"I hope this is all clear. If it isn't, we must thresh it out when we meet. All I want you to grasp for the moment is that I love you as well as ever—better than anything in the world—and, because I want us to be the dearest friends always, I'm not going to marry you.
"Your mother and Uncle Ernest will of course take the conventional line, and my Aunt Jennie will do the same; but I hope you won't bother about them. Your welfare lies with me. Don't let them talk you into making a martyr of yourself, or any nonsense of that sort.
"Always, my dearest Sabina, "Your faithful pal, "RAY."
Half an hour later Mrs. Dinnett took the letter in to Mr. Churchouse.
"Death," she said. "Death is in the air. Sabina has gone to bed and I'm going for the doctor. He's broke off the engagement and wants her to be his housekeeper. And this is a Christian country, or supposed to be. Says it's going to be quite all right and offers her money and a lifetime of sin!"
"Be calm, Mary, be calm. You must have misread the letter. Go and get the doctor by all means if Sabina has succumbed. And leave the letter with me. I will read it carefully. That is if it is not private."
"No, it ain't private. He slaps at us all. We're all conventional people, which means, I suppose, that we fear God and keep the laws. But if my gentleman thinks—"
"Go and get the doctor, Mary. Two heads are better than one in a case of this sort. I feel sure you and Sabina are making a mistake."
"The world shall ring," said Mrs. Dinnett, "and we'll see if he can show his face among honest men again. We that have abided by the law all our days—now we'll see what the law can do for us against this godless wretch."
She went off to the village and Ernest cried after her to say nothing at present. He knew, however, as he spoke that it was vain.
Then he put away his own work and read the letter very carefully twice through.
Profound sorrow came upon him and his innate optimism was over-clouded. This seemed no longer the Raymond Ironsyde he had known from childhood. It was not even the Raymond of a month ago. He perceived how potential qualities of mind had awakened in the new conditions. He was philosophically interested. So deeply indeed did the psychological features of the change occupy his reflections, that for a time he overlooked their immediate and crushing significance in the affairs of another person.
Traces of the old Raymond remained in the promises of unbounded generosity and assurances of devotion; but Mr. Churchouse set no store upon them. The word that rang truest was Raymond's acute consciousness of power and appreciation thereof. It had, as he said, opened his eyes. Under any other conditions than those embracing Sabina and right and wrong, as Ernest accepted the meaning of right and wrong, he had won great hope from the letter. It was clear that Raymond had become a man at a bound and might be expected to develop into a useful man; but that his first step from adolescence was to involve the destruction of a woman and child, soon submerged all lesser considerations in the thinker's mind. Righteousness was implicated, and to start his new career with a cold-blooded crime made Mr. Churchouse tremble for the entire future of the criminal.
Yet he saw very little hope of changing Ironsyde's decision. Raymond had evidently considered the matter, and though his argument was abominable in Ernest's view, and nothing more than a cowardly evasion of his promises, he suspected that the writer found it satisfy his conscience, since its further education in the consciousness of power. He did not suppose that any whose opinion he respected would alter Raymond. It might even be that he was honest in his theories, and believed himself when he said that marriage would end by destroying his love for Sabina. But Mr. Churchouse did not pursue that line of argument. Had not Mary Dinnett just reminded him that this was a Christian country?
It was, of course, an immoral and selfish letter. Ernest knew exactly how it would strike Miss Ironsyde; but he also knew that many people without principle would view it as reasonable.
He had to determine what he was going to do, and soon came back to the attitude he had always taken. An unborn, immortal soul must be considered, and it was idle for Raymond to talk about making the coming child his heir. Such undertakings were vain. The young man was volatile and his life lay before him. That he could make this offer argued an indifference to Sabina's honour which no promises of temporal comfort condoned. For that matter he must surely have known while he wrote that it would be rejected.
The outlook appeared exceedingly hopeless. Mr. Churchouse rose from his desk and looked out of the window. It was a grey and silent morning. Only a big magnolia leaf tapped at the casement and dripped rain from its point. And overhead, in her chamber, Sabina was lying stricken and speechless. With infinite commiseration Mr. Churchouse considered what this must mean to her. It was as though Mrs. Dinnett's hysterical words had come true. Indeed, the tender-hearted man felt that death was in his house—death of fair hopes, death of a young and trusting spirit.
"The rising generation puts a strain on Christianity that I'm sure it was never called to bear in my youth," reflected Mr. Churchouse.
MRS. NORTHOVER DECIDES
When Richard Gurd began to consider the case of Nelly Northover, his mind was very curiously affected. To develop the stages by which he arrived at his startling conclusions might be attractive, but the destination is more important than the journey. After twenty-four hours devoted to this subject alone, Richard had not only decided that Nelly Northover must not marry Job Legg; he had pushed the problem of his friend far beyond that point and found it already complicated by a greater than Job.
Indeed, the sudden reminder that Nelly was a comely and personable woman had affected Richard Gurd, and the thought that she should contemplate marriage caused him some preliminary uneasiness. He could no more see her married again than he could see himself taking a wife; yet from this attitude, progress was swift, and the longer he thought upon Mrs. Northover, the more steadily did his mind drive him into an opinion that she might reasonably wed again if she desired to do so. And then he proceeded to the personal concession that there was no radical necessity to remain single himself. Because he had reached his present ripe age without a wife, it did not follow he must remain for ever unmarried. He had no objection to marriage, and continued a bachelor merely because he had never found any woman desirable in his eyes. Moreover he disliked children.
He had reached this stage of the argument before he slept, and when he woke again, he found his mind considerably advanced along the road to Nelly. He now came to the deliberate conclusion that he wanted her. The discovery amazed him, but he could not escape it; and in the light of such a surprise he became a little dazzled. Sudden soul movements of such force and complexity made Richard Gurd selfish. It is a fact, that before he went at the appointed time to see the mistress of 'The Seven Stars,' he had forgotten all about Job Legg and was entirely concerned with his own tremendous project. Full grown and complete at all vital points it sprang from his energetic brain. He had reached the high personal ambition of wanting to marry Mrs. Northover himself, and their friendship of many years had been so complete, that he felt sanguine from the moment that his great determination dawned.
But she spoke and quickly reminded him of what she was expecting.
"And how d'you think about it? Shall it be, or shan't it, Richard?"
They were in the private parlour.
"Leave that," he said. "I can assure you that little affair is already a thing of the past. In fact, my mind has moved such a long way since you came to see me yesterday, that I'd forgot what you came about. But, after all, that was the starting point. Now a very curious thing has fallen out, and looking back, I can only say that the wonder is it didn't fall out long years ago."
"It did, so far as he was concerned," explained Mrs. Northover. "Mr. Legg has been hoping for this for years."
"The Lord often chooses a fool to light the road of the wise, my dear. Not that Job's a fool, and a more self-respecting man you won't find. In fact I shall always feel kindly to your potman, for, in a manner of speaking, you may say he's helped to show me my own duty."
"I dare say he has; he's a lesson to us all."
"He is, but, all the same, it's confounding class with class to think of him as a husband for you. Not that I've got any class prejudice myself. You can't keep a hotel year in, year out, and allow yourself the luxury of class prejudice; but be that as it may, Legg, though he adorns his class, wouldn't adorn ours in my opinion. And yet I'll say this: I believe it was put to him by Providence to offer for you, so that you might be lifted to higher things."
"Speak English, my dear man. I don't exactly know what you're talking about. But I suppose you mean I'd better not?"
Mrs. Northover was a little disappointed and Richard perceived it.
"Be calm, and don't let me sweep you off your feet as I've been swept off mine," he answered. "Since I discovered marriage was a possibility in your mind, I am obliged to confess that it's grown up to be a possibility in mine. And why not?"
"No reason at all. 'Twas the wonder of Bridport, you might say for years, why you remained single."
"Well, this I'll tell you, Nelly; I'm not going to have you marrying any Dick, Tom or Harry that's daring enough to lift his eyes to you and cheeky enough to offer. And when the thought came in my mind, I very soon found that this event rose up ideas that might have slumbered till eternity, but for Job Legg. And that's why I say Providence is in it. I've felt a great admiration for your judgment, and good sense, and fine appearance, ever since the blow fell and your husband was taken. And we know each other pretty close and have got no secrets from each other. And now you may say I've suddenly seen the light; and if you've got half the opinion of me that I have of you, no doubt you'll thank your God to hear what I'm saying and answer according."
"Good powers! You want to marry me yourself?" gasped Mrs. Northover.
"By all your 'Seven Stars' I do," he said. "In fact, I want for 'The Tiger' to swallow the 'Seven Stars,' in a poetical way of speaking. I'm a downright man and never take ten minutes where five's enough, so there it is. It came over me last night as a thing that must be—like the conversion of Paul. And I'll go further; I won't have you beat about the bush, Nelly. You're the sort of woman that can make up your mind in a big thing as quick as you can in a small thing. I consider there's been a good deal of a delicate and tender nature going on between us, though we were too busy to notice it; but now the bud have burst into flower, and I see amazing clear we were made for each other. In fact, I ain't going to take 'no' for an answer, my dear. I've never asked a female to marry me until this hour; and I have not waited into greyness and ripeness to hear a negative. I'm sure of myself, naturally, and I well know that you'd only be a thought less fortunate than I shall be."
"Stop!" she said, "and let me think. I'm terrible flattered at this, and I'll go so far as to say there's rhyme and reason in it, Richard. But you run on so. I feel my will power fairly oozing out of me."
"Not at all," he answered. "Your will power's what I rely upon. You're a forceful person yourself and you naturally approve of forcefulness in others. There's no reason why you shouldn't love me as well as I love you; and, for that matter, you do."
"Well, I must have time. I must drop Legg civilly and break it to him gradual."
"I'll meet you there. You needn't tell him you're going to be married all in a minute. He'll find that out for himself very quick. So will everybody. If a thing's worth doing, try to do it—that's my motto. But, for the moment, you can say that your affections are given in another quarter."
"Of course, it's a great thing for me, Richard. I'm very proud of it."
"And so am I. And Job Legg was the dumb instrument, so I am the last to quarrel with him. Just tell him, that failing another, you might have thought on him; but that the die is cast; and when he hears his fate, he'll naturally want to know who 'tis. And then the great secret must come out. I should reckon after Easter would be a very good time for us to wed."
"I can't believe my senses," she said.
"You will in a week," he assured her; "and, meanwhile, I shall do my best to help you. In a week the joyful tidings go out to the people."
He kissed her, shook her hand and squeezed it. Then he departed leaving Mrs. Northover in the extremity of bewilderment. But pleasure and great pride formed no small part of her mingled emotions.
One paramount necessity darkened all, however. Nelly felt a very sharp pang when she thought upon Mr. Legg, and her sufferings increased as the day advanced until they quite mastered the situation and clouded the brightness of conquest. Other difficulties and doubts also obtruded as she began to estimate the immensity of the thing that Mr. Gurd's ardour had prompted her to do; but Job was the primal problem and she knew that she could not sleep until she had made her peace with him.
She determined to leave him in no doubt concerning his successful rival. The confession would indeed make it easier for them both. At least she hoped it might do so.
He came for keys after closing time and she bade him sit down in the chair which Richard Gurd had that morning filled. One notes trifles at the supremest moments of life, and the trifles often stick, while the great events which accompany them fade into the past. Mrs. Northover observed that while Richard Gurd had filled the chair—and overflowed, Mr. Legg by no means did so. He occupied but the centre of the spacious seat. There seemed a significance in that.
"Sit down, Job, and listen. I've got to say something that will hurt you, my dear man. I've made my choice, after a good bit of deep thought I assure you, and I've—I've chosen the other, Job."
He stared and his thin jaws worked. His nostrils also twitched.
"I didn't know there was another."
"More didn't I," answered she. "I'm nothing if not honest, and I tell you frankly that I didn't know it either till he offered. He was a lifelong friend, and I asked him about what I ought to be doing, and then it came out he had already thought of me as a wife and was biding his time. He had nought but praise for you, as all men have; but there it is—Richard Gurd is very wishful to marry me; and you must understand this clearly, Job. If it had been any lesser man than him, or any other man in the world, for that matter, I wouldn't have taken him. I'm very fond of you, and a finer character I've never known; but when Richard offered—well, you're among the clever ones and I'm sure you'd be the last to put yourself up against a man of his standing and fame. And my first husband's lifelong friend, you must remember. And though, after all these years, it may seem strange to a great many people, it won't seem strange to you, I hope."
"It's a very ill-convenient time to hear this," said Mr. Legg mildly.
Then he stopped and regarded her with his little, shrewd eyes. He seemed less occupied with the tremendous present than the future. Presently he went on again, while Mrs. Northover stared at him with an expression of genuine sadness.
"All I can say is that I wish Gurd had offered sooner, and not led me into this tremendous misfortune. Of course, him and me aren't in the same street and I won't pretend it, for none would be deceived if I did. But I say again it's very unfortunate he hung fire till he heard that I had made my offer. For if he'd spoke first, I should have held my peace and gone on my appointed way and stopped at 'The Seven Stars.' But now, if this happens, all is over and the course of my life is changed. In fact, it is not too much to say I shall leave Bridport, though how any person can live comfortably away from Bridport, I don't know."
Mrs. Northover felt relief that he should thus fasten on such a minor issue, and never liked him better than at that moment. "Thank God, he's took it, lying down!" she thought, then spoke.
"Don't you leave, my dear man. Bridport won't be Bridport without you, and you've always been a true and valued friend to me, and such a helpful and sensible creature that I shall only know in the next world all I owe you. And between us, I don't see no reason at all why you shouldn't go on as my potman and—more than that—why shouldn't you marry a nice woman yourself and bring her here, if you've got a mind to it!"
He expressed no indignation. Again, it seemed that the future was his sole concern and that he designed to waste no warmth on his disappointment.
"There never was but one woman for me and never will be; and as to stopping here, I might, or I might not, for I've always had my feelings under very nice control and shouldn't break the rule of a lifetime. But you won't be at 'The Seven Stars' yourself much longer, and I certainly don't serve under any other but you. In fact this house and garden would only be a deserted wilderness to my view, if you wasn't reigning over 'em."
He spoke in his usual emotionless voice, but he woke very active phenomena in Mrs. Northover. Her face grew troubled and she looked into his eyes with a frown.
"Me gone! What do you mean, Legg? Me leave 'The Seven Stars' after thirty-four years?"
"No doubt your first would turn in his grave if you did," he admitted; "but what about it? When you're mistress of 'The Tiger'—well, then you're mistress of 'The Tiger,' and you can't be in two places at once—clever as you are."
He had given her something to think about. The possibility of guile in Mr. Legg had never struck the least, or greatest, of his admirers. He was held a simple soul of transparent probity, yet, for a moment, it almost seemed as though his last remark carried an inner meaning. Nelly dismissed the suspicion as unworthy of Job; but none the less, though he had doubtless spoken without any sinister purpose, his opinions gave her pause. Indeed, they shook her. She had been too much excited to look ahead. Now she was called to do so.
Mr. Legg removed the bunch of keys from its nail and prepared to go on his way.
She felt weak.
"To play second fiddle for the rest of your life after playing first for a quarter of a century is a far-reaching thought," she said.
"Without a doubt it would be," he admitted. "Of course, with some men you wouldn't be called to do it. With Richard Gurd, you would."
"To leave 'The Seven Stars'! Somehow I'd always regarded our place as a higher class establishment than 'The Tiger'—along of the tea-gardens and pleasure ground and the class of company."
"And quite right to do so. But that's only your opinion, and mine. It won't be his. Good night."
He left her deep in thought, then five minutes afterwards thrust his long nose round the door again.
"The English of it is you can't have anything for nothing—not in this weary world," he said.
Then he disappeared.
A week later Sarah Northover came to see her aunt and congratulate her on the great news.
"Now people know it," said Sarah, "they all wonder how ever 'twas you and Mister Gurd didn't marry long ago."
"We've been wondering the same, for that matter, and Richard takes the blame—naturally, since I couldn't say the word before he asked the question. But for your ear and only yours, Sarah, I can whisper that this thing didn't go by rule. And in sober honesty I do believe if he hadn't heard another man wanted me, Mister Gurd would never have found out he did. But such are the strange things that happen in human nature, no doubt."
"Another!" said Sarah. "They're making up for lost time, seemingly."
"Another, and a good man," declared her aunt; "but his name is sacred, and you mustn't ask to know it."
Sarah related events at Bridetown.
"You've heard, of course, about the goings on? Mister Ironsyde don't marry Sabina, and her mother wants to have the law against him; but though Sabina's in a sad state and got to be watched, she won't have the law. We only hear scraps about it, because Nancy Buckler, her great friend, is under oath of secrecy. But if he shows his face at Bridetown, it's very likely he'll be man-handled. Then, against that, there's rumours in the air he'll make great changes at the Mill, and may put up all our money. In that case, I don't think he'd be treated very rough, because, as my Mister Roberts says, 'Self-preservation is the first law of nature,' and always have been; and if he's going to better us it will mean a lot."
"Don't you be too hopeful, however," warned Mrs. Northover. "There's a deal of difference between holding the reins yourself and saying sharp things against them who are. He's hard, and last time he was in this house but one, he got as drunk as a lord and Legg helped him to bed. And he quarrelled very sharp with Mister Gurd for giving him good advice; and Richard says the young man is iron painted to look like wood. And he's rarely mistook."
"But he always did tell us we never got enough money for our work," argued Sarah. "And if anything comes of it and Nicholas and me earn five bob more a week between us, it means marriage. So I'm in a twitter."
"What does John Best say?"
"Nought. We can't get a word out of him. All we know is we're cruel busy and orders flow in like a river. But that was poor Mister Daniel's work, no doubt."
"Marriage is in the air, seemingly," reflected Nelly. "It mightn't be altogether a bad thing if you and me went to the altar together, Sarah. 'Twas always understood you'd be married from 'The Seven Stars,' and the sight of a young bride and bridegroom would soften the ceremony a bit and distract the eye from me and Richard."
"Good Lord!" answered the girl. "There won't be no eyes for small folks like us on the day you take Mister Gurd. 'Twould be one expense without a doubt; but I'm certain positive he wouldn't like for us little people to be mixed up with it. 'Twould lessen the blaze from his point of view, and a man such as him wouldn't approve of that."
"Perhaps you're right," admitted her aunt, with a massive sigh. "He's a masterful piece, and the affair will be carried out as he wills."
"I can't see you away from 'The Seven Stars,' somehow, Aunt Nelly."
"That's what everybody says. More can't I see myself away for that matter. But Richard said 'The Tiger' would swallow 'The Seven Stars,' and I know what he meant now."
THE WOMAN'S DARKNESS
The blood of Sabina Dinnett was poisoned through an ordeal of her life when it should have run at its purest and sweetest. That the man who had promised to marry her, had exhausted the vocabulary of love for her, should thus cast her off, struck her into a frantic calenture which, for a season, threatened her existence. The surprise of his decision was not absolute and utter, otherwise such a shock might indeed have killed her; but there lacked not many previous signs to show that Raymond Ironsyde had strayed from his old enthusiasm and found the approach of marriage finally quench love. The wronged girl could look back and see a thousand such warnings, while she remembered also a dark dread in her heart as to what might possibly overtake her on the death of Daniel. True the shadow had lasted but a moment; she banished it, as unworthy, and preferred to dwell on the increased happiness and prosperity that must accrue to Raymond; but the passing fear had touched her first, and she could look back now and mark how deeply doubt tinctured all her waking hours since the necessity arose for Raymond to wed.
For a few days she raged and was only comforted with difficulty. Mr. Churchouse and Jenny Ironsyde both visited Sabina and bade her control herself and keep calm, lest worst things should happen to her. Ernest was still sanguine that the young man would regret his suggestions; but Jenny quenched this hope.
"It is all of a piece," she said, "and, looking back, I see it. His instinct and will are against any such binding thing as marriage. He wants to make her happy; but if to do so is to make himself miserable, then she must go unhappy. Some bad girls might accept his offer; but Sabina, of course, cannot. She is not made of the stuff to sink to this, and it was only because he always insisted on the vital need for her to complete his life, that she forgot her wisdom in the past and believed they were really the complement of each other. As if a woman ever was, or ever will be, the real complement of a man, or a man, the complement of a woman! They are only complementary as meat and drink to the hungry."
After some days Sabina read Raymond's letter again and it now awoke a new passion. At first she had hated herself and talked of doing herself an injury; but this was hysteria bred of suffering, since she had not the temperament to commit self-destruction. Now her rage burned against the child that she was doomed to bring into the world, and she brooded secretly on how its end might be accomplished. She knew the peril to herself of any such attempt; but while she could not have committed suicide, she faced the thought of the necessary risks. If the child lived, the hateful link must exist forever, if it perished, she would be free. So she argued.
Full of this idea, she rose from her bed, went about and found some little consolation in the sympathy of her friends. They cursed the man until they heard what he had written to her. Then a change came over their criticism, for they were not tuned to Sabina's pitch, and it seemed to them, from their more modest standards of education, combined with the diminished self-respect where ignorance obtains, that Raymond's offer was fair—even handsome. Some, indeed, still mourned with her and shared her fierce indignation; some simulated anger to please her; but most confessed to themselves that she had not much to grumble at.
A wise woman warned her against any attempt to tamper with the child. It was too late and the danger far too serious. So she passed through the second phase of her sufferings and went from hatred of herself and loathing of her load, to acute detestation of the man who had destroyed her.
His offer seemed to her more villainous than his desertion. His ignorance of her true self, the insolence and contempt that prompted such a proposal, the view of her—these thoughts lashed her into fury. She longed for some one to help her against him and treat him as he deserved to be treated. She felt equal to making any sacrifice, if only he might be debased and scorned and pointed at as he deserved to be. She felt that her emotions must be shared by every honourable woman and decent man. Her spirit hungered for a great revenge.
At first she dreamed of a personal action. She longed to tear him with her nails, outrage him in people's eyes and make him suffer in his flesh; but that passed: she knew she could not do it. A man was needed to extort punishment from Raymond. But no man existed who would undertake the task. She must then find such a man. She even sought him. But she did not find him. The search led to bitter discoveries. If women could forgive her betrayer; if women could say, as presently they said, that she did not know her luck, men were still more indifferent.
The attitude of the world to her sufferings horrified Sabina. She had none to love her—none, at least, to show his love by assaulting and injuring her enemy. Only a certain number even took up the cudgels for her in speech. Of these Levi Baggs, the hackler, was the strongest. But his misanthropy embraced her also. He had said harsh things of his new master; but neither had he spared the victim.
Upon these three great periods, of rage, futile passion, and hate, there followed a lethargy from which Ernest Churchouse tried in vain to rouse Sabina. He apprehended worse results from this coma of mind and body than from the flux of her natural indignation. He spent much time with her and bade her hope that Raymond might still reconsider his future.
None had yet seen him since his brother's funeral, and his aunt received no answer to a very strenuous plea. He wrote to her, indeed, about affairs, and even asked her for advice upon certain matters; but they affected the past and Daniel rather than the future and himself. She could not fail to notice the supreme change that power had brought with it; his very handwriting seemed to have acquired a firmer line; while his diction certainly showed more strength of purpose. Could power modify character? It seemed impossible. She supposed, rather, that character, latent till this sudden change of fortune, had been revealed by power. Her first fears for the future of the business abated; but with increasing respect for Raymond, the former affection perished. She was firm in her moral standards, and to find his first use of power an evasion of solemn and sacred promises, made Miss Ironsyde Raymond's enemy. That he ignored her appeals to his manhood and honesty did not modify her changed attitude. She found herself much wounded by his callous conduct, and while his past weakness had been forgiven, his new strength proved unforgivable.
Her appeal was, however, indirectly acknowledged, for Sabina received another letter from Raymond in which he mentioned Miss Ironsyde's communication.
"My aunt," he wrote, "does not realise the situation, or appreciate the fact that love may remain a much more enduring and lively emotion outside marriage than inside it. There are, of course, people who find chains bearable enough, and even grow to like them, as convicts were said to do; but you are not such a craven, no more am I. We must think of the future, not the past, and I feel very sure that if we married, the result would be death to our friendship. We had a splendid time, and we might still have a splendid time, if you could be unconventional and realise how many other women are also. But probably you have decided against my suggestions, or I should have heard from you. So I suppose you hate me, and I'm awfully sorry to think it. You won't come to me, then. But that doesn't lessen my obligations, and I'm going to take every possible care of you and your child, Sabina, whether you come or not. He is my child, too, and I shan't forget it. If you would like to see me you shall when I return to Bridport, pretty soon now; but if you would rather not do so, then let me know who represents you, and I will hear what you and your mother would wish."
She wrote several answers to this and destroyed them. They were bitter and contemptuous, and as each was finished she realised its futility. She could but sting; she could not seriously hurt. Even her sting would not trouble him much, for a man who had done what he had done, was proof against the scorn and hate of a woman. Only greater power than his own could make him feel. Her powerlessness maddened her—her powerlessness contrasted with his remorseless strength. But he used his strength like a coward.
Some of her friends urged her to take legal action against Raymond Ironsyde and demand mighty damages.
"You can hurt him there, if you can't anywhere else," said Nancy Buckler. "You say you're too weak to hurt him, but you're not. Knock his money out of him; you ought to get thousands."
Her mother, for a time, was of the same opinion. It seemed a right and reasonable thing that Sabina should not be called upon to face her ruined life without some compensation, but she found herself averse from this. The thought of touching his money, or availing herself of it in any way, was horrible to her. She knew, moreover, that such an arrangement would go far to soothe Raymond's conscience; and the more he paid, probably the happier he would feel. For other causes also she declined to take any legal steps against him, and in this decision Ernest Churchouse supported her.
He had been her prime consolation indeed, and though, at first, his line of argument only left Sabina impatient, by degrees—by very slow degrees—she inclined to him and suffered herself to hope he might not be mistaken. He urged patience and silence. He held that Raymond Ironsyde would presently return to that better and worthier self, which could not be denied him. His own abounding charity, where humanity was concerned, honestly induced Ernest to hope and almost believe that the son of Henry Ironsyde had made these proposals under excitation of mind; that he was thrown off his balance by the pressure of events; and that, presently, when he had time to remember the facts concerning Sabina, he would be heartily ashamed of himself and make the only adequate amends.
It was not unnatural that the girl should find in this theory her highest consolation. She clung to it desperately, though few but Mr. Churchouse himself accounted it of any consequence. Him, however, she had been accustomed to consider the fountain of wisdom, and though, with womanhood, she had lived to see his opinions mistaken and his trust often abused, yet disappointments did not change a sanguine belief in his fellow creatures.
So, thankful to repose her mind on another, Sabina for a while came to standing-ground in her storm-stricken journey. Each day was an eternity, but she strove to be patient. And, meantime, she wrote and posted a letter to her old lover. It was not angry, or even petulant. Indeed, she made her appeal with dignity and good choice of words. Before all she insisted on the welfare of the child, and reminded him of the cruelty inflicted from birth on any baby unlawfully born in England.
Mr. Churchouse had instructed her in this matter, and she asked Raymond if he could find it in his heart to allow the child of their common love and worship to come into the world unrecognised by the world, deprived of recognition and human rights.
He answered the letter vaguely and Mr. Churchouse read a gleam of hope into his words, but neither Sabina nor her mother were able to do so. For he spoke only of recognising his responsibilities and paternal duty. He bade her fear nothing for the child, or herself, and assured her that her future would be his care and first obligation as long as he lived.
In these assertions Mr. Churchouse saw a wakening dawn, but Mary Dinnett declared otherwise. The man was widening the gap; his original idea, that Sabina should live with him, had dearly been abandoned.
Then the contradictions of human nature appeared, and Mary, who had been the first to declare her deep indignation at Raymond's cynical proposal, began to weaken and even wonder if Sabina had done wisely not to discuss that matter.
"Not that ever you should have done it," she hastened to add; "but if you'd been a bit crafty and not ruled it out altogether, you might have built on it and got friendly again and gradually worked him back to his duty."
Then Mr. Churchouse protested, in the name of righteousness, while she argued that God helps those that help themselves, and that wickedness should be opposed with craft. Sabina listened to them helplessly and her last hope died out.
OF HUMAN NATURE
Nicholas Roberts drove his lathes in a lofty chamber separated by wooden walls from the great central activities of the spinning mill. Despite the flying sparks from his emery wheels, he always kept a portrait of Sarah Northover before him; and certain pictures of notable sportsmen also hung with Sarah above the benches whereon Nicholas pursued his task. His work was to put a fresh face on the wooden reels and rollers that formed a part of the machines; for running hemp or flax will groove the toughest wood in time, and so ruin the control of the rollers and spoil the thread.
The wood curled away like paper before the teeth of the lathes, and the chisels of these, in their turn, had often to be set upon spinning stones. It was noisy work, and Nicholas now stopped his grindstone that he might hear his own voice and that of Mr. Best, who came suddenly into the shop.
The foreman spoke of some new wood for roller turning.
"It should be here this week," he said. "I told them we were running short. You may expect a good batch of plane and beech by Thursday."
They discussed the work of Roberts and presently turned to the paramount question in every mind at the Mill. All naturally desired to know when Raymond Ironsyde would make his appearance and what would happen when he did so; but while some, having regard for his conduct, felt he would not dare to appear again himself, others believed that one so insensible to honesty and decency would be indifferent to all opinions entertained of him. Such suspected that the criticisms of Bridetown would be too unimportant to trouble the new master.
And it seemed that they were right, for now came Ernest Churchouse seeking Mr. Best. He looked into the turning-shop, saw John and entered.
"He's coming next week, but perhaps you know it," he began. "And if you haven't heard, be sure you will at any moment."
"Then our fate is in store," declared Nicholas. "Some hope nothing, but, seeing that with all his faults he's a sportsman, I do hope a bit. There's plenty beside me who remember his words very well, and they pointed to an all-around rise for men and women alike."
"There was a rumour of violence against him. You don't apprehend anything of that sort, I hope?" asked Ernest of Best.
"A few—more women than men—had a plot, I believe, but I haven't heard any more about it. Baggs is the ringleader; but if there was any talk of raising the money, he'd find himself deserted. He's very bitter just now, however, and as he's got the pleasant experience of being right for once, you may be sure he's making the most of it."
"I'll see him," said Mr. Churchouse. "I always find him the most difficult character possible; but he must know that to answer violence with violence is vain. Patience may yet find the solution. I have by no means given up hope that right will be done."
"Come and tell Levi, then. Him and me are out for the moment, because I won't join him in calling down evil on Mister Ironsyde's head. But what's the sense of losing your temper in other people's quarrels? Better keep it for your own, I say."
They found Levi Baggs grumbling to himself over a mass of badly scutched flax; but when he heard that Raymond Ironsyde was coming, he grew philosophic.
"If we could only learn from what we work in," he said, "we'd have the lawless young dog at our mercy. But, of course, we shall not. Why don't the yarn teach us a lesson? Why don't it show us that, though the thread is nought, and you can break it, same as Raymond Ironsyde can break me or you, yet when you get to the twist, and the doubling and the trebling, then it's strong enough to defy anything. And if we combined as we ought, we shouldn't be waiting here to listen to what he's got to say; we should be waiting here to tell him what we've got to say. If we had the wit and understanding to twist our threads into one rope against the wickedness of the world, then we should have it all our own way."
"Yes—all your own way to do your own wickedness," declared Best. "We know very well what your idea of fairness is. You look upon capital as a natural enemy, and if Raymond Ironsyde was an angel with wings, you'd still feel to him that he was a foe and not a friend."
"The tradition is in the blood," declared Levi. "Capital is our natural enemy, as you say. Our fathers knew it, and we know it, and our children will know it."
"Your fathers had a great deal more sense than you have, Baggs," declared Mr. Churchouse. "And if you only remember the past a little, you wouldn't grumble quite so loudly at the present. But labour has a short memory and no gratitude, unfortunately. You're always shouting out what must be done for you; you never spare a thought on what has been done. You never look back at the working-class drudgery of bygone days—to the 'forties' of last century, when your fathers went to work at the curfew bell and earned eighteen-pence a week as apprentices, and two shillings a week and a penny for themselves after they had learned their business. A good spinner in those days might earn five shillings a week, Levi—and that out of doors in fair weather. In foul, he, or she, wouldn't do so well. If you had told your fathers seventy years ago that all the spinning walks would be done away with and the population better off notwithstanding, they would never have believed it."
"That's the way to look at the subject, Levi," declared John Best. "Think what the men of the past would have said to our luck—and our education."
"Machinery brought the spinning indoors," continued Ernest. "I can remember forty spinning walks in St. Michael's Lane alone. And with small wages and long hours, remember the price of things, Levi; remember the fearful price of bare necessities. Clothes were so dear that many a labourer went to church in his smock frock all his life. Many never donned broadcloth from their cradle to their grave. And tea five shillings a pound, Levi Baggs! They used to buy it by the ounce and brew it over and over again. Think of the little children, too, and how they were made to work. Think of them and feel your heart ache."
"My heart aches for myself," answered the hackler, "because I very well remember what my own childhood was. And I'm not saying the times don't better. I'm saying we must keep at 'em, or they'll soon slip back again into the old, bad ways. Capital's always pulling against labour and would get back its evil mastery to-morrow if it could. So we need to keep awake, to see we don't lose what we've won, but add to it. Now here's a man that's a servant by instinct, and it's in his blood to knuckle under."
He pointed to Best.
"I'm for no man more than another," answered John. "I stand not for man or woman in particular. I'm for the Mill first and last and always. I think of what is best for the Mill and put it above the welfare of the individual, whatever he represents—capital or labour."
"That's where you're wrong. The people are the Mill and only the people," declared Baggs. "The rest is iron and steel and flax and hemp and steam—dead things all. We are the Mill, not the stuff in it, or the man that happens to be the new master."
"Mr. Raymond has expressed admirable sentiments in my hearing," declared Ernest Churchouse. "For so young a man, he has a considerable grasp of the situation and progressive ideas. You might be in worse hands."
"Might we? How worse? What can be worse than a man that lies to women and seduces an innocent girl under promise of marriage? What can be worse than a coward and traitor, who does a thing like that, and when he finds he's strong enough to escape the consequences, escapes them?"
"Heaven knows I'm not condoning his conduct, Levi. He has behaved as badly as a young man could, and not a word of extenuation will you hear from me. I'm not speaking of him as a part of the social order; I'm speaking of him as master of the Mill. As master here he may be a successful man and you'll do well to bear in mind that he must be judged by results. Morally, he's a failure, and you are right to condemn him; but don't let that make you an enemy to him as owner of the works. Be just, and don't be prejudiced against him in one capacity because he's failed in another."
"A bad man is a bad man," answered Baggs stoutly, "and a blackguard's a blackguard. And if you are equal to doing one dirty trick, your fellow man has a right to distrust you all through. You've got to look at a question through your own spectacles, and I won't hear no nonsense about the welfare of the Mill, because the welfare of the Mill means to me—Levi Baggs—my welfare—and, no doubt, it means to that godless rip, his welfare. You mark me—a man that can ruin one girl won't be very tender about fifty girls and women. And if you think Raymond Ironsyde will take any steps to better the workers at the expense of the master, you're wrong, and don't know nothing about human nature."
John Best looked at Mr. Churchouse doubtfully.
"There's sense in that, I'm fearing," he said.
"When you say 'human nature,' Levi, you sum the whole situation," answered Ernest mildly. "Because human nature is like the sea—you never know when you put a net into it what you'll drag up to the light of day. Human nature is never exhausted, and it abounds in contradictions. You cannot make hard and fast laws for it, and you cannot, if you are philosophically inclined, presume to argue about it as though it were a consistent and unchanging factor. History is full of examples of men defeating their own characters, of falling away from their own ideals, yet struggling back to them. Careers have dawned in beauty and promise and set in blood and failure; and, again, you find people who make a bad start, yet manage to retrieve the situation. In a word, you cannot argue from the past to the future, where human nature is concerned. It is a series of surprises, some gratifying and some very much the reverse. There's always room for hope with the worst and fear with the best of us."
"It's easy for you to talk," growled Mr. Baggs. "But talk don't take the place of facts. I say a blackguard's always a blackguard and defy any man to disprove it."
"If you want facts, you can have them," replied Ernest. "My researches into history have made me sanguine in this respect. Many have been vicious in youth and proved stout enemies to vice at a later time. Themistocles did much evil. His father disowned him—and he drove his mother to take her own life for grief at his sins. Yet, presently, the ugly bud put forth a noble flower. Nicholas West was utterly wicked in his youth and committed such crimes that he was driven from college after burning his master's dwelling-house. Yet light dawned for this young man and he ended his days as Bishop of Ely. Titus Vespasianus emulated Nero in his early rascalities; but having donned the imperial purple, he cast away his evil companions and was accounted good as well as great. Henry V. of England was another such man, who reformed himself to admiration. Augustine began badly, and declared as a jest that he would rather have his lust satisfied than extinguished. Yet this man ended as a Saint of Christ. I could give you many other examples, Levi."
"Then we'll hope for the best," said John.
But Mr. Baggs only sneered.
"We hear of the converted sinners," he said; "but we don't hear of the victims that suffered their wickedness before they turned into saints. Let Raymond Ironsyde be twenty saints rolled into one, that won't make Sabina Dinnett an honest woman, or her child a lawful child."
"Never jump to conclusions," advised Ernest. "Even that may come right. Nothing is impossible."
"That's a great thought—that nothing's impossible," declared Mr. Best.
They argued, each according to his character and bent of mind, and, while the meliorists cheered each other, Mr. Baggs laughed at them and held their aspirations vain.
THE MASTER OF THE MILL
Raymond Ironsyde came to Bridetown. He rode in from Bridport, and met John Best by appointment early on a March morning.
With the words of Ernest Churchouse still in his ears, the foreman felt profound interest to learn what might be learned considering the changes in his master's character.
He found a new Raymond, yet as the older writing of a parchment palimpsest will sometimes make itself apparent behind the new, glimpses of his earlier self did not lack. The things many remembered and hoped that Ironsyde would remember were not forgotten by him. But instead of the old, vague generalities and misty assurance of goodwill, he now declared definite plans based on knowledge. He came armed with figures and facts, and his method of expression had changed from ideas to intentions. His very manner chimed with his new power. He was decisive, and quite devoid of sentimentality. He feared none, but his attitude to all had changed.
They spoke in Mr. Best's office and he marked how the works came first in Raymond's regard.
"I've been putting in a lot of time on the machine question," he said. "As you know, that always interested me most before I thought I should have much say in the matter. Well, there's no manner of doubt we're badly behind the times. You can't deny it, John. You know better than anybody what we want, and it must be your work to go on with what you began to do for my brother. I don't want to rush at changes and then find I've wasted capital without fair results; but it's clear to me that a good many of our earlier operations are not done as well and swiftly as they might be."
"That's true. The Carder is out of date and the Spreader certainly is."
"The thing is to get the best substitutes in the market. You'll have to go round again in a larger spirit. I'm not frightened of risks. Is there anybody here who can take your place for a month or six weeks?"
Mr. Best shook his head.
"There certainly is not," he said.
"Then we must look round Bridport for a man. I'm prepared to put money into the changes, provided I have you behind me. I can trust you absolutely to know; but I advocate a more sporting policy than my poor brother did. After that we come to the people. I've got my business at my fingers' ends now and I found I was better at figures than I thought. There must be some changes. There are two problems: time and money. Either one or other; or probably both must be bettered—that's what I am faced with."
"It wants careful thinking out, sir."
"Well, you are a great deal more to me than my foreman, and you know it. I look to you and only you to help me run the show at Bridetown, henceforth. And, before everything, I want my people to be keen and feel my good is their good and their good is mine. Anyway, I have based changes on a fair calculation of future profits, plus necessary losses and need to make up wear and tear."
"And remember, raw products tend to rise in price all the time."
"As to that, I'm none too sure we've been buying in the best market. When I know more about it, I may travel a bit myself. Meantime, I'm changing two of our travellers."
Mr. Best nodded.
"That's to the good," he said. "I know which. Poor Mr. Daniel would keep them, because his father had told him they were all they ought to be. But least said, soonest mended."
"As to the staff, it's summed up in a word. I mean for them a little less time and a little more money. Some would like longer hours and much higher wages; some would be content with a little more money; some only talked about shorter time. I heard them all air their opinions in the past. But I've concluded for somewhat shorter hours and somewhat better money. You must rub it into them that new machinery will indirectly help them, too, and make the work lighter and the results better."
"That's undoubtedly true, but it's no good saying so. You'll never make them feel that new machinery helps them. But they'll be very glad of a little more money."
"We must enlarge their minds and make them understand that the better the machinery, the better their prospects. As I go up—and I mean to—so they shall go up. But our hope of success lies in the mechanical means we employ. They must grasp that intelligently, and be patient, and not expect me to put them before the Mill. If the works succeed, then they succeed and I succeed. If the works hang fire and get behindhand, then they will suffer. We're all the servants of the machinery. I want them to grasp that."
"It's difficult for them; but no doubt they'll get to see it," answered John.
"They must. That's the way to success in my opinion. It's a very interesting subject—the most interesting to me—always was. The machinery, I mean. I may go to America, presently. Of course, they can give us a start and a beating at machinery there."
"We must remember the driving power," said Best.
"The driving power can be raised, like everything else. If we haven't got enough power, we must increase it. I've thought of that, too, as a matter of fact."
"You can't increase what the river will do; but, of course, you can get a stronger steam engine."
"Not so sure about the river. There's a new thing—American, of course—called a turbine. But no hurry for that. We've got all the power we want for the minute. That's one virtue of some of the new machinery: it doesn't demand so much power in some cases."
But Best was very sceptical on this point. They discussed other matters and Raymond detailed his ideas as to the alteration of hours and wages. For the most part his foreman had no objections to offer, and when he did question the figures, he was overruled. But he felt constrained to praise.
"It's wonderful how you've gone into it," he said. "I never should have thought you'd have had such a head for detail, Mister Raymond."
"No more should I, John. I surprised myself. But when you are working for another person—that's one thing; when you are working for yourself—that's another thing. Not much virtue in what I've done, as it is for myself in the long run. When you tell them, explain that I'm not a philanthropist—only a man of business in future. But before all things fair and straight. I mean to be fair to them and to the machinery, too. And to the machinery I look to make all our fortunes. I should have done a little more to start with—for the people I mean; but the death duties are the devil. In fact, I start crippled by them. Tell them that and make them understand what they mean on an enterprise of this sort."
They went through the works together presently and it was clear that the new owner fixed a gulf between the past and the future. His old easy manner had vanished—and, while friendly enough, he made it quite clear that a vast alteration had come into his mind and manners. It seemed incredible that six months before Raymond was chaffing the girls and bringing them fruit. He called them by their names as of yore; but they knew in a moment he had moved with his fortunes and their own manner instinctively altered.
He was kind and pleasant, but far more interested in their work than them; and they drew conclusions from the fact. They judged his attitude with gloom and were the more agreeably surprised when they learned what advantages had been planned for them. Levi Baggs and Benny Cogle, the engineman, grumbled that more was not done; but the women, who judged Raymond from his treatment of Sabina and hoped nothing from his old promises, were gratified and astonished at what they heard. An improved sentiment towards the new master was manifest. The instinct to judge people at your own tribunal awoke, and while Sally Groves and old Mrs. Chick held out for morals, the other women did not. Already they had realised that the idle youth they could answer was gone. And with him had gone the young man who amused himself with a spinner. Of course, he could not be expected to marry Sabina. Such things did not happen out of story books; and if you tried to be too clever for your situation, this was the sort of thing that befell you.
So argued Nancy Buckler and Mercy Gale; nor did Sarah Northover much differ from them. None had been fiercer for Sabina than Nancy, yet her opinion, before the spectacle of Raymond himself and after she heard his intentions, was modified. To see him so alert, so aloof from the girls, translated to a higher interest, had altered Nancy. Despite her asperity and apparent independence of thought, her mind was servile, as the ignorant mind is bound to be. She paid the unconscious deference of weakness to power.
Raymond lunched at North Hill House—now his property. He had not seen Waldron since the great change in his fortunes and Arthur, with the rest, was quick to perceive the difference. They met in friendship and Estelle kissed Raymond as she was accustomed to do; but the alteration in him, while missed by her, was soon apparent to her father. It took the shape of a more direct and definite method of thinking. Raymond no longer uttered his opinions inconsiderately, as though confessing they were worthless even while he spoke them. He weighed his words, jested far less often, and did not turn serious subjects into laughter.
Waldron suggested certain things to his new landlord that he desired should be done; but he was amused in secret that some work Raymond had blamed Daniel for not doing, he now refused to do himself.
"I've no objection, old chap—none at all. The other points you raise I shall carry out at my own expense; but the French window in the drawing-room, while an excellent addition to the room, is not a necessity. So you must do that yourself." Thus he spoke and Arthur agreed.
Estelle only found him unchanged. Before her he was always jovial and happy. He liked to hear her talk and listen to her budding theories of life and pretty dreams of what the world ought to be, if people would only take a little more trouble for other people. But Estelle was painfully direct. She thought for herself and had not yet learned to hide her ideas, modify their shapes, or muffle their outlines when presenting them to another person. Mr. Churchouse and her father were responsible for this. They encouraged her directness and, while knowing that she outraged opinion sometimes, could not bring themselves to warn her, or stain the frankness of her views, with the caution that good manners require thought should not go nude.
Now the peril of Estelle's principles appeared when lunch was finished and the servants had withdrawn.
"I didn't speak before Lucy and Agnes," she said, "because they might talk about it afterwards."
"Bless me! How cunning she's getting!" laughed Raymond. But he did not laugh long. Estelle handed him his coffee and lit a match for his cigar; while Arthur, guessing what was coming, resigned himself helplessly to the storm.
"Sabina is fearfully unhappy, Ray. She loves you so much, and I hope you will change your mind and marry her after all, because if you do, she'll love her baby, too, and look forward to it very much. But if you don't, she'll hate her baby. And it would be a dreadful thing for the poor little baby to come into the world hated."
To Waldron's intense relief Raymond showed no annoyance whatever. He was gentle and smiled at Estelle.
"So it would, Chicky—it would be a dreadful thing for a baby to come into the world hated. But don't you worry. Nobody's going to hate it."
"I'll tell Sabina that. Sabina's sure to have a nice baby, because she's so nice herself."
"Sure to. And I shall be a very good friend to the baby without marrying Sabina."
"If she knows that, it ought to comfort her," declared Estelle. "And I shall be a great friend to it, too."
Her father bade the child be off on an errand presently and expressed his regrets to the guest when she was gone.
"Awfully sorry, old chap, but she's so unearthly and simple; and though I've often told myself to preach to her, I never can quite do it."
"Never do. She'll learn to hide her thoughts soon enough. Nothing she can say would annoy me. For that matter she's only saying what a great many other people are thinking and haven't the pluck to say. The truth is this, Arthur; when I was a poor man I was a weak man, and I should have married Sabina and we should both have had a hell of a life, no doubt. Now the death of Daniel has made me a strong man, and I'm not doing wrong as the result; I'm doing right. I can afford to do right and not mind the consequences. And the truth about life is that half the people who do wrong, only do it because they can't afford to do right."
"That's a comforting doctrine—for the poor."
"It's like this. Sabina is a very dear girl, and I loved her tremendously, and if she'd gone on being the same afterwards, I should have married her. But she changed, and I saw that we could never be really happy together as man and wife. There are things in her that would have ruined my temper, and there are things in me she would have got to hate more and more. As a matter of brutal fact, Arthur, she got to dislike me long before things came to a climax. She had to hide it, because, from her standpoint and her silly mother's, marriage is the only sort of salvation. Whereas for us it would have been damnation. It's very simple; she's got to think as I think and then she'll be all right."
"You can't make people think your way, if they prefer to think their own."
"It's merely the line of least resistance and what will pay her best. I want you to grasp the fact that she had ceased to like me before there was any reason why she should cease to like me. I'll swear she had. My first thought and intention, when I heard what had happened, was to marry her right away. And what changed my feeling about it, and showed me devilish clear it would be a mistake, was Sabina herself. We needn't go over that. But I'm not going to marry her now under any circumstances whatever, while recognising very clearly my duty to her and the child. And though you may say it's humbug, I'm thinking quite as much for her as myself when I say this."
"I don't presume to judge. You're not a humbug—no good sportsman is in my experience. If you do everything right for the child, I suppose the world has no reason to criticise."
"As long as I'm right with myself, I don't care one button what the world says, Arthur. There's nothing quicker opens your eyes, or helps you to take larger views, than independence."
"I see that."
"All the same, it's a steadying thing if you're honest and have got brains in your head. People thought I was a shallow, easy, good-natured and good-for-nothing fool six months ago. Well, they thought wrong. But don't think I'm pleased with myself, or any nonsense of that sort. Only a fool is pleased with himself. I've wasted my life till now, because I had no ambition. Now I'm beginning it and trying to get things into their proper perspective. When I had no responsibilities, I was irresponsible. Now they've come, I'm stringing myself up to meet them."
"Life's given you your chance."
"Exactly; and I hope to show I can take it. But I'm not going to start by making an ass of myself to please a few old women."
"Where shall you live?"
"Nowhere in particular for the minute. I shall roam and see all that's being done in my business and take John Best with me for a while. Then it depends. Perhaps, if things go as I expect about machinery, I shall ask you for a corner again in the autumn."
Mr. Waldron nodded; but he was not finding himself in complete agreement with Raymond.
"Always welcome," he said.
"Perhaps you'd rather not? Well—see how things go. Estelle may bar me. I'm at Bridport to-night and return to London to-morrow. But I shall be back again in a week."
"Shall you play any cricket this summer?"
"I should like to if I have time; but it's very improbable. I'm not going to chuck sport though. Next year I may have more leisure."
"You're at 'The Seven Stars,' I hear—haven't forgiven Dick Gurd he tells me."
"Did we quarrel? I forget. Seems funny to think I had enough time on my hands to wrangle with an innkeeper. But I like Missis Northover's. It's quiet."
"Shall I come in and dine this evening?"
"Wait till I'm back again. I've got to talk to my Aunt Jenny to-night. She's one of the old brigade, but I'm hoping to make her see sense."
"When sense clashes with religion, old man, nobody sees sense. I'm afraid your opinions won't entirely commend themselves to Miss Ironsyde."
"Probably not. I quite realise that I shall have to exercise the virtue of patience at Bridport and Bridetown for a year or two. But while I've got you for a friend, Arthur, I'm not going to bother."
Waldron marked the imperious changes and felt somewhat bewildered. Raymond left him not a little to think about, and when the younger had ridden off, Arthur strolled afield with his thoughts and strove to bring order into them. He felt in a vague sort of way that he had been talking to a stranger, and his hope, if he experienced a hope, was that the new master of the Mill might not take himself too seriously. "People who do that are invariably one-sided," thought Waldron.
Upon Ironsyde's attitude and intentions with regard to Sabina, he also reflected uneasily. What Raymond had declared sounded all right, yet Arthur could not break with old rooted opinions and the general view of conduct embodied in his favourite word. Was it "sporting"? And more important still, was it true? Had Ironsyde arrived at his determination from honest conviction, or thanks to the force of changed circumstances? Mr. Waldron gave his friend the benefit of the doubt.
"One must remember that he is a good sportsman," he reflected, "and he can't have enough brains to make him a bad sportsman."
For the thinker had found within his experience, that those who despised sport, too often despised also the simple ethics that he associated with sportsmanship. In fact, Arthur, after one or two painful experiences, had explicitly declared that big brains often went hand in hand with a doubtful sense of honour. He had also, of course, known numerous examples of another sort of dangerous people who assumed the name and distinction of "sportsman" as a garment to hide their true activities and unworthy selves.
CLASH OF OPINIONS
Mr. Job Legg, with a persistence inspired by private purpose, continued to impress upon Nelly Northover the radical truth that in this world you cannot have anything for nothing. He varied the precept sometimes, and reminded her that we must not hope to have our cake and eat it too; and closer relations with Richard Gurd served to impress upon Mrs. Northover the value of these verities. Nor did she resent them from Mr. Legg. He had preserved an attitude of manly resignation under his supreme disappointment. He was patient, uncomplaining and self-controlled. He did not immediately give notice of departure, but, for the present, continued to do his duty with customary thoroughness. He showed himself a most tactful man. New virtues were manifested in the light of the misfortune that had overtaken him. Affliction and reverse seemed to make him shine the brighter. Nelly could hardly understand it. Had she not regarded his character as one of obvious simplicity and incapable of guile, she might have felt suspicious of any male who behaved with such exemplary distinction under the circumstances.
It was, of course, clear that the mistress of 'The Seven Stars' could not become Mr. Gurd's partner and continue to reign over her own constellation as of old. Yet Nelly did not readily accept a fact so obvious, even under Mr. Legg's reiterated admonitions. She felt wayward—almost wilful about it: and there came an evening when Richard dropped in for his usual half hour of courting to find her in such a frame of mind. Humour on his part had saved the situation; but he lacked humour, and while Nelly, even as she spoke, knew she was talking nonsense and only waited his reminder of the inevitable in a friendly spirit, yet, when the reminder came, it was couched in words so forcible and so direct, that for a parlous moment her own sense of humour broke down.
The initial error was Mr. Gurd's. The elasticity of youth, both mental and physical, had departed from him, and he took her remarks, uttered more in mischief than in earnest, with too much gravity, not perceiving that Nelly herself was in a woman's mood and merely uttering absurdities that he might contradict her. She was ready enough to climb down from her impossible attitude; but Richard abruptly threw her down; which unchivalrous action wounded Mrs. Northover to the quick and begat in her an obstinate and rebellious determination to climb up again.
"I'm looking on ahead," she began, while they sat in her parlour together. "This is a great upheaval, Richard, and I'm just beginning to feel how great. I'm wondering all manner of things. Will you be so happy and comfortable along with me, at 'The Seven Stars,' as you are at 'The Tiger'? You must put that to yourself, you know."
It was so absurd an assumption, that she expected his laughter; and if he had laughed and answered with inspiration, no harm could have come of it. But Richard felt annoyed rather than amused. The suggestion seemed to show that Mrs. Northover was a fool—the last thing he bargained for. He exhibited contempt. Indeed, he snorted in a manner almost insulting.
"Woman comes to man, I believe, not man to woman," he said.
"That is so," she admitted with a touch of colour in her cheeks at his attitude, "but you must think all round it—which you haven't done yet, seemingly."
Then Richard laughed—too late; for a laugh may lose all its value if the right moment be missed.
"Where's the fun?" she asked. "I thought, of course, that you'd be business-like as well as lover-like and would see 'The Seven Stars' had got more to it than 'The Tiger.'"
Even now the situation might have been saved. The very immensity of her claim rendered it ridiculous; but Richard was too astonished to guess an utterance so hyperbolic had been made to offer him an easy victory.
"You thought that, Nelly? 'The Seven Stars' more to it than 'The Tiger'?"
"Because you get a few tea-parties and old women at nine-pence a head on your little bit of grass?"
A counter so terrific destroyed the last glimmering hope of a peaceful situation, and Mrs. Northover perceived this first.
"It's war then?" she said. "So perhaps you'll tell me what you mean by my little bit of grass. Not the finest pleasure gardens in Bridport, I suppose?"
"Be damned if this ain't the funniest thing I've ever heard," he answered.
"You never was one to see a joke, we all know; and if that's the funniest thing you ever heard, you ain't heard many. And you'll forgive me, please, if I tell you there's nothing funny in my speaking about my pleasure gardens, though it does sound a bit funny to hear 'em called 'a bit of grass' by a man that's got nothing but a few apple trees, past bearing, and a strip of potatoes and weeds, and a fowl-run. But, as you've got no use for a garden, perhaps you'll remember the inn yard, and how many hosses you can put up, and how many I can."
"It's the number of hosses that comes—not the number you put up," he answered; "and if you want to tell me you've often obliged with a spare space in your yard, perhaps I may remind you that you generally got quite as good as you gave. But be that as it will, the point lies in one simple question, and I ask you if you really thought, as a woman nearer sixty than fifty and with credit for sense, that I was going to chuck 'The Tiger' and coming over to your shop. Did you really think that?"
Not for an instant had she thought it; but the time was inappropriate for saying so. She might have confessed the truth in the past; she might confess the truth in the future; she was not going to do so at present. He should have a stab for his stab.
"You've often told me I was the sensiblest woman in Dorset, Richard, and being that, I naturally thought you'd drop your bar-loafers' place and come over to me—and glad to come."
"Good God!" he said, and stared at her with open nostrils, from which indignant air exploded in gusts.
She began to make peace from that moment, feeling that the limit had been reached. Indeed she was rather anxious. The thrust appeared to be mortal. Mr. Gurd rolled in his chair, and after his oath, could find no further words.
She declared sorrow.
"There—forgive me—I didn't mean to say that. 'Tis a crying shame to see two old people dressing one another down this way. I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings, but don't forget you've properly trampled on mine. My pleasure grounds are my lifeblood you might say; and you knew it."
"You needn't apologise now. 'The Tiger' a bar-loafers' place! The centre of all high-class sport in the district a bar-loafers' place! Well, well! No wonder you thought I'd be glad to come and live at 'The Seven Stars'!"
"I didn't really," she confessed. "I knew very well you wouldn't; but I had to say it. The words just flashed out. And if I'd remembered a joke was nothing to you, I might have thought twice."
"I laughed, however."
"Yes, you laughed, I grant—what you can do in that direction, which ain't much."
Mr. Gurd rose to his full height.
"Well, that lets me out," he said. "We'd better turn this over in a forgiving spirit; and since you say you're sorry, I won't be behind you, though my words was whips to your scorpions and you can't deny it."
"We'll meet again in a week," said Mrs. Northover.
"Make it a fortnight," he suggested.
"No—say a month," she answered—"or six weeks."
Then it was Richard's turn to feel the future in danger. But he had no intention to eat humble pie that evening.
"A month then. But one point I wish to make bitter clear, Nelly. If you marry me, you come to 'The Tiger.'"
"So it seems."
"Yes—bar-loafers, or no bar-loafers."
"I'll bear it in mind, Richard."
The leave-taking lacked affection and they parted with full hearts. Each was smarting under consciousness of the other's failure in nice feeling; each was amazed as at a revelation. Richard kept his mouth shut concerning this interview, for he was proud and did not like to confess even to himself that he stood on the verge of disaster; but Mrs. Northover held a familiar within her gates, and she did not hesitate to lay the course of the adventure before Job Legg.
"The world is full of surprises," said Nelly, "and you never know, when you begin talking, where the gift of speech will land you. And if you're dealing with a man who can't take a bit of fun and can't keep his eyes on his tongue and his temper at the same time, trouble will often happen."
She told the story with honesty and did not exaggerate; but Mr. Legg supported her and held that such a self-respecting woman could have done and said no less. He declared that Richard Gurd had brought the misfortune on himself, and feared that the innkeeper's display revealed a poor understanding of female nature.
"It isn't as if you was a difficult and notorious sort of woman," explained Job; "for then the man might have reason on his side; but to misunderstand you and overlook your playful touch—that shows he's got a low order of brain; because you always speak clearly. Your word is as good as your bond and none can question your judgment."
He proceeded to examine the argument earnestly and had just proved that Mrs. Northover was well within her right to set 'The Seven Stars' above 'The Tiger,' when Raymond Ironsyde entered.
He returned from dining with his aunt, and an interview now concluded was of very painful and far-reaching significance. For they had not agreed, and Miss Ironsyde proved no more able to convince her nephew than was he, to make her see his purpose combined truest wisdom and humanity.
They talked after dinner and she invited him to justify his conduct if he could, before hearing her opinions and intentions. He replied at once and she found his arguments and reasons all arrayed and ready to his tongue. He spoke clearly and stated his case in very lucid language; but he irritated her by showing that his mind was entirely closed to argument and that he was not prepared to be influenced in any sort of way. Her power had vanished now and she saw how only her power, not her persuasion, had won Raymond before his brother's death. He spoke with utmost plainness and did not spare himself in the least.
"I've been wrong," he said, "but I'm going to try and be right in the future. I did a foolish thing and fell in love with a good and clever girl. Once in love, of course, everything was bent and deflected to be seen through that medium and I believed that nothing else mattered or ever would. Then came the sequel, and being powerless to resist, I was going to marry. For some cowardly reason I funked poverty, and the thought of escaping it made me agree to marry Sabina, knowing all the time it must prove a failure. That was my second big mistake, and the third was asking her to come and live with me without marrying her. I suggested that, because I wanted her and felt very keen about the child. I ought not to have thought of such a thing. It wasn't fair to her—I quite see that."
"Can anything be fair to her short of marriage?"
"Not from her point of view, Aunt Jenny."
"And what other point of view, in keeping with honour and religion, exists?"
"As to religion, I'm without it and so much the freer. I don't want to pretend anything I don't feel. I shall always be very sorry, indeed, for what I did; but I'm not going to wreck my life by marrying Sabina."
"What about her life?"
"If she will trust her life to me, I shall do all in my power to make it a happy and easy life. I want the child to be a success. I know it will grow up a reproach to me and all that sort of thing in the opinion of many people; but that won't trouble me half as much as my own regrets. I've not done anything that puts me beyond the, pale of humanity—nor has Sabina; and if she can keep her nerve and go on with her life, it ought to be all right for her, presently."
"A very cynical attitude and I wish I could change it, Raymond. You've lost your self-respect and you know you've done a wrong thing. Can't you see that you'll always suffer it if you take no steps to right it? You are a man of feeling, and power can't lessen your feeling. Every time you see that child, you will know that you have brought a living soul into the world cruelly handicapped by your deliberate will."
"That's not a fair argument," he answered. "If our rotten laws handicap the baby, it will be my object to nullify the handicap to the best of my ability. The laws won't come between me and my child, any more than they came between me and my passion. I'm not the sort to hide behind the mean English law of the natural child. But I'm not going to let that law bully me into marriage with Sabina. I've got to think of myself as well as other people. I won't say, what's true—that if Sabina married me she wouldn't be happy in the long run; but I will say that I know I shouldn't be, and I'm not prepared to pay any penalty whatever for what I did, beyond the penalty of my own regrets."
"If you rule religion out and think you can escape and keep your honour, I don't know what to say," she answered. "For my part I believe Sabina would make you a very good and loving wife. And don't fancy, if you refuse her what faithfully you promised her, she will be content with less."
"That's her look out. You won't be wise, Aunt Jenny, to influence her against a fair and generous offer. I want her to live a good life, and I don't want our past love-making to ruin that life, or our child to ruin that life. If she's going to pose as a martyr, I can't help it. That's the side of her that wrecked the show, as a matter of fact, and made it very clear to me that we shouldn't be a happy married couple."
"Self-preservation is a law of nature. She only did what any girl would have done in trying to find friends to save her from threatened disaster."
"Well, I dare say it was natural to her to take that line, and it was equally natural to me to resent it. At any rate we know where we stand now. Tell me if there's anything else."
"I only warn you that she will accept no benefits of any kind from you, Raymond. And who shall blame her?"
"That's entirely her affair, of course. I can't do more than admit my responsibilities and declare my interest in her future."
"She will throw your interest back in your face and teach her child to despise you, as she does."
"How d'you know that, Aunt Jenny?"
"Because she's a proud woman. And because she would lose the friendship of all proud women and clean thinking men if she condoned what you intend to do. It's horrible to see you turned from a simple, stupid, but honourable boy, into a hard, selfish, irreligious man—and all the result of being rich. I should never have thought it could have made such a dreadful difference so quickly. But I have not changed, Raymond. And I tell you this: if you don't marry Sabina; if you don't see that only so can you hold up your head as an honest man and a respectable member of society, worthy of your class and your family, then, I, for one, can have no more to do with you. I mean it."
"I'm sorry you say that. You've been my guardian angel in a way and I've a million things to thank you for from my childhood. It would be a great grief to me, Aunt Jenny, if you allowed a difference of opinion to make you take such a line. I hope you'll think differently."
"I shall not," she said. "I have not told you this on the spur of the moment, or before I had thought it out very fully and very painfully. But if you do this outrageous thing, I will never be your aunt any more, Raymond, and never wish to see you again as long as I live. You know me; I'm not hysterical, or silly, or even sentimental; but I'm jealous for your father's name—and your brother's. You know where duty and honour and solemn obligation point. There is no reason whatever why you should shirk your duty, or sully your honour; but if you do, I decline to have any further dealings with you."
He rose to go.
"That's definite and clear. Good-bye, Aunt Jenny."
"Good-bye," she said. "And may God guide you to recall that 'good-bye,' nephew."
Then he went back to 'The Seven Stars,' and wondered as he walked, how the new outlook had shrunk up this old woman too, and made one, who bulked so largely in his life of old, now appear as of no account whatever. He was heartily sorry she should have taken so unreasonable a course; but he grieved more for her sake than his own. She was growing old. She would lack his company in the time to come, and her heart was too warm to endure this alienation without much pain.
He suspected that if Sabina's future course of action satisfied Miss Ironsyde, she would be friendly to her and the child and, in time, possibly win some pleasure from them.
THE BUNCH OF GRAPES
Raymond proceeded with his business at Bridetown oblivious of persons and personalities. He puzzled those who were prepared to be his enemies, for it seemed he was becoming as impersonal as the spinning machines, and one cannot quarrel with a machine.
It appeared that he was to be numbered with those who begin badly and retrieve the situation afterwards. So, at least, hoped Ernest Churchouse, yet, since the old man was called to witness and endure a part of the sorrows of Sabina and her mother, it demanded large faith on his part to anticipate brighter times. He clung to it that Raymond would yet marry Sabina, and he regretted that when the young man actually offered to see Sabina, she refused to see him. For this happened. He came to stop at North Hill House for two months, while certain experts were inspecting the works, and during this time he wished to visit 'The Magnolias' and talk with Sabina, but she declined.
The very active hate that he had awakened sank gradually to smouldering fires of bitter resentment and contempt. She spoke openly of destroying their babe when it should be born.
Then the event happened and Sabina became the mother of a man child.
Raymond was still with Arthur Waldron when Estelle brought the news, and the men discussed it.
"I hope she'll be reasonable now," said Ironsyde. "It bothered me when she refused to see me, because you can't oppose reason to stupidity of that sort. If she's going to take my aunt's line, of course, I'm done, and shall be powerless to help her. I spoke to Uncle Ernest about it two days ago. He says that it will have to be marriage, or nothing, and seemed to think that would move me to marriage! Some people can't understand plain English. But why should she cut off her nose to spite her face and refuse my friendship and help because I won't marry her?"
"She's that sort, I suppose. Of course, plenty of women would do the same."
"I'm not convinced it's Sabina really who is doing this. That's why I wanted to see her. Very likely Aunt Jenny is inspiring such a silly attitude, or her mother. They may think if she's firm I may yield. They don't seem to realise that love's as dead as a doornail now. But my duty is clear enough and they can't prevent me from doing it, I imagine."
"You want to be sporting to the child, of course."
"And to the mother of the child. Damn it all, I'm made of flesh and blood. I'm not a fiend. But with women, if you have a grain of common-sense and reasoning power, you become a fiend the moment there's a row. I want Sabina and my child to have a good show in the world, Arthur."
"Well, you must let her know it."
"I'll see her, presently. I'll take no denial about that. It may be a pious plot really, for religious people don't care how they intrigue, if they can bring off what they want to happen. It was very strange she refused to see me. Perhaps they never told her that I offered to come."
"Yes, they did, because Estelle heard Churchouse tell her. Estelle was with her at the time, and she said she was so sorry when Sabina refused. It may have been because she was ill, of course."
"I must see her before I go away, anyway. If they've been poisoning her mind against me, I must put it right."
"You're a rum 'un! Can't you see what this means to her? You talk as if she'd no grievance, and as though it was all a matter of course and an everyday thing."
"So it is, for that matter. However, there's no reason for you to bother about it. I quite recognise what it is to be a father, and the obligations. But because I happen to be a father, is no reason why I should be asked to do impossibilities. Because you've made a fool of yourself once is no reason why you should again. By good chance I've had unexpected luck in life and things have fallen out amazingly well—and I'm very willing indeed that other people should share my good luck and good fortune. I mean that they shall. But I'm not going to negative my good fortune by doing an imbecile thing."
"As long as you're sporting I've got no quarrel with you," declared Waldron. "I'm not very clever myself, but I can see that if they won't let you do what you want to do, it's not your fault. If they refuse to let you play the game—but, of course, you must grant the game looks different from their point of view. No doubt they think you're not playing the game. A woman's naturally not such a sporting animal as a man, and what we think is straight, she often doesn't appreciate, and what she thinks is straight we often know is crooked. Women, in fact, are more like the other nations which, with all their excellent qualities, don't know what 'sporting' means."
"I mean to do right," answered Raymond, "and probably I'm strong enough to make them see it and wear them down, presently. I'm really only concerned about Sabina and her child. The rest, and what they think and what they don't think, matter nothing. She may listen to reason when she's well again."
Two days later Raymond received a box from London and showed Estelle an amazing bunch of Muscat grapes, destined for Sabina.
"She always liked grapes," he said, "and these are as good as any in the world at this moment."
On his way to the Mill he left the grapes at 'The Magnolias,' and spoke a moment with Mr. Churchouse.
"She is making an excellent recovery," said Ernest, "and I am hoping that, presently, the maternal instinct will assert itself. I do everything to encourage it. But, of course, when conditions are abnormal, results must be abnormal. She's a very fine and brave woman and worthy of supreme admiration. And worthy of far better and more manly treatment than she has received from you. But you know that very well, Raymond. Owing to the complexities created by civilisation clashing with nature, we get much needless pain in the world. But a reasonable being should have recognised the situation, as you did not, and realise that we have no right to obey nature if we know at the same time we are flouting civilisation. You think you're doing right by considering Sabina's future. You are a gross materialist, Raymond, and the end of that is always dust and ashes and defeated hopes. I won't bring religion into it, because that wouldn't carry weight with you; but I bring justice into it and your debt to the social order, that has made you what you are and to which you owe everything. You have done a grave and wicked wrong to the new-born atom of life in this house, and though it is now too late wholly to right that wrong, much might yet be done. I blame you, but I hope for you—I still hope for you."
He took the grapes, and Raymond, somewhat staggered by this challenge, found himself not ready to answer it.
"We'll have a talk some evening, Uncle Ernest," he answered. "I don't expect your generation to see this thing from my point of view. It's reasonable you shouldn't, because you can't change; and it's also reasonable that I shouldn't see it from your point of view. If I'm material, I'm built so; and that won't prevent me from doing my duty."
"I would talk the hands round the clock if I thought I could help you to see your duty with other eyes than your own," replied the old man. "I am quite ready to speak when you are to listen. And I shall begin by reminding you that you are a father. You expect Sabina to be a mother in the full meaning of that beautiful word; but a child must have a father also."
"I am willing to be a father."
"Yes, on your own values, which ignore the welfare of the community, justice to the next generation, and the respect you should entertain for yourself."
"Well, we'll thresh it out another time. You know I respect you very much, Uncle Ernest; and I'm sure you'll weigh my point of view and not let Aunt Jenny influence you."
"I have a series of duties before me," answered Mr. Churchouse; "and not least among them is to reconcile you and your aunt. That you should have broken with your sole remaining relative is heart-breaking."
"I'd be friends to-morrow; but you know her."
He went away to the works and Ernest took the grapes to Mrs. Dinnett.
"You'd better not let her have them, however, unless the doctor permits it," said Mr. Churchouse, whereupon, Mary, not trusting herself to speak, took the grapes and departed. The affront embodied in the fruit affected a mind much overwrought of late. She took the present to Sabina's room.
"There," she said. "He's sunk to sending that. I'd like to fling them in his face."
"Take them away. I can't touch them."
"Touch them! And poisoned as likely as not. A man that's committed his crimes would stick at nothing."
"He uses poison enough," said the young mother; "but only the poison he can use safely. It matters nothing to him if I live or die. No doubt he'd will me dead, and this child too, if he could; but seeing he can't, he cares nothing. He'll heap insult on injury, no doubt. He's made of clay coarse enough to do it. But when I'm well, I'll see him and make it clear, once for all."
"You say that now. But I hope you'll never see him, or breathe the same air with him."
"Once—when I'm strong. I don't want him to go on living his life without knowing what I'm thinking of him. I don't want him to think he can pose as a decent man again. I want him to know that the road-menders and road-sweepers are high above him."
"Don't you get in a passion. He knows all that well enough. He isn't deceiving himself any more than anybody else. All honest people know what he is—foul wretch. Yes, he's poisoned three lives, if no more, and they are yours and mine and that sleeping child's."
"He's ruined his aunt's life, too. She's thrown him over."
"That won't trouble him. War against women is what you'd expect. But please God, he'll be up against a man some day—then we shall see a different result. May the Almighty let me live long enough to see him in the gutter, where he belongs. I ask no more."
They poured their bitterness upon Raymond Ironsyde; then a thought came into Mary Dinnett's mind and she left Sabina. Judging the time, she put on her bonnet presently and walked out to the road whence Raymond would return from his work at the luncheon hour.
She stood beside the road at a stile that led into the fields, and as Raymond, deep in thought, passed her without looking up, he saw something cast at his feet and for a moment stood still. With a soft thud his bunch of grapes fell ruined in the dust before him and, starting back, he looked at the stile and saw Sabina's mother gazing at him red-faced and furious. Neither spoke. The woman's countenance told her hatred and loathing; the man shrugged his shoulders and, after one swift glance at her, proceeded on his way without quickening or slackening his stride.
He heard her spit behind him and found time to regret that a woman of Mary's calibre should be at Sabina's side. Such concentrated hate astonished him a little. There was no reason in it; nothing could be gained by it. This senseless act of a fool merely made him impatient. But he smiled before he reached North Hill House to think that but for the interposition of chance and fortune, this brainless old woman might have become his mother-in-law.
A TRIUMPH OF REASON
Mrs. Northover took care that her interrupted conversation with Job Legg should be completed; and he, too, was anxious, that she should know his position. But he realised the danger very fully and was circumspect in his criticism of Richard Gurd's attitude toward 'The Seven Stars.'
"For my part," said Job on the evening that preceded a very important event, "I still repeat that you have a right to consider we're higher class than 'The Tiger'; and to speak of the renowned garden as a 'bit of grass' was going much too far. It shows a wrong disposition, and it wasn't a gentlemanly thing, and if it weren't such a wicked falsehood, you might laugh at it for jealousy."
"Who ever would have thought the man jealous?" she asked.
"These failings will out," declared Mr. Legg. "And seeing you mean to take him, it is as well you know it."
She nodded rather gloomily.
"Your choice of words is above praise, I'm sure, Job," she said. "For such a simple and straightforward man, you've a wonderful knowledge of the human heart."
"Through tribulation I've come to it," he answered. "However, I'm here to help you, not talk about my own bitter disappointments. And very willing I am to help you when it can be done."
"D'you think you could speak to Richard for me, and put out the truth concerning 'The Seven Stars'?" she asked. But Mr. Legg, simple though he might be, was not as simple as that.
"No," he replied. "There's few things I wouldn't do for you, on the earth or in the waters under the earth, and I say that, even though you've turned me down after lifting the light of hope. But for me to see Gurd on this subject is impossible. It's far too delicate. Another man might, but not me, because he knows that I stand in the unfortunate position of the cast out. So if there's one man that can't go to Gurd and demand reparation on your account, I'm that man. In a calmer moment, you'll be the first to see it."
"I suppose that is so. He'd think, if you talked sense to him, you had an axe to grind and treat you according. You've suffered enough."
"I have without a doubt, and shall continue to do so," he answered her.
"I think just as much of you as ever I did notwithstanding," said Mrs. Northover. "And I'll go so far as to say that your simple goodness and calm sense under all circumstances might wear better in the long run than Richard's overbearing way and cruel conceit. Be honest, Job. Do you yourself think 'The Tiger' is a finer house and more famous than my place?"
Mr. Legg perceived very accurately where Nelly suffered most.
"This house," he declared, "have got the natural advantages and Gurd have got the pull in the matter of capital. My candid opinion, what I've come to after many years of careful thought on the subject, is that if we—I say 'we' from force of habit, though I'm in the outer darkness now—if we had a few hundred pounds spending on us and an advertisement to holiday people in the papers sometimes, then in six months we shouldn't hear any more about 'The Tiger.' Cash, spent by the hand of a master on 'The Seven Stars,' would lift us into a different house and we should soon be known to cater for a class that wouldn't recognise 'The Tiger.' What we want is a bit of gold and white paint before next summer and all those delicate marks about the place that women understand and value. I've often thought that a new sign for example, with seven golden stars on a sky blue background, and perhaps even a flagstaff in the pleasure grounds, with our own flag flying upon it, would, as it were, widen the gulf between him and you. But, of course, that was before these things happened, and when I was thinking, day and night you may say, how to catch the custom."