Can you forgive her?, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 8

Mr Cheesacre

Yarmouth is not a happy place for a picnic. A picnic should be held among green things. Green turf is absolutely an essential. There should be trees, broken ground, small paths, thickets, and hidden recesses. There should, if possible, be rocks, old timber, moss, and brambles. There should certainly be hills and dales — on a small scale, and, above all, there should be running water. There should be no expanse. Jones should not be able to see all Greene’s movements, nor should Augusta always have her eye upon her sister Jane. But the spot chosen for Mr Cheesacre’s picnic at Yarmouth had none of the virtues above described. It was on the sea-shore. Nothing was visible from the site but sand and sea. There were no trees there and nothing green — neither was there any running water. But there was a long, dry, flat strand; there was an old boat half turned over, under which it was proposed to dine; and in addition to this, benches, boards, and some amount of canvas for shelter were provided by the liberality of Mr Cheesacre. Therefore it was called Mr Cheesacre’s picnic.

But it was to be a marine picnic, and therefore the essential attributes of other picnics were not required. The idea had come from some boating expeditions, in which mackerel had been caught, and during which food had been eaten, not altogether comfortably, in the boats. Then a thought had suggested itself to Captain Bellfield that they might land and eat their food, and his friend Mr Cheesacre had promised his substantial aid. A lady had surmised that Ormesby sands would be the very place for dancing in the cool of the evening. They might “dance on the sand,” she said, “and yet no footing seen.” And so the thing had progressed, and the picnic been inaugurated.

It was Mr Cheesacre’s picnic undoubtedly. Mr Cheesacre was to supply the boats, the wine, the cigars, the music, and the carpenter’s work necessary for the turning of the old boat into a banqueting saloon. But Mrs Greenow had promised to provide the eatables, and enjoyed as much of the éclat as the master of the festival. She had known Mr Cheesacre now for ten days and was quite intimate with him. He was a stout, florid man, of about forty-five, a bachelor, apparently much attached to ladies’ society, bearing no sign of age except that he was rather bald, and that grey hairs had mixed themselves with his whiskers, very fond of his farming, and yet somewhat ashamed of it when he found himself in what he considered to be polite circles. And he was, moreover, a little inclined to seek the honour which comes from a well-filled and liberally-opened purse. He liked to give a man a dinner and then to boast of the dinner he had given. He was very proud when he could talk of having mounted, for a day’s hunting, any man who might be supposed to be of higher rank than himself. “I had Grimsby with me the other day — the son of old Grimsby of Hatherwick, you know. Blessed if he didn’t stake my bay mare. But what matters? I mounted him again the next day just the same.” Some people thought he was soft, for it was very well known throughout Norfolk that young Grimsby would take a mount wherever he could get it. In these days Mrs Greenow had become intimate with Mr Cheesacre, and had already learned that he was the undoubted owner of his own acres.

“It wouldn’t do for me,” she had said to him, “to be putting myself forward, as if I were giving a party myself, or anything of that sort — would it now?”

“Well, perhaps not. But you might come with us.”

“So I will, Mr Cheesacre, for that dear girl’s sake. I should never forgive myself if I debarred her from all the pleasures of youth, because of my sorrows. I need hardly say that at such a time as this nothing of that sort can give me any pleasure.”

“I suppose not,” said Mr Cheesacre, with a solemn look.

“Quite out of the question.” And Mrs Greenow wiped away her tears. “For though as regards age I might dance on the sands as merrily as the best of them — ”

“That I’m sure you could, Mrs Greenow.”

“How’s a woman to enjoy herself if her heart lies buried?”

“But it won’t be so always, Mrs Greenow.”

Mrs Greenow shook her head to show that she hardly knew how to answer such a question. Probably it would be so always — but she did not wish to put a damper on the present occasion by making so sad a declaration. “But as I was saying,” continued she — “if you and I do it between us won’t that be the surest way of having it come off nicely?”

Mr Cheesacre thought that it would be the best way.

“Exactly so — I’ll do the meat and pastry and fruit, and you shall do the boats and the wine.”

“And the music”, said Cheesacre, “and the expenses at the place.” He did not choose that any part of his outlay should go unnoticed.

“I’ll go halves in all that if you like,” said Mrs Greenow. But Mr Cheesacre had declined this. He did not begrudge the expense, but only wished that it should be recognized.

“And, Mr Cheesacre,” continued Mrs Greenow, “I did mean to send the music; I did, indeed.”

“I couldn’t hear of it, Mrs Greenow.”

“But I mention it now, because I was thinking of getting Blowehard to come. That other man, Flutey, wouldn’t do at all out in the open air.”

“It shall be Blowehard,” said Mr Cheesacre; and it was Blowehard. Mrs Greenow liked to have her own way in these little things, though her heart did lie buried.

On the morning of the picnic Mr Cheesacre came down to Montpelier Parade with Captain Bellfield, whose linen on that occasion certainly gave no outward sign of any quarrel between him and his washerwoman. He was got up wonderfully, and was prepared at all points for the day’s work. He had on a pseudo-sailor’s jacket, very liberally ornamented with brass buttons, which displayed with great judgment the exquisite shapes of his pseudo-sailor’s duck trousers. Beneath them there was a pair of very shiny patent-leather shoes, well adapted for dancing on the sand, presuming him to be anxious of doing so, as Venus offered to do, without leaving any footmarks. His waistcoat was of a delicate white fabric, ornamented with very many gilt buttons. He had be jewelled studs in his shirt, and yellow kid gloves on his hands; having, of course, another pair in his pocket for the necessities of the evening. His array was quite perfect, and had stricken dismay into the heart of his friend Cheesacre, when he joined that gentleman. He was a well-made man, nearly six feet high, with dark hair, dark whiskers, and dark moustache, nearly black, but of that suspicious hue which to the observant beholder seems always to tell a tale of the hairdresser’s shop. He was handsome, too, with well-arranged features — but carrying, perhaps, in his nose some first symptoms of the effects of midnight amusements. Upon the whole, however, he was a nice man to look on — for those who like to look on nice men of that kind.

Cheesacre, too, had adopted something of a sailor’s garb. He had on a jacket of a rougher sort, coming down much lower than that of the Captain, being much looser, and perhaps somewhat more like a garment which a possible seaman might possibly wear. But he was disgusted with himself the moment that he saw Bellfield. His heart had been faint, and he had not dared to ornament himself boldly as his friend had done. “I say, Guss, you are a swell,” he exclaimed. It may be explained that Captain Bellfield had been christened Gustavus.

“I don’t know much about that,” said the Captain; “my fellow sent me this toggery, and said that it was the sort of thing. I’ll change with you if you like it.” But Cheesacre could not have worn that jacket, and he walked on, hating himself.

It will be remembered that Mrs Greenow had spoken with considerable severity of Captain Bellfield’s pretensions when discussing his character with her niece; but, nevertheless, on the present occasion she received him with most gracious smiles. It may be that her estimate of his character had been altered, or that she was making sacrifice of her own feelings in consideration of Mr Cheesacre, who was known to be the Captain’s intimate friend. But she had smiles for both of them. She had a wondrous power of smiling; and could, upon occasion, give signs of peculiar favour to half a dozen different gentlemen in as many minutes. They found her in the midst of hampers which were not yet wholly packed, while Mrs Jones, Jeannette, and the cook of the household moved around her, on the outside of the circle, ministering to her wants. She had in her hand an outspread clean napkin, and she wore fastened round her dress a huge coarse apron, that she might thus be protected from some possible ebullition of gravy, or escape of salad mixture, or cream; but in other respects she was clothed in the fullest honours of widowhood. She had not mitigated her weeds by half an inch. She had scorned to make any compromise between the world of pleasure and the world of woe. There she was, a widow, declared by herself to be of four months’ standing, with a buried heart, making ready a dainty banquet with skill and liberality. She was ready on the instant to sit down upon the basket in which the grouse pie had been just carefully inhumed, and talk about her sainted lamb with a deluge of tears. If anybody didn’t like it, that person — might do the other thing. Mr Cheesacre and Captain Bellfield thought that they did like it.

“Oh, Mr Cheesacre, if you haven’t caught me before I’ve half done! Captain Bellfield, I hope you think my apron becoming.”

“Everything that you wear, Mrs Greenow, is always becoming.”

“Don’t talk in that way when you know —; but never mind — we will think of nothing sad today if we can help it. Will we, Mr Cheesacre?”

“Oh dear no; I should think not — unless it should come on to rain.”

“It won’t rain — we won’t think of such a thing. But, by the by, Captain Bellfield, I and my niece do mean to send out a few things, just in a bag you know, so that we may tidy ourselves up a little after the sea. I don’t want it mentioned, because if it gets about among the other ladies, they’d think we wanted to make a dressing of it — and there wouldn’t be room for them all; would there?”

“No; there wouldn’t,” said Mr Cheesacre, who had been out on the previous evening, inspecting, and perhaps limiting, the carpenters in their work.

“That’s just it,” said Mrs Greenow. “But there won’t be any harm, will there, Mr Cheesacre, in Jeannette going out with our things? She’ll ride in the cart, you know, with the eatables. I know Jeannette’s a friend of yours.”

“We shall be delighted to have Jeannette,” said Mr Cheesacre.

“Thank ye, sir,” said Jeannette, with a curtsey.

“Jeannette, don’t you let Mr Cheesacre turn your head; and mind you behave yourself and be useful. Well; let me see — what else is there? Mrs Jones, you might as well give me that ham now. Captain Bellfield, hand it over. Don’t you put it into the basket, because you’d turn it the wrong side down. There now, if you haven’t nearly made me upset the apricot pie.” Then, in the transfer of the dishes between the Captain and the widow, there occurred some little innocent by-play, which seemed to give offence to Mr Cheesacre; so that that gentleman turned his back upon the hampers and took a step away towards the door.

Mrs Greenow saw the thing at a glance, and immediately applied herself to cure the wound. “What do you think, Mr Cheesacre?” said she, “Kate wouldn’t come down because she didn’t choose that you should see her with an apron on over her frock!”

“I’m sure I don’t know why Miss Vavasor should care about my seeing her.”

“Nor I neither. That’s just what I said. Do step up into the drawing-room; you’ll find her there, and you can make her answer for herself.”

“She wouldn’t come down for me,” said Mr Cheesacre. But he didn’t stir. Perhaps he wasn’t willing to leave his friend with the widow.

At length the last of the dishes was packed, and Mrs Greenow went upstairs with the two gentlemen. There they found Kate and two or three other ladies who had promised to embark under the protection of Mrs Greenow’s wings. There were the two Miss Fairstairs, whom Mrs Greenow had especially patronized, and who repaid that lady for her kindness by an amount of outspoken eulogy which startled Kate by its audacity.

“Your dear aunt!” Fanny Fairstairs had said on coming into the room. “I don’t think I ever came across a woman with such genuine milk of human kindness!”

“Nor with so much true wit,” said her sister Charlotte — who had been called Charlie on the sands of Yarmouth for the last twelve years.

When the widow came into the room, they flew at her and devoured her with kisses, and swore that they had never seen her looking so well. But as the bright new gloves which both the girls wore had been presents from Mrs Greenow, they certainly did owe her some affection. There are not many ladies who would venture to bestow such gifts upon their friends after so very short an acquaintance; but Mrs Greenow had a power that was quite her own in such matters. She was already on a very confidential footing with the Miss Fairstairs, and had given them much useful advice as to their future prospects.

And then was there a Mrs Green, whose husband was first-lieutenant on board a man-of-war on the West Indian Station. Mrs Green was a quiet, ladylike little woman, rather pretty, very silent, and, as one would have thought, hardly adapted for the special intimacy of Mrs Greenow. But Mrs Greenow had found out that she was alone, not very rich, and in want of the solace of society. Therefore she had, from sheer good-nature, forced herself upon Mrs Green, and Mrs Green, with much trepidation, had consented to be taken to the picnic. “I know your husband would like it,” Mrs Greenow had said, “and I hope I may live to tell him that I made you go.”

There came in also a brother of the Fairstairs girls, Joe Fairstairs, a lanky, useless, idle young man, younger than them, who was supposed to earn his bread in an attorney’s office at Norwich, or rather to be preparing to earn it at some future time, and who was a heavy burden upon all his friends. “We told Joe to come to the house”, said Fanny to the widow, apologetically, “because we thought he might be useful in carrying down the cloaks.” Mrs Greenow smiled graciously upon Joe, and assured him that she was charmed to see him, without any reference to such services as those mentioned.

And then they started. When they got to the door both Cheesacre and the Captain made an attempt to get possession of the widow’s arm. But she had it all arranged. Captain Bellfield found himself constrained to attend to Mrs Green, while Mr Cheesacre walked down to the beach beside Kate Vavasor. “I’ll take your arm, Mr Joe,” said the widow, “and the girls shall come with us.” But when they got to the boats, round which the other comers to the picnic were already assembled, Mr Cheesacre — although both the boats were for the day his own — found himself separated from the widow. He got into that which contained Kate Vavasor, and was shoved off from the beach while he saw Captain Bellfield arranging Mrs Greenow’s drapery. He had declared to himself that it should be otherwise; and that as he had to pay the piper, the piper should play as he liked it. But Mrs Greenow with a word or two had settled it all, and Mr Cheesacre had found himself to be powerless. “How absurd Bellfield looks in that jacket, doesn’t he?” he said to Kate, as he took his seat in the boat.

“Do you think so? I thought it was so very pretty and becoming for the occasion.”

Mr Cheesacre hated Captain Bellfield, and regretted more than ever that he had not done something for his own personal adornment. He could not endure to think that his friend, who paid for nothing, should carry away the honours of the morning and defraud him of the delights which should justly belong to him. “It may be becoming,” said Cheesacre; “but don’t you think it’s awfully extravagant?”

“As to that I can’t tell. You see I don’t at all know what is the price of a jacket covered all over with little brass buttons.”

“And the waistcoat, Miss Vavasor!” said Cheesacre, almost solemnly.

“The waistcoat I should think must have been expensive.”

“Oh, dreadful! and he’s got nothing, Miss Vavasor; literally nothing. Do you know,” — and he reduced his voice to a whisper as he made this communication — “I lent him twenty pounds the day before yesterday; I did indeed. You won’t mention it again, of course. I tell you, because, as you are seeing a good deal of him just now, I think it right that you should know on what sort of a footing he stands.” It’s all fair, they say, in love and war, and this small breach of confidence was, we must presume, a love stratagem on the part of Mr Cheesacre. He was at this time smitten with the charms both of the widow and of the niece, and he constantly found that the captain was interfering with him on whichever side he turned himself. On the present occasion he had desired to take the widow for his share, and was, upon the whole, inclined to think that the widow was the more worthy of his attentions. He had made certain little inquiries within the last day or two, the answers to which had been satisfactory. These he had by no means communicated to his friend, to whom, indeed, he had expressed an opinion that Mrs Greenow was after all only a flash in the pan. “She does very well pour passer le temps,” the captain had answered. Mr Cheesacre had not quite understood the exact gist of the captain’s meaning, but had felt certain that his friend was playing him false.

“I don’t want it to be mentioned again, Miss Vavasor,” he continued.

“Such things should not be mentioned at all,” Kate replied, having been angered at the insinuation that the nature of Captain Bellfield’s footing could be a matter of any moment to her.

“No, they shouldn’t; and therefore I know that I’m quite safe with you, Miss Vavasor. He’s a very pleasant fellow, very; and has seen the world — uncommon; but he’s better for eating and drinking with than he is for buying and selling with, as we say in Norfolk. Do you like Norfolk, Miss Vavasor?”

“I never was in it before, and now I’ve only seen Yarmouth.”

“A nice place, Yarmouth, very; but you should come up and see our lands. I suppose you don’t know that we feed one-third of England during the winter months.”

“Dear me!”

“We do, though; nobody knows what a county Norfolk is. Taking it altogether, including the game you know, and Lord Nelson, and its watering-places and the rest of it, I don’t think there’s a county in England to beat it. Fancy feeding one-third of all England and Wales!”

“With bread and cheese, do you mean, and those sort of things?”

“Beef!” said Mr Cheesacre, and in his patriotic energy he repeated the word aloud. “Beef! Yes indeed; but if you were to tell them that in London they wouldn’t believe you. Ah! you should certainly come down and see our lands. The 7.45 A.M. train would take you through Norwich to my door, as one may say, and you would be back by the 6.22 P.M.” In this way he brought himself back again into good humour, feeling, that in the absence of the widow, he could not do better than make progress with the niece.

In the mean time Mrs Greenow and the Captain were getting on very comfortably in the other boat. “Take an oar, Captain,” one of the men had said to him as soon as he had placed the ladies. “Not today, Jack,” he had answered. “I’ll content myself with being bo’san this morning.”

“The best thing as the bo’san does is to pipe all hands to grog,” said the man. “I won’t be behind in that either,” said the Captain; and so they all went on swimmingly.

“What a fine generous fellow your friend, Mr Cheesacre, is!” said the widow.

“Yes, he is; he’s a capital fellow in his way. Some of these Norfolk farmers are no end of good fellows.”

“And I suppose he’s something more than a common farmer. He’s visited by the people about where he lives, isn’t he?”

“Oh, yes, in a sort of a way. The county people, you know, keep themselves very much to themselves.”

“That’s of course. But his house — he has a good sort of place, hasn’t he?”

“Yes, yes — a very good house — a little too near to the horse-pond for my taste. But when a man gets his money out of the till, he musn’t be ashamed of the counter — must he, Mrs Greenow?”

“But he could live like a gentleman if he let his own land, couldn’t he?”

“That depends upon how a gentleman wishes to live.” Here the privacy of their conversation was interrupted by an exclamation from a young lady to the effect that Charlie Fairstairs was becoming sick. This Charlie stoutly denied, and proved the truth of her assertion by her behaviour. Soon after this they completed their marine adventures, and prepared to land close to the spot at which the banquet was prepared,

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43