Court Royal/Chapter XXVII
Mr. Lazarus was engaged on his dinner. He sat on the chair without a bottom, with a plate on his knees. In that plate were three cold Jerusalem artichokes. He had a fourth on the end of an iron fork, and he held it between his eye and the window. ‘It is deadly grey in flesh,’ he said, ‘and sits cold on the stomick. I wish Joanna were back to warm my victuals. It is not the quality I object to, it’s the coldness. There is a sort of damp chill about these cold artichokes, like grey November fog solidified into vegetable pills. Joanna is a long time about her business. I know what it is—the great dinners she gets there, goose and sage stuffing, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, the beef with little white curls of horse-radish on it, like the first locks on the head of an innocent babe, that a mother loves to play with. One of the first things that ever I can remember, when I turn my eyes lovingly back upon childhood, is tapioca pudding; how delicious it was, golden on top like cream, and browned here and there, made with good milk and an egg. There is a deal of difference between the tapioca now and what it was then. Now best Rio is eightpence-half penny, Penang is fivepence; then it cost me nothing. Those childish days were lovely. I paid for nothing, I consumed everything gratis. They will never return, never. I wish Joanna were back; I can’t stomach these artichokes. I’d make her eat them, it is a sin to waste them, and I’d get myself a cheesecake.’ The door was thrown open, and Joanna appeared, thrusting her box before her with one hand and both knees, whilst with the left hand she clasped a flower-pot.
‘There!’ said she, ‘I’m back, Mr. Lazarus. The man outside is waiting to be paid for carrying my box. He wants a shilling, but he can be forced to be content with ninepence if you refuse to give more. I want some dinner.’
‘Here, take it,’ said Lazarus, handing her the plate; ‘do as you always have done—tear the very food from my mouth. You long-necked cormorant! You’ve done growing and ought to be ashamed of yourself.’
‘The porter is waiting to be paid,’ said Joanna.
‘I suppose eightpence and a French sou will do, if I slip it among the English coppers. Take this; you shall get no more. With a little effort you might have carried the box yourself.’
An altercation was heard outside when the girl offered the porter the eightpence and sou. Lazarus put his hands in his pockets and listened with composure. To put his hands in his pockets he was forced to stand up; then he sat down in the bottomless chair, and clenched them in the position where he had thrust them. Not another halfpenny would he give, but if the porter were inclined to deal, that was another matter.
Joanna returned triumphant. ‘He went away cursing all Jews,’ she said.
‘Let him curse,’ answered Lazarus; ‘that relieves temper and don’t hurt. There are your victuals, Joanna. I hope you’ve not been so pampered as to have your stomach spoiled. I suppose geese have been thick as quails in Kibroth-hataavah. I don’t like goose, it is greasy food. Mutton, boiled, with caper sauce, roast with currant jelly,—bah! you are puffy about the face, laying on fat in flakes. Tapioca, I suppose, every day, gorging yourself on it,—guzzling greengage trifle, making a beast of yourself on meringues. I had a meringue once, the day I was married, that ended in gall and bitterness. I don’t mean the meringue, I mean the marriage. The meringue cost me fourpence.’
Joanna took the plate of cold artichokes, turned them contemptuously over, and ate them.
‘I’ll tell you what it is, master,’ she said; ‘I’ve toiled and lied for you, and done a deal of dirty work. I’ve done dirty work here, mending old clothes, and patching and darning carpets, but the dirtiest work you ever set me to do is what I have done at Court Royal. What has come of it all? I am cheated out of two dances. You sent me there, just when I was about to get a little amusement and learn dancing, and when I got there, and did learn, you gave me work to do that forced me to run away and miss the tenants’ ball. It is not fair.’
‘Run away!’ echoed Lazarus. ‘You haven’t run away, and not done what you was sent after? You can’t have been so wicked?’
‘I’ve done it,’ said Joanna,‘and truly ashamed of myself I am. I tell you what it is, Mr. Lazarus, unless I was pawned to you and couldn’t do otherwise, I’d strike. But you know you’ve got me, and can drive me where you will. I give you fair warning, I’ll kill myself rather than do more of that sort of dirty work; then you may whistle for your half-a-sovereign, and the interest—seven shillings. I reckon you’ll be careful not to drive me to extremities, lest you are left seventeen shillings to the bad.’ Joanna looked round the kitchen. ‘What a proper mess you’ve got everything into whilst I have been away! It is a piggery. No wonder Moses forbade you eating swine’s flesh, it would be sheer cannibalism. Everything was bad before, but it is bad and rusty and dirty now. I will not have it. Take yourself out of that seatless chair; you’re sinking through it so low that in another minute you’ll be sitting on the floor. Get out; I’ll bring you down a sound chair from upstairs.’
‘The chair is good, Joanna, it only wants the oven tray across it.’
‘I will not have it here. I have been in kitchens that were a pleasure to live in. There every bit of wood was white, and every bit of metal shone. I could have been happy there, but for what you’d set me at, and that took the pleasure out of everything. Look at that window-pane, cracked where the boys threw a stone eighteen months ago. A dab of putty holds it together, and stops the hole where the stone went through. It must be mended. I will not bear it left like this.’
‘Go along, Joanna; now you have glutted your appetite, go and get on your old clothes. Those you have on are too good for this shop.’
‘No—I will not put on such mean, miserable rags again. I have worn what are neat and clean, and neat and clean I shall dress henceforth. Unless I have my own way, I won’t light the fire and boil the kettle, I won’t peel the potatoes, nor turn uniforms, nor sell anything. I’ll lie in bed, and you won’t get me out except with dynamite.’
‘You’ve been spoiled,’ said the pawnbroker, ‘Oh, the wickedness of the world! I had you here, sheltered under my wing from every harm, and when I send you out a little way, you become a prey to all kinds of vice and corruption of morals. You’re too grand now to do anything. Why wasn’t you a Jewess born, and then nothing you went through would have taken the love of economy out of you! I suppose you’ve seen such grand things that nothing here seems good. Perhaps you’d like plate glass in the kitchen window, and a silver stew-pan for the potatoes, and an eider-down petticoat, and a dado round the walls of the scullery!’
‘He who has seen the sea doesn’t call every puddle a lake,’ said Joanna. ‘I’d rather live in one of the Duke’s cottages with deal tables and clean plates than among your valuables, allowed only to use what is worthless. No, master,’ added Joanna, looking round, ‘it has done me good to go away. I’ve seen a bit of a new world, and I’m wiser than I was. You can’t get a shirt off a naked man, nor feathers off a toad, so I do not expect of you to let me have everything new and bright, but I will have things sound and clean.’
‘Whither are you going now?’ he asked, as she made a movement towards the stairs.
‘I am going after my flowers,’ she answered; ‘I want to see how they are. I’ve thought of them and longed to see them again, and they are about the only things here I have cared to see once more. I’ll tell you another thing. Get the sack of shavings from under the counter, and empty it in the cupboard under the stairs, where I keep my kindling. I’ll sleep in the shop no more. I’ll have a proper bed and a room to myself. I am eighteen; in another year mother will redeem me; if not, I shall redeem myself, my own way.’ Then she ascended the stairs.
Lazarus struggled out of his chair. Having his hands in his pockets, and sinking deeper through the place where the seat had been, he was nipped, and could not extricate himself with ease. He shook his head, and, when his hands were free, withdrew them from his pockets, and rubbed his frowsy chin. ‘What democratic ideas are afloat!’ he said. ‘What will the world come to?’
Then he seated himself on the flour-barrel. ‘She’ll be too proud to occupy this place of honour,’ said he, ‘where she’s squatted time out of mind. I made a sad mistake plunging her in the whirlpool; now, she’ll never be to me what she was—she’ll be exacting in her food, for one thing. That reminds me, I have not had my dinner. I’ll go and get something at the shop over the way.’
When Joanna came down, to her surprise she saw that the Jew had put a beefsteak pie and a plate of cheesecakes on the table, as well as a jug of porter. He had been across the street, and procured these delicacies. After a struggle with himself, he made the purchases, both because he was hungry himself, and because he was afraid of losing Joanna’s services unless he treated her better. The contrast between her life at Court Royal Lodge and the Golden Balls, Barbican, was too dreadful not to shock her; he resolved to bridge the chasm with beefsteak pie and cheesecakes.
‘There, there, my child,’ he said; ‘you see how I love you, and how glad I am to have you home. If you had given me earlier notice I would have had better fare ready for you; as it is, I have run out and spared no expense to provide you with dainties. Sit down, bring a chair from upstairs—two, one for me, I can endure that bottomless affair no longer, and tell me what of my business you have done at Court Royal.’
Joanna was mollified by what she saw. ‘I thank you,’ she said; ‘you have watered my plants whilst I have been away. I thank you.’
‘Don’t mention it,’ answered the Jew; ‘the water cost nothing. What have you ascertained?’
‘Here is the account,’ said the girl, extending to him the note-book Beavis had observed under her hand in the office. ‘I was caught taking my extracts, and I got away with difficulty. I lost my dance by it.’
The Jew clutched the book eagerly.
‘To-night,’ she said, ‘is the tenants’ ball, and I was to have been there. Lady Grace and Miss Lucy taught me to dance, and I should have been happy—but I was caught over the accounts and had to make off.’
The Jew was immersed in the accounts. He chuckled, and rubbed his knees.
‘Past all recovery,’ he said, and laughed.
‘I do not know that,’ said Joanna, helping herself to some pie. ‘The Marquess is going to marry an heiress, tremendously wealthy, and that will set the property afloat again.’
‘What—what is that?’ exclaimed the Jew, starting up with almost a scream.
‘There is a leathery coffee-planter come home from Ceylon with a pale daughter. Their name is Rigsby. A match has been made up between the Marquess of Saltcombe and Miss Rigsby. I don’t suppose he cares much for her; but she is worth a vast sum of money, and the steward, Mr. Worthivale, calculates to clear the property with her fortune. If you’ve got some of the mortgages, it is all right. You’ll have the money.’
‘I do not want the money. I will not be paid off!’ cried the Jew, dashing his hands against his forehead.
Joanna took some more beefsteak pie. ‘That is the first time I have heard you decline money,’ she said dryly. ‘What do you want? Not the property! Not to be a great landlord? Not to pig in Court Royal?’
‘I will refuse the money. I will keep my grip on them.’
Joanna poured herself out some stout.
‘If they choose to clear you off they can. I believe it is Mr. Worthivale’s intention to do so immediately after the marriage has taken place,’ she said.
‘Who are these Rigsbys? Where are they?’
‘I have told you what Mr. Rigsby is. They have taken a house in Plymouth or Stoke. They have taken a house there for the winter.’
‘Do they know the state of affairs?’
‘I cannot tell. I have not talked with them. I have found out a great deal. You cannot expect me to see into people’s heads as if they were water-bottles. It is only cheapjacks who expose all their contents to the public.’
‘Is this Rigsby a fool to sink his fortune in redeeming land which is daily depreciating in value?’
‘I do not think he is a fool. He does not look like it.’
‘Joanna! this spoils all my schemes. I have toiled and spun to get my web round them; and now are they to escape me? I could knock my brains out against the wall to think it.’
‘Why should you wish the family harm? They are good people, a long way above such goodness as you or I could aspire to. They are loved and respected by all who know them. They hurt no one, and bless many. I am glad that there is a chance of their recovery.’
‘I do not care for my money. I want to have them down, down under my feet.’
‘Then I will help you no more. What harm have they done you?’
‘The worst, the deadliest harm of all.’
‘And you are moving against them out of personal revenge? I thought all you wanted was to be sure of your money.’
‘I will tell you all—then you may judge if I have cause to love them; if I desire to spare them.’
Joanna laid aside her knife and fork; she was interested now, and alarmed. She was afraid to think that she had been working for the downfall of that dear Lady Grace whom she regarded above every mortal being.
‘As you say, you are no longer a child. You are a woman, so you can hear the whole story. I was married eight years ago to Rachel; she was seventeen, and beautiful. She was very fond of theatrical performances; her mother had been on the stage, and it ran in the blood. Our people, leastways our Jewish girls, take to the stage as ducks to water, and as Jewish men to business. I married her on that day I spoke of, when I ate a meringue that cost fourpence. At that time the Marquess of Saltcombe was in the army, and with his regiment at Plymouth. He and some other officers got up amateur theatricals, for some charitable purpose nominally, really for their own entertainment. There was difficulty about filling the ladies’ parts. They tried a professional, but she was not good-looking enough, or a stick, I do not recollect which, and so my wife was asked to assist. I objected, and we had a quarrel. She was headstrong and took her own way. We did not run smoothly together. It was with us broad and narrow gauge running over the same line; constant hitches, nothing to time, an occasional smash, and then a block. I suppose the performances went off to general satisfaction. I believe a hundred pounds was cleared for the charitable institution, but that did not concern me. What did concern me was the conduct of my wife; she got more estranged from me than before, and the end was she left me and went abroad with the Marquess.’
‘Did you go after her?’ asked Joanna.
‘Not I. They went to the Island of Sicily—to Palermo. It would not have cost me a halfpenny less than fifty pounds to have gone in pursuit. My business would have suffered. In the time I would have been absent I might have turned over three hundred pounds. Besides, what was the good? I couldn’t take her back. Was not that a dreadful thing, Joanna?’
‘I am not surprised at anyone running away from you. I suppose you fed her on cold artichokes, and made her drink Ems water,’
‘I did not,’ said Lazarus angrily. ‘I treated her as I ought. I know my duty. A queen is a queen; a pawn is a pawn.’
‘Go on with your story,’ said the girl. ‘What happened after that?’
‘I know without your telling me what happened to you. You settled deeper into dirt and drudgery.’
‘As for her and the Marquess,’ Lazarus continued, ‘they were soon separated. His uncle, the Lord Ronald Eveleigh, went out after them as hard as he could. What took place between them I do not know; but I know the end was that the Marquess returned to England, left the army, and settled at Court Royal. What became of Rachel I never heard. She took care not to communicate with me, and I did not trouble myself to enquire after her. Whether she is on the stage or at the bottom of the sea is one to me. We have not met since, but I have a sort of idea she has taken to the theatre as her profession. It suited her tastes; she was fond of dress and display, and excitement, and was vain of her beauty. The Golden Balls did not agree with her; the Barbican, and the smell of Sutton Pool, and the life in a shop were all distasteful; besides, she never took keenly to me.’
‘Did you love her very much?’
‘Of course I did. She was young and beautiful, and I had never cared for any woman before. We might have been so happy,’ sighed the Jew, ‘and had a family to attend to the business; a girl to mind the kitchen, another to turn the old coats; and a boy would have been mighty useful to me in the shop and at my office up in town.’
‘Do you love her still?’
‘I know this: I hate the Marquess mortally,’ he said. ‘He has spoiled my life, he has taken from me my wife, has made a home to be no home at all, and has robbed me of every hope in the future.’
‘But why do you try to drag down those who have never offended you—the Duke, and Lady Grace, and Lord Ronald?’
‘I cannot touch him apart from them. They are all tied in one bundle, and must go together. You can see that, I suppose, by the light of reason.’
Joanna was silent.
Then the Jew looked round at the table and growled. ‘A precious big hole you’ve eaten in the beefsteak pie, and gobbled up three-quarters of the cheesecakes. I hope you are satisfied at last, eh?’
‘No, I am not.’
‘What more do you want, next?’ he asked sneeringly.
‘I want to go to a dance, and till I have been at a ball I shall not be satisfied—there.’