The trooper has dried his eyes and put away his handkerchief, but there is an extraordinary contrast between his habitual manner of expressing himself and carrying himself and the softened tone in which he speaks, interrupted occasionally by a half-stifled sob.
"So I wrote a line home, mother, as you too well know, to say I had 'listed under another name, and I went abroad. Abroad, at one time I thought I would write home next year, when I might be better off; and when that year was out, I thought I would write home next year, when I might be better off; and when that year was out again, perhaps I didn't think much about it. So on, from year to year, through a service of ten years, till I began to get older, and to ask myself why should I ever write."
"I don't find any fault, child — but not to ease my mind, George? Not a word to your loving mother, who was growing older too?"
This almost overturns the trooper afresh, but he sets himself up with a great, rough, sounding clearance of his throat.
"Heaven forgive me, mother, but I thought there would be small consolation then in hearing anything about me. There were you, respected and esteemed. There was my brother, as I read in chance North Country papers now and then, rising to be prosperous and famous. There was I a dragoon, roving, unsettled, not self-made like him, but self-unmade — all my earlier advantages thrown away, all my little learning unlearnt, nothing picked up but what unfitted me for most things that I could think of. What business had I to make myself known? After letting all that time go by me, what good could come of it? The worst was past with you, mother. I knew by that time (being a man) how you had mourned for me, and wept for me, and prayed for me; and the pain was over, or was softened down, and I was better in your mind as it was."
The old lady sorrowfully shakes her head, and taking one of his powerful hands, lays it lovingly upon her shoulder.
"No, I don't say that it was so, mother, but that I made it out to be so. I said just now, what good could come of it? Well, my dear mother, some good might have come of it to myself — and there was the meanness of it. You would have sought me out; you would have purchased my discharge; you would have taken me down to Chesney Wold; you would have brought me and my brother and my brother's family together; you would all have considered anxiously how to do something for me and set me up as a respectable civilian. But how could any of you feel sure of me when I couldn't so much as feel sure of myself? How could you help regarding as an incumbrance and a discredit to you an idle dragooning chap who was an incumbrance and a discredit to himself, excepting under discipline? How could I look my brother's children in the face and pretend to set them an example — I, the vagabond boy who had run away from home and been the grief and unhappiness of my mother's life? 'No, George.' Such were my words, mother, when I passed this in review before me: 'You have made your bed. Now, lie upon it.'"
Mrs. Rouncewell, drawing up her stately form, shakes her head at the old girl with a swelling pride upon her, as much as to say, "I told you so!" The old girl relieves her feelings and testifies her interest in the conversation by giving the trooper a great poke between the shoulders with her umbrella; this action she afterwards repeats, at intervals, in a species of affectionate lunacy, never failing, after the administration of each of these remonstrances, to resort to the whitened wall and the grey cloak again.
"This was the way I brought myself to think, mother, that my best amends was to lie upon that bed I had made, and die upon it. And I should have done it (though I have been to see you more than once down at Chesney Wold, when you little thought of me) but for my old comrade's wife here, who I find has been too many for me. But I thank her for it. I thank you for it, Mrs. Bagnet, with all my heart and might."
To which Mrs. Bagnet responds with two pokes.
And now the old lady impresses upon her son George, her own dear recovered boy, her joy and pride, the light of her eyes, the happy close of her life, and every fond name she can think of, that he must be governed by the best advice obtainable by money and influence, that he must yield up his case to the greatest lawyers that can be got, that he must act in this serious plight as he shall be advised to act and must not be self-willed, however right, but must promise to think only of his poor old mother's anxiety and suffering until he is released, or he will break her heart.
"Mother, 'tis little enough to consent to," returns the trooper, stopping her with a kiss; "tell me what I shall do, and I'll make a late beginning and do it. Mrs. Bagnet, you'll take care of my mother, I know?"
A very hard poke from the old girl's umbrella.
"If you'll bring her acquainted with Mr. Jarndyce and Miss Summerson, she will find them of her way of thinking, and they will give her the best advice and assistance."
"And, George," says the old lady, "we must send with all haste for your brother. He is a sensible sound man as they tell me — out in the world beyond Chesney Wold, my dear, though I don't know much of it myself — and will be of great service."
"Mother," returns the trooper, "is it too soon to ask a favour?"
"Surely not, my dear."
"Then grant me this one great favour. Don't let my brother know."
"Not know what, my dear?"
"Not know of me. In fact, mother, I can't bear it; I can't make up my mind to it. He has proved himself so different from me and has done so much to raise himself while I've been soldiering that I haven't brass enough in my composition to see him in this place and under this charge. How could a man like him be expected to have any pleasure in such a discovery? It's impossible. No, keep my secret from him, mother; do me a greater kindness than I deserve and keep my secret from my brother, of all men."
"But not always, dear George?"
"Why, mother, perhaps not for good and all — though I may come to ask that too — but keep it now, I do entreat you. If it's ever broke to him that his rip of a brother has turned up, I could wish," says the trooper, shaking his head very doubtfully, "to break it myself and be governed as to advancing or retreating by the way in which he seems to take it."
As he evidently has a rooted feeling on this point, and as the depth of it is recognized in Mrs. Bagnet's face, his mother yields her implicit assent to what he asks. For this he thanks her kindly.
"In all other respects, my dear mother, I'll be as tractable and obedient as you can wish; on this one alone, I stand out. So now I am ready even for the lawyers. I have been drawing up," he glances at his writing on the table, "an exact account of what I knew of the deceased and how I came to be involved in this unfortunate affair. It's entered, plain and regular, like an orderly-book; not a word in it but what's wanted for the facts. I did intend to read it, straight on end, whensoever I was called upon to say anything in my defence. I hope I may be let to do it still; but I have no longer a will of my own in this case, and whatever is said or done, I give my promise not to have any."
Matters being brought to this so far satisfactory pass, and time being on the wane, Mrs. Bagnet proposes a departure. Again and again the old lady hangs upon her son's neck, and again and again the trooper holds her to his broad chest.