Dorothy Forster, by Walter Besant

Chapter v.

Mr. Antony Hilyard.

When Mr. Antony Hilyard first came to us, as tutor to my brothers, he was a young man of twenty-one or twenty-two, not long from Oxford. He brought with him letters recommendatory, in which his learning was highly approved, and was sent to us by Mr. Ferdinando Forster, who heard of him as a young man desirous of entering a gentleman’s family as tutor, in the hope of becoming chaplain, and perhaps rising in the Church. Although a young man of great accomplishments and vast knowledge, he left his University without obtaining a degree, which was strange if anyone had thought of inquiring into the cause; as for so learned a scholar coming to take a tutor’s place in a gentleman’s house, that was nothing, because he was only the son of a vintner, and born in a place called Barbican, London. Such a place of honourable service, especially when the master is so easy a gentleman as my father, is one which all young men of his birth and parts should desire, though some, as Mr. Hilyard hath himself often told me, go to London, and there court Fortune as poets, playwrights, translators, writers of vamped-up travels, compilers of sermons for such of the clergy as lack the ability to compose them, and such work, which is, I am informed, as poorly paid as it is miserable, and beneath the consideration of a man who values his own dignity. Mr. Hilyard could write and speak both the French and Italian tongues; he was, besides, familiar with Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Chaldæan; he was skilled in many branches of the mathematics; he could play on the spinet with great ease and dexterity; he was an excellent geographer, and could discourse for hours upon a mappa mundi, or chart of the world; he could tell the stars and their courses; he could converse with intelligence and to the edification of his hearers on almost any subject, being equally at home in Peru and in London; knowing the Hottentots and Japanese as well as the London Scourers; and even in matters connected with agriculture or housewifery he could talk learnedly, being familiar with the practice of the ancient Romans both in their houses and on their farms. In a word, no knowledge came amiss to him; he despised nothing; when he took his walks abroad he was always noting something, whether the call of a bird or the habits of a weasel, a wild flower or herb of the field; he would ask a gardener about his fruit, a shepherd about his sheep, a ploughman about the soil, a dairymaid about her cows. And what he learned he never forgot. I do not exhaust his accomplishments when I add that he was skilled in the art of fencing, and that here he found Tom an excellent pupil.

It was impossible for any young man to be more grave, and even solemn, in his bearing and conversation; when Mr. Forster invited him to drink with his friends, which he sometimes did, he was seldom greatly overcome with liquor, and even at his worst preserved his gravity; he displayed none of the disposition to levity, gallantry, profane talk, and impious scoffing which is manifested by so many young men of the present day; no woman’s reputation suffered by any act or word of his; no bishop could have been more blameless in his daily life.

It shows the strength of youthful impressions that, although I know so much better, I can never now think upon virtue without there instantly appearing before my eyes the short squab figure of Mr. Hilyard. He wears a brown coat, and he has no ruffles to his shirt; his face is round; his nose broad, and a little upturned; his lips are full and mobile; his eyes are large; it is neither the figure nor the face of a grave and learned person, yet was he both grave and learned. Socrates, I have heard, was remarkable for a face of great plainness, and yet was a very learned philosopher. Nor was it a face which one would expect to find in a man of so religious and severe a turn as Mr. Hilyard. He always went to church first, so to speak, and came out of it last; his discourse was full of examples gathered from ancient sources, and learned authors recommending the practice of good works.

Conduct so blameless, gravity so singular, wisdom so remarkable, never before seen in a man so young, could not fail to command, before long, the confidence of all. Mr. Forster entrusted his most private affairs to the counsel of Mr. Hilyard; madam carried her complaints to him as to one who would find redress; his pupil, who loved not books, obeyed him, was shamed out of his rusticity, and was kept by him from those follies by which young gentlemen in the country too often suffer in reputation and imperil their souls. As for myself, he took from the earliest the kindest interest in my welfare, and taught me many things which I should never have learned but for him, especially to read and talk the French tongue, and to play on the spinet. Lady Crewe condescended to write to him concerning her nephew, and the Bishop sent him instructions as to the authors which Tom should be made to read. Tom did not read them, but he sometimes listened while Mr. Hilyard read them aloud, and in this manner, no doubt, he arrived at some knowledge of their contents.

This preamble makes what follows the more astonishing. One evening —— it was in August, and a few weeks before Tom came of age —— while I was walking in the garden of the Manor House, the sun being already set, Tom came running and calling me:

‘Come, sister!’ he cried;‘come, Doll, quick! There is something worth looking at, I assure you.’

He took my hand, and we ran into the village street, which was generally quiet enough at this time, but this evening there was a great noise of singing and laughing, and the playing of a fiddle. It came from the inn.

‘There is the rarest sport,’ said Tom. ‘A company of players are at the inn, on their way from Alnwick to Berwick. Who do you think is with them? Mr. Hilyard!’

‘Mr. Hilyard with the players?’

‘No other. Ho! ho! Laughing and drinking and playing. Yes; you may open your eyes, Dolly, but there it is. No other than Mr. Hilyard! You never saw the like! Now, see; if he knows we are watching him he will stop. We can go to the back of the house, and in at the kitchen-door. Hush! Follow me, and don’t speak or laugh.’

We went on tiptoe into the kitchen of the inn, where the landlady was sitting. She held up her finger, screwed her mouth, nodded her head, and laughed, indicating by these gestures that something out of the common was going forward. She then gently opened the door which led into the best room —— not that where the rustics sit on wooden settles and push the pot around, but that which is furnished with tables and chairs, used by gentlemen and the better sort. The company consisted of about a dozen —— men and women, of various ages. They were not gentlefolk, yet they had an air very different from that of the country people. They were poorly dressed, yet had odds and ends of finery, one of the men wearing a scarlet coat and laced hat, planted sideways on his great wig, and cocked like an officer; another with tattered lace ruffles; a third with a ragged coat of drugget, and yet a fine flowered waistcoat. As for the women, there were, five, whom one was old, two others middle-aged, two young. One of the last was pretty, after a bold and impudent fashion, having great eyes, which she rolled about, and large, comely arms. She was dressed very finely, as if she was about to mount the stage, with a silk petticoat and satin frock looped up, and she wore a low commode upon her head. A bright fire was burning, though the night was not cold; a pair of candles were lighted; on the table, which was pushed into a corner, stood a bowl of steaming hot punch; and on the floor, prancing about by himself, with a thousand tricks of face and twistings of his body, was —— oh! wonder of wonders, and who could have believed it? —— no other than Mr. Antony Hilyard.

‘See him!’ whispered Tom. ‘Oh the pious and religious man!’

Indeed, I hardly recognised him, so changed he was. Why, he had given, somehow, a martial air to his wig; his face was twice as long as usual; his eye was stern; he wore the air of a commander-in-chief; he carried his left hand upon his hip, as one who is a marshal or prince at the head of his army. And he was at least six inches taller. How a man can change at will his face, his stature, and his appearance passeth my understanding. (Nota bene. —— The girl, Jenny Lee, was sitting in the corner of the room with her great black eyes wide open and her mouth agape; but of her I thought nothing, so stupefied was I with the transformation of Mr. Hilyard.)

He beckoned to the actress who wore the silk petticoat, and she laughed, sprang to her feet, and —— can such things be possible? —— became all in a moment changed, and was at once a great lady —— a princess or countess, at least. Why —— a moment before she was a common stroller of the company —— and now ——

‘Pretty Bracegirdle herself —— the fair, the chaste Celinda —— could not look the part better,’ said Mr. Hilyard. ‘Now, frail Calista, for the lines.’ Then they began to recite verses, walking up and down with strange gestures and great vehemence —— she sometimes sweeping across the floor as if she had whole yards of train behind her; he, as if clutching at a sword.

It was the scene in the ‘Fair Penitent’ in which the unworthy Calista receives the vows of Altamont. He says, with a face full of exalted joy and looks of the most tender love:

‘Begone, dull cares! I give you to the winds Far to be borne, far from the happy Altamont! Calista is the mistress of the year: She crowns the seasons with auspicious beauty, And bids even all my hours be good and joyful.’

To which she, repentant, though he knows not why, replies, hiding her head in her hands:

‘If I were ever mistress of such happiness, Oh! wherefore did I play the unthrifty fool, And, wasting all on others, leave myself Without one thought of joy, to give me comfort?’

‘He is not drunk, Tom,’ I whispered, wondering; because, at first, I thought that must be Mr. Hilyard’s condition. ‘It is beautiful. But what are they doing?’

‘That is play-acting, simpleton. Look at him now!’

They had stopped, and gone on to another scene. Mr. Hilyard was now another character; his face expressed mingled emotions of scorn, pity, and sternness, while the actress declaimed the well-known lines beginning:

‘Is this the famous friend of Altamont?’ After which came his turn, and he spoke like one who carries fate in his hand:

‘Alas! This rage is vain; for if your fame Or peace be worth your care, you must be calm And listen to the means are left to save ’em.’ And so on —— a strange wild scene of horror and reproach.

Well, when they finished, there was a great shouting of applause, and a swearing, with needless imprecations, that Wilks himself could not have played the part better; to which Mr. Hilyard replied, without any show or pretence of modesty, that indeed they were quite right, and that at Oxford he was always understood to be a great deal better actor than even that tragedian.

He then hoped the punch was to their liking, and begged them to fill their glasses again, which they very willingly did.

‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘I will now give you another taste of my quality. You shall see that we scholars of Oxford are not without parts.’

He thereupon took off his full wig, and borrowed a worn bobtail from the oldest of the company, who was sitting by the fire, toasting his toes and drinking his punch, without taking any interest in what was doing. He might have been the father of the troop, and, in fact, was the father of some of them. Mr. Hilyard, then, borrowing this wig, put it on his own head; and, to be sure, a most ludicrous appearance he did present. Never did one imagine that a change of wig could make so great a difference in a man’s appearance. His face became short again; his mouth was set askew, and he seemed laughing with his very eyes.

‘Why,’ whispered Tom, ‘who ever thought he could laugh at all? He has been with us five years, and never a smile till now!’

As the red firelight fell upon his face it seemed brimful of mirth, joy, and merriment, as if he could never do anything but laugh. His eyes swam with cheerfulness; there was no such thing as care in the whole world, one would have thought. Yet the same face that I knew so well, although now I seemed never to have known it before. Oh! figure of Virtue in a brown coat, and Piety with sober face, and Learning with decorous gravity, where art thou?

The actors looked at him with admiration. Not one of them could twist and turn his face so well. As for me, it was not admiration, but amazement.

‘Didst ever see the like, Doll!’ whispered Tom.

We still held the door ajar, and peeped through unregarded by any of the company.

Next, Mr. Hilyard, still with this face of smiles, turned a chair down, and sat upon it as if upon a saddle. Then he folded his arms, and delivered an oration in verse, at which everybody laughed loud and long. For my own part, I saw nothing to laugh at, for the verses were all about everybody being an ass —— a thing to make people cry, rather than laugh. The cit, they said, was an ass, the soldier was an ass, the lawyer was an ass, the sailor was an ass, and so forth. Perhaps the punch made the company the better disposed to laugh. When the speaker had finished, they all protested, with profane oaths, that Will Pinkiman himself had never given that epilogue better.

‘Will Pinkiman, gentlemen!’ cried Mr. Hilyard, getting off his chair. A fig for Will Pinkiman! Why, though to be sure he hath some merit, where is his fire compared to mine?’

‘Where, indeed, sir?’ repeated the fellow in the scarlet coat, with his tongue in his cheek. ‘A better than Will Pinkiman is here. I drink your health, sir.’

‘Gentlemen,’ said Mr. Hilyard, ‘an evening like this does one good. Believe me, I have never sung a single song, or played a single piece, for five years. In the north a man of my parts is truly wasted and thrown away.’

‘Come with us, sir,’ said the youngest actress, who had played Calista with him. ‘Sure, a gentleman like you would make a fortune on the boards.’

‘Nay, fair Calista, or Celinda, as thou wilt. There, indeed, you must hold me excused. Had your boards been the boards of Old Drury, it might be different. In that Temple of Thespis would be my proper home.’

He then called for another bowl of punch to be got ready against the other’s giving out, and taking up a fiddle which belonged to one of the company, he struck a chord or two, and began to play very sweetly. First he played the tune of ‘May Fair,’ then of ‘Cheshire Rounds,’ then ‘Ye Lasses and Lads,’ and lastly he played ‘The Countryman’s Delight.’ After which he laid down the bow, and looked about for applause, which came in thunders.

‘Why,’ whispered Tom, ‘I thought he could play none but Psalm tunes on the spinet.’

This done —— just, I suppose, to show the players another of his accomplishments —— he gave back the fiddle to its owner, and requested him to play an air which he named, and, I suppose, was very well known, to which he said he would sing a little song of his own composition.

‘Lord!’ Tom murmured, ‘he is going to sing next.’

He did sing, having a very sweet, melodious, and powerful voice, not slurring his words as some singers do, for the sake of harmonizing the tune, nor forgetting his tune in order to give more emphasis to his words, as is the way with others.

‘Sweet Amoret, ’tis you, I vow, Whose soft, prevailing charms Have bound my hopes of heaven now To live within, to live within thine arms.

‘But if condemned by thy disdain, And of thy smiles bereft; Still let me nurse the tender pain, Though no more hope, though no more hope be left.

‘He stakes his all to win or lose, Who sets his hopes so high, And finds too late he cannot choose But still to love, but still to love —— and die.’

‘Mr. Tofts himself,’ said the fair Celinda (or frail Calista), wiping a tear —— but I fear a false one ——‘could not have sung this song more sweetly, or more touched my heart.’

Mr. Hilyard smiled as one who is superior even to Mr. Tofts, and said that, for a private man, not a professor of the Art, he thought he had sung his own foolish song indifferent well. But, oh! you may think of the surprise of the girl peeping through the door. He to sing a love-song! Would skies drop next?

Now I was not so young or so ignorant but I could plainly see that whether Mr. Hilyard acted or sang well or ill, the company were fooling him for the sake of his punch. Also that they looked on with approval while the girl with the soiled silk petticoat and the large eyes plied their entertainer with praise, and kept filling his glass between the performances. After the song she said that she would like nothing so much as to rehearse with him a scene from the ‘Mourning Bride;’ that she had all her life been looking for some gentleman, not a common actor, but a gentleman, man (here the men grinned) who could not only give the lines with fire, but also look the part, and be as handsome in his person and courtly in his manner as Mr. Hilyard (here he stroked his chin and wagged his head and smiled, but the men grinned again, and took more punch). But, she said, taking out her handkerchief and weeping, unluckily, as all her friends present knew well, she could not afford a dress becoming to the part, and even had to play queens and chambermaids in the same frock, so unhappy she was. The other women murmured, ‘Poor thing! and Gospel truth! and the Lord knows! But a kind gentleman!’ The men took more whisky punch, and Mr. Hilyard, now a little flushed with praise and punch combined, and the girl’s eyes, which were kept fixed upon him (so the cunning snake charms the silly coney), and her wheedling voice —— for she had a very soft and winning voice —— began to shed tears too, out of compassion, and lugging out his purse, swore —— could one believe that he should ever swear? —— that she should make such an appearance on the stage as would show off her beautiful face and lovely figure to the best advantage, and gave her two or three guineas. She fell on her knees, calling him her preserver and her patron. The other women held up their hands, crying, ‘Oh, the generous gentleman! And this comes of a feeling heart, and of knowing what acting should be! And heaven, surely, hath its choicest blessings for one so good of heart!’ But the men took more punch.

Then Mr. Hilyard raised the cunning jade (who I could see very well was only pretending) and lifted her on his own knee, and began to kiss her, the other women murmuring that an honest girl might let the gentleman have so much liberty in return for his goodness.

‘O Lord! O Lord!’ murmured Tom. ‘This after what he said to me only yesterday!’

The men tipped the wink to each other, and drank more punch. Then, as Mr. Hilyard showed no sign of any more acting, one of them, putting down his glass, began to sing a song, at which the women stopped their ears and the men began to laugh, and Tom dragged me away. And so an end of the most wonderful evening ever seen.

‘Now,’ cried Tom, ‘what do you think of Mr. Hilyard, Dorothy?’

‘Truly, Tom,’ I replied, ‘I know not what to think or to say.’

‘Nor I. Well, he hath fooled us all; but we have found him out. Why, if he had only told me before what he could do, what evenings should we have had in this dull old house! After all, there are only a few months to wait. Dorothy, breathe not a word to my father or to Jack.’

Amazed, indeed, I was that Mr. Hilyard, of all men, should perform these antics! As well expect the Bishop of Durham, Lord Crewe himself, that venerable Father of the Church, to stand up for the Cobbler’s Dance, or the Vicar of Bamborough, a divine of great gravity, to grin through a horse-collar!

‘In the morning,’ said Tom, who seemed as much delighted at the discovery as I was amazed and grieved (for surely it is sad to find folly in a wise man’s mouth —— oh, how often had he admonished us both out of Solomon’s Proverbs!)——‘in the morning you shall see me smoke old Sobersides.’

Well, in the morning, when I expected the poor man to appear crestfallen and full of shame, Mr. Hilyard came down exactly the same to look upon as usual, save that he seemed thirsty. To be sure, he knew not that he had been observed. Yet surely he must have remembered, with repentance, the foolishness of the night.

‘I have heard, sir,’ said Tom presently, looking as meek as a sheep, ‘that a company of players passed through the town last night.’

Mr. Hilyard replied that a report to that effect had also reached his ears. He then proceeded to pronounce an eulogium on the Art of Acting, which, he said, was in his opinion second only to the divine gifts of poetry and music; that a man who was able to act should behave with modest gratitude for the possession of so great a quality; and he proceeded to give examples to prove the greatness of actors, from Roscius, who made a fortune of fifty millions of sesterces —— which seems a prodigious great sum, though I know not how many guineas go to make a sesterce —— unto the great Monsieur Baron, still living, and the favourite of the Paris ladies, although he was retired from the stage for twelve years and more.

‘Have you yourself, sir,’ asked Tom, ‘ever witnessed the performance of a play in London?’

‘It hath been my good fortune on many occasions,’ replied his tutor, ‘to see the play both at Drury Lane and the Haymarket. Perhaps I may be permitted to witness the exhibition of that divine Art again before I die.’

‘The best tragic actor is said to be Mr. Wilks, is he not?’ asked Tom, while Dorothy blushed.

‘Mr. Wilks hath certainly a great name,’ replied Mr. Hilyard. ‘Though I knew not you had heard of these things, Tom.’

‘And in comic parts one Will Pinkiman, I have been told,’ said Tom, ‘is considered the best.’

‘He certainly is,’ replied Mr. Hilyard, with some surprise. ‘Who hath told you of Will Pinkiman?’

‘Could you, sir, give us any example or imitation of this ingenious man? One would like to know how Pinkiman, for instance, pronounced the comical epilogue seated on an ass, on whose head he had placed a wig.’

Mr. Hilyard, somewhat disconcerted, changed colour, and drank off a pint or so of the small-ale with which he made his breakfast. Then he hemmed solemnly, and replied gravely:

‘Such an imitation is not, indeed, beyond my powers. And I perceive, Tom, that thou hast heard something of yesterday evening, and perhaps witnessed the entertainment which I provided for those poor but virtuous and ingenious people who passed the night at the inn. The Art of Acting was not included in the subjects which your father and Lady Crewe considered necessary for a gentleman. Therefore, I have abstained from ever speaking of it. Certainly it is no more necessary than that of painting, playing an instrument, sculpture, singing, carving, or any of those arts by which the daily life of the rich is embellished and in some countries the lives of the poor are made happy.’

He then, with so much gravity that one could not but remember the merry face of last night, proceeded to discourse upon the impersonation of character, and actually depicted before us, without leaving his chair, and simply by changing the expression of his face, and by various gestures of his hands, the diverse emotions of pity, terror, awe, expectancy, resignation, wrath, revenge, submission, love, jealousy, and suspicion, and all so naturally, and with so much dignity, that we were awed, and when we expected to laugh, or to make the poor man ashamed, we were made ashamed ourselves.

He concluded by warning us that, if we chanced to see a man who possessed this genius performing a foolish or mean part, we must be careful not to confound the man with the character which he assumed; to remember that many illustrious persons, including the Grand Monarque himself, had figured in operas, ballets, comic pieces, and burlettas, not to speak of Nero, a great artist, though a great monster, and Commodus; and to regard the stage as the finest school in the world for virtue and good manners; although as yet it must be owned, he said, that there was still —— as regards Comedy —— something to desire.

‘Who would think,’ said Tom, when he had concluded, and left us gaping at each other, ‘who would think that only yesterday evening he was hugging and kissing the actress?’

Now this event happened a very short time before Tom came of age. He spoke no more about it to me, nor did Mr. Hilyard again discourse of acting. It was not till a week before his birthday that Tom opened upon the subject again.

‘Dorothy,’ he said, ‘I have been thinking that for Mr. Hilyard to go away, when he hath become so useful to all of us, would be a great pity.’

‘Why should Mr. Hilyard leave us, Tom?’

‘Why, child, a man needs no tutor or guardian when he is twenty-one years of age. As for you and me, we shall live together; but you will miss him more than I, especially when I am away with my friends.’

‘Oh, Tom, who will ——’ But here I stopped, because there were so many things that Mr. Hilyard did for us that I could not tell which to begin with.

‘Who will keep the accounts —— look after the cellar, the stables, and the dogs; make my flies, look after my feeders and my cocks; read books with you, talk about the Romans, spout poetry, and —— what, Dorothy?’

‘Sing songs and play the fiddle, Tom?’ I asked timidly, because I had never dared to ask Mr. Hilyard to repeat that pretty performance.

‘And act like Will Pinkiman, and keep a whole roomful of men in a continual laugh —— who, Dorothy?’

‘Why, no one, Tom.’

‘There is no one. I believe there is no one in all England who can act, and play, and sing like Mr. Hilyard, demure as he looks, and purring like a cat all these years. Dorothy, if madam had seen him!’

‘Oh, Tom! Don’t tell her.’

‘I am not going to tell her. Now, listen, child: I have a plan, and I will tell thee what it is. He hath been with us so long that he knows our affairs and our most private concerns. I doubt not that he is honest, and his play-acting —— did you ever see the like?’

Tom fell into a kind of reverie, and remained speechless for a while. Then he broke out into a great fit of laughter, and began to imitate Mr. Hilyard’s face and speech (but at a long distance) when he sat upon the chair:

‘“Your fighting ass is a Bully, Your sneaking ass is a Cit, Your keeping ass is a Cully, Your top prime ass is a Wit.” How well he did it, sister! I have thought it over, my mind is quite made up; I will ask him to stay with me. He shall be my secretary or clerk, the steward of my affairs; he shall keep my books for me, and deal with my tenants. As for me, I shall ride, shoot, fish, and entertain my friends; in the evening, Mr. Hilyard shall have as much drink as he likes, and shall sing, play, and act for the amusement of my company. I will give him, besides his meat and drink, five-and-thirty pounds a year in money.’

On the twenty-first birthday there were rejoicings and a great feast held. Strange to see how Tom (who had, to be sure, been longing eagerly for the day) stepped into his place, no longer a minor, but now one of the gentlemen of the county. His head had been shaved, and he wore for the first time, but rather awkwardly, a beautiful full wig, the curls of which, hanging over his shoulders, greatly set forth the natural beauty of his features, and lent dignity to his appearance. He was also dressed in a purple coat with crimson lining, a white silk waistcoat, and scarlet leather shoes with gold buckles (they had belonged to Mr. Ferdinando), and he wore, for the first time, a sword.

‘Now, Dorothy,’ he said complacently, ‘I feel I am a man at last. Remember what I said about Mr. Hilyard.’

Among those who offered their congratulations was the tutor; but he wore a sad downcast countenance, because he looked for nothing less than to be sent away, his business being at last accomplished, and his pupil now of age.

He laid down his office, he said, with as much regret as Seneca, once tutor to the Emperor Nero. ‘But,’ he added, ‘my own worth falls as far short of that philosopher as my pupil’s character surpasses that of Nero. Wherefore, in parting from so generous a patron, I have no other consolation than the recollection of faithful service in the cultivation of so fruitful a soil as the brain of Mr. Forster, and the hope of letters recommendatory which may obtain for me other and equally suitable employment.’

‘Truly, suitable,’ said Tom, laughing. Mr. Hilyard blushed, but the rest wondered. ‘As for parting,’ Tom went on, ‘there go two to make a parting. Why not stay with me?’

The poor tutor, whose face had been growing longer day by day for two months, shook his head.

‘My occupation,’ he said, ‘is gone.’

‘As for occupation,’ Tom replied, ‘what say you to board and lodging, as much wine and punch as you can hold whenever there is company, and five-and-thirty pounds a year?’

‘But the duties —— the work ——’

‘Why —— that is the work, to eat and drink, and make merry.’

‘Mr. Hilyard to eat and drink, and make merry?’ cried madam. ‘Make merry? He?’

‘Why,’ said Tom, ‘that is what we are asking him to do. He will be strange to it at first, I fear. But I warrant you, give him but a month, and you shall see a change indeed. He will then be able to sing like Mr. Tofts, act like Will Pinkiman, drink like —— like any man among us, play the fiddle, and ——’

‘Is it possible, Mr. Hilyard?’ asked my father. ‘Ho! ho! I believe no more in grave faces. This is indeed a hiding of lights beneath a bushel.’ For the tutor hung his head and looked foolish.

‘If you want any other occupation,’ Tom continued, ‘there are accounts to keep, tenants to reprove, grooms and feeders to overlook, my sister to amuse, and, in fact, all the things you have done for the last five years.’

‘Your honour means this seriously?’ asked Mr. Hilyard.

‘Certainly I do.’

‘Then, sir’—— his face lightened, and he looked round him with a cheerful smile ——‘I accept your generous offer gratefully. I confess that the position and work of a tutor have ever been distasteful to me, and I have only hidden those small accomplishments of mine, which now you have discovered, because I feared they would be considered inconsistent with an almost sacred calling.’

‘Why, then, there is no more to say,’ cried Tom, ‘except to shake hands upon it.’

‘Yet there is one condition, if I may venture ——’

‘Venture, man.’

‘I pray that I be not expected to go fox-hunting. I love not, in truth, to risk my neck for a thing I never see, and which if I were to get I should not want.’

‘That is granted,’ said Tom, laughing, because some of Mr. Hilyard’s adventures on horseback had been ludicrous to the beholders, but painful to himself.

‘There is also one other thing,’ Mr. Hilyard continued, with a look, sideways, at myself, of which I afterwards thought with a kind of pity. ‘A faithful steward wants the whole day for the management of your honour’s business and the occasions and services of Miss Dorothy. I would, with submission, ask that I be only invited to lay aside those duties in the evening, when I shall be always pleased to place my poor talents, such as they are, at the service of your honour and your friends.’

‘My hand on’t,’ said Tom heartily, ‘and so, honest Tony’—— he called him Tony on that day and ever afterwards. Yet hitherto he had never spoken to him except bareheaded as to a parent or superior, and called him always ‘Sir.’ So quickly does a young man change when he comes to his twenty-first year. ‘So, honest Tony, thou prince of brave topers, stay with me. Read your books with missy all the day, but, by gad, all night you shall sing and drink your fill with the best company in the county!’

‘Are we dreaming?’ cried madam.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51