The Small House at Allington/Chapter 60

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It was early in June that Lily went up to her uncle at the Great House, pleading for Hopkins,—pleading that to Hopkins might be restored all the privileges of head gardener at the Great House. There was some absurdity in this, seeing that he had never really relinquished his privileges; but the manner of the quarrel had been in this wise.

There was in those days, and had been for years, a vexed question between Hopkins and Jolliffe the bailiff on the matter of —— stable manure. Hopkins had pretended to the right of taking what he required from the farmyard, without asking leave of any one. Jolliffe in return had hinted, that if this were so, Hopkins would take it all. "But I can't eat it," Hopkins had said. Jolliffe merely grunted, signifying by the grunt, as Hopkins thought, that though a gardener couldn't eat a mountain of manure fifty feet long and fifteen high,—couldn't eat in the body,—he might convert it into things edible for his own personal use. And so there had been a great feud. The unfortunate squire had of course been called on to arbitrate, and having postponed his decision by every contrivance possible to him, had at last been driven by Jolliffe to declare that Hopkins should take nothing that was not assigned to him. Hopkins, when the decision was made known to him by his master, bit his old lips, and turned round upon his old heel, speechless. "You'll find it's so at all other places," said the squire, apologetically. "Other places!" sneered Hopkins. Where would he find other gardeners like himself? It is hardly necessary to declare that from that moment he resolved that he would abide by no such order. Jolliffe on the next morning informed the squire that the order had been broken, and the squire fretted and fumed, wishing that Jolliffe were well buried under the mountain in question. "If they all is to do as they like," said Jolliffe, "then nobody won't care for nobody." The squire understood that an order if given must be obeyed, and therefore, with many inner groanings of the spirit, resolved that war must be waged against Hopkins.

On the following morning he found the old man himself wheeling a huge barrow of manure round from the yard into the kitchen-garden. Now, on ordinary occasions, Hopkins was not required to do with his own hands work of that description. He had a man under him who hewed wood, and carried water, and wheeled barrows,—one man always, and often two. The squire knew when he saw him that he was sinning, and bade him stop upon his road.

"Hopkins," he said, "why didn't you ask for what you wanted, before you took it?" The old man put down the barrow on the ground, looked up in his master's face, spat into his hands, and then again resumed his barrow. "Hopkins, that won't do," said the squire. "Stop where you are."

"What won't do?" said Hopkins, still holding the barrow from the ground, but not as yet progressing.

"Put it down, Hopkins," and Hopkins did put it down. "Don't you know that you are flatly disobeying my orders?"

"Squire, I've been here about this place going on nigh seventy years."

"If you've been going on a hundred and seventy it wouldn't do that there should be more than one master. I'm the master here, and I intend to be so to the end. Take that manure back into the yard."

"Back into the yard?" said Hopkins, very slowly.

"Yes; back into the yard."

"What,—afore all their faces?"

"Yes; you've disobeyed me before all their faces?"

Hopkins paused a moment, looking away from the squire, and shaking his head as though he had need of deep thought, but by the aid of deep thought had come at last to a right conclusion. Then he resumed the barrow, and putting himself almost into a trot, carried away his prize into the kitcheng-arden. At the pace which he went it would have been beyond the squire's power to stop him, nor would Mr. Dale have wished to come to a personal encounter with his servant. But he called after the man in dire wrath that if he were not obeyed the disobedient servant should rue the consequences for ever. Hopkins, equal to the occasion, shook his head as he trotted on, deposited his load at the foot of the cucumber-frames, and then at once returning to his master, tendered to him the key of the greenhouse.

"Master," said Hopkins, speaking as best he could with his scanty breath, "there it is;—there's the key; of course I don't want no warning, and doesn't care about my week's wages. I'll be out of the cottage afore night, and as for the work'us, I suppose they'll let me in at once, if your honour'll give 'em a line."

Now as Hopkins was well known by the squire to be the owner of three or four hundred pounds, the hint about the workhouse must be allowed to have been melo-dramatic.

"Don't be a fool," said the squire, almost gnashing his teeth.

"I know I've been a fool," said Hopkins, "about that 'ere doong; my feelings has been too much for me. When a man's feelings has been too much for him, he'd better just take hisself off, and lie in the work'us till he dies." And then he again tendered the key. But the squire did not take the key, and so Hopkins went on. "I s'pose I'd better just see to the lights and the like of that, till you've suited yourself, Mr. Dale. It 'ud be a pity all them grapes should go off, and they, as you may say, all one as fit for the table. It's a long way the best crop I ever see on 'em. I've been that careful with 'em that I haven't had a natural night's rest, not since February. There ain't nobody about this place as understands grapes, nor yet anywhere nigh that could be got at. My lord's head man is wery ignorant; but even if he knew ever so, of course he couldn't come here. I suppose I'd better keep the key till you're suited, Mr. Dale."

Then for a fortnight there was an interregnum in the gardens, terrible in the annals of Allington. Hopkins lived in his cottage indeed, and looked most sedulously after the grapes. In looking after the grapes, too, he took the greenhouses under his care; but he would have nothing to do with the outer gardens, took no wages, returning the amount sent to him back to the squire, and insisted with everybody that he had been dismissed. He went about with some terrible horticultural implement always in his hand, with which it was said that he intended to attack Jolliffe; but Jolliffe prudently kept out of his way.

As soon as it had been resolved by Mrs. Dale and Lily that the flitting from the Small House at Allington was not to be accomplished, Lily communicated the fact to Hopkins.

"Miss," said he, "when I said them few words to you and your mamma, I knew that you would listen to reason."

This was no more than Lily had expected; that Hopkins should claim the honour of having prevailed by his arguments was a matter of course.

"Yes," said Lily; "we've made up our minds to stay. Uncle wishes it."

"Wishes it! Laws, miss; it ain't only wishes. And we all wishes it. Why, now, look at the reason of the thing. Here's this here house——"

"But, Hopkins, it's decided. We're going to stay. What I want to know is this; can you come at once and help me to unpack?"

"What! this very evening, as is——"

"Yes, now; we want to have the things about again before they come back from Guestwick."

Hopkins scratched his head and hesitated, not wishing to yield to any proposition that could be considered as childish; but he gave way at last, feeling that the work itself was a good work. Mrs. Dale also assented, laughing at Lily for her folly as she did so, and in this way the things were unpacked very quickly, and the alliance between Lily and Hopkins became, for the time, very close. This work of unpacking and resettling was not yet over, when the battle of the manure broke out, and therefore it was that Hopkins, when his feelings had become altogether too much for him "about the doong," came at last to Lily, and laying down at her feet all the weight and all the glory of his sixty odd years of life, implored her to make matters straight for him. "It's been a killing me, miss, so it has; to see the way they've been a cutting that 'sparagus. It ain't cutting at all. It's just hocking it up;—what is fit, and what isn't, all together. And they've been a-putting the plants in where I didn't mean 'em, though they know'd I didn't mean 'em. I've stood by, miss, and said never a word. I'd a died sooner. But, Miss Lily, what my sufferings have been, 'cause of my feelings getting the better of me about that—you know, miss—nobody will ever tell;—nobody—nobody—nobody." Then Hopkins turned away and wept.

"Uncle," said Lily, creeping close up against his chair, "I want to ask you a great favour."

"A great favour. Well, I don't think I shall refuse you anything at present. It isn't to ask another earl to the house,—is it?"

"Another earl!" said Lily.

"Yes; haven't you heard? Miss Bell has been here this morning, insisting that I should have over Lord De Guest and his sister for the marriage. It seems that there was some scheming between Bell and Lady Julia."

"Of course you will ask them."

"Of course I must. I've no way out of it. It'll be all very well for Bell, who'll be off to Wales with her lover; but what am I to do with the earl and Lady Julia, when they're gone? Will you come and help me?"

In answer to this, Lily of course promised that she would come and help. "Indeed," said she, "I thought we were all asked up for the day. And now for my favour. Uncle, you must forgive poor Hopkins."

"Forgive a fiddlestick!" said the squire.

"No, but you must. You can't think how unhappy he is."

"How can I forgive a man who won't forgive me. He goes prowling about the place doing nothing; and he sends me back his wages, and he looks as though he were going to murder some one; and all because he wouldn't do as he was told. How am I to forgive such a man as that?"

"But, uncle, why not?"

"It would be his forgiving me. He knows very well that he may come back whenever he pleases; and, indeed, for the matter of that he has never gone away."

"But he is so very unhappy."

"What can I do to make him happier?"

"Just go down to his cottage and tell him that you forgive him."

"Then he'll argue with me."

"No; I don't think he will. He is too much down in the world for arguing now."

"Ah! you don't know him as I do. All the misfortunes in the world wouldn't stop that man's conceit. Of course I'll go if you ask me, but it seems to me that I'm made to knock under to everybody. I hear a great deal about other people's feelings, but I don't know that mine are very much thought of." He was not altogether in a happy mood, and Lily almost regretted that she had persevered; but she did succeed in carrying him off across the garden to the cottage, and as they went together she promised him that she would think of him always,—always. The scene with Hopkins cannot be described now, as it would take too many of our few remaining pages. It resulted, I am afraid I must confess, in nothing more triumphant to the squire than a treaty of mutual forgiveness. Hopkins acknowledged, with much self-reproach, that his feelings had been too many for him; but then, look at his provocation! He could not keep his tongue from that matter, and certainly said as much in his own defence as he did in confession of his sins. The substantial triumph was altogether his, for nobody again ever dared to interfere with his operations in the farmyard. He showed his submission to his master mainly by consenting to receive his wages for the two weeks which he had passed in idleness.

Owing to this little accident, Lily was not so much oppressed by Hopkins as she had expected to be in that matter of their altered plans; but this salvation did not extend to Mrs. Hearn, to Mrs. Crump, or, above all, to Mrs. Boyce. They, all of them, took an interest more or less strong in the Hopkins controversy; but their interest in the occupation of the Small House was much stronger, and it was found useless to put Mrs. Hearn off with the gardener's persistent refusal of his wages, when she was big with inquiry whether the house was to be painted inside, as well as out. "Ah," said she, "I think I'll go and look at lodgings at Guestwick myself, and pack up some of my beds." Lily made no answer to this, feeling that it was a part of that punishment which she had expected. "Dear, dear," said Mrs. Crump to the two girls; "well, to be sure, we should a been lone without 'ee, and mayhap we might a got worse in your place; but why did 'ee go and fasten up all your things in them big boxes, just to unfasten 'em all again?"

"We changed our minds, Mrs. Crump," said Bell, with some severity.

"Yees, I know ye changed your mindses. Well, it's all right for loiks o' ye, no doubt; but if we changes our mindses, we hears of it."

"So, it seems, do we!" said Lily. "But never mind, Mrs. Crump. Do you send us our letters up early, and then we won't quarrel."

"Oh, letters! Drat them for letters. I wish there weren't no sich things. There was a man here yesterday with his imperence. I don't know where he come from,—down from Lun'on, I b'leeve: and this was wrong, and that was wrong, and everything was wrong; and then he said he'd have me discharged the sarvice."

"Dear me, Mrs. Crump; that wouldn't do at all."

"Discharged the sarvice! Tuppence farden a day! So I told 'un to discharge hisself, and take all the old bundles and things away upon his shoulders. Letters indeed! What business have they with post-missusses, if they cannot pay 'em better nor tuppence farden a day?" And in this way, under the shelter of Mrs. Crump's storm of wrath against the inspector who had visited her, Lily and Bell escaped much that would have fallen upon their own heads; but Mrs. Boyce still remained. I may here add, in order that Mrs. Crump's history may be carried on to the farthest possible point, that she was not "discharged the sarvice," and that she still receives her twopence farthing a day from the Crown. "That's a bitter old lady," said the inspector to the man who was driving him. "Yes, sir; they all says the same about she. There ain't none of 'em get much change out of Mrs. Crump."

Bell and Lily went together also to Mrs. Boyce's. "If she makes herself very disagreeable, I shall insist upon talking of your marriage," said Lily.

"I've not the slightest objection," said Bell; "only I don't know what there can be to say about it. Marrying the doctor is such a very commonplace sort of thing."

"Not a bit more commonplace than marrying the parson," said Lily.

"Oh, yes, it is. Parsons' marriages are often very grand affairs. They come in among county people. That's their luck in life. Doctors never do; nor lawyers. I don't think lawyers ever get married in the country. They're supposed to do it up in London. But a country doctor's wedding is not a thing to be talked about much."

Mrs. Boyce probably agreed in this view of the matter, seeing that she did not choose the coming marriage as her first subject of conversation. As soon as the two girls were seated she flew away immediately to the house, and began to express her very great surprise,—her surprise and her joy also,—at the sudden change which had been made in their plans. "It is so much nicer, you know," said she, "that things should be pleasant among relatives."

"Things always have been tolerably pleasant with us," said Bell.

"Oh, yes; I'm sure of that. I've always said it was quite a pleasure to see you and your uncle together. And when we heard about your all having to leave——"

"But we didn't have to leave, Mrs. Boyce. We were going to leave because we thought mamma would be more comfortable in Guestwick; and now we're not going to leave, because we've all 'changed our mindses,' as Mrs. Crump calls it."

"And is it true the house is going to be painted?" asked Mrs. Boyce.

"I believe it is true," said Lily.

"Inside and out?"

"It must be done some day," said Bell.

"Yes, to be sure; but I must say it is generous of the squire. There's such a deal of wood-work about your house. I know I wish the Ecclesiastical Commissioners would paint ours; but nobody ever does anything for the clergy. I'm sure I'm delighted you're going to stay. As I said to Mr. Boyce, what should we ever have done without you? I believe the squire had made up his mind that he would not let the place."

"I don't think he ever has let it."

"And if there was nobody in it, it would all go to rack and ruin; wouldn't it? Had your mamma to pay anything for the lodgings she engaged at Guestwick?"

"Upon my word, I don't know. Bell can tell you better about that than I, as Dr. Crofts settled it. I suppose Dr. Crofts tells her everything." And so the conversation was changed, and Mrs. Boyce was made to understand that whatever further mystery there might be, it would not be unravelled on that occasion.

It was settled that Dr. Crofts and Bell should be married about the middle of June, and the squire determined to give what grace he could to the ceremony by opening his own house on the occasion. Lord De Guest and Lady Julia were invited by special arrangement between her ladyship and Bell, as has been before explained. The colonel also with Lady Fanny came up from Torquay on the occasion, this being the first visit made by the colonel to his paternal roof for many years. Bernard did not accompany his father. He had not yet gone abroad, but there were circumstances which made him feel that he would not find himself comfortable at the wedding. The service was performed by Mr. Boyce, assisted, as the County Chronicle very fully remarked, by the Reverend John Joseph Jones, M.A., late of Jesus College, Cambridge, and curate of St. Peter's, Northgate, Guestwick; the fault of which little advertisement was this,—that as none of the readers of the paper had patience to get beyond the Reverend John Joseph Jones, the fact of Bell's marriage with Dr. Crofts was not disseminated as widely as might have been wished.

The marriage went off very nicely. The squire was upon his very best behaviour, and welcomed his guests as though he really enjoyed their presence there in his halls. Hopkins, who was quite aware that he had been triumphant, decorated the old rooms with mingled flowers and greenery with an assiduous care which pleased the two girls mightily. And during this work of wreathing and decking there was one little morsel of feeling displayed which may as well be told in these last lines. Lily had been encouraging the old man while Bell for a moment had been absent.

"I wish it had been for thee, my darling!" he said; "I wish it had been for thee!"

"It is much better as it is, Hopkins," she answered, solemnly.

"Not with him, though," he went on, "not with him. I wouldn't a hung a bough for him. But with t'other one."

Lily said no word further. She knew that the man was expressing the wishes of all around her. She said no word further, and then Bell returned to them.

But no one at the wedding was so gay as Lily,—so gay, so bright, and so wedding-like. She flirted with the old earl till he declared that he would marry her himself. No one seeing her that evening, and knowing nothing of her immediate history, would have imagined that she herself had been cruelly jilted some six or eight months ago. And those who did know her could not imagine that what she then suffered had hit her so hard, that no recovery seemed possible for her. But though no recovery, as she herself believed, was possible for her,—though she was as a man whose right arm had been taken from him in the battle, still all the world had not gone with that right arm. The bullet which had maimed her sorely had not touched her life, and she scorned to go about the world complaining either by word or look of the injury she had received. "Wives when they have lost their husbands still eat and laugh," she said to herself, "and he is not dead like that." So she resolved that she would be happy, and I here declare that she not only seemed to carry out her resolution, but that she did carry it out in very truth. "You're a dear good man, and I know you'll be good to her," she said to Crofts just as he was about to start with his bride.

"I'll try, at any rate," he answered.

"And I shall expect you to be good to me too. Remember you have married the whole family; and, sir, you mustn't believe a word of what that bad man says in his novels about mothers-in-law. He has done a great deal of harm, and shut half the ladies in England out of their daughters' houses."

"He shan't shut Mrs. Dale out of mine."

"Remember he doesn't. Now, good-by." So the bride and bridegroom went off, and Lily was left to flirt with Lord De Guest.

Of whom else is it necessary that a word or two should be said before I allow the weary pen to fall from my hand? The squire, after much inward struggling on the subject, had acknowledged to himself that his sister-in-law had not received from him that kindness which she had deserved. He had acknowledged this, purporting to do his best to amend his past errors; and I think I may say that his efforts in that line would not be received ungraciously by Mrs. Dale. I am inclined therefore to think that life at Allington, both at the Great House and at the Small, would soon become pleasanter than it used to be in former days. Lily soon got the Balmoral boots, or, at least, soon learned that the power of getting them as she pleased had devolved upon her from her uncle's gift; so that she talked even of buying the squirrel's cage; but I am not aware that her extravagance led her as far as that.

Lord De Courcy we left suffering dreadfully from gout and ill-temper at Courcy Castle. Yes, indeed! To him in his latter days life did not seem to offer much that was comfortable. His wife had now gone from him, and declared positively to her son-in-law that no earthly consideration should ever induce her to go back again;—"not if I were to starve!" she said. By which she intended to signify that she would be firm in her resolve, even though she should thereby lose her carriage and horses. Poor Mr. Gazebee went down to Courcy, and had a dreadful interview with the earl; but matters were at last arranged, and her ladyship remained at Baden-Baden in a state of semi-starvation. That is to say, she had but one horse to her carriage.

As regards Crosbie, I am inclined to believe that he did again recover his power at his office. He was Mr. Butterwell's master, and the master also of Mr. Optimist, and the major. He knew his business, and could do it, which was more, perhaps, than might fairly be said of any of the other three. Under such circumstances he was sure to get in his hand, and lead again. But elsewhere his star did not recover its ascendancy. He dined at his club almost daily, and there were those with whom he habitually formed some little circle. But he was not the Crosbie of former days,—the Crosbie known in Belgravia and in St. James's Street. He had taken his little vessel bravely out into the deep waters, and had sailed her well while fortune stuck close to him. But he had forgotten his nautical rules, and success had made him idle. His plummet and lead had not been used, and he had kept no look-out ahead. Therefore the first rock he met shivered his bark to pieces. His wife, the Lady Alexandrina, is to be seen in the one-horse carriage with her mother at Baden-Baden.