Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter IV

Disquietude

The ladies of Scargate Hall were uneasy, although the weather was so fine, upon this day of early August, in the year now current. It was a remarkable fact, that in spite of the distance they slept asunder, which could not be less than five-and-thirty yards, both had been visited by a dream, which appeared to be quite the same dream until examined narrowly, and being examined, grew more surprising in its points of difference. They were much above paying any heed to dreams, though instructed by the patriarchs to do so; and they seemed to be quite getting over the effects, when the lesson and the punishment astonished them.

Lately it had been established (although many leading people went against it, and threatened to prosecute the man for trespass) that here in these quiet and reputable places, where no spy could be needed, a man should come twice every week with letters, and in the name of the king be paid for them. Such things were required in towns, perhaps, as corporations and gutters were; but to bring them where people could mind their own business, and charge them two groats for some fool who knew their names, was like putting a tax upon their christening. So it was the hope of many, as well as every one’s belief, that the postman, being of Lancastrian race, would very soon be bogged, or famished, or get lost in a fog, or swept off by a flood, or go and break his own neck from a precipice.

The postman, however, was a wiry fellow, and as tough as any native, and he rode a pony even tougher than himself, whose cradle was a marsh, and whose mother a mountain, his first breath a fog, and his weaning meat wire-grass, and his form a combination of sole-leather and corundum. He wore no shoes for fear of not making sparks at night, to know the road by, and although his bit had been a blacksmith’s rasp, he would yield to it only when it suited him. The postman, whose name was George King (which confounded him with King George, in the money to pay), carried a sword and blunderbuss, and would use them sooner than argue.

Now this man and horse had come slowly along, without meaning any mischief, to deliver a large sealed packet, with sixteen pence to pay put upon it, “to Mistress Philippa Yordas, etc., her own hands, and speed, speed, speed;” which they carried out duly by stop, stop, stop, whensoever they were hungry, or saw any thing to look at. None the less for that, though with certainty much later, they arrived in good trim, by the middle of the day, and ready for the comfort which they both deserved.

As yet it was not considered safe to trust any tidings of importance to the post in such a world as this was; and even were it safe, it would be bad manners from a man of business. Therefore Mr. Jellicorse had sealed up little, except his respectful consideration and request to be allowed to wait upon his honored clients, concerning a matter of great moment, upon the afternoon of Thursday then next ensuing. And the post had gone so far, to give good distance for the money, that the Thursday of the future came to be that very day.

The present century opened with a chilly and dark year, following three bad seasons of severity and scarcity. And in the northwest of Yorkshire, though the summer was now so far advanced, there had been very little sunshine. For the last day or two, the sun had labored to sweep up the mist and cloud, and was beginning to prevail so far that the mists drew their skirts up and retired into haze, while the clouds fell away to the ring of the sky, and there lay down to abide their time. Wherefore it happened that “Yordas House” (as the ancient building was in old time called) had a clearer view than usual of the valley, and the river that ran away, and the road that tried to run up to it. Now this was considered a wonderful road, and in fair truth it was wonderful, withstanding all efforts of even the Royal Mail pony to knock it to pieces. In its rapidity down hill it surpassed altogether the river, which galloped along by the side of it, and it stood out so boldly with stones of no shame that even by moonlight nobody could lose it, until it abruptly lost itself. But it never did that, until the house it came from was two miles away, and no other to be seen; and so why should it go any further?

At the head of this road stood the old gray house, facing toward the south of east, to claim whatever might come up the valley, sun, or storm, or columned fog. In the days of the past it had claimed much more — goods, and cattle, and tribute of the traffic going northward — as the loop-holed quadrangle for impounded stock, and the deeply embrasured tower, showed. At the back of the house rose a mountain spine, blocking out the westering sun, but cut with one deep portal where a pass ran into Westmoreland — the scaur-gate whence the house was named; and through this gate of mountain often, when the day was waning, a bar of slanting sunset entered, like a plume of golden dust, and hovered on a broad black patch of weather-beaten fir-trees. The day was waning now, and every steep ascent looked steeper, while down the valley light and shade made longer cast of shuttle, and the margin of the west began to glow with a deep wine-color, as the sun came down — the tinge of many mountains and the distant sea — until the sun himself settled quietly into it, and there grew richer and more ripe (as old bottled wine is fed by the crust), and bowed his rubicund farewell, through the postern of the scaur-gate, to the old Hall, and the valley, and the face of Mr. Jellicorse.

That gentleman’s countenance did not, however, reply with its usual brightness to the mellow salute of evening. Wearied and shaken by the long, rough ride, and depressed by the heavy solitude, he hated and almost feared the task which every step brought nearer. As the house rose higher and higher against the red sky, and grew darker, and as the sullen roar of blood-hounds (terrors of the neighborhood) roused the slow echoes of the crags, the lawyer was almost fain to turn his horse’s head, and face the risks of wandering over the moor by night. But the hoisting of a flag, the well-known token (confirmed by large letters on a rock) that strangers might safely approach, inasmuch as the savage dogs were kennelled — this, and the thought of such an entry for his day-book, kept Mr. Jellicorse from ignominious flight. He was in for it now, and must carry it through.

In a deep embayed window of leaded glass Mistress Yordas and her widowed sister sat for an hour, without many words, watching the zigzag of shale and rock which formed their chief communication with the peopled world. They did not care to improve their access, or increase their traffic; not through cold morosity, or even proud indifference, but because they had been so brought up, and so confirmed by circumstance. For the Yordas blood, however hot and wild and savage in the gentlemen, was generally calm and good, though steadfast, in the weaker vessels. For the main part, however, a family takes it character more from the sword than the spindle; and their sword hand had been like Esau’s.

Little as they meddled with the doings of the world, of one thing at least these stately Madams — as the baffled squires of the Riding called them — were by no means heedless. They dressed themselves according to their rank, or perhaps above it. Many a nobleman’s wife in Yorkshire had not such apparel; and even of those so richly gifted, few could have come up to the purpose better. Nobody, unless of their own sex, thought of their dresses when looking at them.

“He rides very badly,” Philippa said; “the people from the lowlands always do. He may not have courage to go home tonight. But he ought to have thought of that before.”

“Poor man! We must offer him a bed, of course,” Mrs. Carnaby answered; “but he should have come earlier in the day. What shall we do with him, when he has done his business?”

“It is not our place to amuse our lawyer. He might go and smoke in the Justice-room, and then Welldrum could play bagatelle with him.”

“Philippa, you forget that the Jellicorses are of a good old county stock. His wife is a stupid, pretentious thing; but we need not treat him as we must treat her. And it may be as well to make much of him, perhaps, if there really is any trouble coming.”

“You are thinking of Pet. By-the-bye, are you certain that Pet can not get at Saracen? You know how he let him loose last Easter, when the flag was flying, and the poor man has been in his bed ever since.”

“Jordas will see to that. He can be trusted to mind the dogs well, ever since you fined him in a fortnight’s wages. That was an excellent thought of yours.”

Jordas might have been called the keeper, or the hind, or the henchman, or the ranger, or the porter, or the bailiff, or the reeve, or some other of some fifty names of office, in a place of more civilization, so many and so various were his tasks. But here his professional name was the “dogman;” and he held that office according to an ancient custom of the Scargate race, whence also his surname (if such it were) arose. For of old time and in outlandish parts a finer humanity prevailed, and a richer practical wisdom upon certain questions. Irregular offsets of the stock, instead of being cast upon the world as waifs and strays, were allowed a place in the kitchen-garden or stable-yard, and flourished there without disgrace, while useful and obedient. Thus for generations here the legitimate son was Yordas, and took the house and manors; the illegitimate became Jordas, and took to the gate, and the minding of the dogs, and any other office of fidelity.

The present Jordas was, however, of less immediate kin to the owners, being only the son of a former Jordas, and in the enjoyment of a Christian name, which never was provided for a first-hand Jordas; and now as his mistress looked out on the terrace, his burly figure came duly forth, and his keen eyes ranged the walks and courts, in search of Master Lancelot, who gave him more trouble in a day, sometimes, than all the dogs cost in a twelvemonth. With a fine sense of mischief, this boy delighted to watch the road for visitors, and then (if barbarously denied his proper enjoyment and that of the dogs) he still had goodly devices of his own for producing little tragedies.

Mr. Jellicorse knew Jordas well, and felt some pity for him, because, if his grandmother had been wiser, he might have been the master now; and the lawyer, having much good feeling, liked not to make a groom of him. Jordas, however, knew his place, and touched his hat respectfully, then helped the solicitor to dismount, the which was sorely needed.

“You came not by the way of the ford, Sir?” the dogman asked, while considering the leathers. “The water is down; you might have saved three miles.”

“Better lose thirty than my life. Will any of your men, Master Jordas, show me a room, where I may prepare to wait upon your ladies?”

Mr. Jellicorse walked through the old arched gate of the reever’s court, and was shown to a room, where he unpacked his valise, and changed his riding clothes, and refreshed himself. A jug of Scargate ale was brought to him, and a bottle of foreign wine, with the cork drawn, lest he should hesitate; also a cold pie, bread and butter, and a small case-bottle of some liqueur. He was not hungry, for his wife had cared to victual him well for the journey; but for fear of offense he ate a morsel, found it good, and ate some more. Then after a sip or two of the liqueur, and a glance or two at his black silk stockings, buckled shoes, and best small-clothes, he felt himself fit to go before a duchess, as once upon a time he had actually done, and expressed himself very well indeed, according to the dialogue delivered whenever he told the story about it every day.

Welldrum, the butler, was waiting for him — a man who had his own ideas, and was going to be put upon by nobody. “If my father could only come to life for one minute, he would spend it in kicking that man,” Mrs. Carnaby had exclaimed, about him, after carefully shutting the door; but he never showed airs before Miss Yordas.

“Come along, Sir,” Welldrum said, after one professional glance at the tray, to ascertain his residue. “My ladies have been waiting this half hour; and for sure, Sir, you looks wonderful! This way, Sir, and have a care of them oak fagots. My ladies, Lawyer Jellicorse!”

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