Spring had come again, after a long wet winter, and every orchard-hollow blushed once more with appleblossoms. In warm sheltered southern valleys hedges were already green, and even the tall hedgerow-elms began, day after day, to grow more shady and dense.
It was a bright April morning, about ten o’clock, when Mary Thornton, throwing up her father’s studywindow from the outside, challenged him to come out and take a walk; and John, getting his hat and stick, immediately joined her in front of the house.
“Where is your aunt, my love?” said John.
“She is upstairs,” said Mary. “I will call her.”
She began throwing gravel at one of the upper windows, and crying out, “Auntie! Auntie!”
The sash was immediately thrown (no, that is too violent a word — say lifted) up, and a beautiful old lady’s face appeared at the window.
“My love,” it said, in a small, soft voice, “pray be careful of the windows. Did you want anything, my dear?”
“I want you out for a walk, Auntie; so come along.”
“Certainly, my love. Brother, have you got your thick kerchief in your pocket?”
“No,” said the Vicar, “I have not, and I don’t mean to have.”
Commencement of a sore-throat lecture from the window, cut short by the Vicar, who says —
“My dear, I shall be late if you don’t come;” (jesuitically on his part, for he was going nowhere.)
So she comes accordingly, as sweet-looking an old maid as ever you saw in your life. People have no right to use up such beautiful women as governesses. It’s a sheer waste of material. Miss Thornton had been a governess all her life; and now, at the age of five-and-forty, had come to keep her brother’s house for him, add her savings to his, and put the finishingtouch on Mary’s somewhat rough education.
“My love,” said she, “I have brought you your gloves.”
“Oh, indeed, Auntie, I won’t wear them,” said Mary. “I couldn’t be plagued with gloves. Nobody wears them here.”
“Mrs. Buckley wears them, and it would relieve my mind if you were to put them on, my dear. I fear my lady’s end was accelerated by, unfortunately, in her last illness, catching sight of Lady Kate’s hands after she had been assisting her brother to pick green walnuts.”
Mary was always on the eve of laughing at these aristocratic recollections of her aunt; and to her credit be it said, she always restrained herself, though with great difficulty. She, so wildly brought up, without rule or guidance in feminine matters, could not be brought to comprehend that prim line-and-rule life, of which her aunt was the very impersonation. Nevertheless, she heard what Miss Thornton had to say with respect; and if ever she committed an extreme GAUCHERIE, calculated to set her aunt’s teeth on edge, she always discovered what was the matter, and mended it as far as she was able.
They stood on the lawn while the glove controversy was going on, and a glorious prospect there was that bright spring morning. In one direction the eye was carried down a long, broad, and rich vale, intersected by a gleaming river, and all the way down set thick with hamlet, farm, and church. In the dim soft distance rose the two massive towers of a cathedral, now filling all the countryside with the gentle melody of their golden-toned bells, while beyond them, in the misty south, there was a gleam in the horizon, showing where the sky
“Dipped down to sea and sands.”
“It’s as soft and quiet as a Sunday,” said the Vicar; “and what a fishing day! I have half a mind — Hallo! look here.”
The exclamation was caused by the appearance on the walk of a very tall and noble-looking man, about thirty, leading a grey pony, on which sat a beautiful woman with a child in her arms. Our party immediately moved forward to meet them, and a most friendly greeting took place on both sides, Mary at once taking possession of the child.
This was Major Buckley and his wife Agnes. I mentioned before that, after Clere was sold, the Major had taken a cottage in Drumston, and was a constant visitor on the Vicar; generally calling for the old gentleman to come fishing or shooting, and leaving his wife and his little son Samuel in the company of Mary and Miss Thornton.
“I have come, Vicar, to take you out fishing,” said he. “Get your rod and come. A capital day. Why, here’s the Doctor.”
So there was, standing among them before any one had noticed him.
“I announce,” said he, “that I shall accept the most agreeable invitation that any one will give me. What are you going to do, Major?”
“Ah! and you, madam?” turning to Miss Thornton.
“I am going to see Mrs. Lee, who has a low fever, poor thing.”
“Which Mrs. Lee, madam?”
“Mrs. Lee of Eyford.”
“And which Mrs. Lee of Eyford, madam?”
“Mrs. James Lee.”
“Junior or senior?” persevered the doctor.
“Junior,” replied Miss Thornton, laughing.
“Ah!” said the Doctor, “now we have it. I would suggest that all the Mrs. Lees in the parish should have a ticket with a number on it, like the VOITURIERS. Buckley, lay it before the quarter-sessions. If you say the idea came from a foreigner, they would adopt it immediately. Miss Thornton, I will do myself the honour of accompanying you, and examining the case.”
So the ladies went off with the Doctor, while the Vicar and Major Buckley turned to go fishing.
“I shall watch you, Major, instead of fishing myself,” said the Vicar. “Where do you propose going?”
“To the red water,” said the Major. Accordingly they turn down a long, deep lane, which looks certainly as if it would lead one to a red brook, for the road and banks are of a brick-colour. And so it does, for presently before them they discern a red mill, and a broad, pleasant ford, where a crystal brook dimples and sparkles over a bed of reddish-purple pebbles.
“It is very clear,” says the Major. “What’s the fly to be, Vicar?”
“That’s a very hard question to answer,” says the Vicar. “Your Scotchman, eh? or a small blue dun?”
“We’ll try both,” says the Major; and in a very short time it becomes apparent that the small dun is the man, for the trout seem to think that it is the very thing they have been looking for all day, and rise at it two at a time.
They fish downwards; and after killing half-a-dozen half-pound fish, come to a place where another stream joins the first, making it double its original size, and here there is a great oak-root jutting into a large deep pool.
The Vicar stands back, intensely excited. This is a sure place for a big fish. The Major, eager but cool, stoops down and puts his flies in just above the root at once; not as a greenhorn would, taking a few wide casts over the pool first, thereby standing a chance of hooking a little fish, and ruining his chance for a big one; and at the second trial a deep-bodied brown fellow, about two pounds, dashes at the treacherous little blue, and gulps him down.
Then what a to-do is there. The Vicar jumping about on the grass, giving all sorts of contradictory advice. The Major, utterly despairing of ever getting his fish ashore, fighting a losing battle with infinite courage, determined that the trout shall remember him, at all events, if he does get away. And the trout, furious and indignant, but not in the least frightened, trying vainly to get back to the old root. Was there ever such a fish?
But the Major is the best man, for after ten minutes troutie is towed up on his side to a convenient shallow, and the Vicar puts on his spectacles to see him brought ashore. He scientifically pokes him in the flank, and spans him across the back, and pronounces EX CATHEDRA—
“You’ll find, sir, there won’t be a finer fish, take him all in all, killed in the parish this season.”
“Ah, it’s a noble sport,” says the Major. “I shan’t get much more of it, I’m afraid.”
“Why shouldn’t you?”
“Well, I’ll tell you,” says the Major. “Do you know how much property I have got?”
“I have only ten thousand pounds; and how am I to bring up a family on the interest of that?”
“I should fancy it was quite enough for you,” said the Vicar; “you have only one son.”
“How many more am I likely to have, eh? And how should I look to find myself at sixty with five boys grown up, and only 300L. a-year?”
“That is rather an extreme case,” said the Vicar; “you would be poor then, certainly.”
“Just what I don’t want to be. Besides wanting to make some money, I am leading an idle life here, and am getting very tired of it. And so —” he hesitated.
“And so?” said the Vicar.
“I am thinking of emigrating. To New South Wales. To go into the sheep-farming line. There.”
“There indeed,” said the Vicar. “And what has put you up to it?”
“Why, my wife and I have been thinking of going to Canada for some time, and so the idea is not altogether new. The other day Hamlyn (you know him) showed me a letter from a cousin of his who is making a good deal of money there. Having seen that letter, I was much struck with it, and having made a great many other inquiries, I laid the whole information before my wife, and begged her to give me her opinion.”
“And she recommended you to stay at home in peace and comfort,” interposed the Vicar.
“On the contrary, she said she thought we ought by all means to go,” returned the Major.
“Wonderful, indeed. And when shall you go?”
“Not for some time, I think. Not for a year.”
“I hope not. What a lonely old man I shall be when you are all gone.”
“Nay, Vicar, I hope not,” said the Major. “You will stay behind to see your daughter happily married, and your grand-children about your knees.”
The Vicar sighed heavily, and the Major continued.
“By-the-bye, Miss Thornton seems to have made a conquest already. Young Hawker seems desperately smitten; did it ever strike you?”
“Yes, it has struck me; very deep indeed,” said the Vicar; “but what can I do?”
“You surely would not allow her to marry him?”
“How can I prevent it? She is her own mistress, and I never could control her yet. How can I control her when her whole heart and soul is set on him?”
“Good God!” said the Major, “do you really think she cares for him?”
“Oh, she loves him with her whole heart. I have seen it a long while.”
“My dear friend, you should take her away for a short time, and see if she will forget him. Anything sooner than let her marry him.”
“Why should she not marry him?” said the Vicar. “She is only a farmer’s grand-daughter. We are nobody, you know.”
“But he is not of good character.”
“Oh, there is nothing more against him than there is against most young fellows. He will reform and be steady. Do you know anything special against him?” asked the Vicar.
“Not actually against him; but just conceive, my dear friend, what a family to marry into! His father, I speak the plain truth, is a most disreputable, drunken old man, living in open sin with a gipsy woman of the worst character, by whom George Hawker has been brought up. What an atmosphere of vice! The young fellow himself is universally disliked, and distrusted too, all over the village. Can you forgive me for speaking so plain?”
“There is no forgiveness necessary, my good friend;” said the Vicar. “I know how kind your intentions are. But I cannot bring myself to have a useless quarrel with my daughter merely because I happen to dislike the object of her choice. It would be quite a useless quarrel. She has always had her own way, and always will.”
“What does Miss Thornton say?” asked the Major.
“Nothing, she never does say anything. She regards Hawker as Mary’s accepted suitor; and though she may think him vulgar, she would sooner die than commit herself so far as to say so. She has been so long under others, and without an opinion save theirs, that she cannot form an opinion at all.”
They had turned and were walking home, when the Vicar, sticking his walking-cane upright in the grass, began again.
“It is the most miserable and lamentable thing that ever took place in this world. Look at my sister again: what a delicate old maid she is! used to move and be respected, more than most governesses are, in the highest society in the land. There’ll be a home for her when I die. Think of her living in the house with any of the Hawkers; and yet, sir, that woman’s sense of duty is such that she’d die sooner than leave her niece. Sooner be burnt at the stake than go one inch out of the line of conduct she has marked out for herself.”
The Vicar judged his sister most rightly: we shall see that hereafter.
“A man of determination and strength of character could have prevented it at the beginning, you would say. I dare say he might have; but I am not a man of determination and strength of character. I never was, and I never shall be.”
“Do you consider it in the light of a settled question, then,” said the Major, “that your daughter should marry young Hawker?”
“God knows. She will please herself. I spoke to her at first about encouraging him, and she began by laughing at me, and ended by making a scene whenever I spoke against him. I was at one time in hopes that she would have taken a fancy to young Stockbridge; but I fear I must have set her against him by praising him too much. It wants a woman, you know, to manage those sort of things.”
“It does, indeed.”
“You see, as I said before, I have no actual reason to urge against Hawker, and he will be very rich. I shall raise my voice against her living in the house with that woman Madge — in fact, I won’t have it; but take it all in all, I fear I shall have to make the best of it.”
Major Buckley said no more, and soon after they got home. There was Mrs. Buckley, queenly and beautiful, waiting for her husband; and there was Mary, pretty, and full of fun; there also was the Doctor, smoking and contemplating a new fern; and Miss Thornton, with her gloved-hands folded, calculating uneasily what amount of detriment Mary’s complexion would sustain in consequence of walking about without her bonnet in an April sun.
One and all cried out to know what sport; and little Sam tottered forward demanding a fish for himself, which, having got, he at once put into his mouth head foremost. The Doctor, taking off his spectacles, examined the contents of the fish-basket, and then demanded:
“Now, my good friend, why do you give yourself the trouble to catch trout in that round-about way, requiring so much skill and patience? In Germany we catch them with a net — a far superior way, I assure you. Get any one of the idle young fellows about the village to go down to the stream with a net, and they will get more trout in a day than you would in a week.”
“What!” said the Major, indignantly; “put a net in my rented water? — if I caught any audacious scoundrel carrying a net within half a mile of it, I’d break his neck. You can’t appreciate the delights of fly-fishing, doctor — you are no sportsman.”
“No, I ain’t,” said the Doctor; “you never said anything truer than that, James Buckley. I am nothing of the sort. When I was a young man, I had a sort of brute instinct, which made me take the same sort of pleasure in killing a boar that a cat does in killing a mouse; but I have outlived such barbarism.”
“Ha! ha!” said the Vicar; “and yet he gave ten shillings for a snipe. And he’s hand-and-glove with every poacher in the parish.”
“The snipe was a new species, sir,” said the Doctor indignantly; “and if I do employ the hunters to collect for me, I see no inconsistency in that. But I consider this fly-fishing mania just of a piece with your IDIOTIC, I repeat it, IDIOTIC institution of fox-hunting. Why, if you laid baits poisoned with NUX VOMICA about the haunts of those animals, you would get rid of them in two years.”
The Doctor used to delight in aggravating the Major by attacking English sports; but he had a great admiration for them nevertheless.
The Major got out his wife’s pony; and setting her on it, and handing up the son and heir, departed home to dinner. They were hardly inside the gate when Mrs. Buckley began:
“My dear husband, did you bring him to speak of the subject we were talking about?”
“He went into it himself, wife, tooth and nail.”
“Well! indeed, my dear Agnes, do you know that, although I love the old man dearly, I must say I think he is rather weak.”
“So I fear,” said Mrs. Buckley; “but he is surely not so weak as to allow that young fellow to haunt the house, after he has had a hint that he is making love to Mary?”
“My dear, he accepts him as her suitor. He says he has been aware of it for some time, and that he has spoken to Mary about it, and made no impression; so that now he considers it a settled thing.”
“What culpable weakness! So Mary encourages him, then?”
“She adores him, and won’t hear a word against him.”
“Unfortunate girl,” said Mrs. Buckley! “and with such a noble young fellow as Stockbridge ready to cut off his head for her! It is perfectly inconceivable.”
“Young Hawker is very handsome, my dear, you must remember.”
“Is he?” said Mrs. Buckley. “I call him one of the most evil-looking men I ever saw.”
“My dear Agnes, I think if you were to speak boldly to her, you might do some good. You might begin to undermine this unlucky infatuation of her’s; and I am sure, if her eyes were once opened, that the more she saw him, the less she would like him.”
“I think, James,” said Mrs. Buckley, “that it becomes the duty of us, who have been so happy in our marriage, to prevent our good old vicar’s last days from being rendered miserable by such a mesalliance as this. I am very fond of Mary; but the old Vicar, my dear, has taken the place of your father to me.”
“He is like a second father to me too,” said the Major; “but he wants a good many qualities that my own father had. He hasn’t his energy or determination. Why, if my father had been in his place, and such an ill-looking young dog as that came hanging about the premises, my father would have laid his stick about his back. And it would be a good thing if somebody would do it now.”
Such was Major Buckley’s opinion.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10