A GOOD MAN’S DILEMMA
Ten minutes later Mr. Thomasson slid back the bolt, and opening the door, glanced furtively up and down the passage. Seeing no one, he came out, closed the door behind him, and humming an air from the ’Buona Figlinola,’ which was then the fashion, returned slowly, and with apparent deliberation, to the east wing. There he hastened to hide himself in a small closet of a chamber, which he had that morning secured on the second floor, and having bolted the door behind him, he plumped down on the scanty bed, and stared at the wall, he was the prey of a vast amazement.
‘Jupiter!’ he muttered at last, ’what a—a Pactolus I have missed! Three months ago, two months ago, she would have gone on her knees to marry me! And with all that money—Lord! I would have died Bishop of Oxford. It is monstrous! Positively, I am fit to kill myself when I think of it!’
He paused awhile to roll the morsel on the palate of his imagination, and found that the pathos of it almost moved him to tears. But before long he fell from the clouds to more practical matters. The secret was his, but what was he going to do with it? Where make his market of it? One by one he considered all the persons concerned. To begin with, there was her ladyship. But the knowledge did not greatly affect the viscountess, and he did not trust her. He dismissed the thought of applying to her. It was the same with Dunborough; money or no money was all one to him, he would take the girl if he could get her. He was dismissed as equally hopeless. Soane came next; but Sir George either knew the secret, or must know it soon; and though his was a case the tutor pondered long, he discerned no profit he could claim from him. Moreover, he had not much stomach for driving a bargain with the baronet; so in the end Sir George too was set aside.
There remained only the Buona Figliuola—the girl herself. ’I might pay my court to her,’ the tutor thought, ’but she would have a spite against me for last night’s work, and I doubt I could not do much. To be sure, I might put her on her guard against Dunborough, and trust to her gratitude; but it is ten to one she would not believe me. Or I could let him play his trick—if he is fool enough to put his neck in a noose—and step in and save her at the last moment. Ah!’ Mr. Thomasson continued, looking up to the ceiling in a flabby ecstasy of appreciation, ’If I had the courage! That were a game to play indeed, Frederick Thomasson!’
It was, but it was hazardous; and the schemer rose and walked the floor, striving to discover a safer mode of founding his claim. He found none, however; and presently, with a wry face, he took out a letter which he had received on the eve of his departure from Oxford—a letter from a dun, threatening process and arrest. The sum was one which a year’s stipend of a fat living would discharge; and until the receipt of the letter the tutor, long familiar with embarrassment, had taken the matter lightly. But the letter was to the point, and meant business—a spunging house and the Fleet; and with the cold shade of the Rules in immediate prospect, Mr. Thomasson saw himself at his wits’ end. He thought and thought, and presently despair bred in him a bastard courage.