"Not Mr Donne again!" cried Mrs Wynne, as the familiar figure strolled to the drive. "Inform Mr Donne we are not in," she told the butler, who may have suppressed a grim smile at these tidings for the beggar-curate.
Mr Donne, however, was not to be defeated. "I shall call again in the evening," he declared airily. "When will Mr and Mrs Wynne be in?"
"I am not aware, sir," replied the butler. Mr Donne went on his rounds and failed not to return.
"He is making a perfect nuisance of himself," grumbled Mr Wynne. Sam Wynne declared he should like to shoot him with his hunting-gun, or set Phoebe on him, Phoebe being the most ferocious of his dogs.
"Don't, Sam," pleaded Mrs Wynne, "think how it will look for your father."
"This is extortion," exclaimed Mr Wynne, "Sam is perfectly justified in defending his own purse and property."
On being informed that the Wynnes were out, Mr Donne said that no matter, he would wait: besides, he was thirsty, and needed a drink. The butler directed at him a supercilious gaze that clearly said, "You will not be imbibing ale in this house," and he was shown into the parlour for a glass of water. An hour and a half in the parlour however was not spent fruitlessly: he soon persuaded the housekeeper to give a little donation to the Whinbury fund.
"Come, Mrs Mason," he said to her, "a respectable woman in your position would not be seen giving less than a pound." Mrs Mason would not give a pound, but was soon made poorer by several shillings, particularly as one of the parlourmaids was looking in at the moment, enjoying the spectacle of Mrs Mason being interrogated by the obnoxious curate.
"Be off with you, girl," she said, at the girl's suppressed titter. By now Mr Donne was tired of waiting, and attempted to extract sixpence from the parlourmaid, who fled into the hallway. Mr Donne followed her, eager not to lose his latest victim, At that moment, however, an elderly gentleman, being the father of Mr Wynne, believing that Donne had gone away in disappointment, encountered him in the hall, to Donne's delight and old Mr Wynne's dismay.
"Be off with you, Donne!" bellowed the old gentleman, waving his stick in the clergyman's direction. At that moment, the groom had seen fit to unleash Phoebe off her chain, and the dog pranced through the French windows and jumped on Donne.
"Help! help! Get her off me!" cried the clergyman, but old Mr Wynne only proceeded to beat him with his stick. At length, the groom was forced to retrieve the dog, not willing to be a party to the death of a churchman, and Mr Donne fled the house in deep pain, and badly bruised.
"That will teach him a lesson!" crowed old Mr Wynne, when the others were aghast at his doings.
"He might bring an action for damages," said his son.
"Nonsense!" snorted the old man. "He's too servile for that - it'll hurt his pocket."
Mr Donne's pride was hurt, and he thereafter decided to avoid the de Walden estate. He confided his troubles to Malone, fully expecting sympathy, but even Malone said, "You ought not to have gone there - you have taken enough from them. I have heard that the old man is a tyrant." Malone subsequently informed Mr Helstone of Donne's troubles, to the older vicar's amusement. He burst out laughing, to the indignation of Mrs Pryor, who said that Caroline was struggling to sleep.
"I do beg your pardon, ma'am," said Mr Helstone, "but you must hear this story. Mr Wynne's father has beaten Mr Donne with a stick, while Sam Wynne's dog attacked him. He has not been to beg at de Walden Hall since."
"Will you inform Mr Donne not to beg so loudly, while Caroline is ill? He was talking so loudly this morning that we could hear him from upstairs. What is more, he had the tenerity to request for my presence and beg a few shillings of me."
"I wish he would not barge into our parish - that is Malone's duty, not his. I'll have a word with Dr Boultby. Is Caroline awake?"
"She could not help being so."
"Good, I'll tell her this story - give her a laugh." He was surprised to find on Caroline's dresser a large nosegay of flowers that could not have come from the usual visitors and friends - the Halls, the Moores and Shirley Keeldar. "Who is this from?" he exclaimed. "Hie, Cary, you have an admirer I can see."
"It is from Mr Donne, uncle," said Caroline from the bed. She was propped up against a pile of fat white pillows, her long brown hair flowing down her shoulders, no longer glossy in her illness.
"Done again by Donne! What can he be going about?" said Mr Helstone, reading the card that had arrived with the flowers. It was a sentimental poem addressed to Caroline. Since Shirley Keeldar had gone away, and since her dismissal of Donne, he had decided to pursue the lesser heiress (so he thought, Caroline had not a single penny of her own). "What a bad rhymer he is - he beats Sir Philip Nunnely in silliness. No doubt he is attempting to ingratiate himself into our intimacy and squeeze the last penny out of us. I shall tell this to Hall - he will be amused."
Mr Donne decided to fortify himself by begging more often at the Sykes'. He had naturally extracted money from them in the past but it would not hurt more to obtain more from them. Beside, Mrs Sykes was fond of all the clergymen, being a strict Churchwoman, and blind to the follies of the curates. He would be certain to be asked to stay to tea, and have an excellent cut of ham, some cucumber sandwiches, a large cake and bread and butter. Mr Donne was not in general popular with the ladies, but Mrs Sykes listened to every word he said and would utter encouraging words now and then, which was highly gratifying to his feelings. Then the Sykes girls, being of a religious inclination, would share their mother's respect of him. Besides, it had occurred to him that Mr Sykes was prosperous (that his trade was affected by the riots was in no doubt, but he was still better off than many other families in the district) and his daughters would be well-provided for.
He therefore took his steps to the Sykes' large and comfortable house. "Come in, sir," said Mary, one of the maids, "we have just had Mr Malone here as well - he is in the parlour."
He found the Sykes family at tea with Mr Malone, who was doing his utmost to charm the family - succeeding with Mrs Sykes, less so with the girls, perhaps.
"Oh, how nice to see you Mr Donne!" cooed Mrs Sykes. "Do stay to tea." The rest edged to give him more space, and he sat down, prepared to enjoy the presence of his friend. At first everything was jolly until it occurred to Donne that Malone was doing something unusual - attempting to make conversation with the young ladies. To be sure he always asked Miss Helstone the same three questions: "Have you gone on your walk, Miss Helstone? Have you seen your cousin Moore lately? Does your Sunday-school keep up its current number?" which had aroused some quiet contempt in him - for Donne could talk to the ladies more fluently. (A beggar must needs conversation to keep his spirits up while waiting for the victim to fall into his trap). Today, however, he was in his element, telling off-colour jokes that Mrs Sykes tittered to (to her any joke told by the clergy was all decent and proper). Gone was her majesty so accustomed to by the parish, in deference to Messrs Donne and Malone.
Malone would not be outdone in this respect, and this time actually began a conversation about the Sunday-school, where Miss Mary Sykes taught. Miss Mary was devout, and so Malone's conversation was not only tolerated, but responded to with, if not enthusiasm, at least politeness.
"We have had several gifts from well-wishers," said Mary, eagerly. "Miss Keeldar sent us some schoolbooks - I am so glad for it, for our books are old and tattered."
Malone was more fortunate in the choice of his companion. Among the elder Sykes sisters, there were Miss Mary, Miss Harriet and Miss Hannah. Miss Dora was not at the table that day, to which the visitors had enquired, but it seemed that she was out with a friend, purchasing materials for knitting. (Mrs Sykes encouraged all her daughters to knit for the church sale.)
"How very kind of Miss Dora," said Donne. His tone was rich with arrogance but Mrs Sykes took no heed. Malone was too busy laughing at his own jokes to bother.
"If I may say so," said Mrs Sykes, "Dora is not bereft of the charitable instinct I so uphold in our younger generation. The other day, she was most insistent that we sent poor Mr Sweeting something for his illness, so I had Cook prepare a jelly and soup and sent it to him. How is dear Mr Sweeting?"
"Not very well, Mrs Sykes," said Mr Donne, "he is still lying in bed, and can barely get up to do anything."
"Oh! I do hope he improves soon," said Mrs Sykes, "we miss his company and his flute."
It may seem surprising to the reader than Donne's conversation was chiefly confined to the matron, instead of the other two pretty buxom daughters. But Miss Harriet was cold and haughty; she looked past you as if you did not exist if you did not meet her estimation. Caroline Helstone had met this cool attitude from her, and subsequently thought to herself that Miss Harriet fancied herself some grand lady. Hannah too was proud - she was vain, conceited, coquettish. She never cared for the shy wilting flower that was Caroline, though thinking herself a good Christian - but unlike her more refined sister Harriet, Miss Hannah showed her airs openly - flaunted her weight and superiority (of beauty and charm at least) to anyone she thought beneath her. Quiet melancholy faces like Miss Helstone's excited her contempt: while Harriet ignored the girl, Hannah looked at her patronisingly. Donne and Malone naturally were unaware of this, as most men are ignorant of the pride of beautiful charming ladies to their fellow-ladies: it is only when they exercise unnatural pride over men that they begin to consider their estimation of the idol in question. But Miss Harriet coolly ignored the clergymen, acknowledging them only as the barest courtesy required her to do; she was subsequently less popular with them. She thought Mr Malone vulgar and Mr Donne a beggar - one of the things she and Caroline Helstone had in common, though they would never have said so to each other. She tolerated them on account of her mother's obsession with the church but she would go no further. Hannah on the other hand would have appreciated flattery of her beauty and charm - but Malone did not speak well with most ladies, and so she thought him a dull bore and beneath her.
"And so vulgar!" she had once declared to Harriet, which unfortunately was heard by Mrs Sykes.
"Hannah, my dear!" Mrs Sykes had exclaimed, "it is not Mr Malone's fault that his father lost his money and was unable to afford him the gentleman's life that was clearly his right."
Hannah did not dislike Mr Donne, being quite ready to accept his homage to her when it was ready, but Donne was only too fond of abusing Yorkshire manners to exert his belived Southern superiority. Mr Malone was less arrogant than his friend, and so was more ready to pay homage, which Donne rarely gave Hannah unless he had nothing better to do. It was generally understood among the clergymen that the nicest Misses Sykes were Miss Mary and Miss Dora - Mr Sweeting was fond of all of them, having the rare gift of charming most people he met.
Miss Mary was pleasant enough, and kind-hearted to bend her ear to Mr Malone's vulgarities and Mr Donne's arrogance, and so her company was in a way comforting. But Miss Dora was undoubtedly Mary's superior in charm and spirits - Donne thought Mary a trifle too devout for his liking, which Dora was not.
Poor Malone was forced to put up with Mary's eagerness about the Sunday-school and church- activities: he, who had little interest in such matters. Still it would not have been becoming in him to berate the church and so he could not escape his fair listener. Mary was not an utter bore, but she was serious-minded, far more so than Harriet and Hannah and even her good-natured sister Dora. Mr Donne was sorry that Dora was not present, for she was not as proud as Harriet and Hannah, and much better to talk to than Mary (and also the handsomest - she was like a queen) but he enjoyed Mrs Syke's patronage anyway, and had a good gossip with her about the neighbourhood families.
They were not displeased when their little party was interrupted by the arrival of Dora Sykes and her magnificent form, returned from shopping.