Miss Stanbury perfectly understood that Martha was to come back by the train reaching Exeter at 7 p.m., and that she might be expected in the Close about a quarter-of-an-hour after that time. She had been nervous and anxious all day, so much so that Mr Martin had told her that she must be very careful. ‘That’s all very well,’ the old woman had said, ‘but you haven’t got any medicine for my complaint, Mr Martin.’ The apothecary had assured her that the worst of her complaint was in the east wind, and had gone away begging her to be very careful. ‘It is not God’s breezes that are hard to any one,’ the old lady had said to herself ‘but our own hearts.’ After her lonely dinner she had fidgeted about the room, and had rung twice for the girl, not knowing what order to give when the servant came to her. She was very anxious about her tea, but would not have it brought to her till after Martha should have arrived. She was half-minded to order that a second cup and saucer should be placed there, but she had not the courage to face the disappointment which would fall upon her, should the cup and saucer stand there for no purpose. And yet, should she come, how nice it would be to shew her girl that her old aunt had been ready for her. Thrice she went to the window after the cathedral clock had struck seven, to see whether her ambassador was returning. From her window there was only one very short space of pathway on which she could have seen her and, as it happened, there came the ring at the door, and no ambassador had as yet been viewed. Miss Stanbury was immediately off her seat, and out upon the landing. ‘Here we are again, Miss Dorothy,’ said Martha. Then Miss Stanbury could not restrain herself but descended the stairs, moving as she had never moved since she had first been ill. ‘My bairn,’ she said; ‘my dearest bairn! I thought that perhaps it might be so. Jane, another tea-cup and saucer up-stairs.’ What a pity that she had not ordered it before! ‘And get a hot cake, Jane. You will be ever so hungry, my darling, after your journey.’
‘Are you glad to see me, Aunt Stanbury?’ said Dorothy.
‘Glad, my pretty one!’ Then she put up her hands, and smoothed down the girl’s cheeks, and kissed her, and patted Martha on the back, and scolded her at the same time for not bringing Miss Dorothy from the station in a cab. ‘And what is the meaning of that little bag?’ she said. ‘You shall go back for the rest yourself, Martha, because it is your own fault.’ Martha knew that all this was pleasant enough, but then her mistress’s moods would sometimes be changed so suddenly! How would it be when Miss Stanbury knew that Brooke Burgess had been left behind at Nuncombe Putney?
‘You see I didn’t stay to eat any of the lamb,’ said Dorothy, smiling.
‘You shall have a calf instead, my dear,’ said Miss Stanbury, ‘because you are a returned prodigal.’
All this was very pleasant, and Miss Stanbury was so happy dispensing her tea, and the hot cake, and the clotted cream, and was so intent upon her little methods of caressing and petting her niece, that Dorothy had no heart to tell her story while the plates and cups were still upon the table. She had not, perhaps, cared much for the hot cake, having such a weight upon her mind, but she had seemed to care, understanding well that she might so best conduce to her aunt’s comfort. Miss Stanbury was a woman who could not bear that the good things which she had provided for a guest should not be enjoyed. She could taste with a friend’s palate, and drink with a friend’s throat. But when debarred these vicarious pleasures by what seemed to her to be the caprice of her guests, she would be offended. It had been one of the original sins of Camilla and Arabella French that they would declare at her tea-table that they had dined late and could not eat tea-cake. Dorothy knew all this and did her duty, but with a heavy heart. There was the story to be told, and she had promised Martha that it should be told tonight. She was quite aware, too, independently of her promise, that it was necessary that it should be told tonight. It was very sad very grievous that the dear old lady’s happiness should be disturbed so soon; but it must be done. When the tea-things were being taken away her aunt was still purring round her, and saying gentle, loving words. Dorothy bore it as well as she could bore it well, smiling and kissing her aunt’s hand, and uttering now and then some word of affection. But the thing had to be done; and as soon as the room was quiet for a moment, she jumped up from her chair and began. ‘Aunt Stanbury, I must tell you something at once. Who, do you think, is at Nuncombe Putney?’
‘Not Brooke Burgess?’
‘Yes, he is. He is there now, and is to be here with you tomorrow.’
The whole colour and character of Miss Stanbury’s face was changed in a moment. She had been still purring up to the moment in which this communication had been made to her. Her gratification had come to her from the idea that her pet had come back to her from love of her as in very truth had been the case; but now it seemed that Dorothy had returned to ask for a great favour for herself. And she reflected at once that Brooke had passed through Exeter without seeing her. If he was determined to marry without reference to her, he might at any rate have had the grace to come to her and say so. She, in the fulness of her heart, had written words of affection to Dorothy, and both Dorothy and Brooke had at once taken advantage of her expressions for their own purposes. Such was her reading of the story of the day. ‘He need not trouble himself to come here now,’ she said.
‘Dear aunt, do not say that.’
‘I do say it. He need not trouble himself to come now. When I said that I should be glad to see you, I did not intend that you should meet Mr Burgess under my roof. I did not wish to have you both together.’
‘How could I help coming, when you wrote to me like that?’
‘It is very well, but he need not come. He knows the way from Nuncombe to London without stopping at Exeter.’
‘Aunt Stanbury, you must let me tell it you all.’
‘There is no more to tell, I should think.’
‘But there is more. You knew what he thought about me, and what he wished.’
‘He is his own master, my dear and you are your own mistress.’
‘If you speak to me like that you will kill me, Aunt Stanbury. I did not think of coming, only when Martha brought your dear letter I could not help it. But he was coming. He meant to come tomorrow, and he will. Of course he must defend himself, if you are angry with him.’
‘He need not defend himself at all.’
‘I told them, and I told him, that I would only stay one night if you did not wish that we should be here together. You must see him, Aunt Stanbury. You would not refuse to see him.’
‘If you please, my dear, you must allow me to judge whom I will see.’
After that the discussion ceased between them for awhile, and Miss Stanbury left the room that she might hold a consultation with Martha. Dorothy went up to her chamber, and saw that everything had been prepared for her with most scrupulous care. Nothing could be whiter, neater, cleaner, nicer than was everything that surrounded her. She had perceived while living under her aunt’s roof, how, gradually, small delicate feminine comforts had been increased for her. Martha had been told that Miss Dorothy ought to have this, and that Miss Dorothy ought to have that; till at last she, who had hitherto known nothing of the small luxuries that come from an easy income, had felt ashamed of the prettinesses that had been added to her. Now she could see at once that infinite care had been used to make her room bright and smiling only in the hope that she would return. As soon as she saw it all, she sat down on her bed and burst out into tears. Was it not hard upon her that she should be forced into such ingratitude! Every comfort prepared for her was a coal of hot fire upon her head. And yet, what had she done that she ought not to have done? Was it unreasonable that she should have loved this man, when they two were brought together? And had she even dared to think of him otherwise than as an acquaintance till he had compelled her to confess her love? And after that had she not tried to separate herself from him, so that they two, her aunt and her lover, might be divided by no quarrel? Had not Priscilla told her that she was right in all that she was doing? Nevertheless, in spite of all this, she could not refrain from accusing herself of ingratitude towards her aunt. And she began to think it would have been better for her now to have remained at home, and have allowed Brooke to come alone to Exeter than to have obeyed the impulse which had arisen from the receipt of her aunt’s letter. When she went down again she found herself alone in the room, and she was beginning to think that it was intended that she should go to bed without again seeing her aunt; but at last Miss Stanbury came to her, with a sad countenance, but without that look of wrath which Dorothy knew so well. ‘My dear,’ she said, ‘it will be better that Mr Burgess should go up to London tomorrow. I will see him, of course, if he chooses to come, and Martha shall meet him at the station and explain it. If you do not mind, I would prefer that you should not meet him here.’
‘I meant only to stay one night, aunt.’
‘That is nonsense. If I am to part with either of you, I will part with him. You are dearer to me than he is. Dorothy, you do not know how dear to me you are.’
Dorothy immediately fell on her knees at her aunt’s feet, and hid her face in her aunt’s lap. Miss Stanbury twined round her fingers the soft hair, which she loved so well because it was a grace given by God and not bought out of a shop, and caressed the girl’s head, and muttered something that was intended for a prayer. ‘If he will let me, aunt, I will give him up,’ said Dorothy, looking up into her aunt’s face. ‘If he will say that I may, though I shall love him always, he may go.’
‘He is his own master,’ said Miss Stanbury. ‘Of course he is his own master.’
‘Will you let me return tomorrow just for a few days and then you can talk to him as you please. I did not mean to come to stay. I wished him good-bye because I knew that I should not meet him here.’
‘You always talk of going away, Dorothy, as soon as ever you are in the house. You are always threatening me.’
‘I will come again, the moment you tell me. If he goes in the morning, I will be here the same evening. And I will write to him, Aunt Stanbury, and tell him that he is quite free, quite free, quite free.’
Miss Stanbury made no reply to this, but sat, still playing with her niece’s hair. ‘I think I will go to bed,’ she said at last. ‘It is past ten. You need not go to Nuncombe, Dorothy. Martha shall meet him, and he can see me here. But I do not wish him to stay in the house. You can go over and call on Mrs MacHugh. Mrs MacHugh will take it well of you that you should call on her.’ Dorothy made no further opposition to this arrangement, but kissed her aunt, and went to her chamber.
How was it all to be for her? For the last two days she had been radiant with new happiness. Everything had seemed to be settled. Her lover, in his high-handed way, had declared that in no important crisis of life would he allow himself to be driven out of his way by the fear of what an old woman might do in her will. When Dorothy assured him that not for worlds would she, though she loved him dearly, injure his material prospects, he had thrown it all aside, after a grand fashion, that had really made the girl think that all Miss Stanbury’s money was as nothing to his love for her. She and Priscilla and her mother had been carried away so entirely by Brooke’s oratory as to feel for the time that the difficulties were entirely conquered. But now the aspect of things was so different! Whatever Brooke might owe to Miss Stanbury, she, Dorothy, owed her aunt everything. She would immolate herself if Brooke would only let her. She did not quite understand her aunt’s stubborn opposition; but she knew that there was some great cause for her aunt’s feeling on the matter. There had been a promise made, or an oath sworn, that the property of the Burgess family should not go into the hands of any Stanbury. Dorothy told herself that, were she married, she would be a Stanbury no longer, that her aunt would still comply with the obligation she had fixed for herself; but, nevertheless, she was ready to believe that her aunt might be right. Her aunt had always declared that it should be so; and Dorothy, knowing this, confessed to herself that she should have kept her heart under better control. Thinking of these things, she went to the table where paper and ink and pens had all been prepared for her so prettily, and began her letter to Brooke. ‘Dearest, dearest Brooke.’ But then she thought that this was not a fair keeping of her promise, and she began again. ‘My dear Brooke.’ The letter, however, did not get itself written that night. It was almost impossible for her to write it. ‘I think it will be better for you,’ she had tried to say, ‘to be guided by my aunt.’ But how could she say this when she did not believe it? It was her wish to make him understand that she would never think ill of him, for a moment, if he would make up his mind to abandon her — but she could not find the words to express herself, and she went, at last, to bed, leaving the half-covered paper upon the table.
She went to bed, and cried herself to sleep. It had been so sweet to have a lover, a man of her own, to whom she could say what she pleased, from whom she had a right to ask for counsel and protection, a man who delighted to be near her, and to make much of her. In comparison with her old mode of living, her old ideas of life, her life with such a lover was passed in an elysium. She had entered from barren lands into so rich a paradise! But there is no paradise, as she now found, without apples which must be eaten, and which lead to sorrow. She regretted in this hour that she had ever seen Brooke Burgess. After all, with her aunt’s love and care for her, with her mother and sister near her, with the respect of those who knew her, why should the lands have been barren, even had there been no entrance for her into that elysium? And did it not all result in this, that the elysium to be desired should not be here; that the paradise, without the apples, must be waited for till beyond the grave? It is when things go badly with us here, and for most of us only then, that we think that we can see through the dark clouds into the joys of heaven. But at last she slept, and in her dreams Brooke was sitting with her in Niddon Park with his arm tight clasped round her waist.
She slept so soundly, that when a step crept silently into her room, and when a light was held for awhile over her face, neither the step nor the light awakened her. She was lying with her head back upon the pillow, and her arm hung by the bedside, and her lips were open, and her loose hair was spread upon the pillow. The person who stood there with the light thought that there never had been a fairer sight. Everything there was so pure, so sweet, so good! She was one whose only selfish happiness could come to her from the belief that others loved her. The step had been very soft, and even the breath of the intruder was not allowed to pass heavily into the air, but the light of the candle shone upon the eyelids of the sleeper, and she moved her head restlessly on the pillow. ‘Dorothy, are you awake? Can you speak to me?’
Then the disturbed girl gradually opened her eyes and gazed upwards, and raised herself in her bed, and sat wondering. ‘Is anything the matter, aunt?’ she said.
‘Only the vagaries of an old woman, my pet, of an old woman who cannot sleep in her bed.’
‘But what is it, aunt?’
‘Kiss me, dearest.’ Then, with something of slumber still about her, Dorothy raised herself in her bed, and placed her arm on her aunt’s shoulder and embraced her. ‘And now for my news,’ said Miss Stanbury.
‘What news, aunt? It isn’t morning yet; is it?’
‘No it is not morning. You shall sleep again presently. I have thought of it, and you shall be Brooke’s wife, and I will have it here, and we will all be friends.’
‘You will like that will you not?’
‘And you will not quarrel with him? What am I to say? What am I to do?’ She was, in truth, awake now, and, not knowing what she did, she jumped out of bed, and stood holding her aunt by the arm.
‘It is not a dream,’ said Miss Stanbury.
‘Are you sure that it is not a dream? And may he come here tomorrow?’
‘Of course he will come tomorrow.’
‘And may I see him, Aunt Stanbury?’
‘Not if you go home, my dear.’
‘But I won’t go home. And will you tell him? Oh dear, oh dear! Aunt Stanbury, I do not think that I believe it yet.’
‘You will catch cold, my dear, if you stay there trying to believe it. You have nothing on. Get into bed and believe it there. You will have time to think of it before the morning.’ Then Miss Stanbury went back to her own chamber, and Dorothy was left alone to realise her bliss.
She thought of all her life for the last twelve months, of the first invitation to Exeter, and the doubts of the family as to its acceptance, of her arrival and of her own doubts as to the possibility of her remaining, of Mr Gibson’s courtship and her aunt’s disappointment, of Brooke’s coming, of her love and of his, and then of her departure back to Nuncombe. After that had come the triumph of Brooke’s visit, and then the terrible sadness of her aunt’s displeasure. But now everything was good and glorious. She did not care for money herself. She thought that she never could care much for being rich. But had she made Brooke poor by marrying him, that must always have been to her matter of regret, if not of remorse. But now it was all to be smooth and sweet. Now a paradise was to be opened to her, with no apples which she might not eat, no apples which might not, but still must, be eaten. She thought that it would be impossible that she should sleep again that night; but she did sleep, and dreamed that Brooke was holding her in Niddon Park, tighter than ever.
When the morning came she trembled as she walked down into the parlour. Might it not still be possible that it was all a dream? or what if her aunt should again have changed her purpose? But the first moment of her aunt’s presence told her that there was nothing to fear. ‘How did you sleep, Dorothy?’ said the old lady.
‘Dear aunt, I do not know. Was it all sleep?’
‘What shall we say to Brooke when he comes?’
‘You shall tell him.’
‘No, dearest, you must tell him. And you must say to him that if he is not good to my girl, and does not love her always, and cling to her, and keep her from harm, and be in truth her loving husband, I will hold him to be the most ungrateful of human beings.’ And before Brooke came, she spoke again. ‘I wonder whether he thinks you as pretty as I do, Dolly?’
‘He never said that he thought me pretty at all.’
‘Did he not? Then he shall say so, or he shall not have you. It was your looks won me first, Dolly, like an old fool as I am. It is so pleasant to have a little nature after such a deal of artifice.’ In which latter remarks it was quite understood that Miss Stanbury was alluding to her enemies at Heavitree.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01