II.4. The March Of Events
Midwinter's face darkened when the last trace of the carriage had disappeared
from view. "I have done my best," he said, as he turned back gloomily into the
house "If Mr. Brock himself were here, Mr. Brock could do no more!"
He looked at the bunch of keys which Allan had thrust into his hand, and a sudden
longing to put himself to the test over the steward's books took possession of his
sensitive self-tormenting nature. Inquiring his way to the room in which the
various movables of the steward's office had been provisionally placed after the
letting of the cottage, he sat down at the desk, and tried how his own unaided
capacity would guide him through the business records of the Thorpe Ambrose
estate. The result exposed his own ignorance unanswerably before his own eyes.
The ledgers bewildered him; the leases, the plans, and even the correspondence
itself, might have been written, for all he could understand of them, in an
unknown tongue. His memory reverted bitterly as he left the room again to his
two years' solitary self-instruction in the Shrewsbury book-seller's shop. "If I
could only have worked at a business!" he thought. "If I could only have known
that the company of poets and philosophers was company too high for a vagabond
He sat down alone in the great hall; the silence of it fell heavier and heavier on his
sinking spirits; the beauty of it exasperated him, like an insult from a purse-proud
man. "Curse the place!" he said, snatching up his hat and stick. "I like the bleakest
hillside I ever slept on better than I like this house!"
He impatiently descended the door-steps, and stopped on the drive, considering,
by which direction he should leave the park for the country beyond. If he
followed the road taken by the carriage, he might risk unsettling Allan by
accidentally meeting him in the town. If he went out by the back gate, he knew his
own nature well enough to doubt his ability to pass the room of the dream without
entering it again. But one other way remained: the way which he had taken, and
then abandoned again, in the morning. There was no fear of disturbing Allan and
the major's daughter now. Without further hesitation, Midwinter set forth through
the gardens to explore the open country on that side of the estate.
Thrown off its balance by the events of the day, his mind was full of that sourly
savage resistance to the inevitable self-assertion of wealth, so amiably deplored
by the prosperous and the rich; so bitterly familiar to the unfortunate and the poor.
"The heather-bell costs nothing!" he thought, looking contemptuously at the
masses of rare and beautiful flowers that surrounded him; "and the buttercups and
daisies are as bright as the best of you!" He followed the artfully contrived ovals
and squares of the Italian garden with a vagabond indifference to the symmetry of
their construction and the ingenuity of their design. "How many pounds a foot did
you cost?" he said, looking back with scornful eyes at the last path as he left it.
"Wind away over high and low like the sheep-walk on the mountain side, if you