There have been fiery August days in plenty; but never a more fiery one than this that I am going to tell of. It was Wednesday: and we were sitting under the big tree on the lawn at Dyke Manor. A tree it would have done you good only to look at on a blazing day: a large weeping ash, with a cool and shady space within it, large enough for a dozen chairs round, and a small table.
The chairs and the table were there now. On the latter stood iced cider and some sparkling lemonade: uncommonly good, both, on that thirsty day. Mr. Brandon, riding by on his cob, had called in to see us; and sat between me and Mrs. Todhetley. She was knitting something in green shades of wool. The Squire had on a straw hat; Tod lay on the grass outside, in the shade of the laurels; Hugh and Lena stood at the bench near him, blowing bubbles and chattering like magpies.
“Well, I don’t know,” said old Brandon, taking a draught of the lemonade. “It often happens with me if I plan to go anywhere much beforehand, that when the time comes I am not well enough for it.”
Mr. Todhetley had been telling him that he thought he should take the lot of us to the seaside for a week or two in September; and suggested that he should go with us. It had been a frightfully hot summer, and everybody felt worn out.
“Where shall you go?” questioned Mr. Brandon.
“Somewhere in Wales, I think,” said the Squire. “It’s easiest of access from here. Aberystwith, perhaps.”
“Not much of a sea at Aberystwith,” cried Mr. Brandon, in his squeaky voice.
“Well, it’s not quite a Gibraltar Rock, Brandon, but it does for us. The last time we went to the seaside; it is three years ago now ——”
“Four,” mildly put in Mrs. Todhetley, looking up from her wools.
“Four, is it! Well, it was Aberystwith we went to then; and we were very comfortably lodged. It was at a Mrs. Noon’s, I remember; and —— who’s coming now?”
A dash in at the gate was heard — a little startling Mr. Brandon, lest whatever it was should dash over his cob, tied to the gate-post — and then came the smooth run of light wheels on the gravel.
“Look out and see who it is, Johnny.”
Putting the leaves aside, I saw a light, elegant, open carriage, driven by a groom in livery; a gentleman seated beside him in dainty gloves.
“Why, that’s the Clement–Pells’ little carriage!” exclaimed Mrs. Todhetley, who had been looking for herself.
“And that’s Mr. Clement–Pell in it,” said I.
“Oh,” said Mr. Brandon. “I’ll go then.” But the Squire put up his arm to detain him.
Tod did the honours. Went to receive him, and brought him to us under the tree. The children stopped blowing bubbles to stare at Mr. Clement–Pell as he crossed the lawn. It struck me that just a shade of annoyance appeared in his face when he saw so many of us there. Shaking hands, he sat down by Mr. Todhetley, observing that it was some time since he had seen us. It was six weeks, or so: for we had not happened to meet him since that visit of mine and Tod’s at his house in Kensington. All the family were back again now at Parrifer Hall: and we were going to a grand entertainment there on the following day, Thursday. An open-air fête, the invitations had said.
“You have been very busy lately, Mr. Clement–Pell,” observed the Squire. “I’ve not been able to get to see you to thank you for the kindness of your folk to my boys in town. Twice I called at your chief Bank, but you were not visible.”
“I have been unusually busy,” was the answer. “Business gets worse; that is, more extensive; every day. I have had to be about a good deal besides; so that with one thing and another, my time has been more than fully occupied. I am very glad your young men enjoyed themselves with us in London,” he added in hearty tones.
Mr. Brandon gave me such a look that for the life of me I could not say a word in answer. The London visit, taking it altogether, had not been one of enjoyment: but Clement–Pell had no suspicion of the truth.
“Rather a rapid life, that London life,” remarked Mr. Brandon dryly. And I went hot all over, for fear he might be going to let out things to the company.
“Rapid?” repeated Mr. Clement–Pell. “Well, so it is; especially for us business men.”
Mr. Brandon coughed, but said no more. The Squire pressed refreshment on Mr. Clement–Pell. He’d have nothing to say to the cider — it would make him hotter, he thought — but took some of the lemonade. As he was putting the glass down Mrs. Todhetley asked whether tomorrow’s fête was to be as grand and large as was reported. And the annoyance, seen before, most certainly again crossed Clement–Pell’s face at the question.
“I do not really know much about it,” he answered. “These affairs are my wife’s, not mine.”
“And perhaps you don’t much care for them,” put in the Squire, who had noticed the expression.
“I should like them very much, if I had more time to spare for them,” said Mr. Clement–Pell, playing with his handsome chain and seals. “We men of large undertakings must be content to work ourselves, and to let our wives and daughters do the playing. However, I hope I shall manage an hour or two for this one tomorrow.”
“What are to be the amusements?” inquired Mrs. Todhetley.
“The question is, rather, what they are not to be,” smiled Mr. Clement–Pell. “I heard the girls talking about it with one another last night. Dancing, music, archery, fortune-telling ——”
“Something, I suppose, of what may be called a fancy-fair,” she interrupted.
“Just so. A fancy-fair without charge. At any rate, I make no doubt it will be pleasant: and I sincerely hope to see you all at it. You will come, I trust, Mr. Brandon. These things are not in your usual way, I am aware, but ——”
“I have neither the health nor the inclination for them,” said Mr. Brandon, quite shrilly, stopping him before he could finish.
“But I trust you will make an exception in favour of us tomorrow, I was about to say. Mrs. Clement–Pell and the Miss Clement–Pells will be so pleased to see you.”
“Thank you,” said old Brandon, in a tone only just short of rudeness. “I must be going, Squire.”
He got up as he spoke, shook hands with Mrs. Todhetley only, nodded to the rest of us, and set off across the lawn. Children liked him in spite of his voice and dry manner, and of course Hugh and Lena, pipes and soap-suds and all, attended him to the gate.
As the brown cob went trotting off, and the Squire was coming back again — for he had gone too — Mr. Clement–Pell met him half-way across the lawn, and then they both went indoors together.
“Clement–Pell must want something,” said Mrs. Todhetley. “Johnny, do you notice how very aged and worn he is? It never struck me until today. He looks quite grey.”
“Well, that’s because he is getting so. I shall be grey some time.”
“But I don’t mean that kind of greyness, Johnny; grey hairs. His face looks grey.”
“It was the reflection of these green leaves, good mother.”
“Well — perhaps it might be,” she doubtfully agreed, looking up. “What a grand fête it is to be, Johnny!”
“You’ll have to put on your best bib-and-tucker, good mother. That new dress you bought for the Sterlings’ christening.”
“I should if I went. But the fact is, Johnny, I and Mr. Todhetley have made up our minds not to go, I fancy. We were talking together about it this morning. However — we shall see when tomorrow comes.”
“I wouldn’t be you, then. That will be too bad.”
“These open-air fêtes are not in our way, Johnny. Dancing, and archery, and fortune-telling are not much in the way of us old people. You young ones think them delightful — as we did once. Hugh! Lena! what is all that noise about? You are not to take her bowl, Hugh: keep to your own. Joseph, please part them.”
Joe accomplished it by boxing the two. In the midst of the noise, Mr. Clement–Pell came out. He did not cross the lawn again to Mrs. Todhetley; just called out a good day in getting into his carriage, and lifted his hat as he drove away.
“I say, father, what did he want with you?” asked Tod, as the Squire came sauntering back, the skirts of his light coat held behind him.
“That’s my business, Joe,” said the Squire. “Mind your own.”
Which was a checkmate for Tod. The truth was, Tod had been uneasily wondering whether it might not be his business. That is, whether Mr. Clement–Pell had obtained scent of that gambling of his up in London and had come to enlighten the Squire. Tod never felt safe upon the point: which, you see, was all owing to his lively conscience.
“What a beautiful little carriage that is!” said Mrs. Todhetley to the Pater. “It puts me in mind of a shell.”
“Ay; must have cost a pretty penny, small as it is. Pell can afford these fancy things, with his floating wealth.”
In that city of seething crowds and wealth, London, where gigantic operations are the rule instead of the exception, and large fortunes are made daily, Mr. Clement–Pell would not have been thought much of; but in our simple country place, with its quiet experiences, Clement–Pell was a wonder. His riches were great. His power of making money for himself and others seemed elastic; and he was bowed down to as a reigning potentate — a king — an Olympian deity.
You have heard of him before. He had come to a neighbouring town some years back as manager of a small banking company, having given up, it was understood, a good law practice in London to undertake it. The small banking grew and grew under his management. Some of its superfluous hoards were profitably employed: to construct railroads; to work mines; to found colonies. All sorts of paying concerns were said to have some of Clement–Pell’s money in them, and to bring him in cent. per cent. It was believed that if all the wealth of the East India Company and the Bank of England to boot had been poured into the hands of Clement–Pell, it could not have been more than he would be able to use to profit, so great were the resources at his command. People fought with one another to get their money accepted by Mr. Clement–Pell. No wonder. The funds gave them a paltry three per cent. for it; Mr. Clement–Pell doubled the amount. So the funds lost the money, and Mr. Clement–Pell gained it. He was worshipped as the greatest benefactor that had ever honoured the country by settling down in it.
I think his manner went for something. It was so pleasant. The world itself might have loved Mr. Clement–Pell. Deputations asked for his portrait to hang up in public buildings; individuals besought his photograph. Mrs. Clement–Pell was less liked: she was extravagant and haughty. It was said she was of very high family indeed, and she could not have looked down upon common people with more scorn had she been born a duchess. I’m sure no duchess ever gave herself the airs that Mrs. Clement–Pell did, or wore such fine bonnets.
When Mr. Clement–Pell opened a little branch Bank at Church Dykely (as he had already done at two or three other small places), the parish at once ascended a few feet into the air. As Church Dykely in its humility had never possessed a Bank before, it was naturally something to be proud of. The Bank was a little house near to Duffham’s, the doctor, with a door and one window; no larger premises being obtainable. The natives collected round to gaze, and marvel at the great doings destined to be enacted behind that wire blind: and Mr. Clement–Pell was followed by a tail of admiring rustics whenever he stepped abroad.
Church Dykely only had its branch in what might be called the later years, dating from the beginning of the Clement–Pell dynasty, and when he had made a far and wide reputation, and was in the full tide of his prosperity. It was after its establishment that he took Parrifer Hall. This little branch Bank was found to be a convenience to many people. It had a manager and a clerk; and Mr. Clement–Pell would condescend to be at it occasionally, chiefly on Mondays. He was popular with all classes: county gentlemen and rich farmers asked him to dinner; the poor got from him many a kind word and handshake. Mrs. Clement–Pell dined with him at the gentlemen’s tables, but she turned up her nose at the farmers, and would not go near them. In short, take them for all in all, there was no family so grand in the county, or who made so much noise as the Clement–Pells. Their income was something enormous; and of course they might launch out if they liked. It had grown to be a saying amongst us, “As rich as the Clement–Pells.”
Mrs. Todhetley had said she supposed the entertainment would be something like a fancy-fair. We had not had a great experience of fancy-fairs in our county; but if they were all like this, I shouldn’t mind going to one twice a week. The sky was unclouded, the wind still, the leaves of the trees scarcely stirred. On the lawn the sun blazed hot and brilliant: but the groves were cool and shady. Since the place came into Mr. Clement–Pell’s occupancy, he had taken-in part of a field, and made the grounds more extensive. At least, Mrs. Clement–Pell had done so, which came to the same: spending money went for nothing with her. And why should it, when they had so much? If you climbed to the top of an artificial rockery you could see over the high hedge. I did so: and took a look at the chimneys of George Reed’s cottage. You’ve not forgotten him; and his trouble with Major Parrifer. But for that trouble, the Clement–Pells might never have had the chance of occupying Parrifer Hall.
It was as good as fairy-land. Flags hung about; banners waved; statues had decked themselves in garlands. The lawns and the walks were alive with company, the ladies sported gala dresses all the colours of the rainbow. Dancing, shooting, flirting, talking, walking, sitting; we were as gay as birds of paradise. There was a tent for the band, and another for refreshments, and no end of little marquees, dotted about, for anything. One was a post-office; where love-letters might be had for the asking. When I look back on that day now through the mist of years, it stands out as the gayest and sunniest left to memory. As to refreshment — you may think of anything you like and know it was there. There was no regular meal at all throughout the afternoon and evening; but you could begin eating and drinking when you went in if you chose, and never leave off till you left. The refreshment tent communicated with one of the doors of the house, through which fresh supplies came as they were wanted. All was cold. Besides this, there was a tea and coffee marquee, where the kettles were kept always on the boil. No one could say the Clement–Pells spared pains or expense to entertain their guests right royally.
Tod and I strolled about, to take in the whole scene. The Clement–Pell carriages (the big barouche and the small affair that Mrs. Todhetley had called a shell) came dashing up at intervals, graciously despatched to bring relays of guests who did not keep carriages of their own. Mrs. Clement–Pell stood on the lawn to receive them; the Miss Clement–Pells with her. If I were able to describe their attire I would do so; it beat anything for gorgeousness I had ever seen. Glistening silk skirts under robes of beautiful lace; fans in their hands and gossamer veils in their hair.
“I say, Tod, here they come!”
A sober carriage was driving slowly in. We knew it well: and its steady old horses and servants too. It was Sir John Whitney’s. Rushing round a side path, we were up with it when it stopped. Bill Whitney and his two sisters came tumbling out of it.
“It’s going on to your house now, with the trunk,” said Helen, to us. “William has been most awfully tiresome: he would put his every-day boots and coat in our box, instead of bringing a portmanteau for himself.”
“As if a fellow wanted a portmanteau for just one night!” exclaimed Bill. “What you girls can have in that big trunk, amazes me. I should say you are bringing your bed and pillows in it.”
“It has only our dresses for tomorrow morning in it, and all that,” retorted Helen, who liked to keep Bill in order and to domineer over him. “The idea of having to put in great clumsy boots with them, and a rough coat smelling of smoke!”
“This is to be left here, I think, Miss Helen,” said the footman, displaying a small black leather bag.
“Why, yes; it contains our combs and brushes,” returned Helen, taking it and giving it to one of the Clement–Pell servants, together with two cloaks for the evening.
Tod went up to the postillion. “Look here, Pinner: the Squire says you had better stop at the Manor to rest the horses. You will find the groom there, I dare say.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Pinner. “They’ll be a bit done up if we goes straight off back.”
The girls and Bill went up to the Clement–Pell group, and were made much of. It was the first time they had visited the Pells, and their coming was regarded as a special honour. Sir John and Lady Whitney had declined: and it was arranged that Bill and his sisters should sleep at our house, and the carriage come for them the next day.
Escaping from the Pells, we all sat down on a bench. Helen Whitney began whispering about the Miss Pells’ dresses.
“I never saw such beauties,” she exclaimed. “I wonder what they cost?”
“Millions, I should say,” cried Bill.
“These are plain ugly old things beside them,” grumbled Helen.
She meant her own dress and Anna’s. They wore white spotted muslins, and blue ribbons. One of those gorgeous robes was worth fifty times as much: but I know which set of girls looked the most lady-like.
“They are very beautiful,” sighed Helen, with a spice of envy. “But too much for an affair like this.”
“Not for them,” said Bill stoutly. “The Clement–Pells could afford robes of diamonds if they liked. I’m not sure but I shall go in for one of the girls.”
“Don’t talk nonsense,” reproved Helen.
We went into the fortune-telling tent. It was full of people, screaming and laughing. A real gipsy with a swarthy skin and black flowing locks was telling fortunes. Helen had hers told when she could make a place, and was promised a lord for a husband, and five-and-thirty grandchildren. At which the tent roared again, and Helen laughed too.
“And now it is your turn, my pretty little maid,” said the sibyl to Anna Whitney. And Anna, always modest and gentle, turned as red as a rose, and said she already knew as much of her own fortune as she desired to know at present.
“What’s in this hand?” cried the gipsy, suddenly seizing upon Tod’s big one, and devouring its lines with her eyes. “Nay, master; don’t draw it away, for there’s matter here, and to spare. You are not afraid, are you?”
“Not of you, my gipsy queen,” gallantly answered Tod, resigning his palm to her. “Pray let my fate be as good as you can.”
“It is a smooth hand,” she went on, never lifting her gaze. “Very smooth. You’ll not have many of the cares and crosses of life. Nevertheless, I see that you have been in some peril lately. And I should say it was connected with money. Debt.”
There were not many things could bring the colour to Joseph Todhetley’s face; but it matched then the scarlet mantle the gipsy wore slung over her right shoulder. You might have heard a pin drop in the sudden hush. Anna’s blue eyes were glancing shyly up through their long lashes.
“Peril of debt, or — perhaps — of — steeple-chasing,” continued the sibyl with deliberation; and at that the shouts of laughter broke out again through the tent, and Anna smiled. “Take you care of yourself, sir; for I perceive you will run into other perils before you settle down. You have neither caution nor foresight.”
“That’s true enough, I believe,” said Tod. “Any more?”
“No more. For you are just one of those imprudent mortals who will never heed a friendly warning. Were I you, I’d keep out of the world till I grew older.”
“Thank you,” said Tod, laughing as much as the rest of them: and he drew away his hand.
“Johnny, that was a near shave,” he whispered, putting his arm within mine when we had pushed our way out. “Was it all guesswork? Who the deuce is the woman?”
“I know who I think she is. The Pells’ English governess, Miss Phebus.”
“I do. She has got herself up in character and dyed her skin and hair.”
“Then, by George, if it is, she must have gathered an inkling of that matter in London.”
“I don’t see how.”
“Nor I. Johnny, some of these days I shall be bursting out with it to the Pater, and so get the weight off my mind.”
“I shouldn’t wonder. She says you have no caution.”
“It’s not pleasant, I can tell you, youngster, to live in dread that somebody else will bring it out to him. I’ll go in for this next dance, I think. Where’s Anna?”
Anna did not say no. She would never say no to anything he asked her, if I possessed the gift of divination. They joined the dancers; Bill and Helen went to the archery.
“And how are you enjoying it, pray, Johnny Ludlow?”
The voice nearly shot me off the arm of the bench. For it was Mr. Brandon’s. I don’t think there was any living man I should have been so surprised at seeing at the fête as he.
“Why! is it you, sir?”
“Yes, it is, Johnny. You need not stare as if you thought me an intruder. I was invited.”
“Yes, of course, sir. But I— I fancied you never came to such parties.”
“Never was at one like this — unless I went to it in my sleep,” he said, standing with me before the bench, and casting his eyes around. “I came today to look after you.”
“After me, sir!”
“Yes, after you. And perhaps a little bit after your friend, Todhetley. Mr. Pell informed us the entertainments would include fortune-telling: I didn’t know but there might be a roulette-table as well. Or cards, or dice, or billiards.”
“Oh no, sir; there’s nothing of that sort.”
“It’s not the fault of the young Pells, I expect, then. That choice companion of yours, called Gusty, and the other one in scarlet.”
“Neither of them is here, Mr. Brandon. Gusty has gone to the Highlands for grouse-shooting; and Fabian sent word he couldn’t get leave to come down. I have not seen the eldest son yet, but I suppose he is somewhere about.”
“Oh,” said Mr. Brandon — and whenever he spoke of the Pells his voice was thinner than ever, and most decidedly took a mocking sound —“gone grouse-shooting, is Gusty! And the other can’t get leave. A lieutenant, is he not?”
“Yes, a lieutenant. His sister Constance has just told us she does not believe it is true that he could not get leave. She thinks he never asked for it, because he wanted to stay in London.”
“Ah. It’s fine to be the Pells, Johnny. One son off to shoot grouse; another living his fast London life; the rest holding grand doings down here that could hardly be matched by the first nobleman amongst us. Very fine. Wonder what they spend a year — taking it in the aggregate?”
“Have you been here long, sir?”
“Half-an-hour, or so — I’ve been looking about me, Johnny, and listening to the champagne corks popping off. Squire here?”
“No. He and Mrs. Todhetley did not come.”
“Sensible people. Where’s young Joe?”
“He is with the Whitneys. Dancing with Anna, I think.”
“And he had better keep to that,” said Mr. Brandon, with a little nod. “He’ll get no harm there.”
We sat down, side by side. Taking a side-glance at him, I saw his eyes fixed on Mrs. and the Miss Clement–Pells, who were now mixing with the company. He did not know much about ladies’ dress, but theirs seemed to strike him.
“Showy, Johnny, is it not?”
“It looks very bright in the sun, sir.”
“No doubt. So do spangles.”
“It’s real, sir, that lace. Helen Whitney says so.”
“A great deal too real. So is the rest of it. Hark at the music and the corks and the laughter! Look at the people, and the folly!”
“Don’t you like the fête, sir?”
“Johnny, I hate it with my whole heart.”
I was silent. Mr. Brandon was always more queer than other people.
“Is it in keeping with the Pells, this upstart grandeur and profusion? Come, Johnny Ludlow, you’ve some sense in your head: answer me. They have both risen from nothing, Johnny. When he began life, Pell’s ambition was to rise to a competency; an el dorado of three or four hundred a year: and that only when he had worked for it. I have seen her take in the milk for their tea from the milkman at the door; when they kept one servant to do everything. Pell rose by degrees and grew rich; so much the more credit due to his perseverance and his business talents ——”
“And would you not have them spend their riches, Mr. Brandon?”
“Spend their riches! — of course I would, in a proper way. Don’t you interrupt your elders, Johnny Ludlow. Where would be the use of a man’s getting money unless he spent some of it. But not in this way; not in the lavish and absurd and sinful profusion that they have indulged in of late years. Is it seemly, or right, or decent, the way they live in? The sons apeing the manners and company of their betters, of young fellows who are born to the peerage and their thousands a year? The mother holding her head in the air as if she wore an iron collar: the daughters with their carriages and their harps and their German governesses, and their costly furbelows that are a scandal on common sense? The world has run mad after these Pells of late years: but I know this much — I have been ashamed only to look on at the Pells’ unseemly folly.”
At that moment Martha Jane Pell — in the toilette that Bill Whitney said must have cost “millions”— went looming by, flirting with Captain Connaught. Mr. Brandon looked after them with his little eyes.
“They are too fine for their station, Johnny. They were not born to this kind of thing; were not reared to it; have only plunged into it of recent years, and it does not sit well upon them. One can only think of upstarts all the time. The Pells might have lived as gentlepeople; ay, and married their children to gentlemen and gentlewomen had they pleased: but, to launch out in this unseemly way, has been a just humiliation to themselves, and has rendered them a poor, pitiful laughing-stock in the eyes of all right-minded people. It’s nothing less than a burlesque on all the proprieties of life. And it may be that we have not seen the end of it, Johnny.”
“Well, sir, they can hardly be grander than ——”
“Say more assuming, lad.”
“I suppose I meant that, Mr. Brandon. Perhaps you think they’ll be for taking the Marquis’s place, Ragley, next, if it should come into the market. Or Eastnor Castle: or ——”
“I did not mean exactly in that way, Johnny,” he interrupted again, a queer look on his thin lips as he got up.
“Are you going into the eating tent, sir?”
“I am going away. Now that I have seen that you and Joe Todhetley are tolerably safe from gaming tables and the like, there’s nothing further to keep me here. I feel a sort of responsibility in regard to you two, seeing that that unpleasant secret lies with me, and not with Joe’s father.”
“It is early to go, sir. The fun has hardly begun.”
“None too early for me. I am a magistrate; looked up to, in a manner, in the neighbourhood, insignificant though I am. It is not I who will countenance this upstart foolery by my presence longer than I can help, Johnny Ludlow.”
Mr. Brandon disappeared. The hours went on to twilight and then to dark. Once during the evening I caught sight of Mr. Clement–Pell: and what occurred as I did so was like a bit of romance. People crowded the side paths under the light of the Chinese lanterns. For lanterns were hanging on the trees and shrubs, and the whole scene was one of enchantment out of the Arabian Nights. One of the remote walks was not lighted; perhaps it had been forgotten. I had missed Bill Whitney and was at the end of the grounds hunting for him, when I saw, through the trees, a solitary figure pacing this dark walk with his arms folded. It was not very likely to be Bill: but there was no harm in going to see.
It turned out to be Mr. Clement–Pell. But before I got out of the trees into the walk — for it was the nearest way back to the lights and the company — some one pushed through the trees on the opposite side of the path, and stood in front of him. The moon shone as much as an August moon ever does shine; and I saw Clement–Pell start as if he had been told his house was on fire.
“I thought this might be a likely place to find you,” said the stranger in a savage whisper. “You have kept out of my way for two days at the Bank — too busy to see me, eh? — so, hearing what was going on here, I took the train and came over.”
“I’m sure I am-happy to see you, Mr. Johnson,” cried Clement–Pell in a voice that seemed to tremble a little; and unless the moonlight was in fault, he had turned as pale as a ghost. “Would have sent you an invitation had I known you were down.”
“I dare say you would! I did not come to attend festivals, Pell, but to settle business-matters.”
“You must be aware I cannot attend to business to-night,” interrupted Clement–Pell. “Neither do I ever enter upon it at my own residence. I will see you tomorrow morning at eleven at the Bank.”
“Honour bright? Or is it a false plea, put forth to shuffle out of me now?”
“I will see you tomorrow morning at the Bank at eleven o’clock,” repeated Clement–Pell, emphatically. “We are very busy just now, and I must be there the first thing. And now, Mr. Johnson, if you will go into the refreshment tent, and make yourself at home ——”
“No refreshments for me, thank you: I must hasten away to catch the train. But first of all, I will ask you a question: and answer it you must, whether it is your habit of entering on business at home, or whether it is not. Is it true that ——”
I did not want to hear more secrets, and went crashing through the trees. I should have gone before, but for not liking they should know any one was there. They turned round.
“Oh, is it you, Mr. Ludlow?” cried Pell, putting out his hand as I passed them.
“Yes, sir. I am looking for young Whitney. Have you seen him?”
“I think I saw him at the door of one of the tents, just now. You’ll find him amongst the company, I dare say. The Squire and Mrs. Todhetley have not come, I hear.”
“Ah well — give my very kind regards to them, and say I am sorry. I hope you are taking care of yourself — in the way of refreshments.”
The stranger and I had stood facing each other. He was a very peculiar-looking man with a wide stare; black hair, white whiskers, and very short legs. I thought it anything but good manners of him to come over, as he had confessed to have done, to disturb Clement–Pell at such a time.
At nine o’clock Giles arrived with the pony-carriage for the young ladies and two of us: the other and Giles were to walk. But we didn’t see the fun of leaving so early. Giles said he could not wait long: he must be back to get old Jacobson’s gig ready, who was spending the evening at the Manor. The Jacobsons, being farmers, though they were wealthy, and lived in good old style, had been passed over when Mrs. Clement–Pell’s invitations went out. So Tod sent Giles and the carriage back again, with a message that we all preferred walking, and should follow shortly.
Follow, we did; but not shortly. It was past eleven when we got away. The dancing had been good, and no one was at hand to say we must leave. Helen and Anna Whitney came out with their cloaks on. What with the dancing and the sultriness of the weather, the night was about as hot as an oven. We were almost the last to leave: but did not mean to say so at home. It was a splendid night, though; very clear, the moon larger than usual. We went on in no particular order; the five of us turning out of the Parrifer gates together.
“Oh,” screamed Helen, when we were some yards down the road, “where’s the bag? Anna, have you brought the bag?”
“No,” replied Anna. “You told me you would bring it.”
“Well — I meant to do so. William, you must run back for it.”
“Oh, bother the bag,” said Bill. “You girls can’t want the bag to-night. I’ll come over for it in the morning.”
“Not want it! — Why, our combs and brushes and thin shoes are in it,” retorted Helen. “It is on a chair in that little room off the hall. Come, William, go for it.”
“I’ll go, Helen,” I said. “Walk quietly on, and I shall catch you up.”
The grounds looked quite deserted: the Chinese lanterns had burned themselves out, and the doors appeared closed. One of the side windows was open and gay with light; I thought it would be less trouble to enter that way, and leaped up the balcony steps to the empty room. Empty, as I took it to be.
Well, it was a sort of shock. The table had a desk and a heap of papers on it, and on it all lay a man’s head. The face was hidden in his hands, but he lifted it as I went in.
It was Clement–Pell. But I declare that at the first moment I did not know him. If ever you saw a face more haggard than other faces, it was his. He sat bolt upright in his chair then, and stared at me as one in awful fear.
“I beg your pardon, sir. I did not know any one was here.”
“Oh, it is you,” he said, and broke out into a smile — which somehow made the face look even more worn and weary than before. “I thought you had all left.”
“So we have, sir. But Miss Whitney forgot her bag, and I have run back for it. She left it in the small room in the hall.”
“Oh ay, all right,” he said. “You can go and get it, and run out this way again if you like. I dare say the hall-door is closed.”
“Good night, sir,” I said, coming back with the bag. “We have had a most delightful day, Mr. Clement–Pell, and I’m sure we ought to thank you for it.”
“I am glad it has been pleasant. Good night.”
The trees were pretty thick on this side the house. In passing a grove a few paces from the window, I saw something that was neither trunks nor leaves; but Mr. Johnson’s face with its black hair and white whiskers. He was hiding in the trees, his face peeping out to look at the room and at Clement–Pell.
It made me feel queer. It made me think of treachery. Though what treachery, or where, I hardly knew. Not a trace was to be seen of the face now: he drew it in; no doubt to let me pass. Ought I to warn Mr. Pell that he was being watched? I had distinctly heard the man say he was going away directly: why had he stayed? Yes, it would be right and kind. Walking a bit further, I quietly turned back.
Clement–Pell had a pen in his hand this time, and was poring over what seemed to be a big account-book, or ledger. He looked surprised again, but spoke quietly.
“Still left something behind you, Mr. Ludlow?”
“No, sir, not this time,” I said, speaking below my breath. “I thought I would come back and tell you, Mr. Pell, that some one outside is watching this room. If ——”
I broke off in sheer astonishment. He started up from his chair and came creeping to where I stood, to hide himself as it seemed from the watcher, his haggard cheeks white as death. But he put a good face on it to me.
“I could not hear you,” he whispered. “What did you say? Some one watching?”
“It is the same man I saw you talking to in the dark walk to-night, with the black hair and white whiskers. Perhaps he means no harm, sir; he is hiding in the trees, and just peeping out to look in here.”
“You are sure it is that same man?” he asked with a relieved air.
“Then it is all right. Mr. Johnson is an eccentric friend of mine. Rather — in fact, rather given to take at times more than is good for him. I suppose he has been going in for champagne. I— I thought it might be some bad character.”
It might be “all right,” as Mr. Pell said: I fancied, by the relieved tone, that it was so: but I felt quite sure that he had cause to fear, if not Mr. Johnson, some one else. At that moment there arose a slight rustle of leaves outside, and he stood, holding his breath to listen, his finger raised. The smell of the shrubs was borne freely on the night air.
“It is only the wind: there must be a little breeze getting up,” said Mr. Clement–Pell. “Thank you; and good night. Oh, by the way, don’t talk of this, Mr. Ludlow. If Johnson has been exceeding, he would not like to hear of it again.”
“No fear, sir. Once more, good night.”
Before I had well leaped the steps of the balcony, the window, a very heavy one, was closed with a bang, and the shutters being put to. Glancing back, I saw the white face of Clement–Pell through the closing shutters, and then heard the bolts shot. What could he be afraid of? Perhaps Johnson turned mad when he drank. Some men do.
“Have you been making that bag, Johnny?” they called out when I caught them up.
“I’m sure it was on the chair,” said Helen.
“Oh, I found it at once. I stayed talking with Mr. Pell. I say, has the night grown damp? — or is it my fancy?”
“What does it matter?” returned Bill Whitney. “I wish I was in a bath, for my part, if it was only cold water.”
The Squire stood at the end of the garden when we reached home, with old Jacobson, whose gig was waiting. After reproaching us with our sins, first for sending the carriage back empty, then for being so late, the Squire came round and asked all about the party. Old Jacobson drew in his lips as he listened.
“It’s fine to be the Clement–Pells!” cried he. “Why, a Duke–Royal could not give a grander party than that. Real lace for gowns, had they! No wonder Madame Pell turns her nose up at farmers!”
“Did Clement–Pell send me any particular message?” asked the Pater.
“He sent his kind regards,” I said. “And he was sorry you and Mrs. Todhetley did not go.”
“It was a charming party,” cried Helen Whitney. “Papa and mamma put it to us, when the invitation came — would we go, or would we not go. They don’t much care for the Clement–Pells. I am glad we did go: I would not have missed it for the world. But there’s something about the Clement–Pells that tells you they are not gentlepeople.”
“Oh, that’s the show and the finery,” said Bill.
“No, I think it lies more in their tones and their manner of speaking,” said Helen.
“Johnny, are you quite sure Clement–Pell sent me no message, except kind regards, and that?”
“Quite sure, sir.”
“Well, it’s very odd.”
“What is very odd, sir?”
“Never you mind, Johnny.”
This was after breakfast on the Saturday morning. The Squire was opening a letter that the post had brought, and looked up to ask me. Not that the letter had anything to do with Clement–Pell, for it only enclosed a bill for some ironmongery bought at Evesham.
On the Friday the Whitneys had gone home, and Tod with them. So I was alone: with nothing to do but to wish him back again.
“I am going to Alcester, Johnny,” said the Pater, in the course of the morning. “You can come with me if you like.”
“Then will you please bring me back some money?” cried Mrs. Todhetley. “You will pass the Bank, I suppose.”
“It’s where I am going,” returned the Pater: and I thought his voice had rather a grumbling tone in it.
We took the pony-carriage, and he let me drive. It was as hot as ever; and the Squire wondered when the autumn cool would be coming in. Old Brandon happened to be at his gate as we went by, and the Pater told me to pull up.
“Going in to Alcester?” cried Mr. Brandon.
“Just as far as the Bank,” said the Pater. “So I hear you went to the Clement–Pells’ after all, Brandon.”
“I looked in to see what it was like,” said old Brandon, giving me a moment’s hard stare: as much as to recall to my mind what had really taken him there.
“It was a dashing affair, I hear.”
“Rather too much so for me,” cried Mr. Brandon drily. “Where’s your son, sir?”
“Oh, he’s gone home with the Whitneys’ young folk. How hot it is today!”
“Ay. Too hot to stand in it long. Drive on, Johnny.”
The Squire went in to the Bank alone, leaving me with the carriage. He banked with the Old Bank at Worcester; but it was a convenience to have some little money nearer in case of need, and he had recently opened a small account at Alcester. Upon which Clement–Pell had said he might as well have opened it with him, at his Church Dykely branch. But the Squire explained that he had as good as promised the Alcester people, years ago, that if he did open an account nearer than Worcester it should be with them. He came out, looking rather glum, stuffing some notes into his pocket-book.
“Turn the pony round, Johnny,” said he. “We’ll go back. It’s too hot to stay out today.”
“Yes, sir. Is anything the matter?”
“Anything the matter! No. Why do you ask?”
“I thought you looked put out, sir.”
“There’s nothing the matter. Only I think men of business should not be troubled with short memories. Take care of that waggon. What’s the fellow galloping his horses at that rate for? Now, Johnny, I say, take care. Or else, give me the reins.”
I nearly laughed. At home they never seemed to think I could do anything. If they did let me drive, it was always Now take care of this, Johnny; or, Take care of that. And yet I was a more careful driver than Tod: though I might not have had so much strength as he to pull up a four-inhand team had it run away.
“Go round through Church Dykely, Johnny, and stop at Pell’s Bank,” said the Squire, as I was turning off on the direct road home.
I turned the pony’s head accordingly. It took us about a mile out of our way. The pavement was so narrow and the Bank room so small, that I heard all that passed when the Squire went in.
“Is Mr. Clement–Pell here?”
“Oh dear no, sir,” replied the manager. “He is always at the chief Bank on Saturday. Did you want him?”
“Not particularly. Tell him I think he must have forgotten to send to me.”
“I’ll tell him, sir. He may look in here to-night on his return. If you wish to see him yourself, he will be here all day on Monday.”
The Squire came out and got in again. Cutting round the sharp corner by Perkins the butcher’s, I nearly ran into Mrs. and the Miss Clement–Pells, who were crossing the dusty road in a line like geese, the one behind the other; their muslins sweeping the highway like brooms, and their complexions sheltered under point lace parasols.
“There you go again, Johnny! Pull up, sir.”
I pulled up: and the heads came from under the parasols, and grouped round to speak to us. They had quite recovered Thursday’s fatigue, Mrs. Clement–Pell graciously said, in answer to the Squire’s inquiries; and she hoped all her young friends had done the same, Mr. Todhetley’s young friends in particular.
“They felt no fatigue,” cried the Pater, “Why, ma’am, they’d keep anything of that sort up for a week and a day, and not feel it. How’s Mr. Clement–Pell?”
“He is as well as he allows himself to be,” she answered. “I tell him he is wearing himself out with work. His business is of vast magnitude, Mr. Todhetley. Good day.”
“So it is,” acquiesced the Pater as we drove on, partly to himself, partly to me. “Of vast magnitude. For my part, I’d rather do less, although it involved less returns. One can forgive a man, like him, forgetting trifles. And, Johnny, I shouldn’t wonder but his enormous riches render him careless of small obligations.”
Part of which was unintelligible to me.
Sunday passed. We nodded to the Miss Clement–Pells at church (their bonnets making the pew look like a flower-garden); but did not see Mr. Clement–Pell or his wife. Monday passed; bringing a note from Tod, to say Lady Whitney and Bill would not let him leave yet. Tuesday morning came in. I happened to be seated under the hedge in the kitchen-garden, mending a fishing-rod, when a horse dashed up to the back gate. Looking through, I saw it was the butcher boy, Sam Rimmer. Molly, who was in one of her stinging tempers that morning, came out.
“We don’t want nothing,” said she tartly. “So you might have spared yourself the pains of coming.”
“Don’t want nothing!” returned the boy. “Why’s that?”
“Why’s that!” she retorted. “It’s like your imperence to ask. Do families want joints every day; specially such weather as this? I a-going to cook fowls for dinner, and we’ve the cold round o’ beef for the kitchen. Now you know why, Sam Rimmer.”
Sam Rimmer sat looking at her as if in a quandary, gently rubbing his hair, which shone again in the sun.
“Well, it’s a pity but you wanted some,” said he, slowly. “We’ve gone and been and pervided a shop full o’ meat today, and it’ll be a dead loss on the master. The Clement–Pells don’t want none, you see: and they took a’most as much as all the rest o’ the gentlefolks put together. There’s summat up there.”
“Summat up where?” snapped Molly.
“At the Clement–Pells’. The talk is, that they’ve busted-up, and be all gone off in consekence.”
“Why, what d’ye mean?” cried Molly. “Gone off where? Busted-up from what?”
But, before Perkins’s boy could answer, the Pater, walking about the path in his straw hat and light thin summer coat, came on the scene. He had caught the words.
“What’s that you are saying about the Clement–Pells, Sam Rimmer?”
Sam Rimmer touched his hair, and explained. Upon going to Parrifer Hall for orders, he had found it all sixes-and-sevens; some of the servants gone, the rest going. They told him their master had bursted-up, and was gone away since Sunday morning; and the family since Monday morning. And his master, Perkins, would have all the meat left on his hands that he had killed on purpose for the Clement–Pells.
You should have seen the Squire’s amazed face. At first he did not know how to take the words, and stared at Sam Rimmer without speaking.
“All the Banks has went and busted-up too,” said Sam. “They be a-saying, sir, as how there won’t be nothing for nobody.”
The Squire understood now. He turned tail and rushed into the house. And rushed against Mr. Brandon, who was coming in.
“Well, have you heard the news?” asked Mr. Brandon in his thinnest voice.
“I can’t believe it; I don’t believe it,” raved the Squire. “Clement–Pell would never be such a swindler. He owes me two hundred pounds.”
Mr. Brandon opened his little eyes. “Owes it you!”
“That day, last week, when he came driving in, in his smart cockle-shell carriage — when you were here, you know, Brandon. He got a cheque for two hundred pounds from me. A parcel of money that ought to have come over from the chief Bank had not arrived, he said, and the Church Dykely branch might be run close; would I let him have a cheque for two or three hundred pounds on the Bank at Alcester. I told him I did not believe I had anything like two hundred pounds lying at Alcester: but I drew a cheque out for that amount, and wrote a note telling the people there to cash it, and I would make it right.”
“And Pell drove straight off to Alcester then and there, and cashed the cheque?” said Mr. Brandon in his cynical way.
“He did. He had told me I should receive the money on the following day. It did not come, or on the Friday either; and on Saturday I went to Alcester, thinking he might have paid it in there.”
“Which of course he had not,” returned old Brandon. “Well, you must have been foolish, to be so taken-in.”
“Taken-in!” roared the Squire, in a passion. “Why, if he had asked me for two thousand pounds he might have had it — a man with the riches of Clement–Pell.”
“Well, he wouldn’t have got any from me. One who launched out as he did, and let his family launch out, I should never put much trust in. Any way, the riches are nowhere; and it is said Pell is nowhere too.”
It was all true. As Sam Rimmer put it, Clement–Pell and his Banks had bursted-up.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55