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- He Knew He Was Right - 150/179 -
ashamed; making her purchases for her wedding with nothing, however, of the magnificence of a Camilla, but discussing everything with her aunt, who urged her on to extravagances which seemed beyond the scope of her own economical ideas; settling, or trying to settle, little difficulties which perplexed her somewhat, and wondering at her own career. She could not of course be married without the presence of her mother and sister, and her aunt with something of a grim courtesy had intimated that they should be made welcome to the house in the Close for the special occasion. But nothing had been said about Hugh. The wedding was to be in the Cathedral, and Dorothy had a little scheme in her head for meeting her brother among the aisles. He would no doubt come down with Brooke, and nothing perhaps need be said about it to Aunt Stanbury. But still it was a trouble. Her aunt had been so good that Dorothy felt that no step should be taken which would vex the old woman. It was evident enough that when permission had been given for the visit of Mrs Stanbury and Priscilla, Hugh's name had been purposely kept back. There had been no accidental omission. Dorothy, therefore, did not dare to mention it, and yet it was essential for her happiness that he should be there. At the present moment Miss Stanbury's intense interest in the Stanbury wedding was somewhat mitigated by the excitement occasioned by Mr Gibson's refusal to be married. Dorothy was so shocked that she could not bring herself to believe the statement that had reached them through Martha.
'Of course he was engaged to her. We all knew that,' said Miss Stanbury.
'I think there must have been some mistake,' said Dorothy. 'I don't see how he could do it.'
'There is no knowing what people can do, my dear, when they're hard driven. I suppose we shall have a lawsuit now, and he'll have to pay ever so much money. Well, well, well! see what a deal of trouble you might have saved!'
'But, he'd have done the same to me, aunt, only, you know, I never could have taken him. Isn't it better as it is, aunt? Tell me.'
'I suppose young women always think it best when they can get their own ways. An old woman like me has only got to do what she is bid.'
'But this was best, aunt, was it not?'
'My dear, you've had your way, and let that be enough. Poor Camilla French is not allowed to have hers at all. Dear, dear, dear! I didn't think the man would ever have been such a fool to begin with or that he would ever have had the heart to get out of it afterwards.' It astonished Dorothy to find that her aunt was not loud in reprobation of Mr Gibson's very dreadful conduct.
In the meantime Mrs French had written to her brother at Gloucester. The maid-servant, in making Miss Camilla's bed, and in 'putting the room to rights,' as she called it--which description probably was intended to cover the circumstances of an accurate search--had discovered, hidden among some linen, a carving knife! such a knife as is used for the cutting up of fowls; and, after two days' interval, had imparted the discovery to Mrs French. Instant visit was made to the pantry, and it was found that a very aged but unbroken and sharply-pointed weapon was missing. Mrs French at once accused Camilla, and Camilla, after some hesitation, admitted that it might be there. Molly, she said, was a nasty, sly, wicked thing, to go looking in her drawers, and she would never leave anything unlocked again. The knife, she declared, had been taken upstairs, because she had wanted something very sharp to cut the bones of her stays. The knife was given up, but Mrs French thought it best to write to her brother, Mr Crump. She was in great doubt about sundry matters. Had the carving knife really pointed to a domestic tragedy, and if so, what steps ought a poor widow to take with such a daughter? And what ought to be done about Mr Gibson? It ran through Mrs French's mind that unless something were done at once, Mr Gibson would escape scot-free. It was her wish that he should yet become her son-in-law. Poor Bella was entitled to her chance. But if Bella was to be disappointed from fear of carving knives, or for other reasons, then there came the question whether Mr Gibson should not be made to pay in purse for the mischief he had done. With all these thoughts and doubts running through her head, Mrs French wrote to her brother at Gloucester.
There came back an answer from Mr Crump, in which that gentleman expressed a very strong idea that Mr Gibson should be prosecuted for damages with the utmost virulence, and with the least possible delay. No compromise should be accepted. Mr Crump would himself come to Exeter and see the lawyer as soon as he should be told that there was a lawyer to be seen. As to the carving knife, Mr Crump was of opinion that it did not mean anything. Mr Crump was a gentleman who did not believe in strong romance, but who had great trust in all pecuniary claims. The Frenches had always been genteel. The late Captain French had been an officer in the army, and at ordinary times and seasons the Frenches were rather ashamed of the Crump connection. But now the timber merchant might prove himself to be a useful friend.
Mrs French shewed her brother's letter to Bella and poor Bella was again sore-hearted, seeing that nothing was said in it of her claims. 'It will be dreadful scandal to have it all in the papers!' said Bella.
'But what can we do?'
'Anything would be better than that,' said Bella. 'And you don't want to punish Mr Gibson, mamma.'
'But my dear, you see what your uncle says. What can I do, except go to him for advice?'
'Why don't you go to Mr Gibson yourself, mamma?'
But nothing was said to Camilla about Mr Crump--nothing as yet. Camilla did not love Mr Crump, but there was no other house except that of Mr Crump's at Gloucester to which she might be sent, if it could be arranged that Mr Gibson and Bella should be made one. Mrs French took her eldest daughter's advice, and went to Mr Gibson, taking Mr Crump's letter in her pocket. For herself she wanted nothing, but was it not the duty of her whole life to fight for her daughters? Poor woman! If somebody would only have taught her how that duty might best be done, she would have endeavoured to obey the teaching. 'You know I do not want to threaten you,' she said to Mr Gibson; 'but you see what my brother says. Of course I wrote to my brother. What could a poor woman do in such circumstances except write to her brother?'
'If you choose to set the bloodhounds of the law at me, of course you can,' said Mr Gibson.
'I do not want to go to law at all God; knows I do not!' said Mrs French. Then there was a pause. 'Poor dear Bella!' ejaculated Mrs French.
'Dear Bella!' echoed Mr Gibson.
'What do you mean to do about Bella?' asked Mrs French.
'I sometimes think that I had better take poison and have done with it!' said Mr Gibson, feeling himself to be very hard pressed.
Mr Crump arrived at Exeter. Camilla was not told of his coming till the morning of the day on which he arrived; and then the tidings were communicated, because it was necessary that a change should be made in the bed-rooms. She and her sister had separate rooms when there was no visitor with them, but now Mr Crump must be accommodated. There was a long consultation between Bella and Mrs French, but at last it was decided that Bella should sleep with her mother. There would still be too much of the lioness about Camilla to allow of her being regarded as a safe companion through the watches of the night. 'Why is Uncle Jonas coming now?' she asked.
'I thought it better to ask him,' said Mrs French.
After a long pause, Camilla asked another question. 'Does Uncle Jonas mean to see Mr Gibson?'
'I suppose he will,' said Mrs French.
'Then he will see a low, mean fellow: the lowest, meanest fellow that ever was heard of! But that won't make much difference to Uncle Jonas. I wouldn't have him now, if he was to ask me ever so, that I wouldn't!'
Mr Crump came, and kissed his sister and two nieces. The embrace with Camilla was not very affectionate.'so your Joe has been and jilted you?' said Uncle Jonas 'it's like one of them clergymen. They say so many prayers, they think they may do almost anything afterwards. Another man would have had his head punched.'
'The less talk there is about it the better,' said Camilla. On the following day Mr Crump called by appointment on Mr Gibson, and remained closeted with that gentleman for the greater portion of the morning. Camilla knew well that he was going, and went about the house like a perturbed spirit during his absence. There was a look about her that made them all doubt whether she was not, in truth, losing her mind. Her mother more than once went to the pantry to see that the knives were right; and, as regarded that sharp-pointed weapon, was careful to lock it up carefully out of her daughter's way. Mr Crump had declared himself willing to take Camilla back to Gloucester, and had laughed at the obstacles which his niece might, perhaps, throw in the way of such an arrangement. 'She mustn't have much luggage, that is all,' said Mr Crump. For Mr Crump had been made aware of the circumstances of the trousseau. About three o'clock Mr Crump came back from Mr Gibson's, and expressed a desire to be left alone with Camilla. Mrs French was prepared for everything; and Mr Crump soon found himself with his younger niece.
'Camilla, my dear,' said he, 'this has been a bad business.'
'I don't know what business you mean, Uncle Jonas.'
'Yes, you do, my dear, you know. And I hope it won't come too late to prove to you that young women shouldn't be too keen in setting their caps at the gentlemen. It's better for them to be hunted, than to hunt.'
'Uncle Jonas, I will not be insulted.'
'Stick to that, my dear, and you won't get into a scrape again. Now, look here. This man can never be made to marry you, anyhow.'
'I wouldn't touch him with a pair of tongs, if he were kneeling at my
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