The hour at which Mr Brooke Burgess was to arrive had come round, and Miss Stanbury was in a twitter, partly of expectation, and partly, it must be confessed, of fear. Why there should be any fear she did not herself know, as she had much to give and nothing to expect. But she was afraid, and was conscious of it, and was out of temper because she was ashamed of herself. Although it would be necessary that she should again dress for dinner at six, she had put on a clean cap at four, and appeared at that early hour in one of her gowns which was not customarily in use for home purposes at that early hour. She felt that she was ‘an old fool’ for her pains, and was consequently cross to poor Dorothy. And there were other reasons for some display of harshness to her niece. Mr Gibson had been at the house that very morning, and Dorothy had given herself airs. At least, so Miss Stanbury thought. And during the last three or four days, whenever Mr Gibson’s name had been mentioned, Dorothy had become silent, glum, and almost obstructive. Miss Stanbury had been at the trouble of explaining that she was specially anxious to have that little matter of the engagement settled at once. She knew that she was going to behave with great generosity, that she was going to sacrifice, not her money only, of which she did not think much, but a considerable portion of her authority, of which she did think a great deal; and that she was about to behave in a manner which demanded much gratitude. But it seemed to her that Dorothy was not in the least grateful. Hugh had proved himself to be ‘a mass of ingratitude,’ as she was in the habit of saying. None of the Burgesses had ever shewn to her any gratitude for promises made to them, or, indeed, for any substantial favours conferred upon them. And now Dorothy, to whom a very seventh heaven of happiness had been opened — a seventh heaven, as it must be computed in comparison with her low expectations — now Dorothy was already shewing how thankless she could become. Mr Gibson had not yet declared his passion, but he had freely admitted to Miss Stanbury that he was prepared to do so. Priscilla had been quite right in her suggestion that there was a clear understanding between the clergyman and her aunt.
‘I don’t think he is come after all,’ said Miss Stanbury, looking at her watch. Had the train arrived at the moment that it was due, had the expectant visitor jumped out of the railway carriage into a fly, and had the driver galloped up to the Close, it might have been possible that the wheels should have been at the door as Miss Stanbury spoke.
‘It’s hardly time yet, aunt.’
‘Nonsense; it is time. The train comes in at four. I dare say he won’t come at all.’
‘He is sure to come, aunt.’
‘I’ve no doubt you know all about it better than any one else. You usually do.’ Then five minutes were passed in silence. ‘Heaven and earth! what shall I do with these people that are coming? And I told them especially that it was to meet this young man! It’s the way I am always treated by everybody that I have about me.’
‘The train might be ten minutes late, Aunt Stanbury.’
‘Yes and monkeys might chew tobacco. There, there’s the omnibus at the Cock and Bottle; the omnibus up from the train. Now, of course, he won’t come.’
‘Perhaps he’s walking, Aunt Stanbury.’
‘Walking with his luggage on his shoulders? Is that your idea of the way in which a London gentleman goes about? And there are two flies coming up from the train, of course.’ Miss Stanbury was obliged to fix the side of her chair very close to the window in order that she might see that part of the Close in which the vehicles of which she had spoken were able to pass.
‘Perhaps they are not coming from the train, Aunt Stanbury.’
‘Perhaps a fiddlestick! You have lived here so much longer than I have done that, of course, you must know all about it.’ Then there was an interval of another ten minutes, and even Dorothy was beginning to think that Mr Burgess was not coming. ‘I’ve given him up now,’ said Miss Stanbury. ‘I think I’ll send and put them all off.’ Just at that moment there came a knock at the door. But there was no cab. Dorothy’s conjecture had been right. The London gentleman had walked, and his portmanteau had been carried behind him by a boy. ‘How did he get here?’ exclaimed Miss Stanbury, as she heard the strange voice speaking to Martha downstairs. But Dorothy knew better than to answer the question.
‘Miss Stanbury, I am very glad to see you,’ said Mr Brooke Burgess, as he entered the room. Miss Stanbury courtesied, and then took him by both hands. ‘You wouldn’t have known me, I dare say,’ he continued. ‘A black beard and a bald head do make a difference.’
‘You are not bald at all,’ said Miss Stanbury.
‘I am beginning to be thin enough at the top. I am so glad to come to you, and so much obliged to you for having me! How well I remember the old room!’
‘This is my niece, Miss Dorothy Stanbury, from Nuncombe Putney.’ Dorothy was about to make some formal acknowledgment of the introduction, when Brooke Burgess came up to her, and shook her hand heartily. ‘She lives with me,’ continued the aunt.
‘And what has become of Hugh?’ said Brooke.
‘We never talk of him,’ said Miss Stanbury gravely.
‘I hope there’s nothing wrong? I hear of him very often in London.’
‘My aunt and he don’t agree that’s all,’ said Dorothy.
‘He has given up his profession as a barrister in which he might have lived like a gentleman,’ said Miss Stanbury, ‘and has taken to writing for a penny newspaper.’
‘Everybody does that now, Miss Stanbury.’
‘I hope you don’t, Mr Burgess.’
‘I! Nobody would print anything that I wrote. I don’t write for anything, certainly.’
‘I’m very glad to hear it,’ said Miss Stanbury.
Brooke Burgess, or Mr Brooke, as he came to be called very shortly by the servants in the house, was a good-looking man, with black whiskers and black hair, which, as he said, was beginning to be thin on the top of his head, and pleasant small bright eyes. Dorothy thought that next to her brother Hugh he was the most good-natured looking man she had ever seen. He was rather below the middle height, and somewhat inclined to be stout. But he would boast that he could still walk his twelve miles in three hours, and would add that as long as he could do that he would never recognise the necessity of putting himself on short commons. He had a well-cut nose, not quite aquiline, but tending that way, a chin with a dimple on it, and as sweet a mouth as ever declared the excellence of a man’s temper. Dorothy immediately began to compare him with her brother Hugh, who was to her, of all men, the most godlike. It never occurred to her to make any comparison between Mr Gibson and Mr Burgess. Her brother Hugh was the most godlike of men; but there was something godlike also about the new corner. Mr Gibson, to Dorothy’s eyes, was by no means divine;
‘I used to call you Aunt Stanbury,’ said Brooke Burgess to the old lady; ‘am I to go on doing it now?’
‘You may call me what you like,’ said Miss Stanbury. ‘Only dear me I never did see anybody so much altered.’ Before she went up to dress herself for dinner, Miss Stanbury was quite restored to her good humour, as Dorothy could perceive.
The dinner passed off well enough. Mr Gibson, at the head of the table, did, indeed, look very much out of his element, as though he conceived that his position revealed to the outer world those ideas of his in regard to Dorothy, which ought to have been secret for a while longer. There are few men who do not feel ashamed of being paraded before the world as acknowledged suitors, whereas ladies accept the position with something almost of triumph. The lady perhaps regards herself as the successful angler, whereas the gentleman is conscious of some similitude to the unsuccessful fish. Mr Gibson, though he was not yet gasping in the basket, had some presentiment of this feeling, which made his present seat of honour unpleasant to him. Brooke Burgess, at the other end of the table, was as gay as a lark. Mrs MacHugh sat on one side of him, and Miss Stanbury on the other, and he laughed at the two old ladies, reminding them of his former doings in Exeter, how he had hunted Mrs MacHugh’s cat, and had stolen Aunt Stanbury’s best apricot jam, till everybody began to perceive that he was quite a success. Even Sir Peter Mancrudy laughed at his jokes, and Mrs Powel, from the other side of Sir Peter, stretched her head forward so that she might become one of the gay party.
‘There isn’t a word of it true,’ said Miss Stanbury. ‘It’s all pure invention, and a great scandal. I never did such a thing in my life.’
‘Didn’t you though?’ said Brooke Burgess. ‘I remember it as well as if it was yesterday, and old Dr. Ball, the prebendary, with the carbuncles on his nose, saw it too!’
‘Dr. Ball had no carbuncles on his nose,’ said Mrs MacHugh. ‘You’ll say next that I have carbuncles on my nose.’
‘He had three. I remember each of them quite well, and so does Sir Peter.’
Then everybody laughed; and Martha, who was in the room, knew that Brooke Burgess was a complete success.
In the meantime Mr Gibson was talking to Dorothy; but Dorothy was endeavouring to listen to the conversation at the other end of the table. ‘I found it very dirty on the roads today outside the city,’ said Mr Gibson.
‘Very dirty,’ said Dorothy, looking round at Mr Burgess, as she spoke.
‘But the pavement in the High Street was dry enough.’
‘Quite dry,’ said Dorothy. Then there came a peal of laughter from Mrs MacHugh and Sir Peter, and Dorothy wondered whether anybody before had ever made those two steady old people laugh after that fashion.
‘I should so like to get a drive with you up to the top of Haldon Hill,’ said Mr Gibson. ‘When the weather gets fine, that is. Mrs Powel was talking about it.’
‘It would be very nice,’ said Dorothy.
‘You have never seen the view from Haldon Hill yet?’ asked Mr Gibson. But to this question Dorothy could make no answer. Miss Stanbury had lifted one of the table-spoons, as though she was going to strike Mr Brooke Burgess with the bowl of it. And this during a dinner party! From that moment Dorothy turned herself round, and became one of the listeners to the fun at the other end of the table; Poor Mr Gibson soon found himself ‘nowhere.’
‘I never saw a man so much altered in my life,’ said Mrs MacHugh, up in the drawing-room.
‘I don’t remember that he used to be clever.’
‘He was a bright boy!’ said Miss Stanbury.
‘But the Burgesses all used to be such serious, straitlaced people,’ said Mrs MacHugh. ‘Excellent people,’ she added, remembering the source of her friend’s wealth; ‘but none of them like that.’
‘I call him a very handsome man,’ said Mrs Powel. ‘I suppose he’s not married yet?’
‘Oh, dear no,’ said Miss Stanbury. ‘There’s time enough for him yet.’
‘He’ll find plenty here to set their caps at him,’ said Mrs MacHugh.
‘He’s a little old for my girls,’ said Mrs Powel, laughing. Mrs Powel was the happy mother of four daughters, of whom the eldest was only twelve.
‘There are others who are more forward,’ said Mrs MacHugh. ‘What a chance it would be for dear Arabella French!’
‘Heaven forbid!’ said Miss Stanbury.
‘And then poor Mr Gibson wouldn’t any longer be like the donkey between two bundles of hay,’ said Mrs Powel. Dorothy was quite determined that she would never marry a man who was like a donkey between two bundles of hay.
When the gentlemen came up into the drawing-room Dorothy was seated behind the urn and tea-things at a large table, in such a position as to be approached only at one side. There was one chair at her left hand, but at her right hand there was no room for a seat, only room for some civil gentleman to take away full cups and bring them back empty. Dorothy was not sufficiently ready-witted to see the danger of this position till Mr Gibson had seated himself in the chair. Then it did seem cruel to her that she should be thus besieged for the rest of the evening as she had been also at dinner. While the tea was being consumed Mr Gibson assisted at the service, asking ladies whether they would have cake or bread and butter; but when all that was over Dorothy was still in her prison, and Mr Gibson was still the jailer at the gate. She soon perceived that everybody else was chatting and laughing, and that Brooke Burgess was the centre of a little circle which had formed itself quite at a distance from her seat. Once, twice, thrice she meditated an escape, but she had not the courage to make the attempt. She did not know how to manage it. She was conscious that her aunt’s eye was upon her, and that her aunt would expect her to listen to Mr Gibson. At last she gave up all hope of moving, and was anxious simply that Mr Gibson should confine himself to the dirt of the paths and the noble prospect from Haldon Hill.
‘I think we shall have more rain before we have done with it,’ he said. Twice before during the evening he had been very eloquent about the rain.
‘I dare say we shall,’ said Dorothy. And then there came the sound of loud laughter from Sir Peter, and Dorothy could see that he was poking Brooke Burgess in the ribs. There had never been anything so gay before since she had been in Exeter, and now she was hemmed up in that corner, away from it all, by Mr Gibson!
‘This Mr Burgess seems to be different from the other Burgesses,’ said Mr Gibson.
‘I think he must be very clever,’ said Dorothy.
‘Well yes; in a sort of a way. What people call a Merry Andrew.’
‘I like people who make me laugh and laugh themselves,’ said Dorothy.
‘I quite agree with you that laughter is a very good thing in its place. I am not at all one of those who would make the world altogether grave. There are serious things, and there must be serious moments.’
‘Of course,’ said Dorothy.
‘And I think that serious conversation upon the whole has more allurements than conversation which when you come to examine it is found to mean nothing. Don’t you?’
‘I suppose everybody should mean something when he talks.’
‘Just so. That is exactly my idea,’ said Mr Gibson. ‘On all such subjects as that I should be so sorry if you and I did not agree. I really should.’ Then he paused, and Dorothy was so confounded by what she conceived to be the dangers of the coming moment that she was unable even to think what she ought to say. She heard Mrs MacHugh’s clear, sharp, merry voice, and she heard her aunt’s tone of pretended anger, and she heard Sir Peter’s continued laughter, and Brooke Burgess as he continued the telling of some story; but her own trouble was too great to allow of her attending to what was going on at the other end of the room. ‘There is nothing as to which I am so anxious as that you and I should agree about serious things,’ said Mr Gibson.
‘I suppose we do agree about going to church,’ said Dorothy. She knew that she could have made no speech more stupid, more senseless, more inefficacious but what was she to say in answer to such an assurance?
‘I hope so,’ said Mr Gibson; ‘and I think so. Your aunt is a most excellent woman, and her opinion has very great weight with me on all subjects even as to matters of church discipline and doctrine, in which, as a clergyman, I am of course presumed to be more at home. But your aunt is a woman among a thousand.’
‘Of course I think she is very good.’
‘And she is so right about this young man and her property. Don’t you think so?’
‘Quite right, Mr Gibson.’
‘Because, you know, to you, of course, being her near relative, and the one she has singled out as the recipient of her kindness, it might have been cause for some discontent.’
‘Discontent to me, Mr Gibson!’
‘I am quite sure your feelings are what they ought to be. And for myself, if I ever were that is to say, supposing I could be in any way interested. But perhaps it is premature to make any suggestion on that head at present.’
‘I don’t at all understand what you mean, Mr Gibson.’
‘I thought that perhaps I might take this opportunity of expressing-. But, after all, the levity of the moment is hardly in accordance with the sentiments which I should wish to express.’
‘I think that I ought to go to my aunt now, Mr Gibson, as perhaps she might want something.’ Then she did push back her chair and stand upon her legs-and Mr Gibson, after pausing for a moment, allowed her to escape. Soon after that the visitors went, and Brooke Burgess was left in the drawing-room with Miss Stanbury and Dorothy.
‘How well I recollect all the people,’ said Brooke; ‘Sir Peter, and old Mrs MacHugh; and Mrs Powel who then used to be called the beautiful Miss Noel. And I remember every bit of furniture in the room.’
‘Nothing changed except the old woman, Brooke,’ said Miss Stanbury.
‘Upon my word you are the least changed of all except that you don’t seem to be so terrible as you were then.’
‘Was I very terrible, Brooke?’
‘My mother had told me, I fancy, that I was never to make a noise, and be sure not to break any of the china. You were always very good-natured, and when you gave me a silver watch I could hardly believe the extent of my own bliss.’
‘You wouldn’t care about a watch from an old woman now, Brooke?’
‘You try me. But what rakes you are here! It’s past eleven o’clock, and I must go and have a smoke.’
‘Have a what?’ said Miss Stanbury, with a startled air.
‘A smoke. You needn’t be frightened, I don’t mean in the house.’
‘No I hope you don’t mean that.’
‘But I may take a turn round the Close with a pipe mayn’t I?’
‘I suppose all young men do smoke now,’ said Miss Stanbury, sorrowfully.
‘Every one of them; and they tell me that the young women mean to take to it before long.’
‘If I saw a young woman smoking, I should blush for my sex; and though she were the nearest and dearest that I had, I would never speak to her never. Dorothy, I don’t think Mr Gibson smokes.’
‘I’m sure I don’t know, aunt.’
‘I hope he doesn’t. I do hope that he does not. I cannot understand what pleasure it is that men take in making chimneys of themselves, and going about smelling so that no one can bear to come near them.’
Brooke merely laughed at this, and went his way, and smoked his pipe out in the Close, while Martha sat up to let him in when he had finished it. Then Dorothy escaped at once to her room, fearful of being questioned by her aunt about Mr Gibson. She had, she thought now, quite made up her mind. There was nothing in Mr Gibson that she liked. She was by no means so sure as she had been when she was talking to her sister, that she would prefer a clergyman to any one else. She had formed no strong ideas on the subject of lovemaking, but she did think that any man who really cared for her would find some other way of expressing his love than that which Mr Gibson had adopted. And then Mr Gibson had spoken to her about her aunt’s money in a way that was distasteful to her. She thought that she was quite sure that if he should ask her, she would not accept him.
She was nearly undressed, nearly safe for the night, when there came a knock at the door, and her aunt entered the room. ‘He has come in,’ said Miss Stanbury.
‘I suppose he has had his pipe, then.’
‘I wish he didn’t smoke. I do wish he didn’t smoke. But I suppose an old woman like me is only making herself a fool to care about such things. If they all do it I can’t prevent them. He seems to be a very nice young man in other things; does he not, Dolly?’
‘Very nice indeed, Aunt Stanbury.’
‘And he has done very well in his office. And as for his saying that he must smoke, I like that a great deal better than doing it on the sly.’
‘I don’t think Mr Burgess would do anything on the sly, aunt.’
‘No, no; I don’t think he would. Dear me; he’s not at all like what I fancied.’
‘Everybody seemed to like him very much.’
‘Didn’t they. I never saw Sir Peter so much taken. And there was quite a flirtation between him and Mrs MacHugh. And now, my dear, tell me about Mr Gibson.’
‘There is nothing to tell, Aunt Stanbury.’
‘Isn’t there? From what I saw going on, I thought there would be something to tell. He was talking to you the whole evening.’
‘As it happened he was sitting next to me of course.’
‘Indeed he was sitting next to you so much so that I thought everything would be settled.’
‘If I tell you something, Aunt Stanbury, you mustn’t be angry with me.’
‘Tell me what? What is it you have to tell me?’
‘I don’t think I shall ever care for Mr Gibson not in that way.’
‘Why not, Dorothy?’
‘I’m sure he doesn’t care for me. And I don’t think he means it.’
‘I tell you he does mean it. Mean it! Why, I tell you it has all been settled between us. Since I first spoke to you I have explained to him exactly what I intend to do, He knows that he can give up his house and come and live here. I am sure he must have said something about it to you tonight.’
‘Not a word, Aunt Stanbury.’
‘Then he will.’
‘Dear aunt, I do so wish you would prevent it. I don’t like him. I don’t indeed.’
‘Not like him!’
‘No I don’t care for him a bit, and I never shall. I can’t help it, Aunt Stanbury. I thought I would try, but I find it would be impossible. You can’t want me to marry a man if I don’t love him.’
‘I never heard of such a thing in my life. Not love him! And why shouldn’t you love him? He’s a gentleman. Everybody respects him. He’ll have plenty to make you comfortable all your life! And then why didn’t you tell me before?’
‘I didn’t know, Aunt Stanbury. I thought that perhaps —’
‘I could not say all at once that I didn’t care for him, when I had never so much as thought about it for a moment before.’
‘You haven’t told him this?’
‘No, I have not told him. I couldn’t begin by telling him, you know.’
‘Then I must pray that you will think about it again. Have you imagined what a great thing for you it would be to be established for life so that you should never have any more trouble again about a home, or about money, or anything? Don’t answer me now, Dorothy, but think of it. It seemed to me that I was doing such an excellent thing for both of you.’ So saying Miss Stanbury left the room, and Dorothy was enabled to obey her, at any rate, in one matter. She did think of it. She laid awake thinking of it almost all the night. But the more she thought of it, the less able was she to realise to herself any future comfort or happiness in the idea of becoming Mrs Gibson.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14