It was the custom of the Miss Tappitts, during these long midsummer days, to start upon their evening walk at about seven o’clock, the hour for the family gathering round the tea-table being fixed at six. But, in accordance with the same custom, dinner at the brewery was usually eaten at one. At this immediate time with which we are now dealing, dinner had been postponed till three, out of compliment to Mrs Rowan, Mrs Tappitt considering three o’clock more fashionable than one; and consequently the afternoon habits of the family were disarranged. Half past seven, it was thought, would be a becoming hour for tea, and therefore the young ladies were driven to go out at five o’clock, while the sun was still hot in the heavens.
“No,” said Luke, in answer to his sister’s invitation; “I don’t think I will mind walking today: you are all going so early.” He was sitting at the moment after dinner with his glass of brewery port-wine before him.
“The young ladies must be very unhappy that their hours can’t be made to suit you,” said Mrs Tappitt, and the tone of her voice was sarcastic and acid.
“I think we can do without him,” said Cherry, laughing.
“Of course we can,” said Augusta, who was not laughing.
“But you might as well come all the same,” said Mary.
“There’s metal more attractive somewhere else,” said Augusta.
“I cannot bear to see so much fuss made with the young men,” said Mrs Tappitt. “We never did it when I was young. Did we, Mrs Rowan?”
“I don’t think there’s much change,” said Mrs Rowan; “we used to be very glad to get the young men when we could, and to do without them when we couldn’t.”
“And that’s just the way with us,” said Cherry.
“Speak for yourself,” said Augusta.
During all this time Mr Tappitt spoke never a word. He also sipped his glass of wine, and as he sipped it he brooded over his wrath. Who were these Rowans that they should have come about his house and premises, and forced everything out of its proper shape and position? The young man sat there as though he were lord of everything — so Tappitt declared to himself; and his own wife was snubbed in her own parlour as soon as she opened her mouth. There was an uncomfortable atmosphere of discord in the room, which gradually pervaded them all, and made even the girls feel that things were going wrong.
Mrs Tappitt rose from her chair, and made a stiff bow across the table to her guests, understanding that that was the proper way in which to effect a retreat into the drawing-room; whereupon Luke opened the door, and the ladies went. “Thank you, sir,” said Mrs Tappitt very solemnly as she passed by him. Mrs Rowan, going first, had given him a loving little nod of recognition, and Mary had pinched his arm. Martha uttered a word of thanks, intended for conciliation; Augusta passed him in silence with her nose in the air; and Cherry, as she went by, turned upon him a look of dismay. He returned Cherry’s look with a shake of his head, and both of them understood that things were going wrong.
“I don’t think I’ll take any more wine, sir,” said Rowan.
“Do as you like,” said Tappitt. “It’s there if you choose to take it.”
“It seems to me, Mr Tappitt, that you want to quarrel with me,” said Luke.
“You can form your own opinion about that. I’m not bound to tell my mind to everybody.”
“Oh, no; certainly not. But it’s very unpleasant going on in that way in the same house. I’m thinking particularly of Mrs Tappitt and the girls.”
“You needn’t trouble yourself about them at all. You may leave me to take care of them.”
Luke had not sat down since the ladies left the room, and now determined that he had better not do so. “I think I’ll say good afternoon,” said Rowan.
“Good day to you,” said Tappitt, with his face turned away, and his eyes fixed upon one of the open windows.
“Well, Mr Tappitt, if I have to say goodbye to you in that way in your own house, of course it must be for the last time. I have not meant to offend you, and I don’t think I’ve given you ground for offence.”
“You don’t, don’t you?”
“Certainly not. If, unfortunately, there must be any disagreement between us about matters of business, I don’t see why that should be brought into private life.”
“Look here, young man,” said Tappitt, turning upon him. “You lectured me in my counting-house this morning, and I don’t intend that you shall lecture me here also. I’m drinking my own wine in my own parlour, and choose to drink it in peace and quietness.”
“Very well, sir; I will not disturb you much longer. Perhaps you will make my apologies to Mrs Tappitt, and tell her how much obliged I am by her hospitality, but that I will not trespass upon it any longer. I’ll get a bed at the “Dragon,” and I’ll write a line to my mother or sister.” Then Luke left the room, took his hat up from the hall, and made his way out of the house.
He had much to occupy his mind at the present moment. He felt that he was being turned out of Mr Tappitt’s house, but would not much have regarded that if no one was concerned in it but Mr Tappitt himself. He had, however, been on very intimate terms with all the ladies of the family; even for Mrs Tappitt he had felt a friendship; and for the girls — especially for Cherry — he had learned to entertain an easy brotherly affection, which had not weighed much with him as it grew, but which it was not in his nature to throw off without annoyance. He had acknowledged to himself, as soon as he found himself among them, that the Tappitts did not possess, in their ways and habits of life, quite all that he should desire in his dearest and most intimate friends. I do not know that he had thought much of this; but he had felt it. Nevertheless he had determined that he would like them. He intended to make his way in life as a tradesman, and boldly resolved that he would not be above his trade. His mother sometimes reminded him, with perhaps not the truest pride, that he was a gentleman. In answer to this he had once or twice begged her to define the word, and then there had been some slight, very slight, disagreement between them. In the end the mother always gave way to the son; as to whom she believed that the sun shone with more special brilliancy for him than for any other of God’s creatures. Now, as he left the brewery house, he remembered how intimate he had been with them all but a few hours since, arranging matters for their ball, and giving orders about the place as though he had belonged to the family. He had allowed himself to be at home with them, and to be one of them. He was by nature impulsive, and had thus fallen instantly into the intimacy which had been permitted to him. Now he was turned out of the house; and as he walked across the churchyard to bespeak a bed for himself at the inn, and write the necessary note to his sister, he was melancholy and almost unhappy. He felt sure that he was right in his views regarding the business, and could not accuse himself of any fault in his manner of making them known to Mr Tappitt; but, nevertheless, he was ill at ease with himself in that he had given offence. And with all these thoughts were mingled other thoughts as to Rachel Ray. He did not in the least imagine that any of the anger felt towards him at the brewery had been caused by his open admiration of Rachel. It had never occurred to him that Mrs Tappitt had regarded him as a possible son-in-law, or that, having so regarded him, she could hold him in displeasure because he had failed to fall into her views. He had never regarded himself as being of value as a possible future husband, or entertained the idea that he was a prize. He had taken hold in good faith of the Tappitt right hand which had been stretched out to him, and was now grieved that that hand should be suddenly withdrawn.
But as he was impulsive, so also was he light-hearted, and when he had chosen his bedroom and written the note to Mary, in which he desired her to pack up his belongings and send them to him, he was almost at ease as regarded that matter. Old Tappitt was, as he said to himself, an old ass, and if he chose to make that brewery business a cause of quarrel no one could help it. Mary was bidden in the note to say very civil things to Mrs Tappitt; but, at the same time, to speak out the truth boldly. “Tell her”, said he, “that I am constrained to leave the house because Mr Tappitt and I cannot agree at the present moment about matters of business.” When this was done he looked at his watch, and started off on his walk to Bragg’s End.
It has been said that Rowan had not made up his mind to ask Rachel to be his wife — that he had not made up his mind on this matter, although he was going to Bragg’s End in a mood which would very probably bring him to such a conclusion. It will, I fear, be thought from this that he was light in purpose as well as light in heart; but I am not sure that he was open to any special animadversion of that nature. It is the way of men to carry on such affairs without any complete arrangement of their own plans or even wishes. He knew that he admired Rachel and liked her. I doubt whether he had ever yet declared to himself that he loved her. I doubt whether he had done so when he started on that walk — thinking it probable, however, that he had persuaded himself of the fact before he reached the cottage door. He had already, as we know, said words to Rachel which he should not have said unless he intended to seek her as his wife — he had spoken words and done things of that nature, being by no means perfect in all his ways. But he had so spoken and so acted without premeditation, and now was about to follow up those little words and little acts to their natural consequence — also without much premeditation.
Rachel had told her mother, on her return from the ball, that Luke Rowan had promised to call; and had offered to take herself off from the cottage for the whole afternoon, if her mother thought it wrong that she should see him. Mrs Ray had never felt herself to be in greater difficulty.
“I don’t know that you ought to fun away from him,” said she: “and besides, where are you to go to?”
Rachel said at once that if her absence were desirable she would find whither to betake herself. “I’d stay upstairs in my bedroom, for the matter of that, mamma.”
“He’d be sure to know it,” said Mrs Ray, speaking of the young man as though he were much to be feared — as indeed he was much feared by her.
“If you don’t think I ought to go, perhaps it would be best that I should stay,” said Rachel, at last, speaking in a very low tone, but still with some firmness in her voice.
“I’m sure I don’t know what I’m to say to him,” said Mrs Ray.
“That must depend upon what he says to you, mamma,” said Rachel.
After that there was no further talk of running away; but the morning did not pass with them lightly or pleasantly. They made an effort to sit quietly at their work, and to talk over the doings at Mrs Tappitt’s ball; but this coming of the young man threw its shadow, more or less, over everything. They could not talk, or even look at each other, as they would have talked and looked had no such advent been expected. They dined at one, as was their custom, and after dinner I think it probable that each of them stood before her glass with more care than she would have done on ordinary days. It was no ordinary day, and Mrs Ray certainly put on a clean cap.
“Will that collar do?” she said to Rachel.
“Oh, yes, mamma,” said Rachel, almost angrily. She also had taken her little precautions, but she could not endure to have such precautions acknowledged, even by a word.
The afternoon was very tedious. I don’t know why Luke should have been expected exactly at three; but Mrs Ray had, I think, made up her mind that he might be looked for at that time with the greatest certainty. But at three he was sitting down to dinner, and even at half past five had not as yet left his room at the “Dragon.”
“I suppose that we can’t have tea till he’s been,” said Mrs Ray, just at that hour; “that is, if he does come at all.”
Rachel felt that her mother was vexed, because she suspected that Mr Rowan was not about to keep his word.
“Don’t let his coming make any difference, mamma,” said Rachel. “I will go and get tea.”
“Wait a few minutes longer, my dear,” said Mrs Ray.
It was all very well for Rachel to beg that it might make “no difference”. It did make a very great deal of difference.
“I think I’ll go over and see Mrs Sturt for a few minutes,” said Rachel, getting up.
“Pray don’t, my dear — pray don’t; I should never know what to say to him if he should come while you were away.”
So Rachel again sat down.
She had just, for the second time, declared her intention of getting tea, having now resolved that no weakness on her mother’s part should hinder her, when Mrs Ray, from her seat near the window, saw the young man coming over the green. He was walking very slowly, swinging a big stick as he came, and had taken himself altogether away from the road, almost to the verge of Mrs Sturt’s farmyard. “There he is,” said Mrs Ray, with a little start. Rachel, who was struggling hard to retain her composure, could not resist her impulse to jump up and look out upon the green from behind her mother’s shoulder. But she did this from some little distance inside the room, so that no one might possibly see her from the green. “Yes; there he is, certainly,” and, having thus identified their visitor, she immediately sat down again. “He’s talking to Farmer Sturt’s ploughboy,” said Mrs Ray. “He’s asking where we live,” said Rachel; “he’s never been here before.”
Rowan, having completed his conversation with the ploughboy, which by the way seemed to Mrs Ray to have been longer than was necessary for its alleged purpose, came boldly across the green, and without pausing for a moment made his way through the cottage gate. Mrs Ray caught her breath, and could not keep herself quite steady in her chair. Rachel, feeling that something must be done, got up from her seat and went quickly out into the passage. She knew that the front door was open, and she was prepared to meet Rowan in the hall.
“I told you I should call,” said he. “I hope you’ll let me come in.”
“Mamma will be very glad to see you,” she said. Then she brought him up and introduced him. Mrs Ray rose from her chair and curtseyed, muttering something as to its being a long way for him to walk out there to the cottage.
“I said I should come, Mrs Ray, if Miss Ray did not make her appearance at the brewery in the morning. We had such a nice party, and of course one wants to talk it over.”
“I hope Mrs Tappitt is quite well after it — and the girls,” said Rachel.
“Oh, yes. You know we kept it up two hours after you were gone. I can’t say Mr Tappitt is quite right this morning.”
“Is he ill?” asked Mrs Ray.
“Well, no; not ill, I think, but I fancy that the party put him out a little. Middle-aged gentlemen don’t like to have all their things poked away anywhere. Ladies don’t mind it, I fancy.”
“Ladies know where to find them, as it is they who do the poking away,” said Rachel. “But I’m sorry about Mr Tappitt.”
“I’m sorry, too, for he’s a good-natured sort of a man when he’s not put out. I say, Mrs Ray, what a very pretty place you have got here.”
“We think so because we’re proud of our flowers.”
“I do almost all the gardening myself,” said Rachel.
“There’s nothing I like so much as a garden, only I never can remember the names of the flowers. They’ve got such grand names down here. When I was a boy, in Warwickshire, they used to have nothing but roses and sweet williams. One could remember them.”
“We haven’t got anything very grand here,” said Rachel. Soon after that they were sauntering out among the little paths and Rachel was picking flowers for him. She felt no difficulty in doing it, as her mother stood by her, though she would not for worlds have given him even a rose if they’d been alone.
“I wonder whether Mr Rowan would come in and have some tea,” said Mrs Ray.
“Oh, wouldn’t I,” said Rowan, “if I were asked?”
Rachel was highly delighted with her mother, not so much on account of her courtesy to their guest, as that she had shown herself equal to the occasion, and had behaved, in an unabashed manner, as a mistress of a house should do. Mrs Ray had been in such dread of the young man’s coming, that Rachel had feared she would be speechless. Now the ice was broken, and she would do very well. The merit, however, did not belong to Mrs Ray, but to Rowan. He had the gift of making himself at home with people, and had done much towards winning the widow’s heart, when, after an interval of ten minutes, they two followed Rachel into the house. Rachel then had her hat on, and was about to go over the green to the farmer’s house. “Mamma, I’ll just run over to Mrs Sturt’s for some cream,” said she.
“Mayn’t I go with you?” said Rowan.
“Certainly not,” said Rachel. “You’d frighten Mrs Sturt out of all her composure, and we should never get the cream.” Then Rachel went off, and Rowan was again left with her mother.
He had seated himself at her request in an armchair, and there for a minute or two he sat silent. Mrs Ray was busy with the tea-things, but she suddenly felt that she was oppressed by the stranger’s presence. While Rachel had been there, and even when they had been walking among the flower-beds, she had been quite comfortable; but now the knowledge that he was there, in the room with her, as he sat silent in the chair, was becoming alarming. Had she been right to ask him to stay for tea? He looked and spoke like a sheep; but then, was it not known to all the world that wolves dressed themselves often in that guise, so that they might carry out their wicked purposes? Had she not been imprudent? And then there was the immediate trouble of his silence. What was she to say to him to break it? That trouble, however, was soon brought to an end by Rowan himself. “Mrs Ray,” said he, “I think your daughter is the nicest girl I ever saw in my life.”
Mrs Ray instantly put down the tea-caddy which she had in her hand, and started, with a slight gasp in her throat, as though cold water had been thrown over her. At the instant she said nothing. What was she to say in answer to so violent a proposition?
“Upon my word I do,” said Luke, who was too closely engaged with his own thoughts and his own feelings to pay much immediate attention to Mrs Ray. “It isn’t only that she’s good-looking, but there’s something — I don’t know what it is — but she’s just the sort of person I like. I told her I should come today, and I have come on purpose to say this to you. I hope you won’t be angry with me.”
“Pray, sir, don’t say anything to her to turn her head.”
“If I understand her, Mrs Ray, it wouldn’t be very easy to turn her head. But suppose she has turned mine?”
“Ah, no. Young gentlemen like you are in no danger of that sort of thing. But for a poor girl —”
“I don’t think you quite understand me, Mrs Ray. I didn’t mean anything about danger. My danger would be that she shouldn’t care twopence for me; and I don’t suppose she ever will. But what I want to know is whether you would object to my coming over here and seeing her. I don’t doubt but she might do much better.”
“Oh dear no,” said Mrs Ray.
“But I should like to have my chance.”
“You’ve not said anything to her yet, Mr Rowan?”
“Well, no; I can’t say I have. I meant to do so last night at the party, but she wouldn’t stay and hear me. I don’t think she cares very much about me, but I’ll take my chance if you’ll let me.”
“Here she is,” said Mrs Ray. Then she again went to work with the tea-caddy, so that Rachel might be led to believe that nothing special had occurred in her absence. Nevertheless, had Rowan been away, every word would have been told to her.
“I hope you like clotted cream,” said Rachel, taking off her hat. Luke declared that it was the one thing in all the world that he liked best, and that he had come into Devonshire with the express object of feasting upon it all his life. “Other Devonshire dainties were not”, he said, “so much to his taste. He had another object in life. He intended to put down cider.”
“I beg you won’t do anything of the kind,” said Mrs Ray, “for I always drink it at dinner.” Then Rowan explained how that he was a brewer, and that he looked upon it as his duty to put down so poor a beverage as cider. The people of Devonshire, he averred, knew nothing of beer, and it was his ambition to teach them. Mrs Ray grew eager in the defence of cider, and then they again became comfortable and happy. “I never heard of such a thing in my life,” said Mrs Ray. “What are the farmers to do with all their apple trees? It would be the ruin of the whole country.”
“I don’t suppose it can be done all at once,” said Luke.
“Not even by Mr Rowan,” said Rachel.
He sat there for an hour after their tea, and Mrs Ray had in truth become fond of him. When he spoke to Rachel he did so with the utmost respect, and he seemed to be much more intimate with the mother than with the daughter. Mrs Ray’s mind was laden with the burden of what he had said in Rachel’s absence, and with the knowledge that she would have to discuss it when Rowan was gone; but she felt herself to be happy while he remained, and had begun to hope that he would not go quite yet. Rachel also was perfectly happy. She said very little, but thought much of her different meetings with him — of the arm in the clouds, of the promise of his friendship, of her first dance, of the little fraud by which he has secured her company at supper, and then of those words he had spoken when he detained her after supper in the hall. She knew that she liked him well, but had feared that such liking might not be encouraged. But what could be nicer than this — to sit and listen to him in her mother’s presence? Now she was not afraid of him. Now she feared no one’s eyes. Now she was disturbed by no dread lest she might be sinning against rules of propriety. There was no Mrs Tappitt by, to rebuke her with an angry look.
“Oh, Mr Rowan, I’m sure you need not go yet,” she said, when he got up and sought his hat.
“Mr Rowan, my dear, has got other things to do besides talking to us.”
“Oh no, he has not. He can’t go and brew after eight o’clock.”
“When my brewery is really going, I mean to brew all night; but just at present I’m the idlest man in Baslehurst. When I go away I shall sit upon Cawston Bridge and smoke for an hour, till some of the Briggses of the town come and drive me away. But I won’t trouble you any longer. Good night, Mrs Ray.”
“Good night, Mr Rowan.”
“And I may come and see you again?”
Mrs Ray was silent. “I’m sure mamma will be very happy,” said Rachel.
“I want to hear her say so herself,” said Luke.
Poor woman! She felt that she was driven into a position from which any safe escape was quite impossible. She could not tell her guest that he would not be welcome. She could not even pretend to speak to him with cold words after having chatted with him so pleasantly, and with such cordial good humour; and yet, were she to tell him that he might come, she would be granting him permission to appear there as Rachel’s lover. If Rachel had been away, she would have appealed to his mercy, and have thrown herself, in the spirit, on her knees before him. But she could not do this in Rachel’s presence.
“I suppose business will prevent your coming so far out of town again very soon.”
It was a foolish subterfuge; a vain, silly attempt.
“Oh dear no,” said he; “I always walk somewhere every day, and you shall see me again before long.” Then he turned to Rachel. “Shall you be at Mr Tappitt’s tomorrow?”
“I don’t quite know,” said Rachel.
“I suppose I might as well tell you the truth and have done with it,” said Luke, laughing. “I hate secrets among friends. The fact is Mr Tappitt has turned me out of his house.”
“Turned you out?” said Mrs Ray.
“Oh, Mr Rowan!” said Rachel.
“That’s the truth,” said Rowan. “It’s about that horrid brewery. He means to be honest, and so do I. But in such matters it is so hard to know what the right of each party really is. I fear we shall have to go to law. But there’s a lady coming in, so I’ll tell you the rest of it tomorrow. I want you to know it all, Mrs Ray, and to understand it too.”
“A lady!” said Mrs Ray, looking out through the open window. “Oh dear, if here isn’t Dorothea!”
Then Rowan shook hands with them both, pressing Rachel’s very warmly, close under her mother’s eyes; and as he went out of the house into the garden, he passed Mrs Prime on the walk, and took off his hat to her with great composure.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55