You know what a hard-working, steady-going chap he is. You know what Quebec and Malta and Woolwich are, and I never did think you would, or could, have had the heart to serve us so. Oh, George!" Mrs. Bagnet gathers up her cloak to wipe her eyes on in a very genuine manner, "How could you do it?"
Mrs. Bagnet ceasing, Mr. Bagnet removes his hand from his head as if the shower-bath were over and looks disconsolately at Mr. George, who has turned quite white and looks distressfully at the grey cloak and straw bonnet.
"Mat," says the trooper in a subdued voice, addressing him but still looking at his wife, "I am sorry you take it so much to heart, because I do hope it's not so bad as that comes to. I certainly have, this morning, received this letter"--which he reads aloud--"but I hope it may be set right yet. As to a rolling stone, why, what you say is true. I AM a rolling stone, and I never rolled in anybody's way, I fully believe, that I rolled the least good to. But it's impossible for an old vagabond comrade to like your wife and family better than I like 'em, Mat, and I trust you'll look upon me as forgivingly as you can. Don't think I've kept anything from you. I haven't had the letter more than a quarter of an hour."
"Old girl," murmurs Mr. Bagnet after a short silence, "will you tell him my opinion?"
"Oh! Why didn't he marry," Mrs. Bagnet answers, half laughing and half crying, "Joe Pouch's widder in North America? Then he wouldn't have got himself into these troubles."
"The old girl," says Mr. Bagnet, "puts it correct--why didn't you?"
"Well, she has a better husband by this time, I hope," returns the trooper. "Anyhow, here I stand, this present day, NOT married to Joe Pouch's widder. What shall I do? You see all I have got about me. It's not mine; it's yours. Give the word, and I'll sell off every morsel. If I could have hoped it would have brought in nearly the sum wanted, I'd have sold all long ago. Don't believe that I'll leave you or yours in the lurch, Mat. I'd sell myself first. I only wish," says the trooper, giving himself a disparaging blow in the chest, "that I knew of any one who'd buy such a second-hand piece of old stores."
"Old girl," murmurs Mr. Bagnet, "give him another bit of my mind."
"George," says the old girl, "you are not so much to be blamed, on full consideration, except for ever taking this business without the means."
"And that was like me!" observes the penitent trooper, shaking his head. "Like me, I know."
"Silence! The old girl," says Mr. Bagnet, "is correct--in her way of giving my opinions--hear me out!"
"That was when you never ought to have asked for the security, George, and when you never ought to have got it, all things considered. But what's done can't be undone. You are always an honourable and straightforward fellow, as far as lays in your power, though a little flighty. On the other hand, you can't admit but what it's natural in us to be anxious with such a thing hanging over our heads. So forget and forgive all round, George. Come! Forget and forgive all round!"
Mrs. Bagnet, giving him one of her honest hands and giving her husband the other, Mr. George gives each of them one of his and holds them while he speaks.
"I do assure you both, there's nothing I wouldn't do to discharge this obligation. But whatever I have been able to scrape together has gone every two months in keeping it up. We have lived plainly enough here, Phil and I. But the gallery don't quite do what was expected of it, and it's not--in short, it's not the mint. It was wrong in me to take it? Well, so it was. But I was in a manner drawn into that step, and I thought it might steady me, and set me up, and you'll try to overlook my having such expectations, and upon my soul, I am very much obliged to you, and very much ashamed of myself." With these concluding words, Mr. George gives a shake to each of the hands he holds, and relinquishing them, backs a pace or two in a broad-chested, upright attitude, as if he had made a final confession and were immediately going to be shot with all military honours.