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Chapter 13

Of the letters received from home by him during the struggle to raise money for his Ordination fees, the above are but extracts. Let us go back to the month of May, and to Kelstein.

"Patty dear," asked Hetty one morning, "have you heard lately of John Romley?"

She was sitting up in bed with a letter in her hand. It had come yesterday; and Patty, brushing her hair before the glass, guessed from whom. She did not answer.

"He is at Lincoln; he has gone to try for the precentorship of the cathedral," Hetty announced.

"You know perfectly well that we do not correspond. I have too much principle."

"I know, dear," sighed Hetty, with her eyes fixed meditatively upon her sister's somewhat angular back. "I hope he is none the worse for it: for I have my reasons for wishing to think of him as a good man." Patty paused with brush in air, her eyes on Hetty's image in the glass; but Hetty went on inconsequently: "But surely you get word of him, now and then, in those letters from home which you hide from me? Patty, I am a stronger woman than you: and you may think yourself lucky I haven't put you through the door before this, laid violent hands on the whole budget, and read them through at my leisure. You invite it, too, by locking them up; which against a determined person would avail nothing and is therefore merely an insult, my dear."

"You know perfectly well why I do not show you my letters. They are all crying out for news of you--mother, and Emmy and Molly: even poor honest Nan breaks off writing about John Lambert and when the wedding is to be and what she is to wear, and begs to hear if there be anything wrong. And all I can answer is, that you are well, with a line or two about the children. They must think me a fool, and it has kept me miserable ever since I came. But more I will not say. At least--" She seemed about to correct herself, but came to an abrupt halt and began brushing vigorously. Hetty could not see the flush on her sallow face.

"Dear old Molly!" Hetty murmured the name of her favourite sister. "But I could not write without telling her and loading her poor conscience."

"Much you think of conscience, with a letter from him in your hand at this minute!"

"But I do think of conscience. And the best proof of it is, I am going home."

"Going home!" Patty faced about now, and with a scared face.

"Yes." Hetty put her feet out of bed and sat for a moment on the edge of it. "Mrs. Grantham paid me my wages yesterday, and now I have three pounds in my pocket. I am going home--to tell them."

"You mean to tell them!"

"Not a doubt of it. But why look as if you had seen a ghost?"

"And what do you suppose will happen?"

"Mother and Molly will cry, and Emmy will make an oration which I shall interrupt, and Kezzy will open her eyes at such a monster, and father will want to horsewhip me, but restrain himself and turn me from the door. Or perhaps he will lock me up--oh Patty, cannot you see that I'm weeping, not joking? But it has to be done, and I am going to be brave and do it."

"Very well, then. Now listen to me.--You cannot."

"Cannot? Why?"

"There's no room, to begin with--not a bed in the house. Sam and his wife are there, and the child, on a visit."

"Sam there! And you never told me.--Oh, Pat, Pat, and I might have missed him!" She sprang up from the bed and began her dressing in a fever of haste.

"But what will you do?"

"Go home and find Sam, of course."

"I don't see how Sam can help you. He did not help Emmy much: and his wife will be there, remember."

There was no love lost between Sam's sisters and Sam's wife--a practical little woman with a sharp tongue and a settled conviction that her husband's relatives were little better than lunatics. She understood the Rectory's strict rules of conduct as little as its feckless poverty (for so she called it). That a household which held its head so high should be content with a parlour furnished like a barn, sit down to meals scarcely better than the day-labourers' about them, and rest ignored by families of decent position in the neighbourhood, puzzled and irritated her. "Better he paid his debts and fed his children," was her answer when Sam put in a word for his father's spiritual ambitions. Her slight awe of the Wesleys' abilities--even she could not deny them brains--only drove her to entrench herself more strongly behind her practical wisdom; and she never abandoned her position (which had saved her in a thousand domestic arguments) that her sisters-in-law had been trained as savages in the wilds. She had a habit of addressing them as children: and her interference, some years before, between Emilia and young Leybourne, had been conducted by letter addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Wesley and without pretence of consulting Emilia's feelings.

Hetty pondered this for a moment, but without pausing in her dressing.

"Besides," urged Patty, "they may be gone by this time. Mother did not say how long the visit was to last; only that Sam had brought his bill for Jacky and Charles, and it is enormous. Father will be in the worst possible temper."

"Of all the wet blankets--" began Hetty, but was interrupted by the ringing of a bell in the corner above her bed. It summoned her to run and dress Rebecca, who slept in a small room opening out of Mrs. Grantham's.

Hetty departed in a whirl. Patty stood considering. "She never would! 'Tis a mercy sometimes she doesn't mean all she says."

But this time Hetty meant precisely what she said. Having dressed Rebecca, she suddenly faced upon Mrs. Grantham, who stood watching her as she turned back the bed-clothes to air, and folded the child's nightdress.

"With your leave, madam, I wish to go home to-day."

"Bless my soul!" ejaculated Mrs. Grantham. "You must be mad."

"I know how singular you must think it: and indeed I am very sorry to put you out. Yet I have a particular reason for asking."

"Quite impossible, Miss Wesley."

But, as Mr. Grantham had afterwards to tell her, a householder has no means in free England of coercing a grown woman determined to quit the shelter of his roof and within an hour. The poor lady was nonplussed. She had not dreamed that life's tranquil journey lay exposed to a surprise at once so simple and so disconcerting, and in her vexation she came near to hysterics.

"What to make of your sister, I know not," she cried, twenty minutes later, seating herself to have her hair dressed by Patty.

"Her temper was always a little uncertain," said Patty sagely. "I think father spoilt her by teaching her Greek and poetry and such things."

"Greek! You don't tell me that Greek makes a person want to walk out of a comfortable house at a moment's notice and leave my poor darlings on the stream!"

"Oh, no," agreed Patty. "You will not allow it, of course?"

"Perhaps you'll tell me how to prevent it? In all my life I don't remember being so much annoyed."

So Hetty had her way, packed a small bundle, and was ready at the gate for the passing of the carrier's van which would set her down within a mile of home. She had acted on an impulse, unreasoning, but not to be resisted. She felt the crisis of her life approaching and had urgent need, before it came on her, to make confession and cleanse her soul. She knew she was hurrying towards a tempest; but, whatever it might wreck, she panted for the clear sky beyond. In her fever the van seemed to crawl and the miles to drag themselves out interminably.

She was within a mile of her journey's end when a horseman met and passed the van at a jog-trot. Hetty glanced after him, wrenched open the door and sprang out upon the road with a cry--

"Father!"

Mr. Wesley heard her and turned his head; then reined up the filly and came slowly back. The van was at a standstill, the driver craning his head and staring aft in wholly ludicrous bewilderment.

"Dropped anything?" he asked, as Hetty ran to him. She thrust the fare into his hand without answering and faced around again to meet her father.

He came slowly, with set jaws. He offered no greeting.

"I was expecting this," he said. "Indeed, I was riding to Kelstein to fetch you home."

"But--but why?" she stammered.

"Why?" A short savage laugh broke from him, almost like a dog's bark; but he held his temper down. "Because I do not choose to have a decent household infected by a daughter of mine. Because, if sisters of yours must needs be exposed to the infection, it shall be where I am present to watch them and control you. I have received a letter--"

She stared at him dismayed, remembering the man Wright and his threat.

"And upon that you judge me, without a hearing?" She let her arms drop beside her.

"Will you deny it? Will you deny you have been in the habit of meeting--no, I see you will not. Apparently Mrs. Grantham has dismissed you."

"Sir, Mrs. Grantham has not dismissed me. I came away against her wish, because--"

"Well?" he waited, chewing his wrath.

It was idle now to say she had come meaning to confess. That chance had gone.

"I ask you to remember, sir, that I never promised not to meet him." Since a fight it must be, she picked up all her courage for it. "I had no right to promise it."

His mouth opened, but shut again like a trap. He had the self-control to postpone battle. "We will see about that," he said grimly. "Meanwhile, please you mount behind me and ride."

As they jogged towards Wroote, Hetty, holding on by her father's coat, seemed to feel in her finger-tips the wrath pent up and working in his small body. She was profoundly dejected; so profoundly that she almost forgot to be indignant with William Wright; but she had no thought of striking her colours. She built some hope upon Sam, too. Sam might not take her part openly, but he at least had always been kind to her.

"Does Sam know?" she took heart to ask as they came in sight of the parsonage.

"Sam?"

"Patty tells me he is here with his wife and little Philly."

"I am glad to say that Patty is mistaken. They took their departure yesterday."


Arthur Quiller-Couch