Bred in the Bone
by James Payn
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


A Novel.




NEW YORK: 1872.



Had you lived in Breakneckshire twenty years ago, or even any where in the Midlands, it would be superfluous to tell you of Carew of Crompton. Every body thereabout was acquainted with him either personally or by hearsay. You must almost certainly have known somebody who had had an adventure with that eccentric personage—one who had been ridden down by him, for that mighty hunter never turned to the right hand nor to the left for any man, nor paid attention to any rule of road; or one who, more fortunate, had been "cleared" by him on his famous black horse Trebizond, an animal only second to his master in the popular esteem. There are as many highly colored pictures of his performance of this flying feat in existence as there are of "Dick Turpin clearing the Turnpikegate." Sometimes it is a small tradesman cowering down in his cart among the calves, while the gallant Squire hurtles over him with a "Stoop your head, butcher." Sometimes it is a wagoner, reminding one of Commodore Trunnion's involuntary deed of "derring-do," who, between two high banks, perceives with marked astonishment this portent flying over himself and convoy. But, at all events, the thing was done; perhaps on more than one occasion, and was allowed on all hands not only as a fact, but as characteristic of their sporting idol. It was "Carew all over," or "Just like Carew."

This phrase was also applied to many other heroic actions. The idea of "keel-hauling," for instance, adapted from the nautical code, was said to be practically enforced in the case of duns, attorneys, and other objectionable persons, in the lake at Crompton; while the administration of pommelings to poachers and agriculturists generally, by the athletic Squire, was the theme of every tongue. These punishments, though severe, were much sought after by a certain class, the same to which the purchased free and independent voter belongs, for the clenched fist invariably became an open hand after it had done its work—a golden ointment, that is, was always applied after these inflictions, such as healed all wounds.

Carew of Crompton might at one time have been member for the county, if he had pleased; but he desired no seat except in the saddle, or on the driving-box. He showed such skill in riding, and with "the ribbons," that some persons supposed that his talents must be very considerable in other matters, and affected to regret their misuse; there were reports that he knew Latin better than his own chaplain; and was, or had been, so diligent a student of Holy Writ, that he could give you chapter and verse for every thing. But it must be allowed that others were not wanting to whisper that these traits of scholarship were greatly exaggerated, and that all the wonder lay in the fact that the Squire knew any thing of such matters at all; nay, a few even ventured to express their opinion that, but for his recklessness and his money, there was nothing more remarkable in Carew than in other spendthrifts; but this idea was never mooted within twenty miles of Crompton. The real truth is, that the time was unsuitable to the display of the Squire's particular traits. He would have been an eminent personage had he been a Norman, and lived in the reign of King John. Even now, if he could have removed his establishment to Poland, and assumed the character of a Russian proprietor, he would doubtless have been a great prince. There was a savage magnificence about him, and also certain degrading traits, which suggested the Hetman Platoff. Unfortunately, he was a Squire in the Midlands. The contrast, however, of his splendid vagaries with the quiet time and industrious locality in which he lived, while it diminished his influence, did, on the other hand, no doubt enhance his reputation. He was looked upon (as Waterford and Mytton used to be) as a lusus naturae, an eccentric, an altogether exceptional personage, to whom license was permitted; and the charitable divided the human race, for his sake, into Men, Women, and Carew.

The same philosophic few, however, who denied him talent, averred that he was half mad; and indeed Fortune had so lavishly showered her favors on him from his birth, that it might well be that they had turned his head. His father had died while Carew was but an infant, so that the surplus income from his vast estates had accumulated to an enormous sum when he attained his majority. In the mean time, his doting mother had supplied him with funds out of all proportion to his tender years. At ten years old, he had a pack of harriers of his own, and hunted the county regularly twice a week. At the public school, where he was with difficulty persuaded to remain for a short period, he had an allowance the amount of which would have sufficed for the needs of a professional man with a wife and family, and yet it is recorded of him that he had the audacity—"the boy is father to the man," and it was "so like Carew," they said—to complain to his guardian, a great lawyer, that his means were insufficient. He also demanded a lump sum down, on the ground that (being at the ripe age of fourteen) he contemplated marriage. The reply of the legal dignitary is preserved, as well as the young gentleman's application: "If you can't live upon your allowance, you may starve, Sir; and if you marry, you shall not have your allowance."

You had only—having authority to do so—to advise Carew, and he was positively certain to go counter to your opinion; and did you attempt to oppose him in any purpose, you would infallibly insure its accomplishment. He did not marry at fourteen, indeed, but he did so clandestinely in less than three years afterward, and had issue; but at the age of five-and-thirty, when our stage opens, he had neither wife nor child, but lived as a bachelor at Crompton, which was sometimes called "the open house," by reason of its profuse hospitalities; and sometimes "Liberty Hall," on account of its license; otherwise it was never, called any thing but Crompton; never Crompton Hall, or Crompton Park—but simply Crompton, just like Stowe or Blenheim. And yet the park at Crompton was as splendid an appanage of glade and avenue, of copse and dell, as could be desired. It was all laid out upon a certain plan—somewhere in the old house was the very parchment on which the chase was ordered like a garden; a dozen drives here radiated from one another like the spokes of a wheel, and here four mighty avenues made a St. Andrew's cross in the very centre—but the area was so immense, and the stature of the trees so great, that nothing of this formality could be observed in the park itself. Not only were the oaks and beeches of large, and often of giant proportions, but the very ferns grew so tall that whole herds of fallow deer were hidden in it, and could only be traced by their sounds. There were red deer also, almost as numerous, with branching antlers, curiously mossed, as though they had acquired that vegetation by rubbing, as they often did, against the high wooden pale—itself made picturesque by age—which hedged them in their sylvan prison for miles. Moreover, there were wild-cattle, as at Chartley (though not of the same breed), the repute of whose fierceness kept the few public paths that intersected this wild domain very unfrequented. These animals, imported half a century ago, were of no use nor of particular beauty, and would have dwindled away, from the unfitness of the locality for their support, but that they were recruited periodically, and at a vast expense. It was enough to cause their present owner to strain every nerve to retain them, because they were so universally objected to. They had gored one man to death, and occasionally maimed others, but, as Carew, to do him justice, was by no means afraid of them himself, and ran the same risk, and far oftener than other people, he held he had a right to retain them. Nobody was obliged to come into his park unless they liked, he said, and if they did, they must "chance a tossing." The same detractors, whose opinion we have already quoted, affirmed that the Squire kept these cattle for the very reason that was urged against their existence; the fear of these horned police kept the park free from strangers, and thereby saved him half a dozen keepers.

That his determination in the matter was pig-headed and brutal, there is no doubt; but the Squire's nature was far from exclusive, and the idea of saving in any thing, it is certain, never entered into his head. The time, indeed, was slowly but surely coming when the park should know no more not only its wild-cattle, but many a rich copse and shadowy glade. Not a stately oak nor far-spreading beech but was doomed, sooner or later, to be cut down, to prop for a moment the falling fortunes of their spendthrift owner; but at the time of which we speak there was no visible sign of the coming ruin. It is recorded of a brother prodigal, that after enormous losses and expenses, his steward informed him that if he would but consent to live upon seven thousand a year for the next ten years, the estate would recover itself. "Sir," returned he in anger, "I would rather die than live on seven thousand a year." Our Carew would have given the same reply had twice that income been suggested to him, and been applauded for the gallant answer. The hint of any necessity for curtailment would probably have caused him to double his expenditure forthwith, though, indeed, that would have been difficult to effect. He had already two packs of hounds, with which he hunted on alternate days, and he had even endeavored to do so on the Sunday; but the obsequious "county" had declined to go with him to that extent, and this anomaly of the nineteenth century had been compelled to confine himself on the seventh day to cock-fighting in the library. He kept a bear to bait (as well as a chaplain to bully), and ferrets ran loose about Crompton as mice do in other houses. He had a hunter for every week in the year, yet he often rode his horses to death. He had a stud of racers, and it was this, or rather his belief in their powers, which eventually drained his vast resources. Not one of them ever won a great race. This was not their fault, nor that of their trainer, but his own; he interfered in their management, and would have things his own way; he would command every thing, except success, which was beyond his power, and in missing that he lost all. Otherwise, he was lucky as a mere gambler. His audacity, and the funds he always had at his disposal, carried him triumphantly, where many a more prudent but less wealthy player withdrew from the contest. Games of skill had no attraction for him, but at an earlier date in his career he had been a terror to the club-keepers in St. James's, where his luck and obstinacy had broken a dozen banks. It was said—and very likely with truth—that he had once cut double or quits for ten thousand pounds.

His moral character, as respected the softer sex, was such as you might expect from these traits. No modest woman had been seen at Crompton for many a year; although not a few such—if at least good birth and high position include modesty—had, since his majority, striven to give a lawful mistress to the place. His eccentricities had not alarmed them, and his shamelessness had not abashed them. Though his constitution was said to be breaking up through unparalleled excesses, his heart, it was currently reported in domestic circles, was sound: and what a noble feat would it be to reclaim him! It was also reckoned impossible that any amount of extravagance could have seriously embarrassed such a property as he had inherited, indeed long since, but of which he had had the sole control only a few years. At the time of which we speak Carew was but thirty-five, though he looked much older. His muscles were still firm, his limbs yet active, and his hand and eye as steady with the gun or bridle as ever. But his bronzed face showed signs of habitual intemperance; his head was growing prematurely bald; and once or twice, though the fact was known to himself only, his iron nerve had of late failed him. The secret consciousness of this last fact made him more venturesome and reckless than ever. "Time," he swore, "should never play him tricks. He was as good a man as ever he was. There was a quarter of a million, more or less, to be got through yet, and, by Jove, he would see it out!" Of course he did not swear by Jove; for, as we have said, he kept a chaplain, and was therefore no heathen.

One of the arguments that the mothers of those young ladies who sought his hand were wont to make use of, to their great comfort, was that Mr. Carew was a churchman. There was a private chapel at Crompton, the existence of which, of course, explained why his presence did not grace the parish church. Then his genealogy was of the most satisfactory description. Carews had dwelt at Crompton in direct succession for many a century. Charles I., it is almost unnecessary to state, had slept there—that most locomotive of monarchs seems to have honored all old English mansions with a night's visit—and had hunted in the chase next morning. Queen Elizabeth had also been most graciously pleased to visit her subject, John Carew, on which occasion a wooden tower had been erected for her in the park, from which to see "ten buckes, all having fayre lawe, pulled down with grey-houndes;" she shot deer, too, with her own virgin hands, for which purpose "a cross-bowe was delivered to her by a nymph with a sweet song." These things, however, were in no way commemorated. Carew was all in all: his devouring egotism swallowed up historical association. His favorite female bull-dog, with her pups, slept in the royal martyr's apartment. The places in Crompton Chase held remarkable were those where its present owner had made an unprecedentedly long shot, or had beaten off one of the wild cattle without a weapon, or had run down a stag on foot. There was no relic of ancient times preserved whatever, except that at midsummer, as in Lyme, that very curious custom was kept of driving the red deer round the park, and then swimming them through the lake before the house—a very difficult feat, by-the-by, to any save those who have been accustomed to "drive deer." One peculiar virtue of Carew—he was addressed, by-the-way, by all his inferiors, and some of his equals, as "Squire" only—was, we had almost forgotten to say, his regard for truth, which may truly be said to have been "passionate," if we consider the effect produced in him when he discovered that any one had told him a falsehood. He would fall upon them tooth and nail, if they were menials; and if guests, he would forbid them his house. This was surely one excellent trait. Yet it was maintained by those carpers already alluded to, that to tell truth was comparatively easy in one who was as careless of all opinion as he was independent in means; moreover, that a love of truth is sometimes found to exist in very bad company, as in the case of the Spartan boy who stole the fox, and if the veracious Squire did not steal foxes (which he did, by-the-by, indirectly, for a bagged one was his delight), he was guilty of much worse things. However, this is certain, that Carew of Crompton never told a lie.



We have said that Carew was not exclusive; so long as he had his own way in every thing he was good-tempered, and so very good-natured that he permitted not only his friends but his dependents to do pretty much as they would. He was a tyrant only by fits and starts, and in the mean time there was anarchy at Crompton. Every soul in the place, from the young lords, its master's guests, down to the earth-stopper's assistant, who came for his quantum of ale to the back-door, did pretty much as seemed right in his own eyes. There were times when every thing had to be done in a moment under the master's eye, no matter at what loss, or even risk to limb or life; but usually there was no particular time for any thing—except dinner. The guests arose in the morning, or lay in bed all day, exactly as they pleased, and had their meals in public or in their own rooms; but when the great dinner-gong sounded for the second time it was expected that every man should be ready for the feast, and wearing (with the single exception of the chaplain) a red coat. The dinner-parties at Crompton—and there was a party of the most heterogeneous description daily—were literally, therefore, very gay affairs; the banquet was sumptuous, and the great cellars were laid under heavy contribution. Only, if a guest did happen to be unpunctual, from whatever cause, even if it were illness, the host would send for his bear, or his half-dozen bull-dogs, and proceed to the sick man's room, with the avowed intention (and he always kept his word) of "drawing the badger." In spite of his four-legged auxiliaries, this was not always an easy task. His recklessness, though not often, did sometimes meet with its match in that of the badger; and in one chamber door at Crompton we have ourselves seen a couple of bullet-holes, which showed that assault on one side had met with battery upon the other. With such rough manners as Carew had, it may seem strange that he was never called to account for them at twelve paces; but, in the first place, it was thoroughly understood that he would have "gone out" (a fact which has doubtless given pause to many a challenge), and would have shot as straight as though he were partridge-shooting; and secondly, as we have said, he had a special license for practical jokes; the subjects of them, too, were not men of delicate susceptibilities, for none such, by any accident, could have been his guests. In consideration of good fare, good wine, a good mount in the hunting-field, excellent shooting, and of a loan from the host whenever they were without funds, men even of good position were found to "put up" very good-naturedly with the eccentricities of the master of Crompton, and he had his house full half the year. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that his servants were found willing to compound for some occasional ill usage, in return for general laxity of rule, and many unconsidered trifles in the way of perquisites. His huntsmen and whips got now and then a severe beating; his grooms found it very inconvenient when "Squire" took it into his mad head to sally forth on horseback across country by moonlight; and still worse, when he would have the whole stud out, and set every servant in his employ, not excepting his fat French cook, in the saddle, to see how they would comport themselves under the unaccustomed excitement of a steeple-chase. But upon the whole, the retainers at Crompton had an easy berth of it, and seldom voluntarily took their discharge.

Perhaps the best situations, as being less liable to the per contras in the shape of the master's passionate outbursts, were those of the park-keepers, of whom old Walter Grange was one. He was a bachelor, as almost all of them were. It was not good for any one with wife or daughter (if these were young, at least) to take service with Carew at all; and living in a pleasant cottage, far too large for him, in the very heart of the chase, Grange thought it no harm to take a lodger. The same old woman who cooked his victuals and kept his rooms tidy would do the same office for another who was not very particular in his food, and could rough it a little in other respects; and such a one had Walter lately found in the person of a young landscape-painter, Richard Yorke. This gentleman was a stranger to Crompton and its neighborhood; but having (as he said) happened to see a certain guarded advertisement in the Times headed, "To Artists and Others," that lodgings in the midst of forest scenery could be procured for what seemed next to nothing, he had come down from London in the autumn on the chance, and found them suitable.

To poet or painter's eye, indeed, the lodge was charming; it was small, of course, but very picturesquely built, and afforded the new tenant a bow-windowed sitting-room, with an outlook such as few dwellings in England, and probably none elsewhere, could offer. In the fore-ground was an open lawn, on which scores of fine-plumaged pheasants strutted briskly, and myriads of rabbits came forth at eve to play and nibble—bordered by crops of fern, above which moved statelily the antlered deer. A sentry oak or two of mighty girth guarded this open space; but on both sides vast glades shut in the prospect with a wall of checkered light and shadow that deepened into sylvan gloom. But right in front the expanding view seemed without limit, and exhibited all varieties of forest scenery; coppices with "Autumn's fiery finger" on their tender leaves; still, shining pools, where water-fowl bred and dwelt; broad pathways, across which the fallow deer could bound at leisure; or one would leap in haste, and half a hundred follow in groundless panic. The wealth of animal life in that green solitude, where the voice of man was hardly ever heard, was prodigious; the rarest birds were common there; even those who had their habitations by the sea were sometimes lured to this as silent spot, and skimmed above its undulating dells as o'er the billow. The eagle and the osprey had been caught there; and, indeed, a specimen of each was caged in a sort of aviary, which Grange had had constructed at the back of the lodge; while Yorke's sitting-room was literally stuffed full of these strange feathered visitants, which had fallen victims to the keeper's gun. The horse-hair sofa had a noble cover of deer-skin; the foot-stool and the fire-rug were made of furs, or skins that would have fetched their price elsewhere, and been held rare, although once worn by British beast or "varmint." The walls were stuck with antlers, and the very handle of the bell-rope was the fore-foot of a stag. Each of these had its story; and nothing pleased the old man better than to have a listener to his long-winded tales of how and where and when the thing was slain. All persons whose lives are passed in the open air, and in comparative solitude, seem in this respect to be descendants of Dame Quickly; their wearisome digressions and unnecessary preciseness as to date and place try the patience of all other kinds of men, and this was the chief cross which Grange's lodger had to bear as an offset to the excellence of his quarters. It must be confessed that he did not bear it meekly. To stop old Walter in mid-talk—without an open quarrel—was an absolute impossibility; but his young companion would turn the stream of his discourse, without much ceremony, from the records of slaughter into another channel (almost as natural to it)—the characteristics and peculiarities of his master Carew. Of this subject, notwithstanding that that other made him fret and fume so, Yorke never seemed to tire.

"I should like to know your master," he had said, half musingly, after listening to one of these strange recitals, soon after his arrival; to which Grange had answered, laughing: "Well, Squire's a very easy one to know. He picks up friends by every road-side, without much troubling himself as to who they are, I promise you."

The young man's face grew dark with anger; but the idea of self-respect, far less of pride, was necessarily strange to a servant of Carew's. So Grange went on, unconscious of offense: "Now, if you were a young woman," he chuckled, "and as good-looking as you are as a lad, there would be none more welcome than yourself up at the big house. Pretty gals, bless ye, need no introduction yonder; and yet one would have thought that Squire would know better than to meddle with the mischievous hussies—he took his lesson early enough, at all events. Why, he married before he was your age, and not half so much of a man to look at, neither. You have heard talk of that, I dare say, however, in London?"

Richard Yorke, as the keeper had hinted, was a very handsome lad—brown-cheeked, blue eyed, and with rich clustering hair as black as a sloe; but at this moment he did not look prepossessing. He frowned and flashed a furious glance upon the speaker; but old Grange, who had an eye like a hawk, for the objects that a hawk desires, was as blind as a mole to any evidence of human emotion short of a punch on the head, and went on unheeding:

"Well, I thought you must ha' heard o' that too. We folk down here heard o' nothing else for all that year. She got hold o' Squire, this ere woman did, though he was but a school-boy, and she old enough to be his mother, bless ye, and was married to him. And they kep' it secret for six months; and that's what bangs me most about it all. For Carew, he can keep nothing secret—nothing: he blurts all out; and that's why he seems so much worse than he is to some people. Oh, she must have been a deep one, she must!"

"You never saw her, then?" asked Yorke, carelessly shading his eyes, as though from the westering sun, which Midas-like, was turning every thing it touched in that broad landscape into gold.

"Oh yes, I see her; she was here with Squire near half a year. Mrs. Carew—the old lady, I mean—was at Crompton then; and the young one—though she was no chicken neither—she tried to get her turned out; but she wasn't clever enough, clever as she was, for that job. Carew loved his mother, as indeed he ought, for she had never denied him any thing since he was born; and so, in that pitched battle between the women, he took his mother's side. And in the end the old lady took his, and with a vengeance. I do think that if it had not been for her, young madam would have held on—Why, what's the matter, young gentleman? That was an oath fit for the mouth of Squire hisself."

"It's this cursed toothache," exclaimed Yorke, passionately. "It has worried me so ever since you began to speak that I should have gone mad if I had not let out at it a bit. Never mind me; I'm better now."

"Well, that's like the Squire again," returned the keeper, admiringly. "He seems allus to find hisself better for letting out at things, and at people too, for the matter of that. To hear him sometimes, one would almost think the ground must open; not that he means any harm, but it's a way he's got; but it does frighten them as is not used to him, surely. I mind that day when he first took the fox-hounds out, and Mr. Howard the sheriff as was that year—he's dead and gone long since, and his grandson is sheriff now again, which is cur'ous—well, he happened to ride a bit too forward with the dogs, and our young master—Oh dear, dear," and the old man began to chuckle like a hen that has laid two eggs at a time, "how he did swear at the old man!"

"You were talking about Mrs. Carew the elder," observed the artist, coolly.

"Was I? True, so I was. Well, she and the young Squire was for all the world like a deer with her fawn—all tenderness and timidity, so long as he was let alone; but when this 'ere woman came, as she considered his enemy, she was as bold as a red stag—nay, as one of our wild-cattle. It was through her, I say, that the bride got the sack at last; and when that was done the old lady seemed to have done her work, and was content enough when her son portioned her off, and persuaded her to live at the dower-house at Morden; and indeed she could hardly have staid at Crompton, with such goings on as there are now—feastings and fightings and flirtings—"

"Just so," interrupted the young painter; "she got her way, I know. But with respect to the younger lady, Mrs. Charles Carew, what was she like, and what did people say of her?"

"Well, not much good, I reckon. What could they say of a school-mistress who marries her pupil?"

"A school-mistress, was she?" said Yorke, in a strange husky voice. "We never heard that in London."

"Well, she was summut of that sort, Sir, though I don't know exactly what. Young as he was, Carew was not quite child enough to be at a dame's school, that's true. But she was not a mere servant-girl, as some said, any way, for she could play and sing—ay, songs that pleased him too—and she had book-learning, I've heard, such as would have astonished you; so that some folks said she was a witch, and had the devil's help to catch Carew. But a woman don't want magic, bless you, to come over a lad of seventeen—not she. What nonsense people talk! If any pretty girl about Crompton was to take a fancy to you now, as is like enough, do you suppose—"

"But I thought you said that Mrs. Charles Carew was not a girl?"

"Nor more she was: she was five-and-thirty if she was a day; and yet—there was the wonder of it—she did not look much over twenty! I've heard our gentlemen, when out shooting, liken her to some fine Frenchwoman as never grew old, and was fell in love with unbeknown by her grandson. Now, what was her name? I got it written down somewhere in my old pocket-book; it was summut like Longclothes."

"Ninon de l'Enclos?" suggested Yorke, without a smile.

"Ay, that's the name. Well, Mrs. Charles Carew, as you call her, was just like her, and a regular everlasting! She was not what you would call pretty, but very "taking" looking, and with a bloom and freshness on her as would have deceived any man. Her voice was like music itself, and she moved like a stag o' ten; and the Squire being always manly looking and swarthy, like yourself, there was really little difference between them to look at. I dare say she's gone all to pieces now, as women will do, while the Squire looks much the same as he did then."

"I have never even seen him," said the landscape-painter, moodily.

"Well, don't you stare at him, young master, when you do get that chance, that's all. Some comes down here merely to look at him, as if he was a show, and that puts him in a pretty rage, I promise you; though to get to know him, as I say, is easy enough, if you go the right way about it. If you were a good rider, for instance, and could lead the field one day when the hunting begins, he'd ask you to dinner to a certainty; or if you could drive stags—why, he would have given you a hundred pounds last midsummer, when we couldn't get the beasts to swim the lake. There's a pretty mess come o' that, by-the-by; for, out of the talk there was among the gentlemen about that difficulty, the Squire laid a bet as he would drive stags; not as we do, mind you, but in harness, like carriage-horses; and, cuss me, if he hasn't had the break out half a dozen times with four red deer in it, and you may see him tearing through the park, with mounted grooms and keepers on the right and left of him, all galloping their hardest, and the Squire with the ribbons, a-holloaing like mad! For my part, I don't like such pranks, and would much sooner not be there to see 'em. There will be mischief some day with it yet, for all that old Lord Orford, down at Newmarket some fifty years ago, used to do the same thing, they say. It ain't in nature that stags should be druv four-in-hand, even by Carew. However, the Squire won his wager; and we haven't seen none o' that wild work o' late weeks, though we may see it again any day."

"I have heard of that strange exploit," observed Yorke; "but as driving deer, even in the ordinary way, is not my calling, and as I am no great rider, even if I had a horse, I don't see how I am to introduce myself to your mad Squire, and yet I have a great fancy for his acquaintance. Do you think he'd buy any of these drawings, taken in his own park, from his own timber?" The young man touched a portfolio, already well stocked with studies of oak and beech. "Here is a sketch of the Decoy Pond, for instance, with the oldest tree in the chase beside it; would not that interest him, think you? You think not?"

"Well, young gentleman," said the keeper, frankly, "if I say no, it ain't that I mean any slight to your drawing. It's like the tree enough, for certain, with the very hoop of iron as I put round it with my own hands twenty years ago—and, by the same token, it will want another before this winter's out; but I don't think the Squire cares much for such matters. He might, maybe, just give a look at it, or he might bid you go to the devil for a paper-staining son of a—well—what you will. He does not care a farthing, bless 'ee, for all the great pictures in his own gallery, though they cost his grandfather a mint of money, and are certainly a fine sight—so far as the frames go. And, on the other hand, if he happens to be cross-grained that day, he might tear it up before you could say 'Hold,' and kick you down the Hall steps into the bargain, as he has done to many a one. That's where it is, you see, the Squire is so chancy."

"I don't think he would kick me down his Hall steps," said Yorke, grimly.

The keeper grinned. "Well, you see, nobody can tell that till it's tried. The Squire is a regular bruiser, I promise you, though I grant you are a strapping young fellow, and you have told me that you know how to use your fists. That's a great thing, mind you, for a man to ha' learnt; a deal better than Latin or such-like, in my opinion. Folks talk of life-preservers and pistols, but there's nothing like a good pair of well-handled fists when one has to tackle a poacher. I've been at Crompton, man and boy, these fifty years, and had a good many rough-and-tumbles with that sort, and I have never had the worst of it yet. It prevents bloodshed on both sides; for if you haven't no shooting-iron, there's few Englishmen, poachers or not, who will draw trigger on you; and as for a bludgeon, it's as likely to be in my hand as another's after the first half minute."

"Is there much poaching now at Crompton?" inquired Yorke, mechanically. It would have been plain to any less obtuse observer than his companion that he no longer gave him his attention.

"Well, no; nothing to be called serious has happened lately; though I dare say we shall have some scrimmages as the winter comes on; there's allus a good deal of what I calls hanky-panky work in the fawn season. Women and children—especially children—will come into the park, under pretense o' picking up sticks; and they'll put away a new dropped fawn in their bundles, if they get the chance; and then they take it home, to be reared until it grows up, and can be sold for venison."

"I should have thought there would have been no market for such a commodity—that is, in the case of people such as you describe," observed Yorke, yawning.

"Market!" echoed the keeper, contemptuously; "there'd be a market to-morrow morning for the whole herd o' our wild-cattle, if they were stolen to-night; there'd be a market for a rhinoceros or a halligator, if we happened to keep 'em, bless 'ee, as easy as for a sucking pig! But I don't call that poaching—I mean the fawn-stealing. It's the professionals from the Midland towns as come by tens and twenties at a time as is our trouble. We generally gets wind of 'em beforehand, and then out we all goes, and Squire with us—for he dearly loves a fight—and then there's broken crowns and bloody noses; but, thank God, there's been no murder done, at least, not in my time, at Crompton. And that reminds me, Sir, that it's time for me to start on my evening rounds."

"Well, when you next have any news of such an incursion, Grange, I hope you will let me make one of your party," said Yorke, good-humoredly. "I can hit out straight from the shoulder; and perhaps I might get to know the Squire that way."

"And as likely a road to lead you into his good graces, Sir," said the keeper, rising, "as any I know. Are you for a walk round the park this fine evening, Sir?"

"No; not to-night, thank you, Grange. I have got to fill in this sketch a bit that I took this morning."

"Then, good-night, Sir, for I sha'n't return before daylight."

But it was not till long after the keeper had taken his departure that Richard Yorke turned hand or eye to his unfinished drawing. He sat staring straight before him with steadfast eyes and thoughtful face, for hours, murmuring to himself disjointed sentences; and ever and anon he started up and paced the little room with rapid strides. "He shall see me, and know me, too," muttered he, at last, between his clenched teeth, "though it should cost one of us our lives. She shall not say I came down to this wilderness, like some hunted beast to covert, for nothing."



It was an easy thing enough, as Walter Grange had said, to make acquaintance with Carew of Crompton, and possible even to become his bosom friend at a short notice, for his friendships, all made in wine, at play, or in the hunting-field, were soon cemented; but then, if the introduction was effected in an unpropitious time or manner, it was like enough to end in affront or downright insult. A gulf might be fixed just where you wanted a causeway, and of this—though he had feigned to inquire about it so innocently of the honest park-keeper—Richard Yorke was well aware. He had, as has been hinted, come down to Crompton with the express view of throwing himself in the way of its eccentric master, and to do so opportunely, and he was content to bide his time. Thus, though the autumn had far advanced, and the time had come for men of his craft to hasten from the dropping, dripping woods, no longer fair, to hive at home their sweet memorials of the summer time, Richard remained at Crompton, not willingly, indeed, nor even patiently, but with that sort of dogged resolve which is engendered, even in a restless spirit, by long watching. He had stopped so long that he would not now give up his watch; the fortress, indeed, showed no more sign of breach than when he first sat down before it; but still he would not raise the siege. This persistency excited no surprise in his house companion; Walter Grange was no gossip, nor curious about other men's affairs; it was easy, even for him, to see that his tenant had a proud stomach, and he had set down his talk about desiring an introduction to Carew as merely another phrase for wishing for a good chance of disposing of his wares to best advantage in that market to which so many of such various callings thronged. He did not think, as he had honestly confessed, that there was much chance of the Squire becoming a patron of the fine arts, but he wished the young fellow luck, and was glad, for more than one reason, that he staid on.

It was at least three months after his young lodger's arrival that Walter burst into his sitting-room one afternoon, without his usual knock at the door, with the great news that he had just had word, by a safe hand, that a gang of poachers would be in the Home Park that very night, and that all the staff of keepers would be out in waiting for them.

"You know," said he, quite indignant that the young man did not show his enthusiasm, "you told me I was to be sure and let you know, Mr. Yorke; but, of course, you needn't make one of us unless you like."

"Oh yes, I'll come," laughed the young fellow—"that is, provided it is fine. I can't fight in the rain, even for the game laws."

"It'll be a lovely night, Sir, with just enough of moonlight to know friends from foes," went on the keeper, rubbing his hands, and unconsciously moistening them in his excitement. "I knew you'd come. I said to myself: 'Mr. Yorke'll never turn tail;' and we shall be really glad of your help, for the fact is we are short-handed. Napes is down with the rheumatics, and two of our men are away from home, and there ain't time to send to the out-beaters. So we shall be only nine—including yourself—in all. Let's see," continued the old man, counting on his fingers: "there'll be Bill Nokes, and Robert Sloane, and—"

"Spare me the roll-call, Grange," interrupted the painter; "and tell me where I am to be, and when, and I'll be there."

"Very good, Sir," said the keeper, musing. "I'll put you at the Squire's oak—the one as you drawed so nicely—that'll be at the Decoy down yonder, and close to home. You have only to use this whistle, and you'll get help enough if you chance to be set upon; there will be a fight, no doubt. They must be a daring lot to poach the near park, within sound of the house: they ain't a done that these ten year; for the last time they brought Squire and his bull-dogs out, which was a lesson to one or two of 'em. However, he's for town, they say, to-day."

"All right, Grange; we must do without him, then," returned the young man, cheerfully. "What time am I to be on guard?"

"You should be there at ten at latest, Sir. There'll be plenty of us within whistle-call, you understand. But nobody will come aneist you as has any business there; so whoever you see you must go in at."

Yorke nodded, smiling, and doubling his white fists, hit out scientifically with his right.

"You're one after the Squire's own heart," exclaimed the keeper, admiringly; "and I do wish you could foregather with him. What a reach of arm you've got, and what a play of muscle! The fist is the weapon for a poacher—that is, I mean agin him—if you only know how to use it. I can depend on the Decoy being guarded by ten, Sir, can I? for I must be off to the head-keeper's with the rest."

"Yes, you can."

"Then, good-by, Sir, for the present."

"Now what a poor fool is that!" soliloquized the young painter, contemptuously, as the door closed upon his late companion. "To think that I should risk my life against a poacher's on even terms! Of course, if they suffice, I shall only treat him to my knuckles; but if not—if he be a giant, or there be more than one of them—then here is a better ally than mere bone and sinew." Yorke took out of a drawer a life-preserver, made of lead and whalebone, struck with it once, to test its weight and elasticity, then slipped it into his shooting-jacket pocket. "That will enlarge their organs of locality," said he, grimly; "they will not forget the Decoy Pond in a hurry whose heads knock against this."

He made a better supper than was usual with him that night; filled his pocket-flask with brandy, and his pouch with tobacco; and then making sure that the whistle Grange had given him, and which he had hung round his neck, was within easy reach of his fingers, sallied out, well wrapped up as to his throat, and with his hands in his pockets. If Richard Yorke was doomed not to have life made easy for him, he made it as easy as he could. He never omitted a precaution, unless it gave him trouble to take it out of proportion to the advantage it conferred; he was never imprudent, unless the passion of the moment was too strong for him; but sometimes, unfortunately, his mere whims were in their intensity passions, and his passions, while they lasted, fits of madness. He was a landscape-painter, partly because he had some taste that way, but chiefly because he hated regular work of any sort. He had no real love for his art, and not the least touch of poetic feeling. He knew an oak from a beech-tree, and the sort of touch that should be used in delineating the foliage of each; a yellow primrose was to him a yellow primrose, and he could mix the colors deftly enough which made up its hue. His education had been by no means neglected, but it had been of a strange sort; every thing he had learned was, as it were, for immediate use, and of a superficial but attractive character. The advocates of a classical curriculum would have shaken their heads at what Richard Yorke did know, almost as severely as at his lack of knowledge. He had read a good deal of all kinds of literature, including much garbage; he could play a little on the piano, and speak French with an excellent accent. In a word, he had learned every thing that had pleased him, as well as a little Latin and some mathematics, which had not. He knew English history far better than most young Englishmen; but the sight of tomb or ruin had never made his heart pulse faster with an evoked idea by a single beat. Historical associations had no charm for him. This mighty oak, for example, under the shadow of which he now stands sentry, and which he had transferred so deftly to his portfolio, has no longer any interest for him. He has "done it," and its use and pleasure are therefore departed in his eyes. He knows quite well that though it is called the Squire's, in token, probably, of some wholesale slaughter of wild-ducks effected by Carew from its convenient cover, that this tree is hundreds of years old—the oldest in all the chase. He has read the "Talking Oak," for indeed he can quote Tennyson by the yard, and in dulcet voice; and it would have been natural enough, one would think, in such a time and place, that some thoughts of what this venerable monarch of the forest must have witnessed would perforce come into his mind. The same moonlight that now shines down between its knotted naked branches must have doubtless lit on many a pair of lovers, for it was ever a favorite place for tryst in by-gone years. The young monk, perhaps, may here (when Crompton was an abbey) have given double absolution, to himself and to the girl who confessed to him her love. Roundhead maiden and Cavalier gallant must many a time have forgotten their political differences beneath this oak, as yet a tree not sacred to royalty; nay, perhaps even those of. York and Lancaster may here have been compounded for, in one red rose of a blush. Bluff Harry had haply hunted beneath its once wide-spreading arms, and certainly the martyr king had done so, with a score of generations of men of all sorts, dead and gone, God alone knows whither. Though no more the bugle sounded, nor the twanging bow was heard, there was surely an echo of their far-away music in the young painter's ear! No, there was none.

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter,

was a line Richard Yorke had read, perhaps, but certainly had not understood. He heard the bare branch creak and sway above his head as the wind slowly took it; he heard the night-jar croak, as it flew by on silent wing; and now and then he heard, or thought he heard, the sound of the voices of his fellow-watchers a great way off, which was his only touch of fancy. They were all silent, and in close hiding.

It is not to be supposed, however, that his mind was fixed upon the matter in which he was engaged, so that other subjects were thereby excluded from it. The repression of night-poaching was not a matter that interested him either in principle or practice. He would just as soon that the keeper had not reminded him of his offer to share his watch—the whim that had once seized him to do so had died away; but having once promised his company, he was not one to break his word. So here he was.

The young man's thoughts were busy, then, neither with the past nor the present, but with the future—that is, his own future. The path of life did not lie straight before Richard Yorke, as it does before most men of his age, and in fact it came, so to speak, abruptly to a termination exactly where he stood.

In such a case, the choice of the wayfarer becomes boundless, and is only limited by the horizon and circumstances. As matters were, he had scarcely enough to live on—not nearly enough to do so as his tastes and habits suggested; and yet, by one bold stroke, with luck to back it, he might, not "one day" (that would have had small charm for him), but at once, and for his life-long, be rich and prosperous. He could not be said to have expectations, but his position was not without certain contingencies, the extreme brilliancy of which might almost atone for their vagueness. It was from a dream of future greatness, or what seemed to him as such, wherein he saw himself wealthy and powerful, surrounded with luxury and with the ministers of every pleasure, that he was suddenly and sharply awakened by a trifling incident—the snapping of a dead twig in the copse hard by. In an instant the glittering gossamer of thought was swept aside, and the young fellow was all ear and eye. The wind had dropped for some time, and the silence was intense; that solemn hush seemed to pervade the forest which some poet has attributed to the cessation of spiritual life, as though the haunters of the glade were waiting for the resumption of their occupations until the interloping mortal should pass by. Nothing stirred, or, if so, it was motion without sound, as when the full-feathered owl slid softly through the midnight air above him. Not a dead leaf fell; and where the leaves had fallen there they lay. How was it, then, that a twig broke? The deer were couched; the pheasants sat at roost, their heads beneath that splendid coverlet, their wing; and though there were creeping things which even midnight did not woo to rest in that vast wilderness, Yorke had imbibed enough of forest lore to know that the noise which he had heard was produced by none of these. A rat in the water-rushes, or a stoat pushing through the undergrowth, would have announced itself in a different fashion. Again the sound was heard, and this time it was no longer the crackling of a twig, but the breaking of a branch; then cautious footsteps fell upon the frosty leaves, and, with a light leap on the bank that fringed the copse, the poacher stood in the open.

That such he was, Yorke had no doubt whatever; the moonlight streamed full upon him, and showed him to be none of the Crompton keepers, unless, indeed, he was disguised. For an instant, it passed across his mind that this might be Walter Grange himself—he was about the same height and build—come to play a trick upon him to test his courage, for the man's face was blackened like a burglar's; but this idea was dismissed as soon as entertained. The keeper, he reflected, thought far too seriously of the night's doings to make jest of them, and besides, he could never have sprung upon the bank as yonder fellow did, his limbs, though sturdy, being stiff with age and occasional rheumatism. The intruder seemed quite alone, and it was probable, while his confederates paid attention to the pheasants in the Home Park, that he was bent upon making a private raid upon the sleeping water-fowl. He had no gun, however, nor, as far as Yorke could make out, any other weapon; and as soon as he had got near enough to the pond to admit of it the watcher sprang out from beneath the shadow of the oak, and placed himself between the stranger and the copse from which he had emerged. Yorke was the taller by full six inches, and believing himself to be more than a match for his antagonist, had not so much as laid finger on his concealed weapon; but if he had now any thought of doing so, it was too late; for, with a cry of eager rage, the man turned at once, and sprang at him like a tiger. It needed all his skill and coolness to parry the fierce blows which fell upon him like hail, and which he had scarcely time to return. Yorke was an adept at boxing, and in the chance encounters into which a somewhat dissipated and reckless youth had led him, he had been an easy victor; but it now took all he knew to "keep himself." An instant's carelessness, or the absence of a hand in search of that which he would now have gladly seized, and his guard, would have been broken through, and himself placed at his foe's mercy. Nothing but his long reach preserved him from those sledge-hammer blows, which seemed as though each must break the arm they fell upon. As for using his whistle, the opportunity, of course, was not afforded him; and, moreover, he had no breath to spare for such a purpose. Breath, however, was also a desideratum with the poacher, and the more so inasmuch as he accompanied every blow—as Brian de Bois-Guilbert was wont to hammer home his mace-strokes with "Ha! Beauseant, Beauseant!"—with some amazing oath. It is recorded of an American gentleman, much given to blasphemy, that he could entertain "an intelligent companion" for half a day with the mere force and ingenuity of his expletives; and this singular talent seemed to be shared by Richard Yorke's antagonist. That one of the most accomplished roughs of the Midlands had fallen to the young painter's lot in that night's melee, he could not for a moment doubt; but this reflection did not go far to soothe him. He did not care for fighting for its own sake, while his pride revolted against thus being kept at bay by a brutal clown. If he could but get the chance, he made up his mind to end this matter once for all, and at last the opportunity seemed to be afforded. The poacher suddenly stepped back to the very margin of the pond, a long oval piece of water, and not very deep, and quick as thought, Yorke drew his deadly weapon. But at the same moment there was a sound of racing feet, and down the drive there came two men at headlong speed. Yorke did not doubt that they were poachers; but his blood was up, and he was armed—he felt like an iron-clad against whom three wooden ships were about to pit themselves. "Where I hit now I make a hole," he muttered, savagely, and stood firm; nor did he even put his lips to the whistle that hung round his neck.

But as the men came nearer, in the foremost he recognized Walter Grange, and at the same moment saw his late antagonist plunge wildly into the ice-cold pond, and begin to wade and swim across it.

"Cuss him! I durst not do it," gasped Walter, just too late, and mindful, even in his passionate disappointment, of rheumatic pains. "Dash after him, Bob, while Mr. Yorke and I run round."

But Bob had had the rheumatism too, or had seen the unpleasant effects of it in others, and shook his shaggy head.

A mocking laugh burst from the poacher, already nearing the opposite bank.

"Dang him! If I'd got a gun, I'd shoot him. Run, man!" cried Walter, excitedly—"run, man, run! He can never get along in his wet clothes." And off the two men started in hot pursuit.

Yorke watched them toiling round the pond, while the poacher landed, shook himself like any water-dog, and leisurely trotted off.

"It was lucky for him," murmured he, as he replaced his weapon in his pocket, "that the help came on my side;" then lit his pipe, and leisurely walked home.

Three hours later returned the keeper (for whose arrival he had been sitting up), with twinkling eye and a look of triumph.

"Well, you caught the beggar, did you, Grange?"

"Oh yes, we caught him fast enough," responded the other, grinning; "we caught the whole lot of them. And who d'ye think they were? Why, it was the whole party from the house, as had come out to play at poachers! Who ever heard of such a game? Some on 'em got it hot, I reckon, in the new spinney yonder. But that was no matter. We've all had our skins full of rum punch, and a sov. apiece, because Squire says we proved ourselves good watch-dogs. And here," continued the old man, exultingly, "are a couple of sovs. for yourself. 'Give them to that tall young fellow,' says Squire, 'as you posted by the Decoy Pond, for he knows how to use his fists.' Why, that 'ere chap as you had the tussle with was Carew hisself!"

A deadly paleness overspread the young man's cheeks.

"Was that Carew?" he said.

"Yes, indeed, it was; though none of us know'd it. You needn't look so skeared. He ain't annoyed with you; he's pleased, bless 'ee, and here's the proof of it."

"You may keep the guineas, Grange," said Yorke, gravely; "only keep my secret too. If he thinks I was a night-watcher, let him continue in that belief."

"Why, it's the best introduction to Carew as you could have!" insisted the astonished keeper. "You have only to go up to the great house to-morrow, and say: 'Here's the man as proved your match last night,' and—"

"You must allow me to be the best judge of my own affairs," interrupted the young fellow, haughtily; "so you will be so good as to say nothing more about the matter."

"Just as you please, Sir; and I am sure you are very kind," answered the keeper, slipping the coins into his pocket. "Squire hisself could not be more liberal, that's certain. You are tired, I see; and I wish you good-night, Sir, or rather good-morning."

"Good-night, Grange."

"Now, that's what I call pride," said Walter, grimly, as he closed the door upon his lodger; "and I am sure I hope, for his sake, it may never have a fall."

When Richard Yorke was thus left to himself he did a curious thing; he took out the life-preserver from its receptacle, and having made up the fire, placed it in the centre of the burning mass, so that in the morning there was nothing left of it save a dull lump of lead.



A day or two passed by, and nothing more was heard of Carew's combat with the young watcher; some other mad frolic had doubtless entered into the Squire's head and driven that one out. The hot punch imbibed after his swim in the Decoy Pond seemed to have averted all evil consequences, or perhaps he was case-hardened to such things. It was not uncommon with him to spend whole winter nights on a neighboring "broad," in pursuit of the mere-fowl that haunted it, in water or ice or swamp. He treated his body as an enemy, and strove to subdue it—though not for the good reasons of the Apostle—by every sort of harshness and imprudence; or rather he behaved toward it as a wayward father toward his child—at one time with cruel severity, at another with the utmost luxury and indulgence. No rich man, probably, ever gave his heir so many chances of inheritance, or excited in him so many false hopes, as did the Squire of Crompton, who had no heir.

The hunting season had begun with him after its usual fashion; he seldom troubled himself to find a fox, but turned one out of a bag to insure sport, or ran a drag over the most difficult and dangerous country that could be selected.

Yorke had almost made up his mind to take the keeper's advice, and distinguish himself by putting his neck to the same risks as Carew, on horseback, in order to recommend himself to his notice, when an event occurred by which he attained his end in another way.

Tired of the park, wherein he had dwelled so long, and which every day the approach of winter made more bare and desolate, he had taken a solitary walk along the highway which led to the market-town. He was returning, and had reached the top of the long hill where the park fence began, and a high solid gate—so that no dogs could enter—gave access to that wild domain, when a confused murmur in the keen blue air caused him to look back. For a mile or more the road was straight, and the leafless trees and hedges left the prospect open to him in all directions; at the extremity of the road was some huge moving object, which, advancing at great speed, disclosed the Squire's mail phaeton, drawn by four antlered stags, and followed at some distance by three or four mounted grooms, apparently unable to keep up with him. Carew himself was standing up like some charioteer of old, and, although he already outstripped the very wind, was laying about him frantically with his whip, as up the hill the frightened creatures tore as if the ground were level. The reason of this headlong speed was at the same time made evident by the appearance of a pack of hounds, which, followed by a numerous field in scarlet, was coming across the grass-land in full cry. The spectacle, though weird and strange, was by no means without a certain grandeur—like some barbarous pageant. Yorke understood the situation at a glance. He had heard the keeper say that, not content with his wild progresses through the park, the Squire had sworn to drive his stags one day into the market-town, and this he had doubtless actually accomplished; but, on his return, he had had the misfortune to be caught sight of by one of his own packs of hounds, which were now in full pursuit of him, like another Actaeon. The terrified stags, with that deep-mouthed menace of their natural enemies ringing in their ears, at once threw off all control, and had left their grooms behind them in half a dozen bounds. If only the harness held, they would be at the lodge gate in a very few minutes; but, on the other hand, the hounds were nearer to that point, which they were approaching diagonally. They were running, of course, by sight, like greyhounds, and with greyhounds' speed. Above their eager mellow notes, and the mad shouting of the excited sportsmen, and the ceaseless winding of the disregarded horn, above the thunder of his own wheels, and of the hoofs of his strange steeds upon the wintry road, rang out Carew's hoarse tones: "The gate, the gate!" If only that wooden wall could be interposed between his stags and their pursuers, all might yet be well. But, though the lodge-keeper had been drawn by the tumult to his door, he stood there like one amazed and fascinated by the spectacle before him, and paralyzed with the catastrophe that seemed impending.

"Gate, gate, you gaping idiot!" roared the Squire, with a frightful curse; but the poor shaking wretch had not the power to stir; it was Yorke himself who dashed at the latch, and threw the long gate wide to let the madman pass, and then slammed it back upon the very jaws of the hounds. They rushed against the solid wood like a living battering-ram, and howled with baffled rage; and some leaped up and got their fore-paws over it, and would have got in yet, but that Richard beat them back with his bare hands.

In the mean time Carew and his stags swept up the park like a whirlwind, and presently, coming to a coppice, the frightened creatures dashed into it, doubtless for covert, where wheel and rein and antler, tangling with trunk and branch, soon brought them to a full stop.

"Good lad!" exclaimed Carew, as Yorke hurried up to help him; "you are a good plucked one, you are; you shall keep the lodge, if you will, instead of that lily-livered scoundrel who was too frightened to move. Oh, I ask pardon; you are a gentleman, are you?"

"Sir, I hope so," answered the young man, stiffly, his anger only half subdued by the necessity for conciliation.

"Then, come up to the house and dine, whoever you are; I'll lend you a red coat. Curse those grooms! what keeps them? One can't sit upon a stag's head to quiet him as though he were a horse." (Two of the stags were down, and butting, at one another with their horns.) "What a pace we came up White Hill! I tried to time them, but I could not get my watch out. You moved yourself like a flash of lightning, else I thought we must have pinned you against the gate. It was well done, my lad, well done; and I'm your debtor."

The Squire held out his hand, for the first time, for Yorke to shake.

"Why, what's this?" said he, peering into the other's eyes. "I have seen your face before, my friend."

"Yes, Sir; a week or two ago I played the part of night-watcher in your preserves—it was a mad prank; but"—and here the young fellow smiled roguishly—"it was better than poaching, you must admit."

"What!" cried the Squire, delighted, "are you the fellow that had that bout with me in the Decoy Pond? Why, I thought you were one of my own men, and sent you something; but, of course, my scoundrels drank it. I'm glad to see you, Sir, by daylight. It was the uncertain moonshine that hampered me, else, by Jove, I'd have given you 'one, two!' We must have it out another day, for a drawn battle is just the thing I hate. What's your name, young gentleman, and where do you live?"

"I live close by, Sir; I am in lodgings for the present."

"Ay, ay, for the hunting, I suppose," said the impetuous Squire. "Hark to those devils of dogs; they are howling yet; they would have had my stags by this time but for you. Well, well; send for your portmanteau, and take up your quarters at Crompton; you shall have a hearty welcome; only don't be late for dinner—seven, Sir, sharp. Here are my knavish grooms at last."

And, under cover of the fire of imprecations which the Squire poured upon his approaching retainers, the young landscape-painter withdrew. He had obtained his end at last, and he wished to retire before Carew should put that question to him for a second time—what is your name?—which, at such a moment, it would, for certain reasons, have been embarrassing to answer.

He betook himself at once to the keeper's lodge, and packing up his wardrobe, which, though of modest dimensions, comprised all that was requisite for a gentleman's costume, dispatched it to the great house. He followed it himself shortly afterward, only waiting to dash off a note by the afternoon's post for town. It was literally a "hurried line," and would have better suited these later telegraphic days, when thoughts, though wire-drawn, are compressed, and brevity is the soul of cheapness, as of wit. "I have got my foot in, and however it may be pinched, will keep the door open. Direct to me at Crompton."

It was not a nice trait in the young man, if it was a characteristic one, that he did not take the trouble even to leave so much word as that for the old keeper, who was engaged in his outdoor duties, but simply inclosed the few shillings in which he was indebted to him inside an envelope, addressed to Walter Grange. The old man liked him, as he well knew, and would have prized a few words of farewell; but Yorke was in a hurry to change his quarters for the better; he had climbed from low to high, and gave no further thought to the ladder which had so far served him. But yet he had some prudence too. Though he had dwelled so long in the Carew domains, so careful had he been not to intrude his presence inopportunely on its master, that he had never so much as seen, except at a distance, the mansion to which he was now an invited guest. How grand it showed, as his elastic step drew near it, with tower and turret standing up against the gloomy November sky, and all its broad-winged front alive with light! How good it would be to call so fine a place his home! How excellent to be made heir to the childless man who ruled it, and who could leave it to whomsoever his whim might choose!

It was unusual for a guest to approach Crompton for the first time on foot. The Squire's jovial friends used for the most part strange conveyances, such as tandems and randoms, and the great flower-beds in the lawn in front gave sign that some such equipage had been lately driven up not altogether with dexterity. It is difficult at all times to drive "unicorn," and more so if the horses are not used to that method of progression, and still more so if the charioteer is somewhat inebriated; and all these conditions had been fulfilled a few minutes previously in the case of Mr. Frederick Chandos, a young gentleman of twenty-one years of age, but of varied experience, who had just arrived that day on his first visit. But when Yorke appeared at the front-door, there was no less attention paid to him than if he had driven up with four-in-hand. Obsequious footmen assisted him to take off his wrappers in the great hall, whose vastness dwarfed the billiard-table in its centre to bagatelle proportions. A profusion of wax-lights—and no others were permitted at Crompton, save in the servants' offices—showed eight shining pillars of rare marble, and a grand staircase broad enough for a coach-and-four, and up which, indeed, Carew had ridden horses for a wager; while all the walls were hung with huge-figured tapestry—"The Tent of Darius" and "The Entry of Alexander into Babylon," both miracles of patient art. The grandeur of the stately place was marred, however, by signs of revel and rough usage. The Persian monarch, spared by his Grecian conqueror, had been deprived, by some more modern barbarian, of his eyes; while the face of his royal consort had been cut out of the threaded picture, to judge by the ragged end of the canvas, by a penknife. The very pillars were notched in places, as though some mad revelers had striven to climb to the pictured ceiling, from which gods and men looked down upon them with amaze; the thick-piled carpet of the stairs was cut and torn, doubtless by horses' hoofs; and here and there a gap in the gilt balusters showed where they had been torn away in brutal frolic. A groom of the chambers preceded the new guest up stairs, and introduced him to a bachelor's apartment, small, but well furnished in the modern style, whither his portmanteau had been already taken. "Squire has given orders, Sir," said he, respectfully, "that he should be informed as soon as you arrived. What name shall I say, Sir? But here he is himself."

As the groom withdrew, Carew made his appearance at the open door. He was smoking a cigar, although it was within an hour of dinner-time; and at his heels slouched a huge bull-dog, who immediately began to growl and sniff at the new guest. "Quiet, you brute!" exclaimed the Squire, with his customary garnish of strong expletive. "Welcome to Crompton, Mr.—I forget your name; or rather you forgot, I think, to favor me with it."

"My name is Richard Yorke, Sir."

"Yorke, Yorke—that sounds easterly. You are of the Cambridgeshire stock, I reckon, are you not?"

"No, Sir," returned the other, with a slight tremor in his voice, which he could not control; "I come from nearer home. Your wife's first husband was called Yorke, if you remember, and I bear his name, although I am her lawful son, by you, Sir."



After the bold avowal made at the conclusion of the last chapter, Richard Yorke and his father (for such indeed he was) stood confronting one another, for near a minute, without a word. A tempest of evil passions swept over Carew's swarthy face, and his eyes flashed with a fire that seemed to threaten personal violence. The bull-dog, too, as though perceiving his master's irritation with the stranger, began to growl again; and this, perhaps, was fortunate for the young man, as affording a channel for the Squire's pent-up wrath. With a great oath, leveled alike at man and brute, he raised his foot, and kicked the latter to the other side of the room.

"Impudent bastard!" cried he; "how dare you show your face beneath my roof?"

"How dare I?" responded the young man, excitedly, and with his handsome face aglow. "Because there was naught to fear; and if there were, I should not have feared it."

"Tut, tut! so bold a game could never have entered into your young head. Your mother must have set you on to do it—come, Sir, the truth, the truth."

"She did not set me on, father," insisted the other, earnestly. "I came here of my own will. I have been dwelling within a stone's-throw of your house these six months, in hopes to see you face to face. She told me not to come—I swear she did."

"So much the better for her," ejaculated the Squire, grimly. "If I thought that she had any hand in this, not another shilling of my money should she ever touch. It was agreed between us," he continued, passionately—"and I, for my part, am a man who keeps his word—that she and hers should never meddle more with me and mine; and now she has broken faith."

"Nay, Sir, but she has not," returned the young man, firmly. "I tell you it was against her will that I came hither."

"The devil it was!" exclaimed the Squire, suddenly bursting into a wild laugh. "If you get your way with her, when she says 'no,' you must be a rare one. You are my son for certain, however, or you would never dare to stand here. It was a rash step, young Sir, and might have ended in the horse-pond. I had half a mind to set my bull-dog at you. Since you are here, however, you can stay. But let us understand one another. I am your father, in a sense, as I am father, for aught I know, to half the parish; but as to being lawfully so, the law has happened to have decided otherwise. I know what you would say about 'the rights of it;' but that's beside the question; the law, I say, for once, is on my side, and I stand by it. Egad, I have good reason to do so; and if your mother had been your wife, as she was mine, you would be with me so far. Now, look you," and here again the speaker's manner changed with his shifting mood, "if ever again you venture to address me as your father, or to boast of me as such, I will have you turned out neck and crop; but as Mr. Richard Yorke, my guest, you will be welcome at Crompton, so long as we two suit each other; only beware, young Sir, that you tell me no lies. I shall soon get rid of you on these terms," continued the Squire, with a chuckle; "for to speak truth must be as difficult to you, considering the stock you come of, as dancing on the tight-rope. Your mother, indeed, was a first-rate rope-dancer in that way, and I rarely caught her tripping; but you—"

"Sir," interrupted the young man, passionately, "is this your hospitality?"

"True, lad, true," answered the Squire, good-humoredly; "I had intended to have forgotten Madam Yorke's existence. Well, Sir, what are you?—what do you do, I mean, for a livelihood—beside 'night-watching?'"

"I am a landscape-painter, Sir."

"Umph!" grunted Carew, contemptuously; "you don't get fat on that pasture, I reckon. Have you never done any thing else?"

For a single instant the young man hesitated to reply; then answered, "Never."

"You are quite sure of that?" inquired the other, suspiciously.

"Quite sure."

"Good! Here, come with me."

His host led the way along an ample corridor, hung with tall pictures of their common ancestors, and opened the door of another bedroom. It was of a vast size; and even when the Squire had lit the candles upon the mantle-piece, and those which clustered on either side of the great pier-glass, the darkness did but give place to a sort of shining gloom: the cause of this strange effect was the peculiarity of the furniture; the walls were of bog-oak, relieved, like those of a ball-room, by silver sconces; the chairs were of the same material. The curiosity of the room was, however, the bedstead; this was of an immense size, and adorned above with ostrich feathers, which gave it the appearance of a funeral car; the pillars were of solid ebony, as were also the carved head and foot boards; it was hung with crimson damask curtains, trimmed with gold braid; and upon its coverlet of purple silk lay a quilt of Brussels point lace of exquisite design.

"I will have your traps brought in here," said Carew, throwing away the end of his cigar, and drawing from his pocket a heap of filberts; "it will be more convenient. You will find a room through yonder door, where you can sit and paint to your heart's content."

"You lodge me so splendidly, Sir, that I shall feel like Christopher Sly," observed the young fellow, gratefully.

"Ay, sly enough, I'll warrant," returned the Squire, who had just cracked a nut and found it a bad one. "That's Bred in the Bone with you, I reckon. Look yonder!" As he spoke, a porcelain vase clock upon the chimney-piece struck the half hour, and a gilt serpent sprang from the pedestal, showing its fang, which was set in brilliants. "That's my serpent clock, which always reminds me of Madam, your mother, and the more so, because it goes for a twelvemonth, which was just the time she and I went in double harness. But here are your clothes, and you must be quick in getting into them, for we dine sharp at Crompton.—Watson, go to my man, and bid him fetch a red coat for this gentleman.—You'll hear the gong, Mr. Yorke, five minutes before dinner is served." And with a careless nod to his guest, and a whistle to his four-footed companion, Carew sauntered off.

The young man would have given much to have had half an hour at his disposal to think over the events of the last few minutes, and to reflect upon his present position; but there was no time to lose, if he would avoid giving umbrage to his host by being late. He therefore dressed in haste, and before the first note of the gong was heard was fully equipped. If the Squire, in introducing him to this splendid lodging, had had it in his mind to overcome him by a mere exhibition of magnificence, the design had failed; it was only Yorke's artistic sense that had been impressed; the fact was that the young fellow was of that character on whom superiority of any sort has small effect; while in the present case the signs of wealth about him gave him self-confidence, rather than any feeling of inferiority; insomuch as he considered himself "by rights," as the Squire had said, the heir of all he saw, and by no means despaired of becoming so, not only de jure, but de facto. Certainly, as he now regarded himself in the pier-glass in his scarlet coat, it was not to be wondered at that he reflected complacently that, so far as personal appearance went, he was not likely to find a superior in any of the company he was about to meet. A handsomer young fellow had indeed never answered the importunate summons of the Crompton gong.

He had no difficulty about finding his way to the drawing-room, for a stream of red-coated guests was already setting thither from their respective chambers, and he entered it with them unannounced. This was the only apartment in the house which did not bear traces of mischievous damage, because, as on the present occasion, it was used for exactly five minutes every evening, and at no other time whatever. After dinner the Squire's guests invariably adjourned to the billiard-table or the library, and the yellow drawing-room was left alone in its magnificence. This neglected apartment had probably excited more envy in the female mind than any at Crompton, although there were drawing-rooms galore there, as well as one or two such exquisite boudoirs as might have tempted a nun from her convent. It was a burning shame, said the matrons of Breakneckshire, that the finest room in the county should not have a lawful mistress to grace it; and it was not their fault (as has been hinted) that that deficiency had not been supplied. It was really a splendid room, not divided in any way, as is usual with rooms of such vast extent, but comprehending every description of architectural vagary—bay-windows, in each of which half a dozen persons might sit and move, and recesses where as many could ensconce themselves, without their presence being dreamed of by the occupants of the central space.

At present, however, the flood of light that poured from chandelier and bracket, and flashed upon the gorgeous furniture and on the red coats of the guests, seemed to forbid concealment, and certainly afforded a splendid spectacle—a diplomatic reception, or a fancy-ball, could for brilliancy scarcely have exceeded it, though the parallel went no farther; for, with all this pomp and circumstance, there was not the slightest trace of ceremony. New guests, like Yorke himself, flocked in, and stood and stared, or paraded the room; while the less recent arrivals laughed and chatted together noisily, with their backs to the fires—of which there were no less than three alight—or lolled at full length upon the damask sofas. These persons were not, upon the whole, of an aristocratic type; many of them, indeed, were of good birth, and all had taken the usual pains with their costume, but a life of dissipation had set its vulgarizing mark on them: on the seniors the pallid and exhausted look of the roue was indeed rarely seen—country air and rough exercise had forbidden that—but drink and hard living had written their autographs upon them in another and worse handwriting. Blotches and pimples had indeed so erased their original likeness to gentlemen that it was even whispered by the scandalous that it was to prevent the confusion with his menials, that must needs have otherwise arisen, that the Squire of Crompton compelled his guests to wear red coats. The habitues of the place, who were the contemporaries of the Squire, had, as it were, gone to seed. But there was a sprinkling of a better class, or, at all events, of a class that had not as yet sunk so low as they in the mire of debauchery: a young lord or two in their minority, whom their parents or guardians could not coerce into keeping better company; and other young gentlemen of fashion, in whose eyes Carew was "A devilish good fellow at bottom;" "Quite a character, by Jove!" and "A sort of man to know." Among these last was Mr. Frederick Chandos, who had so lately got among the chrysanthemums with his gig-wheels, and Mr. Theodore Fane, his bosom friend, who always sat beside him on his driving-seat, and in return for sharing his perils, was reported to have the whip-hand of him. Nor was old age itself without its representative in the person of Mr. Byam Byll, once a master of fox-hounds, now a pauperized gourmand, who, in consideration of his coarse wit and "gentlemen's stories," was permitted to have the run of his teeth at Crompton. This Falstaff to the Squire's Prince Hal was a rotund and portly man, like his great prototype, but singularly handsome. His smile was winning yet, and, in spite of his load of years and fat, he still considered himself agreeable to the fair sex.

For this information and much more, respecting the character of his fellow-guests, Yorke was indebted to a very singular personage, who had introduced himself to him as "Parson Whymper," and whom he now knew to be the Squire's chaplain. The reverend divine was as proud of that office (and infinitely more comfortable in it) as though he had been chaplain to an archbishop. He was the only man present who wore a black coat, and he had a grave voice and insinuating manner, which really did smack something of the pulpit.

"Mr. Yorke," said he, blandly, "I make no apology for introducing myself to you; Carew and I have been just having a talk about you, and he has no secrets from his ghostly adviser. I take your hand with pleasure. I seem to feel it is the flesh and blood of my best friend. Sooner or later, mark me, he will own as much, and, be sure, no effort of mine shall be wanting to insure so desirable a consummation."

Yorke flushed with pleasure, not at the honeyed terms, nor the good-will they evidenced, but at the news itself—the fact of his father having revealed their relationship to him seemed so full of promise—and yet he resented the man's professions, the audacity of which seemed certainly to imply that he was taken for a fool.

"I am sure, Mr. Whymper," said he, stiffly, "I ought to be greatly obliged to you."

"Hush! Not Mr. Whymper, if you please, for that's a fine here. Every body at Crompton calls me 'Parson.' Obliged, Sir! Not at all. It is only natural that, being what I am, I should wish you well. The law, it is true, has decided against your legitimacy, but the Church is bound to think otherwise. In my eyes you are the Squire's only son"—here he made a whispering-trumpet of his brawny hands, and added with great significance—"and heir."

"I see," said Yorke, smiling in spite of himself.

"Of course you do; did you think I was trifling with your intelligence? I tell you that it is quite on the cards that you may recover your lost position, and regain what is morally your own again. Carew is delighted with you, not so much because you saved his stags as because you fought such a good battle with him by the Decoy Pond. He has been consulting me professionally as to whether it would be contrary to the tables of affinity to have another set-to with you. I am sorry my reply was in the negative, for, now I look at you, I do believe you would have thrashed him; but I was so afraid of his getting the better of you, which might have ruined your fortunes."

Richard could only repeat his thanks for the good clergyman's kindness. "You know nobody here, I suppose," observed the latter, "and, with a few exceptions, which I will name to you, that is not of much consequence. It is a shifting lot: they are here to-day and gone to-morrow, as says the Scripture, and I wish they were all going to-morrow except Byam Ryll. That's old Byam yonder, with the paunch and his hands behind him; he has nowhere else to put them, poor fellow." And here Parson Whymper launched into biography as aforesaid.

The clock on the chimney-piece, on which the two were leaning, broke in upon the divine's scarcely less dulcet accents with its silver quarter.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse