― 117 ―

i: Chapter IX.


AND when Mary had left the room, the Vicar sat musing before the fire in his study. “Well,” said he to himself, “she took it quieter than I thought she would. Now, I can't blame myself. I think I have shown her that I am determined, and she seems inclined to be dutiful. Poor dear girl, I am very sorry for her. There is no doubt she has taken a fancy to this handsome young scamp. But she must get over it. It can't be so very serious as yet. At all events I have done my duty, though I can't help saying that I wish I had spoken before things went so far.”

The maid looked in timidly, and told him that breakfast was ready. He went into the front parlour, and there he found his sister making tea. She looked rather disturbed, and, as the Vicar kissed her, he asked her “where was Mary?”

“She is not well, brother,” she answered. “She is going to stay up‐stairs; I fear something has gone wrong with her.”

  ― 118 ―

“She and I had some words this morning,” answered he, “and that happens so seldom, that she is a little upset, that is all.”

“I hope there is nothing serious, brother,” said Miss Thornton.

“No; I have only been telling her that she must give up receiving George Hawker here. And she seems to have taken a sort of fancy to his society, which might have grown to something more serious. So I am glad I spoke in time.”

“My dear brother, do you think you have spoken in time? I have always imagined that you had determined, for some reason which I was not master of, that she should look on Mr. Hawker as her future husband. I am afraid you will have trouble. Mary is selfwilled.”

Mary was very self‐willed. She refused to come down‐stairs all day, and, when he was sitting down to dinner, he sent up for her. She sent him for an answer, that she did not want any dinner, and that she was going to stay where she was.

The Vicar ate his dinner notwithstanding. He was vexed, but, on the whole, felt satisfied with himself. This sort of thing, he said to himself, was to be expected. She would get over it in time. He hoped that the poor girl would not neglect her meals, and get thin. He might have made himself comfortable if he had seen her at the cold chicken in the back kitchen.

  ― 119 ―

She could not quite make the matter out. She rather fancied that her father and Hawker had had some quarrel, the effects of which would wear off, and that all would come back to its old course. She thought it strange too that her father should be so different from his usual self, and this made her uneasy. One thing she was determined on, not to give up her lover, come what would. So far in life she had always had her own way, and she would have it now. All things considered, she thought that sulks would be her game. So sulks it was. To be carried on until the Vicar relented.

She sat up in her room till it was evening. Twice during the day her aunt had come up, and the first time she had got rid of her under pretence of headache, but the second time she was forced in decency to admit her, and listen entirely unedified to a long discourse, proving, beyond power of contradiction, that it was the duty of every young Englishwoman to be guided entirely by her parents in the choice of a partner for life. And how that Lady Kate, as a fearful judgment on her for marrying a captain of artillery against the wishes of her noble relatives, was now expiating her crimes on 400l. a‐year, and when she might have married a duke.

Lady Kate was Miss Thornton's “awful example,” her “naughty girl.” She served to point many a moral of the old lady's. But Lady Fanny, her sister, was

  ― 120 ―
always represented as the pattern of all Christian virtues — who had crowned the hopes of her family and well‐wishers by marrying a gouty marquis of sixty‐three, with fifty thousand a‐year. On this occasion, Mary struck the old lady dumb — “knocked her cold,” our American cousins would say — by announcing that she considered Lady Emily to be a fool, but that Lady Kate seemed to be a girl of some spirit. So Miss Thornton left her to her own evil thoughts, and, as evening began to fall, Mary put on her bonnet, and went out for a walk.

Out by the back door, and round through the shrubbery, so that she gained the front gate unperceived from the windows; but ere she reached it she heard the latch go, and found herself face to face with a man.

He was an immensely tall man, six foot at least. His long heavy limbs loosely hung together, and his immense broad shoulders slightly rounded. In features he was hardly handsome, but a kindly pleasant looking face made ample atonement for want of beauty. He was dressed in knee‐breeches, and a great blue coat, with brass buttons, too large even for him, was topped by a broad‐brimmed beaver hat, with fur on it half‐aninch long. In age, this man was about five‐and‐twenty, and well known he was to all the young fellows round there for skill in all sporting matters, as well as for his kind‐heartedness and generosity.

  ― 121 ―

When he saw Mary pop out of the little side walk right upon him, he leaned back against the gate and burst out laughing. No, hardly “burst out.” His laughter seemed to begin internally and silently, till, after one or two rounds, it shook the vast fabric of his chest beyond endurance, and broke out into so loud and joyous a peal that the blackbird fled, screeching indignantly, from the ivy‐tree behind him.

“What! Thomas Troubridge,” said Mary. “My dear cousin, how are you? Now, don't stand laughing there like a great gaby, but come and shake hands. What on earth do you see to laugh at in me?”

“Nothing, my cousin Poll, nothing,” he replied. “You know that is my way of expressing approval. And you look so pretty standing there in the shade, that I would break any man's neck who didn't applaud. Shake hands, says you, I'll shake hands with a vengeance.” So saying, he caught her in his arms, and covered her face with kisses.

“You audacious,” she exclaimed, when she writhed herself free. “I'll never come within arm's‐length of you again. How dare you?”

“Only cousinly affection, I assure you, Poll. Rather more violent than usual at finding myself back in Drumston. But entirely cousinly.”

“Where have you been then, Tom?” she asked.

“Why, to London, to be sure. Give us ano——”

  ― 122 ―

“You keep off, sir, or you'll catch it. What took you there?”

“Went to see Stockbridge and Hamlyn off.”

“Then, they are gone?” she asked.

“Gone, sure enough. I was the last friend they'll see for many a long year.”

“How did Stockbridge look? Was he pretty brave?”

“Pretty well. Braver than I was. Mary, my girl, why didn't ye marry him?”

“What — you are at me with the rest, are you?” she answered. “Why, because he was a gaby, and you're another; and I wouldn't marry either of you to save your lives — now then!”

“Do you mean to say you would not have me, if I asked you? Pooh! pooh! I know better than that, you know.” And again the shrubbery rang with his laughter.

“Now, go in, Tom, and let me get out,” said Mary. “I say Tom dear, don't say you saw me. I am going out for a turn, and I don't want them to know it.”

Tom twisted up his great face into a mixture of mystery, admiration, wonder, and acquiescence, and, having opened the gate for her, went in.

But Mary walked quickly down a deep narrow lane, overarched with oak, and melodious with the full rich notes of the thrush, till she saw down the long vista, growing now momentarily darker, the gleaming of a ford where the road crossed a brook.

  ― 123 ―

Not the brook where the Vicar and the Major went fishing. Quite a different sort of stream, although they were scarcely half a mile apart, and joined just below. Here all the soil was yellow clay, and, being less fertile, was far more densely wooded than any of the red country. The hills were very abrupt, and the fields but sparely scattered among the forest land. The stream itself, where it crossed the road, flowed murmuring over a bed of loose blue slate pebbles, but both above and below this place forced its way, almost invisible, through a dense oak wood, deeply tangled with undergrowth.

A stone foot‐bridge spanned the stream, and having reached this, it seemed as if she had come to her journey's end. For leaning on the rail she began looking into the water below, though starting and looking round at every sound.

She was waiting for some one. A pleasant place this to wait in. So dark, so hemmed in with trees, and the road so little used; spring was early here, and the boughs were getting quite dense already. How pleasant to see the broad red moon go up behind the feathery branches, and listen to the evensong of the thrush, just departing to roost, and leaving the field clear for the woodlark all night. There were a few sounds from the village, a lowing of cows, and the noise of the boys at play; but they were so tempered down by the distance, that they only added to the evening harmony.

  ― 124 ―

There is another sound now. Horses' feet approaching rapidly from the side opposite to that by which she had come; and soon a horseman comes in sight, coming quickly down the hill. When he sees her he breaks into a gallop, and only pulls up when he is at the side of the brook below her.

This is the man she was expecting — George Hawker. Ah, Vicar! how useless is your authority when lovers have such intelligence as this. It were better they should meet in your parlour, under your own eye, than here, in the budding spring‐time, in this quiet spot under the darkening oaks.

Hawker spoke first. “I guessed,” he said, “that it was just possible you might come out to‐night. Come down off the bridge, my love, and let us talk together while I hang up the horse.”

So as he tied the horse to a gate, she came down off the bridge. He took her in his arms and kissed her. “Now, my Poll,” said he, “I know what you are going to begin talking about.”

“I daresay you do, George,” she answered. “You and my father have quarrelled.”

“The quarrel has been all on one side, my love,” he said; “he has got some nonsense into his head, and he told me when I met him this morning, that he would never see me in his house again.”

“What has he heard, George? it must be something

  ― 125 ―
very shocking to change him like that. Do you know what it is?”

“Perhaps I do,” he said; “but he has no right to visit my father's sins on me. He hates me, and he always did; and he has been racking his brains to find out something against me. That rascally German doctor has found him an excuse, and so he throws in my teeth, as fresh discovered, what he must have known years ago.”

“I don't think that, George. I don't think he would be so deceitful.”

“Not naturally he wouldn't, I know; but he is under the thumb of that doctor; and you know how he hates me — If you don't I do.”

“I don't know why Dr. Mulhaus should hate you, George.”

“I do though; that sleeky dog Stockbridge, who is such a favourite with him, has poisoned his mind, and all because he wanted you and your money, and because you took up with me instead of him.”

“Well now,” said Mary; “don't go on about him — he is gone, at all events; but you must tell me what this is that my father has got against you.”

“I don't like to. I tell you it is against my father, not me.”

“Well!” she answered; “if it was anyone but me, perhaps, you ought not to tell it; but you ought to

  ― 126 ―
have no secrets from me, George — I have kept none from you.”

“Well, my darling, I will tell you then: you know Madge, at our place?”

“Yes; I have seen her.”

“Well, it's about her. She and my father live together like man and wife, though they ain't married; and the Vicar must have known that these years, and yet now he makes it an excuse for getting rid of me.”

“I always thought she was a bad woman,” said Mary; “but you are wrong about my father. He never knew it till now I am certain; and of course, you know, he naturally won't have me go and live in the house with a bad woman.”

“Does he think then, or do you think,” replied George, with virtuous indignation, “that I would have thought of taking you there? No, I'd sooner have taken you to America!”

“Well, so I believe, George.”

“This won't make any difference in you, Mary? No, I needn't ask it, you wouldn't have come here to meet me to‐night if that had been the case.”

“It ought to make a difference, George,” she replied; “I am afraid I oughtn't to come out here and see you, when my father don't approve of it.”

“But you will come, my little darling, for all that;” he said. “Not here though — the devil only knows who may be loitering round here. Half a dozen pair

  ― 127 ―
of lovers a night perhaps — no, meet me up in the croft of a night. I am often in at Gosford's of an evening, and I can see your window from there, you put a candle in the right‐hand corner when you want to see me, and I'll be down in a very few minutes. I shall come every evening and watch.”

“Indeed,” she said, “I won't do anything of the sort; at least, unless I have something very particular to say. Then, indeed, I might do such a thing. Now I must go home or they will be missing me.”

“Stay a minute, Mary,” said he; “you just listen to me. They will, some of them, be trying to take my character away. You won't throw me off without hearing my defence, dear Mary, I know you won't. Let me hear what lies they tell of me, and don't you condemn me unheard because I come from a bad house? Tell me that you'll give me a chance of clearing myself with you, my girl, and I'll go home in peace and wait.”

What girl could resist the man she loved so truly, when he pleaded so well? With his arm about her waist, and his handsome face bent over her, lit up with what she took to be love. Not she, at all events. She drew the handsome face down towards her, and as she kissed him fervently, said:

“I will never believe what they say of you, love. I should die if I lost you. I will stay by you through evil report and good report. What is all the world to me without you?”

  ― 128 ―

And she felt what she said, and meant it. What though the words in which she spoke were borrowed from the trashy novels she was always reading — they were true enough for all that. George saw that they were true, and saw also that now was the time to speak about what he had been pondering over all day.

“And suppose, my own love,” he said; “that your father should stay in his present mind, and not come round?”

“Well!” she said.

“What are we to do?” he asked; “are we to be always content with meeting here and there, when we dare? Is there nothing further?”

“What do you mean?” she said in a whisper. “What shall we do?”

“Can't you answer that?” he said softly. “Try.”

“No, I can't answer. You tell me what.”

“Fly!” he said in her ear. “Fly, and get married, that's what I mean.”

“Oh! that's what you mean,” she replied. “Oh, George, I should not have courage for that.”

“I think you will, my darling, when the time comes. Go home and think about it.”

He kissed her once more, and then she ran away homeward through the dark. But she did not run far before she began to walk slower and think.

“Fly with him,” she thought. Run away and get married. What a delightfully wild idea. Not to be

  ― 129 ―
entertained for a moment, of course, but still what a pleasant notion. She meant to marry George in the end; why not that way as well as any other? She thought about it again and again, and the idea grew more familiar. At all events, if her father should continue obstinate, here was a way out of the difficulty. He would be angry at first, but when he found he could not help himself he would come round, and then they would all be happy. She would shut her ears to anything they said against George. She could not believe it. She would not. He should be her husband, come what might. She would dissemble, and keep her father's suspicions quiet. More, she would speak lightly of George, and make them believe she did not care for him. But most of all, she would worm from her father everything she could about him. Her curiosity was aroused, and she fancied, perhaps, George had not told her all the truth. Perhaps he might be entangled with some other woman. She would find it all out if she could.

So confusedly thinking she reached home, and approaching the door, heard the noise of many voices in the parlour. There was evidently company, and in her present excited state nothing would suit her better; so sliding up to her room, and changing her dress a little, she came down and entered the parlour.

“Behold,” cried the Doctor, as she entered the room, “the evening‐star has arisen at last. My dear

  ― 130 ―
young lady, we have been loudly lamenting your absence and indisposition.”

“I have been listening to your lamentations, Doctor,” she replied. “They were certainly loud, and from the frequent bursts of laughter, I judged they were getting hysterical, so I came down.”

There was quite a party assembled. The Vicar and Major Buckley were talking earnestly together. Troubridge and the Doctor were side by side, while next the fire was Mrs. Buckley, with young Sam asleep on her lap, and Miss Thornton sitting quietly beside her.

Having saluted them all, Mary sat down by Mrs. Buckley, and began talking to her. Then the conversation flowed back into the channel it had been following before her arrival.

“I mean to say, Vicar,” said the Major, “that it would be better to throw the four packs into two. Then you would have less squabbling and bickering about the different boundaries, and you would kill the same number of hares with half the dogs.”

“And you would throw a dozen men out of work, sir,” replied the Vicar, “in this parish and the next, and that is to be considered; and about half the quantity of meat and horseflesh would be consumed, which is another consideration. I tell you I believe things are better as they are.”

“I hear they got a large stern‐cabin; did they, Mr.

  ― 131 ―
Troubridge?” said the Doctor. “I hope they'll be comfortable. They should have got more amidships if they could. They will be sick the longer in their position.”

“Poor boys!” said Troubridge; “they'll be more heart‐sick than stomach‐sick, I expect. They'd halfrepented before they sailed.”

Mary sat down by Mrs. Buckley, and had half an hour's agreeable conversation with her, till they all rose to go. Mrs. Buckley was surprised at her sprightliness and good spirits, for she had expected to find her in tears. The Doctor had met the Major in the morning, and told him what had passed the night before, so Mrs. Buckley had come in to cheer Mary up for the loss of her lover, and to her surprise found her rather more merry than usual. This made the good lady suspect at once that Mary did not treat the matter very seriously, or else was determined to defy her father, which, as Mrs. Buckley reflected, she was perfectly able to do, being rich in her own right, and of age. So when she was putting on her shawl to go home, she kissed Mary, and said kindly, —

“My love, I hope you will always honour and obey your father, and I am sure you will always, under all circumstances, remember that I am your true friend. Good night.”

And having bidden her good night, Mary went in. The Doctor was gone with the Major, but Tom

  ― 132 ―
Troubridge sat still before the fire, and as she came in was just finishing off one of his thundering fits of laughter at something that the Vicar had said.

“My love,” said the Vicar, “I am so sorry you have been poorly, though you look better to‐night. Your dear aunt has been to Tom's room, so there is nothing to do, but to sit down and talk to us.”

“Why, cousin Tom,” she said, laughing, “I had quite forgot you; at least, quite forgot you were going to stay here. Why, what a time it is since I saw you.”

“Isn't it?” he replied; “such a very long time. If I remember right, we met last out at the gate. Let's see. How long was that ago?”

“You ought to remember,” she replied; “you're big enough. Well, good night. I'm going to bed.”

She went to her room, but not to bed. She sat in the window, looking at the stars, pale in the full moonlight, wondering. Wondering what George was doing. Wondering whether she would listen to his audacious proposal. And wondering, lastly, what on earth her father would say if she did.