Mrs Dale had been present during the interview in which John Eames had made his prayer to her daughter, but she had said little or nothing on that occasion. All her wishes had been in favour of the suitor, but she had not dared to express them, neither had she dared to leave the room. It had been hard upon him to be thus forced to declare his love in the presence of a third person, but he had done it, and had gone away with his answer. Then, when the thing was over, Lily, without any communion with her mother, took herself off, and was no more seen till the evening hours had come on, in which it was natural that they should be together again.
Mrs Dale, when thus alone, had been able to think of nothing but this new suit for her daughter’s hand. If only it might be accomplished! If any words from her to Lily might be efficacious to such an end! And yet, hitherto, she had been afraid almost to utter a word.
She knew that it was very difficult. She declared to herself over and over that he had come too soon — that the attempt had been made too quickly after that other shipwreck. How was it possible that the ship should put to sea again at once, with all her timbers so rudely strained? And yet, now that the attempt had been made, now that Eames had uttered his request and been sent away with an answer, she felt that she must at once speak to Lily on the subject, if ever she were to speak upon it. She thought that she understood her child and all her feelings. She recognised the violence of the shock which must be encountered before Lily could be brought to acknowledge such a change in her heart. But if the thing could be done, Lily would be a happy woman. When once done it would be in all respects a blessing. And if it were not done, might not Lily’s life be blank, lonely, and loveless to the end? Yet when Lily came down in the evening, with some light, half-joking word on her lips, as was usual to her, Mrs Dale was still afraid to venture upon her task.
“I suppose, mamma, we may consider it as a settled thing that everything must be again unpacked, and that the lodging scheme will be given up.”
“I don’t know that, my dear.”
“Oh, but I do — after what you said just now. What geese everybody will think us!”
“I shouldn’t care a bit for that, if we didn’t think ourselves geese, or if your uncle did not think us so.”
“I believe he would think we were swans. If I had ever thought he would be so much in earnest about it, or that he would ever have cared about our being here, I would never have voted for going. But he is so strange. He is affectionate when he ought to be angry, and ill-natured when he ought to be gentle and kind.”
“He has, at any rate, given us reason to feel sure of his affection.”
“For us girls, I never doubted it. But, mamma, I don’t think I could face Mrs Boyce. Mrs Hearn and Mrs Crump would be very bad, and Hopkins would come down upon us terribly when he found that we had given way. But Mrs Boyce would be worse than any of them. Can’t you fancy the tone of her congratulations?”
“I think I should survive Mrs Boyce.”
“Ah, yes; because we should have to go and tell her. I know your cowardice of old, mamma; don’t I? And Bell wouldn’t care a bit, because of her lover. Mrs Boyce will be nothing to her. It is I that must bear it all. Well, I don’t mind; I’ll vote for staying if you will promise to be happy here. Oh, mamma, I’ll vote for anything if you will be happy.”
“And will you be happy?”
“Yes, as happy as the day is long. Only I know we shall never see Bell. People never do see each other when they live just at that distance. It’s too near for long visits, and too far for short visits. I’ll tell you what; we might make arrangements each to walk half-way, and meet at the corner of Lord de Guest’s wood. I wonder whether they’d let us put up a seat there. I think we might have a little house and carry sandwiches and a bottle of beer. Couldn’t we see something of each other in that way?”
Thus it came to be the fixed idea of both of them that they would abandon their plan of migrating to Guestwick, and on this subject they continued to talk over their tea-table; but on that evening Mrs Dale ventured to say nothing about John Eames.
But they did not even yet dare to commence the work of reconstructing their old home. Bell must come back before they would do that, and the express assent of the squire must be formally obtained. Mrs Dale must, in a degree, acknowledge herself to have been wrong, and ask to be forgiven for her contumacy.
“I suppose the three of us had better go up in sackcloth, and throw ashes on our foreheads as we meet Hopkins in the garden,” said Lily, “and then I know he’ll heap coals of fire on our heads by sending us an early dish of peas. And Dingles would bring us in a pheasant, only that pheasants don’t grow in May.”
“If the sackcloth doesn’t take an unpleasanter shape than that, I shan’t mind it.”
“That’s because you’ve got no delicate feelings. And then Uncle Christopher’s gratitude!”
“Ah! I shall feel that.”
“But, mamma, we’ll wait till Bell comes home. She shall decide. She is going away, and therefore she’ll be free from prejudice. If uncle offers to paint the house — and I know he will-then I shall be humbled to the dust.”
But yet Mrs Dale had said nothing on the subject which was nearest to her heart. When Lily in pleasantry had accused her of cowardice, her mind had instantly gone off to that other matter, and she had told herself that she was a coward. Why should she be afraid of offering her counsel to her own child? It seemed to her as though she had neglected some duty in allowing Crosbie’s conduct to have passed away without hardly a word of comment on it between herself and Lily. Should she not have forced upon her daughter’s conviction the fact that Crosbie had been a villain, and as such should be discarded from her heart? As it was, Lily had spoken the simple truth when she told John Eames that she was dealing more openly with him on that affair of her engagement than she had ever dealt, even with her mother. Thinking of this as she sat in her own room that night, before she allowed herself to rest, Mrs Dale resolved that on the next morning she would endeavour to make Lily see as she saw and think as she thought.
She let breakfast pass by before she began her task, and even then she did not rush at it at once. Lily sat herself down to her work when the teacups were taken away, and Mrs Dale went down to her kitchen as was her wont. It was nearly eleven before she seated herself in the parlour, and even then she got her work-box before her and took out her needle.
“I wonder how Bell gets on with Lady Julia,” said Lily.
“Very well, I’m sure.”
“Lady Julia won’t bite her, I know, and I suppose her dismay at the tall footmen has passed off by this time.”
“I don’t know that they have any tall footmen.”
“Short footmen then — you know what I mean; all the noble belongings. They must startle one at first, I’m sure, let one determine ever so much not to be startled. It’s a very mean thing, no doubt, to be afraid of a lord merely because he is a lord; yet I’m sure I should be afraid at first, even of Lord de Guest, if I were staying in the house.”
“It’s well you didn’t go then.”
“Yes, I think it is. Bell is of a firmer mind, and I dare say she’ll get over it after the first day. But what on earth does she do there? I wonder whether they mend their stockings in such a house as that.”
“Not in public, I should think.”
“In very grand houses they throw them away at once, I suppose. I’ve often thought about it. Do you believe the Prime Minister ever has his shoes sent to a cobbler?
“Perhaps a regular shoemaker will condescend to mend a Prime Minister’s shoes.”
“You do think they are mended then? But who orders it? Does he see himself when there’s a little hole coming, as I do? Does an archbishop allow himself so many pairs of gloves in a year?”
“Not very strictly, I should think.”
“Then I suppose it comes to this, that he has a new pair whenever he wants them. But what constitutes the want? Does he ever say to himself that they’ll do for another Sunday? I remember the bishop coming here once, and he had a hole at the end of his thumb. I was going to be confirmed, and I remember thinking that he ought to have been smarter.”
“Why didn’t you offer to mend it?”
“I shouldn’t have dared for all the world.”
The conversation had commenced itself in a manner that did not promise much assistance to Mrs Dale’s project. When Lily got upon any subject, she was not easily induced to leave it, and when her mind had twisted itself in one direction, it was difficult to untwist it. She was now bent on a consideration of the smaller social habits of the high and mighty among us, and was asking her mother whether she supposed that the royal children ever carried halfpence in their pockets, or descended so low as fourpenny-bits.
“I suppose they have pockets like other children,” said Lily. But her mother stopped her suddenly —“Lily, dear, I want to say something to you about John Eames.”
“Mamma, I’d sooner talk about the Royal Family just at present.”
“But, dear, you must forgive me if I persist. I have thought much about it, and I’m sure you will not oppose me when I am doing what I think to be my duty.”
“No, mamma; I won’t oppose you, certainly.”
“Since Mr Crosbie’s conduct was made known to you, I have mentioned his name in your hearing very seldom.”
“No, mamma, you have not. And I have loved you so dearly for your goodness to me. Do not think that I have not understood and known how generous you have been. No other mother ever was so good as you have been. I have known it all, and thought of it every day of my life, and thanked you in my heart for your trusting silence. Of course, I understand your feelings. You think him bad and you hate him for what he has done.”
“I would not willingly hate any one, Lily.”
“Ah, but you do hate him. If I were you, I should hate him; but I am not you, and I love him. I pray for his happiness every night and morning, and for hers. I have forgiven him altogether, and I think that he was right. When I am old enough to do so without being wrong, I will go to him and tell him so. I should like to hear of all his doings and all his success, if it were only possible. How, then, can you and I talk about him? It is impossible. You have been silent and I have been silent — let us remain silent.”
“It is not about Mr Crosbie that I wish to speak. But I think you ought to understand that conduct such as his will be rebuked by all the world. You may forgive him, but you should acknowledge —”
“Mamma, I don’t want to acknowledge anything — not about him. There are things as to which a person cannot argue.” Mrs Dale felt that this present matter was one as to which she could not argue. “Of course, mamma,” continued Lily, “I don’t want to oppose you in anything, but I think we had better be silent about this.”
“Of course I am thinking only of your future happiness.”
“I know you are; but pray believe me that you need not be alarmed. I do not mean to be unhappy. Indeed, I think I may say I am not unhappy; of course I have been unhappy — very unhappy. I did think that my heart would break. But that has passed away, and I believe I can be as happy as my neighbours. We’re all of us sure to have some troubles, as you used to tell us when we were children.”
Mrs Dale felt that she had begun wrong, and that she would have been able to make better progress had she omitted all mention of Crosbie’s name. She knew exactly what it was that she wished to say — what were the arguments which she desired to expound before her daughter; but she did not know what language to use, or how she might best put her thoughts into words. She paused for a while, and Lily went on with her work as though the conversation was over. But the conversation was not over.
“It was about John Eames, and not about Mr Crosbie, that I wished to speak to you.”
“My dear, you must not hinder me in doing what I think to be a duty. I heard what he said to you and what you replied, and of course I cannot but have my mind full of the subject. Why should you set yourself against him in so fixed a manner?”
“Because I love another man.” These words she spoke out loud, in a steady, almost dogged tone, with a certain show of audacity — as though aware that the declaration was unseemly, but resolved that, though unseemly, it must be made.
“But, Lily, that love, from its very nature, must cease; or, rather, such love is not the same as that you felt when you thought that you were to be his wife.”
“Yes, it is. If she died, and he came to me in five years time, I would still take him. I should think myself constrained to take him.”
“But she is not dead, nor likely to die.”
“That makes no difference. You don’t understand me, mamma.”
“I think I do, and I want you to understand me also. I know how difficult is your position; I know what your feelings are; but I know this also, that if you could reason with yourself, and bring yourself in time to receive John Eames as a dear friend —”
“I did receive him as a dear friend. Why not? He is a dear friend. I love him heartily — as you do.”
“You know what I mean?”
“Yes, I do; and I tell you it is impossible.”
“If you would make the attempt, all this misery would soon be forgotten. If once you could bring yourself to regard him as a friend, who might become your husband, all this would be changed — and I should see you happy!”
“You are strangely anxious to be rid of me, mamma!”
“Yes, Lily — to be rid of you in that way. If I could see you put your hand in his as his promised wife, I think that I should be the happiest woman in the world.”
“Mamma, I cannot make you happy in that way. If you really understood my feelings, my doing as you propose would make you very unhappy. I should commit a great sin — the sin against which women should be more guarded than against any other. In my heart I am married to that other man. I gave myself to him, and loved him, and rejoiced in his love. When he kissed me I kissed him again, and I longed for his kisses. I seemed to live only that he might caress me. All that time I never felt myself to be wrong — because he was all in all to me. I was his own. That has been changed — to my great misfortune; but it cannot be undone or forgotten. I cannot be the girl I was before he came here. There are things that will not have themselves buried and put out of sight, as though they had never been. I am as you are, mamma-widowed. But you have your daughter, and I have my mother. If you will be contented, so will I.” Then she got up and threw herself on her mother’s neck.
Mrs Dale’s argument was over now. To such an appeal as that last made by Lily no rejoinder on her part was possible. After that she was driven to acknowledge to herself that she must be silent. Years as they rolled on might make a change, but no reasoning could be of avail. She embraced her daughter, weeping over her — whereas Lily’s eyes were dry. “It shall be as you will,” Mrs Dale murmured.
“Yes, as I will. I shall have my own way; shall I not? That is all I want; to be a tyrant over you, and make you do my bidding in everything, as a well-behaved mother should do. But I won’t be stern in my orderings. If you will only be obedient, I will be so gracious to you! There’s Hopkins again. I wonder whether he has come to knock us down and trample upon us with another speech.”
Hopkins knew very well to which window he must come, as only one of the rooms was at the present time habitable. He came up to the dining-room, and almost flattened his nose against the glass.
“Well, Hopkins,” said Lily, “here we are.” Mrs Dale had turned her face away, for she knew that the tears were still on her cheek.
“Yes, miss, I see you. I want to speak to your mamma, miss.”
“Come round,” said Lily, anxious to spare her mother the necessity of showing herself at once. “It’s too cold to open the window; come round, and I’ll open the door.”
“Too cold!” muttered Hopkins, as he went. “They’ll find it a deal colder in lodgings at Guestwick.” However, he went round through the kitchen, and Lily met him in the hall.
“Well, Hopkins, what is it? Mamma has got a headache.”
“Got a headache, has she? I won’t make her headache no worse. It’s my opinion that there’s nothing for a headache so good as fresh air. Only some people can’t abear to be blowed upon, not for a minute. If you don’t let down the lights in a greenhouse more or less every day, you’ll never get any plants — never — and it’s just the same with the grapes. Is I to go back and say as how I couldn’t see her?”
“You can come in if you like; only be quiet, you know.”
“Ain’t I ollays quiet, miss? Did anybody ever hear me rampage? If you please, ma’am, the squire’s come home.’
“What, home from Guestwick? Has he brought Miss Bell?
“He ain’t brought none but hisself, cause he come on horseback; and it’s my belief he’s going back almost immediate. But he wants you to come to him, Mrs Dale.”
“Oh, yes, I’ll come at once.”
“He bade me say with his kind love. I don’t know whether that makes any difference.”
“At any rate, I’ll come, Hopkins.”
“And I ain’t to say nothing about the headache?”
“About what? “said Mrs Dale.
“No, no, no,” said Lily. “Mamma will be there at once. Go and tell my uncle, there’s a good man,” and she put up her hand and backed him out of the room.
“I don’t believe she’s got no headache at all,” said Hopkins, grumbling, as he returned through the back premises. “What lies gentlefolks do tell! If I said I’d a headache when I ought to be out among the things, what would they say to me? But a poor man mustn’t never lie, nor yet drink, nor yet do nothing.” And so he went back with his message.
“What can have brought your uncle home? “said Mrs Dale.
“Just to look after the cattle, and to see that the pigs are not all dead. My wonder is that he should ever have gone away.”
“I must go up to him at once.”
“Oh, yes, of course.”
“And what shall I say about the house?”
“It’s not about that — at least I think not. I don’t think he’ll speak about that again till you speak to him.”
“But if he does?”
“You must put your trust in Providence. Declare you’ve got a bad headache, as I told Hopkins just now; only you would throw me over by not understanding. I’ll walk with you down to the bridge.” So they went off together across the lawn.
But Lily was soon left alone, and continued her walk, waiting for her mother’s return. As she went round and round the gravel paths, she thought of the words that she had said to her mother. She had declared that she also was widowed. “And so it should be,” she said, debating the matter with herself.
“What can a heart be worth if it can be transferred hither and thither as circumstances and convenience and comfort may require? When he held me here in his arms”— and, as the thoughts ran through her brain, she remembered the very spot on which they had stood —“oh, my love!” she had said to him then as she returned his kisses —“oh, my love, my love, my love!” “When he held me here in his arms, I told myself that it was right, because he was my husband. He has changed, but I have not. It might be that I should have ceased to love him, and then I should have told him so. I should have done as he did.” But, as she came to this, she shuddered, thinking of the Lady Alexandrina. “It was very quick,” she said, still speaking to herself; “very, very. But then men are not the same as women.” And she walked on eagerly, hardly remembering where she was, thinking over it all, as she did daily; remembering every little thought and word of those few eventful months in which she had learned to regard Crosbie as her husband and master. She had declared that she had conquered her unhappiness; but there were moments in which she was almost wild with misery. “Tell me to forget him!” she said. “It is the one thing which will never be forgotten.”
At last she heard her mother’s step coming down across the squire’s garden, and she took up her post at the bridge.
“Stand and deliver,” she said, as her mother put her foot upon the plank. “That is, if you’ve got anything worth delivering. Is anything settled?”
“Come up to the house,” said Mrs Dale, “and I’ll tell you all.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14