By one vote! Old Mr Cornbury when he heard of it gasped with dismay, and in secret regretted that his son had not been beaten. What seat could be gained by one vote and not be contested, especially when the beaten candidate was a Jew clothier rolling in money? And what sums would not a petition and scrutiny cost? Butler Cornbury himself was dismayed, and could hardly participate in the exultation of his more enthusiastic wife. Mr Hart of course declared that he would petition, and that he was as sure of the seat as though he already occupied it. But as it was known that every possible electioneering device had been put in practice on his behalf during the last two hours of the poll, the world at large in Baslehurst believed that young Cornbury’s position was secure. Tappitt and some few others were of a different opinion. At the present moment Tappitt could not endure to acknowledge to himself that he has been beaten. Nothing but the prestige and inward support of immediate success could support him in that contest, so much more important to himself, in which he was now about to be engaged. That matter of the petition, however, can hardy be brought into the present story. The political world will understand that it would be carried on with great vigour.
The news of the election of Butler Cornbury reached the cottage at Bragg’s End by the voice of Mr Sturt on the same evening; and Mrs Ray, in her quiet way, expressed much joy that Mr Comfort’s son-in-law should have been successful, and that Baslehurst should not have disgraced itself by any connection with a Jew. To her it had appeared monstrous that such a one should have been even permitted to show himself in the town as a candidate for its representation. To such she would have denied all civil rights, and almost all social rights. For a true spirit of persecution one should always go to a woman; and the milder, the sweeter, the more loving, the more womanly the woman, the stronger will be that spirit within her. Strong love for the thing loved necessitates strong hatred for the thing hated, and thence comes the spirit of persecution. They in England who are now keenest against the Jews, who would again take from them rights that they have lately won, are certainly those who think most of the faith of a Christian. The most deadly enemies of the Roman Catholics are they who love best their religion as Protestants. When we look to individuals we always find it so, though it hardly suits us to admit as much when we discuss these subjects broadly. To Mrs Ray it was wonderful that a Jew should have been entertained in Baslehurst as a future member for the borough, and that he should have been admitted to speak aloud within a few yards of the church tower!
On the day but one after the election Mrs Sturt brought over to the cottage an extra sheet of “the Baslehurst Gazette,” which had been published out of its course, and which was devoted to the circumstances of the election. I am not sure that Mrs Sturt would have regarded this somewhat dull report of the election speeches as having any peculiar interest for Mrs Ray and her daughter had it not been for one special passage. Luke Rowan’s speech about Baslehurst was given at length, and in it was contained that public promise as to his matrimonial intentions. Mrs Sturt came into the cottage parlour with the paper doubled into four, and with her finger on a particular spot. To her it had seemed that Rowan’s promise must have been intended for Rachel, and it seemed also that nothing could be more manly, straightforward, or gallant than that assurance. It suited her idea of chivalry. But she was not quite sure that Rachel would enjoy the publicity of the declaration, and therefore she was prepared to point the passage out more particularly to Mrs Ray. “I’ve brought’ee the account of it all,” said she, still holding the paper in her hand. “The gudeman — he’s done with t’ paper, and you’ll keep it for good and all. One young man that we know of has made t’ finest speech of ’em all to my mind. Luik at that, Mrs Ray.” Then, with a knowing wink at the mother, and a poke at the special words with her finger, she left the sheet in Mrs Ray’s hand, and went her way.
Mrs Ray, who had not quite understood the pantomime, and whose eye had not caught the words relating to marriage, saw, however, that the column indicated contained the report of a speech made by Luke Rowan, and she began it at the beginning and read it throughout. Luke had identified himself with the paper, and therefore received from it almost more than justice. His words were given at very full length, and for some ten minutes she was reading before she came to the words which Mrs Sturt had hoped would be so delightful.
“What is it, mamma?” Rachel asked.
“A speech, my dear, made at the election.”
“And who made it, mamma?”
Mrs Ray hesitated for a moment before she answered, thereby letting Rachel know full well who made the speech before the word was spoken. But at last she did speak the word —“Mr Rowan, my dear.”
“Oh!” said Rachel; she longed to get hold of the newspaper, but she would utter no word expressive of such longing. Since that evening on which she had been bidden to look at the clouds she had regarded Luke as a special hero, cleverer than other men around her, as a man born to achieve things and make himself known. It was not astonishing to her that a speech of his should be reported at length in the newspaper. He was a man certain to rise, to make speeches, and to be reported. So she thought of him; and so thinking had almost wished that it were not so. Could she expect that such an one would stoop to her? or that if he did so that she could be fit for him? He had now perceived that himself, and therefore had taken her at her word, and had left her. Had he been more like other men around her — more homely, less prone to rise, with less about him of fire and genius, she might have won him and kept him. The prize would not have been so precious; but still, she thought, it might have been sufficient for her heart. A young man who could find printers and publishers to report his words in that way, on the first moment of his coming among them would he turn aside from his path to look after her? Would he not bring with him some grand lady down from London as his wife?
“Dear me!” said Mrs Ray, quite startled. “Oh, dear! What do you think he says?”
“What does he say, mamma?,”
“Well, I don’t know. Perhaps he mayn’t mean it. I don’t think I ought to have spoken of it.”
“If it’s in the newspaper I suppose I should have heard of it, unless you sent it back without letting me see it.”
“She said we were to keep it, and it’s because of that, I’m sure. She was always the most good-natured woman in the world. I don’t know what we should have done if we hadn’t found such a neighbour as Mrs Sturt.”
“But what is it, mamma, that you are speaking of in the newspapers?”
“Mr Rowan says — Oh, dear! I wish I’d let you come to it yourself. How very odd that he should get up and say that kind of thing in public before all the people. He says — but anyway I know he means it because he’s so honest. And after all if he means it, it doesn’t much matter where he says it. Handsome is that handsome does. There, my dear; I don’t know how to tell it you, so you had better read it yourself.”
Rachel with eager hands took the paper, and began the speech as her mother had done, and read it through. She read it through till she came to those words, and then she put the paper down beside her. “I understand what you mean, mamma, and what Mrs Sturt meant; but Mr Rowan did not mean that.”
“What did he mean, my dear?”
“He meant them to understand that he intended to become a man of Baslehurst like one of themselves.”
“But then why did he talk about finding a wife there?
“He wouldn’t have said that, mamma, if he had meant anything particular. If anything of that sort had been at all in his mind, it would have kept him from saying what he did say.”
“But didn’t he mean that he intended to marry a Baslehurst lady?”
“He meant it in that sort of way in which men do mean such things. It was his way to make them think well of him. But don’t let us talk any more about it, mamma. It isn’t nice.”
“Well, I’m sure I can’t understand it,” said Mrs Ray. But she became silent on the subject, and the reading of the newspaper was passed over to Rachel.
This had not been completed when a step was heard on the gravel walk outside, and Mrs Ray, jumping up, declared it to be the step of her eldest daughter. It was so, and Mrs Prime was very soon in the room. It was at this time about four o’clock in the afternoon, and therefore, as the hour for tea at the cottage was half past five, it was naturally understood that Mrs Prime had come there to join them at their evening meal. After their first greeting she had seated herself on the sofa, and there was that in her manner which showed both to her mother and sister that she was somewhat confused — that she had something to say as to which there was some hesitation. “Do take off your bonnet, Dorothea,” said her mother.
“Will you come upstairs, Dolly”, said her sister, “and put your hair straight after your walk?”
But Dolly did not care whether her hair was straight or tossed, as the Irish girls say when the smoothness of their locks has been disarranged. She took off her bonnet, however, and laid it on the sofa beside her. “Mother,” she said, “I’ve got something particular that I want to say to you.”
“I hope it’s not anything serious the matter,” said Mrs Ray.
“Well, mother, it is serious. Things are serious mostly, I think — or should be.”
“Shall I go into the garden while you are speaking to mamma?” said Rachel.
“No, Rachel; not on my account. What I’ve got to say should be said to you as well as to mother. It’s all over between me and Mr Prong.”
“No!” said Mrs Ray.
“I thought it would be,” said Rachel.
“And why did you think so?” said Mrs Prime, turning round upon her sister, almost angrily.
“I felt that he wouldn’t suit you, Dolly; that’s why I thought so. If it’s all over now, I suppose there’s no harm in saying that I didn’t like him well enough to hope he’d be my brother-in-law.”
“But that couldn’t make you think it. However, it’s all over between us. We agreed that it should be so this morning; and I thought it right to come out and let you know at once.”
“I’m glad you’ve told us,” said Mrs Ray.
“Was there any quarrel?” asked Rachel.
“No, Rachel, there was no quarrel; not what you call a quarrel, I suppose. We found there were subjects of disagreement between us — matters on which we had adverse opinions; and therefore it was better that we should part.”
“It was about the money, perhaps?” said Mrs Ray.
“Well, yes; it was in part about the money. Had I known then as much as I do now about the law in such matters, I should have told Mr Prong from the first that it could not be. He is a good man, and I hope I have not disturbed his happiness.”
“I used to be afraid that he would disturb yours,” said Rachel, “and therefore I cannot pretend to regret it.”
“That’s not charitable, Rachel. But if you please we won’t say anything more about it. It’s over, and that is enough. And now, mother, I want to know if you will object to my returning here and living at the cottage again.”
Mrs Ray could not bethink herself at the moment what answer she might best make, and therefore for some moments she made none. For herself she would have been delighted that her eldest daughter should return to the cottage. Under no circumstances could she refuse her own child a home under her own roof. But at the present moment she could not forget the circumstances under which Mrs Prime had gone, and it militated sorely against Mrs Ray’s sense of justice that the return should be made to depend on other circumstances. Mrs Prime had gone away in loud disapproval of Rachel’s conduct; and now she proposed to return, on this breaking up of her own matrimonial arrangements, as though she had left the cottage because of her proposed marriage. Mrs Prime should be welcomed back, but her return should be accompanied by a withdrawal of her accusation against Rachel. Mrs Ray did not know how to put her demand into words, but her mind was clear on the subject.
“Well, mother,” said Mrs Prime; “is there any objection?”
“No, my dear; no objection at all: of course not. I shall be delighted to have you back, and so, I’m sure, will Rachel; but ——”
“But what? Is it about money?”
“Oh, dear, no! Nothing about money at all. If you do come back — and I’m sure I hope you will; and indeed it seems quite unnatural that you should be staying in Baslehurst, while we are living here. But I think you ought to say, my dear, that Rachel behaved just as she ought to behave in all that matter about — about Mr Rowan, you know.”
“Don’t mind me, mamma,” said Rachel — who could, however, have smothered her mother with kisses, on hearing these words.
“But I think we all ought to understand each other, Rachel. You and your sister can’t go on comfortably together, if there’s to be more black looks about that.”
“I don’t know that there have been any black looks,” said Mrs Prime, looking very black as she spoke.
“At any rate we should understand each other,” continued Mrs Ray, with admirable courage. “I’ve thought a great deal about it since you’ve been away. Indeed I haven’t thought about much else. And I don’t think I shall ever forgive myself for having let a hard word be said to Rachel about it.”
“Oh, mamma, don’t — don’t,” said Rachel. But those meditated embraces were continued in her imagination.
“I don’t want to say any hard words,” said Mrs Prime.
“No; I’m sure you don’t — only they were said — weren’t they, now? Didn’t we blame her about being out there in the churchyard that evening?”
“Mamma!” exclaimed Rachel.
“Well, my dear, I won’t say any more — only this. Your sister went away because she thought you weren’t good enough for her to live with; and if she comes back again — which I’m sure I hope she will — I think she ought to say that she’s been mistaken.”
Mrs Prime looked very black, and no word fell from her. She sat there silent and gloomy while Mrs Ray looked at the fireplace, lost in wonder at her own effort. Whether she would have given way or not, had she and Mrs Prime been alone, I cannot say. That Mrs Prime would have uttered no outspoken recantation I feel sure. It was Rachel at last who settled the matter.
“If Dolly comes back to live here, mamma,” said she, “I shall take that as an acknowledgement on her part that she thinks I am good enough to live with.”
“Well, my dear,” said Mrs Ray, “Perhaps that’ll do; only there should be an understanding, you know.”
Mrs Prime at the moment said nothing; but when next she spoke her words showed her intention of having her things brought back to the cottage on the next day. I think it must be felt that Rachel had won the victory. She felt it so herself, and was conscious that no further attempt would be made to carry her off to Dorcas meetings against her own will.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55