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ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
'Bell! Bell! do not give me up.'
'I must, Gabriel; it is my duty.'
'It is your cruelty! Ah, you never loved me as I love you.'
'That is truer than you think, my poor boy. I thought that I loved you, but I was wrong. It was your position which made me anxious to marry you; it was your weak nature which made me pity you. But I do not love you; I never did love you; and it is better that you should know the truth before we part.'
'Part? Oh, Bell! Bell!'
'Part,' repeated Bell, firmly, 'and for ever.'
Gabriel's head drooped on his breast, and he sighed as one, long past tears, who hears the clods falling on the coffin in which his beloved lies. He and Bell Mosk were seated in the little parlour at the back of the bar, and they were alone in the house, save for one upstairs, in the room of Mrs Mosk, who watched beside the dead. On hearing of her husband's rash act, the poor wife, miserable as she had been with the man, yet felt her earlier love for him so far revive as to declare that her heart was broken. She moaned and wept and refused all comfort, until one night she closed her eyes on the world which had been so harsh and bitter. So Bell was an orphan, bereft of father and mother, and crushed to the earth by sorrow and shame. In her own way she had loved her father, and his evil deed and evil end had struck her to the heart. She was even glad when her mother died, for she well knew that the sensitive woman would never have held up her head again, after the disgrace which had befallen her. And Bell, with a white face and dry eyes, long past weeping, sat in the dingy parlour, refusing the only comfort which the world could give her weary heart. Poor Bell! poor, pretty Bell!
'Think, Gabriel,' she continued, in a hard, tearless voice, 'think what shame I would bring upon you were I weak enough to consent to become your wife. I had not much to give you before; I have less than nothing now. I never pretended to be a lady; but I thought that, as your wife, I should never disgrace you. That's all past and done with now. I always knew you were a true gentleman--honourable and kind. No one but a gentleman like you would have kept his word with the daughter of a murderer. But you have done so, dear, and I thank and bless you for your kindness. The only way in which I can show how grateful I am is to give you back your ring. Take it, Gabriel, and God be good to you for your upright kindness.'
There was that in her tone which made Gabriel feel that her decision was irrevocable. He mechanically took the ring she returned to him and slipped it on his finger. Never again was it removed from where he placed it at that moment; and in after days it often reminded him of the one love of his life. With a second sigh, hopeless and resigned, he rose to his feet, and looked at the dark figure in the twilight of the room.
'What are your plans, Bell?' he asked in an unemotional voice, which he hardly recognised as his own.
'I am going away from Beorminster next week,' answered the girl, listlessly. 'Sir Harry has arranged all about this hotel, and has been most kind in every way. I have a little money, as Sir Harry paid me for the furniture and the stock-in-trade. Of course I had to pay f--father's debts'--she could hardly speak the words--'so there is not much left. Still, I have sufficient to take me to London and keep me until I can get a situation.'
'As--as a barmaid?' asked Gabriel, in a low voice.
'As a barmaid,' she replied coldly. 'What else am I fit for?'
'Can I not help you?'
'No; you have given me all the help you could, by showing me how much you respect me.'
'I do more than respect you, Bell; I love you.' 'I am glad of that,' replied Bell, softly; 'it is a great thing for a miserable girl like me to be loved.'
'Bell! Bell! no one can cast a stone at you.'
'I am the daughter of a murderer, Gabriel; and I know better than you what the world's charity is. Do you think I would stay in this place, where cruel people would remind me daily and hourly of my father's sin? Ah, my dear, I know what would be said, and I don't wish to hear it. I shall bury my poor mother, and go away, never to return.'
'My poor Bell! God has indeed laid a heavy burden upon you.'
'Don't!' Her voice broke and the long-absent tears came into her eyes. 'Don't speak kindly to me, Gabriel; I can't bear kindness. I have made up my mind to bear the worst. Go away; your goodness only makes things the harder for me. After all, I am only a woman, and as a woman I must w-e-e-p.' She broke down, and her tears flowed quickly.
'I shall go,' said Gabriel, feeling helpless, for indeed he could do nothing. 'Good-bye, Bell!' he faltered.
'Good-bye!' she sobbed. 'God bless you!'
Gabriel, with a sick heart, moved slowly towards the door. Just as he reached it, Bell rose swiftly, and crossing the room threw her arms round his neck, weeping as though her overcharged heart would break. 'I shall never kiss you again,' she wailed,'never, never again!'
'God bless and keep you, my poor darling!' faltered Gabriel.
'And God bless you! for a good man you have been to me,' she sobbed, and then they parted, never to meet again in this world.
And that was the end of Gabriel Pendle's romance. At first he thought of going to the South Seas as a missionary, but his father's entreaties that he should avoid so extreme a course prevailed, and in the end he went no further from Beorminster than Heathcroft Vicarage. Mr Leigh died a few days after Bell vanished from the little county town: and Gabriel was presented with the living by the bishop. He is a conscientious worker, an earnest priest, a popular vicar, but his heart is still sore for Bell, who so nobly gave him up to bear her own innocent disgrace alone. Where Bell is now he does not know; nobody in Beorminster knows--not even Mrs Pansey--for she has disappeared like a drop of water in the wild waste ocean of London town. And Gabriel works on amid the poor and needy with a cheerful face but a sore heart; for it is early days yet, and his heart-wounds are recent. No one save the bishop knows how he loved and lost poor Bell; but Mrs Pendle, with the double instinct of woman and mother, guesses that her favourite son has his own pitiful romance, and would fain know of it, that she might comfort him in his sorrow. But Gabriel has never told her; he will never tell her, but go silent and unmarried through life, true to the memory of the rough, commonplace woman who proved herself so noble and honourable in adversity. And so no more of these poor souls.
It is more pleasant to talk of the Whichello-Pansey war. 'Bella matronis detestata,' saith the Latin poet, who knew little of the sex to make such a remark. To be sure, he was talking of public wars, and not of domestic or social battles; but he should have been more explicit. Women are born fighters--with their tongues; and an illustration of this truth was given in Beorminster when Miss Whichello threw down the gage to Mrs Pansey. The little old lady knew well enough that when George and Mab were married, the archdeacon's widow would use her famous memory to recall the scandals she had set afloat nearly thirty years before. Therefore, to defeat Mrs Pansey once and for all, she called on that good lady and dared her to say that there was any disgrace attached to Mab's parentage. Mrs Pansey, anticipating an easy victory, shook out her skirts, and was up in arms at once.
'I know for a fact that your sister Ann did not marry the man she eloped with,' cried Mrs Pansey, shaking her head viciously.
'Who told you this fact?' demanded Miss Whichello, indignantly.
'I--I can't remember at present, but that's no matter--it's true.'
'It is not true, and you know it is an invention of your own spiteful mind, Mrs Pansey. My sister was married on the day she left home, and I have her marriage certificate to prove it. I showed it to Bishop Pendle, because you poisoned his mind with your malicious lies, and he is quite satisfied.'
'Oh, any story would satisfy the bishop,' sneered Mrs Pansey; 'we all know what he is!'
'We do--an honourable Christian gentleman; and we all know what you are--a scandalmongering, spiteful, soured cat.'
'Hoity-toity! fine language this.'
'It is the kind of language you deserve, ma'am. All your life you have been making mischief with your vile tongue!'
'Woman,' roared Mrs Pansey, white with wrath, 'no one ever dared to speak like this to me.'
'It's a pity they didn't, then,' retorted the undaunted Miss Whichello; 'it would have been the better for you, and for Beorminster also.'
'Would it indeed, ma'am?' gasped her adversary, beginning to feel nervous; 'oh, really!' with a hysterical titter, 'you and your certificate--I don't believe you have it.'
'Ask the bishop if I have not. He is satisfied, and that is all that is necessary, you wicked old woman.'
'You--you leave my house.'
'I shall do no such thing. Here I am, and here I'll stay until I speak my mind,' and Miss Whichello thumped the floor with her umbrella, while she gathered breath to continue. 'I haven't the certificate of my sister's marriage--haven't I? I'll show it to you in a court of law, Mrs Pansey, when you are in the dock--the dock, ma'am!'
'Me in the dock?' screeched Mrs Pansey, shaking all over, but more from fear than wrath. 'How--how--dare you?'
'I dare anything to stop your wicked tongue. Everybody hates you; some people are fools enough to fear you, but I don't,' cried Miss Whichello, erecting her crest; 'no, not a bit. One word against me, or against Mab, and I'll have you up for defamation of character, as sure as my name's Selina Whichello.'
'I--I--I don't want to say a word,' mumbled Mrs Pansey, beginning to give way, after the manner of bullies when bravely faced.
'You had better not. I have the bishop and all Beorminster on my side, and you'll be turned out of the town if you don't mind your own business. Oh, I know what I'm talking about,' and Miss Whichello gave a crow of triumph, like a victorious bantam.
'I am not accustomed to this--this violence,' sniffed Mrs Pansey, producing her handkerchief; 'if you--if you don't go, I'll call my servants.'
'Do, and I'll tell them what I think of you. I'm going now.' Miss Whichello rose briskly. 'I've had my say out, and you know what I intend to do if you meddle with my affairs. Good-day, Mrs Pansey, and good-bye, for it's a long time before I'll ever cross words with you again, ma'am,' and the little old lady marched out of the room with all the honours of war.
Mrs Pansey was completely crushed. She knew quite well that Miss Whichello was speaking the truth about the marriage, and that none of her own inventions could stand against the production of the certificate. Moreover, she could not battle against the Bishop of Beorminster, or risk a realisation of Miss Whichello's threat to have her into court. On the whole, the archdeacon's widow concluded that it would be best for her to accept her defeat quietly and hold her tongue. This she did, and never afterwards spoke anything but good about young Mrs Pendle and her aunt. She even sent a wedding present, which was accepted by the victor as the spoils of war, and was so lenient in her speeches regarding the young couple that all Beorminster was amazed, and wished to know if Mrs Pansey was getting ready to join the late archdeacon. Hitherto the old lady had stormed and bullied her way through a meek and terrified world; but now she had been met and conquered and utterly overthrown. Her nerve was gone, and with it went her influence. Never again did she exercise her venomous tongue. To use a vulgar but expressive phrase, Mrs Pansey was 'wiped out'.
Shortly before the marriage of George and Mab, the tribe of gipsies over which Mother Jael ruled vanished into the nowhere. Whither they went nobody knew, and nobody inquired, but their disappearance was a relief both to Miss Whichello and the bishop. The latter had decided that, to run no risks, it was necessary Mab should be married under her true name of Bosvile; and as Mother Jael knew that such was Jentham's real name, Miss Whichello fancied she might come to hear that Mab was called so, and make inquiries likely to lead to unpleasantness. But Mother Jael went away in a happy moment, so Miss Whichello explained to her niece and George that the name of the former was not 'Arden' but 'Bosvile.' 'It is necessary that I should tell you this, dear, on account of the marriage,' said the little old lady; 'your parents, my dearest Mab, are dead and gone; but your father was alive when I took you to live with me, and I called you by another name so that he might not claim you. He was not a good man, my love.'
'Never mind, aunty,' cried Mab, embracing the old lady. 'I don't want to hear about him. You are both my father and my mother, and I know that what you say is right. I suppose,' she added, turning shyly to George, 'that Captain Pendle loves Miss Bosvile as much as he did Miss Arden!'
'A rose by any other name, and all the rest of it,' replied George, smiling. 'What does it matter, my darling? You will be Mab Pendle soon, so that will settle everything, even your meek husband.'
'George,' said Miss Bosvile, solemnly, 'if there is one word in the English language which does not describe you, it is "meek."'
'Really! and if there is one name in the same tongue which fits you like a glove, it is--guess!'
'Angel!' cried Mab, promptly.
George laughed. 'Near it,' said he, 'but not quite what I mean. The missing word will be told when we are on our honeymoon.'
In this way the matter was arranged, and Mab, as Miss Bosvile, was married to Captain Pendle on the self-same day, at the self-same hour, that Lucy became Lady Brace. If some remarks were made on the name inscribed in the register of the cathedral, few people paid any attention to them, and those who did received from Miss Whichello the same skilful explanation as she had given the young couple. Moreover, as Mother Jael was not present to make inquiries, and as Mrs Pansey had not the courage to hint at scandal, the matter died a natural death. But when the honeymoon was waning, Mab reminded George of his promise to supply the missing word.
'Is it goose?' she asked playfully.
'No, my sweetest, although it ought to be!' replied George, pinching his wife's pretty ear. 'It is Mab Pendle!' and he kissed her.
Brisk Dr Graham was at the double wedding, in his most amiable and least cynical mood. He congratulated the bishop and Mrs Pendle, shook hands warmly with the bridegroom, and just as warmly--on the basis of a life-long friendship--kissed the brides. Also, after the wedding breakfast--at which he made the best speech--he had an argument with Baltic about his penal conception of Christianity. The ex-sailor had been very mournful after the suicide of Mark, as the rash act had proved how shallow had been the man's repentance.
'But what can you expect?' said Graham, to him. 'It is impossible to terrify people into a legitimate belief in religion.'
'I don't want to do that, sir,' replied Baltic, soberly. 'I wish to lead them to the Throne with love and tenderness.'
'I can hardly call your method by such names, my friend. You simply ruin people in this life to fit them, in their own despite, for their next existence.'
'When all is lost, doctor, men seek God.'
'Perhaps; but that's a shabby way of seeking Him. If I could not be converted of my own free will, I certainly shouldn't care about being driven to take such a course. Your system, my friend, is ingenious, but impossible.'
'I have yet to prove that it is impossible, doctor.'
'Humph! I daresay you'll succeed in gaining disciples,' said Graham, with a shrug. 'There is no belief strange enough for some men to doubt. After Mormonism and Joseph Smith's deification, I am prepared to believe that humanity will go to any length in its search after the unseen. No doubt you'll form a sect in time, Mr Baltic. If so, call your disciples Hobsonites.'
'Why, Dr Graham?'
'Because the gist of your preaching, so far as I can understand, is a Hobson's choice,' retorted the doctor. 'When your flock of criminals lose everything through your exposure of their crimes, they have nothing left but religion.'
'Nothing left but God, you mean, sir; and God is everything.'
'No doubt I agree with the latter part of your epigram, Baltic, although your God is not my God.'
'There is only one God, doctor.'
'True, my friend; but you and I see Him under different forms, and seek Him in different ways.'
'Our goal is the same!'
'Precisely; and that undeniable fact does away with the necessity of further argument. Good-bye, Mr Baltic. I am glad to have met you; original people always attract me,' and with a handshake and a kindly nod the little doctor bustled off.
So, in his turn, Baltic departed from Beorminster, and lost himself in the roaring tides of London. It is yet too early to measure the result of his work; to prognosticate if his peculiar views will meet with a reception likely to encourage their development into a distinct sect. But there can be no doubt that his truth and earnestness will, some day--and perhaps at no very distant date--meet with their reward. Every prophet convinced of the absolute truth of his mission succeeds in finding those to whom his particular view of the hereafter is acceptable beyond all others. So, after all, Baltic, the untutored sailor, may become the founder of a sect. What his particular 'ism' will be called it is impossible to say; but taking into consideration the man's extraordinary conception of Christianity as a punishing religion, the motto of his new faith should certainly be 'Cernit omnia Deus vindex!' And Baltic can find the remark cut and dried for his quotation in the last pages of the English dictionary.
So the story is told, the drama is played, and Bishop Pendle was well pleased that it should be so. He had no taste for excitement or for dramatic surprises, and was content that the moving incidents of the last few weeks should thus end. He had been tortured sufficiently in mind and body; he had, in Dr Graham's phrase, paid his forfeit to the gods in expiation of a too-happy fortune, therefore he might now hope to pass his remaining days in peace and quiet. George and Lucy were happily married; Gabriel was close at hand to be a staff upon which he could lean in his old age; and his beloved wife, the companion of so many peaceful years, was still his wife, nearer and dearer than ever.
When the brides had departed with their several grooms, when the wedding guests had scattered to the four winds of heaven, Bishop Pendle took his wife's hand within his own, and led her into the library. Here he sat him down by her side, and opened the Book of all books with reverential thankfulness of soul.
'I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon.'
'Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not!'
And the words, to these so sorely-tried of late, were as the dew to the thirsty herb.
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