The squire, applied to and urged on all sides, at first said bluntly that he would do anything in reason to serve his brother, but that he did not like, for his own part, appearing, even in proxy, as a lord's nominee; and moreover, if he was to be sponsor for his brother, why, he must promise and vow, in his name, to be stanch and true to the land they lived by! And how could he tell that Audley, when once he got into the House, would not forget the land, and then he, William Hazeldean, would be made a liar, and look like a turncoat!
But these scruples being overruled by the arguments of the gentlemen and the entreaties of the ladies, who took in the election that intense interest which those gentle creatures usually do take in all matters of strife and contest, the squire at length consented to confront the Man from Baker Street, and went accordingly into the thing with that good heart and old English spirit with which he went into everything whereon he had once made up his mind.
The expectations formed of the squire's capacities for popular electioneering were fully realized. He talked quite as much nonsense as Captain Dashmore on every subject except the landed interest; there he was great, for he knew the subject well,—knew it by the instinct that comes with practice, and compared to which all your showy theories are mere cobwebs and moonshine.
The agricultural outvoters—many of whom, not living under Lord Lansmere, but being small yeomen, had hitherto prided themselves on their independence, and gone against my Lord—could not in their hearts go against one who was every inch the farmer's friend. They began to share in the earl's personal interest against the Man from Baker Street; and big fellows, with legs bigger round than Captain Dashmore's tight little body, and huge whips in their hands, were soon seen entering the shops, "intimidating the electors," as Captain Dashmore indignantly declared.
These new recruits made a great difference in the musterroll of the Lansmere books; and when the day for polling arrived, the result was a fair question for even betting. At the last hour, after a neck-and-neck contest, Mr. Audley Egerton beat the captain by two votes; and the names of these voters were John Avenel, resident freeman, and his son-in-law, Mark Fairfield, an outvoter, who, though a Lansmere freeman, had settled in Hazeldean, where he had obtained the situation of head carpenter on the squire's estate.
These votes were unexpected; for though Mark Fairfield had come to Lansmere on purpose to support the squire's brother, and though the Avenels had been always stanch supporters of the Lansmere Blue interest, yet a severe affliction (as to the nature of which, not desiring to sadden the opening of my story, I am considerately silent) had befallen both these persons, and they had left the town on the very day after Lord L'Estrange and Mr. Egerton had quitted Lansmere Park.
Whatever might have been the gratification of the squire, as a canvasser and a brother, at Mr. Egerton's triumph, it was much damped when, on leaving the dinner given in honour of the victory at the Lansmere Arms, and about, with no steady step, to enter a carriage which was to convey him to his Lordship's house, a letter was put into his hands by one of the gentlemen who had accompanied the captain to the scene of action; and the perusal of that letter, and a few whispered words from the bearer thereof, sent the squire back to Mrs. Hazeldean a much soberer man than she had ventured to hope for. The fact was, that on the day of nomination, the captain having honoured Mr. Hazeldean with many poetical and figurative appellations,—such as "Prize Ox," "Tony Lumpkin," "Blood-sucking Vampire," and "Brotherly Warming-Pan,"—the squire had retorted by a joke about "Saltwater Jack;" and the captain, who like all satirists was extremely susceptible and thin-skinned, could not consent to be called "Salt-water Jack" by a "Prize Ox" and a "Bloodsucking Vampire."
The letter, therefore, now conveyed to Mr. Hazeldean by a gentleman, who, being from the Sister Country, was deemed the most fitting accomplice in the honourable destruction of a brother mortal, contained nothing more nor less than an invitation to single combat; and the bearer thereof, with the suave politeness enjoined by etiquette on such well-bred homicidal occasions, suggested the expediency of appointing the place of meeting in the neighbourhood of London, in order to prevent interference from the suspicious authorities of Lansmere.
The natives of some countries—the warlike French in particular—think little of that formal operation which goes by the name of DUELLING. Indeed, they seem rather to like it than otherwise. But there is nothing your thorough-paced Englishman—a Hazeldean of Hazeldean—considers with more repugnance and aversion than that same cold-blooded ceremonial. It is not within the range of an Englishman's ordinary habits of thinking. He prefers going to law,—a much more destructive proceeding of the two. Nevertheless, if an Englishman must fight, why, he will fight. He says "It is very foolish;" he is sure "it is most unchristianlike;" he agrees with all that Philosophy, Preacher, and Press have laid down on the subject; but he makes his will, says his prayers, and goes out—like a heathen.
It never, therefore, occurred to the squire to show the white feather upon this unpleasant occasion. The next day, feigning excuse to attend the sale of a hunting stud at Tattersall's, he ruefully went up to London, after taking a peculiarly affectionate leave of his wife. Indeed, the squire felt convinced that he should never return home except in a coffin. "It stands to reason," said he to himself, "that a man who has been actually paid by the King's Government for shooting people ever since he was a little boy in a midshipman's jacket, must be a dead hand at the job. I should not mind if it was with double-barrelled Mantons and small shot; but ball and pistol, they are n't human nor sportsmanlike!" However, the squire, after settling his worldly affairs, and hunting up an old college friend who undertook to be his second, proceeded to a sequestered corner of Wimbledon Common, and planted himself, not sideways, as one ought to do in such encounters (the which posture the squire swore was an unmanly way of shirking), but full front to the mouth of his adversary's pistol, with such sturdy composure that Captain Dashmore, who, though an excellent shot, was at bottom as good-natured a fellow as ever lived, testified his admiration by letting off his gallant opponent with a ball in the fleshy part of the shoulder, after which he declared himself perfectly satisfied. The parties then shook hands, mutual apologies were exchanged, and the squire, much to his astonishment to find himself still alive, was conveyed to Limmer's Hotel, where, after a considerable amount of anguish, the ball was extracted and the wound healed. Now it was all over, the squire felt very much raised in his own conceit; and when he was in a humour more than ordinarily fierce, that perilous event became a favourite allusion with him.
He considered, moreover, that his brother had incurred at his hand the most lasting obligations; and that, having procured Audley's return to parliament, and defended his interests at risk of his own life, he had an absolute right to dictate to that gentleman how to vote,—upon all matters, at least, connected with the landed interest. And when, not very long after Audley took his seat in parliament (which he did not do for some months), he thought proper both to vote and to speak in a manner wholly belying the promises the squire had made on his behalf, Mr. Hazeldean wrote him such a trimmer that it could not but produce an unconciliatory reply. Shortly afterwards the squire's exasperation reached the culminating point; for, having to pass through Lansmere on a market-day, he was hooted by the very farmers whom he had induced to vote for his brother; and, justly imputing the disgrace to Audley, he never heard the name of that traitor to the land mentioned without a heightened colour and an indignant expletive. M. de Ruqueville—who was the greatest wit of his day—had, like the squire, a half-brother, with whom he was not on the best of terms, and of whom he always spoke as his "frere de loin!" Audley Egerton was thus Squire Hazeldean's "distant-brother"!
Enough of these explanatory antecedents,—let us return to the stocks.
The squire's carpenters were taken from the park pales and set to work at the parish stocks. Then came the painter and coloured them a beautiful dark blue, with white border—and a white rim round the holes—with an ornamental flourish in the middle. It was the gayest public edifice in the whole village, though the village possessed no less than three other monuments of the Vitruvian genius of the Hazeldeans,—to wit, the almshouse, the school, and the parish pump.
A more elegant, enticing, coquettish pair of stocks never gladdened the eye of a justice of the peace.
And Squire Hazeldean's eye was gladdened. In the pride of his heart he brought all the family down to look at the stocks. The squire's family (omitting the frere de loin) consisted of Mrs. Hazeldean, his wife; next, of Miss Jemima Hazeldean, his first cousin; thirdly, of Mr. Francis Hazeldean, his only son; and fourthly, of Captain Barnabas Higginbotham, a distant relation,—who, indeed, strictly speaking, was not of the family, but only a visitor ten months in the year. Mrs. Hazeldean was every inch the lady,—the lady of the parish. In her comely, florid, and somewhat sunburned countenance, there was an equal expression of majesty and benevolence; she had a blue eye that invited liking, and an aquiline nose that commanded respect. Mrs. Hazeldean had no affectation of fine airs, no wish to be greater and handsomer and cleverer than she was. She knew herself, and her station, and thanked Heaven for it. There was about her speech and manner something of the shortness and bluntness which often characterizes royalty; and if the lady of a parish is not a queen in her own circle, it is never the fault of a parish. Mrs. Hazeldean dressed her part to perfection. She wore silks that seemed heirlooms,—so thick were they, so substantial and imposing; and over these, when she was in her own domain, the whitest of aprons; while at her waist was seen no fiddle-faddle chatelaine, with breloques and trumpery, but a good honest gold watch to mark the time, and a long pair of scissors to cut off the dead leaves from her flowers,—for she was a great horticulturalist. When occasion needed, Mrs. Hazeldean could, however, lay by her more sumptuous and imperial raiment for a stout riding-habit, of blue Saxony, and canter by her husband's side to see the hounds throw off. Nay, on the days on which Mr. Hazeldean drove his famous fast-trotting cob to the market town, it was rarely that you did not see his wife on the left side of the gig. She cared as little as her lord did for wind and weather, and in the midst of some pelting shower her pleasant face peeped over the collar and capes of a stout dreadnought, expanding into smiles and bloom as some frank rose, that opens from its petals, and rejoices in the dews. It was easy to see that the worthy couple had married for love; they were as little apart as they could help it. And still, on the first of September, if the house was not full of company which demanded her cares, Mrs. Hazeldean "stepped out" over the stubbles by her husband's side, with as light a tread and as blithe an eye as when, in the first bridal year, she had enchanted the squire by her genial sympathy with his sports.
So there now stands Harriet Hazeldean, one hand leaning on the squire's broad shoulder, the other thrust into her apron, and trying her best to share her husband's enthusiasm for his own public-spirited patriotism, in the renovation of the parish stocks. A little behind, with two fingers resting on the thin arm of Captain Barnabas, stood Miss Jemima, the orphan daughter of the squire's uncle, by a runaway imprudent marriage with a young lady who belonged to a family which had been at war with the Hazeldeans since the reign of Charles the First respecting a right of way to a small wood (or rather spring) of about an acre, through a piece of furze land, which was let to a brickmaker at twelve shillings a year. The wood belonged to the Hazeldeans, the furze land to the Sticktorights (an old Saxon family, if ever there was one). Every twelfth year, when the fagots and timber were felled, this feud broke out afresh; for the Sticktorights refused to the Hazeldeans the right to cart off the said fagots and timber through the only way by which a cart could possibly pass. It is just to the Hazeldeans to say that they had offered to buy the land at ten times its value. But the Sticktorights, with equal magnanimity, had declared that they would not "alienate the family property for the convenience of the best squire that ever stood upon shoe leather." Therefore, every twelfth year, there was always a great breach of the peace on the part of both Hazeldeans and Sticktorights, magistrates and deputy-lieutenants though they were. The question was fairly fought out by their respective dependants, and followed by various actions for assault and trespass. As the legal question of right was extremely obscure, it never had been properly decided; and, indeed, neither party wished it to be decided, each at heart having some doubt of the propriety of its own claim. A marriage between a younger son of the Hazeldeans and a younger daughter of the Sticktorights was viewed with equal indignation by both families; and the consequence had been that the runaway couple, unblessed and unforgiven, had scrambled through life as they could, upon the scanty pay of the husband, who was in a marching regiment, and the interest of L1000, which was the wife's fortune independent of her parents. They died and left an only daughter (upon whom the maternal L1000 had been settled), about the time that the squire came of age and into possession of his estates. And though he inherited all the ancestral hostility towards the Sticktorights, it was not in his nature to be unkind to a poor orphan, who was, after all, the child of a Hazeldean. Therefore he had educated and fostered Jemima with as much tenderness as if she had been his sister; put out her L1000 at nurse, and devoted, from the ready money which had accrued from the rents during his minority, as much as made her fortune (with her own accumulated at compound interest) no less than L4000, the ordinary marriage portion of the daughters of Hazeldean. On her coming of age, he transferred this sum to her absolute disposal, in order that she might feel herself independent, see a little more of the world than she could at Hazeldean, have candidates to choose from if she deigned to marry; or enough to live upon, if she chose to remain single. Miss Jemima had somewhat availed herself of this liberty, by occasional visits to Cheltenham and other watering-places. But her grateful affection to the squire was such that she could never bear to be long away from the Hall. And this was the more praise to her heart, inasmuch as she was far from taking kindly to the prospect of being an old maid; and there were so few bachelors in the neighbourhood of Hazeldean, that she could not but have that prospect before her eyes whenever she looked out of the Hall windows. Miss Jemima was indeed one of the most kindly and affectionate of beings feminine; and if she disliked the thought of single blessedness, it really was from those innocent and womanly instincts towards the tender charities of hearth and home, without which a lady, however otherwise estimable, is little better than a Minerva in bronze. But, whether or not, despite her fortune and her face, which last, though not strictly handsome, was pleasing, and would have been positively pretty if she had laughed more often (for when she laughed, there appeared three charming dimples, invisible when she was grave),—whether or not, I say, it was the fault of our insensibility or her own fastidiousness, Miss Jemima approached her thirtieth year, and was still Miss Jemima. Now, therefore, that beautifying laugh of hers was very rarely heard, and she had of late become confirmed in two opinions, not at all conducive to laughter. One was a conviction of the general and progressive wickedness of the male sex, and the other was a decided and lugubrious belief that the world was coming to an end. Miss Jemima was now accompanied by a small canine favourite, true Blenheim, with a snub nose. It was advanced in life, and somewhat obese. It sat on its haunches, with its tongue out of its mouth, except when it snapped at the flies. There was a strong platonic friendship between Miss Jemima and Captain Barnabas Higginbotham; for he, too, was unmarried, and he had the same ill opinion of your sex, my dear madam, that Miss Jemima had of, ours. The captain was a man of a slim and elegant figure; the less said about the face the better, a truth of which the captain himself was sensible, for it was a favourite maxim of his, "that in a man, everything is a slight, gentlemanlike figure." Captain Barnabas did not absolutely deny that the world was coming to an end, only he thought it would last his time.
Quite apart from all the rest, with the nonchalant survey of virgin dandyism, Francis Hazeldean looked over one of the high starched neckcloths which were then the fashion,—a handsome lad, fresh from Eton for the summer holidays, but at that ambiguous age when one disdains the sports of the boy, and has not yet arrived at the resources of the man.
"I should be glad, Frank," said the squire, suddenly turning round to his son, "to see you take a little more interest in duties which, one day or other, you may be called upon to discharge. I can't bear to think that the property should fall into the hands of a fine gentleman, who will let things go to rack and ruin, instead of keeping them up as I do."
And the squire pointed to the stocks.
Master Frank's eye followed the direction of the cane, as well as his cravat would permit; and he said dryly,—
"Yes, sir; but how came the stocks to be so long out of repair?"
"Because one can't see to everything at once," retorted the squire, tartly. "When a man has got eight thousand acres to look after, he must do a bit at a time."
"Yes," said Captain Barnabas. "I know that by experience."
"The deuce you do!" cried the squire, bluntly. "Experience in eight thousand acres!"
"No; in my apartments in the Albany,—No. 3 A. I have had them ten years, and it was only last Christmas that I bought my Japan cat."
"Dear me," said Miss Jemima; "a Japan cat! that must be very curious. What sort of a creature is it?"
"Don't you know? Bless me, a thing with three legs, and holds toast! I never thought of it, I assure you, till my friend Cosey said to me one morning when he was breakfasting at my rooms, 'Higginbotham, how is it that you, who like to have things comfortable about you, don't have a cat?' 'Upon my life,' said I, 'one can't think of everything at a time,'—just like you, Squire."
"Pshaw," said Mr. Hazeldean, gruffly, "not at all like me. And I'll thank you another time, Cousin Higginbotham, not to put me out when I'm speaking on matters of importance; poking your cat into my stocks! They look something like now, my stocks, don't they, Harry? I declare that the whole village seems more respectable. It is astonishing how much a little improvement adds to the—to the—"
"Charm of the landscape," put in Miss Jemina, sentimentally.
The squire neither accepted nor rejected the suggested termination; but leaving his sentence uncompleted, broke suddenly off with—
"And if I had listened to Parson Dale—"
"You would have done a very wise thing," said a voice behind, as the parson presented himself in the rear.
"Wise thing? Why, surely, Mr. Dale," said Mrs. Hazeldean, with spirit, for she always resented the least contradiction to her lord and master—perhaps as an interference with her own special right and prerogative!—"why, surely if it is necessary to have stocks, it is necessary to repair them."
"That's right! go it, Harry!" cried the squire, chuckling, and rubbing his hands as if he had been setting his terrier at the parson: "St—St—at him! Well, Master Dale, what do you say to that?"
"My dear ma'am," said the parson, replying in preference to the lady, "there are many institutions in the country which are very old, look very decayed, and don't seem of much use; but I would not pull them down for all that."
"You would reform them, then," said Mrs. Hazeldean, doubtfully, and with a look at her husband, as much as to say, "He is on politics now,—that's your business."
"No, I would not, ma'am," said the parson, stoutly. "What on earth would you do, then?" quoth the squire. "Just let 'em alone," said the parson. "Master Frank, there's a Latin maxim which was often put in the mouth of Sir Robert Walpole, and which they ought to put into the Eton grammar, 'Quieta non movere.' If things are quiet, let them be quiet! I would not destroy the stocks, because that might seem to the ill-disposed like a license to offend; and I would not repair the stocks, because that puts it into people's heads to get into them."
The squire was a stanch politician of the old school, and he did not like to think that, in repairing the stocks, he had perhaps been conniving at revolutionary principles.
"This constant desire of innovation," said Miss Jemima, suddenly mounting the more funereal of her two favourite hobbies, "is one of the great symptoms of the approaching crash. We are altering and mending and reforming, when in twenty years at the utmost the world itself may be destroyed!" The fair speaker paused, and Captain Barnabas said thoughtfully, "Twenty years!—the insurance officers rarely compute the best life at more than fourteen." He struck his hand on the stocks as he spoke, and added, with his usual consolatory conclusion, "The odds are that it will last our time, Squire."
But whether Captain Barnabas meant the stocks or the world he did not clearly explain, and no one took the trouble to inquire.
"Sir," said Master Frank to his father, with that furtive spirit of quizzing, which he had acquired amongst other polite accomplishments at Eton,—"sir, it is no use now considering whether the stocks should or should not have been repaired. The only question is, whom you will get to put into them."
"True," said the squire, with much gravity.
"Yes, there it is!" said the parson, mournfully. "If you would but learn 'non quieta movere'!"
"Don't spout your Latin at me, Parson," cried the squire, angrily; "I can give you as good as you bring, any day.
"'Propria quae maribus tribuuntur mascula dicas.— As in praesenti, perfectum format in avi.'
"There," added the squire, turning triumphantly towards his Harry, who looked with great admiration at this unprecedented burst of learning on the part of Mr. Hazeldean,—"there, two can play at that game! And now that we have all seen the stocks, we may as well go home and drink tea. Will you come up and play a rubber, Dale? No! hang it, man, I've not offended you?—you know my ways."
"That I do, and they are among the things I would not have altered," cried the parson, holding out his hand cheerfully. The squire gave it a hearty shake, and Mrs. Hazeldean hastened to do the same.
"Do come; I am afraid we've been very rude: we are sad blunt folks. Do come; that's a dear good man; and of course poor Mrs. Dale too." Mrs. Hazeldean's favourite epithet for Mrs. Dale was poor, and that for reasons to be explained hereafter.
"I fear my wife has got one of her bad headaches, but I will give her your kind message, and at all events you may depend upon me."
"That's right," said the squire; "in half an hour, eh? How d' ye do, my little man?" as Lenny Fairfield, on his way home from some errand in the village, drew aside and pulled off his hat with both hands. "Stop; you see those stocks, eh? Tell all the bad boys in the parish to take care how they get into them—a sad disgrace—you'll never be in such a quandary?"
"That at least I will answer for," said the parson.
"And I too," added Mrs. Hazeldean, patting the boy's curly head. "Tell your mother I shall come and have a good chat with her to-morrow evening."
And so the party passed on, and Lenny stood still on the road, staring hard at the stocks, which stared back at him from its four great eyes.
Put Lenny did not remain long alone. As soon as the great folks had fairly disappeared, a large number of small folks emerged timorously from the neighbouring cottages, and approached the site of the stocks with much marvel, fear, and curiosity.
In fact, the renovated appearance of this monster a propos de bottes, as one may say—had already excited considerable sensation among the population of Hazeldean. And even as when an unexpected owl makes his appearance in broad daylight all the little birds rise from tree and hedgerow, and cluster round their ominous enemy, so now gathered all the much-excited villagers round the intrusive and portentous phenomenon.
"D' ye know what the diggins the squire did it for, Gaffer Solomons?" asked one many-childed matron, with a baby in arms, an urchin of three years old clinging fast to her petticoat, and her hand maternally holding back a more adventurous hero of six, who had a great desire to thrust his head into one of the grisly apertures. All eyes turned to a sage old man, the oracle of the village, who, leaning both hands on his crutch, shook his head bodingly.
"Maw be," said Gaffer Solomons, "some of the boys ha' been robbing the orchards."
"Orchards!" cried a big lad, who seemed to think himself personally appealed to; "why, the bud's scarce off the trees yet!"
"No more it ain't," said the dame with many children, and she breathed more freely.
"Maw be," said Gaffer Solomons, "some o' ye has been sitting snares."
"What for?" said a stout, sullen-looking young fellow, whom conscience possibly pricked to reply,—"what for, when it bean't the season? And if a poor man did find a hear in his pocket i' the haytime, I should like to know if ever a squire in the world would let 'un off with the stocks, eh?"
This last question seemed a settler, and the wisdom of Gaffer Solomons went down fifty per cent in the public opinion of Hazeldean.
"Maw be," said the gaffer—this time with a thrilling effect, which restored his reputation,—"maw be some o' ye ha' been getting drunk, and making beestises o' yoursel's!"
There was a dead pause, for this suggestion applied too generally to be met with a solitary response. At last one of the women said, with a meaning glance at her husband,
"God bless the squire; he'll make some on us happy women if that's all!"
There then arose an almost unanimous murmur of approbation among the female part of the audience; and the men looked at each other, and then at the phenomenon, with a very hang-dog expression of countenance.
"Or, maw be," resumed Gaffer Solomons, encouraged to a fourth suggestion by the success of its predecessor,—"maw be some o' the misseses ha' been making a rumpus, and scolding their good men. I heard say in my granfeyther's time, arter old Mother Bang nigh died o' the ducking-stool, them 'ere stocks were first made for the women, out o' compassion like! And every one knows the squire is a koind-hearted man, God bless 'un!"
"God bless 'un!" cried the men, heartily; and they gathered lovingly round the phenomenon, like heathens of old round a tutelary temple. But then there rose one shrill clamour among the females as they retreated with involuntary steps towards the verge of the green, whence they glared at Solomons and the phenomenon with eyes so sparkling, and pointed at both with gestures so menacing, that Heaven only knows if a morsel of either would have remained much longer to offend the eyes of the justly-enraged matronage of Hazeldean, if fortunately Master Stirn, the squire's right-hand man, had not come up in the nick of time.
Master Stirn was a formidable personage,—more formidable than the squire himself,—as, indeed, a squire's right hand is generally more formidable than the head can pretend to be. He inspired the greater awe, because, like the stocks of which he was deputed guardian, his powers were undefined and obscure, and he had no particular place in the out-of-door establishment. He was not the steward, yet he did much of what ought to be the steward's work; he was not the farm-bailiff, for the squire called himself his own farm-bailiff; nevertheless, Mr. Hazeldean sowed and ploughed, cropped and stocked, bought and sold, very much as Mr. Stirn condescended to advise. He was not the park-keeper, for he neither shot the deer nor superintended the preserves; but it was he who always found out who had broken a park pale or snared a rabbit. In short, what may be called all the harsher duties of a large landed proprietor devolved, by custom and choice, upon Mr. Stirn. If a labourer was to be discharged or a rent enforced, and the squire knew that he should be talked over, and that the steward would be as soft as himself, Mr. Stirn was sure to be the avenging messenger, to pronounce the words of fate; so that he appeared to the inhabitants of Hazeldean like the poet's Saeva Necessitas, a vague incarnation of remorseless power, armed with whips, nails, and wedges. The very brute creation stood in awe of Mr. Stirn. The calves knew that it was he who singled out which should be sold to the butcher, and huddled up into a corner with beating hearts at his grim footstep; the sow grunted, the duck quacked, the hen bristled her feathers and called to her chicks when Mr. Stirn drew near. Nature had set her stamp upon him. Indeed, it may be questioned whether the great M. de Chambray himself, surnamed the brave, had an aspect so awe-inspiring as that of Mr. Stirn; albeit the face of that hero was so terrible, that a man who had been his lackey, seeing his portrait after he had been dead twenty years, fell a trembling all over like a leaf!
"And what the plague are you doing here?" said Mr. Stirn, as he waved and smacked a great cart-whip which he held in his hand, "making such a hullabaloo, you women, you! that I suspect the squire will be sending out to know if the village is on fire. Go home, will ye? High time indeed to have the stocks ready, when you get squalling and conspiring under the very nose of a justice of the peace, just as the French revolutioners did afore they cut off their king's head! My hair stands on end to look at ye." But already, before half this address was delivered, the crowd had dispersed in all directions,—the women still keeping together, and the men sneaking off towards the ale-house. Such was the beneficent effect of the fatal stocks on the first day of their resuscitation. However, in the break up of every crowd there must always be one who gets off the last; and it so happened that our friend Lenny Fairfield, who had mechanically approached close to the stocks, the better to hear the oracular opinions of Gaffer Solomons, had no less mechanically, on the abrupt appearance of Mr. Stirn, crept, as he hoped, out of sight behind the trunk of the elm-tree which partially shaded the stocks; and there now, as if fascinated, he still cowered, not daring to emerge in full view of Mr. Stirn, and in immediate reach of the cartwhip, when the quick eye of the right-hand man detected his retreat.
"Hallo, sir—what the deuce, laying a mine to blow up the stocks! just like Guy Fox and the Gunpowder Plot, I declares! What ha' you got in your willanous little fist there?"
"Nothing, sir," said Lenny, opening his palm. "Nothing—um!" said Mr. Stirn, much dissatisfied; and then, as he gazed more deliberately, recognizing the pattern boy of the village, a cloud yet darker gathered over his brow; for Mr. Stirn, who valued himself much on his learning, and who, indeed, by dint of more knowledge as well as more wit than his neighbours, had attained his present eminent station of life, was extremely anxious that his only son should also be a scholar. That wish—
"The gods dispersed in empty air."
Master Stirn was a notable dunce at the parson's school, while Lenny Fairfield was the pride and boast of it; therefore Mr. Stirn was naturally, and almost justifiably, ill-disposed towards Lenny Fairfield, who had appropriated to himself the praises which Mr. Stirn had designed for his son.
"Um!" said the right-hand man, glowering on Lenny malignantly, "you are the pattern boy of the village, are you? Very well, sir! then I put these here stocks under your care, and you'll keep off the other boys from sitting on 'em, and picking off the paint, and playing three-holes and chuck-farthing, as I declare they've been a doing, just in front of the elewation. Now, you knows your 'sponsibilities, little boy,—and a great honour they are too, for the like o' you.
"If any damage be done, it is to you I shall look; d' ye understand?—and that's what the squire says to me. So you sees what it is to be a pattern boy, Master Lenny!" With that Mr. Stirn gave a loud crack of the cart-whip, by way of military honours, over the head of the vicegerent he had thus created, and strode off to pay a visit to two young unsuspecting pups, whose ears and tails he had graciously promised their proprietors to crop that evening. Nor, albeit few charges could be more obnoxious than that of deputy-governor or charge-d'affaires extraordinaires to the parish stocks, nor one more likely to render Lenny Fairfield odious to his contemporaries, ought he to have been insensible to the signal advantage of his condition over that of the two sufferers, against whose ears and tails Mr. Stirn had no special motives of resentment. To every bad there is a worse; and fortunately for little boys, and even for grown men, whom the Stirns of the world regard malignly, the majesty and law protect their ears, and the merciful forethought of nature deprived their remote ancestors of the privilege of entailing tails upon them. Had it been otherwise—considering what handles tails would have given to the oppressor, how many traps envy would have laid for them, how often they must have been scratched and mutilated by the briars of life, how many good excuses would have been found for lopping, docking, and trimming them—I fear that only the lap-dogs of Fortune would have gone to the grave tail-whole.
The card-table was set out in the drawing-room at Hazeldean Hall; though the little party were still lingering in the deep recess of the large bay window, which (in itself of dimensions that would have swallowed up a moderate-sized London parlour) held the great round tea-table, with all appliances and means to boot,—for the beautiful summer moon shed on the sward so silvery a lustre, and the trees cast so quiet a shadow, and the flowers and new-mown hay sent up so grateful a perfume, that to close the windows, draw the curtains, and call for other lights than those of heaven would have been an abuse of the prose of life which even Captain Barnabas, who regarded whist as the business of town and the holiday of the country, shrank from suggesting. Without, the scene, beheld by the clear moonlight, had the beauty peculiar to the garden-ground round those old-fashioned country residences which, though a little modernized, still preserve their original character,—the velvet lawn, studded with large plots of flowers, shaded and scented, here to the left by lilacs, laburnums, and rich syringas; there, to the right, giving glimpses, over low clipped yews, of a green bowling-alley, with the white columns of a summer-house built after the Dutch taste, in the reign of William III.; and in front stealing away under covert of those still cedars, into the wilder landscape of the well-wooded undulating park. Within, viewed by the placid glimmer of the moon, the scene was no less characteristic of the abodes of that race which has no parallel in other lands, and which, alas! is somewhat losing its native idiosyncrasies in this,—the stout country gentleman, not the fine gentleman of the country; the country gentleman somewhat softened and civilized from the mere sportsman or farmer, but still plain and homely; relinquishing the old hall for the drawing-room, and with books not three months old on his table, instead of Fox's "Martyrs" and Baker's "Chronicle," yet still retaining many a sacred old prejudice, that, like the knots in his native oak, rather adds to the ornament of the grain than takes from the strength of the tree. Opposite to the window, the high chimneypiece rose to the heavy cornice of the ceiling, with dark panels glistening against the moonlight. The broad and rather clumsy chintz sofas and settees of the reign of George III. contrasted at intervals with the tall-backed chairs of a far more distant generation, when ladies in fardingales and gentlemen in trunk-hose seem never to have indulged in horizontal positions. The walls, of shining wainscot, were thickly covered, chiefly with family pictures; though now and then some Dutch fair or battle-piece showed that a former proprietor had been less exclusive in his taste for the arts. The pianoforte stood open near the fireplace; a long dwarf bookcase at the far end added its sober smile to the room. That bookcase contained what was called "The Lady's Library,"—a collection commenced by the squire's grandmother, of pious memory, and completed by his mother, who had more taste for the lighter letters, with but little addition from the bibliomaniac tendencies of the present Mrs. Hazeldean, who, being no great reader, contented herself with subscribing to the Book Club. In this feminine Bodleian, the sermons collected by Mrs. Hazeldean, the grandmother, stood cheek-by-jowl beside the novels purchased by Mrs. Hazeldean, the mother,—
"Mixtaque ridenti colocasia fundet acantho!"
But, to be sure, the novels, in spite of very inflammatory titles, such as "Fatal Sensibility," "Errors of the Heart," etc., were so harmless that I doubt if the sermons could have had much to say against their next-door neighbours,—and that is all that can be expected by the best of us.
A parrot dozing on his perch; some goldfish fast asleep in their glass bowl; two or three dogs on the rug, and Flimsey, Miss Jemima's spaniel, curled into a ball on the softest sofa; Mrs. Hazeldean's work-table rather in disorder, as if it had been lately used; the "St. James's Chronicle" dangling down from a little tripod near the squire's armchair; a high screen of gilt and stamped leather fencing off the card-table,—all these, dispersed about a room large enough to hold them all and not seem crowded, offered many a pleasant resting-place for the eye, when it turned from the world of nature to the home of man.
But see, Captain Barnabas, fortified by his fourth cup of tea, has at length summoned courage to whisper to Mrs. Hazeldean, "Don't you think the parson will be impatient for his rubber?" Mrs. Hazeldean glanced at the parson and smiled; but she gave the signal to the captain, and the bell was rung, lights were brought in, the curtains let down; in a few moments more, the group had collected round the cardtable. The best of us are but human—that is not a new truth, I confess, but yet people forget it every day of their lives—and I dare say there are many who are charitably thinking at this very moment that my parson ought not to be playing at whist. All I can say to those rigid disciplinarians is, "Every man has his favourite sin: whist was Parson Dale's!—ladies and gentlemen, what is yours?" In truth, I must not set up my poor parson, nowadays, as a pattern parson,—it is enough to have one pattern in a village no bigger than Hazeldean, and we all know that Lenny Fairfield has bespoken that place, and got the patronage of the stocks for his emoluments! Parson Dale was ordained, not indeed so very long ago, but still at a time when Churchmen took it a great deal more easily than they do now. The elderly parson of that day played his rubber as a matter of course, the middle-aged parson was sometimes seen riding to cover (I knew a schoolmaster, a doctor of divinity, and an excellent man, whose pupils were chiefly taken from the highest families in England, who hunted regularly three times a week during the season), and the young parson would often sing a capital song—not composed by David—and join in those rotatory dances, which certainly David never danced before the ark.
Does it need so long an exordium to excuse thee, poor Parson Dale, for turning up that ace of spades with so triumphant a smile at thy partner? I must own that nothing which could well add to the parson's offence was wanting. In the first place, he did not play charitably, and merely to oblige other people. He delighted in the game, he rejoiced in the game, his whole heart was in the game,—neither was he indifferent to the mammon of the thing, as a Christian pastor ought to have been. He looked very sad when he took his shillings out of his purse, and exceedingly pleased when he put the shillings that had just before belonged to other people into it. Finally, by one of those arrangements common with married people who play at the same table, 'Mr. and—Mrs. Hazeldean were invariably partners, and no two people could play worse; while Captain Barnabas, who had played at Graham's with honour and profit, necessarily became partner to Parson Dale, who himself played a good steady parsonic game. So that, in strict truth, it was hardly fair play; it was almost swindling,—the combination of these two great dons against that innocent married couple! Mr. Dale, it is true, was aware of this disproportion of force, and had often proposed either to change partners or to give odds,—propositions always scornfully scouted by the squire and his lady, so that the parson was obliged to pocket his conscience, together with the ten points which made his average winnings.
The strangest thing in the world is the different way in which whist affects the temper. It is no test of temper, as some pretend,—not at all! The best-tempered people in the world grow snappish at whist; and I have seen the most testy and peevish in the ordinary affairs of life bear their losses with the stoicism of Epictetus. This was notably manifested in the contrast between the present adversaries of the Hall and the Rectory. The squire, who was esteemed as choleric a gentleman as most in the county, was the best-humoured fellow you could imagine when you set him down to whist opposite the sunny face of his wife. You never heard one of those incorrigible blunderers scold each other; on the contrary, they only laughed when they threw away the game, with four by honours in their hands. The utmost that was ever said was a "Well, Harry, that was the oddest trump of yours. Ho, ho, ho!" or a "Bless me, Hazeldean—why, they made three tricks in clubs, and you had the ace in your hand all the time! Ha, ha, ha!"
Upon which occasions Captain Barnabas, with great goodhumour, always echoed both the squire's Ho, ho, ho! and Mrs. Hazeldean's Ha, ha, ha!
Not so the parson. He had so keen and sportsmanlike an interest in the game, that even his adversaries' mistakes ruffled him. And you would hear him, with elevated voice and agitated gestures, laying down the law, quoting Hoyle, appealing to all the powers of memory and common-sense against the very delinquencies by which he was enriched,—a waste of eloquence that always heightened the hilarity of Mr. and Mrs. Hazeldean. While these four were thus engaged, Mrs. Dale, who had come with her husband despite her headache, sat on the sofa beside Miss Jemima, or rather beside Miss Jemima's Flimsey, which had already secured the centre of the sofa, and snarled at the very idea of being disturbed. And Master Frank—at a table by himself—was employed sometimes in looking at his pumps and sometimes at Gilray's Caricatures, which his mother had provided for his intellectual requirements. Mrs. Dale, in her heart, liked Miss Jemima better than Mrs. Hazeldean, of whom she was rather in awe, notwithstanding they had been little girls together, and occasionally still called each other Harry and Carry. But those tender diminutives belonged to the "Dear" genus, and were rarely employed by the ladies, except at times when, had they been little girls still, and the governess out of the way, they would have slapped and pinched each other. Mrs. Dale was still a very pretty woman, as Mrs. Hazeldean was still a very fine woman. Mrs. Dale painted in water-colours, and sang, and made card-racks and penholders, and was called an "elegant, accomplished woman;" Mrs. Hazeldean cast up the squire's accounts, wrote the best part of his letters, kept a large establishment in excellent order, and was called "a clever, sensible woman." Mrs. Dale had headaches and nerves; Mrs. Hazeldean had neither nerves nor headaches. Mrs. Dale said, "Harry had no real harm in her, but was certainly very masculine;" Mrs. Hazeldean said, "Carry would be a good creature but for her airs and graces." Mrs. Dale said Mrs. Hazeldean was "just made to be a country squire's lady;" Mrs. Hazeldean said, "Mrs. Dale was the last person in the world who ought to have been a parson's wife." Carry, when she spoke of Harry to a third person, said, "Dear Mrs. Hazeldean;" Harry, when she referred incidentally to Carry, said, "Poor Mrs. Dale." And now the reader knows why Mrs. Hazeldean called Mrs. Dale "poor,"—at least as well as I do. For, after all, the word belonged to that class in the female vocabulary which may be called "obscure significants," resembling the Konx Ompax, which hath so puzzled the inquirers into the Eleusinian Mysteries: the application is rather to be illustrated than the meaning to be exactly explained.
"That's really a sweet little dog of yours, Jemima," said Mrs. Dale, who was embroidering the word CAROLINE on the border of a cambric pocket handkerchief; but edging a little farther off, as she added, "he'll not bite, will he?"
"Dear me, no!" said Miss Jemima; "but" (she added in a confidential whisper) "don't say he,—'t is a lady dog!"
"Oh," said Mrs. Dale, edging off still farther, as if that confession of the creature's sex did not serve to allay her apprehensions,—"oh, then, you carry your aversion to the gentlemen even to lap-dogs,—that is being consistent indeed, Jemima!"
MISS JEMIMA.—"I had a gentleman dog once,—a pug!—pugs are getting very scarce now. I thought he was so fond of me—he snapped at every one else; the battles I fought for him! Well, will you believe—I had been staying with my friend Miss Smilecox at Cheltenham. Knowing that William is so hasty, and his boots are so thick, I trembled to think what a kick might do. So, on coming here I left Bluff—that was his name—with Miss Smilecox." (A pause.)
MRS. DALE (looking up languidly).—"Well, my love?"
MISS JEMIMA.—"Will you believe it, I say, when I returned to Cheltenham, only three months afterwards, Miss Smilecox had seduced his affections from me, and the ungrateful creature did not even know me again? A pug, too—yet people say pugs are faithful! I am sure they ought to be, nasty things! I have never had a gentleman dog since,—they are all alike, believe me, heartless, selfish creatures."
MRS. DALE.—"Pugs? I dare say they are!"
MISS JEMIMA (with spirit).-"MEN!—I told you it was a gentleman dog!"
MRS. DALE (apologetically).—"True, my love, but the whole thing was so mixed up!"
MISS JEMIMA.—"You saw that cold-blooded case of Breach of Promise of Marriage in the papers,—an old wretch, too, of sixty-four. No age makes them a bit better. And when one thinks that the end of all flesh is approaching, and that—"
MRS. DALE (quickly, for she prefers Miss Jemima's other hobby to that black one upon which she is preparing to precede the bier of the universe).—"Yes, my love, we'll avoid that subject, if you please. Mr. Dale has his own opinions, and it becomes me, you know, as a parson's wife" (said smilingly: Mrs. Dale has as pretty a dimple as any of Miss Jemima's, and makes more of that one than Miss Jemima of three), "to agree with him,—that is, in theology."
MISS JEMIMA (earnestly).—"But the thing is so clear, if you will but look into—"
MRS. DALE (putting her hand on Miss Jemima's lips playfully).—"Not a word more. Pray, what do you think of the squire's tenant at the Casino, Signor Riccabocca? An interesting creature, is he not?"
MISS JEMIMA.—"Interesting! not to me. Interesting? Why is he interesting?"
Mrs. Dale is silent, and turns her handkerchief in her pretty little white hands, appearing to contemplate the R in Caroline.
MISS JEMIMA (half pettishly, half coaxingly).—"Why is he interesting? I scarcely ever looked at him; they say he smokes, and never eats. Ugly, too!"
MRS. DALE.—"Ugly,—no. A fine bead,—very like Dante's; but what is beauty?"
MISS JEMIMA.—"Very true: what is it indeed? Yes, as you say, I think there is something interesting about him; he looks melancholy, but that may be because he is poor."
MRS. DALE.—"It is astonishing how little one feels poverty when one loves. Charles and I were very poor once,—before the squire—" Mrs. Dale paused, looked towards the squire, and murmured a blessing, the warmth of which brought tears into her eyes. "Yes," she added, after a pause, "we were very poor, but we were happy even then,—more thanks to Charles than to me;" and tears from a new source again dimmed those quick, lively eyes, as the little woman gazed fondly on her husband, whose brows were knit into a black frown over a bad hand.
MISS JEMIMA.—"It is only those horrid men who think of money as a source of happiness. I should be the last person to esteem a gentleman less because he was poor."
MRS. DALE.—"I wonder the squire does not ask Signor Riccabocca here more often. Such an acquisition we find him!"
The squire's voice from the card-table.—"Whom ought I to ask more often, Mrs. Dale?"
Parson's voice, impatiently.—"Come, come, come, squire: play to my queen of diamonds,—do!"
SQUIRE.—"There, I trump it! pick up the trick, Mrs. H."
PARSON.—"Stop! Stop! trump my diamond?"
THE CAPTAIN (solemnly).—"'Trick turned; play on, Squire."
SQUIRE.—"The king of diamonds."
MRS. HAZELDEAN.—"Lord! Hazeldean, why, that's the most barefaced revoke,—ha, ha, ha! trump the queen of diamonds and play out the king! well, I never! ha, ha, ha!"
CAPTAIN BARNABAS (in tenor).—"Ha, ha, ha!"
SQUIRE.—"Ho, ho, ho! bless my soul! ho, ho, ho!"
CAPTAIN BARNABAS (in bass).—"Ho, ho, ho!"
Parson's voice raised, but drowned by the laughter of his adversaries and the firm, clear tone of Captain Barnabas.—"Three to our score!—game!"
SQUIRE (wiping his eyes).—"No help for it; Harry, deal for me. Whom ought I to ask, Mrs. Dale?" (Waxing angry.) "First time I ever heard the hospitality of Hazeldean called in question!"
MRS. DALE.—"My dear sir, I beg a thousand pardons, but listeners—you know the proverb."
SQUIRE (growling like a bear).—"I hear nothing but proverbs ever since we had that Mounseer among us. Please to speak plainly, ma'am."
Mrs. DALE (sliding into a little temper at being thus roughly accosted).—"It was of Mounseer, as you call him, that I spoke, Mr. Hazeldean."
MRS. DALE (attempting the pure Italian accentuation).—"Signor Riccabocca."
PARSON (slapping his cards on the table in despair).—"Are we playing at whist, or are we not?"
The squire, who is fourth player, drops the king to Captain Higginbotham's lead of the ace of hearts. Now the captain has left queen, knave, and two other hearts, four trumps to the queen, and nothing to win a trick with in the two other suits. This hand is therefore precisely one of those in which, especially after the fall of that king of hearts in the adversary's hand, it becomes a matter of reasonable doubt whether to lead trumps or not. The captain hesitates, and not liking to play out his good hearts with the certainty of their being trumped by the squire, nor, on the other hand, liking to open the other suits, in which he has not a card that can assist his partner, resolves, as becomes a military man in such dilemma, to make a bold push and lead out trumps in the chance of finding his partner strong and so bringing in his long suit.
SQUIRE (taking advantage of the much meditating pause made by the captain).—"Mrs. Dale, it is not my fault. I have asked Rickeybockey,—time out of mind. But I suppose I am not fine enough for those foreign chaps. He'll not come,—that's all I know."
PARSON (aghast at seeing the captain play out trumps, of which he, Mr. Dale, has only two, wherewith he expects to ruff the suit of spades, of which he has only one, the cards all falling in suits, while he has not a single other chance of a trick in his hand).—"Really, Squire, we had better give up playing if you put out my partner in this extraordinary way,—jabber, jabber, jabber!"
SQUIRE.—"Well, we must be good children, Harry. What!—trumps, Barney? Thank ye for that!" And the squire might well be grateful, for the unfortunate adversary has led up to ace king knave, with two other trumps. Squire takes the parson's ten with his knave, and plays out ace king; then, having cleared all the trumps except the captain's queen and his own remaining two, leads off tierce major in that very suit of spades of which the parson has only one,—and the captain, indeed, but two,—forces out the captain's queen, and wins the game in a canter.
PARSON (with a look at the captain which might have become the awful brows of Jove, when about to thunder).—"That, I suppose, is the new-fashioned London play! In my time the rule was, 'First save the game, then try to win it.'"
CAPTAIN.—"Could not save it, sir."
PARSON (exploding)—"Not save it!—two ruffs in my own hand,—two tricks certain till you took them out! Monstrous! The rashest trump."—Seizes the cards, spreads them on the table, lip quivering, hands trembling, tries to show how five tricks could have been gained,—N.B. It is short whist which Captain Barnabas had introduced at the Hall,—can't make out more than four; Captain smiles triumphantly; Parson in a passion, and not at all convinced, mixes all the cards together again, and falling back in his chair, groans, with tears in his voice.—"The cruellest trump! the most wanton cruelty!"
The Hazeldeans in chorus.—"Ho, ho, ho! Ha, ha, ha!" The captain, who does not laugh this time, and whose turn it is to deal, shuffles the cards for the conquering game of the rubber with as much caution and prolixity as Fabius might have employed in posting his men. The squire gets up to stretch his legs, and, the insinuation against his hospitality recurring to his thoughts, calls out to his wife, "Write to Rickeybockey to-morrow yourself, Harry, and ask him to come and spend two or three days here. There, Mrs. Dale, you hear me?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Dale, putting her hands to her ears in implied rebuke at the loudness of the squire's tone. "My dear sir, do remember that I'm a sad nervous creature."
"Beg pardon," muttered Mr. Hazeldean, turning to his son, who having got tired of the caricatures, had fished out for himself the great folio County History, which was the only book in the library that the squire much valued, and which he usually kept under lock and key, in his study, together with the field-books and steward's accounts, but which he had reluctantly taken into the drawing-room that day, in order to oblige Captain Higginbotham. For the Higginbothams—an old Saxon family, as the name evidently denotes—had once possessed lands in that very county; and the captain, during his visits to Hazeldean Hall, was regularly in the habit of asking to look into the County History, for the purpose of refreshing his eyes, and renovating his sense of ancestral dignity, with the following paragraph therein:
To the left of the village of Dunder, and pleasantly situated in a hollow, lies Botham Hall, the residence of the ancient family of Higginbotham, as it is now commonly called. Yet it appears by the county rolls, and sundry old deeds, that the family formerly styled itself Higges, till the Manor House lying in Botham, they gradually assumed the appellation of Higges-in-Botham, and in process of time, yielding to the corruptions of the vulgar, Higginbotham."
"What, Frank! my County History!" cried the squire. "Mrs. H., he has got my County History!"
"Well, Hazeldean, it is time he should know something about the county."
"Ay, and history too," said Mrs. Dale, malevolently, for the little temper was by no means blown over.
FRANK.—"I'll not hurt it, I assure you, sir. But I'm very much interested just at present."
THE CAPTAIN (putting down the cards to cut).—"You've got hold of that passage about Botham Hall, page 706, eh?"
FRANK.—"No; I was trying to make out how far it is to Mr. Leslie's place, Rood Hall. Do you know, Mother?"
MRS. HAZELDEAN.—"I can't say I do. The Leslies don't mix with the county; and Rood lies very much out of the way."
FRANK.—"Why don't they mix with the county?"
MRS. HAZELDEAN.—"I believe they are poor, and therefore I suppose they are proud; they are an old family."
PARSON (thrumming on the table with great impatience).—"Old fiddle-dee!—talking of old families when the cards have been shuffled this half-hour!"
CAPTAIN BARNABAS.—"Will you cut for your partner, ma'am?"
SQUIRE (who has been listening to Frank's inquiries with a musing air).—"Why do you want to know the distance to Rood Hall?"
FRANK (rather hesitatingly).—"Because Randal Leslie is there for the holidays, sir."
PARSON.—"Your wife has cut for you, Mr. Hazeldean. I don't think it was quite fair; and my partner has turned up a deuce,—deuce of hearts. Please to come and play, if you mean to play."
The squire returns to the table, and in a few minutes the game is decided by a dexterous finesse of the captain against the Hazeldeans. The clock strikes ten; the servants enter with a tray; the squire counts up his own and his wife's losings; and the captain and parson divide sixteen shillings between them.
SQUIRE.—"There, Parson, I hope you'll be in a better humour. You win enough out of us to set up a coach-and-four."
"Tut!" muttered the parson; "at the end of the year, I'm not a penny the richer for it all."
And, indeed, monstrous as that assertion seemed, it was perfectly true, for the parson portioned out his gains into three divisions. One-third he gave to Mrs. Dale, for her own special pocket-money; what became of the second third he never owned even to his better half,—but certain it was, that every time the parson won seven-and-sixpence, half-a-crown, which nobody could account for, found its way to the poor-box; while the remaining third, the parson, it is true, openly and avowedly retained; but I have no manner of doubt that, at the year's end, it got to the poor quite as safely as if it had been put into the box.
The party had now gathered round the tray, and were helping themselves to wine and water, or wine without water,—except Frank, who still remained poring over the map in the County History, with his head leaning on his hands, and his fingers plunged in his hair.
"Frank," said Mrs. Hazeldean, "I never saw you so studious before."
Frank started up and coloured, as if ashamed of being accused of too much study in anything.
SQUIRE (with a little embarrassment in his voice).—"Pray, Frank, what do you know of Randal Leslie?"
"Why, sir, he is at Eton."
"What sort of a boy is he?" asked Mrs. Hazeldean.
Frank hesitated, as if reflecting, and then answered, "They say he is the cleverest boy in the school. But then he saps."
"In other words," said Mr. Dale, with proper parsonic gravity, "he understands that he was sent to school to learn his lessons, and he learns them. You call that sapping? call it doing his duty. But pray, who and what is this Randal Leslie, that you look so discomposed, Squire?"
"Who and what is he?" repeated the squire, in a low growl. "Why, you know Mr. Audley Egerton married Miss Leslie, the great heiress; and this boy is a relation of hers. I may say," added the squire, "that he is a near relation of mine, for his grandmother was a Hazeldean; but all I know about the Leslies is, that Mr. Egerton, as I am told, having no children of his own, took up young Randal (when his wife died, poor woman), pays for his schooling, and has, I suppose, adopted the boy as his heir. Quite welcome. Frank and I want nothing from Mr. Audley Egerton, thank Heaven!"
"I can well believe in your brother's generosity to his wife's kindred," said the parson, sturdily, "for I am sure Mr. Egerton is a man of strong feeling."
"What the deuce do you know about Mr. Egerton? I don't suppose you could ever have even spoken to him."
"Yes," said the parson, colouring up, and looking confused. "I had some conversation with him once;" and observing the squire's surprise, he added—"when I was curate at Lansmere, and about a painful business connected with the family of one of my parishioners."
"Oh, one of your parishioners at Lansmere,—one of the constituents Mr. Audley Egerton threw over, after all the pains I had taken to get him his seat. Rather odd you should never have mentioned this before, Mr. Dale!"
"My dear sir," said the parson, sinking his voice, and in a mild tone of conciliatory expostulation, "you are so irritable whenever Mr. Egerton's name is mentioned at all."
"Irritable!" exclaimed the squire, whose wrath had been long simmering, and now fairly boiled over,—"irritable, sir! I should think so: a man for whom I stood godfather at the hustings, Mr. Dale! a man for whose sake I was called a 'prize ox,' Mr. Dale! a man for whom I was hissed in a market-place, Mr. Dale! a man for whom I was shot at, in cold blood, by an officer in His Majesty's service, who lodged a ball in my right shoulder, Mr. Dale! a man who had the ingratitude, after all this, to turn his back on the landed interest,—to deny that there was any agricultural distress in a year which broke three of the best farmers I ever had, Mr. Dale!—a man, sir, who made a speech on the Currency which was complimented by Ricardo, a Jew! Good heavens! a pretty parson you are, to stand up for a fellow complimented by a Jew! Nice ideas you must have of Christianity! Irritable, sir!" now fairly roared the squire, adding to the thunder of his voice the cloud of a brow, which evinced a menacing ferocity that might have done honour to Bussy d'Amboise or Fighting Fitzgerald. "Sir, if that man had not been my own half-brother, I'd have called him out. I have stood my ground before now. I have had a ball in my right shoulder. Sir, I'd have called him out."
"Mr. Hazeldean! Mr. Hazeldean! I'm shocked at you," cried the parson; and, putting his lips close to the squire's ear, he went on in a whisper, "What an example to your son! You'll have him fighting duels one of these days, and nobody to blame but yourself."
This warning cooled Mr. Hazeldean; and muttering, "Why the deuce did you set me off?" he fell back into his chair, and began to fan himself with his pocket-handkerchief.
The parson skilfully and remorselessly pursued the advantage he had gained. "And now that you may have it in your power to show civility and kindness to a boy whom Mr. Egerton has taken up, out of respect to his wife's memory,—a kinsman, you say, of your own, and who has never offended you,—a boy whose diligence in his studies proves him to be an excellent companion to your son-Frank" (here the parson raised his voice), "I suppose you would like to call on young Leslie, as you were studying the county map so attentively."
"Yes, yes," answered Frank, rather timidly, "if my father does not object to it. Leslie has been very kind tome, though he is in the sixth form, and, indeed, almost the head of the school."
"Ah!" said Mrs. Hazeldean, "one studious boy has a fellow feeling for another; and though you enjoy your holidays, Frank, I am sure you read hard at school."
Mrs. Dale opened her eyes very wide, and stared in astonishment.
Mrs. Hazeldean retorted that look, with great animation. "Yes, Carry," said she, tossing her head, "though you may not think Frank clever, his masters find him so. He got a prize last half. That beautiful book, Frank—hold up your head, my love—what did you get it for?"
FRANK (reluctantly).—"Verses, ma'am."
MRS. HAZELDEAN (with triumph).—"Verses!—there, Carry, verses!"
FRANK (in a hurried tone).—"Yes, but Leslie wrote them for me."
MRS. HAZELDEAN (recoiling).—"O Frank! a prize for what another did for you—that was mean."
FRANK (ingenuously).—"You can't be more ashamed, Mother, than I was when they gave me the prize."
MRS. DALE (though previously provoked at being snubbed by Harry, now showing the triumph of generosity over temper).—"I beg your pardon, Frank. Your mother must be as proud of that shame as she was of the prize."
Mrs. Hazeldean puts her arm round Frank's neck, smiles beamingly on Mrs. Dale, and converses with her son in a low tone about Randal Leslie. Miss Jemima now approached Carry, and said in an "aside," "But we are forgetting poor Mr. Riccabocca. Mrs. Hazeldean, though the dearest creature in the world, has such a blunt way of inviting people—don't you think if you were to say a word to him, Carry?"
MRS. DALE (kindly, as she wraps her shawl round her).—"Suppose you write the note yourself? Meanwhile I shall see him, no doubt."
PARSON (putting his hand on the squire's shoulder).—"You forgive my impertinence, my kind friend. We parsons, you know, are apt to take strange liberties, when we honour and love folks as I do."
"Fish," said the squire; but his hearty smile came to his lips in spite of himself. "You always get your own way, and I suppose Frank must ride over and see this pet of my—"
"Brother's," quoth the parson, concluding the sentence in a tone which gave to the sweet word so sweet a sound that the squire would not correct the parson, as he had been about to correct himself.
Mr. Dale moved on; but as he passed Captain Barnabas, the benignant character of his countenance changed sadly. "The cruellest trump, Captain Higginbotham!" said he sternly, and stalked by-majestic.
The night was so fine that the parson and his wife, as they walked home, made a little detour through the shrubbery.
MRS. DALE.—"I think I have done a good piece of work to-night."
PARSON (rousing himself from a revery).—"Have you, Carry?—it will be a very pretty handkerchief."
MRS. DALE.—"Handkerchief?—nonsense, dear. Don't you think it would be a very happy thing for both if Jemima and Signor Riccabocca could be brought together?"
MRS. DALE.—"You do snap up one so, my dear; I mean if I could make a match of it."
PARSON.—"I think Riccabocca is a match already, not only for Jemima, but yourself into the bargain."
MRS. DALE (smiling loftily).—"Well, we shall see. Was not Jemima's fortune about L4000?"
PARSON (dreamily, for he is relapsing fast into his interrupted revery).—"Ay—ay—I dare say."
MRS. DALE.—"And she must have saved! I dare say it is nearly L6000 by this time; eh! Charles dear, you really are so—good gracious, what's that!"
As Mrs. Dale made this exclamation, they had just emerged from the shrubbery into the village green.
MRS. DALE (pinching her husband's arm very nippingly). "That thing—there—there."
PARSON.—"Only the new stocks, Carry; I don't wonder they frighten you, for you are a very sensible woman. I only wish they would frighten the squire."
[Supposed to be a letter from Mrs. Hazeldean to A. Riccabocca, Esq., The Casino; but, edited, and indeed composed, by Miss Jemima Hazeldean.] HAZELDEAN HALL.
DEAR SIR,—To a feeling heart it must always be painful to give pain to another, and (though I am sure unconsciously) you have given the greatest pain to poor Mr. Hazeldean and myself, indeed to all our little circle, in so cruelly refusing our attempts to become better acquainted with a gentleman we so highly ESTEEM. Do, pray, dear sir, make us the amende honorable, and give us the pleasure of your company for a few days at the Hall. May we expect you Saturday next?—our dinner hour is six o'clock.
With the best compliments of Mr. and Miss Jemima Hazeldean, believe me, my dear sir,
Yours truly, H. H.
Miss Jemima having carefully sealed this note, which Mrs. Hazeldean had very willingly deputed her to write, took it herself into the stable-yard, in order to give the groom proper instructions to wait for an answer. But while she was speaking to the man, Frank, equipped for riding, with more than his usual dandyism, came into the yard, calling for his pony in a loud voice; and singling out the very groom whom Miss Jemima was addressing—for, indeed, he was the smartest of all in the squire's stables—told him to saddle the gray pad and accompany the pony.
"No, Frank," said Miss Jemima, "you can't have George; your father wants him to go on a message,—you can take Mat."
"Mat, indeed!" said Frank, grumbling with some reason; for Mat was a surly old fellow, who tied a most indefensible neckcloth, and always contrived to have a great patch on his boots,—besides, he called Frank "Master," and obstinately refused to trot down hill,—"Mat, indeed! let Mat take the message, and George go with me."
But Miss Jemima had also her reasons for rejecting Mat. Mat's foible was not servility, and he always showed true English independence in all houses where he was not invited to take his ale in the servants' hall. Mat might offend Signor Riccabocca, and spoil all. An animated altercation ensued, in the midst of which the squire and his wife entered the yard, with the intention of driving in the conjugal gig to the market town. The matter was referred to the natural umpire by both the contending parties.
The squire looked with great contempt on his son. "And what do you want a groom at all for? Are you afraid of tumbling off the pony?"
FRANK.—"No, Sir; but I like to go as a gentleman, when I pay a visit to a gentleman!"
SQUIRE (in high wrath).—"You precious puppy! I think I'm as good a gentleman as you any day, and I should like to know when you ever saw me ride to call on a neighbour with a fellow jingling at my heels, like that upstart Ned Spankie, whose father kept a cotton mill. First time I ever heard of a Hazeldean thinking a livery coat was necessary to prove his gentility!"
MRS. HAZELDEAN (observing Frank colouring, and about to reply).—"Hush, Frank, never answer your father,—and you are going to call on Mr. Leslie?"
"Yes, ma'am, and I am very much obliged to my father for letting me," said Frank, taking the squire's hand.
"Well, but, Frank," continued Mrs. Hazeldean, "I think you heard that the Leslies were very poor."
MRS. HAZELDEAN.—"And would you run the chance of wounding the pride of a gentleman as well born as yourself by affecting any show of being richer than he is?"
SQUIRE (with great admiration).—"Harry, I'd give L10 to have said that!"
FRANK (leaving the squire's hand to take his mother's).—"You're quite right, Mother; nothing could be more snobbish!"
SQUIRE. "Give us your fist, too, sir; you'll be a chip of the old block, after all."
Frank smiled, and walked off to his pony.
MRS. HAZELDEAN (to Miss Jemima).—"Is that the note you were to write for me?"
MISS JEMIMA.—"Yes; I supposed you did not care about seeing it, so I have sealed it, and given it to George."
MRS. HAZELDEAN.—"But Frank will pass close by the Casino on his way to the Leslies'. It may be more civil if he leaves the note himself."
MISS JEMIMA (hesitatingly).—"Do you think so?"
MRS. HAZELDEAN.—"Yes, certainly. Frank, Frank, as you pass by the Casino, call on Mr. Riccabocca, give this note, and say we shall be heartily glad if he will come." Frank nods.
"Stop a bit," cried the squire. "If Rickeybockey is at home, 't is ten to one if he don't ask you to take a glass of wine! If he does, mind, 't is worse than asking you to take a turn on the rack. Faugh! you remember, Harry?—I thought it was all up with me."
"Yes," cried Mrs. Hazeldean; "for Heaven's sake not a drop. Wine, indeed!"
"Don't talk of it," cried the squire, making a wry face.
"I'll take care, Sir!" said Frank, laughing as he disappeared within the stable, followed by Miss Jemima, who now coaxingly makes it up with him, and does not leave off her admonitions to be extremely polite to the poor foreign gentleman till Frank gets his foot into the stirrup, and the pony, who knows whom he has got to deal with, gives a preparatory plunge or two, and then darts out of the yard.
INFORMING THE READER HOW THIS WORK CAME TO HAVE INITIAL CHAPTERS.
"There can't be a doubt," said my father, "that to each of the main divisions of your work—whether you call them Books or Parts—you should prefix an Initial or Introductory Chapter."
PISISTRATUS.—"Can't be a doubt, sir? Why so?"
MR. CAXTON.—"Fielding lays it down as an indispensable rule, which he supports by his example; and Fielding was an artistical writer, and knew what he was about."
PISISTRATUS.—"Do you remember any of his reasons, sir?"
MR. CAXTON.—"Why, indeed, Fielding says, very justly, that he is not bound to assign any reason; but he does assign a good many, here and there,—to find which I refer you to 'Tom Jones.' I will only observe, that one of his reasons, which is unanswerable, runs to the effect that thus, in every Part or Book, the reader has the advantage of beginning at the fourth or fifth page instead of the first,—'a matter by no means of trivial consequence,' saith Fielding, 'to persons who read books with no other view than to say they have read them,—a more general motive to reading than is commonly imagined; and from which not only law books and good books, but the pages of Homer and Virgil, Swift and Cervantes, have been often turned Over.' There," cried my father, triumphantly, "I will lay a shilling to twopence that I have quoted the very words."
MRS. CANTON.—"Dear me, that only means skipping; I don't see any great advantage in writing a chapter, merely for people to skip it."
PISISTRATUS.—"Neither do I!"
MR. CANTON (dogmatically).—"It is the repose in the picture,—Fielding calls it 'contrast.'—(Still more dogmatically.)—I say there can't be a doubt about it. Besides" added my father after a pause,—"besides, this usage gives you opportunities to explain what has gone before, or to prepare for what's coming; or, since Fielding contends, with great truth, that some learning is necessary for this kind of historical composition, it allows you, naturally and easily, the introduction of light and pleasant ornaments of that nature. At each flight in the terrace you may give the eye the relief of an urn or a statue. Moreover, when so inclined, you create proper pausing-places for reflection; and complete by a separate, yet harmonious ethical department, the design of a work, which is but a mere Mother Goose's tale if it does not embrace a general view of the thoughts and actions of mankind."
PISISTRATUS.—"But then, in these initial chapters, the author thrusts himself forward; and just when you want to get on with the dramatis personae, you find yourself face to face with the poet himself."
MR. CANTON.—"Pooh! you can contrive to prevent that! Imitate the chorus of the Greek stage, who fill up the intervals between the action by saying what the author would otherwise say in his own person."
PISISTRATUS (slyly).—"That's a good idea, sir,—and I have a chorus, and a choregus too, already in my eye."
MR. CANTON (unsuspectingly).—"Aha! you are not so dull a fellow as you would make yourself out to be; and, even if an author did thrust himself forward, what objection is there to that? It is a mere affectation to suppose that a book can come into the world without an author. Every child has a father,—one father at least,—as the great Conde says very well in his poem."
PISISTRATUS.—"The great Conde a poet! I never heard that before."
MR. CANTON.—"I don't say he was a poet, but he sent a poem to Madame de Montansier. Envious critics think that he must have paid somebody else to write it; but there is no reason why a great captain should not write a poem,—I don't say a good poem, but a poem. I wonder, Roland, if the duke ever tried his hand at 'Stanzas to Mary,' or 'Lines to a Sleeping Babe.'"
CAPTAIN ROLAND.—"Austin, I'm ashamed of you. Of course the duke could write poetry if he pleased,—something, I dare say, in the way of the great Conde; that is, something warlike and heroic, I'll be bound. Let's hear!"
MR. CAXTON (reciting).—
"Telle est du Ciel la loi severe Qu'il faut qu'un enfant ait un pere; On dit meme quelquefois Tel enfant en a jusqu'a trois."
["That each child has a father Is Nature's decree; But, to judge by a rumour, Some children have three."]
CAPTAIN ROLAND (greatly disgusted).—"Conde write such stuff!—I don't believe it."
PISISTRATUS.—"I do, and accept the quotations; you and Roland shall be joint fathers to my child as well as myself.
"'Tel enfant en a jusqu'a trois.'"
MR. CAXTON (solemnly).—"I refuse the proffered paternity; but so far as administering a little wholesome castigation now and then, I have no objection to join in the discharge of a father's duty."
PISISTRATUS.—"Agreed. Have you anything to say against the infant hitherto?"
MR. CAXTON.—"He is in long clothes at present; let us wait till he can walk."
BLANCHE.—"But pray whom do you mean for a hero? And is Miss Jemima your heroine?"
CAPTAIN ROLAND.—"There is some mystery about the—"
PISISTRATUS (hastily).-"Hush, Uncle: no letting the cat out of the bag yet. Listen, all of you! I left Frank Hazeldean on his way to the Casino."
"It is a sweet pretty place," thought Frank, as he opened the gate which led across the fields to the Casino, that smiled down upon him with its plaster pilasters. "I wonder, though, that my father, who is so particular in general, suffers the carriage-road to be so full of holes and weeds. Mounseer does not receive many visits, I take it."
But when Frank got into the ground immediately before the house, he saw no cause of complaint as to want of order and repair. Nothing could be kept more neatly. Frank was ashamed of the dint made by the pony's hoofs on the smooth gravel: he dismounted, tied the animal to the wicket, and went on foot towards the glass door in front.
He rang the bell once, twice, but nobody came, for the old woman-servant, who was hard of hearing, was far away in the yard, searching for any eggs which the hen might have scandalously hidden for culinary purposes; and Jackeymo was fishing for the sticklebacks and minnows which were, when caught, to assist the eggs, when found, in keeping together the bodies and souls of himself and his master. The old woman had been lately put upon board wages. Lucky old woman! Frank rang a third time, and with the impetuosity of his age. A face peeped from the belvidere on the terrace. "Diavolo!" said Dr. Riccabocca to himself. "Young cocks crow hard on their own dunghill; it must be a cock of a high race to crow so loud at another's."
Therewith he shambled out of the summer-house, and appeared suddenly before Frank, in a very wizard-like dressing-robe of black serge, a red cap on his head, and a cloud of smoke coming rapidly from his lips, as a final consolatory whiff, before he removed the pipe from them. Frank had indeed seen the doctor before, but never in so scholastic a costume, and he was a little startled by the apparition at his elbow, as he turned round.
"Signorino," said the Italian, taking off his cap with his usual urbanity, "pardon the negligence of my people; I am too happy to receive your commands in person."
"Dr. Rickeybockey?" stammered Frank, much confused by this polite address, and the low, yet stately, bow with which it was accompanied. "I—I have a note from the Hall. Mamma—that is, my mother—and aunt Jemima beg their best compliments, and hope you will come, sir."
The doctor took the note with another bow, and, opening the glass door, invited Frank to enter.
The young gentleman, with a schoolboy's usual bluntness, was about to say that he was in a hurry, and had rather not; but Dr. Riccabocca's grand manner awed him, while a glimpse of the hall excited his curiosity, so he silently obeyed the invitation.
The hall, which was of an octagon shape, had been originally panelled off into compartments, and in these the Italian had painted landscapes, rich with the warm sunny light of his native climate. Frank was no judge of the art displayed; but he was greatly struck with the scenes depicted: they were all views of some lake, real or imaginary; in all, dark-blue shining waters reflected dark-blue placid skies. In one, a flight of steps ascended to the lake, and a gay group was seen feasting on the margin; in another, sunset threw its rose-hues over a vast villa or palace, backed by Alpine hills, and flanked by long arcades of vines, while pleasure-boats skimmed over the waves below. In short, throughout all the eight compartments, the scene, though it differed in details, preserved the same general character, as if illustrating some favourite locality. The Italian did not, however, evince any desire to do the honours of his own art, but, preceding Frank across the hall, opened the door of his usual sitting-room, and requested him to enter. Frank did so rather reluctantly, and seated himself with unwonted bashfulness on the edge of a chair. But here new specimens of the doctor's handicraft soon riveted attention. The room had been originally papered, but Riccabocca had stretched canvas over the walls, and painted thereon sundry satirical devices, each separated from the other by scroll-works of fantastic arabesques. Here a Cupid was trundling a wheelbarrow full of hearts, which he appeared to be selling to an ugly old fellow, with a money-bag in his hand—probably Plutus. There Diogenes might be seen walking through a market-place, with his lantern in his hand, in search of an honest man, whilst the children jeered at him, and the curs snapped at his heels. In another place a lion was seen half dressed in a fox's hide, while a wolf in a sheep's mask was conversing very amicably with a young lamb. Here again might be seen the geese stretching out their necks from the Roman Capitol in full cackle, while the stout invaders were beheld in the distance, running off as hard as they could. In short, in all these quaint entablatures some pithy sarcasm was symbolically conveyed; only over the mantel piece was the design graver and more touching. It was the figure of a man in a pilgrim's garb, chained to the earth by small but innumerable ligaments, while a phantom likeness of himself, his shadow, was seen hastening down what seemed an interminable vista; and underneath were written the pathetic words of Horace—
"Patriae quis exul Se quoque fugit?"
["What exile from his country can also fly from himself?"]
The furniture of the room was extremely simple, and somewhat scanty; yet it was arranged so as to impart an air of taste and elegance to the room. Even a few plaster busts and statues, though bought but of some humble itinerant, had their classical effect, glistening from out stands of flowers that were grouped around them, or backed by graceful screen-works formed from twisted osiers, which, by the simple contrivance of trays at the bottom filled with earth, served for living parasitical plants, with gay flowers contrasting thick ivy leaves, and gave to the whole room the aspect of a bower. "May I ask your permission?" said the Italian, with his finger on the seal of the letter.
"Oh, yes," said Frank, with naivete.
Riccabocca broke the seal, and a slight smile stole over his countenance. Then he turned a little aside from Frank, shaded his face with his hand, and seemed to muse. "Mrs. Hazeldean," said he, at last, "does me very great honour. I hardly recognize her handwriting, or I should have been more impatient to open the letter." The dark eyes were lifted over the spectacles and went right into Frank's unprotected and undiplomatic heart. The doctor raised the note, and pointed to the characters with his forefinger.
"Cousin Jemima's hand," said Frank, as directly as if the question had been put to him.
The Italian smiled. "Mr. Hazeldean has company staying with him?"
"No; that is, only Barney,—the captain. There's seldom much company before the shooting season," added Frank, with a slight sigh; "and then, you know, the holidays are over. For my part, I think we ought to break up a month later."
The doctor seemed reassured by the first sentence in Frank's reply, and, seating himself at the table, wrote his answer,—not hastily, as we English write, but with care and precision, like one accustomed to weigh the nature of words,—in that stiff Italian hand, which allows the writer so much time to think while he forms his letters. He did not, therefore, reply at once to Frank's remark about the holidays, but was silent till he had concluded his note, read it three times over, sealed it by the taper he slowly lighted, and then, giving it to Frank, he said,
"For your sake, young gentleman, I regret that your holidays are so early; for mine, I must rejoice, since I accept the kind invitation you have rendered doubly gratifying by bringing it yourself."
"Deuce take the fellow and his fine speeches! One don't know which way to look," thought English Frank.
The Italian smiled again, as if this time he had read the boy's heart, without need of those piercing black eyes, and said, less ceremoniously than before, "You don't care much for compliments, young gentleman?"