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With all Mr. Redmain's faults, there was a certain love of justice in the man; only, as is the case with most of us, it had ten times the reference to the action of other people that it had to his own: I mean, he made far greater demand for justice upon other people than upon himself; and was much more indignant at any shortcoming of theirs which crossed any desire or purpose of his than ho was anxious in his own person to fulfill justice when that fulfillment in its turn would cross any wish he cherished. Badly as he had himself behaved to Mary, he was now furious with his wife for having treated her so heartlessly that she could not return to her service; for he began to think she might be one to depend upon, and to desire her alliance in the matter of ousting Sepia from the confidence of his wife.
However indifferent a woman may be to the opinion of her husband, he can nevertheless in general manage to make her uncomfortable enough if he chooses; and Mr. Redmain did choose now, in the event of her opposition to his wishes: when he set himself to do a thing, he hated defeat even more than he loved success.
The moment Mary was out of the study, he walked into his wife's boudoir, and shut the door behind him. His presence there was enough to make her angry, but she took no notice of it.
"I understand, Mrs. Redmain," he began, "that you wish to bring the fate of Sodom upon the house."
"I do not know what you mean," she answered, scarcely raising her eyes from her novel--and spoke the truth, for she knew next to nothing of the Bible, while the Old Testament was all the literature Mr. Redmain was "up in."
"You have turned out of it the only just person in it, and we shall all be in hell soon!"
"How dare you come to my room with such horrid language!"
"You'll hear worse before long, if you keep on at this rate. My language is not so bad as your actions. If you don't have that girl back, and in double-quick time, too, I shall know how to make you!"
"You have taught me to believe you capable of anything."
"You shall at least find me capable of a good deal. Do you imagine, madam, I have found you a hair worse than I expected?"
"I never took the trouble to imagine anything about you."
"Then I need not ask you whether I married you to please you or to please myself?"
"You need not. You can best answer that question yourself."
"Then we understand each other."
"We do not, Mr. Redmain; and, if this occurs again, I shall go to Durnmelling."
She spoke with a vague idea that he also stood in some awe of the father and mother whose dread, however well she hid it, she would never, while she lived, succeed in shaking off. But to the husband it was a rare delight to speak with conscious rectitude in the moral chastisement of his wife. He burst into a loud and almost merry laugh.
"Happy they will be to see you there, madam! Why, you goose, if I send a telegram before you, they won't so much as open the door to you! They know better which side their bread is buttered."
Hesper started up in a rage. This was too much--and the more too much, that she believed it would be as he said.
"Mr. Redmain, if you do not leave the room, I will."
"Oh, don't!" he cried, in a tone of pretended alarm. His pleasure was great, for he had succeeded in stinging the impenetrable. "You really ought to consider before you utter such an awful threat! I will go myself a thousand times rather!--But will you not feel the want of pocket-money when you come to pay a rough cabman? The check I gave you yesterday will not last you long."
"The money is my own, Mr. Redmain."
"But you have not yet opened a banking-account in your own name."
"I suppose you have a meaning, Mr. Redmain; but I am not in the habit of using cabs."
"Then you had better get into the habit; for I swear to you, madam, if you don't fetch that girl home within the week, I will, next Monday, discharge your coachman, and send every horse in the stable to Tattersall's! Good morning."
She had no doubt he would do as he said; she knew Mr. Redmain would just enjoy selling her horses. But she could not at once give in. I say "could not," because hers was the weak will that can hardly bring itself to do what it knows it must, and is continually mistaken for the strong will that defies and endures. She had a week to think about it, and she would see!
During the interval, he took care not once to refer to his threat, for that would but weaken the impression of it, he knew.
On the Sunday, after service, she knocked at his door, and, being admitted, bade him good morning, but with no very gracious air-- as, indeed, he would have been the last to expect.
"We have had a sermon on the forgiveness of injuries, Mr. Redmain," she said.
"By Jove!" interrupted her husband, "it would have been more to the purpose if I, or poor Mary Marston, had had it; for I swear you put our souls in peril!"
"The ring was no common one, Mr. Redmain; and the young woman had, by leaving the house, placed herself in a false position: every one suspected her as much as I did. Besides, she lost her temper, and talked about forgiving me, when I was in despair about my ring!"
"And what, pray, was your foolish ring compared to the girl's character?"
"A foolish ring, indeed!--Yes, it was foolish to let you ever have the right to give it me! But, as to her character, that of persons in her position is in constant peril. They have to lay their account with that, and must get used to it. How was I to know? We can not read each other's hearts."
"Not where there is no heart in the reader."
Hesper's face flushed, but she did her best not to lose her temper. Not that it would have been any great loss if she had, for there is as much difference in the values of tempers as in those who lose them. She said nothing, and her husband resumed:
"So you came to forgive me?" he said.
"And Marston," she answered.
"Well, I will accept the condescension--that is, if the terms of it are to my mind."
"I will make no terms. Marston may return when she pleases."
"You must write and ask her."
"Of course, Mr. Redmain. It would hardly be suitable that you should ask her."
"You must write so as to make it possible to accept your offer."
"I am not deceitful, Mr. Redmain."
"You are not. A man must be fair, even to his wife."
"I will show you the letter I write."
"If you please."
She had to show him half a score ere he was satisfied, declaring he would do it himself, if she could not make a better job of it.
At length one was dispatched, received, and answered: Mary would not return. She had lost all hope of being of any true service to Mrs. Redmain, and she knew that, with Tom and Letty, she was really of use for the present. Mrs. Redmain carried the letter, with ill-concealed triumph, to her husband; nor did he conceal his annoyance.
"You must have behaved to her very cruelly," he said. "But you have done your best now--short of a Christian apology, which it would be folly to demand of you. I fear we have seen the last of her."--"And there was I," he said to himself, "for the first time in my life, actually beginning to fancy I had perhaps thrown salt upon the tail of that rare bird, an honest woman! The devil has had quite as much to do with my history as with my character! Perhaps that will be taken into the account one day."
But Mary lay awake at night, and thought of many things she might have said and done better when she was with Hesper, and would gladly have given herself another chance; but she could no longer flatter herself she would ever be of any real good to her. She believed there was more hope of Mr. Redmain even. For had she not once, for one brief moment, seen him look a trifle ashamed of himself? while Hesper was and remained, so far as she could judge, altogether satisfied with herself. Equal to her own demands upon herself, there was nothing in her to begin with--no soil to work upon.
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