Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XIX

A Farm to Let

That storm on the festival of St. Michael broke up the short summer weather of the north. A wet and tempestuous month set in, and the harvest, in all but the very best places, lay flat on the ground, without scythe or sickle. The men of the Riding were not disturbed by this, as farmers would have been in Suffolk; for these were quite used to walk over their crops, without much occasion to lift their feet. They always expected their corn to be laid, and would have been afraid of it if it stood upright. Even at Anerley Farm this salam of the wheat was expected in bad seasons; and it suited the reapers of the neighborhood, who scarcely knew what to make of knees unbent, and upright discipline of stiff-cravated ranks.

In the northwest corner of the county, where the rocky land was mantled so frequently with cloud, and the prevalence of western winds bore sway, an upright harvest was a thing to talk of, as the legend of a century, credible because it scarcely could have been imagined. And this year it would have been hard to imagine any more prostrate and lowly position than that of every kind of crop. The bright weather of August and attentions of the sun, and gentle surprise of rich dews in the morning, together with abundance of moisture underneath, had made things look as they scarcely ever looked — clean, and straight, and elegant. But none of them had found time to form the dry and solid substance, without which neither man nor his staff of life can stand against adversity.

“My Lady Philippa,” as the tenants called her, came out one day to see how things looked, and whether the tenants were likely to pay their Michaelmas rents at Christmas. Her sister, Mrs. Carnaby, felt like interest in the question, but hated long walks, being weaker and less active, and therefore rode a quiet pony. Very little wheat was grown on their estates, both soil and climate declining it; but the barley crop was of more importance, and flourished pretty well upon the southern slopes. The land, as a rule, was poor and shallow, and nourished more grouse than partridges; but here and there valleys of soft shelter and fair soil relieved the eye and comforted the pocket of the owner. These little bits of Goshen formed the heart of every farm; though oftentimes the homestead was, as if by some perversity, set up in bleak and barren spots, outside of comfort’s elbow.

The ladies marched on, without much heed of any other point than one — would the barley crop do well? They had many tenants who trusted chiefly to that, and to the rough hill oats, and wool, to make up in coin what part of their rent they were not allowed to pay in kind. For as yet machinery and reeking factories had not besmirched the country-side.

“How much further do you mean to go, Philippa?” asked Mrs. Carnaby, although she was not travelling by virtue of her own legs. “For my part, I think we have gone too far already.”

“Your ambition is always to turn back. You may turn back now if you like. I shall go on.” Miss Yordas knew that her sister would fail of the courage to ride home all alone.

Mrs. Carnaby never would ride without Jordas or some other serving-man behind her, as was right and usual for a lady of her position; but “Lady Philippa” was of bolder strain, and cared for nobody’s thoughts, words, or deeds. And she had ordered her sister’s servant back for certain reasons of her own.

“Very well, very well. You always will go on, and always on the road you choose yourself. Although it requires a vast deal of knowledge to know that there is any road here at all.”

The widow, who looked very comely for her age, and sat her pony prettily, gave way (as usual) to the stronger will; though she always liked to enter protest, which the elder scarcely ever deigned to notice. But hearing that Eliza had a little cough at night, and knowing that her appetite had not been as it ought to be, Philippa (who really was wrapped up in her sister, but never or seldom let her dream of such a fact) turned round graciously and said:

“I have ordered the carriage here for half past three o’clock. We will go back by the Scarbend road, and Heartsease can trot behind us.”

“Heartsease, uneasy you have kept my heart by your shufflings and trippings perpetual. Philippa, I want a better-stepping pony. Pet has ruined Heartsease.”

“Pet ruins everything and everybody; and you are ruining him, Eliza. I am the only one who has the smallest power over him. And he is beginning to cast off that. If it comes to open war between us, I shall be sorry for Lancelot.”

“And I shall be sorry for you, Philippa. In a few years Pet will be a man. And a man is always stronger than a woman; at any rate in our family.”

“Stronger than such as you, Eliza. But let him only rebel against me, and he will find himself an outcast. And to prove that, I have brought you here.”

Mistress Yordas turned round, and looked in a well-known manner at her sister, whose beautiful eyes filled with tears, and fell.

“Philippa,” she said, with a breath like a sob, “sometimes you look harder than poor dear papa, in his very worst moments, used to look. I am sure that I do not at all deserve it. All that I pray for is peace and comfort; and little do I get of either.”

“And you will get less, as long as you pray for them, instead of doing something better. The only way to get such things is to make them.”

“Then I think that you might make enough for us both, if you had any regard for them, or for me, Philippa.”

Mistress Yordas smiled, as she often did, at her sister’s style of reasoning. And she cared not a jot for the last word, so long as the will and the way were left to her. And in this frame of mind she turned a corner from the open moor track into a little lane, or rather the expiring delivery of a lane, which was leading a better existence further on.

Mrs. Carnaby followed dutifully, and Heartsease began to pick up his feet, which he scorned to do upon the negligence of sward. And following this good lane, they came to a gate, corded to an ancient tree, and showing up its foot, as a dog does when he has a thorn in it. This gate seemed to stand for an ornament, or perhaps a landmark; for the lane, instead of submitting to it, passed by upon either side, and plunged into a dingle, where a gray old house was sheltering. The lonely moorside farm — if such a wild and desolate spot could be a farm — was known as “Wallhead,” from the relics of some ancient wall; and the folk who lived there, or tried to live, although they possessed a surname — which is not a necessary consequence of life — very seldom used it, and more rarely still had it used for them. For the ancient fashion still held ground of attaching the idea of a man to that of things more extensive and substantial. So the head of the house was “Will o’ the Wallhead;” his son was “Tommy o’ Will o’ the Wallhead;” and his grandson, “Willy o’ Tommy o’ Will o’ the Wallhead.” But the one their great lady desired to see was the unmarried daughter of the house, “Sally o’ Will o’ the Wallhead.”

Mistress Yordas knew that the men of the house would be out upon the land at this time of day, while Sally would be full of household work, and preparing their homely supper. So she walked in bravely at the open door, while her sister waited with the pony in the yard. Sally was clumping about in clog-shoes, with a child or two sprawling after her (for Tommy’s wife was away with him at work), and if the place was not as clean as could be, it seemed as clean as need be.

The natives of this part are rough in manner, and apt to regard civility as the same thing with servility. Their bluntness does not proceed from thickness, as in the south of England, but from a surety of their own worth, and inferiority to no one. And to deal with them rightly, this must be entered into.

Sally o’ Will o’ the Wallhead bobbed her solid and black curly head, with a clout like a jelly on the poll of it, to the owner of their land, and a lady of high birth; but she vouchsafed no courtesy, neither did Mistress Yordas expect one. But the active and self-contained woman set a chair in the low dark room, which was their best, and stood waiting to be spoken to.

“Sally,” said the lady, who also possessed the Yorkshire gift of going to the point, “you had a man ten years ago; you behaved badly to him, and he went into the Indian Company.”

“A’ deed,” replied the maiden, without any blush, because she had been in the right throughout; “and noo a’ hath coom in a better moind.”

“And you have come to know your own mind about him. You have been steadfast to him for ten years. He has saved up some money, and is come back to marry you.”

“I heed nane o’ the brass. But my Jack is back again.”

“His father held under us for many years. He was a thoroughly honest man, and paid his rent as often as he could. Would Jack like to have his father’s farm? It has been let to his cousin, as you know; but they have been going from bad to worse; and everything must be sold off, unless I stop it.”

Sally was of dark Lancastrian race, with handsome features and fine brown eyes. She had been a beauty ten years ago, and could still look comely, when her heart was up.

“My lady,” she said, with her heart up now, at the hope of soon having a home of her own, and something to work for that she might keep, “such words should not pass the mouth wi’out bin meant.”

What she said was very different in sound, and not to be rendered in echo by any one born far away from that country, where three dialects meet and find it hard to guess what each of the others is up to. Enough that this is what Sally meant to say, and that Mistress Yordas understood it.

“It is not my custom to say a thing without meaning it,” she answered; “but unless it is taken up at once, it is likely to come to nothing. Where is your man Jack?”

“Jack is awaa to the minister to tell of us cooming tegither.” Sally made no blush over this, as she might have done ten years ago.

“He must be an excellent and faithful man. He shall have the farm if he wishes it, and can give some security at going in. Let him come and see Jordas tomorrow.”

After a few more words, the lady left Sally full of gratitude, very little of which was expressed aloud, and therefore the whole was more likely to work, as Mistress Yordas knew right well.

The farm was a better one than Wallhead, having some good barley land upon it; and Jack did not fail to present himself at Scargate upon the following morning. But the lady of the house did not think fit herself to hold discourse with him. Jordas was bidden to entertain him, and find out how he stood in cash, and whether his character was solid; and then to leave him with a jug of ale, and come and report proceedings. The dogman discharged this duty well, being as faithful as the dogs he kept, and as keen a judge of human nature.

“The man hath no harm in him,” he said, touching his hair to the ladies, as he entered the audit-room. “A’ hath been knocked aboot a bit in them wars i’ Injury, and hath only one hand left; but a’ can lay it upon fifty poon, and get surety for anither fifty.”

“Then tell him, Jordas, that he may go to Mr. Jellicorse tomorrow, to see about the writings, which he must pay for. I will write full instructions for Mr. Jellicorse, and you go and get your dinner; and then take my letter, that he may have time to consider it. Wait a moment. There are other things to be done in Middleton, and it would be late for you to come back to-night, the days are drawing in so. Sleep at our tea-grocer’s; he will put you up. Give your letter at once into the hands of Mr. Jellicorse, and he will get forward with the writings. Tell this man Jack that he must be there before twelve o’clock tomorrow, and then you can call about two o’clock, and bring back what there may be for signature; and be careful of it. Eliza, I think I have set forth your wishes.”

“But, my lady, lawyers do take such a time; and who will look after Master Lancelot? I fear to have my feet two moiles off here —”

“Obey your orders, without reasoning; that is for those who give them. Eliza, I am sure that you agree with me. Jordas, make this man clearly understand, as you can do when you take the trouble. But you first must clearly understand the whole yourself. I will repeat it for you.”

Philippa Yordas went through the whole of her orders again most clearly, and at every one of them the dogman nodded his large head distinctly, and counted the nods on his fingers to make sure; for this part is gifted with high mathematics. And the numbers stick fast like pegs driven into clay.

“Poor Jordas! Philippa, you are working him too hard. You have made great wrinkles in his forehead. Jordas, you must have no wrinkles until you are married.”

While Mrs. Carnaby spoke so kindly, the dogman took his fingers off their numeral scale, and looked at her. By nature the two were first cousins, of half blood; by law and custom, and education, and vital institution, they were sundered more widely than black and white. But, for all that, the dogman loved the lady, at a faithful distance.

“You seem to me now to have it clearly, Jordas,” said the elder sister, looking at him sternly, because Eliza was so soft; “you will see that no mischief can be done with the dogs or horses while you are away; and Mr. Jellicorse will give you a letter for me, to say that everything is right. My desire is to have things settled promptly, because your friend Jack has been to set the banns up; and the Church is more speedy in such matters than the law. Now the sooner you are off, the better.”

Jordas, in his steady but by no means stupid way, considered at his leisure what such things could mean. He knew all the property, and the many little holdings, as well as, and perhaps a great deal better than, if they had happened to be his own. But he never had known such a hurry made before, or such a special interest shown about the letting of any tenement, of perhaps tenfold the value. However, he said, like a sensible man (and therefore to himself only), that the ways of women are beyond compute, and must be suitably carried out, without any contradiction.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50