“I thought that till half an hour ago. But, after all, why should her going off with him to Anglebury for a few hours do her any harm? Anybody who knows how pure she is will feel any such thought to be quite unjust. I have been trying this morning to help on this marriage with Wildeve—yes, I, ma’am—in the belief that I ought to do it, because she was so wrapped up in him. But I much question if I was right, after all. However, nothing came of it. And now I offer myself.”
Mrs. Yeobright appeared disinclined to enter further into the question. “I fear I must go on,” she said. “I do not see that anything else can be done.”
And she went on. But though this conversation did not divert Thomasin’s aunt from her purposed interview with Wildeve, it made a considerable difference in her mode of conducting that interview. She thanked God for the weapon which the reddleman had put into her hands.
Wildeve was at home when she reached the inn. He showed her silently into the parlour, and closed the door. Mrs. Yeobright began—
“I have thought it my duty to call today. A new proposal has been made to me, which has rather astonished me. It will affect Thomasin greatly; and I have decided that it should at least be mentioned to you.”
“Yes? What is it?” he said civilly.
“It is, of course, in reference to her future. You may not be aware that another man has shown himself anxious to marry Thomasin. Now, though I have not encouraged him yet, I cannot conscientiously refuse him a chance any longer. I don’t wish to be short with you; but I must be fair to him and to her.”
“Who is the man?” said Wildeve with surprise.
“One who has been in love with her longer than she has with you. He proposed to her two years ago. At that time she refused him.”
“He has seen her lately, and has asked me for permission to pay his addresses to her. She may not refuse him twice.”
“What is his name?”
Mrs. Yeobright declined to say. “He is a man Thomasin likes,” she added, “and one whose constancy she respects at least. It seems to me that what she refused then she would be glad to get now. She is much annoyed at her awkward position.”
“She never once told me of this old lover.”
“The gentlest women are not such fools as to show every card.”
“Well, if she wants him I suppose she must have him.”
“It is easy enough to say that; but you don’t see the difficulty. He wants her much more than she wants him; and before I can encourage anything of the sort I must have a clear understanding from you that you will not interfere to injure an arrangement which I promote in the belief that it is for the best. Suppose, when they are engaged, and everything is smoothly arranged for their marriage, that you should step between them and renew your suit? You might not win her back, but you might cause much unhappiness.”