LYDIA’S DAY

Lydia Trivett always remembered the seventeenth day of March as the
most remarkable anniversary in her career. For upon that day she
experienced such a succession of extraordinary and unexpected shocks
and strains, that, looking back afterwards, she marvelled how any human
mind was strong enough to endure them and not break down under such
massive and accumulated provocation.

Enough adventures overtook Lydia on the seventeenth of March to suffice
a well balanced woman for ten years.

The day was Sunday and opened without incident; but hardly had Mrs.
Trivett got her brother’s children off to church, when Tom Dolbear
descended from his wife with the news that he was going for the doctor
and calling for the nurse.

“To-day makes or mars me,” he said. “If ’tis another girl, Lydia, I
don’t know how I’ll bear up against it.”

“Be hopeful,” she urged. “There’s a law called the law of averages, so
Mr. Knox tells me, and according to that, a boy’s very nearly certain.”

But Mr. Dolbear did not understand.

“Tell the man he’s a fool then,” he answered as he laced up his boots.
“Children can’t be regulated by law, though it’s just like the cussed
conceit of lawyers to think they can. And God help us if they could
ordain these things, for they’d drive tidy hard bargains I’ll warrant.”

“’Tis a law of nature, not of lawyers,” explained his sister. “I don’t
know nothing about it myself, but the common sense is that after such
a lot of girls, you’ve a right to expect a boy, and no doubt so it will
be.”

He departed and Lydia went to Mary. She was in no way concerned for
her, because Mrs. Dolbear managed these matters very successfully and
with the least possible trouble to herself. Nature invariably smiled
upon her and her present anxiety merely echoed her husband’s.

“God send it’s a man-child, or else I shan’t hear the last of it,” she
murmured.

All was ready to welcome the new-comer and in half an hour Mrs.
Dolbear’s ally, Mrs. Damerell from the village, joined her. The
children came home from church and Lydia gave them their dinner and
told them that a new brother or sister was about to arrive. They shared
the family ambition and prayed Aunt Lydia to let it be a brother.

“I think it will be,” she said, “but that’s for God to decide.”

“Nobody don’t want no more girls,” declared the eldest daughter, and
her aunt told her not to speak so.

“’Tisn’t what we want; ’tis what our Father in Heaven wants, Milly. And
if He sends father and mother a little girl, we must welcome it just so
hearty as you and your sisters were welcomed in your turn.”

Mr. Dolbear was restless, but he ate as good a dinner as usual and
then, having heard that all was going well, went into the orchard with
his pipe. The children were despatched to Sunday school and presently
an old doctor arrived, visited Mary and then joined the farmer under
the apple trees.

“A matter of form,” he said. “I come as a matter of form, Tom.”

Mr. Dolbear enquired as to the law of averages, and the medical man
advised him to set no faith upon it.

“When you’re dealing with the statistics and the population as a whole,
such things work out pretty regular, I grant you,” he explained, “but
when you’re dealing with one woman, who has got into a habit, then
it’s not wise to indulge in general principles. Habit is stronger than
anything but death, Tom; and though you may fairly hope for a son, I
may say in sporting language that the betting is a shade against.”

“You think ’twill be a girl, doctor?”

“I do—not long odds, but about two to one.”

Within doors Lydia was standing reading a letter with shaking hands,
while silent, strained, staring, humped up in the chair opposite her,
sat Ned Dingle. He had come from Ashprington, burst in upon her while
she was helping a maiden to wash up, ordered her to follow him to the
parlour and then broken the fatal news.

“She’s gone—run away—Medora,” he said. “She rose afore I was awake
this morning, and when I came down house, I got this to breakfast. The
post-man brought it, just as I was wondering what the mischief had
become of her. Read it.”

He handed Lydia Medora’s epistle and sat and watched her while she read
it. He did not interrupt but kept his eyes on her face and gnawed his
knuckles as she read.

When she had finished, she let the fatal sheet fall on the ground and
took off her glasses. Then she bent down and picked up the letter.

“A cheerful, damned sort of thing for a husband to get,” said Ned.
“Going to marry Kellock, you see.”

“As to that, she’ll marry Kellock when you please and not before,”
answered Lydia quietly. “I don’t know what to say to you, Ned. This
is beyond anything. I never guessed for a moment she’d sink to such
wickedness. God’s my judge I didn’t know she was having any truck with
that man.”

The nurse looked in.

“Where’s doctor?” she asked.

“In the orchard with Mr. Dolbear,” answered Lydia. Mrs. Damerell
departed and she turned again to Ned.

“It’s an insulting letter. I’m terribly shocked. I don’t pretend to
understand the rising generation, my dear. After they grow out of
childhood, they get too deep for me. But I couldn’t have thought any
daughter of mine and my husband’s would ever have done this.”

“It’s all very plain to understand now,” he answered. “She wanted that
man and she couldn’t chuck me without some sort of excuse, so she
worked up this idea, that I was a brute and tormenting her to death and
so on. Then she made Kellock believe it; and though he kept perfectly
straight, so far as I know, while he thought Medora was happily married
to me, as soon as she began about me being a cruel devil that made her
life hell and all that, then Kellock no doubt believed her. Why, he
went so far as to lecture me a while back along, and I knocked him in
the water for doing so. I’ll swear he had no thought to run away with
her then—unless he’s the biggest traitor that ever walked the earth.
But he ain’t that sort. I simply can’t see that man doing this job.”

“I’m glad you can keep so cool and sensible, Ned. Nothing’s gained
by getting angered, though I’m angered I promise you, and anger’s a
righteous thing sometimes. I’m struck to the heart over this; and if
I’d thought for an instant ’twas in her wicked mind even as a shadow,
I’d have given you due notice. But I never dreamed it. I’ve talked
to her again and again and tried to show her sense; but she’s doomed
herself by her own nature.”

“The mischief is I couldn’t read her,” answered Mr. Dingle. “Not that
I didn’t at first. She married me for love—no other reason—and for
the first six months—nay ten—of our life together, I read her like a
book. But after that she changed. And she got stranger and stranger,
as we went on, till be damned if I didn’t find myself living with a
different woman! And, mind this, I was never rough nor harsh to her,
till she’d egged me on to being so. I put up with a devil of a lot and
kept my temper in a manner that surprised myself if not her; but she
was out to make me lose it, because, till I did so, the things she
wanted to happen couldn’t. And after a bit I did lose it. Who wouldn’t?
Yet God’s my judge I was never very much enraged with her, because I
always felt she was play-acting and making believe half the time; and
that had a funny side; and sometimes it amused me more than it angered
me. And above that was the sure knowledge that any open quarrel would
be an unmanly thing and might lead to lasting trouble; and above that,
again, was the fact that I loved Medora well. I never ceased to love
her in her maddest tantrums.

“Then comes this letter, and I can assure you it’s a bolt from the
blue. And yet it’s all unreal somehow—I can’t grasp it home to me. I
can’t believe it. I could almost laugh and say to myself it’s a dream
and I shall wake up alongside Medora any minute.”

His face was full of pain, as yet he showed more stunned surprise than
anger.

“I knew her so well—think of it,” he went on. “She must have her bit
of fun and her bit of flattery; and she got both with me. But him—good
God Almighty—she turned him down once for all eighteen months ago,
and she told me why in very good plain words. And now she’s gone to
him. Yet he’s not changed. He can’t change. There’s men I can see
her with perhaps—though none as easy as I can see her with me—but
him—Kellock—he’ll never satisfy her. It’s impossible.”

“You’re right there,” said Lydia. “My daughter’s not the sort to be
content to shine with her husband’s reflected light. The little fool
wants to be somebody herself. It’s vanity quite as much as wickedness
has made her do this. But she won’t shine with Kellock anyway; and
after doing such a hateful, wicked thing, he won’t shine either. His
light’s out now in the eyes of all self-respecting, honourable people.”

“No, it isn’t,” he answered. “It will make a deuce of a lot of
difference to Medora, but not to him, because he’s the sort that don’t
let any outward thing alter their inward disposition. He’s thought it
all out. He knows there’s not half a dozen men in the kingdom can make
paper like him, and so he’s safe and beyond any punishment whatever he
does. He’s done nothing the law can touch him for. And when I touch
him, the law will be on his side against me.”

Ned was still amazingly calm. Indeed his self-control astonished her.

“So far I don’t know what’s happening,” he proceeded. “I don’t know
where they are, or what they have planned. I’m keeping an open mind. I
shall see him presently. I may swing for him yet; or I may find—Lord
knows what I may find. It’s all hidden so far.”

“I feel as if I was twenty years older for this news—older and broken
too,” said Lydia. “If there was time, I’d weep a river for this, and
I shall yet; but not now. There’s a baby coming upstairs, and you
can’t think of two things to once and do ’em both justice. I’ll see
you to-morrow in the dinner hour. Perhaps you’ll hear more by then.
Kellock was a man very nice on speech, as well as manners. He’ll feel
it’s up to him to—there, what am I saying?—the strangeness! Well may
you say as though you was in a dream. So I feel; and I won’t throw up
hope either. God often waits till the very last minute afore He throws
the light of truth into a mind. He may prevail with Medora, and so I
wouldn’t say nothing yet—nothing to nobody.”

“I’m dazed,” he told her. “I scarce know what I’ve been doing since
breakfast. Here’s your children coming back from Sunday school. I’ll be
gone. It’s a bad job—an ugly, cruel job; but grasp hold of this tight,
and whether you tell or whether you do not tell, remember the fault
weren’t mine. I never treated her bad, not yet bullied her, nor played
tyrant upon her; and if she said I did, she was a liar; and if ever I
handled her rough, I was sorry after; and the worst ever I did weren’t
a twentieth part of what she deserved.”

“I know all that,” said Lydia; then the children clattered down the
passage with shrill questions: “Be the baby come?” “Be it a boy?” “Oh,
say ’tis a boy, Aunt Lydia!”

Ned went off through the orchards, while his mother-in-law, scarce
knowing what she did, gave the children their tea.

Under the trees Mr. Dolbear padded up and down. He was in no fear for
Mary, but suffering the extremity of anxiety as to the sex of the
coming child.

Ned told him the news.

“My wife’s run away from me, Tom,” he said.

“Have she? Fancy! The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be
the Name. I never did like Medora, and you’ll bear me out. Where’s she
run then?”

“I don’t know. She’s gone with Jordan Kellock, the vatman.”

“God’ll see to it—trust Him, and don’t take the law in your own hands.”

They talked for ten minutes; then a child appeared at the gate by the
house. It was Milly, Mr. Dolbear’s favourite.

“The news be come,” cried Tom, and ignoring Dingle, he hastened to his
daughter, while Ned departed. The first shock was over and his deep
disgrace and bitter wrong began to grind into him. So far he had kept
amazingly temperate. But he was to experience many moods before he
slept that night.

Meantime Milly in tears broke bad news to the farmer.

“There’s another beastly little girl come,” she piped, and her father
gazed tragically at her and turned silently to his home. Lydia met him
at the door.

“Did Ned tell you of this awful misfortune?” she asked.

“No,” he answered. “Milly told me, and I say here and now that it’s an
outrage and undeserved.”

“I’m thinking of Medora, Tom.”

But Dolbear had no room in his mind for Medora. The children were all
cast down and some wept.

“I must go and comfort the woman,” said Mary’s husband. “She’ll feel
this only less than I do. And I should like to hear parson justify
it—not that he could. Just a piece of saucy cruelty against them
who’ve done nought to deserve it. That’s what it is.”

“Don’t you go souring her mind against the baby,” urged Lydia. “That
wouldn’t be kind after all her trouble and patience. Say you’re
pleased, Tom, and cheer her up.”

“’Twould only be a lie if I did and nobody would know it better than
her. I’ll go up and forget myself and comfort her as best I can—and
God’s my judge, Lydia, I won’t have no more children.”

“Don’t you say what you’ll be sorry for.”

“I mean it. Them that plant the seed have a right to call the crops in
my opinion; and there did ought to be fair give and take between the
creature and his Creator. There weren’t no rhyme nor reason in planting
another girl on me, and I ain’t going to be the plaything of the
Almighty no more—and more shan’t Mary. We’ve done—through no fault of
our own neither.”

He ascended to a weary and apologetic partner who shared his view of
the situation.

“It’s the living daps of the last,” she said. “A nice little, heavy
girl; but I can’t do no more, Tom; I can’t fight against Providence.”

“No you can’t,” he declared, “and what’s more, you shan’t. You’ve
broke the law of averages by all accounts; and that’s about the limit.
And Somebody shall see that two can play at that game in the future.
Providence have shut down on the boys; and I’ll shut down on the girls.
It ain’t going to be all one way.”

Mrs. Dolbear shed tears, but she shared his indignation and did not
blame his attitude to the baby.

Mrs. Damerell was shocked.

“I wouldn’t open my mouth so wide if I was you, farmer,” she answered.
“Who are you to dictate what you want? Here’s a fine female child come
into the world, to be your right hand and the joy of your life for all
you know to the contrary. I’m sure I never yet saw a pair receive a
child in such a way, since the day that Honor Michelmore got one with
no thumbs and cussed God. But in your case, Nature have always done
her part to the full, and you’re saying things you didn’t ought, Mr.
Dolbear.”

“If you’re so pleased with it, you’d better take it home with you,”
he answered. “It never can be no favourite of mine now, and I won’t
pretend different.”

Beneath Lydia was seeking to allay the disappointment of the family.

“I shouldn’t wonder if she was the nicest little sister any of you ever
had, my dears. A proper little fairy very likely, and the one you’ll
all like best.”

They vowed it never could be and Milly said: “Father hates her a’ready,
so I be going to do the same.”

Then Mrs. Trivett preached very seriously against this inhuman spirit
and was still preaching when there came Philander Knox.

“I thought the better the day the better the deed,” he explained, “and
I hoped your young people would be going to church after their tea, so
I might have a yarn with you.”

“Very kind of you, I’m sure. Perhaps you’ll be able to distract my
brother’s mind a thought. He’s very much under the weather. And I dare
say it would be a good thing if a few of you was to go to church.”

Milly, who loved church, but did not often attend evening service, was
pleased at this plan and she took her younger sisters with her. Tom
came down, smoked a pipe and grew calmer in the company of Mr. Knox;
Lydia put the other children to bed—for the present the penultimate
baby was in her room—and then Philander’s opportunity arrived, and
after Mr. Dolbear had gone up the village, he enjoyed Lydia’s society
for half an hour before interruption came.

She told him what had happened to Medora and he wondered, while he
discussed the tragedy, whether it might not, after all, help rather
than hinder his own designs.

“At first sight,” he said, “the human instinct is always to say that
anything out of the common must be wrong; but that’s only our natural
cowardice and love of letting life alone. And I, for one, am not going
to say that because a woman changes husbands, or a man changes wives,
it follows they are doing the wrong thing. Often a pinch of pluck
will break a partnership to the advantage of both parties, and it’s a
darned sight better than shaking their chains and making a nuisance
of themselves in the face of the people. An unhappy marriage is a bad
advertisement for the institution, and a man like me, who believes
heart and soul in marriage, is always sorry to see an unhappy marriage
go on.”

“But if every young pair who quarrelled before their first child came
was to part like this, the world couldn’t go on. Those that God have
joined let no man put asunder.”

“No man can,” he answered. “You needn’t worry about that. If God
joins up a man and woman, man can’t put ’em asunder, nor yet anything
else. They’re one body and soul till death parts ’em. But because a
pair marry, it don’t follow that God have had anything to do with it.
There’s a lot of other institutions besides God. We make mistakes in
all walks of life and in none oftener than in marriage. And in my
opinion it’s one of the things, like any other partnership, that God
don’t specially take under His protection. Love is a trick of nature,
and Nature says to herself, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try
again.’ Nature’s trying again with your daughter, Mrs. Trivett.”

She sighed.

“I wish to Heaven as Nature had left her alone then, for she was
married to a good man, and whatever she feels about him, there’s no
doubt he was ready and willing enough to love her to the end of his
life.”

“It often happens,” he answered, “and of course that sort of parting’s
the saddest, where one party don’t want to part and t’other does. When
both are fed up, then they can break loose with self-respect and mutual
applause; but if one’s got to run away from the other, then the case is
altered. But no doubt Ned Dingle will rise to it. He’s clever enough
to know that it’s useless keeping a wife if she’s breaking her heart
to escape. The fact that Medora has done this venturesome act and gone
to another man, will show your son-in-law the game’s up. If she’d just
gone off on her own, he might have hunted after her and won her back
perhaps—if he wanted her back; but since she’s gone with somebody else
and is ready to face all that means—well, that leaves her husband in
no doubt of her meaning, don’t it?”

“None whatever,” admitted Lydia. “You’ve got a brain, Mr. Knox, so
perhaps you’ll tell me what you think of Kellock. She was divided
between ’em in the past and decided for Ned—wisely as I thought,
because it always seemed to me that Jordan Kellock was too wrapped up
in reading and learning and high views about labour to make a young
woman happy. If you’d asked me, I should have said it weren’t in him to
run away with another man’s wife. I should have thought he was such a
well-drilled man in his mind that he’d have stopped loving Medora the
moment he heard she was going to marry Dingle.”

“Kellock,” answered Philander Knox, “is all you say; but he’s young
and he’s got a romantical turn, though it takes the practical shape of
wanting to better the world at large. That’s all true, but he’s short
of thirty still, and, under thirty, you never can say with certainty a
man is complete in his make-up. He loved her, and if he thought she’d
took a fatal mistake and married the wrong one, and if she told him
so, as no doubt she did, then it’s not out of his character to find
himself loving her again. And the instinct to fight the cause of the
weak, which is a part of the man, wouldn’t be any less strong because
he happened to love the weak party for herself. So it all fits in very
natural so far, and your daughter may trust Kellock to champion her and
be very tender and jealous and all that. He’ll treat her well without a
doubt.”

“And what sort of a husband will he make for my girl?”

“That I can’t say,” answered Knox. “For the reason that I don’t know
what your girl wants. If Ned didn’t suit her, then as Kellock’s just
the opposite of him in every way, perhaps he will.”

“Ned did suit her—that’s the shocking thing,” declared Lydia. “He
suited her so perfectly that he suited her too well, if you can
understand that. There was all sunshine and no shade, and Medora, so
far as I can see, instead of blessing her good luck got sick of so much
uneventful happiness, like a child gets sick of too much barley-sugar.
Then she turned by a sort of restless instinct to find a bit of change.
Of course she’s said for months that she was miserable; but she
invented most of her misery in my opinion.”

“Very interesting, and no doubt you know. But we middle-aged people can
always see the young looking for trouble. ’Tis part of their natural
curiosity and daring. They don’t know they’re born in fact, and that’s
a thing you can’t teach a person. Each has got to learn it themselves.
And some never do. We’ll watch and pray, Mrs. Trivett. That’s about all
we can do for the young. And now I’ll tell you what I came about. And
I’ll also promise that, so far as it lies in my power, I’ll befriend
Medora if she comes back here.”

“She can’t come back—she can’t do that.”

“Leave her—you never know what the young can do, and what they can’t
do. I’m here about you, not her. We’ve not known each other above six
months, but knowledge of our fellow creatures ain’t a matter of time.
’Tis understanding of character and like to like and so on. Another,
finding you in trouble to-day, would hold off no doubt. But, just
because you are in trouble, I’m going to hold on and say what I came
to say. I respect and admire you very much out of the common, Mrs.
Trivett, and I feel that it’s a crying shame to see you in this rabbit
hutch, living the life of a maid-of-all-work for other people, when you
ought to be the mistress of your own home. I say you ought to have a
man to work for you, and look after you, and not let you toil and wear
your fingers to the bone, either here, over your brother’s children, or
in the rag shop. Your sense of justice must cry out against it, and so
it ought and I feel it very much to heart. You drew me, from the first
minutes I set eyes on you, for I saw all that you were and found, as I
knew you better, you were even better than I thought. And, in a word,
if you’ll throw over these Dolbears and come to me, I can promise a
very faithful and friendly husband and one who will make it his first
business and pleasure in life to give you a good time. ’Tis thought
silly of a man over fifty-two to speak of love; but rest assured that
such a man knows a darned sight more about it than green youth. You’ve
had a good husband and I’ve had a good wife, according to her lights;
then what’s to prevent us joining forces if you think half so well of
me as I do of you?”

Lydia was inconsequent.

“If anybody had told me when I opened my eyes this morning what the day
was going to bring forth,” she said, “God’s my judge I shouldn’t have
had the heart, or courage to put on my clothes.”

“Yes, you would,” he answered. “You’re the sort to meet all that comes
steadfast and patient, with the pluck of an army. You’d have rose up as
usual. And what about it?”

“Nothing on earth is farther from my thoughts at present than a
second,” she answered. “I regard myself as an old woman.”

“Only because you live among all these messy children. You’re not old:
you’re in your prime, and if you was to rest your flesh a bit, instead
of wearing it out morning, noon and night, you’d very soon be surprised
to find what a comely creature you’d find yourself.”

“That’s all past. Duty is duty and God’s found the work to do.”

“God’s also found me,” answered Mr. Knox, “and you must weigh me along
with everything else. And if, as I see in your face, your inclination
is to say ‘no,’ then I beg you’ll not say it—at any rate not this
evening. You’re far too nice to decide the future career of a fellow
creature, let alone your own, without turning it over fairly in your
mind. I didn’t ask you to say ‘yes,’ all of a minute, because this is
sprung upon you—you expected no such thing; but though I didn’t count
on ‘yes,’ Lydia, I’m equally determined not to hear ‘no.’ So you can
think all round it, and I wish you’d got more time to do so. However
you’re a fair woman—fair and just to all but yourself—so I very well
leave it at that for the present.”

“To think a good-looking, clever man like you should have looked at a
little every-day woman like me!” she said.

“You won’t be every day no more if you’re Mrs. Knox,” he promised. “Far
from it. You should go in a carriage and pair if it could be done, and
though I can’t promise that, I can promise a nice house, and a bit of
garden, and a professed cook to look after the kitchen and do your
bidding. Think upon it.”

“Don’t hope, however; ’tis a very unlikely thing that I should change
my state with so many calls.”

“Come to your own conclusions anyway,” he said. “I know what human
nature is very well and I know what you are in this house. But don’t
let selfishness on the part of other people decide you against me.
That would be very unfair to me, and you can’t be unfair to a man that
thinks of you as I do.”

“I’ll do nothing unfair to you, Mr. Knox. In fact I’ll do nothing at
all for the present. My sister-in-law mustn’t hear a word in her weak
state, or the consequences might be bad; and my brother’s cast down
also, and so am I. In fact trouble’s everywhere.”

“Regard me as the silver lining to the cloud then. I quite see it was
a bit of a staggerer this coming to-day of all days; but at any rate
you know now you’ve got a valuable friend. And such I shall remain,
whatever happens. Now, no doubt, you’re itching to get supper for
all them brats, so I’ll go my way. And I pray God’s blessing on your
thoughts, Lydia—I do indeed.”

“Thank you,” she replied. “Yes, you go now. I can’t stand no more, else
I shall break down—a thing I’m never known to do. I dare say I’ll see
you at the works to-morrow. And don’t say nothing about Medora.”

“Trust me,” he answered. “My one hope will be to help you in that
quarter if I can. Don’t you despair. It may straighten out yet, though
where two men and a woman’s the matter, there’s seldom more than one
chance in fifty that things will come right.”

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