On that day they dined early at the Small House, as they had been in the habit of doing since the packing had commenced. And after dinner Mrs Dale went through the gardens, up to the other house, with a written note in her hand. In that note she had told Lady Julia, with many protestations of gratitude, that Lily was unable to go out so soon after her illness, and that she herself was obliged to stay with Lily. She explained also, that the business of moving was in hand, and that, therefore, she could not herself accept the invitation. But her other daughter, she said, would be very happy to accompany her uncle to Guestwick Manor. Then, without closing her letter, she took it up to the squire in order that it might be decided whether it would or would not suit his views. It might well be that he would not care to go to Lord de Guest’s with Bell alone.
“Leave it with me,” he said; “that is, if you do not object.”
“Oh dear, no!”
“I’ll tell you the plain truth at once, Mary. I shall go over myself with it, and see the earl. Then I will decline it or not, according to what passes between me and him. I wish Lily would have gone.”
“Ah! she could not.”
“I wish she could. I wish she could. I wish she could.” As he repeated the words over and over again, there was an eagerness in his voice that filled Mrs Dale’s heart with tenderness towards him.
“The truth is,” said Mrs Dale, “she could not go there to meet John Eames.”
“Oh, I know,” said the squire: “I understand it. But that is just what we want her to do. Why should she not spend a week in the same house with an honest young man whom we all like.”
“There are reasons why she would not wish it.”
“Ah, exactly; the very reasons which should make us induce her to go there if we can. Perhaps I had better tell you all. Lord de Guest has taken him by the hand, and wishes him to marry. He has promised to settle on him an income which will make him comfortable for life.”
“That is very generous; and I am delighted to hear it — for John’s sake.”
“And they have promoted him at his office.”
“Ah! then he will do well.”
“He will do very well. He is private secretary now to their head man. And, Mary, so that she, Lily, should not be empty — handed if their marriage can be arranged, I have undertaken to settle a hundred a year on her — on her and her children, if she will accept him. Now you know it all. I did not mean to tell you; but it is as well that you should have the means of judging. That other man was a villain. This man is honest. Would it not be well that she should learn to like him? She always did like him, I thought, before that other fellow came down here among us.”
“She has always liked him — as a friend.”
“She will never get a better lover.”
Mrs Dale sat silent, thinking over it all. Every word that the squire said was true. It would be a healing of wounds most desirable and salutary; an arrangement advantageous to them all; a destiny for Lily most devoutly to be desired — if only it were possible. Mrs Dale firmly believed that if her daughter could be made to accept John Eames as her second lover in a year or two all would be well. Crosbie would then be forgotten or thought of without regret, and Lily would become the mistress of a happy home. But there are positions which cannot be reached, though there be no physical or material objection in the way. It is the view which the mind takes of a thing which creates the sorrow that arises from it. If the heart were always malleable and the feelings could be controlled, who would permit himself to be tormented by any of the reverses which affection meets? Death would create no sorrow, ingratitude would lose its sting; and the betrayal of love would do no injury beyond that which it might entail upon worldly circumstances. But the heart is not malleable; nor will the feelings admit of such control.
“It is not possible for her,” said Mrs Dale. “I fear it is not possible. It is too soon.”
“Six months,” pleaded the squire.
“It will take years — not months,” said Mrs Dale.
“And she will lose all her youth.”
“Yes; he has done all that by his treachery. But it is done, and we cannot now go back. She loves him yet as dearly as she ever loved him.”
Then the squire muttered certain words below his breath — ejaculations against Crosbie, which were hardly voluntary; but even as involuntary ejaculations were very improper. Mrs Dale heard them, and was not offended either by their impropriety or their warmth. “But you can understand,” she said, “that she cannot bring herself to go there.” The squire struck the table with his fist, and repeated his ejaculations. If he could only have known how very disagreeable Lady Alexandrina was making herself, his spirit might, perhaps, have been less vehemently disturbed. If, also, he could have perceived and understood the light in which an alliance with the De Courcy family was now regarded by Crosbie, I think that he would have received some consolation from that consideration. Those who offend us are generally punished for the offence they give; but we so frequently miss the satisfaction of knowing that we are avenged! It is arranged, apparently, that the injurer shall be punished, but that the person injured shall not gratify his desire for vengeance.
“And will you go to Guestwick yourself?” asked Mrs Dale.
“I will take the note,” said the squire, “and will let you know tomorrow. The earl has behaved so kindly that every possible consideration is due to him. I had better tell him the whole truth, and go or stay, as he may wish. I don’t see the good of going. What am I to do at Guestwick Manor? I did think that if we had all been there it might have cured some difficulties.”
Mrs Dale got up to leave him, but she could not go without saying some word of gratitude for all that he had attempted to do for them. She well knew what he meant by the curing of difficulties. He had intended to signify that had they lived together for a week at Guestwick the idea of flitting from Allington might possibly have been abandoned. It seemed now to Mrs Dale as though her brother-in-law were heaping coals of fire on her head in return for that intention. She felt half-ashamed of what she was doing, almost acknowledging to herself that she should have borne with his sternness in return for the benefits he had done to her daughters. Had she not feared their reproaches she would, even now, have given way.
“I do not know what I ought to say to you for your kindness.”
“Say nothing — either for my kindness or unkindness; but stay where you are, and let us live like Christians together, striving to think good and not evil.” These were kind, loving words, showing in themselves a spirit of love and forbearance; but they were spoken in a harsh, unsympathising voice, and the speaker, as he uttered them, looked gloomily at the fire. In truth the squire, as he spoke, was half-ashamed of the warmth of what he said.
“At any rate I will not think evil,” Mrs Dale answered, giving him her hand. After that she left him, and returned home. It was too late for her to abandon her project of moving and remain at the Small House; but as she went across the garden she almost confessed to herself that she repented of what she was doing.
In these days of the cold early spring, the way from the lawn into the house, through the drawing-room window, was not as yet open, and it was necessary to go round by the kitchen-garden on to the road, and thence in by the front door; or else to pass through the back door, and into the house by the kitchen. This latter mode of entrance Mrs Dale now adopted; and as she made her way into the hall Lily came upon her, with very silent steps, out from the parlour, and arrested her progress. There was a smile upon Lily’s face as she lifted up her finger as if in caution, and no one looking at her would have supposed that she was herself in trouble. “Mamma,” she said, pointing to the drawing-room door, and speaking almost in a whisper, “you must not go in there; come into the parlour.”
“Who’s there? Where’s Bell?” and Mrs Dale went into the parlour as she was bidden. “But who is there?” she repeated.
“Who is he?”
“Oh, mamma, don’t be a goose! Dr Crofts is there, of course. He’s been nearly an hour. I wonder how he is managing, for there is nothing on earth to sit upon but the old lump of a carpet. The room is strewed about with crockery, and Bell is such a figure! She has got on your old checked apron, and when he came in she was rolling up the fire-irons in brown paper. I don’t suppose she was ever in such a mess before. There’s one thing certain — he can’t kiss her hand.”
“It’s you are the goose, Lily.”
“But he’s in there certainly, unless he has gone out through the window, or up the chimney.”
“What made you leave them?”
“He met me here, in the passage, and spoke to me ever so seriously. Come in, I said, and see Bell packing the pokers and tongs. I will go in, he said, but don’t come with me. He was ever so serious, and I’m sure he had been thinking of it all the way along.”
“And why should he not be serious?”
“Oh, no, of course he ought to be serious; but are you not glad, mamma? I am so glad. We shall live alone together, you and I; but she will be so close to us! My belief is that he’ll stay there for ever unless somebody does something. I have been so tired of waiting and looking out for you. Perhaps he’s helping her to pack the things. Don’t you think we might go in; or would it be ill-natured?
“Lily, don’t be in too great a hurry to say anything. You may be mistaken, you know; and there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.”
“Yes, mamma, there is,” said Lily, putting her hand inside her mother’s arm, “that’s true enough.”
“Oh, my darling, forgive me,” said the mother, suddenly remembering that the use of the old proverb at the present moment had been almost cruel.
“Do not mind it,” said Lily, “it does not hurt me, it does me good; that is to say, when there is nobody by except yourself. But, with God’s help, there shall be no slip here, and she shall be happy. It is all the difference between one thing done in a hurry, and another done with much thinking. But they’ll remain there for ever if we don’t go in. Come, mamma, you open the door.”
Then Mrs Dale did open the door, giving some little premonitory notice with the handle, so that the couple inside might be warned of approaching footsteps. Crofts had not escaped, either through the window or up the chimney, but was seated in the middle of the room on an empty box, just opposite to Bell, who was seated upon the lump of carpeting. Bell still wore the checked apron as described by her sister. What might have been the state of her hands I will not pretend to say; but I do not believe that her lover had found anything amiss with them. “How do you do, doctor?” said Mrs Dale, striving to use her accustomed voice, and to look as though there were nothing of special importance in his visit. “I have just come down from the Great House.”
“Mamma,” said Bell, jumping up, “you must not call him doctor any more.”
“Must I not? Has any one undoctored him?”
“Oh, mamma, you understand,” said Bell.
“I understand,” said Lily, going up to the doctor, and giving him her cheek to kiss, “he is to be my brother, and I mean to claim him as such from this moment. I expect him to do everything for us, and not to call a moment of his time his own.”
“Mrs Dale,” said the doctor, “Bell has consented that it shall be so, if you will consent.”
“There is but little doubt of that,” said Mrs Dale.
“We shall not be rich —” began the doctor.
“I hate to be rich,” said Bell. “I hate even to talk about it. I don’t think it quite manly even to think about it; and I’m sure it isn’t womanly.”
“Bell was always a fanatic in praise of poverty,” said Mrs Dale.
“No; I’m no fanatic. I’m very fond of money earned. I would like to earn some myself if I knew how.”
“Let her go out and visit the lady patients,” said Lily. “They do in America.”
Then they all went into the parlour and sat round the fire talking as though they were already one family. The proceeding, considering the nature of it — that a young lady, acknowledged to be of great beauty and known to be of good birth, had on the occasion been asked and given in marriage — was carried on after a somewhat humdrum fashion, and in a manner that must be called commonplace. How different had it been when Crosbie had made his offer! Lily for the time had been raised to a pinnacle — a pinnacle which might be dangerous, but which was, at any rate, lofty. With what a pretty speech had Crosbie been greeted! How it had been felt by all concerned that the fortunes of the Small House were in the ascendant — felt, indeed, with some trepidation, but still with much inward triumph. How great had been the occasion, forcing Lily almost to lose herself in wonderment at what had occurred! There was no great occasion now, and no wonderment. No one, unless it was Crofts, felt very triumphant. But they were all very happy, and were sure that there was safety in their happiness. It was but the other day that one of them had been thrown rudely to the ground through the treachery of a lover, but yet none of them feared treachery from this lover. Bell was as sure of her lot in life as though she were already being taken home to her modest house in Guestwick. Mrs Dale already looked upon the man as her son, and the party of four as they sat round the fire grouped themselves as though they already formed one family.
But Bell was not seated next to her lover. Lily, when she had once accepted Crosbie, seemed to think that she could never be too near to him. She had been in no wise ashamed of her love, and had shown it constantly by some little caressing motion of her hand, leaning on his arm, looking into his face, as though she were continually desirous of some palpable assurance of his presence. It was not so at all with Bell. She was happy in loving and in being loved, but she required no overt testimonies of affection. I do not think it would have made her unhappy if some sudden need had required that Crofts should go to India and back before they were married. The thing was settled, and that was enough for her. But, on the other hand, when he spoke of the expediency of an immediate marriage, she raised no difficulty. As her mother was about to go into a new residence, it might be as well that that residence should be fitted to the wants of two persons instead of three. So they talked about chairs and tables, carpets and kitchens, in a most unromantic, homely, useful manner! A considerable portion of the furniture in the house they were now about to leave belonged to the squire — or to the house rather, as they were in the habit of saying. The older and more solid things — articles of household stuff that stand the wear of half a century — had been in the Small House when they came to it. There was, therefore, a question of buying new furniture for a house in Guestwick — a question not devoid of importance to the possessor of so moderate an income as that owned by Mrs Dale. In the first month or two they were to live in lodgings, and their goods were to be stored in some friendly warehouse. Under such circumstances would it not be well that Bell’s marriage should be so arranged that the lodging question might not be in any degree complicated by her necessities? This was the last suggestion made by Dr Crofts, induced no doubt by the great encouragement he had received.
“That would be hardly possible,” said Mrs Dale. “It only wants three weeks — and with the house in such a condition!”
“James is joking,” said Bell.
“I was not joking at all,” said the doctor.
“Why not send for Mr Boyce, and carry her off at once on a pillion behind you?” said Lily. “It’s just the sort of thing for primitive people to do, like you and Bell. All the same, Bell, I do wish you could have been married from this house.”
“I don’t think it will make much difference,” said Bell.
“Only if you would have waited till summer we would have had such a nice party on the lawn. It sounds so ugly, being married from lodgings; doesn’t it, mamma?”
“It doesn’t sound at all ugly to me,” said Bell.
“I shall always call you Dame Commonplace when you’re married,” said Lily.
Then they had tea, and after tea Dr Crofts got on his horse and rode back to Guestwick.
“Now may I talk about him?” said Lily, as soon as the door was closed behind his back.
“No; you may not.”
“As if I hadn’t known it all along! And wasn’t it hard to bear that you should have scolded me with such pertinacious austerity, and that I wasn’t to say a word in answer!”
“I don’t remember the austerity,” said Mrs Dale.
“Nor yet Lily’s silence,” said Bell.
“But it’s all settled now,” said Lily, “and I’m downright happy. I never felt more satisfaction — never, Bell!”
“Nor did I,” said her mother; “I may truly say that I thank God for this good thing.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01