The Way of All Flesh
The next morning saw Theobald in his rooms coaching a pupil, and the Miss Allabys in
the eldest Miss Allaby's bedroom playing at cards with Theobald for the stakes.
The winner was Christina, the second unmarried daughter, then just twenty-seven years
old and therefore four years older than Theobald. The younger sisters complained that it
was throwing a husband away to let Christina try and catch him, for she was so much
older that she had no chance; but Christina showed fight in a way not usual with her, for
she was by nature yielding and good tempered. Her mother thought it better to back her
up, so the two dangerous ones were packed off then and there on visits to friends some
way off, and those alone allowed to remain at home whose loyalty could be depended
upon. The brothers did not even suspect what was going on and believed their father's
getting assistance was because he really wanted it.
The sisters who remained at home kept their words and gave Christina all the help they
could, for over and above their sense of fair play they reflected that the sooner Theobald
was landed, the sooner another deacon might be sent for who might be won by
themselves. So quickly was all managed that the two unreliable sisters were actually out
of the house before Theobald's next visit--which was on the Sunday following his first.
This time Theobald felt quite at home in the house of his new friends--for so Mrs Allaby
insisted that he should call them. She took, she said, such a motherly interest in young
men, especially in clergymen. Theobald believed every word she said, as he had believed
his father and all his elders from his youth up. Christina sat next him at dinner and played
her cards no less judiciously than she had played them in her sister's bed-room. She
smiled (and her smile was one of her strong points) whenever he spoke to her; she went
through all her little artlessnesses and set forth all her little wares in what she believed to
be their most taking aspect. Who can blame her? Theobald was not the ideal she had
dreamed of when reading Byron upstairs with her sisters, but he was an actual within the
bounds of possibility, and after all not a bad actual as actuals went. What else could she
do? Run away? She dared not. Marry beneath her and be considered a disgrace to her
family? She dared not. Remain at home and become an old maid and be laughed at? Not
if she could help it. She did the only thing that could reasonably be expected. She was
drowning; Theobald might be only a straw, but she could catch at him and catch at him
she accordingly did.
If the course of true love never runs smooth, the course of true match-making sometimes
does so. The only ground for complaint in the present case was that it was rather slow.
Theobald fell into the part assigned to him more easily than Mrs Cowey and Mrs Allaby
had dared to hope. He was softened by Christina's winning manners: he admired the high
moral tone of everything she said; her sweetness towards her sisters and her father and
mother, her readiness to undertake any small burden which no one else seemed willing to
undertake, her sprightly manners, all were fascinating to one who, though unused to
woman's society, was still a human being. He was flattered by her unobtrusive but