“On’y what I towd him. I said part people went theer o’ Sabbath, and that it was a straange niste woshup.”
“Nice woshup, indeed! why you niver went theer i’ your life,” said Sim.
“I said so I’d heerd,” said the landlord, stolidly, “and then I towd him how you used to preach theer till they turned thee out.”
“What call had you to got to do that?” said Sim, viciously.
“Turned thee out, and took thy name off the plan for comin’ to see me.”
“Well, of all the unneighbourly things as iver I heerd!” exclaimed Sim. “To go and talk that clat to a straanger.”
“Outer kindness to him,” said the landlord. “It was a kind o’ hint, and he took it, for I was thinking of his bishop, and he took it direckly, for he says, says he, ‘Well, I hope I shan’t hev my name took off my plan for coming to see you, Mr Robinson,’ he says. ‘I hope not, sir,’ I says. ‘Perhaps you’ll take a glass o’ wine, sir,’ I says. ‘No, Mr Robinson,’ he says, ‘I’ll take a glass – gill you call it – o’ your ale.’ And if he didn’t sit wi’ me for a good hour, and drink three gills o’ ale and smoke three pipes wi’ me, same as you might, ony he talked more sensible.”
“Well, he’s a pretty parson, he is,” sneered Sim.
“You let him be; he ain’t a bad sort at all,” said the landlord, quietly.
“Ha, ha!” laughed Sim. “He’s got howlt o’ you too, Robinson.”
“Mebbe he hev; mebbe he hevn’t,” said the landlord.
“Did he ask you to go to church?”
“Well, not azackly,” said the landlord; “but he said he should be very happy to see me theer, just like astin’ me to his house.”
“Ho, ho!” laughed Sim; “and some day we shall have the Bull and Cowcumber at church.”
“What are yow laughin’ at, yo’ maulkin?” cried the landlord. “Why, I’d go ony wheer to sit and listen to a sensible man talk.”
“Aw raight, aw raight, Robinson; don’t be put out,” said Sim; “but I didn’t think as yow’d be got over so easy.”
“Who’s got over?” said the landlord. “Not I indeed.”
“Well,” said Sim, “did he say anything more?”
“Say? yes, he’s full o’ say, and it’s good sorter say. I ast him if he’d like to see the farm, and he said he would, and I took him out wheer the missus was busy wi’ her pancheons, making bread and syling the milk, and he stopped and talked to her.”
“But yow didn’t take him out into your moocky owd crewyard, did yo’?”
“Moocky crewyard indeed! but I just did, and I tell you what, Sim Slee, he’s as good a judge of a beast as iver I see.”
“And then yow showed him the new mare,” said Sim, with a grin.
“I did,” said the landlord. “‘Horncastle?’ he says, going up to her and opening her mouth. ‘Raight,’ I says. ‘Six year owd,’ he says; and then he felt her legs and said he should like to see her paces, and I had Jemmy to give her a run in the field. ‘She’s Irish,’ he says. ‘How do you know?’ I says – trying him like to trap him. ‘By that turn-up nose,’ he says, ‘and that wild saucy look about the eye and head.’ ‘You’re raight, parson,’ I says.
“O’ course,” sneered Sim. “That’s the way. That’s your cunning priest coming into your house to lead silly women captive, and sew pillows to their armholes.”
“Go on wi’ yer blather,” cried the landlord.
“Go on, indeed,” continued Sim. “That’s their way. He’s a regular Jesooit, he is, and your home wean’t soon be your own. He’s gettin’ ivery woman in the place under his thumb. He begins wi’ Miss Eve theer at the house, and Daisy Banks. Then he’s gotten howd o’ my missus. Here’s Mrs Glaire allus coming and fetching him out wi’ her in the pony shay, and now he’s gotten howd o’ your owd woman, and she’s sendin’ him pounds o’ boother. It was allus the way wi’ them cunning priests: they allus get over the women, and then they do what they like wi’ the men. No matter how strong they are, down they come just like Samson did wi’ Delilah. It was allus so, and as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end.”
“Amen,” said Jacky Budd, coming in at the back door. “Gie’s a gill o’ ale, Robinson. I’m ’bout bunt up wi’ thirst. Hallo, Slee, what! are yow preaching agen?”
“Never mind,” said Sim, sulkily. “I should ha’ thowt parson would ha’ fun you in ale, now.”
“Not he,” said Jacky. “Drinks it all his sen. He’s got a little barrel o’ Robinson’s best i’ the house, too.”
“Ho, ho, ho!” laughed Sim, holding his sides and stooping. “I say, Jacky, put some new basses in one o’ the pews for Mester Robinson, Esquire, as is going to come reg’lar to church now. That’s the way they do it: ‘Send me in a small barrel o’ your best ale, Mr Robinson,’ he says, ‘and I shall be happy to see you at church.’”
“If yow use up all yer wind, Sim Slee,” said the landlord, sturdily, “yow wean’t hev none left to lay down the law wi’ at the meeting to-night.”
Poor Mrs Glaire was in trouble about her fowls, who seemed possessed of a great deal of nature strongly resembling the human. She had a fine collection of noble-looking young Brahma cockerels, great massive fellows, youthful, innocent, sheepish, and stupid. They were intended for exhibition, and their mistress expected a prize for the birds, which had dwelt together in unity, increasing in bulk and brilliancy of plumage, and had never looked a hen in the face since the day they forsook their mamma in the coop.
And now, by mishap, a wanton young pullet had flown up on to the wall that divided them from the poultry yard, and just cried, “Took – took – took!” before flying down. That was sufficient: a battle royal began amongst the brothers directly, and when Mrs Glaire went down to feed them she found two birds nearly dead, the rest all ragged as to their feathers, bleeding as to their combs and wattles, and still fighting in a heavy lumbering way, but so weary that they could only take hold of one another with their beaks and give feeble pecks at their dripping feathers.
Mrs Glaire sighed and made comparisons between Daisy Banks and the wicked little pullet who had caused all this strife, telling herself that she was to be congratulated on having but one son, and wishing that he were married, settled, and happy.
She had decided that she would have the vicar up to dinner that night, and intended to make him her confidant and ally; and accordingly in the evening, while the conversation narrated in the last chapter was going on, the object of it was making his way to the house, getting a friendly nod here and there, and stopping for a minute’s chat with the people whose acquaintance he had made.
As a rule they were moody faces he met with amongst the women, for they were more than usually soured at the present time on account of the strike, and the sight of the black coat and white tie was not a pleasant one to them, and the replies to his salute were generally sulky and constrained.
He fared better with the men, in spite of Mr Simeon Slee’s utterances, for the report had gone round and round again that Parson could fight, and the church militant, from this point of view, was one that seemed to them worthy of respect.
So he went slowly along the main street, past Mr Purley, the doctor’s, as that gentleman, just returned from a round, was unwedging himself from his gig.
“How do, parson, how do?” he said. “Like a ride with me to-morrow?”
“Well, yes, if you’ll get out your four-wheeler,” said the vicar, laughing.
“Going up to the house to dinner, parson?”
“Tell Mrs Glaire I’ll be on in ten minutes,” said the doctor. “But I say, parson, don’t sit on the rubber of whist.”
“Doctor,” said the vicar, patting him on the shoulder, “I shall not; but bring an extra sovereign or two with you, for I want to win a little money to-night for some of my poor.”
“He’s a rum one,” muttered the doctor, as he went in. “He’s a rum one, that he is; but I don’t think he’s bad at bottom.”
Meanwhile the vicar went on, past Ramson and Tomson’s the grocers and drapers, where silks and sugars, taffetas and tea were displayed in close proximity; and although Ramson and Tomson were deacons at the Independent Chapel, and the old vicar had passed them always without a look, a friendly nod was exchanged now, to the great disgust of Miss Primgeon, the lawyer’s maiden sister, a lady who passed her time at her window, and who, not being asked to the little dinner she knew was to be held at the house, was in anything but the best of tempers that evening.
Richard Glaire was not aware of his mother’s arrangement, and his face wore anything but a pleasant expression as he confronted the vicar in the hall, having himself only just come in.
“How do, Mr Selwood, how do?” he said haughtily, as he took out his watch and paid no heed to the extended hand. “Just going to dinner; would you mind calling again?”
“Not in the least,” said the vicar, smiling, “often. Look here, Richard Glaire,” he continued, laying his hand upon the young man’s shoulder, “you don’t understand me.”
“Will you – er – have the goodness – ”
“Oh, yes, of course,” said the vicar, “I’ll explain all in good time; but look here, my good young friend, I’m here in a particular position, and I mean to be a sort of shadow or fate to you.”
“I really am at a loss to understand,” began Richard, whose anger was vainly struggling against the strong will opposed to him.
“I see,” said the vicar, “you’ve been out and didn’t know I was coming to dinner. Don’t apologise. Ah, Miss Pelly!”
This to Eve, who had heard the voices; and Richard’s face grew white with passion as he saw the girl’s bright animated countenance and glad reception of their visitor. She tripped down the stairs, and placed both her hands in his, exclaiming —
“I’m so glad, Mr Selwood. Aunt didn’t tell me you were coming to dinner till just now.”
“And so am I glad,” he said, with a smile touched with sadness overspreading his face, as he saw the eager pleasant look that greeted him, one that he was well enough read in the human countenance to see had nothing in it but the hearty friendly welcome of an ingenuous maiden, who knew and liked him for his depth and conversation. “We shall have a long chat to-night, I hope, and some music.”
They were entering the drawing-room together as he spoke.
“Oh yes, yes,” cried she, eagerly. “I can never get Dick to sing now. Do you sing, Mr Selwood?”
“Well, yes, a little,” he said, smiling down at her.
“Yes, a little.”
“What? Not the piano?”
“Just a little,” he said. “I am better on the organ.”
“Oh, I am so glad,” cried Eve. “Aunt will be here directly; I’m so glad you’ve come to Dumford. The old vicar was so stiff, and would sit here when he did come, and play backgammon all the evening without speaking.”
“Backgammon, eh?” said the visitor; “not a very lively game for the lookers on.”
“Yes, and it was so funny,” laughed Eve, “he never would allow cards in his presence, though he played with the dice; and it used to make dear Dick so cross because aunt used to hide the cards. But, oh dear,” she exclaimed, colouring slightly, “I hope you don’t object to whist.”
“My dear Miss Pelly,” he said, laughing, “I like every innocent game. I think they all are as medicine to correct the acidity and bitterness of some of the hard work of life.”
“Then you’ll play croquet with us?”
“That I will.”
“Oh, I am glad,” cried Eve, with almost childish pleasure. “I can beat Dick easily now, Mr Selwood, for he neglects his croquet horribly. Mind I don’t beat you.”
“I won’t murmur,” he said, laughing.
“But where’s aunt?” cried Eve. “She came down before me.”
“Aunt” had gone straight into the dining-room to see that all things were in a proper state of preparation, and had stopped short in the doorway on seeing Eve’s reception of their guest.
She was about to step forward, when, unseen by him, she caught a glimpse of her son’s countenance, as he watched the vicar. His teeth were set, his lips drawn slightly back, and a fierce look of anger puckered his forehead, as with fists clenched he made an involuntary movement after the couple who had entered the drawing-room.
Mrs Glaire drew back softly, and laying her hand on her beating heart, she walked to the other end of the dining-room, seating herself in one of the windows, half concealed by the curtain.
There was a smile upon her face, for, quick as lightning, a thought had flashed across her mind.
Here was the means at hand to bring her son to his senses. She had meant to take the vicar into her confidence, and ask his aid, stranger though he was, for she felt that his position warranted it; but now things had shaped themselves so that he was thoroughly playing into her hands.
She knew Eve, that she was ingenuous and truthful, and looked upon her marriage with her cousin as a matter of course. She was a girl who would consider a flirtation to be a crime towards the man who loved her; but the vicar would evidently be very attentive even as he had begun to be, and already Richard’s ire was aroused. Richard jealous, she meditated, and he would be roused from his apathetic behaviour to Eve, and all would come right.
“And the vicar?” she asked herself.
Oh, he meant nothing, would mean nothing. He knew the relations of Richard and his cousin, and the plan would – must succeed.
But was she wrong? Was Richard annoyed at the vicar’s demeanour towards Eve, or was it her imagination?
The answer came directly, for Richard flung into the room, took up a sherry decanter, and filling a glass, tossed it off.
“Curse him! I won’t have him here,” he said aloud. “What does he mean by talking to me like that? by hanging after Eve? I won’t have it. You there, mother?”
“Yes, my son,” she replied, rising and looking him calmly in the face.
“Look here, mother, I won’t have that clerical cad here. What do you mean by asking him to dinner?”
“I asked him as a guest who has behaved very kindly to us, Richard. He is my guest. I asked him because I wished to have him; and you must recollect that he is a clergyman and a gentleman.”
“If he wasn’t a parson,” cried Richard, writhing beneath his mother’s clear cold glance, for it seemed to his guilty conscience that she could read in his face that he had broken his word about Daisy – “if he wasn’t a parson I’d break his neck.”
“Richard, I insist,” cried his mother, in a tone that he had not heard since he had grown to manhood, and which reminded him of the days when he was sternly forced to obey, “if you insult Mr Selwood, you insult your mother.”
“But the cad’s making play after Eve – he’s smiling and squeezing her hand, and the little jilt likes it.”
“No wonder,” said Mrs Glaire, calmly. “Women like attentions. You have neglected the poor girl disgracefully.”
“What! are you going to allow it?” cried Richard. “I tell you he’s making play for her.”
“I shall not interfere,” said Mrs Glaire, coldly. “I think Eve ought to have a good husband.”
“But she’s engaged to me!” half-shrieked Richard.
“Well,” said his mother, coldly, though her heart was beating fast, “you are a man, and should counteract it. This is England, and in English society, little as I have seen of it, I know that engaged girls are not prisoners. They are, to a certain extent, free.”
“I’ll soon stop it,” cried Richard, fiercely. “Stop it then, my son, but mind this: I insist upon proper respect being paid to Mr Selwood.”
“I will,” cried Richard, speaking in a deep-pitched voice. “I’ll do something.”
“Then I should take care that my pretensions to her hand were well known,” said Mrs Glaire, with a peculiar look.
“Pretensions – her hand!” said Richard, with a sneer. “Are you mad, mother, that you take this tone? I will soon let them see. I’m not going to be played with.”
He was about leaving the room, when his mother laid her hand upon his arm.
“Stop, Richard,” she said, firmly. “Recollect this – ”
“That it was the clear wish of your father and myself to make you a gentleman.”
“Well, I am a gentleman,” cried Richard, angrily.
“Bear it in mind then, my son; and remember that rude, rough ways disgust Eve, and injure your cause. Mr Selwood is a gentleman, and you must meet him as a gentleman.”
“I don’t know what you mean, mother,” cried the young man, angrily.
“I mean this, that my son occupies the position of the first man in Dumford; and though his father was a poor workman, and his mother a workman’s daughter – ”
“There, don’t always get flinging my birth in my teeth, mother – do, pray, sink the shop.”
“I have no wish to remind you of your origin, Richard,” said Mrs Glaire, with a sigh; “only I wish to make you remember that we educated you to be a gentleman, and that we have given you the means. Act like one.”
“I shall do that; don’t you be afraid,” said Richard.
“And mind, Richard, a true gentleman keeps his word,” said Mrs Glaire, meaningly.
“Well, so do I,” exclaimed the young man, flushing up. “What are you hinting at now?”
“I hope you do, my son; I hope you do,” said Mrs Glaire, looking at him fixedly; and then, as a sharp knock came at the front door, she glided out of the room, and her voice was heard directly after in conversation with the bluff doctor.
“Oh, he’s here, too, is he?” muttered Dick, biting his nails. “Hang it all! Curse it, how crookedly things go. I – there, hang it all!”
He stood, thinking, with knitted brows, and then hastily pouring out and tossing off another glass of sherry, and smiling in a way that looked very much like the twitch of the lip when a cur means to bite, he said, in a mock melodramatic voice —
“Ha – ha! we must dissemble!” and strode out of the room.
The vicar was standing by the flower-stand talking to Eve, and opening out the calyx of a new orchid, a half faded blossom of which he had picked from the pot to explain some peculiarities of its nature, while Eve, looking bright and interested, drank in his every word.
Mr Purley was filling out an easy-chair, having picked out one without arms for obvious reasons, and he was gossiping away to Mrs Glaire.
“How do, Purley?” said Richard, with a face as smooth as if nothing had occurred to fret him. “Glad to see you.”
“Glad to see you too, Glaire; but you don’t say, ‘How are you?’”
“Who does to a doctor,” laughed Richard. “Why you couldn’t be ill if you tried.”
“Ha-ha-ha!” laughed Mr Purley. “Well, if I’m not ill, I’m hungry.”
“Always are,” said Richard, with a sneer; and then seeing that his retort was a little too pointed, he blunted it by pandering to the stout medico’s favourite joke, and adding, “Taken any one for a ride lately?”
“Ha-ha-ha!” laughed the doctor. “That’s good! He’s getting a regular Joe Miller in kid gloves, Mrs Glaire: that he is. Ha-ha-ha!”
Richard gave a short side nod, for he was already crossing the room to the flower-stand.
“Talking about flowers?” he said, quietly. “That’s pretty. I didn’t know they’d asked you to dinner, Mr Selwood, and you must have thought me very gruff.”
“Don’t name it,” said the vicar, frankly; but he was looking into the younger man’s eyes in a way that made him turn them aside in a shifty manner, and begin picking nervously at the leaves of a plant as he went on —
“Fact is, don’t you know, I’m cross and irritable. When a man’s got all his fellows on strike or lock out, it upsets him.”
“Yes, Mr Selwood,” interposed Eve, “the poor fellow has been dreadfully worried lately. But it’s all going to be right soon, I hope.”
“I don’t know,” said Richard, cavalierly; “they’re horribly obstinate.”
Mrs Glaire, who had been watching all this eagerly, while she made an appearance of listening to Mr Purley’s prattle, gave her son a grateful look, to which he replied with a smile and a nod, when a servant entered and announced the dinner.
Richard Glaire’s smile and nod turned into a scowl and a twitch on hearing his mother’s next words, which were —
“Mr Selwood, will you take in my niece? Mr Purley, your arm.”
The vicar passed out with Eve, followed by the doctor and their hostess, leaving Richard to bring up the rear, which he did after snatching up a book and hurling it across the room crash into the flower-stand.
“She’s mad,” he muttered, – “she’s mad;” and then grinding his teeth with rage he followed into the dining-room.
Richard contrived to conceal his annoyance tolerably during the dinner, but his mother saw with secret satisfaction that he was thoroughly piqued by the way in which Eve behaved towards their visitor; and even with the effort he made over himself, he was not quite successful in hiding his vexation; while when they went out afterwards on to the croquet lawn, and the vicar and Eve were partners against him, he gave vent to his feelings by vicious blows at the balls, to the no slight damage of Mrs Glaire’s flowers.
This lady, however, bore the infliction with the greatest equanimity, sitting on a garden seat, knitting, with a calm satisfied smile upon her face even though Eve looked aghast at the mischief that had been done.