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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