The Rosery Folkñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Old maid!” he said to himself. “I called her an old maid. Good heavens! Why, the woman is a saint!”
Volume Two – Chapter Ten.
Nice Task for an Old Maid
“I declare,” said Aunt Sophia to herself, “it is quite ridiculous as well as shocking. Here I seem to be set up as the head of a sort of wedding bureau, for everybody seized with the silly complaint.”
“Oh, aunt, dear, it isn’t a silly complaint – it’s a very bad one,” sobbed Naomi, who had sought the old lady in her bedroom.
“Oh, stuff and nonsense, child!”
“But it is, aunt; it’s dreadful – worse than anything. You never knew how bad it was.”
“No, child,” said Aunt Sophia softly – “so people say;” and she laid her hand tenderly upon the head of the sobbing girl.
“It – it’s bad enough when – when you think – he loves you – and you – you – you – you are waiting – for him to speak; but – when – wh – wh – when he doesn’t speak at all, and – and you find out – he – he loves some one else – it – it breaks your heart,” sobbed poor Naomi. “I shall never be happy again.”
“Hush, hush, my darling. Not so bad as that, I hope. And pray, who is is that you love, and who loves some one else?”
“Nobody!” cried Naomi, lifting her face and speaking passionately, and with all the child-like anger of a susceptible girl with no very great depth of feeling. “I hate him – I detest him – I’ll never speak to him again. He’s a wicked, base, bad man, and – and – I wish he was dead.”
“Softly, softly. Why, what a baby love is this! Come, come, Naomi; we can’t all pick the bright fruit we see upon the tree; and, my child, those who do, often wish, as I daresay Eve did, that they had left it untouched.”
“I – I don’t know what you mean, aunt dear, but it’s very, very cruel. I did think him so nice and good and handsome.”
“Poor child!” said Aunt Sophia, smiling as the girl rested her head upon her arm, which was upon the old lady’s knee. “And who is this wicked man? Is it Doctor Scales?”
“Oh, what nonsense, aunt! He has always treated me as if I were a child, and – and that’s what I am. To think that I should have made myself so miserable about such a wretch!”
It was a curious mingling of the very young girl and the passionate budding woman, and Aunt Sophia read her very truly as she said softly: “Ah, well, child, time will cure all this. But who has troubled the poor little baby heart?”
“Yes, aunt, that’s right; that’s what it is; but it will never be a baby heart again for such a man as Mr Prayle.”
“And so Mr Prayle has been playing fast and loose with you, has he, dear?”
“No, aunt,” said the girl sadly. “It was all my silliness. He never said a word to me; and I am glad now,” she cried, firing up. “He’s a bad, wicked man.”
“Indeed, my dear,” thought Aunt Sophia, as she recalled Saxby’s words.
“I – I – I went into the study this morning, for I did not like it. I was hurt and annoyed, aunt, dear.
Ought I to tell you all this?”
“Think for yourself, my dear. You have been with me these fifteen years, ever since your poor mother died. I am a cross old woman, I know, full of whims and caprices; but I thought I had tried to fill a mother’s place to you.”
“Oh, auntie, auntie!” sobbed the girl, clinging lightly to her, and drawing herself more and more up, till she could rest her head upon the old lady’s shoulder, “don’t think me ungrateful. I do – I do love you very dearly.”
“Enough to make you feel that there should be no want of confidence between us?”
“O yes, aunt, dear; and I’ll never think of keeping anything back from you again. I’ll tell you everything now, and then I’m sure you’ll say we ought to go away from here.”
“Well, well – we’ll see.”
“I thought I was very fond of Mr Prayle, aunt dear; and then I grew sure that I was, when I saw how he was always being shut up in the study with Kate, and it – it – ”
“Speak out, my dear,” said Aunt Sophia gravely.
“It made me feel so miserable.”
Aunt Sophia’s face puckered, and she bowed her head.
“Then I said that it was wicked and degrading to think what I did, and I drove such thoughts away, and tried to believe that it was all Cousin James’s affairs; and then I saw something else; but I would not believe it was true till this morning.”
“Well, Naomi, my child, and what was it?”
“Why, aunt – Oh, I don’t like to confess – it was so shameless and unmaidenly; but I thought I loved him so very much. I – I – don’t like to confess.”
“Not to me, my dear?”
“Yes, yes; I will, aunt dear – I will,” cried the girl, whose cheeks were now aflame. “It’s about a fortnight ago that one evening, when we were all sitting in the drawing-room with the windows open, and it was so beautiful and soft and warm, Mr Prayle got up and came across and talked to me for a few minutes. It was only about that sketch I was making, and he did not say much, but he said it in such a way that it set my heart beating; and when he left the room, I fancied it meant something. So I got up, feeling terribly guilty, and went out of the window on to the lawn and then down to the rose garden, and picked two or three buds. Then I went round to the grass path where Mr Prayle walks up and down so much with his book.”
“Because you thought he would be there, my dear?”
“Yes, aunt! It was very wrong – but I did.”
“And you thought he had gone out there to read his book in the dark, eh?”
“No, aunt dear; I thought he would be there waiting to see if I would go to him.”
“And you were going?”
“Yes, aunt dear.”
“Was he there?”
“Waiting for you?”
“O no, aunt dear; for as I went softly over the grass, I stopped short all at once, and turned giddy, and felt as if everything was at an end.”
“He was going by me in the darkness with his arm round some one else’s waist!”
Aunt Sophia’s face had never looked so old before, for every wrinkle was deeply marked, and her eyes seemed sunk and strange in their fixed intensity as she waited to hear more; but Naomi remained silent, as if afraid to speak.
“Well, child, and who was it with Mr Prayle?”
Naomi hesitated for a few moments, and then said in a passionate burst: “I did not believe it till this morning, aunt. I thought then that it was Kate; but it seemed so impossible – so terrible – that I dare not think it was she. But when I went quickly into the study this morning, Mr Prayle was just raising her hand to his lips. O aunt, how can people be so wicked! I shall go and be a nun!” Aunt Sophia looked still older, for a time, as she tenderly caressed and fondled the sobbing girl. Then a more serene aspect came over her face, and she said softly: “There, there; you have learned a severe lesson – that Mr Prayle does not care for you; and as to being a nun – no, no, my darling: there is plenty of good work to be done in the world. Don’t shirk it by shutting yourself up. Come, you have been almost a child so far; now, be a woman. Show your pride. There are other and better men than Arthur Prayle; and as to what you saw – it may have been a mistake. Let’s wait and see.”
“And you’ll be brave, and think no more of him?”
“Never again, aunt dear. There!”
“That’s my brave little woman. – Now, bathe your eyes, and stop here till the redness has gone off. I’m going down to write.” She kissed Naomi tenderly, and left her, making her way to the drawing-room, where she wrote several letters, one being to Mr Saxby to ask him to come down again for a day or two, as she wanted to ask his advice about an investment.
Volume Two – Chapter Eleven.
John Monnick Looks at his Traps
It was one of those dark, soft, autumn evenings when the country seems dream-like and delicious. Summer is past, but winter is yet far away; and the year having gone through the light fickleness of spring and the heats of summer, with its changes of cold and passions of storm, has settled down into the mellow maturity, the softened glow, the ripeness of life which indicate its prime.
Doctor Scales was not happy in his mind, he was – and he owned it – in love with the imperious beauty Lady Martlett, but he was at odds with himself for loving her.
“The absurd part of it is,” he said to himself as he lit a cigar and went out into the garden, “that there seems to be no medicine by which a fellow could put himself right. – There,” he said after a pause, “I will not think about her, but about Scarlett.”
He strolled slowly along, finding it intensely dark; but he knew the position of every flower-bed now too well to let his feet stray off the velvet grass, and as he went on, he came round by the open window of the drawing-room, and, looking through the conservatory, stood thinking what a pleasant picture the prettily lighted room formed, with severe Aunt Sophia spectacled and reading, while Naomi was busy over some sketch that she had made during the day.
Lady Scarlett was not there; but it did not excite any surprise; and the doctor stood for some minutes thinking, from his post of observation, that Naomi was a very sweet girl, as nice and simple as she was pretty, and that she would make a man who loved her, one of those gentle equable wives who never change.
“Very different from Lady Scarlett,” he said to himself, as he stood there invisible, but for the glowing end of his cigar. “Ha! I don’t like the way in which things are going, a bit.”
He walked on over the soft mossy grass, with his feet sinking in at every step, and his hands in his pockets, round past the dining-room to where a soft glow shone out from the study window; and on pausing where he could obtain a good view, he stood for some time watching his friend’s countenance, as James Scarlett sat back in his chair with the light from the shaded lamp full upon his face.
“I’m about beaten,” the doctor said to himself. “I’ve tried all I know; and I’m beginning to think that they are all right, and that if Nature does not step in, or fate, or whatever it may be, does not give him some powerful shock, he will remain the wreck he is, perhaps to the end of his days. – Yes, I’m about beaten,” he thought again, as he seized this opportunity of studying his friend’s face unobserved; “but I’m as far off giving up, as I was on the day I started. I won’t give it over as a bad job; but how to go on next, I cannot say. – Just the same,” he muttered after a time, as he noted one or two uneasy movements, and saw a curious wrinkled expression come into the thin troubled face. “Poor old boy! I’d give something to work a cure. – By the way, where’s Prayle? I thought he was here.”
The doctor thrust his hands more deeply into his pockets and strolled away, threading his course in and out amongst the flower-beds, and then, thinking deeply, going on and on down first one green path and then another, his footsteps perfectly inaudible. As he walked on, his mind grew so intent upon the question of his patient’s state, that the cigar went out, and he contented himself with rolling it to and fro between his lips, till he paused involuntarily beside a seat under the tall green hedge that separated the garden from one of the meadows.
“Damp?” said the doctor to himself, as he passed one hand over the seat. “No; dry as a bone;” and he seated himself, throwing up his legs, and leaning back in the corner, listening to the soft crop, crop, crop of one of the cows, still busy in the darkness preparing grass for rumination during the night. “I wonder whether cows ever have any troubles on their minds?” thought Scales. “Yes; of course they do. Calves are taken away, and they fret, and – Hallo! Who’s this?”
He tried to pierce the darkness as he heard heavy breathing, and the dull sound of footsteps coming along the walk, the heavy sound of one who was clumsy of tread, and who was coming cautiously towards him.
“Some scoundrel after the pears. I’ll startle him.”
He had every opportunity for carrying out his plan, for the steps came closer, stopped, and he who had made them drew a long breath, and though the movements were not visible, Scales knew, as well as if he had seen each motion, that the man before him had taken off his hat and was wiping the perspiration from his face.
The man started and made a step back; and the doctor told a fib.
“Oh, you needn’t run,” he said. “I see you. I know who you are.”
“I – I wasn’t going to run, sir,” said John Monnick softly.
“What are you doing here?”
“Well, sir, you see, sir – I – I have got a trap or two down the garden here, and – and – I’ve been seeing whether there’s anything in. You see, sir,” continued the old gardener in an eager whisper, “the rarebuds do such a mort o’ mischief among my young plahnts, that I’m druv-like – reg’lar druv-like – to snare ’em.”
It was rather high moral ground for a man to take who had just told a deliberate untruth; but Doctor Scales took it, and said sharply: “John Monnick, you are telling me a lie!”
“A lie, sir!” whispered the old man. “Hush, sir! pray.”
“Are you afraid the rabbits will hear me? – Shame, man! An old servant like you. – John Monnick, you know me.”
“Ay, sir, I do.”
“Now, don’t you feel ashamed of yourself, an old servant, like you, with always a Scripture text on your tongue, telling me a lie like that about the traps?”
The gardener was silent, and the doctor heard him draw a long breath.
“Well, sir,” he said at last – “and I hope I may be forgiven, as I meant well – it weer not the truth.”
“Then you were after the fruit?”
“I? After the fruit, sir? Bless your heart, no; I was only watching.”
“What! for thieves?”
The gardener hesitated, and remained silent.
“There, that’s better; don’t tell a lie, man. I think the better of you. But shame upon you! with your poor master broken, helpless, and obliged to depend upon his people. To go and rob him now, of all times. John Monnick, you are a contemptible, canting old humbug.”
“No, I aren’t, doctor,” said the old fellow angrily; “and you’ll beg my pardon for this.”
“Beg your pardon?”
“Ay, that you will, sir. It was all on account of master, and him not being able to look after things, as brought me here.”
“I don’t believe you, Monnick.”
“You can do as you like, sir,” said the old man sturdily; “but it’s all as true as gorspel. I couldn’t bear to see such goings-on; and I says to myself, it’s time as they was stopped; and I thought they was, till I come in late to lock up the peach-house, and see her go down the garden.”
The doctor rose from his seat, startled.
“And then I says to myself, he won’t be long before he comes, for its a pyntment.”
“Yes. Well?” said the doctor, who, generally cool to excess, now felt his heart heating strangely.
“Oh, you needn’t believe it without you like, sir. I dessay I am a canting old humbug, sir; but far as in me lies, I means well by him, as I’ve eat his bread and his father’s afore him this many a year.”
“I’m afraid I’ve wronged you, Monnick,” said the doctor hastily.
“You aren’t the first by a good many, sir; but you may as well speak low, or they’ll maybe hear, for I walked up torst the house, and I see him pass the window, and then I watched him. P’r’aps I oughtn’t, but I knowed it weren’t right, and Sir James ought to know.”
“You – you knew of this, then?”
“Yes, sir. Was it likely I shouldn’t, when it was all in my garden! Why, a slug don’t get at a leaf, or a battletwig, or wops at a plum, without me knowing of it; so, was it likely as a gent was going to carry on like that wi’out me finding of it out?”
“And – and is he down the garden now?” said the doctor, involuntarily pressing his hand to his side, to check the action of his heart.
“Ay, that he be, sir; and him a gent as seemed so religious and good, and allus saying proper sort o’ things. It’s set me agen saying ought script’ral evermore.”
There was a dead silence for a few moments; and then the doctor hissed out: “The scoundrel!”
“Ay, that’s it, sir; and of course it’s all his doing, for she was so good and sweet; and it’s touched me quite like to the heart, sir, for master thought so much o’ she.”
“Good heavens! – then my suspicions were right!”
“You suspected too, sir? Well, I don’t wonder.”
“No, no; it is impossible, Monnick, impossible. Man, it must be a mistake.”
“Well, sir,” said the old fellow sturdily, “maybe it be. All of us makes mistakes sometimes, and suspects wrongfully. Even you, sir. But I’m pretty sure as I’m right; and for her sake, I’m going to go and tell master, and have it stopped.”
“No, no, man; are you mad?” cried the doctor, catching him by the arm.
“No more nor most folks be, sir; but I’m not going to see a woman go wrong, and a good true young man’s heart broke, to save a smooth-tongued gent from getting into trouble. It’ll do him good too.”
“Then you mean Mr Prayle?”
“Course I do, sir. There aren’t no one else here, I hope, as would behave that how.”
“Where are you going?” said the doctor, holding the old man tightly by the arm.
“Straight up to Sir James, sir.”
“No, no, man. Let me go.”
“To master, sir?”
“No, no. To Prayle – to them. Where are they?” The doctor’s voice sounded very hoarse, and the blood flushed to his face in his bitter anger as he clenched his hand.
“They’re down in the lower summer-house, sir,” said the old man; “and it’s my dooty to take Sir James strite down to confront him and ask him what he means; see what a bad un he be and then send him about his business, never to come meddling here no more.”
Scales stood perfectly silent, but gripping the old man’s arm tightly. It was confirmation of suspicions that had troubled him again and again. He had crushed them constantly, telling himself that there was no truth in them; that they disgraced him; and here was the end. What should he do? The shock to his friend would be terrible; but would it not be better that he should know – better than going on in such a state as this? The knowledge must come sooner or later, and why not now?
The shock? What of the effects of that shock with his mind in such a state? Would it work ill or good?
“Poor fellow!” he muttered, “as if he had not suffered enough. I never thoroughly believed in her, and yet I have tried. No, no; he must not know.”
“Now, sir, if you’ll let go o’ me, I’m going up to master.”
“No, my man; he must not be told.”
“It’s my dooty to tell him, sir; and I’m a-going to do it.”
“But I don’t know what effect it may have upon him, man.”
“It can’t have a bad one, sir; and it may rouse Sir James up into being the man he was afore the accident. I must make haste, please, sir, or I may be too late.”
“No, Monnick; you must not go.”
“Not go, sir? Well, sir, I don’t want to be disrespeckful to my master’s friends; but I’ve thought this over, and my conscience says it’s my dooty, and I shall go.” The old man shook himself free, and went off at a trot, leaving the doctor hesitating as to the course to pursue.
Should he run after and stop him? Should he go down the garden, interrupt the meeting, and enable them to escape? “No; a hundred times no!” he muttered, stamping his foot. “I must stop him at any cost.” He ran up the garden; but he was too late, for before he reached the house he heard low voices, and found that Scarlett had been tempted out by the beauty of the night – or by fate, as the doctor put it – and was half-way down the path when Monnick had met him.
“Who is this?” he said in a low, agitated voice, as the doctor met them.
“It is I, old fellow,” said the doctor, hastily. – “Now come, be calm. You must govern yourself. Has he told you something?”
“I wanted no telling, Jack,” groaned Scarlett. “The moment he opened his lips, I knew it. I have suspected it for long enough; but I could not stir – I would not stir. He, my own cousin, too; the man I have made my friend. O, heaven, is there no gratitude or manly feeling on the earth!”
“My dear boy, you must – you shall be cool,” whispered the doctor. “You are in a low nervous state, and – ”
“It is false! I am strong. I never felt stronger than to-night. This has brought me to myself. I would not see it, Jack. I blinded myself. I told myself I was mad and a traitor, to imagine such things; but I have felt it all along.”
“And has this been preying on your mind?”
“Preying? Gnawing my heart out. – Don’t stop me. Let us go. Quick! He shall know me for what I am. Not the weak miserable fool he thinks. – Come quickly! – No! stop!” He stood panting, with Scales holding tightly by his arm, trembling for the result.
“Monnick, go back to the house,” said Scarlett, at last in a low whisper; and the old man went without a word.
“Now you stop here,” said Scarlett, in the same low painful whisper. “I will not degrade her more by bringing a witness.”
“But Scarlett – my dear old fellow. There must be no violence. Recollect that you are a gentleman.”
“Yes! I recollect. I am not going to act like a ruffian. You see how calm I am.”
“But it may be some mistake. I have seen nothing. It is all dependent on your gardener’s words. What did he tell you?”
“Hardly a word,” groaned Scarlett, “hardly a word. ‘Prayle – the summer-house.’ It was enough. I tell you, I have suspected it so long. It has been killing me. How could I get well with this upon my mind!”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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