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Lady Fermor was fortunate in finding Sir William at home. He had been over at Hawley Scrub, but he had returned, and was in the library. Lady Fermor did not give him the opportunity of denying himself. She told Cumberbatch to show her up at once to his master. The butler was still in office, though he was labouring under great perturbation of mind, whether he ought not to give in his leave, like Mrs. Cray, because of the slur that had been cast on the family. But he did not contemplate a matrimonial alliance with the housekeeper, and, like men in the mass, as opposed to women in general, the gentleman was less impulsive and more practical than the lady. Knowing the terms his master had been on with Lady Fermor, and having some inkling of the old lady's temper and errand, it was a small satisfaction to Cumberbatch to obey her implicitly.
Serve him right for being such a thundering ass, with his jug of water and his book at meals—like a low-lifed, radical scamp. If the haristocratic old party were to scratch his eyes out, bless you! I shouldn't mind or interfere, not if I could help it.'
LADY FERMOR began, without the slightest preamble or circumlocution, as soon as the door was closed.
Thwaite, what is this that I hear about your cutting your own throat ?
'I don't know what you mean by my cutting my own throat,' he said a little sulkily; but will you not take a seat, Lady Fermor??
'I would not, if my old limbs would serve me,' she protested, sinking into the chair from which he had risen, and keeping him standing like a culprit before her. "You do know what I mean. It is I who want to be told what you mean by being the maddest, most misguided idiot that ever walked the earth, and by forswearing yourself into the bargain.'
Seems a man like me,' he said, thrusting his hands into his pockets, 'must take a good
deal from a woman. If I choose to cut my own throat, mayn't I do it if I like?
No, not if you have a friend who cares a straw for your welfare, not if there is a social policeman left.
* Ain't there worse things than having done with one's self once and for all ?
'Not that I know of, and I've lived a good many more years than you have, protested the old lady steadily. It is like the broken neck in the old song
""A lover forsaken a new love may get,
But a neck that is broken can never be set.”
Thwaite, did I not tell you to have patience, and she would come round ?
'You told me false, Lady Fermor!' he cried quickly, walking away, and turning his back upon her for a moment to hide the torture she was inflicting on him. “And I have to tell you that if you bring her name into this conversation I'll leave the room and leave the house, and you may stop till doomsday, and go, as indeed you must, without your errand.'
'Is this all you have to say to me? she asked in a lower key. “Is this all the thanks
I'm to get ? she urged with pain as well as pleading in her failing voice.
An appeal like this had always gone to his heart.
'I know you've been good to me, Lady Fermor,' he exclaimed. 'I dare say you have meant kindly by me. Don't reckon me an ungrateful brute because I say it has all been a monstrous mistake. Don't force me to say you've been my worst enemy.
'You are your own worst enemy, William Thwaite, if you force me to wash my hands of you, and to have done with you from this day.'
.It cannot be helped,' he said desperately. 'I believe it is the best thing that can happen now.'
"And do you make nothing of me, sir ? she reproached him bitterly. "Do you give me up without so much as heaving a sigh? I believed I had secured a son for my old age. I meant to be like a mother to you; I swear it, Thwaite ! I never thought so little of myself, or so much of another, in any friendship I ever formed. I sometimes fancied I was going to die soon; it was so like feeling good, as your simpletons and knaves pretend to feel. I was a fool, and you have rewarded me finely for my folly.' ? Then, maybe, as a mother forgives her son's folly, you will forgive and forget mine some day, Lady Fermor,' he said shyly.
Never!' she said with all her former rancour. “It is not as if you only hurt me cruelly ; it is the disgraceful insult you put upon me, after what I have wished to do for you, as you know, and everybody knows, by destroying yourself in the way you propose to do. Look here, Thwaite : I am aware the young woman did you a service--let us say, the greatest service one human being can render another. Let us say she took your eye, too, by way of change—men's eyes will rove out of their circle, and for old association's sake you might have a hankering after her; but she would never look for your marrying her. You could have pleased yourself, if need were, without people's being much the wiser, and made it up to her in another style. You might double or treble the settlement, because you have gone so far in a fit of pique and rage as to mention banns and the church, and commit yourself to the world. That is, my lady, if I understand you