There was a pleasant, rosy flush on the girl’s face as she spoke, and just then a cough in the hall made her jump up, exclaiming —
Mr Richard Glaire swung the door open directly after, gave a scowl round the room, nodded shortly at his mother, threw himself into an easy-chair, picked up the book Eve had been reading, glanced at it, and with an impatient “pish!” jerked it to the other side of the room.
Eve laughed, made a pretty little grimace at him, and, removing the cosy, hastened to pour out the tea, one cup of which she held ready, evidently expecting that Richard would come and take it to his mother. Then, seeing that he did not pay any heed to her look, she carried the cup herself, round by the back of the young man’s chair, giving his hair a playful twitch as she went by.
“Don’t!” shouted Richard, angrily, and then in an undertone muttered something about “confounded childishness,” while Eve bent over her aunt and whispered softly —
“He’ll be better when he has had some tea, aunt dear. He’s upset with thinking about to-day.”
Mrs Glaire nodded, and watched the pretty, graceful form as Eve tripped back, to stand for a moment or two behind Richard’s chair, resting her hands upon his shoulders as she whispered tenderly —
“Does your face hurt you, Dick dear?”
“Bother!” growled Dick, pouring the cup of tea to which he had helped himself down his throat. “Here, fill this.”
Eve took the cup and saucer, only smiling back at him, and refilling it, said playfully —
“Dick’s cross, aunty. I’m going to give him double allowance of sugar to sweeten his temper.”
“I wish you’d pour out the tea, and not chatter so,” he cried, impatiently. “What with your tongue and hers, there isn’t a bit of peace to be had in the place.”
Eve looked pained, but the look passed off, and without attending to her own wants, she took some bread and butter across to where Richard sat scowling at the wall.
“Won’t you have something to eat, Dick dear?” she said, affectionately.
There are a good many ways of saying “no.” This was one of the most decisive, and was uttered so sharply that Eve forbore to press that which she had brought upon her cousin, and carried it to her aunt.
The rest of the time before retiring was passed in about as agreeable a way, till, at a nod from Mrs Glaire, Eve said, “Good night,” being affectionately embraced by her aunt, and then turning to Dick, she bent over him.
“Good night, dear Dick,” she whispered, holding her cheek to be kissed, as she rested her hands upon his shoulders.
“There, good night. For goodness’ sake don’t paw one about so.”
Eve remained motionless, with the tears gathering in her eyes, for a few moments, before bending down and kissing the young man’s forehead.
“Good night, dear darling Dick,” she whispered. “I’m very sorry about all your troubles; but don’t speak like that, it – it hurts me.”
The next moment she had taken up her candlestick and glided from the room.
Richard Glaire gave himself an impatient twist in his chair, and lay back thinking of the warm, glowing beauties of Daisy Banks, when he started up in affright, so silently had his mother risen from her couch, advanced, laid her hands upon his shoulder, one crossed over the other, and said in a low, clear voice —
“Dick, you are thinking of Daisy Banks.”
“I – I thought you were asleep.” he stammered.
“I was never more wide awake, Richard – to your interests,” said Mrs Glaire.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said, petulantly, as he gave the lamp-shade a twist, so that its light should not fall upon his face, and then changed his position a little.
“Yes, you do, Richard – perfectly,” said Mrs Glaire.
“Yes, I heard you say so; and I said, I don’t know what you mean.”
An angry retort was upon Mrs Glaire’s lips, but she checked the hasty expression, and pressing her hands a little more firmly upon her son’s shoulders, she went on —
“You know perfectly well what I mean Richard, and I must speak to you about that, as well as about the business.”
“Look here,” exclaimed the young man, impatiently; “I’m tired and worried enough for one day. I’m going to bed.”
He started up, crossed to the side table, took a candle, and advancing to the lamp, was about to light it with a taper, when, to his surprise, his mother, who of late years had given up to him in everything, took candle and taper from his hands and pressed him back unresisting into his seat.
“Richard, you are not going to bed till you have heard what I have to say.”
“I tell you I’m worn out and worried!” he exclaimed.
“You were not too tired to go out and keep engagements,” said Mrs Glaire, firmly.
“Who told you I had been out to keep engagements?” retorted Richard, sharply.
“My heart, Richard,” said his mother. “I know as well as if I had seen you that you have been to-night to meet Daisy Banks.”
“What stuff, mother!”
“As you have often been to meet her, Richard; tell me, do you wish to marry her?”
“I marry that hoyden – that workman’s daughter! Mother, are you mad?”
“You are only a workman’s son, sir.”
“My father made me a gentleman, mother,” said Richard, taking out a cigarette, “and I have the tastes of a gentleman. May I light this?”
“Smoke if you wish to, Richard,” said Mrs Glaire, quietly. “I have never stood in your way when that was a just one.”
Richard lit his cigarette, threw himself back in his chair with one leg over an arm, and said negligently —
“Well, if I am to be lectured, go on.”
“I am not going to lecture you, my son,” said Mrs Glaire, firmly; “I am only interposing when I see you hesitating on the brink of a precipice.”
“Look here, mother,” cried Richard; “do you want to quarrel?”
“No, Richard, to advise.”
“Then don’t talk stuff, mother.”
“I shall not, Richard, neither shall I let you put me off in what I wish to say. I am going to speak to you about Joseph Banks’ daughter, and about the business.”
“Now, look here, mother,” cried the young man, who, with all his desire to go, felt himself pinned down in his chair by a stronger will – “look here. What stuff have you got in your head about that little girl?”
“The stuff, as you call it, that is the common talk of the town.”
“Oh, come, that’s rich,” cried Richard, with a forced laugh. “To keep me up here and scold me about the common talk of scandal-mad Dumford. Mother, I thought you had more sense.”
“And I, Richard, thought that you had more honour; that your father had brought you up as a gentleman; and that you really had the tastes of a gentleman.”
“Come, I say, this is coming it too strong, you know, mother,” said the young man, in a feeble kind of protestation. “It is too hard on a fellow: it is indeed, you know.”
“Richard,” continued Mrs Glaire, with her words growing more firm and deep as she proceeded, “I have had Daisy Banks in this house off and on for years, as the humble companion of Eve, who is shut out here from the society of girls of her own age. It was a foolish thing to do, perhaps, but I was confident in the honour and gentlemanly feeling of my son, the wealthiest and greatest man in Dumford – in the honour of my son who is engaged to be married to his second cousin, Eve Pelly, as good, pure-minded, and sweet a girl as ever lived.”
“Oh, Eve’s right enough,” said Richard, roughly, “or she ought to be, for I’m sick of hearing her praises.”
“A girl who loves you with her whole heart, and who only waits your wishes to endow you with the love and companionship that would make you a happy man to the end of your days.”
“Oh yes,” said Richard, yawning. “I know all about that.”
“And what do I wake up to find?”
“Goodness knows, mother; some mare’s nest or another.”
“I wake up to find what Joseph Banks, our trusty old foreman, also wakes up to find.”
“What!” roared Richard, thrown off his balance; “does he know?”
“Yes,” said Mrs Glaire; “he, too, knows. Does that touch you home?”
“Damn!” muttered Richard, between his teeth.
“Yes, Banks too has woke up to the fact that you are frequently seen alone, and in a clandestine manner, with his only child; but he believes that you love her, that you, in spite of your position, remember that you are only a workman’s son, and that you mean to marry a workman’s daughter, and bring her home here as the wife of the master of Dumford Works.”
“Confound it all!” muttered Richard, biting his nails.
“He smiles at the notion of your being engaged to Eve, for he believes you to be honourable and a gentleman, while I, your mother, am obliged to know that your designs are evil, that you plot the ruin of a poor, weak girl – I wake up, in short, to know that my son is behaving like a scoundrel.”
“Hold your tongue!” cried Richard, hoarsely; and leaping up, he took two or three turns backwards and forwards in the room, before throwing himself once more in his chair.
“But you’ve not spoken to Joe Banks?” he cried.
“I have, this morning,” said Mrs Glaire, and then, her voice trembling, and the judgelike tone giving way to one of appeal, she threw herself at the young man’s knees, clasping them with her arms, and then catching at and holding his hand. “Dick, my boy – my darling – I was obliged to speak – I am obliged to speak to you. You know how, since you became of age, I have delivered everything into your hands – how I have kept back from interfering – how I have been proud to see the boy I brought into the world rich and powerful. You know I have never stood in the way, though you have poured out like water on your betting and gambling the money your father and I saved by dint of scraping and saving.”
“Oh, that’s it, is it?” said Richard, with a sneer.
“No,” cried his mother, appealingly, “it is not, Dick, my boy; it is that I wish to make you see your danger before it is too late. You mad, infatuated boy, can you not see that by what you have done you have set all your workmen against you? You see how you are treated to-day!”
“Oh yes,” said Richard; “and I’ve got the marks upon me.”
“Who stood by you, faithfully and true, as he has always stood by our house in similar times of danger – danger not brought on by folly? – Banks, your father’s old fellow-workman – a man as true as steel.”
“Oh yes, Joe Banks is right enough,” muttered Richard.
“And yet you, Dick – oh, Dick, Dick, my boy, think what you are doing – you would reward him for his long services by doing him the greatest injury man could do to man. Are you mad?”
“If I’m not, you’ll drive me mad,” cried Richard, trying to shake off his mother’s tight embrace.
“No, no, Dick, you shall not leave me yet,” cried Mrs Glaire, in impassioned tones, as the tears now streamed down her cheeks. “You must – you shall listen to me. Can you not see that besides maddening the poor man by the cruel wrong you would do, you will make him your deadly enemy; that the works would be almost helpless without him; and that he is the strong link that holds the workpeople to our side? For they respect him, and – ”
“Go on. They don’t respect me, you were going to say,” said Richard, petulantly. “Oh, mother, it’s too bad. You’ve got hold of some cock-and-bull bit of scandal, set about by one of the chattering fools of the place – old Bullivant, very likely – and you believe it.”
“Richard, my boy,” said Mrs Glaire, rising and standing before him, “can you not be frank and candid with your own mother?”
“You won’t let me,” he said; “you do nothing but bully me.”
“When I tell you of your danger; when I remind you that you are standing on the edge of a precipice – ”
“Oh, hang the precipice!” he cried; “you said that before.”
“When I warn you of the ruin, and beg of you on my knees, my boy, if you like, not to pursue this girl – not to yield to a weak, mad passion that will only bring you misery and regret to the end of your days, for you would never marry her.”
“Well, it isn’t likely,” he said, brutally.
“Dick – Dick,” cried Mrs Glaire, passionately, roused by the callous tone in which he spoke, “are you in your right senses, or have you been drinking? It cannot be my boy who speaks!”
“Well, there, all right, mother, I’ll own to it all,” he said, flippantly, and then he winced as the poor woman cast her arms round his neck, and strained him to her breast.
“I knew you would, my boy, as soon as the good in your nature got the upper hand. And now, Dick, you’ll promise me you won’t see Daisy Banks any more.”
“All right, mother, I won’t.”
“Thankyou, Dick. God bless you for this. But I must talk to you a little more. I have something else to say.”
“What, to-night?” he said, with a weary yawn.
“Yes, to-night. Just a few words.”
“Go on then, only cut it short.”
“I wanted to say a few words to you about Eve.”
“Oh, bother Eve,” he muttered. “Well, go on.”
“Don’t you think, Dick, my boy, you’ve been very neglectful of poor Eve lately?”
“Been as attentive as I ever have.”
“No, no, Dick; and listen, dear; try and be a little more loving to her.”
“Look here, mother,” cried Richard, impatiently; “I’ve promised all you want.”
“Yes, yes, my boy.”
“Well, if you get always trying to thrust Eve down my throat, I shall go away.”
“I’m tired of being bored about her.”
“But your future wife! Dick, my boy – there, only a few more words – will you take my advice?”
“Yes – no – yes; well, there, I’ll try.”
“Don’t you think, then, that had better come off soon?”
“No, indeed I don’t, so I tell you. I don’t mean to be tied up to any woman’s apron-string till I have had my fling. There, good night; I’m going to bed.”
Mrs Glaire made an effort to stay him, but he brushed by her, turned at the door, said, “Good night,” and was gone.
As the door closed, Mrs Glaire sank into the chair her son had so lately occupied, and sat thinking over their conversation.
Would he keep his word? Would he keep his word? That was the question that repeated itself again and again, and the poor woman brought forward all her faith to force herself to believe in her son’s sense of honour and truth, smiling at last with a kind of pride at the victory she had won.
But as she smiled, lighting her candle the while, and then extinguishing the lamp, a shiver of dread passed through her at the recollection of the events of the day; and at last, when she passed from the room a heavy shadow seemed to follow her. It was the shadow of herself cast by the light she carried, but it seemed to her like the shadow of some coming evil, and as she went upstairs and passed her son’s door, from beneath which came the odour of tobacco, she sighed bitterly, and went on wondering how it would end, for she had not much faith in his promise.
“I shall have to do something about these people,” said the vicar, as he descended, after making a hasty toilet.
His way out lay through the room appropriated by the objects of his thoughts, and on opening the door it was to find Mr Simeon Slee’s toilet still in progress. In fact, that gentleman was seated in a chair, holding a tin bowl of water, and his wife was washing his face for him, as if he were a child.
They took no notice of the interruption, and the vicar passed through, intending to take a long walk, but he checked his steps at the gate, where he stood looking down the long street, that seemed a little brighter in the early morning.
He had not been there five minutes before he saw a sodden-looking man come out of the large inn – the Bull and Cucumber – and as the pale, sodden-looking man involuntarily wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, the vicar nodded.
“Morning drain, eh? I’m afraid yours is not a very comfortable home, my friend.”
The man was going slowly down the street when his eye caught the figure of the vicar, and he immediately turned and came towards him, and touched his hat.
“Mr Selwood, sir?”
“That is my name, my man.”
“I’m Budd, sir – J. Budd – the clerk, sir. Thowt I’d come and ask if you’d like the garden done, sir. I’m the gardener here, sir. Four days a week at Mr Glaire’s. Your garden, sir – ”
“Would have looked better, Budd, if, out of respect to the church and the new vicar, you had kept it in order.”
“Yes, sir; exackly, sir; but I was too busy, sir. Shall I come, sir?”
“Yes, you may come, Budd. By the way, do you always have a glass before breakfast?”
“Beg pardon, sir – a glass?”
“Yes, at the Bull?”
“Never, sir,” said Budd, with an injured air. “I went in to take Mr Robinson’s peck.”
“Peck of what? pease?”
“Peck, sir – peck-axe – maddick.”
“Oh, I see,” said the vicar, looking at the man so that he winced. “Well, Budd, come and see to the garden after breakfast.”
“That I will, sir.”
“And, by the way, Budd.”
“Don’t wipe your mouth when you have been to return picks or mattocks. I’m rather a hard, matter-of-fact person, and it makes me think a man has been drinking.”
Jacky Budd touched his hat without a word, stuck one thumb into his arm-hole, and went off to inform the next person he met that “new parson” was a tartar and a teetotaler.
By this time Simeon Slee had gone off in another direction, and as the vicar was busy with his pocket-knife, pruning some trailing branches from the front windows, Mrs Slee came to announce that his breakfast was ready, and soon after relieved him of a difficulty.
“Going, eh, Mrs Slee? When?”
“I thowt we’d flit to-day, sir. We only came in to take charge of the house.”
“Have you a place to go to?”
“Humph! Well, it’s best, perhaps, Mrs Slee, for I am a frank man, and I don’t think your husband and I would agree. You couldn’t come and keep me right till I’ve got a housekeeper, I suppose?”
Mrs Slee could, and said she would; and that morning Jacky Budd helped the poor woman to “flit” her things to a neighbouring cottage, Simeon vowing that he’d “never set foot in the brutal priest’s house again.”
“You’re well shut of a bad lot, sir,” said Jacky Budd, turning to Mr Selwood, after the last items of the Slee impedimenta were off the premises, and he had looked round the wilderness of a garden, sighed, and wondered how he should ever get it in order.
“Think so, Budd?” said the vicar, drily.
“Yes, sir, I do,” said Jacky, resting on the spade he had not yet begun to use; “he’s a Ranter, is Slee, a Primity Methody, sir – a fellow as sets up against our Church – helps keep the opposition shop, and supplies small-beer instead of our sacrymental wine.”
Jacky involuntarily smacked his lips as he spoke, and the vicar turned sharply upon him with knit and angry brows.
But Jacky Budd was obtuse, and saw it not, but went on, wiping his forehead the while, as if he were panting and hot with his exertions.
“They had him down on the plan, sir; they did, ’pon my word of honour, sir – him, a regular shack, as never does a day’s work if he can help it. He was a local preacher, and put on a white ’ankercher o’ Sundays, and went over to Churley, and Raiby, and Beddlethorpe, and Mardby, and the rest of ’em, he did. It’s as good as a play, sir, to hear him ’preach. But they’ve ’bout fun’ him out now.”
“You have been to hear him, then, Budd?” said the vicar, drily.
“Me? Been to hear he? Me, sir – the clerk of the parish? No, sir; I never be-meaned myself by going into one of their chapels, I can assure you,” said Jacky, indignantly; and raising his spade, he chopped down a couple of unorthodox weeds growing up within the sacred borders of the vicarage garden.
“I’m glad to hear it, Budd,” said Mr Selwood, looking at him curiously; “and now I think as you’ve begun, we’ll go on with the gardening.”
“To be sure, sir – to be sure,” said Jacky, looking round and sighing at the broad expanse of work; “but if I might be so bold, sir, I should say, Don’t you have nowt to do wi’ that chap Slee. He’s a regular Shimei, sir – a man as curses and heaves stones at our holy Church, sir – a man as comes in the night, and sows tares and weeds amongst our wheat.”
“Exactly, Budd,” said the vicar, looking him full in the face; “but now suppose we sink the metaphorical and take to the literal. There are tares and weeds enough here: so suppose you root them out of the garden.”
“Yes, sir, of course, sir; I was just going to,” said Jacky. “It’s a lovely garden when it’s in good order. I suppose you wouldn’t like me to get Thad Warmouth and one of the Searbys to come and help me – labouring chaps, sir, and very strong?”
“No, Budd, I really should not,” said the vicar; “and besides, it would be depriving you of a good deal of work. What three men would do in two days will last one man six.”
“Exactly, sir – thanky, sir; it’s very thowtful of you,” said Jacky, sighing, and looking as if he would be willing to be deprived of a good deal of work; and then he began to chop at the ground very softly, as if, knowing that it was his mother earth, he was unwilling to hurt it.
“I’m fond of gardening myself, Budd; it’s good, healthy work, and I dare say I shall help you a great deal. Excuse me; lend me that spade a moment. I think it would be as well to drive it right in like this – it will save further trouble; this wild convolvulus takes such a strong hold of the soil.”