E-text prepared by Lionel Sear
ARTHUR THOMAS QUILLER-COUCH ("Q").
This e-text was prepared from a reprint of a version published in 1905.
I. ROSEWARNE OF HALL.
II. FATHERS AND CHILDREN.
III. ROSEWARNE'S PILGRIMAGE.
IV. ROSEWARNE'S PENANCE.
V. THE CLOSE OF A STEWARDSHIP.
VI. THE RAFTERS.
VII. THE HEIRS OF HALL.
VIII. HESTER ARRIVES.
IX. MR. SAMUEL'S POLICY.
XI. HESTER IS ACCEPTED.
XII. THE OPENING DAY.
XIII. TOM TREVARTHEN INTERVENES.
XIV. MR. SAM IS MAGNANIMOUS.
XV. MYRA IN DISGRACE.
XVI. AUNT BUTSON CLOSES SCHOOL.
XVII. PETER BENNEY'S DISMISSAL.
XVIII. RIGHT OF FERRY.
XIX. THE INTERCEDERS.
XX. AN OUTBURST.
XXI. MR. BENNY GETS PROMOTION.
XXII. CLEM IS LOST TO MYRA.
XXIII. HESTER WRITES A LOVE LETTER.
XXIV. THE RESCUE.
XXV. BUT TOM CAN WRITE.
ROSEWARNE OF HALL.
John Rosewarne sat in his counting-house at Hall, dictating a letter to his confidential clerk. The letter ran—
"Dear Sir,—In answer to yours of the 6th inst., I beg to inform you that in consequence of an arrangement with the Swedish firms, by which barrel-staves will be trimmed and finished to three standard lengths before shipment, we are enabled to offer an additional discount of five per cent, for the coming season on orders of five thousand staves and upwards. Such orders, however, should reach us before the fishery begins, as we hold ourselves free to raise the price at any time after 1st July. A consignment is expected from the Baltic within the next fortnight."
The little clerk looked up. His glance inquired, "Is that all?"
"Wait a minute." His master seemed to be reflecting; then leaning back in his chair and gripping its arms while he stared out of the bow-window before him, he resumed his dictation—
"I hope to be in Plymouth on Wednesday next, and that you will hold yourself ready for a call between two and three in the afternoon at your office."
"I beg your pardon, sir," the clerk interposed, "but Mr. Samuel closes early on Wednesdays.
"I know it. Go on, please—
"I have some matters to discuss alone with you, and they may take a considerable time. Kindly let me know by return if the date suggested is inconvenient."
"That will do." He held out his hand for the paper, and signed it, "Yours truly, John Rosewarne," while the clerk addressed the envelope. This concluded their day's work.
Rosewarne pulled out his watch, consulted it, and fell again to staring out of the open window. A climbing Banksia rose overgrew the sill and ran up the mullions, its clusters of nankeen buds stirred by the breeze and nodding against the pale sunset sky. Beyond the garden lay a small orchard fringed with elms; and below this the slope fell so steeply down to the harbourthat the elm-tops concealed its shipping and all but the chimney-smoke of a busy little town on its farther shore. High over this smoke the rooks were trailing westward and homeward.
Rosewarne heard the clank of mallets in a shipbuilding yard below. Then five o'clock struck from the church tower across the water, and the mallets ceased; but far down by the harbour's mouth the crew of a foreign-bound ship sang at the windlass—
Good-bye, fare-ye-well—Good-bye, fare-ye-well!
[In the original text a short length of musical score is shown]
The vessel belonged to him. He controlled most of the shipping and a good half of the harbour's trade. As for the town at his feet, had you examined his ledgers you might fancy its smoke ascending to him as incense. He sat with his strong hand resting on the arms of his chair, with the last gold of daylight touching his white hair and the lines of his firm, clean-shaven face, and overlooked his local world and his possessions. If they brought him happiness, he did not smile.
He aroused himself with a kind of shake of the shoulders, and stretched out a hand to ring, as his custom was after the day's work, for a draught of cider.
"Eh? Anything more?" he asked; for the little clerk, having gathered up his papers, had advanced close to the corner of the writing-table, and waited there with an air of apology.
"I beg your pardon, sir—the 28th of May. I had no opportunity this morning, but if I may take the liberty."—
"My birthday, Benny? So it is; and, begad, I believe you're the only soul to remember it. Stay a moment."—
He rang the bell, and ordered the maidservant to bring in a full jug of cider and two glasses. At the signal, a small Italian greyhound, who had been awaiting it, came forward fawning from her lair in the corner, and, encouraged by a snap of the fingers, leapt up to her master's knee.
"May God send you many, sir, and His mercy follow you all your days!" said little Mr. Benny, with sudden fervour. Relapsing at once into his ordinary manner, he produced a scrap of paper and tendered it shyly. "If you will think it appropriate," he explained.
"The usual compliment? Hand it over, man." Mr. Rosewarne took the paper and read—
"Another year, another milestone past; Dear sir, I hope it will not be the last: But more I hope that, when the road is trod, You find the Inn, and sit you down with God."
"Thank you, Benny. Your own composition?"
"I ventured to consult my brother, sir. The idea—if I may so call it— was mine, however."
Mr. Rosewarne leant forward, and picking up a pen, docketed the paper with the day of the month and the year. He then pulled out a drawer on the left-hand side of his knee-hole table, selected a packet labelled "Complimentary, P. B."—his clerk's initials—slipped the new verses under the elastic band containing similar contributions of twenty years, replaced the packet, and shut the drawer. The little greyhound, displaced by these operations, sprang again to his knees, and he fell to fondling her ears.
"I do not think there will be many more miles, Benny," said he, reaching for the cider-jug. "But let us drink to the rest of the way."
"A great many, I hope, sir," remonstrated Mr. Benny. "And, sir—talking about milestones—you will be pleased to hear that Mrs. Benny was confined this morning. A fine boy."
"That must be the ninth at least."
"The eleventh, sir—six girls and five boys: besides three buried."
"They bring their love with them, sir, as the saying is."
"And as the saying also is, Benny, it would be more to the purpose if they brought their boots and shoes. Man, you must have a nerve, to trust Providence as you do!"
"It's a struggle, sir, as you can guess; but except to your kindness in employing me, I am beholden to no man. I say it humbly—the Lord has been kind to me."
Rosewarne looked up for a moment and with a curious eagerness, as though on the point of putting a question. He suppressed it, however.
"It seems to me," he said slowly, "in this question of many children or few there's a natural conflict between the private man and the citizen; yes, that's how I put it—a natural conflict. I don't believe in Malthus or any talk about over-population. A nation can't breed too many sons. Sons are her strength, and if she is to whip her rivals it will be by the big battalions. Therefore, as I argue it out, a good citizen should beget many children. But now turn to the private side of it. A man wants to do the best for his own; and whatever his income, he can do better for two children than for half a dozen. To be sure, he mayn't turn 'em out as he intended."—
Here Rosewarne paused for a while unwittingly, as his eyes fell on the packet of letters in Mr. Benny's hand. The uppermost—the business letter which he had just signed—was addressed to his only son.
"—But all the same," he went on, "he has fitted them out and given them a better chance in the struggle for life. The devil takes the hindmost in this world, Benny. I'd like to lend you a book of Darwin's—the biggest book of this century, and a new gospel for the next to think out. The conclusion is that the spoils go to the strongest. You may help a man for the use you can make of him, but in the end every man's your natural enemy."
"A terrible gospel, sir! I shall have to get along with the old one, which says, 'Bear ye one another's burdens.'"
"I won't lend you the book. 'Twouldn't be fair to a man of your age, with eleven children. And after all, as I said, the new gospel has a place for patriots. They breed the raw material by which a nation crushes all rivals; then, when the fighting is over, along comes your man with money and a trained wit, and collars the spoils."
Mr. Benny stood shuffling his weight from one foot to the other. "Even if yours were the last word in this world, sir, there's another to reckon with."
"And meanwhile you're on pins and needles to be off to your wife's bedside. Very well, man—drink up your cider; and many thanks for your good wishes!"
As Mr. Benny hurried towards the wicket-gate and the street leading down to the ferry, he caught sight, across the hedge, of two children seated together in a corner of the garden on the step of a summer arbour, and paused to wave a hand to them.
They were a girl and a boy—the girl about eight years old and the boy a year or so younger—and the pair were occupied in making a garland such as children carry about on May-morning—two barrel-hoops fixed crosswise and mounted on a pole. The girl had laid the pole across her lap, and was binding the hoops with ferns and wild hyacinths, wallflowers, and garden tulips, talking the while with the boy, who bent his head close by hers and seemed to peer into the flowers. But in fact he was blind.
"You're late!" the girl called to Mr. Benny. At the sound of her voice, the boy too waved a hand to him.
"It's your grandfather's birthday, and I've been drinking his health." He beckoned them over to the hedge. "And it's another person's birthday," he announced mysteriously.
"Bless the man! you don't tell me you've gone and got another!" exclaimed the girl.
Mr. Benny nodded, no whit abashed.
"Boy or girl?"
"What is he like?" asked the boy. His blindness came from some defect of the optic nerve, and did not affect the beauty of his eyes, which were curiously reflective (as though they looked inwards), and in colour a deep violet-grey.
"I hadn't much time to take stock of him this morning," Mr. Benny confessed; "but the doctor said he was a fine one." He nodded at the garland. "Birthday present for your grandfather?" he asked.
"Grandfather doesn't bother himself about us," the girl answered. "Besides, what would he do with it?"
"I know—I know. It's better be unmannerly than troublesome, as they say; and you'd like to please him, but feel too shy to offer it. That's like me. I had it on my tongue just now to ask him to stand godfather—the child's birthday being the same as his own. 'Twas the honour of it I wanted; but like as not (thought I) he'll set it down that I'm fishing for something else, and when it didn't strike him to offer I felt I couldn't mention it."
"I'll ask him, if you like."
"Not on any account! No, please, you mustn't! Promise me."
"I oughtn't to have mentioned it, but,"—Mr. Benny rubbed the back of his head. "You don't know how it is—no, of course you wouldn't; somehow, when a child's born, I want to be talking all day."
"Like a hen. Well, run along home, and some day you shall ask us to tea with it."
But Mr. Benny had reached the wicket. It slammed behind him, and he ran down the street to the ferry at a round trot. He might have spared his haste, for he had to cool his heels for a good ten minutes on the slipway, and fill up the time in telling his news to half a dozen workmen gathered there and awaiting the boat. Old Nicky Vro, the ferryman, had pulled the same leisurable stroke for forty years now, and was not to be hurried.
The workmen were carpenters, all engaged upon the new schoolhouse above the hill, and returning from their day's job. They discussed the building as Nicky Vro tided them over. Its fittings, they agreed, were something out of the common.
"'Tis the old man's whim," said one. "He's all for education now, and the latest improvements. 'Capability'—that's his word."
"A poor lookout it'll be for Aunt Butson and her Infant School."
"He'll offer her the new place, maybe," it was suggested.
But all laughed at this. "What? with his notions? He's a darned sight more likely to offer her Nicky's job, here!"
Nicky smiled complacently in his half-witted way. "That's a joke, too," said he. He knew himself to be necessary to the ferry.
He pulled on—still with the same digging stroke which he could not have altered for a fortune—while his passengers discussed Rosewarne and Rosewarne's ways.
"Tis a hungry gleaning where he've a-reaped," said the man who had spoken of capability; "but I don't blame the old Greek—not I. 'Do or be done, miss doing and be done for'—that's the world's motto nowadays; and if I hadn't learnt it for myself, I've a son in America to write it home. Here we be all in a heap, and the lucky one levers himself a-top."
Mr. Benny said good-night to them on the landing-slip, and broke into a trot for home.
"'Tisn't true," he kept repeating to himself, almost fiercely for so mild a little man. "'Tisn't true, whatever it sounds. There's another world; and in this one—don't I know it?—there's love, love, love!"
FATHERS AND CHILDREN.
John Rosewarne fetched his hat and staff from the hall, and started on his customary stroll around the farm-buildings, with the small greyhound trotting daintily at his heels.
The lands of Hall march with those of a far larger estate, to which they once belonged, and of which Hall itself had once been the chief seat. The house—a grey stone building with two wings and a heavy porch midway between them—dated from 1592, and had received its shape of a capital E in compliment to Queen Elizabeth. King Charles himself had lodged in it for a day during the Civil War, and while inspecting the guns on a terraced walk above the harbour, had narrowly escaped a shot fired across from the town where Essex's troops lay in force. The shot killed a poor fisherman beside him, and His Majesty that afternoon gave thanks for his own preservation in the private chapel of Hall. In those days, the porch and all the main windows looked seaward upon this chapel across half an acre of green-sward, but the Rosewarnes had since converted the lawn into a farmyard and the shrine into a cow-byre. Above it ran a line of tall elms screening a lane used by the farm-carts, and above this again a great field of arable rounded itself against the sky.
From the top of Parc-an-hal—so the field was named—the eye travelled over a goodly prospect: sea and harbour; wide stretches of cultivated land intersected by sunken woodlands which marked the winding creeks of the river; other woodlands yet more distant, embowering the great mansion of Damelioc; the purple rise of a down capped by a monument commemorating ancient battles. The scene held old and deeply written meanings for Rosewarne, as he gazed over it in the descending twilight—meanings he had spent his life to acquire, and other meanings born with him in his blood.
Once upon a time there lived a wicked nobleman. He owned Damelioc, and had also for his pleasure the house and estate of Hall, whence his family had moved to their lordlier mansion two generations before his birth. Being exiled to the country from the Court of Queen Anne, he cast about for some civilised way of passing the time, and one day, as he lounged at church in his great pew, his eye fell on Rachel Rosewarne, a gipsy-looking girl, sitting under the gallery. This Rachel's father was a fisherman, tall of stature, who planted himself one night in the road as my lord galloped homeward to Damelioc. The horse shied, and the rider was thrown. Rosewarne picked him up, dusted his lace coat carefully, and led him aside into this very field of Parc-an-hal. No one knows what talk they held there, but on his lordship's dying, in 1712, of wounds received in a duel in Hyde Park, Rachel Rosewarne produced a deed, which the widow's lawyers did not contest, and entered Hall as its mistress, with her son Charles— then five years old.
Rachel Rosewarne died in 1760 at the age of seventy-six, leaving a grim reputation, which survived for another hundred years in the talk of the countryside. While she lived, her grip on the estate never relaxed. Her son grew up a mere hind upon the home-farm. When he reached twenty-five, she saddled her grey horse, rode over to Looe, and returned with a maid for him—one of the Mayows, a pale, submissive creature—whom he duly married. She made the young couple no allowance, but kept them at Hall as her pensioners. In the year 1747, Charles (by this time a man of forty) had the temerity to get religion from the Rev. John Wesley. The great preacher had assembled a crowd on the green by the cross-roads beyond Parc-an-hal. Charles Rosewarne, who was stalling the cattle after milking-time, heard the outcries, and strolled up the road to look. Two hours later he returned, fell on his knees in the outer kitchen, and began to wrestle for his soul, the farm-maids standing around and crying with fright. But half to hour later his mother returned from Liskeard market, strode into the kitchen in her riding-skirt, and took him by the collar. "You base-born mongrel!" she called out. "You barn-straw whelp! What has the Lord to do with one of your breed?" She dragged him to his feet and laid her horse-whip over head and shoulders. Madam had more than once used that whip upon an idling labourer in the fields.
She died, leaving the estate in good order and clear of debt. Charles Rosewarne enjoyed his inheritance just eleven years, and, dying in 1771 of angina pectoris, left two married daughters and a son, Nicholas, on whom the estate was entailed, subject to a small annual charge for maintaining his mother.
In this Nicholas all the family passions broke out afresh. He had been the one living creature for whom Madam Rachel's flinty breast had nursed a spark of love, and at fourteen he had rewarded her by trying to set fire to her skirts as she dozed in her chair. At nineteen, in a fit of drunkenness, he struck his father. He married a tap-room girl from St. Austell, and beat her. She gave him two sons: the elder (named Nicholas, after his father), a gentle boy, very bony in limb, after the fashion of the Rosewarnes; the younger, Michael, an epileptic. His mother had been turned out of doors one night in a north-westerly gale, and had lain till morning in a cold pew of the disused chapel, whereby the child came to birth prematurely. This happened in 1771, the year that Nicholas took possession of the estate. He treated his old mother even worse, being fierce with her because of the small annual charge. She grew blind and demented toward the end, and was given a room in the west wing, over the counting-house. Nicholas removed the door-handle on the inside, and the wainscot there still showed a dull smear, rubbed by the poor creature's shoulder as she trotted round and round; also marks upon the door, where her fingers had grabbled for the missing handle. There were dreadful legends of this Nicholas—one in particular of a dark foreigner who had been landed, heavily ironed, from a passing ship, and had found hospitality at Hall. The ship (so the story went) was a pirate, and the man so monstrously wicked that even her crew could not endure him. During his sojourn the cards and drink were going at Hall night and day, and every night found Nicholas mad-drunk. He began to mortgage, and whispers went abroad of worse ways of meeting his losses; of ships lured upon the rocks, and half-drowned sailors knocked upon the head, or chopped at with axes.
All this came to an end in the great thunderstorm of 1778, when the harvesters, running for shelter to the kitchen, found Nicholas lying in the middle of the floor with his mouth twisted and eyeballs staring. They were lifting the body, when a cry from the women fetched them to the windows, in time to catch a glimpse of the foreigner sneaking away under cover of the low west wall. As he broke into a run the lightning flashed upon the corners of a brass-bound box he carried under his arm. One or two gave chase, but the rain met them on the outer threshold in a deluge, and in the blind confusion of it he made off, nor was seen again.
Thus died Nicholas Rosewarne, and was followed to the grave by one mourner only—his epileptic child, Michael. The heir, Nicholas II., had taken the king's shilling to be quit of his home, and was out in Philadelphia, fighting under Sir Henry Clinton. He returned in 1780 with a shattered knee-pan and a young wife he had married abroad. She died within a year of her arrival at Hall in giving birth to a son, who was christened Martin.
The loss of her and the ruinous state of the family finances completely broke the spirit of this younger Nicholas. He dismissed the servants and worked in the fields and gardens about his fine house as a common market gardener. On fair-days at Liskeard or St. Austell the ex-soldier, prematurely aged, might have been seen in the market-place, standing as nearly at 'Attention' as his knee-pan allowed beside a specimen apple tree, which he held to his shoulder like a musket. Thus he kept sentry-go against hard Fortune—a tall man with a patient face. Thanks to a natural gift for gardening, and the rare fertility of the slopes below Hall, he managed to pay interest on the mortgages and support the family at home— his sad-browed mother, his brother Michael, and his son Martin. And he lived to taste his reward, for his son Martin had a financial genius.
This genius awoke in Martin Rosewarne one Sunday, in his fifteenth year, as he sat beside his father in the family pew and listened to a dull sermon on the Parable of the Talents. He was a just child, and he could not understand the crime of that servant who had hidden his talent in a napkin. In fault he must be, for the Bible said so.
The boy spent that afternoon in an apple-loft of the deserted chapel, and by evening he had hit on a discovery which, new in those days, now informs the whole of commerce—that it is more profitable to trade on borrowed capital than upon one's own.
He put it thus: "Let me, not knowing the meaning of a 'talent,' put it at 100 pounds. Now, if the good and faithful servant adventured five talents, or 500 pounds, at ten per cent, he made 50 pounds a year. But if the servant with one talent can borrow four others, he has the same capital of 500 pounds. Suppose him to borrow at five per cent. and make ten like the other, he pays 20 pounds profit in interest, and has thirty per cent, left on the talent he started with."
"Father," said the boy that night at supper, "what ought the wicked servant to have done with his talent?"
"Parson told you that plain enough, if you'd a-been listening."
"But what do you think?"
"I don't need to think when the Bible tells me. 'Thou wicked and slothful servant,' it says, 'thou oughtest to have put my money to the exchangers, and then I should have received mine own with usury.'"
"That means he ought to have lent it?"
"Well, now," said the boy, nodding, "I think he ought to have borrowed."
Nicholas stared at his son gloomily. "Setting yourself up agen' the Scriptures, hey? It's time you were a-bed."
The ex-soldier seldom gave way to passion, but now he banged his fist down on the table. "Go to bed!" he shouted. "Talk to me of borrowing! Don't my shoulders ache wi' the curse of it?"
Martin took his discovery off and nursed it. By and by another grew out of it: If the wicked servant be making thirty per cent, against the other's ten, he can afford for a time to abate some of his profit, lower his prices, and, by underselling, drive the other out of the market.
He grew up a tall and taciturn lad, pondering his thoughts while he dug and planted with his father in the kitchen-gardens. For this from the age of eighteen he received a small wage, which he carefully put aside. Then in 1800 his uncle Michael died, and left him a legacy of 50 pounds. He invested it in the privateering trade, in which the harbour did a brisk business just then. Three years later his father suffered a stroke of paralysis—a slight one, but it confined him to his room for some weeks. Meanwhile, Martin took charge.
"I've been looking into your accounts," he announced one day, as soon as his father could bear talking to.
"Then you've been taking an infernal liberty."
"I see you've cleared off two of the mortgages—on the home estate here and the Nanscawne property. You're making, one way and another, close on 500 pounds a year, half of which goes to paying up interest and reducing the principal by degrees."
"That's about it."
"And to my knowledge three of your tenants are making from 200 to 400 pounds by growing corn, which you might grow yourself. Was ever such folly? Look at the price corn is making."
"Look at the labour. How can I afford it?"
"By borrowing again on the uncumbered property."
"Your old lidden again? I take my oath I'll never raise a penny on Hall so long as I live! With blood and sweat I've paid off that mortgage, and I'll set my curse on you if you renew it when I'm gone."
"We'll try the other, then. Your father raised 1500 pounds on the Nanscawne lands, and spent it on cards and ropery. We'll raise the same money, and double it in three years. If we don't—well, I've made 500 pounds of my own, and I'll engage to hand you over every farthing of it."
"Well," his father gave in, "gain or loss, it will fall on you, and pretty soon. I wasn't built for a long span; my father's sins have made life bitter to me, and I thank God the end's near. But if you have 500 pounds to spare, I can't see why you drive me afield to borrow."
"To teach you a lesson, perhaps. As soon as you're fit for it, we'll drive over to Damelioc, and have a try with the new owner. He'll jump at us. The two properties went together once, and when he hears our tale, he'll say to himself, 'Oho! here's a chance to get 'em together again.' He'll think, of course, that you are in difficulties. But mind you stand out, and don't you pay more than five per cent."
Here it must be explained that the great Damelioc estates, after passing through several hands, had come in 1801 to an Irishman, a Mr. Eustatius Burke, who had made no small part of his fortune by voting for the Union. Mr. Burke, as Martin rightly guessed, would have given something more than the value of Hall to add it to Damelioc; and so, when Nicholas Rosewarne drove over and petitioned for a loan of 1500 pounds, he lent with alacrity. He knew enough of the situation to be thoroughly deceived. After Nanscawne, he would reach his hand out upon Hall itself. He lent the sum at five per cent, and dreamed of an early foreclosure.
Armed with ready money, the two Rosewarnes called in the leases of their fields, hired labourers, sowed corn, harvested, and sold at war prices. They bought land—still upon mortgage—on the other side of the harbour, and at the close of the great year 1812 (when the price of wheat soared far above 6 pounds a quarter) Nicholas Rosewarne died a moderately rich man. By this time Martin had started a victualling yard in the town, a shipbuilding yard, and an emporium near the Barbican, Plymouth, where he purveyed ships' stores and slop-clothing for merchant seamen. He made money, too, as agent for most of the smuggling companies along the coast, although he embarked little of his own wealth in the business, and never assisted in an actual run of the goods. He had ceased to borrow actively now, for other people's money came to him unsought, to be used.
The Rosewarnes, as large employers of labour, paid away considerable sums weekly in wages. But those were times of paper money. All coin was scarce, and in some villages a piece of gold would not be seen in a twelvemonth. Martin and his father paid for labour in part by orders on their own shops; for the rest, and at first for convenience rather than profit, they set up a bank and issued their own notes—those for one or two pounds payable at their own house, and those for larger sums by their London agent. At first these notes would be cashed at once. By and by they began to pass as ordinary tender. Before long, people who possessed a heap of this paper learnt that the Rosewarnes would give them interest for it as well as for money, and bethought them that, if hoarded, it ran the risk of robbery, besides being unproductive. Timidly and at long intervals men came to Martin and asked him to take charge of their wealth. He agreed, of course. 'Use the money of others' was still his motto. So Rosewarne's became a deposit bank.
To the end Nicholas imperfectly understood these operations. By a clause in his will he begged his son as a favour to pay off every penny of mortgage money. On the morning after the funeral, Martin stuffed three stout rolls of bank-notes into his pocket, and rode over to Damelioc. Mr. Burke had for six years been Lord Killiow, in the peerage of Ireland, and for two years a Privy Councillor. He received Martin affably. He recognised that this yeoman-looking fellow had been too clever for him, and bore no malice.
"I've a proposition to make to you, Rosewarne," said he, as he signed the receipts. "You are a vastly clever man, and I judge you to be trustworthy. For my part, I hate lawyers "—
"Amen!" put in Martin.
"And I thought of asking you to act as my steward at a salary. It won't take up a great deal of your time," urged his lordship; for Martin had walked to the long window, and stood there, gazing out over the park, with his hands clasped beneath his coat-tails.
"As for that, I've time to spare," answered Martin. "Banking's the easiest business in the world. When it's hard, it's wrong. But would you give me a free hand?"
"I cannot bind my brother Patrick, if that's what you mean. When I'm in the grave he must act according to his folly. If he chooses to dismiss you."—
"I'll chance that. But you are asking a good deal of me. Your brother is an incurable gambler. He owes something like 20,000 pounds at this moment—money borrowed mainly on post obits."
"You are well posted."
"I have reason to be. Man—my lord, I mean—he will want money, and what's to prevent me adding Damelioc to Hall, as you would have added Hall to Damelioc?"
"There's the boy, Rosewarne. I can tie up the estate on the boy."
Martin Rosewarne smiled. "Your brother's is a good boy," he said. "You can tie up the money with him. Or you may make me steward, and I'll give you my word he shall not be ousted."
Eustatius, first Lord Killiow, died in 1822, and his brother, Patrick Henry, succeeded to the title and estates. Martin Rosewarne retained his stewardship. To be sure he made an obliging steward. He saw that the man must go his own gait, and also that he was drinking himself to death. So where a timid treasurer would have closed the purse-strings, he unloosed them. He cut down timber, he raised mortgages as soon as asked— all to hasten the end. Thus encouraged, the second Lord Killiow ran his constitution to a standstill, and succumbed in 1832. The heir was at that time an undergraduate at Christchurch, Oxford, and already the author of a treatise of one hundred and fifty pages on The Limits of the Human Intelligence. On leaving the University he put on a white hat and buff waistcoat, and made violent speeches against the Reform Bill. Later, he sobered down into a 'philosophic' Radical; became Commissioner of Works; married an actress in London, Polly Wilkins by name; and died a year later, in 1850, at Rome, of malarial fever, leaving no heir. Lady Killiow—whom we shall meet—buried him decently, and returned to spend the rest of her days in seclusion at Damelioc, committing all business to her steward, John Rosewarne.
For Martin Rosewarne had taken to wife in 1814 a yeoman's daughter from the Meneage district, west of Falmouth, and the issue of that marriage was a daughter, who grew up to marry a ship's captain, against her parents' wishes, and a son, John, whom his father had set himself to train in his own ideas of business.
In intellect the boy inherited his father's strength, if something less than his originality. But in temper, as well as in size of frame and limb, he threatened at first to be a throw-back to Nicholas, his great-grandfather of evil memory. All that his father could teach he learnt aptly. But his passions were his own, and from fifteen to eighteen a devil seemed to possess the lad. He had no sooner mastered the banking business than he flatly refused to cross the bank's threshold. For two years he dissipated all his early promise in hunting, horse-breaking, wrestling at fairs, prize-fighting, drinking, gaming, sparking. Then, on a day after a furious quarrel at home, he disappeared, and for another three years his parents had never a word of him.
It was rumoured afterwards that he had enlisted, following his grandfather's example, and had spent at least some part of these wander-years as private in a West India regiment. At any rate, one fine morning in 1838 he returned, bringing with him a wife and an infant son, and it appeared that somehow he had exorcised, or at least chained, his devil. He settled down quietly at Hall, where meanwhile business had been prospering, and where now it put forth new vigour.
It was John who foresaw the decline in agriculture, and turned his father's attention from wheat-growing to mining. He opened up the granite and china-clay on the moorland beyond the town, and a railway line to bring these and other minerals down to the coast. He built ships, and in times of depression he bought them up, and made them pay good interest on their low prices. He bought up the sean-boats for miles along the coast, and took the pilchard-fishery into his hands. Regularly in the early spring a fleet sailed for the Mediterranean with fish for the Spaniards and Italians to eat during Lent. Larger ships—tall three-masters—took emigrants to America, and returned with timber for his building-yards, mines, and clay-works. The banking business had been sold by his father not long before the great panic of 1825.
In this same year 1825 John lost his first wife. After a short interval he sought and found a second—this time a lady of good family on the shores of the Tamar. She bore him a daughter, Anne, who grew up to make an unhappy match, and died untimely. The children at play in the garden were hers. Her mother survived her five years.
As men count prosperity, John Rosewarne had lived prosperously. He had a philosophy, too, to steel him against the blows of fate, and behind his philosophy a great natural courage. Nevertheless, as he gazed across his acres for the last time—knowing well that it might be the last—and across them to Damelioc, the wider acres of his stewardship, his eyes for one weak moment grew dim. He had reached the stile at the summit of Parc-an-hal, and was leaning there, when he felt a cool, damp touch upon his fingers. The little greyhound, puzzled at his standing there so long motionless, had reached up on her hind legs, and was licking his hand affectionately.
He frowned, pushed her off, and started to descend the hill. Night was falling fast, with a heavy dew. The children had left their play and crept to bed. They never sought him to say good-night.
He returned slowly, leaning on his staff, went to his room, lit the lamp, and spent a couple of hours with his papers. This had become his nightly habit of late.
On Wednesday he arose early, packed a hand-bag, crossed the ferry, and took train for Plymouth.
From the railway station at Plymouth John Rosewarne walked straight to Lockyer Street, to a house with a brass plate on the door, and on the brass plate the name of a physician famous throughout the West of England.
The doctor had just come to the end of his morning consultations, and received Rosewarne at once. The pair talked for five minutes on indifferent matters, then of Paris, and the terrible doings of the Commune—for this was the month of May 1871. At length Rosewarne stood up.
"Best get it over," said he.
The doctor felt his pulse, took the stethoscope and listened, tapped and sounded him, back and chest, then listened again.
"Worse?" asked Rosewarne.
"It is worse," answered the doctor gravely.
"I knew it. One or two in my family have died in the same way. The pains are sharper of late, and more frequent."
"You keep that little phial handy?"
Rosewarne showed where it lay, close at hand in his watch-pocket.
"How long?" he asked.
"A few months, perhaps." The doctor seemed to hesitate.
"And you won't answer for that?"
"With care. It is folly for a man like you to be overworking."
Rosewarne laughed grimly. "You're right there, and I've often enough asked myself why I do it. To what end, good Lord! But I'm taking no care, all the same. Good-bye."
"Good-bye, my friend." The doctor did not remonstrate further. He knew his man.
From Lockyer Street Rosewarne walked to his hotel, ordered a beef-steak and a pint of champagne, and lunched leisurably. Lunch over, he lit a cigar, and strolled in the direction of the Barbican. The streets were full of holiday-keepers, and he counted a dozen brakes full of workers pouring out of town to breathe the air of Dartmoor on this fine afternoon. He himself was conscious of elation.
"I'll drink it regularly," he muttered to himself. "It's hard if a man with maybe a month more to live cannot afford himself champagne."
The air in Southside Street differed from that of Dartmoor, being stuffy, not to say malodorous. He rapped on the door of a dingy office, and it was opened by his son, Mr. Samuel Rosewarne.
"How d'ye do, Sam?" he nodded, not offering to shake hands. "All alone? That's right. I hope, by the way, I'm not depriving you of a holiday?"
"I seldom take a holiday," Mr. Sam answered.
The old man eyed him ironically. Mr. Sam wore a black suit, with some show of dingy white shirt-front, relieved by a wisp of black cravat and two onyx studs. His coat-cuffs were long and frayed, and his elastic-side boots creaked as he led the way to the office.
In the office the old man came to business at once. "First of all," said he, with a nod toward the safe, "I'd like a glance into your books."
"Certainly, sir," answered Mr. Sam, after a moment's hesitation. He unlocked the safe. "Do you wish to take the books in order? You will find it a long business."
"Man, I don't propose to audit your accounts. If you let me pick and choose, half an hour will tell me all I want."
Well knowing that his son detested the smell of tobacco, he pulled out another cigar and lit it. "You can open the window," said he, "if you prefer the smell of your street. Is this the pass-book?"
For about three-quarters of an hour he ransacked the ledgers, tracking casual entries from one to another apparently at random. His fingers raced through the pages. Now and again he looked up to put a sharp question; and paused, drumming on the table while Mr. Sam explained. Once he said, "Bad debt? Not a bit; the man was right enough, if you had made inquiries."
"I did make inquiries."
"Ay, into his balance. So you pinched him at the wrong moment, and pinched out ninepence in the pound. Why the devil couldn't you have learnt something of the man? He was all right. If you'd done that, you might have recovered every penny, earned his gratitude, and done dashed good business."
He shut the ledger with a slam. "Lock 'em up," he commanded, lighting a fresh cigar, "and come up to the Hoe for a stroll. Where the deuce did you pick up that hat?"
"I thought so. Maybe you've invested in a full suit of mourning for me, at the same time?"
"Why not? The books are all right. You've no range. Still, within your scope you're efficient. You'll get to your goal, such as it is. You wear a hat that makes me ill, but in some way you and your hat will represent the survival of the fittest. What's the boy like?"
"He ails at times, sir—being without a mother's care. I am having him privately instructed. He has some youthful stirrings toward grace."
Old Rosewarne swung round at a standstill. "Grace?" he echoed, for the moment supposing it the name of a girl. Then perceiving his mistake, he broke out into a short laugh; but the laugh ended bitterly, and his face twitched with pain.
"Look here, Sam; I'm going to leave you the money. Don't stare—and don't, I beg, madden me with your thanks."—
"I'm sure, sir."—
"You'll get it because I can't help myself. There's your half-sister's children at home; but of what use to me is a girl or a blind boy? You are narrow—narrow as the grave: but I find that, like the grave, you are inevitable; and, like the grave, you keep what you get. For the kind of finance that was the true game of manhood to your grandfather and me, you have no capacity whatever. No, I cannot explain. Finance? Why, you haven't even a sense of it. Yet in a way you are capable. You will make the money yield interest, and will keep the race going. That is what I look to—you will keep the race going. Now I want to speak about that boy of yours. Do me the only favour I have ever asked you—send him to a public school, and afterwards to college, and let him have his fling."
Sam thought his father must have gone mad. "What, sir! After all you have said of such places! 'Dens of idleness,' 'sinks of iniquity'—I have heard you scores of times!"
"I spoke as a fool. 'Twas my punishment, perhaps, to believe it; but, Lord!"—he eyed his son up and down—"to think my punishment should take this form!" He caught Sam's arm suddenly and wheeled him about in face of a glass shop-front. "Man, look at yourself! Make the boy something different from that! Do what I'd have done for you if ever you had given me a chance. Turn him loose among gentlemen; don't be afraid if he idles and wastes money; let him riot out his youth if he will—he'll be learning all the time, learning something you don't know how to teach, and maybe when his purse is emptied he'll come back to you a gentleman. I tell you there's no difference in the world like that between a gentleman and a man who's not a gentleman. Money can't buy it; and, after the start, money can't change or hide it. The thing is there, or it isn't."
"Whatever the thing is," said Sam sullenly, "you are asking me to peril my son's soul for it."
They had reached the Hoe by this time. John Rosewarne dropped upon a bench and sat resting both hands on his staff and gazing over the twinkling waters of the Sound.
"Anne married a gentleman," pursued Sam.
"Ay, and a rake. A-ah!" muttered the old man after a moment, drawing a long breath, "if only that boy of hers weren't blind! But he doesn't carry the name, while you."—He broke off with a savage laugh. "What's that you said a moment ago?—something about immortal souls."
"I said there's a world beyond this, and,"—
"Is there? That's what I'm concerned to know just now. And you? What are you proposing to do when you get there?" He withdrew his eyes from the bright seascape and let them travel slowly over his son. "You! sitting there like a blot on God's sunshine! By what right should you expect another world, who have cut such a figure in this one? I have known love and lust, and drink and hard work and hard fighting; I have been down in the depths, and again I have known moments to make a man smack his hands together for joy to be alive and doing. But you? What kind of man are you, you son of mine? What do you live for? Why did you marry? And what did you and your poor woman find to talk about?"
Whatever bullying Sam suffered, he had his revenge in this—that he and no other man could exasperate his father to weakness. He rubbed his thin side whiskers now and muttered something about 'an acceptable sacrifice.'
The old man jabbed viciously at the gravel with his staff. "And your religion?" he broke forth again. "What is it? In some secret way it satisfies you—but how? I look into the Bible, and I find that the whole of religion rests on a man's giving himself away to help others. I don't believe in it myself; I believe in the exact contrary. Still there the thing is, set out in black and white. It upsets law and soldiering and nine-tenths of men's doings in trade: to me it's folly; but so it stands, honest as daylight. When did you help a man down on his luck? or forgive your debtor? You'll get my money because you never did aught of the kind. Yet somehow you're a Christian, and prate of your mean life as an acceptable sacrifice. In my belief you're a Christian precisely because Christianity—how you work it out I don't know—will give you a sanction for any dirty trick that comes in your way. When good feeling, or even common honour, denies you, there's always a text somewhere to oil your conscience."
"I've one, sir, on which I can rely—'Be just, and fear not.'"
"I'll test it. You'll have my money; on which you hardly dared to count, eh? Be honest."
"Only on so much of it as is entailed, sir."
For a while John Rosewarne sat silent, with his eyes on the horizon.
"That," said he at length, "is just what you could not count on." He turned and looked Sam squarely in the face. "You were born out of wedlock, my son."
Sam's hand gripped the iron arm of the bench. The muscles of his face scarcely moved, but its sallow tint changed, under his father's eyes, to a sickly drab.
"Ay," pursued the old man, "I am sorry for you at this moment; but you mustn't look for apologies and repentance and that sort of thing. The fact is, I never could feel about it in that way. I was young and fairly wild, and it happened. One doesn't think of possible injury to someone who doesn't yet exist. But that, I grant you, doesn't make it any the less an injury. Now what have you to say?"
"The sins of the fathers."—
"—Are visited on the children: quite so. Afterwards we did our best, and married. No one knows; no one has ever guessed; and the proof would be hard to trace. In case of accident, I give you Port Royal for a clue."
Sam rose and stood for a moment staring gloomily down on the gravel. "Why did you tell me, then?" he broke out. "What need was there to tell?"
His father winced, for the first time. "I see your point. Why didn't I, you ask, having played the game so far, play it out? Why couldn't I take my secret with me into the last darkness, and be judged for it—my own sole sin and complete? Well, but there's the blind child. By law the house and home estate would he his. I might have kept silence, to be sure, and let him be robbed; but somehow I couldn't. I've a conscience somewhere, I suppose."
"Have you?" Sam flamed out, with sudden spirit. "A nice sort of conscience it must be! I call it cowardice, this dragging me in to help you compensate the child. Conscience? If you had one, you wouldn't be shifting the responsibility on to mine."
"You are mistaken," said his father calmly. "And by the way, I advise you not to take that tone with me. It may all be very proper under the circumstances; but there's the simple fact that I won't stand it. You're mistaken," he repeated. "I mean to settle the compensation alone, without consulting you; though, by George! if 'tweren't for pitying the poor child, I'd like to leave it to you as a religious man, and watch you developing your reasons for giving him nothing."
"And it was you," muttered Sam, with a kind of stony wonder, "who advised me just now to let my son run wild!"
"I did, and I do." John Rosewarne stood up and gripped his staff. "By the way, too," he said, "your mother was a good woman."
"I don't want to hear anything about it."
"I know; but I wanted to tell you. Good-bye."
He turned abruptly and went his way down the hill. As he went, his lips moved. He was talking not to himself, but to an unseen companion—
"Mary! Mary!—that this should be the fruit of our sowing!"
Beside the winding Avon above Warwick bridge there stretches a flat meadow, along the brink of which on a summer evening you may often count a score of anglers seated and watching their floats; decent citizens of Warwick, with a sprinkling of redcoats from the garrison. They say that two-thirds of the Trappist brotherhood are ex-soldiers; and perhaps if we knew the reason we might also know why angling has a peculiar fascination for the military.
Angling was but a pretext, however, with a young corporal of the 6th Regiment, who sat a few yards away on John Rosewarne's right, and smoked his pipe, and cast frequent furtive glances, now along the river path, now back and across the meadow where another path led from the town. Each of these glances ended in a resentful stare at his too-near neighbour, who fished on unregarding.
"Is this a favourite corner of yours?" the corporal asked after a while, with meaning.
"I have fished on this exact spot for thirty-five years," answered John Rosewarne, not lifting his eyes from the float.
The corporal whistled. "Thirty-five years! It's queer, now, that I never set eyes on you before—and I come here pretty often."
Rosewarne let a full minute go by before he answered again. "There's nothing queer about it, Unless you've been stationed long in Warwick."
"Best part of a year."
"Quite so: I fish in Avon once a year only."
"Belong to the town?"
"No; nor within two hundred miles of it."
"You must think better of the sport than I do, to come all that distance."
John Rosewarne lifted his eyes for the first time and turned them upon the young man.
"What sport?" he asked.
"Eh? Why, fishing, to be sure. What else?" stammered the corporal, taken aback.
"Tut!" said the old man curtly. "Here she comes. Now, what are you going to do?"
Without waiting for an answer, he bent his gaze on the float again, and kept it fastened there, as a pretty shop-girl came strolling along the river path. She had taken off her hat, of broad-brimmed straw with artificial poppies and cornflowers, and swung it in her hand as she came. Her eyes roamed the landscape carelessly, avoiding only that particular spot where the corporal, as she approached, scrambled to his feet; then, her start of surprise was admirable.
"Oh, it's you! Good-evening."
"Why, whoever—! It seems to me you spend most of your time fishing."
She paused, gathering in her skirt a little—and this obviously was the cue for a gallant soldier. The corporal began, indeed, to wind up his line, but with a foolish grin and a glance at Rosewarne's back.
"It keeps beautiful weather," he answered at length.
"I call it sultry." She held out her hat with a little deprecating laugh. "I took it off for the sake of fresh air," she explained. Then, as he stood stock-still, a flush crept up her cheek to her pretty forehead.
"Well, good-evening; I won't interrupt you by talking," she said, and began to move away.
Come to think of it, it do look like thunder, "the corporal remarked to Rosewarne, staring after her and then up at the sky.
"If you had eyes in your head, you'd have seen that without her telling you. That cloud yonder has been rising against the wind for an hour. Look you along the bank, how every man Jack is unjointing his rod and making for home. Go, and leave me in peace!"
He did not turn his head even when the corporal, having packed together his gear, wished him good-night and hurried after the print frock as it vanished in the twilit shadows. One or two of the departing anglers paused as they went by to promise him that a storm was imminent and the fish had ceased feeding. He thanked them, yet sat on—solitary, in the leaden dusk.
The scene he had just witnessed—how it called up the irremediable past, with all the memories which had drawn him hither, summer after summer! And yet how common it was and minutely unimportant! Nightly by the banks of Avon couples had been courting—thousands in these thirty-five years— each of them dreaming, poor fools, that their moment's passion held the world in its hands. But the world teemed with rivers ten times lordlier than Avon—rivers stretching out in an endless map, with bridges on which lovers met and whispered, with banks down which they went with linked arms into the shadows—
"Were I but young for thee, as I hae been, We should hae been gallopin' doun in yon green, And linkin' it owre the lily-white lea— And wow gin I were but young for thee!"
He had been young, and had loved and wronged a woman, and bitterly repented. He had married her, and marriage had killed neither love nor remorse. The woman was dead long since: he had married again, but never forgotten her nor ceased to repent. She, a pretty tradesman's daughter of Warwick, had collected her savings and taken ship for the West Indies, trusting to his word, facing a winter's passage in the sole hope that he would right her. Until the day of embarking she had never seen the sea; and the sea, after buffeting her to the verge of death, in the end betrayed her. A gale delayed the ship, and in the height of it her child was born. Rosewarne, a private soldier, went to his captain, as soon as she was landed, made a clean breast of it, and married her. But it was too late. She lived to return with him to England; but he knew well enough when she died that her sufferings on the passage out, and the abiding anguish of her shame, had killed her. A common tale! Men and women still go the way of their instinct, by which the race survives. "All the rivers run into the sea, and yet the sea is not full. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be, and that which is done is that which shall be done."
A tale as common as sunset! Yet upon all rivers and upon every bridge and willow-walk along their courses the indifferent sun shines for each pair of fools with a difference, lighting their passion with a separate flame. The woman was dead; and he—he that had been young—sat face to face with death.
He leaned forward, oblivious of the clouded dusk, with his half-shut eyes watching the grey gleam of the river; but his mind's eye saw the shadowy mead behind him, and a girlish figure crossing it with feet that seemed to faint, holding her back from doom, yet to be impelled against their will.
They drew nearer. He heard their step, and faced about with a start. An actual woman stood there on the river path, most like in the dusk to that other of thirty-five years ago; but whereas she had worn a print frock, this one was clad in total black.
"Mr. Rosewarne,"—she began; but her words came to a halt, checked by a near flash of lightning and by what it revealed.
He was in the act of rising—had risen, in fact, on one knee—when a spasm of pain took him, and his hand went up to his breast. For a moment he knelt so, turning on her a face of anguish; then sank and dropped in a heap at her feet.
Quick as thought she was down on her knees beside him, and, slipping an arm beneath his head, drew it upon her lap. While with swift fingers she loosened his collar and neckcloth, a peal of thunder rumbled out, and the first large raindrops fell splashing on her hand. She recalled that last gesture of his, and with sudden inspiration searched in his breast-pocket, found and drew out a small phial, uncorked it, and forced the liquid between his teeth before they clenched in a second spasm. Two or three sharp flashes followed the first. In the glare of them her eyes searched along the river-bank, if haply help might be near; but all the anglers had departed. Rosewarne's face stared up at her, blue as a dead man's in the dazzling light. At first it seemed to twitch with each opening of the heavens; but this must have been a trick of eyesight, for his head lay quiet against her arm as she raised him a little, shielding him against the torrential rain which now hissed down, in ten seconds drenching her to the skin, blotting out river and meadow in a sheet of grey. It forced her to stoop her shoulders, and, so covering him, she put out a hand and laid it over his heart. Yes, it beat, though feebly. Once more she picked up the phial and gave him to drink, and in a little while he stirred feebly and found his voice.
"Rain? Is it rain?" he muttered.
"Yes; but I can spread my skirt over you. It will keep off a little. Are you better?"
"Better? Yes, better. Let me feel the rain—it does me good." He lay silent for a minute or so. "I shall be right again in a few minutes. Did you find the phial?"
"Good girl. It was touch and go." By and by he made a movement to sit up. "Let us get home quickly. You can throw the rod into the river. I shan't want it again."
But she stood up, and, groping for the rod, drew the float ashore, and untackled it, still in the hissing rain. The storm, after a brief lull, had redoubled its rage. The darkness opened and shut as with a rapidly moving slide, the white battlements of Caesar's Tower gleaming and vanishing above the castle elms, and reappearing while their fierce candour yet blinded the eye. The thunder-peals, blending, wrapped Warwick as with one roar of artillery. Rosewarne had risen, and stood panting. He grasped her shoulder. "Come!" he commanded. The girl, dazzled by the lightning, puzzled by his sudden renewal of strength, turned and peered at him. He declined her arm. They walked back across the sodden meadow to the town, over the roofs of which, as the storm passed away northward, the lightning yet glimmered at intervals, turning the gaslights to a dirty orange.
At the summit of the High Street, hard by the Leycester Hospital, they came to the doorway of a small shuttered shop, over which by the light of a street lamp one could read the legend, "J. Marvin, Secondhand Bookseller." The girl opened the door with a latchkey. An oil lamp burned in an office at the back of the shop—if that can be spoken of as a separate room which was, in fact, entirely walled off with books laid flat and rising in stacks from the floor. The place, in fact, suggested a cave or den rather than a shop, with stalagmites of piled literature and a subtle pervading odour of dust and decayed leather. The girl, after shutting the bolts behind her, led the way cautiously, and, crossing a passage at the rear of the shop, opened a door upon a far more cheerful scene. Here, in a neat parlour hung with old prints and mezzotints and water-colours, a hanging lamp shed its rays on a China bowl heaped with Warwickshire roses, and on a white cloth and a table spread for supper.
"H'm!" grunted Rosewarne, glancing in through the doorway, while she lit a candle for him at the foot of the stairs. "Your father and I used to sup in the kitchen, with old Selina to wait on us."
"But since there is no longer any Selina! I had to pension her off, poor old soul, and she is gone to the almshouse."
She handed him the light.
"Now, if you will go up to your room, I will fetch the hot water, and then you must give me your change of clothes. They shall be warmed for a few minutes at the kitchen fire, and you shall have them hot-and-hot."
"It seems to me that while all this is doing, you will stand an excellent chance of rheumatic fever."
"Oh, I shall be all right," she announced cheerfully. "No—don't look at me, please. I know very well that the dye has run out of these crapes, and my face is beautifully streaked with black! Can you walk upstairs alone? Very well. And if you feel another attack coming, you are to call me at once."
She must have been expeditious; for when he came downstairs again he found her awaiting him in the parlour, clad in a frock of duffel-grey, which, with her damp, closely plaited hair, gave her a Quakerish look. Yet the frock became her; the natural wave of her hair, defying moisture, showed here and there rebelliously, and her cheeks glowed after a vigorous towelling.
Rosewarne drew from under his coat a bottle of champagne, and set it on the table, where the lamp's ray fell full on its gold foil. Her eyes opened wide; for he had always visited this house in his oldest clothes and passed for a poor man.
"Since you insist upon the parlour," said he, "I must try to live up to it." He produced a knife from his pocket, with a pair of nippers, and began to cut the wire. "Why are you wearing grey?" he demanded.
She flushed. "This is my school frock. I have only one suit of mourning as yet."
"And you sent away Selina. You wanted money, I suppose?"
"No," she answered, after a moment, meeting his eyes frankly; "at least, not in the way you mean. The doctor's bills were heavy, and for years father had done business enough to keep the roof over him and no more. So at first there was—well, a pinch. The books will sell, of course; two honest men are already bidding for them—one at Birmingham and the other at Bristol. But meanwhile I must pinch a little or run in debt. I hate debt."
"And afterwards?" Rosewarne broke off sharply, with a glance around the table. "But, excuse me, you have laid for one only."
"If it is your pleasure, Mr. Rosewarne."—
"Say that I claim it as an honour, Miss Hester," he answered, with a mock-serious bow.
She laughed, and ran off to the pantry.
"And afterwards?" he resumed, as they seated themselves.
"Afterwards? Oh, I go back to the teaching. I like it, you know."
He brimmed her glass with champagne, then filled his own. "You saved my life just now, Miss Hester; and life is good to look forward to, even when a very little remains. I drink to your happiness."
"Thank you, sir."
"How old are you?"
"I shall be twenty-five in August."
"And how long have you been teaching?"
"Ah! is it eight years since I came and missed you? I remember, the last time we three supped together—you and your father and I—I remember taking note of you, and telling myself, 'She will be married before I return next year.' Why haven't you married?"
It was the essence of Hester Marvin's charm that she dealt straightly with all people.
"It takes two to make even that quarrel," she answered frankly and gaily. "Will you believe that nobody has ever asked me?"
"Make light of it if you will, but I bid you to beware. You were a good-looking missie, and you have grown—yes, one can say it without making you simper—into a more than good-looking woman. But the days slip by, child, and your looks will slip away with them. You are wasting your life in worrying over other folk's children. Those eyes of yours were meant for children of your own. What's more, you are muddling the world's work. Which do you teach now—boys or girls?"
"Girls for the most part; but I have a class of small boys."
"And what do you teach 'em—I mean, as the first and most important thing?"
Hester knit her brows for a moment before answering. "Well, I suppose, to be honourable to one another and gentle to their sisters."
"Just so. In other words, you relieve a mother of her proper duty. Who but a mother ought to teach a boy those things, if he's ever to learn 'em? That's what I call muddling the world's work. By the time a boy gets to school he ought to be ripe for a harder lesson, and learn that life's a fight in which brains and toil bring a man to the top. As for girls, one-half of present-day teaching is time and money thrown away. Teach 'em to be wives and mothers—to sew and cook."—
"Does your supper displease you, Mr. Rosewarne?"
He set down knife and fork with a comical stare around the board.
"Eh? No—but did you really—?"
Their eyes met, and they both broke into a laugh.
"I should very much like to know," said Hester, resting her elbows on the table and gazing at him over her folded hands, "if you have treated life as a fight in which men get the better of their neighbours."
He eyed her with sudden, sharp suspicion.
"You have at any rate a woman's curiosity," said he. "When you wrote to me that your father was dead, but that I might have, for the last time, my usual lodging here, had you any reason to suppose me a rich man?"
"I think," answered Hester slowly, after a pause, "that I must have spoken so as to hurt you somehow. If so, I am sorry; but you must hear now just why I wrote. I knew that, ever since I was born, and long before, you had come once a year and lodged here for a night. I knew that you came because my father was the parish clerk and let you spend the night in St Mary's Church; and I know that, though he allowed it secretly, you did no harm there, else he would never have allowed it. Now he is dead, and meanwhile I keep the keys by the parson's wish until a new parish clerk is appointed. And so I wrote, thinking to serve you for one year more as my father had served you for many."
"I thank you, Miss Hester, and I beg your pardon. Yet there is a question I need to ask, though you may very properly refuse to answer it. Beyond my name and address and my yearly visits, what do you know of me?"
"Nothing at all."
"You must have wondered why I should do this strange thing, year by year?"
"To wonder is not to be inquisitive. Of course I have wondered; but I supposed that you came to strengthen yourself in some purpose, or to keep alive a memory—of someone dear to you, perhaps. Into what has brought you to us year after year I have no wish at all to pry. But there is a look on your face—and when children come to me with that look they are unhappy with some secret, and want to be understood without having to tell all particulars. A schoolmistress gets to know that look, and recognises it sometimes in grown-up folk, even in quite old persons. Yes, and there is another look on your face. You are not strong enough to go alone to the church to-night, and you know it."
"I am going, I tell you."
He had pushed back his chair, and answered her, after a long pause, during which he watched her removing the cloth.
"To-morrow you may have recovered; but to-night you are faint from that attack. If you really must go, will you not let me go too, and take my promise neither to look nor to listen?"
"Get me the key," he commanded, and walked obstinately to the door. But there his strength betrayed him. He put out a hand against the jamb. "I am no better than a child," he groaned, and turned weakly to her. "Come if you will, girl. There is nothing to see, nothing to overhear."
She fetched cloak and bonnet and found the great keys. He and she stepped out by a back entrance upon a lane leading to the church. The storm had passed. Aloft, in a clear space of the sky, the moon rode and a few stars shone down whitely, as if with freshly washed faces. Hester carried a dark lantern under her cloak; but, within, the church was light enough for Rosewarne to grope his way to his accustomed pew. Hester saw him take his seat there, and choosing a pew at some distance, in the shadow of the south aisle, dropped on her knees.
Nothing happened. The tall figure in the chancel sat motionless. Rosewarne did not even pray—since he did not believe in God. But because a woman, now long dead, had believed and had implored him to believe also, that they two might one day meet in heaven, he consecrated this night to her, sitting in the habitation of her faith, keeping his gaze upon that spot in the darkness where on a bright Sunday morning a young soldier had caught sight of her and met her eyes for the first time. Year after year he had kept this vigil, concentrating his thought upon her and her faith; but never for an instant had that faith come near to touching him, except with a sentimental pity which he rejected, despising it; never had he come near to piercing the well of that mysterious comfort and releasing its waters. To him the dust of the great dead yonder in the Beauchamp Chapel—dust of men and women who had died in faith—was dust merely, arid, unbedewed by any promise of a life beyond. They had played their parts, and great tombs and canopies covered their final nothingness. This was the last time he would watch, and to-night he knew there was less chance than ever of any miracle; for weariness weighed on him, and the thought of coming annihilation held no terror, but only an invitation to be at rest.
From the tower overhead the airy chimes floated over Warwick, beating out a homely tune to mingle with homely dreams. He sat on, nor stirred.
The June dawn broke, with the twittering of birds in the churchyard. He stood up and stretched himself, with a frown for the painted windows with their unreal saints and martyrs. His footsteps as he walked down the aisle did not arouse the girl, who slept in the corner of the pew, with her loosened hair pencilling, as the dawn touched it, lines of red-gold light upon the dark panels. Her face was pale, and sleep gave it a childlike beauty. He understood, as he stooped and touched her shoulder, why the apparition of her on the river-bank had so startled him.
"Come, child," he said; "the night is over."
THE CLOSE OF A STEWARDSHIP.
A strange impatience haunted Rosewarne on his homeward journey; an almost intolerable longing to arrive and get something over—he scarcely knew what. When at length he stood on the ferry slipway, with but a furlong or two of water between him and home, the very tranquillity of the scene irritated him subtly—the slow strength of the evening tide, the few ships idle at their moorings, the familiar hush of the town resting after its day's business. He tapped his foot on the cobbles as though this fretful action could quicken Uncle Nicky Vro, who came rowing across deliberately as ever, working his boat down the farther shore and then allowing the tide to slant it upstream to the landing-place.
"Eh? So 'tis you?" was Nicky's greeting. "Well, and I hope that you've enjoyed your holiday—not that I know, for my part, what a holiday means."
"It's time you took one, then," Rosewarne answered.
The old man chuckled. "Pretty things would happen if I did! 'Took a day off, one time, to marry my old woman, and another to bury her, and that's all in five-and-forty year. Not a day's sickness in all that time, thank the Lord!"
Rosewarne watched the old fellow's feeble digging stroke. "I preach capability," he said to himself, "and this is the sort of thing I allow!" His gaze travelled from the oar to the oarsman. "You're getting past your work, all the same," he said aloud. "What does it feel like?"
"To give up life little by little. Some men run till they drop—are still running strong, maybe, when the grave opens at their feet, and in they go. With you 'tis more like the crumbling of rotten timber; a little dribble of sawdust day by day to show where the worms are boring. What does it feel like?"
"I don't feel it at all," Nicky answered cheerfully. "Folks tell me from time to time that I'm getting past. My own opinion is, they're in a greater hurry to get to market than of yore. 'Competition '—that's a cry sprung up since my young days: it used to be 'Religion,' and 'Nicholas Vro, be you a saved man?' The ferry must ply, week-day or Sabbath: I put it to you, What time have I got to be a saved man? The Lord is good, says I. Now I'll tell you a fancy of mine about Him. One day He'll come down to the slip calling 'Over!' and whiles I put Him across—scores of times I've a-seen myself doing it, and 'tis always in the cool of the evening after a spell of summer weather—He'll speak up like a gentleman, and ask, 'Nicholas Vro, how long have you been a-working this here boat?' 'Lord,' I'll answer, 'for maybe a matter of fifty year, calm or blow, week-days and Sabbaths alike; and that's the reason your Honour has missed me up to church, as you may have noticed.' 'You must be middlin' tired of it,' He'll say: and I shall answer up, 'Lord, if you say so, I don't contradict 'ee; but 'tis no bad billet for a man given to chat with his naybours and talk over the latest news and be sociable, and warning to leave don't come from me.' 'You'd best give me over they oars, all the same,' He'll say; and with that I shall hand 'em over and be rowed across to a better world."
Rosewarne was not listening. "Surely, man, the tide's slack enough by this time!" he interrupted, his irritation again overcoming him. "You needn't be fetching across sideways, like a crab."
Nicky Rested on his oars, and stared at him for a moment. As if Rosewarne or any man alive could teach him how to pull the ferry! He disdained to argue.
"Talking about news," said he, resuming his stroke, "the Virtuous Lady arrived yesterday, and began to unload this morning. You can see her top-m'sts down yonder, over the town quay."
"Has Mrs. Purchase been ashore?" Mrs. Purchase was Rosewarne's only sister, who had married a merchant skipper and sailed with him ever since in the Virtuous Lady, in which she held a preponderance of the shares.
"Came ashore this very afternoon in a bonnet as large as St. Paul's, with two-thirds of a great hummingbird a-top. She's balancing up the freight accounts at this moment with Peter Benny. Indeed, master, you'll find a plenty of folk have been inquiring for 'ee. There's the parson for one. To my knowledge he've been down three times to ask when you'd be back, and if you'd forgotten the School Managers' meeting, that's fixed for to-morrow." Uncle Nicky brought his boat at length to shore. "And there's Aun' Butson in terror that you'll be bringing in some stranger to teach the children, and at her door half the day listening for your footstep, to petition 'ee."
Somehow Rosewarne had promised himself that the restlessness would leave him as soon as he reached his own side of the water. He stepped ashore and began to walk up the slipway at a brisk pace; and then on a sudden his brain harked backward to Uncle Nicky's talk, to which a minute before he had listened so inattentively. In his hurry he had let an opportunity pass. The old man had talked of death; had been on the point of saying something important, perhaps—for all that concerned death and men's views of death had become important now. He halted and turned irresolutely. But the moment had gone by.
"Good-night!" he called back, and resumed his way up the village street.
Uncle Nicky, bending to replace a worn thole-pin with a new one, dropped the pair with a clatter. In all his experience Rosewarne had never before flung him a salutation.
"And a minute ago trying to tell me how to work the ferry!" the old man muttered, staring after him. "The man must be ailing."
As a hunted deer puts the water between him and the hounds, Rosewarne had hoped to shake off his worry at the ferry-crossing. But no; it dogged him yet as he mounted the hill. Only, as a dreamer may suffer the horror of nightmare, yet know all the while that it is a dream, he felt the impatience and knew it for a vain thing. All his life he had been hurrying desperately, and all his life the true moments had offered themselves and been left ungrasped.
Before the doorway of a cottage halfway up the hill an old woman waited to intercept him—Aunt Butson, the village schoolmistress. She was a spinster well over sixty, and lodged with a widow woman, Sarah Trevarthen, to whom the cottage belonged.
Rosewarne frowned at the sight of her. She wore her best cap and shawl, and her cheeks were flushed. Behind her in the doorway sat a young sailor, with a cage on the ground beside him and a parrot perched on his forefinger close against his cheek. He glanced up with a shy, very good-natured smile, touched his forelock to Rosewarne, and went on whispering to the bird.
Aunt Butson stepped out into the roadway. "Good-evening, Mr. Rosewarne, and glad to see you back and in health!" She dropped him a curtsey. "If you've a minute to spare, sir."—
Confound the woman!—he had no minutes to spare. Still frowning, he looked over her head at the young sailor, Sarah Trevarthen's boy Tom, home from his Baltic voyage in the Virtuous Lady. Yes, it was Tom Trevarthen, now a man grown. Rosewarne remembered him as a child in frocks, tumbling about the roadway; as an urchin straddling a stick; as a lad home (with this same parrot) from his first voyage. Who, in a world moving at such a pace, could have a minute to spare?
Aunt Butson had plunged into her petition, and was voluble. It concerned the new schools, of course. "She had taught reading, writing, and ciphering for close on forty years. All the children in the village, and nine-tenths of their parents for that matter, owed their education to her. A little she could do, too, in navigation—as Mr. Rosewarne well knew: enough to prepare a lad for schoolmaster Penrose across the water. Mr. Penrose would rather teach two boys from her school than one from any other parish. Surely—surely—the new Board wouldn't take the bread out of an old woman's mouth and drive her to the workhouse? She didn't believe, as some did, in this new-fangled education, and wouldn't pretend to. Arithmetic up to practice-sums and good writing and spelling— anything up to five syllables—were education enough to her mind for any child that knew his station in life. The rest of it only bred Radicals. Still, let her have a trial at least; let them decide to-morrow to give her a chance; 'twould be no more than neighbourly. Her ways might be old-fashioned; but she could learn. And with Mrs. Trevarthen to keep the grand new schoolroom dusted—if they would give her the job—and look after the fires and lighting."—
Rosewarne pretended to listen. The poor soul was inefficient, and he knew it: beneath all her flow of speech ran an undercurrent of wrath against the new learning and all its works. Poverty—sheer terror of a dwindling cupboard and the workhouse to follow—drove her to plead with that which she hated worse than the plague. He heard, and all the while his mind was miles away from her petition; for some chance word or words let fall by her had seemed for an instant to offer him a clue. Somewhere in the past these words had made part of a phrase or sentence which, could he but find it again, would resolve all this brooding trouble. He searched his memory—in vain; the words drew together like dancers in a figure, and then, on the edge of combining, fell apart and were lost.
Aloud he kept saying, "You mustn't count on it. Some provision will be made for you, no doubt—in these days one must march with the times." This was all the comfort she could win from him, and the poor old creature gazed after him forlornly when at length he broke from her and went his way up the hill.
He reached the entrance-gate. As it clashed behind him, two children at play in the garden lifted their heads. The girl whispered to the boy, and the pair stole away out of sight. From the porch the small greyhound caught sight of him, and, bounding to him, fawned about his feet. In the counting-house he found his sister closeted with Mr. Benny, and a pile of bills on the table between. Mrs. Purchase rose and greeted him with a little pecking kiss. She was a cheerful body, by some five or six years his junior, with a handsome weather-tanned face, eyes wrinkled at the corners like a seaman's, and two troubles in the world—the first being that she had borne no children. She shared her husband's voyaging, kept the ship's accounts, was known to all on board as "The Bos'un," and when battened under hatches in foul weather spent her time in trimming the most wonderful bonnets. Her coquetry stopped short at bonnets. To-day indeed—the weather being warm—in lieu of bodice she had slipped on a grey alpaca coat of her husband's.
"Good-evening, John!" She plunged at once into a narrative of the passage home—how they had picked up a slant off Heligoland and carried it with them well past the Wight; how on this side of Portland they had met with slight and baffling head-winds, and for two days had done little more than drift with the tides. The vessel was foul with weed, and must go into dock. "You could graze a cow on her for a fortnight," Mrs. Purchase declared. "Benny and I have just finished checking the bills. You'd like to run through them?"
"Let be," said Rosewarne. "I'll cast an eye over them to-night maybe." He stepped to the bell-rope and rang for his jug of cider.
Some touch of fatigue in the movement, some slight greyness in his face, caught Mrs. Purchase's sisterly eye.
"It's my belief you're unwell, John."
"Weary, my dear Hannah—weary; that's all." He turned to the little clerk. "That will do for to-night, Benny. You can leave all the papers as they are, just putting these bills together in a heap. Is that the correspondence? Very well; I'll deal with it."
"In all my life I never heard you own to feeling tired," persisted Mrs. Purchase, as Mr. Benny closed the door behind him. "You may take my word for it, you're unwell; been sleeping in some damp bed, belike."
Rosewarne moved to the window and gazed out across the garden. Down by the yew-hedge, where a narrow path of turf wound in and out among beds of tall Madonna lilies and Canterbury bells, the two children were playing a solemn game of follow-my-leader, the blind boy close on his sister's heels, she turning again and again to watch that he came to no harm.
"I wonder if that boy could be trained and made fit for something?" mused Rosewarne aloud.
"Eh? Is it Clem?" She had followed and stood now by his elbow. "My dear man, he has the brains of the family! Leave Myra to teach him for a while. See how she's teaching him now, although she doesn't know it; and that goes on from morning to night."
"Where's the use of it? What's a blind man, at the best?"
"What God means him to be. If God means him to do better—ay, or to see clearer—than other men, 'tisn't a pair of darkened eyes will prevent it."
"Woman's argument, Hannah. I take you on your own ground—God could cure the child's eyes; but God doesn't, you see. On the contrary, God chose to blind 'em. If I'd your religion, it would teach me that Clem's misfortune was a punishment designed—the sins of the fathers."—
"Ay, you're a hard man, like your father and mine. Haven't I cause to know it? Hadn't she cause to know it—the mother of that pretty pair?"
"She made her bed."
"—And lies in it, poor soul. But I tell you, John, there's a worse blindness than Clem's, and you and father have suffered from it. I mean the blindness of thinking you know God's business so much better than God that you take it out of His hands. 'Punishment,' you say, and 'sins of the fathers'? I'd have you beware how you visit the past on poor Clem, or happen you may find some day that out of the sins of his fathers you have chosen your own to lay on him."
Rosewarne turned on her with a harsh glance of suspicion. No, her eyes were candid—she had spoken so by chance—she did not guess.
Had he been blind all his life? It was certain that now at the last his eyes saw the world differently, and all things in it. Those children yonder—a hundred times from this window he had watched them at play without heeding. To-night they moved against the dark yew-hedge like figures in a toy theatre, withdrawn within a shadowy world of their own, celebrating a ritual in which he had no concern. The same instant revealed their beauty and removed them beyond his reach. Did he wish to make amends? He could not tell. He only knew it was too late. The world was slipping away from him—these children with it—dissolving into the shadow that climbed about him.
Next morning he saddled his horse and rode. His way led him past the new school-buildings; and he reined up for a minute, while his eyes dwelt on them with a certain pride. As chairman of the new School Board he had chosen the architect, supervised the plans, and seen to it that the contractor used none but the best material. The school would compare with any in the Duchy, and should have a teacher worthy of it—one to open the children's eyes and proclaim and inculcate the doctrine of progress. John Rosewarne was a patriot in his unemotional way. He hated the drift of the rural population into the towns, foreseeing that it sapped the strength of England. He despised it too; his own experience telling him that a countryman might amass wealth if he had brains and used them. As for the brainless herd, they should be kept on the land at all cost, to grow strong, breed strong children, and, when the inevitable hour came, be used as fighters to defend England's wealth.
He rode on pondering, past uplands where the larks sang and the mowers whetted their scythes; down between honeysuckle-hedges to a small village glassing itself in the head waters of a creek, asleep, since all its grown inhabitants had climbed the hill to toil in the hay-harvest, and silent but for a few clucking fowls and a murmur of voices within the infants' school; thence across a bridge, and up and along a winding valley to the park gates at Damelioc. Beyond these the valley narrowed to a sylvan gorge, and the speckless carriage-road mounted under forest trees alongside a river tumbling in miniature cascades, swirling under mossy footbridges, here and there artfully delayed to form a trout-pool, or as artfully veiled by thickets of trailing wild roses and Traveller's Joy. For a mile and more he rode upward under soft green shadows, then lifted his eyes to wide daylight as the coombe opened suddenly upon a noble home-park, smooth as a lawn, rising in waves among the folds of the hills to a high plateau whence Damelioc House looked seaward—a house of wide prospect and in aspect stately, classical in plan, magnificently filling the eye with its bold straight lines and ample symmetries prolonged in terraces and rows of statues interset with pointed yews.
The mistress of this palace gave him audience as usual in her blue-and-white morning-room, from the ceiling of which, from the centre of a painting, "The Nuptials of Venus and Vulcan," her own youthful face smiled down, her husband having for a whim instructed the painter to depict the goddess in her likeness. It smiled down now on a little shrunken lady huddled deep in an easy-chair. Only her dark eyes kept some of their old expressiveness, and her voice an echo of its old full tone.
She asked Rosewarne a polite question or two concerning his holiday, and they fell at once to ordinary talk—of repairs, rents, game, and live-stock generally, the hiring of a couple of under-keepers, the likeliest tenant for a park-lodge which had fallen empty; of investments too, and the money market, since Rosewarne was her man of business as well as steward.
Lady Killiow trusted him absolutely; but only because she had long since proved him. He on his part yielded her the deepest respect, both for her sagacity in business and for the fine self-command with which she, an actress of obscure birth, had put the stage behind her, assumed her rank, and borne it through all these years with something more than adequacy. John Rosewarne, like a true Briton, venerated rank, and had a Briton's instinct for the behaviour proper to rank. About his mistress there could be no question. She was a great lady to the last drop of her blood.
His devotion to her had a touch of high chivalry. It came of long service; of pity for her early widowhood, for her childlessness, for the fate ordaining that all these great possessions must be inherited by strangers; but most of all it was coloured by a memory of which he had never dared, and would never dare, to speak.
He had seen her on the stage. Once, in his wild days, and not long before he enlisted, he had spent a week in Plymouth, where she was acting, the one star in a touring company. Night after night she had laid a spell on him; it was not Rosalind, not Imogen, not Mrs. Haller, not Lady Teazle, that he watched from the pit; but one divine woman passing from avatar to avatar. So, when the last night revealed her as Lady Macbeth, as little could he condemn her of guilt as understand her remorse. He saw her suffering because for so splendid a creature nothing less could be decreed by the jealous gods. It tortured him; and when the officer announced her death, for the moment he could believe no less. 'The queen, my lord, is dead.' 'She should have died hereafter.' How well he remembered the words and Macbeth's reply—those two strokes upon the heart, strokes of a muffled bell following the outcry of women.
He was no reader of poetry. He had bought the book afterwards, and flung it away; it tangled him in words, but showed him nothing of the woman he sought.
Yet to-day, as he stood before Lady Killiow discussing the petty question of a lease, the scene and words flashed upon him together, and he grasped the clue for which his brain had been searching yesterday while he listened to old Mrs. Butson. It was Lady Killiow who called the lease a 'petty' one, and that word unlocked his memory. "This petty pace—
"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time— And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death."
"I beg your pardon," said Lady Killiow, lifting her eyes to him in some astonishment—for he had muttered a word or two—and meeting his fixed stare. "You are not attending, I believe."
"Excuse me, my lady. It is true that I have not been well of late—and that reminds me: in case of illness, my son will post down from Plymouth. He holds himself ready at call. If I may say it, you will find him less of a fool than he looks."
Lady Killiow put up her hands with a little laugh, half comfortable, half wistful. "My good Mr. Rosewarne, I am a very old woman! In a short while you may do as you like; but until I am gone, please understand that you cannot possibly fall ill."
He bowed with a grave smile. Of his mistress's grateful affection he took away these light words only: but they were enough.
He had thought by this visit to Damelioc to lay his demon of restlessness; had supposed this monthly account of his stewardship, punctually rendered, to be the business weighing on his mind. But no: as he passed out through the park gates, the imp perched itself again behind his crupper, urging him forward, tormenting him with the same vague sense of duty neglected and clamorous.
Towards evening it grew so nearly intolerable that he had much ado to sit patiently and preside at the School Board meeting, convened, as usual, in the great parlour at Hall. All the Board was there: the Clerk, Mr. Benny, and the six Managers; two Churchmen, three Dissenters, and himself—a Gallio with a casting vote. He was used to reflecting cynically that these opponents trusted him precisely because he cared less than a tinker's curse for their creeds, and reconciled all religious differences in a broad, impartial contempt. But to-night, as Parson Endicott approached the crucial difficulty—the choice of a new teacher—with all the wariness of a practised committee-man, laying his innocent parallels and bringing up his guns under cover of a pleasant disavowal to which the three Dissenters responded with "Hear, hear!" John Rosewarne listened not at all, nor to the fence of debate that followed as Church and Dissent grew heated and their friction struck out the familiar sparks— 'sectarian,' 'undoctrinal,' 'arrogance,' 'broad-mindedness.' At length came the equally familiar pause, when the exhausted combatants turned by consent and waited on their chairman. He sat tapping his fingers upon the polished mahogany, watching the reflected candle-lights along its surface, wondering when these fretful voices would cease, these warring atoms release him to obey the summons of his soul—still incomprehensible, still urgent.