Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XXII

Young Gilly Flowers

“Drum,” said Pet, in his free and easy style, about ten days after that escape, to a highly respected individual, Mr. Welldrum, the butler —“Drum, you have heard perhaps about my being poorly.”

“Ay, that I have, and too much of it,” replied the portly butler, busy in his office with inferior work, which he never should have had to do, if rightly estimated. “What you wants, Master Lancelot, is a little more of this here sort of thing — sleeves up — elbow grease — scrub away at hold ancient plate, and be blowed up if you puts a scratch on it; and the more you sweats, the less thanks you gets.”

“Drum, when you come to be my butler, you shall have all the keys allowed you, and walk about with them on a great gold ring, with a gold chain down to your breeches pocket. You shall dine when you like, and have it cooked on purpose, and order it directly after breakfast; and you shall have the very best hot-water plates; because you hate grease, don’t you, Drum?”

“That I do; especial from young chaps as wants to get something out of me.”

“I am always as good as my word; come, now.”

“That you are, Sir; and nothing very grand to say, considering the hepithets you applies to me sometimes. But you han’t insulted me for three days now; and that proves to my mind that you can’t be quite right.”

“But you would like to see me better. I am sure you would. There is nobody so good to you as I am, Drum; and you are very crusty at times, you know. Your daughter shall be the head cook; and then everything must be to your liking.”

“Master Lancelot, you speaks fair. What can I have the honor of doing for you, Sir, to set you up again in your poor dear ‘ealth?”

“Well, you hate physic, don’t you, Drum? And you make a strict point of never taking it.”

“I never knew no good to come out of no bottle, without it were a bottle of old crusted port-wine. Ah! you likes that, Master Lancelot.”

“I’ll tell you what it is, Drum; I am obliged to be very careful. The reason why I don’t get on is from taking my meals too much indoors. There is no fresh air in these old rooms. I have got a man who says — I could read it to you; but perhaps you don’t care to hear poetry, Drum?” The butler made a face, and put the leather to his ears. “Very well, then; I am only just beginning; and it’s like claret, you must learn to come to it. But from what he says, and from my own stomach, I intend to go and dine out-of-doors today.”

“Lord! Master Lancelot, you must be gone clean daft. How ever could you have hot gravy, Sir? And all the Yordases hales cold meat. Your poor dear grandfather — ah! he was a man.”

“So am I. And I have got half a guinea. Now, Drum, you do just what I tell you; and mind, not a word to any one. It will be the last coin you ever see of mine, either now or in all my life, remember, if you let my mamma ever hear of it. You slip down to the larder and get me a cold grouse, and a cold partridge, and two of the hearth-stone cakes, and a pat of butter, and a pinch of salt, and put them in my army knapsack Aunt Philippa gave me; also a knife and fork and plate; and — let me see — what had I better have to drink?”

“Well, Sir, if I might offer an opinion, a pint bottle of dry port, or your grandfather’s Madeira.”

“Young ladies — young gentlemen I mean, of course — never take strong wines in the middle of the day. Bucellas, Drum — Bucellas is the proper thing. And when you have got it all together, turn the old cat into the larder, and get away cleverly by your little door, and put my knapsack in the old oak-tree, the one that was struck by lightning. Now do you understand all about it? It must all be ready in half an hour. And if I make a good dinner out on the moor, why, you might get another half guinea before long.” And with these words away strode Pet.

“Well, well,” the butler began muttering to himself; “what wickedness are you up to next? A lassie in his head, and his dear mammy thought he was sickening over his wisdom-teeth! He is beginning airly, and no mistake. But the gals are a coarse ugly lot about here”— Master Welldrum was not a Yorkshireman —“and the lad hath good taste in the matter of wine; although he is that contrairy, Solomon’s self could not be upsides with him. Fall fair, fall foul, I must humor the boy, or out of this place I go, neck and crop.”

Accordingly, Pet found all that he had ordered, and several little things which he had not thought of, especially a corkscrew and a glass; and forgetting half his laziness, he set off briskly, keeping through the trees where no window could espy him, and down a little side glen, all afoot; for it seemed to him safer to forego his pony.

The gill (or “ghyll,” as the poet writes it), from which the lonely family that dwelt there took their name, was not upon the bridle-road from Scargate Hall toward Middleton, nor even within eye or reach of any road at all; but overlooked by kites alone, and tracked with thoroughfare of nothing but the mountain streamlet. The four who lived there —“Bat and Zilpic, Maunder and Insie, of the Gill”— had nothing to do with, and little to say to, any of the scatterling folk about them, across the blue distance of the moor. They ploughed no land, they kept no cattle, they scarcely put spade in the ground, except for about a fortnight in April, when they broke up a strip of alluvial soil new every season, and abutting on the brook; and there sowed or planted their vegetable crop, and left it to the clemency of heaven. Yet twice every year they were ready with their rent when it suited Master Jordas to come for it, since audits at the hall, and tenants’ dinners, were not to their liking. The rent was a trifle; but Jordas respected them highly for handing it done up in white paper, without even making him leave the saddle. How many paid less, or paid nothing at all, yet came to the dinners under rent reservation of perhaps one mark, then strictly reserved their rent, but failed not to make the most punctual and liberal marks upon roast beef and plum-pudding!

But while the worthy dogman got his little bit of money, sealed up and so correct that (careful as he was) he never stopped now to count it, even his keen eyes could make nothing of these people, except that they stood upon their dignity. To him they appeared to be of gypsy race; or partly of wild and partly perhaps of Lancastrian origin; for they rather “featured” the Lancashire than the Yorkshire type of countenance, yet without any rustic coarseness, whether of aspect, voice, or manners. The story of their settlement in this glen had flagged out of memory of gossip by reason of their calm obscurity, and all that survived was the belief that they were queer, and the certainty that they would not be meddled with.

Lancelot Yordas Carnaby was brave, both in the outward and the inward boy, when he struck into the gill from a trackless spread of moor, not far from the source of the beck that had shaped or been shaped by this fissure. He had made up his mind to learn all about the water that filled sweet Insie’s pitcher; and although the great poet of nature as yet was only in early utterance, some of his words had already touched Pet as he had never been touched before; but perhaps that fine effect was due to the sapping power of first love.

Yet first love, however it may soften and enlarge a petulant and wayward nature, instead of increasing, cuts short and crisp the patience of the patient. When Lancelot was as near as manners and prudence allowed to that lonesome house, he sat down quietly for a little while in a little niche of scrubby bush whence he could spy the door. For a short time this was very well; also it was well to be furnishing his mind with a form for the beautiful expressions in it, and prepare it for the order of their coming out. And when he was sure that these were well arranged, and could not fail at any crisis, he found a further pastime in considering his boots, then his gaiters and small-clothes (which were of lofty type), and his waistcoat, elegant for anybody’s bosom. But after a bit even this began to pall; and when one of his feet went fast asleep, in spite of its beautiful surroundings, he jumped up and stamped, and was not so very far from hot words as he should have been. For his habit was not so much to want a thing as to get it before he wanted it, which is very poor training for the trials of the love-time.

But just as he was beginning to resolve to be wise, and eat his victuals, now or never, and be sorry for any one who came too late — there came somebody by another track, whose step made the heart rise, and the stomach fall. Lancelot’s mind began to fail him all at once; and the spirit that was ready with a host of words fluttered away into a quaking depth of silence. Yet Insie tripped along as if the world held no one to cast a pretty shadow from the sun beside her own.

Even the youngest girls are full of little tricks far beyond the oldest boy’s comprehension. But the wonder of all wonders is, they have so pure a conscience as never to be thinking of themselves at all, far less of any one who thinks too much of them. “I declare, she has forgotten that she ever saw me!” Lancelot muttered to the bush in which he trembled. “It would serve her right, if I walked straight away.” But he looked again, and could not help looking more than many times again, so piercing (as an ancient poet puts it) is the shaft from the eyes of the female women. And Insie was especially a female girl — which has now ceased to be tautology — so feminine were her walk, and way, and sudden variety of unreasonable charm.

“Dear me! I never thought to see you any more, Sir;” said she, with a bright blush, perhaps at such a story, as Pet jumped out eagerly, with hands stretched forth. “It is the most surprising thing. And we might have done very well with rain-water.”

“Oh, Insie! don’t be so cold-hearted. Who can drink rain-water? I have got something very good for you indeed. I have carried it all the way myself; and only a strong man could have done it. Why, you have got stockings on, I declare; but I like you much better without them.”

“Then, Master Lancelot Yordas Carnaby, you had better go home with all your good things.”

“You are totally mistaken about that. I could never get these things into the house again, without being caught out to a certainty. It shows how little girls know of anything.”

“A girl can not be expected,” she answered, looking most innocently at him, “to understand anything sly or cunning. Why should anything of that sort be?”

“Well, if it comes to that,” cried Pet, who (like all unreasonable people) had large rudiments of reasoning, “why should not I come up to your door, and knock, and say, ‘I want to see Miss Insie; I am fond of Miss Insie, and have got something good for her’? That is what I shall do next time.”

“If you do, my brother Maunder will beat you dreadfully — so dreadfully that you will never walk home. But don’t let us talk of such terrible things. You must never come here, if you think of such things. I would not have you hurt for all the world; for sometimes I think that I like you very much.”

The lovely girl looked at the handsome boy, as if they were at school together, learning something difficult, which must be repeated to the other’s eyes, with a nod, or a shake of the head, as may be. A kind, and pure, and soft gaze she gave him, as if she would love his thoughts, if he could explain them. And Pet turned away, because he could not do so.

“I’ll tell you what it is,” he said, bravely, while his heart was thrilling with desire to speak well; “we will set to at once, and have a jolly good spread. I told my man to put up something very good, because I was certain that you would be very hungry.”

“Surely you were not so foolish as to speak of me?”

“No, no, no; I know a trick worth two of that. I was not such a fool as to speak of you, of course. But —”

“But I would never condescend to touch one bit. You were ashamed to say a word about me, then, were you?”

“Insie, now, Insie, too bad of you it is. You can have no idea what those butlers and footmen are, if ever you tell them anything. They are worse than the maids; they go down stairs, and they get all the tidbits out of the cook, and sit by the girl they like best, on the strength of having a secret about their master.”

“Well, you are cunning!” cried the maiden, with a sigh. “I thought that your nature was loftier than that. No, I do not know anything of butlers and footmen; and I think that the less I know of you the better.”

“Oh, Insie, darling Insie, if you run away like that — I have got both your hands, and you shall not run away. Do you want to kill me, Insie? They have had the doctor for me.”

“Oh, how very dreadful! that does sound dreadful. I am not at all crying, and you need not look. But what did he say? Please to tell me what he said.”

“He said, ‘Salts and senna.’ But I got up a high tree. Let us think of nicer things. It is enough to spoil one’s dinner. Oh, Insie, what is anything to eat or drink, compared with looking at you, when you are good? If I could only tell you the things that I have felt, all day and all night, since this day fortnight, how sorry you would be for having evil thoughts of me!”

“I have no evil thoughts; I have no thoughts at all. But it puzzles me to think what on earth you have been thinking. There, I will sit down, and listen for a moment.”

“And I may hold one of your hands? I must, or you would never understand me. Why, your hands are much smaller than mine, I declare! And mine are very small; because of thinking about you. Now you need not laugh — it does spoil everything to laugh so. It is more than a fortnight since I laughed at all. You make me feel so miserable. But would you like to know how I felt? Mind, I would rather cut my head off than tell it to any one in the world but you.”

“Now I call that very kind of you. If you please, I should like to know how you have been feeling.” With these words Insie came quite close up to his side, and looked at him so that he could hardly speak. “You may say it in a whisper, if you like,” she said; “there is nobody coming for at least three hours, and so you may say it in a whisper.”

“Then I will tell you; it was just like this. You know that I began to think how beautiful you were at the very first time I looked at you. But you could not expect me so to love you all at once as I love you now, dear Insie.”

“I can not understand any meaning in such things.” But she took a little distance, quite as if she did.

“Well, I went away without thinking very much, because I had a bad place in my knee — a blue place bigger than the new half crown, where you saw that the pony kicked me. I had him up, and thrashed him, when I got home; but that has got nothing to do with it — only that I made him know who was his master. And then I tried to go on with a lot of things as usual; but somehow I did not care at all. There was a great rat hunt that I had been thinking of more than three weeks, when they got the straddles down, to be ready for the new ricks to come instead. But I could not go near it; and it made them think that the whole of my inside was out of order. And it must have been. I can see by looking back; it must have been so, without my knowing it. I hit several people with my holly on their shins, because they knew more than I did. But that was no good; nor was anything else. I only got more and more out of sorts, and could not stay quiet anywhere; and yet it was no good to me to try to make a noise. All day I went about as if I did not care whether people contradicted me or not, or where I was, or what time I should get back, or whether there would be any dinner. And I tucked up my feet in my nightgown every night; but instead of stopping there, as they always used to do, they were down in cold places immediately; and instead of any sleep, I bit holes by the hundred in the sheets, with thinking. I hated to be spoken to, and I hated everybody; and so I do now, whenever I come to think about them!”

“Including even poor me, I suppose?” Insie had wonderfully pretty eyebrows, and a pretty way of raising them, and letting more light into her bright hazel eyes.

“No, I never seemed to hate you; though I often was put out, because I could never make your face come well. I was thinking of you always, but I could not see you. Now tell me whether you have been like that.”

“Not at all; but I have thought of you once or twice, and wondered what could make you want to come and see me. If I were a boy, perhaps I could understand it.”

“I hate boys; I am a man all over now. I am old enough to have a wife; and I mean to have you. How much do you suppose my waistcoat cost? Well, never mind, because you are not rich. But I have got money enough for both of us to live well, and nobody can keep me out of it. You know what a road is, I suppose — a good road leading to a town? Have you ever seen one? A brown place, with hedges on each side, made hard and smooth for horses to go upon, and wheels that make a rumble. Well, if you will have me, and behave well to me, you shall sit up by yourself in a velvet dress, with a man before you and a man behind, and believe that you are flying.”

“But what would become of my father, and my mother, and my brother Maunder?”

“Oh, they must stop here, of course. We shouldn’t want them. But I would give them all their house rent-free, and a fat pig every Christmas. Now you sit there and spread your lap, that I may help you properly. I want to see you eat; you must learn to eat like a lady of the highest quality; for that you are going to be, I can tell you.”

The beautiful maid of the gill smiled sweetly, sitting on the low bank with the grace of simple nature and the playfulness of girlhood. She looked up at Lancelot, the self-appointed man, with a bright glance of curious contemplation; and contemplation (of any other subject than self) is dangerously near contempt. She thought very little of his large, free brag, of his patronizing manner, and fine self-content, reference of everything to his own standard, beauty too feminine, and instead of female gentleness, highly cultivated waywardness. But in spite of all that, she could not help liking, and sometimes admiring him, when he looked away. And now he was very busy with the high feast he had brought.

“To begin with,” he said, when his good things were displayed, “you must remember that nothing is more vulgar than to be hungry. A gentleman may have a tremendous appetite, but a lady never.”

“But why? but why? That does seem foolish. I have read that the ladies are always helped first. That must be because of their appetites.”

“Insie, I tell you things, not the reasons of them. Things are learned by seeing other people, and not by arguing about them.”

“Then you had better eat your dinner first, and let me sit and watch you. And then I can eat mine by imitation; that is to say, if there is any left.”

“You are one of the oddest people I have ever seen. You go round the corner of all that I say, instead of following properly. When we are married, you will always make me laugh. At one time they kept a boy to make me laugh; but I got tired of him. Now I help you first, although I am myself so hungry. I do it from a lofty feeling, which my aunt Philippa calls ‘chivalry.’ Ladies talk about it when they want to get the best of us. I have given you all the best part, you see; and I only keep the worst of it for myself.”

If Pet had any hope that his self-denial would promptly be denied to him, he made a great mistake; for the damsel of the gill had a healthy moorland appetite, and did justice to all that was put before her; and presently he began, for the first time in his life, to find pleasure in seeing another person pleased. But the wine she would not even taste, in spite of persuasion and example; the water from the brook was all she drank, and she drank as prettily as a pigeon. Whatever she did was done gracefully and well.

“I am very particular,” he said at last; “but you are fit to dine with anybody. How have you managed to learn it all? You take the best of everything, without a word about it, as gently as great ladies do. I thought that you would want me to eat the nicest pieces; but instead of that, you have left me bones and drumsticks.”

He gave such a melancholy look at these that Insie laughed quite merrily. “I wanted to see you practice chivalry,” she said.

“Well, never mind; I shall know another time. Instead of two birds, I shall order four, and other things in proportion. But now I want to know about your father and your mother. They must be respectable people, to judge by you. What is their proper name, and how much have they got to live upon?”

“More than you — a great deal more than you,” she answered, with such a roguish smile that he forgot his grievances, or began to lose them in the mist of beauty.

“More than me! And they live in such a hole, where only the crows come near them?”

“Yes, more than you, Sir. They have their wits to live upon, and industry, and honesty.”

Pet was not old enough yet in the world to say, “What is the use of all those? All their income is starvation.” He was young enough to think that those who owned them had advantage of him, for he knew that he was very lazy. Moreover, he had heard of such people getting on — through the striking power of exception, so much more brilliant than the rule — when all the blind virtues found luck to lead them. Industry, honesty, and ability always get on in story-books, and nothing is nicer than to hear a pretty story. But in some ways Pet was sharp enough.

“Then they never will want that house rent-free, nor the fat pig, nor any other presents. Oh, Insie, how very much better that will be! I find it so much nicer always to get thing’s than to give them. And people are so good-natured, when they have done it, and can talk of it. Insie, they shall give me something when I marry you, and as often as they like afterward.”

“They will give you something you will not like,” she answered, with a laugh, and a look along the moor, “if you stay here too long chattering with me. Do you know what o’clock it is? I know always, whether the sun is out or in. You need show no gold watch to me.”

“Oh, that comes of living in a draught all day. The out-door people grow too wise. What do you see about ten miles off? It must be ten miles to that hill.”

“That hill is scarcely five miles off, and what I see is not half of that. I brought you up here to be quite safe. Maunder’s eyes are better than mine. But he will not see us, for another mile, if you cover your grand waistcoat, because we are in the shadows. Slip down into the gill again, and keep below the edge of it, and go home as fast as possible.”

Lancelot felt inclined to do as he was told, and keep to safe obscurity. The long uncomfortable loneliness of prospect, and dim airy distance of the sinking sun, and deeply silent emptiness of hollows, where great shadows began to crawl — in the waning of the day, and so far away from home — all these united to impress upon the boy a spiritual influence, whose bodily expression would be the appearance of a clean pair of heels. But, to meet this sensible impulse, there arose the stubborn nature of his race, which hated to be told to do anything, and the dignity of his new-born love — such as it was — and the thought of looking small.

“Why should I go?” he said. “I will meet them, and tell them that I am their landlord, and have a right to know all about them. My grandfather never ran away from anybody. And they have got a donkey with them.”

“They will have two, if you stop,” cried Insie, although she admired his spirit. “My father is a very quiet man. But Maunder would take you by the throat and cast you down into the beck.”

“I should like to see him try to do it. I am not so very strong, but I am active as a cat. I have no idea of being threatened.”

“Then will you be coaxed? I do implore you, for my sake, to go, or it will be too late. Never, never, will you see me again, unless you do what I beseech of you.”

“I will not stir one peg, unless you put your arms round my neck and kiss me, and say that you will never have anybody else.”

Insie blushed deeply, and her bright eyes flashed with passion not of loving kind. But it went to her heart that he was brave, and that he loved her truly. She flung her comely arms round his neck, and touched her rosy lips with his; and before he could clasp her she was gone, with no more comfort than these words:

“Now if you are a gentleman, you must go, and never come near this place again.”

Not a moment too soon he plunged into the gill, and hurried up its winding course; but turning back at the corner, saw a sweet smile in the distance, and a wave of the hand, that warmed his heart.

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