So the annuity scheme lay dormant in his brain, as it were, for the time being. It was something to have in reserve, and to carry out any day that his wife gave him fair cause to doubt her fidelity.
In the mean time he went on living his lonely sulky kind of life, drinking a great deal more than was good for him in his own churlish manner, and laughing to scorn any attempt at remonstrance from his wife or Mrs. Tadman. Some few times Ellen had endeavoured to awaken him to the evil consequences that must needs ensue from his intemperate habits, feeling that it would be a sin on her part to suffer him to go on without some effort to check him; but her gently-spoken warnings had been worse than useless.
MR. WHITELAW MAKES AN END OF THE MYSTERY.
Mrs. Whitelaw had been married about two months. It was bright May weather, bright but not yet warm; and whatever prettiness Wyncomb Farm was capable of assuming had been put on with the fresh spring green of the fields and the young leaves of the poplars. There were even a few hardy flowers in the vegetable-garden behind the house, humble perennials planted by dead and gone Whitelaws, which had bloomed year after year in spite of Stephen’s utilitarian principles. It was a market-day, the household work was finished, and Ellen was sitting with Mrs. Tadman in the parlour, where those two spent so many weary hours of their lives, the tedium whereof was relieved only by woman’s homely resource, needlework. Even if Mrs. Whitelaw had been fond of reading, and she only cared moderately for that form of occupation, she could hardly have found intellectual diversion of that kind at Wyncomb, where a family Bible, a few volumes of the Annual Register, which had belonged to some half-dozen different owners before they came from a stall in Malsham market to the house of Whitelaw, a grim-looking old quarto upon domestic medicine, and a cookery-book, formed the entire library. When the duties of the day were done, and the local weekly newspaper had been read—an intellectual refreshment which might be fairly exhausted in ten minutes—there remained nothing to beguile the hours but the perpetual stitch—stitch—stitch of an industriously-disposed sempstress; and the two women used to sit throughout the long afternoons with their work-baskets before them, talking a little now and then of the most commonplace matters, but for the greater part of their time silent. Sometimes, when the heavy burden of Mrs. Tadman’s society, and the clicking of needles and snipping of scissors, grew almost unendurable, Ellen would run out of the house for a brief airing in the garden, and walk briskly to and fro along the narrow pathway between the potatoes and cabbages, thinking of her dismal life, and of the old days at the Grange when she had been full of gaiety and hope. There was not perhaps much outward difference in the two lives. In her father’s house she had worked as hard as she worked now; but she had been free in those days, and the unknown future all before her, with its chances of happiness. Now, she felt like some captive who paces the narrow bounds of his prison-yard, without hope of release or respite, except in death.