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'The objections are not on the surface at all, they are fundamental. You are probably not in a position to see the case as I do. Such a state of things would be ludicrous; we should all be playing parts in a farce. He cannot have made such a proposal to her; she would have shown him at once its absurdity.'
'But the fact of the matter is that she acceded to it,' said Mr. Athel, with a certain triumph over female infallibility.
'Then I think worse of her than I did, that's all.'
'I'm not at all sure that you are right in that,' observed her brother, with an impartial air. Pray tell me your serious opinion of Miss Hood. One begins, naturally, with a suspicion that she has not been altogether passive in this affair. What Wilf says is, of course, nothing to the point; he protests that her attitude has been irreproachable.'
'Especially in making assignations for six o'clock in the morning.'
'Well, well, that is merely granting the issue; you are a trifle illogical, Edith.'
'No doubt I am. You, on the other hand, seem to be very much of Wilf's opinion. I am sorry that I can't do as you wish.'
'Well, we shall not gain anything by giving way to irritation. He must be told how matters stand, and judge for himself.'
As Mr. Athel was speaking, Wilfrid entered the room. Impatience had overcome him. He knew of course that a discussion was in progress between his father and his aunt, and calm waiting upon other people's decisions was not in his nature. He came forward and seated himself.
'I gather from your look, aunt,' he began, when the others did not seem disposed to break silence, that you take my father's view of what he has been telling you.'
'I am not sure what your father's view is,' was Mrs. Rossall's reply, given very coldly. But I certainly think you have proposed what is impossible.'
'Yes, you are right,' rejoined Wilfrid, to the surprise of both. 'The plan was not well considered. Pray think no more of it.' 'What do you substitute?' his father inquired, after another long silence.
'I cannot say.' He paused, then continued with some emotion, 'I would gladly have had your sympathy. Perhaps I fail to see the whole matter in the same light as yourselves, but it seems to
me that in the step I have taken there is nothing that should cause lasting difference between us. I involve the family in no kind of disgrace-that, I suppose, you admit ?'
Mrs. Rossall made no answer. Mr. Athel moved uneasily . upon his chair, coughed, seemed about to speak, but in the end said nothing.
'I am afraid I shall not be able to leave England with you,' continued Wilfrid, rising. But that fortunately need cause no change in your plans.'
Mr. Athel was annoyed at his sister's behaviour. He had looked to her for mediation; clearly she would offer nothing of the kind. She was wrapping herself in a cloak of offended dignity; she had withdrawn from the debate.
'Come with me to my room,' he said, moving from his chair. 'I think it will be better to have no further discussion,' Wilfrid replied, firmly, at all events to-night.'
'As you please,' said his father, shortly.
He went from the room, and Wilfrid, without further speech to his aunt, presently followed.
I HAVE now to introduce the reader into the privacy of Mrs. Walker's bedroom. One morning that lady got up at six o'clock, and devoted two hours to her correspondence. It will simplify matters if I give a copy of her letter; it was addressed to
Mrs. Martha Wilson,
and it ran as follows:
'Much of importance has occurred, dear Patty, since my last, and new and unexpected difficulties have arisen. Never believe the penny tracts when they tell you the ways of the wicked are set with snares; it is the path of virtue that is full of briars and thorns, and I am much torn and damaged by them already. You will be surprised to see that I address you from the Rookery; but I am actually established here, boxes and all. A day or two ago, when Joe and I came in from our walk, who should we find awaiting us but his sister-in-law and his cousin, one Joanna Armstrong. Joe had only just written to his brother to announce our engagement, and here suddenly were these ladies dropped from the skies. Of course the object of their visit was quite plain. Joanna told a glib little tale about visiting a friend in Richmond, but of course they came to have a look at me, and to snatch Joe out of my hands. I mastered the position at a glance, and scored a point VOL. X.-NO. 57, N.S.
by saying I could now stay at the Rookery under their protection. I appropriated the best bedroom and had my boxes brought up that evening: it will clearly be war to the knife. I could manage the Dean's wife; she is a little, fat, good-natured thing; but Joanna is quite another customer. I felt with her it would be useless to do the pathetic. Her eyes surveyed me leisurely from top to toe, taking stock of my dress, my voice, my manner, everything. Luckily, my stage training stood me in good stead just then, and I was perfectly self-possessed; but before the evening was over, those sharp eyes found out my weak point and stabbed me through it with desperate vigour: but more of that further on.
'I think I shall hold my own. Uncle Joe is well in hand. I have allowed him to see that I am not only a lovable little woman, but a resolute one too. He is devoted to me.
'The mental strain of coaching yourself up in art and literature is something dreadful. If it were not for Kügler I should be all at sea. There are two men that I shall hate to my dying day, one is Giotto and the other is Botticelli. You've never heard of either of them, lucky creature that you are! They were painters, and died hundreds of years ago, but left works behind them which, alas! don't follow them.
'At present Joe is passing through a Browning phase. I feel easier there, because no one is ever expected to understand him, and the old man likes you to be ignorant that he may "develope" you.
'Both the ladies are more fogged over him than even I am. Joanna never joins in the discussions; she always pulls a shirt out of her work-basket and stitches at that. She sews as viciously as if it were my shroud: doesn't she wish it was! Last night Joe read to us a thing called "James Lee's wife." When he had done, he solemnly asked Mrs. Perkins why James left his wife. She said she had not gathered that he did leave her. This was unlucky, as his departure appears to constitute the point of the thing, if it can be said to have any. He then turned to me, but I was prepared for him. I burst into tears, I hid my face in my hands, then I rose and staggered to the door. I blindly searched for the handle (you used to compliment me on my exit in "Aladdin," but it was nothing to my exit when I found "James Lee" was after me). Joe rushed to my help. As I staggered from the room I heard Joanna's needle clicking through that horrid shirt more viciously than ever, and between the clicks I heard her
mutter “Humbug!' Joe led me to the study and I made some little capital out of the next ten minutes. Your quick intelligence would suggest the few hints that I gasped out between my sobs. "Old wounds reopened: " the terrible resemblance to my own case: dark hints at the extreme similarity of James Lee to my poor dear departed Walker.
'Joanna is full of business. Yesterday she had a telegram. It was a joy to know that she had to pay four-and-sixpence for mileage. I feel I am skating on thin ice whilst she is here, and I must hurry on my marriage. Luckily her sons are too young to go to music-halls, and the Dean's wife would as soon think of visiting the lower regions.
'I feel I am playing for high stakes. Uncle Joe told me all about his money the other day. His capital is twenty thousand pounds. He says all interest is usury, and draws out five hundred pounds a year. Having given himself forty more years of life, that will bring him to ninety. You may be sure that I shall re-arrange his money matters directly I am married.
'How is poor dear Charlie? I think of him often. I wish less often, for we must each go our own ways now. After all my storm and trouble I am entitled to a little rest. My two years of governessing are a help to me now. My French is irreproachable.
'It's no good thinking of the past, but I often do. The last two years at the Pavilion were not so bad, if I could have left the fizz alone. That reminds me of my great blunder here. The first night those women came we had some music. That's harmless; but we had some spirits, and that's the devil. The very smell of whisky drove me half mad. Joanna mixed it for me. It was nearly neat I believe. I tossed it off, sat down to the piano, and gave them "Houp la!" I felt as if I were possessed by a legion of devils; I knew I did it fatally well. I wasn't drunk, only "on,' but if she had given me another bumper I should have gone clean off my head. Joe asked me if it were a Hungarian national song! It was my first and my last mistake. Ever since I have been extra careful. Farewell.
'Your loving friend,
Other correspondence was going on that same day. Said Joanna to Maggie :