On the day fixed, and at nine in the morning, Dick Ellison, who had promised to drive Hetty over to Kelstein, arrived with his gig. Sukey accompanied him, to join in the farewells and spend a few hours at the parsonage pending his return.
Now these visits of Sukey's were a trial to her no less than to her mother and sisters. She knew that they detested her husband, and (what was worse) she had enough of the Wesley in her to perceive why and how: nevertheless, being a Wesley, she kept a steady face on her pain. Stung at times to echo Dick's sentiments and opinions, as it were in self-defence, she tried to soften them down and present them in a form at least tolerable to her family. It was heroic, but uncomfortable; and they set aside the best parlour for it.
Sukey would have preferred the kitchen. In person she was short and plump, and her face expressed a desire to be cheerful. She had little or none of that grace by which her sisters walked in the commonest cotton frocks as queens. In childhood she had been noted for her carelessness in attire, and now obediently flaunted her husband's taste in bonnets.
Her headdress to-day had a dreadful coquettishness. Dick had found it at Lincoln and called on the company to admire. It consisted of three large mock water-lilies on a little mat of muslin, and was perched on her piled hair so high aloft that their gaze, as they scanned it, seemed to pass far over her head. She longed to tear it down, cast it on the floor, and be the Sukey they knew.
The plate of cake and biscuits on the table gave the parlour a last funereal touch. Dick was boisterously talkative. The others scarcely spoke. At length Hetty, who had been struggling to swallow a biscuit, and well-nigh choking over it, rose abruptly, kissed her mother, and went straight to her father's room.
He sat at his writing-table, busy as usual with his commentary upon the Book of Job. At another table by the window Johnny Whitelamb bent over a map, with his back to the light. He glanced up as she entered: she could not well read his eyes for the shadow, and perhaps for some dimness in her own: but he rose, gathered his papers together, and slipped from the room.
"Papa, Dick Ellison is in the parlour."
"So my ears inform me."
"He wishes to see you."
"Then you may take him my compliments and assure him that he will not."
"But, papa, the gig is at the door. I have come to say good-bye."
"Ah, in that case I will step out to the door and see you off; but I will not be button-holed by Dick Ellison." He rose and stood eyeing her, pinching his chin between thumb and forefinger. "You have something to say to me, I suspect."
"I am going to Kelstein," Hetty began firmly. "I would like to obey you there, sir, as the others do at home. I do not mean outwardly: but to feel, while I am absent, that I am earning--" She paused and cast about for a word.
"You will be earning, of course. There is always satisfaction in that."
"I am not thinking of money."
"Of my approval, then? Your employer, Mr. Grantham, is an honest gentleman: I shall trust his report of you."
"Papa, I came to beg you for more than that. Will you not let me feel that I am earning something more?--that if, as times goes on, my conduct pleases you, you will be more disposed to consider--to grant me--"
"I love him, papa! I cannot help it. Sir--!"
She put out both hands to him, her eyes welling. But he had turned sharply away from her cry, and strode across the room in his irritation. Her hands fell, and one caught at the edge of the table for support while she leaned, bowing her head.
He came abruptly back. "Are you aware, Mehetabel, that you have proposed a bargain to me? I do not bargain with my children: I expect obedience. Nor as a father am I obliged to give my reasons. But since you are leaving us, and I would not dismiss you harshly, let me say that I have studied this man for whom you avow a fondness; and apart from his calling--which I detest--I find him vain, foppish, insincere. He has levitas with levitas: I believe his heart to be as shallow as his head. I know him to be no fit mate for one of my daughters; least of all for you who have gifts above your sisters--gifts which I have recognised and tried to improve. Child, summon your pride to you, and let it help your obedience." He broke off and gazed out of the window. "If," said he more softly, "our fate be not offered to us, we must make it. If, while our true fate delays, there come to us unworthy phantoms simulating it, we should test them; lest impatient we run to embrace vanity, and betray, not our hopes alone, but the purpose God had in mind for us from the beginning."
Hetty looked up. She might have thought that she was twenty-seven, and asked herself how long was it likely to be before a prince came across those dreary fields to the thatched parsonage, seeking her. But her heart was full of the man she loved, and she thought only that her father did him bitter injustice.
She shivered and lifted her face. "Good-bye, papa," she said coldly.
He kissed her on the cheek, and took a step to follow her to the door; but thought better of it and returned to the window. He heard the door close upon her, and five minutes later saw her whisked away in the gig by Dick Ellison's side.
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