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- The Trespasser, Volume 2. - 2/12 -
circumstances. But he had a naive fresh sense, everything interested him, and he said what he thought with taste and tact, sometimes with wit, and always in that cheerful contemplative mood which influences women. Some of his sayings were so startling and heretical that they had gone the rounds, and certain crisp words out of the argot of the North were used by women who wished to be chic and amusing.
Not quite certain why he stayed, but talking on reflectively, Gaston at last said:
"You will be coming to us to-night, of course? We are having a barbecue of some kind."
"Yes, I hope so; though my grandfather does not much care to have me go."
"I suppose it is dull for him."
"I am not sure it is that."
"No? What then?"
She shook her head.
"The affair is in your honour, Mr. Belward, isn't it?
"Does that answer my question?" he asked genially.
"No, no, no! That is not what I meant."
"I was unfair. Yes, I believe the matter does take that colour; though why, I don't know."
She looked at him with simple earnestness.
"You ought to be proud of it; and you ought to be glad of such a high position where you can do so much good, if you will."
He smiled, and ran his hand down his horse's leg musingly before he replied:
"I've not thought much of doing good, I tell you frankly. I wasn't brought up to think about it; I don't know that I ever did any good in my life. I supposed it was only missionaries and women who did that sort of thing."
"But you wrong yourself. You have done good in this village. Why, we all have talked of it; and though it wasn't done in the usual way--rather irregularly--still it was doing good."
He looked down at her astonished.
"Well, here's a pretty libel! Doing good 'irregularly'? Why, where have I done good at all?"
She ran over the names of several sick people in the village whose bills he had paid, the personal help and interest he had given to many, and, last of all, she mentioned the case of the village postmaster.
Since Gaston had come, postmasters had been changed. The little pale- faced man who had first held the position disappeared one night, and in another twenty-four hours a new one was in his place. Many stories had gone about. It was rumoured that the little man was short in his accounts, and had been got out of the way by Gaston Belward. Archdeacon Varcoe knew the truth, and had said that Gaston's sin was not unpardonable, in spite of a few squires and their dames who declared it was shocking that a man should have such loose ideas, that no good could come to the county from it, and that he would put nonsense into the heads of the common people. Alice Wingfield was now to hear Gaston's view of the matter.
"So that's it, eh? Live and let live is doing good? In that case it is easy to be a saint. What else could a man do? You say that I am generous--How? What have I spent out of my income on these little things? My income--how did I get it? I didn't earn it; neither did my father. Not a stroke have I done for it. I sit high and dry there in the Court, they sit low there in the village; and you know how they live. Well, I give away a little money which these people and their fathers earned for my father and me; and for that you say I am doing good, and some other people say I am doing harm--'dangerous charity,' and all that! I say that the little I have done is what is always done where man is most primitive, by people who never heard 'doing good' preached."
"We must have names for things, you know," she said.
"I suppose so, where morality and humanity have to be taught as Christian duty, and not as common manhood."
"Tell me," she presently said, "about Sproule, the postmaster."
"Oh, that? Well, I will. The first time I entered the post-office I saw there was something on the man's mind. A youth of twenty-three oughtn't to look as he did--married only a year or two also, with a pretty wife and child. I used to talk to them a good deal, and one day I said to him: 'You look seedy; what's the matter?' He flushed, and got nervous. I made up my mind it was money. If I had been here longer, I should have taken him aside and talked to him like a father. As it was, things slid along. I was up in town, and here and there. One evening as I came back from town I saw a nasty-looking Jew arrive. The little postmaster met him, and they went away together. He was in the scoundrel's hands; had been betting, and had borrowed first from the Jew, then from the Government. The next evening I was just starting down to have a talk with him, when an official came to my grandfather to swear out a warrant. I lost no time; got my horse and trap, went down to the office, gave the boy three minutes to tell me the truth, and then I sent him away. I fixed it up with the authorities, and the wife and child follow the youth to America next week. That's all."
"He deserved to get free, then?"
"He deserved to be punished, but not as he would have been. There wasn't really a vicious spot in the man. And the wife and child--what was a little justice to the possible happiness of those three? Discretion is a part of justice, and I used it, as it is used every day in business and judicial life, only we don't see it. When it gets public, why, some one gets blamed. In this case I was the target; but I don't mind in the least--not in the least. . . . Do you think me very startling or lawless?"
"Never lawless; but one could not be quite sure what you would do in any particular case." She looked up at him admiringly.
They had not noticed the approach of Archdeacon Varcoe till he was very near them. His face was troubled. He had seen how earnest was their conversation, and for some reason it made him uneasy. The girl saw him first, and ran to meet him. He saw her bright delighted look, and he sighed involuntarily. "Something has worried you," she said caressingly. Then she told him of the accident, and they all turned and went back towards the Court, Gaston walking his horse. Near the church they met Sir William and Lady Belward. There were salutations, and presently Gaston slowly followed his grandfather and grandmother into the courtyard.
Sir William, looking back, said to his wife: "Do you think that Gaston should be told?"
"No, no, there is no danger. Gaston, my dear, shall marry Delia Gasgoyne."
"Shall marry? wherefore 'shall'? Really, I do not see."
"She likes him, she is quite what we would have her, and he is interested in her. My dear, I have seen--I have watched for a year."
He put his hand on hers.
"My wife, you are a goodly prophet."
When Archdeacon Varcoe entered his study on returning, he sat down in a chair, and brooded long. "She must be told," he said at last, aloud. "Yes, yes, at once. God help us both!"
WHEREIN THE SEAL OF HIS HERITAGE IS SET
"Sophie, when you talk with the man, remember that you are near fifty, and faded. Don't be sentimental." So said Mrs. Gasgoyne to Lady Dargan, as they saw Gaston coming down the ballroom with Captain Maudsley.
"Reine, you try one's patience. People would say you were not quite disinterested."
"You mean Delia! Now, listen. I haven't any wish but that Gaston Belward shall see Delia very seldom indeed. He will inherit the property no doubt, and Sir William told me that he had settled a decent fortune on him; but for Delia--no--no--no. Strange, isn't it, when Lady Harriet over there aches for him, Indian blood and all? And why? Because this is a good property, and the fellow is distinguished and romantic-looking: but he is impossible--perfectly impossible. Every line of his face says shipwreck."
"You are not usually so prophetic."
"Of course. But I am prophetic now, for Delia is more than interested, silly chuck! Did you ever read the story of the other Gaston--Sir Gaston--whom this one resembles? No? Well, you will find it thinly disguised in The Knight of Five Joys. He was killed at Naseby, my dear; killed, not by the enemy, but by a page in Rupert's cavalry. The page was a woman! It's in this one too. Indian and French blood is a sad tincture. He is not wicked at heart, not at all; but he will do mad things yet, my dear. For he'll tire of all this, and then--half-mourning for some one!"
Gaston enjoyed talking with Mrs. Gasgoyne as to no one else. Other women often flattered him, she never did. Frankly, crisply, she told him strange truths, and, without mercy, crumbled his wrong opinions. He had a sense of humour, and he enjoyed her keen chastening raillery. Besides, her talk was always an education in the fine lights and shadows of this social life. He came to her now with a smile, greeted her heartily, and then turned to Lady Dargan. Captain Maudsley carried off Mrs. Gasgoyne, and the two were left together--the second time since the evening of Gaston's arrival, so many months before. Lady Dargan had been abroad, and was just returned.
They talked a little on unimportant things, and presently Lady Dargan
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