Read CHAPTER VII. of An Old Man's Love , free online book, by Anthony Trollope, on ReadCentral.com.

John Gordon and Mr Whittlestaff.

Mr Gordon had gone out to South Africa with the settled intention of doing something that might enable him to marry Mary Lawrie, and he had carried his purpose through with a manly resolution.  He had not found Kimberley much to his taste, and had not made many dear friends among the settled inhabitants he had found there.  But he had worked on, buying and selling shares in mines, owning a quarter of an eighth there, and half a tenth here, and then advancing till he was the possessor of many complete shares in many various adventures which were quite intelligible to him, though to the ordinary stay-at-home Englishman they seem to be so full of peril as not to be worth possessing.  As in other mines, the profit is shared monthly, and the system has the advantage of thus possessing twelve quarter-days in the year.  The result is, that time is more spread out, and the man expects to accomplish much more in twelve months than he can at home.  In two years a man may have made a fortune and lost it, and be on his way to make it again.  John Gordon had suffered no reverses, and with twenty-four quarter-days, at each of which he had received ten or twenty per cent, he had had time to become rich.  He had by no means abandoned all his shares in the diamond-mines; but having wealth at command, he had determined to carry out the first purpose for which he had come to South Africa.  Therefore he returned to Norwich, and having there learned Mary’s address, now found himself in her presence at Croker’s Hall.

Mr Whittlestaff, when he heard John Gordon’s name, was as much astonished as had been Mary herself.  Here was Mary’s lover, ­the very man whom Mary had named to him.  It had all occurred on this very morning, so that even the look of her eyes and the tone of her voice, as those few words of hers had been spoken, were fresh in his memory.  “He used to come to our house at Norwich, ­and I loved him.”  Then she had told him that this lover had been poor, and had gone away.  He had, since that, argued it out with himself, and with her too, on the theory, though not expressed, that a lover who had gone away now nearly three years ago, and had not been heard of, and had been poor when he went, was of no use, and should be forgotten.  “Let there be no mention of him between us,” he had intended to say, “and the memory of him will fade away.”  But now on this very day he was back among them, and there was Mary hardly able to open her mouth in his presence.

He had bowed twice very stiffly when Gordon had spoken of all that he had done on Mary’s behalf.  “Arrangements have been made,” he said, “which may, I trust, tend to Miss Lawrie’s advantage.  Perhaps I ought not to say so myself, but there is no reason why I should trouble a stranger with them.”

“I hope I may never be considered a stranger by Miss Lawrie,” said Gordon, turning round to the young lady.

“No, not a stranger,” said Mary; “certainly not a stranger.”

But this did not satisfy John Gordon, who felt that there was something in her manner other than he would have it.  And yet even to him it seemed to be impossible now, at this first moment, to declare his love before this man, who had usurped the place of her guardian.  In fact he could not speak to her at all before Mr Whittlestaff.  He had hurried back from the diamond-fields, in order that he might lay all his surprisingly gotten wealth at Mary’s feet, and now he felt himself unable to say a word to Mary of his wealth, unless in this man’s presence.  He told himself as he had hurried home that there might be difficulties in his way.  He might find her married, ­or promised in marriage.  He had been sure of her love when he started.  He had been quite confident that, though no absolute promise had been made from her to him, or from him to her, there had then been no reason for him to doubt.  In spite of that, she might have married now, or been promised in marriage.  He knew that she must have been poor and left in want when her stepmother had died.  She had told him of the intentions for her life, and he had answered that perhaps in the course of events something better might come up for her.  Then he had been called a pauper, and had gone away to remedy that evil if it might be possible.  He had heard while working among the diamonds that Mr Whittlestaff had taken her to his own home.  He had heard of Mr Whittlestaff as the friend of her father, and nothing better he thought could have happened.  But Mary might have been weak during his absence, and have given herself up to some other man who had asked for her hand.  She was still, at heart, Mary Lawrie.  So much had been made known to him.  But from the words which had fallen from her own lips, and from the statement which had fallen from Mr Whittlestaff, he feared that it must be so.  Mr Whittlestaff had said that he need not trouble a stranger with Mary’s affairs; and Mary, in answer to his appeal, had declared that he could not be considered as a stranger to her.

He thought a moment how he would act, and then he spoke boldly to both of them.  “I have hurried home from Kimberley, Mr Whittlestaff, on purpose to find Mary Lawrie.”

Mary, when she heard this, seated herself on the chair that was nearest to her.  For any service that it might be to her, his coming was too late.  As she thought of this, her voice left her, so that she could not speak to him.

“You have found her,” said Mr Whittlestaff, very sternly.

“Is there any reason why I should go away again?” He had not at this moment realised the idea that Mr Whittlestaff himself was the man to whom Mary might be engaged.  Mr Whittlestaff to his thinking had been a paternal providence, a God-sent support in lieu of father, who had come to Mary in her need.  He was prepared to shower all kinds of benefits on Mr Whittlestaff, ­diamonds polished, and diamonds in the rough, diamonds pure and white, and diamonds pink-tinted, ­if only Mr Whittlestaff would be less stern to him.  But even yet he had no fear of Mr Whittlestaff himself.

“I should be most happy to welcome you here as an old friend of Mary’s,” said Mr Whittlestaff, “if you will come to her wedding.”  Mr Whittlestaff also had seen the necessity for open speech; and though he was a man generally reticent as to his own affairs, thought it would be better to let the truth be known at once.  Mary, when the word had been spoken as to her wedding, “blushed black” as her stepmother had said of her.  A dark ruby tint covered her cheeks and her forehead; but she turned away her face, and compressed her lips, and clenched her two fists close together.

“Miss Lawrie’s wedding!” said John Gordon.  “Is Miss Lawrie to be married?” And he purposely looked at her, as though asking her the question.  But she answered never a word.

“Yes.  Miss Lawrie is to be married.”

“It is sad tidings for me to hear,” said John Gordon.  “When last I saw her I was rebuked by her step-mother because I was a pauper.  It was true.  Misfortunes had come in my family, and I was not a fit person to ask Miss Lawrie for her love.  But I think she knew that I loved her.  I then went off to do the best within my power to remedy that evil.  I have come back with such money as might suffice, and now I am told of Miss Lawrie’s wedding!” This he said, again turning to her as though for an answer.  But from her there came not a word.

“I am sorry you should be disappointed, Mr Gordon,” said Mr Whittlestaff; “but it is so.”  Then there came over John Gordon’s face a dark frown, as though he intended evil.  He was a man whose displeasure, when he was displeased, those around him were apt to fear.  But Mr Whittlestaff himself was no coward.  “Have you any reason to allege why it should not be so?” John Gordon only answered by looking again at poor Mary.  “I think there has been no promise made by Miss Lawrie.  I think that I understand from her that there has been no promise on either side; and indeed no word spoken indicating such a promise.”  It was quite clear, at any rate, that this guardian and his ward had fully discussed the question of any possible understanding between her and John Gordon.

“No; there was none:  it is true.”

“Well?”

“It is true.  I am left without an inch of ground on which to found a complaint.  There was no word; no promise.  You know the whole story only too well.  There was nothing but unlimited love, ­at any rate on my part.”  Mr Whittlestaff knew well that there had been love on her part also, and that the love still remained.  But she had promised to get over that passion, and there could be no reason why she should not do so, simply because the man had returned.  He said he had come from Kimberley.  Mr Whittlestaff had his own ideas about Kimberley.  Kimberley was to him a very rowdy place, ­the last place in the world from which a discreet young woman might hope to get a well-conducted husband.  Under no circumstances could he think well of a husband who presented himself as having come direct from the diamond-fields, though he only looked stern and held his peace.  “If Miss Lawrie will tell me that I may go away, I will go,” said Gordon, looking again at Mary; but how could Mary answer him?

“I am sure,” said Mr Whittlestaff, “that Miss Lawrie will be very sorry that there should be any ground for a quarrel.  I am quite well aware that there was some friendship between you two.  Then you went, as you say, and though the friendship need not be broken, the intimacy was over.  She had no special reason for remembering you, as you yourself admit.  She has been left to form any engagement that she may please.  Any other expectation on your part must be unreasonable.  I have said that, as an old friend of Miss Lawrie’s, I should be happy to welcome you here to her wedding.  I cannot even name a day as yet; but I trust that it may be fixed soon.  You cannot say even to yourself that Miss Lawrie has treated you badly.”

But he could say it to himself.  And though he would not say it to Mr Whittlestaff, had she been there alone, he would have said it to her.  There had been no promise, ­no word of promise.  But he felt that there had been that between them which should have been stronger than any promise.  And with every word which came from Mr Whittlestaff’s mouth, he disliked Mr Whittlestaff more and more.  He could judge from Mary’s appearance that she was down-hearted, that she was unhappy, that she did not glory in her coming marriage.  No girl’s face ever told her heart’s secret more plainly than did Mary’s at this moment.  But Mr Whittlestaff seemed to glory in the marriage.  To him it seemed that the getting rid of John Gordon was the one thing of importance.  So it was, at least, that John Gordon interpreted his manner.  But the name of the suitor had not yet been told him, and he did not in the least suspect it.  “May I ask you when it is to be?” he asked.

“That is a question which the lady generally must answer,” said Mr Whittlestaff, turning on his part also to Mary.

“I do not know,” said Mary.

“And who is the happy man?” said John Gordon.  He expected an answer to the question also from Mary, but Mary was still unable to answer him.  “You at any rate will tell me, sir, the name of the gentleman.”

“I am the gentleman,” said Mr Whittlestaff, holding himself somewhat more erect as he spoke.  The position, it must be acknowledged, was difficult.  He could see that this strange man, this John Gordon, looked upon him, William Whittlestaff, to be altogether an unfit person to take Mary Lawrie for his wife.  By the tone in which he asked the question, and by the look of surprise which he put on when he received the answer, Gordon showed plainly that he had not expected such a reply.  “What! an old man like you to become the husband of such a girl as Mary Lawrie!  Is this the purpose for which you have taken her into your house, and given her those good things of which you have boasted?” It was thus that Mr Whittlestaff had read the look and interpreted the speech conveyed in Gordon’s eye.  Not that Mr Whittlestaff had boasted, but it was thus that he read the look.  He knew that he had gathered himself up and assumed a special dignity as he made his answer.

“Oh, indeed!” said John Gordon.  And now he turned himself altogether round, and gazed with his full frowning eyes fixed upon poor Mary.

“If you knew it all, you would feel that I could not help myself.”  It was thus that Mary would have spoken if she could have given vent to the thoughts within her bosom.

“Yes, sir.  It is I who think myself so happy as to have gained the affections of the young lady.  She is to be my wife, and it is she herself who must name the day when she shall become so.  I repeat the invitation which I gave you before.  I shall be most happy to see you at my wedding.  If, as may be the case, you shall not be in the country when that time comes; and if, now that you are here, you will give Miss Lawrie and myself some token of your renewed friendship, we shall be happy to see you if you will come at once to the house, during such time as it may suit you to remain in the neighbourhood.”  Considering the extreme difficulty of the position, Mr Whittlestaff carried himself quite as well as might have been expected.

“Under such circumstances,” said Gordon, “I cannot be a guest in your house.”  Thereupon Mr Whittlestaff bowed.  “But I hope that I may be allowed to speak a few words to the young lady not in your presence.”

“Certainly, if the young lady wishes it.”

“I had better not,” said Mary.

“Are you afraid of me?”

“I am afraid of myself.  It had better not be so.  Mr Whittlestaff has told you only the truth.  I am to be his wife; and in offering me his hand, he has added much to the infinite kindnesses which he has bestowed upon me.”

“Oh, if you think so!”

“I do think so.  If you only knew it all, you would think so too.”

“How long has this engagement existed?” asked Gordon.  But to this question Mary Lawrie could not bring herself to give an answer.

“If you are not afraid of what he may say to you ?” said Mr Whittlestaff.

“I am certainly afraid of nothing that Mr Gordon may say.”

“Then I would accede to his wishes.  It may be painful, but it will be better to have it over.”  Mr Whittlestaff, in giving this advice, had thought much as to what the world would say of him.  He had done nothing of which he was ashamed, ­nor had Mary.  She had given him her promise, and he was sure that she would not depart from it.  It would, he thought, be infinitely better for her, for many reasons, that she should be married to him than to this wild young man, who had just now returned to England from the diamond-mines, and would soon, he imagined, go back there again.  But the young man had asked to see the girl whom he was about to marry alone, and it would not suit him to be afraid to allow her so much liberty.

“I shall not hurt you, Mary,” said John Gordon.

“I am sure you would not hurt me.”

“Nor say an unkind word.”

“Oh no!  You could do nothing unkind to me, I know.  But you might spare me and yourself some pain.”

“I cannot do it,” he said.  “I cannot bring myself to go back at once after this long voyage, instantly, as I should do, without having spoken one word to you.  I have come here to England on purpose to see you.  Nothing shall induce me to abandon my intention of doing so, but your refusal.  I have received a blow, ­a great blow, ­and it is you who must tell me that there is certainly no cure for the wound.”

“There is certainly none,” said Mary.

“Perhaps I had better leave you together,” said Mr Whittlestaff, as he got up and left the room.