“You certainly may not ask, Mr. Wright.” The danger-signal twinkled for a moment under the Rector’s brows; but he repressed it and turned towards a cupboard in the wall, where in a drawer lay fifteen pounds, ten of which he had designed to send to Oxford. “Twelve pounds seventeen shillings and sixpence, I think you said?”
“Never mind the bill, sir, for a moment. And about Miss Hetty I’ll ask ye no questions if you forbid it: but something I came to say, and it’ll have to be said. First of all I want to be clear with you that I had no hand in this affair. On the contrary, I saw it coming and warned her against the fellow.”
“I have not the least need of your assurance. I did not even know you were acquainted—”
“No, you don’t need it; but I need to give it. Very well: now comes my point. Here’s a young lady beautiful as roses, and that accomplished, and that thoroughbred she makes an honest tradesman feel like dirt to look upon her. Oh, you needn’t to stare, sir! William Wright knows breeding when he sees it, in man or beast; and as for feeling like dirt, why there’s a sort of pleasure in it, if you understand me.”
“I do not.”
“No: I don’t suppose you do. You’re not the sort of man to feel like dirt before anyone—not before King George on his throne. But you may take my word for it there’s a kind of man that likes it: when he looks at a woman, I mean. ‘Take care, my lady,’ I said; ’you’re delicate and proud now, and as dainty as a bit of china. But once you fall off the shelf—well, down you go, and ’tis all over but the broom and the dust-heap. There you’ll lie, with no man to look at you; worse than the coarsest pint-pot a man will drink out of.’ You understand me now, Mr. Wesley?”
“I do, sir, to my sorrow, but—”
“But that’s just where you’re wrong—you don’t!” Mr. Wright cried triumphantly, and pursued with an earnestness which held Mr. Wesley still in his chair. “I’ll swear to you, sir, that if I could have stopped this, I would: ay, though it killed my only chance. But I couldn’t. The thing’s done. And I tell you, sir”—his face was flushed now, and his voice shaking—“broken as she is, I do worship Miss Hetty beyond any woman in the world. I do worship her as if she had tumbled slap out of heaven. I—I—there you have it, any way: so if you’ll leave talking about the little account between us—”
Mr. Wesley stood up, drew out his keys, opened the cupboard and began counting the sum out upon the table.
“You misunderstand me, sir: indeed you do!” Mr. Wright protested.
“Maybe,” answered the Rector grimly. “But I happen to be consulting my own choice. Twelve pounds seventeen and sixpence, I think you said? You had best sit down and write out a receipt.”
“But why interrupt a man, sir, when he’s thinking of higher things, and with his hand ’most too shaky to hold a pen?”