On the Friday morning there was a solemn conference at the brewery between Mrs Tappitt and Mrs Rowan. Mrs Rowan found herself to be in some difficulty as to the line of action which she ought to take, and the alliances which she ought to form. She was passionately attached to her son, and for Mrs Tappitt she had no strong liking. But then she was very averse to this proposed marriage with Rachel Ray, and was willing for a while to make a treaty with Mrs Tappitt, offensive and defensive, as against her own son, if by doing so she could put a stop to so outrageous a proceeding on his part. He had seen her before he started for London, and had told her both the occurrences of the day. He had described to her how Tappitt had turned him out of the brewery, poker in hand, and how, in consequence of Tappitt’s “pigheaded obstinacy”, it was now necessary that their joint affairs should be set right by the hand of the law. He had then told her also that there was no longer any room for doubt or argument between them as regarding Rachel. He had gone out to Bragg’s End that morning, had made his offer, and had been accepted. His mother therefore would see — so he surmised — that, as any opposition on her part must now be futile, she might as well take Rachel to her heart at once. He went so far as to propose to her that she should go over to Rachel in his absence —“it would be very gracious if you could do it tomorrow, mother,” he said — and go through that little process of taking her future daughter-in-law to her heart. But in answer to this Mrs Rowan said very little. She said very little, but she looked much. “My dear, I cannot move so quick as you do; I am older. I am afraid, however, that you have been rash.” He said something, as on such occasions young men do, as to his privilege of choosing for himself, as to his knowing what wife would suit him, as to his contempt for money, and as to the fact —“the undoubted fact”, as he declared it — and in that declaration I am prepared to go hand-in-hand with him — that Rachel Ray was a lady. But he was clear-headed enough to perceive that his mother did not intend to agree with him. “When we are married she will come round,” he said to himself, and then he took himself off by the night mail train to London.
Under these circumstances Mrs Rowan felt that her only chance of carrying on the battle would be by means of a treaty with Mrs Tappitt. Had the affair of the brewery stood alone, Mrs Rowan would have ranged herself loyally on the side of her son. She would have resented the uplifting of that poker, and shown her resentment by an immediate withdrawal from the brewery. She would have said a word or two — a stately word or two — as to the justice of her son’s cause, and have carried herself and her daughter off to the inn. As things were now, her visit to the brewery must no doubt be curtailed in its duration; but in the meantime might not a blow be struck against that foolish matrimonial project — an opportune blow, and by the aid of Mrs Tappitt? Therefore on that Friday morning, when Mr Prong was listening with enraptured ears to Mrs Prime’s acceptance of his suit — under certain pecuniary conditions — Mrs Rowan and Mrs Tappitt were sitting in conference at the brewery.
They agreed together at that meeting that Rachel Ray was the head and front of the whole offence, the source of all the evil done and to be done, and the one great sinner in the matter. It was clear to Mrs Rowan that Rachel could have no just pretensions to look for such a lover or such a husband as her son; and it was equally clear to Mrs Tappitt that she could have had no right to seek a lover or a husband out of the brewery. If Rachel Ray had not been there all might have gone smoothly for both of them. Mrs Tappitt did not, perhaps, argue very logically as to the brewery business, or attempt to show either to herself or to her ally that Luke Rowan would have made himself an agreeable partner if he had kept himself free from all love vagaries; but she was filled with an indefinite woman’s idea that the mischief, which she felt, had been done by Rachel Ray, and that against Rachel and Rachel’s pretensions her hand should be turned.
They resolved therefore that they would go out together and call at the cottage. Mrs Tappitt knew, from long neighbourhood, of what stuff Mrs Ray was made. “A very good sort of woman,” she said to Mrs Rowan, “and not at all headstrong and perverse like her daughter. If we find the young lady there we must ask her mamma to see us alone.” To this proposition Mrs Rowan assented, not eagerly, but with a slow, measured, dignified assent, feeling that she was derogating somewhat from her own position in allowing herself to be led by such a one as Mrs Tappitt. It was needful that on this occasion she should act with Mrs Tappitt and connect herself with the Tappitt interests; but all this she did with an air that distinctly claimed for herself a personal superiority. If Mrs Tappitt did not perceive and understand this, it was her fault, and not Mrs Rowan’s.
At two o’clock they stepped into a fly at the brewery door and had themselves driven out to Bragg’s End.
“Mamma, there’s a carriage,” said Rachel,
“It can’t be coming here,” said Mrs Ray.
“But it is; it’s the fly from the Dragon. I know it by the man’s white hat. And, oh dear, there’s Mrs Rowan and Mrs Tappitt! Mamma, I shall go away.” And Rachel, without another word, escaped out into the garden. She escaped, utterly heedless of her mother’s little weak prayer that she would remain. She went away quickly, so that not a skirt of her dress might be visible. She felt instantly, by instinct, that these two women had come out there especially as her enemies, as upsetters of her happiness, as opponents of her one great hope in life; and she knew that she could not fight her battle with them face to face. She could not herself maintain her love stoutly and declare her intention of keeping her lover to his word; and yet she did intend to maintain her love, not doubting that he would be true to his word without any effort on her part. Her mother would make a very poor fight — of that she was quite well aware. It would have been well if her mother could have run away also. But, as that could not be, her mother must be left to succumb, and the fight must be carried on afterwards as best it might. The two ladies remained at the cottage for about an hour, and during that time Rachel was sequestered in the garden, hardening her heart against all enemies to her love. If Luke would only stand by her, she would certainly stand by him.
There was a good deal of ceremony between the three ladies when they first found themselves together in Mrs Ray’s parlour. Mrs Rowan and Mrs Tappitt were large and stiff in their draperies, and did not fit themselves easily in among Mrs Ray’s small belongings; and they were stately in their demeanour, conscious that they were visiting an inferior, and conscious also that they were there on no friendly mission. But the interview was commenced with a show of much civility. Mrs Tappitt introduced Mrs Rowan in due form, and Mrs Rowan made her little bow, if with some self-asserting supremacy, still with fitting courtesy. Mrs Ray hoped that Mrs Tappitt and the young ladies were quite well, and then there was a short silence, very oppressive to Mrs Ray, but refreshing rather than otherwise to Mrs Rowan. It gave a proper business aspect to the visit, and paved the way for serious words.
“Miss Rachel is out, I suppose,” said Mrs Tappitt. “Yes, she is out,” said Mrs Ray. “But she’s about the place somewhere, if you want to see her.” This she added in her weakness, not knowing how she was to sustain the weight of such an interview alone.
“Perhaps it is as well that she should be away just at present,” said Mrs Rowan, firmly but mildly.
“Quite as well,” said Mrs Tappitt, as firmly, but less mildly.
“Because we wish to say a few words to you, Mrs Ray,” said Mrs Rowan.
“That is what has brought us out so early,” said Mrs Tappitt. It was only half past two now, and company visiting was never done at Baslehurst till after three. “We want to say a few words to you, Mrs Ray, about a very serious matter. I’m sure you know how glad I’ve always been to see Rachel with my girls, and I had her at our party the other night, you know. It isn’t likely therefore that I should be disposed to say anything unkind about her.”
“At any rate not to me, I hope,” said Mrs Ray.
“Not to anybody. Indeed I’m not given to say unkind things about people. No one in Baslehurst would give me that character. But the fact is, Mrs Ray —”
“Perhaps, Mrs Tappitt, you’ll allow me,” said Mrs Rowan. “He’s my son.”
“Oh, yes, certainly — that is, if you.wish it,” said Mrs Tappitt, drawing herself up in her chair; “but I thought that perhaps, as I knew Miss Ray so well.”
“If you don’t mind, Mrs Tappitt —” and Mrs Rowan, as she again took the words out of her friend’s mouth, smiled upon her with a smile of great efficacy.
“Oh, dear, certainly not,” said Mrs Tappitt, acknowledging by her concession the superiority of Mrs Rowan’s nature.
“I believe you are aware, Mrs Ray,” said Mrs Rowan, “that Mr Luke Rowan is my son.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that.”
“And I’m afraid you must be aware also that there have been some — some — some talkings as it were, between him and your daughter.”
“Oh, yes. The truth is, ma’am, that he has offered himself to my girl, and that she has accepted him. Whether it’s for good or for bad, the open truth is the best, Mrs Tappitt.”
“Truth is truth,” said Mrs Tappitt; “and deception is not truth.”
“I didn’t think it had gone anything so far as that,” said Mrs Rowan — who at the moment, perhaps, forgot that deception is not truth; “and in saying that he has actually offered himself, you may perhaps — without meaning it, of course — be attributing a more positive significance to his word than he has intended.”
“God forbid!” said Mrs Ray very solemnly. “That would be a very sad thing for my poor girl. But I think, Mrs Rowan, you had better ask him. If he says he didn’t intend it, of course there will be an end of it, as far as Rachel is concerned.”
“I can’t ask him just at present,” said Mrs Rowan, “because he has gone up to London. He went away yesterday afternoon, and there’s no saying when he may be in Baslehurst again.”
“If ever —” said Mrs Tappitt, very solemnly. “Perhaps he has not told you, Mrs Ray, that that partnership between him and Mr T. is all over.”
“He did tell us that there had been words between him and Mr Tappitt.”
“Words indeed!” said Mrs Tappitt.
“And therefore it isn’t so easy to ask him,” said Mrs Rowan, ignoring Mrs Tappitt and the partnership. “But of course, Mrs Ray, our object in this matter must be the same. We both wish to see our children happy and respectable.” Mrs Rowan, as she said this, put great emphasis on the last word.
“As to my girl, I’ve no fear whatever but what she’ll be respectable,” said Mrs Ray, with more heat than Mrs Tappitt had thought her to possess.
“No doubt; no doubt. But what I’m coming to is this, Mrs Ray; here has this boy of mine been behaving foolishly to your daughter, as young men will do. It may be that he has really said something to her of the kind you suppose —”
“Said something to her! Why, ma’am, he came out here and asked my permission to pay his addresses to her, which I didn’t answer because just at that moment Rachel came in from Farmer Sturt’s opposite —”
“Farmer Sturt’s” said Mrs Tappitt to Mrs Rowan, in an under voice and nodding her head. Whereupon Mrs Rowan nodded her head also. One of the great accusations made against Mrs Ray had been that she lived on the Farmer Sturt level, and not on the Tappitt level — much less on the Rowan level.
“Yes — from Farmer Sturt’s,” continued Mrs Ray, not at all understanding this by-play. “So I didn’t give him any answer at all.”
“You wouldn’t encourage him,” said Mrs Rowan.
“I don’t know about that; but at any rate he encouraged himself, for he came again the next morning when I was in Baslehurst.’;
“I hope Miss Rachel didn’t know he was coming in your absence,” said Mrs Rowan.
“It would look so sly — wouldn’t it?” said Mrs Tappitt.
“No, she didn’t, and she isn’t sly at all. If she had known anything she would have told me. I know what my girl is, Mrs Rowan, and I can depend on her.” Mrs Ray’s courage was up, and she was inclined to fight bravely, but she was sadly impeded by tears, which she now found it impossible to control.
“I’m sure it isn’t my wish to distress you,” said Mrs Rowan.
“It does distress me very much, then, for anybody to say that Rachel is sly.”
“I said I hoped she wasn’t sly,” said Mrs Tappitt.
“I heard what you said,” continued Mrs Ray; “and I don’t see why you should be speaking against Rachel in that way. The young man isn’t your son.”
“No,” said Mrs Tappitt, “indeed he’s not — nor yet he ain’t Mr Tappitt’s partner.”
“Nor wishes to be,” said Mrs Rowan, with a toss of her head. It was a thousand pities that Mrs Ray had not her wits enough about her to have fanned into a fire of battle the embers which glowed hot between her two enemies. Had she done so they might probably have been made to consume each other — to her great comfort. “Nor wishes to be!” Then Mrs Rowan paused a moment, and Mrs Tappitt assumed a smile which was intended to indicate incredulity. “But, Mrs Ray,” continued Mrs Rowan, “that is neither here nor there. Luke Rowan is my son, and I certainly have a right to speak. Such a marriage as this would be very imprudent on his part, and very disagreeable to me. From the way in which things have turned out it’s not likely that he’ll settle himself at Baslehurst.”
“The most unlikely thing in the world”, said Mrs Tappitt. “I don’t suppose he’ll ever show himself in Baslehurst again.”
“As for showing himself, Mrs Tappitt, my son will never be ashamed of showing himself anywhere”
“But he won’t have any call to come to Baslehurst, Mrs Rowan. That’s what I mean.”
“If he’s a gentleman of his word, as I take him to be,” said Mrs Ray, “he’ll have a great call to show himself. He never can have intended to come out here, and speak to her in that way, and ask her to marry him, and then never to come back and see her any more! I wouldn’t believe it of him, not though his own mother said it!”
“I don’t say anything,” said Mrs Rowan, who felt that her position was one of some difficulty. “But we all do know that in affairs of that kind young men do allow themselves to go great lengths. And the greater lengths they go, Mrs Ray, the more particular the young ladies ought to be.”
“But what’s a young lady to do? How’s she to know whether a young man is in earnest, or whether he’s only going lengths, as you call it?” Mrs Ray’s eyes were still moist with tears; and, I grieve to say that though, as far as immediate words are concerned, she was fighting Rachel’s battle not badly, still the blows of the enemy were taking effect upon her. She was beginning to wish that Luke Rowan had never been seen, or his name heard, at Bragg’s End.
“I think it’s quite understood in the world”, said Mrs Rowan, “that a young lady is not to take a gentleman at his first word.”
“Oh, quite,” said Mrs Tappitt.
“We’ve all of us daughters,” said Mrs Rowan.
“Yes, all of us,” said Mrs Tappitt. “That’s what makes it so fitting that we should discuss this matter together in a friendly feeling.”
“My son is a very good young man — a very good young man indeed.”
“But a little hasty, perhaps?” said Mrs Tappitt.
“If you’ll allow me, Mrs Tappitt.”
“Oh, certainly. Mrs Rowan.”
“A very good young man indeed; and I don’t think it at all probable that in such a matter as this he will act in opposition to his mother’s wishes. He has his way to make in the world.”
“Which will never be in the brewery line,” said Mrs Tappitt.
“He has his way to make in the world.” continued Mrs Rowan, with much severity; “and if he marries in four or five years’ time, that will be quite as soon as he ought to think of doing. I’m sure you will agree with me, Mrs Ray, that long engagements are very bad, particularly for the lady.”
“He wanted to be married next month.” said Mrs Ray.
“Ah, yes; that shows that the whole thing couldn’t come to much. If there was an engagement at all, it must be a very long one. Years must roll by.” From the artistic manner in which Mrs Rowan allowed her voice to dwell upon the words which signified duration of space, any hope of a marriage between Luke and Rachel seemed to be put off at any rate to some future century. “Years must roll by, and we all know what that means. The lady dies of a broken heart, while the gentleman lives in a bachelor’s rooms, and dines always at his club. Nobody can wish such a state of things as that, Mrs Ray.”
“I knew a girl who was engaged for seven years,” said Mrs Tappitt, “and she wore herself to a thread-paper — so she did. And then he married his housekeeper after all,”
“I’d sooner see my girl make up her mind to be an old maid than let her have a long engagement,” said Mrs Rowan.
“And so would I, my girls, all three. If anybody comes, I say to them, ‘Let your papa see them. He’ll know what’s the meaning of it.’ It don’t do for young girls to manage those things all themselves. Not but what I think my girls have almost as much wit about them as I have. I won’t mention any names, but there’s a young man about here as well-to-do as any young man in the South Hams, but Cherry won’t as much as look at him.” Mrs Rowan again tossed her head. She felt her misfortune in being burthened with such a colleague as Mrs Tappitt.
“What is it you want me to do, Mrs Rowan?” asked Mrs Ray.
“I want you and your daughter, who I am sure is a very nice young lady, and good-looking too —
“Oh, quite so,” said Mrs Tappitt.
“I want you both to understand that this little thing should be allowed to drop. If my boy has done anything foolish I’m here to apologise for him. He isn’t the first that has been foolish, and I’m afraid he won’t be the last. But it can’t be believed, Mrs Ray, that marriages should be run up in this thoughtless sort of way. In the first place the young people don’t know anything of each other; absolutely nothing at all. And then — but I’m sure I don’t want to insist on any differences that there may be in their positions in life. Only you must be aware of this, Mrs Ray, that such a marriage as that would be very injurious to a young man like my son Luke.”
“My child wouldn’t wish to injure anybody.”
“And therefore, of course, she won’t think any more about it. All I want from you is that you should promise me that.”
“If Rachel will only just say that,” said Mrs Tappitt, “my daughters will be as happy to see her out walking with them as ever.”
“Rachel has had quite enough of such walkings, Mrs Tappitt; quite enough.”
“If harm has come of it, it hasn’t been the fault of my girls,” said Mrs Tappitt.
Then there was a pause among the three ladies, and it appeared that Mrs Rowan was waiting for Mrs Ray’s answer. But Mrs Ray did not know what answer she should make. She was already disposed to regard the coming of Luke Rowan to Baslehurst as a curse rather than a blessing. She felt all but convinced that Fate would be against her and hers in that matter. She had ever been afraid of young men, believing them to be dangerous, bringers of trouble into families, roaring lions sometimes, and often wolves in sheep’s clothing. Since she had first heard of Luke Rowan in connection with her daughter she had been trembling. If she could have acted in accordance with her own feelings at this moment, she would have begged that Luke Rowan’s name might never again be mentioned in her presence. It would be better for them, she thought, to bear what had already come upon them, than to run further risk. But she could not give any answer to Mrs Rowan without consulting Rachel — she could not at least give any such answer as that contemplated without doing so. She had sanctioned Rachel’s love, and could not now undertake to oppose it. Rachel had probably been deceived, and must bear her misfortune. But, as the question stood at present between her and her daughter, she could not at once accede to Mrs Rowan’s views in the matter. “I will talk to Rachel,” she said.
“Give her my kindest respects,” said Mrs Rowan; “and pray make her understand that I wouldn’t interfere if I didn’t think it was for both their advantages. Goodbye, Mrs Ray,” And Mrs Rowan got up.
“Goodbye, Mrs Ray,” said Mrs Tappitt, putting out her hand. “Give my love to Rachel. I hope that we shall be good friends yet, for all that has come and gone.”
But Mrs Ray would not accept Mrs Tappitt’s hand, nor would she vouchsafe any answer to Mrs Tappitt’s amenities. “Goodbye, ma’am,” she said to Mrs Rowan. “I suppose you mean to do the best you can by your own child.”
“And by yours too,” said Mrs Rowan.
“If so, I can only say that you must think very badly of your own son. Goodbye, ma’am.” Then Mrs Ray curtseyed them out — not without a certain amount of dignity, although her eyes were red with tears, and her whole body trembling with dismay.
Very little was said in the fly between the two ladies on their way back to the brewery, nor did Mrs Rowan remain very long as a visitor at Mrs Tappitt’s house. She had found herself compelled by circumstances to take a part inimical to Mrs Ray, but she felt in her heart a much stronger animosity to Mrs Tappitt. With Mrs Ray she could have been very friendly, only for that disastrous love affair; but with Mrs Tappitt she could not again put herself into pleasant relations. I must point out how sadly unfortunate it was that Mrs Ray had not known how to fan that flame of anger to her own and her daughter’s advantage.
“Well, mamma,” said Rachel, returning to the room as soon as she heard the wheels of the fly in motion upon the road across the green. She found her mother in tears — hardly able to speak because of her sobs. “Never mind it, mamma; of course I know the kind of things they have been saying. It was what I expected. Never mind it.”
“But, my dear, you will be broken-hearted.”
“I know you will. Now that you have learned to love him, you’ll never bear to lose him.”
“And must I lose him?”
“She says so. She says that he doesn’t mean it, and that it’s all nonsense.”
“I don’t believe her. Nothing shall make me believe that, mamma.”
“She says it would be ruinous to all his prospects, especially just now when he has quarrelled about this brewery.”
“Ruinous to him!”
“His mother says so.”
“I will never wish him to do anything that shall be ruinous to himself; never — not though I were broken-hearted, as you call it.”
“Ah, that is it, Rachel, my darling; I wish he had not come here.”
Rachel went away across the room and looked out of the window upon the green. There she stood in silence for a few minutes while her mother was wiping her eyes and suppressing her sobs. Tears also had run down Rachel’s cheeks; but they were silent tears, few in number and very salt. “I cannot bring myself to wish that yet,” said she.
“But he has gone away, and what can you do if he does not come again?”
“Do! Oh, I can do nothing. I could do nothing, even though he were here in Baslehurst every day of his life. If I once thought that he didn’t wish me — to — be — his wife, I should not want to do anything. But, mamma, I can’t believe it of him. It was only yesterday that he was here.”
“They say that young men don’t care what they say in that way nowadays,”
“I don’t believe it of him, mamma; his manner is so steadfast, and his voice sounds so true.”
“But then she is so terribly against it.”
Then again they were silent for a while, after which Rachel ended the conversation. “It is clear, at any rate, that you and I can do nothing, mamma. If she expects me to say that I will give him up, she is mistaken. Give him up! I couldn’t give him up, without being false to him. I don’t think I’ll ever be false to him. If he’s false to me, then — then, I must bear it, Mamma, don’t say anything to Dolly about this just at present.” In answer to which request Mrs Ray promised that she would not at present say anything to Mrs Prime about Mrs Rowan’s visit.
The following day and the Sunday were not passed in much happiness by the two ladies at Bragg’s End. Tidings reached them that Mrs Rowan and her daughter were going to London on the Monday, but no letter came to them from Luke. By the Monday morning Mrs Ray had quite made up her mind that Luke Rowan was lost to them for ever, and Rachel had already become worn with care. During that Saturday and Sunday nothing was seen of Mrs Prime at Bragg’s End.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14