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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFated To Be Free: A Novel - Chapter 18. A Morning Call
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Fated To Be Free: A Novel - Chapter 18. A Morning Call Post by :epsilon7 Category :Long Stories Author :Jean Ingelow Date :May 2012 Read :3704

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Fated To Be Free: A Novel - Chapter 18. A Morning Call

CHAPTER XVIII. A MORNING CALL

"Learn now for all
That I, which know my heart, do here pronounce
By the very truth of it, I care not for you."--_Cymbeline._


"John," said Valentine, ten days after this dinner party, "you have not called on D. yet, nor have I."

"No," John answered, observing his wish, "and it might not be a bad plan for us to go together."

"Thank you, and if you would add the twins to--to make the thing easier and less formal."

"Nonsense," said John; "but yes, I'll take some of the children, for of course you feel awkward." He did not add, "You should not have made such a fool of yourself," lest Valentine should answer, "I devoutly wish I had not;" but he went on, "And why don't you say Dorothea, instead of using a nickname?"

"I always used to call her D.," said Valentine.

"All the more reason why you should not now," answered John.

And Valentine murmured to himself--

"'These strong Egyptian fetters I must break, or lose myself in dotage' (_Antony and Cleopatra_)" This he added from old habit. "I'll quote everything I can think of to D., just to make her think I have forgotten her wish that I should leave off quoting; and if that is not doing my duty by St. George, I should like to know what is. Only that might put it into his head to quote too, and perhaps he might have the best of it. I fancy I hear him saying, 'Art thou learned?' I, as William, answer, 'No, sir.' 'Then learn this of me,' he makes reply, 'to have is to have; for all your writers do consent that _ipse is he. Now you are not _ipse_, for I am he. He, sir, that hath married this woman. Therefore, you clown, abandon, which is--,' &c., &c. What a fool I am!"

John, adding the twins and little Bertram to the party, drove over on a Saturday afternoon, finding no one at home but Mrs. Henfrey.

"St. George," she said, "has taken to regular work, and sits at his desk all the morning, and for an hour or two in the afternoon, excepting on Saturday, when he gives himself a half-holiday, as if he was a schoolboy."

"And where was he now?" John asked.

"Somewhere about the place with Dorothea; he had been grubbing up the roots of the trees in a corner of the little wood at all leisure times; he thought of turning it into a vegetable garden."

"Why, we always had more vegetables than we could use," exclaimed Valentine, "and we were three times as large a family."

"Very true, my dear, but they are full of schemes--going to grow some vegetables, I think, and flowers, for one of the county hospitals. It would not be like him, you know, to go on as other people do."

"No," Valentine answered. "And he always loved a little hard work out of doors; he is wise to take it now, or he would soon get tired of stopping peaceably at home, playing Benedict in this dull place."

The children were then sent out to find where the young wife was, and come and report to their father, telling her that he would pay his call out of doors.

"And so you are still here, sister," observed Valentine, willing to change the subject, for he had been rather disconcerted by a quiet smile with which she had heard his last speech.

"Yes, my dear, the fact is, they won't let me go."

"Ah, indeed?"

"Of course I never thought they would want me. And the morning after they came home I mentioned that I had been looking out for a house--that small house that I consulted John about, and, in fact, took."

Mrs. Henfrey was hardly ever known to launch into narration. She almost always broke up her remarks by appeals to one and another of her listeners, and she now did not go on till John had made the admission that she had consulted him. She then proceeded with all deliberation--

"But you should have seen how vexed St. George looked. He had no idea, he said, that I should ever think of leaving him; and, indeed, I may mention to you in confidence, both of you, that he always drew for me what money I said was wanted for the bills, and he no more thought of looking at my housekeeping books than my father did."

"Really," said Valentine.

He was quite aware of this, to him, insignificant fact, but to have said more would only have put her out, and he wanted her to talk just then.

"And so," she continued slowly, "I said to him, I said, 'My dear Giles, I have had a pleasant home in this house, many, many years, indeed, ever since you were a child; but it is my opinion (and you will find it is the general opinion) that every young wife should have her house to herself.' I did not doubt at all that this was her opinion too, only I considered that as he had spoken so plainly, she might not like to say so."

"No, very likely not," said John, when she stopped, as if stranded, till somebody helped her on with a remark.

"You are quite right, John, any one might have thought so; but in a minute or two. 'Well,' said St. George, 'this is rather a blow;' and what does that pretty creature do but come and sit by me, and begin to coax me. 'She wanted me so much, and it would be so kind if I would but stop and do as I always had done, and she would be so careful to please me, and she had always thought the house was so beautifully managed, and everything in such order, and so regular.'"

"So it is," Valentine put in. "She is quite right there."

"'And she didn't know how to order the dinner,' she said; and so she went on, till I said, 'Well, my dears, I don't wish that there should be any mistake about this for want of a little plain speaking.'"

"Well?" said John, when she came to a dead stop.

"And she said, 'You love St. George, don't you, just as much as if he was related to you?' 'How can any one help loving him?' 'And I know if you leave us he won't be half so comfortable. And nobody should ever interfere with you,' So I said I would keep their house for them, and you may suppose how glad I was to say it, for I'm like a cat, exactly like a cat--I don't like to leave a place that I am used to, and it would have been difficult for her to manage."

"Yes, very."

"I had often been thinking, when I supposed I had to go, that she would never remember to see that the table-linen was all used in its proper turn, and to have the winter curtains changed for white ones before the sun faded them."

"You're such a comfortable, dear thing to live with," observed Valentine, now the narrative was over. "Everybody likes you, you know."

Mrs. Henfrey smiled complacently, accepting the compliment. She was, to all strangers, an absolutely uninteresting woman; but her family knew her merits, and Giles and Valentine were both particularly alive to them.

"And so here I am," continued 'sister,' "but it is a pity for poor Emily, for she wanted me to live in that house, you know, John, with her."

"But I thought old Walker was devoted to her," said John.

"So he was, my dear, so long as her boy was with her; but now she is nobody, and I am told he shows a willingness to let her go, which is almost like dismissing her."

"I hope she will not get my old woman away to live with her," thought John, with a sudden start. "I don't know what I may be driven to, if she does. I shall have to turn out of my own house, or take the Golden Head into it by way of protection. No, not that! I'll play the man. But," he thought, continuing his cogitations, "Emily is too young and attractive to live alone, and what so natural as that she should ask her old aunt to come to her?"

John was still deeply cogitating on this knotty point when the children came back, and conducted him and Valentine to the place where Brandon was at work, and Dorothea sitting near him on a tree-stump knitting.

None of the party ever forgot that afternoon, but each remembered it as an appeal to his own particular circumstances. Brandon was deep in the contentment of a great wish fulfilled. The newly-perfected life was fresh and sweet, and something of reserve in the character and manners of his wife seemed to restrain him from using up the charm of it too fast. His restless and passionate nature was at once satisfied and kept in check by the freshness and moderation of hers. She received his devotion very quietly, made no demonstrations, but grew to him, laid up his confidences in her heart, and let him discover--though she never said it--that all the rest of the world was becoming as nothing for his sake. Accordingly it did not occur to him, excepting on Valentine's own account, to consider how he might feel during this interview. He noticed that he was a little sulky and perhaps rather out of countenance; he did not wonder at these things; but being absolutely secure of his wife's love, he never even said to himself how impossible it was that her affection should revert to Valentine; but this was for the simple reason that he had never thought about that matter at all. He talked to Valentine on indifferent subjects, and felt that he should be glad when he had got over the awkwardness he was then evidently enduring, for they had been accustomed, far more than most brothers, to live together on terms of familiar intimacy, and only one of them at present was aware that this could never be again.

Valentine also never forgot, but often saw that picture again with the fresh fulness of the leaves for a background to the girlish figure; and the fair face so innocent and candid and so obviously content. She was seated opposite to him, with Brandon on the grass close to her. In general they addressed each other merely by the Christian name, but just before John rose to take leave, Dorothea dropped her ball. It rolled a little way, and pointing it out to Brandon with her long wooden knitting-pin, she said, in a soft quiet tone, "Love, will you pick it up?" and Valentine, who had overheard the little speech, was inexpressibly hurt, almost indignant. He could not possibly have told why, but he hoped she did not say that often, and when Brandon gave it into her hand again, and said something to her that Valentine could not hear, he felt almost as if he had been unkindly used, as if his feelings had been insulted, and he vowed that it should be a long time before he came to see them again.

"It won't do," he thought to himself. "I see this means a great deal more than I ever thought it did. I thought Giles would be jealous, and I should have to set things in a light that would satisfy him; but it is I who am jealous, and he does not care what I feel at all. She is all I could wish; but I don't know whether looking at her is most bitter or most sweet."

As for John, he had walked down to the wood as usual, in full possession of his present self, and as he supposed of his future intentions, and yet, sitting opposite to these married lovers for a quarter of an hour, wrought a certain change in him that nothing ever effaced. It was an alien feeling to him to be overcome by a yearning discontent. Something never yet fed and satisfied made its presence known to him. It was not that sense which comes to all, sooner or later, that human life cannot give us what we expected of it, but rather a passionate waking to the certainty that he never even for one day had possessed what it might have given. He had never been endowed for one day with any deep love, with its keen perceptions and high companionship.

"Well, I suppose I didn't deserve it," he thought, half angrily, while he tried to trample the feeling down and stifle it. But his keener instincts soon rose up in him and let him know that he did deserve it. It was very extraordinary that he had not won it--there were few men, indeed, who deserved it half so well.

"But it's too late now," he chose to say to himself, as he drove home. "It's not in my line either to go philandering after any woman. Besides, I hate red hair. The next _Dissolution I'll stand for the borough of Wigfield. Seven children to bring up, and one of them almost as big as myself--what a fool I am! What can I have been thinking of?"

"What are you laughing at, papa?" said Barbara, who was sitting beside him.

"Not at you, my darling," he replied; "for you are something real."

For the next few weeks neither he nor Valentine saw much of Dorothea: excepting at three or four dinners, they scarcely met at all. After this came the Harrow holidays. Johnny came home, and with him the inevitable Crayshaw. The latter was only to stay a week, and that week should have been spent with Brandon, but the boys had begged hard to be together, having developed a peculiar friendship for one another which seemed to have been founded on many fights, in consequence of which they had been strictly forbidden to meet.

This had taken place more than a year before, when Crayshaw, having been invited by John to spend the holidays with his boy, the two had quarrelled, and even fought, to such a degree that John at last in despair had taken Johnnie over to his grandfather's house, with the declaration that if he so much as spoke to Crayshaw again, or crossed the wide brook that ran between the two houses, he would fine him half-a-crown every time he did it.

"Ith all that hateful map," said young hopeful sulkily, when he was borne off to his banishment.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," quoth his father. "I don't care what it's about. You have no notion of hospitality. I won't have you fight with your guest."

Crayshaw was in very weak health, but full of mischief and fun. For a few days he seemed happy enough, then he flagged, and on the fifth morning he laid half-a-crown beside John's plate at breakfast.

"What's this for?" asked John.

"Because it is not fair that he should be fined, and not I."

"Put it in the missionary box," said John, who knew very well that the boys had been constructing a dam together all the previous day.

"It was about their possessions that they quarrelled," said Gladys in giving an account of the matter afterwards. "They made a plan that they would go into partnership, and conquer all the rest of the world; but when they looked at the great map up in Parliament, and Johnnie found how much the most he had got, he said Cray must annex Japan, or he would not join. Cray said it was against his principles. So they quarrelled, and fought once or twice; but perhaps it was just as well, for you know the rest of the world would rather not be conquered. Then, when they were fined for playing together, they did every day. They made a splendid dam over the brook, which was very low; but one night came a storm, father's meadows were flooded, they could not get the dam undone, and some sheep were drowned. So they went to Grand, and begged him to tell father, and get them off. They said it was a strange thing they were never to be together, and neither of them had got a penny left. So Grand got them forgiven, and we went all over the meadows for two or three days in canoes and punts."

And now these two desirable inmates were to be together for a week. A great deal can be done in a week, particularly by those who give their minds to it because they know their time is short. That process called turning the house out of windows took place when John was away. Aunt Christie, who did not like boys, kept her distance, but Miss Crampton being very much scandalized by the unusual noise, declared, on the second morning of these holidays, that she should go up into Parliament, and see what they were all about. Miss Crampton was not supposed ever to go up into Parliament; it was a privileged place.

"Will the old girl really come, do you think?" exclaimed Crayshaw.

"She says she shall, as soon as she has done giving Janie her music lesson," replied Barbara, who had rushed up the steep stairs to give this message.

"Mon peruke!" exclaimed Johnnie looking round, "you'd better look out, then, or vous l'attrapperais."

The walls were hung with pictures, maps, and caricatures; these last were what had attracted Johnnie's eyes, and the girls began hastily to cover them.

"It's very unkind of her," exclaimed Barbara. "Father never exactly said that we were to have our own playroom to ourselves, but we know, and she knows, that he meant it."

Then, after a good deal of whispering, giggling, and consulting among the elder ones, the little boys were dismissed; and in the meantime Mr. Nicholas Swan, who, standing on a ladder outside, was nailing the vines (quite aware that the governess was going to have a reception which might be called a warning never to come there any more), may or may not have intended to make his work last as long as possible. At any rate, he could with difficulty forbear from an occasional grin, while, with his nails neatly arranged between his lips, he leisurely trained and pruned; and when he was asked by the young people to bring them up some shavings and a piece of wood, he went down to help in the mischief, whatever it might be, with an alacrity ill suited to his years and gravity.

"Now, I'll tell you what, young gentlemen," he remarked, when, ascending, he showed his honest face again, thrust in a log of wood, and exhibited an armful of shavings, "I'm agreeable to anything but gunpowder, or that there spark as comes cantering out o' your engine with a crack. No, Miss Gladys, ex-cuse me, I don't give up these here shavings till I know it's all right."

"Well, well, it _ith all right," exclaimed Johnnie, "we're not going to do any harm! O Cray, he'th brought up a log ath big ath a fiddle. Quelle alouette!"

"How lucky it is that she has never seen Cray!" exclaimed Barbara. "Johnnie, do be calm; how are we to do it, if you laugh so? Now then, you are to be attending to the electrifying machine."

"Swanny," asked Crayshaw, "have you got a pipe in your pocket? I want one to lie on my desk."

"Well, now, to think o' your asking me such a question, just as if I was ever _known to take so much as a whiff in working hours--no, not in the tool-house, nor nowhere."

"But just feel. Come, you might."

"Well, now, this here is remarkable," exclaimed Swan, with a start as if of great surprise, when, after feeling in several pockets, a pipe appeared from the last one.

"Don't knock the ashes out."

"She's coming," said Swan, furtively glancing down, and then pretending to nail with great diligence. "And, my word, if here isn't Miss Christie with her!"

A great scuffle now ensued to get things ready. Barbara darted down stairs, and what she may have said to Aunt Christie while Swan received some final instructions above, is of less consequence than what Miss Crampton may have felt when she found herself at the top of the stairs in the long room, with its brown high-pitched roof--a room full of the strangest furniture, warm with the sun of August, and sweet with the scent of the creepers.

Gladys and Johnnie were busy at the electrifying machine, and with a rustling and crackling noise the "spunky little flashes," as Swan called them, kept leaping from one leaden knob to another.

Miss Crampton saw a youth sitting on a low chair, with his legs on rather a higher one; the floor under him was strewed with shavings, which looked, Swan thought, "as natural as life," meaning that they looked just as if he had made them by his own proper whittling.

The youth in question was using a large pruning knife on a log that he held rather awkwardly on his knee. He had a soft hat, which had been disposed over one eye. Miss Crampton gave the sparks as wide a berth as she could, and as she advanced, "Well, sir," Swan was saying in obedience to his instructions, "if you've been brought up a republican, I spose you can't help it. But whatever _your notions may be, Old Master is staunch. He's all for Church and Queen and he hates republican institootions like poison. Which is likewise my own feelings to a T."

No one had taken any notice of Miss Crampton, and she stopped amazed.

"Wall," answered the youth, diligently whittling, "I think small potatoes of ye-our lo-cation myself--but ye-our monarchical government, I guess, hez not yet corrupted the he-eart of the Grand. He handed onto me and onto his hair a tip which"--here he put his hand in his waistcoat pocket, and fondly regarded two or three coins; then feigning to become aware of Miss Crampton's presence, "Augustus John, my yound friend," he continued, "ef yeow feel like it, I guess yeou'd better set a chair for the school marm--for it is the school marm, I calculate?"

Here Miss Christie, radiant with joy and malice, could not conceal her delight, but patted him on the shoulder, and then hastily retreated into the background, lest she should spoil the sport; while as Johnnie, having small command of countenance, did not dare to turn from the window out of which he was pretending to look, Crayshaw rose himself, shook hands with Miss Crampton, and setting a chair for her, began to whittle again.

"Wall," he then said, "and heow do yeou git along with ye-our teaching, marm? Squire thinks a heap of ye-our teaching, as I he-ear, specially ye-our teaching of the eye-talian tongue."

"Did I understand you to be arguing with the gardener when I came in, respecting the principles and opinions of this family?" inquired Miss Crampton, who had now somewhat recovered from her surprise, and was equal to the resenting of indignities.

"Wall, mebby I was, but it's a matter of science that we're mainly concerned with, I guess, this morning--science, electricity. We're gitting on first-rate--those rods on the stairs----"

"Yes?" exclaimed Miss Crampton.

"We air of a scientific turn, we air--Augustus John and I--fixing wires to every one of them. They air steep, those steps," he continued pensively.

Here Miss Crampton's colour increased visibly.

"And when the machine is che-arged, we shall electrify them. So that when yeou dew but touch one rod, it'll make yeou jump as high as the next step, without any voluntary effort. Yeou'll find that an improvement."

Here Swan ducked down, and laughed below at his ease.

"We air very scientific in my country."

"Indeed!"

"Ever been to Amurica?"

"Certainly not," answered Miss Crampton with vigour, "nor have I the slightest intention of ever doing so. Pray, are you allowed, in consideration of your nationality, to whittle in Harrow School?"

This was said by way of a reproof for the state of the floor.

"Wall," began Crayshaw, to cover the almost audible titters of the girls; but, distracted by this from the matter in hand, he coughed, went on whittling, and held his peace.

"I have often told Johnnie," said Miss Crampton with great dignity, at the same time darting a severe glance at Johnnie's back, "that the delight he takes in talking the Devonshire dialect is likely to be very injurious to his English, and he will have it that this country accent is not permanently catching. It may be hoped," she continued, looking round, "that other accents are not catching either."

Crayshaw, choosing to take this hint as a compliment, smiled sweetly. "I guess I'm speaking better than usual," he observed, "for my brother and his folks air newly come from the Ste-ates, and I've been with them. But," he continued, a sudden gleam of joy lighting up his eyes as something occurred to him that he thought suitable to "top up" with, "all the Mortimers talk with such a peowerful English ac-_cent_, that when I come de-own to this _lo_-cation, my own seems to melt off my tongue. Neow, yeou'll skasely believe it," he continued, "but it's tre-u, that ef yeou were tew hea-ar me talk at the end of a week, yeou'd he-ardly realise that I was an Amurican at all."

"Cray, how can ye?" exclaimed Aunt Christie, "and so wan as ye look this morning too."

"Seen my brother?" inquired Crayshaw meekly.

"No, I have not," said Miss Crampton bridling.

"He's merried. We settle airly in my country; it's one of our institootions." Another gleam of joy and impudence shot across the pallid face. "I'm thinking of settling shortly myself."

Then, as Aunt Christie was observed to be struggling with a laugh that, however long repressed, was sure to break forth at last, Barbara led her to the top of the stairs, and loudly entreated her to mind she didn't stumble, and to mind she did not touch the stair-rods, for the machine, she observed, was just ready.

"The jarth are all charged now, Cray," said Johnnie, coming forward at last. "Mith Crampton, would you like to have the firtht turn of going down with them?"

"No, thank you," said Miss Crampton almost suavely, and rising with something very like alacrity. Then, remembering that she had not even mentioned what she came for, "I wish to observe," she said, "that I much disapprove of the noise I hear up in Parliament. I desire that it may not occur again. If it does, I shall detain the girls in the schoolroom. I am very much disturbed by it."

"You don't say so!" exclaimed Crayshaw with an air of indolent surprise; and Miss Crampton thereupon retreated down-stairs, taking great care not to touch any metallic substance.

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