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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 51. Baronet And Blacksmith
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There & Back - Chapter 51. Baronet And Blacksmith Post by :Merry_V Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2784

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There & Back - Chapter 51. Baronet And Blacksmith

CHAPTER LI. BARONET AND BLACKSMITH

The more sir Wilton's anger subsided, the more his heart turned to Richard, and the more he regretted that he had begun by quarrelling with him. Sir Wilton loved his ease, and was not a quarrelsome man. He could dislike intensely, he could hate heartily, but he seldom quarrelled; and if he could have foreseen how his son would take the demand he made upon him, he would not at the outset have risked it. He liked Richard's looks and carriage. He liked also his spirit and determination, though his first experience of them he could have wished different. He felt also that very little would make of him a man fit to show to the world and be proud of as his son. To his satisfaction on these grounds was added besides a peculiar pleasure in the discovery of him which he could ask no one to share--that it was to him as a lump of dynamite under his wife's lounge, of which no one knew but himself, and which he could at any instant explode. It was sweet to know what he _could do! to be aware, and alone aware, of the fool's paradise in which my lady and her brood lived! And already, through his own precipitation, his precious secret was in peril!

The fact gave him not a little uneasiness. His thought was, at the ripest moment of her frosty indifference, to make her palace of ice fly in flinders about her. Then the delight of her perturbation! And he had opened his hand and let his bird fly!

His father did not know Richard's prudence. Like the fool every man of the world is, he judged from Richard's greatness of heart, and his refusal to forsake his friends, that he was a careless, happy-go-lucky sort of fellow, who would bluster and protest. As to the march he had stolen upon him on behalf of the Mansons, he nowise resented that. When pressed by no selfish _necessity, he did not care much about money; and his son's promptitude greatly pleased him.

"The fellow shall go to college," he said to himself; "and I won't give my lady even a hint before I have him the finest gentleman and the best scholar in the county! He shall be both! I will teach him billiards myself! By Jove! it is more of a pleasure than at my years I had a right to expect! To think of an old sinner like me being blessed with such a victory over his worst enemy! It is more than I could deserve if I lived to the age of Mephistopheles! I shouldn't like to live so long--there's so little worth remembering! I wish forgetting things wiped them out! There are things I hardly know whether I did or only wanted to do!--Damn it, it may be all over Barset by this time, that the heir to sir Wilton's property has turned up!"

He rang the bell, and ordered his carriage.

"I must see the old fellow, the rascal's grandfather!" he kept on to himself. "I haven't exchanged a word with him for years! And now I think of it, I take poor Robina's father for a very decent sort of fellow! If he had but once hinted what he was, every soul in the parish would have known it! I _must find out whether he's in my secret! I can't _prove it yet, but perhaps he can!"

Simon Armour was not astonished to see the Lestrange carriage stop at the smithy: he thought sir Wilton had come about the cheque. He went out, and stood in hairy arms and leather apron at the carriage door.

"Well, Armour, how are you?" said the baronet.

"Well and hearty, sir, I thank you," answered Simon.

"I want a word with you," said sir Wilton.

"Shall I tell the coachman to drive round to the cottage, sir?"

"No; I'll get out and walk there with you."

Simon opened the carriage-door, and the baronet got out.

"That grandson of yours--" he began, the moment they were in Simon's little parlour.

Simon started. "The old wretch knows!" he said to himself.

"--has been too much for me!" continued sir Wilton. "He got a cheque out of me whether I would or not!"

"And got the money for it, sir!" answered the smith. "He seemed to think the money better than the cheque!"

"I don't blame him, by Jove! There's decision in the fellow!--They say his father's a bookbinder in London!"

"Yes, sir."

"You know better! I don't want humbug, Armour! I'm not fond of it!"

"You told me people said his father was a bookbinder, and I said 'Yes, sir'!"

"You know as well as I do it's a damned lie! The boy is mine. He belongs neither to bookbinder nor blacksmith!"

"You'll allow me a small share in him, I hope! I've done more for him than you, sir."

"That's not my fault!"

"Perhaps not; but I've done more for him than you ever will, sir!"

"How do you make that out?"

"I've made him as good a shoesmith as ever drove nail! I don't say he's up to his grandfather at the anvil yet, but--"

"An accomplishment no doubt, but not exactly necessary to a gentleman!"

"It's better than dicing or card-playing!" said the blacksmith.

"You're right there! I hope he has learned neither. I want to teach him those things myself.--He's not an ill-looking fellow!"

"There's not a better lad in England, sir! If you had brought him up as he is, you might ha' been proud o' your work!"

"_He seems proud of somebody's work!--prouder of himself than his prospects, by Jove!" said sir Wilton, feeling his way. "You should have taught him not to quarrel with his bread and butter!"

"I never saw any call to teach him that. He never quarrelled with anything at my table, sir. A man who has earned his own bread and butter ever since he left school, is not likely to quarrel with it."

"You don't say _he has done so?"

"I do--and can prove it!--Did you tell him, sir, you were his father?"

"Of course I did!--and before I said another word, there we were quarrelling--just as it was with me and my father!"

"He never told me!" said Simon, half to himself, and ready to feel hurt.

"He didn't tell you?"

"No, sir."

"Where is he?"

"Gone to London with your bounty."

"Now, Simon Armour," began the baronet with some truculence.

"Now, sir Wilton Lestrange!" interrupted Simon.

"What's the matter?"

"Please to remember you are in my house!"

"Tut, tut! All I want to say is that you will spoil everything if you encourage the rascal to keep low company!"

"You mean?"

"Those Mansons."

"Are your children low company, sir?"

"Yes; I am sorry, but I must admit it. Their mother was low company."

"She was in it at least, when she was in yours!" had all but escaped Simon's lips, but he caught the bird by the tail.--

"The children are not the mother!" he said. "I know the girl, and she is anything but low company. She lay ill in my house here for six weeks or more. Ask Miss Wylder.--If you want to be on good terms with your son, don't say a word, sir, against your daughter or her brother."

"I like that! On good terms with my son! Ha, ha!"

"Remember, sir, he is independent of his father."

"Independent! A beggarly bookbinder!"

"Excuse me, sir, but an honest trade is the only independence! You are dependent on your money and your land. Where would you be without them? And you made neither! They're yours only in a way! We, my grandson and I, have means of our own," said the blacksmith, and held out his two brawny hands. "--The thing that is beggarly," he resumed, "is to take all and give nothing. If your ancestors got the land by any good they did, you did not get it by any good you did; and having got it, what have you done in return?"

"By Jove! I didn't know you were such a radical!" returned the baronet, laughing.

"It is such as you, sir, that make what you call radicals. If the landlords had used what was given them to good ends, there would be no radicals--or not many--in the country! The landlords that look to their land and those that are on it, earn their bread as hardly as the man that ploughs it. But when you call it yours, and do nothing for it, I am radical enough to think no wrong would be done if you were deprived of it!"

"What! are you taking to the highway at your age?"

"No, sir; I have a trade I like better, and have no call to lighten you of anything, however ill you may use it. But there are those that think they have a right _and a call to take the land from landlords like you, and I would no more leave my work to prevent them than I would to help them."

"Well, well! I didn't come to talk politics; I came to ask a favour of you."

"What I can do for you, sir, I shall be glad to do."

"It is merely this--that you will, for the present, say nothing about the heir having turned up."

"I could have laid my hand on him any moment this twenty years; and I can tell you where to find the parish book with his baptism in it! That I've not spoken proves I can hold my tongue; but I will give no pledge; when the time comes I will speak."

"Are you aware I could have you severely punished for concealing the thing?"

"Fire away. I'll take my chance. But I would advise you not to allow the thing come into court. Words might be spoken that would hurt! I know nothing myself, but there is one that could and would speak. Better let sleeping dogs lie."

"Oh, damn it! I don't want to wake 'em! Most old stories are best forgotten. But what do you think: will the boy--What's his name?"

"My father's, sir,--Richard."

"Will Richard, then, as you have taken upon you to call him"--

"His mother gave him the name."

"What I want to know is, whether you think he will go and spread the thing, or leave it to we to publish when I please."

"Did you tell him to hold his tongue?"

"No; he didn't give me time."

"That's a pity! He would have done whatever you asked him."

"Oh! would he!"

"He would--so long as it was a right thing."

"And who was to judge of that?"

"Why the man who had to do it or leave it, of course!--But if he didn't tell me, he's not likely to go blazing it abroad!"

"You said he would go to his mother first: his mother is nowhere."

"So say some, so say not I!"

"Never mind that. Who is it he calls his mother?"

"The woman that brought him up--and a good mother she's been to him!"

"But who is she? You haven't told me who she is!" cried the baronet, beginning to grow impatient; and impatience and anger were never far apart with him.

"No, sir, I haven't told you; and I don't mean to tell you till I see fit."

"And when, pray, will that be?"

"When I have your promise in writing that you will give her no trouble about what is past and gone."

"I will give you that promise--always provided she can prove that what was past and gone is come again. I shall insist upon that!"

"Most properly, sir I You shall not have to wait for it.--And now, if you will take me to the post-office, I will send a telegram to Richard, warning him to hold his tongue."

"Good! Come."

They walked to the carriage, and Simon, displacing the footman, got up beside the coachman. He was careful, however, to be set down before they got within sight of the post-office.

The message he sent was--

"I know all, and will write. Say nothing but to your mother."

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