The squire had been told that his niece Bell had accepted Dr Crofts, and he had signified a sort of acquiescence in the arrangement, saying that if it were to be so, he had nothing to say against Dr Crofts. He spoke this in a melancholy tone of voice, wearing on his face that look of subdued sorrow which was now habitual to him. It was to Mrs Dale that he spoke on the subject. “I could have wished that it might have been otherwise,” he said, “as you are well aware. I had family reasons for wishing that it might be otherwise. But I have nothing to say against it. Dr Crofts, as her husband, shall be welcome to my house.” Mrs Dale, who had expected much worse than this, began to thank him for his kindness, and to say that she also would have preferred to see her daughter married to her cousin. “But in such a matter the decision should be left entirely to the girl. Don’t you think so?
“I have not a word to say against her,” he repeated. Then Mrs Dale left him, and told her daughter that her uncle’s manner of receiving the news had been, for him, very gracious.
“You were his favourite, but Lily will be so now,” said Mrs Dale.
“I don’t care a bit about that — or, rather, I do care, and think it will be in every way better. But as I, who am the naughty one, will go away, and as Lily, who is the good one, will remain with you, doesn’t it almost seem a pity that you should be leaving the house?”
Mrs Dale thought it was almost a pity, but she could not say so now. “You think Lily will remain,” she said.
“Yes, mamma; I feel sure she will.”
“She was always very fond of John Eames — and he is doing so well.”
“It will be of no use, mamma. She is fond of him — very fond. In a sort of a way she loves him — so well, that I feel sure she never mentions his name without some inward reference to her old childish thoughts and fancies. If he had come before Mr Crosbie it would have all been well with her. But she cannot do it now. Her pride would prevent her, even if her heart permitted it. Oh! dear; it’s very wrong of me to say so, after all that I have said before; but I almost wish you were not going. Uncle Christopher seems to be less hard than he used to be; and as I was the sinner, and as I am disposed of —”
“It is too late now, my dear.”
“And we should neither of us have the courage to mention it to Lily,” said Bell.
On the following morning the squire sent for his sister-in-law, as it was his wont to do when necessity came for any discussion on matters of business. This was perfectly understood between them, and such sending was not taken as indicating any lack of courtesy on the part of Mr Dale. “Mary,” he said, as soon as Mrs Dale was seated, “I shall do for Bell exactly what I have proposed to do for Lily. I had intended more than that once, of course. But then it would all have gone into Bernard’s pocket; as it is, it shall make no difference between them. They shall each have a hundred a year — that is, when they marry. You had better tell Crofts to speak to me.”
“Mr Dale, he doesn’t expect it. He does not expect a penny.”
“So much the better for him; and, indeed, so much the better for her. He won’t make her the less welcome to his home because she brings some assistance to it.”
“We have never thought of it — any of us. The offer has come so suddenly that I don’t know what I ought to say.”
“Say — nothing. If you choose to make me a return for it — but I am only doing what I conceive to be my duty, and have no right to ask for a kindness in return.”
“But what kindness can we show you, Mr Dale?”
“Remain in that house.” In saying these last words he spoke as though he were again angry — as though he were again laying down the law to them — as though he were telling her of a duty which was due to him and incumbent on her. His voice was as stern and his face as acid as ever. He said that he was asking for a kindness; but surely no man ever asked for kindness in a voice so peremptory. “Remain in that house.” Then he turned himself in towards his table as though he had no more to say.
But Mrs Dale was beginning, now at last, to understand something of his mind and real character. He could be affectionate and forbearing in his giving; but when asking, he could not be otherwise than stern. Indeed, he could not ask; he could only demand.
“We have done so much now,” Mrs Dale began to plead.
“Well, well, well. I did not mean to speak about that. Things are unpacked easier than they are packed. But, however — Never mind. Bell is to go with me this afternoon to Guestwick Manor. Let her be up here at two. Grimes can bring her box round, I suppose.”
“Oh, yes: of course.”
“And don’t be talking to her about money before she starts. I had rather you didn’t — you understand. But when you see Crofts, tell him to come to me. Indeed, he’d better come at once, if this thing is to go on quickly.”
It may easily be understood that Mrs Dale would disobey the injunctions contained in the squire’s last words. It was quite out of the question that she should return to her daughters and not tell them the result of her morning’s interview with their uncle. A hundred a year in the doctor’s modest household would make all the difference between plenty and want, between modest plenty and endurable want. Of course she told them, giving Bell to understand that she must dissemble so far as to pretend ignorance of the affair.
“I shall thank him at once,” said Bell; “and tell him that I did not at all expect it, but am not too proud to accept it.”
“Pray don’t, my dear; not just now. I am breaking a sort of promise in telling you at all — only I could not keep it to myself. And he has so many things to worry him! Though he says nothing about it now, he has half broken his heart about you and Bernard.” Then, too, Mrs Dale told the girls what request the squire had just made, and the manner in which he had made it. “The tone of his voice as he spoke brought tears into my eyes. I almost wish we had not done anything.”
“But, mamma,” said Lily, “what difference can it make to him? You know that our presence near him was always a trouble to him. He never really wanted us. He liked to have Bell there when he thought that Bell would marry his pet.”
“Don’t be unkind, Lily.”
“I don’t mean to be unkind. Why shouldn’t Bernard be his pet? I love Bernard dearly, and always thought it the best point in Uncle Christopher that he was so fond of him. I knew, you know, that it was no use. Of course I knew it, as I understood all about somebody else. But Bernard is his pet.”
“He’s fond of you all, in his own way,” said Mrs Dale.
“But is he fond of you? — that’s the question,” said Lily. “We could have forgiven him anything done to us, and have put up with any words he might have spoken to us, because he regards us as children. His giving a hundred a year to Bell won’t make you comfortable in this house if he still domineers over you. If a neighbour be neighbourly, near neighbourhood is very nice. But Uncle Christopher has not been neighbourly. He has wanted to be more than an uncle to us, on condition that he might be less than a brother to you. Bell and I have always felt that his regard on such terms was not worth having.”
“I almost feel that we have been wrong,” said Mrs Dale; “but in truth I never thought that the matter would be to him one of so much moment.”
When Bell had gone, Mrs Dale and Lily were not disposed to continue with much energy the occupation on which they had all been employed for some days past. There had been life and excitement in the work when they had first commenced their packing, but now it was grown wearisome, dull, and distasteful. Indeed so much of it was done that but little was left to employ them, except those final strappings and fastenings, and that last collection of odds and ends which could not be accomplished till they were absolutely on the point of starting. The squire had said that unpacking would be easier than packing, and Mrs Dale, as she wandered about among the hampers and cases, began to consider whether the task of restoring all the things to their old places would be very disagreeable. She said nothing of this to Lily, and Lily herself, whatever might be her thoughts, made no such suggestion to her mother.
“I think Hopkins will miss us more than any one else,” she said. “Hopkins will have no one to scold.”
Just at that moment Hopkins appeared at the parlour window, and signified his desire for a conference.
“You must come round,” said Lily. “It’s too cold for the window to he opened. I always like to get him into the house, because he feels himself a little abashed by the chairs and tables; or, perhaps, it is the carpet that is too much for him. Out on the gravel-walks he is such a terrible tyrant, and in the greenhouse he almost tramples upon one!”
Hopkins, when he did appear at the parlour door, seemed by his manner to justify Lily’s discretion. He was not at all masterful in his tone or bearing, and seemed to pay to the chairs and tables all the deference which they could have expected.
“So you be going in earnest, ma’am,” he said, looking down at Mrs Dale’s feet.
As Mrs Dale did not answer him at once, Lily spoke —“Yes, Hopkins, we are going in a very few days, now. We shall see you sometimes, I hope, over at Guestwick.”
“Humph!” said Hopkins. “So you be really going! I didn’t think it’d ever come to that, miss; I didn’t indeed — and no more it oughtn’t; but of course it isn’t for me to speak.”
“People must change their residence sometimes, you know,” said Mrs Dale, using the same argument by which Eames had endeavoured to excuse his departure to Mrs Roper.
“Well, ma’am; it ain’t for me to say anything. But this I will say, I’ve lived here about t squire’s place, man and boy, just all my life, seeing I was born here, as you knows, Mrs Dale; and of all the bad things I ever see come about the place, this is a sight the worst.”
“The worst of all, ma’am; the worst of all! It’ll just kill t’ squire! There’s ne’ery doubt in the world about that. It’ll be the very death of t’ old man.”
“That’s nonsense, Hopkins,” said Lily.
“Very well, miss. I don’t say but what it is nonsense; only you’ll see. There’s Mr Bernard — he’s gone away; and by all accounts he never did care very much for the place. They say all he’s a-going to the Hingies. And Miss Bell is going to be married — which is all proper, in course: why shouldn’t she? And why shouldn’t you, too, Miss Lily?”
“Perhaps I shall, some day, Hopkins.”
“There’s no day like the present, Miss Lily. And I do say this, that the man as pitched into him would be the man for my money.” This, which Hopkins spoke in the excitement of the moment, was perfectly unintelligible to Lily, and Mrs Dale, who shuddered as she heard him, said not a word to call for any explanation. “But,” continued Hopkins, “that’s all as it may be, Miss Lily, and you be in the hands of Providence — as is others.”
“Exactly so, Hopkins.”
“But why should your mamma be all for going away? She ain’t going to marry no one. Here’s the house, and there’s she, and there’s t’squire; and why should she be for going away? So much going away all at once can’t be for any good. It’s just a breaking up of everything, as though nothing wasn’t good enough for nobody. I never went away, and I can’t abide it.”
“Well, Hopkins; it’s settled now,” said Mrs Dale, “and I’m afraid it can’t be unsettled.”
“Settled — well. Tell me this: do you expect, Mrs Dale, that he’s to live there all alone by hisself without any one to say a cross word to — unless it be me or Dingles; for Jolliffe’s worse than nobody, he’s so mortial cross hisself. Of course he can’t stand it. If you goes away, Mrs Dale; Mister Bernard, he’ll be squire in less than twelve months. He’ll come back from the Hingies, then, I suppose?”
“I don’t think my brother-in-law will take it in that way, Hopkins.”
“A, ma’am, you don’t know him — not as I knows him — all the ins and outs and crinks and crannies of him. I knows him as I does the old apple-trees that I’ve been a-handling for forty year. There’s a deal of bad wood about them old cankered trees, and some folk say they ain’t worth the ground they stand on; but I know where the sap runs, and when the fruit-blossom shows itself I know where the fruit will be the sweetest. It don’t take much to kill one of them old trees — but there’s life in ‘m yet if they be well handled.”
“I’m sure I hope my brother’s life may be long spared to him,” said Mrs Dale.
“Then don’t be taking yourself away, ma’am, into them gashly lodgings at Guestwick. I says they are gashly for the likes of a Dale. It is not for me to speak, ma’am, of course. And I only came up now just to know what things you’d like with you out of the greenhouse.”
“Oh, nothing, Hopkins, thank you,” said Mrs Dale.
“He told me to put up for you the best I could pick, and I means to do it;” and Hopkins, as he spoke, indicated by a motion of his head that he was making reference to the squire.
“We shan’t have any place for them,” said Lily.
“I must send a few, miss, just to cheer you up a bit. I fear you’ll be very dolesome there. And the doctor — he ain’t got what you can call a regular garden, but there is a bit of a place behind.”
“But we wouldn’t rob the dear old place,” said Lily.
“For the matter of that what does it signify? T’squire’ll be that wretched he’ll turn sheep in here to destroy the place, or he’ll have the garden ploughed. You see if he don’t. As for the place, the place is clean done for, if you leave it. You don’t suppose he’ll go and let the Small House to strangers. T’squire ain’t one of that sort any ways.”
“Ah me!” exclaimed Mrs Dale, as soon as Hopkins had taken himself off.
“What is it, mamma? He’s a dear old man, but surely what he says cannot make you really unhappy.”
“It is so hard to know what one ought to do. I did not mean to be selfish, but it seems to me as though I were doing the most selfish thing in the world.”
“Nay, mamma; it has been anything but selfish. Besides, it is we that have done it; not you.”
“Do you know, Lily, that I also have that feeling as to breaking up one’s old mode of life of which Hopkins spoke. I thought that I should be glad to escape from this place, but now that the time has come I dread it.”
“Do you mean that you repent?”
Mrs Dale did not answer her daughter at once, fearing to commit herself by words which could not be retracted. But at last she said, “Yes, Lily; I think I do repent. I think that it has not been well done.”
“Then let it be undone,” said Lily.
The dinner-party at Guestwick Manor on that day was not very bright, and yet the earl had done all in his power to make his guests happy. But gaiety did not come naturally to his house, which, as will have been seen, was an abode very unlike in its nature to that of the other earl at Courcy Castle. Lady de Courcy at any rate understood how to receive and entertain a houseful of people, though the practice of doing so might give rise to difficult questions in the privacy of her domestic relations. Lady Julia did not understand it; but then Lady Julia was never called upon to answer for the expense of extra servants, nor was she asked about twice a week who the —— was to pay the wine-merchant’s bill? As regards Lord de Guest and the Lady Julia themselves, I think they had the best of it; but I am bound to admit, with reference to chance guests, that the house was dull. The people who were now gathered at the earl’s table could hardly have been expected to be very sprightly when in company with each other. The squire was not a man much given to general society, and was unused to amuse a table full of people. On the present occasion he sat next to Lady Julia, and from time to time muttered a few words to her about the state of the country. Mrs Eames was terribly afraid of everybody there, and especially of the earl, next to whom she sat, and whom she continually called “my lord,” showing by her voice as she did so that she was almost alarmed by the sound of her own voice. Mr and Mrs Boyce were there, the parson sitting on the other side of Lady Julia, and the parson’s wife on the other side of the earl. Mrs Boyce was very studious to show that he was quite at home, and talked perhaps more than any one else; but in doing so she bored the earl most exquisitely, so that he told John Eames the next morning that she was worse than the bull. The parson ate his dinner, but said little or nothing between the two graces. He was a heavy, sensible, slow man, who knew himself and his own powers. “Uncommon good stewed beef,” he said, as he went home; “why can’t we have our beef stewed like that?” “Because we don’t pay our cook sixty pounds a year,” said Mrs Boyce. “A woman with sixteen pounds can stew beef as well as a woman with sixty,” said he; “she only wants looking after.” The earl himself was possessed of a sort of gaiety. There was about him a lightness of spirit which often made him an agreeable companion to one single person. John Eames conceived him to be the most sprightly old man of his day — an old man with the fun and frolic almost of a boy. But this spirit, though it would show itself before John Eames, was not up to the entertainment of John Eames’s mother and sister, together with the squire, the parson, and the parson’s wife of Allington. So that the earl was over-weighted and did not shine on this occasion at his own dinner-table. Dr Crofts, who had also been invited, and who had secured the place which was now peculiarly his own, next to Bell Dale, was no doubt happy enough; as, let us hope, was the young lady also; but they added very little to the general hilarity of the company. John Eames was seated between his own sister and the parson, and did not at all enjoy his position. He had a full view of the doctor’s felicity, as the happy pair sat opposite to him, and conceived himself to be hardly treated by Lily’s absence.
The party was certainly very dull, as were all such dinners at Guestwick Manor. There are houses, which, in their everyday course, are not conducted by any means in a sad or unsatisfactory manner — in which life, as a rule, runs along merrily enough; but which cannot give a dinner-party; or, I might rather say, should never allow themselves to be allured into the attempt. The owners of such houses are generally themselves quite aware of the fact, and dread the dinner which they resolved to give quite as much as it is dreaded by their friends. They know that they prepare for their guests an evening of misery, and for themselves certain long hours of purgatory which are hardly to be endured. But they will do it. Why that long table, and all those supernumerary glasses and knives and forks, if they are never to be used? That argument produces all this misery; that and others cognate to it. On the present occasion, no doubt, there were excuses to be made. The squire and his niece had been invited on special cause, and their presence would have been well enough. The doctor added in would have done no harm. It was good-natured, too, that invitation given to Mrs Eames and her daughter. The error lay in the parson and his wife. There was no necessity for their being there, nor had they any ground on which to stand, except the party-giving ground. Mr and Mrs Boyce made the dinner-party, and destroyed the social circle. Lady Julia knew that she had been wrong as soon as she had sent out the note.
Nothing was said on that evening which has any bearing on our story. Nothing, indeed, was said which had any bearing on anything. The earl’s professed object had been to bring the squire and young Eames together; but people are never brought together on such melancholy occasions. Though they sip their port in close contiguity, they are poles asunder in their minds and feelings. When the Guestwick fly came for Mrs Eames, and the parson’s pony-phaeton came for him and Mrs Boyce, a great relief was felt; but the misery of those who were left had gone too far to allow of any reaction on that evening. The squire yawned, and the earl yawned, and then there was an end of it for that night.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55