When Mrs Tappitt had settled within her own mind that the brewery should be abandoned to Rowan, she was by no means, therefore, ready to assent that Rachel Ray should become the mistress of the brewery house. “Never,” she had exclaimed when Cherry had suggested such a result; “never!” And Augusta had echoed the protestation, “Never, never!” I will not say that she would have allowed her husband to remain in his business in order that she might thus exclude Rachel from such promotion, but she could not bring herself to believe that Luke Rowan would be so fatuous, so ignorant of his own interests, so deluded as to marry that girl from Bragg’s End! It is thus that the Mrs Tappitts of the world regard other women’s daughters when they have undergone any disappointment as to their own. She had no reason for wishing well to Rowan, and would not have cared if he had taken to his bosom a harpy in marriage: but she could not endure to hear of the success of the girl whose attractions had foiled her own little plan. “I don’t believe that the man can even be such a fool as that!” she said again to Augusta, when on the evening of the day following Tappitt’s abdication, a rumour reached the brewery that Luke Rowan had been seen walking out upon the Cawston Road.
Mr Honyman, in accordance with his instruction, called at the brewery on that morning. and was received by Mr Tappitt with a sullen and almost savage submission. Mrs T. had endeavoured to catch him first, but in that she had failed; she did, however, manage to see the attorney as he came out from her husband.
“It’s all settled”, said Honyman: “and I’ll see Rowan myself before half an hour is over.”
“I’m sure it’s a great blessing, Mr Honyman,” said the lady — not on that occasion assuming any of the glory to herself.
“It was the only thing for him.” said Mr Honyman —“that is if he didn’t like to take the young man in as acting partner.”
“That wouldn’t have done at all,’— said Mrs T. And then the lawyer went his way.
In the meantime Tappitt sat sullen and wretched in the counting-house. Such moments occur in the lives of most of us — moments in which the real work of life is brought to an end — and they cannot but be sad. It is very well to talk of ease and dignity; but ease of spirit comes from action only, and the world’s dignity is given to those who do the world’s work. Let no man put his neck from out of the collar till in truth he can no longer draw the weight attached to it. Tappitt had now got rid of his collar, and he sat very wretched in his brewery counting-house.
“Be I to go, sir?”
Tappitt in his meditation was interrupted by these words, spoken not in a rough voice, and looking up he saw Worts standing in the counting-house before him. Worts had voted for Butler Cornbury, whereas had he voted for Mr Hart, Mr Hart would have been returned; and, upon that, Worts, as a rebellious subject, had received notice to quit the premises. Now his time was out, and he came to ask whether he was to leave the scene of his forty years of work. But what would be the use of sending Worts away even if the wish to punish his contumacy still remained? In another week Worts would be brought back again in triumph, and would tread those brewery floors with the step almost of a master, while he, Tappitt, could tread them only as a stranger, if he were allowed to tread them at all.
“You can stay if you like,” said Tappitt, hardly looking up at the man.
“I know you be a going, Mr Tappitt,” said the man; “and I hear you be a going very handsome like. Gentlefolk such as you needn’t go on working always like us. If so be you be a going, Mr Tappitt, I hope you and me’ll part friendly. We’ve been together a sight o’ years — too great a sight for us to part unfriendly.”
Mr Tappitt admitted the argument, shook hands with the man, and then of course took him into his immediate confidence with more warmth than he would have done had there been no quarrel between them. And I think he found some comfort in this. He walked about the premises with Worts, telling him much that was true, and some few things that were not strictly accurate. For instance, he said that he had made up his mind to leave the place, whereas that action of decisive resolution which we call making up our minds had perhaps been done by Mrs Tappitt rather than by him. But Worts took all these assertions with an air of absolute belief which comforted the brewer. Worts was very wise in his discretion on that day, and threw much oil on the troubled waters; so that Tappitt when he left him bade God bless him, and expressed a hope that the old place might still thrive for his sake.
“And for your’n too, master,” said Worts, “for yeu’ll allays have the best egg still. The young master, he’ll only be a working for you.”
There was comfort in this thought: and Tappitt, when he went into his dinner, was able to carry himself like a man.
The tidings which had reached Mrs Tappitt as to Rowan having been seen on that evening walking on the Cawston road with his face towards Bragg’s End were true. On that morning Mr Honyman had come to him, and his career in life was at once settled for him.
“Mr Tappitt is quite in time, Mr Honyman,” he had said. “But he would not have been in time this day week unless he had consented to pay for what work had been already done; for I had determined to begin at once.”
“The truth is, Mr Rowan, you step into an uncommon good thing; but Mr Tappitt is tired of the work, and glad to give it up.”
Thus the matter was arranged between them, and before nightfall everybody in Baslehurst knew that Tappitt and Rowan had come to terms, and that Tappitt was to retire upon a pension. There was some little discrepancy as to the amount of Tappitt’s annuity, the Liberal faction asserting that he was to receive two thousand a year, and those of the other side cutting him down to two hundred.
On the evening of that day — in the cool of the evening — Luke Rowan sauntered down the High Street of Baslehurst, and crossed over Cawston Bridge. On the bridge he was all alone, and he stood there for a moment or two leaning upon the parapet looking down upon the little stream beneath the arch. During the day many things had occupied him, and he had hardly as yet made up his mind definitely as to what he would do and what he would say during the hours of the evening. From the moment in which Honyman had announced to him Tappitt’s intended resignation he became aware that he certainly should go out to Bragg’s End before that day was over. It had been with him a settled thing, a thing settled almost without thought ever since the receipt of Rachel’s letter, that he would take this walk to Bragg’s End when he should have put his affairs at Baslehurst on some stable footing; but that he would not take that walk before he had so done.
“They say,” Rachel had written in her letter, “they say that as the business here about the brewery is so very unsettled, they think it probable that you will not have to come back to Baslehurst any more.”
In that had been the offence. They had doubted his stability, and, beyond that, had almost doubted his honesty. He would punish them by taking them at their word till both should be put beyond all question. He knew well that the punishment would fall on Rachel, whereas none of the sin would have been Rachel’s sin; but he would not allow himself to be deterred by that consideration.
“It is her letter,” he said to himself, “and in that way will I answer her. When I do go there again they will all understand me better.”
It had been, too, a matter of pride to him that Mr Comfort and Mrs Butler Cornbury should thus be made to understand him. He would say nothing of himself and his own purposes to any of them. He would speak neither of his own means nor his own steadfastness. But he would prove to them that he was steadfast, and that he had boasted of nothing which he did not possess. When Mrs Butler Cornbury had spoken to him down by the Cleeves, asking him of his purpose, and struggling to do a kind thing by Rachel, he had resolved at once that he would tell her nothing. She would find him out. He liked her for loving Rachel; but neither to her, nor even to Rachel herself, would he say more till he could show them that the business about the brewery was no longer unsettled.
But up to this moment — this moment in which he was standing on the bridge, he had not determined what he would say to Rachel or to Rachel’s mother. He had never relaxed in his purpose of making Rachel his wife since his first visit to the cottage. He was one who, having a fixed resolve, feels certain of their ultimate success in achieving it. He was now going to Bragg’s End to claim that which he regarded as his own; but he had not as yet told himself in what terms he would put forward his claim. So he stood upon the bridge thinking.
He stood upon the bridge thinking, but his thoughts would only go backwards, and would do nothing for him as to his future conduct. He remembered his first walk with her, and the churchyard elms with the setting sun, and the hot dances in Mrs Tappitt’s house; and he remembered them without much of the triumph of a successful lover. It had been very sweet, but very easy. In so saying to himself he by no means threw blame upon Rachel. Things were easy, he thought, and it was almost a pity that they should be so. As for Rachel, nothing could have been more honest or more to his taste, than her mode of learning to love him. A girl who, while intending to accept him, could yet have feigned indifference, would have disgusted him at once. Nevertheless he could not but wish that there had been some castles for him to storm in his career. Tappitt had made but poor pretence of fighting before he surrendered; and as to Rachel, it had not been in Rachel’s nature to make any pretence. He passed from the bridge at last without determining what he would say when be reached the cottage, but he did not pass on till he had been seen by the scrutinising eyes of Miss Pucker.
“If there ain’t young Rowan going out to Bragg’s End again!” she said to herself, comforting herself, I fear, or striving to comfort herself, with an inward assertion that he was not going there for any good. Striving to comfort herself, but not effectually; for though the assertion was made by herself to herself, yet it was not believed. Though she declared, with well-pronounced mental words, that Luke Rowan was going on that path for no good purpose, she felt a wretched conviction at her heart’s core that Rachel Ray would be made to triumph over her and her early suspicions by a happy marriage. Nevertheless she carried the tidings up into Baslehurst, and as she repeated it to the grocer’s daughters and the baker’s wives she shook her head with as much apparent satisfaction as though she really believed that Rachel oscillated between a ruined name and a broken heart.
He walked on very slowly towards Bragg’s End, as though he almost dreaded the interview, swinging his stick as was his custom, and keeping his feet on the grassy edges of the road till he came to the turn which brought him on to the green. When on the green he did not take the highway, but skirted along under Farmer Sturt’s hedge, so that he had to pass by the entrance of the farmyard before he crossed over to the cottage. Here, just inside her own gate, he encountered Mrs Sturt standing alone. She had been intent on the cares of her poultry-yard till she had espied Luke Rowan; but then she had forgotten chickens and ducks and all, and had given herself up to thoughts of Rachel’s happiness in having her lover back again.
“It’s he as sure as eggs,” she had said to herself when she first saw him; “how mortal slow he do walk, to be sure! If he was coming as joe to me I’d soon shake him into quicker steps than them.”
“Oh, Mrs Sturt!” said he, “I hope you’re quite well,” and he stopped short at her gate.
“Pretty bobbish, thankee, Mr Rowan; and how’s yourself? Are you going over to the cottage this evening?”
“Who’s at home there, Mrs Sturt?”
“Well, they’re all at home; Mrs Ray, and Rachel, and Mrs Prime. I doubt whether you know the eldest daughter, Mr Rowan?”
Luke did not know Mrs Prime, and by no means wished to spend any of the hours of the present evening in making her acquaintance.
“Is Mrs Prime there?” he asked.
“Deed she is. Mr Rowan. She’s come back these last two days.”
Thereupon Rowan paused for a moment, having carefully placed himself inside the gateposts of the farmyard so that he might not be seen by the inmates of the cottage, if haply he had hitherto escaped their eyes.
“Mrs Sturt,” said he, “I wonder whether you’d do me a great favour.”
“That depends,” said Mrs Sturt. “If it’s to do any good to any of them over there, I will.”
“If I wanted to do harm to any of them I shouldn’t come to you.”
“Well, I should hope not. Is she and you going to be one, Mr Rowan? That’s about the whole of it.”
“It shan’t be my fault if we’re not,” said Rowan.
“That’s spoken honest,” said the lady; “and now I’ll do anything in my power to bring you together. If you’ll just go into my little parlour, I’ll bring her to you in five seconds; I will indeed, Mr Rowan. You won’t mind going through the kitchen for once, will you?”
Luke did not mind going through the kitchen, and immediately found himself shut up in Mr Sturt’s back parlour, looking out among the mingled roses and cabbages.
Mrs Sturt walked quickly across the road to the cottage door, and went at once to the open window of the sitting-room. Mrs Ray was there with a book in her hand — a serious book, the perusal of which I fear was in some degree due to the presence of her elder daughter; and Mrs Prime was there with another book, evidently very serious; and Rachel was there too, seated on the sofa, deeply buried in the manipulation of a dress belonging to her mother. Mrs Sturt was sure at once that they had not seen Luke Rowan as he passed inside the farmyard gate, and that they did not suspect that he was near them.
“Oh, Mrs Sturt, is that you?” said the widow looking up. “You’ll just come in for a minute, won’t you?” and Mrs Ray showed by a suppressed yawn that her attention had not been deeply fixed by that serious book. Rachel looked up, and bade the visitor welcome with a little nod; but it was not a cheery nod as it would have been in old days, before her sorrow had come upon her.
“I’ll have the cherries back in her cheeks before the evening’s over.” said Mrs Sturt to herself, as she looked at the pale-faced girl. Mrs Prime also made some little salutation to their neighbour; but she did so with the very smallest expenditure of thoughts or moments. Mrs Sturt was all very well, but Mrs Prime had greater work on hand than gossiping with Mrs Sturt.
“I’ll not just come in, thankee, Mrs Ray; but if it ain’t troubling you I want to speak a word to you outside; and a word to Rachel too, if she don’t mind coming.
“A word to me!” said Rachel getting up and putting down her dress. Her thoughts nowadays were always fixed on the same subject, and it seemed that any special word to her must have reference to that. Mrs Ray also got up, leaving her mark in her book. Mrs Prime went on reading, harder than ever. There was to be some conference of importance from which she could not but feel herself to be excluded in a very special way. Something wicked was surely to be proposed, or she would have been allowed to hear it. She said nothing, but her head was almost shaken by the vehemence with which she read the book in her lap.
Mrs Sturt retired beyond the precincts of the widow’s front garden before she said a word. Rachel had followed her first through the gate, and Mrs Ray came after with her apron turned over her head. “What is it, Mrs Sturt?” said Rachel. “Have you heard anything?”
“Heard anything? Well; I’m always a-hearing of something. Do you slip across the green while I speak just one word to your mother. And, Rachel, wait for me at the gate. Mrs Ray, he’s in my little parlour.”
“Who? not Luke Rowan?”
“But he is though: that very young man! He’s come over to make it up with her. He’s told me so with his own mouth. You may be as sure of it as — as — as anything. You leave ’em to me, Mrs Ray; I wouldn’t bring them together if it wasn’t for good. It’s my belief our pet would a’ died if he hadn’t come back to her — it is then.” And Mrs Sturt put her apron up to her eyes.
Rachel having paused for a moment, as she looked first at her mother and then at Mrs Sturt, had done as she was bidden, and had walked quickly across the green. Mrs Ray, when she heard her neighbour’s tidings, stood fixed by dismay and dread, mingled with joy. She had longed for his coming back; but now that he was there, close upon them, intending to do all that she had wished him to do, she was half afraid of him! After all was he not a young man; and might he not, even yet, be a wolf? She was horror-stricken at the idea of sending Rachel over to see a lover and looked back at the cottage window, towards Mrs Prime, as though to see whether she was being watched in her iniquity. “Oh, Mrs Sturt!” she said, “why didn’t you give us time to think about it?”
“Give you time! How could I give you time, and he here on the spot? There’s been too much time to my thinking. When young folk are agreeable and the old folk are agreeable too, there can’t be too little time. Come along over and we’ll talk of it in the kitchen while they talks in the parlour. He’d a been in there among you all only for Mrs Prime. She is so dour like for a young man to have to say anything before her, of the likes of that. That’s why I took him into our place.”
They overtook Rachel at the house door and they all went through together into the great kitchen. “Oh, Rachel!” said Mrs Ray. “Oh, dear!”
“What is it, mamma?” said Rachel. Then looking into her mother’s face, she guessed the truth. “Mamma,” she said, “he’s here! Mr Rowan is here!” And she took hold of her mother’s arm, as though to support herself.
“And that’s just the truth,” said Mrs Sturt, triumphantly. “He’s through there in the little parlour, and you must just go to him, my dear, and hear what he’s got to say to you.”
“Oh, mamma!” said Rachel.
“I suppose you must do what she tells you,” said Mrs Ray.
“Of course she must,” said Mrs Sturt.
“Mamma, you must go to him,” said Rachel,
“That won’t do at all,” said Mrs Sturt.
“And why has he come here?” said Rachel.
“Ah! I wonder why,” said Mrs Sturt. “I wonder why any young man should come on such an errand! But it won’t do to leave him there standing in my parlour by himself, so do you come along with me.”
So saying Mrs Sturt took Rachel by the arm to lead her away. Mrs Ray in this great emergency was perfectly helpless. She could simply look at her with imploring, loving eyes, and stand quivering in doubt against the dresser. Mrs Sturt had very decided views on the matter. She had put Luke Rowan into the parlour with a promise that she would bring Rachel to him there, and she was not going to break her word through any mock delicacy. The two young people liked one another, and they should have this opportunity of saying so in each other’s hearing. So she took Rachel by the arm, and opening the door of the parlour led her into the room. “Mr Rowan,” she said, “when you and Miss Rachel have had your say out, you’ll find me and her mamma in the kitchen.” Then she closed the door and left them alone.
Rachel, when first summoned out of the cottage, had felt at once that Mrs Sturt’s visit must have reference to Luke Rowan. Indeed everything with her in her present moods had some reference to him — some reference though it might be ever so remote. But now before she had time to form a thought, she was told that he was there in the same house with her, and that she was taken to him in order that she might hear his words and speak her own. It was very sudden: and for the space of a few moments she would have fled away from Mrs Sturt’s kitchen had such flight been possible. Since Rowan had gone from her there had been times in which she would have fled to him, in which she would have journeyed alone any distance so that she might tell him of her love, and ask whether she had got any right to hope for his. But all that seemed to be changed. Though her mother was there with her and her friend, she feared that this seeking of her lover was hardly maidenly. Should he not have come to her — every foot of the way to her feet, and there have spoken if he had aught to say, before she had been called on to make any sign? Would he like her for thus going to him? But then she had no chance of escape. She found herself in Mrs Sturt’s kitchen under her mother’s sanction, before she had been able to form any purpose; and then an idea did come to her, even at that moment, that poor Luke would have had a hard task of it in her sister’s presence. When she was first told that he was there in the farmhouse parlour, her courage left her and she dreaded the encounter; but she was able to collect her thoughts as she passed out of the kitchen, and across the passage, and when she followed Mrs Sturt into the room she had again acquired the power to carry herself as a woman having a soul of her own.
“Rachel!” Rowan said, stepping up to her and tendering his hand to her. “I have come to answer your letter in person.”
“I knew”, she said, “when I wrote it, that my letter did not deserve any answer. I did not expect an answer.”
“But am I wrong now to bring you one in person? I have thought so much of seeing you again! Will you not say a word of welcome to me?”
“I am glad to see you, Mr Rowan.”
“Mr Rowan! Nay; if it is to be Mr Rowan I may as well go back to Baslehurst. It has come to that, that it must be Luke now, or there must be no naming of names between us. You chided me once when I called you Rachel.”
“You called me so once, sir, when I should have chided you and did not. I remember it well. You were very wrong, and I was very foolish.”
“But I may call you Rachel now?” Then when she did not answer him at the moment, he asked the question again in that imperious way which was common with him. “May I not call you now as I please? If it be not so my coming here is useless. Come, Rachel, say one word to me boldly. Do you love me well enough to be my wife?”
She was standing at the open window, looking away from him, while he remained at a little distance from her as though he would not come close to her till he had exacted from her some positive assurance of her love as a penance for the fault committed by her letter. He certainly was not a soft lover, nor by any means inclined to abate his own privileges. He paused a moment as though he thought that his last question must elicit a plain reply. But no reply to it came. She still looked away from him through the window, as though resolved that she would not speak till his mood should have become more tender.
“You said something in your letter”, he continued, “about my affairs here in Baslehurst being unsettled. I would not show myself here again till that matter was arranged.”
“It was not I,” she said, turning sharply round upon him. “It was not I who thought that.”
“It was in your letter, Rachel.”
“Do you know so little of a girl like me as to suppose that what was written there came from me, myself? Did I not tell you that I said what I was told to say? Did I not explain to you that mamma had gone to Mr Comfort? Did yon not know that all that had come from him?”
“I only know that I read it in your letter to me — the only letter you had ever written to me.”
“You are unfair to me, Mr Rowan. You know that you are unfair.”
“Call me Luke,” he said. “Call me by my own name.”
“Luke,” she said, “you are unfair to me.”
“Then by heavens it shall be for the last time. May things in this world and the next go well with me as I am fair to you for the future!” So saying he came up close to her, and took her at once in his arms.
“Luke, Luke: don’t. You frighten me; indeed you do.”
“You shall give me a fair open kiss, honestly, before I leave you — in truth you shall. If you love me, and wish to be my wife, and intend me to understand that you and I am now pledged to each other beyond the power of any person to separate us by his advice, or any mother by her fears, give me a bold, honest kiss, and I will understand that it means all that.”
Still she hesitated for a moment, turning her face away from him while he held her by the waist. She hesitated while she was weighing the meaning of his words, and taking them home to herself as her own. Then she turned her neck towards him, still holding back her head till her face was immediately under his own, and after another moment’s pause she gave him her pledge as he had asked it. Mrs Sturt’s words had come true, and the cherries had returned to her cheek.
“My own Rachel! And now tell me one thing: are you happy?”
“My own one!”
“But, Luke — I have been wretched — so wretched! I thought you would never come back to me.”
“And did that make you wretched?”
“Ah! — did it? What do you think yourself! When I wrote that letter to you I knew I had no right to expect that you would think of me again.”
“But how could I help thinking of you when I loved you?”
“And then when mamma saw you in Exeter, and you sent me no word of message!”
“I was determined to send none till this business was finished.”
“Ah! that was cruel. But you did not understand. I suppose no man can understand. I couldn’t have believed it myself till — till after you had gone away. It seemed as though all the sun had deserted us, and that everything was cold and dark.”
They stood at the open window looking out upon the roses and cabbages till the patience of Mrs Sturt and of Mrs Ray was exhausted. What they said, beyond so much of their words as I have repeated, need not be told. But when a low half-abashed knock at the door interrupted them, Luke thought that they had hardly been there long enough to settle the preliminaries of the affair which had brought him to Bragg’s End.
“May we come in?” said Mrs Sturt very timidly.
“Oh, mamma, mamma!” said Rachel, and she hid her face upon her mother’s shoulder.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01