"You didn't know anything at all about it," said Mr Whittlestaff. "It would be very much more becoming if you would learn sometimes to hold your tongue."
Then Miss Evelina Hall struck in. Would Miss Lawrie come over to Little Alresford Park, and stay there for a few days previous to the wedding? Kattie Forrester meant to bring down a sister with her as a bridesmaid. Two of the Miss Halls were to officiate also, and it would be taken as a great favour if Miss Lawrie would make a fourth. A great deal was said to press upon her this view of the case, to which, however, she made many objections. There was, indeed, a tragedy connected with her own matrimonial circumstances, which did not make her well inclined to join such a party. Her heart was not at ease within her as to her desertion of Mr Whittlestaff. Whatever the future might bring forth, the present could not be a period of joy But in the middle of the argument, Mr Whittlestaff spoke with the voice of authority. "Accept Mr Hall's kindness," he said, "and go over for a while to Little Alresford."
"And leave you all alone?"
"I'm sure Mr Hall will be delighted if you will come too," said Mr Blake, ready at the moment to answer for the extent of his patron's house and good-nature.
"Quite out of the question," said Mr Whittlestaff, in a tone of voice intended to put an end to that matter. "But I can manage to live alone for a few days, seeing that I shall be compelled to do so before long, by Miss Lawrie's marriage." Again Mary looked up into his face. "It is so, my dear. This young gentleman has managed to ferret out the truth, while looking for his wedding garments. Will you tell your papa, Miss Evelina, that Mary will be delighted to accept his kindness?"
"And Gordon can come down to me," said Blake, uproariously, rubbing his hands; "and we can have three or four final days together, like two jolly young bachelors."
"Speaking for yourself alone," said Kattie,—"you'll have to remain a jolly young bachelor a considerable time still, if you don't mend your manners."
"I needn't mend my manners till after I'm married, I suppose." But they who knew Mr Blake well were wont to declare that in the matter of what Miss Forrester called his manners, there would not be much to make his wife afraid.
The affair was settled as far as it could be settled in Mr Gordon's absence. Miss Lawrie was to go over and spend a fortnight at Little Alresford just previous to Kattie Forrester's marriage, and Gordon was to come down to the marriage, so as to be near to Mary, if he could be persuaded to do so. Of this Mr Blake spoke with great certainty. "Why shouldn't he come and spoon a bit, seeing that he never did so yet in his life? Now I have had a lot of it."
"Not such a lot by any means," said Miss Forrester.
"According to all accounts he's got to begin it. He told me that he hadn't even proposed regular. Doesn't that seem odd to you, Kattie?"
"It seemed very odd when you did it." Then the three of them went away, and Mary was left to discuss the prospects of her future life with Mr Whittlestaff. "You had better both of you come and live here," he said. "There would be room enough." Mary thought probably of the chance there might be of newcomers, but she said nothing. "I should go away, of course," said Mr Whittlestaff.
"Turn you out of your own house!"
"Why not? I shan't stay here any way. I am tired of the place, and though I shan't care to sell it, I shall make a move. A man ought to make a move every now and again. I should like to go to Italy, and live at one of those charming little towns."
"Without a soul to speak to."
"I shan't want anybody to speak to. I shall take with me just a few books to read. I wonder whether Mrs Baggett would go with me. She can't have much more to keep her in England than I have." But this plan had not been absolutely fixed when Mary retired for the night, with the intention of writing her letter to John Gordon before she went to bed. Her letter took her long to write. The thinking of it rather took too long. She sat leaning with her face on her hands, and with a tear occasionally on her cheek, into the late night, meditating rather on the sweet goodness of Mr Whittlestaff than on the words of the letter. It had at last been determined that John Gordon should be her husband. That the fates seem to have decided, and she did acknowledge that in doing so the fates had been altogether propitious. It would have been very difficult,—now at last she owned that truth to herself,—it would have been very difficult for her to have been true to the promise she had made, altogether to eradicate John Gordon from her heart, and to fill up the place left with a wife's true affection for Mr Whittlestaff. To the performance of such a task as that she would not be subjected. But on the other hand, John Gordon must permit her to entertain and to evince a regard for Mr Whittlestaff, not similar at all to the regard which she would feel for her husband, but almost equal in its depth.
At last she took the paper and did write her letter, as follows:—
DEAR MR GORDON,—I am not surprised at anything that Mr Whittlestaff should do which shows the goodness of his disposition and the tenderness of his heart. He is, I think, the most unselfish of mankind. I believe you to be so thoroughly sincere in the affection which you express for me, that you must acknowledge that he is so. If you love me well enough to make me your wife, what must you think of him who has loved me well enough to surrender me to one whom I had known before he had taken me under his fostering care?
You know that I love you, and am willing to become your wife. What can I say to you now, except that it is so. It is so. And in saying that, I have told you everything as to myself. Of him I can only say, that his regard for me has been more tender even than that of a father.—Yours always most lovingly,
The day came at last on which Mary's visit to Little Alresford was to commence. Two days later John Gordon was to arrive at the Parsonage, and Mary's period of being "spooned" was to be commenced,—according to Mr Blake's phraseology. "No, my dear; I don't think I need go with you," said Mr Whittlestaff, when the very day was there.
"Why not come and call?"
"I don't much care about calling," said Mr Whittlestaff. This was exactly the state of mind to which Mary did not wish to see her friend reduced,—that of feeling it to be necessary to avoid his fellow-creatures.
"You think Mr Blake is silly. He is a silly young man, I allow; but Mr Hall has been very civil. As I am to go there for a week, you might as well take me." As she spoke she put her arm around him, caressing him.
"I don't care particularly for Mr Blake; but I don't think I'll go to Little Alresford." Mary understood, when he said this the second time, that the thing was fixed as fate. He would not go to Little Alresford. Then, in about a quarter of an hour, he began again—"I think you'll find me gone when you come back again."
"Gone! where shall you have gone?"
"I'm not quite comfortable here. Don't look so sad, you dear, dear girl." Then he crossed the room and kissed her tenderly. "I have a nervous irritable feeling which will not let me remain quiet. Of course, I shall come for your marriage, whenever that may be fixed."
"Oh, Mr Whittlestaff, do not talk in that way! That will be a year to come, or perhaps two or three. Do not let it disturb you in that way, or I shall swear that I will not be married at all. Why should I be married if you are to be miserable?"
"It has been all settled, my dear. Mr Gordon is to be the lord of all that. And though you will be supposed to have fixed the day, it is he that will really fix it;—he, or the circumstances of his life. When a young lady has promised a young gentleman, the marriage may be delayed to suit the young gentleman's convenience, but never to suit hers. To tell the truth, it will always be felt convenient that she shall be married as soon as may be after the promise has been given. You will see Mr Gordon in a day or two, and will find out then what are his wishes."
"Do you think that I shall not consult your wishes?"
"Not in the least, my dear. I, at any rate, shall have no wishes,—except what may be best for your welfare. Of course I must see him, and settle some matters that will have to be settled. There will be money matters."
"I have no money," said Mary,—"not a shilling! He knows that."
"Nevertheless there will be money matters, which you will have the goodness to leave to me. Are you not my daughter, Mary, my only child? Don't trouble yourself about such matters as these, but do as you're bid. Now it is time for you to start, and Hayonotes will be ready to go with you." Having so spoken, Mr Whittlestaff put her into the carriage, and she was driven away to Little Alresford.
It then wanted a week to the Blake-cum-Forrester marriage, and the young clergyman was beginning to mix a little serious timidity with his usual garrulous high spirits. "Upon my word, you know I'm not at all sure that they are going to do it right," he said with much emphasis to Miss Lawrie. "The marriage is to be on Tuesday. She's to go home on the Saturday. I insist upon being there on the Monday. It would make a fellow so awfully nervous travelling on the same day. But the other girls—and you're one of them, Miss Lawrie—are to go into Winchester by train on Tuesday morning, under the charge of John Gordon. If any thing were to happen to any of you, only think, where should I be?"
"Where should we be?" said Miss Lawrie.
"It isn't your marriage, you know. But I suppose the wedding could go on even if one of you didn't come. It would be such an awful thing not to have it done when the Dean is coming." But Mary comforted him, assuring him that the Halls were very punctual in all their comings and goings when any event was in hand.
Then John Gordon came, and, to tell the truth, Mary was subjected for the first time to the ceremony of spooning. When he walked up to the door across from the Parsonage, Mary Lawrie took care not to be in the way. She took herself to her own bedroom, and there remained, with feverish, palpitating heart, till she was summoned by Miss Hall. "You must come down and bid him welcome, you know."
"I suppose so; but—"
"Of course you must come. It must be sooner or later. He is looking so different from what he was when he was here before. And so he ought, when one considers all things."
"He has not got another journey before him to South Africa."
"Without having got what he came for," said Miss Hall. Then when they went down, Mary was told that John Gordon had passed through the house into the shrubbery, and was invited to follow him. Mary, declaring that she would go alone, took up her hat and boldly went after him. As she passed on, across the lawn, she saw his figure disappearing among the trees. "I don't think it very civil for a young lady's young man to vanish in that way," said Miss Hall. But Mary boldly and quickly followed him, without another word.
"Mary," he said, turning round upon her as soon as they were both out of sight among the trees. "Mary, you have come at last."
"Yes; I have come."
"And yet, when I first showed myself at your house, you would hardly receive me." But this he said holding her by the hand, and looking into her face with his brightest smile. "I had postponed my coming almost too late."
"Yes, indeed. Was it my fault?"
"No;—nor mine. When I was told that I was doing no good about the house, and reminded that I was penniless, what could I do but go away?"
"But why go so far?"
"I had to go where money could be earned. Considering all things, I think I was quick enough. Where else could I have found diamonds but at the diamond-fields? And I have been perhaps the luckiest fellow that has gone and returned."
"So nearly too late!"
"But not too late."
"But you were too late,—only for the inexpressible goodness of another. Have you thought what I owe—what you and I owe—to Mr Whittlestaff?"
"But I am his darling. Only it sounds so conceited in any girl to say so. Why should he care so much about me?—or why should you, for the matter of that?"
"Mary, Mary, come to me now." And he held out both his hands. She looked round, fearing intrusive eyes, but seeing none, she allowed him to embrace her. "My own,—at last my own. How well you understood me in those old days. And yet it was all without a word,—almost without a sign." She bowed her head before she had escaped from his arms. "Now I am a happy man."
"It is he that has done it for you."
"Am I not thankful?"
"How can I be thankful as I ought? Think of the gratitude that I owe him,—think of all the love! What man has loved as he has done? Who has brought himself so to abandon to another the reward he had thought it worth his while to wish for? You must not count the value of the thing."
"But I do."
"But the price he had set upon it! I was to be the comfort of his life to come. And it would have been so, had he not seen and had he not believed. Because another has loved, he has given up that which he has loved himself."
"It was not for my sake."
"But it was for mine. You had come first, and had won my poor heart. I was not worth the winning to either of you."
"It was for me to judge of that."
"Just so. But you do not know his heart. How prone he is to hold by that which he knows he has made his own. I was his own."
"You told him the truth when he came to you."
"I was his own," said Mary, firmly. "Had he bade me never to see you again, I should never have seen you. Had he not gone after you himself, you would never have come back."
"I do not know how that might be."
"It would have been to no good. Having consented to take everything from his hands, I could never have been untrue to him. I tell you that I should as certainly have become his wife, as that girl will become the wife of that young clergyman. Of course I was unhappy."
"Were you, dear?"
"Yes. I was very unhappy. When you flashed upon me there at Croker's Hall, I knew at once all the joy that had fallen within my reach. You were there, and you had come for me! All the way from Kimberley, just for me to smile upon you! Did you not?"
"Indeed I did."
"When you had found your diamonds, you thought of me,—was it not so?"
"Of you only."
"You flatterer! You dear, bonny lover. You whom I had always loved and prayed for, when I knew not where you were! You who had not left me to be like Mariana, but had hurried home at once for me when your man's work was done,—doing just what a girl would think that a man should do for her sake. But it had been all destroyed by the necessity of the case. I take no blame to myself."
"Looking back at it all, I was right. He had chosen to want me, and had a right to me. I had taken his gifts, given with a full hand. And where were you, my own one? Had I a right to think that you were thinking of me?"
"I was thinking of you."
"Yes; because you have turned out to be one in a hundred: but I was not to have known that. Then he asked me, and I thought it best that he should know the truth and take his choice. He did take his choice before he knew the truth,—that you were so far on your way to seek my hand."
"I was at that very moment almost within reach of it."
"But still it had become his. He did not toss it from him then as a thing that was valueless. With the truest, noblest observance, he made me understand how much it might be to him, and then surrendered it without a word of ill humour, because he told himself that in truth my heart was within your keeping. If you will keep it well, you must find a place for his also." It was thus that Mary Lawrie suffered the spooning that was inflicted upon her by John Gordon.
* * * * * *
The most important part of our narrative still remains. When the day came, the Reverend Montagu Blake was duly married to Miss Catherine Forrester in Winchester Cathedral, by the Very Reverend the Dean, assisted by the young lady's father; and it is pleasant to think that on that occasion the two clergymen behaved to each other with extreme civility. Mr Blake at once took his wife over to the Isle of Wight, and came back at the end of a month to enjoy the hospitality of Mr Hall. And with them came that lady's maid, of whose promotion to a higher sphere in life we shall expect soon to hear. Then came a period of thorough enjoyment for Mr Blake in superintending the work of Mr Newface.
"What a pity it is that the house should ever be finished!" said the bride to Augusta Hall; "because as things are now, Montagu is supremely happy: he will never be so happy again."
"Unless when the baby comes," said Augusta.
"I don't think he'll care a bit about the baby," said the bride.
The writer, however, is of a different opinion, as he is inclined to think that the Reverend Montagu Blake will be a pattern for all fathers. One word more we must add of Mr Whittlestaff and his future life,—and one word of Mrs Baggett. Mr Whittlestaff did not leave Croker's Hall. When October had come round, he was present at Mary's marriage, and certainly did not carry himself then with any show of outward joy. He was moody and silent, and, as some said, almost uncourteous to John Gordon. But before Mary went down to the train, in preparation of her long wedding-tour, he took her up to his bedroom, and there said a final word to her. "Give him my love."
"Oh, my darling! you have made me so happy."
"You will find me better when you come back, though I shall never cease to regret all that I have lost."
Mrs Baggett accepted her destiny, and remained in supreme dominion over all women-kind at Croker's Hall. But there was private pecuniary arrangement between her and her master, of which I could never learn the details. It resulted, however, in the sending of a money-order every Saturday morning to an old woman in whose custody the Sergeant was left.
* * * * * *
Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. Specific changes in wording of the text are listed below.
Chapter II, paragraph 1. The word "man's" has been substituted for "man his" in the sentence: In some things his life had been successful; but these were matters in which the world does not write down a MAN'S good luck as being generally conducive to his happiness.
Chapter V, paragraph 47. The words "living here" have been substituted for "loving him" in the sentence: After all that has passed between us, you can hardly go on LIVING HERE as you have done.
Chapter VI, last paragraph. The words "than that" have been substituted for "that than" in the sentence: 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.
Chapter IX, paragraph 8. The sentence, "There isn't a better fellow living than Mr Furnival, or his wife, or his four daughters." might leave the reader wondering who is Mr Furnival, as the name does not appear again in the text. The man referred to is later called Mr Hall.
Chapter XV, paragraph 12. The word "his" has been inserted in the sentence: "Have you seen HIS diamonds, Miss Lawrie?"
Chapter XV, paragraph 32. The word "as" has been inserted in the sentence: "I don't know any spot on God's earth that I should be less likely to choose AS my abiding resting-place."
Chapter XIX, paragraph 56. The word "gone" has been substituted for "come" in the sentence: "What is it he means, Miss?" said Mrs Baggett, when the master was GONE.
Chapter XXI, paragraph 35. The word "it" has been inserted in the sentence: "What is IT that you wish, Mr Whittlestaff?" he asked.
Chapter XXII, paragraph 42. The word "had" has been substituted for "has" in the sentence: For indeed her life in public,—her life, that is, to which Mrs Baggett HAD access,—had been in some degree disturbed since the departure of the master of the house.
Chapter XXIV, paragraph 34. The word "those" has been substituted for "these" in the sentence: How well you understood me in THOSE old days.
Chapter XXIV, paragraph 53. The word "were" has been substitute for "was" in the sentence: You whom I had always loved and prayed for, when I knew not where you WERE!