Part 3 out of 9
"Go in there;" he pointed to a box-door. "A lady has fainted. Hold her
up till I come."
No time was allowed for explanation. Algernon passed into the box, and
was alone with an inanimate shape in blue bournous. The uproar in the
theatre raged; the whole pit was on its legs and shouting. He lifted the
pallid head over one arm, miserably helpless and perplexed, but his
anxiety concerning Rhoda's personal safety in that sea of strife prompted
him to draw back the curtain a little, and he stood exposed. Rhoda
perceived him. She motioned with both her hands in dumb supplication. In
a moment the curtain closed between them. Edward's sharp white face
cursed him mutely for his folly, while he turned and put the water to
Dahlia's lips, and touched her forehead with it.
"What's the matter?" whispered Algernon.
"We must get her out as quick as we can. This is the way with women!
Come! she's recovering." Edward nursed her sternly as he spoke.
"If she doesn't, pretty soon, we shall have the pit in upon us," said
Algernon. "Is she that girl's sister?"
"Don't ask damned questions."
Dahlia opened her eyes, staring placidly.
"Now you can stand up, my dear. Dahlia! all's well. Try," said Edward.
She sighed, murmuring, "What is the time?" and again, "What noise is it?"
Edward coughed in a vexed attempt at tenderness, using all his force to
be gentle with her as he brought her to her feet. The task was difficult
amid the threatening storm in the theatre, and cries of "Show the young
woman her sister!" for Rhoda had won a party in the humane public.
"Dahlia, in God's name give me your help!" Edward called in her ear.
The fair girl's eyelids blinked wretchedly in protestation of her
weakness. She had no will either way, and suffered herself to be led out
of the box, supported by the two young men.
"Run for a cab," said Edward; and Algernon went ahead.
He had one waiting for them as they came out. They placed Dahlia on a
seat with care, and Edward, jumping in, drew an arm tightly about her.
"I can't cry," she moaned.
The cab was driving off as a crowd of people burst from the pit-doors,
and Algernon heard the voice of Farmer Fleming, very hoarse. He had
discretion enough to retire.
Robert was to drive to the station to meet Rhoda and her father returning
from London, on a specified day. He was eager to be asking cheerful
questions of Dahlia's health and happiness, so that he might dispel the
absurd general belief that he had ever loved the girl, and was now
regretting her absence; but one look at Rhoda's face when she stepped
from the railway carriage kept him from uttering a word on that subject,
and the farmer's heavier droop and acceptance of a helping hand into the
cart, were signs of bad import.
Mr. Fleming made no show of grief, like one who nursed it. He took it to
all appearance as patiently as an old worn horse would do, although such
an outward submissiveness will not always indicate a placid spirit in
men. He talked at stale intervals of the weather and the state of the
ground along the line of rail down home, and pointed in contempt or
approval to a field here and there; but it was as one who no longer had
any professional interest in the tilling of the land.
Doubtless he was trained to have no understanding of a good to be derived
by his communicating what he felt and getting sympathy. Once, when he was
uncertain, and a secret pride in Dahlia's beauty and accomplishments had
whispered to him that her flight was possibly the opening of her road to
a higher fortune, he made a noise for comfort, believing in his heart
that she was still to be forgiven. He knew better now. By holding his
peace he locked out the sense of shame which speech would have stirred
"Got on pretty smooth with old Mas' Gammon?" he expressed his hope; and
Robert said, "Capitally. We shall make something out of the old man yet,
Master Gammon was condemned to serve at the ready-set tea-table as a butt
for banter; otherwise it was apprehended well that Mrs. Sumfit would have
scorched the ears of all present, save the happy veteran of the furrows,
with repetitions of Dahlia's name, and wailings about her darling, of
whom no one spoke. They suffered from her in spite of every precaution.
"Well, then, if I'm not to hear anything dooring meals--as if I'd swallow
it and take it into my stomach!--I'll wait again for what ye've got to
tell," she said, and finished her cup at a gulp, smoothing her apron.
The farmer then lifted his head.
"Mother, if you've done, you'll oblige me by going to bed," he said. "We
want the kitchen."
"A-bed?" cried Mrs. Sumfit, with instantly ruffled lap.
"Upstairs, mother; when you've done--not before."
"Then bad's the noos! Something have happened, William. You 'm not
going to push me out? And my place is by the tea-pot, which I cling to,
rememberin' how I seen her curly head grow by inches up above the table
and the cups. Mas' Gammon," she appealed to the sturdy feeder, "five
cups is your number?"
Her hope was reduced to the prolonging of the service of tea, with Master
Gammon's kind assistance.
"Four, marm," said her inveterate antagonist, as he finished that amount,
and consequently put the spoon in his cup.
Mrs. Sumfit rolled in her chair.
"O Lord, Mas' Gammon! Five, I say; and never a cup less so long as here
"Four, marm. I don't know," said Master Gammon, with a slow nod of his
head, "that ever I took five cups of tea at a stretch. Not runnin'."
"I do know, Mas' Gammon. And ought to: for don't I pour out to ye? It's
five you take, and please, your cup, if you'll hand it over."
"Four's my number, marm," Master Gammon reiterated resolutely. He sat
like a rock.
"If they was dumplins," moaned Mrs. Sumfit, "not four, no, nor five, 'd
do till enough you'd had, and here we might stick to our chairs, but
you'd go on and on; you know you would."
"That's eatin', marm;" Master Gammon condescended to explain the nature
of his habits. "I'm reg'lar in my drinkin'."
Mrs. Sumfit smote her hands together. "O Lord, Mas' Gammon, the
wearisomest old man I ever come across is you. More tea's in the pot,
and it ain't watery, and you won't be comfortable. May you get
forgiveness from above! is all I say, and I say no more. Mr. Robert,
perhaps you'll be so good as let me help you, sir? It's good tea; and my
Dody," she added, cajolingly, "my home girl 'll tell us what she saw.
I'm pinched and starved to hear."
"By-and-by, mother," interposed the farmer; "tomorrow." He spoke gently,
Both Rhoda and Robert perceived that they were peculiarly implicated in
the business which was to be discussed without Mrs. Sumfit's assistance.
Her father's manner forbade Rhoda from making any proposal for the relief
of the forlorn old woman.
"And me not to hear to-night about your play-going!" sighed Mrs. Sumfit.
"Oh, it's hard on me. I do call it cruel. And how my sweet was dressed--
like as for a Ball."
She saw the farmer move his foot impatiently.
"Then, if nobody drinks this remaining cup, I will," she pursued.
No voice save her own was heard till the cup was emptied, upon which
Master Gammon, according to his wont, departed for bed to avoid the
seduction of suppers, which he shunned as apoplectic, and Mrs. Sumfit
prepared, in a desolate way, to wash the tea-things, but the farmer,
saying that it could be done in the morning, went to the door and opened
it for her.
She fetched a great sigh and folded her hands resignedly. As she was
passing him to make her miserable enforced exit, the heavy severity of
his face afflicted her with a deep alarm; she fell on her knees, crying,--
"Oh, William! it ain't for sake of hearin' talk; but you, that went to
see our Dahly, the blossom, 've come back streaky under the eyes, and you
make the house feel as if we neighboured Judgement Day. Down to tea you
set the first moment, and me alone with none of you, and my love for my
girl known well to you. And now to be marched off! How can I go a-bed
and sleep, and my heart jumps so? It ain't Christian to ask me to. I
got a heart, dear, I have. Do give a bit of comfort to it. Only a word
of my Dahly to me."
The farmer replied: "Mother, let's have no woman's nonsense. What we've
got to bear, let us bear. And you go on your knees to the Lord, and
don't be a heathen woman, I say. Get up. There's a Bible in your
bedroom. Find you out comfort in that."
"No, William, no!" she sobbed, still kneeling: "there ain't a dose o'
comfort there when poor souls is in the dark, and haven't got patience
for passages. And me and my Bible!--how can I read it, and not know my
ailing, and a'stract one good word, William? It'll seem only the devil's
shootin' black lightnings across the page, as poor blessed granny used to
say, and she believed witches could do it to you in her time, when they
was evil-minded. No! To-night I look on the binding of the Holy Book,
and I don't, and I won't, I sha' n't open it."
This violent end to her petition was wrought by the farmer grasping her
arm to bring her to her feet.
"Go to bed, mother."
"I shan't open it," she repeated, defiantly. "And it ain't," she
gathered up her comfortable fat person to assist the words "it ain't
good--no, not the best pious ones--I shall, and will say it! as is al'ays
ready to smack your face with the Bible."
"Now, don't ye be angry," said the farmer.
She softened instantly.
"William, dear, I got fifty-seven pounds sterling, and odd shillings, in
a Savings-bank, and that I meant to go to Dahly, and not to yond' dark
thing sitting there so sullen, and me in my misery; I'd give it to you
now for news of my darlin'. Yes, William; and my poor husband's cottage,
in Sussex--seventeen pound per annum. That, if you'll be goodness
itself, and let me hear a word."
"Take her upstairs," said the farmer to Rhoda, and Rhoda went by her and
took her hands, and by dint of pushing from behind and dragging in front,
Mrs. Sumfit, as near on a shriek as one so fat and sleek could be, was
ejected. The farmer and Robert heard her struggles and exclamations
along the passage, but her resistance subsided very suddenly.
"There's power in that girl," said the farmer, standing by the shut door.
Robert thought so, too. It affected his imagination, and his heart began
to beat sickeningly.
"Perhaps she promised to speak--what has happened, whatever that may be,"
"Not she; not she. She respects my wishes."
Robert did not ask what had happened.
Mr. Fleming remained by the door, and shut his mouth from a further word
till he heard Rhoda's returning footstep. He closed the door again
behind her, and went up to the square deal table, leaned his body forward
on the knuckles of his trembling fist, and said, "We're pretty well
broken up, as it is. I've lost my taste for life."
There he paused. Save by the shining of a wet forehead, his face
betrayed nothing of the anguish he suffered. He looked at neither of
them, but sent his gaze straight away under labouring brows to an arm of
the fireside chair, while his shoulders drooped on the wavering support
of his hard-shut hands. Rhoda's eyes, ox-like, as were her father's,
smote full upon Robert's, as in a pang of apprehension of what was about
to be uttered.
It was a quick blaze of light, wherein he saw that the girl's spirit was
not with him. He would have stopped the farmer at once, but he had not
the heart to do it, even had he felt in himself strength to attract an
intelligent response from that strange, grave, bovine fixity of look,
over which the human misery sat as a thing not yet taken into the dull
"My taste for life," the old man resumed, "that's gone. I didn't bargain
at set-out to go on fighting agen the world. It's too much for a man o'
my years. Here's the farm. Shall 't go to pieces?--I'm a farmer of
thirty year back--thirty year back, and more: I'm about no better'n a
farm labourer in our time, which is to-day. I don't cost much. I ask to
be fed, and to work for it, and to see my poor bit o' property safe, as
handed to me by my father. Not for myself, 't ain't; though perhaps
there's a bottom of pride there too, as in most things. Say it's for the
name. My father seems to demand of me out loud, 'What ha' ye done with
Queen Anne's Farm, William?' and there's a holler echo in my ears. Well;
God wasn't merciful to give me a son. He give me daughters."
Mr. Fleming bowed his head as to the very weapon of chastisement.
"Daughters!" He bent lower.
His hearers might have imagined his headless address to them to be also
without a distinct termination, for he seemed to have ended as abruptly
as he had begun; so long was the pause before, with a wearied lifting of
his body, he pursued, in a sterner voice:
"Don't let none interrupt me." His hand was raised as toward where Rhoda
stood, but he sent no look with it; the direction was wide of her.
The aspect of the blank blind hand motioning to the wall away from her,
smote an awe through her soul that kept her dumb, though his next words
were like thrusts of a dagger in her side.
"My first girl--she's brought disgrace on this house. She's got a mother
in heaven, and that mother's got to blush for her. My first girl's gone
to harlotry in London."
It was Scriptural severity of speech. Robert glanced quick with intense
commiseration at Rhoda. He saw her hands travel upward till they fixed
in at her temples with crossed fingers, making the pressure of an iron
band for her head, while her lips parted, and her teeth, and cheeks, and
eyeballs were all of one whiteness. Her tragic, even, in and out
breathing, where there was no fall of the breast, but the air was taken
and given, as it were the square blade of a sharp-edged sword, was
dreadful to see. She had the look of a risen corpse, recalling some one
of the bloody ends of life.
The farmer went on,--
"Bury her! Now you here know the worst. There's my second girl. She's
got no stain on her; if people 'll take her for what she is herself.
She's idle. But I believe the flesh on her bones she'd wear away for any
one that touched her heart. She's a temper. But she's clean both in body
and in spirit, as I believe, and say before my God. I--what I'd pray for
is, to see this girl safe. All I have shall go to her. That is, to the
man who will--won't be ashamed--marry her, I mean!"
The tide of his harshness failed him here, and he began to pick his
words, now feeble, now emphatic, but alike wanting in natural expression,
for he had reached a point of emotion upon the limits of his nature, and
he was now wilfully forcing for misery and humiliation right and left, in
part to show what a black star Providence had been over him.
"She'll be grateful. I shall be gone. What disgrace I bring to their
union, as father of the other one also, will, I'm bound to hope, be
buried with me in my grave; so that this girl's husband shan't have to
complain that her character and her working for him ain't enough to cover
any harm he's like to think o' the connexion. And he won't be troubled
by relationships after that.
"I used to think Pride a bad thing. I thank God we've all got it in our
blood--the Flemings. I thank God for that now, I do. We don't face
again them as we offend. Not, that is, with the hand out. We go. We're
seen no more. And she'll be seen no more. On that, rely.
"I want my girl here not to keep me in the fear of death. For I fear
death while she's not safe in somebody's hands--kind, if I can get him
for her. Somebody--young or old!"
The farmer lifted his head for the first time, and stared vacantly at
"I'd marry her," he said, "if I was knowing myself dying now or to-morrow
morning, I'd marry her, rather than leave her alone--I'd marry her to
that old man, old Gammon."
The farmer pointed to the ceiling. His sombre seriousness cloaked and
carried even that suggestive indication to the possible bridegroom's age
and habits, and all things associated with him, through the gates of
ridicule; and there was no laughter, and no thought of it.
"It stands to reason for me to prefer a young man for her husband. He'll
farm the estate, and won't sell it; so that it goes to our blood, if not
to a Fleming. If, I mean, he's content to farm soberly, and not play
Jack o' Lantern tricks across his own acres. Right in one thing's right,
I grant; but don't argue right in all. It's right only in one thing.
Young men, when they've made a true hit or so, they're ready to think
it's themselves that's right."
This was of course a reminder of the old feud with Robert, and
sufficiently showed whom the farmer had in view for a husband to Rhoda,
if any doubt existed previously.
Having raised his eyes, his unwonted power of speech abandoned him, and
he concluded, wavering in look and in tone,--
"I'd half forgotten her uncle. I've reckoned his riches when I cared for
riches. I can't say th' amount; but, all--I've had his word for it--all
goes to this--God knows how much!--girl. And he don't hesitate to say
she's worth a young man's fancying. May be so. It depends upon ideas
mainly, that does. All goes to her. And this farm.--I wish ye
He gave them no other sign, but walked in his oppressed way quietly to
the inner door, and forth, leaving the rest to them.
The two were together, and all preliminary difficulties had been cleared
for Robert to say what he had to say, in a manner to make the saying of
it well-nigh impossible. And yet silence might be misinterpreted by her.
He would have drawn her to his heart at one sign of tenderness. There
came none. The girl was frightfully torn with a great wound of shame.
She was the first to speak.
"Do you believe what father says of my sister?"
"That she--?" Robert swallowed the words. "No!" and he made a thunder
with his fist.
"No!" She drank up the word. "You do not? No! You know that Dahlia is
Rhoda was trembling with a look for the asseveration; her pale face eager
as a cry for life; but the answer did not come at once hotly as her
passion for it demanded. She grew rigid, murmuring faintly: "speak! Do
His eyes fell away from hers. Sweet love would have wrought in him to
think as she thought, but she kept her heart closed from him, and he
stood sadly judicial, with a conscience of his own, that would not permit
him to declare Dahlia innocent, for he had long been imagining the
Rhoda pressed her hands convulsively, moaning, "Oh!" down a short deep
"Tell me what has happened?" said Robert, made mad by that reproachful
agony of her voice. "I'm in the dark. I'm not equal to you all. If
Dahlia's sister wants one to stand up for her, and defend her, whatever
she has done or not done, ask me. Ask me, and I'll revenge her. Here am
I, and I know nothing, and you despise me because--don't think me rude or
unkind. This hand is yours, if you will. Come, Rhoda. Or, let me hear
the case, and I'll satisfy you as best I can. Feel for her? I feel for
her as you do. You don't want me to stand a liar to your question? How
can I speak?"
A woman's instinct at red heat pierces the partial disingenuousness which
Robert could only have avoided by declaring the doubts he entertained.
Rhoda desired simply to be supported by his conviction of her sister's
innocence, and she had scorn of one who would not chivalrously advance
upon the risks of right and wrong, and rank himself prime champion of a
woman belied, absent, and so helpless. Besides, there was but one virtue
possible in Rhoda's ideas, as regarded Dahlia: to oppose facts, if
necessary, and have her innocent perforce, and fight to the death them
that dared cast slander on the beloved head.
Her keen instinct served her so far.
His was alive when she refused to tell him what had taken place during
their visit to London.
She felt that a man would judge evil of the circumstances. Her father and
her uncle had done so: she felt that Robert would. Love for him would
have prompted her to confide in him absolutely. She was not softened by
love; there was no fire on her side to melt and make them run in one
stream, and they could not meet.
"Then, if you will not tell me," said Robert, "say what you think of your
father's proposal? He meant that I may ask you to be my wife. He used
to fancy I cared for your sister. That's false. I care for her--yes; as
my sister too; and here is my hand to do my utmost for her, but I love
you, and I've loved you for some time. I'd be proud to marry you and
help on with the old farm. You don't love me yet--which is a pretty hard
thing for me to see to be certain of. But I love you, and I trust you.
I like the stuff you're made of--and nice stuff I'm talking to a young
woman," he added, wiping his forehead at the idea of the fair and
flattering addresses young women expect when they are being wooed.
As it was, Rhoda listened with savage contempt of his idle talk. Her
brain was beating at the mystery and misery wherein Dahlia lay engulfed.
She had no understanding for Robert's sentimentality, or her father's
requisition. Some answer had to be given, and she said,--
"I'm not likely to marry a man who supposes he has anything to pardon."
"I don't suppose it," cried Robert.
"You heard what father said."
"I heard what he said, but I don't think the same. What has Dahlia to do
He was proceeding to rectify this unlucky sentence. All her covert
hostility burst out on it.
"My sister?--what has my sister to do with me?--you mean!--you mean--you
can only mean that we are to be separated and thought of as two people;
and we are one, and will be till we die. I feel my sister's hand in
mine, though she's away and lost. She is my darling for ever and ever.
A spasm of anguish checked the girl.
"I mean," Robert resumed steadily, "that her conduct, good or bad,
doesn't touch you. If it did, it'd be the same to me. I ask you to take
me for your husband. Just reflect on what your father said, Rhoda."
The horrible utterance her father's lips had been guilty of flashed
through her, filling her with mastering vindictiveness, now that she had
"Yes! I'm to take a husband to remind me of what he said."
Robert eyed her sharpened mouth admiringly; her defence of her sister had
excited his esteem, wilfully though she rebutted his straightforward
earnestness and he had a feeling also for the easy turns of her neck, and
the confident poise of her figure.
"Ha! well!" he interjected, with his eyebrows queerly raised, so that she
could make nothing of his look. It seemed half maniacal, it was so
ridged with bright eagerness.
"By heaven! the task of taming you--that's the blessing I'd beg for in my
prayers! Though you were as wild as a cat of the woods, by heaven! I'd
rather have the taming of you than go about with a leash of quiet"--he
Such was the sudden roll of his tongue, that she was lost in the
astounding lead he had taken, and stared.
"You're the beauty to my taste, and devil is what I want in a woman! I
can make something out of a girl with a temper like yours. You don't
know me, Miss Rhoda. I'm what you reckon a good young man. Isn't that
Robert drew up with a very hard smile.
"I would to God I were! Mind, I feel for you about your sister. I like
you the better for holding to her through thick and thin. But my
sheepishness has gone, and I tell you I'll have you whether you will or
no. I can help you and you can help me. I've lived here as if I had no
more fire in me than old Gammon snoring on his pillow up aloft; and who
kept me to it? Did you see I never touched liquor? What did you guess
from that?--that I was a mild sort of fellow? So I am: but I haven't got
that reputation in other parts. Your father 'd like me to marry you, and
I'm ready. Who kept me to work, so that I might learn to farm, and be a
man, and be able to take a wife? I came here--I'll tell you how. I was
a useless dog. I ran from home and served as a trooper. An old aunt of
mine left me a little money, which just woke me up and gave me a lift of
what conscience I had, and I bought myself out.
"I chanced to see your father's advertisement--came, looked at you all,
and liked you--brought my traps and settled among you, and lived like a
good young man. I like peace and orderliness, I find. I always thought
I did, when I was dancing like mad to hell. I know I do now, and you're
the girl to keep me to it. I've learnt that much by degrees. With any
other, I should have been playing the fool, and going my old ways, long
ago. I should have wrecked her, and drunk to forget. You're my match.
By-and-by you'll know, me yours! You never gave me, or anybody else that
I've seen, sly sidelooks.
"Come! I'll speak out now I'm at work. I thought you at some girl's
games in the Summer. You went out one day to meet a young gentleman.
Offence or no offence, I speak and you listen. You did go out. I was in
love with you then, too. I saw London had been doing its mischief. I
was down about it. I felt that he would make nothing of you, but I chose
to take the care of you, and you've hated me ever since.
"That Mr. Algernon Blancove's a rascal. Stop! You'll say as much as you
like presently. I give you a warning--the man's a rascal. I didn't play
spy on your acts, but your looks. I can read a face like yours, and it's
my home, my home!--by heaven, it is. Now, Rhoda, you know a little more
of me. Perhaps I'm more of a man than you thought. Marry another, if
you will; but I'm the man for you, and I know it, and you'll go wrong if
you don't too. Come! let your father sleep well. Give me your hand."
All through this surprising speech of Robert's, which was a revelation of
one who had been previously dark to her, she had steeled her spirit as
she felt herself being borne upon unexpected rapids, and she marvelled
when she found her hand in his.
Dismayed, as if caught in a trap, she said,--
"You know I've no love for you at all."
"None--no doubt," he answered.
The fit of verbal energy was expended, and he had become listless, though
he looked frankly at her and assumed the cheerfulness which was failing
"I wish to remain as I am," she faltered, surprised again by the equally
astonishing recurrence of humility, and more spiritually subdued by it.
"I've no heart for a change. Father will understand. I am safe."
She ended with a cry: "Oh! my dear, my own sister! I wish you were safe.
Get her here to me and I'll do what I can, if you're not hard on her.
She's so beautiful, she can't do wrong. My Dahlia's in some trouble.
Mr. Robert, you might really be her friend?"
"Drop the Mister," said Robert.
"Father will listen to you," she pleaded. "You won't leave us? Tell him
you know I am safe. But I haven't a feeling of any kind while my
sister's away. I will call you Robert, if you like." She reached her
"That's right," he said, taking it with a show of heartiness: "that's a
beginning, I suppose."
She shrank a little in his sensitive touch, and he added: "Oh never fear.
I've spoken out, and don't do the thing too often. Now you know me,
that's enough. I trust you, so trust me. I'll talk to your father.
I've got a dad of my own, who isn't so easily managed. You and I,
Rhoda--we're about the right size for a couple. There--don't be
frightened! I was only thinking--I'll let go your hand in a minute. If
Dahlia's to be found, I'll find her. Thank you for that squeeze. You'd
wake a dead man to life, if you wanted to. To-morrow I set about the
business. That's settled. Now your hand's loose. Are you going to say
good night? You must give me your hand again for that. What a rough
fellow I must seem to you! Different from the man you thought I was?
I'm just what you choose to make me, Rhoda; remember that. By heaven! go
at once, for you're an armful--"
She took a candle and started for the door.
"Aha! you can look fearful as a doe. Out! make haste!"
In her hurry at his speeding gestures, the candle dropped; she was going
to pick it up, but as he approached, she stood away frightened.
"One kiss, my girl," he said. "Don't keep me jealous as fire. One! and
I'm a plighted man. One!--or I shall swear you know what kisses are.
Why did you go out to meet that fellow? Do you think there's no danger
in it? Doesn't he go about boasting of it now, and saying--that girl!
But kiss me and I'll forget it; I'll forgive you. Kiss me only once, and
I shall be certain you don't care for him. That's the thought maddens me
outright. I can't bear it now I've seen you look soft. I'm stronger
than you, mind." He caught her by the waist.
"Yes," Rhoda gasped, "you are. You are only a brute."
"A brute's a lucky dog, then, for I've got you!"
"Will you touch me?"
"You're in my power."
"It's a miserable thing, Robert."
"Why don't you struggle, my girl? I shall kiss you in a minute."
"You're never my friend again."
"I'm not a gentleman, I suppose!"
"Never! after this."
"It isn't done. And first you're like a white rose, and next you're like
a red. Will you submit?"
"Oh! shame!" Rhoda uttered.
"Because I'm not a gentleman?"
"You are not."
"So, if I could make you a lady--eh? the lips 'd be ready in a trice.
You think of being made a lady--a lady!"
His arm relaxed in the clutch of her figure.
She got herself free, and said: "We saw Mr. Blancove at the theatre with
It was her way of meeting his accusation that she had cherished an
ambitious feminine dream.
He, to hide a confusion that had come upon him, was righting the fallen
"Now I know you can be relied on; you can defend yourself," he said, and
handed it to her, lighted. "You keep your kisses for this or that young
gentleman. Quite right. You really can defend yourself. That's all I
was up to. So let us hear that you forgive me. The door's open. You
won't be bothered by me any more; and don't hate me overmuch."
"You might have learned to trust me without insulting me, Robert," she
"Do you fancy I'd take such a world of trouble for a kiss of your lips,
sweet as they are?"
His blusterous beginning ended in a speculating glance at her mouth.
She saw it would be wise to accept him in his present mood, and go; and
with a gentle "Good night," that might sound like pardon, she passed
through the doorway.
Next day, while Squire Blancove was superintending the laying down of
lines for a new carriage drive in his park, as he walked slowly up the
green slope he perceived Farmer Fleming, supported by a tall young man;
and when the pair were nearer, he had the gratification of noting
likewise that the worthy yeoman was very much bent, as with an acute
attack of his well-known chronic malady of a want of money.
The squire greatly coveted the freehold of Queen Anne's Farm. He had
made offers to purchase it till he was tired, and had gained for himself
the credit of being at the bottom of numerous hypothetical cabals to
injure and oust the farmer from his possession. But if Naboth came with
his vineyard in his hand, not even Wrexby's rector (his quarrel with whom
haunted every turn in his life) could quote Scripture against him for
taking it at a proper valuation.
The squire had employed his leisure time during service in church to
discover a text that might be used against him in the event of the
farmer's reduction to a state of distress, and his, the squire's, making
the most of it. On the contrary, according to his heathenish reading of
some of the patriarchal doings, there was more to be said in his favour
than not, if he increased his territorial property: nor could he,
throughout the Old Testament, hit on one sentence that looked like a
personal foe to his projects, likely to fit into the mouth of the rector
"Well, farmer," he said, with cheerful familiarity, "winter crops looking
well? There's a good show of green in the fields from my windows, as
good as that land of yours will allow in heavy seasons."
To this the farmer replied, "I've not heart or will to be round about,
squire. If you'll listen to me--here, or where you give command."
"Has it anything to do with pen and paper, Fleming? In that case you'd
better be in my study," said the squire.
"I don't know that it have. I don't know that it have." The farmer
sought Robert's face.
"Best where there's no chance of interruption," Robert counselled, and
lifted his hat to the squire.
"Eh? Well, you see I'm busy." The latter affected a particular
indifference, that in such cases, when well acted (as lords of money can
do--squires equally with usurers), may be valued at hundreds of pounds in
the pocket. "Can't you put it off? Come again to-morrow."
"To-morrow's a day too late," said the farmer, gravely. Whereto
replying, "Oh! well, come along in, then," the squire led the way.
"You're two to one, if it's a transaction," he said, nodding to Robert to
close the library door. "Take seats. Now then, what is it? And if I
make a face, just oblige me by thinking nothing about it, for my gout's
beginning to settle in the leg again, and shoots like an electric
telegraph from purgatory."
He wheezed and lowered himself into his arm-chair; but the farmer and
Robert remained standing, and the farmer spoke:--
"My words are going to be few, squire. I've got a fact to bring to your
knowledge, and a question to ask."
Surprise, exaggerated on his face by a pain he had anticipated, made the
squire glare hideously.
"Confound it, that's what they say to a prisoner in the box. Here's a
murder committed:--Are you the guilty person? Fact and question! Well,
out with 'em, both together."
"A father ain't responsible for the sins of his children," said the
"Well, that's a fact," the squire emphasized. "I've always maintained
it; but, if you go to your church, farmer--small blame to you if you
don't; that fellow who preaches there--I forget his name--stands out for
just the other way. You are responsible, he swears. Pay your son's
debts, and don't groan over it:--He spent the money, and you're the chief
debtor; that's his teaching. Well: go on. What's your question?"
"A father's not to be held responsible for the sins of his children,
squire. My daughter's left me. She's away. I saw my daughter at the
theatre in London. She saw me, and saw her sister with me. She
disappeared. It's a hard thing for a man to be saying of his own flesh
and blood. She disappeared. She went, knowing her father's arms open to
her. She was in company with your son."
The squire was thrumming on the arm of his chair. He looked up vaguely,
as if waiting for the question to follow, but meeting the farmer's
settled eyes, he cried, irritably, "Well, what's that to me?"
"What's that to you, squire?"
"Are you going to make me out responsible for my son's conduct? My son's
a rascal--everybody knows that. I paid his debts once, and I've finished
with him. Don't come to me about the fellow. If there's a greater curse
than the gout, it's a son."
"My girl," said the farmer, "she's my flesh and blood, and I must find
her, and I'm here to ask you to make your son tell me where she's to be
found. Leave me to deal with that young man--leave you me! but I want my
"But I can't give her to you," roared the squire, afflicted by his two
great curses at once. "Why do you come to me? I'm not responsible for
the doings of the dog. I'm sorry for you, if that's what you want to
know. Do you mean to say that my son took her away from your house?"
"I don't do so, Mr. Blancove. I'm seeking for my daughter, and I see her
in company with your son."
"Very well, very well," said the squire; "that shows his habits; I can't
say more. But what has it got to do with me?"
The farmer looked helplessly at Robert.
"No, no," the squire sung out, "no interlopers, no interpreting here. I
listen to you. My son--your daughter. I understand that, so far. It's
between us two. You've got a daughter who's gone wrong somehow: I'm
sorry to hear it. I've got a son who never went right; and it's no
comfort to me, upon my word. If you were to see the bills and the
letters I receive! but I don't carry my grievances to my neighbours. I
should think, Fleming, you'd do best, if it's advice you're seeking, to
keep it quiet. Don't make a noise about it. Neighbours' gossip I find
pretty well the worst thing a man has to bear, who's unfortunate enough
to own children."
The farmer bowed his head with that bitter humbleness which characterized
his reception of the dealings of Providence toward him.
"My neighbours 'll soon be none at all," he said. "Let 'em talk. I'm
not abusing you, Mr. Blancove. I'm a broken man: but I want my poor lost
girl, and, by God, responsible for your son or not, you must help me to
find her. She may be married, as she says. She mayn't be. But I must
The squire hastily seized a scrap of paper on the table and wrote on it.
"There!" he handed the paper to the farmer; "that's my son's address,
'Boyne's Bank, City, London.' Go to him there, and you'll find him
perched on a stool, and a good drubbing won't hurt him. You've my hearty
permission, I can assure you: you may say so. 'Boyne's Bank.' Anybody
will show you the place. He's a rascally clerk in the office, and
precious useful, I dare swear. Thrash him, if you think fit."
"Ay," said the farmer, "Boyne's Bank. I've been there already. He's
absent from work, on a visit down into Hampshire, one of the young
gentlemen informed me; Fairly Park was the name of the place: but I came
to you, Mr. Blancove; for you're his father."
"Well now, my good Fleming, I hope you think I'm properly punished for
that fact." The squire stood up with horrid contortions.
Robert stepped in advance of the farmer.
"Pardon me, sir," he said, though the squire met his voice with a
prodigious frown; "this would be an ugly business to talk about, as you
observe. It would hurt Mr. Fleming in these parts of the country, and he
would leave it, if he thought fit; but you can't separate your name from
your son's--begging you to excuse the liberty I take in mentioning it--
not in public: and your son has the misfortune to be well known in one or
two places where he was quartered when in the cavalry. That matter of
"Hulloa," the squire exclaimed, in a perturbation.
"Why, sir, I know all about it, because I was a trooper in the regiment
your son, Mr. Algernon Blancove, quitted: and his name, if I may take
leave to remark so, won't bear printing. How far he's guilty before Mr.
Fleming we can't tell as yet; but if Mr. Fleming holds him guilty of an
offence, your son 'll bear the consequences, and what's done will be done
thoroughly. Proper counsel will be taken, as needn't be said. Mr.
Fleming applied to you first, partly for your sake as well as his own.
He can find friends, both to advise and to aid him."
"You mean, sir," thundered the squire, "that he can find enemies of mine,
like that infernal fellow who goes by the title of Reverend, down below
there. That'll do, that will do; there's some extortion at the bottom of
this. You're putting on a screw."
"We're putting on a screw, sir," said Robert, coolly.
"Not a penny will you get by it."
Robert flushed with heat of blood.
"You don't wish you were a young man half so much as I do just now," he
remarked, and immediately they were in collision, for the squire made a
rush to the bell-rope, and Robert stopped him. "We're going," he said;
"we don't want man-servants to show us the way out. Now mark me, Mr.
Blancove, you've insulted an old man in his misery: you shall suffer for
it, and so shall your son, whom I know to be a rascal worthy of
transportation. You think Mr. Fleming came to you for money. Look at
this old man, whose only fault is that he's too full of kindness; he came
to you just for help to find his daughter, with whom your rascal of a son
was last seen, and you swear he's come to rob you of money. Don't you
know yourself a fattened cur, squire though you be, and called gentleman?
England's a good place, but you make England a hell to men of spirit.
Sit in your chair, and don't ever you, or any of you cross my path; and
speak a word to your servants before we're out of the house, and I stand
in the hall and give 'em your son's history, and make Wrexby stink in
your nostril, till you're glad enough to fly out of it. Now, Mr.
Fleming, there's no more to be done here; the game lies elsewhere."
Robert took the farmer by the arm, and was marching out of the enemy's
territory in good order, when the squire, who had presented many
changeing aspects of astonishment and rage, arrested them with a call.
He began to say that he spoke to Mr. Fleming, and not to the young
ruffian of a bully whom the farmer had brought there: and then asked in a
very reasonable manner what he could do--what measures he could adopt to
aid the farmer in finding his child. Robert hung modestly in the
background while the farmer laboured on with a few sentences to explain
the case, and finally the squire said, that his foot permitting (it was
an almost pathetic reference to the weakness of flesh), he would go down
to Fairly on the day following and have a personal interview with his
son, and set things right, as far as it lay in his power, though he was
by no means answerable for a young man's follies.
He was a little frightened by the farmer's having said that Dahlia,
according to her own declaration was married, and therefore himself the
more anxious to see Mr. Algernon, and hear the truth from his estimable
offspring, whom he again stigmatized as a curse terrible to him as his
gouty foot, but nevertheless just as little to be left to his own
devices. The farmer bowed to these observations; as also when the squire
counselled him, for his own sake, not to talk of his misfortune all over
"I'm not a likely man for that, squire; but there's no telling where
gossips get their crumbs. It's about. It's about."
"About my son?" cried the squire.
"Oh, well, good-day," the squire resumed more cheerfully. "I'll go down
to Fairly, and you can't ask more than that."
When the farmer was out of the house and out of hearing, he rebuked
Robert for the inconsiderate rashness of his behaviour, and pointed out
how he, the farmer, by being patient and peaceful, had attained to the
object of his visit. Robert laughed without defending himself.
"I shouldn't ha' known ye," the farmer repeated frequently; "I shouldn't
ha' known ye, Robert."
"No, I'm a trifle changed, may be," Robert agreed. "I'm going to claim a
holiday of you. I've told Rhoda that if Dahlia's to be found, I'll find
her, and I can't do it by sticking here. Give me three weeks. The
land's asleep. Old Gammon can hardly turn a furrow the wrong way.
There's nothing to do, which is his busiest occupation, when he's not
interrupted at it."
"Mas' Gammon's a rare old man," said the farmer, emphatically.
"So I say. Else, how would you see so many farms flourishing!"
"Come, Robert: you hit th' old man hard; you should learn to forgive."
"So I do, and a telling blow's a man's best road to charity. I'd forgive
the squire and many another, if I had them within two feet of my fist."
"Do you forgive my girl Rhoda for putting of you off?"
Robert screwed in his cheek.
"Well, yes, I do," he said. "Only it makes me feel thirsty, that's all."
The farmer remembered this when they had entered the farm.
"Our beer's so poor, Robert," he made apology; "but Rhoda shall get you
some for you to try, if you like. Rhoda, Robert's solemn thirsty."
"Shall I?" said Rhoda, and she stood awaiting his bidding.
"I'm not a thirsty subject," replied Robert. "You know I've avoided
drink of any kind since I set foot on this floor. But when I drink," he
pitched his voice to a hard, sparkling heartiness, "I drink a lot, and
the stuff must be strong. I'm very much obliged to you, Miss Rhoda, for
what you're so kind as to offer to satisfy my thirst, and you can't give
better, and don't suppose that I'm complaining; but your father's right,
it is rather weak, and wouldn't break the tooth of my thirst if I drank
at it till Gammon left off thinking about his dinner."
With that he announced his approaching departure.
The farmer dropped into his fireside chair, dumb and spiritless. A shadow
was over the house, and the inhabitants moved about their domestic
occupations silent as things that feel the thunder-cloud. Before sunset
Robert was gone on his long walk to the station, and Rhoda felt a woman's
great envy of the liberty of a man, who has not, if it pleases him not,
to sit and eat grief among familiar images, in a home that furnishes its
Fairly, Lord Elling's seat in Hampshire, lay over the Warbeach river; a
white mansion among great oaks, in view of the summer sails and winter
masts of the yachting squadron. The house was ruled, during the
congregation of the Christmas guests, by charming Mrs. Lovell, who
relieved the invalid Lady of the house of the many serious cares
attending the reception of visitors, and did it all with ease. Under her
sovereignty the place was delightful, and if it was by repute pleasanter
to young men than to any other class, it will be admitted that she
satisfied those who are loudest in giving tongue to praise.
Edward and Algernon journeyed down to Fairly together, after the
confidence which the astute young lawyer had been compelled to repose in
his cousin. Sir William Blancove was to be at Fairly, and it was at his
father's pointed request that Edward had accepted Mrs. Lovell's
invitation. Half in doubt as to the lady's disposition toward him,
Edward eased his heart with sneers at the soft, sanguinary graciousness
they were to expect, and racked mythology for spiteful comparisons; while
Algernon vehemently defended her with a battering fire of British
adjectives in superlative. He as much as hinted, under instigation, that
he was entitled to defend her; and his claim being by-and-by yawningly
allowed by Edward, and presuming that he now had Edward in his power and
need not fear him, he exhibited his weakness in the guise of a costly
gem, that he intended to present to Mrs. Lovell--an opal set in a cross
pendant from a necklace; a really fine opal, coquetting with the lights
of every gem that is known: it shot succinct red flashes, and green, and
yellow; the emerald, the amethyst, the topaz lived in it, and a remote
ruby; it was veined with lightning hues, and at times it slept in a milky
cloud, innocent of fire, quite maidenlike.
"That will suit her," was Edward's remark.
"I didn't want to get anything common," said Algernon, making the gem
play before his eyes.
"A pretty stone," said Edward.
"Do you think so?"
"Very pretty indeed."
"To be presented to Columbine!"
"The Harlequin pattern is of the best sort, you know. Perhaps you like
the watery ones best? This is fresh from Russia. There's a set I've my
eye on. I shall complete it in time. I want Peggy Lovell to wear the
jolliest opals in the world. It's rather nice, isn't it?"
"It's a splendid opal," said Edward.
"She likes opals," said Algernon.
"She'll take your meaning at once," said Edward.
"How? I'll be hanged if I know what my meaning is, Ned."
"Don't you know the signification of your gift?"
"Not a bit."
"Oh! you'll be Oriental when you present it."
"The deuce I shall!"
"It means, 'You're the prettiest widow in the world.'"
"So she is. I'll be right there, old boy."
"And, 'You're a rank, right-down widow, and no mistake; you're everything
to everybody; not half so innocent as you look: you're green as jealousy,
red as murder, yellow as jaundice, and put on the whiteness of a virgin
when you ought to be blushing like a penitent.' In short, 'You have no
heart of your own, and you pretend to possess half a dozen: you're devoid
of one steady beam, and play tricks with every scale of colour: you're an
arrant widow, and that's what you are.' An eloquent gift, Algy."
"Gad, if it means all that, it'll be rather creditable to me," said
Algernon. "Do opals mean widows?"
"Of course," was the answer.
"Well, she is a widow, and I suppose she's going to remain one, for she's
had lots of offers. If I marry a girl I shall never like her half as
much as Peggy Lovell. She's done me up for every other woman living.
She never lets me feel a fool with her; and she has a way, by Jove, of
looking at me, and letting me know she's up to my thoughts and isn't
angry. What's the use of my thinking of her at all? She'd never go to
the Colonies, and live in a log but and make cheeses, while I tore about
on horseback gathering cattle."
"I don't think she would," observed Edward, emphatically; "I don't think
"And I shall never have money. Confound stingy parents! It's a question
whether I shall get Wrexby: there's no entail. I'm heir to the
governor's temper and his gout, I dare say. He'll do as he likes with
the estate. I call it beastly unfair."
Edward asked how much the opal had cost.
"Oh, nothing," said Algernon; "that is, I never pay for jewellery."
Edward was curious to know how he managed to obtain it.
"Why, you see," Algernon explained, "they, the jewellers--I've got two or
three in hand--the fellows are acquainted with my position, and they
speculate on my expectations. There is no harm in that if they like it.
I look at their trinkets, and say, 'I've no money;' and they say, 'Never
mind;' and I don't mind much. The understanding is, that I pay them when
"In gout and bad temper?"
"Gad, if I inherit nothing else, they'll have lots of that for
indemnification. It's a good system, Ned; it enables a young fellow like
me to get through the best years of his life--which I take to be his
youth--without that squalid poverty bothering him. You can make presents,
and wear a pin or a ring, if it takes your eye. You look well, and you
make yourself agreeable; and I see nothing to complain of in that."
"The jewellers, then, have established an institution to correct one of
the errors of Providence."
"Oh! put it in your long-winded way, if you like," said Algernon; "all I
know is, that I should often have wanted a five-pound note, if--that is,
if I hadn't happened to be dressed like a gentleman. With your
prospects, Ned, I should propose to charming Peggy tomorrow morning
early. We mustn't let her go out of the family. If I can't have her,
I'd rather you would."
"You forget the incumbrances on one side," said Edward, his face
"Oh! that's all to be managed," Algernon rallied him. "Why, Ned, you'll
have twenty thousand a-year, if you have a penny; and you'll go into
Parliament, and give dinners, and a woman like Peggy Lovell 'd intrigue
for you like the deuce."
"A great deal too like," Edward muttered.
"As for that pretty girl," continued Algernon; but Edward peremptorily
stopped all speech regarding Dahlia. His desire was, while he made
holiday, to shut the past behind a brazen gate; which being communicated
sympathetically to his cousin, the latter chimed to it in boisterous
shouts of anticipated careless jollity at Fairly Park, crying out how
they would hunt and snap fingers at Jews, and all mortal sorrows, and
have a fortnight, or three weeks, perhaps a full month, of the finest
life possible to man, with good horses, good dinners, good wines, good
society, at command, and a queen of a woman to rule and order everything.
Edward affected a disdainful smile at the prospect; but was in reality
the weaker of the two in his thirst for it.
They arrived at Fairly in time to dress for dinner, and in the
drawing-room Mrs. Lovell sat to receive them. She looked up to Edward's
face an imperceptible half-second longer than the ordinary form of
welcome accords--one of the looks which are nothing at all when there is
no spiritual apprehension between young people, and are so much when
there is. To Algernon, who was gazing opals on her, she simply gave her
fingers. At her right hand, was Sir John Capes, her antique devotee; a
pure milky-white old gentleman, with sparkling fingers, who played Apollo
to his Daphne, and was out of breath. Lord Suckling, a boy with a
boisterous constitution, and a guardsman, had his place near her left
hand, as if ready to seize it at the first whisper of encouragement or
opportunity. A very little lady of seventeen, Miss Adeline Gosling,
trembling with shyness under a cover of demureness, fell to Edward's lot
to conduct down to dinner, where he neglected her disgracefully. His
father, Sir William, was present at the table, and Lord Elling, with whom
he was in repute as a talker and a wit. Quickened with his host's
renowned good wine (and the bare renown of a wine is inspiriting), Edward
pressed to be brilliant. He had an epigrammatic turn, and though his
mind was prosaic when it ran alone, he could appear inventive and
fanciful with the rub of other minds. Now, at a table where good talking
is cared for, the triumphs of the excelling tongue are not for a moment
to be despised, even by the huge appetite of the monster Vanity. For a
year, Edward had abjured this feast. Before the birds appeared and the
champagne had ceased to make its circle, he felt that he was now at home
again, and that the term of his wandering away from society was one of
folly. He felt the joy and vigour of a creature returned to his element.
Why had he ever quitted it? Already he looked back upon Dahlia from a
prodigious distance. He knew that there was something to be smoothed
over; something written in the book of facts which had to be smeared out,
and he seemed to do it, while he drank the babbling wine and heard
himself talk. Not one man at that table, as he reflected, would consider
the bond which held him in any serious degree binding. A lady is one
thing, and a girl of the class Dahlia had sprung from altogether another.
He could not help imagining the sort of appearance she would make there;
and the thought even was a momentary clog upon his tongue. How he used
to despise these people! Especially he had despised the young men as
brainless cowards in regard to their views of women and conduct toward
them. All that was changed. He fancied now that they, on the contrary,
would despise him, if only they could be aware of the lingering sense he
entertained of his being in bondage under a sacred obligation to a
But he had one thing to discover, and that was, why Sir William had made
it a peculiar request that he should come to meet him here. Could the
desire possibly be to reconcile him with Mrs. Lovell? His common sense
rejected the idea at once: Sir William boasted of her wit and tact, and
admired her beauty, but Edward remembered his having responded tacitly to
his estimate of her character, and Sir William was not the man to court
the alliance of his son with a woman like Mrs. Lovell. He perceived that
his father and the fair widow frequently took counsel together. Edward
laughed at the notion that the grave senior had himself become
fascinated, but without utterly scouting it, until he found that the
little lady whom he had led to dinner the first day, was an heiress; and
from that, and other indications, he exactly divined the nature of his
father's provident wishes. But this revelation rendered Mrs. Lovell's
behaviour yet more extraordinary. Could it be credited that she was
abetting Sir William's schemes with all her woman's craft? "Has she,"
thought Edward, "become so indifferent to me as to care for my welfare?"
He determined to put her to the test. He made love to Adeline Gosling.
Nothing that he did disturbed the impenetrable complacency of Mrs.
Lovell. She threw them together as she shuffled the guests. She really
seemed to him quite indifferent enough to care for his welfare. It was a
point in the mysterious ways of women, or of widows, that Edward's
experience had not yet come across. All the parties immediately
concerned were apparently so desperately acquiescing in his suit, that he
soon grew uneasy. Mrs. Lovell not only shuffled him into places with the
raw heiress, but with the child's mother; of whom he spoke to Algernon as
of one too strongly breathing of matrimony to appease the cravings of an
"Make the path clear for me, then," said Algernon, "if you don't like the
girl. Pitch her tales about me. Say, I've got a lot in me, though I
don't let it out. The game's up between you and Peggy Lovell, that's
clear. She don't forgive you, my boy."
"Ass!" muttered Edward, seeing by the light of his perception, that he
was too thoroughly forgiven.
A principal charm of the life at Fairly to him was that there was no one
complaining. No one looked reproach at him. If a lady was pale and
reserved, she did not seem to accuse him, and to require coaxing. All
faces here were as light as the flying moment, and did not carry the
shadowy weariness of years, like that burdensome fair face in the London
lodging-house, to which the Fates had terribly attached themselves. So,
he was gay. He closed, as it were, a black volume, and opened a new and
a bright one. Young men easily fancy that they may do this, and that
when the black volume is shut the tide is stopped. Saying, "I was a
fool," they believe they have put an end to the foolishness. What father
teaches them that a human act once set in motion flows on for ever to the
great account? Our deathlessness is in what we do, not in what we are.
Comfortable Youth thinks otherwise.
The days at a well-ordered country-house, where a divining lady rules,
speed to the measure of a waltz, in harmonious circles, dropping like
crystals into the gulfs of Time, and appearing to write nothing in his
book. Not a single hinge of existence is heard to creak. There is no
after-dinner bill. You are waited on, without being elbowed by the
humanity of your attendants. It is a civilized Arcadia. Only, do not
desire, that you may not envy. Accept humbly what rights of citizenship
are accorded to you upon entering. Discard the passions when you cross
the threshold. To breathe and to swallow merely, are the duties which
should prescribe your conduct; or, such is the swollen condition of the
animal in this enchanted region, that the spirit of man becomes
Edward breathed and swallowed, and never went beyond the prescription,
save by talking. No other junior could enter the library, without
encountering the scorn of his elders; so he enjoyed the privilege of
hearing all the scandal, and his natural cynicism was plentifully fed.
It was more of a school to him than he knew.
These veterans, in their arm-chairs, stripped the bloom from life, and
showed it to be bare bones: They took their wisdom for an experience of
the past: they were but giving their sensations in the present. Not to
perceive this, is Youth's, error when it hears old gentlemen talking at
On the third morning of their stay at Fairly, Algernon came into Edward's
room with a letter in his hand.
"There! read that!" he said. "It isn't ill-luck; it's infernal
persecution! What, on earth!--why, I took a close cab to the station.
You saw me get out of it. I'll swear no creditor of mine knew I was
leaving London. My belief is that the fellows who give credit have spies
about at every railway terminus in the kingdom. They won't give me three
days' peace. It's enough to disgust any man with civilized life; on my
soul, it is!"
Edward glanced at the superscription of the letter. "Not posted," he
"No; delivered by some confounded bailiff, who's been hounding me."
"Bailiffs don't generally deal in warnings."
"Will you read it!" Algernon shouted.
The letter ran thus:--
"Mr. Algernon Blancove,--
"The writer of this intends taking the first opportunity of meeting
you, and gives you warning, you will have to answer his question
with a Yes or a No; and speak from your conscience. The
respectfulness of his behaviour to you as a gentleman will depend
Algernon followed his cousin's eye down to the last letter in the page.
"What do you think of it?" he asked eagerly.
Edward's broad thin-lined brows were drawn down in gloom. Mastering some
black meditation in his brain, he answered Algernon's yells for an
"I think--well, I think bailiffs have improved in their manners, and show
you they are determined to belong to the social march in an age of
universal progress. Nothing can be more comforting."
"But, suppose this fellow comes across me?"
"Don't know him."
"Suppose he insists on knowing me?"
"Don't know yourself."
"Yes; but hang it! if he catches hold of me?"
"Shake him off."
"Suppose he won't let go?"
"Cut him with your horsewhip."
"You think it's about a debt, then?"
"I shall announce to him that the great Edward Blancove is not to be
intimidated. You'll let me borrow your name, old Ned. I've stood by you
in my time. As for leaving Fairly, I tell you I can't. It's too
delightful to be near Peggy Lovell."
Edward smiled with a peculiar friendliness, and Algernon went off, very
well contented with his cousin.
Within a mile of Fairly Park lay the farm of another yeoman; but he was
of another character. The Hampshireman was a farmer of renown in his
profession; fifth of a family that had cultivated a small domain of one
hundred and seventy acres with sterling profit, and in a style to make
Sutton the model of a perfect farm throughout the country. Royal eyes
had inspected his pigs approvingly; Royal wits had taken hints from
Jonathan Eccles in matters agricultural; and it was his comforting joke
that he had taught his Prince good breeding. In return for the service,
his Prince had transformed a lusty Radical into a devoted Royalist.
Framed on the walls of his parlours were letters from his Prince,
thanking him for specimen seeds and worthy counsel: veritable autograph
letters of the highest value. The Prince had steamed up the salt river,
upon which the Sutton harvests were mirrored, and landed on a spot marked
in honour of the event by a broad grey stone; and from that day Jonathan
Eccles stood on a pinnacle of pride, enabling him to see horizons of
despondency hitherto unknown to him. For he had a son, and the son was a
riotous devil, a most wild young fellow, who had no taste for a farmer's
life, and openly declared his determination not to perpetuate the Sutton
farm in the hands of the Eccleses, by running off one day and entering
the ranks of the British army.
Those framed letters became melancholy objects for contemplation, when
Jonathan thought that no posterity of his would point them out gloryingly
in emulation. Man's aim is to culminate; but it is the saddest thing in
the world to feel that we have accomplished it. Mr. Eccles shrugged with
all the philosophy he could summon, and transferred his private
disappointment to his country, whose agricultural day was, he said,
doomed. "We shall be beaten by those Yankees." He gave Old England
twenty years of continued pre-eminence (due to the impetus of the present
generation of Englishmen), and then, said he, the Yankees will flood the
market. No more green pastures in Great Britain; no pretty clean-footed
animals; no yellow harvests; but huge chimney pots everywhere; black
earth under black vapour, and smoke-begrimed faces. In twenty years'
time, sooty England was to be a gigantic manufactory, until the Yankees
beat us out of that field as well; beyond which Jonathan Eccles did not
care to spread any distinct border of prophecy; merely thanking the Lord
that he should then be under grass. The decay of our glory was to be
edged with blood; Jonathan admitted that there would be stuff in the
fallen race to deliver a sturdy fight before they went to their doom.
For this prodigious curse, England had to thank young Robert, the erratic
son of Jonathan.
It was now two years since Robert had inherited a small legacy of money
from an aunt, and spent it in waste, as the farmer bitterly supposed. He
was looking at some immense seed-melons in his garden, lying about in
morning sunshine--a new feed for sheep, of his own invention,--when the
call of the wanderer saluted his ears, and he beheld his son Robert at
"Here I am, sir," Robert sang out from the exterior.
"Stay there, then," was his welcome.
They were alike in their build and in their manner of speech. The accost
and the reply sounded like reports from the same pistol. The old man was
tall, broad-shouldered, and muscular--a grey edition of the son, upon
whose disorderly attire he cast a glance, while speaking, with settled
disgust. Robert's necktie streamed loose; his hair was uncombed; a
handkerchief dangled from his pocket. He had the look of the prodigal,
returned with impudence for his portion instead of repentance.
"I can't see how you are, sir, from this distance," said Robert, boldly
assuming his privilege to enter.
"Are you drunk?" Jonathan asked, as Robert marched up to him.
"Give me your hand, sir."
"Give me an answer first. Are you drunk?"
Robert tried to force the complacent aspect of a mind unabashed, but felt
that he made a stupid show before that clear-headed, virtuously-living
old, man of iron nerves. The alternative to flying into a passion, was
the looking like a fool.
"Come, father," he said, with a miserable snigger, like a yokel's smile;
"here I am at last. I don't say, kill the fatted calf, and take a lesson
from Scripture, but give me your hand. I've done no man harm but myself-
-damned if I've done a mean thing anywhere! and there's no shame to you
in shaking your son's hand after a long absence."
Jonathan Eccles kept both hands firmly in his pockets.
"Are you drunk?" he repeated.
Robert controlled himself to answer, "I'm not."
"Well, then, just tell me when you were drunk last."
"This is a pleasant fatherly greeting!" Robert interjected.
"You get no good by fighting shy of a simple question, Mr. Bob," said
Robert cried querulously, "I don't want to fight shy of a simple
"Well, then; when were you drunk last? answer me that."
Jonathan drew his hand from his pocket to thump his leg.
"I'd have sworn it!"
All Robert's assurance had vanished in a minute, and he stood like a
convicted culprit before his father.
"You know, sir, I don't tell lies. I was drunk last night. I couldn't
"No more could the little boy."
"I was drunk last night. Say, I'm a beast."
"I shan't!" exclaimed Jonathan, making his voice sound as a defence to
this vile charge against the brutish character.
"Say, I'm worse than a beast, then," cried Robert, in exasperation.
"Take my word that it hasn't happened to me to be in that state for a
year and more. Last night I was mad. I can't give you any reasons. I
thought I was cured but I've trouble in my mind, and a tide swims you
over the shallows--so I felt. Come, sir--father, don't make me mad
"Where did you get the liquor?" inquired Jonathan.
"I drank at 'The Pilot.'"
"Ha! there's talk there of 'that damned old Eccles' for a month to come--
'the unnatural parent.' How long have you been down here?"
"Eight and twenty hours."
"Eight and twenty hours. When are you going?"
"I want lodging for a night."
"The loan of a horse that'll take a fence."
"And twenty pounds."
"Oh!" said Jonathan. "If farming came as easy to you as face, you'd be a
prime agriculturalist. Just what I thought! What's become of that money
your aunt Jane was fool enough to bequeath to you?"
"I've spent it."
"Are you a Deserter?"
For a moment Robert stood as if listening, and then white grew his face,
and he swayed and struck his hands together. His recent intoxication had
"Go in--go in," said his father in some concern, though wrath was
"Oh, make your mind quiet about me." Robert dropped his arms. "I'm
weakened somehow--damned weak, I am--I feel like a woman when my father
asks me if I've been guilty of villany. Desert? I wouldn't desert from
the hulks. Hear the worst, and this is the worst: I've got no money--I
don't owe a penny, but I haven't got one."
"And I won't give you one," Jonathan appended; and they stood facing one
another in silence.
A squeaky voice was heard from the other side of the garden hedge of
"Hi! farmer, is that the missing young man?" and presently a neighbour,
by name John Sedgett, came trotting through the gate, and up the garden
"I say," he remarked, "here's a rumpus. Here's a bobbery up at Fairly.
Oh! Bob Eccles! Bob Eccles! At it again!"
Mr. Sedgett shook his wallet of gossip with an enjoying chuckle. He was a
thin-faced creature, rheumy of eye, and drawing his breath as from a
well; the ferret of the village for all underlying scandal and tattle,
whose sole humanity was what he called pitifully 'a peakin' at his chest,
and who had retired from his business of grocer in the village upon the
fortune brought to him in the energy and capacity of a third wife to
conduct affairs, while he wandered up and down and knitted people
together--an estimable office in a land where your house is so grievously
"What the devil have you got in you now?" Jonathan cried out to him.
Mr. Sedgett was seized by his complaint and demanded commiseration, but,
recovering, he chuckled again.
"Oh, Bob Eccles! Don't you never grow older? And the first day down
among us again, too. Why, Bob, as a military man, you ought to
acknowledge your superiors. Why, Stephen Bilton, the huntsman, says,
Bob, you pulled the young gentleman off his horse--you on foot, and him
mounted. I'd ha' given pounds to be there. And ladies present! Lord
help us! I'm glad you're returned, though. These melons of the
farmer's, they're a wonderful invention; people are speaking of 'em right
and left, and says, says they, Farmer Eccles, he's best farmer going--
Hampshire ought to be proud of him--he's worth two of any others: that
they are fine ones! And you're come back to keep 'em up, eh, Bob? Are
ye, though, my man?"
"Well, here I am, Mr. Sedgett," said Robert, "and talking to my father."
"Oh! I wouldn't be here to interrupt ye for the world." Mr. Sedgett made
a show of retiring, but Jonathan insisted upon his disburdening himself
of his tale, saying: "Damn your raw beginnings, Sedgett! What's been up?
Nobody can hurt me."
"That they can't, neighbour; nor Bob neither, as far as stand up man to
man go. I give him three to one--Bob Eccles! He took 'em when a boy.
He may, you know, he may have the law agin him, and by George! if he do--
why, a man's no match for the law. No use bein' a hero to the law. The
law masters every man alive; and there's law in everything, neighbour
Eccles; eh, sir? Your friend, the Prince, owns to it, as much as you or
me. But, of course, you know what Bob's been doing. What I dropped in
to ask was, why did ye do it, Bob? Why pull the young gentleman off his
horse? I'd ha' given pounds to be there!"
"Pounds o' tallow candles don't amount to much," quoth Robert.
"That's awful bad brandy at 'The Pilot,'" said Mr. Sedgett, venomously.
"Were you drunk when you committed this assault?" Jonathan asked his son.
"I drank afterwards," Robert replied.
"'Pilot' brandy's poor consolation," remarked Mr. Sedgett.
Jonathan had half a mind to turn his son out of the gate, but the
presence of Sedgett advised him that his doings were naked to the world.
"You kicked up a shindy in the hunting-field--what about? Who mounted
Robert remarked that he had been on foot.
"On foot--eh? on foot!" Jonathan speculated, unable to realize the image
of his son as a foot-man in the hunting-field, or to comprehend the
insolence of a pedestrian who should dare to attack a mounted huntsman.
"You were on foot? The devil you were on foot! Foot? And caught a man
out of his saddle?"
Jonathan gave up the puzzle. He laid out his fore finger decisively,--
"If it's an assault, mind, you stand damages. My land gives and my land
takes my money, and no drunken dog lives on the produce. A row in the
hunting-field's un-English, I call it."
"So it is, sir," said Robert.
"So it be, neighbour," said Mr. Sedgett.
Whereupon Robert took his arm, and holding the scraggy wretch forward,
commanded him to out with what he knew.
"Oh, I don't know no more than what I've told you." Mr. Sedgett twisted
a feeble remonstrance of his bones, that were chiefly his being, at the
gripe; "except that you got hold the horse by the bridle, and wouldn't
let him go, because the young gentleman wouldn't speak as a gentleman,
and--oh! don't squeeze so hard--"
"Out with it!" cried Robert.
"And you said, Steeve Bilton said, you said, 'Where is she?' you said,
and he swore, and you swore, and a lady rode up, and you pulled, and she
sang out, and off went the gentleman, and Steeve said she said, "For
"And it was the truest word spoken that day!" Robert released him. "You
don't know much, Mr. Sedgett; but it's enough to make me explain the
cause to my father, and, with your leave, I'll do so."
Mr. Sedgett remarked: "By all means, do;" and rather preferred that his
wits should be accused of want of brightness, than that he should miss a
chance of hearing the rich history of the scandal and its origin.
Something stronger than a hint sent him off at a trot, hugging in his
"The postman won't do his business quicker than Sedgett 'll tap this tale
upon every door in the parish," said Jonathan.
"I can only say I'm sorry, for your sake;" Robert was expressing his
contrition, when his father caught him up,--
"Who can hurt me?--my sake? Have I got the habits of a sot?--what you'd
call 'a beast!' but I know the ways o' beasts, and if you did too, you
wouldn't bring them in to bear your beastly sins. Who can hurt me?--
You've been quarrelling with this young gentleman about a woman--did you
"If knuckles could do it, I should have brained him, sir," said Robert.
"You struck him, and you got the best of it?"
"He got the worst of it any way, and will again."
"Then the devil take you for a fool! why did you go and drink I could
understand it if you got licked. Drown your memory, then, if that filthy
soaking's to your taste; but why, when you get the prize, we'll say, you
go off headlong into a manure pond?--There! except that you're a damned
idiot!" Jonathan struck the air, as to observe that it beat him, but for
the foregoing elucidation: thundering afresh, "Why did you go and drink?"
"I went, sir, I went--why did I go?" Robert slapped his hand despairingly
to his forehead. "What on earth did I go for?--because I'm at sea, I
suppose. Nobody cares for me. I'm at sea, and no rudder to steer me. I
suppose that's it. So, I drank. I thought it best to take spirits on
board. No; this was the reason--I remember: that lady, whoever she was,
said something that stung me. I held the fellow under her eyes, and
shook him, though she was begging me to let him off. Says she--but I've
drunk it clean out of my mind."
"There, go in and look at yourself in the glass," said Jonathan.
"Give me your hand first,"--Robert put his own out humbly.
"I'll be hanged if I do," said Jonathan firmly. "Bed and board you shall
have while I'm alive, and a glass to look at yourself in; but my hand's
for decent beasts. Move one way or t' other: take your choice."
Seeing Robert hesitate, he added, "I shall have a damned deal more
respect for you if you toddle." He waved his hand away from the
"I'm sorry you've taken so to swearing of late, sir," said Robert.
"Two flints strike fire, my lad. When you keep distant, I'm quiet enough
in my talk to satisfy your aunt Anne."
"Look here, sir; I want to make use of you, so I'll go in."
"Of course you do," returned Jonathan, not a whit displeased by his son's
bluntness; "what else is a father good for? I let you know the limit,
and that's a brick wall; jump it, if you can. Don't fancy it's your aunt
Jane you're going in to meet."
Robert had never been a favourite with his aunt Anne, who was Jonathan's
"No, poor old soul! and may God bless her in heaven!" he cried.
"For leaving you what you turned into a thundering lot of liquor to
"For doing all in her power to make a man of me; and she was close on it-
-kind, good old darling, that she was! She got me with that money of
hers to the best footing I've been on yet--bless her heart, or her
memory, or whatever a poor devil on earth may bless an angel for! But
here I am."
The fever in Robert blazed out under a pressure of extinguishing tears.
"There, go along in," said Jonathan, who considered drunkenness to be the
main source of water in a man's eyes. "It's my belief you've been at it
already this morning."
Robert passed into the house in advance of his father, whom he quite
understood and appreciated. There was plenty of paternal love for him,
and a hearty smack of the hand, and the inheritance of the farm, when he
turned into the right way. Meantime Jonathan was ready to fulfil his
parental responsibility, by sheltering, feeding, and not publicly abusing
his offspring, of whose spirit he would have had a higher opinion if
Robert had preferred, since he must go to the deuce, to go without
troubling any of his relatives; as it was, Jonathan submitted to the
infliction gravely. Neither in speech nor in tone did he solicit from
the severe maiden, known as Aunt Anne, that snub for the wanderer whom he
introduced, which, when two are agreed upon the infamous character of a
third, through whom they are suffering, it is always agreeable to hear.
He said, "Here, Anne; here's Robert. He hasn't breakfasted."
"He likes his cold bath beforehand," said Robert, presenting his cheek to
the fleshless, semi-transparent woman.
Aunt Anne divided her lips to pronounce a crisp, subdued "Ow!" to
Jonathan after inspecting Robert; and she shuddered at sight of Robert,
and said "Ow!" repeatedly, by way of an interjectory token of
comprehension, to all that was uttered; but it was a horrified "No!" when
Robert's cheek pushed nearer.
"Then, see to getting some breakfast for him," said Jonathan. "You're not
anyway bound to kiss a drunken--"
"Dog's the word, sir," Robert helped him. "Dogs can afford it. I never
saw one in that state; so they don't lose character."
He spoke lightly, but dejection was in his attitude. When his aunt Anne
had left the room, he exclaimed,--
"By jingo! women make you feel it, by some way that they have. She's a
religious creature. She smells the devil in me."
"More like, the brandy," his father responded.
"Well! I'm on the road, I'm on the road!" Robert fetched a sigh.
"I didn't make the road," said his father.
"No, sir; you didn't. Work hard: sleep sound that's happiness. I've
known it for a year. You're the man I'd imitate, if I could. The devil
came first the brandy's secondary. I was quiet so long. I thought
myself a safe man."
He sat down and sent his hair distraught with an effort at smoothing it.
"Women brought the devil into the world first. It's women who raise the
devil in us, and why they--"
He thumped the table just as his aunt Anne was preparing to spread the
"Don't be frightened, woman," said Jonathan, seeing her start fearfully
back. "You take too many cups of tea, morning and night--hang the
"Never, never till now have you abused me, Jonathan," she whimpered,
"I don't tell you to love him; but wait on him. That's all. And I'll
about my business. Land and beasts--they answer to you."
Robert looked up.
"Land and beasts! They sound like blessed things. When next I go to
church, I shall know what old Adam felt. Go along, sir. I shall break
nothing in the house."
"You won't go, Jonathan?" begged the trembling spinster.
"Give him some of your tea, and strong, and as much of it as he can
take--he wants bringing down," was Jonathan's answer; and casting a
glance at one of the framed letters, he strode through the doorway, and
Aunt Anne was alone with the flushed face and hurried eyes of her nephew,
who was to her little better than a demon in the flesh. But there was a
Bible in the room.
An hour later, Robert was mounted and riding to the meet of hounds.
A single night at the Pilot Inn had given life and vigour to Robert's old
reputation in Warbeach village, as the stoutest of drinkers and dear
rascals throughout a sailor-breeding district, where Dibdin was still
thundered in the ale-house, and manhood in a great degree measured by the
capacity to take liquor on board, as a ship takes ballast. There was a
profound affectation of deploring the sad fact that he drank as hard as
ever, among the men, and genuine pity expressed for him by the women of
Warbeach; but his fame was fresh again. As the Spring brings back its
flowers, Robert's presence revived his youthful deeds. There had not
been a boxer in the neighbourhood like Robert Eccles, nor such a champion
in all games, nor, when he set himself to it, such an invincible drinker.
It was he who thrashed the brute, Nic Sedgett, for stabbing with his
clasp-knife Harry Boulby, son of the landlady of the Pilot Inn; thrashed
him publicly, to the comfort of all Warbeach. He had rescued old Dame
Garble from her burning cottage, and made his father house the old
creature, and worked at farming, though he hated it, to pay for her
subsistence. He vindicated the honour of Warbeach by drinking a match
against a Yorkshire skipper till four o'clock in the morning, when it was
a gallant sight, my boys, to see Hampshire steadying the defeated
North-countryman on his astonished zigzag to his flattish-bottomed
billyboy, all in the cheery sunrise on the river--yo-ho! ahoy!
Glorious Robert had tried, first the sea, and then soldiering. Now let us
hope he'll settle to farming, and follow his rare old father's ways, and
be back among his own people for good. So chimed the younger ones, and
many of the elder.
Danish blood had settled round Warbeach. To be a really popular hero
anywhere in Britain, a lad must still, I fear, have something of a
Scandinavian gullet; and if, in addition to his being a powerful drinker,
he is pleasant in his cups, and can sing, and forgive, be freehanded, and
roll out the grand risky phrases of a fired brain, he stamps himself, in
the apprehension of his associates, a king.
Much of the stuff was required to deal King Robert of Warbeach the
capital stroke, and commonly he could hold on till a puff of cold air
from the outer door, like an admonitory messenger, reminded him that he
was, in the greatness of his soul, a king of swine; after which his way
of walking off, without a word to anybody, hoisting his whole stature,
while others were staggering, or roaring foul rhymes, or feeling
consciously mortal in their sensation of feverishness, became a theme for
admiration; ay, and he was fresh as an orchard apple in the morning!
there lay his commandership convincingly. What was proved overnight was
confirmed at dawn.
Mr. Robert had his contrast in Sedgett's son, Nicodemus Sedgett, whose
unlucky Christian name had assisted the wits of Warbeach in bestowing on
him a darkly-luminous relationship. Young Nic loved also to steep his
spirit in the bowl; but, in addition to his never paying for his luxury,
he drank as if in emulation of the colour of his reputed patron, and
neighbourhood to Nic Sedgett was not liked when that young man became
thoughtful over his glass.
The episode of his stabbing the landlady's son Harry clung to him
fatally. The wound was in the thigh, and nothing serious. Harry was up
and off to sea before Nic had ceased to show the marks of Robert's
vengeance upon him; but blood-shedding, even on a small scale, is so
detested by Englishmen, that Nic never got back to his right hue in the
eyes of Warbeach. None felt to him as to a countryman, and it may be
supposed that his face was seen no more in the house of gathering, the
He rented one of the Fairly farms, known as the Three-Tree Farm,
subsisting there, men fancied, by the aid of his housekeeper's money.
For he was of those evil fellows who disconcert all righteous prophecy,
and it was vain for Mrs. Boulby and Warbeach village to declare that no
good could come to him, when Fortune manifestly kept him going.
He possessed the rogue's most serviceable art: in spite of a countenance
that was not attractive, this fellow could, as was proved by evidence,
make himself pleasing to women. "The truth of it is," said Mrs. Boulby,
at a loss for any other explanation, and with a woman's love of sharp
generalization, "it's because my sex is fools."
He had one day no money to pay his rent, and forthwith (using for the
purpose his last five shillings, it was said) advertized for a
housekeeper; and before Warbeach had done chuckling over his folly, an
agreeable woman of about thirty-five was making purchases in his name;
she made tea, and the evening brew for such friends as he could collect,
and apparently paid his rent for him, after a time; the distress was not
in the house three days. It seemed to Warbeach an erratic proceeding on
the part of Providence, that Nic should ever be helped to swim; but our
modern prophets have small patience, and summon Destiny to strike without
a preparation of her weapons or a warning to the victim.
More than Robert's old occasional vice was at the bottom of his
popularity, as I need not say. Let those who generalize upon ethnology
determine whether the ancient opposition of Saxon and Norman be at an
end; but it is certain, to my thinking, that when a hero of the people
can be got from the common popular stock, he is doubly dear. A
gentleman, however gallant and familiar, will hardly ever be as much
beloved, until he dies to inform a legend or a ballad: seeing that death
only can remove the peculiar distinctions and distances which the people
feel to exist between themselves and the gentleman-class, and which, not
to credit them with preternatural discernment, they are carefully taught
to feel. Dead Britons are all Britons, but live Britons are not quite
It was as the son of a yeoman, showing comprehensible accomplishments,
that Robert took his lead. He was a very brave, a sweet-hearted, and a
handsome young man, and he had very chivalrous views of life, that were
understood by a sufficient number under the influence of ale or brandy,
and by a few in default of that material aid; and they had a family pride
in him. The pride was mixed with fear, which threw over it a tender
light, like a mother's dream of her child. The people, I have said, are
not so lost in self-contempt as to undervalue their best men, but it must
be admitted that they rarely produce young fellows wearing the undeniable
chieftain's stamp, and the rarity of one like Robert lent a hue of
sadness to him in their thoughts.
Fortune, moreover, the favourer of Nic Sedgett, blew foul whichever the
way Robert set his sails. He would not look to his own advantage; and
the belief that man should set his little traps for the liberal hand of
his God, if he wishes to prosper, rather than strive to be merely
honourable in his Maker's eye, is almost as general among poor people as
it is with the moneyed classes, who survey them from their height.
When jolly Butcher Billing, who was one of the limited company which had
sat with Robert at the Pilot last night, reported that he had quitted the
army, he was hearkened to dolefully, and the feeling was universal that
glorious Robert had cut himself off from his pension and his hospital.
But when gossip Sedgett went his rounds, telling that Robert was down
among them again upon the darkest expedition their minds could conceive,
and rode out every morning for the purpose of encountering one of the
gentlemen up at Fairly, and had already pulled him off his horse and laid
him in the mud, calling him scoundrel and challenging him either to yield
his secret or to fight; and that he followed him, and was out after him
publicly, and matched himself against that gentleman, who had all the
other gentlemen, and the earl, and the law to back him, the little place
buzzed with wonder and alarm. Faint hearts declared that Robert was now
done for. All felt that he had gone miles beyond the mark. Those were
the misty days when fogs rolled up the salt river from the winter sea,
and the sun lived but an hour in the clotted sky, extinguished near the
Robert was seen riding out, and the tramp of his horse was heard as he
returned homeward. He called no more at the Pilot. Darkness and mystery
enveloped him. There were nightly meetings under Mrs. Boulby's roof, in
the belief that he could not withstand her temptations; nor did she
imprudently discourage them; but the woman at last overcame the landlady
within her, and she wailed: "He won't come because of the drink. Oh! why
was I made to sell liquor, which he says sends him to the devil, poor
blessed boy? and I can't help begging him to take one little drop. I
did, the first night he was down, forgetting his ways; he looked so
desperate, he did, and it went on and went on, till he was primed, and me
proud to see him get out of his misery. And now he hates the thought of
In her despair she encouraged Sedgett to visit her bar and parlour, and
he became everywhere a most important man.
Farmer Eccles's habits of seclusion (his pride, some said), and more
especially the dreaded austere Aunt Anne, who ruled that household, kept
people distant from the Warbeach farm-house, all excepting Sedgett, who
related that every night on his return, she read a chapter from the Bible
to Robert, sitting up for him patiently to fulfil her duty; and that the
farmer's words to his son had been: "Rest here; eat and drink, and ride
my horse; but not a penny of my money do you have."
By the help of Steeve Bilton, the Fairly huntsman, Sedgett was enabled to
relate that there was a combination of the gentlemen against Robert,
whose behaviour none could absolutely approve, save the landlady and
jolly Butcher Billing, who stuck to him with a hearty blind faith.
"Did he ever," asked the latter, "did Bob Eccles ever conduct himself
disrespectful to his superiors? Wasn't he always found out at his
wildest for to be right--to a sensible man's way of thinking?--though
not, I grant ye, to his own interests--there's another tale." And Mr.
Billing's staunch adherence to the hero of the village was cried out to
his credit when Sedgett stated, on Stephen Bilton's authority, that
Robert's errand was the defence of a girl who had been wronged, and whose
whereabout, that she might be restored to her parents, was all he wanted
to know. This story passed from mouth to mouth, receiving much ornament
in the passage. The girl in question became a lady; for it is required
of a mere common girl that she should display remarkable character before
she can be accepted as the fitting companion of a popular hero. She
became a young lady of fortune, in love with Robert, and concealed by the
artifice of the offending gentleman whom Robert had challenged. Sedgett
told this for truth, being instigated to boldness of invention by
pertinacious inquiries, and the dignified sense which the whole story
hung upon him.
Mrs. Boulby, who, as a towering woman, despised Sedgett's weak frame, had
been willing to listen till she perceived him to be but a man of fiction,
and then she gave him a flat contradiction, having no esteem for his
"Eh! but, Missis, I can tell you his name--the gentleman's name," said
Sedgett, placably. "He's a Mr. Algernon Blancove, and a cousin by
marriage, or something, of Mrs. Lovell."
"I reckon you're right about that, goodman," replied Mrs. Boulby, with
intuitive discernment of the true from the false, mingled with a desire
to show that she was under no obligation for the news. "All t' other's a
tale of your own, and you know it, and no more true than your rigmaroles
about my brandy, which is French; it is, as sure as my blood's British."
"Oh! Missis," quoth Sedgett, maliciously, "as to tales, you've got
witnesses enough it crassed chann'l. Aha! Don't bring 'em into the box.
Don't you bring 'em into ne'er a box."
"You mean to say, Mr. Sedgett, they won't swear?"
"No, Missis; they'll swear, fast and safe, if you teach 'em. Dashed if
they won't run the Pilot on a rock with their swearin'. It ain't a good
"Well, Mr. Sedgett, the next time you drink my brandy and find the
consequences bad, you let me hear of it."
"And what'll you do, Missis, may be?"
Listeners were by, and Mrs. Boulby cruelly retorted; "I won't send you
home to your wife;" which created a roar against this hen-pecked man.
"As to consequences, Missis, it's for your sake I'm looking at them,"
Sedgett said, when he had recovered from the blow.
"You say that to the Excise, Mr. Sedgett; it, belike, 'll make 'em
"Brandy's your weak point, it appears, Missis."
"A little in you would stiffen your back, Mr. Sedgett."
"Poor Bob Eccles didn't want no stiffening when he come down first,"
At which, flushing enraged, Mrs. Boulby cried: "Mention him, indeed! And
him and you, and that son of your'n--the shame of your cheeks if people
say he's like his father. Is it your son, Nic Sedgett, thinks to inform
against me, as once he swore to, and to get his wage that he may step out
of a second bankruptcy? and he a farmer! You let him know that he isn't
feared by me, Sedgett, and there's one here to give him a second dose,
without waiting for him to use clasp-knives on harmless innocents."
"Pacify yourself, ma'am, pacify yourself," remarked Sedgett, hardened
against words abroad by his endurance of blows at home. "Bob Eccles, he's
got his hands full, and he, maybe, 'll reach the hulks before my Nic do,