Mr. Garrett Wesley, during this tirade, had fallen back upon the attitude of a well-bred man who has dropped in upon a painful family quarrel and cannot well escape. He had taken his hat and stood with his gaze for the most part fastened on the carpet, but lifted now and then when directly challenged by the apothecary’s harangue. The contemned volume skimmed across the table and toppled over at his feet. With much gravity he stooped and picked it up; and as he did so, heard Mrs. Wesley addressing him.
“And the curious part of it is,” she was saying calmly, “that my brother-in-law means all this in kindness!”
“No, I don’t,” snapped Matthew; and in the next breath, “well, yes, I do then. Susanna, I beg your pardon, but you’d provoke a saint.” He dropped into his chair. “You know well enough that if I lose my temper, ’tis for your sake and the girls’.”
“I know,” she said softly, covering his hand with hers. “But you must e’en let us go our feckless way. Sir,”—she looked up— “must this decision be made to-night?”
“Not at all, ma’am, not at all. The lad, if you will, may choose when he comes of age; I have another string to my bow, should he refuse the offer. But meantime, and while ’tis uncertain to which of us he’ll end by belonging, I hope I may bear my part in his school fees.”
“But that, to some extent, must bind him.”
“No: for I propose to keep my share of it dark, with your leave. But you shall hear further of this by letter. May I say, that if I chose his father’s son, I have come to-day to set my heart on his mother’s? I wish you good night, ma’am! Good night, sirs!”
In a corner of the Isle of Axholme, in Lincolnshire, and on the eastern slope of a knoll a few feet above the desolate fenland, six sisters were seated. The eldest, a woman of thirty-three, held a book open in her lap and was reading aloud from it; reading with admirable expression and a voice almost masculine, rich as a deep-mouthed bell. And, while she read, the glory of the verse seemed to pass into her handsome, peevish face.
Her listeners heard her contentedly—all but one, who rested a little lower on the slope, with one knee drawn up, her hands clasped about it, and her brows bent in a frown as she gazed from under her sun-bonnet across the level landscape to the roofs and church-tower of Epworth, five miles away, set on a rise and facing the evening sun. Across the field below, hemmed about and intersected with dykes of sluggish water, two wagons moved slowly, each with a group of labourers about it: for to-night was the end of the oat-harvest, and they were carrying the last sheaves of Wroote glebe. After the carrying would come supper, and the worn-out cart-horse which had brought it afield from the Parsonage stood at the foot of the knoll among the unladen kegs and baskets, patiently whisking his tail to keep off the flies, and serenely indifferent that a lean and lanky youth, seated a few yards away with a drawing-board on his knee, was attempting his portrait.