« ForrigeFortsett »
*Mr. Simon has been making some friendly inquiries about you, Thomas. He was in the neighbourhood, and thought he might call on Mr. Moloch—what a dreadful name ! Why have you nothing to say to me about your studies P Mr. Simon says you are getting quite a scholar in German. But it is a dangerous language, Thomas, and full of errors. Beware of yielding too ready an ear to the seductions of human philosophy, and the undermining attacks of will-worship.”
Mrs. Worboise went on in this strain, intelligible neither to herself nor her son, seeing she had not more than the vaguest notion of what she meant by German theology, for at least five minutes, during which Thomas did not interrupt her once. By allowing the lies of his German master to pass thus uncontradicted, he took another long stride down the inclined plane of deceit.
After this he became, naturally, more familiar with Mr. Molken. The German abandoned books, and began to teach him fencing, in which he was an adept, talking to him in German all the while, and thus certainly increasing his knowledge of the language, though not in a direction that was likely within fifty years to lead him to the mastery of commercial correspondence in that tongue.
MR. BoxALL, with some difficulty, arising from reluctance, made his wife acquainted with the annoyance occasioned him in the discovery of the fact that Tom Worboise had not even told his father that Mary was ill. “I’m convinced,” he said, “that the young rascal has only been amusing himself—flirting, I believe, you women call it.” “I’m none so sure of that, Richard,” answered his wife. “You leave him to me.” “Now, my dear, I won't have you throwing our Mary in any fool's face. It's bad enough as it is. But I declare I would rather see her in her grave than scorned by any man.” “You may see her there without before long,” answered his wife, with a sigh. “Eh What? She's not worse, is she f" “No ; but she hasn’t much life left in her. I'm afraid it's settling on her lungs. Her cough is something dreadful to hear, and tears her to pieces.” “It’s milder weather, though, now, and that will make a difference before long.—Now, I know what you're thinking of, my dear, and I won't have it. I told the fellow she wasn't fit to see anybody.”
“Were you always ready to talk about me to every one that came in your way, Richard?” asked his wife, with a good-humoured smile. “I don't call a lad's father and mother any one that comes in the way—though, I daresay, fathers and mothers are in the way sometimes,” he added, with a slight sigh. “Would you have talked about me to your own father, Richard P’” “Well, you see, I wasn't in his neighbourhood. But my father was a-a-stiff kind of man to deal with.” “Not worse than Mr. Worboise, depend upon it, my dear.” “But Worboise would like well enough to have our Mary for a daughter-in-law.” “I daresay. But that mightn't make it easier to talk to him about her—for Tom, I mean. For my part, I never did see two such parents as poor Tom has got. I declare it’s quite a shame to sit upon that handsome young lad—and amiable—as they do. He can hardly call his nose his own. I wouldn't trust that Mr. Worboise, for my part, no, not if I was drowning.” “Why, wife?” exclaimed Mr. Boxall, both surprised and annoyed, “this is something new How long—” But his wife went on regardless. “And that mother of his It's a queer kind of religion that freezes the life out of you the moment you come near her. How ever a young fellow could talk about his sweetheart to either of them is more than I can understand—or you either, my dear. So don’t look so righteous over it.” Mrs. Boxall's good-natured audacity generally carried everything before it, even with more dangerous persons than her own husband. He could not help—I do not say smiling, but trying to smile ; and though the smile was rather a failure, Mrs. Boxall chose to take it for a smile. Indeed she generally put her husband into good humour by treating him as if he were in a far better humour than he really was in. It never does any good to tell a man that he is cross. If he is, it makes him no better even though it should make him vexed with himself; and if he isn't cross, nothing is more certain to make him cross, without giving him a moment's time to consult the better part of him. Somewhere within the next eight days, Mrs. Boxall wrote to Tom as follows:– “MY DEAR MR. THOMAS,-Mary is much better, and you need not be at all uneasy about the consequences of your expedition to the North Pole on Christmas Day. I am very sorry I was so cross when you brought her home. Indeed, I believe I ought to beg your pardon. If you don't come and see us soon, I shall fancy that I have seriously offended you. But I knew she never could stand exposure to the weather, and I suppose that was what upset my temper. Mary will be pleased to see you.-I am ever yours sincerely, “JANE BoxALL.”
Tom received this letter before he left for town in the morning. What was he to do? Of course, he must go and call there, as he styled it, but he pronounced it a great bore. He was glad the poor girl was better; but he couldn’t help it, and he had no fancy for being hunted up after that fashion. What made him yet more savage was, that Mr. Boxall was absolutely surly—he had never seen him so before—when he went into his room upon some message from Mr. Stopper. He did not go that day nor the next.
On the third evening he went ;-but the embarrassment of feeling that he ought to have gone before was added to the dislike of going at all, and he was in no enviable condition of mind when he got off the Clapton omnibus. Add to this that an unrelenting east wind was blowing, and my reader will believe that Tom Worboise was more like a man going to the scaffold than one going to visit a convalescent girl.
There was something soothing, however, in the glow of warmth and comfort which the opening door revealed. The large hall carpeted throughout, the stove burning in it most benevolently, the brightness of the thick stair-rods, like veins of gold in the broad crimson carpeting of the generously wide staircase—all was consoling to Thomas, whose home was one of the new straight-up-anddown stucco-faced abominations which can never be home-like except to those who have been born in them—and no thanks to them then, for in that case a rabbit-hutch will be home-like. Mrs. Boxall was one of those nice, stout, kindly, middle-aged women who have a positive genius for comfort. Now there is no genius in liking to be comfortable ; but there is some genius in making yourself comfortable, and a great deal more in making other people comfortable. This Mrs. Boxall possessed in perfection ; and you felt it the moment you entered her house, which, like her person, summer and winter, was full of a certain autumnal richness—the bloom of peaches and winter apples. And what was remarkable was that all this was gained without a breath of scolding to the maids. She would ring the bell ten times an hour for the same maid, if necessary. She would ring at once—no matter how slight the fault—a scrap of paper—a cornerful of dust—a roll of flue upon that same stair-carpet—but not even what might make an indulgent mistress savage—a used lucifer match—would upset the temper of Mrs. Boxall.—Why do I linger on these trifles, do you ask, reader 2 Because I shall have to part with Mirs. Boxall soon ; and—shall I confess it?—because it gives me a chance of reading a sly lecture to certain ladies whom I know, but who cannot complain when I weave it into a history. My only trouble about Mrs. Boxall is, to think in what condition she must have found herself when she was no longer in the midst of any of the circumstances of life—had neither house nor clothes, nor even the body she had been used to dress with such matronly taste, to look after.
It was with a certain tremor that Tom approached the door of Mary Boxall’s room. But he had not time to indulge it, as I fear he might have done if he had had time, for, as I have said, he prized feelings, and had not begun even to think about actions.
What a change from the Mary of the snowstorm She lay on a couch near the fire, pale and delicate, with thin white hands, and altogether an altered expression of being. But her appearance of health had always been somewhat boastful. Thomas felt that she was far lovelier than before, and approached her with some emotion. But Mary's illness had sharpened her perceptions. There was no light in the room but that of the fire, and it lightened and gloomed over her still face, as the clouds and the sun do over a landscape. As the waters shine out and darken again in the hollows, so her eyes gleamed and vanished, and in the shadow Thomas could not tell whether she was looking at him or not. But then Mary was reading his face like a book in a hard language, which yet she understood enough to read it. Very little was said between them, for Mary was sad and weak, and Thomas was sorrowful and perplexed. She had been reckoning on this first visit from Thomas ever since she had recovered enough to choose what she would think about; and now it was turning out all so different from what she had pictured to herself. Her poor heart sank away somewhere, and left a hollow place where it had used to be. Thomas sat there, but there was a chasm between them, not such as she any longer sought to cross, but which she would have wider still. She wished he would go. A few more common-places across the glimmering fire, and it sank, as if sympathetic, into a sullen gloom, and the face of neither was visible to the other. Then Thomas rose with the effort of one in a nightmare-dream. Mary held out her hand to him. He took it in his, cold to the heart. The fire gave out one flame which flickered and died. In that light she looked at him—was it reproachfully He thought so, and felt that her eyes were like those of one trying to see something at a great distance. One pressure of her hand, and he left her. He would gladly have shrunk into a nut-shell, “Good-bye, Thomas,” “Good-bye, Mary,” were the last words that passed between them.
Outside the room he found Mrs. Boxall.
“Are you going already, Mr. Thomas P” she said, in an uncertain kind of tone,
“Yes, Mrs. Boxall,” was all Tom had to reply with.
Mrs. Boxall went into her daughter's room, and shut the door. Thomas let himself out, and walked away.
She found Mary lying staring at the fire, with great dry eyes, lips pressed close together, and face even whiter than before. “My darling child!” said the mother. “It's no matter, mother. It's all my own foolish fault. Only bed again will be so dreary now.” The mother made some gesture, which the daughter understood. “No, mother; don't say a word. I won't hear a word of that kind. I’m a good deal wiser already than I used to be. If I get better, I shall live for you and papa.” A dreadful fit of coughing interrupted her. “Don’t fancy I’m going to die for love,” she said, with a faint attempt at a smile. “I’m not one of that sort. If I die, it'll be of a good honest cough, that's all. Dear mother, it's nothing, I declare.” Thomas never more crossed that threshold. And ever after Mr. Boxall spoke to him as a paid clerk, and nothing more. So he had to carry a certain humiliation about with him. Mr. Stopper either knew something of the matter, or followed the tone of his principal. Even Charles Wither was short with him after a while. I suppose Jane told him that he had behaved very badly to Mary. So Tom had no friend left but Lucy, and was driven nearer to Mr. Molken. He still contrived to keep his visits at Guild Court, except those to Mr. Molken, a secret at home. But I think Mr. Stopper had begun to suspect, if not to find him out. I have not done with the Boxalls yet, though there is henceforth an impassable gulf between Tom and them. As the spring drew on, Mary grew a little better. With the first roses Uncle John Boxall came home from the Chinese Sea, and took up his residence for six weeks or so with his brother. Mary was fond of Uncle John, and his appearance at this time was very opportune. A more rapid improvement was visible within a few days of his arrival. He gave himself up almost to the invalid; and as she was already getting over her fancy for Tom, her love for her uncle came in to aid her recovery. “It's the smell of the salt-water,” said he, when they remarked how much good he had done her ; “and more of it would do her more good yet.” They thought it better not to tell him anything about Tom. But one day after dinner, in a gush of old feelings, brought on by a succession of reminiscences of their childhood, Richard told John all about it, which was not much. John swore, and kept pondeling the matter over,