The time had arrived at which Brooke Burgess was to leave Exeter. He had made his tour through the county, and returned to spend his two last nights at Miss Stanbury’s house. When he came back Dorothy was still at Nuncombe, but she arrived in the Close the day before his departure. Her mother and sister had wished her to stay at Nuncombe. ‘There is a bed for you now, and a place to be comfortable in,’ Priscilla had said, laughing, ‘and you may as well see the last of us.’ But Dorothy declared that she had named a day to her aunt, and that she would not break her engagement. ‘I suppose you can stay if you like,’ Priscilla had urged. But Dorothy was of opinion that she ought not to stay. She said not a word about Brooke Burgess; but it may be that it would have been matter of regret to her not to shake hands with him once more. Brooke declared to her that had she not come back he would have gone over to Nuncombe to see her; but: Dorothy did not consider herself entitled to believe that.
On the morning of the last day Brooke went over to his uncle’s office. ‘I’ve come to say Good-bye, Uncle Barty,’ he said.
‘Good-bye, my boy. Take care of yourself.’
‘I mean to try.’
‘You haven’t quarrelled with the old woman have you? said Uncle Barty.
‘Not yet — that is to say, not to the knife.’
‘And you still believe that you are to have her money?’
‘I believe nothing one way or the other. You may be sure of this, I shall never count it mine till I’ve got it; and I shall never make myself so sure of it, as to break my heart because I don’t get it. I suppose I’ve got as good a right to it as anybody else, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t take it if it come in my way.’
‘I don’t think it ever will,’ said the old man, after a pause.
‘I shall be none the worse,’ said Brooke.
‘Yes, you will. You’ll be a broken-hearted man. And she means to break your heart. She does it on purpose. She has no more idea of leaving you her money than I have. Why should she?’
‘Simply because she takes the fancy.’
‘Fancy! Believe me, there is very little fancy about it. There isn’t one of the name she wouldn’t ruin if she could. She’d break all our hearts if she could get at them. Look at me and my position. I’m little more than a clerk in the concern. By God I’m not so well off as a senior clerk in many a bank. If there came a bad time, I must lose as the others would lose, but a clerk never loses. And my share in the business is almost a nothing. It’s just nothing compared to what it would have been, only for her.’
Brooke had known that his uncle was a disappointed, or at least a discontented man; but he had never known much of the old man’s circumstances, and certainly had not expected to hear him speak in the strain that he had now used. He had heard often that his Uncle Barty disliked Miss Stanbury, and had not been surprised at former sharp, biting little words spoken to reference to that lady’s character. But he had not expected such a tirade of abuse as the banker had now poured out. ‘Of course I know nothing about the bank,’ said he; ‘but I did not suppose that she had had anything to do with it.’
‘Where do you think the money came from that she has got? Did you ever hear that she had anything of her own? She never had a penny, never a penny. It came out of this house. It is the capital on which this business was founded, and on which it ought to be carried on to this day. My brother had thrown her off; by heavens, yes had thrown her off. He had found out what she was and had got rid of her.’
‘But he left her his money.’
‘Yes she got near him when he was dying, and he did leave her his money — his money, and my money, and your father’s money.’
‘He could have given her nothing, Uncle Barty, that wasn’t his own.’
‘Of course that’s true it’s true in one way. You might say the same of a man who was cozened into leaving every shilling away from his own children. I wasn’t in Exeter when the will was made. We none of us were here. But she was here; and when we came to see him die, there we found her. She had had her revenge upon him, and she means to have it on all of us. I don’t believe she’ll ever leave you a shilling, Brooke. You’ll find her out yet, and you’ll talk of her to your nephews as I do to you.’
Brooke made some ordinary answer to this, and bade is uncle adieu. He had allowed himself to entertain a half chivalrous idea that he could produce a reconciliation between Miss Stanbury and his uncle Barty; and since he had been at Exeter he had said a word, first to the one and then to the other, hinting at the subject but his hints had certainly not been successful. As he walked from the bank into the High Street he could not fail to ask himself whether there were any grounds for the terrible accusations which he had just heard from his uncle’s lips. Something of the same kind, though in form much less violent, had been repeated to him very often by others of the family. Though he had as a boy known Miss Stanbury well, he had been taught to regard her as an ogress. All the Burgesses had regarded Miss Stanbury as an ogress since that unfortunate will had come to light. But she was an ogress from whom something might be gained and the ogress had still persisted in saying that a Burgess should be her heir. It had therefore come to pass that Brooke had been brought up half to revere her and half to abhor her. ‘She is a dreadful woman,’ said his branch of the family, ‘who will not scruple at anything evil. But as it seems that you may probably reap the advantage of the evil that she does, it will become you to put up with her iniquity.’ As he had become old enough to understand the nature of her position, he had determined to judge for himself; but his judgment hitherto simply amounted to this, that Miss Stanbury was a very singular old woman, with a kind heart and good instincts, but so capricious withal that no sensible man would risk his happiness on expectations formed on her promises. Guided by this opinion, he had resolved to be attentive to her and, after a certain fashion, submissive; but certainly not to become her slave. She had thrown over her nephew. She was constantly complaining to him of her niece. Now and again she would say a very bitter word to him about himself. When he had left Exeter on his little excursion, no one was so much in favour with her as Mr Gibson. On his return he found that Mr Gibson had been altogether discarded, and was spoken of in terms of almost insolent abuse. ‘If I were ever so humble to her,’ he had said to himself, ‘it would do no good; and there is nothing I hate so much as humility.’ He had thus determined to take the goods the gods provided, should it ever come to pass that such godlike provision was laid before him out of Miss Stanbury’s coffers but not to alter his mode of life or put himself out of his way in obedience to her behests, as a man might be expected to do who was destined to receive so rich a legacy. Upon this idea he had acted, still believing the old woman to be good, but believing at the same time that she was very capricious. Now he had heard what his Uncle Bartholomew Burgess had had to say upon the matter, and he could not refrain from asking himself whether his uncle’s accusations were true.
In a narrow passage between the High Street and the Close he met Mr Gibson. There had come to be that sort of intimacy between the two men which grows from closeness of position rather than from any social desire on either side, and it was natural that Burgess should say a word of farewell. On the previous evening Miss Stanbury had relieved her mind by turning Mr Gibson into ridicule in her description to Brooke of the manner in which the clergyman had carried on his love affair; and she had at the same time declared that Mr Gibson had been most violently impertinent to herself. He knew, therefore, that Miss Stanbury and Mr Gibson had become two, and would on this occasion have passed on without a word relative to the old lady had Mr Gibson allowed him to do so. But Mr Gibson spoke his mind freely.
‘Off tomorrow, are you?’ he said. ‘Good-bye. I hope we may meet again; but not in the same house, Mr Burgess.’
‘There or anywhere, I shall be very happy,’ said Brooke.
‘Not there, certainly. While you were absent Miss Stanbury treated me in such a way that I shall certainly never put my foot in her house again.’
‘Dear me! I thought that you and she were such great friends.’
‘I knew her very well, of course and respected her. She is a good churchwoman, and is charitable in the city; but she has got such a tongue in her head that there is no bearing it when she does what she calls giving you a bit of her mind.’
‘She has been indulgent to me, and has not given me much of it.’
‘Your time will come, I’ve no doubt,’ continued Mr Gibson. ‘Everybody has always told me that it would be so. Even her oldest friends knew it. You ask Mrs MacHugh, or Mrs French, at Heavitree.’
‘Mrs French!’ said Brooke, laughing. ‘That would hardly be fair evidence.’
‘Why not? I don’t know a better judge of character in all Exeter than Mrs French. And she and Miss Stanbury have been intimate all their lives. Ask your uncle at the bank.’
‘My uncle and Miss Stanbury never were friends,’ said Brooke.
‘Ask Hugh Stanbury what he thinks of her. But don’t suppose I want to say a word against her. I wouldn’t for the world do such a thing. Only, as we’ve met there and all that, I thought it best to let you know that she had treated me in such a way, and has been altogether so violent, that I never will go there again.’ So saying, Mr Gibson passed on, and was of opinion that he had spoken with great generosity of the old woman who had treated him so badly.
In the afternoon Brooke Burgess went over to the further end of the Close, and called on Mrs MacHugh; and from thence he walked across to Heavitree, and called on the Frenches. It may be doubted whether he would have been so well behaved to these ladies had they not been appealed to by Mr Gibson as witnesses to the character of Miss Stanbury. He got very little from Mrs MacHugh. That lady was kind and cordial, and expressed many wishes that she might see him again in Exeter. When he said a few words about Mr Gibson, Mrs MacHugh only laughed, and declared that the gentleman would soon find a plaister for that sore. ‘There are more fishes than one in the sea,’ she said.
‘But I’m afraid they’ve quarrelled, Mrs MacHugh.’
‘So they tell me. What should we have to talk about here if somebody didn’t quarrel sometimes? She and I ought to get up a quarrel for the good of the public, only they know that I never can quarrel with anybody. I never see anybody interesting enough to quarrel with.’ But Mrs MacHugh said nothing about Miss Stanbury, except that she sent over a message with reference to a rubber of whist for the next night but one.
He found the two French girls sitting with their mother, and they all expressed their great gratitude to him for coming to say good-bye before he went. ‘It is so very nice of you, Mr Burgess,’ said Camilla, ‘and particularly just at present.’
‘Yes, indeed,’ said Arabella, ‘because you know things have been so unpleasant.’
‘My dears, never mind about that,’ said Mrs French. ‘Miss Stanbury has meant everything for the best, and it is all over now.’
‘I don’t know what you mean by its being all over, mamma,’ said Camilla. ‘As far as I can understand, it has never been begun.’
‘My dear, the least said the soonest mended,’ said Mrs French.
‘That’s of course, mamma,’ said Camilla; ‘but yet one can’t hold one’s tongue altogether. All the city is talking about it, and I dare say Mr Burgess has heard as much as anybody else.’
‘I’ve heard nothing at all,’ said Brooke.
‘Oh yes, you have,’ continued Camilla. Arabella conceived herself at this moment to be situated in so delicate a position, that it was best that her sister should talk about it, and that she herself should hold her tongue with the exception, perhaps, of a hint here and there which might be of assistance; for Arabella completely understood that the prize was now to be hers, if the prize could be rescued out of the Stanbury clutches. She was aware, no one better aware, how her sister had interfered with her early hopes, and was sure, in her own mind, that all her disappointment had come from fratricidal rivalry on the part of Camilla. It had never, however, been open to her to quarrel with Camilla. There they were, linked together, and together they must fight their battles. As two pigs may be seen at the same trough, each striving to take the delicacies of the banquet from the other, and yet enjoying always the warmth of the same dunghill in amicable contiguity, so had these young ladies lived in sisterly friendship, while each was striving to take a husband from the other. They had understood the position, and, though for years back they had talked about Mr Gibson, they had never quarrelled; but now, in these latter days of the Stanbury interference, there had come tacitly to be something of an understanding between them that, if any fighting were still possible on the subject, one must be put forward and the other must yield. There had been no spoken agreement, but Arabella quite understood that she was to be put forward. It was for her to take up the running, and to win, if possible, against the Stanbury filly. That was her view, and she was inclined to give Camilla credit for acting in accordance with it with honesty and zeal. She felt, therefore, that her words on the present occasion ought to be few. She sat back in her corner of the sofa, and was intent on her work, and shewed by the pensiveness of her brow that there were thoughts within her bosom of which she was not disposed to speak. ‘You must have heard a great deal,’ said Carnilla, laughing. ‘You must know how poor Mr Gibson has been abused, because he wouldn’t —’
‘Camilla, don’t be foolish,’ said Mrs French.
‘Because he wouldn’t what?’ asked Brooke. ‘What ought he to have done that he didn’t do?’
‘I don’t know anything about ought,’ said Camilla. ‘That’s a matter of taste altogether.’
‘I’m the worst hand in the world at a riddle,’ said Brooke.
‘How sly you are,’ continued Camilla, laughing; ‘as if dear Aunt Stanbury hadn’t confided all her hopes to you.’
‘Camilla, dear don’t,’ said Arabella.
‘But when a gentleman is hunted, and can’t be caught, I don’t think he ought to be abused to his face.’
‘But who hunted him, and who abused him?’ asked Brooke.
‘Mind, I don’t mean to say a word against Miss Stanbury, Mr Burgess. We’ve known her and loved her all our lives haven’t we, mamma?’
‘And respected her,’ said Arabella.
‘Quite so,’ continued Camilla. ‘But you know, Mr Burgess, that she likes her own way.’
‘I don’t know anybody that does not,’ said Brooke.
‘And when she’s disappointed, she shows it. There’s no doubt she is disappointed now, Mr Burgess.’
‘What’s the good of going on, Camilla?’ said Mrs French. Arabella sat silent in her corner, with a conscious glow of satisfaction, as she reflected that the joint disappointment of the elder and the younger Miss Stanbury had been caused by a tender remembrance of her own charms. Had not dear Mr Gibson told her, in the glowing language of truth, that there was nothing further from his thoughts than the idea of taking Dorothy Stanbury for his wife?
‘Well, you know,’ continued Camilla, ‘I think that when a person makes an attempt, and comes by the worst of it, that person should put up with the defeat, and not say all manner of ill-natured things. Everybody knows that a certain gentleman is very intimate in this house.’
Don’t, dear,’ said Arabella, in a whisper.
‘Yes, I shall,’ said Camilla. ‘I don’t know why people should hold their tongues, when other people talk so loudly. I don’t care a bit what anybody says about the gentleman and us. We have known him for ever so many years, and mamma is very fond of him.’
‘Indeed I am, Camilla,’ said Mrs French.
‘And for the matter of that, so am I very,’ said Camilla, laughing bravely. ‘I don’t care who knows it.’
‘Don’t be so silly, child,’ said Arabella. Camilla was certainly doing her best, and Arabella was grateful.
‘We don’t care what people may say,’ continued Camilla again. ‘Of course we heard, as everybody else heard too, that a certain gentleman was to be married to a certain lady. It was nothing to us whether he was married or not.’
‘Nothing at all,’ said Arabella.
‘We never spoke ill of the young lady. We did not interfere. If the gentleman liked the young lady, he was quite at liberty to marry her, as far as we were concerned. We had been in the habit of seeing him here, almost as a brother, and perhaps we might feel that a connection with that particular young lady would take him from us; but we never hinted so much even as that to him or to anyone else. Why should we? It was nothing to us. Now it turns out that the gentleman never meant anything of the kind, whereupon he is pretty nearly kicked out of the house, and all manner of ill-natured things are said about us everywhere.’ By this time Camilla had become quite excited, and was speaking with much animation.
‘How can you be so foolish, Camilla?’ said Arabella.
‘Perhaps I am foolish,’ said Camilla, ‘to care what anybody says.’
‘What can it all be to Mr Burgess?’ said Mrs French.
‘Only this, that as we all like Mr Burgess, and as he is almost one of the family in the Close, I think he ought to know why we are not quite so cordial as we used to be. Now that the matter is over I have no doubt things will get right again. And as for the young lady, I’m sure we feel for her. We think it was the aunt who was indiscreet.’
‘And then she has such a tongue,’ said Arabella.
Our friend Brooke, of course, knew the whole truth knew the nature of Mr Gibson’s failure, and knew also how Dorothy had acted in the affair. He was inclined, moreover, to believe that the ladies who were now talking to him were as well instructed on the subject as was he himself. He had heard, too, of the ambition of the two young ladies now before him, and believed that that ambition was not yet dead. But he did not think it incumbent on him to fight a battle even on behalf of Dorothy. He might have declared that Dorothy, at least, had not been disappointed, but he thought it better to be silent about Dorothy. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘Miss Stanbury has a tongue; but I think it speaks as much good as it does evil, and perhaps that is a great deal to say for any lady’s tongue.’
‘We never speak evil of anybody,’ said Camilla; ‘never. It is a rule with us.’ Then Brooke took his leave, and the three ladies were cordial and almost affectionate in their farewell greetings.
Brooke was to start on the following morning before anybody would be up except Martha, and Miss Stanbury was very melancholy during the evening. ‘We shall miss him very much; shall we not?’ she said, appealing to Dorothy. ‘I am sure you will miss him very much,’ said Dorothy. ‘We are so stupid here alone,’ said Miss Stanbury. ‘When they had drank their tea, she sat nearly silent for half an hour, and then summoned him up into her own room.‘so you are going, Brooke?’ she said.
‘Yes; I must go now. They would dismiss me if I stayed an hour longer.’
‘It was good of you to come to the old woman; and you must let me hear of you from time to time.’
‘Of course I’ll write.’
‘And, Brooke —’
‘What is it, Aunt Stanbury?’
‘Do you want any money, Brooke?’
‘No none, thank you. I’ve plenty for a bachelor.’
‘When you think of marrying, Brooke, mind you tell me.’
‘I’ll be sure to tell you but I can’t promise yet when that will be.’ She said nothing more to him, though she paused once more as though she were going to speak. She kissed him and bade him good-bye, saying that she would not go down-stairs again that evening. He was to tell Dorothy to go to bed. And so they parted.
But Dorothy did not go to bed for an hour after that. When Brooke came down into the parlour with his message she intended to go at once, and put up her work, and lit her candle, and put out her hand to him, and said good-bye to him. But, for all that, she remained there for an hour with him. At first she said very little, but by degrees her tongue was loosened, and she found herself talking with a freedom which she could hardly herself understand. She told him how thoroughly she believed her aunt to be a good woman, how sure she was that her aunt was at any rate honest. ‘As for me,’ said Dorothy, ‘I know that I have displeased her about Mr Gibson and I would go away, only that I think she would be so desolate.’ Then Brooke begged her never to allow the idea of leaving Miss Stanbury to enter her head. Because Miss Stanbury was capricious, he said, not on that account should her caprices either be indulged or permitted. That was his doctrine respecting Miss Stanbury, and he declared that, as regarded himself, he would never be either disrespectful to her or submissive. ‘It is a great mistake,’ he said, ‘to think that anybody is either an angel or a devil.’ When Dorothy expressed an opinion that with some people angelic tendencies were predominant, and with others diabolic tendencies, he assented; but declared that it was not always easy to tell the one tendency from the other. At last, when Dorothy had made about five attempts to go, Mr Gibson’s name was mentioned. ‘I am very glad that you are not going to be Mrs Gibson,’ said he.
‘I don’t know why you should be glad.’
‘Because I should not have liked your husband — not as your husband.’
‘He is an excellent man, I’m sure,’ said Dorothy.
‘Nevertheless I am very glad. But I did not think you would accept him, and I congratulate you on your escape. You would have been nothing to me as Mrs Gibson.’
‘Shouldn’t I?’ said Dorothy, not knowing what else to say.
‘But now I think we shall always be friends.’
‘I’m sure I hope so, Mr Burgess. But indeed I must go now. It is ever so late, and you will hardly get any sleep. Good night.’ Then he took her hand, and pressed it very warmly, and referring to a promise before made to her, he assured her that he would certainly make acquaintance with her brother as soon as he was back in London. Dorothy, as she went up to bed, was more than ever satisfied with herself, in that she had not yielded in reference to Mr Gibson.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14