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Middlemarch

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CHAPTER XXXIX.

“If, as I have, you also doe,
    Vertue attired in woman see,
And dare love that, and say so too,
    And forget the He and She;

And if this love, though placed so,
    From prophane men you hide,
Which will no faith on this bestow,
    Or, if they doe, deride:

Then you have done a braver thing
    Than all the Worthies did,
And a braver thence will spring,
    Which is, to keep that hid.”
—DR. DONNE.

Sir James Chettam’s mind was not fruitful in devices, but his growing anxiety to “act on Brooke,” once brought close to his constant belief in Dorothea’s capacity for influence, became formative, and issued in a little plan; namely, to plead Celia’s indisposition as a reason for fetching Dorothea by herself to the Hall, and to leave her at the Grange with the carriage on the way, after making her fully aware of the situation concerning the management of the estate.

In this way it happened that one day near four o’clock, when Mr. Brooke and Ladislaw were seated in the library, the door opened and Mrs. Casaubon was announced.

Will, the moment before, had been low in the depths of boredom, and, obliged to help Mr. Brooke in arranging “documents” about hanging sheep-stealers, was exemplifying the power our minds have of riding several horses at once by inwardly arranging measures towards getting a lodging for himself in Middlemarch and cutting short his constant residence at the Grange; while there flitted through all these steadier images a tickling vision of a sheep-stealing epic written with Homeric particularity. When Mrs. Casaubon was announced he started up as from an electric shock, and felt a tingling at his finger-ends. Any one observing him would have seen a change in his complexion, in the adjustment of his facial muscles, in the vividness of his glance, which might have made them imagine that every molecule in his body had passed the message of a magic touch. And so it had. For effective magic is transcendent nature; and who shall measure the subtlety of those touches which convey the quality of soul as well as body, and make a man’s passion for one woman differ from his passion for another as joy in the morning light over valley and river and white mountain-top differs from joy among Chinese lanterns and glass panels? Will, too, was made of very impressible stuff. The bow of a violin drawn near him cleverly, would at one stroke change the aspect of the world for him, and his point of view shifted as easily as his mood. Dorothea’s entrance was the freshness of morning.

“Well, my dear, this is pleasant, now,” said Mr. Brooke, meeting and kissing her. “You have left Casaubon with his books, I suppose. That’s right. We must not have you getting too learned for a woman, you know.”

“There is no fear of that, uncle,” said Dorothea, turning to Will and shaking hands with open cheerfulness, while she made no other form of greeting, but went on answering her uncle. “I am very slow. When I want to be busy with books, I am often playing truant among my thoughts. I find it is not so easy to be learned as to plan cottages.”

She seated herself beside her uncle opposite to Will, and was evidently preoccupied with something that made her almost unmindful of him. He was ridiculously disappointed, as if he had imagined that her coming had anything to do with him.

“Why, yes, my dear, it was quite your hobby to draw plans. But it was good to break that off a little. Hobbies are apt to run away with us, you know; it doesn’t do to be run away with. We must keep the reins. I have never let myself be run away with; I always pulled up. That is what I tell Ladislaw. He and I are alike, you know: he likes to go into everything. We are working at capital punishment. We shall do a great deal together, Ladislaw and I.”

“Yes,” said Dorothea, with characteristic directness, “Sir James has been telling me that he is in hope of seeing a great change made soon in your management of the estate—that you are thinking of having the farms valued, and repairs made, and the cottages improved, so that Tipton may look quite another place. Oh, how happy!”—she went on, clasping her hands, with a return to that more childlike impetuous manner, which had been subdued since her marriage. “If I were at home still, I should take to riding again, that I might go about with you and see all that! And you are going to engage Mr. Garth, who praised my cottages, Sir James says.”

“Chettam is a little hasty, my dear,” said Mr. Brooke, coloring slightly; “a little hasty, you know. I never said I should do anything of the kind. I never said I should not do it, you know.”

“He only feels confident that you will do it,” said Dorothea, in a voice as clear and unhesitating as that of a young chorister chanting a credo, “because you mean to enter Parliament as a member who cares for the improvement of the people, and one of the first things to be made better is the state of the land and the laborers. Think of Kit Downes, uncle, who lives with his wife and seven children in a house with one sitting room and one bedroom hardly larger than this table!—and those poor Dagleys, in their tumble-down farmhouse, where they live in the back kitchen and leave the other rooms to the rats! That is one reason why I did not like the pictures here, dear uncle—which you think me stupid about. I used to come from the village with all that dirt and coarse ugliness like a pain within me, and the simpering pictures in the drawing-room seemed to me like a wicked attempt to find delight in what is false, while we don’t mind how hard the truth is for the neighbors outside our walls. I think we have no right to come forward and urge wider changes for good, until we have tried to alter the evils which lie under our own hands.”

Dorothea had gathered emotion as she went on, and had forgotten everything except the relief of pouring forth her feelings, unchecked: an experience once habitual with her, but hardly ever present since her marriage, which had been a perpetual struggle of energy with fear. For the moment, Will’s admiration was accompanied with a chilling sense of remoteness. A man is seldom ashamed of feeling that he cannot love a woman so well when he sees a certain greatness in her: nature having intended greatness for men. But nature has sometimes made sad oversights in carrying out her intention; as in the case of good Mr. Brooke, whose masculine consciousness was at this moment in rather a stammering condition under the eloquence of his niece. He could not immediately find any other mode of expressing himself than that of rising, fixing his eye-glass, and fingering the papers before him. At last he said—

“There is something in what you say, my dear, something in what you say—but not everything—eh, Ladislaw? You and I don’t like our pictures and statues being found fault with. Young ladies are a little ardent, you know—a little one-sided, my dear. Fine art, poetry, that kind of thing, elevates a nation—emollit mores—you understand a little Latin now. But—eh? what?”

These interrogatives were addressed to the footman who had come in to say that the keeper had found one of Dagley’s boys with a leveret in his hand just killed.

“I’ll come, I’ll come. I shall let him off easily, you know,” said Mr. Brooke aside to Dorothea, shuffling away very cheerfully.

“I hope you feel how right this change is that I—that Sir James wishes for,” said Dorothea to Will, as soon as her uncle was gone.

“I do, now I have heard you speak about it. I shall not forget what you have said. But can you think of something else at this moment? I may not have another opportunity of speaking to you about what has occurred,” said Will, rising with a movement of impatience, and holding the back of his chair with both hands.

“Pray tell me what it is,” said Dorothea, anxiously, also rising and going to the open window, where Monk was looking in, panting and wagging his tail. She leaned her back against the window-frame, and laid her hand on the dog’s head; for though, as we know, she was not fond of pets that must be held in the hands or trodden on, she was always attentive to the feelings of dogs, and very polite if she had to decline their advances.

Will followed her only with his eyes and said, “I presume you know that Mr. Casaubon has forbidden me to go to his house.”

“No, I did not,” said Dorothea, after a moment’s pause. She was evidently much moved. “I am very, very sorry,” she added, mournfully. She was thinking of what Will had no knowledge of—the conversation between her and her husband in the darkness; and she was anew smitten with hopelessness that she could influence Mr. Casaubon’s action. But the marked expression of her sorrow convinced Will that it was not all given to him personally, and that Dorothea had not been visited by the idea that Mr. Casaubon’s dislike and jealousy of him turned upon herself. He felt an odd mixture of delight and vexation: of delight that he could dwell and be cherished in her thought as in a pure home, without suspicion and without stint—of vexation because he was of too little account with her, was not formidable enough, was treated with an unhesitating benevolence which did not flatter him. But his dread of any change in Dorothea was stronger than his discontent, and he began to speak again in a tone of mere explanation.

“Mr. Casaubon’s reason is, his displeasure at my taking a position here which he considers unsuited to my rank as his cousin. I have told him that I cannot give way on this point. It is a little too hard on me to expect that my course in life is to be hampered by prejudices which I think ridiculous. Obligation may be stretched till it is no better than a brand of slavery stamped on us when we were too young to know its meaning. I would not have accepted the position if I had not meant to make it useful and honorable. I am not bound to regard family dignity in any other light.”

Dorothea felt wretched. She thought her husband altogether in the wrong, on more grounds than Will had mentioned.

“It is better for us not to speak on the subject,” she said, with a tremulousness not common in her voice, “since you and Mr. Casaubon disagree. You intend to remain?” She was looking out on the lawn, with melancholy meditation.

“Yes; but I shall hardly ever see you now,” said Will, in a tone of almost boyish complaint.

“No,” said Dorothea, turning her eyes full upon him, “hardly ever. But I shall hear of you. I shall know what you are doing for my uncle.”

“I shall know hardly anything about you,” said Will. “No one will tell me anything.”

“Oh, my life is very simple,” said Dorothea, her lips curling with an exquisite smile, which irradiated her melancholy. “I am always at Lowick.”

“That is a dreadful imprisonment,” said Will, impetuously.

“No, don’t think that,” said Dorothea. “I have no longings.”

He did not speak, but she replied to some change in his expression. “I mean, for myself. Except that I should like not to have so much more than my share without doing anything for others. But I have a belief of my own, and it comforts me.”

“What is that?” said Will, rather jealous of the belief.

“That by desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don’t quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil—widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower.”

“That is a beautiful mysticism—it is a—”

“Please not to call it by any name,” said Dorothea, putting out her hands entreatingly. “You will say it is Persian, or something else geographical. It is my life. I have found it out, and cannot part with it. I have always been finding out my religion since I was a little girl. I used to pray so much—now I hardly ever pray. I try not to have desires merely for myself, because they may not be good for others, and I have too much already. I only told you, that you might know quite well how my days go at Lowick.”

“God bless you for telling me!” said Will, ardently, and rather wondering at himself. They were looking at each other like two fond children who were talking confidentially of birds.

“What is your religion?” said Dorothea. “I mean—not what you know about religion, but the belief that helps you most?”

“To love what is good and beautiful when I see it,” said Will. “But I am a rebel: I don’t feel bound, as you do, to submit to what I don’t like.”

“But if you like what is good, that comes to the same thing,” said Dorothea, smiling.

“Now you are subtle,” said Will.

“Yes; Mr. Casaubon often says I am too subtle. I don’t feel as if I were subtle,” said Dorothea, playfully. “But how long my uncle is! I must go and look for him. I must really go on to the Hall. Celia is expecting me.”

Will offered to tell Mr. Brooke, who presently came and said that he would step into the carriage and go with Dorothea as far as Dagley’s, to speak about the small delinquent who had been caught with the leveret. Dorothea renewed the subject of the estate as they drove along, but Mr. Brooke, not being taken unawares, got the talk under his own control.

“Chettam, now,” he replied; “he finds fault with me, my dear; but I should not preserve my game if it were not for Chettam, and he can’t say that that expense is for the sake of the tenants, you know. It’s a little against my feeling:—poaching, now, if you come to look into it—I have often thought of getting up the subject. Not long ago, Flavell, the Methodist preacher, was brought up for knocking down a hare that came across his path when he and his wife were walking out together. He was pretty quick, and knocked it on the neck.”

“That was very brutal, I think,” said Dorothea.

“Well, now, it seemed rather black to me, I confess, in a Methodist preacher, you know. And Johnson said, ‘You may judge what a hypocrite he is.’ And upon my word, I thought Flavell looked very little like ‘the highest style of man’—as somebody calls the Christian—Young, the poet Young, I think—you know Young? Well, now, Flavell in his shabby black gaiters, pleading that he thought the Lord had sent him and his wife a good dinner, and he had a right to knock it down, though not a mighty hunter before the Lord, as Nimrod was—I assure you it was rather comic: Fielding would have made something of it—or Scott, now—Scott might have worked it up. But really, when I came to think of it, I couldn’t help liking that the fellow should have a bit of hare to say grace over. It’s all a matter of prejudice—prejudice with the law on its side, you know—about the stick and the gaiters, and so on. However, it doesn’t do to reason about things; and law is law. But I got Johnson to be quiet, and I hushed the matter up. I doubt whether Chettam would not have been more severe, and yet he comes down on me as if I were the hardest man in the county. But here we are at Dagley’s.”

Mr. Brooke got down at a farmyard-gate, and Dorothea drove on. It is wonderful how much uglier things will look when we only suspect that we are blamed for them. Even our own persons in the glass are apt to change their aspect for us after we have heard some frank remark on their less admirable points; and on the other hand it is astonishing how pleasantly conscience takes our encroachments on those who never complain or have nobody to complain for them. Dagley’s homestead never before looked so dismal to Mr. Brooke as it did today, with his mind thus sore about the fault-finding of the “Trumpet,” echoed by Sir James.

It is true that an observer, under that softening influence of the fine arts which makes other people’s hardships picturesque, might have been delighted with this homestead called Freeman’s End: the old house had dormer-windows in the dark red roof, two of the chimneys were choked with ivy, the large porch was blocked up with bundles of sticks, and half the windows were closed with gray worm-eaten shutters about which the jasmine-boughs grew in wild luxuriance; the mouldering garden wall with hollyhocks peeping over it was a perfect study of highly mingled subdued color, and there was an aged goat (kept doubtless on interesting superstitious grounds) lying against the open back-kitchen door. The mossy thatch of the cow-shed, the broken gray barn-doors, the pauper laborers in ragged breeches who had nearly finished unloading a wagon of corn into the barn ready for early thrashing; the scanty dairy of cows being tethered for milking and leaving one half of the shed in brown emptiness; the very pigs and white ducks seeming to wander about the uneven neglected yard as if in low spirits from feeding on a too meagre quality of rinsings,—all these objects under the quiet light of a sky marbled with high clouds would have made a sort of picture which we have all paused over as a “charming bit,” touching other sensibilities than those which are stirred by the depression of the agricultural interest, with the sad lack of farming capital, as seen constantly in the newspapers of that time. But these troublesome associations were just now strongly present to Mr. Brooke, and spoiled the scene for him. Mr. Dagley himself made a figure in the landscape, carrying a pitchfork and wearing his milking-hat—a very old beaver flattened in front. His coat and breeches were the best he had, and he would not have been wearing them on this weekday occasion if he had not been to market and returned later than usual, having given himself the rare treat of dining at the public table of the Blue Bull. How he came to fall into this extravagance would perhaps be matter of wonderment to himself on the morrow; but before dinner something in the state of the country, a slight pause in the harvest before the Far Dips were cut, the stories about the new King and the numerous handbills on the walls, had seemed to warrant a little recklessness. It was a maxim about Middlemarch, and regarded as self-evident, that good meat should have good drink, which last Dagley interpreted as plenty of table ale well followed up by rum-and-water. These liquors have so far truth in them that they were not false enough to make poor Dagley seem merry: they only made his discontent less tongue-tied than usual. He had also taken too much in the shape of muddy political talk, a stimulant dangerously disturbing to his farming conservatism, which consisted in holding that whatever is, is bad, and any change is likely to be worse. He was flushed, and his eyes had a decidedly quarrelsome stare as he stood still grasping his pitchfork, while the landlord approached with his easy shuffling walk, one hand in his trouser-pocket and the other swinging round a thin walking-stick.

“Dagley, my good fellow,” began Mr. Brooke, conscious that he was going to be very friendly about the boy.

“Oh, ay, I’m a good feller, am I? Thank ye, sir, thank ye,” said Dagley, with a loud snarling irony which made Fag the sheep-dog stir from his seat and prick his ears; but seeing Monk enter the yard after some outside loitering, Fag seated himself again in an attitude of observation. “I’m glad to hear I’m a good feller.”

Mr. Brooke reflected that it was market-day, and that his worthy tenant had probably been dining, but saw no reason why he should not go on, since he could take the precaution of repeating what he had to say to Mrs. Dagley.

“Your little lad Jacob has been caught killing a leveret, Dagley: I have told Johnson to lock him up in the empty stable an hour or two, just to frighten him, you know. But he will be brought home by-and-by, before night: and you’ll just look after him, will you, and give him a reprimand, you know?”

“No, I woon’t: I’ll be dee’d if I’ll leather my boy to please you or anybody else, not if you was twenty landlords istid o’ one, and that a bad un.”

Dagley’s words were loud enough to summon his wife to the back-kitchen door—the only entrance ever used, and one always open except in bad weather—and Mr. Brooke, saying soothingly, “Well, well, I’ll speak to your wife—I didn’t mean beating, you know,” turned to walk to the house. But Dagley, only the more inclined to “have his say” with a gentleman who walked away from him, followed at once, with Fag slouching at his heels and sullenly evading some small and probably charitable advances on the part of Monk.

“How do you do, Mrs. Dagley?” said Mr. Brooke, making some haste. “I came to tell you about your boy: I don’t want you to give him the stick, you know.” He was careful to speak quite plainly this time.

Overworked Mrs. Dagley—a thin, worn woman, from whose life pleasure had so entirely vanished that she had not even any Sunday clothes which could give her satisfaction in preparing for church—had already had a misunderstanding with her husband since he had come home, and was in low spirits, expecting the worst. But her husband was beforehand in answering.

“No, nor he woon’t hev the stick, whether you want it or no,” pursued Dagley, throwing out his voice, as if he wanted it to hit hard. “You’ve got no call to come an’ talk about sticks o’ these primises, as you woon’t give a stick tow’rt mending. Go to Middlemarch to ax for your charrickter.”

“You’d far better hold your tongue, Dagley,” said the wife, “and not kick your own trough over. When a man as is father of a family has been an’ spent money at market and made himself the worse for liquor, he’s done enough mischief for one day. But I should like to know what my boy’s done, sir.”

“Niver do you mind what he’s done,” said Dagley, more fiercely, “it’s my business to speak, an’ not yourn. An’ I wull speak, too. I’ll hev my say—supper or no. An’ what I say is, as I’ve lived upo’ your ground from my father and grandfather afore me, an’ hev dropped our money into’t, an’ me an’ my children might lie an’ rot on the ground for top-dressin’ as we can’t find the money to buy, if the King wasn’t to put a stop.”

“My good fellow, you’re drunk, you know,” said Mr. Brooke, confidentially but not judiciously. “Another day, another day,” he added, turning as if to go.

But Dagley immediately fronted him, and Fag at his heels growled low, as his master’s voice grew louder and more insulting, while Monk also drew close in silent dignified watch. The laborers on the wagon were pausing to listen, and it seemed wiser to be quite passive than to attempt a ridiculous flight pursued by a bawling man.

“I’m no more drunk nor you are, nor so much,” said Dagley. “I can carry my liquor, an’ I know what I meean. An’ I meean as the King ’ull put a stop to ’t, for them say it as knows it, as there’s to be a Rinform, and them landlords as never done the right thing by their tenants ’ull be treated i’ that way as they’ll hev to scuttle off. An’ there’s them i’ Middlemarch knows what the Rinform is—an’ as knows who’ll hev to scuttle. Says they, ‘I know who your landlord is.’ An’ says I, ‘I hope you’re the better for knowin’ him, I arn’t.’ Says they, ‘He’s a close-fisted un.’ ‘Ay ay,’ says I. ‘He’s a man for the Rinform,’ says they. That’s what they says. An’ I made out what the Rinform were—an’ it were to send you an’ your likes a-scuttlin’ an’ wi’ pretty strong-smellin’ things too. An’ you may do as you like now, for I’m none afeard on you. An’ you’d better let my boy aloan, an’ look to yoursen, afore the Rinform has got upo’ your back. That’s what I’n got to say,” concluded Mr. Dagley, striking his fork into the ground with a firmness which proved inconvenient as he tried to draw it up again.

At this last action Monk began to bark loudly, and it was a moment for Mr. Brooke to escape. He walked out of the yard as quickly as he could, in some amazement at the novelty of his situation. He had never been insulted on his own land before, and had been inclined to regard himself as a general favorite (we are all apt to do so, when we think of our own amiability more than of what other people are likely to want of us). When he had quarrelled with Caleb Garth twelve years before he had thought that the tenants would be pleased at the landlord’s taking everything into his own hands.

Some who follow the narrative of his experience may wonder at the midnight darkness of Mr. Dagley; but nothing was easier in those times than for an hereditary farmer of his grade to be ignorant, in spite somehow of having a rector in the twin parish who was a gentleman to the backbone, a curate nearer at hand who preached more learnedly than the rector, a landlord who had gone into everything, especially fine art and social improvement, and all the lights of Middlemarch only three miles off. As to the facility with which mortals escape knowledge, try an average acquaintance in the intellectual blaze of London, and consider what that eligible person for a dinner-party would have been if he had learned scant skill in “summing” from the parish-clerk of Tipton, and read a chapter in the Bible with immense difficulty, because such names as Isaiah or Apollos remained unmanageable after twice spelling. Poor Dagley read a few verses sometimes on a Sunday evening, and the world was at least not darker to him than it had been before. Some things he knew thoroughly, namely, the slovenly habits of farming, and the awkwardness of weather, stock and crops, at Freeman’s End—so called apparently by way of sarcasm, to imply that a man was free to quit it if he chose, but that there was no earthly “beyond” open to him.



CHAPTER XL.

Wise in his daily work was he:
    To fruits of diligence,
And not to faiths or polity,
    He plied his utmost sense.
These perfect in their little parts,
    Whose work is all their prize—
Without them how could laws, or arts,
    Or towered cities rise?

In watching effects, if only of an electric battery, it is often necessary to change our place and examine a particular mixture or group at some distance from the point where the movement we are interested in was set up. The group I am moving towards is at Caleb Garth’s breakfast-table in the large parlor where the maps and desk were: father, mother, and five of the children. Mary was just now at home waiting for a situation, while Christy, the boy next to her, was getting cheap learning and cheap fare in Scotland, having to his father’s disappointment taken to books instead of that sacred calling “business.”

The letters had come—nine costly letters, for which the postman had been paid three and twopence, and Mr. Garth was forgetting his tea and toast while he read his letters and laid them open one above the other, sometimes swaying his head slowly, sometimes screwing up his mouth in inward debate, but not forgetting to cut off a large red seal unbroken, which Letty snatched up like an eager terrier.

The talk among the rest went on unrestrainedly, for nothing disturbed Caleb’s absorption except shaking the table when he was writing.

Two letters of the nine had been for Mary. After reading them, she had passed them to her mother, and sat playing with her tea-spoon absently, till with a sudden recollection she returned to her sewing, which she had kept on her lap during breakfast.

“Oh, don’t sew, Mary!” said Ben, pulling her arm down. “Make me a peacock with this bread-crumb.” He had been kneading a small mass for the purpose.

“No, no, Mischief!” said Mary, good-humoredly, while she pricked his hand lightly with her needle. “Try and mould it yourself: you have seen me do it often enough. I must get this sewing done. It is for Rosamond Vincy: she is to be married next week, and she can’t be married without this handkerchief.” Mary ended merrily, amused with the last notion.

“Why can’t she, Mary?” said Letty, seriously interested in this mystery, and pushing her head so close to her sister that Mary now turned the threatening needle towards Letty’s nose.

“Because this is one of a dozen, and without it there would only be eleven,” said Mary, with a grave air of explanation, so that Letty sank back with a sense of knowledge.

“Have you made up your mind, my dear?” said Mrs. Garth, laying the letters down.

“I shall go to the school at York,” said Mary. “I am less unfit to teach in a school than in a family. I like to teach classes best. And, you see, I must teach: there is nothing else to be done.”

“Teaching seems to me the most delightful work in the world,” said Mrs. Garth, with a touch of rebuke in her tone. “I could understand your objection to it if you had not knowledge enough, Mary, or if you disliked children.”

“I suppose we never quite understand why another dislikes what we like, mother,” said Mary, rather curtly. “I am not fond of a schoolroom: I like the outside world better. It is a very inconvenient fault of mine.”

“It must be very stupid to be always in a girls’ school,” said Alfred. “Such a set of nincompoops, like Mrs. Ballard’s pupils walking two and two.”

“And they have no games worth playing at,” said Jim. “They can neither throw nor leap. I don’t wonder at Mary’s not liking it.”

“What is that Mary doesn’t like, eh?” said the father, looking over his spectacles and pausing before he opened his next letter.

“Being among a lot of nincompoop girls,” said Alfred.

“Is it the situation you had heard of, Mary?” said Caleb, gently, looking at his daughter.

“Yes, father: the school at York. I have determined to take it. It is quite the best. Thirty-five pounds a-year, and extra pay for teaching the smallest strummers at the piano.”

“Poor child! I wish she could stay at home with us, Susan,” said Caleb, looking plaintively at his wife.

“Mary would not be happy without doing her duty,” said Mrs. Garth, magisterially, conscious of having done her own.

“It wouldn’t make me happy to do such a nasty duty as that,” said Alfred—at which Mary and her father laughed silently, but Mrs. Garth said, gravely—

“Do find a fitter word than nasty, my dear Alfred, for everything that you think disagreeable. And suppose that Mary could help you to go to Mr. Hanmer’s with the money she gets?”

“That seems to me a great shame. But she’s an old brick,” said Alfred, rising from his chair, and pulling Mary’s head backward to kiss her.

Mary colored and laughed, but could not conceal that the tears were coming. Caleb, looking on over his spectacles, with the angles of his eyebrows falling, had an expression of mingled delight and sorrow as he returned to the opening of his letter; and even Mrs. Garth, her lips curling with a calm contentment, allowed that inappropriate language to pass without correction, although Ben immediately took it up, and sang, “She’s an old brick, old brick, old brick!” to a cantering measure, which he beat out with his fist on Mary’s arm.

But Mrs. Garth’s eyes were now drawn towards her husband, who was already deep in the letter he was reading. His face had an expression of grave surprise, which alarmed her a little, but he did not like to be questioned while he was reading, and she remained anxiously watching till she saw him suddenly shaken by a little joyous laugh as he turned back to the beginning of the letter, and looking at her above his spectacles, said, in a low tone, “What do you think, Susan?”

She went and stood behind him, putting her hand on his shoulder, while they read the letter together. It was from Sir James Chettam, offering to Mr. Garth the management of the family estates at Freshitt and elsewhere, and adding that Sir James had been requested by Mr. Brooke of Tipton to ascertain whether Mr. Garth would be disposed at the same time to resume the agency of the Tipton property. The Baronet added in very obliging words that he himself was particularly desirous of seeing the Freshitt and Tipton estates under the same management, and he hoped to be able to show that the double agency might be held on terms agreeable to Mr. Garth, whom he would be glad to see at the Hall at twelve o’clock on the following day.

“He writes handsomely, doesn’t he, Susan?” said Caleb, turning his eyes upward to his wife, who raised her hand from his shoulder to his ear, while she rested her chin on his head. “Brooke didn’t like to ask me himself, I can see,” he continued, laughing silently.

“Here is an honor to your father, children,” said Mrs. Garth, looking round at the five pair of eyes, all fixed on the parents. “He is asked to take a post again by those who dismissed him long ago. That shows that he did his work well, so that they feel the want of him.”

“Like Cincinnatus—hooray!” said Ben, riding on his chair, with a pleasant confidence that discipline was relaxed.

“Will they come to fetch him, mother?” said Letty, thinking of the Mayor and Corporation in their robes.

Mrs. Garth patted Letty’s head and smiled, but seeing that her husband was gathering up his letters and likely soon to be out of reach in that sanctuary “business,” she pressed his shoulder and said emphatically—

“Now, mind you ask fair pay, Caleb.”

“Oh yes,” said Caleb, in a deep voice of assent, as if it would be unreasonable to suppose anything else of him. “It’ll come to between four and five hundred, the two together.” Then with a little start of remembrance he said, “Mary, write and give up that school. Stay and help your mother. I’m as pleased as Punch, now I’ve thought of that.”

No manner could have been less like that of Punch triumphant than Caleb’s, but his talents did not lie in finding phrases, though he was very particular about his letter-writing, and regarded his wife as a treasury of correct language.

There was almost an uproar among the children now, and Mary held up the cambric embroidery towards her mother entreatingly, that it might be put out of reach while the boys dragged her into a dance. Mrs. Garth, in placid joy, began to put the cups and plates together, while Caleb pushing his chair from the table, as if he were going to move to the desk, still sat holding his letters in his hand and looking on the ground meditatively, stretching out the fingers of his left hand, according to a mute language of his own. At last he said—

“It’s a thousand pities Christy didn’t take to business, Susan. I shall want help by-and-by. And Alfred must go off to the engineering—I’ve made up my mind to that.” He fell into meditation and finger-rhetoric again for a little while, and then continued: “I shall make Brooke have new agreements with the tenants, and I shall draw up a rotation of crops. And I’ll lay a wager we can get fine bricks out of the clay at Bott’s corner. I must look into that: it would cheapen the repairs. It’s a fine bit of work, Susan! A man without a family would be glad to do it for nothing.”

“Mind you don’t, though,” said his wife, lifting up her finger.

“No, no; but it’s a fine thing to come to a man when he’s seen into the nature of business: to have the chance of getting a bit of the country into good fettle, as they say, and putting men into the right way with their farming, and getting a bit of good contriving and solid building done—that those who are living and those who come after will be the better for. I’d sooner have it than a fortune. I hold it the most honorable work that is.” Here Caleb laid down his letters, thrust his fingers between the buttons of his waistcoat, and sat upright, but presently proceeded with some awe in his voice and moving his head slowly aside—“It’s a great gift of God, Susan.”

“That it is, Caleb,” said his wife, with answering fervor. “And it will be a blessing to your children to have had a father who did such work: a father whose good work remains though his name may be forgotten.” She could not say any more to him then about the pay.

In the evening, when Caleb, rather tired with his day’s work, was seated in silence with his pocket-book open on his knee, while Mrs. Garth and Mary were at their sewing, and Letty in a corner was whispering a dialogue with her doll, Mr. Farebrother came up the orchard walk, dividing the bright August lights and shadows with the tufted grass and the apple-tree boughs. We know that he was fond of his parishioners the Garths, and had thought Mary worth mentioning to Lydgate. He used to the full the clergyman’s privilege of disregarding the Middlemarch discrimination of ranks, and always told his mother that Mrs. Garth was more of a lady than any matron in the town. Still, you see, he spent his evenings at the Vincys’, where the matron, though less of a lady, presided over a well-lit drawing-room and whist. In those days human intercourse was not determined solely by respect. But the Vicar did heartily respect the Garths, and a visit from him was no surprise to that family. Nevertheless he accounted for it even while he was shaking hands, by saying, “I come as an envoy, Mrs. Garth: I have something to say to you and Garth on behalf of Fred Vincy. The fact is, poor fellow,” he continued, as he seated himself and looked round with his bright glance at the three who were listening to him, “he has taken me into his confidence.”

Mary’s heart beat rather quickly: she wondered how far Fred’s confidence had gone.

“We haven’t seen the lad for months,” said Caleb. “I couldn’t think what was become of him.”

“He has been away on a visit,” said the Vicar, “because home was a little too hot for him, and Lydgate told his mother that the poor fellow must not begin to study yet. But yesterday he came and poured himself out to me. I am very glad he did, because I have seen him grow up from a youngster of fourteen, and I am so much at home in the house that the children are like nephews and nieces to me. But it is a difficult case to advise upon. However, he has asked me to come and tell you that he is going away, and that he is so miserable about his debt to you, and his inability to pay, that he can’t bear to come himself even to bid you good by.”

“Tell him it doesn’t signify a farthing,” said Caleb, waving his hand. “We’ve had the pinch and have got over it. And now I’m going to be as rich as a Jew.”

“Which means,” said Mrs. Garth, smiling at the Vicar, “that we are going to have enough to bring up the boys well and to keep Mary at home.”

“What is the treasure-trove?” said Mr. Farebrother.

“I’m going to be agent for two estates, Freshitt and Tipton; and perhaps for a pretty little bit of land in Lowick besides: it’s all the same family connection, and employment spreads like water if it’s once set going. It makes me very happy, Mr. Farebrother”—here Caleb threw back his head a little, and spread his arms on the elbows of his chair—“that I’ve got an opportunity again with the letting of the land, and carrying out a notion or two with improvements. It’s a most uncommonly cramping thing, as I’ve often told Susan, to sit on horseback and look over the hedges at the wrong thing, and not be able to put your hand to it to make it right. What people do who go into politics I can’t think: it drives me almost mad to see mismanagement over only a few hundred acres.”

It was seldom that Caleb volunteered so long a speech, but his happiness had the effect of mountain air: his eyes were bright, and the words came without effort.

“I congratulate you heartily, Garth,” said the Vicar. “This is the best sort of news I could have had to carry to Fred Vincy, for he dwelt a good deal on the injury he had done you in causing you to part with money—robbing you of it, he said—which you wanted for other purposes. I wish Fred were not such an idle dog; he has some very good points, and his father is a little hard upon him.”

“Where is he going?” said Mrs. Garth, rather coldly.

“He means to try again for his degree, and he is going up to study before term. I have advised him to do that. I don’t urge him to enter the Church—on the contrary. But if he will go and work so as to pass, that will be some guarantee that he has energy and a will; and he is quite at sea; he doesn’t know what else to do. So far he will please his father, and I have promised in the mean time to try and reconcile Vincy to his son’s adopting some other line of life. Fred says frankly he is not fit for a clergyman, and I would do anything I could to hinder a man from the fatal step of choosing the wrong profession. He quoted to me what you said, Miss Garth—do you remember it?” (Mr. Farebrother used to say “Mary” instead of “Miss Garth,” but it was part of his delicacy to treat her with the more deference because, according to Mrs. Vincy’s phrase, she worked for her bread.)

Mary felt uncomfortable, but, determined to take the matter lightly, answered at once, “I have said so many impertinent things to Fred—we are such old playfellows.”

“You said, according to him, that he would be one of those ridiculous clergymen who help to make the whole clergy ridiculous. Really, that was so cutting that I felt a little cut myself.”

Caleb laughed. “She gets her tongue from you, Susan,” he said, with some enjoyment.

“Not its flippancy, father,” said Mary, quickly, fearing that her mother would be displeased. “It is rather too bad of Fred to repeat my flippant speeches to Mr. Farebrother.”

“It was certainly a hasty speech, my dear,” said Mrs. Garth, with whom speaking evil of dignities was a high misdemeanor. “We should not value our Vicar the less because there was a ridiculous curate in the next parish.”

“There’s something in what she says, though,” said Caleb, not disposed to have Mary’s sharpness undervalued. “A bad workman of any sort makes his fellows mistrusted. Things hang together,” he added, looking on the floor and moving his feet uneasily with a sense that words were scantier than thoughts.

“Clearly,” said the Vicar, amused. “By being contemptible we set men’s minds to the tune of contempt. I certainly agree with Miss Garth’s view of the matter, whether I am condemned by it or not. But as to Fred Vincy, it is only fair he should be excused a little: old Featherstone’s delusive behavior did help to spoil him. There was something quite diabolical in not leaving him a farthing after all. But Fred has the good taste not to dwell on that. And what he cares most about is having offended you, Mrs. Garth; he supposes you will never think well of him again.”

“I have been disappointed in Fred,” said Mrs. Garth, with decision. “But I shall be ready to think well of him again when he gives me good reason to do so.”

At this point Mary went out of the room, taking Letty with her.

“Oh, we must forgive young people when they’re sorry,” said Caleb, watching Mary close the door. “And as you say, Mr. Farebrother, there was the very devil in that old man. Now Mary’s gone out, I must tell you a thing—it’s only known to Susan and me, and you’ll not tell it again. The old scoundrel wanted Mary to burn one of the wills the very night he died, when she was sitting up with him by herself, and he offered her a sum of money that he had in the box by him if she would do it. But Mary, you understand, could do no such thing—would not be handling his iron chest, and so on. Now, you see, the will he wanted burnt was this last, so that if Mary had done what he wanted, Fred Vincy would have had ten thousand pounds. The old man did turn to him at the last. That touches poor Mary close; she couldn’t help it—she was in the right to do what she did, but she feels, as she says, much as if she had knocked down somebody’s property and broken it against her will, when she was rightfully defending herself. I feel with her, somehow, and if I could make any amends to the poor lad, instead of bearing him a grudge for the harm he did us, I should be glad to do it. Now, what is your opinion, sir? Susan doesn’t agree with me; she says—tell what you say, Susan.”

“Mary could not have acted otherwise, even if she had known what would be the effect on Fred,” said Mrs. Garth, pausing from her work, and looking at Mr. Farebrother.

“And she was quite ignorant of it. It seems to me, a loss which falls on another because we have done right is not to lie upon our conscience.”

The Vicar did not answer immediately, and Caleb said, “It’s the feeling. The child feels in that way, and I feel with her. You don’t mean your horse to tread on a dog when you’re backing out of the way; but it goes through you, when it’s done.”

“I am sure Mrs. Garth would agree with you there,” said Mr. Farebrother, who for some reason seemed more inclined to ruminate than to speak. “One could hardly say that the feeling you mention about Fred is wrong—or rather, mistaken—though no man ought to make a claim on such feeling.”

“Well, well,” said Caleb, “it’s a secret. You will not tell Fred.”

“Certainly not. But I shall carry the other good news—that you can afford the loss he caused you.”

Mr. Farebrother left the house soon after, and seeing Mary in the orchard with Letty, went to say good-by to her. They made a pretty picture in the western light which brought out the brightness of the apples on the old scant-leaved boughs—Mary in her lavender gingham and black ribbons holding a basket, while Letty in her well-worn nankin picked up the fallen apples. If you want to know more particularly how Mary looked, ten to one you will see a face like hers in the crowded street to-morrow, if you are there on the watch: she will not be among those daughters of Zion who are haughty, and walk with stretched-out necks and wanton eyes, mincing as they go: let all those pass, and fix your eyes on some small plump brownish person of firm but quiet carriage, who looks about her, but does not suppose that anybody is looking at her. If she has a broad face and square brow, well-marked eyebrows and curly dark hair, a certain expression of amusement in her glance which her mouth keeps the secret of, and for the rest features entirely insignificant—take that ordinary but not disagreeable person for a portrait of Mary Garth. If you made her smile, she would show you perfect little teeth; if you made her angry, she would not raise her voice, but would probably say one of the bitterest things you have ever tasted the flavor of; if you did her a kindness, she would never forget it. Mary admired the keen-faced handsome little Vicar in his well-brushed threadbare clothes more than any man she had had the opportunity of knowing. She had never heard him say a foolish thing, though she knew that he did unwise ones; and perhaps foolish sayings were more objectionable to her than any of Mr. Farebrother’s unwise doings. At least, it was remarkable that the actual imperfections of the Vicar’s clerical character never seemed to call forth the same scorn and dislike which she showed beforehand for the predicted imperfections of the clerical character sustained by Fred Vincy. These irregularities of judgment, I imagine, are found even in riper minds than Mary Garth’s: our impartiality is kept for abstract merit and demerit, which none of us ever saw. Will any one guess towards which of those widely different men Mary had the peculiar woman’s tenderness?—the one she was most inclined to be severe on, or the contrary?

“Have you any message for your old playfellow, Miss Garth?” said the Vicar, as he took a fragrant apple from the basket which she held towards him, and put it in his pocket. “Something to soften down that harsh judgment? I am going straight to see him.”

“No,” said Mary, shaking her head, and smiling. “If I were to say that he would not be ridiculous as a clergyman, I must say that he would be something worse than ridiculous. But I am very glad to hear that he is going away to work.”

“On the other hand, I am very glad to hear that you are not going away to work. My mother, I am sure, will be all the happier if you will come to see her at the vicarage: you know she is fond of having young people to talk to, and she has a great deal to tell about old times. You will really be doing a kindness.”

“I should like it very much, if I may,” said Mary. “Everything seems too happy for me all at once. I thought it would always be part of my life to long for home, and losing that grievance makes me feel rather empty: I suppose it served instead of sense to fill up my mind?”

“May I go with you, Mary?” whispered Letty—a most inconvenient child, who listened to everything. But she was made exultant by having her chin pinched and her cheek kissed by Mr. Farebrother—an incident which she narrated to her mother and father.

As the Vicar walked to Lowick, any one watching him closely might have seen him twice shrug his shoulders. I think that the rare Englishmen who have this gesture are never of the heavy type—for fear of any lumbering instance to the contrary, I will say, hardly ever; they have usually a fine temperament and much tolerance towards the smaller errors of men (themselves inclusive). The Vicar was holding an inward dialogue in which he told himself that there was probably something more between Fred and Mary Garth than the regard of old playfellows, and replied with a question whether that bit of womanhood were not a great deal too choice for that crude young gentleman. The rejoinder to this was the first shrug. Then he laughed at himself for being likely to have felt jealous, as if he had been a man able to marry, which, added he, it is as clear as any balance-sheet that I am not. Whereupon followed the second shrug.

What could two men, so different from each other, see in this “brown patch,” as Mary called herself? It was certainly not her plainness that attracted them (and let all plain young ladies be warned against the dangerous encouragement given them by Society to confide in their want of beauty). A human being in this aged nation of ours is a very wonderful whole, the slow creation of long interchanging influences: and charm is a result of two such wholes, the one loving and the one loved.

When Mr. and Mrs. Garth were sitting alone, Caleb said, “Susan, guess what I’m thinking of.”

“The rotation of crops,” said Mrs. Garth, smiling at him, above her knitting, “or else the back-doors of the Tipton cottages.”

“No,” said Caleb, gravely; “I am thinking that I could do a great turn for Fred Vincy. Christy’s gone, Alfred will be gone soon, and it will be five years before Jim is ready to take to business. I shall want help, and Fred might come in and learn the nature of things and act under me, and it might be the making of him into a useful man, if he gives up being a parson. What do you think?”

“I think, there is hardly anything honest that his family would object to more,” said Mrs. Garth, decidedly.

“What care I about their objecting?” said Caleb, with a sturdiness which he was apt to show when he had an opinion. “The lad is of age and must get his bread. He has sense enough and quickness enough; he likes being on the land, and it’s my belief that he could learn business well if he gave his mind to it.”

“But would he? His father and mother wanted him to be a fine gentleman, and I think he has the same sort of feeling himself. They all think us beneath them. And if the proposal came from you, I am sure Mrs. Vincy would say that we wanted Fred for Mary.”

“Life is a poor tale, if it is to be settled by nonsense of that sort,” said Caleb, with disgust.

“Yes, but there is a certain pride which is proper, Caleb.”

“I call it improper pride to let fools’ notions hinder you from doing a good action. There’s no sort of work,” said Caleb, with fervor, putting out his hand and moving it up and down to mark his emphasis, “that could ever be done well, if you minded what fools say. You must have it inside you that your plan is right, and that plan you must follow.”

“I will not oppose any plan you have set your mind on, Caleb,” said Mrs. Garth, who was a firm woman, but knew that there were some points on which her mild husband was yet firmer. “Still, it seems to be fixed that Fred is to go back to college: will it not be better to wait and see what he will choose to do after that? It is not easy to keep people against their will. And you are not yet quite sure enough of your own position, or what you will want.”

“Well, it may be better to wait a bit. But as to my getting plenty of work for two, I’m pretty sure of that. I’ve always had my hands full with scattered things, and there’s always something fresh turning up. Why, only yesterday—bless me, I don’t think I told you!—it was rather odd that two men should have been at me on different sides to do the same bit of valuing. And who do you think they were?” said Caleb, taking a pinch of snuff and holding it up between his fingers, as if it were a part of his exposition. He was fond of a pinch when it occurred to him, but he usually forgot that this indulgence was at his command.

His wife held down her knitting and looked attentive.

“Why, that Rigg, or Rigg Featherstone, was one. But Bulstrode was before him, so I’m going to do it for Bulstrode. Whether it’s mortgage or purchase they’re going for, I can’t tell yet.”

“Can that man be going to sell the land just left him—which he has taken the name for?” said Mrs. Garth.

“Deuce knows,” said Caleb, who never referred the knowledge of discreditable doings to any higher power than the deuce. “But Bulstrode has long been wanting to get a handsome bit of land under his fingers—that I know. And it’s a difficult matter to get, in this part of the country.”

Caleb scattered his snuff carefully instead of taking it, and then added, “The ins and outs of things are curious. Here is the land they’ve been all along expecting for Fred, which it seems the old man never meant to leave him a foot of, but left it to this side-slip of a son that he kept in the dark, and thought of his sticking there and vexing everybody as well as he could have vexed ’em himself if he could have kept alive. I say, it would be curious if it got into Bulstrode’s hands after all. The old man hated him, and never would bank with him.”

“What reason could the miserable creature have for hating a man whom he had nothing to do with?” said Mrs. Garth.

“Pooh! where’s the use of asking for such fellows’ reasons? The soul of man,” said Caleb, with the deep tone and grave shake of the head which always came when he used this phrase—“The soul of man, when it gets fairly rotten, will bear you all sorts of poisonous toad-stools, and no eye can see whence came the seed thereof.”

It was one of Caleb’s quaintnesses, that in his difficulty of finding speech for his thought, he caught, as it were, snatches of diction which he associated with various points of view or states of mind; and whenever he had a feeling of awe, he was haunted by a sense of Biblical phraseology, though he could hardly have given a strict quotation.



CHAPTER XLI.

By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.
—Twelfth Night.

The transactions referred to by Caleb Garth as having gone forward between Mr. Bulstrode and Mr. Joshua Rigg Featherstone concerning the land attached to Stone Court, had occasioned the interchange of a letter or two between these personages.

Who shall tell what may be the effect of writing? If it happens to have been cut in stone, though it lie face down-most for ages on a forsaken beach, or “rest quietly under the drums and tramplings of many conquests,” it may end by letting us into the secret of usurpations and other scandals gossiped about long empires ago:—this world being apparently a huge whispering-gallery. Such conditions are often minutely represented in our petty lifetimes. As the stone which has been kicked by generations of clowns may come by curious little links of effect under the eyes of a scholar, through whose labors it may at last fix the date of invasions and unlock religions, so a bit of ink and paper which has long been an innocent wrapping or stop-gap may at last be laid open under the one pair of eyes which have knowledge enough to turn it into the opening of a catastrophe. To Uriel watching the progress of planetary history from the sun, the one result would be just as much of a coincidence as the other.

Having made this rather lofty comparison I am less uneasy in calling attention to the existence of low people by whose interference, however little we may like it, the course of the world is very much determined. It would be well, certainly, if we could help to reduce their number, and something might perhaps be done by not lightly giving occasion to their existence. Socially speaking, Joshua Rigg would have been generally pronounced a superfluity. But those who like Peter Featherstone never had a copy of themselves demanded, are the very last to wait for such a request either in prose or verse. The copy in this case bore more of outside resemblance to the mother, in whose sex frog-features, accompanied with fresh-colored cheeks and a well-rounded figure, are compatible with much charm for a certain order of admirers. The result is sometimes a frog-faced male, desirable, surely, to no order of intelligent beings. Especially when he is suddenly brought into evidence to frustrate other people’s expectations—the very lowest aspect in which a social superfluity can present himself.

But Mr. Rigg Featherstone’s low characteristics were all of the sober, water-drinking kind. From the earliest to the latest hour of the day he was always as sleek, neat, and cool as the frog he resembled, and old Peter had secretly chuckled over an offshoot almost more calculating, and far more imperturbable, than himself. I will add that his finger-nails were scrupulously attended to, and that he meant to marry a well-educated young lady (as yet unspecified) whose person was good, and whose connections, in a solid middle-class way, were undeniable. Thus his nails and modesty were comparable to those of most gentlemen; though his ambition had been educated only by the opportunities of a clerk and accountant in the smaller commercial houses of a seaport. He thought the rural Featherstones very simple absurd people, and they in their turn regarded his “bringing up” in a seaport town as an exaggeration of the monstrosity that their brother Peter, and still more Peter’s property, should have had such belongings.

The garden and gravel approach, as seen from the two windows of the wainscoted parlor at Stone Court, were never in better trim than now, when Mr. Rigg Featherstone stood, with his hands behind him, looking out on these grounds as their master. But it seemed doubtful whether he looked out for the sake of contemplation or of turning his back to a person who stood in the middle of the room, with his legs considerably apart and his hands in his trouser-pockets: a person in all respects a contrast to the sleek and cool Rigg. He was a man obviously on the way towards sixty, very florid and hairy, with much gray in his bushy whiskers and thick curly hair, a stoutish body which showed to disadvantage the somewhat worn joinings of his clothes, and the air of a swaggerer, who would aim at being noticeable even at a show of fireworks, regarding his own remarks on any other person’s performance as likely to be more interesting than the performance itself.

His name was John Raffles, and he sometimes wrote jocosely W.A.G. after his signature, observing when he did so, that he was once taught by Leonard Lamb of Finsbury who wrote B.A. after his name, and that he, Raffles, originated the witticism of calling that celebrated principal Ba-Lamb. Such were the appearance and mental flavor of Mr. Raffles, both of which seemed to have a stale odor of travellers’ rooms in the commercial hotels of that period.

“Come, now, Josh,” he was saying, in a full rumbling tone, “look at it in this light: here is your poor mother going into the vale of years, and you could afford something handsome now to make her comfortable.”

“Not while you live. Nothing would make her comfortable while you live,” returned Rigg, in his cool high voice. “What I give her, you’ll take.”

“You bear me a grudge, Josh, that I know. But come, now—as between man and man—without humbug—a little capital might enable me to make a first-rate thing of the shop. The tobacco trade is growing. I should cut my own nose off in not doing the best I could at it. I should stick to it like a flea to a fleece for my own sake. I should always be on the spot. And nothing would make your poor mother so happy. I’ve pretty well done with my wild oats—turned fifty-five. I want to settle down in my chimney-corner. And if I once buckled to the tobacco trade, I could bring an amount of brains and experience to bear on it that would not be found elsewhere in a hurry. I don’t want to be bothering you one time after another, but to get things once for all into the right channel. Consider that, Josh—as between man and man—and with your poor mother to be made easy for her life. I was always fond of the old woman, by Jove!”

“Have you done?” said Mr. Rigg, quietly, without looking away from the window.

“Yes, I’ve done,” said Raffles, taking hold of his hat which stood before him on the table, and giving it a sort of oratorical push.

“Then just listen to me. The more you say anything, the less I shall believe it. The more you want me to do a thing, the more reason I shall have for never doing it. Do you think I mean to forget your kicking me when I was a lad, and eating all the best victual away from me and my mother? Do you think I forget your always coming home to sell and pocket everything, and going off again leaving us in the lurch? I should be glad to see you whipped at the cart-tail. My mother was a fool to you: she’d no right to give me a father-in-law, and she’s been punished for it. She shall have her weekly allowance paid and no more: and that shall be stopped if you dare to come on to these premises again, or to come into this country after me again. The next time you show yourself inside the gates here, you shall be driven off with the dogs and the wagoner’s whip.”

As Rigg pronounced the last words he turned round and looked at Raffles with his prominent frozen eyes. The contrast was as striking as it could have been eighteen years before, when Rigg was a most unengaging kickable boy, and Raffles was the rather thick-set Adonis of bar-rooms and back-parlors. But the advantage now was on the side of Rigg, and auditors of this conversation might probably have expected that Raffles would retire with the air of a defeated dog. Not at all. He made a grimace which was habitual with him whenever he was “out” in a game; then subsided into a laugh, and drew a brandy-flask from his pocket.

“Come, Josh,” he said, in a cajoling tone, “give us a spoonful of brandy, and a sovereign to pay the way back, and I’ll go. Honor bright! I’ll go like a bullet, by Jove!”

“Mind,” said Rigg, drawing out a bunch of keys, “if I ever see you again, I shan’t speak to you. I don’t own you any more than if I saw a crow; and if you want to own me you’ll get nothing by it but a character for being what you are—a spiteful, brassy, bullying rogue.”

“That’s a pity, now, Josh,” said Raffles, affecting to scratch his head and wrinkle his brows upward as if he were nonplussed. “I’m very fond of you; by Jove, I am! There’s nothing I like better than plaguing you—you’re so like your mother, and I must do without it. But the brandy and the sovereign’s a bargain.”

He jerked forward the flask and Rigg went to a fine old oaken bureau with his keys. But Raffles had reminded himself by his movement with the flask that it had become dangerously loose from its leather covering, and catching sight of a folded paper which had fallen within the fender, he took it up and shoved it under the leather so as to make the glass firm.

By that time Rigg came forward with a brandy-bottle, filled the flask, and handed Raffles a sovereign, neither looking at him nor speaking to him. After locking up the bureau again, he walked to the window and gazed out as impassibly as he had done at the beginning of the interview, while Raffles took a small allowance from the flask, screwed it up, and deposited it in his side-pocket, with provoking slowness, making a grimace at his stepson’s back.

“Farewell, Josh—and if forever!” said Raffles, turning back his head as he opened the door.

Rigg saw him leave the grounds and enter the lane. The gray day had turned to a light drizzling rain, which freshened the hedgerows and the grassy borders of the by-roads, and hastened the laborers who were loading the last shocks of corn. Raffles, walking with the uneasy gait of a town loiterer obliged to do a bit of country journeying on foot, looked as incongruous amid this moist rural quiet and industry as if he had been a baboon escaped from a menagerie. But there were none to stare at him except the long-weaned calves, and none to show dislike of his appearance except the little water-rats which rustled away at his approach.

He was fortunate enough when he got on to the highroad to be overtaken by the stage-coach, which carried him to Brassing; and there he took the new-made railway, observing to his fellow-passengers that he considered it pretty well seasoned now it had done for Huskisson. Mr. Raffles on most occasions kept up the sense of having been educated at an academy, and being able, if he chose, to pass well everywhere; indeed, there was not one of his fellow-men whom he did not feel himself in a position to ridicule and torment, confident of the entertainment which he thus gave to all the rest of the company.

He played this part now with as much spirit as if his journey had been entirely successful, resorting at frequent intervals to his flask. The paper with which he had wedged it was a letter signed Nicholas Bulstrode, but Raffles was not likely to disturb it from its present useful position.



CHAPTER XLII.

How much, methinks, I could despise this man
Were I not bound in charity against it!
—SHAKESPEARE: Henry VIII.

One of the professional calls made by Lydgate soon after his return from his wedding-journey was to Lowick Manor, in consequence of a letter which had requested him to fix a time for his visit.

Mr. Casaubon had never put any question concerning the nature of his illness to Lydgate, nor had he even to Dorothea betrayed any anxiety as to how far it might be likely to cut short his labors or his life. On this point, as on all others, he shrank from pity; and if the suspicion of being pitied for anything in his lot surmised or known in spite of himself was embittering, the idea of calling forth a show of compassion by frankly admitting an alarm or a sorrow was necessarily intolerable to him. Every proud mind knows something of this experience, and perhaps it is only to be overcome by a sense of fellowship deep enough to make all efforts at isolation seem mean and petty instead of exalting.

But Mr. Casaubon was now brooding over something through which the question of his health and life haunted his silence with a more harassing importunity even than through the autumnal unripeness of his authorship. It is true that this last might be called his central ambition; but there are some kinds of authorship in which by far the largest result is the uneasy susceptibility accumulated in the consciousness of the author—one knows of the river by a few streaks amid a long-gathered deposit of uncomfortable mud. That was the way with Mr. Casaubon’s hard intellectual labors. Their most characteristic result was not the “Key to all Mythologies,” but a morbid consciousness that others did not give him the place which he had not demonstrably merited—a perpetual suspicious conjecture that the views entertained of him were not to his advantage—a melancholy absence of passion in his efforts at achievement, and a passionate resistance to the confession that he had achieved nothing.

Thus his intellectual ambition which seemed to others to have absorbed and dried him, was really no security against wounds, least of all against those which came from Dorothea. And he had begun now to frame possibilities for the future which were somehow more embittering to him than anything his mind had dwelt on before.

Against certain facts he was helpless: against Will Ladislaw’s existence, his defiant stay in the neighborhood of Lowick, and his flippant state of mind with regard to the possessors of authentic, well-stamped erudition: against Dorothea’s nature, always taking on some new shape of ardent activity, and even in submission and silence covering fervid reasons which it was an irritation to think of: against certain notions and likings which had taken possession of her mind in relation to subjects that he could not possibly discuss with her. There was no denying that Dorothea was as virtuous and lovely a young lady as he could have obtained for a wife; but a young lady turned out to be something more troublesome than he had conceived. She nursed him, she read to him, she anticipated his wants, and was solicitous about his feelings; but there had entered into the husband’s mind the certainty that she judged him, and that her wifely devotedness was like a penitential expiation of unbelieving thoughts—was accompanied with a power of comparison by which himself and his doings were seen too luminously as a part of things in general. His discontent passed vapor-like through all her gentle loving manifestations, and clung to that inappreciative world which she had only brought nearer to him.

Poor Mr. Casaubon! This suffering was the harder to bear because it seemed like a betrayal: the young creature who had worshipped him with perfect trust had quickly turned into the critical wife; and early instances of criticism and resentment had made an impression which no tenderness and submission afterwards could remove. To his suspicious interpretation Dorothea’s silence now was a suppressed rebellion; a remark from her which he had not in any way anticipated was an assertion of conscious superiority; her gentle answers had an irritating cautiousness in them; and when she acquiesced it was a self-approved effort of forbearance. The tenacity with which he strove to hide this inward drama made it the more vivid for him; as we hear with the more keenness what we wish others not to hear.

Instead of wondering at this result of misery in Mr. Casaubon, I think it quite ordinary. Will not a tiny speck very close to our vision blot out the glory of the world, and leave only a margin by which we see the blot? I know no speck so troublesome as self. And who, if Mr. Casaubon had chosen to expound his discontents—his suspicions that he was not any longer adored without criticism—could have denied that they were founded on good reasons? On the contrary, there was a strong reason to be added, which he had not himself taken explicitly into account—namely, that he was not unmixedly adorable. He suspected this, however, as he suspected other things, without confessing it, and like the rest of us, felt how soothing it would have been to have a companion who would never find it out.

This sore susceptibility in relation to Dorothea was thoroughly prepared before Will Ladislaw had returned to Lowick, and what had occurred since then had brought Mr. Casaubon’s power of suspicious construction into exasperated activity. To all the facts which he knew, he added imaginary facts both present and future which became more real to him than those because they called up a stronger dislike, a more predominating bitterness. Suspicion and jealousy of Will Ladislaw’s intentions, suspicion and jealousy of Dorothea’s impressions, were constantly at their weaving work. It would be quite unjust to him to suppose that he could have entered into any coarse misinterpretation of Dorothea: his own habits of mind and conduct, quite as much as the open elevation of her nature, saved him from any such mistake. What he was jealous of was her opinion, the sway that might be given to her ardent mind in its judgments, and the future possibilities to which these might lead her. As to Will, though until his last defiant letter he had nothing definite which he would choose formally to allege against him, he felt himself warranted in believing that he was capable of any design which could fascinate a rebellious temper and an undisciplined impulsiveness. He was quite sure that Dorothea was the cause of Will’s return from Rome, and his determination to settle in the neighborhood; and he was penetrating enough to imagine that Dorothea had innocently encouraged this course. It was as clear as possible that she was ready to be attached to Will and to be pliant to his suggestions: they had never had a tête-à-tête without her bringing away from it some new troublesome impression, and the last interview that Mr. Casaubon was aware of (Dorothea, on returning from Freshitt Hall, had for the first time been silent about having seen Will) had led to a scene which roused an angrier feeling against them both than he had ever known before. Dorothea’s outpouring of her notions about money, in the darkness of the night, had done nothing but bring a mixture of more odious foreboding into her husband’s mind.

And there was the shock lately given to his health always sadly present with him. He was certainly much revived; he had recovered all his usual power of work: the illness might have been mere fatigue, and there might still be twenty years of achievement before him, which would justify the thirty years of preparation. That prospect was made the sweeter by a flavor of vengeance against the hasty sneers of Carp & Company; for even when Mr. Casaubon was carrying his taper among the tombs of the past, those modern figures came athwart the dim light, and interrupted his diligent exploration. To convince Carp of his mistake, so that he would have to eat his own words with a good deal of indigestion, would be an agreeable accident of triumphant authorship, which the prospect of living to future ages on earth and to all eternity in heaven could not exclude from contemplation. Since, thus, the prevision of his own unending bliss could not nullify the bitter savors of irritated jealousy and vindictiveness, it is the less surprising that the probability of a transient earthly bliss for other persons, when he himself should have entered into glory, had not a potently sweetening effect. If the truth should be that some undermining disease was at work within him, there might be large opportunity for some people to be the happier when he was gone; and if one of those people should be Will Ladislaw, Mr. Casaubon objected so strongly that it seemed as if the annoyance would make part of his disembodied existence.

This is a very bare and therefore a very incomplete way of putting the case. The human soul moves in many channels, and Mr. Casaubon, we know, had a sense of rectitude and an honorable pride in satisfying the requirements of honor, which compelled him to find other reasons for his conduct than those of jealousy and vindictiveness. The way in which Mr. Casaubon put the case was this:—“In marrying Dorothea Brooke I had to care for her well-being in case of my death. But well-being is not to be secured by ample, independent possession of property; on the contrary, occasions might arise in which such possession might expose her to the more danger. She is ready prey to any man who knows how to play adroitly either on her affectionate ardor or her Quixotic enthusiasm; and a man stands by with that very intention in his mind—a man with no other principle than transient caprice, and who has a personal animosity towards me—I am sure of it—an animosity which is fed by the consciousness of his ingratitude, and which he has constantly vented in ridicule of which I am as well assured as if I had heard it. Even if I live I shall not be without uneasiness as to what he may attempt through indirect influence. This man has gained Dorothea’s ear: he has fascinated her attention; he has evidently tried to impress her mind with the notion that he has claims beyond anything I have done for him. If I die—and he is waiting here on the watch for that—he will persuade her to marry him. That would be calamity for her and success for him. She would not think it calamity: he would make her believe anything; she has a tendency to immoderate attachment which she inwardly reproaches me for not responding to, and already her mind is occupied with his fortunes. He thinks of an easy conquest and of entering into my nest. That I will hinder! Such a marriage would be fatal to Dorothea. Has he ever persisted in anything except from contradiction? In knowledge he has always tried to be showy at small cost. In religion he could be, as long as it suited him, the facile echo of Dorothea’s vagaries. When was sciolism ever dissociated from laxity? I utterly distrust his morals, and it is my duty to hinder to the utmost the fulfilment of his designs.”

The arrangements made by Mr. Casaubon on his marriage left strong measures open to him, but in ruminating on them his mind inevitably dwelt so much on the probabilities of his own life that the longing to get the nearest possible calculation had at last overcome his proud reticence, and had determined him to ask Lydgate’s opinion as to the nature of his illness.

He had mentioned to Dorothea that Lydgate was coming by appointment at half-past three, and in answer to her anxious question, whether he had felt ill, replied,—“No, I merely wish to have his opinion concerning some habitual symptoms. You need not see him, my dear. I shall give orders that he may be sent to me in the Yew-tree Walk, where I shall be taking my usual exercise.”

When Lydgate entered the Yew-tree Walk he saw Mr. Casaubon slowly receding with his hands behind him according to his habit, and his head bent forward. It was a lovely afternoon; the leaves from the lofty limes were falling silently across the sombre evergreens, while the lights and shadows slept side by side: there was no sound but the cawing of the rooks, which to the accustomed ear is a lullaby, or that last solemn lullaby, a dirge. Lydgate, conscious of an energetic frame in its prime, felt some compassion when the figure which he was likely soon to overtake turned round, and in advancing towards him showed more markedly than ever the signs of premature age—the student’s bent shoulders, the emaciated limbs, and the melancholy lines of the mouth. “Poor fellow,” he thought, “some men with his years are like lions; one can tell nothing of their age except that they are full grown.”

“Mr. Lydgate,” said Mr. Casaubon, with his invariably polite air, “I am exceedingly obliged to you for your punctuality. We will, if you please, carry on our conversation in walking to and fro.”

“I hope your wish to see me is not due to the return of unpleasant symptoms,” said Lydgate, filling up a pause.

“Not immediately—no. In order to account for that wish I must mention—what it were otherwise needless to refer to—that my life, on all collateral accounts insignificant, derives a possible importance from the incompleteness of labors which have extended through all its best years. In short, I have long had on hand a work which I would fain leave behind me in such a state, at least, that it might be committed to the press by—others. Were I assured that this is the utmost I can reasonably expect, that assurance would be a useful circumscription of my attempts, and a guide in both the positive and negative determination of my course.”

Here Mr. Casaubon paused, removed one hand from his back and thrust it between the buttons of his single-breasted coat. To a mind largely instructed in the human destiny hardly anything could be more interesting than the inward conflict implied in his formal measured address, delivered with the usual sing-song and motion of the head. Nay, are there many situations more sublimely tragic than the struggle of the soul with the demand to renounce a work which has been all the significance of its life—a significance which is to vanish as the waters which come and go where no man has need of them? But there was nothing to strike others as sublime about Mr. Casaubon, and Lydgate, who had some contempt at hand for futile scholarship, felt a little amusement mingling with his pity. He was at present too ill acquainted with disaster to enter into the pathos of a lot where everything is below the level of tragedy except the passionate egoism of the sufferer.

“You refer to the possible hindrances from want of health?” he said, wishing to help forward Mr. Casaubon’s purpose, which seemed to be clogged by some hesitation.

“I do. You have not implied to me that the symptoms which—I am bound to testify—you watched with scrupulous care, were those of a fatal disease. But were it so, Mr. Lydgate, I should desire to know the truth without reservation, and I appeal to you for an exact statement of your conclusions: I request it as a friendly service. If you can tell me that my life is not threatened by anything else than ordinary casualties, I shall rejoice, on grounds which I have already indicated. If not, knowledge of the truth is even more important to me.”

“Then I can no longer hesitate as to my course,” said Lydgate; “but the first thing I must impress on you is that my conclusions are doubly uncertain—uncertain not only because of my fallibility, but because diseases of the heart are eminently difficult to found predictions on. In any case, one can hardly increase appreciably the tremendous uncertainty of life.”

Mr. Casaubon winced perceptibly, but bowed.

“I believe that you are suffering from what is called fatty degeneration of the heart, a disease which was first divined and explored by Laennec, the man who gave us the stethoscope, not so very many years ago. A good deal of experience—a more lengthened observation—is wanting on the subject. But after what you have said, it is my duty to tell you that death from this disease is often sudden. At the same time, no such result can be predicted. Your condition may be consistent with a tolerably comfortable life for another fifteen years, or even more. I could add no information to this beyond anatomical or medical details, which would leave expectation at precisely the same point.” Lydgate’s instinct was fine enough to tell him that plain speech, quite free from ostentatious caution, would be felt by Mr. Casaubon as a tribute of respect.

“I thank you, Mr. Lydgate,” said Mr. Casaubon, after a moment’s pause. “One thing more I have still to ask: did you communicate what you have now told me to Mrs. Casaubon?”

“Partly—I mean, as to the possible issues.” Lydgate was going to explain why he had told Dorothea, but Mr. Casaubon, with an unmistakable desire to end the conversation, waved his hand slightly, and said again, “I thank you,” proceeding to remark on the rare beauty of the day.

Lydgate, certain that his patient wished to be alone, soon left him; and the black figure with hands behind and head bent forward continued to pace the walk where the dark yew-trees gave him a mute companionship in melancholy, and the little shadows of bird or leaf that fleeted across the isles of sunlight, stole along in silence as in the presence of a sorrow. Here was a man who now for the first time found himself looking into the eyes of death—who was passing through one of those rare moments of experience when we feel the truth of a commonplace, which is as different from what we call knowing it, as the vision of waters upon the earth is different from the delirious vision of the water which cannot be had to cool the burning tongue. When the commonplace “We must all die” transforms itself suddenly into the acute consciousness “I must die—and soon,” then death grapples us, and his fingers are cruel; afterwards, he may come to fold us in his arms as our mother did, and our last moment of dim earthly discerning may be like the first. To Mr. Casaubon now, it was as if he suddenly found himself on the dark river-brink and heard the plash of the oncoming oar, not discerning the forms, but expecting the summons. In such an hour the mind does not change its lifelong bias, but carries it onward in imagination to the other side of death, gazing backward—perhaps with the divine calm of beneficence, perhaps with the petty anxieties of self-assertion. What was Mr. Casaubon’s bias his acts will give us a clew to. He held himself to be, with some private scholarly reservations, a believing Christian, as to estimates of the present and hopes of the future. But what we strive to gratify, though we may call it a distant hope, is an immediate desire: the future estate for which men drudge up city alleys exists already in their imagination and love. And Mr. Casaubon’s immediate desire was not for divine communion and light divested of earthly conditions; his passionate longings, poor man, clung low and mist-like in very shady places.

Dorothea had been aware when Lydgate had ridden away, and she had stepped into the garden, with the impulse to go at once to her husband. But she hesitated, fearing to offend him by obtruding herself; for her ardor, continually repulsed, served, with her intense memory, to heighten her dread, as thwarted energy subsides into a shudder; and she wandered slowly round the nearer clumps of trees until she saw him advancing. Then she went towards him, and might have represented a heaven-sent angel coming with a promise that the short hours remaining should yet be filled with that faithful love which clings the closer to a comprehended grief. His glance in reply to hers was so chill that she felt her timidity increased; yet she turned and passed her hand through his arm.

Mr. Casaubon kept his hands behind him and allowed her pliant arm to cling with difficulty against his rigid arm.

There was something horrible to Dorothea in the sensation which this unresponsive hardness inflicted on her. That is a strong word, but not too strong: it is in these acts called trivialities that the seeds of joy are forever wasted, until men and women look round with haggard faces at the devastation their own waste has made, and say, the earth bears no harvest of sweetness—calling their denial knowledge. You may ask why, in the name of manliness, Mr. Casaubon should have behaved in that way. Consider that his was a mind which shrank from pity: have you ever watched in such a mind the effect of a suspicion that what is pressing it as a grief may be really a source of contentment, either actual or future, to the being who already offends by pitying? Besides, he knew little of Dorothea’s sensations, and had not reflected that on such an occasion as the present they were comparable in strength to his own sensibilities about Carp’s criticisms.

Dorothea did not withdraw her arm, but she could not venture to speak. Mr. Casaubon did not say, “I wish to be alone,” but he directed his steps in silence towards the house, and as they entered by the glass door on this eastern side, Dorothea withdrew her arm and lingered on the matting, that she might leave her husband quite free. He entered the library and shut himself in, alone with his sorrow.

She went up to her boudoir. The open bow-window let in the serene glory of the afternoon lying in the avenue, where the lime-trees cast long shadows. But Dorothea knew nothing of the scene. She threw herself on a chair, not heeding that she was in the dazzling sun-rays: if there were discomfort in that, how could she tell that it was not part of her inward misery?

She was in the reaction of a rebellious anger stronger than any she had felt since her marriage. Instead of tears there came words:—

“What have I done—what am I—that he should treat me so? He never knows what is in my mind—he never cares. What is the use of anything I do? He wishes he had never married me.”

She began to hear herself, and was checked into stillness. Like one who has lost his way and is weary, she sat and saw as in one glance all the paths of her young hope which she should never find again. And just as clearly in the miserable light she saw her own and her husband’s solitude—how they walked apart so that she was obliged to survey him. If he had drawn her towards him, she would never have surveyed him—never have said, “Is he worth living for?” but would have felt him simply a part of her own life. Now she said bitterly, “It is his fault, not mine.” In the jar of her whole being, Pity was overthrown. Was it her fault that she had believed in him—had believed in his worthiness?—And what, exactly, was he?— She was able enough to estimate him—she who waited on his glances with trembling, and shut her best soul in prison, paying it only hidden visits, that she might be petty enough to please him. In such a crisis as this, some women begin to hate.

The sun was low when Dorothea was thinking that she would not go down again, but would send a message to her husband saying that she was not well and preferred remaining up-stairs. She had never deliberately allowed her resentment to govern her in this way before, but she believed now that she could not see him again without telling him the truth about her feeling, and she must wait till she could do it without interruption. He might wonder and be hurt at her message. It was good that he should wonder and be hurt. Her anger said, as anger is apt to say, that God was with her—that all heaven, though it were crowded with spirits watching them, must be on her side. She had determined to ring her bell, when there came a rap at the door.

Mr. Casaubon had sent to say that he would have his dinner in the library. He wished to be quite alone this evening, being much occupied.

“I shall not dine, then, Tantripp.”

“Oh, madam, let me bring you a little something?”

“No; I am not well. Get everything ready in my dressing room, but pray do not disturb me again.”

Dorothea sat almost motionless in her meditative struggle, while the evening slowly deepened into night. But the struggle changed continually, as that of a man who begins with a movement towards striking and ends with conquering his desire to strike. The energy that would animate a crime is not more than is wanted to inspire a resolved submission, when the noble habit of the soul reasserts itself. That thought with which Dorothea had gone out to meet her husband—her conviction that he had been asking about the possible arrest of all his work, and that the answer must have wrung his heart, could not be long without rising beside the image of him, like a shadowy monitor looking at her anger with sad remonstrance. It cost her a litany of pictured sorrows and of silent cries that she might be the mercy for those sorrows—but the resolved submission did come; and when the house was still, and she knew that it was near the time when Mr. Casaubon habitually went to rest, she opened her door gently and stood outside in the darkness waiting for his coming up-stairs with a light in his hand. If he did not come soon she thought that she would go down and even risk incurring another pang. She would never again expect anything else. But she did hear the library door open, and slowly the light advanced up the staircase without noise from the footsteps on the carpet. When her husband stood opposite to her, she saw that his face was more haggard. He started slightly on seeing her, and she looked up at him beseechingly, without speaking.

“Dorothea!” he said, with a gentle surprise in his tone. “Were you waiting for me?”

“Yes, I did not like to disturb you.”

“Come, my dear, come. You are young, and need not to extend your life by watching.”

When the kind quiet melancholy of that speech fell on Dorothea’s ears, she felt something like the thankfulness that might well up in us if we had narrowly escaped hurting a lamed creature. She put her hand into her husband’s, and they went along the broad corridor together.