He was one of the worst magistrates that ever sat upon the bench of justices. Strangers were given to wonder how he got his commission. But, you see, men are fit or unfit for a post according to their doings in it; and, generally speaking, people cannot tell what those doings will be beforehand.
They called him Major: Major Parrifer: but he only held rank in a militia regiment, and every one knows what that is. He had bought the place he lived in some years before, and christened it Parrifer Hall. The worst title he could have hit upon; seeing that the good old Hall, with a good old family in it, was only a mile or two distant. Parrifer Hall was only a stone’s throw, so to say, beyond our village, Church Dykely.
They lived at a high rate; money was not wanting; the Major, his wife, six daughters, and a son who did not come home very much. Mrs. Parrifer was stuck-up: it is one of our county sayings, and it applied to her. When she called on people her silk gowns rustled as if lined with buckram; her voice was loud, her manner patronizing; the Major’s voice and manner were the same; and the girls took after them.
Close by, at the corner of Piefinch Lane, was a cottage that belonged to me. To me, Johnny Ludlow. Not that I had as yet control over that or any other cottage I might possess. George Reed rented the cottage. It stood in a good large garden which touched Major Parrifer’s side fence. On the other side the garden, a high hedge divided it from the lane: but it had only a low hedge in front, with a low gate in the middle. Trim, well-kept hedges: George Reed took care of that.
There was quite a history attaching to him. His father had been indoor servant at the Court. When he married and left it, my grandfather gave him a lease of this cottage, renewable every seven years. George was the only son, had been very decently educated, but turned out wild when he grew up and got out of everything. The result was, that he was only a day-labourer, and never likely to be anything else. He took to the cottage after old Reed’s death, and worked for Mr. Sterling; who had the Court now. George Reed was generally civil, but uncommonly independent. His first wife had died, leaving a daughter, Cathy; later on he married again. Reed’s wild oats had been sown years ago; he was thoroughly well-conducted and industrious now, working in his own garden early and late.
When Cathy’s mother died, she was taken to by an aunt, who lived near Worcester. At fifteen she came home again, for the aunt had died. Her ten years’ training there had done very little for her, except make her into a pretty girl. Cathy had been trained to idleness, but to very little else. She could sing; self-taught of course; she could embroider handkerchiefs and frills; she could write a tolerable letter without many mistakes, and was great at reading, especially when the literature was of the halfpenny kind issued weekly. These acquirements (except the last) were not bad things in themselves, but quite unsuited to Cathy Reed’s condition and her future prospects in life. The best that she could aspire to, the best her father expected for her, was that of entering on a light respectable service, and later to become, perhaps, a labourer’s wife.
The second Mrs. Reed, a quiet kind of young woman, had one little girl only when Cathy came home. She was almost struck dumb when she found what had been Cathy’s acquirements in the way of usefulness; or rather what were her deficiencies. The facts unfolded themselves by degrees.
“Your father thinks he’d like you to get a service with some of the gentlefolks, Cathy,” her step-mother said to her. “Perhaps at the Court, if they could make room for you; or over at Squire Todhetley’s. Meanwhile you’ll help me with the work at home for a few weeks first; won’t you, dear? When another little one comes, there’ll be a good deal on my hands.”
“Oh, I’ll help,” answered Cathy, who was a good-natured, ready-speaking girl.
“That’s right. Can you wash?”
“No,” said Cathy, with a very decisive shake of the head.
“Oh dear, no.”
“Can you iron?”
“Your aunt was a seamstress; can you sew well?”
“I don’t like sewing.”
Mrs. Reed looked at her, but said no more then, rather leaving practice instead of theory to develop Cathy’s capabilities. But when she came to put her to the test, she found Cathy could not, or would not, do any kind of useful work whatever. Cathy could not wash, iron, scour, cook, or sweep; or even sew plain coarse things, such as are required in labourers’ families. Cathy could do several kinds of fancy-work. Cathy could idle away her time at the glass, oiling her hair, and dressing herself to the best advantage; Cathy had a smattering of history and geography and chronology; and of polite literature, as comprised in the pages of the aforesaid halfpenny and penny weekly romances. The aunt had sent Cathy to a cheap day-school where such learning was supposed to be taught: had let her run about when she ought to have been cooking and washing; and of course Cathy had acquired a distaste for work. Mrs. Reed sat down aghast, her hands falling helpless on her lap, a kind of fear of what might be Cathy’s future stealing into her heart.
“Child, what is to become of you?”
Cathy had no qualms upon the point herself. She gave a laughing kiss to the little child, toddling round the room by the chairs, and took out of her pocket one of those halfpenny serials, whose thrilling stories of brigands and captive damsels she had learnt to make her chief delight.
“I shall have to teach her everything,” sighed disappointed Mrs. Reed. “Catherine, I don’t think the kind of useless things your aunt has taught you are good for poor folk like us.”
Good! Mrs. Reed might have gone a little further. She began her instruction, but Cathy would not learn. Cathy was always good-humoured; but of work she would do none. If she attempted it, Mrs. Reed had to do it over again.
“Where on earth will the gentlefolks get their servants from, if the girls are to be like you?” cried honest Mrs. Reed.
Well, time went on; a year or two. Cathy Reed tried two or three services, but did not keep them. Young Mrs. Sterling at the Court at length took her. In three months Cathy was home again, as usual. “I do not think Catherine will be kept anywhere,” Mrs. Sterling said to her step-mother. “When she ought to have been minding the baby, the nurse would find her with a strip of embroidery in her hand, or buried in the pages of some bad story that can only do her harm.”
Cathy was turned seventeen when the warfare set in between her father and Major Parrifer. The Major suddenly cast his eyes on the little cottage outside his own land and coveted it. Before this, young Parrifer (a harmless young man, with no whiskers, and sandy hair parted down the middle) had struck up an acquaintance with Cathy. When he left Oxford (where he got plucked twice, and at length took his name off the books) he would often be seen leaning over the cottage-gate, talking to Cathy in the garden, with the two little half-sisters that she pretended to mind. There was no harm: but perhaps Major Parrifer feared it might grow into it; and he badly wanted the plot of ground, that he might pull down the cottage and extend his own boundaries to Piefinch Lane.
One fine day in the holidays, when Tod and I were indoors making flies for fishing, our old servant, Thomas, appeared, and said that George Reed had come over and wanted to speak to me. Which set us wondering. What could he want with me?
“Show him in here,” said Tod.
Reed came in: a tall, powerful man of forty; with dark, curling hair, and a determined, good-looking face. He began saying that he had heard Major Parrifer was after his cottage, wanting to buy it; so he had come over to beg me to interfere and stop the sale.
“Why, Reed, what can I do?” I asked. “You know I have no power.”
“You wouldn’t turn me out of it yourself, I know, sir.”
“That I wouldn’t.”
Neither would I. I liked George Reed. And I remembered that he used to have me in his arms sometimes when I was a little fellow at the Court. Once he carried me to my mother’s grave in the churchyard, and told me she had gone to live in heaven.
“When a rich gentleman sets his mind on a poor man’s bit of a cottage, and says, ‘That shall be mine,’ the poor man has not much chance against him, sir, unless he that owns the cottage will be his friend. I know you have no power at present, Master Johnny; but if you’d speak to Mr. Brandon, perhaps he would listen to you.”
“Sit down, Reed,” interrupted Tod, putting his catgut out of hand. “I thought you had the cottage on a lease.”
“And so I have, sir. But the lease will be out at Michaelmas next, and Mr. Brandon can turn me from it if he likes. My father and mother died there, sir; my wife died there; my children were born there; and the place is as much like my homestead as if it was my own.”
“How do you know old Parrifer wants it?” continued Tod.
“I have heard it from a safe source. I’ve heard, too, that his lawyer and Mr. Brandon’s lawyer have settled the matter between their two selves, and don’t intend to let me as much as know I’m to go out till the time comes, for fear I should make a row over it. Nobody on earth can stop it except Mr. Brandon,” added Reed, with energy.
“Have you spoken to Mr. Brandon, Reed?”
“No, sir. I was going up to him; but the thought took me that I’d better come off at once to Master Ludlow; his word might be of more avail than mine. There’s no time to be lost. If once the lawyers get Mr. Brandon’s consent, he may not be able to recall it.”
“What does Parrifer want with the cottage?”
“I fancy he covets the bit of garden, sir; he sees the order I’ve brought it into. If it’s not that, I don’t know what it can be. The cottage can be no eyesore to him; he can’t see it from his windows.”
“Shall I go with you, Johnny?” said Tod, as Reed went home, after drinking the ale old Thomas had given him. “We will circumvent that Parrifer, if there’s law or justice in the Brandon land.”
We went off to Mr. Brandon’s in the pony-carriage, Tod driving. He lived near Alcester, and had the management of my property whilst I was a minor. As we went along who should ride past, meeting us, but Major Parrifer.
“Looking like the bull-dog that he is,” cried Tod, who could not bear the man. “Johnny, what will you lay that he has not been to Mr. Brandon’s? The negotiations are becoming serious.”
Tod did not go in. On second thought, he said it might be better to leave it to me. The Squire must try, if I failed. Mr. Brandon was at home; and Tod drove on into Alcester by way of passing the time.
“But I don’t think you can see him,” said the housekeeper, when she came to me in the drawing-room. “This is one of his bad days. A gentleman called just now, and I went in to the master, but it was of no use.”
“I know; it was Major Parrifer. We thought he might have been calling here.”
Mr. Brandon was thin and little, with a shrivelled face. He lived alone, except for three or four servants, and always fancied himself ill with one ailment or another. When I went in, for he said he’d see me, he was sitting in an easy-chair, with a geranium-coloured Turkish cap on his head, and two bottles of medicine at his elbow.
“Well, Johnny, an invalid as usual, you see. And what is it you so particularly want?”
“I want to ask you a favour, Mr. Brandon, if you’ll be good enough to grant it me.”
“What is it?”
“You know that cottage, sir, at the corner of Piefinch Lane. George Reed’s.”
“I have come to ask you not to let it be sold.”
“Who wants to sell it?” asked he, after a pause.
“Major Parrifer wants to buy it; and to turn Reed out. The lawyers are going to arrange it.”
Mr. Brandon pushed the cap up on his brow and gave the tassel over his ear a twirl as he looked at me. People thought him incapable; but it was only because he had no work to do that he seemed so. He would get a bit irritable sometimes; very rarely though; and he had a squeaky voice: but he was a good and just man.
“How did you hear this, Johnny?”
I told him all about it. What Reed had said, and of our having met the Major on horseback as we drove along.
“He came here, but I did not feel well enough to see him,” said Mr. Brandon. “Johnny, you know that I stand in place of your father, as regards your property; to do the best I can with it.”
“Yes, sir. And I am sure you do it.”
“If Major Parrifer — I don’t like the man,” broke off Mr. Brandon, “but that’s neither here nor there. At the last magistrates’ meeting I attended he was so overbearing as to shut us all up. My nerves were unstrung for four-and-twenty hours afterwards.”
“And Squire Todhetley came home swearing,” I could not help putting in.
“Ah,” said Mr. Brandon. “Yes; some people can throw bile off in that way. I can’t. But, Johnny, all that goes for nothing, in regard to the matter in hand: and I was about to point out to you that if Major Parrifer has set his mind upon buying Reed’s cottage and the bit of land attached to it, he is no doubt prepared to offer a good price; more, probably, than it is worth. If so, I should not, in your interests, be justified in refusing this.”
I could feel my face flush with the sense of injustice, and the tears come into my eyes. They called me a muff for many things.
“I would not touch the money myself, sir. And if you used it for me, I’m sure it would never bring any good.”
“What’s that, Johnny?”
“Money got by oppression or injustice never does. There was a fellow at school ——”
“Never mind the fellow at school. Go on with your own argument.”
“To turn Reed out of the place where he has always lived, out of the garden he has done so well by, just because a rich man wants to get possession of it, would be fearfully unjust, sir. It would be as bad as the story of Naboth’s vineyard, that we heard read in church last Sunday, for the First Lesson. Tod said so as we came along.”
“Joseph Todhetley. If you turned Reed out, sir, for the sake of benefiting me, I should be ashamed to look people in the face when they talked of it. If you please, sir, I do not think my father would allow it if he were living. Reed says the place is like his homestead.”
Mr. Brandon measured two tablespoonfuls of medicine into a glass, drank it off, and ate a French plum afterwards. The plums were on a plate, and he handed them to me. I took one, and tried to crack the stone.
“You have taken up a strong opinion on this matter, Master Johnny.”
“Yes, sir. I like Reed. And if I did not, he has no more right to be turned out of his home than Major Parrifer has out of his. How would he like it, if some rich and powerful man came down on his place and turned him out?”
“Major Parrifer can’t be turned out of his, Johnny. It is his own.”
“And Reed’s place is mine, sir — if you won’t be angry with me for saying it. Please don’t let it be done, Mr. Brandon.”
The pony-carriage came rattling up at this juncture, and we saw Tod look at the windows impatiently. I got up, and Mr. Brandon shook hands with me.
“What you have said is all very good, Johnny, right in principle; but I cannot let it quite outweigh your interests. When this proposal shall be put before me — as you say it will be-it must have my full consideration.”
I stopped when I got to the door and turned to look at him. If he would only have given me an assurance! He read in my face what I wanted.
“No, Johnny, I can’t do that. You may go home easy for the present, however; for I will promise not to accept the offer to purchase without first seeing you again and showing you my reasons.”
“I may have gone back to school, sir.”
“I tell you I will see you again if I decide to accept the offer,” he repeated emphatically. And I went out to the pony-chaise.
“Old Brandon means to sell,” said Tod, when I told him. And he gave the pony an angry cut, that made him fly off at a gallop.
Will anybody believe that I never heard another word upon the subject, except what people said in the way of gossip? It was soon known that Mr. Brandon had declined to sell the cottage; and when his lawyer wrote him word that the sum, offered for it, was increased to quite an unprecedented amount, considering the value of the cottage and garden in question, Mr. Brandon only sent a peremptory note back again, saying he was not in the habit of changing his decisions, and the place was not for sale. Tod threw up his hat.
“Bravo, old Brandon! I thought he’d not go quite over to the enemy.”
George Reed wanted to thank me for it. One evening, in passing his cottage on my way home from the Court, I leaned over the gate to speak to his little ones. He saw me and came running out. The rays of the setting sun shone on the children’s white corded bonnets.
“I have to thank you for this, sir. They are going to renew my lease.”
“Are they? All right. But you need not thank me; I know nothing about it.”
George Reed gave a decisive nod. “If you hadn’t got the ear of Mr. Brandon, sir, I know what box I should have been in now. Look at them girls!”
It was not a very complimentary mode of speech, as applied to the Misses Parrifer. Three of them were passing, dressed outrageously in the fashion as usual. I lifted my straw hat, and one of them nodded in return, but the other two only looked out of the tail of their eyes.
“The Major has been trying it on with me now,” remarked Reed, watching them out of sight. “When he found he could not buy the place, he thought he’d try and buy out me. He wanted the bit of land for a kitchen-garden, he said; and would give me a five-pound bank-note to go out of it. Much obliged, Major, I said; but I’d not go for fifty.”
“As if he had not heaps of land himself to make kitchen-gardens of!”
“But don’t you see, Master Johnny, to a man like Major Parrifer, who thinks the world was made for him, there’s nothing so mortifying as being balked. He set his mind upon this place; he can’t get it; and he is just boiling over. He’d poison me if he could. Now then, what’s wanted?”
Cathy had come up, with her pretty dark eyes, whispering some question to her father. I ran on; it was growing late, and the Manor ever-so-far off.
From that time the feud grew between Major Parrifer and George Reed. Not openly; not actively. It could not well be either when their relative positions were so different. Major Parrifer was a wealthy landed proprietor, a county magistrate (and an awfully overbearing one); and George Reed was a poor cottager who worked for his bread as a day-labourer. But that the Major grew to abhor and hate Reed; that the man, inhabiting the place at his very gates in spite of him, and looking at him independently, as if to say he knew it, every time he passed, had become an eyesore to him; was easily seen.
The Major resented it on us all. He was rude to Mr. Brandon when they met; he struck out his whip once when he was on horse-back, and I passed him, as if he would like to strike me. I don’t know whether he was aware of my visit to Mr. Brandon; but the cottage was mine, I was friendly with Reed, and that was enough. Months, however, went on, and nothing came of it.
One Sunday morning in winter, when our church-bells were going for service, Major Parrifer’s carriage turned out with the ladies all in full fig. The Major himself turned out after it, walking, one of his daughters with him, a young man who was on a visit there, and a couple of servants. As they passed George Reed’s, the sound of work being done in the garden at the back of the cottage caught the Major’s quick ears. He turned softly down Piefinch Lane, stole on tiptoe to the high hedge, and stooped to peep through it.
Reed was doing something to his turnips; hoeing them, the Major said. He called the gentleman to him and the two servants, and bade them look through the hedge. Nothing more. Then the party came on to church.
On Tuesday, the Major rode out to take his place on the magisterial bench at Alcester. It was bitterly cold January weather, and only one magistrate besides himself was on it: a clergyman. Two or three petty offenders were brought before them, who were severely sentenced — as prisoners always were when Major Parrifer was presiding. Another magistrate came in afterwards.
Singular to say, Tod and I had gone to the town that day about a new saddle for his horse; singular on account of what happened. In saying we were there I am telling the truth; it is not invented to give colour to the tale. Upon turning out of the saddler’s, which is near the justice-room, old Jones the constable was coming along with a prisoner handcuffed, a tail after him.
“Halloa!” cried Tod. “Here’s fun!”
But I had seen what Tod did not, and rubbed my eyes, wondering if they saw double.
“Tod! It is George Reed!”
Reed’s face was as white as a sheet, and he walked along, not unwillingly, but as one in a state of sad shame, of awful rage. Tod made only one bound to the prisoner; and old Jones knowing us, did not push him back again.
“As I’m a living man, I do not know what this is for, or why I am paraded through the town in disgrace,” spoke Reed, in answer to Tod’s question. “If I’m charged with wrong-doing, I am willing to appear and answer for it, without being turned into a felon in the face and eyes of folks, beforehand.”
“Why do you bring Reed up in this manner — handcuffed?” demanded Tod of the constable.
“Because the Major telled me to, young Mr. Todhetley.”
Be you very sure Tod pushed after them into the justice-room: the police saw him, but he was a magistrate’s son. The crowd would have liked to push in also, but were sent to the right-about. I waited, and was presently admitted surreptitiously. Reed was standing before Major Parrifer and the other two, handcuffed still; and I gathered what the charge was.
It was preferred by Major Parrifer, who had his servants there and a gentleman as witnesses. George Reed had been working in his garden on the previous Sunday morning — which was against the law. Old Jones had gone to Mr. Sterling’s and taken him on the Major’s warrant, as he was thrashing corn.
Reed’s answer was to the following effect.
He was not working. His wife was ill — her little boy being only four days old — and Dr. Duffham ordered her some mutton broth. He went to the garden to get the turnips to put into it. It was only on account of her illness that he didn’t go to church himself, he and Cathy. They might ask Dr. Duffham.
“Do you dare to tell me you were not hoeing turnips?” cried Major Parrifer.
“I dare to say I was not doing it as work,” independently answered the man. “If you looked at me, as you say, Major, through the hedge, you must have seen the bunch of turnips I had got up, lying near. I took the hoe in my hand, and I did use it for two or three minutes. Some dead weeds had got thrown along the bed, by the children, perhaps, and I pulled them away. I went indoors directly: before the clock struck eleven the turnips were on, boiling with the scrag of mutton. I peeled them and put them in myself.”
“I see the bunch of turnips,” cried one of the servants. “They was lying ——”
“Hold your tongue, sir,” roared his master; “if your further evidence is wanted, you’ll be asked for it. As to this defence”— and the Major turned to his brother-magistrates with a scornful smile —“it is quite ingenious; one of the clever excuses we usually get here. But it will not serve your turn, George Reed. When the sanctity of the Sabbath is violated ——”
“Reed is not a man to say he did not do a thing if he did,” interrupted Tod.
The Major glared at him for an instant, and then put out of hand a big gold pencil he was waving majestically.
“Clear the room of spectators,” said he to the policeman.
Which was all Tod got for interfering. We had to go out: and in a minute or two Reed came out also, handcuffed as before; not in charge of old Jones, but of the county police. He had been sentenced to a month’s imprisonment. Major Parrifer had wanted to make it three months; he said something about six; but the other two thought they saw some slightly extenuating circumstances in the case. A solicitor who was intimate with the Sterlings, and knew Reed very well, had been present towards the end.
“Could you not have spoken in my defence, sir?” asked Reed, as he passed this gentleman in coming out.
“I would had I been able. But you see, my man, when the law gets broken ——”
“The devil take the law,” said Reed, savagely. “What I want is justice.”
“And the administrators of it are determined to uphold it, what can be said?” went on the solicitor equably, as if there had been no interruption.
“You would make out that I broke the law, just doing what I did; and I swear it was no more? That I can be legally punished for it?”
“Don’t, Reed; it’s of no use. The Major and his witnesses swore you were at work. And it appears that you were.”
“I asked them to take a fine — if I must be punished. I might have found friends to advance it for me.”
“Just so. And for that reason of course they did not take it,” said the candid lawyer.
“What is my wife to do while I am in prison? And the children? I may come out to find them starved. A month’s long enough to starve them in such weather as this.”
Reed was allowed time for no more. He would not have been allowed that, but for having been jammed by the crowd at the doorway. He caught my eye as they were getting clear.
“Master Johnny, will you go to the Court for me — your own place, sir — and tell the master that I swear I am innocent? Perhaps he’ll let a few shillings go to the wife weekly; tell him with my duty that I’ll work it out as soon as I am released. All this is done out of revenge, sir, because Major Parrifer couldn’t get me from my cottage. May the Lord repay him!”
It caused a commotion, I can tell you, this imprisonment of Reed’s; the place was ringing with it between the Court and Dyke Manor. Our two houses seemed to have more to do with it than other people’s; first, because Reed worked at the Court; secondly, because I, who owned both the Court and the cottage, lived at the Manor. People took it up pretty warmly, and Mrs. Reed and the children were cared for. Mr. Sterling paid her five shillings a week; and Mr. Brandon and the Squire helped her on the quiet, and there were others also. In small country localities gentlemen don’t like to say openly that their neighbours are in the wrong: at any rate, they rarely do anything by way of remedy. Some spoke of an appeal to the Home Secretary, but it came to nothing, and no steps were taken to liberate Reed. Bill Whitney, who was staying a week with us, wrote and told his mother about it; she sent back a sovereign for Mrs. Reed; we three took it to her, and went about saying old Parrifer ought to be kicked, which was a relief to our feelings.
But there’s something to tell about Cathy. On the day that Reed was taken up, it was not known at his home immediately. The neighbours, aware that the wife was ill, said nothing to her — for old Duffham thought she was going to have a fever, and ordered her to be kept quiet. For one thing, they did not know what there was to tell; except that Reed had been marched off from his work in handcuffs by Jones the constable. In the evening, when news came of his committal, it was agreed that an excuse should be made to Mrs. Reed that her husband had gone out on a business job for his master; and that Cathy — who could not fail to hear the truth from one or another — should be warned not to say anything.
“Tell Cathy to come out here,” said the woman, looking over the gate. It was the little girl they spoke to; who could talk well: and she answered that Cathy was not there. So Ann Perkins, Mrs. Reed’s sister, was called out.
“Where’s Cathy?” cried they.
Ann Perkins answered in a passion — that she did not know where Cathy was, but would uncommonly like to know, and she only wished she was behind her — keeping her there with her sister when she ought to be at her own home! Then the women told Ann Perkins what they had intended to tell Cathy, and looked out for the latter.
She did not come back. The night passed, and the next day passed, and Cathy was not seen or heard of. The only person who appeared to have met her was Goody Picker. It was about two o’clock in the afternoon, Tuesday, and Cathy had her best bonnet on. Mother Picker remarked upon her looking so smart, and asked where she was going to. Cathy answered that her uncle (who lived at Evesham) had sent to say she must go over there at once. “But when she came to the two roads, she turned off quite on the contrairy way to Evesham, and I thought the young woman must be daft,” concluded Mrs. Picker.
The month passed away, and Reed came out; but Cathy had not returned. He got home on foot, in the afternoon, his hair cut close, and seemed as quiet as a lamb. The man had been daunted. It was an awful insult to put upon him; a slur on his good name for life; and some of them said George Reed would never hold up his head again. Had he been cruel or vindictive, he might have revenged himself on Major Parrifer, personally, in a manner the Major would have found it difficult to forget.
The wife was about again, but sickly: the little ones did not at first know their father. One of the first people he asked after was Cathy. The girl was not at hand to welcome him, and he took it in the light of a reproach. When men come for the first time out of jail, they are sensitive.
“Mr. Sterling called in yesterday, George, to say you were to go to your work again as soon as ever you came home,” said the wife, evading the question about Cathy. “Everybody has been so kind; they know you didn’t deserve what you got.”
“Ah,” said Reed, carelessly. “Where’s Cathy?”
Mrs. Reed felt obliged to tell him. No diplomatist, she brought out the news abruptly: Cathy had not been seen or heard of since the afternoon he was sent to prison. That aroused Reed: nothing else seemed to have done it: and he got up from his chair.
“Why, where is she? What’s become of her?”
The neighbours had been indulging in sundry speculations on the same question, which they had obligingly favoured Mrs. Reed with; but she did not think it necessary to impart them to her husband.
“Cathy was a good girl on the whole, George; putting aside that she’d do no work, and spent her time reading good-for-nothing books. What I think is this — that she heard of your misfortune after she left, and wouldn’t come home to face it. She is eighteen now, you know.”
“Come home from where?”
Mrs. Reed had to tell the whole truth. That Cathy, dressed up in her best things, had left home without saying a word to any one, stealing out of the house unseen; she had been met in the road by Mrs. Picker, and told her what has already been said. But the uncle at Evesham had seen nothing of her.
Forgetting his cropped hair — as he would have to forget it until it should grow again — George Reed went tramping off, there and then, the nearly two miles of way to Mother Picker’s. She could not tell him much more than he already knew. “Cathy was all in her best, her curls ‘iled, and her pink ribbons as fresh as her cheeks, and said in answer to questions that she had been sent for sudden to her uncle’s at Evesham: but she had turned off quite the contrairy road.” From thence, Reed walked on to his brother’s at Evesham; and learnt that Cathy had not been sent for, and had not come.
When Reed got home, he was dead-beat. How many miles the man had walked that bleak February day, he did not stay to think — perhaps twenty. When excitement buoys up the spirit, the body does not feel fatigue. Mrs. Reed put supper before her husband, and he ate mechanically, lost in thought.
“It fairly ‘mazes me,” he said, presently, in local phraseology. “But for going out in her best, I should think some accident had come to her. There’s ponds about, and young girls might slip in unawares. But the putting on her best things shows she was going somewhere.”
“She put ’em on, and went off unseen,” repeated Mrs. Reed, snuffing the candle. “I should have thought she’d maybe gone off to some wake — only there wasn’t one agate within range.”
“Cathy had no bad acquaintance to lead her astray,” he resumed. “The girls about here are decent, and mind their work.”
“Which Cathy didn’t,” thought Mrs. Reed. “Cathy held her head above ’em,” she said, aloud. “It’s my belief she used to fancy herself one o’ them fine ladies in her halfpenny books. She didn’t seem to make acquaintance with nobody but that young Parrifer. She’d talk to him by the hour together, and I couldn’t get her indoors.”
Reed lifted his head. “Young Parrifer! — what —his son?” turning his thumb in the direction of Parrifer Hall. “Cathy talked to him?”
“By the hour together,” reiterated Mrs. Reed. “He’d be on that side the gate, a-talking, and laughing, and leaning on it; and Cathy, she’d be in the path by the tall hollyhocks, talking back to him, and fondling the children.”
Reed rose up, a strange look on his face. “How long was that going on?”
“Ever so long; I can’t just remember. But young Parrifer is only at the Hall by fits and starts.”
“And you never told me, woman!”
“I thought no harm of it. I don’t think harm of it now,” emphatically added Mrs. Reed. “The worst of young Parrifer, that I’ve seen, is that he’s as soft as a tomtit.”
Reed put on his hat without another word, and walked out. Late as it was, he was going to the Hall. He rang a peal at it, more like a lord than a labourer just let out of prison. There was some delay in opening the door: the household had gone upstairs; but a man came at last.
“I want to see Major Parrifer.”
The words were so authoritative; the man’s appearance so strange, with his tall figure and his clipped hair, as he pushed forward into the hall, that the servant momentarily lost his wits. A light, in a room on the left, guided Reed; he entered it, and found himself face to face with Major Parrifer, who was seated in an easy-chair before a good fire, spirits on the table, and a cigar in his mouth. What with the smoke from that, what with the faint light — for all the candles had been put out but one — the Major did not at first distinguish his late visitor’s face. When the bare head and the resolute eyes met his, he certainly paled a little, and the cigar fell on to the carpet.
“I want my daughter, Major Parrifer.”
To hear a demand made for a daughter when the Major had possibly been thinking the demand might be for his life, was undoubtedly a relief. It brought back his courage.
“What do you mean, fellow?” he growled, stamping out the fire of the cigar. “Are you out of your mind?”
“Not quite. You might have driven some men out of theirs, though, by what you’ve done. We’ll let that part be, Major. I have come to-night about my daughter. Where is she?”
They stood looking at each other. Reed stood just inside the door, hat in hand; he did not forget his manners even in the presence of his enemy; they were a habit with him. The Major, who had risen in his surprise, stared at him: he really knew nothing whatever of the matter, not even that the girl was missing; and he did think Reed’s imprisonment must have turned his brain. Perhaps Reed saw that he was not understood.
“I come home from prison, into which you put me, Major Parrifer, to find my daughter Catherine gone. She went away the day I was taken up. Where she went, or what she’s doing, Heaven knows; but you or yours are answerable for it, whichever way it may be.”
“You have been drinking,” said Major Parrifer.
“You have, maybe,” returned Reed, glancing at the spirits on the table. “Either Cathy went out on a harmless jaunt, and is staying away because she can’t face the shame at home which you have put there; or else she went out to meet your son, and has been taken away by him. I think it must be the last; my fears whisper it to me; and, if so, you can’t be off knowing something of it. Major Parrifer, I must have my daughter.”
Whether the hint given about his son alarmed the Major, causing him to forget his bluster for once, and answer civilly, he certainly did it. His son was in Ireland with his regiment, he said; had not been at the Hall for weeks and weeks; he could answer for it that Lieutenant Parrifer knew nothing of the girl.
“He was here at Christmas,” said George Reed. “I saw him.”
“And left two or three days after it. How dare you, fellow, charge him with such a thing? He’d wring your neck for you if he were here.”
“Perhaps I might find cause to wring his first. Major Parrifer, I want my daughter.”
“If you do not get out of my house, I’ll have you brought before me tomorrow for trespassing, and give you a second month’s imprisonment,” roared the Major, gathering bluster and courage. “You want another month of it: this one does not appear to have done you the good it ought. Now — go!”
“I’ll go,” said Reed, who began to see the Major really did not know anything of Cathy — and it had not been very probable that he did. “But I’d like to leave a word behind me. You have succeeded in doing me a great injury, Major Parrifer. You are rich and powerful, I am poor and lowly. You set your mind on my bit of a home, and because you could not drive me from it, you took advantage of your magistrate’s post to sentence me to prison, and so be revenged. It has done me a great deal of harm. What good has it done you?”
Major Parrifer could not speak for rage.
“It will come home to you, sir, mark me if it does not. God has seen my trouble, and my wife’s trouble, and I don’t believe He ever let such a wrong pass unrewarded. It will come home to you, Major Parrifer.”
George Reed went out, quietly shutting the hall-door behind him, and walked home through the thick flakes of snow that had begun to fall.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55