Bred in the Bone
Part 1 out of 8
Produced by Curtis Weyant, Graeme Mackreth and PG Distributed
BRED IN THE BONE; OR, LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
BY THE AUTHOR OF
"A BEGGAR ON HORSEBACK," "GWENDOLINE'S HARVEST," "CARLYON'S YEAR," "ONE
OF THE FAMILY," "WON--NOT WOOED," &c.
NEW YORK: 1872.
CAREW OF CROMPTON.
Had you lived in Breakneckshire twenty years ago, or even any where in
the Midlands, it would be superfluous to tell you of Carew of Crompton.
Every body thereabout was acquainted with him either personally or by
hearsay. You must almost certainly have known somebody who had had an
adventure with that eccentric personage--one who had been ridden down by
him, for that mighty hunter never turned to the right hand nor to the
left for any man, nor paid attention to any rule of road; or one who,
more fortunate, had been "cleared" by him on his famous black horse
_Trebizond_, an animal only second to his master in the popular esteem.
There are as many highly colored pictures of his performance of this
flying feat in existence as there are of "Dick Turpin clearing the
Turnpikegate." Sometimes it is a small tradesman cowering down in his
cart among the calves, while the gallant Squire hurtles over him with a
"Stoop your head, butcher." Sometimes it is a wagoner, reminding one of
Commodore Trunnion's involuntary deed of "derring-do," who, between two
high banks, perceives with marked astonishment this portent flying over
himself and convoy. But, at all events, the thing was done; perhaps on
more than one occasion, and was allowed on all hands not only as a fact,
but as characteristic of their sporting idol. It was "Carew all over,"
or "Just like Carew."
This phrase was also applied to many other heroic actions. The idea of
"keel-hauling," for instance, adapted from the nautical code, was said
to be practically enforced in the case of duns, attorneys, and other
objectionable persons, in the lake at Crompton; while the administration
of pommelings to poachers and agriculturists generally, by the athletic
Squire, was the theme of every tongue. These punishments, though severe,
were much sought after by a certain class, the same to which the
purchased free and independent voter belongs, for the clenched fist
invariably became an open hand after it had done its work--a golden
ointment, that is, was always applied after these inflictions, such as
healed all wounds.
Carew of Crompton might at one time have been member for the county, if
he had pleased; but he desired no seat except in the saddle, or on the
driving-box. He showed such skill in riding, and with "the ribbons,"
that some persons supposed that his talents must be very considerable in
other matters, and affected to regret their misuse; there were reports
that he knew Latin better than his own chaplain; and was, or had been,
so diligent a student of Holy Writ, that he could give you chapter and
verse for every thing. But it must be allowed that others were not
wanting to whisper that these traits of scholarship were greatly
exaggerated, and that all the wonder lay in the fact that the Squire
knew any thing of such matters at all; nay, a few even ventured to
express their opinion that, but for his recklessness and his money,
there was nothing more remarkable in Carew than in other spendthrifts;
but this idea was never mooted within twenty miles of Crompton. The real
truth is, that the time was unsuitable to the display of the Squire's
particular traits. He would have been an eminent personage had he been a
Norman, and lived in the reign of King John. Even now, if he could have
removed his establishment to Poland, and assumed the character of a
Russian proprietor, he would doubtless have been a great prince. There
was a savage magnificence about him, and also certain degrading traits,
which suggested the Hetman Platoff. Unfortunately, he was a Squire in
the Midlands. The contrast, however, of his splendid vagaries with the
quiet time and industrious locality in which he lived, while it
diminished his influence, did, on the other hand, no doubt enhance his
reputation. He was looked upon (as Waterford and Mytton used to be) as a
_lusus naturae_, an eccentric, an altogether exceptional personage, to
whom license was permitted; and the charitable divided the human race,
for his sake, into Men, Women, and Carew.
The same philosophic few, however, who denied him talent, averred that
he was half mad; and indeed Fortune had so lavishly showered her favors
on him from his birth, that it might well be that they had turned his
head. His father had died while Carew was but an infant, so that the
surplus income from his vast estates had accumulated to an enormous sum
when he attained his majority. In the mean time, his doting mother had
supplied him with funds out of all proportion to his tender years. At
ten years old, he had a pack of harriers of his own, and hunted the
county regularly twice a week. At the public school, where he was with
difficulty persuaded to remain for a short period, he had an allowance
the amount of which would have sufficed for the needs of a professional
man with a wife and family, and yet it is recorded of him that he had
the audacity--"the boy is father to the man," and it was "so like
Carew," they said--to complain to his guardian, a great lawyer, that his
means were insufficient. He also demanded a lump sum down, on the ground
that (being at the ripe age of fourteen) he contemplated marriage. The
reply of the legal dignitary is preserved, as well as the young
gentleman's application: "If you can't live upon your allowance, you may
starve, Sir; and if you marry, you shall not have your allowance."
You had only--having authority to do so--to advise Carew, and he was
positively certain to go counter to your opinion; and did you attempt to
oppose him in any purpose, you would infallibly insure its
accomplishment. He did not marry at fourteen, indeed, but he did so
clandestinely in less than three years afterward, and had issue; but at
the age of five-and-thirty, when our stage opens, he had neither wife
nor child, but lived as a bachelor at Crompton, which was sometimes
called "the open house," by reason of its profuse hospitalities; and
sometimes "Liberty Hall," on account of its license; otherwise it was
never, called any thing but Crompton; never Crompton Hall, or Crompton
Park--but simply Crompton, just like Stowe or Blenheim. And yet the park
at Crompton was as splendid an appanage of glade and avenue, of copse
and dell, as could be desired. It was all laid out upon a certain
plan--somewhere in the old house was the very parchment on which the
chase was ordered like a garden; a dozen drives here radiated from one
another like the spokes of a wheel, and here four mighty avenues made a
St. Andrew's cross in the very centre--but the area was so immense, and
the stature of the trees so great, that nothing of this formality could
be observed in the park itself. Not only were the oaks and beeches of
large, and often of giant proportions, but the very ferns grew so tall
that whole herds of fallow deer were hidden in it, and could only be
traced by their sounds. There were red deer also, almost as numerous,
with branching antlers, curiously mossed, as though they had acquired
that vegetation by rubbing, as they often did, against the high wooden
pale--itself made picturesque by age--which hedged them in their sylvan
prison for miles. Moreover, there were wild-cattle, as at Chartley
(though not of the same breed), the repute of whose fierceness kept the
few public paths that intersected this wild domain very unfrequented.
These animals, imported half a century ago, were of no use nor of
particular beauty, and would have dwindled away, from the unfitness of
the locality for their support, but that they were recruited
periodically, and at a vast expense. It was enough to cause their
present owner to strain every nerve to retain them, because they were so
universally objected to. They had gored one man to death, and
occasionally maimed others, but, as Carew, to do him justice, was by no
means afraid of them himself, and ran the same risk, and far oftener
than other people, he held he had a right to retain them. Nobody was
obliged to come into his park unless they liked, he said, and if they
did, they must "chance a tossing." The same detractors, whose opinion we
have already quoted, affirmed that the Squire kept these cattle for the
very reason that was urged against their existence; the fear of these
horned police kept the park free from strangers, and thereby saved him
half a dozen keepers.
That his determination in the matter was pig-headed and brutal, there is
no doubt; but the Squire's nature was far from exclusive, and the idea
of saving in any thing, it is certain, never entered into his head. The
time, indeed, was slowly but surely coming when the park should know no
more not only its wild-cattle, but many a rich copse and shadowy glade.
Not a stately oak nor far-spreading beech but was doomed, sooner or
later, to be cut down, to prop for a moment the falling fortunes of
their spendthrift owner; but at the time of which we speak there was no
visible sign of the coming ruin. It is recorded of a brother prodigal,
that after enormous losses and expenses, his steward informed him that
if he would but consent to live upon seven thousand a year for the next
ten years, the estate would recover itself. "Sir," returned he in anger,
"I would rather die than live on seven thousand a year." Our Carew would
have given the same reply had twice that income been suggested to him,
and been applauded for the gallant answer. The hint of any necessity for
curtailment would probably have caused him to double his expenditure
forthwith, though, indeed, that would have been difficult to effect. He
had already two packs of hounds, with which he hunted on alternate days,
and he had even endeavored to do so on the Sunday; but the obsequious
"county" had declined to go with him to that extent, and this anomaly of
the nineteenth century had been compelled to confine himself on the
seventh day to cock-fighting in the library. He kept a bear to bait (as
well as a chaplain to bully), and ferrets ran loose about Crompton as
mice do in other houses. He had a hunter for every week in the year, yet
he often rode his horses to death. He had a stud of racers, and it was
this, or rather his belief in their powers, which eventually drained his
vast resources. Not one of them ever won a great race. This was not
their fault, nor that of their trainer, but his own; he interfered in
their management, and would have things his own way; he would command
every thing, except success, which was beyond his power, and in missing
that he lost all. Otherwise, he was lucky as a mere gambler. His
audacity, and the funds he always had at his disposal, carried him
triumphantly, where many a more prudent but less wealthy player withdrew
from the contest. Games of skill had no attraction for him, but at an
earlier date in his career he had been a terror to the club-keepers in
St. James's, where his luck and obstinacy had broken a dozen banks. It
was said--and very likely with truth--that he had once cut double or
quits for ten thousand pounds.
His moral character, as respected the softer sex, was such as you might
expect from these traits. No modest woman had been seen at Crompton for
many a year; although not a few such--if at least good birth and high
position include modesty--had, since his majority, striven to give a
lawful mistress to the place. His eccentricities had not alarmed them,
and his shamelessness had not abashed them. Though his constitution was
said to be breaking up through unparalleled excesses, his heart, it was
currently reported in domestic circles, was sound: and what a noble feat
would it be to reclaim him! It was also reckoned impossible that any
amount of extravagance could have seriously embarrassed such a property
as he had inherited, indeed long since, but of which he had had the sole
control only a few years. At the time of which we speak Carew was but
thirty-five, though he looked much older. His muscles were still firm,
his limbs yet active, and his hand and eye as steady with the gun or
bridle as ever. But his bronzed face showed signs of habitual
intemperance; his head was growing prematurely bald; and once or twice,
though the fact was known to himself only, his iron nerve had of late
failed him. The secret consciousness of this last fact made him more
venturesome and reckless than ever. "Time," he swore, "should never play
_him_ tricks. He was as good a man as ever he was. There was a quarter
of a million, more or less, to be got through yet, and, by Jove, he
would see it out!" Of course he did not swear by Jove; for, as we have
said, he kept a chaplain, and was therefore no heathen.
One of the arguments that the mothers of those young ladies who sought
his hand were wont to make use of, to their great comfort, was that Mr.
Carew was a churchman. There was a private chapel at Crompton, the
existence of which, of course, explained why his presence did not grace
the parish church. Then his genealogy was of the most satisfactory
description. Carews had dwelt at Crompton in direct succession for many
a century. Charles I., it is almost unnecessary to state, had slept
there--that most locomotive of monarchs seems to have honored all old
English mansions with a night's visit--and had hunted in the chase next
morning. Queen Elizabeth had also been most graciously pleased to visit
her subject, John Carew, on which occasion a wooden tower had been
erected for her in the park, from which to see "ten buckes, all having
fayre lawe, pulled down with grey-houndes;" she shot deer, too, with her
own virgin hands, for which purpose "a cross-bowe was delivered to her
by a nymph with a sweet song." These things, however, were in no way
commemorated. Carew was all in all: his devouring egotism swallowed up
historical association. His favorite female bull-dog, with her pups,
slept in the royal martyr's apartment. The places in Crompton Chase held
remarkable were those where its present owner had made an
unprecedentedly long shot, or had beaten off one of the wild cattle
without a weapon, or had run down a stag on foot. There was no relic of
ancient times preserved whatever, except that at midsummer, as in Lyme,
that very curious custom was kept of driving the red deer round the
park, and then swimming them through the lake before the house--a very
difficult feat, by-the-by, to any save those who have been accustomed to
"drive deer." One peculiar virtue of Carew--he was addressed,
by-the-way, by all his inferiors, and some of his equals, as "Squire"
only--was, we had almost forgotten to say, his regard for truth, which
may truly be said to have been "passionate," if we consider the effect
produced in him when he discovered that any one had told him a
falsehood. He would fall upon them tooth and nail, if they were menials;
and if guests, he would forbid them his house. This was surely one
excellent trait. Yet it was maintained by those carpers already alluded
to, that to tell truth was comparatively easy in one who was as careless
of all opinion as he was independent in means; moreover, that a love of
truth is sometimes found to exist in very bad company, as in the case of
the Spartan boy who stole the fox, and if the veracious Squire did not
steal foxes (which he did, by-the-by, indirectly, for a bagged one was
his delight), he was guilty of much worse things. However, this is
certain, that Carew of Crompton never told a lie.
WAITING FOR AN INTRODUCTION.
We have said that Carew was not exclusive; so long as he had his own way
in every thing he was good-tempered, and so very good-natured that he
permitted not only his friends but his dependents to do pretty much as
they would. He was a tyrant only by fits and starts, and in the mean
time there was anarchy at Crompton. Every soul in the place, from the
young lords, its master's guests, down to the earth-stopper's assistant,
who came for his quantum of ale to the back-door, did pretty much as
seemed right in his own eyes. There were times when every thing had to
be done in a moment under the master's eye, no matter at what loss, or
even risk to limb or life; but usually there was no particular time for
any thing--except dinner. The guests arose in the morning, or lay in bed
all day, exactly as they pleased, and had their meals in public or in
their own rooms; but when the great dinner-gong sounded for the second
time it was expected that every man should be ready for the feast, and
wearing (with the single exception of the chaplain) a red coat. The
dinner-parties at Crompton--and there was a party of the most
heterogeneous description daily--were literally, therefore, very gay
affairs; the banquet was sumptuous, and the great cellars were laid
under heavy contribution. Only, if a guest did happen to be unpunctual,
from whatever cause, even if it were illness, the host would send for
his bear, or his half-dozen bull-dogs, and proceed to the sick man's
room, with the avowed intention (and he always kept his word) of
"drawing the badger." In spite of his four-legged auxiliaries, this was
not always an easy task. His recklessness, though not often, did
sometimes meet with its match in that of the badger; and in one chamber
door at Crompton we have ourselves seen a couple of bullet-holes, which
showed that assault on one side had met with battery upon the other.
With such rough manners as Carew had, it may seem strange that he was
never called to account for them at twelve paces; but, in the first
place, it was thoroughly understood that he would have "gone out" (a
fact which has doubtless given pause to many a challenge), and would
have shot as straight as though he were partridge-shooting; and
secondly, as we have said, he had a special license for practical jokes;
the subjects of them, too, were not men of delicate susceptibilities,
for none such, by any accident, could have been his guests. In
consideration of good fare, good wine, a good mount in the
hunting-field, excellent shooting, and of a loan from the host whenever
they were without funds, men even of good position were found to "put
up" very good-naturedly with the eccentricities of the master of
Crompton, and he had his house full half the year. It is not to be
wondered at, therefore, that his servants were found willing to compound
for some occasional ill usage, in return for general laxity of rule, and
many unconsidered trifles in the way of perquisites. His huntsmen and
whips got now and then a severe beating; his grooms found it very
inconvenient when "Squire" took it into his mad head to sally forth on
horseback across country by moonlight; and still worse, when he would
have the whole stud out, and set every servant in his employ, not
excepting his fat French cook, in the saddle, to see how they would
comport themselves under the unaccustomed excitement of a steeple-chase.
But upon the whole, the retainers at Crompton had an easy berth of it,
and seldom voluntarily took their discharge.
Perhaps the best situations, as being less liable to the _per contras_
in the shape of the master's passionate outbursts, were those of the
park-keepers, of whom old Walter Grange was one. He was a bachelor, as
almost all of them were. It was not good for any one with wife or
daughter (if these were young, at least) to take service with Carew at
all; and living in a pleasant cottage, far too large for him, in the
very heart of the chase, Grange thought it no harm to take a lodger. The
same old woman who cooked his victuals and kept his rooms tidy would do
the same office for another who was not very particular in his food, and
could rough it a little in other respects; and such a one had Walter
lately found in the person of a young landscape-painter, Richard Yorke.
This gentleman was a stranger to Crompton and its neighborhood; but
having (as he said) happened to see a certain guarded advertisement in
the _Times_ headed, "To Artists and Others," that lodgings in the midst
of forest scenery could be procured for what seemed next to nothing, he
had come down from London in the autumn on the chance, and found them
To poet or painter's eye, indeed, the lodge was charming; it was small,
of course, but very picturesquely built, and afforded the new tenant a
bow-windowed sitting-room, with an outlook such as few dwellings in
England, and probably none elsewhere, could offer. In the fore-ground
was an open lawn, on which scores of fine-plumaged pheasants strutted
briskly, and myriads of rabbits came forth at eve to play and
nibble--bordered by crops of fern, above which moved statelily the
antlered deer. A sentry oak or two of mighty girth guarded this open
space; but on both sides vast glades shut in the prospect with a wall of
checkered light and shadow that deepened into sylvan gloom. But right in
front the expanding view seemed without limit, and exhibited all
varieties of forest scenery; coppices with "Autumn's fiery finger" on
their tender leaves; still, shining pools, where water-fowl bred and
dwelt; broad pathways, across which the fallow deer could bound at
leisure; or one would leap in haste, and half a hundred follow in
groundless panic. The wealth of animal life in that green solitude,
where the voice of man was hardly ever heard, was prodigious; the rarest
birds were common there; even those who had their habitations by the sea
were sometimes lured to this as silent spot, and skimmed above its
undulating dells as o'er the billow. The eagle and the osprey had been
caught there; and, indeed, a specimen of each was caged in a sort of
aviary, which Grange had had constructed at the back of the lodge; while
Yorke's sitting-room was literally stuffed full of these strange
feathered visitants, which had fallen victims to the keeper's gun. The
horse-hair sofa had a noble cover of deer-skin; the foot-stool and the
fire-rug were made of furs, or skins that would have fetched their price
elsewhere, and been held rare, although once worn by British beast or
"varmint." The walls were stuck with antlers, and the very handle of the
bell-rope was the fore-foot of a stag. Each of these had its story; and
nothing pleased the old man better than to have a listener to his
long-winded tales of how and where and when the thing was slain. All
persons whose lives are passed in the open air, and in comparative
solitude, seem in this respect to be descendants of Dame Quickly; their
wearisome digressions and unnecessary preciseness as to date and place
try the patience of all other kinds of men, and this was the chief cross
which Grange's lodger had to bear as an offset to the excellence of his
quarters. It must be confessed that he did not bear it meekly. To stop
old Walter in mid-talk--without an open quarrel--was an absolute
impossibility; but his young companion would turn the stream of his
discourse, without much ceremony, from the records of slaughter into
another channel (almost as natural to it)--the characteristics and
peculiarities of his master Carew. Of this subject, notwithstanding that
that other made him fret and fume so, Yorke never seemed to tire.
"I should like to know your master," he had said, half musingly, after
listening to one of these strange recitals, soon after his arrival; to
which Grange had answered, laughing: "Well, Squire's a very easy one to
know. He picks up friends by every road-side, without much troubling
himself as to who they are, I promise you."
The young man's face grew dark with anger; but the idea of self-respect,
far less of pride, was necessarily strange to a servant of Carew's. So
Grange went on, unconscious of offense: "Now, if you were a young
woman," he chuckled, "and as good-looking as you are as a lad, there
would be none more welcome than yourself up at the big house. Pretty
gals, bless ye, need no introduction yonder; and yet one would have
thought that Squire would know better than to meddle with the
mischievous hussies--he took his lesson early enough, at all events.
Why, he married before he was your age, and not half so much of a man to
look at, neither. You have heard talk of that, I dare say, however, in
Richard Yorke, as the keeper had hinted, was a very handsome
lad--brown-cheeked, blue eyed, and with rich clustering hair as black as
a sloe; but at this moment he did not look prepossessing. He frowned and
flashed a furious glance upon the speaker; but old Grange, who had an
eye like a hawk, for the objects that a hawk desires, was as blind as a
mole to any evidence of human emotion short of a punch on the head, and
went on unheeding:
"Well, I thought you must ha' heard o' that too. We folk down here heard
o' nothing else for all that year. She got hold o' Squire, this ere
woman did, though he was but a school-boy, and she old enough to be his
mother, bless ye, and was married to him. And they kep' it secret for
six months; and that's what bangs me most about it all. For Carew, he
can keep nothing secret--nothing: he blurts all out; and that's why he
seems so much worse than he is to some people. Oh, she must have been a
deep one, she must!"
"You never saw her, then?" asked Yorke, carelessly shading his eyes, as
though from the westering sun, which Midas-like, was turning every thing
it touched in that broad landscape into gold.
"Oh yes, I see her; she was here with Squire near half a year. Mrs.
Carew--the old lady, I mean--was at Crompton then; and the young
one--though she was no chicken neither--she tried to get her turned out;
but she wasn't clever enough, clever as she was, for that job. Carew
loved his mother, as indeed he ought, for she had never denied him any
thing since he was born; and so, in that pitched battle between the
women, he took his mother's side. And in the end the old lady took his,
and with a vengeance. I do think that if it had not been for her, young
madam would have held on--Why, what's the matter, young gentleman? That
was an oath fit for the mouth of Squire hisself."
"It's this cursed toothache," exclaimed Yorke, passionately. "It has
worried me so ever since you began to speak that I should have gone mad
if I had not let out at it a bit. Never mind me; I'm better now."
"Well, that's like the Squire again," returned the keeper, admiringly.
"He seems allus to find hisself better for letting out at things, and at
people too, for the matter of that. To hear him sometimes, one would
almost think the ground must open; not that he means any harm, but it's
a way he's got; but it does frighten them as is not used to him, surely.
I mind that day when he first took the fox-hounds out, and Mr. Howard
the sheriff as was that year--he's dead and gone long since, and his
grandson is sheriff now again, which is cur'ous--well, he happened to
ride a bit too forward with the dogs, and our young master--Oh dear,
dear," and the old man began to chuckle like a hen that has laid two
eggs at a time, "how he did swear at the old man!"
"You were talking about Mrs. Carew the elder," observed the artist,
"Was I? True, so I was. Well, she and the young Squire was for all the
world like a deer with her fawn--all tenderness and timidity, so long as
he was let alone; but when this 'ere woman came, as she considered his
enemy, she was as bold as a red stag--nay, as one of our wild-cattle. It
was through her, I say, that the bride got the sack at last; and when
that was done the old lady seemed to have done her work, and was content
enough when her son portioned her off, and persuaded her to live at the
dower-house at Morden; and indeed she could hardly have staid at
Crompton, with such goings on as there are now--feastings and fightings
"Just so," interrupted the young painter; "she got her way, I know. But
with respect to the younger lady, Mrs. Charles Carew, what was _she_
like, and what did people say of her?"
"Well, not much good, I reckon. What could they say of a school-mistress
who marries her pupil?"
"A school-mistress, was she?" said Yorke, in a strange husky voice. "We
never heard that in London."
"Well, she was summut of that sort, Sir, though I don't know exactly
what. Young as he was, Carew was not quite child enough to be at a
dame's school, that's true. But she was not a mere servant-girl, as some
said, any way, for she could play and sing--ay, songs that pleased him
too--and she had book-learning, I've heard, such as would have
astonished you; so that some folks said she was a witch, and had the
devil's help to catch Carew. But a woman don't want magic, bless you, to
come over a lad of seventeen--not she. What nonsense people talk! If
any pretty girl about Crompton was to take a fancy to _you_ now, as is
like enough, do you suppose--"
"But I thought you said that Mrs. Charles Carew was not a girl?"
"Nor more she was: she was five-and-thirty if she was a day; and
yet--_there_ was the wonder of it--she did not look much over twenty!
I've heard our gentlemen, when out shooting, liken her to some fine
Frenchwoman as never grew old, and was fell in love with unbeknown by
her grandson. Now, what was her name? I got it written down somewhere in
my old pocket-book; it was summut like Longclothes."
"_Ninon de l'Enclos?_" suggested Yorke, without a smile.
"Ay, that's the name. Well, Mrs. Charles Carew, as you call her, was
just like her, and a regular everlasting! She was not what you would
call pretty, but very "taking" looking, and with a bloom and freshness
on her as would have deceived any man. Her voice was like music itself,
and she moved like a stag o' ten; and the Squire being always manly
looking and swarthy, like yourself, there was really little difference
between them to look at. I dare say she's gone all to pieces now, as
women will do, while the Squire looks much the same as he did then."
"I have never even seen him," said the landscape-painter, moodily.
"Well, don't you stare at him, young master, when you do get that
chance, that's all. Some comes down here merely to look at him, as if he
was a show, and that puts him in a pretty rage, I promise you; though to
get to know him, as I say, is easy enough, if you go the right way about
it. If you were a good rider, for instance, and could lead the field one
day when the hunting begins, he'd ask you to dinner to a certainty; or
if you could drive stags--why, he would have given you a hundred pounds
last midsummer, when we couldn't get the beasts to swim the lake.
There's a pretty mess come o' that, by-the-by; for, out of the talk
there was among the gentlemen about that difficulty, the Squire laid a
bet as _he_ would drive stags; not as _we_ do, mind you, but in harness,
like carriage-horses; and, cuss me, if he hasn't had the break out half
a dozen times with four red deer in it, and you may see him tearing
through the park, with mounted grooms and keepers on the right and left
of him, all galloping their hardest, and the Squire with the ribbons,
a-holloaing like mad! For my part, I don't like such pranks, and would
much sooner not be there to see 'em. There will be mischief some day
with it yet, for all that old Lord Orford, down at Newmarket some fifty
years ago, used to do the same thing, they say. It ain't in nature that
stags should be druv four-in-hand, even by Carew. However, the Squire
won his wager; and we haven't seen none o' _that_ wild work o' late
weeks, though we may see it again any day."
"I have heard of that strange exploit," observed Yorke; "but as driving
deer, even in the ordinary way, is not my calling, and as I am no great
rider, even if I had a horse, I don't see how I am to introduce myself
to your mad Squire, and yet I have a great fancy for his acquaintance.
Do you think he'd buy any of these drawings, taken in his own park, from
his own timber?" The young man touched a portfolio, already well stocked
with studies of oak and beech. "Here is a sketch of the Decoy Pond, for
instance, with the oldest tree in the chase beside it; would not that
interest him, think you? You think not?"
"Well, young gentleman," said the keeper, frankly, "if I say no, it
ain't that I mean any slight to your drawing. It's like the tree enough,
for certain, with the very hoop of iron as I put round it with my own
hands twenty years ago--and, by the same token, it will want another
before this winter's out; but I don't think the Squire cares much for
such matters. He might, maybe, just give a look at it, or he might bid
you go to the devil for a paper-staining son of a--well--what you will.
He does not care a farthing, bless 'ee, for all the great pictures in
his own gallery, though they cost his grandfather a mint of money, and
are certainly a fine sight--so far as the frames go. And, on the other
hand, if he happens to be cross-grained that day, he might tear it up
before you could say 'Hold,' and kick you down the Hall steps into the
bargain, as he has done to many a one. That's where it is, you see, the
Squire is so chancy."
"I don't think he would kick _me_ down his Hall steps," said Yorke,
The keeper grinned. "Well, you see, nobody can tell that till it's
tried. The Squire is a regular bruiser, I promise you, though I grant
you are a strapping young fellow, and you have told me that you know how
to use your fists. That's a great thing, mind you, for a man to ha'
learnt; a deal better than Latin or such-like, in my opinion. Folks talk
of life-preservers and pistols, but there's nothing like a good pair of
well-handled fists when one has to tackle a poacher. I've been at
Crompton, man and boy, these fifty years, and had a good many
rough-and-tumbles with that sort, and I have never had the worst of it
yet. It prevents bloodshed on both sides; for if you haven't no
shooting-iron, there's few Englishmen, poachers or not, who will draw
trigger on you; and as for a bludgeon, it's as likely to be in my hand
as another's after the first half minute."
"Is there much poaching now at Crompton?" inquired Yorke, mechanically.
It would have been plain to any less obtuse observer than his companion
that he no longer gave him his attention.
"Well, no; nothing to be called serious has happened lately; though I
dare say we shall have some scrimmages as the winter comes on; there's
allus a good deal of what I calls hanky-panky work in the fawn season.
Women and children--especially children--will come into the park, under
pretense o' picking up sticks; and they'll put away a new dropped fawn
in their bundles, if they get the chance; and then they take it home, to
be reared until it grows up, and can be sold for venison."
"I should have thought there would have been no market for such a
commodity--that is, in the case of people such as you describe,"
observed Yorke, yawning.
"Market!" echoed the keeper, contemptuously; "there'd be a market
to-morrow morning for the whole herd o' our wild-cattle, if they were
stolen to-night; there'd be a market for a rhinoceros or a halligator,
if we happened to keep 'em, bless 'ee, as easy as for a sucking pig! But
I don't call that poaching--I mean the fawn-stealing. It's the
professionals from the Midland towns as come by tens and twenties at a
time as is our trouble. We generally gets wind of 'em beforehand, and
then out we all goes, and Squire with us--for he dearly loves a
fight--and then there's broken crowns and bloody noses; but, thank God,
there's been no murder done, at least, not in my time, at Crompton. And
that reminds me, Sir, that it's time for me to start on my evening
"Well, when you next have any news of such an incursion, Grange, I hope
you will let me make one of your party," said Yorke, good-humoredly. "I
can hit out straight from the shoulder; and perhaps I might get to know
the Squire _that_ way."
"And as likely a road to lead you into his good graces, Sir," said the
keeper, rising, "as any I know. Are you for a walk round the park this
fine evening, Sir?"
"No; not to-night, thank you, Grange. I have got to fill in this sketch
a bit that I took this morning."
"Then, good-night, Sir, for I sha'n't return before daylight."
But it was not till long after the keeper had taken his departure that
Richard Yorke turned hand or eye to his unfinished drawing. He sat
staring straight before him with steadfast eyes and thoughtful face, for
hours, murmuring to himself disjointed sentences; and ever and anon he
started up and paced the little room with rapid strides. "He shall see
me, and know me, too," muttered he, at last, between his clenched teeth,
"though it should cost one of us our lives. She shall not say I came
down to this wilderness, like some hunted beast to covert, for nothing."
It was an easy thing enough, as Walter Grange had said, to make
acquaintance with Carew of Crompton, and possible even to become his
bosom friend at a short notice, for his friendships, all made in wine,
at play, or in the hunting-field, were soon cemented; but then, if the
introduction was effected in an unpropitious time or manner, it was like
enough to end in affront or downright insult. A gulf might be fixed just
where you wanted a causeway, and of this--though he had feigned to
inquire about it so innocently of the honest park-keeper--Richard Yorke
was well aware. He had, as has been hinted, come down to Crompton with
the express view of throwing himself in the way of its eccentric master,
and to do so opportunely, and he was content to bide his time. Thus,
though the autumn had far advanced, and the time had come for men of his
craft to hasten from the dropping, dripping woods, no longer fair, to
hive at home their sweet memorials of the summer time, Richard remained
at Crompton, not willingly, indeed, nor even patiently, but with that
sort of dogged resolve which is engendered, even in a restless spirit,
by long watching. He had stopped so long that he would not now give up
his watch; the fortress, indeed, showed no more sign of breach than when
he first sat down before it; but still he would not raise the siege.
This persistency excited no surprise in his house companion; Walter
Grange was no gossip, nor curious about other men's affairs; it was
easy, even for him, to see that his tenant had a proud stomach, and he
had set down his talk about desiring an introduction to Carew as merely
another phrase for wishing for a good chance of disposing of his wares
to best advantage in that market to which so many of such various
callings thronged. He did not think, as he had honestly confessed, that
there was much chance of the Squire becoming a patron of the fine arts,
but he wished the young fellow luck, and was glad, for more than one
reason, that he staid on.
It was at least three months after his young lodger's arrival that
Walter burst into his sitting-room one afternoon, without his usual
knock at the door, with the great news that he had just had word, by a
safe hand, that a gang of poachers would be in the Home Park that very
night, and that all the staff of keepers would be out in waiting for
"You know," said he, quite indignant that the young man did not show his
enthusiasm, "you told me I was to be sure and let you know, Mr. Yorke;
but, of course, you needn't make one of us unless you like."
"Oh yes, I'll come," laughed the young fellow--"that is, provided it is
fine. I can't fight in the rain, even for the game laws."
"It'll be a lovely night, Sir, with just enough of moonlight to know
friends from foes," went on the keeper, rubbing his hands, and
unconsciously moistening them in his excitement. "I knew you'd come. I
said to myself: 'Mr. Yorke'll never turn tail;' and we shall be really
glad of your help, for the fact is we are short-handed. Napes is down
with the rheumatics, and two of our men are away from home, and there
ain't time to send to the out-beaters. So we shall be only
nine--including yourself--in all. Let's see," continued the old man,
counting on his fingers: "there'll be Bill Nokes, and Robert Sloane,
"Spare me the roll-call, Grange," interrupted the painter; "and tell me
where I am to be, and when, and I'll be there."
"Very good, Sir," said the keeper, musing. "I'll put you at the Squire's
oak--the one as you drawed so nicely--that'll be at the Decoy down
yonder, and close to home. You have only to use this whistle, and you'll
get help enough if you chance to be set upon; there will be a fight, no
doubt. They must be a daring lot to poach the near park, within sound of
the house: they ain't a done that these ten year; for the last time they
brought Squire and his bull-dogs out, which was a lesson to one or two
of 'em. However, he's for town, they say, to-day."
"All right, Grange; we must do without him, then," returned the young
man, cheerfully. "What time am I to be on guard?"
"You should be there at ten at latest, Sir. There'll be plenty of us
within whistle-call, you understand. But nobody will come aneist you as
has any business there; so whoever you see you must go in at."
Yorke nodded, smiling, and doubling his white fists, hit out
scientifically with his right.
"You're one after the Squire's own heart," exclaimed the keeper,
admiringly; "and I do wish you could foregather with him. What a reach
of arm you've got, and what a play of muscle! The fist is the weapon for
a poacher--that is, I mean _agin_ him--if you only know how to use it. I
can depend on the Decoy being guarded by ten, Sir, can I? for I must be
off to the head-keeper's with the rest."
"Yes, you can."
"Then, good-by, Sir, for the present."
"Now what a poor fool is that!" soliloquized the young painter,
contemptuously, as the door closed upon his late companion. "To think
that I should risk my life against a poacher's on even terms! Of course,
if they suffice, I shall only treat him to my knuckles; but if not--if
he be a giant, or there be more than one of them--then here is a better
ally than mere bone and sinew." Yorke took out of a drawer a
life-preserver, made of lead and whalebone, struck with it once, to test
its weight and elasticity, then slipped it into his shooting-jacket
pocket. "That will enlarge their organs of locality," said he, grimly;
"they will not forget the Decoy Pond in a hurry whose heads knock
He made a better supper than was usual with him that night; filled his
pocket-flask with brandy, and his pouch with tobacco; and then making
sure that the whistle Grange had given him, and which he had hung round
his neck, was within easy reach of his fingers, sallied out, well
wrapped up as to his throat, and with his hands in his pockets. If
Richard Yorke was doomed not to have life made easy for him, he made it
as easy as he could. He never omitted a precaution, unless it gave him
trouble to take it out of proportion to the advantage it conferred; he
was never imprudent, unless the passion of the moment was too strong for
him; but sometimes, unfortunately, his mere whims were in their
intensity passions, and his passions, while they lasted, fits of
madness. He was a landscape-painter, partly because he had some taste
that way, but chiefly because he hated regular work of any sort. He had
no real love for his art, and not the least touch of poetic feeling. He
knew an oak from a beech-tree, and the sort of touch that should be used
in delineating the foliage of each; a yellow primrose was to him a
yellow primrose, and he could mix the colors deftly enough which made up
its hue. His education had been by no means neglected, but it had been
of a strange sort; every thing he had learned was, as it were, for
immediate use, and of a superficial but attractive character. The
advocates of a classical curriculum would have shaken their heads at
what Richard Yorke did know, almost as severely as at his lack of
knowledge. He had read a good deal of all kinds of literature, including
much garbage; he could play a little on the piano, and speak French
with an excellent accent. In a word, he had learned every thing that had
pleased him, as well as a little Latin and some mathematics, which had
not. He knew English history far better than most young Englishmen; but
the sight of tomb or ruin had never made his heart pulse faster with an
evoked idea by a single beat. Historical associations had no charm for
him. This mighty oak, for example, under the shadow of which he now
stands sentry, and which he had transferred so deftly to his portfolio,
has no longer any interest for him. He has "done it," and its use and
pleasure are therefore departed in his eyes. He knows quite well that
though it is called the Squire's, in token, probably, of some wholesale
slaughter of wild-ducks effected by Carew from its convenient cover,
that this tree is hundreds of years old--the oldest in all the chase. He
has read the "Talking Oak," for indeed he can quote Tennyson by the
yard, and in dulcet voice; and it would have been natural enough, one
would think, in such a time and place, that some thoughts of what this
venerable monarch of the forest must have witnessed would perforce come
into his mind. The same moonlight that now shines down between its
knotted naked branches must have doubtless lit on many a pair of lovers,
for it was ever a favorite place for tryst in by-gone years. The young
monk, perhaps, may here (when Crompton was an abbey) have given double
absolution, to himself and to the girl who confessed to him her love.
Roundhead maiden and Cavalier gallant must many a time have forgotten
their political differences beneath this oak, as yet a tree not sacred
to royalty; nay, perhaps even those of. York and Lancaster may here have
been compounded for, in one red rose of a blush. Bluff Harry had haply
hunted beneath its once wide-spreading arms, and certainly the martyr
king had done so, with a score of generations of men of all sorts, dead
and gone, God alone knows whither. Though no more the bugle sounded, nor
the twanging bow was heard, there was surely an echo of their far-away
music in the young painter's ear! No, there was none.
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter,
was a line Richard Yorke had read, perhaps, but certainly had not
understood. He heard the bare branch creak and sway above his head as
the wind slowly took it; he heard the night-jar croak, as it flew by on
silent wing; and now and then he heard, or thought he heard, the sound
of the voices of his fellow-watchers a great way off, which was his only
touch of fancy. They were all silent, and in close hiding.
It is not to be supposed, however, that his mind was fixed upon the
matter in which he was engaged, so that other subjects were thereby
excluded from it. The repression of night-poaching was not a matter that
interested him either in principle or practice. He would just as soon
that the keeper had not reminded him of his offer to share his
watch--the whim that had once seized him to do so had died away; but
having once promised his company, he was not one to break his word. So
here he was.
The young man's thoughts were busy, then, neither with the past nor the
present, but with the future--that is, _his own_ future. The path of
life did not lie straight before Richard Yorke, as it does before most
men of his age, and in fact it came, so to speak, abruptly to a
termination exactly where he stood.
In such a case, the choice of the wayfarer becomes boundless, and is
only limited by the horizon and circumstances. As matters were, he had
scarcely enough to live on--not nearly enough to do so as his tastes and
habits suggested; and yet, by one bold stroke, with luck to back it, he
might, not "one day" (_that_ would have had small charm for him), but at
once, and for his life-long, be rich and prosperous. He could not be
said to have expectations, but his position was not without certain
contingencies, the extreme brilliancy of which might almost atone for
their vagueness. It was from a dream of future greatness, or what seemed
to him as such, wherein he saw himself wealthy and powerful, surrounded
with luxury and with the ministers of every pleasure, that he was
suddenly and sharply awakened by a trifling incident--the snapping of a
dead twig in the copse hard by. In an instant the glittering gossamer of
thought was swept aside, and the young fellow was all ear and eye. The
wind had dropped for some time, and the silence was intense; that solemn
hush seemed to pervade the forest which some poet has attributed to the
cessation of spiritual life, as though the haunters of the glade were
_waiting_ for the resumption of their occupations until the interloping
mortal should pass by. Nothing stirred, or, if so, it was motion without
sound, as when the full-feathered owl slid softly through the midnight
air above him. Not a dead leaf fell; and where the leaves had fallen
there they lay. How was it, then, that a twig broke? The deer were
couched; the pheasants sat at roost, their heads beneath that splendid
coverlet, their wing; and though there were creeping things which even
midnight did not woo to rest in that vast wilderness, Yorke had imbibed
enough of forest lore to know that the noise which he had heard was
produced by none of these. A rat in the water-rushes, or a stoat pushing
through the undergrowth, would have announced itself in a different
fashion. Again the sound was heard, and this time it was no longer the
crackling of a twig, but the breaking of a branch; then cautious
footsteps fell upon the frosty leaves, and, with a light leap on the
bank that fringed the copse, the poacher stood in the open.
That such he was, Yorke had no doubt whatever; the moonlight streamed
full upon him, and showed him to be none of the Crompton keepers,
unless, indeed, he was disguised. For an instant, it passed across his
mind that this might be Walter Grange himself--he was about the same
height and build--come to play a trick upon him to test his courage, for
the man's face was blackened like a burglar's; but this idea was
dismissed as soon as entertained. The keeper, he reflected, thought far
too seriously of the night's doings to make jest of them, and besides,
he could never have sprung upon the bank as yonder fellow did, his
limbs, though sturdy, being stiff with age and occasional rheumatism.
The intruder seemed quite alone, and it was probable, while his
confederates paid attention to the pheasants in the Home Park, that he
was bent upon making a private raid upon the sleeping water-fowl. He
had no gun, however, nor, as far as Yorke could make out, any other
weapon; and as soon as he had got near enough to the pond to admit of
it the watcher sprang out from beneath the shadow of the oak, and
placed himself between the stranger and the copse from which he
had emerged. Yorke was the taller by full six inches, and believing
himself to be more than a match for his antagonist, had not so
much as laid finger on his concealed weapon; but if he had now
any thought of doing so, it was too late; for, with a cry
of eager rage, the man turned at once, and sprang at him like a tiger.
It needed all his skill and coolness to parry the fierce blows which
fell upon him like hail, and which he had scarcely time to return. Yorke
was an adept at boxing, and in the chance encounters into which a
somewhat dissipated and reckless youth had led him, he had been an easy
victor; but it now took all he knew to "keep himself." An instant's
carelessness, or the absence of a hand in search of that which he would
now have gladly seized, and his guard, would have been broken through,
and himself placed at his foe's mercy. Nothing but his long reach
preserved him from those sledge-hammer blows, which seemed as though
each must break the arm they fell upon. As for using his whistle, the
opportunity, of course, was not afforded him; and, moreover, he had no
breath to spare for such a purpose. Breath, however, was also a
desideratum with the poacher, and the more so inasmuch as he accompanied
every blow--as Brian de Bois-Guilbert was wont to hammer home his
mace-strokes with "Ha! Beauseant, Beauseant!"--with some amazing oath.
It is recorded of an American gentleman, much given to blasphemy, that
he could entertain "an intelligent companion" for half a day with the
mere force and ingenuity of his expletives; and this singular talent
seemed to be shared by Richard Yorke's antagonist. That one of the most
accomplished roughs of the Midlands had fallen to the young painter's
lot in that night's _melee_, he could not for a moment doubt; but this
reflection did not go far to soothe him. He did not care for fighting
for its own sake, while his pride revolted against thus being kept at
bay by a brutal clown. If he could but get the chance, he made up his
mind to end this matter once for all, and at last the opportunity seemed
to be afforded. The poacher suddenly stepped back to the very margin of
the pond, a long oval piece of water, and not very deep, and quick as
thought, Yorke drew his deadly weapon. But at the same moment there was
a sound of racing feet, and down the drive there came two men at
headlong speed. Yorke did not doubt that they were poachers; but his
blood was up, and he was armed--he felt like an iron-clad against whom
three wooden ships were about to pit themselves. "Where I hit now I make
a hole," he muttered, savagely, and stood firm; nor did he even put his
lips to the whistle that hung round his neck.
[Illustration: "THE MAN TURNED AT ONCE, AND SPRANG AT HIM LIKE A
But as the men came nearer, in the foremost he recognized Walter Grange,
and at the same moment saw his late antagonist plunge wildly into the
ice-cold pond, and begin to wade and swim across it.
"Cuss him! I durst not do it," gasped Walter, just too late, and
mindful, even in his passionate disappointment, of rheumatic pains.
"Dash after him, Bob, while Mr. Yorke and I run round."
But Bob had had the rheumatism too, or had seen the unpleasant effects
of it in others, and shook his shaggy head.
A mocking laugh burst from the poacher, already nearing the opposite
"Dang him! If I'd got a gun, I'd shoot him. Run, man!" cried Walter,
excitedly--"run, man, run! He can never get along in his wet clothes."
And off the two men started in hot pursuit.
Yorke watched them toiling round the pond, while the poacher landed,
shook himself like any water-dog, and leisurely trotted off.
"It was lucky for him," murmured he, as he replaced his weapon in his
pocket, "that the help came on _my_ side;" then lit his pipe, and
leisurely walked home.
Three hours later returned the keeper (for whose arrival he had been
sitting up), with twinkling eye and a look of triumph.
"Well, you caught the beggar, did you, Grange?"
"Oh yes, we caught him fast enough," responded the other, grinning; "we
caught the whole lot of them. And who d'ye think they were? Why, it was
the whole party from the house, as had come out to play at poachers! Who
ever heard of such a game? Some on 'em got it hot, I reckon, in the new
spinney yonder. But _that_ was no matter. We've all had our skins full
of rum punch, and a sov. apiece, because Squire says we proved ourselves
good watch-dogs. And here," continued the old man, exultingly, "are a
couple of sovs. for yourself. 'Give them to that tall young fellow,'
says Squire, 'as you posted by the Decoy Pond, for he knows how to use
his fists.' Why, that 'ere chap as you had the tussle with was Carew
A deadly paleness overspread the young man's cheeks.
"Was that Carew?" he said.
"Yes, indeed, it was; though none of us know'd it. You needn't look so
skeared. He ain't annoyed with you; he's pleased, bless 'ee, and here's
the proof of it."
"You may keep the guineas, Grange," said Yorke, gravely; "only keep my
secret too. If he thinks I was a night-watcher, let him continue in that
"Why, it's the best introduction to Carew as you could have!" insisted
the astonished keeper. "You have only to go up to the great house
to-morrow, and say: 'Here's the man as proved your match last night,'
"You must allow me to be the best judge of my own affairs," interrupted
the young fellow, haughtily; "so you will be so good as to say nothing
more about the matter."
"Just as you please, Sir; and I am sure you are very kind," answered the
keeper, slipping the coins into his pocket. "Squire hisself could not be
more liberal, that's certain. You are tired, I see; and I wish you
good-night, Sir, or rather good-morning."
"Now, that's what I call pride," said Walter, grimly, as he closed the
door upon his lodger; "and I am sure I hope, for his sake, it may never
have a fall."
When Richard Yorke was thus left to himself he did a curious thing; he
took out the life-preserver from its receptacle, and having made up the
fire, placed it in the centre of the burning mass, so that in the
morning there was nothing left of it save a dull lump of lead.
ACROSS THE THRESHOLD.
A day or two passed by, and nothing more was heard of Carew's combat
with the young watcher; some other mad frolic had doubtless entered into
the Squire's head and driven that one out. The hot punch imbibed after
his swim in the Decoy Pond seemed to have averted all evil consequences,
or perhaps he was case-hardened to such things. It was not uncommon with
him to spend whole winter nights on a neighboring "broad," in pursuit of
the mere-fowl that haunted it, in water or ice or swamp. He treated his
body as an enemy, and strove to subdue it--though not for the good
reasons of the Apostle--by every sort of harshness and imprudence; or
rather he behaved toward it as a wayward father toward his child--at one
time with cruel severity, at another with the utmost luxury and
indulgence. No rich man, probably, ever gave his heir so many chances of
inheritance, or excited in him so many false hopes, as did the Squire of
Crompton, who had no heir.
The hunting season had begun with him after its usual fashion; he seldom
troubled himself to find a fox, but turned one out of a bag to insure
sport, or ran a drag over the most difficult and dangerous country that
could be selected.
Yorke had almost made up his mind to take the keeper's advice, and
distinguish himself by putting his neck to the same risks as Carew, on
horseback, in order to recommend himself to his notice, when an event
occurred by which he attained his end in another way.
Tired of the park, wherein he had dwelled so long, and which every day
the approach of winter made more bare and desolate, he had taken a
solitary walk along the highway which led to the market-town. He was
returning, and had reached the top of the long hill where the park fence
began, and a high solid gate--so that no dogs could enter--gave access
to that wild domain, when a confused murmur in the keen blue air caused
him to look back. For a mile or more the road was straight, and the
leafless trees and hedges left the prospect open to him in all
directions; at the extremity of the road was some huge moving object,
which, advancing at great speed, disclosed the Squire's mail phaeton,
drawn by four antlered stags, and followed at some distance by three or
four mounted grooms, apparently unable to keep up with him. Carew
himself was standing up like some charioteer of old, and, although he
already outstripped the very wind, was laying about him frantically with
his whip, as up the hill the frightened creatures tore as if the ground
were level. The reason of this headlong speed was at the same time made
evident by the appearance of a pack of hounds, which, followed by a
numerous field in scarlet, was coming across the grass-land in full cry.
The spectacle, though weird and strange, was by no means without a
certain grandeur--like some barbarous pageant. Yorke understood the
situation at a glance. He had heard the keeper say that, not content
with his wild progresses through the park, the Squire had sworn to drive
his stags one day into the market-town, and this he had doubtless
actually accomplished; but, on his return, he had had the misfortune to
be caught sight of by one of his own packs of hounds, which were now in
full pursuit of him, like another Actaeon. The terrified stags, with
that deep-mouthed menace of their natural enemies ringing in their ears,
at once threw off all control, and had left their grooms behind them in
half a dozen bounds. If only the harness held, they would be at the
lodge gate in a very few minutes; but, on the other hand, the hounds
were nearer to that point, which they were approaching diagonally. They
were running, of course, by sight, like greyhounds, and with greyhounds'
speed. Above their eager mellow notes, and the mad shouting of the
excited sportsmen, and the ceaseless winding of the disregarded horn,
above the thunder of his own wheels, and of the hoofs of his strange
steeds upon the wintry road, rang out Carew's hoarse tones: "The gate,
the gate!" If only that wooden wall could be interposed between his
stags and their pursuers, all might yet be well. But, though the
lodge-keeper had been drawn by the tumult to his door, he stood there
like one amazed and fascinated by the spectacle before him, and
paralyzed with the catastrophe that seemed impending.
"Gate, gate, you gaping idiot!" roared the Squire, with a frightful
curse; but the poor shaking wretch had not the power to stir; it was
Yorke himself who dashed at the latch, and threw the long gate wide to
let the madman pass, and then slammed it back upon the very jaws of the
hounds. They rushed against the solid wood like a living battering-ram,
and howled with baffled rage; and some leaped up and got their fore-paws
over it, and would have got in yet, but that Richard beat them back with
his bare hands.
In the mean time Carew and his stags swept up the park like a whirlwind,
and presently, coming to a coppice, the frightened creatures dashed into
it, doubtless for covert, where wheel and rein and antler, tangling with
trunk and branch, soon brought them to a full stop.
"Good lad!" exclaimed Carew, as Yorke hurried up to help him; "you are a
good plucked one, you are; you shall keep the lodge, if you will,
instead of that lily-livered scoundrel who was too frightened to move.
Oh, I ask pardon; you are a gentleman, are you?"
"Sir, I hope so," answered the young man, stiffly, his anger only half
subdued by the necessity for conciliation.
"Then, come up to the house and dine, whoever you are; I'll lend you a
red coat. Curse those grooms! what keeps them? One can't sit upon a
stag's head to quiet him as though he were a horse." (Two of the stags
were down, and butting, at one another with their horns.) "What a pace
we came up White Hill! I tried to time them, but I could not get my
watch out. You moved yourself like a flash of lightning, else I thought
we must have pinned you against the gate. It was well done, my lad, well
done; and I'm your debtor."
The Squire held out his hand, for the first time, for Yorke to shake.
"Why, what's this?" said he, peering into the other's eyes. "I have
seen your face before, my friend."
"Yes, Sir; a week or two ago I played the part of night-watcher in your
preserves--it was a mad prank; but"--and here the young fellow smiled
roguishly--"it was better than poaching, you must admit."
"What!" cried the Squire, delighted, "are you the fellow that had that
bout with me in the Decoy Pond? Why, I thought you were one of my own
men, and sent you something; but, of course, my scoundrels drank it. I'm
glad to see you, Sir, by daylight. It was the uncertain moonshine that
hampered me, else, by Jove, I'd have given you 'one, two!' We must have
it out another day, for a drawn battle is just the thing I hate. What's
your name, young gentleman, and where do you live?"
"I live close by, Sir; I am in lodgings for the present."
"Ay, ay, for the hunting, I suppose," said the impetuous Squire. "Hark
to those devils of dogs; they are howling yet; they would have had my
stags by this time but for you. Well, well; send for your portmanteau,
and take up your quarters at Crompton; you shall have a hearty welcome;
only don't be late for dinner--seven, Sir, sharp. Here are my knavish
grooms at last."
And, under cover of the fire of imprecations which the Squire poured
upon his approaching retainers, the young landscape-painter withdrew. He
had obtained his end at last, and he wished to retire before Carew
should put that question to him for a second time--what is your
name?--which, at such a moment, it would, for certain reasons, have been
embarrassing to answer.
He betook himself at once to the keeper's lodge, and packing up his
wardrobe, which, though of modest dimensions, comprised all that was
requisite for a gentleman's costume, dispatched it to the great house.
He followed it himself shortly afterward, only waiting to dash off a
note by the afternoon's post for town. It was literally a "hurried
line," and would have better suited these later telegraphic days, when
thoughts, though wire-drawn, are compressed, and brevity is the soul of
cheapness, as of wit. "_I have got my foot in, and however it may be
pinched, will keep the door open. Direct to me at Crompton_."
It was not a nice trait in the young man, if it was a characteristic
one, that he did not take the trouble even to leave so much word as that
for the old keeper, who was engaged in his outdoor duties, but simply
inclosed the few shillings in which he was indebted to him inside an
envelope, addressed to Walter Grange. The old man liked him, as he well
knew, and would have prized a few words of farewell; but Yorke was in a
hurry to change his quarters for the better; he had climbed from low to
high, and gave no further thought to the ladder which had so far served
him. But yet he had some prudence too. Though he had dwelled so long in
the Carew domains, so careful had he been not to intrude his presence
inopportunely on its master, that he had never so much as seen, except
at a distance, the mansion to which he was now an invited guest. How
grand it showed, as his elastic step drew near it, with tower and turret
standing up against the gloomy November sky, and all its broad-winged
front alive with light! How good it would be to call so fine a place his
home! How excellent to be made heir to the childless man who ruled it,
and who could leave it to whomsoever his whim might choose!
It was unusual for a guest to approach Crompton for the first time on
foot. The Squire's jovial friends used for the most part strange
conveyances, such as tandems and randoms, and the great flower-beds in
the lawn in front gave sign that some such equipage had been lately
driven up not altogether with dexterity. It is difficult at all times to
drive "unicorn," and more so if the horses are not used to that method
of progression, and still more so if the charioteer is somewhat
inebriated; and all these conditions had been fulfilled a few minutes
previously in the case of Mr. Frederick Chandos, a young gentleman of
twenty-one years of age, but of varied experience, who had just arrived
that day on his first visit. But when Yorke appeared at the front-door,
there was no less attention paid to him than if he had driven up with
four-in-hand. Obsequious footmen assisted him to take off his wrappers
in the great hall, whose vastness dwarfed the billiard-table in its
centre to bagatelle proportions. A profusion of wax-lights--and no
others were permitted at Crompton, save in the servants' offices--showed
eight shining pillars of rare marble, and a grand staircase broad enough
for a coach-and-four, and up which, indeed, Carew _had_ ridden horses
for a wager; while all the walls were hung with huge-figured
tapestry--"The Tent of Darius" and "The Entry of Alexander into
Babylon," both miracles of patient art. The grandeur of the stately
place was marred, however, by signs of revel and rough usage. The
Persian monarch, spared by his Grecian conqueror, had been deprived, by
some more modern barbarian, of his eyes; while the face of his royal
consort had been cut out of the threaded picture, to judge by the ragged
end of the canvas, by a penknife. The very pillars were notched in
places, as though some mad revelers had striven to climb to the pictured
ceiling, from which gods and men looked down upon them with amaze; the
thick-piled carpet of the stairs was cut and torn, doubtless by horses'
hoofs; and here and there a gap in the gilt balusters showed where they
had been torn away in brutal frolic. A groom of the chambers preceded
the new guest up stairs, and introduced him to a bachelor's apartment,
small, but well furnished in the modern style, whither his portmanteau
had been already taken. "Squire has given orders, Sir," said he,
respectfully, "that he should be informed as soon as you arrived. What
name shall I say, Sir? But here he is himself."
As the groom withdrew, Carew made his appearance at the open door. He
was smoking a cigar, although it was within an hour of dinner-time; and
at his heels slouched a huge bull-dog, who immediately began to growl
and sniff at the new guest. "Quiet, you brute!" exclaimed the Squire,
with his customary garnish of strong expletive. "Welcome to Crompton,
Mr.--I forget your name; or rather you forgot, I think, to favor me with
"My name is Richard Yorke, Sir."
"Yorke, Yorke--that sounds easterly. You are of the Cambridgeshire
stock, I reckon, are you not?"
"No, Sir," returned the other, with a slight tremor in his voice, which
he could not control; "I come from nearer home. Your wife's first
husband was called Yorke, if you remember, and I bear his name,
although I am her lawful son, by you, Sir."
After the bold avowal made at the conclusion of the last chapter,
Richard Yorke and his father (for such indeed he was) stood confronting
one another, for near a minute, without a word. A tempest of evil
passions swept over Carew's swarthy face, and his eyes flashed with a
fire that seemed to threaten personal violence. The bull-dog, too, as
though perceiving his master's irritation with the stranger, began to
growl again; and this, perhaps, was fortunate for the young man, as
affording a channel for the Squire's pent-up wrath. With a great oath,
leveled alike at man and brute, he raised his foot, and kicked the
latter to the other side of the room.
"Impudent bastard!" cried he; "how dare you show your face beneath my
"How _dare_ I?" responded the young man, excitedly, and with his
handsome face aglow. "Because there was naught to fear; and if there
were, I should not have feared it."
"Tut, tut! so bold a game could never have entered into your young head.
Your mother must have set you on to do it--come, Sir, the truth, the
"She did not set me on, father," insisted the other, earnestly. "I came
here of my own will. I have been dwelling within a stone's-throw of your
house these six months, in hopes to see you face to face. She told me
_not_ to come--I swear she did."
"So much the better for her," ejaculated the Squire, grimly. "If I
thought that she had any hand in this, not another shilling of my money
should she ever touch. It was agreed between us," he continued,
passionately--"and I, for my part, am a man who keeps his word--that she
and hers should never meddle more with me and mine; and now she has
"Nay, Sir, but she has not," returned the young man, firmly. "I tell you
it was against her will that I came hither."
"The devil it was!" exclaimed the Squire, suddenly bursting into a wild
laugh. "If you get your way with _her_, when she says 'no,' you must be
a rare one. You are my son for certain, however, or you would never dare
to stand here. It was a rash step, young Sir, and might have ended in
the horse-pond. I had half a mind to set my bull-dog at you. Since you
_are_ here, however, you can stay. But let us understand one another. I
am your father, in a sense, as I am father, for aught I know, to half
the parish; but as to being lawfully so, the law has happened to have
decided otherwise. I know what you would say about 'the rights of it;'
but that's beside the question; the law, I say, for once, is on my side,
and I stand by it. Egad, I have good reason to do so; and if your mother
had been _your_ wife, as she was mine, you would be with me so far. Now,
look you," and here again the speaker's manner changed with his shifting
mood, "if ever again you venture to address me as your father, or to
boast of me as such, I will have you turned out neck and crop; but as
Mr. Richard Yorke, my guest, you will be welcome at Crompton, so long as
we two suit each other; only beware, young Sir, that you tell me no
lies. I shall soon get rid of you on these terms," continued the Squire,
with a chuckle; "for to speak truth must be as difficult to you,
considering the stock you come of, as dancing on the tight-rope. Your
mother, indeed, was a first-rate rope-dancer in that way, and I rarely
caught her tripping; but you--"
"Sir," interrupted the young man, passionately, "is this your
"True, lad, true," answered the Squire, good-humoredly; "I had intended
to have forgotten Madam Yorke's existence. Well, Sir, what _are_
you?--what do you do, I mean, for a livelihood--beside 'night-watching?'"
"I am a landscape-painter, Sir."
"Umph!" grunted Carew, contemptuously; "you don't get fat on that
pasture, I reckon. Have you never done any thing else?"
For a single instant the young man hesitated to reply; then answered,
"You are quite sure of that?" inquired the other, suspiciously.
"Good! Here, come with me."
His host led the way along an ample corridor, hung with tall pictures of
their common ancestors, and opened the door of another bedroom. It was
of a vast size; and even when the Squire had lit the candles upon the
mantle-piece, and those which clustered on either side of the great
pier-glass, the darkness did but give place to a sort of shining gloom:
the cause of this strange effect was the peculiarity of the furniture;
the walls were of bog-oak, relieved, like those of a ball-room, by
silver sconces; the chairs were of the same material. The curiosity of
the room was, however, the bedstead; this was of an immense size, and
adorned above with ostrich feathers, which gave it the appearance of a
funeral car; the pillars were of solid ebony, as were also the carved
head and foot boards; it was hung with crimson damask curtains, trimmed
with gold braid; and upon its coverlet of purple silk lay a quilt of
Brussels point lace of exquisite design.
"I will have your traps brought in here," said Carew, throwing away the
end of his cigar, and drawing from his pocket a heap of filberts; "it
will be more convenient. You will find a room through yonder door, where
you can sit and paint to your heart's content."
"You lodge me so splendidly, Sir, that I shall feel like Christopher
Sly," observed the young fellow, gratefully.
"Ay, sly enough, I'll warrant," returned the Squire, who had just
cracked a nut and found it a bad one. "That's Bred in the Bone with you,
I reckon. Look yonder!" As he spoke, a porcelain vase clock upon the
chimney-piece struck the half hour, and a gilt serpent sprang from the
pedestal, showing its fang, which was set in brilliants. "That's my
serpent clock, which always reminds me of Madam, your mother, and the
more so, because it goes for a twelvemonth, which was just the time she
and I went in double harness. But here are your clothes, and you must be
quick in getting into them, for we dine sharp at Crompton.--Watson, go
to my man, and bid him fetch a red coat for this gentleman.--You'll
hear the gong, Mr. Yorke, five minutes before dinner is served." And
with a careless nod to his guest, and a whistle to his four-footed
companion, Carew sauntered off.
The young man would have given much to have had half an hour at his
disposal to think over the events of the last few minutes, and to
reflect upon his present position; but there was no time to lose, if he
would avoid giving umbrage to his host by being late. He therefore
dressed in haste, and before the first note of the gong was heard was
fully equipped. If the Squire, in introducing him to this splendid
lodging, had had it in his mind to overcome him by a mere exhibition of
magnificence, the design had failed; it was only Yorke's artistic sense
that had been impressed; the fact was that the young fellow was of that
character on whom superiority of any sort has small effect; while in the
present case the signs of wealth about him gave him self-confidence,
rather than any feeling of inferiority; insomuch as he considered
himself "by rights," as the Squire had said, the heir of all he saw, and
by no means despaired of becoming so, not only _de jure_, but _de
facto_. Certainly, as he now regarded himself in the pier-glass in his
scarlet coat, it was not to be wondered at that he reflected
complacently that, so far as personal appearance went, he was not likely
to find a superior in any of the company he was about to meet. A
handsomer young fellow had indeed never answered the importunate summons
of the Crompton gong.
He had no difficulty about finding his way to the drawing-room, for a
stream of red-coated guests was already setting thither from their
respective chambers, and he entered it with them unannounced. This was
the only apartment in the house which did not bear traces of mischievous
damage, because, as on the present occasion, it was used for exactly
five minutes every evening, and at no other time whatever. After dinner
the Squire's guests invariably adjourned to the billiard-table or the
library, and the yellow drawing-room was left alone in its magnificence.
This neglected apartment had probably excited more envy in the female
mind than any at Crompton, although there were drawing-rooms galore
there, as well as one or two such exquisite boudoirs as might have
tempted a nun from her convent. It was a burning shame, said the matrons
of Breakneckshire, that the finest room in the county should not have a
lawful mistress to grace it; and it was not their fault (as has been
hinted) that that deficiency had not been supplied. It was really a
splendid room, not divided in any way, as is usual with rooms of such
vast extent, but comprehending every description of architectural
vagary--bay-windows, in each of which half a dozen persons might sit and
move, and recesses where as many could ensconce themselves, without
their presence being dreamed of by the occupants of the central space.
At present, however, the flood of light that poured from chandelier and
bracket, and flashed upon the gorgeous furniture and on the red coats of
the guests, seemed to forbid concealment, and certainly afforded a
splendid spectacle--a diplomatic reception, or a fancy-ball, could for
brilliancy scarcely have exceeded it, though the parallel went no
farther; for, with all this pomp and circumstance, there was not the
slightest trace of ceremony. New guests, like Yorke himself, flocked in,
and stood and stared, or paraded the room; while the less recent
arrivals laughed and chatted together noisily, with their backs to the
fires--of which there were no less than three alight--or lolled at full
length upon the damask sofas. These persons were not, upon the whole, of
an aristocratic type; many of them, indeed, were of good birth, and all
had taken the usual pains with their costume, but a life of dissipation
had set its vulgarizing mark on them: on the seniors the pallid and
exhausted look of the _roue_ was indeed rarely seen--country air and
rough exercise had forbidden that--but drink and hard living had written
their autographs upon them in another and worse handwriting. Blotches
and pimples had indeed so erased their original likeness to gentlemen
that it was even whispered by the scandalous that it was to prevent the
confusion with his menials, that must needs have otherwise arisen, that
the Squire of Crompton compelled his guests to wear red coats. The
_habitues_ of the place, who were the contemporaries of the Squire, had,
as it were, gone to seed. But there was a sprinkling of a better class,
or, at all events, of a class that had not as yet sunk so low as they in
the mire of debauchery: a young lord or two in their minority, whom
their parents or guardians could not coerce into keeping better company;
and other young gentlemen of fashion, in whose eyes Carew was "A
devilish good fellow at bottom;" "Quite a character, by Jove!" and "A
sort of man to know." Among these last was Mr. Frederick Chandos, who
had so lately got among the chrysanthemums with his gig-wheels, and Mr.
Theodore Fane, his bosom friend, who always sat beside him on his
driving-seat, and in return for sharing his perils, was reported to have
the whip-hand of him. Nor was old age itself without its representative
in the person of Mr. Byam Byll, once a master of fox-hounds, now a
pauperized gourmand, who, in consideration of his coarse wit and
"gentlemen's stories," was permitted to have the run of his teeth at
Crompton. This Falstaff to the Squire's Prince Hal was a rotund and
portly man, like his great prototype, but singularly handsome. His smile
was winning yet, and, in spite of his load of years and fat, he still
considered himself agreeable to the fair sex.
For this information and much more, respecting the character of his
fellow-guests, Yorke was indebted to a very singular personage, who had
introduced himself to him as "Parson Whymper," and whom he now knew to
be the Squire's chaplain. The reverend divine was as proud of that
office (and infinitely more comfortable in it) as though he had been
chaplain to an archbishop. He was the only man present who wore a black
coat, and he had a grave voice and insinuating manner, which really did
smack something of the pulpit.
"Mr. Yorke," said he, blandly, "I make no apology for introducing myself
to you; Carew and I have been just having a talk about you, and he has
no secrets from his ghostly adviser. I take your hand with pleasure. I
seem to feel it is the flesh and blood of my best friend. Sooner or
later, mark me, he will own as much, and, be sure, no effort of mine
shall be wanting to insure so desirable a consummation."
Yorke flushed with pleasure, not at the honeyed terms, nor the good-will
they evidenced, but at the news itself--the fact of his father having
revealed their relationship to him seemed so full of promise--and yet he
resented the man's professions, the audacity of which seemed certainly
to imply that he was taken for a fool.
"I am sure, Mr. Whymper," said he, stiffly, "I ought to be greatly
obliged to you."
"Hush! Not Mr. Whymper, if you please, for that's a fine here. Every
body at Crompton calls me 'Parson.' Obliged, Sir! Not at all. It is only
natural that, being what I am, I should wish you well. The law, it is
true, has decided against your legitimacy, but the Church is bound to
think otherwise. In my eyes you are the Squire's only son"--here he made
a whispering-trumpet of his brawny hands, and added with great
"I see," said Yorke, smiling in spite of himself.
"Of course you do; did you think I was trifling with your intelligence?
I tell you that it is quite on the cards that you may recover your lost
position, and regain what is morally your own again. Carew is delighted
with you, not so much because you saved his stags as because you fought
such a good battle with him by the Decoy Pond. He has been consulting me
professionally as to whether it would be contrary to the tables of
affinity to have another set-to with you. I am sorry my reply was in the
negative, for, now I look at you, I do believe you would have thrashed
him; but I was so afraid of his getting the better of you, which might
have ruined your fortunes."
Richard could only repeat his thanks for the good clergyman's kindness.
"You know nobody here, I suppose," observed the latter, "and, with a few
exceptions, which I will name to you, that is not of much consequence.
It is a shifting lot: they are here to-day and gone to-morrow, as says
the Scripture, and I wish they were all going to-morrow except Byam
Ryll. That's old Byam yonder, with the paunch and his hands behind him;
he has nowhere else to put them, poor fellow." And here Parson Whymper
launched into biography as aforesaid.
The clock on the chimney-piece, on which the two were leaning, broke in
upon the divine's scarcely less dulcet accents with its silver quarter.
"This is the first time," said Whymper, "that I have ever known your
father late; and to you belongs the honor of having caused him to
transgress his own immutable rule."
While he was yet speaking a hunting-horn was blown in the hall beneath,
and the whole company turned _en masse_, like a field of poppies before
a sudden wind, to the door where Carew was standing.
THE FEAST OF LAPITHAE
The host himself led the way down stairs; while the rear of the party
was brought up by Mr. Whymper, to whom Yorke attached himself.
When they reached the dining-room, and before they took their seats at
the ample table, the chaplain, with sonorous voice, gave a view holloa!
which was the Crompton grace.
"It is very distressing to me to have to act in this way," whispered he
to his young friend, whose countenance betrayed considerable
astonishment; but it is the custom of the house; and, after all, there
is no great harm in it. _De minimis non curat lex_, you know."
"That does not hold good with respect to the law of affiliation,
parson," observed Mr. Byam Ryll, who sat on the other side of him, "if,
at least, I have not forgotten my _Burns_."
"I always understood that Burns had very loose views upon such matters,"
returned the chaplain, demurely.
"My dear parson, your remark is like that excellent condiment which I
wish I could see at this otherwise well-provided table--caviare to the
multitude. Why is it not furnished? You have only to say the word." Here
he addressed himself to Yorke: "This worthy divine who sits at the
bottom of the table, young gentleman, and who has neglected his duty in
not having introduced us, is all-powerful here; and we all endeavor to
make friends of him; nor is that circumstance, it is whispered, the only
respect in which he resembles the mammon of unrighteousness."
A shadow of annoyance crossed the parson's smiling face.
"Mr. Richard Yorke," said he, "this is Mr. Byam Ryll, our unlicensed
"The parson, on the contrary," retorted the other, with twinkling eyes,
"is our Vice, and gives himself every license. What is the matter with
Carew to-night? He looks glum. I dare say he has been eating greens and
bacon at some farm-house, and is now regretting the circumstance. He has
no moral courage, poor fellow, and knows not how to deny his appetite."
"You never did such a wasteful thing in your life, Byam, I'll warrant,"
said the parson, smiling; "and yet some say that you have been a
"I know it," replied the gourmand, shaking his head; "and I forgive
them. They call me a slave to my stomach; if it be so, I at least serve
a master of some capacity, which is not the case with every body."
"You are saying something about _me_, you big fat man," cried Carew,
from the other end of the table, and his voice had a very unpleasant
grasp in it. "Come, out with it!"
"If our venerable friend does not stoop to deception," whispered the
parson into Yorke's ear, "he will now find himself in an ugly hole."
"I was observing that you did not eat your lamperns, Squire," said the
stout gentleman, "and remarked that you were in no want of a feeder."
"What's a feeder?" returned the host, ill-temperedly. "If it's a bib,
you'll soon want one yourself, for, egad, you're getting near your
"It must have been my plumpness and innocence which suggested that
idea," responded the other, smiling. "But if you have never known a
feeder, you have missed a great advantage, Squire. When you dine with my
Lord Mayor the question is always asked, will you have a feeder, or will
you not? If you say 'Yes,' you pay your half-guinea, and get him. He is
generally a grave old gentleman like myself, and much resembles a
beneficed clergyman. He stands behind your chair throughout the feast,
and delicately suggests what it is best for you to eat, to drink, and to
avoid. 'No; _no_ salmon,' he murmurs, if you have had turbot already;
and, '_Now_, a glass of Burgundy, _if_ you please, Sir;'
or, '_Now_, a glass of sherry.' If an indigestible or ill-compounded
_entree_ is handed, he will whisper 'No, Sir: neither now nor never,'
with quite an outburst of honest indignation; nor will he suffer you to
take Gruyere cheese, nor port with your Stilton. The consequence is,
that the next morning you feel as lively as though you had not feasted
on the previous evening, and convinced that you made a good investment
of your half-guinea in securing his services. If there was a feeder at
Crompton," concluded the old gourmand, sighing, and with a hypocritical
look, "it would be a boon to some of you young fellows, and might
produce a healthy and devout old age."
"That's a good one!" "Well done, Byam!" "You won't beat that!" resounded
from all sides, for such were the terms in which the gallery at Crompton
expressed their approbation, whether of man or beast; but Mr. Frederick
Chandos and a few others, inclusive of Mr. Theodore Fane, kept a
dignified silence, as over a joke that was beyond their capacities--they
reserved their high approval for "gentlemen's stories" only. As for the
grim Squire, for whom alone the narrative had been served and garnished,
at so very short a notice, he observed upon it, that "when he had used
up old Byam's brains he should now have the less scruple in turning him
out-of-doors, inasmuch as it seemed there was a profession in town that
was just suited to him."
How wondrous is the power of naked wealth--of the mere money! Simply
because he had a large rent-roll, this mad Carew could find not only
companions of his own calibre--reckless good-for-naughts, or dull
debauchees--but could command gray beard experience, wit, the art of
pleasing, in one man; and in another (what he was not less destitute of,
and needed more), politic management and common-sense. We do not say, as
the Squire himself sometimes did, when in a good-humor with his two
satellites, that Parson Whymper and Byam Ryll had more brains in their
little fingers than all his other friends had in their whole bodies, but
it was certain that, even when drunk, they were wiser than the others
when sober; the one had astuteness enough for a great statesman (or what
has passed for such in England) to hold the most discordant elements
together, and to make what is rotten seem almost sound; and, indeed,
without his chaplain's dextrous skidding, Carew would long ago have
irretrievably lost social caste, and dissipated his vast means to the
last shilling. On the other hand, Byam Ryll was gifted with even rarer
qualities; he was essentially a man of mark and character, and might
have made his fortune in any pursuit by his own wits; but his fortune
had been ready-made when he came of age, and he had occupied himself
very agreeably instead in getting through it, in which he had quite
succeeded. Parson Whymper, who had never known what it was to have a
ten-pound note to call his own, was now no worse off than he. They would
both have frankly owned, had they been asked, that they detested work of
any kind. Yet the chaplain had almost as much business on his hands as
the bursar of a great college, in the administration of Carew's affairs,
besides filling an office which was by no means a sinecure, in that of
his master of the ceremonies. Many a rudeness in that house would have
been bitterly avenged, and many a quarrel would have had a serious
termination, but for the good offices of Parson Whymper. Nor would Mr.
Byam Ryll have been considered by every body to earn an easy livelihood
in making jests out of every occasion, to tickle the fancy of a
dull-witted audience and of a patron, as often as not, morose; yet the
flesh-pots of Egypt had attracted both these men to the Squire's
service, their poverty as well as their will consenting; and in exchange
for meat and drink, and lodging of the best, they had sold themselves
into slavery. Upon the whole, they were well disposed to one another;
the bond of intelligence united them against the rich "roughs" with whom
they had to deal; they tilted together, side by side, against the
_canaille_; yet each, from the bitter consciousness of his own
degradation, took pleasure in the humiliation or discomfiture of the
other, at the rude hands of their common master.
"Profession," said Chandos, in reply to Carew's last remark; "gad, your
ancient friend is lucky to have found one in these days. They tell me
that no young gentleman can now get his living without answering
questions, writing down things, drawing maps, and passing--What the
deuce do they call them?"
"Hanged if _I_ know," said the Squire. "Ask Byam; he knows every thing."
"I say, Mr. Byam," drawled the young man, somewhat insolently, but
without being aware that he was addressing a stranger by his Christian
name, "Carew says you know every thing. What is it that a gentleman is
now obliged to go through before he can get any of these snug things one
used to get for the asking? What is the confounded thing one has to
"Muster," answered Ryll, derisively, as though it was a riddle.
Carew laughed aloud. The nearer a retort approached to a practical joke,
provided it was not at his own expense, the better he liked it.
"What did the old beggar say?" inquired Mr. Frederick Chandos, his fair
face crimson with anger.
"He asked for the mustard; he didn't hear you," answered the Squire,
mischievously; "he never does hear a fellow who lisps."
"I asked you, Mr. Byam," repeated the young man with tipsy gravity,
"what is the name of those examinations?"
"The name of the gentleman on my left, Mr. Chandos, is Ryll, and not
Byam--except to his intimate friends," interposed the chaplain; "and the
name you are in want of is competitive."
"That's it," said the young man, slapping the table, and forgetting both
his mistake and his anger in the unaccustomed acquisition of an idea.
"Competitive examination is what they call it Well, you know, there was
my young brother--confound him!--looking to me to pay his bills; and, in
fact, having nothing to live upon, poor devil, except what I gave him.
So, of course, I was anxious to get him off my hands."
"Very natural," assented Carew. "For my part, I could never see what
younger brothers were born for."
"You'd see it less if you had one to keep," continued Chandos. "In old
times, now, I could have got Jack something warm and snug under
government, or in the colonies; and so I should now, but for one
thing--that he had to pass one of these cursed examinations first.
However, as it had to be done, and as Jack, according to his own
account, was as much out of form for one as another of them, I
recommended him to try his luck for something in India; for as long as
you can keep a fellow on the other side of the world he can't dun
you--not to hurt; it ain't like coming and calling _himself_; and you
needn't read his letters unless you like. Well, 'India be it,' says
Jack; 'that's as good a place as another;' though, in my opinion, he
never expected to go there. He thought he had no chance whatever of
pulling through, and so did I, for the fact is, Jack is a born fool."
"Did you say he was your brother, or only your half-brother?" inquired
Mr. Byam Ryll, with an appearance of great interest.
"My very own brother, Sir," replied the unconscious Chandos, flattered
to find such attention paid to him; "and as like to me as one thimble, I
mean as one pea, is to another. Well, the strange thing is, the deuce
alone knows how it happened, but _Jack got through_." Here he took a
bumper of port, as though in honor of that occasion. "It's a perfect
marvel, but the best thing for _him_ (as well as for me) in the world.
Nobody ever went out under better auspices, for the governor of Bengal
is our cousin, and Jack was to school with his private sec.: it's a
first-rate connection. Our family has been connected with India for ever
so long. I'll tell you how."
"It is a most admirable connection," observed Mr. Byam Ryll; "and the
whole circumstances of the case will, I have no doubt, be interesting in
the highest degree to the natives of Bengal. Your brother should embody
them in a neat speech, and deliver it from the deck of the steamer
before he lands."
It is probable that Mr. Frederick Chandos would have so far
misunderstood the nature of this observation as to have accepted it as a
compliment had not Carew burst into a series of wild laughs, which
betokened high approval, and was one of his few tokens of enjoyment. He
had evinced unmistakable signs of discontent and boredom before his
intellectual henchman had thus struck in on his behalf; and he was
really gratified for the rescue. Chandos was muttering some drunken
words of insolence and anger; but Carew bore him down.
"Pooh, pooh! Old Byam was right!" cried he, with boisterous mirth. "I
dare say all that long story of yours _may_ interest those black
fellows; but for me, I care nothing about it. It's all rubbish. Be
quiet, you young fool, I say; it's too early yet for buffets. Here,
bring the beaker."
This was a magnificent tankard, the pride of Crompton, which, at the
conclusion of dinner, was always filled with port-wine, and passed round
the table. It was lined with silver gilt, but made of ivory, and had a
cover of the same, both finely carved. On the bowl was portrayed a
Forest Scene, with Satyrs pursuing Nymphs; on the lid was the Battle of
the Centaurs; while the stem was formed by a sculptured figure of
Hercules. If the artist, Magnus Berg, who had fashioned it long ago in
his own Rhine Land, had had foresight of the sort of company into whose
hands his work was in these days to pass he could not have hit upon more
apt devices. His Satyrs and his Centaurs had here their representatives
in the flesh; while the thews and sinews of the son of Alcmene had their
counterpart in those of the man who now stood up at the head of that
splendid table, and drank such a draught as though the port were porter.
It was a feat to hold it with one hand, and therefore Carew did so; but
to empty it at a draught was, even for him, an impossibility, for it
held three bottles of wine. Though the Squire could be acquitted of
entertaining reverence for any thing human or divine, he had a sort of
superstitious regard for his beaker, and believed that so long as he had
it in his possession--like the "Luck of Eden Hall"--no great harm could
happen to him. He attached all the importance of a religious
ceremony--and, indeed, it was the only one he practiced--to the using of
this goblet, and resented any levity during the process as though it
were sacrilege. But to stand up after dinner, and much less to support
this elaborate drinking-vessel, was not always an easy matter with the
Squire's guests, and so it happened on the present occasion. The usage
was, that one held the cover while his neighbor drank from the cup,
after a ceremonious bow to him; and it fell to the lot of Mr. Frederick
Chandos to perform this latter duty immediately after his host, and
while there was still much wine in the goblet. Uncertain as to his
footing, and trembling with irritation, as well as with the weight of
his burden, he hesitated to drink. Perhaps, in his already wine-muddled
brain, he had some vague idea of passing the vessel on, and thereby
showing his displeasure; but, at all events, the hesitation was
unfortunate for him, for, with a fierce ejaculation of impatience, Carew
crammed the great cover on the young man's head, which, like the helmet
of Otranto, came down over nose and chin. Maddened with the insult,
Chandos dashed the contents of the goblet into what he thought was the
Squire's face, but which was indeed the white cravat and waistcoat of
his opposite neighbor; and then began a scene that Smollett alone could
have described or Hogarth painted. It was as though a concerted signal
had been given for a free fight among all the Squire's guests. The one
art that was practiced among them was that of boxing, and almost every
man present had a neat way of hitting out with one hand or the other,
which he believed to be unique, and the effect of which he was most
curious to observe. The less skillful with their fists used any other
weapons that came handy. The dessert service of Dresden porcelain,
elaborately enameled with views of the chief towns of Germany, had once
been the marriage portion of a princess, and was justly held to be one
of the rarest treasures of Crompton; but it was no more respected now
than if it had furnished forth the table of Pirithous. The plates
skimmed about like quoits, and all the board became a wreck of glass and
china. Above the clamor and the fighting could be heard Carew's strident
voice demanding his beaker, pouring unimaginable anathemas against any
one who should do it damage, and threatening to unmuzzle and bring in
his bear. The servants, not unused to such mad tumults, gathered in a
mass at the doorway, and awaited with equanimity the subsidence of the
storm among their betters. It came at last, and found the scene of
contest not unlike a ship after storm--the decks all but clean swept,
and the crew (who had broken into the spirit-room) exhausted.
Richard Yorke, who, with his two neighbors, had taken no part in the
affray beyond defending himself from blows or missiles, was even more
astonished at the general good-humor that now succeeded than at the
fracas itself. If there had been any bad blood among the combatants, it
seemed to have been spilled, for there was now nothing but laughter and
applausive drumming of fists upon the table. The company were as pleased
with their own performance as the holiday faces that greet with such
exuberant joy the havoc upon the stage at pantomime time. The _habitues_
of Crompton, indeed, were not unlike wild school-boys, with a Lord of
Misrule for their master, and "give and take" for their one good
precept. Nay, the rude outbreak had even a beneficial effect, for it cut
short the orgie, which might, and probably would, have otherwise been
prolonged for hours. There was no dissentient voice when Mr. Byam Ryll
arose and observed, in demure accents: "Suppose, my dear friends, that
we join the ladies."
YORKE REPORTS PROGRESS.
I trust it will not be imagined, and far less hoped for, by any reader
of this sober narrative, that the phrase which concluded the last
chapter implies that he or she is about to be introduced to bad company.
The fair sex will not be without their representatives in our story, and
that soon; but they will not be such as blushed unseen (if they blushed
at all) in the bowers at Crompton. Mr. Ryll's suggestion, "Let us join
the ladies," was only an elegant way he had, and which was well
understood by his audience, of proposing an adjournment to the
billiard-room. If that worthy old gentleman could be said to have had
any source of income whatever, it was the billiard-table; and hence it
was that he was always ready to proceed thither. Nor had he boasted
without reason, a while ago, of his powers of self-denial, for he would
often forego a glass of generous wine (when he felt that he had had
enough), in order to keep his hand steady for the game at pool, which
invariably took place at Crompton after dinner. His extreme obesity,
though it deprived him of some advantages in the way of "reach," was,
upon the whole, a benefit to him. His antagonists lost the sense of his
superiority of skill in their enjoyment of the ridiculous and
constrained postures in which he was compelled to place himself, and he
was well content to see them laugh and lose. None but a first-rate
player could have held his own among that company, whose intelligence
had been directed to this particular pursuit for most of their natural
lives; and even "Tub Ryll," as they called him, had to supplement his
dexterity by other means to make success secure. His liveliest sallies,
his bitterest jests, were all reserved for these occasions, so that
mirth or anger was forever unstringing the nerves of his competitors,
and diminishing their chance of gain. It was difficult to unstring the
nerves of Parson Whymper, who ran him very close in skill, and sometimes
divided the spoil with him; but on the present occasion he had a wordy
weapon to baffle even that foe. This consisted in constant allusion to
the latter's supposed reversionary interest in the living at Crompton,
the incumbent whereof was ancient and infirm, and which was in the
Squire's gift. This piece of preferment was the object of the chaplain's
dearest hopes, and the last subject he would have chosen to jest upon,
especially in the presence of its patron.
"Is he to have it, Squire, or is he not?" would be Tub Ryll's serious
inquiry, just as it was the parson's turn to play on him, or, "Who backs
the vicar elect?"--observations which seldom failed to cost that
expectant divine a sovereign, for the play at the Hall table, although
not so high as was going on in the Library with those who patronized
cards, was for considerable stakes. Carew, who enjoyed, above all
things, this embarrassing pleasantry, would return an ambiguous reply,
so that the problem remained without a solution. But when the disgusted
chaplain at last threw up his cue, in a most unusual fit of dudgeon, the
Squire put the question to the company, as a case of church preferment
of which he was unwilling to take the sole responsibility. "The sum," he
said, "which had been offered to him for the next presentation would
exactly defray the cost of his second pack of hounds, which his chaplain
himself had advised him to put down; so the point to be considered--"
"The hounds, the hounds!" broke in this impatient audience, amidst roars
of laughter. And nobody knew better than poor Parson Whymper that this
verdict would be more final than that of most other ecclesiastical
synods, and that he had lost his preferment. It was Carew's humor to
take jest for earnest (as it was to turn into ridicule what was
serious), and to pretend that his word was pledged to decisions to which
nobody else would have attached the slightest weight; it pleased him to
feel that his lightest word was law, or perhaps it was a part of the
savage adoration which he professed to pay to truth.
Byam Ryll felt a genuine regret that he had pushed matters so far,
though Whymper himself was to blame for having shown temper, and thereby
precipitated the catastrophe. But he did not play the less skillfully on
that account; and, moreover, had no rival to divide the pool with him.
"I would give five pounds if somebody would beat him," muttered the
discontented parson within Yorke's hearing, who was standing aloof with
his cigar watching the game.
"I think I _could_," said the young man, quietly, "if I _had_ five
As the pool was two pounds, and the lives were one, this was exactly the
amount of pecuniary risk to be run, and which want of the necessary
funds had alone prevented the young man from incurring.
"Here is a fiver," replied the parson, softly.
"But I really have no money," remonstrated Yorke, though his fine face
lit up for a moment with delight (for he was a gambler to the core),
"nor any expectation of--"
"Yes, yes; you have expectations enough," answered the other, hurriedly.
"You may give me that living yet yourself--who knows? Take a ball,
man--take a ball."
So, when another game commenced, the young landscape-painter, who had
spent at least as much of his short life at those boards of green cloth
called "public tables" as in studying the verdant hues of nature, made
one of the combatants, and not a little astonished them by his
performance. He had the eye of a hawk, with the litheness of a young
panther; and his prudence during the late debauch had preserved his
steadiness of hand. Mr. Theodore Fane had the misfortune to be his
immediate predecessor, and was "potted" at long distances.
"By Jove!" exclaimed he, sulkily, upon losing his last life by a double,
"you must have lived by your wits, young gentleman, to have learned to
play pool like that."
"I have," returned Yorke, without moving a muscle, and preparing to
strike again. "You will come to do the same, if you play much at this
game--but your sad end will not be protracted. You will starve to death
with considerable rapidity."
"My dear Mr. Yorke," said Byam Ryll, approvingly, "you have won my
heart, though I can't afford to let you win my sovereigns; I like you,
but I must kill you off, I see."
"Unless--" said Yorke.
"Unless what?" inquired Ryll, as he made his stroke at Yorke's ball,
which was quite safe, and grazed it with his own, which, gliding off
another ball, found its way into a pocket. For once, he had really
allowed himself to be "put off" his aim.
"Unless you commit suicide," replied the young fellow, smiling. "I was
about to warn you of the danger of that kiss."
"You are worse than a highway robber, young Sir," said the annoyed old
"That's true," returned Yorke, "for I take your money and your 'life.'"
The young fellow repaid his loan that night, besides putting half a
dozen sovereigns into his own pocket; and there was other fruit from
Carew was delighted with his son's skill, though his wit was somewhat
wasted on him. "Why the deuce did you not play in the first game?" said
he, when the party broke up to adjourn to the hazard-table. "I suppose
it was your confounded cunning" (and here his face grew dark, as though
with some recollection of the past); "you wanted to see how they played
before you pitted yourself against them--did you? How like, how like!"
"I had no money, Sir, until Parson Whymper lent me some."
"Oh, that was it--was it?" said the Squire. "Well, well, that was not
your fault, lad, nor shall it be mine--here, catch," and out of his
breeches-pocket he took a roll of crumpled notes and flung them at him;
then suddenly turned upon his heels, with what sounded like a muttered
execration at his own folly.
Yorke did not risk this unexpected treasure on the chances of the dice,
but retired to his own room. It was a dainty chamber, as we have said,
and offered in its appointments a curious contrast to his late
sleeping-room in the keeper's lodge. He opened the door of communication
to which the Squire had referred, and found himself in a sort of
boudoir, in which, as in his own room, a good fire was burning. By the
lover of art-furniture, this latter apartment would have been pronounced
a perfect gem. Here also every article was of ebony, and flashed back
the blaze from the red coals like dusky mirrors. Yorke lit the
candles--huge waxen ones, such as the pious soul in peril sees in his
mind's eye, and promises to his saint--and looked around him with
curiosity. Like the little Marchioness of Mr. Richard Swiveller, he had
never seen such things, "except in shops;" or rather, he had seen single
specimens of such exposed in windows of great furniture warehouses,
rather as a wonder and a show than with any hope to tempt a purchaser.
On one hand stood an ebony cabinet, elaborately carved with fruit and
flowers; it was divided into three parts, and their shut doors faced
with plate-glass gave it the appearance of a tripartite altar with its
sacred fire kindled. A casket almost as large glowed close beside it,
enriched with figures and landscapes, and with shining locks and hinges,
as he afterward discovered, of solid gold. A book-case of the same
precious wood was filled with volumes bound in scarlet--all French
novels, superbly if not very decorously illustrated. But the article
which astonished the new tenant of this chamber most was the ebony
escritoire that occupied its centre, with every thing set out for
ornament or use that is seen on a lady's writing-table. It was
impossible that such nick-nacks as he there beheld could be intended for
male use, and still less for such men as were the Squire's guests. Did
this chamber and its neighbor apartment usually own a female
proprietress? and if so, why was _he_ placed there? This idea by no
means alarmed the young landscape-painter, who had no more _mauvaise
honte_, nor dislike to adventures of gallantry, than Gil Blas de
Santillane. He sat down at the escritoire, and, taking up a gilt pen
with a ridiculous silk tassel, began a letter to the same person to whom
that day he had already dispatched a missive; but this time it was not
so brief: the day of brilliant dies and illuminated addresses had not as
yet set in, so he wrote at the top of the little scented sheet, in a
bold free hand, the word Crompton! and put a note of admiration after
it. Had you seen his face as he did so, you would have said it was a
note of triumph.
"My DEAR MOTHER,--_Veni, vidi, vici_--I have come, I have seen him, and
I am at all events tolerated. The perilous moment was when I told him
who I was. He said he was half disposed to set his bull-dog at me, but
he didn't; on the contrary, he at once bid me exchange my bachelor's
quarters for the two chambers I at present occupy, and which remind me
of the _Arabian Nights_. I have never seen any thing like them; the
furniture of both is of ebony; but the most curious part of the affair
is, that they are evidently designed for a lady. Imagine your Richard
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