Court Royal/Chapter XLIX

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Court Royal by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter XLIX. An April Fool


CHAPTER XLIX.
AN APRIL FOOL.

A great change had come over Lazarus. Whether it dated from the sprouting of the moustache, or from the conference at Court Royal, and the final imposition of terms on the great family, could not be determined by Joanna with nicety. She thought that the change began with the moustache and ripened after the latter event. Lazarus was elate. Old Cheek had retired without interference, and now that his heart was lifted up, he was more liberal than when he consented to an occasional bloater. Indeed this liberal tendency had swelled into large proportions. He had not shrunk from saddle of mutton with onion sauce, nor from fillet of veal with stuffing, nor from sirloin of beef and Yorkshire pudding—only at pork he had drawn a line, for he was strict in his Hebraic prejudices.

‘Have pig’s puddings if you like, Joanna. Don’t let my inclinations bar your way—yet, perhaps, such is the delicacy of your feelings, you don’t like to eat and see me fast.’ He spoke thickly, making strange efforts with his mouth to get out the words.

‘What is the matter with you, Mr. Lazarus? Your speech is queer, and your appearance changed——’ Joanna stopped short, and stared. Lazarus opened his mouth. He had provided himself with a double set of artificial teeth.

‘I thought I’d electrify you,’ he said. ‘Yes—I’ve had my jaw taken in hand by an artist—a dentist. Cost me a lot of money, Joanna, the charge was outrageous—a fancy price as for an object of vertu. But, so long as it pleases you, I don’t care.’

‘I wish,’ said Joanna, ‘that you’d be more particular about your hair, Mr. Lazarus. You make your pillow as black as if you used your head for a flue brush.’

Lazarus looked down.

‘You used to have grey hair.’

‘Not grey,’ said the Jew; ‘just a speckle here and there—like wood anemones in a grove.’

‘But now your hair is glossy black. Don’t use your head again on the chimney. If you object to a sweep I will use a holly bush.’

‘It is not that,’ he said, humbly.

‘Then what is it?’

‘Dye,’ he replied, with deepened colour,—a coppery blush. ‘Dye that cost me five shillings. I’ve gone through a course of Zylobalsamum and Eau des Fées. There, Joanna, if I blacken my pillowcase I am sorry. Henceforth I’ll tie a black silk handkerchief round my head when I retire to bed.’

‘What was that concern I found on the chair in your room, this morning?’

‘My stays,’ whispered the Jew.

‘Stays!’ echoed Joanna.

‘Call it corset,’ said Lazarus. ‘It sounds more aristocratic. My figure wants it.’

‘What next?’ asked Joanna contemptuously. ‘Are you coming out in knickerbockers and a Norfolk blouse?’

‘I don’t like irony,’ said the Jew; ‘it hurts my feelings, which are ticklish as the soles of my feet. Joanna! what say you to a picnic? A jaunt to Prince’s Town, on the moors in this brilliant spring weather, and a look at the convicts—so as to combine moral edification with pleasure?’

‘I should like it.’

‘You shall have it. Express a wish, and I fly to fulfil it. I have even forestalled your wishes. I’ve invited the old lady from the ham and sausage shop to join us as a sort of chaperon, you understand.’

‘When is this to be?’

‘On Sunday, when no business is doing. A carriage and pair, in style. It will cost a lot, too, but what of that, if it give Joanna pleasure, and the mountain air bring roses to her cheeks, and the sight of the prisoners inspire her heart with virtue.’

‘Why have you invited Mrs. Thresher?’

‘As a chaperon. But,’ with a chuckle, ‘if it would suit you better, Joanna, to come alone with me, I’m—as I always am and must be—agreeable. The weight will be less for the horses. The ham and sausage woman weighs ten stone before her dinner. Not that we shall be charged less for going without her—but we shall have to feed her out of our pockets. There is that to be considered. If I order a dinner at six shillings, and there are only ourselves to eat it, we shall consume three-shillings’ worth each, whereas if Mrs. Thresher comes we shall be limited to two. That has to be considered. However, it is for you to decide. I’ll regulate my appetite by your decision.’

As Joanna said nothing, he added, ‘There is another point worth weighing. If the ham and sausage lady comes, I must sit with my back to the horses; that makes me bilious, and spoils my relish of the victuals. Where you pay you expect to relish. It wouldn’t be etiquette to set a lady rearwards to the horses, would it? But no—I’ll manage. We’ll have a wagonette!’

‘There’s one thing I should like above every other,’ said Joanna; ‘that is, to go to the ball.’

‘The ball! But I can’t be there.’

‘That will not affect my pleasure. You have spoiled my fun more than once. I was to have gone to a grand dance at Court Royal, but could not, because of your affairs. Now the spring ball is about to come off, and I should dearly love to be there.’

Lazarus rubbed his head, and looked at the palm of his hand, upon which the dye had come off.

‘Joanna,’ he said, ‘you don’t consider. These balls are very select; only ladies of the county families, and the wives and daughters of officers. No second-rate parties there——’

‘I don’t want to go to any second-rate affair. The best, or none at all.’

‘But I don’t see my way to manage it. You’d want a chaperon, and the old lady from the ham and sausage shop is not quite, as the French put it, cream of the cream.’

‘I remember that you once told Mr. Charles Cheek that you could send me to any ball you had a mind to, and no lady dare refuse you.’

‘I was romancing,’ said the Jew: ‘I’m by nature an Oriental, and prone to soar into poetry.’

‘I will go,’ said Joanna decisively.

‘I can’t find the way to do it,’ answered Lazarus.

‘Very well; go to the moors with Mrs. Thresher, eat your three-shillingsworth. I will remain behind.’

‘Oh, no, no, Joanna! I’ve set my heart on this excursion.’

‘And I have set mine on the ball.’

‘I’ll see about it,’ muttered the Jew.

‘I shall not give a thought to the moors. You need have no dread of sitting with your back to the horses. You can lounge in the back seat with Mrs. Thresher.’

‘Joanna! I would not go without you. My body would be on Dartmoor, but my soul would remain at the Barbican. If you could see inside my heart,’ he said in a pathetic tone, ‘you’d behold your own self curled up there—like a maggot ill a hazel-nut. But there, I’m launching into poetry again.’

Joanna vouchsafed no remark. He sat and watched her, but she showed no symptoms of relenting.

‘I’m not now what I once was,’ he went on, ‘Then I had an object before me for which I toiled and stinted. Now that object is attained, and I need stint and toil no more. Hitherto life has been to both of us a time of privation, now it shall become a holiday. I will deny you nothing on which your heart is set. I have money in abundance, and as you have helped me to make it, you must help me to spend it. If you want rings, take them from my drawer. Chains and bracelets are at your disposal. Select what gowns you like, they are all yours.’

‘Go to bed,’ said Joanna; ‘the whisky has got into your old head.’

After that she would not speak to him. He made many attempts to draw her into conversation, but all failed. When he was about to retire to rest, he stood in the doorway, the picture of distress, and sighed, and said in a soft tone, ‘Good-night, Joanna.’

She poked the kitchen fire savagely, and said nothing.

‘Won’t you say “good-night” to me who’ve been so kind to you?’

Still no answer.

‘I’ll think about the ball, Joanna.*

Still obdurate.

‘You—you shall go to the ball, Joanna.’

‘Good-night, Mr. Lazarus.’

The change in the Jew’s manner caused the girl uneasiness. She was shrewd enough to see what it meant. He had fallen in love with her after a peculiar fashion. For a long time he had used her as a drudge, as a mere slave, without compunction what he laid upon her and how hard he treated her. By degrees he came to realise the value of her services, and he began to ask himself what would become of him were they withdrawn. Where could he find a substitute? She had grown into his ways, to understand his requirements, almost to think his thoughts. She had been educated in the business and comprehended it thoroughly in all its parts and turns. Then, when he had come to appreciate her worth to him, Charles Cheek appeared on the stage, admiring her, hanging about the house, and threatening, as the Jew feared, to carry her off. Alarmed at the prospect of losing her, his eyes opened to the fact that she was grown to be a woman, and a beautiful woman. He grew jealous of the visits of young Cheek, and jealousy, bred in self-interest, awoke a sort of monkey-love in the old man. His wife was dead and he was free.

Joanna did not, perhaps, read all that passed in his mind, but she read enough to be uncomfortable in his presence, and to repel his advances with decision.

She used his infatuation as far as served her purposes, but she kept him well at bay. Several times when they were together, she noticed that he was working himself up to a declaration of his sentiments. The sure sign of this was his helping himself repeatedly to the spirit-bottle. When he did this the girl left the kitchen, and did not return till his courage had evaporated.

Formerly the Jew had drunk nothing but water, only occasionally mixed with whisky. Of late he had enlarged his doses, not of water, but of whisky. He sometimes pressed her to take hot spirits and water, to sip some from his glass, on the pretext that she had taken a chill, but she steadily, even rudely, refused.

Lazarus was disagreeable enough in his earlier bearish mood, he was worse in his later loving mood; and, in spite of the increased comfort in the house, Joanna would gladly have returned to the former state of affairs, to be freed from his ungainly and irksome amiabilities.

Joanna was not happy. She had not seen Charles Cheek for some time, nor heard more of him than a report brought by Lazarus, that he had been to his father and that the old man had forbidden his return to Plymouth, the scene of so many follies.

The day fixed for the excursion to Prince’s Town broke brilliantly.

Dartmoor is a high barren region, rising from two to three thousand feet above the sea, towering into granite peaks, broken by brawling torrents. In the heart of this desolate region, and in the most desolate portion, in a boggy basin devoid of picturesqueness, stands the convict prison of Prince’s Town, above the line where corn will ripen and deciduous trees will grow; often enveloped in vapour, exposed to every raging blast from the ocean.

To pass from the warm, steamy atmosphere of Plymouth to the cold and bracing air of Prince’s Town, is almost a leap from the hot into the frozen zone. The drive was delightful. Joanna and Mrs. Thresher sat facing the horses, and the latter talked of the drop in the price of pork and the quality of imported bacon, during the greater part of the journey. The Jew occupied the position that disagreed with him. Joanna entreated him to change seats with her, but his gallantry was proof against her solicitations. He cast yellow, malevolent glances at Mrs. Thresher, who made no such offer, which, had it been made, he would have accepted. He maintained his place, sitting sideways, and his face became momentarily more sallow. He wore a straw nautical hat, with a blue riband about it with fluttering ends, and in golden characters on the front, an anchor and the name ‘Nausicaa.’ His black vest was very open, exhibiting a starched white front set with coral studs, and a black tie à la Byron slipped through a cornelian ring. Over his waistcoat dangled a massive golden chain, and his fingers were covered with rings.

As the unfortunate man became really unwell, the ladies insisted on his mounting the box. ‘But then,’ said he gallantly, ‘I am turning my back on the finest view,’ and he bowed to Joanna and raised his cap, exposing a very discoloured lining.

Joanna enjoyed the drive, especially that part of it when Lazarus was not opposite her, getting yellow in face and grey in lip.

She did not talk to Mrs. Thresher; she was not interested in American bacon; she was engaged in looking about her, at the views, the hedges, the rocks, the rushing stream that danced and feathered over the granite boulders. The hedges were starred with primroses. Here and there they were white, and here and there pink. The larks were singing and twinkling high aloft, the busy rooks were cawing and flashing in the sunlight, looking sometimes white. From the beech-groves came the liquid coo of the doves, and the gush of the throstle’s song, and the fluting of blackbirds. Nature teemed with music, poetry, and the exuberance of life. Only one thing lacked, thought the girl, to make the day perfect: Charles Cheek should have been there with his joyous humour and lively prattle. At length they reached Prince’s Town, and ordered dinner at the inn. Whilst the meal was in preparation, the holiday makers wandered about the prison, and watched the warders and the convicts.

‘This is very improving,’ said Lazarus. ‘It screws up our morals like the tuning of fiddles. You see, Joanna, the miserable end of men who allow themselves to be found out.’

After dinner, Joanna slipped away, to be alone in the wilderness, and inhale with long draughts the sparkling air that pours into the lungs like atmospheric champagne. She climbed a height, and ensconced herself among the piles of granite, away from the cold wind, in the glow of the glorious sun. To the south lay Plymouth harbour and the glittering sea. Fold on fold of blue hill stretching away for miles to the rugged peaks of the Cornish moors lay to her right.

As she sat in her nook, believing herself alone, she was disturbed by a head with a sailor hat protruding itself from behind a rock. In another moment, Lazarus was before her. He threw himself in the short grass at her feet, picked a rush, and nibbled at the end.

‘Joanna,’ he said, ‘why did you run away? Why did you leave me with old Thresher? What do I care for old Thresher?I brought Thresher to-day as gooseberry picker. In the upper walks of life, to which we are going to belong, gooseberry pickers are the thing. Young people must have them as incumbrances when out junketing. I’ve left old Thresher examining some pigs fed by the warders off the scraps left by the convicts. Did you mark how the old lady ate? I did. It was a race between us; especially over the roly-poly pudding. She didn’t want to have the doughy end without the jam, and I was determined she should. A roly-poly has but two ends, not three, so two must have ends, and only one can enjoy the middle. I was resolved that you should have the best part and that Thresher and I should have the ends. I cared for your interests above my own, you’ll allow that, Joanna. I took one end, and Thresher pulled a mow when I gave her the other. Did you see it? But you had the middle, oozing out with whortleberry jam; and that shows, if demonstration were needed’ (he lowered his voice), ‘how I regard you. I wouldn’t have done that in the old days, would I?’

‘No, sir’

‘And let me assure you of this, Joanna, the round globe does not contain another woman for whom I would do it now.’ He took off his hat, and exposed his forehead scored with a black ring. ‘I hope you see, Joanna, what a change has taken place in my feelings towards you. You may have noticed in me the wakings of tenderness of late. Ah, Joanna! do me a favour! You saved my house from fire, my property from