When Mr Indefer Jones spoke of living for two years, he spoke more hopefully of himself than the doctor was wont to speak to Isabel. The doctor from Carmarthen visited Llanfeare twice a week, and having become intimate and confidential with Isabel, had told her that the candle had nearly burnt itself down to the socket. There was no special disease, but he was a worn-out old man. It was well that he should allow himself to be driven out about the place every day. It was well that he should be encouraged to get up after breakfast, and to eat his dinner in the middle of the day after his old fashion. It was well to do everything around him as though he were not a confirmed invalid. But the doctor thought that he would not last long. The candle, as the doctor said, had nearly burnt itself out in the socket.
And yet there was no apparent decay in the old man's intellect. He had never been much given to literary pursuits, but that which he had always done he did still. A daily copy of whatever might be the most thoroughly Conservative paper of the day he always read carefully from the beginning to the end; and a weekly copy of the Guardian nearly filled up the hours which were devoted to study. On Sunday he read two sermons through, having been forbidden by the doctor to take his place in the church because of the draughts, and thinking, apparently, that it would be mean and wrong to make that an excuse for shirking an onerous duty. An hour a day was devoted by him religiously to the Bible. The rest of his time was occupied by the care of his property. Nothing gratified him so much as the coming in of one of his tenants, all of whom were so intimately known to him that, old as he was, he never forgot the names even of their children. The idea of raising a rent was abominable to him. Around the house there were about two hundred acres which he was supposed to farm. On these some half-dozen worn-out old labourers were maintained in such a manner that no return from the land was ever forthcoming. On this subject he would endure remonstrance from no one,—not even from Isabel.
Such as he has been here described, he would have been a happy old man during these last half-dozen years, had not his mind been exercised day by day, and hour by hour, by these cares as to the property which were ever present to him. A more loving heart than his could hardly be found in a human bosom, and all its power of love had been bestowed on Isabel. Nor could any man be subject to a stronger feeling of duty than that which pervaded him; and this feeling of duty induced him to declare to himself that in reference to his property he was bound to do that which was demanded of him by the established custom of his order. In this way he had become an unhappy man, troubled by conflicting feelings, and was now, as he was approaching the hour of his final departure, tormented by the thought that he would leave his niece without sufficient provision for her wants.
But the thing was done. The new will was executed and tied in on the top of the bundle which contained the other wills which he had made. Then, naturally enough, there came back upon him the idea, hardly amounting to a hope, that something might even yet occur to set matters right by a marriage between the cousins. Isabel had spoken to him so strongly on the subject that he did not dare to repeat his request. And yet, he thought, there was no good reason why they two should not become man and wife. Henry, as far as he could learn, had given up his bad courses. The man was not evil to the eye, a somewhat cold-looking man rather than otherwise, tall with well-formed features, with light hair and blue-grey eyes, not subject to be spoken of as being unlike a gentleman, if not noticeable as being like one. That inability of his to look one in the face when he was speaking had not struck the Squire forcibly as it had done Isabel. He would not have been agreeable to the Squire had there been no bond between them,—would still have been the reverse, as he had been formerly, but for that connexion. But, as things were, there was room for an attempt at love; and if for an attempt at love on his part, why not also on Isabel's? But he did not dare to bid Isabel even to try to love this cousin.
"I think I would like to have him down again soon," he said to his niece.
"By all means. The more the tenants know him the better it will be. I can go to Hereford at any time."
"Why should you run away from me?"
"Not from you, Uncle Indefer, but from him."
"And why from him?"
"Because I don't love him."
"Must you always run away from the people you do not love?"
"Yes, when the people, or person, is a man, and when the man has been told that he ought specially to love me."
When she said this she looked into her uncle's face, smiling indeed, but still asking a serious question. He dared to make no answer, but by his face he told the truth. He had declared his wishes to his nephew.
"Not that I mean to be in the least afraid of him," she continued. "Perhaps it will be better that I should see him, and if he speaks to me have it out with him. How long would he stay?"
"A month, I suppose. He can come for a month."
"Then I'll stay for the first week. I must go to Hereford before the
summer is over. Shall I write to him?" Then it was settled as she had
proposed. She wrote all her uncle's letters, even to her cousin
Henry, unless there was, by chance, something very special to be
communicated. On the present occasion she sent the invitation as
Llanfeare, 17th June, 187—, Monday.
My dear Henry,
Your uncle wants you to come here on the 1st July and stay for a month. The 1st of July will be Monday. Do not travel on a Sunday as you did last time, because he does not like it. I shall be here the first part of the time, and then I shall go to Hereford. It is in the middle of the summer only that I can leave him. Your affectionate cousin,
She had often felt herself compelled to sign herself to him in that way, and it had gone much against the grain with her; but to a cousin it was the ordinary thing, as it is to call any different man "My dear sir," though he be not in the least dear. And so she had reconciled herself to the falsehood.
Another incident in Isabel's life must be told to the reader. It was her custom to go to Hereford at least once a year, and there to remain at her father's house for a month. These visits had been made annually since she had lived at Llanfeare, and in this way she had become known to many of the Hereford people. Among others who had thus become her friends there was a young clergyman, William Owen, a minor canon attached to the cathedral, who during her last visit had asked her to be his wife. At that time she had supposed herself to be her uncle's heiress, and looking at herself as the future owner of Llanfeare had considered herself bound to regard such an offer in reference to her future duties and to the obedience which she owed to her uncle. She never told her lover, not did she ever quite tell herself, that she would certainly accept him if bound by no such considerations; but we may tell the reader that it was so. Had she felt herself to be altogether free, she would have given herself to the man who had offered her his love. As it was she answered him anything but hopefully, saying nothing of any passion of her own, speaking of herself as though she were altogether at the disposal of her uncle. "He has decided now," she said, "that when he is gone the property is to be mine." The minor canon, who had heard nothing of this, drew himself up as though about to declare in his pride that he had not intended to ask for the hand of the lady of Llanfeare. "That would make no difference in me," she continued, reading plainly the expression in the young man's face. "My regard would be swayed neither one way nor the other by any feeling of that kind. But as he has chosen to make me his daughter, I must obey him as his daughter. It is not probable that he will consent to such a marriage."
Then there had been nothing further between them till Isabel, on her return to Llanfeare, had written to him to say that her uncle had decided against the marriage, and that his decision was final.
Now in all this Isabel had certainly been hardly used, though her ill-usage had in part been due to her own reticence as to her own feelings. When she told the Squire that the offer had been made to her, she did so as if she herself had been almost indifferent.
"William Owen!" the Squire had said, repeating the name; "his grandfather kept the inn at Pembroke!"
"I believe he did," said Isabel calmly.
"And you would wish to make him owner of Llanfeare?"
"I did not say so," rejoined Isabel. "I have told you what occurred, and have asked you what you thought."
Then the Squire shook his head, and there was an end of it. The letter was written to the minor canon telling him that the Squire's decision was final.
In all this there had been no allusion to love on the part of Isabel. Had there been, her uncle could hardly have pressed upon her the claims of his nephew. But her manner in regard to the young clergyman had been so cold as to leave upon her uncle an impression that the matter was one of but little moment. To Isabel it was matter of infinite moment. And yet when she was asked again and again to arrange all the difficulties of the family by marrying her cousin, she was forced to carry on the conversation as though no such person existed as her lover at Hereford.
And yet the Squire remembered it all,—remembered that when he had thus positively objected to the grandson of the innkeeper, he had done so because he had felt it to be his duty to keep the grandson of an innkeeper out of Llanfeare. That the grandson of old Thomas Owen, of the Pembroke Lion, should reign at Llanfeare in the place of an Indefer Jones had been abominable to him. To prevent that had certainly been within his duties. But it was very different now, when he would leave his girl poorly provided for, without a friend and without a roof of her own over her head! And yet, though her name was Brodrick, she, too, was a Jones; and her father, though an attorney, had come of a family nearly as good as his own. In no case could it be right that she should marry the grandson of old Thomas Owen. Therefore, hitherto, he had never again referred to that proposal of marriage. Should she again have spoken of it his answer might perhaps have been less decided; but neither had she again spoken of the clergyman.
All this was hard upon Isabel, who, if she said nothing, still thought of her lover. And it must be acknowledged also that though she did not speak, still she thought of her future prospects. She had laughed at the idea of being solicitous as to her inheritance. She had done so in order that she might thereby lessen the trouble of her uncle's mind; but she knew as well as did another the difference between the position which had been promised her as owner of Llanfeare, and that to which she would be reduced as the stepdaughter of a stepmother who did not love her. She knew, too, that she had been cold to William Owen, giving him no sort of encouragement, having seemed to declare to him that she had rejected him because she was her uncle's heiress. And she knew also,—or thought that she knew,—that she was not possessed of those feminine gifts which probably might make a man constant under difficulties. No more had been heard of William Owen during the last nine months. Every now and then a letter would come to her from one of her younger sisters, who now had their own anxieties and their own loves, but not a word was there in one of them of William Owen. Therefore, it may be said that the last charge in her uncle's purpose had fallen upon her with peculiar hardness.
But she never uttered a complaint, or even looked one. As for utterance there was no one to whom she could have spoken it. There had never been many words between her and her own family as to the inheritance. As she had been reticent to her father so had he to her. The idea in the attorney's house at Hereford was that she was stubborn, conceited, and disdainful. It may be that in regard to her stepmother there was something of this, but, let that be as it might, there had been but little confidence between them as to matters at Llanfeare. It was, no doubt, supposed by her father that she was to be her uncle's heir.
Conceited, perhaps, she was as to certain gifts of character. She did believe herself to be strong of purpose and capable of endurance. But in some respects she was humble enough. She gave herself no credit for feminine charms such as the world loves. In appearance she was one calculated to attract attention,—somewhat tall, well set on her limbs, active, and of good figure; her brow was broad and fine, her grey eyes were bright and full of intelligence, her nose and mouth were well formed, and there was not a mean feature in her face. But there was withal a certain roughness about her, an absence of feminine softness in her complexion, which, to tell the truth of her, was more conspicuous to her own eyes than to any others. The farmers and their wives about the place would declare that Miss Isabel was the finest young woman in South Wales. With the farmers and their wives she was on excellent terms, knowing all their ways, and anxious as to all their wants. With the gentry around she concerned herself but little. Her uncle's habits were not adapted to the keeping of much company, and to her uncle's habits she had fitted herself altogether. It was on this account that neither did she know the young men around, nor did they know her. And then, because no such intimacies had grown up she told herself that she was unlike other girls,—that she was rough, unattractive, and unpopular.
Then the day came for the arrival of Henry Jones, during the approach to which Uncle Indefer had, from day to day, become more and more uneasy. Isabel had ceased to say a word against him. When he had been proposed to her as a lover she had declared that she had loathed him. Now that suggestion had been abandoned, or left in abeyance. Therefore she dealt with his name and with his coming as she might with that of any other guest. She looked to his room, and asked questions as to his comfort. Would it not be well to provide a separate dinner for him, seeing that three o'clock would be regarded as an awkward hour by a man from London? "If he doesn't like it, he had better go back to London," said the old Squire in anger. But the anger was not intended against his girl, but against the man who by the mere force of his birth was creating such a sea of troubles.
"I have told you what my intentions are," the Squire said to his nephew on the evening of his arrival.
"I am sure that I am very much obliged to you, my dear uncle."
"You need not be in the least obliged to me. I have done what I conceive to be a duty. I can still change it if I find that you do not deserve it. As for Isabel, she deserves everything that can be done for her. Isabel has never given me the slightest cause for displeasure. I doubt whether there is a better creature in the world living than Isabel. She deserves everything. But as you are the male heir, I think it right that you should follow me in the property—unless you show yourself to be unworthy."
This was certainly a greeting hard to be endured,—a speech very difficult to answer. Nevertheless it was satisfactory, if only the old Squire would not again change his mind. The young man had thought much about it, and had come to the resolution that the best way to insure the good things promised him would be to induce Isabel to be his wife.
"I'm sure she is all that you say, Uncle Indefer," he replied.
Uncle Indefer grunted, and told him that if he wanted any supper, he had better go and get it.