It would be delightful (continued Mrs. Folyat) to have Frederic settled. Of course he would only have a small establishment to begin with, but when he had made his position, he would be able to live in the best suburbs on the south of the town and his sons would go to public schools. Jessie was such a dear girl, as Francis would find when he knew her better, and she was so devotedly attached to Frederic, and Frederic was so very much in love, so chivalrous and attentive. Nothing better could be wished for. Francis must really consider the possibility of providing Frederic with an office of his own.
“I’ll think it over,” said Francis. “If you don’t mind, I would like to sleep.”
Mrs. Folyat continued her monologue for a quarter of an hour and lulled herself to sleep with the sound of her own voice.
Francis lay on his back staring into the darkness. His first impulse was to go up to Frederic’s room and have it out with him there and then, but he could hardly do that without waking the woman sleeping at his side. Also he had made it a rule never to act in any difficulty without sleeping on it, or, at any rate, if sleep visited him not, without a night’s cogitation. The trouble was that this new complication seemed to him so hideous that he hated [Pg 179]to think of it. In the cause of morality, also for the sake of Jessie Clibran-Bell, he ought to denounce Frederic and fling him out neck and crop. But common sense bade him pause. What would be the result? A great deal of wretchedness and misery in two houses, and in all probability Frederic’s utter ruin.
Already he was an accessory after the fact of Frederic’s first dishonour. Could he become an aider and abettor of the second? Or, rather, having swallowed the first could he reasonably strain at the second? . . . He condemned himself for his weakness in palliating such an offence for the sake of peace. Then, rebounding from self-condemnation—(no man can keep it up for very long)—he told himself that it was not for the sake of peace but to save that poor girl from a drudging life with a man out of her own class. Then, in justice, he was forced to admit that the truth lay between the two.
His final conclusion, just as dawn began to outline the window, was that the world must be much less or more simple than he had thought. The effort of deciding which the world was entirely exhausted him, and sleep came at last.
In the morning he had a letter from his brother William, the first for fifteen years, announcing his return from India and settlement at Sydenham, near the Crystal Palace, where he would be glad to see Francis, his wife, or any of his children. How many were there? He, William, had two.