The year was getting on. Summer fruits were ripening. It had been a warm spring, and hot weather was upon us early.
One fine Sunday morning, George Reed came out of his cottage and turned up Piefinch Lane. His little girls were with him, one in either hand, in their clean cotton frocks and pinafores and straw hats. People had gone into church, and the bells had ceased. Reed had not been constant in attendance since the misfortune in the winter, when Major Parrifer put him into prison. The month’s imprisonment had altered him; his daughter Cathy’s mysterious absence had altered him more; he seemed unwilling to face people, and any trifle was made an excuse to himself for keeping away from service. To-day it was afforded by the baby’s illness. Reed said to his wife that he would take the little girls out a bit to keep the place quiet.
Rumours were abroad that he had heard once from Cathy; that she told him she should come back some day and surprise him and the neighbours, that she was “all right, and he had no call to fret after her.” Whether this was true or pure fiction, Reed did not say: he was a closer man than he used to be.
Lifting the children over a stile in Piefinch Lane, just beyond his garden, Reed strolled along the by-path of the field. It brought him to the high hedge skirting the premises of Major Parrifer. The man had taken it by chance, because it was a quiet walk. He was passing along slowly, the children running about the field, on which the second crop of grass was beginning to grow, when voices on the other side of the hedge struck on his ear. Reed quietly put some of the foliage aside, and looked through; just as Major Parrifer had looked through the hedge in Piefinch Lane at him, that Sunday morning some few months before.
Major Parrifer had been suffering from a slight temporary indisposition. He did not consider himself sufficiently recovered to attend service, but neither was he ill enough to lie in bed. With the departure of his family for church, the Major had come strolling out in the garden in an airy dressing-gown, and there saw his gardener picking peas.
“Halloa, Hotty! This ought to have been done before.”
“Yes, sir, I know it; I’m a little late,” answered Hotty; “I shall have done in two or three minutes. The cook makes a fuss if I pick ’em too early; she says they don’t eat so well.”
The peas were for the gratification of the Major’s own palate, so he found no more fault. Hotty went on with his work, and the Major gave a general look round. On a near wall, at right angles with the hedge through which Reed was then peering, some fine apricots were growing, green yet.
“These apricots want thinning, Hotty,” observed the Major.
“I have thinned ’em some, sir.”
“Not enough. Our apricots were not as fine last year as they ought to have been. I said then they had not had sufficient room to grow. Green apricots are always useful; they make the best tart known.”
Major Parrifer walked to the greenhouse, outside which a small basket was hanging, brought it back, and began to pick some of the apricots where they looked too thick. Reed, outside, watched the process — not alone. As luck had it, a man appeared on the field-path, who proved to be Gruff Blossom, the Jacobsons’ groom, coming home to spend Sunday with his friends. Reed made a sign to Blossom to be silent, and caused him to look on also.
With the small basket half full, the Major desisted, thinking possibly he had plucked enough, and turned away carrying it. Hotty came out from the peas, his task finished. They strolled slowly down the path by the hedge; the Major first, Hotty a step behind, talking about late and early peas, and whether Prussian blues or marrowfats were the best eating.
“Do you see those weeds in the onion-bed?” suddenly asked the Major, stopping as they were passing it.
Hotty turned his head to look. A few weeds certainly had sprung up. He’d attend to it on the morrow, he told his master; and then said something about the work accumulating almost beyond him, since the under-gardener had been at home ill.
“Pick them out now,” said the Major; “there’s not a dozen of them.”
Hotty stooped to do as he was bid. The Major made no more ado but stooped also, uprooting quite half the weeds himself. Not much more, in all, than the dozen he had spoken of: and then they went on with their baskets to the house.
Never had George Reed experienced so much gratification since the day he came out of prison. “Did you see the Major at it? — thinning his apricots and pulling up his weeds?” he asked of Gruff Blossom. And Blossom’s reply, gruff as usual, was to ask what might be supposed to ail his eyes that he shouldn’t see it.
“Very good,” said Reed.
One evening in the following week, when we were sitting out on the lawn, the Squire smoking, Mrs. Todhetley nursing her face in her hand, with toothache as usual, Tod teasing Hugh and Lena, and I up in the beech-tree, a horseman rode in. It proved to be Mr. Jacobson. Giles took his horse, and he came and sat down on the bench. The Squire asked him what he’d take, and being thirsty, he chose cider. Which Thomas brought.
“Here’s a go,” began Mr. Jacobson. “Have you heard what’s up?”
“I’ve not heard anything,” answered the Squire.
“Major Parrifer has a summons served on him for working in his garden on a Sunday, and is to appear before the magistrates at Alcester tomorrow,” continued old Jacobson, drinking off a glass of cider at a draught.
“No!” cried Squire Todhetley.
“It’s a fact. Blossom, our groom, has also a summons served on him to give evidence.”
Mrs. Todhetley lifted her face; Tod left Hugh and Lena to themselves: I slid down from the beech-tree; and we listened for more.
But Mr. Jacobson could not give particulars, or say much more than he had already said. All he knew was, that on Monday morning George Reed had appeared before the magistrates and made a complaint. At first they were unwilling to grant a summons; laughed at it; but Reed, in a burst of reproach, civilly delivered, asked why there should be a law for the poor and not for the rich, and in what lay the difference between himself and Major Parrifer; that the one should be called to account and punished for doing wrong, and the other was not even to be accused when he had done it.
“Brandon happened to be on the bench,” continued Jacobson. “He appeared struck with the argument, and signed the summons.”
The Squire nodded.
“My belief is,” continued old Jacobson, with a wink over the rim of the cider glass, “that granting that summons was as good as a play to Brandon and the rest. I’d as lieve, though, that they’d not brought Blossom into it.”
“Why?” asked Mrs. Todhetley, who had been grieved at the time at the injustice done to Reed.
“Well, Parrifer is a disagreeable man to offend. And he is sure to visit Blossom’s part in this on me.”
“Let him,” said Tod, with enthusiasm. “Well done, George Reed!”
Be you very sure we went over to the fight. Squire Todhetley did not appear: at which Tod exploded a little: he only wished he was a magistrate, wouldn’t he take his place and judge the Major! But the Pater said that when people had lived to his age, they liked to be at peace with their neighbours — not but what he hoped Parrifer would “get it,” for having been so cruelly hard upon Reed.
Major Parrifer came driving to the Court-house in his high carriage with a great bluster, his iron-grey hair standing up, and two grooms attending him. Only the magistrates who had granted the summons sat. The news had gone about like wild-fire, and several of them were in and about the town, but did not take their places. I don’t believe there was one would have lifted his finger to save the Major from a month’s imprisonment; but they did not care to sentence him to it.
It was a regular battle. Major Parrifer was in an awful passion the whole time; asking, when he came in, how they dared summon him. Him! Mr. Brandon, cool as a cucumber, answered in his squeaky voice, that when a complaint of breaking the law was preferred before them and sworn to by witnesses, they could only act upon it.
First of all, the Major denied the facts. He work in his garden on a Sunday! — the very supposition was preposterous! Upon which George Reed, who was in his best clothes, and looked every bit as good as the Major, and far pleasanter, testified to what he had seen.
Major Parrifer, dancing with temper when he found he had been looked at through the hedge, and that it was Reed who had looked, gave the lie direct. He called his gardener, Richard Hotty, ordering him to testify whether he, the Major, ever worked in his garden, either on Sundays or week-days.
“Hotty was working himself, gentlemen,” interposed George Reed. “He was picking peas; and he helped to weed the onion-bed. But it was done by his master’s orders, so it would be unjust to punish him.”
The Major turned on Reed as if he would strike him, and demanded of the magistrates why they permitted the fellow to interrupt. They ordered Reed to be quiet, and told Hotty to proceed.
But Hotty was one of those slow men to whom anything like evasion is difficult. His master had thinned the apricot tree that Sunday morning; he had helped to weed the onion-bed; Hotty, conscious of the fact, but not liking to admit it, stammered and stuttered, and made a poor figure of himself. Mr. Brandon thought he would help him out.
“Did you see your master pick the apricots?”
“I see him pick — just a few; green ‘uns,” answered Hotty, shuffling from one leg to the other in his perplexity. “‘Twarn’t to be called work, sir.”
“Oh! And did he help you to weed the onion-bed?”
“There warn’t a dozen weeds in it in all, as the Major said to me at the time,” returned Hotty. “He see ’em, and stooped down on the spur o’ the moment, and me too. We had ’em up in a twinkling. ‘Twarn’t work, sir; couldn’t be called it nohow. The Major, he never do work at no time.”
Blossom had not arrived, and it was hard to tell how the thing would terminate: the Major had this witness, Hotty, such as he was, protesting that nothing to be called work was done. Reed had no witness, as yet.
“Old Jacobson is keeping Blossom back, Johnny,” whispered Tod. “It’s a sin and a shame.”
“No, he is not,” I said. “Look there!”
Blossom was coming in. He had walked over, and not hurried himself. Major Parrifer plunged daggers into him, if looks could do it, but it made no difference to Blossom.
He gave his evidence in his usual surly manner. It was clear and straightforward. Major Parrifer had thinned the apricot tree for its own benefit; and had weeded the onion-bed, Hotty helping at the weeds by order.
“What brought you spying at the place, James Blossom?” demanded a lawyer on the Major’s behalf.
“Accident,” was the short answer.
“Indeed! You didn’t go there on purpose, I suppose? — and skulk under the hedge on purpose? — and peer into the Major’s garden on purpose?”
“No, I didn’t,” said Blossom. “The field is open to every one, and I was crossing it on my way to old father’s. George Reed made me a sign afore I came up to him, to look in, as he was doing; and I did so, not knowing what there might be to see. It would be nothing to me if the Major worked in his garden of a Sunday from sunrise to sunset; he’s welcome to do it; but if you summon me here and ask me, did I see him working, I say yes, I did. Why d’you send me a summons if you don’t want me to tell the truth? Let me be, and I’d ha’ said nothing to mortal man.”
Evidently nothing favourable to the defence could be got out of James Blossom. Mr. Brandon began saying to the Major that he feared there was no help for it; they should be obliged to convict him: and he was met by a storm of reproach.
Convict him! roared the Major. For having picked two or three green apricots — and for stooping to pull up a couple or so of worthless weeds? He would be glad to ask which of them, his brother-magistrates sitting there, would not pick an apricot, or a peach, or what not, on a Sunday, if he wanted to eat one. The thing was utterly preposterous.
“And what was it I did?” demanded George Reed, drowning voices that would have stopped him. “I went to the garden to get up a bunch of turnips for my sick wife, and seeing some withered weeds flung on the bed I drew them off with the hoe. What was that, I ask? And it was no more. No more, gentlemen, in the sight of Heaven.”
No particular answer was given to this; perhaps the justices had none ready. Mr. Brandon was beginning to confer with the other two in an undertone, when Reed spoke again.
“I was dragged up here in handcuffs, and told I had broken the law; Major Parrifer said to me himself that I had violated the sanctity of the Sabbath (those were the words), and therefore I must be punished; there was no help for it. What has he done? I did not do as much as he has.”
“Now you know, Reed, this is irregular,” said one of the justices. “You must not interrupt the Court.”
“You put me in prison for a month, gentlemen,” resumed Reed, paying no attention to the injunction. “They cut my hair close in the prison, and they kept me to hard labour for the month, as if I did not have enough of hard labour out of it. My wife was sick and disabled at the time, my three little children are helpless: it was no thanks to the magistrates who sentenced me, gentlemen, or to Major Parrifer, that they did not starve.”
“Will you be quiet, Reed?”
“If I deserved one month of prison,” persisted Reed, fully bent on saying what he had to say, “Major Parrifer must deserve two months, for his offence is greater than mine. The law is the same for both of us, I suppose. He ——”
“Reed, if you say another word, I will order you at once from the room,” interrupted Mr. Brandon, his thin voice sharp and determined. “How dare you persist in addressing the Bench when told to be quiet!”
Reed fell back and said no more. He knew that Mr. Brandon had a habit of carrying out his own authority, in spite of his nervous health and querulous way of speaking. The justices spoke a few words together, and then said they found the offence proved, and inflicted a fine on Major Parrifer.
He dashed the money down on the table, in too great a rage to do it politely, and went out to his carriage. No other case was on, that day, and the justices got up and mixed with the crowd. Mr. Brandon, who felt chilly on the hottest summer’s day, and was afraid of showers, buttoned on a light overcoat.
“Then there are two laws, sir?” said Reed to him, quite civilly, but in a voice that every one might hear. “When the law was made against Sabbath-breaking, those that made it passed one for the rich and another for the poor!”
“Nonsense, sir? I don’t see it. I was put in prison; Major Parrifer has only to pay a bit of money, which is of no more account to him than dirt, and that he can’t feel the loss of. And my offence — if it was an offence — was less than his.”
“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” said Mr. Brandon, dropping his voice to a low key. “You ought not to have been put in prison, Reed; had I been on the bench it should not have been done.”
“But it was done, sir, and my life got a blight on it. It’s on me yet; will never be lifted off me.”
Mr. Brandon smiled one of his quiet smiles, and spoke in a whisper. “He has got it too, Reed, unless I am mistaken. He’ll carry that fine about with him always. Johnny, are you there? Don’t go and repeat what you’ve heard me say.”
Mr. Brandon was right. To have been summoned before the Bench, where he had pompously sat to summon others, and for working on a Sunday above all things, to have been found guilty and fined, was as the most bitter potion to Major Parrifer. The bench would never again be to him the seat it had been; the remembrance of the day when he was before it would, as Mr. Brandon expressed it, be carried about with him always.
They projected a visit to the sea-side at once. Mrs. Parrifer, with three of the Miss Parrifers, came dashing up to people’s houses in the carriage, finer and louder than ever; she said that she had not been well, and was ordered to Aberystwith for six weeks. The next day they and the Major were off; and heaps of cards were sent round with “P. P. C.” in the corner. I think Mr. Brandon must have laughed when he got his.
The winter holidays came round again. We went home for Christmas, as usual, and found George Reed down with some sort of illness. There’s an old saying, “When the mind’s at ease the body’s delicate,” but Mr. Duffham always maintained that though that might apply to a short period of time, in the long-run mind and body sympathized together. George Reed had been a very healthy man, and as free from care as most people; this last year care and trouble and mortification had lain on his mind, and at the beginning of winter his health broke down. It was quite a triumph (in the matter of opinion) for old Duffham.
The illness began with a cough and low fever, neither of which can labourers afford time to lie up for. It went on to more fever, and to inflammation of the lungs. There was no choice then, and Reed took to his bed. For the most part, when our poor people fell ill, they had to get well again without notice being taken of them; but events had drawn attention to Reed, and made him a conspicuous character. His illness was talked of, and so he received help. Ever since the prison affair I had felt sorry for Reed, as had Mrs. Todhetley.
“I have had some nice strong broth made for Reed, Johnny,” she said to me one day in January; “it’s as good and nourishing as beef-tea. If you want a walk, you might take it to him.”
Tod had gone out with the Squire; I felt dull, as I generally did without him, and put on my hat and coat. Mrs. Todhetley had the broth put into a bottle, and brought it to me wrapped in paper.
“I would send him a drop of wine as well, Johnny, if you’d take care not to break the bottles, carrying two of them.”
No fear. I put the one bottle in my breast-pocket, and took the other in my hand. It was a cold afternoon, the sky of a steely-blue, the sun bright, the ground hard. Major Parrifer and two of his daughters, coming home from a ride, were cantering in at the gates as I passed, the groom riding after them. I lifted my hat to the girls, but they only tossed their heads.
Reed was getting over the worst then, and I found him sitting by the kitchen fire, muffled in a bed-rug. Mrs. Reed took the bottles from me in the back’us — as they called the place where the washing was done — for Reed was sensitive, and did not like things to be sent to him.
“Please God, I shall be at work next week,” said Reed, with a groan: and I saw he knew that I had brought something.
He had been saying that all along; four or five weeks now. I sat down opposite to him, and took up the boy, Georgy. The little shaver had come round to me, holding by the chairs.
“It’s going to be a hard frost, Reed.”
“Is it, sir? Out-o’-door weather don’t seem to be of much odds to me now.”
“And a fall o’ some sort’s not far off, as my wrist tells me,” put in Mrs. Reed. Years ago she had broken her wrist, and felt it always in change of weather. “Maybe some snow’s coming.”
I gave Georgy a biscuit; the two little girls, who had been standing against the press, began to come slowly forward. They guessed there was a supply in my pocket. I had dipped into the biscuit-basket at home before coming away. The two put out a hand each without being told, and I dropped a biscuit into them.
It had taken neither time nor noise, and yet there was some one standing inside the door when I looked up again, who must have come in stealthily; some one in a dark dress, and a black and white plaid shawl. Mrs. Reed looked and the children looked; and then Reed turned his head to look also.
I think I was the first to know her. She had a thick black veil before her face, and the room was not light. Reed’s illness had left him thin, and his eyes appeared very large: they assumed a sort of frightened stare.
“Father! you are sick!”
Before he could answer, she had run across the brick floor and thrown her arms round his neck. Cathy! The two girls were frightened and flew to their mother; one began to scream and the other followed suit. Altogether there was a good deal of noise and commotion. Georgy, like a brave little man, sucked his biscuit through it all with great composure.
What Reed said or did, I had not noticed; I think he tried to fling Cathy from him — to avoid suffocation perhaps. She burst out laughing in her old light manner, and took something out of the body of her gown, under the shawl.
“No need, father: I am as honest as anybody,” said she. “Look at this.”
Reed’s hand shook so that he could not open the paper, or understand it at first when he had opened it. Cathy flung off her bonnet and caught the children to her. They began to know her then and ceased their cries. Presently Reed held the paper across to me, his hand trembling more than before, and his face, that illness had left white enough, yet more ghastly with emotion.
“Please read it, sir.”
I did not understand it at first either, but the sense came to me soon. It was a certificate of the marriage of Spencer Gervoise Daubeney Parrifer and Catherine Reed. They had been married at Liverpool the very day after Cathy disappeared from home; now just a year ago.
A sound of sobbing broke the stillness. Reed had fallen back in his chair in a sort of hysterical fit. Defiant, hard, strong-minded Reed! But the man was three parts dead from weakness. It lasted only a minute or two; he roused himself as if ashamed, and swallowed down his sobs.
“How came he to marry you, Cathy?”
“Because I would not go away with him without it father. We have been staying in Ireland.”
“And be you repenting of it yet?” asked Mrs. Reed, in ungracious tones.
“Pretty near,” answered Cathy, with candour.
It appeared that Cathy had made her way direct to Liverpool when she left home the previous January, travelling all night. There she met young Parrifer, who had preceded her and made arrangements for the marriage. They were married that day, and afterwards went on to Ireland, where he had to join his regiment.
To hear all this, sounding like a page out of a romance, would be something wonderful for our quiet place when it came to be told. You meet with marvellous stories in towns now and then, but with us they are almost unknown.
“Where’s your husband?” asked Reed.
Cathy tossed her head. “Ah! Where! That’s what I’ve come home about,” she answered: and it struck me at once that something was wrong.
What occurred next we only learnt from hearsay. I said good day to them, and came away, thinking it might have been better if Cathy had not married and left home. It was a fancy of mine, and I don’t know why it should have come to me, but it proved to be a right one. Cathy put on her bonnet again to go to Parrifer Hall: and the particulars of her visit were known abroad later.
It was growing rather dark when she approached it; the sun had set, the grey of evening was drawing on. Two of the Misses Parrifer were at the window and saw her coming, but Cathy had her veil down and they did not recognize her. The actions and manners and air of a lady do not come suddenly to one who has been differently bred; and the Misses Parrifer supposed the visitor to be for the servants.
“Like her impudence!” said Miss Jemima. “Coming to the front entrance!”
For Cathy, whose year’s experience in Ireland had widely changed her, had no notion of taking up her old position. She meant to hold her own; and was capable of doing it, not being deficient in the quality just ascribed to her by Miss Jemima Parrifer.
“What next!” cried Miss Jemima, as a ring and a knock resounded through the house, waking up the Major: who had been dozing over the fire amongst his daughters.
The next was, that a servant came to the room and told the Major a lady wanted him. She had been shown into the library.
“What name?” asked the Major.
“She didn’t give none, sir. I asked, but she said never mind the name.”
“Go and ask it again.”
The man went and came back. “It is Mrs. Parrifer, sir.”
“Mrs. Parrifer, sir.”
The Major turned and stared at his servant. They had no relatives whatever. Consequently the only Mrs. Parrifer within knowledge was his wife.
Staring at the man would not bring him any elucidation. Major Parrifer went to the library, and there saw the lady standing on one side of the fender, holding her foot to the fire. She had her back to him, did not turn, and so the Major went round to the other side of the hearth-rug where he could see her.
“My servant told me a Mrs. Parrifer wanted me. Did he make a mistake in the name?”
“No mistake at all, sir,” said Cathy, throwing up her thick veil, and drawing a step or two back. “I am Mrs. Parrifer.”
The Major recognized her then. Cathy Reed! He was a man whose bluster rarely failed him, but he had none ready at that moment. Three-parts astounded, various perplexities held him tongue-tied.
“That is to say, Mrs. Spencer Parrifer,” continued Cathy. “And I have come over from Ireland on a mission to you, sir, from your son.”
The Major thought that of all the audacious women it had ever been his lot to meet, this one was the worst: at least as much as he could think anything, for his wits were a little confused just then. A moment’s pause, and then the storm burst forth.
Cathy was called various agreeable names, and ordered out of the room and the house. The Major put up his hands to “hurrish” her out — as we say in Worcestershire by the cows, though I don’t think you would find the word in the dictionary. But Cathy stood her ground. He then went ranting towards the door, calling for the servants to come and put her forth. Cathy, quicker than he, gained it first and turned to face him, her back against it.
“You needn’t call me those names, Major Parrifer. Not that I care — as I might if I deserved them. I am your son’s wife, and have been such ever since I left father’s cottage last year; and my baby, your grandson, sir, which it’s seven weeks old he is, is now at the Red Lion, a mile off. I’ve left it there with the landlady.”
He could not put her out of the room unless by force; he looked ready to kick and strike her; but in the midst of it a horrible dread rose up in his heart that the calmly spoken words were true. Perhaps from the hour when Reed had presented himself at the house to ask for his daughter, the evening of the day he was discharged from prison, up to this time, Major Parrifer had never thought of the girl. It had been said in his ears now and again that Reed was grieving for his daughter; but the matter was altogether too contemptible for Major Parrifer to take note of. And now to hear that the girl had been with his son all the time, his wife! But that utter disbelief came to his aid, the Major might have fallen into a fit on the spot. For young Mr. Parrifer had cleverly contrived that neither his father away at home nor his friends on the spot should know anything about Cathy. He had been with his regiment in quarters; she had lived privately in another part of the town. Mrs. Reed had once called Lieutenant Parrifer as soft as a tomtit. He was a great deal softer.
“Woman! if you do not quit my house, with your shameless lies, you shall be flung out of it.”
“I’ll quit it as soon as I have told you what I came over the sea to tell. Please to look at this first, sir?”
Major Parrifer snatched the paper that she held out, carried it to the window, and put his glasses across his nose. It was a copy of the certificate of marriage. His hands shook as he read it, just as Reed’s had shaken a short time before; and he tore it passionately in two.
“It is only the copy,” said Cathy calmly, as she picked up the pieces. “Your son — if he lives — is about to be tried for his life, sir. He is in custody for wilful murder!”
“How dare you!” shrieked Major Parrifer.
“It is what they have charged him with. I have come all the way to tell it you, sir.”
Major Parrifer, brought to his senses by fright, could only listen. Cathy, her back against the door still, gave him the heads of the story.
Young Parrifer was so soft that he had been made a butt of by sundry of his brother-officers. They might not have tolerated him at all, but for winning his money. He drank, and played cards, and bet upon horses; they encouraged him to drink, and then made him play and bet, and altogether cleared him out: not of brains, he had none to be cleared of: but of money. Ruin stared him in the face: his available cash had been parted with long ago; his commission (it was said) was mortgaged: how many promissory notes, bills, I O U’s he had signed could not even be guessed at. In a quarrel a few nights before, after a public-house supper, when some of them were the worse for drink, young Parrifer, who could on rare occasions go into frightful passions, flung a carving-knife at one of the others, a lieutenant named Cook; it struck a vital part and killed him. Mr. Parrifer was arrested by the police at once; he was in plain clothes and there was nothing to show that he was an officer. They had to strap him down to carry him to prison: between drink, rage, and fever, he was as a maniac. The next morning he was lying in brain fever, and when Cathy left he had been put into a strait-waistcoat.
She gave the heads of this account in as few words as it is written. Major Parrifer stood like a helpless man. Taking one thing with another, the blow was horrible. Parents don’t often see the defects in their own children, especially if they are only sons. Far from having thought his son soft, unfit (as he nearly was) to be trusted about, the Major had been proud of him as his heir, and told the world he was perfection. Soft as young Parrifer was, he had contrived to keep his ill-doings from his father.
Of course it was only natural that the Major’s first relief should be abuse of Cathy. He told her all that had happened to his son she was the cause of, and called her a few more genteel names in doing it.
“Not at all,” said Cathy; “you are wrong there, sir. His marriage with me was a little bit of a stop-gap and served to keep him straight for a month or two; but for that, he would have done for himself before now. Do you think I’ve had a bargain in him, sir? No. Marriage is a thing that can’t be undone, Major Parrifer: but I wish to my heart that I was at home again in father’s cottage, light-hearted Cathy Reed.”
The Major made no answer. Cathy went on.
“When the news was brought to me by his servant, that he had killed a man and was lying raving, I thought it time to go and see about him. They would not let me into the lock-up where he was lying — and you might have heard his ravings outside. I did. I said I was his wife; and then they told me I had better see Captain Williams. I went to head-quarters and saw Captain Williams. He seemed to doubt me; so I showed him the certificate, and told him my baby was at home, turned six weeks old. He was very kind then, sir; took me to see my husband; and advised me to come over here at once and give you the particulars. I told him what was the truth — that I had no money, and the lodgings were owing for. He said the lodgings must wait: and he would lend me enough money for the journey.”
“Did you see him?” growled Major Parrifer.
Cathy knew that he alluded to his son, though he would not speak the name.
“I saw him, sir; I told you so. He did not know me or anybody else; he was raving mad, and shaking so that the bed shook under him.”
“How is it that they have not written to me?” demanded Major Parrifer.
“I don’t think anybody liked to do it. Captain Williams said the best plan would be for me to come over. He asked me if I’d like to hear the truth of the past as regarded my husband; or if I would just come here and tell you the bare facts that were known about his illness and the charge against him. I said I’d prefer to hear the truth — it couldn’t be worse than I suspected. Then he went on to the drinking and the gambling and the debts, just as I have repeated it to you, sir. He was very gentle; but he said he thought it would be mistaken kindness not to let me fully understand the state of things. He said Mr. Parrifer’s father, or some other friend, had better go over to Ireland.”
In spite of himself, a groan escaped Major Parrifer. The blow was the worst that could have fallen upon him. He had not cared much for his daughters; his ambition was centred in his son. Visions of a sojourn at Dublin, and of figuring off at the Vice–Regal Court, himself, his wife, and his son, had floated occasionally in rose-coloured clouds before his eyes, poor pompous old simpleton. And now — to picture the visit he must set out upon ere the night was over, nearly drove him wild with pain. Cathy unlatched the door, but waited to speak again before she opened it.
“I’ll rid the house of me now that I have broke it to you, sir. If you want me I shall be found at father’s cottage; I suppose they’ll let me stay there: if not, you can hear of me at the place where I’ve left my baby. And if your son should ever wake out of his delirium, Major Parrifer, he will be able to tell you that if he had listened to me and heeded me, or even only come to spend his evenings with me — which it’s months since he did — he would not have been in this plight now. Should they try him for murder; and nothing can save him from it if he gets well; I——”
A succession of screams cut short what Cathy was about to add. In her surprise she drew wide the door, and was confronted by Miss Jemima Parrifer. That young lady, curious upon the subject of the visit and visitor, had thought it well to put her ear to the library door. With no effect, however, until Cathy unlatched it. And then she heard more than she had thought for.
“Is it you!” roughly cried Miss Jemima, recognizing her for the ill-talked-of Cathy Reed, the daughter of the Major’s enemy. “What do you want here?”
Cathy did not answer. She walked to the hall-door and let herself out. Miss Jemima went on into the library.
“Papa, what was it she was saying about Spencer, that vile girl? What did she do here? Why did she send in her name as Mrs. Parrifer?”
The Major might have heard the questions, or he might not; he didn’t respond to them. Miss Jemima, looking closely at him in the darkness of the room, saw a grey, worn, terror-stricken face, that looked as her father’s had never looked yet.
“Oh, papa! what is the matter? Are you ill?”
He walked towards her in the quietest manner possible, took her arm and pushed her out at the door. Not rudely; softly, as one might do who is in a dream.
“Presently, presently,” he muttered in quite an altered voice, low and timid. And Miss Jemima found the door bolted against her.
It must have been an awful moment with him. Look on what side he would, there was no comfort. Spencer Parrifer was ruined past redemption. He might die in this illness, and then, what of his soul? Not that the Major was given to that kind of reflection. Escaping the illness, he must be tried — for his life, as Cathy had phrased it. And escaping that, if the miracle were possible, there remained the miserable debts and the miserable wife he had clogged himself with.
Curiously enough, as the miserable Major, most miserable in that moment, pictured these things, there suddenly rose up before his mind’s eye another picture. A remembrance of Reed, who had stood in that very room less than twelve months ago, in the dim light of late night, with his hair cut close, and his warning: “It will come home to you, Major Parrifer.” Had it come home to him? Home to him already? The drops of agony broke out on his face as he asked the question. It seemed to him, in that moment of excitement, so very like some of Heaven’s own lightning.
One grievous portion of the many ills had perhaps not fallen, but for putting Reed in prison — the marriage; and that one was more humiliating to Major Parrifer’s spirit than all the rest. Had Reed been at liberty, Cathy might not have made her escape untracked, and the bitter marriage might, in that case, have been avoided.
A groan, and now another, broke from the Major. How it had come home to him! not his selfishness and his barbarity and his pride, but this sorrowful blow. Reed’s month in prison, compared with this, was as a drop of water to the ocean. As to the girl — when Reed had come asking for tidings of her, it had seemed to the Major not of the least moment whither she had gone or what ill she had entered on: was she not a common labourer’s daughter, and that labourer George Reed? Even then, at that very time, she was his daughter-in-law, and his son the one to be humiliated. Major Parrifer ground his teeth, and only stopped when he remembered that something must be done about that disgraceful son.
He started that night for Ireland. Cathy, affronted at some remark made by Mrs. Reed, took herself off from her father’s cottage. She had a little money still left from her journey, and could spend it.
Spencer Gervoise Daubeney Parrifer (the Major and his wife had bestowed the fine names upon him in pride at his baptism) died in prison. He lived only a day after Major Parrifer’s arrival, and never recognized him. Of course it saved the trial, when he would probably have been convicted of manslaughter. It saved the payment of his hundreds of debts too; post-obits and all; he died before his father. But it could not save exposure; it could not keep the facts from the world. Major and Mrs. Parrifer, so to say, would never lift up their heads again; the sun of their life had set.
Neither would Cathy lift hers yet awhile. She contrived to quarrel with her father; the Parrifers never took the remotest notice of her; she was nearly starved and her baby too. What little she earned was by hard work: but it would not keep her, and she applied to the parish. The parish in turn applied to Major Parrifer, and forced from him as much as the law allowed, a few shillings a week. Having to apply to the parish was, for Cathy, a humiliation never to be forgotten. The neighbours made their comments.
“Cathy Reed had brought her pigs to a fine market!”
So she had; and she felt it more than the loss of her baby, who died soon after. Better that she had married an honest day-labourer: and Cathy knew it now.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55