Benjamin Farjeon.

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



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"You do; and I am grateful," said Jeremiah, feeling in his heart as if he would like to strangle his master. "But you don't care for that sort of thing, and I'll not say anything more."

"No; don't, don't!" groaned the miser. "Go; and send Tom Barley up to me."

Jeremiah nodded, and went out of the room. Miser Farebrother's eyes followed him; and when the door was closed, he groaned:

"He's as bad as the rest, I believe; but I've not been able to find him out. Is he cunninger and cleverer than I am? Curse my bones! Why can't I buy a new set? There isn't an honest man in the whole world. If Ph?be had been a boy instead of a girl, I might have had a little peace of mind; but as it is, I'm robbed right and left – right and left! Who's that at the door? Come in, can't you? Oh, it's you, Tom Barley?"

"Yes, it's me," said Tom. "What do you want of me?"

"Speak respectfully," screamed the miser.

"I am, though I've got no particular call to," said Tom. Truth to tell he was not in an amiable temper, what with his hunger, and his rags, and his meeting with Jeremiah. "You sent for me. What do you want? And mind this – I don't stir hand or foot till I get something to eat."

Miser Farebrother became suddenly quite cool. It was generally the case when an antagonist he had in his power was before him.

"Something to eat, eh? You scoundrel! you have the stomach of an ostrich."

"I wish I had," said Tom; "then I could fill it with stones and rusty nails. As it is, I can't get those things down. I give you warning – "

"What!" cried Miser Farebrother; "you give me warning?"

"Yes; not to call hard names, or mayhap I'll throw them back at you."

"Do you dare to speak to me in that manner," said the miser, "after all I've done for you?"

Tom Barley looked ruefully at his rags of clothes, and said, with unconscious humour, "Yes, you have done for me; there's no mistake about that. I remember you promised to make my fortune. I look as if it was made!"

"And whose fault is it," said Miser Farebrother, "that you're a pauper – whose fault but your own? That is, if what you say is true. But it isn't. You've got money rolled up in bundles somewhere – my money, that you've robbed me of."

Tom Barley burst out laughing. "Who has told you that cock-and-bull?" he asked. "I'd like to give him half to prove it. I'm thinking of buying Buckingham Palace, I am. I've got money enough to pay for it rolled up in bundles."

"Hold your tongue," said the miser, "and listen to me."

"Go ahead," said Tom Barley.

"When I first took you into my service," the miser commenced —

"At twopence a week," interposed Tom. "The Bank of England's breaking down with my savings."

"It was my intention to make a man of you," continued the miser; and again Tom Barley interrupted him.

"The Lord Almighty did that while you was thinking of it."

"But," proceeded the miser, "I soon found out that I had taken a hopeless case in hand; I soon discovered that a clodhopper you were and a clodhopper you would remain, till you took your place in the workhouse as a regular.

Then I lost interest in you, and let you go your way."

"In a minute or two," said Tom Barley, "I've got a couple of words to say to you that I don't go out of this room without saying."

"I allowed you to remain on my estate, and gave you your meals, and paid you so much a week."

"Why not say so little, instead of so much?" asked Tom, who, driven by necessity and despair, was coming out in a new light.

"The work you did I could have had done for a song – "

"The Lord forbid," said Tom, "that I should have heard you sing it! It would have given me the gripes. I've got 'em now."

"But I kept you on out of charity, and I told you that you were at liberty to earn money elsewhere whenever you could pick up an odd job."

"My experience is," he said, "that there's about five million evens to one odd."

"The result of my kindness and liberality is that you are as you are, an idle, skulking, thieving vagabond."

"Have you done?" asked Tom.

"Not yet. I have had a serious complaint made against you, and I intend to take notice of it in a practical way. You have threatened the life of my clerk, Mr. Jeremiah Pamflett, a most estimable young man, in whom I place implicit confidence. You lie in ambush for him, and he goes in terror of you."

"That's the best thing I've heard yet," said Tom Barley, rubbing his hands gleefully.

"Such a state of things is no longer to be endured, and I shall put an end to it. Tom Barley, I discharge you from my service."

"Is that all?"

"That is all. I wash my hands of you. As to your conduct toward my clerk, I warn you to be very careful. A watch will be set upon you, and if you repeat your threats you will have to put up with the consequences."

"I'll do that; it's a matter between this Jeremiah of yours and me. As to threatening his life, that I've never done. A long while ago I got him thrashed – I didn't do it myself; I was too big – for insulting your daughter, and if ever he insults her again, and I get to know it, he'll be thrashed again. As to being turned from your service, I'll put up with it. Whatever I do I can't be worse off than I am. But you said something else. You said I've got money rolled up in bundles somewhere, and that I've robbed you of it. Now out with it like a man; you did say it!"

"Yes, I did," snarled Miser Farebrother.

"What I've got to say to that is, that you're a liar! I ain't given to hard words, but when I'm drove to it I use 'em; and my answer to your charge is, you're a liar! Straight from the shoulder, master: you're a liar!"

Upon that Tom marched out of the room, with erect head and angry eye; but when he got half-way down the staircase his look softened and his head drooped, for Ph?be stood before him. While he was in the presence of Miser Farebrother, asserting his manhood, he had not thought of her. She had heard the angry voices of her father and Tom, and she had waited to learn the cause. She beckoned Tom to follow her, and they were presently in the little room which she could call her own.

"Oh, Tom," she said, "what is it?"

"Well, miss," he replied, "I hardly like to say, but you'd get to know it if I didn't tell you. Your father and me's had a difference, all along of that clerk of his, Jeremiah, Mrs. Pamflett's white-livered son. He's been telling your father stories about me which ain't true. Don't believe 'em when you hear 'em – don't!"

"I won't, Tom."

"Thank you, miss. I'm going to leave Parksides, miss."

"Oh, Tom!"

"Your father's discharged me. If he hadn't, I don't know what I should have done, because – look at me, miss – I ain't fit to be seen."

"Oh, Tom, I am so sorry! How I shall miss you!"

"I feel that bad over it, because of you, that I can't express. But it ain't my fault."

"I am sure it is not, Tom. Have you thought what you shall do?"

"Well, miss, I'm going to London, to be a policeman, if they'll take me on. It ain't my idea: it's somebody else's. And perhaps if I get to be a policeman, I'll be put on somewhere near Camden Town. I don't ask for anything better, miss; for then I shall be near where you will be sometimes, and I can look after you. Don't speak to me, miss, don't look at me, for I feel like breaking down. Good-bye, Miss Ph?be, good-bye, and God bless you!"

And, choking with tears, the honest fellow rushed away.

CHAPTER XVII
FANNY CONFIDES A SECRET TO HER MOTHER

The visit of the Lethbridges to Parksides was an event of great importance. Neither Uncle Leth, Fanny nor Bob had ever been there, and it was five or six years since Aunt Leth had set foot in it. Of all the family she was the only one who would have been able to recognize Miser Farebrother, and to say, "That is Ph?be's father." Nearly twenty years had elapsed since Uncle Leth had seen the miser, and he was rather doubtful as to how he would be received, their last meeting not having been a pleasant one. Fanny was very curious and very nervous; Ph?be's father was a solemn mysterious personage, a being apart, whose acquaintance she was now for the first time to make. What kind of looking gentleman was he? Their albums contained the portraits of all their friends and relations, near and distant, some from infancy upward; but the portrait of Miser Farebrother found no place therein. It is doubtful, indeed, whether he had ever had his portrait taken; certainly there was none extant. Even Ph?be did not possess one. It had been a tacit arrangement among the Lethbridge's not to refer in general conversation to Ph?be's father, and to Bob and Fanny he was an utter stranger in fact and sentiment. But now that they were to be brought into contact with him, he became an object of immediate interest to them.

"What shall we call him?" said Fanny to Bob. "Of course he is our uncle, and we ought to call him Uncle Farebrother."

Bob professed not to care – in which he was not ingenuous. "All that I've heard about him," he said, "is that he is known as Miser Farebrother."

"It won't do to call him that," said Fanny; "he would be offended, and might fly out at us. Ought I to kiss him?"

"Wait till you're asked," replied Bob. "He must be immensely rich."

"More shame for him," said Fanny indignantly, "to keep Ph?be as short as he does. What does he do with all his money?"

"Wraps it up in old stockings, buries it, hides it in the chimneys, carries it in bags round his waist, stuffs his mattress with it. There was a miser found dead in a garret in Lambeth the other day, and though there wasn't a crust of bread in the room, they found four thousand pounds hidden away in teapots, mouse-traps, nightcaps, old boots and all sorts of rum places. He used to go about begging, and would snatch a bone from a dog."

"Miserable wretch!" cried Fanny. "I hope Uncle Farebrother isn't like that."

"Not exactly, I should say; but quite bad enough. He hasn't treated us very handsomely."

"Well, never mind," said Fanny. "We don't go to see him; we are going for Ph?be's sake."

Their anticipations of their uncle were not very glowing; but as they had been warned by their mother, what passed between them respecting him was regarded as confidential. To Ph?be they said not a word.

On the Saturday morning Mr. Lethbridge, on his way to the bank, had a little day-dream. He and his wife and children had arrived at the railway station which led to Parksides, and had beguiled the journey by discussing how they should get to Miser Farebrother's house. Should they ride? Should they walk? Would Ph?be meet them? The question was settled for them immediately they alighted from the train. There was Ph?be, all smiles, and dressed most beautifully, even elegantly. And who should be by her side but her father, all smiles also, and elegantly dressed? He came forward in the pleasantest manner, and shook hands with every one of them, and Ph?be whispered to Uncle Leth, "It is all nonsense about father being a miser. It was only fun on his part. He has been saving up for me, and you, and Aunt Leth, and all of us. You have no idea how good and kind he is." There was actually a carriage waiting for them, and they all got into it, and rode in jubilant spirits to Parksides: a mansion fit for a nobleman. Gables, turrets, mullioned windows, walls covered with old ivy, grounds and gardens most tastefully laid out – everything perfect. Footmen about, and pretty maids neatly dressed, music playing somewhere. There was a sumptuous dinner provided for them: wonderful dishes, the best of wine. The day-dreamer made a speech, in which he dilated upon the happiness which Miser Farebrother had shed upon them, and how it was all the greater because of the delightful surprise which Ph?be's father had been for so many years preparing for them. Mr. Lethbridge's mental speeches were always marvels of oratory – not a word out of place, the turns most felicitous – and this speech at Miser Farebrother's dinner-table was even happier than usual. Then Miser Farebrother responded, and came out in a light so unexpected and agreeable that the place rang with cheers, and the music struck up "For he's a jolly good fellow," in which they all joined at the top of their voices. When the feast was ended Miser Farebrother asked him to step into his private room, and there, over a bottle of rare old port, he produced his will, which he read to the dreamer, and in which every member of the dreamer's family was handsomely provided for. He would not listen to the dreamer's expressions of gratitude. "Not a word: not a word," he said. "It has been a whim of mine to allow you to suppose I was mean and miserly and cruel, when all the time I have been overflowing with the milk of human kindness. Now we are all going to live happily together." Then they joined the young people in the grounds, where there was a marquee erected for the guests to dance in. There was quite a gathering; numbers of ladies and gentlemen had been invited, and among them Fred Cornwall, who had returned from his holiday trip. The young lawyer was dancing now with Fanny, and Miser Farebrother said: "I shouldn't wonder if that was to be a match. When it is arranged, look out for a splendid wedding present from me;" and Fanny coming up, the miser pinched her cheek, and said something which made her blush. It was altogether a most exhilarating entertainment, and the union of the relations most harmonious. Of course it was a lovely night, and as the dreamer arrived at the bank, he said to himself, "I have passed the pleasantest day in my remembrance."

While he was at his desk a conversation took place at home between Fanny and her mother respecting Fred Cornwall. He had called upon the Lethbridges on the previous evening, and although he was full of agreeable chat, he seemed disappointed at not finding Ph?be at her aunt's house. As he had said in his last letter to Fanny, he had brought presents home for all of them, and when Fanny twitted him privately with having nothing for Ph?be, he answered,

"Oh, yes, I have; but I must give them to her personally."

"To-morrow will be a capital time to give her a present," said Fanny.

"Is she coming here to-morrow?" asked Fred, eagerly.

"No," replied Fanny; "we are all going to her at Parksides. It is her birthday."

"She did not leave me an invitation, I suppose?" said Fred.

"No," said Fanny; "but if I were a young gentleman I shouldn't wait for one."

"Wouldn't you?"

"No. I should make my way to Parksides, and take my presents with me, and give her a delightful surprise."

"Do you really think I might venture?"

"I shouldn't think twice about it," said Fanny, vivaciously. "But you mustn't come with us, because, of course, we don't know anything about it. We shall be quite astonished when you make your appearance with a flourish of trumpets."

There and then the affectionate conspiracy was discussed and planned, and Fred said that Fanny was the dearest girl living, which Fanny disputed, asking how could she be when Ph?be stopped the way.

It was about noon on the Saturday that Fanny said to her mother, "I am going to let you into a secret."

Aunt Leth's thoughts immediately travelled to Fred Cornwall. She had observed the whispered conference which had taken place on the previous night between the young man and her daughter, with their heads very close together, and she had formed her own conclusions; and now the secret was about to be revealed. Fred had been making serious love to Fanny; there could not be a doubt that this was Fanny's secret.

"Yes, my dear," said Mrs. Lethbridge, tenderly.

"It is about Mr. Cornwall," said Fanny.

"Yes, Fanny."

Despite her joy, a pang went right through her heart; it is always so with affectionate parents when the bolt really falls, and the contemplation of a beloved daughter leaving the happy home becomes a certainty.

"And Ph?be," said Fanny.

Mrs. Lethbridge's face underwent a change. In matters of the heart a woman's instincts are lightning-tipped.

"I have an idea," said Fanny, "that they are fond of each other."

Mrs. Lethbridge looked apprehensively at her daughter, but she saw in Fanny's face no despondency, no disappointment. On the contrary, it was radiant. The fond mother smiled.

"Only an idea, Fanny?" she asked.

"Only an idea, mother," said Fanny. "There has been nothing really serious said, but I am certain I am not mistaken. Now confess, mother; you thought I was the magnet?"

"Well, my dear, I did have a suspicion, and it has been proved to be wrong."

"You are not sorry, mother?"

"No, my dear, so long as you are happy. That is my only care."

"I am perfectly happy, and I mean to die an old maid. Dear Ph?be! I do hope everything will turn out right."

"We all hope so, Fanny. I suppose I must not say anything to her?"

"Not for worlds, mother. You must wait till she speaks to you."

"I am not so sure, Fanny. She has no mother to confide in, and to whom she can unreservedly open her heart. I must think over it, for her sake."

"If you thought Mr. Cornwall was good enough for me," said Fanny, "he is good enough for Ph?be."

"My dear, the cases are different."

"How different?"

"Mr. Cornwall knows her position. If it had been you instead of Ph?be, he would not have expected money with you. When people have arrived at the time of life which your father and I have reached, and have children whom they love as we love ours, they cannot help feeling a little disturbed at their want of fortune. Young men nowadays look out for money; it is not as it used to be."

"It is with me, mother. I am an old-fashioned girl, and if a young man casts sheeps' eyes at me it will be a satisfaction to know that it isn't my dowry that attracts him. And for my part, mother, I mean to marry for love – if I ever do marry."

"I am glad to hear you say so, my dear; they are the happiest marriages. Our life has been a happy one: never for one moment have I regretted marrying your father."

"I should think not, mother! Who is there in the world to compare with him?"

"There is not one, my dear. It would be difficult indeed to meet with a man so good, so unselfish, so devoted. But we were speaking of Ph?be. The cases are different, I said. Mr. Cornwall would have had no difficulty in obtaining our consent, had it been you instead of Ph?be. Have you forgotten that Ph?be has a father?"

"I did not think of him," said Fanny, a little depressed by the allusion. "But what objection could he have to Mr. Cornwall?"

"That is not for us to say. Ph?be's father is a peculiar man, and he may have views for Ph?be of which we are ignorant. Mr. Cornwall's suit will rest with him, not with us."

"Mr. Cornwall is a gentleman."

"Undoubtedly; and, so far as I can judge, calculated to make a girl happy. But that is not the question."

"What is the question, mother?"

"Money. Fanny, what I am about to say must not pass out of this room."

"Very well, mother."

"Ph?be's father may say to Mr. Cornwall: 'You ask me for my daughter's hand. How much money have you got?'"

"What a coarse way of putting it!" exclaimed Fanny disdainfully.

"I am aware of it, but for Ph?be's sake I am trying to think it out in the way it will happen. I have never inquired into Mr. Cornwall's circumstances; but they are not very flourishing at present, are they?"

"I don't think they are."

"I know they are not. He and your father have had conversations which lead me to the belief that he earns just a sufficient income to keep himself comfortably."

"He is very clever in his profession; and there is the future."

"That is one of the things I am thinking of," said Mrs. Lethbridge, gravely: "the future. 'How much money have you got?' Ph?be's father will ask him; and when the young man answers honestly – as Mr. Cornwall is sure to do – Ph?be's father will say, 'As you have no money of your own, you come after my daughter's.' I am very much afraid of it, Fanny. I pray that there is no trouble in store for her."

"Mother, you frighten me." Fanny experienced at that moment a feeling of terror at the conspiracy into which she and Fred Cornwall had entered, which was to result in Fred's unexpected appearance at Parksides with birthday presents for Ph?be. She did not dare to refer to it, so she kept the secret locked in her breast.

"I do not wish to frighten you, my dear," said Mrs. Lethbridge, "and perhaps, after all, I am only raising bug-bears. Let us hope for the best."

"We will," said Fanny, brightening up instantly. She was like an April day; the least glimpse of sunshine brought gladness to her. "And now, mother, just one word."

"Well, my dear?"

"If Mr. Cornwall proposes to Ph?be – which he will – and if she accepts him – which she will – and if he speaks to Ph?be's father, and Ph?be's father will not hear of it, what is to be done?"

"My dear child, you are putting a riddle to me."

"What I want to know is," said Fanny, very determinedly, "whether, if Ph?be's father refuses his consent, Ph?be ought to marry without it." She felt that she had achieved a triumph in putting it so clearly.

"Would you marry without ours?" asked Mrs. Lethbridge.

"Mother, be logical, as Fred Cornwall says. Did you not say yourself that the cases are different?"



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