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- He Knew He Was Right - 120/179 -

asked when the embrace was over.

'All what mean, dear?'

'This untoward delay? Thomas, you have almost broken my heart. You have been away, and I have not heard from you.'

'I wrote twice, Camilla.'

'And what sort of letters? If there is anything the matter, Thomas, you had better tell me at once.' She paused, but Thomas held his tongue. 'I don't suppose you want to kill me.'

'God forbid,' said Thomas.

'But you will. What must everybody think of me in the city when they find that it is put off. Poor mamma has been dreadful, quite dreadful! And here is Arabella now laid up on a bed of sickness.' This, too, was indiscreet. Camilla should have said nothing about her sister's sickness.

'I have been so sorry to hear about dear Bella,' said Mr Gibson.

'I don't suppose she's very bad,' said Camilla, 'but of course we all feel it. Of course we're upset. As for me, I bear up; because I've that spirit that I won't give way if it's ever so; but, upon my word, it tries me hard. What is the meaning of it, Thomas?'

But Thomas had nothing to say beyond what he had said before to Mrs French. He was very particular, he said, about money; and certain money matters made it incumbent on him not to marry before the 29th of April. When Camilla suggested to him that as she was to be his wife, she ought to know all about his money matters, he told her that she should some day. When they were married, he would tell her all. Camilla talked a great deal, and said some things that were very severe. Mr Gibson did not enjoy his morning, but he endured the upbraidings of his fair one with more firmness than might perhaps have been expected from him. He left all the talking to Camilla; but when he got up to leave her, the 29th of April had been fixed, with some sort of assent from her, as the day on which she was really to become Mrs Gibson.

When he left the room, he again met Mrs French on the landing-place. She hesitated a moment, waiting to see whether the door would be shut; but the door could not be shut, as Camilla was standing in the entrance. 'Mr Gibson,' said Mrs French, in a voice that was scarcely a whisper, 'would you mind stepping in and seeing poor Bella for a moment?'

'Why she is in bed,' said Camilla.

'Yes she is in bed; but she thinks it would be a comfort to her. She has seen nobody these four days except Mr Martin, and she thinks it would comfort her to have a word or two with Mr Gibson.' Now Mr Gibson was not only going to be Bella's brother-in-law, but he was also a clergyman. Camilla in her heart believed that the half-clerical aspect which her mother had given to the request was false and hypocritical. There were special reasons why Bella should not have wished to see Mr Gibson in her bedroom, at any rate till Mr Gibson had become her brother-in-law. The expression of such a wish at the present moment was almost indecent.

'You'll be there with them?' said Camilla. Mr Gibson blushed up to his ears as he heard the suggestion. 'Of course you'll be there with them, mamma.'

'No, my dear, I think not. I fancy she wishes him to read to her or something of that sort.' Then Mr Gibson, without speaking a word, but still blushing up to his ears, was taken to Arabella's room; and Camilla, flouncing into the drawing-room, banged the door behind her. She had hitherto fought her battle with considerable skill and with great courage, but her very success had made her imprudent. She had become so imperious in the great position which she had reached, that she could not control her temper or wait till her power was confirmed. The banging of that door was heard through the whole house, and every one knew why it was banged. She threw herself on to a sofa, and then, instantly rising again, paced the room with quick step. Could it be possible that there was treachery? Was it on the cards that that weak, poor creature, Bella, was intriguing once again to defraud her of her husband? There were different things that she now remembered. Arabella, in that moment of bliss in which she had conceived herself to be engaged to Mr Gibson, had discarded her chignon. Then she had resumed it in all its monstrous proportions. Since that it had been lessened by degrees, and brought down, through various interesting but abnormal shapes, to a size which would hardly have drawn forth any anathema from Miss Stanbury. And now, on this very morning, Arabella had put on a clean nightcap, with muslin frills. It is perhaps not unnatural that a sick lady, preparing to receive a clergyman in her bedroom, should put on a clean nightcap; but to suspicious eyes small causes suffice to create alarm. And if there were any such hideous wickedness in the wind, had Arabella any colleague in her villainy? Could it be that the mother was plotting against her daughter's happiness and respectability? Camilla was well aware that her mamma would at first have preferred to give Arabella to Mr Gibson, had the choice in the matter been left to her. But now, when the thing had been settled before all the world, would not such treatment on a mother's part be equal to infanticide? And then as to Mr Gibson himself! Camilla was not prone to think little of her own charms, but she had been unable not to perceive that her lover had become negligent in his personal attentions to her. An accepted lover, who deserves to have been accepted, should devote every hour at his command to his mistress. But Mr Gibson had of late been so chary of his presence at Heavitree, that Camilla could not but have known that he took no delight in coming thither. She had acknowledged this to herself; but she had consoled herself with the reflection that marriage would make this all right. Mr Gibson was not the man to stray from his wife, and she could trust herself to obtain a sufficient hold upon her husband hereafter, partly by the strength of her tongue, partly by the ascendancy of her spirit, and partly, also, by the comforts which she would provide for him. She had not doubted but that it would be all well when they should be married; but how if, even now, there should be no marriage for her? Camilla French had never heard of Creusa and of Jason, but as she paced her mother's drawing-room that morning she was a Medea in spirit. If any plot of that kind should be in the wind, she would do such things that all Devonshire should hear of her wrongs and of her revenge!

In the meantime Mr Gibson was sitting by Arabella's bedside, while Mrs French was trying to make herself busy in her own chamber, next door. There had been a reading of some chapter of the Bible or of some portion of a chapter. And Mr Gibson, as he read, and Arabella, as she listened, had endeavoured to take to their hearts and to make use of the word which they heard. The poor young woman, when she begged her mother to send to her the man who was so dear to her, did so with some half-formed condition that it would be good for her to hear a clergyman read to her. But now the chapter had been read, and the book was back in Mr Gibson's pocket, and he was sitting with his hand on the bed.'she is so very arrogant,' said Bella,' and so domineering.' To this Mr Gibson made no reply. 'I'm sure I have endeavoured to bear it well, though you must have known what I have suffered, Thomas. Nobody can understand it so well as you do.'

'I wish I had never been born,' said Mr Gibson tragically.

'Don't say that, Thomas, because it's wicked.'

'But I do. See all the harm I have done, and yet I did not mean it.'

'You must try and do the best you can now. I am not saying what that should be. I am not dictating to you. You are a man, and, of course, you must judge for yourself. But I will say this. You shouldn't do anything just because it is the easiest. I don't suppose I should live after it. I don't indeed. But that should not signify to you.'

'I don't suppose that any man was ever before in such a terrible position since the world began.'

'It is difficult; I am sure of that, Thomas.'

'And I have meant to be so true. I fancy sometimes that some mysterious agency interferes with the affairs of a man and drives him on and on and on, almost till he doesn't know where it drives him.' As he said this in a voice that was quite sepulchral in its tone, he felt some consolation in the conviction that this mysterious agency could not affect a man without imbuing him with a certain amount of grandeur, very uncomfortable, indeed, in its nature, but still having considerable value as a counterpoise. Pride must bear pain, but pain is recompensed by pride.

'She is so strong, Thomas, that she can put up with anything,' said Arabella, in a whisper.

'Strong yes,' said he, with a shudder 'she is strong enough.'

'And as for love--'

'Don't talk about it,' said he, getting up from his chair. 'Don't talk about it. You will drive me frantic.'

'You know what my feelings are, Thomas; you have always known them. There has been no change since I was the young thing you first knew me.' As she spoke, she just touched his hand with hers; but he did not seem to notice this, sitting with his elbow on the arm of his chair and his forehead on his hand. In reply to what she said to him, he merely shook his head not intending to imply thereby any doubt of the truth of her assertion. 'You have now to make up your mind, and to be bold, Thomas,' continued Arabella.'she says that you are a coward; but I know that you are no coward. I told her so, and she said that I was interfering. Oh that she should be able to tell me that I interfere when I defend you!'

'I must go,' said Mr Gibson, jumping up from his chair. 'I must go. Bella, I cannot stand this any longer. It is too much for me. I will pray that I may decide aright. God bless you!' Then he kissed her brow as she lay in bed, and hurried out of the room.

He had hoped to go from the house without further converse with any of its inmates; for his mind was disturbed, and he longed to be at rest. But he was not allowed to escape so easily. Camilla met him at the dining-room door, and accosted him with a smile. There had been time for much meditation during the last half hour, and Camilla had meditated. 'How do you find her, Thomas?' she asked.

'She seems weak, but I believe she is better. I have been reading to her.'

'Come in, Thomas will you not? It is bad for us to stand talking on the stairs. Dear Thomas, don't let us be so cold to each other.' He had no alternative but to put his arm round her waist, and kiss her, thinking, as he did so, of the mysterious agency which afflicted him. 'Tell me that you love me, Thomas,' she said.

He Knew He Was Right - 120/179

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