Richard Blackmore.

Clara Vaughan. Volume 1 of 3



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But something must be done at once. Waste is wickedness; how could we stave it off? Everything would depend upon the weather. At present all was beautifully fresh, thanks to the skilful packing and the frost, albeit the mighty package had made the round of all the Albert Streets in London. Mrs. Shelfer would have looked at it for a month, and at intervals exclaimed, "Bless me, my good friend, that beats Charley's pockets. How they must eat in Devonshire!"

"Come, Mrs. Shelfer, what good are you at housekeeping? You don't help me at all. Let us put most of it out of doors at once. You have no cellar, and I suppose they have none in London. At least we can give it the chance of the open air, and it is not snowing now."

"Oh, but the cats, Miss!"

"Well, I must find some plan for them before we go to bed. Now come and help, that's a good little creature, and I'll give you some elder wine when we have done."

So we got all that was taintable into the little yard, while Tom, who never stole, except when quite sure of impunity, looked on very sagely. There we fixed it all up to the wall secure, except from cats, of whom a roving band serenaded me every night. I presented Mrs. Shelfer at once with a turkey-a specimen of natural history not found by the roadside, even on Mr. Shelfer's Sabbath journey-also a ham, and three rolls of butter. As to the rest, I would think what to do with it afterwards.

Mrs. Shelfer kept off the cats until midnight, after which I held them at bay by the following means. With one of my mineral paints mingled with some phosphorus, I drew upon a black board a ferocious terrier, the size of life, with fangs unsheathed, bristles erect, and eyes starting out of his head. We tried the effect in the dark on poor Tom, who arched his back, and sputtered with the strongest execration, then turned and fled ignobly, amid roars of laughter from Mr. Shelfer, who by this time was come home. This one-headed Cerberus being hung so as to oscillate in the wind, right across the cat-leap, I felt quite safe, so long as my chemical mixture should continue luminous.

CHAPTER XV

Dear little Sally's letter gave me the greatest delight. It was all in round hand, and had taken at least a week to write, and she must have washed her hands almost every time. There were no stops in it, but I have put some. The spelling was wonderfully good for her, but here and there I have shaped it to the present fashion.

"Please Miss Clara dear, father and mother and I begs their most respectable duty and love and they hopes no offence and will you be so kind as to have this here little hamper and wishes it was ten times as much but hopes you will excuse it and please to eat it all yourself Miss. All the pegmate be our own doctrine, and very wholesome, and we have took all the hair off, please Miss, because you said one time you didn't like it. Likely you'll remember, Miss, the young black sow as twisted her tail to the left, her as Tim was ringing the day as I wrote first copy, and the other chillers ran out, well most of it be she, Miss.

Father say as he don't think they ever see butter in London town, but Beany Dawe says yes for they makes a plenty out of red herrings and train oil.

Please Miss, Tabby Badcock would go on the ice in the old saw-pit last Sunday, by the upper linhay when I told her it would not bear, and so her fell through and would have been drownded at last, only our little Jack crawled over the postesses and give her his heel to hold on by, and please Miss it would have done your heart good, mother says, to see how Tim Badcock dressed her when he come home from church for getting her best frock all of a muck.

Please Miss, Beany Dawe come when you was gone, and made a poem about you, and father like it so much he give him free of the cider and as he was going home he fell into a bit of a ditch down Breakneck hill, and when he come to himself the road had taken to run the wrong way Beany don't know how for the life of him, so he come back here 'nolus wolus' he saith and that be the way to spell it and no mistake, and here he have been ever since a-making of poems and sawing up hellums out of the lower cleeve, and he sleepth in the onion loft and Suke can't have no rest of nights for the noise he makes making verses. Mother tell Suke to pote him down stairs and too good for him, but father say no, he be a fine chap for sure and airneth his meat and drink, let alone all the poetry.

Please Miss he wanted to larn me to write, but father say no I had got better learning than hisn, and I say he may learn Tabby Badcock if he will, but he shan't learn me. No tino."

How she tossed her pretty curls when she wrote this I'll be bound. I wished that I could see her.

"Please Miss I be forced to write this when he be away, or he'd a made it all in poetry; and Tim Badcock tell me to be sure to tell you as how at the wrastling to Barnstaple fair, week after you was gone, father was so crule unkid that in playing off the ties he heaved a Cornisher up through the chandelier, and a come down with a candle stuck so fast down his throat doctor was forced to set it a-fire and blow with a pair of bellises afore he could put him to rights. Cornisher be all right again now, Tim saith, but he have a made up his mind not to wrastle no more in Devonshire.

Please Miss, father saith before this here goes he'll shoot the old hare as sits in the top of the cleeve if Queen Victoria transports him for it with hard labour. Tim have made four pops at her, but he say the powder were crooked.

Please Miss Clara, all the eggs as my little black hen have laid, since the last of the barley was housed, is to be sewed up inside the Turkey with the black comb; he be strutting about in the court and looking at me now as peart as a gladdy; but her have not laid more than a dozen to now, though I have been up and whistled to her in the tall at every morning and evening same as we used to do when you was in good spirits. But the other hens has not laid none at all.

Please Miss, father say as how he have sold such a many beasties, he be afeared to keep all the money in the house, and he have told mother to sew up the rent for next Ladyday in the turkey with the white comb when he be killed and he humbly hope no offence.

Please Miss Clara, us has had three letters from you, and I reads them all to father and mother every Sunday evening, and Joe the Queen's boy don't know but what he lost another one in leathering the jackass across the brook after the rain. Joe tells as he can't say for certain, because why he baint no scholar the same as us be, and Joe only knows the letters by the pins they sticks in his sleeve afore he leaves Martinhoe. Whoever 'twas for he thinks there was crockery in it by reason it sunk so quick. Anyhow mother give him a little tap with a mop on the side of his head, to make him mind the Queen's business, and didn't he holler a bit, and he flung down the parson's letters all in the muck, but us washed them in a bucket and let parson have them on Sunday. Joe Queen's boy haven't been nigh us since, and they did say to Martinhoe us shouldn't have no more letters, but father say if he don't he will show the man there what a forehip mean pretty smart.

Please Miss Clara, us would have written afore, but mother say no, not till I finish twelve copybooks one every week, that the folks to London town might see the way as they ought to write and spell. Father say London be in Gloucestershire, but I am most sure it baint, and Beany Dawe shake his head and won't tell, and mother believe he don't know.

Please Miss, there be a new babby come a month agone and better, and mother find out as how it be a girl, and please if you have no objection Miss, and if you don't think as it would be a liberty, us has all made up our minds upon having it christened Clara, and please to say Miss if it be too high, or any way unfitty. Father be 'most afeared that it sound too grand for the like of us, but mother says as the Huxtables was thought brave things on, to Coom and Parracombe a hundred years agone.

Please Miss, father heard to Coom market last week, as there's going to be a French invasion, and they be sure to go to London first, and he beg you to let him know as soon as ever there be one, and he come up at once with the big ash-stick and the ivy on it as growed in Challacombe wood, and see as they doesn't hurt you, Miss.

Please Miss, the young chap as saved you from the great goyal come here to ask for you, day after you was gone, and mother believes he baint after no good, by token he would not come in nor drink a drop of cider.

Please Miss, father say it make his heart ache every night, to think of you all to yourself in the wicked London town, and he go down the lane to the white gate every evening in the hope to see you acoming, and mother say if you be a selling red and blue picturs her hope you will send for they as father gave the hog's puddens for, and us wont miss them at all.

And Miss Clara dear, I expect you'll be mazed to see how I writes and spells, father say it must be in the family, and I won't write no more till I have finished another dozen of copy books; and oh dear how I do wish that you were come back again, but father say to me to say no more about it for fear to make you cry, Miss. All the little childers except the new babby who have not seen you yet, sends their hearts' loves and duty and a hundred kisses, and father and mother the same, and Timothy Badcock, and Tabby, and Suke, and Beany Dawe, now he knows it.

I remain, Miss Clara dear, your thankful and loving scholar to command,

SARAH HUXTABLE.

Signed all this here papper scrawl in the settle by the fire.

JOHN HUXTABLE his mark X

HONOR HUXTABLE hern X."

CHAPTER XVI

I was much grieved at the loss of my last letter to Tossil's Barton, because it contained my little Christmas presents for all the family. It was registered for security, but I suppose they "took no count" of that where the delivery of letters depended so much upon luck. Of their Christmas present to me I resolved to give the surplus to those who would be the better for it, and not (according to the usual law of such things) to those who did not want it, and would make return with interest. So on the Christmas morning Mrs. Shelfer and myself, each carrying a large basket, went to the mews round the corner, and distributed among the poor lodgers there, more Christmas dinners than had ever entered those doors before; and how grateful the poor things were, only they all wanted the best.

Now the school of design was closed for a while, and I worked hard for several days at the landscape for Mr. Oxgall, though the store of provisions sent me and the rent enclosed in the turkey had saved me from present necessity.

On the day of all days in the year the saddest and darkest to me, I could not keep to my task, but went for a change of thoughts to the school, now open again.

It was the 30th of December, 1850, and, though I crouch not to the mumming of prigs scolloped out at the throat, who block out with a patchwork screen the simple hearth of religion, and kneel at an ashbin to warm themselves; though I don't care a herring for small anniversaries dotted all over the calendar, and made by some Murphy of old; yet I reverence deeply the true feasts of Church and Chapel, the refreshings of faith and charity, whereupon we forgive and are sorry for those who work hard to mar them. Neither does it seem to me-so far as my timid and wavering judgment extends-to be superstition or vanity, if we dare to set mark by those dates in our own little span which God has scarred on our memory.

In the long dark room so bare and comfortless, and, to-day, so lonely and cold, I got my usual books and studies, and tried, all in vain, to fix my attention on them. Finding the effort so fruitless, I packed up my things in the little black bag and rose to depart. Turning round, I saw on the table, where students' works were exhibited, a small object newly placed there. It was a statuette in white marble of a magnificent red deer, such as I had seen once or twice in the north of Devon. The listening attitude, the turn of the neck, the light poise of the massive head, even the mild, yet spirited eye, and the quivering sensitive lip, I could answer for them all, they were done to the very life. Truth, power, and elegance triumphed in every vein of it. For a minute I stood overcome with wonder. If this were the work of a youthful sculptor, England might hope at last for something beyond the grotesque.

Before me rose at once all the woodland scenery, the hill-side garbed with every shade of green, the brambled quarry standing forth, the trees, the winding vales embosoming the light, the haze that hovers above the watersmeet, bold crests of amaranth heath behind, and far away the russet wold of Exmoor. The stag in the foreground of my landscape, I feel so grateful to him for this expanse of vision that I stoop down and kiss him, while no one can see me. As I bend, the gordit drops from its warm home in my breast. By some impulse undefined I lift the ribbon from my neck, and hang the little fairy's heart on the antlers of the Devonshire deer. Out springs from behind a chest full of casts and models-what model can compare with her? – the loveliest of all lovely beings, my little Isola Ross.

I hide the tears in my eyes, and try to look cold and reserved. What use is it? One smile of hers would have disarmed Belial.

"It isn't my fault, dear. It isn't indeed. Oh, please give me that cordetto. No don't. That is why I loved you so at first sight. And here is all my money dear. I have carried it about ever since, though I sewed up the purse not to spend it, and only once cut it open. They made me promise, and I would not eat for three days, and I tried to be sulky with Pappy because he did not care; they made me promise with all my honour not to go and see you, and Cora came about with me so that I had no chance of breaking it. And I would not tell them where you lived, dear; but I led old Cora a dance through your street on the side you live, till she began to suspect. But I could never see you, though I looked in at all the windows till I was quite ashamed, and the people kissed their hands to me."

Poor little dear! I lived upstairs, and could not have seen her without standing out on the balcony, which was about the size of a chess-board. If she had not been so simple as to walk on my side of the street, she must have seen me ere long, for I sat all day near the window to draw, when I was not away at my school.

I forgave her most graciously for having done me no wrong, and kissed her with all my heart. Her breath was as sweet as violets in Spring clover, and her lips warm and soft as a wren's nest. On receiving my forgiveness, away she went dancing down the long room, with her cloak thrown off, and her hair tossing all out of braid, and her exquisite buoyant figure floating as if on a cloud. Of course there was no one there, or even impulsive Isola would hardly have taken her frolic; and yet I am not sure. She never thought harm of any one, and never imagined that any one could think harm of her.

After a dozen flits of some rapid elegant dance quite unknown to me (who have never had much of dancing), but which I supposed to be Scotch, back she came out of breath, and kissed me ever so many times, and kissed my gordit too, and told me never to part with it. One thing she was sure of, that her Papa could not resist me now, and when he was told of it I should come to their house the next day. And she knew I was dreadfully proud, but would I, for her sake, forgive her Pappy? Of course, he knew nothing about me, and she had never told him my name, though she could not help telling my story, at least all she knew of it; but he was so dreadfully jealous of her, he did not want any one to have a touch of her glove but himself.

Looking at her pure sweet face, I could well believe it; but how could he bear to see that dear little thing go three days without food? Most likely she had exaggerated. Although she was truthful as light, sometimes her quick fancy and warmth, like the sunshine itself, would bring out some points too strongly. However, I was prepared, without that, to dislike the Professor, for, as a general rule, I don't like men who moralise; at least if their philosophy is frigid. Nevertheless, I promised very readily to forgive her Papa, for I did so love that Isola. Her nature was so different to mine, so light and airy, elastic and soft; in short (if I must forsake my language), the complement of my own. We chatted, or rather she did, for at least half an hour; and then she told me old Cora was coming to fetch her at three o'clock. Once more I rose to depart, for I feared she might get into trouble, if the old nurse should find her so intimate with a stranger.

But Isola told me that she did not care for her a bit, and she had quite set her heart on my meeting her brother Conrad, the sculptor of that magnificent stag. Perhaps he would come with Cora, but he was so altered now, she could never tell what he would do. Since the time she first saw me, Conrad had come of age, and she could not guess what it was all about, but there had been a dreadful disturbance between him and his father, and he had actually gone to live away from the family. She thought it must be about money, or some such nasty thing; but even Cora did not know, or if she did, the old thing would not tell. It had made poor Isola cry till her eyes were sore, but now she supposed she must make up her mind to it all. But she would tell the truth, she did hate being treated like a baby when she was a full-grown woman; how much taller did they expect her to be? And what was much worse, she did want so to comfort them both, and how could she do it without knowing what was the matter? It was too bad, and she wished she was a boy, with all her heart she did.

She went on talking like this till her gentle breast fluttered, and her coral lips quivered, and the tears stole down her long lashes, and she crept to me closer for comfort.

I was clasping her round little waist, and kissing the bright drops away, when in burst a dark, scraggy woman, who must, of course, be old Cora. She tore the poor child from my arms, and scowled at me fiercely enough to frighten a girl unacquainted with real terrors.

I met her dark gaze with a calm contempt, beneath which it quailed and fell. She mumbled some words in a language or patois, which I supposed to be Gaelic, and led off her charge towards the door.

She had mistaken her adversary. Was I to be pushed aside, like a gingerbread woman tempting a weak-stomached child? I passed them; then turned and confronted the hag.

"Have the goodness, old woman, to walk behind this young lady and me. When we want your society, we will ask for it. Isola Ross, come with me, unless you prefer a rude menial's tyranny to a lady's affection."

Isola was too frightened to speak. I know not what would have been the result, if the old hag, who was glaring about, rather taken aback, but still clutching that delicate arm, had not suddenly spied my fairy's heart, as yet unrestored to its sanctuary.

She stared, for a moment, in wide amazement; then her whole demeanour was altered. She cringed, and fawned, and curtseyed, as if I had worn a tiara. She dropped my dear Isola's arm, and fell behind like a negress. My poor little pet was trembling and cold with fright, for (as she told me afterwards) she had never seen old Cora in such a passion before, and the superstitious darling dreaded the evil eye.

As we went towards Isola's home, I could not help thinking how fine the interview would be between Mrs. Shelfer and Cora, if I only chose to carry that vanquished beldame thither; but sage discretion (was I not now eighteen?), and the thought of that solemn day prevented me. So I took them straight home, leading Isola while she guided me, and turning sometimes, with complacency, to encourage old Cora behind us.

The house they lived in was a high but narrow one, dull-looking and dark, with area rails in front. Some little maiden came to the door, and I took my leave on the steps. Dear Isola, now in high spirits again, kissed me, like a peach quite warm in the sun, and promised to come the next day, about which there could now be no difficulty.

Old Cora bent low as she wished me good evening and begged leave to kiss my cordetto. This I granted, but took good care not to let it pass out of my hands; she admired it so much, especially when allowed to examine it, and there was such a greedy light in her eyes, that I was quite sure she would steal it upon the first chance; and therefore I went straightway and bought a guard of thick silk cord, as a substitute for the black riband, which was getting worn.

And so I came home before dark, full of wonder, but feeling rather triumphant, and greatly delighted at having recovered dear Isola.

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