George Fenn.

The Rosery Folk





John Scales felt his dignity touched, for he too was accustomed to the greatest deference, such as a doctor generally receives. For a moment he felt disposed to turn upon his heel and walk away; but he did not, for he burst into a hearty laugh, and walked straight up to the speaker, the latter flushing crimson with anger at the insolence, as she mentally called it, of this stranger.

How dare you! she exclaimed. Open that gate; and she retook her whip with her ungloved hand to point onward, while her highly bred horse pawed the ground, and snorted and tossed its mane, as if indignant too.

How dare I, my dear? said the doctor coolly, as he mentally determined not to be set down.

Sir! exclaimed the lady with a flash of her dark eyes that made the recipient think afterwards that here was the style of woman who, in the good old times, would have handed him over to her serfs. Do you know whom you are addressing?

Not I, said the doctor; unless you are some very beautiful edition in animated nature of the huntress Diana.

Sir!

And if you were not such a handsome woman, I should leave you to open the gate yourself, or leap the hedge, which seems more in your way.

How dare you! she cried, utterly astounded at the speakers words.

How dare I? said the doctor, smiling. Oh, Id dare anything now, to see those eyes sparkle and those cheeks flush. There, he continued, unfastening the gate and throwing it back; the gates open. Au revoir.

The lady seemed petrified. Then, giving her horse a sharp cut, he bounded through on to the furzy heath, and went off over the rough ground like a swallow.

The doctor stood gazing after them, half expecting to see the lady turn her head; but she rode straight on till she passed out of sight, when he refastened the gate.

She might have given me the twopence for that pint of beer, he said mockingly. Why, she has! he cried, stooping and picking up a sixpence that lay upon the bare earth close to the gate-post. Well, come, Ill keep you, my little friend, and give you back. We may meet again some day.

It was a trifling incident, but it seemed to affect the doctor a good deal, for he walked on amidst the furze and heath, seeing no golden bloom and hearing no bird-song, but giving vent every now and then to some short angry ejaculation. For he was ruffled and annoyed. He hardly knew why, unless it was at having been treated with such contemptuous disdain.

And by a woman, too, he cried at last, stopping short, of all creatures in the world. Confound her impudence! I should just like to prescribe for her, upon my word.

Volume One Chapter Nine.
Aunt Sophia on Boats

The encounter completely spoiled the doctors walk, and he turned back sooner than he had intended, meeting Aunt Sophia and Naomi Raleigh in the garden, and accompanying them in to the breakfast-table, where the incident was forgotten in the discussion that ensued respecting returns to town.

Of these, Scarlett would hear nothing, for he had made his plans. He said they were to dine at five; and directly after, the boat would be ready, and they would pull up to the lock, and then float down home again by moonlight.

Well, said Scales, with a shrug of the shoulders, you are master here.

No, no, replied his host; yonder sits the master; and he pointed to his wife.

How many will the boat hold safely, dear? said Lady Scarlett.

Oh, a dozen, easily. Eighteen, if they would all sit still and not wink their eyes. We shant be above seven, so thats all right.

You need not expect me to go, said Aunt Sophia sharply. Im not going to risk my life in a boat.

Pooh! auntie; theres no risk, cried Scarlett. Youd better come.

No; I shall not! said the lady very decisively.

Why, auntie, how absurd! said Scarlett, passing his arm round her waist. Now, what is the very worst that could happen?

Why, that boat would be sure to upset, James, and then we should all be drowned.

Now, my dear old auntie, cried Scarlett, the boat is not at all likely to upset; in fact I dont think we could upset her; and if she were, it does not follow that we should be drowned.

Why, we should certainly be, boy, cried Aunt Sophia. Naomi, my dear, of course you have not thought of going?

Yes, aunt, dear; I should like to go very much, said Naomi.

Bless the child! Why?

The river is lovely, aunt, with the shadows of the trees falling upon it, and their branches reflected on its surface.

O yes; very poetical and pretty at your age, child, cried Aunt Sophia. You never see the mud at the bottom, or think that it is wet and covered with misty fog in winter. Well, I suppose you must go.

Really, Miss Raleigh, we will take the greatest care of her, said Prayle.

I really should like to take the greatest care of you, muttered the doctor.

Well, I suppose you must go, my dear, said Aunt Sophia.

Oh, thank you, aunt! cried the girl gleefully.

Now, look here, James, said Aunt Sophia; you will be very, very careful?

Of course, auntie.

And you wont be dancing about in the boat or playing any tricks?

No no no, said Scarlett, at intervals. I faithfully promise, though I do not know why.

You dont know why, James?

No, auntie. I never do play tricks in a boat. No one does but a madman, or a fool. Besides, I dont want to drown my little wifie.

Now, James, dont be absurd. Who ever thought you did?

No one, aunt, said Lady Scarlett. But you will go with us, will you not?

No, my dear; you know how I hate the water. It is not safe.

But James is so careful, aunt. Id go anywhere with him.

Of course you would, my child, said Aunt, Sophia shortly. A wife should trust in her husband thoroughly and well.

So should a maiden aunt in her nephew, said Scarlett, laughing. Come, auntie, you shant be drowned.

Now, James, my dear, dont try to persuade me, said the lady, pulling up her black lace mittens in a peculiar, nervous, twitchy way.

Ill undertake to do the best for you, if you are drowned, Miss Raleigh, said the doctor drily. Im pretty successful with such cases.

Doctor Scales! cried Aunt Sophia.

Fact, my dear madam. An old friend of mine did the Royal Humane Societys business for them at the building in Hyde Park; and one very severe winter when I helped him, we really brought back to life a good many whom you might have quite given up.

Doctor, you horrify me, cried Aunt Sophia. Naomi, my child, come away.

No, no: nonsense! cried Scarlett. Its only Jacks joking way, auntie.

Joke! cried the doctor; nonsense. The ice was unsafe; so of course the idiots insisted upon setting the police at defiance, and went on, to drown themselves as fast as they could.

How dreadful! said Prayle.

Very, for the poor doctors, said Scales grimly. I nearly rubbed my arms out of the sockets.

Kitty, dear, you stay with Aunt Sophia, then, said Scarlett. We wont be very long away.

Stop! cried Aunt Sophia sternly. Where is it you are going?

Up to the lock and weir, said Scarlett. You and Kitty can sit under the big medlar in the shade till we come back.

The lock and weir? cried Aunt Sophia sharply. Thats where the water comes running over through a lot of sticks, isnt it?

Yes, aunt, thats the place.

And youve seen it before?

Scores of times, dear.

Then why do you want to go now?

Because it will be a pleasant row.

Nonsense! said Aunt Sophia shortly, pulling those oars and making blisters on your hands. Well, you must have your own way, I suppose.

All right, aunt. You wont think it queer of us to desert you?

Oh, youre not going to desert me, James.

Kitty will stay with you.

No; she will not, said the old lady, Im not going to deprive her of her treat.

I shant mind, indeed, aunt, cried Lady Scarlett.

Yes you would; and you shall not be disappointed, for I shall go too.

You will, aunt? cried Scarlett.

Yes; if you promise to be very careful. And you are sure the boat is safe?

As safe as being on this lawn, my dear aunt. You trust to me. I am glad you are going.

Aunt Sophia looked at the frank manly face before her, saw the truth in the eager eyes, and her thin, yellow, careworn countenance relaxed into a smile.

Well, Im going, James, because I dont want to disappoint your little wife, she said to him in a low tone; but I dont see what pleasure it can give you to have a disagreeable old woman with you in the boat.

They had moved off a little way from the others now, Scarlett having kept his arm round the old ladys waist, evidently greatly to her gratification, though if it had been hinted at, she would have repudiated the fact with scorn.

Dont you, auntie? he said seriously. Well, Ill tell you. He paused, then, and seemed to be thinking.

Well? she said sharply; why is it? Now you are making up a flowery speech.

No, he said softly. I was thinking of how precious little a young fellow thinks of his mother till she has gone. Auntie, every now and then, when I look at you, there is a something that brings her back so much. Thats why I like to have you with me in this trip.

Aunt Sophia did not speak; but her hard sharp face softened more and more as she went into the house, to come out, ten minutes later, in one of the most far-spreading Tuscan straw-hats that ever covered the head of a maiden lady; and the marvel to her friends was that she should have been able to obtain so old-fashioned a production in these modern times.

Volume One Chapter Ten.
Up to the Weir

Thats the style. Hold her tight, Monnick. Now, auntie, you first. Steady; thats the way. You wont swamp her.

But it gives way so, James, my dear, said Aunt Sophia nervously.

There you are. Sit down at once. Never stand up in a boat. Is the cushion all right? Thats the way. Now, Naomi. Hand her in, Jack. Come along, Kitty.

Lady Scarlett gave her hand to her husband as soon as Naomi Raleigh was in, and stepped lightly from the gunwale to one thwart, and then took her place beside Aunt Sophia, Naomi being on the other.

Arthur, old fellow, youd better sit behind them and ship the rudder. Shorten the lines, and you can steer. Ready, Jack? he said as Prayle stepped into the boat and sat down on a thwart behind the ladies.

Oh! cried Aunt Sophia with a little scream; take him out; hes too heavy. Hell sink the boat.

Ha-ha-ha! laughed the doctor.

Its all right, auntie, I tell you, cried Scarlett, making the boat dance up and down as he stepped in, and, stripping off his flannel jacket, rolled up his sleeves over his arms.

The doctor stepped in and imitated his friend, both standing up, the muscular specimens of humanity, though wonderfully unlike in aspect.

Now, you told me it was dangerous to stand up in a boat, James, cried Aunt Sophia. Pray, pray, take care. And look, look the boat has broken loose! For the gardener had dropped the chain into the forepart, and it was drifting slowly with the stream.

All, so she has, cried Scarlett merrily; and if we dont stop her, shell take us right to London before we know where we are.

But do, pray, sit down, my dear.

All right, auntie, said Scarlett, dropping into his place, the doctor following suit.

Oh, oh! cried Aunt Sophia, catching tightly hold of her companions on each side; the boats going over.

No, no, aunt, dear, said Lady Scarlett; it is quite safe.

But why did it rock? cried the old lady tremulously. And look, look; there are only two of them there, and we are four at this end! We shall sink it, Im sure.

Now, auntie, its too bad of you to set up for a stout old lady, when you are as light as a cork, cried Scarlett, dropping his oar with a splash. Ready, Jack?

Ready, ay, ready, said the doctor, following suit; but his oar only swept the sedge.

Gently, said Scarlett; dont break the oar. Thats better; now you have it, he said, as the head of the gig turned more and more, the doctors oar took a good hold of the water; and in a few moments they were well out from the shore, the steady vigorous strokes sending them past the sloping lawn of the Rosery, which looked its best from the river.

There, aunt, see how steadily and well the boat goes, said Lady Scarlett.

Yes, my dear, but it doesnt seem at all safe.

Place looks pretty from the water, doesnt it, Arthur? shouted Scarlett.

Delightful. A most charming home charming, charming, said Prayle, lowering his voice with each word, till it was heard as in a whisper by those on the seat in front.

Dont feel afraid now, do you, auntie? cried Scarlett to Aunt Sophia.

N-not quite so much, my dear. But wont you make yourself very hot and tired?

Do him good, maam, said the doctor; and me too. Gently, old fellow, or youll pull her head round. Im not in your trim.

Scarlett laughed, and pulled a little less vigorously, so that they rode on and on between the lovely banks, passing villa after villa, with its boat-house, lawn, and trimly kept garden. Then came a patch of trees laving their drooping branches in the stream; then a sweep of wood, climbing higher and higher into the background on one hand; while on the other the hills receded, leaving a lawn-like stretch of meadow-land, rich in the summer wild-flowers, and whose river-edge was dense with flag and sedge and willow-herb of lilac pink. The marsh-marigold shone golden, and the water-plantains spread their candelabra here and there. Great patches of tansy displayed their beautifully cut foliage; while in sheltered pools, the yellow water-lilies sent up their leaves to float upon the calm surface, with here and there a round green hall in every grade of effort to escape from the tightening scales to form a golden chalice on the silvery stream.

By degrees the beauty of the scene lulled Aunt Sophias fears to rest, and she found sufficient faith in the safety of the boat to loosen her clutch upon the ladies on either side, to admire some rustic cottage, or the sweep of many-tinted verdure, drooping to the waters edge; while here and there, at a word from Scarlett, the rowers let the boat go forward by its own impetus, slowly and more slowly, against the stream, so that its occupants could gaze upon some lovely reach. Then as they sat in silence, watching the beauty spread around, the boat grew stationary, hung for a moment on the balance, and began drifting back, gliding with increasing pace, till the oars were clipped again.

The evening is so lovely, said Scarlett, breaking a long silence, that I think we might go through the lock.

Right, cried the doctor. I am just warming to my work.

I think it would be delightful, said Lady Scarlett.

Oh, yes, said Naomi. Those islands are so beautiful.

I dont think any part could be more beautiful than where we are, said Aunt Sophia, rather shortly.

Oh, yes, it is, aunt, dear, said Scarlett. There you trust to me.

Well, it seems I must, for we women are very helpless here.

Oh, you may trust us, aunt. We wont take you into any danger.

As they were speaking the boat was rowed round a sharp curve to where the river on each side was embowered in trees, and stretching apparently like a bridge from side to side was one of the many weirs that cross the stream; while from between its piles, in graceful curves a row of little waterfalls flowed down, each arc of water glistening golden and many-tinted in the evening sun.

There! cried Scarlett. Easy, Jack. What do you think of that, aunt, for a view?

Yes, said the old lady thoughtfully; it is very sweet.

A very poets dream, said Prayle softly, as he rested his elbow on the gunwale of the boat, his chin upon his hand.

It is one of my husbands favourite bits, said Lady Scarlett, smiling in the face of him she named. Look, Naomi; that is the fishing-cottage, there on the left.

I have not seen the weir for years twenty years, said Aunt Sophia thoughtfully; and then it was from the carriage, as we drove along the road.

Not half so good a view as this, said Scarlett. Now, then, well go through the lock, row up for a mile by the Dell woods, and then back.

But you will be tired, my dear, said Aunt Sophia, whom the beauty of the scene seemed to have softened; and her worn sharp face looked wistful and strange.

Tired? said Lady Scarlett, laughing. Oh, no, aunt; hes never tired.

Well, said Scarlett, with a bright look at his wife, Ill promise one thing when were tired, well turn back.

Yes, dear; but theres all the way to return.

Oh, the river takes us back itself, aunt, said Lady Scarlett merrily. Row up; and then float back.

Ah, well, my dears, I am in your hands, said Aunt Sophia softly; but dont take me into danger, please.

All right, auntie Theres one of the prettiest bits, he added, pointing to where the trees on the right bank opened, showing a view of the hills beyond. Now, Jack, pull.

Ten minutes sharp rowing brought them up to the stout piles that guarded the entrance to the lock, whose slimy doors were open; and as they approached, they could see the further pair, with the water hissing and spirting through in tiny streams, making a strange echo from the perpendicular stone walls that rose up a dozen feet on either side.

Lock, lock, lock, lock! shouted Scarlett in his mellow tones, as the boat glided in between the walls, and Aunt Sophia turned pale.

They shut us up here, dont they, James, and then let the water in?

Till we are on a level with the river above, and then open the other pair, said Scarlett quietly. Dont be alarmed.

But I am, my dear, said the old lady earnestly. My nerves are not what they were.

Of course not, said the doctor kindly. I wouldnt go through, old fellow, he continued to Scarlett. Lets paddle about below the weir.

To be sure, said Scarlett, as he saw his aunts alarm. I brought you out to enjoy yourselves. Here hi! he cried, standing up in the boat, and making Aunt Sophia lean forward, as if to catch him and save him from going overboard. All right, auntie. Hi! catch! he cried to the lock-keeper, throwing him a shilling. We wont go through.

The man did not make an effort to catch the money, but stooped in a heavy dreamy manner to pick it up, staring stolidly at the occupants of the boat.

Aunt Sophia uttered a sigh of relief, one that seemed to be echoed from behind her, where Arthur Prayle was seated, looking of a sallow sickly grey, but with his colour rapidly coming back as they reached the open space below the weir, where the water at once seemed to seize the boat and to sweep it downwards, but only to be checked and rowed upwards again towards the weir.

There, auntie, look over the side, cried Scarlett. Can you see the stones?

Yes, my dear, said Aunt Sophia, who was evidently mastering a good deal of trepidation. Is it all shallow like this?

Oh, no. Up yonder, towards the piles, there are plenty of holes fifteen and twenty feet deep, scoured out by the falling water when it comes over in a flood. See how clear and bright it is.

Aunt Sophia sat up rigidly; but her two companions leaned over on each side to look down through the limpid rushing stream at the stones and gravel, over which shot away in fear, shoal after shoal of silvery dace, with here and there some bigger, darker fish that had been lying head to stream, patiently waiting for whatever good might come.

Yes, my dears, it is very beautiful, said Aunt Sophia. But you are going very near the falling water, James. It will be tumbling in the boat.

Oh, well take care of that, auntie, said Scarlett merrily. Trust to your boatman, maam, and he will take you safe. What say, Arthur?

I say, are there any large fish here?

Large fish, my boy? Wait a moment. Pull, Jack. They rowed close up to a clump of piles, driven in to save the bank from the constant washing of the stream. Now, look down, old fellow, continued Scarlett, close in by the piles. Its getting too late to see them well. It ought to be when the sun is high. Well, what can you see?

A number of dark shadowy forms close to bottom, said Prayle.

Ay, shoals of them. Big barbel, some as long as your arm, my lad ten and twelve pounders. Come down some day and well have a good try for them.

Dont go too near, dear, cried Aunt Sophia.

All right, auntie. Here, Jack, take the boat-hook, and hold on a moment while I get out the cigars and matches. Ladies, may we smoke? Our work is done.

A bad habit, James, said Aunt Sophia, shaking her head at him.

But he has so few bad habits, aunt, said Lady Scarlett, smiling.

And you encourage him in those, my dear, said Aunt Sophia. There sir, go on.

Wont you have a cigar, Arthur?

Thank you; no, said Prayle, with a grave smile. I never smoke.

Good young man! said the doctor to himself as he lit up.

Man after your own heart, aunt, said Scarlett merrily, as he resumed his oar; and for the next half-hour they rowed about over the swiftly running water, now dyed with many a hue, the reflections from the gorgeous clouds that hovered over the ruddy sinking sun. The dancing wavelets flashed and sparkled with orange and gold: the shadows grew more intense, beneath the trees; while in one portion of the weir, where a pile or two had rotted away, the water ran down in one smooth soft curve, like so much molten metal poured from some mighty furnace into the hissing, boiling stream below.





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