Mr William Whittlestaff was strolling very slowly up and down the long walk at his country seat in Hampshire, thinking of the contents of a letter which he held crushed up within his trousers' pocket. He always breakfasted exactly at nine, and the letters were supposed to be brought to him at a quarter past. The postman was really due at his hall-door at a quarter before nine; but though he had lived in the same house for above fifteen years, and though he was a man very anxious to get his letters, he had never yet learned the truth about them. He was satisfied in his ignorance with 9.15 a.m., but on this occasion the post-boy, as usual, was ten minutes after that time. Mr Whittlestaff had got through his second cup of tea, and was stranded in his chair, having nothing to do, with the empty cup and plates before him for the space of two minutes; and, consequently, when he had sent some terrible message out to the post-boy, and then had read the one epistle which had arrived on this morning, he thus liberated his mind: "I'll be whipped if I will have anything to do with her." But this must not be taken as indicating the actual state of his mind; but simply the condition of anger to which he had been reduced by the post-boy. If any one were to explain to him afterwards that he had so expressed himself on a subject of such importance, he would have declared of himself that he certainly deserved to be whipped himself. In order that he might in truth make up his mind on the subject, he went out with his hat and stick into the long walk, and there thought out the matter to its conclusion. The letter which he held in his pocket ran as follows:—
St. Tawell's, Norwich, February 18—.
MY DEAR MR WHITTLESTAFF,—Poor Mrs Lawrie has gone at last. She died this morning at seven o'clock, and poor Mary is altogether alone in the world. I have asked her to come in among us for a few days at any rate, till the funeral shall be over. But she has refused, knowing, I suppose, how crowded and how small our house is. What is she to do? You know all the circumstances much better than I do. She says herself that she had always been intended for a governess, and that she will, of course, follow out the intention which had been fixed on between her and her father before his death. But it is a most weary prospect, especially for one who has received no direct education for the purpose. She has devoted herself for the last twelve months to Mrs Lawrie, as though she had been her mother. You did not like Mrs Lawrie, nor did I; nor, indeed, did poor Mary love her very dearly. But she, at any rate, did her duty by her step-mother. I know that in regard to actual money you will be generous enough; but do turn the matter over in your mind, and endeavour to think of some future for the poor girl.—Yours very faithfully,
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