But let us turn and see what has been going forward in the old parsonage this long weary year. Not much that is noteworthy, I fear. The chronicle of a year’s sickness and unhappiness, would be rather uninteresting, so I must get on as quick as I can.
The Vicar only slowly revived from the fit in which he fell on the morning of Mary’s departure to find himself hopelessly paralytic, unable to walk without support, and barely able to articulate distinctly. It was when he was in this state, being led up and down the garden by the Doctor and Frank Maberly, the former of whom was trying to attract his attention to some of their old favourites, the flowers, that Miss Thornton came to him with the letter which Mary had written from Brighton, immediately after their marriage.
It was, on the whole, a great relief for the Vicar. He had dreaded to hear worse than this. They had kept from him all knowledge of Hawker’s forgery on his father, which had been communicated to them by Major Buckley. So that he began to prepare his mind for the reception of George Hawker as a son-in-law, and to force himself to like him. So with shaking palsied hand he wrote:—
“Dear Girl — In sickness or sorrow, remember that I am still your father. I hope you will not stop long in London, but come back and stay near me. We must forget all that has passed, and make the best of it. —
Miss Thornton wrote:—
“My dearest foolish Mary — How could you leave us like that, my love! Oh, if you had only let us know what was going on, I could have told you such things, my dear. But now you will never know them, I hope. I hope Mr. Hawker will use you kindly. Your father hopes that you and he may come down and live near him, but we know that is impossible. If your father were to know of your husband’s fearful delinquencies, it would kill him at once. But when trouble comes on you, my love, as it must in the end, remember that there is still a happy home left you here.”
These letters she never received. George burnt them without giving them to her, so that for a year she remained under the impression that they had cast her off. So only at the last did she, as the sole hope of warding off poverty and misery from her child, determine to cast herself upon their mercy.
The year had nearly passed, when the Vicar had another stroke, a stroke that rendered him childish and helpless, and precluded all possibility of his leaving his bed again. Miss Thornton found that it was necessary to have a man servant in the house now, to move him, and so on. So one evening, when Major and Mrs. Buckley and the Doctor had come down to sit with her, she asked, did they know a man who could undertake the business?
“I do,” said the Doctor. “I know a man who would suit you exactly. A strong knave enough. An old soldier.”
“I don’t think we should like a soldier in the house, Doctor,” said Miss Thornton. “They use such very odd language sometimes, you know.”
“This man never swears,” said the Doctor.
“But soldiers are apt to drink sometimes, you know, Doctor,” said Miss Thornton. “And that wouldn’t do in this case.”
“I’ve known the man all my life,” said the Doctor, with animation. “And I never saw him drunk.”
“He seems faultless, Doctor,” said the Major, smiling.
“No, he is not faultless, but he has his qualifications for the office, nevertheless. He can read passably, and might amuse our poor old friend in that way. He is not evil tempered, though hasty, and I think he would be tender and kindly to the old man. He had a father once himself, this man, and he nursed him to his latest day, as well as he was able, after his mother had left them and gone on the road to destruction. And my man has picked up some knowledge of medicine too, and might be a useful ally to the physician.”
“A paragon!” said Mrs. Buckley, laughing. “Now let us hear his faults, dear Doctor.”
“They are many,” he replied, “I don’t deny. But not such as to make him an ineligible person in this matter. To begin with, he is a fool — a dreaming fool, who once mixed himself up with politics, and went on the assumption that truth would prevail against humbug. And when he found his mistake, this fellow, instead of staying at his post, as a man should, he got disgusted, and beat a cowardly retreat, leaving his duty unfulfilled. When I look at one side of this man’s life, I wonder why such useless fellows as he were born into the world. But I opine that every man is of some use, and that my friend may still have manhood enough left in him to move an old paralytic man in his bed.”
“And his name, Doctor? You must tell us that,” said Mrs. Buckley, looking sadly at him.
“I am that man,” said the Doctor, rising. “Dear Miss Thornton, you will allow me to come down and stay with you. I shall be so glad to be of any use to my old friend, and I am so utterly useless now.”
What could she say, but “yes,” with a thousand thanks, far more than she could express? So he took up his quarters at the Vicarage, and helped her in the labour of love.
The Sunday morning after he came to stay there, he was going down stairs, shortly after daybreak, to take a walk in the fresh morning air, when on the staircase he met Miss Thornton, and she, putting sixpence into his hand, said,
“My dear Doctor, I looked out of window just now, and saw a tramper woman sitting on the door-step. She has black hair and a baby, like a gipsy. And I am so nervous about gipsies, you know. Would you give her that and tell her to go away?”
The Doctor stepped down with the sixpence in his hand to do as he was bid. Miss Thornton followed him. He opened the front door, and there sure enough sat a woman, her hair, wet with the last night’s rain, knotted loosely up behind her hatless head. She sat upon the door-step rocking herself to and fro, partly it would seem from disquietude, and partly to soothe the baby which was lying on her lap crying. Her back was towards him, and the Doctor only had time to notice that she was young, when he began —
“My good soul, you musn’t sit there, you know. It’s Sunday morning, and ——”
No more. He had time to say no more. Mary rose from the step and looked at him.
“You are right, sir, I have no business here. But if you will tell him that I only came back for the child’s sake, he will hear me. I couldn’t leave it in the workhouse, you know.”
Miss Thornton ran forward, laughing wildly, and hugged her to her honest heart. “My darling!” she said, “My own darling! I knew she would find her home at last. In trouble and in sorrow I told her where she was to come. Oh happy trouble, that has brought our darling back to us!”
“Aunt! aunt!” said Mary, “don’t kill me. Scold me a little, aunt dear, only a little.”
“Scold you, my darling! Never, never! Scold you on this happy Sabbath morn! Oh! never, my love.”
And the foolishness of these two women was so great that the Doctor had to go for a walk. Right down the garden, round the cow-yard, and in by the back way to the kitchen, where he met Frank, and told him what had happened. And there they were at it again. Miss Thornton kneeling, wiping poor Mary’s blistered feet before the fire. While the maid, foolishly giggling, had got possession of the baby, and was talking more affectionate nonsense to it than ever baby heard in this world before.
Mary held out her hand to him, and when he gave her his vast brown paw, what does she do, but put it to her lips and kiss it? — as if there was not enough without that. And, to make matters worse, she quoted Scripture, and said, “Forasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.” So our good Doctor had nothing left but to break through that cloak of cynicism which he delighted to wear, (Lord knows why!) and to kiss her on the cheek, and to tell her how happy she had made them by coming back, let circumstances be what they might.
Then she told them, with bursts of wild weeping, what those circumstances were. And at last, when they were all quieted, Miss Thornton boldly volunteered to go up and tell the Vicar that his darling was returned.
So she went up, and Mary and the Doctor waited at the bed-room door and listened. The poor old man was far gone beyond feeling joy or grief to any great extent. When Miss Thornton raised him in his bed, and told him that he must brace up his nerves to hear some good news, he smiled a weary smile, and Mary looking in saw that he was so altered that she hardly knew him.
“I know,” he said, lisping and hesitating painfully, “what you are going to tell me, sister. She is come home. I knew she would come at last. Please tell her to come to me at once; but I can’t see HIM yet. I must get stronger first.” So Mary went in to him, and Miss Thornton came out and closed the door. And when Mary came downstairs soon afterwards she could not talk to them, but remained a long time silent, crying bitterly.
The good news soon got up to Major Buckley’s, and so after church they saw him striding up the path, leading the pony carrying his wife and baby. And while they were still busy welcoming her back, came a ring at the door, and a loud voice, asking if the owner of it might come in.
Who but Tom Troubridge! Who else was there to raise her four good feet off the ground, and kiss her on both cheeks, and call her his darling little sister! Who else was there who could have changed their tears into laughter so quick that their merriment was wafted up to the Vicar’s room, and made him ring his bell, and tell them to send Tom up to him! And who but Tom could have lit the old man’s face up with a smile, with the history of a new colt, that my lord’s mare Thetis had dropped last week!
That was her welcome home. To the home she had dreaded coming to, expecting to be received with scorn and reproaches. To the home she had meant to come to only as a penitent, to leave her child there and go forth into the world to die. And here she found herself the honoured guest — treated as one who had been away on a journey, whom they had been waiting and praying for all the time, and who came back to them sooner than expected. None hold the force of domestic affection so cheap as those who violate it most rudely. How many proud unhappy souls are there at this moment, voluntarily absenting themselves from all that love them in the world, because they dread sneers and cold looks at home! And how many of these, going back, would find only tears of joy to welcome them, and hear that ever since their absence they had been spoken of with kindness and tenderness, and loved, perhaps, above all the others!
After dinner, when the women were alone together, Mrs. Buckley began —
“Now, my dear Mary, you must hear all the news. My husband has had a letter from Stockbridge.”
“Ah, dear old Jim!” said Mary; “and how is he?”
“He and Hamlyn are quite well,” said Mrs. Buckley, “and settled. He has written such an account of that country to Major Buckley, that he, half persuaded before, is now wholly determined to go there himself.”
“I heard of this before,” said Mary. “Am I to lose you, then, at once?”
“We shall see,” said Mrs. Buckley; “I have my ideas. Now, who do you think is going beside?”
“Half Devonshire, I should think,” said Mary; “at least, all whom I care about.”
“It would seem so, indeed, my poor girl,” said Mrs. Buckley; “for your cousin Troubridge has made up his mind to come.”
“There was a time when I could have stopped him,” she thought; “but that is gone by now.” And she answered Mrs. Buckley:—
“Aunt and I will stay here, and think of you all. Shall we ever hear from you? It is the other side of the world, is it not?”
“It is a long way; but we must wait, and see how things turn out. We may not have to separate after all. See, my dear; are you fully aware of your father’s state? I fear you have only come home to see the last of him. He probably will be gone before this month is out. You see the state he is in. And when he is gone, have you reflected what to do?”
Mary, weeping bitterly, said, “No; only that she could never live in Drumston, or anywhere where she was known.”
“That is wise, my love,” said Mrs. Buckley, “under the circumstances. Have you made up your mind where to go, Miss Thornton, when you have to leave the Vicarage for a new incumbent?”
“I have made up my mind,” answered Miss Thornton, “to go wherever Mary goes, if it be to the other end of the earth. We will be Ruth and Naomi, my dear. You would never get on without me.”
“That is what I say,” said Mrs. Buckley. “Never leave her. Why not come away out of all unhappy associations, and from the scorn and pity of your neighbours, to live safe and happy with all the best friends you have in the world?”
“What do you mean?” said Mary. “Ah, if we could only do so!”
“Come away with us,” said Mrs. Buckley, with animation; “come away with us, and begin a new life. There is Troubridge looking high and low for a partner with five thousand pounds. Why should not Miss Thornton and yourself be his partners?”
“Ah me!” said Miss Thornton. “And think of the voyage! But I shall not decide on anything; Mary shall decide.”
Scarcely more than a week elapsed from the day that Mary came home, when there came a third messenger for old John Thornton, and one so peremptory that he arose and followed it in the dead of night. So, when they came to his bedside in the morning, they found his body there, laid as it was when he wished them good night, but cold and dead. He himself was gone, and nothing remained but to bury his body decently beside his wife’s, in the old churchyard, and to shed some tears, at the thought that never, by the fireside, or in the solemn old church, they should hear that kindly voice again.
And then came the disturbance of household gods, and the rupture of life-old associations. And although they were begged by the new comer not to hurry or incommode themselves, yet they too wished to be gone from the house whence everything they loved had departed.
Their kind true friend Frank was presented with the living, and they accepted Mrs. Buckley’s invitation to stay at their house till they should have decided what to do. It was two months yet before the Major intended to sail, and long before those two months were past, Mary and Miss Thornton had determined that they would not rend asunder the last ties they had this side of the grave, but would cast in their lot with the others, and cross the weary sea with them towards a more hopeful land.
One more scene, and we have done with the Old World for many a year. Some of these our friends will never see it more, and those who do will come back with new thoughts and associations, as strangers to a strange land. Only those who have done so know how much effort it takes to say, “I will go away to a land where none know me or care for me, and leave for ever all that I know and love.” And few know the feeling which comes upon all men after it is done — the feeling of isolation, almost of terror, at having gone so far out of the bounds of ordinary life; the feeling of self-distrust and cowardice at being alone and friendless in the world, like a child in the dark.
A golden summer’s evening is fading into a soft cloudless summer’s night, and Doctor Mulhaus stands upon Mount Edgecombe, looking across the trees, across the glassy harbour, over the tall men-of-war, out beyond the silver line of surf on the breakwater, to where a tall ship is rapidly spreading her white wings and speeding away each moment more rapidly for a fair wind, towards the south-west. He watches it growing more dim minute by minute in distance and in darkness, till he can see no longer; then brushing a tear from his eye he says aloud:—
“There goes my English microcosm, all my new English friends with whom I was going to pass the rest of my life, peaceful and contented, as a village surgeon. Pretty dream, two years long! Truly man hath no sure abiding place here. I will go back to P— — and see if they are all dead, or only sleeping.”
So he turned down the steep path under the darkening trees, towards where he could see the town lights along the quays, among the crowded masts.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56