"That's quite true, Sir Thomas," said Ralph, in a loud ringing tone, which seemed to imply that let things be as bad as they might he did not mean to make a poor mouth of them. It was his mask for the occasion, and it sufficed to hide his misery from Sir Thomas.
"If you think of selling what you have to sell," continued Sir Thomas, "you had better take Mr. Newton's letter and put it into the hands of your own attorney. It will be ten times better than going to the money-lending companies for advances. If I had the means of helping you myself, I would do it."
"Oh, Sir Thomas!"
"But I have not. I should be robbing my own girls, which I am sure you would not wish."
"That is quite out of the question, Sir Thomas."
"If you do resolve on selling the estate, you had better come to me as the thing goes on. I can't do much, but I may perhaps be able to see that nothing improper is proposed for you to do. Goodbye, Ralph. Anything will be better than marrying that what-d'ye-callem's daughter."
Ralph, as he walked westwards towards the club, was by no means sure that Sir Thomas had been right in this. By marrying Polly he would, after all, keep the property.
Just by the lions in Trafalgar Square he met Ontario Moggs. Ontario Moggs scowled at him, and cut him dead.
THE REV. GREGORY NEWTON.
It was quite at the end of July, in the very hottest days of a very hot summer, that Squire Newton left Newton Priory for London, intent upon law business, and filled with ambition to purchase the right of leaving his own estate to any heir whom he might himself select. He left his son alone at the Priory; but his son and the parson were sure to be together on such an occasion. Ralph,—the country Ralph,—dined at the Rectory on the day that his father started; and on every succeeding day, Gregory, the parson, dined up at the large house. It was a thing altogether understood at the Priory that the present parson Gregory was altogether exempted from the anathema which had been pronounced against the heir and against the memory of the heir's father. Gregory simply filled the place which might have been his had there been no crushing entail, and was, moreover, so sweet and gentle-hearted a fellow that it was impossible not to love him. He was a tall, slender man, somewhat narrow-chested, bright-eyed, with a kind-looking sweet mouth, a small well-cut nose, dark but not black hair, and a dimple on his chin. He always went with his hands in his pockets, walking quick, but shuffling sometimes in step as though with hesitation, stooping somewhat, absent occasionally, going about with his chin stuck out before him, as though he were seeking something,—he knew not what. A more generous fellow, who delighted more in giving, hesitated more in asking, more averse to begging though a friend of beggars, less self-arrogant, or self-seeking, or more devoted to his profession, never lived. He was a man with prejudices,—kindly, gentlemanlike, amiable prejudices. He thought that a clergyman should be a graduate from one of the three universities,—including Trinity, Dublin; and he thought, also, that a clergyman should be a gentleman. He thought that Dissenters were,—a great mistake. He thought that Convocation should be potential. He thought that the Church had certain powers and privileges which Parliament could not take away except by spoliation. He thought that a parson should always be well-dressed,—according to his order. He thought that the bishop of his diocese was the purest, best, and noblest peer in England. He thought that Newton Churchyard was, of all spots on earth, the most lovely. He thought very little of himself. And he thought that of all the delights given by God for the delectation of his creatures, the love of Clarissa Underwood would be the most delightful. In all these thinkings he was astray, carried away by prejudices which he was not strong enough to withstand. But the joint effect of so many faults in judgment was not disagreeable; and, as one result of that effect, Gregory Newton was loved and respected and believed in by all men and women, poor and rich, who lived within knowledge of his name. His uncle Gregory, who was wont to be severe in his judgment on men, would declare that the Rev. Gregory,—as he was called,—was perfect. But then the Squire was a man who was himself very much subject to prejudices.
There was now, and ever had been, great freedom of discussion between Ralph Newton of the Priory and his cousin Gregory,—if under the circumstances the two young men may be called cousins,—respecting the affairs of the property. There was naturally much to check or to prevent such freedom. Their own interests in regard to the property were, as far as they went, adverse. The young parson might possibly inherit the whole of the estate, whereas he was aware that the present Squire would move heaven and earth to leave it, or a portion of it, to his own son. Gregory had always taken his brother's part before the Squire; and the Squire, much as he liked the parson, was never slow in abusing the parson's brother. It would have been no more than natural had the question of the property been, by tacit agreement, always kept out of sight between the two young men. But they had grown up from boyhood together as firm friends, and there was no reticence between them on this all-important subject. The Squire's son had never known his mother; and could therefore speak of his own position as would hardly have been possible to him had any memory of her form or person remained with him. And then, though their interests were opposite, nothing that either could say would much affect those interests.
The two men were sitting on the lawn at the Priory after dinner, smoking cigars, and Ralph,—this other Ralph,—had just told the parson of his intention of joining his father in London. "I don't see that I can do any good," said Ralph, "but he wishes it, and of course I shall go."
"You won't see my brother, I suppose?"
"I should think not. You know what my father's feelings are, and I certainly shall not go out of my way to offend them. I have no animosity against Ralph; but I could do no good by opposing my father."
"No," said the parson, "not but what I wish it were otherwise. It is a trouble to me that I cannot have Ralph here;—though perhaps he would not care to come."
"I feel it hard too, that he should not be allowed to see a place which, in a measure, belongs to him. I wish with all my heart that my father did not think so much about the estate. Much as I love the old place, I can hardly think about it without bitterness. Had my father and your brother been on good terms together, there would have been none of that. Nothing that he could do,—no success in his efforts,—can make me be as I should have been had I been born his heir. It is a misfortune, and of course one feels it; but I think I should feel it less were he not so fixed in his purpose to undo what can never be undone."
"He will never succeed," said Gregory.
"Probably not;—though, for that matter, I suppose Ralph will be driven to raise money on his inheritance."
"He will never sell the property."
"It seems that he does spend money faster than he can get it."
"He may have done so."
"Is he not always in debt to you yourself? Is he not now thinking of marrying some tradesman's daughter to relieve him of his embarrassments? We have to own, I suppose, that Master Ralph has made a mess of his money matters?" The parson, who couldn't deny the fact, hardly knew what to say on his brother's behalf. "I protest to you, Greg, that if my father were to tell me that he had changed his mind, and paid your brother's debts out of sheer kindness and uncleship, and the rest of it, I should be well pleased. But he won't do that, and it does seem to me probable that the estate will get into the hands of Jews, financiers, and professional money-dealers, unless my father can save it. You wouldn't be glad to see some shopkeeper's daughter calling herself Mrs. Newton of Newton."
"A shopkeeper's daughter need not necessarily be a—a—a bad sort of woman," said Gregory.
"The chances are that a shopkeeper's daughter will not be an educated lady. Come, Greg;—you cannot say that it is the kind of way out of the mess you would approve."
"I am so sorry that there should be any mess at all!"
"Just so. It is a pity that there should be any mess;—is not it? Come, old fellow, drink your coffee, and let us take a turn across the park. I want to see what Larkin is doing about those sheep. I often feel that my coming into the world was a mess altogether; though, now that I am here, I must make the best of it. If I hadn't come, my father would have married, and had a score of children, and Master Ralph would have been none the better for it."
"You'll go and see the Underwoods," said the parson, as they were walking across the park.
"If you wish it, I will."
"I do wish it. They know all the history as a matter of course. It cannot be otherwise. And they have so often heard me talk of you. The girls are simply perfect. I shall write to Miss Underwood, and tell her that you will call. I hope, too, that you will see Sir Thomas. It would be so much better that he should know you."
That same night Gregory Newton wrote the two following letters before he went to bed;—the first written was to Miss Underwood, and the second to his brother; but we will place the latter first;—
Newton, 4th August, 186—.
MY DEAR RALPH,—
No doubt you know by this time that my uncle, Gregory, is in London, though you will probably not have seen him. I understand that he has come up with the express purpose of making some settlement in regard to the property, on account of your embarrassments. I need not tell you how sorry I am that the state of your affairs should make this necessary. Ralph goes up also to-morrow;—and though he does not purpose to hunt you up, I hope that you may meet. You know what I think of him, and how much I wish that you two could be friends. He is as generous as the sun, and as just as he is generous. Every Newton ought to make him welcome as one of the family.
As to money, I do not know what may be the state of your affairs. I only hear from him what he hears from his father. Sooner than that you should endanger your inheritance here I will make any sacrifice,—if there be anything that I can do. You are welcome to sell my share of the Holborn property, and you can pay me after my uncle's death. I can get on very well with my living, as it is not probable that I shall marry. At any rate, understand that I should infinitely prefer to lose every shilling of the London property to hearing that you had imperilled your position here at Newton. I do not suppose that what I have can go far;—but as far as it will go it is at your service. You can show this letter to Sir Thomas if you think fit.
I could say ever so much more, only that you will know it all without my saying it. And I cannot bear that you should think that I would preach sermons to you. Never mind what I said before about the money that I wanted then. I can do without it now. My uncle will pay for the entire repair of the chancel out of his own pocket. Ever so much must be left undone till more money comes in. Money does come in from this quarter or from that, by God's help. As for the church rates, of course I regret them. But we have to take things in a lump, and it is certainly the fact that we spend ten times as much on the churches as was spent fifty years ago.
Your most affectionate brother,
The other letter was much shorter, and was addressed to Patience Underwood;—
Newton Peele Parsonage, 4th August, 186—.
MY DEAR MISS UNDERWOOD,—
My cousin, Mr. Ralph Newton, of whom you have heard me speak so often, is going up to London, and I have asked him to call at Popham Villa, because I am desirous that so very dear a friend of mine should know other friends whom I love so dearly. I am sure you will receive him kindly for my sake, and that you will like him for his own. There are reasons why I wish that your father should know him.
Give my most affectionate love to your sister. I can send her no other message, and I do not think she will be angry with me for sending that. It cannot hurt her; and she and you at least know how honest and how true it is. Distance and time make no difference. It is as though I were on the lawn with her now.
Most sincerely yours,
When he had written this in the little book-room of his parsonage he opened the window, and, crossing the garden, seated himself on a low brick wall, which divided his small domain from the churchyard. The night was bright with stars, but there was no moon in the heavens, and the gloom of the old ivy-coloured church tower was complete. But all the outlines of the place were so well known to him that he could trace them all in the dim light. After a while he got down among the graves, and with slow steps walked round and round the precincts of his church. Here, at least, in this spot, close to the house of God which was his own church, within this hallowed enclosure, which was his own freehold in a peculiar manner, he could, after a fashion, be happy, in spite of the misfortunes of himself and his family. His lines had been laid for him in very pleasant places. According to his ideas there was no position among the children of men more blessed, more diversified, more useful, more noble, than that which had been awarded to him,—if only, by God's help, he could perform with adequate zeal and ability the high duties which had been entrusted to him. Things outside were dark,—at least, so said the squires and parsons around him, with whom he was wont to associate. His uncle, Gregory, was sure that all things were going to the dogs, since a so-called Tory leader had become an advocate for household suffrage, and real Tory gentlemen had condescended to follow him. But to our parson it had always seemed that there was still a fresh running stream of water for him who would care to drink from a fresh stream. He heard much of unbelief, and of the professors of unbelief, both within and without the great Church;—but in that little church with which he was personally concerned there were more worshippers now than there had ever been before. And he heard, too, how certain well-esteemed preachers and prophets of the day talked loudly of the sins of the people, and foretold destruction such as was the destruction of Gomorrah;—but to him it seemed that the people of his village were more honest, less given to drink, and certainly better educated than their fathers. In all which thoughts he found matter for hope and encouragement in his daily life. And he set himself to work diligently, placing all this as a balance against his private sorrows, so that he might teach himself to take that world, of which he himself was the centre, as one whole,—and so to walk on rejoicing.
The one great sorrow of his life, the thorn in the flesh which was always festering, the wound which would not be cured, the grief for which there was no remedy, was his love for Clarissa Underwood. He had asked her thrice to be his wife,—with very little interval, indeed, between the separate prayers,—and had been so answered that he entertained no hope. Had there been any faintest expectation in his mind that Clarissa would at last become his wife he would have been deterred by a sense of duty from making to his brother that generous offer of all the property he owned. But he had no such hope. Clarissa had given thrice that answer, which of all answers is the most grievous to the true-hearted lover. "She felt for him unbounded esteem, and would always regard him as a friend." A short decided negative, or a doubtful no, or even an indignant repulse, may be changed,—may give way to second convictions, or to better acquaintance, or to altered circumstances, or even simply to perseverance. But an assurance of esteem and friendship means, and only can mean, that the lady regards her lover as she might do some old uncle or patriarchal family connection, whom, after a fashion, she loves, but who can never be to her the one creature to be worshipped above all others.
Such were Gregory Newton's ideas as to his own chance of success, and, so believing, he had resolved that he would never press his suit again. He endeavoured to conquer his love;—but that he found to be impossible. He thought that it was so impossible that he had determined to give up the endeavour. Though he would have advised others that by God's mercy all sorrows in this world could be cured, he told himself,—without arraigning God's mercy,—that for him this sorrow could not be cured. He did not scruple, therefore, to assure his brother that he would not marry,—nor did he hesitate, in writing to Patience Underwood, to assure her that his love for her sister was unchangeable. In saying so he urged no suit;—but it was impossible that he should write to the house without some message, and none other from him to her could be a true message. It could not hurt her. It would not even give her the trouble to think whether she had decided well. He quite understood the nature of the love he wanted,—a love that would have felt it to be all happiness to lean upon his bosom. Without this love he would not have wished to take her;—and with such love as that he knew he could not fill her heart. Therefore it was that he would satisfy himself with walking round the churchyard of Newton Peele, and telling himself that the pleasure of this world was best to be found in the pursuit of the joys of the next.
When Patience and Clarissa had got to their own room on the night on which they had walked back from Mrs. Brownlow's house to Popham Villa,—during all which long walk Clarissa's hand had lain gently upon Ralph Newton's arm,—the elder sister looked painfully and anxiously into the younger's face, in order that, if it were possible, she might learn without direct enquiry what had been said during that hour of close communion. Had Ralph meant to speak there could have been no time more appropriate. And Patience hardly knew what she herself wished,—except that she wished that her sister might have everything that was good and joyous and prosperous. There was never a look of pain came across Clary's face, but Patience suffered some touch of inner agony. This feeling was so strong that she sympathised even with Clary's follies, and with Clary's faults. She almost knew that it would not be well that Ralph Newton should be encouraged as a lover,—brilliant as were his future prospects, and dear, as he was personally to them all. He was a spendthrift, and it might be that his fine prospects would all be wasted before they were matured. And then their father would so probably disapprove! And then, again, it was so wrong that Clary's peace should have been disturbed and yet no word said to their father. There was much that was wrong;—but still so absolute was her clinging love for Clary that she longed above all things that Clary should be made happy. When Ralph's brother had declared himself as a suitor,—which he had done boldly to Sir Thomas, after but a short intimacy with the family,—Patience had given him all her sympathy. Sir Thomas, having looked at his circumstances, had made him welcome to the house, and to his daughter's hand,—if he could win her heart. The stage had been open to him, and Patience had been his most eager friend. But all that had passed away,—and Clary had been obstinate. "Patty," she had said, with some little arrogance, "he has made a mistake. He should have fallen in love with you." "Clergymen are as fond of pretty girls as other men," Patty had said, with a smile. "And isn't my Patty as pretty and as delicate as a primrose?" Clary had said, embracing her sister. Pretty Patience Underwood was not;—but for delicacy,—that with which Patience Underwood was gifted transcended poor Clarissa's powers of comparison. So it was between them, and now there was this acknowledged passion for the spendthrift!
Patience could see that her sister was not unhappy when she came in from her walk,—was not moody,—was not heart-broken. And yet it had seemed to her, before the walk began, while they were sauntering about Mrs. Brownlow's garden, that Ralph had devoted himself entirely to the new cousin, and that Clarissa had been miserable. Surely if he had spoken during the walk,—if he had renewed his protestations of love, if he were now regarded by Clary as her accepted lover, Clary would not keep all this as a secret! It could not be that Clary should have surrendered herself to a lover, and that their father was to be allowed to remain in ignorance that it was so! And yet how could it be otherwise if Clary was happy now,—Clary who had acknowledged that she loved this man, and had now been leaning on his arm for an hour beneath the moonlight? But Patience said not a word. She could not bring herself to speak when speech might pain her sister.
When they had been some half hour in bed, there stole a whisper across the darkness of the chamber from one couch to the other; "Patty, are you asleep?" Patience declared that she was wide awake. "Then I'll come to you,"—and Clary's naked feet pattered across the room. "I've just something to say, and I'll say it better here." Patience made glad way for the intruder, and knew that now she would hear it all. "Patty, it is better to wait."
"What do you mean, dear?"
"I mean this. I think he does like me; I'm almost sure he does."
"He said nothing to-night?"
"He said a great deal,—of course; but nothing about that;—nothing about that exactly."
"Oh, Clary, I'm afraid of him."
"What is the good of fear? The evil is, dear, I think he likes me, but it may so well be that he cannot speak out. He is in debt, and all that;—and he must wait."
"But that is so terrible. What will you do?"
"I will wait too. I have thought about it, and have determined. What's the good of loving a man if one won't go through something for him? I do love him,—with all my heart. I pray God I may never have a husband, if I cannot be his wife." Patience shuddered in her sister's embrace, as these bold words were spoken with energy. "I tell you, Patty, just as I tell myself, because you love me so dearly."
"I do love you;—oh, I do love you."
"I do not think it can be unmaidenly to tell the truth to you and to myself. How can I help telling it to myself? There it is. I feel that I could kiss the very ground on which he stands. He is my hero, my Paladin, my heart, my soul. I have given myself to him for everything. How can I help myself?"
"But, Clary,—you should repress this, not encourage it."
"It won't be repressed,—not in my own heart. But I will never, never, never let him know that it has been so,—till he is all my own. There may be a day when,—oh,—I shall tell him everything; how wretched I was when he did not speak to me;—how broken-hearted when I heard his voice with Mary; how fluttered, and half-happy, and half-wretched when I found that I was to have that long walk with him;—and then how I determined to wait. I will tell him all,—perhaps,—some day. Good-night, dear, dear Patty. I could not sleep without letting you know everything." Then she sprang out from her sister's arms, and pattered back across the room to her own bed. In two minutes Clarissa was asleep, but Patience lay long awake, and before she slept her pillow was damp with her tears.
In the course of the following week Ralph was again at the villa. Sir Thomas, as a matter of course, was away, but the three girls were at home; and, as it happened, Miss Spooner had also come over to take her tea with her friends. The hour that he spent there was passed half indoors and half out, and certainly Ralph's attentions were chiefly paid to Miss Bonner. Miss Bonner herself, however, was so discreet in her demeanour, that no one could have suggested that any approach had been made to flirtation. To tell the truth, Mary, who had received no confidence from her cousin,—and who was a girl slow to excite or give a confidence,—had seen some sign, or heard some word which had created on her mind a suspicion of the truth. It was not that she thought that Clary's heart was irrecoverably given to the young man, but that there seemed to be just something with which it might be as well that she herself should not interfere. She was there on sufferance,—dependent on her uncle's charity for her daily bread, let her uncle say what he might to the contrary. As yet she hardly knew her cousins, and was quite sure that she was not known by them. She heard that Ralph Newton was a man of fashion, and the heir to a large fortune. She knew herself to be utterly destitute,—but she knew herself to be possessed of great beauty. In her bosom, doubtless, there was an ambition to win by her beauty, from some man whom she could love, those good things of which she was so destitute. She did not lack ambition, and had her high hopes, grounded on the knowledge of her own charms. Her beauty, and a certain sufficiency of intellect,—of the extent of which she was in a remarkable degree herself aware,—were the gifts with which she had been endowed. But she knew when she might use them honestly and when she ought to refrain from using them. Ralph had looked at her as men do look who wish to be allowed to love. All this to her was much more clearly intelligible than to Clarissa, who was two years her senior. Though she had seen Ralph but thrice, she already felt that she might have him on his knees before her, if she cared so to place him. But there was that suspicion of something which had gone before, and a feeling that honour and gratitude,—perhaps, also, self-interest,—called upon her to be cold in her manner to Ralph Newton. She had purposely avoided his companionship in their walk home from Mrs. Brownlow's house; and now, as they wandered about the lawn and shrubberies of Popham Villa, she took care not to be with him out of earshot of the others. In all of which there was ten times more of womanly cleverness,—or cunning, shall we say,—than had yet come to the possession of Clarissa Underwood.
Cunning she was;—but she did not deserve that the objectionable epithet should be applied to her. The circumstances of her life had made her cunning. She had been the mistress of her father's house since her fifteenth year, and for two years of her life had had a succession of admirers at her feet. Her father had eaten and drunk and laughed, and had joked with his child's lovers about his child. It had been through no merit of his that she had held her own among them all without soiling either her name or her inner self. Captains in West Indian regiments, and lieutenants from Queen's ships lying at Spanish Point, had been her admirers. Proposals to marry are as ready on the tongues of such men, out in the tropics, as offers to hand a shawl or carry a parasol. They are soft-hearted, bold to face the world, and very confident in circumstances. Then, too, they are ignorant of any other way to progress with a flirtation which is all-engrossing. In warm latitudes it is so natural to make an offer after the fifth dance. It is the way of the people in those latitudes, and seems to lead to no harm. Men and women do marry on small incomes; but they do not starve, and the world goes on wagging. Mary Bonner, however, whose father's rank had, at least, been higher than that of her adorers, and who knew that great gifts had been given to her, had held herself aloof from all this, and had early resolved to bide her time. She was still biding her time,—with patience sufficient to enable her to resist the glances of Ralph Newton.
Clarissa Underwood behaved very well on this evening. She gave a merry glance at her sister, and devoted herself to Miss Spooner. Mary was so wise and so prudent that there was no cause for any great agony. As far as Clary could see, Ralph had quite as much to say to Patience as to Mary. For herself she had resolved that she would wait. Her manner to him was very pretty,—almost the manner of a sister to a brother. And then she stayed resolutely with Miss Spooner, while Ralph was certainly tempting Mary down by the river-side. It did not last long. He was soon gone, and Miss Spooner had soon followed him.
"He is very amusing," Mary said, as soon as they were alone.
"Very amusing," said Patience.
"And uncommonly good-looking. Isn't he considered a very handsome man here?"
"Yes;—I suppose he is," said Patience. "I don't know that I ever thought much about that."
"Of course he is," said Clarissa. "Nobody can doubt about it. There are some people as to whom it is as absurd not to admit that they are handsome as it would be to say that a fine picture is not beautiful. Ralph is one such person,—and of course I know another."
Mary would not seem to take the allusion, even by a smile. "I always thought Gregory much nicer looking," said Patience.
"That must be because you are in love with him," said Clarissa.
"There is a speaking brightness, an eloquence, in his eyes; and a softness of feeling in the expression of his face, which is above all beauty," continued Patience, with energy.
"Here's poetry," said Clarissa. "Eloquence, and softness, and eyes, and feeling, and expressive and speaking brightness! You'd better say at once that he's a god."
"I wish I knew him," said Mary Bonner.
"You'll know him before long, I don't doubt. And when you do, you'll know one of the best fellows in the world. I'll admit as much as that; but I will not admit that he can be compared to his brother in regard to good looks." In all which poor Clarissa, who had nothing to console her but her resolve to wait with courage, bore herself well and gallantly.
Soon after this there arrived at Popham Villa the note from Gregory Newton. As it happened, Sir Thomas was at home on that morning, and heard the tidings. "If young Mr. Newton does come, get him to dine, and I will take care to be at home," said Sir Thomas. Patience suggested that Ralph,—their own Ralph,—should be asked to meet him; but to this Sir Thomas would not accede. "It is not our business to make up a family quarrel," he said. "I have had old Mr. Newton with me once or twice lately, and I find that the quarrel still exists as strong as ever. I asked him to dine here, but he refused. His son chooses to come. I shall be glad to see him."
Gregory's letter had not been shown to Sir Thomas, but it was, of course, shown to Clarissa. "How could I help it?" said she. From which it may be presumed that Patience had looked as though Gregory had been hardly treated. "One doesn't know how it is, or why it comes, or what it is;—or why it doesn't come. I couldn't have taken Gregory Newton for my husband."
"And yet he had all things to recommend him."
"I wish he had asked you, Patty!"
"Don't say that, dear, because there is in it something that annoys me. I don't think of myself in such matters, but I do hope to see you the happy wife of some happy man."
"I hope you will, with all my heart," said Clary, standing up,—"of one man, of one special, dearest, best, and brightest of all men. Oh dear! And yet I know it will never be, and I wonder at myself that I have been bold enough to tell you." And Patience, also, wondered at her sister's boldness.
Ralph Newton,—Ralph from the Priory,—did come down to the villa, and did accept the invitation to dinner which was given to him. The event was so important that Patience found it necessary to go up to London to tell her father. Mary went with her, desirous to see something of the mysteries of Southampton Buildings, while Clarissa remained at home,—waiting. After the usual skirmishes with Stemm, who began by swearing that his master was not at home, they made their way into Sir Thomas's library. "Dear, dear, dear; this is a very awkward place to bring your cousin to," he said, frowning. Mary would have retreated at once had it not been that Patience held her ground so boldly. "Why shouldn't she come, papa? And I had to see you. Mr. Newton is to dine with us to-morrow." To-morrow was a Saturday, and Sir Thomas became seriously displeased. Why had a Saturday been chosen? Saturday was the most awkward day in the world for the giving and receiving of dinners. It was in vain that Patience explained to him that Saturday was the only day on which Mr. Newton could come, that Sir Thomas had given his express authority for the dinner, and that no bar had been raised against Saturday. "You ought to have known," said Sir Thomas. Nevertheless, he allowed them to leave the chamber with the understanding that he would preside at his own table on the following day. "Why is it that Saturday is so distasteful to him?" Mary asked as they walked across Lincoln's Inn Fields together.
Patience was silent for awhile, not knowing how to answer the question, or how to leave it unanswered. But at last she preferred to make some reply. "He does not like going to our church, I think."
"But you like it."
"Yes;—and I wish papa did. But he doesn't." Then there was a pause. "Of course it must strike you as very odd, the way in which we live."
"I hope it is not I who drive my uncle away."
"Not in the least, Mary. Since mamma's death he has fallen into this habit, and he has got so to love solitude, that he is never happy but when alone. We ought to be grateful to him because it shows that he trusts us;—but it would be much nicer if he would come home."
"He is so different from my father."
"He was always with you."
"Well;—yes; that is, I could be always with him,—almost always. He was so fond of society that he would never be alone. We had a great rambling house, always full of people. If he could see people pleasant and laughing, that was all that he wanted. It is hard to say what is best."
"Papa is as good to us as ever he can be."
"So was my papa good to me,—in his way; but, oh dear, the people that used to come there! Poor papa! He used to say that hospitality was his chief duty. I sometimes used to think that the world would be much pleasanter and better if there was no such thing as hospitality;—if people always eat and drank alone, and lived as uncle does, in his chambers. There would not be so much money wasted, at any rate."
"Papa never wastes any money," said Patience,—"though there never was a more generous man."
Ralph Newton,—Ralph of the Priory,—came to dinner, and Miss Spooner was asked to meet him. It might have been supposed that a party so composed would not have been very bright, but the party at the villa went off very satisfactorily. Ralph made himself popular with everybody. He became very popular with Sir Thomas by the frank and easy way in which he spoke of the family difficulties at Newton. "I wish my namesake knew my father," he said, when he was alone with the lawyer after dinner. He never spoke of either of these Newtons as his cousins, though to Gregory, whom he knew well and loved dearly, he would declare that from him he felt entitled to exact all the dues of cousinship.
"It would be desirable," said Sir Thomas.
"I never give it up. You know my father, I dare say. He thought his brother interfered with him, and I suppose he did. But a more affectionate or generous man never lived. He is quite as fond of Gregory as he is of me, and would do anything on earth that Gregory told him. He is rebuilding the chancel of the church just because Gregory wishes it. Some day I hope they may be reconciled."
"It is hard to get over money difficulties," said Sir Thomas.
"I don't see why there should be money difficulties," said Ralph. "As far as I am concerned there need be none."
"Ralph Newton has made money difficulties," said Sir Thomas. "If he had been careful with his own fortune there would have been no question as to the property between him and your father."
"I can understand that;—and I can understand also my father's anxiety, though I do not share it. It would be better that my namesake should have the estate. I can see into these matters quite well enough to know that were it to be mine there would occur exactly that which my father wishes to avoid. I should be the owner of Newton Priory, and people would call me Mr. Newton. But I shouldn't be Newton of Newton. It had better go to Ralph. I should live elsewhere, and people would not notice me then."
Sir Thomas, as he looked up at the young man, leaning back in his arm-chair and holding his glass half full of wine in his hand, could not but tell himself that the greater was the pity. This off-shoot of the Newton stock, who declared of himself that he never could be Newton of Newton, was a fine, manly fellow to look at,—not handsome as was Ralph the heir, not marked by that singular mixture of gentleness, intelligence, and sweetness which was written, not only on the countenance, but in the demeanour and very step of Gregory; but he was a bigger man than either of them, with a broad chest, and a square brow, and was not without that bright gleam of the Newton blue eye, which characterised all the family. And there was so much of the man in him;—whereas, in manhood, Ralph the heir had certainly been deficient. "Ralph must lie on the bed that he has made," said Sir Thomas. "And you, of course, will accept the good things that come in your way. As far as I can see at present it will be best for Ralph that your father should redeem from him a portion, at least, of the property. The girls are waiting for us to go out, and perhaps you will like a cigar on the lawn."
It was clear to every one there to see that this other Newton greatly admired the West Indian cousin. And Mary, with this newcomer, seemed to talk on easier terms than she had ever done before since she had been at Fulham. She smiled, and listened, and was gracious, and made those pleasant little half-affected sallies which girls do make to men when they know that they are admired, and are satisfied that it should be so. All the story had been told to her, and it might be that the poor orphan felt that she was better fitted to associate with the almost nameless one than with the true heir of the family. Mr. Newton, when he got up to leave them, asked permission to come again, and left them all with a pleasant air of intimacy. Two boats had passed them, racing on the river, almost close to the edge of their lawn, and Newton had offered to bet with Mary as to which would first reach the bridge. "I wish you had taken my wager, Miss Bonner," he said, "because then I should have been bound to come back at once to pay you." "That's all very well, Mr. Newton," said Mary, "but I have heard of gentlemen who are never seen again when they lose." "Mr. Newton is unlike that, I'm sure," said Clary; "but I hope he'll come again at any rate." Newton promised that he would, and was fully determined to keep his promise when he made it.
"Wouldn't it be delightful if they were to fall in love with each other and make a match of it?" said Clary to her sister.
"I don't like to plot and plan such things," said Patience.
"I don't like to scheme, but I don't see any harm in planning. He is ever so nice,—isn't he?"
"I thought him very pleasant."
"Such an open-spoken, manly, free sort of fellow. And he'll be very well off, you know."
"I don't know;—but I dare say he will," said Patience.
"Oh yes, you do. Poor Ralph, our Ralph, is a spendthrift, and I shouldn't wonder if this one were to have the property after all. And then his father is very rich. I know that because Gregory told me. Dear me! wouldn't it be odd if we were all three to become Mrs. Newtons?"
"Clary, what did I tell you?"
"Well; I won't. But it would be odd,—and so nice, at least I think so. Well;—I dare say I ought not to say it. But then I can't help thinking it,—and surely I may tell you what I think."
"I would think it as little as I could, dear."
"Ah, that's very well. A girl can be a hypocrite if she pleases, and perhaps she ought. Of course I shall be a hypocrite to all the world except you. I tell you what it is, Patty;—you make me tell you everything, and say that of course you and I are to tell everything,—and then you scold me. Don't you want me to tell you everything?"
"Indeed I do;—and I won't scold you. Dear Clary, do I scold you? Wouldn't I give one of my eyes to make you happy?"
"That's quite a different thing," said Clarissa.
Three days afterwards Mr. Ralph Newton;—it is hoped that the reader may understand the attempts which are made to designate the two young men;—Mr. Ralph Newton appeared again at Popham Villa. He came in almost with the gait of an old friend, and brought some fern leaves, which he had already procured from Hampshire, in compliance with a promise which he had made to Patience Underwood. "That's what we call the hart's tongue," said he, "though I fancy they give them all different names in different places."
"It's the same plant as ours, Mr. Newton,—only yours is larger."
"It's the ugliest of all the ferns," said Clary.
"Even that's a compliment," said Newton. "It's no use transplanting them in this weather, but I'll send you a basket in October. You should come down to Newton and see our ferns. We think we're very pretty, but because we're so near, nobody comes to see us." Then he fell a-talking with Mary Bonner, and stayed at the villa nearly all the afternoon. For a moment or two he was alone with Clarissa, and at once expressed his admiration. "I don't think I ever saw such perfect beauty as your cousin's," he said.
"She is handsome."
"And then she is so fair, whereas everybody expects to see dark eyes and black hair come from the West Indies."
"But Mary wasn't born there."
"That doesn't matter. The mind doesn't travel back as far as that. A negro should be black, and an American thin, and a French woman should have her hair dragged up by the roots, and a German should be broad-faced, and a Scotchman red-haired,—and a West Indian beauty should be dark and languishing."
"I'll tell her you say so, and perhaps she'll have herself altered."
"Whatever you do, don't let her be altered," said Mr. Newton. "She can't be changed for the better."
"I am quite sure he is over head and ears in love," said Clarissa to Patience that evening.
THE CHESHIRE CHEESE.
"Labour is the salt of the earth, and Capital is the sworn foe to Labour." Hear, hear, hear, with the clattering of many glasses, and the smashing of certain pipes! Then the orator went on. "That Labour should be the salt of the earth has been the purpose of a beneficent Creator;—that Capital should be the foe to Labour has been man's handywork. The one is an eternal decree, which nothing can change,—which neither the good nor the evil done by man can affect. The other is an evil ordinance, the fruit of man's ignorance and within the scope of man's intellect to annul." Mr. Ontario Moggs was the orator, and he was at this moment addressing a crowd of sympathising friends in the large front parlour of the Cheshire Cheese. Of all those who were listening to Ontario Moggs there was not probably one who had reached a higher grade in commerce than that of an artizan working for weekly wages;—but Mr. Moggs was especially endeared to them because he was not an artizan working for weekly wages, but himself a capitalist. His father was a master bootmaker on a great scale;—for none stood much higher in the West-end trade than Booby and Moggs; and it was known that Ontario was the only child and heir, and as it were sole owner of the shoulders on which must some day devolve the mantle of Booby and Moggs. Booby had long been gathered to his fathers, and old Moggs was the stern opponent of strikes. What he had lost by absolutely refusing to yield a point during the last strike among the shoemakers of London no one could tell. He had professed aloud that he would sooner be ruined, sooner give up his country residence at Shepherd's Bush, sooner pull down the honoured names of Booby and Moggs from over the shop-window in Old Bond Street, than allow himself to be driven half an inch out of his course by men who were attempting to dictate to him what he should do with his own. In these days of strikes Moggs would look even upon his own workmen with the eyes of a Coriolanus glaring upon the disaffected populace of Rome. Mr. Moggs senior would stand at his shop-door, with his hand within his waistcoat, watching the men out on strike who were picketing the streets round his shop, and would feel himself every inch a patrician, ready to die for his order. Such was Moggs senior. And Moggs junior, who was a child of Capital, but whose heirship depended entirely on his father's will, harangued his father's workmen and other workmen at the Cheshire Cheese, telling them that Labour was the salt of the earth, and that Capital was the foe to Labour! Of course they loved him. The demagogue who is of all demagogues the most popular, is the demagogue who is a demagogue in opposition to his apparent nature. The radical Earl, the free-thinking parson, the squire who won't preserve, the tenant who defies his landlord, the capitalist with a theory for dividing profits, the Moggs who loves a strike,—these are the men whom the working men delight to follow. Ontario Moggs, who was at any rate honest in his philanthropy, and who did in truth believe that it was better that twenty real bootmakers should eat beef daily than that one so-called bootmaker should live in a country residence,—who believed this and acted on his belief, though he was himself not of the twenty, but rather the one so-called bootmaker who would suffer by the propagation of such a creed,—was beloved and almost worshipped by the denizens of the Cheshire Cheese. How far the real philanthropy of the man may have been marred by an uneasy and fatuous ambition; how far he was carried away by a feeling that it was better to make speeches at the Cheshire Cheese than to apply for payment of money due to his father, it would be very hard for us to decide. That there was an alloy even in Ontario Moggs is probable;—but of this alloy his hearers knew nothing. To them he was a perfect specimen of that combination, which is so grateful to them, of the rich man's position with the poor man's sympathies. Therefore they clattered their glasses, and broke their pipes, and swore that the words he uttered were the kind of stuff they wanted.
"The battle has been fought since man first crawled upon the earth," continued Moggs, stretching himself to his full height and pointing to the farthest confines of the inhabited globe;—"since man first crawled upon the earth." There was a sound in that word "crawl" typical of the abject humility to which working shoemakers were subjected by their employers, which specially aroused the feelings of the meeting. "And whence comes the battle?" The orator paused, and the glasses were jammed upon the table. "Yes,—whence comes the battle, in fighting which hecatombs of honest labourers have been crushed till the sides of the mountains are white with their bones, and the rivers run foul with their blood? From the desire of one man to eat the bread of two?" "That's it," said a lean, wizened, pale-faced little man in a corner, whose trembling hand was resting on a beaker of gin and water. "Yes, and to wear two men's coats and trousers, and to take two men's bedses and the wery witals out of two men's bodies. D—— them!" Ontario, who understood something of his trade as an orator, stood with his hand still stretched out, waiting till this ebullition should be over. "No, my friend," said he, "we will not damn them. I for one will damn no man. I will simply rebel. Of all the sacraments given to us, the sacrament of rebellion is the most holy." Hereupon the landlord of the Cheshire Cheese must have feared for his tables, so great was the applause and so tremendous the thumping;—but he knew his business, no doubt, and omitted to interfere. "Of Rebellion, my friends," continued Ontario, with his right hand now gracefully laid across his breast, "there are two kinds,—or perhaps we may say three. There is the rebellion of arms, which can avail us nothing here." "Perhaps it might tho'," said the little wizened man in a corner, whose gin and water apparently did not comfort him. To this interruption Ontario paid no attention. "And there is the dignified and slow rebellion of moral resistance;—too slow I fear for us." This point was lost upon the audience, and though the speaker paused, no loud cheer was given. "It's as true as true," said one man; but he was a vain fellow, simply desirous of appearing wiser than his comrades. "And then there is the rebellion of the Strike;" now the clamour of men's voices, and the kicking of men's feet, and the thumping with men's fists became more frantic than ever;"—the legitimate rebellion of Labour against its tyrant. Gentlemen, of all efforts this is the most noble. It is a sacrifice of self, a martyrdom, a giving up on the part of him who strikes of himself, his little ones, and his wife, for the sake of others who can only thus be rescued from the grasp of tyranny. Gentlemen, were it not for strikes, this would be a country in which no free man could live. By the aid of strikes we will make it the Paradise of the labourer, an Elysium of industry, an Eden of artizans." There was much more of it,—but the reader might be fatigued were the full flood of Mr. Moggs's oratory to be let loose upon him. And through it all there was a germ of truth and a strong dash of true, noble feeling;—but the speaker had omitted as yet to learn how much thought must be given to a germ of truth before it can be made to produce fruit for the multitude. And then, in speaking, grand words come so easily, while thoughts,—even little thoughts,—flow so slowly!
But the speech, such as it was, sufficed amply for the immediate wants of the denizens of the Cheshire Cheese. There were men there who for the half-hour believed that Ontario Moggs had been born to settle all the difficulties between labourers and their employers, and that he would do so in such a way that the labourers, at least, should have all that they wanted. It would be, perhaps, too much to say that any man thought this would come in his own day,—that he so believed as to put a personal trust in his own belief; but they did think for a while that the good time was coming, and that Ontario Moggs would make it come. "We'll have 'im in parl'ament any ways," said a sturdy, short, dirty-looking artizan, who shook his head as he spoke to show that, on that matter, his mind was quite made up. "I dunno no good as is to cum of sending sich as him to parl'ament," said another. "Parl'ament ain't the place. When it comes to the p'int they won't 'ave 'em. There was Odgers, and Mr. Beale. I don't b'lieve in parl'ament no more." "Kennington Oval's about the place," said a third. "Or Primrose 'ill," said a fourth. "Hyde Park!" screamed the little wizen man with the gin and water. "That's the ticket;—and down with them gold railings. We'll let' em see!" Nevertheless they all went away home in the quietest way in the world, and,—as there was no strike in hand,—got to their work punctually on the next morning. Of all those who had been loudest at the Cheshire Cheese there was not one who was not faithful, and, in a certain way, loyal to his employer.
As soon as his speech was over and he was able to extricate himself from the crowd, Ontario Moggs escaped from the public-house and strutted off through certain narrow, dark streets in the neighbourhood, leaning on the arm of a faithful friend. "Mr. Moggs, you did pitch it rayther strong, to-night," said the faithful friend.
"Pitch it rather strong;—yes. What good do you think can ever come from pitching any thing weak? Pitch it as strong as you will, find it don't amount to much."
"But about rebellion, now, Mr. Moggs? Rebellion ain't a good thing, surely, Mr. Moggs."
"Isn't it? What was Washington, what was Cromwell, what was Rienzi, what was,—was,—; but never mind," said Ontario, who could not at the moment think of the name of his favourite Pole.
"And you think as the men should be rebels again' the masters?"
"That depends on who the masters are, Waddle."
"What good 'd cum of it if I rebelled again' Mr. Neefit, and told him up to his face as I wouldn't make up the books? He'd only sack me. I find thirty-five bob a week, with two kids and their mother to keep on it, tight enough, Mr. Moggs. If I 'ad the fixing on it, I should say forty bob wasn't over the mark;—I should indeed. But I don't see as I should get it."
"Yes you would;—if you earned it, and stuck to your purpose. But you're a single stick, and it requires a faggot to do this work."
"I never could see it, Mr. Moggs. All the same I do like to hear you talk. It stirs one up, even though one don't just go along with it. You won't let on, you know, to Mr. Neefit as I was there."
"And why not?" said Ontario, turning sharp upon his companion.
"The old gen'leman hates the very name of a strike. He's a'most as bad as your own father, Mr. Moggs."
"You have done his work to-day. You have earned your bread. You owe him nothing."
"That I don't, Mr. Moggs. He'll take care of that."
"And yet you are to stay away from this place, or go to that, to suit his pleasure. Are you Neefit's slave?"
"I'm just the young man in his shop,—that's all."
"As long as that is all, Waddle, you are not worthy to be called a man."
"Mr. Moggs, you're too hard. As for being a man, I am a man. I've a wife and two kids. I don't think more of my governor than another;—but if he sacked me, where 'd I get thirty-five bob a-week?"
"I beg your pardon, Waddle;—it's true. I should not have said it. Perhaps you do not quite understand me, but your position is one of a single stick, rather than of the faggot. Ah me! She hasn't been at the shop lately?"
"She do come sometimes. She was there the day before yesterday."
"She come alone, and she went home with the governor."
"Mr. Newton, you mean?"
"Has he been there?"
"Well;—yes; he was there once last week."
"There was words;—that's what there was. It ain't going smooth, and he ain't been out there no more,—not as I knows on. I did say a word once or twice as to the precious long figure as he stands for on our books. Over two hundred for breeches is something quite stupendous. Isn't it, Mr. Moggs?"
"And what did Neefit say?"
"Just snarled at me. He can show his teeth, you know, and look as bitter as you like. It ain't off, because when I just named the very heavy figure in such a business as ours,—he only snarled. But it ain't on, Mr. Moggs. It ain't what I call,—on." After this they walked on in silence for a short way, when Mr. Waddle made a little proposition. "He's on your books, too, Mr. Moggs, pretty tight, as I'm told. Why ain't you down on him?"
"Down on him?" said Moggs.
"I wouldn't leave him an hour, if I was you."
"D'you think that's the way I would be down on,—a rival?" and Moggs, as he walked along, worked both his fists closely in his energy. "If I can't be down on him other gait than that, I'll leave him alone. But, Waddle, by my sacred honour as a man, I'll not leave him alone!" Waddle started, and stood with his mouth open, looking up at his friend. "Base, mercenary, false-hearted loon! What is it that he wants?"
"Old Neefit's money. That's it, you know."
"He doesn't know what love means, and he'd take that fair creature, and drag her through the dirt, and subject her to the scorn of hardened aristocrats, and crush her spirits, and break her heart,—just because her father has scraped together a mass of gold. But I,—I wouldn't let the wind blow on her too harshly. I despise her father's money. I love her. Yes;—I'll be down upon him somehow. Good-night, Waddle. To come between me and the pride of my heart for a little dirt! Yes; I'll be down upon him." Waddle stood and admired. He had read of such things in books, but here it was brought home to him in absolute life. He had a young wife whom he loved, but there had been no poetry about his marriage. One didn't often come across real poetry in the world,—Waddle felt;—but when one did, the treat was great. Now Ontario Moggs was full of poetry. When he preached rebellion it was very grand,—though at such moments Waddle was apt to tell himself that he was precluded by his two kids from taking an active share in such poetry as that. But when Moggs was roused to speak of his love, poetry couldn't go beyond that. "He'll drop into that customer of ours," said Waddle to himself, "and he'll mean it when he's a doing of it. But Polly 'll never 'ave 'im." And then there came across Waddle's mind an idea which he could not express,—that of course no girl would put up with a bootmaker who could have a real gentleman. Real gentlemen think a good deal of themselves, but not half so much as is thought of them by men who know that they themselves are of a different order.
Ontario Moggs, as he went homewards by himself, was disturbed by various thoughts. If it really was to be the case that Polly Neefit wouldn't have him, why should he stay in a country so ill-adapted to his manner of thinking as this? Why remain in a paltry island while all the starry west, with its brilliant promises, was open to him? Here he could only quarrel with his father, and become a rebel, and perhaps live to find himself in a jail. And then what could he do of good? He preached and preached, but nothing came of it. Would not the land of the starry west suit better such a heart and such a mind as his? But he wouldn't stir while his fate was as yet unfixed in reference to Polly Neefit. Strikes were dear to him, and oratory, and the noisy applauses of the Cheshire Cheese; but nothing was so dear to him as Polly Neefit. He went about the world with a great burden lying on his chest, and that burden was his love for Polly Neefit. In regard to strikes and the ballot he did in a certain way reason within himself and teach himself to believe that he had thought out those matters; but as to Polly he thought not at all. He simply loved her, and felt himself to be a wild, frantic man, quarrelling with his father, hurrying towards jails and penal settlements, rushing about the streets half disposed to suicide, because Polly Neefit would have none of him. He had been jealous, too, of the gasfitter, when he had seen his Polly whirling round the room in the gasfitter's arms;—but the gasfitter was no gentleman, and the battle had been even. In spite of the whirling he still had a chance against the gasfitter. But the introduction of the purple and fine linen element into his affairs was maddening to him. With all his scorn for gentry, Ontario Moggs in his heart feared a gentleman. He thought that he could make an effort to punch Ralph Newton's head if they two were ever to be brought together in a spot convenient for such an operation; but of the man's standing in the world, he was afraid. It seemed to him to be impossible that Polly should prefer him, or any one of his class, to a suitor whose hands were always clean, whose shirt was always white, whose words were soft and well-chosen, who carried with him none of the stain of work. Moggs was as true as steel in his genuine love of Labour,—of Labour with a great L,—of the People with a great P,—of Trade with a great T,—of Commerce with a great C; but of himself individually,—of himself, who was a man of the people, and a tradesman, he thought very little when he compared himself to a gentleman. He could not speak as they spoke; he could not walk as they walked; he could not eat as they ate. There was a divinity about a gentleman which he envied and hated.
Now Polly Neefit was not subject to this idolatry. Could Moggs have read her mind, he might have known that success, as from the bootmaker against the gentleman, was by no means so hopeless an affair. What Polly liked was a nice young man, who would hold up his head and be true to her,—and who would not make a fool of himself. If he could waltz into the bargain, that also would Polly like.
On that night Ontario walked all the way out to Alexandria Cottage, and spent an hour leaning upon the gate, looking up at the window of the breeches-maker's bedroom;—for the chamber of Polly herself opened backwards. When he had stood there an hour, he walked home to Bond Street.
RALPH NEWTON'S DOUBTS.
That month of August was a very sad time indeed for Ralph the heir. With him all months were, we may say, idle months; but, as a rule, August was of all the most idle. Sometimes he would affect to shoot grouse, but hunting, not grouse-shooting, was his passion as a sportsman. He would leave London, and spend perhaps a couple of days with Mr. Horsball looking at the nags. Then he would run down to some sea-side place, and flirt and laugh and waste his time upon the sands. Or he would go abroad as far as Dieppe, or perhaps Biarritz, and so would saunter through the end of the summer. It must not be supposed of him that he was not fully conscious that this manner of life was most pernicious. He knew it well, knew that it would take him to the dogs, made faint resolves at improvement which he hardly for an hour hoped to be able to keep,—and was in truth anything but happy. This was his usual life;—and so for the last three or four years had he contrived to get through this month of August. But now the utmost sternness of business had come upon him. He was forced to remain in town, found himself sitting day after day in his lawyer's anteroom, was compelled to seek various interviews with Sir Thomas, in which it was impossible that Sir Thomas should make himself very pleasant; and,—worst of all,—was at last told that he must make up his own mind!
Squire Newton was also up in London; and though London was never much to his taste, he was in these days by no means so wretched as his nephew. He was intent on a certain object, and he began to hope, nay to think, that his object might be achieved. He had not once seen his nephew, having declared his conviction very strongly that it would be better for all parties that they should remain apart. His own lawyer he saw frequently, and Ralph's lawyer once, and Sir Thomas more than once or twice. There was considerable delay, but the Squire would not leave London till something was, if not settled, at any rate arranged, towards a settlement. And it was the expression of his will conveyed through the two lawyers which kept Ralph in London. What was the worth of Ralph's interest in the property? That was one great question. Would Ralph sell that interest when the price was fixed? That was the second question. Ralph, to whom the difficulty of giving an answer was as a labour of Hercules, staved off the evil day for awhile by declaring that he must know what was the price before he could say whether he would sell the article. The exact price could not be fixed. The lawyers combined in saying that the absolute sum of money to include all Ralph's interest in the estate could not be named that side of Christmas. It was not to be thought of that any actuary, or valuer, or lawyer, or conveyancer, should dispose of so great a matter by a month's work. But something approaching to a settlement might be made. A sum might be named as a minimum. And a compact might be made, subject to the arbitration of a sworn appraiser. A sum was named. The matter was carried so far, that Ralph was told that he could sign away all his rights by the middle of September,—sign away the entire property,—and have his pockets filled with ample funds for the Moonbeam, and all other delights. He might pay off Moggs and Neefit, and no longer feel that Polly,—poor dear Polly,—was a millstone round his neck. And he would indeed, in this event, be so well provided, that he did not for a moment doubt that, if he chose so to circumscribe himself, Clarissa Underwood might be his wife. All the savings of the Squire's life would be his,—enough, as the opposing lawyer told him with eager pressing words, to give him an estate of over a thousand a year at once. "And it may be more,—probably will be more," said the lawyer. But at the very least a sum approaching to thirty thousand pounds would be paid over to him at once. And he might do what he pleased with this. There was still a remnant of his own paternal property sufficient to pay his debts.
But why should a man whose encumbrances were so trifling, sacrifice prospects that were so glorious? Could he not part with a portion of the estate,—with the reversion of half of it, so that the house of Newton, Newton Priory, with its grouse and paddocks and adjacent farms, might be left to him? If the whole were saleable, surely so also must be the half. The third of the money offered to him would more than suffice for all his wants. No doubt he might sell the half,—but not to the Squire, nor could he effect such sale immediately as he would do if the Squire bought it, nor on such terms as were offered by the Squire. Money he might raise at once, certainly; but it became by degrees as a thing certain to him, that if once he raised money in that way, the estate would fly from him. His uncle was a hale man, and people told him that his own life was not so much better than his uncle's. His uncle had a great object, and if Ralph chose to sell at all, that fact would be worth thousands to him. But his uncle would not buy the reversion of half or of a portion of the property. The Squire at last spoke his mind freely on this matter to Sir Thomas. "It shall never be cast in my son's teeth," he said, "that his next neighbour is the real man. Early in life I made a mistake, and I have had to pay for it ever since. I am paying for it now, and must pay for it to the end. But my paying for it will be of small service if my boy has to pay for it afterwards." Sir Thomas understood him and did not press the point.
Ralph was nearly driven wild with the need of deciding. Moggs's bill at two months was coming due, and he knew that he could expect no mercy there. To Neefit's establishment in Conduit Street he had gone once, and had had words,—as Waddle had told to his rival. Neefit was still persistent in his wishes,—still urgent that Newton should go forth to Hendon like a man, and "pop" at once. "I'll tell you what, Captain," said he;—he had taken to calling Ralph Captain, as a goodly familiar name, feeling, no doubt, that Mister was cold between father-in-law and son-in-law, and not quite daring to drop all reverential title;—"if you're a little hard up, as I know you are, you can have three or four hundred if you want it." Ralph did want it sorely. "I know how you stand with old Moggs," said Neefit, "and I'll see you all right there." Neefit was very urgent. He too had heard something of these dealings among the lawyers. To have his Polly Mrs. Newton of Newton Priory! The prize was worth fighting for. "Don't let them frighten you about a little ready money, Captain. If it comes to that, other folk has got ready money besides them."
"Your trust in me surprises me," said Ralph. "I already owe you money which I can't pay you."
"I know where to trust, and I know where not to trust. If you'll once say as how you'll pop the question to Polly, fair and honest, on the square, you shall have five hundred;—bless me, if you shan't. If she don't take you after all, why then I must look for my money by-and-bye. If you're on the square with me, Captain, you'll never find me hard to deal with."
"I hope I shall be on the square, at any rate."
"Then you step out to her and pop." Hereupon Ralph made a long and intricate explanation of his affairs, the object of which was to prove to Mr. Neefit that a little more delay was essential. He was so environed by business and difficulties at the present moment that he could take no immediate step such as Mr. Neefit suggested,—no such step quite immediately. In about another fortnight, or in a month at the furthest, he would be able to declare his purpose. "And how about Moggs?" said Neefit, putting his hands into his breeches-pocket, pulling down the corners of his mouth, and fixing his saucer eyes full upon the young man's face. So he stood for some seconds, and then came the words of which Waddle had spoken. Neefit could not disentangle the intricacies of Ralph's somewhat fictitious story; but he had wit enough to know what it meant. "You ain't on the square, Captain. That's what you ain't," he said at last. It must be owned that the accusation was just, and it was made so loudly that Waddle did not at all exaggerate in saying that there had been words. Nevertheless, when Ralph left the shop Neefit relented. "You come to me, Captain, when Moggs's bit of stiff comes round."
A few days after that Ralph went to Sir Thomas, with the object of declaring his decision;—at least Sir Thomas understood that such was to be the purport of the visit. According to his ideas there had been quite enough of delay. The Squire had been liberal in his offer; and though the thing to be sold was in all its bearings so valuable, though it carried with it a value which, in the eyes of Sir Thomas,—and, indeed, in the eyes of all Englishmen,—was far beyond all money price, though the territorial position was, for a legitimate heir, almost a principality; yet, when a man cannot keep a thing, what can he do but part with it? Ralph had made his bed, and he must lie upon it. Sir Thomas had done what he could, but it had all amounted to nothing. There was this young man a beggar,—but for this reversion which he had now the power of selling. As for that mode of extrication by marrying the breeches-maker's daughter,—that to Sir Thomas was infinitely the worst evil of the two. Let Ralph accept his uncle's offer and he would still be an English gentleman, free to live as such, free to marry as such, free to associate with friends fitting to his habits of life. And he would be a gentleman, too, with means sufficing for a gentleman's wants. But that escape by way of the breeches-maker's daughter would, in accordance with Sir Thomas's view of things, destroy everything.
"Well, Ralph," he said, sighing, almost groaning, as his late ward took the now accustomed chair opposite to his own.
"I wish I'd never been born," said Ralph, "and that Gregory stood in my place."
"But you have been born, Ralph. We must take things as we find them." Then there was a long silence. "I think, you know, that you should make up your mind one way or the other. Your uncle of course feels that as he is ready to pay the money at once he is entitled to an immediate answer."
"I don't see that at all," said Ralph. "I am under no obligation to my uncle, and I don't see why I am to be bustled by him. He is doing nothing for my sake."
"He has, at any rate, the power of retracting."
"Let him retract."
"And then you'll be just where you were before,—ready to fall into the hands of the Jews. If you must part with your property you cannot do so on better terms."
"It seems to me that I shall be selling L7,000 a year in land for about L1,200 a year in the funds."
"Just so;—that's about it, I suppose. But can you tell me when the land will be yours,—or whether it will ever be yours at all? What is it that you have got to sell? But, Ralph, it is no good going over all that again."
"I know that, Sir Thomas."
"I had hoped you would have come to some decision. If you can save the property of course you ought to do so. If you can live on what pittance is left to you—"
"I can save it."
"Then do save it."
"I can save it by—marrying."
"By selling yourself to the daughter of a man who makes—breeches! I can give you advice on no other point; but I do advise you not to do that. I look upon an ill-assorted marriage as the very worst kind of ruin. I cannot myself conceive any misery greater than that of having a wife whom I could not ask my friends to meet."
Ralph when he heard this blushed up to the roots of his hair. He remembered that when he had first mentioned to Sir Thomas his suggested marriage with Polly Neefit he had said that as regarded Polly herself he thought that Patience and Clarissa would not object to her. He was now being told by Sir Thomas himself that his daughters would certainly not consent to meet Polly Neefit, should Polly Neefit become Mrs. Newton. He, too, had his ideas of his own standing in the world, and had not been slow to assure himself that the woman whom he might choose for his wife would be a fit companion for any lady,—as long as the woman was neither vicious nor disagreeable. He could make any woman a lady; he could, at any rate, make Polly Neefit a lady. He rose from his seat, and prepared to leave the room in disgust. "I won't trouble you by coming here again," he said.
"You are welcome, Ralph," said Sir Thomas. "If I could assist you, you would be doubly welcome."
"I know I have been a great trouble to you,—a thankless, fruitless, worthless trouble. I shall make up my mind, no doubt, in a day or two, and I will just write you a line. I need not bother you by coming any more. Of course I think a great deal about it."
"No doubt," said Sir Thomas.
"Unluckily I have been brought up to know the value of what it is I have to throw away. It is a kind of thing that a man doesn't do without some regrets."
"They should have come earlier," said Sir Thomas.
"No doubt;—but they didn't, and it is no use saying anything more about it. Good-day, sir." Then he flounced out of the room, impatient of that single word of rebuke which had been administered to him.
Sir Thomas, as soon as he was alone, applied himself at once to the book which he had reluctantly put aside when he was disturbed. But he could not divest his mind of its trouble, as quickly as his chamber had been divested of the presence of its troubler. He had said an ill-natured word, and that grieved him. And then,—was he not taking all this great matter too easily? If he would only put his shoulder to the wheel thoroughly might he not do something to save this friend,—this lad, who had been almost as his own son,—from destruction? Would it not be a burden on his conscience to the last day of his life that he had allowed his ward to be ruined, when by some sacrifice of his own means he might have saved him? He sat and thought of it, but did not really resolve that anything could be done. He was wont to think in the same way of his own children, whom he neglected. His conscience had been pricking him all his life, but it hardly pricked him sharp enough to produce consequences.
During those very moments in which Ralph was leaving Southampton Buildings he had almost made up his mind to go at once to Alexandria Cottage, and to throw himself and the future fate of Newton Priory at the feet of Polly Neefit. Two incidents in his late interview with Sir Thomas tended to drive him that way. Sir Thomas had told him that should he marry the daughter of a man who made—breeches, no lady would associate with his wife. Sir Thomas also had seemed to imply that he must sell his property. He would show Sir Thomas that he could have a will and a way of his own. Polly Neefit should become his wife; and he would show the world that no proudest lady in the land was treated with more delicate consideration by her husband than the breeches-maker's daughter should be treated by him. And when it should please Providence to decide that the present squire of Newton had reigned long enough over that dominion, he would show the world that he had known something of his own position and the value of his own prospects. Then Polly should be queen in the Newton dominions, and he would see whether the ordinary world of worshippers would not come and worship as usual. All the same, he did not on that occasion go out to Alexandria Cottage.
When he reached his club he found a note from his brother.
Newton Peele, September 8th, 186—.
MY DEAR RALPH,—
I have been sorry not to have had an answer from you to the letter which I wrote to you about a month ago. Of course I hear of what is going on. Ralph Newton up at the house tells me everything. The Squire is still in town, as, of course, you know; and there has got to be a report about here that he has, as the people say, bought you out. I still hope that this is not true. The very idea of it is terrible to me;—that you should sell for an old song, as it were, the property that has belonged to us for centuries! It would not, indeed, go out of the name, but, as far as you and I are concerned, that is the same. I will not refuse, myself, to do anything that you may say is necessary to extricate yourself from embarrassment; but I ran hardly bring myself to believe that a step so fatal as this can be necessary.
If I understand the matter rightly your difficulty is not so much in regard to debts as in the want of means of livelihood. If so, can you not bring yourself to live quietly for a term of years. Of course you ought to marry, and there may be a difficulty there; but almost anything would be better than abandoning the property. As I told you before, you are welcome to the use of the whole of my share of the London property. It is very nearly L400 a year. Could you not live on that till things come round?
Our cousin Ralph knows that I am writing to you, and knows what my feelings are. It is not he that is so anxious for the purchase. Pray write and tell me what is to be done.
Most affectionately yours,
I wouldn't lose a day in doing anything you might direct about the Holborn property.
Ralph received this at his club, and afterwards dined alone, considering it. Before the evening was over he thought that he had made up his mind that he would not, under any circumstances, give up his reversionary right. "They couldn't make me do it, even though I went to prison," he said to himself. Let him starve till he died, and then the property would go to Gregory! What did it matter? The thing that did matter was this,—that the estate should not be allowed to depart out of the true line of the Newton family. He sat thinking of it half the night, and before he left the club he wrote the following note to his brother;—
September 9th, 186—.
Be sure of this,—that I will not part with my interest in the property. I do not think that I can be forced, and I will never do it willingly. It may be that I may be driven to take advantage of your liberality and prudence. If so, I can only say that you shall share the property with me when it comes.
This he gave to the porter of the club as he passed out; and then, as he went home, he acknowledged to himself that it was tantamount to a decision on his part that he would forthwith marry Polly Neefit.
WE WON'T SELL BROWNRIGGS.
On the 10th of September the Squire was informed that Ralph Newton demanded another ten days for his decision, and that he had undertaken to communicate it by letter on the 20th. The Squire had growled, thinking that his nephew was unconscionable, and had threatened to withdraw his offer. The lawyer, with a smile, assured him that the matter really was progressing very quickly, that things of that kind could rarely be carried on so expeditiously; and that, in short, Mr. Newton had no fair ground of complaint. "When a man pays through the nose for his whistle, he ought to get it!" said the Squire, plainly showing that his idea as to the price fixed was very different from that entertained by his nephew. But he did not retract his offer. He was too anxious to accomplish the purchase to do that. He would go home, he said, and wait till the 20th. Then he would return to London. And he did go home.
On the first evening he said very little to his son. He felt that his son did not quite sympathise with him, and he was sore that it should be so. He could not be angry with his son. He knew well that this want of sympathy arose from a conviction on this son's part that, let what might be done in regard to the property, nothing could make him, who was illegitimate, capable of holding the position in the country which of right belonged to Newton of Newton. But the presence of this feeling in the mind of the son was an accusation against himself which was very grievous to him. Almost every act of his latter life had been done with the object of removing the cause for such accusation. To make his boy such as he would have been in every respect had not his father sinned in his youth, had been the one object of the father's life. And nobody gainsayed him in this but that son himself. Nobody told him that all his bother about the estate was of no avail. Nobody dared to tell him so. Parson Gregory, in his letters to his brother, could express such an opinion. Sir Thomas, sitting alone in his chamber, could feel it. Ralph, the legitimate heir, with an assumed scorn, could declare to himself that, let what might be sold, he would still be Newton of Newton. The country people might know it, and the farmers might whisper it one to another. But nobody said a word of this to the Squire. His own lawyer never alluded to such a matter, though it was of course in his thoughts. Nevertheless, the son, whom he loved so well, would tell him from day to day,—indirectly, indeed, but with words that were plain enough,—that the thing was not to be done. Men and women called him Newton, because his father had chosen so to call him;—as they would have called him Tomkins or Montmorenci, had he first appeared before them with either of those names; but he was not a Newton, and nothing could make him Newton of Newton Priory,—not even the possession of the whole parish, and an habitation in the Priory itself. "I wish you wouldn't think about it," the son would say to the father;—and the expression of such a wish would contain the whole accusation. What other son would express a desire that the father would abstain from troubling himself to leave his estate entire to his child?
On the morning after his return the necessary communication was made. But it was not commenced in any set form. The two were out together, as was usual with them, and were on the road which divided the two parishes, Bostock from Newton. On the left of them was Walker's farm, called the Brownriggs; and on the right, Darvell's farm, which was in their own peculiar parish of Newton. "I was talking to Darvell while you were away," said Ralph.
"What does he say for himself?"
"Nothing. It's the old story. He wants to stay, though he knows he'd be better away."
"Then let him stay. Only I must have the place made fit to look at. A man should have a chance of pulling through."
"Certainly, sir. I don't want him to go. I was only thinking it would be better for his children that there should be a change. As for making the place fit to look at, he hasn't the means. It's Walker's work, at the other side, that shames him."
"One can't have Walkers on every farm," said the Squire. "No;—if things go, as I think they will go, we'll pull down every stick and stone at Brumby's,"—Brumby's was the name of Darvell's farm,—"and put it up all ship-shape. The house hasn't been touched these twenty years." Ralph said nothing. He knew well that his father would not talk of building unless he intended to buy before he built. Nothing could be more opposed to the Squire's purposes in life than the idea of building a house which, at his death, would become the property of his nephew. And, in this way, the estate was being starved. All this Ralph understood thoroughly; and, understanding it, had frequently expressed a desire that his father and the heir could act in accord together. But now the Squire talked of pulling down and building up as though the property were his own, to do as he liked with it. "And I think I can do it without selling Brownriggs," continued the Squire. "When it came to black and white, the value that he has in it doesn't come to so much as I thought." Still Ralph said nothing,—nothing, at least, as to the work that had been done up in London. He merely made some observation as to Darvell's farm;—suggesting that a clear half year's rent should be given to the man. "I have pretty well arranged it all in my mind," continued the Squire. "We could part with Twining. It don't lie so near as Brownriggs."