Part 8 out of 9
he's as clever as the devil, or he's a man in earnest, and deserves pity.
If you'd heard him!"
"My poor sister!" sighed Rhoda. The mentioning of money to be paid had
sickened and weakened her, as with the very physical taste of
Hearing the sigh, Robert thought she had become subdued. Then Rhoda
said: "We are bound to this young man who loves my sister--bound to him
in honour: and Dahlia must esteem him, to have consented. As for the
other..." She waved the thought of his claim on her sister aside with a
quick shake of her head. "I rely on you to do this:--I will speak to Mr.
Blancove myself. He shall not see her there." She indicated the house.
"Go to my sister; and lose no time in taking her to your lodgings.
Father will not arrive till twelve. Wait and comfort her till I come,
and answer no questions. Robert," she gave him her hand gently, and,
looking sweetly, "if you will do this!"
"If I will!" cried Robert, transported by the hopeful tenderness. The
servant girl of the house had just opened the front door, intent on
scrubbing, and he passed in. Rhoda walked on to Edward.
A profound belief in the efficacy of his eloquence, when he chose to
expend it, was one of the principal supports of Edward's sense of
mastery; a secret sense belonging to certain men in every station of
life, and which is the staff of many an otherwise impressible and
fluctuating intellect. With this gift, if he trifled, or slid downward
in any direction, he could right himself easily, as he satisfactorily
conceived. It is a gift that may now and then be the ruin of promising
youths, though as a rule they find it helpful enough. Edward had exerted
it upon his father, and upon Robert. Seeing Rhoda's approach, he thought
of it as a victorious swordsman thinks of his weapon, and aimed his
observation over her possible weak and strong points, studying her
curiously even when she was close up to him. With Robert, the
representative of force, to aid her, she could no longer be regarded in
the light of a despicable hindrance to his wishes. Though inclined
strongly to detest, he respected her. She had decision, and a worthy
bearing, and a marvellously blooming aspect, and a brain that worked
withal. When she spoke, desiring him to walk on by her side, he was
pleased by her voice, and recognition of the laws of propriety, and
thought it a thousand pities that she likewise should not become the wife
of a gentleman. By degrees, after tentative beginnings, he put his spell
upon her ears, for she was attentive, and walked with a demure forward
look upon the pavement; in reality taking small note of what things he
said, until he quoted, as against himself, sentences from Dahlia's
letters; and then she fixed her eyes on him, astonished that he should
thus heap condemnation on his own head. They were most pathetic scraps
quoted by him, showing the wrestle of love with a petrifying conviction
of its hopelessness, and with the stealing on of a malady of the blood.
They gave such a picture of Dahlia's reverent love for this man, her long
torture, her chastity of soul and simple innocence, and her gathering
delirium of anguish, as Rhoda had never taken at all distinctly to her
mind. She tried to look out on him from a mist of tears.
"How could you bear to read the letters?" she sobbed.
"Could any human being read them and not break his heart for her?" said
"How could you bear to read them and leave her to perish!"
His voice deepened to an impressive hollow: "I read them for the first
time yesterday morning, in France, and I am here!"
It was undeniably, in its effect on Rhoda, a fine piece of pleading
artifice. It partially excused or accounted for his behaviour, while it
filled her with emotions which she felt to be his likewise, and therefore
she could not remain as an unsympathetic stranger by his side.
With this, he flung all artifice away. He told her the whole story,
saving the one black episode of it--the one incomprehensible act of a
desperate baseness that, blindly to get free, he had deliberately
permitted, blinked at, and had so been guilty of. He made a mental pause
as he was speaking, to consider in amazement how and by what agency he
had been reduced to shame his manhood, and he left it a marvel.
Otherwise, he in no degree exonerated himself. He dwelt sharply on his
vice of ambition, and scorned it as a misleading light. "Yet I have done
little since I have been without her!" And then, with a persuasive
sincerity, he assured her that he could neither study nor live apart from
Dahlia. "She is the dearest soul to me on earth; she is the purest
woman. I have lived with her, I have lived apart from her, and I cannot
live without her. I love her with a husband's love. Now, do you suppose
I will consent to be separated from her? I know that while her heart
beats, it's mine. Try to keep her from me--you kill her."
"She did not die," said Rhoda. It confounded his menaces.
"This time she might," he could not refrain from murmuring.
"Ah!" Rhoda drew off from him.
"But I say," cried he, "that I will see her."
"We say, that she shall do what is for her good."
"You have a project? Let me hear it. You are mad, if you have."
"It is not our doing, Mr. Blancove. It was--it was by her own choice.
She will not always be ashamed to look her father in the face. She dare
not see him before she is made worthy to see him. I believe her to have
been directed right."
"And what is her choice?"
"She has chosen for herself to marry a good and worthy man."
Edward called out, "Have you seen him--the man?"
Rhoda, thinking he wished to have the certainty of the stated fact
established, replied, "I have."
"A good and worthy man," muttered Edward. "Illness, weakness, misery,
have bewildered her senses. She thinks him a good and worthy man?"
"I think him so."
"And you have seen him?"
"Why, what monstrous delusion is this? It can't be! My good creature,
you're oddly deceived, I imagine. What is the man's name? I can
understand that she has lost her will and distinct sight; but you are
clear-sighted, and can estimate. What is the man's name?"
"I can tell you," said Rhoda; "his name is Mr. Sedgett."
"Mister--!" Edward gave one hollow stave of laughter. "And you have seen
him, and think him--"
"I know he is not a gentleman," said Rhoda. "He has been deeply good to
my sister, and I thank him, and do respect him."
"Deeply!" Edward echoed. He was prompted to betray and confess himself:
They looked around simultaneously on hearing an advancing footstep.
The very man appeared--in holiday attire, flushed, smiling, and with a
nosegay of roses in his hand. He studied the art of pleasing women. His
eye struck on Edward, and his smile vanished. Rhoda gave him no word of
recognition. As he passed on, he was led to speculate from his having
seen Mr. Edward instead of Mr. Algernon, and from the look of the former,
that changes were in the air, possibly chicanery, and the proclaiming of
himself as neatly diddled by the pair whom, with another, he heartily
hoped to dupe.
After he had gone by, Edward and Rhoda changed looks. Both knew the
destination of that lovely nosegay. The common knowledge almost kindled
an illuminating spark in her brain; but she was left in the dark, and
thought him strangely divining, or only strange. For him, a horror
cramped his limbs. He felt that he had raised a devil in that abominable
smirking ruffian. It may not, perhaps, be said that he had distinctly
known Sedgett to be the man. He had certainly suspected the possibility
of his being the man. It is out of the power of most wilful and selfish
natures to imagine, so as to see accurately, the deeds they prompt or
permit to be done. They do not comprehend them until these black
realities stand up before their eyes.
Ejaculating "Great heaven!" Edward strode some steps away, and returned.
"It's folly, Rhoda!--the uttermost madness ever conceived! I do not
believe--I know that Dahlia would never consent--first, to marry any man
but myself; secondly, to marry a man who is not a perfect gentleman. Her
delicacy distinguishes her among women."
"Mr. Blancove, my sister is nearly dead, only that she is so strong. The
disgrace has overwhelmed her, it has. When she is married, she will
thank and honour him, and see nothing but his love and kindness. I will
leave you now."
"I am going to her," said Edward.
"There's an end of talking. I trust no one will come in my path. Where
He looked up at the name of the street, and shot away from her. Rhoda
departed in another direction, firm, since she had seen Sedgett pass,
that his nobleness should not meet with an ill reward. She endowed him
with fair moral qualities, which she contrasted against Edward Blancove's
evil ones; and it was with a democratic fervour of contempt that she
dismissed the superior dutward attractions of the gentleman.
This neighbourhood was unknown to Edward, and, after plunging about in
one direction and another, he found that he had missed his way. Down
innumerable dusky streets of dwarfed houses, showing soiled silent
window-blinds, he hurried and chafed; at one moment in sharp joy that he
had got a resolution, and the next dismayed by the singular petty
impediments which were tripping him. "My dearest!" his heart cried to
Dahlia, "did I wrong you so? I will make all well. It was the work of a
fiend." Now he turned to right, now to left, and the minutes flew. They
flew; and in the gathering heat of his brain he magnified things until
the sacrifice of herself Dahlia was preparing for smote his imagination
as with a blaze of the upper light, and stood sublime before him in the
grandeur of old tragedy. "She has blinded her eyes, stifled her senses,
eaten her heart. Oh! my beloved! my wife! my poor girl! and all to be
free from shame in her father's sight!" Who could have believed that a
girl of Dahlia's class would at once have felt the shame so keenly, and
risen to such pure heights of heroism? The sacrifice flouted conception;
it mocked the steady morning. He refused to believe in it, but the short
throbs of his blood were wiser.
A whistling urchin became his guide. The little lad was carelessly
giving note to a popular opera tune, with happy disregard of concord. It
chanced that the tune was one which had taken Dahlia's ear, and,
remembering it and her pretty humming of it in the old days, Edward's
wrestling unbelief with the fatality of the hour sank, so entirely was he
under the sovereignty of his sensations. He gave the boy a big fee,
desiring superstitiously to feel that one human creature could bless the
hour. The house was in view. He knocked, and there came a strange
murmur of some denial. "She is here," he said, menacingly.
"She was taken away, sir, ten minutes gone, by a gentleman," the servant
tied to assure him.
The landlady of the house, coming up the kitchen stairs, confirmed the
statement. In pity for his torpid incredulity she begged him to examine
her house from top to bottom, and herself conducted him to Dahlia's room.
"That bed has not been slept in," said the lawyer, pointing his finger to
"No, sir; poor thing! she didn't sleep last night. She's been wearying
for weeks; and last night her sister came, and they hadn't met for very
long. Two whole candles they burnt out, or near upon it."
"Where?--" Edward's articulation choked.
"Where they're gone to, sir? That I do not know. Of course she will
The landlady begged him to wait; but to sit and see the minutes--the
black emissaries of perdition--fly upon their business, was torture as
big as to endure the tearing off of his flesh till the skeleton stood
out. Up to this point he had blamed himself; now he accused the just
heavens. Yea! is not a sinner their lawful quarry? and do they not slip
the hounds with savage glee, and hunt him down from wrong to evil, from
evil to infamy, from infamy to death, from death to woe everlasting? And
is this their righteousness?--He caught at the rusty garden rails to
steady his feet.
Algernon was employed in the comfortable degustation of his breakfast,
meditating whether he should transfer a further slice of ham or of
Yorkshire pie to his plate, or else have done with feeding and light a
cigar, when Edward appeared before him.
"Do you know where that man lives?"
Algernon had a prompting to respond, "Now, really! what man?" But
passion stops the breath of fools. He answered, "Yes."
"Have you the thousand in your pocket?"
Algernon nodded with a sickly grin.
"Jump up! Go to him. Give it up to him! Say, that if he leaves London
on the instant, and lets you see him off--say, it shall be doubled.
Stay, I'll write the promise, and put my signature. Tell him he shall,
on my word of honour, have another--another thousand pounds--as soon as I
can possibly obtain it, if he holds his tongue, and goes with you; and
see that he goes. Don't talk to me on any other subject, or lose one
Algernon got his limbs slackly together, trying to think of the
particular pocket in which he had left his cigar-case. Edward wrote a
line on a slip of note-paper, and signed his name beneath. With this and
an unsatisfied longing for tobacco Algernon departed, agreeing to meet
his cousin in the street where Dahlia dwelt.
"By Jove! two thousand! It's an expensive thing not to know your own
mind," he thought.
"How am I to get out of this scrape? That girl Rhoda doesn't care a
button for me. No colonies for me. I should feel like a convict if I
went alone. What on earth am I to do?"
It seemed preposterous to him that he should take a cab, when he had not
settled upon a scheme. The sight of a tobacconist's shop charmed one of
his more immediate difficulties to sleep. He was soon enabled to puff
"Ned's mad," he pursued his soliloquy. "He's a weather-cock. Do I ever
act as he does? And I'm the dog that gets the bad name. The idea of
giving this fellow two thousand--two thousand pounds! Why, he might live
like a gentleman."
And that when your friend proves himself to be distraught, the proper
friendly thing to do is to think for him, became eminently clear in
"Of course, it's Ned's money. I'd give it if I had it, but I haven't;
and the fellow won't take a farthing less; I know him. However, it's my
duty to try."
He summoned a vehicle. It was a boast of his proud youth that never in
his life had he ridden in a close cab. Flinging his shoulders back, he
surveyed the world on foot. "Odd faces one sees," he meditated. "I
suppose they've got feelings, like the rest; but a fellow can't help
asking--what's the use of them? If I inherit all right, as I ought to--
why shouldn't I?--I'll squat down at old Wrexby, garden and farm, and
drink my Port. I hate London. The squire's not so far wrong, I fancy."
It struck him that his chance of inheriting was not so very obscure,
after all. Why had he ever considered it obscure? It was decidedly next
to certain, he being an only son. And the squire's health was bad!
While speculating in this wise he saw advancing, arm-in-arm, Lord
Suckling and Harry Latters. They looked at him, and evidently spoke
together, but gave neither nod, nor smile, nor a word, in answer to his
flying wave of the hand. Furious, and aghast at this signal of exclusion
from the world, just at the moment when he was returning to it almost
cheerfully in spirit, he stopped the cab, jumped out, and ran after the
"I suppose I must say Mr. Latters," Algernon commenced.
Harry deliberated a quiet second or two. "Well, according to our laws of
primogeniture, I don't come first, and therefore miss a better title," he
"How are you?" Algernon nodded to Lord Suckling, who replied, "Very well,
I thank you."
Their legs were swinging forward concordantly. Algernon plucked out his
purse. "I have to beg you to excuse me," he said, hurriedly; "my cousin
Ned's in a mess, and I've been helping him as well as I can--bothered--
not an hour my own. Fifty, I think?" That amount he tendered to Harry
Latters, who took it most coolly.
"A thousand?" he queried of Lord Suckling.
"Divided by two," replied the young nobleman, and the Blucher of
bank-notes was proffered to him. He smiled queerly, hesitating to take
"I was looking for you at all the Clubs last night," said Algernon.
Lord Suckling and Latters had been at theirs, playing whist till past
midnight; yet is money, even when paid over in this egregious public
manner by a nervous hand, such testimony to the sincerity of a man, that
they shouted a simultaneous invitation for him to breakfast with them, in
an hour, at the Club, or dine with them there that evening. Algernon
affected the nod of haste and acquiescence, and ran, lest they should
hear him groan. He told the cabman to drive Northward, instead of to the
South-west. The question of the thousand pounds had been decided for
him--"by fate," he chose to affirm. The consideration that one is
pursued by fate, will not fail to impart a sense of dignity even to the
meanest. "After all, if I stop in England," said he, "I can't afford to
lose my position in society; anything's better than that an unmitigated
low scoundrel like Sedgett should bag the game." Besides, is it not
somewhat sceptical to suppose that when Fate decides, she has not weighed
the scales, and decided for the best? Meantime, the whole energy of his
intellect was set reflecting on the sort of lie which Edward would, by
nature and the occasion, be disposed to swallow. He quitted the cab, and
walked in the Park, and au diable to him there! the fool has done his
It was now half-past ten. Robert, with a most heavy heart, had
accomplished Rhoda's commands upon him. He had taken Dahlia to his
lodgings, whither, when free from Edward, Rhoda proceeded in a mood of
extreme sternness. She neither thanked Robert, nor smiled upon her
sister. Dahlia sent one quivering look up at her, and cowered lower in
her chair near the window.
"Father comes at twelve?" Rhoda said.
Robert replied: "He does."
After which a silence too irritating for masculine nerves filled the
"You will find, I hope, everything here that you may want," said Robert.
"My landlady will attend to the bell. She is very civil."
"Thank you; we shall not want anything," said Rhoda. "There is my
sister's Bible at her lodgings."
Robert gladly offered to fetch it, and left them with a sense of relief
that was almost joy. He waited a minute in the doorway, to hear whether
Dahlia addressed him. He waited on the threshold of the house, that he
might be sure Dahlia did not call for his assistance. Her cry of appeal
would have fortified him to stand against Rhoda; but no cry was heard.
He kept expecting it, pausing for it, hoping it would come to solve his
intense perplexity. The prolonged stillness terrified him; for, away
from the sisters, he had power to read the anguish of Dahlia's heart, her
frozen incapacity, and the great and remorseless mastery which lay in
Rhoda's inexorable will.
A few doors down the street he met Major blaring, on his way to him.
"Here's five minutes' work going to be done, which we may all of us
regret till the day of our deaths," Robert said, and related what had
passed during the morning hours.
Percy approved Rhoda, saying, "She must rescue her sister at all hazards.
The case is too serious for her to listen to feelings, and regrets, and
objections. The world against one poor woman is unfair odds, Robert. I
come to tell you I leave England in a day or two. Will you join me?"
"How do I know what I shall or can do?" said Robert, mournfully: and they
Rhoda's unflickering determination to carry out, and to an end, this
tragic struggle of duty against inclination; on her own sole
responsibility forcing it on; acting like a Fate, in contempt of mere
emotions,--seemed barely real to his mind: each moment that he conceived
it vividly, he became more certain that she must break down. Was it in
her power to drag Dahlia to the steps of the altar? And would not her
heart melt when at last Dahlia did get her voice? "This marriage can
never take place!" he said, and was convinced of its being impossible.
He forgot that while he was wasting energy at Fairly, Rhoda had sat
hiving bitter strength in the loneliness of the Farm; with one vile
epithet clapping on her ears, and nothing but unavailing wounded love for
her absent unhappy sister to make music of her pulses.
He found his way to Dahlia's room; he put her Bible under his arm, and
looked about him sadly. Time stood at a few minutes past eleven.
Flinging himself into a chair, he thought of waiting in that place; but a
crowd of undefinable sensations immediately beset him. Seeing Edward
Blancove in the street below, he threw up the window compassionately, and
Edward, casting a glance to right and left, crossed the road. Robert
went down to him.
"I am waiting for my cousin." Edward had his watch in his hand. "I think
I am fast. Can you tell me the time exactly?"
"Why, I'm rather slow," said Robert, comparing time with his own watch.
"I make it four minutes past the hour."
"I am at fourteen," said Edward. "I fancy I must be fast."
"About ten minutes past, is the time, I think."
"So much as that!"
"It may be a minute or so less."
"I should like," said Edward, "to ascertain positively."
"There's a clock down in the kitchen here, I suppose," said Robert.
"Safer, there's a clock at the church, just in sight from here."
"Thank you; I will go and look at that."
Robert bethought himself suddenly that Edward had better not. "I can
tell you the time to a second," he said. "It's now twelve minutes past
Edward held his watch balancing. "Twelve," he repeated; and, behind this
mask of common-place dialogue, they watched one another--warily, and
still with pity, on Robert's side.
"You can't place any reliance on watches," said Edward.
"None, I believe," Robert remarked.
"If you could see the sun every day in this climate!" Edward looked up.
"Ah, the sun's the best timepiece, when visible," Robert acquiesced.
"Backwoodsmen in America don't need watches."
"Unless it is to astonish the Indians with them."
"Ah! yes!" hummed Robert.
"Twelve--fifteen--it must be a quarter past. Or, a three quarters to the
next hour, as the Germans say."
"Odd!" Robert ejaculated. "Foreigners have the queerest ways in the
world. They mean no harm, but they make you laugh."
"They think the same of us, and perhaps do the laughing more loudly."
"Ah! let them," said Robert, not without contemptuous indignation, though
his mind was far from the talk.
The sweat was on Edward's forehead. "In a few minutes it will be
half-past--half-past eleven! I expect a friend; that makes me impatient.
Mr. Eccles"--Edward showed his singular, smallish, hard-cut and flashing
features, clear as if he had blown off a mist--"you are too much of a man
to bear malice. Where is Dahlia? Tell me at once. Some one seems to be
cruelly driving her. Has she lost her senses? She has:--or else she is
coerced in an inexplicable and shameful manner."
"Mr. Blancove," said Robert, "I bear you not a bit of malice--couldn't if
I would. I'm not sure I could have said guilty to the same sort of
things, in order to tell an enemy of mine I was sorry for what I had
done, and I respect you for your courage. Dahlia was taken from here by
Edward nodded, as if briefly assenting, while his features sharpened.
"Why?" he asked.
"It was her sister's wish."
"Has she no will of her own?"
"Very little, I'm afraid, just now, sir."
"A remarkable sister! Are they of Puritan origin?"
"Not that I am aware of."
"And this father?"
"Mr. Blancove, he is one of those sort--he can't lift up his head if he
so much as suspects a reproach to his children."
Edward brooded. "I desire--as I told you, as I told her sister, as I
told my father last night--I desire to make her my wife. What can I do
more? Are they mad with some absurd country pride? Half-past eleven!--it
will be murder if they force her to it! Where is she? To such a man as
that! Poor soul! I can hardly fear it, for I can't imagine it. Here--
the time is going. You know the man yourself."
"I know the man?" said Robert. "I've never set eyes on him--I've never
set eyes on him, and never liked to ask much about him. I had a sort of
feeling. Her sister says he is a good, and kind, honourable young
fellow, and he must be."
"Before it's too late," Edward muttered hurriedly--"you know him--his
name is Sedgett."
Robert hung swaying over him with a big voiceless chest.
"That Sedgett?" he breathed huskily, and his look was hard to meet.
Edward frowned, unable to raise his head.
"Lord in heaven! some one has something to answer for!" cried Robert.
"Come on; come to the church. That foul dog?--Or you, stay where you
are. I'll go. He to be Dahlia's husband! They've seen him, and can't
see what he is!--cunning with women as that? How did they meet? Do you
know?--can't you guess?"
He flung a lightning at Edward and ran off. Bursting into the aisle, he
saw the minister closing the Book at the altar, and three persons moving
toward the vestry, of whom the last, and the one he discerned, was Rhoda.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Ashamed of letting his ears be filled with secret talk
Full-o'-Beer's a hasty chap
Gravely reproaching the tobacconist for the growing costliness of cigars
He lies as naturally as an infant sucks
I would cut my tongue out, if it did you a service
Inferences are like shadows on the wall
Marriage is an awful thing, where there's no love
One learns to have compassion for fools, by studying them
Principle of examining your hypothesis before you proceed to decide by it
Rhoda will love you. She is firm when she loves
Sort of religion with her to believe no wrong of you
The unhappy, who do not wish to live, and cannot die
You choose to give yourself to an obscure dog
By GEORGE MEREDITH
XXXIX. DAHLIA GOES HOME
XL. A FREAK OF THE MONEY-DEMON, THAT MAY HAVE BEEN ANTICIPATED
XLI. DAHLIA'S FRENZY
XLII. ANTHONY IN A COLLAPSE
XLIII. RHODA PLEDGES HER HAND
XLIV. THE ENEMY APPEARS
XLV. THE FARMER IS AWAKENED
XLVI. WHEN THE NIGHT IS DARKEST
XLVII. DAWN IS NEAR
Late into the afternoon, Farmer Fleming was occupying a chair in Robert's
lodgings, where he had sat since the hour of twelve, without a movement
of his limbs or of his mind, and alone. He showed no sign that he
expected the approach of any one. As mute and unremonstrant as a fallen
tree, nearly as insensible, his eyes half closed, and his hands lying
open, the great figure of the old man kept this attitude as of stiff
decay through long sunny hours, and the noise of the London suburb.
Although the wedding people were strangely late, it was unnoticed by him.
When the door opened and Rhoda stepped into the room, he was unaware that
he had been waiting, and only knew that the hours had somehow accumulated
to a heavy burden upon him.
"She is coming, father; Robert is bringing her up," Rhoda said.
"Let her come," he answered.
Robert's hold was tight under Dahlia's arm as they passed the doorway,
and then the farmer stood. Robert closed the door.
For some few painful moments the farmer could not speak, and his hand was
raised rejectingly. The return of human animation to his heart made him
look more sternly than he felt; but he had to rid himself of one terrible
question before he satisfied his gradual desire to take his daughter to
his breast. It came at last like a short roll of drums, the words were
"Is she an honest woman?"
"She is," said Rhoda.
The farmer was looking on Robert.
Robert said it likewise in a murmur, but with steadfast look.
Bending his eyes now upon Dahlia, a mist of affection grew in them. He
threw up his head, and with a choking, infantine cry, uttered, "Come."
Robert placed her against her father's bosom.
He moved to the window beside Rhoda, and whispered, and she answered, and
they knew not what they said. The joint moans of father and daughter--
the unutterable communion of such a meeting--filled their ears. Grief
held aloof as much as joy. Neither joy nor grief were in those two hearts
of parent and child; but the senseless contentment of hard, of infinite
hard human craving.
The old man released her, and Rhoda undid her hands from him, and led the
pale Sacrifice to another room.
"Where's...?" Mr. Fleming asked.
Robert understood him.
"Her husband will not come."
It was interpreted by the farmer as her husband's pride. Or, may be, the
man who was her husband now had righted her at last, and then flung her
off in spite for what he had been made to do.
"I'm not being deceived, Robert?"
"No, sir; upon my soul!"
"I've got that here," the farmer struck his ribs.
Rhoda came back. "Sister is tired," she said. "Dahlia is going down
home with you, for...I hope, for a long stay."
"All the better, while home we've got. We mayn't lose time, my girl.
Gammon's on 's way to the station now. He'll wait. He'll wait till
midnight. You may always reckon on a slow man like Gammon for waitin'.
Robert comes too?"
"Father, we have business to do. Robert gives me his rooms here for a
little time; his landlady is a kind woman, and will take care of me. You
will trust me to Robert."
"I'll bring Rhoda down on Monday evening," Robert said to the farmer.
"You may trust me, Mr. Fleming."
"That I know. That I'm sure of. That's a certainty," said the farmer.
"I'd do it for good, if for good was in the girl's heart, Robert. There
seems," he hesitated; "eh, Robert, there seems a something upon us all.
There's a something to be done, is there? But if I've got my flesh and
blood, and none can spit on her, why should I be asking 'whats' and
'whys'? I bow my head; and God forgive me, if ever I complained. And
you will bring Rhoda to us on Monday?"
"Yes; and try and help to make the farm look up again, if Gammon'll do
the ordering about."
"Poor old Mas' Gammon! He's a rare old man. Is he changed by adversity,
Robert? Though he's awful secret, that old man! Do you consider a bit
Gammon's faithfulness, Robert!"
"Ay, he's above most men in that," Robert agreed.
"On with Dahlia's bonnet--sharp!" the farmer gave command. He felt, now
that he was growing accustomed to the common observation of things, that
the faces and voices around him were different from such as the day
brings in its usual course. "We're all as slow as Mas' Gammon, I
"Father," said Rhoda, "she is weak. She has been very unwell. Do not
trouble her with any questions. Do not let any questions be asked of her
at hone. Any talking fatigues; it may be dangerous to her."
The farmer stared. "Ay, and about her hair....I'm beginning to remember.
She wears a cap, and her hair's cut off like an oakum-picker's. That's
more gossip for neighbours!"
"Mad people! will they listen to truth?" Rhoda flamed out in her dark
fashion. "We speak truth, nothing but truth. She has had a brain fever.
That makes her very weak, and every one must be silent at home. Father,
stop the sale of the farm, for Robert will work it into order. He has
promised to be our friend, and Dahlia will get her health there, and be
near mother's grave."
The farmer replied, as from a far thought, "There's money in my pocket to
take down two."
He continued: "But there's not money there to feed our family a week on;
I leave it to the Lord. I sow; I dig, and I sow, and when bread fails to
us the land must go; and let it go, and no crying about it. I'm
astonishing easy at heart, though if I must sell, and do sell, I shan't
help thinking of my father, and his father, and the father before him--
mayhap, and in most likelihood, artfuller men 'n me--for what they was
born to they made to flourish. They'll cry in their graves. A man's
heart sticks to land, Robert; that you'll find, some day. I thought I
cared none but about land till that poor, weak, white thing put her arms
on my neck."
Rhoda had slipped away from them again.
The farmer stooped to Robert's ear. "Had a bit of a disagreement with
her husband, is it?"
Robert cleared his throat. "Ay, that's it," he said.
"Serious, at all?"
"One can't tell, you know."
"And not her fault--not my girl's fault, Robert?"
"No; I can swear to that."
"She's come to the right home, then. She'll be near her mother and me.
Let her pray at night, and she'll know she's always near her blessed
mother. Perhaps the women 'll want to take refreshment, if we may so far
make free with your hospitality; but it must be quick, Robert--or will
they? They can't eat, and I can't eat."
Soon afterward Mr. Fleming took his daughter Dahlia from the house and
out of London. The deeply-afflicted creature was, as the doctors had
said of her, too strong for the ordinary modes of killing. She could
walk and still support herself, though the ordeal she had gone through
this day was such as few women could have traversed. The terror to
follow the deed she had done was yet unseen by her; and for the hour she
tasted, if not peace, the pause to suffering which is given by an act
Robert and Rhoda sat in different rooms till it was dusk. When she
appeared before him in the half light, the ravage of a past storm was
visible on her face. She sat down to make tea, and talked with singular
"Mr. Fleming mentioned the gossips down at Wrexby," said Robert: "are
they very bad down there?"
"Not worse than in other villages," said Rhoda. "They have not been
unkind. They have spoken about us, but not unkindly--I mean, not
"And you forgive them?"
"I do: they cannot hurt us now."
Robert was but striving to master some comprehension of her character.
"What are we to resolve, Rhoda?"
"I must get the money promised to this man."
"When he has flung off his wife at the church door?"
"He married my sister for the money. He said it. Oh! he said it. He
shall not say that we have deceived him. I told him he should have it.
He married her for money!"
"You should not have told him so, Rhoda."
"I did, and I will not let my word be broken."
"Pardon me if I ask you where you will get the money? It's a large sum."
"I will get it," Rhoda said firmly.
"By the sale of the farm?"
"No, not to hurt father."
"But this man's a scoundrel. I know him. I've known him for years. My
fear is that he will be coming to claim his wife. How was it I never
insisted on seeing the man before--! I did think of asking, but fancied-
-a lot of things; that you didn't wish it and he was shy. Ah, Lord! what
miseries happen from our not looking straight at facts! We can't deny
she's his wife now."
"Not if we give him the money."
Rhoda spoke of "the money" as if she had taken heated metal into her
"All the more likely," said Robert. "Let him rest. Had you your eyes on
him when he saw me in the vestry? For years that man has considered me
his deadly enemy, because I punished him once. What a scene! I'd have
given a limb, I'd have given my life, to have saved you from that scene,
She replied: "If my sister could have been spared! I ought to know what
wickedness there is in the world. It's ignorance that leads to the
unhappiness of girls."
"Do you know that I'm a drunkard?"
"He called me something like it; and he said something like the truth.
There's the sting. Set me adrift, and I drink hard. He spoke a fact,
and I couldn't answer him."
"Yes, it's the truth that gives such pain," said Rhoda, shivering. "How
can girls know what men are? I could not guess that you had any fault.
This man was so respectful; he sat modestly in the room when I saw him
last night--last night, was it? I thought, 'he has been brought up with
sisters and a mother.' And he has been kind to my dear--and all we
thought love for her, was--shameful! shameful!"
She pressed her eyelids, continuing: "He shall have the money--he shall
have it. We will not be in debt to such a man. He has saved my sister
from one as bad--who offered it to be rid of her. Oh, men!--you heard
that?--and now pretends to love her. I think I dream. How could she
ever have looked happily on that hateful face?"
"He would be thought handsome," said Robert, marvelling how it was that
Rhoda could have looked on Sedgett for an instant without reading his
villanous nature. "I don't wish you to regret anything you have done or
you may do, Rhoda. But this is what made me cry out when I looked on
that man, and knew it was he who had come to be Dahlia's husband. He'll
be torture to her. The man's temper, his habits--but you may well say
you are ignorant of us men. Keep so. What I do with all my soul entreat
of you is--to get a hiding-place for your sister. Never let him take her
off. There's such a thing as hell upon earth. If she goes away with him
she'll know it. His black temper won't last. He will come for her, and
"He shall have money." Rhoda said no more.
On a side-table in the room stood a remarkable pile, under cover of a
shawl. Robert lifted the shawl, and beheld the wooden boxes, one upon
the other, containing Master Gammon's and Mrs. Sumfit's rival savings,
which they had presented to Dahlia, in the belief that her husband was
under a cloud of monetary misfortune that had kept her proud heart from
her old friends. The farmer had brought the boxes and left them there,
"I fancy," said Robert, "we might open these."
"It may be a little help," said Rhoda.
"A very little," Robert thought; but, to relieve the oppression of the
subject they had been discussing, he forthwith set about procuring tools,
with which he split first the box which proved to be Mrs. Sumfit's, for
it contained, amid six gold sovereigns and much silver and pence, a slip
of paper, whereon was inscribed, in a handwriting identified by Rhoda as
peculiar to the loving woman,--
"And sweetest love to her ever dear."
Altogether the sum amounted to nine pounds, three shillings, and a
"Now for Master Gammon--he's heavy," said Robert; and he made the savings
of that unpretentious veteran bare. Master Gammon had likewise written
his word. It was discovered on the blank space of a bit of newspaper,
and looked much as if a fat lobworm had plunged himself into a bowl of
ink, and in his literary delirium had twisted uneasily to the verge of
the paper. With difficulty they deciphered,--
Robert sang, "Bravo, Gammon!" and counted the hoard. All was in copper
coinage, Lycurgan and severe, and reached the sum of one pound, seventeen
shillings. There were a number of farthings of Queen Anne's reign, and
Robert supposed them to be of value. "So that, as yet, we can't say
who's the winner," he observed.
Rhoda was in tears.
"Be kind to him, please, when you see him," she whispered. The smaller
gift had touched her heart more tenderly.
"Kind to the old man!" Robert laughed gently, and tied the two hoards in
separate papers, which he stowed into one box, and fixed under string.
"This amount, put all in one, doesn't go far, Rhoda."
"No," said she: "I hope we may not need it." She broke out: "Dear, good,
humble friends! The poor are God's own people. Christ has said so.
This is good, this is blessed money!" Rhoda's cheeks flushed to their
orange-rounded swarthy red, and her dark eyes had the fervour of an
exalted earnestness. "They are my friends for ever. They save me from
impiety. They help me, as if God had answered my prayer. Poor pennies!
and the old man not knowing where his days may end! He gives all--he
must have true faith in Providence. May it come back to him multiplied a
thousand fold! While I have strength to work, the bread I earn shall be
shared with him. Old man, old man, I love you--how I love you! You drag
me out of deep ditches. Oh, good and dear old man, if God takes me
first, may I have some power to intercede for you, if you have ever
sinned! Everybody in the world is not wicked. There are some who go the
ways directed by the Bible. I owe you more than I can ever pay."
She sobbed, but told Robert it was not for sorrow. He, longing to catch
her in his arms, and punctilious not to overstep the duties of his post
of guardian, could merely sit by listening, and reflecting on her as a
strange Biblical girl, with Hebrew hardness of resolution, and Hebrew
exaltation of soul; beautiful, too, as the dark women of the East. He
admitted to himself that he never could have taken it on his conscience
to subdue a human creature's struggling will, as Rhoda had not hesitated
to do with Dahlia, and to command her actions, and accept all imminent
responsibilities; not quailing with any outcry, or abandonment of
strength, when the shock of that revelation in the vestry came violently
on her. Rhoda, seeing there that it was a brute, and not a man, into
whose hand she had perilously forced her sister's, stood steadying her
nerves to act promptly with advantage; less like a woman, Robert thought,
than a creature born for battle. And she appeared to be still undaunted,
full of her scheme, and could cry without fear of floods. Something of
the chivalrous restraint he put upon the motions of his heart, sprang
from the shadowy awe which overhung that impressible organ. This feeling
likewise led him to place a blind reliance on her sagacity and sense of
what was just, and what should be performed.
"You promised this money to him," he said, half thinking it incredible.
"On Monday," said Rhoda.
"You must get a promise from him in return."
She answered: "Why? when he could break it the instant he cared to, and a
promise would tempt him to it. He does not love her."
"No; he does not love her," said Robert, meditating whether he could
possibly convey an idea of the character of men to her innocent mind.
"He flung her off. Thank heaven for it! I should have been punished too
much--too much. He has saved her from the perils of temptation. He
shall be paid for it. To see her taken away by such a man! Ah!" She
shuddered as at sight of a hideous pit.
But Robert said: "I know him, Rhoda. That was his temper. It'll last
just four-and-twenty hours, and then we shall need all our strength and
cunning. My dear, it would be the death of Dahlia. You've seen the man
as he is. Take it for a warning. She belongs to him. That's the law,
human and divine."
"Not when he has flung her off, Robert?" Rhoda cried piteously.
"Let us take advantage of that. He did fling her off, spat at us all,
and showed the blackest hellish plot I ever in my life heard of. He's
not the worst sinner, scoundrel as he is. Poor girl! poor soul! a hard
lot for women in this world! Rhoda, I suppose I may breakfast with you
in the morning? I hear Major Waring's knock below. I want a man to talk
"Do come, Robert," Rhoda said, and gave him her hand. He strove to
comprehend why it was that her hand was merely a hand, and no more to him
just then; squeezed the cold fingers, and left her.
So long as we do not know that we are performing any remarkable feat, we
may walk upon the narrowest of planks between precipices with perfect
security; but when we suffer our minds to eye the chasm underneath, we
begin to be in danger, and we are in very great fear of losing our equal
balance the moment we admit the insidious reflection that other men,
placed as we are, would probably topple headlong over. Anthony Hackbut,
of Boyne's Bank, had been giving himself up latterly to this fatal
comparison. The hour when gold was entrusted to his charge found him
feverish and irritable. He asked himself whether he was a mere machine to
transfer money from spot to spot, and he spurned at the pittance bestowed
upon honesty in this life. Where could Boyne's Bank discover again such
an honest man as he? And because he was honest he was poor! The
consideration that we alone are capable of doing the unparalleled thing
may sometimes inspire us with fortitude; but this will depend largely
upon the antecedent moral trials of a man. It is a temptation when we
look on what we accomplish at all in that light. The temptation being
inbred, is commonly a proof of internal corruption. "If I take a step,
suppose now, to the right, or to the left," Anthony had got into the
habit of saying, while he made his course, and after he had deposited his
charge he would wipe his moist forehead, in a state of wretched
exultation over his renowned trustworthiness.
He had done the thing for years. And what did the people in the streets
know about him? Formerly, he had used to regard the people in the
streets, and their opinions, with a voluptuous contempt; but he was no
longer wrapped in sweet calculations of his savings, and his chances, and
his connection with a mighty Bank. The virtue had gone out of him. Yet
he had not the slightest appetite for other men's money; no hunger, nor
any definite notion of enjoyment to be derived from money not his own.
Imagination misled the old man. There have been spotless reputations
gained in the service of virtue before now; and chaste and beautiful
persons have walked the narrow plank, envied and admired; and they have
ultimately tottered and all but fallen; or they have quite fallen, from
no worse an incitement than curiosity. Cold curiosity, as the directors
of our human constitution tell us, is, in the colder condition of our
blood, a betraying vice, leading to sin at a period when the fruits of
sin afford the smallest satisfaction. It is, in fact, our last
probation, and one of our latest delusions. If that is passed
successfully, we may really be pronounced as of some worth. Anthony
wished to give a light indulgence to his curiosity; say, by running away
and over London Bridge on one side, and back on the other, hugging the
money. For two weeks, he thought of this absurd performance as a comical
and agreeable diversion. How would he feel when going in the direction
of the Surrey hills? And how, when returning, and when there was a
prospect of the Bank, where the money was to be paid in, being shut?
Supposing that he was a minute behind his time, would the Bank-doors
remain open, in expectation of him? And if the money was not paid in,
what would be thought? What would be thought at Boyne's, if, the next
day, he was late in making his appearance?
"Holloa! Hackbut, how's this?"--"I'm a bit late, sir, morning."--"Late!
you were late yesterday evening, weren't you?"--"Why, sir, the way the
clerks at that Bank of Mortimer and Pennycuick's rush away from business
and close the doors after 'em, as if their day began at four p.m., and
business was botheration: it's a disgrace to the City o' London. And I
beg pardon for being late, but never sleeping a wink all night for fear
about this money, I am late this morning, I humbly confess. When I got
to the Bank, the doors were shut. Our clock's correct; that I know. My
belief, sir, is, the clerks at Mortimer and Pennycuick's put on the
time."--"Oh! we must have this inquired into."
Anthony dramatized the farcical scene which he imagined between himself
and Mr. Sequin, the head clerk at Boyne's, with immense relish; and
terminated it by establishing his reputation for honesty higher than ever
at the Bank, after which violent exercise of his fancy, the old man sank
into a dulness during several days. The farmer slept at his lodgings for
one night, and talked of money, and of selling his farm; and half hinted
that it would be a brotherly proceeding on Anthony's part to buy it, and
hold it, so as to keep it in the family. The farmer's deep belief in the
existence of his hoards always did Anthony peculiar mischief. Anthony
grew conscious of a giddiness, and all the next day he was scarcely fit
for his work. But the day following that he was calm and attentive. Two
bags of gold were placed in his hands, and he walked with caution down
the steps of the Bank, turned the corner, and went straight on to the
West, never once hesitating, or casting a thought behind upon Mortimer
and Pennycuick's. He had not, in truth, one that was loose to be cast.
All his thoughts were boiling in his head, obfuscating him with a
prodigious steam, through which he beheld the city surging, and the
streets curving like lines in water, and the people mixing and passing
into and out of one another in an astonishing manner--no face
distinguishable; the whole thick multitude appearing to be stirred like
glue in a gallipot. The only distinct thought which he had sprang from a
fear that the dishonest ruffians would try to steal his gold, and he
hugged it, and groaned to see that villany was abroad. Marvellous, too,
that the clocks on the churches, all the way along the Westward
thoroughfare, stuck at the hour when Banks are closed to business! It
was some time, or a pretence at some time, before the minute-hands
surmounted that difficulty. Having done so, they rushed ahead to the
ensuing hour with the mad precipitation of pantomimic machinery. The
sight of them presently standing on the hour, like a sentinel presenting
arms, was startling--laughable. Anthony could not have flipped with his
fingers fifty times in the interval; he was sure of it, "or not much
more," he said. So the City was shut to him behind iron bars.
Up in the West there is not so much to be dreaded from the rapacity of
men. You do not hear of such alarming burglaries there every day; every
hand is not at another's throat there, or in another's pocket; at least,
not until after nightfall; and when the dark should come on, Anthony had
determined to make for his own quarter with all speed. Darkness is
horrible in foreign places, but foreign places are not so accusing to you
The Park was vastly pleasant to the old man.
"Ah!" he sniffed, "country air," and betook himself to a seat.
"Extraordinary," he thought, "what little people they look on their
horses and in their carriages! That's the aristocracy, is it!" The
aristocracy appeared oddly diminutive to him. He sneered at the
aristocracy, but, beholding a policeman, became stolid of aspect. The
policeman was a connecting link with his City life, the true lord of his
fearful soul. Though the moneybags were under his arm, beneath his
buttoned coat, it required a deep pause before he understood what he had
done; and then the Park began to dance and curve like the streets, and
there was a singular curtseying between the heavens and the earth. He
had to hold his money-bags tight, to keep them from plunging into
monstrous gulfs. "I don't remember that I've taken a drink of any sort,"
he said, "since I and the old farmer took our turn down in the Docks.
How's this?" He seemed to rock. He was near upon indulging in a fit of
terror; but the impolicy of it withheld him from any demonstration, save
an involuntary spasmodic ague. When this had passed, his eyesight and
sensations grew clearer, and he sat in a mental doze, looking at things
with quiet animal observation. His recollection of the state, after a
lapse of minutes, was pleasurable. The necessity for motion, however,
set him on his feet, and off he went, still Westward, out of the Park,
and into streets. He trotted at a good pace. Suddenly came a call of
his name in his ear, and he threw up one arm in self-defence.
"Uncle Anthony, don't you know me?"
"Eh? I do; to be sure I do," he answered, peering dimly upon Rhoda: "I'm
always meeting one of you."
"I've been down in the City, trying to find you all day, uncle. I meet
you--I might have missed! It is direction from heaven, for I prayed."
Anthony muttered, "I'm out for a holiday."
"This"--Rhoda pointed to a house--"is where I am lodging."
"Oh!" said Anthony; "and how's your family?"
Rhoda perceived that he was rather distraught. After great persuasion,
she got him to go upstairs with her.
"Only for two seconds," he stipulated. "I can't sit."
"You will have a cup of tea with me, uncle?"
"No; I don't think I'm equal to tea."
"Not with Rhoda?"
"It's a name in Scripture," said Anthony, and he drew nearer to her.
"You're comfortable and dark here, my dear. How did you come here?
What's happened? You won't surprise me."
"I'm only stopping for a day or two in London, uncle."
"Ah! a wicked place; that it is. No wickeder than other places, I'll be
bound. Well; I must be trotting. I can't sit, I tell you. You're as
dark here as a gaol."
"Let me ring for candles, uncle."
"No; I'm going."
She tried to touch him, to draw him to a chair. The agile old man
bounded away from her, and she had to pacify him submissively before he
would consent to be seated. The tea-service was brought, and Rhoda made
tea, and filled a cup for him. Anthony began to enjoy the repose of the
room. But it made the money-bags' alien to him, and serpents in his
bosom. Fretting--on his chair, he cried: "Well! well! what's to talk
about? We can't drink tea and not talk!"
Rhoda deliberated, and then said: "Uncle, I think you have always loved
It seemed to him a merit that he should have loved her. He caught at the
"So I have, Rhoda, my dear; I have. I do."
"You do love me, dear uncle!"
"Now I come to think of it, Rhoda--my Dody, I don't think ever I've loved
anybody else. Never loved e'er a young woman in my life. As a young
"Tell me, uncle; are you not very rich?"
"No, I ain't; not 'very'; not at all."
"You must not tell untruths, uncle."
"I don't," said Anthony; only, too doggedly to instil conviction.
"I have always felt, uncle, that you love money too much. What is the
value of money, except to give comfort, and help you to be a blessing to
others in their trouble? Does not God lend it you for that purpose? It
is most true! And if you make a store of it, it will only be unhappiness
to yourself. Uncle, you love me.
I am in great trouble for money."
Anthony made a long arm over the projection of his coat, and clasped it
securely; sullenly refusing to answer. "Dear uncle; hear me out. I come
to you, because I know you are rich. I was on my way to your lodgings
when we met; we were thrown together. You have more money than you know
what to do with. I am a beggar to you for money. I have never asked
before; I never shall ask again. Now I pray for your help. My life, and
the life dearer to me than any other, depend on you. Will you help me,
Uncle Anthony? Yes!"
"No!" Anthony shouted.
"Yes, if I can. No, if I can't. And 'can't' it is. So, it's 'No.'"
Rhoda's bosom sank, but only as a wave in the sea-like energy of her
"Uncle, you must."
Anthony was restrained from jumping up and running away forthwith by the
peace which was in the room, and the dread of being solitary after he had
tasted of companionship.
"You have money, uncle. You are rich. You must help me. Don't you ever
think what it is to be an old man, and no one to love you and be grateful
to you? Why do you cross your arms so close?"
Anthony denied that he crossed his arms closely.
Rhoda pointed to his arms in evidence; and he snarled out: "There, now;
'cause I'm supposed to have saved a trifle, I ain't to sit as I like.
It's downright too bad! It's shocking!"
But, seeing that he did not uncross his arms, and remained bunched up
defiantly, Rhoda silently observed him. She felt that money was in the
"Don't let it be a curse to you," she said. And her voice was hoarse
"What?" Anthony asked. "What's a curse?"
Did she know? Had she guessed? Her finger was laid in a line at the
bags. Had she smelt the gold?
"It will be a curse to you, uncle. Death is coming. What's money then?
Uncle, uncross your arms. You are afraid; you dare not. You carry it
about; you have no confidence anywhere. It eats your heart. Look at me.
I have nothing to conceal. Can you imitate me, and throw your hands out
--so? Why, uncle, will you let me be ashamed of you? You have the money
"You cannot deny it. Me crying to you for help! What have we talked
together?--that we would sit in a country house, and I was to look to the
flower-beds, and always have dishes of green peas for you-plenty, in
June; and you were to let the village boys know what a tongue you have,
if they made a clatter of their sticks along the garden-rails; and you
were to drink your tea, looking on a green and the sunset. Uncle! Poor
old, good old soul! You mean kindly. You must be kind. A day will make
it too late. You have the money there. You get older and older every
minute with trying to refuse me. You know that I can make you happy. I
have the power, and I have the will. Help me, I say, in my great
trouble. That money is a burden. You are forced to carry it about, for
fear. You look guilty as you go running in the streets, because you fear
everybody. Do good with it. Let it be money with a blessing on it! It
will save us from horrid misery! from death! from torture and death!
Think, uncle! look, uncle! You with the money--me wanting it. I pray
to heaven, and I meet you, and you have it. Will you say that you refuse
to give it, when I see--when I show you, you are led to meet me and help
me? Open;--put down that arm."
Against this storm of mingled supplication and shadowy menace, Anthony
held out with all outward firmness until, when bidding him to put down
his arm, she touched the arm commandingly, and it fell paralyzed.
Rhoda's eyes were not beautiful as they fixed on the object of her quest.
In this they were of the character of her mission. She was dealing with
an evil thing, and had chosen to act according to her light, and by the
counsel of her combative and forceful temper. At each step new
difficulties had to be encountered by fresh contrivances; and money now--
money alone had become the specific for present use. There was a
limitation of her spiritual vision to aught save to money; and the money
being bared to her eyes, a frightful gleam of eagerness shot from them.
Her hands met Anthony's in a common grasp of the money-bags.
"It's not mine!" Anthony cried, in desperation.
"Whose money is it?" said Rhoda, and caught up her hands as from fire.
"My Lord!" Anthony moaned, "if you don't speak like a Court o' Justice.
"Is the money yours, uncle?"
"It--is," and "isn't" hung in the balance.
"It is not?" Rhoda dressed the question for him in the terror of
"It is. I--of course it is; how could it help being mine? My money?
Yes. What sort o' thing's that to ask--whether what I've got's mine or
yours, or somebody else's? Ha!"
"And you say you are not rich, uncle?"
A charming congratulatory smile was addressed to him, and a shake of the
head of tender reproach irresistible to his vanity.
"Rich! with a lot o' calls on me; everybody wantin' to borrow--I'm rich!
And now you coming to me! You women can't bring a guess to bear upon the
right nature o' money."
"Uncle, you will decide to help me, I know."
She said it with a staggering assurance of manner.
"How do you know?" cried Anthony.
"Why do you carry so much money about with you in bags, uncle?"
"Hear it, my dear." He simulated miser's joy.
"Ain't that music? Talk of operas! Hear that; don't it talk? don't it
chink? don't it sing?" He groaned "Oh, Lord!" and fell back.
This transition from a state of intensest rapture to the depths of pain
"Nothing; it's nothing." Anthony anticipated her inquiries. "They bags
is so heavy."
"Then why do you carry them about?"
"Perhaps it's heart disease," said Anthony, and grinned, for he knew the
soundness of his health.
"You are very pale, uncle."
"Eh? you don't say that?"
"You are awfully white, dear uncle."
"I'll look in the glass," said Anthony. "No, I won't." He sank back in
his chair. "Rhoda, we're all sinners, ain't we? All--every man and
woman of us, and baby, too. That's a comfort; yes, it is a comfort.
It's a tremendous comfort--shuts mouths. I know what you're going to
say--some bigger sinners than others. If they're sorry for it, though,
what then? They can repent, can't they?"
"They must undo any harm they may have done. Sinners are not to repent
only in words, uncle."
"I've been feeling lately," he murmured.
Rhoda expected a miser's confession.
"I've been feeling, the last two or three days," he resumed.
"Sort of taste of a tremendous nice lemon in my mouth, my dear, and liked
it, till all of a sudden I swallowed it whole--such a gulp! I felt it
just now. I'm all right."
"No, uncle," said Rhoda: "you are not all right: this money makes you
miserable. It does; I can see that it does. Now, put those bags in my
hands. For a minute, try; it will do you good. Attend to me; it will.
Or, let me have them. They are poison to you. You don't want them."
"I don't," cried Anthony. "Upon my soul, I don't. I don't want 'em.
I'd give--it is true, my dear, I don't want 'em. They're poison."
"They're poison to you," said Rhoda; "they're health, they're life to me.
I said, 'My uncle Anthony will help me. He is not--I know his heart--he
is not a miser.' Are you a miser, uncle?"
Her hand was on one of his bags. It was strenuously withheld: but while
she continued speaking, reiterating the word "miser," the hold relaxed.
She caught the heavy bag away, startled by its weight.
He perceived the effect produced on her, and cried; "Aha! and I've been
carrying two of 'em--two!"
Rhoda panted in her excitement.
"Now, give it up," said he. She returned it. He got it against his
breast joylessly, and then bade her to try the weight of the two. She
did try them, and Anthony doated on the wonder of her face.
"Uncle, see what riches do! You fear everybody--you think there is no
secure place--you have more? Do you carry about all your money?"
"No," he chuckled at her astonishment. "I've...Yes. I've got more of my
own." Her widened eyes intoxicated him. "More. I've saved. I've put
by. Say, I'm an old sinner. What'd th' old farmer say now? Do you love
your uncle Tony? 'Old Ant,' they call me down at--" "The Bank," he was
on the point of uttering; but the vision of the Bank lay terrific in his
recollection, and, summoned at last, would not be wiped away. The
unbearable picture swam blinking through accumulating clouds; remote and
minute as the chief scene of our infancy, but commanding him with the
present touch of a mighty arm thrown out. "I'm honest," he cried. "I
always have been honest. I'm known to be honest. I want no man's money.
I've got money of my own. I hate sin. I hate sinners. I'm an honest
man. Ask them, down at--Rhoda, my dear! I say, don't you hear me?
Rhoda, you think I've a turn for misering. It's a beastly mistake: poor
savings, and such a trouble to keep honest when you're poor; and I've
done it for years, spite o' temptation 't 'd send lots o' men to the
hulks. Safe into my hand, safe out o' my hands! Slip once, and there
ain't mercy in men. And you say, 'I had a whirl of my head, and went
round, and didn't know where I was for a minute, and forgot the place I'd
to go to, and come away to think in a quiet part.'..." He stopped
abruptly in his ravings. "You give me the money, Rhoda!"
She handed him the money-bags.
He seized them, and dashed them to the ground with the force of madness.
Kneeling, he drew out his penknife, and slit the sides of the bags, and
held them aloft, and let the gold pour out in torrents, insufferable to
the sight; and uttering laughter that clamoured fierily in her ears for
long minutes afterwards, the old man brandished the empty bags, and
sprang out of the room.
She sat dismayed in the centre of a heap of gold.
On the Monday evening, Master Gammon was at the station with the cart.
Robert and Rhoda were a train later, but the old man seemed to be unaware
of any delay, and mildly staring, received their apologies, and nodded.
They asked him more than once whether all was well at the Farm; to which
he replied that all was quite well, and that he was never otherwise.
About half-an-hour after, on the road, a gradual dumb chuckle overcame
his lower features. He flicked the horse dubitatively, and turned his
head, first to Robert, next to Rhoda; and then he chuckled aloud:
"The last o' they mel'ns rotted yest'day afternoon!"
"Did they?" said Robert. "You'll have to get fresh seed, that's all."
Master Gammon merely showed his spirit to be negative.
"You've been playing the fool with the sheep," Robert accused him.
It hit the old man in a very tender part.
"I play the fool wi' ne'er a sheep alive, Mr. Robert. Animals likes
their 'customed food, and don't like no other. I never changes my food,
nor'd e'er a sheep, nor'd a cow, nor'd a bullock, if animals was masters.
I'd as lief give a sheep beer, as offer him, free-handed--of my own will,
that's to say--a mel'n. They rots."
Robert smiled, though he was angry. The delicious unvexed country-talk
soothed Rhoda, and she looked fondly on the old man, believing that he
could not talk on in his sedate way, if all were not well at home.
The hills of the beacon-ridge beyond her home, and the line of stunted
firs, which she had named "the old bent beggarmen," were visible in the
twilight. Her eyes flew thoughtfully far over them, with the feeling
that they had long known what would come to her and to those dear to her,
and the intense hope that they knew no more, inasmuch as they bounded her
"If the sheep thrive," she ventured to remark, so that the comforting old
themes might be kept up.
"That's the particular 'if!'" said Robert, signifying something that had
to be leaped over.
Master Gammon performed the feat with agility.
"Sheep never was heartier," he pronounced emphatically.
"Lots of applications for melon-seed, Gammon?"
To this the veteran's tardy answer was: "More fools 'n one about, I
reckon"; and Robert allowed him the victory implied by silence.
"And there's no news in Wrexby? none at all?" said Rhoda.
A direct question inevitably plunged Master Gammon so deep amid the
soundings of his reflectiveness, that it was the surest way of precluding
a response from him; but on this occasion his honest deliberation bore
"Squire Blancove, he's dead."
The name caused Rhoda to shudder.
"Found dead in 's bed, Sat'day morning," Master Gammon added, and, warmed
upon the subject, went on: "He's that stiff, folks say, that stiff he is,
he'll have to get into a rounded coffin: he's just like half a hoop. He
was all of a heap, like. Had a fight with 's bolster, and got th' wust
of it. But, be 't the seizure, or be 't gout in 's belly, he's gone
clean dead. And he wunt buy th' Farm, nether. Shutters is all shut up
at the Hall. He'll go burying about Wednesday. Men that drinks don't
Rhoda struck at her brain to think in what way this death could work and
show like a punishment of the heavens upon that one wrong-doer; but it
was not manifest as a flame of wrath, and she laid herself open to the
peace of the fields and the hedgeways stepping by. The farm-house came
in sight, and friendly old Adam and Eve turning from the moon. She heard
the sound of water. Every sign of peace was around the farm. The cows
had been milked long since; the geese were quiet. There was nothing but
the white board above the garden-gate to speak of the history lying in
They found the farmer sitting alone, shading his forehead. Rhoda kissed
his cheeks and whispered for tidings of Dahlia.
"Go up to her," the farmer said.
Rhoda grew very chill. She went upstairs with apprehensive feet, and
recognizing Mrs. Sumfit outside the door of Dahlia's room, embraced her,
and heard her say that Dahlia had turned the key, and had been crying
from mornings to nights. "It can't last," Mrs. Sumfit sobbed: "lonesome
hysterics, they's death to come. She's falling into the trance. I'll
go, for the sight o' me shocks her."
Rhoda knocked, waited patiently till her persistent repetition of her
name gained her admission. She beheld her sister indeed, but not the
broken Dahlia from whom she had parted. Dahlia was hard to her caress,
and crying, "Has he come?" stood at bay, white-eyed, and looking like a
thing strung with wires.
"No, dearest; he will not trouble you. Have no fear."
"Are you full of deceit?" said Dahlia, stamping her foot.
"I hope not, my sister."
Dahlia let fall a long quivering breath. She went to her bed, upon which
her mother's Bible was lying, and taking it in her two hands, held it
under Rhoda's lips.
"Swear upon that?"
"What am I to swear to, dearest?"
"Swear that he is not in the house."
"He is not, my own sister; believe me. It is no deceit. He is not.
He will not trouble you. See; I kiss the Book, and swear to you, my
beloved! I speak truth. Come to me, dear." Rhoda put her arms up
entreatingly, but Dahlia stepped back.
"You are not deceitful? You are not cold? You are not inhuman?
Inhuman! You are not? You are not? Oh, my God! Look at her!"
The toneless voice was as bitter for Rhoda to hear as the accusations.
She replied, with a poor smile: "I am only not deceitful. Come, and see.
You will not be disturbed."
"What am I tied to?" Dahlia struggled feebly as against a weight of
chains. "Oh! what am I tied to? It's on me, tight like teeth. I can't
escape. I can't breathe for it. I was like a stone when he asked me--
marry him!--loved me! Some one preached--my duty! I am lost, I am lost!
Why? you girl!--why?--What did you do? Why did you take my hand when I
was asleep and hurry me so fast? What have I done to you? Why did you
push me along?--I couldn't see where. I heard the Church babble. For
you--inhuman! inhuman! What have I done to you? What have you to do
with punishing sin? It's not sin. Let me be sinful, then. I am. I am
sinful. Hear me. I love him; I love my lover, and," she screamed out,
"he loves me!"
Rhoda now thought her mad.
She looked once at the rigid figure of her transformed sister, and
sitting down, covered her eyes and wept.
To Dahlia, the tears were at first an acrid joy; but being weak, she fell
to the bed, and leaned against it, forgetting her frenzy for a time.
"You deceived me," she murmured; and again, "You deceived me." Rhoda did
not answer. In trying to understand why her sister should imagine it,
she began to know that she had in truth deceived Dahlia. The temptation
to drive a frail human creature to do the thing which was right, had led
her to speak falsely for a good purpose. Was it not righteously
executed? Away from the tragic figure in the room, she might have
thought so, but the horror in the eyes and voice of this awakened
Sacrifice, struck away the support of theoretic justification. Great
pity for the poor enmeshed life, helpless there, and in a woman's worst
peril,--looking either to madness, or to death, for an escape--drowned
her reason in a heavy cloud of tears. Long on toward the stroke of the
hour, Dahlia heard her weep, and she murmured on, "You deceived me;" but
it was no more to reproach; rather, it was an exculpation of her
reproaches. "You did deceive me, Rhoda." Rhoda half lifted her head;
the slight tone of a change to tenderness swelled the gulfs of pity, and
she wept aloud. Dahlia untwisted her feet, and staggered up to her, fell
upon her shoulder, and called her, "My love!--good sister!" For a great
mute space they clung together. Their lips met and they kissed
convulsively. But when Dahlia had close view of Rhoda's face, she drew
back, saying in an under-breath,--
"Don't cry. I see my misery when you cry."
Rhoda promised that she would check her tears, and they sat quietly, side
by side, hand in hand. Mrs. Sumfit, outside, had to be dismissed twice
with her fresh brews of supplicating tea and toast, and the cakes which,
when eaten warm with good country butter and a sprinkle of salt,
reanimate (as she did her utmost to assure the sisters through the closed
door) humanity's distressed spirit. At times their hands interchanged a
fervent pressure, their eyes were drawn to an equal gaze.
In the middle of the night Dahlia said: "I found a letter from Edward
when I came here."
"Written--Oh, base man that he is!" Rhoda could not control the impulse
to cry it out.
"Written before," said Dahlia, divining her at once. "I read it; did not
cry. I have no tears. Will you see it? It is very short-enough; it
said enough, and written before--" She crumpled her fingers in Rhoda's;
Rhoda, to please her, saying "Yes," she went to the pillow of the bed,
and drew the letter from underneath.
"I know every word," she said; "I should die if I repeated it. 'My wife
before heaven,' it begins. So, I was his wife. I must have broken his
heart--broken my husband's." Dahlia cast a fearful eye about her; her
eyelids fluttered as from a savage sudden blow. Hardening her mouth to
utter defiant spite: "My lover's," she cried. "He is. If he loves me
and I love him, he is my lover, my lover, my lover! Nothing shall stop
me from saying it--lover! and there is none to claim me but he. Oh,
loathsome! What a serpent it is I've got round me! And you tell me God
put it. Do you? Answer that; for I want to know, and I don't know where
I am. I am lost! I am lost! I want to get to my lover. Tell me,
Rhoda, you would curse me if I did. And listen to me. Let him open his
arms to me, I go; I follow him as far as my feet will bear me. I would
go if it lightened from heaven. If I saw up there the warning, 'You
shall not!' I would go. But, look on me!" she smote contempt upon her
bosom. "He would not call to such a thing as me. Me, now? My skin is
like a toad's to him. I've become like something in the dust. I could
hiss like adders. I am quite impenitent. I pray by my bedside, my head
on my Bible, but I only say, 'Yes, yes; that's done; that's deserved, if
there's no mercy.' Oh, if there is no mercy, that's deserved! I say so
now. But this is what I say, Rhoda (I see nothing but blackness when I
pray), and I say, 'Permit no worse!' I say, 'Permit no worse, or take the
consequences.' He calls me his wife. I am his wife. And if--" Dahlia
fell to speechless panting; her mouth was open; she made motion with her
hands; horror, as of a blasphemy struggling to her lips, kept her dumb,
but the prompting passion was indomitable.... "Read it," said her
struggling voice; and Rhoda bent over the letter, reading and losing
thought of each sentence as it passed. To Dahlia, the vital words were
visible like evanescent blue gravelights. She saw them rolling through
her sister's mind; and just upon the conclusion, she gave out, as in a
chaunt: "And I who have sinned against my innocent darling, will ask her
to pray with me that our future may be one, so that may make good to her
what she has suffered, and to the God whom we worship, the offence I have
Rhoda looked up at the pale penetrating eyes.
"Read. Have you read to the last?" said Dahlia. "Speak it. Let me hear
you. He writes it.... Yes? you will not? 'Husband,' he says," and then
she took up the sentences of the letter backwards to the beginning,
pausing upon each one with a short moan, and smiting her bosom. "I found
it here, Rhoda. I found his letter here when I came.. I came a dead
thing, and it made me spring up alive. Oh, what bliss to be dead! I've
felt nothing...nothing, for months." She flung herself on the bed,
thrusting her handkerchief to her mouth to deaden the outcry. "I'm
punished. I'm punished, because I did not trust to my darling. No, not
for one year! Is it that since we parted? I am an impatient creature,
and he does not reproach me. I tormented my own, my love, my dear, and
he thought I--I was tired of our life together. No; he does not accuse
me," Dahlia replied to her sister's unspoken feeling, with the shrewd
divination which is passion's breathing space. "He accuses himself. He
says it--utters it--speaks it 'I sold my beloved.' There is no guile in
him. Oh, be just to us, Rhoda! Dearest," she came to Rhoda's side, "you
did deceive me, did you not? You are a deceiver, my love?"
Rhoda trembled, and raising her eyelids, answered, "Yes."
"You saw him in the street that morning?"
Dahlia smiled a glittering tenderness too evidently deceitful in part,
but quite subduing.
"You saw him, my Rhoda, and he said he was true to me, and sorrowful; and
you told him, dear one, that I had no heart for him, and wished to go to
hell--did you not, gbod Rhoda? Forgive me; I mean 'good;' my true, good
Rhoda. Yes, you hate sin; it is dreadful; but you should never speak
falsely to sinners, for that does not teach them to repent. Mind you
never lie again. Look at me. I am chained, and I have no repentance in
me. See me. I am nearer it...the other--sin, I mean. If that man
"No--no!" Rhoda cried.
"If that man comes--"
"He will not come!"
"He cast me off at the church door, and said he had been cheated. Money!
Dahlia drooped her head.
"He will keep away. You are safe," said Rhoda.
"Because, if no help comes, I am lost--I am lost for ever!"
"But help will come. I mean peace will come. We will read; we will work
in the garden. You have lifted poor father up, my dear."
"Ah! that old man!" Dahlia sighed.
"He is our father."
"Yes, poor old man!" and Dahlia whispered: "I have no pity for him. If I
am dragged away, I'm afraid I shall curse him. He seems a stony old man.
I don't understand fathers. He would make me go away. He talks the
Scriptures when he is excited. I'm afraid he would shut my Bible for me.
Those old men know nothing of the hearts of women. Now, darling, go to
Rhoda begged earnestly for permission to stay with her, but Dahlia said:
"My nights are fevers. I can't have arms about me."
They shook hands when they separated, not kissing.
Three days passed quietly at the Farm, and each morning Dahlia came down
to breakfast, and sat with the family at their meals; pale, with the
mournful rim about her eyelids, but a patient figure. No questions were
asked. The house was guarded from visitors, and on the surface the home
was peaceful. On the Wednesday Squire Blancove was buried, when Master
Gammon, who seldom claimed a holiday or specified an enjoyment of which
he would desire to partake, asked leave to be spared for a couple of
hours, that he might attend the ceremonious interment of one to whom a
sort of vagrant human sentiment of clanship had made him look up, as to
the chief gentleman of the district, and therefore one having claims on
his respect. A burial had great interest for the old man.
"I'll be home for dinner; it'll gi'e me an appetite," Master Gammon said
solemnly, and he marched away in his serious Sunday hat and careful coat,
blither than usual.
After his departure, Mrs. Sumfit sat and discoursed on deaths and
burials, the certain end of all: at least, she corrected herself, the
deaths were. The burials were not so certain. Consequently, we might
take the burials, as they were a favour, to be a blessing, except in the
event of persons being buried alive. She tried to make her hearers
understand that the idea of this calamity had always seemed intolerable
to her, and told of numerous cases which, the coffin having been opened,
showed by the convulsed aspect of the corpse, or by spots of blood upon
the shroud, that the poor creature had wakened up forlorn, "and not a
kick allowed to him, my dears."
"It happens to women, too, does it not, mother?" said Dahlia.
"They're most subject to trances, my sweet. From always imitatin' they
imitates their deaths at last; and, oh!" Mrs. Sumfit was taken with
nervous chokings of alarm at the thought. "Alone--all dark! and hard
wood upon your chest, your elbows, your nose, your toes, and you under
heaps o' gravel! Not a breath for you, though you snap and catch for
one--worse than a fish on land."
"It's over very soon, mother," said Dahlia.
"The coldness of you young women! Yes; but it's the time--you feeling,
trying for air; it's the horrid 'Oh, dear me!' You set your mind on it!"
"I do," said Dahlia. "You see coffin-nails instead of stars. You'd give
the world to turn upon one side. You can't think. You can only hate
those who put you there. You see them taking tea, saying prayers,
sleeping in bed, putting on bonnets, walking to church, kneading dough,
eating--all at once, like the firing of a gun. They're in one world;
you're in another."
"Why, my goodness, one'd say she'd gone through it herself," ejaculated
Mrs. Sumfit, terrified.
Dahlia sent her eyes at Rhoda.
"I must go and see that poor man covered." Mrs. Sumfit succumbed to a
fit of resolution much under the pretence that it had long been forming.
"Well, and mother," said Dahlia, checking her, "promise me. Put a
feather on my mouth; put a glass to my face, before you let them carry me
out. Will you? Rhoda promises. I have asked her."
"Oh! the ideas of this girl!" Mrs. Sumfit burst out. "And looking so, as
she says it. My love, you didn't mean to die?"
Dahlia soothed her, and sent her off.
"I am buried alive!" she said. "I feel it all--the stifling! the
hopeless cramp! Let us go and garden. Rhoda, have you got laudanum in
Rhoda shook her head, too sick at heart to speak. They went into the
garden, which was Dahlia's healthfullest place. It seemed to her that
her dead mother talked to her there. That was not a figure of speech,
when she said she felt buried alive. She was in the state of sensational
delusion. There were times when she watched her own power of motion
curiously: curiously stretched out her hands, and touched things, and
moved them. The sight was convincing, but the shudder came again. In a
frame less robust the brain would have given way. It was the very
soundness of the brain which, when her blood was a simple tide of life in
her veins, and no vital force, had condemned her to see the wisdom and
the righteousness of the act of sacrifice committed by her, and had urged
her even up to the altar. Then the sudden throwing off of the mask by
that man to whom she had bound herself, and the reading of Edward's
letter of penitence and love, thwarted reason, but without blinding or
unsettling it. Passion grew dominant; yet against such deadly matters on
all sides had passion to strive, that, under a darkened sky, visibly
chained, bound down, and hopeless, she felt between-whiles veritably that
she was a living body buried. Her senses had become semi-lunatic.
She talked reasonably; and Rhoda, hearing her question and answer at
meal-times like a sane woman, was in doubt whether her sister wilfully
simulated a partial insanity when they were alone together. Now, in the
garden, Dahlia said: "All those flowers, my dear, have roots in mother
and me. She can't feel them, for her soul's in heaven. But mine is down
there. The pain is the trying to get your soul loose. It's the edge of
a knife that won't cut through. Do you know that?"
Rhoda said, as acquiescingly as she could, "Yes."
"Do you?" Dahlia whispered. "It's what they call the 'agony.' Only, to
go through it in the dark, when you are all alone! boarded round! you
will never know that. And there's an angel brings me one of mother's
roses, and I smell it. I see fields of snow; and it's warm there, and no
labour for breath. I see great beds of flowers; I pass them like a
breeze. I'm shot, and knock on the ground, and they bury me for dead
again. Indeed, dearest, it's true."
She meant, true as regarded her sensations. Rhoda could barely give a
smile for response; and Dahlia's intelligence being supernaturally
active, she read her sister's doubt, and cried out,--
"Then let me talk of him!"
It was the fiery sequence to her foregone speech, signifying that if her
passion had liberty to express itself, she could clear understandings.
But even a moment's free wing to passion renewed the blinding terror
within her. Rhoda steadied her along the walks, praying for the time to
come when her friends, the rector and his wife, might help in the task of
comforting this poor sister. Detestation of the idea of love made her
sympathy almost deficient, and when there was no active work to do in
aid, she was nearly valueless, knowing that she also stood guilty of a
The day was very soft and still. The flowers gave light for light. They
heard through the noise of the mill-water the funeral bell sound. It
sank in Rhoda like the preaching of an end that was promise of a
beginning, and girdled a distancing land of trouble. The breeze that
blew seemed mercy. To live here in forgetfulness with Dahlia was the
limit of her desires. Perhaps, if Robert worked among them, she would
gratefully give him her hand. That is, if he said not a word of love.
Master Gammon and Mrs. Sumfit were punctual in their return near the
dinnerhour; and the business of releasing the dumplings and potatoes, and
spreading out the cold meat and lettuces, restrained for some period the
narrative of proceedings at the funeral. Chief among the incidents was,
that Mrs. Sumfit had really seen, and only wanted, by corroboration of
Master Gammon, to be sure she had positively seen, Anthony Hackbut on the
skirts of the funeral procession. Master Gammon, however, was no
supporter of conjecture. What he had thought he had thought; but that
was neither here nor there. He would swear to nothing that he had not
touched;--eyes deceived;--he was never a guesser. He left Mrs. Sumfit to
pledge herself in perturbation of spirit to an oath that her eyes had
seen Anthony Hackbut; and more, which was, that after the close of the
funeral service, the young squire had caught sight of Anthony crouching
in a corner of the churchyard, and had sent a man to him, and they had
disappeared together. Mrs. Sumfit was heartily laughed at and rallied
both by Robert and the farmer. "Tony at a funeral! and train expenses!"
the farmer interjected. "D'ye think, mother, Tony'd come to Wrexby
churchyard 'fore he come Queen Anne's Farm? And where's he now, mayhap?"
Mrs. Sumfit appealed in despair to Master Gammon, with entreaties, and a
"There, Mas' Gammon; and why you sh'd play at 'do believe' and at 'don't
believe,' after that awesome scene, the solem'est of life's, when you did
declare to me, sayin', it was a stride for boots out o' London this
morning. Your words, Mas' Gammon! and 'boots'-=it's true, if by that
alone! For, 'boots,' I says to myself--he thinks by 'boots,' there being
a cord'er in his family on the mother's side; which you yourself told to
me, as you did, Mas' Gammon, and now holds back, you did, like a bad
"Hey! does Gammon jib?" said the farmer, with the ghost of old laughter
twinkling in his eyes.
"He told me this tale," Mrs. Sumfit continued, daring her irresponsive
enemy to contradict her, with a threatening gaze. "He told me this tale,
he did; and my belief's, his game 's, he gets me into a corner--there to
be laughed at! Mas' Gammon, if you're not a sly old man, you said, you
did, he was drownded; your mother's brother's wife's brother; and he had
a brother, and what he was to you--that brother--" Mrs. Sumfit smote her
hands--"Oh, my goodness, my poor head! but you shan't slip away, Mas'
Gammon; no, try you ever so much. Drownded he was, and eight days in the
sea, which you told me over a warm mug of ale by the fire years back.
And I do believe them dumplings makes ye obstinate; for worse you get,
and that fond of 'em, I sh'll soon not have enough in our biggest pot.
Yes, you said he was eight days in the sea, and as for face, you said,
poor thing! he was like a rag of towel dipped in starch, was your own
words, and all his likeness wiped out; and Joe, the other brother, a
cord'er--bootmaker, you call 'em--looked down him, as he was stretched
out on the shore of the sea, all along, and didn't know him till he come
to the boots, and he says, 'It's Abner;' for there was his boots to know
him by. Now, will you deny, Mas' Gammon, you said, Mr. Hackbut's boots,
and a long stride it was for 'em from London? And I won't be laughed at
through arts of any sly old man!"
The circumstantial charge made no impression on Master Gammon, who was
heard to mumble, as from the inmost recesses of tight-packed dumpling;
but he left the vindication of his case to the farmer's laughter. The
mention of her uncle had started a growing agitation in Rhoda, to whom
the indication of his eccentric behaviour was a stronger confirmation of
his visit to the neighbourhood. And wherefore had he journeyed down?
Had he come to haunt her on account of the money he had poured into her
lap? Rhoda knew in a moment that she was near a great trial of her
strength and truth. She had more than once, I cannot tell you how
distantly, conceived that the money had been money upon which the mildest
word for "stolen" should be put to express the feeling she had got about
it, after she had parted with the bulk of it to the man Sedgett. Not
"stolen," not "appropriated," but money that had perhaps been entrusted,
and of which Anthony had forgotten the rightful ownership. This idea of
hers had burned with no intolerable fire; but, under a weight of all
discountenancing appearances, feeble though it was, it had distressed
her. The dealing with money, and the necessity for it, had given Rhoda a
better comprehension of its nature and value. She had taught herself to
think that her suspicion sprang from her uncle's wild demeanour, and the
scene of the gold pieces scattered on the floor, as if a heart had burst
at her feet.
No sooner did she hear that Anthony had been, by supposition, seen, than
the little light of secret dread flamed a panic through her veins. She
left the table before Master Gammon had finished, and went out of the
house to look about for her uncle. He was nowhere in the fields, nor in
the graveyard. She walked over the neighbourhood desolately, until her
quickened apprehension was extinguished, and she returned home relieved,
thinking it folly to have imagined her uncle was other than a man of
hoarded wealth, and that he was here. But, in the interval, she had
experienced emotions which warned her of a struggle to come. Who would
be friendly to her, and an arm of might? The thought of the storm she
had sown upon all sides made her tremble foolishly. When she placed her
hand in Robert's, she gave his fingers a confiding pressure, and all but
dropped her head upon his bosom, so sick she was with weakness. It would
have been a deceit toward him, and that restrained her; perhaps, yet
more, she was restrained by the gloomy prospect of having to reply to any
words of love, without an idea of what to say, and with a loathing of
caresses. She saw herself condemned to stand alone, and at a season when
she was not strengthened by pure self-support.
Rhoda had not surrendered the stern belief that she had done well by
forcing Dahlia's hand to the marriage, though it had resulted evilly. In
reflecting on it, she had still a feeling of the harsh joy peculiar to
those who have exercised command with a conscious righteousness upon
wilful, sinful, and erring spirits, and have thwarted the wrongdoer. She
could only admit that there was sadness in the issue; hitherto, at least,
nothing worse than sad disappointment. The man who was her sister's
husband could no longer complain that he had been the victim of an
imposition. She had bought his promise that he would leave the country,
and she had rescued the honour of the family by paying him. At what
cost? She asked herself that now, and then her self-support became
uneven. Could her uncle have parted with the great sum--have shed it
upon her, merely beneficently, and because he loved her? Was it possible
that he had the habit of carrying his own riches through the streets of
London? She had to silence all questions imperiously, recalling exactly
her ideas of him, and the value of money in the moment when money was an
object of hunger--when she had seized it like a wolf, and its value was
quite unknown, unguessed at.
Rhoda threw up her window before she slept, that she might breathe the
cool night air; and, as she leaned out, she heard steps moving away, and
knew them to be Robert's, in whom that pressure of her hand had cruelly
resuscitated his longing for her. She drew back, wondering at the
idleness of men--slaves while they want a woman's love, savages when they
have won it. She tried to pity him, but she had not an emotion to spare,
save perhaps one of dull exultation, that she, alone of women, was free
from that wretched mess called love; and upon it she slept.
It was between the breakfast and dinner hours, at the farm, next day,
when the young squire, accompanied by Anthony Hackbut, met farmer Fleming
in the lane bordering one of the outermost fields of wheat. Anthony gave
little more than a blunt nod to his relative, and slouched on, leaving
the farmer in amazement, while the young squire stopped him to speak with
him. Anthony made his way on to the house. Shortly after, he was seen
passing through the gates of the garden, accompanied by Rhoda. At the
dinner-hour, Robert was taken aside by the farmer. Neither Rhoda nor
Anthony presented themselves. They did not appear till nightfall. When
Anthony came into the room, he took no greetings and gave none. He sat
down on the first chair by the door, shaking his head, with vacant eyes.
Rhoda took off her bonnet, and sat as strangely silent. In vain Mrs.
Sumfit asked her; "Shall it be tea, dear, and a little cold meat?" The
two dumb figures were separately interrogated, but they had no answer.
"Come! brother Tony?" the farmer tried to rally him.
Dahlia was knitting some article of feminine gear. Robert stood by the
musk-pots at the window, looking at Rhoda fixedly. Of this gaze she