Part 9 out of 9
became conscious, and glanced from him to the clock.
"It's late," she said, rising.
"But you're empty, my dear. And to think o' going to bed without a
dinner, or your tea, and no supper! You'll never say prayers, if you
do," said Mrs. Sumfit.
The remark engendered a notion in the farmer's head, that Anthony
promised to be particularly prayerless.
"You've been and spent a night at the young squire's, I hear, brother
Tony. All right and well. No complaints on my part, I do assure ye. If
you're mixed up with that family, I won't bring it in you're anyways
mixed up with this family; not so as to clash, do you see. Only, man,
now you are here, a word'd be civil, if you don't want a doctor."
"I was right," murmured Mrs. Sumfit. "At the funeral, he was; and Lord
be thanked! I thought my eyes was failin'. Mas' Gammon, you'd ha' lost
no character by sidin' wi' me."
"Here's Dahlia, too," said the farmer. "Brother Tony, don't you see her?
She's beginning to be recognizable, if her hair'd grow a bit faster.
She's...well, there she is."
A quavering, tiny voice, that came from Anthony, said: "How d' ye do--how
d' ye do;" sounding like the first effort of a fife. But Anthony did not
cast eye on Dahlia.
"Will you eat, man?--will you smoke a pipe?--won't you talk a word?--will
you go to bed?"
These several questions, coming between pauses, elicited nothing from the
"Is there a matter wrong at the Bank?" the farmer called out, and Anthony
jumped in a heap.
"Eh?" persisted the farmer.
Rhoda interposed: "Uncle is tired; he is unwell. Tomorrow he will talk
"No, but is there anything wrong up there, though?" the farmer asked with
eager curiosity, and a fresh smile at the thought that those Banks and
city folk were mortal, and could upset, notwithstanding their crashing
wheels. "Brother Tony, you speak out; has anybody been and broke? Never
mind a blow, so long, o' course, as they haven't swallowed your money.
How is it? Why, I never saw such a sight as you. You come down from
London; you play hide and seek about your relation's house; and here,
when you do condescend to step in--eh? how is it? You ain't, I hope,
ruined, Tony, are ye?"
Rhoda stood over her uncle to conceal him.
"He shall not speak till he has had some rest. And yes, mother, he shall
have some warm tea upstairs in bed. Boil some water. Now, uncle, come
"Anybody broke?" Anthony rolled the words over, as Rhoda raised his arm.
"I'm asked such a lot, my dear, I ain't equal to it. You said here 'd be
a quiet place. I don't know about money. Try my pockets. Yes, mum, if
you was forty policemen, I'm empty; you'd find it. And no objection to
nod to prayers; but never was taught one of my own. Where am I going, my
"Upstairs with me, uncle."
Rhoda had succeeded in getting him on his feet.
The farmer tapped at his forehead, as a signification to the others that
Anthony had gone wrong in the head, which reminded him that he had
prophesied as much. He stiffened out his legs, and gave a manful spring,
crying, "Hulloa, brother Tony! why, man, eh? Look here. What, goin' to
bed? What, you, Tony? I say--I say--dear me!" And during these
exclamations intricate visions of tripping by means of gold wires danced
Rhoda hurried Anthony out.
After the door had shut, the farmer said: "That comes of it; sooner or
later, there it is! You give your heart to money--you insure in a ship,
and as much as say, here's a ship, and, blow and lighten, I defy you.
Whereas we day-by-day people, if it do blow and if it do lighten, and the
waves are avilanches, we've nothing to lose. Poor old Tony--a smash, to
a certainty. There's been a smash, and he's gone under the harrow. Any
o' you here might ha' heard me say, things can't last for ever. Ha'n't
The persons present meekly acquiesced in his prophetic spirit to this
extent. Mrs. Sumfit dolorously said, "Often, William dear," and accepted
the incontestable truth in deep humiliation of mind.
"Save," the farmer continued, "save and store, only don't put your heart
in the box."
"It's true, William;" Mrs. Sumfit acted clerk to the sermon.
Dahlia took her softly by the neck, and kissed her.
"Is it love for the old woman?" Mrs. Sumfit murmured fondly; and Dahlia
kissed her again.
The farmer had by this time rounded to the thought of how he personally
might be affected by Anthony's ill-luck, supposing; perchance, that
Anthony was suffering from something more than a sentimental attachment
to the Bank of his predilection: and such a reflection instantly diverted
his tendency to moralize.
"We shall hear to-morrow," he observed in conclusion; which, as it caused
a desire for the morrow to spring within his bosom, sent his eyes at
Master Gammon, who was half an hour behind his time for bed, and had
dropped asleep in his chair. This unusual display of public somnolence
on Master Gammon's part, together with the veteran's reputation for
slowness, made the farmer fret at him as being in some way an obstruction
to the lively progress of the hours.
"Hoy, Gammon!" he sang out, awakeningly to ordinary ears; but Master
Gammon was not one who took the ordinary plunge into the gulf of sleep,
and it was required to shake him and to bellow at him--to administer at
once earthquake and thunder--before his lizard eyelids would lift over
the great, old-world eyes; upon which, like a clayey monster refusing to
be informed with heavenly fire, he rolled to the right of his chair and
to the left, and pitched forward, and insisted upon being inanimate.
Brought at last to a condition of stale consciousness, he looked at his
master long, and uttered surprisingly "Farmer, there's queer things going
on in this house," and then relapsed to a combat with Mrs. Sumfit,
regarding the candle; she saying that it was not to be entrusted to him,
and he sullenly contending that it was.
"Here, we'll all go to bed," said the farmer. "What with one person
queer, and another person queer, I shall be in for a headache, if I take
to thinking. Gammon's a man sees in 's sleep what he misses awake. Did
you ever know," he addressed anybody, "such a thing as Tony Hackbut
coming into a relation's house, and sitting there, and not a word for any
of us? It's, I call it, dumbfoundering. And that's me: why didn't I go
up and shake his hand, you ask. Well, why not? If he don't know he's
welcome, without ceremony, he's no good. Why, I've got matters t' occupy
my mind, too, haven't I? Every man has, and some more'n others, let
alone crosses. There's something wrong with my brother-in-law, Tony,
that's settled. Odd that we country people, who bide, and take the
Lord's gifts--" The farmer did not follow out this reflection, but
raising his arms, shepherd-wise, he puffed as if blowing the two women
before him to their beds, and then gave a shy look at Robert, and nodded
good-night to him. Robert nodded in reply. He knew the cause of the
farmer's uncommon blitheness. Algernon Blancove, the young squire, had
proposed for Rhoda's hand.
Anthony had robbed the Bank. The young squire was aware of the fact, and
had offered to interpose for him, and to make good the money to the Bank,
upon one condition. So much, Rhoda had gathered from her uncle's
babbling interjections throughout the day. The farmer knew only of the
young squire's proposal, which had been made direct to him; and he had
left it to Robert to state the case to Rhoda, and plead for himself. She
believed fully, when she came downstairs into the room where Robert was
awaiting her, that she had but to speak and a mine would be sprung; and
shrinking from it, hoping for it, she entered, and tried to fasten her
eyes upon Robert distinctly, telling him the tale. Robert listened with
a calculating seriousness of manner that quieted her physical dread of
his passion. She finished; and he said "It will, perhaps, save your
uncle: I'm sure it will please your father."
She sat down, feeling that a warmth had gone, and that she was very bare.
"Must I consent, then?"
"If you can, I suppose."
Both being spirits formed for action, a perplexity found them weak as
babes. He, moreover, was stung to see her debating at all upon such a
question; and he was in despair before complicated events which gave
nothing for his hands and heart to do. Stiff endurance seemed to him to
be his lesson; and he made a show of having learnt it.
"Were you going out, Robert?"
"I usually make the rounds of the house, to be sure all's safe."
His walking about the garden at night was not, then, for the purpose of
looking at her window. Rhoda coloured in all her dark crimson with shame
for thinking that it had been so.
"I must decide to-morrow morning."
"They say, the pillow's the best counsellor."
A reply that presumed she would sleep appeared to her as bitterly
"Did father wish it?"
"Not by what he spoke."
"You suppose he does wish it?"
"Where's the father who wouldn't? Of course, he wishes it. He's kind
enough, but you may be certain he wishes it."
"Oh! Dahlia, Dahlia!" Rhoda moaned, under a rush of new sensations,
unfilial, akin to those which her sister had distressed her by speaking
"Ah! poor soul!" added Robert.
"My darling must be brave: she must have great courage. Dahlia cannot be
a coward. I begin to see."
Rhoda threw up her face, and sat awhile as one who was reading old
matters by a fresh light.
"I can't think," she said, with a start. "Have I been dreadfully cruel?
Was I unsisterly? I have such a horror of some things--disgrace. And
men are so hard on women; and father--I felt for him. And I hated that
base man. It's his cousin and his name! I could almost fancy this trial
is brought round to me for punishment."
An ironic devil prompted Robert to say, "You can't let harm come to your
The thing implied was the farthest in his idea of any woman's possible
"Are you of that opinion?" Rhoda questioned with her eyes, but uttered
Now, he had spoken almost in the ironical tone. She should have noted
that. And how could a true-hearted girl suppose him capable of giving
such counsel to her whom he loved? It smote him with horror and anger;
but he was much too manly to betray these actual sentiments, and
continued to dissemble. You see, he had not forgiven her for her
indifference to him.
"You are no longer your own mistress," he said, meaning exactly the
This--that she was bound in generosity to sacrifice herself--was what
Rhoda feared. There was no forceful passion in her bosom to burst
through the crowd of weak reasonings and vanities, to bid her be a woman,
not a puppet; and the passion in him, for which she craved, that she
might be taken up by it and whirled into forgetfulness, with a seal of
betrothal upon her lips, was absent so that she thought herself loved no
more by Robert. She was weary of thinking and acting on her own
responsibility, and would gladly have abandoned her will; yet her
judgement, if she was still to exercise it, told her that the step she
was bidden to take was one, the direct consequence and the fruit of her
other resolute steps. Pride whispered, "You could compel your sister to
do that which she abhorred;" and Pity pleaded for her poor old uncle
Anthony. She looked back in imagination at that scene with him in
London, amazed at her frenzy of power, and again, from that
contemplation, amazed at her present nervelessness.
"I am not fit to be my own mistress," she said.
"Then, the sooner you decide the better," observed Robert, and the room
became hot and narrow to him.
"Very little time is given me," she murmured. The sound was like a
whimper; exasperating to one who had witnessed her remorseless energy.
"I dare say you won't find the hardship so great," said he.
"Because," she looked up quickly, "I went out one day to meet him? Do
you mean that, Robert? I went to hear news of my sister. I had received
no letters from her. And he wrote to say that he could tell me about
her. My uncle took me once to the Bank. I saw him there first. He
spoke of Wrexby, and of my sister. It is pleasant to inexperienced girls
to hear themselves praised. Since the day when you told me to turn back
I have always respected you."
Her eyelids lowered softly.
Could she have humbled herself more? But she had, at the same time,
touched his old wound: and his rival then was the wooer now, rich, and a
gentleman. And this room, Robert thought as he looked about it, was the
room in which she had refused him, when he first asked her to be his.
"I think," he said, "I've never begged your pardon for the last occasion
of our being alone here together. I've had my arm round you. Don't be
frightened. That's my marriage, and there was my wife. And there's an
end of my likings and my misconduct. Forgive me for calling it to mind."
"No, no, Robert," Rhoda lifted her hands, and, startled by the impulse,
dropped them, saying: "What forgiveness? Was I ever angry with you?"
A look of tenderness accompanied the words, and grew into a dusky crimson
rose under his eyes.
"When you went into the wood, I saw you going: I knew it was for some
good object," he said, and flushed equally.
But, by the recurrence to that scene, he had checked her sensitive
developing emotion. She hung a moment in languor, and that oriental
warmth of colour ebbed away from her cheeks.
"You are very kind," said she.
Then he perceived in dimmest fashion that possibly a chance had come to
ripeness, withered, and fallen, within the late scoffing seconds of time.
Enraged at his blindness, and careful, lest he had wrongly guessed, not
to expose his regret (the man was a lover), he remarked, both truthfully
and hypocritically: "I've always thought you were born to be a lady."
(You had that ambition, young madam.)
She answered: "That's what I don't understand." (Your saying it, O my
"You will soon take to your new duties." (You have small objection to
them even now.)
"Yes, or my life won't be worth much." (Know, that you are driving me to
"And I wish you happiness, Rhoda." (You are madly
imperilling the prospect thereof.)
To each of them the second meaning stood shadowy behind the utterances.
"Thank you, Robert." (I shall have to thank you for the issue.)
"Now it's time to part." (Do you not see that there's a danger for me
"Good night." (Behold, I am submissive.)
"Good night, Rhoda." (You were the first to give the signal of
"Good night." (I am simply submissive.)
"Why not my name? Are you hurt with me?"
Rhoda choked. The indirectness of speech had been a shelter to her,
permitting her to hint at more than she dared clothe in words.
Again the delicious dusky rose glowed beneath his eyes.
But he had put his hand out to her, and she had not taken it.
"What have I done to offend you? I really don't know, Rhoda."
"Nothing." The flower had closed.
He determined to believe that she was gladdened at heart by the prospect
of a fine marriage, and now began to discourse of Anthony's delinquency,
"It was not money taken for money's sake: any one can see that. It was
half clear to me, when you told me about it, that the money was not his
to give, but I've got the habit of trusting you to be always correct."
"And I never am," said Rhoda, vexed at him and at herself.
"Women can't judge so well about money matters. Has your uncle no
account of his own at the Bank? He was thought to be a bit of a miser."
"What he is, or what he was, I can't guess. He has not been near the
Bank since that day; nor to his home. He has wandered down on his way
here, sleeping in cottages. His heart seems broken. I have still a
great deal of the money. I kept it, thinking it might be a protection
for Dahlia. Oh! my thoughts and what I have done! Of course, I imagined
him to be rich. A thousand pounds seemed a great deal to me, and very
little for one who was rich. If I had reflected at all, I must have seen
that Uncle Anthony would never have carried so much through the streets.
I was like a fiend for money. I must have been acting wrongly. Such a
craving as that is a sign of evil."
"What evil there is, you're going to mend, Rhoda."
"I sell myself, then."
"Hardly so bad as that. The money will come from you instead of from
Rhoda bent forward in her chair, with her elbows on her knees, like a man
brooding. Perhaps, it was right that the money should come from her.
And how could she have hoped to get the money by any other means? Here
at least was a positive escape from perplexity. It came at the right
moment; was it a help divine? What cowardice had been prompting her to
evade it? After all, could it be a dreadful step that she was required
Her eyes met Robert's, and he said startlingly: "Just like a woman!"
"Why?" but she had caught the significance, and blushed with spite.
"He was the first to praise you."
"You are brutal to me, Robert."
"My name at last! You accused me of that sort of thing before, in this
Rhoda stood up. "I will wish you good night."
"And now you take my hand."
"Good night," they uttered simultaneously; but Robert did not give up the
hand he had got in his own. His eyes grew sharp, and he squeezed the
"I'm bound," she cried.
"Once!" Robert drew her nearer to him.
"Let me go."
"Once!" he reiterated. "Rhoda, as I've never kissed you--once!"
"No: don't anger me."
"No one has ever kissed you?"
"Then, I--" His force was compelling the straightened figure.
Had he said, "Be mine!" she might have softened to his embrace; but there
was no fire of divining love in her bosom to perceive her lover's
meaning. She read all his words as a placard on a board, and revolted
from the outrage of submitting her lips to one who was not to be her
husband. His jealousy demanded that gratification foremost. The "Be
mine!" was ready enough to follow.
"Let me go, Robert."
She was released. The cause for it was the opening of the door. Anthony
A more astounding resemblance to the phantasm of a dream was never
presented. He was clad in a manner to show forth the condition of his
wits, in partial night and day attire: one of the farmer's nightcaps was
on his head, surmounted by his hat. A confused recollection of the
necessity for trousers, had made him draw on those garments sufficiently
to permit of the movement of his short legs, at which point their
subserviency to the uses ended. Wrinkled with incongruous clothing from
head to foot, and dazed by the light, he peered on them, like a mouse
magnified and petrified.
"Dearest uncle!" Rhoda went to him.
Anthony nodded, pointing to the door leading out of the house.
"I just want to go off--go off. Never you mind me. I'm only going off."
"You must go to your bed, uncle."
"Oh, Lord! no. I'm going off, my dear. I've had sleep enough for forty.
I--" he turned his mouth to Rhoda's ear, "I don't want t' see th' old
farmer." And, as if he had given a conclusive reason for his departure,
he bored towards the door, repeating it, and bawling additionally, "in
"You have seen him, uncle. You have seen him. It's over," said Rhoda.
Anthony whispered: "I don't want t' see th' old farmer."
"But, you have seen him, uncle."
"In the morning, my dear. Not in the morning. He'll be looking and
asking, 'Where away, brother Tony?' 'Where's your banker's book, brother
Tony?' 'How's money-market, brother Tony?' I can't see th' old farmer."
It was impossible to avoid smiling: his imitation of the farmer's country
style was exact.
She took his hands, and used every persuasion she could think of to
induce him to return to his bed; nor was he insensible to argument, or
superior to explanation.
"Th' old farmer thinks I've got millions, my dear. You can't satisfy
him. He... I don't want t' see him in the morning. He thinks I've got
millions. His mouth'll go down. I don't want... You don't want him to
look... And I can't count now; I can't count a bit. And every post I
see 's a policeman. I ain't hiding. Let 'em take the old man. And he
was a faithful servant, till one day he got up on a regular whirly-go-
round, and ever since...such a little boy! I'm frightened o' you,
"I will do everything for you," said Rhoda, crying wretchedly.
"Because, the young squire says," Anthony made his voice mysterious.
"Yes, yes," Rhoda stopped him; "and I consent:" she gave a hurried
half-glance behind her. "Come, uncle. Oh! pity! don't let me think your
reason's gone. I can get you the money, but if you go foolish, I cannot
Her energy had returned to her with the sense of sacrifice. Anthony eyed
her tears. "We've sat on a bank and cried together, haven't we?" he
said. "And counted ants, we have. Shall we sit in the sun together
to-morrow? Say, we shall. Shall we? A good long day in the sun and
nobody looking at me 's my pleasure."
Rhoda gave him the assurance, and he turned and went upstairs with her,
docile at the prospect of hours to be passed in the sunlight.
Yet, when morning came, he had disappeared. Robert also was absent from
the breakfast-table. The farmer made no remarks, save that he reckoned
Master Gammon was right--in allusion to the veteran's somnolent
observation overnight; and strange things were acted before his eyes.
There came by the morning delivery of letters one addressed to "Miss
Fleming." He beheld his daughters rise, put their hands out, and claim
it, in a breath; and they gazed upon one another like the two women
demanding the babe from the justice of the Wise King. The letter was
placed in Rhoda's hand; Dahlia laid hers on it. Their mouths were shut;
any one not looking at them would have been unaware that a supreme
conflict was going on in the room. It was a strenuous wrestle of their
eyeballs, like the "give way" of athletes pausing. But the delirious
beat down the constitutional strength. A hard bright smile ridged the
hollow of Dahlia's cheeks. Rhoda's dark eyes shut; she let go her hold,
and Dahlia thrust the letter in against her bosom, snatched it out again,
and dipped her face to roses in a jug, and kissing Mrs. Sumfit, ran from
the room for a single minute; after which she came back smiling with
gravely joyful eyes and showing a sedate readiness to eat and conclude
the morning meal.
What did this mean? The farmer could have made allowance for Rhoda's
behaving so, seeing that she notoriously possessed intellect; and he had
the habit of charging all freaks and vagaries of manner upon intellect.
But Dahlia was a soft creature, without this apology for extravagance,
and what right had she to letters addressed to "Miss Fleming?" The
farmer prepared to ask a question, and was further instigated to it by
seeing Mrs. Sumfit's eyes roll sympathetic under a burden of overpowering
curiosity and bewilderment. On the point of speaking, he remembered that
he had pledged his word to ask no questions; he feared to--that was the
secret; he had put his trust in Rhoda's assurance, and shrank from a
spoken suspicion. So, checking himself, he broke out upon Mrs. Sumfit:
"Now, then, mother!" which caused her to fluster guiltily, she having
likewise given her oath to be totally unquestioning, even as was Master
Gammon, whom she watched with a deep envy. Mrs. Sumfit excused the
anxious expression of her face by saying that she was thinking of her
dairy, whither, followed by the veteran, she retired.
Rhoda stood eyeing Dahlia, nerved to battle against the contents of that
letter, though in the first conflict she had been beaten. "Oh, this
curse of love!" she thought in her heart; and as Dahlia left the room,
flushed, stupefied, and conscienceless, Rhoda the more readily told her
father the determination which was the result of her interview with
No sooner had she done so, than a strange fluttering desire to look on
Robert awoke within her bosom. She left the house, believing that she
went abroad to seek her uncle, and walked up a small grass-knoll, a
little beyond the farm-yard, from which she could see green corn-tracts
and the pastures by the river, the river flowing oily under summer light,
and the slow-footed cows, with their heads bent to the herbage; far-away
sheep, and white hawthorn bushes, and deep hedge-ways bursting out of the
trimness of the earlier season; and a nightingale sang among the hazels
This scene of unthrobbing peacefulness was beheld by Rhoda with her first
conscious delight in it. She gazed round on the farm, under a quick new
impulse of affection for her old home. And whose hand was it that could
alone sustain the working of the farm, and had done so, without reward?
Her eyes travelled up to Wrexby Hall, perfectly barren of any feeling
that she was to enter the place, aware only that it was full of pain for
her. She accused herself, but could not accept the charge of her having
ever hoped for transforming events that should twist and throw the dear
old farm-life long back into the fields of memory. Nor could she
understand the reason of her continued coolness to Robert. Enough of
accurate reflection was given her to perceive that discontent with her
station was the original cause of her discontent now. What she had sown
she was reaping:--and wretchedly colourless are these harvests of our
dream! The sun has not shone on them. They may have a tragic blood-hue,
as with Dahlia's; but they will never have any warm, and fresh, and
nourishing sweetness--the juice which is in a single blade of grass.
A longing came upon Rhoda to go and handle butter. She wished to smell
it as Mrs. Sumfit drubbed and patted and flattened and rounded it in the
dairy; and she ran down the slope, meeting her father at the gate. He
was dressed in his brushed suit, going she knew whither, and when he
asked if she had seen her uncle, she gave for answer a plain negative,
and longed more keenly to be at work with her hands, and to smell the
homely creamy air under the dairy-shed.
She watched her father as he went across the field and into the lane.
Her breathing was suppressed till he appeared in view at different
points, more and more distant, and then she sighed heavily, stopped her
breathing, and hoped her unshaped hope again. The last time he was in
sight, she found herself calling to him with a voice like that of a
burdened sleeper: her thought being, "How can you act so cruelly to
Robert!" He passed up Wrexby Heath, and over the black burnt patch where
the fire had caught the furzes on a dry Maynight, and sank on the side of
When we have looked upon a picture of still green life with a troubled
soul, and the blow falls on us, we accuse Nature of our own treachery to
her. Rhoda hurried from the dairy-door to shut herself up in her room
and darken the light surrounding her. She had turned the lock, and was
about systematically to pull down the blind, when the marvel of beholding
Dahlia stepping out of the garden made her for a moment less the creature
of her sickened senses. Dahlia was dressed for a walk, and she went very
fast. The same paralysis of motion afflicted Rhoda as when she was
gazing after her father; but her hand stretched out instinctively for her
bonnet when Dahlia had crossed the green and the mill-bridge, and was no
more visible. Rhoda drew her bonnet on, and caught her black silk mantle
in her hand, and without strength to throw it across her shoulders,
dropped before her bed, and uttered a strange prayer. "Let her die
rather than go back to disgrace, my God! my God!"
She tried to rise, and failed in the effort, and superstitiously renewed
her prayer. "Send death to her rather!"--and Rhoda's vision under her
shut eyes conjured up clouds and lightnings, and spheres in
There is nothing so indicative of fevered or of bad blood as the tendency
to counsel the Almighty how he shall deal with his creatures. The strain
of a long uncertainty, and the late feverish weeks had distempered the
fine blood of the girl, and her acts and words were becoming remoter
exponents of her character.
She bent her head in a blind doze that gave her strength to rise. As
swiftly as she could she went in the track of her sister.
That morning, Robert had likewise received a letter. It was from Major
Waring, and contained a bank-note, and a summons to London, as also an
enclosure from Mrs. Boulby of Warbeach; the nature of which was an
advertisement cut out of the county paper, notifying to one Robert Eccles
that his aunt Anne had died, and that there was a legacy for him, to be
paid over upon application. Robert crossed the fields, laughing madly at
the ironical fate which favoured him a little and a little, and never
enough, save just to keep him swimming.
The letter from Major Waring said:--
"I must see you immediately. Be quick and come. I begin to be of your
opinion--there are some things which we must take into our own hands and
deal summarily with."
"Ay!--ay!" Robert gave tongue in the clear morning air, scenting
excitement and eager for it as a hound.
More was written, which he read subsequently
"I wrong," Percy's letter continued, "the best of women. She was
driven to my door. There is, it seems, some hope that Dahlia will
find herself free. At any rate, keep guard over her, and don't
leave her. Mrs. Lovell has herself been moving to make discoveries
down at Warbeach. Mr. Blancove has nearly quitted this sphere. She
nursed him--I was jealous!--the word's out. Truth, courage, and
suffering touch Margaret's heart.
Jumping over a bank, Robert came upon Anthony, who was unsteadily gazing
at a donkey that cropped the grass by a gate.
"Here you are," said Robert, and took his arm.
Anthony struggled, though he knew the grasp was friendly; but he was led
along: nor did Robert stop until they reached Greatham, five miles beyond
Wrexby, where he entered the principal inn and called for wine.
"You want spirit: you want life," said Robert.
Anthony knew that he wanted no wine, whatever his needs might be. Yet
the tender ecstacy of being paid for was irresistible, and he drank,
saying, "Just one glass, then."
Robert pledged him. They were in a private room, of which, having
ordered up three bottles of sherry, Robert locked the door. The devil
was in him. He compelled Anthony to drink an equal portion with himself,
alternately frightening and cajoling the old man.
"Drink, I tell you. You've robbed me, and you shall drink!"
"I haven't, I haven't," Anthony whined.
"Drink, and be silent. You've robbed me, and you shall drink! and by
heaven! if you resist, I'll hand you over to bluer imps than you've ever
dreamed of, old gentleman! You've robbed me, Mr. Hackbut. Drink! I tell
Anthony wept into his glass.
"That's a trick I could never do," said Robert, eyeing the drip of the
trembling old tear pitilessly. "Your health, Mr. Hackbut. You've robbed
me of my sweetheart. Never mind. Life's but the pop of a gun. Some of
us flash in the pan, and they're the only ones that do no mischief.
You're not one of them, sir; so you must drink, and let me see you
By degrees, the wine stirred Anthony's blood, and he chirped feebly, as
one who half remembered that he ought to be miserable. Robert listened
to his maundering account of his adventure with the Bank money, sternly
replenishing his glass. His attention was taken by the sight of Dahlia
stepping forth from a chemist's shop in the street nearly opposite to the
inn. "This is my medicine," said Robert; "and yours too," he addressed
The sun had passed its meridian when they went into the streets again.
Robert's head was high as a cock's, and Anthony leaned on his arm;
performing short half-circles headlong to the front, until the mighty arm
checked and uplifted him. They were soon in the fields leading to
Wrexby. Robert saw two female figures far ahead. A man was hastening to
join them. The women started and turned suddenly: one threw up her
hands, and darkened her face. It was in the pathway of a broad meadow,
deep with grass, wherein the red sorrel topped the yellow buttercup, like
rust upon the season's gold. Robert hastened on. He scarce at the
moment knew the man whose shoulder he seized, but he had recognised
Dahlia and Rhoda, and he found himself face to face with Sedgett.
"Perhaps you'll keep your hands off; before you make sure, another time."
Robert said: "I really beg your pardon. Step aside with me."
"Not while I've a ha'p'orth o' brains in my noddle," replied Sedgett,
drawling an imitation of his enemy's courteous tone. "I've come for my
wife. I'm just down by train, and a bit out of my way, I reckon. I'm
come, and I'm in a hurry. She shall get home, and have on her things--
boxes packed, and we go."
Robert waved Dahlia and Rhoda to speed homeward. Anthony had fallen
against the roots of a banking elm, and surveyed the scene with
philosophic abstractedness. Rhoda moved, taking Dahlia's hand.
"Stop," cried Sedgett. "Do you people here think me a fool? Eccles, you
know me better 'n that. That young woman's my wife. I've come for her,
I tell ye."
"You've no claim on her," Rhoda burst forth weakly, and quivered, and
turned her eyes supplicatingly on Robert. Dahlia was a statue of icy
"You've thrown her off, man, and sold what rights you had," said Robert,
spying for the point of his person where he might grasp the wretch and
keep him off.
"That don't hold in law," Sedgett nodded. "A man may get in a passion,
when he finds he's been cheated, mayn't he?"
"I have your word of honour," said Rhoda; muttering, "Oh! devil come to
"Then, you shouldn't ha' run ferreting down in my part o' the country.
You, or Eccles--I don't care who 'tis--you've been at my servants to get
at my secrets. Some of you have. You've declared war. You've been
trying to undermine me. That's a breach, I call it. Anyhow, I've come
for my wife. I'll have her."
"None of us, none of us; no one has been to your house," said Rhoda,
vehemently. "You live in Hampshire, sir, I think; I don't know any more.
I don't know where. I have not asked my sister. Oh! spare us, and go."
"No one has been down into your part of the country," said Robert, with
To which Sedgett answered bluffly, "There ye lie, Bob Eccles;" and he was
immediately felled by a tremendous blow. Robert strode over him, and
taking Dahlia by the elbow, walked three paces on, as to set her in
motion. "Off!" he cried to Rhoda, whose eyelids cowered under the blaze
of his face.
It was best that her sister should be away, and she turned and walked
swiftly, hurrying Dahlia, and touching her. "Oh! don't touch my arm,"
Dahlia said, quailing in the fall of her breath. They footed together,
speechless; taking the woman's quickest gliding step. At the last stile
of the fields, Rhoda saw that they were not followed. She stopped,
panting: her heart and eyes were so full of that flaming creature who was
her lover. Dahlia took from her bosom the letter she had won in the
morning, and held it open in both hands to read it. The pause was short.
Dahlia struck the letter into her bosom again, and her starved features
had some of the bloom of life. She kept her right hand in her pocket,
and Rhoda presently asked,--
"What have you there?"
"You are my enemy, dear, in some things," Dahlia replied, a muscular
shiver passing over her.
"I think," said Rhoda, "I could get a little money to send you away.
Will you go? I am full of grief for what I have done. God forgive me."
"Pray, don't speak so; don't let us talk," said Dahlia.
Scorched as she felt both in soul and body, a touch or a word was a wound
to her. Yet she was the first to resume: "I think I shall be saved. I
can't quite feel I am lost. I have not been so wicked as that."
Rhoda gave a loving answer, and again Dahlia shrank from the miserable
comfort of words.
As they came upon the green fronting the iron gateway, Rhoda perceived
that the board proclaiming the sale of Queen Anne's Farm had been
removed, and now she understood her father's readiness to go up to Wrexby
Hall. "He would sell me to save the farm." She reproached herself for
the thought, but she could not be just; she had the image of her father
plodding relentlessly over the burnt heath to the Hall, as conceived by
her agonized sensations in the morning, too vividly to be just, though
still she knew that her own indecision was to blame.
Master Gammon met them in the garden.
Pointing aloft, over the gateway, "That's down," he remarked, and the
three green front teeth of his quiet grin were stamped on the
impressionable vision of the girls in such a way that they looked at one
another with a bare bitter smile. Once it would have been mirth.
"Tell father," Dahlia said, when they were at the back doorway, and her
eyes sparkled piteously, and she bit on her underlip. Rhoda tried to
detain her; but Dahlia repeated, "Tell father," and in strength and in
will had become more than a match for her sister.
Rhoda spoke to her father from the doorway, with her hand upon the lock
of the door.
At first he paid little attention to her, and, when he did so, began by
saying that he hoped she knew that she was bound to have the young
squire, and did not intend to be prankish and wilful; because the young
squire was eager to settle affairs, that he might be settled himself. "I
don't deny it's honour to us, and it's a comfort," said the farmer.
"This is the first morning I've thought easily in my chair for years.
I'm sorry about Robert, who's a twice unlucky 'un; but you aimed at
something higher, I suppose."
Rhoda was prompted to say a word in self-defence, but refrained, and
again she told Dahlia's story, wondering that her father showed no
excitement of any kind. On the contrary, there was the dimple of one of
his voiceless chuckles moving about the hollow of one cheek, indicating
some slow contemplative action that was not unpleasant within. He said:
"Ah! well, it's very sad;--that is, if 'tis so," and no more, for a time.
She discovered that he was referring to her uncle Anthony, concerning
whose fortunate position in the world, he was beginning to entertain some
doubts. "Or else," said the farmer, with a tap on his forehead, "he's
going here. It 'd be odd after all, if commercially, as he 'd call it,
his despised brother-in-law--and I say it in all kindness--should turn
out worth, not exactly millions, but worth a trifle."
The farmer nodded with an air of deprecating satisfaction.
Rhoda did not gain his ear until, as by an instinct, she perceived what
interest the story of her uncle and the money-bags would have for him.
She related it, and he was roused. Then, for the third time, she told
him of Dahlia.
Rhoda saw her father's chest grow large, while his eyes quickened with
light. He looked on her with quite a strange face. Wrath, and a revived
apprehension, and a fixed will were expressed in it, and as he catechized
her for each particular of the truth which had been concealed from him,
she felt a respectfulness that was new in her personal sensations toward
her father, but it was at the expense of her love.
When he had heard and comprehended all, he said, "Send the girl down to
But Rhoda pleaded, "She is too worn, she is tottering. She cannot endure
a word on this; not even of kindness and help."
"Then, you," said the farmer, "you tell her she's got a duty's her first
duty now. Obedience to her husband! Do you hear? Then, let her hear
it. Obedience to her husband! And welcome's the man when he calls on
me. He's welcome. My doors are open to him. I thank him. I honour
him. I bless his name. It's to him I owe--You go up to her and say, her
father owes it to the young man who's married her that he can lift up his
head. Go aloft. Ay! for years I've been suspecting something of this.
I tell ye, girl, I don't understand about church doors and castin' of her
off--he's come for her, hasn't he? Then, he shall have her. I tell ye,
I don't understand about money: he's married her. Well, then, she's his
wife; and how can he bargain not to see her?"
"The base wretch!" cried Rhoda.
"Hasn't he married her?" the farmer retorted. "Hasn't he given the poor
creature a name? I'm not for abusing her, but him I do thank, and I say,
when he calls, here's my hand for him. Here, it's out and waiting for
"Father, if you let me see it--" Rhoda checked the intemperate outburst.
"Father, this is a bad--a bad man. He is a very wicked man. We were all
deceived by him. Robert knows him. He has known him for years, and
knows that he is very wicked. This man married our Dahlia to get--"
Rhoda gasped, and could not speak it. "He flung her off with horrible
words at the church door. After this, how can he claim her? I paid him
all he had to expect with uncle's money, for his promise by his sacred
oath never, never to disturb or come near my sister. After that he
can't, can't claim her. If he does--"
"He's her husband," interrupted the farmer; "when he comes here, he's
welcome. I say he's welcome. My hand's out to him:--If it's alone that
he's saved the name of Fleming from disgrace! I thank him, and my
daughter belongs to him. Where is he now? You talk of a scuffle with
Robert. I do hope Robert will not forget his proper behaviour. Go you
up to your sister, and say from me--All's forgotten and forgiven; say,
It's all underfoot; but she must learn to be a good girl from this day.
And, if she's at the gate to welcome her husband, so much the better 'll
her father be pleased;--say that. I want to see the man. It'll gratify
me to feel her husband's flesh and blood. His being out of sight so
long's been a sore at my heart; and when I see him I'll welcome him, and
so must all in my house."
This was how William Fleming received the confession of his daughter's
Rhoda might have pleaded Dahlia's case better, but that she was too
shocked and outraged by the selfishness she saw in her father, and the
partial desire to scourge which she was too intuitively keen at the
moment not to perceive in the paternal forgiveness, and in the
stipulation of the forgiveness.
She went upstairs to Dahlia, simply stating that their father was aware
of all the circumstances.
Dahlia looked at her, but dared ask nothing.
So the day passed. Neither Robert nor Anthony appeared. The night came:
all doors were locked. The sisters that night slept together, feeling
the very pulses of the hours; yet neither of them absolutely hopelessly,
although in a great anguish.
Rhoda was dressed by daylight. The old familiar country about the house
lay still as if it knew no expectation. She observed Master Gammon
tramping forth afield, and presently heard her father's voice below. All
the machinery of the daily life got into motion; but it was evident that
Robert and Anthony continued to be absent. A thought struck her that
Robert had killed the man. It came with a flash of joy that was speedily
terror, and she fell to praying vehemently and vaguely. Dahlia lay
exhausted on the bed, but nigh the hour when letters were delivered, she
sat up, saying, "There is one for me; get it."
There was in truth a letter for her below, and it was in her father's
hand and open.
"Come out," said the farmer, as Rhoda entered to him. When they were in
the garden, he commanded her to read and tell him the meaning of it. The
letter was addressed to Dahlia Fleming.
"It's for my sister," Rhoda murmured, in anger, but more in fear.
She was sternly bidden to read, and she read,--
Dahlia,--There is mercy for us. You are not lost to me.
After this, was appended in a feminine hand:--
"There is really hope. A few hours will tell us. But keep firm.
If he comes near you, keep from him. You are not his. Run, hide,
go anywhere, if you have reason to think he is near. I dare not
write what it is we expect. Yesterday I told you to hope; to-day I
can say, believe that you will be saved. You are not lost.
Everything depends on your firmness.
Rhoda lifted up her eyes.
The farmer seized the letter, and laid his finger on the first signature.
"Is that the christian name of my girl's seducer?"
He did not wait for an answer, but turned and went into the
breakfast-table, when he ordered a tray with breakfast for Dahlia to
betaken up to her bed-room; and that done, he himself turned the key of
the door, and secured her. Mute woe was on Mrs. Sumfit's face at all
these strange doings, but none heeded her, and she smothered her
lamentations. The farmer spoke nothing either of Robert or of Anthony.
He sat in his chair till the dinner hour, without book or pipe, without
occupation for eyes or hands; silent, but acute in his hearing.
The afternoon brought relief to Rhoda's apprehensions. A messenger ran
up to the farm bearing a pencilled note to her from Robert, which said
that he, in company with her uncle, was holding Sedgett at a distance by
force of arm, and that there was no fear. Rhoda kissed the words,
hurrying away to the fields for a few minutes to thank and bless and
dream of him who had said that there was no fear. She knew that Dahlia
was unconscious of her imprisonment, and had less compunction in counting
the minutes of her absence. The sun spread in yellow and fell in red
before she thought of returning, so sweet it had become to her to let her
mind dwell with Robert; and she was half a stranger to the mournfulness
of the house when she set her steps homeward. But when she lifted the
latch of the gate, a sensation, prompted by some unwitting self-accusal,
struck her with alarm. She passed into the room, and beheld her father,
and Mrs. Sumfit, who was sitting rolling, with her apron over her head.
The man Sedgett was between them.
No sooner had Rhoda appeared than her father held up the key of Dahlia's
bed-room, and said, "Unlock your sister, and fetch her down to her
Mechanically Rhoda took the key.
"And leave our door open," he added.
She went up to Dahlia, sick with a sudden fright lest evil had come to
Robert, seeing that his enemy was here; but that was swept from her by
"He is in the house," Dahlia said; and asked, "Was there no letter--no
letter; none, this morning?"
Rhoda clasped her in her arms, seeking to check the convulsions of her
"No letter! no letter! none? not any? Oh! no letter for me!"
The strange varying tones of musical interjection and interrogation were
pitiful to hear.
"Did you look for a letter?" said Rhoda, despising herself for so
"He is in the house! Where is my letter?"
"What was it you hoped? what was it you expected, darling?"
Dahlia moaned: "I don't know. I'm blind. I was told to hope. Yesterday
I had my letter, and it told me to hope. He is in the house!"
"Oh, my dear, my love!" cried Rhoda; "come down a minute. See him. It
is father's wish. Come only for a minute. Come, to gain time, if there
"But there was no letter for me this morning, Rhoda. I can't hope. I am
lost. He is in the house!"
"Dearest, there was a letter," said Rhoda, doubting that she did well in
Dahlia put out her hands dumb for the letter.
"Father opened it, and read it, and keeps it," said Rhoda, clinging tight
to the stricken form.
"Then, he is against me? Oh, my letter!" Dahlia wrung her hands.
While they were speaking, their father's voice was heard below calling
for Dahlia to descend. He came thrice to the foot of the stairs, and
shouted for her.
The third time he uttered a threat that sprang an answer from her bosom
Rhoda went out on the landing and said softly, "Come up to her, father."
After a little hesitation, he ascended the stairs.
"Why, girl, I only ask you to come down and see your husband," he
remarked with an attempt at kindliness of tone. "What's the harm, then?
Come and see him; that's all; come and see him."
Dahlia was shrinking out of her father's sight as he stood in the
doorway. "Say," she communicated to Rhoda, "say, I want my letter."
"Come!" William Fleming grew impatient.
"Let her have her letter, father," said Rhoda. "You have no right to
"That letter, my girl" (he touched Rhoda's shoulder as to satisfy her
that he was not angry), "that letter's where it ought to be. I've
puzzled out the meaning of it. That letter's in her husband's
Dahlia, with her ears stretching for all that might be uttered, heard
this. Passing round the door, she fronted her father.
"My letter gone to him!" she cried. "Shameful old man! Can you look on
me? Father, could you give it? I'm a dead woman."
She smote her bosom, stumbling backward upon Rhoda's arm.
"You have been a wicked girl," the ordinarily unmoved old man retorted.
"Your husband has come for you, and you go with him. Know that, and let
me hear no threats. He's a modest-minded, quiet young man, and a farmer
like myself, and needn't be better than he is. Come you down to him at
once. I'll tell you: he comes to take you away, and his cart's at the
gate. To the gate you go with him. When next I see you--you visiting me
or I visiting you--I shall see a respected creature, and not what you
have been and want to be. You have racked the household with fear and
shame for years. Now come, and carry out what you've begun in the
contrary direction. You've got my word o' command, dead woman or live
woman. Rhoda, take one elbow of your sister. Your aunt's coming up to
pack her box. I say I'm determined, and no one stops me when I say that.
Come out, Dahlia, and let our parting be like between parent and child.
Here's the dark falling, and your husband's anxious to be away. He has
business, and 'll hardly get you to the station for the last train to
town. Hark at him below! He's naturally astonished, he is, and you're
trying his temper, as you'd try any man's. He wants to be off. Come,
and when next we meet I shall see you a happy wife."
He might as well have spoken to a corpse.
"Speak to her still, father," said Rhoda, as she drew a chair upon which
she leaned her sister's body, and ran down full of the power of hate and
loathing to confront Sedgett; but great as was that power within her, it
was overmatched by his brutal resolution to take his wife away. No
argument, no irony, no appeals, can long withstand the iteration of a
dogged phrase. "I've come for my wife," Sedgett said to all her
instances. His voice was waxing loud and insolent, and, as it sounded,
Mrs. Sumfit moaned and flapped her apron.
"Then, how could you have married him?"
They heard the farmer's roar of this unanswerable thing, aloft.
"Yes--how! how!" cried Rhoda below, utterly forgetting the part she had
played in the marriage.
"It's too late to hate a man when you've married him, my girl."
Sedgett went out to the foot of the stairs.
"Mr. Fleming--she's my wife. I'll teach her about hating and loving.
I'll behave well to her, I swear. I'm in the midst of enemies; but I say
I do love my wife, and I've come for her, and have her I will. Now, in
two minutes' time. Mr. Fleming, my cart's at the gate, and I've got
business, and she's my wife."
The farmer called for Mrs. Sumfit to come up and pack Dahlia's box, and
the forlorn woman made her way to the bedroom. All the house was silent.
Rhoda closed her sight, and she thought: "Does God totally abandon us?"
She let her father hear: "Father, you know that you are killing your
"I hear ye, my lass," said he.
"She will die, father."
"I hear ye, I hear ye."
"She will die, father."
He stamped furiously, exclaiming: "Who's got the law of her better and
above a husband? Hear reason, and come and help and fetch down your
sister. She goes!"
"Father!" Rhoda cried, looking at her open hands, as if she marvelled to
see them helpless.
There was for a time that silence which reigns in a sickchamber when the
man of medicine takes the patient's wrist. And in the silence came a
blessed sound--the lifting of a latch. Rhoda saw Robert's face.
"So," said Robert, as she neared him, "you needn't tell me what's
happened. Here's the man, I see. He dodged me cleverly. The hound
wants practice; the fox is born with his cunning."
Few words were required to make him understand the position of things in
the house. Rhoda spoke out all without hesitation in Sedgett's hearing.
But the farmer respected Robert enough to come down to him and explain
his views of his duty and his daughter's duty. By the kitchen firelight
he and Robert and Sedgett read one another's countenances.
"He has a proper claim to take his wife, Robert," said the farmer. "He's
righted her before the world, and I thank him; and if he asks for her of
me he must have her, and he shall."
"All right, sir," replied Robert, "and I say too, shall, when I'm stiff
"Oh! Robert, Robert!" Rhoda cried in great joy.
"Do you mean that you step 'twixt me and my own?" said Mr. Fleming.
"I won't let you nod at downright murder--that's all," said Robert.
"She--Dahlia, take the hand of that creature!"
"Why did she marry me?" thundered Sedgett.
"There's one o' the wonders!" Robert rejoined. "Except that you're an
amazingly clever hypocrite with women; and she was just half dead and had
no will of her own; and some one set you to hunt her down. I tell you,
Mr. Fleming, you might as well send your daughter to the hangman as put
her in this fellow's hands."
"She's his wife, man."
"May be," Robert assented.
"You, Robert Eccles!" said Sedgett hoarsely; "I've come for my wife--do
"You have, I dare say," returned Robert. "You dodged me cleverly, that
you did. I'd like to know how it was done. I see you've got a cart
outside and a boy at the horse's head. The horse steps well, does he?
I'm about three hours behind him, I reckon:--not too late, though!"
He let fall a great breath of weariness.
Rhoda went to the cupboard and drew forth a rarely touched bottle of
spirits, with which she filled a small glass, and handing the glass to
him, said, "Drink." He smiled kindly and drank it off.
"The man's in your house, Mr. Fleming," he said.
"And he's my guest, and my daughter's husband, remember that," said the
"And mean to wait not half a minute longer till I've taken her off--mark
that," Sedgett struck in. "Now, Mr. Fleming, you see you keep good your
word to me."
"I'll do no less," said the farmer. He went into the passage shouting
for Mrs. Sumfit to bring down the box.
"She begs," Mrs. Sumfit answered to him--"She begs, William, on'y a short
five minutes to pray by herself, which you will grant unto her, dear, you
will. Lord! what's come upon us?"
"Quick, and down with the box, then, mother," he rejoined.
The box was dragged out, and Dahlia's door was shut, that she might have
her last minutes alone.
Rhoda kissed her sister before leaving her alone: and so cold were
Dahlia's lips, so tight the clutch of her hands, that she said: "Dearest,
think of God:" and Dahlia replied: "I do."
"He will not forsake you," Rhoda said.
Dahlia nodded, with shut eyes, and Rhoda went forth.
"And now, Robert, you and I'll see who's master on these premises," said
the farmer. "Hear, all! I'm bounders under a sacred obligation to the
husband of my child, and the Lord's wrath on him who interferes and lifts
his hand against me when I perform my sacred duty as a father. Place
there! I'm going to open the door. Rhoda, see to your sister's bonnet
and things. Robert, stand out of my way. There's no refreshment of any
sort you'll accept of before starting, Mr. Sedgett? None at all!
That's no fault of my hospitality. Stand out of my way, Robert."
He was obeyed. Robert looked at Rhoda, but had no reply for her gaze of
The farmer threw the door wide open.
There were people in the garden--strangers. His name was inquired for
out of the dusk. Then whisperings were heard passing among the
ill-discerned forms, and the farmer went out to them. Robert listened
keenly, but the touch of Rhoda's hand upon his own distracted his
hearing. "Yet it must be!" he said. "Why does she come here?"
Both he and Rhoda followed the farmer's steps, drawn forth by the
ever-credulous eagerness which arises from an interruption to excited
wretchedness. Near and nearer to the group, they heard a quaint old
woman exclaim: "Come here to you for a wife, when he has one of his own
at home; a poor thing he shipped off to America, thinking himself more
cunning than devils or angels: and she got put out at a port, owing to
stress of weather, to defeat the man's wickedness! Can't I prove it to
you, sir, he's a married man, which none of us in our village knew till
the poor tricked thing crawled back penniless to find him;--and there she
is now with such a story of his cunning to tell to anybody as will
listen; and why he kept it secret to get her pension paid him still on.
It's all such a tale for you to hear by-and-by."
Robert burst into a glorious laugh.
"Why, mother! Mrs. Boulby! haven't you got a word for me?"
"My blessedest Robert!" the good woman cried, as she rushed up to kiss
him. "Though it wasn't to see you I came exactly." She whispered: "The
Major and the good gentleman--they're behind. I travelled down with
them. Dear,--you'd like to know:--Mrs. Lovell sent her little cunning
groom down to Warbeach just two weeks back to make inquiries about that
villain; and the groom left me her address, in case, my dear, when the
poor creature--his true wife--crawled home, and we knew of her at Three-
Tree Farm and knew her story. I wrote word at once, I did, to Mrs.
Lovell, and the sweet good lady sent down her groom to fetch me to you to
make things clear here. You shall understand them soon. It's Providence
at work. I do believe that now there's a chance o' punishing the wicked
The figure of Rhoda with two lights in her hand was seen in the porch,
and by the shadowy rays she beheld old Anthony leaning against the house,
and Major Waring with a gentleman beside him close upon the gate.
At the same time a sound of wheels was heard.
Robert rushed back into the great parlour-kitchen, and finding it empty,
stamped with vexation. His prey had escaped.
But there was no relapse to give spare thoughts to that pollution of the
house. It had passed. Major Waring was talking earnestly to Mr.
Fleming, who held his head low, stupefied, and aware only of the fact
that it was a gentleman imparting to him strange matters. By degrees all
were beneath the farmer's roof--all, save one, who stood with bowed head
by the threshold.
There is a sort of hero, and a sort of villain, to this story: they are
but instruments. Hero and villain are combined in the person of Edward,
who was now here to abase himself before the old man and the family he
had injured, and to kneel penitently at the feet of the woman who had
just reason to spurn him. He had sold her as a slave is sold; he had
seen her plunged into the blackest pit; yet was she miraculously kept
pure for him, and if she could give him her pardon, might still be his.
The grief for which he could ask no compassion had at least purified him
to meet her embrace. The great agony he had passed through of late had
killed his meaner pride. He stood there ready to come forward and ask
forgiveness from unfriendly faces, and beg that he might be in Dahlia's
eyes once--that he might see her once.
He had grown to love her with the fullest force of a selfish, though not
a common, nature. Or rather he had always loved her, and much of the
selfishness had fallen away from his love. It was not the highest form
of love, but the love was his highest development. He had heard that
Dahlia, lost to him, was free. Something like the mortal yearning to
look upon the dead risen to life, made it impossible for him to remain
absent and in doubt. He was ready to submit to every humiliation that he
might see the rescued features; he was willing to pay all his penalties.
Believing, too, that he was forgiven, he knew that Dahlia's heart would
throb for him to be near her, and he had come.
The miraculous agencies which had brought him and Major Waring and Mrs.
Boulby to the farm, that exalted woman was relating to Mrs. Sumfit in
another part of the house.
The farmer, and Percy, and Robert were in the family sitting-room, when,
after an interval, William Fleming said aloud, "Come in, sir," and Edward
stepped in among them.
Rhoda was above, seeking admittance to her sisters door, and she heard
her father utter that welcome. It froze her limbs, for still she hated
the evil-doer. Her hatred of him was a passion. She crouched over the
stairs, listening to a low and long-toned voice monotonously telling what
seemed to be one sole thing over and over, without variation, in the room
where the men were. Words were indistinguishable. Thrice, after calling
to Dahlia and getting no response, she listened again, and awe took her
soul at last, for, abhorred as he was by her, his power was felt: she
comprehended something of that earnestness which made the offender speak
of his wrongful deeds, and his shame, and his remorse, before his
fellow-men, straight out and calmly, like one who has been plunged up to
the middle in the fires of the abyss, and is thereafter insensible to
meaner pains. The voice ended. She was then aware that it had put a
charm upon her ears. The other voices following it sounded dull.
"Has he--can he have confessed in words all his wicked baseness?" she
thought, and in her soul the magnitude of his crime threw a gleam of
splendour on his courage, even at the bare thought that he might have
done this. Feeling that Dahlia was saved, and thenceforth at liberty to
despise him and torture him, Rhoda the more readily acknowledged that it
might be a true love for her sister animating him. From the height of a
possible vengeance it was perceptible.
She turned to her sister's door and knocked at it, calling to her, "Safe,
safe!" but there came no answer; and she was half glad, for she had a
fear that in the quick revulsion of her sister's feelings, mere earthly
love would act like heavenly charity, and Edward would find himself
forgiven only too instantly and heartily.
In the small musk-scented guest's parlour, Mrs. Boulby was giving Mrs.
Sumfit and poor old sleepy Anthony the account of the miraculous
discovery of Sedgett's wickedness, which had vindicated all one hoped for
from Above; as also the narration of the stabbing of her boy, and the
heroism and great-heartedness of Robert. Rhoda listened to her for a
space, and went to her sister's door again; but when she stood outside
the kitchen she found all voices silent within.
It was, in truth, not only very difficult for William Fleming to change
his view of the complexion of circumstances as rapidly as circumstances
themselves changed, but it was very bitter for him to look upon Edward,
and to see him in the place of Sedgett.
He had been struck dumb by the sudden revolution of affairs in his house;
and he had been deferentially convinced by Major Waring's tone that he
ought rightly to give his hearing to an unknown young gentleman against
whom anger was due. He had listened to Edward without one particle of
comprehension, except of the fact that his behaviour was extraordinary.
He understood that every admission made by Edward with such grave and
strange directness, would justly have condemned him to punishment which
the culprit's odd, and upright, and even-toned self-denunciation rendered
it impossible to think of inflicting. He knew likewise that a whole
history was being narrated to him, and that, although the other two
listeners manifestly did not approve it, they expected him to show some
tolerance to the speaker.
He said once, "Robert, do me the favour to look about outside for t'
other." Robert answered him, that the man was far away by this time.
The farmer suggested that he might be waiting to say his word presently.
"Don't you know you've been dealing with a villain, sir?" cried Robert.
"Throw ever so little light upon one of that breed, and they skulk in a
hurry. Mr. Fleming, for the sake of your honour, don't mention him
again. What you're asked to do now, is to bury the thoughts of him."
"He righted my daughter when there was shame on her," the farmer replied.
That was the idea printed simply on his understanding.
For Edward to hear it was worse than a scourging with rods. He bore it,
telling the last vitality of his pride to sleep, and comforting himself
with the drowsy sensuous expectation that he was soon to press the hand
of his lost one, his beloved, who was in the house, breathing the same
air with him; was perhaps in the room above, perhaps sitting impatiently
with clasped fingers, waiting for the signal to unlock them and fling
them open. He could imagine the damp touch of very expectant fingers;
the dying look of life-drinking eyes; and, oh! the helplessness of her
limbs as she sat buoying a heart drowned in bliss.
It was unknown to him that the peril of her uttermost misery had been so
imminent, and the picture conjured of her in his mind was that of a
gentle but troubled face--a soul afflicted, yet hoping because it had
been told to hope, and half conscious that a rescue, almost divine in its
suddenness and unexpectedness, and its perfect clearing away of all
Manifestly, by the pallid cast of his visage, he had tasted shrewd and
wasting grief of late. Robert's heart melted as he beheld the change in
"I believe, Mr. Blancove, I'm a little to blame," he said. "Perhaps when
I behaved so badly down at Fairly, you may have thought she sent me, and
it set your heart against her for a time. I can just understand how it
Edward thought for a moment, and conscientiously accepted the suggestion;
for, standing under that roof, with her whom he loved near him, it was
absolutely out of his power for him to comprehend that his wish to break
from Dahlia, and the measures he had taken or consented to, had sprung
from his own unassisted temporary baseness.
Then Robert spoke to the farmer.
Rhoda could hear Robert's words. Her fear was that Dahlia might hear
them too, his pleading for Edward was so hearty. "Yet why should I
always think differently from Robert?" she asked herself, and with that
excuse for changeing, partially thawed.
She was very anxious for her father's reply; and it was late in coming.
She felt that he was unconvinced. But suddenly the door opened, and the
farmer called into the darkness,--
"Dahlia down here!"
Previously emotionless, an emotion was started in Rhoda's bosom by the
command, and it was gladness. She ran up and knocked, and found herself
crying out: "He is here--Edward."
But there came no answer.
"Edward is here. Come, come and see him."
Still not one faint reply.
The call of Dahlia's name seemed to travel endlessly on. Rhoda knelt,
and putting her mouth to the door, said,--
"My darling, I know you will reply to me. I know you do not doubt me
now. Listen. You are to come down to happiness."
The silence grew heavier; and now a doubt came shrieking through her
"Father!" rang her outcry.
The father came; and then the lover came, and neither to father nor to
lover was there any word from Dahlia's voice.
She was found by the side of the bed, inanimate, and pale as a sister of
But you who may have cared for her through her many tribulations, have no
fear for this gentle heart. It was near the worst; yet not the worst.
Up to the black gates, but not beyond them. The dawn following such a
night will seem more like a daughter of the night than promise of day.
It is day that follows, notwithstanding: The sad fair girl survived, and
her flickering life was the sole light of the household; at times burying
its members in dusk, to shine on them again more like a prolonged
farewell than a gladsome restoration.
She was saved by what we call chance; for it had not been in her design
to save herself. The hand was firm to help her to the deadly draught.
As far as could be conjectured, she had drunk it between hurried readings
from her mother's Bible; the one true companion to which she had often
clung, always half-availingly. The Bible was found by her side, as if it
had fallen from the chair before which she knelt to read her last
quickening verses, and had fallen with her. One arm was about it; one
grasped the broken phial with its hideous label.
It was uncomplainingly registered among the few facts very distinctly
legible in Master Gammon's memory, that for three entire weeks he had no
dumplings for dinner at the farm; and although, upon a computation,
articles of that description, amounting probably to sixty-three (if there
is any need for our being precise), were due to him, and would
necessarily be for evermore due to him, seeing that it is beyond all
human and even spiritual agency to make good unto man the dinner he has
lost, Master Gammon uttered no word to show that he was sensible of a
slight, which was the only indication given by him of his knowledge of a
calamity having changed the order of things at the farm. On the day when
dumplings reappeared, he remarked, with a glance at the ceiling: "Goin'
on better--eh, marm?"
"Oh! Mas' Gammon," Mrs. Sumfit burst out; "if I was only certain you said
your prayers faithful every night!" The observation was apparently taken
by Master Gammon to express one of the mere emotions within her bosom,
for he did not reply to it.
She watched him feeding in his steady way, with the patient bent back,
and slowly chopping old grey jaws, and struck by a pathos in the sight,
"We've all been searched so, Mas' Gammon! I feel I know everything
that's in me. I'd say, I couldn't ha' given you dumplin's and tears; but
think of our wickedness, when I confess to you I did feel spiteful at you
to think that you were wiltin' to eat the dumplin's while all of us
mourned and rocked as in a quake, expecting the worst to befall; and that
made me refuse them to you. It was cruel of me, and well may you shake
your head. If I was only sure you said your prayers!"
The meaning in her aroused heart was, that if she could be sure Master
Gammon said his prayers, so as to be searched all through by them, as she
was herself, and to feel thereby, as she did, that he knew everything
that was within him, she would then, in admiration of his profound
equanimity, acknowledge him to be a superior Christian.
Naturally enough, Master Gammon allowed the interjection to pass,
regarding it as simply a vagrant action of the engine of speech; while
Mrs. Sumfit, with an interjector's consciousness of prodigious things
implied which were not in any degree comprehended, left his presence in
kindness, and with a shade less of the sense that he was a superior
Nevertheless, the sight of Master Gammon was like a comforting medicine
to all who were in the house. He was Mrs. Sumfit's clock; he was balm
and blessedness in Rhoda's eyes; Anthony was jealous of him; the farmer
held to him as to a stake in the ground: even Robert, who rallied and
tormented, and was vexed by him, admitted that he stood some way between
an example and a warning, and was a study. The grand primaeval quality
of unchangeableness, as exhibited by this old man, affected them
singularly in their recovery from the storm and the wreck of the hours
gone by; so much so that they could not divest themselves of the idea
that it was a manifestation of power in Master Gammon to show forth
undisturbed while they were feeling their life shaken in them to the
depths. I have never had the opportunity of examining the
idol-worshipping mind of a savage; but it seems possible that the
immutability of aspect of his little wooden God may sometimes touch him
with a similar astounded awe;--even when, and indeed especially after, he
has thrashed it. Had the old man betrayed his mortality in a sign of
curiosity to know why the hubbub of trouble had arisen, and who was to
blame, and what was the story, the effect on them would have been
diminished. He really seemed granite among the turbulent waves. "Give
me Gammon's life!" was Farmer Fleming's prayerful interjection; seeing
him come and go, sit at his meals, and sleep and wake in season, all
through those tragic hours of suspense, without a question to anybody.
Once or twice, when his eye fell upon the doctor, Master Gammon appeared
to meditate. He observed that the doctor had never been called in to one
of his family, and it was evident that he did not understand the
complication of things which rendered the doctor's visit necessary.
"You'll never live so long as that old man," the farmer said to Robert.
"No; but when he goes, all of him's gone," Robert answered.
"But Gammon's got the wisdom to keep himself safe, Robert; there's no one
to blame for his wrinkles."
"Gammon's a sheepskin old Time writes his nothings on," said Robert.
"He's safe--safe enough. An old hulk doesn't very easily manage to
founder in the mud, and Gammon's been lying on the mud all his life."
"Let that be how 't will," returned the farmer; "I've had days o' mortal
envy of that old man."
"Well, it's whether you prefer being the fiddle or the fiddle-case,"
Of Anthony the farmer no longer had any envy. In him, though he was as
passive as Master Gammon, the farmer beheld merely a stupefied old man,
and not a steady machine. He knew that some queer misfortune had
"He'll find I'm brotherly," said Mr. Fleming; but Anthony had darkened
his golden horizon for him, and was no longer an attractive object to his
Upon an Autumn afternoon; Dahlia, looking like a pale Spring flower, came
down among them. She told her sister that it was her wish to see Edward.
Rhoda had lost all power of will, even if she had desired to keep them
asunder. She mentioned Dahlia's wish to her father, who at once went for
his hat, and said: "Dress yourself neat, my lass." She knew what was
meant by that remark. Messages daily had been coming down from the Hall,
but the rule of a discerning lady was then established there, and Rhoda
had been spared a visit from either Edward or Algernon, though she knew
them to be at hand. During Dahlia's convalescence, the farmer had not
spoken to Rhoda of her engagement to the young squire. The great misery
intervening, seemed in her mind to have cancelled all earthly
engagements; and when he said that she must use care in her attire he
suddenly revived a dread within her bosom, as if he had plucked her to
the verge of a chasm.
But Mrs. Lovell's delicacy was still manifest: Edward came alone, and he
and Dahlia were left apart.
There was no need to ask for pardon from those gentle eyes. They joined
hands. She was wasted and very weak, but she did not tremble. Passion
was extinguished. He refrained from speaking of their union, feeling
sure that they were united. It required that he should see her to know
fully the sinner he had been. Wasted though she was, he was ready to
make her his own, if only for the sake of making amends to this dear fair
soul, whose picture of Saint was impressed on him, first as a response to
the world wondering at his sacrifice of himself, and next, by degrees, as
an absolute visible fleshly fact. She had come out of her martyrdom
stamped with the heavenly sign-mark.
"Those are the old trees I used to speak of," she said, pointing to the
two pines in the miller's grounds. "They always look like Adam and Eve
"They do not make you unhappy to see them, Dahlia?"
"I hope to see them till I am gone."
Edward pressed her fingers. He thought that warmer hopes would soon flow
"The neighbours are kind?" he asked.
"Very kind. They, inquire after me daily."
His cheeks reddened; he had spoken at random, and he wondered that Dahlia
should feel it pleasurable to be inquired after, she who was so
"The clergyman sits with me every day, and knows my heart," she added.
"The clergyman is a comfort to women," said Edward.
Dahlia looked at him gently. The round of her thin eyelids dwelt on him.
She wished. She dared not speak her wish to one whose remembered mastery
in words forbade her poor speechlessness. But God would hear her prayers
Edward begged that he might come to her often, and she said,--
He misinterpreted the readiness of the invitation.
When he had left her, he reflected on the absence of all endearing
epithets in her speech, and missed them. Having himself suffered, he
required them. For what had she wrestled so sharply with death, if not
to fall upon his bosom and be his in a great outpouring of gladness? In
fact he craved the immediate reward for his public acknowledgement of his
misdeeds. He walked in this neighbourhood known by what he had done, and
his desire was to take his wife away, never more to be seen there.
Following so deep a darkness, he wanted at least a cheerful dawn: not one
of a penitential grey--not a hooded dawn, as if the paths of life were to
be under cloistral arches. And he wanted a rose of womanhood in his hand
like that he had parted with, and to recover which he had endured every
earthly mortification, even to absolute abasement. The frail bent lily
seemed a stranger to him.
Can a man go farther than his nature? Never, when he takes passion on
board. By other means his nature may be enlarged and nerved, but passion
will find his weakness, and, while urging him on, will constantly betray
him at that point. Edward had three interviews with Dahlia; he wrote to
her as many times. There was but one answer for him; and when he ceased
to charge her with unforgivingness, he came to the strange conclusion
that beyond our calling of a woman a Saint for rhetorical purposes, and
esteeming her as one for pictorial, it is indeed possible, as he had
slightly discerned in this woman's presence, both to think her saintly
and to have the sentiments inspired by the overearthly in her person.
Her voice, her simple words of writing, her gentle resolve, all issuing
of a capacity to suffer evil, and pardon it, conveyed that character to a
mind not soft for receiving such impressions.
Major Waring came to Wrexby Hall at the close of the October month. He
came to plead his own cause with Mrs. Lovell; but she stopped him by
telling him that his friend Robert was in some danger of losing his love.
"She is a woman, Percy; I anticipate your observation. But, more than
that, she believes she is obliged to give her hand to my cousin, the
squire. It's an intricate story relating to money. She does not care
for Algy a bit, which is not a matter that greatly influences him. He
has served her in some mysterious way; by relieving an old uncle of hers.
Algy has got him the office of village postman for this district, I
believe; if it's that; but I think it should be more, to justify her. At
all events, she seems to consider that her hand is pledged. You know the
kind of girl your friend fancies. Besides, her father insists she is to
marry "the squire," which is certainly the most natural thing of all.
So, don't you think, dear Percy, you had better take your friend on the
Continent for some weeks? I never, I confess, exactly understood the
intimacy existing between you, but it must be sincere."
"Are you?" said Percy.
"Yes, perfectly; but always in a roundabout way. Why do you ask me in
"Because you could stop this silly business in a day."
"I know I could."
"Then, why do you not?"
"Because of a wish to be sincere. Percy, I have been that throughout, if
you could read me. I tried to deliver my cousin Edward from what I
thought was a wretched entanglement. His selfish falseness offended me,
and I let him know that I despised him. When I found that he was a man
who had courage, and some heart, he gained my friendship once more, and I
served him as far as I could--happily, as it chanced. I tell you all
this, because I don't care to forfeit your esteem, and heaven knows, I
may want it in the days to come. I believe I am the best friend in the
world--and bad anything else. No one perfectly pleases me, not even you:
you are too studious of character, and, like myself, exacting of
perfection in one or two points. But now hear what I have done, and
approve it if you think fit. I have flirted--abominable word!--I am
compelled to use the language of the Misses--yes, I have flirted with my
cousin Algy. I do it too well, I know--by nature! and I hate it. He has
this morning sent a letter down to the farm saying, that, as he believes
he has failed in securing Rhoda's affections, he renounces all
pretensions, etc., subject to her wishes, etc. The courting, I imagine,
can scarcely have been pleasant to him. My delightful manner with him
during the last fortnight has been infinitely pleasanter. So, your
friend Robert may be made happy by-and-by; that is to say, if his Rhoda
is not too like her sex."
"You're an enchantress," exclaimed Percy.
"Stop," said she, and drifted into seriousness. "Before you praise me
you must know more. Percy, that duel in India--"
He put out his hand to her.
"Yes, I forgive," she resumed. "You were cruel then. Remember that, and
try to be just now. The poor boy would go to his doom. I could have
arrested it. I partly caused it. I thought the honour of the army at
stake. I was to blame on that day, and I am to blame again, but I feel
that I am almost excuseable, if you are not too harsh a judge. No, I am
not; I am execrable; but forgive me."
Percy's face lighted up in horrified amazement as Margaret Lovell
unfastened the brooch at her neck and took out the dull-red handkerchief.
"It was the bond between us," she pursued, "that I was to return this to
you when I no longer remained my own mistress. Count me a miserably
heartless woman. I do my best. You brought this handkerchief to me
dipped in the blood of the poor boy who was slain. I have worn it. It
was a safeguard. Did you mean it to serve as such? Oh, Percy! I felt
continually that blood was on my bosom. I felt it fighting with me. It
has saved me from much. And now I return it to you."
He could barely articulate "Why?"
"Dear friend, by the reading of the bond you should know. I asked you
when I was leaving India, how long I was to keep it by me. You said,
"Till you marry." Do not be vehement, Percy. This is a thing that could
not have been averted."
"Is it possible," Percy cried, "that you carried the play out so far as
to promise him to marry him?"
"Your forehead is thunder, Percy. I know that look."
"Margaret, I think I could bear to see our army suffer another defeat
rather than you should be contemptible."
"Your chastisement is not given in half measures, Percy."
"Speak on," said he; "there is more to come. You are engaged to marry
"I engaged that I would take the name of Blancove."
"If he would cease to persecute Rhoda Fleming!"
"The stipulation was exactly in those words."
"You mean to carry it out?"
"To be sincere? I do, Percy!
"You mean to marry Algernon Blancove?"
"I should be contemptible indeed if I did, Percy!
"You do not?"
"I do not."
"And you are sincere? By all the powers of earth and heaven, there's no
madness like dealing with an animated enigma! What is it you do mean?"
"As I said--to be sincere. But I was also bound to be of service to your
friend. It is easy to be sincere and passive."
Percy struck his brows. "Can you mean that Edward Blancove is the man?"
"Oh! no. Edward will never marry any one. I do him the justice to say
that his vice is not that of unfaithfulness. He had but one love, and
her heart is quite dead. There is no marriage for him--she refuses. You
may not understand the why of that, but women will. She would marry him
if she could bring herself to it;--the truth is, he killed her pride.
Her taste for life has gone. She is bent on her sister's marrying your
friend. She has no other thought of marriage, and never will have. I
know the state. It is not much unlike mine."
Waring fixed her eyes. "There is a man?"
"Yes," she answered bluntly.
"It is somebody, then, whose banker's account is, I hope, satisfactory."
"Yes, Percy;" she looked eagerly forward, as thanking him for releasing
her from a difficulty. "You still can use the whip, but I do not feel
the sting. I marry a banker's account. Do you bear in mind the day I
sent after you in the park? I had just heard that I was ruined. You
know my mania for betting. I heard it, and knew when I let my heart warm
to you that I could never marry you. That is one reason, perhaps, why I
have been an enigma. I am sincere in telling Algy I shall take the name
of Blancove. I marry the banker. Now take this old gift of yours."
Percy grasped the handkerchief, and quitted her presence forthwith,
feeling that he had swallowed a dose of the sex to serve him for a
lifetime. Yet he lived to reflect on her having decided practically,
perhaps wisely for all parties. Her debts expunged, she became an old
gentleman's demure young wife, a sweet hostess, and, as ever, a true
friend: something of a miracle to one who had inclined to make a heroine
of her while imagining himself to accurately estimate her deficiencies.
Honourably by this marriage the lady paid for such wild oats as she had
sown in youth.
There were joy-bells for Robert and Rhoda, but none for Dahlia and
Dahlia lived seven years her sister's housemate, nurse of the growing
swarm. She had gone through fire, as few women have done in like manner,
to leave their hearts among the ashes; but with that human heart she left
regrets behind her. The soul of this young creature filled its place.
It shone in her eyes and in her work, a lamp to her little neighbourhood;
and not less a lamp of cheerful beams for one day being as another to
her. In truth, she sat above the clouds. When she died she relinquished
nothing. Others knew the loss. Between her and Robert there was deeper
community on one subject than she let Rhoda share. Almost her last words
to him, spoken calmly, but with the quaver of breath resembling sobs,
were: "Help poor girls."
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
You who may have cared for her through her many tribulations, have no fear
Can a man go farther than his nature?
Found by the side of the bed, inanimate, and pale as a sister of death
Sinners are not to repent only in words
So long as we do not know that we are performing any remarkable feat
There were joy-bells for Robert and Rhoda, but none for Dahlia