In the mean time things were not going on very pleasantly at the brewery, and Mr Tappitt was making himself unpleasant in the bosom of his family. A lawsuit will sometimes make a man extremely pleasant company to his wife and children. Even a losing lawsuit will sometimes do so, if he be well backed up in his pugnacity by his lawyer, and if the matter of the battle be one in which he can take a delight to fight. “Ah,” a man will say, “though I spend a thousand pounds over it, I’ll stick to him like a burr. He shan’t shake me off.” And at such times he is almost sure to be in a good humour, and in a generous mood. Then let his wife ask him for money for a dinner-party, and his daughters for new dresses. He has taught himself for the moment to disregard money, and to think that he can sow five-pound notes broadcast without any inward pangs. But such was by no means the case with Mr Tappitt. His lawyer Honyman was not backing him up; and as cool reflection came upon him he was afraid of trusting his interests to those other men, Sharpit and Longfite. And Mrs Tappitt, when cool reflection came on her, had begun to dread the ruin which it seemed possible that terrible young man might inflict upon them. She had learned already, though Mrs Ray had not, how false had been that report which had declared Luke Rowan to be frivolous, idle, and in debt. To her it was very manifest that Honyman was afraid of the young man; and Honyman, though he might not be as keen as some others, was at any rate honest. Honyman also thought that if the brewery were given up to Rowan that thousand a year which had been promised would be paid regularly; and to this solution of the difficulty Mrs Tappitt was gradually bending herself to submit as the best which an untoward fate offered to them. Honyman himself had declared to her that Mr Tappitt, if he were well advised, would admit Rowan in as a partner, on equal terms as regarded power and ultimate possession, but with that lion’s share of the immediate concern for himself which Rowan offered. But this she knew that Tappitt would not endure; and she knew, also, that if she were brought to endure it for a while, it would ultimately lead to terrible sorrows. “They would be knocking each other about with the pokers, Mr Honyman,” she had said; “and where would the custom be when that got into the newspapers?” “If I were Mr Tappitt, I would just let him have his own way,” Honyman had replied. “That shows that you don’t know Tappitt,” had been Mrs Tappitt’s rejoinder. No — the thousand a year and dignified retirement in a villa had recommended itself to Mrs Tappitt’s mind. She would use all her influence to attain that position — if only she could bring herself to feel assured that the thousand a year would be forthcoming.
As to Tappitt himself, he was by no means so anxious to prolong the battle as he had been at the time of Rowan’s departure. His courage for fighting was not maintained by good backing. Had Honyman clapped him on the shoulder and bade him put ready money in his purse, telling him that all would come out right eventually, and that Rowan would be crushed, he would have gone about Baslehurst boasting loudly, and would have been happy. Then Mrs T. and the girls would have had a merry time of it; and the Tappitts would have come out of the contest with four or five hundred a year for life instead of the thousand now offered to them, and nobody would have blamed anybody for such a result. But Honyman had not spirit for such backing. In his dull, slow, droning way he had shaken his head and said that things were looking badly. Then Tappitt had cursed and had sworn, and had half resolved to go to Sharpit and Longfite. Sharpit and Longfite would have clapped him on the back readily enough, and have bade him put plenty of money in his purse. But we may suppose that Fate did not intend the ruin of Tappitt, seeing that she did not make him mad enough to seek the counsels of Sharpit and Longfite. Fate only made him very cross and unpleasant in the bosom of his family. Looking out himself for some mode of escape from this terrible enemy that had come upon him, he preferred the raising of the sum of money which would be necessary to buy off Rowan altogether. Rowan had demanded ten thousand pounds, but Tappitt still thought that seven, or, at any rate, eight thousand would do it.
“I don’t think he’ll take less than ten”, said Honyman, “because his share is really worth as much as that.”
This was very provoking; and who can wonder that Tappitt was not pleasant company in his own house?
On the day after Mrs Ray’s visit to Exeter, Tappitt, as was now his almost daily practice, made his way into Mr Honyman’s little back room, and sat there with his hat on, discussing his affairs.
“I find that Mr Rowan has bought those cottages of the widow Ray’s,” said Honyman.
“Nonsense!” shouted Tappitt, as though such a purchase on Rowan’s part was a new injury done to himself.
“Oh, but he has,” said Honyman. “There’s not a doubt in life about it. If he does mean to build a new brewery, it wouldn’t be a bad place. You see it’s out of the thoroughfare of the town, and yet, as one may say, within a stone’s throw of the High Street.”
I will not repeat Mr Tappitt’s exclamation as he listened to these suggestions of his lawyer, but it was of a nature to show that he had not heard the news with indifference.
“You see he’s such a fellow that you don’t know where to have him,” continued Honyman. “It’s not only that he don’t mind ruining you, but he don’t mind ruining himself either.”
“I don’t believe he’s got anything to lose.”
“Ah! that’s where you’re wrong. He has paid ready money for this bit of land to begin with, or Goodall would never have let him have it. Goodall knows what he’s about as well as any man.”
“And do you mean to tell me that he’s going to put up buildings there at once?” And Tappitt’s face as he asked the question would have softened the heart of any ordinary lawyer. But Honyman was one whom nothing could harden and nothing soften.
“I don’t know what he’s going to put up, Mr Tappitt, and I don’t know when. But I know this well enough; that when a man buys little bits of property about a place it shows that he means to do something there.”
“If he had twenty thousand pounds, he’d lose it all.”
“That’s very likely; but the question is, How would you fare in the mean time? If he hadn’t this claim upon you, of course you’d let him build what he liked, and only laugh at him.” Then Mr Tappitt uttered another exclamation, and pulling his hat tighter on his head, walked out of the lawyer’s office and returned to the brewery.
They dined at three o’clock at the brewery, and during dinner on this day the father of the family made himself very disagreeable. He scolded the maidservant till the poor girl didn’t know the spoons from the forks. He abused the cook’s performances till that valuable old retainer declared that if “master got so rumpageous he might suit hisself, the sooner the better; she didn’t care how soon; she’d cooked victuals for his betters and would again”. He snarled at his daughters till they perked up their faces and came silently to a mutual agreement that they would not condescend to notice him further while he held on in his present mood. And he replied to his wife’s questions — questions intended to be soothing and kindly conjugal — in such a tone that she determined to have it out with him before she allowed him to go to bed. “She knew her duty”, she said to herself, “and she could stand a good deal. But there were some things she couldn’t stand and some things that weren’t her duty.” After dinner Tappitt took himself out at once to his office in the brewery, and then, for the first time, saw the “ Baslehurst Gazette and Totnes Chronicle “ for that week. The “ Baslehurst Gazette and Totnes Chronicle “ was an enterprising weekly newspaper, which had been originally intended to convey on Sunday mornings to the inhabitants of South Devonshire the news of the past week, and the paper still bore the dates of successive Sundays. But it had gradually pushed itself out into the light of its own world before its own date, gaining first a night and then a day, till now, at the period of which I am speaking, it was published on the Friday morning.
“You ought just to look at this,” a burly old foreman had said, handing him the paper in question, with his broad thumb placed upon a certain column. This foreman had known Bungall, and though he respected Tappitt, he did not fear him. “You should just look at this. Of course it don’t amount to nothing; but it’s as well to see what folks say.” And he handed the paper to his master, almost making a hole in it by screwing his thumb on to the spot he wished to indicate.
Tappitt read the article, and his spirit was very bitter within him. It was a criticism on his own beer written in no friendly tone. “There is no reason”, said the article, “why Baslehurst should be flooded with a liquor which no Christian ought to be asked to drink. Baslehurst is as capable of judging good beer from bad as any town in the British Empire. Let Mr Tappitt look to it, or some young rival will spring up beneath his feet and seize from his brow the hopleaf wreath which Bungall won and wore.” This attack was the more cruel because the paper had originally been established by Bungall’s money, and had, in old days, been altogether devoted to the Bungall interest. That this paper should turn against him was very hard. But what else had he a right to expect? It was known that he had promised his vote to the Jew candidate, and the paper in question supported the Cornbury interest. A man that lives in a glass house should throw no stones. The brewer who brews bad beer should vote for nobody.
But Tappitt would not regard this attack upon him in its proper political light. Every evil at present falling upon him was supposed to come from his present enemy. “It’s that dirty underhand blackguard,” he said to the foreman.
“I don’t think so, Mr Tappitt,” said the foreman. “I don’t think so indeed.”
“But I tell you it is,” said Tappitt, “and I don’t care what you think.”
“Just as you please, Mr Tappitt,” said the foreman, who thereupon retired from the office, leaving his master to meditate over the newspaper in solitude.
It was a very bitter time for the poor brewer. He was one of those men whose spirit is not wanting to them while the noise and tumult of contest are around them, but who cannot hold on by their own convictions in the quiet hours. He could storm, and talk loud, and insist in his own way while men stood around him, listening and perhaps admiring; but he was cowed when left by himself to think of things which seemed to be adverse. What could he do, if those around him, who had known him all his life as those newspaper people had known him — what could he do if they turned against him, and talked of bad beer as Rowan had talked? He was not man enough to stand up and face this new enemy unless he were backed by his old friends. Honyman had told him that he would be beaten. How would it fare with him and his family if he were beaten? As he sat in his little office, with his hat low down over his eyes, balancing himself on the hind legs of his chair, he abused Honyman roundly. Had Honyman been possessed of wit, of skill, of professional craft — had he been the master of any invention, all might have been well. But the attorney was a fool, an ass, a coward. Might it not be that he was a knave? But luckily for Honyman, and luckily also for Mr Tappitt himself, this abuse did not pass beyond the precincts of Tappitt’s own breast. We all know how delightful is the privilege of abusing our nearest friends after this fashion; but we generally satisfy ourselves with that limited audience to which Mr Tappitt addressed himself on the present occasion.
In the mean time Mrs Tappitt was sitting upstairs in the brewery drawing-room with her daughters, and she also was not happy in her mind. She had been snubbed, and almost browbeaten, at dinner time, and she also had had a little conversation in private with Mr Honyman. She had been snubbed, and, if she did not look well about her, she was going to be ruined. “You mustn’t let him go on with this lawsuit,” Mr Honyman had said. “He’ll certainly get the worst of it if he does, and then he’ll have to pay double. She disliked Rowan quite as keenly as did her husband, but she was fully alive to the folly of spiting Rowan by doing an injury to her own face. She would speak to Tappitt that night very seriously, and in the meantime she turned the Rowan controversy over in her own mind, endeavouring to look at it from all sides. It had never been her custom to make critical remarks on their father’s conduct to any of the girls except Martha; but on the present great occasion she waived that rule, and discussed the family affairs in full female family conclave. “I don’t know what’s come over your papa,” she began by saying. “He seems quite beside himself today.”
“I think he is troubled about Mr Rowan and this lawsuit,” said the sagacious Martha.
“Nasty man! I wish he’d never come near the place,” said Augusta.
“I don’t know that he’s very nasty either,” said Cherry. “We all liked him when he was staying here.”
“But to be so false to papa!” said Augusta. “I call it swindling, downright swindling.”
“One should know and understand all about it before one speaks in that way,” said Martha. “I dare say it is very vexatious to papa; but after all perhaps Mr Rowan may have some right on his side.”
“I don’t know about right,” said Mrs Tappitt. “I don’t think he can have any right to come and set himself up here in opposition, as one may say, to the very ghost of his own uncle. I agree with Augusta, and think it is a very dirty thing to do.”
“Quite shameful,” said Augusta, indignantly.
“But if he has got the law on his side”, continued Mrs Tappitt, “it’s no good your papa trying to go against that. Where should we be if we were to lose everything and be told to pay more money than your papa has got? It wouldn’t be very pleasant to be turned out of the house.”
“I don’t think he’d ever do it,” said Cherry.
“I declare, Cherry, I think you are in love with the man,” said Augusta.
“If I ain’t I know who was,” said Cherry.
“As for love,” said Mrs Tappitt, “we all know who is in love with him — nasty little sly minx! In the whole matter nothing makes me so angry as to think that she should have come here to our dance.”
“That was Cherry’s doing,” said Augusta. This remark Cherry noticed only by a grimace addressed specially to her sister. A battle in Rachel’s favour under present circumstances would have been so losing an affair that Cherry had not pluck enough to adventure it on her friend’s behalf.
“But the question is — what are we to do about the lawsuit?” said Mrs Tappitt. “It is easy to see from your papa’s manner that he is very much harassed. He won’t admit him as a partner — that’s certain.”
“Oh dear! I should hope not,” said Augusta.
“That’s all very well,” said Martha; “but if the a young man can prove his right, he must have it. Mamma, do you know what Mr Honyman says about it?”
“Yes, my dear, I do.” Mrs Tappitt’s manner became very solemn, and the girls listened with all their ears. “Yes, my dear, I do. Mr Honyman thinks your father should give way.”
“And take him in as a partner?” said Augusta. “Papa has got that spirit that he couldn’t do it.”
“It doesn’t follow that your papa should take Mr Rowan in as a partner because he gives up the lawsuit. He might pay him the money that he asks.”
“But has he got it?” demanded Martha.
“Besides, it’s such a deal; isn’t it?” said Augusta.
“Or,” continued Mrs Tappitt, “your papa might accept his offer by retiring with a very handsome income for us all. Your papa has been in business for a great many years, working like a galley-slave. Nobody knows how he has toiled and moiled, except me. It isn’t any joke being a brewer — and having it all on himself as he has had. And if young Rowan ever begins it, I wish him joy of it.”
“But would he pay the income?” Martha asked.
“Mr Honyman says that he would; and if he did not, there would be the property to fall back upon.”
“And where should we live?” said Cherry.
“That can’t be settled quite yet. It must be somewhere near, so that your papa might keep an eye on the concern, and know that it was going all right. Perhaps Torquay would be the best place.”
“Torquay would be delicious,” said Cherry.
“And would that man come and live at the brewery?” said Augusta.
“Of course he would, if he pleased,” said Martha.
“And bring Rachel Ray with him as his wife?” said Cherry.
“He’ll never do that,” said Mrs Tappitt with energy.
“Never; never!” said Augusta — with more energy. In this way the large and influential feminine majority of the family at the brewery was brought round to look at one of the propositions made by Rowan without disfavour. It was not that that young man’s sins had been in any degree forgiven, but that they all perceived, with female prudence, that it would be injudicious to ruin themselves because they hated him. And then to what lady living in a dingy brick house, close adjoining to the smoke and smells of beer-brewing, would not the idea of a marine villa at Torquay be delicious? None of the family, not even Mrs Tappitt herself, had ever known what annual profit had accrued to Mr T. as the reward of his life’s work. But they had been required to live in a modest, homely way — as though that annual profit had not been great. Under the altered circumstances, as now proposed, they would all know that papa had a thousand a year to spend — and what might not be done at Torquay with a thousand a year? Before Mr Tappitt came home for the evening — which he did not do on that day till past ten, having been detained, by business, in the bar of the Dragon Inn — they had all resolved that the combined ease and dignity of a thousand a year should be accepted.
Mr Tappitt was still perturbed in spirit when he took himself to the marital chamber. What had been the nature of the business which had detained him at the bar of the Dragon he did not condescend to say, but it seemed to have been of a nature not well adapted to smooth his temper. Mrs Tappitt perhaps guessed what that business had been; but if so, she said nothing of the subject in direct words. One little remark she did make, which may perhaps have had allusion to that business.
“Bah!” she exclaimed, as Mr Tappitt came near her; “if you must smoke at all, I wish to goodness you’d smoke good tobacco.”
“So I do,” said Tappitt, turning round to her sharply. “It’s best mixed bird’s-eye. As if you could know the difference, indeed!”
“So I do, T. I know the difference very well. It’s all poison to — me — absolute poison — as you’re very well aware. But that filthy strong stuff that you’ve taken to lately, is enough to kill anybody.”
“I haven’t taken to any filthy strong stuff,” said Tappitt.
This was the beginning of that evening’s conversation. I am inclined to think that Mrs Tappitt had made her calculations and had concluded that she could put forth her coming observations more efficaciously by having her husband in bad humour, than she could, if she succeeded in coaxing him into a good humour. I think that she made the above remarks, not solely because the fumes of tobacco were distasteful to her, but because the possession of a grievance might give her an opportunity of commencing the forthcoming debate with some better amount of justified indignation on her own side. It was not often that she begrudged Tappitt his pipe, or made ill-natured remarks about his gin and water.
“T.,” she said, when Tappitt had torn off his coat in some anger at the allusion to “filthy strong stuff,’—“T. what do you mean to do about this lawsuit?”
“I don’t mean to do anything.”
“That’s nonsense, T.; you must do something, you know. What does Mr Honyman say?”
“Honyman is a fool.”
“Nonsense, T.; he’s not a fool. Or if he is, why have you let him manage your affairs so long? But I don’t believe he’s a fool at all. I believe he knows what he’s talking about, quite as well as some others, who pretend to be so clever. As to your going to Sharpit and Longfite, it’s quite out of the question.”
“Who’s talking of going to them?”
“You did talk of it.”
“No I didn’t. You heard me mention their names; but I never said that I should go to them at all. I almost wish I had.”
“Now, T., don’t talk in that way, or you’ll really put me beside myself.”
“I don’t want to talk of it at all. I only want to go to bed.”
“But we must talk of it, T. It’s all very well for you to say you don’t want to talk of things; but what is to become of me and my girls if everything goes astray at the brewery? You can’t expect me to sit by quiet and see you ruined.”
“Who talks about my being ruined?”
“Well, I believe all Baslehurst pretty well is talking about it. If a man will go on with a lawsuit when his own lawyer says he oughtn’t, what else can come to him but ruin?”
“You don’t know anything about it. I wish you’d hold your tongue, and let me go to bed.”
“I do know something about it, Mr Tappitt; and I won’t hold my tongue. It’s all very well for you to bid me hold my tongue; but am I to sit by and see you ruined, and the girls left without a bit to eat or a thing to wear? Goodness knows I’ve never thought much about myself. Nobody will ever say that of me. But it has come to this, T.; that something must be settled about Rowan’s claim. If he hasn’t got justice, he’s got law on his side; and he seems to be one of those who don’t care much as long as he’s got that. If you ask me, T. —”
“But I didn’t ask you,” said Tappitt.
Tappitt never actually succumbed in these matrimonial encounters, and would always maintain courage for a sharp word, even to the last.
“No, I know you didn’t — and more shame to you, not to consult the wife of your bosom and the mother of your children, when such an affair as this has to be settled. But if you think I’m going to hold my tongue, you’re mistaken. I know very well how things are going. You must either let this young man come in as a partner —”
“I’ll be —”
Tappitt would not have disgraced himself by such an exclamation in his wife’s bedroom as he then used if his business in the bar of the Dragon had been legitimate.
“Very well, sir. I say nothing about the coarseness of your language on the present occasion, though I might say a great deal if I pleased. But if you don’t choose to have him for a partner — why then you must do something else.”
“Of course I must.”
“Exactly — and therefore the only thing is for you to take the offer of a thousand a year that he has made. Now, T., don’t begin cursing and swearing again, because you know that can’t do any good. Honyman says that he’ll pay the income — and if he don’t — if he gets into arrear with it, then you can come down upon him and turn him out. Think how you’d like that! You’ve only just to keep a little ready money by you, so that you’ll have something for six months or so, if he should get into arrear.”
“And I’m to give up everything myself?”
“No, T.; you would not give up anything; quite the other way. You would have every comfort found you that any man can possibly want. You can’t go on at it always, toiling and moiling as you’re doing now. It’s quite dreadful for a man never to have a moment to himself at your time of life, and of course it must tell on any constitution if it’s kept up too long. You’re not the man you were, T.; and of course you couldn’t expect it.”
“That’s all very well; but it’s my duty to see these things, and to think of them, and to speak of them too. Where should I be, and the girls, if you was hurried into your grave by working too hard?” Mrs Tappitt’s voice, as this terrible suggestion fell from her, was almost poetic, through the depth of its solemnity. “Do you think I don’t know what it is that takes you to the Dragon so late at night?”
“I don’t go to the Dragon late at night.”
“I’m not finding fault, T.; and you needn’t answer me so sharp. It’s only natural you should want something to sustain you after such slavery as you have to go through. I’m not unreasonable. I know very well what a man is, and what it is he can do, and what he can’t. It would be all very well your going on if you had a partner you could trust.”
“Nothing on earth shall induce me to carry on with that fellow.”
“And therefore you ought to take him at his word and retire. It would be the gentlemanlike thing to do. Of course you’d have the power of going over and seeing that things was straight. And if we was living comfortable at some genteel place, such as Torquay or the like, of course you wouldn’t want to be going out to Dragons every evening then. I shouldn’t wonder if, in two or three years, you didn’t find yourself as strong as ever again.”
Tappitt, beneath the clothes, insisted that he was strong; and made some virile remark in answer to that further allusion to the Dragon. He by no means gave way to his wife, or uttered any word of assent; but the lady’s scheme had been made known to him; the ice had been broken; and Mrs Tappitt, when she put out the candle, felt that she had done a good evening’s work.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55