Read CHAPTER VI - MOTHER’S MISFORTUNE of The Torch and Other Tales, free online book, by Eden Phillpotts, on ReadCentral.com.

I shall always say I did ought to have married Gregory Sweet when my husband dropped, and nobody can accuse me of not doing my bestest to that end. In a womanly way, knowing the man had me in his eye from the funeral onwards, and before for that matter, I endeavoured to make it so easy for him as I could without loss of self-respect; and he can hear me out, and if he don’t the neighbours will.

But there it was. Gregory suffered from defects of character, too prone to show themselves in a bachelor man after the half century he turned. He pushed caution to such extremes that you can only call ungentlemanly where a nice woman’s concerned, and I never shall know to my dying day what kept him off me. A man of good qualities too, but a proper slave to the habit of caution, and though I’d be the last to undervalue the virtue which never was wanted more than now, yet, when the coast lies clear and the sun’s shining and the goal in sight, and that goal me, ’twas a depressing thing for the man to hold back without any sane reason for so doing.

Being, as you may say, the centre of the story, for Milly Parable and my son, Rupert, though they bulk large in the tale, be less than me, it’s difficult to set it out. And the affair itself growed into such a proper tangle at the finish that my pen may fail afore the end; but I’ll stick so near as memory serves me to the facts, and, though others may not shine too bright afore I finish, the tale won’t cast no discredit upon me in any fairminded ear.

I married at twenty and had four children and they was grown up, all but Albert, before I lost John Stocks, my first husband. Albert, top flower of the basket, he died as a bright child of ten year old. His brain was too big for his head and expanded and killed him. And that left Jane, my first, married to Ford, the baker, and John, called after his father, and known to me as ‘Mother’s Joy,’ and Rupert, who got to be called ’Mother’s Misfortune,’ because he was a shifty and tolerable wicked boy with lawless manners and no thought for any living creature but self. John was good as gold, but a thought simple. He married and had five childer in four years and never knew where to turn for a penny. But the good will and big heart of the man was always there, and if he could have helped his parents and come by money honest, he’d have certainly done it. A glutton for work and in church twice every Sunday; but his work was hedge-tacking and odd jobs, and he never done either in a way to get any lasting fame. I wouldn’t say I was proud of him, and yet I knew he went straight and done his duty to the best of his poor powers. His wife was such another the salt of the earth in a manner of speaking, if rightly understood, but no knack of making her mark in the world in fact a very godly, unnoticeable, unlucky fashion of woman. I knew they’d be rewarded hereafter, where brains be dust in the balance, but meantime I’d sometimes turn to mark Rupert flourishing like the green bay tree and making money and putting it away and biding single and keeping his secrets close as the grave.

I never saw none of his earnings and more didn’t his father. He was under-keeper to Tudor Manor and very well thought on; but a miser of speech, as well as cash, and none knew what was in his heart. He lived at the north lodge of the big place and woke a lot of curiosity, as secrecy will; but at eight-and-twenty years of age he was granted to be a man very skilled in his business, and the head-keeper, Mr. Vallance, thought a lot of him, and the two men under him went in fear. So also did the poachers, for he was terrible skilled in their habits, and only his bringing up and a patient father and mother had turned the balance and made him the protector of game instead of a robber himself. So there it was: my eldest had a heart of gold and no intellects, as often happens, while Rupert hadn’t no heart at all, but the Lord willed him wits above ordinary. He’d come to supper of a Sunday and eat enormous; though never did we get anything in return but emptiness and silence. He’d listen to his father telling, and my John, being a hopeful man, never failed to hint that a few shillings would help us over a difficult week and so on; but Rupert only listened. My John, you see, was one of they unfortunates stricken with the rheumatism that turns you into a living stone, so his usefulness was pretty undergone afore he reached sixty and but for my little bit, saved in service, and an occasional food-offering from my daughter’s husband, it would have gone hard with us. This my eldest son well understood and often the tears would come into his eyes because he couldn’t do nothing; but no tear ever came into Rupert’s eyes. Once I saw him stuff his father’s pipe out of his own tobacco pouch and only once; and we thought upon that amazing thing for a month after and wondered how it happened.

Well, that’s how it stood when the Almighty released my husband and in a manner of speaking me also. He had been comforted by good friends during his long illness and not only our eldest son, John, would often make time to sit by him and have a tell, but there was the Vicar also and his wife peaceful and cheerful people, that my poor sufferer was always glad to see. And besides them Mr. Sweet often came in and passed the news, though owing to his high gift of caution he’d seldom tell you anything that wasn’t well known a month before. And Arthur Parable was not seldom at the bedside, for he was among our oldest friends and tolerable cheerful along with John, because the sight of a sick person had a way to cheer him and make him so bright as a bee. He’d be very interested to hear about my husband’s pangs and said it was wonderful what the human frame could endure without going under. But a nice, thoughtful man who had seen pecks of trouble himself and could spare a sigh for others. He’d often bring my husband a pinch of tobacco, or an old illustrated newspaper; and he liked to turn over the past, when his wife was alive and he’d many times been within a touch of taking his own life.

Arthur was a handsome fellow, and might well have wed again, but no desire in that direction overtook him, and when Dowager Lady Martin at Tudor Manor took sick and had two nurses, his daughter Minnie, gived over her work, which was lady’s maid to the old lady, and come home to look after her father. I’d say to Mr. Parable sometimes that, at his age and with his personable appearance, he might try again in hope; but “No,” he said. “I’ve had my little lot and there’s Minnie. My girl would never neighbour with a step-mother and I don’t want no more sour looks and high words in my house.”

“Girl” he called her, but in truth Minnie Parable was five-and-thirty and far ways from being girlish in mind or body. Old for her age and one of they flat, dreary-minded females with a voice like the wind in a winter hedge, eyes without no more light in ’em than a rabbit’s, and a moping, down-daunted manner that made the women shrug their shoulders and the men fly. Not a word against her, and the fact she was lady’s maid for ten full years to the Dowager can be told to prove her virtues; but then again, the Dowager was a melancholy-minded old woman, along of family misfortunes, and no doubt Minnie’s gift for looking at the dark side suited that ancient piece, who always did likewise.

But there it was. With her melancholy nose, thin shoulders and sand-coloured hair, Minnie woke up no interest in the men, and there was only one person surprised to find it so, and that was herself.

She told me once, in her poor, corncrake voice, that she’d never had an affair in her life, though she’d saved money. “I’d always thought to have a home of my own some day,” she told me, “for it ain’t as though I was one of them women that shun the male and plan to go through life without a partner; but they hold off, Mrs. Stocks, and the younger girls get married.”

“Plenty of time,” I said to pleasure her though knowing only too well there would never be the time for Minnie. “You wait,” I said. “All things come to them who wait.”

Little did I guess I was speaking a true word, but I went on:

“Them as marry for the eye often find they’re mistook, and with your homely looks, my dear, you’ve always got the certainty no man will snatch at you like he would at a pretty flower. When he comes, your husband will look beneath the surface and there he’ll find what’s better than pink cheeks and a glad eye. So you wait,” I said, “for a chap who’s past the silly stage and wants a comfortable home and a good cook and helpmate who’ll look at both sides of sixpence before she spends it.”

’Twas well meant, but like a lot of other well-intending remarks, fell a good bit short to the hearer. In fact the woman’s reply threw a bit of light on character and showed me a side of Minnie’s mind I had not bargained for. She flickered up as I spoke and stared out of her faded eyes, and for a passing moment there comed a glint in ’em, like the sun on a dead fish.

“I didn’t know I was so plain as all that!” she snapped out. “There’s uglier than me in the village, unless I can’t see straight, and whether or no, when I marry, it’ll be for love, let me tell you, Mary Stocks, and not to count my husband’s sixpences!”

“May he have more than you can count, my dear, when he do come,” I said, for the soft answer that turns away wrath has mostly been my motto. And then I left her, champing on the bit, so to say; and I wondered where the poor soul had seen a less fanciable maiden than herself in our village, or any other. But ’tis the mercy of Providence to hide reality from us where ’tis like to hurt most, and no doubt if our neighbours knew the naked truth of their queer appearances and uncomfortable natures, there would come a rush of them felo-de-sees and a lot of unhappiness that ignorance escapes.

Well, my poor John went, but before he’d done so it was plain to mark that our old and valued friend, Gregory Sweet, had me upon his mind. Never a word he said while there was a spark of life in John and never a word he said afterwards either for a full year, and I liked him the better for it; but though cautious, he was not a concealer, and never attempted to hide his regard and hope where I was concerned. A woman knows without words, being gifted by nature to understand signs and signals, whether of danger, or the reverse; and so I knew Gregory was very much addicted to me and only waiting the appointed time to offer. For a long while I thought he would put the proposal in a letter, and then, remembering his caution and his terror of the written word, I guessed he’d never so far commit himself as to set it down. But I was ready and willing, for Greg had a tidy little greengrocer’s business and they counted him a snug man. A bachelor of sixty-two he was clean as a new pin of a Sunday and very well thought upon. A bearded man, with a wrinkled brow and eyes that looked shifty to a stranger; but ’twas only his undying caution made them so. As straight as any other greengrocer, and straighter than some. And I was tolerable poor, but not lacking in gifts to shine, given the chance; and I knew Gregory inside out, you may say, and felt that in the shop and the home, he’d be a happier man for my company.

So, when the year was out and he still kept hanging on, though never a day passed but he looked in, or brought a bunch of pretty fresh green stuff, I felt the man’s hand must be strengthened.

“I’ll save him from himself in this matter,” I thought. “He’s got a way of thinking time and eternity be the same thing, and he’s looked all round the bargain for more’n a year, so ’tis up to me to help him in the way he very clearly wants to go.” And I set about him and made it easy for him to see he wouldn’t get “No” for an answer when he brought himself to the brink. I made it so clear as a woman could that I cared for Sweet, and I aired my views and dropped a good few delicate-minded hints, such as that he didn’t look to be getting any younger and more didn’t I; and when the Rev. Champernowne preached a very fine performance on the words, “Now is the accepted time,” I rubbed it in fearlessly when Mr. Sweet next came for a smoke and talk after his supper.

“Time don’t stand still with the youngest,” I said, “and for my part it seems to go quicker with the middle-aged than anybody; and many a man and woman too,” I said, “have lived to look back and see what a lot they missed, through too much caution and doubt. ’Nothing venture, nothing have,’ is a very true word,” I said, “and when a man have only got to open his mouth to win his heart’s desire, he’s a good bit of a fool, Greg, to keep it shut.”

I couldn’t say no more than that, and he nodded and answered me that he didn’t know but what I might be right.

“There’s not your equal for sense in the parish,” he told me, and being worked up a bit that evening, I very near gave him an impatient answer; but that ain’t my way: I just held in and told him that I was glad he thought so, and I believed he weren’t the only one. Then he took a curious look at me and said “Good evening,” and went on his way.

And, strange to tell, that last word of mine gave me an idea. Looking back I can see what tremendous things was hid in that chance speech, for it decided my life in a manner of speaking. Of course when I told Greg he weren’t the only one, I used a figure of speech and no more, because there weren’t none else and never had been; but now, as I unrayed for bed, I asked myself how it would be if there was another after me, and though very well knowing that no such thing could possibly happen, I let the thought run, pictured myself with another string to my old bow, and wondered what Mr. Sweet would do then.

I certainly paid the man the compliment of feeling sure, when he heard that, he’d throw caution to the winds and go for me; and since there wasn’t in sober truth another as had looked upon me with any serious resolves, I had to set about the matter. The Lord helps those who help themselves, but not if they be up to anything underhand or devious, as a rule, and though I might have invented a tale to hoodwink Gregory Sweet, that must have got back on my conscience, besides being a dangerous thing. Deceived, the poor man had to be for his own good, but my story must be made to hold water and ring true, else, with his doubting and probing nature, I well knew he’d ferret out the facts and very like leave me a loser.

But one man there was, who could well be trusted to play his part in this difficult matter, and he knew the circumstances and had already asked me time and again when Gregory was going to take the plunge. So I went to Arthur Parable and explained the situation and hoped, as an old friend and a well-wisher and a man far above suspicion, he’d lend a hand.

“It’s like this, Arthur,” I said. “I can trust you with my secrets, you being a man never known to talk and also a great friend of poor John’s.” And then I explained how it was with Mr. Sweet and how he only wanted just a clever push from outside to propose and be done with it.

Arthur heard me in silence, then he spoke. “You don’t want me to tell the man to offer for you?” he asked, and I replied:

“No Arthur far from it; but I want you to fall in with a little plot. There’s nothing quickens a man like Gregory so fast as finding he isn’t the only pebble on the beach; and if he was to hear my praises on your lips, or find us two taking a walk by the river, or drop in and see you drinking your dish of tea along with me once and again, I’m tolerable sure that he’d find the words. It won’t throw no shadow on you,” I said, “if you was to pretend a little interest in me; but when Gregory found out you was doing so, and heard the name of Mary Stocks in your mouth, and guessed you find your mind occupied with me off and on, then ’twould be the match to the powder in my opinion; and I should never forget your great goodness and bless your name.”

He took a good long time before he answered, and I was feared of my life he would refuse to have any hand in the affair. He cast his eyes over me that searching that I felt I might have gone too far; but then he grinned, which was an expression of pleasure very rare indeed with Arthur, and his brow lifted, and he went so far as to wink one of his pale grey eyes, the one with a drooping lid.

“For John’s sake,” I said.

“As to John,” he answered, “I never heard him say he was particular anxious for you to take another, and many husbands feel rather strong on that subject, as you can see when you hear their wills after they be gone; but as poor John hadn’t nothing to leave, he couldn’t make no conditions to hamper your freedom of action, and for my part I see no reason why you shouldn’t marry Gregory Sweet if you want to.”

“I do,” I said. “He’s a man you could trust, and you put safety first at my time of life.”

Well, Arthur dallied a bit and didn’t throw himself into it exactly; but none the less, before I left him he promised to do his part and make Mr. Sweet jealous if he could without casting any reflections upon himself.

For I found that Arthur had his share of caution also, and before we parted he made me sign a paper acknowledging the cabal in secret against Greg.

“You shall have it back the day he offers for you,” promised Arthur Parable, “and I only require it so that if any hard things was said of me, or I was accused of toying with your finer feelings, or anything like that, I can show by chapter and verse under your signature that the man’s a liar. And meantime I’ll sound your praises if I see Sweet and say you’d teach him the meaning of true happiness, and so on. And I’ll come to tea Sunday.”

Well, I thanked the man from my heart and since one good turn called for another I asked after him and his girl and hoped Minnie was being a kindly daughter to him and so on. But he didn’t speak very fatherly of her.

“She’s a melancholy cat in a house,” he said, “and women will be melancholy in her stage of life. She’s terrible wishful to leave me and find a husband so set on it as yourself but of course with no chance whatsoever; for no self-respecting man would ever look at a creature like her. As a rule, with her pattern, they have got sense enough to give up hope and take what Nature sends ’em in a patient spirit. But not Minnie. Hope won’t die and, in a word, she’s a plaguey piece and she’s got a sharp tongue too, and when I’m too old to hold my own she’ll give me hell.”

“Why don’t she go into one of them institutions?” I asked, “There’s plenty of places where good work is being done by ugly, large-hearted women, looking after natural childer, or nursing rich folk, and so on. Then she’d be helping the world along and forget herself and lay up treasure where moth and rust don’t corrupt.”

“You ax her,” answered Arthur. “You give her a hint. I’d pay good money to man or woman who could tempt her away from looking after me. And if she thought I was minded to take another wife, I’d get the ugly edge of her tongue up home to my vitals, so us must watch out.”

“Don’t you let her in the secret, however,” I prayed the man, “because if she knew she’d spoil all.”

“Fear nothing,” he answered; “I can take her measure.”

But unfortunately for all concerned, Arthur over-praised himself in that matter, and before a fortnight was told, while we developed our little affair very clever, and I smiled on Arthur in the street afore neighbours, and now and again he invited himself to tea if Minnie didn’t dash in and put the lid on! What I felt I can’t write down in any case now, things happening as they did after; but at the time, I’d have wrung the woman’s neck for a ha’porth of peas. But she thought she knew the circumstances, and being filled with hateful rage that her father was thinking on another, she struck in the only quarter that mattered and, before I knowed it, I was a lone woman and hope dead.

A good bit happened first, however, and Arthur played up very clever indeed. He’d come along and pass the time of day and I’d look in his cottage to give an opinion on some trifle; and when he came to a tea on which I’d spent a tidy lot of thought, he enjoyed it so much and welcomed the strength of it and the quality of the cake so hearty that once or twice us caught ourselves up.

“Dammy!” said Arthur, “we’m going it, Mary. Us had better draw in a thought, or our little games will end in earnest.”

“Not on my side,” I said, and that vexed him I believe, for a man’s a man. However, I reminded him of his first, and that always daunted his spirit, so he soon went off with his tail between his legs.

But all the same, I couldn’t help contrasting Arthur with Gregory, and though Greg might be called the more important and prosperous man, yet there was always a barrier he wouldn’t pass, while Arthur, though brooding by nature, could get about himself now and again, and in them rare moments, you felt there was a nice, affectionate side to him that only wanted encouraging.

It was three days after that tea and his praises of my hand with a plum cake, that I found myself left.

It came like a bolt from the blue sky, as they say, and I was messing about in my little garden full of an offer I’d got to let my cottage, or sell it, and wondering if I should tell Gregory, when the man himself came in the gate and slammed it home after him. And I see when I looked in his determined eyes that the time had come. His jaws were working, too, under his beard, and I reckoned he’d got wind of Arthur and was there to say the word at last. And I was right enough about Arthur, but cruel wrong about the word.

“I’ll ax you to step in the house,” he said. “I’ve heard something.”

“I hope it’s interesting news,” I answered. “Come in by all means, Gregory. Always welcome. Will you drink a glass of fresh milk?”

For milk was his favourite beverage.

“No,” he answered. “I don’t take no milk under this roof no more.”

So then I began to see there was something biting the man, though for my life I couldn’t guess what.

However, he soon told me.

He sat down, took off his hat, wiped his brow, blew his nose and then spoke.

“I’ve just been having a tell with Minnie Parable old Parable’s daughter,” he said.

“Have you?” I said. “Would you call him old?”

“Be damned to his age,” he answered. “That’s neither here nor there. But this I’d wish you to understand. I’ve respected you for a good few years now.”

“Why not?” I asked, rather short, for I didn’t like his manner.

“No reason at all till half an hour agone,” he replied. “But now I hear that, while you well knew my feelings and my hopes and might have trusted a man like me to speak when he saw his way, instead of following my lead and remembering yourself and calling to mind the sort of woman such as I had the right to expect, and waiting with patience and dignity for the accepted hour, you be throwing all thought of me to the winds and rolling your eyes on the men and axing them to tea, and conducting yourself in a manner very unbecoming indeed for the woman I’d long hoped to marry.”

I felt myself go red to the bosom; but I done a very clever thing, for though a thousand words leapt to my tongue, I didn’t speak one of ’em; but kept my mouth close shut and looked at him. Nought will vex an angry man more than to be faced with blank silence after he’s let off steam and worked up to a fine pitch; and now Greg expected me to answer back; and it put him out of his stride a lot when I didn’t.

I dare say we was both dumb for three minutes; then he got up off his chair and prepared to go.

“And and,” he began again “ and I want you to understand here and now here and now that it’s off. You’ve played with my affections and made me a laughing stock so Minnie Parable tells me and I hope you’ll live to repent it yes, I do. And I’ll say good evening.”

“Good evening, Mr. Sweet,” I said, “and may God forgive you, because I never won’t. You’ve put the foul-mouthed lies of that forgotten creature before a faithful, wholesome woman and listened to libellious falsehoods spoke against me behind my back, and talked stuff I might have you up for. And ’tis you are disgraced, not me; and when you find a straighter, cleaner-minded and more honourable creature than what I am, and one as would make you a finer partner, or had more admiration and respect for your character and opinions than what I had until ten minutes ago, then I shall be pleased to wish her luck.”

“It’s all off, all the same,” he said, and began to shamble down the path; but he’d lost his fire.

“Yes,” I said, following him to the gate. “It’s off all right, and angels from heaven wouldn’t bring it on again. I never had it in my mind for an instant moment to take any man but you, and if I haven’t been patient and long-suffering, waiting till your insulting caution was at an end, then God never made a patient woman. But it’s off, as you truly remark, and I’m very well content to remain the relic of John Stocks, who valued me and who died blessing my name.”

He went out with his head down and his nose very near touching his stomach; and after he’d gone I got in the house so limp as a dead rat. I’d bluffed it all right to Gregory; but when my flame cooled, I found the tears on my face and let ’em run for an hour. Then I calmed down and licked my bruises, so to speak, and felt a terrible wish for to hear a friendly fellow creature and get a bit of sympathy out of someone. For I’m a very sociable kind of woman; so I put on my bonnet and was just going round to see Mrs. Vincent and ask after the new baby and then tell my tale, her being a dear friend to me and her family also, when another man came to my door and there stood my son Rupert him known as ’Mother’s Misfortune,’ to distinguish him from my dear eldest one.

I wasn’t in no mood for Rupert, and I told him so, but I marked he was mildly excited, and that being a most unusual state for him, I stopped five minutes and axed him what he’d come for.

“You’ll laugh,” he said sitting down and lighting his pipe.

“I ain’t in a very laughing temper,” I answered, “and if I laugh at anything you say, it will be the first time in your life I ever have done.”

“Dry up,” he said, “and listen. I’ve just come for a bit of a tell with Minnie Parable.”

Then I forgot myself.

“To hell with Minnie Parable!” I cried out. “I don’t want to hear nothing about that misbegot vixen.”

For once Rupert was astonished, but he weren’t so astonished as me a minute later.

“I’m sorry you take that view,” he replied; “because she’ll be your daughter-in-law in six weeks. I be going to marry her.”

I never can stand more’n one shock a day, and now I felt myself getting out of hand terrible fast. But I drawed in a deep breath of air and fell on my chair.

“There’s a good deal more in that woman than meets the eye,” went on Rupert. “Her face would frighten a hedge-pig, no doubt, and her shape be mournful; but I ain’t one to marry for decorations. She’s a woman, and she can cook and she knows the value of money, and also knows my opinions on that subject. I didn’t find her a bad sort by no means. She’s got sense and she ain’t a gadder, and would rather work than play, same as me.”

“But her temper, Rupert, her famous temper,” I murmured to the man, “and her woeful, craakin voice.”

“Nobody won’t hear no more about her famous temper,” he said, “not after she’s married me. If I don’t cast her temper out of her in a week, then I ain’t the man I count myself; and as for her voice, that won’t trouble me neither. I’m a peace-lover, and her voice will damned soon be stilled when I’m home to hear it.”

It didn’t sound promising to my ear, and if it had been any other she but Minnie Parable, I might have felt sorry for the woman.

“D’you mean she’s took you?” I asked, still fluttering to the roots.

“She will,” he answered. “I was waitin’ till I happened to fall in with her, and having done so, I said I wanted a wife, because it was time I had one, and I told her that I saw the makings of a useful woman in her and invited her to turn it over. She was a good bit surprised and couldn’t believe her luck for a bit. In fact, if I’d pressed her, or kissed her, or anything like that, she’d have said ‘Yes’ instanter. But I bade her to keep shut till to-morrow morning, and then be at the north lodge at five-thirty with her answer. And she’ll be there.”

Rupert had never talked so much in his life afore, and I could see he was tired. In fact he rose up after that last speech and went off without another word. And I knew that Minnie would be up to time also, for she weren’t going to say “No” to the first and last as was ever like to offer for her.

And I turned over the mystery and very soon felt in my bones there must be something hidden. Rupert might have had a dozen girls, for there’s lots of meek women like his overbearing, brutal sort and would have been very well content to take him, well knowing he spelled safety if no more; but for him, a saver and dealer in the main chance to marry at all, let alone an object like Minnie, meant far more than I could fathom out. He’d said himself there was more to her than met the eyes, and no doubt there was; but her promise was hidden from me, and I puzzled half that night and three parts of the next day, though all in vain.

There was my own sad case also, and, of course, a very painful duty lay in front of me. But I ain’t one to let misery fester and so, twenty-four hours after my shocking adventure with Gregory, I went right over to Arthur Parable and told him all.

He was a good bit amused, in fact I never heard him laugh so hearty, and I got a thought hot about it; but he hadn’t nothing much to say except I was well rid of Mr. Sweet. “A man like that,” said Arthur, “was never meant to wed. Caution such as his in the home would mighty soon have drove you daft. And there’s the makings of a tyrant in Gregory, by your own showing, for the man who resents freedom to his woman before marriage, may very like lock her up afterwards.”

“I weren’t his woman,” I said, “and I didn’t take it lying down, neither. He got the truth, and he didn’t like it.”

“I’d have give a finger off my hand to have heard you,” declared Arthur, and then he laughed again; and then he grew serious and offered hope.

“Mark me,” he said. “He ain’t done with you. This is no more than a fit of silly temper and I dare say, though you think you’re defeated, you’ll find you’ve conquered before a week’s sped.”

“I don’t want to conquer,” I answered. “I wouldn’t take the man now if he was twice what he is. Along with you I’ve found that there’s better than Greg. I’ve got over the shock and I won’t take him now, even if he wants me. There’s a tyrant hid behind the man, as you say.”

Arthur considered.

“I wouldn’t swear but what you might be right,” he declared.

And then I let drop a hint or two, though well within manners.

“If there was more like you,” I told Arthur, “I might be tempted, but since I’ve heard you, I very well know Mr. Sweet at his best never held a candle to you.”

“Once bit twice shy,” said Parable, and strange to say, from that moment I took a violent fancy to the man. However, he’d grasped my meaning, as his answer showed, and next time I met him, he was happier than I’d ever known him to be. Joy blazed in his face and he walked like a young man.

“’My, Arthur!” I said, “who’s left you a fortune?”

“Better than that,” he answered. “Your Rupert have offered for Minnie and wants to be married in six weeks. It sounds like a fairy story; but there’s no doubt seemingly; and don’t you put him off her, or I’ll never speak to you again, Mary.”

“It would take more than me to put Rupert off anything he wanted,” I replied. “And, to tell truth, this is no surprise to me. He’s very well pleased with his bargain, and I do hope you see your way to give Minnie a pinch of cash, for that will lighten Arthur’s heart amazing and keep him faithful till they be wed.”

“So I thought,” replied Arthur. “In fact I’ve gone so far as to name one hundred pounds if they’re man and wife afore Michaelmas.”

“Then fear no more,” I said. “It will happen.”

The same night affairs rushed on to their amazing conclusion and Rupert staggered me once more. For the first time in his life he willed to pleasure me, and it showed the secret power of the man, that again he talked as if a deed was already done afore the difficulties had been faced.

Minnie had told him all about my adventures, indeed they was common knowledge now, and many had heard how Mr. Sweet had fallen off. Some came to say they was sorry, and some thought it a pretty good escape, and some of his friends would never know me no more. But Rupert didn’t waste no time on Gregory; he was in a wonderful amiable mood and I could see Arthur’s hundred pounds had touched him in his tenderest spot. And then, in his blunt way, he went to the centre of the situation and asked me if I’d like to marry Arthur.

“Because,” he said, “if you would, you shall!”

“You’ll puzzle me to my dying day,” I answered. “And how be it in your power to give me Arthur Parable, supposing I was to want him? It’s a delicate subject,” I said, “and he will never take another, having all he wanted with his first.”

“Don’t jaw,” my son answered me. “For once I can do you a turn; but if you’re going to bleat about it, I shall not. Do you want Arthur Parable, or don’t you?”

An indecent man was Rupert, and always above any of them nice shades in conversation that manners point to and proper feeling expects. However, that sort don’t think the worse of you for sinking to their level, and I well understood that he meant what he said and would be off if I didn’t answer straight.

“Between mother and son, I may speak,” I answered Rupert, “and if you want to know, though what business it is of yours I can’t say, I should be willing to take Mr. Parable if the idea got in his mind.”

“Right then,” answered Rupert. “It damn soon will get in his mind.”

And he was gone.

I heard the end of the tale next day, when Arthur himself looked in.

He was a bit comical tempered at first, but he thawed out after a drop and asked me to marry him, and I asked whether it was from the heart, or there lay anything behind. And then he told me that Rupert had been to see him and told him that I wanted him cruel and that he must take me; and that if he didn’t, he wouldn’t wed Minnie! “Your son’s a man,” said Arthur, “as I won’t neighbour with, Mary, and you mustn’t expect I shall; but there’s a hateful, cold-blooded power about your Rupert. And there’s mysteries hid in him. And he’s one too many for me, or any other decent and orderly spirit. Of course, if I’ve got to choose between having my darter on my hands for ever and another wife, only a lunatic would hesitate, and since it had to be, I’d a lot rather it was you than any other I can call to mind. And truth’s truth, and I hope you’ll allow for the queerness, and take a man who’s very addicted to you and can be trusted to serve you as you deserve.”

With that I told him he must court me without any regard to Rupert, and explained the whole plot was Rupert’s, and not mine.

“There’s something devious about it,” I said, “or it wouldn’t be Rupert. You exercise your manhood, Arthur,” I said, “and make up your own mind, and don’t let my son make it up for you. ’Tis past bearing,” I said, “and I won’t stand for it. Who be he to drive us?”

“You swear afore your God it wasn’t your own idea,” ordered Arthur, and he cheered up when I put my hand on the Book in my parlour and swore most solemn I’d never thought of no such thing.

“In that case,” he said, “I feel a good bit hopefuller, and when you ax if Rupert looked ahead with his eye to the main chance, of course he did. If you come to me, mine’s yours when I go to ground, or else Minnie’s, so Rupert knows the future’s safe either way.”

“There’s my son John,” I said, “but this I tell you, Arthur, I’ll come to you on one condition only, that you leave all to Minnie after I’m gone. For it shall never be said that I stood between her and her own. Her, or her childer, must be the gainers.”

He laughed at the thought of childer, with Minnie and my Rupert for their parents; and from that time he warmed up and showed his true nature, and we was tokened three days later, so as I was able to tell Mr. Sweet about it, when he’d thought over his mistake and crept on to the warpath again.

And the marriages took place in due course, and me and Arthur was properly happy; and when old Dowager Lady Martin went home, we found the mystery solved.

You see, Rupert had been told off one shooting day to look after a young lawyer and give him some sport, because his Lordship wanted to please the young man’s father, who was his own man of business. This chap took to Rupert, by reason of his queer nature, and when they was eating their sandwiches, he must needs talk and chaff my son. He told Rupert about a will as he’d drawed back along for the Dowager, and how an old butler at Tudor Manor was down for five hundred, and the cook for two hundred, and a lady’s maid, as served her before she took to her bed and had two nurses, was down for five hundred. But the lawyer named no names and didn’t know that Rupert knew who that lady’s maid was. And in any case the rash youth never ought to have opened his mouth, of course, on such a secret subject.

But twenty-four hours later, my ‘Mother’s Misfortune’ was tokened to Minnie Parable, and when the Dowager died, of course the money came Rupert’s way.

Strange to relate, it was a tolerable happy marriage as such things go. They bore with one another pretty fair, and though you couldn’t say it was a homely pattern of home, and struck shivers into most folk as saw it, it suited them. She never put no poison in Rupert’s tea, and he never cut her throat nor nothing like that. One child they had and no more; and he’ll get his grandfather’s little lot when I don’t want it, and John’ll get mine.

Rupert’s child weren’t one for a Christmas card exactly; but they set a lot of store by him. Minnie saw through it, of course, when the Dowager died; but she’d got Rupert which was what mattered to her, and she knew the money was bound to goody all right in her husband’s hands; which it did do.