George Fenn.

The Rosery Folk

But Fanny was evidently not expecting them, and did not come in until Martha had made the tea and cut the bread-and-butter, Brother William leaning his arms on the back of the big, well bees-waxed Windsor chair, and gazing at her busy fingers, as she spread the yellow butter and cut a plateful of slices.

Seems just as if you were doing it at home, said Brother William; only it looks nicer here.

Then Fanny was summoned, and Martha made way for her to preside at the tea-tray.

No; youd better pour out, the girl said absently. Id rather sit here.

Here was where she could see through the open window out into the road; and there she sat while the meal was discussed, little attention being paid to her by her brother, who divided his time between eating heartily himself, and pressing slices of ham upon Martha, who took her place in the most matter-of-fact way, and supplied her hosts wants, which were frequent, as the teacups were very small. In fact, so occupied with their meal were Brother William and Martha, that they did not notice a slow, deliberate step in the road, passing evidently down the lane; neither did they see that Fannys face, as she bent lower over her cup, became deeply suffused, and that she did not look up till the step had died away, when she uttered a low sigh, as if a burden had been removed from her breast.

After that, though, they did notice that she became brighter and more willing to enter into conversation, seeming at last to take quite an interest in her brothers account of the loss of a sheep through its getting upside down in a ditch; and she also expressed a feeling of satisfaction upon hearing that hay would fetch a good price in the autumn, so many people having had theirs spoiled.

Never mind me, said Fanny, as soon as, between them, she and Martha had put away the tea-things: I shall go into the garden and look round.

Brother William evidently did not mind her, for, in his slow deliberate way, he took off Martha to introduce her to the cows; after which she had to scrape acquaintance with the pigs, visit the poultry, who were somewhat disturbed, inasmuch as they were settling themselves in the positions that they were to occupy for the night, and made no little outcry in consequence. Then there were the sheep; and there was last years haystack, and this years, both of which had to be smelt, Brother William pulling out a good handful from each, to show Martha that there was not a trace of damp in either. This done, a happy thought seemed to strike Brother William, who turned to Martha and exclaimed: I wonder whether you could churn?

Lets try, said Martha, with the air of one who would have made the same answer if it had been the question of making a steam-engine or a watch.

Brother William gave one of his legs a vigorous slap, and marched Martha back into the house, through into the dairy. Then he fetched a can of hot-water to rinse out and warm the churn.

There was a pot of lumpy cream already waiting, and this was carefully poured in, the lid duly replaced, with the addition of a cloth, to keep the cream from splashing out, and then he stood and watched Martha, who was busily pinning up her dress all round. She then turned up her sleeves and took out a clean pocket-handkerchief, which she folded by laying one corner across to the other, and then tied it over her head and under her chin, making her pleasant comely face look so provocative, that Brother William drew a long breath, took a step forward, and was going to catch Martha in his arms; but he recollected himself in time, gave a slew round, and caught hold of the churn handle instead, and this he began to turn steadily round and round, as if intending to play a tune.

I thought I was to make it, said Martha quietly.

Oh, ah, yes, of course, he said, resigning the handle; and then he drew back, as if it was not safe for him to stand there and watch, while Martha steadily turned and turned, and the cream within the snowy white sycamore box went wish-wash, wish-wash, wish-wash, playing, after all, a very delicious tune in the young farmers ears, for it suggested yellow butter, and yellow butter suggested sovereigns, and sovereigns suggested borne comforts and savings, and above all, the turning of that handle suggested the winning of just the very wife to occupy that home.

Five minutes, and there was a glow of colour in Marthas cheeks. Five minutes more, and the colour was in her brow as well.

You are tired now, said Brother William. Let me turn.

No; I mean to make it, she replied, tightening her lips and turning steadily away.

Another five minutes, and there was a very red spot on Marthas chin, and her lips were apart; but she turned away, with Brother William quite rapt in admiration at the patient perseverance displayed; and in fact, if it had been a question of another hour, Martha would have kept on turning till she dropped. She did not speak, neither did Brother William; but his admiration increased. Their eyes never met, for Marthas were fixed steadfastly upon one particular red-brick; not that it was dirty, for it was of a brighter red than the others; and she turned and turned, first with one hand, then with the other, till there was a change in the wish-wash, wish-wash in the churn, and then Brother William exclaimed: Thats done it! Butter!

Hah! ejaculated Martha, with a heavy sigh, and her breath came all the faster for the exertion.

Look at it! cried Brother William, taking the lid off the churn. Can you see?

Martha was rather short; hence, perhaps, it was that Brother William placed his arm round her waist to raise her slightly; and he was not looking at the butter, and Martha was not looking at it either, but up at him, as he bent down a little lower, and somehow, without having had the slightest intention of doing so the moment before, Brother William gave Martha a very long and solemn kiss.

She shrank away from him the next moment, and looked up at him reproachfully. You shouldnt, she said. Its so wrong.

Is it? he said dolefully. Im very sorry. I couldnt help it, Martha. You made the butter so beautifully. Dont be cross.

Im not cross, she said, untying the handkerchief, and then proceeding to take out the pins from her dress, holding them between her lips, points outwards; only you mustnt do so again.

Brother William said: Well, I wont; and then, as the pins were taken from Marthas red lips so great is the falsity of man he bent down and let his lips take the place of the pins, and Martha said never a word.

Joes wife said yesterday that she didnt mean to come and do for me much longer, said Brother William suddenly.

Why not? said Martha.

Because she said Id best ask you.

And are you going to ask me, William?

Yes. When will you come altogether? he said softly.

Martha glanced round once more, as if in search of that spot of dirt which would keep eluding her search. Then she raised her eyes to Brother Williams shirt front with a triumphant flash, feeling sure that she would see a button off, or a worn hole; but there was neither; and when she turned her eyes upon his hands, the wristbands were not a bit frayed.

I dont know, she said dubiously. Do you want me to come?

He nodded, and they went out of the dairy into the sitting room.

Ill tell Fanny, he said. I hope shell be pleased.

But Fanny was not there; and when they went into the garden, she was not there either, nor yet in the orchard.

She must have gone down the lane, said Brother William down towards the river. Lets go and see.

They went out together, with Martha making no scruple now about holding on by Brother Williams sturdy arm. But though they walked nearly down to the river, Fanny was not there.

Shell be cross, and think we neglected her, said Martha. I am sorry we went away.

Im not, said Brother William, trying to be facetious for the second time that evening. Weve made half a dozen pounds o butter, and a match.

Martha shook her head.

Lets go back and see if she went up to the wood, cried Brother William.

Shes reading somewhere, said Martha as they walked back, to find Fanny standing by the gate, looking slightly flushed and very pretty, ready to smile and banter them for being away so long.

They soon ended the visit to the farm; for, after partaking of supper, and eating one of Brother Williams own carefully grown lettuces, they walked slowly back, in the soft moist evening air, to the Rosery, when, during the leave-takings, Brother William said: Fanny, Marthas going to be my wife.

Is she? said Fanny indifferently. Oh! And then to herself: Poor things! What a common, ordinary-looking woman Martha is. And Brother William Ah, what a degrading life this is!

The degradation did not seem to affect the others, for Brother Williams cheeks quite shone, and the high lights on Marthas two glossy smooth hands of hair seemed to be brighter than ever.

Good-night, said Brother William. Good-night, Martha.

Good-night, William.

Youll keep a sharp eye on Fanny till I fetch you away; wont you?

I always do, William; but Im afraid her eyes are sharper than mine.

What do you mean? he said quietly.

Im afraid shes got a sweetheart.

Who is it? said Brother William sternly.

I dont know yet. Sometimes I think its a real one, and sometimes I think its all sham only one out of her magazines that she talks about; but Im not sure.

Then look here, Martha: youve got to be sure, said Brother William, who was as business-like now as if he had been selling his hay. Youve got to make sure, and tell me, for Im not going to have anybody play the fool with her. If any one does, therell be something the matter somewhere; and shaking his head very fiercely, Brother William strode away, giving a thump with his stick at every step along the road.

End of Volume One

Volume Two Chapter One.
Aunt Sophia Visits the City

Mr Fred. Saxby stopped in front of the Royal Exchange one morning to buy a rose, and spent some time in selecting it. Red ones would not do; yellow he despised. He wanted a delicate white rose, with a dash of blush pink upon its petals; and when he had discovered one, he made no scruple about paying the flower-girl sixpence and carrying it off with the greatest care to deposit in a glass upon his desk, for reasons known only to himself.

He had rather a busy morning in his close, cool, dark office, in a court out of Throgmorton Street an office where the light of day had a struggle every morning to get down between two tall piles of building, and illumine the room, failing dismally seven or eight months out of the twelve, and leaving the stockbroker to the tender mercies of his gas company and the yellow flame that danced within a globe.

Mr Saxbys room was as clean as hands could make it, the housekeepers words but all the same it did not seem clean. There was a dingy look about everything, excepting the rose he bought every morning, and himself. In one part of the room was a tiny machine, untouched save by electricity, which went on, unwinding, inking its letters and stamping mile after mile of tape-like paper, informing the reader the while that the shares of this railway were up, of that down; that foreign stocks had made this change, consols were at that, and so on, and so on, while the occupant of the office paid not the slightest heed, but divided his attention between the Times and the rose.

Just in the midst of one of his most earnest inspections of the flower, during which he took a long soft inhalation of its odorous breath, a clerk entered with a card. Miss Raleigh, sir.

Bless my heart! ejaculated the stockbroker, hastily setting down the rose, for the act of smelling it had taken him down to a velvet lawn, sloping to the riverside; and upon that lawn he had seemed to see some one walking, wearing a similar rose; but it was not the lady who now entered, and of whom he had heard nothing since he warned her not to venture in the Cornish mine.

Good-morning, Miss Raleigh, he exclaimed, placing a chair. I hardly expected to see you.

Why not? said Aunt Sophia shortly. Where did you expect I should go?

I hope you are well, maam, and Sir James and Lady Scarlett?

No; Im not well; Im worried, said the lady. Sir James and Lady Scarlett are both ill. Has But never mind that now. Look here, Mr Saxby; you always give me very bad advice, and you seem determined not to let me get good interest for my money. Now, tell me this, sir. I have been receiving a great many circulars lately about different excellent investments; above all, several about gold mines in the north of India.

So I suppose, maam, said Mr Saxby rubbing his hands softly.

And I suppose you will say that they are not good; but here is one that I received yesterday which cannot fail to be right. I want some shares in that.

And you wont have one, maam, said Mr Saxby, who was far more autocratic in his own office than at a friends house.

What! are they all sold?

Sold? Pooh! maam, hardly any. There are not many people lunatics enough to throw their money into an Indian gold mine.

Saxby, you are the most obstinate, aggravating man I ever did know. Look here; will not these figures convince you?

No, maam; only make me more obstinate more aggravating still.

Then what do these figures mean?

Mean, madam? To trap spinster ladies with small incomes, half-pay officers, poor clergymen with miserable livings the whole lot of poor genteel people, and those who like to dabble in investments people who cant afford to lose, and people who can. Why, my dear madam, use your own judgment. If there were a safe fifteen per cent, there, the shares would be gone in one hour, and at a heavy premium the next.

Humph! said Aunt Sophia. Of course you do all my nephews business?

Yes, madam; it all comes here.

You know what shares he holds?

I think so. Of course, he may have been to other brokers; but he would not have done so without good reason.

As far as you can, then, said Aunt Sophia, keep an eye upon what are sold, and I should like to be made acquainted with any sales that may take place.

Well, really, my dear Miss Raleigh, such a proceeding

Yes, yes, man; I know all about that; but you know to what a state he has been reduced. I love him like a son, and I Now look here, Saxby; Im telling you this, because I think you are an honest man.

Well, I hope I am, maam.

Then look here; I will speak out. I wont mention any names; but I am afraid that designing people are at work to get possession of some of his property, and I want it watched.

Rather a serious charge, Miss Raleigh.

Stuff and nonsense, man! Not half serious enough. Just look at this prospectus for a moment. There are some good names to it. Ill talk about those other matters afterwards.

Aunt Sophia fixed her double glasses upon her nose, and stared through them upon the neat and dapper stockbroker, who stared in return, and frowned, otherwise he would have laughed, for the spring of Aunt Sophias pince-nez was very strong, and its effect was to compress the organ upon which it rested, so that the ordinarily thin sharp point of the ladys nose was turned into a sickly-looking bulb, that was, to say the least, grotesque.

Halt! said Mr Saxby, reading quickly: Society for the Elevation of the Human Race in large and Crowded Towns; patrons, the Right Hon. hum-ha-hum; his Grace the hum-ha-hum; the Lord Bishop of hum-ha-hum; directors hum-ha-hum; M.P. hum Mr hum, Mr Saxbys voice grew less and less distinct, becoming at last a continuance of the sound expressed in letters by hum, but he finished off sharply with: Secretary, Mr Arthur Prayle! Well, maam, and what of this?

What of it, Saxby? Why, wouldnt it be a most admirable thing to invest in a Society which will benefit my fellow-creatures and bring in a large percentage as well?

Admirable, my dear madam, said Saxby; but you dont quite express the result.

What do you mean?

Singular, maam, not plural, and no percentage.

Now, look here, Saxby: I have come here on business, if you please, not to hear you discuss points of grammar. What do you mean by your singular and plural?

I mean, my dear madam, said Saxby, with a chuckle, that this Society, he flipped the prospectus with his finger as he spoke would benefit one fellow-creature only, and give no percentage at all. What is more, you would never see your money back.

Ho! ejaculated Aunt Sophia. And pray, who would be the fellow-creature?

Well, maam, it is being rather hard upon a gentleman whom I have had the pleasure of meeting, and who is no doubt acting in the best of faith; but the secretary is the only fellow-creature who will get anything out of that affair. He will of course take care that the office expenses are paid, he is an office expense. There will be nothing for a soul beside.

Oh, this is prejudice, Mr Saxby.

Business prejudice, perhaps, maam; but, to my mind, this is only one of many Societies that are constantly springing up like toadstools that kind that comes up fair and white, looks very much like a good mushroom for a time, and then dissolves into a nasty black inky fluid, and is gone.

It is prejudice, said Aunt Sophia.

Maybe, maam; but there are numbers of silly Societies got up, such as appeal to weak sensitive people; the secretary gets a few letters in the daily papers, and plenty of ladies like yourself subscribe their money, say, for the Suppression of Sunday Labour amongst Cabhorses, the Society for Dieting Destitute Blackbeetles, and the Provident Home for Canaries whose Patrons are out of Town. These, my dear madam, are exaggerations, but only slight ones, of many Societies got up by ingenious secretaries, who turn a bottle of ink, a ream of neatly headed note-paper, and some cleverly monogrammed envelopes, into a comfortable income.

That will do, said Aunt Sophia shortly as she took off her pince-nez and allowed the blood to resume its circulation that will do, Mr Saxby. Then you will not buy the shares for me?

No, maam, not a share. I should deserve to be kicked out of the Stock Exchange, if I did.

Very well, sir very well, sir, said the lady, rising and tightening her lips. That will do.

And now, as business is over, my dear madam, may I ask for the latest report concerning our friend Scarletts health?

Yes, sir, you may, said Aunt Sophia shortly. It is very bad. His nerve is completely gone.

Ah, but I hope it will return, said Saxby. Patience, maam, patience. When stocks in a good thing, mind, I say a good thing, are at their lowest, they take a turn, and become often enough better than ever. And er may I ask how how Miss Raleigh junior is?

No, sir; you may not, said Aunt Sophia shortly. Good-morning!

Phe-ew! What an old she-dragon it is! said Mr Saxby to himself as the door closed upon Aunt Sophias angular form.

I am right! said Aunt Sophia to herself as she got into the hansom cab that she had waiting. Here! hi! she cried, poking at the little trapdoor in the roof with her parasol. Waterloo Station.

Then, as the cab rattled along: Arthur Prayle is a smooth-looking, smooth-tongued scoundrel; I know he is, and Ive a good mind to let him have a few hundreds, so as to take off his mask. I wont mistrust Saxby any more. Hes as honest as the day, and Im glad Ive put him on his guard. But he must be snubbed, very hard, and I must speak to Naomi. I do believe the hard, money-grubbing, fog-breathing creature thinks that he is in love!

Volume Two Chapter Two.
Sir James Scarletts Nerves

Come, old fellow; I think you are better now, said the doctor, as he took Scarletts arm and walked with him down the garden. They had just been standing upon the lawn, where, in a group, Lady Scarlett, Lady Martlett, Naomi, and Aunt Sophia were with Arthur Prayle. The doctor had been irritated, though he would not own it, by the cool, haughty indifference of Lady Martlett, and it had cost him an effort to tear his thoughts from his own affairs to the troubles of his friend; but upon twice waking up to the fact that Scarlett was growing excited, and that he had displayed a disposition to what the doctor called break out, he suggested a stroll down the grounds.

Scarlett eagerly agreed; and after a solemn exchange of courtesies with Lady Martlett, the doctor took his friend away.

Confound her! muttered the doctor; the others must have wondered whether I was going to hand her out for a minuet. I wish the woman would keep away.

They strolled about for some few minutes, and twice came to a halt; but the first time, as they seated themselves in a couple of garden-chairs, the voice of Arthur Prayle came in a low deep murmur from the lawn as he was saying something earnestly, and the doctor saw his patients eyes flash, and then, us he watched him curiously, contract in an unpleasant way.

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