It was about four o’clock one afternoon, while Charles was smoking a cigar—for notwithstanding his self-denying resolutions, his case was always replenished still—that his brother Harry rode into the yard, where he was puffing away contemplatively at an open stable door.
“Delighted to see you, Harry, I was thinking of you this moment, by Jove, and I can’t tell you how glad I am,” said Charles, smiling as he advanced, yet with an anxious inquiry in his eyes.
Harry took his extended hand, having dismounted, but he was looking at his horse, and not at Charles, as he said—
“The last mile or so I noticed something in the off fore-foot; do you? Look now—t’aint brushing, nor he’s not gone lame, but tender-like; do you notice?” and he led him round a little bit.
“No,” said Charles, “I don’t see anything, but I am an ignoramus, you know—no—I think, nothing.”
“’Taint a great deal, anyhow,” said Harry, leading him toward the open stable-door. “I got your note, you know, and how are you all, and how is Ally?”
“Very well, poor little thing, we are all very well. Did you come from Wyvern?” said Charles.
“And the old man just as usual, I suppose?”
“Just the same, only not growing no younger, you’ll suppose.”
“And a damned deal crosser, too. There’s times, I can tell you, he won’t stand no one nigh him—not even old Drake, damned vicious.”
“They say he liked Ally—they do upon my soul, and I wouldn’t wonder, ’tis an old rat won’t eat cheese—only you took the bit out o’ his mouth, when you did, and that’s enough to rile a fellow, you know.”
“Who says so?” asked Charles, with a flush on his face.
“The servants—yes—and the town’s people—it’s pretty well about, and I think if it came to the old boy’s ears there would be black eyes and bloody noses about it, I do.”
“Well, it’s a lie,” said Charles; “and don’t, like a good fellow, tell poor little Alice there’s any such nonsense talked about her at home, it would only vex her.”
“Well, I won’t, if I think of it. Where’s Tom? But ’twouldn’t vex her—not a bit—quite ’tother way—there’s never a girl in England wouldn’t be pleased if old Parr himself wor in love wi’ her, so she hadn’t to marry him. But the governor, by Jove, I don’t know a girl twelve miles round Wyvern, as big an old brute as he is, would turn up her nose at him, wi’ all he has to grease her hand. But where’s Tom? the nag must have a feed.”
So they bawled for Tom, and Tom appeared, and took charge of the horse, receiving a few directions about his treatment from Master Harry, and then Charles led his brother in,
“I’m always glad to see you, Harry, but always, at the same time, a little anxious when you come,” said Charles, in a low tone, as they traversed the passage toward the kitchen.
“’T’aint much—I have to tell you something, but first gi’ me a mouthful, for I’m as hungry as a hawk, and a mug o’ beer wouldn’t hurt me while I’m waitin’. It’s good hungry air this; you eat a lot I dessay; the air alone stands you in fifty pounds a year, I reckon; that’s paying pretty smart for what we’re supposed to have for the takin’.”
And Harry laughed at his joke as they entered the dark old dining-room.
“Ally not here?” said Harry, looking: round.
“She can’t be very far off, but I’ll manage something if she’s not to be found.”
So Charles left Harry smiling out of the-window at the tops of the trees, and drumming a devil’s tattoo on the pane.
“Ho! Dulcibella. Is your mistress up stairs?”
“I think she is gone out to the garden, sir; she took her trowel and garden gloves, and the little basket wi’ her,” answered the-old woman.
“Well, don’t disturb her, we’ll not mind. I’ll see old Mildred.”
So to old Mildred he betook himself.
“Here’s Master Harry come very hungry, so send him anything you can make out, and in the mean time some beer, for he’s thirsty too, and like a good old soul, make all the haste you can.”
And with this conciliatory exhortation he returned to the room where he had left his brother.
“Ally has gone out to visit her flowers, but Mildred is doing the best she can for you, and we can go out and join Alice by-and-by, but we are as well to ourselves for a little. I— I want to talk to you.”
“Well, fire away, my boy, with your big oak stick, as the Irishman says, though I’d rather have a mouthful first. Oh, here’s the beer—thank ye, Chick-a-biddy. Where the devil did you get that queer-looking fair one?” he asked, when the Hebe, Lilly Dogger, disappeared; “I’ll lay you fifty it was Ally chose that one.”
And he laughed obstreperously.
And he poured out a tumbler of beer and drank it, and then another and drank it, and poured out a third to keep at hand while he conversed.
“There used to be some old pewter goblets here in the kitchen—I wonder what’s gone wi’ them—they were grand things for drinking beer out of—the pewter, while ye live—there’s nothing like it for beer—or porter, by Jove. Have you got any porter?”
“No, not any; but do, like a good old fellow, tell me anything you have picked up that concerns me—there’s nothing pleasant, I know—there can be nothing pleasant, but if there’s anything, I should rather have it now, than wait, be it ever so bad.”
“I wish you’d put some other fellow on this business, I know—for you’ll come to hate the sight of me if I’m always bringing you bad news; but it is not good, that’s a fact; that beast is getting unmanageable. By the law, here comes something for a hungry fellow; thank ye, my lass, God bless ye, feeding the hungry. How can I pay ye back, my dear? I don’t know, unless by taking ye in—ha, ha, ha!—whenever ye want shelter, mind; but you’re too sharp, I warrant, to let any fellow take you in, with them roguish eyes you’ve got. See how she blushes, the brown little rogue!” he giggled after her with a leer, as Lilly Dogger, having placed his extemporized luncheon on the table, edged hurriedly out of the room. “Devilish fine eyes she’s got, and a nice little set of ivories, sir. By Jove, I didn’t half see her; pity she’s not a bit taller; and them square shoulders. But hair—she has nice hair, and teeth and eyes goes a long way.”
He had stuck his fork in a rasher while making his pretty speech, and was champing away greedily by the time he had come to the end of his sentence.
“But what has turned up in that quarter? You were going to tell me something when this came in,” asked Charles.
“About the old soger? Well, if you don’t mind a fellow’s talkin’ with his mouth full, I’ll try when I can think of it; but the noise of eating clears a fellow’s head of everything, I think.”
“Do, like a dear fellow. I can hear you perfectly,” urged Charles.
“I’m afraid,” said Harry, with his mouth full, as he had promised, “she’ll make herself devilish troublesome.”
“Tell us all about it,” said Charles, uneasily.
“I told you I was running up to London—we haven’t potatoes like these up at Wyvern—and so I did go, and as I promised, I saw the old beast at Hoxton; and hang me but I think some one has been putting her up to mischief.”
“How do you mean?—what sort of mischief?” asked Charles.
“I think she’s got uneasy about you. She was asking all sorts of questions.”
“And I wouldn’t wonder if some one was telling her—I was going to say lies—but I mean something like the truth—ha, ha, ha! By the law, I’ve been telling such a hatful of lies about it myself, that I hardly know which is which, or one end from t’other.”
“Do you mean to say she was abusing me, or what?” urged Charles, very uncomfortably.
“I don’t suppose you care very much what the old soger says of you. It ain’t pretty, you may be sure, and it don’t much signify. But it ain’t all talk, you know. She’s always grumblin’, and I don’t mind that—her tic-dooleroo, and her nerves, and her nonsense. She wants carriage exercise, she says, and the court doctor—I forget his name—ha, ha, ha! and she says you allow her next to nothing, and keeps her always on the starving line, and she won’t stand it no longer, she swears; and you’ll have to come down with the dust, my boy.”
And florid, stalwart Harry laughed again as if the affair was a good joke.
“I can’t help it, Harry, she has always had more than her share. I’ve been too generous, I’ve been a damned fool always.”
Charles spoke with extreme bitterness, but quietly, and there was a silence of two or three minutes, during which Harry’s eyes were on his plate, and the noise of his knife and fork and the crunching of his repast under his fine teeth, were the only sounds heard.
Seeing that Harry seemed disposed to confine his attention for the present to his luncheon, Charles Fairfield, who apprehended something worse, said—
“If that’s all it is nothing very new. I’ve been hearing that sort of thing for fully ten years. She’s ungrateful, and artful, and violent. There’s no use in wishing or regretting now; but God knows, it was an evil day for me when first I saw that woman’s face.”
Charlie was looking down on the table as he spoke, and tapping on it feverishly with the tips of his fingers. Harry’s countenance showed that unpleasant expression which sometimes overcame its rustic freshness. The attempt to discharge an unsuitable smile or a dubious expression from the face—the attempt, shall we bluntly say, of a rogue to look simple.
It is a loose way of talking and thinking which limits the vice of hypocrisy to the matter of religion. It counterfeits all good, and dissimulates all evil, every day and hour; and among the men who frankly admit themselves to be publicans and sinners, whose ways are notoriously worldly, and who never affected religion, are some of the worst and meanest hypocrites on earth.
Harry Fairfield having ended his luncheon, had laid his knife and fork on his plate, and leaning back in his chair was ogling them with an unmeaning stare, and mouth a little open, affecting a brown study; but no effort can quite hide the meaning and twinkle of cunning, and nothing is more repulsive than this semi-transparent mask of simplicity.
Thus the two brothers sat, neither observing the other much, with an outward seeming of sympathy, but with very divergent thoughts.
Charles, as we know, was a lazy man, with little suspicion, and rather an admiration of his brother’s worldly wisdom and activity—with a wavering belief in Harry’s devotion to his cause, sometimes a little disturbed when Harry seemed for a short time hard and selfish, or careless, but generally returning with a quiet self-assertion, like the tide on a summer day.
For my part I don’t exactly know how much or how little Harry cared for Charles. The Fairfields were not always what is termed a “united” family, and its individual members, in prosecuting their several objects, sometimes knocked together, and occasionally, in the family history, more violently and literally than was altogether seemly.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57