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Title: An Old Man's Love
Author: Trollope, Anthony, 1815-1882
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "An Old Man's Love" ***

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AN OLD MAN'S LOVE

by

ANTHONY TROLLOPE

In Two Volumes



William Blackwood and Sons
Edinburgh and London
MDCCCLXXXIV



NOTE.

   This story, "An Old Man's Love," is the last
   of my father's novels. As I have stated in the
   preface to his Autobiography, "The Landleaguers"
   was written after this book, but was never fully
   completed.

   HENRY M. TROLLOPE.



CONTENTS OF VOLUME I

       I. MRS BAGGETT
      II. MR WHITTLESTAFF
     III. MARY LAWRIE
      IV. MARY LAWRIE ACCEPTS MR WHITTLESTAFF
       V. "I SUPPOSE IT WAS A DREAM"
      VI. JOHN GORDON
     VII. JOHN GORDON AND MR WHITTLESTAFF
    VIII. JOHN GORDON AND MARY LAWRIE
      IX. THE REV MONTAGU BLAKE
       X. JOHN GORDON AGAIN GOES TO CROKER'S HALL
      XI. MRS BAGGETT TRUSTS ONLY IN THE FUNDS
     XII. MR BLAKE'S GOOD NEWS

CONTENTS OF VOLUME II

    XIII. AT LITTLE ALRESFORD
     XIV. MR WHITTLESTAFF IS GOING OUT TO DINNER
      XV. MR WHITTLESTAFF GOES OUT TO DINNER
     XVI. MRS BAGGETT'S PHILOSOPHY
    XVII. MR WHITTLESTAFF MEDITATES A JOURNEY
   XVIII. MR AND MRS TOOKEY
     XIX. MR WHITTLESTAFF'S JOURNEY DISCUSSED
      XX. MR WHITTLESTAFF TAKES HIS JOURNEY
     XXI. THE GREEN PARK
    XXII. JOHN GORDON WRITES A LETTER
   XXIII. AGAIN AT CROKER'S HALL
    XXIV. CONCLUSION



VOLUME I.

CHAPTER I.

MRS BAGGETT.


Mr William Whittlestaff was strolling very slowly up and down the
long walk at his country seat in Hampshire, thinking of the contents
of a letter which he held crushed up within his trousers' pocket. He
always breakfasted exactly at nine, and the letters were supposed to
be brought to him at a quarter past. The postman was really due at
his hall-door at a quarter before nine; but though he had lived in
the same house for above fifteen years, and though he was a man very
anxious to get his letters, he had never yet learned the truth about
them. He was satisfied in his ignorance with 9.15 A.M., but on this
occasion the post-boy, as usual, was ten minutes after that time. Mr
Whittlestaff had got through his second cup of tea, and was stranded
in his chair, having nothing to do, with the empty cup and plates
before him for the space of two minutes; and, consequently, when he
had sent some terrible message out to the post-boy, and then had read
the one epistle which had arrived on this morning, he thus liberated
his mind: "I'll be whipped if I will have anything to do with her."
But this must not be taken as indicating the actual state of his
mind; but simply the condition of anger to which he had been reduced
by the post-boy. If any one were to explain to him afterwards that he
had so expressed himself on a subject of such importance, he would
have declared of himself that he certainly deserved to be whipped
himself. In order that he might in truth make up his mind on the
subject, he went out with his hat and stick into the long walk, and
there thought out the matter to its conclusion. The letter which he
held in his pocket ran as follows:--


   ST. TAWELL'S, NORWICH, February 18--.

   MY DEAR MR WHITTLESTAFF,--Poor Mrs Lawrie has gone at
   last. She died this morning at seven o'clock, and poor
   Mary is altogether alone in the world. I have asked her
   to come in among us for a few days at any rate, till the
   funeral shall be over. But she has refused, knowing, I
   suppose, how crowded and how small our house is. What is
   she to do? You know all the circumstances much better than
   I do. She says herself that she had always been intended
   for a governess, and that she will, of course, follow out
   the intention which had been fixed on between her and her
   father before his death. But it is a most weary prospect,
   especially for one who has received no direct education
   for the purpose. She has devoted herself for the last
   twelve months to Mrs Lawrie, as though she had been her
   mother. You did not like Mrs Lawrie, nor did I; nor,
   indeed, did poor Mary love her very dearly. But she, at
   any rate, did her duty by her step-mother. I know that in
   regard to actual money you will be generous enough; but do
   turn the matter over in your mind, and endeavour to think
   of some future for the poor girl.--Yours very faithfully,

   EMMA KING.


It was in answer to such a letter as this, that Mr Whittlestaff had
declared that "He'd be whipped if he'd have anything to do with her."
But that expression, which must not in truth be accepted as meaning
anything, must not be supposed to have had even that dim shadow of a
meaning which the words may be supposed to bear. He had during the
last three months been asking himself the question as to what should
be Mary Lawrie's fate in life when her step-mother should have gone,
and had never quite solved the question whether he could or would not
bring into his own house, almost as a daughter, a young woman who
was in no way related to him. He had always begun these exercises
of thought, by telling himself that the world was a censorious old
fool, and that he might do just as he pleased as to making any girl
his daughter. But then, before dinner he had generally come to the
conclusion that Mrs Baggett would not approve. Mrs Baggett was his
housekeeper, and was to him certainly a person of importance. He had
not even suggested the idea to Mrs Baggett, and was sure that Mrs
Baggett would not approve. As to sending Mary Lawrie out into the
world as a governess;--that plan he was quite sure would not answer.

Two years ago had died his best beloved friend, Captain Patrick
Lawrie. With him we have not anything to do, except to say that of
all men he was the most impecunious. Late in life he had married
a second wife,--a woman who was hard, sharp, and possessed of an
annuity. The future condition of his only daughter had been a
terrible grief to him; but from Mr Whittlestaff he had received
assurances which had somewhat comforted him. "She shan't want. I
can't say anything further." Such had been the comfort given by Mr
Whittlestaff. And since his friend's death Mr Whittlestaff had been
liberal with presents,--which Mary had taken most unwillingly under
her step-mother's guidance. Such had been the state of things when
Mr Whittlestaff received the letter. When he had been walking up
and down the long walk for an extra hour, Mr Whittlestaff expressed
aloud the conclusion to which he had come. "I don't care one straw
for Mrs Baggett." It should be understood as having been uttered in
direct opposition to the first assurance made by him, that "He'd be
whipped if he'd have anything to do with her." In that hour he had
resolved that Mary Lawrie should come to him, and be made, with all
possible honours of ownership, with all its privileges and all its
responsibilities, the mistress of his house. And he made up his mind
also that such had ever been his determination. He was fifty and Mary
Lawrie was twenty-five. "I can do just what I please with her," he
said to himself, "as though she were my own girl." By this he meant
to imply that he would not be expected to fall in love with her, and
that it was quite out of the question that she should fall in love
with him. "Go and tell Mrs Baggett that I'll be much obliged to her
if she'll put on her bonnet and come out to me here." This he said to
a gardener's boy, and the order was not at all an unusual one. When
he wanted to learn what Mrs Baggett intended to give him for dinner,
he would send for the old housekeeper and take a walk with her for
twenty minutes. Habit had made Mrs Baggett quite accustomed to the
proceeding, which upon the whole she enjoyed. She now appeared with
a bonnet, and a wadded cloak which her master had given her. "It's
about that letter, sir," said Mrs Baggett.

"How do you know?"

"Didn't I see the handwriting, and the black edges? Mrs Lawrie ain't
no more."

"Mrs Lawrie has gone to her long account."

"I'm afeared, sir, she won't find it easy to settle the bill,"
said Mrs Baggett, who had a sharp, cynical way of expressing her
disapprobation.

"Mrs Baggett, judge not, lest you be judged." Mrs Baggett turned up
her nose and snuffed the air. "The woman has gone, and nothing shall
be said against her here. The girl remains. Now, I'll tell you what I
mean to do."

"She isn't to come here, Mr Whittlestaff?"

"Here she is to come, and here she is to remain, and here she is to
have her part of everything as though she were my own daughter. And,
as not the smallest portion of the good things that is to come to
her, she is to have her share in your heart, Mrs Baggett."

"I don't know nothing about my heart, Mr Whittlestaff. Them as finds
their way to my heart has to work their way there. Who's Miss Lawrie,
that I'm to be knocked about for a new comer?"

"She is just Mary Lawrie."

"I'm that old that I don't feel like having a young missus put over
me. And it ain't for your good, Mr Whittlestaff. You ain't a young
man--nor you ain't an old un; and she ain't no relations to you.
That's the worst part of it. As sure as my name is Dorothy Baggett,
you'll be falling in love with her." Then Mrs Baggett, with the
sense of the audacity of what she had said, looked him full in the
face and violently shook her head.

"Now go in," he said, "and pack my things up for three nights. I'm
going to Norwich, and I shan't want any dinner. Tell John I shall
want the cart, and he must be ready to go with me to the station at
2.15."

"I ought to be ready to cut the tongue out of my head," said Mrs
Baggett as she returned to the house, "for I might have known it was
the way to make him start at once."

Not in three days, but before the end of the week, Mr Whittlestaff
returned home, bringing with him a dark-featured tall girl, clothed,
of course, in deepest mourning from head to foot. To Mrs Baggett she
was an object of intense interest; because, although she had by no
means assented to her master's proposal, made on behalf of the young
lady, and did tell herself again and again during Mr Whittlestaff's
absence that she was quite sure that Mary Lawrie was a baggage, yet
in her heart she knew it to be impossible that she could go on living
in the house without loving one whom her master loved. With regard
to most of those concerned in the household, she had her own way.
Unless she would favour the groom, and the gardener, and the boy,
and the girls who served below her, Mr Whittlestaff would hardly be
contented with those subordinates. He was the easiest master under
whom a servant could live. But his favour had to be won through Mrs
Baggett's smiles. During the last two years, however, there had been
enough of discussion about Mary Lawrie to convince Mrs Baggett that,
in regard to this "interloper," as Mrs Baggett had once called her,
Mr Whittlestaff intended to have his own way. Such being the case,
Mrs Baggett was most anxious to know whether the young lady was such
as she could love.

Strangely enough, when the young lady had come, Mrs Baggett, for
twelve months, could not quite make up her mind. The young lady was
very different from what she had expected. Of interference in the
house there was almost literally none. Mary had evidently heard
much of Mrs Baggett's virtues,--and infirmities,--and seemed to
understand that she also had in many things to place herself under
Mrs Baggett's orders. "Lord love you, Miss Mary," she was heard
to say; "as if we did not all understand that you was to be missus
of everything at Croker's Hall,"--for such was the name of Mr
Whittlestaff's house. But those who heard it knew that the words
were spoken in supreme good humour, and judged from that, that Mrs
Baggett's heart had been won. But Mrs Baggett still had her fears;
and was not yet resolved but that it might be her duty to turn
against Mary Lawrie with all the violence in her power. For the first
month or two after the young lady's arrival, she had almost made
up her mind that Mary Lawrie would never consent to become Mrs
Whittlestaff. An old gentleman will seldom fall in love without some
encouragement; or at any rate, will not tell his love. Mary Lawrie
was as cold to him as though he had been seventy-five instead of
fifty. And she was also as dutiful,--by which she showed Mrs Baggett
more strongly even than by her coldness, that any idea of marriage
was on her part out of the question.

This, strange to say, Mrs Baggett resented. For though she certainly
felt, as would do any ordinary Mrs Baggett in her position, that a
wife would be altogether detrimental to her interest in life, yet she
could not endure to think that "a little stuck-up minx, taken in from
charity," should run counter to any of her master's wishes. On one or
two occasions she had spoken to Mr Whittlestaff respecting the young
lady and had been cruelly snubbed. This certainly did not create
good humour on her part, and she began to fancy herself angry in that
the young lady was so ceremonious with her master. But as months ran
by she felt that Mary was thawing, and that Mr Whittlestaff was
becoming more affectionate. Of course there were periods in which her
mind veered round. But at the end of the year Mrs Baggett certainly
did wish that the young lady should marry her old master. "I can
go down to Portsmouth," she said to the baker, who was a most
respectable old man, and was nearer to Mrs Baggett's confidence
than any one else except her master, "and weary out the rest on 'em
there." When she spoke of "wearying out the rest on 'em," her friend
perfectly understood that she alluded to what years she might still
have to live, and to the abject misery of her latter days, which
would be the consequence of her resigning her present mode of life.
Mrs Baggett was supposed to have been born at Portsmouth, and,
therefore, to allude to that one place which she knew in the world
over and beyond the residences in which her master and her master's
family had resided.

Before I go on to describe the characters of Mr Whittlestaff and
Miss Lawrie, I must devote a few words to the early life of Mrs
Baggett. Dorothy Tedcaster had been born in the house of Admiral
Whittlestaff, the officer in command at the Portsmouth dockyard.
There her father or her mother had family connections, to visit whom
Dorothy, when a young woman, had returned from the then abode of her
loving mistress, Mrs Whittlestaff. With Mrs Whittlestaff she had
lived absolutely from the hour of her birth, and of Mrs Whittlestaff
her mind was so full, that she did conceive her to be superior, if
not absolutely in rank, at any rate in all the graces and favours of
life, to her Majesty and all the royal family. Dorothy in an evil
hour went back to Portsmouth, and there encountered that worst of
military heroes, Sergeant Baggett. With many lamentations, and
confessions as to her own weakness, she wrote to her mistress,
acknowledging that she did intend to marry "B." Mrs Whittlestaff
could do nothing to prevent it, and Dorothy did marry "B." Of the
misery and ill-usage, of the dirt and poverty, which poor Dorothy
Baggett endured during that year, it needs not here to tell. That
something had passed between her and her old mistress when she
returned to her, must, I suppose, have been necessary. But of her
married life, in subsequent years, Mrs Baggett never spoke at all.
Even the baker only knew dimly that there had been a Sergeant Baggett
in existence. Years had passed since that bad quarter of an hour
in her life, before Mrs Baggett had been made over to her present
master. And he, though he probably knew something of the abominable
Sergeant, never found it necessary to mention his name. For this Mrs
Baggett was duly thankful, and would declare among all persons, the
baker included, that "for a gentleman to be a gentleman, no gentleman
was such a gentleman" as her master.

It was now five-and-twenty years since the Admiral had died, and
fifteen since his widow had followed him. During the latter period
Mrs Baggett had lived at Croker's Hall with Mr Whittlestaff, and
within that period something had leaked out as to the Sergeant. How
it had come to pass that Mr Whittlestaff's establishment had been
mounted with less of the paraphernalia of wealth than that of his
parents, shall be told in the next chapter; but it was the case that
Mrs Baggett, in her very heart of hearts, was deeply grieved at what
she considered to be the poverty of her master. "You're a stupid
old fool, Mrs Baggett," her master would say, when in some private
moments her regrets would be expressed. "Haven't you got enough
to eat, and a bed to lie on, and an old stocking full of money
somewhere? What more do you want?"

"A stocking full of money!" she would say, wiping her eyes; "there
ain't no such thing. And as for eating, of course, I eats as much as
I wants. I eats more than I wants, if you come to that."

"Then you're very greedy."

"But to think that you shouldn't have a man in a black coat to pour
out a glass of wine for you, sir!"

"I never drink wine, Mrs Baggett."

"Well, whisky. I suppose a fellow like that wouldn't be above pouring
out a glass of whisky for a gentleman;--though there's no knowing now
what those fellows won't turn up their noses at. But it's a come-down
in the world, Mr Whittlestaff."

"If you think I've come down in the world, you'd better keep it to
yourself, and not tell me. I don't think that I've come down."

"You bear up against it finely like a man, sir; but for a poor woman
like me, I do feel it." Such was Mrs Baggett and the record of her
life. But this little conversation took place before the coming of
Mary Lawrie.



CHAPTER II.

MR WHITTLESTAFF.


Mr Whittlestaff had not been a fortunate man, as fortune is
generally counted in the world. He had not succeeded in what he had
attempted. He had, indeed, felt but little his want of success in
regard to money, but he had encountered failure in one or two other
matters which had touched him nearly. In some things his life had
been successful; but these were matters in which the world does not
write down a man's good luck as being generally conducive to his
happiness. He had never had a headache, rarely a cold, and not a
touch of the gout. One little finger had become crooked, and he was
recommended to drink whisky, which he did willingly,--because it was
cheap. He was now fifty, and as fit, bodily and mentally, for hard
work as ever he had been. And he had a thousand a-year to spend, and
spent it without ever feeling the necessity of saving a shilling. And
then he hated no one, and those who came in contact with him always
liked him. He trod on nobody's corns, and was, generally speaking,
the most popular man in the parish. These traits are not generally
reckoned as marks of good fortune; but they do tend to increase the
amount of happiness which a man enjoys in this world. To tell of
his misfortunes a somewhat longer chronicle of his life would be
necessary. But the circumstances need only be indicated here. He had
been opposed in everything to his father's views. His father, finding
him to be a clever lad, had at first designed him for the Bar. But
he, before he had left Oxford, utterly repudiated all legal pursuits.
"What the devil do you wish to be?" said his father, who at that
time was supposed to be able to leave his son £2000 a-year. The son
replied that he would work for a fellowship, and devote himself to
literature. The old admiral sent literature to all the infernal gods,
and told his son that he was a fool. But the lad did not succeed in
getting his fellowship, and neither father nor mother ever knew the
amount of suffering which he endured thereby. He became plaintive
and wrote poetry, and spent his pocket-money in publishing it, which
again caused him sorrow, not for the loss of his money, but by the
obscurity of his poetry. He had to confess to himself that God
had not conferred upon him the gift of writing poetry; and having
acknowledged so much, he never again put two lines together. Of all
this he said nothing; but the sense of failure made him sad at heart.
And his father, when he was in those straits, only laughed at him,
not at all believing the assurances of his son's misery, which from
time to time were given to him by his wife.

Then the old admiral declared that, as his son would do nothing for
himself, he must work for his son. And he took in his old age to
going into the city and speculating in shares. Then the Admiral
died. The shares came to nothing, and calls were made; and when
Mrs Whittlestaff followed her husband, her son, looking about him,
bought Croker's Hall, reduced his establishment, and put down the
man-servant whose departed glory was to Mrs Baggett a matter of such
deep regret.

But before this time Mr Whittlestaff had encountered the greatest
sorrow of his life. Even the lost fellowship, even the rejected
poetry, had not caused him such misery as this. He had loved a young
lady, and had been accepted;--and then the young lady had jilted him.
At this time of his life he was about thirty; and as to the outside
world, he was absolutely dumfounded by the catastrophe. Up to this
period he had been a sportsman in a moderate degree, fishing a good
deal, shooting a little, and devoted to hunting, to the extent of a
single horse. But when the blow came, he never fished or shot, or
hunted again. I think that the young lady would hardly have treated
him so badly had she known what the effect would be. Her name was
Catherine Bailey, and she married one Compas, who, as years went
on, made a considerable reputation as an Old Bailey barrister. His
friends feared at the time that Mr Whittlestaff would do some injury
either to himself or Mr Compas. But no one dared to speak to him on
the subject. His mother, indeed, did dare,--or half dared. But he so
answered his mother that he stopped her before the speech was out
of her mouth. "Don't say a word, mother; I cannot bear it." And he
stalked out of the house, and was not seen for many hours.

There had then, in the bitter agony of his spirit, come upon him an
idea of blood. He himself must go,--or the man. Then he remembered
that she was the man's wife, and that it behoved him to spare
the man for her sake. Then, when he came to think in earnest of
self-destruction, he told himself that it was a coward's refuge. He
took to his classics for consolation, and read the philosophy of
Cicero, and the history of Livy, and the war chronicles of Cæsar.
They did him good,--in the same way that the making of many shoes
would have done him good had he been a shoemaker. In catching fishes
and riding after foxes he could not give his mind to the occupation,
so as to abstract his thoughts. But Cicero's de Natura Deorum was
more effectual. Gradually he returned to a gentle cheerfulness of
life, but he never burst out again into the violent exercise of
shooting a pheasant. After that his mother died, and again he was
called upon to endure a lasting sorrow. But on this occasion the
sorrow was of that kind which is softened by having been expected. He
rarely spoke of his mother,--had never, up to this period at which
our tale finds him, mentioned his mother's name to any of those about
him. Mrs Baggett would speak of her, saying much in the praise of
her old mistress. Mr Whittlestaff would smile and seem pleased, and
so the subject would pass away. There was something too reverend
to him in his idea of his mother, to admit of his discussing her
character with the servant. But he was well pleased to hear her thus
described. Of the other woman, of Catherine Bailey, of her who had
falsely given herself up to so poor a creature as Compas, after
having received the poetry of his vows, he could endure no mention
whatever; and though Mrs Baggett knew probably well the whole story,
no attempt at naming the name was ever made.

Such had been the successes and the failures of Mr Whittlestaff's
life when Mary Lawrie was added as one to his household. The same
idea had occurred to him as to Mrs Baggett. He was not a young man,
because he was fifty; but he was not quite an old man, because he
was only fifty. He had seen Mary Lawrie often enough, and had become
sufficiently well acquainted with her to feel sure that if he could
win her she would be a loving companion for the remainder of his
life. He had turned it all over in his mind, and had been now eager
about it and now bashful. On more than one occasion he had declared
to himself that he would be whipped if he would have anything to
do with her. Should he subject himself again to some such agony of
despair as he had suffered in the matter of Catherine Bailey? It
might not be an agony such as that; but to him to ask and to be
denied would be a terrible pain. And as the girl did receive from
his hands all that she had--her bread and meat, her bed, her very
clothes--would it not be better for her that he should stand to her
in the place of a father than a lover? She might come to accept it
all and not think much of it, if he would take before himself the
guise of an old man. But were he to appear before her as a suitor for
her hand, would she refuse him? Looking forward, he could perceive
that there was room for infinite grief if he should make the attempt
and then things should not go well with him.

But the more he saw of her he was sure also that there was room for
infinite joy. He compared her in his mind to Catherine Bailey, and
could not but feel that in his youth he had been blind and fatuous.
Catherine had been a fair-haired girl, and had now blossomed out
into the anxious mother of ten fair-haired children. The anxiety had
no doubt come from the evil courses of her husband. Had she been
contented to be Mrs Whittlestaff, there might have been no such look
of care, and there might perhaps have been less than ten children;
but she would still have been fair-haired, blowsy, and fat. Mr
Whittlestaff had with infinite trouble found an opportunity of seeing
her and her flock, unseen by them, and a portion of his agony had
subsided. But still there was the fact that she had promised to be
his, and had become a thing sacred in his sight, and had then given
herself up to the arms of Mr Compas. But now if Mary Lawrie would
but accept him, how blessed might be the evening of his life!

He had confessed to himself often enough how sad and dreary he was
in his desolate life. He had told himself that it must be so for the
remainder of all time to him, when Catherine Bailey had declared her
purpose to him of marrying the successful young lawyer. He had at
once made up his mind that his doom was fixed, and had not regarded
his solitude as any deep aggravation of his sorrow. But he had come
by degrees to find that a man should not give up his life because of
a fickle girl, and especially when he found her to be the mother of
ten flaxen haired infants. He had, too, as he declared to himself,
waited long enough.

But Mary Lawrie was very different from Catherine Bailey. The
Catherine he had known had been bright, and plump, and joyous, with a
quick good-natured wit, and a rippling laughter, which by its silvery
sound had robbed him of his heart. There was no plumpness, and no
silver-sounding laughter with Mary. She shall be described in the
next chapter. Let it suffice to say here that she was somewhat staid
in her demeanour, and not at all given to putting herself forward in
conversation. But every hour that he passed in her company he became
more and more sure that, if any wife could now make him happy, this
was the woman who could do so.

But of her manner to himself he doubted much. She was gratitude
itself for what he was prepared to do for her. But with her gratitude
was mingled respect, and almost veneration. She treated him at first
almost as a servant,--at any rate with none of the familiarity of a
friend, and hardly with the reserve of a grown-up child. Gradually,
in obedience to his evident wishes, she did drop her reserve,
and allowed herself to converse with him; but it was always as a
young person might with all modesty converse with her superior. He
struggled hard to overcome her reticence, and did at last succeed.
But still there was that respect, verging almost into veneration,
which seemed to crush him when he thought that he might begin to play
the lover.

He had got a pony carriage for her, which he insisted that she should
drive herself. "But I never have driven," she had said, taking her
place, and doubtfully assuming the reins, while he sat beside her.
She had at this time been six months at Croker's Hall.

"There must be a beginning for everything, and you shall begin to
drive now." Then he took great trouble with her, teaching her how to
hold the reins, and how to use the whip, till at last something of
familiarity was engendered. And he went out with her, day after day,
showing her all those pretty haunts among the downs which are to be
found in the neighbourhood of Alresford.

This did well for a time, and Mr Whittlestaff thought that he was
progressing. But he had not as yet quite made up his mind that the
attempt should be made at all. If he can be imagined to have talked
to a friend as he talked to himself, that friend would have averred
that he spoke more frequently against marriage,--or rather against
the young lady's marriage,--than in favour of it. "After all it will
never do," he would have said to this friend; "I am an old man, and
an old man shouldn't ask a young girl to sacrifice herself. Mrs
Baggett looks on it only as a question of butchers and bakers. There
are, no doubt, circumstances in which butchers and bakers do come
uppermost. But here the butchers and bakers are provided. I wouldn't
have her marry me for that sake. Love, I fear, is out of the
question. But for gratitude I would not have her do it." It was thus
that he would commonly have been found speaking to his friend. There
were moments in which he roused himself to better hopes,--when he had
drank his glass of whisky and water, and was somewhat elate with the
consequences. "I'll do it," he would then have said to his friend;
"only I cannot exactly say when." And so it went on, till at last he
became afraid to speak out and tell her what he wanted.

Mr Whittlestaff was a tall, thin man, not quite six feet, with a
face which a judge of male beauty would hardly call handsome, but
which all would say was impressive and interesting. We seldom
think how much is told to us of the owner's character by the
first or second glance of a man or woman's face. Is he a fool, or
is he clever; is he reticent or outspoken; is he passionate or
long-suffering;--nay, is he honest or the reverse; is he malicious
or of a kindly nature? Of all these things we form a sudden judgment
without any thought; and in most of our sudden judgments we are
roughly correct. It is so, or seems to us to be so, as a matter of
course,--that the man is a fool, or reticent, or malicious; and,
without giving a thought to our own phrenological capacity, we pass
on with the conviction. No one ever considered that Mr Whittlestaff
was a fool or malicious; but people did think that he was reticent
and honest. The inner traits of his character were very difficult to
be read. Even Mrs Baggett had hardly read them all correctly. He was
shamefaced to such a degree that Mrs Baggett could not bring herself
to understand it. And there was present to him a manner of speech
which practice had now made habitual, but which he had originally
adopted with the object of hiding his shamefacedness under the veil
of a dashing manner. He would speak as though he were quite free
with his thoughts, when, at the moment, he feared that thoughts
should be read of which he certainly had no cause to be ashamed. His
fellowship, his poetry, and his early love were all, to his thinking,
causes of disgrace, which required to be buried deep within his own
memory. But the true humility with which he regarded them betokened a
character for which he need not have blushed. But that he thought of
those matters at all--that he thought of himself at all--was a matter
to be buried deep within his own bosom.

Through his short dark-brown hair the grey locks were beginning to
show themselves--signs indeed of age, but signs which were very
becoming to him. At fifty he was a much better-looking man than he
had been at thirty,--so that that foolish, fickle girl, Catherine
Bailey, would not have rejected him for the cruelly sensuous face
of Mr Compas, had the handsome iron-grey tinge been then given to
his countenance. He, as he looked at the glass, told himself that a
grey-haired old fool, such as he was, had no right to burden the life
of a young girl, simply because he found her in bread and meat. That
he should think himself good-looking, was to his nature impossible.
His eyes were rather small, but very bright; the eyebrows black and
almost bushy; his nose was well-formed and somewhat long, but not so
as to give that peculiar idea of length to his face which comes from
great nasal prolongation. His upper lip was short, and his mouth
large and manly. The strength of his character was better shown by
his mouth than by any other feature. He wore hardly any beard, as
beards go now,--unless indeed a whisker can be called a beard, which
came down, closely shorn, about half an inch below his ear. "A very
common sort of individual," he said of himself, as he looked in the
glass when Mary Lawrie had been already twelve months in the house;
"but then a man ought to be common. A man who is uncommon is either a
dandy or a buffoon."

His clothes were all made after one pattern and of one colour. He
had, indeed, his morning clothes and his evening clothes. Those for
the morning were very nearly black, whereas for the evening they were
entirely so. He walked about the neighbourhood in a soft hat such as
clergymen now affect, and on Sundays he went to church with the old
well-established respectable chimney-pot. On Sundays, too, he carried
an umbrella, whereas on week-days he always had a large stick; and it
was observed that neither the umbrella nor the stick was adapted to
the state of the weather.

Such was Mr Whittlestaff of Croker's Hall, a small residence
which stood half-way up on the way to the downs, about a mile from
Alresford. He had come into the neighbourhood, having bought a small
freehold property without the knowledge of any of the inhabitants.
"It was just as though he had come out of the sun," said the old
baker, forgetting that most men, or their ancestors, must have come
to their present residences after a similar fashion. And he had
brought Mrs Baggett with him, who had confided to the baker that she
had felt herself that strange on her first arrival that she didn't
know whether she was standing on her head or her heels.

Mrs Baggett had since become very gracious with various of the
neighbours. She had the paying of Mr Whittlestaff's bills, and the
general disposal of his custom. From thence arose her popularity.
But he, during the last fifteen years, had crept silently into the
society of the place. At first no one had known anything about him;
and the neighbourhood had been shy. But by degrees the parsons and
then the squires had taken him by the hand, so that the social
endowments of the place were more than Mr Whittlestaff even desired.



CHAPTER III.

MARY LAWRIE.


There is nothing more difficult in the writing of a story than to
describe adequately the person of a hero or a heroine, so as to place
before the mind of the reader any clear picture of him or her who
is described. A courtship is harder still--so hard that we may say
generally that it is impossible. Southey's Lodore is supposed to have
been effective; but let any one with the words in his memory stand
beside the waterfall and say whether it is such as the words have
painted it. It rushes and it foams, as described by the poet, much
more violently than does the real water; and so does everything
described, unless in the hands of a wonderful master. But I have
clear images on my brain of the characters of the persons introduced.
I know with fair accuracy what was intended by the character as given
of Amelia Booth, of Clarissa, of Di Vernon, and of Maggie Tulliver.
But as their persons have not been drawn with the pencil for me by
the artists who themselves created them, I have no conception how
they looked. Of Thackeray's Beatrix I have a vivid idea, because
she was drawn for him by an artist under his own eye. I have now to
describe Mary Lawrie, but have no artist who will take the trouble
to learn my thoughts and to reproduce them. Consequently I fear that
no true idea of the young lady can be conveyed to the reader; and
that I must leave him to entertain such a notion of her carriage and
demeanour as must come to him at the end from the reading of the
whole book.

But the attempt must be made, if only for fashion sake, so that no
adventitious help may be wanting to him, or more probably to her, who
may care to form for herself a personification of Mary Lawrie. She
was a tall, thin, staid girl, who never put herself forward in any of
those walks of life in which such a young lady as she is called upon
to show herself. She was silent and reserved, and sometimes startled,
even when appealed to in a household so quiet as that of Mr
Whittlestaff. Those who had seen her former life had known that she
had lived under the dominion of her step-mother, and had so accounted
for her manner. And then, added to this, was the sense of entire
dependence on a stranger, which, no doubt, helped to quell her
spirit. But Mr Whittlestaff had eyes with which to see and ears with
which to hear, and was not to be taken in by the outward appearance
of the young lady. He had perceived that under that quiet guise and
timid startled look there existed a power of fighting a battle for
herself or for a friend, if an occasion should arise which should
appear to herself to be sufficient. He had known her as one of her
father's household, and of her step-mother's; and had seen probably
some little instance of self-assertion, such as had not yet made
itself apparent to Mrs Baggett.

A man who had met her once, and for a few minutes only, would
certainly not declare her to be beautiful. She, too, like Mr
Whittlestaff, was always contented to pass unobserved. But the chance
man, had he seen her for long, would surely remark that Miss Lawrie
was an attractive girl; and had he heard her talk freely on any
matter of interest, would have called her very attractive. She would
blaze up into sudden eloquence, and then would become shame-stricken,
and abashed, and dumfounded, so as to show that she had for a
moment forgotten her audience, and then the audience,--the chance
man,--would surely set his wits to work and try to reproduce in her a
renewal of that intimacy to which she had seemed to yield herself for
the moment.

But yet I am not describing her after the accepted fashion. I should
produce a catalogue of features, and tell how every one of them
was formed. Her hair was dark, and worn very plain, but with that
graceful care which shows that the owner has not slurred over her
toilet with hurried negligence. Of complexion it can hardly be said
that she had any; so little was the appearance of her countenance
diversified by a change of hue. If I am bound to declare her colour,
I must, in truth, say that she was brown. There was none even of that
flying hue which is supposed to be intended when a woman is called a
brunette. When she first came to Croker's Hall, health produced no
variation. Nor did any such come quickly; though before she had lived
there a year and a half, now and again a slight tinge of dark ruby
would show itself on her cheek, and then vanish almost quicker than
it had come. Mr Whittlestaff, when he would see this, would be
almost beside himself in admiration.

Her eyes were deep blue, so deep that the casual observer would not
at first recognise their colour. But when you had perceived that they
were blue, and had brought the fact home to your knowledge, their
blueness remained with you as a thing fixed for ever. And you would
feel, if you yourself were thoughtful and contemplative, and much
given to study a lady's eyes, that, such as they were, every lady
would possess the like if only it were given to her to choose.

Her nose was slight and fine, and perhaps lent to her face, of all
her features, its most special grace. Her lips, alas! were too thin
for true female beauty, and lacked that round and luscious fulness
which seems in many a girl's face to declare the purpose for which
they were made. Through them her white teeth would occasionally be
seen, and then her face was at its best, as, for instance, when she
was smiling; but that was seldom; and at other moments it seemed as
though she were too careful to keep her mouth closed.

But if her mouth was defective, the symmetry of her chin, carrying
with it the oval of her cheek and jaws, was perfect. How many a
face, otherwise lovely to look upon, is made mean and comparatively
base, either by the lengthening or the shortening of the chin! That
absolute perfection which Miss Lawrie owned, we do not, perhaps,
often meet. But when found, I confess that nothing to me gives so
sure an evidence of true blood and good-breeding.

Such is the catalogue of Mary Lawrie's features, drawn out with care
by one who has delighted for many hours to sit and look at them.
All the power of language which the writer possesses has been used
in thus reproducing them. But now, when this portion of his work
is done, he feels sure that no reader of his novel will have the
slightest idea of what Mary Lawrie was like.

An incident must now be told of her early life, of which she never
spoke to man, woman, or child. Her step-mother had known the
circumstance, but had rarely spoken of it. There had come across her
path in Norwich a young man who had stirred her heart, and had won
her affections. But the young man had passed on, and there, as far as
the present and the past were concerned, had been an end of it. The
young man had been no favourite with her step-mother; and her father,
who was almost on his death-bed, had heard what was going on almost
without a remark. He had been told that the man was penniless, and
as his daughter had been to him the dearest thing upon earth, he had
been glad to save himself the pain of expressing disapproval. John
Gordon had, however, been a gentleman, and was fit in all things to
be the husband of such a girl as Mary Lawrie,--except that he was
penniless, and she, also, had possessed nothing. He had passed on his
way without speaking, and had gone--even Mary did not know whither.
She had accepted her fate, and had never allowed the name of John
Gordon to pass her lips.

The days passed very quickly at Croker's Hall, but not so quickly but
that Mary knew well what was going on in Mr Whittlestaff's mind. How
is it that a girl understands to a certainty the state of a man's
heart in regard to her,--or rather, not his heart, but his purpose? A
girl may believe that a man loves her, and may be deceived; but she
will not be deceived as to whether he wishes to marry her. Gradually
came the conviction on Miss Lawrie's mind of Mr Whittlestaff's
purpose. And, as it did so, came the conviction also that she could
not do it. Of this he saw nothing; but he was instigated by it to
be more eager,--and was at the same time additionally abashed by
something in her manner which made him feel that the task before him
was not an easy one.

Mrs Baggett, who knew well all the symptoms as her master displayed
them, became angry with Mary Lawrie. Who was Mary Lawrie, that she
should take upon herself to deny Mr Whittlestaff anything? No
doubt it would, as she told herself, be better for Mrs Baggett in
many respects that her master should remain unmarried. She assured
herself that if a mistress were put over her head, she must retire
to Portsmouth,--which, of all places for her, had the dreariest
memories. She could remain where she was very well, while Mary Lawrie
remained also where she was. But it provoked her to think that the
offer should be made to the girl and should be refused. "What on
earth it is they sees in 'em, is what I never can understand. She
ain't pretty,--not to say,--and she looks as though butter wouldn't
melt in her mouth. But she's got it inside her, and some of them days
it'll come out." Then Mrs Baggett determined that she would have a
few words on the subject with Mary Lawrie.

Mary had now been a year and four months at Croker's Hall, and had,
under pressure from Mr Whittlestaff, assumed something of the manner
rather than of the airs of a mistress to Mrs Baggett. This the old
woman did not at all resent, because the reality of power was still
in her hands; but she could not endure that the idolatry of love
should always be present in her master's face. If the young woman
would only become Mrs Whittlestaff, then the idolatry would pass
away. At any rate, her master would not continue "to make an ass of
himself," as Mrs Baggett phrased it.

"Don't you think, Miss, as that Mr Whittlestaff is looking very
peeky?"

"Is he, Mrs Baggett?"

"'Deed and he is, to my thinking; and it's all along of you. He's got
a fancy into his mind,--and why shouldn't he have his fancy?"

"I don't know, I'm sure." But Mary did know. She did know what the
fancy was, and why Mr Whittlestaff shouldn't have it.

"I tell you fairly, Miss, there is nothing I hate so much as vagaries
in young women."

"I hope there are no vagaries to be hated in me, Mrs Baggett."

"Well, I'm not quite so sure. You do go as straightforward as most
on 'em; but I ain't quite sure but that there are a few twists and
twirls. What do you suppose he wants to be at?"

"How am I to say?" Then she bethought herself that were she to tell
the truth, she could say very well.

"Do you mean as you don't know?" said the old woman.

"Am I bound to tell you if I do know?"

"If you wish to do the best for him, you are. What's the good of
beating about the bush? Why don't you have him?"

Mary did not quite know whether it behoved her to be angry with the
old servant, and if so, how she was to show her anger. "You shouldn't
talk such nonsense, Mrs Baggett."

"That's all very well. It is all nonsense; but nonsense has to be
talked sometimes. Here's a gentleman as you owe everything to. If he
wanted your head from your shoulders, you shouldn't make any scruple.
What are you, that you shouldn't let a gentleman like him have his
own way? Asking your pardon, but I don't mean it any way out of
disrespect. Of course it would be all agin me. An old woman doesn't
want to have a young mistress over her head, and if she's my sperrit,
she wouldn't bear it. I won't, any way."

"Then why do you ask me to do this thing?"

"Because a gentleman like him should have his own way. And an old hag
like me shouldn't stand for anything. No more shouldn't a young woman
like you who has had so much done for her. Now, Miss Mary, you see
I've told you my mind freely."

"But he has never asked me."

"You just sit close up to him, and he'll ask you free enough. I
shouldn't speak as I have done if there had been a morsel of doubt
about it. Do you doubt it yourself, Miss?" To this Miss Lawrie did
not find it necessary to return any answer.

When Mrs Baggett had gone and Mary was left to herself, she could
not but think over what the woman had said to her. In the first
place, was she not bound to be angry with the woman, and to express
her anger? Was it not impertinent, nay, almost indecent, that the
woman should come to her and interrogate her on such a subject?
The inmost, most secret feelings of her heart had been ruthlessly
inquired into and probed by a menial servant, who had asked questions
of her, and made suggestions to her, as though her part in the affair
had been of no consequence. "What are you, that you shouldn't let
a gentleman like him have his own way?" Why was it not so much to
her as to Mr Whittlestaff? Was it not her all; the consummation
or destruction of every hope; the making or unmaking of her joy or
of her happiness? Could it be right that she should marry any man,
merely because the man wanted her? Were there to be no questions
raised as to her own life, her own contentment, her own ideas of what
was proper? It was true that this woman knew nothing of John Gordon.
But she must have known that there might be a John Gordon,--whom
she, Mary Lawrie, was required to set on one side, merely because Mr
Whittlestaff "wanted her." Mrs Baggett had been grossly impertinent
in daring to talk to her of Mr Whittlestaff's wants.

But then, as she walked slowly round the garden, she found herself
bound to inquire of herself whether what the woman said had not been
true. Did she not eat his bread; did she not wear his clothes; were
not the very boots on her feet his property? And she was there in his
house, without the slightest tie of blood or family connection. He
had taken her from sheer charity, and had saved her from the terrible
dependency of becoming a friendless governess. Looking out to the
life which she had avoided, it seemed to her to be full of abject
misery. And he had brought her to his own house, and had made her the
mistress of everything. She knew that she had been undemonstrative in
her manner, and that such was her nature. But her heart welled over
with gratitude as she thought of the sweetness of the life which he
had prepared for her. Was not the question true? "What am I, that I
should stand in the way and prevent such a man as that from having
what he wants?"

And then she told herself that he personally was full of good gifts.
How different might it have been with her had some elderly men
"wanted her," such as she had seen about in the world! How much was
there in this man that she knew that she could learn to love? And he
was one of whom she need in no wise be ashamed. He was a gentleman,
pleasant to look at, sweet in manner, comely and clean in appearance.
Would not the world say of her how lucky she had been should it come
to pass that she should become Mrs Whittlestaff? Then there were
thoughts of John Gordon, and she told herself that it was a mere
dream. John Gordon had gone, and she knew not where he was; and John
Gordon had never spoken a word to her of his love. After an hour's
deliberation, she thought that she would marry Mr Whittlestaff if he
asked her, though she could not bring herself to say that she would
"sit close up to him" in order that he might do so.



CHAPTER IV.

MARY LAWRIE ACCEPTS MR WHITTLESTAFF.


By the end of the week Mary Lawrie had changed her mind. She had
thought it over, and had endeavoured to persuade herself that Mr
Whittlestaff did not care about it very much. Indeed there were
moments during the week in which she flattered herself that if she
would abstain from "sitting close up to him," he would say nothing
about it. But she resolved altogether that she would not display her
anger to Mrs Baggett. Mrs Baggett, after all, had done it for the
best. And there was something in Mrs Baggett's mode of argument on
the subject which was not altogether unflattering to Mary. It was not
as though Mrs Baggett had told her that Mr Whittlestaff could make
himself quite happy with Mrs Baggett herself, if Mary Lawrie would
be good enough to go away. The suggestion had been made quite in the
other way, and Mrs Baggett was prepared altogether to obliterate
herself. Mary did feel that Mr Whittlestaff ought to be made a god,
as long as another woman was willing to share in the worship with
such absolute self-sacrifice.

At last the moment came, and the question was asked without a minute
being allowed for consideration. It was in this wise. The two were
sitting together after dinner on the lawn, and Mrs Baggett had
brought them their coffee. It was her wont to wait upon them with
this delicacy, though she did not appear either at breakfast or at
dinner, except on remarkable occasions. She now had some little word
to say, meant to be conciliatory and comforting, and remarked that
"surely Miss Mary meant to get a colour in her cheeks at last."

"Don't be foolish, Mrs Baggett," said Mary. But Mrs Baggett's back
was turned, and she did not care to reply.

"It is true, Mary," said Mr Whittlestaff, putting his hand on her
shoulder, as he turned round to look in her face.

"Mrs Lawrie used to tell me that I always blushed black, and I think
that she was about right."

"I do not know what colour you blush," said Mr Whittlestaff.

"I daresay not."

"But when it does come I am conscious of the sweetest colour that
ever came upon a lady's cheek. And I tell myself that another grace
has been added to the face which of all faces in the world is to
my eyes the most beautiful." What was she to say in answer to a
compliment so high-flown as this, to one from whose mouth compliments
were so uncommon? She knew that he could not have so spoken without
a purpose, declared at any rate to his own heart. He still held her
by the arm, but did not once progress with his speech, while she sat
silent by his side, and blushing with that dark ruby streak across
her cheeks, which her step-mother had intended to vilify when she
said that she had blushed black. "Mary," he continued after a pause,
"can you endure the thought of becoming my wife?" Now she drew her
arm away, and turned her face, and compressed her lips, and sat
without uttering a word. "Of course I am an old man."

"It is not that," she muttered.

"But I think that I can love you as honestly and as firmly as a
younger one. I think that if you could bring yourself to be my wife,
you would find that you would not be treated badly."

"Oh, no, no, no!" she exclaimed.

"Nothing, at any rate, would be kept from you. When I have a thought
or a feeling, a hope or a fear, you shall share it. As to money--"

"Don't do that. There should be no talk of money from you to me."

"Perhaps not. It would be best that I should be left to do as I may
think most fitting for you. I have one incident in my life which I
would wish to tell you. I loved a girl,--many years since,--and she
ill-used me. I continued to love her long, but that image has passed
from my mind." He was thinking, as he said this, of Mrs Compas and
her large family. "It will not be necessary that I should refer to
this again, because the subject is very painful; but it was essential
that I should tell you. And now, Mary, how shall it be?" he added,
after a pause.

She sat listening to all that he had to say to her, but without
speaking a word. He, too, had had his "John Gordon;" but in his case
the girl he had loved had treated him badly. She, Mary, had received
no bad treatment. There had been love between them, ample love, love
enough to break their hearts. At least she had found it so. But there
had been no outspoken speech of love. Because of that, the wound
made, now that it had been in some sort healed, had not with her been
so cruel as with Mr Whittlestaff. John Gordon had come to her on
the eve of his going, and had told her that he was about to start
for some distant land. There had been loud words between him and
her step-mother, and Mrs Lawrie had told him that he was a pauper,
and was doing no good about the house; and Mary had heard the words
spoken. She asked him whither he was going, but he did not reply.
"Your mother is right. I am at any rate doing no good here," he had
said, but had not answered her question further. Then Mary had given
him her hand, and had whispered, "Good-bye." "If I return," he added,
"the first place I will come to shall be Norwich." Then without
further farewell ceremony he had gone. From that day to this she
had had his form before her eyes; but now, if she accepted Mr
Whittlestaff, it must be banished. No one, at any rate, knew of her
wound. She must tell him,--should she be moved at last to accept him.
It might be that he would reject her after such telling. If so, it
would be well. But, in that case, what would be her future? Would it
not be necessary that she should return to that idea of a governess
which had been so distasteful to her? "Mary, can you say that it
shall be so?" he asked quietly, after having remained silent for some
ten minutes.

Could it be that all her fate must be resolved in so short a time?
Since first the notion that Mr Whittlestaff had asked her to be his
wife had come upon her, she had thought of it day and night. But, as
is so usual with the world at large, she had thought altogether of
the past, and not of the future. The past was a valley of dreams,
which could easily be surveyed, whereas the future was a high
mountain which it would require much labour to climb. When we think
that we will make our calculations as to the future, it is so easy
to revel in our memories instead. Mary had, in truth, not thought of
her answer, though she had said to herself over and over again why it
should not be so.

"Have you no answer to give me?" he said.

"Oh, Mr Whittlestaff, you have so startled me!" This was hardly
true. He had not startled her, but had brought her to the necessity
of knowing her own mind.

"If you wish to think of it, you shall take your own time." Then it
was decided that a week should be accorded to her. And during that
week she passed much of her time in tears. And Mrs Baggett would
not leave her alone. To give Mrs Baggett her due, it must be
acknowledged that she acted as best she knew how for her master's
interest, without thinking of herself. "I shall go down to
Portsmouth. I'm not worth thinking of, I ain't. There's them at
Portsmouth as'll take care of me. You don't see why I should go. I
daresay not; but I am older than you, and I see what you don't see.
I've borne with you as a miss, because you've not been upsetting; but
still, when I've lived with him for all those years without anything
of the kind, it has set me hard sometimes. As married to him, I
wouldn't put up with you; so I tell you fairly. But that don't
signify. It ain't you as signifies or me as signifies. It's only him.
You have got to bring yourself to think of that. What's the meaning
of your duty to your neighbour, and doing unto others, and all the
rest of it? You ain't got to think just of your own self; no more
haven't I."

Mary said to herself silently that it was John Gordon of whom she
had to think. She quite recognised the truth of the lesson about
selfishness; but love to her was more imperious than gratitude.

"There's them at Portsmouth as'll take care of me, no doubt. Don't
you mind about me. I ain't going to have a good time at Portsmouth,
but people ain't born to have good times of it. You're going to have
a good time. But it ain't for that, but for what your duty tells you.
You that haven't a bit or a sup but what comes from him, and you to
stand shilly-shallying! I can't abide the idea!"

It was thus that Mrs Baggett taught her great lesson,--the greatest
lesson we may say which a man or a woman can learn. And though she
taught it immoderately, fancying, as a woman, that another woman
should sacrifice everything to a man, still she taught it with truth.
She was minded to go to Portsmouth, although Portsmouth to her in the
present state of circumstances was little better than a hell upon
earth. But Mary could not quite see Mr Whittlestaff's claim in the
same light. The one point on which it did seem to her that she had
made up her mind was Mr Gordon's claim, which was paramount to
everything. Yes; he was gone, and might never return. It might be
that he was dead. It might be even that he had taken some other wife,
and she was conscious that not a word had passed her lips that could
be taken as a promise. There had not been even a hint of a promise.
But it seemed to her that this duty of which Mrs Baggett spoke was
due rather to John Gordon than to Mr Whittlestaff.

She counted the days,--nay, she counted the hours, till the week
had run by. And when the precise moment had come at which an answer
must be given,--for in such matters Mr Whittlestaff was very
precise,--John Gordon was still the hero of her thoughts. "Well,
dear," he said, putting his hand upon her arm, just as he had done
on that former occasion. He said no more, but there was a world of
entreaty in the tone of his voice as he uttered the words.

"Mr Whittlestaff!"

"Well, dear."

"I do not think I can. I do not think I ought. You never heard
of--Mr John Gordon."

"Never."

"He used to come to our house at Norwich, and--and--I loved him."

"What became of him?" he asked, in a strangely altered voice. Was
there to be a Mr Compas here too to interfere with his happiness?

"He was poor, and he went away when my step-mother did not like him."

"You had engaged yourself to him?"

"Oh, no! There had been nothing of that kind. You will understand
that I should not speak to you on such a subject, were it not that I
am bound to tell you my whole heart. But you will never repeat what
you now hear."

"There was no engagement?"

"There was no question of any such thing."

"And he is gone?"

"Yes," said Mary; "he has gone."

"And will not come back again?" Then she looked into his face,--oh!
so wistfully. "When did it happen?"

"When my father was on his death-bed. He had come sooner than that;
but then it was that he went. I think, Mr Whittlestaff, that I never
ought to marry any one after that, and therefore it is that I have
told you."

"You are a good girl, Mary."

"I don't know about that. I think that I ought to deceive you at
least in nothing."

"You should deceive no one."

"No, Mr Whittlestaff." She answered him ever so meekly; but there
was running in her mind a feeling that she had not deceived any one,
and that she was somewhat hardly used by the advice given to her.

"He has gone altogether?" he asked again.

"I do not know where he is,--whether he be dead or alive."

"But if he should come back?"

She only shook her head;--meaning him to understand that she could
say nothing of his purposes should he come back. He had made her
no offer. He had said that if he returned he would come first to
Norwich. There had been something of a promise in this; but oh, so
little! And she did not dare to tell him that hitherto she had lived
upon that little.

"I do not think that you should remain single for ever on that
account. How long is it now since Mr Gordon went?"

There was something in the tone in which he mentioned Mr Gordon's
name which went against the grain with Mary. She felt that he was
spoken of almost as an enemy. "I think it is three years since he
went."

"Three years is a long time. Has he never written?"

"Not to me. How should he write? There was nothing for him to write
about."

"It has been a fancy."

"Yes;--a fancy." He had made this excuse for her, and she had none
stronger to make for herself.

He certainly did not think the better of her in that she had
indulged in such a fancy; but in truth his love was sharpened by
the opposition which this fancy made. It had seemed to him that
his possessing her would give a brightness to his life, and this
brightness was not altogether obscured by the idea that she had ever
thought that she had loved another person. As a woman she was as
lovable as before, though perhaps less admirable. At any rate he
wanted her, and now she seemed to be more within his reach than she
had been. "The week has passed by, Mary, and I suppose that now you
can give me an answer." Then she found that she was in his power. She
had told him her story, as though with the understanding that if he
would take her with her "fancy," she was ready to surrender herself.
"Am I not to have an answer now?"

"I suppose so."

"What is it to be?"

"If you wish for me, I will be yours."

"And you will cease to think of Mr Gordon?"

"I shall think of him; but not in a way that you would begrudge me."

"That will suffice. I know that you are honest, and I will not ask
you to forget him altogether. But there had better be no speaking of
him. It is well that he should be banished from your mind. And now,
dearest, dearest love, give me your hand." She put her hand at once
into his. "And a kiss." She just turned herself a little round, with
her eyes bent upon the ground. "Nay; there must be a kiss." Then he
bent over her, and just touched her cheek. "Mary, you are now all my
own." Yes;--she was now all his own, and she would do for him the
best in her power. He had not asked for her love, and she certainly
had not given it. She knew well how impossible it would be that she
should give him her love. "I know you are disturbed," he said. "I
wish also for a few minutes to think of it all." Then he turned away
from her, and went up the garden walk by himself.

She, slowly loitering, went into the house alone, and seated herself
by the open window in her bed-chamber. As she sat there she could see
him up the long walk, going and returning. As he went his hands were
folded behind his back, and she thought that he appeared older than
she had ever remarked him to be before. What did it signify? She had
undertaken her business in life, and the duties she thought would be
within her power. She was sure that she would be true to him, as far
as truth to his material interests was concerned. His comforts in
life should be her first care. If he trusted her at all, he should
not become poorer by reason of his confidence. And she would be
as tender to him as the circumstances would admit. She would not
begrudge him kisses if he cared for them. They were his by all the
rights of contract. He certainly had the best of the bargain, but he
should never know how much the best of it he had. He had told her
that there had better be no speaking of John Gordon. There certainly
should be none on her part. She had told him that she must continue
to think of him. There at any rate she had been honest. But he should
not see that she thought of him.

Then she endeavoured to assure herself that this thinking would die
out. Looking round the world, her small world, how many women there
were who had not married the men they had loved first! How few,
perhaps, had done so! Life was not good-natured enough for smoothness
such as that. And yet did not they, as a rule, live well with
their husbands? What right had she to expect anything better than
their fate? Each poor insipid dame that she saw, toddling on with
half-a-dozen children at her heels, might have had as good a John
Gordon of her own as was hers. And each of them might have sat on a
summer day, at an open window, looking out with something, oh, so far
from love, at the punctual steps of him who was to be her husband.

Then her thoughts turned, would turn, could not be kept from turning,
to John Gordon. He had been to her the personification of manliness.
That which he resolved to do, he did with an iron will. But his
manners to all women were soft, and to her seemed to have been
suffused with special tenderness. But he was chary of his words,--as
he had even been to her. He had been the son of a banker at Norwich;
but, just as she had become acquainted with him, the bank had broke,
and he had left Oxford to come home and find himself a ruined man.
But he had never said a word to her of the family misfortune. He had
been six feet high, with dark hair cut very short, somewhat full
of sport of the roughest kind, which, however, he had abandoned
instantly. "Things have so turned out," he had once said to Mary,
"that I must earn something to eat instead of riding after foxes."
She could not boast that he was handsome. "What does it signify?" she
had once said to her step-mother, who had declared him to be stiff,
upsetting, and ugly. "A man is not like a poor girl, who has nothing
but the softness of her skin to depend upon." Then Mrs Lawrie had
declared to him that "he did no good coming about the house,"--and he
went away.

Why had he not spoken to her? He had said that one word, promising
that if he returned he would come to Norwich. She had lived three
years since that, and he had not come back. And her house had been
broken up, and she, though she would have been prepared to wait for
another three years,--though she would have waited till she had grown
grey with waiting,--she had now fallen into the hands of one who had
a right to demand from her that she should obey him. "And it is not
that I hate him," she said to herself. "I do love him. He is all
good. But I am glad that he has not bade me not to think of John
Gordon."



CHAPTER V.

"I SUPPOSE IT WAS A DREAM."


It seemed to her, as she sat there at the window, that she ought to
tell Mrs Baggett what had occurred. There had been that between them
which, as she thought, made it incumbent on her to let Mrs Baggett
know the result of her interview with Mr Whittlestaff. So she went
down-stairs, and found that invaluable old domestic interfering
materially with the comfort of the two younger maidens. She was
determined to let them "know what was what," as she expressed it.

"You oughtn't to be angry with me, because I've done nothing," said
Jane the housemaid, sobbing.

"That's just about it," said Mrs Baggett. "And why haven't you done
nothing? Do you suppose you come here to do nothing? Was it doing
nothing when Eliza tied down them strawberries without putting in
e'er a drop of brandy? It drives me mortial mad to think what you
young folks are coming to."

"I ain't a-going anywhere, Mrs Baggett, because of them strawberries
being tied down which, if you untie them, as I always intended, will
have the sperrits put on them as well now as ever. And as for your
going mad, Mrs Baggett, I hope it won't be along of me."

"Drat your imperence."

"I ain't imperence at all. Here's Miss Lawrie, and she shall say
whether I'm imperence."

"Mrs Baggett, I want to speak to you, if you'll come into the other
room," said Mary.

"You are imperent, both of you. I can't say a word but I'm taken up
that short that--. They've been and tied all the jam down, so that
it'll all go that mouldy that nobody can touch it. And then, when I
says a word, they turns upon me." Then Mrs Baggett walked out of the
kitchen into her own small parlour, which opened upon the passage
just opposite the kitchen door. "They was a-going to be opened
this very afternoon," said Eliza, firing a parting shot after the
departing enemy.

"Mrs Baggett, I've got to tell you," Mary began.

"Well!"

"He came to me for an answer, as he said he would."

"Well!"

"And I told him it should be as he would have it."

"Of course you would. I knew that."

"You told me that it was your duty and mine to give him whatever he
wanted."

"I didn't say nothing of the kind, Miss."

"Oh, Mrs Baggett!"

"I didn't. I said, if he wanted your head, you was to let him take
it. But if he wanted mine, you wasn't to give it to him."

"He asked me to be his wife, and I said I would."

"Then I may as well pack up and be off for Portsmouth."

"No; not so. I have obeyed you, and I think that in these matters you
should obey him too."

"I daresay; but at my age I ain't so well able to obey. I daresay as
them girls knew all about it, or they wouldn't have turned round upon
me like that. It's just like the likes of them. When is it to be,
Miss Lawrie?--because I won't stop in the house after you be the
missus of it. That's flat. If you were to talk till you're deaf and
dumb, I wouldn't do it. Oh, it don't matter what's to become of me! I
know that."

"But it will matter very much."

"Not a ha'porth."

"You ask him, Mrs Baggett."

"He's got his plaything. That's all he cares about. I've been with
him and his family almost from a baby, and have grown old a-serving
him, and it don't matter to him whether I goes into the hedges and
ditches, or where I goes. They say that service is no heritance, and
they says true. I'm to go to-- But don't mind me. He won't, and why
should you? Do you think you'll ever do half as much for him as I've
done? He's got his troubles before him now;--that's the worst of it."

This was very bad. Mrs Baggett had been loud in laying down for her
the line of duty which she should follow, and she, to the best of her
ability, had done as Mrs Baggett had told her. It was the case that
Mrs Baggett had prevailed with her, and now the woman turned against
her! Was it true that he had "his troubles before him," because of
her acceptance of his offer? If so, might it not yet be mended? Was
it too late? Of what comfort could she be to him, seeing that she had
been unable to give him her heart? Why should she interfere with the
woman's happiness? In a spirit of true humility she endeavoured to
think how she might endeavour to do the best. Of one thing she was
quite, quite sure,--that all the longings of her very soul were fixed
upon that other man. He was away;--perhaps he had forgotten her;
perhaps he was married. Not a word had been spoken to her on which
she could found a fair hope. But she had never been so certain of her
love,--of her love as a true, undoubted, and undoubtable fact--of
an unchangeable fact,--as she was now. And why should this poor old
woman, with her many years of service, be disturbed? She went again
up to her bedroom, and sitting at her open window and looking out,
saw him still pacing slowly up and down the long walk. As she looked
at him, he seemed to be older than before. His hands were still
clasped behind his back. There was no look about him as that of a
thriving lover. Care seemed to be on his face,--nay, even present,
almost visibly, on his very shoulders. She would go to him and plead
for Mrs Baggett.

But in that case what should become of herself? She was aware that
she could no longer stay in his house as his adopted daughter. But
she could go forth,--and starve if there was nothing better for her.
But as she thought of starvation, she stamped with one foot against
the other, as though to punish herself for her own falsehood. He
would not let her starve. He would get some place for her as a
governess. And she was not in the least afraid of starvation. It
would be sweeter for her to work with any kind of hardship around
her, and to be allowed to think of John Gordon with her heart free,
than to become the comfortable mistress of his house. She would not
admit the plea of starvation even to herself. She wanted to be free
of him, and she would tell him so, and would tell him also of the
ruin he was about to bring on his old servant.

She watched him as he came back into the house, and then she rose
from her chair. "But I shall never see him again," she said, as she
paused before she left the room.

But what did that matter? Her not seeing him again ought to make,
should make, no difference with her. It was not that she might
see him, but that she might think of him with unsullied thoughts.
That should be her object,--that and the duty that she owed to Mrs
Baggett. Why was not Mrs Baggett entitled to as much consideration
as was she herself,--or even he? She turned to the glass, and wiped
her eyes with the sponge, and brushed her hair, and then she went
across the passage to Mr Whittlestaff's library.

She knocked at the door,--which she had not been accustomed to
do,--and then at his bidding entered the room. "Oh, Mary," he said
laughing, "is that the way you begin, by knocking at the door?"

"I think one knocks when one wants a moment of reprieve."

"You mean to say that you are bashful in assuming your new
privileges. Then you had better go back to your old habits, because
you always used to come where I was. You must come and go now like my
very second self." Then he came forward from the desk at which he was
wont to stand and write, and essayed to put his arm round her waist.
She drew back, but still he was not startled. "It was but a cold kiss
I gave you down below. You must kiss me now, you, as a wife kisses
her husband."

"Never."

"What!" Now he was startled.

"Mr Whittlestaff, pray--pray do not be angry with me."

"What is the meaning of it?"

Then she bethought herself,--how she might best explain the meaning.
It was hard upon her, this having to explain it, and she told
herself, very foolishly, that it would be better for her to begin
with the story of Mrs Baggett. She could more easily speak of Mrs
Baggett than of John Gordon. But it must be remembered, on her
behalf, that she had but a second to think how she might best begin
her story. "I have spoken to Mrs Baggett about your wishes."

"Well!"

"She has lived with you and your family from before you were born."

"She is an old fool. Who is going to hurt her? And if it did hurt
her, are you and I to be put out of our course because of her? She
can remain here as long as she obeys you as her mistress."

"She says that after so many years she cannot do that."

"She shall leave the house this very night, if she disturbs your
happiness and mine. What! is an old woman like that to tell her
master when he may and when he may not marry? I did not think you had
been so soft."

She could not explain it all to him,--all that she thought upon the
subject. She could not say that the interference of any domestic
between such a one as John Gordon and his love,--between him and her
if she were happy enough to be his love,--would be an absurdity too
foolish to be considered. They, that happy two, would be following
the bent of human nature, and would speak no more than a soft word to
the old woman, if a soft word might avail anything. Their love, their
happy love, would be a thing too sacred to admit of any question
from any servant, almost from any parent. But why, in this matter,
was not Mrs Baggett's happiness to be of as much consequence as Mr
Whittlestaff's;--especially when her own peace of mind lay in the
same direction as Mrs Baggett's? "She says that you are only laying
up trouble for yourself in this, and I think that it is true."

Then he rose up in his wrath and spoke his mind freely, and showed
her at once that John Gordon had not dwelt much on his mind. He had
bade her not to speak of him, and then he had been contented to look
upon him as one whom he would not be compelled to trouble himself
with any further. "I think, Mary, that you are making too little of
me, and of yourself, to talk to me, or even to consider, in such
a matter, what a servant says to you. As you have given me your
affection, you should now allow nothing that any one can say to you
to make you even think of changing your purpose." How grossly must
he be mistaken, when he could imagine that she had given him her
heart! Had she not expressly told him that her love had been set upon
another person? "To me you are everything. I have been thinking as I
walked up and down the path there, of all that I could do to make you
happy. And I was so happy myself in feeling that I had your happiness
to look after. How should I not let the wind blow too coldly on you?
How should I be watchful to see that nothing should ruffle your
spirits? What duties, what pleasures, what society should I provide
for you? How should I change my habits, so as to make my advanced
years fit for your younger life? And I was teaching myself to hope
that I was not yet too old to make this altogether impossible. Then
you come to me, and tell me that you must destroy all my dreams,
dash all my hopes to the ground,--because an old woman has shown her
temper and her jealousy!"

This was true,--according to the light in which he saw her position.
Had there been nothing between them two but a mutual desire to be
married, the reason given by her for changing it all would be absurd.
As he had continued to speak, slowly adding on one argument to
another, with a certain amount of true eloquence, she felt that
unless she could go back to John Gordon she must yield. But it was
very hard for her to go back to John Gordon. In the first place, she
must acknowledge, in doing so, that she had only put forward Mrs
Baggett as a false plea. And then she must insist on her love for
a man who had never spoken to her of love! It was so hard that she
could not do it openly. "I had thought so little of the value I could
be to you."

"Your value to me is infinite. I think, Mary, that there has come
upon you a certain melancholy which is depressing you. Your regard to
me is worth now more than any other possession or gift that the world
can bestow. And I had taken pride to myself in saying that it had
been given." Yes;--her regard! She could not contradict him as to
that. "And have you thought of your own position? After all that
has passed between us, you can hardly go on living here as you have
done."

"I know that."

"Then, what would become of you if you were to break away from me?"

"I thought you would get a place for me as a governess,--or a
companion to some lady."

"Would that satisfy your ambition? I have got a place for you;--but
it is here." As he spoke, he laid his hand upon his heart. "Not as
a companion to a lady are you required to fulfil your duties here
on earth. It is a fuller task of work that you must do. I trust,--I
trust that it may not be more tedious." She looked at him again,
and he did not now appear so old. There was a power of speech about
the man, and a dignity which made her feel that she could in truth
have loved him,--had it not been for John Gordon. "Unfortunately, I
am older than you,--very much older. But to you there may be this
advantage, that you can listen to what I may say with something of
confidence in my knowledge of the world. As my wife, you will fill
a position more honourable, and more suitable to your gifts, than
could belong to you as a governess or a companion. You will have
much more to do, and will be able to go nightly to your rest with a
consciousness that you have done more as the mistress of our house
than you could have done in that tamer capacity. You will have
cares,--and even those will ennoble the world to you, and you to the
world. That other life is a poor shrunken death,--rather than life.
It is a way of passing her days, which must fall to the lot of many
a female who does not achieve the other; and it is well that they
to whom it falls should be able to accommodate themselves to it
with contentment and self-respect. I think that I may say of myself
that, even as my wife, you will stand higher than you would do as a
companion."

"I am sure of it."

"Not on that account should you accept any man that you cannot love."
Had she not told him that she did not love him;--even that she loved
another? And yet he spoke to her in this way! "You had better tell
Mrs Baggett to come to me."

"There is the memory of that other man," she murmured very gently.

Then the scowl came back upon his face;--or not a scowl, but a
look rather of cold displeasure. "If I understand you rightly, the
gentleman never addressed you as a lover."

"Never!"

"I see it all, Mary. Mrs Baggett has been violent and selfish, and
has made you think thoughts which should not have been put in your
head to disturb you. You have dreamed a dream in your early life,--as
girls do dream, I suppose,--and it has now to be forgotten. Is it not
so?"

"I suppose it was a dream."

"He has passed away, and he has left you to become the happiness of
my life. Send Mrs Baggett to me, and I will speak to her." Then he
came up to her,--for they had been standing about a yard apart,--and
pressed his lips to hers. How was it possible that she should prevent
him?

She turned round, and slowly left the room, feeling, as she did
so, that she was again engaged to him for ever and ever. She hated
herself because she had been so fickle. But how could she have done
otherwise? She asked herself, as she went back to her room, at what
period during the interview, which was now over, she could have
declared to him the real state of her mind. He had, as it were, taken
complete possession of her, by right of the deed of gift which she
had made of herself that morning. She had endeavoured to resume the
gift, but had altogether failed. She declared to herself that she
was weak, impotent, purposeless; but she admitted, on the other hand,
that he had displayed more of power than she had ever guessed at
his possessing. A woman always loves this display of power in a man,
and she felt that she could have loved him had it not been for John
Gordon.

But there was one comfort for her. None knew of her weakness. Her
mind had vacillated like a shuttlecock, but no one had seen the
vacillation. She was in his hands, and she must simply do as he bade
her. Then she went down to Mrs Baggett's room, and told the old
lady to go up-stairs at her master's behest. "I'm a-going," said Mrs
Baggett. "I'm a-going. I hope he'll find every one else as good at
doing what he tells 'em. But I ain't a-going to be a-doing for him or
for any one much longer."



CHAPTER VI.

JOHN GORDON.


Mrs Baggett walked into her master's room, loudly knocking at the
door, and waiting for a loud answer. He was pacing up and down the
library, thinking of the injustice of her interference, and she was
full of the injury to which she had been subjected by circumstances.
She had been perfectly sincere when she had told Mary Lawrie that
Mr Whittlestaff was entitled to have and to enjoy his own wishes as
against both of them. In the first place, he was a man,--and as a
man, was to be indulged, at whatever cost to any number of women. And
then he was a man whose bread they had both eaten. Mary had eaten
his bread, as bestowed upon her from sheer charity. According to
Mrs Baggett's view of the world at large, Mary was bound to deliver
herself body and soul to Mr Whittlestaff, were "soul sacrifice"
demanded from her. As for herself, her first duty in life was to look
after him were he to be sick. Unfortunately Mr Whittlestaff never
was sick, but Mrs Baggett was patiently looking forward to some
happy day when he might be brought home with his leg broken. He had
no imprudent habits, hunting, shooting, or suchlike; but chance might
be good to her. Then the making of all jams and marmalades, for which
he did not care a straw, and which he only ate to oblige her, was a
comfort to her. She could manage occasionally to be kept out of her
bed over some boiling till one o'clock; and then the making of butter
in the summer would demand that she should be up at three. Thus
she was enabled to consider that her normal hours of work were
twenty-two out of the twenty-four. She did not begrudge them in the
least, thinking that they were all due to Mr Whittlestaff. Now Mr
Whittlestaff wanted a wife, and, of course, he ought to have her.
His Juggernaut's car must roll on its course over her body or Mary
Lawrie's. But she could not be expected to remain and behold Mary
Lawrie's triumph and Mary Lawrie's power. That was out of the
question, and as she was thus driven out of the house, she was
entitled to show a little of her ill humour to the proud bride. She
must go to Portsmouth;--which she knew was tantamount to a living
death. She only hated one person in all the world, and he, as she
knew well, was living at Portsmouth. There were to her only two
places in the world in which anybody could live,--Croker's Hall and
Portsmouth. Croker's Hall was on the whole the proper region set
apart for the habitation of the blest. Portsmouth was the other
place,--and thither she must go. To remain, even in heaven, as
housekeeper to a young woman, was not to be thought of. It was
written in the book of Fate that she must go; but not on that account
need she even pretend to keep her temper.

"What's all this that you have been saying to Miss Lawrie?" began Mr
Whittlestaff, with all the dignity of anger.

"What have I been saying of to Miss Mary?"

"I am not at all well pleased with you."

"I haven't said a word again you, sir, nor not again nothing as you
are likely to do."

"Miss Lawrie is to become my wife."

"So I hears her say."

There was something of a check in this--a check to Mr Whittlestaff's
pride in Mary's conduct. Did Mrs Baggett intend him to understand
that Mary had told the whole story to the old woman, and had boasted
of her promotion?

"You have taught her to think that she should not do as we have
proposed,--because of your wishes."

"I never said nothing of the kind,--so help me. That I should put
myself up again you, sir! Oh no! I knows my place better than that. I
wouldn't stand in the way of anything as was for your good,--or even
of what you thought was good,--not to be made housekeeper to-- Well,
it don't matter where. I couldn't change for the better, nor wages
wouldn't tempt me."

"What was it you said about going away?"

Here Mrs Baggett shook her head. "You told Miss Lawrie that you
thought it was a shame that you should have to leave because of her."

"I never said a word of the kind, Mr Whittlestaff; nor yet, sir, I
don't think as Miss Lawrie ever said so. I'm begging your pardon for
contradicting you, and well I ought. But anything is better than
making ill-blood between lovers." Mr Whittlestaff winced at being
called a lover, but allowed the word to pass by. "I never said
nothing about shame."

"What did you say?"

"I said as how I must leave you;--nothing but that. It ain't a matter
of the slightest consequence to you, sir."

"Rubbish!"

"Very well, sir. I mustn't demean me to say as anything I had said
wasn't rubbish when you said as it was-- But for all that, I've got
to go."

"Nonsense."

"Yes, in course."

"Why have you got to go?"

"Because of my feelings, sir."

"I never heard such trash."

"That's true, no doubt, sir. But still, if you'll think of it, old
women does have feelings. Not as a young one, but still they're
there."

"Who's going to hurt your feelings?"

"In this house, sir, for the last fifteen years I've been top-sawyer
of the female gender."

"Then I'm not to marry at all."

"You've gone on and you haven't,--that's all. I ain't a-finding no
fault. But you haven't,--and I'm the sufferer." Here Mrs Baggett
began to sob, and to wipe her eyes with a clean handkerchief, which
she must surely have brought into the room for the purpose. "If you
had taken some beautiful young lady--"

"I have taken a beautiful young lady," said Mr Whittlestaff, now
becoming more angry than ever.

"You won't listen to me, sir, and then you boil over like that. No
doubt Miss Mary is as beautiful as the best on 'em. I knew how it
would be when she came among us with her streaky brown cheeks, ou'd
make an anchor wish to kiss 'em." Here Mr Whittlestaff again became
appeased, and made up his mind at once that he would tell Mary about
the anchor as soon as things were smooth between them. "But if it had
been some beautiful young lady out of another house,--one of them
from the Park, for instance,--who hadn't been here a'most under my
own thumb, I shouldn't 've minded it."

"The long and the short of it is, Mrs Baggett, that I am going to be
married."

"I suppose you are, sir."

"And, as it happens, the lady I have selected happens to have been
your mistress for the last two years."

"She won't be my missus no more," said Mrs Baggett, with an air of
fixed determination.

"Of course you can do as you like about that. I can't compel any one
to live in this house against her will; but I would compel you if I
knew how, for your own benefit."

"There ain't no compelling."

"What other place have you got you can go to? I can't conceive it
possible that you should live in any other family."

"Not in no family. Wages wouldn't tempt me. But there's them as
supposes that they've a claim upon me." Then the woman began to cry
in earnest, and the clean pocket-handkerchief was used in a manner
which would soon rob it of its splendour.

There was a slight pause before Mr Whittlestaff rejoined. "Has he
come back again?" he said, almost solemnly.

"He's at Portsmouth now, sir." And Mrs Baggett shook her head sadly.

"And wants you to go to him?"

"He always wants that when he comes home. I've got a bit of money,
and he thinks there's some one to earn a morsel of bread for him--or
rayther a glass of gin. I must go this time."

"I don't see that you need go at all; at any rate, Miss Lawrie's
marriage won't make any difference."

"It do, sir," she said, sobbing.

"I can't see why."

"Nor I can't explain. I could stay on here, and wouldn't be afraid of
him a bit."

"Then why don't you stay?"

"It's my feelings. If I was to stay here, I could just send him my
wages, and never go nigh him. But when I'm alone about the world and
forlorn, I ain't got no excuse but what I must go to him."

"Then remain where you are, and don't be a fool."

"But if a person is a fool, what's to be done then? In course I'm
a fool. I knows that very well. There's no saying no other. But I
can't go on living here, if Miss Mary is to be put over my head in
that way. Baggett has sent for me, and I must go. Baggett is at
Portsmouth, a-hanging on about the old shop. And he'll be drunk as
long as there's gin to be had with or without paying. They do tell
me as his nose is got to be awful. There's a man for a poor woman
to go and spend her savings on! He's had a'most all on 'em already.
Twenty-two pound four and sixpence he had out o' me the last time he
was in the country. And he don't do nothing to have him locked up.
It would be better for me if he'd get hisself locked up. I do think
it's wrong, because a young girl has been once foolish and said a
few words before a parson, as she is to be the slave of a drunken
red-nosed reprobate for the rest of her life. Ain't there to be no
way out of it?"

It was thus that Mrs Baggett told the tale of her married
bliss,--not, however, without incurring the censure of her master
because of her folly in resolving to go. He had just commenced a
lecture on the sin of pride, in which he was prepared to show that
all the evils which she could receive from the red-nosed veteran at
Portsmouth would be due to her own stiff-necked obstinacy, when he
was stopped suddenly by the sound of a knock at the front door. It
was not only the knock at the door, but the entrance into the hall of
some man, for the hall-door had been open into the garden, and the
servant-girl had been close at hand. The library was at the top of
the low stairs, and Mr Whittlestaff could not but hear the demand
made. The gentleman had asked whether Miss Lawrie was living there.

"Who's that?" said Mr Whittlestaff to the housekeeper.

"It's not a voice as I know, sir." The gentleman in the meantime was
taken into the drawing-room, and was closeted for the moment with
Mary.

We must now go down-stairs and closet ourselves for a few moments
with Mary Lawrie before the coming of the strange gentleman. She had
left the presence of Mr Whittlestaff half an hour since, and felt
that she had a second time on that day accepted him as her husband.
She had accepted him, and now she must do the best she could to suit
her life to his requirements. Her first feeling, when she found
herself alone, was one of intense disgust at her own weakness. He had
spoken to her of her ambition; and he had told her that he had found
a place for her, in which that ambition might find a fair scope. And
he had told her also that in reference to John Gordon she had dreamed
a dream. It might be so, but to her thinking the continued dreaming
of that dream would satisfy her ambition better than the performance
of those duties which he had arranged for her. She had her own ideas
of what was due from a girl and to a girl, and to her thinking her
love for John Gordon was all the world to her. She should not have
been made to abandon her thoughts, even though the man had not spoken
a word to her. She knew that she loved him; even though a time might
come when she should cease to do so, that time had not come yet. She
vacillated in her mind between condemnation of the cruelty of Mr
Whittlestaff and of her own weakness. And then, too, there was some
feeling of the hardship inflicted upon her by John Gordon. He had
certainly said that which had justified her in believing that she
possessed his heart. But yet there had been no word on which she
could fall back and regard it as a promise.

It might perhaps be better for her that she should marry Mr
Whittlestaff. All her friends would think it to be infinitely better.
Could there be anything more moonstruck, more shandy, more wretchedly
listless, than for a girl, a penniless girl, to indulge in dreams of
an impossible lover, when such a tower of strength presented itself
to her as was Mr Whittlestaff? She had consented to eat his bread,
and all her friends had declared how lucky she had been to find a
man so willing and so able to maintain her. And now this man did
undoubtedly love her very dearly, and there would be, as she was well
aware, no peril in marrying him. Was she to refuse him because of a
soft word once spoken to her by a young man who had since disappeared
altogether from her knowledge? And she had already accepted him,--had
twice accepted him on that very day! And there was no longer a hope
for escape, even if escape were desirable. What a fool must she be to
sit there, still dreaming her impossible dream, instead of thinking
of his happiness, and preparing herself for his wants! He had told
her that she might be allowed to think of John Gordon, though not to
speak of him. She would neither speak of him nor think of him. She
knew herself, she said, too well to give herself such liberty. He
should be to her as though he had never been. She would force herself
to forget him, if forgetting lies in the absence of all thought.
It was no more than Mr Whittlestaff had a right to demand, and no
more than she ought to be able to accomplish. Was she such a weak
simpleton as to be unable to keep her mind from running back to the
words and to the visage, and to every little personal trick of one
who could never be anything to her? "He has gone for ever!" she
exclaimed, rising up from her chair. "He shall be gone; I will not be
a martyr and a slave to my own memory. The thing came, and has gone,
and there is an end of it." Then Jane opened the door, with a little
piece of whispered information. "Please, Miss, a Mr Gordon wishes to
see you." The door was opened a little wider, and John Gordon stood
before her.

There he was, with his short black hair, his bright pleasant eyes,
his masterful mouth, his dark complexion, and broad, handsome, manly
shoulders, such as had dwelt in her memory every day since he had
departed. There was nothing changed, except that his raiment was
somewhat brighter, and that there was a look of prosperity about him
which he had lacked when he left her. He was the same John Gordon
who had seemed to her to be entitled to all that he wanted, and who
certainly would have had from her all that he had cared to demand.
When he had appeared before her, she had jumped up, ready to rush
into his arms; but then she had repressed herself, and had fallen
back, and she leant against the table for support.

"So I have found you here," he said.

"Yes, I am here."

"I have been after you down to Norwich, and have heard it all. Mary,
I am here on purpose to seek you. Your father and Mrs Lawrie are
both gone. He was going when I left you."

"Yes, Mr Gordon. They are both gone, and I am alone,--but for the
kindness of a most generous friend."

"I had heard, of course, of Mr Whittlestaff. I hope I shall not be
told now that I am doing no good about the house. At any rate I am
not a pauper. I have mended that little fault." Then he looked at
her as though he thought that there was nothing for him but to begin
the conversation where it had been so roughly ended at their last
meeting.

Did it not occur to him that something might have come across her
life during a period of nearly three years, which would stand in his
way and in hers? But as she gazed into his face, it seemed as though
no such idea had fallen upon him. But during those two or three
minutes, a multitude of thoughts crowded on poor Mary's mind. Was it
possible that because of the coming of John Gordon, Mr Whittlestaff
should withdraw his claim, and allow this happy young hero to walk
off with the reward which he still seemed to desire? She felt sure
that it could not be so. Even during that short space of time, she
resolved that it could not be so. She knew Mr Whittlestaff too well,
and was sure that her lover had arrived too late. It all passed
through her brain, and she was sure that no change could be effected
in her destiny. Had he come yesterday, indeed? But before she could
prepare an answer for John Gordon, Mr Whittlestaff entered the room.

She was bound to say something, though she was little able at
the moment to speak at all. She was aware that some ceremony was
necessary. She was but ill able to introduce these two men to each
other, but it had to be done. "Mr Whittlestaff," she said, "this is
Mr John Gordon who used to know us at Norwich."

"Mr John Gordon," said Mr Whittlestaff, bowing very stiffly.

"Yes, sir; that is my name. I never had the pleasure of meeting you
at Norwich, though I often heard of you there. And since I left the
place I have been told how kind a friend you have been to this young
lady. I trust I may live to thank you for it more warmly though not
more sincerely than I can do at this moment."

Of John Gordon's fate since he had left Norwich a few words must be
told. As Mrs Lawrie had then told him, he was little better than a
pauper. He had, however, collected together what means he had been
able to gather, and had gone to Cape Town in South Africa. Thence he
had made his way up to Kimberley, and had there been at work among
the diamond-fields for two years. If there be a place on God's earth
in which a man can thoroughly make or mar himself within that space
of time, it is the town of Kimberley. I know no spot more odious
in every way to a man who has learned to love the ordinary modes
of English life. It is foul with dust and flies; it reeks with bad
brandy; it is fed upon potted meats; it has not a tree near it. It is
inhabited in part by tribes of South African niggers, who have lost
all the picturesqueness of niggerdom in working for the white man's
wages. The white man himself is insolent, ill-dressed, and ugly.
The weather is very hot, and from morning till night there is no
occupation other than that of looking for diamonds, and the works
attending it. Diamond-grubbers want food and brandy, and lawyers and
policemen. They want clothes also, and a few horses; and some kind of
education is necessary for their children. But diamond-searching is
the occupation of the place; and if a man be sharp and clever, and
able to guard what he gets, he will make a fortune there in two years
more readily perhaps than elsewhere. John Gordon had gone out to
Kimberley, and had returned the owner of many shares in many mines.



CHAPTER VII.

JOHN GORDON AND MR WHITTLESTAFF.


Mr Gordon had gone out to South Africa with the settled intention of
doing something that might enable him to marry Mary Lawrie, and he
had carried his purpose through with a manly resolution. He had not
found Kimberley much to his taste, and had not made many dear friends
among the settled inhabitants he had found there. But he had worked
on, buying and selling shares in mines, owning a quarter of an eighth
there, and half a tenth here, and then advancing till he was the
possessor of many complete shares in many various adventures which
were quite intelligible to him, though to the ordinary stay-at-home
Englishman they seem to be so full of peril as not to be worth
possessing. As in other mines, the profit is shared monthly, and the
system has the advantage of thus possessing twelve quarter-days in
the year. The result is, that time is more spread out, and the man
expects to accomplish much more in twelve months than he can at home.
In two years a man may have made a fortune and lost it, and be on his
way to make it again. John Gordon had suffered no reverses, and with
twenty-four quarter-days, at each of which he had received ten or
twenty per cent, he had had time to become rich. He had by no means
abandoned all his shares in the diamond-mines; but having wealth
at command, he had determined to carry out the first purpose for
which he had come to South Africa. Therefore he returned to Norwich,
and having there learned Mary's address, now found himself in her
presence at Croker's Hall.

Mr Whittlestaff, when he heard John Gordon's name, was as much
astonished as had been Mary herself. Here was Mary's lover,--the very
man whom Mary had named to him. It had all occurred on this very
morning, so that even the look of her eyes and the tone of her voice,
as those few words of hers had been spoken, were fresh in his memory.
"He used to come to our house at Norwich,--and I loved him." Then she
had told him that this lover had been poor, and had gone away. He
had, since that, argued it out with himself, and with her too, on
the theory, though not expressed, that a lover who had gone away now
nearly three years ago, and had not been heard of, and had been poor
when he went, was of no use, and should be forgotten. "Let there
be no mention of him between us," he had intended to say, "and the
memory of him will fade away." But now on this very day he was back
among them, and there was Mary hardly able to open her mouth in his
presence.

He had bowed twice very stiffly when Gordon had spoken of all that
he had done on Mary's behalf. "Arrangements have been made," he said,
"which may, I trust, tend to Miss Lawrie's advantage. Perhaps I ought
not to say so myself, but there is no reason why I should trouble a
stranger with them."

"I hope I may never be considered a stranger by Miss Lawrie," said
Gordon, turning round to the young lady.

"No, not a stranger," said Mary; "certainly not a stranger."

But this did not satisfy John Gordon, who felt that there was
something in her manner other than he would have it. And yet even to
him it seemed to be impossible now, at this first moment, to declare
his love before this man, who had usurped the place of her guardian.
In fact he could not speak to her at all before Mr Whittlestaff. He
had hurried back from the diamond-fields, in order that he might lay
all his surprisingly gotten wealth at Mary's feet, and now he felt
himself unable to say a word to Mary of his wealth, unless in this
man's presence. He told himself as he had hurried home that there
might be difficulties in his way. He might find her married,--or
promised in marriage. He had been sure of her love when he started.
He had been quite confident that, though no absolute promise had been
made from her to him, or from him to her, there had then been no
reason for him to doubt. In spite of that, she might have married
now, or been promised in marriage. He knew that she must have been
poor and left in want when her stepmother had died. She had told him
of the intentions for her life, and he had answered that perhaps in
the course of events something better might come up for her. Then he
had been called a pauper, and had gone away to remedy that evil if
it might be possible. He had heard while working among the diamonds
that Mr Whittlestaff had taken her to his own home. He had heard of
Mr Whittlestaff as the friend of her father, and nothing better he
thought could have happened. But Mary might have been weak during his
absence, and have given herself up to some other man who had asked
for her hand. She was still, at heart, Mary Lawrie. So much had been
made known to him. But from the words which had fallen from her own
lips, and from the statement which had fallen from Mr Whittlestaff,
he feared that it must be so. Mr Whittlestaff had said that he need
not trouble a stranger with Mary's affairs; and Mary, in answer
to his appeal, had declared that he could not be considered as a
stranger to her.

He thought a moment how he would act, and then he spoke boldly to
both of them. "I have hurried home from Kimberley, Mr Whittlestaff,
on purpose to find Mary Lawrie."

Mary, when she heard this, seated herself on the chair that was
nearest to her. For any service that it might be to her, his coming
was too late. As she thought of this, her voice left her, so that she
could not speak to him.

"You have found her," said Mr Whittlestaff, very sternly.

"Is there any reason why I should go away again?" He had not at this
moment realised the idea that Mr Whittlestaff himself was the man to
whom Mary might be engaged. Mr Whittlestaff to his thinking had been
a paternal providence, a God-sent support in lieu of father, who had
come to Mary in her need. He was prepared to shower all kinds of
benefits on Mr Whittlestaff,--diamonds polished, and diamonds in the
rough, diamonds pure and white, and diamonds pink-tinted,--if only
Mr Whittlestaff would be less stern to him. But even yet he had no
fear of Mr Whittlestaff himself.

"I should be most happy to welcome you here as an old friend of
Mary's," said Mr Whittlestaff, "if you will come to her wedding."
Mr Whittlestaff also had seen the necessity for open speech; and
though he was a man generally reticent as to his own affairs, thought
it would be better to let the truth be known at once. Mary, when
the word had been spoken as to her wedding, "blushed black" as her
stepmother had said of her. A dark ruby tint covered her cheeks and
her forehead; but she turned away her face, and compressed her lips,
and clenched her two fists close together.

"Miss Lawrie's wedding!" said John Gordon. "Is Miss Lawrie to be
married?" And he purposely looked at her, as though asking her the
question. But she answered never a word.

"Yes. Miss Lawrie is to be married."

"It is sad tidings for me to hear," said John Gordon. "When last I
saw her I was rebuked by her step-mother because I was a pauper. It
was true. Misfortunes had come in my family, and I was not a fit
person to ask Miss Lawrie for her love. But I think she knew that I
loved her. I then went off to do the best within my power to remedy
that evil. I have come back with such money as might suffice, and now
I am told of Miss Lawrie's wedding!" This he said, again turning to
her as though for an answer. But from her there came not a word.

"I am sorry you should be disappointed, Mr Gordon," said Mr
Whittlestaff; "but it is so." Then there came over John Gordon's
face a dark frown, as though he intended evil. He was a man whose
displeasure, when he was displeased, those around him were apt to
fear. But Mr Whittlestaff himself was no coward. "Have you any
reason to allege why it should not be so?" John Gordon only answered
by looking again at poor Mary. "I think there has been no promise
made by Miss Lawrie. I think that I understand from her that there
has been no promise on either side; and indeed no word spoken
indicating such a promise." It was quite clear, at any rate, that
this guardian and his ward had fully discussed the question of any
possible understanding between her and John Gordon.

"No; there was none: it is true."

"Well?"

"It is true. I am left without an inch of ground on which to found a
complaint. There was no word; no promise. You know the whole story
only too well. There was nothing but unlimited love,--at any rate on
my part." Mr Whittlestaff knew well that there had been love on her
part also, and that the love still remained. But she had promised to
get over that passion, and there could be no reason why she should
not do so, simply because the man had returned. He said he had come
from Kimberley. Mr Whittlestaff had his own ideas about Kimberley.
Kimberley was to him a very rowdy place,--the last place in the world
from which a discreet young woman might hope to get a well-conducted
husband. Under no circumstances could he think well of a husband
who presented himself as having come direct from the diamond-fields,
though he only looked stern and held his peace. "If Miss Lawrie will
tell me that I may go away, I will go," said Gordon, looking again at
Mary; but how could Mary answer him?

"I am sure," said Mr Whittlestaff, "that Miss Lawrie will be very
sorry that there should be any ground for a quarrel. I am quite
well aware that there was some friendship between you two. Then you
went, as you say, and though the friendship need not be broken, the
intimacy was over. She had no special reason for remembering you, as
you yourself admit. She has been left to form any engagement that she
may please. Any other expectation on your part must be unreasonable.
I have said that, as an old friend of Miss Lawrie's, I should be
happy to welcome you here to her wedding. I cannot even name a day as
yet; but I trust that it may be fixed soon. You cannot say even to
yourself that Miss Lawrie has treated you badly."

But he could say it to himself. And though he would not say it to
Mr Whittlestaff, had she been there alone, he would have said it to
her. There had been no promise,--no word of promise. But he felt that
there had been that between them which should have been stronger than
any promise. And with every word which came from Mr Whittlestaff's
mouth, he disliked Mr Whittlestaff more and more. He could judge
from Mary's appearance that she was down-hearted, that she was
unhappy, that she did not glory in her coming marriage. No girl's
face ever told her heart's secret more plainly than did Mary's at
this moment. But Mr Whittlestaff seemed to glory in the marriage. To
him it seemed that the getting rid of John Gordon was the one thing
of importance. So it was, at least, that John Gordon interpreted his
manner. But the name of the suitor had not yet been told him, and he
did not in the least suspect it. "May I ask you when it is to be?" he
asked.

"That is a question which the lady generally must answer," said Mr
Whittlestaff, turning on his part also to Mary.

"I do not know," said Mary.

"And who is the happy man?" said John Gordon. He expected an answer
to the question also from Mary, but Mary was still unable to answer
him. "You at any rate will tell me, sir, the name of the gentleman."

"I am the gentleman," said Mr Whittlestaff, holding himself somewhat
more erect as he spoke. The position, it must be acknowledged, was
difficult. He could see that this strange man, this John Gordon,
looked upon him, William Whittlestaff, to be altogether an unfit
person to take Mary Lawrie for his wife. By the tone in which he
asked the question, and by the look of surprise which he put on
when he received the answer, Gordon showed plainly that he had not
expected such a reply. "What! an old man like you to become the
husband of such a girl as Mary Lawrie! Is this the purpose for which
you have taken her into your house, and given her those good things
of which you have boasted?" It was thus that Mr Whittlestaff had
read the look and interpreted the speech conveyed in Gordon's eye.
Not that Mr Whittlestaff had boasted, but it was thus that he read
the look. He knew that he had gathered himself up and assumed a
special dignity as he made his answer.

"Oh, indeed!" said John Gordon. And now he turned himself altogether
round, and gazed with his full frowning eyes fixed upon poor Mary.

"If you knew it all, you would feel that I could not help myself." It
was thus that Mary would have spoken if she could have given vent to
the thoughts within her bosom.

"Yes, sir. It is I who think myself so happy as to have gained the
affections of the young lady. She is to be my wife, and it is she
herself who must name the day when she shall become so. I repeat the
invitation which I gave you before. I shall be most happy to see
you at my wedding. If, as may be the case, you shall not be in the
country when that time comes; and if, now that you are here, you will
give Miss Lawrie and myself some token of your renewed friendship,
we shall be happy to see you if you will come at once to the house,
during such time as it may suit you to remain in the neighbourhood."
Considering the extreme difficulty of the position, Mr Whittlestaff
carried himself quite as well as might have been expected.

"Under such circumstances," said Gordon, "I cannot be a guest in your
house." Thereupon Mr Whittlestaff bowed. "But I hope that I may be
allowed to speak a few words to the young lady not in your presence."

"Certainly, if the young lady wishes it."

"I had better not," said Mary.

"Are you afraid of me?"

"I am afraid of myself. It had better not be so. Mr Whittlestaff has
told you only the truth. I am to be his wife; and in offering me
his hand, he has added much to the infinite kindnesses which he has
bestowed upon me."

"Oh, if you think so!"

"I do think so. If you only knew it all, you would think so too."

"How long has this engagement existed?" asked Gordon. But to this
question Mary Lawrie could not bring herself to give an answer.

"If you are not afraid of what he may say to you--?" said Mr
Whittlestaff.

"I am certainly afraid of nothing that Mr Gordon may say."

"Then I would accede to his wishes. It may be painful, but it will
be better to have it over." Mr Whittlestaff, in giving this advice,
had thought much as to what the world would say of him. He had done
nothing of which he was ashamed,--nor had Mary. She had given him her
promise, and he was sure that she would not depart from it. It would,
he thought, be infinitely better for her, for many reasons, that she
should be married to him than to this wild young man, who had just
now returned to England from the diamond-mines, and would soon, he
imagined, go back there again. But the young man had asked to see the
girl whom he was about to marry alone, and it would not suit him to
be afraid to allow her so much liberty.

"I shall not hurt you, Mary," said John Gordon.

"I am sure you would not hurt me."

"Nor say an unkind word."

"Oh no! You could do nothing unkind to me, I know. But you might
spare me and yourself some pain."

"I cannot do it," he said. "I cannot bring myself to go back at once
after this long voyage, instantly, as I should do, without having
spoken one word to you. I have come here to England on purpose to see
you. Nothing shall induce me to abandon my intention of doing so, but
your refusal. I have received a blow,--a great blow,--and it is you
who must tell me that there is certainly no cure for the wound."

"There is certainly none," said Mary.

"Perhaps I had better leave you together," said Mr Whittlestaff, as
he got up and left the room.



CHAPTER VIII.

JOHN GORDON AND MARY LAWRIE.


The door was closed, and John Gordon and Mary were alone together.
She was still seated, and he, coming forward, stood in front of her.
"Mary," he said,--and he put out his right hand, as though to take
hers. But she sat quite still, making no motion to give him her hand.
Nor did she say a word. To her her promise, her reiterated promise,
to Mr Whittlestaff was binding,--not the less binding because it had
only been made on this very day. She had already acknowledged to
this other man that the promise had been made, and she had asked him
to spare her this interview. He had not spared her, and it was for
him now to say, while it lasted, what there was to be said. She had
settled the matter in her own mind, and had made him understand that
it was so settled. There was nothing further that she could tell him.
"Mary, now that we are alone, will you not speak to me?"

"I have nothing to say."

"Should I not have come to you?"

"You should not have stayed when you found that I had promised myself
to another."

"Is there nothing else that I may wish to say to you?"

"There is nothing else that you should wish to say to the wife of
another man."

"You are not his wife,--not yet."

"I shall be his wife, Mr Gordon. You may be sure of that. And I
think--think I can say of myself that I shall be a true wife. He
has chosen to take me; and as he has so chosen, his wishes must be
respected. He has asked you to remain here as a friend, understanding
that to be the case. But as you do not choose, you should go."

"Do you wish me to stay, and to see you become his wife?"

"I say nothing of that. It is not for me to insist on my wishes. I
have expressed one wish, and you have refused to grant it. Nothing
can pass between you and me which must not, I should say, be painful
to both of us."

"You would have me go then,--so that you should never hear of or see
me again?"

"I shall never see you, I suppose. What good would come of seeing
you?"

"And you can bear to part with me after this fashion?"

"It has to be borne. The world is full of hard things, which have to
be borne. It is not made to run smoothly altogether, either for you
or for me. You must bear your cross,--and so must I."

"And that is the only word I am to receive, after having struggled
so hard for you, and having left all my work, and all my cares, and
all my property, in order that I might come home, and catch just one
glance of your eye. Can you not say a word to me, a word of kindness,
that I may carry back with me?"

"Not a word. If you will think of it, you ought not to ask me for a
word of kindness. What does a kind word mean--a kind word coming from
me to you? There was a time when I wanted a kind word, but I did not
ask for it. At the time it did not suit. Nor does it suit now. Put
yourself in Mr Whittlestaff's case; would you wish the girl to whom
you were engaged to say kind words behind your back to some other
man? If you heard them, would you not think that she was a traitor?
He has chosen to trust me,--against my advice, indeed; but he has
trusted me, and I know myself to be trustworthy. There shall be no
kind word spoken."

"Mary," said he, "when did all this happen?"

"It has been happening, I suppose, from the first day that I came
into his house."

"But when was it settled? When did he ask you to be his wife? Or
when, rather, did you make him the promise?" John Gordon fancied that
since he had been at Croker's Hall words had been spoken, or that
he had seen signs, indicating that the engagement had not been of
a long date. And in every word that she had uttered to him he had
heard whispered under her breath an assurance of her perfect love for
himself. He had been sure of her love when he had left the house at
Norwich, in which he had been told that he had been lingering there
to no good purpose; but he had never been more certain than he was at
this moment, when she coldly bade him go and depart back again to his
distant home in the diamond-fields. And now, in her mock anger and in
her indignant words, with the purpose of her mind written so clearly
on her brow, she was to him more lovable and more beautiful than
ever. Could it be fair to him as a man that he should lose the prize
which was to him of such inestimable value, merely for a word of cold
assent given to this old man, and given, as he thought, quite lately?
His devotion to her was certainly assured. Nothing could be more
fixed, less capable of a doubt, than his love. And he, too, was
somewhat proud of himself in that he had endeavoured to entangle
her by no promise till he had secured for himself and for her the
means of maintaining her. He had gone out and he had come back
with silent hopes, with hopes which he had felt must be subject
to disappointment, because he knew himself to be a reticent,
self-restrained man; and because he had been aware that "the world,"
as she had said, "is full of hard things which have to be borne."

But now if, as he believed, the engagement was but of recent date,
there would be a hardship in it, which even he could not bear
patiently,--a hardship, the endurance of which must be intolerable
to her. If it were so, the man could hardly be so close-fisted, so
hard-hearted, so cruel-minded, as to hold the girl to her purpose!
"When did you promise to be his wife?" he said, repeating his
question. Now there came over Mary's face a look of weakness, the
opposite to the strength which she had displayed when she had bade
him not ask her for a word of kindness. To her the promise was the
same, was as strong, even though it had been made but that morning,
as though weeks and months had intervened. But she felt that to him
there would be an apparent weakness in the promise of her engagement,
if she told him that it was made only on that morning. "When was it,
Mary?"

"It matters nothing," she said.

"But it does matter--to me."

Then a sense of what was fitting told her that it was incumbent on
her to tell him the truth. Sooner or later he would assuredly know,
and it was well that he should know the entire truth from her lips.
She could not put up with the feeling that he should go away deceived
in any degree by herself.

"It was this morning," she said.

"This very morning?"

"It was on this morning that I gave my word to Mr Whittlestaff, and
promised to become his wife."

"And had I been here yesterday I should not have been too late?"

Here she looked up imploringly into his face. She could not answer
that question, nor ought he to press for an answer. And the words
were no sooner out of his mouth than he felt that it was so. It was
not to her that he must address any such remonstrance as that. "This
morning!" he repeated--"only this morning!"

But he did not know, nor could she tell him, that she had pleaded her
love for him when Mr Whittlestaff had asked her. She could not tell
him of that second meeting, at which she had asked Mr Whittlestaff
that even yet he should let her go. It had seemed to her, as she had
thought of it, that Mr Whittlestaff had behaved well to her, had
intended to do a good thing to her, and had ignored the other man,
who had vanished, as it were, from the scene of their joint lives,
because he had become one who ought not to be allowed to interest her
any further. She had endeavoured to think of it with stern justice,
accusing herself of absurd romance, and giving Mr Whittlestaff
credit for all goodness. This had been before John Gordon had
appeared among them; and now she struggled hard not to be less just
to Mr Whittlestaff than before, because of this accident. She knew
him well enough to be aware that he could not easily be brought to
abandon the thing on which he had set his mind. It all passed through
her mind as she prepared her answer for John Gordon. "It can make no
difference," she said. "A promise is a promise, though it be but an
hour old."

"That is to be my answer?"

"Yes, that is to be your answer. Ask yourself, and you will know that
there is no other answer that I can honestly make you."

"How is your own heart in the affair?"

There she was weak, and knew as she spoke that she was weak. "It
matters not at all," she said.

"It matters not at all?" he repeated after her. "I can understand
that my happiness should be nothing. If you and he were satisfied,
of course it would be nothing. If you were satisfied, there would be
an end to it; because if your pleasure and his work together, I must
necessarily be left out in the cold. But it is not so. I take upon
myself to say that you are not satisfied."

"You will not allow me to answer for myself?"

"No, not in this matter. Will you dare to tell me that you do not
love me?" She remained silent before him, and then he went on to
reason with her. "You do not deny it. I hear it in your voice and
see it in your face. When we parted in Norwich, did you not love me
then?"

"I shall answer no such question. A young woman has often to change
her mind as to whom she loves, before she can settle down as one
man's wife or another's."

"You do not dare to be true. If I am rough with you, it is for your
sake as well as my own. We are young, and, as was natural, we learnt
to love each other. Then you came here and were alone in the world,
and I was gone. Though there had been no word of marriage between us,
I had hoped that I might be remembered in my absence. Perhaps you did
remember me. I cannot think that I was ever absent from your heart;
but I was away, and you could not know how loyal I was to my thoughts
of you. I am not blaming you, Mary. I can well understand that you
were eating his bread and drinking his cup, and that it appeared to
you that everything was due to him. You could not have gone on eating
his bread unless you had surrendered yourself to his wishes. You must
have gone from this, and have had no home to which to go. It is all
true. But the pity of it, Mary; the pity of it!"

"He has done the best he could by me."

"Perhaps so; but if done from that reason, the surrender will be the
easier."

"No, no, no; I know more of him than you do. No such surrender will
come easy to him. He has set his heart upon this thing, and as far as
I am concerned he shall have it."

"You will go to him with a lie in your mouth?"

"I do not know. I cannot say what the words may be. If there be a
lie, I will tell it."

"Then you do love me still?"

"You may cheat me out of my thoughts, but it will be to no good.
Whether I lie or tell the truth, I will do my duty by him. There
will be no lying. To the best of my ability I will love him, and
him only. All my care shall be for him. I have resolved, and I will
force myself to love him. All his qualities are good. There is not a
thought in his mind of which he need be ashamed."

"Not when he will use his power to take you out of my arms."

"No, sir; for I am not your property. You speak of dealing with me,
as though I must necessarily belong to you if I did not belong to
him. It is not so."

"Oh, Mary!"

"It is not so. What might be the case I will not take upon myself
to say,--or what might have been. I was yesterday a free woman, and
my thoughts were altogether my own. To-day I am bound to him, and
whether it be for joy or for sorrow, I will be true to him. Now, Mr
Gordon, I will leave you."

"Half a moment," he said, standing between her and the door. "It
cannot be that this should be the end of all between us. I shall go
to him, and tell him what I believe to be the truth."

"I cannot hinder you; but I shall tell him that what you say is
false."

"You know it to be true."

"I shall tell him that it is false."

"Can you bring yourself to utter a lie such as that?"

"I can bring myself to say whatever may be best for him, and most
conducive to his wishes." But as she said this, she was herself aware
that she had told Mr Whittlestaff only on this morning that she had
given her heart to John Gordon, and that she would be unable to keep
her thoughts from running to him. She had implored him to leave her
to herself, so that the memory of her love might be spared. Then,
when this young man had been still absent, when there was no dream
of his appearing again before her, when the consequence would be
that she must go forth into the world, and earn her own bitter
bread alone,--at that moment she knew that she had been true to the
memory of the man. What had occurred since, to alter her purpose
so violently? Was it the presence of the man she did love, and the
maidenly instincts which forbade her to declare her passion in his
presence? Or was it simply the conviction that her promise to Mr
Whittlestaff had been twice repeated, and could not now admit of
being withdrawn? But in spite of her asseverations, there must have
been present to her mind some feeling that if Mr Whittlestaff would
yield to the prayer of John Gordon, all the gulf would be bridged
over which yawned between herself and perfect happiness. Kimberley?
Yes, indeed; or anywhere else in the wide world. As he left the room,
she did now tell herself that in spite of all that she had said she
could accompany him anywhere over the world with perfect bliss. How
well had he spoken for himself, and for his love! How like a man he
had looked, when he had asked her that question, "Will you dare to
tell me that you do not love me?" She had not dared; even though at
the moment she had longed to leave upon him the impression that it
was so. She had told him that she would lie to Mr Whittlestaff,--lie
on Mr Whittlestaff's own behalf. But such a lie as this she could
not tell to John Gordon. He had heard it in her voice and seen it in
her face. She knew it well, and was aware that it must be so.

"The pity of it," she too said to herself; "the pity of it!"
If he had but come a week sooner,--but a day sooner, before Mr
Whittlestaff had spoken out his mind,--no love-tale would ever have
run smoother. In that case she would have accepted John Gordon
without a moment's consideration. When he should have told her of
his distant home, of the roughness of his life, of the changes and
chances to which his career must be subject, she would have assured
him, with her heart full of joy, that she would accept it all and
think her lot so happy as to admit of no complaint. Mr Whittlestaff
would then have known the condition of her heart, before he had
himself spoken a word. And as the trouble would always have been in
his own bosom, there would, so to say, have been no trouble at all.
A man's sorrows of that kind do not commence, or at any rate are not
acutely felt, while the knowledge of the matter from which they grow
is confined altogether to his own bosom.

But she resolved, sitting there after John Gordon had left her, that
in the circumstances as they existed, it was her duty to bear what
sorrow there was to be borne. Poor John Gordon! He must bear some
sorrow too, if there should be cause to him for grief. There would be
loss of money, and loss of time, which would of themselves cause him
grief. Poor John Gordon! She did not blame him in that he had gone
away, and not said one word to draw from her some assurance of her
love. It was the nature of the man, which in itself was good and
noble. But in this case it had surely been unfortunate. With such
a passion at his heart, it was rash in him to have gone across the
world to the diamond-fields without speaking a word by which they two
might have held themselves as bound together. The pity of it!

But as circumstances had gone, honour and even honesty demanded that
Mr Whittlestaff should not be allowed to suffer. He at least had
been straightforward in his purpose, and had spoken as soon as he
had been assured of his own mind. Mr Whittlestaff should at any rate
have his reward.



CHAPTER IX.

THE REV MONTAGU BLAKE.


John Gordon, when he left the room, went out to look for Mr
Whittlestaff, but was told that he had gone into the town. Mr
Whittlestaff had had his own troubles in thinking of the unlucky
coincidence of John Gordon's return, and had wandered forth,
determined to leave those two together, so that they might speak to
each other as they pleased. And during his walk he did come to a
certain resolution. Should a request of any kind be made to him by
John Gordon, it should receive not the slightest attention. He was a
man to whom he owed nothing, and for whose welfare he was not in the
least solicitous. "Why should I be punished and he be made happy?" It
was thus he spoke to himself. Should he encounter the degradation of
disappointment, in order that John Gordon should win the object on
which he had set his heart? Certainly not. His own heart was much
dearer to him than that of John Gordon.

But if a request should be made to him by Mary Lawrie? Alas! if it
were so, then there must be sharp misery in store for him. In the
first place, were she to make the request, were she to tell him to
his face, she who had promised to be his wife, that this man was dear
to her, how was it possible that he should go to the altar with the
girl, and there accept from her her troth? She had spoken already
of a fancy which had crossed her mind respecting a man who could
have been no more than a dream to her, of whose whereabouts and
condition--nay, of his very existence--she was unaware. And she had
told him that no promise, no word of love, had passed between them.
"Yes, you may think of him," he had said, meaning not to debar her
from the use of thought, which should be open to all the world,
"but let him not be spoken of." Then she had promised; and when she
had come again to withdraw her promise, she had done so with some
cock-and-bull story about the old woman, which had had no weight with
him. Then he had her presence during the interview between the three
on which to form his judgment. As far as he could remember, as he
wandered through the fields thinking of it, she had not spoken hardly
above a word during that interview. She had sat silent, apparently
unhappy, but not explaining the cause of her unhappiness. It might
well be that she should be unhappy in the presence of her affianced
husband and her old lover. But now if she would tell him that she
wished to be relieved from him, and to give herself to this stranger,
she should be allowed to go. But he told himself also that he would
carry his generosity no further. He was not called upon to offer to
surrender himself. The man's coming had been a misfortune; but let
him go, and in process of time he would be forgotten. It was thus
that Mr Whittlestaff resolved as he walked across the country, while
he left the two lovers to themselves in his own parlour.

It was now nearly five o'clock, and Mr Whittlestaff, as Gordon was
told, dined at six. He felt that he would not find the man before
dinner unless he remained at the house,--and for doing so he had no
excuse. He must return in the evening, or sleep at the inn and come
back the next morning. He must manage to catch the man alone, because
he was assuredly minded to use upon him all the power of eloquence
which he had at his command. And as he thought it improbable so to
find him in the evening, he determined to postpone his task. But in
doing so he felt that he should be at a loss. The eager words were
hot now within his memory, having been sharpened against the anvil of
his thoughts by his colloquy with Mary Lawrie. To-morrow they might
have cooled. His purpose might be as strong; but a man when he wishes
to use burning words should use them while the words are on fire.

John Gordon had a friend at Alresford, or rather an acquaintance, on
whom he had determined to call, unless circumstances, as they should
occur at Croker's Hall, should make him too ecstatic in his wish for
any such operation. The ecstasy certainly had not come as yet, and he
went forth therefore to call on the Reverend Mr Blake. Of Mr Blake
he only knew that he was a curate of a neighbouring parish, and that
they two had been at Oxford together. So he walked down to the inn to
order his dinner, not feeling his intimacy with Mr Blake sufficient
to justify him in looking for his dinner with him. A man always
dines, let his sorrow be what it may. A woman contents herself with
tea, and mitigates her sorrow, we must suppose, by an extra cup. John
Gordon ordered a roast fowl,--the safest dinner at an English country
inn,--and asked his way to the curate's house.

The Rev Montagu Blake was curate of Little Alresford, a parish,
though hardly to be called a village, lying about three miles from
the town. The vicar was a feeble old gentleman who had gone away to
die in the Riviera, and Mr Blake had the care of souls to himself.
He was a man to whom his lines had fallen in pleasant places. There
were about 250 men, women, and children, in his parish, and not a
Dissenter among them. For looking after these folk he had £120 per
annum, and as pretty a little parsonage as could be found in England.
There was a squire with whom he was growing in grace and friendship,
who, being the patron of the living, might probably bestow it upon
him. It was worth only £250, and was not, therefore, too valuable to
be expected. He had a modest fortune of his own, £300 a-year perhaps,
and,--for the best of his luck shall be mentioned last,--he was
engaged to the daughter of one of the prebendaries of Winchester, a
pretty bright little girl, with a further sum of £5000 belonging to
herself. He was thirty years of age, in the possession of perfect
health, and not so strict in matters of religion as to make it
necessary for him to abandon any of the innocent pleasures of this
world. He could dine out, and play cricket, and read a novel. And
should he chance, when riding his cob about the parish, or visiting
some neighbouring parish, to come across the hounds, he would not
scruple to see them over a field or two. So that the Rev Montagu
Blake was upon the whole a happy fellow.

He and John Gordon had been thrown together at Oxford for a short
time during the last months of their residence, and though they were
men quite unlike each other in their pursuits, circumstances had
made them intimate. It was well that Gordon should take a stroll for
a couple of hours before dinner, and therefore he started off for
Little Alresford. Going into the parsonage gate he was overtaken by
Blake, and of course introduced himself. "Don't you remember Gordon
at Exeter?"

"John Gordon! Gracious me! Of course I do. What a good fellow you are
to come and look a fellow up! Where have you come from, and where are
you going to, and what brings you to Alresford, beyond the charitable
intention of dining with me? Oh, nonsense! not dine; but you will,
and I can give you a bed too, and breakfast, and shall be delighted
to do it for a week. Ordered your dinner? Then we'll unorder it. I'll
send the boy in and put that all right. Shall I make him bring your
bag back?" Gordon, however, though he assented to the proposition as
regarded dinner, made his friend understand that it was imperative
that he should be at the inn that night.

"Yes," said Blake, when they had settled down to wait for their
dinner, "I am parson here,--a sort of a one at least. I am not only
curate, but live in expectation of higher things. Our squire here,
who owns the living, talks of giving it to me. There isn't a better
fellow living than Mr Furnival, or his wife, or his four daughters."

"Will he be as generous with one of them as with the living?"

"There is no necessity, as far as I am concerned. I came here
already provided in that respect. If you'll remain here till
September, you'll see me a married man. One Kattie Forrester intends
to condescend to become Mrs Montagu Blake. Though I say it as
shouldn't, a sweeter human being doesn't live on the earth. I met her
soon after I had taken orders. But I had to wait till I had some sort
of a house to put her into. Her father is a clergyman like myself, so
we are all in a boat together. She's got a little bit of money, and
I've got a little bit of money, so that we shan't absolutely starve.
Now you know all about me; and what have you been doing yourself?"

John Gordon thought that this friend of his had been most
communicative. He had been told everything concerning his friend's
life. Had Mr Blake written a biography of himself down to the
present period, he could not have been more full or accurate in his
details. But Gordon felt that as regarded himself he must be more
reticent. "I intended to have joined my father's bank, but that came
to grief."

"Yes; I did hear of some trouble in that respect."

"And then I went out to the diamond-fields."

"Dear me! that was a long way."

"Yes, it is a long way,--and rather rough towards the end."

"Did you do any good at the diamond-fields? I don't fancy that men
often bring much money home with them."

"I brought some."

"Enough to do a fellow any good in his after life?"

"Well, yes; enough to content me, only that a man is not easily
contented who has been among diamonds."

"Crescit amor diamonds!" said the parson. "I can easily understand
that. And then, when a fellow goes back again, he is so apt to
lose it all. Don't you expect to see your diamonds turn into
slate-stones?"

"Not except in the ordinary way of expenditure. I don't think the
gnomes or the spirits will interfere with them,--though the thieves
may, if they can get a hand upon them. But my diamonds have, for the
most part, been turned into ready money, and at the present moment
take the comfortable shape of a balance at my banker's."

"I'd leave it there,--or buy land, or railway shares. If I had
realised in that venture enough to look at, I'd never go out to the
diamond-fields again."

"It's hard to bring an occupation of that kind to an end all at
once," said John Gordon.

"Crescit amor diamonds!" repeated the Reverend Montagu Blake, shaking
his head. "If you gave me three, I could easily imagine that I should
toss up with another fellow who had three also, double or quits, till
I lost them all. But we'll make sure of dinner, at any rate, without
any such hazardous proceeding." Then they went into the dining-room,
and enjoyed themselves, without any reference having been made as yet
to the business which had brought John Gordon into the neighbourhood
of Alresford.

"You'll find that port wine rather good. I can't afford claret,
because it takes such a lot to go far enough. To tell the truth, when
I'm alone I confine myself to whisky and water. Blake is a very good
name for whisky."

"Why do you make a ceremony with me?"

"Because it's so pleasant to have an excuse for such a ceremony.
It wasn't you only I was thinking of when I came out just now, and
uncorked the bottle. Think what it is to have a prudent mind. I had
to get it myself out of the cellar, because girls can't understand
that wine shouldn't be treated in the same way as physic. By-the-by,
what brought you into this part of the world at all?"

"I came to see one Mr Whittlestaff."

"What! old William Whittlestaff? Then, let me tell you, you have come
to see as honest a fellow, and as good-hearted a Christian, as any
that I know."

"You do know him?"

"Oh yes, I know him. I'd like to see the man whose bond is better
than old Whittlestaff's. Did you hear what he did about that
young lady who is living with him? She was the daughter of a
friend,--simply of a friend who died in pecuniary distress. Old
Whittlestaff just brought her into his house, and made her his own
daughter. It isn't every one who will do that, you know."

"Why do you call him old?" said John Gordon.

"Well; I don't know. He is old."

"Just turned fifty."

"Fifty is old. I don't mean that he is a cripple or bedridden.
Perhaps if he had been a married man, he'd have looked younger. He
has got a very nice girl there with him; and if he isn't too old to
think of such things, he may marry her. Do you know Miss Lawrie?"

"Yes; I know her."

"Don't you think she's nice? Only my goose is cooked, I'd go in for
her sooner than any one I see about."

"Sooner than your own squire's four daughters?"

"Well,--yes. They're nice girls too. But I don't quite fancy one out
of four. And they'd look higher than the curate."

"A prebendary is as high as a squire," said Gordon.

"There are prebendaries and there are squires. Our squire isn't a
swell, though he's an uncommonly good fellow. If I get a wife from
one and a living from the other, I shall think myself very lucky.
Miss Lawrie is a handsome girl, and everything that she ought to be;
but if you were to see Kattie Forrester, I think you would say that
she was A 1. I sometimes wonder whether old Whittlestaff will think
of marrying."

Gordon sat silent, turning over one or two matters in his mind. How
supremely happy was this young parson with his Kattie Forrester and
his promised living,--in earning the proceeds of which there need
be no risk, and very little labour,--and with his bottle of port
wine and comfortable house! All the world seemed to have smiled
with Montagu Blake. But with him, though there had been much
success, there had been none of the world's smiles. He was aware
at this moment, or thought that he was aware, that the world would
never smile on him,--unless he should succeed in persuading Mr
Whittlestaff to give up the wife whom he had chosen. Then he felt
tempted to tell his own story to this young parson. They were alone
together, and it seemed as though Providence had provided him with a
friend. And the subject of Mary Lawrie's intended marriage had been
brought forward in a peculiar manner. But he was by nature altogether
different from Mr Blake, and could not blurt out his love-story with
easy indifference. "Do you know Mr Whittlestaff well?" he asked.

"Pretty well. I've been here four years; and he's a near neighbour. I
think I do know him well."

"Is he a sort of man likely to fall in love with such a girl as Miss
Lawrie, seeing that she is an inmate of his house?"

"Well," said the parson, after some consideration, "if you ask me, I
don't think he is. He seems to have settled himself down to a certain
manner of life, and will not, I should say, be stirred from it very
quickly. If you have any views in that direction, I don't think he'll
be your rival."

"Is he a man to care much for a girl's love?"

"I should say not."

"But if he had once brought himself to ask her?" said Gordon.

"And if she had accepted him?" suggested the other.

"That's what I mean."

"I don't think he'd let her go very easily. He's a sort of dog whom
you cannot easily persuade to give up a bone. If he has set his heart
upon matrimony, he will not be turned from it. Do you know anything
of his intentions?"

"I fancy that he is thinking of it."

"And you mean that you were thinking of it, too, with the same lady."

"No, I didn't mean that." Then he added, after a pause, "That is
just what I did not mean to say. I did not mean to talk about myself.
But since you ask me the question, I will answer it truly,--I have
thought of the same lady. And my thoughts were earlier in the field
than his. I must say good-night now," he said, rising somewhat
brusquely from his chair. "I have to walk back to Alresford, and must
see Mr Whittlestaff early in the morning. According to your view of
the case I shan't do much with him. And if it be so, I shall be off
to the diamond-fields again by the first mail."

"You don't say so!"

"That is to be my lot in life. I am very glad to have come across you
once again, and am delighted to find you so happy in your prospects.
You have told me everything, and I have done pretty much the same to
you. I shall disappear from Alresford, and never more be heard of.
You needn't talk much about me and my love; for though I shall be out
of the way at Kimberley, many thousand miles from here, a man does
not care to have his name in every one's mouth."

"Oh no," said Blake. "I won't say a word about Miss Lawrie;--unless
indeed you should be successful."

"There is not the remotest possibility of that," said Gordon, as he
took his leave.

"I wonder whether she is fond of him," said the curate to himself,
when he resolved to go to bed instead of beginning his sermon that
night. "I shouldn't wonder if she is, for he is just the sort of man
to make a girl fond of him."



CHAPTER X.

JOHN GORDON AGAIN GOES TO CROKER'S HALL.


On the next morning, when John Gordon reached the corner of the road
at which stood Croker's Hall, he met, outside on the roadway, close
to the house, a most disreputable old man with a wooden leg and a red
nose. This was Mr Baggett, or Sergeant Baggett as he was generally
called, and was now known about all Alresford to be the husband of
Mr Whittlestaff's housekeeper. For news had got abroad, and tidings
were told that Mr Baggett was about to arrive in the neighbourhood
to claim his wife. Everybody knew it before the inhabitants of
Croker's Hall. And now, since yesterday afternoon, all Croker's Hall
knew it, as well as the rest of the world. He was standing there
close to the house, which stood a little back from the road, between
nine and ten in the morning, as drunk as a lord. But I think his
manner of drunkenness was perhaps in some respects different from
that customary with lords. Though he had only one leg of the flesh,
and one of wood, he did not tumble down, though he brandished in the
air the stick with which he was accustomed to disport himself. A lord
would, I think, have got himself taken to bed. But the Sergeant did
not appear to have any such intention. He had come out on to the
road from the yard into which the back-door of the house opened, and
seemed to John Gordon as though, having been so far expelled, he was
determined to be driven no further,--and he was accompanied, at a
distance, by his wife. "Now, Timothy Baggett," began the unfortunate
woman, "you may just take yourself away out of that, as fast as your
legs can carry you, before the police comes to fetch you."

"My legs! Whoever heared a fellow told of his legs when there was
one of them wooden. And as for the perlice, I shall want the perlice
to fetch my wife along with me. I ain't a-going to stir out of this
place without Mrs B. I'm a hold man, and wants a woman to look arter
me. Come along, Mrs B." Then he made a motion as though to run after
her, still brandishing the stick in his hand. But she retreated, and
he came down, seated on the pathway by the roadside, as though he had
only accomplished an intended manoeuvre. "Get me a drop o' summat,
Mrs B., and I don't mind if I stay here half an hour longer." Then
he laughed loudly, nodding his head merrily at the bystanders,--as no
lord under such circumstances certainly would have done.

All this happened just as John Gordon came up to the corner of the
road, from whence, by a pathway, turned the main entrance into Mr
Whittlestaff's garden. He could not but see the drunken red-nosed
man, and the old woman, whom he recognised as Mr Whittlestaff's
servant, and a crowd of persons around, idlers out of Alresford,
who had followed Sergeant Baggett up to the scene of his present
exploits. Croker's Hall was not above a mile from the town, just
where the town was beginning to become country, and where the houses
all had gardens belonging to them, and the larger houses a field
or two. "Yes, sir, master is at home. If you'll please to ring the
bell, one of the girls will come out." This was said by Mrs Baggett,
advancing almost over the body of her prostrate husband. "Drunken
brute!" she said, by way of a salute, as she passed him. He only
laughed aloud, and looked around upon the bystanders with triumph.

At this moment Mr Whittlestaff came down through the gate into the
road. "Oh, Mr Gordon! good morning, sir. You find us rather in
a disturbed condition this morning. I am sorry I did not think
of asking you to come to breakfast. But perhaps, under all the
circumstances it was better not. That dreadful man has put us sadly
about. He is the unfortunate husband of my hardly less unfortunate
housekeeper."

"Yes, sir, he is my husband,--that's true," said Mrs Baggett.

"I'm wery much attached to my wife, if you knew all about it, sir;
and I wants her to come home with me. Service ain't no inheritance;
nor yet ain't wages, when they never amounts to more than twenty
pounds a-year."

"It's thirty, you false ungrateful beast!" said Mrs Baggett. But in
the meantime Mr Whittlestaff had led the way into the garden, and
John Gordon had followed him. Before they reached the hall-door, Mary
Lawrie had met them.

"Oh, Mr Whittlestaff!" she said, "is it not annoying? that dreadful
man with the wooden leg is here, and collecting a crowd round the
place. Good morning, Mr Gordon. It is the poor woman's ne'er-do-well
husband. She is herself so decent and respectable, that she will be
greatly harassed. What can we do, Mr Whittlestaff? Can't we get a
policeman?" In this way the conversation was led away to the affairs
of Sergeant and Mrs Baggett, to the ineffable distress of John
Gordon. When we remember the kind of speeches which Gordon intended
to utter, the sort of eloquence which he desired to use, it must be
admitted that the interruption was provoking. Even if Mary would
leave them together, it would be difficult to fall back upon the
subject which Gordon had at heart.

It is matter of consideration whether, when important subjects are
to be brought upon the _tapis_, the ultimate result will or will not
depend much on the manner in which they are introduced. It ought
not to be the case that they shall be so prejudiced. "By-the-by, my
dear fellow, now I think of it, can you lend me a couple of thousand
pounds for twelve months?" Would that generally be as efficacious
as though the would-be borrower had introduced his request with the
general paraphernalia of distressing solemnities? The borrower, at
any rate, feels that it would not, and postpones the moment till
the fitting solemnities can be produced. But John Gordon could not
postpone his moment. He could not go on residing indefinitely at the
Claimant's Arms till he could find a proper opportunity for assuring
Mr Whittlestaff that it could not be his duty to marry Mary Lawrie.
He must rush at his subject, let the result be what it might. Indeed
he had no hopes as to a favourable result. He had slept upon it, as
people say when they intend to signify that they have lain awake,
and had convinced himself that all eloquence would be vain. Was it
natural that a man should give up his intended wife, simply because
he was asked? Gordon's present feeling was an anxious desire to
be once more on board the ship that should take him again to the
diamond-fields, so that he might be at peace, knowing then, as he
would know, that he had left Mary Lawrie behind for ever. At this
moment he almost repented that he had not left Alresford without any
farther attempt. But there he was on Mr Whittlestaff's ground, and
the attempt must be made, if only with the object of justifying his
coming.

"Miss Lawrie," he began, "if you would not mind leaving me and Mr
Whittlestaff alone together for a few minutes, I will be obliged
to you." This he said with quite sufficient solemnity, so that Mr
Whittlestaff drew himself up, and looked hard and stiff, as though he
were determined to forget Sergeant Baggett and all his peccadilloes
for the moment.

"Oh, yes; certainly; but--" Mr Whittlestaff looked sternly at her,
as though to bid her go at once. "You must believe nothing as coming
from me unless it comes out of my own mouth." Then she put her hand
upon his arm, as though half embracing him.

"You had better leave us, perhaps," said Mr Whittlestaff. And then
she went.

Now the moment had come, and John Gordon felt the difficulty. It had
not been lessened by the assurance given by Mary herself that nothing
was to be taken as having come from her unless it was known and heard
to have so come. And yet he was thoroughly convinced that he was
altogether loved by her, and that had he appeared on the scene but
a day sooner, she would have accepted him with all her heart. "Mr
Whittlestaff," he said, "I want to tell you what passed yesterday
between me and Miss Lawrie."

"Is it necessary?" he asked.

"I think it is."

"As far as I am concerned, I doubt the necessity. Miss Lawrie has
said a word to me,--as much, I presume, as she feels to be
necessary."

"I do not think that her feeling in the matter should be a guide for
you or for me. What we have both of us to do is to think what may be
best for her, and to effect that as far as may be within our power."

"Certainly," said Mr Whittlestaff. "But it may so probably be the
case that you and I shall differ materially as to thinking what may
be best for her. As far as I understand the matter, you wish that she
should be your wife. I wish that she should be mine. I think that as
my wife she would live a happier life than she could do as yours; and
as she thinks also--" Here Mr Whittlestaff paused.

"But does she think so?"

"You heard what she said just now."

"I heard nothing as to her thoughts of living," said John Gordon "Nor
in the interview which I had with her yesterday did I hear a word
fall from her as to herself. We have got to form our ideas as to that
from circumstances which shall certainly not be made to appear by her
own speech. When you speak against me--"

"I have not said a word against you, sir."

"Perhaps you imply," said Gordon, not stopping to notice Mr
Whittlestaff's last angry tone,--"perhaps you imply that my life may
be that of a rover, and as such would not conduce to Miss Lawrie's
happiness."

"I have implied nothing."

"To suit her wishes I would remain altogether in England. I was very
lucky, and am not a man greedy of great wealth. She can remain here,
and I will satisfy you that there shall be enough for our joint
maintenance."

"What do I care for your maintenance, or what does she? Do you know,
sir, that you are talking to me about a lady whom I intend to make my
wife,--who is engaged to marry me? Goodness gracious me!"

"I own, sir, that it is singular."

"Very singular,--very singular indeed. I never heard of such a thing.
It seems that you knew her at Norwich."

"I did know her well."

"And then you went away and deserted her."

"I went away, Mr Whittlestaff, because I was poor. I was told by her
step-mother that I was not wanted about the house, because I had no
means. That was true, and as I loved her dearly, I started at once,
almost in despair, but still with something of hope,--with a shade of
hope,--that I might put myself in the way of enabling her to become
my wife. I did not desert her."

"Very well. Then you came back and found her engaged to be my wife.
You had it from her own mouth. When a gentleman hears that, what has
he to do but to go away?"

"There are circumstances here."

"What does she say herself? There are no circumstances to justify
you. If you would come here as a friend, I offered to receive you. As
you had been known to her, I did not turn my back upon you. But now
your conduct is so peculiar that I cannot ask you to remain here any
longer." They were walking up and down the long walk, and now Mr
Whittlestaff stood still, as though to declare his intention that the
interview should be considered as over.

"I know that you wish me to go away," said Gordon.

"Well, yes; unless you withdraw all idea of a claim to the young
lady's hand."

"But I think you should first hear what I have to say. You will not
surely have done your duty by her unless you hear me."

"You can speak if you wish to speak," said Mr Whittlestaff.

"It was not till yesterday that you made your proposition to Miss
Lawrie."

"What has that to do with it?"

"Had I come on the previous day, and had I been able then to tell her
all that I can tell her now, would it have made no difference?"

"Did she say so?" asked the fortunate lover, but in a very angry
tone.

"No; she did not say so. It was with difficulty that I forced from
her an avowal that her engagement was so recent. But she did confess
that it was so. And she confessed, not in words, but in her manner,
that she had found it impossible to refuse to you the request that
you had asked."

"I never heard a man assert so impudently that he was the sole owner
of a lady's favours. Upon my word, I think that you are the vainest
man whom I ever met."

"Let it be so. I do not care to defend myself, but only her. Whether
I am vain or not, is it not true that which I say? I put it to you,
as man to man, whether you do not know that it is true? If you marry
this girl, will you not marry one whose heart belongs to me? Will
you not marry one of whom you knew two days since that her heart was
mine? Will you not marry one who, if she was free this moment, would
give herself to me without a pang of remorse?"

"I never heard anything like the man's vanity!"

"But is it true? Whatever may be my vanity, or self-seeking, or
unmanliness if you will, is not what I say God's truth? It is not
about my weaknesses, or your weaknesses, that we should speak, but
about her happiness."

"Just so; I don't think she would be happy with you."

"Then it is to save her from me that you are marrying her,--so that
she may not sink into the abyss of my unworthiness."

"Partly that."

"But if I had come two days since, when she would have received me
with open arms--"

"You have no right to make such a statement."

"I ask yourself whether it is not true? She would have received me
with open arms, and would you then have dared, as her guardian, to
bid her refuse the offer made to her, when you had learned, as you
would have done, that she loved me; that I had loved her with all
my heart before I left England; that I had left it with the view of
enabling myself to marry her; that I had been wonderfully successful;
that I had come back with no other hope in the world than that of
giving it all to her; that I had been able to show you my whole life,
so that no girl need be afraid to become my wife--"

"What do I know about your life? You may have another wife living at
this moment."

"No doubt; I may be guilty of any amount of villainy, but then, as
her friend, you should make inquiry. You would not break a girl's
heart because the man to whom she is attached may possibly be a
rogue. In this case you have no ground for the suspicion."

"I never heard of a man who spoke of himself so grandiloquently!"

"But there is ample reason why you should make inquiry. In truth, as
I said before, it is her happiness and not mine nor your own that you
should look to. If she has taken your offer because you had been good
to her in her desolation,--because she had found herself unable to
refuse aught to one who had treated her so well; if she had done
all this, believing that I had disappeared from her knowledge, and
doubting altogether my return; if it be so--and you know that it is
so--then you should hesitate before you lead her to her doom."

"You heard her say that I was not to believe any of these things
unless I got them from her own mouth?"

"I did; and her word should go for nothing either with you or with
me. She has promised, and is willing to sacrifice herself to her
promise. She will sacrifice me too because of your goodness,--and
because she is utterly unable to put a fair value upon herself. To me
she is all the world. From the first hour in which I saw her to the
present, the idea of gaining her has been everything. Put aside the
words which she just spoke, what is your belief of the state of her
wishes?"

"I can tell you my belief of the state of her welfare."

"There your own prejudice creeps in, and I might retaliate by
charging you with vanity as you have done me,--only that I think
such vanity very natural. But it is her you should consult on such a
matter. She is not to be treated like a child. Of whom does she wish
to become the wife? I boldly say that I have won her love, and that
if it be so, you should not desire to take her to yourself. You have
not answered me, nor can I expect you to answer me; but look into
yourself and answer it there. Think how it will be with you, when the
girl who lies upon your shoulder shall be thinking ever of some other
man from whom you have robbed her. Good-bye, Mr Whittlestaff. I do
not doubt but that you will turn it all over in your thoughts." Then
he escaped by a wicket-gate into the road at the far end of the long
walk, and was no more heard of at Croker's Hall on that day.



CHAPTER XI.

MRS BAGGETT TRUSTS ONLY IN THE FUNDS.


Mr Whittlestaff, when he was left alone in the long walk, was
disturbed by many troublesome thoughts. The knowledge that his
housekeeper was out on the road, and that her drunken disreputable
husband was playing the fool for the benefit of all the idlers that
had sauntered out from Alresford to see him, added something to his
grief. Why should not the stupid woman remain indoors, and allow him,
her master, to send for the police? She had declared that she would
go with her husband, and he could not violently prevent her. This was
not much when added to the weight of his care as to Mary Lawrie, but
it seemed to be the last ounce destined to break the horse's back, as
is the proverbial fate of all last ounces.

Just as he was about to collect his thoughts, so as to resolve what
it might be his duty to do in regard to Mary, Mrs Baggett appeared
before him on the walk with her bonnet on her head. "What are you
going to do, you stupid woman?"

"I am a-going with he," she said, in the midst of a torrent of sobs
and tears. "It's a dooty. They says if you does your dooty all will
come right in the end. It may be, but I don't see it no further than
taking him back to Portsmouth."

"What on earth are you going to Portsmouth for now? And why? why now?
He's not more drunk than he has been before, nor yet less abominable.
Let the police lock him up for the night, and send him back to
Portsmouth in the morning. Why should you want to go with him now?"

"Because you're going to take a missus," said Mrs Baggett, still
sobbing.

"It's more than I know; or you know; or anyone knows," and Mr
Whittlestaff spoke as though he had nearly reduced himself to his
housekeeper's position.

"Not marry her!" she exclaimed.

"I cannot say. If you will let me alone to manage my own affairs, it
will be best."

"That man has been here interfering. You don't mean to say that
you're going to be put upon by such a savage as that, as has just
come home from South Africa. Diamonds, indeed! I'd diamond him!
I don't believe, not in a single diamond. They're all rubbish and
paste. If you're going to give her up to that fellow, you're not the
gentleman I take you for."

"But if I don't marry you won't have to go," he said, unable to
refrain from so self-evident an argument.

"Me going! What's me going? What's me or that drunken old reprobate
out there to the likes of you? I'd stay, only if it was to see that
Mr John Gordon isn't let to put his foot here in this house; and
then I'd go. John Gordon, indeed! To come up between you and her,
when you had settled your mind and she had settled hern! If she
favours John Gordon, I'll tear her best frock off her back."

"How dare you speak in that way of the lady who is to be your
mistress?"

"She ain't to be my mistress. I won't have no mistress. When her time
is come, I shall be in the poorhouse at Portsmouth, because I shan't
be able to earn a penny to buy gin for him." As she said this, Mrs
Baggett sobbed bitterly.

"You're enough to drive a man mad. I don't know what it is you want,
or you don't want."

"I wishes to see Miss Lawrie do her dooty, and become your wife, as
a lady should do. You wishes it, and she ought to wish it too. Drat
her! If she is going back from her word--"

"She is not going back from her word. Nothing is more excellent,
nothing more true, nothing more trustworthy than Miss Lawrie. You
should not allow yourself to speak of her in such language."

"Is it you, then, as is going back?"

"I do not know. To tell the truth, Mrs Baggett, I do not know."

"Then let me tell you, sir. I'm an old woman whom you've known all
your life pretty nigh, and you can trust me. Don't give up to none of
'em. You've got her word, and keep her to it. What's the good o' your
fine feelings if you're to break your heart. You means well by her,
and will make her happy. Can you say as much for him? When them
diamonds is gone, what's to come next? I ain't no trust in diamonds,
not to live out of, but only in the funds, which is reg'lar. I
wouldn't let her see John Gordon again,--never, till she was Mrs
Whittlestaff. After that she'll never go astray; nor yet won't her
thoughts."

"God bless you! Mrs Baggett," he said.

"She's one of them when she's your own she'll remain your own all
out. She'll stand the washing. I'm an old woman, and I knows 'em."

"And yet you cannot live with such a lady as her?"

"No! if she was one of them namby-pambys as'd let an old woman keep
her old place, it might do."

"She shall love you always for what you said just now."

"Love me! I don't doubt her loving me. She'll love me because she is
loving--not that I am lovable. She'll want to do a'most everything
about the house, and I shall want the same; and her wants are to
stand uppermost,--that is, if she is to be Mrs Whittlestaff."

"I do not know; I have to think about it."

"Don't think about it no more; but just go in and do it. Don't have
no more words with him nor yet with her,--nor yet with yourself. Let
it come on just as though it were fixed by fate. It's in your own
hands now, sir, and don't you be thinking of being too good-natured;
there ain't no good comes from it. A man may maunder away his mind in
softnesses till he ain't worth nothing, and don't do no good to no
one. You can give her bread to eat, and clothes to wear, and can make
her respectable before all men and women. What has he to say? Only
that he is twenty years younger than you. Love! Rot it! I suppose
you'll come in just now, sir, and see my boxes when they're ready to
start." So saying, she turned round sharply on the path and left him.

In spite of the excellent advice which Mr Whittlestaff had received
from his housekeeper, bidding him not have any more words even with
himself on the matter, he could not but think of all the arguments
which John Gordon had used to him. According to Mrs Baggett, he
ought to content himself with knowing that he could find food and
raiment and shelter for his intended wife, and also in feeling that
he had her promise, and her assurance that that promise should be
respected. There was to him a very rock in all this, upon which he
could build his house with absolute safety. And he did not believe
of her that, were he so to act, she would turn round upon him with
future tears or neglect her duty, because she was ever thinking of
John Gordon. He knew that she would be too steadfast for all that,
and that even though there might be some sorrow at her heart, it
would be well kept down, out of his sight, out of the sight of the
world at large, and would gradually sink out of her own sight too.
But if it be given to a man "to maunder away his mind in softnesses,"
he cannot live otherwise than as nature has made him. Such a man must
maunder. Mrs Baggett had understood accurately the nature of his
character; but had not understood that, as was his character, so must
he act. He could not alter his own self. He could not turn round upon
himself, and bid himself be other than he was. It is necessary to be
stern and cruel and determined, a man shall say to himself. In this
particular emergency of my life I will be stern and cruel. General
good will come out of such a line of conduct. But unless he be stern
and cruel in other matters also,--unless he has been born stern and
cruel, or has so trained himself,--he cannot be stern and cruel for
that occasion only. All this Mr Whittlestaff knew of himself. As
sure as he was there thinking over John Gordon and Mary Lawrie, would
he maunder away his mind in softnesses. He feared it of himself, was
sure of it of himself, and hated himself because it was so.

He did acknowledge to himself the truth of the position as asserted
by John Gordon. Had the man come but a day earlier, he would have
been in time to say the first word; and then, as Mr Whittlestaff
said to himself, there would not for him have been a chance. And in
such case there would have been no reason, as far as Mr Whittlestaff
could see, why John Gordon should be treated other than as a happy
lover. It was the one day in advance which had given him the strength
of his position. But it was the one day also which had made him
weak. He had thought much about Mary for some time past. He had told
himself that by her means might be procured some cure to the wound
in his heart which had made his life miserable for so many years.
But had John Gordon come in time, the past misery would only have
been prolonged, and none would have been the wiser. Even Mrs Baggett
would have held her peace, and not thrown it in his teeth that he had
attempted to marry the girl and had failed. As it was, all the world
of Alresford would know how it had been with him, and all the world
of Alresford as they looked at him would tell themselves that this
was the man who had attempted to marry Mary Lawrie, and had failed.

It was all true,--all that John Gordon alleged on his own behalf. But
then he was able to salve his own conscience by telling himself that
when John Gordon had run through his diamonds, there would be nothing
but poverty and distress. There was no reason for supposing that the
diamonds would be especially short-lived, or that John Gordon would
probably be a spendthrift. But diamonds as a source of income are
volatile,--not trustworthy, as were the funds to Mrs Baggett. And
then the nature of the source of income offered, enabled him to say
so much as a plea to himself. Could he give the girl to a man who had
nothing but diamonds with which to pay his weekly bills? He did tell
himself again and again, that Mary Lawrie should not be encouraged
to put her faith in diamonds. But he felt that it was only an excuse.
In arguing the matter backwards and forwards, he could not but tell
himself that he did believe in John Gordon.

And then an idea, a grand idea, but one very painful in its beauty,
crept into his mind. Even though these diamonds should melt away, and
become as nothing, there was his own income, fixed and sure as the
polar star, in the consolidated British three per cents. If he really
loved this girl, could he not protect her from poverty, even were she
married to a John Gordon, broken down in the article of his diamonds?
If he loved her, was he not bound, by some rule of chivalry which he
could not define even to himself, to do the best he could for her
happiness? He loved her so well that he thought that, for her sake,
he could abolish himself. Let her have his money, his house, and his
horses. Let her even have John Gordon. He could with a certain
feeling of delight imagine it all. But then he could not abolish
himself. There he would be, subject to the remarks of men. "There
is he," men would say of him, "who has maundered away his mind in
softnesses;--who in his life has loved two girls, and has, at last,
been thrown over by both of them because he has been no better than
a soft maundering idiot." It would be thus that his neighbours would
speak of him in his vain effort to abolish himself.

It was not yet too late. He had not yielded an inch to this man. He
could still be stern and unbending. He felt proud of himself in that
he had been stern and unbending, as far as the man was concerned.
And as regarded Mary, he did feel sure of her. If there was to be
weakness displayed, it would be in himself. Mary would be true to her
promise;--true to her faith, true to the arrangement made for her
own life. She would not provoke him with arguments as to her love
for John Gordon; and, as Mrs Baggett had assured him, even in her
thoughts she would not go astray. If it were but for that word, Mrs
Baggett should not be allowed to leave his house.

But what as to Mary's love? Any such question was maunderingly soft.
It was not for him to ask it. He did believe in her altogether, and
was perfectly secure that his name and his honour were safe in her
hands. And she certainly would learn to love him. "She'll stand
the washing," he said to himself, repeating another morsel of Mrs
Baggett's wisdom. And thus he made up his mind that he would, on this
occasion, if only on this occasion, be stern and cruel. Surely a man
could bring himself to sternness and cruelty for once in his life,
when so much depended on it.

Having so resolved, he walked back into the house, intending to see
Mary Lawrie, and so to speak to her as to give her no idea of the
conversation which had taken place between him and John Gordon. It
would not be necessary, he thought, that he should mention to her
John Gordon's name any more. Let his marriage go on, as though there
were no such person as John Gordon. It would be easier to be stern
and cruel when he could enact the character simply by silence. He
would hurry on his wedding as quickly as she would allow him, and
then the good thing--the good that was to come out of sternness and
cruelty--would be achieved.

He went through from the library to knock at Mary's door, and in
doing so, had to pass the room in which Mrs Baggett had slept
tranquilly for fifteen years. There, in the doorway, was a big trunk,
and in the lock of the door was a key. A brilliant idea at once
occurred to Mr Whittlestaff. He shoved the big box in with his foot,
locked the door, and put the key in his pocket. At that moment the
heads of the gardener and the groom appeared up the back staircase,
and after them Mrs Baggett.

"Why, Mrs Baggett, the door is locked!" said the gardener.

"It is, to be sure," said the groom. "Why, Mrs Baggett, you must
have the key in your own pocket!"

"I ain't got no such thing. Do you bring the box down with you."

"I have got the key in my pocket," said Mr Whittlestaff, in a voice
of much authority. "You may both go down. Mrs Baggett's box is not
to be taken out of that room to-day."

"Not taken out! Oh, Mr Whittlestaff! Why, the porter is here with
his barrow to take it down to the station."

"Then the porter must have a shilling and go back again empty." And
so he stalked on, to bid Miss Lawrie come to him in the library.

"I never heard of such a go in all my life;--and he means it, too,"
said Thornybush, the gardener.

"I never quite know what he means," said Hayonotes, the groom; "but
he's always in earnest, whatever it is. I never see one like the
master for being in earnest. But he's too deep for me in his meaning.
I suppose we is only got to go back." So they retreated down the
stairs, leaving Mrs Baggett weeping in the passage.

"You should let a poor old woman have her box," she said, whining to
her master, whom she followed to the library.

"No; I won't! You shan't have your box. You're an old fool!"

"I know I'm an old fool;--but I ought to have my box."

"You won't have it. You may just go down and get your dinner. When
you want to go to bed, you shall have the key."

"I ought to have my box, Miss Mary. It's my own box. What am I to do
with Baggett? They have given him more gin out there, and he's as
drunk as a beast. I think I ought to have my own box. Shall I tell
Thornybush as he may come back? The train'll be gone, and then what
am I to do with Baggett? He'll get hisself that drunk, you won't be
able to stir him. And it is my own box, Mr Whittlestaff?"

To all which Mr Whittlestaff turned a deaf ear. She should find that
there was no maundering softness with him now. He felt within his own
bosom that it behoved him to learn to become stern and cruel. He knew
that the key was in his pocket, and found that there was a certain
satisfaction in being stern and cruel. Mrs Baggett might sob her
heart out after her box, and he would decline to be moved.

"What'll I do about Baggett, sir?" said the poor woman, coming back.
"He's a lying there at the gate, and the perlice doesn't like to
touch him because of you, sir. He says as how if you could take him
into the stables, he'd sleep it off among the straw. But then he'd be
just as bad after this first go, to-morrow."

To this, however, Mr Whittlestaff at once acceded. He saw a way out
of the immediate difficulty. He therefore called Hayonotes to him,
and succeeded in explaining his immediate meaning. Hayonotes and
the policeman between them lifted Baggett, and deposited the man in
an empty stall, where he was accommodated with ample straw. And an
order was given that as soon as he had come to himself, he should be
provided with something to eat.

"Summat to eat!" said Mrs Baggett, in extreme disgust. "Provide him
with a lock-up and plenty of cold water!"



CHAPTER XII.

MR BLAKE'S GOOD NEWS.


In the afternoon, after lunch had been eaten, there came a ring at
the back-door, and Mr Montagu Blake was announced. There had been a
little _contretemps_ or misadventure. It was Mr Blake's habit when
he called at Croker's Hall to ride his horse into the yard, there to
give him up to Hayonotes, and make his way in by the back entrance.
On this occasion Hayonotes had been considerably disturbed in his
work, and was discussing the sad condition of Mr Baggett with
Thornybush over the gate of the kitchen-garden. Consequently, Mr
Blake had taken his own horse into the stable, and as he was about
to lead the beast up to the stall, had been stopped and confused by
Sergeant Baggett's protruding wooden leg.

"'Alloa! what's up now?" said a voice, addressing Mr Blake
from under the straw. "Do you go down, old chap, and get us
three-penn'orth of cream o' the valley from the Cock."

Then Mr Blake had been aware that this prior visitor was not in a
condition to be of much use to him, and tied up his own horse in
another stall. But on entering the house, Mr Blake announced the
fact of there being a stranger in the stables, and suggested that the
one-legged gentleman had been looking at somebody taking a glass of
gin. Then Mrs Baggett burst out into a loud screech of agony. "The
nasty drunken beast! he ought to be locked up into the darkest hole
they've got in all Alresford."

"But who is the gentleman?" said Mr Blake.

"My husband, sir; I won't deny him. He is the cross as I have to
carry, and precious heavy he is. You must have heard of Sergeant
Baggett;--the most drunkenest, beastliest, idlest scoundrel as ever
the Queen had in the army, and the most difficultest for a woman
to put up with in the way of a husband! Let a woman be ever so
decent, he'd drink her gowns and her petticoats, down to her very
underclothing. How would you like, sir, to have to take up with such
a beast as that, after living all your life as comfortable as any
lady in the land? Wouldn't that be a come-down, Mr Blake? And then
to have your box locked up, and be told that the key of your bedroom
door is in the master's pocket." Thus Mrs Baggett continued to
bewail her destiny.

Mr Blake having got rid of the old woman, and bethinking himself
of the disagreeable incidents to which a gentleman with a larger
establishment than his own might be liable, made his way into the
sitting-room, where he found Mary Lawrie alone; and having apologised
for the manner of his intrusion, and having said something intended
to be jocose as to the legs of the warrior in the stable, at once
asked a question as to John Gordon.

"Mr Gordon!" said Mary. "He was here this morning with Mr
Whittlestaff, but I know nothing of him since."

"He hasn't gone back to London?"

"I don't know where he has gone. He slept in Alresford last night,
but I know nothing of him since."

"He sent his bag by the boy at the inn down to the railway station
when he came up here. I found his bag there, but heard nothing of
him. They told me at the inn that he was to come up here, and I
thought I should either find him here or meet him on the road."

"Do you want to find him especially?"

"Well, yes."

"Do you know Mr Gordon?"

"Well, yes; I do. That is to say, he dined with me last night. We
were at Oxford together, and yesterday evening we got talking about
our adventures since."

"He told you that he had been at the diamond-fields?"

"Oh, yes; I know all about the diamond-fields. But Mr Hall
particularly wants to see him up at the Park." (Mr Hall was the
squire with four daughters who lived at Little Alresford.) "Mr Hall
says that he knew his father many years ago, and sent me out to look
for him. I shall be wretched if he goes away without coming to Little
Alresford House. He can't go back to London before four o'clock,
because there is no train. You know nothing about his movements?"

"Nothing at all. For some years past Mr Gordon has been altogether a
stranger to me." Mr Blake looked into her face, and was aware that
there was something to distress her. He at once gathered from her
countenance that Mr Whittlestaff had been like the dog that stuck
to his bone, and that John Gordon was like the other dog--the
disappointed one--and had been turned out from the neighbourhood of
the kennel. "I should imagine that Mr Gordon has gone away, if not
to London, then in some other direction." It was clear that the young
lady intended him to understand that she could say nothing and knew
nothing as to Mr Gordon's movements.

"I suppose I must go down to the station and leave word for him
there," said Mr Blake. Miss Lawrie only shook her head. "Mr Hall
will be very sorry to miss him. And then I have some special good
news to tell him."

"Special good news!" Could it be that something had happened which
would induce Mr Whittlestaff to change his mind. That was the one
subject which to her, at the present moment, was capable of meaning
specially good tidings.

"Yes, indeed, Miss Lawrie; double good news, I may say. Old Mr
Harbottle has gone at last at San Remo." Mary did know who Mr
Harbottle was,--or had been. Mr Harbottle had been the vicar at
Little Alresford, for whose death Mr Blake was waiting, in order
that he might enter in together upon the good things of matrimony and
the living. He was a man so contented, and talked so frequently of
the good things which Fortune was to do for him, that the tidings of
his luck had reached even the ears of Mary Lawrie. "That's an odd
way of putting it, of course," continued Mr Blake; "but then he was
quite old and very asthmatic, and couldn't ever come back again. Of
course I'm very sorry for him,--in one way; but then I'm very glad in
another. It is a good thing to have the house in my own hands, so as
to begin to paint at once, ready for her coming. Her father wouldn't
let her be married till I had got the living, and I think he was
right, because I shouldn't have liked to spend money in painting and
such like on an uncertainty. As the old gentleman had to die, why
shouldn't I tell the truth? Of course I am glad, though it does sound
so terrible."

"But what are the double good news?"

"Oh, I didn't tell you. Miss Forrester is to come to the Park. She is
not coming because Mr Harbottle is dead. That's only a coincidence.
We are not going to be married quite at once,--straight off the reel,
you know. I shall have to go to Winchester for that. But now that old
Harbottle has gone, I'll get the day fixed; you see if I don't. But I
must really be off, Miss Lawrie. Mr Hall will be terribly vexed if I
don't find Gordon, and there's no knowing where he may go whilst I'm
talking here." Then he made his adieux, but returned before he had
shut the door after him. "You couldn't send somebody with me, Miss
Lawrie? I shall be afraid of that wooden-legged man in the stables,
for fear he should get up and abuse me. He asked me to get him some
gin,--which was quite unreasonable." But on being assured that he
would find the groom about the place, he went out, and the trot of
his horse was soon heard upon the road.

He did succeed in finding John Gordon, who was listlessly waiting at
the Claimant's Arms for the coming of the four o'clock train which
was to take him back to London, on his way, as he told himself, to
the diamond-fields. He had thrown all his heart, all the energy of
which he was the master, into the manner in which he had pleaded for
himself and for Mary with Mr Whittlestaff. But he felt the weakness
of his position in that he could not remain present upon the ground
and see the working of his words. Having said what he had to say, he
could only go; and it was not to be expected that the eloquence of an
absent man, of one who had declared that he was about to start for
South Africa, should be regarded. He knew that what he had said was
true, and that, being true, it ought to prevail; but, having declared
it, there was nothing for him to do but to go away. He could not see
Mary herself again, nor, if he did so, would she be so likely to
yield to him as was Mr Whittlestaff. He could have no further excuse
for addressing himself to the girl who was about to become the wife
of another man. Therefore he sat restless, idle, and miserable in the
little parlour at the Claimant's Arms, thinking that the long journey
which he had made had been taken all in vain, and that there was
nothing left for him in the world but to return to Kimberley, and add
more diamonds to his stock-in-trade.

"Oh, Gordon!" said Blake, bursting into the room, "you're the very
man I want to find. You can't go back to London to-day."

"Can't I?"

"Quite out of the question. Mr Hall knew your father intimately when
you were only a little chap."

"Will that prevent my going back to London?"

"Certainly it will. He wants to renew the acquaintance. He is a
most hospitable, kind-hearted man; and who knows, one of the four
daughters might do yet."

"Who is Mr Hall?" No doubt he had heard the name on the previous
evening; but Hall is common, and had been forgotten.

"Who is Mr Hall? Why, he is the squire of Little Alresford, and my
patron. I forget you haven't heard that Mr Harbottle is dead at
last. Of course I am very sorry for the old gentleman in one sense;
but it is such a blessing in another. I'm only just thirty, and it's
a grand thing my tumbling into the living in this way."

"I needn't go back because Mr Harbottle is dead."

"But Kattie Forrester is coming to the Park. I told you last night,
but I daresay you've forgotten it; and I couldn't tell then that Mr
Hall was acquainted with you, or that he would be so anxious to be
hospitable. He says that I'm to tell you to take your bag up to the
house at once. There never was anything more civil than that. Of
course I let him know that we had been at Oxford together. That does
go for something."

"The university and your society together," suggested Gordon.

"Don't chaff, because I'm in earnest. Kattie Forrester will be in by
the very train that was to take you on to London, and I'm to wait
and put her into Mr Hall's carriage. One of the daughters, I don't
doubt, will be there, and you can wait and see her if you like it. If
you'll get your bag ready, the coachman will take it with Kattie's
luggage. There's the Park carriage coming down the street now. I'll
go out and stop old Steadypace the coachman; only don't you keep him
long, because I shouldn't like Kattie to find that there was no one
to look after her at the station."

There seemed to be an opening in all this for John Gordon to remain
at any rate a day longer in the neighbourhood of Mary Lawrie, and
he determined that he would avail himself of the opportunity. He
therefore, together with his friend Blake, saw the coachman, and
gave instructions as to finding the bag at the station, and prepared
himself to walk out to the Park. "You can go down to the station," he
said to Blake, "and can ride back with the carriage."

"Of course I shall see you up at the house," said Blake. "Indeed I've
been asked to stay there whilst Kattie is with them. Nothing can be
more hospitable than Mr Hall and his four daughters. I'd give you
some advice, only I really don't know which you'd like the best.
There is a sort of similarity about them; but that wears off when you
come to know them. I have heard people say that the two eldest are
very much alike. If that be so, perhaps you'll like the third the
best. The third is the nicest, as her hair may be a shade darker than
the others. I really must be off now, as I wouldn't for worlds that
the train should come in before I'm on the platform." With that he
went into the yard, and at once trotted off on his cob.

Gordon paid his bill, and started on his walk to Little Alresford
Park. Looking back into his early memories, he could just remember to
have heard his father speak of Mr Hall. But that was all. His father
was now dead, and, certainly, he thought, had not mentioned the
name for many years. But the invitation was civil, and as he was to
remain in the neighbourhood, it might be that he should again have an
opportunity of seeing Mary Lawrie or Mr Whittlestaff. He found that
Little Alresford Park lay between the town and Mr Blake's church,
so that he was at the gate sooner than he expected. He went in, and
having time on his hands, deviated from the road and went up a hill,
which was indeed one of the downs, though between the park paling.
Here he saw deer feeding, and he came after a while to a beech grove.
He had now gone down the hill on the other side, and found himself
close to as pretty a labourer's cottage as he remembered ever to have
seen. It was still June, and it was hot, and he had been on his legs
nearly the whole morning. Then he began to talk, or rather to think
to himself. "What a happy fellow is that man Montagu Blake! He
has every thing,--not that he wants, but that he thinks that he
wants. The work of his life is merely play. He is going to marry a
wife,--not who is, but whom he thinks to be perfection. He looks as
though he were never ill a day in his life. How would he do if he
were grubbing for diamonds amidst the mud and dust of Kimberley?
Instead of that, he can throw himself down on such a spot as this,
and meditate his sermon among the beech-trees." Then he began to
think whether the sermon could be made to have some flavour of the
beech-trees, and how much better in that case it would be, and as he
so thought he fell asleep.

He had not been asleep very long, perhaps not five minutes, when he
became aware in his slumbers that an old man was standing over him.
One does thus become conscious of things before the moment of waking
has arrived, so positively as to give to the sleeper a false sense of
the reality of existence. "I wonder whether you can be Mr Gordon,"
said the old man.

"But I am," said Gordon. "I wonder how you know me."

"Because I expect you." There was something very mysterious
in this,--which, however, lost all mystery as soon as he was
sufficiently awake to think of things. "You are Mr Blake's friend."

"Yes; I am Mr Blake's friend."

"And I am Mr Hall. I didn't expect to find you sleeping here in Gar
Wood. But when I find a strange gentleman asleep in Gar Wood, I put
two and two together, and conclude that you must be Mr Gordon."

"It's the prettiest place in all the world, I think."

"Yes; we are rather proud of Gar Wood,--especially when the deer are
browsing on the hill-side to the left, as they are now. If you don't
want to go to sleep again, we'll walk up to the house. There's the
carriage. I can hear the wheels. The girls have gone down to fetch
your friend's bride. Mr Blake is very fond of his bride,--as I dare
say you have found out."

Then, as the two walked together to the house, Mr Hall explained
that there had been some little difference in years gone by between
old Mr Gordon and himself as to money. "I was very sorry, but I had
to look after myself. You knew nothing about it, I dare say."

"I have heard your name--that's all."

"I need not say anything more about it," said Mr Hall; "only when
I heard that you were in the country, I was very glad to have the
opportunity of seeing you. Blake tells me that you know my friend
Whittlestaff."

"I did not know him till yesterday morning."

"Then you know the young lady there; a charming young lady she is. My
girls are extremely fond of Mary Lawrie. I hope we may get them to
come over while you are staying here."

"I can only remain one night,--or at the most two, Mr Hall."

"Pooh, pooh! We have other places in the neighbourhood to show you
quite as pretty as Gar Wood. Though that's a bounce: I don't think
there is any morsel quite so choice as Gar Wood when the deer are
there. What an eye you must have, Mr Gordon, to have made it out by
yourself at once; but then, after all, it only put you to sleep. I
wonder whether the Rookery will put you to sleep. We go in this way,
so as to escape the formality of the front door, and I'll introduce
you to my daughters and Miss Forrester."



VOLUME II.

CHAPTER XIII.

AT LITTLE ALRESFORD.


Mr Hall was a pleasant English gentleman, now verging upon seventy
years of age, who had "never had a headache in his life," as he was
wont to boast, but who lived very carefully, as one who did not
intend to have many headaches. He certainly did not intend to make
his head ache by the cares of the work of the world. He was very well
off;--that is to say, that with so many thousands a year, he managed
to live upon half. This he had done for very many years, because
the estate was entailed on a distant relative, and because he had
not chosen to leave his children paupers. When the girls came he
immediately resolved that he would never go up to London,--and kept
his resolve. Not above once in three or four years was it supposed to
be necessary that he showed his head to a London hairdresser. He was
quite content to have a practitioner out from Alresford, and to pay
him one shilling, including the journey. His tenants in these bad
times had always paid their rents, but they had done so because
their rents had not been raised since the squire had come to the
throne. Mr Hall knew well that if he was anxious to save himself from
headaches in that line, he had better let his lands on easy terms. He
was very hospitable, but he never gave turtle from London, or fish
from Southampton, or strawberries or peas on the first of April. He
could give a dinner without champagne, and thought forty shillings
a dozen price enough for port or sherry, or even claret. He kept a
carriage for his four daughters, and did not tell all the world that
the horses spent a fair proportion of their time at the plough. The
four daughters had two saddle-horses between them, and the father had
another for his own use. He did not hunt,--and living in that part
of Hampshire, I think he was right. He did shoot after the manner
of our forefathers;--would go out, for instance, with Mr Blake, and
perhaps Mr Whittlestaff, and would bring home three pheasants, four
partridges, a hare, and any quantity of rabbits that the cook might
have ordered. He was a man determined on no account to live beyond
his means; and was not very anxious to seem to be rich. He was a man
of no strong affections, or peculiarly generous feelings. Those who
knew him, and did not like him, said that he was selfish. They who
were partial to him declared that he never owed a shilling that he
could not pay, and that his daughters were very happy in having such
a father. He was a good-looking man, with well-formed features, but
one whom you had to see often before you could remember him. And as
I have said before, he "never had a headache in his life." "When
your father wasn't doing quite so well with the bank as his friends
wished, he asked me to do something for him. Well; I didn't see my
way."

"I was a boy then, and I heard nothing of my father's business."

"I dare say not; but I cannot help telling you. He thought I
was unkind. I thought that he would go on from one trouble to
another;--and he did. He quarrelled with me, and for years we
never spoke. Indeed I never saw him again. But for the sake of old
friendship, I am very glad to meet you." This he said, as he was
walking across the hall to the drawing-room.

There Gordon met the young ladies with the clergyman, and had to
undergo the necessary introductions. He thought that he could
perceive at once that his story, as it regarded Mary Lawrie, had
been told to all of them. Gordon was quick, and could learn from the
manners of his companions what had been said about him, and could
perceive that they were aware of something of his story. Blake had no
such quickness, and could attribute none of it to another. "I am very
proud to have the pleasure of making you acquainted with these five
young ladies." As he said this he had just paused in his narrative
of Mr Whittlestaff's love, and was certain that he had changed the
conversation with great effect. But the young ladies were unable not
to look as young ladies would have looked when hearing the story of
an unfortunate gentleman's love. And Mr Blake would certainly have
been unable to keep such a secret.

"This is Miss Hall, and this is Miss Augusta Hall," said the father.
"People do think that they are alike."

"Oh, papa, what nonsense! You needn't tell Mr Gordon that."

"No doubt he would find it out without telling," continued the
father.

"I can't see it, for the life of me," said Mr Blake. He evidently
thought that civility demanded such an assertion. Mr Gordon, looking
at the two young ladies, felt that he would never know them apart
though he might live in the house for a year.

"Evelina is the third," continued Mr Hall, pointing out the one whom
Mr Blake had specially recommended to his friend's notice. "Evelina
is not quite so like, but she's like too."

"Papa, what nonsense you do talk!" said Evelina.

"And this is Mary. Mary considers herself to be quite the hope of the
family; _spem gregis_. Ha, ha!"

"What does _spem gregis_ mean? I'm sure I don't know," said Mary.
The four young ladies were about thirty, varying up from thirty to
thirty-five. They were fair-haired, healthy young women, with good
common-sense, not beautiful, though very like their father.

"And now I must introduce you to Miss Forrester,--Kattie Forrester,"
said Mr Blake, who was beginning to think that his own young lady
was being left out in the cold.

"Yes, indeed," said Mr Hall. "As I had begun with my own, I was
obliged to go on to the end. Miss Forrester--Mr Gordon. Miss
Forrester is a young lady whose promotion has been fixed in the
world."

"Mr Hall, how can you do me so much injury as to say that? You take
away from me the chance of changing my mind."

"Yes," said the oldest Miss Hall; "and Mr Gordon the possibility of
changing his. Mr Gordon, what a sad thing it is that Mr Harbottle
should never have had an opportunity of seeing his old parish once
again."

"I never knew him," said Gordon.

"But he had been here nearly fifty years. And then to leave the
parish without seeing it any more. It's very sad when you look at it
in that light."

"He has never resided here permanently for a quarter of a century,"
said Mr Blake.

"Off and on in the summer time," said Augusta. "Of course he could
not take much of the duty, because he had a clergyman's throat. I
think it a great pity that he should have gone off so suddenly."

"Miss Forrester won't wish to have his _resurgam_ sung, I warrant
you," said Mr Hall.

"I don't know much about _resurgams_," said the young lady, "but I
don't see why the parish shall not be just as well in Mr Blake's
hands." Then the young bride was taken away by the four elder ladies
to dress, and the gentlemen followed them half an hour afterwards.

They were all very kind to him, and sitting after dinner, Mr Hall
suggested that Mr Whittlestaff and Miss Lawrie should be asked over
to dine on the next day. John Gordon had already promised to stay
until the third, and had made known his intention of going back to
South Africa as soon as he could arrange matters. "I've got nothing
to keep me here," he said, "and as there is a good deal of money at
stake, I should be glad to be there as soon as possible."

"Oh, come! I don't know about your having nothing to keep you
here," said Blake. But as to Mr Hall's proposition regarding the
inhabitants of Croker's Lodge, Gordon said nothing. He could not
object to the guests whom a gentleman might ask to his own house; but
he thought it improbable that either Mr Whittlestaff or Mary should
come. If he chose to appear and to bring her with him, it must be his
own look-out. At any rate he, Gordon, could say and could do nothing
on such an occasion. He had been betrayed into telling his secret to
this garrulous young parson. There was no help for spilt milk; but it
was not probable that Mr Blake would go any further, and he at any
rate must be content to bear the man's society for one other evening.
"I don't see why you shouldn't manage to make things pleasant even
yet," said the parson. But to this John Gordon made no reply.

In the evening some of the sisters played a few pieces at the piano,
and Miss Forrester sang a few songs. Mr Hall in the meantime went
fast asleep. John Gordon couldn't but tell himself that his evenings
at Kimberley were, as a rule, quite as exciting. But then Kattie
Forrester did not belong to him, and he had not found himself able
as yet to make a choice between the young ladies. It was, however,
interesting to see the manner in which the new vicar hung about the
lady of his love, and the evident but innocent pride with which she
accepted the attentions of her admirer.

"Don't you think she's a beautiful girl?" said Blake, coming
to Gordon's room after they had all retired to bed; "such
genuine wit, and so bright, and her singing, you know, is quite
perfect,--absolutely just what it ought to be. I do know something
about singing myself, because I've had all the parish voices under my
own charge for the last three years. A practice like that goes a long
way, you know." To this Mr Gordon could only give that assent which
silence is intended to imply. "She'll have £5000 at once, you know,
which does make her in a manner equal to either of the Miss Halls. I
don't quite know what they'll have, but not more than that, I should
think. The property is entailed, and he's a saving man. But if he can
have put by £20,000, he has done very well; don't you think so?"

"Very well indeed."

"I suppose I might have had one of them; I don't mind telling you in
strictest confidence. But, goodness gracious, after I had once seen
Kattie Forrester, there was no longer a doubt. I wish you'd tell me
what you think about her."

"About Miss Forrester?"

"You needn't mind speaking quite openly to me. I'm that sort of
fellow that I shouldn't mind what any fellow said. I've formed my
own ideas, and am not likely to change them. But I should like
to hear, you know, how she strikes a fellow who has been at the
diamond-fields. I cannot imagine but that you must have a different
idea about women to what we have." Then Mr Blake sat himself down in
an arm-chair at the foot of the bed, and prepared himself to discuss
the opinion which he did not doubt that his friend was about to
deliver.

"A very nice young woman indeed," said John Gordon, who was anxious
to go to bed.

"Ah, you know,--that's a kind of thing that anybody can say. There
is no real friendship in that. I want to know the true candid
opinion of a man who has travelled about the world, and has been
at the diamond-fields. It isn't everybody who has been at the
diamond-fields," continued he, thinking that he might thereby flatter
his friend.

"No, not everybody. I suppose a young woman is the same there as
here, if she have the same natural gifts. Miss Forrester would be
pretty anywhere."

"That's a matter of course. Any fellow can see that with half an eye.
Absolutely beautiful, I should say, rather than pretty."

"Just so. It's only a variation in terms, you know."

"But then her manner, her music, her language, her wit, and the
colour of her hair! When I remember it all, I think I'm the luckiest
fellow in the world. I shall be a deal happier with her than with
Augusta Hall. Don't you think so? Augusta was the one intended for
me; but, bless you, I couldn't look at her after I had seen Kattie
Forrester. I don't think you've given me your true unbiassed opinion
yet."

"Indeed I have," said John Gordon.

"Well; I should be more free-spoken than that, if you were to ask
me about Mary Lawrie. But then, of course, Mary Lawrie is not your
engaged one. It does make a difference. If it does turn out that she
marries Mr Whittlestaff, I shan't think much of her, I can tell you
that. As it is, as far as looks are concerned, you can't compare her
to my Kattie."

"Comparisons are odious," said Gordon.

"Well, yes; when you are sure to get the worst of them. You wouldn't
think comparisons odious if you were going to marry Kattie, and it
was my lot to have Mary Lawrie. Well, yes; I don't mind going to bed
now, as you have owned so much as that."

"Of all the fools," said Gordon to himself, as he went to his own
chamber,--"of all the fools who were ever turned out in the world to
earn their own bread, he is the most utterly foolish. Yet he will
earn his bread, and will come to no especial grief in the work. If
he were to go out to Kimberley, no one would pay him a guinea a-week.
But he will perform the high work of a clergyman of the Church of
England indifferently well."

On the next morning a messenger was sent over to Croker's Hall, and
came back after due lapse of time with an answer to the effect that
Mr Whittlestaff and Miss Lawrie would have pleasure in dining that
day at Little Alresford Park. "That's right," said Mr Blake to the
lady of his love. "We shall now, perhaps, be able to put the thing
into a proper groove. I'm always very lucky in managing such matters.
Not that I think that Gordon cares very much about the young lady,
judging from what he says of her."

"Then I don't see why you should interest yourself."

"For the young lady's sake. A lady always prefers a young gentleman
to an old one. Only think what you'd feel if you were married to Mr
Whittlestaff."

"Oh, Montagu! how can you talk such nonsense?"

"I don't suppose you ever would, because you are not one of those
sort of young ladies. I don't suppose that Mary Lawrie likes it
herself; and therefore I'd break the match off in a moment if I
could. That's what I call good-natured."

After lunch they all went off to the Rookery, which was at the other
side of the park from Gar Wood. It was a beautiful spot, lying at
the end of the valley, through which they had to get out from their
carriage, and to walk for half a mile. Only for the sake of doing
honour to Miss Forrester, they would have gone on foot. But as it
was, they had all the six horses among them. Mr Gordon was put up
on one of the young ladies' steeds, the squire and the parson each
had his own, and Miss Evelina was also mounted, as Mr Blake had
suggested, perhaps with the view to the capture of Mr Gordon. "As
it's your first day," whispered Mr Blake to Kattie, "it is so nice,
I think, that the carriage and horses should all come out. Of course
there is nothing in the distance, but there should be a respect shown
on such an occasion. Mr Hall does do everything of this kind just as
it should be."

"I suppose you know the young lady who is coming here to-night," said
Evelina to Mr Gordon.

"Oh, yes; I knew her before I went abroad."

"But not Mr Whittlestaff?"

"I had never met Mr Whittlestaff, though I had heard much of his
goodness."

"And now they are to be married. Does it not seem to you to be very
hard?"

"Not in the least. The young lady seems to have been left by her
father and step-mother without any engagement, and, indeed, without
any provision. She was brought here, in the first place, from sheer
charity, and I can certainly understand that when she was here Mr
Whittlestaff should have admired her."

"That's a matter of course," said Evelina.

"Mr Whittlestaff is not at all too old to fall in love with any
young lady. This is a pretty place,--a very lovely spot. I think I
like it almost better than Gar Wood." Then there was no more said
about Mary Lawrie till they all rode back to dinner.



CHAPTER XIV.

MR WHITTLESTAFF IS GOING OUT TO DINNER.


"There's an invitation come, asking us to dine at Little Alresford
to-day." This was said, soon after breakfast, by Mr Whittlestaff to
Mary Lawrie, on the day after Mr Gordon's coming. "I think we'll
go."

"Could you not leave me behind?"

"By no means. I want you to become intimate with the girls, who are
good girls."

"But Mr Gordon is there."

"Exactly. That is just what I want. It will be better that you and
he should meet each other, without the necessity of making a scene."
From this it may be understood that Mr Whittlestaff had explained to
Mary as much as he had thought necessary of what had occurred between
him and John Gordon, and that Mary's answers had been satisfactory
to his feelings. Mary had told him that she was contented with her
lot in life, as Mr Whittlestaff had proposed it for her. She had
not been enthusiastic; but then he had not expected it. She had not
assured him that she would forget John Gordon. He had not asked her.
She had simply said that if he were satisfied,--so was she. "I think
that with me, dearest, at any rate, you will be safe." "I am quite
sure that I shall be safe," she had answered. And that had been
sufficient.

But the reader will also understand from this that he had sought for
no answer to those burning questions which John Gordon had put to
him. Had she loved John Gordon the longest? Did she love him the
best? There was no doubt a certain cautious selfishness in the way
in which he had gone to work. And yet of general selfishness it was
impossible to accuse him. He was willing to give her everything,--to
do all for her. And he had first asked her to be his wife, with every
observance. And then he could always protect himself on the plea that
he was doing the best he could for her. His property was assured,--in
the three per cents, as Mrs Baggett had suggested; whereas John
Gordon's was all in diamonds. How frequently do diamonds melt and
come to nothing? They are things which a man can carry in his pocket,
and lose or give away. They cannot,--so thought Mr Whittlestaff,--be
settled in the hands of trustees, or left to the charge of an
executor. They cannot be substantiated. Who can say that, when
looking to a lady's interest, this bit of glass may not come up
instead of that precious stone? "John Gordon might be a very steady
fellow; but we have only his own word for that,"--as Mr Whittlestaff
observed to himself. There could not be a doubt but that Mr
Whittlestaff himself was the safer staff of the two on which a young
lady might lean. He did make all these excuses for himself, and
determined that they were of such a nature that he might rely upon
them with safety. But still there was a pang in his bosom--a silent
secret--which kept on whispering to him that he was not the best
beloved. He had, however, resolved steadfastly that he would not
put that question to Mary. If she did not wish to declare her love,
neither did he. It was a pity, a thousand pities, that it should be
so. A change in her heart might, however, take place. It would come
to pass that she would learn that he was the superior staff on which
to lean. John Gordon might disappear among the diamond-fields, and no
more be heard of. He, at any rate, would do his best for her, so that
she should not repent her bargain. But he was determined that the
bargain, as it had been struck, should be carried out. Therefore,
in communicating to Mary the invitation which he had received from
Little Alresford, he did not find it necessary to make any special
speech in answer to her inquiry about John Gordon.

She understood it all, and could not in her very heart pronounce
a judgment against him. She knew that he was doing that which he
believed would be the best for her welfare. She, overwhelmed by the
debt of her gratitude, had acceded to his request, and had been
unable afterwards to depart from her word. She had said that it
should be so, and she could not then turn upon him and declare that
when she had given him her hand, she had been unaware of the presence
of her other lover. There was an injustice, an unkindness, an
ingratitude, a selfishness in this, which forbade her to think of
it as being done by herself. It was better for her that she should
suffer, though the suffering should be through her whole life,
than that he should be disappointed. No doubt the man would suffer
too,--her hero, her lover,--he with whom she would so willingly have
risked everything, either with or without the diamonds. She could
not, however, bear to think that Mr Whittlestaff should be so very
prudent and so very wise solely on her behalf. She would go to him,
but for other reasons than that. As she walked about the place half
the day, up and down the long walk, she told herself that it was
useless to contend with her love. She did love John Gordon; she knew
that she loved him with her whole heart; she knew that she must be
true to him;--but still she would marry Mr Whittlestaff, and do her
duty in that state of life to which it had pleased God to call her.
There would be a sacrifice--a sacrifice of two--but still it was
justice.

Had she not consented to take everything from Mr Whittlestaff; her
bread, her meat, her raiment, the shelter under which she lived, and
the position in the world which she now enjoyed? Had the man come but
a day earlier, it would all have been well. She would have told her
love before Mr Whittlestaff had spoken of his wants. Circumstances
had been arranged differently, and she must bear it. But she knew
that it would be better for her that she should see John Gordon
no more. Had he started at once to London and gone thence to the
diamond-fields without seeing her again there would be a feeling that
she had become the creature of stern necessity; there would have been
no hope for her,--as also no fear. Had he started a second time for
South Africa, she would have looked upon his further return with
any reference to her own wants as a thing impossible. But now how
would it be with her? Mr Whittlestaff had told her with a stern
indifference that she must again meet this man, sit at the table with
him as an old friend, and be again subject to his influence. "It will
be better that you and he should meet," he had said, "without the
necessity of making a scene." How could she assure him that there
would be no scene?

Then she thought that she would have recourse to that ordinary
feminine excuse, a headache; but were she to do so she would own the
whole truth to her master; she would have declared that she so loved
the man that she could not endure to be in his presence. She must
now let the matter pass as he had intended. She must go to Mr Hall's
house, and there encounter him she loved with what show of coldness
she might be able to assume.

But the worst of it all lay in this,--that she could not but think
that he had been induced to remain in the neighbourhood in order that
he might again try to gain his point. She had told herself again
and again that it was impossible, that she must decide as she had
decided, and that Mr Whittlestaff had decided so also. He had used
what eloquence was within his reach, and it had been all in vain.
He could now appeal only to herself, and to such appeal there could
be but one answer. And how was such appeal to be made in Mr Hall's
drawing-room? Surely John Gordon had been foolish in remaining in the
neighbourhood. Nothing but trouble could come of it.

"So you are going to see this young man again!" This came from Mrs
Baggett, who had been in great perturbation all the morning. The
Sergeant had slept in the stables through the night, and had had his
breakfast brought to him, warm, by his own wife; but he had sat up
among the straw, and had winked at her, and had asked her to give him
threepence of gin with the cat-lap. To this she had acceded, thinking
probably that she could not altogether deprive him of the food to
which he was accustomed without injury. Then, under the influence
of the gin and the promise of a ticket to Portsmouth, which she
undertook to get for him at the station, he was induced to go down
with her, and was absolutely despatched. Her own box was still locked
up, and she had slept with one of the two maids. All this had not
happened without great disturbance in the household. She herself was
very angry with her master because of the box; she was very angry
with Mary, because Mary was, she thought, averse to her old lover;
she was very angry with Mr Gordon, because she well understood that
Mr Gordon was anxious to disturb the arrangement which had been made
for the family. She was very angry with her husband, not because he
was generally a drunken old reprobate, but because he had especially
disgraced her on the present occasion by the noise which he had made
in the road. No doubt she had been treated unfairly in the matter of
the box, and could have succeeded in getting the law of her master.
But she could not turn against her master in that way. She could give
him a bit of her own mind, and that she did very freely; but she
could not bring herself to break the lock of his door. And then, as
things went now, she did think it well that she should remain a few
days longer at Croker's Hall. The occasion of her master's marriage
was to be the cause of her going away. She could not endure not to be
foremost among all the women at Croker's Hall. But it was intolerable
to her feelings that any one should interfere with her master; and
she thought that, if need were, she could assist him by her tongue.
Therefore she was disposed to remain yet a few days in her old place,
and had come, after she had got the ticket for her husband,--which
had been done before Mr Whittlestaff's breakfast,--to inform her
master of her determination. "Don't be a fool," Mr Whittlestaff had
said.

"I'm always a fool, whether I go or stay, so that don't much matter."
This had been her answer, and then she had gone in to scold the
maids.

As soon as she had heard of the intended dinner-party, she attacked
Mary Lawrie. "So you're going to see this young man again?"

"Mr Whittlestaff is going to dine at Little Alresford, and intends
to take me with him."

"Oh yes; that's all very well. He'd have left you behind if he'd
been of my way of thinking. Mr Gordon here, and Mr Gordon there! I
wonder what's Mr Gordon! He ain't no better than an ordinary miner.
Coals and diamonds is all one to me;--I'd rather have the coals for
choice." But Mary was not in a humour to contest the matter with Mrs
Baggett, and left the old woman the mistress of the field.

When the time arrived for going to the dinner, Mr Whittlestaff took
Mary in the pony carriage with him. "There is always a groom about
there," he said, "so we need not take the boy." His object was, as
Mary in part understood, that he should be able to speak what last
words he might have to utter without having other ears than hers to
listen to them.

Mary would have been surprised had she known how much painful thought
Mr Whittlestaff gave to the matter. To her it seemed as though he
had made up his mind without any effort, and was determined to abide
by it. He had thought it well to marry her; and having asked her,
and having obtained her consent, he intended to take advantage of
her promise. That was her idea of Mr Whittlestaff, as to which she
did not at all blame him. But he was, in truth, changing his purpose
every quarter of an hour;--or not changing it, but thinking again and
again throughout the entire day whether he would not abandon himself
and all his happiness to the romantic idea of making this girl
supremely happy. Were he to do so, he must give up everything. The
world would have nothing left for him as to which he could feel the
slightest interest. There came upon him at such moments insane ideas
as to the amount of sacrifice which would be demanded of him. She
should have everything--his house, his fortune; and he, John Gordon,
as being a part of her, should have them also. He, Whittlestaff,
would abolish himself as far as such abolition might be possible.
The idea of suicide was abominable to him--was wicked, cowardly, and
inhuman. But if this were to take place he could wish to cease to
live. Then he would comfort himself by assuring himself again and
again that of the two he would certainly make the better husband. He
was older. Yes; it was a pity that he should be so much the elder.
And he knew that he was old of his age,--such a one as a girl like
Mary Lawrie could hardly be brought to love passionately. He brought
up against himself all the hard facts as sternly as could any younger
rival. He looked at himself in the glass over and over again, and
always gave the verdict against his own appearance. There was nothing
to recommend him. So he told himself,--judging of himself most
unfairly. He set against himself as evils little points by which
Mary's mind and Mary's judgment would never be affected. But in truth
throughout it all he thought only of her welfare. But there came upon
him constantly an idea that he hardly knew how to be as good to her
as he would have been had it not been for Catherine Bailey. To have
attempted twice, and twice to have failed so disastrously! He was a
man to whom to have failed once in such a matter was almost death.
How should he bear it twice and still live? Nevertheless he did
endeavour to think only of her welfare. "You won't find it cold, my
dear?" he said.

"Cold! Why, Mr Whittlestaff, it's quite hot."

"I meant hot. I did mean to say hot."

"I've got my parasol."

"Oh!--ah!--yes; so I perceive. Go on, Tommy. That foolish old woman
will settle down at last, I think." To this Mary could make no
answer, because, according to her ideas, Mrs Baggett's settling down
must depend on her master's marriage. "I think it very civil of Mr
Hall asking us in this way."

"I suppose it is."

"Because you may be sure he had heard of your former acquaintance
with him."

"Do you think so?"

"Not a doubt about it. He said as much to me in his note. That young
clergyman of his will have told him everything. 'Percontatorem fugito
nam garrulus idem est.' I've taught you Latin enough to understand
that. But, Mary, if you wish to change your mind, this will be your
last opportunity." His heart at that moment had been very tender
towards her, and she had resolved that hers should be very firm to
him.



CHAPTER XV.

MR WHITTLESTAFF GOES OUT TO DINNER.


This would be her last opportunity. So Mary told herself as she got
out of the carriage at Mr Hall's front door. It was made manifest to
her by such a speech that he did not expect that she should do so,
but looked upon her doing so as within the verge of possibility. She
could still do it, and yet not encounter his disgust or his horror.
How terrible was the importance to herself, and, as she believed, to
the other man also. Was she not justified in so thinking? Mr Gordon
had come home, travelling a great distance, at much risk to his
property, at great loss of time, through infinite trouble and danger,
merely to ask her to be his wife. Had a letter reached her from him
but a week ago bidding her to come, would she not have gone through
all the danger and all the trouble? How willingly would she have
gone! It was the one thing that she desired; and, as far as she could
understand the signs which he had given, it was the one, one thing
which he desired. He had made his appeal to that other man, and, as
far as she could understand the signs which had reached her, had been
referred with confidence to her decision. Now she was told that the
chance of changing her mind was still in her power.

The matter was one of terrible importance; but was its importance
to Mr Whittlestaff as great as to John Gordon? She put herself
altogether out of the question. She acknowledged to herself, with a
false humility, that she was nobody;--she was a poor woman living on
charity, and was not to be thought of when the position of these two
men was taken into consideration. It chanced that they both wanted
her. Which wanted the most? Which of the two would want her for the
longest? To which would her services be of the greater avail in
assisting him to his happiness. Could there be a doubt? Was it not
in human nature that she should bind herself to the younger man, and
with him go through the world, whether safely or in danger?

But though she had had time to allow these questions to pass through
her mind between the utterance of Mr Whittlestaff's words and her
entrance into Mr Hall's drawing-room, she did not in truth doubt.
She knew that she had made up her mind on the matter. Mr Gordon
would in all probability have no opportunity of saying another word
to her. But let him say what word he might, it should be in vain.
Nothing that he could say, nothing that she could say, would avail
anything. If this other man would release her,--then indeed she would
be released. But there was no chance of such release coming. In
truth, Mary did not know how near the chance was to her;--or rather,
how near the chance had been. He had now positively made up his mind,
and would say not a word further unless she asked him. If Mary said
nothing to John Gordon on this evening, he would take an opportunity
before they left the house to inform Mr Hall of his intended
marriage. When once the word should have passed his mouth, he could
not live under the stigma of a second Catherine Bailey.

"Miss Lawrie, pray let me make you known to my intended." This came
from Mr Montagu Blake, who felt himself to be justified by his
peculiar circumstances in so far taking upon himself the work of
introducing the guests in Mr Hall's house. "Of course, you've heard
all about it. I am the happiest young man in Hampshire,--and she is
the next."

"Speak for yourself, Montagu. I am not a young man at all."

"You're a young man's darling, which is the next thing to it."

"How are you, Whittlestaff?" said Mr Hall. "Wonderful weather, isn't
it? I'm told that you've been in trouble about that drunken husband
which plagues the life out of that respectable housekeeper of yours."

"He is a trouble; but if he is bad to me, how much worse must he be
to her?"

"That's true. He must be very bad, I should think. Miss Mary, why
don't you come over this fine weather, and have tea with my girls and
Kattie Forrester in the woods? You should take your chance while you
have a young man willing to wait upon you."

"I shall be quite delighted," said Blake, "and so will John Gordon."

"Only that I shall be in London this time to-morrow," said Gordon.

"That's nonsense. You are not going to Kimberley all at once. The
young ladies expect you to bring out a lot of diamonds and show them
before you start. Have you seen his diamonds, Miss Lawrie?"

"Indeed no," said Mary.

"I think I should have asked just to see them," said Evelina Hall.
Why should they join her name with his in this uncivil manner, or
suppose that she had any special power to induce him to show his
treasures.

"When you first find a diamond," said Mr Hall, "what do you do with
it? Do you ring a bell and call together your friends, and begin to
rejoice."

"No, indeed. The diamond is generally washed out of the mud by some
nigger, and we have to look very sharp after him to see that he
doesn't hide it under his toe-nails. It's not a very romantic kind of
business from first to last."

"Only profitable," said the curate.

"That's as may be. It is subject to greater losses than the preaching
of sermons."

"I should like to go out and see it all," said Miss Hall, looking
into Miss Lawrie's face. This also appeared to Mary to be
ill-natured.

Then the butler announced the dinner, and they all followed Mr Hall
and the curate's bride out of one room into the other. "This young
lady," said he, "is supposed to be in the ascendant just at the
present moment. She can't be married above two or three times at the
most. I say this to excuse myself to Miss Lawrie, who ought perhaps
to have the post of honour." To this some joking reply was made,
and they all sat down to their dinner. Miss Lawrie was at Mr Hall's
left hand, and at her left hand John Gordon was seated. Mary could
perceive that everything was arranged so as to throw herself and John
Gordon together,--as though they had some special interest in each
other. Of all this Mr Whittlestaff saw nothing. But John Gordon did
perceive something, and told himself that that ass Blake had been at
work. But his perceptions in the matter were not half as sharp as
those of Mary Lawrie.

"I used to be very fond of your father, Gordon," said Mr Hall, when
the dinner was half over. "It's all done and gone now. Dear, dear,
dear!"

"He was an unfortunate man, and perhaps expected too much from his
friends."

"I am very glad to see his son here, at any rate. I wish you were not
going to settle down so far away from us."

"Kimberley is a long way off."

"Yes, indeed; and when a fellow gets out there he is apt to stay, I
suppose."

"I shall do so, probably. I have nobody near enough to me here at
home to make it likely that I shall come back."

"You have uncles and aunts?" said Mr Hall.

"One uncle and two aunts. I shall suit their views and my cousins'
better by sending home some diamonds than by coming myself."

"How long will that take?" asked Mr Hall. The conversation was kept
up solely between Mr Hall and John Gordon. Mr Whittlestaff took no
share in it unless when he was asked a question, and the four girls
kept up a whisper with Miss Forrester and Montagu Blake.

"I have a share in rather a good thing," said Gordon; "and if I could
get out of it so as to realise my property, I think that six months
might suffice."

"Oh, dear! Then we may have you back again before the year's out?"
Mr Whittlestaff looked up at this, as though apprised that the
danger was not yet over. But he reflected that before twelve months
were gone he would certainly have made Mary Lawrie his wife.

"Kimberley is not a very alluring place," said John Gordon. "I don't
know any spot on God's earth that I should be less likely to choose
as my abiding resting-place."

"Except for the diamonds."

"Except for the diamonds, as you remark. And therefore when a man has
got his fill of diamonds, he is likely to leave."

"His fill of diamonds!" said Augusta Hall.

"Shouldn't you like to try your fill of diamonds?" asked Blake.

"Not at all," said Evelina. "I'd rather have strawberries and cream."

"I think I should like diamonds best," said Mary. Whereupon Evelina
suggested that her younger sister was a greedy little creature.

"As soon as you've got your fill of diamonds, which won't take
more than six months longer," suggested Mr Hall, "you'll come back
again?"

"Not exactly. I have an idea of going up the country across the
Zambesi. I've a notion that I should like to make my way out
somewhere in the Mediterranean,--Egypt, for instance, or Algiers."

"What!--across the equator? You'd never do that alive?"

"Things of that kind have been done. Stanley crossed the continent."

"But not from south to north. I don't believe in that. You had better
remain at Kimberley and get more diamonds."

"He'd be with diamonds like the boy with the bacon," said the
clergyman; "when prepared for another wish, he'd have more than he
could eat."

"To tell the truth," said John Gordon, "I don't quite know what I
should do. It would depend perhaps on what somebody else would join
me in doing. My life was very lonely at Kimberley, and I do not love
being alone."

"Then, why don't you take a wife?" said Montagu Blake, very loudly,
as though he had hit the target right in the bull's-eye. He so spoke
as to bring the conversation to an abrupt end. Mr Whittlestaff
immediately looked conscious. He was a man who, on such an occasion,
could not look otherwise than conscious. And the five girls, with all
of whom the question of the loves of John Gordon and Mary Lawrie had
been fully discussed, looked conscious. Mary Lawrie was painfully
conscious; but endeavoured to hide it, not unsuccessfully. But in
her endeavour she had to look unnaturally stern,--and was conscious,
too, that she did that. Mr Hall, whose feelings of romance were not
perhaps of the highest order, looked round on Mr Whittlestaff and
Mary Lawrie. Montagu Blake felt that he had achieved a triumph.
"Yes," said he, "if those are your feelings, why don't you take a
wife?"

"One man may not be so happy as another," said Gordon, laughing. "You
have suited yourself admirably, and seem to think it quite easy for a
man to make a selection."

"Not quite such a selection as mine, perhaps," said Blake.

"Then think of the difficulty. Do you suppose that any second Miss
Forrester would dream of going to the diamond-fields with me?"

"Perhaps not," said Blake. "Not a second Miss Forrester--but somebody
else."

"Something inferior?"

"Well--yes; inferior to my Miss Forrester, certainly."

"You are the most conceited young man that I ever came across," said
the young lady herself.

"And I am not inclined to put up with anything that is very
inferior," said John Gordon. He could not help his eye from glancing
for a moment round upon Mary Lawrie. She was aware of it, though no
one else noticed it in the room. She was aware of it, though any one
watching her would have said that she had never looked at him.

"A man may always find a woman to suit him, if he looks well
about him," said Mr Hall, sententiously. "Don't you think so,
Whittlestaff?"

"I dare say he may," said Mr Whittlestaff, very flatly. And as he
said so he made up his mind that he would, for that day, postpone the
task of telling Mr Hall of his intended marriage.

The evening passed by, and the time came for Mr Whittlestaff to
drive Miss Lawrie back to Croker's Hall. She had certainly spent a
most uneventful period, as far as action or even words of her own was
concerned. But the afternoon was one which she would never forget.
She had been quite, quite sure, when she came into the house; but she
was more than sure now. At every word that had been spoken she had
thought of herself and of him. Would he not have known how to have
chosen a fit companion,--only for this great misfortune? And would
she have been so much inferior to Miss Forrester? Would he have
thought her inferior to any one? Would he not have preferred her to
any other female whom the world had at the present moment produced?
Oh, the pity of it; the pity of it!

Then came the bidding of adieu. Gordon was to sleep at Little
Alresford that night, and to take his departure by early train on the
next morning. Of the adieux spoken the next morning we need take no
notice, but only of the word or two uttered that night. "Good-bye,
Mr Gordon," said Mr Whittlestaff, having taken courage for the
occasion, and having thought even of the necessary syllables to be
spoken.

"Good-bye, Mr Whittlestaff," and he gave his rival his hand in
apparently friendly grasp. To those burning questions he had asked he
had received no word of reply; but they were questions which he would
not repeat again.

"Good-bye, Mr Gordon," said Mary. She had thought of the moment
much, but had determined at last that she would trust herself to
nothing further. He took her hand, but did not say a word. He took it
and pressed it for a moment, and then turned his face away, and went
in from the hall back to the door leading to the drawing-room. Mr
Whittlestaff was at the moment putting on his great-coat, and Mary
stood with her bonnet and cloak on at the open front door, listening
to a word or two from Kattie Forrester and Evelina Hall. "Oh, I wish,
I wish it might have been!" said Kattie Forrester.

"And so do I," said Evelina. "Can't it be?"

"Good-night," said Mary, boldly, stepping out rapidly into the
moonlight, and mounting without assistance to her place in the open
carriage.

"I beg your pardon," said Mr Hall, following her; but there came not
a word from her.

Mr Whittlestaff had gone back after John Gordon. "By-the-by," he
said, "what will be your address in London?"

"The 'Oxford and Cambridge' in Pall Mall," said he.

"Oh, yes; the club there. It might be that I should have a word to
send to you. But I don't suppose I shall," he added, as he turned
round to go away. Then he shook hands with the party in the hall, and
mounting up into the carriage, drove Mary and himself away homewards
towards Croker's Hall.

Not a word was spoken between them for the first mile, nor did a
sound of a sob or an audible suspicion of a tear come from Mary. Why
did those girls know the secret of her heart in that way? Why had
they dared to express a hope as to an event, or an idea as to a
disappointment, all knowledge of which ought to be buried in her own
bosom? Had she spoken of her love for John Gordon? She was sure that
no word had escaped her. And were it surmised, was it not customary
that such surmises should be kept in the dark? But here these young
ladies had dared to pity her for her vain love, as though, like some
village maiden, she had gone about in tears bewailing herself that
some groom or gardener had been faithless. But sitting thus for the
first mile, she choked herself to keep down her sobs.

"Mary," at last he whispered to her.

"Well, Mr Whittlestaff?"

"Mary, we are both of us unhappy."

"I am not unhappy," she said, plucking up herself suddenly. "Why do
you say that I am unhappy?"

"You seem so. I at any rate am unhappy."

"What makes you so?"

"I did wrong to take you to dine in company with that man."

"It was not for me to refuse to go."

"No; there is no blame to you in it;--nor is there blame to me. But
it would have been better for us both had we remained away." Then he
drove on in silence, and did not speak another word till they reached
home.

"Well!" said Mrs Baggett, following them into the dining-room.

"What do you mean by 'well'?"

"What did the folks say to you at Mr Hall's? I can see by your face
that some of them have been saying summat."

"Nobody has been saying anything that I know of," said Mr
Whittlestaff. "Do you go to bed." Then when Mrs Baggett was gone,
and Mary had listlessly seated herself on a chair, her lover again
addressed her. "I wish I knew what there is in your heart." Yet she
would not tell him; but turned away her face and sat silent. "Have
you nothing to say to me?"

"What should I have to say to you? I have nothing to say of that of
which you are thinking."

"He has gone now, Mary."

"Yes; he has gone."

"And you are contented?" It did seem hard upon her that she should be
called upon to tell a lie,--to say that which he must know to be a
lie,--and to do so in order that he might be encouraged to persevere
in achieving his own object. But she did not quite understand him.
"Are you contented?" he repeated again.

Then she thought that she would tell the lie. If it was well that
she should make the sacrifice for his sake, why should it not be
completed? If she had to give herself to him, why should not the gift
be as satisfactory as it might be made to his feelings? "Yes; I am
contented."

"And you do not wish to see him again?"

"Certainly not, as your wife."

"You do not wish it at all," he rejoined, "whether you be my wife or
otherwise?"

"I think you press me too hard." Then she remembered herself, and the
perfect sacrifice which she was minded to make. "No; I do not wish
again to see Mr Gordon at all. Now, if you will allow me, I will
go to bed. I am thoroughly tired out, and I hardly know what I am
saying."

"Yes; you can go to bed," he said. Then she gave him her hand in
silence, and went off to her own room.

She had no sooner reached her bed, than she threw herself on it and
burst into tears. All this which she had to endure,--all that she
would have to bear,--would be, she thought, too much for her. And
there came upon her a feeling of contempt for his cruelty. Had he
sternly resolved to keep her to her promised word, and to forbid her
all happiness for the future,--to make her his wife, let her heart be
as it might;--had he said: "you have come to my house, and have eaten
my bread and have drunk of my cup, and have then promised to become
my wife, and now you shall not depart from it because this interloper
has come between us;"--then, though she might have felt him to be
cruel, still she would have respected him. He would have done, as she
believed, as other men do. But he wished to gain his object, and yet
not appear to be cruel. It was so that she thought of him. "And it
shall be as he would have it," she said to herself. But though she
saw far into his character, she did not quite read it aright.

He remained there alone in his library into the late hours of the
night. But he did not even take up a book with the idea of solacing
his hours. He too had his idea of self-sacrifice, which went quite
as far as hers. But yet he was not as sure as was she that the
self-sacrifice would be a duty. He did not believe, as did she, in
the character of John Gordon. What if he should give her up to one
who did not deserve her,--to one whose future would not be stable
enough to secure the happiness and welfare of such a woman as was
Mary Lawrie! He had no knowledge to guide him, nor had she;--nor, for
the matter of that, had John Gordon himself any knowledge of what his
own future might be. Of his own future Mr Whittlestaff could speak
and think with the greatest confidence. It would be safe, happy, and
bright, should Mary Lawrie become his wife. Should she not do so, it
must be altogether ruined and confounded.

He could not conceive it to be possible that he should be required
by duty to make such a sacrifice; but he knew of himself that if her
happiness, her true and permanent happiness, would require it, then
the sacrifice should be made.



CHAPTER XVI.

MRS BAGGETT'S PHILOSOPHY.


The next day was Saturday, and Mr Whittlestaff came out of his room
early, intending to speak to Mrs Baggett. He had declared to himself
that it was his purpose to give her some sound advice respecting her
own affairs,--as far as her affairs and his were connected together.
But low down in his mind, below the stratum in which his declared
resolution was apparent to himself, there was a hope that he might
get from her some comfort and strength as to his present purpose. Not
but that he would ultimately do as he himself had determined; but, to
tell the truth, he had not quite determined, and thought that a word
from Mrs Baggett might assist him.

As he came out from his room, he encountered Mary, intent upon her
household duties. It was something before her usual time, and he was
surprised. She had looked ill overnight and worn, and he had expected
that she would keep her bed. "What makes you so early, Mary?" He
spoke to her with his softest and most affectionate tone.

"I couldn't sleep, and I thought I might as well be up." She had
followed him into the library, and when there he put his arm round
her waist and kissed her forehead. It was a strange thing for him
to do. She felt that it was so--very, very strange; but it never
occurred to her that it behoved her to be angry at his caress. He had
kissed her once before, and only once, and it had seemed to her that
he had intended that their love-making should go on without kisses.
But was she not his property, to do as he pleased with her? And there
could be no ground for displeasure on her part.

"Dear Mary," he said, "if you could only know how constant my
thoughts are to you." She did not doubt that it was so; but just so
constant were her thoughts to John Gordon. But from her to him there
could be no show of affection--nothing but the absolute coldness
of perfect silence. She had passed the whole evening with him last
night, and had not been allowed to speak a single word to him beyond
the ordinary greetings of society. She had felt that she had not
been allowed to speak a single word to any one, because he had been
present. Mr Whittlestaff had thrown over her the deadly mantle of
his ownership, and she had consequently felt herself to be debarred
from all right over her own words and actions. She had become his
slave; she felt herself in very truth to be a poor creature whose
only duty it was in the world to obey his volition. She had told
herself during the night that, with all her motives for loving him,
she was learning to regard him with absolute hatred. And she hated
herself because it was so. Oh, what a tedious affair was this of
living! How tedious, how sad and miserable, must her future days be,
as long as days should be left to her! Could it be made possible to
her that she should ever be able to do her duty by this husband of
hers,--for her, in whose heart of hearts would be seated continually
the image of this other man?

"By-the-by," said he, "I want to see Mrs Baggett. I suppose she is
about somewhere."

"Oh dear, yes. Since the trouble of her husband has become nearer,
she is earlier and earlier every day. Shall I send her?" Then she
departed, and in a few minutes Mrs Baggett entered the room.

"Come in, Mrs Baggett."

"Yes, sir."

"I have just a few words which I want to say to you. Your husband has
gone back to Portsmouth?"

"Yes sir; he have." This she said in a very decided tone, as though
her master need trouble himself no further about her husband.

"I am very glad that it should be so. It's the best place for
him,--unless he could be sent to Australia."

"He ain't a-done nothing to fit himself for Botany Bay, Mr
Whittlestaff," said the old woman, bobbing her head at him.

"I don't care what place he has fitted himself for, so long as he
doesn't come here. He is a disreputable old man."

"You needn't be so hard upon him, Mr Whittlestaff. He ain't a-done
nothing much to you, barring sleeping in the stable one night when
he had had a drop o' drink too much." And the old woman pulled out a
great handkerchief, and began to wipe her eyes piteously.

"What a fool you are, Mrs Baggett."

"Yes; I am a fool. I knows that."

"Here's this disreputable old man eating and drinking your
hard-earned wages."

"But they are my wages. And who's a right to them, only he?"

"I don't say anything about that, only he comes here and disturbs
you."

"Well, yes; he is disturbing; if it's only because of his wooden leg
and red nose. I don't mean to say as he's the sort of a man as does a
credit to a gentleman's house to see about the place. But he was my
lot in matrimony, and I've got to put up with him. I ain't a-going to
refuse to bear the burden which came to be my lot. I don't suppose
he's earned a single shilling since he left the regiment, and that is
hard upon a poor woman who's got nothing but her wages."

"Now, look here, Mrs Baggett."

"Yes, sir."

"Send him your wages."

"And have to go in rags myself,--in your service."

"You won't go in rags. Don't be a fool."

"I am a fool, Mr Whittlestaff; you can't tell me that too often."

"You won't go in rags. You ought to know us well enough--"

"Who is us, Mr Whittlestaff? They ain't no us;--just yet."

"Well;--me."

"Yes, I know you, Mr Whittlestaff."

"Send him your wages. You may be quite sure that you'll find yourself
provided with shoes and stockings, and the rest of it."

"And be a woluntary burden beyond what I earns! Never;--not as long
as Miss Mary is coming to live here as missus of your house. I should
do summat as I should have to repent of. But, Mr Whittlestaff, I've
got to look the world in the face, and bear my own crosses. I never
can do it no younger."

"You're an old woman now, and you talk of throwing yourself upon the
world without the means of earning a shilling."

"I think I'd earn some, at something, old as I am, till I fell down
flat dead," she said. "I have that sperit in me, that I'd still be
doing something. But it don't signify; I'm not going to remain here
when Miss Mary is to be put over me. That's the long and the short of
it all."

Now had come the moment in which, if ever, Mr Whittlestaff must
get the strength which he required. He was quite sure of the old
woman,--that her opinion would not be in the least influenced by any
desire on her own part to retain her position as his housekeeper. "I
don't know about putting Miss Mary over you," he said.

"Don't know about it!" she shouted.

"My mind is not absolutely fixed."

"'As she said anything?"

"Not a word."

"Or he? Has he been and dared to speak up about Miss Mary. And
he,--who, as far as I can understand, has never done a ha'porth for
her since the beginning. What's Mr Gordon? I should like to know.
Diamonds! What's diamonds in the way of a steady income? They're all
a flash in the pan, and moonshine and dirtiness. I hates to hear of
diamonds. There's all the ill in the world comes from them; and you'd
give her up to be taken off by such a one as he among the diamonds!
I make bold to tell you, Mr Whittlestaff, that you ought to have more
strength of mind than what that comes to. You're telling me every day
as I'm an old fool."

"So you are."

"I didn't never contradict you; nor I don't mean, if you tells me so
as often again. And I don't mean to be that impident as to tell my
master as I ain't the only fool about the place. It wouldn't be no
wise becoming."

"But you think it would be true."

"I says nothing about that. That's not the sort of language anybody
has heard to come out of my mouth, either before your face or behind
your back. But I do say as a man ought to behave like a man. What!
Give up to a chap as spends his time in digging for diamonds! Never!"

"What does it matter what he digs for; you know nothing about his
business."

"But I know something about yours, Mr Whittlestaff. I know where you
have set your wishes. And I know that when a man has made up his mind
in such an affair as this, he shouldn't give way to any young diamond
dealer of them all."

"Not to him."

"And what's she? Are you to give up everything because she's
love-sick for a day or two? Is everything to be knocked to pieces
here at Croker's Hall, because he has come and made eyes at her? She
was glad enough to take what you offered before he had come this
way."

"She was not glad enough. That is it. She was not glad enough."

"She took you, at any rate, and I'd never make myself mean enough to
make way for such a fellow as that."

"It isn't for him, Mrs Baggett."

"It is for him. Who else? To walk away and just leave the game open
because he has come down to Hampshire! There ain't no spirit of
standing up and fighting about it."

"With whom am I to fight?"

"With both of 'em;--till you have your own way. A foolish, stupid,
weak girl like that!"

"I won't have her abused."

"She's very well. I ain't a-saying nothing against her. If she'll do
what you bid her, she'll turn out right enough. You asked her, and
she said she'd do it. Is not that so? There's nothing I hate so much
as them romantic ways. And everything is to be made to give way
because a young chap is six foot high! I hates romance and manly
beauty, as they call it, and all the rest of it. Where is she to get
her bread and meat? That's what I want to know."

"There'll be bread and meat for her."

"I dare say. But you'll have to pay for it, while she's philandering
about with him! And that's what you call fine feelings. I call it
all rubbish. If you've a mind to make her Mrs Whittlestaff, make her
Mrs Whittlestaff. Drat them fine feelings. I never knew no good come
of what people call fine feelings. If a young woman does her work
as it should be, she's got no time to think of 'em. And if a man is
master, he should be master. How's a man to give way to a girl like
that, and then stand up and face the world around him? A man has to
be master; and when he's come to be a little old-like, he has to see
that he will be master. I never knew no good come of one of them
soft-going fellows who is minded to give up whenever a woman wants
anything. What's a woman? It ain't natural that she should have her
way; and she don't like a man a bit better in the long-run because
he lets her. There's Miss Mary; if you're stiff with her now, she'll
come out right enough in a month or two. She's lived without Mr
Gordon well enough since she's been here. Now he's come, and we hear
a deal about these fine feelings. You take my word, and say nothing
to nobody about the young man. He's gone by this time, or he's
a-going. Let him go, say I; and if Miss Mary takes on to whimper a
bit, don't you see it."

Mrs Baggett took her departure, and Mr Whittlestaff felt that he
had received the comfort, or at any rate the strength, of which he
had been in quest. In all that the woman had said to him, there had
been a re-echo of his own thoughts,--of one side, at any rate, of
his own thoughts. He knew that true affection, and the substantial
comforts of the world, would hold their own against all romance.
And he did not believe,--in his theory of ethics he did not
believe,--that by yielding to what Mrs Baggett called fine feelings,
he would in the long-run do good to those with whom he was concerned
in the world. Were he to marry Mary Lawrie now, Mary Whittlestaff
would, he thought, in ten years' time, be a happier woman than were
he to leave her. That was the solid conviction of his mind, and in
that he had been strengthened by Mrs Baggett's arguments. He had
desired to be so strengthened, and therefore his interview had been
successful.

But as the minutes passed by, as every quarter of an hour added
itself to the quarters that were gone, and as the hours grew on, and
the weakness of evening fell upon him, all his softness came back
again. They had dined at six o'clock, and at seven he declared his
purpose of strolling out by himself. On these summer evenings he
would often take Mary with him; but he now told her, with a sort of
apology, that he would rather go alone. "Do," she said, smiling up
into his face; "don't let me ever be in your way. Of course, a man
does not always want to have to find conversation for a young lady."

"If you are the young lady, I should always want it--only that I have
things to think of."

"Go and think of your things. I will sit in the garden and do my
stitching."

About a mile distant, where the downs began to rise, there was a walk
supposed to be common to all who chose to frequent it, but which was
entered through a gate which gave the place within the appearance of
privacy. There was a little lake inside crowded with water-lilies,
when the time for the water-lilies had come; and above the lake a
path ran up through the woods, very steep, and as it rose higher and
higher, altogether sheltered. It was about a mile in length till
another gate was reached; but during the mile the wanderer could
go off on either side, and lose himself on the grass among the
beech-trees. It was a favourite haunt with Mr Whittlestaff. Here he
was wont to sit and read his Horace, and think of the affairs of the
world as Horace depicted them. Many a morsel of wisdom he had here
made his own, and had then endeavoured to think whether the wisdom
had in truth been taken home by the poet to his own bosom, or had
only been a glitter of the intellect, never appropriated for any
useful purpose. "'Gemmas, marmor, ebur,'" he had said. "'Sunt qui non
habeant; est qui non curat habere.' I suppose he did care for jewels,
marble, and ivory, as much as any one. 'Me lentus Glyceræ torret
amor meæ.' I don't suppose he ever loved her really, or any other
girl." Thus he would think over his Horace, always having the volume
in his pocket.

Now he went there. But when he had sat himself down in a spot to
which he was accustomed, he had no need to take out his Horace. His
own thoughts came to him free enough without any need of his looking
for them to poetry. After all, was not Mrs Baggett's teaching a
damnable philosophy? Let the man be the master, and let him get
everything he can for himself, and enjoy to the best of his ability
all that he can get. That was the lesson as taught by her. But as he
sat alone there beneath the trees, he told himself that no teaching
was more damnable. Of course it was the teaching by which the world
was kept going in its present course; but when divested of its
plumage was it not absolutely the philosophy of selfishness? Because
he was a man, and as a man had power and money and capacity to do the
things after which his heart lusted, he was to do them for his own
gratification, let the consequences be what they might to one whom
he told himself that he loved! Did the lessons of Mrs Baggett run
smoothly with those of Jesus Christ?

Then within his own mind he again took Mrs Baggett's side of the
question. How mean a creature must he not become, if he were now to
surrender this girl whom he was anxious to make his wife! He knew of
himself that in such a matter he was more sensitive than others. He
could not let her go, and then walk forth as though little or nothing
were the matter with him. Now for the second time in his life he had
essayed to marry. And now for the second time all the world would
know that he had been accepted and then rejected. It was, he thought,
more than he could endure,--and live.

Then after he had sat there for an hour he got up and walked
home; and as he went he tried to resolve that he would reject the
philosophy of Mrs Baggett and accept the other. "If I only knew!"
he said as he entered his own gate. "If one could only see clearly!"
Then he found Mary still seated in the garden. "Nothing is to be
got," he said, "by asking you for an answer."

"In what have I failed?"

"Never mind. Let us go in and have a cup of tea." But she knew well
in what he accused her of failing, and her heart turned towards him
again.



CHAPTER XVII.

MR WHITTLESTAFF MEDITATES A JOURNEY.


The next day was Sunday, and was passed in absolute tranquillity.
Nothing was said either by Mr Whittlestaff or by Mary Lawrie; nor,
to the eyes of those among whom they lived, was there anything to
show that their minds were disturbed. They went to church in the
morning, as was usual with them, and Mary went also to the evening
service. It was quite pleasant to see Mrs Baggett start for her slow
Sabbath morning walk, and to observe how her appearance altogether
belied that idea of rags and tatters which she had given as to her
own wardrobe. A nicer dressed old lady, or a more becoming black silk
gown, you shall not see on a Sunday morning making her way to any
country church in England. While she was looking so pleasant and
demure,--one may say almost so handsome, in her old-fashioned and
apparently new bonnet,--what could have been her thoughts respecting
the red-nosed, one-legged warrior, and her intended life, to be
passed in fetching two-penn'orths of gin for him, and her endeavours
to get for him a morsel of wholesome food? She had had her breakfast
out of her own china tea-cup, which she used to boast was her own
property, as it had been given to her by Mr Whittlestaff's mother,
and had had her little drop of cream, and, to tell the truth, her
boiled egg, which she always had on a Sunday morning, to enable her
to listen to the long sermon of the Rev Mr Lowlad. She would talk
of her hopes and her burdens, and undoubtedly she was in earnest. But
she certainly did seem to make her hay very comfortably while the sun
shone.

Everything on this Sunday morning was pleasant, or apparently
pleasant, at Croker's Hall. In the evening, when Mary and the
maid-servants went to church, leaving Mrs Baggett at home to look
after the house and go to sleep, Mr Whittlestaff walked off to the
wooded path with his Horace. He did not read it very long. The bits
which he did usually read never amounted to much at a time. He would
take a few lines and then digest them thoroughly, wailing over them
or rejoicing, as the case might be. He was not at the present moment
much given to joy. "Intermissa, Venus, diu rursus bella moves? Parce,
precor, precor." This was the passage to which he turned at the
present moment; and very little was the consolation which he found
in it. What was so crafty, he said to himself, or so vain as that an
old man should hark back to the pleasures of a time of life which was
past and gone! "Non sum qualis eram," he said, and then thought with
shame of the time when he had been jilted by Catherine Bailey,--the
time in which he had certainly been young enough to love and be
loved, had he been as lovable as he had been prone to love. Then he
put the book in his pocket. His latter effort had been to recover
something of the sweetness of life, and not, as had been the poet's,
to drain those dregs to the bottom. But when he got home he bade Mary
tell him what Mr Lowlad had said in his sermon, and was quite cheery
in his manner of picking Mr Lowlad's theology to pieces;--for Mr
Whittlestaff did not altogether agree with Mr Lowlad as to the uses
to be made of the Sabbath.

On the next morning he began to bustle about a little, as was usual
with him before he made a journey; and it did escape him, while he
was talking to Mrs Baggett about a pair of trousers which it turned
out that he had given away last summer, that he meditated a journey
to London on the next day.

"You ain't a-going?" said Mrs Baggett.

"I think I shall."

"Then don't. Take my word for it, sir,--don't." But Mr Whittlestaff
only snubbed her, and nothing more was said about the journey at the
moment.

In the course of the afternoon visitors came. Miss Evelina Hall with
Miss Forrester had been driven into Alresford, and now called in
company with Mr Blake. Mr Blake was full of his own good tidings,
but not so full but that he could remember, before he took his
departure, to say a half whispered word on behalf of John Gordon.
"What do you think, Mr Whittlestaff? Since you were at Little
Alresford we've settled the day."

"You needn't be telling it to everybody about the county," said
Kattie Forrester.

"Why shouldn't I tell it to my particular friends? I am sure Miss
Lawrie will be delighted to hear it."

"Indeed I am," said Mary.

"And Mr Whittlestaff also. Are you not, Mr Whittlestaff?"

"I am very happy to hear that a couple whom I like so well are soon
to be made happy. But you have not yet told us the day."

"The 1st of August," said Evelina Hall.

"The 1st of August," said Mr Blake, "is an auspicious day. I am sure
there is some reason for regarding it as auspicious, though I cannot
exactly remember what. It is something about Augustus, I think."

"I never heard of such an idea to come from a clergyman of the Church
of England," said the bride. "I declare Montagu never seems to think
that he's a clergyman at all."

"It will be better for him," said Mr Whittlestaff, "and for all
those about him, that he should ever remember the fact and never seem
to do so."

"All the same," said Blake, "although the 1st of August is
auspicious, I was very anxious to be married in July, only the
painters said they couldn't be done with the house in time. One is
obliged to go by what these sort of people say and do. We're to have
a month's honeymoon,--only just a month, because Mr Lowlad won't
make himself as agreeable as he ought to do about the services; and
Newface, the plumber and glazier, says he can't have the house done
as Kattie would like to live in it before the end of August. Where do
you think we're going to, Miss Lawrie? You would never guess."

"Perhaps to Rome," said Mary at a shot.

"Not quite so far. We're going to the Isle of Wight. It's rather
remarkable that I never spent but one week in the Isle of Wight since
I was born. We haven't quite made up our mind whether it's to be
Black Gang Chine or Ventnor. It's a matter of dresses, you see."

"Don't be a fool, Montagu," said Miss Forrester.

"Well, it is. If we decide upon Ventnor, she must have frocks and
things to come out with."

"I suppose so," said Mr Whittlestaff.

"But she'll want nothing of the kind at Black Gang."

"Do hold your tongue, and not make an ass of yourself. What do you
know what dresses I shall want? As it is, I don't think I shall go
either to the one place or the other. The Smiths are at Ryde, and the
girls are my great friends. I think we'll go to Ryde, after all."

"I'm so sorry, Mr Whittlestaff, that we can't expect the pleasure
of seeing you at our wedding. It is, of course, imperative that
Kattie should be married in the cathedral. Her father is one of the
dignitaries, and could not bear not to put his best foot foremost on
such an occasion. The Dean will be there, of course. I'm afraid the
Bishop cannot come up from Farnham, because he will have friends with
him. I am afraid John Gordon will have gone by that time, or else we
certainly would have had him down. I should like John Gordon to be
present, because he would see how the kind of thing is done." The
name of John Gordon at once silenced all the matrimonial chit-chat
which was going on among them. It was manifest both to Mr
Whittlestaff and to Mary that it had been lugged in without a cause,
to enable Mr Blake to talk about the absent man. "It would have been
pleasant; eh, Kattie?"

"We should have been very glad to see Mr Gordon, if it would have
suited him to come," said Miss Forrester.

"It would have been just the thing for him; and we at Oxford
together, and everything. Don't you think he would have liked to be
there? It would have put him in mind of other things, you know."

To this appeal there was no answer made. It was impossible that Mary
should bring herself to talk about John Gordon in mixed company.
And the allusion to him stirred Mr Whittlestaff's wrath. Of course
it was understood as having been spoken in Mary's favour. And Mr
Whittlestaff had been made to perceive by what had passed at Little
Alresford that the Little Alresford people all took the side of John
Gordon, and were supposed to be taking the side of Mary at the same
time. There was not one of them, he said to himself, that had half
the sense of Mrs Baggett. And there was a vulgarity about their
interference of which Mrs Baggett was not guilty.

"He is half way on his road to the diamond-fields," said Evelina.

"And went away from here on Saturday morning!" said Montagu Blake.
"He has not started yet,--not dreamed of it. I heard him whisper to
Mr Whittlestaff about his address. He's to be in London at his club.
I didn't hear him say for how long, but when a man gives his address
at his club he doesn't mean to go away at once. I have a plan in my
head. Some of those boats go to the diamond-fields from Southampton.
All the steamers go everywhere from Southampton. Winchester is on the
way to Southampton. Nothing will be easier for him than to drop in
for our marriage on his way out. That is, if he must go at last."
Then he looked hard at Mary Lawrie.

"And bring some of his diamonds with him," said Evelina Hall. "That
would be very nice." But not a word more was said then about John
Gordon by the inhabitants of Croker's Hall. After that the visitors
went, and Montagu Blake chaperoned the girls out of the house,
without an idea that he had made himself disagreeable.

"That young man is a most egregious ass," said Mr Whittlestaff.

"He is good-natured and simple, but I doubt whether he sees things
very plainly."

"He has not an idea of what a man may talk about and when he should
hold his tongue. And he is such a fool as to think that his idle
chatter can influence others. I don't suppose a bishop can refuse to
ordain a gentleman because he is a general idiot. Otherwise I think
the bishop is responsible for letting in such an ass as this." Mary
said to herself, as she heard this, that it was the most ill-natured
remark which she had ever known to fall from the mouth of Mr
Whittlestaff.

"I think I am going away for a few days," Mr Whittlestaff said to
Mary, when the visitors were gone.

"Where are you going?"

"Well, I suppose I shall be in London. When one goes anywhere, it is
generally to London; though I haven't been there for more than two
months."

"Not since I came to live with you," she said. "You are the most
stay-at-home person by way of a gentleman that I ever heard of." Then
there was a pause for a few minutes, and he said nothing further.
"Might a person ask what you are going for?" This she asked in the
playful manner which she knew he would take in good part.

"Well; I don't quite know that a person can. I am going to see a man
upon business, and if I began to tell you part of it, I must tell it
all,--which would not be convenient."

"May I not ask how long you will be away? There can't be any dreadful
secret in that. And I shall want to know what to get for your dinner
when you come back." She was standing now at his elbow, and he was
holding her by the arm. It was to him almost as though she were
already his wife, and the feeling to him was very pleasant. Only if
she were his wife, or if it were positively decided among them that
she would become so, he would certainly tell her the reason for which
he might undertake any journey. Indeed there was no reason connected
with any business of his which might not be told, other than that
special reason which was about to take him to London. He only
answered her now by pressing her hand and smiling into her face.
"Will it be for a month?"

"Oh dear, no! what should I do away from home for a month?"

"How can I tell? The mysterious business may require you to be absent
for a whole year. Fancy my being left at home all that time. You
don't think of it; but you have never left me for a single night
since you first brought me to live here."

"And you have never been away."

"Oh, no! why should I go away? What business can a woman have to move
from home, especially such a woman as I am."

"You are just like Mrs Baggett. She always talks of women with
supreme contempt. And yet she is just as proud of herself as the
queen when you come to contradict her."

"You never contradict me."

"Perhaps the day may come when I shall." Then he recollected himself,
and added, "Or perhaps the day may never come. Never mind. Put up
my things for one week. At any rate I shall not be above a week
gone." Then she left him, and went away to his room to do what was
necessary.

She knew the business on which he was about to travel to London, as
well as though he had discussed with her the whole affair. In the
course of the last two or three days there had been moments in which
she had declared to herself that he was cruel. There had been moments
in which she had fainted almost with sorrow when she thought of the
life which fate had in store for her. There must be endless misery,
while there might have been joy, so ecstatic in its nature as to make
it seem to her to be perennial. Then she had almost fallen, and had
declared him to be preternaturally cruel. But these moments had been
short, and had endured only while she had allowed herself to dream
of the ecstatic joy, which she confessed to herself to be an unfit
condition of life for her. And then she had told herself that Mr
Whittlestaff was not cruel, and that she herself was no better than a
weak, poor, flighty creature unable to look in its face life and all
its realities. And then she would be lost in amazement as she thought
of herself and all her vacillations.

She now was resolved to take his part, and to fight his battle to
the end. When he had told her that he was going up to London, and
going up on business as to which he could tell her nothing, she knew
that it behoved her to prevent him from taking the journey. John
Gordon should be allowed to go in quest of his diamonds, and Mr
Whittlestaff should be persuaded not to interfere with him. It was
for her sake, and not for John Gordon's, that he was about to make
the journey. He had asked her whether she were willing to marry him,
and she had told him that he was pressing her too hard. She would
tell him now,--now before it was too late,--that this was not so. His
journey to London must at any rate be prevented.



CHAPTER XVIII.

MR AND MRS TOOKEY.


On the day arranged, early on the morning after the dinner at Little
Alresford Park, John Gordon went up to London. He had not been much
moved by the intimation made to him by Mr Whittlestaff that some
letter should be written to him at his London address. He had made
his appeal to Mr Whittlestaff, and had received no answer whatever.
And he had, after a fashion, made his appeal also to the girl. He
felt sure that his plea must reach her. His very presence then
in this house had been an appeal to her. He knew that she so far
believed in him as to be conscious that she could at once become
his wife--if she were willing to throw over his rival. He knew also
that she loved him,--or had certainly loved him. He did not know the
nature of her regard; nor was it possible that he should ever know
that,--unless she were his wife. She had given a promise to that
other man, and--it was thus he read her character--she could be
true to her promise without any great heart-break. At any rate, she
intended to be true to it. He did not for a moment suspect that Mr
Whittlestaff was false. Mary had declared that she would not withdraw
her word,--that only from her own mouth was to be taken her intention
of such withdrawal, and that such intention she certainly would never
utter. Of her character he understood much,--but not quite all. He
was not aware of the depth of her feeling. But Mr Whittlestaff he
did not understand at all. Of all those vacillating softnesses he
knew nothing,--or of those moments spent with the poet, in which he
was wont to fight against the poet's pretences, and of those other
moments spent with Mrs Baggett, in which he would listen to, and
always finally reject, those invitations to manly strength which she
would always pour into his ears. That Mr Whittlestaff should spend
hour after hour, and now day after day, in teaching himself to regard
nothing but what might best suit the girl's happiness,--of that he
was altogether in the dark. To his thinking, Mr Whittlestaff was
a hard man, who, having gained his object, intended to hold fast
by what he had gained. He, John Gordon, knew, or thought that he
knew, that Mary, as his wife, would lead a happier life than with Mr
Whittlestaff. But things had turned out unfortunately, and there was
nothing for him but to return to the diamond-fields.

Therefore he had gone back to London with the purpose of preparing
for his journey. A man does not start for South Africa to-morrow, or,
if not to-morrow, then the next day. He was aware that there must be
some delay; but any place would be better in which to stay than the
neighbourhood of Croker's Hall. There were things which must be done,
and people with whom he must do it; but of all that, he need say
nothing down at Alresford. Therefore, when he got back to London, he
meant to make all his arrangements--and did so far settle his affairs
as to take a berth on board one of the mail steamers.

He had come over in company with a certain lawyer, who had gone out
to Kimberley with a view to his profession, and had then, as is the
case with all the world that goes to Kimberley, gone into diamonds.
Diamonds had become more to him than either briefs or pleadings. He
had been there for fifteen years, and had ruined himself and made
himself half-a-dozen times. He had found diamonds to be more pleasant
than law, and to be more compatible with champagne, tinned lobsters,
and young ladies. He had married a wife, and had parted with her,
and taken another man's wife, and paid for her with diamonds. He had
then possessed nothing, and had afterwards come forth a third-part
owner of the important Stick-in-the-Mud claim, which at one time
was paying 12 per cent per month. It must be understood that the
Stick-in-the-Mud claim was an almost infinitesimal portion of soil
in the Great Kimberley mine. It was but the sixteenth part of an
original sub-division. But from the centre of the great basin, or
rather bowl, which forms the mine, there ran up two wires to the
high mound erected on the circumference, on which continually two
iron cages were travelling up and down, coming back empty, but going
up laden with gemmiferous dirt. Here travelled the diamonds of
the Stick-in-the-Mud claim, the owner of one-third of which, Mr
Fitzwalker Tookey, had come home with John Gordon.

Taking a first general glance at affairs in the diamond-fields, I
doubt whether we should have been inclined to suspect that John
Gordon and Fitzwalker Tookey would have been likely to come together
as partners in a diamond speculation. But John Gordon had in the
course of things become owner of the other two shares, and when
Fitzwalker Tookey determined to come home, he had done so with the
object of buying his partner's interest. This he might have done at
once,--only that he suffered under the privation of an insufficiency
of means. He was a man of great intelligence, and knew well that no
readier mode to wealth had ever presented itself to him than the
purchase of his partner's shares. Much was said to persuade John
Gordon; but he would not part with his documents without seeing
security for his money. Therefore Messrs. Gordon and Tookey put the
old Stick-in-the-Mud into the hands of competent lawyers, and came
home together.

"I am not at all sure that I shall sell," John Gordon had said.

"But I thought that you offered it."

"Yes; for money down. For the sum named I will sell now. But if I
start from here without completing the bargain, I shall keep the
option in my own hands. The fact is, I do not know whether I shall
remain in England or return. If I do come back I am not likely to
find anything better than the old Stick-in-the-Mud." To this Mr
Tookey assented, but still he resolved that he would go home. Hence
it came to pass that Mr Fitzwalker Tookey was now in London, and
that John Gordon had to see him frequently. Here Tookey had found
another would-be partner, who had the needed money, and it was
fervently desired by Mr Tookey that John Gordon might not go back to
South Africa.

The two men were not at all like in their proclivities; but they had
been thrown together, and each had learned much of the inside life of
the other. The sort of acquaintance with whom a steady man becomes
intimate in such a locality often surprises the steady man himself.
Fitzwalker Tookey had the antecedents and education of a gentleman.
Champagne and lobster suppers--the lobster coming out of tin
cases,--diamonds and strange ladies, even with bloated cheeks and
strong language, had not altogether destroyed the vestiges of the
Temple. He at any rate was fond of a companion with whom he could
discuss his English regrets, and John Gordon was not inclined to shut
himself up altogether among his precious stones, and to refuse the
conversation of a man who could talk. Tookey had told him of his
great distress in reference to his wife. "By G----! you know, the
cruellest thing you ever heard in the world. I was a little tight one
night, and the next morning she was off with Atkinson, who got away
with his pocket full of diamonds. Poor girl! she went down to the
Portuguese settlement, and he was nabbed. He's doing penal service
now down at Cape Town. That's a kind of thing that does upset a
fellow." And poor Fitzwalker began to cry.

Among such confidences Gordon allowed it to escape from him that were
he to become married in England, he did not think it probable that he
should return. Thus it was known, at least to his partner, that he
was going to look for a wife, and the desire in Mr Tookey's breast
that the wife might be forthcoming was intense. "Well!" he said,
immediately on Gordon's return to London.

"What does 'well' mean?"

"Of course you went down there to look after the lady."

"I have never told you so."

"But you did--did you not?"

"I have told you nothing about any lady, though you are constantly
asking questions. As a fact, I think I shall go back next month."

"To Kimberley?"

"I think so. The stake I have there is of too great importance to be
abandoned."

"I have the money ready to pay over;--absolute cash on the nail. You
don't call that abandoning it?"

"The claim has gone up in value 25 per cent, as you have already
heard."

"Yes; it has gone up a little, but not so much as that. It will come
down as much by the next mail. With diamonds you never can stick to
anything."

"That's true. But you can only go by the prices as you see them
quoted. They may be up 25 per cent again by next mail. At any rate, I
am going back."

"The devil you are!"

"That's my present idea. As I like to be on the square with you
altogether, I don't mind saying that I have booked a berth by the
_Kentucky Castle_."

"The deuce you have! And you won't take a wife with you?"

"I am not aware that I shall have such an impediment."

Then Fitzwalker Tookey assumed a very long face. It is difficult to
trace the workings of such a man's mind, or to calculate the meagre
chances on which he is too often driven to base his hopes of success.
He feared that he could not show his face in Kimberley, unless as
the representative of the whole old Stick-in-the-Mud. And with that
object he had declared himself in London to have the actual power of
disposing of Gordon's shares. Gordon had gone down to Hampshire, and
would no doubt be successful with the young lady. At any rate,--as
he described it to himself,--he had "gone in for that." He could see
his way in that direction, but in no other. "Upon my word, this, you
know, is--what I call--rather throwing a fellow over."

"I am as good as my word."

"I don't know about that, Gordon."

"But I do, and I won't hear any assertion to the contrary. I offered
you the shares for a certain price, and you rejected them."

"I did not do that."

"You did do that,--exactly. Then there came up in my mind a feeling
that I might probably wish to change my purpose."

"And I am to suffer for that."

"Not in the least. I then told you that you should still have the
shares for the price named. But I did not offer them to any one else.
So I came home,--and you chose to come with me. But before I started,
and again after, I told you that the offer did not hold good, and
that I should not make up my mind as to selling till after I got to
England."

"We understood that you meant to be married."

"I never said so. I never said a word about marriage. I am now going
back, and mean to manage the mine myself."

"Without asking me?"

"Yes; I shall ask you. But I have two-thirds. I will give you for
your share 10 per cent more than the price you offered me for each of
my shares. If you do not like that, you need not accept the offer;
but I don't mean to have any more words about it."

Mr Fitzwalker Tookey's face became longer and longer, and he did in
truth feel himself to be much aggrieved within his very soul. There
were still two lines of conduct open to him. He might move the stern
man by a recapitulation of the sorrow of his circumstances, or he
might burst out into passionate wrath, and lay all his ruin to his
partner's doing. He might still hope that in this latter way he could
rouse all Kimberley against Gordon, and thus creep back into some
vestige of property under the shadow of Gordon's iniquities. He would
try both. He would first endeavour to move the stern man to pity. "I
don't think you can imagine the condition in which you are about to
place me."

"I can't admit that I am placing you anywhere."

"I'll just explain. Of course I know that I can tell you everything
in strictest confidence."

"I don't know it at all."

"Oh yes; I can. You remember the story of my poor wife?"

"Yes; I remember."

"She's in London now."

"What! She got back from the Portuguese settlement?"

"Yes. She did not stay there long. I don't suppose that the
Portuguese are very nice people."

"Perhaps not."

"At any rate they don't have much money among them."

"Not after the lavish expenditure of the diamond-fields," suggested
Gordon.

"Just so. Poor Matilda had been accustomed to all that money could
buy for her. I never used to be close-fisted with her, though
sometimes I would be tight."

"As far as I could understand, you never used to agree at all."

"I don't think we did hit it off. Perhaps it was my fault."

"You used to be a little free in your way of living."

"I was. I confess that I was so. I was young then, but I am older
now. I haven't touched a B. and S. before eleven o'clock since I have
been in London above two or three times. I do mean to do the best I
can for my young family." It was the fact that Mr Tookey had three
little children boarding out in Kimberley.

"And what is the lady doing in London?"

"To tell the truth, she's at my lodgings."

"Oh--h!"

"I do admit it. She is."

"She is indifferent to the gentleman in the Cape Town penal
settlement?"

"Altogether, I don't think she ever really cared for him. To tell the
truth, she only wanted some one to take her away from--me."

"And now she trusts you again?"

"Oh dear, yes;--completely. She is my wife, you know, still."

"I suppose so."

"That sacred tie has never been severed. You must always remember
that. I don't know what your feelings are on such a subject, but
according to my views it should not be severed roughly. When there
are children, that should always be borne in mind. Don't you think
so?"

"The children should be borne in mind."

"Just so. That's what I mean. Who can look after a family of young
children so well as their young mother? Men have various ways of
looking at the matter." To this John Gordon gave his ready consent,
and was anxious to hear in what way his assistance was to be asked
in again putting Mr and Mrs Tookey, with their young children,
respectably on their feet. "There are men, you know, stand-off sort
of fellows, who think that a woman should never be forgiven."

"It must depend on how far the husband has been in fault."

"Exactly. Now these stand-off sort of fellows will never admit that
they have been in fault at all. That's not my case."

"You drank a little."

"For the matter of that, so did she. When a woman drinks she gets
herself to bed somehow. A man gets out upon a spree. That's what I
used to do, and then I would hit about me rather recklessly. I have
no doubt Matilda did get it sometimes. When there has been that kind
of thing, forgive and forget is the best thing you can do."

"I suppose so."

"And then at the Fields there isn't the same sort of prudish life
which one is accustomed to in England. Here in London a man is
nowhere if he takes his wife back. Nobody knows her, because there
are plenty to know of another sort. But there things are not quite
so strict. Of course she oughtn't to have gone off with Atkinson;--a
vulgar low fellow, too."

"And you oughtn't to have licked her."

"That's just it. It was tit for tat, I think. That's the way I look
at it. At any rate we are living together now, and no one can say
we're not man and wife."

"There'll be a deal of trouble saved in that way."

"A great deal. We are man and wife, and can begin again as though
nothing had happened. No one can say that black's the white of our
eye. She'll take to those darling children as though nothing had
happened. You can't conceive how anxious she is to get back to them.
And there's no other impediment. That's a comfort."

"Another impediment would have upset you rather?"

"I couldn't have put up with that." Mr Fitzwalker Tookey looked very
grave and high-minded as he made the assertion. "But there's nothing
of that kind. It's all open sailing. Now,--what are we to live upon,
just for a beginning?"

"You have means out there."

"Not as things are at present,--I am sorry to say. To tell the truth,
my third share of the old Stick-in-the-Mud is gone. I had to raise
money when it was desirable that I should come with you."

"Not on my account."

"And then I did owe something. At any rate, it's all gone now. I
should find myself stranded at Kimberley without a red cent."

"What can I do?"

"Well,--I will explain. Poker & Hodge will buy your shares for the
sum named. Joshua Poker, who is out there, has got my third share.
Poker & Hodge have the money down, and when I have arranged the sale,
will undertake to give me the agency at one per cent on the whole
take for three years certain. That'll be £1000 a-year, and it's odd
if I can't float myself again in that time." Gordon stood silent,
scratching his head. "Or if you'd give me the agency on the same
terms, it would be the same thing. I don't care a straw for Poker &
Hodge."

"I daresay not."

"But you'd find me as true as steel."

"What little good I did at the Fields I did by looking after my own
business."

"Then what do you propose? Let Poker & Hodge have them, and I shall
bless you for ever." To this mild appeal Mr Tookey had been brought
by the manner in which John Gordon had scratched his head. "I think
you are bound to do it, you know." To this he was brought by the
subsequent look which appeared in John Gordon's eyes.

"I think not."

"Men will say so."

"I don't care a straw what men say, or women."

"And you to come back in the same ship with me and my wife! You
couldn't do it. The Fields wouldn't receive you." Gordon bethought
himself whether this imagined rejection might not arise rather from
the character of his travelling companions. "To bring back the
mother of three little sainted babes, and then to walk in upon every
shilling of property which had belonged to their father! You never
could hold up your head in Kimberley again."

"I should have to stand abashed before your virtue?"

"Yes, you would. I should be known to have come back with my poor
repentant wife,--the mother of three dear babes. And she would be
known to have returned with her misguided husband. The humanity of
the Fields would not utter a word of reproval to either of us. But,
upon my word, I should not like to stand in your shoes. And how you
could sit opposite to her and look her in the face on the journey
out, I don't know."

"It would be unpleasant."

"Deuced unpleasant, I should say. You remember the old Roman saying,
'Never be conscious of anything within your own bosom.' Only think
how you would feel when you were swelling it about in Kimberley,
while that poor lady won't be able to buy a pair of boots for herself
or her children. I say nothing about myself. I didn't think you were
the man to do it;--I didn't indeed."

Gordon did find himself moved by the diversity of lights through
which he was made to look at the circumstances in question. In the
first place, there was the journey back with Mr Tookey and his wife,
companions he had not anticipated. The lady would probably begin by
soliciting his intimacy, which on board ship he could hardly refuse.
With a fellow-passenger, whose husband has been your partner, you
must quarrel bitterly or be warm friends. Upon the whole, he thought
that he could not travel to South Africa with Mr and Mrs Fitzwalker
Tookey. And then he understood what the man's tongue would do if he
were there for a month in advance. The whole picture of life, too,
at the Fields was not made attractive by Mr Tookey's description.
He was not afraid of the reception which might be accorded to Mrs
Tookey, but saw that Tookey found himself able to threaten him with
violent evils, simply because he would claim his own. Then there shot
across his brain some reminiscence of Mary Lawrie, and a comparison
between her and her life and the sort of life which a man must lead
under the auspices of Mrs Tookey. Mary Lawrie was altogether beyond
his reach; but it would be better to have her to think of than the
other to know. His idea of the diamond-fields was disturbed by the
promised return of his late partner and his wife.

"And you mean to reduce me to this misery?" asked Mr Tookey.

"I don't care a straw for your misery."

"What!"

"Not for your picture of your misery. I do not doubt but that when
you have been there for a month you will be drunk as often as ever,
and just as free with your fists when a woman comes in your way."

"Never!"

"And I do not see that I am at all bound to provide for you and for
your wife and children. You have seen many ups and downs, and will be
doomed to see many more, as long as you can get hold of a bottle of
wine."

"I mean to take the pledge,--I do indeed. I must do it gradually,
because of my constitution,--but I shall do it."

"I don't in the least believe in it;--nor do I believe in any man
who thinks to redeem himself after such a fashion. It may still be
possible that I shall not go back."

"Thank God!"

"I may kill beasts in Buenos Ayres, or take a tea-farm in Thibet, or
join the colonists in Tennessee. In that case I will let you know
what arrangement I may propose to make about the Kimberley claim. At
any rate, I may say this,--I shall not go back in the same vessel
with you."

"I thought it would have been so comfortable."

"You and Mrs Tookey would find yourself more at your ease without
me."

"Not in the least. Don't let that thought disturb you. Whatever
misery fate may have in store for me, you will always find that, for
the hour, I will endeavour to be a good companion. 'Sufficient for
the day is the evil thereof.' That is the first of my mottoes."

"At any rate, I shall not go back in the _Kentucky Castle_ if you
do."

"I'm afraid our money is paid."

"So is mine; but that does not signify. You have a week yet, and I
will let you know by eleven o'clock on Thursday what steps I shall
finally take. If in any way I can serve you, I will do so; but I can
admit no claim."

"A thousand thanks! And I am so glad you approve of what I have done
about Matilda. I'm sure that a steady-going fellow like you would
have done the same." To this John Gordon could make no answer, but
left his friend, and went away about his own business. He had to
decide between Tennessee, Thibet, and Buenos Ayres, and wanted his
time for his own purposes.

When he got to dinner at his club, he found a letter from Mr
Whittlestaff, which had come by the day-mail. It was a letter which,
for the time, drove Thibet and Buenos Ayres, and Tennessee also,
clean out of his mind. It was as follows:--


   CROKER'S HALL, -- June 188--.

   DEAR MR JOHN GORDON,--I shall be in town this afternoon,
   probably by the same train which will bring this letter,
   and will do myself the honour of calling upon you at your
   club the next day at twelve.--I am, dear Mr John Gordon,
   faithfully yours,

   WILLIAM WHITTLESTAFF.


Then there was to be an answer to the appeal which he had made. Of
what nature would be the answer? As he laid his hand upon his heart,
and felt the violence of the emotion to which he was subjected, he
could not doubt the strength of his own love.



CHAPTER XIX.

MR WHITTLESTAFF'S JOURNEY DISCUSSED.


"I don't think that if I were you I would go up to London, Mr
Whittlestaff," said Mary. This was on the Tuesday morning.

"Why not?"

"I don't think I would."

"Why should you interfere?"

"I know I ought not to interfere."

"I don't think you ought. Especially as I have taken the trouble to
conceal what I am going about."

"I can guess," said Mary.

"You ought not to guess in such a matter. You ought not to have it on
your mind at all. I told you that I would not tell you. I shall go.
That's all that I have got to say."

The words with which he spoke were ill-natured and savage. The reader
will find them to be so, if he thinks of them. They were such that
a father would hardly speak, under any circumstances, to a grown-up
daughter,--much less that a lover would address to his mistress. And
Mary was at present filling both capacities. She had been taken into
his house almost as an adopted daughter, and had, since that time,
had all the privileges accorded to her. She had now been promoted
still higher, and had become his affianced bride. That the man should
have turned upon her thus, in answer to her counsel, was savage, or
at least ungracious. But at every word her heart became fuller and
more full of an affection as for something almost divine. What other
man had ever shown such love for any woman? and this love was shown
to her,--who was nothing to him,--who ate the bread of charity in his
house. And it amounted to this, that he intended to give her up to
another man,--he who had given such proof of his love,--he, of whom
she knew that this was a question of almost life and death,--because
in looking into his face she had met there the truth of his heart!
Since that first avowal, made before Gordon had come,--made at a
moment when some such avowal from her was necessary,--she had spoken
no word as to John Gordon. She had endeavoured to show no sign. She
had given herself up to her elder lover, and had endeavoured to
have it understood that she had not intended to transfer herself
because the other man had come across her path again like a flash of
lightning. She had dined in company with her younger lover without
exchanging a word with him. She had not allowed her eyes to fall upon
him more than she could help, lest some expression of tenderness
should be seen there. Not a word of hope had fallen from her lips
when they had first met, because she had given herself to another.
She was sure of herself in that. No doubt there had come moments in
which she had hoped--nay, almost expected--that the elder of the two
might give her up; and when she had felt sure that it was not to be
so, her very soul had rebelled against him. But as she had taken
time to think of it, she had absolved him, and had turned her anger
against herself. Whatever he wanted,--that she believed it would be
her duty to do for him, as far as its achievement might be in her
power.

She came round and put her arm upon him, and looked into his face.
"Don't go to London. I ask you not to go."

"Why should I not go?"

"To oblige me. You pretend to have a secret, and refuse to say why
you are going. Of course I know."

"I have written a letter to say that I am coming."

"It is still lying on the hall-table down-stairs. It will not go to
the post till you have decided."

"Who has dared to stop it?"

"I have. I have dared to stop it. I shall dare to put it in the fire
and burn it. Don't go! He is entitled to nothing. You are entitled
to have,--whatever it is that you may want, though it is but such a
trifle."

"A trifle, Mary!"

"Yes. A woman has a little gleam of prettiness about her,--though
here it is but of a common order."

"Anything so uncommon I never came near before."

"Let that pass; whether common or uncommon, it matters nothing. It is
something soft, which will soon pass away, and of itself can do no
good. It is contemptible."

"You are just Mrs Baggett over again."

"Very well; I am quite satisfied. Mrs Baggett is a good woman. She
can do something beyond lying on a sofa and reading novels, while her
good looks fade away. It is simply because a woman is pretty and weak
that she is made so much of, and is encouraged to neglect her duties.
By God's help I will not neglect mine. Do not go to London."

He seemed as though he hesitated as he sat there under the spell
of her little hand upon his shoulder. And in truth he did hesitate.
Could it not be that he should be allowed to sit there all his days,
and have her hand about his neck somewhat after this fashion? Was
he bound to give it all up? What was it that ordinary selfishness
allowed? What depth of self-indulgence amounted to a wickedness which
a man could not permit himself to enjoy without absolutely hating
himself? It would be easy in this case to have all that he wanted. He
need not send the letter. He need not take this wretched journey to
London. Looking forward, as he thought that he could look, judging
from the girl's character, he believed that he would have all that he
desired,--all that a gracious God could give him,--if he would make
her the recognised partner of his bed and his board. Then would he be
proud when men should see what sort of a wife he had got for himself
at last in place of Catherine Bailey. And why should she not love
him? Did not all her words tend to show that there was love?

And then suddenly there came a frown across his face, as she stood
looking at him. She was getting to know the manner of that frown. Now
she stooped down to kiss it away from his brow. It was a brave thing
to do; but she did it with a consciousness of her courage. "Now I may
burn the letter," she said, as though she were about to depart upon
the errand.

"No, by heaven!" he said. "Let me have a sandwich and a glass of
wine, for I shall start in an hour."

With a glance of his thoughts he had answered all those questions.
He had taught himself what ordinary selfishness allowed. Ordinary
selfishness,--such selfishness as that of which he would have
permitted himself the indulgence,--must have allowed him to disregard
the misery of John Gordon, and to keep the girl to himself. As
far as John Gordon was concerned, he would not have cared for his
sufferings. He was as much to himself,--or more,--than could be
John Gordon. He did not love John Gordon, and could have doomed him
to tearing his hair,--not without regret, but at any rate without
remorse. He had settled that question. But with Mary Lawrie there
must be a never-dying pang of self-accusation, were he to take her
to his arms while her love was settled elsewhere. It was not that he
feared her for himself, but that he feared himself for her sake. God
had filled his heart with love of the girl,--and, if it was love,
could it be that he would destroy her future for the gratification
of his own feelings? "I tell you it is no good," he said, as she
crouched down beside him, almost sitting on his knee.

At this moment Mrs Baggett came into the room, detecting Mary almost
in the embrace of her old master. "He's come back again, sir," said
Mrs Baggett.

"Who has come back?"

"The Sergeant."

"Then you may tell him to go about his business. He is not wanted, at
any rate. You are to remain here, and have your own way, like an old
fool."

"I am that, sir."

"There is not any one coming to interfere with you."

"Sir!"

Then Mary got up, and stood sobbing at the open window. "At any rate,
you'll have to remain here to look after the house, even if I go
away. Where is the Sergeant?"

"He's in the stable again."

"What! drunk?"

"Well, no; he's not drunk. I think his wooden leg is affected sooner
than if he had two like mine, or yours, sir. And he did manage to go
in of his self, now that he knows the way. He's there among the hay,
and I do think it's very unkind of Hayonotes to say as he'll spoil
it. But how am I to get him out, unless I goes away with him?"

"Let him stay there and give him some dinner. I don't know what else
you've to do."

"He can't stay always,--in course, sir. As Hayonotes says,--what's he
to do with a wooden-legged sergeant in his stable as a permanence? I
had come to say I was to go home with him."

"You're to do nothing of the kind."

"What is it you mean, then, about my taking care of the house?"

"Never you mind. When I want you to know, I shall tell you." Then
Mrs Baggett bobbed her head three times in the direction of Mary
Lawrie's back, as though to ask some question whether the leaving the
house might not be in reference to Mary's marriage. But she feared
that it was not made in reference to Mr Whittlestaff's marriage
also. What had her master meant when he had said that there was no
one coming to interfere with her, Mrs Baggett? "You needn't ask any
questions just at present, Mrs Baggett," he said.

"You don't mean as you are going up to London just to give her up to
that young fellow?"

"I am going about my own business, and I won't be inquired into,"
said Mr Whittlestaff.

"Then you're going to do what no man ought to do."

"You are an impertinent old woman," said her master.

"I daresay I am. All the same, it's my duty to tell you my mind. You
can't eat me, Mr Whittlestaff, and it wouldn't much matter if you
could. When you've said that you'll do a thing, you ought not to go
back for any other man, let him be who it may,--especially not in
respect of a female. It's weak, and nobody wouldn't think a straw of
you for doing it. It's some idea of being generous that you have got
into your head. There ain't no real generosity in it. I say it ain't
manly, and that's what a man ought to be."

Mary, though she was standing at the window, pretending to look out
of it, knew that during the whole of this conversation Mrs Baggett
was making signs at her,--as though indicating an opinion that she
was the person in fault. It was as though Mrs Baggett had said that
it was for her sake,--to do something to gratify her,--that Mr
Whittlestaff was about to go to London. She knew that she at any
rate was not to blame. She was struggling for the same end as Mrs
Baggett, and did deserve better treatment. "You oughtn't to bother
going up to London, sir, on any such errand, and so I tells you, Mr
Whittlestaff," said Mrs Baggett.

"I have told him the same thing myself," said Mary Lawrie, turning
round.

"If you told him as though you meant it, he wouldn't go," said Mrs
Baggett.

"That's all you know about it," said Mr Whittlestaff. "Now the fact
is, I won't stand this kind of thing. If you mean to remain here, you
must be less free with your tongue."

"I don't mean to remain here, Mr Whittlestaff. It's just that as I'm
coming to. There's Timothy Baggett is down there among the hosses,
and he says as I am to go with him. So I've come up here to say
that if he's allowed to sleep it off to-day, I'll be ready to start
to-morrow."

"I tell you I am not going to make any change at all," said Mr
Whittlestaff.

"You was saying you was going away,--for the honeymoon, I did
suppose."

"A man may go away if he pleases, without any reason of that kind.
Oh dear, oh dear, that letter is not gone! I insist that that letter
should go. I suppose I must see about it myself." Then when he
began to move, the women moved also. Mary went to look after the
sandwiches, and Mrs Baggett to despatch the letter. In ten minutes
the letter was gone, and half an hour afterwards Mr Whittlestaff had
himself driven down to the station.

"What is it he means, Miss?" said Mrs Baggett, when the master was
gone.

"I do not know," said Mary, who was in truth very angry with the old
woman.

"He wants to make you Mrs Whittlestaff."

"In whatever he wants I shall obey him,--if I only knew how."

"It's what you is bound to do, Miss Mary. Think of what he has done
for you."

"I require no one to tell me that."

"What did Mr Gordon come here for, disturbing everybody? Nobody
asked him;--at least, I suppose nobody asked him." There was an
insinuation in this which Mary found it hard to bear. But it was
better to bear it than to argue on such a point with the servant.
"And he said things which put the master about terribly."

"It was not my doing."

"But he's a man as needn't have his own way. Why should Mr Gordon
have everything just as he likes it? I never heard tell of Mr Gordon
till he came here the other day. I don't think so much of Mr Gordon
myself." To this Mary, of course, made no answer. "He's no business
disturbing people when he's not sent for. I can't abide to see Mr
Whittlestaff put about in this way. I have known him longer than you
have."

"No doubt."

"He's a man that'll be driven pretty nigh out of his mind if he's
disappointed." Then there was silence, as Mary was determined not to
discuss the matter any further. "If you come to that, you needn't
marry no one unless you pleases." Mary was still silent. "They
shouldn't make me marry them unless I was that way minded. I can't
abide such doings," the old woman again went on after a pause. "I
knows what I knows, and I sees what I sees."

"What do you know?" said Mary, driven beyond her powers of silence.

"The meaning is, that Mr Whittlestaff is to be disappointed after
he have received a promise. Didn't he have a promise?" To this Mrs
Baggett got no reply, though she waited for one before she went on
with her argument. "You knows he had; and a promise between a lady
and gentleman ought to be as good as the law of the land. You stand
there as dumb as grim death, and won't say a word, and yet it all
depends upon you. Why is it to go about among everybody, that he's
not to get a wife just because a man's come home with his pockets
full of diamonds? It's that that people'll say; and they'll say that
you went back from your word just because of a few precious stones.
I wouldn't like to have it said of me anyhow."

This was very hard to bear, but Mary found herself compelled to
bear it. She had determined not to be led into an argument with Mrs
Baggett on the subject, feeling that even to discuss her conduct
would be an impropriety. She was strong in her own conduct, and knew
how utterly at variance it had been with all that this woman imputed
to her. The glitter of the diamonds had been merely thrown in by Mrs
Baggett in her passion. Mary did not think that any one would be so
base as to believe such an accusation as that. It would be said of
her that her own young lover had come back suddenly, and that she had
preferred him to the gentleman to whom she was tied by so many bonds.
It would be said that she had given herself to him and had then taken
back the gift, because the young lover had come across her path. And
it would be told also that there had been no word of promise given to
this young lover. All that would be very bad, without any allusion
to a wealth of diamonds. It would not be said that, before she had
pledged herself to Mr Whittlestaff, she had pleaded her affection
for her young lover, when she had known nothing even of his present
existence. It would not be known that though there had been no
lover's vows between her and John Gordon, there had yet been on both
sides that unspoken love which could not have been strengthened by
any vows. Against all that she must guard herself, without thinking
of the diamonds. She had endeavoured to guard herself, and she had
thought also of the contentment of the man who had been so good to
her. She had declared to herself that of herself she would think not
at all. And she had determined also that all the likings,--nay, the
affection of John Gordon himself,--should weigh not at all with her.
She had to decide between the two men, and she had decided that both
honesty and gratitude required her to comply with the wishes of the
elder. She had done all that she could with that object, and was it
her fault that Mr Whittlestaff had read the secret of her heart, and
had determined to give way before it? This had so touched her that it
might almost be said that she knew not to which of her two suitors
her heart belonged. All this, if stated in answer to Mrs Baggett's
accusations, would certainly exonerate herself from the stigma thrown
upon her, but to Mrs Baggett she could not repeat the explanation.

"It nigh drives me wild," said Mrs Baggett. "I don't suppose you
ever heard of Catherine Bailey?"

"Never."

"And I ain't a-going to tell you. It's a romance as shall be wrapped
inside my own bosom. It was quite a tragedy,--was Catherine Bailey;
and one as would stir your heart up if you was to hear it. Catherine
Bailey was a young woman. But I'm not going to tell you the
story;--only that she was no more fit for Mr Whittlestaff than any
of them stupid young girls that walks about the streets gaping in at
the shop-windows in Alresford. I do you the justice, Miss Lawrie, to
say as you are such a female as he ought to look after."

"Thank you, Mrs Baggett."

"But she led him into such trouble, because his heart is soft, as
was dreadful to look at. He is one of them as always wants a wife.
Why didn't he get one before? you'll say. Because till you came in
the way he was always thinking of Catherine Bailey. Mrs Compas she
become. 'Drat her and her babies!' I often said to myself. What was
Compas? No more than an Old Bailey lawyer;--not fit to be looked at
alongside of our Mr Whittlestaff. No more ain't Mr John Gordon, to
my thinking. You think of all that, Miss Mary, and make up your mind
whether you'll break his heart after giving a promise. Heart-breaking
ain't to him what it is to John Gordon and the likes of him."



CHAPTER XX.

MR WHITTLESTAFF TAKES HIS JOURNEY.


Mr Whittlestaff did at last get into the train and have himself
carried up to London. And he ate his sandwiches and drank his sherry
with an air of supreme satisfaction,--as though he had carried his
point. And so he had. He had made up his mind on a certain matter;
and, with the object of doing a certain piece of work, he had escaped
from the two dominant women of his household, who had done their
best to intercept him. So far his triumph was complete. But as he
sat silent in the corner of the carriage, his mind reverted to
the purpose of his journey, and he cannot be said to have been
triumphant. He knew it all as well as did Mrs Baggett. And he knew
too that, except Mrs Baggett and the girl herself, all the world was
against him. That ass Montagu Blake every time he opened his mouth
as to his own bride let out the idea that John Gordon should have
his bride because John Gordon was young and lusty, and because he,
Whittlestaff, might be regarded as an old man. The Miss Halls were
altogether of the same opinion, and were not slow to express it. All
Alresford would know it, and would sympathise with John Gordon. And
as it came to be known that he himself had given up the girl whom
he loved, he could read the ridicule which would be conveyed by the
smiles of his neighbours.

To tell the truth of Mr Whittlestaff, he was a man very open to such
shafts of ridicule. The "_robur et æs triplex_" which fortified his
heart went only to the doing of a good and unselfish action, and did
not extend to providing him with that adamantine shield which virtue
should of itself supply. He was as pervious to these stings as a man
might be who had not strength to act in opposition to them. He could
screw himself up to the doing of a great deed for the benefit of
another, and could as he was doing so deplore with inward tears
the punishment which the world would accord to him for the deed.
As he sat there in the corner of his carriage, he was thinking
of the punishment rather than of the glory. And the punishment
must certainly come now. It would be a punishment lasting for the
remainder of his life, and so bitter in its kind as to make any
further living almost impossible to him. It was not that he would
kill himself. He did not meditate any such step as that. He was a
man who considered that by doing an outrage to God's work an offence
would be committed against God which admitted of no repentance. He
must live through it to the last. But he must live as a man who was
degraded. He had made his effort, but his effort would be known to
all Alresford. Mr Montagu Blake would take care of that.

The evil done to him would be one which would admit of no complaint
from his own mouth. He would be left alone, living with Mrs
Baggett,--who of course knew all the facts. The idea of Mrs Baggett
going away with her husband was of course not to be thought of. That
was another nuisance, a small evil in comparison with the great
misfortune of his life.

He had brought this girl home to his house to be the companion of his
days, and she had come to have in his mouth a flavour, as it were,
and sweetness beyond all other sweetnesses. She had lent a grace
to his days of which for many years he had not believed them to be
capable. He was a man who had thought much of love, reading about it
in all the poets with whose lines he was conversant. He was one who,
in all that he read, would take the gist of it home to himself, and
ask himself how it was with him in that matter. His favourite Horace
had had a fresh love for every day; but he had told himself that
Horace knew nothing of love. Of Petrarch and Laura he had thought;
but even to Petrarch Laura had been a subject for expression rather
than for passion. Prince Arthur, in his love for Guinevere, went
nearer to the mark which he had fancied for himself. Imogen, in her
love for Posthumus, gave to him a picture of all that love should be.
It was thus that he had thought of himself in all his readings; and
as years had gone by, he had told himself that for him there was to
be nothing better than reading. But yet his mind had been full, and
he had still thought to himself that, in spite of his mistake in
reference to Catherine Bailey, there was still room for a strong
passion.

Then Mary Lawrie had come upon him, and the sun seemed to shine
nowhere but in her eyes and in the expression of her face. He had
told himself distinctly that he was now in love, and that his life
had not gone so far forward as to leave him stranded on the dry
sandhills. She was there living in his house, subject to his orders,
affectionate and docile; but, as far as he could judge, a perfect
woman. And, as far as he could judge, there was no other man whom she
loved. Then, with many doubtings, he asked her the question, and he
soon learned the truth,--but not the whole truth.

There had been a man, but he was one who seemed to have passed by and
left his mark, and then to have gone on altogether out of sight. She
had told him that she could not but think of John Gordon, but that
that was all. She would, if he asked it, plight her troth to him
and become his wife, although she must think of John Gordon. This
thinking would last but for a while, he told himself; and he at his
age--what right had he to expect aught better than that? She was
of such a nature that, when she had given herself up in marriage,
she would surely learn to love her husband. So he had accepted her
promise, and allowed himself for one hour to be a happy man.

Then John Gordon had come to his house, falling upon it like the
blast of a storm. He had come at once--instantly--as though fate had
intended to punish him, Whittlestaff, utterly and instantly. Mary had
told him that she could not promise not to think of him who had once
loved her, when, lo and behold! the man himself was there. Who ever
suffered a blow so severe as this? He had left them together. He
had felt himself compelled to do so by the exigencies of the moment.
It was impossible that he should give either one or the other to
understand that they would not be allowed to meet in his house. They
had met, and Mary had been very firm. For a few hours there had
existed in his bosom the feeling that even yet he might be preferred.

But gradually that feeling had disappeared, and the truth had come
home to him. She was as much in love with John Gordon as could any
girl be with the man whom she adored. And the other rock on which he
had depended was gradually shivered beneath his feet. He had fancied
at first that the man had come back, as do so many adventurers,
without the means of making a woman happy. It was not for John Gordon
that he was solicitous, but for Mary Lawrie. If John Gordon were a
pauper, or so nearly so as to be able to offer Mary no home, then it
would clearly be his duty not to allow the marriage. In such case the
result to him would be, if not heavenly, sweet enough at any rate to
satisfy his longings. She would come to him, and John Gordon would
depart to London, and to the world beyond, and there would be an end
of him. But it became palpable to his senses generally that the man's
fortunes had not been such as this. And then there came home to him a
feeling that were they so, it would be his duty to make up for Mary's
sake what was wanting,--since he had discovered of what calibre was
the man himself.

It was at Mr Hall's house that the idea had first presented itself
to him with all the firmness of a settled project. It would be, he
had said to himself, a great thing for a man to do. What, after all,
is the meaning of love, but that a man should do his best to serve
the woman he loves? "Who cares a straw for him?" he said to himself,
as though to exempt himself from any idea of general charity, and to
prove that all the good which he intended to do was to be done for
love alone. "Not a straw; whether he shall stay at home here and
have all that is sweetest in the world, or be sent out alone to find
fresh diamonds amidst the dirt and misery of that horrid place, is as
nothing, as far as he is concerned. I am, at any rate, more to myself
than John Gordon. I do not believe in doing a kindness of such a
nature as that to such a one. But for her--! And I could not hold her
to my bosom, knowing that she would so much rather be in the arms of
another man." All this he said to himself; but he said it in words
fully formed, and with the thoughts, on which the words were based,
clearly established.

When he came to the end of his journey, he had himself driven to
the hotel, and ordered his dinner, and ate it in solitude, still
supported by the ecstasy of his thoughts. He knew that there was
before him a sharp cruel punishment, and then a weary lonely life.
There could be no happiness, no satisfaction, in store for him. He
was aware that it must be so; but still for the present there was a
joy to him in thinking that he would make her happy, and in that he
was determined to take what immediate delight it would give him. He
asked himself how long that delight could last; and he told himself
that when John Gordon should have once taken her by the hand and
claimed her as his own, the time of his misery would have come.

There had hung about him a dream, clinging to him up to the moment of
his hotel dinner, by which he had thought it possible that he might
yet escape from the misery of Pandemonium and be carried into the
light and joy of Paradise. But as he sat with his beef-steak before
him, and ate his accustomed potato, with apparently as good a gusto
as any of his neighbours, the dream departed. He told himself
that under no circumstances should the dream be allowed to become
a reality. The dream had been of this wise. With all the best
intentions in his power he would offer the girl to John Gordon, and
then, not doubting Gordon's acceptance of her, would make the same
offer to the girl herself. But what if the girl refused to accept
the offer? What if the girl should stubbornly adhere to her original
promise? Was he to refuse to marry her when she should insist that
such was her right? Was he to decline to enter in upon the joys of
Paradise when Paradise should be thus opened to him? He would do his
best, loyally and sincerely, with his whole heart. But he could not
force her to make him a wretch, miserable for the rest of his life!

In fact it was she who might choose to make the sacrifice, and thus
save him from the unhappiness in store for him. Such had been the
nature of his dream. As he was eating his beef-steak and potatoes,
he told himself that it could not be so, and that the dream must be
flung to the winds. A certain amount of strength was now demanded of
him, and he thought that he would be able to use it. "No, my dear,
not me; it may not be that you should become my wife, though all the
promises under heaven had been given. Though you say that you wish
it, it is a lie which may not be ratified. Though you implore it of
me, it cannot be granted. It is he that is your love, and it is he
that must have you. I love you too, God in his wisdom knows, but it
cannot be so. Go and be his wife, for mine you shall never become. I
have meant well, but have been unfortunate. Now you know the state of
my mind, than which nothing is more fixed on this earth." It was thus
that he would speak to her, and then he would turn away; and the term
of his misery would have commenced.

On the next morning he got up and prepared for his interview with
John Gordon. He walked up and down the sward of the Green Park,
thinking to himself of the language which he would use. If he could
only tell the man that he hated him while he surrendered to him the
girl whom he loved so dearly, it would be well. For in truth there
was nothing of Christian charity in his heart towards John Gordon.
But he thought at last that it would be better that he should
announce his purpose in the simplest language. He could hate the man
in his own heart as thoroughly as he desired. But it would not be
becoming in him, were he on such an occasion to attempt to rise to
the romance of tragedy. "It will be all the same a thousand years
hence," he said to himself as he walked in at the club door.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE GREEN PARK.


He asked whether Mr John Gordon was within, and in two minutes
found himself standing in the hall with that hero of romance. Mr
Whittlestaff told himself, as he looked at the man, that he was such
a hero as ought to be happy in his love. Whereas of himself, he was
conscious of a personal appearance which no girl could be expected
to adore. He thought too much of his personal appearance generally,
complaining to himself that it was mean; whereas in regard to Mary
Lawrie, it may be said that no such idea had ever entered her mind.
"It was just because he had come first," she would have said if
asked. And the "he" alluded to would have been John Gordon. "He
had come first, and therefore I had learned to love him." It was
thus that Mary Lawrie would have spoken. But Mr Whittlestaff, as he
looked up into John Gordon's face, felt that he himself was mean.

"You got my letter, Mr Gordon?"

"Yes; I got it last night."

"I have come up to London, because there is something that I want
to say to you. It is something that I can't very well put up into a
letter, and therefore I have taken the trouble to come to town." As
he said this he endeavoured, no doubt, to assert his own dignity by
the look which he assumed. Nor did he intend that Mr Gordon should
know anything of the struggle which he had endured.

But Mr Gordon knew as well what Mr Whittlestaff had to say as did
Mr Whittlestaff himself. He had turned the matter over in his own
mind since the letter had reached him, and was aware that there could
be no other cause for seeing him which could bring Mr Whittlestaff
up to London. But a few days since he had made an appeal to Mr
Whittlestaff--an appeal which certainly might require much thought
for its answer--and here was Mr Whittlestaff with his reply. It
could not have been made quicker. It was thus that John Gordon had
thought of it as he had turned Mr Whittlestaff's letter over in his
mind. The appeal had been made readily enough. The making of it had
been easy; the words to be spoken had come quickly, and without the
necessity for a moment's premeditation. He had known it all, and from
a full heart the mouth speaks. But was it to have been expected that
a man so placed as had been Mr Whittlestaff, should be able to give
his reply with equal celerity? He, John Gordon, had seen at once
on reaching Croker's Hall the state in which things were. Almost
hopelessly he had made his appeal to the man who had her promise.
Then he had met the man at Mr Hall's house, and hardly a word had
passed between them. What word could have been expected? Montagu
Blake, with all his folly, had judged rightly in bringing them
together. When he received the letter, John Gordon had remembered
that last word which Mr Whittlestaff had spoken to him in the
squire's hall. He had thought of the appeal, and had resolved to
give an answer to it. It was an appeal which required an answer. He
had turned it over in his mind, and had at last told himself what
the answer should be. John Gordon had discovered all that when he
received the letter, and it need hardly be said that his feelings
in regard to Mr Whittlestaff were very much kinder than those of Mr
Whittlestaff to him.

"Perhaps you wouldn't mind coming out into the street," said Mr
Whittlestaff. "I can't say very well what I've got to say in here."

"Certainly," said Gordon; "I will go anywhere."

"Let us go into the Park. It is green there, and there is some shade
among the trees." Then they went out of the club into Pall Mall, and
Mr Whittlestaff walked on ahead without a word. "No; we will not go
down there," he said, as he passed the entrance into St. James's Park
by Marlborough House, and led the way through St. James's Palace into
the Green Park. "We'll go on till we come to the trees; there are
seats there, unless the people have occupied them all. One can't talk
here under the blazing sun;--at least I can't." Then he walked on
at a rapid pace, wiping his brow as he did so. "Yes, there's a seat.
I'll be hanged if that man isn't going to sit down upon it! What
a beast he is! No, I can't sit down on a seat that another man is
occupying. I don't want any one to hear what I've got to say. There!
Two women have gone a little farther on." Then he hurried to the
vacant bench and took possession of it. It was placed among the thick
trees which give a perfect shade on the north side of the Park, and
had Mr Whittlestaff searched all London through, he could not have
found a more pleasant spot in which to make his communication. "This
will do," said he.

"Very nicely indeed," said John Gordon.

"I couldn't talk about absolutely private business in the hall of the
club, you know."

"I could have taken you into a private room, Mr Whittlestaff, had
you wished it."

"With everybody coming in and out, just as they pleased. I don't
believe in private rooms in London clubs. What I've got to say can be
said better _sub dio_. I suppose you know what it is that I've got to
talk about."

"Hardly," said John Gordon. "But that is not exactly true. I think I
know, but I am not quite sure of it. On such a subject I should not
like to make a surmise unless I were confident."

"It's about Miss Lawrie."

"I suppose so."

"What makes you suppose that?" said Whittlestaff, sharply.

"You told me that you were sure I should know."

"So I am, quite sure. You came all the way down to Alresford to see
her. If you spoke the truth, you came all the way home from the
diamond-fields with the same object."

"I certainly spoke the truth, Mr Whittlestaff."

"Then what's the good of your pretending not to know?"

"I have not pretended. I merely said that I could not presume to
put the young lady's name into your mouth until you had uttered it
yourself. There could be no other subject of conversation between you
and me of which I was aware."

"You had spoken to me about her," said Mr Whittlestaff.

"No doubt I had. When I found that you had given her a home, and had
made yourself, as it were, a father to her--"

"I had not made myself her father,--nor yet her mother. I had loved
her, as you profess to do."

"My profession is at any rate true."

"I daresay. You may or you mayn't; I at any rate know nothing about
it."

"Why otherwise should I have come home and left my business in South
Africa? I think you may take it for granted that I love her."

"I don't care twopence whether you do or don't," said Mr
Whittlestaff. "It's nothing to me whom you love. I should have been
inclined to say at first sight that a man groping in the dirt for
diamonds wouldn't love any one. And even if you did, though you might
break your heart and die, it would be nothing to me. Had you done so,
I should not have heard of you, nor should I have wished to hear of
you."

There was an incivility in all this of which John Gordon felt that he
was obliged to take some notice. There was a want of courtesy in the
man's manner rather than his words, which he could not quite pass by,
although he was most anxious to do so. "I daresay not," said he; "but
here I am and here also is Miss Lawrie. I had said what I had to say
down at Alresford, and of course it is for you now to decide what is
to be done. I have never supposed that you would care personally for
me."

"You needn't be so conceited about yourself."

"I don't know that I am," said Gordon;--"except that a man cannot but
be a little conceited who has won the love of Mary Lawrie."

"You think it impossible that I should have done so."

"At any rate I did it before you had seen her. Though I may be
conceited, I am not more conceited for myself than you are for
yourself. Had I not known her, you would probably have engaged her
affections. I had known her, and you are aware of the result. But it
is for you to decide. Miss Lawrie thinks that she owes you a debt
which she is bound to pay if you exact it."

"Exact it!" exclaimed Mr Whittlestaff. "There is no question of
exacting!" John Gordon shrugged his shoulders. "I say there is no
question of exacting. The words should not have been used. She has my
full permission to choose as she may think fit, and she knows that
she has it. What right have you to speak to me of exacting?"

Mr Whittlestaff had now talked himself into such a passion, and was
apparently so angry at the word which his companion had used, that
John Gordon began to doubt whether he did in truth know the purpose
for which the man had come to London. Could it be that he had made
the journey merely with the object of asserting that he had the power
of making this girl his wife, and of proving his power by marrying
her. "What is it that you wish, Mr Whittlestaff?" he asked.

"Wish! What business have you to ask after my wishes? But you know
what my wishes are very well. I will not pretend to keep them in the
dark. She came to my house, and I soon learned to desire that she
should be my wife. If I know what love is, I loved her. If I know
what love is, I do love her still. She is all the world to me. I have
no diamonds to care for; I have no rich mines to occupy my heart;
I am not eager in the pursuit of wealth. I had lived a melancholy,
lonely life till this young woman had come to my table,--till I
had felt her sweet hand upon mine,--till she had hovered around me,
covering everything with bright sunshine. Then I asked her to be my
wife;--and she told me of you."

"She told you of me?"

"Yes; she told me of you--of you who might then have been dead, for
aught she knew. And when I pressed her, she said that she would think
of you always."

"She said so?"

"Yes; that she would think of you always. But she did not say that
she would always love you. And in the same breath she promised to be
my wife. I was contented,--and yet not quite contented. Why should
she think of you always? But I believed that it would not be so. I
thought that if I were good to her, I should overcome her. I knew
that I should be better to her than you would be."

"Why should I not be good to her?"

"There is an old saying of a young man's slave and an old man's
darling. She would at any rate have been my darling. It might be that
she would have been your slave."

"My fellow-workman in all things."

"You think so now; but the man always becomes the master. If you
grovelled in the earth for diamonds, she would have to look for them
amidst the mud and slime."

"I have never dreamed of taking her to the diamond-fields."

"It would have been so in all other pursuits."

"She would have had none that she had not chosen," said John Gordon.

"How am I to know that? How am I to rest assured that the world would
be smooth to her if she were your creature? I am not assured--I do
not know."

"Who can tell, as you say? Can I promise her a succession of joys if
she be my wife? She is not one who will be likely to look for such a
life as that. She will know that she must take the rough and smooth
together."

"There would have been no rough with me," said Mr Whittlestaff.

"I do not believe in such a life," said John Gordon. "A woman should
not wear a stuff gown always; but the silk finery and the stuff gown
should follow each other. To my taste, the more there may be of the
stuff gown and the less of the finery, the more it will be to my
wishes."

"I am not speaking of her gowns. It is not of such things as those
that I am thinking." Here Mr Whittlestaff got up from the bench, and
began walking rapidly backwards and forwards under the imperfect
shade on the path. "You will beat her."

"I think not."

"Beat her in the spirit. You will domineer over her, and desire to
have your own way. When she is toiling for you, you will frown at
her. Because you have business on hand, or perhaps pleasure, you will
leave her in solitude. There may a time come when the diamonds shall
have all gone."

"If she is to be mine, that time will have come already. The diamonds
will be sold. Did you ever see a diamond in my possession? Why do you
twit me with diamonds? If I had been a coal-owner, should I have been
expected to keep my coals?"

"These things stick to the very soul of a man. They are a poison
of which he cannot rid himself. They are like gambling. They make
everything cheap that should be dear, and everything dear that should
be cheap. I trust them not at all,--and I do not trust you, because
you deal in them."

"I tell you that I shall not deal in them. But, Mr Whittlestaff, I
must tell you that you are unreasonable."

"No doubt. I am a poor miserable man who does not know the world. I
have never been to the diamond-fields. Of course I understand nothing
of the charms of speculation. A quiet life with my book is all that I
care for;--with just one other thing, one other thing. You begrudge
me that."

"Mr Whittlestaff, it does not signify a straw what I begrudge you."
Mr Whittlestaff had now come close to him, and was listening to him.
"Nor, as I take it, what you begrudge me. Before I left England she
and I had learned to love each other. It is so still. For the sake of
her happiness, do you mean to let me have her?"

"I do."

"You do?"

"Of course I do. You have known it all along. Of course I do. Do you
think I would make her miserable? Would it be in my bosom to make her
come and live with a stupid, silly old man, to potter on from day to
day without any excitement? Would I force her into a groove in which
her days would be wretched to her? Had she come to me and wanted
bread, and have seen before her all the misery of poverty, the
stone-coldness of a governess's life; had she been left to earn her
bread without any one to love her, it might then have been different.
She would have looked out into another world, and have seen another
prospect. A comfortable home with kindness, and her needs supplied,
would have sufficed. She would then have thought herself happy in
becoming my wife. There would then have been no cruelty. But she
had seen you, and though it was but a dream, she thought that she
could endure to wait. Better that than surrender all the delight of
loving. So she told me that she would think of you. Poor dear! I can
understand now the struggle which she intended to make. Then in the
very nick of time, in the absolute moment of the day--so that you
might have everything and I nothing--you came. You came, and were
allowed to see her, and told her all your story. You filled her heart
full with joy, but only to be crushed when she thought that the fatal
promise had been given to me. I saw it all, I knew it. I thought to
myself for a few hours that it might be so. But it cannot be so."

"Oh, Mr Whittlestaff!"

"It cannot be so," he said, with a firm determined voice, as though
asserting a fact which admitted no doubt.

"Mr Whittlestaff, what am I to say to you?"

"You! What are you to say? Nothing. What should you say? Why should
you speak? It is not for love of you that I would do this thing; nor
yet altogether from love of her. Not that I would not do much for her
sake. I almost think that I would do it entirely for her sake, if
there were no other reason. But to shame myself by taking that which
belongs to another, as though it were my own property! To live a
coward in mine own esteem! Though I may be the laughing-stock and
the butt of all those around me, I would still be a man to myself. I
ought to have felt that it was sufficient when she told me that some
of her thoughts must still be given to you. She is yours, Mr Gordon;
but I doubt much whether you care for the possession."

"Not care for her! Up to the moment when I received your note, I was
about to start again for South Africa. South Africa is no place for
her,--nor for me either, with such a wife. Mr Whittlestaff, will you
not allow me to say one word to you in friendship?"

"Not a word."

"How am I to come and take her out of your house?"

"She must manage it as best she can. But no; I would not turn her
from my door for all the world could do for me. This, too, will be
part of the punishment that I must bear. You can settle the day
between you, I suppose, and then you can come down; and, after the
accustomed fashion, you can meet her at the church-door. Then you can
come to my house, and eat your breakfast there if you will. You will
see fine things prepared for you,--such as a woman wants on those
occasions,--and then you can carry her off wherever you please. I
need know nothing of your whereabouts. Good morning now. Do not say
anything further, but let me go my way."



CHAPTER XXII.

JOHN GORDON WRITES A LETTER.


When they parted in the park, Mr Whittlestaff trudged off to his own
hotel, through the heat and sunshine. He walked quickly, and never
looked behind him, and went as though he had fully accomplished his
object in one direction, and must hurry to get it done in another. To
Gordon he had left no directions whatever. Was he to be allowed to go
down to Mary, or even to write her a letter? He did not know whether
Mary had ever been told of this wonderful sacrifice which had been
made on her behalf. He understood that he was to have his own way,
and was to be permitted to regard himself as betrothed to her, but
he did not at all understand what steps he was to take in the matter,
except that he was not to go again to the diamond-fields. But Mr
Whittlestaff hurried himself off to his hotel, and shut himself up in
his own bedroom,--and when there, he sobbed, alas! like a child.

The wife whom he had won for himself was probably more valuable to
him than if he had simply found her disengaged and ready to jump into
his arms. She, at any rate, had behaved well. Mr Whittlestaff had no
doubt proved himself to be an angel, perfect all round,--such a man
as you shall not meet perhaps once in your life. But Mary, too, had
so behaved as to enhance the love of any man who had been already
engaged to her. As he thought of the whole story of the past week,
the first idea that occurred to him was that he certainly had been
present to her mind during the whole period of his absence. Though
not a word had passed between them, and though no word of absolute
love for each other had even been spoken before, she had been steady
to him, with no actual basis on which to found her love. He had
known, and she had been sure, and therefore she had been true to him.
Of course, being a true man himself, he worshipped her all the more.
Mr Whittlestaff was absolutely, undoubtedly perfect; but in Gordon's
estimation Mary was not far off perfection. But what was he to do
now, so that he might approach her?

He had pledged himself to one thing, and he must at once go to work
and busy himself in accomplishing it. He had promised not to return
to Africa; and he must at once see Mr Tookey, and learn whether that
gentleman's friends would be allowed to go on with the purchase as
arranged. He knew Poker & Hodge to be moneyed men, or to be men, at
any rate, in command of money. If they would not pay him at once,
he must look elsewhere for buyers; but the matter must be settled.
Tookey had promised to come to his club this day, and there he would
go and await his coming.

He went to his club, but the first person who came to him was
Mr Whittlestaff. Mr Whittlestaff when he had left the park had
determined never to see John Gordon again, or to see him only during
that ceremony of the marriage, which it might be that he would even
yet escape. All that was still in the distant future. Dim ideas as to
some means of avoiding it flitted through his brain. But even though
he might see Gordon on that terrible occasion, he need not speak
to him. And it would have to be done then, and then only. But now
another idea, certainly very vague, had found its way into his mind,
and with the object of carrying it out, Mr Whittlestaff had come to
the club. "Oh, Mr Whittlestaff, how do you do again?"

"I'm much the same as I was before, thank you. There hasn't happened
anything to improve my health."

"I hope nothing may happen to injure it."

"It doesn't much matter. You said something about some property
you've got in diamonds, and you said once that you must go out to
look after it."

"But I'm not going now. I shall sell my share in the mines. I am
going to see a Mr Tookey about it immediately."

"Can't you sell them to me?"

"The diamond shares,--to you!"

"Why not to me? If the thing has to be done at once, of course you
and I must trust each other. I suppose you can trust me?"

"Certainly I can."

"As I don't care much about it, whether I get what I buy or not, it
does not much matter for me. But in truth, in such an affair as this
I would trust you. Why should not I go in your place?"

"I don't think you are the man who ought to go there."

"I am too old? I'm not a cripple, if you mean that. I don't see why I
shouldn't go to the diamond-fields as well as a younger man."

"It is not about your age, Mr Whittlestaff; but I do not think you
would be happy there."

"Happy! I do not know that my state of bliss here is very great. If I
had bought your shares, as you call them, and paid money for them, I
don't see why my happiness need stand in the way."

"You are a gentleman, Mr Whittlestaff."

"Well; I hope so."

"And of that kind that you would have your eyes picked out of your
head before you had been there a week. Don't go. Take my word for it,
that life will be pleasanter to you here than there, and that for you
the venture would be altogether dangerous. Here is Mr Tookey." At
this point of the conversation, Mr Tookey entered the hall-door, and
some fashion of introduction took place between the two strangers.
John Gordon led the way into a private room, and the two others
followed him. "Here's a gentleman anxious to buy my shares, Tookey,"
said Gordon.

"What! the whole lot of the old Stick-in-the-Mud? He'll have to
shell down some money in order to do that! If I were to be asked my
opinion, I should say that the transaction was hardly one in the
gentleman's way of business."

"I suppose an honest man may work at it," said Mr Whittlestaff.

"It's the honestest business I know out," said Fitzwalker Tookey;
"but it does require a gentleman to have his eyes about him."

"Haven't I got my eyes?"

"Oh certainly, certainly," said Tookey; "I never knew a gentleman
have them brighter. But there are eyes and eyes. Here's Mr Gordon
did have a stroke of luck out there;--quite wonderful! But because he
tumbled on to a good thing, it's no reason that others should. And
he's sold his claim already, if he doesn't go himself,--either to me,
or else to Poker & Hodge."

"I'm afraid it is so," said John Gordon.

"There's my darling wife, who is going out with me, and who means
to stand all the hardship of the hard work amidst those scenes of
constant labour,--a lady who is dying to see her babies there. I am
sure, sir, that Mr Gordon won't forget his promises to me and my
wife."

"If you have the money ready."

"There is Mr Poker in a hansom cab outside, and ready to go with you
to the bank at once, as the matter is rather pressing. If you will
come with him, he will explain everything. I will follow in another
cab, and then everything can be completed." John Gordon did make an
appointment to meet Mr Poker in the city later on in the day, and
then was left together with Mr Whittlestaff at the club.

It was soon decided that Mr Whittlestaff should give up all idea of
the diamond-fields, and in so doing he allowed himself to be brought
back to a state of semi-courteous conversation with his happy rival.
"Well, yes; you may write to her, I suppose. Indeed I don't know
what right I have to say that you may, or you mayn't. She's more
yours than mine, I suppose." "Turn her out! I don't know what makes
you take such an idea as that in your head." John Gordon had not
suggested that Mr Whittlestaff would turn Mary Lawrie out,--though
he had spoken of the steps he would have to take were he to find
Mary left without a home. "She shall have my house as her own till
she can find another. As she will not be my wife, she shall be my
daughter,--till she is somebody else's wife." "I told you before that
you may come and marry her. Indeed I can't help myself. Of course
you may go on as you would with some other girl;--only I wish it
were some other girl. You can go and stay with Montagu Blake, if you
please. It is nothing to me. Everybody knows it now." Then he did say
good-bye, though he could not be persuaded to shake hands with John
Gordon.

Mr Whittlestaff did not go home that day, but on the next, remaining
in town till he was driven out of it by twenty-four hours of absolute
misery. He had said to himself that he would remain till he could
think of some future plan of life that should have in it some better
promise of success for him than his sudden scheme of going to the
diamond-fields. But there was no other plan which became practicable
in his eyes. On the afternoon of the very next day London was no
longer bearable to him; and as there was no other place but Croker's
Hall to which he could take himself with any prospect of meeting
friends who would know anything of his ways of life, he did go down
on the following day. One consequence of this was, that Mary had
received from her lover the letter which he had written almost as
soon as he had received Mr Whittlestaff's permission to write. The
letter was as follows:--


   DEAR MARY,--I do not know whether you are surprised by
   what Mr Whittlestaff has done; but I am,--so much so that
   I hardly know how to write to you on the matter. If you
   will think of it, I have never written to you, and have
   never been in a position in which writing seemed to be
   possible. Nor do I know as yet whether you are aware of
   the business which has brought Mr Whittlestaff to town.

   I suppose I am to take it for granted that all that he
   tells me is true; though when I think what it is that I
   have to accept,--and that on the word of a man who is not
   your father, and who is a perfect stranger to me,--it does
   seem as though I were assuming a great deal. And yet it is
   no more than I asked him to do for me when I saw him at
   his own house.

   I had no time then to ask for your permission; nor, had
   I asked for it, would you have granted it to me. You had
   pledged yourself, and would not have broken your pledge.
   If I asked for your hand at all, it was from him that I
   had to ask. How will it be with me if you shall refuse to
   come to me at his bidding?

   I have never told you that I loved you, nor have you
   expressed your willingness to receive my love. Dear Mary,
   how shall it be? No doubt I do count upon you in my very
   heart as being my own. After this week of troubles it
   seems as though I can look back upon a former time in
   which you and I had talked to one another as though we had
   been lovers. May I not think that it was so? May it not be
   so? May I not call you my Mary?

   And indeed between man and man, as I would say, only that
   you are not a man, have I not a right to assume that it
   is so? I told him that it was so down at Croker's Hall,
   and he did not contradict me. And now he has been the most
   indiscreet of men, and has allowed all your secrets to
   escape from his breast. He has told me that you love me,
   and has bade me do as seems good to me in speaking to you
   of my love.

   But, Mary, why should there be any mock modesty or
   pretence between us? When a man and woman mean to become
   husband and wife, they should at any rate be earnest in
   their profession. I am sure of my love for you, and of my
   earnest longing to make you my wife. Tell me;--am I not
   right in counting upon you for wishing the same thing?

   What shall I say in writing to you of Mr Whittlestaff? To
   me personally he assumes the language of an enemy. But he
   contrives to do so in such a way that I can take it only
   as the expression of his regret that I should be found to
   be standing in his way. His devotion to you is the most
   beautiful expression of self-abnegation that I have ever
   met. He tells me that nothing is done for me; but it is
   only that I may understand how much more is done for you.
   Next to me,--yes, Mary, next to myself, he should be the
   dearest to you of human beings. I am jealous already,
   almost jealous of his goodness. Would that I could look
   forward to a life in which I would be regarded as his
   friend.

   Let me have a line from you to say that it is as I would
   wish it, and name a day in which I may come to visit you.
   I shall now remain in London only to obey your behests. As
   to my future life, I can settle nothing till I can discuss
   it with you, as it will be your life also. God bless you,
   my own one.--Yours affectionately,

   JOHN GORDON.

   We are not to return to the diamond-fields. I have
   promised Mr Whittlestaff that it shall be so.


Mary, when she received this letter, retired into her own room to
read it. For indeed her life in public,--her life, that is, to which
Mrs Baggett had access,--had been in some degree disturbed since the
departure of the master of the house. Mrs Baggett certainly proved
herself to be a most unreasonable old woman. She praised Mary Lawrie
up to the sky as being the only woman fitted to be her master's wife,
at the same time abusing Mary for driving her out of the house were
the marriage to take place; and then abusing her also because Mr
Whittlestaff had gone to town to look up another lover on Mary's
behalf. "It isn't my fault; I did not send him," said Mary.

"You could make his going of no account. You needn't have the young
man when he comes back. He has come here, disturbing us all with his
diamonds, in a most objectionable manner."

"You would be able to remain here and not have to go away with that
dreadfully drunken old man." This Mary had said, because there had
been rather a violent scene with the one-legged hero in the stable.

"What's that to do with it? Baggett ain't the worst man in the world
by any means. If he was a little cross last night, he ain't so
always. You'd be cross yourself, Miss, if you didn't get straw enough
under you to take off the hardness of the stones."

"But you would go and live with him."

"Ain't he my husband! Why shouldn't a woman live with her husband?
And what does it matter where I live, or how. You ain't going to
marry John Gordon, I know, to save me from Timothy Baggett!" Then
the letter had come--the letter from Mary's lover; and Mary retired
to her own room to read it. The letter she thought was perfect, but
not so perfect as was Mr Whittlestaff. When she had read the letter,
although she had pressed it to her bosom and kissed it a score of
times, although she had declared that it was the letter of one who
was from head to foot a man, still there was room for that jealousy
of which John Gordon had spoken. When Mary had said to herself
that he was of all human beings surely the best, it was to Mr
Whittlestaff and not to John Gordon that she made allusion.



CHAPTER XXIII.

AGAIN AT CROKER'S HALL.


About three o'clock on that day Mr Whittlestaff came home. The
pony-carriage had gone to meet him, but Mary remained purposely out
of the way. She could not rush out to greet him, as she would have
done had his absence been occasioned by any other cause. But he had
no sooner taken his place in the library than he sent for her. He had
been thinking about it all the way down from London, and had in some
sort prepared his words. During the next half hour he did promise
himself some pleasure, after that his life was to be altogether a
blank to him. He would go. To that only had he made up his mind. He
would tell Mary that she should be happy. He would make Mrs Baggett
understand that for the sake of his property she must remain at
Croker's Hall for some period to which he would decline to name an
end. And then he would go.

"Well, Mary," he said, smiling, "so I have got back safe."

"Yes; I see you have got back."

"I saw a friend of yours when I was up in London."

"I have had a letter, you know, from Mr Gordon."

"He has written, has he? Then he has been very sudden."

"He said he had your leave to write."

"That is true. He had. I thought that, perhaps, he would have taken
more time to think about it."

"I suppose he knew what he had to say," said Mary. And then she
blushed, as though fearing that she had appeared to have been quite
sure that her lover would not have been so dull.

"I daresay."

"I didn't quite mean that I knew."

"But you did."

"Oh, Mr Whittlestaff! But I will not attempt to deceive you. If you
left it to him, he would know what to say,--immediately."

"No doubt! No doubt!"

"When he had come here all the way from South Africa on purpose to
see me, as he said, of course he would know. Why should there be any
pretence on my part?"

"Why, indeed?"

"But I have not answered him;--not as yet."

"There need be no delay."

"I would not do it till you had come. I may have known what he would
say to me, but I may be much in doubt what I should say to him."

"You may say what you like." He answered her crossly, and she
heard the tone. But he was aware of it also, and felt that he was
disgracing himself. There was none of the half-hour of joy which
he had promised himself. He had struggled so hard to give her
everything, and he might, at any rate, have perfected his gift with
good humour. "You know you have my full permission," he said, with a
smile. But he was aware that this smile was not pleasant,--was not
such a smile as would make her happy. But it did not signify. When he
was gone away, utterly abolished, then she would be happy.

"I do not know that I want your permission."

"No, no; I daresay not."

"You asked me to be your wife."

"Yes; I did."

"And I accepted you. The matter was settled then."

"But you told me of him,--even at first. And you said that you would
always think of him."

"Yes; I told you what I knew to be true. But I accepted you; and I
determined to love you with all my heart,--with all my heart."

"And you knew that you would love him without any determination."

"I think that I have myself under more control. I think that in
time,--in a little time,--I would have done my duty by you
perfectly."

"As how?"

"Loving you with all my heart."

"And now?" It was a hard question to put to her, and so unnecessary!
"And now?"

"You have distrusted me somewhat. I begged you not to go to London. I
begged you not to go."

"You cannot love two men." She looked into his face, as though
imploring him to spare her. For though she did know what was
coming,--though had she asked herself, she would have said that she
knew,--yet she felt herself bound to disown Mr Gordon as her very
own while Mr Whittlestaff thus tantalised her. "No; you cannot love
two men. You would have tried to love me and have failed. You would
have tried not to love him, and have failed then also."

"Then I would not have failed. Had you remained here, and have taken
me, I should certainly not have failed then."

"I have made it easy for you, my dear;--very easy. Write your letter.
Make it as loving as you please. Write as I would have had you write
to me, could it have been possible. O, Mary! that ought to have been
my own! O, Mary! that would have made beautiful for me my future
downward steps! But it is not for such a purpose that a young life
such as yours should be given. Though he should be unkind to you,
though money should be scarce with you, though the ordinary troubles
of the world should come upon you, they will be better for you than
the ease I might have prepared for you. It will be nearer to human
nature. I, at any rate, shall be here if troubles come; or if I am
gone, that will remain which relieves troubles. You can go now and
write your letter."

She could not speak a word as she left the room. It was not only
that her throat was full of sobs, but that her heart was laden with
mingled joy and sorrow, so that she could not find a word to express
herself. She went to her bedroom and took out her letter-case to do
as he had bidden her;--but she found that she could not write. This
letter should be one so framed as to make John Gordon joyful; but it
would be impossible to bring her joy so to the surface as to satisfy
him even with contentment. She could only think how far it might yet
be possible to sacrifice herself and him. She sat thus an hour, and
then went back, and, hearing voices, descended to the drawing-room.
There she found Mr Blake and Kattie Forrester and Evelina Hall. They
had come to call upon Mr Whittlestaff and herself, and were full of
their own news. "Oh, Miss Lawrie, what do you think?" said Mr Blake.
Miss Lawrie, however, could not think, nor could Mr Whittlestaff.
"Think of whatever is the greatest joy in the world," said Mr Blake.

"Don't make yourself such a goose," said Kattie Forrester.

"Oh, but I am in earnest. The greatest joy in all the world."

"I suppose you mean you're going to be married," said Mr
Whittlestaff.

"Exactly. How good you are at guessing! Kattie has named the day.
This day fortnight. Oh dear, isn't it near?"

"If you think so, it shall be this day fortnight next year," said
Kattie.

"Oh dear no! I didn't mean that at all. It can't be too near. And you
couldn't put it off now, you know, because the Dean has been bespoke.
It is a good thing to have the Dean to fasten the knot. Don't you
think so, Miss Lawrie?"

"I suppose one clergyman is just the same as another," said Mary.

"So I tell him. It will all be one twenty years hence. After all, the
Dean is an old frump, and papa does not care a bit about him."

"But how are you to manage with Mr Newface?" asked Mr Whittlestaff.

"That's the best part of it all. Mr Hall is such a brick, that when
we come back from the Isle of Wight he is going to take us all in."

"If that's the best of it, you can be taken in without me," said
Kattie.

"But it is good; is it not? We two, and her maid. She's to be
promoted to nurse one of these days."

"If you're such a fool, I never will have you. It's not too late yet,
remember that." All which rebukes--and there were many of them--Mr
Montagu Blake received with loud demonstrations of joy. "And so, Miss
Lawrie, you're to be in the same boat too," said Mr Blake. "I know
all about it."

Mary blushed, and looked at Mr Whittlestaff. But he took upon
himself the task of answering the clergyman's remarks. "But how do
you know anything about Miss Lawrie?"

"You think that no one can go up to London but yourself, Mr
Whittlestaff. I was up there myself yesterday;--as soon as ever this
great question of the day was positively settled, I had to look after
my own _trousseau_. I don't see why a gentleman isn't to have a
_trousseau_ as well as a lady. At any rate, I wanted a new black
suit, fit for the hymeneal altar. And when there I made out John
Gordon, and soon wormed the truth out of him. At least he did not
tell me downright, but he let the cat so far out of the bag that
I soon guessed the remainder. I always knew how it would be, Miss
Lawrie."

"You didn't know anything at all about it," said Mr Whittlestaff.
"It would be very much more becoming if you would learn sometimes to
hold your tongue."

Then Miss Evelina Hall struck in. Would Miss Lawrie come over to
Little Alresford Park, and stay there for a few days previous to the
wedding? Kattie Forrester meant to bring down a sister with her as
a bridesmaid. Two of the Miss Halls were to officiate also, and it
would be taken as a great favour if Miss Lawrie would make a fourth.
A great deal was said to press upon her this view of the case, to
which, however, she made many objections. There was, indeed, a
tragedy connected with her own matrimonial circumstances, which did
not make her well inclined to join such a party. Her heart was not at
ease within her as to her desertion of Mr Whittlestaff. Whatever the
future might bring forth, the present could not be a period of joy
But in the middle of the argument, Mr Whittlestaff spoke with the
voice of authority. "Accept Mr Hall's kindness," he said, "and go
over for a while to Little Alresford."

"And leave you all alone?"

"I'm sure Mr Hall will be delighted if you will come too," said Mr
Blake, ready at the moment to answer for the extent of his patron's
house and good-nature.

"Quite out of the question," said Mr Whittlestaff, in a tone of
voice intended to put an end to that matter. "But I can manage to
live alone for a few days, seeing that I shall be compelled to do so
before long, by Miss Lawrie's marriage." Again Mary looked up into
his face. "It is so, my dear. This young gentleman has managed to
ferret out the truth, while looking for his wedding garments. Will
you tell your papa, Miss Evelina, that Mary will be delighted to
accept his kindness?"

"And Gordon can come down to me," said Blake, uproariously, rubbing
his hands; "and we can have three or four final days together, like
two jolly young bachelors."

"Speaking for yourself alone," said Kattie,--"you'll have to remain a
jolly young bachelor a considerable time still, if you don't mend
your manners."

"I needn't mend my manners till after I'm married, I suppose." But
they who knew Mr Blake well were wont to declare that in the matter
of what Miss Forrester called his manners, there would not be much to
make his wife afraid.

The affair was settled as far as it could be settled in Mr Gordon's
absence. Miss Lawrie was to go over and spend a fortnight at Little
Alresford just previous to Kattie Forrester's marriage, and Gordon
was to come down to the marriage, so as to be near to Mary, if he
could be persuaded to do so. Of this Mr Blake spoke with great
certainty. "Why shouldn't he come and spoon a bit, seeing that he
never did so yet in his life? Now I have had a lot of it."

"Not such a lot by any means," said Miss Forrester.

"According to all accounts he's got to begin it. He told me that he
hadn't even proposed regular. Doesn't that seem odd to you, Kattie?"

"It seemed very odd when you did it." Then the three of them went
away, and Mary was left to discuss the prospects of her future life
with Mr Whittlestaff. "You had better both of you come and live
here," he said. "There would be room enough." Mary thought probably
of the chance there might be of newcomers, but she said nothing. "I
should go away, of course," said Mr Whittlestaff.

"Turn you out of your own house!"

"Why not? I shan't stay here any way. I am tired of the place, and
though I shan't care to sell it, I shall make a move. A man ought to
make a move every now and again. I should like to go to Italy, and
live at one of those charming little towns."

"Without a soul to speak to."

"I shan't want anybody to speak to. I shall take with me just a few
books to read. I wonder whether Mrs Baggett would go with me. She
can't have much more to keep her in England than I have." But this
plan had not been absolutely fixed when Mary retired for the night,
with the intention of writing her letter to John Gordon before she
went to bed. Her letter took her long to write. The thinking of it
rather took too long. She sat leaning with her face on her hands,
and with a tear occasionally on her cheek, into the late night,
meditating rather on the sweet goodness of Mr Whittlestaff than on
the words of the letter. It had at last been determined that John
Gordon should be her husband. That the fates seem to have decided,
and she did acknowledge that in doing so the fates had been
altogether propitious. It would have been very difficult,--now at
last she owned that truth to herself,--it would have been very
difficult for her to have been true to the promise she had made,
altogether to eradicate John Gordon from her heart, and to fill up
the place left with a wife's true affection for Mr Whittlestaff. To
the performance of such a task as that she would not be subjected.
But on the other hand, John Gordon must permit her to entertain and
to evince a regard for Mr Whittlestaff, not similar at all to the
regard which she would feel for her husband, but almost equal in its
depth.

At last she took the paper and did write her letter, as follows:--


   DEAR MR GORDON,--I am not surprised at anything that Mr
   Whittlestaff should do which shows the goodness of his
   disposition and the tenderness of his heart. He is, I
   think, the most unselfish of mankind. I believe you to be
   so thoroughly sincere in the affection which you express
   for me, that you must acknowledge that he is so. If you
   love me well enough to make me your wife, what must you
   think of him who has loved me well enough to surrender me
   to one whom I had known before he had taken me under his
   fostering care?

   You know that I love you, and am willing to become your
   wife. What can I say to you now, except that it is so. It
   is so. And in saying that, I have told you everything as
   to myself. Of him I can only say, that his regard for me
   has been more tender even than that of a father.--Yours
   always most lovingly,

   MARY LAWRIE.



CHAPTER XXIV.

CONCLUSION.


The day came at last on which Mary's visit to Little Alresford was to
commence. Two days later John Gordon was to arrive at the Parsonage,
and Mary's period of being "spooned" was to be commenced,--according
to Mr Blake's phraseology. "No, my dear; I don't think I need go
with you," said Mr Whittlestaff, when the very day was there.

"Why not come and call?"

"I don't much care about calling," said Mr Whittlestaff. This was
exactly the state of mind to which Mary did not wish to see her
friend reduced,--that of feeling it to be necessary to avoid his
fellow-creatures.

"You think Mr Blake is silly. He is a silly young man, I allow; but
Mr Hall has been very civil. As I am to go there for a week, you
might as well take me." As she spoke she put her arm around him,
caressing him.

"I don't care particularly for Mr Blake; but I don't think I'll go
to Little Alresford." Mary understood, when he said this the second
time, that the thing was fixed as fate. He would not go to Little
Alresford. Then, in about a quarter of an hour, he began again--"I
think you'll find me gone when you come back again."

"Gone! where shall you have gone?"

"I'm not quite comfortable here. Don't look so sad, you dear, dear
girl." Then he crossed the room and kissed her tenderly. "I have a
nervous irritable feeling which will not let me remain quiet. Of
course, I shall come for your marriage, whenever that may be fixed."

"Oh, Mr Whittlestaff, do not talk in that way! That will be a year
to come, or perhaps two or three. Do not let it disturb you in that
way, or I shall swear that I will not be married at all. Why should I
be married if you are to be miserable?"

"It has been all settled, my dear. Mr Gordon is to be the lord of
all that. And though you will be supposed to have fixed the day, it
is he that will really fix it;--he, or the circumstances of his life.
When a young lady has promised a young gentleman, the marriage may be
delayed to suit the young gentleman's convenience, but never to suit
hers. To tell the truth, it will always be felt convenient that she
shall be married as soon as may be after the promise has been given.
You will see Mr Gordon in a day or two, and will find out then what
are his wishes."

"Do you think that I shall not consult your wishes?"

"Not in the least, my dear. I, at any rate, shall have no
wishes,--except what may be best for your welfare. Of course I must
see him, and settle some matters that will have to be settled. There
will be money matters."

"I have no money," said Mary,--"not a shilling! He knows that."

"Nevertheless there will be money matters, which you will have the
goodness to leave to me. Are you not my daughter, Mary, my only
child? Don't trouble yourself about such matters as these, but do as
you're bid. Now it is time for you to start, and Hayonotes will be
ready to go with you." Having so spoken, Mr Whittlestaff put her
into the carriage, and she was driven away to Little Alresford.

It then wanted a week to the Blake-cum-Forrester marriage, and the
young clergyman was beginning to mix a little serious timidity with
his usual garrulous high spirits. "Upon my word, you know I'm not
at all sure that they are going to do it right," he said with much
emphasis to Miss Lawrie. "The marriage is to be on Tuesday. She's to
go home on the Saturday. I insist upon being there on the Monday. It
would make a fellow so awfully nervous travelling on the same day.
But the other girls--and you're one of them, Miss Lawrie--are to go
into Winchester by train on Tuesday morning, under the charge of John
Gordon. If any thing were to happen to any of you, only think, where
should I be?"

"Where should we be?" said Miss Lawrie.

"It isn't your marriage, you know. But I suppose the wedding could go
on even if one of you didn't come. It would be such an awful thing
not to have it done when the Dean is coming." But Mary comforted him,
assuring him that the Halls were very punctual in all their comings
and goings when any event was in hand.

Then John Gordon came, and, to tell the truth, Mary was subjected for
the first time to the ceremony of spooning. When he walked up to the
door across from the Parsonage, Mary Lawrie took care not to be in
the way. She took herself to her own bedroom, and there remained,
with feverish, palpitating heart, till she was summoned by Miss Hall.
"You must come down and bid him welcome, you know."

"I suppose so; but--"

"Of course you must come. It must be sooner or later. He is looking
so different from what he was when he was here before. And so he
ought, when one considers all things."

"He has not got another journey before him to South Africa."

"Without having got what he came for," said Miss Hall. Then when
they went down, Mary was told that John Gordon had passed through
the house into the shrubbery, and was invited to follow him. Mary,
declaring that she would go alone, took up her hat and boldly went
after him. As she passed on, across the lawn, she saw his figure
disappearing among the trees. "I don't think it very civil for a
young lady's young man to vanish in that way," said Miss Hall. But
Mary boldly and quickly followed him, without another word.

"Mary," he said, turning round upon her as soon as they were both out
of sight among the trees. "Mary, you have come at last."

"Yes; I have come."

"And yet, when I first showed myself at your house, you would hardly
receive me." But this he said holding her by the hand, and looking
into her face with his brightest smile. "I had postponed my coming
almost too late."

"Yes, indeed. Was it my fault?"

"No;--nor mine. When I was told that I was doing no good about the
house, and reminded that I was penniless, what could I do but go
away?"

"But why go so far?"

"I had to go where money could be earned. Considering all things, I
think I was quick enough. Where else could I have found diamonds but
at the diamond-fields? And I have been perhaps the luckiest fellow
that has gone and returned."

"So nearly too late!"

"But not too late."

"But you were too late,--only for the inexpressible goodness of
another. Have you thought what I owe--what you and I owe--to Mr
Whittlestaff?"

"My darling!"

"But I am his darling. Only it sounds so conceited in any girl to say
so. Why should he care so much about me?--or why should you, for the
matter of that?"

"Mary, Mary, come to me now." And he held out both his hands. She
looked round, fearing intrusive eyes, but seeing none, she allowed
him to embrace her. "My own,--at last my own. How well you understood
me in those old days. And yet it was all without a word,--almost
without a sign." She bowed her head before she had escaped from his
arms. "Now I am a happy man."

"It is he that has done it for you."

"Am I not thankful?"

"How can I be thankful as I ought? Think of the gratitude that I
owe him,--think of all the love! What man has loved as he has done?
Who has brought himself so to abandon to another the reward he had
thought it worth his while to wish for? You must not count the value
of the thing."

"But I do."

"But the price he had set upon it! I was to be the comfort of his
life to come. And it would have been so, had he not seen and had he
not believed. Because another has loved, he has given up that which
he has loved himself."

"It was not for my sake."

"But it was for mine. You had come first, and had won my poor heart.
I was not worth the winning to either of you."

"It was for me to judge of that."

"Just so. But you do not know his heart. How prone he is to hold by
that which he knows he has made his own. I was his own."

"You told him the truth when he came to you."

"I was his own," said Mary, firmly. "Had he bade me never to see
you again, I should never have seen you. Had he not gone after you
himself, you would never have come back."

"I do not know how that might be."

"It would have been to no good. Having consented to take everything
from his hands, I could never have been untrue to him. I tell you
that I should as certainly have become his wife, as that girl will
become the wife of that young clergyman. Of course I was unhappy."

"Were you, dear?"

"Yes. I was very unhappy. When you flashed upon me there at Croker's
Hall, I knew at once all the joy that had fallen within my reach. You
were there, and you had come for me! All the way from Kimberley, just
for me to smile upon you! Did you not?"

"Indeed I did."

"When you had found your diamonds, you thought of me,--was it not
so?"

"Of you only."

"You flatterer! You dear, bonny lover. You whom I had always loved
and prayed for, when I knew not where you were! You who had not left
me to be like Mariana, but had hurried home at once for me when your
man's work was done,--doing just what a girl would think that a
man should do for her sake. But it had been all destroyed by the
necessity of the case. I take no blame to myself."

"No; none."

"Looking back at it all, I was right. He had chosen to want me, and
had a right to me. I had taken his gifts, given with a full hand.
And where were you, my own one? Had I a right to think that you were
thinking of me?"

"I was thinking of you."

"Yes; because you have turned out to be one in a hundred: but I was
not to have known that. Then he asked me, and I thought it best that
he should know the truth and take his choice. He did take his choice
before he knew the truth,--that you were so far on your way to seek
my hand."

"I was at that very moment almost within reach of it."

"But still it had become his. He did not toss it from him then as a
thing that was valueless. With the truest, noblest observance, he
made me understand how much it might be to him, and then surrendered
it without a word of ill humour, because he told himself that in
truth my heart was within your keeping. If you will keep it well,
you must find a place for his also." It was thus that Mary Lawrie
suffered the spooning that was inflicted upon her by John Gordon.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

The most important part of our narrative still remains. When the day
came, the Reverend Montagu Blake was duly married to Miss Catherine
Forrester in Winchester Cathedral, by the Very Reverend the Dean,
assisted by the young lady's father; and it is pleasant to think that
on that occasion the two clergymen behaved to each other with extreme
civility. Mr Blake at once took his wife over to the Isle of Wight,
and came back at the end of a month to enjoy the hospitality of Mr
Hall. And with them came that lady's maid, of whose promotion to
a higher sphere in life we shall expect soon to hear. Then came a
period of thorough enjoyment for Mr Blake in superintending the work
of Mr Newface.

"What a pity it is that the house should ever be finished!" said
the bride to Augusta Hall; "because as things are now, Montagu is
supremely happy: he will never be so happy again."

"Unless when the baby comes," said Augusta.

"I don't think he'll care a bit about the baby," said the bride.

The writer, however, is of a different opinion, as he is inclined
to think that the Reverend Montagu Blake will be a pattern for all
fathers. One word more we must add of Mr Whittlestaff and his future
life,--and one word of Mrs Baggett. Mr Whittlestaff did not leave
Croker's Hall. When October had come round, he was present at Mary's
marriage, and certainly did not carry himself then with any show
of outward joy. He was moody and silent, and, as some said, almost
uncourteous to John Gordon. But before Mary went down to the train,
in preparation of her long wedding-tour, he took her up to his
bedroom, and there said a final word to her. "Give him my love."

"Oh, my darling! you have made me so happy."

"You will find me better when you come back, though I shall never
cease to regret all that I have lost."

Mrs Baggett accepted her destiny, and remained in supreme dominion
over all women-kind at Croker's Hall. But there was private pecuniary
arrangement between her and her master, of which I could never learn
the details. It resulted, however, in the sending of a money-order
every Saturday morning to an old woman in whose custody the Sergeant
was left.



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's notes:

   Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. Specific
   changes in wording of the text are listed below.

   Chapter II, paragraph 1. The word "man's" has been substituted
   for "man his" in the sentence: In some things his life had been
   successful; but these were matters in which the world does not
   write down a MAN'S good luck as being generally conducive to his
   happiness.

   Chapter V, paragraph 47. The words "living here" have been
   substituted for "loving him" in the sentence: After all that has
   passed between us, you can hardly go on LIVING HERE as you have
   done.

   Chapter VI, last paragraph. The words "than that" have been
   substituted for "that than" in the sentence: The weather is very
   hot, and from morning till night there is no occupation other
   THAN THAT of looking for diamonds, and the works attending it.

   Chapter IX, paragraph 8. The sentence, "There isn't a better
   fellow living than Mr Furnival, or his wife, or his four
   daughters." might leave the reader wondering who is Mr Furnival,
   as the name does not appear again in the text. The man referred
   to is later called Mr Hall.

   Chapter XV, paragraph 12. The word "his" has been inserted in the
   sentence: "Have you seen HIS diamonds, Miss Lawrie?"

   Chapter XV, paragraph 32. The word "as" has been inserted in the
   sentence: "I don't know any spot on God's earth that I should be
   less likely to choose AS my abiding resting-place."

   Chapter XIX, paragraph 56. The word "gone" has been substituted
   for "come" in the sentence: "What is it he means, Miss?" said Mrs
   Baggett, when the master was GONE.

   Chapter XXI, paragraph 35. The word "it" has been inserted in the
   sentence: "What is IT that you wish, Mr Whittlestaff?" he asked.

   Chapter XXII, paragraph 42. The word "had" has been substituted
   for "has" in the sentence: For indeed her life in public,--her
   life, that is, to which Mrs Baggett HAD access,--had been in some
   degree disturbed since the departure of the master of the house.

   Chapter XXIV, paragraph 34. The word "those" has been substituted
   for "these" in the sentence: How well you understood me in THOSE
   old days.

   Chapter XXIV, paragraph 53. The word "were" has been substitute
   for "was" in the sentence: You whom I had always loved and prayed
   for, when I knew not where you WERE!





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