Six o’clock came, and seven, and not until half-past seven, when they had nearly given him up, did Henry Fairfield arrive at the Grange.
“How does Madam Fairfield?” bawled Master Harry, as he strode across the floor, and kissed Alice’s pretty cheek. “Odds bobbins”—as the man says in the play-house—I believe I bussed ye, did I? But don’t let him be angry; I wasn’t thinkin’, Charlie, no more than the follow that put farmer Gleeson’s fippun-note in his pocket last Trutbury fair. And how’s all wi’ ye, Charlie, hey? I’m glad to see the old house is standing still with a roof on since last gale. And how do ye like it, Alice? Rayther slow I used to think it; but you two wise heads are so in love wi’ one another ye’d put up in the pound, or the cow-house, or the horse-pond, for sake o’ each other’s company. ‘I loved her sweet company better than meat,’ as the song says; and that reminds me—can the house afford a hungry man a cut o’ beef or mutton and a mug of ale? I asked myself to dinner, ye know, and that’s a bargain there’s two words to, sometimes.”
Master Harry was a wag, after a clumsy rustic fashion—an habitual jester, and never joked more genially than when he was letting his companion in for what he called a “soft” thing,” in the shape of an unsound horse or a foolish wager.
His jocularity was supposed to cover a great deal of shrewdness, and some dangerous qualities also.
While their homely dinner was being got upon the table, honest Harry quizzed the lord and lady of Carwell Grange in the same vein of delicate banter, upon all their domestic arrangements, and when he found that there was but one sitting-room in a condition to receive them, his merriment knew no bounds.
“Upon my soul, you beat the cobbler in the song that ‘ lived in a stall, that served him for parlour, and kitchen, and hall,’, for there’s no mention of the cobbler’s wife, and he, being a single man, you know, you and your lady double the wonder, don’t ye, Alice, two faces under a hood, and a devilish pinched little hood, too, heh? ha, ha, ha!”
“When did you get to Wyvern?” asked Charles Fairfield, after a considerable pause.
“Last night,” answered his brother.
“You saw the old man?”
“Not till morning,” answered Henry, with a waggish leer, and a sly glance at Alice.
It was lost, however, for the young lady was looking dreamily and sadly away, thinking, perhaps, of the old Squire, not without self-upbraidings, and hearing nothing, I am sure, of all they said,
“Did you breakfast with him?”
“By Jove, I did, sir.”
“Well? Nothing particular, only let me see how long his stick his—his stick and his arm, together—say five feet six. Well, I counsel you, brother, not to go within five foot six inches of the old gentleman till he cools down a bit, anyhow.”
“No, we’ll not try that,” said Charles, “and he may cool down, as you say, or nurse his wrath, as he pleases, it doesn’t much matter to me; he was very angry, but sometimes the thunder and flame blow off, you know, and the storm hurts no one.”
“I hope so,” said Henry, with a sort of laugh. “When I tell you to keep out of the way, mind, I’m advising you against myself. The more you and the old boy wool each other the better for Hal.”
“He can’t unsettle the place, Harry—not that I want to see him—I never owed him much love, and I think now he’d be glad to see me a beggar.”
Harry laughed again.
“Did you ever hear of a bear with a sore head?” said Harry. “Well, that’s him, at present, and I give you fair notice, I think he’ll leave all he can away from you.”
“So let him; if it’s to you, Harry, I don’t grudge it,” said the elder son.
“That’s a handsome speech, bless the speaker. Can you give me a glass of brandy? This claret I never could abide,” said Harry, with another laugh; “besides it will break you.”
“I’ve but two bottles, and they have been three years here. Yes, you can have brandy, it’s here.”
“I’ll get it,” said Alice, brightening up in the sense of her house-keeping importance. “It’s—I think it’s in this, ain’t it?” she said, opening one of the presses inserted in the wainscot.
“Let me, darling, it’s there, I ought to know, I put it there myself,” said Charles, getting up, and taking the keys from her and opening another cupboard.
“I’m so stupid!” said Alice, blushing, as she surrendered them, “and so useless; but you’re always right, Charlie.”
“He’s a wonderful fellow, ain’t he?” said Harry, winking agreeably at Charles; “I never knew a bran new husband that wasn’t. Wait a bit and the gold rubs off the ginger-bread—Didn’t old Dulcibella—how’s she?—never buy you a ginger-bread husband down at Wyvern Fair? and they all went, I warrant, the same road; the gilding rubs away, and then off with his head, and eat him up slops! That’s not bad cognac—where do you get it?—don’t know, of course; well, it is good.”
“Glad you like it, Harry,” said his brother. “It was very kind of you coming over here so soon; you must come often—won’t you?”
“Well, you know, I thought I might as well, just to tell you how things was—but, mind, is anyone here?”
He looked over his shoulder to be sure that the old servant was not near.
“Mind you’re not to tell the folk over at Wyvern that I came here, because you know it wouldn’t serve me, noways, with the old chap up there, and there’s no use.”
“You may be very easy about that, Harry. I’m a banished man, you know. I shall never see the old man’s face again; and rely on it, I shan’t write.”
“I don’t mean him alone,” said Harry, replenishing his glass; “but don’t tell any of them Wyvern people, nor you, Alice. Mind—I’m going back tonight, as far as Barnsley, and from there I’ll go to Bawling, and round, d’ye mind, south, by Leigh Watton, up to Wyvern, and I’ll tell him a thumpin’ lie if he asks questions.”
“Don’t fear any such thing, Harry,” said Charles.
“Fear! I’m not afeard on him, nor never was.”
“Fancy, then,” said Charles.
“Only,” continued Harry, “I’m not like you—I han’t a house and a bit o’ land to fall back on: d’ye see? He’d have me on the ropes if I vexed him. He’d slap Wyvern door in my face, and stop my allowance, and sell my horses, and leave me to the ’sizes and the lawyers for my rights; and I couldn’t be comin’ here spongin’ on you, you know.”
“You’d always be welcome, Harry,” said Charles.
“Always,” echoed his wife, in whom everyone who belonged to Charlie had a welcome claim.
But Harry went right on with his speech without diverging to thank them.
“And you’ll be snug enough here, you see, and I might go whistle, and dickins a chance I’ll ha’ left but to go list or break horses, or break stones, by jingo; and I ha’ run risks enough in this thing o’ yours—not but I’m willin’ to run more, if need be; but there’s no good in getting myself into pound, you know.”
“By me, Harry. You don’t imagine I could be such a fool,” exclaimed Charles.
“Well, I think ye’ll allow I stood to ye like a brick, and didn’t funk nothin’ that was needful—and I’d do it over again—I would.”
Charles took one hand of the generous fellow, and Alice took the other, and the modest benefactor smiled gruffly and flushed a little, and looked down as they poured forth in concert their acknowledgments.
“Why, see how you two thanks me. I always says to fellows, ‘keep your thanks to yourselves, and do me a good turn when it lies in your ways.’ There’s the sort o’ thanks that butters a fellow’s parsnips—and so—say no more.”
Last updated Monday, March 30, 2015 at 21:19