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- He Knew He Was Right - 40/179 -
imperative business had brought him into the very village. But men in their vanity never think of the injury they may do to a woman's name. Now I must go and write to my aunt. I am not going to have it said hereafter that I deceived her. And then I shall write to Hugh. Oh dear; oh dear!'
'I am afraid we are a great trouble to you.'
'I will not deceive you, because I like you. This is a great trouble to me. I have meant to be so prudent, and with all my prudence I have not been able to keep clear of rocks. And I have been so indignant with Aunt Stanbury! Now I must go and eat humble-pie.'
Then she eat humble pie after the following fashion:
'Dear Aunt Stanbury
After what has passed between us, I think it right to tell you that Colonel Osborne has been at Nuncombe Putney, and that he called at the Clock House this morning. We did not see him. But Mrs Trevelyan and Miss Rowley, together, did see him. He remained here perhaps an hour.
'I should not have thought it necessary to mention this to you, the matter being one in which you are not concerned, were it not for our former correspondence. When I last wrote, I had no idea that he was coming nor had mamma. And when you first wrote, he was not even expected by Mrs Trevelyan. The man you wrote about, was another gentleman as I told you before. All this is most disagreeable, and tiresome and would be quite nonsensical, but that circumstances seem to make it necessary.
As for Colonel Osborne, I wish he had not been here; but his coming would do no harm only that it will be talked about.
I think you will understand how it is that I feel myself constrained to write to you. I do hope that you will spare mamma, who is disturbed and harassed when she gets angry letters. If you have anything to say to myself, I don't mind it.
The Clock House, Friday, August 5.'
She wrote also to her brother Hugh; but Hugh himself reached Nuncombe Putney before the letter reached him.
Mr Bozzle watched the Colonel out of the house, and watched him out of the village. When the Colonel was fairly started, Mr Bozzle walked back to Lessboro'.
SHEWING HOW MISS STANBURY BEHAVED TO HER TWO NIECES
The triumph of Miss Stanbury when she received her niece's letter was certainly very great--so great that in its first flush she could not restrain herself from exhibiting it to Dorothy. 'Well well what do you think, Dolly?'
'About what, aunt? I don't know who the letter is from.'
'Nobody writes to me now so constant as your sister Priscilla. The letter is from Priscilla. Colonel Osborne has been at the Clock House, after all. I knew that he would be there. I knew it! I knew it!'
Dorothy, when she heard this, was dumbfounded. She had rested her defence of her mother and sister on the impossibility of any such visit being admitted. According to her lights the coming of Colonel Osborne, after all that had been said, would be like the coming of Lucifer himself. The Colonel was, to her imagination, a horrible roaring lion. She had no idea that the erratic manoeuvres of such a beast might be milder and more innocent than the wooing of any turtle-dove. She would have asked whether the roaring lion had gone away again, and, if so, whether he had taken his prey with him, were it not that she was too much frightened at the moment to ask any question. That her mother and sister should have been wilfully concerned in such iniquity was quite incredible to her, but yet she did not know how to defend them. 'But are you quite sure of it, Aunt Stanbury? May there not be another mistake?'
'No mistake this time, I think, my dear. Any way, Priscilla says that he is there.' Now in this there was a mistake. Priscilla had said nothing of the kind.
'You don't mean that he is staying at the Clock House, Aunt Stanbury?'
'I don't know where he is now. I'm not his keeper. And, I'm glad to say, I'm not the lady's keeper either. Ah, me! It's a bad business. You can't touch pitch and not be defiled, my dear. If your mother wanted the Clock House, I would sooner have taken it for her myself than that all this should have happened for the family's sake.'
But Miss Stanbury, when she was alone, and when she had read her niece's three letters again and again, began to understand something of Priscilla's honesty, and began also to perceive that there might have been a great difficulty respecting the Colonel, for which neither her niece nor her sister-in-law could fairly be held to be responsible. It was perhaps the plainest characteristic of all the Stanburys that they were never wilfully dishonest. Ignorant, prejudiced, and passionate they might be. In her anger Miss Stanbury, of Exeter, could be almost malicious; and her niece at Nuncombe Putney was very like her aunt. Each could say most cruel things, most unjust things, when actuated by a mistaken consciousness of perfect right on her own side. But neither of them could lie even by silence. Let an error be brought home to either of them so as to be acknowledged at home and the error would be assuredly confessed aloud. And, indeed, with differences in the shades, Hugh and Dorothy were of the same nature. They were possessed of sweeter tempers than their aunt and sister, but they were filled with the same eager readiness to believe themselves to be right and to own themselves to others to be wrong, when they had been constrained to make such confession to themselves. The chances of life, and something probably of inner nature, had made Dorothy mild and obedient; whereas, in regard to Hugh, the circumstances of his life and disposition had made him obstinate and self-reliant. But in all was to be found the same belief in self which amounted almost to conceit, the same warmth of affection, and the same love of justice.
When Miss Stanbury had again perused the correspondence, and had come to see, dimly, how things had gone at Nuncombe Putney, when the conviction came upon her mind that Priscilla had entertained a horror as to the coming of this Colonel equal to that which she herself had felt when her imagination painted to her all that her niece had suffered, her heart was softened somewhat. She had declared to Dorothy that pitch, if touched, would certainly defile; and she had, at first, intended to send the same opinion, couched in very forcible words, to her correspondents at the Clock House. They should not continue to go astray for want of being told that they were going astray. It must be acknowledged, too, that there was a certain amount of ignoble wrath in the bosom of Miss Stanbury because her sister-in-law had taken the Clock House. She had never been told, and had not even condescended to ask Dorothy, whether the house was taken and paid for by her nephew on behalf of his mother, or whether it was paid for by Mr Trevelyan on behalf of his wife. In the latter case, Mrs Stanbury would, she thought, be little more than an upper servant, or keeper as she expressed it to herself. Such an arrangement appeared to her to be quite disgraceful in a Stanbury; but yet she believed that such must be the existing arrangement, as she could not bring herself to conceive that Hugh Stanbury could keep such an establishment over his mother's head out of money earned by writing for a penny newspaper. There would be a triumph of democracy in this which would vanquish her altogether. She had, therefore, been anxious enough to trample on Priscilla and upon all the affairs of the Clock House; but yet she had been unable to ignore the nobility of Priscilla's truth, and having acknowledged it to herself she found herself compelled to acknowledge it aloud. She sat down to think in silence, and it was not till she had fortified herself by her first draught of beer, and till she had finished her first portion of bread and cheese, that she spoke. 'I have written to your sister herself, this time,' she said. 'I don't know that I ever wrote a line to her before in my life.'
'Poor Priscilla!' Dorothy did not mean to be severe on her aunt, either in regard to the letters which had not been written, or to the one letter which now had been written. But Dorothy pitied her sister, whom she felt to be in trouble.
'Well; I don't know about her being so poor. Priscilla, I'll be bound, thinks as well of herself as any of us do.'
'She'd cut her fingers off before she'd mean to do wrong,' said Dorothy.
'But what does that come to? What's the good of that? It isn't meaning to do right that will save us. For aught I know, the Radicals may mean to do right. Mr Beales means to do right perhaps.'
'But, aunt if everybody did the best they could?'
'Tush, my dear! you are getting beyond your depth. There are such things still, thank God! as spiritual pastors and masters. Entrust yourself to them. Do what they think right.' Now if aught were known in Exeter of Miss Stanbury, this was known that if any clergyman volunteered to give to her, unasked and uninvited, counsel, either ghostly or bodily, that clergyman would be sent from her presence with a wigging which he would not soon forget. The thing had been tried more than once, and the wigging had been complete. There was no more attentive listener in church than Miss Stanbury; and she would, now and again, appeal to a clergyman on some knotty point. But for the ordinary authority of spiritual pastors and masters she shewed more of abstract reverence than of practical obedience.
'I'm sure Priscilla does the best she can,' said Dorothy, going back to the old subject.
'Ah well yes. What I want to say about Priscilla is this. It is a thousand pities she is so obstinate, so pigheaded, so certain that she can manage everything for herself better than anybody else can for her.' Miss Stanbury was striving to say something good of her niece, but found the task to be difficult and distasteful to her.
'She has managed for mamma ever so many years; and since she took it we
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