Punctually at eleven o’clock on the Friday morning Mr Gibson knocked at the door of the house in the Close. The reader must not imagine that he had ever wavered in his intention with regard to Dorothy Stanbury, because he had been driven into a corner by the pertinacious ingenuity of Miss French. He never for a moment thought of being false to Miss Stanbury, the elder. Falseness of that nature would have been ruinous to him, would have made him a marked man in the city all his days, and would probably have reached even to the bishop’s ears. He was neither bad enough, nor audacious enough, nor foolish enough, for such perjury as that. And, moreover, though the wiles of Arabella had been potent with him, he very much preferred Dorothy Stanbury. Seven years of flirtation with a young lady is more trying to the affection than any duration of matrimony. Arabella had managed to awaken something of the old glow, but Mr Gibson, as soon as he was alone, turned from her mentally in disgust. No! Whatever little trouble there might be in his way, it was clearly his duty to marry Dorothy Stanbury. She had the sweetest temper in the world, and blushed with the prettiest blush! She would have, moreover, two thousand pounds on the day she married, and there was no saying what other and greater pecuniary advantages might follow. His mind was quite made up; and during the whole morning he had been endeavouring to drive all disagreeable reminiscences of Miss French from his memory, and to arrange the words with which he would make his offer to Dorothy. He was aware that he need not be very particular about his words, as Dorothy, from the bashfulness of her nature, would be no judge of eloquence at such a time. But still, for his own sake, there should be some form of expression, some propriety of diction. Before eleven o’clock he had it all by heart, and had nearly freed himself from the uneasiness of his falsehood to Arabella. He had given much serious thought to the matter, and had quite resolved that he was right in his purpose, and that he could marry Dorothy with a pure conscience, and with a true promise of a husband’s love. ‘Dear Dolly!’ he said to himself, with something of enthusiasm as he walked across the Close. And he looked up to the house as he came to it. There was to be his future home. There was not one of the prebends who had a better house. And there was a dovelike softness about Dorothy’s eyes, and a winning obedience in her manner, that were charming. His lines had fallen to him in very pleasant places. Yes he would go up to her and take her at once by the hand, and ask her whether she would be his, now and for ever. He would not let go her hand, till he had brought her so close to him that she could hide her blushes on his shoulder. The whole thing had been so well conceived, had become so clear to his mind, that he felt no hesitation or embarrassment as he knocked at the door. Arabella French would, no doubt, hear of it soon. Well she must hear of it. After all she could do him no injury.
He was shewn up at once into the drawing-room, and there he found Miss Stanbury the elder.
‘Oh, Mr Gibson!’ she said at once.
‘Is anything the matter with dear Dorothy?’
‘She is the most obstinate, pig-headed young woman I ever came across since the world began.’
‘You don’t say so! But what is it, Miss Stanbury?’
‘What is it? Why just this. Nothing on earth that I can say to her will induce her to come down and speak to you.’
‘Have I offended her?’
‘Offended a fiddlestick! Offence indeed! An offer from an honest man, with her friends’ approval, and a fortune at her back as though she had been born with a gold spoon in her mouth! And she tells me that she can’t, and won’t, and wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, as though I were asking her to walk the streets. I declare I don’t know what has come to the young women or what it is they want. One would have thought that butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.’
‘But what is the reason, Miss Stanbury?’
‘Oh, reason! You don’t suppose people give reasons in these days. What reason have they when they dress themselves up with bandboxes on their sconces? Just simply the old reason “I do not like thee, Dr. Fell; why I cannot tell.”’
‘May I not see her myself, Miss Stanbury?’
‘I can’t make her come downstairs to you. I’ve been at her the whole morning, Mr Gibson, ever since daylight pretty nearly. She came into my room before I was up and told me she’d made up her mind. I’ve coaxed, and scolded, and threatened, and cried but if she’d been a milestone it couldn’t have been of less use. I told her she might go back to Nuncombe, and she just went off to pack up.’
‘But she’s not to go?’
‘How can I say what such a young woman will do? I’m never allowed a way of my own for a moment. There’s Brooke Burgess been scolding me at that rate I didn’t know whether I stood on my head or my heels. And I don’t know now.’
Then there was a pause, while Mr Gibson was endeavouring to decide what would now be his best course of action. ‘Don’t you think she’ll ever come round, Miss Stanbury?’
‘I don’t think she’ll ever come any way that anybody wants her to come, Mr Gibson.’
‘I didn’t think she was at all like that,’ said Mr Gibson, almost in tears.
‘No nor anybody else. I have been seeing it come all the same. It’s just the Stanbury perversity. If I’d wanted to keep her by herself, to take care of me, and had set my back up at her if she spoke to a man, and made her understand that she wasn’t to think of getting married, she’d have been making eyes at every man that came into the house. It’s just what one gets for going out of one’s way. I did think she’d be so happy, Mr Gibson, living here as your wife. She and I between us could have managed for you so nicely.’
Mr Gibson was silent for a minute or two, during which he walked up and down the room contemplating, no doubt, the picture of married life which Miss Stanbury had painted for him, a picture which, as it seemed, was not to be realised. ‘And what had I better do, Miss Stanbury?’ he asked at last.
‘Do! I don’t know what you’re to do. I’m groom enough to bring a mare to water, but I can’t make her drink.’
‘Will waiting be any good?’
‘How can I say? I’ll tell you one thing not to do. Don’t go and philander with those girls at Heavitree. It’s my belief that Dorothy has been thinking of them. People talk to her, of course.’
‘I wish people would hold their tongues. People are so indiscreet. People don’t know how much harm they may do.’
‘You’ve given them some excuse, you know, Mr Gibson.’
This was very ill-natured, and was felt by Mr Gibson to be so rude, that he almost turned upon his patroness in anger. He had known Dolly for not more than three months, and had devoted himself to her, to the great anger of his older friends. He had come this morning true to his appointment, expecting that others would keep their promises to him, as he was ready to keep those which he had made, and now he was told that it was his fault! ‘I do think that’s rather hard, Miss Stanbury,’ he said.
‘So you have,’ said she ‘nasty, slatternly girls, without an idea inside their noddles. But it’s no use your scolding me.’
‘I didn’t mean to scold, Miss Stanbury.’
‘I’ve done all that I could.’
‘And you think she won’t see me for a minute?’
‘She says she won’t. I can’t bid Martha carry her down.’
‘Then, perhaps, I had better leave you for the present,’ said Mr Gibson, after another pause. So he went, a melancholy, blighted man. Leaving the Close, he passed through into Southernhay, and walked across by the new streets towards the Heavitree road. He had no design in taking this route, but he went on till he came in sight of the house in which Mrs French lived. As he walked slowly by it, he looked up at the windows, and something of a feeling of romance came across his heart. Were his young affections buried there, or were they not? And, if so, with which of those fair girls were they buried? For the last two years, up to last night, Camilla had certainly been in the ascendant. But Arabella was a sweet young woman; and there had been a time when those tender passages were going on in which he had thought that no young woman ever was so sweet. A period of romance, an era of enthusiasm, a short-lived, delicious holiday of hot-tongued insanity had been permitted to him in his youth but all that was now over. And yet here he was, with three strings to his bow, so he told himself, and he had not as yet settled for himself the great business of matrimony. He was inclined to think, as he walked on, that he would walk his life alone, an active, useful, but a melancholy man. After such experiences as his, how should he ever again speak of his heart to a woman? During this walk, his mind recurred frequently to Dorothy Stanbury; and, doubtless, he thought that he had often spoken of his heart to her. He was back at his lodgings before three, at which hour he ate an early dinner, and then took the afternoon cathedral service at four. The evening he spent at home, thinking of the romance of his early days. What would Miss Stanbury have said, had she seen him in his easy chair behind the ‘Exeter Argus,’ with a pipe in his mouth?
In the meantime, there was an uncomfortable scene in progress between Dorothy and her aunt. Brooke Burgess, as desired, had left the house before eleven, having taken upon himself, when consulted, to say in the mildest terms, that he thought that, in general, young women should not be asked to marry if they did not like to, which opinion had been so galling to Miss Stanbury that she had declared that he had so scolded her, that she did not know whether she was standing on her head or her heels. As soon as Mr Gibson left her, she sat herself down, and fairly cried. She had ardently desired this thing, and had allowed herself to think of her desire as of one that would certainly be accomplished. Dorothy would have been so happy as the wife of a clergyman! Miss Stanbury’s standard for men and women was not high. She did not expect others to be as self sacrificing, as charitable, and as good as herself. It was not that she gave to herself credit for such virtues; but she thought of herself as one who, from the peculiar circumstances of life, was bound to do much for others. There was no end to her doing good for others if only the others would allow themselves to be governed by her. She did not think that Mr Gibson was a great divine; but she perceived that he was a clergyman, living decently — of that secret pipe Miss Stanbury knew nothing — doing his duty punctually, and, as she thought, very much in want of a wife. Then there was her niece, Dolly soft, pretty, feminine, without a shilling, and much in want of some one to comfort and take care of her. What could be better than such a marriage! And the overthrow to the girls with the big chignons would be so complete! She had set her mind upon it, and now Dorothy said that it couldn’t, and it wouldn’t, and it shouldn’t be accomplished! She was to be thrown over by this chit of a girl, as she had been thrown over by the girl’s brother! And, when she complained, the girl simply offered to go away!
At about twelve Dorothy came creeping down into the room in which her aunt was sitting, and pretended to occupy herself on some piece of work. For a considerable time, for three minutes perhaps, Miss Stanbury did not speak. She resolved that she would not speak to her niece again at least, not for that day. She would let the ungrateful girl know how miserable she had been made. But at the close of the three minutes her patience was exhausted. ‘What are you doing there?’ she said.
‘I am quilting your cap, Aunt Stanbury.’
‘Put it down. You shan’t do anything for me. I won’t have you touch my things any more. I don’t like pretended service.’
‘It is not pretended, Aunt Stanbury.’
‘I say it is pretended. Why did you pretend to me that you would have him when you had made up your mind against it all the time?’
‘But I hadn’t made up my mind.’
‘If you had so much doubt about it, you might have done what I wanted you.’
‘I couldn’t, Aunt Stanbury.’
‘You mean you wouldn’t. I wonder what it is you do expect.’
‘I don’t expect anything, Aunt Stanbury.’
‘No; and I don’t expect anything. What an old fool I am ever to look for any comfort. Why should I think that anybody would care for me?’
‘Indeed, I do care for you.’
‘In what sort of way do you show it? You’re just like your brother Hugh. I’ve disgraced myself to that man promising what I could not perform. I declare it makes me sick when I think of it. Why did you not tell me at once?’ Dorothy said nothing further, but sat with the cap on her lap. She did not dare to resume her needle, and she did not like to put the cap aside, as by doing so it would seem as though she had accepted her aunt’s prohibition against her work. For half an hour she sat thus, during which time Miss Stanbury dropped asleep. She woke with a start, and began to scold again. ‘What’s the good of sitting there all the day, with your hands before you, doing nothing?’
But Dorothy had been very busy. She had been making up her mind, and had determined to communicate her resolution to her aunt. ‘Dear aunt,’ she said, ‘I’ve been thinking of something.’
‘It’s too late now,’ said Miss Stanbury.
‘I see I’ve made you very unhappy.’
‘Of course you have.’
‘And you think that I’m ungrateful. I’m not ungrateful, and I don’t think that Hugh is.’
‘Never mind Hugh.’
‘Only because it seems so hard that you should take so much trouble about us, and that then there should be so much vexation.’
‘I find it very hard.’
‘So I think that I’d better go back to Nuncombe.’
‘That’s what you call gratitude.’
‘I don’t like to stay here and make you unhappy. I can’t think that I ought to have done what you asked me, because I did not feel at all in that way about Mr Gibson. But as I have only disappointed you, it will be better that I should go home. I have been very happy here very.’
‘Bother!’ exclaimed Miss Stanbury.
‘I have, and I do love you, though you won’t believe it. But I am sure I oughtn’t to remain to make you unhappy. I shall never forget all that you have done for me; and though you call me ungrateful, I am not. But I know that I ought not to stay, as I cannot do what you wish. So, if you please, I will go back to Nuncombe.’
‘You’ll not do anything of the kind,’ said Miss Stanbury.
‘But it will be better.’
‘Yes, of course; no doubt. I suppose you’re tired of us all.’
‘It is not that I’m tired, Aunt Stanbury. It isn’t that at all.’ Dorothy had now become red up to the roots of her hair, and her eyes were full of tears. ‘But I cannot stay where people think that I am ungrateful. If you please, Aunt Stanbury, I will go.’ Then, of course, there was a compromise. Dorothy did at last consent to remain in the Close, but only on condition that she should be forgiven for her sin in reference to Mr Gibson, and be permitted to go on with her aunt’s cap.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14