Benjamin Farjeon.

Miser Farebrother: A Novel (vol. 1 of 3)



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"He writes beautifully," replied Ph?be.

"Lace handkerchiefs," said Fanny. "I wonder whose will be the prettiest? Mine, I should say."

"You deserve the best."

"There can be no doubt of that; but then men are so ungrateful. I must confess I can't quite get over that girl at Handek. The idea of his helping her to shell peas!"

"It was very kind of him."

"It was nothing of the sort; it was a downright shameless piece of flirtation, and I shall take him to task for it. I shouldn't so much have minded it if I had been the girl; would you? Oh, how foolish of me! – there is a postscript to the letter. Just think of a young woman forgetting a 'P.S.'!"

"As if you did not know it was there!" said Ph?be, with a tender smile. "What does it say?"

"Well, I never! Just listen. 'P.S. – My own dearest girl – '"

"Eh?" cried Ph?be.

"No; it is a mistake of mine. He has left that out. 'P.S. – I have kept this letter by me four days, and it is time I posted it, or I shall be home before you receive it. I expect to reach London on Friday morning.' What do you think of that, Ph?be? How many to the minute is your heart going? Friday morning. The day after to-morrow. I shan't be able to sleep a wink. But there is something more, Ph?be; that is not the end of the postscript. It goes on: 'Enclosed are two small packets, one with your name outside, one with Miss Farebrother's. I dare say you have not seen the flower they contain. It is the edelweiss, a flower which, always worn, brings luck and good fortune. If you will give me the opportunity, when I come home, I shall regard it as a great favour if you will allow me to put a piece of edelweiss in lockets for you both. With constant regards, Fred C.' Here is your packet, Ph?be."

Ph?be opened the paper, and gazed at the white flower, around which the traveller had arranged a few forget-me-nots.

"He calls it," said Fanny, "a flower of luck and good fortune. I know the right name for it, if he doesn't."

"What is its right name?" asked Ph?be.

"It is a love flower – nothing less. I shall put mine under my pillow, and shall dream of My Own. Not yours – mine; I am not a poacher. I will tell you what he is like in the morning. Good-night, dear Ph?be."

"Good-night, darling," said Ph?be.

Both the girls put their flowers of love under their pillows, and had happy dreams.

CHAPTER XV
JEREMIAH PAMFLETT'S OPINIONS OF GIRLS

No more chivalrous knight than Tom Barley ever drew breath, but notwithstanding his devotion to Ph?be, certain incontrovertible conclusions had for some time past forced themselves upon him. A number of men live to eat; a much larger number eat to live. Without reference to his inclinations, Tom Barley's circumstances did not enable him to do the former, and he found it exceedingly hard to do the latter. Between him and Mrs. Pamflett existed an unconquerable antipathy. Being of an independent order of mind, he was barely civil to her; and, as she kept the key of the cupboard, she repaid him in full by either throwing food to him as she would to a dog, or giving him none at all.

She tolerated him because he was useful to her in the way of chopping wood and doing various odd jobs of a rough nature; but for this, she would long ago have had him dismissed. Her son Jeremiah, who came regularly to Parksides on Miser Farebrother's business, never failed to put a spoke in Tom's wheel as he termed it; but his mother was successful in mollifying him by recounting the hardships to which Tom had to submit.

"He's little better than starved," she said to her son, "and he hasn't a rag to his back."

"Serve him right," growled Jeremiah; "I'd like to see him hanged!"

He never forgot the beating he had received in the village, by the instigation of Tom Barley, on the occasion of his first visit to Parksides; and with him, never to forget was never to forgive. With prudent care of his bones he steered clear of a collision with Tom, who was strong enough to tackle half a dozen men such as he; but he would gladly have seized an opportunity to do Tom an ill turn. Tom, the least vindictive being that ever wore rags, had forgotten the incident years ago, and would have met with civility any advances which Jeremiah might have made to him; but as Miser Farebrother's managing clerk invariably scowled at him when they happened to meet, he took refuge in silence and avoidance. Jeremiah had made great strides since he first entered the miser's service. He had mastered the intricacies and the rogueries of the money-lending business, and was the sharpest of sharp knaves – without feeling, without a heart, intent only upon his own interests and the gratification of his own pleasures. It has already been shown that he was lending money upon his own account; but this was done without the cognizance of the miser, who would have strongly resented such an encroachment upon his domain. Miser Farebrother would have found it difficult – indeed, almost impossible – to get along now without Jeremiah; the constant cramp in his bones, which had kept him so frequently and for so long a time together a prisoner in Parksides, grew worse instead of better, and Jeremiah had taken the fullest advantage which these absences had offered to him. There were matters of business which Jeremiah, and Jeremiah alone, could explain: sums of money were owing which, without Jeremiah, could never have been recovered; certain of the questionable transactions by means of which Miser Farebrother had amassed wealth were entered and recorded in a manner so peculiar that Jeremiah and no other person understood them. He had played his cards apparently well. The question to be decided was, where the game was going to lead him.

On the Friday upon which Fred Cornwall was expected home, two or three pregnant circumstances took place affecting our heroine. It was the day previous to her birthday, on which she had obtained her father's consent to the visit of the Lethbridges to Parksides. Ph?be had returned home on Thursday evening, intent upon making preparations for the visit of her dearest friends. Before she left Camden Town a little conversation took place between her and her aunt with respect to this birthday celebration.

"You must not expect much," Ph?be said; "I cannot afford to do as I would wish."

"Whatever it is," said Aunt Leth, "it will be as welcome as the best. I should say, a cup of tea and some nice thin bread and butter."

"Yes," said poor Ph?be; "that will be all, I am afraid."

"But even that," said Aunt Leth, "will entail a small expense. Let me see your purse."

"No, aunt; it is all right; and I must go at once."

"There is no hurry, my dear; you have at least half an hour to spare. Fanny is going with you to the station, and she will not be ready for the next twenty minutes. Show me your purse, Ph?be."

"Aunt dear – "

"My dear child, I insist, or I shall think you do not love me."

Ph?be's purse was out in a moment; but she repented when it was in Aunt Leth's hand.

"You foolish girl!" said Aunt Leth, looking into the purse, and pinching Ph?be's cheek; "there is next to nothing in it. Come, now – it is too late, I hope, for secrets between us – tell me all."

Ph?be, in a low voice, told of the conversation between her father and herself, and of his giving her a florin for a birthday present. Aunt Leth did not look grave as she listened; on the contrary, she nodded and smiled brightly. It was not in her nature to do the slightest thing to aggravate the gloomy surroundings of the young girl's home. Her heart was filled with sweet pity for her niece's lot, and it was for her to shed light on Ph?be's life.

"My dear child," she said, "do you look upon me as a mother?"

"Indeed I do, dear aunt."

"Would you wish to vex me?"

"No, aunt; no."

"Then you must let me have my way. I know what is right and what is best. I have a little treasure-box, which I find very useful often when I am in a wilful mood. It is sometimes filled with saved pennies, and you have no idea how they mount up. Don't oppose me, Ph?be, or I will not kiss you." In proof of which she gave her niece a number of affectionate kisses at once. "I am going to my treasure-box now."

She produced it from her desk, and put fifteen shillings into Ph?be's purse. Then she closed the purse, and pressed it into the girl's hand.

"What can I say, aunt?" murmured Ph?be, her eyes filled with tears.

"Say, my dear, 'I am glad my aunt treats me as she would treat her own child.' I have served you just as I would serve Fanny."

"I shall never be able to repay you, dear aunt."

"You are repaying me, Ph?be, every day of your life."

The gratitude which filled Ph?be's heart had something sacred in it. But, indeed, that happy house was more than a home to the young girl – it was a sanctuary.

Therefore Ph?be, unloved and neglected as she was in Parksides, was perfectly happy on the day before her birthday. She would be able to make her tea-table quite gay, and she went to the village and laid out to great advantage the money her aunt had put in her purse.

"Good afternoon, Miss Ph?be."

It was Jeremiah Pamflett who accosted her. He was on a visit to the miser, with books and papers under his arm.

"Good afternoon," said Ph?be, who was also carrying parcels. She would have hurried on and left him, after these salutations, but he was too quick for her.

"Won't you shake hands with me, Miss Ph?be?"

"I can't; they are full."

"Where there's a will there's a way. You had better shake hands with me, or your father will be angry when I tell him."

This threat served him. Ph?be managed to extend her hand, which he took and held in his for a longer time than was necessary.

"What a pretty hand you have, Miss Ph?be?"

She shrank at the compliment, and snatched her hand from his grasp. He did not take umbrage at this action, pretending not to notice it.

"We are both going home, Miss Ph?be. May I offer you my arm?"

"I can do quite well without, thank you," said Ph?be.

"And as well with. I always like to be polite to ladies; a gentleman can't do less. Let me carry a parcel or two for you. I shall tell your father that I assisted you, and he will be pleased. I do all his business for him, you know, and he has the greatest confidence in me. I do all I can to deserve it, I am sure. Thank you. Don't you feel more comfortable now? I should if I was a young lady, and a gentleman had insisted upon helping me."

Had it not been that she was fearful of angering her father, Ph?be would on no account have accepted his assistance; but he forced it upon her, and compelled her to take his arm. He walked proudly through the village with his lovely charge, tilting his hat a little on one side of his head to show his quality. Sometimes he dropped one of Ph?be's parcels, and when she once stooped to pick it up and their heads touched, he became quite merry, and asked her which was the hardest. She spoke scarcely a word; but he beguiled the way with anecdote and jest, and, when they reached Parksides, declared it was the pleasantest walk he had ever taken. She ran up to her room and left him alone. For himself, though he was at the door of the house, he did not enter it; he turned back, and walked about the grounds in thought, saying more than once to himself, "Upon my soul it wouldn't be half a bad move!" emphasizing his remark by slapping his leg smartly. On his way back to the house he encountered Tom Barley, and, elated by his reflections, he cried out:

"Hallo, you beggar! How are you getting on? Making your fortune?"

"No," said Tom Barley; "are you?"

"Yes," said Jeremiah, exultantly. "I'm getting on like a house on fire. Here's a penny – no, a ha'penny for you."

Tom Barley threw it back savagely, and it grazed Jeremiah's forehead.

"I could have you up for that," said Jeremiah, edging away from Tom. "Assault and battery, you know. If you give me any of your cheek I'll land you at the station-house."

"Give me any of yours," retorted Tom, "and I'll break every bone in your body!"

Jeremiah deemed it best to walk away, which he did rather swiftly, and with decided nervousness. Upon making his appearance before his mother he worked himself up into a great passion, and said that Tom Barley had set upon him with a knife, and had threatened his life. She soothed him, and advised him to inform Miser Farebrother, which he promised to do; and being further mollified by a draught of ale and a plate of cold meat and pickles, he condescended to be in a better humour.

"You haven't kissed me, Jeremiah," said Mrs. Pamflett.

"Oh, bother!" he said, brushing her cheek with his lips. "I like to kiss girls. I say, mother, how pretty Ph?be's grown!"

"Miss Farebrother?" asked his mother, somewhat startled.

"I said 'Ph?be,' didn't I? She's about as pretty as they make 'em. I met her in the village, and she took my arm. A little stuck-up at first, but I soon brought her to her senses. Mother, what do you think of me?"

"You are the best son in the world," she replied, readily, "and the cleverest man in England."

"Yes, I think I can show them a trick or two. Are you proud of me, mother?"

"Indeed I am, Jeremiah?"

"Am I a handsome man, mother?"

"A handsomer couldn't be found, Jeremiah."

"Am I good enough for any girl?"

"Indeed you are. She'll be a lucky girl you set your heart on, my boy."

"Oh, come, now! I don't know so much about hearts. I know which side I want my bread buttered – eh, mother?"

"Certainly, Jeremiah."

"Well, then, why shouldn't it be?"

"Why shouldn't what be?" asked Mrs. Pamflett, very much mystified.

Jeremiah put his forefinger to the side of his nose. "When I tell you, mother, you'll be as wise as I am."

"But do tell me, Jeremiah," the fond mother pleaded.

"Still tongue, wise head," said he. "No; I'll have a good think over it first."

He went up to Miser Farebrother with his books and papers, and when the interview was over he returned to his mother, who by that time had a hot meal prepared for him. Before she dished it up he asked her whether she could find Tom Barley.

"The old skinflint wants to see him," said Jeremiah, with an upward jerk of his head, in the direction of the room occupied by Miser Farebrother. "He has something very particular to say to the beggar, which will open his eyes a bit. Go and find him, mother, and send him up. I'll wait. Pleasure first, business afterward."

Tom Barley happened to be within hail, and Mrs. Pamflett sent him up to the miser, and then attended to her son. She waited till he was well primed, and presumably therefore in a more complaisant humour, and then she said, coaxingly, "Won't you tell me, Jeremiah, what you meant by saying 'Why shouldn't it be?'"

"No, I won't, and that's flat," replied Jeremiah; "at least, I won't till I've a mind to. But Ph?be is a pretty girl, isn't she, mother?"

"I was pretty once," sighed Mrs. Pamflett.

"Shouldn't have thought it. But women go off so. I don't know that I've ever seen a much prettier girl than Ph?be."

Mrs. Pamflett opened her eyes wide; she began to have a glimmering of her son's meaning.

"There's styles," continued Jeremiah. "Some like one style, some like another. For my part, I'm not particular, so long as a girl's nice looking. It don't matter to me much whether they're dark or fair, or long or short, so long as they're that. Mother, you're not a bad sort, and I'll be open with you."

"You're my own boy!" exclaimed the fond mother, pressing her son's head to her bosom.

"I wish you wouldn't!" cried Jeremiah. "I don't care to have your buttons grinding into my nose. When you've recovered yourself, perhaps you'll sit down."

Mrs. Pamflett obeyed meekly, murmuring, "I couldn't help it, Jeremiah."

"Well, do help it. I tell you once for all, do help it. I don't want to have my nose skinned. I've a good mind now not to tell you."

"Do tell me, Jeremiah," implored Mrs. Pamflett – "do! And I'll never take you sudden again."

"Very well, then; but mind you keep your word. You're always at it, hugging and pressing me as if I was a bit of wood! Yes; I say there's styles, and what I say on the top of that is that I ain't particular so long as everything else is O.K."

"What's O.K.?" inquired Mrs. Pamflett, anxiously.

"All correct, of course. You don't know much, and that's a fact. Trust me for seeing to things being right. You would have to get up very early in the morning to get ahead of me. Now don't exasperate me by asking too many questions. Everything in time, so don't you be in a hurry. A spider ain't, when he's got a bluebottle in his web. Take a lesson from him."

"I will, Jeremiah," said Mrs. Pamflett, humbly; "but who's the bluebottle, and who's the spider?"

"There you are, asking questions again. You rile a fellow, that's what you do. Mother, what do you think of Ph?be?"

"I don't think much of her," replied Mrs. Pamflett, shortly. She would not have answered so candidly had she not been taken off her guard. Her opinion of Ph?be, however, did not seem to disturb Jeremiah, who said:

"Women never hit it, somehow. Is she proud?"

"Yes."

"I thought she was; but if any man can bring her to book, I can. Does she sauce you?"

"She seldom speaks to me."

"Women are the crookedest creatures going; they never answer straight. Does she sauce you?"

"No."

"Has she got a sweetheart?"

"Not that I know of."

"Does she receive letters?"

"Only from her relations in Camden Town."

"Mr. and Mrs. Lethbridge," said Jeremiah, chuckling, and feeling his pocket, in which an acceptance for three hundred pounds with Mr. Lethbridge's name to it was safely secured. "I know something of them. Do you think she's in love?"

"No."

"It wouldn't matter if she was." And here Jeremiah paused, and gave himself up to thought, with his fingers stretched across his brows. Mrs. Pamflett observed him earnestly, but did not disturb him. "Mother, would you like to see me ride in my carriage – my own carriage?"

"I should be the proudest woman in England, Jeremiah – my own Jeremiah!"

"Stow that!" cried Jeremiah, holding her off. "No more buttons! You'd like to see me ride, in my carriage, would you? There are more unlikely things. You said I was good enough for any girl. Am I good enough for Ph?be?"

"A million times too good, my boy," said Mrs. Pamflett, enthusiastically.

"That's a blessing. She ought to be grateful. When I met her in the village she had a lot of parcels. Does she go shopping for you?"

"Not she. Perhaps she's been buying some things for her birthday. She's going to give her aunt and uncle tea here."

"Oho! And when is Ph?be's birthday, mother?"

"To-morrow."

Jeremiah grinned, his eyes glittered. "I'm in luck's way," he said. "And now, mother, give me a glass of brandy and water, and I'll cut my lucky."

"When shall I see you again, Jeremiah?" she asked, after mixing the beverage, which he tossed off with a relish.

"Sooner than you expect. Oh, well, I don't mind telling you. I'm coming here to-morrow to wish Ph?be many happy returns. Ta-ta! Well, if you must kiss me – there you are, hugging me again! Why can't you do it gently?"

CHAPTER XVI
TOM BARLEY HAS A SCENE WITH THE MISER

Meanwhile Miser Farebrother and Tom Barley were "having it out" upstairs in the miser's room. Jeremiah Pamflett had put a very strong case before Miser Farebrother. He said that every time he came down to Parksides, Tom Barley laid wait for him and threatened to take his life.

"It's no fault of mine," said Jeremiah, "that I'm not as strong as that hulking vagabond, who makes any amount of money by robbing you. If you like to be robbed, I've nothing to say to it. Nobody loses anything but yourself. But I can't be coming regularly down here in fear of my life. You couldn't expect me to."

In short, Jeremiah indirectly gave Miser Farebrother to understand that if he retained Tom Barley in his employ he would have to come more often to London to look through the books and papers; and that he, Jeremiah Pamflett, would have to come less often to Parksides. Jeremiah was cunning enough to know that he was on safe ground in making this declaration. He had felt his way before he had arrived at it, and the miser was furious. It was impossible for him to go more often to London; there was no one he could trust but Jeremiah, and, in the light of a possible rupture, he placed an exaggerated value upon his clerk's services.

"He drew a knife upon me," said Jeremiah, "as I was coming here, because he saw me escorting Miss Farebrother home. She was in the village making purchases, and I thought it my duty to protect her."

"Quite right, quite right," said Miser Farebrother. "She ought to be much obliged to you."

"She was," said Jeremiah.

"Making purchases, eh?" exclaimed Miser Farebrother. "What was she purchasing – eh? You don't know? What's that you say? Oh, Tom Barley! I'll soon settle with him. They all rob me – everybody, everybody! You are the only one I can trust – the only one, the only one!"

"There's nothing I wouldn't do for you," said Jeremiah, fervently. "I'd work my fingers off – "

"There, there!" said Miser Farebrother, fretfully. "Don't make protestations. I hate them. It is your interest to do your duty. I pay you well for it."



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