We will now go back for a while to Hampton. The author, for one, does so with pleasure. Though those who dwell there be not angels, yet it is better to live with the Woodwards and Harry Norman, with Uncle Bat, or even with the unfortunate Charley, than with such as Alaric and Undy Scott. The man who is ever looking after money is fitting company only for the devils, of whom, indeed, he is already one.
But Charley cannot any longer be called one of the Cottage circle. It was now the end of October, and since the day of his arrest, he had not yet been there. He had not been asked; nor would he go uninvited, as after what had passed at Hampton Court Bridge he surely might have done.
And consequently they were all unhappy. No one was more so than Charley. When the prospect of the happy evening with Norah had been so violently interrupted by his arrest, he had, among his other messages, sent word to the ‘Cat and Whistle,’ excusing his absence by a statement of the true cause. From that day to this of which we are now speaking he had seen neither Mrs. Davis nor her fair protégée.
Nor were they better contented at the Cottage. Mrs. Woodward was harassed by different feelings and different fears, which together made her very unhappy. Her Katie was still ill; not ill indeed so that she was forced to keep her bed and receive daily visits from pernicious doctors, but, nevertheless, so ill as to make a mother very anxious.
She had never been quite strong, quite herself, from the night of Mrs. Val’s dance. The doctor who had attended her declared that her ducking in the river had given her cold: and that this, not having been duly checked, still hung about her. Then she had been taken to a physician in London, who poked her on the back and tapped her on the breast, listened to her lungs through a wooden pipe — such was the account which Katie gave herself when she returned home — and prescribed rum and milk and cod-liver oil, declaring, with an authoritative nod, that there was no organic disease — as yet.
‘And what shall we do with her, doctor?’ asked Mrs. Woodward.
‘Go on with the rum and milk and cod-liver oil, you can’t do better.’
‘And the cough, doctor?’
‘Why, if that doesn’t go before the cold weather begins, you may as well take her to Torquay for the winter.’
Oh! consumption, thou scourge of England’s beauty! how many mothers, gasping with ill-suppressed fears, have listened to such words as these — have listened and then hoped; listened again and hoped again with fainter hopes; have listened again, and then hoped no more!
But there was much on Mrs. Woodward’s mind which she could not bring herself to tell to any doctor, but which still left in her breast an impression that she was perhaps keeping back the true cause of Katie’s illness. Charley had not been at Hampton since his arrest, and it was manifest to all that Katie was therefore wretched.
‘But why do you not ask him, mamma?’ she had urged when her mother suggested that he stayed away because he did not like to show himself after what had occurred. ‘What will he think of us? he that saved my life, mamma! Oh, mamma! you promised to forgive him. Do ask him. You know he will come if you ask him.’
Mrs. Woodward could not explain to her — could not explain to any one — why she did not invite him. Norman guessed it all, and Mrs. Woodward saw that he had done so; but still she could not talk to him of Katie’s feelings, could not tell him that she feared her child was heart-laden with so sad a love. So Mrs. Woodward had no confidant in her sorrow, no counsel which she could seek to aid her own wavering judgement. It was prudent, she thought, that Katie and Charley should be kept apart. Prudent! was it not even imperative on her to save her child from such a fate? But then, when she saw the rosy cheek grow pale by degrees, as she watched the plump little arms grow gradually thin and wan, as those high spirits fell, and that voice which had ever been so frequent in the house and so clear — when the sound of it became low and rare, then her heart would misgive her, and she would all but resolve to take the only step which she knew would bring a bright gleam on her child’s face, and give a happy tone to her darling’s voice.
During the earlier portion of these days, Katie had with eager constancy reiterated her request that Charley should be asked to Hampton; but of a sudden her prayers ceased. She spoke no more of Charley, asked no longer after his coming, ceased even to inquire frequently of his welfare. But yet, when his name was mentioned, she would open wide her bright eyes, would listen with all her ears, and show only too plainly to one who watched her as a mother only can watch, what were the thoughts which filled her heart.
‘Linda,’ she had said one night, as they sat in their room, preparing themselves for bed, ‘Linda, why does not mamma invite Charley to come down to Hampton?’
‘Oh! I don’t know,’ said Linda; who, however, if she did not know, was not far wrong in the guess she made. ‘I suppose she thinks he’d be ashamed to show himself after having been in prison.’
‘Ashamed! Why should he be ashamed after so long? Didn’t you hear Harry say that the same thing often happens to young men? Is he never to come here again? Dear Linda, I know you know; do tell me.’
‘Well, I’m sure I do not know, if that’s not the reason.’
‘Oh! Linda, dear Linda, yes, you do,’ said Katie, throwing herself on her knees, resting her arms on her sister’s lap, and looking up wistfully into her sister’s face. Her long hair was streaming down her back; her white, naked feet peeped out from beneath her bedroom dress, and large tears glistened in her eyes. Who could have resisted the prayers of such a suppliant? Certainly not Linda, the soft-hearted Linda.
‘Do tell me,’ continued Katie, ‘do tell me — I am sure you know; and, Linda, if it is wrong to ask mamma about it, I’ll never, never ask her again. I know mamma is unhappy about it. If my asking is wrong, I’ll not make her unhappy any more in that way.’
Linda, for a while, did not know what to answer. Her hesitating manner immediately revealed to Katie that there was a secret, and that her sister could tell it if she would.
‘Oh! Linda, do tell me, do tell me, dear Linda; you ought to tell me for mamma’s sake.’
At last, with much hesitation, Linda told her the whole tale.
‘Perhaps mamma thinks that you are too fond of Charley.’
An instant light flashed across Katie’s heart — across her heart, and brain, and senses. Not another word was necessary to explain to her the whole mystery, to tell the whole tale, to reveal to her the secret of her own love, of her mother’s fears, and of his assumed unwillingness. She got up slowly from her knees, kissed her sister’s cheek and neck, smiled at her so sweetly, so sadly, and then sitting on her old seat, began playing with her long hair, and gazing at vacancy.
‘It is only what I guess, you know, Katie — you would make me tell you, but I am sure there is nothing in it.’
‘Dear Linda,’ said she, ‘you are so good; I am so much obliged to you.’
After that Katie spoke no further of Charley. But it was evident to them all, that though she said nothing, she had not ceased to think of him. Nor did her cheek again become rosy, nor her arms round, nor her voice happy. She got weaker than ever, and poor Mrs. Woodward was overcome with sorrow.
Nor was this the only cause of grief at Surbiton Cottage. During the last few weeks a bitter estrangement had taken place between the Woodwards and the Tudors, Alaric Tudor, that is, and Gertrude. Two years had now passed since Norman had chosen to quarrel with Alaric, and during all that period the two had never spoken amicably together, though they had met on business very frequently; on all such occasions Alaric had been unperturbed and indifferent, whereas Norman had been gloomy, and had carried a hostile brow and angry eye. At their period of life, two years generally does much to quiet feelings of ill-will and pacify animosity; but Norman’s feelings had by no means been quieted, nor his animosity pacified. He had loved Alaric with a close and manly love; now he hated him with a close and, I fear I may say, a manly hatred. Alaric had, as he thought, answered his love by treachery; and there was that in Norman’s heart which would not allow him to forgive one who had been a traitor to him. He had that kind of selfishness so common to us, but of which we are so unconscious, which will not allow us to pardon a sin against our own amour propre. Alaric might have been forgiven, though he had taken his friend’s money, distanced him in his office, though he had committed against him all offences which one friend can commit against another, all but this. Norman had been proud of his love, and yet ashamed of it — proud of loving such a girl as Gertrude, and ashamed of being known to be in love at all. He had confided his love to Alaric, and Alaric had robbed him of his love, and wounded both his pride and his shame.
Norman lacked the charity which should have been capable of forgiving even this. He now looked at all Alaric’s doings through a different glass from that which he had used when Alaric had been dear to him. He saw, or thought that he saw, that his successful rival was false, ambitious, treacherous, and dishonest; he made no excuses for him, gave him no credit for his industry, accorded no admiration to his talent. He never spoke ill of Alaric Tudor, to others; but he fed his own heart with speaking and thinking ill of him to himself.
Of Gertrude he thought very differently. He had taught himself to disconnect her from the treachery of her husband — or rather her memory; for, from the day on which he had learnt that she was engaged to Alaric, he had never seen her. He still loved the remembrance of her. In his solitary walks with Mrs. Woodward he would still speak of her as he might of one in some distant clime, for whose welfare he was deeply interested. He had seen and caressed her baby at Hampton. She was still dear to him. Had Alaric been called to his long account, it would have been his dearest wish to have become at some future tune the husband of his widow.
To all these feelings on Norman’s part Alaric was very indifferent; but their existence operated as a drawback on his wife’s comfort, and, to a certain degree, on his own. Mrs. Woodward would not banish Norman from the Cottage, even for her daughter’s sake, and it came by degrees to be understood that the Tudors, man and wife, should not go there unless they were aware that Norman was absent. Norman, on the other hand, did absent himself when it was understood that Alaric and Gertrude were coming; and thus the Woodwards kept up their intercourse with both.
But this was a bore. Alaric thought it most probable that Norman would marry one of the younger sisters, and he knew that family quarrels are uncomfortable and injudicious. When therefore he became a Civil Service Commissioner, and was thus removed from business intercourse with Norman, he conceived that it would be wise to arrange a reconciliation. He discussed the matter with Gertrude, and she, fully agreeing with him, undertook the task of making the proposal through her mother. This she did with all the kindness and delicacy of a woman. She desired her mother to tell Harry how much she had valued his friendship, how greatly she regretted the loss of it, how anxious her husband was to renew, if possible, their former terms of affection. Mrs. Woodward, by no means sanguine, undertook the commission. She undertook it, and utterly failed; and when Gertrude, in her disappointment, spoke bitterly of Norman’s bitterness, both mother and sister, both Mrs. Woodward and Linda, took Norman’s part.
‘I wish it could be otherwise,’ said Mrs. Woodward, ‘I wish it for all our sakes; but he is a man not easily to be turned, and I cannot blame him. He has suffered very much.’
Gertrude became very red. Her mother’s words contained a reproach against herself, tacit and unintended indeed, but not the less keenly felt.
‘I am not aware that Mr. Norman has any cause of just complaint,’ she said, ‘against any one, unless it be himself. For the sake of charity and old associations we have wished that all ideas of injury should be forgiven and forgotten. If he chooses still to indulge his rancour, he must do so. I had taken him to be a better Christian.’
More words had sprung from these. Mrs. Woodward, who, in truth, loved Norman the better for the continuance of his sorrow, would not give up his part; and so the mother and child parted, and the two sisters parted, not quarrelling indeed, not absolutely with angry words, but in a tone of mind towards each other widely differing from that of former years. Mrs. Woodward had lost none of the love of the parent; but Gertrude had forgotten somewhat of the reverence of the child.
All this had added much to the grief created by Katie’s illness.
And then of a sudden Katie became silent, as well as sad and ill — silent and sad, but so soft, so loving in her manner. Her gentle little caresses, the tender love ever lying in her eye, the constant pressure of her thin small hand, would all but break her mother’s heart. Katie would sit beside her on the sofa in the drawing-room for hours; a book, taken up as an excuse, would be in her lap, and she would sit there gazing listlessly into the vacant daylight till the evening would come; and then, when the room was shaded and sombre, when the light of the fire merely served to make the objects indistinct, she would lean gently and by degrees upon her mother’s bosom, would coax her mother’s arm round her neck, and would thus creep as it were into her mother’s heart of hearts. And then slow tears would trickle down her cheeks, very slow, one by one, till they would fall as telltales on her mother’s hand.
‘Katie, my darling Katie,’ the mother would say.
‘I’m only tired, mamma,’ would be her answer. ‘Don’t move, mamma; pray don’t move. I am so comfortable.’
And then at night she would put herself to rest close circled in Linda’s arms. She would twist up her little feet, and lie so quiet there, that Linda would remain motionless that she might not disturb her Katie’s sleep; but soon warm tears would be running on her bosom, and she would know that Katie was still thinking of her love.
Linda, among all her virtues, had not that of reticence, and her mother had soon learnt from her what had been said that night in their bedroom about Charley. But this violation of confidence, if it was a violation, was hardly necessary to make Mrs. Woodward aware of what was passing in her daughter’s bosom. When Katie ceased to ask that Charley might be sent for, when she ceased to plead for his pardon and to praise his virtues, Mrs. Woodward knew well the cause of her silence. It was not that others suspected her love, but that she had learned to suspect it herself. It was not that she was ashamed of loving Charley, but that she felt at once that such love would distress her mother’s heart.
As she sat there that night fingering her silken hair, she had asked herself whether in truth this man was master of her heart; she had probed her young bosom, which now, by a sudden growth, became quick with a woman’s impulse, and she had owned to herself that she did love him. He was dearer to her, she found, than all in the world beside. Fondly as she loved her sister, sweet to her as were her mother’s caresses, their love was not as precious to her as his might be. And then she remembered what he was, what was the manner of his life, what his character; how different he was from Alaric or Harry Norman; she remembered this, and knew that her love was an unhappy passion. Herself she would have sacrificed: prisoner as he had been, debtor as he was, drunkard, penniless, and a spendthrift, she would not have hesitated to take him for her guide through life, and have done what a woman might to guide him in return. But she would not sacrifice her mother. She saw now why Charley was not asked, and silently acquiesced in his banishment.
She was not yet quite seventeen. Not yet seventeen! the reader will say. She was still such a child, and yet arguing to herself about spendthrift debtors and self-sacrifice! All this bombast at sixteen and a half. No, my ungentle reader, not all this bombast at sixteen and a half. The bombast is mine. It is my fault if I cannot put into fitting language the thoughts which God put into her young heart. In her mind’s soliloquy, Charley’s vices were probably all summed up in the one word, unsteady. Why is he so unsteady? Why does he like these wicked things?’ And then as regarded Mrs. Woodward, she did but make a resolve that not even for her love would she add to the unhappiness of that loving, tenderest mother. There was no bombast in Katie, either expressed or unexpressed.
After much consideration on the matter, Mrs. Woodward determined that she should ask Charley down to the Cottage. In the first place, she felt bitterly her apparent ingratitude to him. When last they had been together, the day after Katie’s escape at the bridge, when his tale had just been read, she had told him, with the warmth of somewhat more than friendly affection, that henceforth they must be more than common friends. She had promised him her love, she had almost promised him the affection and care of a mother; and now how was she keeping her promise? He had fallen into misfortune, and she had immediately deserted him. Over and over again she said to herself that her first duty was to her own child; but even with this reflection, she could hardly reconcile herself to her neglect of him.
And then, moreover, she felt that it was impossible that all their friendship, all their mutual regard, should die away suddenly without any explanation. An attempt to bring about this would not cure Katie’s love. If this were done, would not Katie always think of Charley’s wrong?
And, lastly, it was quite clear that Katie had put a check on her own heart. A meeting now might be the reverse of dangerous. It would be well that Katie should use herself to be with him now again; well, at any rate, that she should see him once before their proposed journey to Torquay; for, alas, the journey to Torquay was now insisted on by the London physician — insisted on, although he opined with a nod, somewhat less authoritative than his former nod, that the young lady was touched by no organic disease.
‘And then,’ said Mrs. Woodward to herself, ‘his heart is good, and I will speak openly to him.’ And so Charley was again invited to the cottage. After some demurring between him and Norman, he accepted the invitation.
Mrs. Val’s dance had taken place in June, and it was now late in October. Four months had intervened, and during that period Charley had seen none of the Woodwards. He had over and over again tried to convince himself that this was his own fault, and that he had no right to accuse Mrs. Woodward of ingratitude. But he was hardly successful. He did feel, in spite of himself, that he had been dropped because of the disgrace attaching to his arrest; that Mrs. Woodward had put him aside as being too bad to associate with her and her daughters; and that it was intended that henceforth they should be strangers.
He still had Katie’s purse, and he made a sort of resolve that as long as he kept that in his possession, as long as he had that near his heart, he would not go near Norah Geraghty. This resolution he had kept; but though he did not go to the ‘Cat and Whistle,’ he frequented other places which were as discreditable, or more so. He paid many very fruitless visits to Mr. M’Ruen; contrived to run up a score with the proprietor of the dancing saloon in Holborn; and was as negligent as ever in the matter of the lock entries.
‘It is no use now,’ he would say to himself, when some aspirations for higher things came across his heart; ‘it is too late now to go back. Those who once cared for me have thrown me over.’ And then he would again think of Waterloo Bridge, and the Monument, and of what might be done for threepence or fourpence in a pistol gallery.
And then at last came the invitation to Hampton. He was once more to talk to Mrs. Woodward, and associate with Linda — to see Katie once more. When he had last left the house he had almost been as much at home as any one of the family; and now he was to return to it as a perfect stranger. As he travelled down with Norman by the railway, he could not help feeling that the journey was passing over too quickly. He was like a prisoner going to his doom. As he crossed the bridge, and remembered how Katie had looked when she lay struggling in the water, how he had been feted and caressed after pulling her out, he made a bitter contrast between his present position and that which he then enjoyed. Were it not for very shame, he would have found it in his heart to return to London.
And then in a moment they were at the Cottage door. The road had never been so short. Norman, who had not fathomed Charley’s feelings, was happy and light-hearted — more so than was usual with him, for he was unaffectedly glad to witness Charley’s return to Hampton. He rang sharply at the door, and when it was opened, walked with happy confidence into the drawing-room. Charley was bound to follow him, and there he found himself again in the presence of Mrs. Woodward and her daughters. Katie would fain have absented herself, but Mrs. Woodward knew that the first meeting could take place in no more favourable manner.
Mrs. Woodward bade him welcome with a collected voice, and assured, if not easy manner. She shook hands with him cordially, and said a few words as to her pleasure of seeing him again. Then he next took Linda’s hand, and she too made a little speech, more awkwardly than her mother, saying something mal à propos about the very long time he had been away; and then she laughed with a little titter, trying to recover herself. And at last he came to Katie. There was no getting over it. She also stretched out her now thin hand, and Charley, as he touched it, perceived how altered she was. Katie looked up into his face, and tried to speak, but she could not articulate a word. She looked into his face, and then at Mrs. Woodward, as though imploring her mother’s aid to tell her how to act or what to say; and then finding her power of utterance impeded by rising sobs, she dropped back again on her seat, and hid her face upon the arm of the sofa.
‘Our Katie is not so well as when you last saw her — is she, Charley?’ said Mrs. Woodward. ‘She is very weak just now; but thank God she has, we believe, no dangerous symptoms about her. You have heard, perhaps, that we are going to Torquay for the winter?’
And so they went on talking. The ice was broken and the worst was over. They did not talk, it is true, as in former days; there was no confidence between them now, and each of them felt that there was none; but they nevertheless fell into a way of unembarrassed conversation, and were all tolerably at their ease.
And then they went to dinner, and Charley was called on to discuss Admiralty matters with Uncle Bat; and then he and Norman sat after dinner a little longer than usual; and then they had a short walk, during which Katie remained at home; but short as it was, it was quite long enough, for it was very dull; and then there was tea; and then more constrained conversation, in which Katie took no part whatever; and then Mrs. Woodward and the girls took their candles, and Charley went over to the inn on the other side of the road. Oh! how different was this from the former evenings at Surbiton Cottage.
Charley had made no plan for any special interview with Katie; had, indeed, not specially thought about it at all; but he could not but feel an intense desire to say one word to her in private, and learn whether all her solicitude for him was over. ‘Dear Charley, you will be steady; won’t you?’ Those had been her last words to him. Nothing could have been sweeter; although they brought before his mind the remembrance of his own unworthy career, they had been inexpressibly sweet, as testifying the interest she felt in him. And was that all over now? Had it all been talked away by Mrs. Woodward’s cautious wisdom, because he had lain for one night in a sponging-house?
But the next day came, and as it passed, it appeared to him that no opportunity of speaking one word to her was to be allowed to him.
She did not, however, shun him. She was not up at breakfast, but she sat next to him at lunch, and answered him when he spoke to her.
In the evening they again went out to walk, and then Charley found that Linda and Norman went one way, and that he was alone with Mrs. Woodward. It was manifest to him that this arrangement had been made on purpose, and he felt that he was to undergo some private conversation, the nature of which he dreaded. He dreaded it very much; when he heard it, it made him very wretched; but it was not the less full of womanly affection and regard for him.
‘I cannot let you go from us, Charley,’ began Mrs. Woodward, ‘without telling you how deep a sorrow it has been to me to be so long without seeing you. I know you have thought me very ungrateful.’
‘Ungrateful, Mrs. Woodward! ‘O no! I have done nothing to make gratitude necessary.’
‘Yes, Charley, you have — you have done much, too much. You have saved my child’s life.’
‘O no, I did not,’ said he; ‘besides, I hate gratitude. I don’t want any one to be grateful to me. Gratitude is almost as offensive as pity. Of course I pulled Kate out of the water when she fell in; and I would have done as much for your favourite cat.’ He said this with something of bitterness in his tone; it was not much, for though he felt bitterly he did not intend to show it; but Mrs. Woodward’s ear did not fail to catch it.
‘Don’t be angry with us, Charley; don’t make us more unhappy than we already are.’
‘Unhappy!’ said he, as though he thought that all the unhappiness in the world was at the present moment reserved for his own shoulders.
‘Yes, we are not so happy now as we were when you were last with us. Poor Katie is very ill.’
‘But you don’t think there is any danger, Mrs. Woodward?’
There are many tones in which such a question may be asked — and is asked from day to day — all differing widely from each other, and giving evidence of various shades of feeling in the speaker. Charley involuntarily put his whole heart into it. Mrs. Woodward could not but love him for feeling for her child, though she would have given so much that the two might have been indifferent to each other.
‘I do not know,’ she said. ‘We hope not. But I should not be sent with her to Torquay if she were not very ill. She is very ill, and it is absolutely essential that nothing should be allowed to excite her painfully. I tell you this, Charley, to excuse our apparent unkindness in not having you here sooner.’
Charley walked by her in silence. Why should his coming excite her more than Norman’s? What could there be painful to her in seeing him? Did the fact of his having been arrested attach to his visit any peculiar probability of excitement?
‘Do not suppose that we have not thought of you,’ continued Mrs. Woodward.’ We have all done so daily. Nay, I have done so myself all but hourly. Ah, Charley, you will never know how truly I love you.’
Charley’s heart was as soft as it was inflammable. He was utterly unable to resist such tenderness as Mrs. Woodward showed to him. He had made a little resolution to be stiff and stern, to ask for no favour and to receive none, not to palliate his own conduct, or to allow Mrs. Woodward to condemn it. He had felt that as the Woodwards had given him up, they had no longer any right to criticize him. To them at least, one and all, to Mrs. Woodward and her daughters, his conduct had been sans reproche. They had no cause to upbraid him on their own account; and they had now abandoned the right to do so on his own. With such assumed sternness he began his walk; but now it had all melted before the warmth of one tender word from a woman’s mouth.
‘I know I am not worth thinking about,’ said he.
‘Do not say so; pray do not say so. Do not think that we say so to ourselves. I grieve for your faults. Charley; I know they are grievous and wicked; but I know how much there is of good in you. I know how clever you are, how excellent your heart is, how sweet your disposition. I trust, I trust in God, you may reform, and be the pride of your friends. I trust that I yet may be proud of knowing you ——’
‘No one will ever be proud of me,’ said Charley.
‘We shall all be proud of you, if you will resolve to turn away from childish things now that you are no longer a child — your faults are faults which as yet may be so easily relinquished. But, oh, Charley ——’ and then Mrs. Woodward paused and looked wistfully into his face. She had now come to the point at which she had to make her prayer to him. She had resolved to tell him the cause of her fears, and to trust to his honour to free her from them. Now was the moment for her to speak out; but now that the moment was come, the words were wanting.
She looked wistfully into his face, but he did not even guess what was her meaning. He knew the secret of his own love; but he did not know that Katie also had her secret. He had never dreamt that his faults, among all their ill effects, had paled her cheek, made wan her arm, silenced her voice, and dimmed her eye. When he had heard Katie cough, he had in nowise connected the hated sound with his own arrest. He had thought only of his own love.
‘Oh! Charley — I know I can trust you,’ said Mrs. Woodward. ‘I know you are gentle and good. You will be gentle and good to us, will you not? you will not make us all wretched?’
Charley declared that he would not willingly do anything to cause pain to any of them.
‘No — I am sure you will not. And therefore, Charley, you must not see Katie any more.’
At this time they had turned off the road into a shady lane, in which the leaves of autumn were beginning to fall. A path led over a stile away from the lane into the fields, and Mrs. Woodward had turned towards it, as though intending to continue their walk in that direction. But when she had reached the stile, she had sat down upon the steps of it, and Charley had been listening to her, standing by, leaning on the top rail.
‘And therefore, Charley, you must not see Katie any more.’ So much she said, and then she looked into his face with imploring eyes.
It was impossible that he should answer her at once. He had to realize so much that had hitherto not been expressed between them, before he could fully understand what she meant; and then he was called on to give up so much that he now learnt for the first time was within his reach! Before he could answer her he had to assure himself that Katie loved him; he had to understand that her love for one so abandoned was regarded as fatal; and he had to reply to a mother’s prayer that he would remove himself from the reach of a passion which to him was worth all the world beside.
He turned his face away from her, but still stood leaning on the stile, with his arms folded on it. She watched him for a while in silence, and at last she saw big tears drop from his face on to the dust of the path on the farther side. There they came rolling down, large globules of sorrow. Nothing is so painful to a woman as a man in tears, and Mrs. Woodward’s heart was wrung to its very core. Why was he not like Alaric or Norman, so that she might make him welcome to her daughter’s heart?
She leant towards him and put her hand caressingly on his arm. ‘It shall be so, shall it not, Charley?’
‘Oh, of course, if you say so.’
‘I have your word, then? If I have your word, that will be a perfect bond. I have your word, have I not, Charley?’
‘What! — never see her in my life?’ said he, turning almost fiercely on Mrs. Woodward.
‘That, you know, is more than you can promise,’ said she, very gently. ‘It is not to the letter of the promise that I would bind you, but to its spirit. You understand well what I mean; you know what I wish, and why I wish it. Say that you will obey my wish, and I will leave the mode of doing it to your own honour. Have I your promise?’
He shook her hand off his arm almost roughly, though unintentionally, and turning sharply round leant with his back against the stile. The traces of tears were still on his cheeks, but he was no longer crying; there was, however, a look on his face of heart-rending sorrow which Mrs. Woodward could hardly endure.
‘I do understand you,’ said he, ‘and since you demand it, I will promise;’ and then they walked home side by side, without interchanging a single word.
When they reached the house, Mrs. Woodward went to her room, and Charley found himself alone with Katie.
‘I hope you find yourself better this evening,’ said he.
‘Oh, I am quite well,’ she answered, with her sweetest, kindest voice; ‘I am quite well, only sometimes I am a little weak.’
He walked up to the window as though to pass on to the lawn; but the season was too far advanced for that, and the window was locked. He retraced his steps, therefore, and passing out of the drawing-room into the hall, stood at the open front door till he heard Mrs. Woodward come down. Then he followed her into the room.
‘Good-bye,’ he said to her suddenly; ‘I shall start by the early train tomorrow, and shall not see you.’ She pressed his hand, but he in nowise returned the pressure. ‘Good-bye, Linda; good-bye, Katie; good night, Captain Cuttwater.’ And so he went his way, as Adam did when he was driven out of Paradise.
Early on the following morning, the cook, while engaged in her most matutinal duties, was disturbed by a ring at the front door. She, and she only of the household, was up, and as she had not completed her toilet with much minuteness, she was rather embarrassed when, on opening the door, she saw Mr. Charles Tudor.
‘I beg your pardon, cook, for troubling you so early; but I have left something in the drawing-room. I can find it myself;’ and, so saying, he hurried into the room, so as to prevent the servant from following him.
Katie had a well-worn, well-known little workbox, which, in years now long past; had been given to her either by Alaric or Harry. Doubtless she had now work-boxes grander both in appearance and size; but, nevertheless, whether from habit or from choice, her custom was, in her daily needlework, to use this old friend. Often and often had Charley played with it many wicked pranks. Once, while Katie had as yet no pretension to be grown up, he had put a snail into it, and had incurred her severe displeasure. He had stuffed it full of acorns, and been rewarded by being pelted with them round the lawn; and had filled it with nuts, for which he had not found it so difficult to obtain pardon. He knew every hole and corner in it! he was intimate with all her little feminine nicknacks — her silver thimble, her scissors, her bit of wax, and the yard-measure, which twisted itself in and out of an ivory cottage — he knew them all, as well as though they were his own; and he knew also where the workbox stood.
He closed the door behind him, and then, with his quickest motion, raised the lid and put within the box, just under the bit of work on which she was employed, a light small paper parcel. It contained the purse which she had worked for him, and had given to him with such sweet affection at the Chiswick flower-show.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14