Late that evening, just at the hour when, on the previous night, he was closeted with the father, he found himself closeted with the mother. ‘She has never forgotten you for one moment since you left us,’ said the mother. Mrs. Shand had rushed into the subject so quickly that these were almost the first words she said to him. He remained quite quiet, looking out from the open window into the moonlight. When a distinct proposition was made to him like this, he certainly would not be a moth. ‘I don’t know whether you have thought of her too, Mr. Caldigate.’ He only shook his head. ‘That is so?’
‘I hope you do not think that I have been to blame in any way,’ he said, with a conscience somewhat stricken;—for he remembered well that he had kissed the young lady on that evening four years ago.
’Oh no. I have no complaint to make. My poor child! It is a pity. But I have nothing more to say. It must be so then?’
‘I am the least settled man in all the world, Mrs. Shand.’
‘But at some future time?’
‘I fear not. My mind is intent on other things.’ So it was;—intent on Hester Bolton! But the statement as he made it, was certainly false, for it was intended to deceive. Mrs. Shand shook hands with him kindly, however, as she sent him away to bed, telling him that breakfast should be ready for him at eight the next morning.
His train left Pollington at nine, and at eight the doctor with all his family were there to greet him at the breakfast-table,—with all the family except Maria. The mother, in the most natural tone in the world, said that poor Maria had a headache and could not come down. They filled his plate with eggs and bacon and toast, and were as good to him as though he had blighted no hopes and broken no heart. He whispered one word at going to the doctor. ’Pray remember that whenever you think the money can be of use, it is there. I consider that I owe him quite as much as that.’ The father grasped his hand, and all of them blessed him as he went.
‘If I can only get away from Babington as easily!’ he said to himself, as he took his place in the railway carriage.
Again at Babington
The affair of Julia Babington had been made to him in set terms, and had, if not accepted, not been at once refused. No doubt this had occurred four years ago, and, if either of them had married since, they would have met each other without an unpleasant reminiscence. But they had not done so, and there was no reason why the original proposition should not hold good. After escaping from Babington he had, indeed, given various reasons why such a marriage was impossible. He had sold his inheritance. He was a ruined man. He was going out to Australia as a simple miner. It was only necessary for him to state all this, and it became at once evident that he was below the notice of Julia Babington.