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WHICH SHALL IT BE?
AUSTIN was able to leave his brother for a short time and appear in the drawing-room after dinner. He got Kate to sing all her best songs to him, and she in her turn insisted upon his taking her place at the piano and performing something in his mellow tenor.
"You don't like Censure and her frowns, Mr. Reefer,” she said, after she had finished a bantering criticism on his effort. "I know you don't, in spite of what you say to the contrary. Now I do; I like her a thousand times better than Commendation and her compliments. Let us make a bargain, Mr. Reefer; you shall do all the censure, and I'll do all the commendation. Going on Friday, are you? Oh, well, then, there won't be much time for you to see if I improve, and to give me raps over the knuckles. I suppose you can't stay longer because of your
Austin had also a few minutes talk with Maud before saying good night. He had noticed her from his window returning home alone in the misty winter twilight with a basket on her arm, and he had felt sure in his own mind that she had been to Archer's, attending to her two protegés; but it was only after the most earnest pressing on his part that she would admit that he had guessed aright.
"And what earthly good does it do you, now that I have told you what you want?" she asked, with her usual manner. your interest excited in the wretched creatures?
"Is What would you say if I told you I had had them both sent to the workhouse?"
"I don't think I should believe it. You are not the do that after what you have already done."
'People in general would say that it ought to have been done at once that charity required nothing more." "I don't class you with people in general. Allow me to say -though it is at the risk of displeasing you that your cynicism. cannot impose upon me; I can see under it larger and stronger impulses towards genuine humanity and beneficence than I see in one person out of a thousand whom I meet."
"I think you have expressed as much at least half a dozen times within the last two days. If it affords you any amusement
to pull me to pieces, and to dissect and analyse me, I have nothing to say against it, but I think I would rather not hear the results. I never expected to have such heavenly qualities ascribed to me."
"Well, you mustn't quarrel with me for my indiscretion," he replied, with a smile; "and, as a pledge of amity, be sure and not refuse the favour I am going to ask. I want you to let me help you in any further plan you may have for assisting your two protegés. I assure you I am interested in the matter.'
"What would you say to advertising for subscriptions in the Ferneyhurst Chronicle, or to sending round a hat among the people here, or to getting up a joint-stock philanthropic company? One might surely contrive in that way to get enough to buy a piece of bread and cheese for a couple of miserable paupers, and send them home to their native village. We can't talk about your offer at present, for here come the servants."
"You resent my interference now," he replied, laughing; "but, perhaps, you may find a use for me in the end."
That night was a night of anxiety and unrest to Mrs. Treeby. Her husband followed her up to bed almost immediately in a state of great excitement. He wanted to hear from her about the Jenkinsons, and to tell her the good news respecting Kate and Austin. He chuckled in his dressing-room, after his boisterous fashion, when he was informed what kind of people the new comers were. Mrs. Treeby ventured to express the opinion that she did not quite like their tone, upon which he took her violent to task for setting up to be grand and fastidious on such matters, declared that the tenants of Fairlawn Villa were just the sort of neighbours he wanted (Trotter had told him lots about 'em), and vowed he would go and pay his "devours" the very next day.
"I knew it was a case, Mrs. Treeby. Didn't I tell you all along they had gone plump into it at first sight, and were billing and cooing like Juno's doves? Didn't I keep saying it was come, see, and overcome with Reefer, and you wouldn't believe it? Ha! ha!" he continued, alluding to the matter which lay nearest his heart.
"Why, what do you mean, Augustus?" cried his wife, looking in upon him from the bedroom, with an alarmed face. "Has Mr. Reefer"
"Been popping the question to your daughter, Mrs. T. T.? No, it's not come to that yet. Reefer's not half a lover, or he'd have done it by this time. What the deuce are you looking so scared about? Hang it! your face is as white as my nightcap. It's not news to make your cheeks blench and whiten, but to make 'em red and rosy with delight, as the poets say. Not nineteen yet,
and taken off my hands without a single word about dowers and marriage portions, and likely to be the mistress of ten thousand a year some day. What d'ye say to that, Mrs. Treeby? By Jove! it's enough to send her into raptures and ecstasies, like myself, when Reefer pops. It's a case, Maria; I told you it was a case.'
And our delighted parent gave vent to the joy of his heart by slapping his leg with his bootjack, and making a pivot of his heel, upon which he turned his punchy figure three times.
"Do explain, dear Augustus," implored his wife, feeling no desire to rival her husband's jubilant demonstrations.
"Explain, Mrs. Trentham! With all my soul and heart." And he narrated his interview with Austin in his own forcible style. "So it's been a case in spite of you, Maria, and your Buxton obstinacy," he added, with an ugly look at her; "and I'll tell you what's the work I've carved out for you, and you'd better do it without any demurs and tantrums, 'cause you see it's no use trying to fight against your fates and destinies. You must get hold of Kate to-morrow, and put her up to what's coming, and make her promise that when Reefer says the word, she'll give him to understand she's ready to take him then and there without any of the hanging backs and delays that his head's stuffed withrubbish and romance, by Jove !"
"But she may not be willing to listen to him at all, Augustus; she may refuse to be his wife on any conditions. I know she will if she doesn't really love him; and I don't think she can, for you may say they don't know one another yet."
"If she don't, you'll have to teach her what's her duty to her natural parents, who've spent a fortune for her in board and clothing, by Jove!"
"Surely Mr. Reefer expressed no wish that I should speak to her before he did himself," returned his wife, gently.
"What does that concern you, Mrs. Treeby?" he said, glaring on her as she stood in the doorway. "You've nothing to do with Reefer's wishes, but only to do as I tell you to behave as becomes a duteous spouse, and make your daughter learn what her respects and duties are, by Jove!"
The little woman stood trembling at the door, with her face very white. She stood so in silence a moment, but her lips moved. Then she spoke out firmly, though in gentle tones, like the brave little woman she was.
"I cannot do it, Augustus; I cannot go to Katie and tell her that, if a man asks her to be his wife, she must throw herself into his arms and beg him to make her so at once. It would be shocking indelicacy for any girl to do so; and it would be most improper and most indelicate for any mother to speak of such a thing to a daughter. And if she does not love him,
Augustus, I cannot force her inclinations. My precious Katie, my own sweet child, I cannot come between her and her heart, and dictate to her what she must feel. I am her mother, it is true; but not even a mother has a right to interfere in a matter so sacred; no mother may go and command her daughter to do violence to her own heart and to feign an affection for a man which she does not feel. Don't press it, dear Augustus, I beseech you; think what you are asking me to do; it would be cruelty to her, and cruelty to him, too, because he would be deceived; it would be most unfeeling, and unprincipled, and unholy on our part. I implore you not to insist upon me doing this, because I can't do it."
She had begun quietly, but towards the end the woman and the mother had waxed strong within her; the indelicate and improper nature of the first part of her husband's injunction forced itself more and more upon her as she proceeded, and there rose before her stronger and stronger the possibility, nay, the probability, of there being no attachment whatever on Kate's part for Austin, and the vision of her daughter's despair (perhaps, too, her fury and contempt), when she should be told what was expected of her-oh, yes, and even supposing that there existed a mutual affection, the thought was agony enough to the motherly heart that her darling, her pride and comforter, her very soul's idol, would be torn from her; and so, at the end, her voice shook and faltered in passionate appeal; and when she stopped her frame was shivering with strong agitation. She grasped the door-handle to steady herself, and burst into tears. But her husband was not moved by it all; before him there rose only the vision of an obstinate and dogged resistance to the scheme which he had cherished so fondly, which had prospered beyond his expectations, and over the instant realisation of which he had been gloating all that day. His wife might bring the whole business to nought, for he had seen enough of Austin to convince him that he was a highprincipled and honourable man, that he would consent to no coercion in the matter of himself and Kate, and that, therefore, it would require Maria's private influence to adjust matters in a satisfactory manner, supposing any difficulty to arise. It was no tender figure of sympathy and compassion that the little woman beheld through her tears; the squat, punchy frame, in its shirtsleeves, gnashing upon her, with the eyes glaring from under their terrible brows, the black hair tangled over the brow, one hand grasping the boot-jack as if he meant to hurl it at her the next moment; in truth, it was more as if a fiend from the pit had suddenly sprung up before her. There came a terrible "madam !" and then- -I shrink from the scene that followed, and so would you from the description; let the canvas remain blank.
SHE watered her couch with her tears, poor soul! through the early hours of that night. Her heart was wrung with anguish because of the grievous and terrible things-falling like sharp arrows on her sensitive spirit-that had been said to her, because of the bitter things that might be in store, not for herself only, but, what was far worse, for the daughter of her love. She knew her savage consort too well to believe that he would stand any opposition to his plans on the part of Kate. If Kate should refuse Austin, or if not absolutely refusing him, should give him no encouragement, conclude matters in the summary way that her father wished, it was certain that she would subject herself to a great deal of trying persecution, if not to something worse. For, furious at having his schemes baffled on the very eve of success, there was no telling what Mr. Treeby might not do. Long ago he had once threatened to send Kate to a cheap boarding-school, the managers of which had the reputation of under-feeding their pupils, and ruling them, metaphorically, with a rod of iron. He might put the ancient threat into execution now, and thus cause an agonising separation between mother and daughter. He might even go the length of repudiating the natural relationship between himself and Kate-not at all an unlikely event-and banish her from her home for ever. It would be sore enough if Kate should consent to marry Austin, and there had to be the parting which that event would necessitate; but a separation without the hope of reunion, or even a temporary separation which placed her daughter in circumstances of suffering and wretchedness-these were contingencies which it was agony for the poor woman to contemplate. And so "the soft dews of kindly sleep" refused to steep her eye-lids, and, conjuring up before her the vague and bitter phantoms of the future, her tears continued to fall silently on the pillow, while he who caused them snored his loudest at her side. Yet it was not all bitterness, and all foreboding, and all despair; the gloom was but momentary, resting on her spirit as a passing cloud rests upon the face of the sun, shadowing its brightness for an instant, only to let its shining appear the clearer afterwards. For through the many years of her married life, the strength in which trial had taught her to trust, the prop upon which trial had driven her to lean, had never failed her, though the flesh would cry out at times under the sharp discipline to which it was subjected. She knew that "the everlasting arms" were around her, though for an instant she might be unconscious of