At last Harry, looking out of the window as he leaned back in his chair, said, in a careless sort of way, but in a low tone—
“Did you ever tell Alice anything about it before you came here?”
“Alice?” said Charles, wincing and looking very pale. “Well, you know, why should I?”
“You know best of course, but I thought you might, maybe,” answered Harry, stretching himself with an imperfect yawn.
“No,” said Charles, looking down with a flush.
“She never heard anything about it at any time, then?—and mind, my dear fellow, I’m only asking. You know much better than me what’s best to be done; but the old brute will give you trouble, I’m afeard. She’ll be writing letters, and maybe printing things; but you don’t take in the papers here, so it won’t come so much by surprise like.”
“Alice knows nothing of it. She never heard of her,” said Charles.
“I wish she may have heard as little of Alice,” said Harry.
“Why, you don’t mean to say”—began Charles, and stopped.
“I think the woman has got some sort of a maggot in her head. I think she has, more than common, and you’ll find I’m right.”
Charles got up and stood at the window for a little.
“I can’t guess what you mean, Harry. I don’t know what you think. Do tell me, if you have any clear idea, what is she thinking of?”
“I don’t know what to think, and upon my soul that one’s so deep,” said Harry. “But I’d bet something she’s heard more than we’d just like about this, and if so, there’ll be wigs on the green.”
“There has been nothing—I mean no letter; I have not heard from her for months—not since you saw her before. I think if there had been anything unusual in her mind she would have written. Don’t you? I dare say what you saw was only one of those ungoverned outbreaks of temper that mean nothing.”
“I hope so,” said Harry.
“I blame myself, I’m no villain, I didn’t mean badly, but I’m a cursed fool. It’s all quite straight though, and it doesn’t matter a farthing what she does—not a farthing,” broke out Charles Fairfield. “But I would not have poor little Alice frightened and made miserable, and what had I best do, and where do you think we had best go?” He lowered his voice, and glanced toward the door as he said this, suddenly remembering that Alice might come in the midst of their consultation.
“Go? For the present arn’t you well enough where you are? Wait a bit anyhow. But I wonder you didn’t tell Alice; she ought to ’a known something about it—oughtn’t she, before you married her, or whatever you call it.”
“Before I married her? of course,” said Charles sternly; “married her!—you don’t mean, I fancy, to question my marriage?”
Charles was looking at him with a very grim steady gaze.
“Why, what the devil should I know, or care about lawyer’s nonsense and pleadings, my dear fellow; I never could make head or tail of them, only as we are talking here so confidential, you and me, whatever came uppermost—I forget what—I just rapped out—has that Hoxton lady any family?”
“Don’t you know she has not?” replied Charles.
“I know it now, but she might have a sieve full for anything I knew,” answered Harry.
“I think, Harry, if you really thought she and I were married, that was too important a question for you, wasn’t it, to be forgotten so easily?” said Charles.
“Important, how so?” asked Harry.
“How so, my dear Harry? Why, you can’t be serious—you haven’t forgot that the succession to Wyvern depends on it,” exclaimed Charles Fairfield.
“Bah! Wyvern, indeed! why, man, the thought never came near me—me Wyvern! Sich pure rot! We Fairfields lives good long lives mostly, and marries late sometimes; there’s forty good years before ye. Gad, Charlie, you must think o’ summat more likely if you want folk to believe ye. Ye’ll not hang me on that count, no, no.”
And he laughed.
“Well, I think so; I’m glad of it, for you know I wrote to tell you about what is, I hope, likely to be, it has made poor little Alice so happy, and if there should come an heir, you know he’d be another squire of Wyvern in a long line of Fairfields, and it wouldn’t do, Harry, to have a doubt thrown on him, and I’m glad to hear you say the pretence of that damned woman’s marriage is a lie.”
“Well, you know best,” said Harry. “I’m very sorry for Alice, poor little thing, if there’s ever any trouble at all about it.”
And he looked through the windows along the tops of the tufted trees that caught the sunlight softly, with his last expression of condolence.
“You have said more than once, I don’t say today, that you were sure—that you knew as well as I did there was nothing in that woman’s story.”
“Isn’t that some one coming?” said Harry, turning his head toward the door.
“No, no one,” said Charles after a moment’s silence. “But you did say so, Harry—you know you did.”
“Well, if I did I did, that’s all, but I don’t remember,” said Harry, “and I’m sure you make a mistake.”
“A mistake—what do you mean?” asked Charles.
“I mean marriage or no marriage, I never meant to say as you suppose—I know nothing about it, whatever I may think,” said Harry, sturdily.
“You know everything that I know, I’ve told you everything,” answered Charles Fairfield,
“And what o’ that? How can you or me tell whether it makes a marriage or not, and I won’t be quoted by you or anyone else, as having made such a mouth of myself as to lay down the law in a case that might puzzle a judge,” said Harry, darkening.
“You believe the facts I’ve told you, I fancy,” said Charles sternly.
“You meant truth, I’m sure o’ that, and beyond that I believe nothing but what I have said myself, and more I won’t say for the king,” said Harry”, putting his hands in his pockets, and looking sulkily at Charles, with his mouth a little open.
Charles looked awfully angry.
“You know very well, Harry, you have fifty times told me there was nothing in it, and you have even said that the person herself thinks so too,” he said at last, restraining himself
“That I never said, by ———,” said Harry, coolly, who was now standing with his back against the window-shutters, and his hands in his pockets. As he so spoke he crossed one sinewy leg over the other, and continued to direct from the corner of his eye a sullen gaze upon his brother.
With the same oath that brother told him he lied.
Here followed a pause, as when a train is fired and men are doubtful whether the mine will spring. The leaves rustled and the flies hummed happily outside as if those seconds were charged with nothing, and the big feeble bee, who had spent the morning in walking up a pane of glass and slipping down again, continued his stumbling exercise as if there was nothing else worth attending to for a mile round Carwell Grange.
Harry had set both heels on the ground at this talismanic word; one hand clenched had come from his pocket to his thigh, and from his eyes “leaped” the old Fairfield fury.
It was merely, as Harry would have said, the turn of a shilling, whether a Fairfield battle, short, sharp, and decisive, had not tried the issue at that instant.
“I don’t vally a hot word spoke in haste; it’s ill raising hands between brothers—let it pass. I’m about the last friend ye’ve left just now, and I don’t see why ye should seek to put a quarrel on me. It’s little to me, you know—no thanks, loss o’ time, and like to be more kicks than ha’pence.”
Harry spoke these words after a considerable pause.
“I was wrong, Harry, I mean, to use such a word, and I beg your pardon,” said Charles, extending his hand to his brother, who took his fingers and dropped them with a rather short and cold shake.
“Ye shouldn’t talk that way to a fellow that’s taken some trouble about ye, and ye know I’m short tempered—we all are, and ’tisn’t the way to handle me,” said Harry.
“I was wrong, I know I was, and I’m sorry—I can’t say more,” answered Charles. “But there it is! If there’s trouble about this little child that’s coming, what am I to do? Wouldn’t it be better for me to be in Wyvern churchyard?”
Harry lowered his eyes with his mouth still open, to the threadbare carpet. His hands were again both reposing quietly in his pockets.
After a silence he said—
“If you had told me anything about what was in your head concerning Alice Maybell, I’d a told you my mind quite straight; and if you ask it now, I can only tell you one thing, and that is, I think you’re married to t’other woman—I hate her like poison, but that’s nothing to do wi’ it, and I’d a been for making a clear breast of it, and telling Ally everything, and let her judge for herself. But you wouldn’t look before you, and you’re got into a nice pound, I’m afraid.”
“I’m not a bit afraid about it,” said Charles, very pale. “Only for the world, I would not have her frightened and vexed just now—and, Harry, there’s nothing like speaking out, as you say, and I can’t help thinking that your opinion [and at another time, perhaps, he would have added, your memory] is biased by the estate.”
Charles spoke bitterly or petulantly, which you will. But Harry seemed to have made up his mind to take this matter coolly, and so he did.
“Upon my soul I wouldn’t wonder,” he said, with a kind of laugh. “Though if it does I give you my oath I am not aware of it. But take it so if you like; it’s only saying a fellow loves his shirt very well, but his skin better, and I suppose so we do, you and me, both of us; only this I’ll say, ’twill be all straight and above board ’twixt you and me, and I’ll do the best I can for ye—you don’t doubt that?”
“No, Harry, you’ll not deceive me.”
“No, of course; and as I say, I think that brute—the Hoxton one—she’s took a notion in her head”
“To give me trouble?”
“A notion,” continued Harry, “that there’s another woman in the case; and, if you ask me, I think she’ll not rest quiet for long. She says she’s your wife; and one way or another she’ll pitch into any girl that says the same for herself. She’s like a mad horse, you know, when she’s riled; and she’d kick through a wall and knock herself to pieces to get at you. I wish she was sunk in the sea.”
“Tell me, what do you think she is going to do?” asked Charles, uneasily.
“Upon my soul, I can’t guess; but ’twouldn’t hurt you, I think, if you kept fifty pounds or so in your pocket to give her the slip, if she should begin manoeuvring with any sort o’ dodges that looked serious; and if I hear any more I’ll let you know; and I’ve staid here longer than I meant; and I ha’n’t seen Ally; but you’ll make my compliments, and tell her I was too hurried; and my nag’s had his feed by this time; and I’ve staid too long.”
“Well, Harry, thank you very much. It’s a mere form asking you to remain longer; there’s nothing to offer you worth staying for; and this is such a place, and I so heart-broken—and—we part good friends—don’t we?”
“The best,” said Harry, carelessly. “Have you a cigar or two? Thanks; you may as well make it three—thank ye—jolly good ’uns. I’ve a smart ride before me; but I think I’ll make something of it, rayther. My hands are pretty full always. I’d give ye more time if they wasn’t; but keep your powder dry, and a sharp look out, and so will I, and gi’ my love to Ally, and tell her to keep up her heart, and all will go right, I dare say.”
By this time they had threaded the passage, and were in the stable-yard again; and mounting his horse, Harry turned, and with a wag of his head and a farewell grin, rode slowly over the pavement, and disappeared through the gate.
Charles was glad that he had gone without seeing Alice. She would certainly have perceived that something was wrong. He thought for a moment of going to the garden to look for her, but the same consideration prevented his doing so, and he took his fishing-rod instead, and went off the other way, to look for a trout in the brook that flows through Carwell Glen.
Last updated Monday, March 30, 2015 at 21:19