They said no more about Mrs. Branston. Gilbert had a strong distaste for the business; but he did not care to take upon himself the office of mentor to a friend whose will he knew to be much stronger than his own, and to whose domination he had been apt to submit in most things, as to the influence of a superior mind. It disappointed him a little to find that John Saltram was capable of making a mercenary marriage, capable even of the greater baseness involved in the anticipation of a dead man’s shoes; but his heart was not easily to be turned against the chosen friend of his youth, and he was prompt in making excuses for the line of conduct he disapproved.
It was still quite early in September when Gilbert Fenton went back to Lidford and took up his quarters once more in the airy chintz-curtained bedchamber set apart for him in his sister’s house. He had devoted himself very resolutely to business during the interval that had gone by since his last visit to that quiet country house; but the time had seemed very long to him, and he fancied himself a kind of martyr to the necessities of commerce. The aspect of his affairs of late had not been quite free from unpleasantness. There were difficulties in the conduct of business in the Melbourne branch of the house, that branch which was under the charge of a cousin of Gilbert’s, about whose business capacities the late Mr. Fenton had entertained the most exalted opinion.
The Melbourne trading had not of late done much credit to this gentleman’s commercial genius. He had put his trust in firms that had crumbled to pieces before the bills drawn upon them came due, involving his cousin in considerable losses. Gilbert was rich enough to stand these losses, however; and he reconciled himself to them as best he might, taking care to send his Australian partner imperative instructions for a more prudent system of trading in the future.
The uneasiness and vexation produced by this business was still upon him when he went down to Lidford; but he relied upon Marian Nowell’s presence to dissipate all his care.
He did find himself perfectly happy in her society. He was troubled by no doubts as to her affection for him, no uncertainty as to the brightness of the days that were to come. Her manner seemed to him all that a man could wish in the future partner of his life. An innocent trustfulness in his superior judgment, a childlike submission to his will which Marian displayed upon all occasions, were alike flattering and delightful. Nor did she ever appear to grow tired of that talk of their future which was so pleasant to her lover. There was no shadow of doubt upon her face when he spoke of the serene happiness which they two were to find in an existence spent together. He was the first who had ever spoken to her of these things, and she listened to him with an utter simplicity and freshness of mind.