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Title: Miss Mackenzie
Author: Trollope, Anthony, 1815-1882
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Miss Mackenzie" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



MISS MACKENZIE

by

ANTHONY TROLLOPE

First published in book form in 1865



CONTENTS

        I. The Mackenzie Family
       II. Miss Mackenzie Goes to Littlebath
      III. Miss Mackenzie's First Acquaintances
       IV. Miss Mackenzie Commences Her Career
        V. Showing How Mr Rubb, Junior, Progressed at Littlebath
       VI. Miss Mackenzie Goes to the Cedars
      VII. Miss Mackenzie Leaves the Cedars
     VIII. Mrs Tom Mackenzie's Dinner Party
       IX. Miss Mackenzie's Philosophy
        X. Plenary Absolutions
       XI. Miss Todd Entertains Some Friends at Tea
      XII. Mrs Stumfold Interferes
     XIII. Mr Maguire's Courtship
      XIV. Tom Mackenzie's Bed-Side
       XV. The Tearing of the Verses
      XVI. Lady Ball's Grievance
     XVII. Mr Slow's Chambers
    XVIII. Tribulation
      XIX. Showing How Two of Miss Mackenzie's Lovers Behaved
       XX. Showing How the Third Lover Behaved
      XXI. Mr Maguire Goes to London on Business
     XXII. Still at the Cedars
    XXIII. The Lodgings of Mrs Buggins, Née Protheroe
     XXIV. The Little Story of the Lion and the Lamb
      XXV. Lady Ball in Arundel Street
     XXVI. Mrs Mackenzie of Cavendish Square
    XXVII. The Negro Soldiers' Orphan Bazaar
   XXVIII. Showing How the Lion Was Stung by the Wasp
     XXIX. A Friend in Need Is a Friend Indeed
      XXX. Conclusion



CHAPTER I

The Mackenzie Family


I fear I must trouble my reader with some few details as to the early
life of Miss Mackenzie,--details which will be dull in the telling,
but which shall be as short as I can make them. Her father, who had
in early life come from Scotland to London, had spent all his days in
the service of his country. He became a clerk in Somerset House at
the age of sixteen, and was a clerk in Somerset House when he died at
the age of sixty. Of him no more shall be said than that his wife had
died before him, and that he, at dying, left behind him two sons and
a daughter.

Thomas Mackenzie, the eldest of those two sons, had engaged himself
in commercial pursuits--as his wife was accustomed to say when she
spoke of her husband's labours; or went into trade, and kept a shop,
as was more generally asserted by those of the Mackenzie circle who
were wont to speak their minds freely. The actual and unvarnished
truth in the matter shall now be made known. He, with his partner,
made and sold oilcloth, and was possessed of premises in the New
Road, over which the names of "Rubb and Mackenzie" were posted in
large letters. As you, my reader, might enter therein, and purchase
a yard and a half of oilcloth, if you were so minded, I think that
the free-spoken friends of the family were not far wrong. Mrs Thomas
Mackenzie, however, declared that she was calumniated, and her
husband cruelly injured; and she based her assertions on the fact
that "Rubb and Mackenzie" had wholesale dealings, and that they sold
their article to the trade, who re-sold it. Whether or no she was
ill-treated in the matter, I will leave my readers to decide, having
told them all that it is necessary for them to know, in order that a
judgement may be formed.

Walter Mackenzie, the second son, had been placed in his father's
office, and he also had died before the time at which our story is
supposed to commence. He had been a poor sickly creature, always
ailing, gifted with an affectionate nature, and a great respect for
the blood of the Mackenzies, but not gifted with much else that was
intrinsically his own. The blood of the Mackenzies was, according to
his way of thinking, very pure blood indeed; and he had felt strongly
that his brother had disgraced the family by connecting himself with
that man Rubb, in the New Road. He had felt this the more strongly,
seeing that "Rubb and Mackenzie" had not done great things in their
trade. They had kept their joint commercial head above water, but
had sometimes barely succeeded in doing that. They had never been
bankrupt, and that, perhaps, for some years was all that could be
said. If a Mackenzie did go into trade, he should, at any rate, have
done better than this. He certainly should have done better than
this, seeing that he started in life with a considerable sum of
money.

Old Mackenzie,--he who had come from Scotland,--had been the
first-cousin of Sir Walter Mackenzie, baronet, of Incharrow, and
he had married the sister of Sir John Ball, baronet, of the Cedars,
Twickenham. The young Mackenzies, therefore, had reason to be proud
of their blood. It is true that Sir John Ball was the first baronet,
and that he had simply been a political Lord Mayor in strong
political days,--a political Lord Mayor in the leather business; but,
then, his business had been undoubtedly wholesale; and a man who gets
himself to be made a baronet cleanses himself from the stains of
trade, even though he have traded in leather. And then, the present
Mackenzie baronet was the ninth of the name; so that on the higher
and nobler side of the family, our Mackenzies may be said to have
been very strong indeed. This strength the two clerks in Somerset
House felt and enjoyed very keenly; and it may therefore be
understood that the oilcloth manufactory was much out of favour with
them.

When Tom Mackenzie was twenty-five--"Rubb and Mackenzie" as he
afterwards became--and Walter, at the age of twenty-one, had been
for a year or two placed at a desk in Somerset House, there died one
Jonathan Ball, a brother of the baronet Ball, leaving all he had in
the world to the two brother Mackenzies. This all was by no means a
trifle, for each brother received about twelve thousand pounds when
the opposing lawsuits instituted by the Ball family were finished.
These opposing lawsuits were carried on with great vigour, but with
no success on the Ball side, for three years. By that time, Sir John
Ball, of the Cedars, was half ruined, and the Mackenzies got their
money. It is needless to say much to the reader of the manner in
which Tom Mackenzie found his way into trade--how, in the first
place, he endeavoured to resume his Uncle Jonathan's share in the
leather business, instigated thereto by a desire to oppose his Uncle
John,--Sir John, who was opposing him in the matter of the will,--how
he lost money in this attempt, and ultimately embarked, after
some other fruitless speculations, the residue of his fortune in
partnership with Mr Rubb. All that happened long ago. He was now a
man of nearly fifty, living with his wife and family,--a family of
six or seven children,--in a house in Gower Street, and things had
not gone with him very well.

Nor is it necessary to say very much of Walter Mackenzie, who had
been four years younger than his brother. He had stuck to the office
in spite of his wealth; and as he had never married, he had been
a rich man. During his father's lifetime, and when he was quite
young, he had for a while shone in the world of fashion, having been
patronised by the Mackenzie baronet, and by others who thought that a
clerk from Somerset House with twelve thousand pounds must be a very
estimable fellow. He had not, however, shone in a very brilliant way.
He had gone to parties for a year or two, and during those years had
essayed the life of a young man about town, frequenting theatres and
billiard-rooms, and doing a few things which he should have left
undone, and leaving undone a few things which should not have been
so left. But, as I have said, he was weak in body as well as weak
in mind. Early in life he became an invalid; and though he kept his
place in Somerset House till he died, the period of his shining in
the fashionable world came to a speedy end.

Now, at length, we will come to Margaret Mackenzie, the sister, our
heroine, who was eight years younger than her brother Walter, and
twelve years younger than Mr Rubb's partner. She had been little more
than a child when her father died; or I might more correctly say,
that though she had then reached an age which makes some girls young
women, it had not as yet had that effect upon her. She was then
nineteen; but her life in her father's house had been dull and
monotonous; she had gone very little into company, and knew very
little of the ways of the world. The Mackenzie baronet people had not
noticed her. They had failed to make much of Walter with his twelve
thousand pounds, and did not trouble themselves with Margaret, who
had no fortune of her own. The Ball baronet people were at extreme
variance with all her family, and, as a matter of course, she
received no countenance from them. In those early days she did not
receive much countenance from any one; and perhaps I may say that she
had not shown much claim for such countenance as is often given to
young ladies by their richer relatives. She was neither beautiful
nor clever, nor was she in any special manner made charming by any
of those softnesses and graces of youth which to some girls seem to
atone for a want of beauty and cleverness. At the age of nineteen,
I may almost say that Margaret Mackenzie was ungainly. Her brown
hair was rough, and did not form itself into equal lengths. Her
cheek-bones were somewhat high, after the manner of the Mackenzies.
She was thin and straggling in her figure, with bones larger than
they should have been for purposes of youthful grace. There was
not wanting a certain brightness to her grey eyes, but it was a
brightness as to the use of which she had no early knowledge. At
this time her father lived at Camberwell, and I doubt whether the
education which Margaret received at Miss Green's establishment for
young ladies in that suburb was of a kind to make up by art for that
which nature had not given her. This school, too, she left at an
early age--at a very early age, as her age went. When she was nearly
sixteen, her father, who was then almost an old man, became ill, and
the next three years she spent in nursing him. When he died, she was
transferred to her younger brother's house,--to a house which he had
taken in one of the quiet streets leading down from the Strand to
the river, in order that he might be near his office. And here for
fifteen years she had lived, eating his bread and nursing him, till
he also died, and so she was alone in the world.

During those fifteen years her life had been very weary. A moated
grange in the country is bad enough for the life of any Mariana, but
a moated grange in town is much worse. Her life in London had been
altogether of the moated grange kind, and long before her brother's
death it had been very wearisome to her. I will not say that she
was always waiting for some one that came not, or that she declared
herself to be aweary, or that she wished that she were dead. But the
mode of her life was as near that as prose may be near to poetry, or
truth to romance. For the coming of one, who, as things fell out in
that matter, soon ceased to come at all to her, she had for a while
been anxious. There was a young clerk then in Somerset House, one
Harry Handcock by name, who had visited her brother in the early days
of that long sickness. And Harry Handcock had seen beauty in those
grey eyes, and the straggling, uneven locks had by that time settled
themselves into some form of tidiness, and the big joints, having
been covered, had taken upon themselves softer womanly motions,
and the sister's tenderness to the brother had been appreciated.
Harry Handcock had spoken a word or two, Margaret being then
five-and-twenty, and Harry ten years her senior. Harry had spoken,
and Margaret had listened only too willingly. But the sick brother
upstairs had become cross and peevish. Such a thing should never
take place with his consent, and Harry Handcock had ceased to speak
tenderly.

He had ceased to speak tenderly, though he didn't cease to visit the
quiet house in Arundel Street. As far as Margaret was concerned he
might as well have ceased to come; and in her heart she sang that
song of Mariana's, complaining bitterly of her weariness; though the
man was seen then in her brother's sickroom regularly once a week.
For years this went on. The brother would crawl out to his office in
summer, but would never leave his bedroom in the winter months. In
those days these things were allowed in public offices; and it was
not till very near the end of his life that certain stern official
reformers hinted at the necessity of his retiring on a pension.
Perhaps it was that hint that killed him. At any rate, he died
in harness--if it can in truth be said of him that he ever wore
harness. Then, when he was dead, the days were gone in which Margaret
Mackenzie cared for Harry Handcock. Harry Handcock was still
a bachelor, and when the nature of his late friend's will was
ascertained, he said a word or two to show that he thought he was not
yet too old for matrimony. But Margaret's weariness could not now be
cured in that way. She would have taken him while she had nothing, or
would have taken him in those early days had fortune filled her lap
with gold. But she had seen Harry Handcock at least weekly for the
last ten years, and having seen him without any speech of love, she
was not now prepared for the renewal of such speaking.

When Walter Mackenzie died there was a doubt through all the
Mackenzie circle as to what was the destiny of his money. It was well
known that he had been a prudent man, and that he was possessed of a
freehold estate which gave him at least six hundred a year. It was
known also that he had money saved beyond this. It was known, too,
that Margaret had nothing, or next to nothing, of her own. The old
Mackenzie had had no fortune left to him, and had felt it to be a
grievance that his sons had not joined their richer lots to his
poorer lot. This, of course, had been no fault of Margaret's, but it
had made him feel justified in leaving his daughter as a burden upon
his younger son. For the last fifteen years she had eaten bread to
which she had no positive claim; but if ever woman earned the morsel
which she required, Margaret Mackenzie had earned her morsel during
her untiring attendance upon her brother. Now she was left to her
own resources, and as she went silently about the house during those
sad hours which intervened between the death of her brother and
his burial, she was altogether in ignorance whether any means of
subsistence had been left to her. It was known that Walter Mackenzie
had more than once altered his will--that he had, indeed, made many
wills--according as he was at such moments on terms of more or less
friendship with his brother; but he had never told to any one what
was the nature of any bequest that he had made. Thomas Mackenzie had
thought of both his brother and sister as poor creatures, and had
been thought of by them as being but a poor creature himself. He had
become a shopkeeper, so they declared, and it must be admitted that
Margaret had shared the feeling which regarded her brother Tom's
trade as being disgraceful. They, of Arundel Street, had been idle,
reckless, useless beings--so Tom had often declared to his wife--and
only by fits and starts had there existed any friendship between
him and either of them. But the firm of Rubb and Mackenzie was not
growing richer in those days, and both Thomas and his wife had felt
themselves forced into a certain amount of conciliatory demeanour by
the claims of their seven surviving children. Walter, however, said
no word to any one of his money; and when he was followed to his
grave by his brother and nephews, and by Harry Handcock, no one knew
of what nature would be the provision made for his sister.

"He was a great sufferer," Harry Handcock had said, at the only
interview which took place between him and Margaret after the death
of her brother and before the reading of the will.

"Yes indeed, poor fellow," said Margaret, sitting in the darkened
dining-room, in all the gloom of her new mourning.

"And you yourself, Margaret, have had but a sorry time of it." He
still called her Margaret from old acquaintance, and had always done
so.

"I have had the blessing of good health," she said, "and have been
very thankful. It has been a dull life, though, for the last ten
years."

"Women generally lead dull lives, I think." Then he had paused for
a while, as though something were on his mind which he wished to
consider before he spoke again. Mr Handcock, at this time, was bald
and very stout. He was a strong healthy man, but had about him, to
the outward eye, none of the aptitudes of a lover. He was fond of
eating and drinking, as no one knew better than Margaret Mackenzie;
and had altogether dropped the poetries of life, if at any time any
of such poetries had belonged to him. He was, in fact, ten years
older than Margaret Mackenzie; but he now looked to be almost twenty
years her senior. She was a woman who at thirty-five had more of the
graces of womanhood than had belonged to her at twenty. He was a man
who at forty-five had lost all that youth does for a man. But still I
think that she would have fallen back upon her former love, and found
that to be sufficient, had he asked her to do so even now. She would
have felt herself bound by her faith to do so, had he said that such
was his wish, before the reading of her brother's will. But he did no
such thing. "I hope he will have made you comfortable," he said.

"I hope he will have left me above want," Margaret had replied--and
that had then been all. She had, perhaps, half-expected something
more from him, remembering that the obstacle which had separated them
was now removed. But nothing more came, and it would hardly be true
to say that she was disappointed. She had no strong desire to marry
Harry Handcock whom no one now called Harry any longer; but yet, for
the sake of human nature, she bestowed a sigh upon his coldness, when
he carried his tenderness no further than a wish that she might be
comfortable.

There had of necessity been much of secrecy in the life of Margaret
Mackenzie. She had possessed no friend to whom she could express her
thoughts and feelings with confidence. I doubt whether any living
being knew that there now existed, up in that small back bedroom in
Arundel Street, quires of manuscript in which Margaret had written
her thoughts and feelings,--hundreds of rhymes which had never met
any eye but her own; and outspoken words of love contained in letters
which had never been sent, or been intended to be sent, to any
destination. Indeed these letters had been commenced with no name,
and finished with no signature. It would be hardly true to say that
they had been intended for Harry Handcock, even at the warmest period
of her love. They had rather been trials of her strength,--proofs
of what she might do if fortune should ever be so kind to her as to
allow of her loving. No one had ever guessed all this, or had dreamed
of accusing Margaret of romance. No one capable of testing her
character had known her. In latter days she had now and again dined
in Gower Street, but her sister-in-law, Mrs Tom, had declared her
to be a silent, stupid old maid. As a silent, stupid old maid, the
Mackenzies of Rubb and Mackenzie were disposed to regard her. But how
should they treat this stupid old maid of an aunt, if it should now
turn out that all the wealth of the family belonged to her?

When Walter's will was read such was found to be the case. There
was no doubt, or room for doubt, in the matter. The will was dated
but two months before his death, and left everything to Margaret,
expressing a conviction on the part of the testator that it was his
duty to do so, because of his sister's unremitting attention to
himself. Harry Handcock was requested to act as executor, and was
requested also to accept a gold watch and a present of two hundred
pounds. Not a word was there in the whole will of his brother's
family; and Tom, when he went home with a sad heart, told his wife
that all this had come of certain words which she had spoken when
last she had visited the sick man. "I knew it would be so," said Tom
to his wife. "It can't be helped now, of course. I knew you could not
keep your temper quiet, and always told you not to go near him." How
the wife answered, the course of our story at the present moment does
not require me to tell. That she did answer with sufficient spirit,
no one, I should say, need doubt; and it may be surmised that things
in Gower Street were not comfortable that evening.

Tom Mackenzie had communicated the contents of the will to his
sister, who had declined to be in the room when it was opened. "He
has left you everything,--just everything," Tom had said. If Margaret
made any word of reply, Tom did not hear it. "There will be over
eight hundred a year, and he has left you all the furniture," Tom
continued. "He has been very good," said Margaret, hardly knowing how
to express herself on such an occasion. "Very good to you," said Tom,
with some little sarcasm in his voice. "I mean good to me," said
Margaret. Then he told her that Harry Handcock had been named as
executor. "There is no more about him in the will, is there?" said
Margaret. At the moment, not knowing much about executors, she had
fancied that her brother had, in making such appointment, expressed
some further wish about Mr Handcock. Her brother explained to her
that the executor was to have two hundred pounds and a gold watch,
and then she was satisfied.

"Of course, it's a very sad look-out for us," Tom said; "but I do not
on that account blame you."

"If you did you would wrong me," Margaret answered, "for I never once
during all the years that we lived together spoke to Walter one word
about his money."

"I do not blame you," the brother rejoined; and then no more had been
said between them.

He had asked her even before the funeral to go up to Gower Street and
stay with them, but she had declined. Mrs Tom Mackenzie had not asked
her. Mrs Tom Mackenzie had hoped, then--had hoped and had inwardly
resolved--that half, at least, of the dying brother's money would
have come to her husband; and she had thought that if she once
encumbered herself with the old maid, the old maid might remain
longer than was desirable. "We should never get rid of her," she had
said to her eldest daughter, Mary Jane. "Never, mamma," Mary Jane had
replied. The mother and daughter had thought that they would be on
the whole safer in not pressing any such invitation. They had not
pressed it, and the old maid had remained in Arundel Street.

Before Tom left the house, after the reading of the will, he again
invited his sister to his own home. An hour or two had intervened
since he had told her of her position in the world, and he was
astonished at finding how composed and self-assured she was in the
tone and manner of her answer. "No, Tom, I think I had better not,"
she said. "Sarah will be somewhat disappointed."

"You need not mind that," said Tom.

"I think I had better not. I shall be very glad to see her if she
will come to me; and I hope you will come, Tom; but I think I will
remain here till I have made up my mind what to do." She remained in
Arundel Street for the next three months, and her brother saw her
frequently; but Mrs Tom Mackenzie never went to her, and she never
went to Mrs Tom Mackenzie. "Let it be even so," said Mrs Tom; "they
shall not say that I ran after her and her money. I hate such airs."
"So do I, mamma," said Mary Jane, tossing her head. "I always said
that she was a nasty old maid."

On that same day,--the day on which the will was read,--Mr Handcock
had also come to her. "I need not tell you," he had said, as he
pressed her hand, "how rejoiced I am--for your sake, Margaret."
Then she had returned the pressure, and had thanked him for his
friendship. "You know that I have been made executor to the will," he
continued. "He did this simply to save you from trouble. I need only
promise that I will do anything and everything that you can wish."
Then he left her, saying nothing of his suit on that occasion.

Two months after this,--and during those two months he had
necessarily seen her frequently,--Mr Handcock wrote to her from his
office in Somerset House, renewing his old proposals of marriage. His
letter was short and sensible, pleading his cause as well, perhaps,
as any words were capable of pleading it at this time; but it was not
successful. As to her money he told her that no doubt he regarded it
now as a great addition to their chance of happiness, should they
put their lots together; and as to his love for her, he referred her
to the days in which he had desired to make her his wife without a
shilling of fortune. He had never changed, he said; and if her heart
was as constant as his, he would make good now the proposal which she
had once been willing to accept. His income was not equal to hers,
but it was not inconsiderable, and therefore as regards means they
would be very comfortable. Such were his arguments, and Margaret,
little as she knew of the world, was able to perceive that he
expected that they would succeed with her.

Little, however, as she might know of the world, she was not prepared
to sacrifice herself and her new freedom, and her new power and her
new wealth, to Mr Harry Handcock. One word said to her when first
she was free and before she was rich, would have carried her. But an
argumentative, well-worded letter, written to her two months after
the fact of her freedom and the fact of her wealth had sunk into
his mind, was powerless on her. She had looked at her glass and
had perceived that years had improved her, whereas years had not
improved Harry Handcock. She had gone back over her old aspirations,
aspirations of which no whisper had ever been uttered, but which had
not the less been strong within her, and had told herself that she
could not gratify them by a union with Mr Handcock. She thought, or
rather hoped, that society might still open to her its portals,--not
simply the society of the Handcocks from Somerset House, but that
society of which she had read in novels during the day, and of which
she had dreamed at night. Might it not yet be given to her to know
clever people, nice people, bright people, people who were not heavy
and fat like Mr Handcock, or sick and wearisome like her poor brother
Walter, or vulgar and quarrelsome like her relatives in Gower Street?
She reminded herself that she was the niece of one baronet, and the
first-cousin once removed of another, that she had eight hundred
a year, and liberty to do with it whatsoever she pleased; and she
reminded herself, also, that she had higher tastes in the world than
Mr Handcock. Therefore she wrote to him an answer, much longer than
his letter, in which she explained to him that the more than ten
years' interval which had elapsed since words of love had passed
between them had--had--had--changed the nature of her regard. After
much hesitation, that was the phrase which she used.

And she was right in her decision. Whether or no she was doomed to be
disappointed in her aspirations, or to be partially disappointed and
partially gratified, these pages are written to tell. But I think
we may conclude that she would hardly have made herself happy by
marrying Mr Handcock while such aspirations were strong upon her.
There was nothing on her side in favour of such a marriage but a
faint remembrance of auld lang syne.

She remained three months in Arundel Street, and before that period
was over she made a proposition to her brother Tom, showing to what
extent she was willing to burden herself on behalf of his family.
Would he allow her, she asked, to undertake the education and charge
of his second daughter, Susanna? She would not offer to adopt her
niece, she said, because it was on the cards that she herself might
marry; but she would promise to take upon herself the full expense
of the girl's education, and all charge of her till such education
should be completed. If then any future guardianship on her part
should have become incompatible with her own circumstances, she
should give Susanna five hundred pounds. There was an air of business
about this which quite startled Tom Mackenzie, who, as has before
been said, had taught himself in old days to regard his sister as a
poor creature. There was specially an air of business about her
allusion to her own future state. Tom was not at all surprised that
his sister should think of marrying, but he was much surprised that
she should dare to declare her thoughts. "Of course she will marry
the first fool that asks her," said Mrs Tom. The father of the large
family, however, pronounced the offer to be too good to be refused.
"If she does, she will keep her word about the five hundred pounds,"
he said. Mrs Tom, though she demurred, of course gave way; and when
Margaret Mackenzie left London for Littlebath, where lodgings had
been taken for her, she took her niece Susanna with her.



CHAPTER II

Miss Mackenzie Goes to Littlebath


I fear that Miss Mackenzie, when she betook herself to Littlebath,
had before her mind's eye no sufficiently settled plan of life. She
wished to live pleasantly, and perhaps fashionably; but she also
desired to live respectably, and with a due regard to religion. How
she was to set about doing this at Littlebath, I am afraid she did
not quite know. She told herself over and over again that wealth
entailed duties as well as privileges; but she had no clear idea what
were the duties so entailed, or what were the privileges. How could
she have obtained any clear idea on the subject in that prison which
she had inhabited for so many years by her brother's bedside?

She had indeed been induced to migrate from London to Littlebath by
an accident which should not have been allowed to actuate her. She
had been ill, and the doctor, with that solicitude which doctors
sometimes feel for ladies who are well to do in the world, had
recommended change of air. Littlebath, among the Tantivy hills, would
be the very place for her. There were waters at Littlebath which she
might drink for a month or two with great advantage to her system. It
was then the end of July, and everybody that was anybody was going
out of town. Suppose she were to go to Littlebath in August, and stay
there for a month, or perhaps two months, as she might feel inclined.
The London doctor knew a Littlebath doctor, and would be so happy to
give her a letter. Then she spoke to the clergyman of the church she
had lately attended in London who also had become more energetic in
his assistance since her brother's death than he had been before,
and he also could give her a letter to a gentleman of his cloth at
Littlebath. She knew very little in private life of the doctor or of
the clergyman in London, but not the less, on that account, might
their introductions be of service to her in forming a circle of
acquaintance at Littlebath. In this way she first came to think of
Littlebath, and from this beginning she had gradually reached her
decision.

Another little accident, or two other little accidents, had nearly
induced her to remain in London--not in Arundel Street, which was to
her an odious locality, but in some small genteel house in or about
Brompton. She had written to the two baronets to announce to them
her brother's death, Tom Mackenzie, the surviving brother, having
positively refused to hold any communication with either of them.
To both these letters, after some interval, she received courteous
replies. Sir Walter Mackenzie was a very old man, over eighty, who
now never stirred away from Incharrow, in Ross-shire. Lady Mackenzie
was not living. Sir Walter did not write himself, but a letter came
from Mrs Mackenzie, his eldest son's wife, in which she said that
she and her husband would be up in London in the course of the next
spring, and hoped that they might then have the pleasure of making
their cousin's acquaintance. This letter, it was true, did not come
till the beginning of August, when the Littlebath plan was nearly
formed; and Margaret knew that her cousin, who was in Parliament, had
himself been in London almost up to the time at which it was written,
so that he might have called had he chosen. But she was prepared to
forgive much. There had been cause for offence; and if her great
relatives were now prepared to take her by the hand, there could be
no reason why she should not consent to be so taken. Sir John Ball,
the other baronet, had absolutely come to her, and had seen her.
There had been a regular scene of reconciliation, and she had gone
down for a day and night to the Cedars. Sir John also was an old man,
being over seventy, and Lady Ball was nearly as old. Mr Ball, the
future baronet, had also been there. He was a widower, with a large
family and small means. He had been, and of course still was, a
barrister; but as a barrister he had never succeeded, and was now
waiting sadly till he should inherit the very moderate fortune which
would come to him at his father's death. The Balls, indeed, had not
done well with their baronetcy, and their cousin found them living
with a degree of strictness, as to small expenses, which she herself
had never been called upon to exercise. Lady Ball indeed had a
carriage--for what would a baronet's wife do without one?--but it did
not very often go out. And the Cedars was an old place, with grounds
and paddocks appertaining; but the ancient solitary gardener could
not make much of the grounds, and the grass of the paddocks was
always sold. Margaret, when she was first asked to go to the Cedars,
felt that it would be better for her to give up her migration to
Littlebath. It would be much, she thought, to have her relations near
to her. But she had found Sir John and Lady Ball to be very dull, and
her cousin, the father of the large family, had spoken to her about
little except money. She was not much in love with the Balls when she
returned to London, and the Littlebath plan was allowed to go on.

She made a preliminary journey to that place, and took furnished
lodgings in the Paragon. Now it is known to all the world that the
Paragon is the nucleus of all that is pleasant and fashionable at
Littlebath. It is a long row of houses with two short rows abutting
from the ends of the long row, and every house in it looks out upon
the Montpelier Gardens. If not built of stone, these houses are built
of such stucco that the Margaret Mackenzies of the world do not know
the difference. Six steps, which are of undoubted stone, lead up to
each door. The areas are grand with high railings. The flagged way
before the houses is very broad, and at each corner there is an
extensive sweep, so that the carriages of the Paragonites may be
made to turn easily. Miss Mackenzie's heart sank a little within her
at the sight of all this grandeur, when she was first taken to the
Paragon by her new friend the doctor. But she bade her heart be of
good courage, and looked at the first floor--divided into dining-room
and drawing-room--at the large bedroom upstairs for herself, and two
small rooms for her niece and her maid-servant--at the kitchen in
which she was to have a partial property, and did not faint at the
splendour. And yet how different it was from those dingy rooms in
Arundel Street! So different that she could hardly bring herself to
think that this bright abode could become her own.

"And what is the price, Mrs Richards?" Her voice almost did fail her
as she asked this question. She was determined to be liberal; but
money of her own had hitherto been so scarce with her that she still
dreaded the idea of expense.

"The price, mem, is well beknown to all as knows Littlebath. We never
alters. Ask Dr Pottinger else."

Miss Mackenzie did not at all wish to ask Dr Pottinger, who was at
this moment standing in the front room, while she and her embryo
landlady were settling affairs in the back room.

"But what is the price, Mrs Richards?"

"The price, mem, is two pound ten a week, or nine guineas if taken by
the month--to include the kitchen fire."

Margaret breathed again. She had made her little calculations over
and over again, and was prepared to bid as high as the sum now named
for such a combination of comfort and splendour as Mrs Richards was
able to offer to her. One little question she asked, putting her lips
close to Mrs Richards' ear so that her friend the doctor should not
hear her through the doorway, and then jumped back a yard and a half,
awe-struck by the energy of her landlady's reply.

"B---- in the Paragon!" Mrs Richards declared that Miss Mackenzie did
not as yet know Littlebath. She bethought herself that she did know
Arundel Street, and again thanked Fortune for all the good things
that had been given to her.

Miss Mackenzie feared to ask any further questions after this, and
took the rooms out of hand by the month.

"And very comfortable you'll find yourself," said Dr Pottinger, as
he walked back with his new friend to the inn. He had perhaps been
a little disappointed when he saw that Miss Mackenzie showed every
sign of good health; but he bore it like a man and a Christian,
remembering, no doubt, that let a lady's health be ever so good, she
likes to see a doctor sometimes, especially if she be alone in the
world. He offered her, therefore, every assistance in his power.

"The assembly rooms were quite close to the Paragon," he said.

"Oh, indeed!" said Miss Mackenzie, not quite knowing the purport of
assembly rooms.

"And there are two or three churches within five minutes' walk." Here
Miss Mackenzie was more at home, and mentioned the name of the Rev.
Mr Stumfold, for whom she had a letter of introduction, and whose
church she would like to attend.

Now Mr Stumfold was a shining light at Littlebath, the man of men, if
he was not something more than mere man, in the eyes of the devout
inhabitants of that town. Miss Mackenzie had never heard of Mr
Stumfold till her clergyman in London had mentioned his name, and
even now had no idea that he was remarkable for any special views in
Church matters. Such special views of her own she had none. But Mr
Stumfold at Littlebath had very special views, and was very specially
known for them. His friends said that he was evangelical, and his
enemies said that he was Low Church. He himself was wont to laugh at
these names--for he was a man who could laugh--and to declare that
his only ambition was to fight the devil under whatever name he might
be allowed to carry on that battle. And he was always fighting the
devil by opposing those pursuits which are the life and mainstay of
such places as Littlebath. His chief enemies were card-playing and
dancing as regarded the weaker sex, and hunting and horse-racing--to
which, indeed, might be added everything under the name of sport--as
regarded the stronger. Sunday comforts were also enemies which he
hated with a vigorous hatred, unless three full services a day, with
sundry intermediate religious readings and exercitations of the
spirit, may be called Sunday comforts. But not on this account should
it be supposed that Mr Stumfold was a dreary, dark, sardonic man.
Such was by no means the case. He could laugh loud. He could be very
jovial at dinner parties. He could make his little jokes about little
pet wickednesses. A glass of wine, in season, he never refused.
Picnics he allowed, and the flirtation accompanying them. He himself
was driven about behind a pair of horses, and his daughters were
horsewomen. His sons, if the world spoke truth, were Nimrods; but
that was in another county, away from the Tantivy hills, and Mr
Stumfold knew nothing of it. In Littlebath Mr Stumfold reigned over
his own set as a tyrant, but to those who obeyed him he was never
austere in his tyranny.

When Miss Mackenzie mentioned Mr Stumfold's name to the doctor, the
doctor felt that he had been wrong in his allusion to the assembly
rooms. Mr Stumfold's people never went to assembly rooms. He, a
doctor of medicine, of course went among saints and sinners alike,
but in such a place as Littlebath he had found it expedient to have
one tone for the saints and another for the sinners. Now the Paragon
was generally inhabited by sinners, and therefore he had made his
hint about the assembly rooms. He at once pointed out Mr Stumfold's
church, the spire of which was to be seen as they walked towards the
inn, and said a word in praise of that good man. Not a syllable would
he again have uttered as to the wickednesses of the place, had not
Miss Mackenzie asked some questions as to those assembly rooms.

"How did people get to belong to them? Were they pleasant? What did
they do there? Oh--she could put her name down, could she? If it was
anything in the way of amusement she would certainly like to put her
name down." Dr Pottinger, when on that afternoon he instructed his
wife to call on Miss Mackenzie as soon as that young lady should be
settled, explained that the stranger was very much in the dark as to
the ways and manners of Littlebath.

"What! go to the assembly rooms, and sit under Mr Stumfold!" said Mrs
Pottinger. "She never can do both, you know."

Miss Mackenzie went back to London, and returned at the end of a week
with her niece, her new maid, and her boxes. All the old furniture
had been sold, and her personal belongings were very scanty. The
time had now come in which personal belongings would accrue to her,
but when she reached the Paragon one big trunk and one small trunk
contained all that she possessed. The luggage of her niece Susanna
was almost as copious as her own. Her maid had been newly hired, and
she was almost ashamed of the scantiness of her own possessions in
the eyes of her servant.

The way in which Susanna had been given up to her had been
oppressive, and at one moment almost distressing. That objection
which each lady had to visit the other,--Miss Mackenzie, that is, and
Susanna's mamma,--had never been overcome, and neither side had given
way. No visit of affection or of friendship had been made. But as it
was needful that the transfer of the young lady should be effected
with some solemnity, Mrs Mackenzie had condescended to bring her to
her future guardian's lodgings on the day before that fixed for the
journey to Littlebath. To so much degradation--for in her eyes it was
degradation--Mrs Mackenzie had consented to subject herself; and Mr
Mackenzie was to come on the following morning, and take his sister
and daughter to the train.

The mother, as soon as she found herself seated and almost before she
had recovered the breath lost in mounting the lodging-house stairs,
began the speech which she had prepared for delivery on the occasion.
Miss Mackenzie, who had taken Susanna's hand, remained with it in her
own during the greater part of the speech. Before the speech was done
the poor girl's hand had been dropped, but in dropping it the aunt
was not guilty of any unkindness. "Margaret," said Mrs Mackenzie,
"this is a trial, a very great trial to a mother, and I hope that you
feel it as I do."

"Sarah," said Miss Mackenzie, "I will do my duty by your child."

"Well; yes; I hope so. If I thought you would not do your duty by
her, no consideration of mere money would induce me to let her go
to you. But I do hope, Margaret, you will think of the greatness of
the sacrifice we are making. There never was a better child than
Susanna."

"I am very glad of that, Sarah."

"Indeed, there never was a better child than any of 'em; I will
say that for them before the child herself; and if you do your duty
by her, I'm quite sure she'll do hers by you. Tom thinks it best
that she should go; and, of course, as all the money which should
have gone to him has come to you"--it was here, at this point that
Susanna's hand was dropped--"and as you haven't got a chick nor a
child, nor yet anybody else of your own, no doubt it is natural that
you should wish to have one of them."

"I wish to do a kindness to my brother," said Miss Mackenzie--"and to
my niece."

"Yes; of course; I understand. When you would not come up to see us,
Margaret, and you all alone, and we with a comfortable home to offer
you, of course I knew what your feelings were towards me. I don't
want anybody to tell me that! Oh dear, no! 'Tom,' said I when he
asked me to go down to Arundel Street, 'not if I know it.' Those were
the very words I uttered: 'Not if I know it, Tom!' And your papa
never asked me to go again--did he, Susanna? Nor I couldn't have
brought myself to. As you are so frank, Margaret, perhaps candour is
the best on both sides. Now I am going to leave my darling child in
your hands, and if you have got a mother's heart within your bosom, I
hope you will do a mother's duty by her."

More than once during this oration Miss Mackenzie had felt inclined
to speak her mind out, and to fight her own battle; but she was
repressed by the presence of the girl. What chance could there be of
good feeling, of aught of affection between her and her ward, if on
such an occasion as this the girl were made the witness of a quarrel
between her mother and her aunt? Miss Mackenzie's face had become
red, and she had felt herself to be angry; but she bore it all with
good courage.

"I will do my best," said she. "Susanna, come here and kiss me. Shall
we be great friends?" Susanna went and kissed her; but if the poor
girl attempted any answer it was not audible. Then the mother threw
herself on the daughter's neck, and the two embraced each other with
many tears.

"You'll find all her things very tidy, and plenty of 'em," said Mrs
Mackenzie through her tears. "I'm sure we've worked hard enough at
'em for the last three weeks."

"I've no doubt we shall find it all very nice," said the aunt.

"We wouldn't send her away to disgrace us, were it ever so; though of
course in the way of money it would make no difference to you if she
had come without a thing to her back. But I've that spirit I couldn't
do it, and so I told Tom." After this Mrs Mackenzie once more
embraced her daughter, and then took her departure.

Miss Mackenzie, as soon as her sister-in-law was gone, again took the
girl's hand in her own. Poor Susanna was in tears, and indeed there
was enough in her circumstances at the present moment to justify her
in weeping. She had been given over to her new destiny in no joyous
manner.

"Susanna," said Aunt Margaret, with her softest voice, "I'm so glad
you have come to me. I will love you very dearly if you will let me."

The girl came and clustered close against her as she sat on the sofa,
and so contrived as to creep in under her arm. No one had ever crept
in under her arm, or clung close to her before. Such outward signs of
affection as that had never been hers, either to give or to receive.

"My darling," she said, "I will love you so dearly."

Susanna said nothing, not knowing what words would be fitting for
such an occasion, but on hearing her aunt's assurance of affection,
she clung still closer to her, and in this way they became happy
before the evening was over.

This adopted niece was no child when she was thus placed under
her aunt's charge. She was already fifteen, and though she was
young-looking for her age,--having none of that precocious air of
womanhood which some girls have assumed by that time,--she was a
strong healthy well-grown lass, standing stoutly on her legs, with
her head well balanced, with a straight back, and well-formed though
not slender waist. She was sharp about the shoulders and elbows, as
girls are--or should be--at that age; and her face was not formed
into any definite shape of beauty, or its reverse. But her eyes were
bright--as were those of all the Mackenzies--and her mouth was not
the mouth of a fool. If her cheek-bones were a little high, and the
lower part of her face somewhat angular, those peculiarities were
probably not distasteful to the eyes of her aunt.

"You're a Mackenzie all over," said the aunt, speaking with some
little touch of the northern burr in her voice, though she herself
had never known anything of the north.

"That's what mamma's brothers and sisters always tell me. They say I
am Scotchy."

Then Miss Mackenzie kissed the girl again. If Susanna had been sent
to her because she had in her gait and appearance more of the land of
cakes than any of her brothers and sisters, that at any rate should
do her no harm in the estimation of her aunt. Thus in this way they
became friends.

On the following morning Mr Mackenzie came and took them down to the
train.

"I suppose we shall see you sometimes up in London?" he said, as he
stood by the door of the carriage.

"I don't know that there will be much to bring me up," she answered.

"And there won't be much to keep you down in the country," said he.
"You don't know anybody at Littlebath, I believe?"

"The truth is, Tom, that I don't know anybody anywhere. I'm likely to
know as many people at Littlebath as I should in London. But situated
as I am, I must live pretty much to myself wherever I am."

Then the guard came bustling along the platform, the father kissed
his daughter for the last time, and kissed his sister also, and our
heroine with her young charge had taken her departure, and commenced
her career in the world.

For many a mile not a word was spoken between Miss Mackenzie and her
niece. The mind of the elder of the two travellers was very full of
thought,--of thought and of feeling too, so that she could not bring
herself to speak joyously to the young girl. She had her doubts as to
the wisdom of what she was doing. Her whole life, hitherto, had been
sad, sombre, and, we may almost say, silent. Things had so gone with
her that she had had no power of action on her own behalf. Neither
with her father, nor with her brother, though both had been invalids,
had anything of the management of affairs fallen into her hands. Not
even in the hiring or discharging of a cookmaid had she possessed
any influence. No power of the purse had been with her--none of
that power which belongs legitimately to a wife because a wife is a
partner in the business. The two sick men whom she had nursed had
liked to retain in their own hands the little privileges which their
position had given them. Margaret, therefore, had been a nurse in
their houses, and nothing more than a nurse. Had this gone on for
another ten years she would have lived down the ambition of any more
exciting career, and would have been satisfied, had she then come
into the possession of the money which was now hers, to have ended
her days nursing herself--or more probably, as she was by nature
unselfish, she would have lived down her pride as well as her
ambition, and would have gone to the house of her brother and have
expended herself in nursing her nephews and nieces. But luckily for
her--or unluckily, as it may be--this money had come to her before
her time for withering had arrived. In heart, and energy, and desire,
there was still much of strength left to her. Indeed it may be said
of her, that she had come so late in life to whatever of ripeness was
to be vouchsafed to her, that perhaps the period of her thraldom had
not terminated itself a day too soon for her advantage. Many of her
youthful verses she had destroyed in the packing up of those two
modest trunks; but there were effusions of the spirit which had
flown into rhyme within the last twelve months, and which she still
preserved. Since her brother's death she had confined herself to
simple prose, and for this purpose she kept an ample journal. All
this is mentioned to show that at the age of thirty-six Margaret
Mackenzie was still a young woman.

She had resolved that she would not content herself with a lifeless
life, such as those few who knew anything of her evidently expected
from her. Harry Handcock had thought to make her his head nurse; and
the Tom Mackenzies had also indulged some such idea when they gave
her that first invitation to come and live in Gower Street. A word
or two had been said at the Cedars which led her to suppose that
the baronet's family there would have admitted her, with her eight
hundred a year, had she chosen to be so admitted. But she had
declared to herself that she would make a struggle to do better with
herself and with her money than that. She would go into the world,
and see if she could find any of those pleasantnesses of which she
had read in books. As for dancing, she was too old, and never yet
in her life had she stood up as a worshipper of Terpsichore. Of
cards she knew nothing; she had never even seen them used. To the
performance of plays she had been once or twice in her early days,
and now regarded a theatre not as a sink of wickedness after the
manner of the Stumfoldians, but as a place of danger because of
difficulty of ingress and egress, because the ways of a theatre were
far beyond her ken. The very mode in which it would behove her to
dress herself to go out to an ordinary dinner party, was almost
unknown to her. And yet, in spite of all this, she was resolved to
try.

Would it not have been easier for her--easier and more
comfortable--to have abandoned all ideas of the world, and have put
herself at once under the tutelage and protection of some clergyman
who would have told her how to give away her money, and prepare
herself in the right way for a comfortable death-bed? There was much
in this view of life to recommend it. It would be very easy, and
she had the necessary faith. Such a clergyman, too, would be a
comfortable friend, and, if a married man, might be a very dear
friend. And there might, probably, be a clergyman's wife, who would
go about with her, and assist in that giving away of her money.
Would not this be the best life after all? But in order to reconcile
herself altogether to such a life as that, it was necessary that she
should be convinced that the other life was abominable, wicked, and
damnable. She had seen enough of things--had looked far enough into
the ways of the world--to perceive this. She knew that she must go
about such work with strong convictions, and as yet she could not
bring herself to think that "dancing and delights" were damnable.
No doubt she would come to have such belief if told so often enough
by some persuasive divine; but she was not sure that she wished to
believe it.

After doubting much, she had determined to give the world a trial,
and, feeling that London was too big for her, had resolved upon
Littlebath. But now, having started herself upon her journey, she
felt as some mariner might who had put himself out alone to sea in
a small boat, with courage enough for the attempt, but without that
sort of courage which would make the attempt itself delightful.

And then this girl that was with her! She had told herself that it
would not be well to live for herself alone, that it was her duty to
share her good things with some one, and therefore she had resolved
to share them with her niece. But in this guardianship there was
danger, which frightened her as she thought of it.

"Are you tired yet, my dear?" said Miss Mackenzie, as they got to
Swindon.

"Oh dear, no; I'm not at all tired."

"There are cakes in there, I see. I wonder whether we should have
time to buy one."

After considering the matter for five minutes in doubt, Aunt Margaret
did rush out, and did buy the cakes.



CHAPTER III

Miss Mackenzie's First Acquaintances


In the first fortnight of Miss Mackenzie's sojourn at Littlebath,
four persons called upon her; but though this was a success as far
as it went, those fourteen days were very dull. During her former
short visit to the place she had arranged to send her niece to a
day school which had been recommended to her as being very genteel,
and conducted under moral and religious auspices of most exalted
character. Hither Susanna went every morning after breakfast, and
returned home in these summer days at eight o'clock in the evening.
On Sundays also, she went to morning church with the other girls; so
that Miss Mackenzie was left very much to herself.

Mrs Pottinger was the first to call, and the doctor's wife contented
herself with simple offers of general assistance. She named a baker
to Miss Mackenzie, and a dressmaker; and she told her what was the
proper price to be paid by the hour for a private brougham or for a
public fly. All this was useful, as Miss Mackenzie was in a state
of densest ignorance; but it did not seem that much in the way of
amusement would come from the acquaintance of Mrs Pottinger. That
lady said nothing about the assembly rooms, nor did she speak of the
Stumfoldian manner of life. Her husband had no doubt explained to
her that the stranger was not as yet a declared disciple in either
school. Miss Mackenzie had wished to ask a question about the
assemblies, but had been deterred by fear. Then came Mr Stumfold in
person, and, of course, nothing about the assembly rooms was said
by him. He made himself very pleasant, and Miss Mackenzie almost
resolved to put herself into his hands. He did not look sour at her,
nor did he browbeat her with severe words, nor did he exact from her
the performance of any hard duties. He promised to find her a seat in
his church, and told her what were the hours of service. He had three
"Sabbath services," but he thought that regular attendance twice
every Sunday was enough for people in general. He would be delighted
to be of use, and Mrs Stumfold should come and call. Having promised
this, he went his way. Then came Mrs Stumfold, according to promise,
bringing with her one Miss Baker, a maiden lady. From Mrs Stumfold
our friend got very little assistance. Mrs Stumfold was hard,
severe, and perhaps a little grand. She let fall a word or two which
intimated her conviction that Miss Mackenzie was to become at all
points a Stumfoldian, since she had herself invoked the countenance
and assistance of the great man on her first arrival; but beyond
this, Mrs Stumfold afforded no comfort. Our friend could not have
explained to herself why it was so, but after having encountered Mrs
Stumfold, she was less inclined to become a disciple than she had
been when she had seen only the great master himself. It was not
only that Mrs Stumfold, as judged by externals, was felt to be more
severe than her husband evangelically, but she was more severe also
ecclesiastically. Miss Mackenzie thought that she could probably obey
the ecclesiastical man, but that she would certainly rebel against
the ecclesiastical woman.

There had been, as I have said, a Miss Baker with the female
minister, and Miss Mackenzie had at once perceived that had Miss
Baker called alone, the whole thing would have been much more
pleasant. Miss Baker had a soft voice, was given to a good deal of
gentle talking, was kind in her manner, and prone to quick intimacies
with other ladies of her own nature. All this Miss Mackenzie felt
rather than saw, and would have been delighted to have had Miss Baker
without Mrs Stumfold. She could, she knew, have found out all about
everything in five minutes, had she and Miss Baker been able to sit
close together and to let their tongues loose. But Miss Baker, poor
soul, was in these days thoroughly subject to the female Stumfold
influence, and went about the world of Littlebath in a repressed
manner that was truly pitiable to those who had known her before the
days of her slavery.

But, as she rose to leave the room at her tyrant's bidding, she spoke
a word of comfort. "A friend of mine, Miss Mackenzie, lives next door
to you, and she has begged me to say that she will do herself the
pleasure of calling on you, if you will allow her."

The poor woman hesitated as she made her little speech, and once cast
her eye round in fear upon her companion.

"I'm sure I shall be delighted," said Miss Mackenzie.

"That's Miss Todd, is it?" said Mrs Stumfold; and it was made
manifest by Mrs Stumfold's voice that Mrs Stumfold did not think much
of Miss Todd.

"Yes; Miss Todd. You see she is so close a neighbour," said Miss
Baker, apologetically.

Mrs Stumfold shook her head, and then went away without further
speech.

Miss Mackenzie became at once impatient for Miss Todd's arrival,
and was induced to keep an eye restlessly at watch on the two
neighbouring doors in the Paragon, in order that she might see Miss
Todd at the moment of some entrance or exit. Twice she did see a
lady come out from the house next her own on the right, a stout
jolly-looking dame, with a red face and a capacious bonnet, who
closed the door behind her with a slam, and looked as though she
would care little for either male Stumfold or female. Miss Mackenzie,
however, made up her mind that this was not Miss Todd. This lady, she
thought, was a married lady; on one occasion there had been children
with her, and she was, in Miss Mackenzie's judgment, too stout, too
decided, and perhaps too loud to be a spinster. A full week passed
by before this question was decided by the promised visit,--a week
during which the new comer never left her house at any hour at which
callers could be expected to call, so anxious was she to become
acquainted with her neighbour; and she had almost given the matter
up in despair, thinking that Mrs Stumfold had interfered with her
tyranny, when, one day immediately after lunch--in these days Miss
Mackenzie always lunched, but seldom dined--when one day immediately
after lunch, Miss Todd was announced.

Miss Mackenzie immediately saw that she had been wrong. Miss Todd was
the stout, red-faced lady with the children. Two of the children,
girls of eleven and thirteen, were with her now. As Miss Todd walked
across the room to shake hands with her new acquaintance, Miss
Mackenzie at once recognised the manner in which the street door had
been slammed, and knew that it was the same firm step which she had
heard on the pavement half down the Paragon.

"My friend, Miss Baker, told me you had come to live next door to
me," began Miss Todd, "and therefore I told her to tell you that
I should come and see you. Single ladies, when they come here,
generally like some one to come to them. I'm single myself, and these
are my nieces. You've got a niece, I believe, too. When the Popes
have nephews, people say all manner of ill-natured things. I hope
they ain't so uncivil to us."

Miss Mackenzie smirked and smiled, and assured Miss Todd that she
was very glad to see her. The allusion to the Popes she did not
understand.

"Miss Baker came with Mrs Stumfold, didn't she?" continued Miss Todd.
"She doesn't go much anywhere now without Mrs Stumfold, unless when
she creeps down to me. She and I are very old friends. Have you known
Mr Stumfold long? Perhaps you have come here to be near him; a great
many ladies do."

In answer to this, Miss Mackenzie explained that she was not a
follower of Mr Stumfold in that sense. It was true that she had
brought a letter to him, and intended to go to his church. In
consequence of that letter, Mrs Stumfold had been good enough to call
upon her.

"Oh yes: she'll come to you quick enough. Did she come with her
carriage and horses?"

"I think she was on foot," said Miss Mackenzie.

"Then I should tell her of it. Coming to you, in the best house in
the Paragon, on your first arrival, she ought to have come with her
carriage and horses."

"Tell her of it!" said Miss Mackenzie.

"A great many ladies would, and would go over to the enemy before the
month was over, unless she brought the carriage in the meantime. I
don't advise you to do so. You haven't got standing enough in the
place yet, and perhaps she could put you down."

"But it makes no difference to me how she comes."

"None in the least, my dear, or to me either. I should be glad to see
her even in a wheelbarrow for my part. But you mustn't suppose that
she ever comes to me. Lord bless you! no. She found me out to be past
all grace ever so many years ago."

"Mrs Stumfold thinks that Aunt Sally is the old gentleman himself,"
said the elder of the girls.

"Ha, ha, ha," laughed the aunt. "You see, Miss Mackenzie, we run very
much into parties here, as they do in most places of this kind, and
if you mean to go thoroughly in with the Stumfold party you must tell
me so, candidly, and there won't be any bones broken between us. I
shan't like you the less for saying so: only in that case it won't be
any use our trying to see much of each other."

Miss Mackenzie was somewhat frightened, and hardly knew what answer
to make. She was very anxious to have it understood that she was not,
as yet, in bond under Mrs Stumfold--that it was still a matter of
choice to herself whether she would be a saint or a sinner; and she
would have been so glad to hint to her neighbour that she would like
to try the sinner's line, if it were only for a month or two; only
Miss Todd frightened her! And when the girl told her that Miss Todd
was regarded, ex parte Stumfold, as being the old gentleman himself,
Miss Mackenzie again thought for an instant that there would be
safety in giving way to the evangelico-ecclesiastical influence, and
that perhaps life might be pleasant enough to her if she could be
allowed to go about in couples with that soft Miss Baker.

"As you have been so good as to call," said Miss Mackenzie, "I hope
you will allow me to return your visit."

"Oh, dear, yes--shall be quite delighted to see you. You can't hurt
me, you know. The question is, whether I shan't ruin you. Not that I
and Mr Stumfold ain't great cronies. He and I meet about on neutral
ground, and are the best friends in the world. He knows I'm a lost
sheep--a gone 'coon, as the Americans say--so he pokes his fun at me,
and we're as jolly as sandboys. But St Stumfolda is made of sterner
metal, and will not put up with any such female levity. If she pokes
her fun at any sinners, it is at gentlemen sinners; and grim work it
must be for them, I should think. Poor Mary Baker! the best creature
in the world. I'm afraid she has a bad time of it. But then, you
know, perhaps that is the sort of thing you like."

"You see I know so very little of Mrs Stumfold," said Miss Mackenzie.

"That's a misfortune will soon be cured if you let her have her own
way. You ask Mary Baker else. But I don't mean to be saying anything
bad behind anybody's back; I don't indeed. I have no doubt these
people are very good in their way; only their ways are not my ways;
and one doesn't like to be told so often that one's own way is broad,
and that it leads--you know where. Come, Patty, let us be going.
When you've made up your mind, Miss Mackenzie, just you tell me.
If you say, 'Miss Todd, I think you're too wicked for me,' I shall
understand it. I shan't be in the least offended. But if my way
isn't--isn't too broad, you know, I shall be very happy to see you."

Hereupon Miss Mackenzie plucked up courage and asked a question.

"Do you ever go to the assembly rooms, Miss Todd?"

Miss Todd almost whistled before she gave her answer. "Why, Miss
Mackenzie, that's where they dance and play cards, and where the
girls flirt and the young men make fools of themselves. I don't go
there very often myself, because I don't care about flirting, and I'm
too old for dancing. As for cards, I get plenty of them at home. I
think I did put down my name and paid something when I first came
here, but that's ever so many years ago. I don't go to the assembly
rooms now."

As soon as Miss Todd was gone, Miss Mackenzie went to work to reflect
seriously upon all she had just heard. Of course, there could be no
longer any question of her going to the assembly rooms. Even Miss
Todd, wicked as she was, did not go there. But should she, or should
she not, return Miss Todd's visit? If she did she would be thereby
committing herself to what Miss Todd had profanely called the broad
way. In such case any advance in the Stumfold direction would be
forbidden to her. But if she did not call on Miss Todd, then she
would have plainly declared that she intended to be such another
disciple as Miss Baker, and from that decision there would be no
recall. On this subject she must make up her mind, and in doing so
she laboured with all her power. As to any charge of incivility which
might attach to her for not returning the visit of a lady who had
been so civil to her, of that she thought nothing. Miss Todd had
herself declared that she would not be in the least offended. But
she liked this new acquaintance. In owning all the truth about Miss
Mackenzie, I must confess that her mind hankered after the things of
this world. She thought that if she could only establish herself as
Miss Todd was established, she would care nothing for the Stumfolds,
male or female.

But how was she to do this? An establishment in the Stumfold
direction might be easier.

In the course of the next week two affairs of moment occurred to
Miss Mackenzie. On the Wednesday morning she received from London a
letter of business which caused her considerable anxiety, and on the
Thursday afternoon a note was brought to her from Mrs Stumfold,--or
rather an envelope containing a card on which was printed an
invitation to drink tea with that lady on that day week. This
invitation she accepted without much doubt. She would go and see
Mrs Stumfold in her house, and would then be better able to decide
whether the mode of life practised by the Stumfold party would be
to her taste. So she wrote a reply, and sent it by her maid-servant,
greatly doubting whether she was not wrong in writing her answer on
common note-paper, and whether she also should not have supplied
herself with some form or card for the occasion.

The letter of business was from her brother Tom, and contained an
application for the loan of some money,--for the loan, indeed, of a
good deal of money. But the loan was to be made not to him but to
the firm of Rubb and Mackenzie, and was not to be a simple lending
of money on the faith of that firm, for purposes of speculation or
ordinary business. It was to be expended in the purchase of the
premises in the New Road, and Miss Mackenzie was to have a mortgage
on them, and was to receive five per cent for the money which she
should advance. The letter was long, and though it was manifest
even to Miss Mackenzie that he had written the first page with much
hesitation, he had waxed strong as he had gone on, and had really
made out a good case. "You are to understand," he said, "that this
is, of course, to be done through your own lawyer, who will not allow
you to make the loan unless he is satisfied with the security. Our
landlords are compelled to sell the premises, and unless we purchase
them ourselves, we shall in all probability be turned out, as we have
only a year or two more under our present lease. You could purchase
the whole thing yourself, but in that case you would not be sure of
the same interest for your money." He then went on to say that Samuel
Rubb, junior, the son of old Rubb, should run down to Littlebath
in the course of next week, in order that the whole thing might be
made clear to her. Samuel Rubb was not the partner whose name was
included in the designation of the firm, but was a young man,--"a
comparatively young man,"--as her brother explained, who had lately
been admitted to a share in the business.

This letter put Miss Mackenzie into a twitter. Like all other single
ladies, she was very nervous about her money. She was quite alive to
the beauty of a high rate of interest, but did not quite understand
that high interest and impaired security should go hand in hand
together. She wished to oblige her brother, and was aware that she
had money as to which her lawyers were looking out for an investment.
Even this had made her unhappy, as she was not quite sure whether
her lawyers would not spend the money. She knew that lone women were
terribly robbed sometimes, and had almost resolved upon insisting
that the money should be put into the Three per Cents. But she had
gone to work with figures, and having ascertained that by doing so
twenty-five pounds a year would be docked off from her computed
income, she had given no such order. She now again went to work with
her figures, and found that if the loan were accomplished it would
add twenty-five pounds a year to her computed income. Mortgages, she
knew, were good things, strong and firm, based upon landed security,
and very respectable. So she wrote to her lawyers, saying that she
would be glad to oblige her brother if there were nothing amiss. Her
lawyers wrote back, advising her to refer Mr Rubb, junior, to them.
On the day named in her brother's letter, Mr Samuel Rubb, junior,
arrived at Littlebath, and called upon Miss Mackenzie in the Paragon.

Miss Mackenzie had been brought up with contempt and almost with
hatred for the Rubb family. It had, in the first instance, been the
work of old Samuel Rubb to tempt her brother Tom into trade; and he
had tempted Tom into a trade that had not been fat and prosperous,
and therefore pardonable, but into a trade that had been troublesome
and poor. Walter Mackenzie had always spoken of these Rubbs
with thorough disgust, and had persistently refused to hold any
intercourse with them. When, therefore, Mr Samuel Rubb was announced,
our heroine was somewhat inclined to seat herself upon a high horse.

Mr Samuel Rubb, junior, came upstairs, and was by no means the sort
of person in appearance that Miss Mackenzie had expected to see. In
the first place, he was, as well as she could guess, about forty
years of age; whereas she had expected to see a young man. A man who
went about the world especially designated as junior, ought, she
thought, to be very young. And then Mr Rubb carried with him an
air of dignity, and had about his external presence a something of
authority which made her at once seat herself a peg lower than she
had intended. He was a good-looking man, nearly six feet high, with
great hands and feet, but with a great forehead also, which atoned
for his hands and feet. He was dressed throughout in black, as
tradesmen always are in these days; but, as Miss Mackenzie said
to herself, there was certainly no knowing that he belonged to
the oilcloth business from the cut of his coat or the set of his
trousers. He began his task with great care, and seemed to have none
of the hesitation which had afflicted her brother in writing his
letter. The investment, he said, would, no doubt, be a good one. Two
thousand four hundred pounds was the sum wanted, and he understood
that she had that amount lying idle. Their lawyer had already seen
her lawyer, and there could be no doubt as to the soundness of the
mortgage. An assurance company with whom the firm had dealings was
quite ready to advance the money on the proposed security, and at
the proposed rate of interest, but in such a matter as that, Rubb
and Mackenzie did not wish to deal with an assurance company. They
desired that all control over the premises should either be in their
own hands, or in the hands of someone connected with them.

By the time that Mr Samuel Rubb had done, Miss Mackenzie found
herself to have dismounted altogether from her horse, and to be
pervaded by some slight fear that her lawyers might allow so
favourable an opportunity for investing her money to slip through
their hands.

Then, on a sudden, Mr Rubb dropped the subject of the loan, and Miss
Mackenzie, as he did so, felt herself to be almost disappointed. And
when she found him talking easily to her about matters of external
life, although she answered him readily, and talked to him also
easily, she entertained some feeling that she ought to be offended.
Mr Rubb, junior, was a tradesman who had come to her on business, and
having done his business, why did he not go away? Nevertheless, Miss
Mackenzie answered him when he asked questions, and allowed herself
to be seduced into a conversation.

"Yes, upon my honour," he said, looking out of the window into the
Montpelier Gardens, "a very nice situation indeed. How much better
they do these things in such a place as this than we do up in London!
What dingy houses we live in, and how bright they make the places
here!"

"They are not crowded so much, I suppose," said Miss Mackenzie.

"It isn't only that. The truth is, that in London nobody cares what
his house looks like. The whole thing is so ugly that anything not
ugly would be out of place. Now, in Paris--you have been in Paris,
Miss Mackenzie?"

In answer to this, Miss Mackenzie was compelled to own that she had
never been in Paris.

"Ah, you should go to Paris, Miss Mackenzie; you should, indeed. Now,
you're a lady that have nothing to prevent your going anywhere. If I
were you, I'd go almost everywhere; but above all, I'd go to Paris.
There's no place like Paris."

"I suppose not," said Miss Mackenzie.

By this time Mr Rubb had returned from the window, and had seated
himself in the easy chair in the middle of the room. In doing so he
thrust out both his legs, folded his hands one over the other, and
looked very comfortable.

"Now I'm a slave to business," he said. "That horrid place in the New
Road, which we want to buy with your money, has made a prisoner of me
for the last twenty years. I went into it as the boy who was to do
the copying, when your brother first became a partner. Oh dear, how I
did hate it!"

"Did you now?"

"I should rather think I did. I had been brought up at the Merchant
Taylors' and they intended to send me to Oxford. That was five years
before they began the business in the New Road. Then came the crash
which our house had at Manchester; and when we had picked up the
pieces, we found that we had to give up university ideas. However,
I'll make a business of it before I'm done; you see if I don't, Miss
Mackenzie. Your brother has been with us so many years that I have
quite a pleasure in talking to you about it."

Miss Mackenzie was not quite sure that she reciprocated the pleasure;
for, after all, though he did look so much better than she had
expected, he was only Rubb, junior, from Rubb and Mackenzie's; and
any permanent acquaintance with Mr Rubb would not suit the line of
life in which she was desirous of moving. But she did not in the
least know how to stop him, or how to show him that she had intended
to receive him simply as a man of business. And then it was so seldom
that anyone came to talk to her, that she was tempted to fall away
from her high resolves. "I have not known much of my brother's
concerns," she said, attempting to be cautious.

Then he sat for another hour, making himself very agreeable, and at
the end of that time she offered him a glass of wine and a biscuit,
which he accepted. He was going to remain two or three days in the
neighbourhood, he said, and might he call again before he left?
Miss Mackenzie told him that he might. How was it possible that
she should answer such a question in any other way? Then he got up,
and shook hands with her, told her that he was so glad he had come
to Littlebath, and was quite cordial and friendly. Miss Mackenzie
actually found herself laughing with him as they stood on the floor
together, and though she knew that it was improper, she liked it.
When he was gone she could not remember what it was that had made her
laugh, but she remembered that she had laughed. For a long time past
very little laughter had come to her share.

When he was gone she prepared herself to think about him at length.
Why had he talked to her in that way? Why was he going to call again?
Why was Rubb, junior, from Rubb and Mackenzie's, such a pleasant
fellow? After all, he retailed oilcloth at so much a yard; and little
as she knew of the world, she knew that she, with ever so much good
blood in her veins, and with ever so many hundreds a year of her own,
was entitled to look for acquaintances of a higher order than that.
She, if she were entitled to make any boast about herself--and she
was by no means inclined to such boastings--might at any rate boast
that she was a lady. Now, Mr Rubb was not a gentleman. He was not a
gentleman by position. She knew that well enough, and she thought
that she had also discovered that he was not quite a gentleman in his
manners and mode of speech. Nevertheless she had liked him, and had
laughed with him, and the remembrance of this made her sad.

That same evening she wrote a letter to her lawyer, telling him that
she was very anxious to oblige her brother, if the security was
good. And then she went into the matter at length, repeating much of
what Mr Rubb had said to her, as to the excellence of mortgages in
general, and of this mortgage in particular. After that she dressed
herself with great care, and went out to tea at Mrs Stumfold's. This
was the first occasion in her life in which she had gone to a party,
the invitation to which had come to her on a card, and of course she
felt herself to be a little nervous.



CHAPTER IV

Miss Mackenzie Commences Her Career


Miss Mackenzie had been three weeks at Littlebath when the day
arrived on which she was to go to Mrs Stumfold's party, and up to
that time she had not enjoyed much of the society of that very social
place. Indeed, in these pages have been described with accuracy all
the advancement which she had made in that direction. She had indeed
returned Miss Todd's call, but had not found that lady at home.
In doing this she had almost felt herself to be guilty of treason
against the new allegiance which she seemed to have taken upon
herself in accepting Mrs Stumfold's invitation; and she had done it
at last not from any firm resolve of which she might have been proud,
but had been driven to it by ennui, and by the easy temptation of
Miss Todd's neighbouring door. She had, therefore, slipped out, and
finding her wicked friend to be not at home, had hurried back again.
She had, however, committed herself to a card, and she knew that Mrs
Stumfold would hear of it through Miss Baker. Miss Baker's visit
she had not returned, being in doubt where Miss Baker lived, being
terribly in doubt also whether the Median rules of fashion demanded
of her that she should return the call of a lady who had simply come
to her with another caller. Her hesitation on this subject had been
much, and her vacillations many, but she had thought it safer to
abstain. For the last day or two she had been expecting the return of
Mr Rubb, junior--keeping herself a prisoner, I fear, during the best
hours of the day, so that she might be there to receive him when he
did come; but though she had so acted, she had quite resolved to
be very cold with him, and very cautious, and had been desirous
of seeing him solely with a view to the mercantile necessities of
her position. It behoved her certainly to attend to business when
business came in her way, and therefore she would take care to be at
home when Mr Rubb should call.

She had been to church twice a day on each of the Sundays that she
had passed in Littlebath, having in this matter strictly obeyed the
hints which Mr Stumfold had given for her guidance. No doubt she had
received benefit from the discourses which she had heard from that
gentleman each morning; and, let us hope, benefit also from the much
longer discourses which she had heard from Mr Stumfold's curate on
each evening. The Rev. Mr Maguire was very powerful, but he was also
very long; and Miss Mackenzie, who was hardly as yet entitled to rank
herself among the thoroughly converted, was inclined to think that
he was too long. She was, however, patient by nature, and willing to
bear much, if only some little might come to her in return. What of
social comfort she had expected to obtain from her churchgoings I
cannot quite define; but I think that she had unconsciously expected
something from them in that direction, and that she had been
disappointed.

But now, at nine o'clock on this appointed evening, she was of
a certainty and in very truth going into society. The card said
half-past eight; but the Sun had not yoked his horses so far away
from her Tyre, remote as that Tyre had been, as to have left her in
ignorance that half-past eight meant nine. When her watch showed her
that half-past eight had really come, she was fidgety, and rang the
bell to inquire whether the man might have probably forgotten to send
the fly; and yet she had been very careful to tell the man that she
did not wish to be at Mrs Stumfold's before nine.

"He understands, Miss," said the servant; "don't you be afeard; he's
a-doing of it every night."

Then she became painfully conscious that even the maid-servant knew
more of the social ways of the place than did she.

When she reached the top of Mrs Stumfold's stairs, her heart was in
her mouth, for she perceived immediately that she had kept people
waiting. After all, she had trusted to false intelligence in that
matter of the hour. Half-past eight had meant half-past eight,
and she ought to have known that this would be so in a house so
upright as that of Mrs Stumfold. That lady met her at the door, and
smiling--blandly, but, perhaps I might be permitted to say, not so
blandly as she might have smiled--conducted the stranger to a seat.

"We generally open with a little prayer, and for that purpose our
dear friends are kind enough to come to us punctually."

Then Mr Stumfold got up, and pressed her hand very kindly.

"I'm so sorry," Miss Mackenzie had uttered.

"Not in the least," he replied. "I knew you couldn't know, and
therefore we ventured to wait a few minutes. The time hasn't been
lost, as Mr Maguire has treated us to a theological argument of great
weight."

Then all the company laughed, and Miss Mackenzie perceived that Mr
Stumfold could joke in his way. She was introduced to Mr Maguire, who
also pressed her hand; and then Miss Baker came and sat by her side.
There was, however, at that moment no time for conversation. The
prayer was begun immediately, Mr Stumfold taking this duty himself.
Then Mr Maguire read half a chapter in the Bible, and after that Mr
Stumfold explained it. Two ladies asked Mr Stumfold questions with
great pertinacity, and these questions Mr Stumfold answered very
freely, walking about the room the while, and laughing often as he
submitted himself to their interrogations. And Miss Mackenzie was
much astonished at the special freedom of his manner,--how he spoke
of St Paul as Paul, declaring the saint to have been a good fellow;
how he said he liked Luke better than Matthew, and how he named
even a holier name than these with infinite ease and an accustomed
familiarity which seemed to delight the other ladies; but which at
first shocked her in her ignorance.

"But I'm not going to have anything more to say to Peter and Paul at
present," he declared at last. "You'd keep me here all night, and the
tea will be spoilt."

Then they all laughed again at the absurd idea of this great and good
man preferring his food,--his food of this world,--to that other food
which it was his special business to dispense. There is nothing which
the Stumfoldian ladies of Littlebath liked so much as these little
jokes which bordered on the profanity of the outer world, which made
them feel themselves to be almost as funny as the sinners, and gave
them a slight taste, as it were, of the pleasures of iniquity.

"Wine maketh glad the heart of woman, Mrs Jones," Mr Stumfold would
say as he filled for the second time the glass of some old lady of
his set; and the old lady would chirrup and wink, and feel that
things were going almost as jollily with her as they did with that
wicked Mrs Smith, who spent every night of her life playing cards, or
as they had done with that horrid Mrs Brown, of whom such terrible
things were occasionally whispered when two or three ladies found
themselves sufficiently private to whisper them; that things were
going almost as pleasant here in this world, although accompanied by
so much safety as to the future in her own case, and so much danger
in those other cases! I think it was this aptitude for feminine
rakishness which, more than any of his great virtues, more even than
his indomitable industry, made Mr Stumfold the most popular man in
Littlebath. A dozen ladies on the present occasion skipped away to
the tea-table in the back drawing-room with a delighted alacrity,
which was all owing to the unceremonious treatment which St Peter and
St Paul had received from their pastor.

Miss Mackenzie had just found time to cast an eye round the room and
examine the scene of Mr Stumfold's pleasantries while Mr Maguire was
reading. She saw that there were only three gentlemen there besides
the two clergymen. There was a very old man who sat close wedged
in between Mrs Stumfold and another lady, by whose joint dresses
he was almost obliterated. This was Mr Peters, a retired attorney.
He was Mrs Stumfold's father, and from his coffers had come the
superfluities of comfort which Miss Mackenzie saw around her. Rumour,
even among the saintly people of Littlebath, said that Mr Peters
had been a sharp practitioner in his early days;--that he had been
successful in his labours was admitted by all.

"No doubt he has repented," Miss Baker said one day to Miss Todd.

"And if he has not, he has forgotten all about it, which generally
means the same thing," Miss Todd had answered.

Mr Peters was now very old, and I am disposed to think he had
forgotten all about it.

The other two gentlemen were both young, and they stood very high
in the graces of all the company there assembled. They were high
in the graces of Mr Stumfold, but higher still in the graces of Mrs
Stumfold, and were almost worshipped by one or two other ladies whose
powers of external adoration were not diminished by the possession
of husbands. They were, both of them, young men who had settled
themselves for a time at Littlebath that they might be near Mr
Stumfold, and had sufficient of worldly wealth to enable them to pass
their time in semi-clerical pursuits.

Mr Frigidy, the elder, intended at some time to go into the Church,
but had not as yet made sufficient progress in his studies to justify
him in hoping that he could pass a bishop's examination. His friends
told him of Islington and St Bees, of Durham, Birkenhead, and other
places where the thing could be done for him; but he hesitated,
fearing whether he might be able to pass even the initiatory gates
of Islington. He was a good young man, at peace with all the
world--except Mr Startup. With Mr Startup the veracious chronicler
does not dare to assert that Mr Frigidy was at peace. Now Mr Startup
was the other young man whom Miss Mackenzie saw in that room.

Mr Startup was also a very good young man, but he was of a fiery
calibre, whereas Frigidy was naturally mild. Startup was already an
open-air preacher, whereas Frigidy lacked nerve to speak a word above
his breath. Startup was not a clergyman because certain scruples
impeded and prevented him, while in the bosom of Frigidy there
existed no desire so strong as that of having the word reverend
attached to his name. Startup, though he was younger than Frigidy,
could talk to seven ladies at once with ease, but Frigidy could not
talk to one without much assistance from that lady herself. The
consequence of this was that Mr Frigidy could not bring himself to
love Mr Startup,--could not enable himself to justify a veracious
chronicler in saying that he was at peace with all the world, Startup
included.

The ladies were too many for Miss Mackenzie to notice them specially
as she sat listening to Mr Maguire's impressive voice. Mr Maguire she
did notice, and found him to be the possessor of a good figure, of
a fine head of jet black hair, of a perfect set of white teeth, of
whiskers which were also black and very fine, but streaked here and
there with a grey hair,--and of the most terrible squint in his right
eye which ever disfigured a face that in all other respects was
fitted for an Apollo. So egregious was the squint that Miss Mackenzie
could not keep herself from regarding it, even while Mr Stumfold
was expounding. Had she looked Mr Maguire full in the face at the
beginning, I do not think it would so much have mattered to her; but
she had seen first the back of his head, and then his profile, and
had unfortunately formed a strong opinion as to his almost perfect
beauty. When, therefore, the defective eye was disclosed to her, her
feelings were moved in a more than ordinary manner. How was it that a
man graced with such a head, with such a mouth and chin and forehead,
nay, with such a left eye, could be cursed with such a right eye! She
was still thinking of this when the frisky movement into the tea-room
took place around her.

When at this moment Mr Stumfold offered her his arm to conduct her
through the folding doors, this condescension on his part almost
confounded her. The other ladies knew that he always did so to a
newcomer, and therefore thought less of it. No other gentleman took
any other lady, but she was led up to a special seat,--a seat of
honour as it were, at the left hand side of a huge silver kettle.
Immediately before the kettle sat Mrs Stumfold. Immediately before
another kettle, at another table, sat Miss Peters, a sister of Mrs
Stumfold's. The back drawing-room in which they were congregated
was larger than the other, and opened behind into a pretty garden.
Mr Stumfold's lines in falling thus among the Peters, had fallen
to him in pleasant places. On the other side of Miss Mackenzie sat
Miss Baker, and on the other side of Mrs Stumfold stood Mr Startup,
talking aloud and administering the full tea-cups with a conscious
grace. Mr Stumfold and Mr Frigidy were at the other table, and Mr
Maguire was occupied in passing promiscuously from one to the other.
Miss Mackenzie wished with all her heart that he would seat himself
somewhere with his face turned away from her, for she found it
impossible to avert her eyes from his eye. But he was always
there, before her sight, and she began to feel that he was an evil
spirit,--her evil spirit, and that he would be too many for her.

Before anybody else was allowed to begin, Mrs Stumfold rose from her
chair with a large and completely filled bowl of tea, with a plate
also laden with buttered toast, and with her own hands and on her own
legs carried these delicacies round to her papa. On such an occasion
as this no servant, no friend, no Mr Startup, was allowed to
interfere with her filial piety.

"She does it always," said an admiring lady in an audible whisper
from the other side of Miss Baker. "She does it always."

The admiring lady was the wife of a retired coachbuilder, who was
painfully anxious to make her way into good evangelical society at
Littlebath.

"Perhaps you will put in the sugar for yourself," said Mrs Stumfold
to Miss Mackenzie as soon as she returned. On this occasion Miss
Mackenzie received her cup the first after the father of the house,
but the words spoken to her were stern to the ear.

"Perhaps you will put in the sugar yourself. It lightens the labour."

Miss Mackenzie expressed her willingness to do so and regretted that
Mrs Stumfold should have to work so hard. Could she be of assistance?

"I'm quite used to it, thank you," said Mrs Stumfold.

The words were not uncivil, but the tone was dreadfully severe, and
Miss Mackenzie felt painfully sure that her hostess was already aware
of the card that had been left at Miss Todd's door.

Mr Startup was now actively at work.

"Lady Griggs's and Miss Fleebody's--I know. A great deal of
sugar for her ladyship, and Miss Fleebody eats muffin. Mrs Blow
always takes pound-cake, and I'll see that there's one near her.
Mortimer,"--Mortimer was the footman,--"is getting more bread and
butter. Maguire, you have two dishes of sweet biscuits over there;
give us one here. Never mind me, Mrs Stumfold; I'll have my innings
presently."

All this Mr Frigidy heard with envious ears as he sat with his own
tea-cup before him at the other table. He would have given the world
to have been walking about the room like Startup, making himself
useful and conspicuous; but he couldn't do it--he knew that he
couldn't do it. Later in the evening, when he had been sitting by
Miss Trotter for two hours--and he had very often sat by Miss Trotter
before--he ventured upon a remark.

"Don't you think that Mr Startup makes himself a little forward?"

"Oh dear yes, very," said Miss Trotter. "I believe he's an excellent
young man, but I always did think him forward, now you mention it.
And sometimes I've wondered how dear Mrs Stumfold could like so much
of it. But do you know, Mr Frigidy, I am not quite sure that somebody
else does like it. You know who I mean."

Miss Trotter said much more than this, and Mr Frigidy was comforted,
and believed that he had been talking.

When Mrs Stumfold commenced her conversation with Mr Startup, Miss
Baker addressed herself to Miss Mackenzie; but there was at first
something of stiffness in her manner,--as became a lady whose call
had not been returned.

"I hope you like Littlebath," said Miss Baker.

Miss Mackenzie, who began to be conscious that she had done wrong,
hesitated as she replied that she liked it pretty well.

"I think you'll find it pleasant," said Miss Baker; and then there
was a pause. There could not be two women more fitted for friendship
than were these, and it was much to be hoped, for the sake of our
poor, solitary heroine especially, that this outside crust of manner
might be broken up and dispersed.

"I dare say I shall find it pleasant, after a time," said Miss
Mackenzie. Then they applied themselves each to her own bread and
butter.

"You have not seen Miss Todd, I suppose, since I saw you?" Miss Baker
asked this question when she perceived that Mrs Stumfold was deep
in some secret conference with Mr Startup. It must, however, be
told to Miss Baker's credit, that she had persistently maintained
her friendship with Miss Todd, in spite of all the Stumfoldian
influences. Miss Mackenzie, at the moment less brave, looked round
aghast, but seeing that her hostess was in deep conference with her
prime minister, she took heart of grace. "I called, and I did not see
her."

"She promised me she would call," said Miss Baker.

"And I returned her visit, but she wasn't at home," said Miss
Mackenzie.

"Indeed," said Miss Baker; and then there was silence between them
again.

But, after a pause, Miss Mackenzie again took heart of grace. I
do not think that there was, of nature, much of the coward about
her. Indeed, the very fact that she was there alone at Littlebath,
fighting her own battle with the world, instead of having allowed
herself to be swallowed up by the Harry Handcocks, and Tom
Mackenzies, proved her to be anything but a coward. "Perhaps, Miss
Baker, I ought to have returned your visit," said she.

"That was just as you like," said Miss Baker with her sweetest smile.

"Of course, I should have liked it, as I thought it so good of you to
come. But as you came with Mrs Stumfold, I was not quite sure whether
it might be intended; and then I didn't know,--did not exactly
know,--where you lived."

After this the two ladies got on very comfortably, so long as they
were left sitting side by side. Miss Baker imparted to Miss Mackenzie
her full address, and Miss Mackenzie, with that brightness in her
eyes which they always assumed when she was eager, begged her new
friend to come to her again.

"Indeed, I will," said Miss Baker. After that they were parted by a
general return to the front room.

And now Miss Mackenzie found herself seated next to Mr Maguire. She
had been carried away in the crowd to a further corner, in which
there were two chairs, and before she had been able to consider the
merits or demerits of the position, Mr Maguire was seated close
beside her. He was seated close beside her in such a way as to make
the two specially separated from all the world beyond, for in front
of them stood a wall of crinoline,--a wall of crinoline divided
between four or five owners, among whom was shared the eloquence of
Mr Startup, who was carrying on an evangelical flirtation with the
whole of them in a manner that was greatly pleasing to them, and
enthusiastically delightful to him. Miss Mackenzie, when she found
herself thus entrapped, looked into Mr Maguire's eye with dismay.
Had that look been sure to bring down upon her the hatred of that
reverend gentleman, she could not have helped it. The eye fascinated
her, as much as it frightened her. But Mr Maguire was used to have
his eye inspected, and did not hate her. He fixed it apparently on
the corners of the wall, but in truth upon her, and then he began:

"I am so glad that you have come among us, Miss Mackenzie."

"I'm sure that I'm very much obliged."

"Well; you ought to be. You must not be surprised at my saying
so, though it sounds uncivil. You ought to feel obliged, and the
obligation should be mutual. I am not sure, that when all things are
considered, you could find yourself in any better place in England,
than in the drawing-room of my friend Stumfold; and, if you will
allow me to say so, my friend Stumfold could hardly use his
drawing-room better, than by entertaining you."

"Mr Stumfold is very good, and so is she."

"Mr Stumfold is very good; and as for Mrs Stumfold, I look upon her
as a very wonderful woman,--quite a wonderful woman. For grasp of
intellect, for depth of thought, for tenderness of sentiment--perhaps
you mightn't have expected that, but there it is--for tenderness of
sentiment, for strength of faith, for purity of life, for genial
hospitality, and all the domestic duties, Mrs Stumfold has no equal
in Littlebath, and perhaps few superiors elsewhere."

Here Mr Maguire paused, and Miss Mackenzie, finding herself obliged
to speak, said that she did not at all doubt it.

"You need not doubt it, Miss Mackenzie. She is all that, I tell you;
and more, too. Her manners may seem a little harsh to you at first. I
know it is so sometimes with ladies before they know her well; but it
is only skin-deep, Miss Mackenzie,--only skin-deep. She is so much in
earnest about her work, that she cannot bring herself to be light and
playful as he is. Now, he is as full of play as a young lamb."

"He seems to be very pleasant."

"And he is always just the same. There are people, you know, who say
that religion is austere and melancholy. They never could say that
if they knew my friend Stumfold. His life is devoted to his clerical
duties. I know no man who works harder in the vineyard than Stumfold.
But he always works with a smile on his face. And why not, Miss
Mackenzie? when you think of it, why not?"

"I dare say it's best not to be unhappy," said Miss Mackenzie. She
did not speak till she perceived that he had paused for her answer.

"Of course we know that this world can make no one happy. What are we
that we should dare to be happy here?"

Again he paused, but Miss Mackenzie feeling that she had been
ill-treated and trapped into a difficulty at her last reply,
resolutely remained silent.

"I defy any man or woman to be happy here," said Mr Maguire, looking
at her with one eye and at the corner of the wall with the other in
a manner that was very terrible to her. "But we may be cheerful,--we
may go about our work singing psalms of praise instead of songs of
sorrow. Don't you agree with me, Miss Mackenzie, that psalms of
praise are better than songs of sorrow?"

"I don't sing at all, myself," said Miss Mackenzie.

"You sing in your heart, my friend; I am sure you sing in your heart.
Don't you sing in your heart?" Here again he paused.

"Well; perhaps in my heart, yes."

"I know you do, loud psalms of praise upon a ten-stringed lute. But
Stumfold is always singing aloud, and his lute has twenty strings."
Here the voice of the twenty-stringed singer was heard across the
large room asking the company a riddle.

"Why was Peter in prison like a little boy with his shoes off?"

"That's so like him," said Mr Maguire.

All the ladies in the room were in a fever of expectation, and Mr
Stumfold asked the riddle again.

"He won't tell them till we meet again; but there isn't one here
who won't study the life of St Peter during the next week. And what
they'll learn in that way they'll never forget."

"But why was he like a little boy with his shoes off?" asked Miss
Mackenzie.

"Ah! that's Stumfold's riddle. You must ask Mr Stumfold, and he won't
tell you till next week. But some of the ladies will be sure to find
it out before then. Have you come to settle yourself altogether at
Littlebath, Miss Mackenzie?"

This question he asked very abruptly, but he had a way of looking at
her when he asked a question, which made it impossible for her to
avoid an answer.

"I suppose I shall stay here for some considerable time."

"Do, do," said he with energy. "Do; come and live among us, and be
one of us; come and partake with us at the feast which we are making
ready; come and eat of our crusts, and dip with us in the same dish;
come and be of our flock, and go with us into the pleasant pastures,
among the lanes and green hedges which appertain to the farm of
the Lord. Come and walk with us through the Sabbath cornfields,
and pluck the ears when you are a-hungered, disregarding the broad
phylacteries. Come and sing with us songs of a joyful heart, and let
us be glad together. What better can you do, Miss Mackenzie? I don't
believe there is a more healthy place in the world than Littlebath,
and, considering that the place is fashionable, things are really
very reasonable."

He was rapid in his utterance, and so full of energy, that Miss
Mackenzie did not quite follow him in his quick transitions. She
hardly understood whether he was advising her to take up an abode in
a terrestrial Eden or a celestial Paradise; but she presumed that he
meant to be civil, so she thanked him and said she thought she would.
It was a thousand pities that he should squint so frightfully, as in
all other respects he was a good-looking man. Just at this moment
there seemed to be a sudden breaking up of the party.

"We are all going away," said Mr Maguire. "We always do when Mrs
Stumfold gets up from her seat. She does it when she sees that her
father is nodding his head. You must let me out, because I've got to
say a prayer. By-the-bye, you'll allow me to walk home with you, I
hope. I shall be so happy to be useful."

Miss Mackenzie told him that the fly was coming for her, and then he
scrambled away into the middle of the room.

"We always walk home from these parties," said Miss Baker, who
had, however, on this occasion, consented to be taken away by Miss
Mackenzie in the fly. "It makes it come so much cheaper, you know."

"Of course it does; and it's quite as nice if everybody does it. But
you don't walk going there?"

"Not generally," said Miss Baker; "but there are some of them who
do that. Miss Trotter always walks both ways, if it's ever so wet."
Then there were a few words said about Miss Trotter which were not
altogether good-natured.

Miss Mackenzie, as soon as she was at home, got down her Bible and
puzzled herself for an hour over that riddle of Mr Stumfold's; but
with all her trouble she could not find why St Peter in prison was
like a little boy with his shoes off.



CHAPTER V

Showing How Mr Rubb, Junior, Progressed at Littlebath


A full week had passed by after Mrs Stumfold's tea-party before Mr
Rubb called again at the Paragon; and in the meantime Miss Mackenzie
had been informed by her lawyer that there did not appear to be any
objection to the mortgage, if she liked the investment for her money.

"You couldn't do better with your money,--you couldn't indeed," said
Mr Rubb, when Miss Mackenzie, meaning to be cautious, started the
conversation at once upon matters of business.

Mr Rubb had not been in any great hurry to repeat his call, and Miss
Mackenzie had resolved that if he did come again she would treat him
simply as a member of the firm with whom she had to transact certain
monetary arrangements. Beyond that she would not go; and as she so
resolved, she repented herself of the sherry and biscuit.

The people whom she had met at Mr Stumfold's had been all ladies and
gentlemen; she, at least, had supposed them to be so, not having
as yet received any special information respecting the wife of the
retired coachbuilder. Mr Rubb was not a gentleman; and though she was
by no means inclined to give herself airs,--though, as she assured
herself, she believed Mr Rubb to be quite as good as herself,--yet
there was, and must always be, a difference among people. She had no
inclination to be proud; but if Providence had been pleased to place
her in one position, it did not behove her to degrade herself by
assuming a position that was lower. Therefore, on this account, and
by no means moved by any personal contempt towards Mr Rubb, or the
Rubbs of the world in general, she was resolved that she would not
ask him to take any more sherry and biscuits.

Poor Miss Mackenzie! I fear that they who read this chronicle of her
life will already have allowed themselves to think worse of her than
she deserved. Many of them, I know, will think far worse of her than
they should think. Of what faults, even if we analyse her faults, has
she been guilty? Where she has been weak, who among us is not, in
that, weak also? Of what vanity has she been guilty with which the
least vain among us might not justly tax himself? Having been left
alone in the world, she has looked to make friends for herself; and
in seeking for new friends she has wished to find the best that might
come in her way.

Mr Rubb was very good-looking; Mr Maguire was afflicted by a terrible
squint. Mr Rubb's mode of speaking was pleasant to her; whereas she
was by no means sure that she liked Mr Maguire's speech. But Mr
Maguire was by profession a gentleman. As the discreet young man,
who is desirous of rising in the world, will eschew skittles, and in
preference go out to tea at his aunt's house--much more delectable as
skittles are to his own heart--so did Miss Mackenzie resolve that it
would become her to select Messrs Stumfold and Maguire as her male
friends, and to treat Mr Rubb simply as a man of business. She was
denying herself skittles and beer, and putting up with tea and an old
aunt, because she preferred the proprieties of life to its pleasures.
Is it right that she should be blamed for such self-denial? But now
the skittles and beer had come after her, as those delights will
sometimes pursue the prudent youth who would fain avoid them. Mr
Rubb was there, in her drawing-room, looking extremely well, shaking
hands with her very comfortably, and soon abandoning his conversation
on that matter of business to which she had determined to confine
herself. She was angry with him, thinking him to be very free and
easy; but, nevertheless, she could not keep herself from talking to
him.

"You can't do better than five per cent," he had said to her, "not
with first-class security, such as this is."

All that had been well enough. Five per cent and first-class security
were, she knew, matters of business; and though Mr Rubb had winked
his eye at her as he spoke of them, leaning forward in his chair
and looking at her not at all as a man of business, but quite in a
friendly way, yet she had felt that she was so far safe. She nodded
her head also, merely intending him to understand thereby that she
herself understood something about business. But when he suddenly
changed the subject, and asked her how she liked Mr Stumfold's set,
she drew herself up suddenly and placed herself at once upon her
guard.

"I have heard a great deal about Mr Stumfold," continued Mr Rubb, not
appearing to observe the lady's altered manner, "not only here and
where I have been for the last few days, but up in London also. He is
quite a public character, you know."

"Clergymen in towns, who have large congregations, always must so be,
I suppose."

"Well, yes; more or less. But Mr Stumfold is decidedly more, and not
less. People say he is going in for a bishopric."

"I had not heard it," said Miss Mackenzie, who did not quite
understand what was meant by going in for a bishopric.

"Oh, yes, and a very likely man he would have been a year or two ago.
But they say the prime minister has changed his tap lately."

"Changed his tap!" said Miss Mackenzie.

"He used to draw his bishops very bitter, but now he draws them mild
and creamy. I dare say Stumfold did his best, but he didn't quite get
his hay in while the sun shone."

"He seems to me to be very comfortable where he is," said Miss
Mackenzie.

"I dare say. It must be rather a bore for him having to live in the
house with old Peters. How Peters scraped his money together, nobody
ever knew yet; and you are aware, Miss Mackenzie, that old as he is,
he keeps it all in his own hands. That house, and everything that is
in it, belongs to him; you know that, I dare say."

Miss Mackenzie, who could not keep herself from being a little
interested in these matters, said that she had not known it.

"Oh dear, yes! and the carriage too. I've no doubt Stumfold will be
all right when the old fellow dies. Such men as Stumfold don't often
make mistakes about their money. But as long as old Peters lasts I
shouldn't think it can be quite serene. They say that she is always
cutting up rough with the old man."

"She seemed to me to behave very well to him," said Miss Mackenzie,
remembering the carriage of the tea-cup.

"I dare say it is so before company, and of course that's all right;
it's much better that the dirty linen should be washed in private.
Stumfold is a clever man, there's no doubt about that. If you've been
much to his house, you've probably met his curate, Mr Maguire."

"I've only been there once, but I did meet Mr Maguire."

"A man that squints fearfully. They say he's looking out for a wife
too, only she must not have a father living, as Mrs Stumfold has.
It's astonishing how these parsons pick up all the good things that
are going in the way of money." Miss Mackenzie, as she heard this,
could not but remember that she might be regarded as a good thing
going in the way of money, and became painfully aware that her face
betrayed her consciousness.

"You'll have to keep a sharp look out," continued Mr Rubb, giving her
a kind caution, as though he were an old familiar friend.

"I don't think there's any fear of that kind," said Miss Mackenzie,
blushing.

"I don't know about fear, but I should say that there is great
probability; of course I am only joking about Mr Maguire. Like the
rest of them, of course, he wishes to feather his own nest; and why
shouldn't he? But you may be sure of this, Miss Mackenzie, a lady
with your fortune, and, if I may be allowed to say so, with your
personal attractions, will not want for admirers."

Miss Mackenzie was very strongly of opinion that Mr Rubb might not
be allowed to say so. She thought that he was behaving with an
unwarrantable degree of freedom in saying anything of the kind;
but she did not know how to tell him either by words or looks that
such was the case. And, perhaps, though the impertinence was almost
unendurable, the idea conveyed was not altogether so grievous; it
had certainly never hitherto occurred to her that she might become
a second Mrs Stumfold; but, after all, why not? What she wanted
was simply this, that something of interest should be added to her
life. Why should not she also work in the vineyard, in the open
quasiclerical vineyard of the Lord's people, and also in the private
vineyard of some one of the people's pastors? Mr Rubb was very
impertinent, but it might, perhaps, be worth her while to think of
what he said. As regarded Mr Maguire, the gentleman whose name had
been specially mentioned, it was quite true that he did squint
awfully.

"Mr Rubb," said she, "if you please, I'd rather not talk about such
things as that."

"Nevertheless, what I say is true, Miss Mackenzie; I hope you don't
take it amiss that I venture to feel an interest about you."

"Oh! no," said she; "not that I suppose you do feel any special
interest about me."

"But indeed I do, and isn't it natural? If you will remember that
your only brother is the oldest friend that I have in the world, how
can it be otherwise? Of course he is much older than me, and very
much older than you, Miss Mackenzie."

"Just twelve years," said she, very stiffly.

"I thought it had been more, but in that case you and I are nearly of
an age. As that is so, how can I fail to feel an interest about you?
I have neither mother, nor sister, nor wife of my own; a sister,
indeed, I have, but she's married at Singapore, and I have not seen
her for seventeen years."

"Indeed."

"No, not for seventeen years; and the heart does crave for some
female friend, Miss Mackenzie."

"You ought to get a wife, Mr Rubb."

"That's what your brother always says. 'Samuel,' he said to me just
before I left town, 'you're settled with us now; your father has as
good as given up to you his share of the business, and you ought to
get married.' Now, Miss Mackenzie, I wouldn't take that sort of thing
from any man but your brother; it's very odd that you should say
exactly the same thing too."

"I hope I have not offended you."

"Offended me! no, indeed, I'm not such a fool as that. I'd sooner
know that you took an interest in me than any woman living. I would,
indeed. I dare say you don't think much of it, but when I remember
that the names of Rubb and Mackenzie have been joined together for
more than twenty years, it seems natural to me that you and I should
be friends."

Miss Mackenzie, in the few moments which were allowed to her for
reflection before she was obliged to answer, again admitted to
herself that he spoke the truth. If there was any fault in the matter
the fault was with her brother Tom, who had joined the name of
Mackenzie with the name of Rubb in the first instance. Where was this
young man to look for a female friend if not to his partner's family,
seeing that he had neither wife nor mother of his own, nor indeed a
sister, except one out at Singapore, who was hardly available for any
of the purposes of family affection? And yet it was hard upon her. It
was through no negligence on her part that poor Mr Rubb was so ill
provided. "Perhaps it might have been so if I had continued to live
in London," said Miss Mackenzie; "but as I live at Littlebath--" Then
she paused, not knowing how to finish her sentence.

"What difference does that make? The distance is nothing if you come
to think of it. Your hall door is just two hours and a quarter from
our place of business in the New Road; and it's one pound five and
nine if you go by first-class and cabs, or sixteen and ten if you put
up with second-class and omnibuses. There's no other way of counting.
Miles mean nothing now-a-days."

"They don't mean much, certainly."

"They mean nothing. Why, Miss Mackenzie, I should think it no trouble
at all to run down and consult you about anything that occurred,
about any matter of business that weighed at all heavily, if nothing
prevented me except distance. Thirty shillings more than does it all,
with a return ticket, including a bit of lunch at the station."

"Oh! and as for that--"

"I know what you mean, Miss Mackenzie, and I shall never forget how
kind you were to offer me refreshment when I was here before."

"But, Mr Rubb, I hope you won't think of doing such a thing. What
good could I do you? I know nothing about business; and really, to
tell the truth, I should be most unwilling to interfere--that is, you
know, to say anything about anything of the kind."

"I only meant to point out that the distance is nothing. And as to
what you were advising me about getting married--"

"I didn't mean to advise you, Mr Rubb!"

"I thought you said so."

"But, of course, I did not intend to discuss such a matter
seriously."

"It's a most serious subject to me, Miss Mackenzie."

"No doubt; but it's one I can't know anything about. Men in business
generally do find, I think, that they get on better when they are
married."

"Yes, they do."

"That's all I meant to say, Mr Rubb."

After this he sat silent for a few minutes, and I am inclined to
think that he was weighing in his mind the expediency of asking
her to become Mrs Rubb, on the spur of the moment. But if so, his
mind finally gave judgment against the attempt, and in giving such
judgment his mind was right. He would certainly have so startled
her by the precipitancy of such a proposition, as to have greatly
endangered the probability of any further intimacy with her. As it
was, he changed the conversation, and began to ask questions as to
the welfare of his partner's daughter. At this period of the day
Susanna was at school, and he was informed that she would not be home
till the evening. Then he plucked up courage and begged to be allowed
to come again,--just to look in at eight o'clock, so that he might
see Susanna. He could not go back to London comfortably, unless he
could give some tidings of Susanna to the family in Gower Street.
What was she to do? Of course she was obliged to ask him to drink tea
with them. "That would be so pleasant," he said; and Miss Mackenzie
owned to herself that the gratification expressed in his face as he
spoke was very becoming.

When Susanna came home she did not seem to know much of Mr Rubb,
junior, or to care much about him. Old Mr Rubb lived, she knew, near
the place of business in the New Road, and sometimes he came to Gower
Street, but nobody liked him. She didn't remember that she had ever
seen Mr Rubb, junior, at her mother's house but once, when he came to
dinner. When she was told that Mr Rubb was very anxious to see her,
she chucked up her head and said that the man was a goose.

He came, and in a very few minutes he had talked over Susanna. He
brought her a little present,--a work-box,--which he had bought for
her at Littlebath; and though the work-box itself did not altogether
avail, it paved the way for civil words, which were more efficacious.
On this occasion he talked more to his partner's daughter than to
his partner's sister, and promised to tell her mamma how well she
was looking, and that the air of Littlebath had brought roses to her
cheeks.

"I think it is a healthy place," said Miss Mackenzie.

"I'm quite sure it is," said Mr Rubb. "And you like Mrs Crammer's
school, Susanna?"

She would have preferred to have been called Miss Mackenzie, but was
not disposed to quarrel with him on the point.

"Yes, I like it very well," she said. "The other girls are very nice;
and if one must go to school, I suppose it's as good as any other
school."

"Susanna thinks that going to school at all is rather a nuisance,"
said Miss Mackenzie.

"You'd think so too, aunt, if you had to practise every day for an
hour in the same room with four other pianos. It's my belief that I
shall hate the sound of a piano the longest day that I shall live."

"I suppose it's the same with all young ladies," said Mr Rubb.

"It's the same with them all at Mrs Crammer's. There isn't one there
that does not hate it."

"But you wouldn't like not to be able to play," said her aunt.

"Mamma doesn't play, and you don't play; and I don't see what's the
use of it. It won't make anybody like music to hear four pianos all
going at the same time, and all of them out of tune."

"You must not tell them in Gower Street, Mr Rubb, that Susanna talks
like that," said Miss Mackenzie.

"Yes, you may, Mr Rubb. But you must tell them at the same time that
I am quite happy, and that Aunt Margaret is the dearest woman in the
world."

"I'll be sure to tell them that," said Mr Rubb. Then he went away,
pressing Miss Mackenzie's hand warmly as he took his leave; and as
soon as he was gone, his character was of course discussed.

"He's quite a different man, aunt, from what I thought; and he's not
at all like old Mr Rubb. Old Mr Rubb, when he comes to drink tea
in Gower Street, puts his handkerchief over his knees to catch the
crumbs."

"There's no great harm in that, Susanna."

"I don't suppose there's any harm in it. It's not wicked. It's not
wicked to eat gravy with your knife."

"And does old Mr Rubb do that?"

"Always. We used to laugh at him, because he is so clever at it. He
never spills any; and his knife seems to be quite as good as a spoon.
But this Mr Rubb doesn't do things of that sort."

"He's younger, my dear."

"But being younger doesn't make people more ladylike of itself."

"I did not know that Mr Rubb was exactly ladylike."

"That's taking me up unfairly; isn't it, aunt? You know what I meant;
and only fancy that the man should go out and buy me a work-box.
That's more than old Mr Rubb ever did for any of us, since the first
day he knew us. And, then, didn't you think that young Mr Rubb is a
handsome man, aunt?"

"He's all very well, my dear."

"Oh; I think he is downright handsome; I do, indeed. Miss
Dumpus,--that's Mrs Crammer's sister,--told us the other day, that
I was wrong to talk about a man being handsome; but that must be
nonsense, aunt?"

"I don't see that at all, my dear. If she told you so, you ought to
believe that it is not nonsense."

"Come, aunt; you don't mean to tell me that you would believe all
that Miss Dumpus says. Miss Dumpus says that girls should never laugh
above their breath when they are more than fourteen years old. How
can you make a change in your laughing just when you come to be
fourteen? And why shouldn't you say a man's handsome, if he is
handsome?"

"You'd better go to bed, Susanna."

"That won't make Mr Rubb ugly. I wish you had asked him to come and
dine here on Sunday, so that we might have seen whether he eats his
gravy with his knife. I looked very hard to see whether he'd catch
his crumbs in his handkerchief."

Then Susanna went to her bed, and Miss Mackenzie was left alone to
think over the perfections and imperfections of Mr Samuel Rubb,
junior.

From that time up to Christmas she saw no more of Mr Rubb; but she
heard from him twice. His letters, however, had reference solely
to business, and were not of a nature to produce either anger or
admiration. She had also heard more than once from her lawyer; and a
question had arisen as to which she was called upon to trust to her
own judgment for a decision. Messrs Rubb and Mackenzie had wanted the
money at once, whereas the papers for the mortgage were not ready.
Would Miss Mackenzie allow Messrs Rubb and Mackenzie to have the
money under these circumstances? To this inquiry from her lawyer
she made a rejoinder asking for advice. Her lawyer told her that he
could not recommend her, in the ordinary way of business, to make any
advance of money without positive security; but, as this was a matter
between friends and near relatives, she might perhaps be willing to
do it; and he added that, as far as his own opinion went, he did not
think that there would be any great risk. But then it all depended
on this:--did she want to oblige her friends and near relatives? In
answer to this question she told herself that she certainly did wish
to do so; and she declared,--also to herself,--that she was willing
to advance the money to her brother, even though there might be some
risk. The upshot of all this was that Messrs Rubb and Mackenzie
got the money some time in October, but that the mortgage was not
completed when Christmas came. It was on this matter that Mr Rubb,
junior, had written to Miss Mackenzie, and his letter had been of a
nature to give her a feeling of perfect security in the transaction.
With her brother she had had no further correspondence; but this did
not surprise her, as her brother was a man much less facile in his
modes of expression than his younger partner.

As the autumn had progressed at Littlebath, she had become more and
more intimate with Miss Baker, till she had almost taught herself
to regard that lady as a dear friend. She had fallen into the habit
of going to Mrs Stumfold's tea-parties every fortnight, and was
now regarded as a regular Stumfoldian by all those who interested
themselves in such matters. She had begun a system of district
visiting and Bible reading with Miss Baker, which had at first been
very agreeable to her. But Mrs Stumfold had on one occasion called
upon her and taken her to task,--as Miss Mackenzie had thought,
rather abruptly,--with reference to some lack of energy or indiscreet
omission of which she had been judged to be guilty by that
highly-gifted lady. Against this Miss Mackenzie had rebelled mildly,
and since that things had not gone quite so pleasantly with her. She
had still been honoured with Mrs Stumfold's card of invitation, and
had still gone to the tea-parties on Miss Baker's strenuously-urged
advice; but Mrs Stumfold had frowned, and Miss Mackenzie had felt the
frown; Mrs Stumfold had frowned, and the retired coachbuilder's wife
had at once snubbed the culprit, and Mr Maguire had openly expressed
himself to be uneasy.

"Dearest Miss Mackenzie," he had said, with charitable zeal, "if
there has been anything wrong, just beg her pardon, and you will find
that everything has been forgotten at once; a more forgiving woman
than Mrs Stumfold never lived."

"But suppose I have done nothing to be forgiven," urged Miss
Mackenzie.

Mr Maguire looked at her, and shook his head, the exact meaning of
the look she could not understand, as the peculiarity of his eyes
created confusion; but when he repeated twice to her the same words,
"The heart of man is exceeding treacherous," she understood that he
meant to condemn her.

"So it is, Mr Maguire, but that is no reason why Mrs Stumfold should
scold me."

Then he got up and left her, and did not speak to her again that
evening, but he called on her the next day, and was very affectionate
in his manner. In Mr Stumfold's mode of treating her she had found no
difference.

With Miss Todd, whom she met constantly in the street, and who always
nodded to her very kindly, she had had one very remarkable interview.

"I think we had better give it up, my dear," Miss Todd had said to
her. This had been in Miss Baker's drawing-room.

"Give what up?" Miss Mackenzie had asked.

"Any idea of our knowing each other. I'm sure it never can come to
anything, though for my part I should have been so glad. You see you
can't serve God and Mammon, and it is settled beyond all doubt that
I'm Mammon. Isn't it, Mary?"

Miss Baker, to whom this appeal was made, answered it only by a sigh.

"You see," continued Miss Todd, "that Miss Baker is allowed to know
me, though I am Mammon, for the sake of auld lang syne. There have
been so many things between us that it wouldn't do for us to drop
each other. We have had the same lovers; and you know, Mary, that
you've been very near coming over to Mammon yourself. There's a sort
of understanding that Miss Baker is not to be required to cut me.
But they would not allow that sort of liberty to a new comer; they
wouldn't, indeed."

"I don't know that anybody would be likely to interfere with me,"
said Miss Mackenzie.

"Yes, they would, my dear. You didn't quite know yourself which way
it was to be when you first came here, and if it had been my way,
I should have been most happy to have made myself civil. You have
chosen now, and I don't doubt but what you have chosen right. I
always tell Mary Baker that it does very well for her, and I dare say
it will do very well for you too. There's a great deal in it, and
only that some of them do tell such lies I think I should have tried
it myself. But, my dear Miss Mackenzie, you can't do both."

After this Miss Mackenzie used to nod to Miss Todd in the street, but
beyond that there was no friendly intercourse between those ladies.

At the beginning of December there came an invitation to Miss
Mackenzie to spend the Christmas holidays away from Littlebath, and
as she accepted this invitation, and as we must follow her to the
house of her friends, we will postpone further mention of the matter
till the next chapter.



CHAPTER VI

Miss Mackenzie Goes to the Cedars


About the middle of December Mrs Mackenzie, of Gower Street, received
a letter from her sister-in-law at Littlebath, in which it was
proposed that Susanna should pass the Christmas holidays with her
father and mother. "I myself," said the letter, "am going for three
weeks to the Cedars. Lady Ball has written to me, and as she seems
to wish it, I shall go. It is always well, I think, to drop family
dissensions." The letter said a great deal more, for Margaret
Mackenzie, not having much business on hand, was fond of writing
long letters; but the upshot of it was, that she would leave Susanna
in Gower Street, on her way to the Cedars, and call for her on her
return home.

"What on earth is she going there for?" said Mrs Tom Mackenzie.

"Because they have asked her," replied the husband.

"Of course they have asked her; but that's no reason she should go.
The Balls have behaved very badly to us, and I should think much
better of her if she stayed away."

To this Mr Mackenzie made no answer, but simply remarked that he
would be rejoiced in having Susanna at home on Christmas Day.

"That's all very well, my dear," said Mrs Tom, "and of course so
shall I. But as she has taken the charge of the child I don't think
she ought to drop her down and pick her up just whenever she pleases.
Suppose she was to take it into her head to stop at the Cedars
altogether, what are we to do then?--just have the girl returned upon
our hands, with all her ideas of life confused and deranged. I hate
such ways."

"She has promised to provide for Susanna, whenever she may not
continue to give her a home."

"What would such a promise be worth if John Ball got hold of her
money? That's what they're after, as sure as my name is Martha; and
what she's after too, very likely. She was there once before she went
to Littlebath at all. They want to get their uncle's money back, and
she wants to be a baronet's wife."

The same view of the matter was perhaps taken by Mr Rubb, junior,
when he was told that Miss Mackenzie was to pass through London on
her way to the Cedars, though he did not express his fears openly, as
Mrs Mackenzie had done.

"Why don't you ask your sister to stay in Gower Street?" he said to
his partner.

"She wouldn't come."

"You might at any rate ask her."

"What good would it do?"

"Well; I don't know that it would do any good; but it wouldn't do any
harm. Of course it's natural that she should wish to have friends
about her; and it will only be natural too that she should marry some
one."

"She may marry whom she pleases for me."

"She will marry whom she pleases; but I suppose you don't want to see
her money go to the Balls."

"I shouldn't care a straw where her money went," said Thomas
Mackenzie, "if I could only know that this sum which we have had from
her was properly arranged. To tell you the truth, Rubb, I'm ashamed
to look my sister in the face."

"That's nonsense. Her money is as right as the bank; and if in such
matters as that brothers and sisters can't take liberties with each
other, who the deuce can?"

"In matters of money nobody should ever take a liberty with anybody,"
said Mr Mackenzie.

He knew, however, that a great liberty had been taken with his
sister's money, and that his firm had no longer the power of
providing her with the security which had been promised to her.

Mr Mackenzie would take no steps, at his partner's instance, towards
arresting his sister in London; but Mr Rubb was more successful
with Mrs Mackenzie, with whom, during the last month or two, he had
contrived to establish a greater intimacy than had ever previously
existed between the two families. He had been of late a good deal in
Gower Street, and Mrs Mackenzie had found him to be a much pleasanter
and better educated man than she had expected. Such was the language
in which she expressed her praise of him, though I am disposed to
doubt whether she herself was at all qualified to judge of the
education of any man. He had now talked over the affairs of Margaret
Mackenzie with her sister-in-law, and the result of that talking
was that Mrs Mackenzie wrote a letter to Littlebath, pressing Miss
Mackenzie to stay a few days in Gower Street, on her way through
London. She did this as well as she knew how to do it; but still
there was that in the letter which plainly told an apt reader that
there was no reality in the professions of affection made in it. Miss
Mackenzie became well aware of the fact as she read her sister's
words. Available hypocrisy is a quality very difficult of attainment
and of all hypocrisies, epistolatory hypocrisy is perhaps the
most difficult. A man or woman must have studied the matter very
thoroughly, or be possessed of great natural advantages in that
direction, who can so fill a letter with false expressions of
affection, as to make any reader believe them to be true. Mrs
Mackenzie was possessed of no such skill.

"Believe her to be my affectionate sister-in-law! I won't believe
her to be anything of the kind," Margaret so spoke of the writer to
herself, when she had finished the letter; but, nevertheless, she
answered it with kind language, saying that she could not stay in
town as she passed through to the Cedars, but that she would pass
one night in Gower Street when she called to pick up Susanna on her
return home.

It is hard to say what pleasure she promised herself in going to
the Cedars, or why she accepted that invitation. She had, in truth,
liked neither the people nor the house, and had felt herself to
be uncomfortable while she was there. I think she felt it to be a
duty to force herself to go out among people who, though they were
personally disagreeable to her, might be socially advantageous. If
Sir John Ball had not been a baronet, the call to the Cedars would
not have been so imperative on her. And yet she was not a tufthunter,
nor a toady. She was doing what we all do,--endeavouring to choose
her friends from the best of those who made overtures to her
of friendship. If other things be equal, it is probable that a
baronet will be more of a gentleman and a pleasanter fellow than a
manufacturer of oilcloth. Who is there that doesn't feel that? It
is true that she had tried the baronet, and had not found him very
pleasant, but that might probably have been her own fault. She had
been shy and stiff, and perhaps ill-mannered, or had at least accused
herself of these faults; and therefore she resolved to go again.

She called with Susanna as she passed through London, and just saw
her sister-in-law.

"I wish you could have stayed," said Mrs Mackenzie.

"I will for one night, as I return, on the 10th of January," said
Miss Mackenzie.

Mrs Mackenzie could not understand what Mr Rubb had meant by saying
that that old maid was soft and pleasant, nor could she understand
Susanna's love for her aunt. "I suppose men will put up with anything
for the sake of money," she said to herself; "and as for children,
the truth is, they'll love anybody who indulges them."

"Aunt is so kind," Susanna said. "She's always kind. If you wake her
up in the middle of the night, she's kind in a moment. And if there's
anything good to eat, it will make her eyes quite shine if she sees
that anybody else likes it. I have known her sit for half an hour
ever so uncomfortable, because she would not disturb the cat."

"Then she must be a fool, my dear," said Mrs Mackenzie.

"She isn't a fool, mamma; I'm quite sure of that," said Susanna.

Miss Mackenzie went on to the Cedars, and her mind almost misgave her
in going there, as she was driven up through the dull brick lodges,
which looked as though no paint had touched them for the last thirty
years, up to the front door of the dull brick house, which bore
almost as dreary a look of neglect as the lodges. It was a large
brick house of three stories, with the door in the middle, and three
windows on each side of the door, and a railed area with a kitchen
below the ground. Such houses were built very commonly in the
neighbourhood of London some hundred and fifty years ago, and they
may still be pleasant enough to the eye if there be ivy over them,
and if they be clean with new paint, and spruce with the outer care
of gardeners and the inner care of housemaids; but old houses are
often like old ladies, who require more care in their dressing than
they who are younger. Very little care was given to the Cedars, and
the place therefore always looked ill-dressed. On the right hand as
you entered was the dining-room, and the three windows to the left
were all devoted to the hall. Behind the dining-room was Sir John's
study, as he called it, and behind or beyond the hall was the
drawing-room, from which four windows looked out into the garden.
This might have been a pretty room had any care been taken to make
anything pretty at the Cedars. But the furniture was old, and the
sofas were hard, and the tables were rickety, and the curtains which
had once been red had become brown with the sun. The dinginess of
the house had not struck Miss Mackenzie so forcibly when she first
visited it, as it did now. Then she had come almost direct from
Arundel Street, and the house in Arundel Street had itself been very
dingy. Mrs Stumfold's drawing-rooms were not dingy, nor were her own
rooms in the Paragon. Her eye had become accustomed to better things,
and she now saw at once how old were the curtains, and how lamentably
the papers wanted to be renewed on the walls. She had, however, been
drawn from the neighbouring station to the house in the private
carriage belonging to the establishment, and if there was any sense
of justice in her, it must be presumed that she balanced the good
things with the bad.

But her mind misgave her, not because the house was outwardly dreary,
but in fear of the inward dreariness of the people--or in fear
rather of their dreariness and pride combined. Old Lady Ball, though
naturally ill-natured, was not ill-mannered, nor did she give herself
any special airs; but she knew that she was a baronet's wife, that
she kept her carriage, and that it was an obligation upon her to
make up for the poverty of her house by some little haughtiness of
demeanour. There are women, high in rank, but poor in pocket, so
gifted with the peculiar grace of aristocracy, that they show by
every word spoken, by every turn of the head, by every step taken,
that they are among the high ones of the earth, and that money has
nothing to do with it. Old Lady Ball was not so gifted, nor had she
just claim to such gifts. But some idea on the subject pervaded her
mind, and she made efforts to be aristocratic in her poverty. Sir
John was a discontented, cross old man, who had succeeded greatly
in early life, having been for nearly twenty years in Parliament,
but had fallen into adversity in his older days. The loss of that
very money of which his niece, Miss Mackenzie was possessed, was,
in truth, the one great misfortune which he deplored; but that
misfortune had had ramifications and extensions with which the reader
need not trouble himself; but which, altogether, connected as they
were with certain liberal aspirations which he had entertained
in early life, and certain political struggles made during his
parliamentary career, induced him to regard himself as a sort of
Prometheus. He had done much for the world, and the world in return
had made him a baronet without any money! He was a very tall, thin,
gray-haired, old man, stooping much, and worn with age, but still
endowed with some strength of will, and great capability of making
himself unpleasant. His son was a bald-headed, stout man, somewhat
past forty, who was by no means without cleverness, having done
great things as a young man at Oxford; but in life he had failed.
He was a director of certain companies in London, at which he used
to attend, receiving his guinea for doing so, and he had some small
capital,--some remnant of his father's trade wealth, which he nursed
with extreme care, buying shares here and there and changing his
money about as his keen outlook into City affairs directed him. I do
not suppose that he had much talent for the business, or he would
have grown rich; but a certain careful zeal carried him on without
direct loss, and gave him perhaps five per cent for his capital,
whereas he would have received no more than four and a half had he
left it alone and taken his dividends without troubling himself. As
the difference did not certainly amount to a hundred a-year, it can
hardly be said that he made good use of his time. His zeal deserved a
better success. He was always thinking of his money, excusing himself
to himself and to others by the fact of his nine children. For myself
I think that his children were no justification to him; as they would
have been held to be none, had he murdered and robbed his neighbours
for their sake.

There had been a crowd of girls in the house when Miss Mackenzie had
paid her former visit to the Cedars,--so many that she had carried
away no remembrance of them as individuals. But at that time the
eldest son, a youth now just of age, was not at home. This hope of
the Balls, who was endeavouring to do at Oxford as his father had
done, was now with his family, and came forward to meet his cousin
as the old carriage was driven up to the door. Old Sir John stood
within, in the hall, mindful of the window air, and Lady Ball, a
little mindful of her dignity, remained at the drawing-room door.
Even though Miss Mackenzie had eight hundred a-year, and was
nearly related to the Incharrow family, a further advance than the
drawing-room door would be inexpedient; for the lady, with all her
virtues, was still sister to the man who dealt in retail oilcloth in
the New Road!

Miss Mackenzie thought nothing of this, but was well contented to be
received by her hostess in the drawing-room.

"It's a dull house to come to, my dear," said Lady Ball; "but blood
is thicker than water, they say, and we thought that perhaps you
might like to be with your cousins at Christmas."

"I shall like it very much," said Miss Mackenzie.

"I suppose you must find it rather sad, living alone at Littlebath,
away from all your people?"

"I have my niece with me, you know."

"A niece, have you? That's one of the girls from Gower Street, I
suppose? It's very kind of you, and I dare say, very proper."

"But Littlebath is a very gay place, I thought," said John Ball, the
third and youngest of the name. "We always hear of it at Oxford as
being the most stunning place for parties anywhere near."

"I suppose you play cards every night of your life," said the
baronet.

"No; I don't play cards," said Miss Mackenzie. "Many ladies do, but
I'm not in that set."

"What set are you in?" said Sir John.

"I don't think I am in any set. I know Mr Stumfold, the clergyman
there, and I go to his house sometimes."

"Oh, ah; I see," said Sir John. "I beg your pardon for mentioning
cards. I shouldn't have done it, if I had known that you were one of
Mr Stumfold's people."

"I am not one of Mr Stumfold's people especially," she said, and then
she went upstairs.

The other John Ball came back from London just in time for
dinner--the middle one of the three, whom we will call Mr Ball. He
greeted his cousin very kindly, and then said a word or two to his
mother about shares. She answered him, assuming a look of interest in
his tidings.

"I don't understand it; upon my word, I don't," said he. "Some of
them will burn their fingers before they've done. I don't dare do it;
I know that."

In the evening, when John Ball,--or Jack, as he was called in the
family,--had left the drawing-room, and the old man was alone with
his son, they discussed the position of Margaret Mackenzie.

"You'll find she has taken up with the religious people there," said
the father.

"It's just what she would do," said the son.

"They're the greatest thieves going. When once they have got their
eyes upon money, they never take them off again."

"She's not been there long enough yet to give any one a hold upon
her."

"I don't know that, John; but, if you'll take my advice, you'll find
out the truth at once. She has no children, and if you've made up
your mind about it, you'll do no good by delay."

"She's a very nice woman, in her way."

"Yes, she's nice enough. She's not a beauty; eh, John? and she won't
set the Thames on fire."

"I don't wish her to do so; but I think she'd look after the girls,
and do her duty."

"I dare say; unless she has taken to run after prayer-meetings every
hour of her life."

"They don't often do that after they're married, sir."

"Well; I know nothing against her. I never thought much of her
brothers, and I never cared to know them. One's dead now, and as for
the other, I don't suppose he need trouble you much. If you've made
up your mind about it, I think you might as well ask her at once."
From all which it may be seen that Miss Mackenzie had been invited to
the Cedars with a direct object on the part of Mr Ball.

But though the old gentleman thus strongly advised instant action,
nothing was done during Christmas week, nor had any hint been given
up to the end of the year. John Ball, however, had not altogether
lost his time, and had played the part of middle-aged lover better
than might have been expected from one the whole tenor of whose life
was so thoroughly unromantic. He did manage to make himself pleasant
to Miss Mackenzie, and so far ingratiated himself with her that he
won much of her confidence in regard to money matters.

"But that's a very large sum of money?" he said to her one day as
they were sitting together in his father's study. He was alluding to
the amount which she had lent to Messrs Rubb and Mackenzie, and had
become aware of the fact that as yet Miss Mackenzie held no security
for the loan. "Two thousand five hundred pounds is a very large sum
of money."

"But I'm to get five per cent, John." They were first cousins, but it
was not without some ceremonial difficulty that they had arrived at
each other's Christian names.

"My dear Margaret, their word for five per cent is no security. Five
per cent is nothing magnificent. A lady situated as you are should
never part with her money without security--never: but if she does,
she should have more than five per cent."

"You'll find it's all right, I don't doubt," said Miss Mackenzie,
who, however, was beginning to have little inward tremblings of her
own.

"I hope so; but I must say, I think Mr Slow has been much to blame.
I do, indeed." Mr Slow was the attorney who had for years acted
for Walter Mackenzie and his father, and was now acting for Miss
Mackenzie. "Will you allow me to go to him and see about it?"

"It has not been his fault. He wrote and asked me whether I would let
them have it, before the papers were ready, and I said I would."

"But may I ask about it?"

Miss Mackenzie paused before she answered:

"I think you had better not, John. Remember that Tom is my own
brother, and I should not like to seem to doubt him. Indeed, I do not
doubt him in the least--nor yet Mr Rubb."

"I can assure you that it is a very bad way of doing business," said
the anxious lover.

By degrees she began to like her cousin John Ball. I do not at all
wish the reader to suppose that she had fallen in love with that
bald-headed, middle-aged gentleman, or that she even thought of him
in the light of a possible husband; but she found herself to be
comfortable in his company, and was able to make a friend of him.
It is true that he talked to her more of money than anything else;
but then it was her money of which he talked, and he did it with an
interest that could not but flatter her. He was solicitous about her
welfare, gave her bits of advice, did one or two commissions for her
in town, called her Margaret, and was kind and cousinly. The Cedars,
she thought, was altogether more pleasant than she had found the
place before. Then she told herself that on the occasion of her
former visit she had not been there long enough to learn to like the
place or the people. Now she knew them, and though she still dreaded
her uncle and his cross sayings, and though that driving out with her
aunt in the old carriage was tedious, she would have been glad to
prolong her stay there, had she not bound herself to take Susanna
back to school at Littlebath on a certain day. When that day came
near--and it did come very near before Mr Ball spoke out--they
pressed her to prolong her stay. This was done by both Lady Ball and
by her son.

"You might as well remain with us another fortnight," said Lady
Ball during one of these drives. It was the last drive which Miss
Mackenzie had through Twickenham lanes during that visit to the
Cedars.

"I can't do it, aunt, because of Susanna."

"I don't see that at all. You're not to make yourself a slave to
Susanna."

"But I'm to make myself a mother to her as well as I can."

"I must say you have been rather hasty, my dear. Suppose you were to
change your mode of life, what would you do?"

Then Miss Mackenzie, blushing slightly in the obscure corner of the
carriage as she spoke, explained to Lady Ball that clause in her
agreement with her brother respecting the five hundred pounds.

"Oh, indeed," said Lady Ball.

The information thus given had been manifestly distasteful, and the
conversation was for a while interrupted; but Lady Ball returned to
her request before they were again at home.

"I really do think you might stop, Margaret. Now that we have all got
to know each other, it will be a great pity that it all should be
broken up."

"But I hope it won't be broken up, aunt."

"You know what I mean, my dear. When people live so far off they
can't see each other constantly; and now you are here, I think you
might stay a little longer. I know there is not much attraction--"

"Oh, aunt, don't say that! I like being here very much."

"Then, why can't you stay? Write and tell Mrs Tom that she must keep
Susanna at home for another week or so. It can't matter."

To this Miss Mackenzie made no immediate answer.

"It is not only for myself I speak, but John likes having you here
with his girls; and Jack is so fond of you; and John himself is quite
different while you are here. Do stay!"

Saying which Lady Ball put out her hand caressingly on Miss
Mackenzie's arm.

"I'm afraid I mustn't," said Miss Mackenzie, very slowly. "Much as I
should like it, I'm afraid I mustn't do it. I've pledged myself to go
back with Susanna, and I like to be as good as my word."

Lady Ball drew herself up.

"I never went so much out of my way to ask any one to stay in my
house before," she said.

"Dear aunt! don't be angry with me."

"Oh no! I'm not angry. Here we are. Will you get out first?"

Whereupon Lady Ball descended from the carriage, and walked into the
house with a good deal of dignity.

"What a wicked old woman she was!" virtuous readers will say; "what a
wicked old woman to endeavour to catch that poor old maid's fortune
for her son!"

But I deny that she was in any degree a wicked old woman on that
score. Why should not the two cousins marry, and do very well
together with their joint means? Lady Ball intended to make a
baronet's wife of her. If much was to be taken, was not much also to
be given?

"You are going to stay, are you not?" Jack said to her that evening,
as he wished her good-night. She was very fond of Jack, who was a
nice-looking, smooth-faced young fellow, idolised by his sisters over
whom he tyrannised, and bullied by his grandfather, before whom he
quaked.

"I'm afraid not, Jack; but you shall come and see me at Littlebath,
if you will."

"I should like it, of all things; but I do wish you'd stay: the house
is so much nicer when you are in it!"

But of course she could not stay at the request of the young lad,
when she had refused the request of the lad's grandmother.

After this she had one day to remain at the Cedars. It was a
Thursday, and on the Friday she was to go to her brother's house on
her way to Littlebath. On the Thursday morning Mr Ball waylaid her on
the staircase, as she came down to breakfast, and took her with him
into the drawing-room. There he made his request, standing with her
in the middle of the room.

"Margaret," he said, "must you go away and leave us?"

"I'm afraid I must, John," she said.

"I wish we could make you think better of it."

"Of course I should like to stay, but--"

"Yes, there's always a but. I should have thought that, of all people
in the world, you were the one most able to do just what you please
with your time."

"We have all got duties to do, John."

"Of course we have; but why shouldn't it be your duty to make your
relations happy? If you could only know how much I like your being
here?"

Had it not been that she did not dare to do that for the son which
she had refused to the mother, I think that she would have given way.
As it was, she did not know how to yield, after having persevered so
long.

"You are all so kind," she said, giving him her hand, "that it goes
to my heart to refuse you; but I'm afraid I can't. I do not wish to
give my brother's wife cause to complain of me."

"Then," said Mr Ball, speaking very slowly, "I must ask this favour
of you, that you will let me see you alone for half an hour after
dinner this evening."

"Certainly," said Miss Mackenzie.

"Thank you, Margaret. After tea I will go into the study, and perhaps
you will follow me."



CHAPTER VII

Miss Mackenzie Leaves the Cedars


There was something so serious in her cousin's request to her, and so
much of gravity in his mode of making it, that Miss Mackenzie could
not but think of it throughout the day. On what subject did he wish
to speak to her in so solemn and special a manner? An idea of the
possibility of an offer no doubt crossed her mind and fluttered her,
but it did not do more than this; it did not remain fixed with her,
or induce her to resolve what answer she would give if such offer
were made. She was afraid to allow herself to think that such a thing
could happen, and put the matter away from her,--uneasily, indeed,
but still with so much resolution as to leave her with a conviction
that she need not give any consideration to such an hypothesis.

And she was not at a loss to suggest to herself another subject. Her
cousin had learned something about her money which he felt himself
bound to tell her, but which he would not have told her now had she
consented to remain at the Cedars. There was something wrong about
the loan. This made her seriously unhappy, for she dreaded the
necessity of discussing her brother's conduct with her cousin.

During the whole of the day Lady Ball was very courteous, but rather
distant. Lady Ball had said to herself that Margaret would have
stayed had she been in a disposition favourable to John Ball's hopes.
If she should decline the alliance with which the Balls proposed to
honour her, then Lady Ball was prepared to be very cool. There would
be an ingratitude in such a proceeding after the open-armed affection
which had been shown to her which Lady Ball could not readily bring
herself to forgive. Sir John, once or twice during the day, took up
his little sarcasms against her supposed religious tendencies at
Littlebath.

"You'll be glad to get back to Mr Stumfold," he said.

"I shall be glad to see him, of course," she answered, "as he is a
friend."

"Mr Stumfold has a great many lady friends at Littlebath," he
continued.

"Yes, a great many," said Miss Mackenzie, understanding well that she
was being bullied.

"What a pity that there can be only one Mrs Stumfold," snarled the
baronet; "it's often a wonder to me how women can be so foolish."

"And it's often a wonder to me," said Miss Mackenzie, "how gentlemen
can be so ill-natured."

She had plucked up her spirits of late, and had resented Sir John's
ill-humour.

At the usual hour Mr Ball came home to dinner, and Miss Mackenzie, as
soon as she saw him, again became fluttered. She perceived that he
was not at his ease, and that made her worse. When he spoke to the
girls he seemed hardly to mind what he was saying, and he greeted his
mother without any whispered tidings as to the share-market of the
day.

Margaret asked herself if it could be possible that anything was very
wrong about her own money. If the worst came to the worst she could
but have lost that two thousand five hundred pounds and she would be
able to live well enough without it. If her brother had asked her for
it, she would have given it to him. She would teach herself to regard
it as a gift, and then the subject would not make her unhappy.

They all came down to dinner, and they all went in to tea, and the
tea-things were taken away, and then John Ball arose. During tea-time
neither he nor Miss Mackenzie had spoken a word, and when she got up
to follow him, there was a solemnity about the matter which ought to
have been ludicrous to any of those remaining, who might chance to
know what was about to happen. It must be supposed that Lady Ball
at any rate did know, and when she saw her middle-aged niece walk
slowly out of the room after her middle-aged son, in order that a
love proposal might be made from one to the other with advantage,
she must, I should think, have perceived the comic nature of the
arrangement. She went on, however, very gravely with her knitting,
and did not even make an attempt to catch her husband's eye.

"Margaret," said John Ball, as soon as he had shut the study door;
"but, perhaps, you had better sit down."

Then she sat down, and he came and seated himself opposite to her;
opposite her, but not so close as to give him any of the advantages
of a lover.

"Margaret, I don't know whether you have guessed the subject on which
I wish to speak to you; but I wish you had."

"Is it about the money?" she asked.

"The money! What money? The money you have lent to your brother? Oh,
no."

Then, at that moment, Margaret did, I think, guess.

"It's not at all about the money," he said, and then he sighed.

He had at one time thought of asking his mother to make the
proposition for him, and now he wished that he had done so.

"No, Margaret, it's something else that I want to say. I believe you
know my condition in life pretty accurately."

"In what way, John?"

"I am a poor man; considering my large family, a very poor man. I
have between eight and nine hundred a year, and when my father and
mother are both gone I shall have nearly as much more; but I have
nine children, and as I must keep up something of a position, I have
a hard time of it sometimes, I can tell you."

Here he paused, as though he expected her to say something; but she
had nothing to say and he went on.

"Jack is at Oxford, as you know, and I wish to give him any chance
that a good education may afford. It did not do much for me, but he
may be more lucky. When my father is dead, I think I shall sell this
place; but I have not quite made up my mind about that;--it must
depend on circumstances. As for the girls, you see that I do what I
can to educate them."

"They seem to me to be brought up very nicely; nothing could be
better."

"They are good girls, very good girls, and so is Jack a very good
fellow."

"I love Jack dearly," said Miss Mackenzie, who had already come to
a half-formed resolution that Jack Ball should be heir to half her
fortune, her niece Susanna being heiress to the other half.

"Do you? I'm so glad of that." And there was actually a tear in the
father's eye.

"And so I do the girls," said Margaret. "It's something so nice to
feel that one has people really belonging to one that one may love.
I hope they'll know Susanna some day, for she's a very nice girl,--a
very dear girl."

"I hope they will," said Mr Ball; but there was not much enthusiasm
in the expression of this hope.

Then he got up from his chair, and took a turn across the room. "The
truth is, Margaret, that there's no use in my beating about the bush.
I shan't say what I've got to say a bit the better for delaying it.
I want you to be my wife, and to be mother to those children. I
like you better than any woman I've seen since I lost Rachel, but
I shouldn't dare to make you such an offer if you had not money of
your own. I could not marry unless my wife had money, and I would not
marry any woman unless I felt I could love her--not if she had ever
so much. There! now you know it all. I suppose I have not said it as
I ought to do, but if you're the woman I take you for that won't make
much difference."

For my part I think that he said what he had to say very well. I do
not know that he could have done it much better. I do not know that
any other form of words would have been more persuasive to the woman
he was addressing. Had he said much of his love, or nothing of his
poverty; or had he omitted altogether any mention of her wealth, her
heart would have gone against him at once. As it was he had produced
in her mind such a state of doubt, that she was unable to answer him
on the moment.

"I know," he went on to say, "that I haven't much to offer you." He
had now seated himself again, and as he spoke he looked upon the
ground.

"It isn't that, John," she answered; "you have much more to give than
I have a right to expect."

"No," he said. "What I offer you is a life of endless trouble and
care. I know all about it myself. It's all very well to talk of a
competence and a big house, and if you were to take me, perhaps we
might keep the old place on and furnish it again, and my mother
thinks a great deal about the title. For my part I think it's only
a nuisance when a man has not got a fortune with it, and I don't
suppose it will be any pleasure to you to be called Lady Ball. You'd
have a life of fret and worry, and would not have half so much money
to spend as you have now. I know all that, and have thought a deal
about it before I could bring myself to speak to you. But, Margaret,
you would have duties which would, I think, in themselves, have a
pleasure for you. You would know what to do with your life, and would
be of inestimable value to many people who would love you dearly.
As for me, I never saw any other woman whom I could bring myself to
offer as a mother to my children." All this he said looking down at
the floor, in a low, dull, droning voice, as though every sentence
spoken were to have been the last. Then he paused, looked into her
face for a moment, and after that, allowed his eyes again to fall on
the ground.

Margaret was, of course, aware that she must make him some answer,
and she was by no means prepared to give him one that would be
favourable. Indeed, she thought she knew that she could not marry
him, because she felt that she did not love him with affection of the
sort which would be due to a husband. She told herself that she must
refuse his offer. But yet she wanted time, and above all things, she
wished to find words which would not be painful to him. His dull
droning voice, and the honest recital of his troubles, and of her
troubles if she were to share his lot, had touched her more nearly
than any vows of love would have done. When he told her of the heavy
duties which might fall to her lot as his wife, he almost made her
think that it might be well for her to marry him, even though she did
not love him. "I hardly know how to answer you, you have taken me so
much by surprise," she said.

"You need not give me an answer at once," he replied; "you can think
of it." As she did not immediately say anything, he presumed that she
assented to this proposition. "You won't wonder now," he said, "that
I wished you to stay here, or that my mother wished it."

"Does Lady Ball know?" she asked.

"Yes, my mother does know."

"What am I to say to her?"

"Shall I tell you, Margaret, what to say? Put your arms round her
neck, and tell her that you will be her daughter."

"No, John; I cannot do that; and perhaps I ought to say now that I
don't think it will ever be possible. It has all so surprised me,
that I haven't known how to speak; and I am afraid I shall be letting
you go from me with a false idea. Perhaps I ought to say at once that
it cannot be."

"No, Margaret, no. It is much better that you should think of it. No
harm can come of that."

"There will be harm if you are disappointed."

"I certainly shall be disappointed if you decide against me; but not
more violently so, if you do it next week than if you do it now. But
I do hope that you will not decide against me."

"And what am I to do?"

"You can write to me from Littlebath."

"And how soon must I write?"

"As soon as you can make up your mind. But, Margaret, do not decide
against me too quickly. I do not know that I shall do myself any good
by promising you that I will love you tenderly." So saying he put out
his hand, and she took it; and they stood there looking into each
other's eyes, as young lovers might have done,--as his son might have
looked into those of her daughter, had she been married young and had
children of her own. In the teeth of all those tedious money dealings
in the City there was some spice of romance left within his bosom
yet!

But how was she to get herself out of the room? It would not do for
such a Juliet to stay all the night looking into the eyes of her
ancient Romeo. And how was she to behave herself to Lady Ball, when
she should again find herself in the drawing-room, conscious as she
was that Lady Ball knew all about it? And how was she to conduct
herself before all those young people whom she had left there? And
her proposed father-in-law, whom she feared so much, and in truth
disliked so greatly--would he know all about it, and thrust his
ill-natured jokes at her? Her lover should have opened the door for
her to pass through; but instead of doing so, as soon as she had
withdrawn her hand from his, he placed himself on the rug, and leaned
back in silence against the chimney-piece.

"I suppose it wouldn't do," she said, "for me to go off to bed
without seeing them."

"I think you had better see my mother," he replied, "else you will
feel awkward in the morning."

Then she opened the door for herself, and with frightened feet crept
back to the drawing-room. She could hardly bring herself to open
the second door; but when she had done so, her heart was greatly
released, as, looking in, she saw that her aunt was the only person
there.

"Well, Margaret," said the old lady, walking up to her; "well?"

"Dear aunt, I don't know what I am to say to you. I don't know what
you want."

"I want you to tell me you have consented to become John's wife."

"But I have not consented. Think how sudden it has been, aunt!"

"Yes, yes; I can understand that. You could not tell him at once that
you would take him; but you won't mind telling me."

"I would have told him so in an instant, if I had made up my mind. Do
you think I would wish to keep him in suspense on such a matter? If
I could have felt that I could love him as his wife, I would have
told him so instantly,--instantly."

"And why not love him as his wife--why not?" Lady Ball, as she asked
the question, was almost imperious in her eagerness.

"Why not, aunt? It is not easy to answer such a question as that. A
woman, I suppose, can't say why she doesn't love a man, nor yet why
she does. You see, it's so sudden. I hadn't thought of him in that
way."

"You've known him now for nearly a year, and you've been in the house
with him for the last three weeks. If you haven't seen that he has
been attached to you, you are the only person in the house that has
been so blind."

"I haven't seen it at all, aunt."

"Perhaps you are afraid of the responsibility," said Lady Ball.

"I should fear it certainly; but that alone would not deter me. I
would endeavour to do my best."

"And you don't like living in the same house with me and Sir John."

"Indeed, yes; you are always good to me; and as to my uncle, I know
he does not mean to be unkind. I should not fear that."

"The truth is, I suppose, Margaret, that you do not like to part with
your money."

"That's unjust, aunt. I don't think I care more for my money than
another woman."

"Then what is it? He can give you a position in the world higher than
any you could have had a hope to possess. As Lady Ball you will be
equal in all respects to your own far-away cousin, Lady Mackenzie."

"That has nothing to do with it, aunt."

"Then what is it?" asked Lady Ball again. "I suppose you have no
absolute objection to be a baronet's wife."

"Suppose, aunt, that I do not love him?"

"Pshaw!" said the old woman.

"But it isn't pshaw," said Miss Mackenzie. "No woman ought to marry a
man unless she feels that she loves him."

"Pshaw!" said Lady Ball again.

They had both been standing; and as everybody else was gone Miss
Mackenzie had determined that she would go off to bed without
settling herself in the room. So she prepared herself for her
departure.

"I'll say good-night now, aunt. I have still some of my packing to
do, and I must be up early."

"Don't be in a hurry, Margaret. I want to speak to you before you
leave us, and I shall have no other opportunity. Sit down, won't
you?"

Then Miss Mackenzie seated herself, most unwillingly.

"I don't know that there is anyone nearer to you than I am, my dear;
at any rate, no woman; and therefore I can say more than any other
person. When you talk of not loving John, does that mean--does it
mean that you are engaged to anyone else?"

"No, it does not."

"And it does not mean that there is anyone else whom you are thinking
of marrying?"

"I am not thinking of marrying anyone."

"Or that you love any other man?"

"You are cross-questioning me, aunt, more than is fair."

"Then there is some one?"

"No, there is nobody. What I say about John I don't say through any
feeling for anybody else."

"Then, my dear, I think that a little talk between you and me may
make this matter all right. I'm sure you don't doubt John when he
says that he loves you very dearly. As for your loving him, of course
that would come. It is not as if you two were two young people, and
that you wanted to be billing and cooing. Of course you ought to be
fond of each other, and like each other's company; and I have no
doubt that you will. You and I would, of course, be thrown very much
together, and I'm sure I'm very fond of you. Indeed, Margaret, I have
endeavoured to show that I am."

"You've been very kind, aunt."

"Therefore as to your loving him, I really don't think there need
be any doubt about that. Then, my dear, as to the other part of
the arrangement,--the money and all that. If you were to have any
children, your own fortune would be settled on them; at least, that
could be arranged, if you required it; though, as your fortune all
came from the Balls, and is the very money with which the title was
intended to be maintained, you probably would not be very exacting
about that. Stop a moment, my dear, and let me finish before you
speak. I want you particularly to think of what I say, and to
remember that all your money did come from the Balls. It has been
very hard upon John,--you must feel that. Look at him with his heavy
family, and how he works for them!"

"But my uncle Jonathan died and left his money to my brothers before
John was married. It is twenty-five years ago."

"Well I remember it, my dear! John was just engaged to Rachel, and
the marriage was put off because of the great cruelty of Jonathan's
will. Of course I am not blaming you."

"I was only ten years old, and uncle Jonathan did not leave me a
penny. My money came to me from my brother; and, as far as I can
understand, it is nearly double as much as he got from Sir John's
brother."

"That may be; but John would have doubled it quite as readily as
Walter Mackenzie. What I mean to say is this, that as you have the
money which in the course of nature would have come to John, and
which would have been his now if a great injustice had not been
done--"

"It was done by a Ball, and not by a Mackenzie."

"That does not alter the case in the least. Your feelings should be
just the same in spite of that. Of course the money is yours and you
can do what you like with it. You can give it to young Mr Samuel
Rubb, if you please." Stupid old woman! "But I think you must feel
that you should repair the injury which was done, as it is in your
power to do so. A fine position is offered you. When poor Sir John
goes, you will become Lady Ball, and be the mistress of this house,
and have your own carriage." Terribly stupid old woman! "And you
would have friends and relatives always round you, instead of being
all alone at such a place as Littlebath, which must, I should say,
be very sad. Of course there would be duties to perform to the dear
children; but I don't think so ill of you, Margaret, as to suppose
for an instant that you would shrink from that. Stop one moment,
my dear, and I shall have done. I think I have said all now; but
I can well understand that when John spoke to you, you could not
immediately give him a favourable answer. It was much better to leave
it till to-morrow. But you can't have any objection to speaking out
to me, and I really think you might make me happy by saying that it
shall be as I wish."

It is astonishing the harm that an old woman may do when she goes
well to work, and when she believes she can prevail by means of her
own peculiar eloquence. Lady Ball had so trusted to her own prestige,
to her own ladyship, to her own carriage and horses, and to the
rest of it, and had also so misjudged Margaret's ordinary mild
manner, that she had thought to force her niece into an immediate
acquiescence by her mere words. The result, however, was exactly
the contrary to this. Had Miss Mackenzie been left to herself after
the interview with Mr Ball: had she gone upstairs to sleep upon his
proposal, without any disturbance to those visions of sacrificial
duty which his plain statement had produced: had she been allowed
to leave the house and think over it all without any other argument
to her than those which he had used, I think that she would have
accepted him. But now she was up in arms against the whole thing.
Her mind, clear as it was, was hardly lucid enough to allow of her
separating the mother and son at this moment. She was claimed as a
wife into the family because they thought that they had a right to
her fortune; and the temptations offered, by which they hoped to
draw her into her duty, were a beggarly title and an old coach! No!
The visions of sacrificial duty were all dispelled. There was doubt
before, but now there was no doubt.

"I think I will go to bed, aunt," she said very calmly, "and I will
write to John from Littlebath."

"And cannot you put me out of my suspense?"

"If you wish it, yes. I know that I must refuse him. I wish that I
had told him so at once, as then there would have been an end of it."

"You don't mean that you have made up your mind?"

"Yes, aunt, I do. I should be wrong to marry a man that I do not
love; and as for the money, aunt, I must say that I think you are
mistaken."

"How mistaken?"

"You think that I am called upon to put right some wrong that you
think was done you by Sir John's brother. I don't think that I am
under any such obligation. Uncle Jonathan left his money to his
sister's children instead of to his brother's children. If his money
had come to John, you would not have admitted that we had any claim,
because we were nephews and nieces."

"The whole thing would have been different."

"Well, aunt, I am very tired, and if you'll let me, I'll go to bed."

"Oh, certainly."

Then, with anything but warm affection, the aunt and niece parted,
and Miss Mackenzie went to her bed with a firm resolution that she
would not become Lady Ball.

It had been arranged for some time back that Mr Ball was to accompany
his cousin up to London by the train; and though under the present
circumstances that arrangement was not without a certain amount of
inconvenience, there was no excuse at hand for changing it. Not a
word was said at breakfast as to the scenes of last night. Indeed, no
word could very well have been said, as all the family was present,
including Jack and the girls. Lady Ball was very quiet, and very
dignified; but Miss Mackenzie perceived that she was always called
"Margaret," and not "my dear," as had been her aunt's custom. Very
little was said by any one, and not a great deal was eaten.

"Well; when are we to see you back again?" said Sir John, as Margaret
arose from her chair on being told that the carriage was there.

"Perhaps you and my aunt will come down some day and see me at
Littlebath?" said Miss Mackenzie.

"No; I don't think that's very likely," said Sir John.

Then she kissed all the children, till she came to Jack.

"I am going to kiss you, too," she said to him.

"No objection in life," said Jack. "I sha'n't complain about that."

"You'll come and see me at Littlebath?" said she.

"That I will if you'll ask me."

Then she put her face to her aunt, and Lady Ball permitted her cheek
to be touched. Lady Ball was still not without hope, but she thought
that the surest way was to assume a high dignity of demeanour, and
to exhibit a certain amount of displeasure. She still believed that
Margaret might be frightened into the match. It was but a mile and a
half to the station, and for that distance Mr Ball and Margaret sat
together in the carriage. He said nothing to her as to his proposal
till the station was in view, and then only a word.

"Think well of it, Margaret, if you can."

"I fear I cannot think well of it," she answered. But she spoke so
low, that I doubt whether he completely heard her words. The train
up to London was nearly full, and there he had no opportunity of
speaking to her. But he desired no such opportunity. He had said all
that he had to say, and was almost well pleased to know that a final
answer was to be given to him, not personally, but by letter. His
mother had spoken to him that morning, and had made him understand
that she was not well pleased with Margaret; but she had said nothing
to quench her son's hopes.

"Of course she will accept you," Lady Ball had said, "but women like
her never like to do anything without making a fuss about it."

"To me, yesterday, I thought she behaved admirably," said her son.

At the station at London he put her into the cab that was to take her
to Gower Street, and as he shook hands with her through the window,
he once more said the same words:

"Think well of it, Margaret, if you can."



CHAPTER VIII

Mrs Tom Mackenzie's Dinner Party


Mrs Tom was ever so gracious on the arrival of her sister-in-law, but
even in her graciousness there was something which seemed to Margaret
to tell of her dislike. Near relatives, when they are on good terms
with each other, are not gracious. Now, Mrs Tom, though she was ever
so gracious, was by no means cordial. Susanna, however, was delighted
to see her aunt, and Margaret, when she felt the girl's arms round
her neck, declared to herself that that should suffice for her,--that
should be her love, and it should be enough. If indeed, in after
years, she could make Jack love her too, that would be better still.
Then her mind went to work upon a little marriage scheme that would
in due time make a baronet's wife of Susanna. It would not suit her
to become Lady Ball, but it might suit Susanna.

"We are going to have a little dinner party to-day," said Mrs Tom.

"A dinner party!" said Margaret. "I didn't look for that, Sarah."

"Perhaps I ought not to call it a party, for there are only one or
two coming. There's Dr Slumpy and his wife; I don't know whether you
ever met Dr Slumpy. He has attended us for ever so long; and there
is Miss Colza, a great friend of mine. Mademoiselle Colza I ought to
call her, because her father was a Portuguese. Only as she never saw
him, we call her Miss. And there's Mr Rubb,--Samuel Rubb, junior. I
think you met him at Littlebath."

"Yes; I know Mr Rubb."

"That's all; and I might as well say how it will be now. Mr Rubb will
take you down to dinner. Tom will take Mrs Slumpy, and the doctor
will take me. Young Tom,"--Young Tom was her son, who was now
beginning his career at Rubb and Mackenzie's,--"Young Tom will take
Miss Colza, and Mary Jane and Susanna will come down by themselves.
We might have managed twelve, and Tom did think of asking Mr Handcock
and one of the other clerks, but he did not know whether you would
have liked it."

"I should not have minded it. That is, I should have been very glad
to meet Mr Handcock, but I don't care about it."

"That's just what we thought, and therefore we did not ask him.
You'll remember, won't you, that Mr Rubb takes you down?" After that
Miss Mackenzie took her nieces to the Zoological Gardens, leaving
Mary Jane at home to assist her mother in the cares for the coming
festival, and thus the day wore itself away till it was time for them
to prepare themselves for the party.

Miss Colza was the first to come. She was a young lady somewhat older
than Miss Mackenzie; but the circumstances of her life had induced
her to retain many of the propensities of her girlhood. She was as
young looking as curls and pink bows could make her, and was by no
means a useless guest at a small dinner party, as she could chatter
like a magpie. Her claims to be called "Mademoiselle" were not very
strong, as she had lived in Finsbury Square all her life. Her father
was connected in trade with the Rubb and Mackenzie firm, and dealt,
I think, in oil. She was introduced with great ceremony, and having
heard that Miss Mackenzie lived at Littlebath, went off at score
about the pleasures of that delicious place.

"I do so hate London, Miss Mackenzie."

"I lived here all my life, and I can't say I liked it."

"It is such a crowd, isn't it? and yet so dull. Give me Brighton! We
were down for a week in November, and it was nice."

"I never saw Brighton."

"Oh, do go to Brighton. Everybody goes there now; you really do see
the world at Brighton. Now, in London one sees nothing."

Then came in Mr Rubb, and Miss Colza at once turned her attention to
him. But Mr Rubb shook Miss Colza off almost unceremoniously, and
seated himself by Miss Mackenzie. Immediately afterwards arrived
the doctor and his wife. The doctor was a very silent man, and as
Tom Mackenzie himself was not given to much talking, it was well
that Miss Colza should be there. Mrs Slumpy could take her share in
conversation with an effort, when duly assisted; but she could not
lead the van, and required more sprightly aid than her host was
qualified to give her. Then there was a whisper between Tom and Mrs
Tom and the bell was rung, and the dinner was ordered. Seven had been
the time named, and a quarter past seven saw the guests assembled
in the drawing-room. A very dignified person in white cotton gloves
had announced the names, and the same dignified person had taken the
order for dinner. The dignified person had then retreated downstairs
slowly, and what was taking place for the next half-hour poor Mrs
Mackenzie, in the agony of her mind, could not surmise. She longed
to go and see, but did not dare. Even for Dr Slumpy, or even for his
wife, had they been alone with her she would not have cared much.
Miss Colza she could have treated with perfect indifference--could
even have taken her down into the kitchen with her. Rubb, her own
junior partner, was nothing, and Miss Mackenzie was simply her
sister-in-law. But together they made a party. Moreover she had on
her best and stiffest silk gown, and so armed she could not have been
effective in the kitchen. And so came a silence for some minutes, in
spite of the efforts of Miss Colza. At last the hostess plucked up
her courage to make a little effort.

"Tom," she said, "I really think you had better ring again."

"It will be all right, soon," said Tom, considering that upon the
whole it would be better not to disturb the gentleman downstairs just
yet.

"Upon my word, I never felt it so cold in my life as I did to-day,"
he said, turning on Dr Slumpy for the third time with that remark.

"Very cold," said Dr Slumpy, pulling out his watch and looking at it.

"I really think you'd better ring the bell," said Mrs Tom.

Tom, however, did not stir, and after another period of five minutes
dinner was announced. It may be as well, perhaps, to explain, that
the soup had been on the table for the last quarter of an hour or
more, but that after placing the tureen on the table, the dignified
gentleman downstairs had come to words with the cook, and had refused
to go on further with the business of the night until that ill-used
woman acceded to certain terms of his own in reference to the manner
in which the foods should be served. He had seen the world, and had
lofty ideas, and had been taught to be a tyrant by the weakness of
those among whom his life had been spent. The cook had alleged that
the dinner, as regarded the eating of it, would certainly be spoilt.
As to that, he had expressed a mighty indifference. If he was to have
any hand in them, things were to be done according to certain rules,
which, as he said, prevailed in the world of fashion. The cook,
who had a temper and who regarded her mistress, stood out long and
boldly, but when the housemaid, who was to assist Mr Grandairs
upstairs, absolutely deserted her, and sitting down began to cry,
saying: "Sairey, why don't you do as he tells you? What signifies its
being greasy if it hain't never to go hup?" then Sarah's courage gave
way, and Mr Grandairs, with all the conqueror in his bosom, announced
that dinner was served.

It was a great relief. Even Miss Colza's tongue had been silent,
and Mr Rubb had found himself unable to carry on any further small
talk with Miss Mackenzie. The minds of men and women become so
tuned to certain positions, that they go astray and won't act when
those positions are confused. Almost every man can talk for fifteen
minutes, standing in a drawing-room, before dinner; but where is the
man who can do it for an hour? It is not his appetite that impedes
him, for he could well have borne to dine at eight instead of seven;
nor is it that matter lacks him, for at other times his eloquence
does not cease to flow so soon. But at that special point of the day
he is supposed to talk for fifteen minutes, and if any prolonged call
is then made upon him, his talking apparatus falls out of order and
will not work. You can sit still on a Sunday morning, in the cold,
on a very narrow bench, with no comfort appertaining, and listen for
half an hour to a rapid outflow of words, which, for any purpose
of instruction or edification, are absolutely useless to you. The
reading to you of the "Quæ genus," or "As in præsenti," could not be
more uninteresting. Try to undergo the same thing in your own house
on a Wednesday afternoon, and see where you will be. To those ladies
and gentlemen who had been assembled in Mrs Mackenzie's drawing-room
this prolonged waiting had been as though the length of the sermon
had been doubled, or as if it had fallen on them at some unexpected
and unauthorised time.

But now they descended, each gentleman taking his allotted lady, and
Colza's voice was again heard. At the bottom of the stairs, just
behind the dining-room door, stood the tyrant, looking very great,
repressing with his left hand the housemaid who was behind him. She
having observed Sarah at the top of the kitchen stairs telegraphing
for assistance, had endeavoured to make her way to her friend while
Tom Mackenzie and Mrs Slumpy were still upon the stairs; but the
tyrant, though he had seen the cook's distress, had refused and
sternly kept the girl a prisoner behind him. Ruat dinner, fiat
genteel deportment.

The order of the construction of the dinner was no doubt à la Russe;
and why should it not have been so, as Tom Mackenzie either had or
was supposed to have as much as eight hundred a year? But I think
it must be confessed that the architecture was in some degree
composite. It was à la Russe, because in the centre there was a green
arrangement of little boughs with artificial flowers fixed on them,
and because there were figs and raisins, and little dishes with dabs
of preserve on them, all around the green arrangement; but the soups
and fish were on the table, as was also the wine, though it was
understood that no one was to be allowed to help himself or his
neighbour to the contents of the bottle. When Dr Slumpy once made
an attempt at the sherry, Grandairs was down upon him instantly,
although laden at the time with both potatoes and sea-kale; after
that he went round and frowned at Dr Slumpy, and Dr Slumpy understood
the frown.

That the soup should be cold, everybody no doubt expected. It was
clear soup, made chiefly of Marsala, and purchased from the pastry
cook's in Store Street. Grandairs, no doubt, knew all about it, as he
was connected with the same establishment. The fish--Mrs Mackenzie
had feared greatly about her fish, having necessarily trusted its
fate solely to her own cook--was very ragged in its appearance, and
could not be very warm; the melted butter too was thick and clotted,
and was brought round with the other condiments too late to be of
much service; but still the fish was eatable, and Mrs Mackenzie's
heart, which had sunk very low as the unconsumed soup was carried
away, rose again in her bosom. Poor woman! she had done her best, and
it was hard that she should suffer. One little effort she made at the
moment to induce Elizabeth to carry round the sauce, but Grandairs
had at once crushed it; he had rushed at the girl and taken the
butter-boat from her hand. Mrs Mackenzie had seen it all; but what
could she do, poor soul?

The thing was badly managed in every way. The whole hope of
conversation round the table depended on Miss Colza, and she was
deeply offended by having been torn away from Mr Rubb. How could
she talk seated between the two Tom Mackenzies? From Dr Slumpy Mrs
Mackenzie could not get a word. Indeed, with so great a weight on
her mind, how could she be expected to make any great effort in
that direction? But Mr Mackenzie might have done something, and she
resolved that she would tell him so before he slept that night. She
had slaved all day in order that he might appear respectable before
his own relatives, at the bottom of his own table--and now he would
do nothing! "I believe he is thinking of his own dinner!" she said to
herself. If her accusation was just his thoughts must have been very
sad.

In a quiet way Mr Rubb did talk to his neighbour. Upstairs he had
spoken a word or two about Littlebath, saying how glad he was that
he had been there. He should always remember Littlebath as one of
the pleasantest places he had ever seen. He wished that he lived
at Littlebath; but then what was the good of his wishing anything,
knowing as he did that he was bound for life to Rubb and Mackenzie's
counting house!

"And you will earn your livelihood there," Miss Mackenzie had
replied.

"Yes; and something more than that I hope. I don't mind telling
you,--a friend like you,--that I will either spoil a horn or make a
spoon. I won't go on in the old groove, which hardly gives any of us
salt to our porridge. If I understand anything of English commerce, I
think I can see my way to better things than that." Then the period
of painful waiting had commenced, and he was unable to say anything
more.

That had been upstairs. Now below, amidst all the troubles of Mrs
Mackenzie and the tyranny of Grandairs, he began again:

"Do you like London dinner parties?"

"I never was at one before."

"Never at one before! I thought you had lived in London all your
life."

"So I have; but we never used to dine out. My brother was an
invalid."

"And do they do the thing well at Littlebath?"

"I never dined out there. You think it very odd, I dare say, but I
never was at a dinner party in my life--not before this."

"Don't the Balls see much company?"

"No, very little; none of that kind."

"Dear me. It comes so often to us here that we get tired of it. I do,
at least. I'm not always up to this kind of thing. Champagne--if you
please. Miss Mackenzie, you will take some champagne?"

Now had come the crisis of the evening, the moment that was all
important, and Grandairs was making his round in all the pride of his
vocation. But Mrs Mackenzie was by no means so proud at the present
conjuncture of affairs. There was but one bottle of champagne. "So
little wine is drank now, that, what is the good of getting more? Of
course the children won't have it." So she had spoken to her husband.
And who shall blame her or say where economy ends, or where meanness
begins? She had wanted no champagne herself, but had wished to treat
her friends well. She had seized a moment after Grandairs had come,
and Mrs Slumpy was not yet there, to give instructions to the great
functionary.

"Don't mind me with the champagne, nor yet Mr Tom, nor the young
ladies."

Thus she had reduced the number to six, and had calculated that
the bottle would certainly be good for that number, with probably
a second glass for the doctor and Mr Rubb. But Grandairs had not
condescended to be put out of his way by such orders as these. The
bottle had first come to Miss Colza, and then Tom's glass had been
filled, and Susanna's--through no fault of theirs, innocent bairns,
"but on purpose!" as Mrs Mackenzie afterwards declared to her husband
when speaking of the man's iniquity. And I think it had been done on
purpose. The same thing occurred with Mary Jane--till Mrs Mackenzie,
looking on, could have cried. The girl's glass was filled full, and
she did give a little shriek at last. But what availed shrieking?
When the bottle came round behind Mrs Mackenzie back to Dr Slumpy, it
was dry, and the wicked wretch held the useless nozzle triumphantly
over the doctor's glass.

"Give me some sherry, then," said the doctor.

The little dishes which had been brought round after the fish, three
in number,--and they in the proper order of things should have been
spoken of before the champagne,--had been in their way successful.
They had been so fabricated, that all they who attempted to eat
of their contents became at once aware that they had got hold of
something very nasty, something that could hardly have been intended
by Christian cooks as food for men; but, nevertheless, there had
been something of glory attending them. Little dishes require no
concomitant vegetables, and therefore there had been no scrambling.
Grandairs brought one round after the other with much majesty, while
Elizabeth stood behind looking on in wonder. After the second little
dish Grandairs changed the plates, so that it was possible to partake
of two, a feat which was performed by Tom Mackenzie the younger. At
this period Mrs Mackenzie, striving hard for equanimity, attempted
a word or two with the doctor. But immediately upon that came the
affair of the champagne, and she was crushed, never to rise again.

Mr Rubb at this time had settled down into so pleasant a little
series of whispers with his neighbour, that Miss Colza resolved once
more to exert herself, not with the praiseworthy desire of assisting
her friend Mrs Mackenzie, but with malice prepense in reference to
Miss Mackenzie.

Miss Mackenzie seemed to be having "a good time" with her neighbour
Samuel Rubb, junior, and Miss Colza, who was a woman of courage,
could not see that and not make an effort. It cannot be told here
what passages there had been between Mr Rubb and Miss Colza. That
there had absolutely been passages I beg the reader to understand.
"Mr Rubb," she said, stretching across the table, "do you remember
when, in this very room, we met Mr and Mrs Talbot Green?"

"Oh yes, very well," said Mr Rubb, and then turning to Miss
Mackenzie, he went on with his little whispers.

"Mr Rubb," continued Miss Colza, "does anybody put you in mind of Mrs
Talbot Green?"

"Nobody in particular. She was a thin, tall, plain woman, with red
hair, wasn't she? Who ought she to put me in mind of?"

"Oh dear! how can you forget so? That wasn't her looks at all. We
all agreed that she was quite interesting-looking. Her hair was just
fair, and that was all. But I shan't say anything more about it."

"But who do you say is like her?"

"Miss Colza means Aunt Margaret," said Mary Jane.

"Of course I do," said Miss Colza. "But Mrs Talbot Green was not at
all the person that Mr Rubb has described; we all thought her very
nice-looking. Mr Rubb, do you remember how you would go on talking to
her, till Mr Talbot Green did not like it at all?"

"No, I don't."

"Oh, but you did; and you always do."

Then Miss Colza ceased, having finished that effort. But she made
others from time to time as long as they remained in the dining-room,
and by no means gave up the battle. There are women who can fight
such battles when they have not an inch of ground on which to stand.

After the little dishes there came, of course, a saddle of mutton,
and, equally of course, a pair of boiled fowls. There was also a
tongue; but the à la Russe construction of the dinner was maintained
by keeping the tongue on the sideboard, while the mutton and chickens
were put down to be carved in the ordinary way. The ladies all
partook of the chickens, and the gentlemen all of the mutton. The
arrangement was very tedious, as Dr Slumpy was not as clever with
the wings of the fowls as he perhaps would have been had he not been
defrauded in the matter of the champagne; and then every separate
plate was carried away to the sideboard with reference to the tongue.
Currant jelly had been duly provided, and, if Elizabeth had been
allowed to dispense it, might have been useful. But Grandairs was too
much for the jelly, as he had been for the fish-sauce, and Dr Slumpy
in vain looked up, and sighed, and waited. A man in such a condition
measures the amount of cold which his meat may possibly endure
against the future coming of the potatoes, till he falls utterly
to the ground between two stools. So was it now with Dr Slumpy. He
gave one last sigh as he saw the gravy congeal upon his plate, but,
nevertheless, he had finished the unpalatable food before Grandairs
had arrived to his assistance.

Why tell of the ruin of the maccaroni, of the fine-coloured
pyramids of shaking sweet things which nobody would eat, and by the
non-consumption of which nothing was gained, as they all went back to
the pastrycook's,--or of the ice-puddings flavoured with onions? It
was all misery, wretchedness, and degradation. Grandairs was king,
and Mrs Mackenzie was the lowest of his slaves. And why? Why had she
done this thing? Why had she, who, to give her her due, generally
held her own in her own house pretty firmly,--why had she lowered her
neck and made a wretched thing of herself? She knew that it would be
so when she first suggested to herself the attempt. She did it for
fashion's sake, you will say. But there was no one there who did
not as accurately know as she did herself, how absolutely beyond
fashion's way lay her way. She was making no fight to enter some
special portal of the world, as a lady may do who takes a house
suddenly in Mayfair, having come from God knows where. Her place in
the world was fixed, and she made no contest as to the fixing. She
hoped for no great change in the direction of society. Why on earth
did she perplex her mind and bruise her spirit, by giving a dinner à
la anything? Why did she not have the roast mutton alone, so that all
her guests might have eaten and have been merry?

She could not have answered this question herself, and I doubt
whether I can do so for her. But this I feel, that unless the
question can get itself answered, ordinary Englishmen must cease to
go and eat dinners at each other's houses. The ordinary Englishman,
of whom we are now speaking, has eight hundred a year; he lives in
London; and he has a wife and three or four children. Had he not
better give it up and go back to his little bit of fish and his leg
of mutton? Let him do that boldly, and he will find that we, his
friends, will come to him fast enough; yes, and will make a gala day
of it. By Heavens, we have no gala time of it when we go to dine with
Mrs Mackenzie à la Russe! Lady Mackenzie, whose husband has ever
so many thousands a year, no doubt does it very well. Money, which
cannot do everything,--which, if well weighed, cannot in its excess
perhaps do much,--can do some things. It will buy diamonds and give
grand banquets. But paste diamonds, and banquets which are only
would-be grand, are among the poorest imitations to which the world
has descended.

"So you really go to Littlebath to-morrow," Mr Rubb said to Miss
Mackenzie, when they were again together in the drawing-room.

"Yes, to-morrow morning. Susanna must be at school the next day."

"Happy Susanna! I wish I were going to school at Littlebath. Then I
shan't see you again before you go."

"No; I suppose not."

"I am so sorry, because I particularly wished to speak to you,--most
particularly. I suppose I could not see you in the morning? But, no;
it would not do. I could not get you alone without making such a fuss
of the thing."

"Couldn't you say it now?" asked Miss Mackenzie.

"I will, if you'll let me; only I suppose it isn't quite the thing to
talk about business at an evening party; and your sister-in-law, if
she knew it, would never forgive me."

"Then she shan't know it, Mr Rubb."

"Since you are so good, I think I will make bold. Carpe diem, as
we used to say at school, which means that one day is as good as
another, and, if so why not any time in the day? Look here, Miss
Mackenzie--about that money, you know."

And Mr Rubb got nearer to her on the sofa as he whispered the word
money into her ear. It immediately struck her that her own brother
Tom had said not a word to her about the money, although they had
been together for the best part of an hour before they had gone up to
dress.

"I suppose Mr Slow will settle all that," said Miss Mackenzie.

"Of course;--that is to say, he has nothing further to settle just
as yet. He has our bond for the money, and you may be sure it's all
right. The property is purchased, and is ours,--our own at this
moment, thanks to you. But landed property is so hard to convey.
Perhaps you don't understand much about that! and I'm sure I don't.
The fact is, the title deeds at present are in other hands, a mere
matter of form; and I want you to understand that the mortgage is not
completed for that reason."

"I suppose it will be done soon?"

"It may, or it may not; but that won't affect your interest, you
know."

"I was thinking of the security."

"Well, the security is not as perfect as it should be. I tell you
that honestly; and if we were dealing with strangers we should expect
to be called on to refund. And we should refund instantly, but at a
great sacrifice, a ruinous sacrifice. Now, I want you to put so much
trust in us,--in me, if I may be allowed to ask you to do so,--as to
believe that your money is substantially safe. I cannot explain it
all now; but the benefit which you have done us is immense."

"I suppose it will all come right, Mr Rubb."

"It will all come right, Miss Mackenzie."

Then there was extracted from her something which he was able to take
as a promise that she would not stir in the matter for a while, but
would take her interest without asking for any security as to her
principal.

The conversation was interrupted by Miss Colza, who came and stood
opposite to them.

"Well, I'm sure," she said; "you two are very confidential."

"And why shouldn't we be confidential, Miss Colza?" asked Mr Rubb.

"Oh, dear! no reason in life, if you both like it."

Miss Mackenzie was not sure that she did like it. But again she was
not sure that she did not, when Mr Rubb pressed her hand at parting,
and told her that her great kindness had been of the most material
service to the firm. "He felt it," he said, "if nobody else did."
That also might be a sacrificial duty and therefore gratifying.

The next morning she and Susanna left Gower Street at eight, spent
an interesting period of nearly an hour at the railway station, and
reached Littlebath in safety at one.



CHAPTER IX

Miss Mackenzie's Philosophy


Miss Mackenzie remained quiet in her room for two days after her
return before she went out to see anybody. These last Christmas weeks
had certainly been the most eventful period of her life, and there
was very much of which it was necessary that she should think. She
had, she thought, made up her mind to refuse her cousin's offer; but
the deed was not yet done. She had to think of the mode in which she
must do it; and she could not but remember, also, that she might
still change her mind in that matter if she pleased. The anger
produced in her by Lady Ball's claim, as it were, to her fortune,
had almost evaporated; but the memory of her cousin's story of his
troubles was still fresh. "I have a hard time of it sometimes, I can
tell you." Those words and others of the same kind were the arguments
which had moved her, and made her try to think that she could love
him. Then she remembered his bald head and the weary, careworn look
about his eyes, and his little intermittent talk, addressed chiefly
to his mother, about the money-market,--little speeches made as he
would sit with the newspaper in his hand:

"The Confederate loan isn't so bad, after all. I wish I'd taken a
few."

"You know you'd never have slept if you had," Lady Ball would answer.

All this Miss Mackenzie now turned in her mind, and asked herself
whether she could be happy in hearing such speeches for the remainder
of her life.

"It is not as if you two were young people, and wanted to be billing
and cooing," Lady Ball had said to her the same evening.

Miss Mackenzie, as she thought of this, was not so sure that Lady
Ball was right. Why should she not want billing and cooing as well as
another? It was natural that a woman should want some of it in her
life, and she had had none of it yet. She had had a lover, certainly,
but there had been no billing and cooing with him. Nothing of that
kind had been possible in her brother Walter's house.

And then the question naturally arose to her whether her aunt had
treated her justly in bracketing her with John Ball in that matter of
age. John Ball was ten years her senior; and ten years, she knew, was
a very proper difference between a man and his wife. She was by no
means inclined to plead, even to herself, that she was too young
to marry her cousin; there was nothing in their ages to interfere,
if the match was in other respects suitable. But still, was not he
old for his age, and was not she young for hers? And if she should
ultimately resolve to devote herself and what she had left of
youth to his children and his welfare, should not the sacrifice be
recognised? Had Lady Ball done well to speak of her as she certainly
might well speak of him? Was she beyond all aptitude for billing and
cooing, if billing and cooing might chance to come in her way?

Thinking of this during the long afternoon, when Susanna was at
school, she got up and looked at herself in the mirror. She moved up
her hair from off her ears, knowing where she would find a few that
were grey, and shaking her head, as though owning to herself that
she was old; but as her fingers ran almost involuntarily across her
locks, her touch told her that they were soft and silken; and she
looked into her own eyes, and saw that they were bright; and her hand
touched the outline of her cheek, and she knew that something of the
fresh bloom of youth was still there; and her lips parted, and there
were her white teeth; and there came a smile and a dimple, and a
slight purpose of laughter in her eye, and then a tear. She pulled
her scarf tighter across her bosom, feeling her own form, and then
she leaned forward and kissed herself in the glass.

He was very careworn, soiled as it were with the world, tired out
with the dusty, weary life's walk which he had been compelled to
take. Of romance in him there was nothing left, while in her the
aptitude for romance had only just been born. It was not only that
his head was bald, but that his eye was dull, and his step slow. The
juices of life had been pressed out of him; his thoughts were all
of his cares, and never of his hopes. It would be very sad to be
the wife of such a man; it would be very sad, if there were no
compensation; but might not the sacrificial duties give her that
atonement which she would require? She would fain do something with
her life and her money,--some good, some great good to some other
person. If that good to another person and billing and cooing might
go together, it would be very pleasant. But she knew there was danger
in such an idea. The billing and cooing might lead altogether to
evil. But there could be no doubt that she would do good service if
she married her cousin; her money would go to good purposes, and her
care to those children would be invaluable. They were her cousins,
and would it not be sweet to make of herself a sacrifice?

And then--Reader! remember that she was no saint, and that hitherto
very little opportunity had been given to her of learning to
discriminate true metal from dross. Then--she thought of Mr Samuel
Rubb, junior. Mr Samuel Rubb, junior, was a handsome man, about
her own age; and she felt almost sure that Mr Samuel Rubb, junior,
admired her. He was not worn out with life; he was not broken with
care; he would look forward into the world, and hope for things to
come. One thing she knew to be true--he was not a gentleman. But
then, why should she care for that? The being a gentleman was not
everything. As for herself, might there not be strong reason to doubt
whether those who were best qualified to judge would call her a lady?
Her surviving brother kept an oilcloth shop, and the brother with
whom she had always lived had been so retired from the world that
neither he nor she knew anything of its ways. If love could be
gained, and anything of romance; if some active living mode of life
could thereby be opened to her, would it not be well for her to give
up that idea of being a lady? Hitherto her rank had simply enabled
her to become a Stumfoldian; and then she remembered that Mr
Maguire's squint was very terrible! How she should live, what she
should do with herself, were matters to her of painful thought; but
she looked in the glass again, and resolved that she would decline
the honour of becoming Mrs Ball.

On the following morning she wrote her letter, and it was written
thus:


   7 Paragon, Littlebath, January, 186--.

   MY DEAR JOHN,

   I have been thinking a great deal about what you said to
   me, and I have made up my mind that I ought not to become
   your wife. I know that the honour you have proposed to me
   is very great, and that I may seem to be ungrateful in
   declining it; but I cannot bring myself to feel that sort
   of love for you which a wife should have for her husband.
   I hope this will not make you displeased with me. It ought
   not to do so, as my feelings towards you and to your
   children are most affectionate.

   I know my aunt will be angry with me. Pray tell her from
   me, with my best love, that I have thought very much of
   all she said to me, and that I feel sure that I am doing
   right. It is not that I should be afraid of the duties
   which would fall upon me as your wife; but that the woman
   who undertakes those duties should feel for you a wife's
   love. I think it is best to speak openly, and I hope that
   you will not be offended.

   Give my best love to my uncle and aunt, and to the girls,
   and to Jack, who will, I hope, keep his promise of coming
   and seeing me.

   Your very affectionate cousin,

   MARGARET MACKENZIE.


"There," said John Ball to his mother, when he had read the letter,
"I knew it would be so; and she is right. Why should she give up her
money and her comfort and her ease, to look after my children?"

Lady Ball took the letter and read it, and pronounced it to be all
nonsense.

"It may be all nonsense," said her son; "but such as it is, it is her
answer."

"I suppose you'll have to go down to Littlebath after her," said Lady
Ball.

"I certainly shall not do that. It would do no good; and I'm not
going to persecute her."

"Persecute her! What nonsense you men do talk! As if any woman in her
condition could be persecuted by being asked to become a baronet's
wife. I suppose I must go down."

"I beg that you will not, mother."

"She is just one of those women who are sure to stand off, not
knowing their own minds. The best creature in the world, and really
very clever, but weak in that respect! She has not had lovers when
she was young, and she thinks that a man should come dallying about
her as though she were eighteen. It only wants a little perseverance,
John, and if you'll take my advice, you'll go down to Littlebath
after her."

But John, in this matter, would not follow his mother's advice, and
declared that he would take no further steps. "He was inclined," he
said, "to think that Margaret was right. Why should any woman burden
herself with nine children?"

Then Lady Ball said a great deal more about the Ball money, giving it
as her decided opinion that Margaret owed herself and her money to
the Balls. As she could not induce her son to do anything, she wrote
a rejoinder to her niece.

"My dearest Margaret," she said, "Your letter has made both me and
John very unhappy. He has set his heart upon making you his wife,
and I don't think will ever hold up his head again if you will
not consent. I write now instead of John, because he is so much
oppressed. I wish you had remained here, because then we could have
talked it over quietly. Would it not be better for you to be here
than living alone at Littlebath? for I cannot call that little girl
who is at school anything of a companion. Could you not leave her as
a boarder, and come to us for a month? You would not be forced to
pledge yourself to anything further; but we could talk it over."

It need hardly be said that Miss Mackenzie, as she read this,
declared to herself that she had no desire to talk over her own
position with Lady Ball any further.

"John is afraid," the letter went on to say, "that he offended you
by the manner of his proposition; and that he said too much about
the children, and not enough about his own affection. Of course
he loves you dearly. If you knew him as I do, which of course you
can't as yet, though I hope you will, you would be aware that no
consideration, either of money or about the children, would induce
him to propose to any woman unless he loved her. You may take my word
for that."

There was a great deal more in the letter of the same kind, in which
Lady Ball pressed her own peculiar arguments; but I need hardly say
that they did not prevail with Miss Mackenzie. If the son could not
induce his cousin to marry him, the mother certainly never would do
so. It did not take her long to answer her aunt's letter. She said
that she must, with many thanks, decline for the present to return
to the Cedars, as the charge which she had taken of her niece made
her presence at Littlebath necessary. As to the answer which she had
given to John, she was afraid she could only say that it must stand.
She had felt a little angry with Lady Ball; and though she tried not
to show this in the tone of her letter, she did show it.

"If I were you I would never see her or speak to her again," said
Lady Ball to her son.

"Very likely I never shall," he replied.

"Has your love-making with that old maid gone wrong, John?" the
father asked.

But John Ball was used to his father's ill nature, and never answered
it.

Nothing special to our story occurred at Littlebath during the next
two or three months, except that Miss Mackenzie became more and
more intimate with Miss Baker, and more and more anxious to form an
acquaintance with Miss Todd. With all the Stumfoldians she was on
terms of mitigated friendship, and always went to Mrs Stumfold's
fortnightly tea-drinkings. But with no lady there,--always excepting
Miss Baker,--did she find that she grew into familiarity. With Mrs
Stumfold no one was familiar. She was afflicted by the weight of her
own position, as we suppose the Queen to be, when we say that her
Majesty's altitude is too high to admit of friendships. Mrs Stumfold
never condescended--except to the bishop's wife who, in return, had
snubbed Mrs Stumfold. But living, as she did, in an atmosphere of
flattery and toadying, it was wonderful how well she preserved her
equanimity, and how she would talk and perhaps think of herself, as a
poor, erring human being. When, however, she insisted much upon this
fact of her humanity, the coachmaker's wife would shake her head, and
at last stamp her foot in anger, swearing that though everybody was
of course dust, and grass, and worms; and though, of course, Mrs
Stumfold must, by nature, be included in that everybody; yet dust,
and grass, and worms nowhere exhibited themselves with so few of
the stains of humanity on them as they did within the bosom of Mrs
Stumfold. So that, though the absolute fact of Mrs Stumfold being
dust, and grass, and worms, could not, in regard to the consistency
of things, be denied, yet in her dustiness, grassiness, and worminess
she was so little dusty, grassy, and wormy, that it was hardly fair,
even in herself, to mention the fact at all.

"I know the deceit of my own heart," Mrs Stumfold would say.

"Of course you do, Mrs Stumfold," the coachmaker's wife replied. "It
is dreadful deceitful, no doubt. Where's the heart that ain't? But
there's a difference in hearts. Your deceit isn't hard like most of
'em. You know it, Mrs Stumfold, and wrestle with it, and get your
foot on the neck of it, so that, as one may say, it's always being
killed and got the better of."

During these months Miss Mackenzie learned to value at a very low
rate the rank of the Stumfoldian circle into which she had been
admitted. She argued the matter with herself, saying that the
coachbuilder's wife and others were not ladies. In a general way she
was, no doubt, bound to assume them to be ladies; but she taught
herself to think that such ladyhood was not of itself worth a great
deal. It would not be worth the while of any woman to abstain from
having some Mr Rubb or the like, and from being the lawful mother
of children in the Rubb and Mackenzie line of life, for the sake of
such exceptional rank as was to be maintained by associating with
the Stumfoldians. And, as she became used to the things and persons
around her, she indulged herself in a considerable amount of social
philosophy, turning over ideas in her mind for which they, who saw
merely the lines of her outer life, would hardly have given her
credit. After all, what was the good of being a lady? Or was there
any good in it at all? Could there possibly be any good in making a
struggle to be a lady? Was it not rather one of those things which
are settled for one externally, as are the colour of one's hair and
the size of one's bones, and which should be taken or left alone,
as Providence may have directed? "One cannot add a cubit to one's
height, nor yet make oneself a lady;" that was the nature of Miss
Mackenzie's argument with herself.

And, indeed, she carried the argument further than that. It was well
to be a lady. She recognised perfectly the delicacy and worth of the
article. Miss Baker was a lady; as to that there was no doubt. But,
then, might it not also be very well not to be a lady; and might
not the advantages of the one position be compensated with equal
advantages in the other? It is a grand thing to be a queen; but a
queen has no friends. It is fine to be a princess; but a princess has
a very limited choice of husbands. There was something about Miss
Baker that was very nice; but even Miss Baker was very melancholy,
and Miss Mackenzie could see that that melancholy had come from
wasted niceness. Had she not been so much the lady, she might have
been more the woman. And there could be no disgrace in not being a
lady, if such ladyhood depended on external circumstances arranged
for one by Providence. No one blames one's washerwoman for not being
a lady. No one wishes one's housekeeper to be a lady; and people are
dismayed, rather than pleased, when they find that their tailors'
wives want to be ladies. What does a woman get by being a lady? If
fortune have made her so, fortune has done much for her. But the good
things come as the natural concomitants of her fortunate position.
It is not because she is a lady that she is liked by her peers and
peeresses. But those choice gifts which have made her a lady have
made her also to be liked. It comes from the outside, and for it
no struggle can usefully be made. Such was the result of Miss
Mackenzie's philosophy.

One may see that all these self-inquiries tended Rubb-wards. I do not
mean that they were made with any direct intention on her part to
reconcile herself to a marriage with Mr Samuel Rubb, or that she even
thought of such an event as probable. He had said nothing to her to
justify such thought, and as yet she knew but very little of him.
But they all went to reconcile her to that sphere of life which her
brother Tom had chosen, and which her brother Walter had despised.
They taught her to believe that a firm footing below was better than
what might, after a life's struggle, be found to be but a false
footing above. And they were brightened undoubtedly by an idea that
some marriage in which she could love and be loved was possible to
her below, though it would hardly be possible to her above.

Her only disputant on the subject was Miss Baker, and she startled
that lady much by the things which she said. Now, with Miss Baker,
not to be a lady was to be nothing. It was her weakness, and I may
also say her strength. Her ladyhood was of that nature that it took
no soil from outer contact. It depended, even within her own bosom,
on her own conduct solely, and in no degree on the conduct of those
among whom she might chance to find herself. She thought it well
to pass her evenings with Mr Stumfold's people, and he at any rate
had the manners of a gentleman. So thinking, she felt in no wise
disgraced because the coachbuilder's wife was a vulgar, illiterate
woman. But there were things, not bad in themselves, which she
herself would never have done, because she was a lady. She would have
broken her heart rather than marry a man who was not a gentleman. It
was not unlady-like to eat cold mutton, and she ate it. But she would
have shuddered had she been called on to eat any mutton with a steel
fork. She had little generous ways with her, because they were the
ways of ladies, and she paid for them from off her own back and out
of her own dish. She would not go out to tea in a street cab, because
she was a lady and alone; but she had no objection to walk, with her
servant with her if it was dark. No wonder that such a woman was
dismayed by the philosophy of Miss Mackenzie.

And yet they had been brought together by much that was alike in
their dispositions. Miss Mackenzie had now been more than six months
an inhabitant of Littlebath, and six months at such places is enough
for close intimacies. They were both quiet, conscientious, kindly
women, each not without some ambition of activity, but each a little
astray as to the way in which that activity should be shown. They
were both alone in the world, and Miss Baker during the last year or
two had become painfully so from the fact of her estrangement from
her old friend Miss Todd. They both wished to be religious, having
strong faith in the need of the comfort of religion; but neither of
them were quite satisfied with the Stumfoldian creed. They had both,
from conscience, eschewed the vanities of the world; but with neither
was her conscience quite satisfied that such eschewal was necessary,
and each regretted to be losing pleasures which might after all be
innocent.

"If I'm to go to the bad place," Miss Todd had said to Miss Baker,
"because I like to do something that won't hurt my old eyes of an
evening, I don't see the justice of it. As for calling it gambling,
it's a falsehood, and your Mr Stumfold knows that as well as I
do. I haven't won or lost ten pounds in ten years, and I've no
more idea of making money by cards than I have by sweeping the
chimney. Tell me why are cards wicked? Drinking, and stealing, and
lying, and backbiting, and naughty love-making,--but especially
backbiting--backbiting--backbiting,--those are the things that the
Bible says are wicked. I shall go on playing cards, my dear, till Mr
Stumfold can send me chapter and verse forbidding it."

Then Miss Baker, who was no doubt weak, had been unable to answer
her, and had herself hankered after the flesh-pots of Egypt and the
delights of the unregenerated.

All these things Miss Baker and Miss Mackenzie discussed, and Miss
Baker learned to love her younger friend in spite of her heterodox
philosophy. Miss Mackenzie was going to give a tea-party,--nothing as
yet having been quite settled, as there were difficulties in the way;
but she propounded to Miss Baker the possibility of asking Miss Todd
and some few of the less conspicuous Toddites. She had her ambition,
and she wished to see whether even she might not do something to
lessen the gulf which separated those who loved the pleasures of the
world in Littlebath from the bosom of Mr Stumfold.

"You don't know what you are going to do," Miss Baker said.

"I'm not going to do any harm."

"That's more than you can say, my dear." Miss Baker had learnt from
Miss Todd to call her friends "my dear."

"You are always so afraid of everything," said Miss Mackenzie.

"Of course I am;--one has to be afraid. A single lady can't go about
and do just as she likes, as a man can do, or a married woman."

"I don't know about a man; but I think a single woman ought to be
able to do more what she likes than a married woman. Suppose Mrs
Stumfold found that I had got old Lady Ruff to meet her, what could
she do to me?"

Old Lady Ruff was supposed to be the wickedest old card-player in all
Littlebath, and there were strange stories afloat of the things she
had done. There were Stumfoldians who declared that she had been
seen through the blinds teaching her own maid piquet on a Sunday
afternoon; but any horror will get itself believed nowadays. How
could they have known that it was not beggar-my-neighbour? But piquet
was named because it is supposed in the Stumfoldian world to be the
wickedest of all games.

"I don't suppose she'd do much," said Miss Baker; "no doubt she would
be very much offended."

"Why shouldn't I try to convert Lady Ruff?"

"She's over eighty, my dear."

"But I suppose she's not past all hope. The older one is the more one
ought to try. But, of course, I'm only joking about her. Would Miss
Todd come if you were to ask her?"

"Perhaps she would, but I don't think she'd be comfortable; or if she
were, she'd make the others uncomfortable. She always does exactly
what she pleases."

"That's just why I think I should like her. I wish I dared to do what
I pleased! We all of us are such cowards. Only that I don't dare, I'd
go off to Australia and marry a sheep farmer."

"You would not like him when you'd got him;--you'd find him very
rough."

"I shouldn't mind a bit about his being rough. I'd marry a shoe-black
to-morrow if I thought I could make him happy, and he could make me
happy."

"But it wouldn't make you happy."

"Ah! that's just what we don't know. I shan't marry a shoe-black,
because I don't dare. So you think I'd better not ask Miss Todd.
Perhaps she wouldn't get on well with Mr Maguire."

"I had them both together once, my dear, and she made herself quite
unbearable. You've no idea what kind of things she can say."

"I should have thought Mr Maguire would have given her as good as she
brought," said Miss Mackenzie.

"So he did; and then Miss Todd got up and left him, saying out loud,
before all the company, that it was not fair for him to come and
preach sermons in such a place as that. I don't think they have ever
met since."

All this made Miss Mackenzie very thoughtful. She had thrown herself
into the society of the saints, and now there seemed to be no escape
for her; she could not be wicked even if she wished it. Having got
into her convent, and, as it were, taken the vows of her order, she
could not escape from it.

"That Mr Rubb that I told you of is coming down here," she said,
still speaking to Miss Baker of her party.

"Oh, dear! will he be here when you have your friends here?"

"That's what I intended; but I don't think I shall ask anybody at
all. It is so stupid always seeing the same people."

"Mr Rubb is--is--is--?"

"Yes; Mr Rubb is a partner in my brother's house, and sells oilcloth,
and things of that sort, and is not by any means aristocratic. I know
what you mean."

"Don't be angry with me, my dear."

"Angry! I am not a bit angry. Why should I be angry? A man who keeps
a shop is not, I suppose, a gentleman. But then, you know, I don't
care about gentlemen,--about any gentleman, or any gentlemen."

Miss Baker sighed, and then the conversation dropped. She had always
cared about gentlemen,--and once in her life, or perhaps twice, had
cared about a gentleman.

Yes; Mr Rubb was coming down again. He had written to say that it was
necessary that he should again see Miss Mackenzie about the money.
The next morning after the conversation which has just been recorded,
Miss Mackenzie got another letter about the same money, of which it
will be necessary to say more in the next chapter.



CHAPTER X

Plenary Absolutions


The letter which Miss Mackenzie received was from old Mr Slow, her
lawyer; and it was a very unpleasant letter. It was so unpleasant
that it made her ears tingle when she read it and remembered that the
person to whom special allusion was made was one whom she had taught
herself to regard as her friend. Mr Slow's letter was as follows:


   7 Little St Dunstan Court,
   April, 186--.

   DEAR MADAM,

   I think it proper to write to you specially, about the
   loan made by you to Messrs Rubb and Mackenzie, as the sum
   lent is serious, and as there has been conduct on the part
   of some one which I regard as dishonest. I find that what
   we have done in the matter has been regulated rather by
   the fact that you and Mr Mackenzie are brother and sister,
   than by the ordinary course of such business; and I
   perceive that we had special warrant given to us for this
   by you in your letter of the 23rd November last; but,
   nevertheless, it is my duty to explain to you that Messrs
   Rubb and Mackenzie, or,--as I believe to be the case, Mr
   Samuel Rubb, junior, of that firm,--have not dealt with
   you fairly. The money was borrowed for the purpose of
   buying certain premises, and, I believe, was laid out in
   that way. But it was borrowed on the special understanding
   that you, as the lender, were to have the title-deeds of
   that property, and the first mortgage upon them. It was
   alleged, when the purchase was being made, that the money
   was wanted before the mortgage could be effected, and you
   desired us to advance it. This we did, aware of the close
   family connection between yourself and one of the firm.
   Of course, on your instruction, we should have done this
   had there been no such relationship, but in that case we
   should have made further inquiry, and, probably, have
   ventured to advise you. But though the money was so
   advanced without the completion of the mortgage, it was
   advanced on the distinct understanding that the security
   proffered in the first instance was to be forthcoming
   without delay. We now learn that the property is mortgaged
   to other parties to its full value, and that no security
   for your money is to be had.

   I have seen both Mr Mackenzie and Mr Rubb, junior. As
   regards your brother, I believe him to have been innocent
   of any intention of the deceit, for deceit there certainly
   has been. Indeed, he does not deny it. He offers to
   give you any security on the business, such as the
   stock-in-trade or the like, which I may advise you to
   take. But such would in truth be of no avail to you as
   security. He, your brother, seemed to be much distressed
   by what has been done, and I was grieved on his behalf. Mr
   Rubb,--the younger Mr Rubb,--expressed himself in a very
   different way. He at first declined to discuss the matter
   with me; and when I told him that if that was his way I
   would certainly expose him, he altered his tone a little,
   expressing regret that there should be delay as to the
   security, and wishing me to understand that you were
   yourself aware of all the facts.

   There can be no doubt that deceit has been used towards
   you in getting your money, and that Mr Rubb has laid
   himself open to proceedings which, if taken against him,
   would be absolutely ruinous to him. But I fear they would
   be also ruinous to your brother. It is my painful duty
   to tell you that your money so advanced is on a most
   precarious footing. The firm, in addition to their present
   liabilities, are not worth half the money; or, I fear I
   may say, any part of it. I presume there is a working
   profit, as two families live upon the business. Whether,
   if you were to come upon them as a creditor, you could get
   your money out of their assets, I cannot say; but you,
   perhaps, will not feel yourself disposed to resort to such
   a measure. I have considered it my duty to tell you all
   the facts, and though your distinct authority to us to
   advance the money absolves us from responsibility, I must
   regret that we did not make further inquiries before we
   allowed so large a sum of money to pass out of our hands.

   I am, dear Madam,
   Your faithful servant,

   JONATHAN SLOW.


Mr Rubb's promised visit was to take place in eight or ten days from
the date on which this letter was received. Miss Mackenzie's ears, as
I have said, tingled as she read it. In the first place, it gave her
a terrible picture of the precarious state of her brother's business.
What would he do,--he with his wife, and all his children, if things
were in such a state as Mr Slow described them? And yet a month or
two ago he was giving champagne and iced puddings for dinner! And
then what words that discreet old gentleman, Mr Slow, had spoken
about Mr Rubb, and what things he had hinted over and above what he
had spoken! Was it not manifest that he conceived Mr Rubb to have
been guilty of direct fraud?

Miss Mackenzie at once made up her mind that her money was gone! But,
in truth, this did not much annoy her. She had declared to herself
once before that if anything was wrong about the money she would
regard it as a present made to her brother; and when so thinking of
it, she had, undoubtedly, felt that it was, not improbably, lost to
her. It was something over a hundred a year to be deducted from her
computed income, but she would still be able to live at the Paragon
quite as well as she had intended, and be able also to educate
Susanna. Indeed, she could do this easily and still save money, and,
therefore, as regarded the probable loss, why need she be unhappy?

Before the morning was over she had succeeded in white-washing Mr
Rubb in her own mind. It is, I think, certainly the fact that women
are less pervious to ideas of honesty than men are. They are less
shocked by dishonesty when they find it, and are less clear in their
intellect as to that which constitutes honesty. Where is the woman
who thinks it wrong to smuggle? What lady's conscience ever pricked
her in that she omitted the armorial bearings on her silver forks
from her tax papers? What wife ever ceased to respect her husband
because he dealt dishonestly in business? Whereas, let him not go
to church, let him drink too much wine, let him go astray in his
conversation, and her wrath arises against these faults. But this
lack of feminine accuracy in the matter of honesty tends rather to
charity in their judgment of others, than to deeds of fraud on the
part of women themselves.

Miss Mackenzie, who desired nothing that was not her own, who
scrupulously kept her own hands from all picking and stealing, gave
herself no peace, after reading the lawyer's letter, till she was
able to tell herself that Mr Rubb was to be forgiven for what he had
done. After all, he had, no doubt, intended that she should have the
promised security. And had not he himself come to her in London and
told her the whole truth,--or, if not the whole truth, as much of
it as was reasonable to expect that he should be able to tell her
at an evening party after dinner? Of course Mr Slow was hard upon
him. Lawyers always were hard. If she chose to give Messrs Rubb and
Mackenzie two thousand five hundred pounds out of her pocket, what
was that to him? So she went on, till at last she was angry with Mr
Slow for the language he had used.

It was, however, before all things necessary that she should put Mr
Slow right as to the facts of the case. She had, no doubt, condoned
whatever Mr Rubb had done. Mr Rubb undoubtedly had her sanction for
keeping her money without security. Therefore, by return of post, she
wrote the following short letter, which rather astonished Mr Slow
when he received it--


   Littlebath, April, 186--.

   DEAR SIR,

   I am much obliged by your letter about the money; but the
   truth is that I have known for some time that there was
   to be no mortgage. When I was in town I saw Mr Rubb at my
   brother's house, and it was understood between us then
   that the matter was to remain as it is. My brother and his
   partner are very welcome to the money.

   Believe me to be,
   Yours sincerely,

   MARGARET MACKENZIE.


The letter was a false letter; but I suppose Miss Mackenzie did not
know that she was writing falsely. The letter was certainly false,
because when she spoke of the understanding "between us," having just
mentioned her brother and Mr Rubb, she intended the lawyer to believe
that the understanding was between them three; whereas, not a word
had been said about the money in her brother's hearing, nor was he
aware that his partner had spoken of the money.

Mr Slow was surprised and annoyed. As regarded his comfort as a
lawyer, his client's letter was of course satisfactory. It absolved
him not only from all absolute responsibility, but also from the
feeling which no doubt had existed within his own breast, that he had
in some sort neglected the lady's interest. But, nevertheless, he was
annoyed. He did not believe the statement that Rubb and Mackenzie had
had permission to hold the money without mortgage, and thought that
neither of the partners had themselves so conceived when he had seen
them. They had, however, been too many for him--and too many also for
the poor female who had allowed herself to be duped out of her money.
Such were Mr Slow's feelings on the matter, and then he dismissed the
subject from his mind.

The next day, about noon, Miss Mackenzie was startled almost out of
her propriety by the sudden announcement at the drawing-room door
of Mr Rubb. Before she could bethink herself how she would behave
herself, or whether it would become her to say anything of Mr Slow's
letter to her, he was in the room.

"Miss Mackenzie," he said, hurriedly--and yet he had paused for a
moment in his hurry till the servant had shut the door--"may I shake
hands with you?"

There could, Miss Mackenzie thought, be no objection to so ordinary
a ceremony; and, therefore, she said, "Certainly," and gave him her
hand.

"Then I am myself again," said Mr Rubb; and having so said, he sat
down.

Miss Mackenzie hoped that there was nothing the matter with him, and
then she also sat down at a considerable distance.

"There is nothing the matter with me," said he, "as you are still so
kind to me. But tell me, have you not received a letter from your
lawyer?"

"Yes, I have."

"And he has done all in his power to blacken me? I know it. Tell me,
Miss Mackenzie, has he not blackened me? Has he not laid things to
my charge of which I am incapable? Has he not accused me of getting
money from you under false pretences,--than do which, I'd sooner have
seen my own brains blown out? I would, indeed."

"He has written to me about the money, Mr Rubb."

"Yes; he came to me, and behaved shamefully to me; and he saw
your brother, too, and has been making all manner of ignominious
inquiries. Those lawyers can never understand that there can be
anything of friendly feeling about money. They can't put friendly
feelings into their unconscionable bills. I believe the world would
go on better if there was no such thing as an attorney in it. I
wonder who invented them, and why?"

Miss Mackenzie could give him no information on this point, and
therefore he went on:

"But you must tell me what he has said, and what it is he wants us to
do. For your sake, if you ask us, Miss Mackenzie, we'll do anything.
We'll sell the coats off our backs, if you wish it. You shall never
lose one shilling by Rubb and Mackenzie as long as I have anything to
do with the firm. But I'm sure you will excuse me if I say that we
can do nothing at the bidding of that old cormorant."

"I don't know that there's anything to be done, Mr Rubb."

"Is not there? Well, it's very generous in you to say so; and you
always are generous. I've always told your brother, since I had the
honour of knowing you, that he had a sister to be proud of. And, Miss
Mackenzie, I'll say more than that; I've flattered myself that I've
had a friend to be proud of. But now I must tell you why I've come
down to-day; you know I was to have been here next week. Well, when
Mr Slow came to me and I found what was up, I said to myself at once
that it was right you should know exactly--exactly--how the matter
stands. I was going to explain it next week, but I wouldn't leave you
in suspense when I knew that that lawyer was going to trouble you."

"It hasn't troubled me, Mr Rubb."

"Hasn't it though, really? That's so good of you again! Now the
truth is--but it's pretty nearly just what I told you that day after
dinner, when you agreed, you know, to what we had done."

Here he paused, as though expecting an answer.

"Yes, I did agree."

"Just at present, while certain other parties have a right to hold
the title-deeds, and I can't quite say how long that may be, we
cannot execute a mortgage in your favour. The title-deeds represent
the property. Perhaps you don't know that."

"Oh yes, I know as much as that."

"Well then, as we haven't the title-deeds, we can't execute the
mortgage. Perhaps you'll say you ought to have the title-deeds."

"No, Mr Rubb, I don't want to say anything of the kind. If my money
can be of any assistance to my brother--to my brother and you--you
are welcome to the use of it, without any mortgage. I will show you a
copy of the letter I sent to Mr Slow."

"Thanks; a thousand thanks! and may I see the letter which Mr Slow
wrote?"

"No, I think not. I don't know whether it would be right to show it
to you."

"I shouldn't think of doing anything about it; that is, resenting it,
you know. Only then we should all be on the square together."

"I think I'd better not. Mr Slow, when he wrote it, probably did not
mean that I should show it to you."

"You're right; you're always right. But you'll let me see your
answer."

Then Miss Mackenzie went to her desk, and brought him a copy of the
note she had written to the lawyer. He read it very carefully, twice
over; and then she could see, when he refolded the paper, that his
eyes were glittering with satisfaction.

"Miss Mackenzie, Miss Mackenzie," he said, "I think that you are an
angel!"

And he did think so. In so much at that moment he was at any rate
sincere. She saw that he was pleased, and she was pleased herself.

"There need be no further trouble about it," she said; and as she
spoke she rose from her seat.

And he rose, too, and came close to her. He came close to her,
hesitated for a moment, and then, putting one hand behind her waist,
though barely touching her, he took her hand with his other hand. She
thought that he was going to kiss her lips, and for a moment or two
he thought so too; but either his courage failed him or else his
discretion prevailed. Whether it was the one or the other, must
depend on the way in which she would have taken it. As it was, he
merely raised her hand and kissed that. When she could look into his
face his eyes were full of tears.

"The truth is," said he, "that you have saved us from ruin;--that's
the real truth. Damn all lying!"

She started at the oath, but in an instant she had forgiven him
that too. There was a sound of reality about it, which reconciled
her to the indignity; though, had she been true to her faith as a
Stumfoldian, she ought at least to have fainted at the sound.

"I hardly know what I am saying, Miss Mackenzie, and I beg your
pardon; but the fact is you could sell us up if you pleased. I didn't
mean it when I first got your brother to agree as to asking you for
the loan; I didn't indeed; but things were going wrong with us, and
just at that moment they went more wrong than ever; and then came the
temptation, and we were able to make everything right by giving up
the title-deeds of the premises. That's how it was, and it was I that
did it. It wasn't your brother; and though you may forgive me, he
won't."

This was all true, but how far the truth should be taken towards
palliating the deed done, I must leave the reader to decide; and the
reader will doubtless perceive that the truth did not appear until
Mr Rubb had ascertained that its appearance would not injure him. I
think, however, that it came from his heart, and that it should count
for something in his favour. The tear which he rubbed from his eye
with his hand counted very much in his favour with Miss Mackenzie;
she had not only forgiven him now, but she almost loved him for
having given her something to forgive. With many women I doubt
whether there be any more effectual way of touching their hearts
than ill-using them and then confessing it. If you wish to get the
sweetest fragrance from the herb at your feet, tread on it and bruise
it.

She had forgiven him, and taken him absolutely into favour, and he
had kissed her hand, having all but embraced her as he did so; but
on the present occasion he did not get beyond that. He lacked the
audacity to proceed at once from the acknowledgment of his fault to
a declaration of his love; but I hardly think that he would have
injured himself had he done so. He should have struck while the iron
was hot, and it was heated now nearly to melting; but he was abashed
by his own position, and having something real in his heart, having
some remnant of generous feeling left about him, he could not make
such progress as he might have done had he been cool enough to
calculate all his advantages.

"Don't let it trouble you any more," Miss Mackenzie said, when he had
dropped her hand.

"But it does trouble me, and it will trouble me."

"No," she said, with energy, "it shall not; let there be an end of
it. I will write to Tom, and tell him that he is welcome to the
money. Isn't he my brother? You are both welcome to it. If it has
been of service to you, I am very happy that it should be so. And
now, Mr Rubb, if you please, we won't have another word about it."

"What am I to say?"

"Not another word."

It seemed as though he couldn't speak another word, for he went to
the window and stood there silently, looking into the street. As he
did so, there came another visitor to Miss Mackenzie, whose ringing
at the doorbell had not been noticed by them, and Miss Baker was
announced while Mr Rubb was still getting the better of his feelings.
Of course he turned round when he heard the lady's name, and of
course he was introduced by his hostess. Miss Mackenzie was obliged
to make some apology for the gentleman's presence.

"Mr Rubb was expected next week, but business brought him down to-day
unexpectedly."

"Quite unexpectedly," said Mr Rubb, making a violent endeavour to
recover his equanimity.

Miss Baker looked at Mr Rubb, and disliked him at once. It should be
remembered that she was twenty years older than Miss Mackenzie, and
that she regarded the stranger, therefore, with a saner and more
philosophical judgment than her friend could use,--with a judgment on
which the outward comeliness of the man had no undue influence; and
it should be remembered also that Miss Baker, from early age, and by
all the association of her youth, had been taught to know a gentleman
when she saw him. Miss Mackenzie, who was by nature the cleverer
woman of the two, watched her friend's face, and saw by a glance that
she did not like Mr Rubb, and then, within her own bosom, she called
her friend an old maid.

"We're having uncommonly fine weather for the time of year," said Mr
Rubb.

"Very fine weather," said Miss Baker. "I've called, my dear, to know
whether you'll go in with me next door and drink tea this evening?"

"What, with Miss Todd?" asked Miss Mackenzie, who was surprised at
the invitation.

"Yes, with Miss Todd. It is not one of her regular nights, you know,
and her set won't be there. She has some old friends with her,--a Mr
Wilkinson, a clergyman, and his wife. It seems that her old enemy and
your devoted slave, Mr Maguire, knows Mr Wilkinson, and he's going to
be there."

"Mr Maguire is no slave of mine, Miss Baker."

"I thought he was; at any rate his presence will be a guarantee that
Miss Todd will be on her best behaviour, and that you needn't be
afraid."

"I'm not afraid of anything of that sort."

"But will you go?"

"Oh, yes, if you are going."

"That's right; and I'll call for you as I pass by. I must see her
now, and tell her. Good-morning, Sir;" whereupon Miss Baker bowed
very stiffly to Mr Rubb.

"Good-morning, Ma'am," said Mr Rubb, bowing very stiffly to Miss
Baker.

When the lady was gone, Mr Rubb sat himself again down on the sofa,
and there he remained for the next half-hour. He talked about the
business of the firm, saying how it would now certainly be improved;
and he talked about Tom Mackenzie's family, saying what a grand thing
it was for Susanna to be thus taken in hand by her aunt; and he asked
a question or two about Miss Baker, and then a question or two about
Mr Maguire, during which questions he learned that Mr Maguire was not
as yet a married man; and from Mr Maguire he got on to the Stumfolds,
and learned somewhat of the rites and ceremonies of the Stumfoldian
faith. In this way he prolonged his visit till Miss Mackenzie began
to feel that he ought to take his leave.

Miss Baker had gone at once to Miss Todd, and had told that lady that
Miss Mackenzie would join her tea-party. She had also told how Mr
Rubb, of the firm of Rubb and Mackenzie, was at this moment in Miss
Mackenzie's drawing-room.

"I'll ask him to come, too," said Miss Todd. Then Miss Baker had
hesitated, and had looked grave.

"What's the matter?" said Miss Todd.

"I'm not quite sure you'll like him," said Miss Baker.

"Probably not," said Miss Todd; "I don't like half the people I meet,
but that's no reason I shouldn't ask him."

"But he is--that is, he is not exactly--"

"What is he, and what is he not, exactly?" asked Miss Todd.

"Why, he is a tradesman, you know," said Miss Baker.

"There's no harm that I know of in that," said Miss Todd. "My uncle
that left me my money was a tradesman."

"No," said Miss Baker, energetically; "he was a merchant in
Liverpool."

"You'll find it very hard to define the difference, my dear," said
Miss Todd. "At any rate I'll ask the man to come;--that is, if it
won't offend you."

"It won't in the least offend me," said Miss Baker.

So a note was at once written and sent in to Miss Mackenzie, in which
she was asked to bring Mr Rubb with her on that evening. When the
note reached Miss Mackenzie, Mr Rubb was still with her.

Of course she communicated to him the invitation. She wished that it
had not been sent; she wished that he would not accept it,--though
on that head she had no doubt; but she had not sufficient presence
of mind to keep the matter to herself and say nothing about it.
Of course he was only too glad to drink tea with Miss Todd. Miss
Mackenzie attempted some slight manoeuvre to induce Mr Rubb to go
direct to Miss Todd's house; but he was not such an ass as that; he
knew his advantage, and kept it, insisting on his privilege of coming
there, to Miss Mackenzie's room, and escorting her. He would have
to escort Miss Baker also; and things, as he thought, were looking
well with him. At last he rose to go, but he made good use of the
privilege of parting. He held Miss Mackenzie's hand, and pressed it.

"You mustn't be angry," he said, "if I tell you that you are the best
friend I have in the world."

"You have better friends than me," she said, "and older friends."

"Yes; older friends; but none,--not one, who has done for me so much
as you have; and certainly none for whom I have so great a regard.
May God bless you, Miss Mackenzie!"

"May God bless you, too, Mr Rubb!"

What else could she say? When his civility took so decorous a shape,
she could not bear to be less civil than he had been, or less
decorous. And yet it seemed to her that in bidding God bless him with
that warm pressure of the hand, she had allowed to escape from her an
appearance of affection which she had not intended to exhibit.

"Thank you; thank you," said he; and then at last he went.

She seated herself slowly in her own chair near the window,--the
chair in which she was accustomed to sit for many solitary hours, and
asked herself what it all meant. Was she allowing herself to fall in
love with Mr Rubb, and if so, was it well that it should be so? This
would be bringing to the sternest proof of reality her philosophical
theory on social life. It was all very well for her to hold a bold
opinion in discussions with Miss Baker as to a "man being a man
for a' that," even though he might not be a gentleman; but was she
prepared to go the length of preferring such a man to all the world?
Was she ready to go down among the Rubbs, for now and ever, and give
up the society of such women as Miss Baker? She knew that it was
necessary that she should come to some resolve on the matter, as
Mr Rubb's purpose was becoming too clear to her. When an unmarried
gentleman of forty tells an unmarried lady of thirty-six that she is
the dearest friend he has in the world, he must surely intend that
they shall, neither of them, remain unmarried any longer. Then
she thought also of her cousin, John Ball; and some vague shadow
of thought passed across her mind also in respect of the Rev. Mr
Maguire.



CHAPTER XI

Miss Todd Entertains Some Friends at Tea


I believe that a desire to get married is the natural state of a
woman at the age of--say from twenty-five to thirty-five, and I think
also that it is good for the world in general that it should be so. I
am now speaking, not of the female population at large, but of women
whose position in the world does not subject them to the necessity of
earning their bread by the labour of their hands. There is, I know,
a feeling abroad among women that this desire is one of which it
is expedient that they should become ashamed; that it will be well
for them to alter their natures in this respect, and learn to take
delight in the single state. Many of the most worthy women of the day
are now teaching this doctrine, and are intent on showing by precept
and practice that an unmarried woman may have as sure a hold on the
world, and a position within it as ascertained, as may an unmarried
man. But I confess to an opinion that human nature will be found to
be too strong for them. Their school of philosophy may be graced
by a few zealous students,--by students who will be subject to the
personal influence of their great masters,--but it will not be
successful in the outer world. The truth in the matter is too clear.
A woman's life is not perfect or whole till she has added herself to
a husband.

Nor is a man's life perfect or whole till he has added to himself a
wife; but the deficiency with the man, though perhaps more injurious
to him than its counterpart is to the woman, does not, to the outer
eye, so manifestly unfit him for his business in the world. Nor
does the deficiency make itself known to him so early in life, and
therefore it occasions less of regret,--less of regret, though
probably more of misery. It is infinitely for his advantage that he
should be tempted to take to himself a wife; and, therefore, for
his sake if not for her own, the philosophic preacher of single
blessedness should break up her class-rooms, and bid her pupils go
and do as their mothers did before them.

They may as well give up their ineffectual efforts, and know that
nature is too strong for them. The desire is there; and any desire
which has to be repressed with an effort, will not have itself
repressed unless it be in itself wrong. But this desire, though by no
means wrong, is generally accompanied by something of a feeling of
shame. It is not often acknowledged by the woman to herself, and very
rarely acknowledged in simple plainness to another. Miss Mackenzie
could not by any means bring herself to own it, and yet it was there
strong within her bosom. A man situated in outer matters as she was
situated, possessed of good means, hampered by no outer demands,
would have declared to himself clearly that it would be well for him
to marry. But he would probably be content to wait a while and would,
unless in love, feel the delay to be a luxury. But Miss Mackenzie
could not confess as much, even to herself,--could not let herself
know that she thought as much; but yet she desired to be married, and
dreaded delay. She desired to be married, although she was troubled
by some half-formed idea that it would be wicked. Who was she,
that she should be allowed to be in love? Was she not an old
maid by prescription, and, as it were, by the force of ordained
circumstances? Had it not been made very clear to her when she
was young that she had no right to fall in love, even with Harry
Handcock? And although in certain moments of ecstasy, as when she
kissed herself in the glass, she almost taught herself to think that
feminine charms and feminine privileges had not been all denied to
her, such was not her permanent opinion of herself. She despised
herself. Why, she knew not; and probably did not know that she did
so. But, in truth, she despised herself, thinking herself to be too
mean for a man's love.

She had been asked to marry him by her cousin Mr Ball, and she had
almost yielded. But had she married him it would not have been
because she thought herself good enough to be loved by him, but
because she held herself to be so insignificant that she had no right
to ask for love. She would have taken him because she could have been
of use, and because she would have felt that she had no right to
demand any other purpose in the world. She would have done this, had
she not been deterred by the rude offer of other advantages which had
with so much ill judgment been made to her by her aunt.

Now, here was a lover who was not old and careworn, who was
personally agreeable to her, with whom something of the customary
romance of the world might be possible. Should she take him? She knew
well that there were drawbacks. Her perceptions had not missed to
notice the man's imperfections, his vulgarities, his false promises,
his little pushing ways. But why was she to expect him to be perfect,
seeing, as she so plainly did, her own imperfections? As for her
money, of course he wanted her money. So had Mr Ball wanted her
money. What man on earth could have wished to marry her unless she
had had money? It was thus that she thought of herself. And he had
robbed her! But that she had forgiven; and, having forgiven it, was
too generous to count it for anything. But, nevertheless, she was
ambitious. Might there not be a better, even than Mr Rubb?

Mr Maguire squinted horribly; so horribly that the form and face of
the man hardly left any memory of themselves except the memory of
the squint. His dark hair, his one perfect eye, his good figure,
his expressive mouth, were all lost in that dreadful perversion of
vision. It was a misfortune so great as to justify him in demanding
that he should be judged by different laws than those which are used
as to the conduct of the world at large. In getting a wife he might
surely use his tongue with more freedom than another man, seeing that
his eye was so much against him. If he were somewhat romantic in his
talk, or even more than romantic, who could find fault with him?
And if he used his clerical vocation to cover the terrors of that
distorted pupil, can any woman say that he should be therefore
condemned? Miss Mackenzie could not forget his eye, but she thought
that she had almost brought herself to forgive it. And, moreover,
he was a gentleman, not only by Act of Parliament, but in outward
manners. Were she to become Mrs Maguire, Miss Baker would certainly
come to her house, and it might be given to her to rival Mrs
Stumfold--in running which race she would be weighted by no Mr
Peters.

It is true that Mr Maguire had never asked her to marry him, but she
believed that he would ask her if she gave him any encouragement. Now
it was to come to pass, by a wonderful arrangement of circumstances,
that she was to meet these two gentlemen together. It might well be,
that on this very occasion, she must choose whether it should be
either or neither.

Mr Rubb came, and she looked anxiously at his dress. He had on bright
yellow kid gloves, primrose he would have called them, but, if there
be such things as yellow gloves, they were yellow; and she wished
that she had the courage to ask him to take them off. This was beyond
her, and there he sat, with his gloves almost as conspicuous as Mr
Maguire's eye. Should she, however, ever become Mrs Rubb, she would
not find the gloves to be there permanently; whereas the eye would
remain. But then the gloves were the fault of the one man, whereas
the eye was simply the misfortune of the other. And Mr Rubb's hair
was very full of perfumed grease, and sat on each side of his head
in a conscious arrangement of waviness that was detestable. As she
looked at Mr Rubb in all the brightness of his evening costume, she
began to think that she had better not. At last Miss Baker came, and
they started off together. Miss Mackenzie saw that Miss Baker eyed
the man, and she blushed. When they got down upon the doorstep,
Samuel Rubb, junior, absolutely offered an arm simultaneously to each
lady! At that moment Miss Mackenzie hated him in spite of her special
theory.

"Thank you," said Miss Baker, declining the arm; "it is only a step."

Miss Mackenzie declined it also.

"Oh, of course," said Mr Rubb. "If it's only next door it does not
signify."

Miss Todd welcomed them cordially, gloves and all. "My dear," she
said to Miss Baker, "I haven't seen you for twenty years. Miss
Mackenzie, this is very kind of you. I hope we sha'n't do you any
harm, as we are not going to be wicked to-night."

Miss Mackenzie did not dare to say that she would have preferred to
be wicked, but that is what she would have said if she had dared.

"Mr Rubb, I'm very happy to see you," continued Miss Todd, accepting
her guest's hand, glove and all. "I hope they haven't made you
believe that you are going to have any dancing, for, if so, they
have hoaxed you shamefully." Then she introduced them to Mr and Mrs
Wilkinson.

Mr Wilkinson was a plain-looking clergyman, with a very pretty wife.
"Adela," Miss Todd said to Mrs Wilkinson, "you used to dance, but
that's all done with now, I suppose."

"I never danced much," said the clergyman's wife, "but have certainly
given it up now, partly because I have no one to dance with."

"Here's Mr Rubb quite ready. He'll dance with you, I'll be bound, if
that's all."

Mr Rubb became very red, and Miss Mackenzie, when she next took
courage to look at him, saw that the gloves had disappeared.

There came also a Mr and Mrs Fuzzybell, and immediately afterwards Mr
Maguire, whereupon Miss Todd declared her party to be complete.

"Mrs Fuzzybell, my dear, no cards!" said Miss Todd, quite out loud,
with a tragic-comic expression in her face that was irresistible. "Mr
Fuzzybell, no cards!" Mrs Fuzzybell said that she was delighted to
hear it. Mr Fuzzybell said that it did not signify. Miss Baker stole
a glance at Mr Maguire, and shook in her shoes. Mr Maguire tried to
look as though he had not heard it.

"Do you play cards much here?" asked Mr Rubb.

"A great deal too much, Sir," said Miss Todd, shaking her head.

"Have you many Dissenters in your parish, Mr Wilkinson?" asked Mr
Maguire.

"A good many," said Mr Wilkinson.

"But no Papists?" suggested Mr Maguire.

"No, we have no Roman Catholics."

"That is such a blessing!" said Mr Maguire, turning his eyes up to
Heaven in a very frightful manner. But he had succeeded for the
present in putting down Miss Todd and her cards.

They were now summoned round the tea-table,--a genuine tea-table at
which it was expected that they should eat and drink. Miss Mackenzie
was seated next to Mr Maguire on one side of the table, while Mr Rubb
sat on the other between Miss Todd and Miss Baker. While they were
yet taking their seats, and before the operations of the banquet had
commenced, Susanna entered the room. She also had been specially
invited, but she had not returned from school in time to accompany
her aunt. The young lady had to walk round the room to shake hands
with everybody, and when she came to Mr Rubb, was received with much
affectionate urgency. He turned round in his chair and was loud in
his praises. "Miss Mackenzie," said he, speaking across the table,
"I shall have to report in Gower Street that Miss Susanna has become
quite the lady." From that moment Mr Rubb had an enemy close to the
object of his affections, who was always fighting a battle against
him.

Susanna had hardly gained her seat, before Mr Maguire seized an
opportunity which he saw might soon be gone, and sprang to his legs.
"Miss Todd," said he, "may I be permitted to ask a blessing?"

"Oh, certainly," said Miss Todd; "but I thought one only did that at
dinner."

Mr Maguire, however, was not the man to sit down without improving
the occasion.

"And why not for tea also?" said he. "Are they not gifts alike?"

"Very much alike," said Miss Todd, "and so is a cake at a
pastry-cook's. But we don't say grace over our buns."

"We do, in silence," said Mr Maguire, still standing; "and therefore
we ought to have it out loud here."

"I don't see the argument; but you're very welcome."

"Thank you," said Mr Maguire; and then he said his grace. He said it
with much poetic emphasis, and Miss Mackenzie, who liked any little
additional excitement, thought that Miss Todd had been wrong.

"You've a deal of society here, no doubt," said Mr Rubb to Miss
Baker, while Miss Todd was dispensing her tea.

"I suppose it's much the same as other places," said Miss Baker.
"Those who know many people can go out constantly if they like it."

"And it's so easy to get to know people," said Mr Rubb. "That's what
makes me like these sort of places so much. There's no stiffness
and formality, and all that kind of thing. Now in London, you don't
know your next neighbour, though you and he have lived there for ten
years."

"Nor here either, unless chance brings you together."

"Ah; but there is none of that horrid decorum here," said Mr Rubb.
"There's nothing I hate like decorum. It prevents people knowing each
other, and being jolly and happy together. Now, the French know more
about society than any people, and I'm told they have none of it."

"I'm sure I can't say," said Miss Baker.

"It's given up to them that they've got rid of it altogether," said
Mr Rubb.

"Who have got rid of what?" asked Miss Todd, who saw that her friend
was rather dismayed by the tenor of Mr Rubb's conversation.

"The French have got rid of decorum," said Mr Rubb.

"Altogether, I believe," said Miss Todd.

"Of course they have. It's given up to them that they have. They're
the people that know how to live!"

"You'd better go and live among them, if that's your way of
thinking," said Miss Todd.

"I would at once, only for the business," said Mr Rubb. "If there's
anything I hate, it's decorum. How pleasant it was for me to be asked
in to take tea here in this social way!"

"But I hope decorum would not have forbidden that," said Miss Todd.

"I rather think it would though, in London."

"Where you're known, you mean?" asked Miss Todd.

"I don't know that that makes any difference; but people don't do
that sort of thing. Do they, Miss Mackenzie? You've lived in London
most of your life, and you ought to know."

Miss Mackenzie did not answer the appeal that was made to her. She
was watching Mr Rubb narrowly, and knew that he was making a fool of
himself. She could perceive also that Miss Todd would not spare him.
She could forgive Mr Rubb for being a fool. She could forgive him
for not knowing the meaning of words, for being vulgar and assuming;
but she could hardly bring herself to forgive him in that he did so
as her friend, and as the guest whom she had brought thither. She
did not declare to herself that she would have nothing more to do
with him, because he was an ass; but she almost did come to this
conclusion, lest he should make her appear to be an ass also.

"What is the gentleman's name?" asked Mr Maguire, who, under the
protection of the urn, was able to whisper into Miss Mackenzie's ear.

"Rubb," said she.

"Oh, Rubb; and he comes from London?"

"He is my brother's partner in business," said Miss Mackenzie.

"Oh, indeed. A very worthy man, no doubt. Is he staying with--with
you, Miss Mackenzie?"

Then Miss Mackenzie had to explain that Mr Rubb was not staying with
her,--that he had come down about business, and that he was staying
at some inn.

"An excellent man of business; I'm sure," said Mr Maguire.
"By-the-bye, Miss Mackenzie, if it be not improper to ask, have you
any share in the business?"

Miss Mackenzie explained that she had no share in the business; and
then blundered on, saying how Mr Rubb had come down to Littlebath
about money transactions between her and her brother.

"Oh, indeed," said Mr Maguire; and before he had done, he knew very
well that Mr Rubb had borrowed money of Miss Mackenzie.

"Now, Mrs Fuzzybell, what are we to do?" said Miss Todd, as soon as
the tea-things were gone.

"We shall do very well," said Mrs Fuzzybell; "we'll have a little
conversation."

"If we could all banish decorum, like Mr Rubb, and amuse ourselves,
wouldn't it be nice? I quite agree with you, Mr Rubb; decorum is a
great bore; it prevents our playing cards to-night."

"As for cards, I never play cards myself," said Mr Rubb.

"Then, when I throw decorum overboard, it sha'n't be in company with
you, Mr Rubb."

"We were always taught to think that cards were objectionable."

"You were told they were the devil's books, I suppose," said Miss
Todd.

"Mother always objected to have them in the house," said Mr Rubb.

"Your mother was quite right," said Mr Maguire; "and I hope that you
will never forget or neglect your parent's precepts. I'm not meaning
to judge you, Miss Todd--"

"But that's just what you are meaning to do, Mr Maguire."

"Not at all; very far from it. We've all got our wickednesses and
imperfections."

"No, no, not you, Mr Maguire. Mrs Fuzzybell, you don't think that Mr
Maguire has any wickednesses and imperfections?"

"I'm sure I don't know," said Mrs Fuzzybell, tossing her head.

"Miss Todd," said Mr Maguire, "when I look into my own heart, I see
well how black it is. It is full of iniquity; it is a grievous sore
that is ever running, and will not be purified."

"Gracious me, how unpleasant!" said Miss Todd.

"I trust that there is no one here who has not a sense of her own
wickedness."

"Or of his," said Miss Todd.

"Or of his," and Mr Maguire looked very hard at Mr Fuzzybell. Mr
Fuzzybell was a quiet, tame old gentleman, who followed his wife's
heels about wherever she went; but even he, when attacked in this
way, became very fierce, and looked back at Mr Maguire quite as
severely as Mr Maguire looked at him.

"Or of his," continued Mr Maguire; "and therefore far be it from me
to think hardly of the amusements of other people. But when this
gentleman tells me that his excellent parent warned him against the
fascination of cards, I cannot but ask him to remember those precepts
to his dying bed."

"I won't say what I may do later in life," said Mr Rubb.

"When he becomes like you and me, Mrs Fuzzybell," said Miss Todd.

"When one does get older," said Mr Rubb.

"And has succeeded in throwing off all decorum," said Miss Todd.

"How can you say such things?" asked Miss Baker, who was shocked by
the tenor of the conversation.

"It isn't I, my dear; it's Mr Rubb and Mr Maguire, between them. One
says he has thrown off all decorum and the other declares himself to
be a mass of iniquity. What are two poor old ladies like you and I to
do in such company?"

Miss Mackenzie, when she heard Mr Maguire declare himself to be a
running sore, was even more angry with him than with Mr Rubb. He, at
any rate, should have known better. After all, was not Mr Ball better
than either of them, though his head was bald and his face worn with
that solemn, sad look of care which always pervaded him?

In the course of the evening she found herself seated apart from the
general company, with Mr Maguire beside her. The eye that did not
squint was towards her, and he made an effort to be agreeable to her
that was not altogether ineffectual.

"Does not society sometimes make you very sad?" he said.

Society had made her sad to-night, and she answered him in the
affirmative.

"It seems that people are so little desirous to make other people
happy," she replied.

"It was just that idea that was passing through my own mind. Men and
women are anxious to give you the best they have, but it is in order
that you may admire their wealth or their taste; and they strive to
be witty, amusing, and sarcastic! but that, again, is for the éclat
they are to gain. How few really struggle to make those around them
comfortable!"

"It comes, I suppose, from people having such different tastes," said
Miss Mackenzie, who, on looking round the room, thought that the
people assembled there were peculiarly ill-assorted.

"As for happiness," continued Mr Maguire, "that is not to be looked
for from society. They who expect their social hours to be happy
hours will be grievously disappointed."

"Are you not happy at Mrs Stumfold's?"

"At Mrs Stumfold's? Yes;--sometimes, that is; but even there I always
seem to want something. Miss Mackenzie, has it never occurred to you
that the one thing necessary in this life, the one thing--beyond a
hope for the next, you know, the one thing is--ah, Miss Mackenzie,
what is it?"

"Perhaps you mean a competence," said Miss Mackenzie.

"I mean some one to love," said Mr Maguire.

As he spoke he looked with all the poetic vigour of his better eye
full into Miss Mackenzie's face, and Miss Mackenzie, who then could
see nothing of the other eye, felt the effect of the glance somewhat
as he intended that she should feel it. When a lady who is thinking
about getting married is asked by a gentleman who is frequently
in her thoughts whether she does not want some one to love, it is
natural that she should presume that he means to be particular; and
it is natural also that she should be in some sort gratified by that
particularity. Miss Mackenzie was, I think, gratified, but she did
not express any such feeling.

"Is not that your idea also?" said he,--"some one to love; is not
that the great desideratum here below!" And the tone in which he
repeated the last words was by no means ineffective.

"I hope everybody has that," said she.

"I fear not; not anyone to love with a perfect love. Who does Miss
Todd love?"

"Miss Baker."

"Does she? And yet they live apart, and rarely see each other. They
think differently on all subjects. That is not the love of which I am
speaking. And you, Miss Mackenzie, are you sure that you love anyone
with that perfect all-trusting, love?"

"I love my niece Susanna best," said she.

"Your niece, Susanna! She is a sweet child, a sweet girl; she has
everything to make those love her who know her; but--"

"You don't think anything amiss of Susanna, Mr Maguire?"

"Nothing, nothing; Heaven forbid, dear child! And I think so highly
of you for your generosity in adopting her."

"I could not do less than take one of them, Mr Maguire."

"But I meant a different kind of love from that. Do you feel that
your regard for your niece is sufficient to fill your heart?"

"It makes me very comfortable."

"Does it? Ah! me; I wish I could make myself comfortable."

"I should have thought, seeing you so much in Mrs Stumfold's house--"

"I have the greatest veneration for that woman, Miss Mackenzie! I
have sometimes thought that of all the human beings I have ever met,
she is the most perfect; she is human, and therefore a sinner, but
her sins never meet my eyes."

Miss Mackenzie, who did not herself regard Mrs Stumfold as being so
much better than her neighbours, could not receive this with much
rapture.

"But," continued Mr Maguire, "she is as cold--as cold--as cold as
ice."

As the lady in question was another man's wife, this did not seem
to Miss Mackenzie to be of much consequence to Mr Maguire, but she
allowed him to go on.

"Stumfold I don't think minds it; he is of that joyous disposition
that all things work to good for him. Even when she's most obdurate
in her sternness to him--"

"Law! Mr Maguire, I did not think she was ever stern to him."

"But she is, very hard. Even then I don't think he minds it much.
But, Miss Mackenzie, that kind of companion would not do for me at
all. I think a woman should be soft and soothing, like a dove."

She did not stop to think whether doves are soothing, but she felt
that the language was pretty.

Just at this moment she was summoned by Miss Baker, and looking up
she perceived that Mr and Mrs Fuzzybell were already leaving the
room.

"I don't know why you need disturb Miss Mackenzie," said Miss Todd,
"she has only got to go next door, and she seems very happy just
now."

"I would sooner go with Miss Baker," said Miss Mackenzie.

"Mr Maguire would see you home," suggested Miss Todd.

But Miss Mackenzie of course went with Miss Baker, and Mr Rubb
accompanied them.

"Good-night, Mr Rubb," said Miss Todd; "and don't make very bad
reports of us in London."

"Oh! no; indeed I won't."

"For though we do play cards, we still stick to decorum, as you must
have observed to-night."

At Miss Mackenzie's door there was an almost overpowering amount of
affectionate farewells. Mr Maguire was there as well as Mr Rubb, and
both gentlemen warmly pressed the hand of the lady they were leaving.
Mr Rubb was not quite satisfied with his evening's work, because he
had not been able to get near to Miss Mackenzie; but, nevertheless,
he was greatly gratified by the general manner in which he had been
received, and was much pleased with Littlebath and its inhabitants.
Mr Maguire, as he walked home by himself, assured himself that he
might as well now put the question; he had been thinking about it for
the last two months, and had made up his mind that matrimony would be
good for him.

Miss Mackenzie, as she went to bed, told herself that she might have
a husband if she pleased; but then, which should it be? Mr Rubb's
manners were very much against him; but of Mr Maguire's eye she had
caught a gleam as he turned from her on the doorsteps, which made her
think of that alliance with dismay.



CHAPTER XII

Mrs Stumfold Interferes


On the morning following Miss Todd's tea-party, Mr Rubb called on
Miss Mackenzie and bade her adieu. He was, he said, going up to
London at once, having received a letter which made his presence
there imperative. Miss Mackenzie could, of course, do no more than
simply say good-bye to him. But when she had said so he did not even
then go at once. He was standing with his hat in hand, and had bade
her farewell; but still he did not go. He had something to say, and
she stood there trembling, half fearing what the nature of that
something might be.

"I hope I may see you again before long," he said at last.

"I hope you may," she replied.

"Of course I shall. After all that's come and gone, I shall think
nothing of running down, if it were only to make a morning call."

"Pray don't do that, Mr Rubb."

"I shall, as a matter of course. But in spite of that, Miss
Mackenzie, I can't go away without saying another word about the
money. I can't indeed."

"There needn't be any more about that, Mr Rubb."

"But there must be, Miss Mackenzie; there must, indeed; at least, so
much as this. I know I've done wrong about that money."

"Don't talk about it. If I choose to lend it to my brother and you
without security, there's nothing very uncommon in that."

"No; there ain't; at least perhaps there ain't. Though as far as I
can see, brothers and sisters out in the world are mostly as hard to
each other where money is concerned as other people. But the thing
is, you didn't mean to lend it without security."

"I'm quite contented as it is."

"And I did wrong about it all through; I feel it so that I can't tell
you. I do, indeed. But I'll never rest till that money is paid back
again. I never will."

Then, having said that, he went away. When early on the preceding
evening he had put on bright yellow gloves, making himself smart
before the eyes of the lady of his love, it must be presumed that
he did so with some hope of success. In that hope he was altogether
betrayed. When he came and confessed his fraud about the money,
it must be supposed that in doing so he felt that he was lowering
himself in the estimation of her whom he desired to win for his wife.
But, had he only known it, he thereby took the most efficacious step
towards winning her esteem. The gloves had been nearly fatal to him;
but those words,--"I feel it so that I can't tell you," redeemed the
evil that the gloves had done. He went away, however, saying nothing
more then, and failing to strike while the iron was hot.

Some six weeks after this Mrs Stumfold called on Miss Mackenzie,
making a most important visit. But it should be first explained,
before the nature of that visit is described, that Miss Mackenzie had
twice been to Mrs Stumfold's house since the evening of Miss Todd's
party, drinking tea there on both occasions, and had twice met Mr
Maguire. On the former occasion they two had had some conversation,
but it had been of no great moment. He had spoken nothing then of
the pleasures of love, nor had he made any allusion to the dove-like
softness of women. On the second meeting he had seemed to keep aloof
from her altogether, and she had begun to tell herself that that
dream was over, and to scold herself for having dreamed at all--when
he came close up behind and whispered a word in her ear.

"You know," he said, "how much I would wish to be with you, but I
can't now."

She had been startled, and had turned round, and had found herself
close to his dreadful eye. She had never been so close to it before,
and it frightened her. Then again he came to her just before she
left, and spoke to her in the same mysterious way:

"I will see you in a day or two," he said, "but never mind now;" and
then he walked away. She had not spoken a word to him, nor did she
speak a word to him that evening.

Miss Mackenzie had never before seen Mrs Stumfold since her first
visit of ceremony, except in that lady's drawing-room, and was
surprised when she heard the name announced. It was an understood
thing that Mrs Stumfold did not call on the Stumfoldians unless she
had some great and special reason for doing so,--unless some erring
sister required admonishing, or the course of events in the life of
some Stumfoldian might demand special advice. I do not know that any
edict of this kind had actually been pronounced, but Miss Mackenzie,
though she had not yet been twelve months in Littlebath, knew that
this arrangement was generally understood to exist. It was plain
to be seen by the lady's face, as she entered the room, that some
special cause had brought her now. It wore none of those pretty
smiles with which morning callers greet their friends before they
begin their first gentle attempts at miscellaneous conversation.
It was true that she gave her hand to Miss Mackenzie, but she did
even this with austerity; and when she seated herself,--not on
the sofa as she was invited to do, but on one of the square, hard,
straight-backed chairs,--Miss Mackenzie knew well that pleasantness
was not to be the order of the morning.

"My dear Miss Mackenzie," said Mrs Stumfold, "I hope you will pardon
me if I express much tender solicitude for your welfare."

Miss Mackenzie was so astonished at this mode of address, and at the
tone in which it was uttered, that she made no reply to it. The words
themselves had in them an intention of kindness, but the voice and
look of the lady were, if kind, at any rate not tender.

"You came among us," continued Mrs Stumfold, "and became one of us,
and we have been glad to welcome you."

"I'm sure I've been much obliged."

"We are always glad to welcome those who come among us in a proper
spirit. Society with me, Miss Mackenzie, is never looked upon as an
end in itself. It is only a means to an end. No woman regards society
more favourably than I do. I think it offers to us one of the most
efficacious means of spreading true gospel teaching. With these views
I have always thought it right to open my house in a spirit, as I
hope, of humble hospitality;--and Mr Stumfold is of the same opinion.
Holding these views, we have been delighted to see you among us, and,
as I have said already, to welcome you as one of us."

There was something in this so awful that Miss Mackenzie hardly knew
how to speak, or let it pass without speaking. Having a spirit of
her own she did not like being told that she had been, as it were,
sat upon and judged, and then admitted into Mrs Stumfold's society
as a child may be admitted into a school after an examination. And
yet on the spur of the moment she could not think what words might
be appropriate for her answer. She sat silent, therefore, and Mrs
Stumfold again went on.

"I trust that you will acknowledge that we have shown our good will
towards you, our desire to cultivate a Christian friendship with you,
and that you will therefore excuse me if I ask you a question which
might otherwise have the appearance of interference. Miss Mackenzie,
is there anything between you and my husband's curate, Mr Maguire?"

Miss Mackenzie's face became suddenly as red as fire, but for a
moment or two she made no answer. I do not know whether I may as
yet have succeeded in making the reader understand the strength as
well as the weakness of my heroine's character; but Mrs Stumfold
had certainly not succeeded in perceiving it. She was accustomed,
probably, to weak, obedient women,--to women who had taught
themselves to believe that submission to Stumfoldian authority
was a sign of advanced Christianity; and in the mild-looking,
quiet-mannered lady who had lately come among them, she certainly did
not expect to encounter a rebel. But on such matters as that to which
the female hierarch of Littlebath was now alluding, Miss Mackenzie
was not by nature adapted to be submissive.

"Is there anything between you and Mr Maguire?" said Mrs Stumfold
again. "I particularly wish to have a plain answer to that question."

Miss Mackenzie, as I have said, became very red in the face. When it
was repeated, she found herself obliged to speak. "Mrs Stumfold, I do
not know that you have any right to ask me such a question as that."

"No right! No right to ask a lady who sits under Mr Stumfold whether
or not she is engaged to Mr Stumfold's own curate! Think again of
what you are saying, Miss Mackenzie!" And there was in Mrs Stumfold's
voice as she spoke an expression of offended majesty, and in her
countenance a look of awful authority, sufficient no doubt to bring
most Stumfoldian ladies to their bearings.

"You said nothing about being engaged to him."

"Oh, Miss Mackenzie!"

"You said nothing about being engaged to him, but if you had I should
have made the same answer. You asked me if there was anything between
me and him; and I think it was a very offensive question."

"Offensive! I am afraid, Miss Mackenzie, you have not your spirit
subject to a proper control. I have come here in all kindness to warn
you against danger, and you tell me that I am offensive! What am I to
think of you?"

"You have no right to connect my name with any gentleman's. You can't
have any right merely because I go to Mr Stumfold's church. It's
quite preposterous. If I went to Mr Paul's church"--Mr Paul was a
very High Church young clergyman who had wished to have candles in
his church, and of whom it was asserted that he did keep a pair of
candles on an inverted box in a closet inside his bedroom--"if I went
to Mr Paul's church, might his wife, if he had one, come and ask me
all manner of questions like that?"

Now Mr Paul's name stank in the nostrils of Mrs Stumfold. He was
to her the thing accursed. Had Miss Mackenzie quoted the Pope, or
Cardinal Wiseman or even Dr Newman, it would not have been so bad.
Mrs Stumfold had once met Mr Paul, and called him to his face the
most abject of all the slaves of the scarlet woman. To this courtesy
Mr Paul, being a good-humoured and somewhat sportive young man,
had replied that she was another. Mrs Stumfold had interpreted the
gentleman's meaning wrongly, and had ever since gnashed with her
teeth and fired great guns with her eyes whenever Mr Paul was named
within her hearing. "Ribald ruffian," she had once said of him; "but
that he thinks his priestly rags protect him, he would not have dared
to insult me." It was said that she had complained to Stumfold; but
Mr Stumfold's sacerdotal clothing, whether ragged or whole, prevented
him also from interfering, and nothing further of a personal nature
had occurred between the opponents.

But Miss Mackenzie, who certainly was a Stumfoldian by her own
choice, should not have used the name. She probably did not know
the whole truth as to that passage of arms between Mr Paul and Mrs
Stumfold, but she did know that no name in Littlebath was so odious
to the lady as that of the rival clergyman.

"Very well, Miss Mackenzie," said she, speaking loudly in her wrath;
"then let me tell you that you will come by your ruin,--yes, by your
ruin. You poor unfortunate woman, you are unfit to guide your own
steps, and will not take counsel from those who are able to put you
in the right way!"

"How shall I be ruined?" said Miss Mackenzie, jumping up from her
seat.

"How? Yes. Now you want to know. After having insulted me in return
for my kindness in coming to you, you ask me questions. If I tell you
how, no doubt you will insult me again."

"I haven't insulted you, Mrs Stumfold. And if you don't like to tell
me, you needn't. I'm sure I did not want you to come to me and talk
in this way."

"Want me! Who ever does want to be reproved for their own folly? I
suppose what you want is to go on and marry that man, who may have
two or three other wives for what you know, and put yourself and your
money into the hands of a person whom you never saw in your life
above a few months ago, and of whose former life you literally know
nothing. Tell the truth, Miss Mackenzie, isn't that what you desire
to do?"

"I find him acting as Mr Stumfold's curate."

"Yes; and when I come to warn you, you insult me. He is Mr Stumfold's
curate, and in many respects he is well fitted for his office."

"But has he two or three wives already, Mrs Stumfold?"

"I never said that he had."

"I thought you hinted it."

"I never hinted it, Miss Mackenzie. If you would only be a little
more careful in the things which you allow yourself to say, it would
be better for yourself; and better for me too, while I am with you."

"I declare you said something about two or three wives; and if there
is anything of that kind true of a gentleman and a clergyman, I don't
think he ought to be allowed to go about as a single gentleman. I
mean as a curate. Mr Maguire is nothing to me,--nothing whatever; and
I don't see why I should have been mixed up with him; but if there is
anything of that sort--"

"But there isn't."

"Then, Mrs Stumfold, I don't think you ought to have mentioned two
or three wives. I don't, indeed. It is such a horrid idea,--quite
horrid! And I suppose, after all, the poor man has not got one?"

"If you had allowed me, I should have told you all, Miss Mackenzie.
Mr Maguire is not married, and never has been married, as far as I
know."

"Then I do think what you said of him was very cruel."

"I said nothing; as you would have known, only you are so hot. Miss
Mackenzie, you quite astonish me; you do, indeed. I had expected to
find you temperate and calm; instead of that, you are so impetuous,
that you will not listen to a word. When it first came to my ears
that there might be something between you and Mr Maguire--"

"I will not be told about something. What does something mean, Mrs
Stumfold?"

"When I was told of this," continued Mrs Stumfold, determined that
she would not be stopped any longer by Miss Mackenzie's energy; "when
I was told of this, and, indeed, I may say saw it--"

"You never saw anything, Mrs Stumfold."

"I immediately perceived that it was my duty to come to you; to come
to you and tell you that another lady has a prior claim upon Mr
Maguire's hand and heart."

"Oh, indeed."

"Another young lady,"--with an emphasis on the word young,--"whom he
first met at my house, who was introduced to him by me,--a young lady
not above thirty years of age, and quite suitable in every way to be
Mr Maguire's wife. She may not have quite so much money as you; but
she has a fair provision, and money is not everything; a lady in
every way suitable--"

"But is this suitable young lady, who is only thirty years of age,
engaged to him?"

"I presume, Miss Mackenzie, that in speaking to you, I am speaking to
a lady who would not wish to interfere with another lady who has been
before her. I do hope that you cannot be indifferent to the ordinary
feelings of a female Christian on that subject. What would you think
if you were interfered with, though, perhaps, as you had not your
fortune in early life, you may never have known what that was."

This was too much even for Miss Mackenzie.

"Mrs Stumfold," she said, again rising from her seat, "I won't talk
about this any more with you. Mr Maguire is nothing to me; and, as
far as I can see, if he was, that would be nothing to you."

"But it would,--a great deal."

"No, it wouldn't. You may say what you like to him, though, for the
matter of that, I think it a very indelicate thing for a lady to go
about raising such questions at all. But perhaps you have known him a
long time, and I have nothing to do with what you and he choose to
talk about. If he is behaving bad to any friend of yours, go and tell
him so. As for me, I won't hear anything more about it."

As Miss Mackenzie continued to stand, Mrs Stumfold was forced to
stand also, and soon afterwards found herself compelled to go away.
She had, indeed, said all that she had come to say, and though she
would willingly have repeated it again had Miss Mackenzie been
submissive, she did not find herself encouraged to do so by the
rebellious nature of the lady she was visiting.

"I have meant well, Miss Mackenzie," she said as she took her
leave, "and I hope that I shall see you just the same as ever on my
Thursdays."

To this Miss Mackenzie made answer only by a curtsey, and then Mrs
Stumfold went her way.

Miss Mackenzie, as soon as she was left to herself, began to cry.
If Mrs Stumfold could have seen her, how it would have soothed and
rejoiced that lady's ruffled spirit! Miss Mackenzie would sooner have
died than have wept in Mrs Stumfold's presence, but no sooner was the
front door closed than she began. To have been attacked at all in
that way would have been too much for her, but to have been called
old and unsuitable--for that was, in truth, the case; to hear herself
accused of being courted solely for her money, and that when in truth
she had not been courted at all; to have been informed that a lover
for her must have been impossible in those days when she had no
money! was not all this enough to make her cry? And then, was it the
truth that Mr Maguire ought to marry some one else? If so, she was
the last woman in Littlebath to interfere between him and that other
one. But how was she to know that this was not some villainy on the
part of Mrs Stumfold? She felt sure, after what she had now seen and
heard, that nothing in that way would be too bad for Mrs Stumfold to
say or do. She never would go to Mrs Stumfold's house again; that
was a matter of course; but what should she do about Mr Maguire? Mr
Maguire might never speak to her in the way of affection,--probably
never would do so; that she could bear; but how was she to bear the
fact that every Stumfoldian in Littlebath would know all about it?
On one thing she finally resolved, that if ever Mr Maguire spoke to
her on the subject, she would tell him everything that had occurred.
After that she cried herself to sleep.

On that afternoon she felt herself to be very desolate and much in
want of a friend. When Susanna came back from school in the evening
she was almost more desolate than before. She could say nothing of
her troubles to one so young, nor yet could she shake off the thought
of them. She had been bold enough while Mrs Stumfold had been with
her, but now that she was alone, or almost worse than alone, having
Susanna with her,--now that the reaction had come, she began to tell
herself that a continuation of this solitary life would be impossible
to her. How was she to live if she was to be trampled upon in this
way? Was it not almost necessary that she should leave Littlebath?
And yet if she were to leave Littlebath, whither should she go, and
how should she muster courage to begin everything over again? If only
it had been given her to have one friend,--one female friend to whom
she could have told everything! She thought of Miss Baker, but Miss
Baker was a staunch Stumfoldian; and what did she know of Miss Baker
that gave her any right to trouble Miss Baker on such a subject? She
would almost rather have gone to Miss Todd, if she had dared.

She laid awake crying half the night. Nothing of the kind had
ever occurred to her before. No one had ever accused her of any
impropriety; no one had ever thrown it in her teeth that she was
longing after fruit that ought to be forbidden to her. In her former
obscurity and dependence she had been safe. Now that she had begun
to look about her and hope for joy in the world, she had fallen into
this terrible misfortune! Would it not have been better for her to
have married her cousin John Ball, and thus have had a clear course
of duty marked out for her? Would it not have been better for her
even to have married Harry Handcock than to have come to this misery?
What good would her money do her, if the world was to treat her in
this way?

And then, was it true? Was it the fact that Mr Maguire was
ill-treating some other woman in order that he might get her money?
In all her misery she remembered that Mrs Stumfold would not commit
herself to any such direct assertion, and she remembered also
that Mrs Stumfold had especially insisted on her own part of the
grievance,--on the fact that the suitable young lady had been met by
Mr Maguire in her drawing-room. As to Mr Maguire himself, she could
reconcile herself to the loss of him. Indeed she had never yet
reconciled herself to the idea of taking him. But she could not
endure to think that Mrs Stumfold's interference should prevail, or,
worse still, that other people should have supposed it to prevail.

The next day was Thursday,--one of Mrs Stumfold's Thursdays,--and in
the course of the morning Miss Baker came to her, supposing that, as
a matter of course, she would go to the meeting.

"Not to-night, Miss Baker," said she.

"Not going! and why not?"

"I'd rather not go out to-night."

"Dear me, how odd. I thought you always went to Mrs Stumfold's.
There's nothing wrong, I hope?"

Then Miss Mackenzie could not restrain herself, and told Miss Baker
everything. And she told her story, not with whines and lamentations,
as she had thought of it herself while lying awake during the past
night, but with spirited indignation. "What right had she to come to
me and accuse me?"

"I suppose she meant it for the best," said Miss Baker.

"No, Miss Baker, she meant it for the worst. I am sorry to speak
so of your friend, but I must speak as I find her. She intended to
insult me. Why did she tell me of my age and my money? Have I made
myself out to be young? or misbehaved myself with the means which
Providence has given me? And as to the gentleman, have I ever
conducted myself so as to merit reproach? I don't know that I was
ever ten minutes in his company that you were not there also."

"It was the last accusation I should have brought against you,"
whimpered Miss Baker.

"Then why has she treated me in this way? What right have I given her
to be my advisor, because I go to her husband's church? Mr Maguire
is my friend, and it might have come to that, that he should be my
husband. Is there any sin in that, that I should be rebuked?"

"It was for the other lady's sake, perhaps."

"Then let her go to the other lady, or to him. She has forgotten
herself in coming to me, and she shall know that I think so."

Miss Baker, when she left the Paragon, felt for Miss Mackenzie more
of respect and more of esteem also than she had ever felt before. But
Miss Mackenzie, when she was left alone, went upstairs, threw herself
on her bed, and was again dissolved in tears.



CHAPTER XIII

Mr Maguire's Courtship


After the scene between Miss Mackenzie and Miss Baker more than
a week passed by before Miss Mackenzie saw any of her Littlebath
friends; or, as she called them with much sadness when speaking of
them to herself, her Littlebath acquaintances. Friends, or friend,
she had none. It was a slow, heavy week with her, and it is hardly
too much to say that every hour in it was spent in thinking of the
attack which Mrs Stumfold had made upon her. When the first Sunday
came, she went to church, and saw there Miss Baker, and Mrs Stumfold,
and Mr Stumfold and Mr Maguire. She saw, indeed, many Stumfoldians,
but it seemed that their eyes looked at her harshly, and she was
quite sure that the coachmaker's wife treated her with marked
incivility as they left the porch together. Miss Baker had frequently
waited for her on Sunday mornings, and walked the length of two
streets with her; but she encountered no Miss Baker near the church
gate on this morning, and she was sure that Mrs Stumfold had
prevailed against her. If it was to be thus with her, had she not
better leave Littlebath as soon as possible? In the same solitude she
lived the whole of the next week; with the same feelings did she go
to church on the next Sunday; and then again was she maltreated by
the upturned nose and half-averted eyes of the coachmaker's wife.

Life such as this would be impossible to her. Let any of my readers
think of it, and then tell themselves whether it could be possible.
Mariana's solitude in the moated grange was as nothing to hers. In
granges, and such like rural retreats, people expect solitude; but
Miss Mackenzie had gone to Littlebath to find companionship. Had she
been utterly disappointed, and found none, that would have been bad;
but she had found it and then lost it. Mariana, in her desolateness,
was still waiting for the coming of some one; and so was Miss
Mackenzie waiting, though she hardly knew for whom. For me, if I am
to live in a moated grange, let it be in the country. Moated granges
in the midst of populous towns are very terrible.

But on the Monday morning,--the morning of the second Monday after
the Stumfoldian attach,--Mr Maguire came, and Mariana's weariness
was, for the time, at an end. Susanna had hardly gone, and the
breakfast things were still on the table, when the maid brought her
up word that Mr Maguire was below, and would see her if she would
allow him to come up. She had heard no ring at the bell, and having
settled herself with a novel in the arm-chair, had almost ceased
for the moment to think of Mr Maguire or of Mrs Stumfold. There was
something so sudden in the request now made to her, that it took away
her breath.

"Mr Maguire, Miss, the clergyman from Mr Stumfold's church," said the
girl again.

It was necessary that she should give an answer, though she was ever
so breathless.

"Ask Mr Maguire to walk up," she said; and then she began to bethink
herself how she would behave to him.

He was there, however, before her thoughts were of much service to
her, and she began by apologising for the breakfast things.

"It is I that ought to beg your pardon for coming so early," said he;
"but my time at present is so occupied that I hardly know how to find
half an hour for myself; and I thought you would excuse me."

"Oh, certainly," said she; and then sitting down she waited for him
to begin.

It would have been clear to any observer, had there been one present,
that Mr Maguire had practised his lesson. He could not rid himself
of those unmistakable signs of preparation which every speaker shows
when he has been guilty of them. But this probably did not matter
with Miss Mackenzie, who was too intent on the part she herself had
to play to notice his imperfections.

"I saw that you observed, Miss Mackenzie," he said, "that I kept
aloof from you on the two last evenings on which I met you at Mrs
Stumfold's."

"That's a long time ago, Mr Maguire," she answered. "It's nearly a
month since I went to Mrs Stumfold's house."

"I know that you were not there on the last Thursday. I noticed it.
I could not fail to notice it. Thinking so much of you as I do, of
course I did notice it. Might I ask you why you did not go?"

"I'd rather not say anything about it," she replied, after a pause.

"Then there has been some reason? Dear Miss Mackenzie, I can assure
you I do not ask you without a cause."

"If you please, I will not speak upon that subject. I had much rather
not, indeed, Mr Maguire."

"And shall I not have the pleasure of seeing you there on next
Thursday?"

"Certainly not."

"Then you have quarrelled with her, Miss Mackenzie?"

He said nothing now of the perfections of that excellent woman, of
whom not long since he had spoken in terms almost too strong for any
simple human virtues.

"I'd rather not speak of it. It can't do any good. I don't know why
you should ask me whether I intend to go there any more, but as you
have, I have answered you."

Then Mr Maguire got up from his chair, and walked about the room,
and Miss Mackenzie, watching him closely, could see that he was
much moved. But, nevertheless, I think he had made up his mind to
walk about the room beforehand. After a while he paused, and, still
standing, spoke to her again across the table.

"May I ask you this question? Has Mrs Stumfold said anything to you
about me?"

"I'd rather not talk about Mrs Stumfold."

"But, surely, I may ask that. I don't think you are the woman to
allow anything said behind a person's back to be received to his
detriment."

"Whatever one does hear about people one always hears behind their
backs."

"Then she has told you something, and you have believed it?"

She felt herself to be so driven by him that she did not know how
to protect herself. It seemed to her that these clerical people of
Littlebath had very little regard for the feelings of others in their
modes of following their own pursuits.

"She has told you something of me, and you have believed her?"
repeated Mr Maguire. "Have I not a right to ask you what she has
said?"

"You have no right to ask me anything."

"Have I not, Miss Mackenzie? Surely that is hard. Is it not hard that
I should be stabbed in the dark, and have no means of redressing
myself? I did not expect such an answer from you;--indeed I did not."

"And is not it hard that I should be troubled in this way? You talk
of stabbing. Who has stabbed you? Is it not your own particular
friend, whom you described to me as the best person in all the world?
If you and she fall out why should I be brought into it? Once for
all, Mr Maguire, I won't be brought into it."

Now he sat down and again paused before he went on with his talk.

"Miss Mackenzie," he said, when he did speak. "I had not intended to
be so abrupt as I fear you will think me in that which I am about to
say; but I believe you will like plain measures best."

"Certainly I shall, Mr Maguire."

"They are the best, always. If, then, I am plain with you, will you
be plain with me also? I think you must guess what it is I have to
say to you."

"I hate guessing anything, Mr Maguire."

"Very well; then I will be plain. We have now known each other for
nearly a year, Miss Mackenzie."

"A year, is it? No, not a year. This is the beginning of June, and
I did not come here till the end of last August. It's about nine
months, Mr Maguire."

"Very well; nine months. Nine months may be as nothing in an
acquaintance, or it may lead to the closest friendship."

"I don't know that we have met so very often. You have the parish to
attend to, Mr Maguire."

"Of course I have--or rather I had, for I have left Mr Stumfold."

"Left Mr Stumfold! Why, I heard you preach yesterday."

"I did preach yesterday, and shall till he has got another assistant.
But he and I are parted as regards all friendly connection."

"But isn't that a pity?"

"Miss Mackenzie, I don't mind telling you that I have found it
impossible to put up with the impertinence of that woman"--and
now, as he spoke, there came a distorted fire out of his imperfect
eye--"impossible! If you knew what I have gone through in attempting
it! But that's over. I have the greatest respect for him in the
world; a very thorough esteem. He is a hard-working man, and though
I do not always approve the style of his wit,--of which, by-the-bye,
he thinks too much himself,--still I acknowledge him to be a good
spiritual pastor. But he has been unfortunate in his marriage. No
doubt he has got money, but money is not everything."

"Indeed, it is not, Mr Maguire."

"How he can live in the same house with that Mr Peters, I can
never understand. The quarrels between him and his daughter are so
incessant that poor Mr Stumfold is unable to conceal them from the
public."

"But you have spoken so highly of her."

"I have endeavoured, Miss Mackenzie--I have endeavoured to think well
of her. I have striven to believe that it was all gold that I saw.
But let that pass. I was forced to tell you that I am going to leave
Mr Stumfold's church, or I should not now have spoken about her or
him. And now comes the question, Miss Mackenzie."

"What is the question, Mr Maguire?"

"Miss Mackenzie--Margaret, will you share your lot with mine? It is
true that you have money. It is true that I have none,--not even a
curacy now. But I don't think that any such consideration as that
would weigh with you for a moment, if you can find it in your heart
to love me."

Miss Mackenzie sat thinking for some minutes before she gave her
answer--or striving to think; but she was so completely under the
terrible fire of his eye, that any thought was very difficult.

"I am not quite sure about that," she said after a while. "I think,
Mr Maguire, that there should be a little money on both sides. You
would hardly wish to live altogether on your wife's fortune."

"I have my profession," he replied, quickly.

"Yes, certainly; and a noble profession it is,--the most noble," said
she.

"Yes, indeed; the most noble."

"But somehow--"

"You mean the clergymen are not paid as they should be. No, they are
not, Miss Mackenzie. And is it not a shame for a Christian country
like this that it should be so? But still, as a profession, it has
its value. Look at Mrs Stumfold; where would she be if she were not a
clergyman's wife? The position has its value. A clergyman's wife is
received everywhere, you know."

"A man before he talks of marriage ought to have something of his
own, Mr Maguire, besides--"

"Besides what?"

"Well, I'll tell you. As you have done me this honour, I think that
I am now bound to tell you what Mrs Stumfold said to me. She had
no right to connect my name with yours or with that of any other
gentleman, and my quarrel with her is about that. As to what she said
about you, that is your affair and not mine."

Then she told him the whole of that conversation which was given in
the last chapter, not indeed repeating the hint about the three or
four wives, but recapitulating as clearly as she could all that had
been said about the suitable young lady.

"I knew it," said he; "I knew it. I knew it as well as though I had
heard it. Now what am I to think of that woman, Miss Mackenzie?"

"Of which woman?"

"Of Mrs Stumfold, of course. It's all jealousy: every bit of it
jealousy."

"Jealousy! Do you mean that she--that she--"

"Not jealousy of that kind, Miss Mackenzie. Oh dear, no. She's as
pure as the undriven snow, I should say, as far as that goes. But she
can't bear to think that I should rise in the world."

"I thought she wanted to marry you to a suitable lady, and young,
with a fair provision."

"Pshaw! The lady has about seventy pounds a-year! But that would
signify nothing if I loved her, Miss Mackenzie."

"There has been something, then?"

"Yes; there has been something. That is, nothing of my
doing,--nothing on earth. Miss Mackenzie, I am as innocent as the
babe unborn."

As he said this she could not help looking into the horrors of his
eyes, and thinking that innocent was not the word for him.

"I'm as innocent as the babe unborn. Why should I be expected to
marry a lady merely because Mrs Stumfold tells me that there she is?
And it's my belief that old Peters has got their money somewhere, and
won't give it up, and that that's the reason of it."

"But did you ever say you would marry her?"

"What! Miss Floss, never! I'll tell you the whole story, Miss
Mackenzie; and if you want to ask any one else, you can ask Mrs
Perch." Mrs Perch was the coachbuilder's wife. "You've seen Miss
Floss at Mrs Stumfold's, and must know yourself whether I ever
noticed her any more than to be decently civil."

"Is she the lady that's so thin and tall?"

"Yes."

"With the red hair?"

"Well, it's sandy, certainly. I shouldn't call it just red myself."

"Some people like red hair, you know," said Miss Mackenzie, thinking
of the suitable lady. Miss Mackenzie was willing at that moment to
forfeit all her fortune if Miss Floss was not older than she was!
"And that is Miss Floss, is it?"

"Yes, and I don't blame Mrs Stumfold for wishing to get a husband for
her friend, but it is hard upon me."

"Really, Mr Maguire, I think that perhaps you couldn't do better."

"Better than what?"

"Better than take Miss Floss. As you say, some people like red hair.
And she is very suitable, certainly. And, Mr Maguire, I really
shouldn't like to interfere;--I shouldn't indeed."

"Miss Mackenzie, you're joking, I know."

"Not in the least, Mr Maguire. You see there has been something about
it."

"There has been nothing."

"There's never smoke without fire; and I don't think a lady like Mrs
Stumfold would come here and tell me all that she did, if it hadn't
gone some way. And you owned just now that you admired her."

"I never owned anything of the kind. I don't admire her a bit. Admire
her! Oh, Miss Mackenzie, what do you think of me?"

Miss Mackenzie said that she really didn't know what to think.

Then, having as he thought altogether disposed of Miss Floss, he
began again to press his suit. And she was weak; for though she gave
him no positive encouragement, neither did she give him any positive
denial. Her mind was by no means made up, and she did not know
whether she wished to take him or to leave him. Now that the thing
had come so near, what guarantee had she that he would be good to
her if she gave him everything that she possessed? As to her cousin
John Ball, she would have had many guarantees. Of him she could say
that she knew what sort of a man he was; but what did she know of
Mr Maguire? At that moment, as he sat there pleading his own cause
with all the eloquence at his command, she remembered that she did
not even know his Christian name. He had always in her presence been
called Mr Maguire. How could she say that she loved a man whose very
name she had not as yet heard?

But still, if she left all her chances to run from her, what other
fate would she have but that of being friendless all her life? Of
course she must risk much if she was ever minded to change her mode
of life. She had said something to him as to the expediency of there
being money on both sides, but as she said it she knew that she would
willingly have given up her money could she only have been sure of
her man. Was not her income enough for both? What she wanted was
companionship, and love if it might be possible; but if not love,
then friendship. This, had she known where she could purchase it with
certainty, she would willingly have purchased with all her wealth.

"If I have surprised you, will you say that you will take time to
think of it?" pleaded Mr Maguire.

Miss Mackenzie, speaking in the lowest possible voice, said that she
would take time to think of it.

When a lady says that she will take time to think of such a
proposition, the gentleman is generally justified in supposing that
he has carried his cause. When a lady rejects a suitor, she should
reject him peremptorily. Anything short of such peremptory reaction
is taken for acquiescence. Mr Maguire consequently was elated, called
her Margaret, and swore that he loved her as he had never loved woman
yet.

"And when may I come again?" he asked.

Miss Mackenzie begged that she might be allowed a fortnight to think
of it.

"Certainly," said the happy man.

"And you must not be surprised," said Miss Mackenzie, "if I make some
inquiry about Miss Floss."

"Any inquiry you please," said Mr Maguire. "It is all in that woman's
brain; it is indeed. Miss Floss, perhaps, has thought of it; but I
can't help that, can I? I can't help what has been said to her. But
if you mean anything as to a promise from me, Margaret, on my word
as a Christian minister of the Gospel, there has been nothing of the
kind."

She did not much mind his calling her Margaret; it was in itself such
a trifle; but when he made a fuss about kissing her hand it annoyed
her.

"Only your hand," he said, beseeching the privilege.

"Pshaw," she said, "what's the good?"

She had sense enough to feel that with such lovemaking as that
between her and her lover there should be no kissing till after
marriage; or at any rate, no kissing of hands, as is done between
handsome young men of twenty-three and beautiful young ladies of
eighteen, when they sit in balconies on moonlight nights. A good
honest kiss, mouth to mouth, might not be amiss when matters were
altogether settled; but when she thought of this, she thought also of
his eye and shuddered. His eye was not his fault, and a man should
not be left all his days without a wife because he squints; but
still, was it possible? could she bring herself to endure it?

He did kiss her hand, however, and then went. As he stood at the door
he looked back fondly and exclaimed--

"On Monday fortnight, Margaret; on Monday fortnight."

"Goodness gracious, Mr Maguire," she answered, "do shut the door;"
and then he vanished.

As soon as he was gone she remembered that his name was Jeremiah. She
did not know how she had learned it, but she knew that such was the
fact. If it did come to pass how was she to call him? She tried the
entire word Jeremiah, but it did not seem to answer. She tried Jerry
also, but that was worse. Jerry might have been very well had they
come together fifteen years earlier in life, but she did not think
that she could call him Jerry now. She supposed it must be Mr
Maguire; but if so, half the romance of the thing would be gone at
once!

She felt herself to be very much at sea, and almost wished that she
might be like Mariana again, waiting and aweary, so grievous was
the necessity of having to make up her mind on such a subject. To
whom should she go for advice? She had told him that she would make
further inquiries about Miss Floss, but of whom was she to make them?
The only person to whom she could apply was Miss Baker, and she
was almost sure that Miss Baker would despise her for thinking of
marrying Mr Maguire.

But after a day or two she did tell Miss Baker, and she saw at
once that Miss Baker did despise her. But Miss Baker, though she
manifestly did despise her, promised her some little aid. Miss Todd
knew everything and everybody. Might Miss Baker tell Miss Todd?
If there was anything wrong, Miss Todd would ferret it out to a
certainty. Miss Mackenzie, hanging down her head, said that Miss
Baker might tell Miss Todd. Miss Baker, when she left Miss Mackenzie,
turned at once into Miss Todd's house, and found her friend at home.

"It surprises me that any woman should be so foolish," said Miss
Baker.

"Come, come, my dear, don't you be hard upon her. We have all been
foolish in our days. Do you remember, when Sir Lionel used to be
here, how foolish you and I were?"

"It's not the same thing at all," said Miss Baker. "Did you ever see
a man with such an eye as he has got?"

"I shouldn't mind his eye, my dear; only I'm afraid he's got no
money."

Miss Todd, however, promised to make inquiries, and declared her
intention of communicating what intelligence she might obtain direct
to Miss Mackenzie. Miss Baker resisted this for a little while,
but ultimately submitted, as she was wont to do, to the stronger
character of her friend.

Miss Mackenzie had declared that she must have a fortnight to
think about it, and Miss Todd therefore knew that she had nearly a
fortnight for her inquiries. The reader may be sure that she did not
allow the grass to grow under her feet. With Miss Mackenzie the time
passed slowly enough, for she could only sit on her sofa and doubt,
resolving first one way and then another; but Miss Todd went about
Littlebath, here and there, among friends and enemies, filling up all
her time; and before the end of the fortnight she certainly knew more
about Mr Maguire than did anybody else in Littlebath.

She did not see Miss Mackenzie till the Saturday, the last Saturday
before the all-important Monday; but on that day she went to her.

"I suppose you know what I'm come about, my dear," she said.

Miss Mackenzie blushed, and muttered something about Miss Baker.

"Yes, my dear; Miss Baker was speaking to me about Mr Maguire. You
needn't mind speaking out to me, Miss Mackenzie. I can understand all
about it; and if I can be of any assistance, I shall be very happy.
No doubt you feel a little shy, but you needn't mind with me."

"I'm sure you're very good."

"I don't know about that, but I hope I'm not very bad. The long and
the short of it is, I suppose, that you think you might as
well--might as well take Mr Maguire."

Miss Mackenzie felt thoroughly ashamed of herself. She could not
explain to Miss Todd all her best motives; and then, those motives
which were not the best were made to seem so very weak and mean by
the way in which Miss Todd approached them. When she thought of the
matter alone, it seemed to her that she was perfectly reasonable in
wishing to be married, in order that she might escape the monotony of
a lonely life; and she thought that if she could talk to Miss Todd
about the subject gently, for a quarter of an hour at a time every
day for two or three months, it was possible that she might explain
her views with credit to herself; but how could she do this to anyone
so very abruptly? She could only confess that she did want to marry
the man, as the child confesses her longing for a tart.

"I have thought about it, certainly," she said.

"Quite right," said Miss Todd; "quite right if you like him. Now for
me, I'm so fond of my own money and my own independence, that I've
never had a fancy that way,--not since I was a girl."

"But you're so different, Miss Todd; you've got such a position of
your own."

And Miss Mackenzie, who was at present desirous of marrying a very
strict evangelical clergyman, thought with envy of the social
advantages and pleasant iniquities of her wicked neighbour.

"Oh, I don't know. I've a few friends, but that comes of being here
so long. And then, you see, I ain't particular as you are. I always
see that when a lady goes in to be evangelical, she soon finds a
husband to take care of her; that is, if she has got any money. It
all goes on very well, and I've no doubt they're right. There's my
friend Mary Baker, she's single still; but then she began very late
in life. Now about Mr Maguire."

"Well, Miss Todd."

"In the first place, I really don't think he has got much that he can
call his own."

"He hasn't got anything, Miss Todd; he told me so himself."

"Did he, indeed?" said Miss Todd; "then let me tell you he is a deal
honester than they are in general."

"Oh, he told me that. I know he's got no income in the world besides
his curacy, and that he has thrown up."

"And therefore you are going to give him yours."

"I don't know about that, Miss Todd; but it wasn't about money that
I was doubting. What I've got is enough for both of us, if his wants
are not greater than mine. What is the use of money if people cannot
be happy together with it? I don't care a bit for money, Miss Todd;
that is, not for itself. I shouldn't like to be dependent on a
stranger; I don't know that I would like to be dependent again even
on a brother; but I should take no shame to be dependent on a husband
if he was good to me."

"That's just it; isn't it?"

"There's quite enough for him and me."

"I must say you look at the matter in the most disinterested way. I
couldn't bring myself to take it up like that."

"You haven't lived the life that I have, Miss Todd, and I don't
suppose you ever feel solitary as I do."

"Well, I don't know. We single women have to be solitary
sometimes--and sometimes sad."

"But you're never sad, Miss Todd."

"Have you never heard there are some animals, that, when they're
sick, crawl into holes, and don't ever show themselves among the
other animals? Though it is only the animals that do it, there's a
pride in that which I like. What's the good of complaining if one's
down in the mouth? When one gets old and heavy and stupid, one can't
go about as one did when one was young; and other people won't care
to come to you as they did then."

"But I had none of that when I was young, Miss Todd."

"Hadn't you? Then I won't say but what you may be right to try and
begin now. But, law! what am I talking of? I am old enough to be your
mother."

"I think it so kind of you to talk to me at all."

"Well, now about Mr Maguire. I don't think he's possessed of much of
the fat of the land; but that you say you know already?"

"Oh yes, I know all that."

"And it seems he has lost his curacy?"

"He threw that up himself."

"I shouldn't be surprised--but mind I don't say this for certain--but
I shouldn't be surprised if he owed a little money."

Miss Mackenzie's face became rather long.

"What do you call a little, Miss Todd?"

"Two or three hundred pounds. I don't call that a great deal."

"Oh dear, no!" and Miss Mackenzie's face again became cheerful. "That
could be settled without any trouble."

"Upon my word you are the most generous woman I ever saw."

"No, I'm not that."

"Or else you must be very much in love?"

"I don't think I am that either, Miss Todd; only I don't care much
about money if other things are suitable. What I chiefly wanted to
know was--"

"About that Miss Floss?"

"Yes, Miss Todd."

"My belief is there never was a greater calumny, or what I should
call a stronger attempt at a do. Mind I don't think much of your St
Stumfolda, and never did. I believe the poor man has never said a
word to the woman. Mrs Stumfold has put it into her head that she
could have Mr Maguire if she chose to set her cap at him, and, I dare
say, Miss Floss has been dutiful to her saint. But, Miss Mackenzie,
if nothing else hinders you, don't let that hinder you." Then Miss
Todd, having done her business and made her report, took her leave.

This was on Saturday. The next day would be Sunday, and then on the
following morning she must make her answer. All that she had heard
about Mr Maguire was, to her thinking, in his favour. As to his
poverty, that he had declared himself, and that she did not mind. As
to a few hundred pounds of debt, how was a poor man to have helped
such a misfortune? In that matter of Miss Floss he had been basely
maligned,--so much maligned, that Miss Mackenzie owed him all her
sympathy. What excuse could she now have for refusing him?

When she went to bed on the Sunday night such were her thoughts and
her feelings.



CHAPTER XIV

Tom Mackenzie's Bed-Side


There was a Stumfoldian edict, ultra-Median-and-Persian in its
strictness, ordaining that no Stumfoldian in Littlebath should be
allowed to receive a letter on Sundays. And there also existed a
coordinate rule on the part of the Postmaster-General,--or, rather,
a privilege granted by that functionary,--in accordance with which
Stumfoldians, and other such sects of Sabbatarians, were empowered
to prohibit the letter-carriers from contaminating their special
knockers on Sunday mornings. Miss Mackenzie had given way to this
easily, seeing nothing amiss in the edict, and not caring much for
her Sunday letters. In consequence, she received on the Monday
mornings those letters which were due to her on Sundays, and on this
special Monday morning she received a letter, as to which the delay
was of much consequence. It was to tell her that her brother Tom was
dying, and to pray that she would be up in London as early on the
Monday as was practicable. Mr Samuel Rubb, junior, who had written
the letter in Gower Street, had known nothing of the Sabbatical
edicts of the Stumfoldians.

"It is an inward tumour," said Mr Rubb, "and has troubled him long,
though he has said nothing about it. It is now breaking, and the
doctor says he can't live. He begs that you will come to him, as he
has very much to say to you. Mrs Tom would have written, but she is
so much taken up, and is so much beside herself, that she begs me to
say that she is not able; but I hope it won't be less welcome coming
from me. The second pair back will be ready for you, just as if it
were your own. I would be waiting at the station on Monday, if I knew
what train you would come by."

This she received while at breakfast on the Monday morning, having
sat down a little earlier than usual, in order that the tea-things
might be taken away so as to make room for Mr Maguire.

Of course she must go up to town instantly, by the first practicable
train. She perceived at once that she would have to send a message by
telegraph, as they would have expected to hear from her that morning.
She got the railway guide, and saw that the early express train had
already gone. There was, however, a mid-day train which would reach
Paddington in the afternoon. She immediately got her bonnet and went
off to the telegraph office, leaving word with the servant, that
if any one called "he" was to be told that she had received sudden
tidings which took her up to London. On her return she found that
"he" had not been there yet, and now she could only hope that he
would not come till after she had started. It would, of course, be
impossible, at such a moment as this, to make any answer to such a
proposition as Mr Maguire's.

He came, and when the servant gave him the message at the door, he
sent up craving permission to see her but for a moment. She could not
refuse him, and went down to him in the drawing-room, with her shawl
and bonnet.

"Dearest Margaret," said he, "what is this?" and he took both her
hands.

"I have received word that my brother, in London, is very ill,--that
he is dying, and I must go to him."

He still held her hands, standing close to her, as though he had some
special right to comfort her.

"Cannot I go with you?" he said. "Let me; do let me."

"Oh, no, Mr Maguire; it is impossible. What could you do? I am going
to my brother's house."

"But have I not a right to be of help to you at such a time?" he
asked.

"No, Mr Maguire; no right; certainly none as yet."

"Oh! Margaret."

"I'm sure you will see that I cannot talk of anything of that sort
now."

"But you will not be back for ever so long."

"I cannot tell."

"Oh! Margaret; you will not leave me in suspense? After bidding me
wait a fortnight, you will not go away without telling me that you
will be mine when you come back? One word will do it."

"Mr Maguire, you really must excuse me now."

"One word, Margaret; only one word," and he still held her.

"Mr Maguire," she said, tearing her hand from him, "I am astonished
at you. I tell you that my brother is dying and you hold me here, and
expect me to give you an answer about nonsense. I thought you were
more manly."

He saw that there was a flash in her eye as he stepped back; so he
begged her pardon, and muttering something about hoping to hear from
her soon, took his leave. Poor man! I do not see why she should not
have accepted him, as she had made up her mind to do so. And to him,
with his creditors, and in his present position, any certainty in
this matter would have made so much difference!

At the Paddington station Miss Mackenzie was met by her other lover,
Mr Rubb. Mr Rubb, however, had never yet declared himself as holding
this position, and did not do so on the present occasion. Their
conversation in the cab was wholly concerning her brother's state, or
nearly so. It seemed that there was no hope. Mr Rubb said that very
clearly. As to time the doctor would say nothing certain; but he had
declared that it might occur any day. The patient could never leave
his bed again; but as his constitution was strong, he might remain in
his present condition some weeks. He did not suffer much pain, or, at
any rate, did not complain of much; but was very sad. Then Mr Rubb
said one other word.

"I am afraid he is thinking of his wife and children."

"Would there be nothing for them out of the business?" asked Miss
Mackenzie.

The junior partner at first shook his head, saying nothing. After a
few minutes he did speak in a low voice. "If there be anything, it
will be very little,--very little."

Miss Mackenzie was rejoiced that she had given no definite promise to
Mr Maguire. There seemed to be now a job for her to do in the world
which would render it quite unnecessary that she should look about
for a husband. If her brother's widow were left penniless, with seven
children, there would be no longer much question as to what she would
do with her money. Perhaps the only person in the world that she
cordially disliked was her sister-in-law. She certainly knew no other
woman whose society would be so unpalatable to her. But if things
were so as Mr Rubb now described them, there could be no doubt about
her duty. It was very well indeed that her answer to Mr Maguire had
been postponed to that Monday.

She found her sister-in-law in the dining-room, and Mrs Mackenzie, of
course, received her with a shower of tears. "I did think you would
have come, Margaret, by the first train."

Then Margaret was forced to explain all about the letter and the
Sunday arrangements at Littlebath; and Mrs Tom was stupid and
wouldn't understand, but persisted in her grievance, declaring that
Tom was killing himself with disappointment.

"And there's Dr Slumpy just this moment gone without a word to
comfort one,--not even to say about when it will be. I suppose you'll
want your dinner before you go up to see him. As for us we've had no
dinners, or anything regular; but, of course, you must be waited on."
Miss Mackenzie simply took off her bonnet and shawl, and declared
herself ready to go upstairs as soon as her brother would be ready to
see her.

"It's fret about money has done it all, Margaret," said the wife.
"Since the day that Walter's shocking will was read, he's never been
himself for an hour. Of course he wouldn't show it to you; but he
never has."

Margaret turned short round upon her sister-in-law on the stairs.

"Sarah," said she, and then she stopped herself. "Never mind; it is
natural, no doubt, you should feel it; but there are times and places
when one's feelings should be kept under control."

"That's mighty fine," said Mrs Mackenzie; "but, however, if you'll
wait here, I'll go up to him."

In a few minutes more Miss Mackenzie was standing by her brother's
bedside, holding his hand in hers.

"I knew you would come, Margaret," he said.

"Of course I should come; who doubted it? But never mind that, for
here I am."

"I only told her that we expected her by the earlier train," said Mrs
Tom.

"Never mind the train as long as she's here," said Tom. "You've heard
how it is with me, Margaret?"

Then Margaret buried her face in the bed-clothes and wept, and Mrs
Tom, weeping also, hid herself behind the curtains.

There was nothing said then about money or the troubles of the
business, and after a while the two women went down to tea. In the
dining-room they found Mr Rubb, who seemed to be quite at home in the
house. Cold meat was brought up for Margaret's dinner, and they all
sat down to one of those sad sick-house meals which he or she who has
not known must have been lucky indeed. To Margaret it was nothing
new. All the life that she remembered, except the last year, had been
spent in nursing her other brother; and now to be employed about the
bed-side of a sufferer was as natural to her as the air she breathed.

"I will sit with him to-night, Sarah, if you will let me," she said;
and Sarah assented.

It was still daylight when she found herself at her post. Mrs
Mackenzie had just left the room to go down among the children,
saying that she would return again before she left him for the night.
To this the invalid remonstrated, begging his wife to go to bed.

"She has not had her clothes off for the last week," said the
husband.

"It don't matter about my clothes," said Mrs Tom, still weeping. She
was always crying when in the sick room, and always scolding when
out of it; thus complying with the two different requisitions of her
nature. The matter, however, was settled by an assurance on her part
that she would go to bed, so that she might be stirring early.

There are women who seem to have an absolute pleasure in fixing
themselves for business by the bedside of a sick man. They generally
commence their operations by laying aside all fictitious feminine
charms, and by arraying themselves with a rigid, unconventional,
unenticing propriety. Though they are still gentle,--perhaps more
gentle than ever in their movements,--there is a decision in all they
do very unlike their usual mode of action. The sick man, who is not
so sick but what he can ponder on the matter, feels himself to be
like a baby, whom he has seen the nurse to take from its cradle, pat
on the back, feed, and then return to its little couch, all without
undue violence or tyranny, but still with a certain consciousness of
omnipotence as far as that child was concerned. The vitality of the
man is gone from him, and he, in his prostrate condition, debarred
by all the features of his condition from spontaneous exertion,
feels himself to be more a woman than the woman herself. She, if
she be such a one as our Miss Mackenzie, arranges her bottles with
precision; knows exactly how to place her chair, her lamp, and her
teapot; settles her cap usefully on her head, and prepares for the
night's work certainly with satisfaction. And such are the best women
of the world,--among which number I think that Miss Mackenzie has a
right to be counted.

A few words of affection were spoken between the brother and
sister, for at such moments brotherly affection returns, and the
estrangements of life are all forgotten in the old memories. He
seemed comforted to feel her hand upon the bed, and was glad to
pronounce her name, and spoke to her as though she had been the
favourite of the family for years, instead of the one member of
it who had been snubbed and disregarded. Poor man, who shall say
that there was anything hypocritical or false in this? And yet,
undoubtedly, it was the fact that Margaret was now the only wealthy
one among them, which had made him send to her, and think of her, as
he lay there in his sickness.

When these words of love had been spoken, he turned himself on his
pillow, and lay silent for a long while,--for hours, till the morning
sun had risen, and the daylight was again seen through the window
curtain. It was not much after midsummer, and the daylight came to
them early. From time to time she had looked at him, and each hour
in the night she had crept round to him, and given him that which he
needed. She did it all with a certain system, noiselessly, but with
an absolute assurance on her own part that she carried with her an
authority sufficient to ensure obedience. On that ground, in that
place, I think that even Miss Todd would have succumbed to her.

But when the morning sun had driven the appearance of night from the
room, making the paraphernalia of sickness more ghastly than they had
been under the light of the lamp, the brother turned himself back
again, and began to talk of those things which were weighing on his
mind.

"Margaret," he said, "it's very good of you to come, but as to
myself, no one's coming can be of any use to me."

"It is all in the hands of God, Tom."

"No doubt, no doubt," said he, sadly, not daring to argue such a
point with her, and yet feeling but little consolation from her
assurance. "So is the bullock in God's hands when the butcher is
going to knock him on the head, but yet we know that the beast
will die. Men live and die from natural causes, and not by God's
interposition."

"But there is hope; that is what I mean. If God pleases--"

"Ah, well. But, Margaret, I fear that he will not please; and what am
I to do about Sarah and the children?"

This was a question that could be answered by no general
platitude,--by no weak words of hopeless consolation. Coming from
him to her, it demanded either a very substantial answer, or else
no answer at all. What was he to do about Sarah and the children?
Perhaps there came a thought across her mind that Sarah and the
children had done very little for her,--had considered her very
little, in those old, weary days, in Arundel Street. And those days
were not, as yet, so very old. It was now not much more than twelve
months since she had sat by the deathbed of her other brother,--since
she had expressed to herself, and to Harry Handcock, a humble wish
that she might find herself to be above absolute want.

"I do not think you need fret about that, Tom," she said, after
turning these things over in her mind for a minute or two.

"How, not fret about them? But I suppose you know nothing of the
state of the business. Has Rubb spoken to you?"

"He did say some word as we came along in the cab."

"What did he say?"

"He said--"

"Well, tell me what he said. He said, that if I died--what then? You
must not be afraid of speaking of it openly. Why, Margaret, they have
all told me that it must be in a month or two. What did Rubb say?"

"He said that there would be very little coming out of the
business--that is, for Sarah and the children--if anything were to
happen to you."

"I don't suppose they'd get anything. How it has been managed I don't
know. I have worked like a galley slave at it, but I haven't kept the
books, and I don't know how things have gone so badly. They have gone
badly,--very badly."

"Has it been Mr Rubb's fault?"

"I won't say that; and, indeed, if it has been any man's fault it has
been the old man's. I don't want to say a word against the one that
you know. Oh, Margaret!"

"Don't fret yourself now, Tom."

"If you had seven children, would not you fret yourself? And I hardly
know how to speak to you about it. I know that we have already had
ever so much of your money, over two thousand pounds; and I fear you
will never see it again."

"Never mind, Tom; it is yours, with all my heart. Only, Tom, as it is
so badly wanted, I would rather it was yours than Mr Rubb's. Could I
not do something that would make that share of the building yours?"

He shifted himself uneasily in his bed, and made her understand that
she had distressed him.

"But perhaps it will be better to say nothing more about that," said
she.

"It will be better that you should understand it all. The property
belongs nominally to us, but it is mortgaged to the full of its
value. Rubb can explain it all, if he will. Your money went to buy
it, but other creditors would not be satisfied without security. Ah,
dear! it is so dreadful to have to speak of all this in this way."

"Then don't speak of it, Tom."

"But what am I to do?"

"Are there no proceeds from the business?"

"Yes, for those who work in it; and I think there will be something
coming out of it for Sarah,--something, but it will be very small.
And if so, she must depend for it solely on Mr Rubb."

"On the young one?"

"Yes; on the one that you know."

There was a great deal more said, and of course everyone will know
how such a conversation was ended, and will understand with what
ample assurance as to her own intentions Margaret promised that the
seven children should not want. As she did so, she made certain rapid
calculations in her head. She must give up Mr Maguire. There was no
doubt about that. She must give up all idea of marrying any one, and,
as she thought of this, she told herself that she was perhaps well
rid of a trouble. She had already given away to the firm of Rubb and
Mackenzie above a hundred a-year out of her income. If she divided
the remainder with Mrs Tom, keeping about three hundred and fifty
pounds a-year for herself and Susanna, she would, she thought, keep
her promise well, and yet retain enough for her own comfort and
Susanna's education. It would be bad for the prospects of young John
Ball, the third of the name, whom she had taught herself to regard as
her heir; but young John Ball would know nothing of the good things
he had lost. As to living with her sister-in-law Sarah, and sharing
her house and income with the whole family, that she declared to
herself nothing should induce her to do. She would give up half of
all that she had, and that half would be quite enough to save her
brother's children from want. In making the promise to her brother
she said nothing about proportions, and nothing as to her own future
life. "What I have," she said, "I will share with them and you may
rest assured that they shall not want." Of course he thanked her as
dying men do thank those who take upon themselves such charges; but
she perceived as he did so, or thought that she perceived, that he
still had something more upon his mind.

Mrs Tom came and relieved her in the morning, and Miss Mackenzie was
obliged to put off for a time that panoply of sick-room armour which
made her so indomitable in her brother's bedroom. Downstairs she met
Mr Rubb, who talked to her much about her brother's affairs, and much
about the oilcloth business, speaking as though he were desirous
that the most absolute confidence should exist between him and her.
But she said no word of her promise to her brother, except that she
declared that the money lent was now to be regarded as a present made
by her to him personally.

"I am afraid that that will avail nothing," said Mr Rubb, junior,
"for the amount now stands as a debt due by the firm to you, and the
firm, which would pay you the money if it could, cannot pay it to
your brother's estate any more than it can to yours."

"But the interest," said Miss Mackenzie.

"Oh, yes! the interest can be paid," said Mr Rubb, junior, but the
tone of his voice did not give much promise that this interest would
be forthcoming with punctuality.

She watched again that night; and on the next day, in the afternoon,
she was told that a gentleman wished to see her in the drawing-room.
Her thoughts at once pointed to Mr Maguire, and she went downstairs
prepared to be very angry with that gentleman. But on entering the
room she found her cousin, John Ball. She was, in truth, glad to see
him; for, after all, she thought that she liked him the best of all
the men or women that she knew. He was always in trouble, but then
she fancied that with him she at any rate knew the worst. There was
nothing concealed with him,--nothing to be afraid of. She hoped that
they might continue to know each other intimately as cousins. Under
existing circumstances they could not, of course, be anything more to
each other than that.

"This is very kind of you, John," she said, taking his hand. "How did
you know I was here?"

"Mr Slow told me. I was with Mr Slow about business of yours. I'm
afraid from what I hear that you find your brother very ill."

"Very ill, indeed, John,--ill to death."

She then asked after her uncle and aunt, and the children, at the
Cedars.

They were much as usual, he said; and he added that his mother would
be very glad to see her at the Cedars; only he supposed there was no
hope of that.

"Not just at present, John. You see I am wholly occupied here."

"And will he really die, do you think?"

"The doctors say so."

"And his wife and children--will they be provided for?"

Margaret simply shook her head, and John Ball, as he watched her,
felt assured that his uncle Jonathan's money would never come in
his way, or in the way of his children. But he was a man used to
disappointment, and he bore this with mild sufferance.

Then he explained to her the business about which he had specially
come to her. She had entrusted him with certain arrangements as to
a portion of her property, and he came to tell her that a certain
railway company wanted some houses which belonged to her, and that by
Act of Parliament she was obliged to sell them.

"But the Act of Parliament will make the railway company pay for
them, won't it, John?"

Then he went on to explain to her that she was in luck's way, "as
usual," said the poor fellow, thinking of his own misfortunes, and
that she would greatly increase her income by the sale. Indeed, it
seemed to her that she would regain pretty nearly all she had lost by
the loan to Rubb and Mackenzie. "How very singular," thought she to
herself. Under these circumstances, it might, after all, be possible
that she should marry Mr Maguire, if she wished it.

When Mr Ball had told his business he did not stay much longer. He
said no word of his own hopes, if hopes they could be called any
longer. As he left her, he just referred to what had passed between
them. "This is no time, Margaret," said he, "to ask you whether you
have changed your mind?"

"No, John; there are other things to think of now; are there not?
And, besides, they will want here all that I can do for them."

She spoke to him with an express conviction that what was wanted of
her by him, as well as by others, was her money, and it did not occur
to him to contradict her.

"He might have asked to see me, I do think," said Mrs Tom, when John
Ball was gone. "But there always was an upsetting pride about those
people at the Cedars which I never could endure. And they are as poor
as church mice. When poverty and pride go together I do detest them.
I suppose he came to find out all about us, but I hope you told him
nothing."

To all this Miss Mackenzie made no answer at all.



CHAPTER XV

The Tearing of the Verses


Things went on in Gower Street for three or four weeks in the
same way, and then Susanna was fetched home from Littlebath. Miss
Mackenzie would have gone down herself but that she was averse to see
Mr Maguire. She therefore kept on her Littlebath lodgings, though Mrs
Tom said much to her of the wasteful extravagance in doing so. It was
at last settled that Mr Rubb should go down to Littlebath and bring
Susanna back with him; and this he did, not at all to that young
lady's satisfaction. It was understood that Susanna did not leave the
school, at which she had lately been received as a boarder; but the
holidays had come, and it was thought well that she should see her
father. During this time Miss Mackenzie received two letters from
Mr Maguire. In the first he pleaded hard for an answer to his offer.
He had, he said, now relinquished his curacy, having found the
interference of that terrible woman to be unendurable. He had left
his curacy, and was at present without employment. Under such
circumstances, "his Margaret" would understand how imperative it
was that he should receive an answer. A curacy, or, rather, a small
incumbency, had offered itself among the mines in Cornwall; but he
could not think of accepting this till he should know what "his
Margaret" might say to it.

To this Margaret answered most demurely, and perhaps a little slily.
She said that her brother's health and affairs were at present in
such a condition as to allow her to think of nothing else; that
she completely understood Mr Maguire's position, and that it was
essential that he should not be kept in suspense. Under these
combined circumstances she had no alternative but to release him from
the offer he had made. This she did with the less unwillingness as
it was probable that her pecuniary position would be considerably
altered by the change in her brother's family which they were now
expecting almost daily. Then she bade him farewell, with many
expressions of her esteem, and said that she hoped he might be happy
among the mines in Cornwall.

Such was her letter; but it did not satisfy Mr Maguire, and he wrote
a second letter. He had declined, he said, the incumbency among the
mines, having heard of something which he thought would suit him
better in Manchester. As to that, there was no immediate hurry, and
he proposed remaining at Littlebath for the next two months, having
been asked to undertake temporary duty in a neighbouring church for
that time. By the end of the two months he hoped that "his Margaret"
would be able to give him an answer in a different tone. As to her
pecuniary position, he would leave that, he said, "all to herself."

To this second letter Miss Mackenzie did not find it necessary to
send any reply. The domestics in the Mackenzie family were not
at this time numerous, and the poor mother had enough to do with
her family downstairs. No nurse had been hired for the sick man,
for nurses cannot be hired without money, and money with the Tom
Mackenzies was scarce. Our Miss Mackenzie would have hired a nurse,
but she thought it better to take the work entirely into her own
hands. She did so, and I think we may say that her brother did not
suffer by it. As she sat by his bedside, night after night, she
seemed to feel that she had fallen again into her proper place, and
she looked back upon the year she had spent at Littlebath almost with
dismay. Since her brother's death, three men had offered to marry
her, and there was a fourth from whom she had expected such an offer.
She looked upon all this with dismay, and told herself that she was
not fit to sail, under her own guidance, out in the broad sea, amidst
such rocks as those. Was not some humbly feminine employment, such as
that in which she was now engaged, better for her in all ways? Sad
as was the present occasion, did she not feel a satisfaction in what
she was doing, and an assurance that she was fit for her position?
Had she not always been ill at ease, and out of her element, while
striving at Littlebath to live the life of a lady of fortune? She
told herself that it was so, and that it would be better for her to
be a hard-working, dependent woman, doing some tedious duty day by
day, than to live a life of ease which prompted her to longings for
things unfitted to her.

She had brought a little writing-desk with her that she had carried
from Arundel Street to Littlebath, and this she had with her in the
sick man's bedroom. Sitting there through the long hours of night,
she would open this and read over and over again those remnants of
the rhymes written in her early days which she had kept when she made
her great bonfire. There had been quires of such verses, but she had
destroyed all but a few leaves before she started for Littlebath.
What were left, and were now read, were very sweet to her, and yet
she knew that they were wrong and meaningless. What business had such
a one as she to talk of the sphere's tune and the silvery moon, of
bright stars shining and hearts repining? She would not for worlds
have allowed any one to know what a fool she had been--either Mrs
Tom, or John Ball, or Mr Maguire, or Miss Todd. She would have been
covered with confusion if her rhymes had fallen into the hands of any
one of them.

And yet she loved them well, as a mother loves her only idiot child.
They were her expressions of the romance and poetry that had been
in her; and though the expressions doubtless were poor, the romance
and poetry of her heart had been high and noble. How wrong the world
is in connecting so closely as it does the capacity for feeling and
the capacity for expression,--in thinking that capacity for the one
implies capacity for the other, or incapacity for the one incapacity
also for the other; in confusing the technical art of the man who
sings with the unselfish tenderness of the man who feels! But the
world does so connect them; and, consequently, those who express
themselves badly are ashamed of their feelings.

She read her poor lines again and again, throwing herself back into
the days and thoughts of former periods, and telling herself that
it was all over. She had thought of encouraging love, and love had
come to her in the shape of Mr Maguire, a very strict evangelical
clergyman, without a cure or an income, somewhat in debt, and with,
oh! such an eye! She tore the papers, very gently, into the smallest
fragments. She tore them again and again, swearing to herself as she
did so that there should be an end of all that; and, as there was
no fire at hand, she replaced the pieces in her desk. During this
ceremony of the tearing she devoted herself to the duties of a single
life, to the drudgeries of ordinary utility, to such works as those
she was now doing. As to any society, wicked or religious,--wicked
after the manner of Miss Todd, or religious after the manner of St
Stumfolda,--it should come or not, as circumstances might direct. She
would go no more in search of it. Such were the resolves of a certain
night, during which the ceremony of the tearing took place.

It came to pass at this time that Mr Rubb, junior, visited his dying
partner almost daily, and was always left alone with him for some
time. When these visits were made Miss Mackenzie would descend to the
room in which her sister-in-law was sitting, and there would be some
conversation between them about Mr Rubb and his affairs. Much as
these two women disliked each other, there had necessarily arisen
between them a certain amount of confidence. Two persons who are much
thrown together, to the exclusion of other society, will tell each
other their thoughts, even though there be no love between them.

"What is he saying to him all these times when he is with him?"
said Mrs Tom one morning, when Miss Mackenzie had come down on the
appearance of Mr Rubb in the sick room.

"He is talking about the business, I suppose."

"What good can that do? Tom can't say anything about that, as to how
it should be done. He thinks a great deal about Sam Rubb; but it's
more than I do."

"They must necessarily be in each other's confidence, I should say."

"He's not in my confidence. My belief is he's been a deal too clever
for Tom; and that he'll turn out to be too clever--for me, and--my
poor orphans." Upon which Mrs Tom put her handkerchief up to her
eyes. "There; he's coming down," continued the wife. "Do you go up
now, and make Tom tell you what it is that Sam Rubb has been saying
to him."

Margaret Mackenzie did go up as she heard Mr Rubb close the
front door; but she had no such purpose as that with which her
sister-in-law had striven to inspire her. She had no wish to make
the sick man tell her anything that he did not wish to tell. In
considering the matter within her own breast, she owned to herself
that she did not expect much from the Rubbs in aid of the wants of
her nephews and nieces; but what would be the use of troubling a
dying man about that? She had agreed with herself to believe that
the oilcloth business was a bad affair, and that it would be well to
hope for nothing from it. That her brother to the last should harass
himself about the business was only natural; but there could be
no reason why she should harass him on the same subject. She had
recognised the fact that his widow and children must be supported by
her; and had she now been told that the oilcloth factory had been
absolutely abandoned as being worth nothing, it would not have caused
her much disappointment. She thought a great deal more of the railway
company that was going to buy her property under such favourable
circumstances.

She was, therefore, much surprised when her brother began about the
business as soon as she had seated herself. I do not know that the
reader need be delayed with any of the details that he gave her, or
with the contents of the papers which he showed her. She, however,
found herself compelled to go into the matter, and compelled also
to make an endeavour to understand it. It seemed that everything
hung upon Samuel Rubb, junior, except the fact that Samuel Rubb's
father, who now never went near the place, got more than half the net
profits; and the further fact, that the whole thing would come to an
end if this payment to old Rubb were stopped.

"Tom," said she, in the middle of it all, when her head was aching
with figures, "if it will comfort you, and enable you to put all
these things away, you may know that I will divide everything I have
with Sarah."

He assured her that her kindness did comfort him; but he hoped better
than that; he still thought that something better might be arranged
if she would only go on with her task. So she went on painfully
toiling through figures.

"Sam drew them up on purpose for you, yesterday afternoon," said he.

"Who did it?" she asked.

"Samuel Rubb."

He then went on to declare that she might accept all Samuel Rubb's
figures as correct.

She was quite willing to accept them, and she strove hard to
understand them. It certainly did seem to her that when her money was
borrowed somebody must have known that the promised security would
not be forthcoming; but perhaps that somebody was old Rubb, whom, as
she did not know him, she was quite ready to regard as the villain in
the play that was being acted. Her own money, too, was a thing of the
past. That fault, if fault there had been, was condoned; and she was
angry with herself in that she now thought of it again.

"And now," said her brother, as soon as she had put the papers back,
and declared that she understood them. "Now I have something to say
to you which I hope you will hear without being angry." He raised
himself on his bed as he said this, doing so with difficulty and
pain, and turning his face upon her so that he could look into her
eyes. "If I didn't know that I was dying I don't think that I could
say it to you."

"Say what, Tom?"

She thought of what most terrible thing it might be possible that
he should have to communicate. Could it be that he had got hold, or
that Rubb and Mackenzie had got hold, of all her fortune, and turned
it into unprofitable oilcloth? Could they in any way have made her
responsible for their engagements? She wished to trust them; she
tried to avoid suspicion; but she feared that things were amiss.

"Samuel Rubb and I have been talking of it, and he thinks it had
better come from me," said her brother.

"What had better come?" she asked.

"It is his proposition, Margaret." Then she knew all about it, and
felt great relief. Then she knew all about it, and let him go on till
he had spoken his speech.

"God knows how far he may be indulging a false hope, or deceiving
himself altogether; but he thinks it possible that you might--might
become fond of him. There, Margaret, that's the long and the short
of it. And when I told him that he had better say that himself, he
declared that you would not bring yourself to listen to him while I
am lying here dying."

"Of course I would not."

"But, look here, Margaret; I know you would do much to comfort me in
my last moments."

"Indeed, I would, Tom."

"I wouldn't ask you to marry a man you didn't like,--not even if it
were to do the children a service; but if that can be got over, the
other feeling should not restrain you when it would be the greatest
possible comfort to me."

"But how could it serve you, Tom?"

"If that could be arranged, Rubb would give up to Sarah during his
father's life all the proceeds of the business, after paying the
old man. And when he dies, and he is very old now, the five hundred
a-year would be continued to her. Think what that would be,
Margaret."

"But, Tom, she shall have what will make her comfortable without
waiting for any old man's death. It shall be quite half of my income.
If that is not enough it shall be more. Will not that do for her?"

Then her brother strove to explain as best he could that the mere
money was not all he wanted. If his sister did not like this man, if
she had no wish to become a married woman, of course, he said, the
plan must fall to the ground. But if there was anything in Mr Rubb's
belief that she was not altogether indifferent to him, if such an
arrangement could be made palatable to her, then he would be able to
think that he, by the work of his life, had left something behind him
to his wife and family.

"And Sarah would be more comfortable," he pleaded. "Of course, she
is grateful to you, as I am, and as we all are. But given bread is
bitter bread, and if she could think it came to her, of her own
right--"

He said ever so much more, but that ever so much more was quite
unnecessary. His sister understood the whole matter. It was desirable
that she, by her fortune, should enable the widow and orphans of
her brother to live in comfort; but it was not desirable that this
dependence on her should be plainly recognised. She did not, however,
feel herself to be angry or hurt. It would, no doubt, be better
for the family that they should draw their income in an apparently
independent way from their late father's business than that they
should owe their support to the charity of an aunt. But then, how
about herself? A month or two ago, before the Maguire feature in
her career had displayed itself so strongly, an overture from Mr
Rubb might probably not have been received with disfavour. But now,
while she was as it were half engaged to another man, she could not
entertain such a proposition. Her womanly feeling revolted from it.
No doubt she intended to refuse Mr Maguire. No doubt she had made up
her mind to that absolutely, during the ceremony of tearing up her
verses. And she had never had much love for Mr Maguire, and had felt
some--almost some, for Mr Rubb. In either case she was sure that, had
she married the man,--the one man or the other,--she would instantly
have become devoted to him. And I, who chronicle her deeds and
endeavour to chronicle her thoughts, feel equally sure that it would
have been so. There was something harsh in it, that Mr Maguire's
offer to her should, though never accepted, debar her from the
possibility of marrying Mr Rubb, and thus settling all the affairs of
her family in a way that would have been satisfactory to them and not
altogether unsatisfactory to her; but she was aware that it did so.
She felt that it was so, and then threw herself back for consolation
upon the security which would still be hers, and the want of security
which must attach itself to a marriage with Mr Rubb. He might make
ducks, and drakes, and oilcloth of it all; and then there would be
nothing left for her, for her sister-in-law, or for the children.

"May I tell him to speak to yourself?" her brother asked, while she
was thinking of all this.

"No, Tom; it would do no good."

"You do not fancy him, then."

"I do not know about fancying; but I think it will be better for me
to remain as I am. I would do anything for you and Sarah, almost
anything; but I cannot do that."

"Then I will say nothing further."

"Don't ask me to do that."

And he did not ask her again, but turned his face from her and
thought of the bitterness of his death-bed.

That evening, when she went down to tea, she met Samuel Rubb standing
at the drawing-room door.

"There is no one here," he said; "will you mind coming in? Has your
brother spoken to you?"

She had followed him into the room, and he had closed the door as he
asked the question.

"Yes, he has spoken to me."

She could see that the man was trembling with anxiety and eagerness,
and she almost loved him that he was anxious and eager. Mr Maguire,
when he had come a wooing, had not done it badly altogether, but
there had not been so much reality as there was about Sam Rubb while
he stood there shaking, and fearing, and hoping.

"Well," said he, "may I hope--may I think it will be so? may I ask
you to be mine?"

He was handsome in her eyes, though perhaps, delicate reader, he
would not have been handsome in yours. She knew that he was not a
gentleman; but what did that matter? Neither was her sister-in-law
Sarah a lady. There was not much in that house in Gower Street that
was after the manner of gentlemen and ladies. She was ready to throw
all that to the dogs, and would have done so but for Mr Maguire. She
felt that she would like to have allowed herself to love him in spite
of the tearing of the verses. She felt this, and was very angry with
Mr Maguire. But the facts were stern, and there was no hope for her.

"Mr Rubb," she said, "there can be nothing of that kind."

"Can't there really, now?" said he.

She assured him in her strongest language, that there could be
nothing of that kind, and then went down to the dining-room.

He did not venture to follow her, but made his way out of the house
without seeing anyone else.

Another fortnight went by, and then, towards the close of September,
came the end of all things in this world for poor Tom Mackenzie. He
died in the middle of the night in his wife's arms, while his sister
stood by holding both their hands. Since the day on which he had
endeavoured to arrange a match between his partner and his sister he
had spoken no word of business, at any rate to the latter, and things
now stood on that footing which she had then attempted to give them.
We all know how silent on such matters are the voices of all in the
bereft household, from the hour of death till that other hour in
which the body is consigned to its kindred dust. Women make mourning,
and men creep about listlessly, but during those few sad days
there may be no talk about money. So it was in Gower Street. The
widow, no doubt, thought much of her bitter state of dependence,
thought something, perhaps, of the chance there might be that her
husband's sister would be less good than her word, now that he was
gone--meditated with what amount of submission she must accept the
generosity of the woman she had always hated; but she was still
mistress of that house till the undertakers had done their work; and
till that work had been done, she said little of her future plans.

"I'd earn my bread, if I knew how," she began, putting her
handkerchief up to her eyes, on the afternoon of the very day on
which he was buried.

"There will be no occasion for that, Sarah," said Miss Mackenzie,
"there will be enough for us all."

"But I would if I knew how. I wouldn't mind what I did; I'd scour
floors rather than be dependent, I've that spirit in me; and I've
worked, and moiled, and toiled with those children; so I have."

Miss Mackenzie then told her that she had solemnly promised her
brother to divide her income with his widow, and informed her that
she intended to see Mr Slow, the lawyer, on the following day, with
reference to the doing of this.

"If there is anything from the factory, that can be divided too,"
said Miss Mackenzie.

"But there won't. The Rubbs will take all that; of course they will.
And Tom put into it near upon ten thousand pounds!"

Then she began to cry again, but soon interrupted her tears to ask
what was to become of Susanna. Susanna, who was by, looked anxiously
up into her aunt's eyes.

"Susanna and I," said the aunt, "have thrown in our lot together, and
we mean to remain so; don't we, dear?"

"If mamma will let me."

"I'm sure it's very good of you to take one off my hands," said the
mother, "for even one will be felt."

Then came a note to Miss Mackenzie from Lady Ball, asking
her to spend a few days at the Cedars before she returned to
Littlebath,--that is, if she did return,--and she consented to
do this. While she was there Mr Slow could prepare the necessary
arrangements for the division of the property, and she could then
make up her mind as to the manner and whereabouts of her future life.
She was all at sea again, and knew not how to choose. If she were a
Romanist, she would go into a convent; but Protestant convents she
thought were bad, and peculiarly unfitted for the followers of Mr
Stumfold. She had nothing to bind her to any spot, and something to
drive her from every spot of which she knew anything.

Before she went to the Cedars Mr Rubb came to Gower Street and bade
her farewell.

"I had allowed myself to hope, Miss Mackenzie," said he, "I had,
indeed; I suppose I was very foolish."

"I don't know as to being foolish, Mr Rubb, unless it was in caring
about such a person as me."

"I do care for you, very much; but I suppose I was wrong to think you
would put up with such as I am. Only I did think that perhaps, seeing
that we had been partners with your brother so long-- All the same, I
know that the Mackenzies are different from the Rubbs."

"That has nothing to do with it; nothing in the least."

"Hasn't it now? Then, perhaps, Miss Mackenzie, at some future time--"

Miss Mackenzie was obliged to tell him that there could not possibly
be any other answer given to him at any future time than that which
she gave him now. He suggested that perhaps he might be allowed to
try again when the first month or two of her grief for her brother
should be over; but she assured him that it would be useless. At the
moment of her conference with him, she did this with all her energy;
and then, as soon as she was alone, she asked herself why she had
been so energetical. After all, marriage was an excellent state in
which to live. The romance was doubtless foolish and wrong, and the
tearing of the papers had been discreet, yet there could be no good
reason why she should turn her back upon sober wedlock. Nevertheless,
in all her speech to Mr Rubb she did do so. There was something in
her position as connected with Mr Maguire which made her feel that it
would be indelicate to entertain another suitor before that gentleman
had received a final answer.

As she went away from Gower Street to the Cedars she thought of this
very sadly, and told herself that she had been like the ass who
starved between two bundles of hay, or as the boy who had fallen
between two stools.



CHAPTER XVI

Lady Ball's Grievance


Miss Mackenzie, before she left Gower Street, was forced to make
some arrangements as to her affairs at Littlebath, and these were
ultimately settled in a manner that was not altogether palatable to
her. Mr Rubb was again sent down, having Susanna in his charge, and
he was empowered to settle with Miss Mackenzie's landlady and give
up the lodgings. There was much that was disagreeable in this. Miss
Mackenzie having just rejected Mr Rubb's suit, did not feel quite
comfortable in giving him a commission to see all her stockings and
petticoats packed up and brought away from the lodgings. Indeed, she
could give him no commission of the kind, but intimated her intention
of writing to the lodging-house keeper. He, however, was profuse
in his assurances that nothing should be left behind, and if Miss
Mackenzie would tell him anything of the way in which the things
ought to be packed, he would be so happy to attend to her! To him
Miss Mackenzie would give no such instructions, but, doubtless, she
gave many to Susanna.

As to Susanna, it was settled that she should remain as a boarder at
the Littlebath school, at any rate for the next half-year. After that
there might be great doubt whether her aunt could bear the expense of
maintaining her in such a position.

Miss Mackenzie had reconciled herself to going to the Cedars because
she would thus have an opportunity of seeing her lawyer and arranging
about her property, whereas had she been down at Littlebath there
would have been a difficulty. And she wanted some one whom she could
trust to act for her, some one besides the lawyer, and she thought
that she could trust her cousin, John Ball. As to getting away from
all her suitors that was impossible. Had she gone to Littlebath there
was one there; had she remained with her sister-in-law, she would
have been always near another; and, on going to the Cedars, she would
meet the third. But she could not on that account absolutely isolate
herself from everybody that she knew in the world. And, perhaps, she
was getting somewhat used to her suitors, and less liable than she
had been to any fear that they could force her into action against
her own consent. So she went to the Cedars, and, on arriving there,
received from her uncle and aunt but a moderate amount of condolence
as to the death of her brother.

Her first and second days in her aunt's house were very quiet.
Nothing was said of John's former desires, and nothing about her own
money or her brother's family. On the morning of the third day she
told her cousin that she would, on the next morning, accompany him
to town if he would allow her. "I am going to Mr Slow's," said she,
"and perhaps you could go with me." To this he assented willingly,
and then, after a pause, surmised that her visit must probably have
reference to the sale of her houses to the railway company. "Partly
to that," she said, "but it chiefly concerns arrangements for my
brother's family."

To this John Ball said nothing, nor did Lady Ball, who was present,
then speak. But Miss Mackenzie could see that her aunt looked at her
cousin, opening her eyes, and expressing concern. John Ball himself
allowed no change to come upon his face, but went on deliberately
with his bread and butter. "I shall be very happy to go with you," he
said, "and will either come and call for you when you have done, or
stay with you while you are there, just as you like."

"I particularly want you to stay with me," said she, "and as we go up
to town I will tell you all about it."

She observed that before her cousin left the house on that day, his
mother got hold of him and was alone with him for nearly half an
hour. After that, Lady Ball was alone with Sir John, in his own room,
for another half hour. The old baronet had become older, of course,
and much weaker, since his niece had last been at the Cedars, and was
now seldom seen about the house till the afternoon.

Of all the institutions at the Cedars that of the carriage was the
most important. Miss Mackenzie found that the carriage arrangement
had been fixed upon a new and more settled basis since her last
visit. Then it used to go out perhaps as often as three times a week.
But there did not appear to be any fixed rule. Like other carriages,
it did, to a certain degree, come when it was wanted. But now there
was, as I have said, a settled basis. The carriage came to the door
on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, exactly at two o'clock, and
Sir John with Lady Ball were driven about till four.

On the first Tuesday of her visit Miss Mackenzie had gone with her
uncle and aunt, and even she had found the pace to be very slow, and
the whole affair to be very dull. Her uncle had once enlivened the
thing by asking her whether she had found any lovers since she went
to Littlebath, and this question had perplexed her very much. She
could not say that she had found none, and as she was not prepared
to acknowledge that she had found any, she could only sit still and
blush.

"Women have plenty of lovers when they have plenty of money," said
the baronet.

"I don't believe that Margaret thinks of anything of the kind," said
Lady Ball.

After that Margaret determined to have as little to do with the
carriage as possible, and on that evening she learned from her cousin
that the horses had been sold to the man who farmed the land, and
were hired every other day for two hours' work.

It was on the Thursday morning that Miss Mackenzie had spoken of
going into town on the morrow, and on that day when her aunt asked
her about the driving, she declined.

"I hope that nothing your uncle said on Tuesday annoyed you?"

"Oh dear, no; but if you don't mind it, I'd rather stay at home."

"Of course you shall if you like it," said her aunt; "and by-the-by,
as I want to speak to you, and as we might not find time after coming
home, if you don't mind it I'll do it now."

Of course Margaret said that she did not mind it, though in truth she
did mind it, and was afraid of her aunt.

"Well then, Margaret, look here. I want to know something about your
brother's affairs. From what I have heard, I fear they were not very
good."

"They were very bad, aunt,--very bad indeed."

"Dear, dear; you don't say so. Sir John always feared that it would
be so when Thomas Mackenzie mixed himself up with those Rubbs. And
there has gone half of Jonathan Ball's money,--money which Sir John
made! Well, well!"

Miss Mackenzie had nothing to say to this; and as she had nothing to
say to it she sat silent, making no attempt at any words.

"It does seem hard; don't it, my dear?"

"It wouldn't make any difference to anybody now--to my uncle, I mean,
or to John, if the money was not gone."

"That's quite true; quite true; only it does seem to be a pity.
However, that half of Jonathan's money which you have got, is not
lost, and there's some comfort in that."

Miss Mackenzie was not called upon to make any answer to this; for
although she had lost a large sum of money by lending it to her
brother, nevertheless she was still possessed of a larger sum of
money than that which her brother Walter had received from Jonathan
Ball.

"And what are they going to do, my dear--the children, I mean, and
the widow? I suppose there'll be something for them out of the
business?"

"I don't think there'll be anything, aunt. As far as I can understand
there will be nothing certain. They may probably get a hundred and
twenty-five pounds a-year." This she named, as being the interest of
the money she had lent--or given.

"A hundred and twenty-five pounds a-year. That isn't much, but it
will keep them from absolute want."

"Would it, aunt?"

"Oh, yes; at least, I suppose so. I hope she's a good manager. She
ought to be, for she's a very disagreeable woman. You told me that
yourself, you know."

Then Miss Mackenzie, having considered for one moment, resolved to
make a clean breast of it all, and this she did with the fewest
possible words.

"I'm going to divide what I've got with them, and I hope it will make
them comfortable."

"What!" exclaimed her aunt.

"I'm going to give Sarah half what I've got, for her and her
children. I shall have enough to live on left."

"Margaret, you don't mean it?"

"Not mean it? why not, aunt? You would not have me let them starve.
Besides, I promised my brother when he was dying."

"Then I must say he was very wrong, very wicked, I may say, to exact
any such promise from you; and no such promise is binding. If you
ask Sir John, or your lawyer, they will tell you so. What! exact
a promise from you to the amount of half your income. It was very
wrong."

"But, aunt, I should do the same if I had made no promise."

"No, you wouldn't, my dear. Your friends wouldn't let you. And indeed
your friends must prevent it now. They will not hear of such a
sacrifice being made."

"But, aunt--"

"Well, my dear."

"It's my own, you know." And Margaret, as she said this, plucked up
her courage, and looked her aunt full in the face.

"Yes, it is your own, by law; but I don't suppose, my dear, that you
are of that disposition or that character that you'd wish to set all
the world at defiance, and make everybody belonging to you feel that
you had disgraced yourself."

"Disgraced myself by relieving my brother's family!"

"Disgraced yourself by giving to that woman money that has come
to you as your fortune has come. Think of it, where it came from!"

"It came to me from my brother Walter."

"And where did he get it? And who made it? And don't you know that
your brother Tom had his share of it, and wasted it all? Did it
not all come from the Balls? And yet you think so little of that,
that you are going to let that woman rob you of it--rob you and my
grandchildren; for that, I tell you, is the way in which the world
will look at it. Perhaps you don't know it, but all that property
was as good as given to John at one time. Who was it first took
you by the hand when you were left all alone in Arundel Street? Oh,
Margaret, don't go and be such an ungrateful, foolish creature!"

Margaret waited for a moment, and then she answered--

"There's nobody so near to me as my own brother's children."

"As to that, Margaret, there isn't much difference in nearness
between your uncle and your nephews and nieces. But there's a right
and a wrong in these things, and when money is concerned, people
are not justified in indulging their fancies. Everything here has
been told to you. You know how John is situated with his children.
And after what there has been between you and him, and after what
there still might be if you would have it so, I own that I am
astonished--fairly astonished. Indeed, my dear, I can only look on it
as simple weakness on your part. It was but the other day that you
told me you had done all that you thought necessary by your brother
in taking Susanna."

"But that was when he was alive, and I thought he was doing well."

"The fact is, you have been there and they've talked you over. It
can't be that you love children that you never saw till the other
day; and as for the woman, you always hated her."

"Whether I love her or hate her has nothing to do with it."

"Margaret, will you promise me this, that you will see Mr Slow and
talk to him about it before you do anything?"

"I must see Mr Slow before I can do anything; but whatever he says, I
shall do it all the same."

"Will you speak to your uncle?"

"I had rather not."

"You are afraid to tell him of this; but of course he must be told.
Will you speak to John?"

"Certainly; I meant to do so going to town to-morrow."

"And if he tells you you are wrong--"

"Aunt, I know I am not wrong. It is nonsense to say that I am wrong
in--"

"That's disrespectful, Margaret!"

"I don't want to be disrespectful, aunt; but in such a case as this
I know that I have a right to do what I like with my own money. If
I was going to give it away to any other friend, if I was going to
marry, or anything like that,"--she blushed at the remembrance of
the iniquities she had half intended as she said this--"then there
might be some reason for you to scold me; but with a brother and
a brother's family it can't be wrong. If you had a brother, and
had been with him when he was dying, and he had left his wife and
children looking to you, you would have done the same."

Upon this Lady Ball got up from her chair and walked to the door.
Margaret had been more impetuous and had answered her with much more
confidence than she had expected. She was determined now to say one
more word, but so to say it that it should not be answered--to strike
one more blow, but so to strike it that it should not be returned.

"Margaret," she said, as she stood with the door open in her hands,
"if you will reflect where the money came from, your conscience will
tell you without much difficulty where it should go to. And when you
think of your brother's children, whom this time last year you had
hardly seen, think also of John Ball's children, who have welcomed
you into this house as their dearest relative. In one sense,
certainly, the money is yours, Margaret; but in another sense, and
that the highest sense, it is not yours to do what you please with
it."

Then Lady Ball shut the door rather loudly, and sailed away along the
hall. When the passages were clear, Miss Mackenzie made her way up
into her own room, and saw none of the family till she came down just
before dinner.

She sat for a long time in the chair by her bed-side thinking of her
position. Was it true after all that she was bound by a sense of
justice to give any of her money to the Balls? It was true that in
one sense it had been taken from them, but she had had nothing to do
with the taking. If her brother Walter had married and had children,
then the Balls would have not expected the money back again. It was
ever so many years,--five-and-twenty years, and more since the legacy
had been made by Jonathan Ball to her brother, and it seemed to her
that her aunt had no common sense on her side in the argument. Was it
possible that she should allow her own nephews and nieces to starve
while she was rich? She had, moreover, made a promise,--a promise to
one who was now dead, and there was a solemnity in that which carried
everything else before it. Even though the thing might be unjust,
still she must do it.

But she was to give only half her fortune to her brother's family;
there would still be the half left for herself, for herself or
for these Balls if they wanted it so sorely. She was beginning to
hate her money. It had brought to her nothing but tribulation and
disappointment. Had Walter left her a hundred a year, she would,
not having then dreamed of higher things, have been amply content.
Would it not be better that she should take for herself some modest
competence, something on which she might live without trouble to her
relatives, without trouble to her friends she had first said,--but
as she did so she told herself with scorn that friends she had
none,--and then let the Balls have what was left her after she had
kept her promise to her brother? Anything would be better than such
persecution as that to which her aunt had subjected her.

At last she made up her mind to speak of it all openly to her cousin.
She had an idea that in such matters men were more trustworthy than
women, and perhaps less greedy. Her cousin would, she thought, be
more just to her than her aunt had been. That her aunt had been very
unjust,--cruel and unjust,--she felt assured.

She came down to dinner, and she could see by the manner of them all
that the matter had been discussed since John Ball's return from
London. Jack, the eldest son, was not at home, and the three girls
who came next to Jack dined with their father and grandfather. To
them Margaret endeavoured to talk easily, but she failed. They had
never been favourites with her as Jack was, and, on this occasion,
she could get very little from them that was satisfactory to her.
John Ball was courteous to her, but he was very silent throughout the
whole evening. Her aunt showed her displeasure by not speaking to
her, or speaking barely with a word. Her uncle, of whose voice she
was always in fear, seemed to be more cross, and when he did speak,
more sarcastic than ever. He asked her whether she intended to go
back to Littlebath.

"I think not," said she.

"Then that has been a failure, I suppose," said the old man.

"Everything is a failure, I think," said she, with tears in her eyes.

This was in the drawing-room, and immediately her cousin John came
and sat by her. He came and sat there, as though he had intended
to speak to her; but he went away again in a minute or two without
having uttered a word. Things went on in the same way till they
moved off to bed, and then the formal adieus for the night were made
with a coldness that amounted, on the part of Lady Ball, almost to
inhospitality.

"Good-night, Margaret," she said, as she just put out the tip of her
finger.

"Good-night, my dear," said Sir John. "I don't know what's the matter
with you, but you look as though you'd been doing something that you
were ashamed of."

Lady Ball was altogether injudicious in her treatment of her niece.
As to Sir John, it made probably very little difference. Miss
Mackenzie had perceived, when she first came to the Cedars, that he
was a cross old man, and that he had to be endured as such by any one
who chose to go into that house. But she had depended on Lady Ball
for kindness of manner, and had been tempted to repeat her visits to
the house because her aunt had, after her fashion, been gracious to
her. But now there was rising in her breast a feeling that she had
better leave the Cedars as soon as she could shake the dust off her
feet, and see nothing more of the Balls. Even the Rubb connection
seemed to her to be better than the Ball connection, and less
exaggerated in its greediness. Were it not for her cousin John, she
would have resolved to go on the morrow. She would have faced the
indignation of her aunt, and the cutting taunts of her uncle, and
have taken herself off at once to some lodging in London. But John
Ball had meant to be kind to her when he came and sat close to her on
the sofa, and her soft heart relented towards him.

Lady Ball had in truth mistaken her niece's character. She had found
her to be unobtrusive, gentle, and unselfish; and had conceived that
she must therefore be weak and compliant. As to many things she was
compliant, and as to some things she was weak; but there was in her
composition a power of resistance and self-sustenance on which Lady
Ball had not counted. When conscious of absolute ill-usage, she could
fight well, and would not bow her neck to any Mrs Stumfold or to any
Lady Ball.



CHAPTER XVII

Mr Slow's Chambers


She came down late to breakfast on the following morning, not being
present at prayers, and when she came down she wore a bonnet.

"I got myself ready, John, for fear I should keep you waiting."

Her aunt spoke to her somewhat more graciously than on the preceding
evening, and accepted her apology for being late.

Just as she was about to start Lady Ball took her apart and spoke one
word to her.

"No one can tell you better what you ought to do than your cousin
John; but pray remember that he is far too generous to say a word for
himself."

Margaret made no answer, and then she and her cousin started on foot
across the grounds to the station. The distance was nearly a mile,
and during the walk no word was said between them about the money.
They got into the train that was to take them up to London, and sat
opposite to each other. It happened that there was no passenger in
either of the seats next to him or her, so that there was ample
opportunity for them to hold a private conversation; but Mr Ball said
nothing to her, and she, not knowing how to begin, said nothing to
him. In this way they reached the London station at Waterloo Bridge,
and then he asked her what she proposed to do next.

"Shall we go to Mr Slow's at once?" she asked.

To this he assented, and at her proposition they agreed to walk to
the lawyer's chambers. These were on the north side of Lincoln's Inn
Fields, near the Turnstile, and Mr Ball remarked that the distance
was again not much above a mile. So they crossed the Strand together,
and made their way by narrow streets into Drury Lane, and then under
a certain archway into Lincoln's Inn Fields. To Miss Mackenzie, who
felt that something ought to be said, the distance and time occupied
seemed to be very short.

"Why, this is Lincoln's Inn Fields!" she exclaimed, as she came out
upon the west side.

"Yes; this is Lincoln's Inn Fields, and Mr Slow's chambers are over
there."

She knew very well where Mr Slow's chambers were situated, but she
paused on the pavement, not wishing to go thither quite at once.

"John," she said, "I thought that perhaps we might have talked over
all this before we saw Mr Slow."

"Talked over all what?"

"About the money that I want to give to my brother's family. Did not
my aunt tell you of it?"

"Yes; she told me that you and she had differed."

"And she told you what about?"

"Yes," said he, slowly; "she told me what about."

"And what ought I to do, John?"

As she asked the question she caught hold of the lappet of his coat,
and looked up into his face as though supplicating him to give her
the advantage of all his discretion and all his honesty.

They were still standing on the pavement, where the street comes out
from under the archway. She was gazing into his face, and he was
looking away from her, over towards the inner railings of the square,
with heavy brow and dull eye and motionless face. She was very eager,
and he seemed to be simply patient, but nevertheless he was working
hard with his thoughts, striving to determine how best he might
answer her. His mother had told him that he might model this woman to
his will, and had repeated to him that story which he had heard so
often of the wrong that had been done to him by his uncle Jonathan.
It may be said that there was no need for such repetition, as John
Ball had himself always thought quite enough of that injury. He had
thought of it for the last twenty years, almost hourly, till it was
graven upon his very soul. He had been a ruined, wretched, moody man,
because of his uncle Jonathan's will. There was no need, one would
have said, to have stirred him on that subject. But his mother, on
this morning, in the ten minutes before prayer-time, had told him
of it all again, and had told him also that the last vestige of his
uncle's money would now disappear from him unless he interfered to
save it.

"On this very day it must be saved; and she will do anything you tell
her," said his mother. "She regards you more than anyone else. If you
were to ask her again now, I believe she would accept you this very
day. At any rate, do not let those people have the money."

And yet he had not spoken to Margaret on the subject during the
journey, and would now have taken her to the lawyer's chambers
without a word, had she not interrupted him and stopped him.

Nevertheless he had been thinking of his uncle, and his uncle's will,
and his uncle's money, throughout the morning. He was thinking of it
at that moment when she stopped him--thinking how hard it all was,
how cruel that those people in the New Road should have had and spent
half his uncle's fortune, and that now the remainder, which at one
time had seemed to be near the reach of his own children, should also
go to atone for the negligence and fraud of those wretched Rubbs.

We all know with how strong a bias we regard our own side of any
question, and he regarded his side in this question with a very
strong bias. Nevertheless he had refrained from a word, and would
have refrained, had she not stopped him.

When she took hold of him by the coat, he looked for a moment into
her face, and thought that in its trouble it was very sweet. She
leaned somewhat against him as she spoke, and he wished that she
would lean against him altogether. There was about her a quiet
power of endurance, and at the same time a comeliness and a womanly
softness which seemed to fit her altogether for his wants and
wishes. As he looked with his dull face across into the square, no
physiognomist would have declared of him that at that moment he was
suffering from love, or thinking of a woman that was dear to him. But
it was so with him, and the physiognomist, had one been there, would
have been wrong. She had now asked him a question, which he was bound
to answer in some way:--"What ought I to do, John?"

He turned slowly round and walked with her, away from their
destination, round by the south side of the square, and then up along
the blank wall on the east side, nearly to the passage into Holborn,
and back again all round the enclosed space. She, while she was
speaking to him and listening to him, hardly remembered where she was
or whither she was going.

"I thought," said he, in answer to her question, "that you intended
to ask Mr Slow's advice?"

"I didn't mean to do more than tell him what should be done. He is
not a friend, you know, John."

"It's customary to ask lawyers their advice on such subjects."

"I'd rather have yours, John. But, in truth, what I want you to say
is, that I am right in doing this,--right in keeping my promise to my
brother, and providing for his children."

"Like most people, Margaret, you want to be advised to follow your
own counsel."

"God knows that I want to do right, John. I want to do nothing else,
John, but what's right. As to this money, I care but little for it
for myself."

"It is your own, and you have a right to enjoy it."

"I don't know much about enjoyment. As to enjoyment, it seems to me
to be pretty much the same whether a person is rich or poor. I always
used to hear that money brought care, and I'm sure I've found it so
since I had any."

"You've got no children, Margaret."

"No; but there are all those orphans. Am I not bound to look upon
them as mine, now that he has gone? If they don't depend on me, whom
are they to depend on?"

"If your mind is made up, Margaret, I have nothing to say against it.
You know what my wishes are. They are just the same now as when you
were last with us. It isn't only for the money I say this, though,
of course, that must go a long way with a man circumstanced as I am;
but, Margaret, I love you dearly, and if you can make up your mind to
be my wife, I would do my best to make you happy."

"I hadn't meant you to talk in that way, John," said Margaret.

But she was not much flurried. She was now so used to these overtures
that they did not come to her as much out of the common way. And she
gave herself none of that personal credit which women are apt to take
to themselves when they find they are often sought in marriage. She
looked upon her lovers as so many men to whom her income would be
convenient, and felt herself to be almost under an obligation to
them for their willingness to put up with the incumbrance which was
attached to it.

"But it's the only way I can talk when you ask me about this," said
he. Then he paused for a moment before he added, "How much is it you
wish to give to your brother's widow?"

"Half what I've got left."

"Got left! You haven't lost any of your money have you, Margaret?"

Then she explained to him the facts as to the loan, and took care
to explain to him also, very fully, the compensatory fact of the
purchase by the railway company. "And my promise to him was made
after I had lent it, you know," she urged.

"I do think it ought to be deducted; I do indeed," he said. "I am
not speaking on my own behalf now, as for the sake of my children,
but simply as a man of business. As for myself, though I do think I
have been hardly used in the matter of my uncle's money, I'll try to
forget it. I'll try at any rate to do without it. When I first knew
you, and found--found that I liked you so much, I own that I did have
hopes. But if it must be, there shall be an end of that. The children
don't starve, I suppose."

"Oh, John!"

"As for me, I won't hanker after your money. But, for your own sake,
Margaret--"

"There will be more than enough for me, you know; and, John--"

She was going to make him some promise; to tell him something of her
intention towards his son, and to make some tender of assistance to
himself; being now in that mind to live on the smallest possible
pittance, of which I have before spoken, when he ceased speaking or
listening, and hurried her on to the attorney's chambers.

"Do what you like with it. It is your own," said he. "And we shall do
no good by talking about it any longer out here."

So at last they made their way up to Mr Slow's rooms, on the first
floor in the old house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and were informed
that that gentleman was at home. Would they be pleased to sit down in
the waiting-room?

There is, I think, no sadder place in the world than the waiting-room
attached to an attorney's chambers in London. In this instance it was
a three-cornered room, which had got itself wedged in between the
house which fronted to Lincoln's Inn Fields, and some buildings in a
narrow lane that ran at the back of the row. There was no carpet in
it, and hardly any need of one, as the greater part of the floor was
strewed with bundles of dusty papers. There was a window in it, which
looked out from the point of the further angle against the wall of
the opposite building. The dreariness of this aspect had been thought
to be too much for the minds of those who waited, and therefore the
bottom panes had been clouded, so that there was in fact no power of
looking out at all. Over the fireplace there was a table of descents
and relationship, showing how heirship went; and the table was very
complicated, describing not only the heirship of ordinary real and
personal property, but also explaining the wonderful difficulties of
gavelkind, and other mysteriously traditional laws. But the table was
as dirty as it was complicated, and the ordinary waiting reader could
make nothing of it. There was a small table in the room, near the
window, which was always covered with loose papers; but these loose
papers were on this occasion again covered with sheets of parchment,
and a pale-faced man, of about thirty, whose beard had never yet
attained power to do more than sprout, was sitting at the table, and
poring over the parchments. Round the room, on shelves, there was a
variety of iron boxes, on which were written the names of Mr Slow's
clients,--of those clients whose property justified them in having
special boxes of their own. But these boxes were there, it must be
supposed, for temporary purposes,--purposes which might be described
as almost permanently temporary,--for those boxes which were allowed
to exist in absolute permanence of retirement, were kept in an iron
room downstairs, the trap-door into which had yawned upon Miss
Mackenzie as she was shown into the waiting-room. There was, however,
one such box open, on the middle of the floor, and sundry of the
parchments which had been taken from it were lying around it.

There were but two chairs in the room besides the one occupied by the
man at the table, and these were taken by John Ball and his cousin.
She sat herself down, armed with patience, indifferent to the delay
and indifferent to the dusty ugliness of everything around her, as
women are on such occasions. He, thinking much of his time, and
somewhat annoyed at being called upon to wait, sat with his chin
resting on his umbrella between his legs, and as he did so he allowed
his eyes to roam around among the names upon the boxes. There was
nothing on any one of those up on the shelves that attracted him.
There was the Marquis of B----, and Sir C. D----, and the Dowager
Countess of E----. Seeing this, he speculated mildly whether Mr Slow
put forward the boxes of his aristocratic customers to show how well
he was doing in the world. But presently his eye fell from the shelf
and settled upon the box on the floor. There, on that box, he saw the
name of Walter Mackenzie.

This did not astonish him, as he immediately said to himself that
these papers were being searched with reference to the business on
which his cousin was there that day; bur suddenly it occurred to him
that Margaret had given him to understand that Mr Slow did not expect
her. He stepped over to her, therefore, one step over the papers, and
asked her the question, whispering it into her ear.

"No," said she, "I had no appointment. I don't think he expects me."

He returned to his seat, and again sitting down with his chin on
the top of his umbrella, surveyed the parchments that lay upon the
ground. Upon one of them, that was not far from his feet, he read the
outer endorsements written as such endorsements always are, in almost
illegible old English letters--

"Jonathan Ball, to John Ball, junior--Deed of Gift."

But, after all, there was nothing more than a coincidence in this.
Of course Mr Slow would have in his possession all the papers
appertaining to the transfer of Jonathan Ball's property to the
Mackenzies; or, at any rate, such as referred to Walter's share of
it. Indeed, Mr Slow, at the time of Jonathan Ball's death, acted for
the two brothers, and it was probable that all the papers would be
with him. John Ball had known that there had been some intention
on his uncle's part, before the quarrel between his father and his
uncle, to make over to him, on his coming of age, a certain property
in London, and he had been told that the money which the Mackenzies
had inherited had ultimately come from this very property. His uncle
had been an eccentric, quarrelsome man, prone to change his mind
often, and not regardful of money as far as he himself was concerned.
John Ball remembered to have heard that his uncle had intended him to
become possessed of certain property in his own right the day that
he became of age, and that this had all been changed because of the
quarrel which had taken place between his uncle and his father. His
father now never spoke of this, and for many years past had seldom
mentioned it. But from his mother he had often heard of the special
injury which he had undergone.

"His uncle," she had said, "had given it, and had taken it back
again,--had taken it back that he might waste it on those
Mackenzies."

All this he had heard very often, but he had never known anything of
a deed of gift. Was it not singular, he thought, that the draft of
such a deed should be lying at his foot at this moment.

He showed nothing of this in his face, and still sat there with his
chin resting on his umbrella. But certainly stronger ideas than usual
of the great wrongs which he had suffered did come into his head as
he looked upon the paper at his feet. He began to wonder whether he
would be justified in taking it up and inspecting it. But as he was
thinking of this the pale-faced man rose from his chair, and after
moving among the papers on the ground for an instant, selected this
very document, and carried it with him to his table. Mr Ball, as
his eyes followed the parchment, watched the young man dust it and
open it, and then having flattened it with his hand, glance over it
till he came to a certain spot. The pale-faced clerk, accustomed
to such documents, glanced over the ambages, the "whereases," the
"aforesaids," the rich exuberance of "admors.," "exors.," and
"assigns," till he deftly came to the pith of the matter, and then
he began to make extracts, a date here and a date there. John Ball
watched him all the time, till the door was opened, and old Mr Slow
himself appeared in the room.

He stepped across the papers to shake hands with his client, and then
shook hands also with Mr Ball, whom he knew. His eye glanced at once
down to the box, and after that over towards the pale-faced clerk.
Mr Ball perceived that the attorney had joined in his own mind the
operation that was going on with these special documents, and the
presence of these two special visitors; and that he, in some measure,
regretted the coincidence. There was something wrong, and John Ball
began to consider whether the old lawyer could be an old scoundrel.
Some lawyers, he knew, were desperate scoundrels. He said nothing,
however; but, obeying Mr Slow's invitation, followed him and his
cousin into the sanctum sanctorum of the chambers.

"They didn't tell me you were here at first," said the lawyer, in a
tone of vexation, "or I wouldn't have had you shown in there."

John Ball thought that this was, doubtless, true, and that very
probably they might not have been put in among those papers had Mr
Slow known what was being done.

"The truth is," continued the lawyer, "the Duke of F----'s man of
business was with me, and they did not like to interrupt me."

Mr Slow was a grey-haired old man, nearer eighty than seventy,
who, with the exception of a fortnight's holiday every year which
he always spent at Margate, had attended those same chambers in
Lincoln's Inn Fields daily for the last sixty years. He was a stout,
thickset man, very leisurely in all his motions, who walked slowly,
talked slowly, read slowly, wrote slowly, and thought slowly; but
who, nevertheless, had the reputation of doing a great deal of
business, and doing it very well. He had a partner in the business,
almost as old as himself, named Bideawhile; and they who knew them
both used to speculate which of the two was the most leisurely. It
was, however, generally felt that, though Mr Slow was the slowest in
his speech, Mr Bideawhile was the longest in getting anything said.
Mr Slow would often beguile his time with unnecessary remarks; but Mr
Bideawhile was so constant in beguiling his time, that men wondered
how, in truth, he ever did anything at all. Of both of them it may be
said that no men stood higher in their profession, and that Mr Ball's
suspicions, had they been known in the neighbourhood of Lincoln's
Inn, would have been scouted as utterly baseless. And, for the
comfort of my readers, let me assure them that they were utterly
baseless. There might, perhaps, have been a little vanity about Mr
Slow as to the names of his aristocratic clients; but he was an
honest, painstaking man, who had ever done his duty well by those who
had employed him.

Is it not remarkable that the common repute which we all give to
attorneys in the general is exactly opposite to that which every man
gives to his own attorney in particular? Whom does anybody trust so
implicitly as he trusts his own attorney? And yet is it not the case
that the body of attorneys is supposed to be the most roguish body in
existence?

The old man seemed now to be a little fretful, and said something
more about his sorrow at their having been sent into that room.

"We are so crowded," he said, "that we hardly know how to stir
ourselves."

Miss Mackenzie said it did not signify in the least. Mr Ball said
nothing, but seated himself with his chin again resting on his
umbrella.

"I was so sorry to see in the papers an account of your brother's
death," said Mr Slow.

"Yes, Mr Slow; he has gone, and left a wife and very large family."

"I hope they are provided for, Miss Mackenzie."

"No, indeed; they are not provided for at all. My brother had not
been fortunate in business."

"And yet he went into it with a large capital,--with a large capital
in such a business as that."

John Ball, with his chin on the umbrella, said nothing. He said
nothing, but he winced as he thought whence the capital had come. And
he thought, too, of those much-meaning words: "Jonathan Ball to John
Ball, junior--Deed of gift."

"He had been unfortunate," said Miss Mackenzie, in an apologetic
tone.

"And what will you do about your loan?" said Mr Slow, looking over
to John Ball when he asked the question, as though inquiring whether
all Miss Mackenzie's affairs were to be talked over openly in the
presence of that gentleman.

"That was a gift," said Miss Mackenzie.

"A deed of gift," thought John Ball to himself. "A deed of gift!"

"Oh, indeed! Then there's an end of that, I suppose," said Mr Slow.

"Exactly so. I have been explaining to my cousin all about it. I hope
the firm will be able to pay my sister-in-law the interest on it, but
that does not seem sure."

"I am afraid I cannot help you there, Miss Mackenzie."

"Of course not. I was not thinking of it. But what I've come about is
this." Then she told Mr Slow the whole of her project with reference
to her fortune; how, on his death-bed, she had promised to give half
of all that she had to her brother's wife and family, and how she had
come there to him, with her cousin, in order that he might put her in
the way of keeping her promise.

Mr Slow sat in silence and patiently heard her to the end. She,
finding herself thus encouraged to speak, expatiated on the solemnity
of her promise, and declared that she could not be comfortable till
she had done all that she had undertaken to perform. "And I shall
have quite enough for myself afterwards, Mr Slow, quite enough."

Mr Slow did not say a word till she had done, and even then he
seemed to delay his speech. John Ball never raised his face from his
umbrella, but sat looking at the lawyer, whom he still suspected of
roguery. And if the lawyer were a rogue, what then about his cousin?
It must not be supposed that he suspected her; but what would come of
her, if the fortune she held were, in truth, not her own?

"I have told my cousin all about it," continued Margaret, "and I
believe that he thinks I am doing right. At any rate, I would do
nothing without his knowing it."

"I think she is giving her sister-in-law too much," said John Ball.

"I am only doing what I promised," urged Margaret.

"I think that the money which she lent to the firm should, at any
rate, be deducted," said John Ball, speaking this with a kind of
proviso to himself, that the words so spoken were intended to be
taken as having any meaning only on the presumption that that
document which he had seen in the other room should turn out to be
wholly inoperative and inefficient at the present moment. In answer
to these side-questions or corollary points as to the deduction or
non-deduction of the loan, Mr Slow answered not a word; but when
there was silence between them, he did make answer as to the original
proposition.

"Miss Mackenzie," he said, "I think you had better postpone doing
anything in this matter for the present."

"Why postpone it?" said she.

"Your brother's death is very recent. It happened not above a
fortnight since, I think."

"And I want to have this settled at once, so that there shall be no
distress. What's the good of waiting?"

"Such things want thinking of, Miss Mackenzie."

"But I have thought of it. All I want now is to have it done."

A slight smile came across the puckered grey face of the lawyer as he
felt the imperative nature of the instruction given to him. The lady
had come there not to be advised, but to have her work done for her
out of hand. But the smile was very melancholy, and soon passed away.

"Is the widow in immediate distress?" asked Mr Slow.

Now the fact was that Miss Mackenzie herself had been in good funds,
having had ready money in her hands from the time of her brother
Walter's death; and for the last year she had by no means spent her
full income. She had, therefore, given her sister-in-law money, and
had paid the small debts which had come in, as such small debts will
come in, directly the dead man's body was under ground. Nay, some had
come in and had been paid while the man was yet dying. She exclaimed,
therefore, that her sister-in-law was not absolutely in immediate
want.

"And does she keep the house?" asked the lawyer.

Then Miss Mackenzie explained that Mrs Tom intended, if possible, to
keep the house, and to take some lady in to lodge with her.

"Then there cannot be any immediate hurry," urged the lawyer; "and
as the sum of money in question is large, I really think the matter
should be considered."

But Miss Mackenzie still pressed it. She was very anxious to make him
understand--and of course he did understand at once--that she had
no wish to hurry him in his work. All that she required of him was
an assurance that he accepted her instructions, and that the thing
should be done with not more than the ordinary amount of legal delay.

"You can pay her what you like out of your own income," said the
lawyer.

"But that is not what I promised," said Margaret Mackenzie.

Then there was silence among them all. Mr Ball had said very little
since he had been sitting in that room, and now it was not he who
broke the silence. He was still thinking of that deed of gift, and
wondering whether it had anything to do with Mr Slow's unwillingness
to undertake the commission which Margaret wished to give him. At
last Mr Slow got up from his chair, and spoke as follows:

"Mr Ball, I hope you will excuse me; but I have a word or two to say
to Miss Mackenzie, which I had rather say to her alone."

"Certainly," said Mr Ball, rising and preparing to go.

"You will wait for me, John," said Miss Mackenzie, asking this favour
of him as though she were very anxious that he should grant it.

Mr Slow said that he might be closeted with Miss Mackenzie for some
little time, perhaps for a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes. John
Ball looked at his watch, and then at his cousin's face, and then
promised that he would wait. Mr Slow himself took him into the outer
office, and then handed him a chair; but he observed that he was not
allowed to go back into the waiting-room.

There he waited for three-quarters of an hour, constantly looking at
his watch, and thinking more and more about that deed of gift. Surely
it must be the case that the document which he had seen had some
reference to this great delay. At last he heard a door open, and a
step along a passage, and then another door was opened, and Mr Slow
reappeared with Margaret Mackenzie behind him. John Ball's eyes
immediately fell on his cousin's face, and he could see that it was
very pale. The lawyer's wore that smile which men put on when they
wish to cover the disagreeable seriousness of the moment.

"Good morning, Miss Mackenzie," said he, pressing his client's hand.

"Good morning, sir," said she.

The lawyer and Mr Ball then touched each other's hands, and the
former followed his cousin down the steps out into the square.



CHAPTER XVIII

Tribulation


When they were once more out in the square, side by side, Miss
Mackenzie took hold of her cousin's arm and walked on for a few steps
in silence, in the direction of Great Queen Street--that is to say,
away from the city, towards which she knew her cousin would go in
pursuit of his own business. And indeed the hour was now close at
hand in which he should be sitting as a director at the Shadrach
Fire Assurance Office. If not at the Shadrach by two, or, with all
possible allowance for the shortcoming of a generally punctual
director, by a quarter past two, he would be too late for his guinea;
and now, as he looked at his watch, it wanted only ten minutes to
two. He was very particular about these guineas, and the chambers of
the Shadrach were away in Old Broad Street. Nevertheless he walked on
with her.

"John," she said, when they had walked half the length of that side
of the square, "I have heard dreadful news."

Then that deed of gift was, after all, a fact; and Mr Slow, instead
of being a rogue, must be the honestest old lawyer in London! He must
have been at work in discovering the wrong that had been done, and
was now about to reveal it to the world. Some such idea as this had
glimmered across Mr Ball's mind as he had sat in Mr Slow's outer
office, with his chin still resting on his umbrella.

But though some such idea as this did cross his mind, his thought on
the instant was of his cousin.

"What dreadful news, Margaret?"

"It is about my money."

"Stop a moment, Margaret. Are you sure that you ought to tell it to
me?"

"If I don't, to whom shall I tell it? And how can I bear it without
telling it to some one?"

"Did Mr Slow bid you speak of it to me?"

"No; he bade me think much of it before I did so, as you are
concerned. And he said that you might perhaps be disappointed."

Then they walked on again in silence. John Ball found his position
to be very difficult, and hardly knew how to speak to her, or how to
carry himself. If it was to be that this money was to come back to
him; if it was his now in spite of all that had come and gone; if the
wrong done was to be righted, and the property wrested from him was
to be restored,--restored to him who wanted it so sorely,--how could
he not triumph in such an act of tardy restitution? He remembered all
the particulars at this moment. Twelve thousand pounds of his uncle
Jonathan's money had gone to Walter Mackenzie. The sum once intended
for him had been much more than that,--more he believed than double
that; but if twelve thousand pounds was now restored to him, how
different would it make the whole tenor of his life; Mr Slow said
that he might be disappointed; but then Mr Slow was not his lawyer.
Did he not owe it to his family immediately to go to his own
attorney? Now he thought no more of his guinea at the Shadrach, but
walked on by his cousin's side with his mind intently fixed on his
uncle's money. She was still leaning on his arm.

"Tell me, John, what shall I do?" said she, looking up into his face.

Would it not be better for them, better for the interests of them
both, that they should be separated? Was it probable, or possible,
that with interests so adverse, they should give each other good
advice? Did it not behove him to explain to her that till this should
be settled between them, they must necessarily regard each other as
enemies? For a moment or two he wished himself away from her, and was
calculating how he might escape. But then, when he looked down at
her, and saw the softness of her eye, and felt the confidence implied
in the weight of her hand upon his arm, his hard heart was softened,
and he relented.

"It is difficult to tell you what you should do," he said. "At
present nothing seems to be known. He has said nothing for certain."

"But I could understand him," she said, in reply; "I could see by
his face, and I knew by the tone of his voice, that he was almost
certain. I know that he is sure of it. John, I shall be a beggar, an
absolute beggar! I shall have nothing; and those poor children will
be beggars, and their mother. I feel as though I did not know where I
am, or what I am doing."

Then an idea came into his head. If this money was not hers, it was
his. If it was not his, then it was hers. Would it not be well that
they should solve all the difficulty by agreeing then and there to be
man and wife? It was true that since his Rachel's death he had seen
no woman whom he so much coveted to have in his home as this one who
now leaned on his arm. But, as he thought of it, there seemed to be
a romance about such a step which would not befit him. What would
his mother and father say to him if, after all his troubles, he was
at last to marry a woman without a farthing? And then, too, would
she consent to give up all further consideration for her brother's
family? Would she agree to abandon her idea of assisting them, if
ultimately it should turn out that the property was hers? No; there
was certainly a looseness about such a plan which did not befit him;
and, moreover, were he to attempt it, he would probably not succeed.

But something must be done, now at this moment. The guinea at the
Shadrach was gone for ever, and therefore he could devote himself for
the day to his cousin.

"Are you to hear again from Mr Slow?" he said.

"I am to go to him this day week."

"And then it will be decided?"

"John, it is decided now; I am sure of it. I feel that it is all
gone. A careful man like that would never have spoken as he did,
unless he was sure. It will be all yours, John."

"So would have been that which your brother had," said he.

"I suppose so. It is dreadful to think of; very dreadful. I can only
promise that I will spend nothing till it is decided. John, I wish
you would take from me what I have, lest it should go." And she
absolutely had her hand upon her purse in her pocket.

"No," said he slowly, "no; you need think of nothing of that sort."

"But what am I to do? Where am I to go while this week passes by?"

"You will stay where you are, of course."

"Oh John! if you could understand! How am I to look my aunt in the
face. Don't you know that she would not wish to have me there at all
if I was a poor creature without anything?" The poor creature did not
know herself how terribly heavy was the accusation she was bringing
against her aunt. "And what will she say when she knows that the
money I have spent has never really been my own?"

Then he counselled her to say nothing about it to her aunt till after
her next visit to Mr Slow's and made her understand that he, himself,
would not mention the subject at the Cedars till the week was passed.
He should go, he said, to his own lawyer, and tell him the whole
story as far as he knew it. It was not that he in the least doubted
Mr Slow's honesty or judgment, but it would be better that the two
should act together. Then when the week was over, he and Margaret
would once more go to Lincoln's Inn Fields.

"What a week I shall have!" said she.

"It will be a nervous time for us both," he answered.

"And what must I do after that?" This question she asked, not in the
least as desirous of obtaining from him any assurance of assistance,
but in the agony of her spirit, and in sheer dismay as to her
prospects.

"We must hope for the best," he said. "God tempers the wind to the
shorn lamb." He had often thought of the way in which he had been
shorn, but he did not, at this moment, remember that the shearing had
never been so tempered as to be acceptable to his own feelings.

"And in God only can I trust," she answered. As she said this, her
mind went away to Littlebath, and the Stumfoldians, and Mr Maguire.
Was there not great mercy in the fact, that this ruin had not found
her married to that unfortunate clergyman? And what would they all
say at Littlebath when they heard the story? How would Mrs Stumfold
exult over the downfall of the woman who had rebelled against her!
how would the nose of the coachmaker's wife rise in the air! and how
would Mr Maguire rejoice that this great calamity had not fallen upon
him! Margaret Mackenzie's heart and spirit had been sullied by no
mean feeling with reference to her own wealth. It had never puffed
her up with exultation. But she calculated on the meanness of others,
as though it was a matter of course, not, indeed, knowing that it was
meanness, or blaming them in any way for that which she attributed to
them. Four gentlemen had wished to marry her during the past year. It
never occurred to her now, that any one of these four would on that
account hold out a hand to help her. In losing her money she would
have lost all that was desirable in their eyes, and this seemed to
her to be natural.

They were still walking round Lincoln's Inn Fields. "John," she
exclaimed suddenly, "I must go to them in Gower Street."

"What, now, to-day?"

"Yes, now, immediately. You need not mind me; I can get back to
Twickenham by myself. I know the trains."

"If I were you, Margaret, I would not go till all this is decided."

"It is decided, John; I know it is. And how can I leave them in such
a condition, spending money which they will never get? They must know
it some time, and the sooner the better. Mr Rubb must know it too. He
must understand that he is more than ever bound to provide them with
an income out of the business."

"I would not do it to-day if I were you."

"But I must, John; this very day. If I am not home by dinner, tell
them that I had to go to Gower Street. I shall at any rate be there
in the evening. Do not you mind coming back with me."

They were then at the gate leading into the New Square, and she
turned abruptly round, and hurried away from him up into Holborn,
passing very near to Mr Slow's chambers. John Ball did not attempt
to follow her, but stood there awhile looking after her. He felt,
in his heart, and knew by his judgment, that she was a good woman,
true, unselfish, full of love, clever too in her way, quick in
apprehension, and endowed with an admirable courage. He had heard her
spoken of at the Cedars as a poor creature who had money. Nay, he
himself had taken a part in so speaking of her. Now she had no money,
but he knew well that she was a creature the very reverse of poor.
What should he do for her? In what way should he himself behave
towards her? In the early days of his youth, before the cares of the
world had made him hard, he had married his Rachel without a penny,
and his father had laughed at him, and his mother had grieved over
him. Tough and hard, and careworn as he was now, defiled by the price
of stocks, and saturated with the poison of the money market, then
there had been in him a touch of romance and a dash of poetry, and
he had been happy with his Rachel. Should he try it again now? The
woman would surely love him when she found that he came to her in her
poverty as he had before come to her in her wealth. He watched her
till she passed out of his sight along the wall leading to Holborn,
and then he made his way to the City through Lincoln's Inn and
Chancery Lane.

Margaret walked straight into Holborn, and over it towards Red Lion
Square. She crossed the line of the omnibuses, feeling that now she
must spend no penny which she could save. She was tired, for she had
already walked much that morning, and the day was close and hot;
but nevertheless she went on quickly, through Bloomsbury Square and
Russell Square, to Gower Street. As she got near to the door her
heart almost failed her; but she went up to it and knocked boldly.
The thing should be done, let the pain of doing it be what it might.

"Laws, Miss Margaret! is that you?" said the maid. "Yes, missus is
at home. She'll see you, of course, but she's hard at work on the
furniture."

Then she went directly up into the drawing-room and there she found
her sister-in-law, with her dress tucked up to her elbows, with a
cloth in her hand, rubbing the chairs.

"What, Margaret! Whoever expected to see you? If we are to let the
rooms, it's as well to have the things tidy, isn't it? Besides, a
person bears it all the better when there's anything to do."

Then Mary Jane, the eldest daughter, came in from the bedroom behind
the drawing-room, similarly armed for work.

Margaret sat down wearily upon the sofa, having muttered some word
in answer to Mrs Tom's apology for having been found at work so soon
after her husband's death.

"Sarah," she said, "I have come to you to-day because I had something
to say to you about business."

"Oh, to be sure! I never thought for a moment you had come for
pleasure, or out of civility, as it might be. Of course I didn't
expect that when I saw you."

"Sarah, will you come upstairs with me into your own room?"

"Upstairs, Margaret? Oh yes, if you please. We shall be down
directly, my dear, and I dare say Margaret will stay to tea. We tea
early, because, since you went, we have dined at one."

Then Mrs Tom led the way up to the room in which Margaret had watched
by her dying brother's bed-side.

"I'm come in here," said Mrs Tom, again apologising, "because the
children had to come out of the room behind the drawing-room. Miss
Colza is staying with us, and she and Mary Jane have your room."

Margaret did not care much for all this; but the solemnity of the
chamber in which, when she last saw it, her brother's body was lying,
added something to her sadness at the moment.

"Sarah," she said, endeavouring to warn her sister-in-law by the tone
of her voice that her news was bad news, "I have just come from Mr
Slow."

"He's the lawyer, isn't he?"

"Yes, he's the lawyer. You know what I promised my brother. I went to
him to make arrangements for doing it, and when there I heard--oh,
Sarah, such dreadful news!"

"He says you're not to do it, I suppose!" And in the woman's voice
and eyes there were signs of anger, not against Mr Slow alone, but
also against Miss Mackenzie. "I knew how it would be. But, Margaret,
Mr Slow has got nothing to do with it. A promise is a promise; and a
promise made to a dying man! Oh, Margaret!"

"If I had it to give I would give it as surely as I am standing here.
When I told my brother it should be so, he believed me at once."

"Of course he believed you."

"But Sarah, they tell me now that I have nothing to give."

"Who tells you so?"

"The lawyer. I cannot explain it all to you; indeed, I do not as
yet understand it myself; but I have learned this morning that the
property which Walter left me was not his to leave. It had been given
away before Mr Jonathan Ball died."

"It's a lie!" said the injured woman,--the woman who was the least
injured, but who, with her children, had perhaps the best excuse for
being ill able to bear the injury. "It must be a lie. It's more than
twenty years ago. I don't believe and won't believe that it can be
so. John Ball must have something to do with this."

"The property will go to him, but he has had nothing to do with it.
Mr Slow found it out."

"It can't be so, not after twenty years. Whatever they may have done
from Walter, they can't take it away from you; not if you've spirit
enough to stand up for your rights. If you let them take it in that
way, I can't tell you what I shall think of you."

"It is my own lawyer that says so."

"Yes, Mr Slow; the biggest rogue of them all. I always knew that of
him, always. Oh, Margaret, think of the children! What are we to do?
What are we to do?" And sitting down on the bedside, she put her
dirty apron up to her eyes.

"I have been thinking of them ever since I heard it," said Margaret.

"But what good will thinking do? You must do something. Oh! Margaret,
after all that you said to him when he lay there dying!" and the
woman, with some approach to true pathos, put her hand on the spot
where her husband's head had rested. "Don't let his children come
to beggary because men like that choose to rob the widow and the
orphan."

"Every one has a right to what is his own," said Margaret. "Even
though widows should be beggars, and orphans should want."

"That's very well of you, Margaret. It's very well for you to say
that, who have friends like the Balls to stand by you. And, perhaps,
if you will let him have it all without saying anything, he will
stand by you firmer than ever. But who is there to stand by me and
my children? It can't be that after twenty years your fortune should
belong to anyone else. Why should it have gone on for more than
twenty years, and nobody have found it out? I don't believe it can
come so, Margaret, unless you choose to let them do it. I don't
believe a word of it."

There was nothing more to be said upon that subject at present. Mrs
Tom did indeed say a great deal more about it, sometimes threatening
Margaret, and sometimes imploring her; but Miss Mackenzie herself
would not allow herself to speak of the thing otherwise than as an
ascertained fact. Had the other woman been more reasonable or less
passionate in her lamentations Miss Mackenzie might have trusted
herself to tell her that there was yet a doubt. But she herself felt
that the doubt was so small, and that, in Mrs Tom's mind, it would
be so magnified into nearly a certainty on the other side, that
she thought it most discreet not to refer to the exact amount of
information which Mr Slow had given to her.

"It will be best for us to think, Sarah," she said, trying to turn
the other's mind away from the coveted income which she would never
possess--"to think what you and the children had better do."

"Oh, dear! oh, dear! oh, dear!"

"It is very bad; but there is always something to be done. We must
lose no time in letting Mr Rubb know the truth. When he hears how it
is, he will understand that something must be done for you out of the
firm."

"He won't do anything. He's downstairs now, flirting with that girl
in the drawing-room, instead of being at his business."

"If he's downstairs, I will see him."

As Mrs Mackenzie made no objection to this, Margaret went downstairs,
and when she came near the passage at the bottom, she heard the
voices of people talking merrily in the parlour. As her hand was
on the lock of the door, words from Miss Colza became very audible.
"Now, Mr Rubb, be quiet." So she knocked at the door, and having been
invited by Mr Rubb to come in, she opened it.

It may be presumed that the flirting had not gone to any perilous
extent, as there were three or four children present. Nevertheless
Miss Colza and Mr Rubb were somewhat disconcerted, and expressed
their surprise at seeing Miss Mackenzie.

"We all thought you were staying with the baronet's lady," said Miss
Colza.

Miss Mackenzie explained that she was staying at Twickenham, but that
she had come up to pay a visit to her sister-in-law. "And I've a word
or two I want to say to you, Mr Rubb, if you'll allow me."

"I suppose, then, I'd better make myself scarce," said Miss Colza.

As she was not asked to stay, she did make herself scarce, taking the
children with her up among the tables and chairs in the drawing-room.
There she found Mary Jane, but she did not find Mrs Mackenzie, who
had thrown herself on the bed in her agony upstairs.

Then Miss Mackenzie told her wretched story to Mr Rubb,--telling it
for the third time. He was awe-struck as he listened, but did not
once attempt to deny the facts, as had been done by Mrs Mackenzie.

"And is it sure?" he asked, when her story was over.

"I don't suppose it is quite sure yet. Indeed, Mr Slow said it was
not quite sure. But I have not allowed myself to doubt it, and I do
not doubt it."

"If he himself had not felt himself sure, he would not have told
you."

"Just so, Mr Rubb. That is what I think; and therefore I have given
my sister-in-law no hint that there is a chance left. I think you had
better not do so either."

"Perhaps not," said he. He spoke in a low voice, almost whispering,
as though he were half scared by the tidings he had heard.

"It is very dreadful," she said; "very dreadful for Sarah and the
children."

"And for you too, Miss Mackenzie."

"But about them, Mr Rubb. What can you do for them out of the
business?"

He looked very blank, and made no immediate answer.

"I know you will feel for their position," she said. "You do; do you
not?"

"Indeed I do, Miss Mackenzie."

"And you will do what you can. You can at any rate ensure them the
interest of the money--of the money you know that came from me."

Still Mr Rubb sat in silence, and she thought that he must be
stonyhearted. Surely he might undertake to do that, knowing, as he so
well knew, the way in which the money had been obtained, and knowing
also that he had already said that so much should be forthcoming out
of the firm to make up a general income for the family of his late
partner.

"Surely there will be no doubt about that, Mr Rubb."

"The Balls will claim the debt," said he hoarsely; and then, in
answer to her inquiries, he explained that the sum she had lent
had not, in truth, been hers to lend. It had formed part of the
money that John Ball could claim, and Mr Slow held in his hands an
acknowledgement of the debt from Rubb and Mackenzie. Of course, Mr
Ball would claim that the interest should be paid to him; and he
would claim the principal too, if, on inquiry, he should find that
the firm would be able to raise it. "I don't know that he wouldn't be
able to come upon the firm for the money your brother put into the
business," said he gloomily. "But I don't think he'll be such a fool
as that. He'd get nothing by it."

"Then may God help them!" said Miss Mackenzie.

"And what will you do?" he asked.

She shook her head, but made him no answer. As for herself she had
not begun to form a plan. Her own condition did not seem to her to be
nearly so dreadful as that of all these young children.

"I wish I knew how to help you," said Samuel Rubb.

"There are some positions, Mr Rubb, in which no one but God can
help one. But, perhaps--perhaps you may still do something for the
children."

"I will try, Miss Mackenzie."

"Thank you, and may God bless you; and He will bless you if you try.
'Who giveth a drop of water to one of them in my name, giveth it also
to me.' You will think of that, will you not?"

"I will think of you, and do the best that I can."

"I had hoped to have made them so comfortable! But God's will be
done; God's will be done. I think I had better go now, Mr Rubb. There
will be no use in my going to her upstairs again. Tell her from me,
with my love, that she shall hear from me when I have seen the
lawyer. I will try to come to her, but perhaps I may not be able.
Good-bye, Mr Rubb."

"Good-bye, Miss Mackenzie. I hope we shall see each other sometimes."

"Perhaps so. Do what you can to support her. She will want all that
her friends can do for her." So saying she went out of the room, and
let herself out of the front door into the street, and began her walk
back to the Waterloo Station.

She had not broken bread in her sister-in-law's house, and it was now
nearly six o'clock. She had taken nothing since she had breakfasted
at Twickenham, and the affairs of the day had been such as to give
her but little time to think of such wants. But now as she made her
weary way through the streets she became sick with hunger, and went
into a baker's shop for a bun. As she ate it she felt that it was
almost wrong in her to buy even that. At the present moment nothing
that she possessed seemed to her to be, by right, her own. Every
shilling in her purse was the property of John Ball, if Mr Slow's
statement were true. Then, when the bun was finished, as she went
down by Bloomsbury church and the region of St Giles's back to the
Strand, she did begin to think of her own position. What should she
do, and how should she commence to do it? She had declared to herself
but lately that the work for which she was fittest was that of
nursing the sick. Was it not possible that she might earn her bread
in this way? Could she not find such employment in some quarter where
her labour would be worth the food she must eat and the raiment she
would require? There was a hospital somewhere in London with which
she thought she had heard that John Ball was connected. Might not he
obtain for her a situation such as that?

It was past eight when she reached the Cedars, and then she was very
tired,--very tired and nearly sick also with want. She went first
of all up to her room, and then crept down into the drawing-room,
knowing that she should find them at tea. When she entered there was
a large party round the table, consisting of the girls and children
and Lady Ball. John Ball, who never took tea, was sitting in his
accustomed place near the lamp, and the old baronet was half asleep
in his arm-chair.

"If you were going to dine in Gower Street, Margaret, why didn't you
say so?" said Lady Ball.

In answer to this, Margaret burst out into tears. It was not the
unkindness of her aunt's voice that upset her so much as her own
weakness, and the terrible struggle of the long day.

"What on earth is the matter?" said Sir John.

One of the girls brought her a cup of tea, but she felt herself to be
too weak to take it in her hand, and made a sign that it should be
put on the table. She was not aware that she had ever fainted, but a
fear came upon her that she might do so now. She rallied herself and
struggled, striving to collect her strength.

"Do you know what is the matter with her, John?" said Lady Ball.

Then John Ball asked her if she had had dinner, and when she did not
answer him he saw how it was.

"Mother," he said, "she has had no food all day; I will get it for
her."

"If she wants anything, the servants can bring it to her, John," said
the mother.

But he would not trust the servants in this matter, but went out
himself and fetched her meat and wine, and pressed her to take it,
and sat himself beside her, and spoke kind words into her ear, and at
last, in some sort, she was comforted.



CHAPTER XIX

Showing How Two of Miss Mackenzie's Lovers Behaved


Mr Ball, on his return home to the Cedars, had given no definite
answer to his mother's inquiries as to the day's work in London, and
had found it difficult to make any reply to her that would for the
moment suffice. She was not a woman easily satisfied with evasive
answers; but, nevertheless, he told her nothing of what had occurred,
and left her simply in a bad humour. This conversation had taken
place before dinner, but after dinner she asked him another question.

"John, you might as well tell me this; are you engaged to Margaret
Mackenzie?"

"No, I am not," said her son, angrily.

After that his mother's humour had become worse than before, and in
that state her niece had found her when she returned home in the
evening, and had suffered in consequence.

On the next morning Miss Mackenzie sent down word to say she was
not well, and would not come down to breakfast. It so happened that
John Ball was going into town on this day also, the Abednego Life
Office holding its board day immediately after that of the Shadrach
Fire Office, and therefore he was not able to see her before she
encountered his mother. Lady Ball went up to her in her bedroom
immediately after breakfast, and there remained with her for some
time. Her aunt at first was tender with her, giving her tea and only
asking her gentle little questions at intervals; but as the old
lady became impatient at learning nothing, she began a system of
cross-questions, and at last grew to be angry and disagreeable. Her
son had distinctly told her that he was not engaged to his cousin,
and had in fact told her nothing else distinctly; but she, when
she had seen how careful he had been in supplying Margaret's wants
himself, with what anxious solicitude he had pressed wine on her;
how he had sat by her saying soft words to her--Lady Ball, when she
remembered this, could not but think that her son had deceived her.
And if so, why had he wished to deceive her? Could it be that he had
allowed her to give away half her money, and had promised to marry
her with the other half? There were moments in which her dear son
John could be very foolish, in spite of that life-long devotion
to the price of stocks, for which he was conspicuous. She still
remembered, as though it were but the other day, how he had persisted
in marrying Rachel, though Rachel brought nothing with her but a
sweet face, a light figure, a happy temper, and the clothes on her
back. To all mothers their sons are ever young, and to old Lady Ball
John Ball was still young, and still, possibly, capable of some such
folly as that of which she was thinking. If it were not so, if there
were not something of that kind in the wind why should he--why should
she--be so hard and uncommunicative in all their answers? There lay
her niece, however, sick with the headache, and therefore weak, and
very much in Lady Ball's power. The evil to be done was great, and
the necessity for preventing it might be immediate. And Lady Ball
was a lady who did not like to be kept in the dark in reference to
anything concerning her family. Having gone downstairs, therefore,
for an hour or so to look after her servants, or, as she had said,
to allow Margaret to have a little sleep, she returned again to the
charge, and sitting close to Margaret's pillow, did her best to find
out the truth.

If she could only have known the whole truth; how her son's thoughts
were running throughout the day, even as he sat at the Abednego
board, not on Margaret with half her fortune, but on Margaret with
none! how he was recalling the sweetness of her face as she looked up
to him in the square, and took him by his coat, and her tears as she
spoke of the orphan children, and the grace of her figure as she had
walked away from him, and the persistency of her courage in doing
what she thought to be right! how he was struggling within himself
with an endeavour, a vain endeavour, at a resolution that such a
marriage as that must be out of the question! Had Lady Ball known all
that, I think she would have flown to the offices of the Abednego
after her son, and never have left him till she had conquered his
heart and trampled his folly under her feet.

But she did not conquer Margaret Mackenzie. The poor creature lying
there, racked, in truth, with pain and sorrow, altogether incapable
of any escape from her aunt's gripe, would not say a word that might
tend to ease Lady Ball's mind. If she had told all that she knew, all
that she surmised, how would her aunt have rejoiced? That the money
should come without the wife would indeed have been a triumph! And
Margaret in telling all would have had nothing to tell of those
terribly foolish thoughts which were then at work in the City. To her
such a state of things as that which I have hinted would have seemed
quite as improbable, quite as unaccountable, as it would have done
to her aunt. But she did not tell all, nor in truth did she tell
anything.

"And John was with you at the lawyer's," said Lady Ball, attempting
her cross-examination for the third time. "Yes; he was with me
there."

"And what did he say when you asked Mr Slow to make such a settlement
as that?"

"He didn't say anything, aunt. The whole thing was put off."

"I know it was put off; of course it was put off. I didn't suppose
any respectable lawyer in London would have dreamed of doing such a
thing. But what I want to know is, how it was put off. What did Mr
Slow say?"

"I am to see him again next week."

"But not to get him to do anything of that kind?"

"I can't tell, aunt, what he is to do then."

"But what did he say when you made such a proposition as that? Did he
not tell you that it was quite out of the question?"

"I don't think he said that, aunt."

"Then what did he say? Margaret, I never saw such a person as you
are. Why should you be so mysterious? There can't be anything you
don't want me to know, seeing how very much I am concerned; and I do
think you ought to tell me all that occurred, knowing, as you do,
that I have done my very best to be kind to you."

"Indeed there isn't anything I can tell--not yet."

Then Lady Ball remained silent at the bed-head for the space,
perhaps, of ten minutes, meditating over it all. If her son was, in
truth, engaged to this woman, at any rate she would find that out. If
she asked a point-blank question on that subject, Margaret would not
be able to leave it unanswered, and would hardly be able to give a
directly false answer.

"My dear," she said, "I think you will not refuse to tell me plainly
whether there is anything between you and John. As his mother, I have
a right to know?"

"How anything between us?" said Margaret, raising herself on her
elbow.

"Are you engaged to marry him?"

"Oh, dear! no."

"And there is nothing of that sort going on?"

"Nothing at all."

"You are determined still to refuse him?"

"It is quite out of the question, aunt. He does not wish it at all.
You may be sure that he has quite changed his mind about it."

"But he won't have changed his mind if you have given up your plan
about your sister-in-law."

"He has changed it altogether, aunt. You needn't think anything more
about that. He thinks no more about it."

Nevertheless he was thinking about it this very moment, as he voted
for accepting a doubtful life at the Abednego, which was urged on the
board by a director, who, I hope, had no intimate personal relations
with the owner of the doubtful life in question.

Lady Ball did not know what to make of it. For many years past she
had not seen her son carry himself so much like a lover as he had
done when he sat himself beside his cousin pressing her to drink
her glass of sherry. Why was he so anxious for her comfort? And why,
before that, had he been so studiously reticent as to her affairs?

"I can't make anything out of you," said Lady Ball, getting up from
her chair with angry alacrity; "and I must say that I think it very
ungrateful of you, seeing all that I have done for you."

So saying, she left the room.

What, oh, what would she think when she should come to know the
truth? Margaret told herself as she lay there, holding her head
between her hands, that she was even now occupying that room and
enjoying the questionable comfort of that bed under false pretences.
When it was known that she was absolutely a pauper, would she then
be made welcome to her uncle's house? She was now remaining there
without divulging her circumstances, under the advice and by the
authority of her cousin; and she had resolved to be guided by him in
all things as long as he would be at the trouble to guide her. On
whom else could she depend? But, nevertheless, her position was very
grievous to her, and the more so now that her aunt had twitted her
with ingratitude. When the servant came to her, she felt that she
had no right to the girl's services; and when a message was brought
to her from Lady Ball, asking whether she would be taken out in the
carriage, she acknowledged to herself that such courtesy to her was
altogether out of place.

On that evening her cousin said nothing to her, and on the next day
he went again up to town.

"What, four days running, John!" said Lady Ball, at breakfast.

"I have particular business to-day, mother," said he.

On that evening, when he came back, he found a moment to take
Margaret by the hand and tell her that his own lawyer also was to
meet them at Mr Slow's chambers on the day named. He took her thus,
and held her hand closely in his while he was speaking, but he said
nothing to her more tender than the nature of such a communication
required.

"You and John are terribly mysterious," said Lady Ball to her, a
minute or two afterwards. "If there is anything I do hate it's
mystery in families. We never had any with us till you came."

On the next day a letter reached her which had been redirected from
Gower Street. It was from Mr Maguire; and she took it up into her own
room to read it and answer it. The letter and reply were as follows:


   Littlebath, Oct., 186--.

   DEAREST MARGARET,

   I hope the circumstances of the case will, in your
   opinion, justify me in writing to you again, though I am
   sorry to intrude upon you at a time when your heart must
   yet be sore with grief for the loss of your lamented
   brother. Were we now all in all to each other, as I
   hope we may still be before long, it would be my sweet
   privilege to wipe your eyes, and comfort you in your
   sorrow, and bid you remember that it is the Lord who
   giveth and the Lord who taketh away. Blessed be the name
   of the Lord. I do not doubt that you have spoken to
   yourself daily in those words, nay, almost hourly, since
   your brother was taken from you. I had not the privilege
   of knowing him, but if he was in any way like his sister,
   he would have been a friend whom I should have delighted
   to press to my breast and carry in my heart of hearts.

   But now, dearest Margaret, will you allow me to intrude
   upon you with another theme? Of course you well know the
   subject upon which, at present, I am thinking more than on
   any other. May I be permitted to hope that that subject
   sometimes presents itself to you in a light that is not
   altogether disagreeable. When you left Littlebath so
   suddenly, carried away on a mission of love and kindness,
   you left me, as you will doubtlessly remember, in a state
   of some suspense. You had kindly consented to acknowledge
   that I was not altogether indifferent to you.


"That's not true," said Margaret to herself, almost out loud; "I
never told him anything of the kind."


   And it was arranged that on that very day we were to have
   had a meeting, to which--shall I confess it?--I looked
   forward as the happiest moment of my life. I can hardly
   tell you what my feelings were when I found that you were
   going, and that I could only just say to you, farewell. If
   I could only have been with you when that letter came I
   think I could have softened your sorrow, and perhaps then,
   in your gentleness, you might have said a word which would
   have left me nothing to wish for in this world. But it has
   been otherwise ordered, and, Margaret, I do not complain.

   But what makes me write now is the great necessity that
   I should know exactly how I stand. You said something in
   your last dear letter which gave me to understand that you
   wished to do something for your brother's family. Promises
   made by the bed-sides of the dying are always dangerous,
   and in the cases of Roman Catholics have been found to be
   replete with ruin.


Mr Maguire, no doubt, forgot that in such cases the promises are made
by, and not to, the dying person.


   Nevertheless, I am far from saying that they should not
   be kept in a modified form, and you need not for a moment
   think that I, if I may be allowed to have an interest in
   the matter, would wish to hinder you from doing whatever
   may be becoming. I think I may promise you that you will
   find no mercenary spirit in me, although, of course, I am
   bound, looking forward to the tender tie which will, I
   hope, connect us, to regard your interests above all other
   worldly affairs. If I may then say a word of advice, it is
   to recommend that nothing permanent be done till we can
   act together in this matter. Do not, however, suppose that
   anything you can do or have done, can alter the nature of
   my regard.

   But now, dearest Margaret, will you not allow me to press
   for an immediate answer to my appeal? I will tell you
   exactly how I am circumstanced, and then you will see
   how strong is my reason that there should be no delay.
   Very many people here, I may say all the elite of the
   evangelical circles, including Mrs Perch--[Mrs Perch was
   the coachmaker's wife, who had always been so true to Mrs
   Stumfold]--desired that I should establish a church here,
   on my own bottom, quite independent of Mr Stumfold. The
   Stumfolds would then soon have to leave Littlebath, there
   is no doubt of that, and she has already made herself
   so unendurable, and her father and she together are so
   distressing, that the best of their society has fallen
   away from them. Her treatment to you was such that I
   could never endure her afterwards. Now the opening for a
   clergyman with pure Gospel doctrines would be the best
   thing that has turned up for a long time. The church would
   be worth over six hundred a year, besides the interest of
   the money which would have to be laid out. I could have
   all this commenced at once, and secure the incumbency,
   if I could myself head the subscription list with two
   thousand pounds. It should not be less than that. You will
   understand that the money would not be given, though, no
   doubt, a great many persons would, in this way, be induced
   to give theirs. But the pew rents would go in the first
   instance to provide interest for the money not given, but
   lent; as would of course be the case with your money, if
   you would advance it.

   I should not think of such a plan as this if I did not
   feel that it was the best thing for your interests; that
   is, if, as I fondly hope, I am ever to call you mine.
   Of course, in that case, it is only common prudence on
   my part to do all I can to insure for myself such a
   professional income, for your sake. For, dearest Margaret,
   my brightest earthly hope is to see you with everything
   comfortable around you. If that could be arranged, it
   would be quite within our means to keep some sort of
   carriage.


Here would be a fine opportunity for rivalling Mrs Stumfold! That was
the temptation with which he hoped to allure her.


   But the thing must be done quite immediately; therefore
   let me pray you not to postpone my hopes with unnecessary
   delay. I know it seems unromantic to urge a lady with
   any pecuniary considerations, but I think that under the
   circumstances, as I have explained them, you will forgive
   me.

   Believe me to be, dearest Margaret,
   Yours, with truest,
   Most devoted affection,

   JEREH. MAGUIRE.


One man had wanted her money to buy a house on a mortgage, and
another now asked for it to build a church, giving her, or promising
to give her, the security of the pew rents. Which of the two was
the worst? They were both her lovers, and she thought that he was
the worst who first made his love and then tried to get her money.
These were the ideas which at once occurred to her upon her reading
Mr Maguire's letter. She had quite wit enough to see through the
whole project; how outsiders were to be induced to give their
money, thinking that all was to be given; whereas those inside the
temple,--those who knew all about it,--were simply to make for
themselves a good speculation. Her cousin John's constant solicitude
for money was bad; but, after all, it was not so bad as this. She
told herself at once that the letter was one which would of itself
have ended everything between her and Mr Maguire, even had nothing
occurred to put an absolute and imperative stop to the affair. Mr
Maguire pressed for an early answer, and before she left the room she
sat down and wrote it.


   The Cedars, Twickenham, October, 186--.

   DEAR SIR


Before she wrote the words, "Dear Sir," she had to think much of
them, not having had as yet much experience in writing letters to
gentlemen; but she concluded at last that if she simply wrote "Sir,"
he would take it as an insult, and that if she wrote "My dear Mr
Maguire," it would, under the circumstances, be too affectionate.


   DEAR SIR,

   I have got your letter to-day, and I hasten to answer it
   at once. All that to which you allude between us must be
   considered as being altogether over, and I am very sorry
   that you should have had so much trouble. My circumstances
   are altogether changed. I cannot explain how, as it would
   make my letter very long; but you may be assured that such
   is the case, and to so great an extent that the engagement
   you speak of would not at all suit you at present. Pray
   take this as being quite true, and believe me to be

   Your very humble servant,

   MARGARET MACKENZIE.


I feel that the letter was somewhat curt and dry as an answer to
an effusion so full of affection as that which the gentleman had
written; and the fair reader, when she remembers that Miss Mackenzie
had given the gentleman considerable encouragement, will probably
think that she should have expressed something like regret at so
sudden a termination to so tender a friendship. But she, in truth,
regarded the offer as having been made to her money solely, and as
in fact no longer existing as an offer, now that her money itself was
no longer in existence. She was angry with Mr Maguire for the words
he had written about her brother's affairs; for his wish to limit
her kindness to her nephews and nieces, and also for his greediness
in being desirous of getting her money at once; but as to the main
question, she thought herself bound to answer him plainly, as she
would have answered a man who came to buy from her a house, which
house was no longer in her possession.

Mr Maguire when he received her letter, did not believe a word of it.
He did not in the least believe that she had actually lost everything
that had once belonged to her, or that he, if he married her now,
would obtain less than he would have done had he married her before
her brother's death. But he thought that her brother's family and
friends had got hold of her in London; that Mr Rubb might very
probably have done it; and that they were striving to obtain command
of her money, and were influencing her to desert him. He thinking so,
and being a man of good courage, took a resolution to follow his
game, and to see whether even yet he might not obtain the good things
which had made his eyes glisten and his mouth water. He knew that
there was very much against him in the race that he was desirous of
running, and that an heiress with--he did not know how much a year,
but it had been rumoured among the Stumfoldians that it was over
a thousand--might not again fall in his way. There were very many
things against him, of which he was quite conscious. He had not a
shilling of his own, and was in receipt of no professional income. He
was not altogether a young man. There was in his personal appearance
a defect which many ladies might find it difficult to overcome; and
then that little story about his debts, which Miss Todd had picked
up, was not only true, but was some degrees under the truth. No
doubt, he had a great wish that his wife should be comfortable; but
he also, for himself, had long been pining after those eligible
comforts, which when they appertain to clergymen, the world, with so
much malice, persists in calling the flesh-pots of Egypt. Thinking
of all this, of the position he had already gained in spite of his
personal disadvantages, and of the great chance there was that his
Margaret might yet be rescued from the Philistines, he resolved upon
a journey to London.

In the meantime Miss Mackenzie's other lover had not been idle, and
he also was resolved by no means to give up the battle.

It cannot be said that Mr Rubb was not mercenary in his views, but
with his desire for the lady's money was mingled much that was
courageous, and something also that was generous. The whole truth
had been told to him as plainly as it had been told to Mr Ball, and
nevertheless he determined to persevere. He went to work diligently
on that very afternoon, deserting the smiles of Miss Colza, and made
such inquiries into the law of the matter as were possible to him;
and they resulted, as far as Miss Mackenzie was concerned, in his
appearing late one afternoon at the front door of Sir John Ball's
house. On the day following this Miss Mackenzie was to keep her
appointment with Mr Slow, and her cousin was now up in London among
the lawyers.

Miss Mackenzie was sitting with her aunt when Mr Rubb called.
They were both in the drawing-room; and Lady Ball, who had as yet
succeeded in learning nothing, and who was more than ever convinced
that there was much to learn, was not making herself pleasant to her
companion. Throughout the whole week she had been very unpleasant.
She did not quite understand why Margaret's sojourn at the Cedars
had been and was to be so much prolonged. Margaret, feeling herself
compelled to say something on the subject, had with some hesitation
told her aunt that she was staying till she had seen her lawyer
again, because her cousin wished her to stay.

In answer to this, Lady Ball had of course told her that she was
welcome. Her ladyship had then cross-questioned her son on that
subject also, but he had simply said that as there was law business
to be done, Margaret might as well stay at Twickenham till it was
completed.

"But, my dear," Lady Ball had said, "her law business might go on for
ever, for what you know."

"Mother," said the son, sternly, "I wish her to stay here at present,
and I suppose you will not refuse to permit her to do so."

After this, Lady Ball could go no further.

On the day on which Mr Rubb was announced in the drawing-room,
the aunt and niece were sitting together. "Mr Rubb--to see Miss
Mackenzie," said the old servant, as he opened the door.

Miss Mackenzie got up, blushing to her forehead, and Lady Ball rose
from her chair with an angry look, as though asking the oilcloth
manufacturer how he dared to make his way in there. The name of the
Rubbs had been specially odious to all the family at the Cedars since
Tom Mackenzie had carried his share of Jonathan Ball's money into the
firm in the New Road. And Mr Rubb's appearance was not calculated to
mitigate this anger. Again he had got on those horrid yellow gloves,
and again had dressed himself up to his idea of the garb of a man of
fashion. To Margaret's eyes, in the midst of her own misfortunes, he
was a thing horrible to behold, as he came into that drawing-room.
When she had seen him in his natural condition, at her brother's
house, he had been at any rate unobjectionable to her; and when,
on various occasions, he had talked to her about his own business,
pleading his own cause and excusing his own fault, she had really
liked him. There had been a moment or two, the moments of his
bitterest confessions, in which she had in truth liked him much. But
now! What would she not have given that the old servant should have
taken upon himself to declare that she was not at home.

But there he was in her aunt's drawing-room, and she had nothing to
do but to ask him to sit down.

"This is my aunt, Lady Ball," said Margaret.

"I hope I have the honour of seeing her ladyship quite well," said Mr
Rubb, bowing low before he ventured to seat himself.

Lady Ball would not condescend to say a word, but stared at him in a
manner that would have driven him out of the room had he understood
the nature of such looks on ladies' faces.

"I hope my sister-in-law and the children are well," said Margaret,
with a violent attempt to make conversation.

"Pretty much as you left them, Miss Mackenzie; she takes on a good
deal; but that's only human nature; eh, my lady?"

But her ladyship still would not condescend to speak a word.

Margaret did not know what further to say. All subjects on which it
might have been possible for her to speak to Mr Rubb were stopped
from her in the presence of her aunt. Mr Rubb knew of that great
calamity of which, as yet, Lady Ball knew nothing,--of that great
calamity to the niece, but great blessing, as it would be thought by
the aunt. And she was in much fear lest Mr Rubb should say something
which might tend to divulge the secret.

"Did you come by the train?" she said, at last, reduced in her agony
to utter the first unmeaning question of which she could think.

"Yes, Miss Mackenzie, I came by the train, and I am going back by the
5.45, if I can just be allowed to say a few words to you first."

"Does the gentleman mean in private?" asked Lady Ball.

"If you please, my lady," said Mr Rubb, who was beginning to think
that he did not like Lady Ball.

"If Miss Mackenzie wishes it, of course she can do so."

"It may be about my brother's affairs," said Margaret, getting up.

"It is nothing to me, my dear, whether they are your brother's or
your own," said Lady Ball; "you had better not interrupt your uncle
in the study; but I daresay you'll find the dining-room disengaged."

So Miss Mackenzie led the way into the dining-room, and Mr Rubb
followed. There they found some of the girls, who stared very hard at
Mr Rubb, as they left the room at their cousin's request. As soon as
they were left alone Mr Rubb began his work manfully.

"Margaret," said he, "I hope you will let me call you so now that you
are in trouble?"

To this she made no answer.

"But perhaps your trouble is over? Perhaps you have found out that it
isn't as you told us the other day?"

"No, Mr Rubb; I have found nothing of that kind; I believe it is as I
told you."

"Then I'll tell you what I propose. You haven't given up the fight,
have you? You have not done anything?"

"I have done nothing as yet."

"Then I'll tell you my plan. Fight it out."

"I do not want to fight for anything that is not my own."

"But it is your own. It is your own of rights, even though it should
not be so by some quibble of the lawyers. I don't believe twelve
Englishmen would be found in London to give it to anybody else; I
don't indeed."

"But my own lawyer tells me it isn't mine, Mr Rubb."

"Never mind him; don't you give up anything. Don't you let them make
you soft. When it comes to money nobody should give up anything. Now
I'll tell you what I propose."

She now sat down and listened to him, while he stood over her. It was
manifest that he was very eager, and in his eagerness he became loud,
so that she feared his words might be heard out of the room.

"You know what my sentiments are," he said. At that moment she did
not remember what his sentiments were, nor did she know what he
meant. "They're the same now as ever. Whether you have got your
fortune, or whether you've got nothing, they're the same. I've
seen you tried alongside of your brother, when he was a-dying, and,
Margaret, I like you now better than ever I did."

"Mr Rubb, at present, all that cannot mean anything."

"But doesn't it mean anything? By Jove! it does though. It means just
this, that I'll make you Mrs Rubb to-morrow, or as soon as Doctors'
Commons, and all that, will let us do it; and I'll chance the money
afterwards. Do you let it just go easy, and say nothing, and I'll
fight them. If the worst comes to the worst, they'll be willing
enough to cry halves with us. But, Margaret, if the worst does come
to be worse than that you won't find me hard to you on that account.
I shall always remember who helped me when I wanted help."

"I am sure, Mr Rubb, I am much obliged to you."

"Don't talk about being obliged, but get up and give me your hand,
and say it shall be a bargain." Then he tried to take her by the hand
and raise her from the chair up towards him.

"No, no, no!" said she.

"But I say yes. Why should it be no? If there never should come a
penny out of this property I will put a roof over your head, and will
find you victuals and clothes respectably. Who will do better for you
than that? And as for the fight, by Jove! I shall like it. You'll
find they'll get nothing out of my hands till they have torn away my
nails."

Here was a new phase in her life. Here was a man willing to marry her
even though she had no assured fortune.

"Margaret," said he, pleading his cause again, "I have that love
for you that I would take you though it was all gone, to the last
farthing."

"It is all gone."

"Let that be as it may, we'll try it. But though it should be all
gone, every shilling of it, still, will you be my wife?"

It was altogether a new phase, and one that was inexplicable to her.
And this came from a man to whom she had once thought that she might
bring herself to give her hand and her heart, and her money also. She
did not doubt that if she took him at his word he would be good to
her, and provide her with shelter, and food and raiment, as he had
promised her. Her heart was softened towards him, and she forgot his
gloves and his shining boots. But she could not bring herself to say
that she would love him, and be his wife. It seemed to her now that
she was under the guidance of her cousin, and that she was pledged to
do nothing of which he would disapprove. He would not approve of her
accepting the hand of a man who would be resolved to litigate this
matter with him.

"It cannot be," she said. "I feel how generous you are, but it cannot
be."

"And why shouldn't it be?"

"Oh, Mr Rubb, there are things one cannot explain."

"Margaret, think of it. How are you to do better?"

"Perhaps not; probably not. In many ways I am sure I could not do
better. But it cannot be."

Not then, nor for the next twenty minutes, but at last he took his
answer and went. He did this when he found that he had no more
minutes to spare if he intended to return by the 5.45 train. Then,
with an angry gesture of his head, he left her, and hurried across to
the front door. Then, as he went out, Mr John Ball came in.

"Good evening, sir," said Mr Rubb. "I am Mr Samuel Rubb. I have just
been seeing Miss Mackenzie, on business. Good evening, sir."

John Ball said never a word, and Samuel Rubb hurried across the
grounds to the railway station.



CHAPTER XX

Showing How the Third Lover Behaved


"What has that man been here for?" Those were the first words which
Mr Ball spoke to his cousin after shutting the hall-door behind
Mr Rubb's back. When the door was closed he turned round and saw
Margaret as she was coming out of the dining-room, and in a voice
that sounded to her as though he were angry, asked her the above
question.

"He came to see me, John," said Miss Mackenzie, going back into the
dining-room. "He was my brother's partner."

"He said he came upon business; what business could he have?"

It was not very easy for her to tell him what had been Mr Rubb's
business. She had no wish to keep anything secret from her cousin,
but she did not know how to describe the scene which had just taken
place, or how to acknowledge that the man had come there to ask her
to marry him.

"Does he know anything of this matter of your money?" continued Mr
Ball.

"Oh yes; he knows it all. He was in Gower Street when I told my
sister-in-law."

"And he came to advise you about it?"

"Yes; he did advise me about it. But his advice I shall not take."

"And what did he advise?"

Then Margaret told him that Mr Rubb had counselled her to fight it
out to the last, in order that a compromise might at any rate be
obtained.

"If it has no selfish object in view I am far from saying that he is
wrong," said John Ball. "It is what I should advise a friend to do
under similar circumstances."

"It is not what I shall do, John."

"No; you are like a lamb that gives itself up to the slaughterer. I
have been with one lawyer or the other all day, and the end of it
is that there is no use on earth in your going to London to-morrow,
nor, as far as I can see, for another week to come. The two lawyers
together have referred the case to counsel for opinion,--for an
amicable opinion as they call it. From what they all say, Margaret,
it seems to me clear that the matter will go against you."

"I have expected nothing else since Mr Slow spoke to me."

"But no doubt you can make a fight, as your friend says."

"I don't want to fight, John; you know that."

"Mr Slow won't let you give it up without a contest. He suggested
a compromise,--that you and I should divide it. But I hate
compromises." She looked up into his face but said nothing. "The
truth is, I have been so wronged in the matter, the whole thing has
been so cruel, it has, all of it together, so completely ruined me
and my prospects in life, that were it any one but you, I would
sooner have a lawsuit than give up one penny of what is left." Again
she looked at him, but he went on speaking of it without observing
her. "Think what it has been, Margaret! The whole of this property
was once mine! Not the half of it only that has been called yours,
but the whole of it! The income was actually paid for one half-year
to a separate banking account on my behalf, before I was of age. Yes,
paid to me, and I had it! My uncle Jonathan had no more legal right
to take it away from me than you have to take the coat off my back.
Think of that, and of what four-and-twenty thousand pounds would have
done for me and my family from that time to this. There have been
nearly thirty years of this robbery!"

"It was not my fault, John."

"No; it was not your fault. But if your brothers could pay me back
all that they really owe me, all that the money would now be worth,
it would come to nearly a hundred thousand pounds. After that, what
is a man to say when he is asked to compromise? As far as I can see,
there is not a shadow of doubt about it. Mr Slow does not pretend
that there is a doubt. How they can fail to see the justice of it is
what passes my understanding!"

"Mr Slow will give up at once, I suppose, if I ask him?"

"I don't want you to ask him. I would rather that you didn't say a
word to him about it. There is a debt too from that man Rubb which
they advise me to abandon."

In answer to this, Margaret could say nothing, for she knew well that
her trust in the interest of that money was the only hope she had of
any maintenance for her sister-in-law.

After a few minutes' silence he again spoke to her. "He desires to
know whether you want money for immediate use."

"Who wants to know?"

"Mr Slow."

"Oh no, John. I have money at the bankers', but I will not touch it."

"How much is there at the bankers?"

"There is more than three hundred pounds; but very little more;
perhaps three hundred and ten."

"You may have that."

"John, I don't want anything that is not my own; not though I had to
walk out to earn my bread in the streets to-morrow."

"That is your own, I tell you. The tenants have been ordered not to
pay any further rents, till they receive notice. You can make them
pay, nevertheless, if you wish it; at least, you might do so, till
some legal steps were taken."

"Of course, I shall do nothing of the kind. It was Mr Slow's people
who used to get the money. And am I not to go up to London
to-morrow?"

"You can go if you choose, but you will learn nothing. I told Mr Slow
that I would bid you wait till I heard from him again. It is time now
for us to get ready for dinner."

Then, as he was going to leave the room, she took him by the coat and
held him again,--held him as fast as she had done on the pavement in
Lincoln's Inn Fields. There was a soft, womanly, trusting weakness in
the manner of her motion as she did this, which touched him now as it
had touched him then.

"John," she said, "if there is to be so much delay, I must not stay
here."

"Why not, Margaret?"

"My aunt does not like my staying; I can see that; and I don't think
it is fair to do so while she does not know all about it. It is
something like cheating her out of the use of the house."

"Then I will tell her."

"What, all? Had I not better go first?"

"No; you cannot go. Where are you to go to? I will tell her
everything to-night. I had almost made up my mind to do so already.
It will be better that they should both know it,--my father and my
mother. My father probably will be required to say all that he knows
about the matter."

"I shall be ready to go at once if she wishes it," said Margaret.

To this he made no answer, but went upstairs to his bedroom, and
there, as he dressed, thought again, and again, and again of his
cousin Margaret. What should he do for her, and in what way should he
treat her? The very name of the Mackenzies he had hated of old, and
their names were now more hateful to him than ever. He had correctly
described his own feelings towards them when he said, either truly or
untruly, that they had deprived him of that which would have made his
whole life prosperous instead of the reverse. And it seemed as though
he had really thought that they had been in fault in this,--that they
had defrauded him. It did not, apparently, occur to him that the only
persons he could blame were his uncle Jonathan and his own lawyers,
who, at his uncle's death, had failed to discover on his behalf what
really were his rights. Walter Mackenzie had been a poor creature
who could do nothing. Tom Mackenzie had been a mean creature who had
allowed himself to be cozened in a petty trade out of the money which
he had wrongfully acquired. They were odious to him, and he hated
their memories. He would fain have hated all that belonged to them,
had he been able. But he was not able to hate this woman who clung to
him, and trusted him, and felt no harsh feelings towards him, though
he was going to take from her everything that had been hers. She
trusted him for advice even though he was her adversary! Would he
have trusted her or any other human being under such circumstances?
No, by heavens! But not the less on that account did he acknowledge
to himself that this confidence in her was very gracious.

That evening passed by very quietly as far as Miss Mackenzie was
concerned. She had some time since, immediately on her last arrival
at the Cedars, offered to relieve her aunt from the trouble of making
tea, and the duty had then been given up to her. But since Lady
Ball's affair in obtaining possession of her niece's secret, the post
of honour had been taken away.

"You don't make it as your uncle likes it," Lady Ball had said.

She made her little offer again on this evening, but it was rejected.

"Thank you, no; I believe I had better do it myself," had been the
answer.

"Why can't you let Margaret make tea? I'm sure she does it very
well," said John.

"I don't see that you can be a judge, seeing that you take none," his
mother replied; "and if you please, I'd rather make the tea in my own
house as long as I can."

This little allusion to her own house was, no doubt, a blow at her
son, to punish him in that he had dictated to her in that matter of
the continued entertainment of her guest; but Margaret also felt it
to be a blow at her, and resolved that she would escape from the
house with as little further delay as might be possible. Beyond this,
the evening was very quiet, till Margaret, a little after tea, took
her candle and went off wearily to her room.

But then the business of the day as regarded the Cedars began; for
John Ball, before he went to bed, told both his father and his
mother the whole story,--the story, that is, as far as the money
was concerned, and also as far as Margaret's conduct to him was
concerned; but of his own feelings towards her he said nothing.

"She has behaved admirably, mother," he said; "you must acknowledge
that, and I think that she is entitled to all the kindness we can
show her."

"I have been kind to her," Lady Ball answered.

This had taken place in Lady Ball's own room, after they had left Sir
John. The tidings had taken the old man so much by surprise, that he
had said little or nothing. Even his caustic ill-nature had deserted
him, except on one occasion, when he remarked that it was like his
brother Jonathan to do as much harm with his money as was within his
reach.

"My memory in such a matter is worth nothing,--absolutely nothing,"
the old man had said. "I always supposed something was wrong. I
remember that. But I left it all to the lawyers."

In Lady Ball's room the conversation was prolonged to a late hour of
the night, and took various twists and turns, as such conversations
will do.

"What are we to do about the young woman?" That was Lady Ball's main
question, arising, no doubt, from the reflection that the world would
lean very heavily on them if they absolutely turned her out to starve
in the streets.

John Ball made no proposition in answer to this, having not as yet
made up his mind as to what his own wishes were with reference to the
young woman. Then his mother made her proposition.

"Of course that money due by the Rubbs must be paid. Let her take
that." But her son made no reply to this other than that he feared
the Rubbs were not in a condition to pay the money.

"They would pay her the interest at any rate," said Lady Ball, "till
she had got into some other way of life. She would do admirably for a
companion to an old lady, because her manners are good, and she does
not want much waiting upon herself."

On the next morning Miss Mackenzie trembled in her shoes as she came
down to breakfast. Her uncle, whom she feared the most, would not be
there; but the meeting with her aunt, when her aunt would know that
she was a pauper and that she had for the last week been an impostor,
was terrible to her by anticipation. But she had not calculated that
her aunt's triumph in this newly-acquired wealth for the Ball family
would, for the present, cover any other feeling that might exist. Her
aunt met her with a gracious smile, was very urbane in selecting a
chair for her at prayers close to her own, and pressed upon her a
piece of buttered toast out of a little dish that was always prepared
for her ladyship's own consumption. After breakfast John Ball again
went to town. He went daily to town during the present crisis; and,
on this occasion, his mother made no remark as to the urgency of his
business. When he was gone Lady Ball began to potter about the house,
after her daily custom, and was longer in her pottering than was
usual with her. Miss Mackenzie helped the younger children in their
lessons, as she often did; and when time for luncheon came, she
had almost begun to think that she was to be allowed to escape any
conversation with her aunt touching the great money question. But
it was not so. At one she was told that luncheon and the children's
dinner was postponed till two, and she was asked by the servant to go
up to Lady Ball in her own room.

"Come and sit down, my dear," said Lady Ball, in her sweetest voice.
"It has got to be very cold, and you had better come near the fire."
Margaret did as she was bidden, and sat herself down in the chair
immediately opposite to her aunt.

"This is a wonderful story that John has told me," continued her
aunt--"very wonderful."

"It is sad enough for me," said Margaret, who did not feel inclined
to be so self-forgetful in talking to her aunt as she had been with
her cousin.

"It is sad for you, Margaret, no doubt. But I am sure you have within
you that conscientious rectitude of purpose that you would not wish
to keep anything for yourself that in truth belongs to another."

To this Margaret answered nothing, and her aunt went on.

"It is a great change to you, no doubt; and, of course, that is the
point on which I wish to speak to you most especially. I have told
John that something must be done for you."

This jarred terribly on poor Margaret's feelings. Her cousin had said
nothing, not a word as to doing anything for her. The man who had
told her of his love, and asked her to be his wife, not twelve months
since,--who had pressed her to be of all women the dearest to him
and the nearest,--had talked to her of her ruin without offering her
aid, although this ruin to her would enrich him very greatly. She
had expected nothing from him, had wanted nothing from him; but by
degrees, when absent from him, the feeling had grown upon her that he
had been hard to her in abstaining from expressions of commiseration.
She had yielded to him in the whole affair, assuring him that nothing
should be done by her to cause him trouble; and she would have been
grateful to him if in return he had said something to her of her
future mode of life. She had intended to speak to him about the
hospital; but she had thought that she might abstain from doing so
till he himself should ask some question as to her plans. He had
asked no such question, and she was now almost determined to go
away without troubling him on the subject. But if he, who had once
professed to love her, would make no suggestion as to her future
life, she could ill bear that any offer of the kind should come from
her aunt, who, as she knew, had only regarded her for her money.

"I would rather," she replied, "that nothing should be said to him on
the subject."

"And why not, Margaret?"

"I desire that I may be no burden to him or anybody. I will go away
and earn my bread; and even if I cannot do that, my relations shall
not be troubled by hearing from me."

She said this without sobbing, but not without that almost hysterical
emotion which indicates that tears are being suppressed with pain.

"That is false pride, my dear."

"Very well, aunt. I daresay it is false; but it is my pride. I may be
allowed to keep my pride, though I can keep nothing else."

"What you say about earning your bread is very proper; and I and John
and your uncle also have been thinking of that. But I should be glad
if some additional assistance should be provided for you, in the
event of old age, you know, or illness. Now, as to earning your
bread, I remarked to John that you were peculiarly qualified for
being a lady's companion."

"For being what, aunt?"

"For being companion to some lady in the decline of life, who would
want to have some nice mannered person always with her. You have the
advantage of being ladylike and gentle, and I think that you are
patient by disposition."

"Aunt," said Miss Mackenzie, and her voice as she spoke was hardly
gentle, nor was it indicative of much patience. Her hysterics also
seemed for the time to have given way to her strong passionate
feeling. "Aunt," she said, "I would sooner take a broom in my hand,
and sweep a crossing in London, than lead such a life as that. What!
make myself the slave of some old woman, who would think that she had
bought the power of tyrannising over me by allowing me to sit in the
same room with her? No, indeed! It may very likely be the case that I
may have to serve such a one in the kitchen, but it shall be in the
kitchen, and not in the drawing-room. I have not had much experience
in life, but I have had enough to learn that lesson!"

Lady Ball, who during the first part of the conversation had been
unrolling and winding a great ball of worsted, now sat perfectly
still, holding the ball in her lap, and staring at her niece. She was
a quick-witted woman, and it no doubt occurred to her that the great
objection to living with an old lady, which her niece had expressed
so passionately, must have come from the trial of that sort of
life which she had had at the Cedars. And there was enough in Miss
Mackenzie's manner to justify Lady Ball in thinking that some such
expression of feeling as this had been intended by her. She had
never before heard Margaret speak out so freely, even in the days
of her undoubted heiress-ship; and now, though she greatly disliked
her niece, she could not avoid mingling something of respect and
something almost amounting to fear with her dislike. She did not
dare to go on unwinding her worsted, and giving the advantage of her
condescension to a young woman who spoke out at her in that way.

"I thought I was advising you for the best," she said, "and I hoped
that you would have been thankful."

"I don't know what may be for the best," said Margaret, again
bordering upon the hysterical in the tremulousness of her voice, "but
that I'm sure would be for the worst. However, I've made up my mind
to nothing as yet."

"No, my dear; of course not; but we all must think of it, you know."

Her cousin John had not thought of it, and she did not want any one
else to do so. She especially did not want her aunt to think of it.
But it was no doubt necessary that her aunt should consider how long
she would be required to provide a home for her impoverished niece,
and Margaret's mind at once applied itself to that view of the
subject. "I have made up my mind that I will go to London next week,
and then I must settle upon something."

"You mean when you go to Mr Slow's?"

"I mean that I shall go for good. I have a little money by me, which
John says I may use, and I shall take a lodging till--till--till--"
Then she could not go on any further.

"You can stay here, Margaret, if you please;--that is till something
more is settled about all this affair."

"I will go on Monday, aunt. I have made up my mind to that." It was
now Saturday. "I will go on Monday. It will be better for all parties
that I should be away." Then she got up, and waiting no further
speech from her aunt, took herself off to her own room.

She did not see her aunt again till dinner-time, and then neither of
them spoke to each other. Lady Ball thought that she had reason to
be offended, and Margaret would not be the first to speak. In the
evening, before the whole family, she told her cousin that she had
made up her mind to go up to London on Monday. He begged her to
reconsider her resolution, but when she persisted that she would do
so, he did not then argue the question any further. But on the Sunday
he implored her not to go as yet, and did obtain her consent to
postpone her departure till Tuesday. He wished, he said, to be at
any rate one day more in London before she went. On the Sunday she
was closeted with her uncle who also sent for her, and to him she
suggested her plan of becoming nurse at a hospital. He remarked that
he hoped that would not be necessary.

"Something will be necessary," she said, "as I don't mean to eat
anybody's bread but my own."

In answer to this he said that he would speak to John, and then that
interview was over. On the Monday morning John Ball said something
respecting Margaret to his mother which acerbated that lady more than
ever against her niece. He had not proposed that anything special
should be done; but he had hinted, when his mother complained of
Margaret, that Margaret's conduct was everything that it ought to be.

"I believe you would take anybody's part against me," Lady Ball had
said, and then as a matter of course she had been very cross. The
whole of that day was terrible to Miss Mackenzie, and she resolved
that nothing said by her cousin should induce her to postpone her
departure for another day.

In order to insure this by a few minutes' private conversation with
him, and also with the view of escaping for some short time from the
house, she walked down to the station in the evening to meet her
cousin. The train by which he arrived reached Twickenham at five
o'clock, and the walk occupied about twenty minutes. She met him just
as he was coming out of the station gate, and at once told him that
she had come there for the sake of walking back with him and talking
to him. He thanked her, and said that he was very glad to meet her.
He also wanted to speak to her very particularly. Would she take his
arm?

She took his arm, and then began with a quick tremulous voice to tell
him of her sufferings at the house. She threw no blame on her aunt
that she could avoid, but declared it to be natural that under such
circumstances as those now existing her prolonged sojourn at her
aunt's house should be unpleasant to both of them. In answer to all
this, John Ball said nothing, but once or twice lifted up his left
hand so as to establish Margaret's arm more firmly on his own. She
hardly noticed the motion, but yet she was aware that it was intended
for kindness, and then she broke forth with a rapid voice as to her
plan about the hospital. "I think we can manage better than that, at
any rate," said he, stopping her in the path when this proposal met
his ear. But she went on to declare that she would like it, that she
was strong and qualified for such work, that it would satisfy her
aspirations, and be fit for her. And then, after that, she declared
that nothing should induce her to undertake the kind of life that had
been suggested by her aunt. "I quite agree with you there," said he;
"quite. I hate tabbies as much as you do."

They had now come to a little gate, of which John Ball kept a key,
and which led into the grounds belonging to the Cedars. The grounds
were rather large, and the path through them extended for half a
mile, but the land was let off to a grazier. When inside the wall,
however, they were private; and Mr Ball, as soon as he had locked
the gate behind him, stopped her in the dark path, and took both her
hands in his. The gloom of the evening had now come round them, and
the thick trees which formed the belt of the place, joined to the
high wall, excluded from them nearly all what light remained.

"And now," said he, "I will tell you my plan."

"What plan?" said she; but her voice was very low.

"I proposed it once before, but you would not have it then."

When she heard this, she at once drew both her hands from him, and
stood before him in an agony of doubt. Even in the gloom, the trees
were going round her, and everything, even her thoughts, were obscure
and misty.

"Margaret," said he, "you shall be my wife, and the mother of my
children, and I will love you as I loved Rachel before. I loved you
when I asked you at Christmas, but I did not love you then as I love
you now."

She still stood before him, but answered him not a word. How often
since the tidings of her loss had reached her had the idea of such
a meeting as this come before her! how often had she seemed to
listen to such words as those he now spoke to her! Not that she had
expected it, or hoped for it, or even thought of it as being in truth
possible; but her imagination had been at work, during the long hours
of the night, and the romance of the thing had filled her mind, and
the poetry of it had been beautiful to her. She had known--she had
told herself that she knew--that no man would so sacrifice himself;
certainly no such man as John Ball, with all his children and his
weary love of money! But now the poetry had come to be fact, and the
romance had turned itself into reality, and the picture formed by her
imagination had become a living truth. The very words of which she
had dreamed had been spoken to her.

"Shall it be so, my dear?" he said, again taking one of her hands.
"You want to be a nurse; will you be my nurse? Nay; I will not ask,
but it shall be so. They say that the lovers who demand are ever the
most successful. I make my demand. Tell me, Margaret, will you obey
me?"

He had walked on now, but in order that his time might be sufficient,
he led her away from the house. She was following him, hardly knowing
whither she was going.

"Susanna," said he, "shall come and live with the others; one more
will make no difference."

"And my aunt?" said Margaret.

It was the first word she had spoken since the gate had been locked
behind her, and this word was spoken in a whisper.

"I hope my mother may feel that such a marriage will best conduce
to my happiness; but, Margaret, nothing that my mother can say will
change me. You and I have known something of each other now. Of you,
from the way in which things have gone, I have learned much. Few men,
I take it, see so much of their future wives as I have seen of you.
If you can love me as your husband, say so at once honestly, and then
leave the rest to me."

"I will," she said, again whispering; and then she clung to his hand,
and for a minute or two he had his arm round her waist. Then he took
her, and kissed her lips, and told her that he would take care of
her, and watch for her, and keep her, if possible, from trouble.

Ah, me, how many years had rolled by since last she had been kissed
in that way! Once, and once only, had Harry Handcock so far presumed,
and so far succeeded. And now, after a dozen years or more, that game
had begun again with her! She had boxed Harry Handcock's ears when he
had kissed her; but now, from her lover of to-day, she submitted to
the ceremony very tamely.

"Oh, John," she said, "how am I to thank you?" But the thanks were
tendered for the promise of his care, and not for the kiss.

I think there was but little more said between them before they
reached the door-step. When there, Mr Ball, speaking already with
something of marital authority, gave her his instructions.

"I shall tell my mother this evening," he said, "as I hate mysteries;
and I shall tell my father also. Of course there may be something
disagreeable said before we all shake down happily in our places, but
I shall look to you, Margaret, to be firm."

"I shall be firm," she said, "if you are."

"I shall be firm," was the reply; and then they went into the house.



CHAPTER XXI

Mr Maguire Goes to London on Business


Mr Maguire made up his mind to go to London, to look after his
lady-love, but when he found himself there he did not quite know what
to do. It is often the case with us that we make up our minds for
great action,--that in some special crisis of our lives we resolve
that something must be done, and that we make an energetic start; but
we find very soon that we do not know how to go on doing anything. It
was so with Mr Maguire. When he had secured a bed at a small public
house near the Great Western railway station,--thinking, no doubt
that he would go to the great hotel on his next coming to town,
should he then have obtained the lady's fortune,--he scarcely knew
what step he would next take. Margaret's last letter had been written
to him from the Cedars, but he thought it probable that she might
only have gone there for a day or two. He knew the address of the
house in Gower Street, and at last resolved that he would go boldly
in among the enemy there; for he was assured that the family of the
lady's late brother were his special enemies in this case. It was
considerably past noon when he reached London, and it was about three
when, with a hesitating hand, but a loud knock, he presented himself
at Mrs Mackenzie's door.

He first asked for Miss Mackenzie, and was told that she was not
staying there. Was he thereupon to leave his card and go away? He had
told himself that in this pursuit of the heiress he would probably be
called upon to dare much, and if he did not begin to show some daring
at once, how could he respect himself, or trust to himself for future
daring? So he boldly asked for Mrs Mackenzie, and was at once shown
into the parlour. There sat the widow, in her full lugubrious weeds,
there sat Miss Colza, and there sat Mary Jane, and they were all busy
hemming, darning, and clipping; turning old sheets into new ones; for
now it was more than ever necessary that Mrs Mackenzie should make
money at once by taking in lodgers. When Mr Maguire was shown into
the room each lady rose from her chair, with her sheet in her hands
and in her lap, and then, as he stood before them, at the other side
of the table, each lady again sat down.

"A gentleman as is asking for Miss Margaret," the servant had said;
that same cook to whom Mr Grandairs had been so severe on the
occasion of Mrs Mackenzie's dinner party. The other girl had been
unnecessary to them in their poverty, and had left them.

"My name is Maguire, the Rev. Mr Maguire, from Littlebath, where I
had the pleasure of knowing Miss Mackenzie."

Then the widow asked him to take a chair, and he took a chair.

"My sister-in-law is not with us at present," said Mrs Mackenzie.

"She is staying for a visit with her aunt, Lady Ball, at the Cedars,
Twickenham," said Mary Jane, who had contrived to drop her sheet, and
hustle it under the table with her feet, as soon as she learned that
the visitor was a clergyman.

"Lady Ball is the lady of Sir John Ball, Baronet," said Miss Colza,
whose good nature made her desirous of standing up for the honour of
the family with which she was, for the time, domesticated.

"I knew she had been at Lady Ball's," said the clergyman, "as I heard
from her from thence; but I thought she had probably returned."

"Oh dear, no," said the widow, "she ain't returned here, nor don't
mean. We haven't the room for her, and that's the truth. Have we,
Mary Jane?"

"That we have not, mamma; and I don't think aunt Margaret would think
of such a thing."

Then, thought Mr Maguire, the Balls must have got hold of the
heiress, and not the Mackenzies, and my battle must be fought at the
Cedars, and not here. Still, as he was there, he thought possibly he
might obtain some further information; and this would be the easier,
if, as appeared to be the case, there was enmity between the Gower
Street family and their relative.

"Has Miss Mackenzie gone to live permanently at the Cedars?" he
asked.

"Not that I know of," said the widow.

"It isn't at all unlikely, mamma, that it may be so, when you
consider everything. It's just the sort of way in which they'll most
likely get over her."

"Mary Jane, hold your tongue," said her mother; "you shouldn't say
things of that sort before strangers."

"Though I may not have the pleasure of knowing you and your amiable
family," said Mr Maguire, smiling his sweetest, "I am by no means a
stranger to Miss Mackenzie."

Then the ladies all looked at him, and thought they had never seen
anything so terrible as that squint.

"Miss Mackenzie is making a long visit at the Cedars," said Miss
Colza, "that is all we know at present. I am told the Balls are
very nice people, but perhaps a little worldly-minded; that's to be
expected, however, from people who live out of the west-end from
London. I live in Finsbury Square, or at least, I did before I came
here, and I ain't a bit ashamed to own it. But of course the west-end
is the nicest."

Then Mr Maguire got up, saying that he should probably do himself the
pleasure of calling on Miss Mackenzie at the Cedars, and went his
way.

"I wonder what he's after," said Mrs Mackenzie, as soon as the door
was shut.

"Perhaps he came to tell her to bear it all with Christian
resignation," said Miss Colza; "they always do come when anything's
in the wind like that; they like to know everything before anybody
else."

"It's my belief he's after her money," said Mrs Mackenzie.

"With such a squint as that!" said Mary Jane; "I wouldn't have him
though he was made of money, and I hadn't a farthing."

"Beauty is but skin deep," said Miss Colza.

"And it's manners to wait till you are asked," said Mrs Mackenzie.

Mary Jane chucked up her head with disdain, thereby indicating that
though she had not been asked, and though beauty is but skin deep,
still she held the same opinion.

Mr Maguire, as he went away to a clerical advertising office in the
neighbourhood of Exeter Hall, thought over the matter profoundly.
It was clear enough to him that the Mackenzies of Gower Street were
not interfering with him; very probably they might have hoped and
attempted to keep the heiress among them; that assertion that there
was no room for her in the house--as though they were and ever had
been averse to having her with them--seemed to imply that such was
the case. It was the natural language of a disappointed woman. But
if so, that hope was now over with them. And then the young lady had
plainly exposed the suspicions which they all entertained as to the
Balls. These grand people at the Cedars, this baronet's family at
Twickenham, must have got her to come among them with the intention
of keeping her there. It did not occur to him that the baronet or the
baronet's son would actually want Miss Mackenzie's money. He presumed
baronets to be rich people; but still they might very probably be as
dogs in the manger, and desirous of preventing their relative from
doing with her money that active service to humanity in general which
would be done were she to marry a deserving clergyman who had nothing
of his own.

He made his visit to the advertising office, and learned that
clergymen without cures were at present drugs in the market. He
couldn't understand how this should be the case, seeing that the
newspapers were constantly declaring that the supply of university
clergymen were becoming less and less every day. He had come from
Trinity, Dublin and after the success of his career at Littlebath,
was astonished that he should not be snapped at by the retailers of
curacies.

On the next day he visited Twickenham. Now, on the morning of that
very day Margaret Mackenzie first woke to the consciousness that
she was the promised wife of her cousin John Ball. There was great
comfort in the thought.

It was not only, nor even chiefly, that she who, on the preceding
morning, had awakened to the remembrance of her utter destitution,
now felt that all those terrible troubles were over. It was not
simply that her great care had been vanquished for her. It was this,
that the man who had a second time come to her asking for her love,
had now given her all-sufficient evidence that he did so for the sake
of her love. He, who was so anxious for money, had shown her that he
could care for her more even than he cared for gold. As she thought
of this, and made herself happy in the thought, she would not rise
at once from her bed, but curled herself in the clothes and hugged
herself in her joy.

"I should have taken him before, at once, instantly, if I could have
thought that it was so," she said to herself; "but this is a thousand
times better."

Then she found that the pillow beneath her cheek was wet with her
tears.

On the preceding evening she had been very silent and demure, and her
betrothed had also been silent. There had been no words about the
tea-making, and Lady Ball had been silent also. As far as she knew,
Margaret was to go on the following day, but she would say nothing on
the subject. Margaret, indeed, had commenced her packing, and did not
know when she went to bed whether she was to go or not. She rather
hoped that she might be allowed to go, as her aunt would doubtless
be disagreeable; but in that, and in all matters now, she would of
course be guided implicitly by Mr Ball. He had told her to be firm,
and of her own firmness she had no doubt whatever. Lady Ball, with
all her anger, or with all her eloquence, should not talk her out of
her husband. She could be firm, and she had no doubt that John Ball
could be firm also.

Nevertheless, when she was dressing, she did not fail to tell herself
that she might have a bad time of it that morning,--and a bad time of
it for some days to come, if it was John's intention that she should
remain at the Cedars. She was convinced that Lady Ball would not
welcome her as a daughter-in-law now as she would have done when the
property was thought to belong to her. What right had she to expect
such welcome? No doubt some hard things would be said to her; but
she knew her own courage, and was sure that she could bear any hard
things with such a hope within her breast as that which she now
possessed. She left her room a little earlier than usual, thinking
that she might thus meet her cousin and receive his orders. And in
this she was not disappointed; he was in the hall as she came down,
and she was able to smile on him, and press his hand, and make her
morning greetings to him with some tenderness in her voice. He looked
heavy about the face, and almost more careworn than usual, but he
took her hand and led her into the breakfast-room.

"Did you tell your mother, John?" she said, standing very close to
him, almost leaning upon his shoulder.

He, however, did not probably want such signs of love as this, and
moved a step away from her.

"Yes," said he, "I told both my father and my mother. What she says
to you, you must hear, and bear it quietly for my sake."

"I will," said Margaret.

"I think that she is unreasonable, but still she is my mother."

"I shall always remember that, John."

"And she is old, and things have not always gone well with her. She
says, too, that you have been impertinent to her."

Margaret's face became very red at this charge, but she made no
immediate reply.

"I don't think you could mean to be impertinent."

"Certainly not, John; but, of course, I shall feel myself much more
bound to her now than I was before."

"Yes, of course; but I wish that nothing had occurred to make her so
angry with you."

"I don't think that I was impertinent, John, though perhaps it might
seem so. When she was talking about my being a companion to a lady,
I perhaps answered her sharply. I was so determined that I wouldn't
lead that sort of life, that, perhaps I said more than I should have
done. You know, John, that it hasn't been quite pleasant between us
for the last few days."

John did know this, and he knew also that there was not much
probability of pleasantness for some days to come. His mother's last
words to him on the preceding evening, as he was leaving her after
having told his story, did not give much promise of pleasantness for
Margaret. "John," she had said, "nothing on earth shall induce me to
live in the same house with Margaret Mackenzie as your wife. If you
choose to break up everything for her sake, you can do it. I cannot
control you. But remember, it will be your doing."

Margaret then asked him what she was to do, and where she was to
live. She would fain have asked him when they were to be married, but
she did not dare to make inquiry on that point. He told her that, for
the present, she must remain at the Cedars. If she went away it would
be regarded as an open quarrel, and moreover, he did not wish that
she should live by herself in London lodgings. "We shall be able to
see how things go for a day or two," he said. To this she submitted
without a murmur, and then Lady Ball came into the room.

They were both very nervous in watching her first behaviour, but were
not at all prepared for the line of conduct which she adopted. John
Ball and Margaret had separated when they heard the rustle of her
dress. He had made a step towards the window, and she had retreated
to the other side of the fire-place. Lady Ball, on entering the room,
had been nearest to Margaret, but she walked round the table away
from her usual place for prayers, and accosted her son.

"Good-morning, John," she said, giving him her hand.

Margaret waited a second or two, and then addressed her aunt.

"Good-morning, aunt," she said, stepping half across the rug.

But her aunt, turning her back to her, moved into the embrasure of
the window. It had been decided that there was to be an absolute cut
between them! As long as she remained in that house Lady Ball would
not speak to her. John said nothing, but a black frown came upon his
brow. Poor Margaret retired, rebuked, to her corner by the chimney.
Just at that moment the girls and children rushed in from the study,
with the daily governess who came every morning, and Sir John rang
for the servants to come to prayers.

I wonder whether that old lady's heart was at all softened as she
prayed? whether it ever occurred to her to think that there was any
meaning in that form of words she used, when she asked her God to
forgive her as she might forgive others? Not that Margaret had in
truth trespassed against her at all; but, doubtless, she regarded
her niece as a black trespasser, and as being quite qualified for
forgiveness, could she have brought herself to forgive. But I fear
that the form of words on that occasion meant nothing, and that she
had been delivered from no evil during those moments she had been on
her knees. Margaret sat down in her accustomed place, but no notice
was taken of her by her aunt. When the tea had been poured out, John
got up from his seat and asked his mother which was Margaret's cup.

"My dear," said she, "if you will sit down, Miss Mackenzie shall have
her tea."

"I will take it to her," said he.

"John," said his mother, drawing her chair somewhat away from the
table, "if you flurry me in this way, you will drive me out of the
room."

Then he had sat down, and Margaret received her cup in the usual way.
The girls and children stared at each other, and the governess, who
always breakfasted at the house, did not dare to lift her eyes from
off her plate.

Margaret longed for an opportunity of starting with John Ball, and
walking with him to the station, but no such opportunity came in her
way. It was his custom always to go up to his father before he left
home, and on this occasion Margaret did not see him after he quitted
the breakfast table. When the clatter of the knives and cups was
over, and the eating and drinking was at an end, Lady Ball left the
room and Margaret began to think what she would do. She could not
remain about the house in her aunt's way, without being spoken to,
or speaking. So she went to her room, resolving that she would not
leave it till the carriage had taken off Sir John and her aunt. Then
she would go out for a walk, and would again meet her cousin at the
station.

From her bedroom window she could see the sweep before the front of
the house, and at two o'clock she saw and heard the lumbering of the
carriage as it came to the door, and then she put on her hat to be
ready for her walk; but her uncle and aunt did not, as it seemed,
come out, and the carriage remained there as a fixture. This had been
the case for some twenty minutes, when there came a knock at her own
door, and the maid-servant told her that her aunt wished to see her
in the drawing-room.

"To see me?" said Margaret, thoroughly surprised, and not a little
dismayed.

"Yes, Miss; and there's a gentleman there who asked for you when he
first come."

Now, indeed, she was dismayed. Who could be the gentleman? Was it Mr
Slow, or a myrmidon from Mr Slow's legal abode? Or was it Mr Rubb
with his yellow gloves again? Whoever it was there must be something
very special in his mission, as her aunt had, in consequence,
deferred her drive, and was also apparently about to drop her purpose
of cutting her niece's acquaintance in her own house.

But we will go back to Mr Maguire. He had passed the evening and the
morning in thinking over the method of his attack, and had at last
resolved that he would be very bold. He would go down to the Cedars,
and claim Margaret as his affianced bride. He went, therefore, down
to the Cedars, and in accordance with his plan as arranged, he gave
his card to the servant, and asked if he could see Sir John Ball
alone. Now, Sir John Ball never saw any one on business, or, indeed,
not on business; and, after a while, word was brought out to Mr
Maguire that he could see Lady Ball, but that Sir John was not well
enough to receive any visitors. Lady Ball, Mr Maguire thought, would
suit him better than Sir John. He signified his will accordingly, and
on being shown into the drawing-room, found her ladyship there alone.

It must be acknowledged that he was a brave man, and that he was
doing a bold thing. He knew that he should find himself among
enemies, and that his claim would be ignored and ridiculed by the
persons whom he was about to attack; he knew that everybody, on first
seeing him, was affrighted and somewhat horrified; he knew too,--at
least, we must presume that he knew,--that the lady herself had given
him no promise. But he thought it possible, nay, almost probable,
that she would turn to him if she saw him again; that she might own
him as her own; that her feelings might be strong enough in his
favour to induce her to throw off the thraldom of her relatives, and
that he might make good his ground in her breast, even if he could
not bear her away in triumph out of the hands of his enemies.

When he entered the room Lady Ball looked at him and shuddered.
People always did shudder when they saw him for the first time.

"Lady Ball," said he, "I am the Rev. Mr Maguire, of Littlebath."

She was holding his card in her hand, and having notified to him that
she was aware of the fact he had mentioned, asked him to sit down.

"I have called," said he, taking his seat, "hoping to be allowed to
speak to you on a subject of extreme delicacy."

"Indeed," said Lady Ball, thinking to catch his eye, and failing in
the effort.

"I may say of very extreme delicacy. I believe your niece, Miss
Margaret Mackenzie, is staying here?" In answer to this, Lady Ball
acknowledged that Miss Mackenzie was now at the Cedars.

"Have you any objection, Lady Ball, to allowing me to see her in your
presence?"

Lady Ball was a quick-thinking, intelligent, and, at the same time,
prudent old lady, and she gave no answer to this before she had
considered the import of the question. Why should this clergyman want
to see Margaret? And would his seeing her conduce most to her own
success, or to Margaret's? Then there was the fact that Margaret was
of an age which entitled her to the right of seeing any visitor who
might call on her. Thinking over all this as best she could in the
few moments at her command, and thinking also of this clergyman's
stipulation that she was to be present at the interview, she
said that she had no objection whatever. She would send for Miss
Mackenzie.

She rose to ring the bell, but Mr Maguire, also rising from his
chair, stopped her hand.

"Pardon me for a moment," said he. "Before you call Margaret to come
down I would wish to explain to you for what purpose I have come
here."

Lady Ball, when she heard the man call her niece by her Christian
name, listened with all her ears. Under no circumstances but one
could such a man call such a woman by her Christian name in such
company.

"Lady Ball," he said, "I do not know whether you may be aware of it
or no, but I am engaged to marry your niece."

Lady Ball, who had not yet resumed her seat, now did so.

"I had not heard of it," she said.

"It may be so," said Mr Maguire.

"It is so," said Lady Ball.

"Very probably. There are many reasons which operate upon young
ladies in such a condition to keep their secret even from their
nearest relatives. For myself, being a clergyman of the Church of
England, professing evangelical doctrines, and therefore, as I had
need not say, averse to everything that may have about it even a
seeming of impropriety, I think it best to declare the fact to you,
even though in doing so I may perhaps give some offence to dear
Margaret."

It must, I think, be acknowledged that Mr Maguire was true to
himself, and that he was conducting his case at any rate with
courage.

Lady Ball was doubtful what she would do. It was on her tongue to
tell the man that her niece's fortune was gone. But she remembered
that she might probably advance her own interests by securing an
interview between the two lovers of Littlebath in her own presence.
She never for a moment doubted that Mr Maguire's statement was true.
It never occurred to her that there had been no such engagement.
She felt confident from the moment in which Mr Maguire's important
tidings had reached her ears that she had now in her hands the means
of rescuing her son. That Mr Maguire would cease to make his demand
for his bride when he should hear the truth, was of course to be
expected; but her son would not be such an idiot, such a soft fool,
as to go on with his purpose when he should learn that such a secret
as this had been kept back from him. She had refused him, and taken
up with this horrid, greasy, evil-eyed parson when she was rich; and
then, when she was poor,--even before she had got rid of her other
engagement, she had come back upon him, and, playing upon his pity,
had secured him in her toils. Lady Ball felt well inclined to thank
the clergyman for coming to her relief at such a moment.

"It will be best that I should ask my niece to come down to you,"
said she, getting up and walking out of the room.

But she did not go up to her niece. She first went to Sir John and
quieted his impatience with reference to the driving, and then, after
a few minutes' further delay for consideration, she sent the servant
up to her niece. Having done this she returned to the drawing-room,
and found Mr Maguire looking at the photographs on the table.

"It is very like dear Margaret, very like her, indeed," said he,
looking at one of Miss Mackenzie. "The sweetest face that ever my
eyes rested on! May I ask you if you have just seen your niece, Lady
Ball?"

"No, sir, I have not seen her; but I have sent for her."

There was still some little delay before Margaret came down. She
was much fluttered, and wanted time to think, if only time could be
allowed to her. Perhaps there had come a man to say that her money
was not gone. If so, with what delight would she give it all to her
cousin John! That was her first thought. But if so, how then about
the promise made to her dying brother? She almost wished that the
money might not be hers. Looking to herself only, and to her own
happiness, it would certainly be better for her that it should not be
hers. And if it should be Mr Rubb with the yellow gloves! But before
she could consider that alternative she had opened the door, and
there was Mr Maguire standing ready to receive her.

"Dearest Margaret!" he exclaimed. "My own love!" And there he stood,
with his arms open, as though he expected Miss Mackenzie to rush into
them. He was certainly a man of very great courage.

"Mr Maguire!" said she, and she stood still near the door. Then she
looked at her aunt, and saw that Lady Ball's eyes were keenly fixed
upon her. Something like the truth, some approximation to the facts
as they were, flashed upon her in a moment, and she knew that she had
to bear herself in this difficulty with all her discretion and all
her fortitude.

"Margaret," exclaimed Mr Maguire, "will you not come to me?"

"What do you mean, Mr Maguire?" said she, still standing aloof from
him, and retreating somewhat nearer to the door.

"The gentleman says that you are engaged to marry him," said Lady
Ball.

Margaret, looking again into her aunt's face, saw the smile of
triumph that sat there, and resolved at once to make good her ground.

"If he has said that, he has told an untruth,--an untruth both
unmanly and unmannerly. You hear, sir, what Lady Ball has stated. Is
it true that you have made such an assertion?"

"And will you contradict it, Margaret? Oh, Margaret! Margaret! you
cannot contradict it."

The reader must remember that this clergyman no doubt thought and
felt that he had a good deal of truth on his side. Gentlemen when
they make offers to ladies, and are told by ladies that they may
come again, and that time is required for consideration, are always
disposed to think that the difficulties of the siege are over. And
in nine cases out of ten it is so. Mr Maguire, no doubt, since
the interview in question, had received letters from the lady
which should at any rate have prevented him from uttering any such
assertion as that which he had now made; but he looked upon those
letters as the work of the enemy, and chose to go back for his
authority to the last words which Margaret had spoken to him. He knew
that he was playing an intricate game,--that all was not quite on the
square; but he thought that the enemy was playing him false, and that
falsehood in return was therefore fair. This that was going on was a
robbery of the Church, a spoiling of Israel, a touching with profane
hands of things that had already been made sacred.

"But I do contradict it," said Margaret, stepping forward into the
room, and almost exciting admiration in Lady Ball's breast by her
demeanour. "Aunt," said she, "as this gentleman has chosen to come
here with such a story as this, I must tell you all the facts."

"Has he ever been engaged to you?" asked Lady Ball.

"Never."

"Oh, Margaret!" again exclaimed Mr Maguire.

"Sir, I will ask you to let me tell my aunt the truth. When I was at
Littlebath, before I knew that my fortune was not my own,"--as she
said this she looked hard into Mr Maguire's face--"before I had
become penniless, as I am now,"--then she paused again, and still
looking at him, saw with inward pleasure the elongation of her
suitor's face, "this gentleman asked me to marry him."

"He did ask you?" said Lady Ball.

"Of course I asked her," urged Mr Maguire. "There can be no denying
that on either side."

He did not now quite know what to do. He certainly did not wish to
impoverish the Church by marrying Miss Mackenzie without any fortune.
But might it not all be a trick? That she had been rich he knew, and
how could she have become poor so quickly?

"He did ask me, and I told him that I must take a fortnight to
consider of it."

"You did not refuse him, then?" said Lady Ball.

"Not then, but I have done so since by letter. Twice I have written
to him, telling him that I had nothing of my own, and that there
could be nothing between us."

"I got her letters," said Mr Maguire, turning round to Lady Ball. "I
certainly got her letters. But such letters as those, if they are
written under dictation--"

He was rather anxious that Lady Bell should quarrel with him. In the
programme which he had made for himself when he came to the house, a
quarrel to the knife with the Ball family was a part of his tactics.
His programme, no doubt, was disturbed by the course which events had
taken, but still a quarrel with Lady Ball might be the best for him.
If she were to quarrel with him, it would give him some evidence that
this story about the loss of the money was untrue. But Lady Ball
would not quarrel with him. She sat still and said nothing. "Nobody
dictated them," said Margaret. "But now you are here, I will tell you
the facts. The money which I thought was mine, in truth belongs to my
cousin, Mr John Ball, and I--"

So far she spoke loudly, With her face raised, and her eyes fixed
upon him. Then as she concluded, she dropped her voice and eyes
together. "And I am now engaged to him as his wife."

"Oh, indeed!" said Mr Maguire.

"That statement must be taken for what it is worth," said Lady Ball,
rising from her seat. "Of what Miss Mackenzie says now, I know
nothing. I sincerely hope that she may find that she is mistaken."

"And now, Margaret," said Mr Maguire, "may I ask to see you for one
minute alone?"

"Certainly not," said she. "If you have anything more to say I will
hear it in my aunt's presence." She waited a few moments, but as he
did not speak, she took herself back to the door and made her escape
to her own room.

How Mr Maguire took himself out of the house we need not stop to
inquire. There must, I should think, have been some difficulty in the
manoeuvre. It was considerably past three when Sir John was taken
out for his drive, and while he was in the carriage his wife told him
what had occurred.



CHAPTER XXII

Still at the Cedars


Margaret, when she had reached her own room, and seated herself
so that she could consider all that had occurred in quietness,
immediately knew her own difficulty. Of course Lady Ball would give
her account of what had occurred to her son, and of course John would
be angry when he learned that there had been any purpose of marriage
between her and Mr Maguire. She herself took a different view of the
matter now than that which had hitherto presented itself. She had not
thought much of Mr Maguire or his proposal. It had been made under a
state of things differing much from that now existing, and the change
that had come upon her affairs had seemed to her to annul the offer.
She had learned to regard it almost as though it had never been.
There had been no engagement; there had hardly been a purpose in
her own mind; and the moment had never come in which she could have
spoken of it to her cousin with propriety.

That last, in truth, was her valid excuse for not having told him the
whole story. She had hardly been with him long enough to do more than
accept the offer he had himself made. Of course she would have told
him of Mr Maguire,--of Mr Maguire and of Mr Rubb also, when first an
opportunity might come for her to do so. She had no desire to keep
from his knowledge any tittle of what had occurred. There had been
nothing of which she was ashamed. But not the less did she feel that
it would have been well for her that she should have told her own
story before that horrid man had come to the Cedars. The story would
now first be told to him by her aunt, and she knew well the tone in
which it would be told.

It occurred to her that she might even yet go and meet him at the
station. But if so, she must tell him at once, and he would know that
she had done so because she was afraid of her aunt, and she disliked
the idea of excusing herself before she was accused. If he really
loved her, he would listen to her, and believe her. If he did
not--why then let Lady Ball have her own way. She had promised to be
firm, and she would keep her promise; but she would not intrigue with
the hope of making him firm. If he was infirm of purpose, let him
go. So she sat in her room, even when she heard the door close after
his entrance, and did not go down till it was time for her to show
herself in the drawing-room before dinner. When she entered the room
was full. He nodded at her with a pleasant smile, and she made up her
mind that he had heard nothing as yet. Her uncle had excused himself
from coming to table, and her aunt and John were talking together in
apparent eagerness about him. For one moment her cousin spoke to her
before dinner.

"I am afraid," he said, "that my father is sinking fast."

Then she felt quite sure that he had as yet heard nothing about Mr
Maguire.

But it was late in the evening, when other people had gone to bed,
that Lady Ball was in the habit of discussing family affairs with
her son, and doubtless she would do so to-night. Margaret, before
she went up to her room, strove hard to get from him a few words of
kindness, but it seemed as though he was not thinking of her.

"He is full of his father," she said to herself.

When her bed-candle was in her hand she did make an opportunity to
speak to him.

"Has Mr Slow settled anything more as yet?" she asked.

"Well, yes. Not that he has settled anything, but he has made a
proposition to which I am willing to agree. I don't go up to town
to-morrow, and we will talk it over. If you will agree to it, all the
money difficulties will be settled."

"I will agree to anything that you tell me is right."

"I will explain it all to you to-morrow; and, Margaret, I have told
Mr Slow what are my intentions,--our intentions, I ought to say." She
smiled at him with that sweet smile of hers, as though she thanked
him for speaking of himself and her together, and then she took
herself away. Surely, after speaking to her in that way, he would not
allow any words from his mother to dissuade him from his purpose?

She could not go to bed. She knew that her fate was being discussed,
and she knew that her aunt at that very time was using every argument
in her power to ruin her. She felt, moreover, that the story might
be told in such a way as to be terribly prejudicial to her. And now,
when his father was so ill, might it not be very natural that he
should do almost anything to lessen his mother's troubles? But to her
it would be absolute ruin; such ruin that nothing which she had yet
endured would be in any way like it. The story of the loss of her
money had stunned her, but it had not broken her spirit. Her misery
from that had arisen chiefly from the wants of her brother's family.
But if he were now to tell her that all must be over between them,
her very heart would be broken.

She could not go to bed while this was going on, so she sat
listening, till she should hear the noise of feet about the house.
Silently she loosened the lock of her own door, so that the sound
might more certainly come to her, and she sat thinking what she might
best do. It had not been quite eleven when she came upstairs, and at
twelve she did not hear anything. And yet she was almost sure that
they must be still together in that small room downstairs, talking of
her and of her conduct. It was past one before she heard the door of
the room open. She heard it so plainly, that she wondered at herself
for having supposed for a moment that they could have gone without
her noticing them. Then she heard her cousin's heavy step coming
upstairs. In passing to his room he would not go actually by her
door, but would be very near it. She looked through the chink, having
carefully put away her own candle, and could see his face as he came
upon the top stair. It wore a look of trouble and of pain, but not,
as she thought, of anger. Her aunt, she knew, would go to her room by
the back stairs, and would go through the kitchen and over the whole
of the lower house, before she would come out on the landing to which
Margaret's room opened. Then, seeing her cousin, the idea occurred
to her that she would have it all over on that very night. If he
had heard that which changed his purpose, why should she be left in
suspense? He should tell her at once, and at once she would prepare
herself for her future life.

So she opened the door a little way, and called to him.

"John," she said, "is that you?"

She spoke almost in a whisper, but, nevertheless, he heard her very
clearly, and at once turned towards her room.

"Come in, John," she said, opening the door wider. "I wish to speak
to you. I have been waiting till you should come up."

She had taken off her dress, and had put on in place of it a white
dressing-gown; but of this she had not thought till he was already
within the room. "I hope you won't mind finding me like this, but I
did so want to speak to you to-night."

He, as he looked at her, felt that he had no objection to make to her
appearance. If that had been his only trouble concerning her he would
have been well satisfied. When he was within the room, she closed the
lock of the door very softly, and then began to question him.

"Tell me," she said, "what my aunt has been saying to you about that
man that came here to-day."

He did not answer her at once, but stood leaning against the bed.

"I know she has been telling you," continued Margaret. "I know she
would not let you go to bed without accusing me. Tell me, John, what
she has told you."

He was very slow to speak. As he had sat listening to his mother's
energetic accusation against the woman he had promised to marry,
hearing her bring up argument after argument to prove that Margaret
had, in fact, been engaged to that clergyman,--that she had intended
to marry that man while she had money, and had not, up to that day,
made him fully understand that she would not do so,--he had himself
said little or nothing, claiming to himself the use of that night
for consideration. The circumstances against Margaret he owned to
be very strong. He felt angry with her for having had any lover at
Littlebath. It was but the other day, during her winter visit to
the Cedars, that he had himself proposed to her, and that she had
rejected him. He had now renewed his proposal, and he did not like to
think that there had been any one else between his overtures. And he
could not deny the strength of his mother's argument when she averred
that Mr Maguire would not have come down there unless he had had, as
she said, every encouragement. Indeed, throughout the whole affair,
Lady Ball believed Mr Maguire, and disbelieved her niece; and
something of her belief, and something also of her disbelief,
communicated itself to her son. But, still, he reserved to himself
the right of postponing his own opinion till the morrow; and as he
was coming upstairs, when Margaret saw him through the chink of the
door, he was thinking of her smiles, of her graciousness, and her
goodness. He was remembering the touch of her hand when they were
together in the square, and the feminine sweetness with which she had
yielded to him every point regarding her fortune. When he did not
speak to her at once, she questioned him again.

"I know she has told you that Mr Maguire has been here, and that she
has accused me of deceiving you."

"Yes, Margaret, she has."

"And what have you said in return; or rather, what have you thought?"

He had been leaning, or half sitting, on the bed, and she had placed
herself beside him. How was it that she had again taken him by the
coat, and again looked up into his face with those soft, trusting
eyes? Was it a trick with her? Had she ever taken that other man by
the coat in the same way, and smitten him also with the battery of
her eyes? The loose sleeve of her dressing-gown had fallen back, and
he could see that her arm was round and white, and very fair. Was
she conversant with such tricks as these? His mother had called her
clever and cunning as a serpent. Was it so? Had his mother seen with
eyes clearer than his own, and was he now being surrounded by the
meshes of a false woman's web? He moved away from her quickly, and
stood upon the hearth-rug with his back to the empty fire grate.

Then she stood up also.

"John," she said, "if you have condemned me, say so. I shall defend
myself for the sake of my character, but I shall not ask you to come
back to me."

But he had not condemned her. He had not condemned her altogether,
neither had he acquitted her. He was willing enough to hear her
defence, as he had heard his mother's accusation; but he was desirous
of hearing it without committing himself to any opinion.

"I have been much surprised," he said, "by what my mother has now
told me,--very much surprised indeed. If Mr Maguire had any claim
upon your hand, should you not have told me?"

"He had no claim; but no doubt it was right that I should tell you. I
was bound by my duty to tell you everything that had occurred."

"Of course you were--and yet you did not do it."

"But I was not so bound before what you said to me in the shrubbery
last night? Remember, John, it was but last night. Have I had a
moment to speak to you?"

"If there was any question of engagement between you and him, you
should have told it me then, on the instant."

"But there was no question. He came to me one day and made me an
offer. I will tell you everything, and I think you will believe me.
I found him holding a position of respect, at Littlebath, and I was
all alone in the world. Why should I not listen to him? I gave him no
answer, but told him to speak to me again after a while. Then came my
poor brother's illness and death; and after that came, as you know,
the loss of all my money. In the meantime Mr Maguire had written,
but as I knew that my brother's family must trust to me for their
support--that, at least, John was my hope then--I answered him that
my means were not the same as before, and that everything must be
over. Then he wrote to me again after I had lost my money, and once
I answered him. I wrote to him so that he should know that nothing
could come of it. Here are all his letters, and I have a copy of
the last I wrote to him." So saying, she pulled the papers out
of her desk,--the desk in which still lay the torn shreds of her
poetry,--and handed them to him. "After that, what right had he to
come here and make such a statement as he did to my aunt? How can he
be a gentleman, and say what was so false?"

"No one says that he is a gentleman," replied John Ball, as he took
the proffered papers.

"I have told you all now," said she; and as she spoke, a gleam of
anger flashed from her eyes, for she was not in all respects a
Griselda such as she of old. "I have told you all now, and if further
excuse be wanting, I have none further to make."

Slowly he read the letters, still standing up on the hearth-rug, and
then he folded them again into their shapes, and slowly gave them
back to her.

"There is no doubt," said he, "as to his being a blackguard. He was
hunting for your money, and now that he knows you have got none, he
will trouble you no further." Then he made a move from the place on
which he stood, as if he were going.

"And is that to be all, John?" she said.

"I shall see you to-morrow," he replied. "I am not going to town."

"But is that to be all to-night?"

"It is very late," and he looked at his watch. "I do not see that any
good can come of talking more about it now. Good-night to you."

"Good-night," she said. Then she waited till the door was closed, and
when he was gone she threw herself upon the bed. Alas! alas! Now once
more was she ruined, and her present ruin was ruin indeed.

She threw herself on the bed, and sobbed as though she would have
broken her heart in the bitterness of her spirit. She had told him
the plainest, simplest truest story, and he had received it without
one word of comment in her favour,--without one sign to show that her
truthfulness had been acknowledged by him! He had told her that this
man, who had done her so great an injury, was a blackguard; but of
her own conduct he had not allowed himself to speak. She knew that
his judgment had gone against her, and though she felt it to be
hard,--very hard,--she resolved that she would make no protest
against it. Of course she would leave the Cedars. Only a few hours
since she had assured herself that it was her duty henceforward to
obey him in everything. But that was now all changed. Whatever he
might say to the contrary, she would go. If he chose to follow her
whither she went, and again ask her to be his wife she would receive
him with open arms. Oh, yes; let him only once again own that she was
worthy of him, and then she would sit at his feet and confess her
folly, and ask his pardon a thousand times for the trouble she had
given him. But unless he were to do this she would never again beg
for favour. She had made her defence, and had, as she felt, made it
in vain. She would not condescend to say one other word in excuse of
her conduct.

As for her aunt, all terms between Lady Ball and herself must be at
an end. Lady Ball had passed a day with her in the house without
speaking to her, except when that man had come, and then she had
taken part with him! Her aunt, she thought, had been untrue to
hospitality in not defending the guest within her own walls; she had
been untrue to her own blood, in not defending her husband's niece;
but, worse than all that, ten times worse, she had been untrue as
from one woman to another! Margaret, as she thought of this, rose
from the bed and walked wildly through the room unlike any Griselda.
No; she would have no terms with Lady Ball. Lady Ball had understood
it all, though John had not done so! She had known how it all was,
and had pretended not to know. Because she had an object of her own
to gain, she had allowed these calumnies to be believed! Let come
what might, they should all know that Margaret Mackenzie, poor,
wretched, destitute as she was, had still spirit enough to resent
such injuries as these.

In the morning she sent down word by one of her young cousins that
she would not come to breakfast, and she asked that some tea might be
sent up to her.

"Is she in bed, my dear?" asked Lady Ball.

"No, she is not in bed," said Jane Ball. "She is sitting up, and has
got all her things about the room as though she were packing."

"What nonsense!" said Lady Ball; "why does she not come down?"

Then Isabella, the eldest girl, was sent up to her, but Margaret
refused to show herself.

"She says she would rather not; but she wants to know if papa will
walk out with her at ten."

Lady Ball again said that this was nonsense, but tea and toast were
at last supplied to her, and her cousin promised to be ready at the
hour named. Exactly at ten o'clock, Margaret opened the schoolroom
door, and asked one of the girls to tell her father that she would be
found on the walk leading to the long shrubbery.

There on the walk she remained, walking slowly backwards and forwards
over a space of twenty yards, till he joined her. She gave him her
hand, and then turned towards the long shrubbery, and he, following
her direction, walked at her side.

"John," she said, "you will not be surprised at my telling you that,
after what has occurred, I shall leave this place to-day."

"You must not do that," he said.

"Ah, but I must do it. There are some things John, which no woman
should bear or need bear. After what has occurred it is not right
that I should incur your mother's displeasure any longer. All my
things are ready. I want you to have them taken down to the one
o'clock train."

"No, Margaret; I will not consent to that."

"But, John, I cannot consent to anything else. Yesterday was a
terrible day for me. I don't think you can know how terrible. What I
endured then no one has a right to expect that I should endure any
longer. It was necessary that I should say something to you of what
had occurred, and that I said last night. I have no further call to
remain here, and, most positively, I shall go to-day."

He looked into her face and saw that she was resolved, but yet he was
not minded to give way. He did not like to think that all authority
over her was passing out of his hands. During the night he had
not made up his mind to pardon her at once. Nay, he had not yet
told himself that he would pardon her at all. But he was prepared
to receive her tears and excuses, and we may say that, in all
probability, he would have pardoned her had she wept before him
and excused herself. But though she could shed tears on this
matter,--though, doubtless, there were many tears to be shed by
her,--she would shed no more before him in token of submission. If he
would first submit, then, indeed, she might weep on his shoulder or
laugh on his breast, as his mood might dictate.

"Margaret," he said, "we have very much to talk over before you can
go."

"There will be time for that between this and one. Look here, John; I
have made up my mind to go. After what took place yesterday, it will
be better for us all that we should be apart."

"I don't see that, unless, indeed, you are determined to quarrel
with us altogether. I suppose my wishes in the matter will count for
something."

"Yesterday morning they would have counted for everything; but not
this morning."

"And why not, Margaret?"

This was a question to which it was so difficult to find a reply,
that she left it unanswered. They both walked on in silence for some
paces, and then she spoke again.

"You said yesterday that you had been with Mr Slow, and that you had
something to tell me. If you still wish to tell me anything, perhaps
you can do so now."

"Everything seems to be so much changed," said he, speaking very
gloomily.

"Yes," said she; "things are changed. But my confidence in Mr Slow,
and in you, is not altered. If you like it, you can settle everything
about the money without consulting me. I shall agree to anything
about that."

"I was going to propose that your brother's family should have the
debt due by the Rubbs. Mr Slow thinks he might so manage as to secure
the payment of the interest."

"Very well; I shall be delighted that it should be so. I had hoped
that they would have had more, but that of course is all over. I
cannot give them what is not mine."

But this arrangement, which would have been pleasant enough
before,--which seemed to be very pleasant when John Ball was last
in Mr Slow's chambers, telling that gentleman that he was going to
make everything smooth by marrying his cousin,--was not by any means
so pleasant now. He had felt, when he was mentioning the proposed
arrangement to Margaret, that the very naming of it seemed to imply
that Mr Maguire and his visit were to go for nothing. If Mr Maguire
and his visit were to go for much--to go for all that which Lady Ball
wished to make of them--then, in such a case as that, the friendly
arrangement in question would not hold water. If that were to be so,
they must all go to work again, and Mr Slow must be told to do the
best in his power for his own client. John Ball was by no means
resolved to obey his mother implicitly and make so much of Mr Maguire
and his visit as all this; but how could he help doing so if Margaret
would go away? He could not as yet bring himself to tell her that Mr
Maguire and the visit should go altogether for nothing. He shook his
head in his trouble, and pished and pshawed.

"The truth is, Margaret, you can't go to-day."

"Indeed I shall, John," said she, smiling. "You would hardly wish to
keep me a prisoner, and the worst you could do would be to keep my
luggage from me."

"Then I must say that you are very obstinate."

"It is not very often that I resolve to have my own way; but I have
resolved now, and you should not try to balk me."

They had now come round nearly to the house, and she showed, by the
direction that she took, that she was going in.

"You will go?" said he.

"Yes," said she; "I will go. My address will be at the old house in
Arundel Street. Shall I see you again before I go?" she asked him,
when she stood on the doorstep. "Perhaps you will be busy, and I had
better say goodbye."

"Good-bye," said he, very gloomily; but he took her hand.

"I suppose I had better not disturb my uncle. You will give him my
love. And, John, you will tell some one about my luggage; will you
not?"

He muttered some affirmative, and then went round from the front of
the house, while she entered the hall.

It was now half-past eleven, and she intended to start at half-past
twelve. She went into the drawing-room and not finding her aunt, rang
the bell. Lady Ball was with Sir John, she was told. She then wrote a
note on a scrap of paper, and sent it in:


   DEAR AUNT,

   I leave here at half-past twelve. Perhaps you would like
   to see me before I go.

   M. M.


Then, while she was waiting for an answer, she went into the school
room, and said good-bye to all the children.

"But you are coming back, aunt Meg," said the youngest girl.

Margaret stooped down to kiss her, and, when the child saw and felt
the tears, she asked no further questions.

"Lady Ball is in the drawing-room, Miss," a servant said at that
moment, and there she went to fight her last battle!

"What's the meaning of this, Margaret?" said her aunt.

"Simply that I am going. I was to have gone on Monday, as you will
remember."

"But it was understood that you were to stop."

For a moment or two Margaret said nothing.

"I hate these sudden changes," said Lady Ball; "they are hardly
respectable. I don't think you should leave the house in this way,
without having given notice to any one. What will the servants think
of it?"

"They will probably think the truth, aunt. They probably thought
that, when they saw that you did not speak to me yesterday morning.
You can hardly imagine that I should stay in the house under such
circumstances as that."

"You must do as you like, of course."

"In this instance I must, aunt. I suppose I cannot see my uncle?"

"It is quite out of the question."

"Then I will say good-bye to you. I have said good-bye to John.
Good-bye, aunt," and Margaret put out her hand.

But Lady Ball did not put out hers.

"Good-bye, Margaret," she said. "There are circumstances under which
it is impossible for a person to make any expression of feeling that
may be taken for approbation. I hope a time may come when these
things shall have passed away, and that I may be able to see you
again." Margaret's eyes, as she made her way out of the room were
full of tears, and when she found herself outside the hall door, and
at the bottom of the steps, she was obliged to put her handkerchief
up to them. Before her on the road was a boy with a donkey cart
and her luggage. She looked round furtively, half-fearing, half
hoping--hardly expecting, but yet thinking, that she might again see
her cousin. But he did not show himself to her as she walked down to
the railway station by herself. As she went she told herself that she
was right; she applauded her own courage, but what, oh! what was she
to do? Everything now was over for her. Her fortune was gone. The man
whom she had learned to love had left her. There was no place in the
world on which her feet might rest till she had made one for herself
by the work of her hands. And as for friends--was there a single
being in the world whom she could now call her friend?



CHAPTER XXIII

The Lodgings of Mrs Buggins, Née Protheroe


It was nearly the end of October when Miss Mackenzie left the Cedars
and at that time of the year there is not much difficulty in getting
lodgings in London. The house which her brother Walter occupied in
Arundel Street had, at his death, remained in the hands of an old
servant of his, who had bought her late master's furniture with her
savings, and had continued to live there, letting out the house in
lodgings. Her former mistress had gone to see her once or twice
during the past year, and it had been understood between them, that
if Miss Mackenzie ever wanted a room for a night or two in London,
she could be accommodated at the old house. She would have preferred
to write to Hannah Protheroe,--or Mrs Protheroe, as she was now
called by brevet rank since she had held a house of her own,--had
time permitted her to do so. But time and the circumstances did not
permit this, and therefore she had herself driven to Arundel Street
without any notice.

Mrs Protheroe received her with open arms, and with many promises
of comfort and attendance,--as was to be expected, seeing that Mrs
Protheroe was, as she thought, receiving into her house the rich
heiress. She proffered at once the use of her drawing-room and of the
best bedroom, and declared that as the house was now empty, with the
exception of one young gentleman from Somerset House upstairs, she
would be able to devote herself almost exclusively to Miss Mackenzie.
Things were much changed from those former days in which Hannah
Protheroe used frequently to snub Margaret Mackenzie, being almost of
equal standing in the house with her young mistress. And now Margaret
was called upon to explain, that low as her standing might have been
then, at this present moment it was even lower. She had indeed the
means of paying for her lodgings, but these she was called upon to
husband with the minutest economy. The task of telling all this was
difficult. She began it by declining the drawing-room, and by saying
that a bedroom upstairs would suffice for her.

"You haven't heard, Hannah, what has happened to me," she said, when
Mrs Protheroe expressed her surprise at this decision. "My brother's
will was no will at all. I do not get any of his property. It all
goes under some other will to my cousin, Mr John Ball."

By these tidings Hannah was of course prostrated, and driven into a
state of excitement that was not without its pleasantness as far as
she was concerned. Of course she objected that the last will must be
the real will, and in this way the matter came to full discussion
between them.

"And, after all, that John Ball is to have everything!" said Mrs
Protheroe, holding up both her hands. By this time Hannah Protheroe
had got herself comfortably into a chair, and no doubt her personal
pleasure in the evening's occupation was considerably enhanced by the
unconscious feeling that she was the richer woman of the two. But she
behaved very well, and I am inclined to think, in preparing buttered
muffins for her guest, she was more particular in the toasting, and
more generous with the butter, than she would have been had she been
preparing the dainty for drawing-room use. And when she learned that
Margaret had eaten nothing since breakfast, she herself went out
and brought in a sweetbread with her own hand, though she kept a
servant whom she might have sent to the shop. And, for the honour of
lodging-house keepers, I protest that that sweetbread never made its
appearance in any bill.

"You will be more comfortable down here with me, won't you, my dear,
than up there, with not a creature to speak to?"

In this way Mrs Protheroe made her apology for giving Miss Mackenzie
her tea downstairs, in a little back parlour behind the kitchen. It
was a tidy room, with two wooden armchairs, and a bit of carpet over
the flags in the centre, and a rug before the fire. Margaret did
not inquire why it smelt of tobacco, nor did Mrs Protheroe think
it necessary to give any explanation why she went up herself at
half-past seven to answer the bell at the area; nor did she say
anything then of the office messenger from Somerset House, who often
found this little room convenient for his evening pipe. So was passed
the first evening after our Griselda had left the Cedars.

The next day she sat at home doing nothing,--still talking to Hannah
Protheroe, and thinking that perhaps John Ball might come. But he
did not come. She dined downstairs, at one o'clock, in the same
room behind the kitchen, and then she had tea at six. But as Hannah
intimated that perhaps a gentleman friend would look in during
the evening, she was obliged to betake herself, after tea, to the
solitude of her own room. As Hannah was between fifty and sixty, and
nearer the latter age than the former, there could be no objection to
her receiving what visitors she pleased. The third day passed with
Miss Mackenzie the same as the second, and still no cousin came to
see her. The next day, being Sunday, she diversified by going to
church three times; but on the Sunday she was forced to dine alone,
as the gentleman friend usually came in on that day to eat his bit of
mutton with his friend, Mrs Protheroe.

"A most respectable man, in the Admiralty branch, Miss Margaret, and
will have a pension of twenty-seven shillings and sixpence a week in
a year or two. And it is so lonely by oneself, you know."

Then Miss Mackenzie knew that Hannah Protheroe intended to become
Hannah Buggins, and she understood the whole mystery of the tobacco
smoke.

On the Monday she went to the house in Gower Street, and communicated
to them the fact that she had left the Cedars. Miss Colza was in the
room with her sister-in-law and nieces, and as it was soon evident
that Miss Colza knew the whole history of her misfortune with
reference to the property, she talked about her affairs before Miss
Colza as though that young lady had been one of her late brother's
family. But yet she felt that she did not like Miss Colza, and once
or twice felt almost inclined to resent certain pushing questions
which Miss Colza addressed to her.

"And have you quarrelled with all the Ball family?" the young lady
asked, putting great emphasis on the word all.

"I did not say that I had quarrelled with any of them," said Miss
Mackenzie.

"Oh! I beg pardon. I thought as you came away so sudden like, and as
you didn't see any of them since, you know--"

"It is a matter of no importance whatever," said Miss Mackenzie.

"No: none in the least," said Miss Colza. And in this way they made
up their minds to hate each other.

But what did the woman mean by talking in this way of all the Balls,
as though a quarrel with one of the family was a thing of more
importance than a quarrel with any of the others? Could she know, or
could she even guess, anything of John Ball and of the offer he had
made? But this mystery was soon cleared up in Margaret's mind, when,
at Mrs Mackenzie's request, they two went upstairs into that lady's
bedroom for a little private conversation.

The conversation was desired for purposes appertaining solely to the
convenience of the widow. She wanted some money, and then, with tears
in her eyes, she demanded to know what was to be done. Miss Colza
paid her eighteen shillings a week for board and lodging, and that
was now two weeks in arrear; and one bedroom was let to a young man
employed in the oilcloth factory, at seven shillings a week.

"And the rent is ninety pounds, and the taxes twenty-two," said Mrs
Mackenzie, with her handkerchief up to her eyes; "and there's the
taxman come now for seven pound ten, and where I'm to get it, unless
I coined my blood, I don't know."

Margaret gave her two sovereigns which she had in her purse, and
promised to send her a cheque for the amount of the taxes due.
Then she told as much as she could tell of that proposal as to the
interest of the money due from the firm in the New Road.

"If it could only be made certain," said the widow, who had fallen
much from her high ideas since Margaret had last seen her. Things
were greatly changed in that house since the day on which the dinner,
à la Russe, had been given under the auspices of Mr Grandairs. "If
it can only be made certain. They still keep his name up in the firm.
There it is as plain as life over the place of business"--she would
not even yet call it a shop--"Rubb and Mackenzie; and yet they won't
let me know anything as to how matters are going on. I went there the
other day, and they would tell me nothing. And as for Samuel Rubb, he
hasn't been here this last fortnight, and I've got no one to see me
righted. If you were to ask Mr Slow, wouldn't he be able to see me
righted?"

Margaret declared that she hardly knew whether that would come
within Mr Slow's line of business, and that she did not feel herself
competent to give advice on such a point as that. She then explained,
as best she could, that her own affairs were not as yet settled, but
that she was led to hope, from what had been said to her, that the
interest due by the firm on the money borrowed might become a fixed
annual income for Mrs Mackenzie's benefit.

After that it came out that Mr Maguire had again been in Gower
Street.

"And he was alone, for the best part of half an hour, with that young
woman downstairs," said Mrs Mackenzie.

"And you saw him?" Margaret asked.

"Oh, yes; I saw him afterwards."

"And what did he say?"

"He didn't say much to me. Only he gave me to understand--at least,
that is what I suppose he meant--that you and he-- He meant to say,
that you and he had been courting, I suppose."

Then Margaret understood why Miss Colza had desired to know whether
she had quarrelled with all the Balls. In her open and somewhat
indignant speech in the drawing-room at the Cedars, she had declared
before Mr Maguire, in her aunt's presence, that she was engaged to
marry her cousin, John Ball. Mr Maguire had now enlisted Miss Colza
in his service, and had told Miss Colza what had occurred. But still
Miss Mackenzie did not thoroughly understand the matter. Why, she
asked herself, should Mr Maguire trouble himself further, now that he
knew that she had no fortune? But, in truth, it was not so easy to
satisfy Mr Maguire on that point, as it was to satisfy Miss Mackenzie
herself. He believed that the relatives of his lady-love were
robbing her, or that they were, at any rate, taking advantage of her
weakness. If it might be given to him to rescue her and her fortune
from them, then, in such case as that, surely he would get his
reward. The reader will therefore understand why Miss Colza was
anxious to know whether Miss Mackenzie had quarrelled with all the
Balls.

Margaret's face became unusually black when she was told that she
and Mr Maguire had been courting, but she did not contradict the
assertion. She did, however, express her opinion of that gentleman.

"He is a mean, false, greedy man," she said, and then paused a
moment; "and he has been the cause of my ruin." She would not,
however, explain what she meant by this, and left the house, without
going back to the room in which Miss Colza was sitting.

About a week afterwards she got a letter from Mr Slow, in which that
gentleman,--or rather the firm, for the letter was signed Slow and
Bideawhile,--asked her whether she was in want of immediate funds.
The affair between her and her cousin was not yet, they said, in a
state for final settlement, but they would be justified in supplying
her own immediate wants out of the estate. To this she sent a reply,
saying that she had money for her immediate wants, but that she would
feel very grateful if anything could be done for Mrs Mackenzie and
her family. Then she got a further letter, very short, saying that a
half-year's interest on the loan had, by Mr Ball's consent, been paid
to Mrs Mackenzie by Rubb and Mackenzie.

On the day following this, when she was sitting up in her bedroom,
Mrs Protheroe came to her, dressed in wonderful habiliments. She
wore a dark-blue bonnet, filled all round with yellow flowers, and a
spotted silk dress, of which the prevailing colour was scarlet. She
was going, she said, to St Mary-le-Strand, "to be made Mrs Buggins
of." She tried to carry it off with bravado when she entered the
room, but she left it with a tear in her eye, and a whimper in her
throat. "To be sure, I'm an old woman," she said before she went.
"Who has said that I ain't? Not I; nor yet Buggins. We is both of us
old. But I don't know why we is to be desolate and lonely all our
days, because we ain't young. It seems to me that the young folks is
to have it all to themselves, and I'm sure I don't know why." Then
she went, clearly resolved, that as far as she was concerned, the
young people shouldn't have it all to themselves; and as Buggins was
of the same way of thinking, they were married at St Mary-le-Strand
that very morning.

And this marriage would have been of no moment to us or to our little
history, had not Mr Maguire chosen that morning, of all mornings
in the year, to call on Miss Mackenzie in Arundel Street. He had
obtained her address--of course, from Miss Colza; and, not having
been idle the while in pushing his inquiries respecting Miss
Mackenzie's affairs, had now come to Arundel Street to carry on the
battle as best he might. Margaret was still in her room as he came,
and as the girl could not show the gentleman up there, she took him
into an empty parlour, and brought the tidings up to the lodger. Mr
Maguire had not sent up his name; but a personal description by the
girl at once made Margaret know who was there.

"I won't see him," said she, with heightened colour, grieving greatly
that the strong-minded Hannah Protheroe,--or Buggins, as it might
probably be by that time,--was not at home. "Martha, don't let him
come up. Tell him to go away at once."

After some persuasion, the girl went down with the message, which she
softened to suit her own idea of propriety. But she returned, saying
that the gentleman was very urgent. He insisted that he must see Miss
Mackenzie, if only for an instant, before he left the house.

"Tell him," said Margaret, "that nothing shall induce me to see him.
I'll send for a policeman. If he won't go when he's told, Martha, you
must go for a policeman."

Martha, when she heard that, became frightened about the spoons and
coats, and ran down again in a hurry. Then she came up again with a
scrap of paper, on which a few words had been written with a pencil.
This was passed through a very narrow opening in the door, as
Margaret stood with it guarded, fearing lest the enemy might carry
the point by an assault.

"You are being robbed," said the note, "you are, indeed,--and my only
wish is to protect you."

"Tell him that there is no answer, and that I will receive no more
notes from him," said Margaret. Then, at last, when he received that
message, Mr Maguire went away.

About a week after that, another visitor came to Miss Mackenzie, and
him she received. But he was not the man for whose coming she in
truth longed. It was Mr Samuel Rubb who now called, and when Mrs
Buggins told her lodger that he was in the parlour, she went down
to see him willingly. Her life was now more desolate than it had
been before the occurrence of that ceremony in the church of St
Mary-le-Strand; for, though she had much respect for Mr Buggins, of
whose character she had heard nothing that was not good, and though
she had given her consent as to the expediency of the Buggins'
alliance, she did not find herself qualified to associate with Mr
Buggins.

"He won't say a word, Miss," Hannah had pleaded, "and he'll run and
fetch for you like a dog."

But even when recommended so highly for his social qualities,
Buggins, she felt, would be antipathetic to her; and, with many
false assurances that she did not think it right to interrupt a
newly-married couple, she confined herself on those days to her own
room.

But when Mr Rubb came, she went down to see him. How much Mr
Rubb knew of her affairs,--how far he might be in Miss Colza's
confidence,--she did not know; but his conduct to her had not been
offensive, and she had been pleased when she learned that the first
half year's interest had been paid to her sister-in-law.

"I'm sorry to hear of all this, Miss Mackenzie," said he, when he
came forward to greet her. He had not thought it necessary, on this
occasion, to put on his yellow gloves or his shiny boots, and she
liked him the better on that account.

"Of all what, Mr Rubb?" said she.

"Why, about you and the family at the Cedars. If what I hear is true,
they've just got you to give up everything, and then dropped you."

"I left Sir John Ball's house on my own account, Mr Rubb; I was not
turned out."

"I don't suppose they'd do that. They wouldn't dare to do that; not
so soon after getting hold of your money. Miss Mackenzie, I hope
I shall not anger you; but it seems to me to be the most horridly
wicked piece of business I ever heard of."

"You are mistaken, Mr Rubb. You forget that the thing was first found
out by my own lawyer."

"I don't know how that may be, but I can't bring myself to believe
that it all is as they say it is; I can't, indeed."

She merely smiled, and shook her head. Then he went on speaking.

"I hope I'm not giving offence. It's not what I mean, if I am."

"You are not giving any offence, Mr Rubb; only I think you are
mistaken about my relatives at Twickenham."

"Of course, I may be; there's no doubt of that. I may be mistaken,
like another. But, Miss Mackenzie, by heavens, I can't bring myself
to think it." As he spoke in this energetic way, he rose from his
chair, and stood opposite to her. "I cannot bring myself to think
that the fight should be given up."

"But there has been no fight."

"There ought to be a fight, Miss Mackenzie; I know that there ought.
I believe I'm right in supposing, if all this is allowed to go by the
board as it is going, that you won't have, so to say, anything of
your own."

"I shall have to earn my bread like other people; and, indeed, I am
endeavouring now to put myself in the way of doing so."

"I'll tell you how you shall earn it. Come and be my wife. I think
we've got a turn for good up at the business. Come and be my wife.
That's honest, any way."

"You are honest," said she, with a tear in her eye.

"I am honest now," said he, "though I was not honest to you once;"
and I think there was a tear in his eye also.

"If you mean about that money that you have borrowed, I am very
glad of it--very glad of it. It will be something for them in Gower
Street."

"Miss Mackenzie, as long as I have a hand to help myself with, they
shall have that at least. But now, about this other thing. Whether
there's nothing to come or anything, I'll be true to my offer. I'll
fight for it, if there's to be a fight, and I'll let it go if there's
to be no fight. But whether one way or whether the other, there shall
be a home for you when you say the word. Say it now. Will you be my
wife?"

"I cannot say that word, Mr Rubb."

"And why not?"

"I cannot say it; indeed, I cannot."

"Is it Mr Ball that prevents you?"

"Do not ask me questions like that. Indeed, indeed, indeed, I cannot
do as you ask me."

"You despise me, like enough, because I am only a tradesman?"

"What am I myself, that I should despise any man? No, Mr Rubb, I am
thankful and grateful to you; but it cannot be."

Then he took up his hat, and, turning away from her without any word
of adieu, made his way out of the house.

"He really do seem a nice man, Miss," said Mrs Buggins. "I wonder you
wouldn't have him liefer than go into one of them hospitals."

Whether Miss Mackenzie had any remnant left of another hope,
or whether all such hope had gone, we need not perhaps inquire
accurately. Whatever might be the state of her mind on that score,
she was doing her best to carry out her purpose with reference to the
plan of nursing; and as she could not now apply to her cousin, she
had written to Mr Slow upon the subject.

Late in November yet another gentleman came to see her, but when he
came she was unfortunately out. She had gone up to the house in Gower
Street, and had there been so cross-questioned by the indefatigable
Miss Colza that she had felt herself compelled to tell her
sister-in-law that she could not again come there as long as Miss
Colza was one of the family. It was manifest to her that these
questions had been put on behalf of Mr Maguire, and she had therefore
felt more indignant than she would have been had they originated in
the impertinent curiosity of the woman herself. She also informed
Mrs Mackenzie that, in obedience to instructions from Mr Slow, she
intended to postpone her purpose with reference to the hospital till
some time early in the next year. Mr Slow had sent a clerk to her
to explain that till that time such amicable arrangement as that to
which he looked forward to make could not be completed. On her return
from this visit to Gower Street she found the card,--simply the
card,--of her cousin, John Ball.

Why had she gone out? Why had she not remained a fixture in the
house, seeing that it had always been possible that he should come?
But why! oh, why! had he treated her in this way, leaving his card
at her home, as though that would comfort her in her grievous
desolation? It would have been far better that he should have left
there no intimation of his coming. She took the card, and in her
anger threw it from her into the fire.

But yet she waited for him to come again. Not once during the next
ten days, excepting on the Sunday, did she go out of the house during
the hours that her cousin would be in London. Very sad and monotonous
was her life, passed alone in her own bedroom. And it was the more
sad, because Mrs Buggins somewhat resented the manner in which her
husband was treated. Mrs Buggins was still attentive, but she made
little speeches about Buggins' respectability, and Margaret felt that
her presence in the house was an annoyance.

At last, at the end of the ten days, John Ball came again, and
Margaret, with a fluttering heart, descended to meet him in the empty
parlour.

She was the first to speak. As she had come downstairs, she had made
up her mind to tell him openly what were her thoughts.

"I had hoped to have seen you before this, John," she said, as she
gave him her hand.

"I did call before. Did you not get my card?"

"Oh, yes; I got your card. But I had expected to see you before that.
The kind of life that I am leading here is very sad, and cannot be
long continued."

"I would have had you remain at the Cedars, Margaret; but you would
not be counselled by me."

"No; not in that, John."

"I only mention it now to excuse myself. But you are not to suppose
that I am not anxious about you, because I have not seen you. I have
been with Mr Slow constantly. These law questions are always very
tedious in being settled."

"But I want nothing for myself."

"It behoves Mr Slow, for that very reason, to be the more anxious on
your behalf; and, if you will believe me, Margaret, I am quite as
anxious as he is. If you had remained with us, I could have discussed
the matter with you from day to day; but, of course, I cannot do so
while you are here."

As he was talking in this way, everything with reference to their
past intercourse came across her mind. She could not tell him that
she had been anxious to see him, not with reference to the money,
but that he might tell her that he did not find her guilty on that
charge which her aunt had brought against her concerning Mr Maguire.
She did not want assurances of solicitude as to her future means
of maintenance. She cared little or nothing about her future
maintenance, if she could not get from him one kind word with
reference to the past. But he went on talking to her about Mr Slow,
and the interest, and the property, and the law, till, at last, in
her anger, she told him that she did not care to hear further about
it, till she should be told at last what she was to do.

"As I have got nothing of my own," she said, "I want to be earning my
bread, and I think that the delay is cruel."

"And do you think," said he, "that the delay is not cruel to me
also?"

She thought that he alluded to the fact that he could not yet obtain
possession of the income for his own purposes.

"You may have it all at once, for me," she said.

"Have all what?" he replied. "Margaret, I think you fail to see the
difficulties of my position. In the first place, my father is on his
deathbed!"

"Oh, John, I am sorry for that."

"And, then, my mother is very bitter about all this. And how can I,
at such a time, tell her that her opinion is to go for nothing? I am
bound to think of my own children, and cannot abandon my claim to the
property."

"No one wants you to abandon it. At least, I do not."

"What am I to do, then? This Mr Maguire is making charges against
me."

"Oh, John!"

"He is saying that I am robbing you, and trying to cover the robbery
by marrying you. Both my own lawyer, and Mr Slow, have told me that a
plain statement of the whole case must be prepared, so that any one
who cares to inquire may learn the whole truth, before I can venture
to do anything which might otherwise compromise my character. You
do not think of all this, Margaret, when you are angry with me."
Margaret, hanging down her head, confessed that she had not thought
of it.

"The difficulty would have been less, had you remained at the
Cedars."

Then she again lifted her head, and told him that that would have
been impossible. Let things go as they might, she knew that she had
been right in leaving her aunt's house.

There was not much more said between them, nor did he give her any
definite promise as to when he would see her again. He told her
that she might draw on Mr Slow for money if she wanted it, but that
she again declined. And he told her also not to withdraw Susanna
Mackenzie from her school at Littlebath--at any rate, not for
the present; and intimated also that Mr Slow would pay the
schoolmistress's bill. Then he took his leave of her. He had spoken
no word of love to her; but yet she felt, when he was gone, that her
case was not as hopeless now as it had seemed to be that morning.



CHAPTER XXIV

The Little Story of the Lion and the Lamb


During those three months of October, November, and December, Mr
Maguire was certainly not idle. He had, by means of pertinacious
inquiry, learned a good deal about Miss Mackenzie; indeed, he had
learned most of the facts which the reader knows, though not quite
all of them. He had seen Jonathan Ball's will, and he had seen Walter
Mackenzie's will. He had ascertained, through Miss Colza, that John
Ball now claimed the property by some deed said to have been executed
by Jonathan Ball previous to the execution of his will; and he
had also learned, from Miss Mackenzie's own lips, in Lady Ball's
presence, that she had engaged herself to marry the man who was thus
claiming her property. Why should Mr Ball want to marry her,--who
would in such a case be penniless,--but that he felt himself
compelled in that way to quell all further inquiry into the thing
that he was doing? And why should she desire to marry him, but that
in this way she might, as it were, go with her own property, and not
lose the value of it herself when compelled to surrender it to her
cousin? That she would have given herself, with all her property, to
him,--Maguire,--a few months ago, Mr Maguire felt fully convinced,
and, as I have said before, had some ground for such conviction. He
had learned also from Miss Colza, that Miss Mackenzie had certainly
quarrelled with Lady Ball, and that she had, so Miss Colza believed,
been turned out of the house at the Cedars. Whether Mr Ball had or
had not abandoned his matrimonial prospects, Miss Colza could not
quite determine. Having made up her mind to hate Miss Mackenzie, and
therefore, as was natural, thinking that no gentleman could really
like such "a poor dowdy creature," she rather thought that he had
abandoned his matrimonial prospects. Mr Maguire had thus learned much
on the subject; but he had not learned this:--that John Ball was
honest throughout in the matter, and that the lawyers employed in it
were honest also.

And now, having got together all this information, and he himself
being in a somewhat precarious condition as to his own affairs, Mr
Maguire resolved upon using his information boldly. He had a not
incorrect idea of the fitness of things, and did not fail to tell
himself that were he at that moment in possession of those clerical
advantages which his labours in the vineyard should have earned
for him, he would not have run the risk which he must undoubtedly
incur by engaging himself in this matter. Had he a full church
at Littlebath depending on him, had Mr Stumfold's chance and Mr
Stumfold's success been his, had he still even been an adherent of
the Stumfoldian fold, he would have paused before he rushed to the
public with an account of Miss Mackenzie's grievance. But as matters
stood with him, looking round upon his own horizon, he did not
see that he had any course before him more likely to lead to good
pecuniary results, than this.

The reader has been told how Mr Maguire went to Arundel Street,
and how he was there received. But that reception did not at all
daunt his courage. It showed him that the lady was still under the
Ball influence, and that his ally, Miss Colza, was probably wrong
in supposing that the Ball marriage was altogether off. But this
only made him the more determined to undermine that influence, and
to prevent that marriage. If he could once succeed in convincing
the lady that her best chance of regaining her fortune lay in his
assistance, or if he could even convince her that his interference
must result, either with or without her good wishes, in dividing her
altogether from the Ball alliance, then she would be almost compelled
to throw herself into his arms. That she was violently in love with
him he did not suppose, nor did he think it at all more probable that
she should be violently in love with her cousin. He put her down
in his own mind as one of those weak, good women, who can bring
themselves easily to love any man, and who are sure to make useful
wives, because they understand so thoroughly the nature of obedience.
If he could secure for her her fortune, and could divide her from
John Ball, he had but little doubt that she would come to him,
in spite of the manner in which she had refused to receive him
in Arundel Street. Having considered all this, after the mode of
thinking which I have attempted to describe, he went to work with
such weapons as were readiest to his hands.

As a first step, he wrote boldly to John Ball. In this letter
he reasserted the statement he had made to Lady Ball as to Miss
Mackenzie's engagement to himself, and added some circumstances
which he had not mentioned to Lady Ball. He said, that having become
engaged to that lady, he had, in consequence, given up his curacy
at Littlebath, and otherwise so disarranged his circumstances, as
to make it imperative upon him to take the steps which he was now
taking. He had come up to London, expecting to find her anxious
to receive him in Gower Street, and had then discovered that she
had been taken away to the Cedars. He could not, he said, give any
adequate description of his surprise, when, on arriving there, he
heard from the mouth of his own Margaret that she was now engaged to
her cousin. But if his surprise then had been great and terrible, how
much greater and more terrible must it have been when, step by step,
the story of that claim upon her fortune revealed itself to him! He
pledged himself, in his letter, as a gentleman and as a Christian
minister, to see the matter out. He would not allow Miss Mackenzie
to be despoiled of her fortune and her hand,--both of which he had
a right to regard as his own,--without making known to the public a
transaction which he regarded as nefarious. Then there was a good
deal of eloquent indignation the nature and purport of which the
reader will probably understand.

Mr Ball did not at all like this letter. He had that strong feeling
of disinclination to be brought before the public with reference
to his private affairs, which is common to all Englishmen; and
he specially had a dislike to this, seeing that there would be a
question not only as to money, but also as to love. A gentleman does
not like to be accused of a dishonest attempt to possess himself of a
lady's property; but, at the age of fifty, even that is almost better
than one which charges him with such attempt against a lady's heart.
He knew that he was not dishonest, and therefore could endure the
first. He was not quite sure that he was not, or might not become,
ridiculous, and therefore feared the latter very greatly. He could
not ignore the letter, and there was nothing for it but to show it to
his lawyer. Unfortunately, he had told this lawyer, on the very day
of Mr Maguire's visit to the Cedars, that all was to be made smooth
by his marriage with Miss Mackenzie; and now, with much misery
and many inward groanings, he had to explain all this story of Mr
Maguire. It was the more painful in that he had to admit that an
offer had been made to the lady by the clergyman, and had not been
rejected.

"You don't think there was more than that?" asked the lawyer, having
paved the way for his question with sundry apologetic flourishes.

"I am sure there was not," said John Ball. "She is as true as the
Gospel, and he is as false as the devil."

"Oh, yes," said the lawyer; "there's no doubt about his falsehood.
He's one of those fellows for whom nothing is too dirty. Clergymen
are like women. As long as they're pure, they're a long sight purer
than other men; but when they fall, they sink deeper."

"You needn't be afraid of taking her word," said John Ball. "If all
women were as pure as she is, there wouldn't be much amiss with
them." His eyes glittered as he spoke of her, and it was a pity that
Margaret could not have heard him then, and seen him there.

"You don't think she has been--just a little foolish, you know?"

"I think she was very foolish in not bidding such a man to go about
his business, at once. But she has not been more so than what she
owns. She is as brave as she is good, and I don't think she would
keep anything back."

The result was that a letter was written by the lawyer to Mr Maguire,
telling Mr Maguire that any further communication should be made
to him; and also making a slight suggestion as to the pains and
penalties which are incurred in the matter of a libel. Mr Maguire had
dated his letter from Littlebath, and there the answer reached him.
He had returned thither, having found that he could take no further
immediate steps towards furthering his cause in London.

And now, what steps should he take next? More than once he thought
of putting his own case into the hands of a lawyer; but what was a
lawyer to do for him? An action for breach of promise was open to
him, but he had wit enough to feel that there was very little chance
of success for him in that line. He might instruct a lawyer to look
into Miss Mackenzie's affairs, and he thought it probable that he
might find a lawyer to take such instructions. But there would be
much expense in this, and, probably, no result. Advancing logically
from one conclusion to another, he at last resolved that he must rush
boldly into print, and lay the whole iniquity of the transaction open
to the public.

He believed--I think he did believe--that the woman was being
wronged. Some particle of such belief he had, and fostering himself
with this, he sat himself down, and wrote a leading article.

Now there existed in Littlebath at this time a weekly periodical
called the _Christian Examiner_, with which Mr Maguire had for some
time had dealings. He had written for the paper, taking an earnest
part in local religious subjects; and the paper, in return, had
very frequently spoken highly of Mr Maguire's eloquence, and of Mr
Maguire's energy. There had been a give and take in this, which all
people understand who are conversant with the provincial, or perhaps
I might add, with the metropolitan press of the country. The paper
in question was not a wicked paper, nor were the gentlemen concerned
in its publication intentionally scurrilous or malignant; but it was
subject to those great temptations which beset all class newspapers
of the kind, and to avoid which seems to be almost more difficult, in
handling religious subjects, than in handling any other. The editor
of a _Christian Examiner_, if, as is probable, he have, of his own,
very strong and one-sided religious convictions, will think that
those who differ from him are in a perilous way, and so thinking,
will feel himself bound to tell them so. The man who advocates one
line of railway instead of another, or one prime minister as being
superior to all others, does not regard his opponents as being
fatally wrong,--wrong for this world and for the next,--and he can
restrain himself. But how is a newspaper writer to restrain himself
when his opponent is incurring everlasting punishment, or, worse
still, carrying away others to a similar doom, in that they read, and
perhaps even purchase, that which the lost one has written? In this
way the contents of religious newspapers are apt to be personal;
and heavy, biting, scorching attacks, become the natural vehicle of
_Christian Examiners_.

Mr Maguire sat down and wrote his leading article, which on the
following Saturday appeared in all the glory of large type. The
article shall not be repeated here at length, because it contained
sundry quotations from Holy Writ which may as well be omitted,
but the purport of it shall be explained. It commenced with a
dissertation against an undue love of wealth,--the _auri sacra
fames_, as the writer called it; and described with powerful unction
the terrible straits into which, when indulged, it led the vile,
wicked, ugly, hideous, loathsome, devilish human heart. Then there
was an eloquent passage referring to worms and dust and grass, and
a quotation respecting treasures both corruptible and incorruptible.
Not at once, but with crafty gradations, the author sloped away to
the point of his subject. How fearful was it to watch the way in
which the strong, wicked ones,--the roaring lions of the earth,
beguiled the ignorance of the innocent, and led lonely lambs into
their slaughter-houses. All this, much amplified, made up half
the article; and then, after the manner of a pleasant relater of
anecdotes, the clerical story-teller began his little tale. When,
however, he came to the absolute writing of the tale, he found it
to be prudent for the present to omit the names of his hero and
heroine--to omit, indeed, the names of all the persons concerned. He
had first intended boldly to dare it all, and perhaps would yet have
done so had he been quite sure of his editor. But his editor he found
might object to these direct personalities at the first sound of the
trumpet, unless the communication were made in the guise of a letter,
with Mr Maguire's name at the end of it. After a while the editor
might become hot in the fight himself, and then the names could
be blazoned forth. And there existed some chance,--some small
chance,--that the robber-lion, John Ball, might be induced to drop
his lamb from his mouth when he heard this premonitory blast, and
then the lion's prey might be picked up by--"the bold hunter," Mr
Maguire would probably have said, had he been called upon to finish
the sentence himself; anyone else might, perhaps, say, by the jackal.
The little story was told, therefore, without the mention of any
names. Mr Maguire had read other little stories told in another
way in other newspapers, of greater weight, no doubt, than the
Littlebath _Christian Examiner_, and had thought that he could
wield a thunderbolt as well as any other Jupiter; but in wielding
thunderbolts, as in all other operations of skill, a man must first
try his 'prentice hand with some reticence; and thus he reconciled
himself to prudence, not without some pangs of conscience which
accused him inwardly of cowardice.

"Not long ago there was a lady in this town, loved and respected by
all who knew her." Thus he began, and then gave a not altogether
inaccurate statement of the whole affair, dropping, of course, his
own share in the concern, and accusing the vile, wicked, hideous,
loathsome human heart of the devouring lion, who lived some miles
to the west end of London, of a brutal desire and a hellish scheme
to swallow up the inheritance of the innocent, loved, and respected
lamb, in spite of the closest ties of consanguinity between them. And
then he went on to tell how, with a base desire of covering up from
the eyes of an indignant public his bestial greediness in having made
this dishonest meal, the lion had proposed to himself the plan of
marrying the lamb! It was a pity that Maguire had not learned--that
Miss Colza had not been able to tell him--that the lion had once
before expressed his wish to take the lamb for his wife. Had he
known that, what a picture he would have drawn of the disappointed
vindictive king of the forest, as lying in his lair at Twickenham he
meditated his foul revenge! This unfortunately was unknown to Mr
Maguire and unsuspected by him.

But the article did not end here. The indignant writer of it went on
to say that he had buckled on his armour in support of the lamb, and
that he was ready to meet the lion either in the forest or in any
social circle; either in the courts of law or before any Christian
arbitrator. With loud trumpetings, he summoned the lion to appear and
plead guilty, or to stand forward, if he dared, and declare himself
innocent with his hand on his heart. If the lion could prove himself
to be innocent the writer of that article offered him the right hand
of fellowship, an offer which the lion would not, perhaps, regard
as any strong inducement; but if the lion were not innocent--if, as
the writer of that article was well aware was the case, the lion was
basely, greedily, bestially guilty, then the writer of that article
pledged himself to give the lion no peace till he had disgorged his
prey, and till the lamb was free to come back, with all her property,
to that Christian circle in Littlebath which had loved her so warmly
and respected her so thoroughly.

Such was the nature of the article, and the editor put it in. After
all, what, in such matters, is an editor to do? Is it not his
business to sell his paper? And if the editor of a _Christian
Examiner_ cannot trust the clergyman he has sat under, whom can he
trust? Some risk an editor is obliged to run, or he will never sell
his paper. There could be little doubt that such an article as this
would be popular among the religious world of Littlebath, and that it
would create a demand. He had his misgivings--had that poor editor.
He did not feel quite sure of his lion and his lamb. He talked the
matter over vehemently with Mr Maguire in the little room in which
he occupied himself with his scissors and his paste; but ultimately
the article was inserted. Who does not know that interval of triumph
which warms a man's heart when he has delivered his blow, and
the return blow has not been yet received? The blow has been so
well struck that it must be successful, nay, may probably be
death-dealing. So felt Mr Maguire when two dozen copies of the
_Christian Examiner_ were delivered at his lodgings on the Saturday
morning. The article, though printed as a leading article, had been
headed as a little story,--"The Lion and the Lamb,"--so that it might
more readily attract attention. It read very nicely in print. It
had all that religious unction which is so necessary for _Christian
Examiners_, and with it that spice of devilry, so delicious to
humanity that without it even _Christian Examiners_ cannot be made
to sell themselves. He was very busy with his two dozen damp copies
before him,--two dozen which had been sent to him, by agreement, as
the price of his workmanship. He made them up and directed them with
his own hand. To the lion and the lamb he sent two copies, two to
each. To Mr Slow he sent a copy, and another to Messrs Slow and
Bideawhile, and a third to the other lawyer. He sent a copy to Lady
Ball and one to Sir John. Another he sent to the old Mackenzie,
baronet at Incharrow, and two more to the baronet's eldest son, and
the baronet's eldest son's wife. A copy he sent to Mrs Tom Mackenzie,
and a copy to Miss Colza; and a copy also he sent to Mrs Buggins.
And he sent a copy to the Chairman of the Board at the Shadrach Fire
Office, and another to the Chairman at the Abednego Life Office. A
copy he sent to Mr Samuel Rubb, junior, and a copy to Messrs Rubb and
Mackenzie. Out of his own pocket he supplied the postage stamps, and
with his own hand he dropped the papers into the Littlebath
post-office.

Poor Miss Mackenzie, when she read the article, was stricken almost
to the ground. How she did hate the man whose handwriting on the
address she recognised at once! What should she do? In her agony
she almost resolved that she would start at once for the Cedars and
profess her willingness to go before all the magistrates in London
and Littlebath, and swear that her cousin was no lion and that she
was no lamb. At that moment her feelings towards the Christians
and _Christian Examiners_ of Littlebath were not the feelings of
a Griselda. I think she could have spoken her mind freely had Mr
Maguire come in her way. Then, when she saw Mrs Buggins's copy, her
anger blazed up afresh, and her agony became more intense. The horrid
man must have sent copies all over the world, or he would never have
thought of sending a copy to Mrs Buggins!

But she did not go to the Cedars. She reflected that when there she
might probably find her cousin absent, and in such case she would
hardly know how to address herself to her aunt. Mr Ball, too, might
perhaps come to her, and for three days she patiently awaited his
coming. On the evening of the third day there came to her, not Mr
Ball, but a clerk from Mr Slow, the same clerk who had been with her
before, and he made an appointment with her at Mr Slow's office on
the following morning. She was to meet Mr Ball there, and also to
meet Mr Ball's lawyer. Of course she consented to go, and of course
she was on Mr Slow's staircase exactly at the time appointed. Of what
she was thinking as she walked round Lincoln's Inn Fields to kill a
quarter of an hour which she found herself to have on hand, we will
not now inquire.

She was shown at once into Mr Slow's room, and the first thing that
met her eyes was a copy of that horrible _Christian Examiner_, lying
on the table before him. She knew it instantly, and would have known
it had she simply seen a corner of the printing. To her eyes and
to her mind, no other printed paper had ever been so ugly and so
vicious. But she saw that there was also another newspaper under the
_Christian Examiner_. Mr Slow brought her to the fire, and gave her
a chair, and was very courteous. In a few moments came the other
lawyer, and with him came John Ball.

Mr Slow opened the conference, all the details of which need not be
given here. He first asked Miss Mackenzie whether she had seen that
wicked libel. She, with much energy and, I may almost say, with
virulence, declared that the horrid paper had been sent to her. She
hoped that nobody suspected that she had known anything about it.
In answer to this, they all assured her that she need not trouble
herself on that head. Mr Slow then told her that a London paper had
copied the whole story of the "Lion and the Lamb," expressing a hope
that the lion would be exposed if there was any truth in it, and the
writer would be exposed if there was none.

"The writer was Mr Maguire, a clergyman," said Miss Mackenzie, with
indignation.

"We all know that," said Mr Slow, with a slight smile on his face.
Then he went on reading the remarks of the London paper, which
declared that the Littlebath _Christian Examiner_, having gone so
far, must, of necessity, go further. The article was calculated to
give the greatest pain to, no doubt, many persons; and the innocence
or guilt of "the Lion," as poor John Ball was called, must be made
manifest to the public.

"And now, my dear Miss Mackenzie, I will tell you what we propose to
do," said Mr Slow. He then explained that it was absolutely necessary
that a question of law should be tried and settled in a court of
law, between her and her cousin. When she protested against this, he
endeavoured to explain to her that the cause would be an amicable
cause, a simple reference, in short, to a legal tribunal. Of course,
she did not understand this, and, of course, she still protested; but
after a while, when she began to perceive that her protest was of no
avail, she let that matter drop. The cause should be brought on as
soon as possible, but could not be decided till late in the spring.
She was told that she had better make no great change in her own
manner of life till that time, and was again informed that she could
have what money she wanted for her own maintenance. She refused to
take any money: but when the reference was made to some proposed
change in her life, she looked wistfully into her cousin's face. He,
however, had nothing to say then, and kept his eyes intently fixed
upon the carpet.

Mr Slow then took up the _Christian Examiner_, and declared to her
what was their intention with reference to that. A letter should
be written from his house to the editor of the London newspaper,
giving a plain statement of the case, with all the names, explaining
that all the parties were acting in perfect concert, and that the
matter was to be decided in the only way which could be regarded as
satisfactory. In answer to this, Miss Mackenzie, almost in tears,
pointed out how distressing would be the publicity thus given to her
name "particularly"--she said, "particularly--" But she could not go
on with the expression of her thoughts, or explain that so public a
reference to a proposal of marriage from her cousin must be doubly
painful to her, seeing that the idea of such a marriage had been
abandoned. But Mr Slow understood all this, and, coming over to her,
took her gently by the hand.

"My dear," he said, "you may trust me in this as though I were your
father. I know that such publicity is painful; but, believe me, it is
the best that we can do."

Of course she had no alternative but to yield.

When the interview was over, her cousin walked home with her to
Arundel Street, and said much to her as to the necessity for this
trial. He said so much, that she, at last, dimly understood that
the matter could not be set at rest by her simple renouncing of the
property. Her own lawyer could not allow her to do so; nor could he,
John Ball, consent to receive the property in such a manner. "You
see, by that newspaper, what people would say of me."

But had he not the power of making everything easy by doing that
which he himself had before proposed to do? Why did he not again say,
"Margaret, come and be my wife?" She acknowledged to herself that he
had a right to act as though he had never said those words,--that the
facts elicited by Mr Maguire's visit to the Cedars were sufficient to
absolve him from his offer. But yet she thought that they should have
been sufficient also to induce him to renew it.

On that occasion, when he left her at the door in Arundel Street, he
had not renewed his offer.



CHAPTER XXV

Lady Ball in Arundel Street


On Christmas Day Miss Mackenzie was pressed very hard to eat her
Christmas dinner with Mr and Mrs Buggins, and she almost gave way.
She had some half-formed idea in her head that should she once
sit down to table with Buggins, she would have given up the fight
altogether. She had no objection to Buggins, and had, indeed, no
strong objection to put herself on a par with Buggins; but she felt
that she could not be on a par with Buggins and with John Ball at
the same time. Why it should be that in associating with the man
she would take a step downwards, and might yet associate with the
man's wife without taking any step downwards, she did not attempt to
explain to herself. But I think that she could have explained it had
she put herself to the task of analysing the question, and that she
felt exactly the result of such analysis without making it. At any
rate, she refused the invitation persistently, and ate her wretched
dinner alone in her bedroom.

She had often told herself, in those days of her philosophy at
Littlebath, that she did not care to be a lady; and she told herself
now the same thing very often when she was thinking of the hospital.
She cosseted herself with no false ideas as to the nature of the work
which she proposed to undertake. She knew very well that she might
have to keep rougher company than that of Buggins if she put her
shoulder to that wheel. She was willing enough to do this, and had
been willing to encounter such company ever since she left the
Cedars. She was prepared for the roughness. But she would not put
herself beyond the pale, as it were, of her cousin's hearth, moved
simply by a temptation to relieve the monotony of her life. When the
work came within her reach she would go to it, but till then she
would bear the wretchedness of her dull room upstairs. She wondered
whether he ever thought how wretched she must be in her solitude.

On New Year's Day she heard that her uncle was dead. She was already
in mourning for her brother, and was therefore called upon to make no
change in that respect. She wrote a note of condolence to her aunt,
in which she strove much, and vainly, to be cautious and sympathetic
at the same time, and in return received a note, in which Lady Ball
declared her purpose of coming to Arundel Street to see her niece as
soon as she found herself able to leave the house. She would, she
said, give Margaret warning the day beforehand, as it would be very
sad if she had her journey all for nothing.

Her aunt, Lady Ball, was coming to see her in Arundel Street! What
could be the purpose of such a visit after all that had passed
between them? And why should her aunt trouble herself to make it
at a period of such great distress? Lady Ball must have some very
important plan to propose, and poor Margaret's heart was in a
flutter. It was ten days after this before the second promised note
arrived, and then Margaret was asked to say whether she would be at
home and able to receive her aunt's visit at ten minutes past two on
the day but one following. Margaret wrote back to say that she would
be at home at ten minutes past two on the day named.

Her aunt was old, and she again borrowed the parlour, though she was
not now well inclined to ask favours from Mrs Buggins. Mrs Buggins
had taken to heart the slight put upon her husband, and sometimes
made nasty little speeches.

"Oh dear, yes, in course, Miss Margaret; not that I ever did think
much of them Ballses, and less than ever now, since the gentleman was
kind enough to send me the newspaper. But she's welcome to the room,
seeing as how Mr Tiddy will be in the City, of course; and you're
welcome to it, too, though you do keep yourself so close to yourself,
which won't ever bring you round to have your money again; that it
won't."

Lady Ball came and was shown into the parlour, and her niece went
down to receive her.

"I would have been here before you came, aunt, only the room is not
mine."

In answer to this, Lady Ball said that it did very well. Any room
would answer the present purpose. Then she sat down on the sofa from
which she had risen. She was dressed, of course, in the full weeds
of her widowhood, and the wide extent of her black crape was almost
awful in Margaret's eyes. She did not look to be so savage as her
niece had sometimes seen her, but there was about her a ponderous
accumulation of crape, which made her even more formidable than she
used to be. It would be almost impossible to refuse anything to a
person so black, so grave, so heavy, and so big.

"I have come to you, my dear," she said, "as soon as I possibly could
after the sad event which we have had at home."

In answer to this, Margaret said that she was much obliged, but she
hoped that her aunt had put herself to no trouble. Then she said a
word or two about her uncle,--a word or two that was very difficult,
as of course it could mean nothing.

"Yes," said the widow, "he has been taken from us after a long and
useful life. I hope his son will always show himself to be worthy of
such a father."

After that there was silence in the room for a minute or two, during
which Margaret waited for her aunt to begin; but Lady Ball sat
there solid, grave, and black, as though she thought that her very
presence, without any words, might be effective upon Margaret as a
preliminary mode of attack. Margaret herself could find nothing to
say to her aunt, and she, therefore, also remained silent. Lady Ball
was so far successful in this, that when three minutes were over her
niece had certainly been weakened by the oppressive nature of the
meeting. She had about her less of vivacity, and perhaps also less of
vitality, than when she first entered the room.

"Well, my dear," said her aunt at last, "there are things, you know,
which must be talked about, though they are ever so disagreeable;"
and then she pulled out of her pocket that abominable number of the
Littlebath _Christian Examiner_.

"Oh, aunt, I hope you are not going to talk about that."

"My dear, that is cowardly; it is, indeed. How am I to help talking
about it? I have come here, from Twickenham, on purpose to talk about
it."

"Then, aunt, I must decline; I must, indeed."

"My dear!"

"I must, indeed, aunt."

Let a man or a woman's vitality be ever so thoroughly crushed and
quenched by fatigue or oppression--or even by black crape--there will
always be some mode of galvanising which will restore it for a time,
some specific either of joy or torture which will produce a return
of temporary energy. This Littlebath newspaper was a battery of
sufficient power to put Margaret on her legs again, though she
perhaps might not be long able to keep them.

"It is a vile, lying paper, and it was written by a vile, lying man,
and I hope you will put it up and say nothing about it."

"It is a vile, lying paper, Margaret; but the lies are against my
son, and not against you."

"He is a man, and knows what he is about, and it does not signify to
him. But, aunt, I won't talk about it, and there's an end of it."

"I hope he does know what he is about," said Lady Ball. "I hope he
does. But you, as you say, are a woman, and therefore it specially
behoves you to know what you are about."

"I am not doing anything to anybody," said Margaret.

Lady Ball had now refolded the offensive newspaper, and restored it
to her pocket. Perhaps she had done as much with it as she had from
the first intended. At any rate, she brought it forth no more, and
made no further intentionally direct allusion to it. "I don't suppose
you really wish to do any injury to anybody," she said.

"Does anybody accuse me of doing them an injury?" Margaret asked.

"Well, my dear, if I were to say that I accused you, perhaps you
would misunderstand me. I hope--I thoroughly expect, that before I
leave you, I may be able to say that I do not accuse you. If you
will only listen to me patiently for a few minutes, Margaret--which
I couldn't get you to do, you know, before you went away from the
Cedars in that very extraordinary manner--I think I can explain to
you something which--" Here Lady Ball became embarrassed, and paused;
but Margaret gave her no assistance, and therefore she began a new
sentence. "In point of fact, I want you to listen to what I say, and
then, I think--I do think--you will do as we would have you."

Whom did she include in that word "we"? Margaret had still sufficient
vitality not to let the word pass by unquestioned. "You mean yourself
and John?" said she.

"I mean the family," said Lady Ball rather sharply. "I mean the
whole family, including those dear girls to whom I have been in the
position of a mother since my son's wife died. It is in the name of
the Ball family that I now speak, and surely I have a right."

Margaret thought that Lady Ball had no such right, but she would not
say so at that moment.

"Well, Margaret, to come to the point at once, the fact is this. You
must renounce any idea that you may still have of becoming my son's
wife." Then she paused.

"Has John sent you here to say this?" demanded Margaret.

"I don't wish you to ask any such question as that. If you had any
real regard for him I don't think you would ask it. Consider his
difficulties, and consider the position of those poor children! If he
were your brother, would you advise him, at his age, to marry a woman
without a farthing, and also to incur the certain disgrace which
would attach to his name after--after all that has been said about
it in this newspaper?"--then, Lady Ball put her hand upon her
pocket--"in this newspaper, and in others?"

This was more than Margaret could bear. "There would be no disgrace,"
said she, jumping to her feet.

"Margaret, if you put yourself into a passion, how can you understand
reason? You ought to know, yourself, by the very fact of your being
in a passion, that you are wrong. Would there be no disgrace, after
all that has come out about Mr Maguire?"

"No, none--none!" almost shouted this modern Griselda. "There could
be no disgrace. I won't admit it. As for his marrying me, I don't
expect it. There is nothing to bind him to me. If he doesn't come
to me I certainly shall not go to him. I have looked upon it as all
over between him and me; and as I have not troubled him with any
importunities, nor yet you, it is cruel in you to come to me in this
way. He is free to do what he likes--why don't you go to him? But
there would be no disgrace."

"Of course he is free. Of course such a marriage never can take place
now. It is quite out of the question. You say that it is all over,
and you are quite right. Why not let this be settled in a friendly
way between you and me, so that we might be friends again? I should
be so glad to help you in your difficulties if you would agree with
me about this."

"I want no help."

"Margaret, that is nonsense. In your position you are very wrong to
set your natural friends at defiance. If you will only authorise me
to say that you renounce this marriage--"

"I will not renounce it," said Margaret, who was still standing up.
"I will not renounce it. I would sooner lose my tongue than let
it say such a word. You may tell him, if you choose to tell him
anything, that I demand nothing from him; nothing. All that I once
thought mine is now his, and I demand nothing from him. But when he
asked me to be his wife he told me to be firm, and in that I will
obey him. He may renounce me, and I shall have nothing with which to
reproach him; but I will never renounce him--never." And then the
modern Griselda, who had been thus galvanised into vitality, stood
over her aunt in a mood that was almost triumphant.

"Margaret, I am astonished at you," said Lady Ball, when she had
recovered herself.

"I can't help that, aunt."

"And now let me tell you this. My son is, of course, old enough to
do as he pleases. If he chooses to ruin himself and his children by
marrying, anybody--even if it were out of the streets--I can't help
it. Stop a moment and hear me to the end." This she said, as her
niece had made a movement as though towards the door. "I say, even
if it were out of the streets, I couldn't help it. But nothing shall
induce me to live in the same house with him if he marries you. It
will be on your conscience for ever that you have brought ruin on the
whole family, and that will be your punishment. As for me, I shall
take myself off to some solitude, and--there--I--shall--die." Then
Lady Ball put her handkerchief up to her face and wept copiously.

Margaret stood still, leaning upon the table, but she spoke no word,
either in answer to the threat or to the tears. Her immediate object
was to take herself out of the room, but this she did not know how to
achieve. At last her aunt spoke again: "If you please, I will get you
to ask your landlady to send for a cab." Then the cab was procured,
and Buggins, who had come home for his dinner, handed her ladyship
in. Not a word had been spoken during the time that the cab was being
fetched, and when Lady Ball went down the passage, she merely said,
"I wish you good-bye, Margaret."

"Good-bye," said Margaret, and then she escaped to her own bedroom.

Lady Ball had not done her work well. It was not within her power to
induce Margaret to renounce her engagement, and had she known her
niece better, I do not think that she would have made the attempt.
She did succeed in learning that Margaret had received no renewal
of an offer from her son,--that there was, in fact, no positive
engagement now existing between them; and with this, I think, she
should have been satisfied. Margaret had declared that she demanded
nothing from her cousin, and with this assurance Lady Ball should
have been contented. But she had thought to carry her point, to
obtain the full swing of her will, by means of a threat, and had
forgotten that in the very words of her own menace she conveyed to
Margaret some intimation that her son was still desirous of doing
that very thing which she was so anxious to prevent. There was no
chance that her threat should have any effect on Margaret. She ought
to have known that the tone of the woman's mind was much too firm
for that. Margaret knew--was as sure of it as any woman could be
sure--that her cousin was bound to her by all ties of honour. She
believed, too, that he was bound to her by love, and that if he
should finally desert it, he would be moved to do so by mean motives.
It was no anger on the score of Mr Maguire that would bring him to
such a course, no suspicion that she was personally unworthy of
being his wife. Our Griselda, with all her power of suffering and
willingness to suffer, understood all that, and was by no means
disposed to give way to any threat from Lady Ball.

When she was upstairs, and once more in solitude, she disgraced
herself again by crying. She could be strong enough when attacked by
others, but could not be strong when alone. She cried and sobbed upon
her bed, and then, rising, looked at herself in the glass, and told
herself that she was old and ugly, and fitted only for that hospital
nursing of which she had been thinking. But still there was something
about her heart that bore her up. Lady Ball would not have come to
her, would not have exercised her eloquence upon her, would not have
called upon her to renounce this engagement, had she not found all
similar attempts upon her own son to be ineffectual. Could it then
be so, that, after all, her cousin would be true to her? If it were
so, if it could be so, what would she not do for him and for his
children? If it were so, how blessed would have been all these
troubles that had brought her to such a haven at last! Then she tried
to reconcile his coldness to her with that which she so longed to
believe might be the fact. She was not to expect him to be a lover
such as are young men. Was she young herself, or would she like him
better if he were to assume anything of youth in his manners? She
understood that life with him was a serious thing, and that it was
his duty to be serious and grave in what he did. It might be that it
was essential to his character, after all that had passed, that the
question of the property should be settled finally, before he could
come to her, and declare his wishes. Thus flattering herself, she put
away from her her tears, and dressed herself, smoothing her hair, and
washing away the traces of her weeping; and then again she looked at
herself in the glass to see if it were possible that she might be
comely in his eyes.

The months of January and February slowly wore themselves away, and
during the whole of that time Margaret saw her cousin but once, and
then she met him at Mr Slow's chambers. She had gone there to sign
some document, and there she had found him. She had then been told
that she would certainly lose her cause. No one who had looked into
the matter had any doubt of that. It certainly was the case that
Jonathan Ball had bequeathed property which was not his at the
time he made the will, but which at the time of his death, in fact,
absolutely belonged to his nephew, John Ball. Old Mr Slow, as he
explained this now for the seventh or eighth time, did it without a
tone of regret in his voice, or a sign of sorrow in his eye. Margaret
had become so used to the story now, that it excited no strong
feelings within her. Her wish, she said, was, that the matter should
be settled. The lawyer, with almost a smile on his face, but still
shaking his head, said that he feared it could not be settled before
the end of April. John Ball sat by, leaning his face, as usual, upon
his umbrella, and saying nothing. It did, for a moment, strike Miss
Mackenzie as singular, that she should be reduced from affluence to
absolute nothingness in the way of property, in so very placid a
manner. Mr Slow seemed to be thinking that he was, upon the whole,
doing rather well for his client.

"Of course you understand, Miss Mackenzie, that you can have any
money you require for your present personal wants."

This had been said to her so often, that she took it as one of Mr
Slow's legal formulas, which meant nothing to the laity.

On that occasion also Mr Ball walked home with her, and was very
eloquent about the law's delays. He also seemed to speak as though
there was nothing to be regretted by anybody, except the fact that he
could not get possession of the property as quick as he wished. He
said not a word of anything else, and Margaret, of course, submitted
to be talked to by him rather than to talk herself. Of Lady Ball's
visit he said not a word, nor did she. She asked after the children,
and especially after Jack. One word she did say:

"I had hoped Jack would have come to see me at my lodgings."

"Perhaps he had better not," said Jack's father, "till all is
settled. We have had much to trouble us at home since my father's
death."

Then of course she dropped that subject. She had been greatly
startled on that day on hearing her cousin called Sir John by Mr
Slow. Up to that moment it had never occurred to her that the man of
whom she was so constantly thinking as her possible husband was a
baronet. To have been Mrs Ball seemed to her to have been possible;
but that she should become Lady Ball was hardly possible. She wished
that he had not been called Sir John. It seemed to her to be almost
natural that people should be convinced of the impropriety of such a
one as her becoming the wife of a baronet.

During this period she saw her sister-in-law once or twice, who on
those occasions came down to Arundel Street. She herself would not go
to Gower Street, because of the presence of Miss Colza. Miss Colza
still continued to live there, and still continued very much in
arrear in her contributions to the household fund. Mrs Mackenzie did
not turn her out, because she would,--so she said,--in such case get
nothing. Mrs Tom was by this time quite convinced that the property
would, either justly or unjustly, go into the hands of John Ball, and
she was therefore less anxious to make any sacrifice to please her
sister-in-law.

"I'm sure I don't see why you should be so bitter against her," said
Mrs Tom. "I don't suppose she told the clergyman a word that wasn't
true."

Miss Mackenzie declined to discuss the subject, and assured Mrs Tom
that she only recommended the banishment of Miss Colza because of her
apparent unwillingness to pay.

"As for the money," said Mrs Tom, "I expect Mr Rubb to see to that. I
suppose he intends to make her Mrs Rubb sooner or later."

Miss Mackenzie, having some kindly feeling towards Mr Rubb, would
have preferred to hear that Miss Colza was likely to become Mrs
Maguire. During these visits, Mrs Tom got more than one five-pound
note from her sister-in-law, pleading the difficulty she had in
procuring breakfast for lodgers without any money for the baker.
Margaret protested against these encroachments, but, still, the money
would be forthcoming.

Once, towards the end of February, Mrs Buggins seduced her lodger
down into her parlour in the area, and Miss Mackenzie thought she
perceived that something of the old servant's manners had returned to
her. She was more respectful than she had been of late, and made no
attempts at smart, ill-natured speeches.

"It's a weary life, Miss, this you're living here, isn't it?" said
she.

Margaret said that it was weary, but that there could be no change
till the lawsuit should be settled. It would be settled, she hoped,
in April.

"Bother it for a lawsuit," said Mrs Buggins. "They all tells me that
it ain't any lawsuit at all, really."

"It's an amicable lawsuit," said Miss Mackenzie.

"I never see such amicableness! 'Tis a wonder to hear, Miss, how
everybody is talking about it everywheres. Where we was last
night--that is, Buggins and I--most respectable people in the copying
line--it isn't only he as does the copying, but she too; nurses the
baby, and minds the kitchen fire, and goes on, sheet after sheet, all
at the same time; and a very tidy thing they make of it, only they do
straggle their words so;--well, they were saying as it's one of the
most remarkablest cases as ever was know'd."

"I don't see that I shall be any the better because it's talked
about."

"Well, Miss Margaret, I'm not so sure of that. It's my belief that if
one only gets talked about enough, one may have a'most anything one
chooses to ask for."

"But I don't want to ask for anything."

"But if what we heard last night is all true, there's somebody else
that does want to ask for something, or, as has asked, as folks say."

Margaret blushed up to the eyes, and then protested that she did not
know what Mrs Buggins meant.

"I never dreamed of it, my dear; indeed, I didn't, when the old lady
come here with her tantrums; but now, it's as plain as a pikestaff.
If I'd a' known anything about that, my dear, I shouldn't have made
so free about Buggins; indeed, I shouldn't."

"You're talking nonsense, Mrs Buggins; indeed, you are."

"They have the whole story all over the town at any rate, and in the
lane, and all about the courts; and they declare it don't matter a
toss of a halfpenny which way the matter goes, as you're to become
Lady Ball the very moment the case is settled."

Miss Mackenzie protested that Mrs Buggins was a stupid woman,--the
stupidest woman she had ever heard or seen; and then hurried up into
her own room to hug herself in her joy, and teach herself to believe
that what so many people said must at last come true.

Three days after this, a very fine, private carriage, with two
servants on a hammer cloth, drove up to the door in Arundel Street,
and the maid-servant, hurrying upstairs, told Miss Mackenzie that
a beautifully-dressed lady downstairs was desirous of seeing her
immediately.



CHAPTER XXVI

Mrs Mackenzie of Cavendish Square


"My dear," said the beautifully-dressed lady, "you don't know me, I
think;" and the beautifully-dressed lady came up to Miss Mackenzie
very cordially, took her by the hand, smiled upon her, and seemed to
be a very good-natured person indeed. Margaret told the lady that
she did not know her, and at that moment was altogether at a loss to
guess who the lady might be. The lady might be forty years of age,
but was still handsome, and carried with her that easy, self-assured,
well balanced manner, which, if it be not overdone, goes so far to
make up for beauty, if beauty itself be wanting.

"I am your cousin, Mrs Mackenzie,--Clara Mackenzie. My husband
is Walter Mackenzie, and his father is Sir Walter Mackenzie, of
Incharrow. Now you will know all about me."

"Oh, yes, I know you," said Margaret.

"I ought, I suppose, to make ever so many apologies for not coming to
you before; but I did call upon you, ever so long ago; I forget when,
and after that you went to live at Littlebath. And then we heard of
you as being with Lady Ball, and for some reason, which I don't quite
understand, it has always been supposed that Lady Ball and I were not
to know each other. And now I have heard this wonderful story about
your fortune, and about everything else, too, my dear; and it seems
all very beautiful, and very romantic; and everybody says that you
have behaved so well; and so, to make a long story short, I have come
to find you out in your hermitage, and to claim cousinship, and all
that sort of thing."

"I'm sure I'm very much obliged to you, Mrs Mackenzie--"

"Don't say it in that way, my dear, or else you'll make me think you
mean to turn a cold shoulder on me for not coming to you before."

"Oh, no."

"But we've only just come to town; and though of course I heard the
story down in Scotland--"

"Did you?"

"Did I? Why, everybody is talking about it, and the newspapers have
been full of it."

"Oh, Mrs Mackenzie, that is so terrible."

"But nobody has said a word against you. Even that stupid clergyman,
who calls you the lamb, has not pretended to say that you were
his lamb. We had the whole story of the Lion and the Lamb in the
_Inverary Interpreter_, but I had no idea that it was you, then. But
the long and the short of it is, that my husband says he must know
his cousin; and to tell the truth, it was he that sent me; and we
want you to come and stay with us in Cavendish Square till the
lawsuit is over, and everything is settled."

Margaret was so startled by the proposition, that she did not know
how to answer it. Of course she was at first impressed with a strong
idea of the impossibility of her complying with such a request,
and was simply anxious to find some proper way of refusing it. The
Incharrow Mackenzies were great people who saw much company, and it
was, she thought, quite out of the question that she should go to
their house. At no time of her career would she have been, as she
conceived, fit to live with such grand persons; but at the present
moment, when she grudged herself even a new pair of gloves out of
the money remaining to her, while she was still looking forward to
a future life passed as a nurse in a hospital, she felt that there
would be an absolute unfitness in such a visit.

"You are very kind," she said at last with faltering voice, as she
meditated in what words she might best convey her refusal.

"No, I'm not a bit kind; and I know from the tone of your voice that
you are meditating a refusal. But I don't mean to accept it. It is
much better that you should be with us while all this is going on,
than that you should be living here alone. And there is no one with
whom you could live during this time so properly, as with those who
are your nearest relatives."

"But, Mrs Mackenzie--"

"I suppose you are thinking now of another cousin, but it's not at
all proper that you should go to his house;--not as yet, you know.
And you need not suppose that he'll object because of what I said
about Lady Ball and myself. The Capulets and the Montagues don't
intend to keep it up for ever; and, though we have never visited Lady
Ball, my husband and the present Sir John know each other very well."

Mrs Mackenzie was not on that occasion able to persuade Margaret to
come at once to Cavendish Square, and neither was Margaret able to
give a final refusal. She did not intend to go, but she could not
bring herself to speak a positive answer in such a way as to have
much weight with Mrs Mackenzie. That lady left her at last, saying
that she would send her husband, and promising Margaret that she
would herself come in ten days to fetch her.

"Oh no," said Margaret; "it will be very good-natured of you to come,
but not for that."

"But I shall come, and shall come for that," said Mrs Mackenzie;
and at the end of the ten days she did come, and she did carry her
husband's cousin back with her to Cavendish Square.

In the meantime Walter Mackenzie had called in Arundel Street,
and had seen Margaret. But there had been given to her advice by
a counsellor whom she was more inclined to obey than any of the
Mackenzies. John Ball had written to her, saying that he had heard of
the proposition, and recommending her to accept the invitation given
to her.

"Till all this trouble about the property is settled," said he, "it
will be much better that you should be with your cousins than living
alone in Mrs Buggins' lodgings."

After receiving this Margaret held out no longer but was carried off
by the handsome lady in the grand carriage, very much to the delight
of Mrs Buggins.

Mrs Buggins' respect for Miss Mackenzie had returned altogether
since she had heard of the invitation to Cavendish Square, and she
apologised, almost without ceasing, for the liberty she had taken in
suggesting that Margaret should drink tea with her husband.

"And indeed, Miss, I shouldn't have proposed such a thing, were it
ever so, if I had suspected for a hinstant how things were a going to
be. For Buggins is a man as knows his place, and never puts himself
beyond it! But you was that close, Miss--"

In answer to this Margaret would say that it didn't signify, and that
it wasn't on that account; and I have no doubt but that the two women
thoroughly understood each other.

There was a subject on which, in spite of all her respect, Mrs
Buggins ventured to give Miss Mackenzie much advice, and to insist on
that advice strongly. Mrs Buggins was very anxious that the future
"baronet's lady" should go out upon her grand visit with a proper
assortment of clothing. That argument of the baronet's lady was the
climax of Mrs Buggins' eloquence: "You, my dear, as is going to be
one baronet's lady is going to a lady who is going to be another
baronet's lady, and it's only becoming you should go as is becoming."

Margaret declared that she was not going to be anybody's lady, but
Mrs Buggins altogether pooh-poohed this assertion.

"That, Miss, is your predestination," said Mrs Buggins, "and well
you'll become it. And as for money, doesn't that old party who
found it all out say reg'lar once a month that there's whatever you
want to take for your own necessaries? and you that haven't had a
shilling from him yet! If it was me, I'd send him in such a bill for
necessaries as 'ud open that old party's eyes a bit, and hurry him up
with his lawsuits."

The matter was at last compromised between her and Margaret, and a
very moderate expenditure for smarter clothing was incurred.

On the day appointed Mrs Mackenzie again came, and Margaret was
carried off to Cavendish Square. Here she found herself suddenly
brought into a mode of life altogether different from anything she
had as yet experienced. The Mackenzies were people who went much into
society, and received company frequently at their own house. The
first of these evils for a time Margaret succeeded in escaping, but
from the latter she had no means of withdrawing herself. There was
very much to astonish her at this period of her life, but that which
astonished her perhaps more than anything else was her own celebrity.
Everybody had heard of the Lion and the Lamb, and everybody was aware
that she was supposed to represent the milder of those two favourite
animals. Everybody knew the story of her property, or rather of
the property which had never in truth been hers, and which was now
being made to pass out of her hands by means of a lawsuit, of which
everybody spoke as though it were the best thing in the world for
all the parties concerned. People, when they mentioned Sir John Ball
to her--and he was often so mentioned--never spoke of him in harsh
terms, as though he were her enemy. She observed that he was always
named before her in that euphuistic language which we naturally use
when we speak to persons of those who are nearest to them and dearest
to them. The romance of the thing, and not the pity of it, was the
general subject of discourse, so that she could not fail to perceive
that she was generally regarded as the future wife of Sir John Ball.

It was the sudden way in which all this had come upon her that
affected her so greatly. While staying in Arundel Street she had
been altogether ignorant that the story of the Lion and the Lamb had
become public, or that her name had been frequent in men's mouths.
When Mrs Buggins had once told her that she was thus becoming famous,
she had ridiculed Mrs Buggins' statement. Mrs Buggins had brought
home word from some tea-party that the story had been discussed among
her own friends; but Miss Mackenzie had regarded that as an accident.
A lawyer's clerk or two about Chancery Lane or Carey Street might by
chance hear of the matter in the course of their daily work;--that it
should be so, and that such people talked of her affairs distressed
her; but that had, she was sure, been all. Now, however, in her new
home she had learned that Mr Maguire's efforts had become notorious,
and that she and her history were public property. When all this
first became plain to her, it overwhelmed her so greatly that she was
afraid to show her face; but this feeling gradually wore itself away,
and she found herself able to look around upon the world again, and
ask herself new questions of the future, as she had done when she had
first found herself to be the possessor of her fortune.

When she had been about three weeks with the Mackenzies, Sir John
Ball came to see her. He had written to her once before that, but his
letter had referred simply to some matter of business. When he was
shown into the drawing-room in Cavendish Square, Mrs Mackenzie and
Margaret were both there, but the former in a few minutes got up
and left the room. Margaret had wished with all her heart that her
hostess would remain with them. She was sure that Sir John Ball had
nothing to say that she would care to hear, and his saying nothing
would seem to be of no special moment while three persons were in the
room. But his saying nothing when special opportunity for speaking
had been given to him would be of moment to her. Her destiny was in
his hands to such a degree that she felt his power over her to amount
almost to a cruelty. She longed to ask him what her fate was to be,
but it was a question that she could not put to him. She knew that he
would not tell her now; and she knew also that the very fact of his
not telling her would inflict upon her a new misery, and deprive her
of the comfort which she was beginning to enjoy. If he could not tell
her at once how all this was to be ended, it would be infinitely
better for her that he should remain away from her altogether.

As soon as Mrs Mackenzie had left the room he began to describe to
her his last interview with the lawyers. She listened to him, and
pretended to interest herself, but she did not care two straws about
the lawyers. Point after point he explained to her, showing the
unfortunate ingenuity with which his uncle Jonathan had contrived to
confuse his affairs, and Margaret attempted to appear concerned. But
her mind had now for some months past refused to exert itself with
reference to the mode in which Mr Jonathan Ball had disposed of his
money. Two years ago she had been told that it was hers; since that,
she had been told that it was not hers. She had felt the hardship of
this at first; but now that feeling was over with her, and she did
not care to hear more about it. But she did care very much to know
what was to be her future fate.

"And when will be the end of it, John?" she asked him.

"Ha! that seems so hard to say. They did name the first of April, but
it won't be so soon as that. Mr Slow said to-day about the end of
April, but his clerk seems to think it will be the middle of May."

"It is very provoking," said Margaret.

"Yes, it is," said John Ball, "very provoking; I feel it so. It
worries me so terribly that I have no comfort in life. But I suppose
you find everything very nice here."

"They are very kind to me."

"Very kind, indeed. It was quite the proper thing for them to do; and
when I heard that Mrs Mackenzie had been to you in Arundel Street, I
was delighted."

Margaret did not dare to tell him that she would have preferred to
have been left in Arundel Street; but that, at the moment, was her
feeling. If, when all this was over, she would still have to earn her
bread, it would have been much better for her not to have come among
her rich relations. What good would it then do her to have lived two
or three months in Cavendish Square?

"I wish it were all settled, John," she said; and as she spoke there
was a tear standing in the corner of each eye.

"I wish it were, indeed," said John Ball; but I think that he did not
see the tears.

It was on her tongue to speak some word about the hospital; but she
felt that if she did so now, it would be tantamount to asking him
that question which it did not become her to ask; so she repressed
the word, and sat in silence.

"When the day is positively fixed for the hearing," said he, "I will
be sure to let you know."

"I wish you would let me know nothing further about it, John, till it
is all settled."

"I sometimes almost fancy that I wish the same thing," said he, with
a faint attempt at a smile; and after that he got up and went his
way.

This was not to be endured. Margaret declared to herself that she
could not live and bear it. Let the people around her say what they
would, it could not be that he would treat her in this way if he
intended to make her his wife. It would be better for her to make
up her mind that it was not to be so, and to insist on leaving the
Mackenzies' house. She would go, not again to Arundel Street, but to
some lodging further away, in some furthest recess of London, where
no one would come to her and flurry her with false hopes, and there
remain till she might be allowed to earn her bread. That was the mood
in which Mrs Mackenzie found her late in the afternoon on the day of
Sir John Ball's visit. There was to be a dinner party in the house
that evening, and Margaret began by asking leave to absent herself.

"Nonsense, Margaret," said Mrs Mackenzie; "I won't have anything of
the kind."

"I cannot come down, Mrs Mackenzie; I cannot, indeed."

"That is absolute nonsense. That man has been saying something unkind
to you. Why do you mind what he says?"

"He has not said anything unkind; he has not said anything at all."

"Oh, that's the grief, is it?"

"I don't know what you mean by grief; but if you were situated as I
am you would perceive that you were in a false position."

"I am sure he has been saying something unkind to you."

Margaret hardly knew how to tell her thoughts and feelings, and yet
she wished to tell them. She had resolved that she would tell the
whole to Mrs Mackenzie, having convinced herself that she could
not carry out her plan of leaving Cavendish Square without some
explanation of the kind. She did not know how to make her speech with
propriety, so she jumped at the difficulty boldly. "The truth is, Mrs
Mackenzie, that he has no more idea of marrying me than he has of
marrying you."

"Margaret, how can you talk such nonsense?"

"It is not nonsense; it is true; and it will be much better that it
should all be understood at once. I have nothing to blame him for,
nothing; and I don't blame him; but I cannot bear this kind of life
any longer. It is killing me. What business have I to be living here
in this way, when I have got nothing of my own, and have no one to
depend on but myself?"

"Then he must have said something to you; but, whatever it was, you
cannot but have misunderstood him."

"No; he has said nothing, and I have not misunderstood him." Then
there was a pause. "He has said nothing to me, and I am bound to
understand what that means."

"Margaret, I want to put one question to you," said Mrs Mackenzie,
speaking with a serious air that was very unusual with her,--"and
you will understand, dear, that I only do so because of what you are
saying now."

"You may put any question you please to me," said Margaret.

"Has your cousin ever asked you to be his wife, or has he not?"

"Yes, he has. He has asked me twice."

"And what answer did you make him?"

"When I thought all the property was mine, I refused him. Then, when
the property became his, he asked me again, and I accepted him.
Sometimes, when I think of that, I feel so ashamed of myself, that I
hardly dare to hold up my head."

"But you did not accept him simply because you had lost your money."

"No; but it looks so like it; does it not? And of course he must
think that I did so."

"I am quite sure he thinks nothing of the kind. But he did ask you,
and you did accept him?"

"Oh, yes."

"And since that, has he ever said anything to you to signify that the
match should be broken off?"

"The very day after he had asked me, Mr Maguire came to the Cedars
and saw me, and Lady Ball was there too. And he was very false, and
told my aunt things that were altogether untrue. He said that--that I
had promised to marry him, and Lady Ball believed him."

"But did Mr Ball believe him?"

"My aunt said all that she could against me, and when John spoke to
me the next day, it was clear that he was very angry with me."

"But did he believe you or Mr Maguire when you told him that Mr
Maguire's story was a falsehood from beginning to end?"

"But it was not a falsehood from beginning to end. That's where I
have been so very, very unfortunate; and perhaps I ought to say, as
I don't want to hide anything from you, so very, very wrong. The man
did ask me to marry him, and I had given him no answer."

"Had you thought of accepting him?"

"I had not thought about that at all, when he came to me. So I told
him that I would consider it all, and that he must come again."

"And he came again."

"Then my brother's illness occurred, and I went to London. After that
Mr Maguire wrote to me two or three times, and I refused him in the
plainest language that I could use. I told him that I had lost all
my fortune, and then I was sure that there would be an end of any
trouble from him; but he came to the Cedars on purpose to do me all
this injury; and now he has put all these stories about me into the
newspapers, how can I think that any man would like to make me his
wife? I have no right to be surprised that Lady Ball should be so
eager against it."

"But did Mr Ball believe you when you told him the story?"

"I think he did believe me."

"And what did he say?"

Margaret did not answer at once, but sat with her fingers up among
her hair upon her brow:

"I am trying to think what were his words," she said, "but I cannot
remember. I spoke more than he did. He said that I should have told
him about Mr Maguire, and I tried to explain to him that there had
been no time to do so. Then I said that he could leave me if he
liked."

"And what did he answer?"

"If I remember rightly, he made no answer. He left me saying that
he would see me again the next day. But the next day I went away.
I would not remain in the house with Lady Ball after what she had
believed about me. She took that other man's part against me, and
therefore I went away."

"Did he say anything as to your going?"

"He begged me to stay, but I would not stay. I thought it was all
over then. I regarded him as being quite free from any engagement,
and myself as being free from any necessity of obeying him. And it
was all over. I had no right to think anything else."

"And what came next?"

"Nothing. Nothing else has happened, except that Lady Ball came to me
in Arundel Street, asking me to renounce him."

"And you refused?"

"Yes; I would do nothing at her bidding. Why should I? She had been
my enemy throughout, since she found that the money belonged to her
son and not to me."

"And all this time you have seen him frequently?"

"I have seen him sometimes about the business."

"And he has never said a word to you about your engagement to him?"

"Never a word."

"Nor you to him?"

"Oh, no! how could I speak to him about it?"

"I would have done so. I would not have had my heart crushed within
me. But perhaps you were right. Perhaps it was best to be patient."

"I know that I have been wrong to expect anything or to hope for
anything," said Margaret. "What right have I to hope for anything
when I refused him while I was rich?"

"That has nothing to do with it."

"When he asked me again, he only did it because he pitied me. I don't
want to be any man's wife because he pities me."

"But you accepted him."

"Yes; because I loved him."

"And now?" Again Miss Mackenzie sat silent, still moving her fingers
among the locks upon her brow. "And now, Margaret?" repeated Mrs
Mackenzie.

"What's the use of it now?"

"But you do love him?"

"Of course I love him. How shall it be otherwise? What has he done
to change my love? His feelings have changed, and I have no right to
blame him. He has changed; and I hate myself, because I feel that
in coming here I have, as it were, run after him. I should have put
myself in some place where no thought of marrying him should ever
have come again to me."

"Margaret, you are wrong throughout."

"Am I? Everybody always says that I am always wrong."

"If I can understand anything of the matter, Sir John Ball has not
changed."

"Then, why--why--why?"

"Ah, yes, exactly; why? Why is it that men and women cannot always
understand each other; that they will remain for hours in each
other's presence without the power of expressing, by a single word,
the thoughts that are busy within them? Who can say why it is so? Can
you get up and make a clean breast of it all to him?"

"But I am a woman, and am very poor."

"Yes, and he is a man, and, like most men, very dumb when they have
anything at heart which requires care in the speaking. He knows no
better than to let things be as they are; to leave the words all
unspoken till he can say to you, 'Now is the time for us to go and
get ourselves married;' just as he might tell you that now was the
time to go and dine."

"But will he ever say that?"

"Of course he will. If he does not say so when all this business is
off his mind, when Mr Maguire and his charges are put at rest, when
the lawyers have finished their work, then come to me and tell me
that I have deceived you. Say to me then, 'Clara Mackenzie, you have
put me wrong, and I look to you to put me right.' You will find I
will put you right."

In answer to this, Margaret was able to say nothing further. She sat
for a while with her face buried in her hands thinking of it all,
asking herself whether she might dare to believe it all. At last,
however, she went up to dress for dinner; and when she came down to
the drawing-room there was a smile upon her face.

After that a month or six weeks passed in Cavendish Square, and there
was, during all that time, no further special reference to Sir John
Ball or his affairs. Twice he was asked to dine with the Mackenzies,
and on both occasions he did so. On neither of those evenings did
he say very much to Margaret; but, on both of them he said some few
words, and it was manifestly his desire that they should be regarded
as friends.

And as the spring came on, Margaret's patience returned to her, and
her spirits were higher than they had been at any time since she
first discovered that success among the Stumfoldians at Littlebath
did not make her happy.



CHAPTER XXVII

The Negro Soldiers' Orphan Bazaar


In the spring days of the early May there came up in London that
year a great bazaar,--a great charity bazaar on behalf of the orphan
children of negro soldiers who had fallen in the American war.
Tidings had come to this country that all slaves taken in the
revolted States had been made free by the Northern invaders, and that
these free men had been called upon to show their immediate gratitude
by becoming soldiers in the Northern ranks. As soldiers they were
killed in battle, or died, and as dead men they left orphans behind
them. Information had come that many of these orphans were starving,
and hence had arisen the cause for the Negro Soldiers' Orphan Bazaar.
There was still in existence at that time, down at South Kensington,
some remaining court or outstanding building which had belonged to
the Great International Exhibition, and here the bazaar was to be
held. I do not know that I can trace the way in which the idea grew
and became great, or that anyone at the time was able to attribute
the honour to the proper founder. Some gave it all to the Prince of
Wales, declaring that his royal highness had done it out of his own
head; and others were sure that the whole business had originated
with a certain philanthropical Mr Manfred Smith who had lately come
up in the world, and was supposed to have a great deal to do with
most things. Be that as it may, this thing did grow and become
great, and there was a list of lady patronesses which included some
duchesses, one marchioness, and half the countesses in London. It was
soon manifest to the eyes of those who understood such things, that
the Negro Soldiers' Orphan Bazaar was to be a success, and therefore
there was no difficulty whatsoever in putting the custody of the
stalls into the hands of proper persons. The difficulty consisted in
rejecting offers from persons who undoubtedly were quite proper for
such an occasion. There came to be interest made for permission to
serve, and boastings were heard of unparalleled success in the bazaar
line. The Duchess of St Bungay had a happy bevy of young ladies who
were to act as counter attendants under her grace; and who so happy
as any young lady who could get herself put upon the duchess's staff?
It was even rumoured that a certain very distinguished person would
have shown herself behind a stall, had not a certain other more
distinguished person expressed an objection; and while the rumour
was afloat as to the junior of those two distinguished persons, the
young-ladydom of London was frantic in its eagerness to officiate.
Now at that time there had become attached to the name of our poor
Griselda a romance with which the west-end of London had become
wonderfully well acquainted. The story of the Lion and the Lamb was
very popular. Mr Maguire may be said to have made himself odious
to the fashionable world at large, and the fate of poor Margaret
Mackenzie with her lost fortune, and the additional misfortune of her
clerical pledged protector, had recommended itself as being truly
interesting to all the feeling hearts of the season. Before May was
over, gentlemen were enticed to dinner parties by being told--and
untruly told--that the Lamb had been "secured;" as on the previous
year they had been enticed by a singular assurance as to Bishop
Colenso; and when Margaret on one occasion allowed herself to be
taken to Covent Garden Theatre, every face from the stalls was turned
towards her between the acts.

Who then was more fit to take a stall, or part of a stall at the
Negro Soldiers' Orphan Bazaar, than our Griselda? When the thing
loomed so large, lady patronesses began to be aware that mere
nobodies would hardly be fit for the work. There would have been
little or no difficulty in carrying out a law that nobody should
take a part in the business who had not some handle to her name, but
it was felt that such an arrangement as that might lead to failure
rather than glory. The commoner world must be represented but it
should be represented only by ladies who had made great names for
themselves. Mrs Conway Sparkes, the spiteful poetess, though she was
old and ugly as well as spiteful, was to have a stall and a bevy,
because there was thought to be no doubt about her poetry. Mrs
Chaucer Munro had a stall and a bevy; but I cannot clearly tell her
claim to distinction, unless it was that she had all but lost her
character four times, but had so saved it on each of those occasions
that she was just not put into the Index Expurgatorius of fashionable
society in London. It was generally said by those young men who
discussed the subject, that among Mrs Chaucer Munro's bevy would
be found the most lucrative fascination of the day. And then Mrs
Mackenzie was asked to take a stall, or part of a stall, and to bring
Griselda with her as her assistant. By this time the Lamb was most
generally known as "Griselda" among fashionable people.

Now Mrs Mackenzie was herself a woman of fashion, and quite open to
the distinction of having a part assigned to her at the great bazaar
of the season. She did not at all object to a booth on the left hand
of the Duchess of St Bungay, although it was just opposite to Mrs
Chaucer Munro. She assented at once.

"But you must positively bring Griselda," said Lady Glencora
Palliser, by whom the business of this mission was conducted.

"Of course, I understand that," said Mrs Mackenzie. "But what if she
won't come?"

"Griseldas are made to do anything," said Lady Glencora, "and of
course she must come."

Having settled the difficulty in this way, Lady Glencora went her
way, and Mrs Mackenzie did not allow Griselda to go to her rest that
night till she had extracted from her a promise of acquiescence,
which, I think, never would have been given had Miss Mackenzie
understood anything of the circumstances under which her presence was
desired.

But the promise was given, and Margaret knew little or nothing of
what was expected from her till there came up, about a fortnight
before the day of the bazaar, the great question of her dress for
the occasion. Previous to that she would fain have been energetic in
collecting and making things for sale at her stall, for she really
taught herself to be anxious that the negro soldiers' orphans
should have provision made for them; but, alas! her energy was
all repressed, and she found that she was not to be allowed to do
anything in that direction.

"Things of that sort would not go down at all now-a-days, Margaret,"
said Mrs Mackenzie. "Nobody would trouble themselves to carry them
away. There are tradesmen who furnish the stalls, and mark their
own prices, and take back what is not sold. You charge double the
tradesman's price, that's all."

Margaret, when her eyes were thus opened, of course ceased to make
little pincushions, but she felt that her interest in the thing was
very much lowered. But a word must be said as to that question of
the dress. Miss Mackenzie, when she was first interrogated as to her
intentions, declared her purpose of wearing a certain black silk
dress which had seen every party at Mrs Stumfold's during Margaret's
Littlebath season. To this her cousin demurred, and from demurring
proceeded to the enunciation of a positive order. The black silk
dress in question should not be worn. Now Miss Mackenzie chose to be
still in mourning on the second of June, the day of the bazaar, her
brother having died in September, and had no fitting garment, so she
said, other than the black silk in question. Whereupon Mrs Mackenzie,
without further speech to her cousin on the subject, went out and
purchased a muslin covered all over with the prettiest little frecks
of black, and sent a milliner to Margaret, and provided a bonnet of
much the same pattern, the gayest, lightest, jauntiest, falsest,
most make-belief-mourning bonnet that ever sprang from the art of a
designer in bonnets--and thus nearly broke poor Margaret's heart.

"People should never have things given them, who can't buy for
themselves," she said, with tears in her eyes, "because of course
they know what it means."

"But, my dearest," said Mrs Mackenzie, "young ladies who never have
any money of their own at all always accept presents from all their
relations. It is their special privilege."

"Oh, yes, young ladies; but not women like me who are waiting to find
out whether they are ruined or not."

The difficulty, however, was at last overcome, and Margaret, with
many inward upbraidings of her conscience, consented to wear the
black-freckled dress.

"I never saw anybody look so altered in my life," said Mrs Mackenzie,
when Margaret, apparelled, appeared in the Cavendish Square
drawing-room on the morning in question. "Oh, dear, I hope Sir John
Ball will come to look at you."

"Nonsense! he won't be such a fool as to do anything of the kind."

"I took care to let him know that you would be there;" said Mrs
Mackenzie.

"You didn't?"

"But I did, my dear."

"Oh, dear, what will he think of me?" ejaculated Margaret; but
nevertheless I fancy that there must have been some elation in her
bosom when she regarded herself and the freckled muslin in the glass.

Both Mrs Mackenzie and Miss Mackenzie had more than once gone down
to the place to inspect the ground and make themselves familiar with
the position they were to take. There were great stalls and little
stalls, which came alternately; and the Mackenzie stall stood next
to a huge centre booth at which the duchess was to preside. On their
other hand was the stall of old Lady Ware, and opposite to them, as
has been before said, the doubtful Mrs Chaucer Munro was to hold
difficult sway over her bevy of loud nymphs. Together with Mrs
Mackenzie were two other Miss Mackenzies, sisters of her husband,
handsome, middle-aged women, with high cheek-bones and fine
brave-looking eyes. All the Mackenzies, except our Griselda, were
dressed in the tartan of their clan; and over the stall there was
some motto in Gaelic, "Dhu dhaith donald dhuth," which nobody could
understand, but which was not the less expressive. Indeed, the
Mackenzie stall was got up very well; but then was it not known and
understood that Mrs Mackenzie did get up things very well? It was
acknowledged on all sides that the Lamb, Griselda, was uncommonly
well got up on this occasion.

It was understood that the ladies were to be assembled in the bazaar
at half-past two, and that the doors were to be thrown open to the
public at three o'clock. Soon after half-past two Mrs Mackenzie's
carriage was at the door, and the other Mackenzies having come up at
the same time, the Mackenzie phalanx entered the building together.
There were many others with them, but as they walked up they found
the Countess of Ware standing alone in the centre of the building,
with her four daughters behind her. She had on her head a wonderful
tiara, which gave to her appearance a ferocity almost greater than
was natural to her. She was a woman with square jaws, and a big face,
and stout shoulders: but she was not, of her own unassisted height,
very tall. But of that tiara and its altitude she was proud, and as
she stood in the midst of the stalls, brandishing her umbrella-sized
parasol in her anger, the ladies, as they entered, might well be
cowed by her presence.

"When ladies say half-past two," said she, "they ought to come at
half-past two. Where is the Duchess of St Bungay? I shall not wait
for her."

But there was a lady there who had come in behind the Mackenzies,
whom nothing ever cowed. This was the Lady Glencora Palliser, the
great heiress who had married the heir of a great duke, pretty,
saucy, and occasionally intemperate, in whose eyes Lady Ware with her
ferocious tiara was simply an old woman in a ridiculous head-gear.
The countess had apparently addressed herself to Mrs Mackenzie, who
had been the foremost to enter the building, and our Margaret had
already begun to tremble. But Lady Glencora stepped forward, and took
the brunt of the battle upon herself.

"Nobody ever yet was so punctual as my Lady Ware," said Lady
Glencora.

"It is very annoying to be kept waiting on such occasions," said the
countess.

"But my dear Lady Ware, who keeps you waiting? There is your stall,
and why on earth should you stand here and call us all over as we
come in, like naughty schoolboys?"

"The duchess said expressly that she would be here at half-past two."

"Who ever expects the dear duchess to keep her word?" said Lady
Glencora.

"Or whoever cared whether she does or does not?" said Mrs Chaucer
Munro, who, with her peculiar bevy, had now made her way up among the
front rank.

Then to have seen the tiara of Lady Ware, as it wagged and nodded
while she looked at Mrs Munro, and to have witnessed the high
moral tone of the ferocity with which she stalked away to her own
stall with her daughters behind her,--a tragi-comedy which it was
given to no male eyes to behold,--would have been worth the whole
after-performance of the bazaar. No male eyes beheld that scene, as
Mr Manfred Smith, the manager, had gone out to look for his duchess,
and missing her carriage in the crowd, did not return till the bazaar
had been opened. That Mrs Chaucer Munro did not sink, collapsed,
among her bevy, must have been owing altogether to that callousness
which a long habit of endurance produces. Probably she did feel
something as at the moment there came no titter from any other bevy
corresponding to the titter which was raised by her own. She and
her bevy retired to their allotted place, conscious that their time
for glory could not come till the male world should appear upon the
scene. But Lady Ware's tiara still wagged and nodded behind her
counter, and Margaret, looking at her, thought that she must have
come there as the grand duenna of the occasion.

Just at three o'clock the poor duchess hurried into the building in
a terrible flurry, and went hither and thither among the stalls, not
knowing at first where was her throne. Unkind chance threw her at
first almost into the booth of Mrs Conway Sparkes, the woman whom of
all women she hated the most; and from thence she recoiled into the
arms of Lady Hartletop who was sitting serene, placid, and contented
in her appointed place.

"Opposite, I think, duchess," Mrs Conway Sparkes had said. "We are
only the small fry here."

"Oh, ah; I beg pardon. They told me the middle, to the left."

"And this is the middle to the right," said Mrs Conway Sparkes. But
the duchess had turned round since she came in, and could not at all
understand where she was.

"Under the canopy, duchess," just whispered Lady Hartletop. Lady
Hartletop was a young woman who knew her right hand from her left
under all circumstances of life, and who never made any mistakes.
The duchess looked up in her confusion to the centre of the ceiling,
but could see no canopy. Lady Hartletop had done all that could
be required of her, and if the duchess were to die amidst her
difficulties it would not be her fault. Then came forth the Lady
Glencora, and with true charity conducted the lady-president to her
chair, just in time to avoid the crush, which ensued upon the opening
of the doors.

The doors were opened, and very speedily the space of the bazaar
between the stalls became too crowded to have admitted the safe
passage of such a woman as the Duchess of St Bungay; but Lady
Glencora, who was less majestic in her size and gait, did not find
herself embarrassed. And now there arose, before the general work of
fleecing the wether lambs had well commenced, a terrible discord, as
of a brass band with broken bassoons, and trumpets all out of order,
from the further end of the building,--a terrible noise of most
unmusical music, such as Bartholomew Fair in its loudest days could
hardly have known. At such a diapason one would have thought that the
tender ears of May Fair and Belgravia would have been crushed and
cracked and riven asunder; that female voices would have shrieked,
and the intensity of fashionable female agony would have displayed
itself in all its best recognised forms. But the crash of brass was
borne by them as though they had been rough schoolboys delighting
in a din. The duchess gave one jump, and then remained quiet and
undismayed. If Lady Hartletop heard it, she did not betray the
hearing. Lady Glencora for a moment put her hands to her ears as
she laughed, but she did it as though the prettiness of the motion
were its only one cause. The fine nerves of Mrs Conway Sparkes, the
poetess, bore it all without flinching; and Mrs Chaucer Munro with
her bevy rushed forward so that they might lose nothing of what was
coming.

"What are they going to do?" said Margaret to her cousin, in alarm.

"It's the play part of the thing. Have you not seen the bills?" Then
Margaret looked at a great placard which was exhibited near to her,
which, though by no means intelligible to her, gave her to understand
that there was a show in progress. The wit of the thing seemed
to consist chiefly in the wonderful names chosen. The King of
the Cannibal Islands was to appear on a white charger. King
Chrononhotonthologos was to be led in chains by Tom Thumb. Achilles
would drag Hector thrice round the walls of Troy; and Queen Godiva
would ride through Coventry, accompanied by Lord Burghley and the
ambassador from Japan. It was also signified that in some back part
of the premises a theatrical entertainment would be carried on
throughout the afternoon, the King of the Cannibal Islands, with his
royal brother and sister Chrononhotonthologos and Godiva, taking
principal parts; but as nobody seemed to go to the theatre the
performers spent their time chiefly in making processions through and
amidst the stalls, when, as the day waxed hot, and the work became
heavy, they seemed to be taken much in dudgeon by the various bevies
with whose business they interfered materially.

On this, their opening march, they rushed into the bazaar with great
energy, and though they bore no resemblance to the characters named
in the playbill, and though there was among them neither a Godiva,
a Hector, a Tom Thumb, or a Japanese, nevertheless, as they were
dressed in paint and armour after the manner of the late Mr
Richardson's heroes, and as most of the ladies had probably been
without previous opportunity of seeing such delights, they had their
effect. When they had made their twenty-first procession the thing
certainly grew stale, and as they brought with them an infinity of
dirt, they were no doubt a nuisance. But no one would have been
inclined to judge these amateur actors with harshness who knew how
much they themselves were called on to endure, who could appreciate
the disgusting misery of a hot summer afternoon spent beneath dust
and paint and tin-plate armour, and who would remember that the
performers received payment neither in _éclat_ nor in thanks, nor
even in the smiles of beauty.

"Can't somebody tell them not to come any more?" said the duchess,
almost crying with vexation towards the end of the afternoon.

Then Mr Manfred Smith, who managed everything, went to the rear, and
the king and warriors were sent away to get beer or cooling drinks at
their respective clubs.

Poor Mr Manfred Smith! He had not been present at the moment in which
he was wanted to lead the duchess to her stall, and the duchess never
forgave him. Instead of calling him by his name from time to time,
and enabling him to shine in public as he deserved to shine,--for he
had worked at the bazaar for the last six weeks as no professional
man ever worked at his profession,--the duchess always asked for
"somebody" when she wanted Mr Smith, and treated him when he came
as though he had been a servant hired for the occasion. One very
difficult job of work was given to him before the day was done; "I
wish you'd go over to those young women," said the duchess, "and say
that if they make so much noise, I must go away."

The young women in question were Mrs Chaucer Munro and her bevy, and
the commission was one which poor Manfred Smith found it difficult to
execute.

"Mrs Munro," said he, "you'll be sorry to hear--that the duchess--has
got--a headache, and she thinks we all might be a little quieter."

The shouts of the loud nymphs were by this time high. "Pooh!" said
one of them. "Headache indeed!" said another. "Bother her head!" said
a third. "If the duchess is ill, perhaps she had better retire,"
said Mrs Chaucer Munro. Then Mr Manfred Smith walked off sorrowfully
towards the door, and seating himself on the stool of the money-taker
by the entrance, wiped off the perspiration from his brow. He had
already put on his third pair of yellow kid gloves for the occasion,
and they were soiled and torn and disreputable; his polished boots
were brown with dust; the magenta ribbon round his neck had become a
moist rope; his hat had been thrown down and rumpled; a drop of oil
had made a spot upon his trousers; his whiskers were draggled and out
of order, and his mouth was full of dirt. I doubt if Mr Manfred Smith
will ever undertake to manage another bazaar.

The duchess I think was right in her endeavour to mitigate the riot
among Mrs Munro's nymphs. Indeed there was rioting among other nymphs
than hers, though her noise and their noise was the loudest; and it
was difficult to say how there should not be riot, seeing what was to
be the recognised manner of transacting business. At first there was
something of prettiness in the rioting. The girls, who went about
among the crowd, begging men to put their hands into lucky bags,
trading in rose-buds, and asking for half-crowns for cigar lighters,
were fresh in their muslins, pretty with their braided locks, and
perhaps not impudently over-pressing in their solicitations to male
strangers. While they were not as yet either aweary or habituated
to the necessity of importunity, they remembered their girlhood and
their ladyhood, their youth and their modesty, and still carried with
them something of the bashfulness of maidenhood; and the young men,
the wether lambs, were as yet flush with their half-crowns, and the
elder sheep had not quite dispensed the last of their sovereigns or
buttoned up their trousers pockets. But as the work went on, and the
dust arose, and the prettinesses were destroyed, and money became
scarce, and weariness was felt, and the heat showed itself, and the
muslins sank into limpness, and the ribbons lost their freshness,
and braids of hair grew rough and loose, and sidelocks displaced
themselves--as girls became used to soliciting and forgetful of their
usual reticences in their anxiety for money, the charm of the thing
went, and all was ugliness and rapacity. Young ladies no longer moved
about, doing works of charity; but harpies and unclean birds were
greedy in quest of their prey.

"Put a letter in my post-office," said one of Mrs Munro's bevy, who
officiated in a postal capacity behind a little square hole, to a
young man on whom she pounced out and had caught him and brought up,
almost with violence.

The young man tendered some scrap of paper and a sixpence.

"Only sixpence!" said the girl.

A cabman could not have made the complaint with a more finished
accent of rapacious disgust.

"Never mind," said the girl, "I'll give you an answer."

Then, with inky fingers and dirty hands, she tendered him some
scrawl, and demanded five shillings postage. "Five shillings!" said
the young man. "Oh, I'm d----"

Then he gave her a shilling and walked away. She ventured to give one
little halloa after him, but she caught the duchess's eye looking at
her, and was quiet.

I don't think there was much real flirting done. Men won't flirt with
draggled girls, smirched with dust, weary with work, and soiled with
heat; and especially they will not do so at the rate of a shilling a
word. When the whole thing was over, Mrs Chaucer Munro's bevy, lying
about on the benches in fatigue before they went away, declared
that, as far as they were concerned, the thing was a mistake. The
expenditure in gloves and muslin had been considerable, and the
returns to them had been very small. It is not only that men will
not flirt with draggled girls, but they will carry away with them
unfortunate remembrances of what they have seen and heard. Upon the
whole it may be doubted whether any of the bevies were altogether
contented with the operations on the occasion of the Negro Soldiers'
Orphan Bazaar.

Miss Mackenzie had been, perhaps, more fortunate than some of the
others. It must, however, be remembered that there are two modes
of conducting business at these bazaars. There is the travelling
merchant, who roams about, and there is the stationary merchant, who
remains always behind her counter. It is not to be supposed that the
Duchess of St Bungay spent the afternoon rushing about with a lucky
bag. The duchess was a stationary trader, and so were all the ladies
who belonged to the Mackenzie booth. Miss Mackenzie, the lamb, had
been much regarded, and consequently the things at her disposal had
been quickly sold. It had all seemed to her to be very wonderful, and
as the fun grew fast and furious, as the young girls became eager
in their attacks, she made up her mind that she would never occupy
another stall at a bazaar. One incident, and but one, occurred to her
during the day; and one person came to her that she knew, and but
one. It was nearly six, and she was beginning to think that the weary
work must soon be over, when, on a sudden, she found Sir John Ball
standing beside her.

"Oh, John!" she said, startled by his presence, "who would have
thought of seeing you here?"

"And why not me as well as any other fool of my age?"

"Because you think it is foolish," she answered, "and I suppose the
others don't."

"Why should you say that I think it foolish? At any rate, I'm glad to
see you looking so nice and happy."

"I don't know about being happy," said Margaret,--"or nice either for
the matter of that."

But there was a smile on her face as she spoke, and Sir John smiled
also when he saw it.

"Doesn't she look well in that bonnet?" said Mrs Mackenzie, turning
round to the side of the counter at which he was standing. "It was my
choice, and I absolutely made her wear it. If you knew the trouble I
had!"

"It is very pretty," said Sir John.

"Is it not? And are you not very much obliged to me? I'm sure
you ought to be, for nobody before has ever taken the trouble of
finding out what becomes her most. As for herself, she's much too
well-behaved a young woman to think of such vanities."

"Not at present, certainly," said Margaret.

"And why not at present? She looks on those lawyers and their work as
though there was something funereal about them. You ought to teach
her better, Sir John."

"All that will be over in a day or two now," said he.

"And then she will shake off her dowdiness and her gloom together,"
said Mrs Mackenzie. "Do you know I fancy she has a liking for pretty
things at heart as well as another woman."

"I hope she has," said he.

"Of course you do. What is a woman worth without it? Don't be angry,
Margaret, but I say a woman is worth nothing without it, and Sir
John will agree with me if he knows anything about the matter. But,
Margaret, why don't you make him buy something? He can't refuse you
if you ask him."

If Miss Mackenzie could thereby have provided for all the negro
soldiers' orphans in existence, I do not think that she could at that
moment have solicited him to make a purchase.

"Come, Sir John," continued Mrs Mackenzie, "you must buy something of
her. What do you say to this paper-knife?"

"How much does the paper-knife cost?" said he, still smiling. It was
a large, elaborate, and perhaps, I may say, unwieldy affair, with a
great elephant at the end of it.

"Oh! that is terribly dear," said Margaret, "it costs two pounds
ten."

Thereupon he put his hand into his pocket, and taking out his purse,
gave her a five-pound note.

"We never give change," said Mrs Mackenzie: "do we, Margaret?"

"I'll give him change," said Margaret.

"I'll be extravagant for once," said Sir John, "and let you keep the
whole."

"Oh, John!" said Margaret.

"You have no right to scold him yet," said Mrs Mackenzie.

Margaret, when she heard this, blushed up to her forehead, and in her
confusion forgot all about the paper-knife and the money. Sir John, I
fancy, was almost as much confused himself, and was quite unable to
make any fitting reply. But, just at that moment, there came across
two harpies from the realms of Mrs Chaucer Munro, eagerly intent upon
their prey.

"Here are the lion and the lamb together," said one harpy. "The lion
must buy a rose to give to the lamb. Sir Lion, the rose is but a
poor half-crown." And she tendered him a battered flower, leering
at him from beneath her draggled, dusty bonnet as she put forth her
untempting hand for the money.

"Sir Lion, Sir Lion," said the other harpy, "I want your name for a
raffle."

But the lion was off, having pushed the first harpy aside somewhat
rudely. That tale of the Lion and the Lamb had been very terrible to
him; but never till this occasion had any one dared to speak of it
directly to his face. But what will not a harpy do who has become
wild and dirty and disgusting in the pursuit of half-crowns?

"Now he is angry," said Margaret. "Oh, Mrs Mackenzie, why did you say
that?"

"Yes; he is angry," said Mrs Mackenzie, "but not with you or me. Upon
my word, I thought he would have pushed that girl over; and if he
had, he would only have served her right."

"But why did you say that? You shouldn't have said it."

"About your not scolding him yet? I said it, my dear, because I
wanted to make myself certain. I was almost certain before, but now I
am quite certain."

"Certain of what, Mrs Mackenzie?"

"That you'll be a baronet's wife before me, and entitled to be taken
out of a room first as long as dear old Sir Walter is alive."

Soon after that the bazaar was brought to an end, and it was supposed
to have been the most successful thing of the kind ever done in
London. Loud boasts were made that more than eight hundred pounds had
been cleared; but whether any orphans of any negro soldiers were ever
the better for the money I am not able to say.



CHAPTER XXVIII

Showing How the Lion Was Stung by the Wasp


It may be remembered that Mr Maguire, when he first made public that
pretty story of the Lion and the Lamb, declared that he would give
the lion no peace till that beast had disgorged his prey, and that
he had pledged himself to continue the fight till he should have
succeeded in bringing the lamb back to the pleasant pastures of
Littlebath. But Mr Maguire found some difficulty in carrying out his
pledge. He was willing enough to fight, but the weapons with which
to do battle were wanting to him. The _Christian Examiner_, having
got so far into the mess, and finding that a ready sale did in
truth result from any special article as to the lion and the lamb,
was indeed ready to go on with the libel. The _Christian Examiner_
probably had not much to lose. But there arose a question whether
fighting simply through the columns of the _Christian Examiner_ was
not almost tantamount to no fight at all. He wanted to bring an
action against Sir John Ball, to have Sir John Ball summoned into
court and examined about the money, to hear some truculent barrister
tell Sir John Ball that he could not conceal himself from the scorn
of an indignant public behind the spangles of his parvenu baronetcy.
He had a feeling that the lion would be torn to pieces, if only a
properly truculent barrister could be got to fix his claws into him.
But, unfortunately, no lawyer,--not even Solomon Walker, the Low
Church attorney at Littlebath,--would advise him that he had any
ground for an action. If indeed he chose to proceed against the lady
for a breach of promise of marriage, then the result would depend
on the evidence. In such case as that the Low Church attorney at
Littlebath was willing to take the matter up. "But Mr Maguire was,
of course, aware," said Solomon Walker, "that there was a prejudice
in the public mind against gentlemen appearing as parties to such
suits." Mr Maguire was also aware that he could adduce no evidence of
the fact beyond his own unsupported, and, in such case, untrue word,
and declared therefore to the attorney, in a very high tone indeed,
that on no account would he take any step to harass the lady. It was
simply against Sir John Ball that he wished to proceed. "Things would
come out in that trial, Mr Walker," he said, "which would astonish
you and all the legal world. A rapacious scheme of villainy has been
conceived and brought to bear, through the stupidity of some people
and the iniquity of others, which would unroll itself fold by fold as
certainly as I stand here, if it were properly handled by a competent
barrister in one of our courts of law." And I think that Mr Maguire
believed what he was saying, and that he believed, moreover, that
he was speaking the truth when he told Mr Walker that the lady had
promised to marry him. Men who can succeed in deceiving no one else
will succeed at last in deceiving themselves. But the lawyer told
him, repeating the fact over and over again, that the thing was
impracticable; that there was no means of carrying the matter so
far that Sir John Ball should be made to appear in a witness box.
Everything that Sir John had done he had done legally; and even at
that moment of the discussion between Mr Walker and Mr Maguire, the
question of the ownership of the property was being tried before a
proper tribunal in London. Mr Maguire still thought Mr Walker to be
wrong,--thought that his attorney was a weak and ignorant man; but he
acknowledged to himself the fact that he in his unhappy position was
unable to get any more cunning attorney to take the matter in hand.

But the _Christian Examiner_ still remained to him, and that he used
with diligence. From week to week there appeared in it articles
attacking the lion, stating that the lion was still being watched,
that his prey would be snatched from him at last, that the lamb
should even yet have her rights, and the like. And as the thing
went on, the periodical itself and the writer of the article became
courageous by habit, till things were printed which Sir John Ball
found it almost impossible to bear. It was declared that he was going
to desert the lamb, now that he had taken all the lamb's property;
and that the Iamb, shorn of all her fleece, was to be condemned
to earn her bread as a common nurse in the wards of a common
hospital,--all which information came readily enough to Mr Maguire by
the hands of Miss Colza. The papers containing these articles were
always sent to Sir John Ball and to Miss Mackenzie, and the articles
were always headed, "The Lion and the Lamb." Miss Mackenzie, in
accordance with an arrangement made to that purpose, sent the papers
as soon as they came to Mr Slow, but Sir John Ball had no such ready
way of freeing himself from their burden. He groaned and toiled
under them, going to his lawyer with them, and imploring permission
to bring an action for libel against Mr Maguire. The venom of the
unclean animal's sting had gone so deep into him, that, fond as he
was of money, he had told his lawyer that he would not begrudge the
expense if he could only punish the man who was hurting him. But the
attorney, who understood something of feeling as well as something
of money, begged him to be quiet at any rate till the fate of the
property should be settled. "And if you'll take my advice, Sir John,
you will not notice him at all. You may be sure that he has not a
shilling in the world, and that he wants you to prosecute him. When
you have got damages against him, he will be off out of the country."

"But I shall have stopped his impudent ribaldry," said Sir John
Ball. Then the lawyer tried to explain to him that no one read the
ribaldry. It was of no use. Sir John read it himself, and that was
enough to make him wretched.

The little fable which made Sir John so unhappy had not, for some
months past, appeared in any of the metropolitan newspapers; but when
the legal inquiry into the proper disposition of Mr Jonathan Ball's
property was over, and when it was known that, as the result of that
inquiry, the will in favour of the Mackenzies was to be set aside and
the remains of the property handed over to Sir John, then that very
influential newspaper, which in the early days of the question had
told the story of the Lion and the Lamb, told it all again, tearing,
indeed, the Littlebath _Christian Examiner_ into shreds for its
iniquity, but speaking of the romantic misfortune of the lamb in
terms which made Sir John Ball very unhappy. The fame which accrued
to him from being so publicly pointed out as a lion, was not fame
of which he was proud. And when the writer in this very influential
newspaper went on to say that the world was now looking for a
termination of this wonderful story, which would make it pleasant to
all parties, he was nearly beside himself in his misery. He, a man
of fifty, of slow habits, with none of the buoyancy of youth left
in him, apt to regard himself as older than his age, who had lived
with his father and mother almost on an equality in regard to habits
of life, the father of a large family, of which the eldest was now
himself a man! Could it be endured that such a one as he should enter
upon matrimony amidst the din of public trumpets and under a halo
of romance? The idea of it was frightful to him. On the very day
on which the result of the legal investigation was officially
communicated to him, he sat in the old study at the Cedars with two
newspapers before him. In one of these there was a description of
his love, which he knew was intended as furtive ridicule, and an
assurance to the public that the lamb's misfortunes would all be
remedied by the sweet music of the marriage bell. What right had any
one to assert publicly that he intended to marry any one? In his
wretchedness and anger he would have indicted this newspaper also for
a libel, had not his lawyer assured him that, according to law, there
was no libel in stating that a man was going to be married. The other
paper accused him of rapacity and dishonesty in that he would not
marry the lamb, now that he had secured the lamb's fleece; so that,
in truth, he had no escape on either side; for Mr Maguire, having
at last ascertained that the lamb had, in very truth, lost all her
fleece, was no longer desirous of any personal connection, and felt
that he could best carry out his pledge by attacking the possessor
of the fleece on that side. Under such circumstances, what was such
a man as Sir John Ball to do? Could he marry his cousin amidst the
trumpets, and the halo, and the doggrel poetry which would abound?
Was it right that he should be made a mark for the finger of scorn?
Had he done anything to deserve this punishment?

And it must be remembered that from day to day his own mother, who
lived with him, who sat with him late every night talking on this one
subject, was always instigating him to abandon his cousin. It had
been admitted between them that he was no longer bound by his offer.
Margaret herself had admitted it,--"does not attempt to deny it," as
Lady Ball repeated over and over again. When he had made his offer he
had known nothing of Mr Maguire's offer, nor had Margaret then told
him of it. Such reticence on her part of course released him from his
bond. So Lady Ball argued, and against this argument her son made
no demur. Indeed it was hardly possible that he should comprehend
exactly what had taken place between his cousin and Mr Maguire. His
mother did not scruple to assure him that she must undoubtedly at one
time have accepted the man's proposal. In answer to this John Ball
would always assert his entire reliance on his cousin's word.

"She did it without knowing that she did so," Lady Ball would answer;
"but in some language she must have assented."

But the mother was never able to extract from the son any intimation
of his intention to give up the marriage, though she used threats and
tears, ridicule and argument,--appeals to his pride and appeals to
his pocket. He never said that he certainly would marry her; he never
said so at least after that night on which Margaret in her bedroom
had told him her story with reference to Mr Maguire; but neither did
he ever say that he certainly would not marry her. Lady Ball gathered
from all his words a conviction that he would be glad to be released,
if he could be released by any act on Margaret's behalf, and
therefore she had made her attempt on Margaret. With what success
the reader will, I hope, remember. Margaret, when she accepted her
cousin's offer, had been specially bidden by him to be firm. This
bidding she obeyed, and on that side there was no hope at all for
Lady Ball.

I fear there was much of cowardice on Sir John's part. He had, in
truth, forgiven Margaret any offence that she had committed in
reference to Mr Maguire. She had accepted his offer while another
offer was still dragging on an existence after a sort, and she had
not herself been the first to tell him of these circumstances. There
had been offence to him in this, but that offence he had, in truth,
forgiven. Had there been no Littlebath _Christian Examiner_, no tale
of the Lion and the Lamb, no publicity and no ridicule, he would
quietly have walked off with his cousin to some church, having gone
through all preliminary ceremonies in the most silent manner possible
for them, and would have quietly got himself married and have carried
Margaret home with him. Now that his father was dead and that his
uncle Jonathan's money had come to him, his pecuniary cares were
comparatively light, and he believed that he could be very happy with
Margaret and his children. But then to be pointed at daily as a lion,
and to be asked by all his acquaintances after the lamb! It must be
owned that he was a coward; but are not most men cowards in such
matters as that?

But now the trial was over, the money was his own, Margaret was left
without a shilling in the world, and it was quite necessary that
he should make up his mind. He had once told his lawyer, in his
premature joy, on that very day on which Mr Maguire had come to the
Cedars, that everything was to be made smooth by a marriage between
himself and the disinherited heiress. He had since told the lawyer
that something had occurred which might, perhaps, alter this
arrangement. After that the lawyer had asked no question about
the marriage; but when he communicated to his client the final
intelligence that Jonathan Ball's money was at his client's disposal,
he said that it would be well to arrange what should be done on Miss
Mackenzie's behalf. Sir John Ball had assumed very plainly a look of
vexation when the question was put to him.

"I promised Mr Slow that I would ask you," said the lawyer. "Mr Slow
is of course anxious for his client."

"It is my business and not Mr Slow's," said Sir John Ball, "and you
may tell him that I say so."

Then there had been a moment's silence, and Sir John had felt himself
to be wrong.

"Pray tell him also," said Sir John, "that I am very grateful to him
for his solicitude about my cousin, and that I fully appreciate his
admirable conduct both to her and me throughout all this affair. When
I have made up my mind what shall be done, I will let him know at
once."

As he walked down from his lawyer's chambers in Bedford Row to the
railway station he thought of all this, and thought also of those
words which Mrs Mackenzie had spoken to him in the bazaar. "You have
no right to scold him yet," she had said to Margaret. Of course he
had understood what they meant, and of course Margaret had understood
them also. And he had not been at all angry when they were spoken.
Margaret had been so prettily dressed, and had looked so fresh and
nice, that at that moment he had forgotten all his annoyances in his
admiration, and had listened to Mrs Mackenzie's cunning speech, not
without confusion, but without any immediate desire to contradict its
necessary inference. A moment or two afterwards the harpies had been
upon him, and then he had gone off in his anger. Poor Margaret had
been unable to distinguish between the effects produced by the speech
and by the harpies; but Mrs Mackenzie had been more clever, and had
consequently predicted her cousin's speedy promotion in the world's
rank.

Sir John, as he went home, made up his mind to one of two
alternatives. He would either marry his cousin or halve Jonathan
Ball's money with her. He wanted to marry her, and he wanted to keep
the money. He wanted to marry her especially since he had seen how
nice she looked in black-freckled muslin; but he wanted to marry
her in silence, without any clash of absurd trumpets, without
ridicule-moving leading articles, and fingers pointed at the
triumphant lion. He made up his mind to one of those alternatives,
and resolved that he would settle which on that very night. His
mind should be made up and told to his mother before he went to bed.
Nevertheless, when the girls and Jack were gone, and he was left
alone with Lady Ball, his mind had as yet been made up to nothing!

His mother gave him no peace on this subject. It was she who began
the conversation on this occasion.

"John," she said, "the time has come for me to settle the question of
my residence."

Now the house at Twickenham was the property of the present baronet,
but Lady Ball had a jointure of five hundred a year out of her late
husband's estate. It had always been intended that the mother should
continue to live with her son and grandchildren in the very probable
event of her being left a widow; and it was felt by them all that
their means were not large enough to permit, with discretion,
separate households; but Lady Ball had declared more than once with
extreme vehemence that nothing should induce her to live at the
Cedars if Margaret Mackenzie should be made mistress of the house.

"Has the time come especially to-day?" he asked in reply.

"I think we may say it has come especially to-day. We know now that
you have got this increase to your income, and nothing is any longer
in doubt that we cannot ourselves settle. I need not say that my
dearest wish is to remain here, but you know my mind upon that
subject."

"I cannot see any possible reason for your going."

"Nor can I--except the one. I suppose you know yourself what you mean
to do about your cousin. Everybody knows what you ought to do after
the disgraceful things that have been put into all the newspapers."

"That has not been Margaret's fault."

"I am by no means so sure of that. Indeed, I think it has been her
fault; and now she has made herself notorious by being at this
bazaar, and by having herself called a ridiculous name by everybody.
Nothing will make me believe but what she likes it."

"You are ready to believe any evil of her, mother; and yet it is not
two years since you yourself wished me to marry her."

"Things are very different since that; very different indeed. And I
did not know her then as I do now, or I should never have thought of
such a thing, let her have had all the money in the world. She had
not misbehaved herself then with that horrible curate."

"She has not misbehaved herself now," said the son, in an angry
voice.

"Yes, she has, John," said the mother, in a voice still more angry.

"That's a matter for me to judge. She has not misbehaved herself
in my eyes. It is a great misfortune,--a great misfortune for us
both,--the conduct of this man; but I won't allow it to be said that
it was her fault."

"Very well. Then I suppose I may arrange to go. I did not think,
John, that I should be turned out of your father's house so soon
after your father's death. I did not indeed."

Thereupon Lady Ball got out her handkerchief, and her son perceived
that real tears were running down her face.

"Nobody has ever spoken of your going except yourself, mother."

"I won't live in the house with her."

"And what would you have me do? Would you wish me to let her go her
way and starve by herself?"

"No, John; certainly not. I think you should see that she wants for
nothing. She could live with her sister-in-law, and have the interest
of the money that the Rubbs took from her. It was your money."

"I have explained to you over and over again, mother, that that has
already been made over to Mrs Tom Mackenzie; and that would not have
been at all sufficient. Indeed, I have altogether made up my mind
upon that. When the lawyers and all the expenses are paid, there will
still be about eight hundred a year. I shall share it with her."

"John!"

"That is my intention; and therefore if I were to marry her I should
get an additional income of four hundred a year for myself and my
children."

"You don't mean it, John?"

"Indeed I do, mother. I'm sure the world would expect me to do as
much as that."

"The world expect you! And are you to rob your children, John,
because the world expects it? I never heard of such a thing. Give
away four hundred a year merely because you are afraid of those
wretched newspapers! I did expect you would have more courage."

"If I do not do one, mother, I shall do the other certainly."

"Then I must beg you to tell me which you mean to do. If you gave
her half of all that is coming to you, of course I must remain here
because you could not live here without me. Your income would be
quite insufficient. But you do owe it to me to tell me at once what I
am to do."

To this her son made no immediate answer, but sat with his elbow
on the table, and his head upon his hand looking moodily at the
fire-place. He did not wish to commit himself if he could possibly
avoid it.

"John, I must insist upon an answer," said his mother. "I have a
right to expect an answer."

"You must do what you like, mother, independently of me. If you think
you can live here on your income, I will go away, and you shall have
the place."

"That's nonsense, John. Of course you want a large house for the
children, and I, if I must be alone, shall only want one room for
myself. What should I do with the house?" Then there was silence
again for a while.

"I will give you a final answer on Saturday," he said at last. "I
shall see Margaret before Saturday."

After that he took his candle and went to bed. It was then Tuesday,
and Lady Ball was obliged to be contented with the promise thus made
to her.

On Wednesday he did nothing. On the Thursday morning he received a
letter which nearly drove him mad. It was addressed to him at the
office of the Shadrach Fire Insurance Company, and it reached him
there. It was as follows--


   Littlebath, -- June, 186--.

   SIR,

   You are no doubt fully aware of all the efforts which I
   have made during the last six months to secure from your
   grasp the fortune which did belong to my dear--my dearest
   friend, Margaret Mackenzie. For as my dearest friend
   I shall ever regard her, though she and I have been
   separated by machinations of the nature of which she, as I
   am fully sure, has never been aware. I now ascertain that
   some of the inferior law courts have, under what pressure
   I know not, set aside the will which was made twenty years
   ago in favour of the Mackenzie family, and given to you
   the property which did belong to them. That a superior
   court would reverse the judgment, I believe there is
   little doubt; but whether or no the means exist for me
   to bring the matter before the higher tribunals of the
   country I am not yet aware. Very probably I may have
   no such power, and in such case, Margaret Mackenzie is,
   to-day, through your means, a beggar.

   Since this matter has been before the public you have
   ingeniously contrived to mitigate the wrath of public
   opinion by letting it be supposed that you purposed to
   marry the lady whose wealth you were seeking to obtain by
   legal quibbles. You have made your generous intentions
   very public, and have created a romance that has been, I
   must say, but little becoming to your age. If all be true
   that I heard when I last saw Miss Mackenzie at Twickenham,
   you have gone through some ceremony of proposing to her.
   But, as I understand, that joke is now thought to have
   been carried far enough; and as the money is your own, you
   intend to enjoy yourself as a lion, leaving the lamb to
   perish in the wilderness.

   Now I call upon you to assert, under your own name and
   with your own signature, what are your intentions with
   reference to Margaret Mackenzie. Her property, at any rate
   for the present, is yours. Do you intend to make her your
   wife, or do you not? And if such be your intention, when
   do you purpose that the marriage shall take place, and
   where?

   I reserve to myself the right to publish this letter and
   your answer to it; and of course shall publish the fact
   if your cowardice prevents you from answering it. Indeed
   nothing shall induce me to rest in this matter till I
   know that I have been the means of restoring to Margaret
   Mackenzie the means of decent livelihood.

   I have the honour to be, Sir,
   Your very humble servant,

   JEREMIAH MAGUIRE.

   Sir John Ball, Bart., &c., &c,
   Shadrach Fire Office.


Sir John, when he had read this, was almost wild with agony and
anger. He threw up his hands with dismay as he walked along the
passages of the Shadrach Office, and fulminated mental curses against
the wasp that was able to sting him so deeply. What should he do to
the man? As for answering the letter, that was of course out of the
question; but the reptile would carry out his threat of publishing
the letter, and then the whole question of his marriage would be
discussed in the public prints. An idea came across him that a free
press was bad and rotten from the beginning to the end. This creature
was doing him a terrible injury, was goading him almost to death, and
yet he could not punish him. He was a clergyman, and could not be
beaten and kicked, or even fired at with a pistol. As for prosecuting
the miscreant, had not his own lawyer told him over and over again
that such a prosecution was the very thing which the miscreant
desired. And then the additional publicity of such a prosecution,
and the twang of false romance which would follow and the horrid
alliteration of the story of the two beasts, and all the ridicule of
the incidents, crowded upon his mind, and he walked forth from the
Shadrach office among the throngs of the city a wretched and almost
despairing man.



CHAPTER XXIX

A Friend in Need Is a Friend Indeed


When the work of the bazaar was finished all the four Mackenzie
ladies went home to Mrs Mackenzie's house in Cavendish Square, very
tired, eager for tea, and resolved that nothing more should be done
that evening. There should be no dressing for dinner, no going out,
nothing but idleness, tea, lamb chops, and gossip about the day's
work. Mr Mackenzie was down at the House, and there was no occasion
for any domestic energy. And thus the evening was passed. How Mrs
Chaucer Munro and the loud bevy fared among them, or how old Lady
Ware and her daughters, or the poor, dear, bothered duchess or Mr
Manfred Smith, or the kings and heroes who had appeared in paint
and armour, cannot be told. I fear that the Mackenzie verdict about
the bazaar in general was not favourable and that they agreed among
themselves to abstain from such enterprises of charity in future. It
concerns us now chiefly to know that our Griselda held up her head
well throughout that evening, and made herself comfortable and at her
ease among her cousins, although it was already known to her that the
legal decision had gone against her in the great case of Ball _v._
Mackenzie. But had that decision been altogether in her favour the
result would not have been so favourable to her spirits, as had been
that little speech made by Mrs Mackenzie as to her having no right as
yet to scold Sir John for his extravagance,--that little speech made
in good humour, and apparently accepted in good humour even by him.
But on that evening Mrs Mackenzie was not able to speak to Margaret
about her prospects, or to lecture her on the expediency of regarding
the nicenesses of her dress in Sir John's presence, because of the
two other cousins. The two other cousins, no doubt, knew all the
story of the Lion and the Lamb, and talked to their sister-in-law,
Clara, of their other cousin, Griselda, behind Griselda's back; and
were no doubt very anxious that Griselda should become a baronet's
wife; but among so large a party there was no opportunity for
confidential advice.

On the next morning Mrs Mackenzie and Margaret were together, and
then Mrs Mackenzie began:

"Margaret, my dear," said she, "that bonnet I gave you has been worth
its weight in gold."

"It cost nearly as much," said Margaret, "for it was very expensive
and very light."

"Or in bank-notes either, because it has shown him and me and
everybody else that you needn't be a dowdy unless you please. No man
wishes to marry a dowdy, you know."

"I suppose I was a dowdy when he asked me."

"I wasn't there, and didn't know you then, and can't say. But I do
know that he liked the way you looked yesterday. Now, of course,
he'll be coming here before long."

"I dare say he won't come here again the whole summer."

"If he did not, I should send for him."

"Oh, Mrs Mackenzie!"

"And oh, Griselda! Why should I not send for him? You don't suppose
I'm going to let this kind of thing go on from month to month, till
that old woman at the Cedars has contrived to carry her point.
Certainly not."

"Now that the matter is settled, of course, I shall not go on staying
here."

"Not after you're married, my dear. We couldn't well take in Sir John
and all the children. Besides, we shall be going down to Scotland for
the grouse. But I mean you shall be married out of this house. Don't
look so astonished. Why not? There's plenty of time before the end of
July."

"I don't think he means anything of the kind; I don't indeed."

"Then he must be the queerest man that ever I met; and I should say
about the falsest and most heartless also. But whether he means to
do that or does not, he must mean to do something. You don't suppose
he'll take all your fortune away from you, and then leave you without
coming to say a word to you about it? If you had disputed the matter,
and put him to all manner of expense; if, in short, you had been
enemies through it all, that might have been possible. But you have
been such a veritable lamb, giving your fleece to the shearer so
meekly,--such a true Griselda, that if he were to leave you in that
way, no one would ever speak to him again."

"But you forget Lady Ball."

"No, I don't. He'll have a disagreeable scene with his mother, and
I don't pretend to guess what will be the end of that; but when he
has done with his mother, he'll come here. He must do it. He has no
alternative. And when he does come, I want you to look your best.
Believe me, my dear, there would be no muslins in the world and no
starch, if it was not intended that people should make themselves
look as nice as possible."

"Young people," suggested Margaret.

"Young people, as you call them, can look well without muslin and
without starch. Such things were intended for just such persons as
you and me; and as for me, I make it a rule to take the goods the
gods provide me."

Mrs Mackenzie's philosophy was not without its result, and her
prophecy certainly came true. A few days passed by and no lover came,
but early on the Friday morning after the bazaar, Margaret, who at
the moment was in her own room, was told that Sir John was below in
the drawing-room with Mrs Mackenzie. He had already been there some
little time, the servant said, and Mrs Mackenzie had sent up with her
love to know if Miss Mackenzie would come down. Would she go down? Of
course she would go to her cousin. She was no coward. Indeed, a true
Griselda can hardly be a coward. So she made up her mind to go to her
cousin and hear her fate.

The last four-and-twenty hours had been very bitter with Sir John
Ball. What was he to do, walking about with that man's letter in his
pocket--with that reptile's venom still curdling through his veins?
On that Thursday morning, as he went towards his office, he had made
up his mind, as he thought, to go to Margaret and bid her choose her
own destiny. She should become his wife, or have half of Jonathan
Ball's remaining fortune, as she might herself elect. "She refused
me," he said to himself, "when the money was all hers. Why should she
wish to come to such a house as mine, to marry a dull husband and
undertake the charge of a lot of children? She shall choose herself."
And then he thought of her as he had seen her at the bazaar, and
began to flatter himself that, in spite of his dullness and his
children, she would choose to become his wife. He was making some
scheme as to his mother's life, proposing that two of his girls
should live with her, and that she should be near to him, when the
letter from Mr Maguire was put into his hands.

How was he to marry his cousin after that? If he were to do so, would
not that wretch at Littlebath declare, through all the provincial
and metropolitan newspapers, that he had compelled the marriage?
That letter would be published in the very column that told of the
wedding. But yet he must decide. He must do something. They who read
this will probably declare that he was a weak fool to regard anything
that such a one as Mr Maguire could say of him. He was not a fool,
but he was so far weak and foolish; and in such matters such men are
weak and foolish, and often cowardly.

It was, however, absolutely necessary that he should do something. He
was as well aware as was Mrs Mackenzie that it was essentially his
duty to see his cousin, now that the question of law between them had
been settled. Even if he had no thought of again asking her to be
his wife, he could not confide to any one else the task of telling
her what was to be her fate. Her conduct to him in the matter of the
property had been exemplary, and it was incumbent on him to thank her
for her generous forbearance. He had pledged himself also to give his
mother a final answer on Saturday.

On the Friday morning, therefore, he knocked at the Mackenzies'
house door in Cavendish Square, and soon found himself alone with
Mrs Mackenzie. I do not know that even then he had come to any
fixed purpose. What he would himself have preferred would have been
permission to postpone any action as regards his cousin for another
six months, and to have been empowered to use that time in crushing
Mr Maguire out of existence. But this might not be so, and therefore
he went to Cavendish Square that he might there decide his fate.

"You want to see Margaret, no doubt," said Mrs Mackenzie, "that you
may tell her that her ruin is finally completed;" and as she thus
spoke of her cousin's ruin, she smiled her sweetest smile and put on
her pleasantest look.

"Yes, I do want to see her presently," he said.

Mrs Mackenzie had stood up as though she were about to go in quest
of her cousin, but had sat down again when the word presently
was spoken. She was by no means averse to having a few words of
conversation about Margaret, if Sir John should wish it. Sir John, I
fear, had merely used the word through some instinctive idea that he
might thereby stave off the difficulty for a while.

"Don't you think she looked very well at the Bazaar?" said Mrs
Mackenzie.

"Very well, indeed," he answered; "very well. I can't say I liked the
place."

"Nor any of us, I can assure you. Only one must do that sort of thing
sometimes, you know. Margaret was very much admired there. So much
has been said of this singular story about her fortune, that people
have, of course, talked more of her than they would otherwise have
done."

"That has been a great misfortune," said Sir John, frowning.

"It has been a misfortune, but it has been one of those things that
can't be helped. I don't think you have any cause to complain, for
Margaret has behaved as no other woman ever did behave, I think. Her
conduct has been perfect."

"I don't complain of her."

"As for the rest, you must settle that with the world yourself. I
don't care for any one beyond her. But, for my part, I think it is
the best to let those things die away of themselves. After all, what
does it matter as long as one does nothing to be ashamed of oneself?
People can't break any bones by their talking."

"Wouldn't you think it very unpleasant, Mrs Mackenzie, to have your
name brought up in the newspapers?"

"Upon my word I don't think I should care about it as long as my
husband stood by me. What is it after all? People say that you and
Margaret are the Lion and the Lamb. What's the harm of being called a
lamb or a lion either? As long as people are not made to believe that
you have behaved badly, that you have been false or cruel, I can't
see that it comes to much. One does not, of course, wish to have
newspaper articles written about one."

"No, indeed."

"But they can't break your bones, nor can they make the world think
you dishonest, as long as you take care that you are honest. Now, in
this matter, I take it for granted that you and Margaret are going to
make a match of it--"

"Has she told you so?"

Mrs Mackenzie paused a moment to collect her thoughts before she
answered; but it was only for a moment, and Sir John Ball hardly
perceived that she had ceased to speak.

"No," she said; "she has not told me so. But I have told her that it
must be so."

"And she does not wish it?"

"Do you want me to tell a lady's secret? But in such a case as
this the truth is always the best. She does wish it, with all her
heart,--as much as any woman ever wished for anything. You need have
no doubt about her loving you."

"Of course, Mrs Mackenzie, I should take care in any case that she
were provided for amply. If a single life will suit her best, she
shall have half of all that she ever thought to be her own."

"And do you wish it to be so?"

"I have not said that, Mrs Mackenzie. But it may be that I should
wish her to have the choice fairly in her own power."

"Then I can tell you at once which she would choose. Your offer is
very generous. It is more than generous. But, Sir John, a single life
will not suit her; and my belief is, that were you to offer her the
money without your hand, she would not take a farthing of it."

"She must have some provision."

"She will take none from you but the one, and you need be under no
doubt whatsoever that she will take that without a moment's doubt as
to her own future happiness. And, Sir John, I think you would have
the best wife that I know anywhere among my acquaintance." Then she
stopped, and he sat silent, making no reply. "Shall I send to her
now?" said Mrs Mackenzie.

"I suppose you might as well," said Sir John.

Then Mrs Mackenzie got up and left the room, but she did not herself
go up to her cousin. She felt that she could not see Margaret without
saying something of what had passed between herself and Sir John,
and that it would be better that nothing should be said. So she went
away to her own room, and dispatched her maid to send the lamb to the
lion. Nevertheless, it was not without compunction, some twang of
feminine conscience, that Mrs Mackenzie gave up this opportunity
of saying some last important word, and perhaps doing some last
important little act with regard to those nicenesses of which she
thought perhaps too much. Mrs Mackenzie's philosophy was not without
its truth; but a man of fifty should not be made to marry a woman
by muslin and starch, if he be not prepared to marry her on other
considerations.

When the message came, Margaret thought nothing of the muslin and
starch. The bonnet that had been worth its weight in gold, and the
black-freckled dress, were all forgotten. But she thought of the
words which her cousin John had spoken to her as soon as they had
got through the little gate into the grounds of the Cedars when they
had walked back together from the railway station at Twickenham; and
she remembered that she had then pledged herself to be firm. If he
alluded to the offer he had then made, and repeated it, she would
throw herself into his arms at once, and tell him that she would
serve him with all her heart and all her strength as long as God
might leave them together. But she was quite as strongly determined
to accept from him for herself no other kind of provision. That money
which for a short while had been hers was now his; and she could
have no claim upon him unless he gave her the claim of a wife. After
what had passed between them she would not be the recipient of his
charity. Certain words had been written and spoken from which she had
gathered the existence, in Mr Slow's mind, of some such plan as this.
His client should lose her cause meekly and graciously, and should
then have a claim for alms. That had been the idea on which Mr Slow
had worked. She had long made up her mind that Mr Slow should be
taught to know her better, if the day for such offering of alms
should ever come. Perhaps it had come now. She took up a little scarf
that she wore ordinarily and folded it tight across her shoulders,
quite forgetful of muslin and starch, as she descended to the
drawing-room in order that this question might be solved for her.

Sir John met her almost at the door as she entered.

"I'm afraid you've been expecting me to come sooner," he said.

"No, indeed; I was not quite sure that you would come at all."

"Oh, yes; I was certain to come. You have hardly received as yet any
official notification that your cause has been lost."

"It was not my cause, John," she said, smiling, "and I received no
other notification than what I got through Mrs Mackenzie. Indeed, as
you know, I have regarded this law business as nonsense all through.
Since what you and Mr Slow told me, I have known that the property
was yours."

"But it was quite necessary to have a judgment."

"I suppose so, and there's an end of it. I, for one, am not in the
least disappointed,--if it will give you any comfort to know that."

"I don't believe that any other woman in England would have lost her
fortune with the equanimity that you have shown."

She could not explain to him that, in the first days of dismay caused
by that misfortune, he had given her such consolation as to make her
forget her loss, and that her subsequent misery had been caused by
the withdrawal of that consolation. She could not tell him that the
very memory of her money had been, as it were, drowned by other hopes
in life,--by other hopes and by other despair. But when he praised
her for her equanimity, she thought of this. She still smiled as she
heard his praise.

"I suppose I ought to return the compliment," she said, "and declare
that no cousin who had been kept so long out of his own money
ever behaved so well as you have done. I can assure you that I
have thought of it very often,--of the injustice that has been
involuntarily done to you."

"It has been unjust, has it not?" said he, piteously, thinking of his
injuries. "So much of it has gone in that oilcloth business, and all
for nothing!"

"I'm glad at any rate that Walter's share did not go."

He knew that this was not the kind of conversation which he had
desired to commence, and that it must be changed before anything
could be settled. So he shook himself and began again.

"And now, Margaret, as the lawyers have finished their part of the
business, ours must begin."

She had been standing hitherto and had felt herself to be strong
enough to stand, but at the sound of these words her knees had become
weak under her, and she found a retreat upon the sofa. Of course she
said nothing as he came and stood over her.

"I hope you have understood," he continued, "that while all this was
going on I could propose no arrangement of any kind."

"I know you have been very much troubled."

"Indeed I have. It seems that any blackguard has a right to publish
any lies that he likes about any one in any of the newspapers, and
that nobody can do anything to protect himself! Sometimes I have
thought that it would drive me mad!"

But he again perceived that he was getting out of the right course in
thus dwelling upon his own injuries. He had come there to alleviate
her misfortunes, not to talk about his own.

"It is no good, however, talking about all that; is it, Margaret?"

"It will cease now, will it not?"

"I cannot say. I fear not. Whichever way I turn, they abuse me for
what I do. What business is it of theirs?"

"You mean their absurd story--calling you a lion."

"Don't talk of it, Margaret."

Then Margaret was again silent. She by no means wished to talk of the
story, if he would only leave it alone.

"And now about you."

Then he came and sat beside her, and she put her hand back behind
the cushion on the sofa so as to save herself from trembling in his
presence. She need not have cared much, for, let her tremble ever so
much, he had then no capacity for perceiving it.

"Come, Margaret; I want to do what is best for us both. How shall it
be?"

"John, you have children, and you should do what is best for them."

Then there was a pause again, and when he spoke after a while, he was
looking down at the floor and poking among the pattern on the carpet
with his stick.

"Margaret, when I first asked you to marry me, you refused me."

"I did," said she; "and then all the property was mine."

"But afterwards you said you would have me."

"Yes; and when you asked me the second time I had nothing. I know all
that."

"I thought nothing about the money then. I mean that I never thought
you refused me because you were rich and took me because you were
poor. I was not at all unhappy about that when we were walking round
the shrubbery. But when I thought you had cared for that man--"

"I had never cared for him," said Margaret, withdrawing her hand from
behind the pillow in her energy, and fearing no longer that she might
tremble. "I had never cared for him. He is a false man, and told
untruths to my aunt."

"Yes, he is, a liar,--a damnable liar. That is true at any rate."

"He is beneath your notice, John, and beneath mine. I will not speak
of him."

Sir John, however, had an idea that when he felt the wasp's venom
through all his blood, the wasp could not be altogether beneath his
notice.

"The question is," said he, speaking between his teeth, and hardly
pronouncing his words, "the question is whether you care for me."

"I do," said she turning round upon him; and as she did so our
Griselda took both his hands in hers. "I do, John. I do care for you.
I love you better than all the world besides. Whom else have I to
love at all? If you choose to think it mean of me, now that I am so
poor, I cannot help it. But who was it told me to be firm? Who was it
told me? Who was it told me?"

Lady Ball had lost her game, and Mrs Mackenzie had been a true
prophet. Mrs Mackenzie had been one of those prophets who knew how to
assist the accomplishment of their own prophecies, and Lady Ball had
played her game with very indifferent skill. Sir John endeavoured to
say a word as to that other alternative that he had to offer, but the
lamb was not lamb-like enough to listen to it. I doubt even whether
Margaret knew, when at night she thought over the affairs of the day,
that any such offer had been made to her. During the rest of the
interview she was by far the greatest talker, and she would not rest
till she had made him swear that he believed her when she said, that
both in rejecting him and accepting him, she had been guided simply
by her affection. "You know, John," she said, "a woman can't love a
man all at once."

They had been together for the best part of two hours, when Mrs
Mackenzie knocked at the door. "May I come in?"

"Oh, yes," said Margaret.

"And may I ask a question?" She knew by the tone of her cousin's
voice that no question could come amiss.

"You must ask him," said Margaret, coming to her and kissing her.

"But, first of all," said Mrs Mackenzie, shutting the door and
assuming a very serious countenance, "I have news of my own to tell.
There is a gentleman downstairs in the dining-room who has sent up
word that he wants to see me. He says he is a clergyman."

Then Sir John Ball ceased to smile, and look foolish, but doubled his
fist, and went towards the door.

"Who is it?" said Margaret, whispering.

"I have not heard his name, but from the servant's account of him I
have not much doubt myself; I suppose he comes from Littlebath. You
can go down to him, if you like, Sir John; but I would not advise
it."

"No," said Margaret, clinging to his arm, "you shall not go down.
What good can you do? He is beneath you. If you beat him he will have
the law of you--and he is a clergyman. If you do not, he will only
revile you, and make you wretched." Thus between the two ladies the
baronet was restrained.

It was Mr Maguire. Having learned from his ally, Miss Colza, that
Margaret was staying with her cousins in Cavendish Square, he had
resolved upon calling on Mrs Mackenzie, and forcing his way, if
possible, into Margaret's presence. Things were not going well
with him at Littlebath, and in his despair he had thought that the
best chance to him of carrying on the fight lay in this direction.
Then there was a course of embassies between the dining-room and
drawing-room in the Mackenzie mansion. The servant was sent to ask
the gentleman his name, and the gentleman sent up to say that he was
a clergyman,--that his name was not known to Mrs Mackenzie, but that
he wanted to see her most particularly for a few minutes on very
special business. Then the servant was despatched to ask him whether
or no he was the Rev. Jeremiah Maguire, of Littlebath, and under this
compulsion he sent back word that such was his designation. He was
then told to go. Upon that he wrote a note to Mrs Mackenzie, setting
forth that he had a private communication to make, much to the
advantage of her cousin, Miss Margaret Mackenzie. He was again told
to go; and then told again, that if he did not leave the house at
once, the assistance of the police would be obtained. Then he went.
"And it was frightful to behold him," said the servant, coming up for
the tenth time. But the servant no doubt enjoyed the play, and on one
occasion presumed to remark that he did not think any reference to
the police was necessary. "Such a game as we've had up!" he said to
the coachman that afternoon in the kitchen.

And the game that they had in the drawing-room was not a bad game
either. When Mr Maguire would not go, the two women joined in
laughing, till at last the tears ran down Mrs Mackenzie's face.

"Only think of our being kept prisoners here by a one-eyed
clergyman."

"He has got two eyes," said Margaret. "If he had ten he shan't see
us."

And at last Sir John laughed; and as he laughed he came and stood
near Margaret; and once he got his arm round her waist, and Griselda
was very happy. At the present moment she was quite indifferent to Mr
Maguire and any mode of fighting that he might adopt.



CHAPTER XXX

Conclusion


Things had not been going well with Mr Maguire when, as a last
chance, he attempted to force an entrance into Mrs Mackenzie's
drawing-room. Things, indeed, had been going very badly with him. Mr
Stumfold at Littlebath had had an interview with the editor of the
_Christian Examiner_, and had made that provincial Jupiter understand
that he must drop the story of the Lion and the Lamb. There had
been more than enough of it, Mr Stumfold thought; and if it were
continued, Mr Stumfold would--would make Littlebath too hot to hold
the _Christian Examiner_. That was the full meaning of Mr Stumfold's
threat; and, as the editor knew Mr Stumfold's power, the editor
wisely turned a cold shoulder upon Mr Maguire. When Mr Maguire came
to the editor with his letter for publication, the editor declared
that he should be happy to insert it--as an advertisement. Then there
had been a little scene between Mr Maguire and the editor, and Mr
Maguire had left the editorial office shaking the dust from off his
feet. But he was a persistent man, and, having ascertained that Miss
Colza was possessed of some small share in her brother's business
in the city, he thought it expedient to betake himself again to
London. He did so, as we have seen; and with some very faint hope of
obtaining collateral advantage for himself, and some stronger hope
that he might still be able to do an injury to Sir John Ball, he went
to the Mackenzies' house in Cavendish Square. There his success was
not great; and from that time forward the wasp had no further power
of inflicting stings upon the lion whom he had persecuted.

But some further annoyance he did give to Griselda. He managed to
induce Mrs Tom Mackenzie to take him in as a lodger in Gower Street,
and Margaret very nearly ran into his way in her anxiety to befriend
her sister-in-law. Luckily she heard from Mr Rubb that he was there
on the very day on which she had intended to visit Gower Street. Poor
Mrs Mackenzie got the worst of it; for of course Mr Maguire did not
pay for his lodgings. But he did marry Miss Colza, and in some way
got himself instituted to a chapel at Islington. There we will leave
him, not trusting much in his connubial bliss, but faintly hoping
that his teaching may be favourable to the faith and morals of his
new flock.

Of Mr Samuel Rubb, junior, we must say a few words. His first
acquaintance with our heroine was not made under circumstances
favourable to him. In that matter of the loan, he departed very
widely from the precept which teaches us that honesty is the best
policy. And when I feel that our Margaret was at one time really in
danger of becoming Mrs Rubb,--that in her ignorance of the world, in
the dark gropings of her social philosophy, amidst the difficulties
of her solitude, she had not known whether she could do better with
herself and her future years, than give herself, and them, and her
money to Mr Samuel Rubb, I tremble as I look back upon her danger. It
has been said of women that they have an insane desire for matrimony.
I believe that the desire, even if it be as general as is here
described, is no insanity. But when I see such a woman as Margaret
Mackenzie in danger from such a man as Samuel Rubb, junior, I am
driven to fear that there may sometimes be a maniacal tendency. But
Samuel Rubb was by no means a bad man. He first hankered after the
woman's money, but afterwards he had loved the woman; and my female
reader, if she agrees with me, will feel that that virtue covers a
multitude of sins.

And he was true to the promise that he made about the loan. He did
pay the interest of the money regularly to Mrs Mackenzie in Gower
Street, and after a while was known in that house as the recognised
lover of Mary Jane, the eldest daughter. It this way it came to pass
that he occasionally saw the lady to whose hand he had aspired; for
Margaret, when she was assured that Mr Maguire and his bride were
never likely to be seen in that locality, did not desert her nephews
and nieces in Gower Street.

But we must go back to Sir John Ball. As soon as the coast was clear
in Cavendish Square, he took his leave of Margaret. Mrs Mackenzie had
left the room, desiring to speak a word to him alone as he came down.

"I shall tell my mother to-night," he said to Margaret. "You know
that all this is not exactly as she wishes it."

"John," she said, "if it is as you wish it, I have no right to think
of anything beyond that."

"It is as I wish it," said he.

"Then tell my aunt, with my love, that I shall hope that she will
receive me as her daughter."

Then they parted, and Margaret was left alone to congratulate herself
over her success.

"Sir John," said Mrs Mackenzie, calling him into the drawing-room;
"you must hear my congratulations; you must, indeed."

"Thank you," said he, looking foolish; "you are very good."

"And so is she. She is what you may really call good. She is as good
as gold. I know a woman when I see her; and I know that for one like
her there are fifty not fit to hold a candle to her. She has nothing
mean or little about her--nothing. They may call her a lamb, but she
can be a lioness too when there is an occasion."

"I know that she is steadfast," said he.

"That she is, and honest, and warm hearted; and--and Oh! Sir John,
I am so happy that it is all to be made right, and nice, and
comfortable. It would have been very sad if she hadn't gone with the
money; would it not?"

"I should not have taken the money--not all of it."

"And she would not have taken any. She would not have taken a penny
of it, though we need not mind that now; need we? But there is one
thing I want to say; you must not think I am interfering."

"I shan't think that after all that you have done."

"I want her to be married from here. It would be quite proper;
wouldn't it? Mr Mackenzie is a little particular about the grouse,
because there is to be a large party at Incharrow; but up to the 10th
of August you and she should fix any day you like."

Sir John showed by his countenance that he was somewhat taken aback.
The 10th of August, and here they were far advanced into June! When
he had left home this morning he had not fully made up his mind
whether he meant to marry his cousin or not; and now, within a few
hours, he was being confined to weeks and days! Mrs Mackenzie saw
what was passing in his mind; but she was not a woman to be driven
easily from her purpose.

"You see," she said, "there is so much to think of. What is Margaret
to do, if we leave her in London when we go down? And it would really
be better for her to be married from her cousin's house; it would,
indeed. Lady Ball would like it better--I'm sure she would--than if
she were to be living alone in the town in lodgings. There is always
a way of doing things; isn't there? And Walter's sisters, her own
cousins, could be her bridesmaids, you know."

Sir John said that he would think about it.

"I haven't spoken to her, of course," said Mrs Mackenzie; "but I
shall now."

Sir John, as he went eastwards into the city, did think about it;
and before he had reached his own house that evening, he had brought
himself to regard Mrs Mackenzie's scheme in a favourable light. He
was not blind to the advantage of taking his wife from a house in
Cavendish Square, instead of from lodgings in Arundel Street; and
he was aware that his mother would not be blind to that advantage
either. He did not hope to be able to reconcile her to his marriage
at once; and perhaps he entertained some faint idea that for the
first six months of his new married life the Cedars would be quite as
pleasant without his mother as with her; but a final reconciliation
would be more easy if he and his wife had the Mackenzies of Incharrow
to back them, than it could be without such influence. And as for the
London gossip of the thing, the finale to the romance of the Lion and
the Lamb, it would be sure to come sooner or later. Let them have
their odious joke and have done with it!

"Mother," he said, as soon as he could find himself alone with Lady
Ball that day, not waiting for the midnight conference; "mother, I
may as well tell you at once. I have proposed to Margaret Mackenzie
again to-day."

"Oh! very well."

"And she has accepted me."

"Accepted you! of course she has; jumped at the chance, no doubt.
What else should a pauper do?"

"Mother, that is ungenerous."

"She did not accept you when she had got anything."

"If I can reconcile myself to that, surely you can do so. The matter
is settled now, and I think I have done the best in my power for
myself and my children."

"And as for your mother, she may go and die anywhere."

"Mother, that is unfair. As long as I have a house over my head,
you shall share it, if you please to do so. If it suits you to go
elsewhere, I will be with you as often as may be possible. I hope,
however, you will not leave us."

"That I shall certainly do."

"Then I hope you will not go far from me."

"And when is it to be?" said his mother, after a pause.

"I cannot name any day; but some time before the 10th of August."

"Before the 10th of August! Why, that is at once. Oh! John; and your
father not dead a year!"

"Margaret has a home now with her cousins in Cavendish Square; but
she cannot stay there after they go to Scotland. It will be for her
welfare that she should be married from their house. And as for my
father's death, I know that you do not suspect me of disrespect to
his memory."

And in this way it was settled at the Cedars; and his mother's
question about the time drove him to the resolution which he himself
had not reached. When next he was in Cavendish Square he asked
Margaret whether she could be ready so soon, and she replied that she
would be ready on any day that he told her to be ready.

Thus it was settled, and with a moderate amount of nuptial
festivity the marriage feast was prepared in Mrs Mackenzie's house.
Margaret was surprised to find how many dear friends she had who
were interested in her welfare. Miss Baker wrote to her most
affectionately; and Miss Todd was warm in her congratulations. But
the attention which perhaps surprised her most was a warm letter of
sisterly affection from Mrs Stumfold, in which that lady rejoiced
with an exceeding joy in that the machinations of a certain wolf in
sheep's clothing had been unsuccessful. "My anxiety that you should
not be sacrificed I once before evinced to you," said Mrs Stumfold;
"and within the last two months Mr Stumfold has been at work to put
an end to the scurrilous writings which that wolf in sheep's clothing
has been putting into the newspapers." Then Mrs Stumfold very
particularly desired to be remembered to Sir John Ball, and expressed
a hope that, at some future time, she might have the honour of being
made acquainted with "the worthy baronet."

They were married in the first week in August, and our modern
Griselda went through the ceremony with much grace. That there was
much grace about Sir John Ball, I cannot say; but gentlemen, when
they get married at fifty, are not expected to be graceful.

"There, my Lady Ball," said Mrs Mackenzie, whispering into her
cousin's ear before they left the church; "now my prophecy has come
true; and when we meet in London next spring, you will reward me for
all I have done for you by walking out of a room before me."

But all these honours, and, what was better, all the happiness that
came in her way, Lady Ball accepted thankfully, quietly, and with an
enduring satisfaction, as it became such a woman to do.





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