Benjamin Farjeon.

Miser Farebrother: A Novel (vol. 2 of 3)



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"My answer is," said Jeremiah, "that I agree to everything. It is my interest to do so. You see, sir, I don't mince matters, and don't want to take any credit to myself that I am not entitled to."

"Continue in that vein," said Miser Farebrother, "and all will be well. But don't think I am going to die yet awhile."

"I hope," cried Jeremiah, fervently, "that you will live for fifty years."

"I may believe that or not," said Miser Farebrother, dryly, "as I please. Make no mistakes with me, Jeremiah; I know what human nature is. You have my permission to pay court to my daughter."

"Oh, thank you, sir, thank you!" exclaimed Jeremiah, attempting to take the miser's hand.

"We want none of that nonsense," said Miser Farebrother, sardonically. "We have entered into a bargain, and that is enough. Now attend to me, and follow my instructions. What has passed between us is, for the present, to be kept a secret. There is to be no hurry, no violence. Pay attention to my daughter in a quiet way: endeavour to win her favour – "

"Her love, sir, her love!" interrupted Jeremiah, enthusiastically.

"Her love, if you will; but that is between you and her. I do not propose that there shall be an immediate break between her and her relatives, the Lethbridges. Things must be allowed to go on as usual in that quarter. I have my own reasons for biding my time. When I tell you to speak openly to my daughter, you will speak openly, and not till then. You agree to this?"

"Yes, sir, yes; I agree."

"Should she offer any obstacle, I will throw upon your side the weight of my authority, and she will not dare to disobey me. Meanwhile keep a watch upon the Lethbridges and their lawyer friend, who has come here to-day uninvited. He may have some design against me; he may know something which it is necessary I should learn before I put my foot down. And further, friend Jeremiah, you are not to presume because I have given you this great chance. Everything between us is to remain as it is. I am my own master and yours, and I submit to no dictation."

On the gray, sly face of Jeremiah Pamflett no expression was visible which could be construed into rebellion at these imperious words, but in his mind reigned the thought: "My master, are you? I will make you pipe to another tune before you are many months older. Let me but get hold of Ph?be, and I will grind you as you are grinding me!" Master and man were well matched.

CHAPTER III
MISER FAREBROTHER WELCOMES PH?BE'S FRIENDS

Life is sweet and beautiful to a young and innocent girl when to her heart is conveyed the assurance that she is beloved. Then is the world in its spring-time, and all outward evidence is in harmony with the tremulous joy which stirs her being. What sorrow lies in the past fades utterly away in the light of a new-born happiness. She lives in the present, which is imbued with a solemn and sacred tenderness. Strangely beautiful are the time and scene: she loves, and is beloved.

To a pure and trustful heart no direct words are needed for such an assurance; and between Fred Cornwall and Ph?be no direct words were spoken as they walked together in a retired part of the grounds of Parksides.

How they had wandered there, and how they had come to be alone, they did not know, and they did not stop to inquire. All that they felt was the sweetness and the beauty of the hour. He spoke of many things: of his tour, and the adventures he had met with; of the occasions upon which some small incident brought her to his mind, of his delight when he found himself back in London – "to be near you," he would have said, but hardly dared yet to be so outspoken; of the resolution he had formed to "get along" in spite of all the difficulties in his path.

"No easy matter," he said: "the ranks are so crowded; but when a man is determined, and has a dear object to spur him on, he has already half gained success."

She did not ask him what the dear object was; it was for him to speak and for her to listen; and, indeed, he would have spoken more directly had he felt himself in a position to marry. But there was the home to make, and the clear prospect of being able to maintain it. He must be able to go to her father and say, "I am in such and such a position, and I love your daughter." Deeply in love as he was with the sweet girl walking by his side, there was a practical side to his character which augured well for his future. He was a proud and honourable young fellow, and he shrank from presenting himself to Miser Farebrother as a beggar. No; he must first win his spurs; must show the kind of stuff he was made of, and that he was worthy of the treasure he aspired to win. He had heard that Miser Farebrother was very rich and very grasping, and he was aware that in dealing with such a man he was treading on delicate ground. He did not dare to risk a refusal. To trade upon the prospect of living upon the money Miser Farebrother might give his daughter was, in Fred Cornwall's view, a base proceeding, and he could not lend himself to it. "I wish the old gentleman was poor," he thought; "then I would speak at once. But a few months will soon pass."

Meanwhile, this quiet hour with Ph?be assured him that he had won her love, and that she would wait for him. He may be forgiven for being a little sentimental; it is an old fashion, as old as hearts; and that their hands should meet, and that the girl's pulses should thrill at the touch of his, is natural and good when young people commune in innocence and honour. The silence that fell upon them now and then was sweeter, perhaps, than the words that were spoken.

Fanny championed and guarded them, and kept intruders off. The principal would-be offender was Bob, and it needed all his sister's cleverness to keep him by her side. It is to be feared, however, that if he had had any suspicion of what was going on, he would have made a bold dash for it; but a very unsuspicious mortal was Bob, and the last thought in his mind was that any young gentleman would come wooing his pretty cousin. Fanny was completely in her element, fencing and parrying questions asked by her father and brother, saying: "Oh! she will be here presently. Do you think she has no one to attend to but us?" Aunt Leth was discreetly silent; she remembered the time when she herself was young, and her dear husband came courting her. Once Mrs. Pamflett came up, and asked, "Where is Miss Farebrother?"

Fanny promptly answered her: "Dear me! She was here but a moment ago! I think she must have gone in that direction." (Pointing in front of her, while Ph?be was in the rear.)

"And Mr. Cornwall," said Mrs. Pamflett, very quietly, "has he also gone in that direction?"

"Oh no!" said Fanny, unblushingly; "he has gone to have a smoke. Men are the selfishest creatures, are they not, Mrs. Pamflett?"

Mrs. Pamflett sighed a gentle endorsement of the declaration, and meekly went the way indicated by Fanny. She turned off, however, when she could no longer be seen by the Lethbridges, and by a devious path successfully tracked Ph?be and Fred Cornwall, whom, from a distance, she watched with lynx eyes, noting the manner of their association – Ph?be's head modestly bent down, and Fred gazing upon her with looks of love.

Fanny, meanwhile, talking away vivaciously, suddenly stopped in the middle of a sentence, and cried, "Oh!"

"Has a pin run into you?" asked Bob; but he too gasped as he saw Miser Farebrother, leaning upon Jeremiah's arm, standing in front. Aunt Leth was the first to speak to him.

"How do you do, Mr. Farebrother?" she said, holding out her hand.

"Weak and ill, as you see," said Miser Farebrother, shaking hands with his sister-in-law; "a martyr to rheumatism and other pains. I'm growing old, sister-in-law; I am growing old. Don't you see the change in me?"

"We are all growing old," said Mrs. Lethbridge, with a sympathizing smile.

"But some can bear it better than others," groaned Miser Farebrother. "Now, you are strong and can walk without assistance. Look at me: even with my crutch-stick I cannot walk without human support. Don't go, Jeremiah; I shall fall to the ground if you leave me. You know my sister-in-law?"

"Yes," said Jeremiah, with a careless nod at Aunt Leth; "we had tea together – a delightful tea."

He had been searching with his eyes for Ph?be, and not seeing her or Fred Cornwall, had made a movement to leave his master.

"We have to thank you," said Aunt Leth to Miser Farebrother, "for a very pleasant evening."

"Don't speak of it. We ought to see more of each other; you ought to have been here oftener. One's flesh and blood – we are almost that, are we not, sister-in-law? – should not desert one as you have deserted me."

"Indeed! indeed!" stammered Aunt Leth, somewhat confounded by this reproach.

"Never mind, never mind," said Miser Farebrother, with a gentle air of resignation. "We must say nothing but kind things to one another. If you have deserted me, you have not deserted my dear child, who is always full of praises of you."

"We love her," said Aunt Leth, "as well as we love our own."

"It is very good of you. Is that your husband? My eyesight is shockingly weak. I'm breaking fast, I'm afraid."

Mr. Lethbridge came forward, and Miser Farebrother seized his hand and gave it a cordial grasp. The kind-hearted man could find nothing better to say than,

"I am very glad to see you, Mr. Farebrother."

"Not so glad to see me as I am to see you. It is quite like old times – quite like old times. How is the world using you? But I need not ask; I can see for myself. I am very pleased – very – very! You deserve it. I wish the world used me as well; but we can't all be so fortunate. When I was a young man, I used to hope that when I was as old as I am now I should be able to keep a carriage. Young hopes, brother-in-law – eh? Seldom realized, are they? I can hardly afford to keep a – a wheelbarrow – eh, Jeremiah?"

"Yes, sir," said Jeremiah, obsequiously.

"We can't have all we wish," pursued Miser Farebrother; and Jeremiah, although he was impatient to go in search of Ph?be, whom he now looked upon as his property, could not help taking interest and pleasure in his master's gentle and philosophic departure, which he, better than any one of the other listeners, could appreciate at its true value. "In a hundred years to come, a carriage and a wheelbarrow will be all the same to us. Still, I am glad to hear of your good fortune." (Mr. Lethbridge stared, and wondered whether he was awake or asleep, or whether he had said anything of which he was unconscious.) "How well and hale you look! Not a day older – not a day. You must tell me the secret; though I fear it is too late for me. And this young gentleman" – turning to Bob, who became suddenly very hot and uncomfortable – "your son, eh? – your bright boy?"

"Yes," said Mr. Lethbridge; "our son Robert."

"How do you do, nephew?" said Miser Farebrother, giving Bob two fingers, which, when Bob got them, he did not know what to do with. "And how is the world using you?"

"Extremely well, sir, thank you," Bob blurted out, without in the least knowing what he was saying; for, instead of the world using him extremely well, it was not using him at all.

"How pleasant to hear!" exclaimed Miser Farebrother. "I feel like rubbing my hands, but one has my crutch-stick in it, and the other is leaning on Jeremiah. You come of a lucky stock; go on and prosper, nephew. And this – " He turned to Fanny, who, in a feverish state, was awaiting recognition. She was so confused that it was not until hours afterward that her indignation was excited at being referred to as "this" – as though she were a chattel.

"Our daughter Fanny," said Aunt Leth, observing that her husband was incapable of speech.

"Kiss me, niece," said Miser Farebrother. He raised his wrinkled face, and Fanny put her lips to it. He called a joyous look into his eyes, and in a kind of rapture murmured: "The kiss of beauty! But don't be too lavish of them, niece." He peered around as though he suddenly missed somebody. "Where is your young gentleman, niece?"

Jeremiah chuckled quietly.

"My young gentleman!" cried Fanny, flushing up.

Her mother gave her a warning look.

"Yes, your young gentleman. There is one here, isn't there? or did Ph?be make a mistake?"

"You mean Mr. Cornwall," said Aunt Leth, in a gentle tone.

"I think that is the name Ph?be mentioned. A lawyer, isn't he?"

"Yes," replied Fanny, before her mother could speak, "and a very clever one."

"Bravo! bravo!" exclaimed Miser Farebrother. "That is as it should be. I am sure he is a very clever one; I hope we are not wrong in our opinion of him – for your sake, niece, for your sake. Sister-in-law, brother-in-law, I congratulate you. Niece, kiss me again."

Fanny held back, but her mother murmured, "Fanny!" and the girl kissed the miser's wrinkled face again, upon which he smacked his lips and cast up his eyes languishingly.

"And now," he said, "I must really go and find my dear Ph?be and the very clever lawyer. We must go; mustn't we, Jeremiah? See, sister-in-law, Jeremiah brought some flowers for my dear child, and happening to forget them when she left the table, she sent him back for them. I am ashamed of myself for having detained him. Do you know where Ph?be is? – this way – or that? That way? Thank you; I shall easily find her. Remember what I said to you – we must really see more of each other; you must come here oftener. And you, brother-in-law, and you, niece. And hark you, nephew: when I asked you how the world was using you, you answered, 'Extremely well, sir.' You did, did you not?"

"Yes, sir," said Bob, not knowing what was coming.

"You were wrong, and you are wrong again. Sister-in-law, too: you called me 'Mr. Farebrother?'"

"Yes," said Aunt Leth, faintly.

"But why? why? Why 'sir' and why 'Mr.'? Everybody else calls me Miser Farebrother. I like it; it tickles me. Pray call me that for the future, like good-natured souls, as you are. Come, Jeremiah, come. Ph?be will be impatient for your flowers."

He hobbled away, clinging to Jeremiah's arm, and presently said,

"Well, Jeremiah?"

"Thank you," said Jeremiah.

"Keep faith with me," said Miser Farebrother, fiercely, taking his hand from Jeremiah's arm, and standing erect, "and I'll keep faith with you. Trick me, deceive me, rob me, and I'll make England too hot to hold you!"

"Why do you speak to me like that?" asked Jeremiah, in an injured tone.

"Because I know the world," retorted the miser; "because I know human nature. Did I show it to them just now, or did I not? Did I compel them to be honey to my face, while they hated me in their hearts? Play tricks with me, and I'll serve you worse!"

"We have made a bargain," said Jeremiah, submissively, "and I will keep to it, and be grateful to you all my life."

"That is what I want," said Miser Farebrother. "While I am alive I am master. When I am gone, you will have your turn."

After that they walked on in silence; but Jeremiah's thoughts, fashioned into words, may be thus construed: "When you are gone! You think I will wait till then, do you? You old fool! you're not in it with me!"

For a few moments after Miser Farebrother left the Lethbridges they gazed at each other in silence. Then said Fanny:

"Would you like to know what I think of Uncle – no – Miser Farebrother? Well, I think he's a brute!"

"Hush, hush, Fanny!" said Mrs. Lethbridge. "For Ph?be's sake!"

CHAPTER IV
A SACRED PROMISE – WON BY GUILE

Upon the happy musings of the lovers came a harsh interruption. They turned and saw Miser Farebrother and Jeremiah.

"I have been looking for you, Ph?be," said the miser; "and so has Jeremiah."

"Your flowers, miss," said Jeremiah, offering them.

With her father's eye upon her, she could not choose but take them.

"You sent me back for them, you know," said Jeremiah. "I should have brought them before, but for – "

"But for my calling to him," interrupted Miser Farebrother, "upon a matter of business. I am pleased that your friends have enjoyed themselves. You have had a pleasant birthday, Ph?be?"

"Very pleasant, father; I shall never forget it. Father, this is Mr. Cornwall, who brought me the presents I showed you."

"I trust you will excuse me," said Fred, gazing with interest at Ph?be's father, "for intruding myself. But Miss Farebrother and I have met so often at Mrs. Lethbridge's house that I thought I might venture."

"All my daughter's friends," said Miser Farebrother, in his blandest tone, "are welcome here. A very charming family, the Lethbridges."

"Indeed they are," said Fred, warmly.

"We have met but seldom," said Miser Farebrother, "and I was just expressing my regret that we did not see each other oftener."

"Oh, father!" said Ph?be, in a grateful voice, gliding to his side. There was no discordant note in his speech; he looked kindly upon her; and he had met Fred Cornwall in a spirit of friendliness. Her cup of happiness was full to overflowing.

"Perhaps Mr. Cornwall will give me his address," said Miser Farebrother. "I may ask him to decide some knotty point of law for me."

Fred Cornwall drew forth his card-case with alacrity, and handed a card to the miser.

"You will excuse me now," said Miser Farebrother; "I am by no means well, and I must go in-doors and rest. Remain with your friends, Ph?be; Jeremiah will assist me to my room. Come in and wish me good-night, Ph?be, before you retire."

"Yes, father, I will."

He smiled amiably, and saying "Good evening, Mr. Cornwall," departed, clinging to Jeremiah's arm. Jeremiah was not at all in a good humour; he would have preferred to be left behind with Ph?be, and he said as much to his master.

"Be wise, be wise, Jeremiah," said Miser Farebrother, in response to this complaint. "You are but a novice with these people. Take a lesson from me, and learn to wait with patience. Before a good general strikes a blow, he lays his plans, and satisfies himself that everything is in order. Do I know how to act, eh? Have I already entangled and confused them, or have I not? I shall be a subject of discussion among them. 'He was flinging stones at us all the time he was speaking,' the Lethbridges will say. 'He said the most sarcastic things.' Who will defend me? The sharp lawyer, Mr. Cornwall, and, better than all, my daughter Ph?be. 'You are mistaken,' she will say; 'I am sure you are mistaken. He has been kindness itself; you do not understand him.' Then she will appeal to Mr. Cornwall, and ask him whether I did not speak in the most beautiful way of her aunt and uncle, and he will be able to make but one answer. That will silence them; they won't have a word to say for themselves. Ha, ha! I am really enjoying the game."

He kept Jeremiah with him until the Lethbridges and Fred Cornwall were gone, and then sent him back to London, bidding him not to take the same train as Ph?be's relatives.

It was between ten and eleven o'clock when Ph?be received a message from her father, through Mrs. Pamflett, bidding her come to him and wish him good-night. Ph?be had been sitting at the open window of her bedroom, musing upon the happy day fast drawing to an end. A tender light bathed the grounds of Parksides, and seemed to the happy girl to be an omen of the future – a future of love and peace. The soft breeze kissed her, and whispered to her of love; the silence of nature was eloquent with the immortal song; a tremulous joy possessed her soul. "He loves me! he loves me! he loves me!" This was the song sung by her heart, bringing light to her eyes, blushes to her cheeks, and causing her, from a very excess of joy, to hide her face in her hands. "How sweet, how beautiful is the world!" she said only to herself. "How good everybody is to me!" She rose from these musings to attend her father. Mrs. Pamflett accompanied her to the door of his apartment.

"Good-night," she said to the young girl.

"Good-night, Mrs. Pamflett," said Ph?be; "and thank you for all you have done to-day."

"I am glad you are pleased with me. May I call you Ph?be?"

"Yes, if you like."

"May I kiss you?"

"Yes," said Ph?be, with a bright look; and she received and returned the kiss.

"This is the commencement of a happy time for you, Ph?be." She had heard from her son all the particulars of the agreement entered into by him and Miser Farebrother.

Ph?be glanced shyly at her, and thought, "Does she know about Mr. Cornwall? Does everybody know?" She answered Mrs. Pamflett's remark aloud: "I am sure it is. Oh, Mrs. Pamflett, I am happy – very, very happy!"

"I am delighted to hear you say so. Good-night again, Ph?be."

"Good-night, Mrs. Pamflett."

When she was in her father's room, with the door closed, what reason had Ph?be to suppose that Mrs. Pamflett was crouching down outside, to catch what passed between Miser Farebrother and his daughter?

"Come and sit beside me, Ph?be," said Miser Farebrother. "So – the birthday is over?"

"Nearly over, father."

"And your friends have gone away contented?"

"Yes, father."

"Those flowers look well in your dress. What flowers are they? Ah, I see – white daisies and roses. Who gave you the daisies?"



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