George Fenn.

The Rosery Folk





Then youll come?

Oh, yes, said the doctor grimly, Ill come. Shall I go into the mud after eels?

If you like, Ill lend you a pair of old trousers. I shall.

My dear fellow, I shall be attending you one of these days for paralysis brought on by cold; or spinal

Nancy, two big glasses of new milk, cried Sir James, for they had entered the dairy. I say, Jack, old fellow, I want to give you a little more of my natural history lecture, because it would be sure to help me on.

I feel, said the doctor, as if I had a soft collar round my neck, and was being led about by a chain. There, make the most of me while Im here, you dont catch me down again.

Dont I? said Sir James. Why, my dear Jack, Kitty and I have made up our minds to find you a wife.

Volume One Chapter Seven.
Sir James Catches Cold in the Back

And are there any fish in that muddy pond, Monnick? said Arthur Prayle that morning after breakfast.

Oh, sir, yes; you should see them sometimes; great fellows that come up after the bread you throw in. Are you coming to see it emptied?

Arthur Prayle looked at his glossy black garments, and then, bowing his head, gravely said, Yes, perhaps I shall be there, and he raised his book and went on down the garden.

His perhaps proved a certainty, for when the party started from the house to go across the fields he walked sedately between Aunt Sophia and Naomi, talking softly all the time till they reached the place.

It was a large pond. How large? Well, about as big as ponds generally are; and it was pretty deep. There were mysterious places beneath the overhanging willows, whose roots hung in the water, where the hooked fish rushed and entangled the lines. There was that awkward spot where the old posts, and wood, and willow poles lay with their ends in the mud, where Sir James caught the great eel that twined himself in and out, and the stout silkworm gut line parted like tinder. There was a deep hole, too, by the penstock, and various linking places where, in the silence of the night, you could hear wallowings and splashings, and now and then a loud suck or smack of the lips as a fish took something from the top of the water.

On inspection half-a-dozen brawny brown-armed men were found picking and throwing out the earth, and graving a trench in a way that would have made a military engineer long for a few hundred of such fellows to form his earthworks. Deep down they delved till they had cut and laid bare certain pipes in a huge dyke, every foot of which was suggestive of the mysteries of the pond that required so vast a trench to drain off its waters. There was a good deal of speculation rife about that pond, inasmuch as one that was drained by Sir James a couple of years before proved to hold nothing but thousands of great fat newts that swarmed over the mud like alligators in a Florida lagoon. It was said that after all perhaps a carp or two and an eel would be all that were found, but, even as the speculative remarks were made, a shoal of small roach flecked the surface, and it was certain that the result could not be nil.

It boots not to tell of the way those men worked, as full of interest in the job as any one else, it is enough to say that the pond head was reached at last, the new drain ready, and over the pipe a piece of wire-work placed to stay any fish from passing down; and at last the water was allowed to flow till the pond was a couple of feet lower, the roots of the bank vegetation and the willows bare, and dozens of slimy holes visible, such as would be affected by eels, water-voles, and other lovers of such snuggeries in the banks.

Ragged pieces of wood stood out at all angles from the mud and water, the penstock rose up like a model in old oak of Tyburn Tree, kept for the execution of rats; and the great wooden pump, with its platform in the corner where the water-barrels were tilled, trailed its leaden pipe down into the depths like a monstrous antediluvian eel.

Not so much as a splash to tell that there was anything within the waters rushing away in a flood, down through the alders in an old marl pit hard by. More hours went on and there were no signs of fish. Mud and to spare, and the banks looking slimy and strange. Tangles of wood that had lain at the bottom for years began to show as lower sank the water, revealing pots, old boots, hurdles, and rusty iron, but still no fish of size. Then there was a shout of triumph from one of the men at the sight of a billhook some six feet from the bank, one that had been dropped in years before, when the overhanging willows were being lopped, and there was no Mercury at hand to bring it up transformed to silver or gold. The keen-edged implement was recovered, hardly the worse for its immersion, and, as far as its owner was concerned, the game of draining the pond was worth the candle. But still no fish, and, save in the holes, the water was now only a foot deep. There were indications though, for the simple running of the water off would not have made the remainder so thick, and as some bubbles were seen to rise, one man declared that it was a girt eel at work. Another six inches lower, and here and there a dark line could be seen, cutting the muddy water, ploughing as it were along, while behind there came a wavy eddy, and it was evident that these dark lines were the back fins of fish swimming in the shallow pool.

They are getting sick, said John Monnick with a grim smile.

Certainly if swimming at the top of the water indicated sickness, a number of large fish were very sick indeed, while now that the fact was patent of there being plenty of finny creatures there, the excitement began to grow. The remaining water grew more thick, and here and there the surface was dimpled and splashed by little dark spots where shoals of small fish hurried to and fro. Then as the water grew lower still, there was a cessation of movement, the fish seemed all to have disappeared, and they might have passed down the drain for all there was to see.

Rather a boyish pursuit, said Prayle, who found himself close by the doctor.

Thoroughly, replied Scales; puts one in mind of old school days. Never enjoyed myself so much in my life.

Prayle smiled and turned to Naomi.

That fellows ancestors must have been eels, growled the doctor to himself. Great Darwin! I declare myself converted.

Interested in it, Mr Prayle? said Naomi, opening her large soft eyes. Oh, yes, I like to see anything that pleases my cousin.

Ah! sighed Prayle, it seems a strange pursuit.

My cousin is so fond of the water, said Naomi gently.

He seems fond of the mud, muttered Prayle. Good heavens! how can a man be such a boor?

All this while Lady Scarlett was smiling on everybody, and taking intense interest in her husbands pursuit, seeing that the men had lunch and as much beer as they liked which was a good deal but they were working tremendously and as eager as their lord.

And now preparations were made. Half-a-dozen large tubs were filled with clean water; a strong landing-net was placed at hand, with a couple of buckets, and two or three of the shallow wooden baskets, known as trucks, or so-called trugs. The next proceeding was for a man to descend into the slime at the head of the pond, and commence a trench, throwing out the mud right and left till he had reached the solid bottom, and thus going on ahead to form, as it were, a ditch through the centre of the hollow, a process which hastened the flow of water and soon set the latest doubt at rest. For before long there was a scuffling and splashing of small fish, roach leaped out, and small bream kept, displaying their silvery sides. Tiny pools formed all over the bottom of the pond, each occupied by its scores of fish, while, in the principal pool, the great carp could be seen sailing slowly and sedately here and there, all singly, save in one instance, where a monster fellow swam slowly in and out with one two-thirds his size close to his side a regular fishy Darby and Joan. Then lower sank the water, the small fish all splash and excitement, but the great carp as cool and calm as could be, retiring with the water to a pool that grew less and less until, in place of being single and in pairs, they were united into one great shoal that, if not like dogs, as John Monnick said, were certainly suggestive of the backs of so many little pigs swimming quietly to and fro. Lower still the water, and the excitement increasing.

What a great carp! cried the doctor. Look at his back fin.

No; it is an eel! cried Sir James; and an eel it was, slowly gliding along through what was rapidly becoming liquid mud; and in few minutes another and another, and then once more another could be seen, huge fellows nearly a yard long, and very thick and fat, going about with their long back fins above the surface, as they moved in serpentine wavy progression, seeking for some place of refuge, and then suddenly disappearing by giving themselves a wriggle and twist, and working themselves down into the mud.

There goes Prayles relation. I wish hed follow, said the doctor to himself.

Well, Jack, what do you think of it all? cried Sir James, whose old tweed coat was bespattered with mud.

That I never saw a fellow less like a baronet and a member of Parliament in my life, replied Scales.

Ah! you should have seen me at the Cape, my boy, cooking for our party; and in the far west making a brush hut. You dont know what a number of facets a fellow can show. There, pull off your coat and come and help. Lets be boys while we can.

The doctor pulled off his coat and rolled up his sleeves, and then bowing apologetically to the ladies

For heavens sake, he said, if ever you meet any patients of mine, dont say you saw me bemired like this.

Humph! ejaculated Aunt Sophia, whose face was an enigma.

They would perhaps like you all the better for it, doctor, said Lady Scarlett smiling, and then turning serious as she noted the grave look on the face of her husbands friend.

She looked up directly after, and saw that Prayle was watching her, and he soon took a step forward as if about to come to her side, but she coloured slightly, and went to speak to the old gardener, whom she sent to the house upon some errand.

An excuse, said Prayle to himself: she invented that on the instant.

By this time the ditch through the middle was extending fast, the water pouring off, and the landing-net at work stopping fish like shoals of sprats from going towards the wire-protected drain, and these were scooped out, placed in buckets, and from thence carried to the tubs. The men worked furiously, evidently as delighted with the task as so many schoolboys, though extremely careful about getting in the mud. But time soon changed all that, for the water was now low enough for the great carp to be reached, and the smaller fry of roach and bream were left, for the present, while the men laid down planks upon the mud, and approached the hole beneath the willows, where it was known that the carp now lay. Take care! Dont hurt them! Scoop em out wi the trug. Order after order, as the wooden buckets were handled; one was plunged in, and shovelled out a great carp with a quarter of a pailful of liquid mud. No calm sedateness now. The monarchs of the pond had felt their latent majesty touched, and there was a tremendous splashing and plunging; the man who had scooped out the great fish was spattered with mud from head to foot; there was a plunge, and the carp was gone. The mud was forgotten now in the excitement, as fresh efforts were made, the carp were scooped out and held down by main force as they gave displays of their tremendous muscular power, and were passed up the side great golden fellows, thick, short, and fat, clothed in a scale armour that seemed to be composed of well-worn half-sovereigns, and panting and gaping with surprise as they were safely landed.

Shouts and laughter greeted each capture of the great fellows, only one of which was as small as two pounds weight, the others running from three to five, and exhibiting a power that was marvellous in creatures of their size. Sometimes a great fellow eluded capture again and again, gliding between the hands, leaping out of the basket, and making furious efforts to escape, but only to be caught once more, till the last was secured, and attention turned to the eels.

By this time the doctor had caught the infection from his friend, and he was as forgetful of the mud and as eager in the chase as Sir James and his men; and as the big landing-net was brought into use, and the great eels that glided over the mud like serpents were chased, they showed that they could travel tail first as fast as head first, and with the greatest ease. The landing-net was held before them, and efforts made to drive them in, but generally without result, or if they were driven in, it was only for them to glide out more quickly. Hands were useless, shovels impotent, and the chase grew exciting in the extreme, as the men plunged in their bare arms to the shoulder, and drew them from the mud again, looking; as if they had gone in, like Mrs Boffin, for fashion, and were wearing twenty-four button gloves of a gloomy hue. But lithe and strong as they were, the eels had to succumb, great two and three pound fellows, and were safely thrown out on the grass; the last of the small fish were secured, the whole of the water drained off, and nothing remained but three feet of thick mud. Nothing? Nothing but the eels that had dived in like worms. These were now attacked. The mud was stirred with poles or shovels till the lurking place of one was found, when, after a long tight, he would be secured, twisting, twining, and fighting for liberty; needing delicate handling too, for these monsters of the pond bite hard and sharp. Deep down in the mud some forced themselves, but many were dug out, and thrown or driven into places where they could be secured, and at last, wet, muddy, and weary, the owner cried Quantum suff., beer for the last time was handed round, and the empty pond was left in peace.

But there was fish for dinner that night, savoury spitchcocked eels, and regal carp with wine sauce, the latter being declared by every one present, from Aunt Sophia to Prayle, to be the poorest, muddiest, most insipid dish ever placed upon a table.

It was about nine that night that just before Lady Scarlett sent a message to the study, which was half full of smoke, and while Prayle had gone for a stroll to watch the stars, as he said, making Scales look a little glum as he left the room, that Sir James cried suddenly Jack, old man, Ill never brag again.

Why?

Ive got the most awful of pains in my back, and it seems to run right up my spine. What the dickens is it? Have you been giving me a dose?

No, said Scales grimly; that comes of emptying the pond.

Not going to be anything, is it?

Well, said the doctor, I dont know, but a cold will settle sometimes upon the nerves.

Oh! hang it, man, dont talk about ones nerves. Here, come along, I shall forget it. Lets go and have some tea.

Volume One Chapter Eight.
Jack Scales Meets His Fate

Thats what I like in the country, said Jack Scales to himself, as he thrust his hands into his pockets and strolled down one of the garden paths. Humph! Five oclock, and people snoring in bed, when they might be up and out enjoying this lovely air, the sweet dewy scent of the flowers, and the clear sunshine, and be inhaling health with every breath they draw. Bah! I cant understand how people can lie in bed in the country. There is reason in stopping in peaceful thought upon ones pillow in town till nine. Ah, gardener, nice morning.

Beautiful morning, sir, said John Monnick, touching his hat, and then going on with his task of carefully whetting a scythe, and sending a pleasant ringing sound out upon the sweet silence of the time.

Grass cuts well, eh? said the doctor.

Yes, sir; crisp, as if there was a white frost on.

Ah, lets try, said the doctor. I havent handled a scythe for a good many years now.

No, sir; I spose not, said Monnick, with a half-contemptuous smile. Mind you dont stick the pynte into the ground, sir, and dont ee cut too deep. I like to keep my lawns regular like.

Why dont you have a machine? said the doctor, taking the scythe, and sweeping it round with a slow measured swish that took off the grass and the dewy daisies to leave a velvet pile.

Machine, sir? Oh, theres two in the potting shed; but I dont want no machines, sir. Noo-fangled things, that breaks a mans back to push em along. You has to put yourself in a onnatral-like position to work em, and when youve done it, the grass dont look like as if it had been mowed. Well, you do sprise me, sir; I didnt know as you could mow.

Didnt you, Monnick? said the doctor, pausing to take the piece of carpet with which the old man wiped the blade, using it, and then reaching out his hand for the long gritty whetstone, with which he proceeded to sharpen the scythe in the most business-like way. Ah, you never know what a man can do till you try him. You see, Monnick, when I was a young fellow, I often used to cut the Rectory lawns at home.

Hes a clever one, muttered the old man, watching intently the rubber, as it was passed with quite a scientific touch up and down and from side to side of the long curved blade. Man who can mow like that must, be a good doctor. Ill ask him about my bago.

There, Im going for a walk. Im out of condition too, and mowing touches my back.

Do it now, sir? said the old man, smiling. Hah! thats where it lays hold o me in a rheumaticky sort o way, sir. You couldnt tell me whatd be good for it, sir, could you? Ive tried the iles, but it seems as if it was getting worse.

Oh, Ill give you something, Monnick, said the doctor, laughing; but, you know, theres a touch of old age in your complaint.

Eh, but Im afraid there is, sir; but thank you kindly, and youll forgive me making so bold as to ask.

Of course, of course. Come to me after breakfast. And look here, I want to get on the open heathy part, among the gorse and fir-trees. Which road had I better take?

Well, sir, if you dont mind the wet grass, youd best go acrost the meadows out into the lane, turn to the left past the church, take the first turning to the right, and go straight on.

Thanks; I shall find my way. Dont forget. I daresay I can set you right. And the doctor went off at a swinging pace, crossed the meadows, where the soft-eyed cows paused to look up at him, then leaped a gate, walked down the lane, had a look at the pretty old church, embowered in trees, and had nearly reached the open common-land, when the sharp cantering of a horse roused him from his pleasant morning reverie.

He looked round, to see that the cantering horse was ridden by a lady, whose long habit and natty felt hat set off what seemed in the distance to be a very graceful figure; while the oncoming group appeared to be advancing through an elongated telescopic frame of green leaves and drooping branches, splashed with gold and blue.

Heres one sensible woman, at all events. What a splendid horse! His glance was almost momentary. Then, feeling that he was staring rudely, he went on with his walk, continuing his way along the lane, and passing a gate that opened at once upon the furzy common-land.

Suddenly the horse was checked a short distance behind him, and an imperious voice called out: Here! hi! my man.

John Scales, M.D., felt amused. This is one of the haughty aristocrats we read about in books, he said to himself, as he turned and saw a handsome, imperious-looking woman of eight-and-twenty or so, beckoning to him with the handle of her whip.

The goddess Diana in a riding-habit by Poole, and superbly mounted, muttered the doctor as he stared wonderingly. He saw that the ladys hair was dark, her cheeks slightly flushed with exorcise; that there was a glint of very white teeth between two scarlet lips; that the figure was really what he had at the first glance imagined well formed and graceful, if slightly too matured; and his first idea was to take off his hat and stand uncovered in the presence of so much beauty; his second, as he saw the curl of the ladys upper lip, and her imperious glance, to thrust his hands lower in his pockets and return the haughty stare.

Here, my man, come and open this gate.

As she spoke. Scales saw her pass her whip into her bridle hand, draw off a tan-coloured gauntlet glove, and a white and jewelled set of taper fingers go towards the little pocket in her saddle.

Why, confound her impudence! she takes me for a yokel, and is going to give me a pint of beer, said the doctor to himself; and he stood as if turned into stone.

Do you hear! she cried again sharply, and in the tones of one accustomed to the greatest deference. Come and open this gate.





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