In the Council of Three, with reference to the letter of apology to Mrs. Chump, Adela proposed, if it pleased Arabella, to fight the battle of the Republic. She was young, and wished both to fight and to lead, as Arabella knew. She was checked. “It must be left to me,” said Arabella.
“Of course you resist, dear?” Cornelia carelessly questioned.
“Assuredly I do.”
“Better humiliation! better anything! better marriage! than to submit in such a case,” cried Adela.
For, so united were the ladies of Brookfield, and so bent on their grand hazy object, that they looked upon married life unfavourably: and they had besides an idea that Wedlock, until ‘late in life’ (the age of thirty, say), was the burial alive of woman intellectual.
Toward midday the ladies put on their garden hats and went into the grounds together, for no particular purpose. Near the West copse they beheld Mr. Pole with Wilfrid and Emilia talking to a strange gentleman. Assuming a proper dignity, they advanced, when, to their horror, Emilia ran up to them crying: “This is Mr. Purcell Barrett, the gentleman who plays the organ at church. I met him in the woods before I knew you. I played for him the other Sunday, and I want you to know him.”
She had hold of Arabella’s hand and was drawing her on. There was no opportunity for retreat. Wilfrid looked as if he had already swallowed the dose. Almost precipitated into the arms of the ladies, Mr. Barrett bowed. He was a tolerably youthful man, as decently attired as old black cloth could help him to be. A sharp inspection satisfied the ladies that his hat and boots were inoffensive: whereupon they gave him the three shades of distance, tempered so as not to wound his susceptible poverty.
The superlative Polar degree appeared to invigorate Mr. Barrett. He devoted his remarks mainly to Cornelia, and cheerfully received her frozen monosyllables in exchange. The ladies talked of Organs and Art, Emilia and Opera. He knew this and that great organ, and all the operas; but he amazed the ladies by talking as if he knew great people likewise. This brought out Mr. Pole, who, since he had purchased Brookfield, had been extinguished by them and had not once thoroughly enjoyed his money’s worth. A courtly poor man was a real pleasure to him.
Giving a semicircular sweep of his arm: “Here you see my little estate, sir,” he said. “You’ve seen plenty bigger in Germany, and England too. We can’t get more than this handful in our tight little island. Unless born to it, of course. Well! we must be grateful that all our nobility don’t go to the dogs. We must preserve our great names. I speak against my own interest.”
He lifted Adela’s chin on his forefinger. She kept her eyes demurely downward, and then gazed at her sisters with gravity. These ladies took a view of Mr. Barrett. His features wore an admirable expression of simple interest. “Well, sir; suppose you dine with us to-day?” Mr. Pole bounced out. “Neighbours should be neighbourly.”