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- He Knew He Was Right - 100/179 -


'How do I know that I shall ever be better? He isn't off with those people at Heavitree is he?'

'I hope not, aunt.'

'Psha! A poor, weak, insufficient creature, that's what he is. Mr Jennings is worth twenty of him.' Dorothy, though she put the question again in its most alluring form of Christian charity and forgiveness, could not induce her aunt to say that she would see Mr Gibson. 'How can I see him, when you know that Sir Peter has forbidden me to see anybody, except Mrs Clifford and Mr Jennings?'

Two days afterwards there was an uncomfortable little scene at Heavitree. It must, no doubt, have been the case, that the same train of circumstances which had produced Mr Gibson's visit to the Close, produced also the scene in question. It was suggested by some who were attending closely to the matter that Mr Gibson had already come to repent his engagement with Camilla French; and, indeed, there were those who pretended to believe that he was induced, by the prospect of Miss Stanbury's demise, to transfer his allegiance yet again, and to bestow his hand upon Dorothy at last. There were many in the city who could never be persuaded that Dorothy had refused him, these being, for the most part, ladies in whose estimation the value of a husband was counted so great, and a beneficed clergyman so valuable among suitors, that it was to their thinking impossible that Dorothy Stanbury should in her sound senses have rejected such an offer. 'I don't believe a bit of it,' said Mrs Crumbie to Mrs Apjohn; 'is it likely?' The ears of all the French family were keenly alive to rumours, and to rumours of rumours. Reports of these opinions respecting Mr Gibson reached Heavitree, and had their effect. As long as Mr Gibson was behaving well as a suitor, they were inoperative there. What did it matter to them how the prize might have been struggled for, might still be struggled for elsewhere, while they enjoyed the consciousness of possession? But when the consciousness of possession became marred by a cankerous doubt, such rumours were very important. Camilla heard of the visit in the Close, and swore that she would have justice done her. She gave her mother to understand that, if any trick were played upon her, the diocese should be made to ring of it, in a fashion that would astonish them all, from the bishop downwards. Whereupon Mrs French, putting much faith in her daughter's threats, sent for Mr Gibson.

'The truth is, Mr Gibson,' said Mrs French, when the civilities of their first greeting had been completed, 'my poor child is pining.'

'Pining, Mrs French!'

'Yes pining, Mr Gibson. I am afraid that you little understand how sensitive is that young heart. Of course, she is your own now. To her thinking, it would be treason to you for her to indulge in conversation with any other gentleman; but, then, she expects that you should spend your evenings with her of course!'

'But, Mrs French, think of my engagements, as a clergyman.'

'We know all about that, Mr Gibson. We know what a clergyman's calls are. It isn't like a doctor's, Mr Gibson.'

'It's very often worse, Mrs French.'

'Why should you go calling in the Close, Mr Gibson?' Here was the gist of the accusation.

'Wouldn't you have me make my peace with a poor dying sister?' pleaded Mr Gibson.

'After what has occurred,' said Mrs French, shaking her head at him, 'and while things are just as they are now, it would be more like an honest man of you to stay away. And, of course, Camilla feels it. She feels it very much and she won't put up with it neither.'

'I think this is the cruellest, cruellest thing I ever heard,' said Mr Gibson.

'It is you that are cruel, sir.'

Then the wretched man turned at bay. 'I tell you what it is, Mrs French if I am treated in this way, I won't stand it. I won't, indeed. I'll go away. I'm not going to be suspected, nor yet blown up. I think I've behaved handsomely, at any rate to Camilla.'

'Quite so, Mr Gibson, if you would come and see her on evenings,' said Mrs French, who was falling back into her usual state of timidity.

'But, if I'm to be treated in this way, I will go away. I've thoughts of it as it is. I've been already invited to go to Natal, and if I hear anything more of these accusations, I shall certainly make up my mind to go.' Then he left the house, before Camilla could be down upon him from her perch on the landing-place.

CHAPTER LV

THE REPUBLICAN BROWNING

Mr Glascock had returned to Naples after his sufferings in the dining-room of the American Minister, and by the middle of February was back again in Florence. His father was still alive, and it was said that the old lord would now probably live through the winter. And it was understood that Mr Glascock would remain in Italy. He had declared that he would pass his time between Naples, Rome, and Florence; but it seemed to his friends that Florence was, of the three, the most to his taste. He liked his room, he said; at the York Hotel, and he liked being in the capital. That was his own statement. His friends said that he liked being with Carry Spalding, the daughter of the American Minister; but none of them, then in Italy, were sufficiently intimate with him to express that opinion to himself.

It had been expressed more than once to Carry Spalding. The world in general says such things to ladies more openly than it does to men, and the probability of a girl's success in matrimony is canvassed in her hearing by those who are nearest to her with a freedom which can seldom be used in regard to a man. A man's most intimate friend hardly speaks to him of the prospect of his marriage till he himself has told that the engagement exists. The lips of no living person had suggested to Mr Glascock that the American girl was to become his wife; but a great deal had been said to Carry Spalding about the conquest she had made. Her uncle, her aunt, her sister, and her great friend Miss Petrie, the poetess--the Republican Browning as she was called--had all spoken to her about it frequently. Olivia had declared her conviction that the thing was to be. Miss Petrie had, with considerable eloquence, explained to her friend that that English title, which was but the clatter of a sounding brass, should be regarded as a drawback rather than as an advantage. Mrs Spalding, who was no poetess, would undoubtedly have welcomed Mr Glascock as her niece's husband with all an aunt's energy. When told by Miss Petrie that old Lord Peterborough was a tinkling cymbal she snapped angrily at her gifted countrywoman. But she was too honest a woman, and too conscious also of her niece's strength, to say a word to urge her on. Mr Spalding as an American minister, with full powers at the court of a European sovereign, felt that he had full as much to give as to receive; but he was well inclined to do both. He would have been much pleased to talk about his nephew Lord Peterborough, and he loved his niece dearly. But by the middle of February he was beginning to think that the matter had been long enough in training. If the Honourable Glascock meant anything, why did he not speak out his mind plainly? The American Minister in such matters was accustomed to fewer ambages than were common in the circles among which Mr Glascock had lived.

In the meantime Caroline Spalding was suffering. She had allowed herself to think that Mr Glascock intended to propose to her, and had acknowledged to herself that were he to do so she would certainly accept him. All that she had seen of him, since the day on which he had been courteous to her about the seat in the diligence, had been pleasant to her. She had felt the charm of his manner, his education, and his gentleness; and had told herself that with all her love for her own country, she would willingly become an Englishwoman for the sake of being that man's wife. But nevertheless the warnings of her great friend, the poetess, had not been thrown away upon her. She would put away from herself as far as she could any desire to become Lady Peterborough. There should be no bias in the man's favour on that score. The tinkling cymbal and the sounding brass should be nothing to her. But yet--yet what a chance was there here for her? 'They are dishonest, and rotten at the core,' said Miss Petrie, trying to make her friend understand that a free American should under no circumstances place trust in an English aristocrat. 'Their country, Carry, is a game played out, while we are still breasting the hill with our young lungs full of air.' Carry Spalding was proud of her intimacy with the Republican Browning; but nevertheless she liked Mr Glascock; and when Mr Glascock had been ten days in Florence, on his third visit to the city, and had been four or five times at the embassy without expressing his intentions in the proper form, Carry Spalding began to think that she had better save herself from a heartbreak while salvation might be within her reach. She perceived that her uncle was gloomy and almost angry when he spoke of Mr Glascock, and that her aunt was fretful with disappointment. The Republican Browning had uttered almost a note of triumph; and had it not been that Olivia persisted, Carry Spalding would have consented to go away with Miss Petrie to Rome. 'The old stones are rotten too,' said the poetess; 'but their dust tells no lies.' That well known piece of hers 'Ancient Marbles, while ye crumble,' was written at this time, and contained an occult reference to Mr Glascock and her friend.

But Livy Spalding clung to the alliance. She probably knew her sister's heart better than did the others; and perhaps also had a clearer insight into Mr Glascock's character. She was at any rate clearly of opinion that there should be no running away. 'Either you do like him, or you don't. If you do, what are you to get by going to Rome?' said Livy.

'I shall get quit of doubt and trouble.'

'I call that cowardice. I would never run away from a man, Carry. Aunt Sophie forgets that they don't manage these things in England just as we do.'

'I don't know why there should be a difference.'

'Nor do I, only that there is. You haven't read so many of their novels as I have.'

'Who would ever think of learning to live out of an English novel?' said Carry.

'I am not saying that. You may teach him to live how you like afterwards. But if you have anything to do with people it must be well to know what their manners are. I think the richer sort of people in England slide into these things more gradually than we do. You stand


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