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.

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