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Title: The Cuckoo in the Nest; vol. 1/2
Author: Oliphant, Mrs. (Margaret)
Language: English
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                          The English Library

                                No. 156

                        THE CUCKOO IN THE NEST

                           BY MRS. OLIPHANT

                           _IN TWO VOLUMES_


            _OTHER VOLUMES BY THE SAME AUTHOR PUBLISHED IN_

                          The English Library

         77. 78. THE RAILWAY MAN AND HIS CHILDREN      2 Vols.
         95. 96. THE MARRIAGE OF ELINOR                2 Vols.

                           (_In the Press_)

               THE VICTORIAN AGE OF ENGLISH LITERATURE.
                                DIANA.

                          _Copyright Edition_



                              THE CUCKOO
                              IN THE NEST

                                  BY

                             MRS. OLIPHANT

                               AUTHOR OF

    “_WITHIN THE PRECINCTS_,” “_THE RAILWAY MAN AND HIS CHILDREN_,”
         “_AT HIS GATES_,” “_THE MARRIAGE OF ELINOR_,” _ETC._

                           _IN TWO VOLUMES_

                               VOLUME I.

                                LEIPZIG
                        HEINEMANN AND BALESTIER
                           _LIMITED, LONDON_
                                 1892



                        THE CUCKOO IN THE NEST



CHAPTER I.


The Seven Thorns was rather an imposing place for a little country inn.
It was a long house, not very high, yet containing some good-sized
bedrooms on the upper storey, and rooms below calculated for the
entertainment of a much greater company than ever appeared now upon the
deserted highroad. It had been an old coaching road, and there were
stables at the Seven Thorns which could take in half the horses in the
county; but that, of course, was all over now. The greater part of these
stables were shut up and falling into decay. So was the large
dining-room and half of the extensive accommodation downstairs. The
great kitchen, and a little room on the other side of the doorway, which
was called the parlour, were all that was ever wanted now in the Seven
Thorns. Sometimes there would come some excursion parties from the
neighbouring town in summer, and then a large table was placed outside,
or, on the emergency of a wet day, in the kitchen. This was the only
event which ever broke the quiet in these degenerate days.

The usual traffic was confined to the village; to now and then a
pedestrian jogging along on foot, sometimes a tramp, sometimes a
tourist; or to a farmer going by to market, who remembered the day when
the Hewitts of the Seven Thorns were as substantial a family as his own.
It was a house which had come down in the world, with a downfall as
greatly felt, as much rebelled against, as the fall of the proudest
family in the county could have been. The Hewitts had no pretension to
be gentry, but they had been yeomen, farming their own land, and giving
a large and well-paid hospitality to man and beast, which involved
little that was menial to the family itself. The Richard Hewitt of the
day had stood with his hands in his pockets, on his own threshold,
talking to his guests about public matters, or the affairs of the
county, while his ostlers looked after the horses, and his buxom maid,
or rough waiter, brought the gentlemen their beer or more potent
draught. He did not touch either horse or glass, but admired the one or
shared the other, like any other rustic potentate; and if his pretty
daughter glanced out of an upstairs window upon the group at the door,
Sir Giles himself would take off his cap, and though perhaps there might
be a touch of extravagance in the obeisance, which meant, in his
intention, that Patty or Polly was not in the least upon his own level,
yet the Patty or Polly of the moment remained completely unconscious of
that exaggeration, and blushed, and retired from the window with a
delighted sensation of being admired by the gentleman who was always so
civil. Alas! these fine days were all past: and when Patience Hewitt now
swept out the parlour briskly, as she did everything, and threw fresh
wholesome sand upon the floor, and brought in the beer which the young
squire, loitering upon the forbidden threshold of the great kitchen,
had already several times asked for, the sense of that downfall was as
strong in her mind as if she had been the old aunt Patty, old as the
world itself, the girl thought, to whom old Sir Giles had taken off his
cap.

“Patty! Patty! bring us some beer; and be done with that sweepin’, and
come, there’s a ducky, and pour it out yourself.”

“Go to the parlour, Mr. Gervase; that’s your place and not here. If you
will have beer in the morning, which is so bad for you, I’ll bring it
presently; but you know father won’t have you here.”

“If you’ll have me, I don’t mind old Hewitt, not that!” said Gervase,
snapping his thumb and forefinger.

“But I do,” said Patience, with a frown. “Old Hewitt is my father, and
those that don’t speak respectful of him had better get out of here, and
out of there, too. I won’t have a man in the house that don’t know how
to behave himself, if he was a dozen times the squire’s son.”

The young man in question was a lanky youth, long and feeble upon his
legs, with light hair longer than is usual, and goggle eyes, in which
there was no speculation. He was very much cowed by Patty’s energetic
disapproval, and looked as if about to cry.

“Don’t go on at me like that, Patty, don’t, now! I’ll swallow old
Hewitt, dirty boots and all, before I’ll have you frown. And do, do
have done with your sweepin’ and bring us the beer. I never feel right
in the morning till I have had my beer.”

“If you didn’t have too much at night, Mr. Gervase, you wouldn’t want it
in the morning.”

“Well, and whose fault is that? I’ll drink no more beer. I’ve promised
you, if----”

“If!” said Patty: “it’s a big ‘if.’ If I’ll take you up on my shoulders,
that ain’t fit for such a job, and carry you through the world.”

“Come, that’s too bad,” said the young man. “Do you think I can’t take
care of my own wife! I never had any intentions that weren’t honourable,
and that you well know.”

“You well know,” cried Patty, with a flush of anger, “that the mere
saying you hadn’t is enough for me to bundle you neck-and-crop out of
this house, and never to speak to you again.”

“Well!” said poor Gervase, “you’re hard to please. If he can’t say that
he means well, I don’t know what a fellow may say.”

“If I were in your place, I’d say as little as possible,” said the maid
of the inn.

“What a one you are!” cried the young squire, admiringly. “When we’re
married I’ll let you do all the talking. You’ll bring round the father
and mother a deal sooner than I should. Indeed, they never hearken to
me; but, Patty, when you speak----”

“What happens when I speak?”

“The very rector turns round his head. I’ve seen him do it at the church
door.”

“Pooh! the rector!” said Patty. “Tell me something a little fresher than
that.”

For, in fact, this young woman scorned the rector as one whom she could
turn round her little finger. Had not she, ever since the days when she
was the quickest at her catechism, the readiest to understand
everything, the sharpest to take any hint, the most energetic in action,
been known as the rector’s favourite and ally in all parish matters for
miles around?

“Is that all you think of him? but he’s of as good a family as we are;
and I shouldn’t wonder,” said the young man, with a giggle, “if Mrs.
Bethell were to die, as folk say, that he mightn’t come a-wooing to
Patty, of the Seven Thorns, same as me.”

“I should like to know,” said Patty, sharply, “what kind of company
you’ve been keeping, where they dare to speak of me as Patty of the
Seven Thorns? And I suppose you didn’t knock the fellow down that said
it, you poor creature! you’re not man enough for that, though I know
some----” said Patty, with an air of defiance. She had by this time
carried out all her operations, and even drawn the beer, and waved off
the thirsty customer before her, driving him, as if he had been a flock
of geese, into the parlour, with its newly-sanded floor.

“There!” she said, setting down her tray with a little violence; “it’s
good stuff enough, but it puts no more heart and strength into you than
if you was a mouse. Too much is as bad, or maybe worse, than none at
all. And, I tell you, I know some that would no more hear me named
disrespectful like that--or any way but Miss Hewitt, Mr. Hewitt of the
Seven Thorns’ daughter--than I would demean myself to carrying on like
a barmaid with every one that comes for a glass of beer into this
house.”

“I beg your pardon, Patty,” said the young man; “I meant no harm. When
you’re Mrs. Gervase Piercey there’s never one of them will dare mention
your name without taking off his hat.”

“Oh, you block!” cried Patty, exasperated. She paused, however, with an
evident sense that to make her meaning clear to him would be impossible;
yet added, after a moment, “If I can’t be respected as Miss Hewitt, I’ll
never seek respect under no man’s name. There’s your beer, Mr. Gervase;
and as soon as you’ve drunk it I advise you to go back to your parents,
for you’ll get no more here.”

“Oh! Patty, don’t you be so cruel.”

“I’ll be as cruel as I think proper. And I’ll draw father’s beer for
them as I think proper, and nobody else. You’re the spoiled child at the
Hall, Mr. Gervase, but no one cares _that_ for you here!”

And she, too, snapped her thumb and forefinger, in scorn of any
subjection to ordinary prejudices, and shone radiant, in her defiance,
in the homely scene to which she gave so much life. Patty was not a
beautiful girl, as perhaps you may suppose. She had bright eyes, very
well able to flash with indignation when necessary, or even with rage.
She had a fine country complexion, with the gift, which is not so usual
among the lowly born, of changing colour as her sentiments changed:
flashing forth in wrath, and calming down in peace; and when she was
excited, with an angry sparkle in her eyes, and the colour rising and
falling, there was a _faux air_ of beauty about her, which impressed the
minds of those who exposed themselves to any such blaze of resentment.
Her features, however, were not very good, and there was a hardness in
the lines, which, no doubt, would strengthen in later years. She had a
trim figure, a brisk light step, an air of knowing her own mind, and
fully intending to carry out all its purposes, which made a great
impression upon the shiftless and languid generally, and upon Gervase
Piercey in particular. Perhaps Patty had a little too much the air, in
her sharp intelligence, of the conventional _soubrette_, to have charmed
a squire’s son of greater intellectual perceptions. But Gervase knew
nothing about _soubrettes_, or any other types, theatrical or otherwise.
He knew vaguely what he saw, but no more; and that sharp intelligence,
that brisk energy, that air of knowing her own mind, was more
captivating to him than anything he had ever seen. He, whom everybody
snubbed, who was accustomed to be laughed at, who knew so much as to
know that he never knew what to do until somebody told him, and often
did not understand what was wanted of him then--threw himself upon Patty
with all the heavy weight of his nature. He had never seen anything so
admirable, so strong, or so fair. She never was afraid to do whatever
she had a mind to. She never stood swaying from one foot to another
unable to make up her mind. She was all swiftness, firmness,
alertness--ready for anything. He almost liked her to be angry with him,
though it sometimes reduced him to abject despair, for the sake of that
sparkle, that flush, that exhibition of high spirit. Nobody, Gervase
felt, would “put upon him” while Patty was near; nobody would push him
aside, bid him to get out of the way. Even his father did this; and,
what was still more, his mother too, when exasperated. But they would
not, if Patty was there. Gervase was not only in love with her, which he
was to the full extent of his abilities in that way, but he felt that
his salvation lay in Patty, and that, with her to back him up, nobody
would trample upon him any more.

He hoped to find her in a milder humour when he came back in the
evening; for in the meantime it was beyond anything he could say or do
to charm Patty back into good humour. She went back to her sweeping,
making the corners of the kitchen floor ring with the energetic broom
that pursued every grain of dust into its last refuge there. She would
not stop, even to say good morning to him, when he lounged away. But
after he was gone Patty relaxed in her fierce industry. She put away the
broom, and stood at the window for a moment, with deep thought upon her
brow. What was it she was thinking of, bending those brows, drawing in
her upper lip in a way she had when her mind was busy? “To be, or not to
be,” that was the question. She was far, very far, from a Hamlet; but
that momentous choice was before her, as much as if she had been the
mightiest of spirits. When a woman pauses thus upon the threshold of
her life, and questions which path she is to take, it is generally easy
to guess that the question really is, which man will she marry? Patty
was full of ambition as if she had been a princess. And she felt truly
as much the child of a fallen house as if Richard Hewitt of the Seven
Thorns had been a ruined duke. How far, how very far was she, Patience,
the maid of the inn, drawing beer for the customers, compelled to serve
every tramp who had twopence to spend--from the state of young Miss
Patty at the upstairs window, sitting like a lady, doing vandykes of
tape for her new petticoats (for she was informed of every incident of
those times of family grandeur), to whom Sir Giles took off his hat. She
had heard all her life of these once glorious circumstances, and her
spirit burned within her to do something to restore herself that
eminence; to achieve something that would make Aunt Patty hold her
tongue, and own herself outdone. Ah! and here it was lying in her power.
Sir Giles might have bowed to old Patty, but never did she have it in
her power to become Lady Piercey, if she chose. Lady Piercey! with
Greyshott Manor at her command, and all the grandeur which the very
best of the previous Hewitts had only seen by grace of the housekeeper.
And Patty might one day be the mistress of the housekeeper if she chose!
The possibility was enough to thrill her from head to foot; but she had
not yet made up her mind. No, splendid as the prospect was, there was
yet a great deal to think of before she could make up her mind. She went
to the door and gave a hurried glance out, to see the long, listless
figure of Gervase Piercey strolling along across the wide stretch of
broken land that lay between him and his home. He paused to look back
several times as he went along, but Patty would not gratify him with the
sight of her looking after him. He was not a lover to be encouraged by
such signs of favour, but to be kept down at her feet until she should
choose to hold out a gracious finger. Her thoughts were not flattering
to him as she looked after him: the long, lazy, listless, useless being.
If he did not care so much for me, beer would be the chief thing that
Mr. Gervase would care for; coming here in the morning for his glass,
the fool, instead of doing something! A man with horses to ride and
carriages to drive, and an estate that he might see to, and save his
father money! “Lord! lord!” said Patty to herself, “what fools these men
are!” for the only thing he could do with himself, to get through the
morning, was to walk across to the Seven Thorns for his morning beer,
and then to walk back again. She who had a hundred things to do scorned
him for this more than words could say. But yet, “first and foremost,
before I settle anything,” said Patty, “I’ll see that he’s cured of
that. A man that’s always swilling beer morning and evening, if he was a
duke, he is not the man for me.”



CHAPTER II.


The parlour at the Seven Thorns was, in the evening, turned into a sort
of village club, where a select number of the fathers of the hamlet
assembled night after night to consume a certain amount of beer, to
smoke a certain number of pipes, and then to retire at a not very late
hour, not much the worse, perhaps, for their potations. It was not a
vicious place, nor was it one of revelry. The talk was slow, like the
minds of the talkers, and it was chiefly concerned with local events. If
now and then there was a public measure which was wide enough, or
descended sufficiently low to reach the level of those rustic folk,
there might be occasionally a few heavy words on that subject. But this
was of the rarest occurrence, and the humours of the heavy assembly were
little perceptible to a superficial observer. What was going on at the
Manor was of infinitely less interest to this rustic club than what was
going on in the village, and unless Sir Giles had turned out his
cottagers, or, what was worse, endeavoured to improve their tumble-down
habitations, I cannot see why their minds should have been directed to
him or his affairs. It is, perhaps, a delusion of the writer, most
interested himself in the Squire’s family, which lends to the rural
public the same inclination. It is true that when young Gervase Piercey
first began to appear among them, to be placed in the warmest corner,
and served first with whatever he called for, the elders of the village
took their pipes out of their mouths and stared. “What do he be
a-wanting ’ere?” they said to each other with their eyes, and a head or
two was shaken, not only over the inappropriateness of his appearance,
but because the presence of the young Squire was more or less a check
upon their native freedom as well as prolixity of talk. Gervase had been
known to interrupt a lingering discussion with a “Speak up, old cock!”
or with a silly laugh in the wrong place, which confused the speaker and
made him forget whereabouts in his subject he was. It was some time,
however, before it occurred to them what the young man’s motive was,
which was made plain by several signs: in the first place by the fact
that Patty ceased to serve the customers in the parlour, old Hewitt
getting up with many grumbles from the settle to supply their wants
himself; then by the impatience of the young man, who had at first
smoked his pipe contentedly in his corner, interrupting the conversation
only by those silly laughs of his, or by an equally foolish question,
which, though idiotic in itself, was the cause of discomfiture to a
village orator accustomed to have everything his own way; and then it
was observed that Gervase let his pipe go out and kept his eyes upon the
door, and then that he became very uneasy when the brisk voice of Patty
was heard outside, presumably talking with the younger frequenters of
the place, who hung about the precincts of the Seven Thorns, or occupied
the bench under the window of the parlour. When the young squire at last
got up and went out, the sages said little, but they looked at each
other or nudged each other, those who were close enough pointing with
their long pipes over their shoulders, and finally burst forth into a
slow roar, shaking their sides. “Softy if ’e be, ’e knows wat’s wat as
well as ere another,” said the “_Maestro de chi sanno_,” the sage of
sages, the Aristotle of the village. This revelation slowly communicated
itself over the parish, “The young squire, he be after Patty Hewitt o’
the Seven Thorns; but Patty is one as will keep him in his place, and no
mistake,” was the popular verdict. The parish knew, even better than the
gentry did, that Gervase--Sir Giles’ only child--was a softy; it knew
his habits, and that he was good for nothing, not even to take a hand at
cards or field a ball at cricket, so that his dangling after Patty
Hewitt caused nobody any anxiety. She knew how to keep him in his own
place; no village story of lovely woman stooping to folly was likely to
arise in her case. The Softy was a good creature enough, and harmed
nobody, except by that exasperating laugh of his, which made the persons
interrupted by it furious, but broke no bones, everybody allowed. So
that it was more on Gervase’s account than Patty’s that the village
concerned itself. “She do be making a fool of ’im,” they said with
gratification; for was not this a just revenge for other maidens wronged
by other young squires of higher qualities than poor Gervase. Generally
there was a slow satisfaction in the triumph of the people over the
gentry, as thus exemplified; yet a general wish that Patty should not
push that triumph too far.

On the evening of the day on which this story begins, he had kept in the
parlour as long as his patience lasted, always looking for the moment
when she should appear; for the mind of Gervase worked very slowly, and
he had not yet begun to understand as a rule, what all the parish
already knew, that Patty now entered the parlour no more in the evening.
Gervase knew that he had not seen her for night after night, but he had
no faculty for putting this and that together, and he did not draw the
natural conclusion that she had so settled it with her father. Nor had
he found much advantage in going out to the door, in following the sound
of her voice, which seemed to flicker about like a will-o’-the-wisp, now
sounding close at hand, now from a distance. When Patty was visible she
was generally in close conversation with some one--Roger Pearson as
often as not, was an antagonist whom Gervase had sense enough not to
encounter. And, accordingly, it was the most rare thing in the world
when he had any nearer view of the object of his admiration than the dim
outline of her, in the dark, flitting about in front of the house with
her tray, and not to be interrupted; or perhaps strolling off beyond the
seven thorns which gave their name to the house, with another tall
figure beside her. Roger Pearson was the athlete of the village. It was
he who commanded the eleven got up between Greyshott and Windyhill,
which had beaten almost every eleven that had met them, and certainly
every other eleven in the county; and he was a leading volunteer, a
great football player, everything that it is most glorious in English
country life to be. Gervase did not venture to contest openly the favour
of Patty with this stalwart fellow. He stood on the threshold with his
mouth open, and his heart rung, and watched them stroll away together in
the moonlight, losing sight of them in the shadow of the thorns: waiting
till they emerged beyond upon the great flat of the moorland country
among the furze bushes. Poor Softy! to see the lady of his love thus
taken away from him by a stronger than he, was very hard upon him.
Though he was a Softy, there was in Gervase so much of that feeling of
the gentleman, which can be transmitted by blood and by the atmosphere
of an ancient house--as made him aware that to make his possible wife
the object of a brawl was not to be thought of, even had he felt any
confidence in his own courage and muscles as against those of Roger. So
that both these reasons held him back: the instinct of the weakling,
and the instinct of the gentleman too. If he could have fought with and
overthrown Roger on any other argument, how he would have rejoiced! He
planned in his dreams a hundred ways of doing so, but never in his
waking moments ventured to cross that hero’s path: and he would not make
a row over Patty. No! no! even if he could have seized Roger by the
collar and pitched him to the other side of the moor, as Roger, he was
convinced, would do to him if the opportunity ever arose, he would not
have done it to bring in Patty’s name and make her talked about. No! no!
He said this to himself as he stood at the door and watched them with
his mouth open and watering, and his heart sore. Poor Gervase; there was
something in it, even if not so much as he thought.

But this evening, by a happy chance, Roger was not there. Gervase found
Patty standing alone, wholly indifferent to the two or three vague
figures which were dimly visible on the bench beneath the lighted window
of the parlour. It was such a chance for Gervase as had never happened
before. He whistled softly, but Patty took no notice; he called her by
her name in a whisper, but she never turned her head. Was she regretting
the other man, the fellow who had nothing to offer her but a cottage,
and who was far too busy with his cricket matches and things ever to
earn much money, or even to stay at home with his wife? Gervase ventured
upon a great step. He came up behind her and seized Patty’s hand, which
was akimbo, firmly placed upon her side.

“Who’s that?” she cried, throwing off the touch; “and what are you
wanting here?”

“You know well enough who it is--it’s Gervase come to have a word----”

“Oh!” said Patty, disdainfully, “it’s the young gentleman from the Manor
as has no right to be here.”

“Yes, it is me,” said Gervase, not quick enough to take up the scorn in
her speech. “Come, Patty, let’s take a little turn round the Thorns: do,
now!--there’s nobody else coming to-night.”

“Much I care for any one coming! I can take my walk alone, thank you,
Mr. Gervase, and you had better go home. I can’t abide to see you
spending your time here morning and night.”

“Why shouldn’t I come here, Patty? It is the nicest place in all the
world to me.”

“But it oughtn’t to be,” cried Patty; “your place is in Greyshott Manor,
and this is only a little inn upon the edge of the downs. What pleasure
can you find in this parlour, with all their pipes going, and the smoke
curling about your head, and the silly talk about Blacksmith John at the
smithy, and how he shod Farmer George’s mare?”

“Well, if I don’t object to the talk; and what reason have you against
it? It’s always good for trade.”

“It’s not even good for trade,” said the girl. “Do you think they like
you to be here, these men? No; not even father don’t, though it’s to his
profit, as you say. It stops the talk: for there’s things they wouldn’t
say before you: and it makes them think and ask questions. It ain’t
pleasant for me when they takes to ask each other, ‘What’s the young
squire after for ever down here?’”

“Well, you can tell them,” said Gervase, with his foolish laugh; “I make
no secret of it. Patty’s what I’m after, and she knows----”

They had gone down upon the open ground where the seven thorns, which
gave the house it’s name, stood in a cluster, ghostly in the white
moonlight, some of them so old that they were propped up by staves and
heavy pieces of wood. Patty had moved on in the fervour of her speech,
notwithstanding that she angrily rejected his request to take a turn.
With the blackness of that shade between them and the house, they might
have been miles, though they were but a few yards, from the house, with
its murmuring sound of voices and its lights.

“Look here!” said Patty, quickly. “No man shall ever come after me that
goes boozing like you do at beer from morning to night.”

Patty, though she generally spoke very nicely, thanks to the Catechism
and the rector’s favour, was after all not an educated person, and if
she said “like you do,” it was no more than might be expected from her
ignorance. She flung away the arm which he had stolen round her, and
withdrew to a distance, facing him with her head erect. “You’re a
dreadful one for beer, Mr. Gervase,” she said; “it’s that you come to
our house for, it isn’t for me. If there was no Patty, you’d want a
place to sit and soak in all the same.”

“That’s a lie!” said the young man; “and I don’t take more than I want
when I’m thirsty. It’s only you that are contrary. There’s that Roger;
you let him have as much as you like----”

“What Roger?” cried Patty, with a flash of her eyes, which was visible
even in the moonlight. “If it’s Mr. Pearson you mean, he never looks at
beer except just to stand pots round for the good of the house----”

“If that’s what pleases you, Patty, I’ll--I’ll stand anything--to
anybody--as long as--as long as----” Poor Gervase thrust the hand which
she would not permit to hold hers, into his pocket, searching for the
coin that he had not. At which his tormentor laughed.

“As long as you’ve anything to pay it with,” she said. “And you have
not--and that makes all the difference. Roger Pearson--since you’ve made
so bold as to put a name to him--has his pockets full. And you’re
running up a pretty high score, Mr. Gervase, I can tell you, for nobody
but yourself.”

“I don’t know how he has his pockets full,” Gervase said, with a growl;
“it isn’t from the work he does--roaming the country and playing in
every match----”

“You see he _can_ play,” said Patty, maliciously; “which some folks
couldn’t do, not if they was to try from now to doomsday.”

“But it don’t get him on in his business, or make money to keep a
wife,” said the young man with a flash of shrewdness, at which Patty
stared with astonishment, but with a touch of additional respect.

“Well, Mr. Gervase,” she said, making a swift diversion; “I shall always
say it’s a shame keeping you as short as you are of money; and you the
heir of all.”

“Isn’t it?” cried Sir Giles Piercey’s heir. “Not a penny but what’s
doled out as if I were fifteen instead of twenty-five--or I’d have
brought you diamonds, before now, Patty, to put round your neck.”

“Would you, now, Mr. Gervase? And what good would they have been to me
at the Seven Thorns? You can’t wear diamonds when you’re drawing beer,”
she added, with a laugh.

“I can’t abide you to be drawing beer,” cried the young man: “unless
when it is for me.”

“And that’s the worst I can do,” said Patty, quickly. “Here’s just how
it is: till you give up all that beer, Mr. Gervase, you’re not the man
for me. It’s what I begun with, and you’ve brought me round to it again.
Him as I’ve to do with shall never be like that. Father sells it--more’s
the pity; but I don’t hold with it. And, if I had the power, not a woman
in the country would look at a man that was fond of it: more than for
his meals, and, perhaps, a drop when he’s thirsty,” she added, in a more
subdued tone.

“That’s just my case, Patty,” said Gervase; “a drop when I’m
thirsty--and most often I am thirsty----”

“That’s not what I mean, neither. If you were up and down from morning
to night getting in your hay, or seeing to your turnips, or riding to
market--well, then I’d allow you a drink, like as I would to your horse,
only the brute has the most sense, and drinks good water; but roaming up
and down, doing nothing as you are--taking a walk for the sake of
getting a drink, and then another walk to give you the excuse to come
back again, and nothing else in your mind but how soon you can get
another; and then sitting at it at night for hours together till you’re
all full of it--like a wet sponge, and smelling like the parlour does in
the morning before the windows are opened--Faugh!” cried Patty,
vigorously pushing him away, “it is enough to make a woman sick!”

Personal disgust is the one thing which nobody can bear; even the abject
Gervase was moved to resentment. “If I make you sick, I’d better go,” he
said sullenly, “and find another place where they ain’t so squeamish.”

“Yes, do; there are plenty of folks that don’t mind: neither for your
good nor for their own feelings. You can go, and welcome. And I’m going
back to the house.”

“Oh, stop a moment, Patty! Don’t take a fellow up so quick! It isn’t
nice to hear a girl say that, when you worship the ground she stands
on----”

“The smell of beer,” said Patty, sniffing audibly with her nostrils in
the air, “is what I never could abide.”

“You oughtn’t to mind it. If it wasn’t for beer----”

“Oh, taunt me with it, do!” cried Patty. “If it wasn’t for beer, neither
Richard Hewitt of the Seven Thorns, nor them that belongs to him, that
once had their lands and their farms as good as any one, and more horses
in their stables than you have ever had at the Manor, couldn’t get on
at all, nor pay their way--Oh, taunt me with it! It’s come to that, and
I can’t gainsay it. I draw beer for my living, and I ought to encourage
them that come. But I can’t abide it, all the same,” cried Patty,
stamping her foot on the dry and sandy turf; “and I won’t look at a man,
if he was a prince, that is soaking and drinking night and day!”

She turned and walked off towards the house with her quick, springy
step, followed by the unhappy Gervase, who called “Patty! Patty!” by
intervals, as he went after humbly. At last, just before they came into
sight of the loungers about the door, he ventured to catch at her
sleeve.

“Patty! Patty! just for one moment! Listen--do listen to me!”

“What were you pleased to want, sir?” said Patty, turning upon him.
“Another tankard of beer?”

“Oh, Patty,” said the young man, “if I was to give it up, and never
touch another blessed drop again----”

“It would be real good for you--the very best thing you could do.”

“I wasn’t thinking of that. Would you be a little nice to me, Patty?
Would you listen to me when I speak?--would you----?”

“I always listen to them that speaks sense, Mr. Gervase.”

“I know I ain’t clever,” said the poor fellow; “and whether this is
sense I don’t know: but you shall be my lady when father dies, if you’ll
only listen to me now.”

Patty’s eyes danced, and her pulses beat with a thrill which ran through
her from head to foot. But she said:

“I’ll never listen to any man, if he would make me a queen, so long as
he went on like that with the beer!”



CHAPTER III.


Greyshott Manor, to which Gervase directed his steps after the
interview above recorded, was a large red brick mansion, no earlier than
the reign of Anne; though there were traces in various parts of the
house of a much older lineage. The front, however, which you could see
through the wonderful avenue of beeches, which was the pride of the
place, bore a pediment and twinkled with rows of windows, two long lines
above the porticoed and pillared door, which also had a small pediment
of its own. It looked old-fashioned, but not old, and was in perfect
repair. When the sun shone down the beech avenue, which faced to the
west, it turned the old bricks of the house into a sort of glorified
ruddiness, blended of all the warmest tones--red and russet, and brown
and orange, with a touch of black relieving it here and there. The
effect in autumn, when all those warm tints which, by the alchemy of
nature, bring beauty out of the chilly frost and unlovely decay--was as
if all the colours in the rainbow had been poured forth; but all so
toned and subdued by infinite gradation that the most violent notes of
colour were chastened into harmony. It was not autumn, however, at this
moment, but full summer,--the trees in clouds and billows of full
foliage, dark on either side of that glory of the moon, which poured
down like a silver river between, and made all the windows white with
the whiteness of her light. The avenue was a wonderful feature at
Greyshott, and even the mere passer-by had the good of it, since it was
closed only by a great gate of wrought iron, which would also have been
worth looking at had the spectator been a connoisseur. The fault of the
avenue was that it was a short one--not above a quarter of a mile
long--and it was now used only by foot-passengers, who had a right of
way through the little postern that flanked the big gate. Important
visitors drove up on the other side, through what was called _the_
Avenue, which was just like other avenues; but the Beeches were the
pride of Greyshott. To think that the one slim shadow that came into the
moonlight in the midst of them, with a wavering gait and stooping
shoulders, should be the future lord and master of all those princely
older inhabitants, with the power of life and death in his hands! A few
years hence, when old Sir Giles had come to the end of his existence,
his son could cut them down if he pleased. He could obliterate the very
name of the great trees, so much more dignified and splendid members of
society than himself, which stood in close ranks on either side of the
path: he so little and they so great, and yet this confused and
bewildered mortal the master of all!

If Gervase walked with a wavering gait, it was not because of the beer
against which Patty had made so strong a remonstrance. He had, indeed,
had quite enough of that; but his uncertain step was natural to the
Softy, as all the country called him. He went along with his head
stooping, his hands in his pockets, his eyes traversing the path as well
as his feet, keeping up an inane calculation of the white pebbles, or
the brown ones, among the gravel. He had long been in the habit of
playing a sort of game with himself in the vacancy of his mind, the
brown against the white, counting them all along the level of the road,
occasionally cheating himself in the interests of the right side or the
left. This occupation had beguiled him over many a mile of road. But it
had palled upon him since he had known Patty, or rather, since she had
surprised him into that admiration and enthusiasm which had made him
determine to marry her, whatever difficulties might be in the way. It
was, perhaps, because of the rebuff she had given him that Gervase had
again taken to his game with the brown and white pebbles in the road,
which, indeed, it was not too easy to distinguish in the whiteness of
the moon. He walked along with his head down, his hands in his pockets,
his shoulders up to his ears, and the moon was very unhandsome in the
matter of shadow, and threw a villainous blotch behind him upon that
clear white line of way. There was a light in the front of the house to
which Gervase was bound; a sort of querulous light, which shone keen in
the expanse of windows, all black and white in the moon, like the eyes
of an angry watcher looking out for the return of the prodigal, but not
like the father in the parable. It was, indeed, exactly so: the light
was in his mother’s window, who would not go to bed till Gervase had
come home. It was not late, but it was late for the rural household,
which was all closed and shut up by ten o’clock. Sir Giles was an
invalid, his wife old, and accustomed to take great care of herself. She
sat up in her dressing-gown, angry, though anxious, with all the
reproachful dignity of a woman kept up and deprived of her natural rest,
ready to step into bed the moment her vigil was over; a large watch
ticking noisily and also reproachfully on the table beside her, with a
sort of stare in its large white face, seeming to say, late! late!
instead of tick, tick--to the young man’s guilty ear.

At least, it had once done so; but Gervase by this time was quite
hardened to the watch that said late! and the mother whose tongue in the
tschick, tschick! of angry remonstrance, hailed him for want of better
welcome when he went in.

He directed himself to a little side door in the shadow, which was often
left open for him by the old butler, who had less fear of his plate
than of getting the boy, whom, Softy as he was, he loved, into trouble.
But sometimes it was not left open; sometimes an emissary from above,
his mother’s maid, who loved him not, one of her satellites, turned the
key, and Gervase had to ring, waking all the echoes of the house. He
thought it was going to be so on this particular night, for when he
pushed, it did not yield. Next moment, however, it opened softly,
showing a tall shadow in the dimly-lighted passage. “O, Gervase, how
late you are!” said a low voice.

“Why, it’s you!” he said.

“Yes, it’s me. My aunt is angry, I don’t know why. And she says you are
to go to her before you go to bed.”

“I sha’n’t!” said Gervase.

“Do, there’s a dear boy. She has got something in her head. She will
imagine worse than the truth if you don’t go. Oh! why should you be so
undutiful? They would be so good to you if you would but let them. Go to
your mother, Gervase, and let her see----”

She paused, looking at him by the faint light as if she were not very
sure that Gervase’s mother would see anything satisfactory. There was
not, indeed, anything exhilarating to see. His light eyes, which had
shone with a certain brightness upon Patty, were opaque now, and had no
speculation in them. His under lip hung a little, and was always moist.
The sullen look was habitual to his face. “What does she want o’ me?” he
said in his throat, running his words into each other.

“She wants of you---- what I’m afraid she’ll never get,” said the cousin
with a tone of exasperation; “but at least go and say good-night to her,
Gervase, and be as pleasant as you can. You may always do that.”

“You’re not one that thinks much o’ my pleasantness, Meg.”

“I’ve always been grateful for it when you’ve showed me any,” she said
with a smile. She was a tall woman, older than Gervase, a few years over
thirty, at the age which should be the very glory and flush of prime,
but which in a woman is usually scoffed at as if it were old age.
Gervase frankly thought his cousin an elderly woman who did not count
any longer in life. She was very plainly dressed in black, being a widow
and poor, and had something of the air of one who is on sufferance in a
house to which she does not naturally belong. She kept at a slight
distance from her cousin, taking half a step back when he took one in
advance: but her voice to him was soft and her meaning kind. She had no
great affection, beyond the habitual bond of having known him all his
life, for Gervase; but she was a bystander seeing both sides of the
question, and she did not think that the treatment adopted in his home
was judicious, which made her more or less, as a dependent may be, the
partizan of the poor fellow, for whom nobody had any respect, and few
people cared at all.

“Come,” she said, in a persuasive tone; “I’ll go with you, Gervase.”

“What good’ll that do?” he said, sullenly.

“Well, not much, perhaps: but you always liked when you were little to
have somebody to stand by you: and if my aunt thinks I’m intruding, it
will be all the better for you.”

So saying, she led the way upstairs, and knocked lightly at a door on
the gallery which went round the hall. “Here he is, aunt,” she said,
“quite safe and sound; and now you can get to bed.”

“Who is quite safe and sound? and was there any doubt on that subject?”
said a voice within. Lady Piercey sat very upright in an old-fashioned
chair of the square high-backed kind, with walls like a house. The
candle that looked so querulous in the window had inside a sharp,
self-assertive light, as if it had known all about it all the time. She
was in a dressing-gown of a large shawl pattern, warm and wadded, and
had a muslin cap with goffered frills tied closely round her face. It is
a kind of head-dress which makes a benign face still more benign, and a
sweet complexion sweeter, and which also stiffens and starches a
different kind of countenance. Lady Piercey was high featured, of that
type of the human visage which resembles a horse, and her frills
quivered with the indignation in her soul.

“I thought you were anxious about Gervase, aunt.”

Mrs. Osborne interfered in this obviously injudicious way, with the
object of drawing aside the lightnings upon herself, as it was generally
easy to do.

“I don’t know what you had to do with it,” said Lady Piercey, roughly.
“If I’m anxious about Gervase, it’s not about life or limb. I’m not a
fool, I hope. What did you give her, you block, to make her come and put
herself before you like this?”

“I’ve got nothing to give,” said the lout. There had been a trace of
manhood, a gleam even of the gentleman in him when he was with Patty.
Here, in his mother’s room, he became a mere lump of clay. He pulled out
his pockets as he spoke, which shed a number of small articles upon the
floor, but not a coin. “I have a deal to give--to her or any one,” he
said.

“Where do you spend it all?” said the mother; “five shillings I gave you
on Monday, and what expenses have you? Kept in luxury, and never needing
to put your hand in your pocket. Goodness, Meg, what a smell! Is it a
barrel of beer you’ve rolled into my room, or is it--is it my only boy?”

“By--Gosh!” said Gervase. He could not be gentlemanly even in his oaths.
He would have said “By George!” or perhaps “By Jove!” even if he had
been with Patty, but nothing but this vulgar expletive would come to
his lips here.

“I’ve heard of you, sir,” said Lady Piercey; “I’ve heard where you spend
your time, and who you spend it with. A common beerhouse, and the woman
that serves the beer. Oh, good gracious! good gracious! and to think
that should be my son, and that he’s the heir to an old estate and will
be Sir Gervase if he lives!”

“Ay,” said Gervase, with a laugh, “and you can’t stop that, old lady,
not if you should burst.”

“Don’t you be too sure I can’t stop it,” she cried. “Your father is not
much good, but he is more good than you think; and if you suppose
there’s no way of putting an idiot out of the line, you’re mistaken.
There are plenty of asylums for fools, I can tell you; and if you are
such a double-dyed fool as that----”

Gervase stared and grew pale; but then he took courage and laughed a
weak laugh. “I may be a fool,” he said, “you’re always that nice to me,
mamma: but there’s them in the world that will stand up for me, and
cleverer than you.”

Lady Piercey stared also for a moment; and then turning to Mrs. Osborne,
asked, “Meg! what does the ass mean?”

“Oh, have a little patience, aunt! He means--nothing, probably. He has
been doing no harm, and he’s vexed to be blamed. Why should he be blamed
when he has been doing no harm?”

“Do you call it no harm to bring the smell of an alehouse into my room?”
cried Lady Piercey; “you will have to open all the windows to get rid of
it, and probably I shall get my death of cold--which is what he would
like, no doubt.”

Gervase laughed again, his lower lip more watery than ever. “Trust you
for taking care of yourself,” he said. “If that’s all you have got to
say, slanging a fellow for nothing, I’ll go to bed.”

“Stop here, when I tell you! and let me know this instant about that
woman. Who is she that will have anything to say to _you_? Perhaps she
thinks she will be my lady, and get my place after me--a girl that draws
beer for all the ploughmen in the parish!”

“I don’t know who you’re speaking of,” said Gervase. His face grew a
dull red, and he clenched his fist. “By Gosh! and if she marries me, so
she will, and nobody can stop it,” he said.

“You had better banish this illusion from your mind,” said Lady Piercey,
with solemnity. “A woman like that shall never be my lady, and come
after me. It’s against--against the laws of this house; it’s against the
law of the land. Your father can leave every penny away from you! And as
for the name, it’s--it’s forbidden to a common person. The Lord
Chancellor will not allow it!--the Queen will not have it! You might as
well try to--to bring down St. Paul’s to Greyshott! Do you hear, you
fool, what I say?”

Gervase stood with his mouth open: he was confounded with these big
names. The Queen and the Lord Chancellor and St. Paul’s! They mingled
together in a something stupendous, an authority before which even
Patty, with all her cleverness, must fail. He gazed at his mother with
the stupid alarm which all his life her denunciations had inspired. St.
Paul’s and the Queen! The one an awful shadow, coming down on the moors;
the other at the head of her army, as in a fairy story. And the Lord
Chancellor! something more alarming still, because Gervase could form no
idea of him unless by the incarnation of the police, which even in
Greyshott was a name of fear.

“Look here,” said Lady Piercey, “this is what it would mean; you
wouldn’t have a penny; you’d have to draw the beer yourself to get your
living; you’d be cut off from your father’s will like--like a turnip
top. The Lord Chancellor would grant an injunction to change your name;
for they won’t have good old names degraded, the great officers won’t.
You might think yourself lucky if you kept the Gervase, for that’s your
christened name; but it would be Gervase Brown, or Green, or
something;--or they might let you for a favour take her name--the
beerhouse woman’s; which would suit you very well, for you would be the
beerhouse man.”

Gervase’s lip dropped more and more, his face grew paler and paler. Lady
Piercey by long experience had grown versed in this kind of argument.
She was aware that she could reduce him to absolute vacuity and silence
every plea he might bring forth. He had no plea, poor fellow. He was so
ignorant that, often as he had been thus threatened, he never had found
out the absurdity of these threats. He fell upon himself like a ruined
wall, as he stood before her limp and terrified. There was a grim sort
of humour in the woman which enjoyed this too, as well as the sense of
absolute power she had over him; and when she had dismissed him, which
she did with the slight touch of a kiss upon his cheek, but again a
grimace at the smell of beer, she burst into a wild but suppressed
laugh. “Was there ever such a fool, to believe all I say?” she said to
her niece who removed her dressing-gown, and helped her into bed; and
then--for this fierce old lady was but an old woman after all--she fell
a-whimpering and crying. “And that’s my son! oh Lord! my only child; all
that I’ve got in the world.”



CHAPTER IV.


Margaret found Gervase waiting for her in the darkness of the corridor,
when she left his mother. Lady Piercey was a righteous woman, who would
not keep her maid out of bed after ten o’clock; but her niece was a
different matter. He caught his cousin by the arm, almost bringing from
her a cry of alarm. “Meg,” he said in her ear, “do you think it’s all
true?”

“Oh, Gervase, you gave me such a fright!”

“Is it all true?”

“How can I tell you? I don’t know anything about the law,” she said,
with a sense of disloyalty to the poor fellow who was so ignorant; but
she could not contradict her aunt, and if that was supposed to be for
his good----

“If it should be,” said Gervase, with a deep sigh: and then he added, “I
couldn’t let her marry me if it wasn’t to be for her good.”

“Oh, Gervase, why can’t you show yourself like that to _them_?” his
cousin said.

“I don’t know what you mean. I make no difference,” he answered dully,
as he turned away.

Then there came another disturbance. The door of Sir Giles’ room further
on opened cautiously, and his servant, who was also his nurse, looked
out with great precaution and beckoned to her. Sir Giles was in bed; an
old man with a red face and white hair; his under lip dropped like that
of Gervase, though there was still a great deal of animation in his
little bright blue eyes. He called her to come to him close to his
bedside, as if Dunning, his man, did not know exactly what his master
was going to ask.

“Has Gervase come in?” he said.

“Yes, uncle.”

“Is he drunk?”

“Oh, no,” said Margaret eagerly, “nothing of the sort!”

“That’s all right,” said the old gentleman with a sigh of satisfaction.
“Now I’ll go to sleep.”

Thus the whole household, though it was not to be called a sensitive or
a loving household, held its watch over the poor lad who, in his patent
stupidity, was its only hope.

Margaret Osborne went away to the end of the corridor to her own room
where her little boy was sleeping. She was a few years over thirty, as I
have said, and therefore was one of those whose day is supposed to be
over. She would have said so herself from other reasons, with complete
good faith. For was she not a widow, thrown back as wrecks are upon the
shore, out of the storms and hurricanes of life? She might have added
that she was cast upon a desert island, after a very brief yet sharp
acquaintance with all those stirring adventures and hair-breadth escapes
which sometimes make life a stormy voyage. She had married a soldier,
and gone with him from place to place during a course of troubled years.
They had been poor, and their marriage was what is called an imprudent
one; but it was so much worse than that, that Captain Osborne had by no
means intended it to be imprudent, but had remained convinced till the
last moment that Sir Giles Piercey’s niece must bring something
substantial with her to the common stock. He had been warned over and
over again, but he had not believed the warning; and when he found
himself with a wife on his hands, whose utmost endowment was a very
small allowance; enough, with economy, to dress her in the simplest
manner, but no more--while he himself had little more than his pay to
depend on, the disappointment was grievous. Captain Osborne was a
gentleman, though not a very high-minded one, and he did his best to
keep the knowledge of this shock from his wife, and to look as if he
shared that joy in life and intoxicating delight of freedom with which
Margaret, the unconsidered orphan of Greyshott, stepped forth into the
fulness of existence with the man she loved. He was able to keep that up
quite a long time, his despondencies and occasional irritabilities being
attributed by Margaret to anything but the real cause of them; but at
the last, in an unguarded moment, the secret slipped from him. Not
anything to leave an indelible mark on her memory; not that he had
married her with the intention of increasing his income, which would not
have been true; but only an unintentional revelation of the
disappointment which had been in his mind from the very day of their
marriage--the failure of a prospect upon which his thoughts were bent.
“I thought I should have been able to do you more justice, Meg; but if
we’ve grubbed on in a poor way, you must remember it’s that old
curmudgeon of an uncle of yours that’s to blame.” She had asked what he
meant, with a startled look, and gradually had elicited the story of his
disappointment, which sunk into her heart like a stone. Not that she
misjudged him or believed that he had married her for that only. Oh! no,
no; but to think, when you have supposed your husband to be satisfied
with your society as you with his; to find in you the fulfilment of all
his hopes of happiness as you in him; and then to discover that from
your very marriage day he has gone forth with a disappointment, with a
grudge; with an unsaid reflection, “If I had but known!”--Margaret
forgot it ’mid the many events that filled her existence, forgot even
the bitter thought that, had he known, he need not have been subjected
to those slights and scorns and forced self-denials that befall the
poor; forgot everything but love and sorrow in those last sad scenes
which have this one compensation--that they obliterate all that is not
love from the mourner’s heart. But, nevertheless, the mark that had been
made on her life was always there. We may have forgotten when, and how,
and even by whose hand we got the wound, but the scar remains, and the
smoothness of the injured surface can never be restored.

But she had her little boy, who was her estate, her endowment, her
dowry, whatever else might be lacking; and who had come to be the
delight of the house in which she was received after her widowhood--oh!
not unkindly--with a quite genuine compassion and friendliness, if not
love. They were not a family of delicate mind; they did not think it
necessary to spare a dependent any of those snubs or small humiliations
which belong to her lot. They took her in frankly because she had
nowhere else to go to, with an occasional complaint of their hard fate
in having to receive and support other people’s children, and an
occasional gibe at the poor relations who were always a drag upon the
head of the family. I do not say that she had not felt this, for she had
a high spirit; and, perhaps, if she had been a woman educated as women
are beginning to be now, she might have felt herself capable of
achieving independence and throwing off the sore weight of charity which
is so good for those who give, but generally so hard upon those who
receive. But after many a weary thought she had given up the hope of
this. She had not boldness enough to venture on any great and unusual
undertaking, and there were no means for a woman of earning her living
then, except in the way of teaching (which, at all times, must be the
chief standby), for which she was not capable, having had no education
herself. So that she had to accept the humiliations, to hear herself
described as “my niece, you know, who has had to come back, poor thing,
left without a penny. If she had not had her uncle’s house to come back
to, Heaven knows what would have become of her”; and to witness the
visitor’s pressure of Lady Piercey’s hand, and admiring exclamation,
“How good you are!” And it was true--they were very good. She had not a
moment she could call her own, but was running their errands the whole
day. She was sick-nurse, lady’s maid, secretary, and reader, all in one.
Sir Giles had moments when he remembered that to have such an invalid
master was hard upon Dunning, and that so valuable a servant must have,
now and then, an afternoon to himself; and Lady Piercey was very
considerate of her maid, Parsons, and insisted, as we have seen, that
she should always get to bed by ten o’clock. But to both of these good
people it seemed quite natural that Meg should take the place thus
vacated, and support the gouty old gentleman, and put the old lady to
bed. Their own flesh and blood! like the daughter of the house! of
course, it was she who came in naturally to fulfil all their needs. And
Margaret never made an objection--scarcely felt one; was glad to be
always busy, always at their service; but now and then, perhaps, in an
idle moment, wondered, with a smile, how they could get on without her;
felt a little indignation against Dunning and Parsons, who never showed
any gratitude to her for the many fatigues she spared them--and thought
within herself that the story of the niece, poor thing, who had come
back without a penny, might be less frequently told.

But there had come into her life a great revenge--a thing which no one
had thought of, unintentional, indeed undesired. The little boy, the
baby, whom every one had called poor little thing!--as of the most
unprotected and defenceless of God’s creation--that little boy, Osy,
such a burden on the poor niece who had not a penny! had become the king
of the house! It was such a revolution as had never entered into any
mind to conceive. Osy, who understood nothing about his proper place or
his position, as entirely dependent on Sir Giles’ charity, but did
understand very well that everybody smiled upon him, delighted even in
his very naughtiness, obeyed his lightest wish, fulfilled all his little
caprices, took his little place as prince, as if it had been the most
natural thing in the world. From old Sir Giles, by whom he sat on his
little stool, patting the old gentleman’s gouty foot, with the softest
feather-touch of his little hand, and babbling with all manner of baby
talk profound questions that could have no answer, and shrills of little
laughter, while even Dunning, on the other side of the old man’s chair,
smiled indulgent, and declared that nothing do amuse master or take him
out of himself like that child; and Lady Piercey, to whom he would run,
hiding among her ample robes with full connivance on her part, when it
was time to put him to bed--while Parsons stood delighted by, alleging
that children was allays so when they was happy, and that the little ’un
was fond of her ladyship, to be sure--there was but one thought little
of Osy. He was a darling, he was, the housekeeper said, who was grim to
Mrs. Osborne, and resented much being obliged occasionally to take my
lady’s orders from the poor niece without a penny. Gervase was the only
one in the family who did not idolise Osy. He had liked him well enough
at first, when he mounted the little thing on his shoulder to Margaret’s
terror, holding the child, who had twice his energy and spirit, with a
limp arm in which there was no security. But after the time when Osy,
with a fling, threw himself from his cousin’s nervous hold, and broke
his little head and plunged the house into a panic of alarm, all such
pranks had been forbidden, and Gervase took no more notice of the child,
who had already begun to share the contempt of the household for him.

“Why doesn’t Cousin Gervase ’list for a soldier?” Osy had asked one day
as he sat by Sir Giles. “Why should he ’list for a soldier?” asked the
old gentleman; though Dunning grew pale, and Lady Piercey looked up with
a sharp “Eh?” not knowing what treason was to follow. Dunning knew what
had been said on that subject in the servants’ hall, and divined that
the child had heard and would state his authorities without hesitation.
“Because----” said Osy--but then he made a pause--his mother’s eye was
upon him, and, perhaps, though he had not the least idea what she feared
and probably in childish defiance would have done that precisely had he
known, yet this glance did give him pause; and he remembered that he had
been told not to repeat what the servants said. The processes in a
child’s mind are no less swift than those of a more calculating age.
“Because,” said the boy, lingering, beginning to enjoy the suspense on
all these faces, “because--it would make his back straight. Mamma says
my back’s straight because the sergeant drilled me when I was a lickle,
lickle boy.”

“And the dear child is as straight as a rush, my lady,” said Parsons,
who was, as so often, arranging Lady Piercey’s work. She, too, was
grateful beyond measure to little Osy for not repeating the talk of the
servants’ hall.

“And what are you now, Osy,” cried Sir Giles, with a great laugh, “if
you’re no longer a lickle, lickle boy?”

“I’m the king of the castle,” said Osy, tilting at Dunning with the old
gentleman’s stick. “Bedone, you dirty rascal; let’s play at you being
the castle, Uncle Giles, and I’ll drive off the enemy. Bedone, you dirty
rascal;--det away from my castle. I’ll be the sentry on the walls,” said
the child, marching round and round with the stick over his shoulder for
a gun, “and I’ll call out ‘Who does there?’ and ‘What’s the word’--and
I’ll drive off all the enemy. But there must be a flag flying.” He
called it a flap, but that did not matter. “Mamma, fix a flap upon my
big tower. Here,” he cried, producing from his little pocket a crumpled
rag of uncertain colour, “this hankechif will do.”

“But that’s a flag of truce, Osy; are you going to give me up then?”
said the old gentleman.

“We’ll not have no flaps of truce,” said Osy, seizing Sir Giles’ red
bandana, “for I means fightin’--and they sha’n’t come near you, but over
my body. Here! Tome on, you enemy!” Osy’s thrusts at Dunning, who
retreated outside a wider and a wider circle as the little soldier made
his rounds, amused the old gentleman beyond measure. He laughed till,
which was not very difficult, the water came to his eyes.

“I do believe that mite would stand up for his old uncle if there was
any occasion,” said Sir Giles, nodding his old head across at his wife,
and trying in vain to recover the bandana to dry his old eyes.

These were the sort of games that went on in the afternoon, especially
in winter, when the hours were long between lunch and tea. When the
weather was fine, Osy marched by Sir Giles’ garden chair, and made him
the confidant of all his wonderings. “What do the leaves fall off for,
and where do they tome from when they tome again? Does gardener go to
the market to buy the new ones like mamma goes to buy clothes for me?
How do the snowdrops know when it’s time to come up out of the told,
told ground?” Fortunately, he had so many things to ask that he seldom
paused for an answer. Sir Giles laid up these questions in his heart,
and reported them to my lady. “He asked me to-day if it hurt the field
when the farmers ploughed it up? I declare I never thought how strange
things were before, and the posers that little ’un asks me!” cried the
old man. Lady Piercey smiled with a superior certainty, based upon
Mangnall’s Questions and other instructive works, that she was not so
easily posed by Osy. She had instructed him as to where tea and coffee
came from, and taught him to say, “Thank you, pretty cow,” thus
accounting for his breakfast to the inquisitive intelligence. But there
was one thing that brought a spasm to Lady Piercey’s face, especially
when, as now and then happened, she hid the little truant from his
mother, and saved Osy from a scolding, as he nestled down amid her
voluminous skirts and lifted up a smiling, rosy little face, in great
enjoyment of the joke and the hiding place. Sometimes as she laid her
hand upon his curly head with that sensation of half-malicious delight
in coming between the little sinner and his natural governor, which is
common to the grand-parent, there would come a sudden contraction to her
face, and a bitter salt tear would spring to her eye. If Gervase had a
child like that to be his father’s heir! Why was not that delightful
child the child of Gervase, instead of being born to those who had
nothing to give him? It was upon Margaret, who had not a penny, that
this immeasurable gift was bestowed. And no woman that could be the
mother of such a boy would ever marry Gervase! Oh! no, no--a barmaid, to
give him a vulgar brat, who, perhaps----. But the thoughts of angry love
and longing are not to be put into words.

Margaret went to the end of the gallery to her own room, where her
child’s soft breath was just audible as he slept. She went and looked at
him in his little crib, a little head like an angel’s, upon the little
white pillow. But it was not only in a mother’s tender adoration that
she stood and looked at her child. To hurt any one was not in Margaret
Osborne’s heart, but there had come into it for some time back a dart of
ambition, a gleam of hope: little Osy, too, was of the Piercey blood.
She herself was a Piercey, much more a Piercey than Gervase, poor
fellow. If an heir was wanted, who so fit as her boy? Far more fit than
old General Piercey, whom nobody knew. Oh! not for worlds, not for
anything that life could give, would she harm poor Gervase, or any man.
But the barmaid and her possible progeny were as odious to Margaret as
to Lady Piercey: and where, where could any one find an heir like Osy,
the little prince, who had conquered and taken possession of the great
house?



CHAPTER V.


It has been stated by various persons afflicted with that kind of
trouble, that to be enlightened above one’s fellows is a great trial and
misery. I don’t know how that may be, but it is certainly a great
trouble to be a Softy, to have a fluid brain in which everything gets
disintegrated, and floats about in confusion, and never to be able to
lay hold upon a subject distinctly either by head or tail, however much
it may concern you. This was the case of poor Gervase the morning after
he had received that evening address from his mother in her nightcap,
which was so well adapted to confuse any little wits the poor fellow
had. That his marriage might be forbidden, and his very name taken from
him, and himself reduced to draw beer at the Seven Thorns for his
living, instead of making a lady of Patty, and lifting her out of all
such necessities, overwhelmed his mind altogether. If it was true, he
had better, in fact, have nothing more to say to Patty at all. A forlorn
sense that it might be well for her in such a case to turn to Roger, who
at least would deliver her from drawing beer, lurked in the poor
fellow’s breast. Nothing would humiliate Gervase so much as the triumph
of Roger, who had always been the one person in the world who pointed
the moral of his own deficiencies to the unfortunate young squire; and
there swelled in his breast a sort of dull anguish and sense of
contrast, in which Roger’s triumphant swing of the bat and kick of the
football mingled with his carrying off of the woman whom poor Gervase
admired and adored, adding a double piquancy to the act of renunciation
which he was slowly spelling out in his own dumb soul. Nobody would try
to take away that fellow’s name. He had a cottage of his own that he
could take her to, dang him! Gervase was beguiled for a moment into his
old indignant thought that such a man playing cricket all over the
county would probably come to the workhouse in the end, and that this
was where Patty might find herself, if she preferred the athlete to
himself; but he threw off the idea in his new evanescent impulse. She
was too clever for that! She’d find a way to keep a man straight,
whether it was a poor fellow who was not clever, or one that was too
good at every kind of diversion. I am no great believer in heredity, and
the house of Piercey was by no means distinguished for its chivalrous
instincts or tendencies; yet I am glad to think that some vague
influence from his ancient race had put this idea of giving up Patty, if
he could bring only trouble and no bettering to her, into his dull and
aching head. If he had been wiser, he would probably have kept away from
her in this new impulse of generosity, but he was not wise at all, his
first idea was to go to Patty, and tell her, and receive her
orders--which no doubt she would give peremptorily--to go away from her.
He never expected anything else. He was capable of giving her up, for
her good, if he found himself unable to make a lady of her, in a dull
sort of way, as a necessity; but he was not capable of the thought that
she might stand by him to her own hurt. It seemed quite natural to
him--not a thing to be either blamed or doubted--that as soon as it was
proved that he could not make a lady of her, she would send him away.

It was a dull morning, warm but grey, the sky, or rather the clouds
hanging low, and the great stretch of the moorland country lying flat
underneath, its breadth of turf and thickets of gorse, and breaks of
sandy road and broken ground all running into one sombre, greyish,
greenish, yellowish colour in the flat tones of the sunless daylight.
Such a day in weariness embodied, taking the spring out of everything.
The very birds in the big trees behind the Seven Thorns were affected by
it and chirruped dejectedly, fathers and mothers swiftly snubbing any
young thing that attempted a bit of song. The seven thorns themselves,
which were old trees and knocked about by time and weather and the
passing of straw-laden carts, and other drawbacks, looked shabbier and
older than ever: no place for any lovers’ meeting. Gervase had not the
heart to go into the house. He sat down on the bench outside, like any
tramp, and neither called to Patty, nor attempted any way of attracting
her attention. She had seen him, I need not say, coming over the downs.
She had eyes everywhere--not only in the back of her head, as the ostler
and the maid at the Seven Thorns said, but at the tips of her fingers,
and in the handle of the broom with which she was as usual sweeping
briskly out the dust and sand of yesterday, and striking into every
corner. The weather did not affect Patty. It needed something more than
a grey day to discourage her active spirits. But when she found that her
suitor did not come in, did not call her, did not even beat with his
knuckles on the rough wooden table outside, to let it be known that he
was there, surprise entered her breast; surprise and a little alarm. She
had never let it be known by any one that she was moved by Gervase’s
suit. In her heart she had always been convinced that the Softy would
not be allowed to marry, and her pride would not allow her to run the
risk of such a defeat. At the same time there was always the chance that
her own spirit might carry him through, and the prospect was too
glorious to be altogether thrown away; so that when Patty became aware
that he was sitting there outside, with not heart enough to say Boh! to
a goose--alarm stole over her, and to contemplate the possible failure
of all these hopes, was more than she could calmly bear. She stood still
for a minute or two listening, with her head a little on one side, and
all her faculties concentrated upon the sounds from the door: but heard
nothing except the aimless scrape of his foot against the sandy pebbles
outside. Finally she went out, and stood on the threshold, her broom
still in her hand.

“Oh! so it is you, Mr. Gervase! I couldn’t think who it could be that
stuck there without a word to nobody. You’ve got a headache, as I said
you would.”

“No--I’ve got no headache. If I’ve anything, it’s here,” said poor
Gervase, laying his hand on what he believed to be his heart.

“Lord, your stomach, then!” said Patty with a laugh--“but folks don’t
say that to a lady; though I dare to say it’s very true, for beer is a
real heavy thing, whatever you men may say.”

“I am not thinking of beer,” said Gervase. “I wish there was nothing
more than that, Patty, between you and me.”

“Between you and me!” she cried with a twirl of her broom along the
step, “there’s nothing between you and me. There’s a deal to be done
first, Mr. Gervase, before any man shall say as there’s something
between him and Miss Hewitt of the Seven Thorns; and if you don’t know
that, you’re the only man in the parish as doesn’t. Is there anything as
I can do for you? for I’ve got my work, and I can’t stand idling here.”

“Oh, Patty, don’t turn like that at the first word! As if I wasn’t down
enough! You told me last night to give it up for your sake, and I meant
to; and now you come and tempt me with it! If I must have neither my
beer nor you, what is to become of me?” poor Gervase cried.

Patty felt that things were becoming serious. She was conscious of all
the pathos of this cry. She leant the broom in a corner, and coming down
the steps, approached the disconsolate young man outside. “Whatever’s to
do, Mr. Gervase?” she said.

“Patty, I’ll have to give you up!” said the poor fellow, with his head
upon his hand, and something very like a sob bursting from his breast.

“Give me up? You’ve never had me, so you can’t give me up,” cried proud
Patty. She was, however, more interested by this than by other more
flattering methods of wooing. She laughed fiercely. “Sir Giles and my
lady won’t hear of it? No, of course they won’t! And this is my fine
gentleman that thought nothing in the world as good as me! I told you
you’d give in at the first word!” She was very angry, though she had
never accepted poor Gervase’s protestations. He raised his head
piteously, and the sight of her, flaming, sparkling, enveloping him in a
sort of fiery contempt and fury, roused the little spark of
gentlemanhood that was in Gervase’s breast.

“If I give in,” he said, “it is because of you, Patty. I’ll not marry
you--not if you were ready this moment--to be the wife of a man without
a penny that would have to draw beer for his living. I wouldn’t; no, I
wouldn’t--unless I was to make you a lady. I wanted--to make a lady of
you, Patty!”

And he wept; the Softy, the poor, silly fellow! Patty had something in
her, though she was the veriest little egotist and as hard as the nether
millstone, which vibrated in spite of her at this touch. She said,
“Lord, bless the man! What nonsense is he talking? Draw beer for his
living! Tell me now, Mr. Gervase, there’s a dear, what is’t you mean.”

And then poor Gervase poured out his heart: how he had been threatened
with the Lord Chancellor and even with the Queen; how they could take
not only every penny but his very name from him, and so make him bring
shame upon the girl he loved instead of honour and glory as he had
hoped. And how, in these circumstances, he would have to give her up.
Better, though it might kill him, that she should marry a man who could
keep her up in every thing than one who would be thrown upon her to make
his living drawing beer.

Patty listened patiently, and cross-examined acutely to get to the
bottom of this mystery. She was a little overawed to hear of the Lord
Chancellor, whose prerogatives she could not limit, and who might be
able to do something terrible; but gradually her good sense surmounted
even the terrors of that mysterious power. “They can’t take your name
from you,” she said; “it’s nonsense; not a bit. Your name? Why, you were
born to it. It’s not like the estate. Of course your name’s yours, and
nobody can’t take it away.”

“Not?” said Gervase, looking up beseechingly into her eyes.

“Not a bit. I, for one, don’t believe it. Nor the property either! I,
for one, don’t believe it. They’ve neither chick nor child but you.
What! give it away to a dreadful old man, a cousin, and you there,
their own child! No, Mr. Gervase, I don’t believe a word of it. They
wanted to frighten you bad; and so they have done, and that’s all.”

“They sha’n’t frighten me,” said Gervase, lifting his pale cheek and
setting his hat on with a defiant look, “not if you’ll stand by me,
Patty.”

“How am I to stand by you,” cried the coquette with a laugh, “if you’re
a-going to give me up?”

“It was only for your sake, Patty,” he said. “I’d marry you to-day if I
could, you know. That’s what I should like--just to marry you straight
off this very day.” He got up and came close to her, almost animated in
the fervour of his passion. His dull eyes lighted up, a little colour
came to his face. If he could only be made always to look like that, it
would be something like! was the swift thought that passed through her
mind. She kept him off, retreating a step, and raising both her hands.

“Stand where you are, Mr. Gervase! You say so, I know; but I don’t see
as you do anything to prove it, for all your fine words.”

A look of distress, the puzzled distress habitual to it, came over poor
Gervase’s face. His under lip dropped once more, “What can I do?” he
cried; “if I knew, I’d do it fast enough. Patty, don’t it all stand with
you?”

“I never heard yet,” cried Patty, “that it was the lady who took the
steps; everybody knows there’s steps that have to be took.”

“What steps, what steps, Patty?” he cried, with a feeble glance at his
own feet, and the trace of them on the sandy road. Then a gleam of shame
and confusion came over the poor fellow’s face. He knew the steps to be
taken could not be like that, and paused eager, anxious, with his mouth
open, waiting for his instructions--like a faithful dog ready to start
after any stick or stone.

“Oh, you can’t expect me to be the one to tell you,” cried Patty,
turning away as if to go back to the house; “the lady isn’t the one to
think of all that.”

“Patty! I’m ready, ready to do anything! but how am I to know all of
myself? I never had anything of the sort to do.”

“I hope not,” said Patty, with a laugh, “or else you wouldn’t be for me,
Mr. Gervase, not if you were a duke--if you had been married before.”

“I--married before! Patty, only tell me what to do!” He looked exactly
like Dash, waiting for somebody to throw a stone for him, but not so
clever as Dash, alas! with that forlorn look of incapacity in his face,
and the wish which was not father to any thought.

“Well, if you’re so pressing, a clergyman has the most to do with it.”

“I’ll go off to the rector directly.” He was like Dash now, when a feint
had been made of throwing the stone: off on the moment--yet with a sense
that all was not well.

“Oh! stop, you----!” Whatever the noun was, Patty managed to swallow it.
“Come back,” she cried, as she might have cried to Dash. “Don’t you see?
The rector; he’s the last man in the world.”

“Why?” cried Gervase. “He knows me, and you, and everything.”

“He knows--a deal too much,” said Patty; “he’d go and tell it all at the
Hall, and make them send for the Lord Chancellor, or whatever it is.”

Poor Gervase trembled a little. “Couldn’t we run away, Patty, you and me
together?” he said humbly; “I know them that have done that.”

“And have all the parish say I’m not married at all, and be treated like
a---- wherever I showed my head. No, thank you, Mr. Gervase Piercey. I
don’t think enough of you for that.”

“You would think enough of Roger for that,” cried poor Gervase, stung to
the heart.

“Roger!” she cried, spinning round upon him with a flush on her face.
“Roger would have had the banns up long before this, if I had ever said
as much to him.”

“The banns!” cried Gervase. “Ah, now I know! that’s the clerk!” The
stone was thrown at last. “They’ll be up,” he said, waving his hand to
her as he looked back, “before you know where you are!”

It was all that Patty could do to stop him, to bring him back before he
was out of hearing. Dash never rushed more determinedly after his stone.

“Mr. Gervase,” she shouted, “Mr. Piercey; sir! Hi! here! Come back, come
back! Oh, come back, I tell you!” stamping her foot upon the ground.

He returned at last, very like the dog still, humbled, his head fallen,
and discomfiture showing in the very attitude of his limp limbs.

“Is that not right either?” he said.

“The clerk would be up at the Hall sooner than the rector; the rector
would understand a little bit, but the clerk not at all. Don’t you see,
Mr. Gervase, if it is to be----”

“It shall be, Patty.”

“It must be in another parish, not here at all; and then you’d have to
go to stay there for a fortnight.”

“Go to stay there for a fortnight!” Dismay was in the young man’s face.
“How could I do that, Patty, with never having any money, and never
allowed to sleep a night from home?”

“Well, for that matter,” she said, “how are you to marry anybody if
things are to go on so?”

He made no reply, but looked at her with a miserable countenance, with
his under lip dropped, his mouth open, and lack-lustre eyes.

And here Patty made a pause, looking at her lover, or rather gazing in
the face of fate, and hesitating for one dread, all-important moment:
she was not without a tenderness for him, the poor creature who adored
her like Dash; but that was neither here nor there. While she looked at
him there rose between him and her a vision of a very different face,
strong and sure, that would never pause to be told what to do, that
would perhaps master her as she mastered him. Ah! but then there was a
poor cottage on one side, with a wife whose husband would be little at
home, in too much request for her happiness; and on the other there was
the Hall and the chance of being my lady. She looked in the face of
fate, and seized it boldly, as her manner was.

“Stop a bit,” she said; “there’s another way.”

“What is it, what is it, Patty?”

“But it wants money; it costs a bit of money--a person has to go to
London to get it.”

“Oh, Patty, Patty, haven’t I told you----”

“Stop!” she said; “I’m going to think it over; perhaps it can be done,
after all, if you’ll do what I tell you. Don’t come near the Seven
Thorns to-night; stay at home and be very good to the old folks; say
you’d like to see London and a little life, and you’re tired of here.”

“But that would be a lie!”

“Oh, you softhead, if you’re going to stick at that! Perhaps you don’t
want me at all, Mr. Gervase. Give me up; it would be far the best thing
for you, far the best thing for you! and then there’s nothing more to be
said.”

“Oh, Patty!” cried the poor fellow; “oh, Patty! when you know I’d give
up my life for you.”

“Then do as I say, and mind everything I say, and I’ll see if it can’t
be done.”



CHAPTER VI.


Gervase went home as she had told him, not bounding after the stone like
a dog who has got its heart’s desire, but steadily, a little heavily,
somewhat disappointed, yet full of expectation, and always faithful.
Something was going to be done for him that would result in Patty’s
standing by him for ever, and helping him to all he wanted. He did not
know what it was; he was by no means sure that he would understand what
it was were he told; but she did, and that was enough. It was going to
be done for him, while he had no trouble and would only reap the
results. That was how it was going to be all the rest of the time. Patty
would take the responsibility. She would face everything for him. She
would stand between him and his mother’s jibes and his father’s
occasional roar of passion. Gervase was dimly sensible that his people
were ashamed of him, that they thought him of little account. But Patty
did not feel like that. She, too, jibed at him, it is true; but then she
jibed at everybody, even Roger. It was different, and she would let no
one else jibe. She would take all the responsibility; with her beside
him, standing by him, or perhaps in front of him, standing between him
and all that was disagreeable, he should escape all the ills of life. He
should not be afraid of any one any more. He went back to the hall
determined to carry out his orders. For her sake he would make a martyr
of himself all that evening; he would sit with the old folks and do his
best to please them. He would talk about London and how he wished to see
it. He would say he was tired of the country--even that, since Patty
told him to do so. To be sure, if there was no Patty, he would be tired
of it; if the Hall meant the country, yes, indeed, he was tired enough
of that. He went home not in the least knowing what to do with himself;
but faithful, faithful to his orders. Dash, when commanded to give up
the wild delights of a run and watch a coat, or a stick, did it
resignedly with noble patience, and so did Gervase now: he had, so to
speak, to watch Patty’s coat while she went and did the work; it is the
natural division of labour when one of two is the faithful dog rather
than the man.

He began, three or four times, as he went along, that game with the
white pebbles against the brown, and then remembered that it was silly,
and pulled himself up. He would not like Patty to know that he had a
habit of doing that. He was aware, instinctively, that it would seem
very silly to her. Three, four, and five; and a great big one that
ought to count three at least for the right hand man. No; he wouldn’t do
it; it was silly; it was like a child, not a man. What, he wondered, was
she going to do? Not go to the rector, because she had herself objected
to that. Another way--he wondered what other way there could be--that
dispensed with both parson and clerk? But that, thank Heaven, was
Patty’s affair, and she had promised that she would do it. Seven brown
ones in a row; such luck for the left-hand man! But no, no; he would not
pay any attention to that. Patty would think him a fool for his pains.
What was she doing--she that knew exactly what it was best to do? What a
woman she was, up to everything; seeing with one look of her eye what he
never would have found out, that it was not the right thing to speak to
the rector, nor to the clerk, who was still worse than the rector. How
much better it was that it should be all in her hands! How was a man to
know, who had never been married himself, who knew nothing about such
things, how to put up banns? What were banns? He had heard people asked
in church, but he was not sure about the other name. Was it something,
perhaps, to hang up like a picture? These thoughts did not pass through
Gervase’s mind in so many words, but floated after each other vaguely,
swimming in a dumb sort of consciousness. He had, perhaps, never had so
many all turning round and crossing each other before. Generally it was
only the pebbles he thought of as he walked unless when it was Patty. It
gave him a strange sort of bewildering sense of life to feel how many
things he was thinking of--such a crowd of different things.

In the beech avenue, going up and down in his chair, pushed by Dunning,
and with Osy capering upon a stick before him, Gervase came upon his
father taking his morning “turn.” He remembered what Patty said about
being agreeable to the old folks, and he also had a certain pleasure in
wheeling his father’s chair. So he stopped and pushed the servant away.
“You go and take a rest, Dunning. I’ll take Sir Giles along,” he said.
“You mustn’t play any tricks, Mr. Gervase,” said the man, resisting a
little. “What tricks should I play? I can take care of my father as well
as any one, I hope,” cried Gervase, taking with energy the back of the
chair. It went along a little more quickly perhaps, but Sir Giles did
not mind that. “Young legs go faster than ours, Dunning,” he said to his
servant; “but stand you by, old man, in case Mr. Gervase gets tired.”
“Oh, I’ll stand by. I’ll not leave that Softy in charge of my master,”
Dunning said to himself. “Oh, I’ll not get tired, father,” said Gervase
aloud. This was quite a delightful way of uniting obedience to Patty’s
commands with pleasure to himself. “I’ll take you all round the grounds,
father. Ain’t you tired of this beastly little bit of an avenue? I’ll
take you faster, as fast as the carriage if you like.” “No, my boy,
this’ll do,” said Sir Giles; “fair and softly goes the furthest.”
Dunning came on behind shaking his head.

“You tan’t ride so fast as me, Uncle Giles,” cried little Osy, prancing
upon his wooden steed.

“Can’t he, though, you little beggar. He’d soon run you out of breath,
if I was to put on steam!”

“Oh, tome on, tome on!” cried Osy, flourishing his whip; and off Gervase
tore, sweeping the chair along, with Dunning after him panting and
exclaiming, and Sir Giles laughing, but shaking with the wild progress
of the vehicle which usually went so quietly. The old gentleman rather
liked it than otherwise, though when Gervase stopped with a sudden jerk
and jar, he was thrown back upon his pillows, and seized with a fit of
coughing. “You see you cannot do everything, little ’un; there’s some
that can beat you,” cried Gervase, waving his long arms, and drawing up
his sleeves. Osy had been thrown quite behind, and came up panting, his
little countenance flushed, and his little legs twisting as he ran, the
child no longer making any pretence to be a prancing steed. “Are you
game for another run?”

“Yes, I’m dame,” cried little Osy, making a valorous struggle for his
breath.

“No, no, that’s enough,” cried Sir Giles, coughing and laughing, “that’s
enough, Gervase. No harm done, Dunning--you need not come puffing like a
steam engine; but halt, Gervase, no more, no more.”

“Uncle Giles, I’m dame, tome on; Uncle Giles, I’m dame,” shouted Osy
flourishing his little cap.

This scene was seen from my lady’s chamber with extremely mingled
feelings. Lady Piercey sat in the recess of the window, where, in the
evening, that querulous light had burned, waiting till Gervase came
home. She had an old-fashioned embroidery frame fixed there, and worked
at it for half an hour occasionally, with Margaret Osborne in attendance
to thread her needles. Parsons had long since declared that her eyes
were not equal to it, but with Mrs. Osborne there could be no such
excuse. Lady Piercey had forgotten all about her work in watching.
“There is my boy Gervase wheeling his father,” she said; “look out, look
out, Meg. Whatever you may say, that boy is full of feeling. Look! He
has taken it out of Dunning’s hands. See how pleased your uncle is; and
little Osy acting outrider, bless him. Oh!” cried Lady Piercey with a
shriek. Her terror made her speechless. She fell back in her chair with
passionate gesticulations, grasped Margaret, and pulled her to the
window, then thrust her away, pointing to the door. “Go! go!” she cried
with a great effort, in a choked voice--which Parsons heard, and came
flying from the next room.

“It’s nothing, aunt; see, they’ve stopped. It’s all right, Uncle Giles
is laughing.”

“Go! go!” cried the old lady, pointing passionately to the door.

“Go, for goodness gracious sake, Mrs. Osborne. My lady will have a fit.”

“There is nothing--absolutely nothing, aunt. They’ve stopped. Dunning
has taken his place again; there’s no need for interfering. Ah!”
Margaret gave just such a cry as Lady Piercey had done, and flinging
down her little sheaf of silks upon the frame, turned and flew from the
room, leaving the old lady and her maid exchanging glances of
consternation. And yet the cause of Mrs. Osborne’s sudden change of
opinion was not far to seek; it was that Gervase had seized little Osy
and swung him up to his shoulder, where the child sat very red and
uneasy, but too proud to acknowledge that he was afraid.

“Put down my child this moment!” cried Margaret, descending like a
thunderbolt in the midst of the group.

“He’s as right as a trivet. I’m going to give him a ride. I haven’t
given him a ride for a long time. Hi! Osy, ain’t you as right as a
trivet, and got a good seat?”

“Yes, tousin Gervase,” said the boy with a quaver in his voice, but
holding his head high.

“Put him down this moment!” cried Margaret, stamping her foot and
seizing Gervase by the arm.

“I’ll put him down when he’s had his ride. Now, old Dunning, here’s for
it. We’ll race you for a sovereign to the gate. Sit tight, Osy, or your
horse will throw you--he’s as wild as all the wild horses that ever were
made.”

“Div me my whip first,” cried the child. He was elated though he was
afraid. “And I won’t ride you if you haven’t a bit in your mouff.” Once
more the little grimy pocket-handkerchief was brought into service.
“Here’s the bit, and I’m holding you in hand. Now, trot!”

Margaret stood like a ghost, while the wild pair darted along the
avenue, Gervase prancing with the most violent motion, little Osy
sitting very tight, holding on to his handkerchief with the tightness of
desperation, his cheeks blazing and throbbing with the tumultuous colour
of courage, excitement, and fright. They are things which consist with
each other. The child was afraid of nothing, but very conscious that he
had once before been thrown from Gervase’s shoulder, and that the
prospect was not a pleasant one. As for the spectators, Sir Giles in his
chair and his wife at the window, they were in a ferment of mingled
feeling, afraid for their pet, but excited by this new development on
the part of their son. “Mr. Gervase is really taking great care,” gasped
Lady Piercey to her maid. “Don’t you see? He’s got the child quite
tight--not like that other time; Master Osy is quite enjoying it.”

“Oh yes, my lady,” said Parsons, doubtfully; “he’s got such a spirit.”

“And his cousin is so kind, so kind. There’s nobody,” said the old
lady, with a sob and a gasp, “so good to children as my Gervase. There!
thank Heaven, he’s put him down. Miss Meg--I mean Mrs. Osborne is making
a ridiculous fuss about it,” said Lady Piercey, now running all her
words into one in the relief of her feelings, “as if there was any fear
of the child!”

Little Osy had swung down through the air with a sinking whirl as if he
had shot Niagara, but once on firm ground, being really none the worse,
tingled to his fingers’ ends with pride and triumph. He gave a smack of
his little whip with his right hand, while with the other he clutched
his mother’s dress, trembling and glowing. “Dood-bye, dood horse;
I’ll--I’ll wide you again another time,” he shouted, with a slight
quaver in his voice.

Sir Giles was half-weeping, half-laughing, in the excitement of his age
and weakness. Now that the child was safe, he, too, was delighted and
proud. “Good’un to go, ain’t he, Osy?” he cried. “But I say, lad, you
oughtn’t to caper like that; he’s a deal too fresh, Dunning, eh? wants
to have it taken out of him.”

“Yes, Sir Giles,” said Dunning. (“And I’d just like to take it out of
him with a cart whip,” he murmured, between his closed teeth.)

Lady Piercey was weeping a little, too, at her window, calming down from
her excitement. “How strong he is, bless him, and well-made when he
holds himself straight; and wouldn’t harm the child not for the world,
or any one that trusts him. Oh, Parsons, what a joyful family we’d be if
Master Osy had been my son’s boy!”

“Bless you, my lady, he’s too young to have a boy as big as that.”

“So he is, the dear. If I could live to see him with an heir, Parsons!”

“And why not, my lady? You’re not to call old, and with proper care and
taking your medicines regular--one of these days he’ll be bringing home
some nice young lady.” (“Some poor creature as will be forced to take
’im, or else Patty of the Seven Thorns,” was Parsons’ comment within
herself.)

“And then that poor little darling!” said Lady Piercey, regretfully.
“But,” she added with a firmer tone, “Meg spoils the boy to such a
degree that he’ll be ruined before he’s a man. Look at her petting him
as if he’d been in any danger; but she never had an ounce of sense. Get
me my things, Parsons; I’ll go down and sit in the air a bit and talk to
my boy.”

Gervase had fallen out of his unusual liveliness before his mother
succeeded in reaching the beech avenue, but he came forward at her call,
and permitted her to take his arm. “I like to see you in spirits,” the
old lady said, “but you mustn’t shake about your father like that.
Dunning’s safest for an old man.”

“I’ll drive you out in the phaeton, mother, if you like, this
afternoon.”

“No, my dear; I feel safest in the big carriage with the cobs, and old
Andrews; but it’s a pleasure to see you in such spirits, Gervase; you’re
like my own old boy.”

“You see,” said Gervase, with his imbecile, good-humoured smile, “I’ve
promised to do all I can to please you at home.”

“Ah!” cried the old lady, “and who might it be that made you promise
that? and why?”

Gervase broke into a laugh. “Wouldn’t you just like to know?” he said.



CHAPTER VII.



“Osy,” said Mrs. Osborne, “you mustn’t let cousin Gervase get hold of
you like that again.”

“He’s a dood horse,” said the little boy, “when I sit tight. I have to
sit vewey tight; but next time I’ll get on him’s both shoulders, and
hold him like a real horse. He’s dot a too narrow back, and too far up
from the ground.”

“But listen to me, Osy. It makes me too frightened. You mustn’t ride him
again.”

“I’ll not wide him if I can help it,” said Osy, reddening with mingled
daring and terror, “but he takes me up before I can det far enough off,
and I tan’t run away, mamma.”

“But you must run away, Osy, when I tell you.”

The child looked up at her doubtfully. “It was you that told me
gemplemens don’t run away.”

“Not before an enemy, or that,” said Margaret, taking refuge in the
vague, “but when it’s only for fun, Osy.”

“Fun isn’t never serous, is it, mamma?”

“It would be very serious if you fell from that fo----, from Cousin
Gervase’s shoulder, Osy. Go out for a walk this afternoon, dear, with
nurse.”

“I don’t like nurse. I like Uncle Giles best. And I’m the outwider,
telling all the people he’s toming.”

“You see Uncle Giles has got something else to do.”

Gervase was still in the foreground of the picture, carrying out his
_consigne_. The servant had brought out upon the terrace at the other
side of the house a box containing a game of which, in former days, Sir
Giles had been fond. It was Gervase who had proposed this diversion
to-day. “I’ll play father a game at that spinner thing,” he had said,
after the large heavy luncheon, which was Sir Giles’ dinner. “I’d like
that, lad,” the old man cried with delight. It was a beautiful
afternoon, and nothing could be more charming than the shady terrace on
the east side of the house which in these hot July days was always cool.
The sunshine played on the roof of the tall house, and fell full on the
turf and the shrubs, and the flower garden at the south corner, but on
the terrace all was grateful shade. The game was brought out, and many
experiments were made to see at what angle Sir Giles could best throw
the ball with which it was played--an experiment in which Dunning took
more or less interest, seeing it saved him another weary promenade
through the grounds, pushing his master’s chair. The carriage was
waiting round the corner, and Lady Piercey came sailing downstairs with
Parsons behind her carrying a large cloak. “Meg! do you know I’m ready
to go out?” cried Lady Piercey, in the tone of that king who had once
almost been made to wait. “May I bring Osy, aunt?” cried Margaret. “No,”
was the peremptory answer. “I’ll go without you if you don’t be quick.”

“And I don’t want to go, mover,” said Osy. “I’m doing to play with Uncle
Giles.”

“Come along, little duffer,” cried Gervase; “I’ll give you another ride
when we’ve done playing.”

“Meg, come this moment!” cried Lady Piercey; and Margaret, with agonised
visions, was compelled to go. Bitter is the bread of those who have to
run up and down another man’s stairs, and be as the dogs under his
table. “Oh!” Margaret Osborne said to herself, “if I had but the
smallest cottage of my own! If I could but take in needlework or clear
starching, and work for my boy!” Perhaps the time might come when that
prayer should be fulfilled, and when it would not seem so sweet as she
thought.

Lady Piercey took her usual drive in a long round through the familiar
roads which she had traversed almost every day for the last thirty
years. She knew not only every village, but every cottage in every
village, and every tree, and every clump of wild honeysuckle or clematis
flaunting high upon the tops of the hedges. By dint of long use, she had
come to make that frequent, almost daily, progress without seeing
anything, refreshed, it is to be supposed, by the sweep of the wide
atmosphere and all the little breezes that woke and breathed about her
as she went over long miles and miles of green country, all monotonously
familiar and awakening no sensation in her accustomed breast. She
thought of her own affairs as she made these daily rounds, which many a
poorer woman envied the old lady, thinking how pleasant it would be to
change with her, and see the world from the luxurious point of vantage
of a landau with a pair of good horses, and a fat coachman and agile
footman on the box. But Lady Piercey thought of none of these
advantages, nor of the beautiful country, nor the good air, but only of
her own cares, which filled up all the foreground of her life, as they
do with most of us. After a while, being forced by the concatenation of
circumstances, she began to discuss these cares with Margaret, which was
her custom when Parsons, who knew them all as well as her ladyship, was
out of the way. Mrs. Osborne was made fully aware that it was because
there was no one else near, that she was made the confidant of her
aunt’s troubles; but she listened, nevertheless, very dutifully, though
to-day with a somewhat distracted mind, thinking of her child, and
seeing an awful vision before her of Osy tossed from Gervase’s shoulder
and lying stunned on the ground, with nobody but Dunning and Sir Giles
to look after him. This made her perhaps less attentive than usual to
all Lady Piercey’s theories as to what would be the making of Gervase,
and save him from all difficulties and dangers. The old lady was not
deceived in respect to her son; she was very clear-sighted, although in
a moment of excitement, as on that morning, she might be ready to credit
him with ideal virtues; on ordinary occasions nothing could be more
clear than her estimate, or more gloomy than her forecast, of what his
future might be.

“I am resolved on one thing,” said Lady Piercey, “that we must marry him
by hook or crook. I hate the French: they’re a set of fools, good for
nothing but dancing and singing and making a row in the world; but I
approve their way in marrying. They would just look out a suitable
person, money enough, and all that, and he’d have to marry her whether
he liked it or not. Are you listening, Meg? If your uncle had done that
with you, now, what a much better thing for you than pleasing your fancy
as you did and grieving your heart!”

“I’m not worth discussing, aunt, and all that’s over and gone long ago.”

“That’s true enough; but you’re an example, and if I think proper, I’ll
use it. I dare say Captain Osborne thought you had a nice bit of money
when he first began to think of you, and was a disappointed man when he
knew----”

“Aunt, I cannot have my affairs discussed.”

“You shall have just what I please and nothing else,” said the grim old
lady. “I have had enough of trouble about you to have a right to say
what I please. And so I shall do, whatever you may say. A deal better it
would have been for you if we had just married you, as I always wished,
to a sensible man with a decent income, who never would have left you to
come back upon your family, as you have had to do. That’s a heavy price
to pay, my dear, for the cut of a man’s moustache. And I’d just like to
manage the same for my own boy, who is naturally much more to me than
you. But then there’s the girl to take into account; girls are so much
indulged nowadays, they take all kinds of whimseys into their heads. Now
I should say, from my point of view, that Gervase would make an
excellent husband; if she was sensible, and knew how to manage, she
might turn him round her little finger. What do you say? Oh, I know you
are never likely to think of anything to the advantage of my boy.”

“I think my cousin Gervase has a great many good qualities, aunt;
whether you would be doing right in making him marry, is another
matter.”

“Oh, you think so! it would be better to leave him unmarried, and then
when we die Osy would have the chance? For all so clever as you are,
Meg, I can see through you there. But Osy has no chance, as you ought to
know. There’s the General, and his son, Gerald--a new name in the
family, as if the Gileses and the Gervases were not good enough for a
younger branch! If it was Osy, bless the child, I don’t know that I
should mind so much,” the old lady said in a softened tone, with a tear
suddenly starting in the corner of her eye.

“Thank you for thinking that,” said Margaret, subdued. “I know very well
it could never be Osy.”

“But there might be another Osy,” said Lady Piercey, putting away that
tear with a surreptitious finger. “There never was a brighter man than
your uncle, and I’m no fool; and yet you see Gervase---- What’s to
hinder Gervase from having a boy like his father if the mother of it was
good for anything? A girl, if she had any sense, might see that. What’s
one person in a family? The family goes on and swamps the individual.
You may be surprised at me using such words; but I’ve thought a deal
about it--a great deal about it, Meg. A good girl of a good race, that
is what he wants; and, goodness gracious, if she only knew how to set
about it, what an easy time she might have!”

To this, Margaret, being probably of another opinion, made no reply; and
Lady Piercey, after an expectant and indignant pause, burst forth--“You
don’t think so, I suppose? You think the only thing he’s likely to get,
or that is fit for him, is this minx at the Seven Thorns?”

“I never thought so,” cried Margaret, “nor believed in that at
all--never for a moment.”

“That shows how much you know,” said the old lady, with a snort of
anger. “I believe in it, if you don’t. Who is he staying at home to-day
and trying to please, the booby! that hadn’t sense enough to keep that
quiet? Don’t you see he’s under orders from her? Ah, she knows what’s
what, you may be sure. She sees all the ways of it, and just how to
manage him. The like of you will not take the trouble to find out, but
that sort of minx knows by nature. Oh, she has formed all her plans, you
may be sure! She knows exactly how she is going to do it and baffle all
of us; but I shall put a spoke in my lady’s wheel. My lady!” cried Lady
Piercey, with the irritation of one who feels her own dearest rights
menaced; “she is calculating already how soon she’ll get my name and
make me the dowager! I know it as well as if I saw into her; but she is
going a bit too fast, and you’ll see that I’ll put a spoke in her wheel!
John! you can turn back now, and drive to the place I told you of. I
want to ask about some poultry at that little inn. You know the name of
it.”

“The Seven Thorns, my lady?” said John, turning round on the box, with
his hand at his hat, and his face red with suppressed laughter, made
terrible by fear of his mistress--as if he and the coachman had not been
perfectly well aware, when the order was given, what kind of wildfowl
was that pretended poultry which took Lady Piercey to the Seven Thorns!

“So it is; that was the name,” said the old lady. “You can take the
first turning, and get there as quick as possible. You’ll just see how I
shall settle her,” she added, nodding her head as soon as the man’s back
was turned.

“Do you mean to see the girl, aunt?” cried Margaret, in surprise and
alarm.

“What’s so wonderful in that? Of course I mean to see her. I shall let
her know that I understand all her little plans, and mean to put a stop
to them. She is not to have everything her own way.”

“But, aunt, do you think a girl of that kind will pay any
attention?--don’t you think that perhaps it will do more harm than----”

“I know that you have always a fine opinion of your own people, Meg
Piercey! and of me especially, that am only your aunt by marriage. You
think there’s nothing I can do that isn’t absurd--but I think
differently myself, and you shall just see. Attention? Of course she
will pay attention. I know these sort of people; they believe what you
tell them in a way you wouldn’t do: they know no better. They’re far
cleverer than you in some things, but in others they’ll believe just
what you please to tell them,” said Lady Piercey, with a fierce toss of
her head, “if you speak strong enough; and I promise you I sha’n’t fail
in that!”

The carriage swept along with an added impulse of curiosity and
expectation which seemed to thrill through from the men on the box, who
formed an impatient and excited gallery, eager to see what was going to
happen, to the calm, respectable horses, indifferent to such mere human
commotions, who probably were not aware why they were themselves made to
step out so much more briskly. The carriage reached the Seven Thorns at
an hour in the afternoon which was unusually quiet, and which had been
selected by Patty on that account for an expedition which she had to
make. She was coming out of her own door, when the two cobs drew up with
that little flourish which is essential to every arrival, even at a
humble house like that of the Seven Thorns, and stood there for a moment
transfixed, with a sudden leap of excitement in all her pulses at the
sight of the heavy old landau, which she, of course, knew as well as she
knew any cart in the village. Was it possible that it was going to stop?
It was going to stop! She stood on her own threshold almost paralysed,
stupefied--though at the same time tingling with excitement and energy
and wonder. My lady in her carriage, the great lady of the district! the
potentate whom Patty of the Seven Thorns, audacious, meant to succeed,
if not to supersede! The effect upon her for the first moment was to
make her knees tremble, and her strength fail; for the next, to brace
her up to a boldness unknown to her, though she had never before been
timid at any time.

“If you please, my lady,” said John, obsequious, yet with his eyes
dancing with excitement and curiosity, at the carriage door, “that is
Miss Hewitt of the Seven Thorns on the doorstep, if it is her your
ladyship wants. Shall I say your ladyship wishes to----”

“Look here! you’ve got to go off to the post-office at once to get me
some stamps. I’ll manage the rest for myself,” said Lady Piercey,
thrusting two half-crowns into the man’s hand. Poor John! with the drama
thus cut short at its most exciting moment! She waited till he had
turned his back, and then she waved her hand to Patty, still standing
thunderstricken on the threshold. “Hi!--here!” cried Lady Piercey, who
did not err in her communications with the country people round her on
the civil side.

If it had not been for overpowering excitement, curiosity, and the
desire for warfare, which is native to the human breast, Patty would
have stood upon her dignity, disregarded this peremptory call, and
marched away. She almost tried to do so, feeling more or less what an
immense advantage it would have given her, but her instinct was too
strong--a double and complicated instinct which moved her as if she had
not been at all a free agent: first, the impulse to obey my lady, which
was a thing that might have been overcome, but second, the impulse to
fight my lady, which was much less easy to master, and, last of all, an
overpowering, dizzying, uncontrollable curiosity to know what she could
have to say. She stepped down from her own door deliberately, however,
and with all the elegance and eloquence she could put into her
movements, and went slowly forward to the carriage door. She was in her
best dress, which was not, perhaps, so becoming to Patty as the
homelier attire, which was more perfect of its kind than the second-rate
young ladyhood of her Sunday frock. Her hat was very smart with flowers
and bows of velvet, which happened to be the fashion of the time, and
she carried a parasol covered with lace, and wore a pair of light
gloves, which were not in harmony with the colour of her dress--neither,
indeed, were Lady Piercey’s own gloves in harmony with her apparel, but
that was a different matter. The old lady’s keen glance took in every
article of Patty’s cheap wardrobe, with a comment on the way these
creatures dress! as she came forward with foolish deliberation, as if to
allow herself time to be examined from head to foot.

“You are Patty, that used to come out so well in the examinations,” Lady
Piercey said, with a breathlessness which showed what excitement existed
on her side.

“I am Patience Hewitt, my lady, if that is what you’re pleased to ask.”

Margaret sat looking on trembling at these two belligerents: her aunt,
who overbore her, Margaret, without any trouble silenced all her
arguments and shut her mouth; and this girl of the village and
public-house, the Sunday-school child whom she remembered, the pet of
the rector, the clever little monitor and ringleader--Patty, of the
Seven Thorns, something between a housemaid and a barmaid, and Lady
Piercey of Greyshott! The looker-on, acknowledging herself inferior to
both of them, felt that they were not badly matched.

“Ah!” said Lady Piercey, “yes, that’s what I asked. You’re Robert
Hewitt’s daughter, I suppose, who keeps the public-house on our
property?”

“Begging your pardon, my lady, the old inn of the Seven Thorns is my
father’s property, and has been his and his family’s for I don’t know
how many hundred years.”

“Oh!” cried Lady Piercey with a stare, “you speak up very bold, young
woman; yet you’ve been bred up decently, I suppose, and taught how you
ought to conduct yourself in that condition in which God has placed
you.”

“If you wish to know about my character, my lady, the rector will give
it you; though I don’t know why you should trouble about it, seeing as I
am not likely to wish a place under your ladyship, or under anybody, for
that matter.”

“No,” cried Lady Piercey, exasperated into active hostilities; “you
would like to climb up over our heads, that’s what you would like to
do.”

Patty replied to the excited stare with a look of candid surprise. “How
could I climb over anybody’s head, I wonder? me that manages everything
for father, and keeps house at the Seven Thorns?”

“You look very mild and very fine,” said Lady Piercey, leaning over the
side of the carriage, and emphasising her words with look and gesture,
“but I’ve come here expressly to let you understand that I know
everything, and that what you’re aiming at sha’n’t be! Don’t look at me
as if you couldn’t divine what I was speaking of! I know every one of
your plots and plans--every one! and if you think that you, a bit of a
girl in a public-house, can get the better of Sir Giles and me, the
chief people in the county, I can tell you you’re very far mistaken.”
Lady Piercey leant over the side of the carriage and spoke in a low
voice, which was much more impressive than if she had raised it. She had
the fear of the coachman before her eyes, who was holding his very
breath to listen, growing redder and redder in the effort, but in vain.
Lady Piercey projected her head over the carriage door till it almost
touched the young head which Patty held high, with all the flowers and
feathers on her fine hat thrilling. “Look you here!” she said, with that
low, rolling contralto which sounded like bass in the girl’s very ears,
“we’ve ways and means you know nothing about. We’re the great people of
this county, and you’re no better than the dust under our feet: do you
hear? do you hear?”

“Oh yes, I hear very well, my lady,” said Patty, loud out, which was a
delight to the coachman, “but perhaps I am not of that opinion.” There
was, however, a little quaver of panic in her voice. Lady Piercey was
right so far that a person of the people, when uneducated, finds it
difficult to free him-, and especially herself, from a superstition as
to what the little great, the dominant class can do.

“Opinion or no opinion,” said the old lady, “just you understand this,
Miss Polly, or whatever your name is: You don’t know what people like us
can do--and will do if we’re put to it. We can put a man away within
stone walls that is going to disgrace himself: we can do that as easy as
look at him; and we can ruin a designing family. That we can! ruin it
root and branch, so that everything will have to be sold up, and those
that offend us swept out of the country. Do you hear? Everything I say I
can make good. We’ll ruin you all if you don’t mind. We’ll sweep you
away--your name and everything, and will shut him up that you are trying
to work upon, so that you shall never hear of him again. Do you
understand all that? Now, if you like to think you can fight me and Sir
Giles, a little thing like you, a little nobody, you can just try it!
And whatever happens will be on your own head. Oh, are you back already,
John? What haste you have made! Good-bye, Patty; I hope you understand
all I’ve said to you. Those chickens, I can tell you, will never be
hatched. John--home!”

Patty stood looking after the carriage with her breast heaving and her
nostrils dilating. The old lady had judged truly. She was frightened.
Panic had seized her. She believed in these unknown miraculous powers.
What could the Seven Thorns do against the Manor House? Patty Hewitt
against Sir Giles and Lady Piercey? It was a question to freeze the very
blood in the veins of a poor little country girl.



CHAPTER VIII.


But it was not for nothing that Patty had put on her best things:
quivering and excited as she was, she would not go in again, however
discouraged, and take them off and return to the usual occupations,
which were so very little like the occupations of the great folks of the
Manor. She went on a little way towards the village very slowly, with
all her fine feathers drooping, dragging the point of her lace-covered
parasol along the sandy road. She was genuinely frightened by old Lady
Piercey, whom all her life she had been brought up to regard as
something more terrible than the Queen herself. For Her Majesty is known
to be kind, and there are often stories in the newspapers about her
goodness and charity; whereas Lady Piercey, with her deep voice and the
tufts of hair on her chin, had an alarming aspect, and notwithstanding
her Christmas doles and official charities, was feared and not loved in
her parish and district. How was Patty to know how much or how little
that terrible old lady could do? She was much discouraged by the
interview, in which she felt that she had been cowed and overborne, and
had not stood up with her usual spirit to her adversary. Had Patty known
beforehand that Gervase’s mother was to come to her thus, she would
have proudly determined that Lady Piercey should “get as good as she
gave.” But she had been taken by surprise, and the old lady had
certainly had the best of it. She was of so candid a spirit, that she
could not deny this; certainly Lady Piercey had had the best of it.
Patty herself had felt the ground cut from under her feet; she had not
had a word to throw at a dog. She had allowed herself to be frightened
and silenced and set down. It was a very unusual experience for Patty,
and for the moment she could not overcome the feeling of having lost the
battle.

However, presently her drooping crest began to rise. If Lady Piercey had
but known the errand upon which Patty was going, the intention with
which she had dressed herself in all her Sunday clothes, taken her
gloves from their box, and her parasol out of its cover! The
consciousness of what that object had been returned to Patty’s mind in a
moment, and brought back the colour to her cheeks. “Ah, my lady! you
think it’s something far off, as you’ve got time to fight against, and
shut him up and take him away! If you but knew that it may happen
to-morrow, or day after to-morrow, and Patty Hewitt become Mrs. Gervase
Piercey in spite of you!” This thought filled Patty with new energy. It
would be still sweeter to do it thus, under their very nose, as it
were, after they had driven away triumphant, thinking they had crushed
Patty. It was perhaps natural, that in the heat of opposition and rising
pugnaciousness, the girl should have turned her bitterest thought upon
the spectator sitting by, who had not said a word, and whose sympathies
were, if not on her side, at least not at all on that of the other
belligerent. “That white-faced maypole of a thing!” Patty said to
herself with a virulence of opposition to the dependent which exists in
both extremes of society. The old lady she recognised as having a right
to make herself as disagreeable as she pleased, but the bystander, the
silent spectator looking on, the cousin, or whatever she was--what had
she to do with it? Patty clenched her hand, in which she had been limply
holding her parasol, and vowed to herself that that Mrs. Osborne should
know who was who before they had done with each other, or she, Patty,
would know the reason why. Poor Margaret! who had neither wished to be
there, nor aided and abetted in any way Patty’s momentary discomfiture;
but it frequently happens that the victim of the strife is a completely
innocent person, only accidentally concerned.

Stimulated by this corrective of despondency, Patty resumed all her
natural smartness, flung up her head, so that all her artificial flowers
thrilled again, raised and expanded her parasol, and marched along like
an army with banners, taking up with her own slim person and shadow the
whole of the road. Humbler passersby, even the new curate, who was not
yet acquainted with the parishioners, got out of her way, recognising
her importance, and that sentiment as if of everything belonging to her
that was in her walk, in her bearing, and, above all, in the parasol,
which was carried, as is done still in Eastern countries, as a symbol of
sovereignty. Mr. Tripley, the curate, stumbled aside upon the grassy
margin of the road in his awe and respect, while Patty swept on; though
there was something in her members--that love of ancient habit,
scientifically known as a survival--which made the impulse to curtsey to
him almost more than she could resist. She did get over it, however, as
wise men say we get over the use of a claw or a tail which is no longer
necessary to us. Patty went along the high-road as far as the entrance
to the village street, and then turned down to where, at the very end of
it, there stood a little house in a little garden which was one of the
ornaments of the place. It was a house to a stranger somewhat difficult
to characterise. It was not the doctor’s or even the schoolmaster’s,
still less the curate’s, unless he had happened (as was the case) to be
an unmarried young man, who might have been so lucky as to attain to
lodgings in that well-cared-for dwelling. But, no; it was to well cared
for to take lodgers, or entertain any extraneous element; it was, in
short, not to be diffuse, the house of Miss Hewitt, the sister of
Richard Hewitt of the Seven Thorns, and aunt to Patty; the very Miss
Hewitt in her own person, who had sat at the window upstairs making the
vandyke in tape for her new petticoat, and to whom Sir Giles, in the
days of his youth, and all the gentlemen had taken off their hats. Those
had been the palmy days of the Seven Thorns, and the Hewitt of those
times had been able to leave something to his daughter, which, along
with a bit of money which she was supposed to have inherited from her
mother, had enabled Miss Hewitt to establish herself in great comfort,
not to say luxury, in Rose Cottage. It was a small slice of a house,
which looked as if it had been cut off from a row and set down alone
there. Its bricks were redder than any other bricks in the village,
indeed they were reddened with paint as high up as the parlour window;
the steps were whiter, being carefully whitened every day; the door was
very shiny and polished, almost like the panel of a carriage, in green;
the window of the parlour, at the side of the door, was shielded by
hangings of spotless starched muslin, and had a small muslin blind
secured across the lower half of it by a band of brass polished like
gold. The door had a brass handle and a brass knocker. There was not a
weed in the garden, which presented a brilliant border of flowers,
concealing the more profitable wealth of a kitchen garden behind.
Several great rose bushes were there, justifying the name of the
cottage; but Miss Hewitt had taken down those which clustered once upon
the walls, as untidy things which could not be kept in order. Rose
Cottage was the pride, if also in some respects the laughing-stock, of
the village; but it was the object of a certain adoration to the members
of the clan of Hewitt, who considered it a credit to them and proof of
their unblemished respectability far and near.

Patty knew too well to invade the virginal purity of the front door, the
white step, or the brass knocker; but went round through the garden to
the back, where her aunt was busy preparing fruit for the jam, for which
Miss Hewitt was famous, with the frightened little girl, who was her
maid-of-all-work, in attendance. All the little girls who succeeded
each other in Miss Hewitt’s service had a scared look; but all the same
they were lucky little girls, and competed for by all the housekeepers
round when they attained an age to be handed on to other service as
certain to be admirably trained. She was a trim old lady, a little
taller than Patty, and stouter, as became her years, but with all the
vivacity and alertness which distinguished the women of that ancient
house. She was a person of discernment also, and soon perceived that
this was not a mere visit of ceremony, but that there was matter for
advice in Patty’s eye, and not that interest in the fruit, and its exact
readiness for preserving, which would have been natural to a young woman
in Patty’s position had there been no other object in her mind. Miss
Hewitt accordingly, though with regret, suspended her important
operations, breathing a secret prayer that the delay might not injure
the colour of her jam, and led the way into the parlour. To describe
that parlour would occupy me gratefully for at least a couple of pages,
but I forbear. The reader may perhaps be able to fill up the suggestion;
if not, he (she?) will probably hear more about it later on.

“Well,” said Miss Hewitt, placing herself in her high-backed chair,
which no one else presumed to occupy, “what is to do? I could see as
you’d something to tell me of before you were up to the kitchen door.”

“I’ve more than something to tell you. I’ve something to ask you,” said
Patty.

“I dare say: the one mostly means the other; but you know as I’m not
foolish, nor even to say free with my money, if that’s it, knowing the
valley of it more than the likes of you.”

“I know that,” said Patty; “and it ain’t for anything connected with the
house or the business that I’d ever ask you, auntie; but this is for
myself, and I sha’n’t go about the bush or make any explanations till
I’ve just told you frank; it’s a matter of thirty pounds.”

“Thirty pounds! the gell is out of her senses!” Miss Hewitt cried.

“Or thereabouts. I don’t know for certain; but you, as knows a deal more
than me, may. It’s for a marriage-licence,” said Patty, looking her aunt
full in the face.

“A marriage-licence!” Miss Hewitt repeated again, in tones of
consternation; “and what does the fool want with a licence as costs
money, when you can put up the banns, as is far more respectable, and be
married the right way.”

“I don’t know as there’s anything that ain’t respectable in a licence,
and anyway it’s the only thing,” said Patty, “for him and me. If I can’t
get it, I’ll have to let it alone, that’s all. A marriage as mightn’t be
anything much for the moment, but enough to make the hair stand upright
on your head, Aunt Patience, all the same!”

“What kind of marriage would that be?” said the old lady, sceptical yet
interested; “that fine Roger of yours, maybe, as is probable to be made
a lord for his battin’ and his bowlin’. Lord! Patty, how you can be such
a fool, a niece of mine!”

“I ain’t such a fool,” said Patty, growing red, “though it might be
better for me if I was. But anyhow I am your niece, as you say, and I
can’t--be that kind of fool; maybe I’m a bigger fool, if it’s true as
that old witch at the Manor says.”

“What old witch?” cried the other old witch in the parlour, pricking up
her ears.

“Aunt Patience,” cried Patty, “you as knows: can they lock up in a
madhouse a young man as isn’t mad, no more than you or me; but is just
silly, as any one of us might be? Can they put him out of his property,
or send for the Lord Chancellor and take everything from him to his very
name? Oh, what’s the use of asking who he is? Who could he be? there
ain’t but one like that in all this county, and you know who he is as
well as I do. Mr. Gervase Piercey. Sir Giles’ son and heir! and they’ve
got neither chick nor child but him!”

“Patty,” said the elder woman, laying a grip like that of a bird with
claws upon her niece’s arm, “is it _’im_ as you want the thirty pounds
for to buy the licence? Tell me straight out, and not a word more.”

“It is _him_,” said Patty, in full possession of her h’s, and with a
gravity that became the importance of the occasion. Miss Hewitt did not
say a word. She rose from her chair, and, proceeding to the window,
pulled down the thick linen blind. She then placed a chair against the
door. Then she took from the recess near the fireplace an old workbox,
full to all appearance, when she opened it with a key which she took
out of her purse, with thread and needles of various kinds. Underneath
this, when she had taken the shelf completely out, appeared something
wrapt in a handkerchief half-hemmed, with a threaded needle stuck in
it--as if it had been a piece of work put aside--which proved to be an
old pocketbook. She held this in her hand for a moment only, gave Patty
a look, full of suspicion, scrutiny, yet subdued enthusiasm; then she
opened it and took out carefully three crisp and crackling notes,
selecting them one by one from different bundles. Then with great
deliberation she put notes, pocketbook, the covering shelf, of the
workbox, and the box itself back into the place where it had stood
before.

“Mind, now you’ve seen it, I’ll put it all into another place,” Miss
Hewitt said; “so you may tell whoever you like, they won’t find it
there.”

“Why should I tell?” said Patty; “it’s more for my interest you should
keep it safe.”

“You think you’ll get it all when I die,” said the elder woman, sitting
down opposite to her niece with the notes in her hand.

“I think, as I hope, you’ll never die, Aunt Patience! but always be
here to comfort and help a body when they’re in trouble, like me.”

“Do you call yourself in trouble? I call you as lucky as ever girl was.
I’d have given my eyes for the chance when I was like you; but his
father was too knowing a one, and never gave it to me. Here! you asked
for thirty, and I’ve give you fifty. Don’t you go and put off and
shilly-shally, but strike while the iron’s hot. And there’s a little
over to go honeymooning upon. Of course he’s got no money--the Softy:
but I know ’im; he’s no more mad than you or me.”

She ended with a long, low laugh of exultation and satisfaction which
made even Patty, excited and carried away by the tremendous step in her
life thus decided upon, feel the blood chilled in her veins.

“You think there’s no truth, then, in what Lady Piercey said: that they
could take everything from him, even to his name?” It was the hesitation
of this chill and horror which brought such a question to Patty’s lips.

Miss Hewitt laughed again. “The Manor estate is all entailed,” she said,
“and the rest they’ll never get Sir Giles to will away--never! All the
more if there’s a chance of an heir, who ought to have all his wits
about him, Patty, from one side of the house. Get along with you, girl!
You’re the luckiest girl as ever I knew!”

But, nevertheless, it was with a slower step and a chill upon all her
thoughts that Patty went back, without even putting up her parasol,
though the sun from the west shone level into her eyes, to the Seven
Thorns.



CHAPTER IX.


For a few days after Patty’s visit to her aunt, that young lady looked
out with some eagerness for the reappearance of Gervase at the Seven
Thorns, but looked in vain. At first she scarcely remarked his absence,
having many things to think of, for it was not without excitement that
she planned out the steps by which she was to enter into a new life. The
first evening was filled, indeed, with the events of the day; the mental
commotion called forth by the visit of Lady Piercey, and the excitement,
almost overwhelming, of her unexpected, enthusiastic reception by Miss
Hewitt, and the sudden supply so much above her most daring hopes. Fifty
pounds! it was more to Patty than as many thousands would have been to
minds more accustomed--much more. For the possession of a great deal of
money means only income, and an unknown treasure in somebody else’s
hands, whereas fifty pounds is absolute money, which you can change, and
spend, and realise, and enjoy down to the last farthing. It gave her a
great deal of anxiety how to dispose of it at first. The Seven Thorns
was not a place where any thief was likely to come for money; it was not
a house worth robbing, which was a point, as Patty with her excellent
sense was aware, on which burglars are very particular, taking every
care to obtain accurate information. But then, again, money is a thing
that betrays itself--a secret that is carried by the birds of the air.
Had there been any of these gentry about, he might have divined from the
way in which she carried herself, that she had fifty pounds in her
pocket. There was a little faint lightness about it, she thought, when
she put it in her drawer--a sort of undeveloped halo, showing that
something precious was in the old pocketbook which she had found to
enshrine it in. Then she took it out of that formal receptacle, and
placed it with scientific carelessness in an old envelope. But,
immediately, that torn paper covering seemed to become important, too,
among the pocket-handkerchiefs and cherished trumpery, beads and
brooches in her “locked drawer.” The “girl,” who was the only servant,
except the ostler, at the Seven Thorns, had always manifested a great
curiosity (taken rather as a compliment to her treasures than as an
offence by Patty) concerning the contents of that locked drawer. She had
often asked to be shown the “jewellery,” which Patty, indeed, had no
objection to show. What if she would be tempted this night of all others
to break open the drawer, to refresh her soul with gazing at them, and
perhaps to throw the old dirty envelope away? It was highly improbable
that poor Ellen, an honest creature, would break open the drawer. But
still, everything is possible when you have fifty pounds to take care
of. Patty took it out again and placed it first in her pocket--but she
soon felt that to be quite too insecure--and then in her bosom under her
trim little bodice. She felt it there, while she went about her usual
occupations, carrying beer to her father’s customers. Fancy carrying
pots of beer to labourers that were not worth so much as the price of
them, and thanking the clowns for twopence--a girl who had fifty pounds
under the bodice of her cotton frock! She was glad to see that Gervase
had obeyed her orders, and did not appear in the parlour among the dull
drinkers there.

Next day Patty was much occupied in rummaging out the empty part of the
house, the best rooms, once occupied by important guests, when the Seven
Thorns was a great coaching establishment, but now vacant, tapestried
with dust and cobwebs, rarely opened from one year’s end to the other,
except at the spring-cleaning, when it is the duty of every housekeeper
to clear out all the corners. She got up very early in the summer
mornings, before any one was stirring (and it may be imagined how early
that was, for the Seven Thorns was all alert and in movement by six
o’clock), and went in to make an inspection while she was secure from
any disturbance. The best rooms were in the western end of the long
house, quite removed from the bar and the parlour, the chief windows
looking out upon the garden, and at a distance upon the retreating line
of the high road, and the slope of the heathery downs. Patty’s heart
swelled with pleasure as she carefully opened the shutters and looked
round at the old faded furniture. There was a good-sized sitting-room,
and two or three other rooms communicating with each other, and
separated by a long passage from the other part of the house. “A suite
of apartments,” she said to herself! for Patty had read novels, and was
acquainted with many fine terms of expression. The early sunshine
flooded all the silent country, showing a dewy glimmer in the neglected
garden, and sweeping along the broad and vacant road, where as yet there
was nothing stirring. A few cows in a field, one of which got slowly up
to crop a morsel before breakfast, as fine ladies (and fine gentlemen,
too) have a cup of tea in bed, startled Patty as by the movement of some
one spying upon her unusual operations and wondering what they meant.
But there was no other spectator, nothing else awake, except the early
birds who were chattering about their own businesses in every tree,
talking over their own suites of apartments, and the repairs wanted,
before the professional occupations of the day began, and the pipes were
tuned up. They were far too busy to pay any attention to Patty, nor did
she mind them. Besides, they were all sober, married folks, with the
care of their families upon their heads; while she was a young person
all thrilling with the excitement of the unknown, and making a secret
survey of the possible future nest.

Patty inspected these rooms with a careful and a practised eye. Any
young couple in the land, she felt, might be proud to possess this suite
of apartments. She examined the carpets to see whether they would do,
whether they would bear a thorough beating, which they required, and
whether by judicious application of gall, or other restoring fluid, the
colour might be brought back to the part which had been most trodden; or
whether it would be better to buy one of those new-fashioned rugs which
were spread upon the matting in the Rectory--a poor sort of substitute
for a carpet, Patty had always thought--but as it was the fashion, it
might be adopted to cover deficiencies; or a nice round table with a
cover might be placed upon that weak spot. Curtains would be necessary,
but thin white muslin is cheap and could be easily supplied. Patty
pulled the old furniture about, as the rector’s wife had done on her
first arrival, to give it a careless look, which does not suit the stern
angles of early Victorian mahogany and haircloth; but Patty had great
confidence in crochet and frilled muslin to cover a multitude of sins.
She stood at the window and looked out upon the garden which was quite
retired and genteel--as refined a view as could have been had in the
Manor itself. The cow in the field had lain down again to finish her
night’s rest after that early cup of tea. It was so quiet: the morning’s
sunshine almost level in long rays on the grass, the sleek coat of the
brown cow glistening, nobody stirring. It almost overawed Patty to look
out upon that wonderful silence before the world was awake. There was no
telling what might happen in that new day; there was no telling what
might come to her in the new life upon the margin of which she stood.
She did not, I need scarcely say, think of the ideal excellencies of her
future husband, or of love, or any of the usual enchantments that
brighten the beginning of life. She thought of the Manor; of the old
people who would soon die and be out of the way; of Lady Piercey’s
carriage, which would be hers; of the coachman and John on the box, whom
she had been at school with (John at least), and whom she would make to
tremble before her when her turn came to be my lady. My lady! Patty’s
head turned round and round. She put her head upon the window-frame to
support herself, turning giddy with the thought. Your ladyship! She
could hear people say it reverentially who had called, as if she had
been their servant, for Patty at the Seven Thorns.

This was the thought that filled her mind with something of that
ineffable elation and delight in her own happiness which is supposed to
be peculiar to people who are in love. Patty was in love; but it would
be putting a scorn upon her intelligence to suppose that she was in love
with Gervase. Poor Gervase, the Softy! Patty was resolved to be very
good to him--she had even a kind of affection for him as being her own
to do what she pleased with. He should never have any reason to regret
her ownership. She would be good to him in every way, deny him nothing,
consider all his silly tastes as well as his serious interests. But what
Patty was in love with was the Manor, and the carriage, and the rents,
and the ladyship. Lady Piercey! The thought of that tingled to her very
feet; it turned her head like wine. The old people, of course, would
make themselves very disagreeable. It would be their part to do so.
Patty felt that she would think no worse of them for fighting against
her, tooth and nail. But they would have to give in at the end; or still
better, they would die and get out of her way, which was the most
probable thing. Young people generally think of the death of old people
without compunction; it is their business to die, just as it is the
business of their successors to live. It is the course of nature. Patty
no more doubted they would die than that Christmas would come in six
months, whatever happened. What she would have chosen for pleasure and
to enhance her triumph to the utmost, was that old Sir Giles should die,
and the old lady survive to be called the Dowager, and to see Patty
bearing the title of Lady Piercey. This was what would be most sweet;
and it was very likely to come to pass, for everybody knew that Sir
Giles was a great invalid, whereas nobody knew that Lady Piercey had
been attacked last year by a little, very little premonitory
“stroke”--nobody, at least, except Parsons and Margaret Osborne and the
doctor, with none of whom Patty had any communication. The greatest
triumph she could think of was to see the Dowager bundled off to her
dower-house, while she, Patty, the regnant Lady Piercey, took her place.
She was not an ill-natured person on the whole, but she felt that there
was here awaiting her a poignant joy.

In the meantime, however, this glory was still at a distance, and the
first thing to do was to prepare a shelter for the young couple who
would have to inhabit, for lack of other habitation, these rooms in the
west end of the Seven Thorns. Patty interviewed her father on the
subject as soon as he had eaten his breakfast. She told him that to
leave these beautiful rooms unoccupied was a sin and shame, and that it
was his plain duty to do them up and look out for a lodger for next
summer. “Indeed, I’m not sure but we might hear of somebody this season
still, if they were ready,” she said. She showed him all the
capabilities of the place, and how a disused garden door might be
arranged so as to form a separate entrance, “for gentry won’t come in by
a public-house door. It ain’t likely,” she explained. “What do I care
about gentry, and what do you know about ’em?” said her father. “I’ll
never spend my money on such nonsense.” “But you like to see the colour
of theirs,” said Patty, “and it would be good for trade, too. For
suppose you gave them their board for a fixed rate, there would always
be a good profit. It would keep us going and them, too, so as we should
pay nothing for our living, and that in addition to the rent: don’t you
see, father?” “I don’t believe in them profits,” said the old man;
“gentry, as you call ’em, don’t eat the same things as I likes.” “But
they’d have to, father,” said Patty, softly, “if they couldn’t get
nothing else.” This struck Mr. Hewitt’s sense of humour, and he allowed
that it might be possible so, with a chuckle of democratic enjoyment.
“I’d like to see ’em sit down with their mincin’ ways to beans and fat
bacon,” he confessed. Patty was very sure that it was not on beans and
fat bacon that she would feed the future Sir Gervase and Lady Piercey;
but she made no remark on this point, and ere the week was over, she had
all her plans in operation--the new entrance by the garden, the rods put
up for the new muslin curtains, the old rooms scrubbed and polished, and
dusted till they shone again. “I think I’ll take a run up to London, and
buy two or three little things out of my own little bit of money,” she
said cautiously. And though her father demanded what little bit of money
she had to spend, he made no objection to the expedition. Patty was very
well to be trusted to look after herself, as well as the interests of
the family. And thus she prepared, in every respect, the way.

But Gervase never appeared. Morning and night she looked out for him,
pleased and half-amused, at first, with the faithfulness with which he
obeyed her. But after a time Patty became a little anxious. She had,
indeed, forbidden him to come to the Seven Thorns. But she had not
intended this self-sacrifice to be of such long duration. What if his
mother had got hold of him? What if he had been frightened into giving
up his love? The old lady had looked very masterful, very full of power
to do mischief. What if they had shut him up? Patty grew more and more
anxious as day followed day. The fifty pounds which she had sewn up in a
little bag, and wore suspended by a ribbon round her neck, began to lie
like a blister upon her pretty white skin underneath her bodice. What
would Aunt Patience say if all her plans came to nothing, if no licence
was necessary, and no bridegroom forthcoming? Patty felt her heart sink,
sink into unimaginable depths. The old woman would reclaim her money
with a sneer enough to drive any girl mad. She would laugh out at the
fool that had fancied the Softy was in love with her. His father, as had
all his wits about him, might take a person in; but Lord bless us, the
Softy! Patty knew exactly what her aunt would say. Miss Hewitt had given
her the money, not for love of her, but that she might triumph over the
great people, and avenge the wrongs of the other Patty who had gone
before her. Patty grew hot and grew cold, as she stood at the door
looking out along the road, and seeing nobody; her heart sickened at
every footstep, and leaped at every shadow on the way. One night, when
she stood there with her face turned persistently in one direction, just
as the soft summer twilight was stealing over the landscape, and
everything was growing indistinct, a voice close to her made Patty jump.
She had not even observed--so great was her preoccupation--another
figure coming round the other corner. Roger Pearson had seated himself
on the bench under the parlour window, and yet she had taken no notice.
He broke the silence by a laugh of mockery, that seemed to Patty the
beginning of the ridicule and scorn of the whole parish. “Looking out
for some one, eh?” said the voice; “but he ain’t coming, not to-night.”

“Who is not coming, Mr. Pearson?” said Patty, commanding herself with a
great effort; “some one you were expecting to meet?”

“You can’t come over me like that, Patty,” said Roger. “Lord,
a nice lass like you that might have the best fellow in the
village--a-straining and a-wearing your eyes looking after a Softy! and
him not coming neither--not a step! They knows better than that.”

“I don’t know what you mean, Mr. Pearson,” said Patty, feeling herself
enveloped from head to foot in a flush of rage and shame. “I don’t know
as I ever was known as one that looked after Softies--meaning poor folks
that have lost their wits, I suppose. You’re one of them, anyhow, that
speaks like that to me.”

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” said the young man, in his deep voice--“a
fellow that’s not fit to tie your shoe, though he may be the squire’s
son. Don’t you think that’ll ever come to any good. They’ll never let
you be my lady; don’t you think it. They’ll turn him out o’ doors, and
they’ll cut him off with a shilling; and then you’ll find yourself
without a penny and a fool on your hands instead of a man.”

“Is this something out of a story book, or is it out of his own head?”
said Patty looking round her as if consulting an impartial
audience,--“anyway, it has nothing to say to me. I’ll send Ellen to you
for your orders, Mr. Pearson, for I’ve got a lot to do to-night, and I
can’t stand here to listen to your romancing. Ellen,” she cried, “just
see to that gentleman.” She went off with all the honours of war, but
Patty’s heart was likely to burst. She marched upstairs with a candle to
the rooms she had been arranging so carefully, and locked the door, and
sat down upon the sofa and gave way to a torrent of tears. Was it all to
come to nothing, after all her splendid dreams? She knew as well as any
one that he was a fool and could be persuaded into anything. How did she
know that his mother, if she tried, could not turn him round her little
finger, as she, Patty, had been certain she could do? How could she
tell, in the battle between Lady Piercey of Greyshott and Patty of the
Seven Thorns, that it was she who would triumph and not the great lady?
It was all Patty could do not to shriek out her exasperation, her misery
and rage; not to pull down the curtains and dash the furniture to
pieces. She caught her handkerchief with her teeth and tore it to keep
herself quiet--and the fifty pounds in the bag burnt her breast like a
blister. What if it was to come to nothing, after all?



CHAPTER X.


The week had been a very long week to Gervase. To him, poor fellow,
there was no limit of time; no thought that his obedience was intended,
nay, desired to stop at a certain point. He went on dully, keeping at
home, keeping indoors, trying in his fatuous way to please his parents.
It was a very dull round to him who had known the livelier joys of the
Seven Thorns, the beer and the tobacco in the parlour, and Patty
flitting about, throwing him a word from time to time. It seemed but a
poor sort of paradise to sit among the slow old topers in the smoky
room and imbibe the heavy beer; but it is unfortunately a kind of
enjoyment which many young men prefer to the fireside at home, even
without any addition of a Patty; and the poor Softy was not in this
respect so very much inferior to the best and cleverest. The fireside at
home, it must be allowed, was not very exciting. To be sure, the room
itself was a very different room from that of the Seven Thorns. It was
not the drawing-room in which the Piercey family usually sat in the
evening, for the drawing-room was upstairs, and Sir Giles could not be
taken up without great difficulty in his wheeled chair. It was the
library, a large long room, clothed with the mellow tones and subdued
gilding of old books, making a background which would have been quite
beautiful to an artist. There was a row of windows on one side veiled in
long curtains, and between these windows a series of family portraits
almost as long as the windows, full length, not very visible in the dim
light, affording a little glimpse of colour, and a face here and there
looking out from that height upon the little knot of living people
below; but the Pierceys of the past were not remarkable any more than
the present Pierceys. A shaded lamp was suspended by a very long chain
from the high roof, which was scarcely discernible going up so far, with
those glimmers of bookcases and tall old portraits leading towards the
vague height above; beneath it was a small round table, at which Lady
Piercey sat in a great chair with her bright-coloured work; on the other
side was Sir Giles among his cushions, with his backgammon board on a
stand beside him, where sometimes Margaret, sometimes Dunning played
with him till bedtime. Parsons, on the other hand, was so frequently in
attendance on her mistress that the two old servants might be taken as
part of the family circle. When Margaret took her place at the
backgammon board, Dunning had an hour’s holiday, and retired to the much
brighter atmosphere of the servants’ hall or the housekeeper’s room. And
when Dunning played with Sir Giles, Margaret attended upon Lady Piercey
to thread her needles, and select the shades of the silk, and Parsons
was set free. The one who was never set free was Mrs. Osborne, whose
evenings in this dim room between the two old people were passed in an
endless monotony which sometimes made her giddy. The dull wheel of life
went round and round for her, and never stopped or had any difference in
it. From year to year the routine was the same.

Now, whether this scene, or the parlour at the Seven Thorns, where the
sages of the village opened their mouths every five minutes or so to
emit a remark or a mouthful of smoke, or to take in a draught of beer,
was the most--or rather the least--enlivening, it would be hard to say.
The sages of the village are sometimes dull and sometimes wise in a
book. They were full of humour and character in George Eliot’s
representation of them, and they are very quaint in Mr. Hardy’s. But I
doubt much if they ever say such fine things in reality, and I am sure,
if they did, that Gervase Piercey was not capable of understanding them.
The beer and the tobacco and the sense of freedom and of pleasing
himself--also of being entirely above his company, and vaguely respected
by them--made up the charms of the humbler place to Gervase. And
Patty--Patty had got by degrees to be the soul of all; but even before
Patty’s reign began he had escaped with delight from these home evenings
to the Seven Thorns. Why? For Sir Giles, even in his enfeebled state,
was better company than old Hewitt and his cronies; and Lady Piercey’s
sharp monologue on things in general was more piquant than anything the
old labourers found to say; and Mrs. Osborne was a great deal handsomer
than Patty, and would willingly have exerted herself for the amusement
of her cousin. But this is a problem to which there is no answer. Far
better and cleverer young men than Gervase make this same choice every
day, or rather every evening; and no one can tell why.

But Gervase had turned over a new leaf. He went out to the door and took
a few whiffs of his pipe, turning his back to the road which led to the
Seven Thorns, that the temptation might not be too much for him, and
repeating dully to himself what Patty had said to him. And then he went
into the library, where they were all assembled, and pushed Dunning
away, who was just arranging the board for Sir Giles’ game. “Here! look
out; I’m going to play with you, father,” Gervase said. The old
gentleman had been delighted the first night, pleased more or less the
second, fretful the third. “You don’t understand my play, Gervase,” he
said.

“Oh! yes, I understand your play, father: Dunning lets you win, and
that’s why you like Dunning to play with you; but I’m better, for I wake
you up, and you’ve got to fight for it when it’s me.”

“Dunning does nothing of the sort,” cried Sir Giles, angrily, “Dunning
plays a great deal better than you, you booby. Do you let me win,
Dunning? It’s all he knows!”

“I ought to be good, Sir Giles, playin’ with a fine player like you; but
I never come up to you, and never will, for I haven’t the eddication you
have, Sir Giles, which stands to reason, as I’m only a servant,” Dunning
said.

“There! You hear him: go and play something with Meg; you’re never still
with those long legs of yours, and I like a quiet game.”

“I’ll keep as quiet as pussy,” said Gervase. “Which’ll you have,
father, black or white? and let’s toss for the first move.”

Now, everybody knew that Sir Giles always played with the white men and
always had the first move. Once again the old gentleman had to resign
himself to the noisy moves and shouts of his son over every new
combination, and to the unconscious kicks which the restlessness of
Gervase’s long limp legs inflicted right and left. Dunning stood behind
his master’s chair, with a stern face of disapproval, yet trying hard by
winks and nods to indicate the course which ought to be pursued, until
Gervase threw himself back in his chair, almost kicking over the table
with the corresponding movement of his legs, and bursting into a loud
laugh. “What d’ye mean, ye old fool, making faces at me over father’s
shoulder? Do you mean I’m to give him the game, like you do? Come on,
father, let’s fight it out.”

“I never said a word, Sir Giles! I hope as I knows my place,” cried
Dunning, alarmed.

“Hold your tongue, you big gaby,” cried Sir Giles; but presently the old
gentleman thrust the board away, overturning it upon his son’s long
legs. “I’ll not play any more,” he said: “I’ve had enough of it. I
think I was never so tired in my life. Backgammon’s a fine game, but one
can’t go on for ever. Fetch me my drink, Dunning; I think I’ll go to
bed.”

“It’s all because he’s losing his game,” cried Gervase, with a loud ha!
ha! He had something like the manners of a gentleman at the Seven
Thorns, but at home his manners were those of the public-house. “The old
man don’t like to be beaten; he likes to have everything his own way.
And Dunning’s an old humbug, and lets you have it. But it ain’t good for
you to have too much of your own way. I’ve been told _that_ since I was
a little kid like Osy; and what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the
gander, father, don’t you know.”

“Gervase, how dare you speak so to your papa? Come over here, sir, and
leave him a little in peace. Where did you learn to laugh so loud, and
make such a noise? Come here, you riotous boy. You always were a noisy
fellow, making one’s head ache to hear you. Sit down, for goodness’
sake, and be quiet. Meg, can’t you find something to amuse him? I dare
say he’d like a game at cards. How can I tell you what game? If you
can’t, at your time of life, find something that will occupy him and
keep him quiet----! Here, Gervase, hold this skein of silk while
Parsons winds it, and Meg will go and get the cards, and perhaps you’d
like a round game.”

“I don’t want a game, mother, not for Meg’s sake, who doesn’t count. I
want to be pleasant to you---- and to father, too,” said Gervase,
standing up against the fireplace, which, of course, was vacant this
summer night.

Sir Giles was so far from appreciating the effort of his son, that he
sat fuming in his chair, while Dunning collected the scattered “men,”
muttering indistinct thunders, and pettishly putting away with his stick
the pieces of the game. “Make haste! can’t you make haste, man?” he
mumbled; “I want my drink, and I’m going to bed. And I won’t have my
evening spoiled like this again. I won’t, by George, not for anything
you can say. Four nights I’ve been a martyr to that cub, and I don’t see
that you’ve done much to keep him in order, my lady! It all falls upon
me, as everything does, and, by George, I won’t have it again. Can’t you
make haste, you old fool, and have done with your groping? You’re losing
your eyesight, I believe. Have one of the women in to find them, and
get me my drink, for I’m going to bed.”

“I’ll find them, father,” cried Gervase cheerfully, plunging down upon
the carpet on his hands and knees, and pushing the old gentleman’s stick
back into his face.

“For goodness’ sake, Meg, find something for him to do! and take that
boy off his father, or Sir Giles will have a fit,” cried Lady Piercey in
Mrs. Osborne’s ear.

“Get out o’ my way, you young ass!” Sir Giles thundered, raising the
stick and bestowing an angry blow upon his son’s shoulders. Gervase sat
up on his knees like a dog, and stared for a moment angrily, with his
hand lifted as if he would have returned the blow. Then he opened his
mouth wide and gave forth a great laugh. Poor old Sir Giles caught at
Dunning’s arm, clutching him in an ecstasy of exasperation. “Get me off,
man, can’t you? Get me out of sight of him; take me to bed,” the old
father cried, in that wretchedness of miserable perception which only
parents know. His son--his only son! His heir, the last of the
Piercey’s!--this Softy sitting up like a dog upon the floor!

Lady Piercey fell back also in her chair, and whimpered a little
piteously, like the poor old woman she was, as Sir Giles was wheeled out
of the room. The backgammon board, overturned, lay on the floor, with
the pieces scattered over the carpet, and Gervase scrambling after them,
for Dunning had been too tremulous and frightened to pick more than half
of them up. “Oh! my poor, silly boy! oh! you dreadful, dreadful fool!”
the old lady cried. “Will you never learn any better? Can’t you wake up
and be a man?” She cried over this, for a little, very bitterly, with
that terrible sense of the incurable which turns the poor soul back upon
itself--and then she flung round in her big chair towards her niece, who
stood silent and troubled, not knowing what part to take. “It’s all
your fault,” she cried in a fierce whisper, “for not finding something
for him to do. Why didn’t you find something for him to do? You might
have played something to him, or sung something with him, or got him to
look at pictures, or---- anything! And now you’ve let your poor uncle go
off in a rage, which may bring on a fit as likely as not, and me worse,
for I can’t give in like him. Oh, Meg, what an ungrateful, selfish thing
you are to stand there and never interfere when you might have found him
something to do!”

When Lady Piercey’s procession streamed off afterwards to bed, my lady
leaning heavily on Parsons’ arm and Margaret following with the work,
Gervase was left still picking up the pieces, sprawling over the carpet
and laughing as he followed the little round pieces of ivory and wood
into the corners where they had rolled. Margaret went back to the
library after being released by her aunt, and found him still there
making a childish game of this for his own amusement, and chuckling to
himself as he raced them over the carpet. He scrambled up, however, a
little ashamed when he heard her voice asking, “What are you doing,
Gervase?” “Oh, nothing,” he said with his foolish laugh, stuffing the
“men” into his pockets. She put her hand upon his shoulder kindly.

“Gervase, dear, you’re quite grown up, don’t you know; quite a man now.
You mustn’t be so mischievous, just like a boy. Poor Uncle Giles, you
must not play tricks upon him; he likes a quiet game.”

“Don’t you be a fool, Meg. Why, that was what I was doing all the night,
playing his quiet game. Poor old father, he got into a temper, but bless
you ’twasn’t my fault. It’s that old ass, Dunning, that’s always getting
in everybody’s way.”

“Of course he would like you best, Gervase,--but Dunning knows all his
ways. Your game might be better fun----”

“I should think so,” said the poor Softy. “My game _is_ the game, and
Dunning spoils everything. It ain’t my fault, though every one of you
gets into a wax with me,”--Gervase’s lip quivered a little as if he
might have cried,--“and me giving up everything only to please them!” he
said.

“I am sure they are pleased to see you always indoors and not spending
your time in that dreadful place.”

“What dreadful place? That is all you know--I’d never have come home
any more but for them that’s there. It was _she_ that sent me to please
the old folks. But I shan’t go on much longer if you all treat me like
this. I’ve tried my best to make the time pass for them, Meg, to give
them a laugh and that. And they huff me and cuff me as if I was a fool.
Why do they always call me a fool,” cried the poor fellow with a passing
cloud of trouble, “whatever I do?”

“Oh, Gervase!” cried Margaret, full of pity. “But why did she want you
so particularly to please them just now?”

He stared at her for a moment, then laughed and nodded his head. “You’d
just like to know!” he said, “but she didn’t mean me to be nice to
_you_, Meg; for she’s always afraid I’ll be driven to marry you--though
a man must not marry his grandmother, you know.”

Margaret repented in a moment of the flush of anger that flew over her.
“You can make her mind easy on that point,” she said gravely; “but oh,
Gervase, I am afraid it will make them very unhappy if you go on with
this fancy; they would never let you bring her here.”

“Fancy!” he cried, “I’m going to marry her. You can’t call that a fancy;
and if you think you can put me off it, or the whole world!--Get along
Meg, _I_ don’t want to talk to you any more.”

“But I want very much to talk to you, Gervase.”

Gervase looked at her with a smile of foolish complacency. “I dare say
you think me silly,” he cried, “but here’s two of you after me. Get
along, Meg; whatever I do I’m not going to take your way.”

“You must do as you please, then,” said Margaret in despair; “but
remember, Gervase,” she said, turning back before she reached the door,
“your father is old, and you might drive him into a fit if you go on as
you did to-night--and where would you be then?” she added, with an
appeal to the better feeling in which she still believed.

“Why, I’d be in his place, and she’d be my lady,” cried the young man,
with a gleam of cruel cunning, “and nobody could stop me any more,
whatever I liked to do.”

But next evening there seemed to be in his mind some lingering regard
for what she had said. Gervase left his father alone, and devoted
himself to his mother, who was more able to take care of herself. He
offered to wind her silks, and entangled them hopelessly with delighted
peals of laughter. He took her scissors to snip off the ends for her,
and put the sharp points through the canvas, until Lady Piercey, in her
exasperation, gave him a sudden cuff on his cheek.

“You great fool!” she cried--“you malicious wretch! Do you want to spoil
my work as well as everything else? I wish you were little enough to be
whipped, I do; and I wish I had whipped you when you were little, when
it might have done you some good. Margaret, what do you mean sitting
quiet there, enjoying yourself with a book and me driven out of my
senses? That’s what he wants to do, I believe--to drive us mad and get
his own way; to make us crazy, both his poor father and me.”

“No, I don’t,” cried Gervase, “and you oughtn’t to hit me--I’ll hit back
again if you do it again. It hurts--you’ve got a fist like a butcher,
though you’re such an old lady.” He rubbed his cheek for a moment
dolefully, and then again burst out laughing. “You look like old Judy in
the show, mamma, when she hits her baby: only you’re so fat you could
never get into it, and your voice is gruff like the old showman’s--not
squeaky, like Mrs. Punch. I’ve cut all the silks into nice lengths for
you to work with--ain’t you obliged to me? Look here,” he said, holding
out his work. Poor Lady Piercey clapped her fat hands together loudly in
sheer incapacity of expression. It made a loud report like a gun fired
off to relieve her feelings, and Sir Giles looked up from his quiet game
with Dunning, not without a subdued amusement that she should now be
getting her share.

“What’s the matter, what’s the matter, my lady? Is that cub of yours
playing some of his pranks? It’s your turn to-night, it appears, and
serves you right, for you always back him up.”

“Oh, you fool, you fool, you fool!” cried the old lady in her passion.
And then she turned her fiery eyes on her husband with a look of
contempt and fury too great for words. “Meg!” she cried, putting out her
hand across the table and grasping Mrs. Osborne’s arm, “If you’re ever
driven wild like me, never you look for sympathy to a man! when they see
you nearly mad with trouble they give you a look, and chuckle! that’s
what they always do. Put down the scissors, you, you, you----”

“Oh, and to think,” she cried wildly, “that that’s my only son! Oh,
Giles, how can you play your silly games, and sit and see him--the only
one we have between us, and he’s a born fool! And me, that was so
thankful to see him stay at home, and give up going out to his low
company! And now I can’t abide him. I can’t abide to see him here!”

This happened on the night when Patty, frightened and dejected, shut
herself up in the room which she had meant for her bridal bower, and
cried her eyes out because of Gervase’s absence. The poor Softy was thus
of as much importance as any hero, turning houses and hearts upside
down.



CHAPTER XI.


A whole week, and nothing had been seen or heard of Gervase at the Seven
Thorns. Even old Hewitt remarked it, with a taunt to his daughter.
“Where’s your Softy, that was never out of the house, Miss Patty, eh?
Don’t seem to be always about at your apron string, my lass, as you
thought you was to keep him there. Them gentlemen,” said old Hewitt, “as
I’ve told you, Softy or not, they takes their own way, and there’s no
trust to be put in them. He’s found some one else as he likes better, or
maybe you’ve given him the sack, Patty, eh? And that’s a pity, for he
was a good customer,” the landlord said.

“Whether I’ve given him the sack or he’s found some one he likes better,
don’t matter much to any one as I can see. I’ll go to my work, father,
if you’ve got nothing more sensible than that to say.”

“Sensible or not, he’s gone, and a good riddance,” said her father. “I
ain’t a fine Miss, thick with the rector and the gentry, like you; but I
declare, to see that gaby laughing and gaping at the other side of the
table, turned me sick, it did. And I hopes as we’ll see no more of him,
nor none of his kind. If you will have a sweetheart, there’s plenty of
good fellows about, ’stead of a fool like that.”

Patty did not stamp her foot as she would have liked to do, or throw out
her arms, or scream with rage and disappointment. She went on knocking
her broom into all the corners, taking it out more or less in that way,
and tingling from the bunch of hair fashionably dressed on the top of
her head, to the toe of her high-heeled shoes, with suppressed passion.
She would not make an exhibition of herself. She would not give Ellen,
the maid-servant, closely observing her through the open door of the
back kitchen, nor Bob, the ostler, who had also heard every word old
Hewitt said as he bustled about with his pail outside the house, any
occasion of remark or of triumph over her as a maiden forsaken, whose
love had ridden away. They were all on the very tiptoe of expectation,
having already made many comments to each other on the subject. “You’re
all alike--every one of you,” Ellen had said to Bob. “You’d go and
forsake me just the same, if you saw some one as you liked better.”
“It’ll be a long day afore I do that,” said the gallant ostler,
preserving, however, the privilege of his sex. They were all ready to
throw the responsibility of attraction upon the woman. It was more to
her credit to keep her hold on the man by being always delightful to
him than by any bond of faithfulness on his part. Patty felt this to the
bottom of her heart. It was not so much that she blamed her Softy. She
blamed herself bitterly, and felt humiliated and ashamed that she had
not been able to hold him; that he had found anything he liked better
than her society. She swept out every corner, banging her broom as if
she were punishing the unknown rivals who had seduced him away from her,
and felt, for all her pride, as if she never could hold up her head
again before the parish, which would thus know that she had
miscalculated her powers. Roger Pearson knew it already, and triumphed.
And then Aunt Patience--but that was the most dreadful of all.

Even old Hewitt himself, the landlord of the Seven Thorns, was a little
disappointed, if truth were told. He had liked to say to the fathers of
the village, “I can’t get that young Piercey out o’ my house. Morning,
noon, and night that young fellow is about. And I can’t kick him out, ye
see, old Sir Giles bein’ the Lord o’ the Manor.” “I’d kick him out fast
enough,” the blacksmith had replied, who never had any chance that way,
“if he come sneakin’ after my gell.” “Oh, as for that, my Patty is one
that can take care of herself,” it had been Mr. Hewitt’s boast to say.
And when he was congratulated ironically by the party in the parlour
with a “Hallo, Hewitt! you’ve been and got shut of your Softy,” the
landlord did not like it. Softy as Gervase was, to have got him thus
fast in the web, old Sir Giles’ only son, was a kind of triumph to the
house.

In the afternoon, however, Patty resolved to take a walk. It was an
indulgence which she permitted to herself periodically--that her best
things and her hat with the roses, her light gloves and her parasol
might not spoil for want of use. She put on all this finery, however,
with a sinking at her heart. The last time she had worn them she had
been all in a thrill with excitement, bent upon the boldest step she had
ever taken in her life. And the high tension of her nerves and passion
of her mind had been increased by the unexpected colloquy with Lady
Piercey at the carriage-door. But that was a day of triumph all along
the line. She had baffled the old lady, and she had roused her own aunt
to a fierce enthusiasm of interest, which had reacted upon herself and
increased her determination, and the fervour of her own. When she had
walked back that evening with the fifty pounds, she had felt herself
already my lady, uplifted to a pinnacle of grandeur from which no
fathers or mothers could bring her down. But now! Gervase himself had
not seemed a very important part of that triumph a little while ago. He
had been a chattel of hers, a piece of property as much her own as her
parasol. And if he had emancipated himself, if he had escaped out of her
net, if his mother had obtained the mastery of him, or sent him away,
Patty felt as if she must die of rage and humiliation. To take back that
fifty pounds to Aunt Patience and allow that the use she had got it for
was no longer possible; to submit to be asked on all sides, by Roger in
triumph, by everybody else in scorn, what had become of him? was more
than she could bear. She would rather run away and go to service in
London. She would rather---- there was nothing in the world that Patty
did not feel herself capable of doing rather than bear the brunt of this
disappointment and shame.

It must be added that the value of Gervase individually was enormously
enhanced by this period of doubt and alarm. The prize that is on the
point of being lost is very different from that which falls naturally,
easily into your hands. Patty thought of the Softy no longer as if he
were a piece of still life; no more--indeed, not so much--a part of the
proceedings which were to end eventually in making her my lady as the
marriage-licence which would cost such a deal of money. All that was
changed now. Poor fellow! he who had never been of much importance to
anybody had become of the very greatest consequence now. She would
never, never be my lady at all, unless he took a principal part in
it--the great fool, the goose, the gaby! But though her feelings broke
out once or twice in a string of such reproaches under her breath,
Gervase was too important a factor now to be thought of or addressed by
contemptuous epithets. He could spoil it all; he could make all her
preparations useless. He could shame her in the eyes of Aunt Patience,
and even before the whole of her little world, although nobody knew how
far things had gone. Therefore it was with an anxious heart that Patty
made a turn round by the outskirts of the village as if she were going
to pay a visit to her Aunt Patience--the last place in the world where
she desired to go--and then directed her steps towards the Manor,
meaning to make a wide round past the iron gate and the beech-tree
avenue, which were visible to any passenger walking across the downs.
She gave a long look, as she passed, at the great house, with all its
windows twinkling in the afternoon sun, and the two long processions of
trees on either side. Her heart rose to her mouth at the thought that
all this might, yet might never, be her own. Might be! it had seemed
certain a week ago; and yet might never be if that fool--oh, that
imbecile, that ridiculous, vacant, gaping Softy--should take it into his
foolish head to draw back now.

The road lay close under the wall of the park beyond the iron gate.
Patty had got so anxious, so terrified, so horribly convinced that her
chances of meeting him were small, and that, except in an accidental
way, she could not hope to lay hands on him again, that her stout heart
almost failed her as she went on. It was a very warm day, and she was
flushed and heated with her walk, as well as with the suspense and alarm
of which her mind was full, so that she was aware she was not looking
her best, when suddenly, without warning, she came full upon him round
the corner, almost striking him with her outstretched parasol in the
suddenness of the encounter. Gervase did not see her at all. He was
coming on with his head bent, his under-lip hanging, his hands in his
pockets, busy with his old game--six white ones all in a heap. What a
jump for the right-hand man! and hallo, hallo! a little brown fellow
slipping along on the other side, driven by somebody’s foot! He made a
mental note of that before looking to see who the somebody was, which
was of so much less importance. And then Patty’s little cry of surprise
and “Oh! Mr. Gervase!” went through him like a shot at his ear. He gave
a shout like the inarticulate delight of a dog, and flew towards her as
if he had been Dash or Rover, roused by the ecstatic sound of their
master’s voice.

“Patty! Lord, to think of you being here! and me, that hasn’t had a
peep of you for a whole week. Patty! Oh, come now, I can’t help it. I’m
so happy, I could eat you up. Patty, Patty!” cried the poor fellow,
patting her on the shoulder, looking into her face with his dull eyes
suddenly inspired, “you’re sure it’s you!”

“And a deal you care whether it’s me or not, Mr. Gervase,” cried Patty,
tossing her head. But in that moment Patty had become herself again. Her
anxiety was over, her bosom’s lord sat lightly on his throne. The fifty
pounds in the little bag no longer felt like a blister. She was the
mistress of the situation, and all her troubled thoughts flew before the
wind as if they had never been.

“A deal I care? Oh, I do care a deal, Patty, if you only knew! Never you
do it again--to make me stay away like this. I’ve made a mull of it, as
I knew I should, without you to back me up. Father turns his back on me.
He won’t say a word. And even mother, that was always my stand-by, she
says she can’t abide to see me there.”

Again Gervase looked as if he would cry; but brightening up suddenly, “I
don’t mind a bit as long as I can see you, and you’ll tell me what to
do.”

“Well,” said Patty, “I could perhaps tell you if I knew what you wanted
to do. But I can’t stand still here, for I’ve come out for a walk, and
if you wish to speak to me you must come along with me. I’m going as far
as Carter’s Wells, and the afternoon’s wearing on.”

“Oh!” said Gervase, discomfited, “you’re going as far as Carter’s Wells?
I thought--I supposed--or I wanted to think, Patty--as you were coming
to look for me!”

“What should I do that for, Mr. Gervase?” said Patty, demurely.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” said the poor Softy. “I just thought so. You
might have had something you wanted to tell me, or--to say I might come
back, or----”

“What should I have to tell you, Mr. Gervase?”

He looked piteously at her, all astray, and took off his cap, and
pushed his fingers through his hair. “I’m sure I don’t know; and yet
there was something that I wanted badly to hear. Patty, don’t you make a
fool of me like all the rest! If I don’t know what it is, having such a
dreadful memory, you do.”

“It’s a wonder as you remembered me at all, Mr. Gervase,” said Patty,
giving him a little sting in passing.

“You! I’d never forget you if I lived to be a hundred. I’d forget myself
sooner, far sooner, than I’d forget you.”

“But it’s a long time since you’ve seen me, and you’ve forgotten all you
wanted of me,” Patty said, with a sharp tone of curiosity in her voice.

“No, I don’t forget; I do know what I want--I want to marry you, Patty.
I’ve been obeying all your orders, and trying to please the old folks
for nothing but that. But it don’t seem to succeed, somehow,” he said,
shaking his head; “somehow it don’t seem to succeed.”

“They will never give their consent to that, Mr. Gervase!”

“No?” he said, doubtfully. “Well, of course you must be right, Patty.
They don’t seem to like it when I tell them it’s because of you I’m
trying to please them and staying like this at home.”

“You should never have said that,” she cried quickly; “you should have
made them think it was all because you were so fond of them, and liked
best being at home.”

“But it would be a lie,” said Gervase, simply, “and mother’s awful
sharp; she always finds out when you tell her a crammer. Say I may come
to-night; do now, Patty,--I can’t bear it any more.”

“But you must bear it, Mr. Gervase,” said Patty; “that is, if you
really, really, want _that_ to come true.”

“What’s that, Patty?” cried the young man.

“Oh, you----!”--it was only a breath, and ended in nothing. Patty saw
that mincing matters was of no use. “I mean about us being married,” she
said, turning her head away.

“If I want it!” he cried, “when you know there is nothing in the world
I want but that. Nobody would ever put upon me if I had only you to
stand by me, Patty. Tell me what I am to do.”

She unfolded her scheme to him after this with little hesitation. He was
to continue his attendance at home for a little longer, and to propound
to his parents his desire to go to London and see the fine sights there.
It took Patty a considerable time to put all this into her lover’s
head--what he was to say, which she repeated over to him several times;
and what he was to do afterwards, and the extreme importance of not
forgetting, of never mentioning her nor the Seven Thorns, nor anything
that could recall her to their minds. He was to say that the country was
dull (“And so it is--especially at home, and when I can’t see you,” said
Gervase), and that he had never seen London since he was a child, and it
was a shame he never was trusted to go anywhere or see anything. (“And
so it is a great shame.”) When all this was well grafted into his mind,
or, at least Patty hoped so, she announced that she had changed her
intention and would go no more to Carter’s Wells, but straight home to
complete her preparations. And he was allowed to accompany her back
almost as far as the high road, then dismissed to return home another
way. Patty did not say that she was afraid of meeting Lady Piercey’s
carriage; but this was in her mind as she proceeded towards the Seven
Thorns, with her head and her parasol high, like an army with banners,
not at all afraid now, rather wishing for that encounter. It did take
place according to her prevision when she was almost in sight of the
group of stunted and aged trees which gave their name to her father’s
house. Why Lady Piercey should be passing that way, she herself,
perhaps, could scarcely have told. She wanted, it might be, with that
attraction of dislike which is as strong as love, to see again the girl
who had so much power over Gervase, and of whom he said in his fatuous
way, that it was she who was the occasion of his present home-keeping
mood; or she wanted, as the angry and suspicious mind always hopes to
do, to “catch” Patty and be able to report some flirtation or malicious
anecdote of her in the hearing of Gervase. The old lady had strained her
neck looking back at the Seven Thorns, which lay all vacant in the
westering sunshine, the door open and void, nobody on the outside bench,
nobody at the window--a perfectly harmless uninteresting house, piquing
the curiosity more than if there had been people about. “I declare,
Meg,” Lady Piercey was saying, “that horrid house gets emptier and
poorer every day. The man must be going all to ruin, with not so much as
a tramp to call for a glass of beer; and serves him right, to bring up
that daughter as he has, all show and finery, and good for nothing about
such a place.” “The Rector has a great opinion of her,” said Margaret;
“they say she is so active and such a good manager.” “Oh! stuff and
nonsense,” cried Lady Piercey, “you saw her with your own eyes in light
gloves and a parasol, trailing her gown along the road; a girl out of a
beershop, a girl----” But here Lady Piercey stopped short with a gasp,
for close to the side of the carriage, and almost within hearing, was
the same resplendent figure; the hat nodding with its roses; the gown a
little too long, and trailing, as was the absurd fashion of that time;
the light gloves firmly grasping the parasol, which was held high like
an ensign, leaving the girl’s determined and triumphant face fully
visible. Patty marched past, giving but one glance to the inmates of the
carriage, her colour high and her attitude martial; while the great lady
almost fell back upon her cushions, overwhelmed with the suddenness of
the encounter. Fortunately Lady Piercey did not see the tremendous nudge
which John on the box gave to the coachman. She was too much moved by
this startling incident to note any other demonstration of feeling.

“Did you see that?” she asked in a low tone, almost with awe, when that
apparition had passed.

“Yes--I saw her. She is too fine for her station, but Aunt----”

“Don’t put any of your buts to me, Meg! Do you think she could hear what
we were saying? The bold, brazen creature! passing me by without a bend
of her knee, as if she were as good as we are. What is this world coming
to when a girl bred up in my own school, in my own parish, that has
dropped curtseys to me since ever she was a baby, should dare to pass me
by like that?” Lady Piercey, who had grown very red in sudden passion,
now grew pale with horror at a state of affairs so terrible. “She looked
as if she felt herself the lady, and us nobodies. Meg! do you think
Gervase has it in him to marry that girl, and give her my name when your
uncle dies! If I thought that, I think it would kill me! at least,” she
cried, sitting up with fire in her watery eyes--“it would put me on my
mettle, and I’d mince matters no more, but get the doctor’s advice and
lock him up.”

“My uncle would never consent to that.”

“Your uncle---- would just do what I wish. There’s not many things he’s
ever crossed me in; and all he has have turned out badly. If I could
make up my mind to it, it wouldn’t be your uncle that would stop me. I
have a great mind to send for the doctor to-night.”

“But Aunt, is it not more likely they have quarrelled,” said Margaret,
“since he has been staying at home so faithfully, and never been absent
day or night?”

“Do you think that’s it, Meg? or do you think it’s only policy to throw
dust in our eyes? Oh, I wish I knew. I wish I knew. Oh, Meg, that I
should say it! I feel as if I’d rather he should go out even to that
horrible Seven Thorns, than drive us all frantic with staying at home.
If he goes on like that another night, I don’t think I can bear it. Oh,
it’s all very well for you, sitting patient and smiling! If you were to
see your only child sitting there like an idiot, and showing the very
page-boy what a fool he is, and gabbling and grinning till you can
hardly endure yourself, I wonder--I wonder what you’d say.”



CHAPTER XII.


Gervase went home still with his head bent, but no longer thinking of
the white pebbles and the brown. It is true that his accustomed eye
caught a big one here and there, which had rolled to the side of the
path, and which he felt with regret would have come in so finely for the
right or the left-hand man! but his mind was fixed on his _consigne_,
and he was saying to himself over and over the words Patty had taught
him--that he wanted to go to see London, and all the fine things there;
that he was tired (mortal tired) of staying always at home; that it was
a shame he never was trusted nor allowed to do anything (and so it was a
shame). He could not even think of the pleasure of going to London, of
meeting Patty at the station, and all that was to follow, so absorbed
were his thoughts with what he had to say in the meantime. And it would
not have been surprising had Gervase been overwhelmed by the thought of
making such a wild suggestion to his parents, who had kept him hitherto
like a child under their constant supervision. But his simple mind was
not troubled by any such reflection as this. Patty had told him what to
say, and no feeling of the impossibility of the thing, or of the strange
departure in it from all the rules which had guided his life, affected
him. If it did not succeed, all he had to do was to tell her, and she
would think of something else. Better heads than that of poor Gervase
have found this a great relief among the problems of life. As for him,
he was not aware of any problems; he had a thing to say, and the trouble
was lest he should forget it or say it wrong. To think of anything
further was not his share of the business. He, too, met his mother just
as she returned from her drive, so that he had taken a considerable time
to that exercise, walking up and down the path that led under the wall
of the park, conning his lesson. An impulse came upon him to say it off
then and there, and so free his mind from the responsibility; but he
remembered in time that Patty had said it was to be kept till after
dinner, when his father and mother were both present. He was rather
frightened, however, when the carriage suddenly drove up, and he was
called to the door. “Hallo! mamma,” he said, striding over a gorse bush
that was in his way. Lady Piercey had jumped at the conclusion, as soon
as she saw him, that there had been a meeting, as she said, “between
those two.” She called out quickly to take him by surprise, “Hi!
Gervase! have you met anybody on the road?”

Now, Gervase was not clever, as the reader knows; but just because he
was a Softy, and his brains different from other people’s, he was better
qualified to deal with such a question than a more intelligent youth
might have been. “Met anybody on the road?” he said, gazing with his
dull eyes and open mouth. “But I’ve not been on the road; I’ve only been
up and down here.”

“Oh, you----! but here is just the same as the road. Who have you been
talking to?” the mother cried.

“There was the man with the donkey from Carter’s Wells,” said Gervase;
“but I never said a word to him, nor he didn’t to me.”

“Was that the only person you saw? Tell me the truth,” said Lady Piercey
severely. Gervase put his head on one side, and seemed to reflect.

“If I’m to tell the dead truth,” he said, “but I don’t want to, mother,
for you’ll scold like old boots----”

“Tell me this instant!” cried Lady Piercey, red already with the rage
that was ready to burst forth.

“Well, then, there just was--the ratcatcher with his pockets full of
ferrets coming up from----”

“Home!” cried the lady, more angry than words could say. “Oh, you fool!”
she said, shaking her fist at her son, who stood laughing, his moist
lips glistening--no very pleasant sight for a mother’s eye.

“I thought I was to tell you the truth,” he cried after them, as the
carriage whirled away.

“Do you think it was the truth, Meg?” Lady Piercey demanded, in a gasp,
when they had swept into the avenue. A feeling of relief came as her
anger quieted down.

“Dear Aunt--do you think he could invent so quickly, without any time to
prepare?”

“You mean he couldn’t because he’s not clever? Heaven knows! They’re as
deep as the deep sea, and as cunning as----. But that ratcatcher is a
man I will not have hanging, with those beasts in his pockets, about my
house.”

The ratcatcher gave occasion for a good deal of talk that afternoon,
both in Gervase’s presence and out of it; and by good luck he had been
about, and Lady Piercey gave her orders as to his expulsion from the
premises, whenever he should appear, with real satisfaction. “He’s not
company for Gervase, and that every one knows,” she said at the dinner
table, when old Sir Giles ventured to remonstrate on behalf of the
ferrets and their owner.

“Mother always says that when it’s any fellow I like to have a chat
with,” Gervase said.

“There’s no harm in old Jerry,” said Sir Giles. “A man shouldn’t be too
squeamish, my lady. A good-natured word here and there is what’s wanted
of a country squire.”

“But not taking pleasure in low company,” retorted Lady Piercey. “And I
tell you again, I won’t have that old wretch and his beasts about my
house.”

“But father knows it’s rare fun sometimes, ain’t it, father?” said the
young man, kicking the old gentleman under the table. Fortunately, the
kick touched only Sir Giles’ stick, and he was not displeased to take
Gervase’s part for once against his wife.

“Hush, you young ass, can’t you? We don’t speak of these things before
ladies,” he said.

This little confidential aside put Sir Giles in good humour. But when
the family retired into the library, which was done by no means in the
usual order--for Sir Giles himself in his chair, wheeled by Dunning, led
the way--it was evident that an uneasy alarm in respect to Gervase was
the leading sentiment in everybody’s mind. Sir Giles announced loudly
that it was Dunning, and only Dunning, who should play with him
to-night. “I’ve got to give the fellow his revenge,” he said. “I beat
him black and blue last night. Eh, Dunning, didn’t I beat you black and
blue? You’re not a bad player, but not just up to my strength.”

“No, Sir Giles,” answered the man, setting the table in haste, and
keeping carefully between it and the heir of the house. Lady Piercey, on
her side, employed Parsons and Margaret, both of whom were in
attendance, in covering up all her silks. “Put them in the basket,” she
said, “and take out one as I want it. That’s always the best way.” Thus
defended, the parents kept a furtive watch upon the movements of their
son, but with less alarm than before, while Lady Piercey kept on a
running exhortation to Mrs. Osborne in an undertone. “Meg! get him to
play something. Meg! why don’t you take him in hand! Meg! the boy’s sure
to get into mischief for want of something to do.”

“Should you like a game of cribbage, Gervase?” said poor Margaret,
unable to resist the urgency of this appeal.

“Cribbage is the old-fashionedest game; they don’t play it
anywhere--even in the publics,” said Gervase. He had put himself in the
favourite attitude of Englishmen, with his back to the fireplace; his
coat-tails gathered over his arms in faithful adherence to custom,
though the cause for any such unseemly custom was not there.

“Or bézique?” said Margaret; “or perhaps you’ll sing a song, Gervase, if
I play it. Your mother would like to hear you sing: you haven’t sung her
a song for years.”

“Do, Gervase, there’s a dear,” said Lady Piercey. “You used to sing ‘The
north winds do blow, and we shall have snow,’ so pretty when you were
quite a little thing.”

“I ain’t a little thing now, and I’m not going to sing,” said Gervase
loudly. “I’m going to say something to father and mother. You can go
away, Meg, if you don’t want to hear.”

“What is it?” cried Lady Piercey, sitting up more bolt-upright than
usual, and taking off her spectacles to see him the better, and to cow
him with the blaze of her angry eyes.

“This is what it is,” said Gervase. “It’s mortal dull at home, now that
I’ve turned over a new leaf and don’t go out anywhere at night; and a
fellow of my age wants a little diversion, and I can’t go on sitting in
your pocket, mother, nor playing father’s game every night--and he don’t
like losing, neither, and no more don’t I.”

This preamble was quite new, struck off out of his own head from Patty’s
text. It was with a great elation and rising self-confidence that
Gervase found it so. Perhaps they’d find out that he was not such a fool
as he looked--once he had got free.

“Eh! what’s the lad saying? That’s true enough--that’s true enough,” Sir
Giles said.

“Oh, hold your tongue, papa! You don’t know what he’s aiming at,” Lady
Piercey said.

“And I’ve never seen a thing, nor gone any-place,” said Gervase. “Its
d---- d hard upon me--it’s devilish hard. Oh,” he cried, “I can speak up
when I like! It’s that dull nobody would stand it (and so it is).” He
added his old parentheses, though he had dropped the original theme. “I
mustn’t talk a moment with any person, but mother’s down upon me--even
Jerry, the ratcatcher, that every one knows.”

“That’s true, my boy,” cried Sir Giles, “your mother’s too hard on you;
that’s quite true.”

“Wait, you fool, till you know what he’s aiming at,” cried Lady Piercey,
with her eyes on fire.

“And I can’t play your game, father, nor take you for a walk, but
there’s a fright all round as if I was going to kill you; and old
Dunning after me, looking like a stuck pig.”

Here was a chance for Lady Piercey to approve, too, at her husband’s
expense; but she was magnanimous, and did not take it. “You’re well
meaning enough, Gervase,” she said, “I don’t deny it; but you’re too
strong, and you shake poor papa to bits.”

“Well, then,” said Gervase, raising his voice to talk her down, “it’s
clear as there is nothing here for me to do; and it’s dreadful dull.
Enough to kill a man of my age; and the short and the long of it is that
I can’t go on like this any more.”

He had quite thrown Patty’s carefully prepared speech away, and yet it
came breathing over him by turns, checking his natural eloquence. She
had never meant him to utter that outcry of impatience, and Gervase
would have ruined his own cause, and gone on to say, “I am going to be
married,” but for the questions that were suddenly showered upon him,
driving him back upon his lesson.

“You can’t go on like this? And how are you going on?” cried his mother.
“Everything a man can desire, and the best home in England, and
considered in every way!” She went on speaking, but her voice was
crossed by old Sir Giles’ growl. “What do you want--what do you want?”
cried the old man. “Dunning, be off to your supper, and take that woman
with you. What do you want--what do you want, you young fool?”

“But I know what you want,” Lady Piercey cried, becoming audible at the
end of this interruption; “you want what you shall never have as long as
I live, unless it’s somebody of my choosing, and not of yours.”

“I’ll tell you what I want,” said Gervase, the moisture flying from his
mouth; “I want to have a---- I want to get---- I want P----.” Then that
long-conned speech of Patty’s flew suddenly, like a cobweb, into his
mind, and stopped him on the edge of the abyss. He stopped and stared at
them for a moment, his eyes roaming round the room, and then he burst
into a loud laugh. “I want to go to London,” he said, “and see all the
fine things there. I don’t know what mother’s got in her head--some of
her whimseys--I’ve never been let go anywhere or do anything, and I want
to go to London to look about and see all the grand things there.”

“To London?” said Sir Giles with surprise. Lady Piercey had been wound
up to too great a pitch to go easily down again. She opened her mouth
with a gasp like a fish, but no sound came therefrom.

“I’ve never been let go anywhere,” said Gervase, “and up and down from
the Manor to the village ain’t enough. I want to go to London and see
the fine sights there; I want to see the Queen and all that; I want to
see a bit of life. There never was a gentleman like me that was kept so
close and never let go to see anything. I’ve not been in London since I
was a little kid, and it is a shame that I am never trusted (so it is),
and it’s mortal dull here, especially at home, and not seeing anything;
and I want to go to London and see a bit of life, and not be buried
alive here.”

“My lady,” said Sir Giles, after the pause of awe which followed this
long, consequent, and coherent speech, “there’s reason in what the lad
says.”

“There’s something underneath,” cried Lady Piercey, “a deal more than
what he says.”

“Mother always thinks that,” cried Gervase, with his big laugh; and
there could not be any question that what he said was true.

“There’s some plan underneath it all,” repeated Lady Piercey, striking
her hand on the table. “He hasn’t the sense to make up a thing like
that, that has reason in it; there’s some deep-laid plan underneath it
all.”

“Pooh, my lady! Poor lad!” said Sir Giles, shaking his head; “he hasn’t
the sense to make up a plan at all. He just says what comes into his
head, and what he says has reason in it, and more than that, I’m glad to
hear him say it. And it gives me a bit of hope,” said poor old Sir
Giles, his voice shaking a little, “that when he comes fully to man’s
estate, the boy, poor lad, will be more like other boys, Mary Ann, God
bless him! and, perhaps, for so little as we think it, a real comfort to
you and me.”

The old gentleman leaned back in his chair, and raised with a feeble
hand his handkerchief to his eyes. It was not difficult nowadays to make
Sir Giles cry. The fierce old lady had no such emotion to subdue. She
sat very upright, staring at her son, suspicious, thinking she saw
behind him the pert little defiant countenance under the parasol which
she had met on the road. But she did not see how they could have met or
communicated with each other, and she could not, on the spur of the
moment, make out what connection there could be between his desire to go
to London, and Patty of the Seven Thorns. Margaret stood behind her
uncle’s chair, patting him softly on the shoulder to soothe him and
assure him of sympathy. She looked over Sir Giles’ head at the boy who,
he was able to flatter himself, might be like other boys when he came to
man’s estate. How strangely can love and weakness be deceived! Gervase
stood there against the mantelpiece, his foot caught up awkwardly in his
hand, his slouching shoulders supported against the shelf, his big,
loose bulk filling the place. Man’s estate! The poor Softy was
eight-and-twenty and well grown, though he slouched and distorted
himself. But still the father, and even the suspicious, less-persuadable
mother, saw in him a boy, not beyond the season of growth--never beyond
that of hope.

Fortunately for Gervase, he had not time to go on in his flush of
triumph and success, for another moment of that elation might have
broken down all precautions and betrayed the plan which his mother felt,
but could not divine, underneath. In the meantime, however, it was
bedtime, and neither Sir Giles nor my lady could bear any more. Lady
Piercey sent off Parsons, and discussed the question with her niece in
her bedroom for a full hour after. “There’s something underneath, I know
there is,” Lady Piercey said, nodding her head in her big nightcap. “But
I don’t see what she can have to do with it, for she would never want to
send him away. And then, on the other hand, Meg, it would be the best
thing in the world to send him away. There’s nothing like absence for
blowing a thing like that out of a boy’s head. If there was a man we
could trust to go with him,--but all alone, by himself, in a big place
like London, and among so many temptations! Oh, Meg, Meg, I wish I knew
what was the right thing to do!”

“He is very innocent, Aunt; he would not understand the temptation,”
said Margaret.

“Oh, I’m not of that opinion at all,” cried Lady Piercey. “A man always
understands that, however silly he may be; and sometimes, the sillier he
is, the more he understands. But one nail knocks out another,” she
added thoughtfully. Though Lady Piercey was not a woman of the world,
but only a very rustic person, she was yet cynic enough for the
remorseless calculation that a little backsliding, of which so many
people were guilty, would be better than a dreadful marriage which would
bring down the family, and corrupt the very race--which was her point of
view.

Gervase roamed about the house in high excitement, immensely pleased
with himself, while this colloquy was going on. Had he met even Dunning
or Parsons, whom he did not love, the possibility was that he might have
revealed his meaning to them in sheer elation of spirits. But neither of
these persons came in his way, and in this early household most of the
other servants were already in bed. Margaret, however, met him as usual
when she came out of Lady Piercey’s room with her candle in her hand.

“What’s she been saying to you, Meg?” he asked, but burst out laughing
before she could reply. “It’s such a joke,” he said, holding his sides,
“such a joke, if you only knew! and I’ve half a mind to tell you, Meg,
for you’re a good sort.”

“Don’t tell me anything, Gervase, for Heaven’s sake, that I can’t tell
them. For, of course, I shall do so directly,” Margaret cried.

“Wouldn’t you just like to know?” he said, and laughed again, and
chucked her under the chin in convulsions of hilarity. She stood at the
door of the room, escaping hastily from the possible confidence and the
familiarity, and, trembling, saw him slide down the banisters to the
half-lighted hall below, with a childish chuckle of triumph. A slip upon
that swift descent, and all might have been over--the commotion and the
exultation, the trouble and the fear. But Gervase came back again
beaming, and kissed his hand to her as he disappeared into his own room.
He felt that he had gained the day.



CHAPTER XIII.


The household at Greyshott was much disturbed and excited by the new
idea thus thrown into the midst of them. Lady Piercey discussed it all
next morning, not only with Margaret but with Parsons, whose views on
the subject were very decided. She thought, but this within herself,
that to get quit of the Softy, even for a few days, would be a great
blessing to the house--though what she said was chiefly to agree with
her mistress that a change, and to see a little of life, would be the
best thing possible for Mr. Gervase.

“’Tisn’t good for any young man to be always at home,” said Lady
Piercey. “I remember a piece of poetry, or a hymn, or something, which I
used to know, that had a line about home-keeping youths, and that they
had but poor wits--that is, looked as if they had poor wits, because
they had never seen anything, don’t you know?”

“Yes, my lady,” said Parsons; “that’s just how it is.”

“And the dear boy has come to feel it himself,” continued the mother;
“he sees all the rest of the young men rushing about from one end of the
world to the other, and he’s begun to ask himself, How’s that? Don’t you
see, Parsons?”

“Yes, my lady, it’s as plain as the eyes in one’s head,” said Parsons.

“Of course, it is all because of his being so delicate when he was a
child,” said the old lady.

“But what a blessing it is, my lady, to see how he’s outgrown it now!”

“Yes, isn’t it a blessing, Parsons! Just as strong as any of them--and
well grown--a good height, and large round the chest, and all that.”

“Yes, my lady,” Parsons replied. She did not commit herself, but she
chimed in most satisfactorily with all that her lady said.

Margaret was by no means so entirely to be trusted to. She was very
doubtful of the proposed expedition, and even when she assented, as it
was often necessary to do to what her aunt said, did so with so
uncertain and troubled a look that Lady Piercey, by force of the
opposition, was more and more rooted in her view.

“It would do him all the good in the world,” she said. “I know you think
he’s silly, my poor boy--not that he’s really silly, not a bit; but he
does not know how to express himself; and how is he ever to learn, stuck
up here at home between you and me and his poor father, Meg?”

Margaret was a little taken aback by this question, and in her confusion
laughed inadvertently, which made Lady Piercey very angry.

“You think you are clever enough for anything, and could teach him--as
well as the best!”

“No, indeed,” cried Margaret; “not at all. I don’t know how young men
learn---- to express themselves. I think, so far as I have seen, that
there are a great many who know how to express themselves---- much worse
than Gervase,” she added hastily; for after all, it was not poor
Gervase’s fault, whereas it was the fault of many other men.

The mother, in her jealousy for her son, was pacified by this, and shook
her head. “Oh, yes,” she said, “there are many of them that are a poor
lot. Gervase is---- one in ten thousand, Meg. He is a gentleman, my poor
boy. He doesn’t know how to bully or make himself disagreeable. You know
I am saying no more than the truth. He would do far better in the world
if he made more of himself.”

This required from Margaret only a murmur of assent--which she gave
without too much strain of conscience; but she was unprepared for the
swift following up of this concession. “So it’s your opinion, Meg--if
your opinion were asked, which I don’t think likely--that your uncle and
I should let him go?”

“Let him go! But as you say, aunt, my opinion is not likely to be
asked,” Margaret said quickly, to cover her exclamation of dismay.

“I’m not too fond of asking anybody’s opinion. I like to hear what they
say, just to make sure of my own; but since you’ve given yours, as you
generally do, without waiting to be asked,--and you’re not so far wrong
as usual this time,--he ought to have his freedom. He’s never done
anything to make us suppose that he wouldn’t use it rightly. He is a boy
in a thousand, Meg! He has no bad ways--he is only too innocent,
suspecting nobody.”

“That might be the danger,” said Margaret.

“Yes, my dear, that is just the thing--you have hit it, though you are
not so bright as you think. He suspects nobody. He would put his money
or whatever he had into anybody’s hands. He thinks every one is as
innocent as himself.”

It would have been hard upon the poor mother had Margaret said what she
thought: that Gervase did not think at all, which was a danger greater
still. Lady Piercey knew all there was to be said on that point, and she
kept her eye upon her niece, waiting to surprise that judgment in her
face. Oh, she knew very well not only all that could be said, but all
the reason there was for saying it! Lady Piercey was not deceived on the
subject of her son, nor unaware of any of his deficiencies. It is to be
supposed, knowing all these, that she must have known the dangers to
which he must be exposed if he were allowed to carry out this proposal;
but many other things were working in her mind. She thought it was only
just that he should see life; and she thought, cynically, with a woman’s
half-knowledge, half-suspicion of what that meant--that life as seen in
London would cure him entirely of Patty and of the dangers that were
concentrated in her. Finally, there was a dreadful relief in the thought
of getting rid of him for a little while, of being exempt, if even for a
few days, from his presence, when he was present, which was
insupportable--and from the anxiety about his home-coming and where he
was, when he was absent. The thought of having him comfortably out of
sight for a time, so far off that she should be no longer responsible
for him, even to herself; that she should no longer require to watch and
wait for him, but could go to bed when she pleased, independent of the
question whether Gervase had come home--that prospect attracted her
more than words could say. Oh, the rest and refreshment it would be!
the exemption from care, the repose of mind! Whatever he might do in
London, she, at least, would not see it. Young men, when they were
seeing life, did not generally conduct themselves to the satisfaction of
their parents. They acted after their kind, and nobody was very hard
upon them. Gervase would be just like the others--just like others!
which was what he had never been hitherto, what she had always wished
and longed for him to be. She sat for a long time at her embroidery,
silent, working her mouth as she did when she was turning over any great
question in her mind; and Margaret was too glad to respect her aunt’s
abstraction, to leave her at full liberty to think. At length Lady
Piercey suddenly threw down her needle, and with a gesture more like a
man than an old lady, smote her knee with her hand.

“I’ve got it!” she cried. “I’ve found just the right thing to do!”

Parsons stopped and listened at the other end of the room, and Margaret
paused in her work too, and raised her eyes. Lady Piercey’s countenance
was in a flush of pleasure; she went on drumming on her knee in
excitement, swaying a little back and forward in her chair.

“It is the very thing,” she said. “He’ll get his freedom, and yet he’ll
be well looked after. You remember Dr. Gregson, him that was at that
poor little dingy chapel when we were in town? Oh! you never remember
anything, Meg! Parsons, you recollect Dr. Gregson, the clergyman with
the family--that was so poor?”

“Yes, my lady,” said Parsons, coming a few steps nearer; her presence
made legitimate, even during the discussion of these family matters, by
this demand.

“Oh, you needn’t stop work; I am talking to my niece. When I want you
I’ll call you,” said Lady Piercey, ruthless, waving her away. “Meg,” she
said, after watching the woman’s reluctant withdrawal, “servants are a
pretty set, poking their heads into everything; but you always stand up
for them. Perhaps you think I’d better have up the cook, and let the
whole of ’em know?”

“No; if you ask my opinion, Aunt, I think they are better left out.”

“Oh, you think they are better left out? Perhaps you think I’d better
keep it all in my own mind, and not speak of my affairs at all? But it
doesn’t matter much, and that’s a satisfaction, what you think,” said
Lady Piercey, grimly. Then she resumed the argument. “I see my way; I
see how we can do it all! Mr. Gregson is as poor as a church mouse, and
he’ll do anything to get a little money. He shall meet Gervase at the
station, and he shall look after him and show him life, as the poor boy
says.” She laughed a low, reverberating laugh, that seemed to roll round
the room; and then she added, giving Mrs. Osborne a push with her elbow,
“You don’t seem to see the fun of it, Meg.”

“I don’t think Gervase will; nor, perhaps, the poor clergyman.”

The old lady laughed with deep enjoyment, putting one hand on her side.
“Gregson will like anything that puts a little money in his pocket. And
as for Gervase----” It was some utterance of deep contempt that was on
Lady Piercey’s lips; but she remembered herself, and repressed it in
time. During the rest of the morning she sat almost silent, with her
mouth working, and, as if she were turning over an amusing thought,
gave vent now and then to a chuckle of laughter. The idea of sending
Gervase to see life under the auspices of the poor little Low Church
incumbent of Drummond Chapel, Bloomsbury, was delightful. She felt her
own cleverness in having thought of it almost as much as she felt the
happy relief of being thus rid of her poor Softy without any harm--nay,
with perfect safety to him. All the accessories were delightful--the
astonishment of Dr. Gregson, the ludicrous disappointment of the weak
young man, his probable seduction into tea-parties and Bible-classes,
which would be much more wholesome for him than the other way of seeing
life. It occurred to Lady Piercey, with a momentary check upon her
triumph, that there had been little girls among the Gregsons who might
have grown up into dangerous young persons by this time. But that gave
her but a temporary alarm, for, to be sure, it would be easy enough to
drop any entanglement of that kind, and a young Gregson might, in the
most virtuous manner, supplant Patty, as well as the worst--and all
would consequently work for good to the only person of any consequence,
the only son and heir of Sir Giles Piercey, of Greyshott, for whom alone
his mother was concerned.

When this brilliant idea was communicated to Sir Giles, he, too, smote
his thigh and burst into such a roar of laughter, that notwithstanding
her gratification in the success of this admirable practical joke of
hers, Lady Piercey was afraid. He laughed till he was red, or rather
crimson, with a tinge of blue in the face; his large, helpless frame
heaving with the roar which resounded through the room. She was so
frightened that she summoned Dunning hastily, though she had the moment
before sent him away, and had entered her husband’s room alone, without
any attendant on her own side, to consult him on this all-important
subject. When Dunning returned, triumphant in the sense that they could
not do without him, and tingling with curiosity, which he never doubted
he should now have abundant means of satisfying, he found Sir Giles in a
spasmodic condition in his chair, laughing by intervals, while Lady
Piercey stood by his side, patting him upon the back with unaccustomed
hands, and saying, “Now, my dear; now, now, my dear,” as she might have
done to a restive horse. Sir Giles’ exuberance faded away at the sight
of Dunning, who knew exactly what to do to make him, as they said,
comfortable. And thus it happened that this old pair, who were older
than the parents of Gervase had any need to be, and looked, both, much
older than they were, from illness and self-indulgence, and all its
attendant infirmities--were left to consult upon the fate of their only
child with the servant making a third, which was very galling to Lady
Piercey’s pride. Sir Giles did not pay any attention. Dunning was to him
not a man, but a sort of accessory--a thing that did not count. He
calmed down out of his paroxysms of laughter at Dunning’s appearance,
but still kept bursting out at intervals. “What if the fellow”--and then
he stopped to cough and laugh again--“what if he falls in love with Miss
Brown or Miss Jones?” he said. “And then, my lady, you would be out of
the frying-pan into the fire.”

“I am not afraid of Miss Smith or Miss Jones,” she cried, making a sign
to him over Dunning’s head to be careful what he said. But Sir Giles was
in the humour for speech, and cared nothing who was present.

“I think a deal of these ladies,” he said, in his mumbling voice. “It’s
a great joke--a great joke. I should like to see old Gregson’s face when
he hears of it. By Jove! and the old plotter you are, my lady, to make
it all up. But it can’t be; it can’t be.”

“Why can’t it be?” cried Lady Piercey sharply, and much provoked.

“Because it wouldn’t be fair, neither to the one of them nor to the
other. Not fair at all, by George. Fair play’s a jewel. What are you
after, Dunning? Let my legs alone. There’s nothing the matter with my
legs. And you can go and be dashed to you. Can’t I talk to my lady
without you here?”

“Don’t send him away,” cried Lady Piercey hurriedly. “I can’t have you
get ill, and perhaps do yourself harm, because of me.”

“Do myself fiddlesticks,” cried Sir Giles. “I’m as strong as a horse,
ain’t I, Dunning? Be off with you, be off with you; don’t you hear? I’ll
throw my stick at you if you don’t scuttle, you son of a----. Hey! you
can tell my lady I’m as well as either you or she.”

“Yes, Sir Giles,” said Dunning, stolid and calm. But he did not go away.

“It wouldn’t be fair,” Sir Giles went on, forgetting what he had said.
“I say fair play all the world over. Women don’t understand it. It’s a
capital joke, and I didn’t think you had so much fun in you. But it
wouldn’t be fair.”

“Don’t be a fool, Giles,” said Lady Piercey angrily. “If you don’t see
it’s necessary, why, then, you can’t see an inch before your nose; and
to argue with you isn’t any good.”

“No,” he said, “perhaps it isn’t. I’m an obstinate old fool, and so are
you an obstinate old fool, Mary Ann. And between us both we’ve made a
mess of it. It wasn’t altogether our fault, perhaps, for it was Nature
that began,” said the old gentleman, with something like a whimper
breaking into his voice. “Nature, the worst of all, for you cannot do
anything with that. Not a thing! We’ve tried our best. Yes; I believe
you tried your best, my lady, watching and worrying; and I’ve tried my
best, leaving things alone. But none of us can do anything. We can’t,
you know, not if we were to go on till Doomsday; and we’re two old
folks, and we can’t go on much longer. It’s not altogether your fault,
and neither is it mine; but we’ll go to our graves, by-and-by, and we’ll
leave behind us--we’ll leave behind us----”

Here the old gentleman, probably betrayed by the previous disturbance of
his laughter, fell into a kind of nervous crying, half exclamations,
half laughing, half tears.

“Don’t you be upset, my lady,” said Dunning; “Sir Giles, he do get like
this sometimes when he’s flurried and frightened. But, Lord! a little
glassful of water, and a few of his drops, and he’s all right again.”

Lady Piercey sat bolt upright in her chair. She, too, wanted the
ministrations to which she was accustomed: the arm of Parsons to help
her up, or Margaret to turn to, to upbraid her for her uncle’s state, or
to consult her as to what to do. She had not the same tendency to tears,
though a few iron drops came from time to time, wrung out by her great
trouble. She sat and stared at her husband, and at Dunning’s services to
him, till Sir Giles was quite restored. And then she rose with some
stiffness and difficulty, and hobbled away. Parsons met her at the door,
and took her mistress to her room; but, though Lady Piercey clung to
her, the maid was not at all well received. “What were you doing at Sir
Giles’ door? What do you want in this part of the house?” she cried,
though she had seized and clung to the ready arm. “I’ll not have you
spying about, seeing what you can pick up in the way of news, or
listening at a door.”

“I never listened at a door in my life,” cried Parsons, indignant. “And
nobody ever named such a thing to me, my lady, but you!”

“Oh, hold your tongue, do!” cried Lady Piercey. And she, too, like Sir
Giles, was obliged to have a restorative when she had been safely
conveyed to her room. She was the ruler upstairs, and he below. She had
the advantage of him in being able to move about, notwithstanding her
rheumatism, and the large share she had of those ills which flesh is
heir to--all those which were not appropriated first by her husband--in
which she took a certain satisfaction, not tempered, rather enhanced, by
the attendant pain.

The letters came in at the hour of luncheon, and were taken to Lady
Piercey as they are usually taken to the master of the house. She opened
all the family-letters, her husband’s as well as her own, and even the
occasional bill or note that came very rarely for Gervase. Among them
that day came a letter stamped with the Piercey crest, at which she
gazed for a moment before opening it, with an indignant, yet scared
look, as if she had beheld a blasphemy, and which made her, when she
opened it, almost jump from her seat. She read it over twice, with her
eyes opening wider and wider, and the red flush of surprise and horror
rising on her face, then flung it violently across the table to
Margaret. “Then he must go, that’s flat! and to-morrow morning, not one
hour later,” she cried. Gervase was in the room, paying no attention to
this pantomime, and caring nothing for what letters might arrive; but he
was roused by what she said. He cried, “That’s me, mother; I’m going
to-morrow,” with his loud and vacant laugh.



CHAPTER XIV.


The letter which Lady Piercey had received, and which quickened so
instantaneously her determination that Gervase should be gratified in
his desire to visit London, did not seem at the first glance to have
anything to do with that question. It was a letter from Gerald Piercey,
asking to be allowed to come on a visit of two or three days to see his
relations at Greyshott. Now, Gerald Piercey was, after Gervase, the
heir-at-law--or rather he was the son of the old and infirm gentleman
who was the heir-at-law. He was a soldier who had distinguished himself
in India, and got rapid promotion, so that he had several letters
already tacked to his name, and was in every way a contrast to the
unfortunate who stood between him and the honours of the house. It was
natural, and I think it was excusable, that poor Lady Piercey should
hate this successful and highly esteemed person. To be sure, he was much
older than Gervase--a man of forty, so that there was, as she said
indignantly, no comparison! and she herself was not old enough (or at
least, so she said) to have had a son of the Colonel’s age. But these
circumstances, which should have lessened the sense of rivalry, only
made it greater, for even if Gervase had not been a Softy, he would
never have been a man of so much importance as this cousin of the
younger branch who had made himself known and noted in the world by his
own personal character and deserts. Colonel Piercey had not been at
Greyshott since he was a youth setting out in life, when he had paid his
relations a hasty and not very agreeable visit. Gervase was then a silly
little boy; but there are many silly little boys who grow up into
tolerable young men; and his parents, at least, had by no means made up
their minds to the fact of his inferiority. But Gerald, a young man who
had just joined his regiment and was full of the elation and pleasure in
life which is never greater than in these circumstances, who resembled
the family portraits and knew all about the family history, and who
looked so entirely the part of heir of the house, awoke a causeless
enmity even in the jovial breast of Sir Giles, then a robust fox-hunter,
master of the hounds, chairman of quarter sessions, and everything that
a country gentleman should be. Poor little Gervase was nothing beside
him, naturally! for Gervase was but a child, however clever he had been.
But this thought did not heal the painful impression, the shock of a
sensation too keen almost to be borne. All the neighbours were delighted
with Gerald. What a fine young fellow! what a promising young man! what
a pity it was---- and the visitors gave a glance aside at poor little
Gervase, already, poor child, the Softy among all his childish
companions. They did not utter that last half-formed regret, but Sir
Giles and his wife perceived it on their lips, in their thoughts, and
hated Gerald, which was wrong, no doubt, but very natural and almost
pardonable, from a parent’s point of view.

And here he was coming back! a guest whom they could not refuse, a
credit to the family, a distinguished relation, while Gervase was what
he was. But Gerald Piercey should not, Lady Piercey resolved, see
Gervase as he was,--not for the world! He was coming, no doubt, to spy
out the nakedness of the land--but what he should find would only be an
account of her son enjoying himself in London, seeing life, doing as
other young men did. If Gerald was a colonel and a C.B., Gervase should
bear the aspect of a young man about town--a man of fashion, going
everywhere; a man who had no occasion to go to India to distinguish
himself, having a good estate and a baronetcy behind him at home. To
keep up this fiction would be easy if Gervase were but absent. It would
be impossible, alas! to do it in his presence. Lady Piercey exerted
herself during that day, in a way she had not been known to do before
for years. She wrote a long letter, bending over it, and working all the
lines of her mouth like a schoolboy. It was labour dire and weary woe,
for a woman who had long given up any exertion of the kind for herself.
But in this case she would not trust even Margaret. And then she had
Gervase’s drawers emptied, and his clothes brought to her to make a
survey. They were not fashionable clothes by any means; Lady Piercey,
though she was not much used to men of fashion, and knew nothing of what
“was worn” at the time, yet knew and remembered enough to feel that
Gervase in these garments would by no means bear the aspect of a young
man about town. But he would do very well in the Gregson world in
Bloomsbury; everybody who saw him there would know that he was young Mr.
Piercey of Greyshott, Sir Giles’ only son. This is the sort of fact that
covers a multitude of sins, even in clothes. And in Bloomsbury the first
fashions were not likely to be worn. He would pass muster very well
there, but not--not before the eyes of Gerald Piercey, the colonel, the
C.B., the cousin and heir. “You don’t see why I should be in such a
hurry,” said Lady Piercey, with one of those glances which only want the
power, not the desire, to kill. “I know, then, and that’s enough,
Gervase, my boy. You’ll remember to be very good and please your poor
father and me, now we’ve consented to give you this great treat, and let
you go.”

“Oh, yes,” said Gervase, with a laugh; “I’ll remember, mother. I sha’n’t
be let go wrong, you take your oath of that.”

“What does he mean by not being let? You’ve told him about Gregson, Meg!
Well, my dear, you know that is the only comfort I have. You’ll be met
at the station, and you’ll find your nice rooms ready; and very lucky
you are, Gervase, to find so good a person to take care of you. Do
everything he tells you; mind, he knows all about you; and he’ll always
lead you the right road, as you say.”

Gervase, staring open-mouthed at his mother, burst into a great laugh.
He was astonished at her apparent knowledge of the companion who would
not let him go wrong, but the confusion of the pronoun daunted him a
little. Did she think it was old Hewitt that was going with him? He had
enough of cunning to ask no questions, but laughed with a great roar of
satisfaction mingled with wonderment. Lady Piercey put up her hands to
her ears.

“Don’t make such a noise,” she said. “You laugh like your father,
Gervase, and you’re too young to roar like that. You must try to behave
very nicely, too, and don’t roar the roof off a London house with your
laughing. And don’t make a noise in company, Gervase. We put up with
everything here because we’re so fond of you; but in town, though
they’ll be fond of you, it makes a difference, not being used to you
from your cradle. You must remember all I taught you about manners when
you were a little boy.”

“Oh, mother, don’t you be afraid; my manners will be well looked after,
too. I sha’n’t dare to open my mouth,” said Gervase, with another
laugh.

“Well, I believe they are very particular,” said Lady Piercey, with a
still more bewildering change of pronouns. “And, Gervase, there’s young
ladies there: mind that you are very nice and civil to them, but don’t
go any further than you can draw back.”

“Oh, I’ll be kept safe from the young ladies, you take your oath of
that!” he cried, with another shout of a laugh.

“For goodness gracious sake,” cried Lady Piercey, “take him away!--Meg,
can’t you take him away and give him a good talking to? You have no
nerves, and I’m nothing but a bundle of ’em. That laugh of his goes up
to the crown of my head and down to the soles of my feet. Take him off,
and let me look over his things in peace. And mind, Gervase, you’ve to
listen to what Meg says to you, just the same as if I were speaking
myself; for she knows about men, having married one, and she can give
you a deal of good advice. Go out to the beech avenue, and then I can
see you from my window, and make sure that you are paying attention to
what she says.”

When Gervase was safely outside with his patient cousin, whose part in
all these proceedings was so laborious and uninterrupted, though she was
not permitted to do much more than look on--he plucked off his hat and
flung it up into the air in triumph, executing at the same time a sort
of dance upon the gravel.

“Does she mean what she says, Meg? and how has she heard of it? and what
has made her give in? Lord! what will some folks say when they know that
it’s all with her will?”

“What is it you are going to do, Gervase? and what do you mean by ‘some
folks’?” Margaret cried.

The Softy looked at her for a moment irresolute, doubtful, it would
seem, what he should reply; and then he laughed again, more loudly than
ever, and said: “Shouldn’t you like to know?”

“Yes, I should like to know. I do not believe that they know at all what
you mean. You are too cunning for them. You are going to take some
step----”

“More than one--many steps. I’m going to London to see all that’s going
on--to see life. I told ’em so; and instead of looking curious like you,
mother, don’t you see, she knows all about it, and wants me to do it.
Mother’s a trump! She is that fond of me, she will do whatever I say.”

“The thing is, what are you going to do, Gervase? What do you mean by
seeing life?”

He laughed longer than ever, and gave her a nudge with his arm. “Oh, get
along, Meg!” he said,--“_you_ know.”

“No, Gervase; tell me. You have always been a good boy--you are not
going to do any harm?”

“I never heard it was any harm; it’s what everybody does, and rejoicings
about it, and bells ringing, and all that. Don’t you tell--I’m going----
No; I said I wouldn’t say a word, and I won’t. You’ll know when I come
back.”

“Gervase, you frighten me very much--you wouldn’t deceive your father
and mother that love you so.” She drew a long breath of alarm; then
added with relief: “But if he is met at the station and taken care
of----”

“That’s it,” said Gervase. “I’m going to be met at the station, and
everything done for me. I’ll never be left to myself any more. I’m not
very good at taking care of myself, Meg.”

“No,” she cried; “that is quite true. I am so glad you feel that,
Gervase. Then you won’t be rebellious, but do what your mother wishes,
and what her friend tells you. It will make her so happy.”

“Her friend! Who’s her friend?” said Gervase; and then the peal of his
laughter arose once more. “I like my own friend best; but my friend and
my mother’s friend being just the same, don’t you see?”

“Are they the same?” said Mrs. Osborne, thoroughly perplexed.

“There ain’t two of them that are going to meet me at the station? No?
then there’s only one. And mother’s a trump, and I’ll do everything I’m
told, and never be without some one to guide me all my life. And to
stand up for me--for I am put upon, Meg, though you don’t seem to see
it. I am; and made a jest of; and no money in my pocket; never given my
proper place. Meg, how much is mamma going to give me for my
pocket-money while I’m away?”

“I can’t tell you, Gervase. There will be your travelling money, and
probably she will send the rest to---- to be given you when you are in
town.”

“I ought to have it now in my own pocket,” said Gervase, with a cloud
upon his brow. “Do you think a man can go like a man to London town,
and no money? They are mad if they think that. Lend us something,
Meg--you’ve got a little, and no need to spend it; with everything given
you that heart can wish. Why, you never spend a penny! And I’ll pay it
all back when I come to my own.”

“I have nothing,” she said, faltering. To tell what was not strictly
true, and to refuse what her cousin asked, were things equally dreadful
to Margaret--and it was a relief to her when Lady Piercey’s window was
jerked open by a rapid hand, and the old lady’s head appeared suddenly
thrust out.

“You’re not talking to him, Meg; you’re letting him talk to you. Don’t
let us have more of that. You’re there to give him good advice, and
that’s what we expect of you. Don’t you hear?” And the window was snapt
with another emphatic jerk.

“Gervase, I am to advise you,” said Margaret, trembling, though the
situation was ludicrous enough, and she might have laughed had the case
been other than her own. The watchful eye upon her from the window, the
totally unadvisable young man by her side, were not, however, ludicrous
but dreadful to Margaret. Her sense of humour was obscured by the
piteous facts of the case: the young man entirely insensible to any
reason, and his mother, who had never lost her primitive faith that if
some one only “talked to him,” Gervase would be just as sensible as
other men. “But how can I advise you? I am troubled about what you are
going to do. I hope you will not do anything to grieve them, Gervase.
They are old people----”

“Yes,” said Gervase, with a nod and a look of wisdom; “they are pretty
old.”

“They are old people,” said Margaret, “and they have a great many things
to put up with: they have illnesses and weakness--and they have anxiety
about you.”

“They needn’t trouble their heads about me. I’ve got some one to look
after me. She said it wasn’t I,” cried Gervase with a chuckle.

“That is while you are in London; but they think of you all day long,
and are always thinking of you. You will not do anything to grieve them,
Gervase, while you are away?”

“How can I when I’m going to be looked after all the time, and somebody
to meet me at the station?” cried Gervase, with his loud laugh.

Lady Piercey was very anxious afterwards to know what advice Margaret
had given to her son. The “things” had all been looked over and packed;
and it took Lady Piercey a long time to consider what money she could
trust her son with when he went away. She had intended at first to send
some one with him to pay his railway ticket, and to send what he would
want in London to Dr. Gregson. But then, what if an accident happened?
what if Gregson failed to meet him, or appropriated the money? which was
a thing always on the cards with so poor a man, the old lady thought. It
could not be that the heir of Greyshott, Sir Giles’ son, should leave
his home penniless. She took out her cash-box, for she was the manager
of everything, and had all the money interests of Greyshott in her
hands--and took from it a five-pound note, over which she mused and
pondered long, weighing it in her hand as if that were the way of
judging. Then she put it back, and took out a ten-pound note. Ten pounds
is a great deal of money. Much good as well as much harm can be done
with ten pounds. It is such a large sum of money that, if you trust a
man with that, you may trust him with more. She took out
another--wavering, hesitating--now disposed to put it back, now laying
it with the other, poising them both in her hands. Finally, with a quick
sigh, she shut up the cash-box sharply and suddenly, and gave it to
Parsons to be put back in the cabinet, where it usually dwelt; and
folding up the notes, directed her niece to put them in an envelope.
“Twenty pounds!” she said, with a gasp. Her two supporters had been
present during all this process, and Parsons was exactly aware how much
money was to be trusted in the pockets of the Softy, and thought it
excessive. Lady Piercey sat by grimly, and looked on while the money was
enclosed in the envelope, and then she turned briskly to her companion.
“You had a long talk, Meg,” she said; “and I suppose you gave him a
great deal of advice. You ought to know, you that had as husband an
officer, for they are always in the heat of everything. What advice did
you give to my boy?”



CHAPTER XV.


Colonel Piercey arrived next day in the afternoon, Gervase having gone
away in a state of the most uproarious spirits in the morning. Margaret
had been made to accompany him to the railway, to see that his ticket
was taken properly, and that he got the right train, and was not too
late so as to miss it, or too early so as to be lingering about the
station; in which latter circumstance it seemed quite possible to his
mother that “that girl” might become aware that her prey was slipping
from her fingers, and appear upon the scene to recover him. She might
save herself the trouble, Lady Piercey thought, for the boy’s brain was
full of London, and a country lass was not likely to get much hold of
him; but still, it’s best to be on the safe side. No suggestion of
Patty’s real intentions had occurred to any one; not even in the Seven
Thorns, where they suspected much less than at Greyshott. In the little
inn it was supposed that the Softy had been, after all, too clever for
her, and had got clean away; and in the Manor it was also believed that
he had escaped from her vulgar attractions. He had got London in his
blood, he was thinking of how to enjoy himself as much as he was capable
of thinking of anything, and the Rev. Gregson would take care of that,
his mother reflected with a grim smile. And to have him safely away,
transferred to some one else’s responsibility, no longer for the moment
a trouble to any one belonging to him, filled Greyshott in general, and
his parents in particular, with a heavenly calm. The only one who was
not perfectly at ease was Mrs. Osborne, who endeavoured in vain to make
out what he meant by many of his broken expressions. Margaret was sure
that Gervase meant something which was not suspected by his family: but
she, too, believed that he had somehow cut himself adrift from Patty,
and that whatever his meaning was, in that quarter he was safe; which
showed that though she was very different from the rest of the
household, her mind, even when awakened into some anxiety and alarm, had
little more insight than theirs.

She was met upon the road by Osy and his nurse, and the little boy was
delighted to be lifted into the carriage, an unusual privilege. His
chatter was sweet to his mother’s ears. It delivered her for the moment
from those anxieties which were not hers, which she was compelled to
share without any right to them; without being permitted any real
interest. Osy was her refuge, the safeguard of her individuality as a
living woman with concerns and sentiments of her own. To put her arms
round him, to hear the sound of his little babbling voice, was enough at
first; and then she awoke with a start to the consciousness that Osy was
saying something in which there was not only meaning, but a
significance of a most alarming kind--“Movver, Movver!” the little boy
had been saying, calling her attention, which was so satisfied with him,
that it was scarcely open to what he said. He beat upon her knee with
his little fist, then climbed up on the seat and seized her by the
chin--a favourite mode he had of demanding to be listened to: “Movver!
has Cousin Gervase don to be marrwed? Where has he don to be
marrwed--tell me; tell me, Movver!”

Mrs. Osborne started with a sudden perception of what he meant at last.
“Osy, you must not be so silly; Gervase has gone to London to see all
the fine things--the shops, don’t you remember? and the theatres, and
the beautiful horses, and the beautiful ladies in the park.”

“Yes, I wemember; there was one beau’ful lady with an organ, that singed
in the street. But you said I couldn’t marrwey her, I was too little.
Will Cousin Gervase marrwey a lady like that?”

“Hush, child! he is not going to marry at all.”

“Oh yes, yes, Movver! for he telled me. He made me dive him my big
silver penny that Uncle Giles dave me, and he said, ‘I’m doing to be
marrwed, Osy.’ I dave it to him for a wedding present, like you dave
Miss Dohnson your silver bells.”

“Osy, don’t say such things! It is nurse that has put this nonsense into
your head.”

“’Tisn’t nurse, and ’tisn’t nonsense, Movver!” cried the child with
indignation. “Will he bring home the beau’ful lady, or will he do away
with her, and live in another place? I hope he will go and live in
another place.”

“Osy, this is all an invention, my little boy. You must be dreaming.
Don’t say such things before any one, or you will make Uncle Giles and
Aunt Piercey very unhappy. It is one of your little stories that you
make up.”

“It isn’t no story, Movver! I never make up stories about Cousin
Gervase; and he tooked my big silver penny, and then I dave it him for a
wedding present; for he said ‘I’m doing to be marrwed.’ He did; he
did--Movver! I hope he’ll do away and live in another house. I dave it
to him,” said Osy, with a little moisture on his eyelashes. “But he
tooked it first. It was my big, big, silver penny, that is worth a
great lot. I hope----”

“Hush, Osy: don’t you know, my little boy, that Cousin Gervase is to his
mother what you are to me? She would not like him to go away.”

“I heard Uncle Giles say, ‘T’ank God, we’ve dot a little time to
breathe,’ and Aunt Piercey dave a great, great, big puff, and sat down
as if she was t’ankful, too. It is only you, Movver, that looks sad.”

“Osy, did you ever hear of the little pitchers that have long ears?”

“I know what it means, too,” said the child. “It means me; but I tan’t
help it when people say fings. Movver, are you fond of Cousin Gervase,
that you looks like that? like you were doing to cry?”

Was she fond of Gervase, poor boy? Margaret could not even claim that
excuse for being sad. Was she fond of any of the people by whom she was
surrounded, who held her in subjection? At least, she was terribly
perturbed by the cloud that hung over them--the possible trouble that
was about to befall them. Poor Gervase was not very much to build hopes
or wishes upon, but he was all they had; and if it were possible that he
was meditating any such steps, what a terrible blow for his father and
mother!--a stroke which they would feel to the bottom of their hearts.
For himself, was it, indeed, so sad? Was it not, perhaps, the best thing
he could do? Her mind went over the possibilities as by a lightning
flash. Patty--if it was Patty--if there was anything in it--was probably
the best wife he could get. She was energetic and determined; she would
take care of him for her own sake. And who else would marry the Softy?
Margaret’s mind leapt on further to possible results, and to a sudden
perception that little Osy, had he ever had any chance of succession,
would be hopelessly set aside by this step, and the only possible reward
of her own slavery be swept from her horizon. This forced itself upon
her, through the crowd of other thoughts, with a chill to her heart. But
what chance had Osy ever had? And who could put any confidence in the
statement of Gervase to the child? Perhaps it was only “his fun.” The
little theft of the money was nothing remarkable; for Gervase, who never
had any money, was always on the look-out for unconsidered trifles,
which he borrowed eagerly. Perhaps this was all. Perhaps the half-witted
young man meant nothing but a joke--one of his kind of jokes--for why
should he have betrayed himself to little Osy? On the other hand, there
were those allusions to some one who was to meet him, which he had
laughed at so boisterously, and which she could not imagine referred to
Dr. Gregson. Margaret’s bewilderment grew greater the more she thought.

“Osy,” she said, as they turned up the avenue, “you must forget all
this, for it is nonsense.”

“About my big, big, silver penny?” said the child, the water now
standing in his eyes; for the more he thought of his loss, which he had
carried off in childish pride with a high hand at first, the more Osy
felt it. “It is not nonsense, Movver,” he said, “for it is true.”

“About what Cousin Gervase said? It was very wrong of him, but that is
not true, Osy. He must have said it for a joke. Don’t say anything.
Promise me, dear! Not a word.”

“Not to you, Movver?” said the little boy, two big tears dropping from
his eyes; “for I tan’t, tan’t bear to lose my silver penny, and I would
not mind if it was a wedding present. I want my silver penny back!”

“We’ll find you another one, dear, that will be just as good.”

“But it won’t be my own one, and I want my own one,” Osy said. He was
still sobbing with long-drawn childish reverberation of woe when they
got to the door; but there he took a great resolution. “I’ll fink it was
a wedding present,” he cried, “and then I sha’n’t mind. I’ll fink he is
going to be marrwed, and I’ll never say a word, because nobody knows but
me.”

This valorous resolve exercised a great control, and yet was very hard
to keep up during the long afternoon which followed. It rained in the
later part of the day, and Sir Giles could not go out, so that Osy,
restored to all the privileges which had been a little curtailed during
Gervase’s temporary reign, became once more a leading member of the
party. And how often that important secret came bursting to the little
fellow’s lips! But he kept his word, like a gentleman. Margaret heard
him singing it to himself as he capered about the room on Sir Giles’
stick, “Doing to be marrwed, doing to be marrwed,” which relieved his
mind without betraying his knowledge. It even attracted Sir Giles’
attention, who called to him to know what he was singing.

“It’s a silly rhyme he has just picked up,” said Margaret, interposing,
which was a thing the old people did not like.

“He can tell me himself,” said Sir Giles; “he’s quite clever enough.”

“No, it isn’t a silly rhyme,” said little Osy; “it’s me myself, that am
a gweat prince riding upon a noble steed, and I’m doing to be
marrwed--I’m doing to be marrwed!”

“And who’s the bride, Osy; who’s the bride?” said Sir Giles, in high
good humour.

“It is a beau’ful lady in London that singed in the streets, with a big
napkin on her head. But Movver said I was too little to marrwey her. I’m
a man now, and a soldier and a gweat, gweat knight; and I can marrwey
any one I please.”

“That’s the thing!” said old Sir Giles; “don’t you be tied to your
mother’s apron-strings, my boy. The ladies always want to rule over us
men, don’t they? and some of us must make a stand, you know.” The old
gentleman laughed at his joke till he cried, the old lady sitting grimly
by. But she, too, smiled upon the little rebel: “You’ll not find him
such an easy one to guide when he grows up, Meg,” she said, nodding her
head. “He’s got the Piercey temper, for all it’s so amusing now. It
ain’t amusing when they grow up,” said Lady Piercey, shaking her head.
But she, too, encouraged Osy to defy his mother. He was a pretty sight
careering round the dim library like a stray sunbeam, his little
laughing face flushed with play and praise. Had the child been clever
enough to invent that little fiction, innocent baby as he looked?--or
had he really forgotten, as children will, and believed himself the hero
of his little song? But this was one of the mysteries that seven years
can hide from everybody as well as seventy, and Margaret could not tell.
Now that Gervase was gone the boy seemed to fall into his place again,
the darling of everybody, the centre of all their thoughts. And who
could tell what might happen? Osy was not the next in succession, but he
was not far out of the line. Margaret tried to put all such thoughts out
of her mind, but it was difficult to do so, with the sight of Osy’s
triumph and sway over them--two old people who were so fond of him and
could do so much for him--before their eyes.

There came a moment, however, no further off than that evening, when
every furtive hope of this description died at a blow out of Margaret
Osborne’s heart. It was not that Osy was less admired and petted, or
that he had offended or transgressed in any way. It was simply the
arrival at Greyshott of Colonel Gerald Piercey that had this effect. It
was she who met him first as he came into the hall, springing down from
the dogcart that had brought him from the station, and at the first
glance her heart had died within her. Not that there was anything
alarming in his aspect. He had attained, with his forty years, to an air
of distinction which Margaret did not remember in him; and a look of
command, of easy superiority, of the habit of being obeyed. This habit
is curiously impressive to those who do not possess it. The very sound
of his step as he came in was enough. Not a man to lose anything on
which his hand had once closed, not one to risk or relinquish his
rights, whatever they might be. Osy, by the side of this man! Her hopes,
which had never ventured to put themselves into words, died on the
moment a natural death. She advanced to meet the stranger, as in duty
bound, being the only valid member of the family, and said, holding out
her hand with a smile which she felt to be apologetic: “You are welcome
to Greyshott, Cousin Gerald. My uncle and aunt are neither of them very
well, and Gervase is from home. You don’t remember me. I am Margaret
Osborne, your cousin, too.”

“I remember you,” he said, “very well; but pardon me if I did not
remember your face. I fear that is a bad compliment for a lady.”

“Not at all,” she said; “a good compliment: for I am more, I hope, than
my face.”

He did not understand the look she gave him, a wondering look with an
appeal in it. Would he be good to Osy? Margaret felt as if this man were
coming in like a conqueror--sweeping all the old, and feeble, and
foolish of the house away before him, that he might step in and reign.
He, on his side, had no such thought. He had come to pay a duty visit,
moved thereto by his father. He had not been at Greyshott for many
years; he remembered little, and thought less, of Gervase, who had been
a child on his previous visit. That he should ever be master of the
place, or sweep anybody away, was far from his thoughts. He followed
into the library the slim, serious figure of this middle-aged woman in a
black gown, horrified to think that this was Meg Piercey, the lively
girl of his recollection. This Meg Piercey! It was true that he
remembered her very well, a madcap of a girl, ready for any mischief;
but this was certainly not the face he remembered, the young, daring,
buoyant figure. It might have wounded Margaret, accustomed as she was to
be considered as nobody, if she had been aware of the consternation with
which he regarded her. A middle-aged woman! though not so old by a good
many years as himself, who was still conscious of being young.

The visit, however, began very successfully. As he had no _arrière
pensée_, he was quite at his ease with the old people whom he neither
meant to sweep away nor to succeed. He received, quite naturally, the
long and elaborate apologies of Lady Piercey in respect to her son.

“Gervase will be very sorry to miss you, Gerald,--he’s in town; there is
not much to amuse a young man in the country at this season of the year.
He’s not fond of garden parties and so forth, the only things that are
going on, and not many of them yet. He prefers town. Perhaps it isn’t to
be wondered at. We have all liked to see a little life in our day.”

What “life” could it have been that Lady Piercey in her day had liked to
see? the new-comer asked himself, with an involuntary smile. But he took
the explanation with the easiest good humour, thinking no evil.

“Lucky fellow!” he said; “he has the best of it. I was out in India all
my young time, and saw only a very different kind of life.”

“Come,” said Sir Giles, “you amuse yourselves pretty well out there.
Don’t give yourself airs, Gerald.”

“Oh, yes; we amuse ourselves more or less,” he said, with a pleasant
laugh. “Enough to make us envy a young swell like Gervase, who, I
suppose, has all the world at his feet and nothing to do.”

There was a strange pause in the room; a sort of furtive look between
the ladies; a sound--he could not tell what--from Sir Giles. Colonel
Piercey had a faint comprehension that he had, as he said to himself,
put his foot in it. What had he said that was not the right thing to
say? He caught Margaret’s eye, and there was a warning in it, a sort of
appeal; but he had not an idea what its meaning was.

“I am sure,” said Lady Piercey, with a voice out of which she vainly
endeavoured to keep the little break and whimper which was habitual to
her when she was moved, “my boy might have all the world at his feet--if
he was that kind, Gerald. But he’s not that kind; he’s of a different
sort. He takes things in a---- in a kind of philosophical way.”

“Humph!” said Sir Giles, pushing back his chair. “Meg, Gerald will not
mind if I have my backgammon. I’m an old fogey, you see, my boy, with
long days to get through, and not able to get out. I’m past amusement. I
only kill the time as well as I can now.”

“I’m very fond of a game of backgammon, too, Uncle Giles.”

“Are you, boy? why, that’s something like. Meg, I’ll give you a holiday.
Ladies are very nice, but they never know the rules of a game,” the
ungrateful old gentleman said.



CHAPTER XVI.


That evening in the library at Greyshott was the most cheerful that had
been known for a long time; Colonel Piercey made himself thoroughly at
home. He behaved to the old people as if they had been the most genial
friends of his youth. He told them stories of India and his experiences
there. He played backgammon with Sir Giles, and let him win the game as
cleverly as Dunning did, and with more grace. He admired Lady Piercey’s
work and suggested a change in the shading, at which both she and
Parsons exclaimed with delight that it would make all the difference! He
was delightful to everybody except Margaret, of whom he took very little
notice, which was a strange thing in so apparently chivalrous and kind a
man, seeing in what a subject condition she was kept, how much required
of her, and so little accorded to her, in the strange family party of
which the two servants formed an almost unfailing part. Margaret felt
herself left out in the cold with a completeness which surprised her,
much as she was accustomed to the feeling that she was of no account.
She had no desire that Gerald Piercey should pity her; but it was
curious to see how he ignored her, never turning even a look her way,
addressing her only when necessity required. It has always been a theory
of mine that there exists between persons of opposite sexes who are no
longer to be classed within the lines of youth, middle-aged people, or
inclining that way, a repulsion instead of an attraction. A young man
tolerates a girl even when she does not please him, because she is a
woman; but a man of forty or so dislikes his contemporary on this
account; is impatient of her; feels her society a burden, almost an
affront to him. He calls her old, and he calls himself young; perhaps
that has something to do with it. Colonel Piercey was not shabby enough
to entertain consciously any such feeling; but he shared it
unconsciously with many other men. He thought the less of her for
accepting that position, for submitting to be the _souffre-douleur_ of
the household. He suspected her, instinctively, of having designs of--he
knew not what kind,--of being underhand, of plotting her own advantage
somehow, to the harm of the two old tyrants who exacted so much from
her. Would she continue to hold such a place, to expose herself to so
much harsh treatment, if it were not for some end of her own? It was
true that he could not make out what that end would be; that there
should be any possibility of the child (who was delightful) supplanting
or succeeding Gervase, was not an idea that ever entered his mind.
Gervase was a young man of whom he knew nothing, whom he supposed to be
like other young men. And, after Gervase came the old General, Gerald
Piercey’s father, and himself. There was no possibility of any intruder
in that place. He supposed that it was their money she must be
after--to get them to leave all they could to her. Meg Piercey! the girl
whom he could not help remembering still, who was not in the least like
this pale person: to think that years and poverty should have brought
that bright creature to this!

“I almost wonder, Gerald,” said Lady Piercey, as she sat among her silks
with an air of ease diffused over all the surroundings, working a little
by turns and pausing to watch benignantly the process of the
backgammon,--“I almost wonder that you did not meet my boy at the
station. His train would come in just before yours left, and I have been
thinking since then that you might have met. He was to meet an old
friend, an excellent old clergyman, with whom he was to spend a few
days. Though he is full of spirit, my Gervase is very fond of all his
old friends.”

“Humph!” said Sir Giles; but that was only perhaps because at that
moment he made an injudicious move.

“I should not have known him had I met him,” said the Colonel, carefully
making a move more injudicious still, to the delight of Sir Giles; “you
forget he was only a child when I was here. I saw an old clergyman
roaming about, looking into all the carriages: was that your friend, I
wonder? He had found no one up to that time.”

“You sent Gregson after him then, my lady?” said Sir Giles; “though I
said it wasn’t fair.”

“Why Sir Giles says it wasn’t fair is this, Gerald,” said Lady Piercey;
“and you can judge between us. He thought because the boy was going to
enjoy himself he shouldn’t be troubled with old friends; but I thought a
good judicious old clergyman, that had known him from his cradle,
couldn’t be in any one’s way.”

“I see your point of view,” said Colonel Gerald, “but I think for my
part I agree with Uncle Giles. At Gervase’s age I should have thought
the old clergyman a bore.”

“Ah! but my Gervase is one in a thousand,” Lady Piercey said, nodding
her head and pursing up her lips.

“I saw another group at the station that amused me,” said Gerald: “a
young country-fellow with something of the look of a gentleman, and a
girl all clad in gorgeous apparel, who had not in the least the look of
a lady. They got out of the train arm-in-arm, he holding her just as if
he feared she might run away--which was the last thing I should say she
had any intention of doing. Is there any _hobereau_ about here with a
taste for rustic beauties? They were newly married, I should think, or
going to be married. He, in a loud state of delight, and she---- I
should think she had made a good stroke of business, that little girl.”

“I don’t know of any name like Hobero,” said Lady Piercey; “but there
are a great many stations between this and London. I dare say they
didn’t come from hereabouts at all. Girls of that class are dreadful.
They dress so that you don’t know what kind they are--neither flesh nor
fish nor red herring, as the proverb is--and their manners--but they
haven’t got any. They think nothing is too good for them.”

“The woman in this case, I should say, knew very well that the young
fellow was too good for her, but had no thought of giving him up. And he
was wild with delight, a silly sort of fellow--not all there.” Colonel
Piercey’s looks were bent unconsciously as he spoke upon the
writing-table which stood behind Sir Giles’ chair, and on which some
photographs were arranged; and from the partial darkness there suddenly
shone out upon him, from the whiteness of a large vignette, a face which
he recognised. He cried, “Hallo!” in spite of himself as it seemed, and
then, with a sudden start, looked at Margaret. She had grown pale, and
as he looked at her she grew red, and lifted a warning finger. The
Colonel sank back upon his seat with a consternation he could scarcely
disguise.

“What’s the matter, Gerald?” said Sir Giles, who was arranging steadily
upon the board the black and white men for another game.

“Only the sight of that old cabinet which I remember so well,” cried the
soldier, with a curious tone in his voice. “It used to be one of our
favourite puzzles to find out the secret drawers. When Mrs. Osborne was
Miss Piercey,” he continued, to give him an excuse for looking towards
her again. Margaret had bent her head over her work. Was that what it
meant? he asked himself. Was this designing woman in the secret? Was
this her plan to harm her cousin, and get him into trouble with his
parents? His face grew stern as he looked at her. He thought there was
guilt in every line of her attitude. She could not face him, or give
any account of the meaning in her eyes.

“Ay, it’s a queer old thing,” said Sir Giles; “many a one has tried his
wits at it, and had to give up. It’s very different from your modern
things.”

“You should see my Gervase at it,” said Lady Piercey. “He pulls out one
drawer after another, as if he had made it all. I never could fathom it
for my part, though I have sat opposite to it in this chair for
five-and-thirty years. But Gervase has it all at his fingers’ ends.”

“Pooh! he’s known it all his life,” said Sir Giles. “Gerald, my fine
fellow, we’ve just time for another before I go to bed.”

“Surely, Uncle,” said Gerald; but it seemed to him that he had become
all at once conscious of another game that was being played; a tragic
game, with hearts and lives instead of bits of ivory--a hapless young
fellow in the hands of two women, one of whom he had been made to
believe he loved, in order to carry out the schemes of the other who was
planning and scheming behind backs to deprive him of his natural rights.
Imagination made a great leap to attain to such a fully developed
theory, but it did so with a spring. Colonel Piercey thought that the
presence of this woman, pale, self-restrained, bearing every
humiliation, was accounted for now.

“Why did Gerald Piercey look at you so, Meg?” asked Lady Piercey. She
had said she felt tired, and risen and said good night earlier than
usual, seizing her niece’s arm, not waiting till Parsons should come at
her ordinary hour. She was fatigued with all the strain about Gervase;
getting him off at the right hour, and getting all his “things” in
order; and making out that new wonderful character for him to dazzle the
visitor. She had a right indeed to be tired, having gone through so much
that was exciting, and succeeded in everything, especially the last of
her efforts. “Why did he look at you and talk that nonsense about the
old cabinet? Something had come into his head.”

“I supposed he thought, Aunt, of the time when we used to make fun over
it, and ask all the visitors to find it out.”

“Perhaps he did,” said the old lady; “but though he looked at you that
once, you needn’t expect that he’s going to pay attention to you, Meg.
He thinks you’re dreadfully gone off. I saw that as soon as he came into
the room. You can see it in a moment from the way a man turns his head.”

“I don’t doubt that he is quite right,” said Margaret, with a little
spirit.

“Oh, yes; he’s right enough. You’re a very different girl from what you
used to be,” said Lady Piercey. “But you don’t like to hear it, Meg; for
you don’t give me half the support you generally do. I don’t feel your
arm at all. It is as if I had nothing to lean on. I wish Parsons was
here.”

“Will you sit down for a moment and rest, and I will call Parsons?”

“Why should I rest---- between the library and the stairs? I want to get
to my room; I want to get to bed. What---- what are you standing there
for, not giving me your arm? I’ll---- I’ll be on my nose---- if you
don’t mind. Give me---- your arm, Meg. Meg!” The old lady gave a dull
cry, and moved her left arm about as if groping for some support,
though the other was clasped strongly in that of Margaret, who was
holding up her aunt’s large wavering person with all the might she had.
As she cried out for help, Lady Piercey sank down like a tower falling,
dragging her companion with her; yet turning a last look of reproach
upon her, and moving her lips, from which no sound came, with what
seemed like upbraiding. There was a rush from all quarters at Margaret’s
cry. Parsons and Dunning came flying, wiping their mouths, from the
merry supper-table, where they had been discussing Mr. Gervase--and the
other servants, in a crowd, and Gerald Piercey from the room they had
just left. Margaret had disengaged herself as best she could from the
fallen mass of flesh, and had got Lady Piercey’s head upon her shoulder,
from which that large pallid countenance looked forth with wide open
eyes, with a strange stare in them, some living consciousness mingling
with the stony look of the soul in prison. Except that stare, and a
movement of the lips, which were unable to articulate, and a slight
flicker of movement in the left hand, still groping, as it seemed, for
something to clutch at, she was like a woman made of stone.

And all in a moment, without any warning; without a sign that any one
understood! Parsons, wailing, said that she wasn’t surprised. Her lady
had done a deal too much getting Mr. Gervase off; she had been worried
and troubled about him, poor dear innocent! She hadn’t slept a wink for
two nights, groaning and turning in her bed. “But, for goodness gracious
sake!” cried Parsons, “some one go back to master, or we’ll have him on
our ’ands, too. Mrs. Osborne, Lord bless you! go to master. You can’t be
no use here; we knows what to do--Dunning and me knows what to do. Go
back to Sir Giles--go back to Sir Giles! or we won’t answer for none of
their lives!”

“Cousin Gerald, go to my uncle. Tell him she’s a little faint. I will
come directly and back you up, as soon as they can lift her. Go!” cried
Margaret, with a severity that was not, perhaps, untouched, even at this
dreadful moment, by a consciousness of the opinion he was supposed to
have formed of her. It was as if she had stamped her foot at him, as she
half-sat, half-lay, partially crushed by the fall of the old lady’s
heavy body, with the great death-like face surmounted by the red ribbons
of the cap laid upon her breast. Those red ribbons haunted several minds
for a long time after; they seemed to have become, somehow, the most
tragic feature of the scene.

Colonel Piercey was not a man to interfere with a business that was not
his. He saw that the attendants knew what they were about, and left them
without another word.

Sir Giles was fuming a little over the interruption to his game. “What’s
the matter?” he said, testily. “You shouldn’t go and leave a game
unfinished for some commotion among the women. You don’t know ’em as
well as I do. Come along, come along; you’ve almost made me forget my
last move. What did Meg Osborne cry out for, eh? My old lady is sharp on
her sometimes. She must have given her a stinger that time; but Meg
isn’t the girl to cry out.”

“It was a---- stumble, I think,” said the Colonel.

“Ay, ay! something of that kind. I know ’em, Gerald. I’m not easily put
out. Come along and finish the game.”

Margaret came in, some time after, looking very pale. She went behind
her uncle’s chair, and put her hand on his shoulder, “May I wheel you to
your room, Uncle, if your game’s over, instead of Dunning? He asked me
to tell you he was coming directly, and that it was time for you to go
to bed.”

“Confound Dunning,” cried Sir Giles, in his big rumbling voice. “I’m
game to go on as long as Frank here will play. I’ve not had such a night
for ever so long. He’s a good player, but not good enough to beat me,”
he said, with a muffled long odd laugh that reverberated in repeated
rolls like thunder.

The Colonel looked up at her to get his instructions. He did not like
her, and yet he recognised in her the authority of the moment. And
Margaret no longer tried to conciliate him, as at first, but issued
forth her orders with a kind of sternness. “Let me wheel your chair,
sir,” he said; “you’ll give me my revenge to-morrow? Three games out of
four!--is that what you call entertaining a stranger, to beat him all
along the line the first night?”

Sir Giles laughed loud and long in those rumbling, long-drawn peals. His
laugh was like the red ribbons, and pointed the sudden tragedy. “You
shall have your revenge,” he said; “and plenty of it--plenty of it! You
shall cry off before I will. I love a good game. If it wasn’t for a good
game, now and then, I don’t know what would become of me. As for Meg,
she’s not worth naming; and my boy, Gervase, did his best, poor chap;
but between you and me, Gerald, whatever my lady says, my boy
Gervase--poor chap, poor chap!” Here the old gentleman’s laughter broke
down as usual in the weakness of a sudden sob or two. “He’s not what I
should like to see him, my poor boy Gervase,” he cried.

He was taken to his room after a while, and soothed into cheerfulness,
and had his drink compounded for him by Margaret, till Dunning came,
pale, too, and excited, whispering to Mrs. Osborne that the doctor was
to come directly, and that there was no change, before he approached his
master, with whom, a few minutes afterwards, he was heard talking, and
even laughing, by the Colonel, who remained in the library, pacing up
and down with the painful embarrassment of a stranger in a new house, in
the midst of a family tragedy, but not knowing what part he had to play
in it, or where he should go, or what he should do. Margaret had left
him without even a good-night, to return to the room upstairs, where
Lady Piercey lay motionless and staring, with the red ribbons still
crowning her awful brow.



CHAPTER XVII.


And where was Gervase? His mother lay in the same condition all the next
day. There was little hope that she would ever come out of it. The
doctor said calmly that it was what he had looked for, for a long time.
There had been “a stroke” before, though it was slight and had not been
talked about; but Parsons knew very well what he was afraid of, and
should have kept her mistress from excitement. Parsons, too, allowed
that she knew it might come at any time. But Lord! a thing that may come
at any time, you don’t ever think it’s going to come now, Parsons said;
and who was she to control her lady as was the head of everything? It
was allowed on all sides that to control Lady Piercey would have been a
difficult thing indeed, especially where anything about Gervase was
concerned.

“Spoiled the boy from the beginning, that was what she always did,” said
Sir Giles, mumbling. “I’d have kept a stronger hand over him, Gerald;
but what could I do, with his mother making it all up to him, as soon as
my back was turned?”

Colonel Piercey heard a great deal about Gervase that he had never been
intended to hear. Lady Piercey’s fiction, which she had made up so
elaborately about the young man of fashion, crumbled all to pieces, poor
lady; while one after another made their confidences to him. The only
one who said nothing was Margaret. She was overwhelmed with occupation;
all the charge of the house, which Lady Piercey had kept in her own
hands, falling suddenly upon her shoulders, and without any co-operation
from the much-indulged old servants, who were all servile to their
imperious mistress, but very insubordinate to any government but hers.
It became a serious matter, however, as the days passed by, and the old
lady remained like a soul in prison, unable to move or to speak, yet
staring with ever watchful eyes at the door, looking, they all felt, for
some one who did not come. Where was Gervase? There was more
telegraphing at Greyshott than there ever had been since such a thing
was possible. Mr. Gregson replied to say that he had not found Gervase
at the train, and had not seen him, news which brought everything to a
standstill. Where, then, had he gone? They had no address to send to, no
clue by which he might be traced out. He had disappeared altogether,
nobody could tell where. Colonel Piercey’s first impulse had been to
leave the distracted family, thus thrown into the depths of domestic
distress, but Sir Giles clung to him with piteous helplessness,
imploring him not to go.

“After my boy Gervase, there’s nobody but you,” he cried, “and he’s
away, God knows where, and whom should I have to hold on by if you were
to go too? There’s Meg, to be sure: but she’s got enough to do with my
lady. Stay, Gerald, stay, for goodness’ sake. I’ve nobody, nobody, on my
side of the house but you; and if anything were to happen,” cried the
poor old gentleman, breaking down, “who have I to give orders, or to see
to things? I don’t know what is to become of me if you won’t stay.”

“I’ll stay, of course, Uncle Giles, if I can be of any use,” said
Colonel Piercey.

“God bless you, my lad!” cried Sir Giles, now ready to sob for
satisfaction, as he had before been for trouble. “Now I can face things,
if I’ve you to stand by me.”

The household in general took heart when it was known he was to stay.

“Oh! Colonel Piercey, if you’d but look up Mr. Gervase for my lady?--she
can’t neither die nor get better till she sees her boy,” said the
weeping Parsons; and “Colonel Piercey, Sir,” said Dunning, “Sir Giles do
look to you so, as he never looked to any gentleman before. I’ll get him
to do whatever’s right and good for him if so be as he knows you’re
here.” Thus, both master and servants seized upon him. And yet what
could he do? He could not go out and search for Gervase whom he had
never seen, knowing absolutely nothing of his cousin’s haunts, nor of
the people among whom he was likely to be. And he could not consult the
servants on this point. There was but one person who could give him
information, and she kept out of his way.

On the evening of the second day, however, Margaret came into the
library after Sir Giles had been wheeled off to bed. It happened that
Colonel Piercey was standing before the writing-table, examining that
very photograph which he had discovered with such surprise, and which
had made him break off so quickly in his story on the night when Lady
Piercey was taken ill. She came suddenly up to him where he stood with
the photograph, and laid her hand on his arm. He had not heard her step,
and started, almost dropping it in his surprise. “Mrs. Osborne!” he
exclaimed.

“You are looking at Gervase’s picture? Cousin Gerald, help us if you
can. I don’t know how much or how little she feels, but it is Gervase my
aunt is lying looking for--Gervase, who doesn’t know she is ill even if
he had the thought. Was it him you saw with--with the woman? I have not
liked to ask you, but I can’t put it off any longer. Was it Gervase? Oh!
for pity’s sake, speak!”

“How should I know,” he said, “if you don’t know?”

“Know? I! What way have I of knowing? You saw him, or you seemed to
think you did.”

“It was only for a moment. I had never seen him before; I might be
mistaken. It seemed to me that it was the same kind of face. But how can
I speak on the glimpse of a moment? I might be quite wrong.”

“You are very cautious,” she cried at last, “oh, very cautious!--though
it is a matter of life and death. Won’t you help us, then, or can’t you
help us? If this is so, it might give a clue. There is a girl--who has
disappeared also, I have just found out. Oh! Cousin Gerald, you know
what he is?--you must have heard enough to know: not a madman, nor even
an imbecile, yet not like other people. He might be imposed upon--he
might be carried away. There was something strange about him before he
went. He said things which I could not understand. But they suspected
nothing.”

“Was it not your duty,” said Gerald Piercey, almost sternly, “to tell
them--if they suspected nothing, as you say?”

“You speak to me very strangely,” she said with a forced smile; “as if I
were in the wrong, anyhow. What could I tell them? That I was uneasy,
and not satisfied? My aunt would have asked what did it matter if I were
satisfied or not?--and Uncle Giles!” She stopped, and resumed in a
different tone, “And the girl has gone up to London from the Seven
Thorns--so far as I can make out, on the same day.”

“What sort of a girl?”

Margaret described her as well as she was able.

“I cannot give you many details. I think she is pretty: brown hair and
eyes, very neat and nice in her dress, though my aunt thinks it beyond
her station. I think, on the whole, a nice-looking girl--not tall.”

“The description would answer most young women that one sees.”

“It is possible--there is nothing remarkable. She looks clever and
watchful, and a little defiant. But I did not mean you to go into the
streets to look for Patty. I thought you might see whether my
description agreed.”

“Mrs. Osborne, perhaps you will tell me what you suppose to have
happened, and what there is that I can do.”

“If we are to be on such formal terms,” said Margaret, colouring deeply,
“yes, Colonel Piercey, I will tell you. I suppose, or rather, I fear,
that Gervase may have gone away with Patty Hewitt. She is quite a
respectable girl. She would not compromise herself; therefore----”

“You think he has married her?”

“I think most likely she must have married him--or intends to do it. But
that takes time. They could not have banns called, or other arrangements
made----”

“They could have a special licence.”

“Ah! but that costs money. They would not have money, either of them. I
have been trying to make inquiries quietly. But time is passing, and his
poor mother! It would be better to consent to anything,” said Margaret,
“than to have her die without seeing him; and perhaps if he were found,
the pressure on the brain might relax. No, I don’t know if that is
possible; I am no doctor. I only want to satisfy her. She is his mother!
Whatever he is, he is more to her than any one else in the world.”

“She does not seem very kind to you, that you should think so much of
that.”

“Who said she was not kind to me? You take a great deal upon yourself,
Colonel Piercey, to be a distant cousin!”

“I am the next-of-kin,” he said. “I’d like to protect these poor old
people--and it is my duty--from any plot there may be against them.”

“Plot--against them?” She stared at him for a moment with eyes that
dilated with astonishment. Then she shook her head.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she said. “If you will not help, I must do
what I can by myself. And you are free on your side to inquire, and I
hope will do it, and take such steps as may seem to you good. The thing
now is to find Gervase for his mother. At another moment,” said
Margaret, raising her head, “you will perhaps explain to me what you
mean by this tone--towards me.”

She turned her back upon him without another word, and walked away,
leaving Colonel Piercey not very comfortable. He asked himself uneasily
what right he had to suspect her?--what he suspected her of?--as he
stood and watched her crossing the hall. It was a sign of the agitation
in the house, that all the doors seemed to stand open, the centre of the
family existence having shifted somehow from the principal rooms
downstairs to some unseen room above, where the mistress of the house
lay. What did he suspect Meg Piercey of? What had he against her? When
he asked himself this, it appeared that all he had against her was that
she was a dependent, a widow, a middle-aged person--one of those wrecks
which encumber the shores of life, which ought to have gone down, or to
be broken up, not to strew the margins of existence with unnecessary and
incapable things, making demands upon feeling and sympathy which might
be much better expended elsewhere. Colonel Piercey was not a hard man by
nature: he was, in fact, rather too open to the claims of charity, and
had expended too much, not too little, upon widows and orphans in his
day. But it had stirred up all the angry elements in his nature to see
Meg Piercey in that condition which was not natural to her. She ought to
have died long ago along with her husband, or she ought to have a
position of her own: to see her here in that posture of dependence, in
that black gown, with that child, living, as he said to himself harshly,
upon charity, and accepting all the penalties, was more than he could
bear. There is a great deal to be said for the Suttee, though a
humanitarian government has put an end to it. It is so much more
dignified for a woman. To a man of fine feelings, it is a painful thing
to see how a person whose natural rôle is that of a princess, a
dispenser of help to others, should come down herself into the rank of
the beggar, because of the death of, probably, a very inferior being to
whom she was married. It degraded her altogether in the scale of being.
A princess has noble qualities, large aims, and stands above the
crowd--a dependant does quite the reverse. Scheming and plotting are the
natural breath of the latter; and that a woman should let herself come
down to that wilfully, rather than die and be done with it, which would
be so much more natural and dignified! Colonel Piercey was aware that
his thoughts were very fantastic, and yet this is how they were--he
could not help himself. He was angry with Margaret. It was not the place
she was born to; a sort of Abigail about the backstairs, existing by the
caprice of a disagreeable old woman. Oh, no! it was not a thing that a
man could put up with. And, of course, she must have sunk to the level
of her kind.

This was why he suspected her. The question remained, What did he
suspect her of? And this was still more difficult to answer. Such a
woman, of course, would live by sowing mischief in a family; by hurting
in the most effectual way the superiors who kept her down, and were so
little considerate of her. And their son was the way in which she could
most effectively do this. Gerald Piercey had various thoughts rising in
his mind about this young man, who probably was not at all fit to hold
the family property and succeed Sir Giles in its honours. There was one
point of view from which Colonel Piercey could not forget that he
himself was the next-of-kin--that which made him, in his own eyes, the
champion of Gervase--his determined defender against every assault.
Perhaps the very strength of this feeling might push him beyond what was
right and just; but it would be in the way of supporting and protecting
his weak-minded cousin. That was a point upon which, naturally, he could
have no doubt. If Meg Piercey was against him, it was Gerald Piercey’s
part to defend him. But the means were a little doubtful. He was not
clear whether Meg was helping Gervase to marry unsuitably, to spite his
parents, or whether her intention was to prevent this marriage, in order
to deprive him of his happiness and the natural protection which the
support of a clever wife might afford to the half-witted young man.
Thus, he had a difficult part to play; having first to find out what
Margaret’s scope and meaning was, and then to set himself to defeat it.
He had been but three days in the house, and what a tangled web he was
involved in!--to be the Providence of all these people, old and young,
whom he knew so little, yet was so closely connected with; and to defeat
the evil genius, the enemy in the guise of a friend, whom he alone was
clear-sighted enough to divine. But she puzzled him all the same. She
had looks that were not those of a deceiver; and when she had raised her
head and told him that at another moment she would demand an explanation
of what his tone meant, something like a shade of alarm passed through
the soldier’s mind. He would not have been alarmed, you may be sure, if
Margaret had threatened him with a champion, as in the older days.
Bois-Guilbert was not afraid of Ivanhoe. But, when it is the woman
herself who asks an explanation, and his objections have to be stated in
full words, to her alone, facing him for herself, that is a different
matter. It may well make a man look pale.



CHAPTER XVIII.


The next morning after this, Gerald Piercey found himself in the front
of the Seven Thorns. He had not known what it was: whether a hamlet, or
a farm, or what he actually found it to be, a roadside inn. The aspect
of the place was more attractive than usual. It was lying full in the
morning sunshine; a great country waggon, with its white covering, and
fine, heavily-built, but well-groomed horses, standing before the door,
concentrating the light in its great hood. One of the horses was white,
which made it a still more shining object in the midst of the red-brown
road. The old thorns were full in the sunshine, which softened their
shabby antiquity, and made the gnarled roots and twisted branches
picturesque. The long, low fabric of the house was bathed in the same
light, which pervaded the whole atmosphere with a purifying and
embellishing touch. The west side, looking over the walled garden, which
extended for some distance along the road, though in the shade, showed a
row of open windows, at which white curtains fluttered, giving an air of
inhabitation to that usually-closed-up portion of the place. The visitor
felt, as he looked at it, that it was not a mere village public-house,
that its decadence might have a story, and that it was possible that the
daughter of such a house might not, after all, be a mere rustic
coquette, or, perhaps, so bad a match for the half-witted Gervase.
Colonel Piercey had never once thought of himself as the possible heir
of Greyshott; he did not feel that he had any interest in keeping
Gervase from marrying, and though it was intolerable that the heir of
the Pierceys should marry a barmaid, his feelings softened as he looked
at the old country inn, with its look of long-establishment. Probably
there was a farm connected with it; perhaps there was a certain pride of
family here, too, and the daughter of the house was kept apart from the
drinking and the wayside guests. Meg Piercey might have divined that the
young woman was really the best match that Gervase could hope for, and
this might be the cause of her opposition. (He forgot that he had
supposed it likely that Meg might be bringing the match about for her
own private ends, one hypothesis being just as likely as another.) With
this idea he approached slowly, and took his seat upon the bench that
stood under the window of the parlour. The roads between Greyshott and
the Seven Thorns were dry and dusty, and his boots were white enough to
warrant the idea that he was a pedestrian reposing himself, naturally,
at the place of refreshment on the roadside.

The landlord came to the door with the waggoner, when Colonel Piercey
had established himself there, and his aspect could not be said to be
quite equal to that of his house. Hewitt had a red nose and a watery
eye. His appearance did not inspire respect. He was holding the waggoner
by the breast of his smock, and holding forth, duly emphasising his
discourse by the gesture of the other hand, in which he held a pipe.

“You just ’old by me,” he was saying, “look’ee, Jack; and I’ll ’old by
you, I will. The ’ay’s a good crop; nobody can’t say nothing again that.
But there’s rain a-coming, and Providence, ’e knows what’ll come of it
all in the end. It ain’t what’s grow’d in the fields as is to be trusted
to, but what’s safe in the stacks; and there’s a deal o’ difference
between one and the other. Look’ee here! you ’old by me, and I’ll ’old
by you. And I can’t speak no fairer. I’ve calcilated all round, I
’ave--me and Patty, my girl, as is that good at figures; and if it’s got
in safe, all as I’ve got to say is, that this ’ere will be a dashed
uncommon yeer.”

“It’s mostly the way,” said the waggoner, “I’ll allow, with them dry
Junes. The weather can’t ’old up not for ever.”

“Nor won’t,” said old Hewitt, with assurance; “it stands to reason.
Ain’t this a variable climate or ain’t it not? And a drop o’ rain we
’aven’t seen not for three weeks and more. Then we’ll ’ave a wet July.
You see yourself when I knocked the glass ’ow it went down. And that,”
he added, triumphantly, waving his pipe in the air, “is what settles the
price of the ’ay.”

“I shouldn’t wonder if you was right, master,” said the waggoner,
getting under weigh.

Gerald Piercey sat and watched the big horses straining their great
flanks to the work, setting the heavy waggon in motion, with pleasure in
the sight which diverted him for a moment from his chief object of
interest. Coming straight from India and the fine and slender-limbed
creatures which are the patricians of their kind, the great, patient,
phlegmatic English cart-horse filled him with admiration. The big
feathered hoofs, the immense strain of those gigantic hind-quarters, the
steady calm of the rustic, reflected with a greater and more dignified
impassiveness in the face of his beast, was very attractive and
interesting to him.

“Fine horses, these,” he said, half to Hewitt at the door, half to the
waggoner, who grinned with a slow shamefacedness, as if it were himself
who was being praised.

“Ay, sir,” said Hewitt, “and well took care of, as ever beasts was. Jack
Mason there--though I say it as shouldn’t--is awfull good to his team.”

“And why shouldn’t you say it?” said Colonel Piercey. “It’s clear
enough.”

“He’s a relation, that young man is, and it’s a country saying, sir, as
you shouldn’t speak up for your own. But I ain’t one as pays much ’eed
to that, for, says I, you knows them that belong to you better nor any
one else does. There’s my girl Patty, now; there ain’t one like her
betwixt Guildford and Portsmouth, and who knows it as well as me?”

“That’s a very satisfactory state of things,” said the visitor, “and, of
course, you must know best. But I fear you won’t be able to keep Miss
Patty long to yourself if she’s like that.”

At this Patty’s father began to laugh a slow, inward laugh. “There’s
’eaps o’ fellows after ’er, like bees after a ’oney ’ive. But, Lord
bless you! she don’t think nothing o’ them. She’s not one as would take
up with a country ’Odge. She’s blood in her veins, has my girl. We’ve
been at the Seven Thorns, off and on, for I don’t know ’ow many ’undred
years: more time,” said Hewitt, waving his pipe vaguely towards
Greyshott, “than them folks ’as been at the ’All.”

“Ah, indeed! That’s the Pierceys, I suppose?”

“And a proud set they be. But ’Ewitts was ’ere before ’em, only they
won’t acknowledge it. I’ve ’eard my sister Patience, ’as ’ad a terrible
tongue of ’er own, tell Sir Giles so to his face. ’E was young then, and
father couldn’t keep ’im out o’ this ’ouse. After Patience, to be sure;
but he was a terrible cautious one, was Sir Giles, and it never come to
nought.” The landlord laughed with a sharp hee-hee-hee. “I reckon,” he
said, “it runs in the blood.”

“What runs in the blood?”

“I don’t know, sir,” said the innkeeper, pausing suddenly, “if you’ve
called for anything? I can’t trust neither to maid nor man to attend to
the customers now Patty’s away.”

“If you have cider, I should like a bottle, and perhaps you’ll help me
to drink it,” said Colonel Piercey. “I’m sorry to hear that Miss Patty’s
away.”

“In London,” said Hewitt; “but only for a bit. She ’as a ’ead, that chit
’as! Them rooms along there, end o’ the ’ouse, ’asn’t been lived in not
for years and years. She says to me, she does, ‘Father, let’s clear ’em
out, and maybe we’ll find a lodger.’ I was agin it at first. ‘What’ll
you do with a lodger? There ain’t but very little to be made o’ that,’ I
says. ‘They don’t come down to the parlour to drink, that sort doesn’t,
and they’re more trouble nor they’re worth.’ ‘You leave it to me,
father,’ she says. And, if you’ll believe it, she’s found folks for them
rooms already! New-married folks, she says, as will spend their money
free. And coming in a week, for the rest of the summer or more. That’s
Patty’s way!” cried the landlord, smiting his thigh. “Strike while it’s
’ot, that’s ’er way! Your good ’ealth, sir, and many of ’em. It ain’t my
brewing, that cider. I gets it from Devonshire, and I think, begging
your pardon, sir, as it’s ’eady stuff.”

“But how,” said Colonel Piercey, “will you manage with your visitors,
when your daughter is away?”

“Oh, bless you, sir, she’s a-coming with ’em, she says in her letter, if
not before. Patty knows well I ain’t the one for lodgers. I sits in my
own parlour, and I don’t mind a drop to drink friendly-like with e’er a
man as is thirsty, or to see a set of ’orses put up in my stables, or
that; but Richard ’Ewitt of the Seven Thorns ain’t one to beck and bow
afore folks as thinks themselves gentry, and maybe ain’t not ’alf as
good as ’er and me. No, sir; I wasn’t made, nor was my father afore me
made, for the likes of that.”

“It is very good of you, I’m sure, Mr. Hewitt, to sit for half an hour
with me, who may be nobody, as you say.”

“Don’t mention it, sir,” said Hewitt, with a wave of the pipe which he
still carried like a banner in his hand: “I ’ope I knows a gentleman
when I sees one; and as I said, I sits at my own door and I takes a
friendly drop with any man as is thirsty. That ain’t the same as bowing
and scraping, and taking folks’s orders, as is nothing to me.”

“And Miss Patty, you say, is in London? London’s a big word: is she east
or west, or----”

“It’s funny,” said Hewitt, “the interest that’s took in my Patty since
she’s been away. There’s been Sally Ferrett, the nurse up at Greyshott,
asking and asking, where is she, and when did she go, and when she’s
coming back? I caught her getting it all out of ’Lizabeth the girl. What
day did she go, and what train, and so forth? ’Lizabeth’s a gaby. She
just says ‘Yes, Miss,’ and ‘No, Miss,’ to a wench like that, as is only
a servant like herself. I give it ’em well, and I give Miss her answer.
‘What’s their concern up at Greyshott with where my Patty is?”

“That’s true,” said Colonel Piercey, “and what is my concern? You are
quite right, Mr. Hewitt.”

“Oh, yours, sir? that’s different: you ask out o’ pure idleness, you do,
to make conversation; I understand that. But between you and me I
couldn’t answer ’em, not if I wanted to. For my Patty is one as can take
very good care of ’erself, and she don’t give me no address. She’ll be
back with them young folks, or maybe, afore ’em, next week, and that’s
all as I want to know. I wants her then, for I’ll not have nothing to do
with ’em, and ’Lizabeth, she’s a gaby, and not to be trusted. Lodgers in
my opinion is more trouble than they’re any good. So Patty will manage
them herself, or they don’t come here.”

“The family at Greyshott takes an interest in your daughter, I presume,
from what you say,” said Colonel Piercey.

Upon this Hewitt laughed low and long, and winked over and over again
with his watery eye. “There’s one of ’em as does,” he said. “Oh, there’s
one of ’em as does! If so be as you know the family, sir, you’ll know
the young gentleman. Don’t you know Mr. Gervase?--eh, not the young ’un,
sir, as is Sir Giles’s heir? Oh, Lord, if you don’t know him you don’t
know Greyshott Manor, nor what’s going on there.”

“I have never seen the young gentleman,” said Gerald; “I believe he is
not very often at home.”

“I don’t know about ’ome, but ’e’s ’ere as often as ’e can be. ’E’d be
’ere mornin’, noon, and night if I’d ’a put up with it; but I see ’im,
what ’e was after, and I’ll not ’ave my girl talked about, not for the
best Piercey as ever trod in shoe-leather. And ’e ain’t the best, oh,
not by a long chalk ’e ain’t. Sir Giles is dreadful pulled down with the
rheumatics and that, but ’e was a man as was something like a man. Lord
bless you, sir, this poor creature, ’e’s a Softy, and ’e’ll never be no
more.”

“What do you mean by a Softy?” said Gerald, quickly; then he added with
a sensation of shame, “Never mind, I don’t want you to tell me. Don’t
you think you should be a little more careful what you say, when a young
man like this comes to your house?”

“What should I be careful for?” said Hewitt; “I ain’t noways beholdin’
to the Pierceys. They ain’t my landlords, ain’t the Piercey’s, though
they give themselves airs with their Lords o’ the Manor, and all that.
Hewitts of the Seven Thorns is as good as the Pierceys, and not
beholdin’ to them, not for the worth of a brass fardin--oh, no! And I
wouldn’t have the Softy about my house, a fool as opens ’is mouth and
laughs in your face if you say a sensible word to ’im; not for me!
Richard Hewitt’s not a-going to think twice what he says for a fool like
’im. Softy’s ’is name and Softy’s ’is nature: ask any man in the village
who the Softy is, and they’ll soon tell you. Lord, it don’t matter a
bit what I say.”

“Still, I suppose,” said Colonel Piercey, feeling a little nettled in
spite of himself, “it is, after all, the first family in the
neighbourhood.”

“First family be dashed,” cried Hewitt; “I’m as good a family as any of
’em. And I don’t care that, no, not that,” he cried, snapping his
fingers, “for the Pierceys, if they was kings and queens, which they
ain’t, nor no such big folks after all. Old Sir Giles, he’s most gone
off his head with rheumatics and things; and my lady, they do say, she
’ave ’ad a stroke, and serve her right for her pride and her pryin’. And
Mr. Gervase, he’s a Softy, and that’s all that’s to be said. They ain’t
much for a first family when you knows all the rights and the wrongs of
it,” Hewitt said.



CHAPTER XIX.


The poet’s wish that we might see ourselves as others see us was, though
he did not so intend it, a cruel wish. It might save us some ridicule to
the outside world, but it would turn ourselves and our pretensions into
such piteous ridicule to ourselves, that life would be furnished with
new pangs. Colonel Piercey went back to Greyshott with a sense of this
keen truth piercing through all appearances, which was half ludicrous
and half painful, though it was not himself, but his relations, that had
been exhibited to him in the light of an old rustic’s observations. He
had come upon this visit with a sense of the greatness of the head of
his own family, which had, perhaps, a little self-esteem in it; for if
the younger branches of the house were what he knew them in his own
person, and his father’s, what ought not the head of the house, Sir
Giles, the lineal descendant of so many Sir Gileses, and young Gervase,
the heir of those long-unbroken honours, to be? He had expected, perhaps
a little solemn stupidity, such as the younger is apt to associate with
the elder branch. But he had also expected something of
greatness--evidence that the house was of that reigning race which is
cosmopolitan, and recognises its kind everywhere from English meads to
Styrian mountains, and even among the chiefs of the East. It was
ludicrous to see, through the eyes of a clown, how poor, after all,
these pretences were. Yet he could not help it. Poor old Sir Giles,
helpless and querulous, broken down by sickness, and, perhaps,
disappointment and trouble; the poor old lady, not much at any time of
the rural princess she might have been, lying speechless in that
lingering agony of imprisoned consciousness; and the son, the heir, the
future head of the house! Was not that a revelation to stir the blood in
the veins of Gerald Piercey, the next-of-kin? He was a man of many
faults, but he was full both of pride and generosity. The humiliation
for his race struck him more than any possible elevation for himself.
Indeed, that possible elevation was far enough off, if he had ever
thought of it. A half-witted rustic youth, taken hold of by a pert
barmaid, with a numerous progeny to follow, worthy of both sides--was
that what the Pierceys were to come to in the next generation? He had
never thought, having so many other things to occupy him in his life, of
that succession, though probably he began to think, his father had, who
had so much insisted on this visit. But what a succession it would be
now! He was walking along, turning these things over in his mind, going
slowly, and not much observant (though this was not at all his habit) of
what was about him, when he was sensible of a sudden touch, which was,
indeed, only upon his hand, yet which felt as if it had been direct upon
his heart, rousing all kinds of strange sensations there. It was a thing
which is apt to touch every one susceptible of feeling, with quick and
unexpected sensations when it comes unawares. It was a little hand--very
small, very soft, very warm, yet with a grasp in it which held fast,
suddenly put into his hand. Colonel Piercey stopped, touched, as I have
said, on his very heart, which, underneath all kinds of actual and
conventional coverings, was soft and open to emotion. He looked down and
saw a little figure at his foot, a little glowing face looking up at
him. “May I tum and walk with you, Cousin Colonel?” a small voice said.
“Sally, do away.”

“Certainly you shall come and walk with me, Osy,” said the Colonel.
“What are you doing, little man, so far from home?”

“It’s not far from home. I walks far--far--further than that. Sally, do
away! I’m doing to walk home with a gemplemans. I’m a gemplemans myself,
but Movver will send a woman wif me wherever I do. Sally, do away!”

“I’ll take care of him,” said Colonel Piercey, with a nod to the maid.
“And so you think you’re too big for a nurse, Master Osy. How old are
you?”

“Seven,” said the boy; “at least I’m more than six-and-three-quarters,
Cousin Colonel. Little Joey at the farm is only five, and he does miles,
all by hisself. Joey is better than me many ways,” he added,
thoughtfully; “he dets up on the big hay-cart, and he wides on the big
horse, and his faver sits him up high! on his so’lder. But I only have
a pony and sometimes I does with Jacob in the dog-cart, and
sometimes----”

“Would you like to ride on my shoulder, Osy?”

Osy looked up to the high altitude of that shoulder with a look full of
deliberation, weighing various things. “I s’ould like it,” he said, “but
I felled off once when Cousin Gervase put me up, and I promised Movver:
but I tan’t help it when he takes me by my arms behind me. Sometimes I’m
fwightened myself. A gemplemans oughtn’t to be fwightened, s’ould he,
Cousin Colonel?”

“That depends,” said Gerald. “I am a great deal bigger than you, but
sometimes I have been frightened, too.”

Osy looked at the tall figure by his side with certain glimmerings in
his eyes of contempt. That size! and afraid!--but he would not make any
remark. One does not talk of the deficiencies of others when one is of
truly gentle spirit. One passes them over. He apologised like a prince
to Gerald for himself. “That would be,” he said, “when it was a big, big
giant. There’s giants in India, I know, like Goliath. If I do to India
when I’m a man, I’ll be fwightened, too.”

“But David wasn’t, you know, Osy.”

“That’s what I was finking, Cousin Colonel, but he flinged the stone at
him before he tummed up to him. Movver says it was quite fair, but----”

“I think it was quite fair. Don’t you see, he had his armour on, and his
shield, and all that; if he had had his wits about him, he might have
put up his shield to ward off the stone. When you are little you must be
very sharp.”

Osy looked at his big cousin again, reflectively. “I don’t fink I could
kill you, Cousin Colonel, even if I was very sharp.”

“I hope not, Osy, and I trust you will never want to, my little man.”

“I would if we was fighting,” said Osy, with spirit; “but I’ll do on
detting bigger and bigger till I’m a man: and you are a man now, and you
tan’t gwow no more.”

“You bloodthirsty little beggar! You’ll go on getting bigger and bigger
while I shall grow an old man like Uncle Giles.”

“I never,” cried Osy, flushing very red, “would stwike an old gemplemans
like Uncle Giles. Never! I wouldn’t let nobody touch him. When Cousin
Gervase runned away with his chair, I helped old Dunning to stop him.
You might kill me, but I would fight for Uncle Giles!”

“It appears you are going to be a soldier, anyhow, Osy.”

“My faver was a soldier,” said Osy. “Movver’s got his sword hanging up
in our room; all the rest of the fings belongs to Uncle Giles, but the
sword, it belongs to Movver and me.”

The Colonel gave the little hand which was in his an involuntary
pressure, and a little moisture came into the corner of his eye. “Do you
remember your father,” he said, “my little man?”

Osy shook his head. “I don’t remember nobody but Movver,” the child
said.

What a curious thing it was! To hear of the dead father and his sword
brought that wetness to Colonel Piercey’s eye; but the name of the
mother, which filled all the child’s firmament, dried the half-tear like
magic. The poor fellow who had died went to the Colonel’s heart. The
lonely woman with the little boy, so much more usual an occasion of
sentiment, did not touch him at all. He did not want to hear anything of
“Movver”: and, indeed, Osy was by no means a sentimental child, and had
no inclination to enlarge on the theme. His mother was a matter of
course to him, as to most healthy little boys: to enlarge upon her love
or her excellencies was not at all in his way.

“You walk very fast, Cousin Colonel,” was the little fellow’s next
remark.

“Do I, my little shaver? What a beast I am, forgetting your small legs.
Come, jump and get up on my shoulder, Osy.”

Osy looked up with mingled pleasure and alarm. “I promised Movver: but
if you holded me very fast----”

“Oh, I’ll hold you. You mustn’t be frightened, Osy.”

“Me fwightened! But I felled down and hurted my side, and fwightened
Movver. Huwah! huwah!” shouted the child. “I’m not fwightened a bit,
Cousin Colonel! You holds me and I holds you, and you may canter, or
gallop, or anyfing. I’ll never be afwaid.”

“Here goes, then,” said the grave soldier. And with shouts and laughter
the pair rushed on, Colonel Piercey enjoying the race as much as the
child on his shoulder, who urged him with imaginary spurs, very dusty if
not very dangerous, holding fast with one hand by the collar of his
coat. He had not much experience of children, and the confidence and
audacity of this little creature, his glee, his warm grip, in which
there was a touch of terror, and his wild enjoyment at once of the
movement and the danger, aroused a new sentiment in the heart of the
mature man, who had known none of the emotions of paternity. Suddenly,
however, a change came over his spirit: he reduced his pace, he ceased
to laugh, he sank all at once--though with the child still shouting on
his shoulder, endeavouring, with his little kicks upon his breast, to
rouse him to further exertions--into the ordinary gravity of his aspect
and demeanour. There had appeared suddenly out of the little gate of the
beech avenue, a figure, which took all the fun out of Gerald Piercey,
though he could not have told why.

“Movver, movver! look here: I’m up upon my horse. But you needn’t be
fwightened, for he’s not like Cousin Gervase. He’s holded me fast, fast
all the way.”

“Oh! Osy,” cried Margaret, holding her breath--for, indeed, it was a
remarkable sight to see the unutterable gravity of Colonel Piercey
endeavouring solemnly to take off his hat to her, with the child,
flushed and delighted, upon his shoulder. There was something comic in
the extreme seriousness which had suddenly fallen upon Osy’s bearer.
“You are making yourself a bore to Colonel Piercey,” she said.

“Not at all; we have been enjoying ourselves very much. He is a
delightful companion,” said Gerald, but in a tone which suggested a
severe despair. “Will you get down, Osy, or would you rather I should
carry you home?”

“I would wather----” said the child, and then he paused. “I tan’t see
your face,” he said, pettishly, “but you feels twite different, as if
you was tired. I fink I’ll get down.”

Colonel Piercey’s comment to himself was that the child was frightened
for his mother, but, naturally, he did not express this sentiment. He
lifted Osy down and set him on the ground. “Where’s the nurse now?” he
said; “a long way behind. You see, Osy, it’s good to have a basis to
fall back upon when new operations are ordered by the ruling powers.”

Could the man not refrain from a gibe at her, even to her child,
Margaret thought, with wonder? But she was surprised to see that he
stood still, as if with the intention of speaking to her.

“You are going out?” he said, in his solemn tones. “Is Lady Piercey
better?”

“She is no better; but I must attempt, in some way, to get the news
conveyed to Gervase. Her eyes turn constantly to the door. They are
still quite living, though not so strong. She must see him, if it is
possible. She _must_ see him, if there is any way--her only child.”

“But not, from all I hear, a child that does her much credit,” he said.

“What does that matter? He is all she has,” she added hastily. “Don’t
let me detain you, Colonel Piercey. I must not be gone long; and I must
try if anything can be done.”

“You mean that I am detaining you,” he said, turning with her. “And I
have something to tell you, if I may walk with you. I have been talking
to old Hewitt, of the Seven Thorns. He says he has no address to
communicate with his daughter; but there is a newly-married couple
coming to occupy his rooms, and that she is returning with them next
week.”

“A newly-married couple!” cried Margaret, aghast. “Can it be they? Can
it be Patty? Is it possible?”

“I thought it might be so, if it was he and she whom I saw.”

“Oh, his mother! his mother! And this was what she was most afraid of.
Why, why did she let him go.”

“Yes, why did she let him go, if she were so much afraid to this, as you
think? But, perhaps you are alarming yourself unnecessarily? Lady
Piercey must have known tolerably well at his age what her son was
likely to do?”

“Yes, I am perhaps alarming myself unnecessarily. The chances are she
will not live to see it. It is only she who would feel it much. Poor
Aunt Piercey! Why should one wish her to live to hear this?” Margaret
paused a little, wringing her hands, uncertain whether to turn back or
to proceed. At last she said to herself, “Anyhow, she wants him--she
wants him. If it is possible, she must see her boy;” and went on again
quickly, scarcely noticing the dark figure at her side. But he did not
choose to be overlooked.

“I should like,” he said, “to have a few things explained. You say
nobody would mind this marriage--if it is a marriage--except Lady
Piercey?”

“I said nobody would mind it much. My uncle would get used to it, and he
could be talked over: and Patty Hewitt is a clever girl. But Aunt
Piercey----!”

“Why should she stand out?”

“If you do not understand,” cried Margaret, “how can I tell you? His
mother! and a woman that has always hoped better things, and thought
still, if he married well,---- You forget,” she cried vehemently, “that
poor Gervase was not to her what he was to us. He was her only child! A
mother may see everything even more keenly than others; but you hope,
you always hope----”

“I presume, then, you did not think so? You did not object to this
marriage.”

“What does it matter whether I objected or not? Of what consequence is
my opinion? None of us can like it. A girl like Patty to be at the head
of Greyshott! Oh! who could like that? But,” said Margaret more calmly,
“my poor aunt deceives herself; for what nice girl, unless she were
forced, as girls are sometimes, would marry Gervase? Poor Gervase! It is
not his fault. She deceives herself. But I don’t think she will live to
see it. I don’t think she will live to hear of it. If she could only
have him by her before she dies. Patty could not oppose herself to that.
She could not prevent that.”

“Is it supposed, then, that she would wish to do so?”

“Colonel Piercey,” cried Margaret, “you have come among us at a dreadful
moment, when all the secrets of the family are laid bare. Oh, don’t ask
any more questions! I have said things I did not intend to say.”

“I hope that I am to be trusted,” he said, with his severe tone; “and if
I can help, I will. To whom are you going? Is it to this old Hewitt? for
nothing, I think, is to be learned from him.”

“I am going to Miss Hewitt, her aunt. It is in despair. For she has a
hatred of all of us at Greyshott; but surely, surely, when they hear
that his mother is dying----”

“She cannot hate me. I will go,” Gerald Piercey said.



CHAPTER XX.


Old Miss Hewitt sat in her parlour, if not like a fat spider watching
for the fly, at least like a large cat seated demurely, with an eye upon
her natural prey, though her aspect was more decorous and composed than
words could tell. She had been made aware by her little servant a few
minutes before that “a gentleman” was coming up to the door, and had
instantaneously prepared to meet the visitor. A visitor was a very rare
thing at Rose Cottage.

“You’re sure it ain’t the curate, a-coming begging?”

“Oh, no,” cried the little maid, “a tall, grand gentleman, like a lord.
I think I knows a pa’son when I sees ’un!” she added, with rustic
contempt. Miss Hewitt settled herself in her large chair; she gave her
cap that twist that every woman who wears a cap supposes to put all
aright. She drew to her a footstool for her feet, and then she said,
“You may let him in, Jane.” A smile of delight was upon her mouth; but
she subdued even that in her sense of propriety, to heighten the effect.
She had been waiting for this moment for thirty years. She had not known
how it would come about, but she had always felt it must come about
somehow. She had paid fifty pounds for it--and she had not grudged her
money--and now it had come. She did not even know the shape it would
take, or who it was who was coming to place the family of Piercey at her
feet, that she might spurn them; but that this was what was about to
happen, she felt absolutely sure. It could not be Sir Giles himself,
which would have been the sweetest of all, for Sir Giles was too infirm
to visit anybody; while she, whom he had scorned once, was hale and
strong, and sure to see both of them out! Perhaps it was a solicitor, or
something of the kind. What did she care? It was some one from the
Pierceys coming to her, abject, with a petition--which she would not
grant--no, not if they besought her on their knees.

The room seemed in semi-darkness to Gerald, coming in from the
brightness of the summer afternoon. The blind was drawn down to save the
carpet, and the curtains hung heavily over the window for gentility’s
sake. Miss Hewitt sat with her back to the light, by the side of the
fireplace, which was filled up by cut paper. There was no air in the
room; and though Colonel Piercey was not a man of humorous perceptions,
there occurred even to him the idea of a large cat with her tail curled
round her, sitting demure, yet fierce, on the watch for some prey, of
which she had scent or sight.

“My name is Piercey,” said the Colonel. “I am a relation of the family
at Greyshott, who perhaps, you may have heard, are in great trouble at
this moment. I have come to you, Miss Hewitt--and I hope you will pardon
me for disturbing you--to know whether, by any chance, you could furnish
us with Gervase Piercey’s address.”

“Ah, you’re from the Pierceys,” said Miss Hewitt. “I thought as
much--though there ain’t that friendship between me and the Pierceys
that should make them send to me in their trouble. And what relation may
you be, if a person might ask?”

“I am a cousin; but that is of little importance. The chief thing is
that Mr. Gervase Piercey is absent, and his address is not known. His
mother is ill----”

“I heard of that,” said the old lady, drawing a long breath as of
satisfaction. “She’s a hard one, too, she is. It would be something
sharp that made her ill. I suppose as she heard----”

“She heard nothing. There was no mental cause for her illness, if that
is what you mean. She had been sitting, talking just as usual----”

“Oh--h!” cried Miss Hewitt, with an air of disappointment; “then it
wasn’t from the shock? And what’s their meaning, then, Mister
Piercey--if you call yourself Piercey--in sending to me?”

“That is precisely what I can’t tell you,” said Gerald, with much
candour. “I confess that it seems absurd, but I supposed, perhaps, that
you would know.”

“And why should it seem absurd? I know a deal more about the Pierceys
than you think for, or any fine gentleman that comes questioning of me,
as if I were an old hag in the village. Oh! I know the way that you, as
calls yourselves gentlemen, speak!”

“I hope,” said Gerald, surprised, “that I don’t speak in any unbecoming
way, or fail in respect to any woman. It is very likely that you know
much more than I do, and the question is one that is easily settled.
Could you throw any light upon the question where Gervase Piercey is,
and if so, will you tell me his address?”

She looked at him for a moment as if uncertain how to respond--whether
to play with the victim any longer, or to make a pounce and end it. Then
she said, quickly, “Did he send you himself?”

“Did who send me?”

“Giles--Sir Giles; don’t you understand? Was it him as thought of
Patience Hewitt? That’s what I want to know.”

“Miss Hewitt, Lady Piercey is very ill----”

“Ah! he never was in love with her,” cried the old lady; “never! He
married her--he was drawn in to do it; but I know as he hated it when he
did it. It never was for her, if it was he has sent you. Not for her,
but for----”

She stopped and looked at him again, with a glare in her eyes, yet
resolved, apparently, not to pounce but to play a little longer. “Ah! so
my lady’s ill, is she? She’s an old woman, more like an old hag, I can
tell you, than me. She was thirty-five, if she was a day, when she
married Sir Giles, and high living and nothing to do has made her
dreadful. He never could abear fat women, and it serves him right. Some
people never lose their figure, whatever their age may be.”

She sat very upright in her chair, with a smile of self-complacence,
nodding her head. “Well,” she said, “and what’s wanted of me? Not to go
and nurse my lady, I suppose? They don’t want me to do that?”

“They wish to know,” said Colonel Piercey, restraining himself with an
effort, “Mr. Gervase Piercey’s address.”

“Their son’s address?” said Miss Hewitt. “He’s the heir, you know. The
village folks calls him the Softy, but there couldn’t nothing be proved
against him. He’ll be Sir Gervase after his father, and nobody can’t
prevent that. And how is it as they don’t know their own son’s address?
and for why should they send you to me? Me, a lady living quiet in her
own house, meddling with none of them, how should I know their son’s
address?”

“I have told you I have not the slightest light to throw on this
question. It appears that your niece is in London, and that she was
seen, or it is supposed she was seen, with my cousin.”

“And what then?” cried the old lady. “You think, perhaps, as that Softy
led my Patty wrong. Ho, ho! ho, ho!” She laughed a low guttural laugh,
prolonging it till Colonel Piercey’s exasperation was almost beyond
bearing. “You think as he was the gay Lotharium and she was the young
Lavinyar, eh? Oh, I’ve read plenty of books in my time, and I know how
gentlemen talk of them sort of things. No, she ain’t, Mister Piercey. My
Patty is one that knows very well what she is about.”

“So I have heard, also. I believe it is supposed that as he is such a
fool, your niece may have married him, Miss Hewitt.”

“And so she have, just!” cried the old lady, springing from her chair.
She waved her arms in the air and uttered a hoarse “Hooray!” “That is
just what has happened, mister; exactly true, as if you’d been in all
the plans from the first. You tell Sir Giles as there is a Patty Hewitt
will be Lady Piercey, after all, and not the Queen herself couldn’t
prevent it. Just you tell him that from me; Patience, called for her
aunt, and thought to be like me, though smaller--my brother being an ass
and marrying a little woman. But that’s just the gospel truth. She’s
Mrs. Gervase Piercey, now, and she’ll be Lady Piercey when the time
comes. Oh!” cried Miss Hewitt, sinking back in her chair, exhausted,
“but I’d like to be there when he hears. And I’d like to tell her, I
should,” she added, with a fierce glare in her eyes.

Gerald had risen when she did, and stood holding the back of his chair.
Fortunately, he had great command of his temper, though the provocation
was strong. He was silent while she settled herself again in her seat,
and rearranged her cap-strings and the folds of her gown, though the
flowers in her head-dress quivered with excitement and triumph. He said,
“I fear you will never have that satisfaction. Lady Piercey is dying,
and, happily, knows nothing about this. Perhaps your revenge might be
more complete if you would summon her son to see her before she dies.”

Miss Hewitt was too much occupied by what she had herself said to pay
much attention to him. It was only after some minutes of murmuring and
smiling to herself, that she began to recall that he had made a reply.
“What was you saying, Mr. Piercey--eh? If you was counting on succeeding
you’re struck all of a heap, and I don’t wonder, for there’s an end of
you, my fine gentleman! There’ll be a family and a large family, you
take your oath of that. None of your marrying in-and-in cousins and
things, but a fine, fresh, new stock. What was you saying? Dying is she,
that woman? Well, we’ve all got to die. She’s had her share above most,
and taken other folks’s bread out of their mouths, and she must take her
share now. Nobody’s a-going to die instead of her. That’s a thing as
you’ve got to do when your time comes for yourself.”

“And, happily,” said Gerald, “she knows nothing of all this. Perhaps if
she were permitted to see her son----”

“Goodness gracious me!” cried Miss Hewitt, rousing up: “do you hate her
like that? I think you must be the devil himself, to put that into a
body’s head. It’s a disappointment to me, dreadful, that she should die
and not know; but to send him to tell her, and the woman at her last
breath--Oh! Lord, what wickedness there is in this world! Man! what
makes you hate her like that?”

“Will you allow her to see her son?” Colonel Piercey asked.

The old woman rose up again in her agitation. One of the old Puritan
divines describes Satan as putting so big a stone into the sinner’s hand
to throw at his enemy, that the bounds of human guilt were over-passed
and the almost murderer pitched it at his tempter instead. This
suggestion was to Patience Hewitt, in the sense in which she understood
it, that too-heavy stone. The desire for revenge had been very strong in
her. She had waited and plotted all her life for the opportunity of
returning to Sir Giles the reward of his desertion of her, and she had
attained her object, and a furious delight was in it. But to seethe the
kid in his mother’s milk is a thing about which the most cruel have
their prejudices. To bring the Softy back to shout his news into the ear
of the dying woman, that was a more fiendish detail than she had dreamed
of. She rose up and sat down again, and clasped her hands and unclasped
them, and turned over the terrible temptation in her mind. No doubt it
would be the very crown of vengeance, to prove to Sir Giles’ wife that
she, whom she had supplanted, was the victor at the last. That was what
she had hoped for all through. She had hoped that it was some rumour of
what had happened that had been the cause of Lady Piercey’s illness. A
stroke! it was quite natural she should have a stroke when she heard; it
was the vengeance of God long deferred for what she had done unpunished
so many years ago. But between this, in which she felt a grim joy, and
the other, there was a great gulf. To send for Gervase, in order that
he, with his own hand, should give his mother her death-blow, the
horrible thought made her head giddy and her heart beat. It was a
temptation--the most dreadful of temptations. It seized upon her
imagination even while it filled her with horror. It answered every wild
desire of poetic justice in the untutored mind: never had been any
vengeance like that. It was a thing to be told, and shuddered at, and
told again. “Oh! for goodness gracious sake, go along with you, go
along with you,” she cried, putting out her hands to push the Colonel
away, “for I think you must be the very devil himself.”

It was almost with the same words that Gerald Piercey answered Margaret,
who met him eagerly as he returned. Sir Giles was out in the garden with
Dunning and Osy, and there was no one to disturb the consultation of
these two enemies or friends. “Have you heard anything of him?” cried
Margaret. Colonel Piercey answered almost solemnly, “I have seen the
devil; if he ever takes a woman’s form.”

“I have heard that she was a dreadful old woman.”

“And I have made a dreadful suggestion to her, which she is turning over
in her dreadful mind. She hates poor old Lady Piercey with a virulence
which---- perhaps you may understand it, knowing the circumstances; I
don’t. She is terribly disappointed that it was not the news which was
the cause of the illness. And I have suggested that if the bridegroom
could be sent home, the old lady might still hear it before she dies.”

“The news--the bridegroom! Then it is so? They are married!”

“That’s better, I suppose,” said the Colonel, “than if it had been
worse.”

Margaret coloured high at this enigmatical speech. “To everybody but
Aunt Piercey,” she said. “My uncle will get used to the idea; but his
mother! It is better he should not come than come to tell her that.”

“If he comes we can surely keep him silent,” Colonel Piercey said. “I
thought that was the one thing to be attained at all risks.”

“And so it was. And I thank you, Cousin Gerald, and we can but do our
best.”

Lady Piercey turned her eyes towards the door as Margaret went into the
room. A dreadful weariness was in those living eyes, which had not
closed, in anything that could be called sleep, since her seizure. She
had lain there dead, but for that look, for three days, unable to move a
finger. But always her eyes turned to the door whenever it opened,
however softly. Sometimes the film of a doze came over them; but no one
came in without meeting that look--the look of a soul in prison, with no
sense but that one remaining to make existence a fact. How much she knew
of what was passing around her, they could not tell; or of her own
condition, or of what was before her. All she seemed to know was that
Gervase did not come. Sometimes her eyes fell upon Margaret with a look
which seemed one of angry appeal. And then they returned to watch the
door, which opened, indeed, from time to time, but never to admit her
son. Oh, dreadful eyes! Mrs. Osborne shrank from encountering them. It
was she, she only of whom they asked that question--she whom they seemed
to blame. Where was Gervase? Why did he not come? Was he coming? Speech
and hearing were alike gone. Her question was only in her eyes.

And thus the evening and the morning made the fourth day.



CHAPTER XXI.


Patty’s ambitious schemes were crowned with complete success, and the
poor Softy was made the happiest and most triumphant man in the world,
on the day on which his mother was taken ill. Was it some mysterious
impalpable movement in the air that conveyed to Lady Piercey’s brain a
troubled impression of what was taking place to her only son? But this
is what no one can tell. As for Gervase, his triumph, his rapture, his
sense of emancipation, could not be described. He was wild with pleasure
and victory. The sharp-witted, clear-headed girl, who had carried out
the whole plot, was at last overborne and subjugated by the passion she
had roused, and for a time was afraid of Gervase. She had a panic lest
his feeble head might give way altogether under such excitement, and she
be left in the hands of a madman. Luckily this wild fit did not last
long, and Patty gradually brought the savage, which was latent in his
undeveloped nature, into control. But she had got a fright, and was
still a little afraid of him when the week was over, and her plans were
laid for the triumphant return home. She had written to her aunt on the
day of her marriage, proclaiming the proud fact, and signing her letter,
not with her Christian name, but that of Mrs. Gervase Piercey, in her
pride and triumph. Mrs. Gervase Piercey! That she was now, let them
rave as they pleased! Nobody could undo what Aunt Patience’s fifty
pounds had done. Those whom God had joined together--or was it not
rather Miss Hewitt, of Rose Cottage, and ambition and revenge? Patty,
however, had no intentions appropriate to such motives in her mind. She
was not revolted by the passion of Gervase, as another woman might have
been. She felt it to be a compliment more or less; his noise and
uproariousness, so that he could scarcely walk along a street without
shoutings and loud laughter, did not in the least trouble her. She
subdued him by degrees, bidding him look how people stared, and
frightening him with the suggestion that the world in general might
think him off his head, and carry him off from her, if he did not learn
to suppress these vociferous evidences of his happiness: a suggestion
which had a great effect upon Gervase, and made him follow her about
meekly afterwards to all the sights which she thought it necessary in
this wonderful holiday to see. She took him to the Zoological Gardens,
which he enjoyed immensely, dragging her about from one cage to another,
not letting her off a single particular. They saw the lions fed, they
gave buns to the bears, they rode like a couple of children upon the
camels and the elephant. Gervase drank deep of every pleasure which the
resources of that Garden of Eden permitted. He had not been there since
he was a child, and everything was delightful to him. The success was
not so great when Patty took him to St Paul’s and the Tower, which she
considered to be fashionable resorts, where a bride and her finery ought
to be seen, and where Gervase walked about gaping, asking like a child
at church when he could get out? Nor at the theatre, where Patty,
instructed by the novels she had read, secured a box, and appeared in
full costume, with that intoxicating proof that she was now a fine lady
and member of the aristocracy, a low dress--and with an opera-glass
wherewith to scan the faces and dresses of the other distinguished
occupants of boxes. She was herself surprised at various things which
she had not learnt from books--the unimpressive character of the ladies’
dresses, and the manner in which they gazed down into what she believed
to be the pit, a part of the house which she regarded with scorn. It was
not a fashionable house, for to Patty, naturally, a theatre was a
theatre, wherever situated; but it was disappointing not to see the
flashing of diamonds which she had expected, nor to have other
opera-glasses fixed upon herself as a new appearance in the world of
fashion, which was what she looked for. And Gervase was very troublesome
in the theatre. He kept asking her what those people were doing on the
stage, what all that talking was about, and when it would be time to go
away. When the merchant of ices and other light refections came round,
Gervase was delighted, and even Patty felt that an ice in her box at the
theatre was great grandeur; but she was discouraged when she saw that it
was not a common indulgence, and that Gervase, peeling and eating
oranges, and flinging them about, attracted an attention which was not
that sentiment of mingled admiration and envy which Patty hoped to
excite. A few experiences of this kind opened her sharp eyes to many
things, and reduced the rapture with which she had looked forward to her
entry into town as Mrs. Gervase Piercey. But these disenchantments, and
scraps of talk which her sharp ears picked up and her still sharper
imagination assimilated, suggested to her another kind of operation next
time, and left her full of anticipations and the conviction that it only
wanted a little preparation, a little guidance, to ensure her perfect
triumph.

This strange pair had what seemed to Patty boundless funds for their
week in town. Twenty pounds over of Aunt Patience’s gift after paying
the expenses of the marriage, had seemed enough for the wildest desires;
but when there was added to that twenty pounds more, his mother’s last
gift to Gervase, she felt that their wealth was fabulous; far, far too
much to expend upon personal pleasure or sightseeing. She permitted
herself to buy a dress or two, choosing those which were ready made, and
of which she could see the effect at once, both on herself and the
elegant young lady who sold them to her; and she put aside a ten-pound
note carefully, in case of any emergency. On the whole, however, it was
a relief to both parties when they went home, though it took some
trouble to convince Gervase that he could not go back to the Manor,
leaving his wife at the Seven Thorns. He was not pleased to be told that
he too must go and live at the Seven Thorns: “Why, that’s what mother
said--and draw the beer!” he cried; “but nothing shall make me draw the
beer,” cried Gervase. “Nobody asked you,” Patty said, “you goose. We’re
going to live in the west rooms, a beautiful set of rooms that I put all
ready, where there’s a nice sofa for you to lie on, and nice windows to
look out of and see everything that comes along the road--not like
Greyshott, where you never see nothing--the carts and the carriages and
the vans going to the fairs, and Punch and Judy, and I can’t tell you
all what.” “Well,” said Gervase, “you can stay there, and I’ll come to
see you every day; but I must go home.” “What, leave me! and us but a
week married!” cried Patty. She made him falter in his resolution,
confused with the idea of an arrangement of affairs unfamiliar to him,
and at last induced him to consent to go to the Seven Thorns with her on
conditions, strenuously insisted upon, that he was not to be made to
draw beer. But Gervase did not feel easy on this subject, even when he
was taken by the new side-door into the separate suite of apartments
which Patty had prepared with so much trouble. When old Hewitt appeared
he took care to entrench himself behind his wife.

“I’ll have nothing to do with the beer or the customers, mind you,” he
cried nervously. Nobody, however, made any account of Gervase in that
wonderful moment of Patty’s return.

“What! it’s you as is the new married couple? and you’ve gone and
married _’im_?” cried Hewitt, with a tone of indescribable contempt.

“Yes, father! and I’ll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head;
I’ve married him, and I mean to take care of him,” Patty cried, tossing
her head.

Old Hewitt laughed a low, long laugh. His mental processes were slow,
and the sight of the Softy with his daughter had startled him much; for
notwithstanding all that had been said on this subject he had not
believed in it seriously. Now, however, that it dawned upon him what had
really happened, that his child, his daughter, was actually Mrs. Gervase
Piercey, a slow sensation of pride and victory arose in his bosom too.
His girl to be Lady Piercey in her time, and drive in a grand carriage,
and live in a grand house! The Hewitts were a fine old family, but they
had never kept their carriage and pair. A one-horse shay had been the
utmost length to which they had gone. Now Patty--Patty, the child! who
had always done his accounts and kept his customers in order--Patty, his
own girl, was destined to the glory of riding behind two horses and
being called “my lady.” The thought made him burst into a long, rumbling
subterraneous laugh. Our Patty! it did not seem possible that it could
be true.

“That reminds me,” he said a moment after, turning suddenly grave. He
called his daughter apart, beckoning with his finger.

Gervase by this time was lolling half out of the open window,
delightedly counting the vehicles in sight. “Farmer Golightly’s tax
cart, and Jim Mason’s big waggon, and the parson’s pony chaise, and a
fly up from the station,” he cried: “it’s livelier than London. Patty,
Patty, come and look here.” Gervase turned round, and saw his wife and
her father with grave faces consulting together, and relapsed into
absolute quiet, effacing himself behind the fluttering curtains with the
intention of stealing out of the room as soon as he could and getting
away. His mother’s threat about drawing the beer haunted him. Could not
she, who could do most things, make that threat come true?

“Patty,” said old Hewitt, “you’ve done it, and you can’t undo it; but
there’ll be ever such a rumpus up _there_.”

“Of course, I know that,” she said calmly; “I’m ready for them. Let them
try all they can, there’s nothing they can do.”

“Patty,” said the old innkeeper again, “I’ve something to tell you as
you ain’t a-thinking of. About ’Er,” he said, pointing with his thumb
over his shoulder.

“What about her? I know she’s my enemy; but you needn’t be frightened,
father. I’ve seen to everything, and there’s nothing she can do.”

“It ain’t that as I want you to think of. It’s more dreadful than that.
It’s ’in the midst of life as we are in death,’” said Hewitt. “That sort
of thing; and they’ve been a-’unting for _’im_ far and wide.”

“Lord, father, what do you mean?” Patty caught at a confused idea of Sir
Giles’ death, and her heart began to thump against her breast.

Hewitt pointed with his thumb, jerking it again and again over his
shoulder. “She’s--she’s--dead,” he said.

“Dead!” said Patty, with a shriek, “who’s dead?”

Hewitt, less aware than she of Gervase’s wandering and unimpressionable
mind, shook his head at her, jerking his thumb this time in front of him
at the young man lolling out of the window. “Usht, can’t ye? Why, ’Er,
’is mother,” he said, under his breath.

A quick reflection passed through Patty’s mind. “Then, I’m her,” she
said to herself, but then remembered that this was not the case that Sir
Giles’ death alone could make her Lady Piercey. As this flashed upon her
thoughts, a bitter regret came into Patty’s mind--regret, keen as if she
had loved her, that Lady Piercey was dead, that she should have been
allowed to die. Oh, if she had but known! How quickly would she have
brought Gervase back to see his mother! Her triumph, whenever it should
come, would be shorn of one of its most poignant pleasures. Lady Piercey
would not be there to see it! She could never now be made to come down
from her place, made to give up all her privileges to the girl whom she
despised. Patty felt so genuine a pang of disappointment that it brought
the tears to her eyes. “I must tell him,” she said quickly,--the tears
were not without their use, too, and it is not always easy to call them
up at will.

“I wouldn’t to-night. Let ’im have ’is first night in peace,” said the
innkeeper, “and take ’is beer, and get the good of it like any other
man.”

“Go down, perhaps you think, to your men in the parlour, and smoke with
them, and drink with them, and give you the chance to say as he’s your
son-in-law? and his mother lying dead all the time. No, father, not if I
know it,” cried Patty, and she gave her head a very decided nod. “I know
what I’m about,” she added; “I know exactly what he’s going to do. So,
father, you may go, and you can tell ’Liza that we’ll now have tea.”

“I tell ’Liza! I’ll do none of your dirty errands,” said old Hewitt; but
his indignation answered Patty’s purpose, who was glad to get rid of
him, in order that her own duty might be performed. She went forward to
the window where Gervase was sitting, and linked her arm in his, not
without some resistance on the part of the Softy, who was wholly
occupied with his new pleasure.

“Let alone, I tell you, Pat! One white horse on the off side, that
counts five for me; and a whole team of black ’uns for the other fellow.
Where’s all those black horses come from, I should like to know?”

“Gervase dear, don’t you do it; don’t make a game with the black horses.
It’s dreadful unlucky. They’re for a funeral, come from town on purpose.
And oh! Gervase dear, do listen to me! for whose funeral do you
suppose?”

“Is it a riddle?” said Gervase, showing his teeth from ear to ear.

“Oh hush, hush, there’s a good boy! It’s not like you to make a joke of
such dreadful things.”

“Why can’t you say then what it is, and have done with it?” Gervase
said.

“That’s just one of the sensible things you say when you please.
Gervase--you remember your mother?”

“I remember my mother? I should think I remembered my mother. You know
it’s only a week to-day--or was it yesterday?”

“It was yesterday. You might remember the day you were married, I think,
without asking me,” said Patty, with spirit. “Well, then, you parted
from her that day. She wasn’t ill then, was she, dear?”

Upon which Gervase laughed. “Mother’s always ill,” he said. “She has
such health you never know when she’s well, or, at least, so she says.
It’s in her head, or her liver, or her big toe. No!” he cried, with
another great laugh, “it’s father as has the devil in his big toe.”

“Gervase, do be serious for a moment. Your mother has been very ill,
dreadful bad, and we never knew----”

“I told you,” he said calmly, “she’s always bad; and you can never tell
from one day to another, trust herself, when she mayn’t die.”

“Oh, Gervase,” cried Patty, holding his arm with both her hands: “you
are fond of her a little bit, ain’t you, dear? She’s your mother, though
she hasn’t been very nice to me.”

“Lord,” cried Gervase, “how she will jump when she knows that I’m here,
and on my own hook, and have got a wife of my own! Mind, it is you that
have got to tell her, and not me.”

“A wife that will always try to be a comfort to you,” said Patty. “Oh,
my poor dear boy! Gervase, your poor mother (remember that I’m here to
take care of you whatever happens),--Gervase, your mother will never
need to be told. She’s dead and gone, poor lady, she’s dead and gone!”

Gervase stared at her, and again opened his mouth in a great laugh.
“That’s one of your dashed stories,” he said.

“It isn’t a story at all, it’s quite true. She had a stroke that very
day. Fancy, just the very day when we---- And we never heard a word. If
we had heard I should have been the very first to bring you home.”

“What good would that have done?” Gervase said sullenly, “we were better
where we were.”

“Not and her dying, and wanting her son.”

Gervase was cowed and troubled by the news, which gave him a shock which
he could not understand. It made him sullen and difficult to manage.
“You’re playing off one of your jokes upon me,” he said.

“I playing a joke! I’d have found something better than a funeral to
joke about. Gervase, we have just come back in time. The funeral’s
to-morrow, and oh! I’m so thankful we came home. I’m going to send for
Sally Fletcher to make me up some nice deep mourning with crape, like a
lady wears for her own mother.”

“She was no mother of yours,” said Gervase, with a frown.

“No; nor she didn’t behave like one: but being her son’s wife and one
that is to succeed her, I must get my mourning deep; and you and me,
we’ll go. We’ll walk next to Sir Giles, as chief mourners,” she said.

Gervase gave a lowering look at her, and then he turned away to the open
window, to count as he had been doing before, but in changing tones, the
white horses and the brown.



CHAPTER XXII.


Patty sat up half the night with Sally Fletcher, arranging as rapidly
and efficiently as possible her new _mise en scène_. To work all night
at mourning was by no means a novel performance for Miss Fletcher, the
lame girl who was the village dressmaker; and she felt herself amply
repaid by the news, as yet almost unknown to the neighbours, of the
Softy’s marriage and Patty’s new pretentions. It is true that it had a
little leaked out in the evening symposium in Hewitt’s parlour; but what
the men said when they came home from their dull, long booze was not
received with that faith which ladies put in the utterances of the
clubs. The wives of the village had always a conviction that the men had
“heard wrong”--that it would turn out something quite different from the
story told in the watches of the night, or dully recalled next day,
confused by the fumes of last night’s beer. But Sally Fletcher knew that
her tale would meet with full credence, and that her cottage next
morning would be crowded with inquirers; so that her night’s work was
not the matter of hardship it might have been supposed. She was
comforted with cups of tea during the course of the night, and Patty
spent at least half of it with her, helping on the work in a resplendent
blue dressing-gown, which she had bought in London, trimmed with lace
and ribbons, and dazzling to Sally’s eyes. The dressmaker had brought
with her the entire stock of crape which was to be had in “the shop,” a
material kept for emergencies, and not, it may be supposed, of the very
freshest or finest--which Patty laid on with a liberal hand, covering
with it the old black dress, which she decided would do in the urgency
of the moment. It was still more difficult to plaster that panoply of
mourning over the smart new cape, also purchased in town: but this, too,
was finished, and a large hatband, as deep as his hat, procured for
Gervase, before the air began to thrill with the tolling, lugubrious and
long drawn out, of the village bells, which announced that the
procession was within sight.

It was a great funeral. All the important people of that side of the
county--or their carriages--were there. An hour before the _cortège_
arrived, Sir Giles’ chair, an object of curiosity to all the village
boys, was brought down to the gate of the churchyard, that he might
follow his wife to the grave’s side. And a great excitement had arisen
in the village itself. Under any circumstances, Lady Piercey’s funeral,
the carriages and the flowers, and the mutes and the black horses, would
have produced an impression; but that impression was increased now by
the excitement of a very different kind which mingled with it. Patty
Hewitt, of the Seven Thorns, now Mrs. Gervase Piercey, would be there;
and there was not a house, from the Rectory downwards, in which the
question was not discussed--what would happen? Would Patty receive the
tacit recognition of being allowed to take her place along with her
husband. Her husband! could he be anybody’s husband, the Softy? Would
the marriage stand? Would Sir Giles allow it? The fact that it was Sir
Giles gave the eager spectators their only doubt--or hope. Had it been
Lady Piercey, she would never have allowed it. She would have thrown
back the pretender from the very church-door. She would have rejected
Patty, thrust her out of the way, seized her son, and dragged him from
the girl who had entrapped him. At the very church-door! Everybody, from
the rector down to the sexton’s wife, felt perfectly convinced of that.

But it would not be Lady Piercey she would have to deal with. Lady
Piercey, though she filled so great a position in the ceremonial, would
have nothing to say on the subject; and it was part of the irony of
fate, felt by everybody, though none were sufficiently instructed to
call it by that name, that she should be there, incapable of taking any
share in what would have moved her so deeply--triumphed over in her
coffin by the adversary with whom, living, she would have made such
short work. There was something tragic about this situation which made
the bystanders hold their breath. And no one knew what Patty was about
to do. That she would claim her share in the celebration, and, somehow,
manage to take a part in it, no one doubted; but how she was to
accomplish this was the exciting uncertainty that filled all minds. It
troubled the rector as he put on his surplice to meet the silent
new-comer, approaching with even more pomp than was her wont the
familiar doors of her parish church. There was not much more sentiment
than is inseparable from that last solemnity in the minds of her
neighbours towards Lady Piercey. She had not been without kindness of a
practical kind. Doles had been made and presents given in the
conventional way without any failure; but nobody had loved the grim old
lady. There was nothing, therefore, to take off the interest in the
other more exciting crisis.

    “Rattle her bones
     Over the stones,
     She’s only a pauper, whom nobody owns.”

Far from a pauper was the Lady Piercey of Greyshott; but the effect was
the same. There are many equalising circumstances in death.

It was imposing to witness the black procession coming slowly along the
sunshiny road. Old Miss Hewitt from Rose Cottage came out to view it,
taking up a conspicuous position on the churchyard wall. So far from
wearing decorous black in reverence of the funeral, Miss Hewitt was
dressed in all that was most remarkable in her wardrobe in the way of
colour. She wore a green dress; she had a large Paisley shawl of many
colours--an article with which the present generation is virtually
unacquainted--on her shoulders, and her bonnet was trimmed with gold
lace and flowers. She had a conviction that Sir Giles would see her, and
that he would perceive the difference between her still handsome face,
and unbroken height and carriage, and the old ugly wife whom he was
burying--poor old Sir Giles, entirely broken down by weakness and the
breach of all his habits and ways, as well as by the feeling, not very
elevated perhaps, but grievous enough, of loss, in one who had managed
everything for him, and taken all trouble from his shoulders! There
might be some emotion deeper still in the poor old gentleman’s mind; but
these at least were there, enough to make his dull eyes, always moist
with slow-coming tears, quite incapable of the vision or contrast in
which that fierce old woman hoped.

The interest of the moment concentrated round the lych-gate, where a
great deal was to take place. Already conspicuous among the crowd
assembled there to meet the funeral were two figures, the chief of whom
was veiled from head to foot in crape, and leant upon the arm of her
husband heavily, as if overcome with grief. Patty had a deep crape veil,
behind which was visible a white handkerchief often pressed to her eyes,
and in the other hand, a large wreath. Gervase stood beside her, in
black clothes to be sure, and with a deep hatband covering his hat, but
with no such monumental aspect of woe. His light and wandering eyes
strayed over the scene, arresting themselves upon nothing, not even on
the approaching procession. Sometimes Patty almost bent him down on the
side on which she leant, by a new access of grief. Her shoulders heaved,
her sobs were audible, when the head of the doleful procession arrived.
She moved her husband forward to lay the wreath upon the coffin and then
lifting her great veil for a moment looked on with an air of agonising
anxiety, while Sir Giles was lifted out of the carriage and placed in
his chair, with little starts of anxious feeling as if he were being
touched roughly by the attendants, and she could scarcely restrain
herself from taking him out of their hands. It was a pity that poor old
Sir Giles, entirely absorbed in his own sensations, did not observe this
at all, any more than he observed the airs of Miss Hewitt equally
intended for his notice. But when Sir Giles had been placed in his
chair, Patty recovering her energy in a moment, dragged her husband
forward and dexterously slid and pushed him immediately behind his
father’s chair, coming sharply in contact as she did so with Colonel
Piercey, who was about to take that place. “I beg your pardon, we are
the chief mourners,” she said sharply, and with decision. And then Patty
relapsed all at once into her grief. She walked slowly forward
half-leading, half-pushing Gervase, her shoulders heaving with sobs, a
murmur of half-audible affliction coming in as a sort of half-refrain to
the words read by the clergyman. The village crowding round, watched
with bated breath. It was difficult for these spectators to refuse a
murmur of applause. How beautifully she did it? What a mourner she made,
far better than any one else there! As for that Mrs. Osborne, her veil
was only gauze, and through it you could see that she was not crying at
all! She walked by Colonel Piercey’s side, but she did not lean upon him
as if she required support. There was no heaving in her shoulders. The
mind of the village approved the demeanour of Patty with enthusiasm. It
was something like! Even Miss Hewitt, flaunting her red and yellow
bonnet on the churchyard wall, was impressed by the appearance of Patty,
and acknowledged that it was deeply appropriate, and just exactly what
she ought to have done.

But though Patty was thus overcome with grief, her vigilant eyes noted
everything through the white handkerchief and the crape. When poor Sir
Giles broke down and began to sob at the grave it was she who, with an
energetic push and pressure, placed Gervase by his side.

“Speak to him,” she whispered in his ear, with a voice which though so
low was imperative as any order. She leaned herself over the other side
of the chair, almost pushing Dunning out of the way, while still
maintaining her pressure on Gervase’s arm.

“Father,” he said, putting his hand upon the old man’s; he was not to
say too much, she had instructed him! Only his name, or a kind word.
Gervase, poor fellow, did not know how to say a kind word, but his dull
imagination had been stirred and the contagion of his father’s feeble
distress moved him. He began to sob, too, leaning heavily upon Sir
Giles’ chair. Not that he knew very well what was the cause. The great
shining oaken chest that was being lowered down into that hole had no
association for him. He had not seen his mother placed there. But the
gloomy ceremonial affected Gervase in spite of himself. Happily it did
not move him to laugh, which was on the cards, as Patty felt. It made
him cry, which was everything that could be desired.

And Sir Giles did not push away his son’s hand, which was what might
have happened also. The old gentleman was in precisely the state of mind
to feel that touch and the sound of the wavering voice. It was a return
of the prodigal when the poor old father’s heart was very forlorn, and
the sensation of having some one still who belonged to him most welcome.
To be sure there was Colonel Piercey--but he would go away, and was not
in any sense a son of the house. And Meg--but she was a dependant,
perhaps pleased to think she would have nobody over her now. Gervase was
his father’s own, come back; equally feeble, not shaming his father by
undue self-control. To hear his boy sob was sweet to the old man; it did
him more good than Dunning’s whispered adjurations not to fret, to
“think of your own ’ealth,” to “’old up, Sir Giles!” When he felt the
hand of Gervase and heard his helpless son sob, a flash of force came to
the old man.

“It’s you and me now, Gervase, only you and me, my boy,” he said loud
out, interrupting the voice of the rector. It was a dreadful thing to
do, and yet it had a great effect, the voice of nature breaking in, into
the midst of all that ceremony and solemnity. Old Sir Giles’ bare, bowed
head, and the exclamation loud, broken with a sob, which everybody could
hear, moved many people to tears. Even the rector paused a moment before
he pronounced the final benediction, and the mourners began to disperse
and turn away.

One other moment of intense anxiety followed for Patty. She had to keep
her Softy up to the mark. All had gone well so far, but to keep him in
the same humour for a long time together was well nigh an impossible
achievement. When Sir Giles’ chair was turned round, Patty almost pushed
it herself in her anxiety to keep close, and it was no small exertion to
keep Gervase steadily behind, yet not to hustle Dunning, who looked
round at her fiercely. If there should happen to come into the Softy’s
mind the idea of rushing off with his father, which was his usual idea
when he stood behind Sir Giles’ chair! But some benevolent influence
watched over Patty on that critical day. Gervase, occupied in watching
the equipages, of which no man had ever seen so many at Greyshott,
walked on quietly to the carriage door. He got in after Sir Giles as if
that were quite natural, forgetting the “manners” she had tried to teach
him; but Patty minded nothing at that moment of fate. She scrambled in
after him, her heart beating wildly, and no one venturing to oppose.
Dunning, indeed, who followed, looked unutterable things. He said: “Sir
Giles, is it your meaning as this--this lady----?”

But Sir Giles said never a word. He kept patting his son’s hand, saying,
“Only you and me, my boy.” He took no notice of the intruder into the
carriage, and who else dared to speak? As for Patty’s sentiments, they
were altogether indescribable. They were complicated by personal
sensations which were not agreeable. The carriage went slowly, the
windows were closed on account of Sir Giles, though the day was warm.
And she was placed on the front seat, beside Dunning, which was a
position which gave her nausea, and made her head swim, as well as being
highly inappropriate to her dignified position. But anything was to be
borne in the circumstances, for the glory of being seen to drive “home”
in the carriage with Sir Giles, and the chance of thus getting a
surreptitious but undeniable entrance into the house. She said nothing,
partly from policy, partly from discomfort, during that prolonged and
tedious drive. And Gervase behaved himself with incredible discretion.
Gervase, too, was glad to be going “home.” He was pleased after all that
had passed to be sitting by his father again. And he did Sir Giles good
even by his foolishness, the poor Softy. After keeping quite quiet for
half of the way, suffering his father to pat his hand, and repeat that
little formula of words, saying “Don’t cry, father, don’t cry,” softly,
from time to time, he suddenly burst forth: “I say! look at those
fellows riding over the copses. You don’t let them ride over our copses,
do you, father?”

“Never mind, never mind, my boy,” said Sir Giles. But he was roused to
look up, and his sobbing ceased.

“I wish you’d stop the carriage and let me get at them. They shouldn’t
ride that way again, I promise you,” Gervase cried.

“You can’t interfere to-day, Mr. Gervase,” Dunning presumed to say. “Not
the day of my lady’s funeral, Sir Giles. You can’t have the carriage
stopped to-day.”

“Mind your own business, Dunning,” said Sir Giles, sharply. “No, my boy,
never mind, never mind. We must just put up with it for a day. It don’t
matter, it don’t matter, Gervase, what happens now----”

“But that isn’t my opinion at all,” said Gervase; “it matters a deal,
and they shall see it does. Job Woodley, isn’t it, and young George?
They think it won’t be noticed, but I’ll notice it. I’ll take care they
sha’n’t put upon you, father, now that you have nobody but me.”

“God bless you, Gervase, you only want to be roused; that’s what your
poor dear mother used always to say.”

“And now you’ll find him thoroughly roused, Sir Giles, and you can
depend upon him that he will always look after your interests,” Patty
said.

The old gentleman looked at her with bewildered eyes, gazing heavily
across the carriage, only half aware of what she was saying, or who she
was. And then they all drove on to Greyshott in solemn silence. They had
come up by this time to the great gates, and entered the avenue. Patty’s
heart beat more and more with suspense and excitement. Everything now
seemed to hang upon what took place in the next hour.



CHAPTER XXIII.


Gervase went up the steps and into his father’s house without waiting
either for Sir Giles, whose disembarkation was a troublesome business,
or his newly-made wife. For the moment he had forgotten all about Patty.
She had to scramble out of the high old-fashioned chariot, which had
been Sir Giles’ state equipage for long, and which had been got out
expressly for this high and solemn ceremony, nobody taking any notice or
extending a finger to her--even the footman turning his back. Patty was
too anxious and too determined on making her own entry to be much
disturbed by this. To get her feet within the house was the great thing
she had to consider; _but_--it need not be said that John Simpson, the
footman, had his fate decided from that day, if indeed Mrs. Gervase
established, as she intended to do, her footing in her husband’s home.

Gervase stood on the threshold, carelessly overlooking the group, the
men about Sir Giles’ chair putting him back into it, and Patty not very
gracefully getting down the steps of the carriage. His tall hat, wound
with the heavy band, was placed on the back of his head, his hands were
in his pockets, his eyes wandering, catching one detail after another,
understanding no special significance in the scene. The other carriages
coming up behind, waiting till the first should move on, aroused the
Softy. He had forgotten why they were there, as he had forgotten that he
had any duty towards his wife, who, in her hurry, had twisted herself in
her long veil and draperies, and whom no one attempted to help. Patty
was not the kind of figure to attract sentimental sympathy, as does the
neglected dependant of fiction, the young wife of low degree in presence
of a proud and haughty family. She was briskness and energy itself,
notwithstanding that complication with the long veil, at which Gervase
was just about to burst into a loud laugh when a sudden glance from her
eyes paralysed him with his mouth open. As it took a long time to
arrange Sir Giles, Patty had the situation before her and time to grasp
it. She saw her opportunity at once. She passed the group of men about
the chair, touching Dunning’s arm sharply as she passed, bidding him to
“take care, take care!” Then, stepping on, took the arm of Gervase, and
stood with him on the threshold, like (she fondly hoped) the lady of the
house receiving her guests. Dunning had nearly dropped his master’s
chair altogether at that insolent injunction and touch, and looked up at
her with a countenance crimson with rage and enmity. But when Dunning
saw the energetic figure in the doorway, holding Gervase’s limp arm, and
unconsciously pushing him to one side in so doing, placing herself in
the centre, standing there like the mistress of the house, a cold shiver
ran over him. “You could ’a knocked me down with a straw,” he said
afterwards confidentially to Parsons, in the mutual review they made
later of all the exciting incidents of the day.

But this was not all: the opportunity comes to those who are capable of
seizing upon it. Patty stood there with a heart beating so loudly that
it sounded like a drum in her own ears, but with so full a sense of the
importance of every act and look, that her excited nerves, instead of
mastering her, gave support and stimulation to her whole being. She
might have known, she said to herself, that Gervase would have been of
no use to her, a thing which she resented, being now in possession of
him, though she had fully calculated upon it before. “Stand by your
wife, can’t you!” she whispered fiercely, as she took hold of his arm
and thrust him towards the wall. He grinned at her, though he dared not
laugh aloud.

“Lord, you did look ridiculous, Patty, with that long thing twisting
round you.”

“If you laugh, you fool,” said Patty, between her closed teeth, “you’ll
be turned out of the house.”

When she had warned him she turned, bland but anxious, to the group
below. “Oh, carry him gently, carry him gently!” she cried. When Sir
Giles was set down on the level of the hall, she was the first to
perceive his exhausted state. “I hope you have a cordial or something to
give him, after all this fatigue?” she said. “You have nothing with you?
Let the butler get it instantly--instantly!” She was quite right, and
Dunning knew it, and made a sign that this unexpected order should be
obeyed, with bitter anger in his heart. The old gentleman was very
nearly fainting, after all the exertion and emotion. Patty had salts in
her hand and eau de Cologne in her pocket ready for any emergency. She
flew to him, while Dunning in his rage and pain called to the butler to
make haste. And when the rest of the party followed, Patty was found in
charge of Sir Giles, leaning over him, fanning him with her handkerchief
impregnated with eau de Cologne, applying from time to time her salts to
his nose. When the butler came hurrying back with the medicine, the
first thing the surrounding spectators were conscious of was her voice
sharply addressing Dunning, “You ought to have had the drops ready; you
ought to have carried them with you; you ought never to be without
something to give in case of faintness--and after such a dreadful day.”

The woman, the creature, the alehouse girl (these were the names by
which Dunning overwhelmed her in his private discourses), was quite
right! He ought to have carried his master’s drops with him. He ought to
have been ready for the emergency. Margaret, who had come in in the
midst of this scene, after one glimpse of Mrs. Gervase standing in the
doorway, which had filled her with consternation, stood by helplessly
for the moment, not doing anything. Mrs. Osborne would not have ventured
to interfere with Dunning at any period of her residence at Greyshott.
His authority with the family had been supreme. They had grown to think
that Sir Giles’ life depended upon him; that he knew better than the
very doctor. To see Dunning thus assailed took away her breath, as it
did that of all the servants, standing helplessly gaping at their master
in his almost faint. And it was evident from Dunning’s silence, and his
hurried proceedings, that this audacious intruder was right--astounding
discovery! Dunning did not say a word for himself. His hand trembled so,
that Patty seized the bottle from him, and dropped the liquid herself
with a steady hand. “Now, drink this,” she said authoritatively,
putting it to Sir Giles’ lips, who obeyed her, though in his
half-unconsciousness he had been feebly pushing Dunning away. This
astonishing scene kept back all the other funeral guests who were
alighting at the door, and among whom the most dreadful anticipations
were beginning to breathe to the effect that it had been “too much” for
Sir Giles. To see Margaret Osborne standing there helpless, doing
nothing, gave force to their suppositions, for she must have been
occupied with her uncle had there been anything to do for him, everybody
thought. Patty’s shorter figure, all black, was not distinguishable from
below as she leant over Sir Giles’ chair.

Gervase, who had been hanging in the doorway, reduced to complete
silence by his wife’s threats, pulled Margaret by her dress. “I say,
Meg! she’s one, ain’t she? She’s got ’em all down, even Dunning. Lord!
just look at her going it!” the admiring husband said. He dared not
laugh, but his wide-open mouth grinned from ear to ear. He did not know
who the tall fellow was by Margaret’s side, who stood looking on with
such a solemn air, but he poked that dignitary with his elbow all the
same. “Ain’t she as good as a play?” Gervase said.

Colonel Piercey was in no very genial frame of mind. He was angry to see
Mrs. Osborne superseded, and angry with her that she did not step
forward and take the direction of everything. And when this fool, this
Softy, as the country people called him, addressed himself with elbow
and voice, his disgust was almost beyond bounds. It was not decorous of
the next-of-kin: he turned away from the grinning idiot with a sharp
exclamation, forgetting altogether that he was, more or less, the master
of the house.

“Oh, hush, Gervase,” said Mrs. Osborne. “Don’t laugh: you will shock all
the people. She is---- very serviceable. She shows---- great sense----
Gervase, why is she here?”

He was on the point of laughter again, but was frightened this time by
Margaret. “Why, here’s just where she ought to be,” he said, with a
suppressed chuckle. “I told you, but you didn’t understand. I almost
told---- mother.”

Here the half-witted young man paused a little with a sudden air of
trouble. “Mother; what’s all this about mother?” he said.

“Oh, Gervase! she wanted you so!”

“Well,” he cried, “but how could I come when I didn’t know? Ask her. We
never heard a word. I remember now. We only came back last night. I
thought after all we might find her all right when we came back. Is
it--is it true, Meg?”

He spoke with a sort of timidity behind Patty’s back, still pulling his
cousin’s dress, the grin disappearing from his face, but his hat still
on the back of his head, and his fatuous eyes wandering. His attention
was only half arrested even by a question of such importance. It moved
the surface of his consciousness, and no more; his eye, even while he
was speaking, was caught by the unruly action of the horses in one of
the carriages far down the avenue, which put a movement of interest into
his dull face.

“I cannot speak to you about it all here. Come in, and I will tell you
everything,” Margaret said.

He made a step after her, and then looked back; but Patty was still
busily engaged with Sir Giles, and her husband escaped, putting his
cousin’s tall figure between himself and her.

“I say, are all this lot of people coming here? What are they coming
here for? Have I got to talk to all these people, Meg?”

He went after her into the library, where already some of the guests
were, and where Margaret was immediately occupied, receiving the solemn
leave-takings of the county gentry, who had driven so far for this
ceremony, but who looked strangely at Gervase, still with his hat on,
and who, in presence of such a chief mourner, and of the illness of poor
Sir Giles, were eager to get away. A vague story about the marriage had
already flashed through the neighbourhood, but the gentlemen were more
desirous even of keeping clear of any embarrassment that might arise
from it, than of getting “the rights of the story” to carry back to
their wives--though that also was a strong motive. Gervase gave a large
grip of welcome to several who spoke to him, and laughed, and said it
was a fine day, with an apparent indifference to the object of their
visit, which chilled the blood of the kindly neighbours. And still more
potent than any foolishness he might utter was the sign of the hat on
his head, which produced the profoundest impression upon the small
solemn assembly, though even Margaret, in the excitement of the crisis
altogether, did not notice it for some time.

“We feel that the only kindness we can do you, dear Mrs. Osborne, is to
leave you alone as quickly as possible,” said Lord Hartmore, who was a
very dignified person, and generally took the lead--and he was followed
by the other potentates, who withdrew almost hurriedly, avoiding Gervase
as much as possible, as he stood swaying from one foot to another, with
a half laugh of mingled vacuity and embarrassment. Gervase was rather
disappointed that they should all go away. It was rarely that he had
seen so many people gathered together under his father’s roof. He tried
to detain one or two of them who gave him a second grasp of the hand as
they passed him.

“You’re going very soon. Won’t you stay and have something?” Gervase
said.

Colonel Piercey was standing outside the door of the library as they
began to come out, and Lord Hartmore gave him a very significant look,
and a still more significant grasp of the hand.

“That,” he said with emphasis, with a backward movement of his head to
indicate the room he had just quitted, “is the saddest sight of
all,”--and there was a little pause of the gentlemen about the door, a
group closed up the entrance to the room, all full of something to say,
which none of them ventured to put into words; all relieving themselves
with shaking of heads and meaning looks.

“Poor Sir Giles! I have the sincerest sympathy with him,” said Lord
Hartmore, “the partner of his life gone, and so little comfort in the
poor son.”

They grasped Gerald Piercey’s hand, one by one, in a sort of chorus,
grouping round the open door.

It was at this moment that Patty found herself free, Sir Giles having
been wheeled away to his own rooms to escape the agitating encounter of
so many strangers. She walked towards them with the heroic confidence of
a Joan of Arc. Probably nothing but the habits of her previous life, her
custom of facing unruly men in various stages of difficulty,
dissatisfied customers, and those of too convivial a turn, drunkards,
whom she had to master by sheer coolness and strength of mind, could
have armed her for such an extraordinary emergency. She knew most of the
men by sight, but had hitherto looked at them from a distance as beings
unapproachable, not likely ever to come within touch of herself or her
life; and they all looked towards her, more or less severely,--some with
surprise, some with concealed amusement, some with the sternest
disapproval. So many men of might and dignity, personages in the county,
not one among them sympathetic; and one small young woman, in a place
the very external features of which were unknown to her, where every
individual was an enemy, yet which she meant to take possession of and
conquer by her bow and her spear, turning out every dissident! The
gentlemen stood and stared, rather in astonishment than in curiosity, as
she advanced alone, her long veil hanging behind her, her crape sweeping
the carpet. They did not make way for her, which was scarcely so much
from incivility as from surprise, but stood staring, blocking up the
door of a room which Patty saw must be the first stronghold to be taken,
from the mere fact of the group that stood before it. She came up quite
close to them without saying a word, holding her head high. And then she
raised her high, rather sharp voice:--

“Will you please to make room for me to pass? I want to join my
husband,” she said.

And then there was a start as simultaneous as the stare had been.
Patty’s voice gave the gentlemen of the county a shock as if a cannon
had been fired into the midst of them. It was a challenge and an
accusation in one. To accuse men of their class of a breach of civility
is worse than firing a gun among them. They separated quickly with a
sense of shame. “I beg your pardon” came from at least two voices. It
would be difficult to explain what they thought they could have done to
resist the intruder: but they were horrified by the suggestion of
interference--as if they had anything to do with it! so that in fact
Patty entered triumphantly through a lane formed by two lines of men
dividing to make way for her. A princess could not have done more.

She walked in thus with flags flying, pale with the effort, which was
advantageous to her appearance, and found herself in the great room,
with its bookcases on the one hand and the tall portraits on the other.
But Patty found here, against her expectations, a far more difficult
scene before her. Two or three ladies had come to give Margaret Osborne
the support of their presence, on what they called “this trying day,”
without in the least realising how trying it was to be. One of them, an
old lady, sat in a great chair facing the door, with her eyes fixed upon
it. Two others, younger, but scarcely less alarming, were talking to
Mrs. Osborne, who in her own sole person had been supposed by Patty with
natural enmity to be the chief of her adversaries. They stopped their
conversation and stared at Patty, as with a sudden faltering, she came
in. Gervase stood against the end window, fully outlined against the
light, with his hands in his pockets, and his hat on his head, swaying
from one foot to another, his lower lip hanging a little and very moist,
his wandering eyes turned towards the door. Patty entering alone under
the eyes of these ladies, with a consciousness that much had passed
since she had last looked at herself in a glass, and that veil and
mantle might easily have got awry--and with the additional excitement of
surprise in finding them there when she had looked at the worst only for
the presence of Mrs. Osborne--might well have called forth a sympathetic
movement in any bosom. And when it is added to this that Gervase,
standing there against the light, had probably never in all his life
looked so idiotic before, and that _he had his hat on his head_, last
and most dreadful climax of all, it may be dimly imagined what were the
sensations of his bride. But there are circumstances in which an unusual
exaggeration of trouble brings support. Patty looked for a moment and
then rushed upon her husband in horror. “Oh, Gervase! do you know you
have got your hat on, and ladies in the room?” she cried, with an almost
shriek of dismay.

Gervase put up his hand to his head, took off the hat, and then
carefully examined it, as if to find the reason of offence there. “Have
I?” he said, with a laugh; “then I never knew it. You should stick by me
if you mean me to behave. _I_ don’t think of such things.”

“Then you ought,” she cried, breathless, taking the hat from him with a
wife’s familiarity, “and you ought to beg pardon.” She took him by the
arm quickly and led him forward a step or two. “Ladies,” she said, “I am
sure me and my husband are very glad to see you. He meant no rudeness,
I’m sure. He doesn’t think about such little things. I am still,” she
added, “a sort of a stranger”--with an insinuating smile which, however,
was very tremulous, for Patty’s nerves were strained to the utmost. She
paused a moment for breath. “A bride has the feeling that the friends of
the family know her husband better than she does; and it’s such a sad
occasion to begin. But I’m sure I may say both for him and for me that
we are pleased, and will always be pleased, to see old friends here.”

The ladies sat and stared at her speechless. What reply could be made to
a woman so manifestly within her rights?



CHAPTER XXIV.


Patty felt, which was surely very natural, that the worst of her
troubles were over after this scene; and when Mrs. Osborne went out with
the ladies, going with them from sheer inability to know what to do--she
threw herself into a great chair, which seemed to embrace and support
her, with a sense at once of having earned and fully deserved the
repose, and also of having been successful all along the line. She had
encountered almost all who were likely to be her adversaries, and they
had all given way before her. To be sure, there had not been much said
to her: the gentlemen had stood aside to let her in, the ladies had
stared and said nothing, only one of them had turned with a little
compunction of civility to bow to her as she went away. The old lady,
whom Patty knew to be Lady Hartmore, had waddled out, saying: “Well,
Meg, we shall say all we have to say another time,” and had not so much
as looked again at Patty. Meg Osborne, as Patty had begun to call her,
had kept her eyes on the ground, and had accompanied her friends to the
door without a word. But still it was Patty who had driven them away,
not they who had interfered with Patty. When one of the armies in an
engagement encamps upon the field of battle, that belligerent is
generally admitted to have won the day. And here was Mrs. Gervase
resting in that large deep chair, which was such an one as Patty Hewitt
had never seen before, enjoying a moment of well-earned repose in her
own house. Was it her own house? Her pulses were all throbbing with the
excitement of conflict and the pride of victory; but she was aware that
her triumph was not yet assured. Nevertheless, everything was in her
favour. This grand house into which she had made her way, and which was
even grander than Patty had supposed, was certainly her husband’s home,
and she was his wife as legally, as irrevocably as if she had been
married with the consent of all the parents in the world. Nothing could
part her from her husband, neither force nor law, and though her heart
still owned a thrill of alarm and insecurity, she became more at ease as
she thought the matter over. Who dared turn her out of the house into
which she had so bravely fought her way? Nobody but Sir Giles, who was
not equal to the effort, who would not wish to do it, she felt sure.
Patty had a conviction in her mind that she only required to be let
alone and allowed access to him for a single day to get wholly the upper
hand of Sir Giles. And who else had any right to interfere? Not Meg
Osborne, who had herself no right to be at Greyshott, except as a humble
companion and hanger-on. A niece! what was a niece in the house? Patty
herself had a poor cousin who had been taken in at the Seven Thorns, as
a sort of inferior servant, out of charity, as everybody said, and whose
life Patty well knew had been a very undesirable one. What was Meg
Osborne more than Mary Thorne? She had no right to say a word. Neither
had the tall gentleman, of whom she was, however, more frightened, whom
she had already discovered to be Colonel Piercey, the nearest relation.
How persons like Patty do make such discoveries is wonderful, a science
which cannot be elucidated or formulated in mere words. She knew by
instinct, and she knew also that he could not interfere. The servants
were more in Patty’s way, and her hatred of them was sharp and keen--but
she had already managed to discredit Dunning, and she was not afraid of
the servants. What could they do? What would they venture to do against
the son’s wife? All these thoughts were passing through her mind as she
rested in the great chair. And yet that repose was not without thorns.
Gervase, though he stood still and stared while the ladies withdrew, did
not rest as she was doing. He walked to the window, to look out, and
stood there fidgetting, and eager to take part in all the commotion
outside. “Lord!” he cried, “Hartmore’s carriage is sent round to the
stables, and my lord has got to wait, and Stubbins, the little parson,
is offering his fly. Oh, I can’t stay here, Patty, I must be in the fun.
You can get on very well by yourself without me.”

“What do you want with fun the day of your mother’s funeral?” she said
severely. “They’ll all think a deal more of you if you stay quiet here.”

Gervase’s countenance fell at the suggestion of his mother’s funeral. No
doubt, had he been at home, had his dull mind acquainted itself with the
preliminaries, he would have been more or less moved. But it was too
great an effort of mind for him to connect the ceremony in the
churchyard, the grave and the flowers, with Lady Piercey, whom he had
left in her usual health, deciding everything in her usual peremptory
way. He had a strong impression that she would presently appear on the
scene as usual and settle everything; and a sort of alarm came over his
face, and his spirit was overawed for a moment by the mention of her
name. There succeeded accordingly, for about a minute, silence in the
room, which left Patty time to go over the question again. Who could
interfere with her? Nobody! Not Meg Osborne, not Colonel Piercey, not a
mere housekeeper or butler. Oh dear no! Nobody but Sir Giles himself!
Patty settled herself more and more comfortably in her chair. The
funeral had been at an unusually late hour, and it was now almost
evening. She thought that after a little interval she would ring the
bell for tea. If any one had need of refreshment after the labour of the
day, it was she. And after that there were many things to think of, both
small things and great things. What should she do about dinner, for
instance? Meg Osborne, no doubt, had got a full wardrobe of mourning,
day dress and evening dress (at her, Patty’s, expense!), while Mrs.
Gervase Piercey had only the gown which she had on, an old dress
plastered with crape. Should she wear this for dinner? The thought of
going down to dinner, sitting down with a footman behind her chair, and
all the etiquette involved, was almost too much for Patty, and took away
her breath. Should she brush the skirt, and smarten up the neck and wear
this? Or should she send down to the Seven Thorns for her black silk,
and explain that she had not had time to get proper mourning? Gervase
had begun to fidget again while she carried on this severe course of
thought. She could hear him laughing to himself at the window, making
occasional exclamations. “Oh, by Jove!” he called out at last. “There’s
lots more coming, one on the top of another. I’m going to see after
them.” She was so deep in her meditations, that he was gone before she
could interfere. And thus she was left in the great silent library, a
room such as she had never seen before, overawing her with the sight of
the bookcases, the white marble faces looking down upon her of the busts
that stood high up here and there, the full-length portraits that stared
upon her from the other side. Many people, quite as little educated as
Patty--or less so, for the sixth standard necessarily includes many
things--had come and gone lightly enough, and thought nothing of the
books or the ancestors. I doubt much whether Margaret Osborne had half
so much general information as Patty had; but, then, their habits of
mind were very different. Mrs. Gervase, when she was left alone, could
not help being a little overawed by all she saw. Her husband was not
much to hold on by, but yet he “belonged there,” and she did not. Patty
had felt increasingly, ever since the day on which she married him, how
very little her husband was to be depended upon. She had fully
recognised that before the marriage, and had decided that she should not
mind. But now it seemed a grievance to Patty that he could not defend
her and advise her; that she had nobody but herself to look to; that
quite possibly he might even abandon her at the most critical moment.
“There is never any calculating,” she said to herself bitterly, “what a
fool may do;” in which sentiment Patty echoed, without knowing it, all
the philosophies of the subject. Who could have thought he would have
slid away from her, on her first entrance into a house where she would
have to fight her way step by step, for nothing at all--for the first
novelty that caught his wandering eye?

Patty was tired, and she cried a little at this crisis, feeling that her
fate was hard. To acquire a husband with so much trouble, and to find
out at once how little help to her he was. He was very fond of her, she
knew. Still, now he was used to her, and took her for granted as a part
of the order of things, he could not keep his mind fixed even on his
wife. He was only a Softy after all, nothing more! Patty roused herself
briskly, however, from this line of thought, which was evidently not one
to encourage, and rang the bell. It remained a long time unanswered; and
then she rang again. This time the footman who had turned his back upon
her at the carriage-door, came, looked in, said “Oh!” when he saw her
sitting alone, and went away. Patty’s fury was indescribable. Oh that
dolt John Simpson, what a fate he was making for himself! While she
waited, growing more and more angry, Mrs. Osborne came in again, with
hesitation. She was still in her outdoor dress, and looked disturbed and
embarrassed.

“The servants---- have told me---- that you had rung the bell,” she
said, faltering considerably. “Is there---- anything---- I can order for
you?”

Margaret was very little prepared for her _rôle_, and was as profoundly
aware of her own want of power as Patty could be.

“Order for me!” said Patty. “I rang for tea, as a proper servant would
have known; and I wish you to know, Mrs. Osborne--if you are Mrs.
Osborne, as I suppose, for no one has had the decency to introduce
you--that it is my place to give the orders, and not yours.”

Margaret was so much taken by surprise that she had no weapon with which
to defend herself. She said mildly:--

“I do not often give orders; but the housekeeper, who was my aunt’s
favourite maid, is much overcome. I will tell them--what you want.”

“Thank you, I can tell them myself,” said Patty, ringing another, a
louder, and more violent peal. It brought up the butler himself in great
haste, and it startled the still lingering visitors, who again thought
nothing less than that Sir Giles must be taken ill. “Bring up tea
directly,” cried Mrs. Gervase. “This is the third time I have rung. I
pass over it now, owing to the confusion of the house, but it had better
not occur again.”

The butler stared open-mouthed at the new-comer. Patty Hewitt, of the
Seven Thorns! He knew her as well as he knew his own sister. Then he
looked at Mrs. Osborne, who made him a slight sign--and then
disappeared, to carry astonishment and dismay into the servants’ hall.

“Mrs. Osborne give me a nod,” said the angry dignitary, “as I had better
do it. Lord! saucing me as have known her since she was _that_ high,
setting up for my lady, as grand as grand, and the family giving in to
her!”

“The family!” said the cook, tossing her head; “call Mrs. Osborne the
family, that is no better nor you and me. Far worse! A companion as is
nobody, eating dirt to make her bread.”

“Oh, if my poor lady had been here!” said Parsons, “that creature would
soon have been put to the door! She was too soft-hearted over Mr.
Gervase, was my poor lady--but not to stand that. As for Miss Meg, she
hasn’t got the spirit of a mouse!”

“But what am I to do?” said Stevens, the butler. “Me, an old servant,
ordered about and sauced like that! What am I to do, I ask you? Take up
the tea--or what? Mrs. Osborne, she give me a nod--but Mrs. Osborne
she’s not like Sir Giles’ daughter, and nobody has no authority. What am
I to do?”

It was finally resolved in that anxious conclave that John should be
sent up with the tea, much to John’s mortification and alarm, who began
to feel that, perhaps, it might have been better to be civil to Patty
Hewitt. He went, but returned in a minute, flying along the passages,
his face crimson, his eyes staring out of his head. “She says as I’m
never to show in her sight again!” he cried. “She says as how Mr.
Stevens is to come hisself and do his duty: nor she didn’t say _Mr._
Stevens either,” cried John, with momentary satisfaction, “but Stevens,
short; and wouldn’t let me so much as put down the tray!”

“Robert can take it,” said the butler; but he was bewildered and
hesitated. Presently he followed with a sheepish air. “I’ll just go and
see what comes of it,” he said.

Patty was sitting up very erect in her chair, a flame of battle on her
cheeks. She allowed herself, however, to show a dignified relief when
Stevens came in following his inferior, who carried the tray. It was not
to be supposed that so great a man could bear that burden for himself:
Patty recognised this fact with instant sympathy. She nodded her head
with dignity.

“Stevens,” she said, with the air of a duchess, “you will see that that
man never comes into my sight again.”

Stevens did not, indeed, make any reply, but a sound of consternation
burst from him, a suspiration of forced breath, which Patty accepted as
assent. Margaret was standing at a little distance speechless, an image
of confusion and embarrassment. She knew no more than the servants what
to do. Gervase’s wife--as there was no reason to doubt this woman
was--how could Gervase’s cousin oppose her? Margaret had no rights--no
position in the household; but the wife of Gervase had certainly rights,
however inopportune might be the moment at which she chose to assert
them. Mrs. Osborne, however, started violently when she herself was
addressed with engaging friendliness.

“Won’t you come and have some tea? No? are you going? Then, will you
please tell Gervase that tea is here, and I am waiting for him?” Patty
said.

Margaret withdrew from the room as if a shot had been fired at her. Her
confusion and helplessness were so great that they went beyond anything
like resentment. She was almost overawed by the boldness of the intruder
and the impossibility of the situation. Gervase stood in the doorway,
excited and pleased, shouting for the carriages, talking about the
horses to whoever would talk with him. She was glad of some excuse for
calling him, taking him by the arm. Certainly he would be better
anywhere than there.

“Gervase,” she said, “tell me, is that your wife who is in the library?”

“Eh? What do you say, Meg? Patty? Why, of course! What did you think she
could be? Patty! look here, you come and tell Meg----”

“Hush, Gervase, she wants you to go to her. Tea is ready, and she is
waiting for you. Now go, Gervase, go--do go!”

“She’s come over Meg, too!” said Gervase to himself with a chuckle; and,
fortunately, his amusement in that, and the impulse of his cousin’s
touch on his arm, and the new suggestion which, whatever it happened to
be, was always powerful with him, made him obey the call which now came
out shrilly over the other noises from the library door.

“Gervase! Gervase! I’m waiting for you for tea.”

Margaret crossed the hall into the morning-room, with a grave face. The
consternation which was in her whole aspect moved Colonel Piercey, who
followed her, to a short laugh. “What is to be done?” he said.

“Oh, nothing, nothing that I know of! Of course she is Gervase’s
wife--she has a right to be here. I don’t know what my poor uncle will
say--but I told you before he would be talked over.”

“She showed herself very ready and with all her wits about her, at the
door.”

“Yes,” said Margaret. “She has a great deal of sense, I have always
heard. It may not be a bad thing after all.”

“It frightens you, however,” Colonel Piercey said.

“Not frightens but startles me--very much: and then, poor Aunt Piercey!
Poor Aunt Piercey! her only child, and on her funeral day.”

“She was not a wise mother, I should imagine.”

“What does that matter?” cried Margaret. “And who is wise? We do what we
think is the best, and it turns out the worst. How can we tell? I am
glad she is gone, at least, and did not see it,” she cried with a few
hot tears.

Colonel Piercey looked at her coldly, as he always did. It was on his
lips to say, “She was not very good to you, that you should shed tears
for her,” but he refrained. He could not refrain, however, from
saying--which was perhaps worse--“I am afraid it is a thing which will
much affect you.”

“Oh, me!” she cried, with a sort of proud disdain, and turned and left
him without a word. Whatever happened he was always her hardest and
coldest judge, suggesting meanness in her conduct and thoughts even to
herself.



CHAPTER XXV.


No house could be more agitated and disturbed than was Greyshott on the
night of Lady Piercey’s funeral. That event, indeed, was enough to throw
a heavy cloud over the dwelling, where the imperious old lady had filled
so large a place, that the mere emptiness, where her distinct and
imposing figure was withdrawn, touched the imagination, even if it did
not touch the heart. The impression, however, on such an occasion is
generally one of subdued quiet and gloom--an arrest of life; whereas the
great house was quivering with fears and suppositions, with the
excitement of a struggle which nobody could see the end of, or divine
how it should turn. The servants were in a ferment, some of them
expecting dismissal; others agreed that under new sway, such as seemed
to threaten, Greyshott would not be a place for them. The scene in the
housekeeper’s room, where the heads of the female department sat
together dismayed, and exchanged presentiments and resolutions, was
tragic in its intensity of alarm and wrath. The cook had not given more
than a passing thought to the dinner, which an eager kitchen-maid on her
promotion had the charge of; and Parsons sat arranging her lists of
linen with a proud but melancholy certainty that all would be found
right, however hastily her reign might be brought to an end.

“I never thought as I should have to give them up to the likes of her,”
Parsons said, among her tears. “Oh, my lady, my poor lady! She’s been
took away from the evil to come.”

“She’d never have let the likes of her step within our doors,” said
cook, indignant, “if it had only been poor Sir Giles, as is no better
than a baby, that had been took, and my lady left to keep things
straight.”

“Oh, don’t say that, cook, don’t say that,” cried Parsons, “for then
_he’d_ have been Sir Gervase, and _she_ Lady Piercey, and my lady would
have--bursted; that’s what she would have done.”

“Lord!” cried the cook, “Lady Piercey! But the Colonel or somebody would
have stopped that.”

“There’s nobody as could have stopped it,” said Parsons, better
informed. “They might say as he hadn’t his wits, and couldn’t manage his
property, or that--but to stop him from being Sir Gervase, and her Lady
Piercey, is what nobody can do; no, not the Queen, nor the Parliament:
for he was born to that: Softy or not it don’t make no difference.”

“Lord!” said the cook again: and she took an opportunity shortly after
of going into the kitchen and giving a look at the dinner, of which that
ambitious, pushing kitchen-maid was making a _chef-d’œuvre_. The same
information filtering through the house made several persons nervous.
Simpson, the footman, for one, gave himself up for lost; and any other
member of the household who had ever entered familiarly at the Seven
Thorns, or given a careless order for a pot of beer to Patty, now shook
in his shoes. The general sentiments at first had been those of
indignation and scorn; but a great change soon came over the
household--a universal thrill of alarm, a sense of insecurity. No one
ventured now to mention the name of Patty. _She_, they called her with
awe--and in the case of some far-seeing persons, like that kitchen-maid,
the intruder had already received her proper name of Mrs. Gervase, or
even Lady Gervase, from those whose education was less complete.

The sensation of dismay which thus pervaded the house attained, perhaps,
its climax in the rooms which Margaret Osborne shared with her boy, and
where she had withdrawn after her brief intercourse with Patty. These
rooms were little invaded by the rest of the household, the nurse who
took care of Osy, doing everything that was needed for her mistress, and
the little apartment making a sort of sanctuary for the mother and the
child. She was sure of quiet there if nowhere else; and when she had
closed the door she seemed for a moment to leave behind her all the
agitations which convulsed and changed the course of life. The two
rooms, opening into one another, in which Margaret’s life had been spent
for years, which were almost the only home that Osy had ever known, were
still hers, though she could not tell for how short a time: the sword
hanging over the mantelpiece, which Osy had described as the only thing
which belonged to his mother and himself, hung there still, their symbol
of individual possession. For years past, Margaret had felt herself safe
when she closed that door. She held it, as it now appeared, on but a
precarious footing; but she had not thought so up to this time. She had
felt that she had a right to her shelter, that her place was one which
nobody could take from her; not the right of inheritance, it is true,
but of nature. It was the home of her fathers, though she was only Sir
Giles’ niece, and bore another name. She had been a dependant indeed,
but not as a stranger would be. It was the home of her childhood, and it
was hers as long as the old rule continued--the natural state of affairs
which she had not thought of as coming to an end. Even Lady Piercey’s
death had not appeared to her to make an end. Sir Giles would need her
more: there would be still more occasion for her presence in the house
when the imperious, but not unkind, mistress went away. The old lady had
been sharp in speech, and careless of her feelings, but she had never
forgotten that Meg Piercey had a right to her shelter as well as duties
to discharge there. There had been, indeed, a scare about Gervase, but
it was a proof of the slightness of reality in that scare that Margaret
had scarcely thought of it as affecting herself. She had been eager to
bring back Gervase to his mother, if by no other means, by the help of
Patty, thus recognising her position; but after Lady Piercey’s death,
when the necessity was no longer pressing, Margaret had thought of it no
more. And, certainly, of all days in the world, it was not upon the day
of the funeral that she had looked for any disturbance in her life.

But now in a moment--in the time that sufficed to open a door, to ring a
bell, to give an order--Mrs. Osborne recognised that this life was over.
It had seemed as if it must never come to an end, as all established and
settled existence does; and now in a moment it had come to an end. At
many moments, when her patience was strained to the utmost, Margaret had
come up here and composed herself, and felt herself safe within these
walls. As long as she had this refuge she could bear anything, and there
had been no likelihood that it would be taken from her. But now,
whatever she might have to bear, it seemed certain that it was not here
she could retire to reconcile herself to it. It seemed scarcely possible
to believe that the old order of affairs was over; and yet she felt
convinced that it was over and could return no more. She did not as yet
ask herself what she should do. She had never acted for herself, never
inquired into the possibilities of life. Captain Osborne’s widow had
come back to her home as the only natural thing to do. She had been
brought up to do Lady Piercey’s commands, to be the natural,
superfluous, yet necessary, person who had no duty save to do duty for
everybody; and she had fallen back into that position as if it were the
only one in life. Margaret did not enter into any questions with herself
even now, much less come to any decision. It was enough for one day to
have faced the startling, incomprehensible fact that her life was over,
the only life--except that brief episode of her marriage--which she had
ever known. Where was she to go with her little pension, her husband’s
sword, and her boy? But she could not tell, or even think, as yet, of
any step to take. All that she was capable of was to feel that the
present existence, the familiar life, was at an end.

Osy had been left in a secluded corner of the garden while the funeral
took place, to be out of the way. It had not seemed necessary to his
mother to envelop him in mourning, and take him with her through that
strange ceremonial, so mysterious to childish thoughts; and while she
sat alone, the sound of his little voice and step became audible to her
coming up the stairs. Osy, who was willing on ordinary occasions to
spend the whole of his time out-of-doors, had been impatient to-day,
touched by the prevailing agitation, though he did not know what it
meant. He came in, stamping with his little feet, making up for the
quiet which had been exacted from him for a few days past, and threw
himself against Margaret’s knee.

“Movver,” he said, breathless, “there’s a lady down in the libery.”

“Yes, Osy, I know.”

“Oh, movver knows,” he said, turning to his attendant, “I told you
movver alvays knows. Very queer fings,” said Osy, reflectively, “have
tummed to pass to-day.”

“What things, Osy?”

“Fings about Aunt Piercey,” said the little boy, counting upon his
fingers; “somefing I don’t understand. You said, movver, she had don to
heaven, but Parsons, she said you had all don to put her somewhere else,
but I believe you best; and then there were all the carriages and the
gemplemans, and the horse that runned away. But most strangest of all,
the lady in the libery.” He paused to think. “I fought she wasn’t a lady
at all, but a dressmaker or somefing.”

“And then? you changed your mind?”

“No,” said the little boy, doubtfully, “not me. But she looked out of
the window, and then she called, ‘Gervase! Gervase!’--she touldn’t say,
Gervase, Gervase, if she were one of the maids. I fink it’s the lady
Cousin Gervase went to London to marrwy. And I’m glad,” Osy said, making
another pause. He resumed, “I’m glad, because now I know that my big
silver piece was a marrwage present, movver. He tooked it, but I dave it
him all the same; and as it was a marrwage present, I don’t mind
scarcely at all. But that is not the funniest fing yet,” said Osy,
putting up his hand to his mother’s face to secure her attention;
“there’s somefing more, movver. She tummed to the window, and she said,
‘Gervase, Gervase, who is that ickle boy?’”

“Well, Osy, there was nothing very wonderful in that,” said Margaret,
trying to smile.

“Yes, mower, there was two fings wonderful.” He held out the small dirty
forefinger again, and tapped upon it with the forefinger of his other
little fat hand. “First--there touldn’t any lady tum to Greyshott and
not know me. I’m not an ickle boy, I’m Osy; and another fing, she knows
me already quite well; for she isn’t a beau’ful lady from London, like
that one that singed songs, you know. She is the woman at the Seven
Thorns. Sally, tum here and tell movver. We knowed her quite well, bof
Sally and me.”

“It’s quite true, ma’am, as Mr. Osy says, it’s quite, quite----”

“That will do,” said Margaret, “I want no information on the subject.
Make haste, Sally, and get Master Osy’s tea.”

Osy stood looking up somewhat anxiously in his mother’s face, leaning
against her. He put one hand into hers, and put the other to her chin to
make her look at him, with a way he had. “Movver, why don’t you want
in--in--formashun?” he said.

“Osy, my little boy, you know you mustn’t talk before Sally of your
Cousin Gervase or the family; you must tell me whatever happens, but not
any of the servants. That lady is perhaps going to be the lady of the
house, now. She is Mrs. Gervase, and she has a better right to be here
than you or me. Perhaps we shall have to go away. You must be a very
good, very thoughtful little boy; and polite, like a gentleman, to every
one.”

“I am never not a gemplemans, movver,” said the child, with an air of
offended dignity; then he suddenly grew red, and cried out, “Oh, I
fordot! Cousin Colonel met me in the hall, and he said would I tell you
to tum, please, and speak to him in the rose-garden, because he touldn’t
tum upstairs. Will you do and speak to Cousin Colonel in the garden,
movver? He said, wouldn’t I tum with him to his house?”

“Osy! but you wouldn’t go with any one, would you, away from your
mother?”

“Oh, not for always,” cried the child, “but for a day, two days, to ride
upon his s’oulder. He’s not like Cousin Gervase. He holds fast--fast;
and I likes him. Movver, run into the rose-garden; for I fordot, and he
is there waiting, and he will fink I’ve broke my word. And I doesn’t
want you now,” said Osy, waving his hand, “for I’m doin’ to have my
tea.”

Thus dismissed, Margaret rose slowly and with reluctance. She did not
run to the rose-garden as her son had bidden her. A cloud had come over
her face. It was quite reasonable that Colonel Piercey should ask to
speak with her in her changed position of affairs. It would be quite
reasonable, indeed, that he should offer her advice, or even help. He
was her nearest relation, and though he had not been either just or kind
to herself, he had fallen under the charm of her little boy. It might be
that, distasteful as it was, for Osy’s sake she would have to accept,
even to seek, Gerald Piercey’s advice. Probably it was true kindness on
his part to offer it in the first place, to put himself at her disposal.
For herself there could be no such question; somehow, so far as she was
concerned, she could struggle and live or die: what would it matter? But
Osy must grow up, must be educated, must become a man. Margaret had been
of opinion that she knew something already of the bitterness of
dependence; it seemed to her now, however, that she had not tasted it
until this day.

END OF VOL. I.

PRINTED BY F. A. BROCKHAUS, LEIPZIG.





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