A Country Gentleman
It may now be necessary to indicate the outline, at least, of an incident which was the reason why, at the most critical period of the affairs both of her brother and sister, Minnie’s supervising and controlling care was neutralized. Whether it is the case that nothing that did happen would have happened, as is her sincere conviction, had she been free to observe and guide the course of events, is what neither the writer of this history nor any other human looker-on can say. We are all disposed to believe that certain possibilities would have changed the entire face of history had they ever developed, and that life would have been a different thing altogether had not So and So got ill, or gone on a journey, or even been so ill-advised as to die at a particular juncture. Miss Warrender was of this opinion strongly ; but it is possible that the reader may think that everything would have gone on very much as it did, in spite of all that she could have said or done. It is a problem which never can be settled, should we continue discussing it forevermore.
The thing which deprived the family of Minnie’s care at the approaching crisis was what cannot be otherwise described than as a happy event. In the early summer, before Mr. Warrender died, a new curate had come to Underwood. This, however, is not an entirely just way of stating the case. A curate, in the ordinary sense of the word, was not wanted at Underwood. The parish was small. Such a thing as a daily service had not begun to be thought of, and the rector, who was full of energy, would have thought it wasteful extravagance to give a hundred pounds a year to another clergyman, in order that he might have the lessons read for him and the responses led by an educated voice. Ideas about educated voices, as well as about colored cloths and lights on the altar, have all developed since that time. People in general were quite satisfied with the clerk in those days, or, if they were not satisfied, at least accepted him as a necessary evil, at which they were free to laugh, but against which there was nothing to be said. The morning service on Sunday was the only one that was of much importance, to which the whole parish came. That in the afternoon was attended only by the village people, and did not count for much. The rector would not have said in so many words, like a French curé, that vespers were pas obligatoire, but he had the same feeling. Both he and his wife felt kindly to the people who came, as if it were a personal compliment. It is needless to say that things ecclesiastical have very, very much changed since, and that this easy state of affairs exists no longer.
Thus there was evidently no need of a curate at Underwood proper. But the parish was now a double one. Once “St. Mary’s-Underwood,” it was now “ Underwood - cum - Pierrepoint; ” and the condition of drawing the revenues of the later division was that the rector should always provide for the duty in the little church at Pierrepoint, which was considered a fine specimen of early architecture, though not much adapted to modern needs. It had been usually some shabby old parson, some poor gentleman who had been a failure in life, one of those wonderful curates who are rich in nothing but children, and to whom the old, rambling, out-at-elbows parsonage house at Pierrepoint was of itself an attraction, who had taken this appointment. And it had been a great surprise to the neighborhood when it was known that the Honorable and Reverend Eustace Thynne (to say the Reverend the Honorable, which is now the highest fashion in such matters, postponing, as is meet, secular rank to that of the Church, was unknown in those preRitualistic days), a young man, a baron’s son, an entirely unexceptionable and indeed every way laudable individual, had accepted this post. A greater surprise it would be impossible to imagine. The Warrenders had been as much interested as anybody before the death in the family had made such sentiments for a time inappropriate. But Mr. Thynne had turned out a very sympathetic young clergyman. He had left his card and kind inquiries at once. He had helped to officiate at the funeral, and afterwards Minnie had been heard to say that no one had given her so true an idea of how grief ought to be borne. He had been a frequent visitor through the summer. If Theo saw little of him, that was entirely Theo’s fault. It was Mr. Thynne who persuaded the girls that to resume their duties in the Sunday-school was not only right, but the best thing for them, — so soothing and comforting; and he had come a great deal to the Warren while Theo was so much away, and in many things had made himself useful to the girls, as Theo had been doing to Lady Markland. He did not, indeed, devote himself to them with the same indiscriminate devotion. There was no occasion for anything of the kind. Mrs. Warrender was quite capable of looking after things herself, and Minnie’s energy was almost greater than was necessary for the needs of their position ; so that it was not at all needful or desirable that he should put himself at their disposal in any exaggerated way. But all that a man and a clergyman could do to make himself useful and agreeable Eustace Thynne did. They got to talk of him as Eustace Thynne quite naturally, when they were talking of him, though they still called him Mr. Thynne when conversing with him. They saw a great deal of him. There was very little to do at Pierrepoint, and he was a great walker, and constantly met them when they were out. And he was very sound in his views, not extreme in anything; not an evangelical, much less inclining towards that section of the Church which began to be known in the world under the name of Puseyites. Eustace Thynne had no exaggerated ideas ; he was not eccentric in anything. The Thirty-Nine Articles sat as easily upon him as his very well made coat; he never forgot that he was a clergyman, or wore even a gray checked necktie, which the rector sometimes did, but always had a white tie, very neatly tied, and a tall hat, which was considered in those days the proper dress for a clergyman, even in the country. His political ideas inclined to conservatism, whereas, as Minnie always said, the Warrenders were liberal ; but it was a very moderate conservatism, and the difference was scarcely appreciable.
From all this it may be divined that Minnie was in the way of following the example set her by her mother and grandmother, and the majority of women generally. She had not thought herself very likely to marry for some time back ; for the country had wonderfully few young men in it, and she had no desire ever to leave home. But when Providence sent Eustace Thynne in her way, there was no reason why she should shut her eyes to that divine and benevolent intention. She softened in some ways, but hardened in others, during the course of the year. In matters upon which Eustace Thynne agreed with her, — and these were the principal features of her social creed, — she was more determined than ever, having his moral support to fall back upon, and would not allow the possibility of a doubt. And this made her the more severe upon Theo, for in all questions of propriety Mr. Thynne was with her, heart and soul.
As usually happens in the forming of new bonds, the old ones were a little strained while this process was going on. Chatty, who had been very deeply interested at first, when she saw in her elder sister symptoms of a state about which she herself had entertained only the vaguest dreams, became sometimes a little tired of it, as she found one of the results to be a growing inclination to get rid of herself. When they went out together to visit a pensioner, if they met Mr. Thynne (as they often did) on the road, Minnie would stop at the end of the lane. “ Will you just run in and see how old Sarah is ? ” she would say to Chatty. “ Two of us in such a little place is too much for the poor old dear ; ” and Mr. Thynne would remark, in a low voice, that Miss Warrender was so considerate (if everybody would be as considerate !), and linger and talk, while Chatty went and informed herself about all old Sarah’s ills. This, however, the younger sister could have borne; but when she found, on rejoining the pair, that they had been discussing Theo, and that Minnie had been asking Mr. Thynne’s advice, and that he entirely agreed with her, and thought she was quite right about Lady Markland, Chatty’s spirit rose. “ I would not talk about Theo to any one,” she said, indignantly. “ Who do you call any one ? Mr. Thynne takes a great interest in all of us : and he is a clergyman, and of whom should one ask advice if not of a clergyman ? ” Minnie replied, with triumphant logic. “ If he was a bishop, I would not talk over Theo — not with him, nor any one,” Chatty replied. She had always been inclined to take Theo’s part, and she became his partisan in these new circumstances, standing up for him through thick and thin. And in her little expeditions up and down the lane to ask after old Sarah, while Minnie strolled slowly along with her clerical lover, Chatty began to form little opinions of her own, and to free herself more or less from that preponderating influence of the elder sister which had shaped all her previous life. And little wistfulnesses began to float across Chatty’s gentle mind, and little thrills of curiosity to go through it. Her surroundings at this moment gave much room for thought, — Minnie, who had never shown any patience in respect to such vanity, and was always severe with the maids and their young men, wandering on ahead with Mr. Thynne ; and Theo, who had always been so imperious, given up in every thought to Lady Markland, and not to be spoken to on ordinary subjects during the short time he spent at home! With these two before her eyes, it can scarcely be supposed that Chatty did not ask herself, now and then, whether, for her also, there was not somebody whose appearance would change everything. And for the first time she began to get impatient of the Warren, in the gloom of the winter, and to wish, like her mother, for a change.
Mr. Thynne was not ineligible, like most curates. It was not for poverty, or because he had no other place to turn to, that he had taken the curacy at Pierrepoint. There was a family living awaiting him, a very good living ; and he had some money, which an uncle had left him; and he was the honorable as well as the reverend. Minnie had her own ideas, as has been seen, on matters of rank. She did not think overmuch of the nobility. She was of opinion that the country gentry were the support and salvation of England. Still, while a plain Mrs. or Miss may be anybody to those who don’t know her, — a dairyman’s daughter or a scion of the oldest of families,— an honorable to your name does at once identify you as occupying a certain position. “ It is a very good thing,” she said, “ in that way ; it is a sort of hall-mark, you know.”
“ It is sometimes put on very false metal, Minnie.”
“ Oh, I don’t know,” said Minnie, with an indignant flush ; “ no more than any other kind of distinction. The peerage does not go wrong oftener, — perhaps not so often as other people, but it does give a cachet. It is known then whom you belong to, and that you must be more or less nice people. I like it for that.”
“ There could be no doubt about Mr. Thynne, any way, my dear.”
“I never said I was thinking of Mr. Thynne,” said Minnie, with a violent blush, as she broke off the conversation and hurried away. And, indeed, it was not at all of Mr. Thynne that she was thinking, but rather of a possible Mrs. Thynne, and what her advantages might be over other ladies who did not possess that pretty and harmless affix. She decided that, unquestionably, it was an advantage. Out of your own county it might very well happen that nobody might know who you were: but an honorable never could be mistaken. She came gradually to change her views about the peerage in general, after that discovery, and made up her mind that a title in the family was good in every way. There could never be any doubt about that. Then it was in Debrett, and everybody could satisfy themselves about its genuineness and antiquity, and lay their finger upon the descendants and relatives of the house. There were inconveniences in that, especially in respect to the record of age — but still it was an advantage ; and, to be sure, for those who were added to a noble family by marriage even that inconvenience did not exist.
Mr. Thynne declared himself in summer, after the year of mourning was over, and when even Miss Warrender felt that it was permitted to be more lively, and to wear white dresses, though with black ribbons, of course ; and as the family living fell vacant immediately, the wedding took place almost at once. It made a great sensation in the parish, it need not be said ; and while the few people in Pierrepoint gave the curate a teapot, in Underwood there was a great agitation in the Sunday-school and much collecting to buy a fine big Bible, with a great deal of gilding outside, for Miss Warrender, which was given to her at a tea in the school-room, with a speech from the rector, who was not fond of public speaking, and had to be egged up to it by many pricks and goads by his wife. It was considered a very suitable present for a young lady who was going to marry a clergyman, just as the teapot was most suitable for a young clergyman about to be married. In those days there was not the rain of marriage presents from everybody within reach which is the painful fashion now.
And Minnie had a very excellent, solid trousseau, as might be expected, full of useful clothes; the silks very handsome, and the dinner dresses, though serious (which she thought suitable to a clergyman’s wife), quite good enough to go anywhere in. If she had been yielded to in that respect, her goingaway dress would have been lavender with black lace, quite second mourning. But not only her mother and sister, but Mrs. Wilberforce and even Mr. Thynne himself, who did not fancy a bride in mourning, remonstrated so strongly that she was obliged to yield. “ I am in favor of showing every respect to our dear ones who are gone ; but there are limits,” the bridegroom said : and Mrs. Wilberforce declared that, though herself a conservative and staunch upholder of the past, she did think dear Minnie sometimes went a little too far, notwithstanding that the Warrenders were liberals. This determined stand on the part of all belonging to her resulted in Minnie’s departure from the Warren clothed in a suit of russet brown, which was very becoming to her, — much more so than the whiteness of her bridal dress and veil.
These events withdrew Minnie’s attention in great measure from the others which were preparing, and finally carried her off altogether on the eve of many and great changes, such as turned topsy-turvy the life of the Warrenders. She was naturally very much taken up by her husband and her new surroundings, and the delightful trouble of settling down in her new parish and home. And she was at a considerable distance from them, half a day’s journey, which made very frequent visits impossible. It has been already said that we do not pretend to give our opinion as to whether, if Minnie had not married, things might not have gone very differently in the Warrender family life.
After the wedding guests had departed, Warrender ordered his horse to be brought round, as usual. He had, of course, been occupied all the morning with his own family, and with the marriage and the entertainment afterwards. Geoff had got a holiday, which he prized very much. (Lady Markland and the boy had been asked, of course, to the wedding, but it was perhaps a relief to all that they declined to come.) And if there ever was a moment in which Mrs. Warrender wanted her son, it was that day. She was tired out, and in the nervous state to which the best of us are liable at agitating moments. Minnie was not, perhaps, in absolute sympathy with her mother, but Mrs. Warrender had a great deal of imagination, and partly by means of those recollections of the past that are called up by every great family event, and partly by inevitable anticipations of the future, she was in special need of kindness and filial care. Her heart swelled within her when she saw the black horse brought round. She went to the door in the gray gown which she had got for Minnie’s marriage, and met her son as he came into the hall. “ Oh, Theo, are you going to leave us to-day? I thought you would have stayed with us to-day,” she said, with what an unfavorable critic would have called a querulous tone in her voice. It was in reality fatigue and weariness, and a great desire for her boy’s affection and comforting care ; but the other explanation would not perhaps have been altogether without justification.
“ Why should I stay to-day, more than any other day ? ” he said.
“You don’t require me to tell you, Theo. It is getting late ; you can’t be wanted there, surely, to-day.”
Now this was injudicious on Mrs. Warrender’s part: but a woman cannot always be judicious. He looked at her with quick offense.
“ Suppose I think differently ? " he said; “ or suppose that it is for my own pleasure I am going, as you say, there ? ”
“ I meant no harm,” said Mrs. Warrender. “ I have not opposed you. Often I have longed to have you a little more at home: but I never said anything, Theo, — you know I have never said anything.”
“ I can’t imagine, mother, what there was to say.”
She checked herself with difficulty, but still she did check herself. “There are some things,” she said, “ that I wish you would attend to, — I cannot help feeling that there are several things; but to-day, dear Theo, both Chatty and I are feeling low. Stay with us this afternoon. It will do us so much good.”
She thought that he wavered for an instant, but if so it was only for an instant. “ I don’t believe that,” he said. “ We should only quarrel; and what is the use of a thing that is forced ! And besides, of all days, this is the one above all others that I want to go. It is my best chance ” — and then he stopped and looked at her, the color rising to his face.
“ I thought Geoff was to go somewhere, for a holiday.”
He gave her another look, and the red became crimson. “ That is just the reason,” he said enigmatically, and with a slight wave of his hand passed her, and went out to the door.
“ You will be back to dinner, Theo ? ”
He turned his head as he was about to ride away, looking down upon her. “ Perhaps I may be back immediately,” he said, — “ most likely; but never mind me, one way or another. I want nothing but to be let alone, please.”
Chatty had come out to the door, and they both stood and watched him as he rode along, disappearing among the trees. “ I think he must be going to — seek his fortune,” his mother said, restraining a sob.
“ Oh, mamma ! ” said simple Chatty,
“ I would go and pray for him, but I don’t know what to ask.”
“ Nor I,” said Mrs. Warrender. “ God bless him, — that is all that one can say.”
But the house looked very dreary as they went back to it, with all the confusion of the wedding feast and the signs of a great company departed. They scarcely knew where to sit down, amid the litter that had been so gay a few hours ago, and looked so miserable now.
But Theo! What was he doing ? Where was he carrying the heart that beat so high, that would be silent no longer ? Was he going to lay it at the feet of a woman who would spurn it? When would he come back, and how? Already they began to listen, though he had scarcely set out, for the sound of his return, — in joy or in despair, who could say ?
THEO came home neither late nor early; neither in joy nor in despair. He came back harassed and impatient, eaten up with disquietude and suspense. He was pale and red in succession ten times in a moment. He was so much absorbed in his own thoughts that he hardly heard what was said to him as the three sat down, a little forlorn, to dinner when the late summer twilight began to close over all the brightness of that long, fatiguing day. The night after the wedding, with its sense already of remoteness to the great event of the morning so much prepared for and looked forward to, with the atmosphere so dead and preternaturally silent which has tingled with so much emotion, with the inevitable reaction after the excitement, — nothing could ever make that moment a cheerful one. It is something more than the disappearance of a member of the family : it is the end of anticipation, of excitement, of all that has been forming and accelerating the domestic life for weeks or months, perhaps. Even if there should happen to be an unexpressed and inexpressible relief in having permanently escaped the sway of a sharp critic, a keen inspecting eye which missed nothing, that consciousness only helps to take the edge off life and make it altogether blurred and brief for the moment. In the present case the very meal was suggestive : cold chickens, cold lamb, ham on the sideboard with ornamentations upon it, remains of jellies, and preparations of cream, — an altogether chilly dinner, implying in every dish a banquet past.
And there was not very much said. Joseph, who was rather more tired than everybody else, made no attempt to bring the lamp, and no one asked for it. They sat in the waning light, which had less of day and more of night in that room than anywhere else, and made a very slight repast in a much subdued way, with little interest in the cold chicken. Once Mrs. Warrender made a remark about the evening. “ How dark it is! I think, Theo, if you don’t do something soon, the trees will crush the house.” “ I don’t see what the trees have to do with it,” he answered with irritation; “I have always begged you not to wait for me when I was late.” “ But you were not late, dear Theo,” said Chatty, with a certain timidity. “ I suppose I ought to know whether I was late or not,” he replied. And the ladies were silent, and the salad was handed round. Very suitable for a summer evening, but yet on the whole a depressing meal.
When they rose from the table Mrs. Warrender asked Theo to take a turn with her, which he did with great reluctance, fearing to be questioned. But she had more discretion than to question him, at least on that subject. She told him that if he did not particularly want her, she had made up her mind to go away. “ Chatty will be dull without her sister. I think she wants a little change, and for that matter, so do I. And you don’t want us, Theo.”
“ That is a hard thing to say, mother.”
“ I do not mean any blame. I know that the time is critical for you, too, my dear boy. That is why I ask, do you wish me to remain ? but I don’t think you do.”
He did not answer for a full minute. Then, “ No,” he said, “ I don’t think I do.” They were walking slowly round the house, by the same path which they had taken together when the father was lying dead, and before there had been question of Lady Markland in the young man’s life. “ Mother,” he said after another interval, “ I ought to tell you, perhaps. I know nothing about myself or what I am going to do ; it all depends on some one else. Minnie would moralize finely on that, if she were to hear it. Things have come to this, that I know nothing about what may happen to-morrow. I may start off for the end of the world,—that is the most likely, I think. I can’t go on living as I am doing now. I may go to — where ? I don’t know and I don’t care much. If I were a Nimrod, as I ought to have been, I should have gone to Africa for big game. But it will probably be Greece or something conventional of that kind.”
“ Don’t speak so wildly, dear. Perhaps you will not go away at all. You have not made up your mind.”
“ When I tell you I know nothing, not even about to-morrow ! But I don’t entertain much hope. That is how it will end, in all probability. And of course I don’t want you to stay like rooks among the trees here. Poor old house ! it will soon have no daylight at all, as you say.”
“ Theo, I hope you will do something before it is too late. It is not a beautiful house, but you were born in it, and so was your father.”
He pressed her arm almost violently within his. “ Who knows, mother ? great days may be coming for the old place: or if not, let it drop to pieces, what does it matter ? I shall be the last of the Warrenders.”
“ Theo,” she said with agitation, returning the pressure of his arm, “ have you said anything to-night ? ”
Her question was vague enough, but he was at no difficulty in understanding. He said, after a moment, “ I had no opportunity, there were people there ; but to-morrow, to-morrow ” —
They came out together, as these words were said, upon the edge of the pond. In the depth of that dark mirror, broken by water-lilies and floating growth of all kinds, there was a pale reflected sky, very colorless and clear, the very soul and centre of the brooding evening. Everything was dark around, the summer foliage black in the absence of light, the heart of June as gloomy as if the trees had been funeral plumes. The two figures, dark like all the rest, stood for a moment on the edge of the water, looking down upon that one pale, dispassionate, reflected light. There was no cheer in it, nor anything of the movement and pulsation of human existence. The whiteness of the reflection chilled Mrs. Warrender, and made her shiver. “ I suppose,” she said, “ I am fanciful to-night; it looks to me like an unkindly spectator, who does not care what becomes of us.” She added, with a little nervous laugh, “ Perhaps it is not very probable that our little affairs should interest the universe, after all.”
Warrender did not make any reply. He heard what was said to him and saw what was round him in a dim sort of confused way, as if every object and every voice were at a distance; and with an impatience, too, which it was painful to him to keep down. He went with her to the house, saying little; but he could not rest there, and came out again, groping his way through the surrounding trees, and returned after a while to the pond, where there was that light to think by, more congenial even in its chill clearness than the oppressive dark. It changed beneath his eyes, but he took no notice; a star came into it and looked him in the face from under the shadow of the great floating shelf of the water-lily leaves ; and then came the blue of the dawn, the widening round him of the growing light, the shimmer of the early midsummer morning, long, long before those hours which men claim as the working day. That sudden bursting forth of life and color startled him in the midst of his dreams, and he went home and stole into the sleeping, darkened house, where by dint of curtains and shutters twilight still reigned, with something of the exhaustion and neglect of the morning after the feast, — the morning of the day which was to decide for him whether life should be miserable or divine.
These were the words which the young man used in his infatuation. He knew no others : miserable, so that he should no longer care what happened to him, or believe in any good, which was the most probable state of affairs ; or divine, a life celestial, inconceivable, which was indeed not to be dwelt upon for a moment as if under any suggestion of possibility it could be.
Next day Mrs. Warrender began at once her preparations for that removal which she had so long contemplated, which had been so often postponed, throwing Chatty into an excitement so full of conflicting elements that it was for some time difficult for the girl to know what her own real sentiments were. She had been figuring to herself with a little wistfulness, and an occasional escapade into dreams, the part which it was now her duty to take up, that of her mother’s chief companion, the daughter of the house, the dutiful dweller at home, who should have no heart and no thought beyond the Warren and its affairs. Chatty was pleased enough with the former rôle. It had been delightful both to her mother and herself to feel how much they had in common when the great authority on all family matters, the regulator of proprieties, the mistress of the ceremonies, so to speak, was out of the way, and they were left unmolested to follow their natural bent; but Chatty felt a little sinking of the heart when she thought of being bound to the Warren forever: of the necessity there would be for her constant services, and the unlikelihood of any further opening of life. While there had been two girls at home, there was always a possibility of an invitation, of a visit and little break of novelty, but it was one of Minnie’s most cherished maxims that a young lady in the house was indispensable, and Chatty, in the recollection of it, felt a certain cheerful despair, if the expression is permissible, seize her. She would be cheerful, she said to herself, whatever happened. It was her duty : she loved her home, and wanted nothing else, oh, nothing else ! Home and one’s mother, what could one want more?
But when Chatty heard, all in a moment, those plans which promised, instead of the monotonous life to which she had been accustomed, a new world of novelty, of undiscovered distance, of gayeties and pleasures unknown, her despair changed into alarm. Was it right, however pleasant it might be, to go away ; to abandon the Warren ; to be no longer the young lady of the house, doing everything for those about her, but a young woman at large, so to speak, upon the world, getting amusements in her own person, having nothing to do for anybody ? Chatty did not know what to think, what to reply to her mother. She exclaimed, “ Oh, mamma! ” with a gleam of delight; and then her countenance fell, and she asked, “ What will Theo do alone ? ” with all the conscious responsibility of a sister, the only unmarried sister left. But the question that was uppermost in her mind did not really concern Theo. “ What will Minnie say ? ” was what she was thinking. She turned this over in her mind all day with a breathless sense of so many new things that the old sense of subjection was a sort of support to her in the whirlwind of change. Minnie had often said that nothing short of necessity would make her leave the Warren. But then the force of that assertion was somewhat diminished by the fact that Minnie had not hesitated to leave the Warren when Mr. Thynne asked her to do so. Was necessity another name for a husband ? Chatty blushed at this thought, though it seemed very improbable that any husband would ever appear to suggest such a step to herself. Would Minnie still think that the only motive ; would she disapprove ?
Chatty went out by herself that day to take the usual afternoon walk which her sister had always insisted upon. The day was dull and gray for midsummer, and Chatty had not yet recovered from the fatigue of yesterday. She allowed to herself that the trees were sadly overgrown, and that it was quite dark within the grounds of the Warren when it was still light beyond ; and she permitted herself to think that it was a little dull having nowhere to walk to but Mrs. Bagley’s shop. To be sure there was the rectory: but Mrs. Wilberforce would be sure to question her so closely about all that had happened and was going to happen that Chatty preferred not to risk that ordeal. There was not a soul about the village on this particular afternoon. Chatty thought she had never seen it so deserted. To make her walk a little longer, she had come out by the further gate of the Warren, — the one that Theo always used, that which was nearest to Markland. The only figures she saw in all her line of vision, as she came out, making a little sound with the gate, which in the silence sounded like a noise and startled them, were two women, just parting as it seemed. One of them Chatty saw at a glance was Lizzie Hampson. The other — she came hurrying along towards Chatty, having parted, it appeared, with a kiss from her companion. They met full without any possibility of avoiding each other, and Chatty, in spite of herself, gave a long look at this woman, whom she had seen before in the high phaeton, and sometimes at the gate of the Elms. She was as young, or it might be younger than Chatty, with a lovely complexion, perhaps slightly aided by art, and quantities of curled and wavy hair. But the chief feature in her was her eyes — eyes of infantine blue, surrounded with curves of distress like a child’s who has been crying its very heart out. It was evident that she had been crying; her eyelashes were wet, her mouth quivering. Altogether, it seemed to Chatty the face of a child that had been naughty and was being punished. Poor thing ! she said in her soft heart, looking at the other girl with infinite pity. Oh, how miserable it must be to go wrong! Chatty felt as if she could have found it in her heart to stop this poor young creature, and entreat her, like a child, not to be naughty any more.
The other looked at her with those puckered and humid eyes with a stare into which there came a little defiance, almost an intention of affronting and insulting the young lady; but in a moment had hurried past and Chatty saw her no more. Chatty, too, quickened her steps, feeling, she could not tell why, a sensation like affront. Why should she be affronted ? She did not like to look back, but felt as if the woman she had just passed must be mocking her behind her back, or perhaps threatening her, ready to do her a mischief. And certainly it was Lizzie Hampson who was running on in front. Chatty called to her in the sudden fright that had come over ner, and was glad when the girl stopped and turned round reluctantly, though Lizzie’s face was also stained with crying and wore a mutinous and sullen look.
“ Did you call me, Miss Warrender? I am going home. Granny is waiting.”
“ Wait for me a moment, Lizzie. Oh, you have been crying, too. What is the matter ? And that — that lady ” —
“ I won’t tell you a lie, Miss Chatty, when you ’ve just found me out: but if you ’re going to tell upon me ! — this is the truth. I have been saying goodby to her ; and no one in Underwood will ever see her more.” Then Lizzie began to cry again, melting Chatty’s soft heart.
“ Why should I tell upon you ? I have nothing to say. It appears that it is some one you know ; but I — don’t know who it is.”
“ Oh, Miss Chatty, you are the real good one;” said Lizzie, “you don’t think everybody’s wicked. I don’t love her ways, but I love her, that poor, poor thing. Don’t tell granny I was with her; but it is only to say good-by ; that was all, for the last time, — just to say good-by.”
“Is she—going away?” Chatty spoke in a low and troubled voice, knowing that she ought not to show any interest, but with a pity and almost awe of the sinner which was beyond all rule.
“ Oh, yes, Miss Warrender, she is going away; the gentleman spoke the truth when he said it always comes to misery. There may be a fine appearance for a time, and everything seem grand and gay ; but it always comes to misery in the end.”
To this Chatty made no reply. It was not a lesson that she required, in her innocence and absence from temptation, to learn ; but she had an awe of Lizzie and her words as if a gulf had opened at her feet and she had seen the blackness of darkness within.
“ And if you ’ll believe me, she once was just as good and as innocent! Well, and she’s a kind of innocent now, for that matter. Oh, poor thing ! Oh, Miss Warrender, don’t you be angry if I ’m choking and crying. I can’t help it! She don’t know what she’s doing. She don’t know bad from good, or right from wrong. There’s some like that. Just what pleases them at the moment, that’s all they think of. She once had as happy a life before her! and a good husband, and served hand and foot.”
“ Lizzie,” said Chatty, with a shudder, “ don’t please tell me any more. If anything can be done ” —
“ Nothing,” said the girl shaking her head. “ What could be done ? If the good ladies were to get her into their hands, they would put her in a penitentiary or something. A penitentiary for her ! Oh, Miss Chatty, it’s little they know. If they could put her in a palace, and give her horses and carriages and plenty to amuse her, that might do. But she doesn’t want to repent; she does n’t know what it means. She wants to be well off and happy. And she ’s so young. Oh, don’t think I would be like that for the world, not for the world, don’t think it! But I can’t help knowing how she feels. Oh, my poor dear, my poor dear ! ”
The wonder with which Chatty heard this strange plea was beyond description ; but she would ask no more questions, and hear no more, though Lizzie seemed ready enough to furnish her with all details. She went back with the girl to the shop, thus disarming Mrs. Bagley, who was always full of suspicions and alarm when Lizzie was out of the way, and stood talking to the old woman while Lizzie stole into the parlor behind and got rid of the traces of her tears. Chatty felt very solemn as she stood and talked about her patterns, feeling as if she had come from a death-bed or a funeral. It was something still more terrible and solemnizing : it was her first glimpse into a darkness of which she knew nothing, and her voice sounded in her own ears like a mockery as she asked about the bundle of things that had come from Highcombe. “ There’s one as is called the honeysuckle,” said Mrs. Bagley : “it will just please you, Miss Chatty, as likes nice, delicate little things.” The old woman thought she must be feeling her sister’s loss dreadful, looking as melancholy as if it was her coffin she was buying. And Chatty accepted the honeysuckle pattern and looked out the materials for working it, without relaxing from that seriousness which was so little habitual to her. She even forgot all about her own problems, as she went home, seeing constantly before her the pretty, childlike face all blurred with tears. Was it true, as Lizzie said, that there was no way to help or deliver ? If she had stopped, perhaps, as she had almost been impelled to do. and said, as it was on her lips to say, “ Oh, I am so sorry for you ; oh, don’t do wrong any more,” would the unhappy creature perhaps have listened to her, and repented, though Lizzie said she did not want to repent ? Chatty could not forget that pitiful face. Would she ever, she wondered, meet it again ?
Markland lay as usual, bare and white against the sun, upon that day of fate. The young trees had grown a little, and stood basking, scarcely shivering, leaning their feeble young heads together in the sun, but making little show as yet; all was wrapped in the warmth and stillness of the summer morn. The old butler stood upon the steps of the great door, his white head and black figure making a point in the bright, unbroken, still life about. Within, Lady Markland was in the morning-room with her business books and papers, but not doing much ; and Geoff was in another, alone with his books, not doing much : thinking, both of them, of the expected visitor now riding up in a breathless white heat of excitement to the hall door.
The entire house knew what was coming. Two or three maids were peeping at the windows above, saying, “ There he is,” with flutters of sympathetic emotion. That was why the butler stood on the steps waiting. All these spectators in the background had watched for a long time past ; and a simultaneous thrill had run through the household, which no one was conscious of being the cause of, which was instinctive and incontrovertible. If not yesterday, then to-day ; or to-morrow, if anything should come in the way to-day. Things had come to such a pitch that they could go no further. Of this every one in Markland was sure. There is something that gets into the air when excitement and self repression run high, and warns the whole world about of the approach of an event. “ A bird of the air hath carried the matter.” So it is said in all languages. But it is more than a bird in the air, swifter flying, entering into the most secret places. The last tiling that Warrender thought of was that the fire and passion in his own breast had been publicly revealed. He wondered night and day whether she knew, whether she had any suspicion, if it had ever occurred to her to think; but that the maids should be peeping from the windows, and the old butler watching at the door to receive the lover, was beyond his furthest conception of possibility : fortunately, since such a thought would have overwhelmed him with fury and shame.
Lady Markland sat at her table, pondering a letter from Mr. Longstaffe. She had it spread out before her, but she could only half see the words, and only half understand what they meant. She had read in Theo’s eyes on the previous day — all. Had he but known he had nothing to reveal to her, nothing that she could not have told him beforehand! She had felt that the tempest of his young passion had been about to burst, and she had been extravagantly glad of the sudden appearance of the visitors who made it impossible. She had been glad, but perhaps a little disappointed, too; her expectation and certainty of what was coming having risen also to a white heat of excitement, which fell into stillness and relief at the sight of the strangers, yet retained a certain tantalized impatience, as of one from whose lips a cup has been taken which will certainly have to be emptied another day. This was what she said to herself, with a trembling and agitation which was fully justified by the scene she anticipated. She said to herself that it must be got over, that she would not try to balk him, but rather give him the opportunity, poor boy. Yes! it was only just that he should have his opportunity, and that this great crisis should be got over as best it might. Her hands trembled as she folded Mr. Longstaffe’s letter and put it away; her mind, she allowed to herself, was not capable of business. Poor boy, poor foolish boy ! for was not he a boy in comparison with herself, a woman not only older in years, but so much older in life ; a woman who had been a wife, who was a mother; a woman whose first thoughts were already pledged to other interests, and for whom love in his interpretation of the word existed no more? She would look down upon him, she thought, as from the mountain height of the calm and distant past. The very atmosphere in which such ideas had been possible was wanting. She would still him by a word ; she would be very kind, very gentle with him, poor boy ! She would blame herself for having unintentionally, unconsciously, put him in the way of this great misfortune. She would say to him, “ How could I have ever thought that I, a woman so much older, past anything of the kind, — that I could harm you ! But it is not love, it is pity ; it is because you are sorry for me! And it will pass, and you will learn to think of me as your friend.” Oh, such a friend as she would be to him ! and when some one younger, prettier, happier than she came in his way, as would certainly happen ! Lady Markland could not help feeling a little chill at that prospect. The warmth of a young man’s devotion has a great effect upon a woman. It makes many women do foolish things, out of the gratitude, the exhilaration of finding themselves lovable and beloved, even when they have passed the age and the possibility of being loved, as Lady Markland, now seven and twenty, had concluded herself to be.
Seven and twenty! ah, but that was not all ! a wife already, to whom it was shame so much as to think of any other man. A second marriage appeared to her, as to many women, a sort of atheism ; a giving up of the religion of the immortal. If marriage is a tie that endures forever, as it must be every happy woman’s creed it is, how could she die, how dare ever to look in the face a man who because he was dead— no more than that, because a change had happened to him which was no doing of his — she had abandoned for another man ? This argument made it once and forever impossible to contemplate such an act. Therefore it was to another man’s wife that this poor boy, this generous enthusiast, was giving his all. But a woman cannot have such a gift laid down at her feet without a sensation of gratitude, without a certain pleasure even amid the pain, in that vindication of herself and her womanhood which he makes to her, raising her in her own esteem. Therefore she could not be hard, could not be angry. Poor boy ! to think of what it was he was throwing away ; and of the beating heart full of foolish passion with which he was coming to say words which her imagination snatched at, then retired from, trying not to anticipate them, not to be curious, not to be moved in advance by what he must say.
And then by times she would pause and ask herself whether she could not prevent him, whether she could not spare him these fruitless words. Would not it be wrong to let him say them, when it was so certain what her response must be ? She might stop him, perhaps, in the utterance ; tell him with how much sympathy, with how much tenderness ! that it must not be ; that not for her were such expressions possible ; that he was mistaking himself, and his own heart, in which pity was moving, not love. Could she do this ? She felt a quick pang of disappointment in the thought of not hearing what he had to say: but it would be kinder to him — perhaps : would it be kinder ? — to stop those words on his lips, words that should only be said to the woman who could listen to them, — to the happy young creature whom some time or other he would love. This was the confusion of thought in Lady Markland’s mind while she sat by her writing-table among her papers, turning them over with nervous hands, now opening, now closing again the letters to which she could give no attention ; letters, a cool observer might have said, much more important than a question of a foolish young fellow’s love. Meanwhile the maids peeped, and the old butler looked down the avenue where Warrender’s black horse was visible, marked with foam as if he had been pushed on at a great pace, and yet, now that the house was in sight, coming slowly enough. The servants had no doubt about what was going to happen so far as Warrender was concerned, but it was all the more like an exciting story to them that they had no certainty at all how it was to end. Opinions were divided as to Lady Markland ; indeed, so wrapped was the whole matter in mystery that those who ought to know the best, old Soames for one, and her own maid for another, would give no opinion at all.
Geoff was all this time in the room where he had his lessons, waiting for his tutor. He was biting his nails to the quick, and twisting his little face into every kind of contortion. Geoff was now ten, and he had grown a good deal during the year, — if not so very much in stature, yet a great deal in experience. A little, a very little, and yet enough to swear by, of the wholesome discipline of neglect had fallen to Geoff’s share. Business and lessons had parted his day from his mother’s in a way which was very surprising when it was realized ; and Geoff realized it, perhaps, better than Lady Markland did. In the evenings she was, as before, his alone ; though sometimes even then a little preoccupied and with other things in her mind, as she allowed, which she could scarcely speak to him about. But in the long day these two saw comparatively little of each other. At luncheon, Warrender was always there, talking to Lady Markland of subjects which Geoff was not familiar with. The boy thought, sometimes, that Theo chose them on purpose to keep him “ out of it.” Certainly he was very often out of it, and had to sit and stare and listen, which was very good for him but did not make him more affectionate towards Theo. To feel “ out of it ” is not a comfortable, but it is a very maturing experience. Geoff sat by and thought what a lot Theo knew ; what a lot mamma knew ; what an advantage grown-up people had; and how inattentive to other people’s feelings they were in using it. Alter luncheon, Theo frequently stayed to talk something over with Lady Markland ; to show her something ; now and then to help her with something which she did not feel equal to. During these moments Geoff was supposed to “play.” What he did, generally, was to resort to the stables and talk with the coachman and Black, whose conversation was perhaps not the best possible for the little lad, and who instructed him in horse-racing and other subjects of the kind.
When Theo went away, Lady Markland would call for Geoff to walk down the avenue with her, accompanying the tutor to the gate. And after he had been shaken hands with and had gone, then was to Geoff the best of the day. His mother and he, when it was fine, strolled about the park together for an hour, in something like the old confiding and equal friendship; a pair of friends, though they were mother and son, and though Geoff was but ten and she twenty-seven. That was old times come back, and recalled what was already the golden age to Geoff, the time before anything had happened. He did not say before his father died, for his childish memory was acute enough to recollect that things had often been far from happy then. But he remembered the halcyon days of the first mourning ; the complete peace; the gradual relaxation of his mother’s face; the return of her dimples, and of her laughter. It had only been then, he remembered, that he had called her “ pretty mamma ! ” her face had become so fresh, and so soft and round. But lately it had lengthened a little again ; and the eyes sometimes went miles off, which made him uneasy. “ Why do your eyes go so far away ? do you see anything ? ” he asked, sometimes ; and then she would come back to him with a start, perhaps with a flush of sudden color, sometimes with a laugh, making fun of it. But Geoff did not feel disposed to make fun of it. It gave him a pang of anger to see her so; and unconsciously, without knowing why, he was more indignant with Theo at these moments, than he was when Theo sat at table and talked about matters beyond Geoff’s ken. What had Theo to do with that far-away look? What could he have to do with it ? Geoff could not tell. He was aware there was no sense in his anger, but yet he was angry all the same.
And now, he sat waiting for Theo to come : waiting, but not wishing for him. Geoff was not so clever as the maids and old Soames ; he did not know what he was afraid of. He had never formulated to himself any exact danger; and naturally he knew nothing of the seductions of that career into which Warrender had been drawn without intending it; without meaning any breach of Geoff’s peace or of his own. Geoff did not know at all what he feared. He felt that there was something going on which was against him ; and he had a kind of consciousness, like all the rest, that it was coming to a climax to-day. But he did not know what it was, nor what danger was impending over him. Perhaps Theo intended to stay longer; to come to Markland altogether; to interfere with the boy’s evenings as he had done with his mornings. Or perhaps — but when he for a moment asked himself what he feared, his thoughts all fled away into vague alarms, infinitesimal in comparison with the reality, which was far too big and terrible for his mind to grasp. Mamma was afraid of it, too, he had thought, this morning. She had looked as the sky looks sometimes when the clouds are flying over it, and the wind is high and a storm is getting up : sometimes her face would be all overcast, and then her eyes had the look of a shower falling (though she did not shed any tears), and then there would be a clearing. She was afraid, too. It was something that Theo was going to propose ; some change that he wanted to carry out: and mamma was afraid of it, too. This was in one way comforting, but in another more alarming; for it must be very serious indeed, if she, too, was afraid.
He roused himself from these uncomfortable thoughts, and began to pull his books about, and put his exercises upon the desk which Theo used, when he heard the sound of Theo’s arrival, — the heavy hoofs of the big black horse, the voice of Soames in the hall, the quick steady step coming in. The time had been when Geoff would have thrown all his books on the table, and rushed out to witness the arrival, with an eager “ Oh, Theo, you ’re five minutes late ! ” or " Oh, Theo, I haven’t done yet! ” For some time, however, he had left off doing this. Things were too serious for such vanities; he lifted his head and held his breath, listening to the approaching footstep. A kind of alarm lest it should not be coming here at all, but straight to Lady Markland’s room, made him pale for the moment. That would be too bad, to come here professedly for Geoff and to go instead to mamma ! it would be just like Theo ; but fortunately things were not quite so bad as this. The steps came straight to Geoff’s door. Warrender entered, looking — the boy could not tell how — flushed, weary-eyed : something as he had seen his father look in the morning after a late night. Excitement simulates many disorders, and this was the first thought that leaped to Geoff’s mind, with its little bit of painful experience. “ I say, Theo ! ” the boy cried ; and then stared and said no more.
“ Well! what is it you say ? I hope you are prepared to-day, not like last time.”
“ Last time ! but I was very well prepared last time ! It is you who forget. I knew everything.”
“ You had better teach me, then, Geoff, for I don’t know everything: no, nor half what I want to know. Oh, here is the exercise ! ” Warrender said, sitting down. He looked it over and corrected it with his pencil, hanging over it, seeming to forget the boy’s presence. When that was done he opened the book carelessly, anywhere, not at the place, as Geoff, who watched with keen eyes everything the young man was doing, perceived instantly. “ Where did you leave off last time ? Go on,” he said. Geoff began ; but he was far too intent on watching Theo to know what he was about; and as he construed with his eyes only, and not all of them, for he had to keep his companion’s movements in sight all the time, it is needless to say that Geoff made sad work of his Cæsar. And his little faculties were more and more sharpened with alarm, and more and more blunted in Latin, when he found that stumble as he liked, Theo did not correct him, nor say a word. He sat with his head propped on his hands, and when Geoff paused merely said, “ Go on.” Either this meant something very awful in the shape of fault-finding when the culprit had come to the end of the lesson, the exemption now meaning dire retribution then, or else — there was something very wrong with Theo. Geoff’s little sharp eyes seemed to leap out of their sockets with excitement and suspense.
At last Warrender suddenly, in the midst of a dreadfully boggled sentence, after Geoff’ had beaten himself on every side of these walls of words in bewildering endeavors to find a nominative, sprang up to his feet. “ Look here,” he said, “ I think I ’ll give you a holiday to-day.”
Geoff, startled, closed his book upon his hand. “ I had a holiday yesterday.”
“ Had you ? well, what has that to do with it ? You can put away your books for to-day. As for being prepared, my boy, if my head had not been so bad ” —
“ Is your head bad, Theo ? ” Geoff put on a look of solicitude to divert attention from his own delinquencies.
“ I think it will split in two,” said Warrender, pressing his hands upon his temples, in which indeed the blood was so swelling in every vein that they seemed ready to burst. He added, a minute after, “You can run out and get a little air ; and ” — here he paused, and the boy stopped and looked up, knowing and fearing what was coming. “ And,” repeated Warrender, a crimson flush coming to his face which had been so pale, “ I ’ll — go and explain to Lady Markland.”
“ Oh, if you ’re in a hurry to go, never mind, Theo ! I ’ll tell mamma.”
Warrender looked at Geoff with a blank but angry gaze. “ I told you to run out and play,” he said, his voice sounding harsh and strange. “ It’s very bright out of doors. It will be the best thing for you.”
“ And, Theo! what shall I learn for to-morrow ? ”
“ To-morrow ! ” The child was frightened by the look Theo gave him : the sudden fading out of the flush, the hollow look in his eyes. Then he flung down the book which all the time he had been holding mechanically in his hand. “ Damn to-morrow ! ” he said.
Geoff’s eyes opened wide with amazement and horror. Was Theo going mad ? was that all that it meant after all?
M. O. W. Oliphant.