NED AND MEDORA

When Lydia asked that Medora might come to stop at the farm, Mary and
Tom spoke simultaneously, for each hastened to be the first to accord
permission.

They had suffered acute anxieties concerning Mrs. Trivett’s possible
departure, and when she told them that she had determined to remain,
nothing was good enough for her.

In their joy and relief they grovelled before Lydia, heaped compliments
upon her, and declared that never for a moment had they entertained the
least doubt concerning her decision, even while, with every thankful
word and exultant exclamation, they revealed the depth of their past
anxiety and height of their vanished fear. She saw through it, and only
left them uneasy in one particular.

Mr. Knox, so Lydia explained, had taken his disappointment in a
spirit of great self-restraint, and behaved with such magnanimity and
understanding that when he desired the continued friendship of Mrs.
Trivett, she could not deny it.

“For that matter, I’m proud to have him for a friend,” she said. “He’s
full of sense, and as he’s prepared to offer friendship to me and mine,
I’m prepared to accept it, and you mustn’t mind if he comes to tea of a
Sunday sometimes, and such like.”

“He wouldn’t allude to the past, or anything like that, I hope?” asked
Mr. Dolbear doubtfully. “Because, in his rage at his loss, he might be
tempted to give me and my wife the blame; and if he did that, I should
round on him, and there’d be a scene.”

“Fear nothing of the sort,” replied his sister. “You may take it
from me it won’t happen. In fact, I went into it, and I’ve got his
undertaking never to say one word to you or Polly on the subject. And
he’s a man you may say whose word is his bond.”

“Then let him come,” decided Tom. “If he’s got that bee out of his
bonnet, I don’t want to quarrel with him. I never doubted his sense,
save in that fatal matter.”

“He’s got a nice hand with the children, too,” said Mary. “I will say
that for him; and where a child of mine takes, you may generally trust
the party.”

In the matter of Medora, there was no difficulty; nor did Jordan make
any. Medora, in fact, felt a shadow of disappointment that he agreed so
willingly. It was only a lesser grievance than refusal had been.

She made a great business of her petition, but he made no business
whatever of granting it.

“You’ve got the lecture through now,” he said, “and there won’t be no
need for another copy yet, if at all, and you’ve heard me deliver it so
often that I’ll be glad for you to go and get a rest. Then you’ll come
back all the fresher to it, and to the actual night, when I give it at
Totnes a fortnight hence. Go, by all means, and I’ll come over to tea
on Sunday.”

So Medora, who would have wearied Heaven with her griefs, had he
questioned the plan, now flushed that he approved it.

“One would think you was glad to get rid of me,” she said.

“Who’d think so?” he asked. “It’s a good idea, and will give you a bit
of a rest.”

“And you, too, perhaps?”

“I don’t want a rest; but life’s been getting on your nerves above a
bit lately, and the calm of the farm and the fun of the children, and
being with your mother, and so on—it’s to the good, Medora. And soon,
I hope, we’ll know something definite, so that this suspense can end.
It’s bad for you, and I should think the man was enough of a man to
know he’s doing a mean and cowardly thing to hang it up like this any
longer. So you go, and rest quietly; and as I told you, if he doesn’t
proceed soon, I shall approach him again with an ultimatum.”

“It’s him that will have the ultimatum, I should think.”

So Medora went to Priory Farm, and since she knew very well how to
please her aunt, made a point of doing so. Indeed, Mrs. Dolbear
considered she was much improved.

“I never thought she would rise to children,” said Mary to her
sister-in-law, “but of late, I may say, there’s hope in that direction.
She’s more patient and quicker to see danger threatening a child. There
was a time I wouldn’t have trusted her too far with Milly or Bobby,
let alone Jenny; but all that’s altered. She may even be a good mother
herself yet in fulness of time.”

Indeed, Medora shone at the farm, and displayed consideration for other
people that might hardly have been predicted even by the sanguine. Mary
Dolbear was one who gave everybody ample opportunities to be unselfish,
and Medora not only perceived these opportunities, but took them. She
had changed, and none realised how much better than Lydia. But still
the wisdom of any meeting between her daughter and Ned seemed doubtful.
She hesitated to bring it about, and was still hesitating when chance
accomplished it.

Medora had been at Cornworthy for ten days and once Jordan came to tea
during that time. He was full of some alterations in his lecture, but
brought no news of interest to his future wife.

Then she went for a walk by the ponds above the Mill, where emerald
reflections of alder and willow and birch were washed over the silver
surface of the little mere, and a great wealth of green leapt again
above the mats and tussocks of the sedge and rush. Golden kingcups
flashed along the shallows, and bluebells wove their light into the
banks above the water.

Medora was actually engaged in the innocent business of picking flowers
when she came plump upon Ned. They met at a narrow beach running into
the lake under a limestone crag; and he, too, was there on pleasure,
for he was fishing. Strangely enough, each was possessed with the same
idea, and seemed to think it necessary to explain to the other the
situation in which they stood revealed.

Ned scowled and started; Medora blushed. While he stared, she spoke,
without any preliminaries and as though no terrific events separated
them. It seemed as if the trivial accident of being there picking
flowers demanded first consideration.

“You mustn’t think I’m here for pleasure,” she said. “I’m only killing
time. We’ve got to wait your will, and I’ve got to go on living as best
as I can. We’re at your mercy.”

He, too, fastened on the moment.

“As to that, same here. It’s true I’m fishing, but only to kill time,
same as you. I’m not in any mood for pleasure, I can tell you, woman.”

“I dare say not,” she answered. “People often fall back on little
things when big things are hanging over them. I know how you feel,
because I feel the same.”

“You don’t know how I feel,” he answered. “And don’t you dare to say
you do, please. What do you know about feeling? You’re the senseless
rubbish that can hurt others, but you’re not built to suffer yourself
more than a stinging nettle.”

She felt no pang of anger at his rough challenge. After Kellock’s
steadfast voice, the ferocious accents of Ned were rather agreeable
than not. His tone for once was deep, as an angry bull. She liked it,
and thought he looked exceedingly well.

“As long as he don’t throw me in the water, I’ll speak to him,” thought
Medora.

Ned expected a stinging reply to his preliminary challenge, but she
did not answer it. Instead, she spoke of an utter triviality.

“What d’you think’s in my mind—to show how little things get hold
on you? The first thing that come in it when I saw you so close was
pleasure, because I was wearing a pink sunbonnet—that being your
favourite colour for me. But Mr. Kellock don’t know what I wear.”

He started with genuine astonishment.

“What in thunder be women made of? You can babble like that and pick
flowers, and be a hen devil all the time?”

“If I am a hen devil, then I’m in the proper place for devils, and
that’s hell,” she said. “D’you think a woman can’t pick flowers and
wear pink and yet be broken to pieces heart and soul?”

“So you ought to be. You was always playing at being a martyr, and now
you damned well can be one. And I hope you are. The trouble with you
was that I spoiled you and fooled you to the top of your bent, and let
you bully-rag me, and never turned round and gave you a bit of the
naked truth yourself.”

“I know it,” she said. “You were a great deal too fond of me for my
good, Ned, and if you hadn’t loved me so well, I dare say you’d have
been a better husband.”

“I couldn’t have been a better husband,” he answered, “and if you’d
been made of decent stuff, you’d have known it. Not that I didn’t see
the ugly truth about you—I did; but I hoped and hoped that with time
you’d get more sense, and so I held my tongue and held on.”

“How I wish you’d told me my faults, Ned.”

“You oughtn’t to want telling. If you’d got any conscience, which you
never had, you’d have seen your faults and suffered from ’em, as you
ought. For one thing, you were greedy as the grave, and that envious
that you didn’t like anybody else to have anything you lacked. If you
saw a worm on the ground, you wished you was a bird. ’Twas always so.
Everybody else was better off than you, and had got nicer cats and
gardens and husbands and everything. A filthy jealousy it was that made
you miserable, when you ought to have been happy, and tempted you off
to try your luck with this thing, that’s only a machine, not a man.
Some chaps would have took you two and smashed your heads together
like egg-shells, as you deserved; but I’m above anything like that.
You thought I was a fool; but I wasn’t such a fool as to do that. You
wrecked me, but I wasn’t going to wreck you.”

“I’ve wrecked myself, more likely,” said Medora.

“I don’t know nothing about that. Whatever you get won’t be half what
you deserve.”

Ned appeared to have changed for the better in Medora’s eyes. The
harsher were his words, the better she liked them. Here was real
martyrdom. The emotion of this suffering became a luxury. She wept, but
was not in the least unhappy.

“I’ve ruined two very fine men—that’s what I’ve done,” said Medora.
She flung down her kingcups and bluebells, and sat on a stone and
covered her face with her pocket-handkerchief.

He looked at her fiercely, and rated her from a savage heart.

“Crocodile tears! You never even cried like a decent woman, from your
heart, because you haven’t got a heart.”

“Don’t say that,” she said. “Your heart can’t break if you haven’t got
one, and mine’s broken all right now. With all my dreadful faults, I’m
human—only too much so. I know what I’ve done, and what I’ve lost.”

“And what you’ve won, too—a lunatic, that will very likely end on the
gallows as a traitor to the country, or some such thing.”

“No, he won’t,” she replied. “He’s too dull for that.”

“You can call him dull, can you?”

“You’ve no right to make me talk about him,” answered she; “all the
same, honesty’s no crime, and I say he’s a dull man, because anybody
with only one idea is dull.”

“Yes, no doubt; if you’re not his one idea yourself, you find him dull.
And when you were my only idea, you still wanted more—always wanted
more—more than you had of everything but trouble; and now you’ve
brewed that for yourself. And what d’you mean, when you say you’ve
ruined his life as well as mine?”

Medora enjoyed the lash of his scornful voice.

“You’ll kill me if you speak so harsh,” she said. “I meant—I meant—I
don’t know what I meant. Only it’s clear to me that I shan’t make him
the wife he thinks I shall.”

“That’s true for once. You’re no wife for any man. And as for him, he
don’t want a flesh and blood woman for his partner, and if you hadn’t
thrown yourself at his head, like a street-walker, he’d never have
taken you. The shamelessness—the plotting—the lies. When you grasp
hold of what you’ve done, you ought to want to drown yourself.”

“I may do it sooner than you think for,” she answered. “Rub it in—I
deserve it; but don’t fancy I’m not being paid worse coin than any word
of yours. I’m only a woman—not much more than a girl, you may say; and
I’ve done you bitter wrong, but there’s always two sides to everything,
and justice will be done to me—in fact, it’s begun. You say Kellock
never wanted a flesh and blood woman, and that’s true—truer than
you know. So you can see what my future’s going to be. Once you’re
free, you can find a better and prettier and wiser creature than me
to-morrow; but I’m done for to the end of my life. He’s much too good
for me—I know that—so were you—far too good; but there it is. I’m
done for—down and out, as you would say. He’ll go and live in a town
presently. Think of me in a town!”

“Sorry for yourself always—and never for nobody else.”

“I’m sorry for everybody that ever I was born. I don’t want to bring
any more trouble on people; and very like, I may find the best way is
to drop into the water some night, and let the river carry my poor dust
out to sea.”

“You haven’t the pluck to do that,” he said. “Anyway, you belong to him
now, and have got to play the game and stick to him.”

They argued for some time, the man minatory and harsh, the woman
resigned. But once he amused her. Then Ned harked back to her threat.

“You talk of being down on your luck, and suicide, and all that
twaddle. But you never looked better in your life. You’re bursting with
health.”

“I’m not,” she cried indignantly. “You’ve no right to say it. And if I
am, what about you? You’re a lot fatter and handsomer than ever you was
in my time.”

“That’s a lie,” he said, “and you needn’t think I’m made of stone,
though you are.”

“If I’m a stone, ’tis a rolling one,” she answered, “and that sort
don’t gather no moss. I’m glad I’ve met you, Ned, because I’m very
wishful for you to know, for your peace of mind, I’m not happy—far,
far from it. You deserve to know that. You made me laugh just now, I
grant, and that’s the first time I’ve laughed since I left you—God
judge me, if it isn’t. The very first time, and the sound was so
strange that it made me jump.”

“Laugh? You haven’t got much to laugh at I should say.”

“That’s true. I’ll never laugh no more. I wouldn’t laugh when I
might—now it’s too late.”

“It’s never too late for anything for one of your sort. And when you
say you’re a rolling stone, I reckon you tell the truth for once. And
things that roll go down hill, remember that. Hell knows where you’ll
roll to before you finish.”

“It won’t be your fault, Ned. You’ve got nothing to blame yourself
with,” she answered humbly, and he judged wrongly of what was in her
mind.

“You’d better send Kellock along to me,” he said. “The business is in
hand, and I may tell you, I meant to hit him as hard as I knew how.
But there’s two sides to that, and in the long run what kept me from
getting a gallows out of him is the same that’s going to keep me from
getting damages. And that’s you.”

“I’m not worthy to black your boots, Ned,” declared Medora.

“No, and more’s he—more’s he; mind that. You thought he was the
clever, strong man—the sort of man would be a tower of strength to
any woman, and all the rest of it; and now you know, or you jolly
soon will know, that he’s only a tower of strength for himself—not
for you. A man like him wants a woman to match him, and if you ask
yourself if you match him, and answer yourself honest, if you can, then
you’ll answer that you don’t and never will. You can send him to me at
my convenience. He can call o’ Monday at half-after eight—then I’ll
decide about it.”

“Thank you, Ned. It’s more than we deserve, I dare say. I don’t care
much what happens now if you can forgive me. I suppose you can’t, but
it would mean a lot to me if you could.”

“You think I’ve got something to forgive, then? That’s surprising. I
thought ’twas all the other way.”

“So did I,” she answered, “but I know better now. I shouldn’t be
suffering like I am if I’d done right.”

“You can do right and still suffer,” he answered, “and now be off, and
send the man to me.”

Medora, again weeping freely, and leaving her bunch of flowers on
the ground at his feet, departed without any more words. For once,
her tears were real and her sorrows genuine. They were genuine, yet
contained a measure of sweetness, and comforted her by their reality.
This was an order of grief that she had not known. She persisted in
it for a long time, after she had gone out of his sight, and found a
sunny spot among the bluebells. There she sat and heaped reproaches
on her head; and self-blame was a sensation so novel that it soothed
instead of crushed her. But this phase passed in contemplation of Ned.
He had changed in some mysterious way. He was formidable, masculine—a
thing infinitely superior to herself. Could she dare to say that Ned
was now superior to Kellock? She fled from that thought as from chaos;
but it pursued her; it made to itself feet and wings, and clung to her
mind. She resisted, but it stuck like a burr. Ned was surely translated
into something fine and admirable; while Kellock, now about to be a
conqueror, had waned almost to a second-rate being in Medora’s vision.

A sensation of physical sickness overtook her before this horrible
discovery; for what could such a conclusion do but wreck her future
utterly and hopelessly? If Kellock were to fall from his pedestal, who
was left?

And a hundred yards off, still buried in the thoughts sprung from this
remarkable conversation, Ned set up his rod, cast out ground bait, and
began to fish for dace and perch. His mind, however, was far from his
float, and presently his eyes followed Medora, as she moved pensively
along the road on the other side of the pond. She would tell Kellock to
come and see him, and then Ned would—he did not know what he would do.

His thoughts turned to Philander Knox and their last interview. Medora
had said nothing to contradict the vatman’s assurances. Indeed, she
had implicitly supported them. And she was obviously changed. She had
apparently enough proper feeling to be miserable; but whether that
misery was pretended, or sprang from her conscience, or arose from
her futile conjunction with Kellock under the present unsupportable
conditions, Ned could not determine. He examined his own emotions
respecting Medora, and found that she had slightly modified them. He
despised her, and began even to pity her, since, on her own showing,
she was having a bad time. But was she ever built to have a good time?
Dingle doubted it.

Continue Reading

THE WISDOM OF PHILANDER

When Ned Dingle returned home, his future still unsettled, he had the
privilege of an early visit from Mr. Knox.

They sat in Ned’s small kitchen garden, and Philander advised him to
plant his peas.

“Damn the peas,” said Ned. “Listen to me. I was as good as booked at
Ivybridge when I got your letter telling me to hang on. What’s the good
all the same? I don’t know why for I should have listened to you, but I
know you’ve got sense, and so I left it for the minute. I can’t go back
to Trenchard, if that’s what you meant.”

“I meant a lot of things,” answered the elder. “I think so deuced
highly of you, Dingle, that you’ve got on my mind more than any man
ever did before, and I’m very wishful, for more reasons than one, to do
you a turn. For the minute, however, it rests with you.”

“I know it does. I’m fed up with hearing that. Well, I’m going on with
it. I’m going to get the heaviest damages the law will give me out of
that swine.”

“Good—so far as it goes. And if things weren’t exactly as they are, I
should say ditto. But it’s a very peculiar case, quite contrary to my
experience, and it calls for a pinch of patience yet. Nobody has any
right to dictate to you, because you’re a man of good judgment, and I
reckon you’ve done dead right so far, and kept your nerve better than I
should, or many older men with less intellects; but don’t you spoil the
ship for a hap’p’oth of tar, Ned. It’s paid you so mighty well to wait
and hang off, that it may pay you better still to go on waiting.”

“It only hurts her—it don’t hurt him. They’ll say I’m bullying a
woman, next, and putting him in the right.”

“Only the ignorant would talk like that. But I know your mother-in-law,
and I also know Medora. The females of that family want very careful
handling, Ned; and in confidence, I may tell you that Mrs. Trivett is
being very carefully handled—by me. But Medora is not being carefully
handled—quite the contrary. Kellock don’t understand the female
mind—how could he with a face like his?”

“What’s that to me?”

“That’s the question. Not that I want an answer. I’m only wishful to
put certain facts before you.”

“How did she ever think, in her silliest moments, that man would have
any lasting use for her?”

“He got on her blind side, I suppose; for even a remarkable woman, like
Medora, has her blind side. Who hasn’t? But the interesting thing for
you—and only for you—to consider, is that Medora sees straight again.”

“That’s her mother says that. I don’t believe it. She’s a lot too
conceited to admit that she made an infernal fool of herself. She’d
rather go miserable to her grave than give herself away.”

“You naturally think so, having no idea what a power there is in the
clash of opposite characters. Medora is proud, and has a right to
be, because she is beautiful and very fine stuff, given the right
nature to mould her. And she thought—mistaken girl—because you were
easy and good tempered, and liked to see her happy, that you weren’t
strong enough. That’s why, in a moment of youthful folly, she went
over to Kellock, before she knew anything whatever about the man’s
true character. Now, of course, she finds her mistake. And don’t think
I’m getting this from Mrs. Trivett. One wouldn’t take her opinion,
being the girl’s mother. No, I had it from Medora herself. I happened
by chance to meet her, and gave her ‘good day,’ for I don’t make
other people’s quarrels mine; and we had a bit of a yarn; and I won’t
disguise from you, Ned, that I saw the punishment was fitting the crime
all right. She’s got a good brain, and every day that passes over her
head is enlarging that brain. She’ll be a valuable wife for somebody
some day; but not for Kellock. She sees Kellock now in the cold light
of truth. She don’t run him down, or anything rude like that; but she
just talks about him and his character like a sister might. My word,
she’s clever! She said that living with Kellock would be like living
in moonlight. Did you ever hear a sharper thought? That just describes
it. And where’s the woman that wants to live in moonlight? You see,
she knows. She didn’t come to Kellock without experience of the other
thing. After you, of course, a cold creature like him is like milk
after treble X. I feel it myself. Not a word against Kellock, mind
you—he was utterly misled, and came a cropper, too; but he’s got
the virtues of his failings, and being ice, he behaved as such, and
has always treated her just the same as he’d have treated his maiden
aunt—except he’d have kissed his aunt, but not Medora. So I put it
before you, and leave you to turn over the peculiar circumstances, Ned.
As I say, the punishment is going on very steady, and your tactics
couldn’t be beat in my judgment. They deserve to suffer; and she does;
and if Kellock weren’t so darned busy about what matters to him more,
he’d be suffering too.”

“He will, when I knock all his savings out of him.”

“No, he won’t—that would only hit her. He’s got no use for money.
He don’t want more than the clothes he stands up in. But it ain’t my
business to bother you about what you’re very well equal to manage
yourself. I really came for quite a different reason, and that’s the
Mill. Bulstrode is going. He can’t stick Ernest Trood, and Trood can’t
stick him. It happened yesterday, and in a month from now we must have
a new beaterman. You might not have heard that. Not that you’ll come
back, of course; but in your wanderings you may have heard of somebody?”

“No, I haven’t. I must fix myself up now.”

“It’s a thousand pities things are as they are, but if I was you, I’d
mark time a little longer, if you can afford to do so. And don’t forget
the peas. They ought to be in. You may not be here to eat them; but, on
the other hand, you may.”

“As to that, how about you?” asked Dingle.

“There again, I’m not in a position to close for the house yet.”

“If she’s said ‘no,’ she means ‘no,’ Knox. Mrs. Trivett don’t change.”

“More don’t the weather-cock, Ned; but the wind does. It all comes
back to patience, and, thank God, you and me are both patient and
far-sighted men—else we shouldn’t stand so firm on our feet as we do.
Now I’ll bid you good-night. And have a talk with Mr. Trenchard one
day. There’s wells of good sense in that man. The more I see of him,
the more I find in him. He’s got more brains in his little finger than
we can boast of in our whole heads. And a warm heart also.”

Philander withdrew, and went very thoughtfully homeward. He felt sure
that Dingle would consider his remarks, and hesitated once or twice
about returning and adding another touch; but he decided that nothing
more need be said for the present.

On the following day, to her surprise, he sought Mrs. Trivett in the
dinner hour.

“Fear nothing,” he said, “and go on with your food. I haven’t come to
spoil it; but you know very well your good’s mine, and it happens that
I’ve got an idea.”

“You’re very kind,” she answered. “I don’t feel, however, I’ve any
right to your ideas—not now. But you rise above a little thing like
that, and you’ll probably live to know I was right.”

“It was the exception that proves the rule,” declared Mr. Knox. “You’re
nearly always right, though in refusing me you were wrong. But let that
pass. I’m considering your point of view. What’s in my mind now is not
you, but your daughter.”

“I’m going to see her this evening. She’s wrote me a letter asking me
for God’s sake to come and have a cup of tea. There’s no doubt this
waiting is getting on her nerves. It’s very improper.”

“You’ll be surprised at what I’m going to say; but yesterday I had a
remarkable conversation with your son-in-law. There’s a lot more in
that man than he gets credit for.”

“He’s behaved very well, I grant you—amazing well; but it’s more than
time he went on with it. He didn’t ought to treat them like a cat
treats a mouse.”

“He’s not that sort. He looks far beyond anything like that. He looks
all round the subject in a way that surprised me. Have no fear he won’t
do right.”

“It won’t be right in my opinion to take damages out of Kellock—that’s
revenge.”

“Well, he’s only human. But what I’m coming to is this. Ned has got a
very righteous down on Kellock, and feels no need to show mercy there,
for Kellock showed him none; but he don’t feel the same to Medora.”

“Since when?” asked Mrs. Trivett. “He felt the same to her all right
last time I saw him.”

“But not now. His mind worked at Ivybridge, and he turned over the
situation. And, in a word, if Kellock is going to save his skin and
be let off, he’ll have to thank Medora for it. I’m saying a delicate
thing, of course, and to anybody less wise than you, I wouldn’t say
it, because I should be laughed at; but I do believe, if Medora could
see Dingle while there’s yet time, and afore he’s loosed his lawyer,
Kellock might escape damages. What do you think? Should you say Medora
and Ned might speak?”

“Medora would speak to him if she thought she could serve Jordan
Kellock, I dare say; but whether he’d listen I don’t know.”

“In my opinion, if Medora would speak, he’d listen. It ought, however,
to be done by stealth. Neither one nor the other must know they’re
going to meet. Then it would surprise them both, and Medora might get
round him.”

“There’s no danger in it for Medora, you reckon?”

“None; I’ve heard him on the subject. He may dress her down and tell
her a bit of the truth about her conduct, and he may use some very
harsh words to her; but more he would not do, and if she took it in a
humble spirit, I dare say she’d come out top and get him to drop the
damages when he divorces her.”

Mrs. Trivett considered.

“I don’t see any harm could come of it, even if no good did,” she
replied, after a pause. “I’ll sound Medora. She’d be glad to do Kellock
a turn, naturally.”

“I hope she still feels confident about Kellock. I can’t say she spoke
with great warmth about the man last time I met her; but that was a
passing cloud, I expect. He’s going to give a lecture, and set the
world right, at Totnes, presently, he tells me. I’ve promised to be
there.”

When some hours later, Mrs. Trivett started to take tea with her
daughter, Medora met her by the river, and revealed a restless and
melancholy mood.

Lydia sighed, and walked beside her.

“Well, what’s the best news with you, my dear?” she asked.

“There’s no best,” she answered. “We’re just waiting, and I’m ageing
and growing into a fright before my time.”

“The typewriter’s come, Jordan tells me.”

“Yes; it’s come. I’m writing out his speech. But the minute I’ve made a
clean sheet, he alters it all and messes it about. It’s getting on his
nerves, I believe, and I’ll swear it’s getting on mine. I don’t hear
anything else, morning, noon, and night.”

“It’s distracting his mind.”

“Yes; he can’t think of more than one thing at a time, Jordan can’t.
I’m just a machine now, like the typewriter. I told him yesterday I
didn’t hold with some of his opinions about labour, and he couldn’t
have been more surprised if the typewriter had spoken to him.”

“I shouldn’t argue about his views if I was you, Medora. They’re his
life, in a manner of speaking.”

“I shall argue about ’em if I choose. He’d think no better of me if I
humbly said ditto to all he says. He goes a lot too far, and he’d take
the shirts off the backs of the rich, if he could. He reads it over
and over, and I very near stamp sometimes. Nothing will ever make me
a socialist now. I dare say I might have been if he’d gone about it
different; but now now. And, anyway, I’m not going to be the echo to
Jordan, just because he takes it for granted I must be.”

“He’s found a house, he tells me.”

“He has, but he wants to beat down the rent a bit. He’s afraid of his
life that Dingle’s going to have his savings out of him.”

“That’s as may be. I dare say he’ll do no such thing. It wouldn’t be
like Ned.”

“Life’s properly dreadful for me—that’s all I know about it.”

“I dare say it is. You’ve got to wait the will of other people now,
Medora; and it’s a thing you never much liked doing.”

“But I’m not friendless—I’m not friendless,” she said fiercely. “To
hear Jordan talk, you’d think he’s the only thing that stands between
me and the streets; and I won’t have it. People don’t hate me—not all
of them. But you’d imagine that, without Jordan, there’d be no place on
earth for me now.”

“I thought he was very gentle and proper in his treatment,” said Mrs.
Trivett.

“I can’t explain. I only mean that he seems to think that if it wasn’t
for his watchful care, and coming between me and every wind that blows,
I’d be torn to pieces by my fellow creatures. And what about him? If I
did wrong, what about him?”

“It’s rather late in the day to talk like that.”

“I want him to see all the same that I’m not a lone, friendless,
outcast creature, without anyone to care for me. I don’t like to be
championed by him, as if I was a fallen woman, and he was a saint. I
won’t have it, I tell you. I’m not a fallen woman any more than he’s a
fallen man, and I want him to know the world isn’t against me any more
than it’s against him.”

Lydia was surprised.

“This all seems silly nonsense to me,” she said. “If you had anything
to do, you’d not waste time worrying over things like that.”

“You can’t understand, mother. It’s like being patronised in a sort
of way, and Jordan shan’t patronise me. At any rate, I want to come
to Priory Farm for a bit—just to show him I’m not dependent on him,
and have got a few good relations in the world. Surely, I might do
that—just for a week or two—till he has got this blessed lecture off
his mind? I know all he is, and I love the ground he walks on; but,
along of one thing and another, he’s not quite taking me in the right
spirit for the moment, and I do think it would be a very wise thing
if I was to come to you for a week or so. Please let me. They won’t
mind there. They’d do anything you wished. It would show Jordan in a
ladylike way, without any unpleasantness, that I’m somebody still.”

“Surely to God, you don’t want to leave him?” asked Lydia.

“Leave him? No—I’ve had enough of leaving people. He’s everything
to me, and I’d lay down my life for him, I’m sure; but just for the
minute, even with him, I feel I’ve got to fight for myself a bit. It
wouldn’t be a bad thing for him to see what his life is without me. If
I go, he’ll miss me at every turn, and he’ll think a bit more of me
when I come back.”

“But you say he thinks too much of you as it is, and fusses more than
he need.”

“He thinks too much and too little. I can’t explain—there’s no words
to it. But let it go. I ask to come and spend a bit of time at Priory
Farm. Surely you’ll let me do that? I’m getting so thin and low that I
believe I’ll die if I’ve got to worry much longer. A week or two with
you will set me up, and make me braver. My nerves are all on edge.”

Medora was tearful and agitated. Probably her mother understood
her better than she pretended. Kellock was not unctuous, but
utterly humourless, and, in the matter of Medora, he did sometimes
unconsciously take a line that suggested the stained-glass attitude.
It was as much her fault as his, for, at an earlier stage in their
companionship, she had never tired of telling him how she appreciated
his sacrifices, his noble patience, and chivalric support of herself. A
man without sense of proportion could not fail to be influenced by such
assurances from the woman he loved.

“You shall come certainly,” said Lydia, “and there’s no need to take on
and let things fret you to fiddlestrings. It’ll happen right presently.
It may be a good thing for you to stop at Cornworthy for a while.”

She remembered Philander’s suggestion that Medora might, with
advantage, see Ned. It would be possible to arrange such a meeting at
Cornworthy perhaps; and if Medora prevailed with Mr. Dingle to renounce
his threat of claiming damages, that must be to the good.

She promised her daughter that she should come, drank tea with her,
and left her happier than she had been for a long time.

“It’s not so much for myself as for Jordan,” declared Medora. “It’ll
be good for him and open his eyes a bit to hear I’m going to Uncle and
Aunt Dolbear on a visit. They forgave him and all that; but I don’t
think he knows they are friendly enough to have me at Priory Farm, and
it will be right that he should know it. There’s other reasons, too. If
I can escape from going to his lecture, it will be a blessing. He’ll
make a rare fuss; but if I once get to Priory Farm, I can fall ill, or
something to avoid it.”

Lydia went home in a melancholy mood after this interview, and her
daughter’s unrest descended upon her.

She could not understand the relations between Kellock and Medora. They
appeared to be extraordinary, as far as Medora was concerned, and the
more Mrs. Trivett considered the various reports, the less able was she
to put a cheerful interpretation upon them.

Continue Reading

A TEST FOR JORDAN KELLOCK

Philander Knox combined with his level temper and tolerant philosophy
an element of shrewdness which those with whom his lot was now cast
failed to appreciate. He was no intriguer for choice, nor might he
be called inquisitive; but if the occasion demanded it and his own
interests were involved, Philander found himself quite prepared to
employ his latent gifts. He was cunning, with that peculiar sort of
craft that often belongs to expansive and genial natures; he could,
in fact, be exceedingly sly and even unscrupulous within certain
limits. Now the need for active operations on his own behalf began to
be obvious to Mr. Knox. Finding that she cared for him, he had not
the smallest intention of losing Lydia. He felt her argument against
matrimony beneath serious consideration; but he knew that to her the
reasons for his rejection were grave and sufficient, and he did not
propose any counter-attack on the front of his reverse.

He preferred a more circuitous response. He devoted a great deal of
time to the subject and then took an occasion to see Medora. That he
might do so, he would spend his leisure by the river and smoke his pipe
there out of working hours. For some time he failed; but then came a
day when he saw her returning to “The Waterman’s Arms” from the village
and greeted her.

Always glad to hear a kindly voice and aware that Knox had become
a friend of her family, Medora smiled upon the vatman. He appeared
gloomy, however, and their conversation began by his confessing his
private tribulations.

“You’ve got a heart,” he said, “and you are one of the brave sort that
stand up to life and go through with a thing like a good plucked one,
even though you know you’ve made a mistake. Well, such show sympathy
for their neighbours, Medora, so I’m sure you’ll be sorry to hear I’ve
had a great disappointment.”

The other guessed what it was.

“Mother won’t marry you!”

“So she says; but on a very poor excuse in my opinion. Such a sensible
woman might have found a better reason for turning me down. In fact
she would—if there’d been a better reason; but the truth is there’s
no reason at all. Therefore, though she thinks I’m rejected, I don’t
regard myself as in that position—not yet.”

A love so venerable in her eyes did not interest Medora, but she mildly
wondered at him.

“I’m sure I can’t think how you old people can run after each other and
drive each other miserable, when you see what a beastly mess we young
people make of love,” she said.

“Ah! You speak with a good deal of feeling. But we old people—as you
call us, rather thoughtlessly, Medora—we old people don’t take you
children for a model. We’ve been through those stages, and what we
understand by love ain’t what you understand by it. We’ve forgotten
more than you know. I should have thought now that Kellock—a man so
much older than his years—might have given you a glimpse of the beauty
and steadfastness of what we’ll call middling to middle-aged love,
Medora?”

“Perhaps he has.”

“Don’t his ideas appeal to you as a bit lofty and high class—as
compared with your first’s notion of it for instance?”

She looked sharply at Mr. Knox, but did not answer. He put the question
moodily and appeared not interested in an answer. Indeed he proceeded
without waiting for her to speak.

“There’s two sorts of women, and you can divide them like this—the
sort of women men go to when they want to grumble about their wives,
and the other sort. A man knows by instinct whether he’ll get a tender
hearing, or whether he won’t.”

“I didn’t know decent men did grumble about their wives,” said Medora.

“Didn’t you? Oh, yes, they do—even the best, sometimes. If decent
women can grumble about their husbands—you, for example—why shouldn’t
decent men?”

“I haven’t got a husband at present,” said Medora sharply, “so you
needn’t drag me in.”

“The sensible way you look facts in the face is very much to be
admired,” he answered. “There’s a lot of girls, if they’d done what
you’ve done, would bury their heads in the sand, like the ostrich,
and think it was all right. But you don’t let the truth escape you. I
admire you for that. In a way, it’s true you haven’t got a husband at
present, but on the other hand, you have.”

“I won’t pretend; I never will pretend,” she answered, pleased at his
praise. “I do look things in the face, as you say, though nobody gives
me credit for it, and I’m not going to call Mr. Kellock my husband till
he is.”

“I wasn’t thinking so much about him as Mr. Dingle. You’re that
fearless that you won’t be afraid of the fact that under the law he’s
your husband still, monstrous though it may sound.”

Medora nodded. She did not resent the statement, but asked a curious
question.

“How does he find himself?” she inquired, and it was Mr. Knox’s turn to
be surprised. But he showed no astonishment.

“To be plain, he’s suffered a lot. I’ve got the pleasure of being
his friend, because he knows I’m a man who keeps himself to himself,
and doesn’t push in where angels fear to tread. He’s given me
his confidence, and I find this has been a very cruel facer for
Dingle—knocked him out altogether. He’ll get over it some day, as a
brave man should. But he’s got a warm heart, and he’ll never be quite
the same again—naturally.”

“If he’s suffered, so have I,” said Medora, “and if you’re in his
confidence, I may tell you that I want all my pluck and a bit over
sometimes. I knew more or less what I was going to face; but I didn’t
know all.”

“No woman ever does know all when she takes over a man. It cuts both
ways, however. Kellock didn’t know all when he ran away with you.”

“Know all! No, he don’t know all. He don’t know half what I thought he
knew, and what I’d a right to think he knew.”

“Dear me!” said Mr. Knox. “Don’t he, Medora?”

“I’m speaking in confidence, I hope?”

“That be sure of. I’m old enough to be your father, and shall
faithfully respect your secrets, just as I respect Mr. Kellock’s, or
Ned’s, or anybody’s.”

“Sometimes I think my life’s going to turn into one long Sunday now,”
she said.

“That’s a good sign, because it shows you’re grasping the stern truth;
and it shows Jordan’s breaking you in. Once you’re broken in, Medora,
you and him will come together in a real understanding spirit. No doubt
the first stages are rather painful to a handsome, clever bit like you,
with dashing ideas, and the memory of what life was with Ned; but only
give Kellock time, and the past will grow dim, and you’ll get used to
the everlasting Sunday idea. I greatly admire Kellock, because he never
changes. He’ll be a bit monotonous at first compared with the past,
but he’ll wear. You’ll feel you’re always living in cold, bitter clear
moonlight with Kellock; and I dare say you’ll miss the sunshine a bit
for ten years or so; but gradually you’ll get chilled down to his way.
And once you’ve settled to it, you’ll hate the sunshine, and come to be
just a wise, owl-eyed sort, same as him.”

Medora could not conceal a shiver.

“You’ve voted for moonlight and cold water against sunshine and a glass
of sparkling now and again—and, no doubt, you’re right, Medora.”

She turned on him passionately.

“Don’t—don’t, for God’s sake!” she cried. “What d’you think I’m made
of—ice?”

“Not yet. You can’t change your happy nature all in a minute. It’ll
come over you gradual—like the salt over Lot’s wife. You naturally
want to know what Ned’s going to do about it, and I’ve been at him
on that score—because your mother’s asked me to. She don’t like the
present doubt and delay, and so on. It’s uncomfortable, and makes the
unrighteous scoff.”

“If he wants us to eat dirt—”

“No, no, nothing like that. Ned’s a gentleman, but these things have
shaken him. He’ll make up his mind presently, but he wants to act for
the best—for your sake. Not for Jordan’s, but for yours. There’s a
lot goes to such a thing as you’ve done, and you want to be a student
of character before you decide about it. Ned don’t mean to let his
feelings run away with him. He’s got to think of your future.”

“Then why has he sunk to damages against Mr. Kellock?”

“Don’t believe anything you hear yet. I happen to know that Ned has not
settled upon that question. He’s very large-minded, as you’ll remember.”

“That would be the last straw, I should think.”

“You can’t fairly quarrel with him, even if he do shake a bit of cash
out of your husband to be. I’m sure I should have. You may never
know now all that you were to Ned; but I know, and he knows. He’s
been wonderful, in my opinion, and, with your great imagination, you
ought to see how wonderful. If he didn’t kill Kellock, why was it?
Out of regard for himself? Not a chance! Ned’s fearless, as the male
should be, and would hang for Kellock to-morrow—especially seeing
he’s got no particular interest in going on living himself, owing to
his shattering loss. No, Medora; he didn’t spare your future husband
because he was frightened of letting daylight into him; he spared him
because he knew you loved him better than anything on earth. You put
that in your pipe and smoke it, my dear. And take heart from it also;
for if Ned wouldn’t sink to Kellock’s life, you may bet your pretty
shoes he wouldn’t touch his money. Now I must get back.”

“There’s a lot more I’d like to say, however. When you do find a fellow
creature that understands, which isn’t often, your soul craves to
speak,” said Medora.

“Another time, perhaps. But mind this. Be fair. You’re so brave, I
see, that you can afford to be fair to all parties—friends and foes,
so to call ’em. And you know a fine character when you see it, I’m
sure,” concluded Philander vaguely; then he sped away, leaving the girl
anxious both to hear and tell more. She did not comprehend Mr. Knox in
the least, but perceived he was friendly. There was, moreover, a human
ring in his voice that heartened her, and she felt the contrast keenly
when she returned to the level tones and unimpassioned serenity of
Jordan Kellock.

But for once she did see Kellock taken out of himself, and in a frame
of mind enthusiastic and excited.

There came that evening a man to visit him from Totnes. He was an
earnest and serious-minded person, well known to Jordan, and in his
leisure he did secretarial work for the local branch of the Independent
Labour Party. Upon that organisation, in the opinion of Kellock, the
hope and future prosperity of his class now hung. By its activities
alone salvation might presently be welcomed. And now his friend, acting
as mouth-piece of the party, invited Kellock to deliver a lecture at
Totnes, on “Our Aims and Hopes.” It was understood that county men of
authority in the movement would be present, and Kellock did not need
his fellow politician to point out that herein their side designed the
young vatman an opportunity to show what he was good for.

“You’ll jump at it, of course, and do your very best. It may be
worth a lot to you if you get ’em. Lawson and Jenkins will be there
from Plymouth, and very likely Sawdye, from Newton. I’ll beat up the
Totnes crowd. Give ’em an hour of your hottest stuff, and keep the
shop-stewards to the front. We want to get a move on the unions all
round. They’re growing a bit mouldy in their ideas; but Labour can’t
stand still for them.”

“The trades unions were made for Labour, not Labour for trades unions,”
declared Kellock.

“That’s right; you rub that into them.”

The young man stayed to supper, and he and Kellock soared to heights
that Medora had not yet imagined. Jordan was full of life, and
displayed a vivacity that he had never displayed in conversation on his
private affairs. It was clear that nothing personal would ever light
such fires. They were reserved for the cause and the cause alone.

When the man from Totnes had departed, Kellock addressed Medora.

“You may say that this is the biggest thing that has ever happened to
me,” he began. “I didn’t expect it yet, and I must confess I’m a good
bit gratified.”

“So it seems,” she said.

“Yes; because the people who are running our show in Devon are very
jealous, naturally, that we shall give a good account of ourselves.
There’s a feeling in some quarters that nothing much in the way
of fighting intellect comes from the West Country. Londoners and
Northerners think it’s a sort of Turkish bath all the time down here—a
place for holidays and Devonshire cream and playing about. So if I’m to
be reported, as I shall be, that means a pretty good advertisement and
a pretty high compliment. It’s come sooner than I expected, and I must
rise to it, Medora.”

“You ain’t frightened to get up and talk to a crowd of men?”

“Not if I know I’m saying the right thing. I’d be frightened to do it
if I wasn’t dead sure I was right, and that my ideas—our ideas—will
rule the world before I’m an old man; but they will. I must prepare my
speech with my heart and soul. Everything must give way to it.”

“Including me, I suppose?” she said.

“You’re in what they call another category, Medora. You are part of my
own life—personal to me as I’m personal to you and, of course, our
private affairs mean a lot to us.”

“I’m glad you think that.”

“But this belongs to the world of ideas—to our souls and our highest
ambitions—what we’re born for, so to speak. I include you in it,
Medora.”

“You needn’t then,” she said, “because though it may appear a small
thing to you, my highest ambition at present is to know when I shall be
a married woman.”

“Don’t talk in that tone of voice,” he said. “I feel all that, too, and
you know I do, and I’m not going to sit down under it much longer; but
that’s in another category, as I tell you. It won’t bring it any nearer
talking. I’ll see, or write, to Mr. Dingle before much longer, if he
doesn’t set to work; but in the meantime this affair will call for all
my thought and attention out of business hours.”

“Perhaps it would be a convenience to you if I went and lived somewhere
else?”

His forehead wrinkled.

“When you say things like that, I never can be sure if you mean them
for satire, or not,” he answered. “If you’re meaning it for satire,
you’re wrong, Medora, and I blame you; but if you really mean it, out
of consideration to my time, then I can assure you there’s no need for
you to go. In fact, you’ll type the lecture, I hope. It’s going to be
quite as much to you as to me, I’m sure.”

“How can it be? You’re so thick-skinned. What’s the good of lectures
to a person who’s living my life? You don’t care. You’ve got your work
and your ambitions, and you’ll have the honour and glory, if there is
any. But where do I come in? Who am I? What am I?”

“My future wife, I should think. You can’t accuse me of anything wrong
in that category, Medora.”

“I’m not accusing you; I’m past all that. I’ll try to copy you. I’ll be
patient. If you say you’ll see Mr. Dingle, or write to him—”

“I shall see him. He’s coming back, so I hear, to Ashprington.”

Then he returned to his lecture, and, with the ardour of youth, did not
sleep that night until he had roughed out a general plan and placed the
heads of his composition clearly before him.

Long after Medora had gone to bed and the little inn was asleep, Jordan
scribbled on, and surprised himself at the compass of his thoughts. He
was amazed to hear the clock strike two, and put away his books and
papers at once.

He could recollect no previous occasion in his life on which he had
been awake at two o’clock in the morning. He fell asleep longing to
read what he had written to Medora, for he felt dimly sometimes that
he was more outside her life and its interests than he should be;
and since he could never rejoice her on any material base of trivial
pleasures, he must make good his claim by force of intellect and a
future far above that which the average working man could promise.

But he also intended to bend the bow in reason, let life have its say,
and their home its domestic happiness. He believed that, when they were
married, they would soon become everything in the world to one another.

He went to sleep in a very happy, exalted frame of mind, and felt that
life had taken an unexpected stride in the right direction.

Continue Reading

THE PROTEST

At one end of the glazing house—a lofty and bright workroom at the
top story of the Mill—stood the dry press, to which the choice papers
demanding extra finish came after glazing. Here they were piled between
heavy slabs of hot metal and subject to great pressure; but the primal
business of glazing had already been done between metal rollers. A
range of these presented the principal object in this workshop.

Girls prepared the paper for the rollers, and Medora had once been of
this cheerful and busy throng. Hither came the paper from its final
drying after the size bath, and the workers stood with a heap of sheets
on one side of them and a little stack of polished zinc plates on the
other. With her left hand each girl snatched a sheet of paper, with
her right a plate of zinc; and then she inter-leaved the paper with
the metal until a good wad rose in her crib. The paper was now ready
for the glazing rollers, and men, who tended these massive machines,
ran the sheets and zinc wads between the steel rollers, backward and
forward twice and thrice under tremendous strain. Then what was dim and
lustreless reappeared with a bright and shining surface, and the sheets
returned again to the girls, who separated zinc and paper once more.

Mr. Pinhey had often preached on this text—indeed his simile was worn
threadbare, though he repeated it to every new-comer in the glazing
house and rolling room.

“With paper as with humans,” he would say, “nothing like a sharp pinch
to bring out the polish; that is if a man’s built of stuff good enough
to take a polish. Of course some are not; we know that only too well.”

The distinctive sounds in this great shop were three and did he hear
them, a paper maker with his eyes shut would know exactly where he was.
First, the steady thud of the plates on the side of the wooden cribs;
next, the ceaseless rustle and hiss of the paper flying between the
girl’s hands as it is laid upon the zinc or snatched off it; and lastly
the rumble of the rolling machines sounding a bass as they grip the
piles of paper and metal and squeeze them up and down.

The very precious papers went to the dry press; but the mass of them
passed directly to the sorters, who graded all stock into three
qualities—perfect, less perfect, and inferior. No inferior paper
ever left Dene Mill. It was pulped again; but could not aspire to the
highest standard having once sunk beneath it.

And lastly it came to Mr. Pinhey—the finisher—who seemed a figure
conceived and planned for this lofty purpose. Spick and span in his
snowy apron, with delicate hands and quick eyes behind their shining
glasses, he moved spotless through the mountains and masses of the
finished article; he passed amid the ordered blocks magisterially—a
very spirit of purity who reigned over the reams and called them
by their names. Wove and laid Imperial, Super-royal, Medium, Demy,
Foolscap and Double Foolscap were all included. Here towered orange
and old rose sections; here azure and ultramarine; here sea green,
here opaline pink and every delicate shade of buff and cream, to the
snowy whiteness of the great papers and mightiest sheets. From fairy
note to “double elephant” ranged Mr. Pinhey’s activity. He worked among
the papers, great and small, and put the last touch of perfection and
completeness before they passed away into the larger world.

But to-day Nicholas was concerned with a little affair outside the
province of the finisher. On a sheet of palest pink, a sheet that
seemed actually itself to blush at the delicacy of its task, Mr. Pinhey
had written a few sentences in his happiest manner and was handing it
round the shop, that men and women might set their names thereto. He
told everybody that he much disliked such an appeal and protest, but
that his sense of propriety made it necessary, for conscience sake, to
proceed. He was honest in this assurance and did not deceive himself.
Some of his co-workers, who declined to sign, thought that Mr. Pinhey
was conducting his cathartic mission from private motives, not of
the highest, and frankly told him so; but they were wrong. The man
steadfastly believed that religion demanded his action. He had debated
the problem for many weeks and at last come to the conclusion that a
strong step must be taken.

The fact that Jordan Kellock should continue to earn his living at
Dene Mill, while he lived in sin out of it, had become a mental
possession with Mr. Pinhey. He believed that such a situation must
be an active challenge to Providence, a perpetual blister to the
Everlasting Intelligence on Whose watchful keeping that human hive
depended. It seemed to Nicholas that this negation of right could not
go on for ever, and he presently convinced himself that what appeared
to be nobody’s business, was in reality everybody’s business. He
suspected that many of the more sober and God-fearing agreed with
him, and he knew that, so far as the glazing house was concerned, the
majority always agreed as a matter of course with his views. Only
the irreligious or low-minded ever questioned him, and when they had
committed that error, he did not rest until he had got them out of his
department.

And now he had drafted an appeal to Mr. Trenchard and was procuring all
possible signatures for it.

It began “We the undersigned,” and it expressed a pious conviction that
the presence of Jordan Kellock in the vat house was a source of danger
to the prosperity of the Mill, and a threat to the spiritual stability
of younger people, who would see in his support and encouragement an
indication that morals counted for less than professional ability and
that skill and craft were rated higher than a right way of living and
scrupulous obedience to Divine precept.

He was pleased with the composition, but took no credit to himself.
He felt that his hand had been guided when he wrote it, and believed
that every word was in the right place by a direct act of inspiration.
And now he desired the largest number of signatures possible—from the
heads of departments for choice. Unhappily there were strong forces
opposed to Nicholas and he knew that not only would the foreman,
Ernest Trood, refuse to sign, but he might influence others against
so doing. Neither could Medora’s mother be easily approached, though
she had always represented a force for good. He decided, however, to
invite Lydia’s opinion. She could at least see the other side, and Mr.
Pinhey felt that she would not misunderstand a man of his repute if he
discussed the painful subject on the plane where he habitually moved.
For he, too, very constantly spoke of “moving on a plane,” even as the
unregenerate Kellock was used to do. Indeed, they had no little in
common—a fact that came to Mr. Pinhey’s shocked ear on this identical
day.

During the dinner hour, fountain-pen in hand, Nicholas proceeded upon
his task, nerved thereto by most exalted sentiments. The certainties
all signed with gusto; but among the doubtful attestors, Mr. Pinhey was
disappointed to find few prepared to support him. Lydia he approached,
where she sat reading a newspaper in her workroom. Indeed her thoughts
were far from the printed page, but she opened it from force of habit
until the work bell rang again.

“I’ll thank you to read this, Mrs. Trivett,” said Nicholas, as he
presented his blushing manifesto. “You may for a moment doubt whether
I ought to ask you, of all people, to sign it. I’ve been advised not.
But we’re old friends, I believe, and I know you’ll never quarrel with
the man who does his duty, even if you don’t see his duty with the same
eyes as him.”

“Duty’s often a doubtful matter,” she said, “and we mistake inclination
for duty sometimes. You can easily hoodwink yourself about duty,
Nicholas.”

She read the protest and gave it back to him and shook her head.

“Do as you think right,” she said. “But don’t ask me to sign that.
You’ll guess without being told what a sad thing this is for a mother;
but I’m not going to take sides this time of day. I’ve told them what
I think about it and how I’ve suffered over it, and I’ve told other
people also; but there’s nothing gained that I can see by this. There’s
more in it than meets the eye, and Jordan Kellock is the sort of man to
feel the punishment of his own conscience much sharper than the voice,
or vote, of his fellow men.”

“‘Conscience!’” exclaimed Mr. Pinhey. “How can you say that the man who
does a thing like that have got a conscience, Mrs. Trivett?”

“Because I know he has—so do you if you’ll think. There’s very few
so fussy and nice about life and its duties and bearings as Jordan
Kellock. We all know what he is; and until this happened, nobody
respected him more than you. And now he’s done a thing that your
conscience and mine don’t approve. But remember this, he’d never have
done it if his own conscience hadn’t supported him.”

“It was the devil getting the better of his conscience,” argued
Nicholas. “He was always weak, because he was self-righteous, though
Lord knows, seeing his foggy religious opinions, none had less reason
to be. He had got his own theory of morals seemingly, and since it
didn’t come out of the Word, it was worthless as you’d expect. So when
the trial came and your daughter—”

“Leave it, there’s a good man. I’m not going to argue upon it. I hope
they’ll soon be properly married and this sad business allowed to pass
by and be forgot. For the minute it’s up to Ned Dingle, and I’ve been
bitter sorry for him, and he knows all I think about it; but there’s no
more can be done to right the wrong and ease people who feel like you,
till Ned does it.”

“Your heart is speaking against your morals, Lydia, if I may say so.”

“You may say what you like, of course.”

“You can’t rise to the thought that it is painful for some of us to
earn our living under the same roof as that man?”

“No,” she said. “I’ve never met the man or woman so bad that I couldn’t
work under the same roof with them.”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“It’s doubtfully Christian to be so large-minded in my opinion,” he
said. “Do the other women up here think the same?”

“Alice Barefoot will sign; but her brother, Henry, will not.”

“Being an old sailor, no doubt he won’t,” said Mr. Pinhey. He won Miss
Barefoot’s support, however, and then skirmished in the neighbourhood
of the vat house. Jordan was not there, and after Mr. Life had appended
his signature and Harold Spry, Kellock’s coucher, had declined to do
so, Nicholas approached Philander Knox.

“I don’t know your exact opinions,” he said; “but I should be glad if
you can feel on this subject with most of us serious people. You know
the facts and feel it oughtn’t to go on, I expect—that is if you take
life seriously, as no doubt you do.”

“The thing is to take other people’s lives seriously and your own
pretty light,” said Knox. “That’s the best way, because it keeps your
sense of proportion about fair, Pinhey.”

Nicholas liked these problems, but was doubtful here.

“Do you mean as a matter of morals?” he asked.

“No—as a matter of business,” replied Philander. “Because if you put
yourself first always, your fellow creatures will be mighty quick to
put you second, or third, or out of the running altogether. Nobody
bores people worse than the man who is always thinking about himself.
But if you show a proper interest in others and their hopes and fears
and likes and dislikes, then the better sort will gladly give as well
as take. If you want anything for nothing in this world, you won’t get
it; but the more you give, the more you’ll receive, in my experience.
In the matter of giving don’t stint and don’t squander; and don’t give
where you’ll get nothing back of course—that’s foolish.”

Mr. Pinhey shook his head.

“Worldly wise, not heavenly wise,” he declared. “Be so good as to read
this document, Knox, and let me have the pleasure of seeing you sign
it. It’s the elder people I want to do so. In fact I’m not showing it
to the young ones. Better such things should not enter their innocent
minds.”

Mr. Knox read Kellock’s indictment and grinned.

“What do you know of sin, you old caterpillar?” he asked very rudely.
“Good powers, my man, d’you see what you’re doing? You’re shaving with
a blunt razor over another chap’s wounds. Blow out reason’s candle if
you like to walk without light; but don’t from your darkness presume to
show other people their road. That’s damned impertinent and only makes
the other sort cuss.”

Mr. Pinhey shrank resentfully.

“If you make reason your guide,” he said, “God help you, Philander
Knox. And—”

“Tear it up—tear it up and save Trenchard the trouble, Pinhey. Be
guided by a man who’s moved in a larger world than yourself.”

“A larger and a wickeder world, if you can talk like that about sin,”
answered Nicholas, who had grown pinker than his paper.

“I’m not talking about sin. I’d as soon talk about sin to a bluebottle
as you. You’re one of the born good sort, you are, and the funny thing
is that you’ve worked in the same business with Kellock all these years
and years and don’t know he’s the same order of creation as yourself.
Why, my dear man, he might be your son!”

“This is too much and I won’t stand it,” answered Mr. Pinhey. “I ask
you to recall that, Knox; or I won’t know you from this hour forward.”

“Don’t be fussy. We’re both well past our half century and can air our
opinions without getting cross. I mean that Kellock is a serious-minded
chap with a strong character and steadfast opinions. He’s just as
anxious to leave the world better than he found it as you are. And he
means to do so; and very likely, if he’s not too deadly in earnest
and too narrow in his virtues, he may. You must grant him his good
character, Pinhey, and then ask yourself whether a man with his past
would have done this without what seemed good and high reasons. I’m not
saying he was right for a minute; but I’m saying he weighed it in all
its bearings and from his mistaken and inexperienced point of view made
this big error.”

“And aren’t we here to show him his error?”

“No, we can’t show it to him. You wouldn’t convince him if you talked
for a month from your point of view. Sit tight—that’s all you’ve got
to do. I believe he’s made a big mistake and I believe he’ll see it for
himself before he’s six months older. But let his own nature work and
don’t say more till you know more. What looks like wickedness to one
man’s eye may seem goodness to another man’s.”

Mr. Pinhey had now grown calm.

“Then I won’t waste more of your time,” he answered. “You speak, I
suppose, what you believe according to reason; but I wouldn’t say you
were a very good advertisement even for reason, Knox. I know your eyes
will be opened about that man sooner or later. I can only trust that
he’s one by himself. I stand on the old paths and I believe most of us
here do the same. But if we’re going to set up Kellock and his ways as
a model, then I don’t see myself what’s to become of civilisation, or
religion either.”

He departed, completed his rounds and confessed to disappointment at
the result. Still he had mustered a respectable following and the
document he left at Matthew Trenchard’s private house that evening
was signed by twenty-eight men and women in more or less responsible
positions.

To his everlasting surprise and indignation, Mr. Pinhey never heard of
the protest again. He might as well have dropped it into the Dart, or
posted it on the west wind.

A week passed and nothing happened. Nicholas had met the master
frequently and found him just as usual—cheery, practical, busy. He
fumed in secret. He told Robert Life and old Mr. Amos Toft, who mixed
the size, that were it not for the fact that he only wanted a year to
qualify for his pension, he would resign.

Mrs. Trivett and Philander Knox discussed the matter on an occasion
when they met at close of work. It was the day on which Lydia had to
announce her decision with respect to her admirer, and they both knew
the time had come.

“We’ll give the Corkscrew a miss and go round the pond,” he said. “You
can’t talk climbing that Jacob’s ladder of a hill—at least I can’t.”

Her heart sank, for she had desired to make the painful interview
as brief as possible. But the event proved that Lydia need not have
feared, for Mr. Knox took her black news in an unexpected spirit.

They spoke first, however, of Medora and Jordan Kellock.

“I never heard the like,” said Lydia. “It shows the danger of doing
such things and not counting the cost. They was so wrapped up in
their own affairs that they never saw it takes three people to make a
divorce, and now that injured man is opening their eyes. It’s all as
wrong as wrong can be, yet where are you going to put the blame?”

“I’m not going to put the blame anywhere,” answered Mr. Knox. “There’s
a lot too much meddling, in my opinion, and if they’re only left alone,
those three people may work out their own salvation in their own way.
I’m fed up with ’em: one would think the welfare of Dene hung on their
capers. To hear old Pinhey, you’d say it depended on our opinion
about ’em whether we’d ever get to heaven ourselves. Where you can’t
help, don’t worrit. They’re all right; but what about me? This is the
appointed time, Lydia, and I hope I may add that this is the day of
salvation.”

She jumped at the suggestion to lighten her refusal.

“I expect you may; and you’ll look back at this evening and feel you
are better a free man. Yes, you must regard yourself as free, please—I
couldn’t do it—I couldn’t take another. I’m fond of you, if that is
anything, and I’m proud you could have a fancy for me; for a reminder
that I’m a woman, coming from such a man as you, naturally makes me a
bit above myself. But my life’s run into a mould, you see. It’s found
its channel, like a river does; and it’s made its bed. I say again I
like you—I even love you, if the word ain’t nonsense at fifty; but
I’ve seen my duty clear since we spoke about it. I couldn’t fairly
leave my sister-in-law and brother. ’Twould be like taking a screw out
of a machine. The screw ain’t much in itself but a lot depends upon it.”

“You won’t marry me, you mean?”

“Won’t ain’t the word. I’d be very pleased to be your wife if I was a
free party, but in a sense I’m not free. You can’t be in two places at
once, like a flash of lightning, and I can’t keep house for you and
look after Mary’s family and do my bit at Priory Farm. And it amounts
to this—my brother, when he heard what was afoot, made it very clear
that Priory Farm simply couldn’t get on without me. That may seem a
vain thing to you; but it’s the truth—absurd, I dare say; but they’re
built like that. You, on the contrary, would get on without me well
enough.”

“Speak for yourself, but not for me,” he said, “and not for your
brother, Tom, and his mate. Rabbits in a hutch have got to be looked
after, I grant, but you mustn’t believe everything you hear—even from
Tom Dolbear. Answer this: if you died to-morrow, what would happen at
Priory Farm? Why, my dear woman, in six weeks they’d have somebody
in your place who looked after the children all her time; and they’d
wonder why they never thought of that before. We won’t argue about it,
however. When you say ‘duty,’ I’m dumb, of course. But tell me this
before we drop the subject: would you marry me if things were otherwise
and your sense of duty didn’t come between?”

Mrs. Trivett was immensely relieved to find how quietly he had taken
his reverse.

“Of course I would,” she said. “You’re one of the best, and if it
hadn’t been that I’d got to work out my life same as I’m doing, I’d
have been glad enough to come to you. People at our time of day have
got judgment, if ever they’re going to have it, and in my opinion we
should have made a well-matched pair enough. But such good things are
not for me. I’ve been happily married once, and can’t expect it again.”

He continued to be quite restrained.

“I venture to think you’re about as wrong as you can be, Lydia, and
your usual good sense has gone astray. But I know duty’s your guiding
star, and I’m happy to think duty changes its shape from time to time,
like most other human contrivances.”

“I’ll always try to do it, my dear man, however it looks.”

“You will—that’s why I’m keeping so quiet now, instead of breaking out
and making a noise and lowering myself in your opinion. The beauty of
a woman like you is that you’re steadfast—a slave, if not a martyr to
what you think right. That being so, I take your word for the minute,
and leave the rest to Providence.”

She was puzzled, but very glad he could be so gentle with her.

“You’ve took it like the wise man you are,” she said. “I might have
known you would; but I was afraid you wouldn’t.”

“I haven’t took it,” he answered. “There are some things you don’t
take, and this is one of them. I’ve a great trust in the future, Lydia
Trivett. The future, though it plays many people false, have always
treated me in a very sportsmanlike and trustworthy manner so far.”

“That’s because you make your future just the same as you make your
paper, and leave nothing to chance.”

“You never spoke a truer word,” he answered. “I’m not going to brag
before the event; but if ever I was properly interested in a bit of my
future, it’s now; and if I can get the pattern right, and stamp my will
and purpose upon it, I dare say you’ll be a good bit surprised yet.”

She became uneasy.

“Don’t you meddle with fate, however. That’s not our work,” she said.

“And what would you be inclined to call ‘fate’?” he asked.

“Well,” she answered, “in a manner of speaking, you might call ‘fate’
my dear brother, Tom, and his wife. And I’ll ask you not to touch them,
Philander.”

“I promise that. That wouldn’t be playing the game,” he admitted. “I’d
be very sorry if they had anything to do with my future, Lydia. You
might as well try to carve butter, or a turnip, into an enduring thing.
I shall treat your brother and his wife the same as I’ve always treated
them. For the present, we’ll just go on as we’re going, please—good
friends, and nothing more. I’ve a right to ask that.”

“I wish you’d take ‘no’ for an answer, however.”

“There’s nothing final about anything in this world except death, my
dear. While she’s alive it’s never too late for a woman to change her
mind. And if you did, it would be very unfortunate if I was in such a
position I couldn’t listen to you. You may ask me to marry you, yet,
Lydia—if Providence so wills it—though not leap year, I believe.”

She laughed, and such was his amiability that he saw her all the way
home.

Continue Reading

PHILANDER’S FATE

Medora’s mother found increasing matter for agitation in the attitude
of Ned Dingle. She had seen him twice and urged the need of action. She
had even offered to give him all her small savings towards the legal
cost of the operation. And then he had startled and shocked her a good
deal by two statements, neither of which Lydia had expected.

“All in good time,” he had said. “I don’t feel any particular call to
hurry myself on their account. Plenty of time when I’ve settled my new
job. As to the cost, it would be particular hard if you, of all people,
was called to part on such a subject, and I wouldn’t allow it for a
moment. But when I do start on to it, my lawyer thinks I can bring a
pretty hot case against Kellock for damages; so I dare say I shall
knock expenses out of him, and a bit over. And the harder his savings
are hit, the better every right thinking person will be pleased.”

So he had spoken, and two days later had disappeared from Ashprington,
and left no direction behind him. Where he was gone and whether he
would return, none knew. Kellock deplored the delay and Medora bitterly
resented it. She was very unhappy and her troubles now occupied her
mother’s mind. Mrs. Trivett felt chiefly concerned to approach Ned
Dingle again.

“If he’s down Ivybridge way, at the paper mills there, I might go and
see him,” she said to Philander Knox in the luncheon hour; but Mr. Knox
either could not or would not assist Lydia to find her son-in-law.

“I don’t know where he’s gone,” he answered, “and I shouldn’t worry in
that matter, because you can’t alter it, or turn Ned Dingle from his
plans, whatever they may be. On the whole, I should back him to do the
fair thing in his own time. You can’t expect him to go out of his way
for them.”

“He wants to punish them seemingly,” said Lydia. “He told me the harder
Kellock was hit, the better people would be pleased. In fact he’s
getting a bit of his own back, I suppose, or thinks he is.”

“In this case, it’s all or none,” answered Mr. Knox. “He can’t get a
bit of his own back, and he can’t call it his own if it’s ceased to be
his own. The subject’s wrapped in mystery, Lydia Trivett, and only time
will hatch what’s really in Ned’s mind.”

“He oughtn’t to keep them on tenterhooks like this,” she said; but
Philander felt no call to criticise Mr. Dingle.

“He’ll suit himself, and why not? I’ve given him a bit of useful
advice. Whether he’ll take it or not I can’t of course, say; but don’t
you fret, that’s all. Medora’s broke up a bit, I fancy. She’s just
beginning to see in a dim sort of way she’s not everybody. Being your
daughter, I’m willing to offer friendship; but if she’s going to thrust
me out of your thoughts, then she’ll have one more enemy than she’s got
at present, I warn you of that.”

“You mustn’t talk so, my dear man, if you please,” said Mrs. Trivett.
“My daughter’s affairs and your affairs are two different things, and
you needn’t fear I’m forgetting all you’ve told me. You must let me
have the full fortnight I bargained for last week. But you’re on my
mind too—working underground like a mole—and though I may not exactly
see you at it, there’s the marks of you. In fact I do think of you a
lot, and if it’s any comfort to you, I’ve dreamed of you once or twice.”

“In a friendly way, I hope?”

“Quite friendly. We was shopping in a great shop, and I was carrying a
lot of parcels.”

“I don’t believe in dreams,” he said. “Give me reality, and make up
your mind. Above all things don’t be influenced against me by—well,
you know. That’s where the danger lies, in my opinion, and you’ll be
going under your character if you let sentiment and silliness and a
barrow-load of other people’s children come between you and your duty
to yourself—not to mention me. Because I warn you, Lydia, that the
grand mistake you make is that you forget your duty to yourself. A lot
of good Christians do that; though your duty to yourself is quite as
much a part of righteousness as your duty to your neighbour. We’re told
to love our neighbour as ourselves, I believe, not better. And there’s
another side; by doing that woman’s work, and coming between her and
the lawful consequences of that litter of children, you’re not doing
her any good, but harm. You’re ruining her character, and helping her
to live a lazy life. You’ve taught her and your brother to take you
as an every-day creature, and all as much in the course of nature as
their daily bread, whereas the truth is that you are that rare thing,
an angel in the house, and your qualities are clean hidden from their
stupid eyes. It’s making a couple naturally selfish, ten times more so;
and that’s what you unselfish people bring about so often as not. You
toil and moil and work your fingers to the bone doing your duty, as you
think, when half the time you’re only doing somebody else’s duty. And
what’s the result? You’re not even respected for it. You’re taken for
granted—that’s all the reward you get—you’re taken for granted—never
a nice thing at best. And I tell you that you’re up against justice
to me and yourself, Lydia. For though we’ve not known each other a
year yet, there’s that in our natures that belongs to each other. It
would be a very proper thing to happen, and we should be teaching your
brother’s family a very simple but valuable lesson, which is that to
have anything for nothing in this world is robbery.”

“All as true as true,” she answered. “I never find myself questioning
your sense, and I quite admit there’s often nobody so properly selfish
as your unselfish sort. I’ve seen them play the mischief with other
people’s lives, and create a very mistaken state of security in other
people’s houses.”

“Once grasp that, and I shall live in hope,” said Philander. “Let each
man do his own work is a very good rule, because if you’re always
helping others, there’s a tidy chance your own job’s not being properly
done; and though you might argue that your own work here isn’t hurt
by what you do at Priory Farm, it’s quite possible that other work is
hurt. I mean the time for thought and self-improvement, and—in fact,
me. For I’ve a fair call upon your time under the present conditions,
and though it’s all right for Mrs. Dolbear to know you’re putting years
on to your life before you’ve lived them, it isn’t all right for your
true friends to hear about; and it isn’t all right for your Maker, Who
certainly never intended you for a nurse-maid at fifty odd years of
age—or for a rag-sorter, either. You’re ripe for higher things, and
there’s independence and peace waiting for you.”

“I’m going to think of it,” said Lydia. “For many reasons I’d like it,
Philander Knox. You suit me very well, because you’ve got sense and
character, and we seem to think alike in a lot that matters. You’ve
made me fond of you, and I trust you. In fact, there’s such a lot
that looks promising about it, that, for that reason, one can’t help
mistrusting it. Life teaches anybody to doubt the bright side of a
thing till you’ve weighed it fairly against the dark side.”

“This hasn’t got no dark side,” he declared; “and if you’re honest, the
longer you look at it, the brighter it will shine. So be fair to us
both. Trust your own brain-power; I can’t give you better advice than
that.”

She promised, and that evening, though she had hardly meant to be so
prompt, Lydia raised the question among her relations. Accident led to
this, and threw so forcible a commentary on the conversation with Mr.
Knox, that the matter sprang to her lips unsummoned, and surprised
herself. Yet voiced in the kitchen of Priory Farm, from behind a pile
of the children’s mending, Lydia’s tremendous statement struck even
herself as almost impossibly shocking and heartless.

Jenny had just suffered from an attack of croup and Lydia, of course,
took the sick child into her own room, as Tom Dolbear would not let
Mary do so.

“I must have my night’s rest, or else I can’t do my day’s work,” he
said, and his wife agreed with him.

“I know Lydia will take Jenny, won’t you, dear Lydia? Jenny’s that fond
of you, too. And there’s no peace for me and Tom like the peace when
the childer are along with you. Because then we know they’re put first.”

This evening Jenny would not go to sleep and Lydia had run up and down
stairs once or twice. Then she went into a room where Milly and Clara
slept—to find them also awake and clamouring for biscuits. Having fed
and silenced them, she returned to the pile of mending.

It was a rough, wet night and Mr. Dolbear sat and smoked by the fire,
while his wife drowsed on the other side of the hearth. The last baby
was asleep in its cradle near her.

Tom told of a successful stroke at Totnes market and was pleased with
himself.

“The year’s begun well,” he said. “I ain’t one to count my chickens
before they’re hatched, but I never had such lambs in my life and the
quality’s as high as the numbers.”

“And no more than you deserve,” said his wife; “rewards come where
they are due, and such a man as you did ought to be looked after. Oh,
dear—there’s Jenny again, I’m afraid, Lydia.”

Mrs. Trivett departed a third time and presently returned.

“A little bit of temper, I’m afraid. She’s crying out for an orange to
suck, and that’s the last thing she can have.”

“I wouldn’t call it temper,” argued Jenny’s mother. “No child of mine
have got what you’d call temper, Lydia.”

“That’s where we don’t agree then,” answered her sister-in-law. “I’m
fond of Jenny, as you well know; but what she’s got to fight against is
temper, in my opinion. We mustn’t spoil her.”

“If that happens, it won’t be me, nor yet her father that does the
harm,” declared Mary placidly. “Where children come, you’ll generally
find that wisdom is sent to manage them, and I do think that Tom and me
know something about how to manage our own.”

“It’s so long ago since you had your daughter to bring up, that very
like you’ve forgotten the early stages, Lydia,” suggested Tom.

“And in any case, though God knows I’d never have whispered it to you
if you hadn’t said Jenny suffered from temper—in any case, when you
look at Medora, you can’t be none too sure your way of upbringing was
the best,” murmured Mrs. Dolbear.

Mrs. Trivett smiled to herself and threaded another needle. She knew
Mary very well and was not in the least concerned for this little
flash. It meant nothing whatever. Mary was a worm who only wriggled
if one of her progeny was trodden on. There was another shout from
Jenny and Lydia took no notice, while both Tom and Mary looked at her
inquiringly.

Then she spoke.

“I never like to trouble you people about my own affairs, because,
naturally, you’ve got no time to think about a humble person like me.”

“Don’t say that, Lydia,” said her brother. “Ain’t you one of us and
ain’t our good your good?”

“Yes; but it’s borne in on me, Tom, we can’t live for other people.
I’ve got my own life to live too. I’ve got my work, and I earn my
living just as much as you do.”

“Meanwhile that sick child’s yowling her head off,” said Mary sadly.

“She said she hated me last time I went up, so I can’t go up again,”
declared Mrs. Trivett, “not till she’s asleep.”

“A child’s a child,” replied the mother, “and if you’re going to take
that line about ’em—”

She rose ponderously and lumbered from the room.

“You’ve hurt her feelings,” grumbled Tom. “What’s the matter with you
this evening, Lydia? If anybody’s vexed you, best to have it out and
not sulk over it.”

“Funny I should be in hot water with you and Polly to-night,” answered
Mrs. Trivett. “But you ought to choose your words cleverer, Tom. I
don’t sulk, my dear, whatever my faults.”

“I stand corrected,” answered Mr. Dolbear instantly. “God knows I’ve
no wish to quarrel with you, Lydia—no, nor would Polly. We’ve got a
great respect for you. As for our children—but you know what you are
to them. And we feel that nothing’s too good for you; and if I could
afford to let you live here without paying your seven and six-pence a
week, I’d thankfully let you—thankfully. But with such a family as
mine—”

“For some things, however, if you had a paid woman to look after the
children, it might suit their mother better. She’d feel freer to speak
her mind.”

“Certainly not,” he answered. “We don’t want no hirelings about the
children—not while we’ve got you. We couldn’t trust anybody like we
trust you; and Polly would never be the same woman, or get her needful
share of rest and peace with a lesser than you. And some day, I hope
to make you free of everything, and not let any money question arise
between us.”

“I’m not worrying about my keep, Tom. Whatever else he may be, Jordan
Kellock has got a very good respect of me, and though I shall never
like him as well as Ned, yet he’s an honourable, upright man according
to his lights and I can trust him. Indeed he’s gone so far as to say
he’d like me to lead a different life; for he’s the same as Dingle
there: he doesn’t think it’s a very wise thing for an elderly woman to
be quite so busy as I am.”

“Like his damned impertinence! And what does he mean by that, Priory
Farm, or the Mill?”

Mrs. Dolbear returned at this moment; she was fretful.

“I don’t know whatever you’ve done to Jenny. A proper tantarra the poor
maid’s in.”

“I told her she couldn’t have another orange to-night, that’s all.”

“Listen to this!” burst out Tom. “That blasted Kellock has been saying
Lydia’s over-worked!”

“Who by?” asked his wife.

“That’s just what I want to know.”

“If he means the Mill, he’s right, I believe,” continued Mary. “I’ve
often wished she’d see her way to give up that troublesome work in the
rag house and stop here with us, in comfort and ease, with our little
ones to play with her.”

“Or I might marry again and have a home of my own,” suggested Lydia.
“I’m the independent sort, Mary, and I often think it would be wiser to
do that than stop along with you as a lodger.”

There was a moment of silence, then Mr. Dolbear flung his clay pipe
upon the hearth with such fury that it splintered into a thousand
fragments.

“What in hell’s happened to-day?” he almost shouted. “Here I come home
with good news—great news, you may say—and instead of sharing our
pleasure and being glad, for the children’s sake if not for ours, that
I’ve had a stroke of luck, you do every damned thing you can think of
to pour cold water on it!”

“My dear Tom, don’t be a fool,” answered Lydia calmly. “You and Polly
are getting so wrapped up in number one, that you can’t imagine anybody
having any interest or thought outside this house and the welfare of
you and your children. But the world goes on outside Priory Farm, and
I say again, it’s come to be a question with me whether I’m doing the
best I can do in the world by stopping here. A question of duty, mind.
I may tell you both that some very straight things have been spoke to
me of late, and I can’t pretend they haven’t got a lot of truth in
’em—perhaps more than the man who spoke them thought. For looking
back, as I have a good bit since this business of Medora, I see only
too bitter clear that it’s possible to be too unselfish and to spoil
young folk and unfit them for the battle of life by coming between them
and their duty. That’s what I did with Medora, as you reminded me just
now, Polly, and that’s my inclination with your little ones; and I’m
growing very doubtful if I’m not thinking of my own inclinations, or
personal desires, more than what’s right.”

“Either you’re mad, Lydia, or you’ve been talking to somebody that’s
mad,” declared Tom furiously. “This is about the most shattering speech
I’ve ever heard from you, and for cruelty and unreason I never heard
the like. Look at my wife—ain’t that enough? If she’d seen a spectrum,
she couldn’t have gone whiter in the gills—and her chin’s dropped and
all her teeth showing. And if such a shock ain’t enough to turn her
milk sour and poison that baby, then I’m a fool.”

Indeed Mrs. Dolbear had changed colour and did look extremely
frightened.

“I know what you’re hinting at, Lydia,” she said, “and I can only
tell you if you was to do such a thing as to leave your brother at
a time like this, after you’d practically promised to help me with
his family—if you were to go on some selfish pretext and marry some
creature and lose your comfortable home and your fame for sense—if
you did that, you’d never have another peaceful moment from your
conscience.”

“And you’d never deserve to have one,” added Tom. “Looked at on high
grounds, Lydia, it don’t bear thinking on for a second, and well you
know it. Bring your religion to bear on it, woman, and you’ll feel a
good pinch of shame, I shouldn’t wonder.”

“That’s what I’m doing, if you could see it,” answered Lydia. “It’s
only a matter for religion, so far, and the welfare of the young
folk. I’m thinking for them and their characters. It would be a poor
come-along-of-it, Tom, if years hence you and Polly was to turn round
and say that I had marred your children’s natures.”

“We’re the best judge of that,” he answered. “And if we’re satisfied
with your way of handling the children, whose business is it to put all
these wicked ideas in your head? God’s truth! I never heard of such
impudence. And you, at your age—as if you didn’t know what was duty
and what was not. Perhaps ’tis thought you spoil us as well as our
children, and give everything and get nothing in exchange?”

He snorted with indignation when Lydia admitted that this was actually
the case.

“Some do think so for that matter,” she confessed.

Her brother honestly felt this to be an undeserved blow. He had built
up a very different picture of Lydia’s existence and believed that her
privileges at Priory Farm at least balanced any advantages that accrued
from her presence. This, however, was what Mary understood very much
better than Tom. She dwelt under no delusion on the subject and fully
appreciated the significance of her sister-in-law in the cosmic scheme.

“If that’s the sort of thing outsiders say and you believe, then the
sooner you’re gone from my roof, the better pleased I shall be,”
shouted Mr. Dolbear. “I was under the impression that after your
husband died, Lydia, you turned to me for comfort and put me first
henceforth, and felt that this was a blessed haven for your middle age.
But, of course, if I’m wrong and you’re only a slave and I’m only a
slave-driver, then—”

He stopped, for Mary did an uncommon thing and suddenly burst into an
explosion of noisy tears.

“There!” said Mr. Dolbear tragically, “look at your work!”

“It ain’t Lydia,” wept the other, “it’s you. I never was so cut to the
heart in all my life, and I can’t stand much more of it. Lydia’s as
much a part of this house as the door handles, and dearer to me, next
to my children and you, than anything on God’s earth; and when you talk
of her going away from us, you might as well talk of cutting off my
leg. We’re three in one and one in three, you and Lydia and me, and the
man or woman who came between us would be doing the devil’s work and
ought to be treated according.”

“There’s a heart!” said Mr. Dolbear. “If that ain’t offering the other
cheek, Lydia—”

“No,” continued Mary, drying her eyes, “there’s some sorrows I could
face, if it was the will of God, but the sorrow of living my life
without Lydia’s wisdom and help, and the light of her countenance—I
couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t be responsible. I know all she is in this
house, and though you in your manly way—which is to be annoyed when
you get a surprise you don’t like—though you, Tom, may foolishly
think Priory Farm could go on without Lydia, that only shows the gulf
there’s fixed between the male and female mind. I know Lydia’s the
lynch pin to our cart, and so do my girls, down to that innocent infant
in the cradle, if she could talk; and so do Lydia herself, for though
modest as a violet, she’s far too witty to misunderstand a thing like
that. And if I thought any evil influence was upon Lydia to make her
restless, I’d go on my knees to God to touch her heart and keep it in
the old pattern; and I’d stop on ’em till He had.”

Here Mary wept again and Tom, impressed by so much emotion, moderated
his warmth.

“If I said anything over and above, I’m sorry,” he declared. “But when
I get a shock, it nearly always loosens my tongue; and to think that
evil disposed persons have been poisoning Lydia’s mind against her own
is a bit beyond reason and justice.”

“If we’re falling short in our duty and undervaluing you, Lydia, you
must tell us,” added Mary, “for we’re not the sort to fail in gratitude
I should hope. We may not voice our thanks; but God knows if they’re in
our prayers or not.”

Then Lydia spoke.

“It’s nothing like that. It’s only a natural difference of opinion.
There’s a man wants to marry me, and he can’t be blamed, looking at me
from his romantical point of view, for thinking he’d like to see me in
my own home.”

Heavy silence followed, and only a cricket behind the oven broke it.

Mrs. Dolbear’s heart sank. She was prepared to go to any possible
extremes of conduct rather than lose Lydia. Without Mrs. Trivett, her
own life must inevitably become a far more complicated and strenuous
matter than she desired.

“It’s not for us to advise you,” she said, “but I hope the Almighty
will help you out of temptation, Lydia, for anything more dreadful and
unbecoming than that couldn’t happen to you.”

“I dare say you’re right, Mary.”

“I don’t tell you this for selfishness, nor yet because you’d leave a
house of mourners and break a lot of young, innocent hearts, if you was
to go. I tell you this, because I do believe your high nature wouldn’t
brook another man, or return into the wedded state with comfort after
all these widowed years of freedom. I can’t see you happy so; and I
can’t see any nice man wishing to take you out of this house.”

Lydia rose to retire.

“As to that, Polly, it’s all the point of view. Nobody can fairly
quarrel with the man. He’s all right.”

“I’m sure I hope you don’t think of it all the same, after hearing my
wife, Lydia,” murmured Tom, now subdued.

“I must think of it. I owe it to him. I’m sorry you can’t trust a woman
of my age to behave sensibly; but I dare say that’s natural. Only be
sure I’ve no wish to give either of you a pang. You know what I think
of you and the children, and how happy I’ve been to see them come into
the world so full of promise and hope. And if you look back, Polly,
you’ll see I’ve always tried to be on the side of discipline and sense,
and never lost a chance to strengthen your hand and win all proper
obedience for you and Tom.”

“We know all that,” answered her brother. “You mustn’t think because
I’m a man of slow speech that my heart’s slow likewise. Far from it. I
like for everything to go smooth and peaceful; I hate change; and if
changes are coming, all I can say is I haven’t deserved ’em and more’s
my poor wife.”

“Good night, Lydia. God bless you,” said Mary, mopping her eyes. Then
Mrs. Trivett left them and retired to the peace of her own sanctum. It
was true that Jenny at present shared this ark, but Jenny had at last
gone to sleep and Lydia meditated without interruption about her future.

She came to a preliminary conclusion that, for once, duty was not
directly involved. It seemed at a first glance that her own inclination
might reasonably be considered, and that no choice between right and
wrong awaited her. To marry was a very reasonable step, whatever Mary
might say, for she was not old, and Mr. Knox could be trusted to make
a worthy spouse and treat her with all due respect and consideration.
She liked him and felt it quite possible to share his life and devote
herself to his comfort and welfare. But to refuse him would be no more
difficult than to accept him. Her present life, that looked so grey
seen from the outside, was agreeable enough to her. She loved work and
she loved children, especially her brother’s children. She had been
largely responsible for their up-bringing and they owed much to her.
Moreover they loved her quite as much as their mother. Indeed she was
the sun to their mother’s moon, and she very well knew what a disaster
her departure must be in the eyes of Milly and Bobby, Jenny and Clara.

Nor could she well see her own life separated from theirs. She had
not decided when she went to sleep, but there was little doubt in her
subconscious mind as to how she would decide. Mary’s attitude had
also influenced her. The real terror in Mary’s eyes, when the threat
of departure broke upon her, Lydia could not easily forget. She dwelt
on these things and did not allow her sister-in-law’s craft, or her
brother’s anger and selfishness to influence her.

As for Mr. and Mrs. Dolbear, they lay awake till dawn, racking their
brains to devise means by which Lydia might be preserved alive to them.

“One thing’s certain in my mind,” said Tom. “We know the man; and that
ought to be a tower of strength. There’s no doubt it’s Philander Knox,
and all his sucking up to us and pretended friendship is now explained.”

“We must get at him—for Lydia’s sake,” declared Mary. “She shan’t be
trapped to her doom by an unknown creature like that if I can prevent
it.”

“There’s surely something beastly to the man,” asserted Tom,
“otherwise, after he’d once seen what my sister was in this house, he’d
have understood it was a vain and selfish plot to try and get her out
of it.”

“She’s always talking about the greatest good to the greatest number,”
added Mary, “and now ’tis for her to practise what she preaches. Here
there’s ten want her; and is one doubtful male, come from Lord knows
where, to count against all her nearest and dearest? God forbid!”

“Well, I hope she’ll see it like that; and if she don’t, we must make
it our business to queer that man’s pitch. If you and me, working
heart and soul for our children and the family in general, can’t get
this foreigner on the run, we’re not what I think we are.”

* * * * *

Next morning Mary was far too indisposed to rise, and before she went
to work, Lydia took her up a cup of tea and three slices of toast and
butter.

“I’ve decided, Mary,” she said, “and if it’s any comfort to you to know
it, I may tell you that I shall stop here.”

Whereupon Mary wept again, held Mrs. Trivett’s hand and kissed it.

“Blessed be your name,” she gurgled, “and may God’s reward meet the
case, Lydia. I’d give you all the kingdoms of earth if they was mine.”

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