In the Roar of the Sea/Chapter 11

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In the Roar of the Sea by Sabine Baring-Gould
Chapter 11

CHAPTER XI.


JESSAMINE.


"How are you, old man?"

"Middlin', thanky'; and how be you, gov'nor?"

"Middlin' also; and your missus?"

"Only sadly. I fear she's goin' slow but sure the way of all flesh."

"Bless us! 'Tis a trouble and expense them sort o' things. Now to work, shall we? What do you figure up?"

"And you?"

"Oh, well, I'm not here on reg'lar business. Huntin' on my own score to-day."

"Oh, ay! Nice port this."

"Best the old fellow had in his cellar. I told, the executrix I should like the taste of it, and advise thereon."

The valuers for dilapidations, vulgarly termed dilapidators, were met in the dining-room of the deserted parsonage. Mr. Scantlebray was on one side, Mr. Cargreen on the other. Mr. Scantlebray was on that of the "orphings," as he termed his clients, and Mr. Cargreen on that of the Rev. Mr. Mules, the recently nominated rector to S. Enodoc.

Mr. Scantlebray was a tall, lean man, with light gray eyes, a red face, and legs and arms that he shook every now and then as though they were encumbrances to his trunk and he was going to shake them off, as a poodle issuing from a bath shakes the water out of his locks. Mr. Cargreen was a bullet-headed man, with a white neckcloth, gray whiskers, a solemn face, and a sort of perpetual "Let-us-pray" expression on his lips and in his eyes—a composing of his interior faculties and abstraction from worldly concerns.

"I am here," said Mr. Scantlebray, "as adviser and friend—you understand, old man—of the orphings and their haunt."

"And I," said Mr. Cargreen, "am ditto to the incoming rector."

"And what do you get out of this visit?" asked Mr. Scantlebray, who was a frank man.

"Only three guineas as a fee," said Mr. Cargreen. "And you?"

"Ditto, old man—three guineas. You understand, I am not here as valuer to-day."

"Nor I—only as adviser."

"Exactly! Taste this port. 'Taint bad—out of the cellar of the old chap. Told auntie I must have it, to taste and give opinion on."

"And what are you going to do to-day?"

"I'm going to have one or two little things pulled down, and other little things put to rights."

"Humph! I'm here to see nothing is pulled down."

"We won't quarrel. There's the conservatory, and the linney in Willa Park."

"I don't know," said Cargreen, shaking his head.

"Now look here, old man," said Mr. Scantlebray. "You let me tear the linney down, and I'll let the conservatory stand."

"The conservatory——"

"I know; the casement of the best bedroom went through the roof of it. I'll mend the roof and repaint it. You can try the timber, and find it rotten, and lay on dilapidations enough to cover a new conservatory. Pass the linney; I want to make pickings out of that."

It may perhaps be well to let the reader understand the exact situation of the two men engaged in sipping port. Directly it was known that a rector had been nominated to S. Enodoc, Mr. Cargreen, a Bodmin valuer, agent, and auctioneer, had written to the happy nominee, Mr. Mules, of Birmingham, inclosing his card in the letter, to state that he was a member of an old-established firm, enjoying the confidence, not to say the esteem of the principal county families in the north of Cornwall, that he was a sincere Churchman, that deploring, as a true son of the Church, the prevalence of Dissent, he felt it his duty to call the attention of the reverend gentleman to certain facts that concerned him, but especially the Church, and facts that he himself, as a devoted son of the Church, on conviction, after mature study of its tenets, felt called upon, in the interest of that Church he so had at heart, to notice. He had heard, said Mr. Cargreen, that the outgoing parties from S. Enodoc were removing, or causing to be removed, or were proposing to remove, certain fixtures in the parsonage, and certain out-buildings, barns, tenements, sheds, and linneys on the glebe and parsonage premises, to the detriment of its value, inasmuch as that such removal would be prejudicial to the letting of the land, and render it impossible for the incoming rector to farm it himself without re-erecting the very buildings now in course of destruction, or which were purposed to be destroyed: to wit, certain out-buildings, barns, cattle-sheds, and linneys, together with other tenements that need not be specified. Mr. Cargreen added that, roughly speaking, the dilapidations of these buildings, if allowed to stand, might be assessed at £300; but that, if pulled down, it would cost the new rector about £700 to re-erect them, and their re-erection would be an imperative necessity. Mr. Cargreen had himself, personally, no interest in the matter; but, as a true son of the Church, etc., etc.

By return of post Mr. Cargreen received an urgent request from the Rev. Mr. Mules to act as his agent, and to act with precipitation in the protection of his interests.

In the meantime Mr. Scantlebray had not been neglectful of other people's interest. He had written to Miss Dionysia Trevisa to inform her that, though he did not enjoy a present acquaintance, it was the solace and joy of his heart to remember that some years ago, before that infelicitous marriage of Mr. Trevisa, which had led to Miss Dionysia's leaving the rectory, it had been his happiness to meet her at the house of a mutual acquaintance, Mrs. Scaddon, where he had respectfully, and, at this distance of time, he ventured to add, humbly and hopelessly admired her; that, as he was riding past the rectory he had chanced to observe the condition of dilapidation certain tenements, pig-sties, cattle-sheds, and other out-buildings were in, and that, though it in no way concerned him, yet, for auld lang syne's sake, and a desire to assist one whom he had always venerated, and, at this distance of time might add, had admired, he ventured to offer a suggestion: to wit, That a number of unnecessary out-buildings should be torn down and utterly effaced before a new rector was nominated, and had appointed a valuer; also that certain obvious repairs should be undertaken and done at once, so as to give to the parsonage the appearance of being in excellent order, and cut away all excuse for piling up dilapidations. Mr. Scantlebray ventured humbly to state that he had had a good deal of experience with those gentlemen who acted as valuers for dilapidations, and with pain he was obliged to add that a more unscrupulous set of men it had never been his bad fortune to come into contact with. He ventured to assert that, were he to tell all he knew, or only half of what he knew, as to their proceedings in valuing for dilapidations, he would make both of Miss Trevisa's ears tingle.

At once Miss Dionysia entreated Mr. Scantlebray to superintend and carry out with expedition such repairs and such demolitions as he deemed expedient, so as to forestall the other party.

"Chicken!" said Mr. Cargreen. "That's what I've brought for my lunch."

"And 'am is what I've got," said Mr. Scantlebray. "They'll go lovely together." Then, in a loud tone—"Come in!"

The door opened, and a carpenter entered with a piece of deal board in his hand.

"You won't mind looking out of the winder, Mr. Cargreen?" said Mr. Scantlebray. "Some business that's partick'ler my own. You'll find the jessamine—the white jessamine—smells beautiful."

Mr. Cargreen rose, and went to the dining-room window that was embowered in white jessamine, then in full flower and fragrance.

"What is it, Davy?"

"Well, sir, I ain't got no dry old board for the floor where it be rotten, nor for the panelling of the doors where broken through."

"No board at all?"

"No, sir—all is green. Only cut last winter."

"Won't it take paint?"

"Well, sir, not well. I've dried this piece by the kitchen fire, and I find it'll take the paint for a time."

"Run, dry all the panels at the kitchen fire, and then paint 'em."

"Thanky', sir; but how about the boarding of the floor? The boards'll warp and start."

"Look here, Davy, that gentleman who's at the winder a-smelling to the jassamine is the surveyor and valuer to t'other party. I fancy you'd best go round outside and have a word with him and coax him to pass the boards."

"Come in!" in a loud voice. Then there entered a man in a cloth coat, with very bushy whiskers. "How d'y' do, Spargo? What do you want?"

"Well, Mr. Scantlebray, I understand the linney and cow-shed is to be pulled down."

"So it is, Spargo."

"Well, sir!" Sir. Spargo drew his sleeve across his mouth. "There's a lot of very fine oak timber in it— beams, and such like—that I don't mind buying. As a timber merchant I could find a use for it."

"Say ten pound."

"Ten pun'! That's a long figure!"

"Not a pound too much; but come—we'll say eight."

"I reckon I'd thought five."

"Five! pshaw! It's dirt cheap to you at eight."

"Why to me, sir?"

"Why, because the new rector will want to rebuild both cattle-shed and linney, and he'll have to go to you for timber."

"But suppose he don't, and cuts down some on the glebe!"

"No, Spargo—not a bit. There at the winder, smelling to the jessamine, is the new rector's adviser and agent. Go round by the front door into the garding, and say a word to him—you understand, and—" Mr. Scantlebray tapped his palm. "Do now go round and have a sniff of the jessamine, Mr. Spargo, and I don't fancy Mr. Cargreen will advise the rector to use home-grown timber. He'll tell him it sleeps away, gets the rot, comes more expensive in the long run."

The valuer took a wing of chicken and a little ham, and then shouted, with his mouth full—"Come in!"

The door opened and admitted a farmer.

"How do, Mr. Joshua? middlin'?"

"Middlin', sir, thanky'."

"And what have you come about, sir?"

"Well—Mr. Scantlebray, sir ! I fancy you ha'n't offered me quite enough for carting away of all the rummage from them buildings as is coming down. 'Tis a terrible lot of stone, and I'm to take 'em so far away."

"Why not?"

"Well, sir, it's such a lot of work for the hosses, and the pay so poor."

"Not a morsel, Joshua—not a morsel."

"Well, sir, I can't do it at the price."

"Oh, Joshua! Joshua! I thought you'd a better eye to the future. Don't you see that the new rector will have to build up all these out-buildings again, and where else is he to get stone except out of your quarry, or some of the old stone you have carted away, which you will have the labor of carting back?"

"Well, sir, I don't know."

" But I do, Joshua."

"The new rector might go elsewhere for stone."

"Not he. Look there, at the winder is Mr. Cargreen, and he's in with the new parson, like a brother—knows his very soul. The new parson comes from Birmingham. What can he tell about building-stone here? Mr. Cargreen will tell him yours is the only stuff that ain't powder."

"But, sir, he may not rebuild."

"He must. Mr. Cargreen will tell him that he can't let the glebe without buildings; and he can't build without your quarry stone: and if he has your quarry stone—why, you will be given the carting also. Are you satisfied?"

"Yes—if Mr. Cargreen would be sure——"

"He's there at the winder, a-smelling to the jessamine. You go round and have a talk to him, and make him understand you know. He's a little hard o' hearing; but the drum o' his ear is here," said Scantlebray, tapping his palm.

Mr. Scantlebray was now left to himself to discuss the chicken wing—the liver wing he had taken—and sip the port; a conversation was going on in an undertone at the window; but that concerned Mr. Cargreen and not himself, so he paid no attention to it.

After a while, however, when this hum ceased, he turned his head, and called out:

"Old man! how about your lunch?"

"I'm coming."

"And you found the jessamine very sweet?"

"Beautiful! beautiful!"

"Taste this port. It is not what it should be: some the old fellow laid in when he could afford it—before he married. It is passed, and going back; should have been drunk five years ago."

Mr. Cargreen came to the table, and seated himself. Then Mr. Scantlebray flapped his arms, shook out his legs, and settled himself to the enjoyment of the lunch, in the society of Mr. Cargreen.

"The merry-thought! Pull with me, old man?"

"Certainly!"

Mr. Scantlebray and Mr. Cargreen were engaged on the merry-thought, each endeavoring to steal an advantage on the other, by working the fingers up the bone unduly, when the window was darkened.

Without desisting from pulling at the merry-thought each turned his head, and Scantlebray at once let go his end of the bone. At the window stood Captain Coppinger looking in at the couple, with his elbow resting on the window-sill.

Mr. Scantlebray flattered himself that he was on good terms with all the world, and he at once with hilarity saluted the Captain by raising the fingers greased by the bone to his brow.

"Didn't reckon on seeing you here, Cap'n."

"I suppose not."

"Come and pick a bone with us?"

Coppinger laughed a short snort through his nostrils.

"I have a bone to pick with you already."

"Never! no, never!"

"You have forced yourself on Miss Trevisa to act as her agent and valuer in the matter of dilapidations."

"Not forced, Captain. She asked me to give her friendly counsel. We are old acquaintances."

"I will not waste words. Give me her letter. She no longer requires your advice and counsel. I am going to act for her."

"You, Cap'n! Lor' bless me! You don't mean to say so!"

"Yes. I will protect her against being pillaged. She is my housekeeper."

"But see! she is only executrix. She gets nothing out of the property."

"No—but her niece and nephew do. Take it that I act for them. Give me up her letter."

Mr. Scantlebray hesitated.

"But, Cap'n, I've been to vast expense. I've entered into agreements——"

"With whom?"

"With carpenter and mason about the repairs."

"Give me the agreements."

"Not agreements exactly. They sent me in their estimates, and I accepted them, and set them to work."

"Give me the estimates."

Mr. Scantlebray flapped all his limbs, and shook his head.

"You don't suppose I carry these sort of things about with me?"

"I have no doubt whatever they are in your pocket." Scantlebray fidgeted.

"Cap'n, try this port—a little going back, but not to be sneezed at."

Coppinger leaned forward through the window.

"Who is that man with you?"

"Mr. Cargreen."

"What is he here for?"

"I am agent for the Reverend Mules, the newly appointed rector," said Mr. Cargreen, with some dignity.

"Then I request you both to step to the window to me."

The two men looked at each other. Scantlebray jumped up, and Cargreen followed. They stood in the window-bay at a respectful distance from Cruel Coppinger.

"I suppose you know who I am?" said the latter, fixing his eyes on Cargreen.

"I believe I can form a guess."

"And your duty to your client is to make out as bad a case as you can against the two children. They have had just one thousand pounds left them. You are going to get as much of that away from them as you are permitted."

"My good sir—allow me to explain——"

"There is no need," said Coppinger. " Suffice it that you are one side. I—Cruel Coppinger—on the other. Do you understand what that means?"

Mr. Cargreen became alarmed, his face became very blank.

"I am not a man to waste words. I am not a man that many in Cornwall would care to have as an adversary. Do you ever travel at night, Mr. Cargreen?"

"Yes, sir, sometimes."

"Through the lanes and along the lonely roads?"

"Perhaps, sir—now and then."

"So do I," said Coppinger. He drew a pistol from his pocket, and played with it. The two "dilapidators" shrank back. "So do I," said Coppinger; "but I never go unarmed. I would advise you to do the same—if you are my adversary."

"I hope, Captain, that—that——"

"If those children suffer through you more than what I allow"—Coppinger drew up his one shoulder that he could move—"I should advise you to consider what Mrs. Cargreen will have to live on when a widow." Then he turned to Scantlebray, who was sneaking behind the window-curtain.

"Miss Trevisa's letter, authorizing you to act for her?"

Scantlebray, with shaking hand, groped for his pocketbook.

"And the two agreements or estimates you signed."

Scantlebray gave him the letter.

"The agreements also."

Nervously the surveyor groped again, and reluctantly produced them. Captain Coppinger opened them with his available hand.

"What is this? Five pounds in pencil added to each, and then summed up in the total? What is the meaning of that, pray?"

Mr. Scantlebray again endeavored to disappear behind the curtain.

"Come forward!" shouted Captain Cruel, striking the window-sill with the pistol.

Scantlebray jumped out of his retreat at once.

"What is the meaning of these two five pounds?"

"Well, sir—Captain—it is usual; every one does it. It is my—what d'y' call it?—consideration for accepting the estimates."

"And added to each, and then charged to the orphans, who pay you to act in their interest so they pay wittingly, directly, and unwittingly, indirectly. Well for you and for Mrs. Scantlebray that I release you of your obligation to act for Mother Dunes—I mean Miss Trevisa."

"Sir," said Cargreen, "under the circumstances, under intimidation, I decline to sully my fingers with the business. I shall withdraw."

"No, you shall not," said Cruel Coppiriger, resolutely. "You shall act, and act as I approve; and in the end it shall not be to your disadvantage."

Then, without a word of farewell, he stood up, slipped the pistol back into his pocket, and strode away.

Mr. Cargreen had become white, or rather, the color of dough. After a moment he recovered himself somewhat, and, turning to Scantlebray, with a sarcastic air, said—

"I hope you enjoy the jessamine. They don't smell particularly sweet to me."

"Orful!" groaned Scantlebray. He shook himself—almost shaking off all his limbs in the convulsion—"Old man—them jessamines is orful!"