The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
On a Saturday afternoon in August, a few weeks after his eventful ride, Tom returned to Englebourn Rectory, to stay over Sunday and attend Betty Winburn's funeral. He was strangely attracted to Harry by the remembrance of their old boyish rivalry; by the story which he had heard from his cousin, of the unwavering perseverance with which the young peasant clung to and pursued his suit for Simon's daughter; but, more than all, by the feeling of gratitude with which he remembered the effect his visit to Betty's sick-room had had on him, on the day of his ride from Barton Manor. On that day he knew that he had ridden into Englebourn in a miserable mental fog, and had ridden out of it in sunshine, which had lasted through the intervening weeks. Somehow or another he had got set straight then and there, turned into the right road and out of the wrong one, at what he very naturally believed to be the most critical moment of his life.
Without stopping to weigh accurately the respective merits of the several persons whom he had come in contact with on that day, he credited them all with a large amount of gratitude and good will, and Harry with his mother's share as well as his own. So he had been longing to do something for him ever since. The more he rejoiced in, and gave himself up to his own new sensations, the more did his gratitude become as it were a burden to him; and yet no opportunity offered of letting off some of it in action. The Magistrates, taking into consideration the dangerous state of his mother, had let Harry off with a reprimand for his assault; so there was nothing to be done there. He wrote to Katie offering more money for the Winburns; but she declined—adding, however, to her note, by way of postscript, that he might give it to her clothing club or coal club. Then came the news of Betty's death, and an intimation from Katie that she thought Harry would be much gratified if he would attend the funeral. He jumped at the suggestion. All Englebourn, from the Hawk's Lynch to the Rectory, was hallowed ground to him. The idea of getting back there, so much nearer to Barton Manor, filled him with joy, which be tried in vain to repress when he thought of the main object of his visit.
He arrived in time to go and shake hands with Harry before dinner; and, though scarcely a word passed between them, he saw with delight that he had evidently given pleasure to the mourner. Then he had a charming long evening with Katie, walking in the garden with her between dinner and tea, and after tea discoursing in low tones over her work table, while Mr. Winter benevolently slept in his arm-chair. Their discourse branched into many paths, but managed always somehow to end in the sayings, beliefs, and perfections of the young lady of Barton Manor. Tom wondered how it had happened so when he got to his own room, as he fancied he had not betrayed himself in the least. He had determined to keep resolutely on his guard, and to make a confidant of no living soul till he was twenty-one, and, though sorely tempted to break his resolution in favour of Katie, had restrained himself. He might have spared himself all the trouble; but this he did not know, being unversed in the ways of women, and all unaware of the subtlety and quickness of their intuitions in all matters connected with the heart. Poor, dear, stolid, dim-sighted mankind, how they do see through us and walk round us!
The funeral on the Sunday afternoon page 94 between churches had touched him much, being the first he had ever attended. He walked next behind the chief mourner—the few friends, amongst whom David was conspicuous, yielding place to him. He stood beside him in Church, and at the open grave, and made the responses as firmly as he could, and pressed his shoulder against his, when he felt the strong frame of the son trembling with the weight and burden of his resolutely suppressed agony. When they parted at the cottage door, to which Tom accompanied the mourner and his old and tried friend David, though nothing but a look and a grasp of the hand passed between them, he felt that they were bound by a new and Invisible bond; and, as he walked back up the village and past the churchyard, where the children were playing about on the graves—stopping every now and then to watch the sexton as he stamped down, and filled in the mould on the last made one, beside which he had himself stood as a mourner—and heard the bells beginning to chime for the afternoon service, he resolved within himself that he would be a true and helpful friend to the widow's son. On this subject he could talk freely to Katie; and he did so that evening, expounding how much one in his position could do for a young labouring man if he really was bent upon it, and building up grand castles for Harry, the foundations of which rested on his own determination to benefit and patronize him. Katie listened half doubtingly at first, but was soon led away by his confidence, and poured out the tea in the full belief that, with Tom's powerful aid, all would go well. After which they took to reading the Christian Year together, and branched into discussions on profane poetry, which Katie considered scarcely proper for the evening, but which, nevertheless, being of such rare occurrence with her, she had not the heart to stop.
The next morning Tom was to return home. After breakfast he began the subject of his plans for Harry again, when Katie produced a small paper packet, and handed it to him, saying—
"Here is your money again!"
"The money you left with me for Harry Winburn. I thought at the time that most probably he would not take it."
"But are you sure he doesn't want it? Did you try hard to get him to take it?" said Tom, holding out his hand reluctantly for the money.
"Not myself. I couldn't offer him money myself, of course; but I sent it by David, and begged him to do all he could to persuade him to take it."
"Well, and why wouldn't he?"
"Oh, he said the club-money which was coming in was more than enough to pay for the funeral, and for himself he didn't want it"
"How provoking! I wonder if old David really did his best to get him to take it?"
"Yes, I am sure he did. But you ought to be very glad to find some independence in a poor man."
"Bother his independence! I don't like to feel that it costs me nothing but talk—I want to pay."
"All, Tom, if you knew the poor as well as I do, you wouldn't say so. I am afraid there are not two other men in the parish who would have refused your money. The fear of undermining their independence takes away all my pleasure in giving."
"Undermining! Why, Katie, I am sure I have heard you mourn over their stubbornness and unreasonableness."
"Oh, yes, they are often provokingly stubborn and unreasonable, and yet not independent about money, or anything they can get out of you. Besides, I acknowledge that I have become wiser of late; I used to like to see them dependent, and cringing to me, but now I dread it."
"But you would like David to give in about the singing, wouldn't you?"
"Yes, if he would give in I should be very proud. I have learnt a great deal from him; I used positively to dislike him; but, now that I know him, I think him the best man in the parish. page 95 If he ever does give in—and I think he will—it will be worth anything, just because he is so independent."
"That's all very well; hut what am I to do to show Harry Winburn that I mean to be his friend, if he won't take money?"
"You have come over to his mother's funeral—he will think more of that than of all the money you could give him; and you can show sympathy for him in a great many ways."
"Well, I must try. By the way, about his love affair; is the young lady at home? I have never seen her, you know."
"No, she is away with an aunt, looking out for a place. I have persuaded her to get one, and leave home again for the present. Her father is quite well now, and she is not wanted."
"Well, it seems I can't do any good with her, then; but could not I go and talk to her father about Harry? I might help him in that way."
"You must be very careful; Simon is such an odd-tempered old man."
"Oh, I'm not afraid; he and I are great chums, and a little soft soap will go a long way with him. Fancy, if I could get him this very morning to 'sanction Harry's suit,' as the phrase is, what should you think of me?"
"I should think very highly of your powers of persuasion."
Not the least daunted by his cousin's misgivings, Tom started in quest of Simon, and found him at work in front of the greenhouse, surrounded by many small pots and heaps of finely-sifted mould, and absorbed in his occupation.
Simon was a rough, stolid Berkshire rustic, somewhat of a tyrant in the bosom of his family, an unmanageable servant, a cross-grained acquaintance; as a citizen, stiff-necked and a grumbler, who thought that nothing ever went right in the parish; but, withal, a thorough honest worker; and, when allowed to go his own way—and no other way would he go, as his mistress had long since discovered—there was no man who earned his daily bread more honestly. He took a pride in his work, and the rectory garden was always trim and well kept, and the beds bright with flowers from early spring till late autumn.
He was absorbed in what he was about, and Tom came up close to him without attracting the least sign of recognition; so he stopped, and opened the conversation.
"Good day, Simon; it's a pleasure to see a garden looking so gay as yours."
Simon looked up from his work, and, when he saw who it was, touched his battered old hat, and answered,—
"Mornin, Sir! Ees, you finds me allus in blume."
"Indeed I do, Simon; but how do you manage it? I should like to tell my father's gardener."
"'Tis no use to tell un if a hev'nt found out for his self; 'tis nothing but lookin' a bit forrard and farm-yard stuff as does it."
"Well, there's plenty of farm-yard stuff at home, and yet, somehow, we never look half so bright as you do."
"May be as your gardener just takes and hits it auver the top o' the ground, and lets it lie. That's no kinder good, that beant—'tis the roots as wants the stuff; and you med jist as well take and put a round o' beef agin my back bwone as hit the stuff auver the ground, and never see as it gets to the roots o' the plants."
"No, I don't think it can be that," said Tom, laughing; "our gardener seems always to be digging his manure in, but somehow he can't make it come out in flowers as you do."
"Ther' be mwore waays o' killin' a cat besides choking on un wi' cream," said Simon, chuckling in his turn.
"That's true, Simon," said Tom; "the fact is, a gardener must know his business as well as you to be always in bloom, eh?"
"That's about it, Sir," said Simon, on whom the flattery was beginning to tell.
Tom saw this, and thought he might now feel his way a little further with the old man.
"I'm over on a sad errand," he said; "I've been to poor Widow Win- page 96 burn's funeral—she was an old friend of yours, I think?"
"Ees; I minds her long afore she wur married," said Simon, turning to his pots again.
"She wasn't an old woman, after all," said Tom.
"Sixty-two year old cum Michaelmas," said Simon.
"Well, she ought to have been a strong woman for another ten years at least; why, you must be older than she by some years, Simon, and you can do a good day's work yet with any man."
Simon went on with his potting without replying, except by a carefully-measured grunt, sufficient to show that he had heard the remark, and was not much impressed by it.
Tom saw that he must change his attack; so, after watching Simon for a minute, he began again.
"I wonder why it is that the men of your time of life are so much stronger than the young ones in constitution. Now, I don't believe there are three young men in Englebourn who would have got over that fall you had at Farmer Groves' so quick as you have; most young men would have been crippled for life by it."
"Zo 'em would, the young wosbirds. I dwon't make no account on 'em," said Simon.
"And you don't feel any the worse for it, Simon?"
"Narra mossel," replied Simon; but presently he seemed to recollect something, and added, "I wun't saay but what I feels it at times when I've got to stoop about much."
"Ah, I'm sorry to hear that, Simon. Then you oughtn't to have so much stooping to do; potting, and that sort of thing, is the work for you, I should think, and just giving an eye to everything about the place. Anybody could do the digging and setting out cabbages, and your time is only wasted at it."—Tom had now found the old man's weak point.
"Ees, Sir, and so I tells Miss," he said; "but wi' nothin' but a bit o' glass no bigger'n a cowcumber frame 'tis all as a man can do to keep a few plants alive droo' the winter."
"Of course," said Tom, looking round at the very respectable green-house which Simon had contemptuously likened to a cucumber-frame, "you ought to have at least another house as big as this for forcing."
"Master ain't pleased, he ain't," said Simon, "if he dwont get his things, his spring wegebatles, and his strawberries, as early as though we'd a got forcin pits and glass like other folk. 'Tis a year and mwore since he promised as I sh'd hev glass along that ther' wall, but 'tis no nigher comin' as I can see. I be to spake to Miss about it now, he says, and, when I spakes to her, 'tis, 'Oh, Simon, we must wait till the 'spensary's 'stablished,' or 'Oh, Simon, last winter wur a werry tryin wun, and the sick club's terrible bad off for funds,'—and so we gwoes on, and med gwo on, for aught as I can see, so long as ther's a body sick or bad off in all the parish. And that'll be alius. For, what wi Miss's wisitin on em, and sendin' on em dinners, and a'al the doctors stuff as is served out o' the 'spensary—wy, tis enough to keep em bad a'al ther lives. Ther aint no credit in gettin' well. Ther wur no sich a caddie about sick folk when I wur a buoy."
Simon had never been known to make such a long speech before, and Tom augured well for his negotiation.
"Well, Simon," he said, "I've been talking to my cousin, and I think she will do what you want now. The dispensary is set up, and the people are very healthy. How much glass should you want now along that wall?"
"A matter 0' twenty fit or so," said Simon.
"I think that can be managed," said Tom; "I'll speak to my cousin about it; and then you would have plenty to do in the houses, and you'd want a regular man under you."
"Ees; t'would take two on us reg'lar to kep things as should be."
"And you ought to have somebody who knows what he is about. Can you page 97 think of any one who would do, Simon?"
"Ther's a young chap as works for Squire Wurley. I've heard as he wants to better hisself."
"But he isn't an Englebourn man. Isn't there any one in the parish?"
"Ne'er a one as I knows on."
"What do you think of Harry Win-burn—he seems a good hand with flowers?" The words had scarcely passed his lips when Tom saw that he had made a mistake. Old Simon retired into himself at once, and a cunning distrustful look came over his face. There was no doing anything with him. Even the new forcing house had lost its attractions for him, and Tom, after some further ineffectual attempts to bring him round, returned to the house somewhat crest-fallen.
"Well, how have you succeeded?" said Katie, looking up from her work, as he came in and sat down near her table. Tom shook his head.
"I'm afraid I've made a regular hash of it," he said. "I thought at first I had quite come round the old savage by praising the garden, and promising that you would let him have a new house."
"You don't mean to say you did that!" said Katie, stopping her work.
"Indeed, but I did, though. I was drawn on, you know. I saw it was the right card to play; sò I couldn't help it."
"Oh, Tom! how could you do so? We don't want another house the least in the world; it is only Simon's vanity. He wants to beat the gardener at the Grange at the flower-shows. Every penny will have to come out of what papa allows me for the parish."
"Don't be afraid, Katie; you won't have to spend a penny. Of course I reserved a condition. The new house was to be put up if he would take Harry as under gardener."
"What did he say to that?"
"Well, he said nothing. I never came across such an old Turk. How you have spoiled him! If he isn't pleased, he won't take the trouble to answer you a word. I was very near telling him a piece of my mind. But he looked all the more. I believe he would poison Harry if he came here. What can have made him hate him so?"
"He is jealous of him. Mary and I were so foolish as to praise poor Betty's flowers before Simon, and he has never forgiven it. I think, too, that he suspects, somehow, that we talked about getting Harry here. I ought to have told you, but I quite forgot it."
"Well, it can't be helped. I don't think I can do any good in that quarter; so now I shall be off to the Grange, to see what I can do there."
"How do you mean?"
"Why, Harry is afraid of being turned out of his cottage. I saw how it worried him, thinking about it; so I shall go to the Grange, and say a good word for him. Wurley can't refuse, if I offer to pay the rent myself—it's only six pounds a year. Of course, I shan't tell Harry; and he will pay it all the same; but it may make all the difference with Wurley, who is a regular screw."
"Do you know Mr. Wurley?"
"Yes, just to speak to. He knows all about me, and he will be very glad to be civil."
"No doubt he will; but I don't like your going to his house. You don't know what a bad man he is. Nobody but men on the turf, and that sort of people, go there now; and I believe he thinks of nothing but gambling and game-preserving."
"Oh yes, I know all about him. The county people are beginning to look shy at him; so he'll be all the more likely to do what I ask him."
"But you won't get intimate with him?"
"You needn't be afraid of that."
"It is a sad house to go to—I hope it won't do you any harm."
"Ah, Katie!" said Tom, with a smile, not altogether cheerful, "I don't think you need be anxious about that. When one has been a year at Oxford, there isn't much snow left to soil; so now I am off. I must give myself plenty of time to cook Wurley."
"Well, I suppose I must not hinder page 98 you," said Katie. "I do hope you will succeed in some of your kind plans for Harry."
"I shall do my best; and it is a great thing to have somebody besides oneself to think about and try to help—some poor person—don't you think so, even for a man?"
"Of course I do. I am sure you can't be happy without it, any more than I. "We shouldn't be our mother's children if we could be."
"Well, good-bye, dear; you can't think how I enjoy these glimpses of you and your work. You must give my love to Uncle Robert."
And so they bade one another adieu, lovingly, after the manner of cousins, and Tom rode away with a very soft place in his heart for his cousin Katie. It was not the least the same sort of passionate feeling of worship with which he regarded Mary. The two feelings could lie side by side in his heart with plenty of room to spare. In fact, his heart had been getting so big in the last few weeks, that it seemed capable of taking in the whole of mankind, not to mention woman. Still, on the whole, it may be safely asserted, that, had matters been in at all a more forward state, and could she have seen exactly what was passing in his mind, Mary would probably have objected to the kind of affection which he felt for his cousin at this particular time. The joke about cousinly love is probably as old, and certainly as true, as Solomon's proverbs. However, as matters stood, it could be no concern of Mary's what his feelings were towards Katie, or any other person.
Tom rode in at the lodge gate of the Grange soon after eleven o'clock, and walked his horse slowly through the park, admiring the splendid timber, and thinking how he should break his request to the owner of the place. But his thoughts were interrupted by the proceedings of the rabbits, which were out by hundreds all along the sides of the plantations, and round the great trees. A few of the nearest just deigned to notice him by scampering to their holes under the roots of the antlered oaks, into which some of them popped with a disdainful kick of their hind legs, while others turned round, sat up, and looked at him. As he neared the house, he passed a keeper's cottage, and was saluted by the barking of dogs from the neighbouring kennel; and the young pheasants ran about round some twenty hen-coops, which were arranged along opposite the door where the keeper's children were playing. The pleasure of watching the beasts and birds kept him from arranging his thoughts, and he reached the hall-door without having formed the plan of his campaign.
A footman answered the bell, who doubted whether his master was down, but thought he would see the gentleman if he would send in his name. Whereupon Tom handed in his card; and, in a few minutes, a rakish-looking stable-boy came round for his horse, and the butler appeared, with his master's compliments, and a request that he would step into the breakfast-room. Tom followed this portly personage through the large handsome hall, on the walls of which hung a buff coat or two and some old-fashioned arms, and large paintings of dead game and fruit—through a drawing-room, the furniture of which was all covered up in melancholy cases—into the breakfast-parlour, where the owner of the mansion was seated at table in a lounging jacket. He was a man of forty, or thereabouts, who would have been handsome, but for the animal look about his face. His cheeks were beginning to fall into chops, his full lips had a liquorish look about them, and bags were beginning to form under his light blue eyes. His hands were very white and delicate, and shook a little as he poured out his tea; and he was full and stout in body, with small shoulders, and thin arms and legs; in short, the last man whom Tom would have chosen as bow in a pair oar. The only part of him which showed strength were his dark whiskers, which were abundant, and elaborately oiled and curled. The room was light and pleasant, with two windows looking over the park, and fur- page 99 nished luxuriously, in the most modern style, with all manner of easy chairs and sofas. A glazed case or two of well-bound books showed that some former owner had cared for such things; but the doors had, probably, never been opened in the present reign. The master, and his usual visitors, found sufficient food for the mind in the Racing Calendar, Boxiana, the Adventures of Corinthian Tom, and Bell's Life, which lay on a side table; or in the pictures and prints of racers, opera dancers, and steeple-chaces, which hung in profusion on the walls. The breakfast-table was beautifully appointed, in the matter of China and plate; and delicate little rolls, neat pats of butter in ice, and two silver hot dishes containing curry and broiled salmon, and a plate of fruit, piled in tempting profusion, appealed, apparently in vain, to the appetite of the lord of the feast.
"Mr. Brown, Sir," said the butler, ushering in our hero to his master's presence.
"Ah, Brown, I'm very glad to see you here," said Mr. Wurley, standing up and holding out his hand. "Have any breakfast?"
"Thank you, no, I have breakfasted," said Tom, somewhat astonished at the intimacy of the greeting; but it was his cue to do the friendly thing—so he shook the proffered hand, which felt very limp, and sat down by the table, looking pleasant.
"Ridden from home this morning?" said Mr. Wurley, picking over daintily some of the curry to which he had helped himself.
"No, I was at my uncle's, at Englebourn, last night. It is very little out of the way; so I thought I would just call on my road home."
"Quite right I'm very glad you came without ceremony. People about here are so d—d full of ceremony. It don't suit me, all that humbug. But I wish you'd just pick a bit"
"Thank you. Then I will eat some fruit," said Tom, helping himself to some of the freshly-picked grapes; "how very fine these are!"
"Yes, I'm open to back my houses against the field for twenty miles round. This curry isn't fit for a pig. Take it out, and tell the cook so." The butler solemnly obeyed, while his master went on with one of the frequent oaths with which he garnished his conversation, "You're right, they can't spoil the fruit. They're a set of skulking devils, are servants. They think of nothing but stuffing themselves, and how they can cheat you most, and do the least work." Saying which, he helped himself to some fruit; and the two ate their grapes for a short time in silence. But even fruit seemed to pall quickly on him, and he pushed away his plate. The butler came back with a silver tray, with soda water, and a small decanter of brandy, and long glasses on it.
"Won't you have something after your ride?" said the host to Tom; "some soda water with a dash of bingo clears one's head in the morning."
"No, thank you," said Tom, smiling, "its bad for training."
"Ah, you Oxford men are all for training," said his host, drinking greedily of the foaming mixture which the butler handed to him. "A glass of bitter ale is what you take, eh? I know. Get some ale for Mr. Brown."
Tom felt that it would be uncivil to refuse this orthodox offer, and took his beer accordingly, after which his host produced a box of Hudson's Regalias, and proposed to look at the stables. So they lighted their cigars, and went out. Mr. Wurley had taken of late to the turf, and they inspected several young horses which were entered for country stakes. Tom thought them weedy-looking animals, but patiently listened to their praises and pedigrees, upon which his host was eloquent enough; and, rubbing up his latest readings in Bell's Life, and the racing talk which he had been in the habit of hearing in Drysdale's rooms, managed to hold his own, and asked, with a grave face, about the price of the Coronation colt for the next Derby, and whether Scott's lot was not the right thing to stand on for the St. Leger, thereby raising himself con- page 100 siderably in his host's eyes. There were no hunters in the stable, at which Tom expressed his surprise. In reply, Mr. Wurley abused the country, and declared that it was not worth riding across—the fact being that he had lost his nerve, and that the reception which he was beginning to meet with in the field, if he came out by chance, was of the coldest.
From the stables they strolled to the keeper's cottage, where Mr. Wurley called for some buckwheat and Indian corn, and began feeding the young pheasants, which were running about almost like barn-door fowls close to them.
"We've had a good season for the young birds," he said; "my fellow knows that part of his business, d—n him, and don't lose many. You had better bring your gun over in October; we shall have a week in the covers early in the month."
"Thank you, I shall be very glad," said Tom; "but you don't shoot these birds?"
"Shoot 'em! what the devil should I do with them?"
"Why, they're so tame I thought you just kept them about the house for breeding. I don't care so much for pheasant shooting; I like a good walk after a snipe, or creeping along to get a wild duck, much better. There's some sport in it, or even in partridge shooting with a couple of good dogs, now—"
"You're quite wrong. There's nothing like a good dry ride in a cover with lots of game, and a fellow behind to load for you."
"Well, I must say, I prefer the open."
"You've no covers over your way, have you?"
"I thought so. You wait till you've had a good day in my covers, and you won't care for quartering all day over wet turnips. Besides, this sort of tiling pays. They talk about pheasants costing a guinea a head on one's table. It's all stuff; at any rate, mine don't cost me much In fact, I say it pays, and I can prove it."
"But you feed your pheasants?"
"Yes, just round the house for a few weeks, and I sow a little buckwheat in the covers. But they have to keep themselves pretty much, I can tell you."
"Don't the farmers object?"
"Yes, d—n them; they're never satisfied. But they don't grumble to me; they know better. There are a dozen fellows ready to take any farm that's given up, and they know it. Just get a beggar to put a hundred or two into the ground, and he won't quit hold in a hurry. Will you play a game at billiards?"
The turn which their conversation had taken hitherto had offered no opening to Tom for introducing the object of his visit, and he felt less and less inclined to come to the point. He looked his host over and over again, and the more he looked the less he fancied asking anything like a favour of him. However, as it had to be done, he thought he couldn't do better than fall into his ways for a few hours, and watch for a chance. The man seemed good-natured in his way; and all his belongings—the fine park and house, and gardens and stables—were not without their effect on his young guest. It is not given to many men of twice his age to separate a man from his possessions, and look at him apart from them. So he yielded easily enough, and they went to billiards in a fine room opening out of the hall; and Tom, who was very fond of the game, soon forgot everything in the pleasure of playing on such a table.
It was not a bad match. Mr. Wurley understood the game far better than his guest, and could give him advice as to what side to put on and how to play for cannons. This he did in a patronizing way, but his hand was unsteady and his nerve bad. Tom's good eye and steady hand, and the practice he had had at the St. Ambrose pool-table, gave him considerable advantage in the hazards. And so they played on, Mr. Wurley, condescending to bet only half-a-crown a game, at first giving ten points, and then five, at which latter odds Tom managed to be two games ahead when the butler announced lunch, at two o'clock.page 101
"I think I must order my horse," said Tom putting on his coat.
"No, curse it, you must give me my revenge. I'm always five points better after lunch, and after dinner I could give you fifteen points. Why shouldn't you stop and dine and sleep? I expect some men to dinner."
"Thank you, I must get home to-day."
"I should like you to taste my mutton; I never kill it under five years old. You don't get that every day."
Tom, however, was proof against the mutton; but consented to stay till towards the hour when the other guests were expected, finding that his host had a decided objection to being left alone. So after lunch, at which Mr. Wurley drank the better part of a bottle of old sherry to steady his nerves, they returned again to billiards and Hudson's regalias.
They played on for another hour; and, though Mr. Wurley's hand was certainly steadier, the luck remained with Tom. He was now getting rather tired of playing, and wanted to be leaving, and he began to remember the object of his visit again. But Mr. Wurley was nettled at being beaten by a boy, as he counted his opponent, and wouldn't hear of leaving off. So Tom played on carelessly game after game, and was soon again only two games ahead. Mr. Wurley's temper was recovering, and now Tom protested that he must go. Just one game more his host urged, and Tom consented. Wouldn't he play for a sovereign? No. So they played double or quits; and after a sharp struggle Mr. Wurley won the game, at which he was highly elated, and talked again grandly of the odds he could give after dinner.
Tom felt that it was now or never, and so as he put on his coat, he said,
"Well, I'm much obliged to you for a very pleasant day, Mr. Wurley."
"I hope you'll come over again, and stay and sleep. I shall always be glad to see you. It is so cursed hard to keep somebody always going in the country."
"Thank you; I should like to come again. But now I want to ask a favour of you before I go."
"Eh, well, what is it?" said Mr. Wurley, whose face and manner became suddenly anything but encouraging.
"There's that cottage of yours, the one at the corner of Englebourn copse, next the village."
"The woodman's house, I know," said Mr. Wurley.
"The tenant is dead, and I want you to let it to a friend of mine; I'll take care the rent is paid."
Mr. Wurley pricked up his ears at this announcement. He gave a sharp look at Tom; and then bent over the table, made a stroke, and said, "Ah, I heard the old woman was dead. Who's your friend, then?"
"Well, I mean her son," said Tom, a little embarrassed; "he's an active young fellow, and will make a good tenant, I'm sure."
"I dare say," said Mr. Wurley, with a leer; "and I suppose there's a sister to keep house for him, eh?"
"No, but he wants to get married."
"Wants to get married, eh?" said Mr. Wurley, with another leer and oath. "You're right; that's a deal safer kind of thing for you."
"Yes," said Tom, resolutely disregarding the insinuation which he could not help feeling was intended; "it will keep him steady, and if he can get the cottage it might make all the difference. There wouldn't be much trouble about the marriage then, I dare say."
"You'll find it a devilish long way. You're quite right, mind you, not to get them settled close at home; but Englebourn is too far, I should say."
"What does it matter to me?"
"Oh, you're tired of her! I see. Perhaps it won't be too far, then."
"Tired of her! who do you mean?"
"Ha, ha!" said Mr. Wurley, looking up from the table over which he was leaning, for he went on knocking the balls about; "devilish well acted! But you needn't try to come the old soldier over me. I'm not quite such a fool as that."
"I don't know what you mean by coming the old soldier. I only asked you to let the cottage, and I will be page 102 responsible for the rent. I'll pay in advance if you like."
"Yes, you want me to let the cottage for you to put in this girl,"
"I beg your pardon," said Tom, interrupting him, and scarcely able to keep his temper; "I told you it was for this! young Winburn."
"Of course you told me so. Ha, ha!"
"And you don't believe me?"
"Come now, all's fair in love and war. But, I tell you, you needn't be mealy-mouthed with me. You don't mind his living there; he's away at work all day, eh? and his wife stays at home."
"Mr. Wurley, I give you my honour I never saw the girl in my life that I know of, and I don't know that she will marry him."
"What did you talk about your friend for, then?" said Mr. Wurley, stopping and staring at Tom, curiosity beginning to mingle with his look of cunning un-belief.
"Because I meant just what I said."
"And the friend, then?"
"I have told you several times that this young Winburn is the man."
"What, your friend?"
"Yes, my friend," said Tom; and he felt himself getting red at having to call Harry his friend in such company. Mr. Wurley looked at him for a few moments, and then took his leg off the billiard table, and came round to Tom with the sort of patronizing air with which he had lectured him on billiards.
"I say, Brown, I'll give you a piece of advice," he said. "You're a young fellow, and haven't seen anything of the world. Oxford's all very well, but it isn't the world. Now I tell you, a young fellow can't do himself greater harm than: getting into low company and talking as you have been talking. It might ruin you in the county. That sort of radical stuff won't do, you know, calling a farm labourer your friend."
Tom chafed at this advice from a man who, he well knew, was notoriously in the habit of entertaining at his house, and living familiarly with, betting men and trainers, and all the riff-raff of the turf. But he restrained himself by a considerable effort, and, instead of retorting, as he felt inclined to do, said, with an attempt to laugh it off, "Thank you, I don't think there's much fear of my turning radical But will you let mo the cottage?"
"My agent manages all that. We talked about pulling it down. The cottage is in my preserves, and I don't mean to have some poaching fellow there to be sneaking out at night after my pheasants."
"But his grandfather and great-grandfather lived there."
"I dare say, but it's my cottage."
"But surely that gives him a claim to it."
"D—n it! it's my cottage. You're not going to tell me I mayn't do what I like with it, I suppose."
"I only said that his family having lived there so long gives him a claim."
"A claim to what? These are some more of your cursed radical notions. I think they might teach you something better at Oxford."
Tom was now perfectly cool, but withal in such a tremendous fury of excitement that he forgot the interests of his client altogether.
"I came here, sir," he said, very quietly and slowly, "not to request your advice on my own account, or your opinion on the studies of Oxford, valuable as no doubt they are: I came to ask you to let this cottage to me, and I wish to have your answer."
"I'll be d—d if I do; there's my answer."
"Very well," said Tom; "then I have only to wish you good morning. I am sorry to have wasted a day in the company of a man who sets up for a country gentleman with the tongue of a Thames bargee and the heart of a Jew pawnbroker."
Mr. Wurley rushed to the bell and rang it furiously. "By—!" he almost screamed, shaking his fist at Tom, "I'll have you horse-whipped out of my house;" and then poured forth a flood of uncomplimentary slang, ending in another pull at the bell, and "By—I'll page 103 have you horse-whipped out of my house."
"You had better try it on—you and your flunkies together," said Tom, taking a cigar-case out of his pocket and lighting up, the most defiant and exasperating action he could think of on the spur of the moment. "Here's one of them; so I'll leave you to give him his orders, and wait five minutes in the hall, where there's more room." And so, leaving the footman gaping at his lord, he turned on his heel, with the air of Bernardo del Carpio after he had bearded King Alphonso, and walked into the hall.
He heard men running to and fro, and doors banging, as he stood there looking at the old buff-coats, and rather thirsting for a fight. Presently a door opened, and the portly butler shuffled in, looking considerably embarrassed, and said,—
"Please, sir, to go out quiet, else he'll be having one of his fits."
"Your master, you mean?"
"Yes, sir," said the butler, nodding, "D. T., sir. After one of his rages the black dog comes, and its hawful work; so I hope you'll go, sir."
"Very well, of course I'll go. I don't want to give him a fit." Saying which, Tom walked out of the hall-door, and leisurely round to the stables, where he found already signs of commotion. "Without regarding them, he got his horse saddled and bridled, and, after looking him over carefully, and patting him, and feeling his girths, in the yard, in the presence of a cluster of retainers of one sort or another, who were gathering from the house and offices, and looking sorely puzzled whether to commence hostilities or not, mounted and walked quietly out.
After his anger had been a little cooled by the fresh air of the wild country at the back of the Hawk's Lynch, which he struck into on his way home soon after leaving the park, it suddenly occurred to him that, however satisfactory to himself the results of his encounter with this unjust landlord might seem, they would probably prove anything but agreeable to the would-be tenant, Harry Winburn. In fact, as he meditated on the matter, it became clear to him that in the course of one morning he had probably exasperated old Simon against his aspirant son-in-law, and put a serious spoke in Harry's love-wheel, on the one hand, while, on the other, he had insured his speedy expulsion from his cottage, if not the demolition of that building. Whereupon he became somewhat low under the conviction that his friendship, which was to work such wonders for the said Harry, and deliver him out of all his troubles, had as yet only made his whole look-out in the world very much darker and more dusty. In short, as yet he had managed to do considerably less than nothing for his friend, and he felt very small before he got home that evening. He was far, however, from being prepared for the serious way in which his father looked upon his day's proceedings. Mr. Brown was sitting by himself after dinner when his son turned up, and had to drink several extra glasses of port to keep himself decently composed, while Tom narrated the events of the day in the intervals of his attacks on the dinner which was brought back for him. When the servant had cleared away, Mr. Brown proceeded to comment on the history in a most decided manner.
Tom was wrong to go to the Grange in the first instance; and this part of the homily was amplified by a discourse on the corruption of the turf in general, and the special curse of small country races in particular, which such men as Wurley supported, and which, but for them, would cease. Racing, which used to be the pastime of great people, who could well afford to spend a few thousands a year on their pleasure, had now mostly fallen into the hands of the very worst and lowest men of all classes, most of whom would not scruple—as Mr. Brown strongly put it—to steal a copper out of a blind beggar's hat. If he must go, at any rate he might have done his errand and come away, instead of staying there all day accepting the man's hospitality. Mr. Brown himself really should be much embarrassed to know what to do page 104 if the man should happen to attend the next sessions or assizes. But, above all, having accepted his hospitality, to turn round at the end and insult the man in his own house! This seemed to Brown père a monstrous and astounding performance.
This new way of putting matters took Tom entirely by surprise. He attempted a defence, hut in vain. His father admitted that it would be a hard case if Harry were turned out of his cottage, but wholly refused to listen to Tom's endeavours to prove that a tenant in such a case had any claim or right as against his landlord. A weekly tenant was a weekly tenant, and no succession of weeks' holding could make him anything more. Tom found himself rushing into a line of argument which astonished himself and sounded wild, but in which he felt sure there was some truth, and which, therefore, he would not abandon, though his father was evidently annoyed, and called' it mere mischievous sentiment. Each was more moved than he would have liked to own; each in his own heart felt aggrieved, and blamed the other for not understanding him. But, though obstinate on the general question, upon the point of his conduct in leaving the Grange Tom was fairly brought to shame, and gave in at last, and expressed his sorrow, though he could not help maintaining that, if his father could have heard what took place, and seen the man's manner, he would scarcely blame him for what he had said end done. Having once owned himself in the wrong, however, there was nothing for it but to write an apology, the composition of which was as disagreeable a task as had ever fallen to his lot.