oger Carbury having found Ruby Ruggles, and having ascertained that she was at any rate living in a respectable house with her aunt, returned to Carbury. He had given the girl his advice, and had done so in a manner that was not altogether ineffectual. He had frightened her, and had also frightened Mrs. Pipkin. He had taught Mrs. Pipkin to believe that the new dispensation was not yet so completely established as to clear her from all responsibility as to her niece's conduct. Having done so much, and feeling that there was no more to be done, he returned home. It was out of the question that he should take Ruby with him. In the first place she would not have gone. And then,—had she gone,—he would not have known where to bestow her. For it was now understood throughout Bungay,—and the news had spread to Beccles,—that old Farmer Ruggles had sworn that his granddaughter should never again be received at Sheep's Acre Farm. The squire on his return home heard all the news from his own housekeeper. John Crumb had been at the farm and there had been a fierce quarrel between him and the old man. The old man had called Ruby by every name that is most distasteful to a woman, and John had stormed and had sworn that he would have punched the old man's head but for his age. He wouldn't believe any harm of Ruby,—or if he did he was ready to forgive that harm. But as for the Baro-nite;—the Baro-nite had better look to himself! Old Ruggles had declared that Ruby should never have a shilling of his money;—whereupon Crumb had anathematised old Ruggles and his money too, telling him that he was an old hunx, and that he had driven the girl away by his cruelty. Roger at once sent over to Bungay for the dealer in meal, who was with him early on the following morning.
"Did ye find her, squoire?"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Crumb, I found her. She's living with her aunt, Mrs. Pipkin, at Islington."
"Eh, now;—look at that."
"You knew she had an aunt of that name up in London."
"Ye-es; I knew'd it, squoire. I a' heard tell of Mrs. Pipkin, but I never see'd her."
"I wonder it did not occur to you that Ruby would go there." John Crumb scratched his head, as though acknowledging the shortcoming of his own intellect. "Of course if she was to go to London it was the proper thing for her to do."
"I knew she'd do the thing as was right. I said that all along. Darned if I didn't. You ask Mixet, squoire,—him as is baker down Bardsey Lane. I allays guv' it her that she'd do the thing as was right. But how about she and the Baro-nite?"
Roger did not wish to speak of the Baronet just at present. "I suppose the old man down here did ill use her?"
"Oh, dreadful;—there ain't no manner of doubt o' that. Dragged her about awful;—as he ought to be took up, only for the rumpus like. D'ye think she's see'd the Baro-nite since she's been in Lon'on, Muster Carbury?"
"I think she's a good girl, if you mean that."
"I'm sure she be. I don't want none to tell me that, squoire. Tho', squoire, it's better to me nor a ten pun' note to hear you say so. I allays had a leaning to you, squoire; but I'll more nor lean to you, now. I've said all through she was good, and if e'er a man in Bungay said she warn't—; well, I was there, and ready."
"I hope nobody has said so."
"You can't stop them women, squoire. There ain't no dropping into them. But, Lord love 'ee, she shall come and be missus of my house to-morrow, and what 'll it matter her then what they say? But, squoire,—did ye hear if the Baro-nite had been a' hanging about that place?"
"About Islington, you mean."
"He goes a hanging about; he do. He don't come out straight forrard, and tell a girl as he loves her afore all the parish. There ain't one in Bungay, nor yet in Mettingham, nor yet in all the Ilketsals and all the Elmhams, as don't know as I'm set on Ruby Ruggles. Huggery-Muggery is pi'son to me, squoire."
"We all know that when you've made up your mind, you have made up your mind."
"I hove. It's made up ever so as to Ruby. What sort of a one is her aunt now, squoire?"
"She keeps lodgings;—a very decent sort of a woman I should say."
"She won't let the Baro-nite come there?"
"Certainly not," said Roger, who felt that he was hardly dealing sincerely with this most sincere of mealmen. Hitherto he had shuffled off every question that had been asked him about Felix, though he knew that Ruby had spent many hours with her fashionable lover. "Mrs. Pipkin won't let him come there."
"If I was to give her a ge'own now,—or a blue cloak;—them lodging-house women is mostly hard put to it;—or a chest of drawers like, for her best bedroom, wouldn't that make her more o' my side, squoire?"
"I think she'll try to do her duty without that."
"They do like things the like o' that; any ways I'll go up, squoire, arter Sax'nam market, and see how things is lying."
"I wouldn't go just yet, Mr. Crumb, if I were you. She hasn't forgotten the scene at the farm yet."
"I said nothing as warn't as kind as kind."
"But her own perversity runs in her own head. If you had been unkind she could have forgiven that; but as you were good-natured and she was cross, she can't forgive that." John Crumb again scratched his head, and felt that the depths of a woman's character required more gauging than he had yet given to it. "And to tell you the truth, my friend, I think that a little hardship up at Mrs. Pipkin's will do her good."
"Don't she have a bellyful o' vittels?" asked John Crumb, with intense anxiety.
"I don't quite mean that. I dare say she has enough to eat. But of course she has to work for it with her aunt. She has three or four children to look after."
"That moight come in handy by-and-by;—moightn't it, squoire?" said John Crumb grinning.
"As you say, she'll be learning something that may be useful to her in another sphere. Of course there is a good deal to do, and I should not be surprised if she were to think after a bit that your house in Bungay was more comfortable than Mrs. Pipkin's kitchen in London."
"My little back parlour;—eh, squoire! And I've got a four-poster, most as big as any in Bungay."
"I am sure you have everything comfortable for her, and she knows it herself. Let her think about all that,—and do you go and tell her again in a month's time. She'll be more willing to settle matters then than she is now."
"Mrs. Pipkin will allow nothing of that."
"Girls is so 'cute. Ruby is awful 'cute. It makes me feel as though I had two hun'erd weight o' meal on my stomach, lying awake o' nights and thinking as how he is, may be,—pulling of her about! If I thought that she'd let him—; oh! I'd swing for it, Muster Carbury. They'd have to make an eend o' me at Bury, if it was that way. They would then."
Roger assured him again and again that he believed Ruby to be a good girl, and promised that further steps should be taken to induce Mrs. Pipkin to keep a close watch upon her niece. John Crumb made no promise that he would abstain from his journey to London after Saxmundham fair; but left the squire with a conviction that his purpose of doing so was shaken. He was still however resolved to send Mrs. Pipkin the price of a new blue cloak, and declared his purpose of getting Mixet to write the letter and enclose the money order. John Crumb had no delicacy as to declaring his own deficiency in literary acquirements. He was able to make out a bill for meal or pollards, but did little beyond that in the way of writing letters.
This happened on a Saturday morning, and on that afternoon Roger Carbury rode over to Lowestoft, to a meeting there on church matters at which his friend the bishop presided. After the meeting was over he dined at the inn with half a dozen clergymen and two or three neighbouring gentlemen, and then walked down by himself on to the long strand which has made Lowestoft what it is. It was now just the end of June, and the weather was delightful;—but people were not as yet flocking to the sea-shore. Every shopkeeper in every little town through the country now follows the fashion set by Parliament and abstains from his annual holiday till August or September. The place therefore was by no means full. Here and there a few of the townspeople, who at a bathing place are generally indifferent to the sea, were strolling about; and another few, indifferent to fashion, had come out from the lodging-houses and from the hotel, which had been described as being small and insignificant,—and making up only a hundred beds. Roger Carbury, whose house was not many miles distant from Lowestoft, was fond of the sea-shore, and always came to loiter there for a while when any cause brought him into the town. Now he was walking close down upon the marge of the tide,—so that the last little roll of the rising water should touch his feet,—with his hands joined behind his back, and his face turned down towards the shore, when he came upon a couple who were standing with their backs to the land, looking forth together upon the waves. He was close to them before he saw them, and before they had seen him. Then he perceived that the man was his friend Paul Montague. Leaning on Paul's arm a lady stood, dressed very simply in black, with a dark straw hat on her head;—very simple in her attire, but yet a woman whom it would be impossible to pass without notice. The lady of course was Mrs. Hurtle.
Paul Montague had been a fool to suggest Lowestoft, but his folly had been natural. It was not the first place he had named; but when fault had been found with others, he had fallen back upon the sea sands which were best known to himself. Lowestoft was just the spot which Mrs. Hurtle required. When she had been shown her room, and taken down out of the hotel on to the strand, she had declared herself to be charmed. She acknowledged with many smiles that of course she had had no right to expect that Mrs. Pipkin should understand what sort of place she needed. But Paul would understand,—and had understood. "I think the hotel charming," she said. "I don't know what you mean by your fun about the American hotels, but I think this quite gorgeous, and the people so civil!" Hotel people always are civil before the crowds come. Of course it was impossible that Paul should return to London by the mail train which started about an hour after his arrival. He would have reached London at four or five in the morning, and have been very uncomfortable. The following day was Sunday, and of course he promised to stay till Monday. Of course he had said nothing in the train of those stern things which he had resolved to say. Of course he was not saying them when Roger Carbury came upon him; but was indulging in some poetical nonsense, some probably very trite raptures as to the expanse of the ocean, and the endless ripples which connected shore with shore. Mrs. Hurtle, too, as she leaned with friendly weight upon his arm, indulged also in moonshine and romance. Though at the back of the heart of each of them there was a devouring care, still they enjoyed the hour. We know that the man who is to be hung likes to have his breakfast well cooked. And so did Paul like the companionship of Mrs. Hurtle because her attire, though simple, was becoming; because the colour glowed in her dark face; because of the brightness of her eyes, and the happy sharpness of her words, and the dangerous smile which played upon her lips. He liked the warmth of her close vicinity, and the softness of her arm, and the perfume from her hair,—though he would have given all that he possessed that she had been removed from him by some impassable gulf. As he had to be hanged,—and this woman's continued presence would be as bad as death to him,—he liked to have his meal well dressed.
He certainly had been foolish to bring her to Lowestoft, and the close neighbourhood of Carbury Manor;—and now he felt his folly. As soon as he saw Roger Carbury he blushed up to his forehead, and then leaving Mrs. Hurtle's arm he came forward, and shook hands with his friend. "It is Mrs. Hurtle," he said, "I must introduce you," and the introduction was made. Roger took off his hat and bowed, but he did so with the coldest ceremony. Mrs. Hurtle, who was quick enough at gathering the minds of people from their looks, was just as cold in her acknowledgment of the courtesy. In former days she had heard much of Roger Carbury, and surmised that he was no friend to her. "I did not know that you were thinking of coming to Lowestoft," said Roger in a voice that was needlessly severe. But his mind at the present moment was severe, and he could not hide his mind.
“The Sands at Lowestoft”. Lionel Grimston Fawkes. Wood-engraving. [Click on image to enlarge it.]
"I was not thinking of it. Mrs. Hurtle wished to get to the sea, and as she knew no one else here in England, I brought her."
"Mr. Montague and I have travelled so many miles together before now," she said, "that a few additional will not make much difference."
"Do you stay long?" asked Roger in the same voice.
"I go back probably on Monday," said Montague.
"As I shall be here a whole week, and shall not speak a word to any one after he has left me, he has consented to bestow his company on me for two days. Will you join us at dinner, Mr. Carbury, this evening?"
"Thank you, madam;—I have dined."
"Then, Mr. Montague, I will leave you with your friend. My toilet, though it will be very slight, will take longer than yours. We dine you know in twenty minutes. I wish you could get your friend to join us." So saying, Mrs. Hurtle tripped back across the sand towards the hotel.
"Is this wise?" demanded Roger in a voice that was almost sepulchral, as soon as the lady was out of hearing.
"You may well ask that, Carbury. Nobody knows the folly of it so thoroughly as I do."
"Then why do you do it? Do you mean to marry her?"
"No; certainly not."
"Is it honest then, or like a gentleman, that you should be with her in this way? Does she think that you intend to marry her?"
"I have told her that I would not. I have told her—." Then he stopped. He was going on to declare that he had told her that he loved another woman, but he felt that he could hardly touch that matter in speaking to Roger Carbury.
"What does she mean then? Has she no regard for her own character?"
"I would explain it to you all, Carbury, if I could. But you would never have the patience to hear me."
"I am not naturally impatient."
"But this would drive you mad. I wrote to her assuring her that it must be all over. Then she came here and sent for me. Was I not bound to go to her?"
"Yes;—to go to her and repeat what you had said in your letter."
"I did do so. I went with that very purpose, and did repeat it."
"Then you should have left her."
"Ah; but you do not understand. She begged that I would not desert her in her loneliness. We have been so much together that I could not desert her."
"I certainly do not understand that, Paul. You have allowed yourself to be entrapped into a promise of marriage; and then, for reasons which we will not go into now but which we both thought to be adequate, you resolved to break your promise, thinking that you would be justified in doing so. But nothing can justify you in living with the lady afterwards on such terms as to induce her to suppose that your old promise holds good."
"She does not think so. She cannot think so."
"Then what must she be, to be here with you? And what must you be, to be here, in public, with such a one as she is? I don't know why I should trouble you or myself about it. People live now in a way that I don't comprehend. If this be your way of living, I have no right to complain."
"For God's sake, Carbury, do not speak in that way. It sounds as though you meant to throw me over."
"I should have said that you had thrown me over. You come down here to this hotel, where we are both known, with this lady whom you are not going to marry;—and I meet you, just by chance. Had I known it, of course I could have turned the other way. But coming on you by accident, as I did, how am I not to speak to you? And if I speak, what am I to say? Of course I think that the lady will succeed in marrying you."
"And that such a marriage will be your destruction. Doubtless she is good-looking."
"Yes, and clever. And you must remember that the manners of her country are not as the manners of this country."
"Then if I marry at all," said Roger, with all his prejudice expressed strongly in his voice, "I trust I may not marry a lady of her country. She does not think that she is to marry you, and yet she comes down here and stays with you. Paul, I don't believe it. I believe you, but I don't believe her. She is here with you in order that she may marry you. She is cunning and strong. You are foolish and weak. Believing as I do that marriage with her would be destruction, I should tell her my mind,—and leave her." Paul at the moment thought of the gentleman in Oregon, and of certain difficulties in leaving. "That's what I should do. You must go in now, I suppose, and eat your dinner."
"I may come to the hall as I go back home?"
"Certainly you may come if you please," said Roger. Then he bethought himself that his welcome had not been cordial. "I mean that I shall be delighted to see you," he added, marching away along the strand. Paul did go into the hotel, and did eat his dinner. In the meantime Roger Carbury marched far away along the strand. In all that he had said to Montague he had spoken the truth, or that which appeared to him to be the truth. He had not been influenced for a moment by any reference to his own affairs. And yet he feared, he almost knew, that this man,—who had promised to marry a strange American woman and who was at this very moment living in close intercourse with the woman after he had told her that he would not keep his promise,—was the chief barrier between himself and the girl that he loved. As he had listened to John Crumb while John spoke of Ruby Ruggles, he had told himself that he and John Crumb were alike. With an honest, true, heart-felt desire they both panted for the companionship of a fellow-creature whom each had chosen. And each was to be thwarted by the make-believe regard of unworthy youth and fatuous good looks! Crumb, by dogged perseverance and indifference to many things, would probably be successful at last. But what chance was there of success for him? Ruby, as soon as want or hardship told upon her, would return to the strong arm that could be trusted to provide her with plenty and comparative ease. But Hetta Carbury, if once her heart had passed from her own dominion into the possession of another, would never change her love. It was possible, no doubt,—nay, how probable,—that her heart was still vacillating. Roger thought that he knew that at any rate she had not as yet declared her love. If she were now to know,—if she could now learn,—of what nature was the love of this other man; if she could be instructed that he was living alone with a lady whom not long since he had promised to marry,—if she could be made to understand this whole story of Mrs. Hurtle, would not that open her eyes? Would she not then see where she could trust her happiness, and where, by so trusting it, she would certainly be shipwrecked!
"Never," said Roger to himself, hitting at the stones on the beach with his stick. "Never." Then he got his horse and rode back to Carbury Manor.
Last modified 23 September 2014