The air of Arcadia, as has been said before, is an intoxicating air; but it is more, it is an air charged with a subtle magic whereby the commonest objects, losing their prosaic, matter-of-fact shapes, become transfigured into things of wonder, and delight. Little things that pass as mere ordinary common-places,—things insignificant, and wholly beneath notice in the every day world, become fraught with such infinite meaning, and may hold such sublime, such undreamed of possibilities —here in Arcadia. Thus, when it is recorded that Anthea's hand accidentally touched, and rested upon Bellew's—the significance of it will become at once apparent.
"And pray," said Anthea, laying that same hand in the most natural manner in the world, upon the Small Porges' curls, "Pray what might you two be discussing so very solemnly?"
"The moon," answered Small Porges. "I was wondering if it was a Money Moon, an' Uncle Porges hasn't said if it is, yet."
"Why no, old chap," answered Bellew, "I'm afraid not."
"And pray," said Anthea again, "what might a Money Moon be?"
"Well," explained Small Porges, "when the moon's just—just so, then you go out an'—an' find a fortune, you know. But the moon's got to be a Money Moon, and you've got to know, you know, else you'll find nothing, of course."
"Ah Georgy dear!" sighed Anthea, stooping her dark head down to his golden curls, "don't you know that fortunes are very hard to get, and that they have to be worked for, and that no one ever found one without a great deal of labour, and sorrow?"
"'Course—everyone can't find fortunes, Auntie Anthea, I know that, but we shall,—my Uncle Porges knows all about it, you see, an' I know that we shall. I'm sure as sure we shall find one, some day, 'cause, you see, I put it in my prayers now,—at the end, you know. I say: 'An' please help me an' my Uncle Porges to find a fortune when the Money Moon comes,—a big one, world without end—Amen!' So you see, it's all right, an' we're just waiting till the Money Moon comes, aren't we, Uncle Porges?"
"Yes, old chap, yes," nodded Bellew, "until the Money Moon comes."
And so there fell a silence between them, yet a silence that held a wondrous charm of its own; a silence that lasted so long that the coppery curls drooped lower, and lower upon Bellew's arm, until Anthea, sighing, rose, and in a very tender voice bade Small Porges say 'Goodnight!' the which he did, forthwith, slumberous of voice, and sleepy eyed, and so, with his hand in Anthea's, went drowsily up to bed.
Wherefore, seeing that Miss Priscilla had bustled away into the kitchen, Bellew sauntered out into the rose-garden to look upon the beauty of the night. The warm air was fragrant with dewy scents, and the moon, already high above the tree-tops, poured down her gentle radiance upon the quaint, old garden with its winding walks, and clipped yew hedges, while upon the quiet, from the dim shadow of the distant woods, stole the soft, sweet song of a nightingale.
Bellew walked a path bordered with flowers, and checkered with silver patches of moon-light, drinking in the thousand beauties about him, staring up at the glory of the moon, the indigo of the sky, and listening to the voice of the lonely singer in the wood. And yet it was of none of these he was thinking as he paused under the shadow of "King Arthur,"—nor of Small Porges, nor of any one or anything in this world but only of the sudden, light touch of a warm, soft hand upon his. "Be that you, sir?" Bellew started and now he found that he had been sitting, all this while, with an empty pipe between his teeth, yet content therewith; wherefore he shook his head, and wondered.
"Be that you, Mr. Beloo, sir?"
"Yes Adam, it is I."
"Ah! an' how might you be feelin' now—arter your exercise wi' the pitch-fork, sir?"
"Very fit, I thank you, Adam. Sit down, and smoke, and let us converse together."
"Why thankee sir," answered Adam, producing the small, black clay pipe from his waistcoat pocket, and accepting Bellew's proffered pouch. "I've been up to the 'ouse a visitin' Prudence, the cook,—an' a rare cook she be, too, Mr. Beloo sir!"
"And a rare buxom girl into the bargain, Adam!"
"Oh, ah!—she's well enough, sir; I won't go for to deny as she's a fine, up-standing, well-shaped, tall, an' proper figure of a woman as ever was, sir,—though the Kentish lasses be a tidy lot, Mr. Beloo sir. But, Lord! when you come to think of her gift for Yorkshire Puddin', likewise jam-rollers, and seed-cake,—(which, though mentioned last, ain't by no manner o' means least),—when you come to think of her brew o' ale, an' cider, an' ginger wine,—why then—I'm took, sir, I'm took altogether, an' the 'Old Adam' inside o' me works hisself into such a state that if another chap—'specially that there Job Jagway gets lookin' her way too often, why it's got to get took out o' him, or took out o' me in good 'ard knocks, Mr. Belloo, sir."
"And when are you going to get married, Adam?"
"Well sir, we was thinkin' that if Miss Anthea has a good season, this year, we'd get it over an' done wi' some time in October, sir,—but it's all accordin'."
"According to what?"
"To the 'ops, sir,—the H-O-P-S—'ops, sir. They're comin' on fine,—ah! scrumptuous they be! If they don't take the blight, sir, they'll be the finest 'ops this side o' Maidstone. But then, if they do take the blight,—why then my 'opes is blighted likewise sir,—B-L-I-T-E-D, —blighted, Mr. Belloo sir!" which said, Adam laughed once, nodded his head several times, and relapsed into puffing silence.
"Mr. Cassilis was over to-day, Adam," said Bellew, after a while pursuing a train of thought.
"Ah sir!—I seen him,—'e also seen me. 'E told me as Job Jagway was up and about again,—likewise Job Jagway will be over 'ere to-morrow, along wi' the rest of 'em for the sale, sir."
"Ah yes,—the sale!" said Bellew, thoughtfully.
"To think o' that there Job Jagway a coming over here to buy Miss Anthea's furnitur' do set the Old Adam a workin' inside o' me to that amazin' extent as I can't sit still, Mr. Belloo sir! If that there Job crosses my path to-morrer—well—let 'im—look out, that's all!" saying which, Adam doubled up a huge, knotted fist and shook it at an imaginary Job.
"Adam," said Bellew, in the same thoughtful tone, "I wonder if you would do something for me?"
"Anything you ax me, sir, so long as you don't want me to—"
"I want you to buy some of that furniture for me."
"What!" exclaimed Adam, and vented his great laugh again, "well, if that ain't a good 'un, sir! why that's just w'ot I'm a going to do! Ye see, I ain't w'ot you might call a rich cove, nor yet a millionaire, but I've got a bit put by, an' I drawed out ten pound, yesterday. Thinks I,—'here's to save Miss Anthea's old sideboard, or the mirror as she's so fond of, or if not—why then a cheer or so,—they ain't a going to get it all,—not while I've got a pound or two,' I sez to myself."
"Adam," said Bellew, turning suddenly, "that sentiment does you credit, that sentiment makes me proud to have knocked you into a ditch,—shake hands, Adam." And there, beneath the great apple tree, while the moon looked on, they very solemnly shook hands.
"And now, Adam," pursued Bellew, "I want you to put back your ten pounds, keep it for Prudence,—because I happen to have rather more than we shall want,—see here!" And, with the words, Bellew took out a leathern wallet, and from this wallet, money, and bank-notes,—more money, and more bank-notes than Adam had ever beheld in all his thirty odd years, at sight of which his eyes opened, and his square jaw relaxed, to the imminent danger of his cherished clay pipe.
"I want you to take this," Bellew went on, counting a sum into Adam's nerveless hand, "and to-morrow, when the sale begins, if any one makes a bid for anything, I want you to bid higher, and, no matter what, you must always buy—always, you understand?"
"But sir,—that there old drorin'-room cab'net wi' the—carvings—"
"An' the silver candle-sticks,—and the four-post bed-stead,—an' the—"
"Buy 'em, Adam,—buy everything! If we haven't enough money there's plenty more where this came from,—only buy!—You understand?"
"Oh yes sir, I understand! 'Ow much 'ave you give me? Why, here's—forty-five,—fifty,—sixty,—Lord!—"
"Put it away, Adam,—forget all about it till to-morrow,—and not a word, mind!"
"A hundred pound!" gasped Adam, "Lord!—Oh I won't speak of it, trust me, Mr. Belloo, sir! But to think of me a walking about wi' a hundred pound in my pocket,—Lord! I won't say nothing—but to think of Old Adam wi' a hundred pound in his pocket, e'Cod! it do seem that comical!" saying which, Adam buttoned the money into a capacious pocket, slapped it, nodded, and rose. "Well sir, I'll be going,—there be Miss Anthea in the garden yonder, and if she was to see me now there's no sayin' but I should be took a laughin' to think o' this 'ere hundred pound."
"Comin' through the rose-gardin. She be off to see old Mother Dibbin. They call Mother Dibbin a witch, an' now as she's down wi' the rheumatics there ain't nobody to look arter 'er,—'cept Miss Anthea,—she'd ha' starved afore now if it 'adn't been for Miss Anthea, but Lord love your eyes, an' limbs, Mr. Belloo sir! Miss Anthea don't care if she's a witch, or fifty witches, not she! So good-night, Mr. Belloo sir, an' mum's the word!"
Saying which, Adam slapped his pocket again, nodded, winked, and went upon his way.
Of the "Man with the Tiger Mark"
It is a moot question as to whether a curl can be more alluring when it glows beneath the fiery kisses of the sun, or shines demurely in the tender radiance of the moon. As Bellew looked at it now,—that same small curl that nodded and beckoned to him above Anthea's left ear,—he strongly inclined to the latter opinion.
"Adam tells me that you are going out, Miss Anthea."
"Only as far as Mrs. Dibbin's cottage,—just across the meadow."
"Adam also informs me that Mrs. Dibbin is a witch."
"People call her so."
"Never in all my days have I seen a genuine, old witch,—so I'll come with you, if I may?"
"Oh, this is a very gentle old witch, and she is neither humpbacked, nor does she ride a broom-stick,—so I'm afraid you'll be disappointed, Mr. Bellew."
"Then, at least, I can carry your basket,—allow me!" And so, in his quiet, masterful fashion he took the basket from her arm, and walked on beside her, through the orchard.
"What a glorious night it is!" exclaimed Anthea suddenly, drawing a deep breath of the fragrant air,—"Oh! it is good to be alive! In spite of all the cares, and worries, life is very sweet!"
After this, they walked on some distance in silence, she gazing wistfully upon the beauties of the familiar world about her while he watched the curl above her ear until she, becoming aware of it all at once, promptly sent it back into retirement, with a quick, deft little pat of her fingers.
"I hope," said Bellew at last, "I do sincerely hope that you 'tucked up' my nephew safe in bed,—you see—"
"Your nephew, indeed!"
"Our nephew, then; I ask because he tells me that he can't possibly sleep unless you go to 'tuck him up,'—and I can quite believe it."
"Do you know, Mr. Bellew, I'm growing quite jealous of you, he can't move a step without you, and he is for ever talking, and lauding your numberless virtues!"
"But then—I'm only an uncle, after all, and if he talks of me to you, he talks of you to me, all day long."
"Oh, does he!"
"And, among other things, he told me that I ought to see you when your hair is down, and all about you."
"Oh!" exclaimed Anthea.
"Indeed, our nephew is much luckier than I, because I never had an aunt of my own to come and 'tuck me up' at night with her hair hanging all about her—like a beautiful cloak. So, you see, I have no boyish recollections to go upon, but I think I can imagine—"
"And what do you think of the Sergeant?" Anthea enquired, changing the subject abruptly.
"I like him so much that I am going to take him at his word, and call upon him at the first opportunity."
"Did Aunt Priscilla tell you that he comes marching along regularly every day, at exactly the same hour?"
"Yes,—to see how the peaches are getting on!" nodded Bellew.
"For such a very brave soldier he is a dreadful coward," said Anthea, smiling, "it has taken him five years to screw up courage enough to tell her that she's uncommonly young for her age. And yet, I think it is just that diffidence that makes him so lovable. And he is so simple, and so gentle—in spite of all his war medals. When I am moody, and cross, the very sight of him is enough to put me in humour again."
"Has he never—spoken to Miss Priscilla,—?"
"Never,—though, of course, she knows, and has done from the very first. I asked him once, why he had never told her what it was brought him so regularly,—to look at the peaches,—and he said, in his quick, sharp way: 'Miss Anthea,—can't be done, mam,—a poor, battered, old soldier,—only one arm,—no mam.'"
"I wonder if one could find just such another Sergeant outside Arcadia," said Bellew, "I wonder!"
Now they were approaching a stile towards which Bellew had directed his eyes, from time to time, as, for that matter, curiously enough, had Anthea; but to him it seemed that it never would be reached, while to her, it seemed that it would be reached much too soon. Therefore she began to rack her mind trying to remember some gate, or any gap in the hedge that should obviate the necessity of climbing it. But, before she could recall any such gate, or gap, they were at the stile, and Bellew, leaping over, had set down the basket, and stretched out his hand to aid her over. But Anthea, tall, and lithe, active and vigorous with her outdoor life, and used to such things from her infancy, stood a moment hesitating. To be sure, the stile was rather high, yet she could have vaulted it nearly, if not quite, as easily as Bellew himself, had she been alone. But then, she was not alone, moreover, be it remembered, this was in Arcadia of a mid-summer night. Thus, she hesitated, only a moment, it is true, for, seeing the quizzical look in his eyes that always made her vaguely rebellious,—with a quick, light movement, she mounted the stile, and there paused to shake her head in laughing disdain of his out-stretched hand; then—there was the sound of rending cambric, she tripped, and, next moment, he had caught her in his arms. It was for but a very brief instant that she lay, soft and yielding, in his embrace, yet she was conscious of how strong were the arms that held her so easily, ere they set her down.
"I beg your pardon!—how awkward I am!" she exclaimed, in hot mortification.
"No," said Bellew, shaking his head, "it was a nail, you know, a bent, and rusty nail,—here, under the top bar. Is your dress much torn?"
"Oh, that is nothing, thank you!"
So they went on again, but now they were silent once more, and very naturally, for Anthea was mightily angry,—with herself, the stile, Bellew, and everything concerned; while he was thinking of the sudden, warm clasp of her arms, of the alluring fragrance of her hair, and of the shy droop of her lashes as she lay in his embrace. Therefore, as he walked on beside her, saying nothing, within his secret soul he poured benedictions upon the head of that bent, and rusty nail.
And presently, having turned down a grassy lane and crossed a small but very noisy brook that chattered impertinences among the stones and chuckled at them slyly from the shadows, they eventually came upon a small, and very lonely little cottage bowered in roses and honeysuckle,—as are all the cottages hereabouts. But now Anthea paused, looking at Bellew with a dubious brow.
"I ought to warn you that Mrs. Dibbin is very old, and sometimes a little queer, and sometimes says very—surprising things."
"Excellent!" nodded Bellew, holding the little gate open for her, "very right and proper conduct in a witch, and I love surprises above all things."
But Anthea still hesitated, while Bellew stood with his hand upon the gate, waiting for her to enter. Now he had left his hat behind him, and, as the moon shone down on his bare head, she could not but notice how bright, and yellow was his hair, despite the thick, black brows below.
"I think I—would rather you waited outside,—if you don't mind, Mr. Bellew."
"You mean that I am to be denied the joy of conversing with a real, live, old witch, and having my fortune told?" he sighed. "Well, if such is your will—so be it," said he obediently, and handed her the basket.
"I won't keep you waiting very long,—and—thank you!" she smiled, and, hurrying up the narrow path, she tapped at the cottage door.
"Come in! come in!" cried an old, quavering voice, albeit, very sharp, and piercing. "That be my own soft dove of a maid,—my proud, beautiful, white lady! Come in! come in!—and bring him wi' you,—him as is so big, and strong,—him as I've expected so long,—the tall, golden man from over seas. Bid him come in, Miss Anthea, that Goody Dibbin's old eyes may look at him at last."
Hereupon, at a sign from Anthea, Bellew turned in at the gate, and striding up the path, entered the cottage.
Despite the season, a fire burned upon the hearth, and crouched over this, in a great elbow-chair, sat a very bent, and aged woman. Her face was furrowed, and seamed with numberless lines and wrinkles, but her eyes were still bright, and she wore no spectacles; likewise her white hair was wonderfully thick, and abundant, as could plainly be seen beneath the frill of her cap, for, like the very small room of this very small cottage, she was extremely neat, and tidy. She had a great, curving nose, and a great, curving chin, and what with this and her bright, black eyes, and stooping figure, she was very much like what a witch should be,—albeit a very superior kind of old witch.
She sat, for a while, staring up at Bellew who stood tall, and bare-headed, smiling down at her; and then, all at once, she nodded her head three several, and distinct times.
"Right!" she quavered, "right! right,—it be all right!—the golden man as I've watched this many an' many a day, wi' the curly hair, and the sleepy eye, and the Tiger-mark upon his arm,—right! right!"
"What do you mean by 'Tiger-mark?'" enquired Bellew.
"I mean, young master wi' your golden curls,—I mean as, sitting here day in, and day out, staring down into my fire, I has my dreams,—leastways, I calls 'em my dreams, though there's them as calls it the 'second sight.' But pray sit down, tall sir, on the stool there; and you, my tender maid, my dark lady, come you here—upon my right, and, if you wish, I'll look into the ink, or read your pretty hand, or tell you what I see down there in the fire. But no,—first, show what you have brought for Old Nannie in the blessed basket,—the fine, strong basket as holds so much. Yes, set it down here—where I can open it myself, tall sir. Eh,—what's this?—Tea! God bless you for the tea, my dear! And eggs, and butter,—and a cold chicken!—the Lord bless your kind heart, Miss Anthea! Ah, my proud lady, happy the man who shall win ye! Happy the man who shall wed ye, my dark, beautiful maid. And strong must he be, aye, and masterful he who shall wake the love-light in those dark, great, passionate eyes of yours. And there is no man in all this world can do it but he must be a golden man—wi' the Tiger-mark upon him."
"Aye,—blush if ye will, my dark lady, but Mother Dibbin knows she's seen it in the fire, dreamed it in her dreams, and read it in the ink. The path lies very dark afore ye, my lady,—aye very dark it be, and full o' cares, and troubles, but there's the sun shining beyond,—bright, and golden. You be proud, and high, and scornful, my lady,—'tis in your blood,—you'll need a strong hand to guide ye,—and the strong hand shall come. By force you shall be wooed, and by force you shall be wed,—and there be no man strong enough to woo, and wed ye, but him as I've told ye of—him as bears the Tiger-mark."
"But Nannie," said Anthea again, gently interrupting her, and patting the old woman's shrivelled hand, "you're forgetting the basket,—you haven't found all we've brought you, yet."
"Aye, aye!" nodded old Nannie, "the fine, strong basket,—let's see what more be in the good, kind basket. Here's bread, and sugar,—and—"
"A pound of your favourite tobacco!" said Anthea, with a smiling nod.
"Oh the good weed! The blessed weed!" cried the old woman, clutching the package with trembling fingers. "Ah! who can tell the comfort it has been to me in the long, long days, and the long, long nights,—the blessed weed! when I've sat here a looking and a looking into the fire. God bless you, my sweet maid, for your kindly thought!" and, with a sudden gesture, she caught Anthea's hand to her lips, and then, just as suddenly turned upon Bellew.
"And now, tall sir, can I do ought for ye? Shall I look into the fire for ye, or the ink, or read your hand?"
"Why yes," answered Bellew, stretching out his hand to her, "you shall tell me two things, if you will; first, shall one ever find his way into the 'Castle of Heart's Desire,' and secondly;—When?"
"Oh, but I don't need to look into your hand to tell you that, tall sir, nor yet in the ink, or in the fire, for I've dreamed it all in my dreams. And now, see you, 'tis a strong place, this Castle,—wi' thick doors, and great locks, and bars. But I have seen those doors broke' down,—those great locks, and bars burst asunder,—but—there is none can do this but him as bears the Tiger-Mark. So much for the first. And, for the second,—Happiness shall come a riding to you on the full moon,—but you must reach up—and take it for yourself,—if you be tall enough."
"And—even you are not tall enough to do that, Mr. Bellew!" laughed Anthea, as she rose to bid Old Nannie "Good-night," while Bellew, unnoticed, slipped certain coins upon a corner of the chimney-piece. So, old Nannie blessed them, and theirs,—past, present, and future, thoroughly and completely, with a fine comprehensiveness that only a genuinely accomplished old witch might hope to attain to, and, following them to the door, paused there with one shrivelled, claw-like hand up-lifted towards the sky:
"At the full o' the moon, tall sir!" she repeated, "at the full o' the moon! As for you, my dark-eyed lady, I say, by force you shall be wooed, and by force ye shall be wed, aye! aye!—but there is no man strong enough except he have the Tiger-Mark upon him. Old Nannie knows,—she's seen it in the ink, dreamed it in the fire, and read it all in your pretty hand. And now—thank ye for the tea, my pretty, and God bless ye for the good weed, and just so sure as you've been good, and kind to old Nannie, so shall Fortune be good and kind to you, Miss Anthea."
"Poor old Nannie!" said Anthea, as they went on down the grassy lane, "she is so very grateful for so little. And she is such a gentle old creature really, though the country folk do call her a witch and are afraid of her because they say she has the 'evil eye,'—which is ridiculous, of course! But nobody ever goes near her, and she is dreadfully lonely, poor old thing!"
"And so that is why you come to sit with her, and let her talk to you?" enquired Bellew, staring up at the moon.
"And do you believe in her dreams, and visions?"
"No,—of course not!" answered Anthea, rather hurriedly, and with a deeper colour in her cheeks, though Bellew was still intent upon the moon. "You don't either,—do you?" she enquired, seeing he was silent.
"Well, I don't quite know," he answered slowly, "but she is rather a wonderful old lady, I think."
"Yes, she has wonderful thick hair still," nodded Anthea, "and she's not a bit deaf, and her eyes are as clear, and sharp as ever they were."
"Yes, but I wasn't meaning her eyes, or her hair, or her hearing."
"Oh,—then pray what were you pleased to mean?"
"Did you happen to notice what she said about a—er—Man with, a—Tiger-Mark?" enquired Bellew, still gazing up at the moon.
"The Man with the Tiger-Mark,—of course! he has been much in her dreams, lately, and she has talked of him a great deal,—"
"Has she?" said Bellew, "ha!"
"Yes,—her mind is full of strange twists, and fancies,—you see she is so very old,—and she loves to tell me her dreams, and read the future for me."
"Though, of course, you don't believe it," said Bellew.
"Believe it!" Anthea repeated, and walked some dozen paces, or so, before she answered,—"no, of course not."
"Then—none of your fortune,—nothing she told you has ever come true?"
Once more Anthea hesitated, this time so long that Bellew turned from his moon-gazing to look at her.
"I mean," he went on, "has none of it ever come true,—about this Man with the Tiger-Mark, for instance?"
"No,—oh no!" answered Anthea, rather hastily, and laughed again. "Old Nannie has seen him in her dreams—everywhere,—in India, and Africa, and China; in hot countries, and cold countries—oh! Nannie has seen him everywhere, but I have seen him—nowhere, and, of course, I never shall."
"Ah!" said Bellew, "and she reads him always in your fortune, does she?"
"And I listen very patiently," Anthea nodded, "because it pleases her so much, and it is all so very harmless, after all, isn't it?"
"Yes," answered Bellew, "and very wonderful!"
"Wonderful?—poor old Nannie's fancies!—What do you mean by wonderful?"
"Upon my word, I hardly know," said Bellew, shaking his head, "but 'there are more things in heaven, and earth,' etc., you know, and this is one of them."
"Really!—now you grow mysterious, Mr. Bellew."
"Like the night!" he answered, turning to aid her across the impertinent brook that chuckled at them, and laughed after them, as only such a very impertinent brook possibly could.
So, betimes, they reached the stile, and crossed it, this time without mishap, despite the lurking nail and, all too soon for Bellew, had traversed the orchard, and were come to the garden where the roses all hung so still upon their stems that they might have been asleep, and filling the air with the perfume of their dreams.
And here they paused, perhaps because of the witchery of the moon, perhaps to listen to the voice of the nightingale who sang on more gloriously than ever. Yet, though they stood so close together, their glances seldom met, and they were very silent. But at last, as though making up her mind, Anthea spoke:
"What did you mean when you said Old Nannie's dreams were so wonderful?" she asked.
"I'll show you!" he answered, and, while he spoke, slipped off his coat, and drawing up his shirt-sleeve, held out a muscular, white arm towards her. He held it out in the full radiance of the moon, and thus, looking down at it, her eyes grew suddenly wide, and her breath caught strangely as surprise gave place to something else; for there, plain to be seen upon the white flesh, were three long scars that wound up from elbow to shoulder. And so, for a while, they stood thus, she looking at his arm, and he at her.
"Why—" said she at last, finding voice in a little gasp,—"why then—"
"I am the Man with the Tiger Mark!" he said, smiling his slow, placid smile. Now, as his eyes looked down into hers, she flushed sudden, and hot, and her glance wavered, and fell beneath his.
"Oh!" she cried, and, with the word, turned about, and fled from him into the house.
In which may be found a full, true, and particular account of the sale
"Uncle Porges, there's a little man in the hall with a red, red nose, an' a blue, blue chin,—"
"Yes, I've seen him,—also his nose, and chin, my Porges."
"But he's sticking little papers with numbers on them, all over my Auntie Anthea's chairs,—an' tables. Now what do you s'pose he's doing that for?"
"Who knows? It's probably all on account of his red nose, and blue chin, my Porges. Anyway, don't worry about him,—let us rather, find our Auntie Anthea."
They found her in the hall. And it was a hall, here, at Dapplemere, wide, and high, and with a minstrel's gallery at one end; a hall that, years and years ago, had often rung with the clash of men-at-arms, and echoed with loud, and jovial laughter, for this was the most ancient part of the Manor.
It looked rather bare, and barren, just now, for the furniture was all moved out of place,—ranged neatly round the walls, and stacked at the farther end, beneath the gallery where the little man in question, blue of chin, and red of nose, was hovering about it, dabbing little tickets on chairs, and tables,—even as Small Porges had said.
And, in the midst of it all, stood Anthea, a desolate figure, Bellew thought, who, upon his entrance, bent her head to draw on her driving gloves, for she was waiting for the dog-cart which was to bear her, and Small Porges to Cranbrook, far away from the hollow tap of the auctioneer's hammer.
"We're getting rid of some of the old furniture, you see, Mr. Bellew," she said, laying her hand on an antique cabinet nearby,—"we really have much more than we ever use."
"Yes," said Bellew. But he noticed that her eyes were very dark and wistful, despite her light tone, and that she had laid her hand upon the old cabinet with a touch very like a caress.
"Why is that man's nose so awful' red, and his chin so blue, Auntie Anthea?" enquired Small Porges, in a hissing stage whisper.
"Hush Georgy!—I don't know," said Anthea.
"An' why is he sticking his little numbers all over our best furniture!"
"That is to guide the auctioneer."
"Where to,—an' what is an auctioneer?"
But, at this moment, hearing the wheels of the dog-cart at the door, Anthea turned, and hastened out into the sunshine.
"A lovely day it do be for drivin'," said Adam touching his hat, "an' Bess be thinkin' the same, I do believe!" and he patted the glossy coat of the mare, who arched her neck, and pawed the gravel with an impatient hoof. Lightly, and nimbly Anthea swung herself up to the high seat, turning to make Small Porges secure beside her, as Bellew handed him up.
"You'll—look after things for me, Adam?" said Anthea, glancing back wistfully into the dim recesses of the cool, old hall.
"Aye,—I will that, Miss Anthea!"
"Mr. Bellew, we can find room for you if you care to come with us?"
"Thanks," said he, shaking his head, "but I rather think I'll stay here, and—er—help Adam to—to—look after things, if you don't mind."
"Then,—'Good-bye!'" said Anthea, and, nodding to Adam, he gave the mare her head, and off they went.
"Good-bye!" cried Small Porges, "an' thank you for the shilling Uncle Porges."
"The mare is—er—rather fresh this morning, isn't she, Adam?" enquired Bellew, watching the dog-cart's rapid course.
"And that's rather a—er—dangerous sort of thing for a woman to drive, isn't it?"
"Meanin' the dog-cart, sir?"
"Meaning the dog-cart, Adam."
"Why, Lord love ye, Mr. Belloo sir!" cried Adam with his great laugh, "there ain't nobody can 'andle the ribbons better than Miss Anthea,—there ain't a horse as she can't drive,—ah! or ride, for that matter,—not no-wheres, sir."
"Hum!" said Bellew, and, having watched the dog-cart out of sight, he turned and followed Adam into the stables.
And here, sitting upon a bale of hay, they smoked many pipes together in earnest converse, until such time as the sale should begin.
As the day advanced, people began arriving in twos and threes, and, among the first, the Auctioneer himself. A jovial-faced man, was this Auctioneer, with jovial manner, and a jovial smile. Indeed, his joviality seemed, somehow or other, to have got into the very buttons of his coat, for they fairly winked, and twinkled with joviality. Upon catching sight of the furniture he became, if possible, more jovial than ever, and beckoning to his assistant,—that is to say to the small man with the red nose and the blue chin, who, it seemed answered to the name of Theodore,—he clapped him jovially upon the back,—(rather as though he were knocking him down to some unfortunate bidder),—and immediately fell into business converse with him,—albeit jovial still.
But all the while intending purchasers were arriving; they came on horse, and afoot, and in conveyances of every sort and kind, and the tread of their feet, and the buzz of their voices awoke unwonted echoes in the old place. And still they came, from far and near, until some hundred odd people were crowded into the hall.
Conspicuous among them was a large man with a fat, red neck which he was continually mopping at, and rubbing with a vivid bandanna handkerchief scarcely less red. Indeed, red seemed to be his pervading colour, for his hair was red, his hands were red, and his face, heavy and round, was reddest of all, out of whose flaming circumference two diminutive but very sharp eyes winked and blinked continually. His voice, like himself, was large with a peculiar brassy ring to it that penetrated to the farthest corners and recesses of the old hall. He was, beyond all doubt, a man of substance, and of no small importance, for he was greeted deferentially on all hands, and it was to be noticed that people elbowed each other to make way for him, as people ever will before substance, and property. To some of them he nodded, to some he spoke, and with others he even laughed, albeit he was of a solemn, sober, and serious nature, as becomes a man of property, and substance.
Between whiles, however, he bestowed his undivided attention upon the furniture. He sat down suddenly and heavily, in chairs; he pummelled them with his plump, red fists,—whereby to test their springs; he opened the doors of cabinets; he peered into drawers; he rapped upon tables, and altogether comported himself as a thoroughly knowing man should, who is not to be hocussed by veneer, or taken in by the shine, and splendour of well applied bees-wax. Bellew, watching all this from where he sat screened from the throng by a great carved sideboard, and divers chairs, and whatnots,—drew rather harder at his pipe, and, chancing to catch Adam's eye, beckoned him to approach.
"Who is that round, red man, yonder, Adam?" he enquired, nodding to where the individual in question was engaged at that moment poking at something or other with a large, sausage-like finger.
"That!" replied Adam in a tone of profound disgust, "that be Mr. Grimes, o' Cranbrook, sir. Calls hisself a corn-chandler,—but I calls 'im,—well, never mind what, sir,—only it weren't at corn-chandling as 'e made all 'is money, sir,—and it be him as we all work, and slave for,—here at Dapplemere Farm."
"What do you mean, Adam?"
"I mean as it be him as holds the mortgage on Dapplemere, sir."
"Ah,—and how much?"
"Over three thousand pound, Mr. Belloo sir!" sighed Adam, with a hopeless shake of the head, "an' that be a powerful lot o' money, sir."
Bellew thought of the sums he had lavished upon his yacht, upon his three racing cars, and certain other extravagances. Three thousand pounds,—fifteen thousand dollars! It would make her a free woman,—independent,—happy! Just fifteen thousand dollars,—and he had thrown away more than that upon a poker game, before now!
"Lord!" exclaimed Adam, "the very sight o' that theer Grimes's pig eyes a-starin' at Miss Anthea's furnitur' do make the Old Adam rise up in me to that amazin' extent, Mr. Belloo sir—why, jest look at 'im a-thumpin' an' a poundin' at that theer chair!" Saying which, Adam turned, and elbowing his way to where Mr. Grimes was in the act of testing the springs of an easy chair, he promptly,—and as though forced by a struggling mob,—fell up against Mr. Grimes, and jostled Mr. Grimes, and trod heavily upon the toes of Mr. Grimes, and all with an expression of the most profound unconsciousness and abstraction, which, upon the indignant Corn-chandler's loud expostulations, immediately changed to a look of innocent surprise.
"Can't you look where you're going?—you clumsy fool!" fumed the irate Grimes, redder of neck than ever.
"Ax your pardon, Mr. Grimes," said Adam solemnly, "but what wi' people's legs, an' cheer legs, an' the legs o' tables,—not to mention sideboards an' cab'nets,—which, though not 'aving no legs, ain't to be by no manner o' means despised therefore,—w'ot wi' this an' that, an' t'other, I am that con-fined, or as you might say, con-fused, I don't know which legs is mine, or yourn, or anybody else's. Mr. Grimes sir,—I makes so bold as to ax your pardon all over again, sir." During which speech, Adam contrived, once more, to fall against, to tread upon, and to jostle the highly incensed Mr. Grimes back into the crowd again. Thereafter he became a Nemesis to Mr. Grimes, haunting him through the jungle of chairs, and tables, pursuing him into distant corners, and shady places, where, so sure as the sausage-like finger poised itself for an interrogatory poke, or the fat, red fist doubled itself for a spring-testing punch, the innocent-seeming Adam would thereupon fall against him from the rear, sideways, or in front.
Meanwhile, Bellew sat in his secluded corner, watching the crowd through the blue wreaths of his pipe, but thinking of her who, brave though she was, had nevertheless run away from it all at the last moment. Presently, however, he was aware that the Corn-chandler had seated himself on the other side of the chiffonier, puffing, and panting with heat, and indignation,—where he was presently joined by another individual,—a small, rat-eyed man, who bid Mr. Grimes a deferential "Good-day!"
"That there Adam," puffed the Corn-chandler, "that there Adam ought to be throwed out into the stables where he belongs. I never see a man as was so much growed to feet and elbers, in all my days! He ought to be took," repeated the Corn-chandler, "and shook, and throwed out into the yard."
"Yes," nodded the other, "took, and shook, and throwed out—neck, and crop, sir! And now,—what might you think o' the furniture, Mr. Grimes?"
"So so, Parsons," nodded Grimes, "so so!"
"Shall you buy?"
"I am a-going," said the Corn-chandler with much deliberation, "I am a-going to take them tapestry cheers, sir, likewise the grand-feyther clock in the corner here, likewise the four-post bed-stead wi' the carved 'ead-board,—and—most particular, Parsons, I shall take this here side-board. There ain't another piece like this in the county, as I know of,—solid ma-hogany, sir!—and the carvings!" and herewith, he gave two loud double knocks upon the article of furniture in question. "Oh! I've 'ad my eye on this side-board for years, and years,—knowed I'd get it some day, too,—the only wonder is as she ain't had to sell up afore now."
"Meaning Miss Anthea, sir?"
"Ah,—her! I say as it's a wonder to me,—wo't wi' the interest on the mortgage I 'old on the place, and one thing and another,—it's a wonder to me as she's kept her 'ead above water so long. But—mark me, Parsons, mark me,—she'll be selling again soon, and next time it'll be lock, stock, and barrel, Parsons!"
"Well, I don't 'old wi' women farmers, myself!" nodded Parsons. "But,—as to that cup-board over there,—Sheraton, I think,—what might you suppose it to be worth,—betwixt friends, now?" enquired Parsons, the rat eyed.
"Can't say till I've seed it, and likewise felt it," answered the Corn-chandler, rising. "Let me lay my 'and upon it, and I'll tell you—to a shilling," and here, they elbowed their way into the crowd. But Bellew sat there, chin in hand, quite oblivious to the fact that his pipe was out, long since.
The tall, old grand-father clock ticking in leisurely fashion in the corner behind him, solemn and sedate, as it had done since, (as the neat inscription upon the dial testified), it had first been made in the Year of Grace 1732, by one Jabez Havesham, of London;—this ancient time-piece now uttered a sudden wheeze, (which, considering its great age, could scarcely be wondered at), and, thereafter, the wheezing having subsided, gave forth a soft, and mellow chime, proclaiming to all and sundry, that it was twelve o'clock. Hereupon, the Auctioneer, bustling to and fro with his hat upon the back of his head, consulted his watch, nodded to the red nosed, blue-chinned Theodore, and, perching himself above the crowd, gave three sharp knocks with his hammer.
"Gentlemen!" he began, but here he was interrupted by a loud voice upraised in hot anger.
"Confound ye for a clumsy rascal! Will ye keep them elbers o' yourn to out o' my weskit, eh? Will ye keep them big feet o' yourn to yeself? If there ain't room enough for ye,—out ye go, d'ye hear—I'll have ye took, and shook,—and throwed out where ye belong; so jest mind where ye come a trampin', and a treadin'."
"Tread!" repeated Adam, "Lord! where am I to tread? If I steps backward I tread on ye,—If I steps sideways I tread on ye, if I steps for-ard I tread on ye. It do seem to me as I can't go nowhere but there you be a-waitin' to be trod on, Mr. Grimes, sir."
Hereupon the Auctioneer rapped louder than ever, upon which, the clamour subsiding, he smiled his most jovial smile, and once more began:
"Gentlemen! you have all had an opportunity to examine the furniture I am about to dispose of, and, as fair minded human beings I think you will admit that a finer lot of genuine antique was never offered at one and the same time. Gentlemen, I am not going to burst forth into laudatory rodomontade, (which is a word, gentlemen that I employ only among an enlightened community such as I now have the honour of addressing),—neither do I propose to waste your time in purposeless verbiage, (which is another of the same kind, gentlemen),—therefore, without further preface, or preamble, we will proceed at once to business. The first lot I have to offer you is a screen,—six foot high,—bring out the screen, Theodore! There it is, gentlemen,—open it out, Theodore! Observe, Gentlemen it is carved rosewood, the panels hand painted, and representing shepherds, and shepherdesses, disporting themselves under a tree with banjo and guitar. Now what am I offered for this hand-painted, antique screen,—come?"
"Fifteen shillings!" from someone deep hidden in the crowd.
"Start as low as you like, gentlemen! I am offered a miserable fifteen shillings for a genuine, hand-painted—"
"Sixteen!" this from a long, loose-limbed fellow with a patch over one eye, and another on his cheek.
"A pound!" said Adam, promptly.
"A guinea!" nodded he of the patches.
"Twenty-five shillin's!" said Adam.
"At twenty-five shillings!" cried the Auctioneer, "any advance?—a genuine, hand-painted, antique screen,—going at twenty-five—at twenty-five,—going—going—gone! To the large gentleman in the neckcloth, Theodore!"
"Theer be that Job Jagway, sir," said Adam, leaning across the side-board to impart this information,—"over yonder, Mr. Belloo sir,—'im as was bidding for the screen,—the tall chap wi' the patches. Two patches be pretty good, but I do wish as I'd give him a couple more, while I was about it, Mr. Belloo sir." Here, the Auctioneer's voice put an end to Adam's self-reproaches, and he turned back to the business in hand.
"The next lot I'm going to dispose of, gentlemen, is a fine set of six chairs with carved antique backs, and upholstered in tapestry. Also two arm-chairs to match,—wheel 'em out, Theodore! Now what is your price for these eight fine pieces,—look 'em over and bid accordingly."
"Thirty shillings!" Again from the depths of the crowd.
"Ha! ha!—you joke sir!" laughed the Auctioneer, rubbing his hands in his most jovial manner, "you joke! I can't see you, but you joke of course, and I laugh accordingly, ha! ha! Thirty shillings for eight, fine, antique, tapestried, hand-carved chairs,—Oh very good,—excellent, upon my soul!"
"Three pound!" said the fiery-necked Corn-chandler.
"Guineas!" said the rat-eyed Parsons.
"Four pound!" nodded the Corn-chandler.
"Four pound ten!" roared Adam.
"Five!" nodded Grimes, edging away from Adam's elbow.
"Six pound ten!" cried Adam.
"Eight!" said Grimes.
"Ten!" roared Adam, growing desperate.
"Eleven!" said Grimes, beginning to mop at his neck again.
Adam hesitated; eleven pounds seemed so very much for those chairs, that he had seen Prudence and the rosy-cheeked maids dust regularly every morning, and then,—it was not his money, after all. Therefore Adam hesitated, and glanced wistfully towards a certain distant corner.
"At eleven,—at eleven pounds!—this fine suite of hand-carved antique chairs, at eleven pounds!—at eleven!—at eleven, going—going!—"
"Fifteen!" said a voice from the distant corner; whereupon Adam drew a great sigh of relief, while the Corn-chandler contorted himself in his efforts to glare at Bellew round the side-board.
"Fifteen pounds!" chanted the Auctioneer, "I have fifteen,—I am given fifteen,—any advance? These eight antique chairs, going at fifteen!—going! for the last time,—going!—gone! Sold to the gentleman in the corner behind the side-board, Theodore."
"They were certainly fine chairs, Mr. Grimes!" said Parsons shaking his head.
"So so!" said the Corn-chandler, sitting down heavily, "So so, Parsons!" and he turned to glare at Bellew, who, lying back in an easy chair with his legs upon another, puffed at his pipe, and regarded all things with a placid interest.
It is not intended to record in these pages all the bids that were made as the afternoon advanced, for that would be fatiguing to write, and a weariness to read; suffice it that lots were put up, and regularly knocked down but always to Bellew, or Adam. Which last, encouraged by Bellew's bold advances, gaily roared down, and constantly out-bid all competitors with such unhesitating pertinacity, that murmurs rose, and swelled into open complaint. In the midst of which, the fiery-visaged Corn-chandler, purple now, between heat, and vexation, loudly demanded that he lay down some substantial deposit upon what he had already purchased, failing which, he should, there and then, be took, and shook, and throwed out into the yard.
"Neck, and crop!" added Mr. Parsons.
"That seems to be a fair proposition," smiled the Auctioneer, who had already experienced some doubts as to Adam's financial capabilities, yet with his joviality all unruffled,—"that seems to be a very fair proposal indeed. If the gentleman will put down some substantial deposit now—"
"Aye, for sure!" nodded Adam, stepping forward; and, unbuttoning a capacious pocket he drew out a handful of bank-notes, "shall I gi'e ye a hundred pound,—or will fifty be enough?"
"Why," said the Auctioneer, rubbing his hands as he eyed the fistful of bank-notes, "ten pound will be all that is necessary, sir,—just to ensure good faith, you understand."
Hereupon, Bellew beckoning to Adam, handed him a like amount which was duly deposited with the Auctioneer.
So, once more, the bidding began,—once more lots were put up,—and knocked down—now to Adam, and now to Bellew. The bed with the carved head-board had fallen to Adam after a lively contest between him, and Parsons, and the Corn-chandler, which had left the latter in a state of perspiring profanity, from which he was by no means recovered, when the Auctioneer once more rapped for silence.
"And now, gentlemen, last, but by no means least, we come to the gem of the sale,—a side-board, gentlemen,—a magnificent, mahogany side-board, being a superb example of the carver's art! Here is a side-board, gentlemen, which,—if it can be equalled,—cannot be excelled—no, gentlemen, not if you were to search all the baronial halls, and lordly mansions in this land of mansions, and baronials. It is a truly magnificent piece, in perfect condition,—and to be sold at your own price. I say no more. Gentlemen,—how much for this magnificent, mahogany piece?"
"Seventeen!" said Adam, who was rapidly drawing near the end of his resources.
"Eighteen!" This from Job Jagway.
"Go easy there, Job!" hissed Adam, edging a little nearer to him, "go easy, now,—Nineteen!"
"Come, come Gentlemen!" remonstrated the Auctioneer, "this isn't a coal-scuttle, nor a broom, nor yet a pair of tongs,—this is a magnificent mahogany side-board,—and you offer me—nineteen pound!"
"Twenty!" said Job.
"Twenty-one!" roared Adam, making his last bid, and then, turning, he hissed in Job's unwilling ear,—"go any higher, an' I'll pound ye to a jelly, Job!"
"Twenty-five!" said Parsons.
"Thirty!" nodded Grimes, scowling at Adam.
"Thirty-two!" cried Parsons.
"Forty!" nodded Grimes.
"That drops me," said Parsons, sighing, and shaking his head.
"Ah!" chuckled the Corn-chandler, "well, I've waited years for that side-board, Parsons, and I ain't going to let you take it away from me—nor nobody else, sir!"
"At forty!" cried the Auctioneer, "at forty!—this magnifi—"
"One!" nodded Bellew, beginning to fill his pipe.
"Forty-one's the bid,—I have forty-one from the gent in the corner—"
"Forty-five!" growled the Corn-chandler.
"Six!" said Bellew.
"Fifty!" snarled Grimes.
"One!" said Bellew.
"Gent in the corner gives me fifty-one!" chanted the Auctioneer—"any advance?—at fifty-one—"
"Fifty-five!" said Grimes, beginning to mop at his neck harder than ever.
"Add ten!" nodded Bellew.
"What's that?" cried Grimes, wheeling about.
"Gent in the corner offers me sixty-five,—at sixty-five,—this magnificent piece at sixty-five! What, are you all done?—at sixty-five, and cheap at the price,—come, gentlemen, take your time, give it another look over, and bid accordingly."
The crowd had dwindled rapidly during the last hour, which was scarcely to be wondered at seeing that they were constantly out-bid—either by a hoarse voiced, square-shouldered fellow in a neck-cloth, or a dreamy individual who lolled in a corner, and puffed at a pipe.
But now, as Grimes, his red cheeks puffed out, his little eyes snapping in a way that many knew meant danger (with a large D)—as the rich Corn-chandler, whose word was law to a good many, turned and confronted this lounging, long-legged individual,—such as remained closed round them in a ring, in keen expectation of what was to follow. Observing which, the Corn-chandler feeling it incumbent upon him now or never, to vindicate himself as a man of property, and substance, and not to be put down, thrust his hands deep into his pockets, spread his legs wide apart, and stared at Bellew in a way that most people had found highly disconcerting, before now. Bellew, however, seemed wholly unaffected, and went on imperturbably filling his pipe.
"At sixty-five!" cried the Auctioneer, leaning towards Grimes with his hammer poised, "at sixty-five—Will you make it another pound, sir!—come,—what do you say?"
"I say—no sir!" returned the Corn-chandler, slowly, and impressively, "I say no, sir,—I say—make it another—twenty pound, sir!" Hereupon heads were shaken, or nodded, and there rose the sudden shuffle of feet as the crowd closed in nearer.
"I get eighty-five! any advance on eighty-five?"
"Eighty-six!" said Bellew, settling the tobacco in his pipe-bowl with his thumb.
Once again the Auctioneer leaned over and appealed to the Corn-chandler, who stood in the same attitude, jingling the money in his pocket, "Come sir, don't let a pound or so stand between you and a side-board that can't be matched in the length and breadth of the United Kingdom,—come, what do you say to another ten shillings?"
"I say, sir," said Grimes, with his gaze still riveted upon Bellew, "I say—no sir,—I say make it another—twenty pound sir!"
Again there rose the shuffle of feet, again heads were nodded, and elbows nudged neighbouring ribs, and all eyes were focussed upon Bellew who was in the act of lighting his pipe.
"One hundred and six pounds!" cried the Auctioneer, "at one six!—at one six!—"
Bellew struck a match, but the wind from the open casement behind him, extinguished it.
"I have one hundred and six pounds! is there any advance, yes or no?—going at one hundred and six!"
Adam who, up till now, had enjoyed the struggle to the utmost, experienced a sudden qualm of fear.
Bellew struck another match.
"At one hundred and six pounds!—at one six,—going at one hundred and six pounds—!"
A cold moisture started out on Adam's brow, he clenched his hands, and muttered between his teeth. Supposing the money were all gone, like his own share, supposing they had to lose this famous old side-board,—and to Grimes of all people! This, and much more, was in Adam's mind while the Auctioneer held his hammer poised, and Bellew went on lighting his pipe.
"Going at one hundred and six!—going!—going!—"
"Fifty up!" said Bellew. His pipe was well alight at last, and he was nodding to the Auctioneer through a fragrant cloud.
"What!" cried Grimes, "'ow much?"
"Gent in the corner gives me one hundred and fifty six pounds," said the Auctioneer, with a jovial eye upon the Corn-chandler's lowering visage, "one five six,—all done?—any advance? Going at one five six,—going! going!—gone!" The hammer fell, and with its tap a sudden silence came upon the old hall. Then, all at once, the Corn-chandler turned, caught up his hat, clapped it on, shook a fat fist at Bellew, and crossing to the door, lumbered away, muttering maledictions as he went.
By twos and threes the others followed him until there remained only Adam, Bellew, the Auctioneer, and the red-nosed Theodore. And yet, there was one other, for, chancing to raise his eyes to the minstrel's gallery, Bellew espied Miss Priscilla, who, meeting his smiling glance, leaned down suddenly over the carved rail, and very deliberately, threw him a kiss, and then hurried away with a quick, light tap-tap of her stick.
How Anthea came home
"Lord!" said Adam, pausing with a chair under either arm, "Lord, Mr. Belloo sir,—I wonder what Miss Anthea will say?" with which remark he strode off with the two chairs to set them in their accustomed places.
Seldom indeed had the old hall despite its many years, seen such a running to and fro, heard such a patter of flying feet, such merry voices, such gay, and heart-felt laughter. For here was Miss Priscilla, looking smaller than ever, in a great arm chair whence she directed the disposal and arrangement of all things, with quick little motions of her crutch-stick. And here were the two rosy-cheeked maids, brighter and rosier than ever, and here was comely Prudence hither come from her kitchen to bear a hand, and here, as has been said, was Adam, and here also was Bellew, his pipe laid aside with his coat, pushing, and tugging in his efforts to get the great side-board back into its customary position; and all, as has also been said, was laughter, and bustle, and an eager haste to have all things as they were,—and should be henceforth,—before Anthea's return.
"Lord!" exclaimed Adam again, balanced now upon a ladder, and pausing to wipe his brow with one hand and with a picture swinging in the other, "Lord! what ever will Miss Anthea say, Mr. Belloo sir!"
"Ah!" nodded Bellew thoughtfully, "I wonder!"
"What do you suppose she'll say, Miss Priscilla, mam?"
"I think you'd better be careful of that picture, Adam!"
"Which means," said Bellew, smiling down into Miss Priscilla's young, bright eyes, "that you don't know."
"Well, Mr. Bellew, she'll be very—glad, of course,—happier I think, than you or I can guess, because I know she loves every stick, and stave of that old furniture,—but—"
"But!" nodded Bellew, "yes, I understand."
"Mr. Bellew, if Anthea,—God bless her dear heart!—but if she has a fault—it is pride, Mr. Bellew, Pride! Pride! Pride!—with a capital P!"
"Yes, she is very proud."
"She'll be that 'appy-'earted," said Adam, pausing near-by with a great armful of miscellaneous articles, "an' that full o' joy as never was! Mr. Belloo sir!" Having delivered himself of which, he departed with his load.
"I rose this morning—very early, Mr. Bellew,—Oh! very early!" said Miss Priscilla, following Adam's laden figure with watchful eyes, "couldn't possibly sleep, you see. So I got up,—ridiculously early,—but, bless you, she was before me!"
"Oh dear yes!—had been up—hours! And what—what do you suppose she was doing?" Bellew shook his head.
"She was rubbing and polishing that old side-board that you paid such a dreadful price for,—down on her knees before it,—yes she was! and polishing, and rubbing, and—crying all the while. Oh dear heart! such great, big tears,—and so very quiet! When she heard my little stick come tapping along she tried to hide them,—I mean her tears, of course, Mr. Bellew, and when I drew her dear, beautiful head down into my arms, she—tried to smile. 'I'm so very silly, Aunt Priscilla,' she said, crying more than ever, 'but it is so hard to let the old things be taken away,—you see,—I do love them so! I tell you all this, Mr. Bellew, because I like you,—ever since you took the trouble to pick up a ball of worsted for a poor, old lame woman—in an orchard,—first impressions, you know. And secondly, I tell you all this to explain to you why I—hum!—"
"Threw a kiss—from a minstrel's gallery, to a most unworthy individual, Aunt Priscilla?"
"Threw you a kiss, Mr. Bellew,—I had to,—the side-board you know,—on her knees—you understand?"
"You see, Mr. Belloo sir," said Adam, at this juncture, speaking from beneath an inlaid table which he held balanced upon his head,—"it ain't as if this was jest ordinary furnitur' sir,—ye see she kind-er feels as it be all part o' Dapplemere Manor, as it used to be called, it's all been here so long, that them cheers an' tables has come to be part o' the 'ouse, sir. So when she comes, an' finds as it ain't all been took,—or, as you might say,—vanished away,—why the question as I ax's you is,—w'ot will she say? Oh Lord!" And here, Adam gave vent to his great laugh which necessitated an almost superhuman exertion of strength to keep the table from slipping from its precarious perch. Whereupon Miss Priscilla screamed, (a very small scream, like herself) and Prudence scolded, and the two rosy-cheeked maids tittered, and Adam went chuckling upon his way.
And when the hall was, once more, its old, familiar, comfortable self, when the floor had been swept of its litter, and every trace of the sale removed,—then Miss Priscilla sighed, and Bellew put on his coat.
"When do you expect—she will come home?" he enquired, glancing at the grandfather clock in the corner.
"Well, if she drove straight back from Cranbrook she would be here now,—but I fancy she won't be so very anxious to get home to-day,—and may come the longest way round; yes, it's in my mind she will keep away from Dapplemere as long as ever she can."
"And I think," said Bellew, "Yes, I think I'll take a walk. I'll go and call upon the Sergeant."
"The Sergeant!" said Miss Priscilla, "let me see,—it is now a quarter to six, it should take you about fifteen minutes to the village, that will make it exactly six o'clock. You will find the Sergeant just sitting down in the chair on the left hand side of the fire-place,—in the corner,—at the 'King's Head,' you know. Not that I have ever seen him there,—good gracious no! but I—happen to be—acquainted with his habits, and he is as regular and precise as his great, big silver watch, and that is the most precise, and regular thing in all the world. I am glad you are going," she went on, "because to-day is—well, a day apart, Mr. Bellew. You will find the Sergeant at the 'King's Head,'—until half past seven."
"Then I will go to the 'King's Head,'" said Bellew. "And what message do you send him?"
"None," said Miss Priscilla, laughing and shaking her head,—"at least,—you can tell him, if you wish,—that—the peaches are riper than ever they were this evening."
"I won't forget," said Bellew, smiling, and went out into the sunshine. But, crossing the yard, he was met by Adam, who, chuckling still, paused to touch his hat.
"To look at that theer 'all, sir, you wouldn't never know as there'd ever been any sale at all,—not no'ow. Now the only question as worrits me, and as I'm a-axin' of myself constant is,—what will Miss Anthea 'ave to say about it?"
"Yes," said Bellew, "I wonder!" And so he turned, and went away slowly across the fields.
Miss Priscilla had been right,—Anthea was coming back the longest way round,—also she was anxious to keep away from Dapplemere as long as possible. Therefore, despite Small Porges' exhortations, and Bess's champing impatience, she held the mare in, permitting her only the slowest of paces, which was a most unusual thing for Anthea to do. For the most part, too, she drove in silence seemingly deaf to Small Porges' flow of talk, which was also very unlike in her. But before her eyes were visions of her dismantled home, in her ears was the roar of voices clamouring for her cherished possessions,—a sickening roar, broken, now and then, by the hollow tap of the auctioneer's cruel hammer. And, each time the clamouring voices rose, she shivered, and every blow of the cruel hammer seemed to fall upon her quivering heart. Thus, she was unwontedly deaf and unresponsive to Small Porges, who presently fell into a profound gloom, in consequence; and thus, she held in the eager mare who therefore, shied, and fidgeted, and tossed her head indignantly.
But, slowly as they went, they came within sight of the house, at last, with its quaint gables, and many latticed windows, and the blue smoke curling up from its twisted chimneys,—smiling and placid as though, in all this great world, there were no such thing to be found as—an auctioneer's hammer.
And presently they swung into the drive, and drew up in the courtyard. And there was Adam, waiting to take the mare's head,—Adam, as good-natured, and stolid as though there were no abominations called, for want of a worse name,—sales.
Very slowly, for her, Anthea climbed down from the high dog-cart, aiding Small Porges to earth, and with his hand clasped tight in hers, and with lips set firm, she turned and entered the hall. But, upon the threshold, she stopped, and stood there utterly still, gazing, and gazing upon the trim orderliness of everything. Then, seeing every well remembered thing in its appointed place,—all became suddenly blurred, and dim, and, snatching her hand from Small Porges' clasp, she uttered a great, choking sob, and covered her face.
But Small Porges had seen, and stood aghast, and Miss Priscilla had seen, and now hurried forward with a quick tap, tap of her stick. As she came, Anthea raised her head, and looked for one who should have been there, but was not. And, in that moment, instinctively she knew how things came to be as they were,—and, because of this knowledge, her cheeks flamed with a swift, burning colour, and with a soft cry, she hid her face in Miss Priscilla's gentle bosom. Then, while her face was yet hidden there, she whispered:
"Tell me—tell me—all about it."
But, meanwhile, Bellew, striding far away across the meadows, seeming to watch the glory of the sun-set, and to hearken to a blackbird piping from the dim seclusion of the copse a melodious "Good-bye" to the dying day, yet saw, and heard it not at all, for his mind was still occupied with Adam's question:—
"What would Miss Anthea say?"
Which, among, other things, has to do with shrimps, muffins, and tin whistles
A typical Kentish Village is Dapplemere with its rows of scattered cottages bowered in roses and honeysuckle,—white walled cottages with steep-pitched roofs, and small latticed windows that seem to stare at all and sundry like so many winking eyes.
There is an air redolent of ripening fruit, and hops, for Dapplemere is a place of orchards, and hop-gardens, and rick-yards, while, here and there, the sharp-pointed, red-tiled roof of some oast-house pierces the green.
Though Dapplemere village is but a very small place indeed, now-a-days,—yet it possesses a church, grey and ancient, whose massive Norman tower looks down upon gable and chimney, upon roof of thatch and roof of tile, like some benignant giant keeping watch above them all. Near-by, of course, is the inn, a great, rambling, comfortable place, with time-worn settles beside the door, and with a mighty sign a-swinging before it, upon which, plainly to be seen (when the sun catches it fairly) is that which purports to be a likeness of His Majesty King William the Fourth, of glorious memory. But alas! the colours have long since faded, so that now, (upon a dull day), it is a moot question whether His Majesty's nose was of the Greek, or Roman order, or, indeed, whether he was blessed with any nose at all. Thus, Time and Circumstances have united to make a ghost of the likeness (as they have done of the original, long since) which, fading yet more, and more, will doubtless eventually vanish altogether,—like King William himself, and leave but a vague memory behind.
Now, before the inn was a small crowd gathered about a trap in which sat two men, one of whom Bellew recognised as the rednecked Corn-chandler Grimes, and the other, the rat-eyed Parsons.
The Corn-chandler was mopping violently at his face and neck down which ran, and to which clung, a foamy substance suspiciously like the froth of beer, and, as he mopped, his loud brassy voice shook and quavered with passion.
"I tell ye—you shall get out o' my cottage!" he was saying, "I say you shall quit my cottage at the end o' the month,—and when I says a thing, I means it,—I say you shall get off of my property,—you—and that beggarly cobbler. I say you shall be throwed out o' my cottage,—lock, stock, and barrel. I say—"
"I wouldn't, Mr. Grimes,—leastways, not if I was you," another voice broke in, calm and deliberate. "No, I wouldn't go for to say another word, sir; because, if ye do say another word, I know a man as will drag you down out o' that cart, sir,—I know a man as will break your whip over your very own back, sir,—I know a man as will then take and heave you into the horse-pond, sir,—and that man is me—Sergeant Appleby, late of the Nineteenth Hussars, sir."
The Corn-chandler having removed most of the froth from his head and face, stared down at the straight, alert figure of the big Sergeant, hesitated, glanced at the Sergeant's fist which, though solitary, was large, and powerful, scowled at the Sergeant from his polished boots to the crown of his well-brushed hat (which perched upon his close-cropped, grey hair at a ridiculous angle totally impossible to any but an ex-cavalry-man), muttered a furious oath, and snatching his whip, cut viciously at his horse, very much as if that animal had been the Sergeant himself, and, as the trap lurched forward, he shook his fist, and nodded his head.
"Out ye go,—at the end o' the month,—mind that!" he snarled and so, rattled away down the road still mopping at his head and neck until he had fairly mopped himself out of sight.
"Well, Sergeant," said Bellew extending his hand, "how are you!"
"Hearty, sir,—hearty I thank you, though, at this precise moment, just a leetle put out, sir. None the less I know a man as is happy to see you, Mr. Bellew, sir,—and that's me—Sergeant Appleby, at your service, sir. My cottage lies down the road yonder, an easy march—if you will step that far?—Speaking for my comrade and myself—we shall be proud for you to take tea with us—muffins sir—shrimps, Mr. Bellew—also a pikelet or two.—Not a great feast—but tolerable good rations, sir—and plenty of 'em—what do you say?"
"I say—done, and thank you very much!"
So, without further parley, the Sergeant saluted divers of the little crowd, and, wheeling sharply, strode along beside Bellew, rather more stiff in the back, and fixed of eye than was his wont, and jingling his imaginary spurs rather more loudly than usual.
"You will be wondering at the tantrums of the man Grimes, sir,—of his ordering me and my comrade Peterday out of his cottage. Sir—I'll tell you—in two words. It's all owing to the sale—up at the Farm, sir. You see, Grimes is a great hand at buying things uncommonly cheap, and selling 'em—uncommonly dear. To-day it seems—he was disappointed—"
"Ah?" said Bellew.
"At exactly—twenty-three minutes to six, sir," said the Sergeant, consulting his large silver watch, "I were sitting in my usual corner—beside the chimley, sir,—when in comes Grimes—like a thunder-cloud.—Calls for a pint of ale—in a tankard. Tom draws pint—which Tom is the landlord, sir. 'Buy anything at the sale, Mr. Grimes?' says Tom,—'Sale!' says Grimes, 'sale indeed!' and falls a cursing—folk up at the Farm—shocking—outrageous. Ends by threatening to foreclose mortgage—within the month. Upon which—I raise a protest—upon which he grows abusive,—upon which I was forced to pour his ale over him,—after which I ran him out into the road—and there it is, you see."
"And—he threatened to foreclose the mortgage on Dapplemere Farm, did he, Sergeant!"
"Within the month, sir!—upon which I warned him—inn parlour no place—lady's private money troubles—gaping crowd—dammit!"
"And so he is turning you out of his cottage?"
"Within the week, sir,—but then—beer down the neck—is rather unpleasant!" and here the Sergeant uttered a short laugh, and was immediately grave again. "It isn't," he went on, "it isn't as I mind the inconvenience of moving, sir—though I shall be mighty sorry to leave the old place, still, it isn't that so much as the small corner cup-board, and my bookshelf by the chimley. There never was such a cup-board,—no sir,—there never was a cup-board so well calculated to hold a pair o' jack boots, not to mention spurs, highlows, burnishers, shoulder-chains, polishing brushes, and—a boot-jack, as that same small corner cup-board. As for the book-shelf beside the chimley, sir—exactly three foot three,—sunk in a recess—height, the third button o' my coat,—capacity, fourteen books. You couldn't get another book on that shelf—no, not if you tried with a sledge-hammer, or a hydraulic engine. Which is highly surprising when you consider that fourteen books is the true, and exact number of books as I possess."
"Very remarkable!" said Bellew.
"Then again,—there's my comrade,—Peter Day (The Sergeant pronounced it as though it were all one word). Sir, my comrade Peterday is a very remarkable man,—most cobblers are. When he's not cobbling, he's reading,—when not reading, he's cobbling, or mending clocks, and watches, and, betwixt this and that, my comrade has picked up a power of information,—though he lost his leg a doing of it—in a gale of wind—off the Cape of Good Hope, for my comrade was a sailor, sir. Consequently he is a handy man, most sailors are and makes his own wooden legs, sir, he is also a musician—the tin whistle, sir,—and here we are!"
Saying which, the Sergeant halted, wheeled, opened a very small gate, and ushered Bellew into a very small garden bright with flowers, beyond which was a very small cottage indeed, through the open door of which there issued a most appetizing odour, accompanied by a whistle, wonderfully clear, and sweet, that was rendering "Tom Bowling" with many shakes, trills, and astonishing runs.
Peterday was busied at the fire with a long toasting-fork in his hand, but, on their entrance, breaking off his whistling in the very middle of a note, he sprang nimbly to his feet, (or rather, his foot), and stood revealed as a short, yet strongly built man, with a face that, in one way, resembled an island in that it was completely surrounded by hair, and whisker. But it was, in all respects, a vastly pleasant island to behold, despite the somewhat craggy prominences of chin, and nose, and brow. In other words, it was a pleasing face notwithstanding the fierce, thick eye-brows which were more than offset by the merry blue eyes, and the broad, humourous mouth below.
"Peterday," said the Sergeant, "Mr. Bel-lew!"
"Glad to see you sir," said the mariner, saluting the visitor with a quick bob of the head, and a backward scrape of the wooden leg. "You couldn't make port at a better time, sir,—and because why?—because the kettle's a biling, sir, the muffins is piping hot, and the shrimps is a-laying hove to, waiting to be took aboard, sir." Saying which, Peterday bobbed his head again, shook his wooden leg again, and turned away to reach another cup and saucer.
It was a large room for so small a cottage, and comfortably furnished, with a floor of red tile, and with a grate at one end well raised up from the hearth. Upon the hob a kettle sang murmurously, and on a trivet stood a plate whereon rose a tower of toasted muffins. A round table occupied the middle of the floor and was spread with a snowy cloth whereon cups and saucers were arranged, while in the midst stood a great bowl of shrimps.
Now above the mantel-piece, that is to say, to the left of it, and fastened to the wall, was a length of rope cunningly tied into what is called a "running bowline," above this, on a shelf specially contrived to hold it, was the model of a full-rigged ship that was—to all appearances—making excellent way of it, with every stitch of canvas set and drawing, alow and aloft; above this again, was a sextant, and a telescope. Opposite all these, upon the other side of the mantel, were a pair of stirrups, three pairs of spurs, two cavalry sabres, and a carbine, while between these objects, in the very middle of the chimney, uniting, as it were, the Army, and the Navy, was a portrait of Queen Victoria.
Bellew also noticed that each side of the room partook of the same characteristics, one being devoted to things nautical, the other to objects military. All this Bellew noticed while the soldier was brewing the tea, and the sailor was bestowing the last finishing touches to the muffins.
"It aren't often as we're honoured wi' company, sir," said Peterday, as they sat down, "is it, Dick?"
"No," answered the Sergeant, handing Bellew the shrimps.
"We ain't had company to tea," said Peterday, passing Bellew the muffins, "no, we ain't had company to tea since the last time Miss Anthea, and Miss Priscilla honoured us, have we, Dick?"
"Honoured us," said the Sergeant, nodding his head approvingly, "is the one, and only word for it, Peterday."
"And the last time was this day twelve months, sir,—because why?—because this day twelve months 'appened to be Miss Priscilla's birthday,—consequently to-day is her birthday, likewise,—wherefore the muffins, and wherefore the shrimps, sir, for they was this day to have once more graced our board, Mr. Bellew."
"'Graced our board,'" said the Sergeant, nodding his head again, "'graced our board,' is the only expression for it, Peterday. But they disappointed us, Mr. Bellew, sir,—on account of the sale."
"Messmate," said Peterday, with a note of concern in his voice, "how's the wind?"
"Tolerable, comrade, tolerable!"
"Then—why forget the tea?"
"Tea!" said the Sergeant with a guilty start, "why—so I am!—Mr. Bellew sir,—your pardon!" and, forthwith he began to pour out the tea very solemnly, but with less precision of movement than usual, and with abstracted gaze.
"The Sergeant tells me you are a musician," said Bellew, as Peterday handed him another muffin.
"A musician,—me! think o' that now! To be sure, I do toot on the tin whistle now and then, sir, such things as 'The British Grenadiers,' and the 'Girl I left behind me,' for my shipmate, and 'The Bay o' Biscay,' and 'A Life on the Ocean Wave,' for myself,—but a musician, Lord! Ye see, sir," said Peterday, taking advantage of the Sergeant's abstraction, and whispering confidentially behind his muffin, "that messmate o' mine has such a high opinion o' my gifts as is fair over-powering, and a tin whistle is only a tin whistle, after all."
"And it is about the only instrument I could ever get the hang of," said Bellew.
"Why—do you mean as you play, sir?"
"Hardly that, but I make a good bluff at it."
"Why then,—I've got a couple o' very good whistles,—if you're so minded we might try a doo-et, sir, arter tea."
"With pleasure!" nodded Bellew. But, hereupon, Peterday noticing that the Sergeant ate nothing, leaned over and touched him upon the shoulder.
"How's the wind, now, Shipmate?" he enquired.
"Why so so, Peterday, fairish! fairish!" said the Sergeant, stirring his tea round and round, and with his gaze fixed upon the opposite wall.
"Then messmate,—why not a muffin, or even a occasional shrimp,—where be your appetite?"
"Peterday," said the Sergeant, beginning to stir his tea faster than ever, and with his eyes still fixed, "consequent upon disparaging remarks having been passed by one Grimes,—our landlord,—concerning them as should not be mentioned in a inn parlour—or anywhere else—by such as said Grimes,—I was compelled to pour—a tankard of beer—over said Grimes, our landlord,—this arternoon, Peterday, at exactly—twelve and a half minutes past six, by my watch,—which done,—I ran our landlord—out into the road, Peterday, say—half a minute later, which would make it precisely thirteen minutes after the hour. Consequent upon which, comrade—we have received our marching orders."
"What messmate, is it heave our anchor, you mean?"
"I mean, comrade—that on Saturday next, being the twenty-fifth instant,—we march out—bag and baggage—horse, foot, and artillery,—we evacuate our position—in face of superior force,—for good and all, comrade."
"Is that so, shipmate?"
"It's rough on you, Peterday—it's hard on you, I'll admit, but things were said, comrade—relative to—business troubles of one as we both respect, Peterday,—things was said as called for—beer down the neck,—and running out into the road, comrade. But it's rough on you, Peterday seeing as you—like the Hussars at Assuan—was never engaged, so to speak."
"Aye, aye, Shipmate, that does ketch me,—all aback, shipmate. Why Lord! I'd give a pound,—two pound—ah, ten!—just to have been astarn of him wi' a rope's end,—though—come to think of it I'd ha' preferred a capstan-bar."
"Peterday," said the Sergeant removing his gaze from the wall with a jerk, "on the twenty-fifth instant we shall be—without a roof to cover us, and—all my doing. Peterday—what have you to say about it?"
"Say, messmate,—why that you and me, honouring, and respecting two ladies as deserves to be honoured, and respected, ain't going to let such a small thing as this here cottage come betwixt us, and our honouring and respecting of them two ladies. If, therefore, we are due to quit this anchorage, why then it's all hands to the windlass with a heave yo ho, and merrily! say I. Messmate,—my fist!" Hereupon, with a very jerky movement indeed, the Sergeant reached out his remaining arm, and the soldier and the sailor shook hands very solemnly over the muffins (already vastly diminished in number) with a grip that spoke much.
"Peterday,—you have lifted a load off my heart—I thank ye comrade,—and spoke like a true soldier. Peterday—the muffins!"
So now the Sergeant, himself once more, fell to in turn, and they ate, and drank, and laughed, and talked, until the shrimps were all gone, and the muffins were things of the past.
And now, declining all Bellew's offers of assistance, the soldier and the sailor began washing, and drying, and putting away their crockery, each in his characteristic manner,—the Sergeant very careful and exact, while the sailor juggled cups and saucers with the sure-handed deftness that seems peculiar to nautical fingers.
"Yes, Peterday," said the Sergeant, hanging each cup upon its appointed nail, and setting each saucer solicitously in the space reserved for it on the small dresser, "since you have took our marching orders as you have took 'em, I am quite reconciled to parting with these here snug quarters, barring only—a book-shelf, and a cup-board."
"Cupboard!" returned Peterday with a snort of disdain, "why there never was such a ill-contrived, lubberly cupboard as that, in all the world; you can't get at it unless you lay over to port,—on account o' the clothes-press, and then hard a starboard,—on account o' the dresser,—and then it being in the darkest corner—"
"True Peterday, but then I'm used to it, and use is everything as you know,—I can lay my hand upon anything—in a minute—watch me!" Saying which, the Sergeant squeezed himself between the press and the dresser, opened the cupboard, and took thence several articles which he named, each in order.
"A pair o' jack-boots,—two brushes,—blacking,—and a burnisher." Having set these down, one by one, upon the dresser, he wheeled, and addressed himself to Bellew, as follows:
"Mr. Bellew, sir,—this evening being the anniversary of a certain—event, sir, I will ask you—to excuse me—while I make the necessary preparations—to honour this anniversary—as is ever my custom." As he ended, he dropped the two brushes, the blacking, and the burnisher inside the legs of the boots, picked them up with a sweep of the arm, and, turning short round, strode out into the little garden.
"A fine fellow is Dick, sir!" nodded Peterday, beginning to fill a long clay pipe, "Lord!—what a sailor he 'd ha' made, to be sure!—failing which he's as fine a soldier as ever was, or will be, with enough war-medals to fill my Sunday hat, sir. When he lost his arm they gave him the V.C., and his discharge, sir,—because why—because a soldier wi' one arm ain't any more good than a sailor wi' one leg, d'ye see. So they tried to discharge Dick, but—Lord love you!—they couldn't, sir,—because why?—because Dick were a soldier bred and born, and is as much a soldier to-day, as ever he was,—ah! and always will be—until he goes marching aloft,—like poor Tom Bowling,—until one as is General of all the armies, and Admiral of all the fleets as ever sailed, shall call the last muster roll, sir. At this present moment, sir," continued the sailor, lighting his pipe with a live coal from the fire, "my messmate is a-sitting to the leeward o' the plum tree outside, a polishing of his jack-boots,—as don't need polishing, and a burnishing of his spurs,—as don't need burnishing. And because why?—because he goes on guard, to-night, according to custom."
"On guard!" repeated Bellew, "I'm afraid I don't understand."
"Of course you don't, sir," chuckled Peterday, "well then, to-night he marches away—in full regimentals, sir,—to mount guard. And—where, do you suppose?—why, I'll tell you,—under Miss Priscilla's window! He gets there as the clock is striking eleven, and there he stays, a marching to and fro, until twelve o'clock. Which does him a world o' good, sir, and noways displeases Miss Priscilla,—because why?—because she don't know nothing whatever about it." Hereupon, Peterday rose, and crossing to a battered sea-man's chest in the corner, came back with three or four tin whistles which he handed to Bellew, who laid aside his pipe, and, having selected one, ran tentatively up and down the scale while Peterday listened attentive of ear, and beaming of face.
"Sir," said he, "what do you say to 'Annie Laurie' as a start—shall we give 'em 'Annie Laurie'?—very good!—ready?—go!"
Thus, George Bellew, American citizen, and millionaire, piped away on a tin whistle with all the gusto in the world,—introducing little trills, and flourishes, here and there, that fairly won the one-legged sailor's heart.
They had already "given 'em" three or four selections, each of which had been vociferously encored by Peterday, or Bellew,—and had just finished an impassioned rendering of the "Suwanee River," when the Sergeant appeared with his boots beneath his arm.
"Shipmate!" cried Peterday, flourishing his whistle, "did ye ever hear a tin whistle better played, or mellerer in tone?"
"Meller—is the only word for it, comrade,—and your playing sirs, is—artistic—though doleful. P'raps you wouldn't mind giving us something brighter—a rattling quick-step? P'raps you might remember one as begins:
'Some talk of Alexander And some, of Hercules;'
if it wouldn't be troubling you too much?"
Forthwith they burst forth into "The British Grenadiers?" and never did tin whistles render the famous old tune with more fire, and dash. As the stirring notes rang out, the Sergeant, standing upon the hearth, seemed to grow taller, his broad chest expanded, his eyes glowed, a flush crept up into his cheek, and the whole man thrilled to the music as he had done, many a time and oft, in years gone by. As the last notes died away, he glanced down at the empty sleeve pinned across his breast, shook his head, and thanking them in a very gruff voice indeed, turned on his heel, and busied himself at his little cupboard. Peterday now rose, and set a jug together with three glasses upon the table, also spoons, and a lemon, keeping his "weather-eye" meanwhile, upon the kettle,—which last, condescending to boil obligingly, he rapped three times with his wooden leg.
"Right O, shipmate!" he cried, very much as though he had been hailing the "main-top," whereupon the Sergeant emerged from between the clothes-press and the dresser with a black bottle in his hand, which he passed over to Peterday who set about brewing what he called a "jorum o' grog," the savour of which filled the place with a right pleasant fragrance. And, when the glasses brimmed, each with a slice of lemon a-top,—the Sergeant solemnly rose.
"Mr. Bellew, and comrade," said he, lifting his glass, "I give you—Miss Priscilla!"
"God bless her!" said Peterday.
"Amen!" added Bellew. So the toast was drunk,—the glasses were emptied, re-filled, and emptied again,—this time more slowly, and, the clock striking nine, Bellew rose to take his leave. Seeing which, the Sergeant fetched his hat and stick, and volunteered to accompany him a little way. So when Bellew had shaken the sailor's honest hand, they set out together.
"Sergeant," said Bellew, after they had walked some distance, "I have a message for you."
"For me, sir?"
"From Miss Priscilla."
"She bid me tell you that—the peaches are riper to-night than ever they were."
The Sergeant seemed to find in this a subject for profound thought, and he strode on beside Bellew very silently, and with his eyes straight before him.
"'That the peaches were riper,—to-night,—than ever they were?'" said he at last.
"Riper!" said the Sergeant, as though turning this over in his mind.
"Riper than ever they were!" nodded Bellew.
"The—peaches, I think, sir?"
"The peaches, yes." Bellew heard the Sergeant's finger rasping to and fro across his shaven chin.
"Mr. Bellew, sir—she is a—very remarkable woman, sir!"
"The kind of woman that—improves with age, sir!"
"Talking of—peaches, sir, I've often thought—she is—very like a peach—herself, sir."
"Very, Sergeant, but—"
"Peaches do—not improve with age, Sergeant,—'and the peaches are—riper than ever they were,—to-night!'" The Sergeant stopped short, and stared at Bellew wide-eyed.
"Why—sir," said he very slowly, "you don't mean to say you—think as she—meant—that—?"
"But I do!" nodded Bellew. And now, just as suddenly as he had stopped, the Sergeant turned, and went on again.
"Lord!" he whispered—"Lord! Lord!"
The moon was rising, and looking at the Sergeant, Bellew saw that there was a wonderful light in his face, yet a light that was not of the moon.
"Sergeant," said Bellew, laying a hand upon his shoulder, "why don't you speak to her?"
"Speak to her,—what me! No, no, Mr. Bellew!" said the Sergeant, hastily. "No, no,—can't be done, sir,—not to be mentioned, or thought of, sir!" The light was all gone out of his face, now, and he walked with his chin on his breast.
"The surprising thing to me, Sergeant, is that you have never thought of putting your fortune to the test, and—speaking your mind to her, before now."
"Thought of it, sir!" repeated the Sergeant, bitterly, "thought of it!—Lord, sir! I've thought of it—these five years—and more. I've thought of it—day and night. I've thought of it so very much that I know—I never can—speak my mind to her. Look at me!" he cried suddenly, wheeling and confronting Bellew, but not at all like his bold, erect, soldierly self,—"Yes, look at me,—a poor, battered, old soldier—with his—best arm gone,—left behind him in India, and with nothing in the world but his old uniform,—getting very frayed and worn,—like himself, sir,—a pair o' jack boots, likewise very much worn, though wonderfully patched, here and there, by my good comrade, Peterday,—a handful of medals, and a very modest pension. Look at me, with the best o' my days behind me, and wi' only one arm left—and I'm a deal more awkward and helpless with that one arm than you'd think, sir,—look at me, and then tell me how could such a man dare to speak his mind to—such a woman. What right has—such a man to even think of speaking his mind to—such a woman, when there's part o' that man already in the grave? Why, no right, sir,—none in the world. Poverty, and one arm, are facts as make it impossible for that man to—ever speak his mind. And, sir—that man—never will. Sir,—good night to you!—and a pleasant walk!—I turn back here."
Which the Sergeant did, then and there, wheeling sharp right about face; yet, as Bellew watched him go, he noticed that the soldier's step was heavy, and slow, and it seemed that, for once, the Sergeant had even forgotten to put on his imaginary spurs.
In which Adam explains
"Yes, Miss Anthea."
"How much money did Mr. Bellew give you to—buy the furniture?"
Miss Anthea was sitting in her great elbow chair, leaning forward with her chin in her hand, looking at him in the way which always seemed to Adam as though she could see into the verimost recesses of his mind. Therefore Adam twisted his hat in his hands, and stared at the ceiling, and the floor, and the table before Miss Anthea, and the wall behind Miss Anthea—anywhere but at Miss Anthea.
"You ax me—how much it were, Miss Anthea?"
"Well,—it were a goodish sum."
"Was it—fifty pounds?"
"Fifty pound!" repeated Adam, in a tone of lofty disdain, "no, Miss Anthea, it were not fifty pound."
"Do you mean it was—more?"
"Ah!" nodded Adam, "I mean as it were a sight more. If you was to take the fifty pound you mention, add twenty more, and then another twenty to that, and then come ten more to that,—why then—you'd be a bit nigher the figure—"
"A hundred pounds!" exclaimed Anthea, aghast.
"Ah! a hundred pound!" nodded Adam, rolling the words upon his tongue with great gusto,—"one—hundred—pound, were the sum, Miss Anthea."
"Lord love you, Miss Anthea!—that weren't nothing,—that were only a flea-bite, as you might say,—he give more—ah! nigh double as much as that for the side-board."
"It be gospel true, Miss Anthea. That there sideboard were the plum o' the sale, so to speak, an' old Grimes had set 'is 'eart on it, d'ye see. Well, it were bid up to eighty-six pound, an' then Old Grimes 'e goes twenty more, making it a hundred an' six. Then—jest as I thought it were all over, an' jest as that there Old Grimes were beginning to swell hisself up wi' triumph, an' get that red in the face as 'e were a sight to behold,—Mr. Belloo, who'd been lightin' 'is pipe all this time, up and sez,—'Fifty up!' 'e sez in his quiet way, making it a hundred an' fifty-six pound, Miss Anthea,—which were too much for Grimes,—Lord! I thought as that there man were going to burst, Miss Anthea!" and Adam gave vent to his great laugh at the mere recollection. But Anthea was grave enough, and the troubled look in her eyes quickly sobered him.
"A hundred and fifty-six pounds!" she repeated in an awed voice, "but it—it is awful!"
"Steepish!" admitted Adam, "pretty steepish for a old sideboard, I'll allow, Miss Anthea,—but you see it were a personal matter betwixt Grimes an' Mr. Belloo. I began to think as they never would ha' left off biddin', an' by George!—I don't believe as Mr. Belloo ever would have left off biddin'. Ye see, there's summat about Mr. Belloo,—whether it be his voice, or his eye, or his chin,—I don't know,—but there be summat about him as says, very distinct that if so be 'e should 'appen to set 'is mind on a thing,—why 'e's a-going to get it, an' 'e ain't a-going to give in till 'e do get it. Ye see, Miss Anthea, 'e's so very quiet in 'is ways, an' speaks so soft, an' gentle,—p'raps that's it. Say, for instance, 'e were to ax you for summat, an' you said 'No'—well, 'e wouldn't make no fuss about it,—not 'im,—he'd jest—take it, that's what he'd do. As for that there sideboard he'd a sat there a bidding and a bidding all night I do believe."
"But, Adam, why did he do it! Why did he buy—all that furniture?"
"Well,—to keep it from being took away, p'raps!"
"Oh, Adam!—what am I to do?"
"Do, Miss Anthea?"
"The mortgage must be paid off—dreadfully soon—you know that, and—I can't—Oh, I can't give the money back—"
"Why—give it back!—No, a course not, Miss Anthea!"
"But I—can't—keep it!"
"Can't keep it, Miss Anthea mam,—an' why not?"
"Because I'm very sure he doesn't want all those things,—the idea is quite—absurd! And yet,—even if the hops do well, the money they bring will hardly be enough by itself, and so—I was selling my furniture to make it up, and—now—Oh! what am I to do?" and she leaned her head wearily upon her hand.
Now, seeing her distress, Adam all sturdy loyalty that he was, must needs sigh in sympathy, and fell, once more, to twisting his hat until he had fairly wrung it out of all semblance to its kind, twisting and screwing it between his strong hands as though he would fain wring out of it some solution to the problem that so perplexed his mistress. Then, all at once, the frown vanished from his brow, his grip loosened upon his unfortunate hat, and his eye brightened with a sudden gleam.
"Miss Anthea," said he, drawing a step nearer, and lowering his voice mysteriously, "supposing as I was to tell you that 'e did want that furnitur',—ah! an' wanted it bad?"
"Now how can he, Adam? It isn't as though he lived in England," said Anthea, shaking her head, "his home is thousands of miles away,—he is an American, and besides—"
"Ah!—but then—even a American—may get married. Miss Anthea, mam!" said Adam.
"Married!" she repeated, glancing up very quickly, "Adam—what do you mean?"
"Why you must know," began Adam, wringing at his hat again, "ever since the day I found him asleep in your hay, Miss Anthea, mam, Mr. Belloo has been very kind, and—friendly like. Mr. Belloo an' me 'ave smoked a good many sociable pipes together, an' when men smoke together, Miss Anthea, they likewise talk together."
"Yes?—Well?" said Anthea, rather breathlessly, and taking up a pencil that happened to be lying near to hand.
"And Mr. Belloo," continued Adam, heavily, "Mr. Belloo has done me—the—the honour," here Adam paused to give an extra twist to his hat,—"the—honour, Miss Anthea—"
"Of confiding to me 'is 'opes—" said Adam slowly, finding it much harder to frame his well-meaning falsehood than he had supposed, "his—H-O-P-E-S—'opes, Miss Anthea, of settling down very soon, an' of marryin' a fine young lady as 'e 'as 'ad 'is eye on a goodish time,—'aving knowed her from childhood's hour, Miss Anthea, and as lives up to Lonnon—"
"Consequently—'e bought all your furnitur' to set up 'ousekeepin', don't ye see."
"Yes,—I see, Adam!" Her voice was low, soft and gentle as ever, but the pencil was tracing meaningless scrawls in her shaking fingers.
"So you don't 'ave to be no-wise back-ard about keepin' the money, Miss Anthea."
"Oh no,—no, of course not, I—I understand, it was—just a—business transaction."
"Ah!—that's it,—a business transaction!" nodded Adam, "So you'll put the money a one side to help pay off the mortgage, eh, Miss Anthea?"
"If the 'ops comes up to what they promise to come up to,—you'll be able to get rid of Old Grimes—for good an' all, Miss Anthea."