleman who had gone away to die in the Riviera, and Mr Blake had the care of souls to himself. He was a man to whom his lines had fallen in pleasant places. There were about 250 men, women, and children, in his parish, and not a Dissenter among them. For looking after these folk he had L120 per annum, and as pretty a little parsonage as could be found in England. There was a squire with whom he was growing in grace and friendship, who, being the patron of the living, might probably bestow it upon him. It was worth only L250, and was not, therefore, too valuable to be expected. He had a modest fortune of his own, L300 a-year perhaps, and,—for the best of his luck shall be mentioned last,—he was engaged to the daughter of one of the prebendaries of Winchester, a pretty bright little girl, with a further sum of L5000 belonging to herself. He was thirty years of age, in the possession of perfect health, and not so strict in matters of religion as to make it necessary for him to abandon any of the innocent pleasures of this world. He could dine out, and play cricket, and read a novel. And should he chance, when riding his cob about the parish, or visiting some neighbouring parish, to come across the hounds, he would not scruple to see them over a field or two. So that the Rev Montagu Blake was upon the whole a happy fellow.
He and John Gordon had been thrown together at Oxford for a short time during the last months of their residence, and though they were men quite unlike each other in their pursuits, circumstances had made them intimate. It was well that Gordon should take a stroll for a couple of hours before dinner, and therefore he started off for Little Alresford. Going into the parsonage gate he was overtaken by Blake, and of course introduced himself. "Don't you remember Gordon at Exeter?"
"John Gordon! Gracious me! Of course I do. What a good fellow you are to come and look a fellow up! Where have you come from, and where are you going to, and what brings you to Alresford, beyond the charitable intention of dining with me? Oh, nonsense! not dine; but you will, and I can give you a bed too, and breakfast, and shall be delighted to do it for a week. Ordered your dinner? Then we'll unorder it. I'll send the boy in and put that all right. Shall I make him bring your bag back?" Gordon, however, though he assented to the proposition as regarded dinner, made his friend understand that it was imperative that he should be at the inn that night.
"Yes," said Blake, when they had settled down to wait for their dinner, "I am parson here,—a sort of a one at least. I am not only curate, but live in expectation of higher things. Our squire here, who owns the living, talks of giving it to me. There isn't a better fellow living than Mr Furnival, or his wife, or his four daughters."
"Will he be as generous with one of them as with the living?"
"There is no necessity, as far as I am concerned. I came here already provided in that respect. If you'll remain here till September, you'll see me a married man. One Kattie Forrester intends to condescend to become Mrs Montagu Blake. Though I say it as shouldn't, a sweeter human being doesn't live on the earth. I met her soon after I had taken orders. But I had to wait till I had some sort of a house to put her into. Her father is a clergyman like myself, so we are all in a boat together. She's got a little bit of money, and I've got a little bit of money, so that we shan't absolutely starve. Now you know all about me; and what have you been doing yourself?"
John Gordon thought that this friend of his had been most communicative. He had been told everything concerning his friend's life. Had Mr Blake written a biography of himself down to the present period, he could not have been more full or accurate in his details. But Gordon felt that as regarded himself he must be more reticent. "I intended to have joined my father's bank, but that came to grief."
"Yes; I did hear of some trouble in that respect."
"And then I went out to the diamond-fields."
"Dear me! that was a long way."
"Yes, it is a long way,—and rather rough towards the end."
"Did you do any good at the diamond-fields? I don't fancy that men often bring much money home with them."
"I brought some."
"Enough to do a fellow any good in his after life?"
"Well, yes; enough to content me, only that a man is not easily contented who has been among diamonds."
"Crescit amor diamonds!" said the parson. "I can easily understand that. And then, when a fellow goes back again, he is so apt to lose it all. Don't you expect to see your diamonds turn into slate-stones?"
"Not except in the ordinary way of expenditure. I don't think the gnomes or the spirits will interfere with them,—though the thieves may, if they can get a hand upon them. But my diamonds have, for the most part, been turned into ready money, and at the present moment take the comfortable shape of a balance at my banker's."
"I'd leave it there,—or buy land, or railway shares. If I had realised in that venture enough to look at, I'd never go out to the diamond-fields again."
"It's hard to bring an occupation of that kind to an end all at once," said John Gordon.
"Crescit amor diamonds!" repeated the Reverend Montagu Blake, shaking his head. "If you gave me three, I could easily imagine that I should toss up with another fellow who had three also, double or quits, till I lost them all. But we'll make sure of dinner, at any rate, without any such hazardous proceeding." Then they went into the dining-room, and enjoyed themselves, without any reference having been made as yet to the business which had brought John Gordon into the neighbourhood of Alresford.
"You'll find that port wine rather good. I can't afford claret, because it takes such a lot to go far enough. To tell the truth, when I'm alone I confine myself to whisky and water. Blake is a very good name for whisky."
"Why do you make a ceremony with me?"
"Because it's so pleasant to have an excuse for such a ceremony. It wasn't you only I was thinking of when I came out just now, and uncorked the bottle. Think what it is to have a prudent mind. I had to get it myself out of the cellar, because girls can't understand that wine shouldn't be treated in the same way as physic. By-the-by, what brought you into this part of the world at all?"
"I came to see one Mr Whittlestaff."
"What! old William Whittlestaff? Then, let me tell you, you have come to see as honest a fellow, and as good-hearted a Christian, as any that I know."
"You do know him?"
"Oh yes, I know him. I'd like to see the man whose bond is better than old Whittlestaff's. Did you hear what he did about that young lady who is living with him? She was the daughter of a friend,—simply of a friend who died in pecuniary distress. Old Whittlestaff just brought her into his house, and made her his own daughter. It isn't every one who will do that, you know."
"Why do you call him old?" said John Gordon.
"Well; I don't know. He is old."
"Just turned fifty."
"Fifty is old. I don't mean that he is a cripple or bedridden. Perhaps if he had been a married man, he'd have looked younger. He has got a very nice girl there with him; and if he isn't too old to think of such things, he may marry her. Do you know Miss Lawrie?"
"Yes; I know her."
"Don't you think she's nice? Only my goose is cooked, I'd go in for her sooner than any one I see about."
"Sooner than your own squire's four daughters?"
"Well,—yes. They're nice girls too. But I don't quite fancy one out of four. And they'd look higher than the curate."
"A prebendary is as high as a squire," said Gordon.
"There are prebendaries and there are squires. Our squire isn't a swell, though he's an uncommonly good fellow. If I get a wife from one and a living from the other, I shall think myself very lucky. Miss Lawrie is a handsome girl, and everything that she ought to be; but if you were to see Kattie Forrester, I think you would say that she was A 1. I sometimes wonder whether old Whittlestaff will think of marrying."
Gordon sat silent, turning over one or two matters in his mind. How supremely happy was this young parson with his Kattie Forrester and his promised living,—in earning the proceeds of which there need be no risk, and very little labour,—and with his bottle of port wine and comfortable house! All the world seemed to have smiled with Montagu Blake. But with him, though there had been much success, there had been none of the world's smiles. He was aware at this moment, or thought that he was aware, that the world would never smile on him,—unless he should succeed in persuading Mr Whittlestaff to give up the wife whom he had chosen. Then he felt tempted to tell his own story to this young parson. They were alone together, and it seemed as though Providence had provided him with a friend. And the subject of Mary Lawrie's intended marriage had been brought forward in a peculiar manner. But he was by nature altogether different from Mr Blake, and could not blurt out his love-story with easy indifference. "Do you know Mr Whittlestaff well?" he asked.
"Pretty well. I've been here four years; and he's a near neighbour. I think I do know him well."
"Is he a sort of man likely to fall in love with such a girl as Miss Lawrie, seeing that she is an inmate of his house?"
"Well," said the parson, after some consideration, "if you ask me, I don't think he is. He seems to have settled himself down to a certain manner of life, and will not, I should say, be stirred from it very quickly. If you have any views in that direction, I don't think he'll be your rival."
"Is he a man to care much for a girl's love?"
"I should say not."
"But if he had once brought himself to ask her?" said Gordon.
"And if she had accepted him?" suggested the other.
"That's what I mean."
"I don't think he'd let her go very easily. He's a sort of dog whom you cannot easily persuade to give up a bone. If he has set his heart upon matrimony, he will not be turned from it. Do you know anything of his intentions?"
"I fancy that he is thinking of it."
"And you mean that you were thinking of it, too, with the same lady."
"No, I didn't mean that." Then he added, after a pause, "That is just what I did not mean to say. I did not mean to talk about myself. But since you ask me the question, I will answer it truly,—I have thought of the same lady. And my thoughts were earlier in the field than his. I must say good-night now," he said, rising somewhat brusquely from his chair. "I have to walk back to Alresford, and must see Mr Whittlestaff early in the morning. According to your view of the case I shan't do much with him. And if it be so, I shall be off to the diamond-fields again by the first mail."
"You don't say so!"
"That is to be my lot in life. I am very glad to have come across you once again, and am delighted to find you so happy in your prospects. You have told me everything, and I have done pretty much the same to you. I shall disappear from Alresford, and never more be heard of. You needn't talk much about me and my love; for though I shall be out of the way at Kimberley, many thousand miles from here, a man does not care to have his name in every one's mouth."
"Oh no," said Blake. "I won't say a word about Miss Lawrie;—unless indeed you should be successful."
"There is not the remotest possibility of that," said Gordon, as he took his leave.
"I wonder whether she is fond of him," said the curate to himself, when he resolved to go to bed instead of beginning his sermon that night. "I shouldn't wonder if she is, for he is just the sort of man to make a girl fond of him."
JOHN GORDON AGAIN GOES TO CROKER'S HALL.
On the next morning, when John Gordon reached the corner of the road at which stood Croker's Hall, he met, outside on the roadway, close to the house, a most disreputable old man with a wooden leg and a red nose. This was Mr Baggett, or Sergeant Baggett as he was generally called, and was now known about all Alresford to be the husband of Mr Whittlestaff's housekeeper. For news had got abroad, and tidings were told that Mr Baggett was about to arrive in the neighbourhood to claim his wife. Everybody knew it before the inhabitants of Croker's Hall. And now, since yesterday afternoon, all Croker's Hall knew it, as well as the rest of the world. He was standing there close to the house, which stood a little back from the road, between nine and ten in the morning, as drunk as a lord. But I think his manner of drunkenness was perhaps in some respects different from that customary with lords. Though he had only one leg of the flesh, and one of wood, he did not tumble down, though he brandished in the air the stick with which he was accustomed to disport himself. A lord would, I think, have got himself taken to bed. But the Sergeant did not appear to have any such intention. He had come out on to the road from the yard into which the back-door of the house opened, and seemed to John Gordon as though, having been so far expelled, he was determined to be driven no further,—and he was accompanied, at a distance, by his wife. "Now, Timothy Baggett," began the unfortunate woman, "you may just take yourself away out of that, as fast as your legs can carry you, before the police comes to fetch you."
"My legs! Whoever heared a fellow told of his legs when there was one of them wooden. And as for the perlice, I shall want the perlice to fetch my wife along with me. I ain't a-going to stir out of this place without Mrs B. I'm a hold man, and wants a woman to look arter me. Come along, Mrs B." Then he made a motion as though to run after her, still brandishing the stick in his hand. But she retreated, and he came down, seated on the pathway by the roadside, as though he had only accomplished an intended manoeuvre. "Get me a drop o' summat, Mrs B., and I don't mind if I stay here half an hour longer." Then he laughed loudly, nodding his head merrily at the bystanders,—as no lord under such circumstances certainly would have done.
All this happened just as John Gordon came up to the corner of the road, from whence, by a pathway, turned the main entrance into Mr Whittlestaff's garden. He could not but see the drunken red-nosed man, and the old woman, whom he recognised as Mr Whittlestaff's servant, and a crowd of persons around, idlers out of Alresford, who had followed Sergeant Baggett up to the scene of his present exploits. Croker's Hall was not above a mile from the town, just where the town was beginning to become country, and where the houses all had gardens belonging to them, and the larger houses a field or two. "Yes, sir, master is at home. If you'll please to ring the bell, one of the girls will come out." This was said by Mrs Baggett, advancing almost over the body of her prostrate husband. "Drunken brute!" she said, by way of a salute, as she passed him. He only laughed aloud, and looked around upon the bystanders with triumph.
At this moment Mr Whittlestaff came down through the gate into the road. "Oh, Mr Gordon! good morning, sir. You find us rather in a disturbed condition this morning. I am sorry I did not think of asking you to come to breakfast. But perhaps, under all the circumstances it was better not. That dreadful man has put us sadly about. He is the unfortunate husband of my hardly less unfortunate housekeeper."
"Yes, sir, he is my husband,—that's true," said Mrs Baggett.
"I'm wery much attached to my wife, if you knew all about it, sir; and I wants her to come home with me. Service ain't no inheritance; nor yet ain't wages, when they never amounts to more than twenty pounds a-year."
"It's thirty, you false ungrateful beast!" said Mrs Baggett. But in the meantime Mr Whittlestaff had led the way into the garden, and John Gordon had followed him. Before they reached the hall-door, Mary Lawrie had met them.
"Oh, Mr Whittlestaff!" she said, "is it not annoying? that dreadful man with the wooden leg is here, and collecting a crowd round the place. Good morning, Mr Gordon. It is the poor woman's ne'er-do-well husband. She is herself so decent and respectable, that she will be greatly harassed. What can we do, Mr Whittlestaff? Can't we get a policeman?" In this way the conversation was led away to the affairs of Sergeant and Mrs Baggett, to the ineffable distress of John Gordon. When we remember the kind of speeches which Gordon intended to utter, the sort of eloquence which he desired to use, it must be admitted that the interruption was provoking. Even if Mary would leave them together, it would be difficult to fall back upon the subject which Gordon had at heart.
It is matter of consideration whether, when important subjects are to be brought upon the tapis, the ultimate result will or will not depend much on the manner in which they are introduced. It ought not to be the case that they shall be so prejudiced. "By-the-by, my dear fellow, now I think of it, can you lend me a couple of thousand pounds for twelve months?" Would that generally be as efficacious as though the would-be borrower had introduced his request with the general paraphernalia of distressing solemnities? The borrower, at any rate, feels that it would not, and postpones the moment till the fitting solemnities can be produced. But John Gordon could not postpone his moment. He could not go on residing indefinitely at the Claimant's Arms till he could find a proper opportunity for assuring Mr Whittlestaff that it could not be his duty to marry Mary Lawrie. He must rush at his subject, let the result be what it might. Indeed he had no hopes as to a favourable result. He had slept upon it, as people say when they intend to signify that they have lain awake, and had convinced himself that all eloquence would be vain. Was it natural that a man should give up his intended wife, simply because he was asked? Gordon's present feeling was an anxious desire to be once more on board the ship that should take him again to the diamond-fields, so that he might be at peace, knowing then, as he would know, that he had left Mary Lawrie behind for ever. At this moment he almost repented that he had not left Alresford without any farther attempt. But there he was on Mr Whittlestaff's ground, and the attempt must be made, if only with the object of justifying his coming.
"Miss Lawrie," he began, "if you would not mind leaving me and Mr Whittlestaff alone together for a few minutes, I will be obliged to you." This he said with quite sufficient solemnity, so that Mr Whittlestaff drew himself up, and looked hard and stiff, as though he were determined to forget Sergeant Baggett and all his peccadilloes for the moment.
"Oh, yes; certainly; but—" Mr Whittlestaff looked sternly at her, as though to bid her go at once. "You must believe nothing as coming from me unless it comes out of my own mouth." Then she put her hand upon his arm, as though half embracing him.
"You had better leave us, perhaps," said Mr Whittlestaff. And then she went.
Now the moment had come, and John Gordon felt the difficulty. It had not been lessened by the assurance given by Mary herself that nothing was to be taken as having come from her unless it was known and heard to have so come. And yet he was thoroughly convinced that he was altogether loved by her, and that had he appeared on the scene but a day sooner, she would have accepted him with all her heart. "Mr Whittlestaff," he said, "I want to tell you what passed yesterday between me and Miss Lawrie."
"Is it necessary?" he asked.
"I think it is."
"As far as I am concerned, I doubt the necessity. Miss Lawrie has said a word to me,—as much, I presume, as she feels to be necessary."
"I do not think that her feeling in the matter should be a guide for you or for me. What we have both of us to do is to think what may be best for her, and to effect that as far as may be within our power."
"Certainly," said Mr Whittlestaff. "But it may so probably be the case that you and I shall differ materially as to thinking what may be best for her. As far as I understand the matter, you wish that she should be your wife. I wish that she should be mine. I think that as my wife she would live a happier life than she could do as yours; and as she thinks also—" Here Mr Whittlestaff paused.
"But does she think so?"
"You heard what she said just now."
"I heard nothing as to her thoughts of living," said John Gordon "Nor in the interview which I had with her yesterday did I hear a word fall from her as to herself. We have got to form our ideas as to that from circumstances which shall certainly not be made to appear by her own speech. When you speak against me—"
"I have not said a word against you, sir."
"Perhaps you imply," said Gordon, not stopping to notice Mr Whittlestaff's last angry tone,—"perhaps you imply that my life may be that of a rover, and as such would not conduce to Miss Lawrie's happiness."
"I have implied nothing."
"To suit her wishes I would remain altogether in England. I was very lucky, and am not a man greedy of great wealth. She can remain here, and I will satisfy you that there shall be enough for our joint maintenance."
"What do I care for your maintenance, or what does she? Do you know, sir, that you are talking to me about a lady whom I intend to make my wife,—who is engaged to marry me? Goodness gracious me!"
"I own, sir, that it is singular."
"Very singular,—very singular indeed. I never heard of such a thing. It seems that you knew her at Norwich."
"I did know her well."
"And then you went away and deserted her."
"I went away, Mr Whittlestaff, because I was poor. I was told by her step-mother that I was not wanted about the house, because I had no means. That was true, and as I loved her dearly, I started at once, almost in despair, but still with something of hope,—with a shade of hope,—that I might put myself in the way of enabling her to become my wife. I did not desert her."
"Very well. Then you came back and found her engaged to be my wife. You had it from her own mouth. When a gentleman hears that, what has he to do but to go away?"
"There are circumstances here."
"What does she say herself? There are no circumstances to justify you. If you would come here as a friend, I offered to receive you. As you had been known to her, I did not turn my back upon you. But now your conduct is so peculiar that I cannot ask you to remain here any longer." They were walking up and down the long walk, and now Mr Whittlestaff stood still, as though to declare his intention that the interview should be considered as over.
"I know that you wish me to go away," said Gordon.
"Well, yes; unless you withdraw all idea of a claim to the young lady's hand."
"But I think you should first hear what I have to say. You will not surely have done your duty by her unless you hear me."
"You can speak if you wish to speak," said Mr Whittlestaff.
"It was not till yesterday that you made your proposition to Miss Lawrie."
"What has that to do with it?"
"Had I come on the previous day, and had I been able then to tell her all that I can tell her now, would it have made no difference?"
"Did she say so?" asked the fortunate lover, but in a very angry tone.
"No; she did not say so. It was with difficulty that I forced from her an avowal that her engagement was so recent. But she did confess that it was so. And she confessed, not in words, but in her manner, that she had found it impossible to refuse to you the request that you had asked."
"I never heard a man assert so impudently that he was the sole owner of a lady's favours. Upon my word, I think that you are the vainest man whom I ever met."
"Let it be so. I do not care to defend myself, but only her. Whether I am vain or not, is it not true that which I say? I put it to you, as man to man, whether you do not know that it is true? If you marry this girl, will you not marry one whose heart belongs to me? Will you not marry one of whom you knew two days since that her heart was mine? Will you not marry one who, if she was free this moment, would give herself to me without a pang of remorse?"
"I never heard anything like the man's vanity!"
"But is it true? Whatever may be my vanity, or self-seeking, or unmanliness if you will, is not what I say God's truth? It is not about my weaknesses, or your weaknesses, that we should speak, but about her happiness."
"Just so; I don't think she would be happy with you."
"Then it is to save her from me that you are marrying her,—so that she may not sink into the abyss of my unworthiness."
"But if I had come two days since, when she would have received me with open arms—"
"You have no right to make such a statement."
"I ask yourself whether it is not true? She would have received me with open arms, and would you then have dared, as her guardian, to bid her refuse the offer made to her, when you had learned, as you would have done, that she loved me; that I had loved her with all my heart before I left England; that I had left it with the view of enabling myself to marry her; that I had been wonderfully successful; that I had come back with no other hope in the world than that of giving it all to her; that I had been able to show you my whole life, so that no girl need be afraid to become my wife—"
"What do I know about your life? You may have another wife living at this moment."
"No doubt; I may be guilty of any amount of villainy, but then, as her friend, you should make inquiry. You would not break a girl's heart because the man to whom she is attached may possibly be a rogue. In this case you have no ground for the suspicion."
"I never heard of a man who spoke of himself so grandiloquently!"
"But there is ample reason why you should make inquiry. In truth, as I said before, it is her happiness and not mine nor your own that you should look to. If she has taken your offer because you had been good to her in her desolation,—because she had found herself unable to refuse aught to one who had treated her so well; if she had done all this, believing that I had disappeared from her knowledge, and doubting altogether my return; if it be so—and you know that it is so—then you should hesitate before you lead her to her doom."
"You heard her say that I was not to believe any of these things unless I got them from her own mouth?"
"I did; and her word should go for nothing either with you or with me. She has promised, and is willing to sacrifice herself to her promise. She will sacrifice me too because of your goodness,—and because she is utterly unable to put a fair value upon herself. To me she is all the world. From the first hour in which I saw her to the present, the idea of gaining her has been everything. Put aside the words which she just spoke, what is your belief of the state of her wishes?"
"I can tell you my belief of the state of her welfare."
"There your own prejudice creeps in, and I might retaliate by charging you with vanity as you have done me,—only that I think such vanity very natural. But it is her you should consult on such a matter. She is not to be treated like a child. Of whom does she wish to become the wife? I boldly say that I have won her love, and that if it be so, you should not desire to take her to yourself. You have not answered me, nor can I expect you to answer me; but look into yourself and answer it there. Think how it will be with you, when the girl who lies upon your shoulder shall be thinking ever of some other man from whom you have robbed her. Good-bye, Mr Whittlestaff. I do not doubt but that you will turn it all over in your thoughts." Then he escaped by a wicket-gate into the road at the far end of the long walk, and was no more heard of at Croker's Hall on that day.
MRS BAGGETT TRUSTS ONLY IN THE FUNDS.
Mr Whittlestaff, when he was left alone in the long walk, was disturbed by many troublesome thoughts. The knowledge that his housekeeper was out on the road, and that her drunken disreputable husband was playing the fool for the benefit of all the idlers that had sauntered out from Alresford to see him, added something to his grief. Why should not the stupid woman remain indoors, and allow him, her master, to send for the police? She had declared that she would go with her husband, and he could not violently prevent her. This was not much when added to the weight of his care as to Mary Lawrie, but it seemed to be the last ounce destined to break the horse's back, as is the proverbial fate of all last ounces.
Just as he was about to collect his thoughts, so as to resolve what it might be his duty to do in regard to Mary, Mrs Baggett appeared before him on the walk with her bonnet on her head. "What are you going to do, you stupid woman?"
"I am a-going with he," she said, in the midst of a torrent of sobs and tears. "It's a dooty. They says if you does your dooty all will come right in the end. It may be, but I don't see it no further than taking him back to Portsmouth."
"What on earth are you going to Portsmouth for now? And why? why now? He's not more drunk than he has been before, nor yet less abominable. Let the police lock him up for the night, and send him back to Portsmouth in the morning. Why should you want to go with him now?"
"Because you're going to take a missus," said Mrs Baggett, still sobbing.
"It's more than I know; or you know; or anyone knows," and Mr Whittlestaff spoke as though he had nearly reduced himself to his housekeeper's position.
"Not marry her!" she exclaimed.
"I cannot say. If you will let me alone to manage my own affairs, it will be best."
"That man has been here interfering. You don't mean to say that you're going to be put upon by such a savage as that, as has just come home from South Africa. Diamonds, indeed! I'd diamond him! I don't believe, not in a single diamond. They're all rubbish and paste. If you're going to give her up to that fellow, you're not the gentleman I take you for."
"But if I don't marry you won't have to go," he said, unable to refrain from so self-evident an argument.
"Me going! What's me going? What's me or that drunken old reprobate out there to the likes of you? I'd stay, only if it was to see that Mr John Gordon isn't let to put his foot here in this house; and then I'd go. John Gordon, indeed! To come up between you and her, when you had settled your mind and she had settled hern! If she favours John Gordon, I'll tear her best frock off her back."
"How dare you speak in that way of the lady who is to be your mistress?"
"She ain't to be my mistress. I won't have no mistress. When her time is come, I shall be in the poorhouse at Portsmouth, because I shan't be able to earn a penny to buy gin for him." As she said this, Mrs Baggett sobbed bitterly.
"You're enough to drive a man mad. I don't know what it is you want, or you don't want."
"I wishes to see Miss Lawrie do her dooty, and become your wife, as a lady should do. You wishes it, and she ought to wish it too. Drat her! If she is going back from her word—"
"She is not going back from her word. Nothing is more excellent, nothing more true, nothing more trustworthy than Miss Lawrie. You should not allow yourself to speak of her in such language."
"Is it you, then, as is going back?"
"I do not know. To tell the truth, Mrs Baggett, I do not know."
"Then let me tell you, sir. I'm an old woman whom you've known all your life pretty nigh, and you can trust me. Don't give up to none of 'em. You've got her word, and keep her to it. What's the good o' your fine feelings if you're to break your heart. You means well by her, and will make her happy. Can you say as much for him? When them diamonds is gone, what's to come next? I ain't no trust in diamonds, not to live out of, but only in the funds, which is reg'lar. I wouldn't let her see John Gordon again,—never, till she was Mrs Whittlestaff. After that she'll never go astray; nor yet won't her thoughts."
"God bless you! Mrs Baggett," he said.
"She's one of them when she's your own she'll remain your own all out. She'll stand the washing. I'm an old woman, and I knows 'em."
"And yet you cannot live with such a lady as her?"
"No! if she was one of them namby-pambys as'd let an old woman keep her old place, it might do."
"She shall love you always for what you said just now."
"Love me! I don't doubt her loving me. She'll love me because she is loving—not that I am lovable. She'll want to do a'most everything about the house, and I shall want the same; and her wants are to stand uppermost,—that is, if she is to be Mrs Whittlestaff."
"I do not know; I have to think about it."
"Don't think about it no more; but just go in and do it. Don't have no more words with him nor yet with her,—nor yet with yourself. Let it come on just as though it were fixed by fate. It's in your own hands now, sir, and don't you be thinking of being too good-natured; there ain't no good comes from it. A man may maunder away his mind in softnesses till he ain't worth nothing, and don't do no good to no one. You can give her bread to eat, and clothes to wear, and can make her respectable before all men and women. What has he to say? Only that he is twenty years younger than you. Love! Rot it! I suppose you'll come in just now, sir, and see my boxes when they're ready to start." So saying, she turned round sharply on the path and left him.
In spite of the excellent advice which Mr Whittlestaff had received from his housekeeper, bidding him not have any more words even with himself on the matter, he could not but think of all the arguments which John Gordon had used to him. According to Mrs Baggett, he ought to content himself with knowing that he could find food and raiment and shelter for his intended wife, and also in feeling that he had her promise, and her assurance that that promise should be respected. There was to him a very rock in all this, upon which he could build his house with absolute safety. And he did not believe of her that, were he so to act, she would turn round upon him with future tears or neglect her duty, because she was ever thinking of John Gordon. He knew that she would be too steadfast for all that, and that even though there might be some sorrow at her heart, it would be well kept down, out of his sight, out of the sight of the world at large, and would gradually sink out of her own sight too. But if it be given to a man "to maunder away his mind in softnesses," he cannot live otherwise than as nature has made him. Such a man must maunder. Mrs Baggett had understood accurately the nature of his character; but had not understood that, as was his character, so must he act. He could not alter his own self. He could not turn round upon himself, and bid himself be other than he was. It is necessary to be stern and cruel and determined, a man shall say to himself. In this particular emergency of my life I will be stern and cruel. General good will come out of such a line of conduct. But unless he be stern and cruel in other matters also,—unless he has been born stern and cruel, or has so trained himself,—he cannot be stern and cruel for that occasion only. All this Mr Whittlestaff knew of himself. As sure as he was there thinking over John Gordon and Mary Lawrie, would he maunder away his mind in softnesses. He feared it of himself, was sure of it of himself, and hated himself because it was so.
He did acknowledge to himself the truth of the position as asserted by John Gordon. Had the man come but a day earlier, he would have been in time to say the first word; and then, as Mr Whittlestaff said to himself, there would not for him have been a chance. And in such case there would have been no reason, as far as Mr Whittlestaff could see, why John Gordon should be treated other than as a happy lover. It was the one day in advance which had given him the strength of his position. But it was the one day also which had made him weak. He had thought much about Mary for some time past. He had told himself that by her means might be procured some cure to the wound in his heart which had made his life miserable for so many years. But had John Gordon come in time, the past misery would only have been prolonged, and none would have been the wiser. Even Mrs Baggett would have held her peace, and not thrown it in his teeth that he had attempted to marry the girl and had failed. As it was, all the world of Alresford would know how it had been with him, and all the world of Alresford as they looked at him would tell themselves that this was the man who had attempted to marry Mary Lawrie, and had failed.
It was all true,—all that John Gordon alleged on his own behalf. But then he was able to salve his own conscience by telling himself that when John Gordon had run through his diamonds, there would be nothing but poverty and distress. There was no reason for supposing that the diamonds would be especially short-lived, or that John Gordon would probably be a spendthrift. But diamonds as a source of income are volatile,—not trustworthy, as were the funds to Mrs Baggett. And then the nature of the source of income offered, enabled him to say so much as a plea to himself. Could he give the girl to a man who had nothing but diamonds with which to pay his weekly bills? He did tell himself again and again, that Mary Lawrie should not be encouraged to put her faith in diamonds. But he felt that it was only an excuse. In arguing the matter backwards and forwards, he could not but tell himself that he did believe in John Gordon.
And then an idea, a grand idea, but one very painful in its beauty, crept into his mind. Even though these diamonds should melt away, and become as nothing, there was his own income, fixed and sure as the polar star, in the consolidated British three per cents. If he really loved this girl, could he not protect her from poverty, even were she married to a John Gordon, broken down in the article of his diamonds? If he loved her, was he not bound, by some rule of chivalry which he could not define even to himself, to do the best he could for her happiness? He loved her so well that he thought that, for her sake, he could abolish himself. Let her have his money, his house, and his horses. Let her even have John Gordon. He could with a certain feeling of delight imagine it all. But then he could not abolish himself. There he would be, subject to the remarks of men. "There is he," men would say of him, "who has maundered away his mind in softnesses;—who in his life has loved two girls, and has, at last, been thrown over by both of them because he has been no better than a soft maundering idiot." It would be thus that his neighbours would speak of him in his vain effort to abolish himself.
It was not yet too late. He had not yielded an inch to this man. He could still be stern and unbending. He felt proud of himself in that he had been stern and unbending, as far as the man was concerned. And as regarded Mary, he did feel sure of her. If there was to be weakness displayed, it would be in himself. Mary would be true to her promise;—true to her faith, true to the arrangement made for her own life. She would not provoke him with arguments as to her love for John Gordon; and, as Mrs Baggett had assured him, even in her thoughts she would not go astray. If it were but for that word, Mrs Baggett should not be allowed to leave his house.
But what as to Mary's love? Any such question was maunderingly soft. It was not for him to ask it. He did believe in her altogether, and was perfectly secure that his name and his honour were safe in her hands. And she certainly would learn to love him. "She'll stand the washing," he said to himself, repeating another morsel of Mrs Baggett's wisdom. And thus he made up his mind that he would, on this occasion, if only on this occasion, be stern and cruel. Surely a man could bring himself to sternness and cruelty for once in his life, when so much depended on it.
Having so resolved, he walked back into the house, intending to see Mary Lawrie, and so to speak to her as to give her no idea of the conversation which had taken place between him and John Gordon. It would not be necessary, he thought, that he should mention to her John Gordon's name any more. Let his marriage go on, as though there were no such person as John Gordon. It would be easier to be stern and cruel when he could enact the character simply by silence. He would hurry on his wedding as quickly as she would allow him, and then the good thing—the good that was to come out of sternness and cruelty—would be achieved.
He went through from the library to knock at Mary's door, and in doing so, had to pass the room in which Mrs Baggett had slept tranquilly for fifteen years. There, in the doorway, was a big trunk, and in the lock of the door was a key. A brilliant idea at once occurred to Mr Whittlestaff. He shoved the big box in with his foot, locked the door, and put the key in his pocket. At that moment the heads of the gardener and the groom appeared up the back staircase, and after them Mrs Baggett.
"Why, Mrs Baggett, the door is locked!" said the gardener.
"It is, to be sure," said the groom. "Why, Mrs Baggett, you must have the key in your own pocket!"
"I ain't got no such thing. Do you bring the box down with you."
"I have got the key in my pocket," said Mr Whittlestaff, in a voice of much authority. "You may both go down. Mrs Baggett's box is not to be taken out of that room to-day."
"Not taken out! Oh, Mr Whittlestaff! Why, the porter is here with his barrow to take it down to the station."
"Then the porter must have a shilling and go back again empty." And so he stalked on, to bid Miss Lawrie come to him in the library.
"I never heard of such a go in all my life;—and he means it, too," said Thornybush, the gardener.
"I never quite know what he means," said Hayonotes, the groom; "but he's always in earnest, whatever it is. I never see one like the master for being in earnest. But he's too deep for me in his meaning. I suppose we is only got to go back." So they retreated down the stairs, leaving Mrs Baggett weeping in the passage.
"You should let a poor old woman have her box," she said, whining to her master, whom she followed to the library.
"No; I won't! You shan't have your box. You're an old fool!"
"I know I'm an old fool;—but I ought to have my box."
"You won't have it. You may just go down and get your dinner. When you want to go to bed, you shall have the key."
"I ought to have my box, Miss Mary. It's my own box. What am I to do with Baggett? They have given him more gin out there, and he's as drunk as a beast. I think I ought to have my own box. Shall I tell Thornybush as he may come back? The train'll be gone, and then what am I to do with Baggett? He'll get hisself that drunk, you won't be able to stir him. And it is my own box, Mr Whittlestaff?"
To all which Mr Whittlestaff turned a deaf ear. She should find that there was no maundering softness with him now. He felt within his own bosom that it behoved him to learn to become stern and cruel. He knew that the key was in his pocket, and found that there was a certain satisfaction in being stern and cruel. Mrs Baggett might sob her heart out after her box, and he would decline to be moved.
"What'll I do about Baggett, sir?" said the poor woman, coming back. "He's a lying there at the gate, and the perlice doesn't like to touch him because of you, sir. He says as how if you could take him into the stables, he'd sleep it off among the straw. But then he'd be just as bad after this first go, to-morrow."
To this, however, Mr Whittlestaff at once acceded. He saw a way out of the immediate difficulty. He therefore called Hayonotes to him, and succeeded in explaining his immediate meaning. Hayonotes and the policeman between them lifted Baggett, and deposited the man in an empty stall, where he was accommodated with ample straw. And an order was given that as soon as he had come to himself, he should be provided with something to eat.