It looked the prettiest place imaginable, lying under the sunlight, as we stood that first morning in front of the bay. The water was smooth and displayed lovely colours: now green, now blue, as the clouds passed over the face of the sky, now taking tinges of brown and amber; and towards evening it would be pink and purple. Further on, the waters were rippling and shining in the sun. Fishing-vessels stood out at sea, plying their craft; little cockle-shells, their white sails set, disported on it; rowing boats glided hither and thither. In the distance the grand waves of the sea were ebbing and flowing; a noble merchant-man, all her canvas filled, was passing proudly on her outward-bound course.
“I should like to live here,” cried Tod, turning away at last.
And I’m sure I felt that I should. For I could watch the ever-changing sea from morning to night and not tire of it.
“Suppose we remain here, Johnny?”
“Nonsense, lad! For a month. I am going for a sail. Will you come?”
After the terrible break-up of our boating tour, poor Slingsby Temple was taken home to Templemore, ourselves going back to Sanbury to wait for the funeral, and for our black garments, for which we had sent. Rupert was fearfully cut up. Although he was the heir now, and would be chief of Templemore, I never saw any brother take a death more to heart. “Slingsby liked you much, Ludlow,” said Rupert to me, when he came to us at the inn at Sanbury the day before the funeral, and the hot tears were in his eyes as he spoke. “He always liked you at Oxford: I have heard him say so. Like himself, you kept yourself free from the lawlessness of the place ——”
“As if a young one like Johnny would go in for anything of the kind!” interrupted Tod.
“Young?” repeated Rupert Temple. “Well, I don’t know. When I was there myself, some young ones — lads — went in for a pretty good deal. He liked you much, Ludlow.”
And somehow I liked to hear Rupert say it.
Quitting Sanbury after the funeral, we came to this little place, Cray Bay, which was on the sea-coast, a few miles beyond Templemore. Our pleasure cut short at the beginning of the holiday, we hardly knew what to do with the rest of it, and felt like a couple of fish suddenly thrown out of water. Mrs. Temple, taking her son and daughter, went for change to her brother’s, Lord Cracroft.
At Cray Bay we found one small inn, which bore the odd sign of the Whistling Wind, and was kept by Mrs. Jones, a stout Welshwoman. The bedroom she gave us enjoyed a look-out upon some stables, and would not hold much more than the two small beds in it. In answer to Tod’s remonstrances, she said that she had a better room, but it was just now occupied.
The discomforts of the lodging were forgotten when we strolled out to look about us, and saw the beauties of the sea and bay. Cray Bay was a very primitive spot: little else than a decent fishing-place. It had not then been found out by the tour-taking world. Its houses were built anyhow and anywhere; its shops could be counted on your fingers: a butcher’s, a baker’s, a grocer’s, and so on. Fishermen called at the doors with fish, and countrywomen with butter and fowls. There was no gas, and the place at night was lighted with oil-lamps. A trout-stream lay at the back of the village, half-a-mile away.
Stepping into a boat, on this first morning, for the sail proposed by Tod, we found its owner a talkative old fellow. His name was Druff, he said; he had lived at Cray Bay most of his life, and knew every inch of its land and every wave of its sea. There couldn’t be a nicer spot to stop at for the summer, as he took it; no, not if you searched the island through: and he supposed it was first called Cray Bay after the cray-fish, they being caught in plenty there.
“More things than one are called oddly in this place,” remarked Tod. “Look at that inn: the Whistling Wind; what’s that called after?”
“And so the wind do hoostle on this here coast; ‘deed an’ it do,” returned Druff. “You’d not forget it if you heered it in winter.”
The more we saw of Cray Bay that day, the more we liked it. Its retirement just suited our mood, after the experience of only four or five days back: for I can tell you that such a shock is not to be forgotten all in a moment. And when we went up to bed that night, Tod had made up his mind to stay for a time if lodgings could be found.
“Not in this garret, that you can’t swing a cat in,” said he, stretching out his hands towards the four walls. “Madame Jones won’t have me here another night if I can help it.”
“No. Our tent in the meadow was ten times livelier.”
“Are there any lodgings to be had in this place?” asked Tod of the slip-shod maid-servant, when we were at breakfast the next morning. But she professed not to know of any.
“But, Tod, what would they say at home to our staying here?” I asked after awhile, certain doubts making themselves heard in my conscience.
“What they chose,” said Tod, cracking his fourth egg.
“I am afraid the pater ——”
“Now, Johnny, you need not put in your word,” he interrupted, in the off-hand tone that always silenced me. “It’s not your affair. We came out for a month, and I am not going back home, like a bad sixpence returned, before the month has expired. Perhaps I shall tack a few weeks on to it. I am not dependent on the pater’s purse.”
No; for he had his five hundred pounds lying untouched at the Worcester Old Bank, and his cheque-book in his pocket.
Breakfast over, we went out to look for lodgings; but soon feared it might be a hopeless search. Two little cottages had a handboard stuck on a stick in the garden, with “Lodgings” on it. But the rooms in each proved to be a tiny sitting-room and a more tiny bedroom, smaller than the garret at the Whistling Wind.
“I never saw such a world as this,” cried Tod, as we paced disconsolately before the straggling dwellings in front of the bay. “If you want a thing you can’t get it.”
“We might find rooms in those houses yonder,” I said, nodding towards some scattered about in the distance. “They must be farms.”
“Who wants to live a mile off?” he retorted. “It’s the place itself I like, and the bay, and the —— Oh, by George! Look there, Johnny!”
We had come to the last house in the place — a fresh-looking, charming cottage, with a low roof and a green verandah, that we had stopped to admire yesterday. It faced the bay, and stood by itself in a garden that was a perfect bower of roses. The green gate bore the name “Rose Lodge,” and in the parlour window appeared a notice “To Let;” which notice, we both felt sure, had not been there the previous day.
“Fancy their having rooms to let here!” cried Tod. “The nicest little house in all the place. How lucky!”
In he went impulsively, striding up the short gravel-path, which was divided from the flower-beds by two rows of sea-shells, and knocked at the door. It was opened by a tall grenadier of a female, rising six feet, with a spare figure and sour face. She had a large cooking-apron on, dusted with flour.
“You have lodgings to let,” said Tod; “can I see them?”
“Lodgings to let?” she repeated, scanning us up and down attentively; and her voice sounded harsh and rasping. “I don’t know that we have. You had better see Captain Copperas.”
She threw open the door of the parlour: a small, square, bright-looking room, rather full of furniture; a gay carpet, a cottage piano, and some green chairs being among the articles.
Captain Copperas came forward: a retired seaman, as we heard later; tall as the grenadier, and with a brown, weather-beaten face. But in voice and manners he, at any rate, did not resemble her, for they were just as pleasant as they could be.
“I have no lodgings,” said he; “my servant was mistaken. My house is to let; and the furniture to be taken too.”
Which announcement was of course a check to Tod. He sat looking very blank, and then explained that we only required lodgings. We had been quite charmed with Cray Bay, and would like to stay in it for a month or so: and that it was his misapprehension, not the servant’s.
“It’s a pity but you wanted a little house,” said Captain Copperas. “This is the most compact, desirable, perfect little dwelling mortal man ever was in. Rent twenty-six pounds a-year only, furniture to be bought out-and-out for a hundred and twenty-five. It would be a little Eden — a paradise — to those who had the means to take it.”
As he spoke, he regarded us individually and rather pointedly. It looked as much as to doubt whether we had the means. Tod (conscious of his five hundred pounds in the bank) threw his head up.
“Oh, I have the means,” said he, as haughtily as poor Slingsby Temple had ever spoken. “Johnny, did you put any cards in your pocket? Give Captain Copperas one.”
I laid one of Tod’s cards on the table. The captain took it up.
“It’s a great grief to me to leave the house,” he remarked. “Especially after having been only a few months in it! — and laying in a stock of the best furniture in a plain way, purchased in the best market! Downright grief.”
“Then why do you leave it?” naturally asked Tod.
“Because I have to go afloat again,” said the sailor, his face taking a rueful expression. “I thought I had given up the sea for good; but my old employers won’t let me give it up. They know my value as a master, and have offered me large terms for another year or two of service. A splendid new East Indiaman, two thousand tons register, and — and, in short, I don’t like to be ungrateful, so I have said I’ll go.”
“Could you not keep on the house until you come back?”
“My sister won’t let me keep it on. Truth to say, she never cared for the sea, and wants to get away from it. That exquisite scene”— extending his hand towards the bay, and to a steamer working her way onwards near the horizon —“has no charms for Miss Copperas; and she intends to betake herself off to our relatives in Leeds. No: I can only give the place up, and dispose of the furniture to whomsoever feels inclined to take it. It will be a fine sacrifice. I shall not get the one half of the money I gave for it: don’t look to. And all of it as good as new!”
I could read Tod’s face as a book, and the eager look in his eyes. He was thinking how much he should like to seize upon the tempting bargain; to make the pretty room we sat in, and the prettier prospect yonder, his own. Captain Copperas appeared to read him also.
“You are doubting whether to close with the offer or not,” he said, with a frank smile. “You might make it yours for a hundred and twenty-five pounds. Perhaps — pardon me; you are both but young — you may not have the sum readily at command?”
“Oh yes, I have,” said Tod, candidly. “I have it lying at my banker’s, in Worcester. No, it’s not for that reason I hesitate. It is — it is — fancy me with a house on my hands!” he broke off, turning to me with a laugh.
“It is an offer that you will never be likely to meet with again, sir.”
“But what on earth could I do with the house and the things afterwards — allowing that we stayed here for a month or two?” urged Tod.
“Why, dispose of them again, of course,” was the ready answer of Captain Copperas. “You’d find plenty of people willing to purchase, and to take the house off your hands. Such an opportunity as this need not go begging. I only wish I had not to be off all in a jiffy; I should make a very different bargain.”
“I’ll think of it,” said Tod, as we got up to leave. “I must say it is a nice little nest.”
In the doorway we encountered a tall lady with a brown face and a scarlet top-knot. She wore a thick gold chain, and bracelets to match.
“My sister, Miss Copperas,” said the captain. And he explained to her in a few words our business, and the purport of what had passed.
“For goodness’ sake, don’t lose the opportunity!” cried she, impressively affectionate, as though she had known us all our lives. “So advantageous an offer was never made to any one before: and but for my brother’s obstinately and wickedly deciding to go off to that wretched sea again, it would not be made now. Yes, Alexander,” turning to him, “I do call it quite wicked. Only think, sir”— to Tod —“a house full of beautiful furniture, every individual thing that a family can want; a piano here, a table-cloth press in the kitchen; plate, linen, knives, forks; a garden full of roses and a roller for the paths; and all to go for the miserably inadequate sum of a hundred and twenty-five pounds! But that’s my brother all over. He’s a true sailor. Setting himself up in a home today, and selling it off for an old song tomorrow.”
“Well, well, Fanny,” he said, when he could get a word in edgeways to stem the torrent of eloquence, “I have agreed to go, and I must go.”
“Have you been over the house?” she resumed, in the same voluble manner. “No? Then do pray come and see it. Oh, don’t talk of trouble. This is the dining-room,” throwing open a door behind her.
It was a little side-room, looking up the coast and over the fields; just enough chairs and tables in it for use. Upstairs we found three chambers, with their beds and other things. It all looked very comfortable, and I thought Captain Copperas was foolish to ask so small a sum.
“This is the linen closet,” said Miss Copperas, opening a narrow door at the top of the stairs, and displaying some shelves that seemed to be well-filled. “Sheets, table-cloths, dinner-napkins, towels, pillow-cases; everything for use. Anybody, taking the house, has only to step in, hang up his hat, and find himself at home. Look at those plates and dishes!” she ran on, as we got down again and entered the kitchen. “They are very nice — and enough to dine ten people.”
They were of light blue ware, and looked nice enough on the dresser shelves. The grenadier stood at the table, chopping parsley on a trencher, and did not condescend to take any notice of us.
Out in the garden next, amidst the roses — which grew all round the house, clustering everywhere. They were of that species called the cabbage-rose: large, and fragrant, and most beautiful. It made me think of the Roses by Bendemeer’s stream.
“I should like the place of all things!” cried Tod, as we strolled towards the bay for a sail; and found Druff seated in his boat, smoking. “I say, Druff, do you know Captain Copperas? Get in, Johnny.”
“Lives next door to me, at Rose Lodge,” answered Druff.
“Next door! What, is that low whitewashed shanty your abode? How long has Copperas lived here?”
“A matter of some months,” said Druff. “He came in the spring.”
“Are they nice kind of people?”
“They be civil to me,” answered Druff. “Sent my old missis a bottle o’ wine in, and some hot broth t’ other day, when she was ill. The captain ——”
A sudden lurch put a stop to the discourse, and in a few minutes we glided out of the bay, Tod sitting in a brown reverie, his gaze fixed on the land and on Rose Lodge.
“My mind’s made up, Johnny. I shall take the place.”
I dropped my knife and fork in very astonishment. Our sail over, we were at dinner in the bar-parlour of the Whistling Wind.
“Surely you won’t do it, Tod!”
“Surely I shall, lad. I never saw such a nice little nest in all my life. And there’s no risk; you heard what Copperas said; I shall get my money back again when we want to leave it.”
“Look here, Tod: I was thinking a bit whilst we sat in the boat. Does it not seem to you to be too good to be genuine?”
It was Tod’s turn now to drop his knife and fork: and he did it angrily. “Just tell me what you mean, Johnny Ludlow.”
“All that furniture, and the piano, and the carpets, and the plate and linen: it looks such a heap to be going for only a hundred and twenty-five pounds.”
“I can’t think that Copperas means it.”
“Not mean it! Why, you young muff? There are the things, and he has offered them to me. If Copperas chooses to part with them for half their value, is it my place to tell him he’s a fool? The poor man is driven into a corner through want of time. Sailors are uncommonly improvident.”
“It is such an undertaking, Tod.”
“It is not your undertaking.”
“Of course it is a tremendous bargain; and it is a beautiful little place to have. But I can’t think what the pater will say to it.”
“I can,” said Tod. “When he hears of it — but that will not be yet awhile — he will come off here post-haste to blow me up; and end by falling in love with the roses. He always says that there is no rose like a cabbage-rose.”
“He will never forgive you, Tod; or me either. He will say the world’s coming to an end.”
“If you are afraid of him, Johnny, you can take yourself off. Hold up your plate for some more lamb, and hold your tongue.”
There was no help for it; anything I could say would have no more weight with Tod than so much wasted water; so I did as he bade me, and held my tongue. Down he went to Captain Copperas ere his dinner was well swallowed, and told him he would take the house. The Captain said he would have a short agreement drawn up; and Tod took out his cheque-book, to give a cheque for the money there and then. But the Captain, like an honest man, refused to receive it until the agreement was executed; and, if all the same, he would prefer money down to a cheque. Cheques were all very good, no doubt, he said; but sailors did not much understand them. Oh, of course, Tod answered, shaking him by the hand; he would get the money.
Inquiring of our landlady for the nearest bank, Tod was directed to a town called St. Ann’s, three miles off; and we started for it at once, pelting along the hot and dusty road. The bank found — a small one, with a glazed bow-window, Tod presented a cheque for a hundred and fifty pounds, twenty-five of it being for himself, and asked the clerk to cash it.
The clerk looked at the cheque then looked at Tod, and then at me. “This is not one of our cheques,” he said. “We have no account in this name.”
“Can’t you read?” asked Tod. “The cheque is upon the Worcester Old Bank. You know it well by reputation, I presume?”
The clerk whisked into a small kind of box, divided from the office by glass, where sat a bald-headed gentleman writing at a desk full of pigeon-holes. A short conference, and then the latter came to us, holding the cheque in his hand.
“We will send and present this at Worcester,” he said; “and shall get an answer the day after tomorrow. No doubt we shall then be able to give you the money.”
“Why can’t you give it me now?” asked Tod, in rather a fiery tone.
“Well, sir, we should be happy to do it; but it is not our custom to cash cheques for strangers.”
“Do you fear the cheque will not be honoured?” flashed Tod. “Why, I have five hundred pounds lying there! Do you suppose I want to cheat you?”
“Oh, certainly not,” said the banker, with suavity. “Only, you see, we cannot break through our standing rules. Call upon us the day after tomorrow, and doubtless the money will be ready.”
Tod came away swearing. “The infamous upstarts!” cried he. “To refuse to cash my cheque! Johnny, it’s my belief they take us for a couple of adventurers.”
The money came in due course. After receiving it from the cautious banker, we went straight to Rose Lodge, pelting back from St. Ann’s at a fine pace. Tod signed the agreement, and paid the cash in good Bank of England notes. Captain Copperas brought out a bottle of champagne, which tasted uncommonly good to our thirsty throats. He was to leave Cray Bay that night on his way to Liverpool to take possession of his ship; Miss Copperas would leave on the morrow, and then we should go in. And Elizabeth, the grenadier, was to remain with us as servant. Miss Copperas recommended her, hearing Tod say he did not know where to look for one. We bargained with her to keep up a good supply of pies, and to pay her twenty shillings a month.
“Will you allow me to leave one or two of my boxes for a few days?” asked Miss Copperas of Tod, when we went down on the following morning, and found her equipped for departure. “This has been so hurried a removal that I have not had time to pack all my things, and must leave it for Elizabeth to do.”
“Leave anything you like, Miss Copperas,” replied Tod, as he shook hands. “Do what you please. I’m sure the house seems more like yours than mine.”
She thanked him, wished us both good-bye, and set off to walk to the coach-office, attended by the grenadier, and a boy wheeling her luggage. And we were in possession of our new home.
It was just delightful. The weather was charming, though precious hot, and the new feeling of being in a house of our own, with not as much as a mouse to control us and our movements, was satisfactory in the highest degree. We passed our days sailing about with old Druff, and came home to the feasts prepared by the grenadier, and to sit among the roses. Altogether we had never had a time like it. Tod took the best chamber, facing the sea; I had the smaller one over the dining-room, looking up coastwards.
“I shall go fishing tomorrow, Johnny,” Tod said to me one evening. “We’ll bring home some trout for supper.”
He was stretched on three chairs before the open window; coat off, pipe in mouth. I turned round from the piano. It was not much of an instrument. Miss Copperas had said, when I hinted so to her on first trying it, that it wanted “age.”
“Shall you? All right,” I answered, sitting down by him. The stars were shining on the calm blue water; here and there lights, looking like stars also, twinkled from some vessels at anchor.
“If I thought they wouldn’t quite die of the shock, Johnny, I’d send the pater and madam an invitation to come off here and pay us a visit. They would fall in love with the place at once.”
“Oh, Tod, I wish you would!” I cried, eagerly seizing on the words. “They could have your room, and you have mine, and I would go into the little one at the back.”
“I dare say! I was only joking, lad.”
The last words and their tone destroyed my hopes. It is inconvenient to possess a conscience. Advantageous though the bargain was that Tod had made, and delightfully though our days were passing, I could not feel easy until they knew of it at home.
“I wish you would let me write and tell them, Tod.”
“No,” said he. “I don’t want the pater to whirl himself off here and spoil our peace — for that’s what would come of it.”
“He thinks we are in some way with the Temples. His letter implied it.”
“The best thing he can think.”
“But I want to write to the mother, Tod. She must be wondering why we don’t.”
“Wondering won’t give her the fever, lad. Understand me, Mr. Johnny: you are not to write.”
Breakfast over in the morning, we crossed the meadows to the trout stream, with the fishing-tackle and a basket of frogs. Tod complained of the intense heat. The dark blue sky was cloudless; the sun beat down upon our heads.
“I’ll tell you what, Johnny,” he said, when we had borne the blaze for an hour on the banks, the fish refusing to bite: “we should be all the cooler for our umbrellas. You’ll have a sunstroke, if you don’t look out.”
“It strikes me you won’t catch any fish today.”
“Does it? You be off and get the parapluies.”
The low front window stood open when I reached home. It was the readiest way of entering; and I passed on to the passage to the umbrella-stand. The grenadier came dashing out of her kitchen, looking frightened.
“Oh!” said she, “it’s you!”
“I have come back for the umbrellas, Elizabeth; the sun’s like a furnace. Why! what have you got there?”
The kitchen was strewed with clothes from one end of it to the other. On the floor stood the two boxes left by Miss Copperas.
“I am only putting up Miss Copperas’s things,” returned Elizabeth, in her surly way. “It’s time they were sent off.”
“What a heap she must have left behind!” I remarked, and left the grenadier to her work.
We got home in the evening, tired out. The grenadier had a choice supper ready; and, in answer to me, said the trunks of Miss Copperas were packed and gone. When bed-time came, Tod was asleep at the window, and wouldn’t awake. The grenadier had gone to her room ages ago; I wanted to go to mine.
“Tod, then! Do please wake up: it is past ten.”
A low growl answered me. And in that same moment I became aware of some mysterious stir outside the front-gate. People seemed to be trying it. The grenadier always locked it at night.
“Tod! Tod! There are people at the gate — trying to get in.”
The tone and the words aroused him. “Eh? What do you say, Johnny? People are trying the gate?”
“Listen! They are whispering to one another. They are trying the fastenings.”
“What on earth does anybody want at this time of night?” growled Tod. “And why can’t they ring like decent people? What’s your business?” he roared out from the window. “Who the dickens are you?”
“Hush, Tod! It — it can’t be the Squire, can it? Come down here to look after us.”
The suggestion silenced him for a moment.
“I— I don’t think so, Johnny,” he slowly said. “No, it’s not the Squire: he would be letting off at us already at the top of his voice; he wouldn’t wait to come in to do it. Let’s go and see. Come along.”
Two young men stood at the gate. One of them turned the handle impatiently as we went down the path.
“What do you want?” demanded Tod.
“I wish to see Captain Copperas.”
“Then you can’t see him,” answered Tod, woefully cross after being startled out of his sleep. “Captain Copperas does not live here.”
“Not live here!” repeated the man. “That’s gammon. I know he does live here.”
“I tell you he does not,” haughtily repeated Tod. “Do you doubt my word?”
“Who does live here, then?” asked the man, in a different tone, evidently impressed.
“I can take my oath that Captain Copperas lived here ten days ago.”
“What of that? He is gone, and Mr. Todhetley’s come.”
“Can I see Mr. Todhetley?”
“You see him now. I am he. Will you tell me your business?”
“Captain Copperas owes me a small account, and I want it settled.”
The avowal put Tod in a rage; and he showed it. “A small account! Is this a proper time to come bothering gentlemen for your small accounts — when folks are gone to bed, or going?”
“Last time I came in the afternoon. Perhaps that was the wrong time? Any way, Captain Copperas put me off, saying I was to call some evening, and he’d pay it.”
“And I’ll thank you to betake yourself off again now. How dare you disturb people at this unearthly hour! As to Captain Copperas, I tell you that he is no longer here.”
“Then I should say that Captain Copperas was a swindler.”
Tod turned on his heel at the last words, and the men went away, their retreating footsteps echoing on the road. I thought I heard the grenadier’s window being shut, so the noise must have disturbed her.
“Swindlers themselves!” cried Tod, as he fastened the house-door. “I’ll lay you a guinea, Johnny, they were two loose fellows trying to sneak inside and see what they could pick up.”
Nevertheless, in the morning he asked the grenadier whether it was true that such men had come there after any small account. And the grenadier resented the supposition indignantly. Captain Copperas owed no “small accounts” that she knew of, she said; and she had lived with him and Miss C. ever since they came to Cray Bay. She only wished she had seen the men herself last night; she would have answered them. And when, upon this, I said I thought I had heard her shut her window down, and supposed she had been listening, she denied it, and accused me of being fanciful.
“Impudent wretches!” ejaculated Tod; “to come here and asperse a man of honour like Copperas.”
That day passed off quietly, and to our thorough enjoyment; but the next one was fated to bring us some events. Some words of Tod’s, as I was pouring out the breakfast coffee, startled me.
“Oh, by Jupiter! How have they found us out here?”
Looking up, I saw the postman entering the gate with a letter. The same thought struck us both — that it was some terrible mandate from the Squire. Tod went to the window and held out his hand.
“For Elizabeth, at Captain Copperas’s,” read out the man, as he handed it to Tod. It was a relief, and Tod sent me with it to the grenadier.
But in less than one minute afterwards she came into the room, bathed in tears. The letter was to tell her that her mother was lying ill at their home, some unpronounceable place in Wales, and begging earnestly to see her.
“I’m sorry to leave you at a pinch; but I must go,” sobbed the grenadier. “I can’t help myself; I shall start by the afternoon coach.”
Well, of course there was nothing to be said against it. A mother was a mother. But Tod began to wonder what on earth we should do: as did I, for the matter of that. The grenadier offered to cook our luncheon before starting, which we looked upon as a concession.
“Let’s go for a sail, Johnny, and leave perplexities to right themselves.”
And a glorious sail we had! Upon getting back at one o’clock, we found a huge meat pie upon the luncheon-table, and the grenadier with her bonnet on. Tod handed her five shillings; the sum, as she computed, that was due to her.
We heard the bumping of her boxes on the stairs. At the gate stood the boy with the truck, ready to wheel them to the coach-office, as he had wheeled those of Miss Copperas. Tod was helping himself to some more pie, when the grenadier threw open the door.
“My boxes are here, gentlemen. Will you like to look at them?”
“Look at them for what?” asked Tod, after staring a minute.
“To see that I’m taking none of your property away inside them.”
At last Tod understood what she meant, and felt inclined to throw the dish at her head. “Shut the door, and don’t be a fool,” said he. “And I hope you’ll find your mother better,” I called out after her.
“And now, Johnny, what are we to do?” cried he, when lunch was over and there was no one to take it away. “This is like a second edition of Robinson Crusoe.”
We left it where it was, and went off to the shops and the Whistling Wind, asking if they could tell us of a servant. But servants seemed not to be forthcoming at a pinch; and we told our troubles to old Druff.
“My missis shall come in and see a bit to things for ye,” said he. “She can light the fire in the morning, anyway, and boil the kettle.”
And with the aid of Mother Druff — an ancient dame who went about in clogs — we got on till after breakfast in the morning, when a damsel came after the place. She wore a pink gauze bonnet, smart and tawdry, and had a pert manner.
“Can you cook?” asked Tod.
The substance of her answer was, that she could do everything under the sun, provided she were not “tanked” after. Her late missis was for ever a-tanking. Would there be any washing to do? — because washing didn’t agree with her: and how often could she go out, and what was the wages?
Tod looked at me in doubt, and I slightly shook my head. It struck me that she would not do at any price. “I think you won’t suit,” said he to her.
“Oh,” returned she, all impertinence. “I can go then where I shall suit: and so, good-morning, gentlemen. There’s no call for you to be so uppish. I didn’t come after your forks and spoons.”
“The impudent young huzzy!” cried Tod, as she slammed the gate after her. “But she might do better than nobody, Johnny.”
“I don’t like her, Tod. If it rested with me, I’d rather live upon bread-and-cheese than take her.”
“Bread-and-cheese!” he echoed. “It is not a question of only bread-and-cheese. We must get our beds made and the knives cleaned.”
It seemed rather a blue look-out. Tod said he would go up again to the Whistling Wind, and tell Mother Jones she must find us some one. Picking a rose as he went down the path, he met a cleanly-looking elderly woman who was entering. She wore a dark apron, and old-fashioned white cap, and said she had come after the place.
“What can you do?” began Tod. “Cook?”
“Cook and clean too, sir,” she answered. And I liked the woman the moment I saw her.
“Oh, I don’t know that there’s much cleaning to do, beyond the knives,” remarked Tod. “We want our dinners cooked, you know, and the beds made. That’s about all.”
The woman smiled at that, as if she thought he knew little about it. “I have been living at the grocer’s, up yonder, sir, and they can give me a good character, though I say it. I’m not afraid of doing all you can want done, and of giving satisfaction, if you’d please to try me.”
“You’ll do,” said Tod, after glancing at me. “Can you come in at once?”
“As soon as you like, sir. When would you please to go for my character?”
“Oh, bother that!” said he. “I’ve no doubt you are all right. Can you make pigeon pies?”
“That I can, sir.”
“You’ll do then. What is your name?”
“Elizabeth Ho ——”
“Elizabeth?” he interrupted, not giving her time to finish. “Why, the one just gone was Elizabeth. A grenadier, six feet high.”
“I’ve been mostly called Betty, sir.”
“Then we’ll call you Betty too.”
She went away, saying that she’d come back with her aprons. Tod looked after her.
“You like her, don’t you, Johnny?”
“That I do. She’s a good sort; honest as can be. You did not ask her about wages.”
“Oh, time enough for that,” said he.
And Betty turned out to be good as gold. Her history was a curious one; she told it to me one evening in the kitchen; in her small way she had been somewhat of a martyr. But God had been with her always, she said; through more trouble than the world knew of.
We had a letter from Mrs. Todhetley, redirected on from Sanbury. The chief piece of news it contained was, that the Squire and old Jacobson had gone off to Great Yarmouth for a fortnight.
“That’s good,” said Tod. “Johnny lad, you may write home now.”
“And tell about Rose Lodge?”
“Tell all you like. I don’t mind madam. She’ll have leisure to digest it against the pater returns.”
I wrote a long letter, and told everything, going into the minute details that she liked to hear, about the servants, and all else. Rose Lodge was the most wonderful bargain, I said, and we were both as happy as the days were long.
The church was a little primitive edifice near the sands. We went to service on Sunday morning; and upon getting home afterwards, found the cloth not laid. Tod had ordered dinner to be on the table. He sent me to the kitchen to blow up Betty.
“It is quite ready and waiting to be served; but I can’t find a clean tablecloth,” said Betty.
“Why, I told you where the tablecloths were,” shouted Tod, who heard the answer. “In the cupboard at the top of the stairs.”
“But there are no tablecloths there, sir,” cried she. “Nor anything else either, except a towel or two.”
Tod went upstairs in a passion, bidding her follow him, and flung the cupboard door open. He thought she had looked in the wrong place.
But Betty was right. With the exception of two or three old towels and some stacks of newspapers, the cupboard was empty.
“By Jove!” cried Tod. “Johnny, that grenadier must have walked off with all the linen!”
Whether she had, or had not, none to speak of could be found now. Tod talked of sending the police after her, and wrote an account of her delinquencies to Captain Copperas, addressing the letter to the captain’s brokers in Liverpool.
“But,” I debated, not quite making matters out to my own satisfaction, “the grenadier wanted us to examine her boxes, you know.”
“All for a blind, Johnny.”
It was the morning following this day, Monday, that, upon looking from my window, something struck me as being the matter with the garden. What was it? Why, all the roses were gone! Down I rushed, half dressed, burst out at the back-door, and gazed about me.
It was a scene of desolation. The rose-trees had been stripped; every individual rose was clipped neatly off from every tree. Two or three trees were left untouched before the front window; all the rest were rifled.
“What the mischief is the matter, Johnny?” called out Tod, as I was hastily questioning Betty. “You are making enough noise for ten, lad.”
“We have had robbers here, Tod. Thieves. All the roses are stolen.”
He made a worse noise than I did. Down he came, full rush, and stamped about the garden like any one wild. Old Druff and his wife heard him, and came up to the palings. Betty, busy in her kitchen, had not noticed the disaster.
“I see Tasker’s people here betimes this morning,” observed Druff. “A lot of ’em came. ’Twas a pity, I thought, to slice off all them nice big blows.”
“Saw who? — saw what?” roared Tod, turning his anger upon Druff. “You mean to confess to me that you saw these rose-trees rifled, and did not stop it?”
“Nay, master,” said Druff, “how could I interfere with Tasker’s people? Their business ain’t mine.”
“Who are Tasker’s people?” foamed Tod. “Who is Tasker?”
“Tasker? Oh, Tasker’s that there man at the white cottage on t’other side the village. Got a big garden round it.”
“Is he a poacher? Is he a robber?”
“Bless ye, master, Tasker’s no robber.”
“And yet you saw him take my roses?”
“I see him for certain. I see him busy with the baskets as the men filled ’em.”
Dragging me after him, Tod went striding off to Tasker’s. We knew the man by sight; had once spoken to him about his garden. He was a kind of nurseryman. Tasker was standing near his greenhouse.
“Why did I come and steal your roses?” he quietly repeated, when he could understand Tod’s fierce demands. “I didn’t steal ’em, sir; I picked ’em.”
“And how dared you do it? Who gave you leave to do it?” foamed Tod, turning green and purple.
“I did it because they were mine.”
“Yours! Are you mad?”
“Yes, sir, mine. I bought ’em and paid for ’em.”
Tod did think him mad at the moment; I could see it in his face. “Of whom, pray, did you buy them?”
“Of Captain Copperas. I had ’em from the garden last year and the year afore: other folks lived in the place then. Three pounds I gave for ’em this time. The captain sold ’em to me a month ago, and I was to take my own time for gathering them.”
I don’t think Tod had ever felt so floored in all his life. He stood back against the pales and stared. A month ago we had not known Captain Copperas.
“I might have took all the lot: ’twas in the agreement; but I left you a few before the front winder,” said Tasker, in an injured tone. “And you come and attack me like this!”
“But what do you want with them? What are they taken for?”
“To make otter of roses,” answered Tasker. “I sell ’em to the distillers.”
“At any rate, though it be as you say, I would have taken them openly,” contended Tod. “Not come like a thief in the night.”
“But then I had to get ’em afore the sun was powerful,” calmly answered Tasker.
Tod was silent all the way home. I had not spoken a word, good or bad. Betty brought in the coffee.
“Pour it out,” said he to me. “But, Johnny,” he presently added, as he stirred his cup slowly round, “I can’t think how it was that Copperas forget to tell me he had sold the roses.”
“Do you suppose he did forget?”
“Why, of course he forgot. Would an honest man like Copperas conceal such a thing if he did not forget it? You will be insinuating next, Johnny Ludlow, that he is as bad as Tasker.”
I must say we were rather in the dumps that day. Tod went off fishing; I carried the basket and things. I did wish I had not said so much about the roses to Mrs. Todhetley. What I wrote was, that they were brighter and sweeter and better than those other roses by Bendemeer’s stream.
I thought of the affair all day long. I thought of it when I was going to bed at night. Putting out the candle, I leaned from my window and looked down on the desolate garden. The roses had made its beauty.
“Johnny! Johnny lad! Are you in bed?”
The cautious whisper came from Tod. Bringing my head inside the room, I saw him at the door in his slippers and braces.
“Come into my room,” he whispered. “Those fellows who disturbed us the other night are at the gate again.”
Tod’s light was out and his window open. We could see a man bending down outside the gate, fumbling with the lock. Presently the bell was pulled very gently, as if the ringer thought the house might be asleep and he did not want to awaken it. There was something quite ghostly to the imagination in being disturbed at night like this.
“Who’s there?” shouted Tod.
“I am,” answered a cautious voice. “I want to see Captain Copperas.”
“Come along, Johnny. This is getting complicated.”
We went out to the gate, and saw a man: he was not either of the two who had come before. Tod answered him as he had answered them, but did not open the gate.
“Are you a friend of the captain’s?” whispered the man.
“Yes, I am,” said Tod. “What then?”
“Well, see here,” resumed he, in a confidential tone. “If I don’t get to see him it will be the worse for him. I come as a friend; come to warn him.”
“But I tell you he is not in the house,” argued Tod. “He has let it to me. He has left Cray Bay. His address? No, I cannot give it you.”
“Very well,” said the man, evidently not believing a word, “I am come out of friendliness. If you know where he is, you just tell him that Jobson has been here, and warns him to look out for squalls. That’s all.”
“I say, Johnny, I shall begin to fancy we are living in some mysterious castle, if this kind of thing is to go on,” remarked Tod, when the man had gone. “It seems deuced queer, altogether.”
It seemed queerer still the next morning. For a gentleman walked in and demanded payment for the furniture. Captain Copperas had forgotten to settle for it, he said — if he had gone away. Failing the payment, he should be obliged to take away the chairs and tables. Tod flew into a rage, and ordered him out of the place. Upon which their tongues went in for a pitched battle, and gave out some unorthodox words. Cooling down by-and-by, an explanation was come to.
He was a member of some general furnishing firm, ten miles off. Captain Copperas had done them the honour to furnish his house from their stores, including the piano, paying a small portion on account. Naturally they wanted the rest. In spite of certain strange doubts that were arising touching Captain Copperas, Tod resolutely refused to give any clue to his address. Finally the applicant agreed to leave matters as they were for three or four days, and wrote a letter to be forwarded to Copperas.
But the news that arrived from Liverpool staggered us more than all. The brokers sent back Tod’s first letter to Copperas (telling him of the grenadier’s having marched off with the linen), and wrote to say that they didn’t know any Captain Copperas; that no gentleman of that name was in their employ, or in command of any of their ships.
As Tod remarked, it seemed deuced queer. People began to come in, too, for petty accounts that appeared to be owing — a tailor, a bootmaker, and others. Betty shed tears.
One evening, when we had come in from a long day’s fishing, and were sitting at dinner in rather a gloomy mood, wondering what was to be the end of it, we caught sight of a man’s coat-tails whisking up to the front-door.
“Sit still,” cried Tod to me, as the bell rang. “It’s another of those precious creditors. Betty! don’t you open the door. Let the fellow cool his heels a bit.”
But, instead of cooling his heels, the fellow stepped aside to our open window, and stood there, looking in at us. I leaped out of my chair, and nearly out of my skin. It was Mr. Brandon.
“And what do you two fine gentlemen think of yourselves?” began he, when we had let him in. “You don’t starve, at any rate, it seems.”
“You’ll take some, won’t you, Mr. Brandon?” said Tod politely, putting the breast of a duck upon a plate, while I drew a chair for him to the table.
Ignoring the offer, he sat down by the window, threw his yellow silk handkerchief across his head, as a shade against the sun and the air, and opened upon our delinquencies in his thinnest tones. In the Squire’s absence, Mrs. Todhetley had given him my letter to read, and begged him to come and see after us, for she feared Tod might be getting himself into some inextricable mess. Old Brandon’s sarcasms were keen. To make it worse, he had heard of the new complications, touching Copperas and the furniture, at the Whistling Wind.
“So!” said he, “you must take a house and its responsibilities upon your shoulders, and pay the money down, and make no inquiries!”
“We made lots of inquiries,” struck in Tod, wincing.
“Oh, did you? Then I was misinformed. You took care to ascertain whether the landlord of the house would accept you as tenant; whether the furniture was the man’s own to sell, and had no liabilities upon it; whether the rent and taxes had been paid up to that date?”
As Tod had done nothing of the kind, he could only slash away at the other duck, and bite his lips.
“You took to a closet of linen, and did not think it necessary to examine whether linen was there, or whether it was all dumb-show ——”
“I’m sure the linen was there when we saw it,” interrupted Tod.
“You can’t be sure; you did not handle it, or count it. The Squire told you you would hasten to make ducks and drakes of your five hundred pounds. It must have been burning a hole in your pocket. As to you, Johnny Ludlow, I am utterly surprised: I did give you credit for possessing some sense.”
“I could not help it, sir. I’m sure I should never have mistrusted Captain Copperas.” But doubts had floated in my mind whether the linen had not gone away in those boxes of Miss Copperas, that I saw the grenadier packing.
Tod pulled a letter-case out of his breast-pocket, selected a paper, and handed it to Mr. Brandon. It was the cheque for one hundred pounds.
“I thought of you, sir, before I began upon the ducks and drakes. But you were not at home, and I could not give it you then. And I thank you very much indeed for what you did for me.”
Mr. Brandon read the cheque and nodded his head sagaciously.
“I’ll take it, Joseph Todhetley. If I don’t, the money will only go in folly.” By which I fancied he had not meant to have the money repaid to him.
“I think you are judging me rather hardly,” said Tod. “How was I to imagine that the man was not on the square? When the roses were here, the place was the prettiest place I ever saw. And it was dirt-cheap.”
“So was the furniture, to Copperas,” cynically observed Mr. Brandon.
“What is done is done,” growled Tod. “May I give you some raspberry pudding?”
“Some what? Raspberry pudding! Why, I should not digest it for a week. I want to know what you are going to do.”
“I don’t know, sir. Do you?”
“Yes. Get out of the place tomorrow. You can’t remain in it with bare walls: and it’s going to be stripped, I hear. Green simpletons, you must be! I dare say the landlord will let you off by paying him three months’ rent. I’ll see him myself. And you’ll both come home with me, like two young dogs with their tails burnt.”
“And lose all the money I’ve spent?” cried Tod.
“Ay, and think yourself well off that it is not more. You possess no redress; as to finding Copperas, you may as well set out to search for the philosopher’s stone. It is nobody’s fault but your own; and if it shall bring you caution, it may be an experience cheaply bought.”
“I could never have believed it of a sailor,” Tod remarked ruefully to old Druff, when we were preparing to leave.
“Ugh! fine sailor he was!” grunted Druff. “He warn’t a sailor. Not a reg’lar one. Might ha’ been about the coast a bit in a collier, perhaps — nothing more. As to that grenadier, I believe she was just another of ’em-a sister.”
But we heard a whiff of news later that told us Captain Copperas was not so bad as he seemed. After he had taken Rose Lodge and furnished it, some friend, for whom in his good-nature he had stood surety to a large amount, let him in for the whole, and ruined him. Honest men are driven into by-paths sometimes.
And so that was the inglorious finale to our charming retreat by Bendemeer’s stream.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55