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Two Years Ago, Volume I by Charles Kingsley

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He paused, and his voice softened.

"Say what the preacher may. He must be a good God who makes such
creatures as you, and sends them into the world to comfort poor
wretches. Follow your own sweet heart, Grace, and torment yourself no
more with these dark dreams!"

"My heart?" cried she, looking down; "it is deceitful and desperately

"I wish mine were too, then," said Tom: "but it cannot be, as long as
it is so unlike yours. Now stop, Grace, I want to speak to you."

There was a gate in front of them, leading into the road.

As they came to it, Tom lingered with his hand upon the top bar, that
Grace might stop. She did stop, half-frightened. Why did he call her

"I wish to speak to you on one matter, on which I believe I ought to
have spoken long ago."

She looked up at him, surprise in her large eyes: and turned pale as
he went on.

"I ought long ago to have begged your pardon for something rude which
I said to you at your own door. This day has made me quite ashamed

But she interrupted him, quite wildly, gasping for breath.

"The belt? The belt? Oh, my God! my God! Have you heard anything
more?--anything more?"

"Not a word; but--"

To his astonishment, she heaved a deep sigh, as if relieved from a
sudden fear. His face clouded, and his eyebrows rose. Was she guilty,
then, after all?

With the quick eyes of love, she saw the change; and broke out

"Yes; suspect me! suspect me, if you will! only give me time! Send me
to prison, innocent as I am--innocent as that child there above--would
God I were dying like her!--Only give me time! O misery! I had hoped
you had forgotten--that it was lost in the sea--that--what am I
saying?--Only give me time!"--and she dropped on her knees before him,
wringing her hands.

"Miss Harvey! This is not worthy of you. If you be innocent, as I
don't doubt, what more do you need--or I?"

He took her hands, and lifted her up: but she still kept looking down,
round, upwards, like a hunted deer, and pleading in words which seemed
sobbed out--as by some poor soul on the rack--between choking spasms
of agony.

"Oh, I don't know,--God help me! O Lord, help me! I will try and find
it--I know I shall find it! only have patience; have patience with me
a little, and I know I shall bring it you; and then--and then you will

And she laid her hands upon his arms, and looked up in his face with a
piteous smile of entreaty.

She had never looked so beautiful as at that moment. The devil saw it;
and entered into the heart of Thomas Thurnall. He caught her in his
arms, kissed away her tears, stopped her mouth with kisses. "Yes! I'll
wait--wait for ever, if you will! I'll lose another belt, for such
another look as that!"

She was bewildered for a moment, poor fond wretch, at finding herself
where she would gladly have stayed for ever: but quickly she recovered
her reason.

"Let me go!" she cried, struggling. "This is not right! Let me go,
sir!" and she tried to cover her burning cheeks with her hands.

"I will not, Grace! I love you! I love you, I tell you!"

"You do not, sir!" and she struggled still more fiercely. "Do not
deceive yourself! Me you cannot deceive! Let me go, I say! You could
not demean yourself to love a poor girl like me!"

Utterly losing his head, Tom ran on with passionate words.

"No, sir! you know that I am not fit to be your wife: and do you fancy
that I--"

Maddened now, Tom went on, ere he was aware, from a foolish deed to a
base speech.

"I know nothing, but that I shall keep you in pawn for my belt. Till
that is at least restored, you are in my power, Grace! Remember that!"

She thrust him away with so sudden and desperate a spasm, that he was
forced to let her go. She stood gazing at him, a trembling deer no
longer, but rather a lioness at bay, her face flashing beautiful

"In your power! Yes, sir! My character, my life, for aught I know: but
not my soul, Send me to Bodmin Gaol if you will; but offer no more
insults to a modest maiden! Oh!"--and her expression changed to one
of lofty sorrow and pity;--"Oh! to find all men alike at heart? After
having fancied you--fancied you" (what she had fancied him her woman's
modesty dare not repeat)--"to find you even such another as Mr.

Tom was checked. As for mere indignation, in such cases, he had seen
enough of that to trust it no more than "ice that is one night old:"
but pity for him was a weapon of defence to which he was unaccustomed.
And there was no contempt in her pity; and no affectation either. Her
voice was solemn, but tender, gently upbraiding, like her countenance.
Never had he felt Grace's mysterious attraction so strong upon him;
and for the first and last time, perhaps, for many a year, he answered
with downcast eyes of shame.

"I beg your pardon, Miss Harvey. I have been rude--mad. If you will
look in your glass when you go home, and have a woman's heart in you,
you may at least see an excuse for me: but like Mr. Trebooze I am not.
Forgive and forget, and let us walk home rationally." And he offered
to take her hand.

"No: not now! Not till I can trust you, sir!" said she. The words were
lofty enough: but there was a profound melancholy in their tone which
humbled Tom still more. Was it possible--she seemed to have hinted
it--that she had thought him a very grand personage till now, and that
he had disgraced himself in her eyes?

If a man had suspected Tom of such a feeling, I fear he would have
cared little, save how to restore the balance by making a fool of the
man who fancied him a fool: but no male self-sufficiency or pride
is proof against the contempt of woman; and Tom slunk along by the
schoolmistress's side, as if he had been one of her naughtiest
school-children. He tried, of course, to brazen it out to his own
conscience. He had done no harm, after all; indeed, never seriously
meant any. She was making a ridiculous fuss about nothing. It was all
part and parcel of her methodistical cant. He dared say that she was
not as prudish with the methodist parson. And at that base thought he
paused; for a flush of rage, and a strong desire on such hypothesis to
slay the said methodist parson, or any one else who dared even to look
sweet on Grace, showed him plainly enough what he had long been afraid
of, that he was really in love with her; and that, as he put it, if
she did not make a fool of herself about him, he was but too likely to
end in making a fool of himself about her. However, he must speak, to
support his own character as a man of the world;--it would never do to
knock under to a country girl in this way;--she might go and boast of
it all over the town;--beside, foiled or not, he would not give in
without trying her mettle somewhat further.

"Miss Harvey, will you forgive me?"

"I have forgiven you."

"Will you forget?"

"If I can!" she said, with a marked expression, which signified
(though, of course, she did not mean Tom to understand it), "some of
what is past is too precious, and some too painful, to forget."

"I do not ask you to forget all which has passed!"

"I am afraid that there is nothing which would be any credit to you,
sir, to have remembered."

"Credit or none," said Tom, unabashed, "do not forget one word that I

She looked hastily and sidelong round,--"That I am in your power?"

"No! curse it! I wish I had bitten out my tongue before I had said
that. No! that I am in your power, Miss Harvey."

"Sir! I never heard you say that; and if you had, the sooner anything
so untrue is forgotten the better."

"I said that I loved you, Grace; and if that does not mean that--"

"Sir! Mr. Thurnall! I cannot, I will not hear! You only insult me,
sir, by speaking thus, when you know that--that you consider me--a
thief!" and the poor girl burst into tears again.

"I do not! I do not;" cried Tom, growing really earnest at the sight
of her sorrow, "Did I not begin this unhappy talk by begging your
pardon for ever having let such a thought cross my mind?"

"But you do! you do! you told me as much at my own door; and I have
seen it ever since, till I have almost gone mad under it!"

"I will swear to you by all that is sacred that I do not! Oh, Grace,
the first moment I saw you my heart told me that it was impossible;
and now, this afternoon, as I listened to you with that sick girl, I
felt a wretch for ever having--Grace, I tell you, you made me feel,
for the moment, a better man than I ever felt in my life before. A
poor return I have made for that, truly!"

Grace looked up in his face gasping.

"Oh, say that! say that again. Oh, good Lord, merciful Lord, at last!
Oh, if you knew what it was to have even one weight lifted off, among
all my heavy burdens, and that weight the hardest to bear. God forgive
me that it should have been so! Oh, I can breathe freely now again,
that I know I am not suspected by you."

"By you?" Tom could not but see what, after all, no human being can
conceal, that Grace cared for him. And the devil came and tempted
him once more: but this time it was in vain. Tom's better angel had
returned; Grace's tender guilelessness, which would with too many men
only have marked her out as the easier prey, was to him as a sacred
shield before her innocence. So noble, so enthusiastic, so pure! He
could not play the villain with that woman.

But there was plainly a mystery. What were the burdens, heavier even
than unjust suspicion, of which she had spoken? There was no harm in

"But, Grace--Miss Harvey--You will not be angry with me if I ask?--Why
speak so often, as if finding this money depended on you alone? You
wish me to recover it, I know; and if you can counsel me, why not do
so? Why not tell me whom you suspect?"

Her old wild terror returned in an instant. She stopped short--

"Suspect? I suspect? Oh, I have suspected too many already! Suspected
till I began to hate my fellow-creatures--hate life itself, when I
fancied that I saw 'thief' written on every forehead. Oh, do not ask
me to suspect any more!"

Tom was silent.

"Oh," she cried, after a moment's pause. "Oh, that we were back in
those old times I have read of, when they used to put people to the
torture to make them confess!"

"Why, in Heaven's name?"

"Because then I should have been tortured, and have confessed it, true
or false, in the agony, and have been hanged. They used to hang them
then, and put them out of their misery; and I should have been put out
of mine, and no one have been blamed but me for ever more."

"You forget," said Tom, lost in wonder, "that then I should have
blamed you, as well as every one else."

"True; yes, it was a foolish faithless word. I did not take it, and it
would have been no good to my soul to say I did. Lies cannot prosper,
cannot prosper, Mr. Thurnall!" and she stopped short again.

"What, my dear Grace?" said he, kindly enough; for he began to fear
that she was losing her wits.

"I saved your life!"

"You did, Grace."

"Then, I never thought to ask for payment; but, oh, I must now. Will
you promise me one thing in return?"

"What you will, as I am a man and a gentleman; I can trust you to ask
nothing which is not worthy of you."

Tom spoke truth. He felt,--perhaps love made him feel it all the more
easily,--that whatever was behind, he was safe in that woman's hands.

"Then promise me that you will wait one month, only one month: ask no
questions; mention nothing to any living soul. And if, before that
time, I do not bring you that belt back, send me to Bodmin Gaol, and
let me bear my punishment."

"I promise," said Tom. And the two walked on again in silence, till
they neared the head of the village.

Then Grace went forward, like Nausicaa when she left Ulysses, lest the
townsfolk should talk; and Tom sat down upon a bank and watched her
figure vanishing in the dusk.

Much he puzzled, hunting up and down in his cunning head for an
explanation of the mystery. At last he found one which seemed to fit
the facts so well, that he rose with a whistle of satisfaction, and
walked homewards.

Evidently, her mother had stolen the belt; and Grace was, if not a
repentant accomplice--for that he could not believe,--at least aware
of the fact.

"Well, it is a hard knot for her to untie, poor child; and on the
strength of having saved my life, she shall untie it her own way. I
can wait. I hope the money won't be spent meanwhile, though, and the
empty leather returned to me when wanted no longer. However, that's
done already, if done at all. I was a fool for not acting at once;--a
double fool for suspecting her! Ass that I was, to take up with
a false scent, and throw myself off the true one! My everlasting
unbelief in people has punished itself this time. I might have got a
search-warrant three months ago, and had that old witch safe in the
bilboes. But no--I might not have found it, after all, and there would
have been only an esclandre; and if I know that girl's heart, she
would have been ten times more miserable for her mother than for
herself, so it's as well as it is. Besides, it's really good fun to
watch how such a pretty plot will work itself out;--as good as a pack
of harriers with a cold scent and a squatted hare. So, live and let
live. Only, Thomas Thurnall, if you go for to come for to go for to
make such an abominable ass of yourself with that young lady any more,
like a miserable school-boy, you will be pleased to make tracks, and
vanish out of these parts for ever. For my purse can't afford to have
you marrying a schoolmistress in your impoverished old age; and my
character, which also is my purse, can't afford worse."

One word of Grace's had fixed itself in Tom's memory. What did she
mean by "her two?"

He contrived to ask Willis that very evening.

"Oh, don't you know, sir? She had a young brother drowned, a long
while ago, when she was sixteen or so. He went out fishing on the
Sabbath, with another like him, and both were swamped. Wild young
lads, both, as lads will be. But she, sweet maid, took it so to heart,
that she never held up her head since; nor will, I think, at times, to
her dying day."

"Humph! Was she fond of the other lad, then?"

"Sir," said Willis, "I don't think it's fair like,--not decent, if
you'll excuse an old sailor,--to talk about young maids' affairs, that
they wouldn't talk of themselves, perhaps not even to themselves. So I
never asked any questions myself."

"And think it rude in me to ask any. Well, I believe you're right,
good old gentleman that you are. What a nobleman you'd have made, if
you had had the luck to have been born in that station of life!"

"I have found too much trouble, in doing my duty in my humble place,
to wish to be in any higher one."

"So!" thought Tom to himself, "a girl's fancy: but it explains so much
in the character, especially when the temperament is melancholic.
However, to quote Solomon once more, 'A live dog is better than a dead
lion;' and I have not much to fear from a rival who has been washed
out of this world ten years since. Heyday! Rival! quotha? Tom
Thurnall, you are going to make a fool of yourself. You must go, sir!
I warn you; you must flee, till you have recovered your senses."

There appeared next morning in Tom's shop a new phenomenon. A smart
youth, dressed in what he considered to be the newest London fashion;
but which was really that translation of last year's fashion which
happened to be current in the windows of the Bodmin tailors. Tom knew
him by sight and name,--one Mr. Creed, a squireen like Trebooze, and
an especial friend of Trebooze's, under whose tutelage he had learned
to smoke cavendish assiduously from the age of fifteen, thereby
improving neither his stature, nor his digestion, his nerves, nor the
intelligence of his countenance.

He entered with a lofty air, and paused awhile as he spoke.

"Is it possible," said Tom to himself, "that Trebooze has sent me a
challenge? It would be too good fun. I'll wait and see." So he went on
rolling pills.

"I say, sir," quoth the youth, who had determined, as an owner of
land, to treat the doctor duly _de haut en bas_, and had a vague
notion that a liberal use of the word "sir" would both help thereto,
and be consonant with professional style of duel diplomacy, whereof he
had read in novels.

Tom turned slowly, and then took a long look at him over the counter
through halfshut eye-lids, with chin upraised, as if he had been
suddenly afflicted with short sight; and worked on meanwhile steadily
at his pills.

"That is, I wish--to speak to you, sir--ahem--!" went on Mr. Creed;
being gradually but surely discomfited by Tom's steady gaze.

"Don't trouble yourself, sir: I see your case in your face. A slight
nervous affection--will pass as the digestion improves. I will make
you up a set of pills for the night; but I should advise a little
ammonia and valerian at once. May I mix it?"

"Sir! you mistake me, sir!"

"Not in the least; you have brought me a challenge from Mr. Trebooze."

"I have, sir!" said the youth with a grand air, at once relieved by
having the awful words said for him, and exalted by the dignity of his
first, and perhaps last, employment in that line.

"Well, sir," said Tom deliberately, "Mr. Trebooze does me a kindness
for which I cannot sufficiently thank him, and you also, as his
second. It is full six months since I fought, and I was getting hardly
to know myself again."

"You will have to fight now, sir!" said the youth, trying to brazen
off by his discourtesy increasing suspicion that he had "caught a

"Of course, of course. And of course, too, I fight you afterwards."

"I--I, sir? I am Mr. Trebooze's friend, his second, sir. You do not
seem to understand, sir!"

"Pardon me, young gentleman," said Tom, in a very quiet, determined
voice; "it is I who have a right to tell you that you do not
understand in such matters as these. I had fought my man, and more
than one of them, while you were eating blackberries in a short

"What do you mean, sir?" quoth the youth in fury; and began swearing a

"Simple fact. Are you not about twenty-three years old?"

"What is that to you, sir?"

"No business of mine, of course. You may be growing into your second
childhood for aught I care: but if, as I guess, you are about
twenty-three, I, as I know, am thirty-six: then I fought my first duel
when you were five years old, and my tenth, I should say, when you
were fifteen; at which time, I suppose, you were not ashamed either of
the jacket or the blackberries."

"You will find me a man now, sir, at all events," said Creed, justly
wroth at what was, after all, a sophism; for if a man is not a man at
twenty, he never will be one.

"_Tant mieux_. You know, I suppose, that as the challenged, I have the
choice of weapons?"

"Of course, sir," said Creed, in an off-hand generous tone, because he
did not very clearly know.

"Then, sir, I always fight across a handkerchief. You will tell Mr.
Trebooze so; he is, I really believe, a brave man, and will accept the
terms. You will tell yourself the same, whether you be a brave man or

The youth lost the last words in those which went before them. He was
no coward: would have stood up to be shot at, at fifteen paces,
like any one else; but the deliberate butchery of fighting across a

"Do I understand you, sir?"

"That depends on whether you are clever enough, or not, to comprehend
your native tongue. Across a handkerchief, I say, do you hear that?"
And Tom rolled on at his pills.

"I do."

"And when I have fought him, I fight you!" And the pills rolled
steadily at the same pace.


"Because," said Tom, looking him full in the face, "because you,
calling yourself a gentleman, and being, more shame for you, one by
birth, dare to come here, for a foolish vulgar superstition called
honour, to ask me, a quiet medical man, to go and be shot at by a man
whom you know to be a drunken, profligate, blackguard: simply because,
as you know as well as I, I interfered to prevent his insulting a poor
helpless girl: and in so doing, was forced to give him what you, if
you are (as I believe) a gentleman, would have given him also, in my

"I don't understand you, sir!" said the lad, blushing all the while,
as one honestly conscience-stricken; for Tom had spoken the exact
truth, and he knew it.

"Don't lie, sir, and tell me that you don't understand; you understand
every word which I have spoken, and you know that it is true."


"Yes, lie. Look you, sir; I have no wish to fight--"

"You will fight, though, whether you wish it or not," said the youth
with a hysterical laugh, meant to be defiant.

"But--I can snuff a candle; I can split a bullet on a penknife at
fifteen paces."

"Do you mean to frighten us by boasting? We shall see what you can do
when you come on the ground."

"Across a handkerchief: but on no other condition; and, unless you
will accept that condition, I will assuredly, the next time I see you,
be we where we may, treat you as I treated your friend Mr. Trebooze.
I'll do it now! Get out of my shop, sir! What do you want here,
interfering with my honest business?"

And, to the astonishment of Mr. Trebooze's second, Tom vaulted clean
over the counter, and rushed at him open-mouthed.

Sacred be the honour of the gallant West country: but, "both being
friends," as Aristotle has it, "it is a sacred duty to speak the
truth." Mr. Creed vanished through the open door.

"I rid myself of the fellow jollily," said Tom to Frank that day,
after telling him the whole story.

"And no credit to me. I saw from the minute he came in there was no
fight in him."

"But suppose he had accepted--or suppose Trebooze accepts still?"

"There was my game--to frighten him. He'll take care Trebooze shan't
fight, for he knows that he must fight next. He'll go home and patch
the matter up, trust him. Meanwhile, the oaf had not even _savoir
faire_ enough to ask for my second. Lucky for me; for I don't know
where to have found one, save the lieutenant; and though he would
have gone out safe enough, it would have been a bore for the good old

"And," said Prank, utterly taken aback by Tom's business-like levity,
"you would actually have stood to shoot, and be shot at, across a

Tom stuck out his great chin, and looked at him with one of his quaint
sidelong moues.

"You are my very good friend, sir: but not my father-confessor."

"I know that: but really--as a mere question of human curiosity--"

"Oh, if you ask me on the human ground, and not on the sacerdotal,
I'll tell you. I've tried it twice, and I should be sorry to try it
again; though it's a very easy dodge. Keep your right elbow up--up to
your ear--and the moment you hear the word, fire. A high elbow and a
cool heart--that's all; and that wins."

"Wins? Good heavens? As you are here alive you must have killed your

"No. I only shot my men each through the body; and each of them
deserved it: but it is an ugly chance; I should have been sorry to try
it on that yokel. The boy may make a man yet. And what's more," said
Tom, bursting into a great laugh, "he will make a man, and go down
to his fathers in peace, _quant a moi_; and so will that wretched
Trebooze. For I'll bet you my head to a China orange, I hear no more
of this matter; and don't even lose Trebooze's custom."

"Upon my word, I envy your sanguine temperament!"

"Mr. Headley, I shall quietly make my call at Trebooze to-morrow, as
if nothing had happened. What will you bet me that I am not received
as usual?"

"I never bet," said Frank.

"Then you do well. It is a foolish and a dirty trick; playing with
edge tools, and cutting one's own fingers. Nevertheless, I speak
truth, as you will see."

"You are a most extraordinary man. All this is so contrary to your
usual caution."

"When you are driven against the ropes, 'hit out' is the old rule of
Fistiana and common sense. It is an extreme bore: all the more reason
for showing such an ugly front, as to give people no chance of its
happening again. Nothing so dangerous as half-measures, Headley.
'Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,' your creed says. Mine
only translates it into practice."

"I have no liking for half-measures myself."

"Did you ever," said Tom, "hear the story of the two Sandhurst


"So we call, in Berkshire, squatters on the moor who live by tying
heath into brooms. Two of them met in Reading market once, and fell

"'How ever do you manage to sell your brooms for three halfpence? I
steals the heth, and I steals the binds, and I steals the handles: and
yet I can't afoord to sell 'em under twopence.'

"Ah, but you see,' says the other, 'I steals mine ready made.'

"Moral--If you're going to do a thing, do it outright."

That very evening, Tom came in again.

"Well; I've been to Trebooze."

"And fared, how?"

"Just as I warned you. Inquired into his symptoms; prescribed for his
digestion--if he goes on as he is doing, he will soon have none left
to prescribe for; and, finally, plastered, with a sublime generosity,
the nose which my own knuckles had contused."

"Impossible! you are the most miraculously impudent of men!"

"Pish! simple common sense. I knew that Mrs. Trebooze would suspect
that the world had heard of his mishap, and took care to let her know
that I knew, by coming up to inquire for him."

"_Cui bono?_"

"Power. To have them, or any one, a little more in my power. Next,
I knew that he dared not fly out at me, for fear I should tell Mrs.
Trebooze what he had been after--you see? Ah, it was delicious to have
the great oaf sitting sulking under my fingers, longing to knock my
head off, and I plastering away, with words of deepest astonishment
and condolence. I verily believe that, before we parted, I had
persuaded him that his black eye proceeded entirely from his having
run up against a tree in the dark."

"Well," said Frank, half sadly, though enjoying the joke in spite of
himself, "I cannot help thinking it would have been a fit moment for
giving the poor wretch a more solemn lesson."

"My dear sir,--a good licking--and he had one, and something over--is
the best lesson for that manner of biped. That's the way to school
him: but as we are on lessons, I'll give you a hint."

"Go on, model of self-sufficiency!" said Frank.

"Scoff at me if you will, I am proof. But hearken--you mustn't turn
out that schoolmistress. She's an angel, and I know it; and if I say
so of any human being, you may be sure I have pretty good reasons."

"I am beginning to be of your mind myself," said Frank.


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