During the last six months Mr Peacocke’s most intimate friend at Bowick, excepting of course his wife, had been one of the pupils at the school. The lad was one of the pupils, but could not be said to be one of the boys. He was the young Lord Carstairs, eldest son of Earl Bracy. He had been sent to Bowick now six years ago, with the usual purpose of progressing from Bowick to Eton. And from Bowick to Eton he had gone in due course. But there, things had not gone well with the young lord. Some school disturbance had taken place when he had been there about a year and a half, in which he was, or was supposed to have been, a ringleader. It was thought necessary, for the preservation of the discipline of the school, that a victim should be made — and it was perhaps thought well, in order that the impartiality of the school might be made manifest, that the victim should be a lord. Earl Bracy was therefore asked to withdraw his son; and young Lord Carstairs, at the age of seventeen, was left to seek his education where he could. It had been, and still was, the Earl’s purpose to send his son to Oxford, but there was now an interval of two years before that could be accomplished. During one year he was sent abroad to travel with a tutor, and was then reported to have been all that a well-conducted lad ought to be. He was declared to be quite worthy of all that Oxford would do for him. It was even suggested that Eton had done badly for herself in throwing off from her such a young nobleman. But though Lord Carstairs had done well with his French and German on the Continent, it would certainly be necessary that he should rub up his Greek and Latin before he went to Christ Church. Then a request was made to the Doctor to take him in at Bowick in some sort as a private pupil. After some demurring the Doctor consented. It was not his wont to run counter to earls who treated him with respect and deference. Earl Bracy had in a special manner been his friend, and Lord Carstairs himself had been a great favourite at Bowick. When that expulsion from Eton had come about, the Doctor had interested himself, and had declared that a very scant measure of justice had been shown to the young lord. He was thus in a measure compelled to accede to the request made to him, and Lord Carstairs was received back at Bowick, not without hesitation, but with a full measure of affectionate welcome. His bedroom was in the parsonage-house, and his dinner he took with the Doctor’s family. In other respects he lived among the boys.
“Will it not be bad for Mary?” Mrs Wortle had said anxiously to her husband when the matter was first discussed.
“Why should it be bad for Mary?”
“Oh, I don’t know — but young people together, you know? Mightn’t it be dangerous?”
“He is a boy, and she is a mere child. They are both children. It will be a trouble, but I do not think it will be at all dangerous in that way.” And so it was decided. Mrs Wortle did not at all agree as to their both being children. She thought that her girl was far from being a child. But she had argued the matter quite as much as she ever argued anything with the Doctor. So the matter was arranged, and young Lord Carstairs came back to Bowick.
As far as the Doctor could see, nothing could be nicer than his young pupil’s manners. He was not at all above playing with the other boys. He took very kindly to his old studies and his old haunts, and of an evening, after dinner, went away from the drawing-room to the study in pursuit of his Latin and his Greek, without any precocious attempt at making conversation with Miss Wortle. No doubt there was a good deal of lawn-tennis of an afternoon, and the lawn-tennis was generally played in the rectory garden. But then this had ever been the case, and the lawn-tennis was always played with two on a side; there were no tête-à-tête games between his lordship and Mary, and whenever the game was going on, Mrs Wortle was always there to see fair play. Among other amusements the young lord took to walking far afield with Mr Peacocke. And then, no doubt, many things were said about that life in America. When a man has been much abroad, and has passed his time there under unusual circumstances, his doings will necessarily become subjects of conversation to his companions. To have travelled in France, Germany, or in Italy, is not uncommon; nor is it uncommon to have lived a year or years in Florence or in Rome. It is not uncommon now to have — travelled all through the United States. The Rocky Mountains or Peru are hardly uncommon, so much has the taste for travelling increased. But for an Oxford Fellow of a college, and a clergyman of the Church of England, to have established himself as a professor in Missouri, is uncommon, and it could hardly be but that Lord Carstairs should ask questions respecting that far-away life.
Mr Peacocke had no objection to such questions. He told his young friend much about the manners of the people of St Louis — told him how far the people had progressed in classical literature, in what they fell behind, and in what they excelled youths of their own age in England, and how far the college was a success. Then he described his own life — both before and after his marriage. He had liked the people of St Louis well enough — but not quite well enough to wish to live among them. No doubt their habits were very different from those of Englishmen. He could, however, have been happy enough there — only that circumstances arose.
“Did Mrs Peacocke like the place?” the young lord asked one day.
“She is an American, you know.”
“Oh yes; I have heard. But did she come from St Louis?”
“No; her father was a planter in Louisiana, not far from New Orleans, before the abolition of slavery.”
“Did she like St Louis?”
“Well enough, I think, when we were first married. She had been married before, you know. She was a widow.”
“Did she like coming to England among strangers?”
“She was glad to leave St Louis. Things happened there which made her life unhappy. It was on that account I came here, and gave up a position higher and more lucrative than I shall ever now get in England.”
“I should have thought you might have had a school of your own,” said the lad. “You know so much, and get on so well with boys. I should have thought you might have been tutor at a college.”
“To have a school of my own would take money,” said he, “which I have not got. To be tutor at a college would take — But never mind. I am very well where I am, and have nothing to complain of.” He had been going to say that to be tutor of a college he would want high standing. And then he would have been forced to explain that he had lost at his own college that standing which he had once possessed.
“Yes,” he said on another occasion, she is unhappy; but do not ask her any questions about it.”
“Who — I? Oh dear, no! I should not think of taking such a liberty.”
“It would be as a kindness, not as a liberty. But still, do not speak to her about it. There are sorrows which must be hidden, which it is better to endeavour to bury by never speaking of them, by not thinking of them, if that were possible.”
“Is it as bad as that?” the lad asked.
“It is bad enough sometimes. But never mind. You remember that Roman wisdom — “Dabit Deus his quoque finem.” And I think that all things are bearable if a man will only make up his mind to bear them. Do not tell anyone that I have complained.”
“Who — I? Oh, never!”
“Not that I have said anything which all the world might not know; but that it is unmanly to complain. Indeed I do not complain, only I wish that things were lighter to her.” Then he went off to other matters; but his heart was yearning to tell everything to this young lad.
Before the end of the week had arrived, there came a letter to him which he had not at all expected, and a letter also to the Doctor — both from Lord Bracy. The letter to Mr Peacocke was as follows:
MY DEAR SIR
I have been much gratified by what I have heard both from Dr Wortle and my son as to his progress. He will have to come home in July, when the Doctor’s school is broken up, and, as you are probably aware, will go up to Oxford in October. I think it would be very expedient that he should not altogether lose the holidays, and I am aware how much more he would do with adequate assistance than without it. The meaning of all this is, that I and Lady Bracy will feel very much obliged if you and Mrs Peacocke will come and spend your holidays with us at Carstairs. I have written to Dr Wortle on the subject, partly to tell him of my proposal, because he has been so kind to my son, and partly to ask him to fix the amount of remuneration, should you be so kind as to accede to my request.
His mother has heard on more than one occasion from her son how very good-natured you have been to him.
Yours faithfully, BRACY
It was, of course, quite out of the question. Mr Peacocke, as soon as he had read the letter, felt that it was so. Had things been smooth and easy with him, nothing would have delighted him more. His liking for the lad was most sincere, and it would have been a real pleasure to him to have worked with him during the holidays. But it was quite out of the question. He must tell Lord Carstairs that it was so, and must at the moment give such explanation as might occur to him. He almost felt that in giving that explanation he would be tempted to tell his whole story.
But the Doctor met him before he had an opportunity of speaking to Lord Carstairs. The Doctor met him, and at once produced the Earl’s letter. “I have heard from Lord Bracy, and you, I suppose, have had a letter too,” said the Doctor. His manner was easy and kind, as though no disagreeable communication was due to be made on the following day.
“Yes,” said Mr Peacocke. I have had a letter.
“His lordship has asked me to go to Carstairs for the holidays; but it is out of the question.”
“It would do Carstairs all the good in the world,” said the Doctor; “and I do not see why you should not have a pleasant visit and earn twenty-five pounds at the same time.”
“It is quite out of the question.”
“I suppose you would not like to leave Mrs Peacocke,” said the Doctor.
“Either to leave her or to take her! To go myself under any circumstances would be altogether out of the question. I shall come to you tomorrow, Doctor, as I said I would last Saturday. What hour will suit you?” Then the Doctor named an hour in the afternoon, and knew that the revelation was to be made to him. He felt, too, that that revelation would lead to the final departure of Mr and Mrs Peacocke from Bowick, and he was unhappy in his heart. Though he was anxious for his school, he was anxious also for his friend. There was a gratification in the feeling that Lord Bracy thought so much of his assistant — or would have been but for this wretched mystery!
“No,” said Mr Peacocke to the lad. I regret to say that I cannot go. I will tell you why, perhaps, another time, but not now. I have written to your father by this post, because it is right that he should be told at once. I have been obliged to say that it is impossible.”
“I am so sorry! I should so much have liked it. My father would have done everything to make you comfortable, and so would mamma.” In answer to all this Mr Peacocke could only say that it was impossible. This happened on Friday afternoon, Friday being a day on which the school was always very busy. There was no time for the doing of anything special, as there would be on the following day, which was a half-holiday. At night, when the work was altogether over, he showed the letter to his wife, and told her what he had decided.
“Couldn’t you have gone without me?” she asked.
“How can I do that,” he said, when before this time tomorrow I shall have told everything to Dr Wortle? After that, he would not let me go. He would do no more than his duty in telling me that if I proposed to go he must make it all known to Lord Bracy. But this is a trifle. I am at the present moment altogether in the dark as to what I shall do with myself when tomorrow evening comes. I cannot guess, because it is so hard to know what are the feelings in the breast of another man. It may so well be that he should refuse me permission to go to my desk in the school again.”
“Will he be hard like that?”
“I can hardly tell myself whether it would be hard. I hardly know what I should feel it my duty to do in such a position myself. I have deceived him.”
“No!” she exclaimed.
“Yes; I have deceived him. Coming to him as I did, I gave him to understand that there was nothing wrong — nothing to which special objection could be made in my position.”
“Then we are deceiving all the world in calling ourselves man and wife.”
“Certainly we are; but to that we had made up our mind! We are not injuring all the world. No doubt it is a lie — but there are circumstances in which a lie can hardly be a sin. I would have been the last to say so before all this had come upon me, but I feel it to be so now. It is a lie to say that you are my wife.”
“Is it? Is it?”
“Is it not? And yet I would rather cut my tongue out than say otherwise. To give you my name is a lie — but what should I think of myself were I to allow you to use any other? What would you have thought if I had asked you to go away and leave me when that bad hour came upon us?”
“I would have borne it.”
“I could not have borne it. There are worse things than a lie. I have found, since this came upon us, that it may be well to choose one sin in order that another may be shunned. To cherish you, to comfort you, to make the storm less sharp to you — that has already been my duty as well as my pleasure. To do the same to me is your duty.”
“And my pleasure; and my pleasure — my only pleasure.”
“We must cling to each other, let the world call us what names it may. But there may come a time in which one is called on to do a special act of justice to others. It has come now to me. From the world at large I am prepared, if possible, to keep my secret, even though I do it by lying — but to this one man I am driven to tell it, because I may not return his friendship by doing him an evil.”
Morning school at this time of the year at Bowick began at half past seven. There was an hour of school before breakfast, at which the Doctor did not himself put in an appearance. He was wont to tell the boys that he had done all that when he was young, and that now in his old age it suited him best to have his breakfast before he began the work of the day. Mr Peacocke, of course, attended the morning school. Indeed, as the matutinal performances were altogether classical, it was impossible that much should be done without him. On this Saturday morning, however, he was not present; and a few minutes after the proper time, the mathematical master took his place. “I saw him coming across out of his own door,” little Jack Talbot said to the younger of the two Clifford boys, “and there was a man coming up from the gate who met him.”
“What sort of a man?” asked Clifford.
“He was a rummy-looking fellow, with a great beard, and a queer kind of coat. I never saw anyone like him before.”
“And where did they go?”
“They stood talking for a minute or two just before the front door, and then Mr Peacocke took him into the house. I heard him tell Carstairs to go through and send word up to the Doctor that he wouldn’t be in school this morning.”
It had all happened just as young Talbot had said. A very “rummy-looking fellow” had at that early hour been driven over from Broughton to Bowick, and had caught Mr Peacocke just as he was going into the school. He was a man with a beard, loose, flowing on both sides, as though he were winged like a bird — a beard that had been black, but was now streaked through and through with grey hairs. The man had a coat with frogged buttons that must have been intended to have a military air when it was new, but which was now much the worse for wear. The coat was so odd as to have caught young Talbot’s attention at once. And the man’s hat was old and seedy. But there was a look about him as though he were by no means ashamed either of himself or of his present purpose. “He came in a gig,” said Talbot to his friend; “for I saw the horse standing at the gate, and the man sitting in the gig.”
“You remember me, no doubt,” the stranger said, when he encountered Mr Peacocke.
“I do not remember you in the least,” the schoolmaster answered.
“Come, come; that won’t do. You know me well enough. I’m Robert Lefroy.”
Then Mr Peacocke, looking at him again, knew that the man was the brother of his wife’s husband. He had not seen him often, but he recognised him as Robert Lefroy, and having recognised him he took him into the house.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55