Clara Vaughan. Volume 1 of 3
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As regarded myself, this comparative poverty was not of very great moment, except as impairing my means of search; but for my mother's sake I was cut to the heart, and lost in perplexity. She had so long been accustomed to much attention and many luxuries, which her weak health had made indispensable to her. Thomas Henwood and poor Ann Maples insisted on following our fortunes, at one third of their previous wages. My mother thought it beyond our means to keep them even so; but for her sake I resolved to try. I need not say that I carried all my relics, difficult as it was to hide them from my mother.
When we reached our new home, late in the evening of the second day, a full sense of our privation for the first time broke upon us. It was mid-winter, and in the gloom of a foggy night, and after the weariness of a long journey, our impressions were truly dismal. Jolted endlessly up and down by ruts a foot deep and slaty stones the size of coal-scuttles, entombed alive betwixt grisly hedges which met above us like the wings of night, then obliged to walk up treadmill hills while the rickety fly crawled up behind; then again plunging and lurching down some corkscrew steep to the perpetual wood and rushing stream at the bottom; at length and at last along a lane so narrow that it scraped us on both sides as we passed, a lane which zig-zagged every thirty yards with a tree-bole jutting at every corner, at length and at last we came to the farmyard gate. It was not far from the lonely village of Trentisoe, which lies some six miles to the west of Lynmouth. This part is little known to London tourists, though it possesses scenery of a rarer kind than Lynmouth itself can show.
Passing through an outer court, with a saw-pit on one side and what they call a "linhay" on the other, and where a slop of straw and "muck" quelched under the wheels, we came next to the farmyard proper, and so (as the flyman expressed it) "home to ouze." The "ouze" was a low straggling cottage, jag-thatched, and heavy-eaved, and reminded me strongly of ragged wet horse-cloths on a rack. The farmer was not come home from Ilfracombe market, but his wife, Mrs. Honor Huxtable, soon appeared in the porch, with a bucket in one hand and a candle stuck in a turnip in the other. In the cross-lights, we saw a stout short woman, brisk and comely, with an amazing cap, and cheeks like the apples which they call in Devonshire "hoary mornings."
"A massy on us, Zuke," she called into the house, "if here bain't the genelvolks coom, and us be arl of a muck! Hum, cheel, hum for thee laife to the calves' ouze, and toorn out both the pegs, and take the pick to the strah, and gie un a veed o' wets."
Having thus provided for our horse, she advanced to us.
"So, ye be coom at last! I be crule glad to zee e, zure enough. Baint e starved amost! An unkid place it be for the laikes of you."
So saying, she hurried us into the house, and set us before a wood-fire all glowing upon the ground, beneath an enormous chimney podded with great pots and crocks hung on things like saws.These pots, like Devonshire hospitality, were always boiling and chirping. The kitchen was low, and floored with lime and sand, which was worn into pits such as boys use for marbles; but the great feature was the ceiling. This was divided by deep rafters into four compartments lengthwise. Across some of these, battens of wood were nailed, forming a series of racks, wherein reposed at least a stye-ful of bacon. Herbs and stores of many kinds, and ropes of onions dangled between.
Mrs. Huxtable went to the dresser, and got a large dish, and then turned round to have a good look at us.
"Poor leddy," she said gently, "I sim her's turble weist and low. But look e zee, there be a plenty of bakken yanner, and us'll cut a peg's drort to-morrow, and Varmer Badcock 'll zend we a ship, by rason ourn be all a'lambing." Then she turned to me.
"Whai, Miss, you looks crule unkid tu. Do e love zider?"
"No, Mrs. Huxtable. Not very much. I would rather have water."
"Oh drat that wash, e shan't have none of thiccy. Us has got a brown gearge of beer, and more nor a dizzen pans of mulk and crame."
Her chattering warmth soon put us at our ease; and as soon as the parlour fire burnt up, she showed us with many apologies, and "hopping no offence" the room which was thenceforth to be ours.
After tea, I put my dear mother to bed as soon as possible, and sat by the dying fire to muse upon our prospects. Not the strangeness of the place, the new ideas around me, not even my weariness after railroad, coach, and chaise, could keep my mind from its one subject. In fact, its colour had now become its form.
To others indeed, all hope of ever detecting and bringing to justice the man, for whose death I lived, might seem to grow fainter and fainter. Expelled from that place, and banished from those recollections, where, and by which alone, I could well expect ever to wind up my clue, robbed of all means of moving indifferent persons and retaining strong ones; and, more than this, engrossed (as I must henceforth be) in keeping debt at bay, and shielding my mother from care-what prospect was there, nay what possibility, that I a weak unaided girl, led only by set will and fatalism, should ever overtake and grasp a man of craft, and power, and desperation?
It mattered not: let other things be doubtful, unlikely, or impossible; let the hands of men be clenched against me, and the ears of heaven be stopped; let the earth be spread with thick darkness, as the waters are spread with earth, and the murderer set Sahara between us, or turn hermit on the Andes; happen what would, so God were still above us, and the world beneath our feet-I was as sure that I should send that man from the one to the throne of the other, as he was sure to be dragged away thence, to fire, and chains, and gnashing of teeth.
So impulsive, kind-hearted, and honest was Mrs. Huxtable, that we could always tell what was the next thing she was going to say or do. Even at her meals she contrived to be in a bustle, except on Sundays; but she got through a great deal of work. On Sundays she put on, with her best gown, an air of calm dignity which made her unhappy until it was off, which it was directly after the evening service. She seemed a very sensible woman, and whatever the merits of the case she sided always with the weakest. The next morning we asked how it was she appeared not to expect us, as I had written and posted the letter myself on the previous Saturday.
"For sure now," she replied, "and the papper scrawl coom'd on Monday; but us bain't girt scholards, and Varmer said most like 'twas the Queen's taxes, for there was her head upon it; so us put un in the big mortar till Beany Dawe should come over, or us should go to church next Zunday, and passon would discoorse it for us. But" – and off she ran-"But her belongs to you now, Miss Clerer, seeing as how you've coom after un."
So they had only a general idea that we were coming, and knew not when it would be. The following day, Thomas Henwood arrived, bringing our boxes in a vehicle called a "butt," which is a short and rudely made cart, used chiefly for carrying lime.
After unpacking our few embellishments, we set up a clumsy but comfortable sofa for my mother, and tried to divert her sadness a little by many a shift and device to garnish our narrow realm. We removed the horrible print of "Death and the Lady," which was hung above the chimneypiece, and sundry daubs of our Lord and the Apostles, and a woman of Samaria with a French parasol, and Eli falling from a turnpike gate over the Great Western steamer. But these alterations were not made without some wistful glances from poor Mrs. Huxtable. At last, when I began to nail up a simple sketch of the church at Vaughan St. Mary instead of a noble representation of the Prodigal Son, wearing a white hat with a pipe stuck under the riband, and weeping into a handkerchief with some horse upon it, the good dame could no longer repress her feelings.
"Whai, Miss Clerer, Miss, dear art alaive, cheel, what be 'bout? Them's the smartest picters anywhere this saide of Coorn. Varmer gied a pan of hogs' puddens for they, and a Chainey taypot and a Zunday pair of corderahoys. Why them'll shaine with the zun on 'um, laike a vield of poppies and charlock. But thic smarl pokey papper of yourn ha'ant no more colour nor the track of a marly scrarly. A massy on us if I couldn't walk a better picter than thic, with my pattens on in the zider squash."
To argue with such a connoisseur would have been worse than useless; so I pacified her by hanging the rejected gems in her own little summer room by the dairy. Our parlour began before long to look neat and even comfortable. Of course the furniture was rough, but I care not much for upholstery, and am quite rude of French polish. My only fear was lest the damp from the lime-ash floor should strike to my dear mother's feet, through the scanty drugget which covered it. The fire-place was bright and quaint, lined with old Dutch tiles, and the grey-washed walls were less offensive to the eye than would have been a paper chosen by good Mrs. Huxtable. The pretty lattice window, budding even now with woodbine, and impudent to the winds with myrtle, would have made amends for the meanest room in England. Before it lay a simple garden with sparry walks and bright-thatched hives, and down a dingle rich with trees and a crystal stream, it caught a glimpse of the Bristol Channel.
When our things were nearly settled, and I was sitting by myself, with dirty hands and covered with dust, there came a little timid tap at the door, followed by a shuffling outside, as if some one contemplated flight, yet feared to fly. Opening the door, I was surprised to find the child whom I expected a massive figure, some six feet and a quarter high, and I know not how many feet in width, but wide enough to fill the entire passage. He made a doubtful step in advance, till his great open-hearted face hung sheepishly above my head.
"Have I the pleasure of seeing Mr. Huxtable?" I asked.
"Ees 'um," he stammered, blushing like a beet-root, "leastways Miss, I ort to zay, no plasure 'um to the laikes of thee, but a honour to ai. Varmer Uxtable they karls me round about these 'ere parts, and some on 'em Varmer Jan, and Beany Dawe, he karl me 'Varmer Brak-plew-harnish, as tosses arl they Garnish,' and a dale he think of his potry as it please God to give 'un: but Maister, may be, is the riglar thing, leastways you knows best, Miss." "Danged if I can coom to discourse with girt folks nohow, no more nor a sto-un." This was an "aside," but audible a long way off, as they always are on the stage.
"But I am a very small folk, Mr. Huxtable, compared at least with you."
"I humbly ax your parding, Miss, but ai didn't goo for to be zuch a beg, nockety, sprarling zort of a chap. I didn't goo for to do it nohow. Reckon 'twar my moother's valt, her were always draining of hayricks." This also was an "aside."
"Come in," I said, "I am very glad to see you, and so will my mother be."
"Noo! Be e now? Be e though undade, my dear?" he asked with the truest and finest smile I ever saw: and I felt ashamed in front of the strong simplicity which took my conventional words for heart's truth.
"Them's the best words," he continued "as ai 've 'eered this many a dai; for ai'll be danged if ever a loi could coom from unner such eyes as yourn."
And thereupon he took my puny weak hand in his rough iron palm, like an almond in the nut-crackers, and examined it with pitying wonder.
"Wull, wull! some hands be made for mulking coos, and some be made of the crame itself. Now there couldn't be such a purty thing as this ere, unless it wor to snow war'rm. But her bain't no kaind of gude for rarstling? and ai be aveared thee'll have to rarstle a rare bout wi the world, my dearie: one down, tother coom on, that be the wai of 'un."
"Oh, I am not afraid, Mr. Huxtable."
He took some time to meditate upon this, and shook his head when he had finished.
"Noo, thee bain't aveard yet I'll warr'ne. Gude art alaive, if e bain't a spurrity maid. But if ere a chap zays the black word on e-and thiccy's the taime when a maid can't help herzell, then ony you karl Jan Uxtable that's arl my dear, and if so be it's in the dead hoor of the naight, and thee beest to tother zaide of Hexymoor, ai'll be by the zaide of thee zooner nor ai could thraw a vorehip."
Before I could thank him for his honest championship my mother entered the room, and all his bashfulness (lost for the moment in the pride of strength) came over him again like an extinguisher. Although he did not tremble-his nerves were too firm for that-he stood fumbling with his hat, and reddening, and looking vaguely about, at a loss where to put his eyes or anything else.
My mother, quite worn out with her morning's walk, surprised at her uncouth visitor, and frightened perhaps at his bulk, sank on our new-fangled sofa, in a stupor of weakness. Then it was strange and fine to see the strong man's sense of her feeble state. All his embarrassment vanished at once; he saw there was something to do; and a look of deep interest quickened his great blue eyes. Poising his heavy frame with the lightness of a bird, he stepped to her side as if the floor had been holy, and, scarcely touching her, contrived to arrange the rude cushions, and to lay her delicate head in an easy position, as a nurse composes a child. All the while, his looks and manner expressed so much feeling and gentleness, that he must have known what it was to lose a daughter or mother.
"Poor dear leddy," he whispered to me, "her be used to zummut more plum nor thiccy, I reckon. Her zimth crule weist and low laike. Hath her been long in that there wai?"
"Yes, she has long been weak and poorly; but I fear that her health has been growing worse for the last few months." I couldn't help crying a little; and I couldn't help his seeing it.
"Dang thee, Jan Uxtable, for a doilish girt zinny. Now doon e tak on so, Miss; doon e, that's a dear. Avore her's been here a wake, her'll be as peart as a gladdy. There bain't in arl they furren parts no place the laike of this ere to make a body ston upraight. The braze cooms off o Hexymoor as frash as a young coolt, and up from the zay as swate as the breath of a coo on the clover, and he'll zit on your chake the zame as a dove on her nestie; and ye'll be so hearty the both on ye, that ye'll karl for taties and heggs and crame and inyons avore e be hout of bed. Ee's fai ye wull." With this homely comfort he departed, after a cheering glance at my mother.
Before I proceed, the Homeric epithet "Break-plough-harness," applied by the poet to Mr. Huxtable, needs some explanation. It appears that the farmer, in some convivial hour (for at other times he detested vaunting), had laid a wager that he and Timothy Badcock, his farm-labourer, would plough half an acre of land, "wiout no beastessy in the falde." Now, it happened that the Parracombe blacksmith had lately been at Barnstaple, and there had seen a man who had heard of ploughing by steam. So when the farmer's undertaking got noised abroad and magnified, all Exmoor assembled to witness the exploit, wondering, trembling, and wrathful. Benches and tables were set in the "higher Barton," a nice piece of mealy land, just at the back of the house, while Suke and Mrs. Huxtable plied the cider-barrel for the yeomen of the neighbourhood. The farmer himself was not visible-no plough or ploughing tackle of any description appeared, and a rumour began to spread that the whole affair was a hoax, and the contriver afraid to show himself. But as people began to talk of "sending for the constable" (who, of course was there all the time), and as cart-whips and knob-sticks began to vibrate ominously, Mrs. Huxtable made a signal to Mr. Dawe, who led off the grumbling throng to the further end of the field, where an old rick-cloth lay along against the hedge. While the tilting was moved aside, the bold sons of Exmoor shrunk back, expecting some horrible monster, whose smoke was already puffing. All they saw was a one-horse plough with the farmer, in full harness, sitting upon it and smoking his pipe, and Timothy Badcock patiently standing at the plough-tail. Amid a loud hurrah from his friends, Mr. Huxtable leaped to the fore, and cast his pipe over the hedge; then settled the breast-band across the wrestling-pads on his chest, and drew tight both the chain-traces. "Gee wugg now, if e wull," cried stout Tim Badcock cheerily, and off sailed the good ship of husbandly, cleaving a deep bright furrow. But when they reached the corner, the farmer turned too sharply, and snapped the off-side trace. That accident impressed the multitude with a deeper sense of his prowess than even the striking success which attended his primitive method of speeding the plough.
To return to my mother. As spring came on, and the beautiful country around us freshened and took green life from the balmy air, I even ventured to hope that the good yeoman's words would be true. He had become, by this time, a great friend of ours, doing his utmost that we might not feel the loss of our faithful Thomas Henwood.
Poor Thomas had been very loth to depart; but I found, as we got settled, that my mother ceased to want him, and it would have been wrong as well as foolish to keep him any longer. He invested his savings in a public-house at Gloucester, which he called the "Vaughan Arms," and soon afterwards married Jane Hiatt, a daughter of our head game-keeper; or I ought to say, Mr. Vaughan's.
Ann Maples remained with us still. We lived, as may be supposed, in the most retired manner. My time was chiefly occupied in attendance upon dear mother, and in attempts to create for her some of those countless comforts, whose value we know not until they are lost. After breakfast, my mother would read for an hour her favourite parts of Scripture, and vainly endeavour to lead me into the paths of peace. Her soul discarded more and more the travel garb and wayfaring troubles of this lower existence, as, day by day, it won a nearer view of the golden gate, and the glories beyond; with which I have seen her eyes suffused, like the lucid heaven with sunrise. It has been said, and I believe, that there is nothing, in all our material world, so lovely as a fair woman looking on high for the angels she knows to be waiting for her.
Even I, though looking in an opposite direction, and for an opposite being, could not but admire that gentle meekness, whose absence formed the main fault of my character. Not that I was hard-hearted, or cross, (unless self-love deceives me), but restless yearning and hatred were ever at work within me; and these repel things of a milder nature, as a bullet cries tush to the zephyr.
One cold day in March, when winter had come to say "good-bye" with a roar, after wheeling the sofa with my mother upon it towards the parlour fire, I went out to refresh my spirit in the kitchen with Mrs. Huxtable, and to "yat myself" (for the sofa took all the parlour fire) by the fragrant hearth of wood and furze. The farmer's wife was "larning" me some strange words of her native dialect, which I was now desirous to "discoorse," and which she declared to be "the only vitty talk. Arl the lave of thiccy stoof, zame as the Carnishers and the Zummersets and the Lunnoners tulls up, arl thiccy's no more nor a passel of gibbersh, Miss Clerer, and not vitty atarl; noo, nor English nother. Instead of zaying 'ai' laike a Kirsten, zome on em zays 'oi,' and zome on em 'I.'" In the middle of her lecture, and just as I had learned that to "quilty" is the proper English for to "swallow," and that the passage down which we quilty is, correctly speaking, not the throat, but the "ezelpipe," a strange-looking individual darkened the "draxtool" (corruptly called the threshold) and crossed the "planch," or floor, to the fireplace where we sat.
Turning round, I beheld a man about fifty years old, of moderate stature, gauntly bodied, and loosely built, and utterly reckless of his attire. His face was long and thin, the profile keenly aquiline; and the angles made yet sharper, by a continual twitching and tension of the muscles. The skin of his cheeks was drawn, from his solemn brows to his lipless and down-curved mouth, tight and hollow, like the bladder on a jam-pot. His eyes, of a very pale blue, seemed always to stand on tip-toe, and never to know what he was going to say. A long, straight, melancholy chin, grisly with patches of hair, was meant by nature to keep his mouth shut, and came back sullenly when it failed. Over his shoulders was flung a patched potato-sack, fastened in front with a wooden skewer, and his nether clothes were as ragged as poetry. In his air and manner, self-satisfaction strove hard with solemn reserve. Upon the whole he reminded me of an owl who has lost his heart to a bantam hen. I cannot express him justly; but those who have seen may recognise Beany Dawe, the sawyer, acknowledged the bard of the north of Devon.
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