“Oh, John Maine!” exclaimed Eve, reproachfully, “what would Jessie think if she saw you quarrelling with that man?”
“Beg pardon, Miss, I’m sure,” said the young man, pulling off his felt hat. “It was no seeking of mine. He’s always trying to pick a quarrel with me. He is, indeed, Mrs Glaire; and he won’t be happy till he’s been well thrashed. But hadn’t you ladies – I mean – I beg your pardon, Miss Eve – hadn’t you better go back out of the wood?”
“No, thank you, John,” said Eve, smiling at the young man’s confusion. “We have only just come.”
“But it is getting damp, Miss,” said the young fellow, who was foreman at Bultitude’s farm.
“You didn’t think it was damp the other night, John, when you were up here in the wood with Jessie.”
“No, Miss, very true,” said the young man; “but perhaps Thomas Brough will come back.”
“Then,” said Mrs Glaire, quietly, “I should advise you to go back home at once, John.”
“Well, if you will have it, you will,” muttered the young man. “I did my best to stop it;” and with a rough salutation he went on his way.
“Eve, my dear, I should not go too often to Bultitude’s,” said Mrs Glaire. “Jessie is very well, but she is rather below the station you are to take, and – quick – here, come away – this way.”
She started up, and tried to drag Eve away, but she was too late; and her efforts to prevent the scene down the glade before them being seen by her young companion were in vain. For there, plainly visible in the golden glow, and framed as it were in the bower-like hazels, stood, with their backs to them, Richard Glaire and Daisy Banks.
The young couple were as motionless as those who gazed, for in an impetuous angry way, Eve had snatched herself free, and stood looking down the glade, while Mrs Glaire seemed petrified.
The next moment though, just as she was about to whisper hastily to Eve something about an accidental meeting, they saw Richard pass his arm round Daisy, who, nothing loth, allowed the embrace, and then as his lips sought hers, she threw her arms round his neck and responded to his caress.
It was a long cooing kiss, and it might have been longer, but as Richard Glaire drew Daisy closer to him, he slightly changed his position, and raising his eyes from the pretty flushed face he saw that they were observed, and started back with an oath.
Daisy turned wonderingly, and then, seeing who was watching them, she uttered a faint cry, and ran off swiftly down the mossy pathway, while, after hesitating whether he should follow her or not, and with a red spot of shame burning in each cheek, Dick took out his case, chose a cigar, nibbled off the end with an affectation of nonchalance, and striking a light, began to smoke.
“I shan’t turn tail,” he muttered. “I’m my own master, and I shall face it out.”
“Oh aunt, aunt, aunt!” moaned Eve; “is that true?”
“True! yes,” exclaimed Mrs Glaire, in a low, angry voice.
“But Dick cannot – Oh aunt, aunt, take me home – take me home.”
Poor Eve turned aside, sobbing bitterly, and covered her face with her hands to hide the hateful sight; but in vain, for there, as it were, standing out clear and bright before her, was Daisy Banks, with her soft, round little face and pouting lips, turned up to receive Richard Glaire’s kisses; and to her it seemed so horrible, so impossible, that she could not believe it true. It came upon her like a sudden shock, and she was stunned; for with all Richard’s ill-humour and extravagance, she could never believe him anything but true and honourable, and in her simple, trusting way, she asked herself if it was possible that there was a mistake.
“Give me your hand, child,” said Mrs Glaire, in a low, constrained voice; and catching that of Eve, with almost angry force; she led her on to where her son leaned nonchalantly against a tree, watching their coming.
The wood was now flooded with the rich golden sunset light, and every leaf and twig seemed turned to ruddy gold, while Dick, her young hero, the man she loved, and who was to be her husband, seemed to Eve, seen through a veil of tears, more handsome than ever she had seen him before.
And he did not love her! His love was given to Daisy Banks! Oh, no, she told herself; it was not true – it was some mistake; and with her breath coming in sobs, and her heart beating rapidly, she clung to her aunt’s hand as they approached.
Mrs Glaire stopped short when they reached the tree, and speaking in a very cold, contemptuous way, she raised her one hand at liberty, and pointing in the direction in which one of the two actors in the little comedy had fled, she said —
“Is this my son Richard?”
“No,” said Dick, with a forced laugh, and with a display of effrontery far from in keeping with his abject looks, “No – that was Daisy Banks.”
“I say, is this my son?” exclaimed Mrs Glaire, speaking in the same cold measured way.
“I suppose so,” said Dick, contemptuously. “There, don’t make a bother out here in the wood;” and he half-turned away to gaze up towards where a thrush was loudly singing its farewell to the day.
“I say is this my son?” reiterated Mrs Glaire, “who promised me upon his word of honour as a gentleman that he would see Daisy Banks no more.”
“Oh aunt,” cried Eve, with almost a shriek of pain, as these words were to her like the lifting of a veil, “did you know of this?”
“Yes,” said Mrs Glaire, sternly, “I knew, my child, that he was playing false to you, and that he was often seeing this miserable girl.”
“There, let her alone,” said Richard, defiantly.
“I knew it, Eve,” continued Mrs Glaire, speaking with suppressed anger; “but on my remonstrating, he promised me that it should all be at an end, and for the time, like a weak, foolish mother, I believed in his honour as a gentleman, and that he would keep his word to me and be faithful to you. You see how he keeps his word.”
“There, that’ll do,” cried Richard, defiantly. “I’m not going to be bullied. I like the girl, and shall marry her if I choose.”
“Liar! Coward!” exclaimed Mrs Glaire. “You would not marry her: but break the miserable girl’s heart, as you would break that of your cousin, if I would stand by and see you do the wrong.”
“Oh no, no, no, aunt – aunt – pray don’t,” sobbed Eve, interposing. “You are hard upon dear Dick, aunt. He does not care for her: it is some mistake. He cannot care for her. It is Daisy’s doing; the wicked girl has led him away. Dick, dear Dick, tell me, tell me, you don’t love her, that – that – Oh, Dick, it can’t – it can’t be true.”
She threw herself sobbing on his breast, but with a degree of force, hardly to be expected from her, Mrs Glaire drew Eve away and stood between them.
“No,” she exclaimed, “he shall not touch you; he shall never touch you again till this disgrace is wiped away, and he has shown himself in some way worthy of your love; for I will not stand by and see your future blasted by the action of a son who has proved himself a scoundrel.”
“Look here, mother,” cried Richard, hotly, “I’m not going to stand all this. You want me to marry Eve, and I shall marry her some day; but if I choose to be a bit gay first I shall. I’m my own master and shall do as I like.”
“Worse and worse!” exclaimed Mrs Glaire, whose voice was now an angry whisper. “Not one blush of shame – not one word of sorrow or humility before the pure, sweet, forgiving girl, whose feelings you have outraged. I ask myself again – as I could almost say, thank God your father is not alive to know it! – is this my son?”
“There, confound your heroics!” exclaimed Richard, impatiently.
“You say I want you to marry Eve, and that some day you will,” continued Mrs Glaire. “Disabuse your mind, Richard, for I do not wish you to many Eve, and marry her you shall not.”
“There, that’ll do,” cried Richard; “I’ve had enough of this. Here, come along with me, Evey. I’ll walk home with you and explain all.”
He tried to take Eve’s hand, to draw through his arm, but she drew back from him, looking cold and pale, while her eyes dilated, and she shuddered slightly.
“Here, walk home with me, you little silly,” he continued.
“No – no – no,” said Eve, slowly, as she turned from him, and clinging to Mrs Glaire’s arm, she hid her face upon her aunt’s shoulder, as in those few moments her girlhood’s innocent belief and trust in her cousin passed away, and with the eyes of a woman she for the first time saw him in his true character.
“As you like,” said Richard, flippantly, and assuming an injured tone. “You’ll be sorry for this.”
No one answered him, for Mrs Glaire drew Eve’s arm through hers, and without a word they walked hastily home.
“Damn it all!” exclaimed Richard, taking the cigar from his mouth, and throwing it impatiently down. “How cursedly unlucky. Well, I don’t care: they must have known it some day. Evey will soon forget it all, and I shall easily get round the old woman with a bit of coaxing. Now where’s little Daisy?”
He walked hastily down the path by which she had fled, knowing only too well that it led farther into the wood, and feeling sure that he should find her waiting for him to join her.
He was quite right, for before long he came upon her, sitting down and crying as though her heart would break.
“Hallo! little pet,” he cried; and she started up in a frightened way at his words, “what have you got to cry about? I’m the one that ought to bellow. See what a wigging I’ve had.”
“Oh, Mr Richard!” sobbed Daisy.
“There, Mister Richard again,” he cried, catching her in his arms.
“Then Dick, dear Dick, there must be no more of this, I shall never be able to hold my face up in the place again.”
“Stuff!” he cried, “come along.”
“No, no,” she sobbed. “I’m going straight home now.”
“Just as you like,” he said, cavalierly, and he took out his cigar-case.
“Don’t be angry with me, Dick, please; for I’m so unhappy,” sobbed the girl.
“You’ve got nothing to be unhappy about, I’m sure,” he said. “It’s only what, I told you. The old woman won’t stand it, and we shall have to make a bolt. You see it now yourself.”
“Ah, but father – mother, Dick.”
“They’ll soon come round, like my old lady will.”
“But I couldn’t go, Dick, dear Dick. Do pray speak to father.”
“Not I,” said the young fellow, coolly.
“Then let me, pray let me.”
“No, nor I shan’t let you do that neither. He won’t mind; and I’m not going to be talked to and patted on the back and that sort of stuff. If you love me as you say you do, you’ll listen to what I say.”
Daisy looked at him uneasily, and then turned away her face, sobbing to herself, “Oh, dear.”
“Now then,” continued Dick, “let’s finish our walk.”
“No, no,” sobbed Daisy, “I must go back home now.”
“Not yet you won’t,” he said, angrily.
“But indeed, indeed I must, Dick, dear Dick. Pray don’t speak crossly to me.”
“You get worse and worse,” he said. “There’s always some silly excuse ready.”
“But I must – indeed I must go home now, Dick,” cried Daisy, imploringly.
“And I say you shan’t yet,” said the young man, half angrily, half laughing; and then – “Curse it – there’s that Tom Podmore again, with young Maine. Did you know he was coming?”
“No, no: indeed no,” cried the girl, reproachfully.
“He’s always watching us,” cried Richard, and catching Daisy’s arm, he walked with her rapidly down a path leading to one of the outlets of the wood, where they parted, Daisy hurrying home to be received with a quiet nod by her father, who was just going out, while her mother looked at her curiously as she went to take off her things.
Joe Banks made his way straight through the place to the big house, where, on knocking at the front door, it was evident that he was expected, the girl saying quietly —
“Missus will see you in her room, Mr Banks.”
“All raight, my lass,” said Joe; and he followed the girl into a little room off the hall, where the walls were ornamented with maps and patterns, and shelves bearing rough account books, while here and there stood a dingy-looking wooden model of some piece of machinery.
“Evening, mum,” said Joe, quietly. “I’ve come, as you sent for me; but it ain’t no use. Things are just where they weer, and unless Master Dick comes down, the works will keep shut.”
“I didn’t send for you about that,” said Mrs Glaire, hastily.
“No!” said Joe, quietly.
“No,” said Mrs Glaire, clearing her throat and speaking rather excitedly. “You know I spoke to you once before, Joe Banks, about – about – ”
“There, don’t beat about, Missus,” said Joe, with a happy smile spreading over his countenance. “I know, about Master Dick and my Daisy.”
“Yes,” said Mrs Glaire, “and I spoke to my son about it.”
“Did you?” chuckled Joe. “Well, I never spoke a word to my gal.”
“I spoke to my son,” continued Mrs Glaire, “and pointed out the impossibility and impropriety of his proceedings.”
“Did you, though?” chuckled Joe. “Why, lor’ a mercy, Missus, what’s the good o’ being so proud? Flesh and blood’s flesh and blood all the world over.”
“I talked to him earnestly upon the point,” said Mrs Glaire, not heeding the interruption.
“Theer, theer,” said Joe, smiling. “What good was it? why did you do it?”
“And my son saw the force of my remarks, and gave me his promise that he would see Daisy no more.”
“Ah, he did, did he?” chuckled Joe. “He promised you that?”
“Yes,” said Mrs Glaire, angrily; “and he has broken his promise.”
“Of course he has,” said Joe, chuckling. “You might ha’ known it. When a young couple like them comes together, it’s no use for the old uns to try and stop it. They’ll manage it somehow. They’re sure to be too many for you.”
“Joe Banks, you put me out of patience,” cried Mrs Glaire, angrily. “Can you not see how important this matter is?”
“Important? Of course I do,” said Joe, quietly, “a very important step for both of ’em.”
“Listen!” cried Mrs Glaire; “things are coming to a crisis, and for your sake they must be stopped.”
“Strikes me,” said Joe, bluntly, “that you’re thinking a vast more of yourself, Missus Glaire, than of me.”
“I’m thinking of the future of my son and of your daughter, Mr Banks,” said Mrs Glaire.
“So am I,” said Joe, quietly; “but you’re so proud.”
“I tell you, man, that I met them this evening together in the wood,” cried Mrs Glaire. “My son, with Daisy, your child, in his arms.”
“Ah, you did, did you, Missus?” said Joe, chuckling. “He was kissing of her, I suppose.”
“Yes,” exclaimed Mrs Glaire, indignantly.
“Well, I thought as much,” said Joe, quietly. “The lass had got a rare red face when I met her as she come in.”
“Do you hear what I say?” cried Mrs Glaire angrily. “I say I saw them to-night in the wood, after he had promised me to give her up.”
“Oh, yes,” said Joe, in a calm, unruffled way, “I heard you say so, and if you’d been in the wood every day for the past month, I’d bet you’d ha’ sin ’em. They’re often theer.”
“Joe Banks!” cried Mrs Glaire, half rising from her chair.
“Theer, theer, Missus, what’s the good o’ making a fuss, and being so proud? I’ve give my Daisy a good eddication, and she’s quite a scholard. She can write as pretty a letter as any one need wish to see, and keeps accounts beautiful.”
“Joe Banks, you are blind,” cried Mrs Glaire, passionately. “I want to save your child from shame, and you – ”
“Howd hard theer – howd hard theer, Missus,” cried Joe, rising; and his rugged face flushed up. “I respect you, Missus Glaire, like a man, and I don’t wonder as it touches your pride a bit, but I won’t sit here and hear you talk like that theer. My Daisy’s as good and honest a girl as ever stepped, and I’d troost her anywheers; while, as to your son, he’s arbitrary, but you’ve browt him up as a gentleman, and do you think I’m going to believe he means harm by my darling? No, no, I know better.”
“But, you foolish man – ”
“Missus Glaire, I won’t call you a foolish woman; I’ve too much respect for you; but I think so, and I think as it isn’t me as is blind, but some one else. Theer, theer, what’s the good of kicking again it. They’ve made up their minds to come together, and you may just as well let ’em by the gainest coot, as send ’em a long ways round. But, theer, Missus, don’t think like that of your own flesh and blood. Why, Missus, am I to respect your son more than you do yoursen?”
“Dick has deceived me,” cried Mrs Glaire, with the tears running down her cheeks.
“Well, but it won’t anser,” said Joe, calming down. “He’s fond o’ the lass, and he was standing ’tween her and you,” he continued, smiling at his own imagery. “You was pulling one way and she was pulling the other, and young love pulled the strongest. Of course it did, as was very natural.”
“Will you send Daisy away, and try and stop it?” cried Mrs Glaire, angrily.
“No, I won’t do neither,” said Joe, stoutly. “Why should I? What call is there for me to go again my master and make my lass miserable, because you think she ain’t good enough for your boy?”
“Then I must act, Joe Banks,” said Mrs Glaire, “for see her he shall not.”
“Theer, theer, what can you do?” chuckled Joe. “Better let things go their own way.”
“I tell you, man, that for your daughter’s sake, you ought to put a stop to this.”
“I can’t stop it,” said Joe, smiling; “nor no one else. You tried, and found you couldn’t, so what could I do? Let ’em alone, and my Daisy shan’t disgrace you; and look here, if it’s money, I’ve got a thousand pounds saved up, and it’s all hers. Theer!”
“Man, man, what can I say to you?” said Mrs Glaire, checkmated by the obstinate faith of Banks in her son.
“Nowt,” said Joe, sturdily; “what’s the good o’ talking? Take my advice, Missus Glaire – let things bide.”
Mrs Glaire wrung her hands in despair as she gazed enviously in the frank, bluff workman’s face, and wished that she could feel the same calm trust in the boy who had been her sole thought for so many years, and as she gazed Joe Banks said sturdily:
“Look here, Missus, no offence meant; but they do say as marriages is made in heaven.”
“Yes, Joe, marriages,” exclaimed Mrs Glaire, passionately.
“Well, I weer a-talking about marriages,” said Joe, quietly; “so you take my advice and let things bide.”
“You will not take my advice, Banks,” exclaimed Mrs Glaire. “But, look here, I have warned you, I have begged of you to help me, and you refuse.”
“O’ course I do,” said Joe Banks, sturdily. “I’m not going to fight again my own flesh and blood on a question o’ position. Look here,” he continued, now speaking angrily, “I never was jealous of my old master’s rise in life, and I stuck to him and helped him, and he made me promise to stick by and help his son; and that I’m going to do, for I don’t believe if he’d been alive he’d ha’ been owt but pleased to see his boy make up to my gal. It ain’t my seeking: it’s Master Dick’s. He loves she, and she loves he, and before I’ll step ’twixt ’em, and say as one workman’s son’s too big for the other workman’s daughter, I’ll be – . No, I won’t, not before you, Missus; and now good night, and I wish the strike well ended.”
Joe Banks swung out of the room with all the sturdy independence of a man with a thousand pounds of his own, and then made his way home, while Mrs Glaire sat as it were stunned.
“What can I do? What can I do?” she muttered; and then sat thinking till Eve, looking very pale and ill, walked softly into the room, and knelt by her side, turning up her sad face and red eyes to those of the troubled mother.
“Aunt, dear,” she whispered, “Dick has just come in, and gone up to his room. Shall we ask him to come down to us?”
“What for?” said Mrs Glaire sharply.
“Don’t you think, Aunt, we ought to try and forgive him, and win him back?”
Mrs Glaire rose slowly, and went to a side table, from which she took a Prayer-book, and read from it the sentence beginning, “I will arise,” to the end; and then, laying down the book, she took Eve’s head between her hands, and kissed her white forehead gently.
“Eve, my child, yes, we ought to try and forgive him; I, for his cruel deceit of the woman who gave him birth; you, for his outrage against the woman who was to be his wife. I will forgive him, but he must come – he must arise and come, and seek for pardon first. While you – ”
“Oh, Aunt, Aunt,” moaned Eve, hiding her face in the elder’s breast, “I never knew before how much I loved him.”
“And you forgive him, child?”
“Yes, Aunt, I forgive,” said Eve, raising her head, and looking sadly in the elder woman’s face, “I forgive him, but – ”
“But what, my child?”
“All that is past now – for ever.”
Mrs Glaire did not speak for a few moments, but stood holding her niece’s hand, looking straight away from her into vacancy, while from above there floated slowly down and entered the room the penetrating fumes of the cigar Dick was smoking in his bedroom, as with his heels upon the table, and a glass of spirits and water by his side, he amused himself by reading a French novel, growling every now and then as he came across some idiom or local phrase which he could not make out, and apparently quite oblivious of the fact that three women were making themselves wretched on his behalf.
Suddenly a low whistle was heard, and Mrs Glaire started.