Erema, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XXI

Listless

It seemed an unfortunate thing for me, and unfavorable to my purpose, that my host, and even my hostess too, should be so engrossed with their new estate, its beauties and capabilities. Mrs. Hockin devoted herself at once to fowls and pigs and the like extravagant economies, having bought, at some ill-starred moment, a book which proved that hens ought to lay eggs in a manner to support themselves, their families, and the family they belonged to, at the price of one penny a dozen. Eggs being two shillings a dozen in Bruntsea, here was a margin for profit — no less than two thousand per cent, to be made, allowing for all accidents. The lady also found another book, divulging for a shilling the author’s purely invaluable secret — how to work an acre of ground, pay house rent, supply the house grandly, and give away a barrow-load of vegetables every day to the poor of the parish, by keeping a pig — if that pig were kept properly. And after that, pork and ham and bacon came of him, while another golden pig went on.

Mrs. Hockin was very soft-hearted, and said that she never could make bacon of a pig like that; and I answered that if she ever got him it would be unwise to do so. However, the law was laid down in both books that golden fowls and diamondic pigs must die the death before they begin to overeat production; and the Major said, “To be sure. Yes, yes. Let them come to good meat, and then off with their heads.” And his wife said that she was sure she could do it. When it comes to a question of tare and tret, false sentiment must be excluded.

At the moment, these things went by me as trifles, yet made me more impatient. Being older now, and beholding what happens with tolerance and complacence, I am only surprised that my good friends were so tolerant of me and so complacent. For I must have been a great annoyance to them, with my hurry and my one idea. Happily they made allowance for me, which I was not old enough to make for them.

“Go to London, indeed! Go to London by yourself!” cried the Major, with a red face, and his glasses up, when I told him one morning that I could stop no longer without doing something. “Mary, my dear, when you have done out there, will you come in and reason — if you can — with Miss Wood. She vows that she is going to London, all alone.”

“Oh, Major Hockin — oh, Nicholas dear, such a thing has happened!” Mrs. Hockin had scarcely any breath to tell us, as she came in through the window. “You know that they have only had three bushels, or, at any rate, not more than five, almost ever since they came. Erema, you know as well as I do.”

“Seven and three-quarter bushels of barley, at five and ninepence a bushel, Mary,” said the Major, pulling out a pocket-book; “besides Indian corn, chopped meat, and potatoes.”

“And fourteen pounds of paddy,” I said — which was a paltry thing of me; “not to mention a cake of graves, three sacks of brewers’ grains, and then — I forget what next.”

“You are too bad, all of you. Erema, I never thought you would turn against me so. And you made me get nearly all of it. But please to look here. What do you call this? Is this no reward? Is this not enough? Major, if you please, what do you call this? What a pity you have had your breakfast!”

“A blessing — if this was to be my breakfast. I call that, my dear, the very smallest egg I have seen since I took sparrows’ nests. No wonder they sell them at twelve a penny. I congratulate you upon your first egg, my dear Mary.”

“Well, I don’t care,” replied Mrs. Hockin, who had the sweetest temper in the world. “Small beginnings make large endings; and an egg must be always small at one end. You scorn my first egg, and Erema should have had it if she had been good. But she was very wicked, and I know not what to do with it.”

“Blow it!” cried the Major. “I mean no harm, ladies. I never use low language. What I mean is, make a pinhole at each end, give a puff, and away goes two pennyworth, and you have a cabinet specimen, which your egg is quite fitted by its cost to be. But now, Mary, talk to Miss Wood, if you please. It is useless for me to say any thing, and I have three appointments in the town”— he always called it “the town” now —“three appointments, if not four; yes, I may certainly say four. Talk to Miss Wood, my dear, if you please. She wants to go to London, which would be absurd. Ladies seem to enter into ladies’ logic. They seem to be able to appreciate it better, to see all the turns, and the ins and outs, which no man has intellect enough to see, or at least to make head or tail of. Good-by for the present; I had better be off.”

“I should think you had,” exclaimed Mrs. Hockin, as her husband marched off, with his side-lights on, and his short, quick step, and well-satisfied glance at the hill which belonged to him, and the beach, over which he had rights of plunder — or, at least, Uncle Sam would have called them so, strictly as he stood up for his own.

“Now come and talk quietly to me, my dear,” Mrs. Hockin began, most kindly, forgetting all the marvel of her first-born egg. “I have noticed how restless you are, and devoid of all healthy interest in any thing. ‘Listless’ is the word. ‘Listless’ is exactly what I mean, Erema. When I was at your time of life, I could never have gone about caring for nothing. I wonder that you knew that I even had a fowl; much more how much they had eaten!”

“I really do try to do all I can, and that is a proof of it,” I said. “I am not quite so listless as you think. But those things do seem so little to me.”

“My dear, if you were happy, they would seem quite large, as, after all the anxieties of my life, I am able now to think them. It is a power to be thankful for, or, at least, I often think so. Look at my husband! He has outlived and outlasted more trouble than any one but myself could reckon up to him; and yet he is as brisk, as full of life, as ready to begin a new thing tomorrow — when, at our age, there may be no tomorrow, except in that better world, my dear, of which it is high time for him and me to think, as I truly hope we may spare the time to do.”

“Oh, don’t talk like that,” I cried. “Please, Mrs. Hockin, to talk of your hens and chicks — at least there will be chicks by-and-by. I am almost sure there will, if you only persevere. It seems unfair to set our minds on any other world till justice has been done in this.”

“You are very young, my child, or you would know that in that case we never should think of it at all. But I don’t want to preach you a sermon, Erema, even if I could do so. I only just want you to tell me what you think, what good you imagine that you can do.”

“It is no imagination. I am sure that I can right my father’s wrongs. And I never shall rest till I do so.”

“Are you sure that there is any wrong to right?” she asked, in the warmth of the moment; and then, seeing perhaps how my color changed, she looked at me sadly, and kissed my forehead.

“Oh, if you had only once seen him,” I said; “without any exaggeration, you would have been satisfied at once. That he could ever have done any harm was impossible — utterly impossible. I am not as I was. I can listen to almost any thing now quite calmly. But never let me hear such a wicked thing again.”

“You must not go on like that, Erema, unless you wish to lose all your friends. No one can help being sorry for you. Very few girls have been placed as you are. I am sure when I think of my own daughters I can never be too thankful. But the very first thing you have to learn, above all things, is to control yourself.”

“I know it — I know it, of course,” I said; “and I keep on trying my very best. I am thoroughly ashamed of what I said, and I hope you will try to forgive me.”

“A very slight exertion is enough for that. But now, my dear, what I want to know is this — and you will excuse me if I ask too much — what good do you expect to get by going thus to London? Have you any friend there, any body to trust, any thing settled as to what you are to do?”

“Yes, every thing is settled in my own mind,” I answered, very bravely: “I have the address of a very good woman, found among my father’s papers, who nursed his children and understood his nature, and always kept her faith in him. There must be a great many more who do the same, and she will be sure to know them and introduce me to them; and I shall be guided by their advice.”

“But suppose that this excellent woman is dead, or not to be found, or has changed her opinion?”

“Her opinion she never could change. But if she is not to be found, I shall find her husband, or her children, or somebody; and besides that, I have a hundred things to do. I have the address of the agent through whom my father drew his income, though Uncle Sam let me know as little as he could. And I know who his bankers were (when he had a bank), and he may have left important papers there.”

“Come, that looks a little more sensible, my dear; bankers may always be relied upon. And there may be some valuable plate, Erema. But why not let the Major go with you? His advice is so invaluable.”

“I know that it is, in all ordinary things. But I can not have him now, for a very simple reason. He has made up his mind about my dear father — horribly, horribly; I can’t speak of it. And he never changes his mind; and sometimes when I look at him I hate him.”

“Erema, you are quite a violent girl, although you so seldom show it. Is the whole world divided, then, into two camps — those who think as you wish and those who are led by their judgment to think otherwise? And are you to hate all who do not think as you wish?”

“No, because I do not hate you,” I said; “I love you, though you do not think as I wish. But that is only because you think your husband must be right of course. But I can not like those who have made up their minds according to their own coldness.”

“Major Hockin is not cold at all. On the contrary, he is a warm-hearted man — I might almost say hot-hearted.”

“Yes, I know he is. And that makes it ten times worse. He takes up every body’s case — but mine.”

“Sad as it is, you almost make me smile,” my hostess answered, gravely; “and yet it must be very bitter for you, knowing how just and kind my husband is. I am sure that you will give him credit for at least desiring to take your part. And doing so, at least you might let him go with you, if only as a good protection.”

“I have no fear of any one; and I might take him into society that he would not like. In a good cause he would go any where, I know. But in my cause, of course he would be scrupulous. Your kindness I always can rely upon, and I hope in the end to earn his as well.”

“My dear, he has never been unkind to you. I am certain that you never can say that of him. Major Hockin unkind to a poor girl like you!”

“The last thing I wish to claim is any body’s pity,” I answered, less humbly than I should have spoken, though the pride was only in my tone, perhaps. “If people choose to pity me, they are very good, and I am not at all offended, because — because they can not help it, perhaps, from not knowing any thing about me. I have nothing whatever to be pitied for, except that I have lost my father, and have nobody left to care for me, except Uncle Sam in America.”

“Your Uncle Sam, as you call him, seems to be a very wonderful man, Erema,” said Mrs. Hockin, craftily, so far as there could be any craft in her; “I never saw him — a great loss on my part. But the Major went up to meet him somewhere, and came home with the stock of his best tie broken, and two buttons gone from his waistcoat. Does Uncle Sam make people laugh so much? or is it that he has some extraordinary gift of inducing people to taste whiskey? My husband is a very — most abstemious man, as you must be well aware, Miss Wood, or we never should have been as we are, I am sure. But, for the first time in all my life, I doubted his discretion on the following day, when he had — what shall I say? — when he had been exchanging sentiments with Uncle Sam.”

“Uncle Sam never takes too much in any way,” I replied to this new attack; “he knows what he ought to take, and then he stops. Do you think that it may have been his ‘sentiments,’ perhaps, that were too strong and large for the Major?”

“Erema!” cried Mrs. Hockin, with amazement, as if I had no right to think or express my thoughts on life so early; “if you can talk politics at eighteen, you are quite fit to go any where. I have heard a great deal of American ladies, and seen not a little of them, as you know. But I thought that you called yourself an English girl, and insisted particularly upon it.”

“Yes, that I do; and I have good reason. I am born of an old English family, and I hope to be no disgrace to it. But being brought up in a number of ways, as I have been without thinking of it, and being quite different from the fashionable girls Major Hockin likes to walk with —”

“My dear, he never walks with any body but myself!”

“Oh yes, I remember! I was thinking of the deck. There are no fashionable girls here yet. Till the terrace is built, and the esplanade —”

“There shall be neither terrace nor esplanade if the Major is to do such things upon them.”

“I am sure that he never would,” I replied; “it was only their dresses that he liked at all, and that very, to my mind, extraordinary style, as well as unbecoming. You know what I mean, Mrs. Hockin, that wonderful — what shall I call it? — way of looping up.”

“Call me ‘Aunt Mary,’ my dear, as you did when the waves were so dreadful. You mean that hideous Mexican poncho, as they called it, stuck up here, and going down there. Erema, what observation you have! Nothing ever seems to escape you. Did you ever see any thing so indecorous?”

“It made me feel just as if I ought not to look at them,” I answered, with perfect truth, for so it did; “I have never been accustomed to such things. But seeing how the Major approved of them, and liked to be walking up and down between them, I knew that they must be not only decorous, but attractive. There is no appeal from his judgment, is there?”

“I agree with him upon every point, my dear child; but I have always longed to say a few words about that. For I can not help thinking that he went too far.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31