’Of course I take it for granted that you believe my account of the matter. Miss Drake was by no means the spiritual young person that Mrs. Goodall thought her, or hoped to make her; plainly, she was a reprobate of experience. This, you will say, doesn’t alter the fact that I also behaved like a reprobate. No; from the moralist’s point of view I was to blame. But I had no moral pretentions, and it was too much to expect that I should rebuke the young woman and preach her a sermon. You admit that, I dare say?’
The mathematician, frowning uncomfortably, gave a nod of assent.
’Amy was not only a reprobate, but a rascal. She betrayed me to the people at Upchurch, and, I am quite sure, meant from the first to do so. Imagine the outcry. I had committed a monstrous crime—had led astray an innocent maiden, had outraged hospitality—and so on. In Amy’s case there were awkward results. Of course I must marry the girl forthwith. But of course I was determined to do no such thing. For the reasons I have explained, I let the storm break upon me. I had been a fool, to be sure, and couldn’t help myself. No one would have believed my plea—no one would have allowed that the truth was an excuse. I was abused on all hands. And when, shortly after, my father made his will and died, doubtless he cut me off with my small annuity on this very account. My cousin Mary got a good deal of the money that would otherwise have been mine. The old man had been on rather better terms with me just before that; in a will that he destroyed I believe he had treated me handsomely.’
‘Well, well,’ said Micklethwaite, ’every one knows there are detestable women to be found. But you oughtn’t to let this affect your view of women in general. What became of the girl?’
’I made her a small allowance for a year and a half. Then her child died, and the allowance ceased. I know nothing more of her. Probably she has inveigled some one into marriage.’
‘Well, Barfoot,’ said the other, rolling about in his chair, ’my Opinion remains the same. You are in debt to some worthy woman to the extent of half your income. Be quick and find her. It will be better for you.’
‘And do you suppose,’ asked Everard, with a smile of indulgence, ’that I could marry on four hundred and fifty a year.
‘Heavens! Why not?’
’Quite impossible. A wife might be acceptable to me; but marriage with poverty—I know myself and the world too well for that.’
‘Poverty!’ screamed the mathematician. ’Four hundred and fifty pounds!’
‘Grinding poverty—for married people.’
Micklethwaite burst into indignant eloquence, and Everard sat listening with the restrained smile on his lips.