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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 6. Brattle's Mill
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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 6. Brattle's Mill Post by :deano Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :3214

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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 6. Brattle's Mill

CHAPTER VI. BRATTLE'S MILL

When Mr. Fenwick reached the mill, he found old Brattle sitting alone on a fixed bench in front of the house door with a pipe in his mouth. Mary Lowther was quite right in saying that the mill, in spite of its dilapidations,--perhaps by reason of them,--was as pretty as anything in Bullhampton. In the first place it was permeated and surrounded by cool, bright, limpid little streams. One of them ran right through it, as it were, passing between the dwelling-house and the mill, and turning the wheel, which was there placed. This course was, no doubt, artificial, and the water ran more rapidly in it than it did in the neighbouring streamlets. There were sluice-gates, too, by which it could be altogether expelled, or kept up to this or that height; and it was a river absolutely under man's control, in which no water-god could take delight. But there were other natural streams on each side of the building, the one being the main course of the Avon, and the other some offspring of a brooklet, which joined its parent two hundred yards below, and fifty yards from the spot at which the ill-used working water was received back into its mother's idle bosom. Mill and house were thatched, and were very low. There were garrets in the roof, but they were so shaped that they could hardly be said to have walls to them at all, so nearly were they contained by the sloping roof. In front of the building there ran a road,--which after all was no more than a private lane. It crossed the smaller stream and the mill-run by two wooden bridges; but the river itself had been too large for the bridge-maker's efforts, and here there was a ford, with stepping-stones for foot passengers. The banks on every side were lined with leaning willows, which had been pollarded over and over again, and which with their light-green wavy heads gave the place, from a distance, the appearance of a grove. There was a little porch in front of the house, and outside of that a fixed seat, with a high back, on which old Brattle was sitting when the parson accosted him. He did not rise when Mr. Fenwick addressed him; but he intended no want of courtesy by not doing so. He was on his legs at business during nearly the whole of the day, and why should he not rest his old limbs during the few mid-day minutes which he allowed himself for recreation?

"I thought I should catch you idle just at this moment," said the clergyman.

"Like enough, Muster Fenwick," said the miller; "I be idle at times, no doubt."

"It would be a bad life if you did not,--and a very short one too. It's hot walking, I can tell you, Mr. Brattle. If it goes on like this, I shall want a little idle time myself, I fear. Is Sam here?"

"No, Muster Fenwick, Sam is not here."

"Nor has been this morning, I suppose?"

"He's not here now, if you're wanting him."

This the old man said in a tone that seemed to signify some offence, or at least a readiness to take offence if more were said to him about his son. The clergyman did not sit down, but stood close over the father, looking down upon him; and the miller went on with his pipe gazing into the clear blue sky.

"I do want him, Mr. Brattle." Then he stopped, and there was a pause. The miller puffed his pipe, but said not a word. "I do want him. I fear, Mr. Brattle, he's not coming to much good."

"Who said as he was? I never said so. The lad'd have been well enough if other folks would have let him be."

"I know what you mean, Mr. Brattle."

"I usually intend folks to know what I mean, Muster Fenwick. What's the good o' speaking else? If nobody hadn't a meddled with the lad, he'd been a good lad. But they did, and he ain't. That's all about it."

"You do me a great injustice, but I'm not going to argue that with you now. There would be no use in it. I've come to tell you I fear that Sam was at no good last night."

"That's like enough."

"I had better tell you the truth at once. He was about my place with two ruffians."

"And you wants to take him afore the magistrate?"

"I want nothing of the kind. I would make almost any sacrifice rather. I had him yesterday night by the collar of the coat, and I let him go free."

"If he couldn't shake himself free o' you, Muster Fenwick, without any letting in the matter, he ain't no son of mine."

"I was armed, and he couldn't. But what does that matter? What does matter is this;--that they who were with him were thoroughly bad fellows. Was he at home last night?"

"You'd better ax his mother, Muster Fenwick. The truth is, I don't care much to be talking of him at all. It's time I was in the mill, I believe. There's no one much to help me now, barring the hired man." So saying, he got up and passed into the mill without making the slightest form of salutation.

Mr. Fenwick paused for a minute, looking after the old man, and then went into the house. He knew very well that his treatment from the women would be very different to that which the miller had vouchsafed to him; but on that very account it would be difficult for him to make his communication. He had, however, known all this before he came. Old Brattle would, quite of course, be silent, suspicious, and uncivil. It had become the nature of the man to be so, and there was no help for it. But the two women would be glad to see him,--would accept his visit as a pleasure and a privilege; and on this account he found it to be very hard to say unpleasant words to them. But the unpleasant words must be spoken. Neither in duty nor in kindness could he know what he had learned last night, and be silent on this matter to the young man's family. He entered the house, and turned into the large kitchen or keeping-room on the left, in which the two women were almost always to be found. This was a spacious, square, low apartment, in which there was a long grate with various appurtenances for boiling, roasting, and baking. It was an old-fashioned apparatus, but Mrs. Brattle thought it to be infinitely more commodious than any of the newer-fangled ranges which from time to time she had been taken to see. Opposite to the fire-place there was a small piece of carpet, without which the stone floor would hardly have looked warm and comfortable. On the outer corner of this, half facing the fire, and half on one side of it, was an old oak arm-chair, made of oak throughout, but with a well-worn cushion on the seat of it, in which it was the miller's custom to sit when the work of the day was done. In this chair no one else would ever sit, unless Sam would do so occasionally, in bravado, and as a protest against his father's authority. When he did so his mother would be wretched, and his sister lately had begged him to desist from the sacrilege. Close to this was a little round deal table, on which would be set the miller's single glass of gin and water, which would be made to last out the process of his evening smoking, and the candle, by the light of which, and with the aid of a huge pair of tortoise-shell spectacles, his wife would sit and darn her husband's stockings. She also had her own peculiar chair in this corner, but she had never accustomed herself to the luxury of arms to lean on, and had no cushion for her own comfort. There were various dressers, tables, and sideboards round the room, and a multiplicity of dishes, plates, and bowls, all standing in their proper places. But though the apartment was called a kitchen,--and, in truth, the cookery for the family was done here,--there was behind it, opening out to the rear, another kitchen in which there was a great boiler, and a huge oven never now used. The necessary but unsightly doings of kitchen life were here carried on, out of view. He, indeed, would have been fastidious who would have hesitated, on any score of cleanliness or niceness, to sit and eat at the long board on which the miller's dinner was daily served, or would have found it amiss to sit at that fire and listen to the ticking of the great mahogany-cased clock, which stood in the corner of the room. On the other side of the broad opening passage Mrs. Brattle had her parlour. Doubtless this parlour added something to the few joys of her life; though how it did so, or why she should have rejoiced in it, it would be very difficult to say. She never entered it except for the purpose of cleaning and dusting. But it may be presumed that it was a glory to her to have a room carpeted, with six horsehair chairs, and a round table, and a horsehair sofa, and an old mirror over the fireplace, and a piece of worsted-work done by her daughter and framed like a picture, hanging up on one of the walls. But there must have come from it, we should say, more of regret than of pleasure; for when that room was first furnished, under her own auspices, and when those horsehair chairs were bought with a portion of her own modest dowry, doubtless she had intended that these luxuries should be used by her and hers. But they never had been so used. The day for using them had never come. Her husband never, by any chance, entered the apartment. To him probably, even in his youth, it had been a woman's gewgaw, useless, but allowable as tending to her happiness. Now the door was never even opened before his eye. His last interview with Carry had been in that room,--when he had laid his curse upon her, and bade her begone before his return, so that his decent threshold should be no longer polluted by her vileness.

On this side of the house there was a cross passage, dividing the front rooms from the back. At the end of this, looking to the front so as to have the parlour between it and the house-door, was the chamber in which slept Brattle and his wife. Here all those children had been born who had brought upon the household so many joys and so much sorrow. And behind, looking to the back on to the little plot of vegetables which was called the garden,--a plot in which it seemed that cabbages and gooseberry bushes were made to alternate,--there was a large store-room, and the chamber in which Fanny slept,--now alone, but which she had once shared with four sisters. Carry was the last one that had left her; and now Fanny hardly dared to name the word sister above her breath. She could speak, indeed, of Sister Jay, the wife of the prosperous ironmonger at Warminster; but of sisters by their Christian names no mention was ever made.

Upstairs there were garrets, one of which was inhabited by Sam, when he chose to reside at home; and another by the red-armed country lass, who was maid-of-all-work at Brattle Mill. When it has also been told that below the cabbage-plot there was an orchard, stretching down to the junction of the waters, the description of Brattle Mill will have been made.

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CHAPTER V. THE MILLERMr. Fenwick reached Brattle's mill about two o'clock in the day. During the whole morning, while saying comfortable words to old women, and gently rebuking young maidens, he had been thinking of Sam Brattle and his offences. He had not been in the parish very long, not over five or six years, but he had been there long enough to see Sam grow out of boyhood into manhood; and at his first coming to the parish, for the first two or three years, the lad had been a favourite with him. Young Brattle could run well, leap well,
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