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THE BISHOP ASSERTS HIMSELF
On being left alone, the bishop sat motionless in his chair for some considerable time. The information conveyed by Cargrim struck at his pride, but in his heart he knew well that he had as little right to be proud as to resent the blow. Casting a look over the past, he saw that Dr Graham had been right in his reference to the Ring of Polycrates, for although he was outwardly still prosperous and high-placed, shame had come upon him, and evil was about to befall. From the moment of Jentham's secret visit a blight had fallen on his fortunes, a curse had come upon his house, and in a thousand hidden ways he had been tortured, although for no fault of his own. There was his secret which he did not dare even to think of; there was the enforced absence of his wife and daughter, whom he had been compelled to send away; there was the hidden enmity of Cargrim, which he did not know how to baffle; and now there was the shame of Gabriel's engagement to a barmaid; of George's choice of a wife, who, if rumour could be believed, was the daughter of a scoundrel. With these ills heaped upon his head, the bishop did not know how he could ever raise it again.
Still, all these woes were locked up in his own breast, and to the world he was yet the popular, prosperous Bishop of Beorminster. This impression and position he was resolved to maintain at all costs, therefore, to put an end to his last trouble, he concluded to speak seriously to his sons on the subject of unequal marriages. A pressure of the electric button summoned the servant, who was instructed to request Captain Pendle and Mr Gabriel to see their father at once in the library. It would seem as though they almost expected the message, for in a few minutes they were both in the room; George, with his usual jaunty, confident air, but Gabriel with an anxious look. Yet neither of the young men guessed why the bishop had sent for them; least of all George, who never dreamed for a moment that his father would oppose his engagement with Mab Arden.
'Sit down, both of you,' said Dr Pendle, in grave tones, 'I have something serious to say,' and the bishop took up an imposing position on the hearthrug. The two sons looked at one another.
'There is no bad news from Nauheim, I hope, sir?' said George, quite ignorant of the meaning of this exordium.
'No. Lucy's last letter about your mother was very cheerful indeed. I wish to speak seriously to both of you. As you are the elder, George, I shall begin with you; Gabriel, I shall reason with later.'
'Reason with me,' wondered the curate. 'Have I been doing anything which requires me to be reasoned with?' and he gave a half smile, never thinking how soon his jest would be turned into bitter earnest.
'I think a word in season will do you no harm,' answered his father, austerely, 'but I shall address myself to George first.'
'I am all attention, sir,' said the captain, rather weary of this solemnity. 'What have I done?'
'You have concealed from me the fact of your engagement to Miss Arden.'
'Oh!' cried George, smiling, 'so Miss Whichello has been speaking!'
'Yes, she spoke to me to-day, and told me that you had formally engaged yourself to her niece without my knowledge or sanction. May I inquire your reason for so singular a course?'
'Is it singular, sir?' asked George, in a half-joking tone. 'I always understood that it was first necessary to obtain the lady's consent before making the matter public. I asked Mab to be my wife when I last visited Beorminster, and I intended to tell you of it this time, but I find that Miss Whichello has saved me the trouble. However, now that you know the truth, sir,' said Captain Pendle, with his sunny smile, 'may I ask for your approval and blessing?'
'You may ask,' said the bishop, coldly, 'but you shall have neither.'
'Father!' The answer was so unexpected that George jumped up from his chair with a cry of surprise, and even Gabriel, who was in the secret of his brother's love for Mab, looked astonished and pained.
'I do not approve of the engagement,' went on the bishop, imperturbably.
'You--do--not--approve--of--Mab!' said Captain Pendle, slowly, and his face became pale with anger.
'I said nothing about the lady,' corrected the bishop, haughtily; 'you will be pleased, sir, to take my words as I speak them. I do not approve of the engagement.'
'On what grounds?' asked George, quietly enough.
'I know nothing about Miss Arden's parents.'
'She is the daughter of Miss Whichello's sister.'
'I am aware of that, but what about her father?'
'Her father!' repeated George, rather perplexed. 'I never inquired about her father; I do not know anything about him.'
'Indeed!' said the bishop, 'it is just as well that you do not.'
Captain Pendle looked disturbed. 'Is there anything wrong with him?' he asked nervously. 'I thought he was dead and buried ages ago.'
'I believe he is dead; but from all accounts he was a scoundrel.'
'From whose account, bishop?'
'Mrs Pansey's for one.'
'Father!' cried Gabriel, 'surely you know that Mrs Pansey's gossip is most unreliable.'
'Not in this instance,' replied the bishop, promptly. 'Mrs Pansey told me some twenty-six years ago, when Miss Whichello brought her niece to this city, that the child's father was little better than a gaol-bird.'
'Did she know him?' asked George, sharply.
'That I cannot say, but she assured me that she spoke the truth. I paid no attention to her talk, nor did I question Miss Whichello on the subject. In those days it had no interest for me, but now that I find my son desires to marry the girl, I must refuse my consent until I learn all about her birth and parentage.'
'Miss Whichello will tell us about that!' said George, hopefully.
'Let us trust that Miss Whichello dare tell us.'
'Dare, sir!' cried Captain Pendle, gnawing his moustache.
'I used the word advisedly, George. If what Mrs Pansey asserts is true, Miss Whichello will feel a natural reluctance to confess the truth about Miss Arden's father.'
'Admitting as much,' urged Gabriel, seeing that George kept silent, 'surely you will not visit the sins of the father on the innocent child?'
'It is scriptural law, my son.'
'It is not the law of Christ,' replied the curate.
'Law or no law!' said Captain Pendle, determinedly, 'I shall not give Mab up. Her father may have been a Nero for all I care. I marry his daughter all the same; she is a good, pure, sweet woman.'
'I admit that she is all that,' said the bishop, 'and I do not want you to give her up without due inquiry into the matter of which I speak. But it is my desire that you should return to your regiment until the affair can be sifted.'
'Who should sift it but I?' inquired George, hotly.
'If you place it in my hands all will--I trust--be well, my son. I shall see Miss Whichello and Mrs Pansey and learn the truth.'
'And if the truth be as cruel as you suspect?'
'In that case,' said the bishop, slowly, 'I shall consider the matter; you must not think that I wish you to break off your engagement altogether, George, but I desire you to suspend it, so to speak. For the reasons I have stated, I disapprove of your marrying Miss Arden, but it may be that, should I be informed fully about her father, I may change my mind. In the meantime, I wish you to rejoin your regiment and remain with it until I send for you.'
'And if I refuse?'
'In that case,' said the bishop, sternly, 'I shall refuse my consent altogether. Should you refuse to acknowledge my authority I shall treat you as a stranger. But I have been a good father to you, George, and I trust that you will see fit to obey me.'
'I am not a child,' said Captain Pendle, sullenly.
'You are a man of the world,' replied his father, skilfully, 'and as such must see that I am speaking for your own good. I ask merely for delay, so that the truth may be known before you engage yourself irrevocably to this young lady.'
'I look upon my engagement as irrevocable! I have asked Mab to be my wife, I have given her a ring, I have won her heart; I should be a mean hound,' cried George, lashing himself into a rage, 'if I gave her up for the lying gossip of an old she-devil like Mrs Pansey.'
'Your language is not decorous, sir.'
'I--I beg your pardon, father, but don't be too hard on me.'
'Your own good sense should tell you that I am not hard on you.'
'Indeed,' put in Gabriel, 'I think that my father has reason on his side, George.'
'You are not in love,' growled the captain, unconvinced.
A pale smile flitted over Gabriel's lips, not unnoticed by the bishop, but as he purposed speaking to him later, he made no remark on it at the moment.
'What do you wish me to do, sir?' asked George, after a pause.
'I have told you,' rejoined the bishop, mildly. 'I desire you to rejoin your regiment and not come back to Beorminster until I send for you.'
'Do you object to my seeing Mab before I go?'
'By no means; see both Miss Arden and Miss Whichello if you like, and tell them both that it is by my desire you go away.'
'Well, sir,' said Captain Pendle, slowly, 'I am willing to obey you and return to my work, but I refuse to give up Mab,' and not trusting himself to speak further, lest he should lose his temper altogether, he abruptly left the room. The bishop saw him retire with a sigh and shook his head. Immediately afterwards he addressed himself to Gabriel, who, with some apprehension, was waiting for him to speak.
'Gabriel,' said Dr Pendle, picking up a letter, 'Harry has written to me from Nauheim, saying that he is compelled to return home on business. As I do not wish your mother and Lucy to be alone, it is my desire that you should join them--at once!'
The curate was rather amazed at the peremptory tone of this speech, but hastened to assure his father that he was quite willing to go. The reason given for the journey seemed to him a sufficient one, and he had no suspicion that his father's real motive was to separate him from Bell. The bishop saw that this was the case, and forthwith came to the principal point of the interview.
'Do you know why I wish you to go abroad?' he asked sharply.
'To join my mother and Lucy--you told me so.'
'That is one reason, Gabriel; but there is another and more important one.'
A remembrance of his secret engagement turned the curate's face crimson; but he faltered out that he did not understand what his father meant.
'I think you understand well enough,' said Dr Pendle, sternly. 'I allude to your disgraceful conduct in connection with that woman at The Derby Winner.'
'If you allude to my engagement to Miss Mosk, sir,' cried Gabriel, with spirit, 'there is no need to use the word disgraceful. My conduct towards that young lady has been honourable throughout.'
'And what about your conduct towards your father?' asked the bishop.
Gabriel hung his head. 'I intended to tell you,' he stammered, 'when--'
'When you could summon up courage to do so,' interrupted Dr Pendle, in cutting tones. 'Unfortunately, your candour was not equal to your capability for deception, so I was obliged to learn the truth from a stranger.'
'Cargrim!' cried Gabriel, his instinct telling him the name of his betrayer.
'Yes, from Mr Cargrim. He heard the truth from the lips of this girl herself. She informed him that she was engaged to marry you--you, my son.'
'It is true!' said Gabriel, in a low voice. 'I wish to make her my wife.'
'Make her your wife!' cried Dr Pendle, angrily; 'this common girl--this--this barmaid--this--'
'I shall not listen to Bell being called names even by you, father,' said Gabriel, proudly. 'She is a good girl, a respectable girl--a beautiful girl!'
'And a barmaid,' said the bishop, dryly. 'I congratulate you on the daughter-in-law you have selected for your mother!'
Gabriel winced. Much as he loved Bell, the idea of her being in the society of his delicate, refined mother was not a pleasant one. He could not conceal from himself that although the jewel he wished to pick out of the gutter might shine brilliantly there, it might not glitter so much when translated to a higher sphere and placed beside more polished gems. Therefore, he could find no answer to his father's speech, and wisely kept silence.
'Certainly, my sons are a comfort to me!' continued the bishop, sarcastically. 'I have brought them up in what I judged to be a wise and judicious manner, but it seems I am mistaken, since the first use they make of their training is to deceive the father who has never deceived them.'
'I admit that I have behaved badly, father.'
'No one can deny that, sir. The question is, do you intend to continue behaving badly?'
'I love Bell dearly--very dearly!'
The bishop groaned and sat down helplessly in his chair. 'It is incredible,' he said. 'How can you, with your refined tastes and up-bringing, love this--this--? Well, I shall not call her names. No doubt Miss Mosk is well enough in her way, but she is not a proper wife for my son.'
'Our hearts are not always under control, father.'
'They should be, Gabriel. The head should always guide the heart; that is only common sense. Besides, you are too young to know your own mind. This girl is handsome and scheming, and has infatuated you in your innocence. I should be a bad father to you if I did not rescue you from her wiles. To do so, it is my intention that you shall go abroad for a time.'
'I am willing to go abroad, father, but I shall never, never forget Bell!'
'You speak with all the confidence of a young man in love for the first time, Gabriel. I am glad that you are still sufficiently obedient to obey me. Of course, you know that I cannot consent to your making this girl your wife.'
'I thought that you might be angry,' faltered Gabriel.
'I am more hurt than angry,' replied the bishop. 'Have you given this young woman a promise of marriage?'
'Yes, father; I gave her an engagement ring.'
'I congratulate you, sir, on your methodical behaviour. However, it is no use arguing with one so infatuated as you are. All I can do is to test your affection by parting you from Miss Mosk. When you return from Nauheim we shall speak further on the subject.'
'When do you wish me to go, father?' asked Gabriel, rising submissively.
'To-morrow,' said the bishop, coldly. 'You can leave me now.'
'I am sorry--'
'Sorry!' cried Dr Pendle, with a frown. 'What is the use of words without deeds? Both you and George have given me a sore heart this day. I thought that I could trust my sons; I find that I cannot. If-- But it is useless to talk further. I shall see what absence can do in both cases. Now leave me, if you please.'
The bishop turned to his desk and busied himself with some papers, while Gabriel, after a moment's hesitation, left the room with a deep sigh. Dr Pendle, finding himself alone, leaned back in his chair and groaned aloud.
'I have averted the danger for the time being,' he said sadly, 'but the future--ah, me! what of the future?'
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