"Always ask yourself what your father would have thought, Daniel. And then you'll not make any mistakes."
"I ask myself that often enough, you may be sure."
* * * * *
An hour later the young man had driven his trap to the Mill and listened to John Best on the subject of immediate interest. The foreman decided against any innovation for the present and Daniel was glad. Then he asked for his brother.
"Is Mister Raymond here?"
"He was this morning; but he's not down this afternoon. At least he wasn't when I went to his office just before you came."
"Everything's all right, I suppose?"
Mr. Best looked uncomfortable.
"I'm afraid not, sir; but I hate talking. You'd better hear it from him."
Daniel's heart sank.
"Tell me," he said. "You're one of us, John—my father's right hand for twenty years—and our good is your good. If you know of trouble, tell me the truth. It may be better for him in the long run. Miss Ironsyde was bothered about him, to-day."
"If it's better for him, then I'll speak," answered Best. "He's a very clever young man and learning fast now. He's buckling to and getting on with it. But—Sabina Dinnett, our first spinner, gave notice on Saturday. She's not here to-day."
"What does that mean?"
"You'd better ask them that know. I've heard a lot of rumours, and they may be true or not, and I hope they're not. But if they are, I suppose it means the old story where men get mixed up with girls."
Daniel was silent, but his face flushed.
"Don't jump to the conclusion it's true," urged the foreman. "Hear both sides before you do anything about it."
"I know it's true."
Mr. Best did not answer.
"And you know it's true," continued the younger.
"What everybody says nobody should believe," ventured Best. "What happened was this—Sabina came in on Saturday afternoon, when I was working in my garden, and gave notice. Not a month, but to go right away. Of course I asked her why, but she wouldn't tell me. She was as happy as a lark about it, and what she said was that I'd know the reason very soon and be the first to congratulate her. Of course, I thought she was going to be married. And still I hope she is. That's all you can take for truth. The rest is rumour. You can guess how a place like this will roll it over their tongues."
"I'll go and see Mister Churchouse."
"Do, sir. You can trust him to be charitable."
Daniel departed; but he did not see Ernest Churchouse. The antiquary was not at home and, instead, he heard Mrs. Dinnett, who poured the approximate truth into his ears with many tears. His brother had promised to marry Sabina, but on hearing the girl was with child, had apparently refused to keep his engagement.
Then it was Daniel Ironsyde's turn to lose his temper. He drove straight to North Hill House, found his brother in the garden with Estelle Waldron, took him aside and discharged him from the Mill.
Raymond had been considering the position and growing a little calmer. With a return of more even temper, he had written to Miss Ironsyde and promised to be with her on the following evening without fail. He had begged her to keep an open mind so far as he was concerned and he hoped that when the time came, he might be able to trust to her lifelong friendship. What he was going to say, he did not yet know; but he welcomed the brief respite and was in a good temper when his brother challenged him.
The attack was direct, blunt and even brutal. It burst like a thunder-bolt on Raymond's head, staggered him, and then, of course, enraged him.
"I won't keep you," said Daniel. "I only want to know one thing. Sabina Dinnett's going to have a baby. Are you the father of it, or aren't you?"
"What the devil business is that of yours?"
"As one of my mill hands, I consider it is my business. One thinks of them as human beings as well as machines—machines for work, or amusement—according to the point of view. So answer me."
"You cold-blooded cur! What are you but a machine?"
"Answer my question, please."
"Go to hell."
"You blackguard! You do a dirty, cowardly thing like this, despite my warnings and entreaties; you foul our name and drag it in the gutter and then aren't man enough to acknowledge it."
The younger trembled with passion.
"Shut your mouth, or I'll smash your face in!" he cried.
His sudden fury calmed his brother.
"You refuse to answer, and that can only mean one thing, Raymond. Then I've done with you. You've dragged us all through the mud—made us a shame and a scandal—proud people. You can go—the further off, the better. I dismiss you and I never want to see your face again."
"Don't worry—you never shall. God's my judge, I'd sooner sweep a crossing than come to you for anything. I know you well enough. You always meant to do this. You saved your face when my father robbed me from the grave and left me a pauper—you saved your face by putting me into the works; but you never meant me to stop there. You only waited your chance to sack me and keep the lot for yourself. And you've jumped at this and were glad to hear of this—damned glad, I'll bet!"
Daniel did not answer, but turned his back on his brother, and a minute or two later was driving away. When he had gone, the panting Raymond went to his room and flung himself on his bed. Under his cooling anger again obtruded the old satisfaction—amorphous, vile, not to be named—that he had felt before. This brought ultimate freedom a step nearer. If ostracism and punishment were to be his portion, then let him earn them. If the world—his world—was to turn against him, let the reversal be for something. Poverty would be a fair price for liberty, and those who now seemed so ready to hound him out of his present life and crush his future prospects, should live to see their error. For a time he felt savagely glad that this had happened. He regretted his letter to his aunt; he thought of packing his portmanteau on the instant and vanishing for ever; yet time and reflection abated his dreams. He began to grow a little alarmed. He even regretted his harsh words to his brother before the twilight fell.
Then his mind was occupied with Sabina; but Sabina had wounded him to the quick, for it was clear she and her mother had shamelessly published the truth. Sabina, then, had courted ruin. She deserved it. He soon argued that the disaster of the day was Sabina's work, and he dismissed her with an oath from his thoughts. Then he turned to Miss Ironsyde and found keen curiosity waken to know what she was thinking and feeling about him. Did she know that Daniel had dismissed him? Could she have listened to so grave a determination on Daniel's part and taken no step to prevent it?
He found himself deeply concerned at being flung out of his brother's business. The more he weighed all that this must mean and its effect upon his future, the more overwhelmed he began to be. He had worked very hard of late and put all his energy and wits into spinning. He was beginning to understand its infinite possibilities and to see how, Daniel's trust once won, he might have advanced their common welfare.
From this point he ceased to regret his letter to Miss Ironsyde, but was glad that he had written it. He now only felt concerned that the communication was not penned with some trace of apology for his past indifference to her wishes. He began to see that his sole hope now lay with his aunt, and the supreme point of interest centred in her attitude to the situation.
He despatched a second letter, confirming the first, and expressing some contrition at his behaviour to her. But this rudeness he declared to have been the result of peculiarly distressing circumstances; and he assured her, that when the facts came to her ears, she would find no difficulty in forgiving him.
Their meeting was fixed for the following evening, and until it had taken place, Raymond told nobody of what had happened to him. He went to work next morning, to learn indirectly whether Best had heard of his dismissal; but it seemed the foreman had not. The circumstance cheered Raymond; he began to hope that his brother had changed his mind, and the possibility put him into a sanguine mood at once. He found himself full of good resolutions; he believed that this might prove the turning point; he expected that Daniel would arrive at any moment and he was prepared frankly to express deep regret for his conduct if he did so. But Daniel did not come.
Sabina constantly crossed Raymond's mind, to be as constantly dismissed from it. He was aware that something definite must be done; but he determined not even to consider the situation until he had seen his aunt. A hopeful mood, for which no cause existed, somehow possessed him upon this day. For no reason and spun of nothing in the least tangible, there grew around him an ambient intuition that he was going to get out of this fix with the help of Jenny Ironsyde. The impression created a wave of generosity to Sabina. He felt a large magnanimity. He was prepared to do everything right and reasonable. He felt that his aunt would approve the line he purposed to take. She was practical, and he assured himself that she would not consent to pronounce the doom of marriage upon him.
In this sanguine spirit Raymond went to Bridport and dined at 'The Tiger' before going to see his aunt at the appointed time. And here there happened events to upset the level optimism that had ruled him all day. Raymond had the little back-parlour to himself and Richard Gurd waited upon him. They spoke of general subjects and then the older man became personal.
"If you'll excuse me, Mister Raymond," he said, "if you'll excuse me, as one who's known you ever since you went out of knickers, sir, I'd venture to warn you as a good friend, against a lot that's being said in Bridetown and Bridport, too. You know how rumours fly about. But a good deal more's being said behind your back than ought to be said; and you'll do well to clear it up. And by the same token, Mister Motyer's opening his mouth the widest. As for me, I got it from Job Legg over the way at 'The Seven Stars'; and he got it from a young woman at Bridetown Mills, niece of Missis Northover. So these things fly about."
Raymond was aware that Richard Gurd held no puritan opinions. He possessed tolerance and charity for all sorts and conditions, and left morals alone.
"And what did you do, Dick? I should think you'd learned by this time to let the gossip of a public-house go in at one ear and out of the other."
"Yes—for certain. I learned to do that before you were born; but when things are said up against those I value and respect, it's different. I've told three men they were liars, to-day, and I may have to tell thirty so, to-morrow."
Raymond felt his heart go slower.
"What the deuce is the matter?"
"Just this: they say you promised to marry a mill girl at Bridetown and—the usual sort of thing—and, knowing you, I told them it was a lie."
The young man uttered a scornful ejaculation.
"Tell them to mind their own business," he said. "Good heavens—what a storm in a teacup it is! They couldn't bleat louder if I'd committed a murder."
"There's more to it than to most of these stories," explained Richard. "You see it sounds a very disgraceful sort of thing, you being your brother's right hand at the works."
"I'm not that, anyway."
"Well, you're an Ironsyde, Mister Raymond, and to have a story of this sort told about an Ironsyde is meat and drink for the baser sort. So I hope you'll authorise me to contradict it."
"Good God—is there no peace, even here?" burst out Raymond. "Can even a man I thought large-minded and broad-minded and all the rest of it, go on twaddling about this as if he was an old washer-woman? Here—get me my bill—I've finished. And if you're going to begin preaching to people who come here for their food and drink, you'd better chuck a pub and start a chapel."
Mr. Gurd was stricken dumb. A thousand ghosts from the grave had not startled him so much as this rebuke. Indeed, in a measure, he felt the rebuke deserved, and it was only because he held the rumour of Raymond's achievements an evil lie, that he had cautioned the young man, and with the best motives, desired to put him on his guard. But that the story should be true—or based on truth—as now appeared from Raymond's anger, had never occurred to Richard. Had he suspected such a thing, he must have deplored it, but he certainly would not have mentioned it.
He went out now without a word and held it the wisest policy not to see his angry customer again that night. He sent Raymond's account in by a maid, and the young man paid it and went out to keep his appointment with Miss Ironsyde.
But again his mood was changed. Gurd had hit him very hard. Indeed, no such severe blow had been struck as this unconscious thrust of Richard's. For it meant that an incident that Raymond was striving to reconcile with the ways of youth—a sowing of wild oats not destined to damage future crops—had appeared to the easy-going publican as a thing to be stoutly contradicted—an act quite incompatible with Raymond's record and credit. Coming from Gurd this attitude signified a great deal; for if the keeper of a sporting inn took such a line about the situation, what sort of line were others likely to take? Above all, what sort of line would his Aunt Jenny take? His nebulous hopes dwindled. He began to fear that she would find the honour of the family depended not on his freeing himself from Sabina, but the contrary.
And he was right. Miss Ironsyde welcomed him kindly, but left no shadow of doubt as to her opinion; and the fact that the situation had been complicated by publicity, which in the last resort he argued, by no means turned her from her ultimatum.
"Sit down and smoke and listen to me, Raymond," she began, after kissing him. "I forgive you, once for all, that you could be so rude to me and fail to see me despite my very pressing letter. No doubt some whim or suspicion inspired you to be unkind. But that doesn't matter now. That's a trifle. We've got to thresh out something that isn't a trifle, however, for your honour and good name are both involved—and with yours, ours."
"I argue that a great deal too much is being made of this, Aunt Jenny."
"I hope so—I hope everything has been exaggerated through a misunderstanding. Delay in these cases is often simply fatal, Raymond, because it gives a lie a start. And if you give a lie a start, it's terribly hard to catch. Sabina Dinnett came to see me on Sunday afternoon and I trust with all my heart she told me what wasn't true."
He felt a sudden gleam of hope and she saw it.
"Don't let any cheerful feeling betray you; this is far from a cheerful subject for any of us. But again, I say, I hope that Sabina Dinnett has come to wrong conclusions. What she said was this. Trust me to be accurate, and when I have done, correct her statement if it is false. Frankly, I thought her a highly intelligent young woman, with grace of mind and fine feeling. She was fighting for her future and she did it like a gentlewoman."
Miss Ironsyde then related her conversation with Sabina and Raymond knew it to be faithful in every particular.
"Is that true, or isn't it?" she concluded.
"Yes, it's perfectly true, save in her assumption that I had changed my mind," he said. "What I may have done since, doesn't matter; but when I left her, I had not changed my mind in the least; if she had waited for me to act in my own time, and come to see you, and so on, as I meant to do, and broken it to Daniel myself, instead of hearing him break it to me and dismiss me as though I were a drunken groom, then I should have kept my word to her. But these things, and her action, and the fact that she and her fool of a mother have bleated the story all over the county—these things have decided me it would be a terrible mistake to marry Sabina now. She's not what I thought. Her true character is not trustworthy—in fact—well, you must see for yourself that they don't trust me and are holding a pistol to my head. And no man is going to stand that. We could never be married now, because she hates me. There's another reason too—a practical one."
"Why, the best. I'm a pauper. Daniel has chucked me out of the works."
Miss Ironsyde showed very great distress.
"Do you honestly mean that you could look the world in the face if you ruin this woman?"
"Why use words like that? She's not ruined, any more than thousands of other women."
"I'm ashamed of you, Raymond. I hope to God you've never said a thing so base as that to anybody but me. And if I thought you meant it, I think it would break my heart. But you don't mean it. You loved the girl and you are an honourable man without a shadow on your good name so far. You loved Sabina, and you do love her, and if you said you didn't a thousand times, I should not believe it. You're chivalrous and generous, and that's the precious point about you. Granted that she made a mistake, is her mistake to wreck her whole life? Just think how she felt—what a shock you gave her. You part with her on Saturday the real Raymond, fully conscious that you must marry her at once—for her own honour and yours. Then on Sunday, you are harsh and cruel—for no visible reason. You frighten her; you raise up horrible fears and dangers in her young, nervous spirit. She is in a condition prone to terrors and doubts, and upon this condition you came in a surly mood and imply that you yourself are changed. What wonder she lost her head? Yet I do not think that it was to lose her head to come to me. She had often heard you speak of me. She knew that I loved you well and faithfully. She felt that if anybody could put this dreadful fear to rest, I should be the one. Don't say she wasn't right."
He listened attentively and began to feel something of his aunt's view.
"Forgive her first for coming to me. If mistaken, admit at least it was largely your own fault that she came. She has nothing but love and devotion for you. She told nothing but the truth."
He asked a question, which seemed far from the point, but none the less indicated a coming change of attitude. At any rate Jenny so regarded it.
"What d'you think of her?"
"I think she's a woman of naturally fine character. She has brains and plenty of sense and if she had not loved you unspeakably and been very emotional, I do not think this could have happened to her."
She talked on quietly, but with the unconscious force of one who feels her subject to the heart. The man began to yield—not for love of Sabina, but for love of himself. For Miss Ironsyde continued to make him see his own position must be unbearable if he persisted, while first she implied and finally declared, that only through marriage with Sabina could his own position be longer retained.
But he put forward his dismissal as an argument against marriage.
"Whatever I feel, it's too late now," he explained. "Daniel heard some distorted version of the truth in Bridetown, and, of course, believed it, and came to me white with rage and sacked me. Well, you must see that alters the case if nothing else does. Granted, for the sake of argument, that I can overlook the foolish, clumsy way she and her mother have behaved and go on as we were going, how am I to live and keep a wife on nothing?"
"That is a small matter," she answered. "You need not worry about it in the least. And you know in your heart, my dear, you need not. I have had plenty of time to think over this, and I have thought over it. And I am very ready and willing to come between you and any temporal trouble of that sort. As to Daniel, when he hears that you are going to marry and always meant to do so, it must entirely change his view of the situation. He is just and reasonable. None can deny that."
"You needn't build on Daniel, however. I'd rather break stones than go back to the Mill after what he said to me."
"Leave him, then. Leave him out of your calculation and come to me. As I tell you, I've thought about it a great deal, and first I think Sabina is well suited to be a good wife to you. With time and application she will become a woman that any man might be proud to marry. I say that without prejudice, because I honestly think it. She is adaptable, and, I believe, would very quickly develop into a woman in every way worthy of your real self. And I am prepared to give you five hundred a year, Raymond. After all, why not? All that I have is yours and your brother's, some day. And since you need it now, you shall have it now."
At another time he had been moved by this generosity; to-night, knowing what it embraced, he was not so grateful as he might have been. His instinct was to protest that he would not marry Sabina; but shame prevented him from speaking, since he could advance no decent reason for such a change of mind. He felt vaguely, dimly at the bottom of his soul that, despite events, he ought not to marry her. He believed, apart from his own intense aversion from so doing now, that marriage with him would not in the long run conduce to Sabina's happiness. But where were the words capable of lending any conviction to such a sentiment? Certainly he could think of none that would change his aunt's opinion.
Sullenly he accepted her view with outward acknowledgment and inward resentment. Then she said a thing that nearly made him rebel, since it struck at his pride, indicated that Miss Ironsyde was sure of her ground, showed that she had assumed the outcome of their meeting before the event.
First, however, he thanked her.
"Of course, it is amazingly good and kind. I don't like to accept it. But I suppose it would hurt you more if I didn't than if I do. It's a condition naturally that I marry Sabina—I quite understand that. Well, I must then. I might have been a better friend to her if I hadn't married; and might love her better and love her longer for that matter. But, of course, I can't expect you to understand that. I only want to be sporting, and a man's idea of being sporting isn't the same—"
"Now, now—you're forgetting and talking nonsense, Raymond. You really are forgetting. A man's idea of being 'sporting' does not mean telling stories to a trusting and loving girl, does it? I don't want anybody to judge you but yourself. I am perfectly content to leave it to your own conscience. And very sure I am that if you ask yourself the question, you'll answer it as it should be answered. So sure, indeed, that I have done a definite thing about it, which I will tell you in a moment. For the rest you must find a house where you please and be married as soon as you can. And when Daniel understands what a right and proper thing you're doing, I think you'll very soon find all will be satisfactory again in that quarter."
"Thank you, I'm sure. But don't speak to him yet. I won't ask for favours nor let you, Aunt Jenny. If he comes to me, well and good—I certainly won't go to him. As to Sabina, we'll clear out and get married in a day or two."
"Not before a Registrar," pleaded Miss Ironsyde.
"Before the Devil I should think," he said, preparing to leave her.
She chid him and then mentioned certain preparations made for this particular evening.
"Don't be cross any more, and let me see you value my good will and love, Ray, by doing what I'm going to ask you to do, now. So sure was I that, when the little details were cleared up, you would feel with me, and welcome your liberty from constraint, and return to Sabina with the good news, that I asked her to meet you to-night—this very night, my dear, so that you might go home with her and make her happy. She had tea with me—I made her come, and then she went to friends, and she will be in the Lovers' Grove waiting for you at ten o'clock—half an hour from now."
His impulse was to protest, but he recognised the futility for so doing. He felt baffled and cowed and weary. He hated himself because, weakened by poverty, an old woman had been too much for him. He clutched at a hope. Perhaps by doing as his aunt desired and going through with this thing, he would find his peace of mind return and a consciousness that, after all, to keep his promise was the only thing which would renew his self-respect. It might prove the line of least resistance to take this course. He felt not sorry at the immediate prospect of meeting Sabina. In his present mood that might be a good thing to happen. Annoyance passed, and when he did take leave it was with more expressions of gratitude.
"I don't know why you are so extraordinarily good to me," he said. "I certainly don't deserve it. But the least I can do is throw up the sponge and do as you will, and trust your judgment. I don't say I agree with you, but I'm going to do it; and if it's a failure, I shan't blame you, Aunt Jenny."
"It won't be a failure. I'm as sure as I'm sure of anything that it will be a splendid success, Raymond. Come again, very soon, and tell me what you decide about a house. And remember one thing—don't fly away and take a house goodness knows where. Always reckon with the possibility—I think certainty—that Daniel will soon be friendly, when he hears you're going to be married."
He left her very exhausted, and if her spirits sank a little after his departure, Raymond's tended to rise. The night air and moonlight brisked him up; he felt a reaction towards Sabina and perceived that she must have suffered a good deal. He threw the blame on her mother. Once out of Bridetown things would settle down; and if his brother came to his senses and asked him to return, he would make it a condition that he worked henceforth at Bridport. A feeling of hatred for Bridetown mastered him.
He descended West Street until the town lay behind him, then turned to the left through a wicket, crossed some meadows and reached a popular local tryst and sanctity: the Lovers' Grove. A certain crudity in the ideas of Miss Ironsyde struck Raymond. How simple and primitive she was after all. Could such an unworldly and inexperienced woman be right? He doubted it. But he went on through the avenue of lime and sycamore trees which made the traditional grove. Beneath them ran pavement of rough stones, that lifted the pathway above possible inundation, and, to-night, the pattern of the naked boughs above was thrown down upon the stones in a black lace work by the moon. The place was very still, but half a mile distant there dreamed great woods, whence came the hooting of an owl.
Raymond stood to listen, and when the bird was silent, he heard a footfall ring on the paving-stones and saw Sabina coming to him. At heart she had been fearful that he would not appear; but this she did not whisper now. Instead she pretended confidence and said, "I knew you'd come!"
He responded with fair ardour and tried to banish his grievances against her. He assured her that all her alarm and tribulation were not his fault, but her own; and her responsive agreement and servile tact, by its self-evidence defeated its own object and fretted the man's nerves, despite his kindly feelings. For Sabina, in her unspeakable thankfulness at the turn of events, sank from herself and was obsequious. When they met he kissed her and presently, holding his hand, she kissed it. She heaped blame upon herself and praised his magnanimity; she presented the ordinary phenomena of a happy release from affliction and fear; but her intense humility was far from agreeable to Raymond, since its very accentuation served to show his own recent actions in painful colours.
He told her what his aunt was going to do; and where a subtler mind had held its peace, Sabina erred again and praised Miss Ironsyde. In truth, she was not at her best to-night and her excitement acted unfavourably on Raymond. He fought against his own emotions, and listened to her high-strung chatter and plans for the future. A torrent of blame had better suited the contrite mood in which she met him; but she took the blame on her own shoulders, and in her relief said things sycophantic and untrue.
He told her almost roughly to stop.
"For God's sake don't blackguard yourself any more," he said. "Give me a chance. It's for me to apologise to you, surely. I knew perfectly well you meant nothing, and I ought to have had more imagination and not given you any cause to be nervous. I frightened you, and if a woman's frightened, of course, she's not to be blamed for what she does, any more than a man's to be blamed for what he does when he's drunk."
This, however, she would not allow.
"If I had trusted you, and known you could not do wrong, and remembered what you said when I told you about the child—then all this would have been escaped. And God knows I did trust you at the bottom of my heart all the time."
She talked on and the man tired of it and, looking far ahead, perceived that his life must be shared for ever with a nature only now about to be revealed to him. He had seen the best of her; but he had never seen the whole truth of her. He knew she was excitable and passionate; but the excitation and passion had all been displayed for him till now. How different when she approached other affairs of life than love, and brought her emotional characteristics to bear upon them! A sensation of unutterable flatness overtook Raymond. She began talking of finding a house, and was not aware that his brother had dismissed him.
He snatched an evil pleasure from telling her so. It silenced her and made her the more oppressively submissive. But through this announcement he won temporary release. There came a longing to leave her, to go back to Bridport and see other faces, hear other voices and speak of other things. They had walked homeward through the valley of the river and, at West Haven, Raymond announced that she must go the remainder of the way alone. He salved the unexpected shock of this with a cheerful promise.
"I sleep at Bridport, to-night," he said, "and I'll leave you here, Sabina; but be quite happy. I dare say Daniel will be all right. He's a pious blade and all that sort of thing and doesn't understand real life. And as some fool broke our bit of real life rather roughly on his ear, it was too much for his weak nerves. I shan't take you very far off anyway. We'll have a look round soon. I'll go to a house agent or somebody in a day or two."
"You must choose," she said.
"No, no—that's up to you, and you mustn't have small ideas about it either. You're going to live in a jolly good house, I promise you."
This sweetened the parting. He kissed her and turned his face to Bridport, while she followed the road homeward. It took her past the old store—black as the night under a roof silvered by the moon. A strange shiver ran through her as she passed it. She could have prayed for time to turn back.
"Oh, my God, if I was a maiden again!" she said in a low voice to herself.
Then, growing calmer and musing of the past rather than the future, she asked herself whether in that case she would still be caring for Raymond; but she turned from such a thought and smothered the secret indignation still lying red-hot and hidden under the smoke of the things she had said to him that night.
On his way to Bridport, the man also reflected, but of the future, not the past.
"I must be cruel to be kind," he told himself. What he exactly meant by the assurance, he hardly knew. But, in some way, it assisted self-respect and promised a course of action likely to justify his coming life.
JOB LEGG'S AMBITION
A disquieting and wholly unexpected event now broke into the strenuous days of the mistress of 'The Seven Stars.' It followed another, which was now a thing of the past; but Mrs. Northover had scarcely finished being thankful that the old order was restored again, when that occurred to prove the old order could never be restored.
Job Legg had been called away to the deathbed of an aged uncle. For a fortnight he was absent, and during that time Nelly Northover found herself the victim of a revelation. She perceived, indeed, startling truths until then hidden from her, and found the absence of Job created undreamed-of complications. At every turn she missed the man and discovered, very much to her own surprise, that this most unassuming person appeared vital to the success of her famous house. On every hand she heard the same words; all progress was suspended; nothing could advance until the return of Mr. Legg. 'The Seven Stars' were arrested in their courses while he continued absent.
Thus his temporary disappearance affected the system and proved that around the sun of Job Legg, quite as much as his mistress, the galaxy revolved; but something more than this remained to be discovered by Mrs. Northover herself. She found that not only had she undervalued his significance and importance in her scheme of things; but that she entertained a personal regard for the man, unsuspected until he was absent. She missed him at every turn; and when he came back to her, after burying his uncle, Mrs. Northover could have kissed him.
This she did not do; but she was honest; she related the suspension of many great affairs for need of Job; she described to him the dislocation that his departure had occasioned and declared her hearty thankfulness that her right hand had returned to her.
"You was uppermost in my mind a thousand times a day, Job; and when it came to doing the fifty thousand things you do, I began to see what there is to you," said Nelly Northover. "And this I'll say: you haven't been getting enough money along with me."
He was pleased and smiled and thanked her.
"I've missed 'The Stars,'" he said, "and am very glad to be back."
Then when things were settled down and Mrs. Northover happy and content once more, Mr. Legg cast her into much doubt and uncertainty. Indeed his attitude so unexpected, awoke a measure of dismay. Life, that Nelly hoped was becoming static and comfortable again, suddenly grew highly dynamic. Changes stared her in the face and that was done which nothing could undo.
On the night that Raymond Ironsyde left Sabina at West Haven and returned to Bridport, Mr. Legg, the day's work done, drank a glass of sloe gin in Mrs. Northover's little parlour and uttered a startling proposition—the last to have been expected.
The landlady herself unconsciously opened the way to it, for she touched the matter of his wages and announced her purpose to increase them by five shillings a week. Then he spoke.
"Before we talk about that, hear me," he said. "You were too nice-minded to ask me if I got anything by the death of my old man; but I may tell you, that I got everything. And there was a great deal more than anybody knew. In short he's left me a shade over two hundred pounds per annum, and that with my own savings—for I've saved since I was thirteen years old—brings my income somewhere near the two hundred and fifty mark—not counting wages."
"Good powers, Job! But I am glad. Never none on earth deserved a bit better than you do."
"And yet," he said, "I only ask myself if all this lifts me high enough to say what I want to say. You know me for a modest man, Mrs. Northover."
"None more so, Job."
"And therefore I've thought a good deal about it and come to it by the way of reason as well as inclination. In fact I began to think about what I'm going to say now, many years ago after your husband died. And I just let the idea go on till the appointed time, if ever it should come; and when my uncle died and left a bit over four thousand pounds to me, I felt the hour had struck!"
Nelly's heart sank.
"You're going?" she said. "All this means that you are going into business on your own, Legg."
"Let me finish. But be sure of one thing; I'm not going if I can stay with peace and honour. If I can't, then, of course, I must go. To go would be a terrible sad thing for me, for I've grown into this place and feel as much a part of it as the beer engine, or the herbaceous border. But I had to weigh the chances, and I may say my cautious bent of mind showed very clearly what they were. And, so, first, I'll tell what a flight I've took and what a thought I've dared, and then I'll ask you, being a woman with a quick mind and tongue, to answer nothing for the moment, and say no word that you may wish to recall after."
"All very wise and proper, I'm sure."
"If it ain't, God forgive me, seeing I've been working it out in my mind for very near twenty years. And I say this, that being now a man of capital, and a healthy and respectable man, and well thought of, I believe, and nothing against me to my knowledge, I offer to marry you, Nelly Northover. The idea, of course, comes upon you like a bolt from the blue, as I can see by your face; but before you answer 'No,' I must say I've loved you in a respectful manner for many years, and though I knew my place too well to say so, I let it appear by faithful service and very sharp eyes always on your interests—day and night you may say."
"That is true," she said. "I didn't know my luck."
"I don't say that. Any honourable man would have done so much, very likely; but perhaps—however, I'm not here to praise myself but to praise you; and I may add I never in a large experience saw the woman—maid, wife or widow—to hold a candle to you for brains and energy and far-reaching fine qualities in general. And therefore I never could be worthy of you, and I don't pretend to it, and the man who did would be a very vain and windy fool; but such is my high opinion and great desire to be your husband that I risk, you may say, everything by offering myself."
"This is a very great surprise, Job."
"So great that you must do me one good turn and not answer without letting it sink in, if you please. I have a right to beg that. Of course I know on the spur of the moment the really nice-minded woman always turns down the adventurous male. 'Tis their delicate instinct so to do. But you won't do that—for fairness to me. And there's more to it yet, because we've got to think of fairness to you also. I wouldn't have you buy a pig in a poke and take a man of means without knowing where you stood. So I may say that if you presently felt the same as I do about it, I should spend a bit of my capital on 'The Seven Stars,' which, in my judgment, is now crying for capital expenditure."
"It is," admitted Mrs. Northover, "I grant you that."
"Very well, then. It would be my pride—"
He was interrupted, for the bell of the inn rang and a moment later Raymond Ironsyde appeared in the hall. He had come for supper and bed.
"Good evening, Mrs. Northover," he said. "I'm belated and starving into the bargain. Have you got a room?"
"For that matter, yes," she answered not very enthusiastically. "But surely 'The Tiger's' your house, sir?"
"I'm not bound to 'The Tiger,' and very likely shall never go there again. Gurd is getting too big for his shoes and seems to think he's called upon to preach sermons to his customers, besides doing his duty as a publican. If I want sermons I can go to church for them, not to an inn. Give me some supper and a bottle of your best claret. I'm tired and bothered."
A customer was a customer and Mrs. Northover had far too much experience to take up the cudgels for her friend over the way. She guessed pretty accurately at the subject of Richard Gurd's discourse, yet wondered that he should have spoken. For her own part, while quite as indignant as others and more sorry than many that this cloud should have darkened a famous local name, she held it no personal business of hers.
"I'll see what cold meat we've got. Would you like a chicken, sir?"
"No—beef, and plenty of it. And let me have a room."
Job Legg, concealing the mighty matters in his own bosom, soon waited upon Raymond and found him in a sulky humour. The claret was not to his liking and he ordered spirits. He began to smoke and drink, and from an unamiable mood soon thawed and became talkative. He bade Job stay and listen to him.
"I've got a hell of a lot on my mind," he said, "and it's a relief to talk to a sensible man. There aren't many knocking about so far as I can see."
He rambled on touching indirectly, as he imagined, at his own affairs, but making it clear to the listener that a very considerable tumult raged in Raymond's own mind. Then came Mrs. Northover, told the guest that it was nearer two o'clock than one, and hoped he was soon going to bed.
He promised to do so and she departed; but the faithful Job, himself not sleepy, kept Raymond company. Unavailingly he urged the desirability of sleep, but young Ironsyde sat on until he was very drunk. Then Mr. Legg helped him upstairs and assisted him to his bed.
It was after three o'clock before he retired himself and found his mind at liberty to speculate upon the issue of his own great adventure.
Jenny Ironsyde came to see Ernest Churchouse upon the matter of the marriage. She found him pensive and a little weary. According to his custom he indulged in ideas before approaching the subject just then uppermost in all minds in Bridetown.
"I have been suffering from rather a severe dose of the actual," he said; "at present, in the minds of those about me, there is no room for any abstraction. We are confronted with facts—painful facts—a most depressing condition for such a mind as mine. There are three orders of intelligence, Jenny. The lowest never reaches higher than the discussion of persons; the second talks about places, which is certainly better; the third soars into the region of ideas; and when one finds a person indulge in ideas, then court their friendship, for ideas are the only sound basis of intellectual interchanges. It is so strange to see an educated person, who might be discussing the deepest mysteries and noblest problems of life, preferring to relate the errors of a domestic servant, or deplore the price of sprats."
"All very well for you," declared Miss Ironsyde; "from your isolated situation, above material cares and anxieties, you can affect this superiority; but what about Mrs. Dinnett? You would very soon be grumbling if Mrs. Dinnett put the deepest mysteries and noblest problems of life before the price of sprats. It is true that man cannot live by bread alone; and it is equally true that he cannot live without it. The highest flights are impossible without cooking, and cooking would be impossible if all aspired to the highest flights."
"As a matter of fact, Mrs. Dinnett is my present source of depression," he said. "All is going as it should go, I suppose. The young people are reconciled, and I have arranged that Sabina should be married from here a fortnight hence. Thus, as it were, I shield and protect her and support her against back-biting and evil tongues."
"It is splendid of you."
"Far from it. I am only doing the obvious. I care much for the girl. But Mary Dinnett, despite the need to be sanguine and expeditious, permits herself an amount of obstinate melancholy which is most ill-judged and quite unjustified by the situation. Nothing will satisfy her. She scorns hope. She declines to take a cheerful view. She even confesses to a premonition they are not going to be married after all. She says that her grandmother had second sight and believes that the doubtful gift has been handed down to her."
"This is very bad for Sabina."
"Of course it is. I impress that upon her mother. The girl has been through a great deal. She is highly strung at all times, and these affairs have wrought havoc with her intelligence for the moment. Her one thought and feverish longing is to be married, and her mother's fatuous prophecies that she never will be are causing serious nervous trouble to Sabina. I feel sure of it. They may even be doing permanent harm."
"You should suppress Mary."
"I endeavour to do so. I put much serving upon her; but her frame of mind is such that her energy is equal to anything. You had better see her and caution her. From another woman, words of wisdom would carry more weight than mine. As to Sabina, I have warned her against her mother—a strong thing to do, but I felt it to be my duty."
They saw Mary Dinnett then, and Miss Ironsyde quickly realised that there were subtle tribulations and shades of doubt in the mother's mind beyond Mr. Churchouse's power to appreciate. Indeed, Mrs. Dinnett, encouraged so to do by the sympathetic presence of Jenny Ironsyde, strove to give reasons for her continued gloom.
"You must be more hopeful and put a brighter face on it, Mary, if only for the sake of the young people," declared the visitor. "You're not approaching the marriage from the right point of view. We must forget the past and keep our minds on the future and proceed with this affair just as though it were an ordinary marriage without any disquieting features. We have to remember that they love each other and really are well suited. The future is chequered by certain differences between my nephews, which have not yet been smoothed out; but I am sure that they will be; and meantime you need feel no fear of any inconvenience for Sabina. I am responsible."
"I know all that," said Mrs. Dinnett, "and your name is in my prayers when I rise up and when I go to bed. But while there's a lot other people can do for 'em, there's also a deal they can only do for themselves; and, in my opinion, they are not doing it. It's no good us playacting and forgetting the past and pretending everything is just as it should be, if they won't."
"But they have."
"Sabina has. I doubt if he has. I don't know how you find him, but when I see him he's not in a nice temper and not taking the situation in the spirit of a happy bridegroom—very far from it. And my second-sight, which I get from my grandmother, points to one thing: that there won't be no wedding."
"This is preposterous," declared Miss Ironsyde. "The day is fixed and every preparation far advanced."
"That's nought to a wayward mind like his. He's got in a state now when I wouldn't trust him a yard. And I hope to God you'll hold the reins tight, miss, and not slacken till they're man and wife. Once let him see his way clear to bolt, and bolt he will."
Mr. Churchouse protested, while Jenny only sighed. Sabina's mother was echoing her own secret uneasiness, but she lamented that others had marked it as well as herself.
"He is in a very moody state, but never speaks of any change of mind to me."
"Because he well knows you hold the purse," said Mrs. Dinnett. "I don't want to say anything uncharitable against the man, though I might; but I will say that there's danger and that I do well to be a miserable woman till the danger's past. You tell me to cheer up, and I promise to cheer up quick enough when there's reason to do so. Mr. Churchouse here is the best gentleman on God's earth; but he don't understand a mother's heart—how should he? and he don't know what a lot women have got to hide from men—for their own self-respect, and because men as a body are such clumsy-minded fools—speaking generally, of course."
To see even Mrs. Dinnett dealing thus in ideas excited Ernest and filled him with interest. He forgot everything but the principle she asserted and would have discussed it for an hour; but Mary, having thus hit back effectively, departed, and Miss Ironsyde brought the master of 'The Magnolias' back to their subject.
"There's a lot of truth in what she says and it shows how trouble quickens the wits," she declared; "and I can say to you, what I wouldn't to her, that Raymond is not taking this in a good spirit, or as I hoped and expected. I feel for him, too, while being absolutely firm with him. Stupid things were done and the secret of his folly made public. He has a grudge against them and, of course, that is rather a threatening fact, because a grudge against anybody is a deadly thing to get into one's mind. It poisons character and ruins your steady outlook, if it is deep seated enough."
"Would you say that he bore Sabina a grudge?"
"I'm afraid so; but I do my best to dispel it by pointing out what she thought herself faced with. And I tell him what is true, that Sabina in her moments of greatest fear and exasperation, always behaved like a lady. But in your ear only, Ernest, I confess to a new sensation—a sickly sensation of doubt. It comes over my religious certainty sometimes, like a fog. It's cold and shivery. Of course from every standpoint of religion and honour and justice, they ought to be married. But—"
He stopped her.
"Having named religion and honour and justice, there is no room for 'but.' Indeed, Jenny, there is not."
"Let me speak, all the same. Other people can have intuitions besides Mrs. Dinnett. It's an intuition—not second sight—but it is alive. Supposing this marriage doesn't really make for the happiness of either of them?"
"If they put religion and honour and justice first, it must," he repeated. "You cannot, I venture to say, have happiness without religion and honour and justice; and if Raymond were to go back on his word now, he would be the most miserable man in the country."
"Don't wonder. Be sure of it. Granted he finds himself miserable—that is because he has committed a fault. Will it make him less miserable to go on and commit a greater? Sorrow is a fair price to pay for wisdom, Jenny. He is a great deal wiser now than he was six months ago, and to shirk his responsibilities and break his word will not mend matters. Besides, there is another consideration, which you forget. These young people are no longer free. Even if they both desired to remain single, honour, justice and religion actually demand marriage. There was a doubt in my own mind once, too, whether their happiness would be assured by union. Now there is no doubt. A child is coming into the world. Need I say more?"
"I stand corrected," she answered. "There is really nothing more to be said. For the child's sake, if for no other reason, marry they must. We know too well the fate of the child born out of wedlock in this country."
"It is a shameful and cruel fate; and while the Church of England cowardly suffers the State to impose it, and selfish men care not, we, with some enthusiasm for the unborn and some indignation to see their disabilities, must do what lies in our power for them."
He rambled off into generalities inspired by this grave theme.
"'Suffer the little children to come unto Me,' said Christ; and we make it almost impossible for fifty thousand little children to come unto Him every year; and those who stand for Him, the ministers of His Church, lift not a finger. The little children of nobody they are. They grow up conscious of their handicap; they come into the world to trust and hope and find themselves pariahs. Is that conducive to a religious trust in God, or a rational trust in man for these outlawed thousands?"
She brought him back again to Raymond and Sabina.
"Apart from the necessity and justice," she said, "and taking it for granted that the thing must happen, what is your opinion of the future? You know Sabina well and ought to be in a position to say if you think she will have the wit and sense to make it a happy marriage."
"I should wish to think so. They are a gracious pair—at least they were. I liked both boy and girl exceedingly and I happened to be the one who introduced them to each other. It was after Henry's death. Sabina came in with our tea and one could almost see an understanding spring up and come to life under one's eyes. They've been wicked, Jenny; but such is my hopelessly open mind in the matter of goodness and wickedness, that I often find it harder to forgive some people for doing their duty than others for being wicked. In fact, some do their duty in a way that is perfectly unforgivable, while others fail in such an affecting and attractive manner that they make you all the fonder of them."
"I feel so, too, sometimes," she admitted, "but I never dared to confess it. Once married, I think Raymond would steady down and realise his responsibilities. We must both do what we can to bring the brothers together again. It will take a long time to make Daniel forgive this business."
"It is just the Daniel type who would take it most seriously, even if we are able soon to say 'all's well that ends well.' For that reason, one regrets he heard particulars. However, we must trust and believe the future will set all right and reinstate Raymond at the works. For my own part I feel very sure that will happen."
"Well, I always like to see hope triumphing over experience," she said, "and one need never look further than you for that."
"Thank yourself," he answered. "Your steadfast optimism always awakes an echo in me. If we make up our minds that this is going to be all right, that will at least help on the good cause. We can't do much to make it all right, but we can do something. They are in Bridport house-hunting this morning, I hear."
"They are; and that reminds me they come to lunch and, I hope, to report progress. Of course anything Raymond likes, Sabina approves; but he isn't easily satisfied. However, they may have found something. Daniel, rather fortunately, is from home just now, in the North."
"If we could get him to the wedding, it would be a great thing."
"I'm afraid we mustn't hope for that; but we can both urge him to come. He may."
"I will compose a very special letter to him," said Mr. Churchouse. "How's your rheumatism?"
"Better, if anything."
THE WARPING MILL
In the warping shed Mercy Gale plied her work. It was a separate building adjoining the stores at Bridetown Mill and, like them, impregnated with the distinctive, fat smell of flax and hemp. Under dusty rafters and on a floor of stone the huge warping reels stood. They were light, open frameworks that rose from floor to ceiling and turned upon steel rods. Hither came the full bobbins from the spinning machines to be wound off. Two dozen of the bobbins hung together on a flat frame or 'creel' and through eyes and slots the yarn ran through a 'hake,' which deftly crossed the strands so that they ran smoothly and freely. The bake box rose and fell and lapped the yarn in perfect spirals round the warping reels as they revolved. The length of a reel of twine varies in different places and countries; but at Bridetown, a Dorset reel was always measured, and it represented twenty-one thousand, six hundred yards.
Mercy Gale was chaining the warp off the reels in great massive coils which would presently depart to be polished and finished at Bridport. All its multiple forms sprang from the simple yarn. It would turn into shop and parcel twines; fishing twines for deep sea lines and nets; and by processes of reduplication, swell to cords and shroud laid ropes, hawsers and mighty cables.
A little figure filled the door of the shed and Estelle Waldron appeared. She shook hands and greeted the worker with friendship, for Estelle was now free of the Mill and greatly prided herself on personally knowing everybody within them.
"Good morning, Mercy," she said. "I've come to see Nancy Buckler."
"Good morning, miss. I know. She's going to run in at dinner time to sing you her song."
"It's a wonderful song, I believe," declared Estelle, "and very, very old. Her grandfather taught it to her before he died, and I want to write it down. Do you like poetry, Mercy?"
"Can't say as I do," confessed the warper. She was a fair, tall girl. "I like novels," she added. "I love stories, but I haven't got much use for rhymes."
"Stories about what?" asked Estelle. "I have a sort of an idea to start a library, if I can persuade my father to let me. I believe I could get some books from friends to make a beginning."
"Stories about adventure," declared Mercy. "Most of the girls like love stories; but I don't care so much about them. I like stories where big things happen in history."
"So do I; and then you know you're reading about what really did happen and about great people who really lived. I think I can lend you some stories like that."
Mercy thanked her and Estelle fell silent considering which book from her limited collection would best meet the other's demand. Herself she did not read many novels, but loved her books about plants and her poets. Poetry was precious food to her, and Mr. Churchouse, who also appreciated it, had led her to his special favourites. For the present, therefore, Estelle was content with Longfellow and Cowper and Wordsworth. The more dazzling light of Keats and Shelley and Swinburne had yet to dawn for her.
Nancy Buckler arrived presently to sing her song. Her looks did not belie Nancy. She was sharp of countenance, with thin cheeks and a prominent nose. Her voice, too, had a pinch of asperity about it. By nature she was critical of her fellow creatures. No man had desired her, and the fact soured her a little and led to a general contempt of the sex.
She smiled for Estelle, however, because the ingenuous child had won her friendship.
"Good morning, miss," she said. "If you've got a pencil and paper, you can take down the words."
"But sing them first," begged the listener. "I want to hear you sing them to the old tune, because I expect the tune is as old as the words, Nancy."
"It's a funny old tune for certain. I can't sing it like grandfather did, for all his age. He croaked it like a machine running, and that seemed the proper way. But I've not got much of a voice."
"'Tis loud enough, anyway," said Mercy, "and that's a virtue."
"Yes, you can hear what I'm saying," admitted Miss Buckler, then she sang her song.
"When a twister, a twisting, will twist him a twist, With the twisting his twist, he the twine doth entwist; But if one of the twines of the twist doth untwist, The twine that untwisteth, untwisteth the twist, Untwisting the twine that entwineth between, He twists with his twister the two in a twine. Then, twice having twisted the twines of his twine, He twisteth the twine he had twined in twine. The twain, that in twining before in the twine, As twines were entwisted, he now doth untwine, 'Twixt the twain intertwisting a twine more between."
Nancy gave her remarkable performance in a clear, thin treble. It was a monotonous melody, but suited the words very well. She sang slowly and her face and voice exhibited neither light nor shade. Yet her method suited the words in their exceedingly unemotional appeal.
"It's the most curious song I ever heard," cried Estelle, "and you sing it perfectly, because I heard every word."
Then she brought out pencil and paper, sat in the deep alcove of the window and transcribed Nancy's verse.
"You must sing that to my father next time you come up," she said. "It's like no other song in the world, I'm sure."
Sally Groves came in. She had brought Estelle the seed of a flower from her garden.
"I put it by for you, Miss Waldron," said the big woman, "because you said you liked it in the fall."
They talked together while Mercy Gale doffed her overall and woollen bonnet.
"Tell me," said Estelle, "of a very good sort of wedding present for Mr. Ironsyde, when he marries Sabina next week."
"A new temper, I should think," suggested Nancy.
"He can't help being rather in a temper," explained Estelle, "because they can't find a house."
"Sabina can find plenty," answered the spinner. "It's him that's so hard to please."
Sally Groves strove to curb Nancy's tongue.
"You mind your own business," she said. "Mr. Ironsyde wants everything just so, and why not?"
"Because it ain't a time to be messing about, I should think," retorted Nancy. "And it's for the woman to be considered, not him."
Then Estelle, in all innocence, asked a shattering question.
"Is it true Sabina is going to have a baby? One or two girls in the mill told me she was, but I asked my father, and he seemed to be annoyed and said, of course not. But I hope it's true—it would be lovely for Sabina to have a baby to play with."
"So it would then," declared Sally Groves, "but I shouldn't tell nothing about it for the present, miss."
"Least said, soonest mended," said Mercy Gale.
"It's like this," explained Sally Groves with clumsy goodness: "they'll want to keep it for a surprise, miss, and I dare say they'd be terrible disappointed if they thought anybody knew anything about it yet."
Nancy Buckler laughed.
"I reckon they would," she said.
"So don't you name it, miss," continued Sally. "Don't you name the word yet awhile."
"I won't then," she promised. "I know how sad it is, if you've got a great secret, to find other people know it before you want them to."
"Beastly sad," said Nancy, as she went her way, and the child looked after her puzzled.
"I believe Nancy's jealous of Sabina," she said.
Then it was Sally Groves who laughed and her merriment shook the billows of her mighty person.
Estelle found herself somewhat depressed as she went home. Not so much the words as the general spirit of these comments chilled her. After luncheon she visited her father's study and talked to him while he smoked.
"What perfectly beautiful thing can I get for Ray and Sabina for a wedding present?"
He cleaned his pipe with one of the crow's feathers Estelle was used to collect for him. They stood in vases on the mantel-shelf.
"It's a puzzler," confessed Arthur Waldron.
"D'you think Ray has grown bad-tempered, father?"
"No, I'm sure I don't. He is a little different, but that's because he's going to be married. No doubt people do get a little different, then. But Nancy Buckler at the Mill said she thought the best wedding present for him would be a new temper."
"That's the sort of insolent things people say, I suppose, behind his back. It's all very unfortunate in my opinion, Estelle."
"It's frightfully unfortunate Ray leaving us, because, after he's married, he must have a house of his own; but it isn't unfortunate his marrying Sabina, I'm sure."
"I'm not sure at all," confessed her father. His opinion always carried the greatest weight, and she was so much concerned at this announcement that Arthur felt sorry he had spoken.
"You see, Estelle—how can I explain? I think Ray in rather too young to marry."
"He's well over twenty."
"Yes, but he's young for his age, and the things that he is keen about are not the things that a girl is keen about. I doubt if he will make Sabina happy."
"He will if he likes, and I'm sure he will like. He can always make me happy, so, of course, he can make Sabina. He's really tremendously clever and knows all sorts of things. Oh, don't think it's going to be sad, father. I'm sure they're both much too wise to do anything that's going to be sad. Because if Ray—"
She stopped, for Raymond himself came in. He had left early that morning to seek a house with Sabina.
"What luck?" said Waldron.
"We've found something that'll do, I think. Two miles out towards Chidcock. A garden and a decent paddock and a stable. But he'll have to spend some money on the stable. There's a doubt if he will—the landlord, I mean. Sabina likes the house, so I hope it will be all right."
"If it's Thornton, the horse-dealer, he'll do what you want. He's got houses up there."
"It isn't. I haven't seen the man yet."
"Well," said his friend, "I don't know what the deuce Estelle and I are going to do without you. We shall miss you abominably."
"What shall I do without you? That's more to the point. You've got each other for pals—I—"
He broke off and Arthur filled the pregnant pause.
"Look here—Estelle wants to give you a wedding present, old man; and so do I. And as we haven't the remotest idea what would be the likeliest thing, don't stand on ceremony, but tell us."
"I don't want anything—except to know I shall always be welcome when I drop in."
"We needn't tell you that."
"But you must want thousands of things," declared Estelle, "everybody does when they're married. And if you don't, I'm sure Sabina does—knives and forks and silver tea kettles and pictures for the walls."
"Married people don't want pictures, Estelle; they never look at anything but one another."
"But the poor walls want pictures if you don't. I believe the walls wouldn't feel comfortable without pictures. Besides you and Sabina can't sit and look at each other all day."
"What about a nice little handy 'jingle' for her to trundle about in?" asked Waldron.
"As I can't pull it, old chap, it wouldn't be much good. I'm keeping the hunter; but I shan't be able to keep anything else—if that."
"How would it be if you sold the hunter and got a nice everyday sort of horse that you could ride, or that Sabina could drive?" asked Estelle.
"No," said Waldron firmly. "He doesn't sell his hunter or his guns. These things stand for a link with the outer world and represent sport, which is quite as important as marriage in the general scheme."
"I thought to chuck all that and take up golf," said Raymond. "There's a lot in golf they tell me."
But Waldron shook his head.
"Golf's all right," he admitted, "and a great game. I'm going to take it up myself, and I'm glad it's coming in, because it will add to the usefulness of a lot of us men who have to fall out of cricket. There's a great future for golf, I believe. But no golf for you yet. You won't run any more and you'll drop out of football, as only 'pros.' play much after marriage. But you must shoot as much as possible, and hunt a bit, and play cricket still."
This comforting programme soothed Raymond.
"That's all right, but I've got to find work. I was just beginning to feel keen on work; but now—flit, Estelle, my duck. I want to have a yarn with father."
The girl departed.
"Do let it be a 'jingle,' Ray," she begged, and then was gone.
"It's my damned brother," went on Raymond.
"He'll come round and ask you to go back, as soon as you're fixed up and everything's all right."
"Everything won't be all right. Everything's confoundedly wrong. Think what it is for a proud man to be at the mercy of an aunt, and to look to her for his keep. If anything could make me sick of the whole show, it's that."
"I shouldn't feel it so. She's keen on you, and keen on Sabina; and she knows you can't live upon air. You may be sure also she knows that it won't last. Daniel will come round."
"And if he does? It's all the same—taking his money."
"You won't be taking it; you'll be earning it."
"I hate him, like hell, and I hate the thought of working under him all my life."
"You won't be under him. You've often said the time was coming when you'd wipe Daniel's eye and show you were the moving spirit of the Mill. Well now, when you go back, you must work double tides to do it."
"He may not take me back, and for many things I'd sooner he didn't. We should never be the same to one another after that row. For two pins, even now, I'd make a bolt, Arthur, and disappear altogether and go abroad and carve out my own way."
"Don't talk rot. You can't do that."
But Waldron, in spite of his advice and sanguine prophecies, hid a grave doubt at heart whether, so far as Raymond's own future was concerned, such a course might not be the wisest. He felt confident, however, that the younger man would keep his engagements. Raymond had plenty of pluck and did not lack for a heart, so far as Waldron knew. Had Sabina been no more than engaged, he must strongly have urged Raymond to drop her and endure the harsh criticism that would have followed: for an engagement broken appeared a lesser evil than an unhappy mating; but since the position was complicated, he could not feel so and stoutly upheld the marriage on principle, while extremely doubtful of its practical outcome.
They talked for two hours to no purpose and then Estelle called them to tea.
Raymond and Sabina spent a long afternoon at the house they had taken; and while he was interested with the stables and garden, she occupied herself indoors. She was very tired before they had finished, and presently, returning to Bridport, they called at 'The Seven Stars' and ordered tea.
The famous garden was dismantled now and Job Legg spent some daily hours in digging there. To-morrow Job was to hear what Mrs. Northover had to say concerning his proposal, and, meantime, the pending decision neither unsettled him nor interfered with his usual placidity and enterprise.
Nelly Northover herself waited upon the engaged couple. She was somewhat abstracted with her own thoughts, but so far banished them that she could show and feel interest in the visitors. Raymond described the house, and Sabina, glad to see Raymond in a cheerful mood, expatiated on the charms of her future home.
They delayed somewhat longer than Mrs. Northover expected and she left them presently, for she had an appointment bearing on the supreme subject of her offer of marriage. Mrs. Northover was, in fact, going to take another opinion. Such indecision seemed foreign to her character, which seldom found her in two minds; but it happened that upon one judgment she had often relied since her husband's death and, before the great problem at present challenging Nelly, she believed another view might largely assist her. That she could not decide herself, she felt to be very significant. The fact made her cautious and anxious.
She put on her bonnet now, left a maid to settle with the customers and presently stepped across the road to 'The Tiger,' for it was Richard Gurd in whom Mrs. Northover put her trust. She designed to place Job's offer before her friend and invite a candid and unprejudiced criticism. For so doing more reasons than one may have existed; we seldom seek the judgment of a friend without mixed motives; but, at any rate, Nelly believed very thoroughly in her neighbour, and if, in reality, it was as much a wish that he should know what had happened, as a desire to learn his opinion upon it, she none the less felt that opinion would be precious and probably decide her.
Richard was waiting in his office—a small apartment off the bar, to which none had access save himself.
"Come in here and we shan't be disturbed," he said. "Of course, when you tell me you want my advice on a matter of the greatest importance, all else has to stand by. My old friend's wife has a right to come to me, I should hope, and I'm glad you've done so. Sit here by the fire."
It did not take Mrs. Northover long to relate the situation, nor was Mr. Gurd much puzzled to declare his view. In brief words she told him of Job Legg's greatly increased prosperity and his proposal to wed. Having made her statement, she advanced a few words for Job.
"In fairness and beyond all this, I must tell you, Richard, that he's a very uncommon sort of man. That you know, of course, as well as I do. But what you don't know is that when he was away, I badly missed him and found out, for the first time, what an all-round, valuable creature he has become at 'The Seven Stars.' When he was along with his dying relation, I missed the man a thousand times in every twelve hours and I felt properly astonished to find how he was the prop and stay of my business. That may seem too much to say, seeing I'm a fairly clever woman and know how to run 'The Seven Stars' in a pretty prosperous way; but there is no doubt Legg is very much more than what he seems. He's a very human man and I'll go so far as to say this: I like him. There's great self-respect to him and you feel, under his level temper and unfailing readiness to work at anything and everything, that he's a power for good—in fact a man with high principles—so high as my own, if not higher."
"Stop there, or you'll over-do it," said Richard. "Higher than yours his principles won't take him and I refuse to hear you say so. You ask me in plain words if you shall marry Job Legg, or if you shan't. And before I speak, I may tell you that, as a man of the world, I shan't quarrel with you if you don't take my advice. As a rule I have found that good advice is more often given than taken and, whether or no, the giving of advice nearly always means one thing. And that is that the giver loses a friend. If the advice is bad, it is generally taken, and him that takes it finds out in due course it was bad, and so the giver makes an enemy. And if 'tis good, the same thing happens, for then 'tis not taken and, looking back, the sufferer sees his mistake, and human nature works, and instead of kicking himself, he feels like kicking the wise man that gave him the good advice. But between me and you that won't happen, for there's the ghost of William Northover to come between. You and me are high spirited, and I dare say there are some people who would say we are short tempered; but we know better."
"That's all true as gospel; and now you tell me if I ought to marry Job. Or, if 'tis too great a question to decide in a minute, as I find it myself, then leave it till to-morrow and I'll pop in again."
"No need to leave it. My mind is used to make itself up swift. First, as to Legg. Legg's a very good man, indeed, and I'd be the first to praise him. He's all you say—or nearly all—and I've often been very much impressed by him. And if he was anybody's servant but yours, I dare say I'd have tempted him to 'The Tiger' before now. But there are some that shine in the lead, like you and me, and some that only show their full worth when they've got to obey. Job can obey to perfection; but I'm not so sure if he's fitted to command."
"Remember," she said, "that if I say 'no' to the man, I lose him. He can't be my right hand no more then, because he'd leave. And my heart sinks at the thought of another potman at my age."
"When you say 'potman' you come to the root of the matter, and your age has nothing to do with it," answered Richard. "The natural instinct at such times is to advise against, and when man or woman asks a fellow creature as to the wisdom of marrying, they'll always pull a long face and find fifty good reasons why not. But I'm taking this in a larger spirit. There's no reason why you shouldn't marry again, and you'd make another as happy as you did your first, no doubt. But Job Legg is a potman; he's been a potman for a generation; he thinks like a potman, and his outlook in life is naturally the potman outlook. Mind, I'm not saying anything against him as a man when I tell you so; I'm only looking at him now as a husband for you. He's got religion and a good temper, and dollops of sense, and I'll even go so far as to say, seeing that he is now a man of money, that he was within his right to offer, if he did it in a modest manner. But I won't say more than that. He's simple and faithful and a servant worthy of all respect, but that man haven't the parts to rise to mastership. A good stick, but if he was your crutch, he'd fail you. For my part, I'm very sure that people of much greater importance than him would offer for you if they knew you were for a husband."
"I wouldn't say I was for a husband, Richard. The idea never came into my mind till Job Legg put it there."
"Just your modesty. There's no more reason why you shouldn't wed than why I shouldn't. You're a comely and highly marriageable person still, and nobody knows it better than what I do."
"You advise against, then?"
"In that quarter, yes. I'm thinking of you, and only you, and I don't believe Job is quite man enough for the part. Leave it, however, for twenty-four hours."
"He was to have his answer, to-morrow."
"He's used to waiting. Tell him you're coming to it and won't keep him much longer. It's too big a thing to be quite sure about, and you were right when you said so. I'll come across and see you in the morning."
"I'm obliged to you, Richard. And if you'll turn it over, I'll thank you. I wouldn't have come to any other than you, bachelor though you are."
"I'll weigh it," he promised, "but I warn you I'm very unlikely to see it different. What you've told me have put other side issues into my head. You'll hunt a rabbit and flush a game bird, sometimes. In fact, great things often come out of little ones."
"I know you'll be fair and not let anything influence your judgment," she said.
He promised, but with secret uneasiness, for already it seemed that his judgment was being influenced. For that reason he had postponed a final decision until the following day. Mrs. Northover departed with grateful thanks and left behind her, though she guessed it not, problems far more tremendous than any she had brought.
Meantime Raymond and Sabina, on their way to Miss Ironsyde, were met by Mr. Neddy Motyer. Neddy had not seen his friend for some time and now saluted and stopped. It was nearly dark and they stood under a lamp-post.
"Cheero!" said Mr. Motyer. "Haven't cast an eye on you for a month of Sundays, Ironsyde."
Raymond introduced Sabina and Neddy was gallant and reminded her they had met before at the Mill. Then, desiring a little masculine society, Sabina's betrothed proposed that she should go on and report that he was coming.
"Aunt Jenny will expect us to stop for dinner, so there's no hurry. I'll be up in half an hour."
She left them and Neddy suggested drinking.
"You might as well be dead and buried for all the boys see of you nowadays," he said, as they entered 'The Bull' Hotel.
"I know, but I hope you'll have a big night off before the deed is done and you take leave of freedom—what?"
"I'm not taking leave of freedom. You godless bachelors don't know you're born."
"Bluff—bluff!" declared Neddy. "You can't deceive me, old sport."
"You wait till you find the right one."
"I shall," promised Neddy. "And very well content to wait. Nothing is easier than not to be married."
"Nothing is harder, my dear chap, if you're in love with the right girl."
Neddy felt the ground delicate. He knew that Raymond had knocked down a man for insulting him a week before, so he changed the subject.
"I thought you'd be at the fight," he said. "It was a pretty spar—interesting all through. Jack Buckler won. Blades practically let him. Not because he wanted to, but because Solly Blades has got a streak of softness in his make-up. That's fatal in a fighter. If you've got a gentle heart, it don't matter how clever you are: you can't take full advantage of your skill and use the opening when you've won it. Blades didn't punish Buckler's stupidity, or weakness just when he could have done it. So he lost, because he gave Jack time to get strong again; and when Blades in his turn went weak, Buckler got it over and outed him."
"Your heart often robs you of what your head won," said another man in the bar. "Life's like prize-fighting in that respect. If you don't hit other people when you can, the time will probably come when they'll hit you."
It was an ugly philosophy and Raymond, looking within, applied to it himself. Then he put his own thoughts away.
"And how are the gee-gees?" he asked.
"As a 'gentleman backer,' I can't say I'm going very strong," confessed Neddy. "On the whole, I think it's a mug's game. Anyway, I shall chuck it when flat racing comes again. My father's getting restive. I shall have to do something pretty soon."
Raymond stayed for an hour and was again urged to give a bachelor-supper before he married; but he declined.
"Shan't chuck away a tenner on a lot of wasters," he said. "Got something better to do with it."
Several men promised to come to church and see the event, now near at hand, but he told them that they might be disappointed.
"I'm not too sure about that," he said. "I may put my foot down on that racket and be married at a registrar's. Anyway church is no certainty. I've got no use for making a show of my private affairs."
On the way to Miss Ironsyde's he grew moody and gloom settled upon him. A glimpse of the old free and easy life threw into darker colours the new existence ahead. He remembered the sentiments of the strange man in the bar—how weakness is always punished and the heart often robs the head of victory. His heart was robbing his head of freedom; and that meant victory also; for what sort of success can life offer to those who begin it by flinging liberty to the winds? Yes, he had been "bluffing," as Neddy declared; and to bluff was foreign to his nature. Nobody was deceived, for everybody knew the truth, and though none dared laugh at him in public, secretly all his acquaintance were doubtless doing so.
Sabina saw that he was perturbed when presently he joined Miss Ironsyde. He had drunk more than enough and proved irritable.
He was, however, silent at first, while his aunt discussed the wedding. She took it for granted that it would be in church and reminded Raymond of necessary steps.
"And certain people should be asked," she said. "Have you any friends you particularly wish to be there? Mr. Churchouse is planning a wedding breakfast—"
"No—none of my friends will be there if I can help it. They're not that sort."
"Have you written to Daniel?"
"'Written to Daniel'! Good God, no! What should I write to Daniel, but to tell him he's the biggest cur and hound on earth?"
"You've passed all that. You're not going back again, Raymond. You know what you said last time when we talked about it."
"If he's ever to be more than a name to me, he must apologise for being a low down brute, first. I've got plenty on my mind without thinking about him. He's going to rue the day he treated me as he has done. I'll bring him and Bridetown Mill to the gutter, yet."
"Don't, don't, please. I thought you felt last time we were talking about him—"
"Drop him—don't mention his name to me—I won't hear it. If you want me to go on with my life with self-respect, then keep his name out of my life. I've cursed him to hell once and for all, so talk of something else!"
Jenny Ironsyde saw that her nephew was in a dark temper, and while at heart she felt indignant and ashamed, more for Sabina's sake than his own, she humoured him, spoke of the future and strove to win him back into a cheerful mind.
Then as they were going to dinner, at half-past seven o'clock, the maid who announced the meal, brought with her a telegram. It was directed to 'Ironsyde' only, and, putting on her glasses, Jenny read it.
Daniel had been very seriously injured in a railway accident at York.
Remorse strikes the young with cruel bitterness. Raymond turned pale and staggered. While he had been cursing his brother, the man lay smitten, perhaps at the door of death. His aunt it was who steadied him and turned to the time-table. Then she went to her store of ready money. In an hour Raymond was on his way. It might be possible for him to catch a midnight train for the North from London and reach York before morning.
When he had gone, Jenny turned to Sabina, who had spoken no word during this scene.
"Much may come of this," she said. "God works in mysterious ways. I have no fear that Raymond will fail in his duty to dear Daniel at such a time. Come back early to-morrow, Sabina. I shall get a telegram, as soon as Raymond can despatch it, and shall hold myself in readiness to go at once and stop with Daniel. Tell Mister Churchouse what has happened."
The lady spent the night in packing. Her sufferings and anxieties were allayed by occupation; but the long hours seemed unending.
She was ready to start at dawn, but not until ten o'clock came the news from York. Mr. Churchouse was already with her when the telegram arrived. He had driven from Bridetown with Sabina. Daniel Ironsyde was dead and had passed many hours before Raymond reached him.
Sabina went home on hearing this news, and Ernest Churchouse remained with Miss Ironsyde.
She was prostrated and, for a time, he could not comfort her. But the practical nature of her mind asserted itself between gusts of grief. She despatched a telegram to Raymond at York, and begged him to bring back his brother's body as soon as it might be done. Concerning the future she also spoke to Ernest.
"He has made no will," she said, "That I know, because when last we were speaking of Raymond, he told me he felt it impossible at present to do so."
"Then the whole estate belongs to Raymond, now?" he asked.
"Yes, everything is his."
A LETTER FOR SABINA
A human machine, under stress of personal tribulation and lowered vitality, had erred in a signal box five miles from York, with the result that several of his fellow creatures were killed and many injured. Daniel Ironsyde had only lived long enough to direct the telegram to his home.
Three days later Raymond returned with the body, and once more Bridetown crowded to its windows and open spaces, to see the funeral of another master of the Mill.
To an onlooker the scene might have appeared a repetition in almost every particular of Henry Ironsyde's obsequies.
The spinners crowded on the grassy triangle under the sycamore tree and debated their future. They wondered whether Raymond would come to the funeral; and a new note entered into all voices when they spoke his name, for he was master now. Mr. Churchouse attended the burial, and Arthur Waldron walked down from North Hill House with his daughter. In the churchyard, where Daniel's grave waited for him beside his father, old Mr. Baggs stood and looked down, as he had done when Henry Ironsyde came to his grave.
"Life, how short—eternity, how long," he said to John Best.
Ernest Churchouse opened the door of the mourning coach as he had done on the previous occasion, and Miss Ironsyde alighted, followed by Raymond. He had come. But he had changed even to the visible eye. The least observing were able to mark differences of voice and manner.
Raymond's nature had responded to the stroke of circumstance with lightning swiftness. The pressure of his position, thus suddenly relieved, caused a rebound, a liberation of the grinding tension. It remained to be seen what course he might now pursue; yet those who knew him best anticipated no particular reaction. But when he returned it was quickly apparent that tremendous changes had already taken place in the young man's outlook on life and that, whatever his future line of conduct might be, he realised very keenly his altered position. He was now free of all temporal cares; but against that fact he found himself faced with great new responsibilities.
Remorse hit him hard, but he was through the worst of that, and life had become so tremendous, that he could not for very long keep his thoughts on death.
At his brother's funeral he allowed his eye to rest on no familiar face and cast no recognising glance at man or woman. He was haggard and pale, but more than that: a new expression had come into his countenance. Already consciousness of possession marked him. He had grasped the fact of the change far quicker than Daniel had grasped it after their father's death.
He was returning immediately with his aunt to Bridport; but Mr. Churchouse broke through the barrier and spoke to him as he entered the carriage.
"Won't you see Sabina before you go, Raymond? You must realise that, even under these terrible conditions, we cannot delay. I understand she wrote to you when you came back; but that you have not answered her letter. As things are it seems to me you might like to be quietly and privately married away from Bridetown?"
Raymond hardly seemed to hear.
"I can't talk about that now. A great deal falls upon me at present. I am enormously busy and have to take up the threads of all poor Daniel was doing in the North. There is nobody but myself, in my opinion, who can go through with it. I return to London to-night."
Raymond answered calmly.
"Sabina Dinnett will hear from me during the next twenty-four hours," he said.
Ernest gazed aghast.
"But, my dear boy, you cannot realise the situation if you talk like that. Surely you—"
"I realise the situation perfectly well. Good-bye, Uncle Ernest."
The coach drove away. Miss Ironsyde said nothing. She had broken down beside the grave and was still weeping.
Then came Mr. Best, where Mr. Churchouse stood at the lich-gate. He was anxious for information.
"Did he say anything about his plans?" he asked.
"Only that he is proceeding with his late brother's business in the North. I perceive a most definite change in the young man, John."
"For the better, we'll hope. What's hid in people! You never would have thought Mister Raymond would have carried himself like that. It wasn't grief at his loss, but a sort of an understanding of the change. He even looked at us differently—even me."
"He's overwrought and not himself, probably. I don't think he quite grasps the immediate situation. He seems to be looking far ahead already, whereas the most pressing matter should be a thing of to-morrow."
"Is the wedding day fixed?"
"It is not. He writes to Sabina."
"Writes! Isn't he going to see her to-day!"
"He returns to London to-night."
Arthur Waldron also asked for news, for Raymond had apparently been unconscious of his existence at the funeral. He, too, noted the change in Ironsyde's demeanour.
"What was it?" he asked, as Mr. Churchouse walked beside him homeward. "Something is altered. It's more his manner than his appearance. Of course, he looks played out after his shock, but it's not that. Estelle thinks it's his black clothes."
"Stress of mind and anxiety, no doubt. I spoke to him; but he was rather distant. Not unfriendly—he called me 'Uncle Ernest' as usual—but distant. His mind is entirely preoccupied with business."
"What about Sabina?"
"I asked him. He's writing to her. She wasn't at the funeral. She and her mother kept away at my advice. But I certainly thought he would come and see them afterwards. However, the idea hadn't apparently occurred to him. His mind is full of other things. There was a suggestion of strength—of power—something new."
"He must be very strong now," said Estelle. "He will have to be strong, because the Mill is all his and everything depends upon him. Doesn't Sabina feel she must be strong, too, Mr. Churchouse?"
"Sabina is naturally excited. But she is also puzzled, because it seems strange that anything should come between her and Raymond at a time like this—even the terrible death of dear Daniel. She has been counting on hearing from him, and to-day she felt quite sure he would see her."
"Is the wedding put off then?"
"I trust not. She is to hear from him to-morrow."
* * * * *
Raymond kept his word and before the end of the following day Sabina received a letter. She had alternated, since Daniel's sudden death, between fits of depression and elation. She was cast down, because no communication of any kind had reached her since Raymond hurried off on the day of the accident; and she was elated, because the future must certainly be much more splendid for Raymond now.
She explained his silence easily enough, for much work devolved upon him; but when he did not come to see her on the day of the funeral, she was seriously perturbed and grew excited, unstrung and full of forebodings. Her mother heard from those who had seen him that Raymond appeared to be abstracted and 'kept himself to himself' entirely; which led to anxiety on her part also. The letter defined the position.
"MY DEAREST SABINA,—A thing like the death of my brother, with all that it means to me, cannot happen without having very far-reaching results. You may have noticed for some time before this occurred that I felt uneasy about the future—not only for your sake, but my own—and I had long felt that we were doing a very doubtful thing to marry. However, as circumstances were such then, that I should have been in the gutter if I did not marry, I was going to do so. There seemed to be no choice, though I felt all the time that I was not doing the fair thing to you, or myself.
"Now the case is altered and I can do the fair thing to you and myself, because circumstances make it possible. I have got tons of money now, and it is not too much to say that I want you to share it. But not on the old understanding. I hate and loathe matrimony and everything to do with it, and now that it is possible to avoid the institution, I intend to do so.
"What you have got to do is to put a lot of stupid, conventional ideas out of your mind, and not worry about other people, and the drivel they talk, or the idiotic things they say. We weren't conventional last year, so why the dickens should we be this? I'm awfully keen about you, Sabina, and awfully keen about the child too; but let us be sane and be lovers and not a wretched married couple.
"If you will come and be my housekeeper, I shall welcome you with rejoicings, and we can go house-hunting again and find something worthier of us and take bigger views.
"Don't let this bowl you over and make you savage. It is simply a question of what will keep us the best friends, and wear best. I am perfectly certain that in the long run we shall be happier so, than chained together by a lot of cursed laws, that will put our future relations on a footing that denies freedom of action to us both. Let's be pioneers and set a good example to people and help to knock on the head the imbecile marriage laws.
"I am, of course, going to put you all right from a worldly point of view and settle a good income upon you, which you will enjoy independently of me; and I also recognise the responsibility of our child. He or she will be my heir, and nothing will be spared for the youngster.
"I do hope, my dearest girl, you will see what a sensible idea this is. It means liberty, and you can't have real love without liberty. If we married, I am certain that in a year or two we should hate each other like the devil, and I believe you know that as well as I do. Marriage is out-grown—it's a barbaric survival and has a most damnable effect on character. If we are to be close chums and preserve our self-respect, we must steer clear of it.
"I am very sure I am right. I've thought a lot about it and heard some very shrewd men in London speak about it. We are up against a sort of battle nowadays. The idea of marriage is the welfare of the community, and the idea of freedom is the welfare of the individual; and I, for one, don't see in the least why the individual should go down for the community. What has the community done for us, that we should become slaves for it?
"Wealth—at any rate, ample means—does several things for a man. It opens his eyes to the meaning of power. Power is a fine thing if it's coupled with sense. Already I see what a poor creature I was—owing to the accident of poverty. Now you'll find what a huge difference power makes. It changes everything and turns a child into a man. At any rate, I've been a child till now. You've got to be childlike if you're poor.
"So I hope you'll take this in the spirit I write, Sabina, and trust me, for I'm straight as a line, and my first thought is to make you a happy woman. That I certainly can do, if you'll let me.
"I shall be coming home presently; but, for the moment, I must stop here. There is a gigantic deal of work waiting for me; but working for myself and somebody else are two very different things. I don't grudge the work now, since the result of the work means more power.