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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 34. Barbara's Duty
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There & Back - Chapter 34. Barbara's Duty Post by :Merry_V Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :996

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There & Back - Chapter 34. Barbara's Duty


The same afternoon appeared Barbara--as none knew when she might not appear--before the front windows of the house, perched upon her huge yet gracious Miss Brown. Arthur was in general upon the outlook for her, but to-day he was not, being more vexed with her than usual for withholding the encouragement he desired, and indeed imagined he deserved--not exactly from vanity, yet no less from an overweening sense of his own worth.

It is an odd delusion to which young men are subject, that, because they admire, perhaps even love a woman, they have a claim on her love. Arthur was confident that he loved Barbara as never man had loved, as never woman had desired to be loved, and counted it not merely unjust but cruel of her to show him no kindness that savoured of like attraction. He did not know or suspect that a fortnight of the London season would go far to make him forget her. He was not a bad sort of fellow, had no vice, was neither snob nor cad; his worst fault was pride in himself because of his family--pride in everything he had been born to, and in a good deal he fancied he had been born to, in which his having was small enough. He was not jealous of Barbara's pleasure in Richard's company. The slightest probe of such a feeling toward a man so infinitely beneath him, he would have felt degrading. To think of the two together would have been to insult both Barbara and himself; to think of himself and the bookbinder for one briefest moment of comparison, would have been to insult all the Lestranges that ever lived. Tuke had no _raison d'etre but work for the library that would one day be Arthur's, and by its excellence add to the honour of Mortgrange! He forgot that Richard had opened his eyes to its merit, and imagined himself the discoverer of its value: did he not pay the man for his work? and is not what a man pays for his own? Does not the purchaser of a patent purchase also the credit of the invention? That the workman in the library knew as much more than he about the insides as about the outsides of the books, gave him no dignity in his eyes: none but a university-man at least must gain honour by knowledge! The fact, however, did make him more friendly; and after he got used to Richard he seldom stiffened his jelly to remind him that their intercourse was by the sufferance of a humane spirit. Barbara's behaviour to him had done nothing to humble him; for humiliation is at best but a poisoned and poisonous humility.

Little Vixen ran out to Barbara, and made herself less unpleasant than usual: the monkey was preparing her, by what blandishment she was mistress of, to receive a complaint against the man in the library which would injure him in her favour. Might Vixen but see motion and commotion, turmoil and passion around her, she did not care how it arose, or which of the persons involved got the worse in it. She accompanied Barbara to the stable, and as they walked back together, gave her such an account of what had taken place, that Barbara, distrusting the child, yet felt anxious. She knew the spirit of Richard, knew that he would never show her ladyship the false respect a tradesman too often shows, and feared lest he should have to leave the house. She must give lady Ann the opportunity of saying what she might please on the matter!

It must be remembered that Barbara was under no pledge of secrecy to Alice or any one; she was free to do what might seem for the best--that is, for the good of Richard. It was the part of every neighbour to take care of a blind man, particularly when there was special ground for caution unknown to him.

"I am sorry to find you so poorly, dear lady Ann," she said, with her quick sympathy for suffering.

Vixen had told her that the horrid man had made her mamma quite ill; and Barbara found her with her boudoir darkened, and a cup of green tea on a Japanese table by the side of the couch on which she lay.

"It is only one of my headaches, child!" returned lady Ann. "Do not let it disturb you."

"I am afraid, from what Victoria tells me, that something must have occurred to annoy you seriously!"

"Nothing at all worth mentioning. He is an odd person, that workman of yours!"

"He is peculiar," granted Barbara, doubtful of her own honesty because of the different sense in which she used the word from that in which it would be taken; "but I am certain he would not willingly vex any one."

"Children will be troublesome!" drawled her ladyship.

"Particularly Victoria," returned Barbara. "Mr. Tuke cannot bear to have his work put in jeopardy!"

"Very excusable in him."

Barbara was surprised at her consideration, and thought she must somehow be pleased with Richard.

"It would astonish you to hear him talk sometimes," she said. "There is something remarkable about the young man. He must have a history somewhere!"

She had been thinking whether it was fair to sir Wilton and his family to conceal the momentous fact she alone of their friends knew: were they not those, next to Richard himself, most concerned in it? Should lady Ann be allowed to go on regarding the property as the inheritance of her son, when at any instant it might be swept from his hold? Had they not a right to some preparation for the change? If there was another son, and he the heir, ought she not at least to know that there was such a person? She had resolved, that very morning, to give lady Ann a hint of the danger to which she was exposed.

But there was another reflection, more potent yet, that urged Barbara to speak. Since learning Alice's secret, she had found herself more swiftly drawn toward Richard, nor could she escape the thought that he might one day ask her to be his wife: it would be painful then to know that she had made progress in his regard by being imagined his superior, when she knew she was not! Incapable of laying a snare, was she not submitting to the advantage of an ignorance? The misconception she was thus risking in the future, had already often prevented her from going to Mortgrange. Richard, she was certain, knew her better than ever to misjudge her, but she shrank from the suspicion of any one that she had hidden what she knew for the sake of securing Richard's preference before their relations were altered--when, on a level with the choice of society, he might well think differently of her.

Barbara was one of those to whom concealment is a positive pain. She had a natural hatred, most healthy and Christian, to all secrets as such; and to take any advantage of one would have seemed to her a loathsome thing. She constantly wanted to say all that was in her, and when she must not, she suffered.

"He may have good blood in him on one side," suggested lady Ann. "He was rude to me, but I dare say it was the child's fault. He seems intelligent!"

"He is more than intelligent. I suspect him of being a genius."

"I should have thought him a tradesman all over!"

"But wouldn't genius by and by make a gentleman of him?"

"Not in the least. It might make him grow to look like one."

"Isn't that the same? Isn't it all in the look?"

"By no means. A man must _be a gentleman or he is nothing! A gentleman would rather not have been born than not be a gentleman!" said lady Ann.

She spoke to an ignorant person from the colonies, where they could not be supposed to understand such things, and never suspected the danger she and her false importance were in with the little colonial girl.

"But if his parents were gentlefolk?" suggested Barbara.

"Birth predetermines style, both in body and mind, I grant," said lady Ann; "education and society must do their parts to make any man a gentleman; and where all has been done, I must confess to having seen remarkable failures. Bad blood must of course have got in somehow."

"I wish I knew what makes a gentleman!" sighed Barbara. "I have all my life been trying to understand the thing.--Tell me, lady Ann--to be a gentleman, must a man be a good man?"

"I am sorry to say," she answered, "it is not in the least necessary."

"Then a gentleman may do bad things, and be a gentleman still?"

"Yes--that is, _some bad things."

"Do you mean--not _many bad things?"

"No; I mean certain kinds of bad things."

"Such as cheating at cards?"

"No. If he were found doing that, he would be expelled from any club in London."

"May he tell lies, then?"

"Certainly not! It is a very ungentlemanly thing to tell lies."

"Then, if a man tells a lie, he is not a gentleman?"

"I do not say that; I say that to tell lies is ungentlemanly?"

"Does that mean that he may tell _some lies, and yet be a gentleman?"

Lady Ann was afraid to go on. She saw that to go on answering the girl from the colonies, with her troublesome freedom of thought and question, might land her in a bog of contradictions.

"How many lies may a gentleman tell in a day?" pursued the straight-going Barbara.

"Not any," answered lady Ann.

"Does the same rule hold for ladies?"

"Y--e--s----I should say so," replied her ladyship--with hesitation, for she suspected being slowly driven into some snare. She knew she was not careful enough to speak the truth--so much she confessed to herself, the fact being that, to serve any purpose she thought worth gaining, she would lie without a scruple--taking care, however, to keep the lie as like the truth as consisted with success, in order that, if she were found out, it might seem she had mistaken.

Barbara noted the uncertainty of the sound her ladyship's trumpet gave, and began to be assured that the laws of society were no firm stepping-stones, and that society itself was a morass, where one must spend her life in jumping from hump to hump, or be swallowed up.

She had been wondering how far, if Richard proved heir to a baronetcy, his education and manners would decree him no gentleman; but it was useless to seek light from lady Ann. As they talked, however, the feeling came and grew upon her, that she was not herself acting like a lady, in going so much to her house, and being received by her as a friend, when all the time she knew something she did not know, something it was important for her to know, something she had a right and a claim to know. She would herself hate to live on what was not her own, as lady Ann would be left to do when sir Wilton died, if the truth about Richard remained undisclosed! It was very unfair to leave them unwarned for this reason besides, that so the fact might at last find them, for lack of preparation, without resource!

"I want to talk to you about something, lady Ann," she said. "You can't but know that a son of sir Wilton's was stolen when he was a baby, and never found!"

It was the first time for many years that lady Ann had heard the thing alluded to except once or twice by her husband. Her heart seemed to make a somersault, but not a visible muscle moved. What could the girl be hinting at? Were there reports about? She must let her talk!--the more freely the better!

"Every one knows that!" she answered. "It is but too true. It happened after my marriage. I was in the house at the time.--What of it, child? There can be little hope of his turning up now--after twenty years!"

"I believe he has turned up. I believe I know him."

Lady Ann jumped to the most natural, most mistaken conclusion.

"It's the bookbinder!" she said to herself. "He has been telling her a pack of lies! His being in the house is part of the plot. It must be nipped in the bud! If it be no lie, if he be the very man, it must be nipped all the same! Good heavens! if Arthur should _not marry her--or someone--before it is known!"

"It may be so," she answered quietly, "but it hardly interests me. I don't like talking of such things to a girl, but innocence cannot always be spared in this wicked world. The child you speak of was born in this house, and stolen out of it; but his mother was a low woman; she was not the wife of sir Wilton."

"Everybody believed her his wife!" faltered Barbara.

"Very possibly! Very likely! She may even have thought so herself! Such people are so ignorant!" said lady Ann with the utmost coolness. "He may even have married her after the child was born for anything I know."

"Sir Wilton must have made her believe she was his wife!" cried Barbara, her blood rising at the thought of such a wrong done to Richard's mother.

"Possibly," admitted lady Ann with a smile.

"Then a baronet may tell lies, though a gentleman may not!" said Barbara, as if speaking to herself.

Lady Ann was not indignant. She had hesitated to say a lady might lie, but did not hesitate to lie the moment the temptation came, nor for that would doubt herself a lady! She knew perfectly that the woman was the wife of her husband as much as she herself was, and that she died giving birth to the heir. She had no hope that any lie she could tell would keep that child out of the property if he were alive and her husband wished him to have it; but a lie well told to Barbara might help to keep her for Arthur.

"Gentlemen think they _may tell lies to women!" she returned with calmness, and just a tinge of regret.

"How are they gentlemen then?" cried Barbara; "or where is the good of being a gentleman? Is it that he knows better how to lie to a woman? A knight used to be every woman's castle of refuge; a gentleman now, it seems, is a pitfall in the bush!"

"It is a matter they settle among themselves," answered lady Ann, confused between her desire to appear moral, and to gain her lie credit.

"I think I shall not call myself a lady!" said Barbara, after a moment's silence. "I prefer being a woman! I wonder whether in heaven they say a _woman or a _lady!_"

"I suppose they are all sorts there as well as here," answered lady Ann.

"How will the ladies do without gentlemen?" suggested Barbara.

"Why without gentlemen? There will be as many surely of the one sex as of the other!"

"No," said Barbara, "that cannot be! Gentlemen tell lies, and I am sure no lie is told in heaven!"

"All gentlemen do not tell lies!" returned lady Ann, herself at the moment full of lying.

"But all gentlemen _may lie!" persisted Barbara, "so there can be no gentlemen in heaven."

"I am sorry I had to mention the thing," returned lady Ann, "but I was afraid your sweet romantic nature might cherish an interest where was nothing on which to ground it. Of course I know whence the report you allude to comes! _Any man, bookbinder or blacksmith, may put in a claim. He will find plenty to back him. They will very likely get up a bubble-company, for speculation on his chance! His own class will be sure to take his part! Now that those that ought to know better have taught them to combine, the lower orders stick at nothing to annoy their superiors! But, thank heaven, the estate is _not entailed!"

"If you imagine Mr. Tuke told me he was heir to Mortgrange, lady Ann, you are mistaken. He does not know himself that he is even supposed to be."

"Are you sure of that? Who then told you? Is it likely his friends have got him into the house, under the eye of his pretended father, and he himself know nothing of the manoeuvre?"

"How do you know it was he I meant, lady Ann?"

"You told me so yourself."

"No; that I did not! I _know I didn't, lady Ann! What made you fix on him?"

Lady Ann saw she had committed herself.

"If you did not tell me," she rejoined, "your peculiar behaviour to the man must have led me to the conclusion!"

"I have never concealed my interest in Mr. Tuke, but--"

"You certainly have not!" interrupted her ladyship, who both suffered in temper and lost in prudence from annoyance at her own blunder.

"Pray, hear me out, lady Ann. What I want to say is, that my friendship for Mr. Tuke had begun long before I learned the fact concerning which I thought I ought to warn you."

"Friendship!--ah, well!--scarcely decorous!--but as to what you call _fact_, I would counsel a little caution. I repeat that, if the man be the son of that woman, which may be difficult to prove, it is of no consequence to any one; sir Wilton was never married to his mother--_properly married, I mean. I am sorry he should have been born out of wedlock--it is anything but proper; at the same time I cannot be sorry that he will never come between my Arthur and the succession."

Here lady Ann saw a sudden radiance light up the face of Barbara, and change its expression, from that of a lady rightfully angry and a little scornful, to that of a child-angel. Entirely concerned hitherto with Richard's loss and pain, if what lady Ann said should be true, it now first occurred to her what she herself would gain if indeed he was not the heir: no one could think she had been his friend because he was going to be a rich man! If he was the wronged man her ladyship represented him--and her ladyship ought to know--she might behave to him as she pleased without suspicion of low motive! Little she knew what motives such persons as lady Ann were capable of attributing--as little how incapable they were of understanding any generous motive!

Barbara had an insuperable, a divine love of justice. She would have scorned the thought of forsaking a friend because the very mode of his earthly being was an ante-natal wrong to him. The righteousness that makes a man visit the sins of a father upon his children, is the righteousness of a devil, not the righteousness of God. When God visits the sins of a father on his children, it is to deliver the child from his own sins through yielding to inherited temptation. Barbara rejoiced that she was free to approach Richard, and make some amends to him for the ass-judgment of the world. I do not know that she said to herself, "Now I may love him as I please!" but her thought went in that direction.

It did not take lady Ann long to interpret the glow on Barbara's face to her own satisfaction. The report she had heard and believed, had kept Barbara back from encouraging Arthur, and made her pursue her unpleasant intimacy with the bookbinder! the sudden change on her countenance indicated the relief of finding that Arthur, and not this man, was indeed the heir! How could she but prefer her Arthur to a man smelling of leather and glue, a man without the manners or education of a gentleman! He might know a few things that gentlemen did not care to know, but even those he got only out of books! He could not do one of the many things her Arthur did! He could neither ride, nor shoot, nor dress, nor dance! He was tall, but he was clumsy! No doubt he was a sort of vulgar-handsome, but when out of temper, was ugly enough!

That lady Ann condescended to such comparison, was enough to show that she believed the story at least half. The girl remaining silent.

"You will oblige me, dear Barbara," she said, "by not alluding to this report! It might raise doubt where it could not do serious harm!"

"There are others who not only know but believe it," answered Barbara.

"Who are they?"

"I do not feel at liberty to tell their names. I thought you had a right to know what was said, but I have no right to mention where I heard it."

Lady Ann grew thoughtful again, and as she thought grew convinced that Barbara had not spoken the truth, and that it was Richard who had told her: it is so easy for those who lie to believe that another is lying! It is impossible indeed for such to imagine that another, with what they would count strong reason for lying, would not lie. Gain is the crucial question for vile souls of any rank. She believed also, for they that lie doom themselves to believe lies as well as disbelieve truths, that Richard had got into the house in order to learn things that might serve in the establishing of his claim.

"It will be much better you should keep silent concerning the report," she said. "I do not want the question stirred. If the young man, any young man, I mean, should claim the heirship, we must meet the thing as it ought to be met; till then, promise me you will be silent."

She would fain have time to think, for she feared in some way compromising herself. And in any case, the longer the crisis could be postponed, the better for her prospects in the issue!

"I will not promise anything," answered Barbara. "I dread promising."

"Why?" asked lady Ann, raising her eyebrows.

"Because promises have to be kept, and that is sometimes very difficult; and because sometimes you find you ought not to have made them, and yet you must keep them. It is a horrid thing to have to keep a promise you don't like keeping, especially if it hurts anybody."

"But if you ought to make the promise?" suggested lady Ann.

"Then you must make it. But where there is no _ought_, I think it wrong to bind yourself. What right have you, when you don't know what may be wanted of you, to tie your own hands and feet? There may come an earthquake or a fire!"

"Does friendship demand nothing? You are our guest!"

It was not in lying only that lady Ann was not a lady.

"One's friends may have conflicting interests!" said Barbara.

Lady Ann was convinced that Richard was at the root of the affair, and she hated him. What if he _were the heir, and it could be proved! The thought was sickening. It was with the utmost strain that she kept up her apparent indifference before the mocking imp honest Barbara seemed to her. For heaven is the devil's hell, and the true are the devils of it. How was she to assure herself concerning the fellow? how discover what he was, what he knew, and how much he could prove? She could not even think, with that little savage sitting there, staring out of her wide eyes!

"My sweet Barbara," she said, "I am so much obliged to you for letting me know! I will not ask any promise from you. Only you must not heedlessly bring trouble upon us. If the thing were talked about, some unprincipled lawyer would be sure to take it up, and there would be another claimant-case, with the people in a hubbub, and thousands of ignorant honest folk duped of their money to enrich the rascality. I heard a distinguished judge once say, that, even if the claimant _were the real sir Roger, he had no right to the property, having so long neglected the duties of it as to make it impossible to be certain of his identity. Such people put the country to enormous expense, and are never of any service to it. It is a wrong to all classes when a man without education succeeds to property. For one thing he will always side with the tenants against the land. And what service can any such man render his country in parliament? Without a suitable training there can be no genuine right."

She was on the point of adding--"And then are the hopes and services and just expectations of a lifetime to go for nothing?" but checked herself and was silent.

To all this Barbara had been paying little heed. She was revolving whether she ought to tell Richard what she had just heard. Neither then nor as she rode home, however, could she come to a conclusion. If Richard was not the heir, why should she trouble him? But he might be the heir, and what then? She must seek counsel! But of whom? Not of her mother! As certainly not of her father! She had no ground for trusting the judgment of either.

Having got rid of Miss Brown, she walked to the parsonage.

But she did not find there such a readiness to give advice as she had expected.

"The thing is not my business," said Wingfold.

"Not!" returned the impetuous Barbara. "I thought you were so much interested in the young man! He told me the other day that he had seen you again, and had a long talk with you, and that you thought the popular idea of the inspiration of the scriptures the greatest nonsense!"

"Did he tell you that I said it was much nearer the truth after all than the fancy that the Bible had no claim beyond any other book?"

"Yes, he did."

"That's all right!--Tell me then, Miss Wylder: are you interested in the young man because he is possibly heir to a baronetcy?"

"Certainly not!" answered Barbara with indignation.

"Then why should I be?" pursued the parson. "What is it to me? I am not a county-magistrate even!"

"I cannot understand you, Mr. Wingfold!" protested Barbara, "You say you are there not for yourself but for the people, yet you will not move to see right done!"

"I would move a long way to see that Mr. Tuke cared to do right: that is my business. It is not much to me, and nothing to my business, whether Mr. Tuke be rich or poor, a baronet or a bookbinder; it is everything to me whether Mr. Tuke will be an honest fellow or not."

"But if he should prove to have a right to the property?"

"Then he ought to have the property. But it is not my business to discover or to enforce the right. My business is to help the young man to make little of the matter, whether he find himself the lawful heir, or a much injured man through his deceived mother.--Tell me whose servant I am."

"You are the servant of Jesus Christ."

"--Who said the servant must be as his master.--Do you remember how he did when a man came asking him to see justice done between him and his brother?--He said, 'Man, who made me a judge and a divider over you? Take heed and beware of covetousness.'--It may be _your business to see about it; I don't know; I scarcely think it is. My advice would be to keep quiet yet a while, and see what will come. There appears no occasion for hurry. The universe does not hang on the question of Richard's rights. Will it be much whether your friend go into the other world as late heir, or even late owner of Mortgrange, or as the son of Tuke, the bookbinder? Will the dead be moved from beneath to meet the young baronet at his coming? Will the bookbinder go out into dry places, seeking rest and finding none?"

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There & Back - Chapter 35. The Parson's Counsel There & Back - Chapter 35. The Parson's Counsel

There & Back - Chapter 35. The Parson's Counsel
CHAPTER XXXV. THE PARSON'S COUNSELIt was a happy thing for both Richard and Barbara, that Barbara was now under another influence besides Richard's. The more she saw of Mr. and Mrs. Wingfold, the more she felt that she had come into a region of reality and life. Both of them understood what a rare creature she was, and spoke as freely before her as if she had been a sister of their own age and standing. Barbara on her side knew no restraint with them, but spoke in like freedom, both of her past life, and the present state of things

There & Back - Chapter 33. Richard And Vixen There & Back - Chapter 33. Richard And Vixen

There & Back - Chapter 33. Richard And Vixen
CHAPTER XXXIII. RICHARD AND VIXENBarbara turned her mare across the road, and sent her at the hedge. Miss Brown cleared it like a stag, and took a bee-line along the grass for Wylder Hall. Richard stood astonished. A moment before she was close beside him, and now she was nearly out of his sight! The angel that ascended from the presence of Manoah could scarcely have more amazed the Danite. Though Richard could shoe a horse, he could no more have stuck to Miss Brown over that hedge than he could have ascended with the angel. He watched till she vanished,