Mrs Dale had not sat long in her drawing-room before tidings were brought to her which for a while drew her mind away from that question of her removal.
“Mamma,” said Bell, entering the room, “I really do believe that Jane has got scarlatina.” Jane, the parlour-maid, had been ailing for the last two days, but nothing serious had hitherto been suspected.
Mrs Dale instantly jumped up. “Who is with her?” she asked.
It appeared from Bell’s answer that both she and Lily had been with the girl, and that Lily was still in the room. Whereupon Mrs Dale ran upstairs, and there was on the sudden a commotion in the house. In an hour or so the village doctor was there, and he expressed an opinion that the girl’s ailment was certainly scarlatina. Mrs Dale, not satisfied with this, sent off a boy to Guestwick for Dr Crofts, having herself maintained an opposition of many years’ standing, against the medical reputation of the apothecary, and gave a positive order to the two girls not to visit poor Jane again. She herself had had scarlatina, and might do as she pleased. Then, too, a nurse was hired.
All this changed for a few hours the current of Mrs Dale’s thoughts: but in the evening she went back to the subject of her morning conversation, and before the three ladies went to bed, they held together an open council of war upon the subject. Dr Crofts had been found to be away from Guestwick, and word had been sent on his behalf that he would be over at Allington early on the following morning. Mrs Dale had almost made up her mind that the malady of her favourite maid was not scarlatina, but had not on that account relaxed her order as to the absence of her daughters from the maid’s bedside.
“Let us go at once,” said Bell, who was even more opposed to any domination on the part of her uncle than was her mother. In the discussion which had been taking place between them the whole matter of Bernard’s courtship had come upon the carpet. Bell had kept her cousin’s offer to herself as long as she had been able to do so; but since her uncle had pressed the subject upon Mrs Dale, it was impossible for Bell to remain silent any longer.
“You do not want me to marry him, mamma; do you?” she had said, when her mother had spoken with some show of kindness towards Bernard. In answer to this, Mrs Dale had protested vehemently that she had no such wish, and Lily, who still held to her belief in Dr Crofts, was almost equally animated. To them all, the idea that their uncle should in any way interfere in their own views of life, on the strength of the pecuniary assistance which they had received from him, was peculiarly distasteful. But it was especially distasteful that he should presume to have even an opinion as to their disposition in marriage. They declared to each other that their uncle could have no right to object to any marriage which either of them might contemplate as long as their mother should approve of it. The poor old squire had been right in saying that he was regarded with suspicion. He was so regarded. The fault had certainly been his own, in having endeavoured to win the daughters without thinking it worth his while to win the mother. The girls had unconsciously felt that the attempt was made, and had vigorously rebelled against it. It had not been their fault that they had been brought to live in their uncle’s house, and made to ride on his ponies, and to eat partially of his bread. They had so eaten, and so lived, and declared themselves to be grateful. The squire was good in his way, and they recognised his goodness; but not on that account would they transfer to him one jot of the allegiance which as children they owed to their mother. When she told them her tale, explaining to them the words which their uncle had spoken that morning, they expressed their regret that he should be so grieved; but they were strong in assurances to their mother that she had been sinned against, and was not sinning.
“Let us go at once,” said Bell.
“It is much easier said than done, my dear.”
“Of course it is, mamma; else we shouldn’t be here now. What I mean is this — let us take some necessary first step at once. It is clear that my uncle thinks that our remaining here should give him some right over us. I do not say that he is wrong to think so. Perhaps it is natural. Perhaps, in accepting his kindness, we ought to submit ourselves to him. If that be so, it is a conclusive reason for our going.”
“Could we not pay him rent for the house,” said Lily, “as Mrs Hearn does? You would like to remain here, mamma, if you could do that?”
“But we could not do that, Lily. We must choose for ourselves a smaller house than this, and one that is not burdened with the expense of a garden. Even if we paid but a moderate rent for this place, we should not have the means of living here.”
“Not if we lived on toast and tea?” said Lily, laughing.
“But I should hardly wish you to live upon toast and tea and indeed I fancy that I should get tired of such a diet myself.”
“Never, mamma,” said Lily. “As for me, I confess to a longing after mutton chops; but I don’t think you would ever want such vulgar things.”
“At any rate, it would be impossible to remain here,” said Bell.
“Uncle Christopher would not take rent from mamma; and even if he did, we should not know how to go on with our other arrangements after such a change. No; we must give up the dear old Small House.”
“It is a dear old house,” said Lily, thinking, as she spoke, more of those late scenes in the garden, when Crosbie had been with them in the autumn months, than of any of the former joys of her childhood.
“After all, I do not know that I should be right to move,” said Mrs Dale, doubtingly.
“Yes, yes,” said both the girls at once.
“Of course you will be right, mamma; there cannot be a doubt about it, mamma. If we can get any cottage, or even lodgings, that would be better than remaining here, now that we know what Uncle Christopher thinks of it.”
“It will make him very unhappy,” said Mrs Dale.
But even this argument did not in the least move the girls. They were very sorry that their uncle should be unhappy. They would endeavour to show him by some increased show of affection that their feelings towards him were not unkind. Should he speak to them they would endeavour to explain to him that their thoughts towards him were altogether affectionate. But they could not remain at Allington increasing their load of gratitude, seeing that he expected a certain payment which they did not feel themselves able to render.
“We should be robbing him, if we stayed here,” Bell declared —“wilfully robbing him of what he believes to be his just share of the bargain.”
So it was settled among them that notice should be given to their uncle of their intention to quit the Small House of Allington.
And then came the question as to their new home. Mrs Dale was aware that her income was at any rate better than that possessed by Mrs Eames, and therefore she had fair ground for presuming that she could afford to keep a house at Guestwick.
“If we do go away, that is what we must do,” she said.
“And we shall have to walk out with Mary Eames, instead of Susan Boyce,” said Lily.
“It won’t make so much difference after all.”
“In that respect we shall gain as much as we lose,” said Bell.
“And then it will be so nice to have the shops,” said Lily, ironically.
“Only we shall never have any money to buy anything,” said Bell.
“But we shall see more of the world,” said Lily.
“Lady Julia’s carriage comes into town twice a week, and the Miss Gruffens drive about in great style. Upon the whole, we shall gain a great deal; only for the poor old garden. Mamma, I do think I shall break my heart at parting with Hopkins; and as to him, I shall be disappointed in mankind if he ever holds his head up again after I am gone.”
But in truth there was very much of sadness in their resolution, and to Mrs Dale it seemed as though she were managing matters badly for her daughters and allowing poverty and misfortune to come upon them through her own fault. She well knew how great a load of sorrow was lying on Lily’s heart, hidden beneath those little attempts at pleasantry which she made. When she spoke of being disappointed in mankind, Mrs Dale could hardly repress an outward shudder that would betray her thoughts. And now she was consenting to take them forth from their comfortable home, from the luxury of their lawns and gardens, and to bring them to some small dingy corner of a provincial town — because she had failed to make herself happy with her brother-in-law. Could she be right to give up all the advantages which they enjoyed at Allington — advantages which had come to them from so legitimate a source — because her own feelings had been wounded? In all their future want of comfort, in the comfortless dowdiness of the new home to which she would remove them, would she not always blame herself for having brought them to that by her own false pride? And yet it seemed to her that she now had no alternative. She could not now teach her daughters to obey their uncle’s wishes in all things. She could not make Bell understand that it would be well that she should marry Bernard because the squire had set his heart on such a ‘marriage. She had gone so far that she could not now go back.
“I suppose we must move at Lady-day?” said Bell, who was in favour of instant action.
“If so, had you not better let Uncle Christopher know at once?”
“I don’t think that we can find a house by that time.”
“We can get in somewhere,” continued Bell.
“There are plenty of lodgings in Guestwick, you know.” But the sound of the word lodgings was uncomfortable in Mrs Dale’s ears.
“If we are to go, let us go at once,” said Lily.
“We need not stand much upon the order of our going.”
“Your uncle will be very much shocked,” said Mrs Dale.
“He cannot say that it is your fault,” said Bell.
It was thus agreed between them that the necessary information should be at once given to the squire, and that the old, well-loved house should be left for ever. It would be a great fall in a worldly point of view — from the Allington Small House to an abode in some little street of Guestwick. At Allington they had been county people — raised to a level with their own squire and other squires by the circumstance of their residence; but at Guestwick they would be small even among the people of the town. They would be on an equality with the Eames’es, and much looked down upon by the Gruffens. They would hardly dare to call any more at Guestwick Manor, seeing that they certainly could not expect Lady Julia to call upon them at Guestwick. Mrs Boyce no doubt would patronise them, and they could already anticipate the condolence which would be offered to them by Mrs Hearn. Indeed such a movement on their part would be tantamount to a confession of failure in the full hearing of so much of the world as was known to them.
I must not allow my readers to suppose that these considerations were a matter of indifference to any of the ladies at the Small House. To some women of strong mind, of highly-strung philosophic tendencies, such considerations might have been indifferent. But Mrs Dale was not of this nature, nor were her daughters. The good things of the world were good in their eyes, and they valued the privilege of a pleasant social footing among their friends. They were by no means capable of a wise contempt of the advantages which chance had hitherto given to them. They could not go forth rejoicing in the comparative property of their altered condition. But then, neither could they purchase those luxuries which they were about to abandon at the price which was asked for them.
“Had you not better write to my uncle?” said one of the girls. But to this Mrs Dale objected that she could not make a letter on such a subject clearly intelligible, and that therefore she would see the squire on the following morning.
“It will be very dreadful,” she said, “but it will soon be over. It is not what he will say at the moment that I fear so much, as the bitter reproaches of his face when I shall meet him afterwards.” So, on the following morning, she again made her way, and now without invitation, to the squire’s study.
“Mr Dale,” she began, starting upon her work with some confusion in her manner, and hurry in her speech, “I have been thinking over what we were saying together yesterday, and I have come to a resolution which I know I ought to make known to you without a moment’s delay.”
The squire also had thought of what had passed between them, and had suffered much as he had done so; but he had thought of it without acerbity or anger. His thoughts were ever gentler than his words, and his heart softer than any exponent of his heart that he was able to put forth. He wished to love his brother’s children, and to be loved by them; but even failing that, he wished to do good to them. It had not occurred to him to be angry with Mrs Dale after that interview was over. The conversation had not gone pleasantly with him; but then he hardly expected that things would go pleasantly. No idea had occurred to him that evil could come upon any of the Dale ladies from the words which had then been spoken. He regarded the Small House as their abode and home as surely as the Great House was his own. In giving him his due, it must be declared that any allusion to their holding these as a benefit done to them by him had been very far from his thoughts. Mrs Hearn, who held her cottage at half its real value, grumbled almost daily at him as her landlord; but it never occurred to him that therefore he should raise her rent, or that in not doing so he was acting with special munificence. It had ever been to him a grumbling, cross-grained, unpleasant world; and he did not expect from Mrs Hearn, or from his sister-in-law, anything better than that to which he had ever been used.
“It will make me very happy,” said he, “if it has any bearing on Bell’s marriage with her cousin.”
“Mr Dale, that is out of the question. I would not vex you by saying so if I were not certain of it; but I know my child so well!”
“Then we must leave it to time, Mary.”
“Yes, of course; but no time will suffice to make Bell change her mind. We will, however, leave the subject. And now, Mr Dale, I have to tell you of something else — we have resolved to leave the Small House.”
“Resolved on what?” said the squire, turning his eyes full upon her.
“We have resolved to leave the Small House.”
“Leave the Small House!” he said, repeating her words; “and where on earth do you mean to go?”
“We think we shall go into Guestwick.”
“Ah, that is so hard to explain. If you would only accept the fact as I tell it to you, and not ask for the reasons which have guided me!”
“But that is out of the question, Mary. In such a matter as that I must ask your reasons; and I must tell you also that, in my opinion, you will not be doing your duty to your daughters in carrying out such an intention, unless your reasons are very strong indeed.”
“But they are very strong,” said Mrs Dale; and then she paused.
“I cannot understand it,” said the squire.
“I cannot bring myself to believe that you are really in earnest. Are you not comfortable there?”
“More comfortable than we have any right to be with our means.”
“But I thought you always did very nicely with your money. You never get into debt.”
“No; I never get into debt. It is not that, exactly. The fact is, Mr Dale, we have no right to live there without paying rent; but we could not afford to live there if we did pay rent.”
“Who has talked about rent?” he said, jumping up from his chair.
“Some one has been speaking falsehoods of me behind my back.” No gleam of the real truth had yet come to him. No idea had reached his mind that his relatives thought it necessary to leave his house in consequence of any word that he himself had spoken. He had never considered himself to have been in any special way generous to them, and would not have thought it reasonable that they should abandon the house in which they had been living, even if his anger against them had been strong and hot.
“Mary,” he said, “I must insist upon getting to the bottom of this. As for your leaving the house, it is out of the question. Where can you be better off, or so well? As to going into Guestwick, what sort of life would there be for the girls? I put all that aside as out of the question; but I must know what has induced you to make such a proposition. Tell me honestly — has any one spoken evil of me behind my back?”
Mrs Dale had been prepared for opposition and for reproach; but there was a decision about the squire’s words, and an air of masterdom in his manner, which made her recognise more fully than she had yet done the difficulty of her position. She almost began to fear that she would lack power to carry out her purpose.
“Indeed, it is not so, Mr Dale.”
“Then what is it?”
“I know that if I attempt to tell you, you will be vexed, and will contradict me.”
“Vexed I shall be, probably.”
“And yet I cannot help it. Indeed, I am endeavouring to do what is right by you and by the children.”
“Never mind me; your duty is to think of them.”
“Of course it is; and in doing this they most cordially agree with me.”
In using such argument as that, Mrs Dale showed her weakness, and the squire was not slow to take advantage of it.
“Your duty is to them,” he said; “but I do not mean by that that your duty is to let them act in any way that may best please them for the moment. I can understand that they should be run away with by some romantic nonsense, but I cannot understand it of you.”
“The truth is this, Mr Dale. You think that my children owe to you that sort of obedience which is due to a parent, and as long as they remain here, accepting from your hands so large a part of their daily support, it is perhaps natural that you should think so. In this unhappy affair about Bell —”
“I have never said anything of the kind,” said the squire, interrupting her.
“No; you have not said so. And I do not wish you to think that I make any complaint. But I feel that it is so, and they feel it. And, therefore, we have made up our minds to go away.”
Mrs Dale, as she finished, was aware that she had not told her story well, but she had acknowledged to herself that it was quite out of her power to tell it as it should be told. Her main object was to make her brother-in-law understand that she certainly would leave his house, and to make him understand this with as little pain to himself as possible. She did not in the least mind his thinking her foolish, if only she could so carry her point as to be able to tell her daughters on her return that the matter was settled. But the squire, from his words and manners, seemed indisposed to give her this privilege.
“Of all the propositions which I ever heard,” said he “it is the most unreasonable. It amounts to this, that you are too proud to live rent-free in a house which belongs to your husband’s brother, and therefore you intend to subject yourself and your children to the great discomfort of a very straitened income. If you yourself only were concerned I should have no right to say anything; but I think myself bound to tell you that, as regards the girls, everybody that knows you will think you to have been very wrong. It is in the natural course of things that they should live in that house. The place has never been let. As far as I know, no rent has ever been paid for the house since it was built. It has always been given to some member of the family, who has been considered as having the best right to it. I have considered your footing there as firm as my own here. A quarrel between me and your children would be to me a great calamity, though, perhaps, they might be indifferent to it. But if there were such a quarrel it would afford no reason for their leaving that house. Let me beg you to think over the matter again.”
The squire could assume an air of authority on certain occasions, and he had done so now. Mrs Dale found that she could only answer him by a simple repetition of her own intention; and, indeed, failed in making him any serviceable answer whatsoever.
“I know that you are very good to my girls,” she said.
“I will say nothing about that,” he answered; not thinking at that moment of the Small House, but of the full possession which he had desired to give to the elder of all the privileges which should belong to the mistress of Allington — thinking also of the means by which he was hoping to repair poor Lily’s shattered fortunes. What words were further said had no great significance, and Mrs Dale got herself away, feeling that she had failed. As soon as she was gone the squire arose, and putting on his great-coat, went forth with his hat and stick to the front of the house. He went out in order that his thoughts might be more free, and that he might indulge in that solace which an injured man finds in contemplating his injury. He declared to himself that he was very hardly used — so hardly used, that he almost began to doubt himself, and his own motives. Why was it that the people around him disliked him so strongly — avoided him and thwarted him in the efforts which he made for their welfare? He offered to his nephew all the privileges of a son — much more indeed ‘than the privileges of a son — merely asking in return that he would consent to live permanently in the house which was to be his own. But his nephew refused.
“He cannot bear to live with me,” said the old man to himself sorely. He was prepared to treat his nieces with more generosity than the daughters of the House of Allington had usually received from their fathers; and they repelled his kindness, running away from him, and telling him openly that they would not be beholden to him. He walked slowly up and down the terrace, thinking of this very bitterly. He did not find in the contemplation of his grievance all that solace which a grievance usually gives, because he accused himself in his thoughts rather than others. He declared to himself that he was made to be hated, and protested to himself that it would be well that he should die and be buried out of memory, so that the remaining Dales might have a better chance of living happily; and then as he thus discussed all this within his own bosom, his thoughts were very tender, and though he was aggrieved, he was most affectionate to those who had most injured him. But it was absolutely beyond his power to reproduce outwardly, with words and outward signs, such thoughts and feelings.
It was now very nearly the end of the year, but the weather was still soft and open. The air was damp rather than cold, and the lawns and fields still retained the green tints of new vegetation. As the squire was walking on the terrace Hopkins came up to him, and touching his hat, remarked that they should have frost in a day or two.
“I suppose we shall,” said the squire.
“We must have the mason to the flues of that little grape-house, sir, before I can do any good with a fire there.”
“Which grape-house?” said the squire, crossly.
“Why, the grape-house in the other garden, sir. It ought to have been done last year by rights.” This Hopkins said to punish his master for being cross to him. On that matter of the flues of Mrs Dale’s grape-house he had, with much consideration, spared his master during the last winter, and he felt that this ought to be remembered now.
“I can’t put any fire in it, not to do any real good, till something’s done. That’s sure.”
“Then don’t put any fire in it,” said the squire.
Now the grapes in question were supposed to be peculiarly fine, and were the glory of the garden of the Small House. They were always forced, though not forced so early as those at the Great House, and Hopkins was in a state of great confusion.
“They’ll never ripen; sir; not the whole year through.” “Then let them be unripe,” said the squire, walking about.
Hopkins did not at all understand it. The squire in his natural course was very unwilling to neglect any such matter as this, but would be specially unwilling to neglect anything touching the Small House. So Hopkins stood on the terrace, raising his hat and scratching his head.
“There’s something wrong amongst them,” said he to himself, sorrowfully.
But when the squire had walked to the end of the terrace and had turned upon the path which led round the side of the house, he stopped and called to Hopkins.
“Have what is needful done to the flue,” he said.
“Yes, sir; very well, sir. It’ll only be re-setting the bricks. Nothing more ain’t needful, just this winter.”
“Have the place put in perfect order while you’re about it.” said the squire, and then he walked away.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01