Janet's Repentance, by George Eliot

Chapter 17

When Dempster awoke in the morning, he was at no loss to account to himself for the fact that Janet was not by his side. His hours of drunkenness were not cut off from his other hours by any blank wall of oblivion; he remembered what Janet had done to offend him the evening before, he remembered what he had done to her at midnight, just as he would have remembered if he had been consulted about a right of road.

The remembrance gave him a definite ground for the extra ill-humour which had attended his waking every morning this week, but he would not admit to himself that it cost him any anxiety. ‘Pooh,’ he said inwardly, ‘she would go straight to her mother’s. She’s as timid as a hare; and she’ll never let anybody know about it. She’ll be back again before night.’

But it would be as well for the servants not to know anything of the affair: so he collected the clothes she had taken off the night before, and threw them into a fire-proof closet of which he always kept the key in his pocket. When he went down stairs he said to the housemaid, ‘Mrs. Dempster is gone to her mother’s; bring in the breakfast.’

The servants, accustomed to hear domestic broils, and to see their mistress put on her bonnet hastily and go to her mother’s, thought it only something a little worse than usual that she should have gone thither in consequence of a violent quarrel, either at midnight, or in the early morning before they were up. The housemaid told the cook what she supposed had happened; the cook shook her head and said, ‘Eh, dear, dear!’ but they both expected to see their mistress back again in an hour or two.

Dempster, on his return home the evening before, had ordered his man, who lived away from the house, to bring up his horse and gig from the stables at ten. After breakfast he said to the housemaid, ‘No one need sit up for me to-night; I shall not be at home till tomorrow evening;’ and then he walked to the office to give some orders, expecting, as he returned, to see the man waiting with his gig. But though the church clock had struck ten, no gig was there. In Dempster’s mood this was more than enough to exasperate him. He went in to take his accustomed glass of brandy before setting out, promising himself the satisfaction of presently thundering at Dawes for being a few minutes behind his time. An outbreak of temper towards his man was not common with him; for Dempster, like most tyrannous people, had that dastardly kind of self-restraint which enabled him to control his temper where it suited his own convenience to do so; and feeling the value of Dawes, a steady punctual fellow, he not only gave him high wages, but usually treated him with exceptional civility. This morning, however, ill-humour got the better of prudence, and Dempster was determined to rate him soundly; a resolution for which Dawes gave him much better ground than he expected. Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour, had passed, and Dempster was setting off to the stables in a back street to see what was the cause of the delay, when Dawes appeared with the gig.

‘What the devil do you keep me here for?’ thundered Dempster, ‘kicking my heels like a beggarly tailor waiting for a carrier’s cart? I ordered you to be here at ten. We might have driven to Whitlow by this time.’

‘Why, one o’ the traces was welly i’ two, an’ I had to take it to Brady’s to be mended, an’ he didn’t get it done i’ time.’

‘Then why didn’t you take it to him last night? Because of your damned laziness, I suppose. Do you think I give you wages for you to choose your own hours, and come dawdling up a quarter of an hour after my time?’

‘Come, give me good words, will yer?’ said Dawes, sulkily. ‘I’m not lazy, nor no man shall call me lazy. I know well anuff what you gi’ me wages for; it’s for doin’ what yer won’t find many men as ‘ull do.’

‘What, you impudent scoundrel,’ said Dempster, getting into the gig, ‘you think you’re necessary to me, do you? As if a beastly bucket-carrying idiot like you wasn’t to be got any day. Look out for a new master, then, who’ll pay you for not doing as you’re bid.’

Dawe’s blood was now fairly up. ‘I’ll look out for a master as has got a better charicter nor a lyin’, bletherin’ drunkard, an’ I shouldn’t hev to go fur.’

Dempster, furious, snatched the whip from the socket, and gave Dawes a cut which he meant to fall across his shoulders saying, ‘Take that, sir, and go to hell with you!’

Dawes was in the act of turning with the reins in his hand when the lash fell, and the cut went across his face. With white lips, he said, ‘I’ll have the law on yer for that, lawyer as y’are,’ and threw the reins on the horse’s back.

Dempster leaned forward, seized the reins, and drove off.

‘Why, there’s your friend Dempster driving out without his man again,’ said Mr. Luke Byles, who was chatting with Mr. Budd in the Bridge Way. ‘What a fool he is to drive that two-wheeled thing! he’ll get pitched on his head one of these days.’

‘Not he,’ said Mr. Budd, nodding to Dempster as he passed ‘he’s got nine lives, Dempster has.’

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:42