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Barnaby Rudge

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Chapter 11

There was great news that night for the regular Maypole customers, to each of whom, as he straggled in to occupy his allotted seat in the chimney-corner, John, with a most impressive slowness of delivery, and in an apoplectic whisper, communicated the fact that Mr Chester was alone in the large room upstairs, and was waiting the arrival of Mr Geoffrey Haredale, to whom he had sent a letter (doubtless of a threatening nature) by the hands of Barnaby, then and there present.

For a little knot of smokers and solemn gossips, who had seldom any new topics of discussion, this was a perfect Godsend. Here was a good, dark-looking mystery progressing under that very roof—brought home to the fireside, as it were, and enjoyable without the smallest pains or trouble. It is extraordinary what a zest and relish it gave to the drink, and how it heightened the flavour of the tobacco. Every man smoked his pipe with a face of grave and serious delight, and looked at his neighbour with a sort of quiet congratulation. Nay, it was felt to be such a holiday and special night, that, on the motion of little Solomon Daisy, every man (including John himself) put down his sixpence for a can of flip, which grateful beverage was brewed with all despatch, and set down in the midst of them on the brick floor; both that it might simmer and stew before the fire, and that its fragrant steam, rising up among them, and mixing with the wreaths of vapour from their pipes, might shroud them in a delicious atmosphere of their own, and shut out all the world. The very furniture of the room seemed to mellow and deepen in its tone; the ceiling and walls looked blacker and more highly polished, the curtains of a ruddier red; the fire burnt clear and high, and the crickets in the hearthstone chirped with a more than wonted satisfaction.

There were present two, however, who showed but little interest in the general contentment. Of these, one was Barnaby himself, who slept, or, to avoid being beset with questions, feigned to sleep, in the chimney-corner; the other, Hugh, who, sleeping too, lay stretched upon the bench on the opposite side, in the full glare of the blazing fire.

The light that fell upon this slumbering form, showed it in all its muscular and handsome proportions. It was that of a young man, of a hale athletic figure, and a giant’s strength, whose sunburnt face and swarthy throat, overgrown with jet black hair, might have served a painter for a model. Loosely attired, in the coarsest and roughest garb, with scraps of straw and hay—his usual bed—clinging here and there, and mingling with his uncombed locks, he had fallen asleep in a posture as careless as his dress. The negligence and disorder of the whole man, with something fierce and sullen in his features, gave him a picturesque appearance, that attracted the regards even of the Maypole customers who knew him well, and caused Long Parkes to say that Hugh looked more like a poaching rascal to-night than ever he had seen him yet.

‘He’s waiting here, I suppose,’ said Solomon, ‘to take Mr Haredale’s horse.’

‘That’s it, sir,’ replied John Willet. ‘He’s not often in the house, you know. He’s more at his ease among horses than men. I look upon him as a animal himself.’

Following up this opinion with a shrug that seemed meant to say, ‘we can’t expect everybody to be like us,’ John put his pipe into his mouth again, and smoked like one who felt his superiority over the general run of mankind.

‘That chap, sir,’ said John, taking it out again after a time, and pointing at him with the stem, ‘though he’s got all his faculties about him—bottled up and corked down, if I may say so, somewheres or another—’

‘Very good!’ said Parkes, nodding his head. ‘A very good expression, Johnny. You’ll be a tackling somebody presently. You’re in twig to-night, I see.’

‘Take care,’ said Mr Willet, not at all grateful for the compliment, ‘that I don’t tackle you, sir, which I shall certainly endeavour to do, if you interrupt me when I’m making observations.—That chap, I was a saying, though he has all his faculties about him, somewheres or another, bottled up and corked down, has no more imagination than Barnaby has. And why hasn’t he?’

The three friends shook their heads at each other; saying by that action, without the trouble of opening their lips, ‘Do you observe what a philosophical mind our friend has?’

‘Why hasn’t he?’ said John, gently striking the table with his open hand. ‘Because they was never drawed out of him when he was a boy. That’s why. What would any of us have been, if our fathers hadn’t drawed our faculties out of us? What would my boy Joe have been, if I hadn’t drawed his faculties out of him?—Do you mind what I’m a saying of, gentlemen?’

‘Ah! we mind you,’ cried Parkes. ‘Go on improving of us, Johnny.’

‘Consequently, then,’ said Mr Willet, ‘that chap, whose mother was hung when he was a little boy, along with six others, for passing bad notes—and it’s a blessed thing to think how many people are hung in batches every six weeks for that, and such like offences, as showing how wide awake our government is—that chap that was then turned loose, and had to mind cows, and frighten birds away, and what not, for a few pence to live on, and so got on by degrees to mind horses, and to sleep in course of time in lofts and litter, instead of under haystacks and hedges, till at last he come to be hostler at the Maypole for his board and lodging and a annual trifle—that chap that can’t read nor write, and has never had much to do with anything but animals, and has never lived in any way but like the animals he has lived among, IS a animal. And,’ said Mr Willet, arriving at his logical conclusion, ‘is to be treated accordingly.’

‘Willet,’ said Solomon Daisy, who had exhibited some impatience at the intrusion of so unworthy a subject on their more interesting theme, ‘when Mr Chester come this morning, did he order the large room?’

‘He signified, sir,’ said John, ‘that he wanted a large apartment. Yes. Certainly.’

‘Why then, I’ll tell you what,’ said Solomon, speaking softly and with an earnest look. ‘He and Mr Haredale are going to fight a duel in it.’

Everybody looked at Mr Willet, after this alarming suggestion. Mr Willet looked at the fire, weighing in his own mind the effect which such an occurrence would be likely to have on the establishment.

‘Well,’ said John, ‘I don’t know—I am sure—I remember that when I went up last, he HAD put the lights upon the mantel-shelf.’

‘It’s as plain,’ returned Solomon, ‘as the nose on Parkes’s face’—Mr Parkes, who had a large nose, rubbed it, and looked as if he considered this a personal allusion—‘they’ll fight in that room. You know by the newspapers what a common thing it is for gentlemen to fight in coffee-houses without seconds. One of ‘em will be wounded or perhaps killed in this house.’

‘That was a challenge that Barnaby took then, eh?’ said John.

‘—Inclosing a slip of paper with the measure of his sword upon it, I’ll bet a guinea,’ answered the little man. ‘We know what sort of gentleman Mr Haredale is. You have told us what Barnaby said about his looks, when he came back. Depend upon it, I’m right. Now, mind.’

The flip had had no flavour till now. The tobacco had been of mere English growth, compared with its present taste. A duel in that great old rambling room upstairs, and the best bed ordered already for the wounded man!

‘Would it be swords or pistols, now?’ said John.

‘Heaven knows. Perhaps both,’ returned Solomon. ‘The gentlemen wear swords, and may easily have pistols in their pockets—most likely have, indeed. If they fire at each other without effect, then they’ll draw, and go to work in earnest.’

A shade passed over Mr Willet’s face as he thought of broken windows and disabled furniture, but bethinking himself that one of the parties would probably be left alive to pay the damage, he brightened up again.

‘And then,’ said Solomon, looking from face to face, ‘then we shall have one of those stains upon the floor that never come out. If Mr Haredale wins, depend upon it, it’ll be a deep one; or if he loses, it will perhaps be deeper still, for he’ll never give in unless he’s beaten down. We know him better, eh?’

‘Better indeed!’ they whispered all together.

‘As to its ever being got out again,’ said Solomon, ‘I tell you it never will, or can be. Why, do you know that it has been tried, at a certain house we are acquainted with?’

‘The Warren!’ cried John. ‘No, sure!’

‘Yes, sure—yes. It’s only known by very few. It has been whispered about though, for all that. They planed the board away, but there it was. They went deep, but it went deeper. They put new boards down, but there was one great spot that came through still, and showed itself in the old place. And—harkye—draw nearer—Mr Geoffrey made that room his study, and sits there, always, with his foot (as I have heard) upon it; and he believes, through thinking of it long and very much, that it will never fade until he finds the man who did the deed.’

As this recital ended, and they all drew closer round the fire, the tramp of a horse was heard without.

‘The very man!’ cried John, starting up. ‘Hugh! Hugh!’

The sleeper staggered to his feet, and hurried after him. John quickly returned, ushering in with great attention and deference (for Mr Haredale was his landlord) the long-expected visitor, who strode into the room clanking his heavy boots upon the floor; and looking keenly round upon the bowing group, raised his hat in acknowledgment of their profound respect.

‘You have a stranger here, Willet, who sent to me,’ he said, in a voice which sounded naturally stern and deep. ‘Where is he?’

‘In the great room upstairs, sir,’ answered John.

‘Show the way. Your staircase is dark, I know. Gentlemen, good night.’

With that, he signed to the landlord to go on before; and went clanking out, and up the stairs; old John, in his agitation, ingeniously lighting everything but the way, and making a stumble at every second step.

‘Stop!’ he said, when they reached the landing. ‘I can announce myself. Don’t wait.’

He laid his hand upon the door, entered, and shut it heavily. Mr Willet was by no means disposed to stand there listening by himself, especially as the walls were very thick; so descended, with much greater alacrity than he had come up, and joined his friends below.






Chapter 12

There was a brief pause in the state-room of the Maypole, as Mr Haredale tried the lock to satisfy himself that he had shut the door securely, and, striding up the dark chamber to where the screen inclosed a little patch of light and warmth, presented himself, abruptly and in silence, before the smiling guest.

If the two had no greater sympathy in their inward thoughts than in their outward bearing and appearance, the meeting did not seem likely to prove a very calm or pleasant one. With no great disparity between them in point of years, they were, in every other respect, as unlike and far removed from each other as two men could well be. The one was soft-spoken, delicately made, precise, and elegant; the other, a burly square-built man, negligently dressed, rough and abrupt in manner, stern, and, in his present mood, forbidding both in look and speech. The one preserved a calm and placid smile; the other, a distrustful frown. The new-comer, indeed, appeared bent on showing by his every tone and gesture his determined opposition and hostility to the man he had come to meet. The guest who received him, on the other hand, seemed to feel that the contrast between them was all in his favour, and to derive a quiet exultation from it which put him more at his ease than ever.

‘Haredale,’ said this gentleman, without the least appearance of embarrassment or reserve, ‘I am very glad to see you.’

‘Let us dispense with compliments. They are misplaced between us,’ returned the other, waving his hand, ‘and say plainly what we have to say. You have asked me to meet you. I am here. Why do we stand face to face again?’

‘Still the same frank and sturdy character, I see!’

‘Good or bad, sir, I am,’ returned the other, leaning his arm upon the chimney-piece, and turning a haughty look upon the occupant of the easy-chair, ‘the man I used to be. I have lost no old likings or dislikings; my memory has not failed me by a hair’s-breadth. You ask me to give you a meeting. I say, I am here.’

‘Our meeting, Haredale,’ said Mr Chester, tapping his snuff-box, and following with a smile the impatient gesture he had made—perhaps unconsciously—towards his sword, ‘is one of conference and peace, I hope?’

‘I have come here,’ returned the other, ‘at your desire, holding myself bound to meet you, when and where you would. I have not come to bandy pleasant speeches, or hollow professions. You are a smooth man of the world, sir, and at such play have me at a disadvantage. The very last man on this earth with whom I would enter the lists to combat with gentle compliments and masked faces, is Mr Chester, I do assure you. I am not his match at such weapons, and have reason to believe that few men are.’

‘You do me a great deal of honour Haredale,’ returned the other, most composedly, ‘and I thank you. I will be frank with you—’

‘I beg your pardon—will be what?’

‘Frank—open—perfectly candid.’

‘Hah!’ cried Mr Haredale, drawing his breath. ‘But don’t let me interrupt you.’

‘So resolved am I to hold this course,’ returned the other, tasting his wine with great deliberation; ‘that I have determined not to quarrel with you, and not to be betrayed into a warm expression or a hasty word.’

‘There again,’ said Mr Haredale, ‘you have me at a great advantage. Your self-command—’

‘Is not to be disturbed, when it will serve my purpose, you would say’—rejoined the other, interrupting him with the same complacency. ‘Granted. I allow it. And I have a purpose to serve now. So have you. I am sure our object is the same. Let us attain it like sensible men, who have ceased to be boys some time.—Do you drink?’

‘With my friends,’ returned the other.

‘At least,’ said Mr Chester, ‘you will be seated?’

‘I will stand,’ returned Mr Haredale impatiently, ‘on this dismantled, beggared hearth, and not pollute it, fallen as it is, with mockeries. Go on.’

‘You are wrong, Haredale,’ said the other, crossing his legs, and smiling as he held his glass up in the bright glow of the fire. ‘You are really very wrong. The world is a lively place enough, in which we must accommodate ourselves to circumstances, sail with the stream as glibly as we can, be content to take froth for substance, the surface for the depth, the counterfeit for the real coin. I wonder no philosopher has ever established that our globe itself is hollow. It should be, if Nature is consistent in her works.’

‘YOU think it is, perhaps?’

‘I should say,’ he returned, sipping his wine, ‘there could be no doubt about it. Well; we, in trifling with this jingling toy, have had the ill-luck to jostle and fall out. We are not what the world calls friends; but we are as good and true and loving friends for all that, as nine out of every ten of those on whom it bestows the title. You have a niece, and I a son—a fine lad, Haredale, but foolish. They fall in love with each other, and form what this same world calls an attachment; meaning a something fanciful and false like the rest, which, if it took its own free time, would break like any other bubble. But it may not have its own free time—will not, if they are left alone—and the question is, shall we two, because society calls us enemies, stand aloof, and let them rush into each other’s arms, when, by approaching each other sensibly, as we do now, we can prevent it, and part them?’

‘I love my niece,’ said Mr Haredale, after a short silence. ‘It may sound strangely in your ears; but I love her.’

‘Strangely, my good fellow!’ cried Mr Chester, lazily filling his glass again, and pulling out his toothpick. ‘Not at all. I like Ned too—or, as you say, love him—that’s the word among such near relations. I’m very fond of Ned. He’s an amazingly good fellow, and a handsome fellow—foolish and weak as yet; that’s all. But the thing is, Haredale—for I’ll be very frank, as I told you I would at first—independently of any dislike that you and I might have to being related to each other, and independently of the religious differences between us—and damn it, that’s important—I couldn’t afford a match of this description. Ned and I couldn’t do it. It’s impossible.’

‘Curb your tongue, in God’s name, if this conversation is to last,’ retorted Mr Haredale fiercely. ‘I have said I love my niece. Do you think that, loving her, I would have her fling her heart away on any man who had your blood in his veins?’

‘You see,’ said the other, not at all disturbed, ‘the advantage of being so frank and open. Just what I was about to add, upon my honour! I am amazingly attached to Ned—quite doat upon him, indeed—and even if we could afford to throw ourselves away, that very objection would be quite insuperable.—I wish you’d take some wine?’

‘Mark me,’ said Mr Haredale, striding to the table, and laying his hand upon it heavily. ‘If any man believes—presumes to think—that I, in word or deed, or in the wildest dream, ever entertained remotely the idea of Emma Haredale’s favouring the suit of any one who was akin to you—in any way—I care not what—he lies. He lies, and does me grievous wrong, in the mere thought.’

‘Haredale,’ returned the other, rocking himself to and fro as in assent, and nodding at the fire, ‘it’s extremely manly, and really very generous in you, to meet me in this unreserved and handsome way. Upon my word, those are exactly my sentiments, only expressed with much more force and power than I could use—you know my sluggish nature, and will forgive me, I am sure.’

‘While I would restrain her from all correspondence with your son, and sever their intercourse here, though it should cause her death,’ said Mr Haredale, who had been pacing to and fro, ‘I would do it kindly and tenderly if I can. I have a trust to discharge, which my nature is not formed to understand, and, for this reason, the bare fact of there being any love between them comes upon me to-night, almost for the first time.’

‘I am more delighted than I can possibly tell you,’ rejoined Mr Chester with the utmost blandness, ‘to find my own impression so confirmed. You see the advantage of our having met. We understand each other. We quite agree. We have a most complete and thorough explanation, and we know what course to take.—Why don’t you taste your tenant’s wine? It’s really very good.’

‘Pray who,’ said Mr Haredale, ‘have aided Emma, or your son? Who are their go-betweens, and agents—do you know?’

‘All the good people hereabouts—the neighbourhood in general, I think,’ returned the other, with his most affable smile. ‘The messenger I sent to you to-day, foremost among them all.’

‘The idiot? Barnaby?’

‘You are surprised? I am glad of that, for I was rather so myself. Yes. I wrung that from his mother—a very decent sort of woman—from whom, indeed, I chiefly learnt how serious the matter had become, and so determined to ride out here to-day, and hold a parley with you on this neutral ground.—You’re stouter than you used to be, Haredale, but you look extremely well.’

‘Our business, I presume, is nearly at an end,’ said Mr Haredale, with an expression of impatience he was at no pains to conceal. ‘Trust me, Mr Chester, my niece shall change from this time. I will appeal,’ he added in a lower tone, ‘to her woman’s heart, her dignity, her pride, her duty—’

‘I shall do the same by Ned,’ said Mr Chester, restoring some errant faggots to their places in the grate with the toe of his boot. ‘If there is anything real in this world, it is those amazingly fine feelings and those natural obligations which must subsist between father and son. I shall put it to him on every ground of moral and religious feeling. I shall represent to him that we cannot possibly afford it—that I have always looked forward to his marrying well, for a genteel provision for myself in the autumn of life—that there are a great many clamorous dogs to pay, whose claims are perfectly just and right, and who must be paid out of his wife’s fortune. In short, that the very highest and most honourable feelings of our nature, with every consideration of filial duty and affection, and all that sort of thing, imperatively demand that he should run away with an heiress.’

‘And break her heart as speedily as possible?’ said Mr Haredale, drawing on his glove.

‘There Ned will act exactly as he pleases,’ returned the other, sipping his wine; ‘that’s entirely his affair. I wouldn’t for the world interfere with my son, Haredale, beyond a certain point. The relationship between father and son, you know, is positively quite a holy kind of bond.—WON’T you let me persuade you to take one glass of wine? Well! as you please, as you please,’ he added, helping himself again.

‘Chester,’ said Mr Haredale, after a short silence, during which he had eyed his smiling face from time to time intently, ‘you have the head and heart of an evil spirit in all matters of deception.’

‘Your health!’ said the other, with a nod. ‘But I have interrupted you—’

‘If now,’ pursued Mr Haredale, ‘we should find it difficult to separate these young people, and break off their intercourse—if, for instance, you find it difficult on your side, what course do you intend to take?’

‘Nothing plainer, my good fellow, nothing easier,’ returned the other, shrugging his shoulders and stretching himself more comfortably before the fire. ‘I shall then exert those powers on which you flatter me so highly—though, upon my word, I don’t deserve your compliments to their full extent—and resort to a few little trivial subterfuges for rousing jealousy and resentment. You see?’

‘In short, justifying the means by the end, we are, as a last resource for tearing them asunder, to resort to treachery and—and lying,’ said Mr Haredale.

‘Oh dear no. Fie, fie!’ returned the other, relishing a pinch of snuff extremely. ‘Not lying. Only a little management, a little diplomacy, a little—intriguing, that’s the word.’

‘I wish,’ said Mr Haredale, moving to and fro, and stopping, and moving on again, like one who was ill at ease, ‘that this could have been foreseen or prevented. But as it has gone so far, and it is necessary for us to act, it is of no use shrinking or regretting. Well! I shall second your endeavours to the utmost of my power. There is one topic in the whole wide range of human thoughts on which we both agree. We shall act in concert, but apart. There will be no need, I hope, for us to meet again.’

‘Are you going?’ said Mr Chester, rising with a graceful indolence. ‘Let me light you down the stairs.’

‘Pray keep your seat,’ returned the other drily, ‘I know the way.’ So, waving his hand slightly, and putting on his hat as he turned upon his heel, he went clanking out as he had come, shut the door behind him, and tramped down the echoing stairs.

‘Pah! A very coarse animal, indeed!’ said Mr Chester, composing himself in the easy-chair again. ‘A rough brute. Quite a human badger!’

John Willet and his friends, who had been listening intently for the clash of swords, or firing of pistols in the great room, and had indeed settled the order in which they should rush in when summoned—in which procession old John had carefully arranged that he should bring up the rear—were very much astonished to see Mr Haredale come down without a scratch, call for his horse, and ride away thoughtfully at a footpace. After some consideration, it was decided that he had left the gentleman above, for dead, and had adopted this stratagem to divert suspicion or pursuit.

As this conclusion involved the necessity of their going upstairs forthwith, they were about to ascend in the order they had agreed upon, when a smart ringing at the guest’s bell, as if he had pulled it vigorously, overthrew all their speculations, and involved them in great uncertainty and doubt. At length Mr Willet agreed to go upstairs himself, escorted by Hugh and Barnaby, as the strongest and stoutest fellows on the premises, who were to make their appearance under pretence of clearing away the glasses.

Under this protection, the brave and broad-faced John boldly entered the room, half a foot in advance, and received an order for a boot-jack without trembling. But when it was brought, and he leant his sturdy shoulder to the guest, Mr Willet was observed to look very hard into his boots as he pulled them off, and, by opening his eyes much wider than usual, to appear to express some surprise and disappointment at not finding them full of blood. He took occasion, too, to examine the gentleman as closely as he could, expecting to discover sundry loopholes in his person, pierced by his adversary’s sword. Finding none, however, and observing in course of time that his guest was as cool and unruffled, both in his dress and temper, as he had been all day, old John at last heaved a deep sigh, and began to think no duel had been fought that night.

‘And now, Willet,’ said Mr Chester, ‘if the room’s well aired, I’ll try the merits of that famous bed.’

‘The room, sir,’ returned John, taking up a candle, and nudging Barnaby and Hugh to accompany them, in case the gentleman should unexpectedly drop down faint or dead from some internal wound, ‘the room’s as warm as any toast in a tankard. Barnaby, take you that other candle, and go on before. Hugh! Follow up, sir, with the easy-chair.’

In this order—and still, in his earnest inspection, holding his candle very close to the guest; now making him feel extremely warm about the legs, now threatening to set his wig on fire, and constantly begging his pardon with great awkwardness and embarrassment—John led the party to the best bedroom, which was nearly as large as the chamber from which they had come, and held, drawn out near the fire for warmth, a great old spectral bedstead, hung with faded brocade, and ornamented, at the top of each carved post, with a plume of feathers that had once been white, but with dust and age had now grown hearse-like and funereal.

‘Good night, my friends,’ said Mr Chester with a sweet smile, seating himself, when he had surveyed the room from end to end, in the easy-chair which his attendants wheeled before the fire. ‘Good night! Barnaby, my good fellow, you say some prayers before you go to bed, I hope?’

Barnaby nodded. ‘He has some nonsense that he calls his prayers, sir,’ returned old John, officiously. ‘I’m afraid there an’t much good in em.’

‘And Hugh?’ said Mr Chester, turning to him.

‘Not I,’ he answered. ‘I know his’—pointing to Barnaby—‘they’re well enough. He sings ‘em sometimes in the straw. I listen.’

‘He’s quite a animal, sir,’ John whispered in his ear with dignity. ‘You’ll excuse him, I’m sure. If he has any soul at all, sir, it must be such a very small one, that it don’t signify what he does or doesn’t in that way. Good night, sir!’

The guest rejoined ‘God bless you!’ with a fervour that was quite affecting; and John, beckoning his guards to go before, bowed himself out of the room, and left him to his rest in the Maypole’s ancient bed.





Chapter 13

If Joseph Willet, the denounced and proscribed of ‘prentices, had happened to be at home when his father’s courtly guest presented himself before the Maypole door—that is, if it had not perversely chanced to be one of the half-dozen days in the whole year on which he was at liberty to absent himself for as many hours without question or reproach—he would have contrived, by hook or crook, to dive to the very bottom of Mr Chester’s mystery, and to come at his purpose with as much certainty as though he had been his confidential adviser. In that fortunate case, the lovers would have had quick warning of the ills that threatened them, and the aid of various timely and wise suggestions to boot; for all Joe’s readiness of thought and action, and all his sympathies and good wishes, were enlisted in favour of the young people, and were staunch in devotion to their cause. Whether this disposition arose out of his old prepossessions in favour of the young lady, whose history had surrounded her in his mind, almost from his cradle, with circumstances of unusual interest; or from his attachment towards the young gentleman, into whose confidence he had, through his shrewdness and alacrity, and the rendering of sundry important services as a spy and messenger, almost imperceptibly glided; whether they had their origin in either of these sources, or in the habit natural to youth, or in the constant badgering and worrying of his venerable parent, or in any hidden little love affair of his own which gave him something of a fellow-feeling in the matter, it is needless to inquire—especially as Joe was out of the way, and had no opportunity on that particular occasion of testifying to his sentiments either on one side or the other.

It was, in fact, the twenty-fifth of March, which, as most people know to their cost, is, and has been time out of mind, one of those unpleasant epochs termed quarter-days. On this twenty-fifth of March, it was John Willet’s pride annually to settle, in hard cash, his account with a certain vintner and distiller in the city of London; to give into whose hands a canvas bag containing its exact amount, and not a penny more or less, was the end and object of a journey for Joe, so surely as the year and day came round.

This journey was performed upon an old grey mare, concerning whom John had an indistinct set of ideas hovering about him, to the effect that she could win a plate or cup if she tried. She never had tried, and probably never would now, being some fourteen or fifteen years of age, short in wind, long in body, and rather the worse for wear in respect of her mane and tail. Notwithstanding these slight defects, John perfectly gloried in the animal; and when she was brought round to the door by Hugh, actually retired into the bar, and there, in a secret grove of lemons, laughed with pride.

‘There’s a bit of horseflesh, Hugh!’ said John, when he had recovered enough self-command to appear at the door again. ‘There’s a comely creature! There’s high mettle! There’s bone!’

There was bone enough beyond all doubt; and so Hugh seemed to think, as he sat sideways in the saddle, lazily doubled up with his chin nearly touching his knees; and heedless of the dangling stirrups and loose bridle-rein, sauntered up and down on the little green before the door.

‘Mind you take good care of her, sir,’ said John, appealing from this insensible person to his son and heir, who now appeared, fully equipped and ready. ‘Don’t you ride hard.’

‘I should be puzzled to do that, I think, father,’ Joe replied, casting a disconsolate look at the animal.

‘None of your impudence, sir, if you please,’ retorted old John. ‘What would you ride, sir? A wild ass or zebra would be too tame for you, wouldn’t he, eh sir? You’d like to ride a roaring lion, wouldn’t you, sir, eh sir? Hold your tongue, sir.’ When Mr Willet, in his differences with his son, had exhausted all the questions that occurred to him, and Joe had said nothing at all in answer, he generally wound up by bidding him hold his tongue.

‘And what does the boy mean,’ added Mr Willet, after he had stared at him for a little time, in a species of stupefaction, ‘by cocking his hat, to such an extent! Are you going to kill the wintner, sir?’

‘No,’ said Joe, tartly; ‘I’m not. Now your mind’s at ease, father.’

‘With a milintary air, too!’ said Mr Willet, surveying him from top to toe; ‘with a swaggering, fire-eating, biling-water drinking sort of way with him! And what do you mean by pulling up the crocuses and snowdrops, eh sir?’

‘It’s only a little nosegay,’ said Joe, reddening. ‘There’s no harm in that, I hope?’

‘You’re a boy of business, you are, sir!’ said Mr Willet, disdainfully, ‘to go supposing that wintners care for nosegays.’

‘I don’t suppose anything of the kind,’ returned Joe. ‘Let them keep their red noses for bottles and tankards. These are going to Mr Varden’s house.’

‘And do you suppose HE minds such things as crocuses?’ demanded John.

‘I don’t know, and to say the truth, I don’t care,’ said Joe. ‘Come, father, give me the money, and in the name of patience let me go.’

‘There it is, sir,’ replied John; ‘and take care of it; and mind you don’t make too much haste back, but give the mare a long rest.—Do you mind?’

‘Ay, I mind,’ returned Joe. ‘She’ll need it, Heaven knows.’

‘And don’t you score up too much at the Black Lion,’ said John. ‘Mind that too.’

‘Then why don’t you let me have some money of my own?’ retorted Joe, sorrowfully; ‘why don’t you, father? What do you send me into London for, giving me only the right to call for my dinner at the Black Lion, which you’re to pay for next time you go, as if I was not to be trusted with a few shillings? Why do you use me like this? It’s not right of you. You can’t expect me to be quiet under it.’

‘Let him have money!’ cried John, in a drowsy reverie. ‘What does he call money—guineas? Hasn’t he got money? Over and above the tolls, hasn’t he one and sixpence?’

‘One and sixpence!’ repeated his son contemptuously.

‘Yes, sir,’ returned John, ‘one and sixpence. When I was your age, I had never seen so much money, in a heap. A shilling of it is in case of accidents—the mare casting a shoe, or the like of that. The other sixpence is to spend in the diversions of London; and the diversion I recommend is going to the top of the Monument, and sitting there. There’s no temptation there, sir—no drink—no young women—no bad characters of any sort—nothing but imagination. That’s the way I enjoyed myself when I was your age, sir.’

To this, Joe made no answer, but beckoning Hugh, leaped into the saddle and rode away; and a very stalwart, manly horseman he looked, deserving a better charger than it was his fortune to bestride. John stood staring after him, or rather after the grey mare (for he had no eyes for her rider), until man and beast had been out of sight some twenty minutes, when he began to think they were gone, and slowly re-entering the house, fell into a gentle doze.

The unfortunate grey mare, who was the agony of Joe’s life, floundered along at her own will and pleasure until the Maypole was no longer visible, and then, contracting her legs into what in a puppet would have been looked upon as a clumsy and awkward imitation of a canter, mended her pace all at once, and did it of her own accord. The acquaintance with her rider’s usual mode of proceeding, which suggested this improvement in hers, impelled her likewise to turn up a bye-way, leading—not to London, but through lanes running parallel with the road they had come, and passing within a few hundred yards of the Maypole, which led finally to an inclosure surrounding a large, old, red-brick mansion—the same of which mention was made as the Warren in the first chapter of this history. Coming to a dead stop in a little copse thereabout, she suffered her rider to dismount with right goodwill, and to tie her to the trunk of a tree.

‘Stay there, old girl,’ said Joe, ‘and let us see whether there’s any little commission for me to-day.’ So saying, he left her to browze upon such stunted grass and weeds as happened to grow within the length of her tether, and passing through a wicket gate, entered the grounds on foot.

The pathway, after a very few minutes’ walking, brought him close to the house, towards which, and especially towards one particular window, he directed many covert glances. It was a dreary, silent building, with echoing courtyards, desolated turret-chambers, and whole suites of rooms shut up and mouldering to ruin.

The terrace-garden, dark with the shade of overhanging trees, had an air of melancholy that was quite oppressive. Great iron gates, disused for many years, and red with rust, drooping on their hinges and overgrown with long rank grass, seemed as though they tried to sink into the ground, and hide their fallen state among the friendly weeds. The fantastic monsters on the walls, green with age and damp, and covered here and there with moss, looked grim and desolate. There was a sombre aspect even on that part of the mansion which was inhabited and kept in good repair, that struck the beholder with a sense of sadness; of something forlorn and failing, whence cheerfulness was banished. It would have been difficult to imagine a bright fire blazing in the dull and darkened rooms, or to picture any gaiety of heart or revelry that the frowning walls shut in. It seemed a place where such things had been, but could be no more—the very ghost of a house, haunting the old spot in its old outward form, and that was all.

Much of this decayed and sombre look was attributable, no doubt, to the death of its former master, and the temper of its present occupant; but remembering the tale connected with the mansion, it seemed the very place for such a deed, and one that might have been its predestined theatre years upon years ago. Viewed with reference to this legend, the sheet of water where the steward’s body had been found appeared to wear a black and sullen character, such as no other pool might own; the bell upon the roof that had told the tale of murder to the midnight wind, became a very phantom whose voice would raise the listener’s hair on end; and every leafless bough that nodded to another, had its stealthy whispering of the crime.

Joe paced up and down the path, sometimes stopping in affected contemplation of the building or the prospect, sometimes leaning against a tree with an assumed air of idleness and indifference, but always keeping an eye upon the window he had singled out at first. After some quarter of an hour’s delay, a small white hand was waved to him for an instant from this casement, and the young man, with a respectful bow, departed; saying under his breath as he crossed his horse again, ‘No errand for me to-day!’

But the air of smartness, the cock of the hat to which John Willet had objected, and the spring nosegay, all betokened some little errand of his own, having a more interesting object than a vintner or even a locksmith. So, indeed, it turned out; for when he had settled with the vintner—whose place of business was down in some deep cellars hard by Thames Street, and who was as purple-faced an old gentleman as if he had all his life supported their arched roof on his head—when he had settled the account, and taken the receipt, and declined tasting more than three glasses of old sherry, to the unbounded astonishment of the purple-faced vintner, who, gimlet in hand, had projected an attack upon at least a score of dusty casks, and who stood transfixed, or morally gimleted as it were, to his own wall—when he had done all this, and disposed besides of a frugal dinner at the Black Lion in Whitechapel; spurning the Monument and John’s advice, he turned his steps towards the locksmith’s house, attracted by the eyes of blooming Dolly Varden.

Joe was by no means a sheepish fellow, but, for all that, when he got to the corner of the street in which the locksmith lived, he could by no means make up his mind to walk straight to the house. First, he resolved to stroll up another street for five minutes, then up another street for five minutes more, and so on until he had lost full half an hour, when he made a bold plunge and found himself with a red face and a beating heart in the smoky workshop.

‘Joe Willet, or his ghost?’ said Varden, rising from the desk at which he was busy with his books, and looking at him under his spectacles. ‘Which is it? Joe in the flesh, eh? That’s hearty. And how are all the Chigwell company, Joe?’

‘Much as usual, sir—they and I agree as well as ever.’

‘Well, well!’ said the locksmith. ‘We must be patient, Joe, and bear with old folks’ foibles. How’s the mare, Joe? Does she do the four miles an hour as easily as ever? Ha, ha, ha! Does she, Joe? Eh!—What have we there, Joe—a nosegay!’

‘A very poor one, sir—I thought Miss Dolly—’

‘No, no,’ said Gabriel, dropping his voice, and shaking his head, ‘not Dolly. Give ‘em to her mother, Joe. A great deal better give ‘em to her mother. Would you mind giving ‘em to Mrs Varden, Joe?’

‘Oh no, sir,’ Joe replied, and endeavouring, but not with the greatest possible success, to hide his disappointment. ‘I shall be very glad, I’m sure.’

‘That’s right,’ said the locksmith, patting him on the back. ‘It don’t matter who has ‘em, Joe?’

‘Not a bit, sir.’—Dear heart, how the words stuck in his throat!

‘Come in,’ said Gabriel. ‘I have just been called to tea. She’s in the parlour.’

‘She,’ thought Joe. ‘Which of ‘em I wonder—Mrs or Miss?’ The locksmith settled the doubt as neatly as if it had been expressed aloud, by leading him to the door, and saying, ‘Martha, my dear, here’s young Mr Willet.’

Now, Mrs Varden, regarding the Maypole as a sort of human mantrap, or decoy for husbands; viewing its proprietor, and all who aided and abetted him, in the light of so many poachers among Christian men; and believing, moreover, that the publicans coupled with sinners in Holy Writ were veritable licensed victuallers; was far from being favourably disposed towards her visitor. Wherefore she was taken faint directly; and being duly presented with the crocuses and snowdrops, divined on further consideration that they were the occasion of the languor which had seized upon her spirits. ‘I’m afraid I couldn’t bear the room another minute,’ said the good lady, ‘if they remained here. WOULD you excuse my putting them out of window?’

Joe begged she wouldn’t mention it on any account, and smiled feebly as he saw them deposited on the sill outside. If anybody could have known the pains he had taken to make up that despised and misused bunch of flowers!—

‘I feel it quite a relief to get rid of them, I assure you,’ said Mrs Varden. ‘I’m better already.’ And indeed she did appear to have plucked up her spirits.

Joe expressed his gratitude to Providence for this favourable dispensation, and tried to look as if he didn’t wonder where Dolly was.

‘You’re sad people at Chigwell, Mr Joseph,’ said Mrs V.

‘I hope not, ma’am,’ returned Joe.

‘You’re the cruellest and most inconsiderate people in the world,’ said Mrs Varden, bridling. ‘I wonder old Mr Willet, having been a married man himself, doesn’t know better than to conduct himself as he does. His doing it for profit is no excuse. I would rather pay the money twenty times over, and have Varden come home like a respectable and sober tradesman. If there is one character,’ said Mrs Varden with great emphasis, ‘that offends and disgusts me more than another, it is a sot.’

‘Come, Martha, my dear,’ said the locksmith cheerily, ‘let us have tea, and don’t let us talk about sots. There are none here, and Joe don’t want to hear about them, I dare say.’

At this crisis, Miggs appeared with toast.

‘I dare say he does not,’ said Mrs Varden; ‘and I dare say you do not, Varden. It’s a very unpleasant subject, I have no doubt, though I won’t say it’s personal’—Miggs coughed—‘whatever I may be forced to think’—Miggs sneezed expressively. ‘You never will know, Varden, and nobody at young Mr Willet’s age—you’ll excuse me, sir—can be expected to know, what a woman suffers when she is waiting at home under such circumstances. If you don’t believe me, as I know you don’t, here’s Miggs, who is only too often a witness of it—ask her.’

‘Oh! she were very bad the other night, sir, indeed she were, said Miggs. ‘If you hadn’t the sweetness of an angel in you, mim, I don’t think you could abear it, I raly don’t.’

‘Miggs,’ said Mrs Varden, ‘you’re profane.’

‘Begging your pardon, mim,’ returned Miggs, with shrill rapidity, ‘such was not my intentions, and such I hope is not my character, though I am but a servant.’

‘Answering me, Miggs, and providing yourself,’ retorted her mistress, looking round with dignity, ‘is one and the same thing. How dare you speak of angels in connection with your sinful fellow-beings—mere’—said Mrs Varden, glancing at herself in a neighbouring mirror, and arranging the ribbon of her cap in a more becoming fashion—‘mere worms and grovellers as we are!’

‘I did not intend, mim, if you please, to give offence,’ said Miggs, confident in the strength of her compliment, and developing strongly in the throat as usual, ‘and I did not expect it would be took as such. I hope I know my own unworthiness, and that I hate and despise myself and all my fellow-creatures as every practicable Christian should.’

‘You’ll have the goodness, if you please,’ said Mrs Varden, loftily, ‘to step upstairs and see if Dolly has finished dressing, and to tell her that the chair that was ordered for her will be here in a minute, and that if she keeps it waiting, I shall send it away that instant.—I’m sorry to see that you don’t take your tea, Varden, and that you don’t take yours, Mr Joseph; though of course it would be foolish of me to expect that anything that can be had at home, and in the company of females, would please YOU.’

This pronoun was understood in the plural sense, and included both gentlemen, upon both of whom it was rather hard and undeserved, for Gabriel had applied himself to the meal with a very promising appetite, until it was spoilt by Mrs Varden herself, and Joe had as great a liking for the female society of the locksmith’s house—or for a part of it at all events—as man could well entertain.

But he had no opportunity to say anything in his own defence, for at that moment Dolly herself appeared, and struck him quite dumb with her beauty. Never had Dolly looked so handsome as she did then, in all the glow and grace of youth, with all her charms increased a hundredfold by a most becoming dress, by a thousand little coquettish ways which nobody could assume with a better grace, and all the sparkling expectation of that accursed party. It is impossible to tell how Joe hated that party wherever it was, and all the other people who were going to it, whoever they were.

And she hardly looked at him—no, hardly looked at him. And when the chair was seen through the open door coming blundering into the workshop, she actually clapped her hands and seemed glad to go. But Joe gave her his arm—there was some comfort in that—and handed her into it. To see her seat herself inside, with her laughing eyes brighter than diamonds, and her hand—surely she had the prettiest hand in the world—on the ledge of the open window, and her little finger provokingly and pertly tilted up, as if it wondered why Joe didn’t squeeze or kiss it! To think how well one or two of the modest snowdrops would have become that delicate bodice, and how they were lying neglected outside the parlour window! To see how Miggs looked on with a face expressive of knowing how all this loveliness was got up, and of being in the secret of every string and pin and hook and eye, and of saying it ain’t half as real as you think, and I could look quite as well myself if I took the pains! To hear that provoking precious little scream when the chair was hoisted on its poles, and to catch that transient but not-to-be-forgotten vision of the happy face within—what torments and aggravations, and yet what delights were these! The very chairmen seemed favoured rivals as they bore her down the street.

There never was such an alteration in a small room in a small time as in that parlour when they went back to finish tea. So dark, so deserted, so perfectly disenchanted. It seemed such sheer nonsense to be sitting tamely there, when she was at a dance with more lovers than man could calculate fluttering about her—with the whole party doting on and adoring her, and wanting to marry her. Miggs was hovering about too; and the fact of her existence, the mere circumstance of her ever having been born, appeared, after Dolly, such an unaccountable practical joke. It was impossible to talk. It couldn’t be done. He had nothing left for it but to stir his tea round, and round, and round, and ruminate on all the fascinations of the locksmith’s lovely daughter.

Gabriel was dull too. It was a part of the certain uncertainty of Mrs Varden’s temper, that when they were in this condition, she should be gay and sprightly.

‘I need have a cheerful disposition, I am sure,’ said the smiling housewife, ‘to preserve any spirits at all; and how I do it I can scarcely tell.’

‘Ah, mim,’ sighed Miggs, ‘begging your pardon for the interruption, there an’t a many like you.’

‘Take away, Miggs,’ said Mrs Varden, rising, ‘take away, pray. I know I’m a restraint here, and as I wish everybody to enjoy themselves as they best can, I feel I had better go.’

‘No, no, Martha,’ cried the locksmith. ‘Stop here. I’m sure we shall be very sorry to lose you, eh Joe!’ Joe started, and said ‘Certainly.’

‘Thank you, Varden, my dear,’ returned his wife; ‘but I know your wishes better. Tobacco and beer, or spirits, have much greater attractions than any I can boast of, and therefore I shall go and sit upstairs and look out of window, my love. Good night, Mr Joseph. I’m very glad to have seen you, and I only wish I could have provided something more suitable to your taste. Remember me very kindly if you please to old Mr Willet, and tell him that whenever he comes here I have a crow to pluck with him. Good night!’

Having uttered these words with great sweetness of manner, the good lady dropped a curtsey remarkable for its condescension, and serenely withdrew.

And it was for this Joe had looked forward to the twenty-fifth of March for weeks and weeks, and had gathered the flowers with so much care, and had cocked his hat, and made himself so smart! This was the end of all his bold determination, resolved upon for the hundredth time, to speak out to Dolly and tell her how he loved her! To see her for a minute—for but a minute—to find her going out to a party and glad to go; to be looked upon as a common pipe-smoker, beer-bibber, spirit-guzzler, and tosspot! He bade farewell to his friend the locksmith, and hastened to take horse at the Black Lion, thinking as he turned towards home, as many another Joe has thought before and since, that here was an end to all his hopes—that the thing was impossible and never could be—that she didn’t care for him—that he was wretched for life—and that the only congenial prospect left him, was to go for a soldier or a sailor, and get some obliging enemy to knock his brains out as soon as possible.






Chapter 14

Joe Willet rode leisurely along in his desponding mood, picturing the locksmith’s daughter going down long country-dances, and poussetting dreadfully with bold strangers—which was almost too much to bear—when he heard the tramp of a horse’s feet behind him, and looking back, saw a well-mounted gentleman advancing at a smart canter. As this rider passed, he checked his steed, and called him of the Maypole by his name. Joe set spurs to the grey mare, and was at his side directly.

‘I thought it was you, sir,’ he said, touching his hat. ‘A fair evening, sir. Glad to see you out of doors again.’

The gentleman smiled and nodded. ‘What gay doings have been going on to-day, Joe? Is she as pretty as ever? Nay, don’t blush, man.’

‘If I coloured at all, Mr Edward,’ said Joe, ‘which I didn’t know I did, it was to think I should have been such a fool as ever to have any hope of her. She’s as far out of my reach as—as Heaven is.’

‘Well, Joe, I hope that’s not altogether beyond it,’ said Edward, good-humouredly. ‘Eh?’

‘Ah!’ sighed Joe. ‘It’s all very fine talking, sir. Proverbs are easily made in cold blood. But it can’t be helped. Are you bound for our house, sir?’

‘Yes. As I am not quite strong yet, I shall stay there to-night, and ride home coolly in the morning.’

‘If you’re in no particular hurry,’ said Joe after a short silence, ‘and will bear with the pace of this poor jade, I shall be glad to ride on with you to the Warren, sir, and hold your horse when you dismount. It’ll save you having to walk from the Maypole, there and back again. I can spare the time well, sir, for I am too soon.’

‘And so am I,’ returned Edward, ‘though I was unconsciously riding fast just now, in compliment I suppose to the pace of my thoughts, which were travelling post. We will keep together, Joe, willingly, and be as good company as may be. And cheer up, cheer up, think of the locksmith’s daughter with a stout heart, and you shall win her yet.’

Joe shook his head; but there was something so cheery in the buoyant hopeful manner of this speech, that his spirits rose under its influence, and communicated as it would seem some new impulse even to the grey mare, who, breaking from her sober amble into a gentle trot, emulated the pace of Edward Chester’s horse, and appeared to flatter herself that he was doing his very best.

It was a fine dry night, and the light of a young moon, which was then just rising, shed around that peace and tranquillity which gives to evening time its most delicious charm. The lengthened shadows of the trees, softened as if reflected in still water, threw their carpet on the path the travellers pursued, and the light wind stirred yet more softly than before, as though it were soothing Nature in her sleep. By little and little they ceased talking, and rode on side by side in a pleasant silence.

‘The Maypole lights are brilliant to-night,’ said Edward, as they rode along the lane from which, while the intervening trees were bare of leaves, that hostelry was visible.

‘Brilliant indeed, sir,’ returned Joe, rising in his stirrups to get a better view. ‘Lights in the large room, and a fire glimmering in the best bedchamber? Why, what company can this be for, I wonder!’

‘Some benighted horseman wending towards London, and deterred from going on to-night by the marvellous tales of my friend the highwayman, I suppose,’ said Edward.

‘He must be a horseman of good quality to have such accommodations. Your bed too, sir—!’

‘No matter, Joe. Any other room will do for me. But come—there’s nine striking. We may push on.’

They cantered forward at as brisk a pace as Joe’s charger could attain, and presently stopped in the little copse where he had left her in the morning. Edward dismounted, gave his bridle to his companion, and walked with a light step towards the house.

A female servant was waiting at a side gate in the garden-wall, and admitted him without delay. He hurried along the terrace-walk, and darted up a flight of broad steps leading into an old and gloomy hall, whose walls were ornamented with rusty suits of armour, antlers, weapons of the chase, and suchlike garniture. Here he paused, but not long; for as he looked round, as if expecting the attendant to have followed, and wondering she had not done so, a lovely girl appeared, whose dark hair next moment rested on his breast. Almost at the same instant a heavy hand was laid upon her arm, Edward felt himself thrust away, and Mr Haredale stood between them.

He regarded the young man sternly without removing his hat; with one hand clasped his niece, and with the other, in which he held his riding-whip, motioned him towards the door. The young man drew himself up, and returned his gaze.

‘This is well done of you, sir, to corrupt my servants, and enter my house unbidden and in secret, like a thief!’ said Mr Haredale. ‘Leave it, sir, and return no more.’

‘Miss Haredale’s presence,’ returned the young man, ‘and your relationship to her, give you a licence which, if you are a brave man, you will not abuse. You have compelled me to this course, and the fault is yours—not mine.’

‘It is neither generous, nor honourable, nor the act of a true man, sir,’ retorted the other, ‘to tamper with the affections of a weak, trusting girl, while you shrink, in your unworthiness, from her guardian and protector, and dare not meet the light of day. More than this I will not say to you, save that I forbid you this house, and require you to be gone.’

‘It is neither generous, nor honourable, nor the act of a true man to play the spy,’ said Edward. ‘Your words imply dishonour, and I reject them with the scorn they merit.’

‘You will find,’ said Mr Haredale, calmly, ‘your trusty go-between in waiting at the gate by which you entered. I have played no spy’s part, sir. I chanced to see you pass the gate, and followed. You might have heard me knocking for admission, had you been less swift of foot, or lingered in the garden. Please to withdraw. Your presence here is offensive to me and distressful to my niece.’ As he said these words, he passed his arm about the waist of the terrified and weeping girl, and drew her closer to him; and though the habitual severity of his manner was scarcely changed, there was yet apparent in the action an air of kindness and sympathy for her distress.

‘Mr Haredale,’ said Edward, ‘your arm encircles her on whom I have set my every hope and thought, and to purchase one minute’s happiness for whom I would gladly lay down my life; this house is the casket that holds the precious jewel of my existence. Your niece has plighted her faith to me, and I have plighted mine to her. What have I done that you should hold me in this light esteem, and give me these discourteous words?’

‘You have done that, sir,’ answered Mr Haredale, ‘which must be undone. You have tied a lover’s-knot here which must be cut asunder. Take good heed of what I say. Must. I cancel the bond between ye. I reject you, and all of your kith and kin—all the false, hollow, heartless stock.’

‘High words, sir,’ said Edward, scornfully.

‘Words of purpose and meaning, as you will find,’ replied the other. ‘Lay them to heart.’

‘Lay you then, these,’ said Edward. ‘Your cold and sullen temper, which chills every breast about you, which turns affection into fear, and changes duty into dread, has forced us on this secret course, repugnant to our nature and our wish, and far more foreign, sir, to us than you. I am not a false, a hollow, or a heartless man; the character is yours, who poorly venture on these injurious terms, against the truth, and under the shelter whereof I reminded you just now. You shall not cancel the bond between us. I will not abandon this pursuit. I rely upon your niece’s truth and honour, and set your influence at nought. I leave her with a confidence in her pure faith, which you will never weaken, and with no concern but that I do not leave her in some gentler care.’

With that, he pressed her cold hand to his lips, and once more encountering and returning Mr Haredale’s steady look, withdrew.

A few words to Joe as he mounted his horse sufficiently explained what had passed, and renewed all that young gentleman’s despondency with tenfold aggravation. They rode back to the Maypole without exchanging a syllable, and arrived at the door with heavy hearts.

Old John, who had peeped from behind the red curtain as they rode up shouting for Hugh, was out directly, and said with great importance as he held the young man’s stirrup,

‘He’s comfortable in bed—the best bed. A thorough gentleman; the smilingest, affablest gentleman I ever had to do with.’

‘Who, Willet?’ said Edward carelessly, as he dismounted.

‘Your worthy father, sir,’ replied John. ‘Your honourable, venerable father.’

‘What does he mean?’ said Edward, looking with a mixture of alarm and doubt, at Joe.

‘What DO you mean?’ said Joe. ‘Don’t you see Mr Edward doesn’t understand, father?’

‘Why, didn’t you know of it, sir?’ said John, opening his eyes wide. ‘How very singular! Bless you, he’s been here ever since noon to-day, and Mr Haredale has been having a long talk with him, and hasn’t been gone an hour.’

‘My father, Willet!’

‘Yes, sir, he told me so—a handsome, slim, upright gentleman, in green-and-gold. In your old room up yonder, sir. No doubt you can go in, sir,’ said John, walking backwards into the road and looking up at the window. ‘He hasn’t put out his candles yet, I see.’

Edward glanced at the window also, and hastily murmuring that he had changed his mind—forgotten something—and must return to London, mounted his horse again and rode away; leaving the Willets, father and son, looking at each other in mute astonishment.






Chapter 15

At noon next day, John Willet’s guest sat lingering over his breakfast in his own home, surrounded by a variety of comforts, which left the Maypole’s highest flight and utmost stretch of accommodation at an infinite distance behind, and suggested comparisons very much to the disadvantage and disfavour of that venerable tavern.

In the broad old-fashioned window-seat—as capacious as many modern sofas, and cushioned to serve the purpose of a luxurious settee—in the broad old-fashioned window-seat of a roomy chamber, Mr Chester lounged, very much at his ease, over a well-furnished breakfast-table. He had exchanged his riding-coat for a handsome morning-gown, his boots for slippers; had been at great pains to atone for the having been obliged to make his toilet when he rose without the aid of dressing-case and tiring equipage; and, having gradually forgotten through these means the discomforts of an indifferent night and an early ride, was in a state of perfect complacency, indolence, and satisfaction.

The situation in which he found himself, indeed, was particularly favourable to the growth of these feelings; for, not to mention the lazy influence of a late and lonely breakfast, with the additional sedative of a newspaper, there was an air of repose about his place of residence peculiar to itself, and which hangs about it, even in these times, when it is more bustling and busy than it was in days of yore.

There are, still, worse places than the Temple, on a sultry day, for basking in the sun, or resting idly in the shade. There is yet a drowsiness in its courts, and a dreamy dulness in its trees and gardens; those who pace its lanes and squares may yet hear the echoes of their footsteps on the sounding stones, and read upon its gates, in passing from the tumult of the Strand or Fleet Street, ‘Who enters here leaves noise behind.’ There is still the plash of falling water in fair Fountain Court, and there are yet nooks and corners where dun-haunted students may look down from their dusty garrets, on a vagrant ray of sunlight patching the shade of the tall houses, and seldom troubled to reflect a passing stranger’s form. There is yet, in the Temple, something of a clerkly monkish atmosphere, which public offices of law have not disturbed, and even legal firms have failed to scare away. In summer time, its pumps suggest to thirsty idlers, springs cooler, and more sparkling, and deeper than other wells; and as they trace the spillings of full pitchers on the heated ground, they snuff the freshness, and, sighing, cast sad looks towards the Thames, and think of baths and boats, and saunter on, despondent.

It was in a room in Paper Buildings—a row of goodly tenements, shaded in front by ancient trees, and looking, at the back, upon the Temple Gardens—that this, our idler, lounged; now taking up again the paper he had laid down a hundred times; now trifling with the fragments of his meal; now pulling forth his golden toothpick, and glancing leisurely about the room, or out at window into the trim garden walks, where a few early loiterers were already pacing to and fro. Here a pair of lovers met to quarrel and make up; there a dark-eyed nursery-maid had better eyes for Templars than her charge; on this hand an ancient spinster, with her lapdog in a string, regarded both enormities with scornful sidelong looks; on that a weazen old gentleman, ogling the nursery-maid, looked with like scorn upon the spinster, and wondered she didn’t know she was no longer young. Apart from all these, on the river’s margin two or three couple of business-talkers walked slowly up and down in earnest conversation; and one young man sat thoughtfully on a bench, alone.

‘Ned is amazingly patient!’ said Mr Chester, glancing at this last-named person as he set down his teacup and plied the golden toothpick, ‘immensely patient! He was sitting yonder when I began to dress, and has scarcely changed his posture since. A most eccentric dog!’

As he spoke, the figure rose, and came towards him with a rapid pace.

‘Really, as if he had heard me,’ said the father, resuming his newspaper with a yawn. ‘Dear Ned!’

Presently the room-door opened, and the young man entered; to whom his father gently waved his hand, and smiled.

‘Are you at leisure for a little conversation, sir?’ said Edward.

‘Surely, Ned. I am always at leisure. You know my constitution.—Have you breakfasted?’

‘Three hours ago.’

‘What a very early dog!’ cried his father, contemplating him from behind the toothpick, with a languid smile.

‘The truth is,’ said Edward, bringing a chair forward, and seating himself near the table, ‘that I slept but ill last night, and was glad to rise. The cause of my uneasiness cannot but be known to you, sir; and it is upon that I wish to speak.’

‘My dear boy,’ returned his father, ‘confide in me, I beg. But you know my constitution—don’t be prosy, Ned.’

‘I will be plain, and brief,’ said Edward.

‘Don’t say you will, my good fellow,’ returned his father, crossing his legs, ‘or you certainly will not. You are going to tell me’—

‘Plainly this, then,’ said the son, with an air of great concern, ‘that I know where you were last night—from being on the spot, indeed—and whom you saw, and what your purpose was.’

‘You don’t say so!’ cried his father. ‘I am delighted to hear it. It saves us the worry, and terrible wear and tear of a long explanation, and is a great relief for both. At the very house! Why didn’t you come up? I should have been charmed to see you.’

‘I knew that what I had to say would be better said after a night’s reflection, when both of us were cool,’ returned the son.

‘’Fore Gad, Ned,’ rejoined the father, ‘I was cool enough last night. That detestable Maypole! By some infernal contrivance of the builder, it holds the wind, and keeps it fresh. You remember the sharp east wind that blew so hard five weeks ago? I give you my honour it was rampant in that old house last night, though out of doors there was a dead calm. But you were saying’—

‘I was about to say, Heaven knows how seriously and earnestly, that you have made me wretched, sir. Will you hear me gravely for a moment?’

‘My dear Ned,’ said his father, ‘I will hear you with the patience of an anchorite. Oblige me with the milk.’

‘I saw Miss Haredale last night,’ Edward resumed, when he had complied with this request; ‘her uncle, in her presence, immediately after your interview, and, as of course I know, in consequence of it, forbade me the house, and, with circumstances of indignity which are of your creation I am sure, commanded me to leave it on the instant.’

‘For his manner of doing so, I give you my honour, Ned, I am not accountable,’ said his father. ‘That you must excuse. He is a mere boor, a log, a brute, with no address in life.—Positively a fly in the jug. The first I have seen this year.’

Edward rose, and paced the room. His imperturbable parent sipped his tea.

‘Father,’ said the young man, stopping at length before him, ‘we must not trifle in this matter. We must not deceive each other, or ourselves. Let me pursue the manly open part I wish to take, and do not repel me by this unkind indifference.’

‘Whether I am indifferent or no,’ returned the other, ‘I leave you, my dear boy, to judge. A ride of twenty-five or thirty miles, through miry roads—a Maypole dinner—a tete-a-tete with Haredale, which, vanity apart, was quite a Valentine and Orson business—a Maypole bed—a Maypole landlord, and a Maypole retinue of idiots and centaurs;—whether the voluntary endurance of these things looks like indifference, dear Ned, or like the excessive anxiety, and devotion, and all that sort of thing, of a parent, you shall determine for yourself.’

‘I wish you to consider, sir,’ said Edward, ‘in what a cruel situation I am placed. Loving Miss Haredale as I do’—

‘My dear fellow,’ interrupted his father with a compassionate smile, ‘you do nothing of the kind. You don’t know anything about it. There’s no such thing, I assure you. Now, do take my word for it. You have good sense, Ned,—great good sense. I wonder you should be guilty of such amazing absurdities. You really surprise me.’

‘I repeat,’ said his son firmly, ‘that I love her. You have interposed to part us, and have, to the extent I have just now told you of, succeeded. May I induce you, sir, in time, to think more favourably of our attachment, or is it your intention and your fixed design to hold us asunder if you can?’

‘My dear Ned,’ returned his father, taking a pinch of snuff and pushing his box towards him, ‘that is my purpose most undoubtedly.’

‘The time that has elapsed,’ rejoined his son, ‘since I began to know her worth, has flown in such a dream that until now I have hardly once paused to reflect upon my true position. What is it? From my childhood I have been accustomed to luxury and idleness, and have been bred as though my fortune were large, and my expectations almost without a limit. The idea of wealth has been familiarised to me from my cradle. I have been taught to look upon those means, by which men raise themselves to riches and distinction, as being beyond my heeding, and beneath my care. I have been, as the phrase is, liberally educated, and am fit for nothing. I find myself at last wholly dependent upon you, with no resource but in your favour. In this momentous question of my life we do not, and it would seem we never can, agree. I have shrunk instinctively alike from those to whom you have urged me to pay court, and from the motives of interest and gain which have rendered them in your eyes visible objects for my suit. If there never has been thus much plain-speaking between us before, sir, the fault has not been mine, indeed. If I seem to speak too plainly now, it is, believe me father, in the hope that there may be a franker spirit, a worthier reliance, and a kinder confidence between us in time to come.’

‘My good fellow,’ said his smiling father, ‘you quite affect me. Go on, my dear Edward, I beg. But remember your promise. There is great earnestness, vast candour, a manifest sincerity in all you say, but I fear I observe the faintest indications of a tendency to prose.’

‘I am very sorry, sir.’

‘I am very sorry, too, Ned, but you know that I cannot fix my mind for any long period upon one subject. If you’ll come to the point at once, I’ll imagine all that ought to go before, and conclude it said. Oblige me with the milk again. Listening, invariably makes me feverish.’

‘What I would say then, tends to this,’ said Edward. ‘I cannot bear this absolute dependence, sir, even upon you. Time has been lost and opportunity thrown away, but I am yet a young man, and may retrieve it. Will you give me the means of devoting such abilities and energies as I possess, to some worthy pursuit? Will you let me try to make for myself an honourable path in life? For any term you please to name—say for five years if you will—I will pledge myself to move no further in the matter of our difference without your full concurrence. During that period, I will endeavour earnestly and patiently, if ever man did, to open some prospect for myself, and free you from the burden you fear I should become if I married one whose worth and beauty are her chief endowments. Will you do this, sir? At the expiration of the term we agree upon, let us discuss this subject again. Till then, unless it is revived by you, let it never be renewed between us.’

‘My dear Ned,’ returned his father, laying down the newspaper at which he had been glancing carelessly, and throwing himself back in the window-seat, ‘I believe you know how very much I dislike what are called family affairs, which are only fit for plebeian Christmas days, and have no manner of business with people of our condition. But as you are proceeding upon a mistake, Ned—altogether upon a mistake—I will conquer my repugnance to entering on such matters, and give you a perfectly plain and candid answer, if you will do me the favour to shut the door.’

Edward having obeyed him, he took an elegant little knife from his pocket, and paring his nails, continued:

‘You have to thank me, Ned, for being of good family; for your mother, charming person as she was, and almost broken-hearted, and so forth, as she left me, when she was prematurely compelled to become immortal—had nothing to boast of in that respect.’

‘Her father was at least an eminent lawyer, sir,’ said Edward.

‘Quite right, Ned; perfectly so. He stood high at the bar, had a great name and great wealth, but having risen from nothing—I have always closed my eyes to the circumstance and steadily resisted its contemplation, but I fear his father dealt in pork, and that his business did once involve cow-heel and sausages—he wished to marry his daughter into a good family. He had his heart’s desire, Ned. I was a younger son’s younger son, and I married her. We each had our object, and gained it. She stepped at once into the politest and best circles, and I stepped into a fortune which I assure you was very necessary to my comfort—quite indispensable. Now, my good fellow, that fortune is among the things that have been. It is gone, Ned, and has been gone—how old are you? I always forget.’

‘Seven-and-twenty, sir.’

‘Are you indeed?’ cried his father, raising his eyelids in a languishing surprise. ‘So much! Then I should say, Ned, that as nearly as I remember, its skirts vanished from human knowledge, about eighteen or nineteen years ago. It was about that time when I came to live in these chambers (once your grandfather’s, and bequeathed by that extremely respectable person to me), and commenced to live upon an inconsiderable annuity and my past reputation.’

‘You are jesting with me, sir,’ said Edward.

‘Not in the slightest degree, I assure you,’ returned his father with great composure. ‘These family topics are so extremely dry, that I am sorry to say they don’t admit of any such relief. It is for that reason, and because they have an appearance of business, that I dislike them so very much. Well! You know the rest. A son, Ned, unless he is old enough to be a companion—that is to say, unless he is some two or three and twenty—is not the kind of thing to have about one. He is a restraint upon his father, his father is a restraint upon him, and they make each other mutually uncomfortable. Therefore, until within the last four years or so—I have a poor memory for dates, and if I mistake, you will correct me in your own mind—you pursued your studies at a distance, and picked up a great variety of accomplishments. Occasionally we passed a week or two together here, and disconcerted each other as only such near relations can. At last you came home. I candidly tell you, my dear boy, that if you had been awkward and overgrown, I should have exported you to some distant part of the world.’

‘I wish with all my soul you had, sir,’ said Edward.

‘No you don’t, Ned,’ said his father coolly; ‘you are mistaken, I assure you. I found you a handsome, prepossessing, elegant fellow, and I threw you into the society I can still command. Having done that, my dear fellow, I consider that I have provided for you in life, and rely upon your doing something to provide for me in return.’

‘I do not understand your meaning, sir.’

‘My meaning, Ned, is obvious—I observe another fly in the cream-jug, but have the goodness not to take it out as you did the first, for their walk when their legs are milky, is extremely ungraceful and disagreeable—my meaning is, that you must do as I did; that you must marry well and make the most of yourself.’

‘A mere fortune-hunter!’ cried the son, indignantly.

‘What in the devil’s name, Ned, would you be!’ returned the father. ‘All men are fortune-hunters, are they not? The law, the church, the court, the camp—see how they are all crowded with fortune-hunters, jostling each other in the pursuit. The stock-exchange, the pulpit, the counting-house, the royal drawing-room, the senate,—what but fortune-hunters are they filled with? A fortune-hunter! Yes. You ARE one; and you would be nothing else, my dear Ned, if you were the greatest courtier, lawyer, legislator, prelate, or merchant, in existence. If you are squeamish and moral, Ned, console yourself with the reflection that at the very worst your fortune-hunting can make but one person miserable or unhappy. How many people do you suppose these other kinds of huntsmen crush in following their sport—hundreds at a step? Or thousands?’

The young man leant his head upon his hand, and made no answer.

‘I am quite charmed,’ said the father rising, and walking slowly to and fro—stopping now and then to glance at himself in the mirror, or survey a picture through his glass, with the air of a connoisseur, ‘that we have had this conversation, Ned, unpromising as it was. It establishes a confidence between us which is quite delightful, and was certainly necessary, though how you can ever have mistaken our positions and designs, I confess I cannot understand. I conceived, until I found your fancy for this girl, that all these points were tacitly agreed upon between us.’

‘I knew you were embarrassed, sir,’ returned the son, raising his head for a moment, and then falling into his former attitude, ‘but I had no idea we were the beggared wretches you describe. How could I suppose it, bred as I have been; witnessing the life you have always led; and the appearance you have always made?’

‘My dear child,’ said the father—‘for you really talk so like a child that I must call you one—you were bred upon a careful principle; the very manner of your education, I assure you, maintained my credit surprisingly. As to the life I lead, I must lead it, Ned. I must have these little refinements about me. I have always been used to them, and I cannot exist without them. They must surround me, you observe, and therefore they are here. With regard to our circumstances, Ned, you may set your mind at rest upon that score. They are desperate. Your own appearance is by no means despicable, and our joint pocket-money alone devours our income. That’s the truth.’

‘Why have I never known this before? Why have you encouraged me, sir, to an expenditure and mode of life to which we have no right or title?’

‘My good fellow,’ returned his father more compassionately than ever, ‘if you made no appearance, how could you possibly succeed in the pursuit for which I destined you? As to our mode of life, every man has a right to live in the best way he can; and to make himself as comfortable as he can, or he is an unnatural scoundrel. Our debts, I grant, are very great, and therefore it the more behoves you, as a young man of principle and honour, to pay them off as speedily as possible.’

‘The villain’s part,’ muttered Edward, ‘that I have unconsciously played! I to win the heart of Emma Haredale! I would, for her sake, I had died first!’

‘I am glad you see, Ned,’ returned his father, ‘how perfectly self-evident it is, that nothing can be done in that quarter. But apart from this, and the necessity of your speedily bestowing yourself on another (as you know you could to-morrow, if you chose), I wish you’d look upon it pleasantly. In a religious point of view alone, how could you ever think of uniting yourself to a Catholic, unless she was amazingly rich? You ought to be so very Protestant, coming of such a Protestant family as you do. Let us be moral, Ned, or we are nothing. Even if one could set that objection aside, which is impossible, we come to another which is quite conclusive. The very idea of marrying a girl whose father was killed, like meat! Good God, Ned, how disagreeable! Consider the impossibility of having any respect for your father-in-law under such unpleasant circumstances—think of his having been “viewed” by jurors, and “sat upon” by coroners, and of his very doubtful position in the family ever afterwards. It seems to me such an indelicate sort of thing that I really think the girl ought to have been put to death by the state to prevent its happening. But I tease you perhaps. You would rather be alone? My dear Ned, most willingly. God bless you. I shall be going out presently, but we shall meet to-night, or if not to-night, certainly to-morrow. Take care of yourself in the mean time, for both our sakes. You are a person of great consequence to me, Ned—of vast consequence indeed. God bless you!’

With these words, the father, who had been arranging his cravat in the glass, while he uttered them in a disconnected careless manner, withdrew, humming a tune as he went. The son, who had appeared so lost in thought as not to hear or understand them, remained quite still and silent. After the lapse of half an hour or so, the elder Chester, gaily dressed, went out. The younger still sat with his head resting on his hands, in what appeared to be a kind of stupor.