"At all events, I have your word for it that you don't dislike me?" said Herbert.
"Oh! no," she sighed. She liked him as emigrants the land they are leaving.
"And you have not promised your hand?"
"No," she said, but sighed in thinking that if she could be induced to promise it, there would not be a word of leaving England.
"Then, as you are not engaged, and don't hate me, I have a chance?" he said, in the semi-wailful interrogative of an organ making a mere windy conclusion.
Ocean sent up a tiny wave at their feet.
"A day like this in winter is rarer than a summer day," Herbert resumed encouragingly.
Annette was replying, "People abuse our climate—"
But the thought of having to go out away from this climate in the darkness of exile, with her father to suffer under it worse than herself, overwhelmed her, and fetched the reality of her sorrow in the form of Tinman swimming before her soul with the velocity of a telegraph-pole to the window of the flying train. It was past as soon as seen, but it gave her a desperate sensation of speed.
She began to feel that this was life in earnest.
And Herbert should have been more resolute, fierier. She needed a strong will.
But he was not on the rapids of the masterful passion. For though going at a certain pace, it was by his own impulsion; and I am afraid I must, with many apologies, compare him to the skater—to the skater on easy, slippery ice, be it understood; but he could perform gyrations as he went, and he rather sailed along than dashed; he was careful of his figuring. Some lovers, right honest lovers, never get beyond this quaint skating-stage; and some ladies, a right goodly number in a foggy climate, deceived by their occasional runs ahead, take them for vessels on the very torrent of love. Let them take them, and let the race continue. Only we perceive that they are skating; they are careering over a smooth icy floor, and they can stop at a signal, with just half-a-yard of grating on the heel at the outside. Ice, and not fire nor falling water, has been their medium of progression.
Whether a man should unveil his own sex is quite another question. If we are detected, not solely are we done for, but our love-tales too. However, there is not much ground for anxiety on that head. Each member of the other party is blind on her own account.
To Annette the figuring of Herbert was graceful, but it did not catch her up and carry her; it hardly touched her: He spoke well enough to make her sorry for him, and not warmly enough to make her forget her sorrow for herself.
Herbert could obtain no explanation of the singularity of her conduct from Annette, and he went straight to her father, who was nearly as inexplicable for a time. At last he said:
"If you are ready to quit the country with us, you may have my consent."
"Why quit the country?" Herbert asked, in natural amazement.
Van Diemen declined to tell him.
But seeing the young man look stupefied and wretched he took a turn about the room, and said: "I have n't robbed," and after more turns, "I have n't murdered." He growled in his menagerie trot within the four walls. "But I'm, in a man's power. Will that satisfy you? You'll tell me, because I'm rich, to snap my fingers. I can't. I've got feelings. I'm in his power to hurt me and disgrace me. It's the disgrace—to my disgrace I say it—I dread most. You'd be up to my reason if you had ever served in a regiment. I mean, discipline—if ever you'd known discipline—in the police if you like—anything—anywhere where there's what we used to call spiny de cor. I mean, at school. And I'm," said Van Diemen, "a rank idiot double D. dolt, and flat as a pancake, and transparent as a pane of glass. You see through me. Anybody could. I can't talk of my botheration without betraying myself. What good am I among you sharp fellows in England?"
Language of this kind, by virtue of its unintelligibility, set Mr. Herbert Fellingham's acute speculations at work. He was obliged to lean on Van Diemen's assertion, that he had not robbed and had not murdered, to be comforted by the belief that he was not once a notorious bushranger, or a defaulting manager of mines, or any other thing that is naughtily Australian and kangarooly.
He sat at the dinner-table at Elba, eating like the rest of mankind, and looking like a starved beggarman all the while.
Annette, in pity of his bewilderment, would have had her father take him into their confidence. She suggested it covertly, and next she spoke of it to him as a prudent measure, seeing that Mr. Fellingham might find out his exact degree of liability. Van Diemen shouted; he betrayed himself in his weakness as she could not have imagined him. He was ready to go, he said—go on the spot, give up Elba, fly from Old England: what he could not do was to let his countrymen know what he was, and live among them afterwards. He declared that the fact had eternally been present to his mind, devouring him; and Annette remembered his kindness to the artillerymen posted along the shore westward of Crikswich, though she could recall no sign of remorse. Van Diemen said: "We have to do with Martin Tinman; that's one who has a hold on me, and one's enough. Leak out my secret to a second fellow, you double my risks." He would not be taught to see how the second might counteract the first. The singularity of the action of his character on her position was, that though she knew not a soul to whom she could unburden her wretchedness, and stood far more isolated than in her Australian home, fever and chill struck her blood in contemplation of the necessity of quitting England.
Deep, then, was her gratitude to dear good Mrs. Cavely for stepping in to mediate between her father and Mr. Tinman. And well might she be amazed to hear the origin of their recent dispute.
"It was," Mrs. Cavely said, "that Gippsland."
Annette cried: "What?"
"That Gippsland of yours, my dear. Your father will praise Gippsland whenever my Martin asks him to admire the beauties of our neighbourhood. Many a time has Martin come home to me complaining of it. We have no doubt on earth that Gippsland is a very fine place; but my brother has his idea's of dignity, you must know, and I only wish he had been more used to contradiction, you may believe me. He is a lamb by nature. And, as he says, 'Why underrate one's own country?' He cannot bear to hear boasting. Well! I put it to you, dear Annette, is he so unimportant a person? He asks to be respected, and especially by his dearest friend. From that to blows! It's the way with men. They begin about trifles, they drink, they quarrel, and one does what he is sorry for, and one says more than he means. All my Martin desires is to shake your dear father's hand, forgive and forget. To win your esteem, darling Annette, he would humble himself in the dust. Will you not help me to bring these two dear old friends together once more? It is unreasonable of your dear papa to go on boasting of Gippsland if he is so fond of England, now is it not? My brother is the offended party in the eye of the law. That is quite certain. Do you suppose he dreams of taking advantage of it? He is waiting at home to be told he may call on your father. Rank, dignity, wounded feelings, is nothing to him in comparison with friendship."
Annette thought of the blow which had felled him, and spoke the truth of her heart in saying, "He is very generous."
"You understand him." Mrs. Cavely pressed her hand. "We will both go to your dear father. He may," she added, not without a gleam of feminine archness, "praise Gippsland above the Himalayas to me. What my Martin so much objected to was, the speaking of Gippsland at all when there was mention of our Lake scenery. As for me, I know how men love to boast of things nobody else has seen."
The two ladies went in company to Van Diemen, who allowed himself to be melted. He was reserved nevertheless. His reception of Mr. Tinman displeased his daughter. Annette attached the blackest importance to a blow of the fist. In her mind it blazed fiendlike, and the man who forgave it rose a step or two on the sublime. Especially did he do so considering that he had it in his power to dismiss her father and herself from bright beaming England before she had looked on all the cathedrals and churches, the sea-shores and spots named in printed poetry, to say nothing of the nobility.
"Papa, you were not so kind to Mr. Tinman as I could have hoped," said Annette.
"Mart Tinman has me at his mercy, and he'll make me know it," her father returned gloomily. "He may let me off with the Commander-in-chief. He'll blast my reputation some day, though. I shall be hanging my head in society, through him."
Van Diemen imitated the disconsolate appearance of a gallows body, in one of those rapid flashes of spontaneous veri-similitude which spring of an inborn horror painting itself on the outside.
"A Deserter!" he moaned.
He succeeded in impressing the terrible nature of the stigma upon Annette's imagination.
The guest at Elba was busy in adding up the sum of his own impressions, and dividing it by this and that new circumstance; for he was totally in the dark. He was attracted by the mysterious interview of Mrs. Cavely and Annette. Tinman's calling and departing set him upon new calculations. Annette grew cold and visibly distressed by her consciousness of it.
She endeavoured to account for this variation of mood. "We have been invited to dine at the house on the beach to-morrow. I would not have accepted, but papa . . . we seemed to think it a duty. Of course the invitation extends to you. We fancy you do not greatly enjoy dining there. The table will be laid for you here, if you prefer."
Herbert preferred to try the skill of Mrs. Crickledon.
Now, for positive penetration the head prepossessed by a suspicion is unmatched; for where there is no daylight; this one at least goes about with a lantern. Herbert begged Mrs. Crickledon to cook a dinner for him, and then to give the right colour to his absence from the table of Mr. Tinman, he started for a winter day's walk over the downs as sharpening a business as any young fellow, blunt or keen, may undertake; excellent for men of the pen, whether they be creative, and produce, or slaughtering, and review; good, then, for the silly sheep of letters and the butchers. He sat down to Mrs. Crickledon's table at half-past six. She was, as she had previously informed him, a forty-pound-a-year cook at the period of her courting by Crickledon. That zealous and devoted husband had made his first excursion inland to drop over the downs to the great house, and fetch her away as his bride, on the death of her master, Sir Alfred Pooney, who never would have parted with her in life; and every day of that man's life he dirtied thirteen plates at dinner, nor more, nor less, but exactly that number, as if he believed there was luck in it. And as Crickledon said, it was odd. But it was always a pleasure to cook for him. Mrs. Crickledon could not abide cooking for a mean eater. And when Crickledon said he had never seen an acorn, he might have seen one had he looked about him in the great park, under the oaks, on the day when he came to be married.
"Then it's a standing compliment to you, Mrs. Crickledon, that he did not," said Herbert.
He remarked with the sententiousness of enforced philosophy, that no wine was better than bad wine.
Mrs. Crickledon spoke of a bottle left by her summer lodgers, who had indeed left two, calling the wine invalid's wine; and she and her husband had opened one on the anniversary of their marriage day in October. It had the taste of doctor's shop, they both agreed; and as no friend of theirs could be tempted beyond a sip, they were advised, because it was called a tonic, to mix it with the pig-wash, so that it should not be entirely lost, but benefit the constitution of the pig. Herbert sipped at the remaining bottle, and finding himself in the superior society of an old Manzanilla, refilled his glass.
"Nothing I knows of proves the difference between gentlefolks and poor persons as tastes in wine," said Mrs. Crickledon, admiring him as she brought in a dish of cutlets,—with Sir Alfred Pooney's favourite sauce Soubise, wherein rightly onion should be delicate as the idea of love in maidens' thoughts, albeit constituting the element of flavour. Something of such a dictum Sir Alfred Pooney had imparted to his cook, and she repeated it with the fresh elegance of, such sweet sayings when transfused through the native mind:
"He said, I like as it was what you would call a young gal's blush at a kiss round a corner."
The epicurean baronet had the habit of talking in that way.
Herbert drank to his memory. He was well-filled; he had no work to do, and he was exuberant in spirits, as Mrs. Crickledon knew her countrymen should and would be under those conditions. And suddenly he drew his hand across a forehead so wrinkled and dark, that Mrs. Crickledon exclaimed, "Heart or stomach?"
"Oh, no," said he. "I'm sound enough in both, I hope."
"That old Tinman's up to one of his games," she observed.
"Do you think so?"
"He's circumventing Miss Annette Smith."
"Pooh! Crickledon. A man of his age can't be seriously thinking of proposing for a young lady."
He's a well-kept man. He's never racketed. He had n't the rackets in him. And she may n't care for him. But we hear things drop."
"What things have you heard drop, Crickledon? In a profound silence you may hear pins; in a hubbub you may hear cannon-balls. But I never believe in eavesdropping gossip."
"He was heard to say to Mr. Smith," Crickledon pursued, and she lowered her voice, "he was heard to say, it was when they were quarreling over that chiwal, and they went at one another pretty hard before Mr. Smith beat him and he sold Mr. Smith that meadow; he was heard to say, there was worse than transportation for Mr. Smith if he but lifted his finger. They Tinmans have awful tempers. His old mother died malignant, though she was a saving woman, and never owed a penny to a Christian a hour longer than it took to pay the money. And old Tinman's just such another."
"Transportation!" Herbert ejaculated, "that's sheer nonsense, Crickledon. I'm sure your husband would tell you so."
"It was my husband brought me the words," Mrs. Crickledon rejoined with some triumph. "He did tell me, I own, to keep it shut: but my speaking to you, a friend of Mr. Smith's, won't do no harm. He heard them under the battery, over that chiwal glass: 'And you shall pay,' says Mr. Smith, and 'I sha'n't,' says old Tinman. Mr. Smith said he would have it if he had to squeeze a deathbed confession from a sinner. Then old Tinman fires out, 'You!' he says, 'you' and he stammered. 'Mr. Smith,' my husband said and you never saw a man so shocked as my husband at being obliged to hear them at one another Mr. Smith used the word damn. 'You may laugh, sir.'"
"You say it so capitally, Crickledon."
"And then old Tinman said, 'And a D. to you; and if I lift my finger, it's Big D. on your back."
"And what did Mr. Smith say, then?"
"He said, like a man shot, my husband says he said, 'My God!'"
Herbert Fellingham jumped away from the table.
"You tell me, Crickledon, your husband actually heard that—just those words?—the tones?"
"My husband says he heard him say, 'My God!' just like a poor man shot or stabbed. You may speak to Crickledon, if you speaks to him alone, sir. I say you ought to know. For I've noticed Mr. Smith since that day has never looked to me the same easy-minded happy gentleman he was when we first knew him. He would have had me go to cook for him at Elba, but Crickledon thought I'd better be independent, and Mr. Smith said to me, 'Perhaps you're right, Crickledon, for who knows how long I may be among you?'"
Herbert took the solace of tobacco in Crickledon's shop. Thence, with the story confirmed to him, he sauntered toward the house on the beach.
The moon was over sea. Coasting vessels that had run into the bay for shelter from the North wind lay with their shadows thrown shoreward on the cold smooth water, almost to the verge of the beach, where there was neither breath nor sound of wind, only the lisp at the pebbles.
Mrs. Crickledon's dinner and the state of his heart made young Fellingham indifferent to a wintry atmosphere. It sufficed him that the night was fair. He stretched himself on the shingle, thinking of the Manzanilla, and Annette, and the fine flavour given to tobacco by a dry still air in moonlight—thinking of his work, too, in the background, as far as mental lassitude would allow of it. The idea of taking Annette to see his first play at the theatre when it should be performed—was very soothing. The beach rather looked like a stage, and the sea like a ghostly audience, with, if you will, the broadside bulks of black sailing craft at anchor for representatives of the newspaper piers. Annette was a nice girl; if a little commonplace and low-born, yet sweet. What a subject he could make of her father! "The Deserter" offered a new complication. Fellingham rapidly sketched it in fancy—Van Diemen, as a Member of the Parliament of Great Britain, led away from the House of Commons to be branded on the bank! What a magnificent fall! We have so few intensely dramatic positions in English real life that the meditative author grew enamoured of this one, and laughed out a royal "Ha!" like a monarch reviewing his well-appointed soldiery.
"There you are," said Van Diemen's voice; "I smelt your pipe. You're a rum fellow, to belying out on the beach on a cold night. Lord! I don't like you the worse for it. Twas for the romance of the moon in my young days."
"Where is Annette?" said Fellingham, jumping to his feet.
"My daughter? She 's taking leave of her intended."
"What's that?" Fellingham gasped. "Good heavens, Mr. Smith, what do you mean?"
"Pick up your pipe, my lad. Girls choose as they please, I suppose"
"Her intended, did you say, sir? What can that mean?"
"My dear good young fellow, don't make a fuss. We're all going to stay here, and very glad to see you from time to time. The fact is, I oughtn't to have quarrelled with Mart Tinman as I've done; I'm too peppery by nature. The fact is, I struck him, and he forgave it. I could n't have done that myself. And I believe I'm in for a headache to-morrow; upon my soul, I do. Mart Tinman would champagne us; but, poor old boy, I struck him, and I couldn't make amends—didn't see my way; and we joined hands over the glass—to the deuce with the glass!—and the end of it is, Netty—she did n't propose it, but as I'm in his—I say, as I had struck him, she—it was rather solemn, if you had seen us—she burst into tears, and there was Mrs. Cavely, and old Mart, and me as big a fool—if I'm not a villain!"
Fellingham perceived a more than common effect of Tin man's wine. He touched Van Diemen on the shoulder. "May I beg to hear exactly what has happened?"
"Upon my soul, we're all going to live comfortably in Old England, and no more quarreling and decamping," was the stupid rejoinder. "Except that I did n't exactly—I think you said I exactly'?—I did n't bargain for old Mart as my—but he's a sound man; Mart's my junior; he's rich. He's eco . . . he's eco . . . you know—my Lord! where's my brains?—but he's upright—'nomical!"
"An economical man," said Fellingham, with sedate impatience.
"My dear sir, I'm heartily obliged to you for your assistance," returned Van Diemen. "Here she is."
Annette had come out of the gate in the flint wall. She started slightly on seeing Herbert, whom she had taken for a coastguard, she said. He bowed. He kept his head bent, peering at her intrusively.
"It's the air on champagne," Van Diemen said, calling on his lungs to clear themselves and right him. "I was n't a bit queer in the house."
"The air on Tinman's champagne!" said Fellingham.
"It must be like the contact of two hostile chemical elements."
Annette walked faster.
They descended from the shingle to the scant-bladed grass-sweep running round the salted town-refuse on toward Elba. Van Diemen sniffed, ejaculating, "I'll be best man with Mart Tinman about this business! You'll stop with us, Mr.——what's your Christian name? Stop with us as long as you like. Old friends for me! The joke of it is that Nelson was my man, and yet I went and enlisted in the cavalry. If you talk of chemical substances, old Mart Tinman was a sneak who never cared a dump for his country; and I'm not to speak a single sybbarel about that..... over there . . . Australia . . . Gippsland! So down he went, clean over. Very sorry for what we have done. Contrite. Penitent."
"Now we feel the wind a little," said Annette.
Fellingham murmured, "Allow me; your shawl is flying loose."
He laid his hands on her arms, and, pressing her in a tremble, said, "One sign! It's not true? A word! Do you hate me?"
"Thank you very much, but I am not cold," she replied and linked herself to her father.
Van Diemen immediately shouted, "For we are jolly boys! for we are jolly boys! It's the air on the champagne. And hang me," said he, as they entered the grounds of Elba, "if I don't walk over my property."
Annette interposed; she stood like a reed in his way.
"No! my Lord! I'll see what I sold you for!" he cried. "I'm an owner of the soil of Old England, and care no more for the title of squire than Napoleon Bonaparty. But I'll tell you what, Mr. Hubbard: your mother was never so astonished at her dog as old Van Diemen would be to hear himself called squire in Old England. And a convict he was, for he did wrong once, but he worked his redemption. And the smell of my own property makes me feel my legs again. And I'll tell you what, Mr. Hubbard, as Netty calls you when she speaks of you in private: Mart Tinman's ideas of wine are pretty much like his ideas of healthy smells, and when I'm bailiff of Crikswich, mind, he'll find two to one against him in our town council. I love my country, but hang me if I don't purify it—"
Saying this, with the excitement of a high resolve a upon him, Van Diemen bored through a shrubbery-brake, and Fellingham said to Annette:
"Have I lost you?"
"I belong to my father," said she, contracting and disengaging her feminine garments to step after him in the cold silver-spotted dusk of the winter woods.
Van Diemen came out on a fish-pond.
"Here you are, young ones!" he said to the pair. "This way, Fellowman. I'm clearer now, and it's my belief I've been talking nonsense. I'm puffed up with money, and have n't the heart I once had. I say, Fellowman, Fellowbird, Hubbard—what's your right name?—fancy an old carp fished out of that pond and flung into the sea. That's exile! And if the girl don't mind, what does it matter?"
"Mr. Herbert Fellingham, I think, would like to go to bed, papa," said Annette.
"Miss Smith must be getting cold," Fellingham hinted.
"Bounce away indoors," replied Van Diemen, and he led them like a bull.
Annette was disinclined to leave them together in the smoking-room, and under the pretext of wishing to see her father to bed she remained with them, though there was a novel directness and heat of tone in Herbert that alarmed her, and with reason. He divined in hideous outlines what had happened. He was no longer figuring on easy ice, but desperate at the prospect of a loss to himself, and a fate for Annette, that tossed him from repulsion to incredulity, and so back.
Van Diemen begged him to light his pipe.
"I'm off to London to-morrow," said Fellingham. "I don't want to go, for very particular reasons; I may be of more use there. I have a cousin who's a General officer in the army, and if I have your permission—you see, anything's better, as it seems to me, than that you should depend for peace and comfort on one man's tongue not wagging, especially when he is not the best of tempers if I have your permission—without mentioning names, of course—I'll consult him."
There was a dead silence.
"You know you may trust me, sir. I love your daughter with all my heart. Your honour and your interests are mine."
Van Diemen struggled for composure.
"Netty, what have you been at?" he said.
"It is untrue, papa!" she answered the unworded accusation.
"Annette has told me nothing, sir. I have heard it. You must brace your mind to the fact that it is known. What is known to Mr. Tinman is pretty sure to be known generally at the next disagreement."
"That scoundrel Mart!" Van Diemen muttered.
"I am positive Mr. Tinman did not speak of you, papa," said Annette, and turned her eyes from the half-paralyzed figure of her father on Herbert to put him to proof.
"No, but he made himself heard when it was being discussed. At any rate, it's known; and the thing to do is to meet it."
"I'm off. I'll not stop a day. I'd rather live on the Continent," said Van Diemen, shaking himself, as to prepare for the step into that desert.
"Mr. Tinman has been most generous!" Annette protested tearfully.
"I won't say no: I think you are deceived and lend him your own generosity," said Herbert. "Can you suppose it generous, that even in the extremest case, he should speak of the matter to your father, and talk of denouncing him? He did it."
"He was provoked."
"A gentleman is distinguished by his not allowing himself to be provoked."
"I am engaged to him, and I cannot hear it said that he is not a gentleman."
The first part of her sentence Annette uttered bravely; at the conclusion she broke down. She wished Herbert to be aware of the truth, that he might stay his attacks on Mr. Tinman; and she believed he had only been guessing the circumstances in which her father was placed; but the comparison between her two suitors forced itself on her now, when the younger one spoke in a manner so self-contained, brief, and full of feeling.
She had to leave the room weeping.
"Has your daughter engaged herself, sir?" said Herbert.
"Talk to me to-morrow; don't give us up if she has we were trapped, it's my opinion," said Van Diemen. "There's the devil in that wine of—Mart Tinman's. I feel it still, and in the morning it'll be worse. What can she see in him? I must quit the country; carry her off. How he did it, I don't know. It was that woman, the widow, the fellow's sister. She talked till she piped her eye—talked about our lasting union. On my soul, I believe I egged Netty on! I was in a mollified way with that wine; all of a sudden the woman joins their hands! And I—a man of spirit will despise me!—what I thought of was, 'now my secret's safe!' You've sobered me, young sir. I see myself, if that's being sober. I don't ask your opinion of me; I am a deserter, false to my colours, a breaker of his oath. Only mark this: I was married, and a common trooper, married to a handsome young woman, true as steel; but she was handsome, and we were starvation poor, and she had to endure persecution from an officer day by day. Bear that situation in your mind. . . . Providence dropped me a hundred pounds out of the sky. Properly speaking, it popped up out of the earth, for I reaped it, you may say, from a relative's grave. Rich and poor 's all right, if I'm rich and you're poor; and you may be happy though you're poor; but where there are many poor young women, lots of rich men are a terrible temptation to them. That's my dear good wife speaking, and had she been spared to me I never should have come back to Old England, and heart's delight and heartache I should not have known. She was my backbone, she was my breast-comforter too. Why did she stick to me? Because I had faith in her when appearances were against her. But she never forgave this country the hurt to her woman's pride. You'll have noticed a squarish jaw in Netty. That's her mother. And I shall have to encounter it, supposing I find Mart Tinman has been playing me false. I'm blown on somehow. I'll think of what course I'll take 'twixt now and morning. Good night, young gentleman."
"Good night; sir," said Herbert, adding, "I will get information from the Horse Guards; as for the people knowing it about here, you're not living much in society—"
"It's not other people's feelings, it's my own," Van Diemen silenced him. "I feel it, if it's in the wind; ever since Mart Tinman spoke the thing out, I've felt on my skin cold and hot."
He flourished his lighted candle and went to bed, manifestly solaced by the idea that he was the victim of his own feelings.
Herbert could not sleep. Annette's monstrous choice of Tinman in preference to himself constantly assailed and shook his understanding. There was the "squarish jaw" mentioned by her father to think of. It filled him with a vague apprehension, but he was unable to imagine that a young girl, and an English girl, and an enthusiastic young English girl, could be devoid of sentiment; and presuming her to have it, as one must, there was no fear, that she would persist in her loathsome choice when she knew her father was against it.
Annette did not shun him next morning. She did not shun the subject, either. But she had been exact in arranging that she should not be more than a few minutes downstairs before her father. Herbert found, that compared with her, girls of sentiment are commonplace indeed. She had conceived an insane idea of nobility in Tinman that blinded her to his face, figure, and character—his manners, likewise. He had forgiven a blow!
Silly as the delusion might be, it clothed her in whimsical attractiveness.
It was a beauty in her to dwell so firmly upon moral quality. Overthrown and stunned as he was, and reduced to helplessness by her brief and positive replies, Herbert was obliged to admire the singular young lady, who spoke, without much shyness, of her incongruous, destined mate though his admiration had an edge cutting like irony. While in the turn for candour, she ought to have told him, that previous to her decision she had weighed the case of the diverse claims of himself and Tinman, and resolved them according to her predilection for the peaceful residence of her father and herself in England. This she had done a little regretfully, because of the natural sympathy of the young girl for the younger man. But the younger man had seemed to her seriously-straightforward mind too light and airy in his wooing, like one of her waltzing officers—very well so long as she stepped the measure with him, and not forcible enough to take her off her feet. He had changed, and now that he had become persuasive, she feared he would disturb the serenity with which she desired and strove to contemplate her decision. Tinman's magnanimity was present in her imagination to sustain her, though she was aware that Mrs. Cavely had surprised her will, and caused it to surrender unconsulted by her wiser intelligence.
"I cannot listen to you," she said to Herbert, after listening longer than was prudent. "If what you say of papa is true, I do not think he will remain in Crikswich, or even in England. But I am sure the old friend we used, to speak of so much in Australia has not wilfully betrayed him."
Herbert would have had to say, "Look on us two!" to proceed in his baffled wooing; and the very ludicrousness of the contrast led him to see the folly and shame of proposing it.
Van Diemen came down to breakfast looking haggard and restless. "I have 'nt had my morning's walk—I can't go out to be hooted," he said, calling to his daughter for tea, and strong tea; and explaining to Herbert that he knew it to be bad for the nerves, but it was an antidote to bad champagne.
Mr. Herbert Fellingham had previously received an invitation on behalf of a sister of his to Crikswich. A dull sense of genuine sagacity inspired him to remind Annette of it. She wrote prettily to Miss Mary Fellingham, and Herbert had some faint joy in carrying away the letter of her handwriting.
"Fetch her soon, for we sha'n't be here long," Van Diemen said to him at parting. He expressed a certain dread of his next meeting with Mart Tinman.
Herbert speedily brought Mary Fellingham to Elba, and left her there. The situation was apparently unaltered. Van Diemen looked worn, like a man who has been feeding mainly on his reflections, which was manifest in his few melancholy bits of speech. He said to Herbert: "How you feel a thing when you are found out!" and, "It doesn't do for a man with a heart to do wrong!" He designated the two principal roads by which poor sinners come to a conscience. His own would have slumbered but for discovery; and, as he remarked, if it had not been for his heart leading him to Tinman, he would not have fallen into that man's power.
The arrival of a young lady of fashionable appearance at Elba was matter of cogitation to Mrs. Cavely. She was disposed to suspect that it meant something, and Van Diemen's behaviour to her brother would of itself have fortified any suspicion. He did not call at the house on the beach, he did not invite Martin to dinner, he was rarely seen, and when he appeared at the Town Council he once or twice violently opposed his friend Martin, who came home ruffled, deeply offended in his interests and his dignity.
"Have you noticed any difference in Annette's treatment of you, dear?" Mrs. Cavely inquired.
"No," said Tinman; "none. She shakes hands. She asks after my health. She offers me my cup of tea."
"I have seen all that. But does she avoid privacy with you?"
"Dear me, no! Why should she? I hope, Martha, I am a man who may be confided in by any young lady in England."
"I am sure you may, dear Martin."
"She has an objection to name the . . . the day," said Martin. "I have informed her that I have an objection to long engagements. I don't like her new companion: She says she has been presented at Court. I greatly doubt it."
"It's to give herself a style, you may depend. I don't believe her!" exclaimed Mrs. Cavely, with sharp personal asperity.
Brother and sister examined together the Court Guide they had purchased on the occasion at once of their largest outlay and most thrilling gratification; in it they certainly found the name of General Fellingham. "But he can't be related to a newspaper-writer," said Mrs. Cavely.
To which her brother rejoined, "Unless the young man turned scamp. I hate unproductive professions."
"I hate him, Martin." Mrs. Cavely laughed in scorn, "I should say, I pity him. It's as clear to me as the sun at noonday, he wanted Annette. That's why I was in a hurry. How I dreaded he would come that evening to our dinner! When I saw him absent, I could have cried out it was Providence! And so be careful—we have had everything done for us from on High as yet—but be careful of your temper, dear Martin. I will hasten on the union; for it's a shame of a girl to drag a man behind her till he 's old at the altar. Temper, dear, if you will only think of it, is the weak point."
"Now he has begun boasting to me of his Australian wines!" Tinman ejaculated.
"Bear it. Bear it as you do Gippsland. My dear, you have the retort in your heart:—Yes! but have you a Court in Australia?"
"Ha! and his Australian wines cost twice the amount I pay for mine!"
"Quite true. We are not obliged to buy them, I should hope. I would, though—a dozen—if I thought it necessary, to keep him quiet."
Tinman continued muttering angrily over the Australian wines, with a word of irritation at Gippsland, while promising to be watchful of his temper.
"What good is Australia to us," he asked, "if it does n't bring us money?"
"It's going to, my dear," said Mrs. Cavely. "Think of that when he begins boasting his Australia. And though it's convict's money, as he confesses—"
"With his convict's money!" Tinman interjected tremblingly. "How long am I expected to wait?"
"Rely on me to hurry on the day," said Mrs. Cavely. "There is no other annoyance?"
"Wherever I am going to buy, that man outbids me and then says it's the old country's want of pluck and dash, and doing things large-handed! A man who'd go on his knees to stop in England!" Tinman vociferated in a breath; and fairly reddened by the effort: "He may have to do it yet. I can't stand insult."
"You are less able to stand insult after Honours," his sister said, in obedience to what she had observed of him since his famous visit to London. "It must be so, in nature. But temper is everything just now. Remember, it was by command of temper, and letting her father put himself in the wrong, you got hold of Annette. And I would abstain even from wine. For sometimes after it, you have owned it disagreed. And I have noticed these eruptions between you and Mr. Smith—as he calls himself—generally after wine."
"Always the poor! the poor! money for the poor!" Tinman harped on further grievances against Van Diemen. "I say doctors have said the drain on the common is healthy; it's a healthy smell, nourishing. We've always had it and been a healthy town. But the sea encroaches, and I say my house and my property is in danger. He buys my house over my head, and offers me the Crouch to live in at an advanced rent. And then he sells me my house at an advanced price, and I buy, and then he votes against a penny for the protection of the shore! And we're in Winter again! As if he was not in my power!"
"My dear Martin, to Elba we go, and soon, if you will govern your temper," said Mrs. Cavely. "You're an angel to let me speak of it so, and it's only that man that irritates you. I call him sinfully ostentatious."
"I could blow him from a gun if I spoke out, and he knows it! He's wanting in common gratitude, let alone respect," Tinman snorted.
"But he has a daughter, my dear."
Tinman slowly and crackingly subsided.
His main grievance against Van Diemen was the non-recognition of his importance by that uncultured Australian, who did not seem to be conscious of the dignities and distinctions we come to in our country. The moneyed daughter, the prospective marriage, for an economical man rejected by every lady surrounding him, advised him to lock up his temper in submission to Martha.
"Bring Annette to dine with us," he said, on Martha's proposing a visit to the dear young creature.
Martha drank a glass of her brother's wine at lunch, and departed on the mission.
Annette declined to be brought. Her excuse was her guest, Miss Fellingham.
"Bring her too, by all means—if you'll condescend, I am sure," Mrs. Cavely said to Mary.
"I am much obliged to you; I do not dine out at present," said the London lady.
"Dear me! are you ill?"
"Nothing in the family, I hope?"
"I am sure, I beg pardon," said Mrs. Cavely, bridling with a spite pardonable by the severest moralist.
"Can I speak to you alone?" she addressed Annette.
Miss Fellingham rose.
Mrs. Cavely confronted her. "I can't allow it; I can't think of it. I'm only taking a little liberty with one I may call my future sister-in-law."
"Shall I come out with you?" said Annette, in sheer lassitude assisting Mary Fellingham in her scheme to show the distastefulness of this lady and her brother.
"Not if you don't wish to."
"I have no objection."
"Another time will do."
"Will you write?"
"By post indeed!"
Mrs. Cavely delivered a laugh supposed to, be peculiar to the English stage.
"It would be a penny thrown away," said Annette. "I thought you could send a messenger."
Intercommunication with Miss Fellingham had done mischief to her high moral conception of the pair inhabiting the house on the beach. Mrs. Cavely saw it, and could not conceal that she smarted.
Her counsel to her brother, after recounting the offensive scene to him in animated dialogue, was, to give Van Diemen a fright.
"I wish I had not drunk that glass of sherry before starting," she exclaimed, both savagely and sagely. "It's best after business. And these gentlemen's habits of yours of taking to dining late upset me. I'm afraid I showed temper; but you, Martin, would not have borne one-tenth of what I did."
"How dare you say so!" her brother rebuked her indignantly; and the house on the beach enclosed with difficulty a storm between brother and sister, happily not heard outside, because of loud winds raging.
Nevertheless Tinman pondered on Martha's idea of the wisdom of giving Van Diemen a fright.
The English have been called a bad-tempered people, but this is to judge of them by their manifestations; whereas an examination into causes might prove them to be no worse tempered than that man is a bad sleeper who lies in a biting bed. If a sagacious instinct directs them to discountenance realistic tales, the realistic tale should justify its appearance by the discovery of an apology for the tormented souls. Once they sang madrigals, once they danced on the green, they revelled in their lusty humours, without having recourse to the pun for fun, an exhibition of hundreds of bare legs for jollity, a sentimental wailing all in the throat for music. Evidence is procurable that they have been an artificially-reared people, feeding on the genius of inventors, transposers, adulterators, instead of the products of nature, for the last half century; and it is unfair to affirm of them that they are positively this or that. They are experiments. They are the sons and victims of a desperate Energy, alluring by cheapness, satiating with quantity, that it may mount in the social scale, at the expense of their tissues. The land is in a state of fermentation to mount, and the shop, which has shot half their stars to their social zenith, is what verily they would scald themselves to wash themselves free of. Nor is it in any degree a reprehensible sign that they should fly as from hue and cry the title of tradesman. It is on the contrary the spot of sanity, which bids us right cordially hope. Energy, transferred to the moral sense, may clear them yet.
Meanwhile this beer, this wine, both are of a character to have killed more than the tempers of a less gifted people. Martin Tinman invited Van Diemen Smith to try the flavour of a wine that, as he said, he thought of "laying down."
It has been hinted before of a strange effect upon the minds of men who knew what they were going to, when they received an invitation to dine with Tinman. For the sake of a little social meeting at any cost, they accepted it; accepted it with a sigh, midway as by engineering measurement between prospective and retrospective; as nearly mechanical as things human may be, like the Mussulman's accustomed cry of Kismet. Has it not been related of the little Jew babe sucking at its mother's breast in Jerusalem, that this innocent, long after the Captivity, would start convulsively, relinquishing its feast, and indulging in the purest. Hebrew lamentation of the most tenacious of races, at the passing sound of a Babylonian or a Ninevite voice? In some such manner did men, unable to refuse, deep in what remained to them of nature, listen to Tinman; and so did Van Diemen, sighing heavily under the operation of simple animal instinct.
"You seem miserable," said Tinman, not oblivious of his design to give his friend a fright.
"Do I? No, I'm all right," Van Diemen replied. "I'm thinking of alterations at the Hall before Summer, to accommodate guests—if I stay here."
"I suppose you would not like to be separated from Annette."
"Separated? No, I should think I shouldn't. Who'd do it?"
"Because I should not like to leave my good sister Martha all to herself in a house so near the sea—"
"Why not go to the Crouch, man?"
"No thanks needed if you don't take advantage of the offer."
They were at the entrance to Elba, whither Mr. Tinman was betaking himself to see his intended. He asked if Annette was at home, and to his great stupefaction heard that she had gone to London for a week.
Dissembling the spite aroused within him, he postponed his very strongly fortified design, and said, "You must be lonely."
Van Diemen informed him that it would be for a night only, as young Fellingham was coming down to keep him company.
"At six o'clock this evening, then," said Tinman. "We're not fashionable in Winter."
"Hang me, if I know when ever we were!" Van Diemen rejoined.
"Come, though, you'd like to be. You've got your ambition, Philip, like other men."
"Respectable and respected—that 's my ambition, Mr. Mart."
Tinman simpered: "With your wealth!"
"Ay, I 'm rich—for a contented mind."
"I 'm pretty sure you 'll approve my new vintage," said Tinman. "It's direct from Oporto, my wine-merchant tells me, on his word."
"What's the price?"
"No, no, no. Try it first. It's rather a stiff price."
Van Diemen was partially reassured by the announcement. "What do you call a stiff price?"
"Double that, and you may have a chance."
"Now," cried Tinman, exasperated, "how can a man from Australia know anything about prices for port? You can't divest your ideas of diggers' prices. You're like an intoxicating drink yourself on the tradesmen of our town. You think it fine—ha! ha! I daresay, Philip, I should be doing the same if I were up to your mark at my banker's. We can't all of us be lords, nor baronets."
Catching up his temper thus cleverly, he curbed that habitual runaway, and retired from his old friend's presence to explode in the society of the solitary Martha.
Annette's behaviour was as bitterly criticized by the sister as by the brother.
"She has gone to those Fellingham people; and she may be thinking of jilting us," Mrs. Cavely said.
"In that case, I have no mercy," cried her brother. "I have borne"—he bowed with a professional spiritual humility—"as I should, but it may get past endurance. I say I have borne enough; and if the worst comes to the worst, and I hand him over to the authorities—I say I mean him no harm, but he has struck me. He beat me as a boy and he has struck me as a man, and I say I have no thought of revenge, but I cannot have him here; and I say if I drive him out of the country back to his Gippsland!"
Martin Tinman quivered for speech, probably for that which feedeth speech, as is the way with angry men.
"And what?—what then?" said Martha, with the tender mellifluousness of sisterly reproach. "What good can you expect of letting temper get the better of you, dear?"
Tinman did not enjoy her recent turn for usurping the lead in their consultations, and he said, tartly, "This good, Martha. We shall get the Hall at my price, and be Head People here. Which," he raised his note, "which he, a Deserter, has no right to pretend to give himself out to be. What your feelings may be as an old inhabitant, I don't know, but I have always looked up to the people at Elba Hall, and I say I don't like to have a Deserter squandering convict's money there—with his forty-pound-a-year cook, and his champagne at seventy a dozen. It's the luxury of Sodom and Gomorrah."
"That does not prevent its being very nice to dine there," said Mrs. Cavely; "and it shall be our table for good if I have any management."
"You mean me, ma'am," bellowed Tinman.
"Not at all," she breathed, in dulcet contrast. "You are good-looking, Martin, but you have not half such pretty eyes as the person I mean. I never ventured to dream of managing you, Martin. I am thinking of the people at Elba."
"But why this extraordinary treatment of me, Martha?"
"She's a child, having her head turned by those Fellinghams. But she's honourable; she has sworn to me she would be honourable."
"You do think I may as well give him a fright?" Tinman inquired hungrily.
"A sort of hint; but very gentle, Martin. Do be gentle—casual like—as if you did n't want to say it. Get him on his Gippsland. Then if he brings you to words, you can always laugh back, and say you will go to Kew and see the Fernery, and fancy all that, so high, on Helvellyn or the Downs. Why"—Mrs. Cavely, at the end of her astute advices and cautionings, as usual, gave loose to her natural character—"Why that man came back to England at all, with his boastings of Gippsland, I can't for the life of me find out. It 's a perfect mystery."
"It is," Tinman sounded his voice at a great depth, reflectively. Glad of taking the part she was perpetually assuming of late, he put out his hand and said: "But it may have been ordained for our good, Martha."
"True, dear," said she, with an earnest sentiment of thankfulness to the Power which had led him round to her way of thinking and feeling.
Annette had gone to the big metropolis, which burns in colonial imaginations as the sun of cities, and was about to see something of London, under the excellent auspices of her new friend, Mary Fellingham, and a dense fog. She was alarmed by the darkness, a little in fear, too, of Herbert; and these feelings caused her to chide herself for leaving her father.
Hearing her speak of her father sadly, Herbert kindly proposed to go down to Crikswich on the very day of her coming. She thanked him, and gave him a taste of bitterness by smiling favourably on his offer; but as he wished her to discern and take to heart the difference between one man and another, in the light of a suitor, he let her perceive that it cost him heavy pangs to depart immediately, and left her to brood on his example. Mary Fellingham liked Annette. She thought her a sensible girl of uncultivated sensibilities, the reverse of thousands; not commonplace, therefore; and that the sensibilities were expanding was to be seen in her gradual unreadiness to talk of her engagement to Mr. Tinman, though her intimacy with Mary warmed daily. She considered she was bound to marry the man at some distant date, and did not feel unhappiness yet. She had only felt uneasy when she had to greet and converse with her intended; especially when the London young lady had been present. Herbert's departure relieved her of the pressing sense of contrast. She praised him to Mary for his extreme kindness to her father, and down in her unsounded heart desired that her father might appreciate it even more than she did.
Herbert drove into Crikswich at night, and stopped at Crickledon's, where he heard that Van Diemen was dining with Tinman.
Crickledon the carpenter permitted certain dry curves to play round his lips like miniature shavings at the name of Tinman; but Herbert asked, "What is it now?" in vain, and he went to Crickledon the cook.
This union of the two Crickledons, male and female; was an ideal one, such as poor women dream of; and men would do the same, if they knew how poor they are. Each had a profession, each was independent of the other, each supported the fabric. Consequently there was mutual respect, as between two pillars of a house. Each saw the other's faults with a sly wink to the world, and an occasional interchange of sarcasm that was tonic, very strengthening to the wits without endangering the habit of affection. Crickledon the cook stood for her own opinions, and directed the public conduct of Crickledon the carpenter; and if he went astray from the line she marked out, she put it down to human nature, to which she was tolerant. He, when she had not followed his advice, ascribed it to the nature of women. She never said she was the equal of her husband; but the carpenter proudly acknowledged that she was as good as a man, and he bore with foibles derogatory to such high stature, by teaching himself to observe a neatness of domestic and general management that told him he certainly was not as good as a woman. Herbert delighted in them. The cook regaled the carpenter with skilful, tasty, and economic dishes; and the carpenter, obedient to her supplications, had promised, in the event of his outliving her, that no hands but his should have the making of her coffin. "It is so nice," she said, "to think one's own husband will put together the box you are to lie in, of his own make!" Had they been even a doubtfully united pair, the cook's anticipation of a comfortable coffin, the work of the best carpenter in England, would have kept them together; and that which fine cookery does for the cementing of couples needs not to be recounted to those who have read a chapter or two of the natural history of the male sex.
"Crickledon, my dear soul, your husband is labouring with a bit of fun," Herbert said to her.
"He would n't laugh loud at Punch, for fear of an action," she replied. "He never laughs out till he gets to bed, and has locked the door; and when he does he says 'Hush!' to me. Tinman is n't bailiff again just yet, and where he has his bailiff's best Court suit from, you may ask. He exercises in it off and on all the week, at night, and sometimes in the middle of the day."
Herbert rallied her for her gossip's credulity.
"It's truth," she declared. "I have it from the maid of the house, little Jane, whom he pays four pound a year for all the work of the house: a clever little thing with her hands and her head she is; and can read and write beautiful; and she's a mind to leave 'em if they don't advance her. She knocked and went in while he was full blaze, and bowing his poll to his glass. And now he turns the key, and a child might know he was at it."
"He can't be such a donkey!"
"And he's been seen at the window on the seaside. 'Who's your Admiral staying at the house on the beach?' men have inquired as they come ashore. My husband has heard it. Tinman's got it on his brain. He might be cured by marriage to a sound-headed woman, but he 'll soon be wanting to walk about in silk legs if he stops a bachelor. They tell me his old mother here had a dress value twenty pound; and pomp's inherited. Save as he may, there's his leak."
Herbert's contempt for Tinman was intense; it was that of the young and ignorant who live in their imaginations like spendthrifts, unaware of the importance of them as the food of life, and of how necessary it is to seize upon the solider one among them for perpetual sustenance when the unsubstantial are vanishing. The great event of his bailiff's term of office had become the sun of Tinman's system. He basked in its rays. He meant to be again the proud official, royally distinguished; meantime, though he knew not that his days were dull, he groaned under the dulness; and, as cart or cab horses, uncomplaining as a rule, show their view of the nature of harness when they have release to frisk in a field, it is possible that existence was made tolerable to the jogging man by some minutes of excitement in his bailiff's Court suit. Really to pasture on our recollections we ought to dramatize them. There is, however, only the testimony of a maid and a mariner to show that Tinman did it, and those are witnesses coming of particularly long-bow classes, given to magnify small items of fact.
On reaching the hall Herbert found the fire alight in the smoking-room, and soon after settling himself there he heard Van Diemen's voice at the hall-door saying good night to Tinman.
"Thank the Lord! there you are," said Van Diemen, entering the room. "I couldn't have hoped so much. That rascal!" he turned round to the door. "He has been threatening me, and then smoothing me. Hang his oil! It's combustible. And hang the port he's for laying down, as he calls it. 'Leave it to posterity,' says I. 'Why?' says he. 'Because the young ones 'll be better able to take care of themselves,' says I, and he insists on an explanation. I gave it to him. Out he bursts like a wasp's nest. He may have said what he did say in temper. He seemed sorry afterwards—poor old Mart! The scoundrel talked of Horse Guards and telegraph wires."
"Scoundrel, but more ninny," said Herbert, full of his contempt. "Dare him to do his worst. The General tells me they 'd be glad to overlook it at the Guards, even if they had all the facts. Branding 's out of the question."
"I swear it was done in my time," cried Van Diemen, all on fire.
"It's out of the question. You might be advised to leave England for a few months. As for the society here—"
"If I leave, I leave for good. My heart's broken. I'm disappointed. I'm deceived in my friend. He and I in the old days! What's come to him? What on earth is it changes men who stop in England so? It can't be the climate. And did you mention my name to General Fellingham?"
"Certainly not," said Herbert. "But listen to me, sir, a moment. Why not get together half-a-dozen friends of the neighbourhood, and make a clean breast of it. Englishmen like that kind of manliness, and they are sure to ring sound to it."
"I couldn't!" Van Diemen sighed. "It's not a natural feeling I have about it—I 've brooded on the word. If I have a nightmare, I see Deserter written in sulphur on the black wall."
"You can't remain at his mercy, and be bullied as you are. He makes you ill, sir. He won't do anything, but he'll go on worrying you. I'd stop him at once. I'd take the train to-morrow and get an introduction to the Commander-in-Chief. He's the very man to be kind to you in a situation like this. The General would get you the introduction."
"That's more to my taste; but no, I couldn't," Van Diemen moaned in his weakness. "Money has unmanned me. I was n't this kind of man formerly; nor more was Mart Tinman, the traitor! All the world seems changeing for the worse, and England is n't what she used to be."
"You let that man spoil it for you, sir." Herbert related Mrs. Crickledon's tale of Mr. Tinman, adding, "He's an utter donkey. I should defy him. What I should do would be to let him know to-morrow morning that you don't intend to see him again. Blow for, blow, is the thing he requires. He'll be cringing to you in a week."
"And you'd like to marry Annette," said Van Diemen, relishing, nevertheless, the advice, whose origin and object he perceived so plainly.
"Of course I should," said Herbert, franker still in his colour than his speech.
"I don't see him my girl's husband." Van Diemen eyed the red hollow in the falling coals. "When I came first, and found him a healthy man, good-looking enough for a trifle over forty, I 'd have given her gladly, she nodding Yes. Now all my fear is she's in earnest. Upon my soul, I had the notion old Mart was a sort of a boy still; playing man, you know. But how can you understand? I fancied his airs and stiffness were put on; thought I saw him burning true behind it. Who can tell? He seems to be jealous of my buying property in his native town. Something frets him. I ought never to have struck him! There's my error, and I repent it. Strike a friend! I wonder he didn't go off to the Horse Guards at once. I might have done it in his place, if I found I couldn't lick him. I should have tried kicking first."
"Yes, shinning before peaching," said Herbert, astonished almost as much as he was disgusted by the inveterate sentimental attachment of Van Diemen to his old friend.
Martin Tinman anticipated good things of the fright he had given the man after dinner. He had, undoubtedly, yielded to temper, forgetting pure policy, which it is so exceeding difficult to practice. But he had soothed the startled beast; they had shaken hands at parting, and Tinman hoped that the week of Annette's absence would enable him to mould her father. Young Fellingham's appointment to come to Elba had slipped Mr. Tinman's memory. It was annoying to see this intruder. "At all events, he's not with Annette," said Mrs. Cavely. "How long has her father to run on?"
"Five months," Tinman replied. "He would have completed his term of service in five months."
"And to think of his being a rich man because he deserted," Mrs. Cavely interjected. "Oh! I do call it immoral. He ought to be apprehended and punished, to be an example for the good of society. If you lose time, my dear Martin, your chance is gone. He's wriggling now. And if I could believe he talked us over to that young impudent, who has n't a penny that he does n't get from his pen, I'd say, denounce him to-morrow. I long for Elba. I hate this house. It will be swallowed up some day; I know it; I have dreamt it. Elba at any cost. Depend upon it, Martin, you have been foiled in your suits on account of the mean house you inhabit. Enter Elba as that girl's husband, or go there to own it, and girls will crawl to you."
"You are a ridiculous woman, Martha," said Tinman, not dissenting.
The mixture of an idea of public duty with a feeling of personal rancour is a strong incentive to the pursuit of a stern line of conduct; and the glimmer of self-interest superadded does not check the steps of the moralist. Nevertheless, Tinman held himself in. He loved peace. He preached it, he disseminated it. At a meeting in the town he strove to win Van Diemen's voice in favour of a vote for further moneys to protect "our shores." Van Diemen laughed at him, telling him he wanted a battery. "No," said Tinman, "I've had enough to do with soldiers."
"They might be more cautious. I say, they might learn to know their friends from their enemies."
"That's it, that's it," said Van Diemen. "If you say much more, my hearty, you'll find me bidding against you next week for Marine Parade and Belle Vue Terrace. I've a cute eye for property, and this town's looking up."
"You look about you before you speculate in land and house property here," retorted Tinman.
Van Diemen bore so much from him that he asked himself whether he could be an Englishman. The title of Deserter was his raw wound. He attempted to form the habit of stigmatizing himself with it in the privacy of his chamber, and he succeeded in establishing the habit of talking to himself, so that he was heard by the household, and Annette, on her return, was obliged to warn him of his indiscretion. This development of a new weakness exasperated him. Rather to prove his courage by defiance than to baffle Tinman's ambition to become the principal owner of houses in Crikswich, by outbidding him at the auction for the sale of Marine Parade and Belle Vue Terrace, Van Diemen ran the houses up at the auction, and ultimately had Belle Vue knocked down to him. So fierce was the quarrel that Annette, in conjunction with Mrs. Cavely; was called on to interpose with her sweetest grace. "My native place," Tinman said to her; "it is my native place. I have a pride in it; I desire to own property in it, and your father opposes me. He opposes me. Then says I may have it back at auction price, after he has gone far to double the price! I have borne—I repeat I have borne too much."
"Are n't your properties to be equal to one?" said Mrs. Cavely, smiling mother—like from Tinman to Annette.
He sought to produce a fondling eye in a wry face, and said, "Yes, I will remember that."
"Annette will bless you with her dear hand in a month or two at the outside," Mrs. Cavely murmured, cherishingly.
"She will?" Tinman cracked his body to bend to her.
"Oh, I cannot say; do not distress me. Be friendly with papa," the girl resumed, moving to escape.
"That is the essential," said Mrs. Cavely; and continued, when Annette had gone, "The essential is to get over the next few months, miss, and then to snap your fingers at us. Martin, I would force that man to sell you Belle Vue under the price he paid for it, just to try your power."
Tinman was not quite so forcible. He obtained Belle Vue at auction price, and his passion for revenge was tipped with fire by having it accorded as a friend's favour.
The poisoned state of his mind was increased by a December high wind that rattled his casements, and warned him of his accession of property exposed to the elements. Both he and his sister attributed their nervousness to the sinister behaviour of Van Diemen. For the house on the beach had only, in most distant times, been threatened by the sea, and no house on earth was better protected from man,—Neptune, in the shape of a coastguard, being paid by Government to patrol about it during the hours of darkness. They had never had any fears before Van Diemen arrived, and caused them to give thrice their ordinary number of dinners to guests per annum. In fact, before Van Diemen came, the house on the beach looked on Crikswich without a rival to challenge its anticipated lordship over the place, and for some inexplicable reason it seemed to its inhabitants to have been a safer as well as a happier residence.
They were consoled by Tinman's performance of a clever stroke in privately purchasing the cottages west of the town, and including Crickledon's shop, abutting on Marine Parade. Then from the house on the beach they looked at an entire frontage of their property.
They entered the month of February. No further time was to be lost, "or we shall wake up to find that man has fooled us," Mrs. Cavely said. Tinman appeared at Elba to demand a private interview with Annette. His hat was blown into the hall as the door opened to him, and he himself was glad to be sheltered by the door, so violent was the gale. Annette and her father were sitting together. They kept the betrothed gentleman waiting a very long time. At last Van Diemen went to him, and said, "Netty 'll see you, if you must. I suppose you have no business with me?"
"Not to-day," Tinman replied.
Van Diemen strode round the drawing-room with his hands in his pockets. "There's a disparity of ages," he said, abruptly, as if desirous to pour out his lesson while he remembered it. "A man upwards of forty marries a girl under twenty, he's over sixty before she's forty; he's decaying when she's only mellow. I ought never to have struck you, I know. And you're such an infernal bad temper at times, and age does n't improve that, they say; and she's been educated tip-top. She's sharp on grammar, and a man may n't like that much when he's a husband. See her, if you must. But she does n't take to the idea; there's the truth. Disparity of ages and unsuitableness of dispositions—what was it Fellingham said?—like two barrel-organs grinding different tunes all day in a house."
"I don't want to hear Mr. Fellingham's comparisons," Tinman snapped.
"Oh! he's nothing to the girl," said Van Diemen. "She doesn't stomach leaving me."
"My dear Philip! why should she leave you? When we have interests in common as one household—"
"She says you're such a damned bad temper."
Tinman was pursuing amicably, "When we are united—" But the frightful charge brought against his temper drew him up. "Fiery I may be. Annette has seen I am forgiving. I am a Christian. You have provoked me; you have struck me."
"I 'll give you a couple of thousand pounds in hard money to be off the bargain, and not bother the girl," said Van Diemen.
"Now," rejoined Tinman, "I am offended. I like money, like most men who have made it. You do, Philip. But I don't come courting like a pauper. Not for ten thousand; not for twenty. Money cannot be a compensation to me for the loss of Annette. I say I love Annette."
"Because," Van Diemen continued his speech, "you trapped us into that engagement, Mart. You dosed me with the stuff you buy for wine, while your sister sat sugaring and mollifying my girl; and she did the trick in a minute, taking Netty by surprise when I was all heart and no head; and since that you may have seen the girl turn her head from marriage like my woods from the wind."
"Mr. Van Diemen Smith!" Tinman panted; he mastered himself. "You shall not provoke me. My introductions of you in this neighbourhood, my patronage, prove my friendship."
"You'll be a good old fellow, Mart, when you get over your hopes of being knighted."
"Mr. Fellingham may set you against my wine, Philip. Let me tell you—I know you—you would not object to have your daughter called Lady."
"With a spindle-shanked husband capering in a Court suit before he goes to bed every night, that he may n't forget what a fine fellow he was one day bygone! You're growing lean on it, Mart, like a recollection fifty years old."
"You have never forgiven me that day, Philip!"
"Jealous, am I? Take the money, give up the girl, and see what friends we'll be. I'll back your buyings, I'll advertise your sellings. I'll pay a painter to paint you in your Court suit, and hang up a copy of you in my diningroom."
"Annette is here," said Tinman, who had been showing Etna's tokens of insurgency.
He admired Annette. Not till latterly had Herbert Fellingham been so true an admirer of Annette as Tinman was. She looked sincere and she dressed inexpensively. For these reasons she was the best example of womankind that he knew, and her enthusiasm for England had the sympathetic effect on him of obscuring the rest of the world, and thrilling him with the reassuring belief that he was blest in his blood and his birthplace—points which her father, with his boastings of Gippsland, and other people talking of scenes on the Continent, sometimes disturbed in his mind.
"Annette," said he, "I come requesting to converse with you in private."
"If you wish it—I would rather not," she answered.
Tinman raised his head, as often at Helmstone when some offending shopwoman was to hear her doom.
He bent to her. "I see. Before your father, then!"
"It isn't an agreeable bit of business, to me," Van Diemen grumbled, frowning and shrugging.
"I have come, Annette, to ask you, to beg you, entreat—before a third person—laughing, Philip?"
"The wrong side of my mouth, my friend. And I'll tell you what: we're in for heavy seas, and I 'm not sorry you've taken the house on the beach off my hands."
"Pray, Mr. Tinman, speak at once, if you please, and I will do my best. Papa vexes you."
"No, no," replied Tinman.
He renewed his commencement. Van Diemen interrupted him again.
"Hang your power over me, as you call it. Eh, old Mart? I'm a Deserter. I'll pay a thousand pounds to the British army, whether they punish me or not. March me off tomorrow!"
"Papa, you are unjust, unkind." Annette turned to him in tears.
"No, no," said Tinman, "I do not feel it. Your father has misunderstood me, Annette."
"I am sure he has," she said fervently. "And, Mr. Tinman, I will faithfully promise that so long as you are good to my dear father, I will not be untrue to my engagement, only do not wish me to name any day. We shall be such very good dear friends if you consent to this. Will you?"
Pausing for a space, the enamoured man unrolled his voice in lamentation: "Oh! Annette, how long will you keep me?"
"There; you'll set her crying!" said Van Diemen. "Now you can run upstairs, Netty. By jingo! Mart Tinman, you've got a bass voice for love affairs."
"Annette," Tinman called to her, and made her turn round as she was retiring. "I must know the day before the end of winter. Please. In kind consideration. My arrangements demand it."
"Do let the girl go," said Van Diemen. "Dine with me tonight and I'll give you a wine to brisk your spirits, old boy"
"Thank you. When I have ordered dinner at home, I——and my wine agrees with ME," Tinman replied.
"I doubt it."
"You shall not provoke me, Philip."
They parted stiffly.
Mrs. Cavely had unpleasant domestic news to communicate to her brother, in return for his tale of affliction and wrath. It concerned the ungrateful conduct of their little housemaid Jane, who, as Mrs. Cavely said, "egged on by that woman Crickledon," had been hinting at an advance of wages.
"She didn't dare speak, but I saw what was in her when she broke a plate, and wouldn't say she was sorry. I know she goes to Crickledon and talks us over. She's a willing worker, but she has no heart."
Tinman had been accustomed in his shop at Helmstone—where heaven had blessed him with the patronage of the rich, as visibly as rays of supernal light are seen selecting from above the heads of prophets in the illustrations to cheap holy books—to deal with willing workers that have no hearts. Before the application for an advance of wages—and he knew the signs of it coming—his method was to calculate how much he might be asked for, and divide the estimated sum by the figure 4; which, as it seemed to come from a generous impulse, and had been unsolicited, was often humbly accepted, and the willing worker pursued her lean and hungry course in his service. The treatment did not always agree with his males. Women it suited; because they do not like to lift up their voices unless they are in a passion; and if you take from them the grounds of temper, you take their words away—you make chickens of them. And as Tinman said, "Gratitude I never expect!" Why not? For the reason that he knew human nature. He could record shocking instances of the ingratitude of human nature, as revealed to him in the term of his tenure of the shop at Helmstone. Blest from above, human nature's wickedness had from below too frequently besulphured and suffumigated him for his memory to be dim; and though he was ever ready to own himself an example that heaven prevaileth, he could cite instances of scandal-mongering shop-women dismissed and working him mischief in the town, which pointed to him in person for a proof that the Powers of Good and Evil were still engaged in unhappy contention. Witness Strikes! witness Revolutions!
"Tell her, when she lays the cloth, that I advance her, on account of general good conduct, five shillings per annum. Add," said Tinman, "that I wish no thanks. It is for her merits—to reward her; you understand me, Martha?"
"Quite; if you think it prudent, Martin."
"I do. She is not to breathe a syllable to cook."
"Then keep your eye on cook."
Mrs. Cavely promised she would do so. She felt sure she was paying five shillings for ingratitude; and, therefore, it was with humility that she owned her error when, while her brother sipped his sugared acrid liquor after dinner (in devotion to the doctor's decree, that he should take a couple of glasses, rigorously as body-lashing friar), she imparted to him the singular effect of the advance of wages upon little Jane—"Oh, ma'am! and me never asked you for it!" She informed her brother how little Jane had confided to her that they were called "close," and how little Jane had vowed she would—the willing little thing!—go about letting everybody know their kindness.
"Yes! Ah!" Tinman inhaled the praise. "No, no; I don't want to be puffed," he said. "Remember cook. I have," he continued, meditatively, "rarely found my plan fail. But mind, I give the Crickledons notice to quit to-morrow. They are a pest. Besides, I shall probably think of erecting villas."
"How dreadful the wind is!" Mrs. Cavely exclaimed. "I would give that girl Annette one chance more. Try her by letter."
Tinman despatched a business letter to Annette, which brought back a vague, unbusiness-like reply. Two days afterward Mrs. Cavely reported to her brother the presence of Mr. Fellingham and Miss Mary Fellingham in Crikswich. At her dictation he wrote a second letter. This time the reply came from Van Diemen:
"My DEAR MARTIN,—Please do not go on bothering my girl. She does not like the idea of leaving me, and my experience tells me I could not live in the house with you. So there it is. Take it friendly. I have always wanted to be, and am, "Your friend, "PHIL."
Tinman proceeded straight to Elba; that is, as nearly straight as the wind would allow his legs to walk. Van Diemen was announced to be out; Miss Annette begged to be excused, under the pretext that she was unwell; and Tinman heard of a dinner-party at Elba that night.
He met Mr. Fellingham on the carriage drive. The young Londoner presumed to touch upon Tinman's private affairs by pleading on behalf of the Crikledons, who were, he said, much dejected by the notice they had received to quit house and shop.
"Another time," bawled Tinman. "I can't hear you in this wind."
"Come in," said Fellingham.
"The master of the house is absent," was the smart retort roared at him; and Tinman staggered away, enjoying it as he did his wine.
His house rocked. He was backed by his sister in the assurance that he had been duped.
The process he supposed to be thinking, which was the castigation of his brains with every sting wherewith a native touchiness could ply immediate recollection, led him to conclude that he must bring Van Diemen to his senses, and Annette running to him for mercy.
He sat down that night amid the howling of the storm, wind whistling, water crashing, casements rattling, beach desperately dragging, as by the wide-stretched star-fish fingers of the half-engulphed.
He hardly knew what he wrote. The man was in a state of personal terror, burning with indignation at Van Diemen as the main cause of his jeopardy. For, in order to prosecute his pursuit of Annette, he had abstained from going to Helmstone to pay moneys into his bank there, and what was precious to life as well as life itself, was imperilled by those two—Annette and her father—who, had they been true, had they been honest, to say nothing of honourable, would by this time have opened Elba to him as a fast and safe abode.
His letter was addressed, on a large envelope,
"To the Adjutant-General,
But if ever consigned to the Post, that post-office must be in London; and Tinman left the letter on his desk till the morning should bring counsel to him as to the London friend to whom he might despatch it under cover for posting, if he pushed it so far.
Sleep was impossible. Black night favoured the tearing fiends of shipwreck, and looking through a back window over sea, Tinman saw with dismay huge towering ghostwhite wreaths, that travelled up swiftly on his level, and lit the dark as they flung themselves in ruin, with a gasp, across the mound of shingle at his feet.
He undressed: His sister called to him to know if they were in danger. Clothed in his dressing-gown, he slipped along to her door, to vociferate to her hoarsely that she must not frighten the servants; and one fine quality in the training of the couple, which had helped them to prosper, a form of self-command, kept her quiet in her shivering fears.
For a distraction Tinman pulled open the drawers of his wardrobe. His glittering suit lay in one. And he thought, "What wonderful changes there are in the world!" meaning, between a man exposed to the wrath of the elements, and the same individual reading from vellum, in that suit, in a palace, to the Head of all of us!
The presumption is; that he must have often done it before. The fact is established, that he did it that night. The conclusion drawn from it is, that it must have given him a sense of stability and safety.
At any rate that he put on the suit is quite certain.
Probably it was a work of ingratiation and degrees; a feeling of the silk, a trying on to one leg, then a matching of the fellow with it. O you Revolutionists! who would have no state, no ceremonial, and but one order of galligaskins! This man must have been wooed away in spirit to forgetfulness of the tempest scourging his mighty neighbour to a bigger and a farther leap; he must have obtained from the contemplation of himself in his suit that which would be the saving of all men, in especial of his countrymen—imagination, namely.
Certain it is, as I have said, that he attired himself in the suit. He covered it with his dressing-gown, and he lay down on his bed so garbed, to await the morrow's light, being probably surprised by sleep acting upon fatigue and nerves appeased and soothed.
Elba lay more sheltered from South-east winds under the slopes of down than any other house in Crikswich. The South-caster struck off the cliff to a martello tower and the house on the beach, leaving Elba to repose, so that the worst wind for that coast was one of the most comfortable for the owner of the hall, and he looked from his upper window on a sea of crumbling grey chalk, lashed unremittingly by the featureless piping gale, without fear that his elevated grounds and walls would be open at high tide to the ravage of water. Van Diemen had no idea of calamity being at work on land when he sat down to breakfast. He told Herbert that he had prayed for poor fellows at sea last night. Mary Fellingham and Annette were anxious to finish breakfast and mount the down to gaze on the sea, and receiving a caution from Van Diemen not to go too near the cliff, they were inclined to think he was needlessly timorous on their account.
Before they were half way through the meal, word was brought in of great breaches in the shingle, and water covering the common. Van Diemen sent for his head gardener, whose report of the state of things outside took the comprehensive form of prophecy; he predicted the fall of the town.
"Nonsense; what do you mean, John Scott?" said Van Diemen, eyeing his orderly breakfast table and the man in turns. "It does n't seem like that, yet, does it?"
"The house on the beach won't stand an hour longer, sir."
"Who says so?"
"It's cut off from land now, and waves mast-high all about it."
"Mart Tinman?" cried Van Diemen.
All started; all jumped up; and there was a scampering for hats and cloaks. Maids and men of the house ran in and out confirming the news of inundation. Some in terror for the fate of relatives, others pleasantly excited, glad of catastrophe if it but killed monotony, for at any rate it was a change of demons.
The view from the outer bank of Elba was of water covering the space of the common up to the stones of Marine Parade and Belle Vue. But at a distance it had not the appearance of angry water; the ladies thought it picturesque, and the house on the beach was seen standing firm. A second look showed the house completely isolated; and as the party led by Van Diemen circled hurriedly toward the town, they discerned heavy cataracts of foam pouring down the wrecked mound of shingle on either side of the house.
"Why, the outer wall's washed away," said Van Diemen. "Are they in real danger?" asked Annette, her teeth chattering, and the cold and other matters at her heart precluding for the moment such warmth of sympathy as she hoped soon to feel for them. She was glad to hear her father say:
"Oh! they're high and dry by this time. We shall find them in the town And we'll take them in and comfort them. Ten to one they have n't breakfasted. They sha'n't go to an inn while I'm handy."
He dashed ahead, followed closely by Herbert. The ladies beheld them talking to townsfolk as they passed along the upper streets, and did not augur well of their increase of speed. At the head of the town water was visible, part of the way up the main street, and crossing it, the ladies went swiftly under the old church, on the tower of which were spectators, through the churchyard to a high meadow that dropped to a stone wall fixed between the meadow and a grass bank above the level of the road, where now salt water beat and cast some spray. Not less than a hundred people were in this field, among them Crickledon and his wife. All were in silent watch of the house on the beach, which was to east of the field, at a distance of perhaps three stonethrows. The scene was wild. Continuously the torrents poured through the shingleclefts, and momently a thunder sounded, and high leapt a billow that topped the house and folded it weltering.
"They tell me Mart Tinman's in the house," Van Diemen roared to Herbert. He listened to further information, and bellowed: "There's no boat!"
Herbert answered: "It must be a mistake, I think; here's Crickledon says he had a warning before dawn and managed to move most of his things, and the people over there must have been awakened by the row in time to get off"
"I can't hear a word you say;" Van Diemen tried to pitch his voice higher than the wind. "Did you say a boat? But where?"
Crickledon the carpenter made signal to Herbert. They stepped rapidly up the field.
"Women feels their weakness in times like these, my dear," Mrs. Crickledon said to Annette. "What with our clothes and our cowardice it do seem we're not the equals of men when winds is high."
Annette expressed the hope to her that she had not lost much property. Mrs. Crickledon said she was glad to let her know she was insured in an Accident Company. "But," said she, "I do grieve for that poor man Tinman, if alive he be, and comes ashore to find his property wrecked by water. Bless ye! he wouldn't insure against anything less common than fire; and my house and Crickledon's shop are floating timbers by this time; and Marine Parade and Belle Vue are safe to go. And it'll be a pretty welcome for him, poor man, from his investments."
A cry at a tremendous blow of a wave on the doomed house rose from the field. Back and front door were broken down, and the force of water drove a round volume through the channel, shaking the walls.
"I can't stand this," Van Diemen cried.
Annette was too late to hold him back. He ran up the field. She was preparing to run after when Mrs. Crickledon touched her arm and implored her: "Interfere not with men, but let them follow their judgements when it's seasons of mighty peril, my dear. If any one's guilty it's me, for minding my husband of a boat that was launched for a life-boat here, and wouldn't answer, and is at the shed by the Crouch—left lying there, I've often said, as if it was a-sulking. My goodness!"
A linen sheet bad been flung out from one of the windows of the house on the beach, and flew loose and flapping in sign of distress.
"It looks as if they had gone mad in that house, to have waited so long for to declare theirselves, poor souls," Mrs. Crickledon said, sighing.
She was assured right and left that signals had been seen before, and some one stated that the cook of Mr. Tinman, and also Mrs. Cavely, were on shore.