The Highwayman (Bailey)/Chapter XIX
It was on the second day after that Susan Burford and Mr. Hadley rode in to the Lincoln's Inn Fields. They found Alison and Mrs. Weston together, and both sewing—a fact which failed to interest Mr. Hadley, but surprised Susan, who knew Alison, without a taste for needlework.
"My dear," says Susan, embracing Alison physically and spiritually in her large, buxom, genial way.
"You have been a long time finding me," says Alison and put her off. "I suppose I know why you kindly come to me now."
"B-r-r-r-r!" Mr. Hadley made the sound of one who comes into a cold draught. "The truth is, Susan has been so busy improving herself that she has had no time for her friends. In fine, she has been trying to make herself worthy the honour of my affections and large enough to support the burden of my dignity. I don't say she satisfies me, but she does her best." He propelled Susan forward with his one hand. "'A poor thing, ma'am, but mine own.'"
"Oh, he is amusing himself, you see," says Susan, in her leisurely fashion.
"Damme, Susan, you're so mighty innocent that sometimes I believe you are innocent."
"But you have known me so long," Susan protested.
Alison stood up with an air of ceremony. Her pale face constrained itself at last to smile at them. "My dear, I wish you may be very happy," says she, and gave Susan a matronly kiss. "Mr. Hadley, you're a fortunate man." She put out a stately hand.
Having bowed over it. "B-r-r-r," says Mr. Hadley. "Damn these east winds. Susan, you're a plague with your affections. You will have me talk about you, and I can't make you interesting, I hope, ma'am, we find Mr. Boyce well?"
Alison drew back. "Why do you ask that? You have seen Mr. Waverton, of course."
Mrs. Weston put down her work and folded her hands upon it.
"Why, yes, I have seen Geoffrey; and what's worse, heard him. I hope he did not plague you too long."
"Pray, Mr. Hadley, don't be ironical. You can spare me that. Mr. Waverton told us his story the night before last. Thereupon Mr. Boyce and I parted company. He left my house immediately and I do not know where he is."
Mr. Hadley distinguished himself by containing an oath. Susan said, "Oh, my dear," in that slow, calm way which might mean anything.
It was Mrs. Weston who cried out, "Alison, you never told me."
"You asked once or twice where he was, and I told you I did not know. What does it matter?"
"You quarrelled with him?"
"Because of what this Mr. Waverton said?"
"Do you think it could make no difference?"
Mrs. Weston clasped her hands and swayed in her chair.
"Alison; we had no guess of this. I am sorry. I am so sorry," Susan said.
"There is no need." Alison held her head high.
"If we have, in some sort, forced your confidence, I beg you believe, ma'am, it was not meant," So Mr. Hadley in the grand style. "For I protest it never came into my head that Geoffrey would make mischief between you and Mr. Boyce."
"You say that?" Alison stared at him. "Oh, you mean I was so besotted with him."
Mr. Hadley relapsed to his ordinary manner. "Damme, d'ye think we came for nothing but to jeer at you? I promise you we have pleasanter matter to hand. Neither to jeer at you, nor to meddle with you, Alison, but friendly. So take us friendly in God's name. If you will go about to find a sneer in every word, why, a sneer you'll find, but not of my making. We bring you nothing but goodwill, and want nothing more of you. But if we irk you, why, let us go and we'll see you again in good time."
"That's a pretty speech to begin with an oath," Alison said, through the flicker of a smile. "And, faith, I should be slow to take offence at you. For we quarrelled before, because you were at pains to warn me. Well, sir, I humble myself before your wisdom."
There was a pause. "Oh. Now we are all ill at ease," says Susan.
"Odso, ma'am, it's not fair," Mr. Hadley cried. "I am not here to say, 'I told you so,' I am not so proud of it. Well, damme, I have no temptation to be meddling in your affairs. But I think you will have to know. It is with Mr. Waverton I have fallen out now."
"With Mr. Waverton?" Alison repeated. "What is there between you and him?"
"I believe he had the impertinence to expect my sympathetic admiration. While I was thinking him a low fellow. Which I took occasion to tell him. Without result." Mr. Hadley shrugged. "But I believe he did not feel it. It's a thick hide."
"And what was your difference?"
"Why, this precious story of his."
There was some little time of silence. "You don't believe it," Alison said slowly. "Come, you must say more than that."
"I profess, ma'am, I have no will to say anything. Whatever I say, I'll be impertinent."
"Oh. Shall we mark it in you?" Susan said.
"Well, sir, you were not always so shy of scolding me," says Alison, and again with a faint smile.
"Scold you! God warn us, I have no commission. I can tell you what I thought of Waverton and his tale. Did I believe it? Ods fish, I never remember believing Geoffrey. If he had to tell you two and two was four, he would pretend that his genius first discovered it. So I don't know what happened at Pontoise. Likely the old Colonel did mix him up in some plot which some other fellows smoked. Maybe it was even such as Geoffrey said, kidnapping and murder to follow. These plots, they grow nastier and nastier the longer they are afoot. And Colonel Boyce—well, by your leave, I don't think him delicate. But for the rest of it, I'll wager that's Geoffrey's sprightly invention. You know very well, ma'am, I have no kindness for your Mr. Boyce. But, damme, he never thought of tricking Geoffrey out of the way to give himself a free hand with you. And it's a low trick in Geoffrey to go about with that tale."
"Oh! But he is stupid," Susan said.
"What if Colonel Boyce thought of the trick?" says Alison.
"Egad, Mr. Boyce is unfortunate in his father. Maybe he knows that as well as we. But—damme, ma'am, you will have it—I believe there was not much trick in his affair with you."
"I believe you once warned me of his tricks," Alison said coldly. "It's no matter now. I tease you with my affairs."
"If I can serve you, I'm heartily at your command."
"Oh, you have worked hard to make the best of a bad business. But I can do that for myself, and I like my own way of it."
Mr. Hadley bowed.
"Oh! Let us go home," Susan said.
Alison looked at her in some surprise, and, as she stood up, came quickly to kiss her. "Have I been rude?" she whispered.
"That would be no matter," Susan said, "You choose to be angry with me?"
"Oh! One isn't angry. One is sorry," Susan said.
Alison let her go, and Mr. Hadley, ceremonious but with visible relief, went after her.
Then Mrs. Weston said suddenly, quickly, "Where is he?"
"He?" Alison chose to be slow. "Mr. Boyce? I have no notion."
"You drove him out?"
"I could not endure him longer. Or he could endure me no longer. He went heartily enough. I think we were both glad it was over."
"You taunted him till he had to go?"
"Weston, dear!" Alison laughed at the sudden fierceness of the meek. "What's the matter?"
"I have heard you mocking him."
"Maybe. We both have sharp enough tongues."
"You used to jeer at him for being poor."
"Good lack, are you calling me to account, ma'am?"
"Yes, you may well be ashamed! Where is he?"
"Ashamed? What do you mean, Weston? What is the man to you?"
"I am his mother," Mrs. Weston said.
"You!… You! Oh, but this is mad!"
"I am not mad."
"But, Weston, dear, you knew nothing about him till he came; nor he of you. How could he be your son?"
"I had never seen him since he was a baby. I was not married."
"That is why you would not tell me? Oh, Weston, dear!"
"I did not mean to tell you now. I knew it would hurt him with you. But I suppose it's no matter now. But these are my affairs, not yours."
"You need not pity me."
"What am I to say?" Alison held out her arms.
"You have nothing to say now. You are not his wife now. You have never been anything but a bad wife." She gathered up her work with unsteady hands and turned away.
"Where are you going?"
"I am going out of your house. Away from you."
"But, Weston—not now, not to-night. Where can you go? What can you do?"
"I can do well enough without you, as he can…. Why don't you tell me that I have been living on your money? You told him so often enough."
"Oh … you're cruel," Alison said.
"What does it matter? You'll not be hurt. You are too hard." She hurried to the door.
"Ah, don't go like this," Alison cried. "Weston, let's part kindly. I could not know. I have done nothing against you." Mrs. Weston laughed. "Stay a moment at least. I want to know. Harry's father—is Colonel Boyce—?"
"Yes, there it is. That is all you want—to pry into all the story. It is nothing to you. He is nothing to you now."
The door closed behind her.