Luke Rowan had been told that Mrs Butler Cornbury wished to see him when the election should be over; and on the evening of the election the victorious candidate, before he returned home, asked Luke to come to the Grange on the following Monday and stay till the next Wednesday. Now it must be understood that Rowan during this period of the election had become, in a public way, very intimate with Cornbury. They were both young men, the new Member of Parliament not being over thirty, and for the time they were together employed on the same matter. Luke Rowan was one with whom such a man as Mr Cornbury could not zealously co-operate without reaching a considerable extent of personal intimacy. He was pleasant-mannered, free in speech, with a bold eye, assuming though not asserting his equality with the best of those with whom he might be brought in contact. Had Cornbury chosen to consider himself by reason of his social station too high for Rowan’s fellowship, he might of course have avoided him; but he could not have put himself into close contact with the man, without submitting himself to that temporary equality which Rowan assumed, and to that temporary familiarity which sprung from it. Butler Cornbury had thought little about it. He had found Rowan to be a pleasant associate and an able assistant, and had fallen into that mode of fellowship which the other man’s ways and words had made natural to him. When his wife begged him to ask Rowan up to the Grange, he had been startled for a moment, but had at once assented.
“Well,” said he; “he’s an uncommon pleasant fellow. I don’t see why he shouldn’t come.”
“I’ve a particular reason,” said Mrs Butler.
“All right,” said the husband. “Do you explain it to my father.” And so the invitation had been given.
But Rowan was a man more thoughtful than Cornbury, and was specially thoughtful as to his own position. He was a radical at heart if ever there was a radical. But in saying this I must beg my reader to understand that a radical is not necessarily a revolutionist or even a republican. He does not, by reason of his social or political radicalism, desire the ruin of thrones, the degradation of nobles, the spoliation of the rich, or even the downfall of the bench of bishops. Many a young man is frightened away from the just conclusions of his mind and the strong convictions of his heart by dread of being classed with those who are jealous of the favoured ones of fortune. A radical may be as ready as any aristocrat to support the crown with his blood, and the church with his faith. It is in this that he is a radical; that he desires, expects, works for, and believes in, the gradual progress of the people. No doctrine of equality is his. Liberty he must have, and such position, high or low, for himself and others, as each man’s individual merits will achieve for him. The doctrine of outward equality he eschews as a barrier to all ambition, and to all improvement. The idea is as mean as the thing is impracticable. But within — is it in his soul or in his heart? — within his breast there is a manhood that will own no inferiority to the manhood of another. He retires to a corner that an earl with his suite may pass proudly through the doorway, and he grudges the earl nothing of his pride. It is the earl’s right. But he also has his right; and neither queen, nor earl, nor people shall invade it. That is the creed of a radical.
Rowan, as I have said, was a man thoughtful as to his own position. He had understood well the nature of the league between himself and Butler Cornbury. It was his intention to become a brewer in Baslehurst; and a brewer in Baslehurst would by no means be as the mighty brewers of great name, who marry lords’ daughters, and give their daughters in marriage to mighty lords. He would simply be a tradesman in the town. It might well be that he should not find the society of the Tappitts and the Griggses much to his taste, but such as it was he would make the best of it. At any rate he would make no attempt to force his way into other society. If others came to him let that be their look out. Now, when Cornbury asked him thus to come to Cornbury Grange, as though they two were men living in the same class of life — as though they were men who might be bound together socially in their homes as well as politically on the hustings, the red colour came to his face and he hesitated for a moment in his answer.
“You are very kind,” said he.
“Oh! you must come,” said Cornbury. “My wife particularly desires it.”
“She is very kind,” said he. “But if you ask all your supporters over to the Grange you’ll get rather a mixed lot.”
“I suppose I should; but I don’t mean to do that. I shall be very glad, however, to see you — very glad.”
“And I shall be very happy to come,” said Rowan, having again hesitated as he gave his answer.
“I wish I hadn’t promised that I’d go there,” he said to himself afterwards. This was on the Sunday, after evening church — an hour or more after the people had all gone home, and he was sitting on that stile, looking to the west, and thinking, as he looked, of that sunset which he and another had seen as they stood there together. He did wish that he had not undertaken to go to Mr Cornbury’s house. What to him would be the society of such people as he should find there — to him who had laid out for himself a career that would necessarily place his life among other associates? “I’ll send and excuse myself,” he said. “I’ll be called away to Exeter. I have things to do there. I shall only get into a mess by knowing people who will drop me when this ferment of the election is over.” And yet the idea of an intimacy at such a house as Cornbury Grange — with such people as Mrs Butler Cornbury, was very sweet to him; only this, that if he associated with them or such as them it must be on equal terms. He could acknowledge them to be people apart from him, as ice creams and sponge cakes are things apart from the shillingless schoolboy. But as the schoolboy, if brought within the range of cakes and creams, must devour them with unchecked relish, as though his pocket were lined with coin; so must he, Rowan, carry himself with these curled darlings of society if he found himself placed among them. He liked cakes and creams, but had made up his mind that other viands were as wholesome and more comfortably within his reach. Was it worth his while to go to this banquet which would unsettle his taste, and at which perhaps if he sat there at his ease, he might not be wholly welcome? All his thoughts were not noble. He had declared to himself that a certain thing could not be his except at a cost which he would not pay, and yet he hankered for that thing. He had declared to himself that no social position in which he might ever find himself should make a change in him, on his inner self or on his outward manner; and now he feared to go among these people, lest he should find himself an inferior among superiors. It was not all noble; but there was beneath it a basis of nobility. “I will go,” he said at last, fearing that if he did not, there would have been some grain of cowardice in the motives of his action. “If they don’t like me it’s their fault for asking me.”
Of course as he sat there he was thinking of Rachel. Of course he had thought of Rachel daily, almost hourly, since he had been with her at the cottage, when she had bent her head over his shoulder, and submitted to have his arm round her waist. But his thoughts of her were not as hers of him. Nor is it often that a man’s love is like a woman’s — restless, fearful, uncomfortable, sleepless, timid, and all-pervading. Not the less may it be passionate, constant, and faithful. He had been angered by Rachel’s letter to him — greatly angered. Of a truth when Mrs Ray met him in Exeter he had no message to send back to Cawston. He had done his part, and had been rejected — had been rejected too clearly because on the summing up of his merits and demerits at the cottage, his demerits had been found to be the heavier. He did not suspect that the calculation had been made by Rachel herself; and therefore he had never said to himself that all should be over between them. He had never determined that there should be a quarrel between them. But he was angered, and he would stand aloof from her. He would stand aloof from her, and would no longer acknowledge that he was in anyway bound by the words he had spoken. All such bonds she had broken. Nevertheless I think he loved her with a surer love after receiving that letter than he had ever felt before.
He had been here, at this spot, every evening since his return to Baslehurst; and here had thought much of his future life, and something, too, of the days that were past. Looking to the left he could see the trees that stood in front of the old brewery, hiding the building from his eyes. That was the house in which old Bungall had lived, and there Tappitt had lived for the last twenty years. “I suppose”, said he, speaking to himself, “it will be my destiny to live there too, with the vats and beer barrels under my nose. But what farmer ever throve who disliked the muck of his own farmyard?” Then he had thought of Tappitt and of the coming battle, and had laughed as he remembered the scene with the poker. At that moment his eye caught the bright colours of women’s bonnets coming into the field beneath him, and he knew that the Tappitt girls were returning home from their walk. He had retired quickly round the chancel of the church, and had watched, thinking that Rachel would be with them. But Rachel, of course, was not there. He said to himself that they had thrown her off; and said also that the time should come when they should be glad to win from her a kind word and an encouraging smile. His love for Rachel was as true and more strong than ever; but it was of that nature that he was able to tell himself that it had for the present moment been set aside by her act, and that it became him to leave it for a while in abeyance.
“What on earth shall I do with myself all Tuesday?” he said again as he walked away from the churchyard on the Sunday evening. “I don’t know what these people do with themselves when there’s no hunting and shooting. It seems unnatural to me that a man shouldn’t have his bread to earn — or a woman either in some form.” After that he went back to his inn.
On the Monday he went out to Cornbury Grange late in the afternoon. Butler Cornbury drove into Baslehurst with a pair of horses, and took him back in his phaeton.
“Give my fellow your portmanteau. That’s all right. You never were at the Grange, were you? It’s the prettiest five miles of a drive in Devonshire; but the walk along the river is the prettiest walk in England — which is saying a great deal more.”
“I know the walk well,” said Rowan, “though I never was inside the park.”
“It isn’t much of a park. Indeed there isn’t a semblance of a park about it. Grange is just the name for it, as it’s an upper-class sort of homestead for a gentleman farmer. We’ve lived there since long before Adam, but we’ve never made much of a house of it.”
“That’s just the sort of place that I should like to have myself.”
“If you had it you wouldn’t be content. You’d want to pull down the house and build a bigger one. It’s what I shall do some day, I suppose. But if I do it will never be so pretty again. I suppose that fellow will petition; won’t he?”
“I should say he would — though he won’t get anything by it.”
“He knows his purse is longer than ours, and he’ll think to frighten us — and, by George, he will frighten us too! My father is not a rich man by any means.”
“You should stand to your guns now.”
“I mean to do so, if I can. My wife’s father is made of money.”
“What! Mr Comfort?”
“Yes. He’s been blessed with the most surprising number of unmarried uncles and aunts that ever a man had. He’s rather fond of me, and likes the idea of my being in Parliament. I think I shall hint to him that he must pay for the idea. Here we are. Will you come and take a turn round the place before dinner?”
Rowan was then taken into the house and introduced to the old squire, who received him with the stiff urbanity of former days.
“You are welcome to the Grange, Mr Rowan. You’ll find us very quiet here; which is more, I believe, than can have been said of Baslehurst these last two or three days. My daughter-in-law is somewhere with the children. She’ll be here before dinner. Butler, has that tailor fellow gone back to London yet?”
Butler told his father that the tailor had at least gone away from Baslehurst; and then the two younger men went out and walked about the grounds till dinner time.
It was Mrs Butler Cornbury who gave soul and spirit to daily life at Cornbury Grange — who found the salt with which the bread was quickened, and the wine with which the heart was made glad. Marvellous is the power which can be exercised, almost unconsciously, over a company, or an individual, or even upon a crowd by one person gifted with good temper, good digestion, good intellects, and good looks. A woman so endowed charms not only by the exercise of her own gifts, but she endows those who are near her with a sudden conviction that it is they whose temper, health, talents, and appearance is doing so much for society. Mrs Butler Cornbury was such a woman as this. The Grange was a popular house. The old squire was not found to be very dull. The young squire was thought to be rather clever. The air of the house was lively and bracing. Men and women did not find the days there to be over long. And Mrs Butler Cornbury did it all.
Rowan did not see her till he met her in the dining-room, just before dinner, when he found that two or three other ladies were also staying there. She came up to him when he entered the room, and greeted him as though he were an old friend. All conversation at that moment of course had reference to the election. Thanks were given and congratulations received; and when old Mr Cornbury shook his head, his daughter, in-law assured him that there would be nothing to fear.
“I don’t know what you call nothing to fear, my dear. I call two thousand pounds a great deal to fear.”
“I shouldn’t wonder if we don’t hear another word about him,” said she.
The old man uttered a long sigh. “It seems to me”, said he, “that no gentleman ought to stand for a seat in Parliament since these people have been allowed to come up. Purity of election, indeed! It makes me sick. Come along, my dear.” Then he gave his arm to one of the young ladies, and toddled into the dining-room.
Mrs Butler Cornbury said nothing special to Luke Rowan on that evening, but she made the hours very pleasant to him. All those half-morbid ideas as to social difference between himself and his host’s family soon vanished. The house was very comfortable, the girls were very pretty, Mrs Cornbury was very kind, and everything went very well. On the following morning it was nearly ten when they sat down to breakfast, and half the morning before lunch had passed away in idle chat before the party bethought itself of what it should do for the day. At last it was agreed that they would all stroll out through the woods up to a special reach of the river which ran through a ravine of rock, called Cornbury Cleeves. Many in those parts declared that Cornbury Cleeves was the prettiest spot in England. I am not prepared to bear my testimony to the truth of that very wide assertion. I can only say that I know no prettier spot. The river here was rapid and sparkling; not rapid because driven into small compass, for its breadth was greater and more regular in its passage through the Cleeves than it was either above or below, but rapid from the declivity of its course. On one side the rocks came sheer down to the water, but on the other there was a strip of meadow, or rather a grassy amphitheatre, for the wall of rocks at the back of it was semicircular, so as to enclose the field on every side. There might be four or five acres of green meadow here; but the whole was so interspersed with old stunted oak trees and thorns standing alone that the space looked larger than it was. The rocks on each side were covered here and there with the richest foliage; and the spot might be taken to be a valley from which, as from that of Rasselas, there was no escape. Down close upon the margin of the water a bathing-house had been built, from which a plunge could be taken into six or seven feet of the coolest, darkest, cleanest water that a bather could desire in his heart.
“I suppose you never were here before,” said Mrs Cornbury to Rowan.
“Indeed I have,” said he. “I always think it such a grand thing that you landed magnates can’t keep all your delights to yourself. I dare say I’ve been here oftener than you have during the last three months.”
“That’s very likely, seeing that it’s my first visit this summer.”
“And I’ve been here a dozen times. I suppose you’ll think I’m a villainous trespasser when I tell you that I’ve bathed in that very house more than once.”
“Then you’ve done more than I ever did; and yet we had it made thinking it would do for ladies. But the water looks so black.”
“Ah! I like that, as long as it’s a clear black.”
“I like bathing where I can see the bright stones like jewels at the bottom. You can never do that in fresh water. It’s only in some nook of the sea, where there is no sand, when the wind outside has died away, and when the tide is quiet and at its full. Then one can drop gently in and almost fancy that one belongs to the sea as the mermaids do. I wonder how the idea of mermaids first came?”
“Someone saw a crowd of young women bathing.”
“But then how came they to have looking glasses and fishes’ tails?”
“The fishes’ tails were taken as granted because they were in the sea, and the looking-glasses because they were women,” said Rowan.
“And the one with as much reason as the other. By the by, Mr Rowan, talking of women, and fishes’ tails, and looking-glasses, and all other feminine attractions, when did you see Miss Ray last?”
Rowan paused before he answered her, and looking round perceived that he had strayed with Mrs Cornbury to the farthest end of the meadow, away from their companions. It immediately came across his mind that this was the matter on which Mrs Cornbury wished to speak to him, and by some combative process he almost resolved that he would not be spoken to on that matter.
“When did I see Miss Ray?” said he, repeating her question. “Two or three days after Mrs Tappitt’s party. I have not seen her since that.”
“And why don’t you go and see her?” said Mrs Cornbury.
Now this was asked him in a tone which made it necessary that he should either answer her question or tell her simply that he would not answer it. The questioner’s manner was so firm, so eager, so incisive, that the question could not be turned away.
“I am not sure that I am prepared to tell you,” said he.
“Ah! but I want you to be prepared,” said she; “or rather, perhaps, to tell the truth, I want to drive you to an answer without preparation. Is it not true that you made her an offer, and that she accepted it?”
Rowan thought a moment, and then he answered her, “It is true.”
“I should not have asked the question if I had not positively known that such was the case. I have never spoken a word to her about it, and yet I knew it. Her mother told my father.”
“And as that is so, why do you not go and see her? I am sure you are not one of those who would play such a trick as that upon such a girl with the mere purpose of amusing yourself.”
“Upon no girl would I do so, Mrs Cornbury.”
“I feel sure of it. Therefore why do you not go to her?” They walked along together for a few minutes under the rocks in silence, and then Mrs Cornbury again repeated her question, “Why do you not go to her?”
“Mrs Cornbury,” he said, “you must not be angry with me if I say that that is a matter which at the present moment I am not willing to discuss.”
“Nor must you be angry with me if, as Rachel’s friend, I say something further about it. As you do not wish to answer me, I will ask no other question; but at any rate you will be willing to listen to me. Rachel has never spoken to me on this subject — not a word; but I know from others who see her daily that she is very unhappy.”
“I am grieved that it should be so.”
“Yes, I knew you would be grieved. But how could it be otherwise? A girl, you know, Mr Rowan, has not other things to occupy her mind as a man has. I think of Rachel Ray that she would have been as happy there at Bragg’s End as the day is long, if no offer of love had come in her way. She was not a girl whose head had been filled with romance and who looked for such things. But for that very reason is she less able to bear the loss of it when the offer has come in her way. I think, perhaps, you hardly know the depth of her character and the strength of her love.”
“I think I know that she is constant.”
“Then why do you try her so hardly?”
Mrs Cornbury had promised that she would ask no more questions; but the asking of questions was her easiest mode of saying that which she had to say. And Rowan, though he had declared that he would answer no question, could hardly avoid the necessity of doing so.
“It may be that the trial is the other way.”
“I know — I understand. They made her write a letter to you. It was my father’s doing. I will tell you the whole truth. It was my father’s doing, and therefore it is that I think myself bound to speak to you. Her mother came to him for advice, and he had heard evil things spoken of you in Baslehurst. You will see that I am very frank with you. And I will take some credit to myself too. I believed such tidings to be altogether false, and I made inquiry which proved that I was right. But my father had given the advice which he thought best. I do not know what Rachel wrote to you, but a girl’s letter under such circumstances can hardly do more than express the will of those who guide her. It was sad enough for her to be forced to write such a letter. but it will be sadder still if you cannot be brought to forgive it.”
Then she paused, standing under the grey rock and looking up eagerly into his face. But he made her no answer. nor gave her any sign. His heart was very tender at that moment towards Rachel, but there was that in him of the stubbornness of manhood which would not let him make any sign of his tenderness.
“I will not press you to say anything, Mr Rowan,” she continued, “and I am much obliged to you for having listened to me. I’ve known Rachel Ray for many years, and that must be my excuse.”
“No excuse is wanting,” he said. “If I do not say anything it is not because I am offended. There are things on which a man should not allow himself to speak without considering them.”
“Oh, certainly. Come; shall we go back to them at the bathing house? They’ll think we’ve lost ourselves.”
Thus Mrs Cornbury said the words which she had desired to speak on Rachel Ray’s behalf.
When they reached the Grange there were still two hours left before the time of dressing for dinner should come, and during these hours Luke returned by himself to the Cleeves. He escaped from his host, and retraced his steps, and on reaching the river sat himself down on the margin, and looked into the cool dark running water. Had he been severe to Rachel? He would answer no such question when asked by Mrs Cornbury, but he was very desirous of answering it to himself. The women at the cottage had doubted him — Mrs Ray and her daughter, with perhaps that other daughter of whom he had only heard; and he had resolved that they should see him no more and hear of him no more till there should be no further room for doubt. Then he would show himself again at the cottage, and again ask Rachel to be his wife. There was some manliness in this; but there was also a hardness in his pride which deserved the rebuke which Mrs Cornbury’s words had conveyed to him. He had been severe to Rachel. Lying there. with his full length stretched upon the grass, he acknowledged to himself that he had thought more of his own feelings than of hers. While Mrs Cornbury had been speaking he could not bring himself to feel that this was the case. But now in his solitude he did acknowledge it. What amount of sin had she committed against him that she should be so punished by him who loved her? He took out her letter from his pocket, and found that her words were loving, though she had not been allowed to put into them that eager, pressing, speaking love which he had desired.
“Spoken ill of me, have they?” said he to himself, as he got up to walk back to the Grange. “Well, that was natural too. What an ass a man is to care for such things as that!”
On that evening and the next morning the Cornburys were very gracious to him; and then he returned to Baslehurst, on the whole well pleased with his visit.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14