Rachel Ray, by Anthony Trollope

Mr Tappitt in His Counting-House

Luke Rowan, when he left the cottage, walked quickly back across the green towards Baslehurst. He had sauntered out slowly on his road from the brewery to Bragg’s End, being in doubt as to what he would do when he reached his destination; but there was no longer room for doubt now; he had said that to Rachel’s mother which made any further doubt impossible, and he was resolved that he would ask Rachel to be his wife. He had spoken to Mrs Ray of his intention in that respect as though he thought that such an offer on his part might probably be rejected, and in so speaking had at the time spoken the truth; but he was eager, sanguine, and self-confident by nature, and though he was by no means disposed to regard himself as a conquering hero by whom any young lady would only be too happy to find herself beloved, he did not at the present moment look forward to his future fate with despair. He walked quickly home along the dusty road, picturing to himself a happy prosperous future in Baslehurst, with Rachel as his wife, and the Tappitts living in some neighbouring village on an income paid to old Tappitt by him out of the proceeds of the brewery. That was his present solution of the brewery difficulty. Tappitt was growing old, and it might be quite as well not only for himself, but for the cause of humanity in Devonshire, that he should pass the remainder of his life in that dignity which comfortable retirement from business affords. He did not desire Tappitt for a partner any more than Tappitt desired him. Nevertheless he was determined to brew beer, and was anxious to do so if possible on the spot where his great-uncle Bungall had commenced operations in that line.

It may be well to explain here that Rowan was not without good standing-ground in his dispute with Tappitt. Old Bungall’s will had somewhat confused matters, as it is in the nature of wills to do; but it had been Bungall’s desire that his full share in the brewery should go to his nephew after his widow’s death, should he on dying leave a widow. Now it had happened that he had left a widow, and that the widow had contrived to live longer than the nephew. She had drawn an income of five hundred a year from the concern, by agreement between her and her lawyer and Tappitt and his lawyer; and Tappitt, when the elder Rowan, Bungall’s nephew, died, had taught himself to believe that all the affairs of the brewery must now remain for ever in his own hands, unless he himself might choose to make other provision. He knew that some property in the concern would pass away from him when the old lady died, but he had not acknowledged to himself that young Rowan would inherit from his father all the rights which old Rowan would have possessed had he lived. Luke’s father had gone into other walks of life, and had lived prosperously, leaving behind him money for his widow, and money also for his children; and Tappitt, when he found that there was a young man with a claim to a partnership in his business, had been not only much annoyed, but surprised also. He had been, as we have seen, persuaded to hold out the right hand of friendship, and the left hand of the partnership to the young man. He had thought that he might manage a young man from London who knew nothing of beer; and his wife had thought that the young man might probably like to take a wife as well as an income out of the concern; but, as we have seen, they had both been wrong in their hopes. Luke chose to manage the brewery instead of being managed; and had foolishly fallen in love with Rachel Ray instead of taking Augusta Tappitt to himself as he should have done.

There was much certainly of harshness and cruelty in that idea of an opposition brewery in Baslehurst to be established in enmity to Bungall and Tappitt, and to be so established with Bungall’s money, and by Bungall’s heir. But Luke, as he walked back to Baslehurst, thinking now of his beer and now of his love, declared to himself that he wanted only his own. Let Tappitt deal justly with him in that matter of the partnership, and he would deal even generously with Tappitt. The concern gave an income of some fifteen hundred pounds, out of which Mrs Bungall, as taking no share of the responsibility or work, had been allowed to have a third. He was informed by his lawyer that he was entitled to claim one-half of the whole concern. If Tappitt would give in his adhesion to that villa arrangement, he should still have his thousand a year for life, and Mrs Tappitt afterwards should have due provision, and the girls should have all that could fairly be claimed for them. Or, if the villa scheme could not be carried out quite at present, he, Rowan, would do two shares of the work, and allow Tappitt to take two shares of the pay; but then, in that case, he must be allowed scope for his improvements. Good beer should be brewed for the people of Baslehurst, and the eyes of Devonshire should be opened. Pondering over all this, and resolving that he would speak out his mind openly to Rachel on the morrow, Luke Rowan reached his inn.

“There’s a lady, sir, upstairs, as wishes to speak to you,” said the waiter.

“A lady?”

“Quite elderly, sir,” said the waiter, intending to put an end to any excitement on Rowan’s part.

“It’s the gentleman’s own mother,” said the chambermaid, in a tone of reproof, “and she’s in number two sitting-room, private.” So Luke went to number two sitting-room, private, and there he found his mother waiting for him.

“This is very sad,” she said, when their first greetings were over.

“About old Tappitt? yes, it is; but what could I do, mother? He’s a stupid old man, and pigheaded. He would quarrel with me, so that I was obliged to leave the house. If you and Mary like to come into lodgings while you stay here, I can get rooms for you.”

But Mrs Rowan explained that she herself did not wish to come to any absolute or immediate rupture with Mrs Tappitt. Of course their visit would be shortened, but Mrs Tappitt was disposed to be very civil, as were the girls. Then Mrs Rowan suggested whether there might not be a reconciliation between Luke and the brewery family.

“But, mother, I have not quarrelled with the family.”

“It comes to the same thing, Luke; does it not? Don’t you think you could say something civil to Mr Tappitt, so as to — to bring him round again? He’s older than you are, you know, Luke.”

Rowan perceived at once that his mother was ranging herself on the Tappitt side in the contest, and was therefore ready to fight with so much the more vigour. He was accustomed to yield to his mother in all little things, Mrs Rowan being a woman who liked such yielding; but for some time past he had held his own against her in all greater matters. Now and again, for an hour or so, she would show that she was vexed; but her admiration for him was so genuine, and her love so strong, that this vexation never endured, and Luke had been taught to think that his judgement was to be held supreme in all their joint concerns. “Yes, mother, he is older than I am; but I do not know that I can say anything particularly civil to him — that is, more civil than what I have said. The civility which he wants is the surrender of my rights. I can’t be so civil as that.”

“No, Luke, I should be the last to ask you to surrender any of your rights; you must be sure of that. But — oh. Luke, if what I hear is true I shall be so unhappy!”

“And what have you heard, mother?”

“I am afraid all this is not about the brewery altogether.”

“But it is about the brewery altogether — about that and about nothing else to any smallest extent. I don’t at all know what you mean.”

“Luke, is there no young lady in the case?”

“Young lady! in what case — in the case of my quarrel with old Tappitt — whether he and I have had a difference about a young lady?”

“No. Luke; you know I don’t mean that.”

“But what do you mean, mother?”

“I’m afraid that you know too well. Is there not a young lady whom you’ve met at Mrs Tappitt’s, and whom you — you pretend to admire?”

“And suppose there is — for the sake of the argument — what has that to do with my difference with Mr Tappitt?” As Rowan asked this question some slight conception of the truth flashed across his mind; some faint idea came home to him of the connecting link between his admiration for Rachel Ray and Mr Tappitt’s animosity.

“But is it so, Luke?” asked the anxious mother. “I care much more about that than I do about all the brewery put together. Nothing would make me so wretched as to see you make a marriage that was beneath you.”

“I don’t think I shall ever make you wretched in that way.”

“And you tell me that there is nothing in this that I have heard — nothing at all?”

“No, by heavens! — I tell you no such thing. I do not know what you may have heard. That you have heard falsehood and calumny I guess by your speaking of a marriage that would be beneath me. But, as you think it right to ask me, I will not deceive you by any subterfuge. It is my purpose to ask a girl here in Baslehurst to be my wife.”

“Then you have not asked her yet?”

“You are cross-examining me very closely, mother. If I have not asked her I am bound to do so; not that any binding is necessary — for without being bound I certainly should do so.”

“And it is Miss Ray?”

“Yes, it is Miss Ray.”

“Oh, Luke, then indeed I shall be very wretched.”

“Why so, mother? Have you heard anything against her?”

“Against her! well; I will not say that, for I do not wish to say anything against any young woman. But do you know who she is, Luke; and who her mother is? They are quite poor people.”

“And is that against them?”

“Not against their moral character certainly, but it is against them in considering the expediency of a connection with them. You would hardly wish to marry out of your own station. I am told that the mother lives in a little cottage, quite in a humble sphere, and that the sister —”

“I intend to marry neither the mother nor the sister; but Rachel Ray I do intend to marry — if she will have me. If I had been left to myself I should not have told you of this till I had found myself to be successful; as you have asked me I have not liked to deceive you. But, mother, do not speak against her if you can say nothing worse of her than that she is poor.”

“You misunderstand me. Luke.”

“I hope so. I do not like to think that that objection should be made by you.”

“Of course it is an objection, but it is not the one which I meant to make. There may be many a young lady whom it would be quite fitting that you should wish to marry even though she had not got a shilling. It would be much pleasanter of course that the lady should have something, though I should never think of making any serious objection about that. But what I should chiefly look to would be the young lady herself, and her position in life.”

“The young lady herself would certainly be the main thing,” said Luke.

“That’s what I say — the young lady herself and her position in life. Have you made any inquiries?”

“Yes, I have — and am almost ashamed of myself for doing so.”

“I have no doubt Mrs Ray is very respectable, but the sort of people who are her friends are not your friends. Their most particular friends are the farmer’s family that lives near them.”

“How was it then that Mrs Cornbury took her to the party?”

“Ah, yes; I can explain that. And Mrs Tappitt has told me how sorry she is that people should have been deceived by what has occurred.” Luke Rowan’s brow grew black as Mrs Tappitt’s name was mentioned, but he said nothing and his mother continued her speech. “Her girls have been very kind to Miss Ray, inviting her to walk with them and all that sort of thing, because of her being so much alone without any companions of her own.”

“Oh, that has been it, has it? I thought she had the farmer’s family out near where she lived.”

“If you choose to listen to me, Luke, I shall be obliged to you, but if you take me up at every word in that way, of course I must leave you.” Then she paused, but as Luke said nothing she went on with her discourse. “It was in that way that she came to know the Miss Tappitts, and then one of them, the youngest I think, asked her to come to the party. It was very indiscreet; but Mrs Tappitt did not like to go back from her daughter’s word, and so the girl was allowed to come.”

“And to make the blunder pass off easily, Mrs Cornbury was induced to take her?”

“Mrs Cornbury happened to be staying with her father, in whose parish they had lived for many years, and it certainly was very kind of her. But it has been an unfortunate mistake altogether. The poor girl has for a moment been lifted out of her proper sphere, and — as you must have seen yourself. — hardly knew how to behave herself. It made Mrs Tappitt very unhappy.”

This was more than Luke Rowan was able to bear. His anger was not against his own mother, but against the mistress of the brewery. It was manifest that she had been maligning Rachel, and instigating his mother to take up the cudgels against her. And he was vexed also that his mother had not perceived that Rachel held, or was entitled to hold, among women a much higher position than could be fairly accorded to Mrs Tappitt. “I do not care one straw for Mrs Tappitt’s unhappiness,” he said; “and as to Miss Ray’s conduct at her house, I do not think that there was anything in it that did not become her. I do not know what you mean, the least in the world; and I think you would have no such idea yourself, if Mrs Tappitt had not put it into your head.”

“You should not speak in that way to your mother, Luke.”

“I must speak strongly when I am defending my wife — as I hope she will be. I never heard of anything in my life so little as this woman’s conduct! It is mean, paltry jealousy, and nothing else. You, as my mother, may think it better that I should not marry.”

“But, my dear, I want you to marry.”

“Then I will do as you want. Or you may think that I should find someone with money, or with grand friends, or with a better connection. It is natural that you should think like this. But why should she want to belittle a young girl like Rachel Ray — a girl that her own daughters call their friend? I’ll tell you why, mother. Because Rachel Ray was admired and they were not.”

“Is there anybody in Baslehurst that will say that she is your equal?”

“I am not disposed to ask anyone in Baslehurst just at present: and I would not advise anyone in Baslehurst to volunteer an opinion to me on the subject. I intend that she shall be my equal — my equal in every respect, if I can make her so. I shall certainly ask her to be my wife; and, mother, as my mind is positively made up on that point — as nothing on earth will alter me. — I hope you will teach yourself to think kindly of her. I should be very unhappy if my house could not be your home when you may choose to make it so.”

But Mrs Rowan, much as she was accustomed to yield to her son, could not bring herself to yield in this matter — or, at least, not to yield with grace. She felt that the truth and wisdom all lay on her side in the argument, though she knew that she had lacked words in which to carry it on. She declared to herself that she was not at all inclined to despise anybody for living in a small cottage, or for being poor. She would have been delighted to be very civil to Mrs Ray herself, and could have patronised Rachel quite as kindly, though perhaps not so graciously, as Mrs Cornbury had done. But it was a different thing when her son came to think of making this young woman his wife! Old Mrs Cornbury would have been very sorry to see either of her sons make such an alliance. When anything so serious as marriage was to be considered, it was only proper to remember that Mrs Ray lived in a cottage, and that farmer Sturt was her friend and neighbour. But to all this prudence and wisdom Luke would not listen at all, and at last Mrs Rowan left him in dudgeon. Foolish and hasty as he was, he could, as she felt, talk better than she could; and therefore she retreated, feeling that she had been worsted. “I have done my duty,” said she, going away. “I have warned you. Of course you are your own master and can do as you please.” Then she left him, refusing his escort, and in the last fading light of the long summer evening, made her way back to the brewery.

Luke’s first impulse was to start off instantly to the cottage, and settle the matter out of hand, but before he had taken up his hat for this purpose he remembered that he could not very well call at Bragg’s End on such a mission at eleven o’clock at night; so he threw himself back on the hotel sofa, and gave vent to his feelings against the Tappitt family. He would make them understand that they were not going to master him. He had come down there disposed to do them all manner of kindness — to the extent even of greatly improving their fortunes by improving the brewing business — and they had taken upon themselves to treat him as though he were a dependent. He did not tell himself that a plot had been made to catch him for one of the girls; but he accused them of jealousy, meanness, selfishness, and all those sins and abominations by which such a plot would be engendered. When, about an hour afterwards, he took himself off to bed, he was full of wrath, and determined to display his wrath early on the morrow. As he prayed for forgiveness on condition that he forgave others, his conscience troubled him; but he gulped it down, and went on with his angry feelings till sleep came upon him.

But in the morning some of this bitterness had worn away. His last resolve overnight had been to go to the brewery before breakfast, at which period of the day Mr Tappitt was always to be found for half an hour in his counting-house, and curtly tell the brewer that all further negotiations between them must he made by their respective lawyers; but as he was dressing, be reflected that Mr Tappitt’s position was certainly one of difficulty, that amicable arrangements would still be best if amicable arrangements were possible, and that something was due to the man who had for so many years been his uncle’s partner. Mr Tappitt, moreover, was not responsible for any of those evil things which had been said about Rachel by Mrs Tappitt. Therefore, priding himself somewhat on his charity, he entered Mr Tappitt’s office without the display of any anger on his face.

The brewer was standing with his back to the empty fireplace, with his hands behind the tails of his coat, and his eyes fixed upon a letter which he had just read and which lay open upon his desk. Rowan advanced with his hand out, and Tappitt, hesitating a little as he obeyed the summons, put out his own and just touched that of his visitor; then hastily he resumed his position, with his arm behind his coat-tail.

“I have come down.” said Rowan, “because I thought it might be well to have a little chat with you before breakfast.”

The letter which lay open on the desk was from Rowan’s lawyer in London, and contained that offer on Rowan’s part of a thousand a year and retirement, to which Luke still looked as the most comfortable termination of all their difficulties. Luke had almost forgotten that he had, ten days since, absolutely instructed his lawyer to make the offer; but there was the offer made, and lying on Tappitt’s table. Tappitt had been considering it for the last five minutes, and every additional moment had added to the enmity which he felt against Rowan. Rowan, at twenty-five, no doubt regarded Tappitt, who was nearer sixty than fifty, as a very old man; but men of fifty-five do not like to be so regarded, and are not anxious to be laid upon shelves by their juniors. And, moreover, where was Tappitt to find his security for the thousand a year — as he had not failed to remark to himself on his first glance over the lawyer’s letter? Buy him out, indeed, and lay him on one side! He hated Rowan with all his heart — and his hatred was much more bitter in its nature than that which Rowan was capable of feeling for him. He remembered the champagne; he remembered the young man’s busy calling for things in his own house; he remembered the sneers against the beer, and the want of respect with which his experience in the craft had been treated. Buy him out! No; not as long as he had a five-pound note to spend, or a leg to stand upon. He was strong in his resolution now, and capable of strength, for Mrs Tappitt was also on his side. Mrs Rowan had not quite kept her secret as to what had transpired at the inn, and Mrs Tappitt was certain that Rachel Ray had succeeded. When Tappitt declared that morning that he would fight it out to the last, Mrs T. applauded his courage.

“Oh! a little chat, is it?” said Tappitt. “About this letter that I’ve just got, I suppose,” and he gave a contemptuous poke to the epistle with one of his hands.

“What letter?” asked Rowan.

“Come now, young man don’t let us have any humbug and trickery, whatever we may do. If there’s anything I do hate, it’s deceit.”

All Rowan’s wrath returned upon him instantly, redoubled and trebled in its energy. “What do you mean, sir?” said he. “Who is trying to deceive anybody? How dare you speak to me in such language as that?”

“Now, look here, Mr Rowan. This letter comes from your man in Craven Street, as of course you know very well. You have chosen to put our business in the hands of the lawyers, and in the hands of the lawyers it shall remain. I have been very wrong in attempting to have any dealings with you. I should have known what sort of a man you were before I let you put your foot in the concern. But I know enough of you now, and, if you please, you’ll keep yourself on the other side of those gates for the future. D’ye hear me? Unless you wish to be turned out by the men, don’t you put your feet inside the brewery premises any more.” And Tappitt’s face as he uttered these words was a face very unpleasant to behold.

Luke was so astounded that he could not bethink himself at the moment of the most becoming words in which to answer his enemy. His first idea had prompted him to repudiate all present knowledge of the lawyer’s letter, seeing that the lawyer’s letter had been the ground of that charge against him of deceit. But having been thus kicked out — kicked out as far as words could kick him, and threatened with personal violence should those words not be obeyed, he found himself unable to go back to the lawyer’s letter. “I should like to see any one of your men dare to touch me,” said he.

“You shall see it very soon if you don’t take yourself off,” said Tappitt. Luckily the men were gone to breakfast, and opportunity for violence was wanting.

Luke looked round, and then remembered that he and Tappitt were probably alone in the place. “Mr Tappitt,” said he, “you’re a very foolish man.”

“I dare say,” said Tappitt; “very foolish not to give up my own bread, and my wife’s and children’s bread, to an adventurer like you.”

“I have endeavoured to treat you with kindness and also with honesty, and because you differ from me, as of course you have a right to do, you think it best to insult me with all the Billingsgate you can muster.”

“If you don’t go out of my counting-house, young man, I’ll see if I can’t put you out myself;” and Tappitt, in spite of his fifty-five years, absolutely put his hand down upon the poker.

There is no personal encounter in which a young man is so sure to come by the worst as in that with a much older man. This is so surely the case that it ought to be considered cowardly in an old man to attack a young one. If an old man hit a young man over the head with a walking-stick, what can the young man do, except run away to avoid a second blow? Then the old man, if he be a wicked old man, as so many are, tells all his friends that he has licked the young man. Tappitt would certainly have acted in this way if the weapon in his hand had been a stick instead of a poker. But Tappitt, when he saw his own poker in his own hand, was afraid of it. If a woman attack a man with a knife, the man will be held to have fought fairly, though he shall have knocked her down in the encounter. And so also with an old man, if he take a poker instead of a stick, the world will refuse to him the advantage of his grey hairs. Some such an idea as this came upon Tappitt — by instinct, and thus, though he still held the poker, he refrained his hand.

“The man must be mad this morning,” said Rowan, standing firmly before him, with his two hands fixed upon his hips.

“Am I to send for the police?” said Tappitt.

“For a mad-doctor, I should think,” said Rowan. Then Tappitt turned round and rang a bell very violently. But as the bell was intended to summon some brewery servant who was now away at his breakfast, it produced no result.

“But I have no intention of staying here against your wish, Mr Tappitt, whether you’re mad or only foolish. This matter must of course be settled by the lawyers now, and I shall not again come on to these premises unless I acquire a legal right to do so as the owner of them.” And then, having so spoken, Luke Rowan walked off.

Growling inwardly Tappitt deposited the poker within the upright fender, and thrusting his hands into his trouser-pockets stood scowling at the door through which his enemy had gone. He knew that he had been wrong; he knew that he had been very foolish. He was a man who had made his way upwards through the world with fair success, and had walked his way not without prudence. He had not been a man of violence, or prone to an illicit use of pokers. He had never been in difficulty for an assault; and had on his conscience not even the blood of a bloody nose, or the crime of a blackened eye. He was hard-working and peaceable; had been churchwarden three times, and mayor of Baslehurst once. He was poor-law guardian and way-warden, and filled customarily the various offices of a steady good citizen. What had he to do with pokers, unless it were to extract heat from his coals? He was ashamed of himself as he stood scowling at the door. One fault he perhaps had; and of that fault he had been ruthlessly told by lips that should have been sealed for ever on such a subject. He brewed bad beer; and by whom had this been thrown in his teeth? By Bungall’s nephew — by Bungall’s heir — by him who claimed to stand in Bungall’s shoes within that establishment! Who had taught him to brew beer — bad or good? Had it not been Bungall? And now, because in his old age he would not change these things, and ruin himself in a vain attempt to make some beverage that should look bright to the eye, he was to be turned out of his place by this chip from the Bungall block, this stave out of one of Bungall’s vats! “ Ruat coelum, fiat justitia,” he said, as he walked forth to his own breakfast. He spoke to himself in other language, indeed, though the Roman’s sentiment was his own. “I’ll stand on my rights, though I have to go into the poor-house.”

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