A month went on, and May was well advanced. The lanes had grown dark and shadowy with their summer bravery; the banks were a rich mass of verdure once more, starred with wild-rose and eglantine; and on the lesser woodland stream, the king fern was again concealing the channel with brilliant golden fronds; while brown bare thorn-thickets, through which the wind had whistled savagely all winter, were now changed into pleasant bowers, where birds might build and sing.
A busy month this had been for the Major. Fishing every day, and pretty near all day, determined, as he said, to make the most of it, for fear it should be his last year. There was a beaten path worn through the growing grass all down the side of the stream by his sole exertions; and now the May-fly was coming, and there would be no more fishing in another week, so he worked harder than ever. Mrs. Buckley used to bring down her son and heir, and sit under an oak by the river-side, sewing. Pleasant, long days they were when dinner would be brought down to the old tree, and she would spend the day there, among the long meadow-grass, purple and yellow with flowers, bending under the soft west wind. Pleasant to hear the corncrake by the hedge-side, or the moorhen in the water. But pleasantest of all was the time when her husband, tired of fishing, would come and sit beside her, and the boy, throwing his lately-petted flowers to the wind, would run crowing to the spotted beauties which his father had laid out for him on the grass.
The Vicar was busy in his garden, and the Doctor was often helping him, although the most of his time was spent in natural history, to which he seemed entirely devoted. One evening they had been employed rather later than usual, and the Doctor was just gone, when the Vicar turned round and saw that his sister was come out, with her basket and scissors, to gather a fresh bouquet for the drawing-room.
So he went to join her, and as he approached her he admired her with an affectionate admiration. Such a neat, trim figure, with the snow-white handkerchief over her head, and her white garden gloves; what a contrast to Mary, he thought; “Both good of their sort, though,” he added.
“Good evening, brother,” began Miss Thornton. “Was not that Dr. Mulhaus went from you just now?”
“Yes, my dear.”
“You had letters of introduction to Dr. Mulhaus, when he came to reside in this village?” asked Miss Thornton.
“Yes; Lord C— — whom I knew at Oxford, recommended me to him.”
“His real name, I daresay, is not Mulhaus. Do you know what his real name is, brother?”
How very awkward plain plump questions of this kind are. The Vicar would have liked to answer “No,” but he could not tell a lie. He was also a very bad hand at prevaricating; so with a stammer, he said “Yes!”
“So do I!” said Miss Thornton.
“Good Lord, my dear, how did you find it out?”
“I recognised him the first instant I saw him, and was struck dumb. I was very discreet, and have never said a word even to you till now; and, lately, I have been thinking that you might know, and so I thought I would sound you.”
“I suppose you saw him when you were with her ladyship in Paris, in ‘14?”
“Yes; often,” said Miss Thornton. “He came to the house several times. How well I remember the last. The dear girls and I were in the conservatory in the morning, and all of a sudden we heard the door thrown open, and two men coming towards us talking from the breakfast-room. We could not see them for the plants, but when we heard the voice of one of them, the girls got into a terrible flutter, and I was very much frightened myself. However, there was no escape, so we came round the corner on them as bold as we could, and there was this Dr. Mulhaus, as we call him, walking with him.”
“With him? — with who?”
“The Emperor Alexander, my dear, whose voice we had recognised; I thought you would have known whom I meant.”
“My dear love,” said the Vicar, “I hope you reflect how sacred that is, and what a good friend I should lose if the slightest hint as to who he was, were to get among the gentry round. You don’t think he has recognised you?”
“How is it likely, brother, that he would remember an English governess, whom he never saw but three times, and never looked at once? I have often wondered whether the Major recognised him.”
“No; Buckley is a Peninsular man, and although at Waterloo, never went to Paris. Lans — Mulhaus, I mean, was not present at Waterloo. So they never could have met. My dear discreet old sister, what tact you have! I have often said to myself, when I have seen you and he together, ‘If she only knew who he was;’— and to think of your knowing all the time. Ha! ha! ha! That’s very good.”
“I have lived long where tact is required, my dear brother. See, there goes young Mr. Hawker!”
“I’d sooner see him going home than coming here. Now, I’d go out for a turn in the lanes, but I know I should meet half a dozen couples courting, as they call it. Bah! So I’ll stay in the garden.”
The Vicar was right about the lanes being full of lovers. Never a vista that you looked down but what you saw a ghostly pair, walking along side by side. Not arm in arm, you know. The man has his hands in his pockets, and walks a few feet off the woman. They never speak to one another — I think I don’t go too far in saying that. I have met them and overtaken them, and come sharp round corners on to them, but I never heard them speak to one another. I have asked the young men themselves whether they ever said anything to their sweethearts, and those young men have answered, “No; that they didn’t know as they did.” So that I am inclined to believe that they are contented with that silent utterance of the heart which is so superior to the silly whisperings one hears on dark ottomans in drawing-rooms.
But the Vicar had a strong dislike to lovers’ walks. He was a practical man, and had studied parish statistics for some years, so that his opinion is entitled to respect. He used to ask, why an honest girl should not receive her lover at her father’s house, or in broad daylight, and many other impertinent questions which we won’t go into, but which many a west-country parson has asked before, and never got an answer to.
Of all pleasant places in the parish, surely one of the pleasantest for a meeting of this kind was the old oak at the end of Hawker’s plantation, where George met Nelly a night we know of. So quiet and lonely, and such pleasant glimpses down long oaken glades, with a bright carpet of springing fern. Surely there will be a couple here this sweet May evening.
So there is! Walking this way too! George Hawker is one of them; but we can’t see who the other is. Who should it be but Mary, though, with whom he should walk, with his arm round her waist talking so affectionately. But see, she raises her head. Why! that is not Mary. That is old Jewel’s dowdy, handsome, brazen-faced grandaughter.
“Now I’m going home to supper, Miss Jenny,” he says. “So you pack off, or you’ll have your amiable mother asking after you. By-the-bye, your sister’s going to be married, ain’t she?”
He referred to her eldest sister — the one that the Vicar and the Doctor saw nursing a baby the night that old Jewel died.
“Yes,” replied the girl. “Her man’s going to have her at last; that’s his baby she’s got, you know; and it seems he’ll sooner make her work for keeping it, than pay for it hisself. So they’re going to be married; better late than never.”
George left her and went in; into the gloomy old kitchen, now darkening rapidly. There sat Madge before the fire, in her favourite attitude, with her chin on her hand and her elbow on her knee.
“Well, old woman,” said he, “where’s the old man?”
“Away to Colyton fair,” she answered.
“I hope he’ll have the sense to stay there to-night, then,” said George. “He’ll fall off his horse in a fit coming home drunk some of these nights, and be found dead in a ditch!”
“Good thing for you if he was!”
“May be,” said George; “but I’d be sorry for him, too!”
“You would,” she said laughing. “Why, you young fool, you’d be better off in fifty ways!”
“Why, you unnatural old vixen,” said he indignantly, “do you miscall a man for caring for his own father? Aye, and not such a bad ’un either; and that’s a thing I’m best judge of!”
“He’s been a good father to you, George, and I like you the better, lad, for speaking up for him. He’s an awful old rascal, my boy, but you’ll be a worse if you live!”
“Now, stop that talk of yours, Madge, and don’t go on like a mad woman, or else we shall quarrel; and that I don’t want, for I’ve got something to tell you. I want your help, old girl!”
“Aye, and you’ll get it, my pretty boy; though you never tell me aught till you are forced.”
“Well, I’m going to tell you something now; so keep your ears open. Madge, where is the girl?”
“Where’s the man?”
“Outside, in the stable, doing down your horse. Bend over the fire, and whisper in my ear, lad!”
“Madge, old girl,” he whispered, as they bent their heads together — “I’ve wrote the old man’s name where I oughtn’t to have done.”
“What! again!” she answered. “Three times! For God’s sake, mind what you’re at, George.”
“Why,” said he, astonished, “did you know I’d done it before?”
“Twice I know of,” she said. “Once last year, and once last month. How do you think he’d have been so long without finding it out if it hadn’t been for me? And what a fool you were not to tell me before. Why, you must be mad. I as near let the cat out of the bag coming over that last business in the book without being ready for it, as anything could be. However, it’s all right at present. But what’s this last?”
“Why, the five hundred. I only did it twice.”
“You mustn’t do it again, George. You were a fool ever to do it without me. We are hardly safe now, if he should get talking to the bank people. However, he never goes there, and you must take care he don’t.”
“I say, Madge,” said George, “what would he do if he found it out?”
“I couldn’t answer for him,” said she. “He likes you best of anything next his money; and sometimes I am afraid he wouldn’t spare even you if he knew he had been robbed. You might make yourself safe for any storm, if you liked.”
“Marry that little doll Thornton, and get her money. Then, if it came to a row, you could square it up.”
“Well,” said George, “I am pushing that on. The old man won’t come round, and I want her to go off with me, but she can’t get her courage up yet.”
“Well, at all events,” said Madge, “you should look sharp. There’s a regular tight-laced mob about her, and they all hate you. There’s that Mrs. Buckley. Her conversation will be very different from yours, and she’ll see the difference, and get too proud for the like of you. That woman’s a real lady, and that’s very dangerous, for she treats her like an equal. Just let that girl get over her first fancy for you, and she’ll care no more about you than nothing. Get hold of her before she’s got tired of you.”
“And there’s another thing,” said George. “That Tom Troubridge is staying there again.”
“That’s very bad,” said Madge. “She is very likely to take a fancy to him. He’s a fine young fellow. You get her to go off with you. I’ll find the money, somehow. Here comes the old man.”
Old Hawker came in half-drunk and sulky.
“Why, George,” he said; “you at home. I thought you’d have been down, hanging about the parson’s. You don’t get on very fast with that girl, lad. I thought you’d have had her by now. You’re a fool, boy.”
He reeled up to bed, and left the other two in the kitchen.
“George,” said Madge, “tell us what you did with that last money.”
“I ain’t going to tell you,” he answered.
“Ha, ha!” she said; “you hadn’t need to hide anything from me now.”
“Well, I like to tell you this least of all,” he said. “That last money went to hush up the first matter.”
“Did any one know of the first matter, then?” said Madge aghast.
“Yes; the man who put me up to it.”
“Who was that?”
“No one you know. William Lee of Belston.”
“No one I know,” she answered sarcastically. “Not know my old sweetheart, Bill Lee of Belston. And I the only one that knew him when he came back. Well, I’ve kept that to myself, because no good was to be got by peaching on him, and a secret’s always worth money. Why, lad, I could have sent that man abroad again quicker than he come, if I had a-wanted. Why hadn’t you trusted me at first? You’d a-saved five hundred pound. You’ll have him back as soon as that’s gone.”
“He’d better mind himself, then,” said George vindictively.
“None o’ that now,” said Madge; “that’s what you were after the other night with your gun. But nothing came of it; I saw that in your face when you came home. Now get off to bed; and if Bill Lee gives you any more trouble, send him to me.”
He went to bed, but instead of sleeping lay thinking.
“It would be a fine thing,” he thought, “to get her and her money. I am very fond of her for her own sake, but then the money would be the making of me. I ought to strike while the iron is hot. Who knows but what Nell might come gandering back in one of her tantrums, and spoil everything. Or some of the other girls might get talking. And this cursed cheque, too; that ought to be provided against. What a fool I was not to tell Madge about it before. I wonder whether she is game to come, though. I think she is; she has been very tender lately. It don’t look as if she was getting tired of me, though she might take a fancy into her head about Troubridge. I daresay her father is putting him up to it; though, indeed, that would be sure to set her against him. If he hadn’t done that with Stockbridge, she’d have married him, I believe. Well, I’ll see her tomorrow night, and carry on like mad. Terribly awkward it will be, though, if she won’t. However, we’ll see. There’s a way to make her;” and so he fell asleep.
As Somebody would have it, the very next day the Vicar and Mary had a serious quarrel. Whether his digestion was out of order; whether the sight of so many love-couples passing his gate the night before had ruffled him and made him bilious; or whether some one was behind hand with his tithe, we shall never know. Only we know, that shortly after dinner they disagreed about some trifle, and Mary remained sulky all the afternoon; and that at tea-time, driven on by pitiless fate, little thinking what was hanging over him, he made some harsh remark, which brought down a flood of tears. Whereat, getting into a passion, he told Mary, somewhat unjustly, that she was always sulking, and was making his life miserable. That it was time that she was married. That Tom Troubridge was an excellent young fellow, and that he considered it was her duty to turn her attention immediately to gaining his affections.
Mary said, with tearful indignation, that it was notorious that he was making love to Miss Burrit of Paiskow. And that if he wasn’t, she’d never, never, think of him, for that he was a great, lumbering, stupid, stupid fool. There now.
Then the Vicar got into an unholy frame of mind, and maddened by Mary’s tears, and the sight of his sister wiping her frightened face with her handkerchief, said, with something like an asseveration, that she was always at it. That she was moping about, and colloquing with that infamous young scoundrel, Hawker. That he would not have it. That if he found him lurking about his premises, he’d either break his neck himself, or find some one who could; and a great deal more frantic nonsense, such as weak men generally indulge in when they get in a passion; much better left unsaid at any time, but which on this occasion, as the reader knows, was calculated to be ruinous.
Mary left the room, and went to her own. She was in a furious passion against her father, against all the world. She sat on the bed for a time, and cried herself quiet. It grew dark, and she lit a candle, and put it in the right corner of the window, and soon after, wrapping a shawl around her, she slipped down the back-stairs, and went into the croft.
Not long before she heard a low whistle, to which she replied, and in a very few minutes felt George’s arm round her waist, and his cheek against hers.
“I knew you would not disappoint me to-night, my love,” he began. “I have got something particular to say to you. You seem out of sorts to-night, my dear. It’s not my fault, is it?”
“Not yours, George. Oh no,” she said. “My father has been very cruel and unjust to me, and I have been in a great passion and very miserable. I am so glad you came to-night, that I might tell you how very unhappy I was.”
“Tell me everything, my love. Don’t keep back any secrets from me.”
“I won’t indeed, George. I’ll tell you everything. Though some of it will make you very angry. My father broke out about you at tea-time, and said that you were hanging about the place, and that he wouldn’t have it. And then he said that I ought to marry Tom Troubridge, and that I said I’d never do. And then he went on worse again. He’s quite changed lately, George. I ain’t at all happy with him.”
“The cure is in your own hands, Mary. Come off with me. I can get a licence, and we could be married in a week or so, or two. Then, what follows? Why, your father is very angry. He is that at present. But he’ll of course make believe he is in a terrible way. Well, in a few weeks he’d see it was no use carrying on. That his daughter had married a young man of property, who was very fond of her, and as she was very fond of. And that matters might be a deal worse. That a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. And so he’ll write a kind affectionate letter to his only child, and say that he forgives her husband for her sake. That’s how the matter will end, depend upon it.”
“Oh, George, George! if I could only think so.”
“Can you doubt it? Use your reason, my dear, and ask yourself what he would gain by holding out. You say he’s so fond of you.”
“Oh, I know he is.”
“Well, my darling, he wouldn’t show it much if he was angry very long. You don’t know what a change it will make when the thing’s once done. When I am his son-in-law he’ll be as anxious to find out that I’m a saint as he is now to make me out a sinner. Say yes, my girl.”
“I am afraid, George.”
“Of nothing. Come, you are going to say yes, now.”
“But when, George? Not yet?”
“Impossible! Sunday evening?”
“The better the day the better the deed. Come, no refusal now, it is too late, my darling. At ten o’clock I shall be here, under your window. One kiss more, my own, and good night.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10