During their journey, although Patience was urgent in requiring from her father quiescence, lest he should injure himself by too much exertion, there were many words spoken both as to Clarissa and Mary Bonner. As to poor Clary, Sir Thomas was very decided that if there were any truth in the suspicion which had been now roused in his mind as to Ralph the heir, the thing must be put an end to at once. Ralph who had been the heir was now in possession of that mess of pottage for which he had sold his inheritance,—so said Sir Thomas to his daughter,—and would undoubtedly consume that, as he had consumed the other mess which should have lasted him till the inheritance was his own. And he told to Patience the whole story as to Polly Neefit,—the whole story, at least, as he had heard it. Ralph had declared to Sir Thomas, when discussing the expedience of his proposed marriage with the daughter of the breeches-maker, that he was attached to Polly Neefit. Sir Thomas had done all he could to dissuade the young man from a marriage which, in his eyes, was disgraceful; but he could not bring himself to look with favour on affections transferred so quickly from the breeches-maker's daughter to his own. There must be no question of a love affair between Clary and the foolish heir who had disinherited himself by his folly. All this was doubly painful to Patience. She suffered first for her sister, the violence of whose feelings were so well known to her, and so completely understood; and then on her own account she was obliged to endure the conviction that she was deceiving her father. Although she had allowed something of the truth to escape from her, she had not wilfully told her sister's secret. But looking at the matter from her father's point of view, and hearing all that her father now said, she was brought in guilty of hypocrisy in the court of her own conscience.
In that other matter as to Mary Bonner there was much more of pleasantness. There could be no possible reason why that other man, to whom Fortune was going to be so good, should not marry Mary Bonner, if Mary could bring herself to take him into her good graces. And of course she would. Such at least was Sir Thomas's opinion. How was it possible that a girl like Mary, who had nothing of her own, should fail to like a lover who had everything to recommend him,—good looks, good character, good temper, and good fortune. Patience did make some protest against this, for the sake of her sex. She didn't think, she said, that Mary had ever thought of Mr. Newton in that light. "There must be a beginning to such thoughts, of course," said Sir Thomas. Patience explained that she had nothing to say against Mr. Newton. It would all be very nice and proper, no doubt,—only perhaps Mary might not care for Mr. Newton. "Psha!" said Sir Thomas. Sir Thomas seemed to think that the one girl was as much bound to fall in love as the other was to abstain from so doing. Patience continued her protest,—but very mildly, because her father's arm was in a sling. Then there arose the question whether Mary should be told of the young man's letter. Patience thought that the young man should be allowed to come and speak for himself. Sir Thomas made no objection to the young man's coming. The young man might come when he pleased. But Sir Thomas thought it would be well that Mary should know what the young man had written. And so they reached home.
To be glorified by one worshipping daughter had been pleasant to the wounded hero, but to be glorified by two daughters and a niece was almost wearisome. On the first evening nothing was said about the love troubles or love prospects of the girls. Sir Thomas permitted to himself the enjoyment of his glory, with some few signs of impatience when the admiration became too strong. He told the whole story of his election, lying back among his cushions on the sofa, although Patience, with mild persistence, cautioned him against exertion.
"It is very bad that you should have your arm broken, papa," said Clarissa.
"It is a bore, my dear."
"Of course it is,—a dreadful bore. But as it is doing so well, I am so glad that you went down to Percycross. It is such a great thing that you should be in the House again. It does give so much colour to our lives here."
"I hope they were not colourless before."
"You know what I mean. It is so nice to feel that you are in Parliament."
"It is quite on the cards that I may lose the seat by petition."
"They never can be so cruel," said Mary.
"Cruelty!" said Sir Thomas laughing. "In politics men skin each other without the slightest feeling. I do not doubt that Mr. Westmacott would ruin me with the most perfect satisfaction, if by doing so he could bring the seat within his own reach again; and yet I believe Mr. Westmacott to be a kind-hearted, good sort of man. There is a theory among Englishmen that in politics no man need spare another. To wish that your opponent should fall dead upon the hustings is not an uncharitable wish at an election."
"Oh, papa!" exclaimed Patience.
"At any rate you are elected," said Clary.
"And threatened folk live long, uncle," said Mary Bonner.
"So they say, my dear. Well, Patience, don't look at me with so much reprobation in your eyes, and I will go to bed at once. Being here instead of at the Percy Standard does make one inclined to take a liberty."
"Oh, papa, it is such a delight to have you," said Clary, jumping up and kissing her father's forehead. All this was pleasant enough, and the first evening came to an end very happily.
The next morning Patience, when she was alone with her father, made a request to him with some urgency. "Papa," she said, "do not say anything to Clary about Ralph."
"If there is anything in it, let it die out of itself."
"But is there?"
"How am I to say? Think of it, papa. If I knew it, I could hardly tell,—even you."
"Why not? If I am not to hear the truth from you who is to tell me?"
"Dear papa, don't be angry. There may be a truth which had better not be told. What we both want is that Clary shouldn't suffer. If you question her she will suffer. You may be sure of this,—that she will obey your wishes."
"How can she obey them, unless she knows them?"
"She shall know them," said Patience. But Sir Thomas would give no promise.
On that same day Sir Thomas sent for his niece into his room, and there read to her the letter which he had received from the Squire's son. It was now the last week of October,—that short blessed morsel of time which to the poor Squire at Newton was the happiest of his life. He was now cutting down trees and building farm-houses, and looking after his stud in all the glory of his success. Ralph had written his letter, and had received his answer,—and he also was successful and glorious. That fatal day on which the fox would not break from Barford Woods had not yet arrived. Mary Bonner heard the letter read, and listened to Sir Thomas's speech without a word, without a blush, and without a sign. Sir Thomas began his speech very well, but became rather misty towards the end, when he found himself unable to reduce Mary to a state of feminine confusion. "My dear," he began, "I have received a letter which I think it is my duty to read to you."
"A letter, uncle?"
"Yes, my dear. Sit down while I read it. I may as well tell you at once that it is a letter which has given me very great satisfaction. It is from a young gentleman;"—upon hearing this announcement Mary's face assumed a look of settled, collected strength, which never left it for a moment during the remainder of the interview,—"yes; from a young gentleman, and I may say that I never read a letter which I thought to be more honourable to the writer. It is from Mr. Ralph Newton,—not the Ralph with whom you have found us to be so intimate, but from the other who will some day be Mr. Newton of Newton Priory." Then Sir Thomas looked into his niece's face, hoping to see there something of the flutter of expectant triumph. But there was neither flutter nor triumph in Mary's countenance. He read the letter, sitting up in his bed, with his left arm in a sling, and then he handed it to her. "You had better look at it yourself, my dear." Mary took the letter, and sat as though she were reading it. It seemed to Sir Thomas that she was reading it with the cold accuracy of a cautious attorney;—but in truth her eyes did not follow a single word of the letter. There was neither flutter nor triumph in her face, or in the movement of her limbs, or in the quiet, almost motionless carriage of her body; but, nevertheless, the pulses of her heart beat so strongly, that had all depended on it she could not have read a word of the letter. "Well, my dear," said Sir Thomas, when he thought that ample time had been given for the perusal. Mary simply folded the paper together and returned it into his hands. "I have told him, as I was bound to do, my dear, that as far as I was concerned, I should be happy to receive him; but that for any other answer, I must refer him to you. Of course it will be for you to give him what answer your heart dictates. But I may say this,—and it is my duty to say it as your guardian and nearest relative;—the way in which he has put forward his request shows him to be a most honourable man; all that I have ever heard of him is in his favour; he is a gentleman every inch of him; and as for his prospects in life, they are such that they entitle him to address almost any lady in the land. Of course you will follow the dictates of your own heart, as I said; but I cannot myself fancy any greater good fortune that could come in the way of a young woman than the honest affections of such a man as this Ralph Newton." Then Sir Thomas paused for some reply, but Mary had none ready for him. "Of course I have no questions to ask," he said, and then again paused. But still Mary did not speak. "I dare say he will be here before long, and I hope that he may meet with a happy reception. I at least shall be glad to see him, for I hold him in great honour. And as I look upon marriage as the happiest lot for all women, and as I think that this would be a happy marriage, I do hope,—I do hope— But as I said before, all that must be left to yourself. Mary, have you nothing to say?"
"I trust, uncle, you are not tired of me."
"Tired of you! Certainly not. I have not been with you since you have been here as much as I should have wished because,—indeed for various reasons. But we all like you, and nobody wants to get rid of you. But there is a way in which young ladies leave their own homes, which is generally thought to be matter of congratulation. But, as I said before, nobody shall press you."
"Dear uncle, I am so full of thanks to you for your kindness."
"But it is of course my duty as your guardian to tell you that in my opinion this gentleman is entitled to your esteem."
After that Mary left him without another word, and taking her hat and cloak as she passed through the hall went at once out into the garden. It was a fine autumn morning, almost with a touch of summer in it. We do not know here that special season which across the Atlantic is called the Indian summer,—that last glow of the year's warmth which always brings with it a half melancholy conviction of the year's decay,—which in itself is so delightful, would be so full of delight, were it not for the consciousness which it seems to contain of being the immediate precursor of winter with all its horrors. There is no sufficient constancy with us of the recurrence of such a season, to make any special name needful. But now and again there comes a day, when the winds of the equinox have lulled themselves, and the chill of October rains have left the earth, and the sun gives a genial, luxurious warmth, with no power to scorch, with strength only to comfort. But here, as elsewhere, this luxury is laden with melancholy, because it tells us of decay, and is the harbinger of death. This was such a day, and Mary Bonner, as she hurried into a shrubbery walk, where she could wander unseen, felt both the sadness and the softness of the season. There was a path which ran from the front gate of the villa grounds through shrubs and tall evergreens down to the river, and was continued along the river-bank up through the flower-garden to windows opening from the drawing-room. Here she walked alone for more than an hour, turning as she came to the river in order that she might not be seen from the house.
Mary Bonner, of whose character hitherto but little has been said, was, at any rate, an acute observer. Very soon after her first introduction to Ralph the heir,—Ralph who had for so many years been the intimate friend of the Underwood family,—she perceived something in the manner of that very attractive young man which conveyed to her a feeling that, if she so pleased, she might count him as an admirer of her own. She had heard then, as was natural, much of the brilliance of his prospects, and but little,—as was also natural,—of what he had done to mar them. And she also perceived, or fancied that she perceived, that her cousin Clary gave many of her thoughts to the heir. Now Mary Bonner understood the importance to herself of a prosperous marriage, as well as any girl ever did understand its great significance. She was an orphan, living in fact on the charity of her uncle. And she was aware that having come to her uncle's house when all the weakness and attractions of her childhood were passed, she could have no hold on him or his such as would have been hers had she grown to be a woman beneath his roof. There was a thoughtfulness too about her,—a thoughtfulness which some, perhaps, may call worldliness,—which made it impossible for her not to have her own condition constantly in her mind. In her father's lifetime she had been driven by his thoughtlessness and her own sterner nature to think of these things; and in the few months that had passed between her father's death and her acceptance in her uncle's house she had taught herself to regard the world as an arena in which she must fight a battle by her own strength with such weapons as God had given to her. God had, indeed, given to her many weapons, but she knew but of one. She did know that God had made her very beautiful. But she regarded her beauty after an unfeminine fashion,—as a thing of value, but as a chattel of which she could not bring herself to be proud. Might it be possible that she should win for herself by her beauty some position in the world less burdensome, more joyous than that of a governess, and less dependent than that of a daily recipient of her uncle's charity?
She had had lovers in the West Indies,—perhaps a score of them, but they had been nothing to her. Her father's house had been so constituted that it had been impossible for her to escape the very plainly spoken admiration of captains, lieutenants, and Colonial secretaries. In the West Indies gentlemen do speak so very plainly, on, or without, the smallest encouragement, that ladies accept such speaking much as they do in England the attention of a handkerchief lifted or an offer for a dance. It had all meant nothing to Mary Bonner, who from her earliest years of girlhood had been accustomed to captains, lieutenants, and even to midshipmen. But, through it all, she had grown up with serious thoughts, and something of a conviction that love-making was but an ugly amusement. As far as it had been possible she had kept herself aloof from it, and though run after for her beauty, had been unpopular as being a "proud, cold, meaningless minx." When her father died she would speak to no one; and then it had been settled among the captains, lieutenants, and Colonial secretaries that she was a proud, cold, meaningless minx. And with this character she left the island. Now there came to her, naturally I say, this question;—What lovers might she find in England, and, should she find lovers, how should she deal with them? There are among us many who tell us that no pure-minded girl should think of finding a lover,—should only deal with him, when he comes, as truth, and circumstances, and parental control may suggest to her. If there be girls so pure, it certainly seems that no human being expects to meet them. Such was not the purity of Mary Bonner,—if pure she was. She did think of some coming lover,—did hope that there might be for her some prosperity of life as the consequence of the love of some worthy man whom she, in return, might worship. And then there had come Ralph Newton the heir.
Now to Mary Bonner,—as also to Clarissa Underwood, and to Patience, and to old Mrs. Brownlow, and a great many others, Ralph the heir did not appear in quite those colours which he probably will in the reader's eyes. These ladies, and a great many other ladies and gentlemen who reckoned him among their acquaintance, were not accurately acquainted with his transactions with Messrs. Neefit, Moggs, and Horsball; nor were they thoroughly acquainted with the easy nature of our hero's changing convictions. To Clarissa he certainly was heroic; to Patience he was very dear; to old Mrs. Brownlow he was almost a demigod; to Mr. Poojean he was an object of envy. To Mary Bonner, as she first saw him, he was infinitely more fascinating than the captains and lieutenants of West Indian regiments, or than Colonial secretaries generally.
It was during that evening at Mrs. Brownlow's that Mary Bonner resolutely made up her mind that she would be as stiff and cold to Ralph the heir as the nature of their acquaintance would allow. She had seen Clarissa without watching, and, without thinking, she had resolved. Mr. Newton was handsome, well to do, of good address, and clever;—he was also attractive; but he should not be attractive for her. She would not, as her first episode in her English life, rob a cousin of a lover. And so her mind was made up, and no word was spoken to any one. She had no confidences. There was no one in whom she could confide. Indeed, there was no need for confidence. As she left Mrs. Brownlow's house on that evening she slipped her arm through that of Patience, and the happy Clarissa was left to walk home with Ralph the heir,—as the reader may perhaps remember.
Then that other Ralph had come, and she learned in half-pronounced ambiguous whispers what was the nature of his position in the world. She did not know,—at that time her cousins did not know,—how nearly successful were the efforts made to dispossess the heir of his inheritance in order that this other Newton might possess it. But she saw, or thought that she saw, that this was the gallanter man of the two. Then he came again, and then again, and she knew that her own beauty was of avail. She encouraged him not at all. It was not in her nature to give encouragement to a man's advances. It may, perhaps, be said of her that she had no power to do so. What was in her of the graciousness of feminine love, of the leaning, clinging, flattering softness of woman's nature, required some effort to extract, and had never hitherto been extracted. But within her own bosom she told herself that she thought that she could give it, if the asking for it were duly done. Then came the first tidings of his heirship, of his father's success,—and then, close upon the heels of those tidings, this heir's humbly expressed desire to be permitted to woo her. There was all the flutter of triumph in her bosom, as that letter was read to her, and yet there was no sign of it in her voice or in her countenance.
Nor could it have been seen had she been met walking in the shade of that shrubbery. And yet she was full of triumph. Here was the man to whom her heart had seemed to turn almost at first sight, as it had never turned to man before. She had deigned to think of him as of one she could love;—and he loved her. As she paced the walk it was also much to her that this man who was so generous in her eyes should have provided for him so noble a place in the world. She quite understood what it was to be the wife of such a one as the Squire of Newton. She had grieved for Clary's sake when she heard that the former heir should be heir no longer,—suspecting Clary's secret. But she could not so grieve as to be insensible of her own joy. And then there was something in the very manner in which the man approached her, which gratified her pride while it touched her heart. About that other Ralph there was a tone of sustained self-applause, which seemed to declare that he had only to claim any woman and to receive her. There was an old-fashioned mode of wooing of which she had read and dreamed, that implied a homage which she knew that she desired. This homage her Ralph was prepared to pay.
For an hour she paced the walk, not thinking, but enjoying what she knew. There was nothing in it requiring thought. He was to come, and till he should come there was nothing that she need either say or do. Till he should come she would do nothing and say nothing. Such was her determination when Clarissa's step was heard, and in a moment Clarissa's arm was round her waist. "Mary," she said, "you must come out with me. Come and walk with me. I am going to Mrs. Brownlow's. You must come."
"To walk there and back?" said Mary, smiling.
"We will return in an omnibus; but you must come. Oh, I have so much to say to you."
"TELL ME AND I'LL TELL YOU."
"Papa has told me all about it," were Clarissa's first words as soon as they were out of the gate on the road to Mrs. Brownlow's.
"All about what, Clary?"
"Oh you know;—or rather it was Patience told me, and then I asked papa. I am so glad."
Mary had as yet hardly had time to think whether the coming of this letter to her uncle would or would not be communicated to her cousins; but had she thought, she would have been almost sure that Sir Thomas would be more discreet. The whole matter was to her so important, so secret, almost so solemn, that she could hardly imagine that it should be discussed among the whole household. And yet she felt a strong longing within herself to be able to talk of it to some one. Of the two cousins Clary was certainly her favourite, and had she been forced to consult any one, she would have consulted Clary. But an absolute confidence in such a matter with a chosen friend, the more delightful it might appear, was on that very account the more difficult of attainment. It was an occasion for thought, for doubt, and almost for dismay; and now Clary rushed into it as though everything could be settled in a walk from Fulham to Parson's Green! "It is very good of you to be glad, Clary," said the other,—hardly knowing why she said this, and yet meaning it. If in truth Clary was glad, it was good of her. For this man to whom Clary was alluding had won from her own lover all his inheritance.
"I like him so much. You will let me talk about him; won't you?"
"Oh, yes," said Mary.
"Do; pray do. There are so many reasons why we should tell each other everything." This elicited no promise from Mary. "If I thought that you would care, I would tell you all."
"I care about everything that concerns you, Clary."
"But I didn't bring you out to talk about myself now. I want to tell you how much I like your Ralph Newton."
"But he isn't mine."
"Yes he is;—at any rate, if you like to have him. And of course you will like. Why should you not? He is everything that is nice and good;—and now he is to be the owner of all the property. What I want to tell you is this; I do not begrudge it to you."
Why should Clarissa begrudge or not begrudge the property? Mary understood it all, but nothing had been said entitling her to speak as though she understood it. "I don't think you would begrudge me anything that you thought good for me," said Mary.
"And I think that Mr. Ralph Newton,—this Mr. Ralph Newton, is very good for you. Nothing could be so good. In the first place would it not be very nice to have you mistress of Newton Priory? Only that shouldn't come properly first."
"And what should come first, Clary?"
"Oh,—of course that you should love him better than anything in the world. And you do,—don't you?"
"It is too sudden to say that yet, Clary."
"But I am sure you will. Don't you feel that you will? Come, Mary, you should tell me something."
"There is so little to tell."
"Then you are afraid of me. I wanted to tell you everything."
"I am not afraid of you. But, remember, it is hardly more than an hour ago since I first heard of Mr. Newton's wishes, and up to that moment nothing was further from my dreams."
"I was sure of it, ever so long ago," said Clarissa.
"I was. I told Patience how it was to be. I saw it in his eyes. One does see these things. I knew it would be so; and I told Patience that we three would be three Mrs. Newtons. But that of course was nonsense."
"I mean about Patience."
"And what about yourself, Clary?" Clarissa made no answer, and yet she was burning to tell her own story. She was most anxious to tell her own story, but only on the condition of reciprocal confidence. The very nature of her story required that the confidence should be reciprocal. "You said that you wanted to tell me everything," said Mary.
"And so I do."
"You know how glad I shall be to hear."
"That is all very well, but,—" And then Clarissa paused.
"But what, dear?"
"You do mean to accept Mr. Newton?"
Now it was time for Mary to pause. "If I were to tell you my whole heart," she said, "I should be ashamed of what I was saying; and yet I do not know that there is any cause for shame."
"There can be none," said Clary. "I am sure of that."
"My acquaintance with Mr. Newton is very, very slight. I liked him,—oh, so much. I thought him to be high-spirited, manly, and a fine gentleman. I never saw any man who so much impressed me."
"Of course not," said Clarissa, making a gesture as though she would stop on the high road and clasp her hands together, in which, however, she was impeded by her parasol and her remembrance of her present position.
"But it is so much to say that one will love a man better than all the world, and go to him, and belong to him, and be his wife."
"Ah;—but if one does love him!"
"I can hardly believe that love can grow so quickly."
"Tell the truth, Mary; has it not grown?"
"Indeed I cannot say. There; you shall have the whole truth. When he comes to me,—and I suppose he will come."
"There isn't much doubt of that."
"If he does come—"
"I hardly know what I shall say to him. I shall try to—to love him."
"Of course you will love him,—better than all the world."
"I know that he is paying me the greatest compliment that a man can pay to a woman. And there is no earthly reason why I should not be proud to accept all that he offers me. I have nothing of my own to bestow in return."
"But you are so beautiful."
Mary would make no pretence of denying this. It was true that that one great feminine possession did belong to her. "After all," she said, "how little does beauty signify! It attracts, but it can make no man happy. He has everything to give to a wife, and he ought to have much in return for what he gives."
"You don't mean that a girl should refuse a rich man because she has no fortune of her own?"
"No; not quite that. But she ought to think whether she can be of use to him."
"Of course you will be of use, my dear;—of the greatest use in the world. That's his affair, and he is the best judge of what will be of use. You will love him, and other men will envy him, and that will be everything. Oh dear, I do so hope he will come soon."
"And I,—I almost hope he will not. I shall be so afraid to see him. The first meeting will be so awful. I shall not dare to look him in the face."
"But it is all settled."
"No;—not settled, Clary."
"Yes; it is settled. And now I will tell you what I mean when I say I do not begrudge him to you. That is—; I do not know whether you will care to be told."
"I care very much, Clary. I should be very unhappy if you did begrudge me anything."
"Of course you know that our Ralph Newton, as we call him, ought to have been the heir."
"I needn't explain it all; only,—only—"
"Only he is everything to you. Is it that, Clary?"
"Yes; it is that. He is everything to me. I love him—. Oh, yes, I do love him! But, Mary, I am not such a happy girl as you are. Sometimes I think he hardly cares for me."
"But he has asked you to care for him?"
"Well;—I don't know. I think he has. He has told me, I know, that he loved me dearly,—better than any one."
"And what answer did you make to him, Clary?"
Clarissa had the whole scene on the lawn at Popham Villa so clearly impressed upon her memory, that an eternity of years, as she thought, could obliterate no one of its incidents and render doubtful no tone of his voice, no word that her lover had spoken. His conduct had at that time been so violent that she had answered him only with tears and protestations of undying anger. But her tears had been dried, and her anger had passed away;—while the love remained. Ralph, her Ralph, of course knew well enough that the tears were dry and the anger gone. She could understand that he would understand that. But the love which he had protested, if it were real love, would remain. And why should she doubt him? The very fact that he was so dear to her, made such doubts almost disgraceful. And yet there was so much cause for doubt. Patience doubted. She knew herself that she feared more than she hoped. She had resolved gallantly that she would be true to her own heart, even though by such truth she should be preparing for herself a life of disappointment. She had admitted the passion, and she would stand by it. In all her fears, too, she consoled herself by the reflection that her lover was hindered, not by want of earnestness or want of truth,—but by the state of his affairs. While he was still in debt, striving to save his inheritance, but tormented by the growing certainty that it must pass away from him, how could he give himself up to love-making and preparations for marriage? Clary made excuses for him which no one else would have made, and so managed to feed her hopes. "I made him no answer," she said at last.
"And yet you knew you loved him."
"Yes; I knew that. I can tell you, and I told Patience. But I could not tell him." She paused a moment thinking whether she could describe the whole scene; but she found that she could not do that. "I shall tell him, perhaps, when he comes again; that is, if he does come."
"If he loves you he will come."
"I don't know. He has all these troubles on him, and he will be very poor;—what will seem to him to be very poor. It would not be poor for me, but for him it would."
"Would that hinder him?"
"How can I say? There are so many things a girl cannot know. He may still be in debt, and then he has been brought up to want so much. But it will make no more difference in me. And now you will understand why I should tell you that I will never begrudge you your good fortune. If all should come right, you shall give us a little cottage near your grand house, and you will not despise us." Poor Clary, when she spoke of her possible future lord, and the little cottage on the Newton demesne, hardly understood the feelings with which a disinherited heir must regard the property which he has lost.
"Dear, dearest Clary," said Mary Bonner, pressing her cousin's arm.
They had now reached Mrs. Brownlow's house, and the old lady was delighted to receive them. Of course she began to discuss at once the great news. Sir Thomas had had his arm broken, and was now again a member of Parliament. Mrs. Brownlow was a thorough-going Tory, and was in an ecstasy of delight that her old friend should have been successful. The success seemed to be so much the greater in that the hero had suffered a broken bone. And then there were many questions to be asked? Would Sir Thomas again be Solicitor-General by right of his seat in Parliament?—for on such matters Mrs. Brownlow was rather hazy in her conceptions as to the working of the British Constitution. And would he live at home? Clarissa would not say that she and Patience expected such a result. All that she could suggest of comfort on this matter was that there would be now something of a fair cause for excusing their father's residence at his London chambers.
But there was a subject more enticing to the old lady even than Sir Thomas's triumphs; a subject as to which there could not be any triumph,—only dismay; but not, on that account, the less interesting. Ralph Newton had sold his inheritance. "I believe it is all settled," said Clarissa, demurely.
"Dear, dear, dear, dear!" groaned the old lady. And while she groaned Clarissa furtively cast a smile upon her cousin. "It is the saddest thing I ever knew," said Mrs. Brownlow. "And, after all, for a young man who never can be anybody, you know."
"Oh yes," said Clarissa, "he can be somebody."
"You know what I mean, my dear. I think it very shocking, and very wrong. Such a fine estate, too!"
"We all like Mr. Newton very much indeed," said Clarissa. "Papa thinks he is a most charming young man. I never knew papa taken with any one so much. And so do we all,—Patience and I,—and Mary."
"But, my dear," began Mrs. Brownlow,—Mrs. Brownlow had always thought that Ralph the heir would ultimately marry Clarissa Underwood, and that it was a manifest duty on his part to do so. She had fancied that Clarissa had expected it herself, and had believed that all the Underwoods would be broken-hearted at this transfer of the estate. "I don't think it can be right," said Mrs. Brownlow; "and I must say that it seems to me that old Mr. Newton ought to be ashamed of himself. Just because this young man happens to be, in a sort of a way, his own son, he is going to destroy the whole family. I think that it is very wicked." But she had not a word of censure for the heir who had consumed his mess of pottage.
"Wasn't she grand?" said Clary, as soon as they were out again upon the road. "She is such a dear old woman, but she doesn't understand anything. I couldn't help giving you a look when she was abusing our friend. When she knows it all, she'll have to make you such an apology."
"I hope she will not do that."
"She will if she does not forget all about it. She does forget things. There is one thing I don't agree with her in at all. I don't see any shame in your Ralph having the property; and, as to his being nobody, that is all nonsense. He would be somebody, wherever he went, if he had not an acre of property. He will be Mr. Newton, of Newton Priory, just as much as anybody else could be. He has never done anything wrong." To all which Mary Bonner had very little to say. She certainly was not prepared to blame the present Squire for having so managed his affairs as to be able to leave the estate to his own son.
The two girls were very energetic, and walked back the whole way to Popham Villa, regardless of a dozen omnibuses that passed them. "I told her all about our Ralph,—my Ralph,"—said Clary to her sister afterward. "I could not help telling her now."
"Dear Clary," said Patience, "I wish you could help thinking of it always."
"That's quite impossible," said Clarissa, cheerily.
ALONE IN THE HOUSE.
Young Newton at last found himself alone in the house at Newton Priory after his father's death. He had sent George Morris away, becoming very stern in his demand to be left to his solitude as long as opposition was made to him. Gregory had come down to him from the parsonage, and had also been dismissed. "Your brother will be here probably to-day," said Ralph, "and then I will send for you."
"I am thinking more of you than of my brother, just now," answered the parson.
"Yes, I know,—and though I cannot talk to you, I know how good you are. I want to see nobody but him. I shall be better alone." Then Gregory had returned to the parsonage.
As soon as Ralph was alone he crept up to the room in which his father's body was lying, and stood silently by the bedside for above an hour. He was struggling to remember the loss he had had in the man, and to forget the loss in wealth and station. No father had ever been better to a son than his father had been to him. In every affair of life his happiness, his prosperity, and his future condition had given motives to his father's conduct. No lover ever worshipped a mistress more thoroughly than his father had idolised him. There had never been love to beat it, never solicitude more perfect and devoted. And yet, as he had been driven home that day, he had allowed his mind to revert to the property, and his regrets to settle themselves on his lost position. It should not be so any longer. He could not keep his mind from dwelling on the thing, but he would think of it as a trifle,—as of a thing which he could afford to lose without sorrow. Whereas he had also lost that which is of all things the most valuable and most impossible to replace,—a friend whose love was perfect.
But then there was another loss. He bitterly blamed himself for having written that letter to Sir Thomas Underwood, before he was actually in a position to do as he had proposed. It must all be unwritten now. Every resolution hitherto taken as to his future life must be abandoned. He must begin again, and plan a new life for himself. It had all come upon him so suddenly that he was utterly at a loss to think what he would do with himself or with his days. There was nothing for him but to go away, and be utterly without occupation, altogether without friends. Friends, indeed, he had,—dear, intimate, loving friends. Gregory Newton and George Morris were his friends. Every tenant on the Newton property was his friend. There was not a man riding with the hunt, worth having as a friend, who was not on friendly terms with him. But all these he must leave altogether. In whatever spot he might find for himself a future residence, that spot could not be at Peele Newton. After what had occurred he could not remain there, now that he was not the heir. And then, again, his thoughts came back from his lost father to his lost inheritance, and he was very wretched.
Between three and four o'clock he took his hat and walked out. He sauntered down along a small stream, which, after running through the gardens, bordered one of the coverts which came up near to the house. He took this path because he knew that he would be alone there, unseen. It had occurred to him already that it would be well that he should give orders to stop the works which his father had commenced, and there had been a moment in which he had almost told one of the servants in the house to do so. But he had felt ashamed at seeming to remember so small a thing. The owner would be there soon, probably in an hour or two, and could stop or could continue what he pleased. Then, as he thought of the ownership of the estate, he reflected that, as the sale had been in truth effected by his namesake, the money promised by his father would be legally due;—would not now be his money. As to the estate itself, that, of course, would go to his namesake as his father's heir. No will had been made leaving the estate to him, and his namesake would be the heir-at-law. Thus he would be utterly beggared. It was not that he actually believed that this would be the case; but his thoughts were morbid, and he took an unwholesome delight in picturing to himself circumstances in their blackest hue. Then he would strike the ground with his stick, in his wrath, because he thought of such things at all. How was it that he was base enough to think of them while the accident, which had robbed him of his father, was so recent?
As the dusk grew on, he emerged out of the copse into the park, and, crossing at the back of the home paddocks, came out upon the road near to Darvell's farm. He passed a few yards up the lane, till at a turn he could discern the dismantled house. As far as he could see through the gloom of the evening, there were no workmen near the place. Some one, he presumed, had given directions that nothing further should be done on a day so sad as this. He stood for awhile looking and listening, and then turned round to enter the park again.
It might be that the new squire was already at the house, and it would be thought that he ought not to be absent. The road from the station to the Priory was not that on which he was standing, and Ralph might have arrived without his knowledge. He wandered slowly back, but, before he could turn in at the park-gate, he was met by a man on the road. It was Mr. Walker, the farmer of Brownriggs, an old man over seventy, who had lived on the property all his life, succeeding his father in the same farm. Walker had known young Newton since he had first been brought to the Priory as a boy, and could speak to him with more freedom than perhaps any other tenant on the estate. "Oh, Mr. Ralph," he said, "this has been a dreary thing!" Ralph, for the first time since the accident, burst out into a flood of tears. "No wonder you take on, Mr. Ralph. He was a good father to you, and a fine gentleman, and one we all respected." Ralph still sobbed, but put his hand on the old man's arm and leaned upon him. "I hope, Mr. Ralph, that things was pretty well settled about the property." Ralph shook his head, but did not speak. "A bargain is a bargain, Mr. Ralph, and I suppose that this bargain was made. The lawyers would know that it had been made."
"It don't matter about that, Mr. Walker," said Ralph; "but the estate would go to my father's nephew as his heir." The farmer started as though he had been shot. "You will have another landlord, Mr. Walker. He can hardly be better than the one you have lost."
"Then, Mr. Ralph, you must bear it manly."
"I think that I can say that I will do that. It is not for the property that I am crying. I hope you don't think that of me, Mr. Walker."
"No, no, no."
"I can bear that;—though it is hard the having to go away and live among strange people. I think I shall get a farm somewhere, and see if I can take a lesson from you. I don't know anything else that I can do."
"You could have the Mordykes, Mr. Ralph," said Mr. Walker, naming a holding on the Newton property as to which there were rumours that it would soon be vacant.
"No, Mr. Walker, it mustn't be here. I couldn't stand that. I must go away from this,—God knows where. I must go away from this, and I shall never see the old place again!"
"Bear it manly, Mr. Ralph," said the farmer.
"I think I shall, after a bit. Good evening, Mr. Walker. I expect my father's nephew every hour, and I ought to be up at the house when he comes. I shall see you again before I go."
"Yes, yes; that's for certain," said the farmer. They were both thinking of the day on which they would follow the old Squire to his grave in Newton Peele churchyard.
Ralph re-entered the park, and hurried across to the house as though he were afraid that he would be too late to receive the heir; but there had been no arrival, nor had there come any message from the other Ralph. Indeed up to this hour the news had not reached the present owner of Newton Priory. The telegram had been duly delivered at the Moonbeam, where the fortunate youth was staying; but he was hunting on this day, riding the new horse which he had bought from Mr. Pepper, and, up to this moment, did not know anything of that which chance had done for him. Nor did he get back to the Moonbeam till late at night, having made some engagement for dinner after the day's sport. It was not till noon on the following day, the Friday, that a message was received from him at the Priory, saying that he would at once hurry down to Hampshire.
Ralph sat down to dinner all alone. Let what will happen to break hearts and ruin fortunes, dinner comes as long as the means last for providing it. The old butler waited upon him in absolute silence, fearing to speak a word, lest the word at such a time should be ill-spoken. No doubt the old man was thinking of the probable expedience of his retiring upon his savings; feeling, however, that it became him to show, till the last, every respect to all who bore the honoured name of Newton. When the meat had been eaten, the old servant did say a word. "Won't you come round to the fire, Mr. Ralph?" and he placed comfortably before the hearth one of the heavy arm-chairs with which the corners of the broad fire-place were flanked. But Ralph only shook his head, and muttered some refusal. There he sat, square to the table, with the customary bottle of wine before him, leaning back with his hands in his pockets, thinking of his condition in life. The loneliness of the room, the loneliness of the house, were horrible to him. And yet he would not that his solitude should be interrupted. He had been so sitting, motionless, almost overcome by the gloom of the big dark room, for so long a period that he hardly knew whether it was night or not, when a note was brought to him from Gregory. "Dear Ralph,—Shall I not come down to you for an hour?—G. N." He read the note, and sent back a verbal message. "Tell Mr. Gregory that I had rather not." And so he sat motionless till the night had really come, till the old butler brought him his candlestick and absolutely bade him betake himself to bed. He had watched during the whole of the previous night, and now had slumbered in his chair from time to time. But his sleeping had been of that painful, wakeful nature which brings with it no refreshment. It had been full of dreams, in all of which there had been some grotesque reference to the property, but in none of them had there been any memory of the Squire's terrible death. And yet, as he woke and woke and woke again, it can hardly be said that the truth had come back upon him as a new blow. Through such dreams there seems to exist a double memory, and a second identity. The misery of his isolated position never for a moment left him; and yet there were repeated to him over and over again those bungling, ill-arranged, impossible pictures of trivial transactions about the place, which the slumber of a few seconds sufficed to create in his brain. "Mr. Ralph, you must go to bed;—you must indeed, sir," said the old butler, standing over him with a candle during one of these fitful dreamings.
"Yes, Grey;—yes, I will; directly. Put it down. Thank you. Don't mind sitting up," said Ralph, rousing himself in his chair.
"It's past twelve," Mr. Ralph.
"You can go to bed, you know, Grey."
"No, sir;—no. I'll see you to bed first. It'll be better so. Why, Mr. Ralph, the fire's all out, and you're sitting here perished. You wasn't in bed last night, and you ought to be there now. Come, Mr. Ralph."
Then Ralph rose from his chair and took the candlestick. It was true enough that he had better be in bed. As he shook himself, he felt that he had never been so cold in his life. And then as he moved there came upon him that terrible feeling that everything was amiss with him, that there was no consolation on any side. "That'll do, Grey; good night," he said, as the old man prepared to follow him up-stairs. But Grey was not to be shaken off. "I'll just see you to your room, Mr. Ralph." He wanted to accompany his young master past the door of that chamber in which was lying all that remained of the old master. But Ralph would open the door. "Not to-night, Mr. Ralph," said Grey. But Ralph persisted, and stood again by the bedside. "He would have given me his flesh and blood;—his very life," said Ralph to the butler. "I think no father ever so loved a son. And yet, what has it come to?" Then he stooped down, and put his lips to the cold clay-blue forehead.
"It ain't come to much surely," said old Grey to himself as he crept away to his own room; "and I don't suppose it do come to much mostly when folks go wrong."
Ralph was out again before breakfast, wandering up and down the banks of the stream where the wood hid him, and then he made up his mind that he would at once write again to Sir Thomas Underwood. He must immediately make it understood that that suggestion which he had made in his ill-assumed pride of position must be abandoned. He had nothing now to offer to that queenly princess worthy of the acceptance of any woman. He was a base-born son, about to be turned out of his father's house because of the disgrace of his birth. In the eye of the law he was nobody. The law allowed to him not even a name;—certainly allowed to him the possession of no relative; denied to him the possibility of any family tie. His father had succeeded within an ace of giving him that which would have created for him family ties, relatives, name and all. The old Squire had understood well how to supersede the law, and to make the harshness of man's enactments of no avail. Had the Squire quite succeeded, the son would have stood his ground, would have called himself Newton of Newton, and nobody would have dared to tell him that he was a nameless bastard. But now he could not even wait to be told. He must tell it himself, and must vanish. He had failed to understand it all while his father was struggling and was yet alive; but he understood it well now. So he came in to his breakfast, resolved that he would write that letter at once.
And then there were orders to be given;—hideous orders. And there was that hideous remembrance that legally he was entitled to give no orders. Gregory came down to him as he sat at breakfast, making his way into the parlour without excuse. "My brother cannot have been at home at either place," he said.
"Perhaps not," said Ralph. "I suppose not."
"The message will be sent after him, and you will hear to-day no doubt."
"I suppose I shall," said Ralph.
Then Gregory in a low voice made the suggestion in reference to which he had come across from the parsonage. "I think that perhaps I and Larkin had better go over to Basingstoke." Larkin was the steward. Ralph again burst out into tears, but he assented; and in this way those hideous orders were given.
As soon as Gregory was gone he took himself to his desk, and did write to Sir Thomas Underwood. His letter, which was perhaps somewhat too punctilious, ran as follows:—
Newton Priory, 4th November, 186—.
MY DEAR SIR,—
I do not know whether you will have heard before this of the accident which has made me fatherless. The day before yesterday my father was killed by a fall from his horse in the hunting-field. I should not have ventured to trouble you with a letter on this subject, nor should I myself have been disposed to write about it at present, were it not that I feel it to be an imperative duty to refer without delay to my last letter to you, and to your very flattering reply. When I wrote to you it was true that my father had made arrangements for purchasing on my behalf the reversion to the property. That it was so you doubtless were aware from your own personal knowledge of the affairs of Mr. Ralph Newton. Whether that sale was or was not legally completed I do not know. Probably not;—and in regard to my own interests it is to be hoped that it was not completed. But in any event the whole Newton property will pass to your late ward, as my father certainly made no such will as would convey it to me even if the sale were complete.
It is a sad time for explaining all this, when the body of my poor father is still lying unburied in the house, and when, as you may imagine, I am ill-fitted to think of matters of business; but, after what has passed between us, I conceive myself bound to explain to you that I wrote my last letter under a false impression, and that I can make no such claim to Miss Bonner's favour as I then set up. I am houseless and nameless, and for aught I yet know to the contrary, absolutely penniless. The blow has hit me very hard. I have lost my fortune, which I can bear; I have lost whatever chance I had of gaining your niece's hand, which I must learn to bear; and I have lost the kindest father a man ever had,—which is unbearable.
Yours very faithfully,
RALPH NEWTON (so called).
If it be thought that there was something in the letter which should have been suppressed,—the allusion, for instance, to the possible but most improbable loss of his father's private means, and his morbid denial of his own right to a name which he had always borne, a right which no one would deny him,—it must be remembered that the circumstances of the hour bore very heavily on him, and that it was hardly possible that he should not nurse the grievance which afflicted him. Had he not been alone in these hours he might have carried himself more bravely. As it was, he struggled hard to carry himself well. If no one had ever been told how nearly successful the Squire had been in his struggle to gain the power of leaving the estate to his son, had there been nothing of the triumph of victory, he could have left the house in which he had lived and the position which he had filled almost without sorrow,—certainly without lamentation. In the midst of calamities caused by the loss of fortune, it is the knowledge of what the world will say that breaks us down;—not regret for those enjoyments which wealth can give, and which had been long anticipated.
At two o'clock on this day he got a telegram. "I will be at the parsonage this evening, and will come down at once." Ralph the heir, on his return home late at night, had heard the news, and early on the following morning had communicated with his brother and with his namesake. In the afternoon, after his return from Basingstoke, Gregory again came down to the house, desiring to know whether Ralph would prefer that the meeting should be at the Priory or at the parsonage, and on this occasion his cousin bore with him. "Why should not your brother come to his own house?" asked Ralph.
"I suppose he feels that he should not claim it as his own."
"That is nonsense. It is his own, and he knows it. Does he think that I am likely to raise any question against his right?"
"I do not suppose that my brother has ever looked at the matter in that light," said the parson. "He is the last man in the world to do so. For the present, at any rate, you are living here and he is not. In such an emergency, perhaps, he feels that it would be better that he should come to his brother than intrude here."
"It would be no intrusion. I should wish him to feel that I am prepared to yield to him instantly. Of course the house cannot be very pleasant for him as yet. He must suffer something of the misery of the occasion before he can enjoy his inheritance. But it will only be for a day or so."
"Dear Ralph," said the parson, "I think you somewhat wrong my brother."
"I endeavour not to do so. I think no ill of him, because I presume he should look for enjoyment from what is certainly his own. He and my father were not friends, and this, which has been to me so terrible a calamity in every way, cannot affect him with serious sorrow. I shall meet him as a friend; but I would sooner meet him here than at the parsonage."
It was at last settled that the two brothers should come down to the great house,—both Ralph the heir, and Gregory the parson; and that the three young men should remain there, at any rate, till the funeral was over. And when this was arranged, the two who had really been fast friends for so many years, were able to talk to each other in true friendship. The solitude which he had endured had been almost too much for the one who had been made so desolate; but at last, warmed by the comfort of companionship, he resumed his manhood, and was able to look his affairs in the face, free from the morbid feeling which had oppressed him. Gregory had his own things brought down from the parsonage, and in order that there might be no hesitation on his brother's part, sent a servant with a note to the station desiring his brother to come at once to the Priory. They resolved to wait dinner for him till after the arrival of a train leaving London at five P.M. By that train the heir came, and between seven and eight he entered the house which he had not seen since he was a boy, and which was now his own.
The receipt of the telegram at the Moonbeam had affected Ralph, who was now in truth the Squire, with absolute awe. He had returned late from a somewhat jovial dinner, in company with his friend Cox, who was indeed more jovial than was becoming. Ralph was not given to drinking more wine than he could carry decently; but his friend, who was determined to crowd as much enjoyment of life as was possible into the small time allowed him before his disappearance from the world that had known him, was noisy and rollicking. Perhaps it may be acknowledged in plain terms that he was tipsy. They both entered together the sitting-room which Ralph used, and Cox was already calling for brandy and water, when the telegram was handed to Newton. He read it twice before he understood it. His uncle dead!—suddenly dead! And the inheritance all his own! In doing him justice, however, we must admit that he did not at the time admit this to be the case. He did perceive that there must arise some question; but his first feeling, as regarded the property, was one of intense remorse that he should have sold his rights at a moment in which they would so soon have been realised in his own favour. But the awe which struck him was occasioned by the suddenness of the blow which had fallen upon his uncle. "What's up now, old fellow?" hiccupped Mr. Cox.
I wonder whether any polite reader, into whose hands this story may fall, may ever have possessed a drunken friend, and have been struck by some solemn incident at the moment in which his friend is exercising the privileges of intoxication. The effect is not pleasant, nor conducive of good-humour. Ralph turned away in disgust, and leaned upon the chimney-piece, trying to think of what had occurred to him. "What ish it, old chap? Shomebody wants shome tin? I'll stand to you, old fellow."
"Take him away," said Ralph. "He's drunk." Then, without waiting for further remonstrance from the good-natured but now indignant Cox, he went off to his own room.
On the following morning he started for London by an early train, and by noon was with his lawyer. Up to that moment he believed that he had lost his inheritance. When he sent those two telegrams to his brother and to his namesake, he hardly doubted but that the entire property now belonged to his uncle's son. The idea had never occurred to him that, even were the sale complete, he might still inherit the property as his uncle's heir-at-law,—and that he would do so unless his uncle had already bequeathed it to his son. But the attorney soon put him right. The sale had not been yet made. He, Ralph, had not signed a single legal document to that effect. He had done nothing which would have enabled his late uncle to make a will leaving the Newton estate to his son. "The letters which have been written are all waste-paper," said the lawyer. "Even if they were to be taken as binding as agreements for a covenant, they would operate against your cousin,—not in his favour. In such case you would demand the specified price and still inherit."
"That is out of the question," said the heir. "Quite out of the question," said the attorney. "No doubt Mr. Newton left a will, and under it his son will take whatever property the father had to leave."
And so Ralph the heir found himself to be the owner of it all just at the moment in which he thought that he had lost all chance of the inheritance as the result of his own folly. When he walked out of the lawyer's office he was almost wild with amazement. This was the prize to which he had been taught to look forward through all his boyish days, and all his early manhood;—but to look forward to it, as a thing that must be very distant, so distant as almost to be lost in the vagueness of the prospect. Probably his youth would have clean passed from him, and he would have entered upon the downhill course of what is called middle life before his inheritance would come to him. He had been unable to wait, and had wasted everything,—nearly everything; had, at any rate, ruined all his hopes before he was seven-and-twenty; and yet, now, at seven-and-twenty, it was, as his lawyer assured him, all his own. How nearly had he lost it all! How nearly had he married the breeches-maker's daughter! How close upon the rocks he had been. But now all was his own, and he was in truth Newton of Newton, with no embarrassments of any kind which could impose a feather's weight upon his back.
"SHE'LL ACCEPT YOU, OF COURSE."
We will pass over the solemn sadness of the funeral at Newton and the subsequent reading of the old Squire's will. As to the latter, the will was as it had been made some six or seven years ago. The Squire had simply left all that he possessed to his illegitimate son Ralph Newton. There was no difficulty about the will. Nor was there any difficulty about the estate. The two lawyers came down to the funeral. Sir Thomas Underwood would have come but that he was prevented by the state of his arm. A statement showing all that had been done in the matter was prepared for him, but it was agreed on all sides that the sale had not been made, and that the legitimate heir must succeed to the property. No one was disposed to dispute the decision. The Squire's son had never for a moment supposed that he could claim the estate. Nor did Ralph the heir suppose for a moment that he could surrender it after the explanation which he had received from the lawyer in London.
The funeral was over, and the will had been read, and at the end of November the three young men were still living together in the great house at Newton. The heir had gone up to London once or twice, instigated by the necessity of the now not difficult task of raising a little ready money. He must at once pay off all his debts. He must especially pay that which he owed to Mr. Neefit; and he must do so with many expressions of his gratitude,—perhaps with some expressions of polite regret at the hardness of Polly's heart towards him. But he must do so certainly without any further entreaty that Polly's heart might be softened. Ah,—with what marvellous good fortune had he escaped from that pitfall! For how much had he not to be thankful to some favouring goddess who must surely have watched over him from his birth! From what shipwrecks had he not escaped! And now he was Squire of Newton, with wealth and all luxuries at command, hampered with no wife, oppressed by no debts, free from all cares. As he thought of his perfect freedom in these respects, he remembered his former resolution as to Mary Bonner. That resolution he would carry out. It would be well for him now to marry a wife, and of all the women he had ever seen Mary Bonner was certainly the most beautiful. With Newton all his own, with such a string of horses as he would soon possess, and with such a wife at the head of his table, whom need he envy, and how many were there who would not envy him?
Throughout November he allowed his horses to remain at the Moonbeam, being somewhat in doubt whether or no he would return to that fascinating hostelrie. He received one or two most respectful letters from Mr. Horsball, in which glowing accounts were given of the sport of the season, and the health of his horses, and offers made of most disinterested services. Rooms should be ready for him at a moment's notice if he liked at any time to run over for a week's hunting. It was quite evident that in the eyes of Mr. Horsball Newton of Newton was a great man. And there came congratulations from Mr. Cox, in which no allusion whatever was made to the Squire's somewhat uncivil conduct at their last meeting. Mr. Cox trusted that his dearest friend would come over and have another spell at the Moonbeam before he settled down for life;—and then hinted in language that was really delicate in the niceness of its expression, that if he, Cox, were but invited to spend a week or two at Newton Priory before he banished himself for life to Australia, he would be able to make his way over the briny deep with a light heart and an uncomplaining tongue. "You know, old fellow, how true I've always been to you," wrote Cox, in language of the purest friendship. "As true as steel,—to sausages in the morning and brandy and soda at night," said Ralph to himself as he read this.
He behaved with thorough kindness to his cousin. The three men lived together for a month, and their intercourse was as pleasant as was possible under the circumstances. Of course there was no hunting during this month at Newton. Nor indeed did the heir see a hound till December, although, as the reader is aware, he was not particularly bound to revere his uncle's memory. He made many overtures to his namesake. He would be only too happy if his cousin,—he always called the Squire's son his cousin,—would make Newton his home for the next twelvemonth. It was found that the Squire had left behind him something like forty thousand pounds, so that the son was by no means to be regarded as a poor man. It was his idea at present that he would purchase in some pleasant county as much land as he might farm himself, and there set up his staff for life. "And get about two-and-a-half per cent. for your money," said the heir, who was beginning to consider himself learned in such matters, and could talk of land as a very serious thing in the way of a possession.
"What else am I to do?" said the other. "Two-and-a-half per cent. with an occupation is better than five per cent. with none. I should make out the remainder, too, by farming the land myself. There is nothing else in the world that I could do."
As for remaining twelve months at Newton, that was of course out of the question. Nevertheless, when December came he was still living in the house, and had consented to remain there till Christmas should have passed. He had already heard of a farm in Norfolk. "The worst county for hunting in England," the heir had said. "Then I must try and live without hunting," said Ralph who was not the heir. During all this time not a horse was sent to the meet from the Newton stables. The owner of Newton was contented to see the animals exercised in the park, and to amuse himself by schooling them over hurdles, and by high jumping at the bar.
During the past month the young Squire had received various letters from Sir Thomas Underwood, and the other Ralph had received one. With Sir Thomas's caution, advice, and explanations to his former ward, the story has no immediate concern; but his letter to him who was to have been Mary Bonner's suitor may concern us more nearly. It was very short, and the reader shall have it entire.
Popham Villa, 10th November, 186—.
MY DEAR MR. NEWTON,—
I have delayed answering your letter for a day or two in order that it may not disturb you till the last sad ceremony be over. I do not presume to offer you consolation in your great sorrow. Such tenders should only be made by the nearest and the dearest. Perhaps you will permit me to say that what little I have seen of you and what further I have heard of you assure to you my most perfect sympathy.
On that other matter which gave occasion for your two letters to me I shall best perhaps discharge my duty by telling you that I showed them both to my niece; and that she feels, as do I, that they are both honourable to you, and of a nature to confer honour upon her. The change in your position, which I acknowledge to be most severe, undoubtedly releases you, as it would have released her,—had she been bound and chose to accept such release.
Whenever you may be in this neighbourhood we shall be happy to see you.
The state of my arm still prevents me from writing with ease.
Yours very faithfully,
Newton, when he received this letter, struggled hard to give to it its proper significance, but he could bring himself to no conclusion respecting it. Sir Thomas had acknowledged that he was released,—and that Mary Bonner would also have been released had she placed herself under any obligation; but Sir Thomas did not say a word from which his correspondent might gather whether in his present circumstances he might still be regarded as an acceptable suitor. The letter was most civil, most courteous, almost cordial in its expression of sympathy; but yet it did not contain a word of encouragement. It may be said that the suitor had himself so written to the lady's uncle, as to place himself out of the way of all further encouragement;—as to have put it beyond the power of his correspondent to write a word to him that should have in it any comfort. Certainly he had done so. He had clearly shown in his second letter that he had abandoned all idea of making the match as to which he had shown so much urgent desire in his first letter. He had explained that the marriage would now be impossible, and had spoken of himself as a ruined, broken man, all whose hopes were shipwrecked. Sir Thomas could hardly have told him in reply that Mary Bonner would still be pleased to see him. And yet Mary Bonner had almost said so. She had been very silent when the letter was read to her. The news of Mr. Newton's death had already reached the family at Popham Villa, and had struck them all with awe. How it might affect the property even Sir Thomas had not absolutely known at first; though he was not slow to make it understood that in all probability this terrible accident would be ruinous to the hopes which his niece had been justified in entertaining. At that hour Mary had spoken not a word;—nor could she be induced to speak respecting it either by Patience or Clarissa. Even to them she could not bring herself to say that if the man really loved her he would still come to her and say so. There was a feeling of awe upon her which made her mute, and stern, and altogether unplastic in the hands of her friends. It seemed even to Patience that Mary was struck by a stunning sorrow at the ruin which had come upon her lover's prospects. But it was not so at all. The thought wronged her utterly. What stunned her was this,—that she could not bring herself to express a passion for a man whom she had seen so seldom, with whom her conversation had been so slight, from whom personally she had received no overtures of attachment,—even though he were ruined. She could not bring herself to express such a passion;—but yet it was there. When Clarissa thought that she might obtain if not a word, at least a tear, Mary appeared to be dead to all feeling, though crushed by what she had lost. She was thinking the while whether it might be possible for such a one as her to send to the man and to tell him that that which had now occurred had of a sudden made him really dear to her. Thoughts of maiden boldness flitted across her mind, but she could not communicate them even to the girls who were her friends. Yet in silence and in solitude she resolved that the time should come in which she would be bold.
Then young Newton's second letter reached the house, and that also had been read to her. "He is quite right," said Sir Thomas. "Of course it releases both of you."
"There was nothing to release," said Mary, proudly.
"I mean to say that having made such a proposition as was contained in his first letter, he was bound to explain his altered position."
"I suppose so," said Mary.
"Of course he was. He had made his offer believing that he could make you mistress of Newton Priory,—and he had made it thinking that he himself could marry in that position. And he would have been in that position had not this most unforeseen and terrible calamity have occurred."
"I do not see that it makes any difference," said Mary, in a whisper.
"What do you mean, my dear?"
"I hardly know, uncle."
"Try to explain yourself, Mary."
"If I had accepted any man when he was rich, I should not go back when he was poor,—unless he wanted it." This also she said in a whisper.
"But you had not accepted him."
"No," said Mary, still in a whisper. Sir Thomas, who was perhaps not very good at such things, did not understand the working of her mind. But had she dared, she would have asked her uncle to tell Mr. Newton to come and see her. Sir Thomas, having some dim inkling of what perhaps might be the case, did add a paragraph to his letter in which he notified to his correspondent that a personal visit would be taken in good part.
By the end of the first week in December things were beginning to settle into shape at the Priory. The three young men were still living together at the great house, and the tenants on the estate had been taught to recognise the fact that Ralph, who had ever been the heir, was in truth the owner. Among the labourers and poorer classes there was no doubt much regret, and that regret was expressed. The tenants, though they all liked the Squire's son, were not upon the whole ill-pleased. It was in proper conformity with English habits and English feelings that the real heir should reign. Among the gentry the young Squire was made as welcome as the circumstances of the heir would admit. According to their way of thinking, personally popular as was the other man, it was clearly better that a legitimate descendant of the old family should be installed at Newton Priory. The old Squire's son rode well to hounds, and was loved by all; but nothing that all the world could do on his behalf would make him Newton of Newton. If only he would remain in the neighbourhood and take some place suited to his income, every house would be open to him. He would be received with no diminution of attachment or respect. Overtures of this nature were made to him. This house could be had for him, and that farm could be made comfortable. He might live among them as a general favourite; but he could not under any circumstances have been,—Newton of Newton. Nothing, however, was clearer to himself than this;—that as he could not remain in the county as the master of Newton Priory, he would not remain in the county at all.
As things settled down and took shape he began to feel that even in his present condition he might possibly make himself acceptable to such a girl as Mary Bonner. In respect of fortune there could be no reason whatever why he should not offer her his hand. He was in truth a rich man, whereas she had nothing, By birth he was nobody,—absolutely nobody; but then also would he have been nobody had all the lands of Newton belonged to him. When he had written that second letter, waiving all claim to Mary's hand because of the inferiority of his position, he was suffering from a morbid view which he had taken of his own affairs. He was telling himself then,—so assuring himself, though he did not in truth believe the assurance,—that he had lost not only the estate, but also his father's private fortune. At that moment he had been unstrung, demoralised, and unmanned,—so weak that a feather would have knocked him over. The blow had been so sudden, the solitude and gloom of the house so depressing, and his sorrow so crushing, that he was ready to acknowledge that there could be no hope for him in any direction. He had fed himself upon his own grief, till the idea of any future success in life was almost unpalatable to him. But things had mended with him now, and he would see whether there might not yet be joys for him in the world. He would first see whether there might not be that one great joy which he had promised to himself.
And then there came another blow. The young Squire had resolved that he would not hunt before Christmas in the Newton country. It was felt by him and by his brother that he should abstain from doing so out of respect to the memory of his uncle, and he had declared his purpose. Of course there was neither hunting nor shooting in these days for the other Ralph. But at the end of a month the young Squire began to feel that the days went rather slowly with him, and he remembered his stud at the Moonbeam. He consulted Gregory; and the parson, though he would fain have induced his brother to remain, could not say that there was any real objection to a trip to the B. and B's. Ralph would go there on the 10th of December, and be back at his own house before Christmas. When Christmas was over, the other Ralph was to leave Newton,—perhaps for ever.
The two Ralphs had become excellent friends, and when the one that was to go declared his intention of going with no intention of returning, the other pressed him warmly to think better of it, and to look upon the Priory at any rate as a second home. There were reasons why it could not be so, said the namesake; but in the close confidence of friendship which the giving and the declining of the offer generated came this further blow. They were standing together leaning upon a gate, and looking at the exhumation of certain vast roots, as to which the trees once belonging to them had been made to fall in consequence of the improvements going on at Darvell's farm. "I don't mind telling you," said Ralph the heir, "that I hope soon to have a mistress here."
"And who is she?"
"That would be mere telling;—would it not?"
"Clarissa Underwood?" asked the unsuspecting Ralph.
There did come some prick of conscience, some qualm, of an injury done, upon the young Squire as he made his answer. "No; not Clarissa;—though she is the dearest, sweetest girl that ever lived, and would make a better wife perhaps than the girl I think of."
"And who is the girl you think of?"
"She is to be found in the same house."
"You do not mean the elder sister?" said the unfortunate one. He had known well that his companion had not alluded to Patience Underwood; but in his agony he had suggested to himself that mode of escape.
"No; not Patience Underwood. Though, let me tell you, a man might do worse than marry Patience Underwood. I have always thought it a pity that Patience and Gregory would not make a match of it. He, however, would fall in love with Clary, and she has too much of the rake in her to give herself to a parson. I was thinking of Mary Bonner, who, to my mind, is the handsomest woman I ever saw in my life."
"I think she is," said Ralph, turning away his face.
"She hasn't a farthing, I fancy," continued the happy heir, "but I don't regard that now. A few months ago I had a mind to marry for money; but it isn't the sort of thing that any man should do. I have almost made up my mind to ask her. Indeed, when I tell you, I suppose I have quite made up my mind."
"She'll accept you,—of course."
"I can say nothing about that, you know. A man must take his chance. I can offer her a fine position, and a girl, I think, should have some regard to money when she marries, though a man should not. If there's nobody before me I should have a chance, I suppose."
His words were not boastful, but there was a tone of triumph in his voice. And why should he not triumph? thought the other Ralph. Of course he would triumph. He had everything to recommend him. And as for himself,—for him, the dispossessed one,—any particle of a claim which he might have secured by means of that former correspondence had been withdrawn by his own subsequent words. "I dare say she'll take you," he said, with his face still averted.
Ralph the heir did indeed think that he would be accepted, and he went on to discuss the circumstances of their future home, almost as though Mary Bonner were already employed in getting together her wedding garments. His companion said nothing further, and Ralph the heir did not discover that anything was amiss.
On the following day Ralph the heir went across the country to the Moonbeam in Buckinghamshire.
NEEFIT MEANS TO STICK TO IT.
There was some business to be done as a matter of course before the young Squire could have all his affairs properly settled. There were debts to be paid, among which Mr. Neefit's stood certainly first. It was first in magnitude, and first in obligation; but it gave Ralph no manner of uneasiness. He had really done his best to get Polly to marry him, and, luckily for him,—by the direct interposition of some divine Providence, as it now seemed to Ralph,—Polly had twice refused him. It seemed to him, indeed, that divine Providence looked after him in a special way, breaking his uncle's neck in the very nick of time, and filling a breeches-maker's daughter's mind with so sound a sense of the propriety of things, as to induce her to decline the honour of being a millstone round his neck, when positively the offer was pressed upon her. As things stood there could be no difficulty with Mr. Neefit. The money would be paid, of course, with all adjuncts of accruing interest, and Mr. Neefit should go on making breeches for him to the end of the chapter. And for raising this money he had still a remnant of the old property which he could sell, so that he need not begin by laying an ounce of encumbrance on his paternal estates. He was very clear in his mind at this period of his life that there should never be any such encumbrance in his days. That remnant of property should be sold, and Neefit, Horsball, and others, should be paid. But it certainly did occur to him in regard to Neefit, that there had been that between them which made it expedient that the matter should be settled with some greater courtesy than would be shown by a simple transaction through his man of business. Therefore he wrote a few lines to Mr. Neefit on the day before he left the Priory,—a few lines which he thought to be very civil.
Newton, 9th December, 186—.
MY DEAR MR. NEEFIT,—
You have probably heard before this of the accident which has happened in my family. My uncle has been killed by a fall from his horse, and I have come into my property earlier than I expected. As soon as I could begin to attend to matters of business, I thought of my debt to you, and of all the obligation I owe you. I think the debt is L1,000; but whatever it is it can be paid now. The money will be ready early in the year, if that will do for you,—and I am very much obliged to you. Would you mind letting Mr. Carey know how much it is, interest and all. He is our family lawyer.
Remember me very kindly to Miss Polly. I hope she will always think of me as a friend. Would you tell Bawwah to put three pairs of breeches in hand for me,—leather.
Yours very truly,
The wrath of Mr. Neefit on receiving this letter at his shop in Conduit Street was almost divine. He had heard from Polly an account of that last interview at Ramsgate, and Polly had told her story as truly as she knew how to tell it. But the father had never for a moment allowed himself to conceive that therefore the thing was at an end, and had instructed Polly that she was not to look upon it in that light. He regarded his young customer as absolutely bound to him, and would not acknowledge to himself that such obligation could be annulled by Polly's girlish folly. And he did believe that young Newton intended to act, as he called it, "on the square." So believing, he was ready to make almost any sacrifice of himself; but that Newton should now go back, after having received his hard money, was to him a thing quite out of the question. He scolded Polly with some violence, and asked whether she wanted to marry such a lout as Moggs. Polly replied with spirit that she wouldn't marry any man till she found that she could love him, and that the man loved her. "Ain't he told you as he loves you ever so often?" said Neefit. "I know what I'm doing of, father," said Polly, "and I'm not going to be drove." Nevertheless Mr. Neefit had felt certain that if young Newton would still act upon the square, things would settle themselves rightly. There was the money due, and, as Neefit constantly said to himself, "money was a thing as was not to be got over."
Then had come upon the tradesman the tidings of the old Squire's death. They were read to him out of a newspaper by his shopman, Waddle. "I'm blessed if he ain't been and tumbled all at once into his uncle's shoes," said Waddle. The paragraph in question was one which appeared in a weekly newspaper some two days after the Squire's death. Neefit, who at the moment was turning over the pages of his ledger, came down from his desk and stood for about ten minutes in the middle of his shop, while the Herr ceased from his cutting, and Waddle read the paragraph over and over again. Neefit stood stock still, with his hands in his breeches pockets, and his great staring eyes fixed upon vacancy. "I'm blessed if it ain't true," said Waddle, convinced by the repetition of his own reading. News had previously reached the shop that the Squire had had a fall. Tidings as to troubles in the hunting-field were quick in reaching Mr. Neefit's shop;—but there had been no idea that the accident would prove to be fatal. Neefit, when he went home that night, told his wife and daughter. "That will be the last of young Newton," said Mrs. Neefit. "I'm d—— if it will!" said the breeches-maker. Polly maintained a discreet silence as to the heir, merely remarking that it was very sad for the old gentleman. Polly at that time was very full of admiration for Moggs,—in regard, that is, to the political character of her lover. Moggs had lost his election, but was about to petition.
Neefit was never called upon, in the way of his own trade, to make funereal garments. Men, when they are bereaved of their friends, do not ride in black breeches. But he had all a tailor's respect for a customer with a dead relation. He felt that it would not become him to make an application to the young Squire on a subject connected with marriage, till the tombstone over the old Squire should have been properly adjusted. He was a patient man, and could wait. And he was a man not good at writing letters. His customer and future son-in-law would turn up soon; or else, the expectant father-in-law might drop down upon him at the Moonbeam or elsewhere. As for a final escape, Polly Neefit's father hardly feared that any such attempt would be made. The young man had acted on the square, and had made his offer in good faith.
Such was Mr. Neefit's state of mind when he received the young Squire's letter. The letter almost knocked him down. There was a decision about it, a confidence that all was over between them except the necessary payment of the money, an absence of all doubt as to "Miss Polly," which he could not endure. And then that order for more breeches, included in the very same paragraph with Polly, was most injurious. It must be owned that the letter was a cruel, heart-rending, bad letter. For an hour or so it nearly broke Mr. Neefit's heart. But he resolved that he was not going to be done. The young Squire should marry his daughter, or the whole transaction should be published to the world. He would do such things and say such things that the young Squire should certainly not have a good time of it. He said not a word to Polly of the letter that night, but he did speak of the young Squire. "When that young man comes again, Miss Polly," he said, "I shall expect you to take him."
"I don't know anything about that, father," said Polly. "He's had his answer, and I'm thinking he won't ask for another." Upon this the breeches-maker looked at his daughter, but made no other reply.
During the two or three following days Neefit made some inquiries, and found that his customer was at the Moonbeam. It was now necessary that he should go to work at once, and, therefore, with many misgivings, he took Waddle into his confidence. He could not himself write such a letter as then must be written;—but Waddle was perfect at the writing of letters. Waddle shrugged his shoulders, and clearly did not believe that Polly would ever get the young Squire. Waddle indeed went so far as to hint that his master would be lucky in obtaining payment of his money,—but, nevertheless, he gave his mind to the writing of the letter. The letter was written as follows:—
Conduit Street, 14th December, 186—.
Yours of the 9th instant has come to hand, and I beg to say with compliments how shocked we were to hear of the Squire's accident. It was terribly sudden, and we all felt it very much; as in the way of our business we very often have to.
As to the money that can stand. Between friends such things needn't be mentioned. Any accommodation of that kind was and always will be ready when required. As to that other matter, a young gentleman like you won't think that a young lady is to be taken at her first word. A bargain is a bargain, and honourable is honourable, which nobody knows as well as you who was always disposed to be upon the square. Our Polly hasn't forgotten you,—and isn't going.
It should be acknowledged on Mr. Waddle's behalf, that that last assurance was inserted by the unassisted energy of Mr. Neefit himself.
We shall expect to see you without delay, here or at Hendon, as may best suit; but pray remember that things stand just as they was. Touching other matters, as needn't be named here, orders will be attended to as usual if given separate.