Wit she hath without desire
To make known how much she hath;
And her anger flames no higher
Than may fitly sweeten wrath.
Full of pity as may be,
Though perhaps not so to me.
Browne, “Britannia’s Pastorals.”
It is to be feared that the sting of Mr. Will Flynt’s offence lay precisely in Jinny’s ignorance of horses, and that if her old companion had come to her aid more tactfully, she would have welcomed his co-operation in the great purchase. But her pride in her work would hardly allow her to admit even to herself that here was a commission perhaps beyond her capacities. Had she not enjoyed an almost lifelong experience of Methusalem? As a monogamist would resent being told he knew nothing of matrimony, so Jinny repudiated the notion that she knew nothing of equinity. Besides, the cattle-market was far from seeming so strange a world to her as Will had imagined. Had her cart not often conveyed thence or thither a netted calf, had she not marketed even his own mother’s piglings? A fig for the masculine aura! If Mr. Flippance exaggerated after his fashion in declaring she would have undertaken to get him the moon—at any rate it was not the man in it that would have kept her back.
It was, therefore, with a bruised and burning but indomitable heart that Jinny went about her work these ever longer days. For women must work, though men may mope. Poor Will, who had nothing to do but to chew his bitter cud of memory, was the more pitiable, and his temper was not improved when early Friday evening the comparatively clean Master Gale, evidently caught on his way home from school, arrived with “the same as uzual.” This apple-cheeked and white-collared understudy for Jinny was no less an eyesore than Uncle Lilliwhyte, and Will made Martha refuse the parcel on the ground that if they encouraged the lad, it would lead to truancy. Such was his solicitude for the schoolboy whose copy-book he had diverted from its scholastic function. But he was not less furious when Farmer Gale brought back the parcel the next morning on horseback and explained amiably that he had seen Jinny about it, and that henceforward this overburdened damsel would leave the Flynt parcel with his, and he would have pleasure in delivering it in the course of riding about his farms.
The rain and the cold snap, that had come so suddenly after the quarrel in the wood, was welcome to Jinny in her present mood. For her the summer was over. True, she espied its first wild rose, but it reminded her only of a round strawberry water-ice, such as her well-to-do clients spooned at the Chipstone confectioner’s. Everything was gelid, except Nip’s nose, and that but added to her depression. Was the darling feverish from the scratches of his spiny crawlings, or did he share his mistress’s heavy humours? Her distraction might have led to a nasty accident had not the last of the trio kept his head, for in a lonely lane Methusalem, who in these days seemed to whinny his sympathy and nuzzle into her palm with enhanced tenderness, deftly avoided the prostrate antlered trunk of an oak-tree which had been split and splintered by lightning. Possibly it had lain there since that Sunday’s storm, for her work had not brought her that way. The bark of the whole tree had been peeled off, save for a small patch where a few buds still suggested vitality, and Jinny had a grandiose sense that all nature sympathized with the strange desolation that had come over her joyous self.
Her mind turned to fate and constellations as she drew up at Miss Gentry’s door and summoned with a blast that fantastic female, who was feeding the chickens with which she variegated life and tantalized Squibs. Miss Gentry did not need anything beyond her usual depilatory. It was a standing grief and astonishment to her that though white lilies (under the domain of the moon) will “trimly deck a blank place with hair,” neither Culpeper nor the planets had provided against the contrary contingency: even fig-wort (owned by Venus) merely removing wens and freckles. Hence she was reduced to a mere chemist’s prescription: a solution of barium sulphide swayed by no known planet. The stuff came in a pot.
Miss Gentry in ordering it did not shirk the word “depilatory.” On the contrary she pronounced the five syllables with a pomposity which was the more impressive to Jinny because even “The Universal Spelling-Book” stopped short at four syllables. Not for worlds—whether to her client or the public at large—would Jinny have betrayed her knowledge that the hair-destroyer represented a never-ending battle with Miss Gentry’s moustache. And for the sensitive dressmaker herself the polysyllable was a soothing cover. Ostrich-like she hid her head in its spacious sandiness.
There was, however, the little matter of Martha’s bleached and new-trimmed bonnet, which Jinny might convey to Frog Farm, and the casual mention that it was Will who had brought it led to considerable conversation. Jinny’s equipage was drawn up outside the little garden, where tulips (red, damask, and pink) stood like tall guards before a tropical palace; and Miss Gentry, despite the chill wind, leaned on her garden-gate, carefully nursing her black cat against Nip’s possible swoops.
The excellent lady, whose erudition Jinny had always absorbed with the reverence due to a reader of The Englishwoman’s Magazine, was always delighted to have the girl sitting at her feet—even though to the crude physical vision Jinny always appeared to be sitting above her head, and Miss Gentry to be looking up to her. Sometimes real information from the aforesaid magazine, which bore the sub-title of “The Christian Mother’s Miscellany,” was thus transmitted to Jinny; but Miss Gentry’s brain was obviously too cluttered up with archaic notions to be really beneficial to her young devotee. Thus, although Miss Gentry enlarged Jinny’s mind, it was more a matter of range than of accuracy.
The conversation to-day, however, was on a more personal plane. Jinny was resolved to speak no further word to Mr. William Flynt: his interference was unforgivable. But when it transpired that he had brought the bonnet, she did not attempt to check Miss Gentry’s flow of favourable comment, still less to contradict it. For a Peculiar he was quite the gentleman, Miss Gentry opined, especially after that coarse and flippant Bundock. Not tall enough for her taste, because she thought you ought always to look up to a man; still, handsome in a rough way, despite his ginger hair.
“Not ginger!” Jinny protested.
“It shades to ginger,” the dressmaker replied severely, as an authority upon colours. “But it served to brighten up his face, which was none too cheerful. Born under Saturn, I should think, and the sign of the Scorpion.”
“And what effect has that?” asked Jinny, alarmed.
“Well, for one thing it qualifies the unruly actions and passions of Venus.”
“The goddess of Beauty,” observed Jinny, airing her Spelling-Book.
“Of Love,” corrected Miss Gentry.
Jinny’s face shaded towards the colour under discussion, and she cried: “Down, Nip,” to that recumbent animal’s amusement. “He nearly jumped on the bonnet-box,” she explained.
“He should eat herbs under the dominion of the Sun,” said Miss Gentry.
“No—Mr. Flynt. He needs vital spirits.”
“Still, ginger is hardly the word,” murmured Jinny.
“It looks ginger against his clothes,” persisted Miss Gentry. “Of course a man can’t understand dressing himself.”
“Why, he’s better dressed than anybody in Long Bradmarsh—except Mr. Fallow,” said Jinny.
Miss Gentry was mollified by the compliment to her pastor. “All the same his coat wrinkles at the shoulders,” she said. “You notice next time.”
“I’ve got better things to do than to look at Mr. Flynt’s coat-sleeves,” said Jinny. “And I’ll be going on.”
“Well, if you do see him, give him my kind regards,” said Miss Gentry, “and say that any time he’s passing and would like a cup of tea, I’d be glad to discuss the tract I gave him.”
“Oh, it’s no use trying to convert him,” said Jinny. “He’s nothing at all.”
“Then why did he go to your chapel the other Sunday?”
“Did he go?” said Jinny, amazed. “I dare say that’s what has depressed him.”
“He not only went, but with your peculiar ideas of the House of God, he had his dinner there!”
“Oh, no! Why he was dining at ‘The Black Sheep.’ ”
“Nothing of the sort. A dressmaker has ears.”
“But a carrier has eyes. And I saw him there.”
“Then I’ll never believe Isabella Mawhood again.”
“I hope you haven’t been making her more vanities,” said Jinny, as she slowly turned Methusalem’s nose the other way.
“Only a new bonnet, you funny little Peculiar. You see the case was coming on at the Chelmsford Sessions, and I should have got a verdict against Mr. Mawhood not only for his wife’s silk dress, but for the chickens his ferrets killed——”
“You issued a replevin, I suppose,” put in Jinny grandly.
“I could have had a tort or a subpœna or anything,” assented Miss Gentry, with equal magnificence. “But the defendant thought best to compromise. He’s got to clear this cottage of rats for nothing this winter—you know how they come gnawing my best stuffs—and in return my landlady has to pay for a new bonnet for his wife.”
“But Mrs. Mawhood’s silk dress—who pays for that?” asked Jinny mystified.
“Oh, Mrs. Mott pays for that.”
“But why Mrs. Mott?”
“She didn’t want to have a scandal in the community, and your so-called Deacon swore he hadn’t got the money. They make Mrs. Mott pay for everything nowadays.”
“It’s too bad,” said Jinny. “And Mrs. Mawhood comes out of it all with her dress paid for and a new bonnet.”
“Well, she does become clothes more than her sister-Peculiars, I must say that—present company excepted! That old rat-catcher’s lucky to have got such a young wife for his second, even though he was her third.”
“She’s not so young,” said Jinny.
“She’s no older than I am,” persisted Miss Gentry. “And born, like me, under Venus.”
Jinny suppressed a smile. Despite her respect for Miss Gentry she had never accepted her standing invitation to explore the Colchester romance. Unread in the literature of love though she was, the girl’s natural instinct refused to see the middle-aged moustachio’d dressmaker as the heroine of a love-drama. Her affair with the angel seemed, indeed, to place her apart. “I think it’s disgraceful to have had three husbands,” she insisted.
“Not at all, when each is a Christian marriage, and the first two spouses have been duly taken by an overruling Providence. Of course the unhallowed romance one inspires is another thing. As I always say to Bundock—oh, we ought not to have mentioned names, ought we, Squibs dear? Please forget it.” She stroked the cat in her arms. “But there, Jinny! You can’t understand these things—you too were born under Saturn.”
“How do you know that?” Jinny was vaguely resentful.
“You’re so cold-blooded—perhaps it was even under the constellation of the Pisces—the Fishes, that is. You’ve never taken the faintest interest in Love. Do you know, I made a rhyme about you the other day.”
“A rhyme!” Jinny was excited. “Do tell me!”
Miss Gentry shook her head. “You wouldn’t like it.”
“Oh, but I must hear it.”
Miss Gentry continued obstinately to stroke Squibs. But finally, as if electrified by the fur, she broke out like an inspired pythoness, in a weird chanting voice:
“When the Brad in opposite ways shall course,
Lo! Jinny’s husband shall come on a horse,
And Jinny shall then learn Passion’s force.”
Jinny was so overwhelmed with admiration at the poetry—quite on a par, she felt, with the pieces of “The Universal Spelling-Book,” especially as the Rhyme or “jingle in the ear” was on the very pattern of the model verse there given:
Prostrate my contrite Heart I bend,
My God, my Father and my Friend,
Do not forsake me in the end
—that she could hardly take in the sense at the moment.
“How lovely!” she said.
“I’m glad you’re satisfied. It means, of course”—Miss Gentry firmly explained the oracle—“that you’ll never marry, being as incapable of Passion as the Brad of flowing backwards and forwards at the same time.”
A strange protest as written in letters of fire crept through all Jinny’s veins. Even her face flamed. She began “clucking” to Methusalem to start.
“And I’ve made one about Mrs. Mawhood too,” pursued the pythoness, now irrepressible. “I don’t wish her ill, but I’m afraid it’ll prove true, poor thing.” And without waiting to be discouraged, indeed, following the already moving cart, she chanted:
“She may look to South, she may look to North,
But the finger of fate hath forbidden a fourth,
And the rat-slayer, clinging to life and his gold,
Shall dance on the grave where she lieth cold.”
“Not dance!” laughed Jinny, relieved at this diversion.
“Well preach—it’s just as bad, when a man’s not ordained,” said Miss Gentry, and this being the signal for a theological assault, Jinny drove off rapidly.
But she had no intention of bearing the bonnet to Frog Farm. Nor, despite the account that Farmer Gale had given of the new parcel arrangement, had she really agreed to establish him as sub-carrier-in-ordinary. He was too moneyed and important for that, and she found it hard enough to accept the favour of being driven to and from chapel in his dog-cart—a favour necessitated by her grandfather’s and even her own ideas as to the indecorum of their business cart. Besides, she had almost resolved to seek his advice, perhaps his help, in the famous horse-purchase: anything rather than break down before Will! So she must not overdo it. No, Master Peartree, for all his novel churlishness, must convey the bonnet. He could scarcely be treated like Farmer Gale’s boy, and if they did refuse it at his hands, still it would only abide next door.
The shepherd-cowman was not, however, to be found in his accustomed haunts, and she lost a good hour in hunting for him in the various mutually distant pastures to which he led his ever-edacious sheep. None of the men ploughing the great red fields for turnips had seen him pass. At last, by the aid of a taciturn lout, who was driving a tumbril laden with hurdles and backed with a tall crate, Master Peartree was located in the farm buildings at the other extremity of Farmer Gale’s estate in a barn-like structure facing a long row of cart-sheds.
Skirting a sunless pond that was scurvy and ill-smelling, she drew up at the gate and blew a summons on her horn, but its only effect was to startle the chickens pecking in the litter, and the piglings fighting to snatch their mother’s garbage from her tub or to nuzzle at her teats. There was nothing for it but to carry the bonnet-box to the barn, for the great farmyard was too mucky to drag her cart through. Picking her way among the strawy compost heaps, she divined why her horn had brought no answer: it had been deadened by a melody proceeding in a lusty tenor voice from the tall folding-doors, and this—somewhat to her surprise—was none other than the air of “Buy a Broom.”
It forced her to polka to it the rest of the way, and although she must fain trip gingerly mid the manure-heaps and the melody had ended with applause before she reached the thatched structure, still it was with a brighter feeling that she found herself at the open doors. But the first glimpse within made her turn pale and draw back a little. The scene she had so unexpectedly stumbled upon was the stranger and grimmer for the silence that had now fallen, though the faces of the shearers astride the struggling sheep were still lively enough. Master Peartree had his boot over the head of a recalcitrant lamb, which but for her recent adventure she would have imagined choking.
But it was not the ungentle shepherd that made for her the centre of the picture, for among these men in dirty green corduroys and rolled-up check shirt-sleeves, whose legs gripped grunting, wheezing, struggling or feebly kicking sheep, was one in cleaner clothes, whose bare, brawny arms gave her a sharp sensation, almost as if he had nipped her with the shears he held in his palm. Was it boredom or the need for his labour that had enlisted Mr. William Flynt in this service? She did not know, but pale and dumb she retreated from the unconscious Will, whose sheep, wedged between his legs, hung limp with meek, helpless eye, the very image of a sacrificial victim, and was being sheared with the meticulous concentration of the outsider bent on showing he is not inferior to the professional. And indeed Will’s was the sole sheep, she saw at once and with admiration, that though nearly bare of its wool showed without blood-fleck: a consummation to which its prudent lethargy had doubtless contributed. Young Ravens, on the other hand, who was now lying with both feet on his animal, had nicked it on ear, leg, and breast: apparently one could not serve two masters—song and scissors.
Perceiving Jinny with her bonnet-box, this young humorist now sang out the old street-cry: “Buy a band-box!”
The chaff stayed her retreat and stiffened her trembling form.
“Hullo!” she retorted, with less than her usual wit. “Back again like a bad penny.”
Even as she spoke she saw Will and his sheep give a spasmodic start, and the first speck of blood appear on the flawless skin. But the shearer did not look up, although he automatically stretched out his hand for the ointment.
“Do ye don’t struggle,” observed Master Peartree amiably to his youthful ewe. “Oi’m not so strong.”
As nobody said anything further, and Master Peartree, intent on his lamb, did not look up, Jinny too stood silent for a moment with her incongruous bonnet-box; recovering her sang-froid, and watching a catcher trying to drive in an unshorn lamb from the pen in which it had cowered and which it now ran round, bleating, terror-stricken and unseizable. She wondered if its heart were thumping more wildly than hers. Not that there was terror in her own breast—rather a strange exultation that her presence had had power to incarnadine the immaculate sheepskin. But her eyes roamed shyly from Will and his nipped victim, and studied with elaborate attention the divers coloured show-cards of the successful ram lambs that made their vaunt upon the beams or along the sloping walls, through which the thatching stuck pleasantly. Her mind went back to that sunny, bracing day in February, to the immense pastoral landscape of straw-roofed sheep-pens, ooze, mangold heaps, and haystacks, on which she had chanced when the lambs now so agitated were new-yeaned: some only an hour or two old, with long skeleton legs and bodies smeared as with yellow gold. How friskily they had soon learnt to leap on their mother’s back! That day she, too, had been as untroubled, needing no outside melody to brisk up her pace.
Young Ravens, inspired by his new audience to a fresh burst of melody, started on “The Mistletoe Bough,” the old ballad she had heard sung in the cottages at Christmas sing-songs, and which she now for the first time connected with the play on Mr. Flippance’s posters.
“Hullo, Jinny,” said Master Peartree at last, her presence slowly percolating. He finished his rebellious lamb and patted it forgivingly on the back, remarking genially: “Get up and let’s have a squint at you.” And as it trotted out happily, he threw its fleece—too small to wind up—on to a great heap in the corner and fell to work on a sheep.
“You’ve just done’em when it’s turned cold,” protested Jinny.
“Ay, ’tis a pity,” said Master Peartree. “But first we couldn’t get the labour, and then that rined and their wool was too damp, but Oi need ’em now for the early market.”
“I know. I’m buying a horse there,” said Jinny.
Another tinge of red appeared on the blameless skin of Will’s victim.
“Methusalem ain’t damaged hisself?” asked Master Peartree in concern.
“Oh, no, he’s outside your gate, damaging your hedge.”
“Then whatever do you need another for?”
“Oh, just to ride over somebody. But I wish I’d known you needed labour.”
“Why, want a job?” grinned Jim Puddifoot, a giant in a brimless hat, who was sharpening his shears on a piece of steel. There was a snigger from his mates.
“What’s the pay?” said Jinny, who had been thinking of Uncle Lilliwhyte, lately gravelled for lack of purchasers of his woodland pickings.
“There’s half a suvrin a hundred,” said Master Peartree as seriously, “and four quarts o’ beer.”
A great shout of laughter rose from the hired men: only Will went on shearing with apparent imperturbability, while a third carmine speck defaced the smooth surface of his martyred sheep.
“Where’s the laugh?” inquired Master Peartree.
“Don’t rob a poor man of his beer,” carolled young Ravens. “She don’t drink,” he broke off to explain.
“Yes, I do, I drink like a fish. Water, that is, like that does.”
This time even Master Peartree laughed, while Jim Puddifoot, raising his tin mug without a handle to his mouth, cried “Here’s to you,” and young Ravens lifting up his pleasant voice trolled forth:
“Robin he married a wife in the West,
Moppety, moppety, mono.”
Little stabs and pricks were going through Will’s breast, and still more through the skin of his sheep. As the chorus, from which Jinny’s little trill was not excluded, took up:
“With a high jig jiggity, tops and petticoats,
Robin-a-Thrush cries mono,”
it seemed to Will as if Jinny was carrying on like a flash lady in a boon company. A high jig jiggity, indeed! Releasing his victim at last, he picked up its fleece sullenly and teased a tail out of it, wherewith, rolling up the rest, he proceeded to tie the bundle in a silence that the singing rendered still grimmer.
“What’s that you’ve got there, Jinny?” asked Master Peartree, becoming suddenly aware of the bonnet-box.
“That’s for you,” she said.
“Me! Oi ain’t got no womankind, thank the Lord.”
Again Master Peartree had touched unintentionally the springs of laughter. Will pinned the frightened ewe-lamb, now caught and as dumb as himself, between his legs, and plucked a few preliminary bits from its breast with his fingers.
“But it’s Mrs. Flynt’s bonnet,” explained Jinny, “and will you oblige me by taking it back to-night?”
The snick of young Flynt’s shears sounded savage.
“That Oi won’t,” said Master Peartree, “seein’ as here stands her boy Willie hisself.”
“Oh, does he?” said Jinny. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Ay, that he do. And even dedn’t, he arxed me not to do your job agen, time Oi took in that liddle ole horn.”
The new ovine martyr bounded. Quite a patch of its skin had been replaced by blood.
“Steady, Willie, steady!” cried Master Peartree. “Oi was afeared musicianers ain’t no good for shearing.”
“It’s this silly, jumping beast,” growled Will, breaking his obstinate silence.
Jinny was still tendering the bonnet-box to Master Peartree. “Well, give it to him then.”
“Can’t he take it straight?” asked the shepherd, clipping busily.
“That silly, jumping beast is too much for him as it is. He daren’t let go. I’ll leave the bonnet-box for him.”
“Ain’t no place here—’tis too mucky.”
“ ‘Buy a Broom,’ ” hummed Jinny, and young Ravens, smiling, seized a besom and swept vigorously at the stale and droppings. “Oh, I can’t leave it here—the sheep might stave it in,” she said.
“Leave it in the store acrost the yard—the key’s in the padlock,” said the shepherd. “Oi count Willie’ll take it home, same as he ain’t cut hisself to pieces.”
Another roar from the others—this time Master Peartree beamed, and it might have gone ill with Will’s lamb had the shears not slipped from his palm.
“Well, but when folks go woolgathering,” remarked Jinny blandly, “they forget things. I’ll put it in the store, but I won’t be responsible.”
“Tell her I won’t forget it,” roared Will, who was picking up his shears in the gymnastic attitude necessitated by the palpitating sheep between his legs.
“Oi reckon she can yer for herself,” said the shepherd naïvely.
“Of course I can hear,” said Jinny. “But tell him to tell his mother that the bill’s inside.”
“Oi reckon he can yer too,” said the puzzled Peartree.
“He doesn’t listen much to women,” explained Jinny. “You ask him if his family wants anything else from Chipstone.”
“Well, there he stands—you can arx him, can’t you?”
“Well, don’t I stand here, too?” said Jinny. “And why doesn’t he answer?”
“He’s too shy,” sniggered Ravens, and burst out again:
“With a high jig jiggity, tops and petticoats.”
“Shut up!” snarled Will.
“ ’Twas you asked me to sing,” retorted Ravens.
“That’s so, Willie,” said the shepherd. “You should say you loved to yer ‘Buy a Broom’ and all them old songs. Why don’t you answer, Willie?”
“Because there’s nothing to say,” Will roared. “We don’t want nothing whatever from her.” He was not often so ungrammatical, but anger knows no pedantry.
“Well, why couldn’t he say so at once?” said Jinny, and whistling “A dashing young man from Buckingham,”—whistling was a new brazenness in Will’s ears—she picked her way across the miry yard to the weather-boarded, tarred, and tile-roofed structure that stood on six mushroom-topped pillars, whose smoothness offered no purchase for rats. Ascending the steep steps, she deposited the bonnet-box betwixt the chicken-corn and the eggs. While padlocking the door again, she saw to her surprise that Methusalem was inside the gate, labouring towards her through the mud. The faithful animal, impatient for her, had evidently lifted the latch with its nose, aided perhaps by its teeth. The tears came into her eyes: some one at least did want her, and there was a long, affectionate contact between that clever, velvety nose and Jinny’s palm. Then she returned to the shearing-barn and handed Master Peartree the key.
“Good day and thank you,” she said. “I reckon I shall meet you at the cattle fair.”
She did not wait to see if she had drawn blood from the sacrificial lamb; but, rounding her lips again, whistled her way jauntily back to her cart. As she drove along, the sun, struggling through a high cloud-rack, showed like a great worn silver coin, and the shorn sheep gleamed fairily white on the great green pastures. But there was an ache at her heart, which the delicious wafts from the early-mown hayfields only made emptier.
The shabby little cart with the legend of “Daniel Quarles,” and the smart dog-cart of Farmer Gale, rolled side by side of a Monday morning in the restored June sunshine towards the Chipstone cattle-market. Jinny had timed this coincidence, and meant to extract the farmer’s opinion of the horses for sale. She had already gleaned from her grandfather what particular teeth were chronological, but such confidence as she possessed in her own “horse-sense” had been rudely dissipated by a volume on the noble animal, which she had unearthed in Mother Gander’s sanctum. The lists of diseases and defects from which it might suffer was paralysing, and even when it was a thing she had heard of—like grogginess—it grew more sinister by being called “navicular disease.” Methusalem’s maladies had been simple enough, and she had dared to drench or anoint him with divers remedies. But now that knowledge had dissipated the bliss of ignorance—now that warts had enlarged into “angleberries,” rheumatism had darkened into “felon,” and farcy, quittor, Ascaris megalocephala, and countless other evils were seen hovering around Methusalem, thick as summer gnats, she marvelled how he had staved them off. That poor Methusalem! An affectionate animal by nature was the horse,—the book told her—he wanted to please man, only sometimes he was in agony and the flesh could not obey. Good heavens, what if sometimes when she was in a hurry to get home, she had wronged Methusalem, even in her thoughts! Remorsefully, and with a new and morbid anxiety, she caressed his delicate, nose, amazed at her ancient, easy assurance of his immortality. It even shook her faith in the all-sufficiency of the Spelling-Book that it contained no intimation of the ills that horseflesh is heir to.
And the animal she had now to buy for Mr. Flippance might be affected with all or any of these ills, and even if one could detect such obvious defects as windgalls, spavin, thorough-pin, or broken wind, how avoid a crib-biter or a wind-sucker, how grapple with the bot-fly, two hundred of which could hook themselves horribly to a single equine stomach, or with the still more formidable Palisade Worm, which even its name of Strongylus armatus could scarcely worsen, a thousand of it having been counted by a patient authority on a surface of two inches, and its census taken at a million for a single horse!
Farmer Gale, however, failed to throw much light on these alarming questions, which he did not know, indeed, were being asked. His conversation kept gliding away to his grievances, for it consisted, like that of most farmers, of grumbles. Usually these started from the little string-tied sample bags of threshed grain he carried in his pocket to be blown and tasted by hard-bargaining customers. But to-day, though he was not bound for the corn-market, he was nevertheless not to be baulked of his grievances. They were not, this time, against Nature, but against Man; for, as the fields they passed showed, the corn was particularly forward. It was not Providence that had run down wheat to thirty shillings a quarter. Free Trade was in reality the ruin of free Britain. For the labour of Continental slaves, who went with the soil, and were sold with it like cattle, who subsisted on black bread, skim-milk, and onions, was brought into competition with that of the freeborn Briton, who must thus be dragged down to the same level.
The bluff, freeborn Briton was Farmer Gale’s favourite rôle, and his ruddy face, grey bowler, and smart gaiters made him sympathetic enough superficially, while the potent landowner’s consideration for Jinny’s religious necessities had not failed to evoke a flattered gratitude in her humble breast when they drove together of a Sunday to their respective chapels. This amiable image of himself the breezy Briton was now destined to shatter. For after some critical comment on the ploughing of the fields they passed and the activities of the poachers—he would certainly have to get rid of that suspicious character, “Uncle Lilliwhyte,” who occupied a cottage badly needed for a farm-hand—he pointed out the impossibility of building another cottage as Jinny had so crudely suggested. Prices were simply ruinous.
“I tell my labourers as man to man,” he said emphatically, “that they can’t have regular employment and their present wages. Take your choice, boys, says I. Look at other countries, do they get more than their six or seven shillings a week? No! Then that’s what you’ll have to come down to.”
“But how can they live on it?” asked Jinny.
“How can farmers live?” he retorted. “We must go by the price of corn.”
“But did you go by the price of corn after the Battle of Waterloo?” asked Jinny shrewdly. “For I remember Gran’fer once telling me you got—I mean your father got—a hundred shillings a quarter then, yet folks were so starved they went burning the ricks.”
“I was only a baby then. I can’t say what happened.”
“But the same thing happened nearer our time,” she reminded him, thinking of the Bidlake tragedy.
“Oh, that silly rioting and machine-smashing. That always came out of the poor not understanding politics. If things were bad after Waterloo, it was all Bony’s work. And as for the unrest twenty years ago, we caught that from France, too, I remember dad telling me. They had risen against their king—such an unsettled people. But to-day it’s our own British Government that’s the enemy, and the money we farmers have lost this year is something dreadful.”
“But you don’t look as starved as some of our labourers’ families. I’ve seen the Pennymole children crying for dry bread, and the father saying, ‘I darsn’t cut you no more—do, ye’ll have none Saturday.’ And Mr. Pennymole’s always worked for you.”
“You don’t understand politics, Jinny.”
“I understand poverty. The Pennymoles are better off, now they’ve got two boys grown up and earning sixpence a day. But I’ve seen Mrs. Pennymole making tea with charred bread, and her husband compelled to steal the cabbages left for the cows. . . . Oh, I oughtn’t to have said that,” she added in alarm.
“You certainly oughtn’t! Compelled to break the Eighth Commandment—a pretty doctrine! And such liars, too. I saw quite a little girl munching a turnip she’d just filched from my field, and when I complained to her mother, the woman unblushingly said, ‘’Tis me fats her up with swedes and turnips.’ ”
“They can’t see their children hunger.”
“They can put some of them in the poorhouse.”
“Look at the mites there, white and half-starved. Sometimes I’ve got to deliver a parcel to Mr. Jims, the porter, and I hear the Master thrashing ’em with a stick.”
“And it’s what boys need—even my brat. Carrying parcels, indeed!” He stopped abruptly.
“Well, but they make the old folks of eighty and ninety scour the stone steps and do the washing!”
“They needn’t go in—they can get relief from the parish.”
“The parish! Eighteenpence a week for the family when the father’s bedridden.”
“There’s the parish loaves!”
“Have you ever seen one? Half-baked, without real crust, all raw and soft, where it stuck to the next loaf.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers. Besides, there’s plenty of work after harvest.”
“Yes, even for babies of six,” said Jinny bitterly. “And to keep boys from their beds after hard field-work. And at White Notley where they make the silk, there’s little girls standing on stools to reach the weaving-desk.”
“If you understood politics,” Farmer Gale persisted, “you’d understand that prices make themselves, and that what we get with one hand we have to give away with the other. Have you ever heard of the Income Tax now?”
“No,” admitted Jinny.
“Ha! You’d change your tune if you had to pay a shilling on every pound you earned. But that’s merely the last straw that breaks the camel’s back, for it isn’t only as a farmer I’m put upon. But think of the Malt Tax! It’s simply a scandal.”
“Is it? I should have thought ’twas six shillings a week would be the scandal.” Her eyes and cheeks blazed prettily, and she was beginning to shelve the idea of consulting her companion at the horse-market.
“I don’t say you’re altogether wrong,” conceded Farmer Gale, admiring, despite himself, her fire and sparkle. “But it’s the Government that’s responsible. There was a great old meeting t’other day at Drury Lane Theatre in London. Two thousand people, if a man. The Duke of Richmond he up and said by Heaven we’ve got to have Protection, and we will have it. Oh, it was a grand speech. I went up for it express. And we’ve had a meeting of farmers down here, too, and we’re going to wake up the country, we Essex chaps.”
“Are you?” said Jinny, secretly amused at this “furriner’s” complacent identification of himself with her county.
“You wait! We’re going to come out with a Proclamation.”
“But that’s a Royal thing,” said Jinny.
“Not always: besides we shall end with God save the Queen. Yes, that’s it: ‘Down with the Malt Tax and God save the Queen!’ And the beginning: ‘To our worthy labourers, greeting.’ I’ll draw that up soon as I get home.”
“I should offer ’em ten shillings a week,” said Jinny.
“I’m dead earnest. A family can’t live under ten shillings a week. Then they wouldn’t want to shoot your rabbits and steal your turnips and cabbages.”
“Prices make themselves, I tell you. Folks can’t have more than they’re worth. Why, my dad paid as much as thirteen shillings a week to our old looker, Flynt, when he had his strength. Yes, though nobody ever suspected he got more than twelve.”
“But besides his duties as bailiff he had to see after feeding the stock night and morning, including Sundays.”
“That was why my father paid him the extra shilling. And you can’t say I haven’t treated him generously over the farmhouse.”
“I wonder he could bring up such a large family so genteelly,” mused Jinny at a tangent.
“The more the easier. A brat of four can scare the crows: the only pity is that his boys wouldn’t stay on the land.”
“What was there to stay for? I think there ought to be a law that nobody gets under ten shillings,” persisted Jinny.
“What a blessing we haven’t got women over us,” said the farmer, smiling at a heresy too unreasonable for argument. “Men Governments are bad enough, but women would drive us to the workhouse.”
“And what about the Queen?” asked Jinny.
“Well, what about the Queen?” he repeated vaguely.
“Isn’t the Queen a woman?”
“The Queen a woman!” He was dazed. “But she doesn’t really govern—not nowadays. It’s Lord John!”
“Well then, what about Queen Elizabeth?”
“Ah, that was some time back,” he said evasively.
“Yes, she put on the crown in 1558, November 17,” quoted Jinny from that Spelling-Book.
“I didn’t know you were so well up in history,” he said admiringly. “I reckon you’re ready at ciphering too?”
“How could I do my work without it?”
“Ah, that’s true. And a good hand at a pen, I suppose?”
“I can scratch what I want.”
He fell silent.
“You don’t play the piano?” he asked after a pause.
“No,” said Jinny. “Only the horn.” And she blew gaily upon it: whereupon to her surprise and satisfaction—for she had forgotten him, and it was necessary to tie him up against the sheep—Nip appeared, tearing from the rear. Farmer Gale watched musingly the operation of confining him to his basket by one of those pieces of hoop-borne rope that had excited the speculation of Mr. Elijah Skindle.
“I suppose you could play a polka on it,” he remarked.
Jinny obliged with a few bars of the “Buy a Broom.”
“If you had a piano,” he observed with growing admiration, “I expect you’d soon learn to play it on that.”
Jinny shook her head. “I shall never have the time. There’s the goats, and the garden, and Gran’fer, and Methusalem——”
“Nearly all g’s,” laughed Farmer Gale, exhilarated by his own erudition.
“And isn’t Methusalem a gee?” flashed Jinny, and exhilarated him further by her prodigious wit.
They were both smiling broadly as, just outside the market, they came upon Will leaning against a lime-tree, a pipe between his teeth and a darkness palpable on his forehead despite its “ginger” aureola.
Jinny’s smile died and her heart thumped. Instantaneously she decided that as the farmer had seen them together at “The Black Sheep,” to ignore Will absolutely would be to betray their quarrel to the world.
“Fine morning!” she cried as the vehicles passed. Will sullenly touched his hat.
He was amazed that the Cornish potentate should countenance her presence, so incongruous amid this orgie of untempered masculinity, this medley of unpetticoated humanity of every rank and class, of which drovers twirling branches or leaning on sticks formed the ground pattern: small farmers rubbing shoulders with smart-gaitered gentry in frilled shirts; blue-aproned butchers with scissors at breast jostling peasants in grimy smock-frocks and squash hats or ruddy, whiskered old squires and great grazier farmers in blue, gilt-buttoned coats, white flap buff waistcoats, and white pot or broad-brimmed hats; still more elegant town types in glossy, straight-brimmed cylinders and double-breasted, green frock-coats galling the kibes of bucolic, venerable-bearded ancients in fusty sleeved waistcoats and greasy high-hats, who blew their noses with black fingers. It was a fantasia of pipes and caps, of immaculate collars and dirty scarves, of broadcloth cutaways and filthy Cardigan jackets, of top-booted buckskins and corduroy trousers tied with string below the knee. As Jinny and Farmer Gale alighted, and mingled with this grotesque mob swirling around the pens in the sunshine, Will’s heart was hot with resentment against the girl who, while rejecting the counsel and co-operation of her old friend in the great horse-deal, had brazenly accepted the guidance of a bumptious “furriner.” How shamelessly she walked amid that babel of moos, baas, grunts, shouts, and bell-ringing, as if here was her natural place. Really, to see smoke puffing publicly out of her mouth, as it had puffed privately out of that Polly’s, would hardly be surprising now. And the men were looking after her, there could be no doubt of that, appraising her as if she, too, was in the market. He could not but feel a faint relief that she was under substantial masculine escort, however abhorred.
The market-place, along which our quite unconscious Jinny was now making so indiscreet a tourney, was constructed outside the town proper, bordered on two sides by lime-trees and open to the sky save in the auction-room and bar, where walls and roofing gave a grateful shade, though the company in either did not contribute coolness. The cattle were shuffling about restlessly, jostling, mounting. The store calves and bullocks lay in pens; the fatted calves had already been sold: pathetic plumpnesses about to be butchered. Butchers, indeed, were already emerging from the auction-room leading struggling strap-muzzled calves by head-ropes, and holding on—for extra precaution—to their tails.
“Poor creatures!” said Jinny, with tears coming to her eyes.
“Yes, a poor lot!” assented Farmer Gale, and if Will could have felt the flash of scorn that went through Jinny’s heart, he would have scowled less. There was a store calf, stamped in blue, so tiny that Jinny longed to mother it. Here again the farmer blundered: he doubted if anybody would buy it; at least it would be killed instanter to be mixed with pork for sausages.
He was a widower, Jinny remembered, and the line in the Spelling-Book defining that word floated suddenly before her illumined mind: “Widower—One who has buried his wife.” There had always seemed to her something superfluously sinister in that definition—as if the husband had personally put his wife out of the way, or at least made sure she was disposed of. Was a man a widower whose wife had been burnt up, she had wondered whimsically. Or if Miss Gentry had been married and gone to sea and been duly drowned, would her husband have been free to remarry? But for Farmer Gale at least, how pat was the definition, she felt. He assuredly suggested the wilful widower: this man without entrails of mercy, whether for the poor or for beasts.
She moved away silently, trying to lose him, looking for the horses. She passed pens of sheep, and dogs (only a few of these, and tied), and cows with swollen, oozy udders. There was a sheep nibbling at a fallen lime branch outside its pen, and another shoving hard to displace him. Jinny picked it up and gave it to this covetous creature, who sniffed and then turned away. There seemed to be a sort of Spelling-Book moral in it. Before the pigs (red-crossed and blue-marked) she found Master Peartree in rapt contemplation.
“The pegs be lookin’ thrifty and prosperous,” he observed, in response to her asking how he found himself. “They don’t need no auctioneer’s gammon.”
“No pig does,” punned Jinny.
“Ah, here we are!” said a less welcome voice—Jinny maliciously referred Farmer Gale’s “we” to his juxtaposition with the pigs. The uneasy capping and ducking of the shepherd-cowman before his master, and his moving off towards his own animals, suggested that pigs were a private passion with Master Peartree. But he had brought up the memory of the shearing-shed, and with it the renewed thought of Will, and it was a tenderer thought than for the potentate at her side. Will might be stubborn and silly, but never, surely, would he deny that no family should have less than ten shillings a week: she felt relieved she had broken the ice between them, even though “Fine morning” was only a little hole in it.
As if echoing her thoughts, “Fine morning!” said the pig-auctioneer to Farmer Gale. It was a special mark of attention from this gentlemanly-looking man, elevated on a massive stool, who wore gaiters and a great gleaming signet-ring that showed as he turned the pages of a written catalogue. This was kept by elastic strings in a grand calf cover, though pigskin would have seemed more in keeping. Two acolytes, standing on the ground, scribbled in their lowliness. Buyers sat on the rim of the pens, with their feet dangling over the pigs, and the pig-drovers hovered near, in their long high aprons of coarse brown sacking.
Soon Farmer Gale became as fascinated as Master Peartree, for the pigs did indeed look “thrifty and prosperous,” and as the penful was on the point of falling to a low bid, he nipped in and secured a bargain. While he was complacently cutting away bristles, signing his acquisition with his scissors, Jinny stole away, feeling he was safely penned.
Will had long since disappeared from her ken, but when she came to the long roofed place, open at the side, where beribboned and straw-plaited hacks and draught-horses were tied to their staples, there he was, chained just as firmly by a sort of sentinel stubbornness. It was as if he was saying “Through my body first!” The thrill his proximity gave her was shot through with a renewed resentment against this obviously undiminished opposition of his. But she was resolved to meet him with banter rather than with anger.
“You buying horses?” she said genially.
“No, I am not buying horses!” he answered roughly. “But aren’t you ashamed to be here—the only one of your sex?”
“Surely not!” said Jinny. “Where’s your eyes?”
He looked round, wonderingly.
“Under your nose!” guided Jinny. “There, isn’t that a mare? And I passed sows and ewes and heifers by the score.”
“And that’s what you class yourself with? And then you deny you are lowering yourself!”
“I always lower myself when I get off my cart.”
“Well, you get up again! That’s the best advice I can give you. Drive home!”
“And shirk my job!”
“I’ll do your job.”
“You! I thought you were not buying horses.”
“You know what I mean. How much does old Flippance want to give?”
“Oh, he’s not so old,” she said evasively. She was scanning the horses with troubled eye, perturbed even more than by her own affairs by the thought of the innumerable diseases and defects and doctorings which might be lurking beneath their sheen of health and vigour. Her innocent faith undermined by literature and Mr. Flippance’s experience, she had a cynical sense of horsey hypocrisy, of whited, blacked, or browned sepulchres, within which fearsome worms burrowed in their millions. She would have gladly consulted Will, had he not been so tactlessly intrusive. Even as it was, she murmured encouragingly: “There doesn’t seem much choice to-day.” Indeed, the animals were mostly huge shire horses with their heavily feathered fetlocks. Of hackneys there were only two or three.
“I should take that Suffolk Punch,” advised Will, indicating a chestnut. “He’ll have the strength to draw the caravan, and doesn’t look so clumsy and hairy-legged as the others.”
“I like the star on his forehead,” said Jinny. “But I can’t bear a cropped tail, it’s cruel. Besides, Mr. Flippance hasn’t got a caravan.”
“Well, how does he carry all that truck I saw?”
“Oh, that goes in wagons with horses just hired from town to town. They don’t even live in a caravan like Mr. Duke’s got. No, but they have a trap that they drive over in, ahead, and then Mr. Flippance uses the trap to look for a pitch to hire, or to bring home naphtha for the lamps or timber for mending the theatre—something always goes wrong, he says.”
“Then I’d have the Cleveland?”
“Which is the Cleveland?”
“That tall bay with black points and clean legs. I’ve hardly ever seen one at an Essex fair, but they’re strong as plough-horses and handsome as hackneys.”
“But don’t you think that couple there are handsomer?”
“The black—of course! They’re a pair of real carriage horses. Splendid action, I reckon. But Mr. Flippance won’t want anything so showy as that.”
“Just what a show does want,” laughed Jinny. “You see he also rides about the town, blowing on the horn and scattering handbills.”
“I didn’t understand that. And can he blow a horn as well?”
“As well as who?”
“As me!” said Will boldly. “And when am I to have my gloves?” He sought her hand in the press and it was not withdrawn.
“When you go blowing it for Mr. Flippance in his next town,” she laughed happily.
“Then I must choose the horse I blow behind,” he said with an air of lightness. “What’s the most old Flippance will go to?”
“Thirty pounds is his last word, I’m afraid.”
“Much too little. But we’ll see. Now I’ll take you back to your cart.”
“What for?” Her hand unclasped. “I’ve got to buy the horse, I must wait here.”
“But they’ll be taken in there.” He pointed to the cattle auction-chamber. “And there’s no need for you to bid personally.”
“I shall enjoy bidding.”
“Among all those men? You won’t even get a look in.”
The chamber was indeed besieged by a seething crowd, some standing on tiptoe, astrain to get their bids marked.
“I’ll borrow one of those pig-dealers’ stools,” she said.
“Do be serious, Jinny.”
“And do you suppose my work is a joke?”
“But you can’t squeeze in that crowd? Suppose we find out the owner and get one of the black horses by private treaty?”
“And pay the market fee? Not me! Besides, he’ll want a top price and there’s more fun and chances in bidding. Oh look! that poor Cleveland’s got himself all tangled up! Do help him!”
It was not easy to release the animal which, having encoiled its legs in the rope attached to its staple, was getting more and more frightened as its own efforts lassoed it the tighter. Jinny’s heart beat fast lest Will should get kicked, and still faster at the nonchalance with which he accomplished his dangerous task.
“Thank you,” she said sweetly, when the animal stood shaking, but quiet.
“It’s not your horse.”
“But I asked you to do it.”
“Then you might do what I ask you?” he retorted.
She frowned. She did not like this tricky tit-for-tat. It was unchivalrous. It undid his deed of derring-do.
“You must not interfere with my business,” she said severely, and swept to the nearest door.
“Jinny! Where are you going?” He had followed her.
“To the bar!” she said solemnly, perceiving the nature of the forbidden chamber. “Why can’t I have a drink and a smoke? What will you take?”
He gasped, believing her serious. So female smoking even in public was no impossible foreboding. To this buffet, blockaded by laughing, swilling, tobacco-clouded masculinity, mitigated only—if not indeed aggravated—by a barmaid, Jinny was actually going to wriggle her way! And the buffet did not even sell milk!
“You shan’t go,” he said in a low hoarse tone, clutching at her arm. “By God, you shan’t!”
But he succeeded only in grasping her dangling horn, and, in her dart forward, it was left in his hand. “I didn’t ask you to ‘take’ that!” she laughed back as she crossed the threshold. “I meant, what’s your drink?”
“Jinny!” he breathed, his voice frozen.
“Mine’s ink!” she called out gaily, and the males, now aware of her presence, vied with one another to pass the bottle and pen on the counter to her, together with the little bowl of sand, all of which she bore to the quiet side of the room, where a protracted desk supplied facilities for notes and accounts. Reassured, but still resentful, Will stood at the door, awkwardly holding her horn with its bit of broken girdle, and watching her protectively as she scribbled on a piece of paper, and blotted it with the sand. Then coming back to him, she took away her horn—not without a reproachful glance at the snapped cord—and putting her folded paper into his hand instead, glided past him and was lost in the hurly-burly.
Disconsolate, yet excited, he opened the note, and read this wholly unexpected quatrain:
Of all the nauseous complicated crimes
That both infect and stigmatize the Times;
There’s none that can with impious Oaths compare,
Where Vice and Folly have an equal Share.
This rebuke, drawn from the endless thesaurus of “The Universal Spelling-Book,” and not original even in spelling, Will believed to be Jinny’s own composition, and as inspired as it was, alas! deserved. Wonderful that Jinny could sit down in all that turmoil, in that smoky, gin-laden atmosphere, and pour out these pure bursts of song. Surely Martin Tupper, the mighty bard of the day, whose renown had reached even Will’s illiterate ears, could not better them. And what was he, Will, beside her, he whose own claim to literature rested upon an imaginary exposition of Daniel! Smarting with self-reproach, he deposited the note where once her glove had rested—it should be a text of warning henceforward.
But if she was thus marvellous, still more necessary was it to withdraw her from these unfitting atmospheres, and he returned more tenaciously than ever to his equine watch, like a picket in a camp.
Meanwhile Jinny had blotted herself out in the crowd around the sheep-auctioneer, who towered in the midst of his dirty-white sea, yelling “All going at thirty-five shillings apiece!” or striding from pen to pen across the bars, while the buyers ruddled their lots with their mark, and the drovers cleared for him ever fresh passages among the swirling sheep, and acolytes kept parallel to him outside the fold with their ink-horns and notebooks.
But she had only fallen from the frying-pan into the oven, for suddenly she became conscious that Farmer Gale was again at her side.
“Got your horse yet?” he inquired, with his breeziest British smile.
“Sale not on yet,” she answered coldly.
“Then come and see the bullocks sell.”
Jinny, pleading she must go to the horse sale-room, moved away towards the congested chamber. He followed, smiling.
“Why, that is where they’re selling the bullocks now,” he said.
Her brain was seeking for a further pretext, when she caught sight of the sentinel Will frowning furiously in her direction. If she slipped in now, further argument from him would be nipped in the bud, and silently she followed the robustious widower through the hole he bored into the seething mass.
The entry of a female attracted no general attention, for it was impossible for the squeezed buyers to see more than the backs and sides of their immediate neighbours, even if all eyes had not been on the auctioneer and on the beasts which occupied the central ring, in the brief moments of their glory.
He stood at a raised desk, this master of the revels, in his shirt-sleeves, with a little stick for hammer: a clean-shaven man, with the back of his long head almost straight, and further lengthened and straightened by the continuation down it of the central parting of his neatly combed hair; the face bulging forward and into a massive mouth and chin. He was flanked by two young bookkeepers, one spotty-faced and spectacled in a Scotch cap and loud tweeds, and one bareheaded and demure; and around him on the rising benches of an amphitheatre rose a mass of masculinity surmounted by small boys. Drovers chevied in the “lots”—stuck with paper numbers—through large double wooden gates, and back—after their great moments in the ring—to their pens, through a smaller folding gate. The beasts did not always listen proudly to their praises: the more modest, instead of showing off their beauties, preferred to nose restfully about the straw of the floor, and had to be prodded into circular activity by the sticks of drovers who, as the bullocks went sullenly round, looked like a prose variety of picador in a toy arena. And throughout fell the auctioneer’s patter, sometimes suave and slow, but for the most part staccato and breathless. “Who will say seventy shillings? Property of Mr. Purley of Foxearth Farm. And a crown. You all know Foxearth Farm. You all know the hurdle-maker. And his herds are even better than his hurdles! Who makes level money? Going, going——”
“No, don’t you be going,” said Farmer Gale smilingly. For the girl had begun to edge out. She felt herself uncomfortably pressed. Why, it almost seemed as if Farmer Gale’s arm were round her waist. Good heavens, it was! And what was more, his body barred her movement outwards.
“Take away your arm,” she whispered fiercely.
“I’m protecting you from the crowd,” he whispered back. “They’ll break your ribs in.”
“Take it away!” she hissed. But he feigned not to hear, and his eye being now on the arena, not on her, she was too shy to struggle and make a sensation. The horn in her hand also impeded her efforts to extricate herself. Furious and flushing, she was forced to stand there, while the auctioneer’s prosy patter beat down on her brain in a maddening ceaseless pour: “Selling to the highest bidder—no reserve. A big bullock. In your hands. Start the bidding, please. To be sold without reserve, I say. How much? Come on! Look at his fat! Thank you. Seven pound, fifteen—nine pound, ten—a great big bullock. I’m selling him without reserve. He is to be sold whatever he fetches. Ten pound, two and six. Going! No, not gone yet! Going——!”
“I must go!” repeated Jinny. “I must inspect the horses.”
“You’ll see them better in the ring here.”
“Let me go! I’ll never drive to chapel with you again!”
“Why not, Jinny?” He bent down with sudden passion, all the cautious Cornishman’s long-wavering desires clenched by the discovery of her high educational endowments and concreted by actual contact with the desirable waist. “Why not go to chapel together and be done with it, once for all?”
“Done with what?” she murmured, reddening.
“Separating. Let me keep off the crowd always.”
“Hush! They’ll hear you.”
“No, they won’t. What do you say?”
“Be quiet! I want to hear the bidding.”
“Shall we publish the banns?”
Jinny closed her lips obstinately.
“Won’t you speak? You know I can buy out half Little Bradmarsh.”
In her silence the voice of the auctioneer possessed the situation.
“The best heifer for the last—maiden heifer, beautiful quality. Fourteen pound. Marvellous creature, marvellously cheap. Won’t anybody start me?” The drover prodded the prodigy up, and she trotted round dismally.
“Fifteen,” cried a squeaky voice.
“Fifteen,” echoed the auctioneer, cheering up. But his gloom soon returned. For the bidding refused to advance. “Being badly sold, this heifer,” he wailed.
“By crum, he’s right!” quoth the Cornishman, pricking up his ears. “Sixteen pound!” he cried aloud, and was already congratulating himself upon his bargain, when, like the voice of doom, came the squeaky “Seventeen!”
Farmer Gale was piqued. “Eighteen,” he said surlily.
It was a staggering blow. But it only raised the farmer’s blood. “Guineas!” he cried.
“Twenty-two pounds!” chirped the voice.
“Twenty-two pounds!” repeated the auctioneer insatiably.
Beads of perspiration and hesitation appeared on the farmer’s brow. In his concentration on the problem his arm relaxed. Jinny stepped aside, and men unconsciously made way for her.
“Guineas!” cried the farmer.
“Twenty-two guineas!” repeated the auctioneer. “A beautiful maiden heifer—never had a calf. Going——”
But this time Jinny was really gone. She would not even risk waiting outside to hear the result, but in generous gratitude at her escape, she hoped he would at least secure the maiden heifer.
The sight of Will still at his post suggested to her with a little qualm that he was not so wrong: these male environments were not without their drawbacks.
“Those horses seem to fascinate you,” she said, with a little tremor in her voice. Whether Will or the violence just done to her was the cause of it, she did not quite know. But her mood was melting and her eye the brighter for a soft moisture.
But how was Will to follow her vagaries and adventures?
“That’s my business,” he answered gruffly.
“I thought it was mine,” she laughed. She was quite prepared now to make it a joint affair.
“You know my opinion on that,” he said icily.
“You haven’t changed it yet?” she bantered.
“Why, what should happen in these few minutes to make me change it?”
“Things do happen in a few minutes,” she said mysteriously. “Why, I might have come back and bought up the whole show.” She waved her horn comprehensively over the horses.
“What rubbish you do talk!” he said impatiently.
“Do I?” She fired up. “There’s others think differently.”
“If they think differently, it’s because they think lightly of you.”
“Yes—they do. To drag you into an indecent sale-room!”
“Indecent?” She flushed, wondering if Will had seen that circumambient arm.
“It’s all indecent—all that talk about heifers. I don’t wonder you blush.”
She laughed, relieved. “I’m blushing for you. You do talk such rubbish!”
“There you go with your cheek!”
“It’s only what you just said to me.”
“I said it because you do talk rubbish.”
“And you talk rubbish in saying it.”
“Well, go to those who talk sense, Miss Boldero!” And he pulled out his pipe and matches with a symbolic gesture.
“What an obstinate creature you are, Will!”
“Me obstinate! Why, ain’t it your obstinacy that keeps you here, when I’m ready to do your job?”
“I told you I preferred to do my own jobs.” And with that she went straight up to the black hackneys, and while Will puffed volcanically, she learnedly examined their teeth through tear-misted eyes that saw neither incisors nor age-marks. Then, after carefully prodding their ribs and punching and poking them about, as she had seen purchasers do with bullocks, she swept haughtily towards the auction arena, but afraid of encountering the farmer, she hovered uncertainly on the threshold, feeling like a bundle of straw between two donkeys.
Gradually she realized, and with enhanced resentment, that she was the donkey; that both these men had deceived her in representing the cattle-arena as the selling-place for the horses. By the crowd that began to accumulate round the horses, and to blot out the patient sentinel, as the hour for their sale approached, it became plain that they would be sold where they were tied, and presently the motley crowd, swollen by many of the cattle-auctioneer’s audience, thrilled with the coming of this heavy-jowled worthy, who had not turned a hair of his neatly combed chevelure.
The biddings were not brisk. To Jinny’s joy only the heavier animals, the plough-horses and the cart-horses, seemed in demand; the cobs and the ponies went for a song. The sable steeds she had selected as the only suitable ones came late—most of the animals had been released from their staples and led off by their new masters. To her dismay the hackneys were put up as a pair, and all her pride seemed falling into ruin. Fortunately, not provoking a bid, they were then put up separately, and Jinny set the ball rolling for the first with a brazen offer of ten pounds.
For a moment she thought gleefully that the horse was to be hers at that—for nobody there seemed in quest or in need of carriage horses—but under the auctioneer’s scoff a few bargain-hunters soon raised it to twenty, and then to Jinny’s alarm—for her margin was getting dangerously narrow—to twenty-four. At twenty-five the bargain-hunters fell off, and a new voice intervened—a husky voice that seemed to mean business, and whose every counter-bid filled her with dismay. At its twenty-eight pounds the auctioneer still upheld his stick with scorn and incredulity. She was almost at her bids’ end. “Twenty-nine pounds,” she cried crushingly. This time the voice seemed indeed silenced. She fully expected the stick to fall. But at the first “Going,” though there had been no sound, the auctioneer cried cheerily, “Thirty pounds.” Evidently somebody else had nodded or held up a finger. Inflamed by the fever of the struggle, she was impelled to risk even her own earnings, if Flippance would not go so far. “Thirty-one pounds,” she cried ringingly. “Thirty-one pounds,” echoed the auctioneer with a promising accent of finality. “Thirty-two pounds,” he added instantly, and this silent competition was even more crushing than the huskiest bid. It put out her flame of recklessness, and her heart sank with the stick, as despite all the auctioneer’s derisory deprecation, that wooden finger of fate fell finally at this truly absurd figure.
Then the name of the unseen silent buyer transpired. “Mr. William Flynt!” proclaimed a familiar voice. A blaze of positive hatred ran through all Jinny’s being. The brute! The obstinate pig! To come interfering with her daily work, with her bread and butter! To ride his will roughshod over hers! And not only roughrider, but coward, sneak, traitor! Had he not wormed and wheedled out of her the limit of her commission and thus romped in, an easy winner! And he would take his purchase to Mr. Flippance, she supposed. Yes, he was already paying in full—she saw him now, near one of the clerks, drawing a pocket-book out of the region of his black heart; he was in a hurry, he would hasten with the animal to Tony Flip. But not so fast, O dashing young man from Canada! Flippance is a man of honour, he will repudiate the purchase. And the second hackney still remains. The biter is bit—the pit you have digged shall engulf you.
But what was Jinny’s horror and indignation when this young man from Canada, now shamelessly revealed, instead of going off with his spoil to Mr. Flippance, remained and ran up the second horse with his serpent’s tongue at still greater speed, as now cocksure of her limit. This time in her fury she ventured as far as thirty-five—it was useless. With a recklessness still more magnificent he cried “Forty,” and with a chill at her heart in curious contrast with the glow of hate at it, she felt that all was over. Was it of any use bidding even for the few mediocre animals still possible? Would not this brutal monopolist buy up the whole bunch—even as she had, oddly enough, hinted a few minutes before about doing? Yes, there was nothing his masterful obstinacy would boggle at in its resolve to crush her will. He still stood by the horse-enclosure in unrelaxed vigilance. Before she could arrive at any decision, her mind was still further unhinged by the simultaneous appearance of Nip and the advent of pandemonium.
Whether it was Nip that had produced the pandemonium, or the pandemonium that had liberated Nip, Jinny never knew. The fact was, however, that Farmer Gale, waking to find himself outbidden for the heifer and disappointed of his maiden, had retreated fuming to his trap, and hearing Nip’s revolutionary yaps for freedom in the adjacent cart, had loosed him out of some vague instinct of malice—kindness he called it to himself, so unacknowledged was his desire to thwart the will of the creature’s mistress. A final kick administered to the retreating jump—also apparently as a kindly encouragement to the freed dog’s progress—had not proved conducive to the equilibrium of an animal already deranged by a long-iterated grievance and an unexpected freedom, and his helter-skelter pelt through the market-place not unnaturally startled the nerves of not a few fellow-quadrupeds, already shaken by the strange journeyings and novel experiences of the day. But it was not until the sheep were reached, that Nip’s passing became a public episode.
There had even before been numberless difficult scenes with the sold lots; the effort to muster them for their new journeyings had sufficiently taxed the lungs and tempers of men and sheep-dogs. When Nip appeared, the normally stolid Master Peartree was waving a giant red handkerchief and screaming wildly, while demented-seeming drovers, formed into a half-ring, danced and shrieked like savages at a religious service, and waved sticks with a ritual air, and the sheep-dog leapt round and round, chevying the flock in the desired direction. In this delicate crisis, Nip’s rush of recognition at Master Peartree proved the last straw. One super-terrified wether threw the flock into a panic. The sheep rushed to and fro and everywhere (save where the sticks and shrieks pointed); and going thus everywhere, they went nowhere, jumping on and over one another’s backs as in a game of leap-lamb. Some darted back into alien pens, and the sheep-dog, itself distracted, leapt from back to back of these, baying and menacing with feverish futility. It was like a stormy sea of sheep, in which man was tossed about as in a tempest. There were sheep standing on their hind legs as if dancing, there were men clinging on to these legs or to tails or to rumps, and pushing, pulling, and wrestling with them, but never ceasing to yell and chevy. Finally a rescue party appeared with a five-barred gate, which they moved this way and that, striving to cut off at least one of the ways of escape. But this only drove more sheep back into the wrong pens, where they seemed hopelessly mixed up with lots still unsold. Jinny had never imagined sheep such lively and individual lunatics. Now the intruders were being dragged out by the wool of the head or the rump, or half-carried, or wholly kicked; again the five-barred gate was brought into play, this time to keep them away from the pens, and then, wherever the eye turned, were these tempestuous billows of sheep. They bounded, reared, wrestled, danced, pranced, flew wildly at tangents: some escaped towards the town, and everywhere men screamed, scurried, bellowed, waved hands, or brandished sticks. Nip, his head equally lost, seemed to be doing every one of these things at once, whether ovine or human. And Jinny, in her anxiety to capture him, to remove him, unseen, from the Witches’ Sabbath she feared he had called into being, forgot all about the other possible, if inferior, horses. By the time she had refastened Nip and returned to the sale, the stick had fallen for the last bid. She was just in time to see Will springing on one barebacked steed, and leading his beribboned brother by a cord. And despite all her anger and contempt, she could not avoid a thrill of admiration for the grace of his poise and the fearlessness of his carriage. And a dull aching pain began at her heart. She felt she wanted something; she had missed getting something—and obscurely she told herself it was the horses he was leading away. Yes, as a Carrier she was a failure.
And then suddenly the jovial figure of the Showman panted into view. His face was unshorn, unwashed even, although abundantly irrigated with perspiration, and he wore a low-crowned vast-brimmed hat and an unseasonable fur-lined cloak reaching almost to his slippers and fastened at the neck by a brass buckle. Although Jinny always had a soft place in her maternal heart for Mr. Flippance, nobody could have been more unwelcome at this moment of her professional humiliation. But before she could confess her failure, Tony Flip gasped out: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom not to have it!”
“How do you mean?”
“Am I too late? Have you bought it yet?”
“Not yet!” said Jinny.
“Thank God!” He grasped effusively at her hand, but encountering the horn first, shook that instead, without apparently noticing the difference. “Just as I woke up, it popped into my nut that this was the morning of the cattle fair. Out of bed I flew like from that bed in the Crystal Palace that chucks you out by a spring, and though I mayn’t have beat the half-mile record, I’m beat myself! Whew! Not a bad gag, that!” And mopping his brow, he grinned through a grimy handkerchief.
“I thought you looked odd,” said Jinny, equally relieved.
“Yes, I know my collar’s a rag. But better sweat than debt, eh?”
“It’s not your collar—it’s seeing you out of your dressing-gown at this hour!”
“You’re a quiz, that’s what you are,” laughed Tony.
“Never mind! That cloak comes nigh it, and you’ve still got your carpet slippers.”
“Have I? O Lord! I thought the road was feeling hard. Is that a bar I see before me?”
“It is,” said Jinny severely. “But while you’re still sober, perhaps you will tell me why you’ve changed your mind about the horse?”
“Because I’ve done with marionettes. I’m going back to the legitimate.”
Jinny was puzzled. “To your wife, do you mean? I thought she was dead.”
Tony roared with laughter. “You little country mouse! And yet you’re right. The legitimate is the missus I should never have left—the drama with a big D. I don’t mean the drama with swear words—ha, ha, ha! but the real live article. You see, Duke and me, we’ve agreed to swop back.”
“What for? Why, that’s just the trouble. For a consideration, says that son of a horse-leech. And I say that’s blood-sucking. Good idea! Why shouldn’t you be arbitrator?”
The word, which was unfortunately absent from the Spelling-Book, suggested nothing to her but being hanged, drawn, and quartered, like a rebel whom Gran’fer had once seen executed. But she was afraid of being again set down as a country mouse, so she replied cautiously: “I haven’t the time!”
“Oh, I’ll pay you your time. Yes, you’d be the ideal arbitrator,” cried Mr. Flippance, catching fire at his own idea. “To begin with, you know nothing about it. So that’s settled, and you shall drive me to Duke’s caravan this very morning.”
“Not if I have to wait for your drink.”
“The way you drive a man not to drink is awful,” he groaned. “Never mind. I’ve got cool again. Talking to you is as good as a drink. Guardian angel!” He squeezed her horn.
“You see,” he narrated, as they drove townwards, “Duke turned up here with the Flippance Fit-Up on Saturday night, and struck an awful frost.”
“So he told me,” said Jinny. “I met him yesterday when I came out of chapel, and I told him what a roaring trade you were doing.”
“My preserver! Then it’s to you I owe it he’s hankering for his own show back again! Not that he could expect to do any business in my own town, or indeed any other. He forgot that while I, unseen, can be Duke, the public won’t look at him for a moment as Flippance. He takes the name of Flippance in vain—the public knows the difference between a barnstormer and their own Tony. To say nothing of that mincing little Duchess after my full-throated, full-bosomed Polly. Poor dear Polly—pining away pulling strings!”
“Why, she told me,” said the astonished Jinny, “that she wouldn’t go back on the stage for all the treasures of the Crystal Palace.”
“Ah, that’s her unselfishness—bless her!—her own crystal soul. She knows how the stage tries her pa’s nerves. But haven’t I stood by her side as we jogged the figures and seen her poor phiz working at the thought of being cut off from her public like in a diving-bell? She takes things hard, does Polly, not like the Duchess, who’s got no more temperament than a tinned sardine. You’ve seen her, haven’t you?”
“If you mean Mrs. Duke, she was with him yesterday. A pretty, blue-eyed woman, with golden hair.”
“Oh, is it golden this season? But have you seen her act, I mean?”
“I’ve never seen a play at all!”
“Tut, tut, tut! Then you’ve never seen Me!”
“Oh—you seem to me a play all the time,” she said candidly.
He was not displeased. “Then you do have an idea what a play is?”
“I’ve seen Punch and Judy—and the Christmas mummers.”
He laughed. “Well, if Polly was working Punch and Judy from behind, there’d be more life and go in her than there is to the Duchess when she’s on the stage playing Juliet. The public won’t pay to see a china doll. But my Polly! I tell you that standing with the strings in her hand, with nobody’s eye on her but mine and her Maker’s, and in a space where there isn’t room to swing a cat, I’ve seen that girl raging and shouting and tearing about with the passion of the scene till I’ve had to wake up too, and we’ve gone at it ding-dong, hammer and tongs. And with three figures each to work, and voices to keep changing, it’s no mean feat, I can tell you. Duke and his Duchess now, when they worked the figures, used to just stand like stocks, saying the words, no expression or movement, except in the marionettes.”
“But if the public sees only the marionettes——!” said Jinny.
Mr. Flippance shook his head. “There’s no art in cold blood. Not that marionette art hasn’t got its own special beauties, and I freely admit that in puppetry proper I’m not in it with Duke, who was born into the business, and who cut and fitted the figures himself. Lazy though you think me, how I’ve sweated to get those things right! What an ungrateful swine the public can be for one’s pearls!”
“What kind of pearls?” asked Jinny.
“Why, when a character takes up a glass of wine, for instance, and drinks it.”
“Well, I shouldn’t applaud that,” laughed Jinny.
“There you are!” he said with gloomy triumph. “The public can’t see the cleverness of it. But if you remember the delicacy it takes to manipulate the figure from behind, to make it clutch the glass just right, instead of pawing the air, to make that glass come accurately to the mouth, you’ll see the countless chances against perfection. Talk of the corkscrew equilibrist at Astley’s! Why, Jinny, when that glass sets itself down again without accident, there ought to be applause to make the welkin ring. But not a hand, not a hand!”
“Well, but it can’t seem very wonderful from the front,” said Jinny.
“It would if people had brains to think. For every joint in the human body there’s a joint in Duke’s marionette, and for every joint in Duke’s marionette there’s a separate string to pull. Every art has its own ideal, and for a puppet to sit down safely is a greater success than for a Kean to play Shylock. Though, of course, all this must be Greek to you.”
“But when I’m thinking of the fun of Punch and Judy,” said Jinny shrewdly, “I can’t think of the cleverness of the showman pulling the strings—otherwise I should forget the figures weren’t alive, nor the story real—the two things contradict one another.”
“By Jove! I think you’ve hit it,” said Mr. Flippance, more gloomily than ever. “They take the standard of drama—not of mechanical miracles. And that’s why they applaud most at the easiest effects, just shouting and blood and thunder, and that’s why I’m sick, I mean, why Polly is sick of the whole business. Take our tight-rope dancer now. I don’t say she’s as graceful as a live dancer at Richardson’s, or pirouettes like the Cairo Contortionist of my young days at Vauxhall. But she’s far more wonderful. A live tight-rope dancer can, after all, only fall downwards if she makes a slip. But ours, instead of tumbling down, might fly up like a balloon, or even just miss the tight-rope and dance on nothing like you see a murderer at Newgate. But the public take the standard of the ballet or the queens of the tight-rope, and instead of giving us a hand for the cleverness in the making and dressing of the puppet, and another hand for the putting life into it, and a third hand for the dexterity of the manipulation, there’s times when we get no more recognition than if ’twas a monkey-on-a-stick. I tried to educate ’em by letting ’em see the strings or the wires—I mustn’t tell an outsider what they are exactly—I flooded my stage with light. Duke, now, used to keep his scene particularly dark with the fantoccini.”
“What’s fantokeeny?” asked Jinny, imitating his mispronunciation as best she could.
“They’re the figures that are more mechanism than character—balancers, pole-carriers, stilt-walkers, spiral ascensionists, and this tight-rope dancer I’m telling you of. Duke’s idea was to keep the mechanism dark.”
“That seems to me best,” said Jinny.
“I don’t agree,” said Mr. Flippance. “There’s the scenic effects to consider. Darken your scene and you hide it.”
“But if you light it, you show up the way it’s done,” Jinny urged.
“Unless you show ’em the way it’s done, how can they appreciate the way you do it? But there, I’m done with it! Let Duke have his pony. Polly shall tread the boards once more.”
“Does he want you to give him a pony then to change back?”
“That’s it, the son of a Shylock.”
“Then you will want a horse after all?”
“A pony—you little innocent—means twenty-five pounds. I suppose, though, that’s about the value of a pony.”
“It depends who’s bidding against you,” said Jinny ruefully.
“Well, anyhow, that’s what the bloodsucker wants—the twenty-five pounds he gave me he wants back again.”
“But if he gave it you, why isn’t it fair to give it back?”
“Ah! You’re beginning to arbitrate, are you? Well, then! It isn’t fair because I get back the Flippance Fit-Up tarnished and depreciated by the performances of that howling amateur and his squeaking doll of a Duchess. Besides, I don’t want the ‘Fit-Up’ particularly, only my trade-mark back, the world-famous word, Flippance, for I am going to stay the whole year here in Chipstone—you see what lots of people there are on market days—-Mother Gander’s buying a bigger hall for you Peculiars—haven’t you heard?—and me and Charley have worked it with her to sell me the old chapel. I’ll easily get it mortgaged, licensed, knocked into shape, and enlarged—that piece of ground between the gate and the doors is wasted at present, and there’s an American capitalist keen to come in—I met him just now riding a black horse and leading another—and what better omen could man desire? The Flippance Palace I shall call my theatre—suggests the Hyde Park success, d’ye see? And when that Crystal show is over—it won’t run beyond October—I’ll have the Queen’s elephant standing in my lobby! Lord, it’ll draw all Essex! Chipstone’ll become the capital!”
These sudden pieces of information left Jinny gasping. The old chapel thus whisked away from under her feet, and turned into a gigantic Punch-and-Judy show sent her world reeling; while Will, transformed into a theatre proprietor, seemed rapt away to unimaginable heights—or depths. But she did not quite believe it all.
“And what does Miss Flippance say?” she murmured.
“Polly? She’ll be off her nut with joy. Why, she’s such a glutton for work, is that girl, that when we played The Mistletoe Bough she used to play Lady Agnes in Act I and her spirit in Act II (after she’s killed by being shut up in the box, you know), and actually double the part with that of her maid, Maud, who has two quick changes from jacket and petticoat to tunic and trunks, and back again to bodice and skirt, not to mention slipping to and fro ’twixt spirit and flesh. She’s pining away to a spirit herself, poor dear, for lack of her real work. Only we mustn’t break it to her before the deed is done—or rather signed. The poor girl would insist on sacrificing herself. But after all I’ve saved thirty pounds—you realize I won’t need a horse now—so even if I pay him twenty-five, I make a fiver. Not a bad morning’s work, eh, my dear? We’ll get a good stock company and give ’em everything from the Bard to burletta, and I’ve got some lovely ideas for taking plays out of Mr. Dickens’s novels. Oh, we’ll wake up the old place. Charley knows some local girls that would come in splendidly for ballets and choruses, and there’s a wonderful scene-painter, too, down here—a chap I knew at the ‘Eagle’ in London—he’s lost his job and come down to his folks to get cured—his hand shakes a bit still, but he’s a marvel, I promise you, the days he’s not sewn up.”
Accepting this synonym for intoxication as referring to the medical operations upon the unfortunate artist, Jinny received the statement with an admiring commiseration.
“And haven’t you got a friend, a wonderful expert in costumes?” Tony rattled on.
“Me?” she murmured, puzzled.
“A sort of bearded lady from a French convent, a cranky old Catholic who talks with angels, but is a dab all the same at dressmaking——!”
“You don’t mean Miss Gentry?”
“That’s the name. We’ll appoint her wardrobe mistress.” Never had Jinny known him so happy and gaseous—and, paradoxically enough, the more he poured out, the more inflated he got!
“Miss Gentry’ll never enter a theatre,” said Jinny assuredly.
“We shall see. Wardrobe Mistress to the Flippance Palace, Chipstone. Think how that will improve her billheads! And there’s you, too! Why should you waste a first-class stage presence on carrying? You carry yourself too well for that, eh? Ha, ha, ha! A thinking part, perhaps, to begin with, but with your good speaking voice——”
Before Jinny had encountered the full shock of this new proposition, Mr. Flippance broke off and besought her frenziedly to drive down a side street. As she obeyed, she realized that they had just escaped Polly—though a Polly hardly recognizable in that houri in white, creamily jacketed, bonneted, gloved, and, above all, veiled, whom only her massive tread betrayed as charmless.
“You see,” explained Polly’s pa, “it doesn’t do to argue with women you’re fond of: you’ve just got to do what’s best for ’em. Duke now, he’s very weak with women: ’twixt you and I, he only got my Fit-Up because the Duchess, tired of working in the dark and of blushing unseen, wanted to show off what you call her blue eyes and golden hair. She tried pulling his strings—see?—and he, having no backbone, jigged about at her pleasure. But now, to my thinking, Duke’s found out what a fool she’s made of him and of herself, too. For, of course, she’s mucked up his business. Polly mayn’t be a Venus, but she’s stunning in her make-ups—I assure you such a great artist is that woman, that seeing her standing in the wings at the first dress rehearsal, I’ve more than once fallen in love with her myself—till, of course, she opened her mouth. Yes, Polly can always have blue eyes and golden hair, but the Duchess will never have talent if she rehearses till doomsday.”
“Then is Mr. Duke satisfied to go back to the illegitimate?” asked Jinny.
He laughed at the word. “To the marionettes? That’s what Duke wants the twenty-five pounds for,” he answered. “He’s lost heavily, and he’ll be able to show her a quid pro quo—or rather twenty-five of ’em—ha, ha, ha! All the same, we’d better not talk business if the Duchess happens to be at home. She may have her hand too tight on his strings.”
“But what shall we do if she’s in?”
“I shall only say I’ve looked in to congratulate her on her successes!”
“Oh!” Jinny was seriously shocked, and Mr. Flippance, realizing that her conscience was as “country” as her vocabulary, had the shrewdness to say he was only joking. “Besides,” he added, “she’s sure not to be at home in the morning.”
“Because she won’t have her hair on.”
“But how could she go out then without it?”
Tony made as if to pinch her cheek, as if nothing else could adequately express his acute sense of her simplicity, but she guarded deftly with the horn; rapping him, indeed, on the knuckles with it.
“Why, Jinny, you hurt me,” he said ruefully.
“Well, remember I’m not a marionette.”
“You’re certainly not a woman of the world. The Duchess wouldn’t let us in, I mean, but that’s just what we want, provided we can get Duke to exit.”
In another minute or two she drove him up to the back of “The Learned Pig,” and alighting, they picked their way through the undulating and muddy enclosure, grass-grown, and strewn with logs, where the caravan was stationed. There was really a pig there (duly styed in his very dirty academy), besides pecking poultry and pathetic rabbit-hutches agleam with eager sniffing noses, and a flutter of washing, and two shabby traps, holding up their shafts like beggars’ arms. But the caravan itself illumined the untidy space with its gay green paint, its high yellow wheels, its spick-and-span air, culminating in the lace curtain of its tiny arched window. Mr. Flippance dragged his slippers up the step-ladder, and Jinny, having by this time gathered what an arbitrator was, followed in his wake, prepared to undertake this or any other job.
But the Duchess did let them in—more, she opened the door herself, looking indeed too lovely for anything but a doll, and suggesting by her rising and falling eyelids, her smiling lips, and her mobile hands that she was equipped with all the most expensive devices.
Duke, habited in an old-fashioned blue coat with brass buttons, was discovered poring at a desk over a long, narrow account book: he was an elderly and melancholy young man, with bristly black-and-white hair and small pig-eyes set close together. The stamp of aspiration and defeat was set pathetically upon the sallow face he turned over his shoulder to his visitors.
Jinny was not edified by Mr. Flippance’s pretence that she—Jinny—was the sole ground for the visit. She had, he said, been driving him home from the market, where he had gone to dispose of a horse, and he had taken the liberty of bringing her to see their “wonderful” caravan, finding, to his amazement, that she had never been inside. For once the stock Essex epithet was justified—it was indeed a “wonderful” caravan, and the interior so took up her attention that for some time she failed to follow the conversation, though she had a dim uneasy sense that it continued—as it began—with scant regard to the ethics of the Spelling-Book. The gay paint and the neat lace curtains had prepared her for an elegance, and even an airiness, that were not to be found within the caravan. But little else seemed lacking. For into this cramped wheeled chamber, looking scarce larger than her own cart, and certainly not so large as Commander Dap’s cabin in the Watch Vessel, was packed not only a complete cottage with its parlour, living-room, bedroom, scullery, and kitchen, but the mantelpieces and chests of drawers were as crowded with china dogs and shepherdesses as Blackwater Hall itself, besides a wealth of pictures, objects of art, posters, and inhabited birdcages, to which Daniel Quarles’s domain could lay no claim. Not that there was really more than one undivided space, or that you could tell where one room ended and the other began. Nevertheless, all the different sections were clearly visible, though a square yard here or there did double or treble service, forming part of this or that room according as you looked at it. Most clearly marked, of course, was the bedroom, consisting of a raised, neatly counterpaned bed, like an upper berth in a ship, and a chest of drawers topped with ornaments, though the kitchen with its grate and oven and flap-table ran it close, in every sense of the phrase. Amid these poky surroundings, the Duchess’s blue eyes and golden hair shone so sunnily and veraciously—taken unawares as she seemed—that Jinny, ignorant she was expecting a visitor, felt that Mr. Flippance was as unjust of judgment as he was loose of statement.
But an interior so foreign to her experience affected her with all the pleasurable interest of drama, apart from the comedy of which she felt it to be the setting, as, awaking again to the conversation, she heard the two males still keeping it carefully away from the negotiation pending between them, and evidently hard exercised—despite gin from an improbable corner cupboard—to keep the ball of nothingness rolling. Painful silences fell, which a linnet and a goldfinch mule strove loyally to fill, but which remained so awkward that she herself was constrained to enter into the conspiracy, though only by way of genuine admiration. Admiration of the caravan—a ready-made thing that went with Duke—was by no means, however, the admiration the Duchess wanted, and as she failed to extract it from poor Mr. Flippance, fidgeting under Jinny’s Puritan eye, she fell back on a tribute of her own to herself, recounting tediously the triumphs of her tour, and calling on her partner for corroboration, which he supplied in joyless monosyllables.
All Flippance’s interjections with a view to stem the stream and divert the conversation to a pretext for Duke’s exit with him were like straws tossed before a torrent. But presently there came relief—though the plot thickened, Jinny felt. There was a sound of footsteps on the ladder, and, “Ah, there’s Polly!” the monologist broke off.
If Jinny was already steeped in a sense of the dramatic, if, stimulated by the novel setting, she had begun to feel that in such cross-currents and mutual deceptions must lie the substance of that unknown article of commerce these people lived by—a play—how strongly was this intuition confirmed and this sense enhanced when Mr. Flippance, whispering in apparent facetiousness, “I’m in my slippers—she’ll rag me,” kicked them off under a chair, slid back mahogany panels below the bed, disclosing a lower berth, and tumbled in, with his finger roguishly on his lips, closing the panels from within!
“The Mistletoe Bough!” he sibilated. So there it was! They were actually imitating a play before her very eyes. Duke and the Duchess, grinning, drew the panels tighter. The theatre was so in their blood, Jinny felt, that these things came as natural to them as carrying to her.
It was thus that Jinny saw her first farce—unless the high tragedy of Punch and Judy be degraded by that name.
Polly, it soon transpired, was come to the midday dinner with her friend, and the dinner itself was coming in presently from “The Learned Pig.” The real purpose of the invitation was, it transpired equally, that Polly might explain to the Duchess the reading of a part alleged to be confused in the manuscript acquired with the Flippance Fit-Up: she was obviously fishing for tips. While these things were transpiring, poor Flippance in his fur was perspiring. Gradually Jinny saw a rift appearing in the bed-panels and widening to a cautious chasm of a few inches. It made her feel choky herself, especially as the caravan’s little window was closed. She signed apprehensively to Mr. Duke, who, however, was already revolving feverishly how to clear the stage for himself and his fellow-negotiator. And presently he broke into the feminine dialogue with, “I’m sure, dearest, Polly wouldn’t mind acting that bit for you. But there ain’t room for Polly’s genius here—she’d be breaking up the happy home! Hadn’t you better go into the inn-parlour, Bianca? There’ll be nobody there yet.”
The Duchess might have lacked talent, but she had not played in farces without learning how to behave in them: so without even needing a wink from her spouse, she made a kindly exit behind Polly, not, however, without turning back a grinning doll’s head at Mr. Flippance’s beaded countenance emerging gaspingly from his berth. But Jinny, who had already witnessed comedy and farce, was now more conscious of the tragedy of the situation than of its humours, as she saw the Duchess tripping down the ladder, with silken stockings revealed by the raised skirt. It seemed to Jinny that the poor lady was tripping thus blithely to her dark doom, behind the scenes of the puppet show; that her blue eyes and golden hair had flaunted their last upon the stage. And the irony of her grinning exit was accented by the manuscript in her hand: she was going off to study a part she would nevermore play. It all gave Jinny a sense of the Duchess being herself a puppet, with an ironic fate pulling the strings, and she was frightened by a thought hitherto beyond the reach of her soul; by a dim feeling that perhaps she too—and everybody else—was similarly mocked. Who was perpetually jerking her towards that young man, and then jerking her back? What force was always putting into her mouth words of fleer and flout, and pulling away the hand she yearned to lay in his?
“Whew!” exclaimed Mr. Anthony Flippance, as Jinny shut the door safely on the Duchess—for that lady never shut doors, partly because the process interfered with the sweep of one’s exit, partly because what concerned a scene from which she was absent never entered her golden head.
“Whew!” repeated Mr. Flippance, scrambling out. “I know now what Lady Agnes felt like. ‘Help, Lovel!—Father, help!—I faint—I die—Oh! Oh!’ But I’m disappointed in Polly,” he added, diving under a chair. “Fancy being all her life on the stage, and not espying these slippers!” He dug his feet into them.
“There’s no time for joking,” said Duke anxiously, as he tugged open the drawer of a desk in his “parlour.” “I suppose Jinny is in the know?”
“Jinny’s come as arbitrator!”
“What!” Duke wheeled round, his hair still more on end.
“Get on with your mystery-desk. It stands to reason a runaway financial imagination like yours needs a brake.”
“Ain’t you brake enough?” Mr. Duke’s tone was bitter.
“And you want me to be broke!” retorted Tony. “I give you my beautiful marionettes, life-sized and life-painted, all carved by the best maker——”
“Oh, I know all about that!” interrupted Duke impatiently.
“Well, you’re not going to deny your own skill, I hope?”
Duke glared impotently with his little pig-eyes.
“And with the costliest costumes,” Tony went on blandly. “And all these puppets moreover with the latest mechanical contrivances, regardless of expense——”
“And don’t I give you the finest goodwill in East Anglia,” burst in Mr. Duke, “the Flippance Fit-Up with all its plays, prestige, and unique takings?”
“One thing at a time, old cock. Packed into a box that itself opens out and forms part of the stage, combining portability of props with——”
“Do dry up!” cried the maddened Duke. “If you’re not quick, Bianca will be back.”
“What’s that to me? To cut it short, I give you the finest marionette show in the world, with scenery, sky-borders, and plays complete, and an old-established reputation, a show that has played before the crowned heads of Europe, America, and Australia, and, like the workhouse boy in Mr. Dickens’s book, you ask for more. What say you, Jinny? Thinkest thou the Duke should have more?”
“We all want more,” said Jinny. “Air! Mayn’t I open the window?”
“Oh, excuse me.” Mr. Duke, evidently trained by his big doll, rushed to do it. “But haven’t I lost enough without losing my twenty-five pounds too?”
He turned back to his desk, and extricating from its remoter recesses another large narrow fat account book—the twin of that he had been poring over—held it up theatrically. “Here’s my marionette accounts for sixteen years—look through ’em and see if you can find any single week—ay, even the week of King William’s funeral—as low as the best of the weeks since I touched your wretched show.”
“My wretched show!” Mr. Flippance lost his blandness. “Why, if that’s the case, it’s you that have depreciated it. You ought to pay me compensation.”
But Duke had dramatically dumped the book down side by side with its twin. “Look on this picture and on that!” he said. “Duke’s Marionettes, week ending March 10th, 1849, Colchester. Total, £23 18s. 10d. Flippance Fit-Up, Colchester Corn Exchange, week ending March 8th, 1851. Monday. Eleven shillings. There’s an opening! Tuesday——”
“Oh, come to the d——d total!” said Tony impatiently.
“There ain’t any total,” said Duke crushingly. “Tuesday, sixteen shillings and sixpence.”
“Always rising, you see!” said Tony.
“Wednesday,” Duke went on implacably, “nine shillings and fourpence——”
“Why, how do you get fourpence?” interrupted Tony severely. “You haven’t been letting down the prices, I hope.”
“That’s noted at the side. See!” said the careful Duke. “A swindler passed off a groat as a tanner. Thursday, Eight and sixpence—imagine the Colchester Corn Exchange with eight and sixpence! Friday. Nine shillings——”
“Rising again, you see,” chirruped Tony.
“Saturday. One pound thirteen and six.”
“There you are! That pulls you up.”
“Saturday evening,” concluded Duke. “Two pounds eight.”
“And then he grumbles!” Mr. Flippance raised his great ringed hands towards Jinny.
“Total, six pounds five and tenpence!”
“And isn’t that enough to live on?” cried Tony. “Only two in family and a little bird or so! And if your box-office man had been smart enough to tell a groat from a tester, you’d have had six guineas!”
“He wasn’t such a fool,” said Duke dryly, “for on another night it’s noted that a half-sovereign was passed off on him for sixpence.”
“And then you outrage Providence by complaining of the takings,” said Tony.
“Rent of Corn Exchange,” continued Duke doggedly, “three guineas. Salaries (to company, including check-taker), four pounds eight. Lighting, a pound. Advertising (including bill-poster), three pounds ten——”
“But, my dear chap, what extravagance! No wonder——”
“Travelling expenses (company and scenery, excluding caravan), eighteen and ninepence. Drinks to Pressmen—one and sixpence——”
“Oh, not enough! No wonder——!”
“Net deficit, seven pounds sixteen and threepence, plus the salary of Bianca and me!”
“What! Why, you said salary of company, four pounds eight!”
“You don’t suppose I included ourselves with the check-taker!”
“You didn’t? Oh, my dear fellow,” said Tony sympathetically, “no wonder you’re down in the mouth. A wise manager always pays his salary before any other expense; then he’s always sure of a stand-by!”
“It isn’t the money that’s the worst,” Duke explained. “It’s the dreadful loneliness.”
“Why didn’t you stuff the house with paper and put up ‘Free List Absolutely Suspended’?”
“Easier said than done in a place where you don’t know a soul. Why, Bianca had a Benefit Night, and how many do you think were in the stalls? Two women and a boy.”
“I’ve known only the theatre cat——” began Tony cheerfully.
“And the boy went to sleep!”
“Wasn’t it his bedtime? But I will say it’s not entirely the fault of your acting. I’ve noticed ever since that Crystal Palace loomed on the horizon, it’s unsettled the public within at least fifty miles from Hyde Park. I was talking to a showman who told me that in March and April this year business fell off everywhere—there was no interest in giants, dwarfs, fat men, pig-faced ladies, and even jugglers, animal magnetizers, lion-tamers, performing elephants, ventriloquists, prestidigitators, and professors of necromancy. Didn’t you hear of the fate of poor Wishbone, the conjurer, at Chelmsford Fair? Not even a kid dropped into his booth, so he went out to perform outside, but before he could ‘hey, presto!’ the purse back to the owner, the peeler copped him. The magistrate wouldn’t listen to his patter, and he can’t tap himself out of quod either, poor chap. Besides, we all remember the awful weather in March, yes and up to the very opening of the Crystal Palace—rain, rain, rain.”
“Well, take the March of 1849,” said Duke, turning back his oblong pages, “and don’t forget people’ll sit in Assembly Rooms or a Corn Exchange when they won’t risk a draughty tent. Now look at the weather that year—when I pulled my own strings. Tuesday, W.S.—that is, wet, snow. Wednesday, R.N. (rough night). Thursday, S.H.T. (storm, hail, and thunder). Saturday, W.T. (wind, tilt OFF!). Come now, you could hardly have a worse week, could you? Everything except B.F.1 or B.F.2 (black fog or big funeral). Yet see, my takings for that week were——”
Tony flipped away the book with his jewelled hand. “What you’ve got to compare with your Colchester week,” he said, “is not your marionette week in March ’49, but my Fit-Up week for that date.”
“I don’t see that.”
“It stands to reason.”
They debated the point warmly: finally Tony referred it to Jinny: that was what she was there for, he recalled.
“I certainly think,” arbitrated the little Carrier, “that we ought to see what Mr. Flippance’s live theatre could do in the same weather.”
“Oh, very well,” acquiesced Duke sulkily. “And what did you do that week?”
“Heavens, man, how on earth can I remember?”
“But haven’t you got it written down?”
“What do you take me for?” asked Tony. “A tradesman? A bookkeeper? Unless Polly——”
“You told me the other Christmas that you averaged twenty-five,” said Duke bitterly, “and I paid you one week’s takings by way of douceur.”
“Well, then you do know my weekly takings,” said Tony loftily.
“I can’t stay here for ever,” put in Jinny. “I’ve got my work.”
“I’m paying you, ain’t I?” Tony rebuked her.
“But not giving me work.” She assumed a judicial air. “Do you, Mr. Flippance, maintain that your theatre is a more valuable concern than Mr. Duke’s marionettes?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then,” said the young Solomon in petticoats, “surely if you get it back, you ought to pay him the difference in value.”
“Bravo! Bravo!” Mr. Duke’s little pig-eyes gleamed. “A sensible girl!”
“Oh, Jinny!” groaned Mr. Flippance: “To desert your old pal!”
“And do you, Mr. Duke,” went on Jinny imperturbably, “maintain that your marionettes are a better property than the Flippance Fit-Up?”
“Certainly not,” said Mr. Duke, not to be caught.
“The marionettes are a worse property then?” she asked.
Duke banged his book. “Much worse.”
“Then why do you want it back?”
Tony uttered a shriek of delight. “A Daniel come to judgment! Oh, Jinny, I could hug you!”
A sweep of her horn kept him at arm’s length. “You say, Mr. Duke, that the Fit-Up property is the better, and yet you want to give it up?”
Mr. Duke leaned his elbows on the desk, and dropped his head in his hands. “You confuse me—I must have time to think.”
“Hamlet!” observed Tony pleasantly. “But I don’t think the ghost will walk.” His hand moved towards the gin decanter, but again that baffling horn intervened.
“Look here!” said Duke, rummaging in his drawer. “I’ve got the transfer written out, ready for signature, two copies—the exact words of our last agreement, only turned the other way, of course. I’m a plain man—is it to be or not to be?”
“That is the question,” said Tony sepulchrally. “But you see it isn’t so plain as you. You’ve depreciated my theatre and it’s not worth the extra pony. Why can’t you make a reasonable compromise and just swap back?”
“What! And be a pony out of pocket?”
“You’ll be an elephant out of pocket if you don’t,” Jinny reminded him. “Seven pounds sixteen and threepence a week mount up.”
“Ah, that was a particularly bad week.”
“Then there were good weeks?” flashed Tony.
“I tell you the best weren’t as good as the marionettes’ worst.”
“Come, come, old cock, draw it mild!”
“If you don’t believe me,” said Duke, firing up, “look for yourself! And what’s more, if you find I’m wrong, keep the pony and be hanged to you!”
“Easy! Easy! But I was never a man to refuse a sporting offer—tip us the tomes!”
Duke handed him the twin account books, but soon, tiring of the rows of figures, Mr. Flippance begged Jinny to pursue the investigation while he studied the document of transfer.
It was not without a thrill that, setting the volumes on a hanging flap that Duke had changed for her into a table, she went back over the pages of faded ink that told of toils and tribulations in the years before she had come into being: as a carrier she was peculiarly sensitive to these records of wrecked tents and ruined takings. Through the peace of the summer morning in that poky caravan, the winds from that pre-natal period seemed to be rushing, its snows falling, its hails and thunders crashing, and with these imagined tempests came up the thought of Will. What was he doing now, with his beautiful black horses? Was he looking for Mr. Flippance at “The Black Sheep”? But the thought of him was too agitating; she crushed it down and got absorbed in her task and the tales the figures told: the blanks carefully explained by Good Friday or royal mourning or the journey to some distant pitch; the varying cost of these pitches in publicans’ meadows; the varying expense of cartage; the sudden jumps in the takings, due—as annotated—to high days and holidays, or to royal weddings, or to favourite pieces. She wondered why Mr. Duke ever played any others. “What is D.F.N.?” she asked suddenly.
“Dismissed. Fine night,” said Mr. Duke in melancholy accents. It was the supreme tragedy. “Although a fine night,” he explained, rubbing it in to himself, “not enough to be worth playing to.”
“You didn’t always do good business, you see,” gurgled Tony from the gin-glass he had imperceptibly acquired.
“Accidents will happen,” Duke retorted.
“And what is D.S.?” put in Jinny. “Dismissed. Snow?”
“D.S. is diddling show,” explained Duke gloomily. “I struck one only last week at the very public-house I hired my pitch from.”
“That wasn’t playing fair,” said Tony.
“No, indeed. They stuck a placard in the window, ‘Great Water Otter. Free.’ And when you’d had your drink they took you to the stables to see it in its tub. There were crowds every night. It was put in the paper.”
Tony grinned. “ ‘Lord, what fools these mortals be!’ ”
“But why?” asked Jinny. “I’d rather see a water-otter than a dancing doll.”
“You’re not even a country mouse,” said Tony. “When the fools push and squeeze to get near the tub, they warn ’em, ‘Don’t go too near!’ And all the while it’s only a big iron kettle—a water-’otter. See!”
“Yes, that’s what they all do,” said Duke dismally. “Laugh and help to gull the others. And between them the legitimate goes to the dogs.”
“Or the otters.” Jinny bent in lighter spirits over the twin volumes. “I’m afraid you’ve lost, Mr. Flippance,” she announced at last. “I can’t see any drama week of Mr. Duke’s that goes as high as the worst of his marionette weeks.”
“Right you are!” said Tony, cheerful under his liquid. “Sport is sport and the pony is yours. Here goes!” And picking up a pen from the desk, he signed one of the documents with a long thick line sweeping backward from his final “e.” Duke signed the other copy more soberly, and Jinny witnessed both signatures with careful calligraphy. “It only remains, old cock,” said Tony, “to deliver the twenty-five pounds.”
“Hear, hear,” agreed Duke.
“You don’t suppose I carry it about with me?”
Duke’s face fell. “But without money passing, it ain’t legal.”
“But I jumped out of bed in a hurry—Jinny’ll bear me out. I mean,” he added hurriedly, as a dramatic interest flickered across Duke’s face, “look at my slippers!”
“Oh, I’ve seen your stinking old slippers!” Duke was getting unpleasant. “What I want to see is my money.”
“Sorry, old boy—no use letting your dander rise—it’s a case of H.G.I.—haven’t got it, and M.O.I.U.—must owe it you! Still, I dare say we can rake up something on account, to make a legal consideration. Doubtless Jinny has got half a crown. Give me one, Jinny, till I get home.”
Jinny, who had always hitherto dealt with Polly, and been scrupulously paid, had no hesitation in handing him the coin. She did not know it was the cost of her arbitration. Duke accepted it ungraciously as earnest money.
“And if I may advise you how to run your own show, now you’ve got it back,” said Tony handsomely, “don’t go so much by the fairs. There’s not only the waste of time and travel in between one and t’other, it’s lowering a fine art to the level of a merry-go-round or the talking lobst——”
“I can’t wait for ever,” interposed Jinny. “Are you coming?” She opened the door.
“Your time’s paid,” said Mr. Flippance severely. “However, Duke takes my meaning. Here’s luck to him!” And with a last gulp at Duke’s gin, he followed her to the door. “Send me my scenery and props and the same cart can take back yours and the box of figures.”
“No, no,” said Duke, “that’ll need several journeys or carts. We divide the freightage.”
“What! When I throw in twenty-five pounds! O Duke, Duke, if you ain’t careful there’ll be a show of the meanest man on earth.” And shaking his fat jewelled forefinger waggishly at the caravan proprietor, he followed the Carrier. “Now for a last kick at the company,” he observed to her, as the door closed upon the dismal Duke.
But at that moment the ground resounded with gallant hoofs, and a handsome red-haired cavalier riding a barebacked black horse and leading another steed of Satan, and followed by a bounding little white dog, brought life and spirit into the scene. The rabbits poked their noses greedily through their wires, and the pig grunted in perturbation. Jinny, shrinking back behind Mr. Flippance, remained paralysed on the steps of the caravan, while Tony, unconscious that he was needed as a screen, hurried forward with a joyous greeting and a query which served the purpose as effectually, for Jinny was left unnoted on her pedestal.
“You looking for me?” asked Tony.
“I was,” answered the horseman. “But now I’m looking for the stables. ‘The Black Sheep’s’ full up, and I thought I’d put up my spare horse at ‘The Learned Pig’ till I could find you. However, here you are.”
“But you crossed me, man, just outside the market!”
“Did I? Is Jinny here? I see her cart outside.”
“Never mind Jinny—you’re just in the nick of time. I want to talk business to you.”
“And so do I to you. If I crossed you, ’twas because I was galloping to you with the horse you ordered through Jinny.”
“And I was galloping to her to cancel it!”
“What!” cried Will. But the joyous rush and gambollings of Nip now directed his attention to Nip’s statuesque mistress.
“I’m afraid you’ve let yourself in for those horses,” she said, descending. She did not speak maliciously—the sting of her defeat was over, now that his victory had recoiled on the victor, and she was really a little sorry for him. But all other feelings were overwhelmed for the moment by this new sense of dash and grace, in which he and the beautiful pawing steeds were mixed up centaur-like, his figure looking so much taller on horseback that it almost corresponded to Miss Gentry’s ideal. Unfortunately Will himself had no sense of the horses except as a costly and burdensome mistake: the iron issuing from Jinny’s soul was entering into his.
“But surely you want one of ’em,” he said, addressing Mr. Flippance. He had cherished a dim hope that the Showman might launch out into binary grandeur, but at the worst he was prepared to keep one horse—it would be useful for riding into Chipstone—pending its sale. But to have two horses on his hands, eating their heads off, after consuming practically the whole of his capital—this was too much. Nor could he believe that Jinny was not gloating over the Nemesis that had overtaken his attempt to crush her will.
“I don’t see what I should do with a horse,” said Tony, “seeing that I’m setting up the Flippance Palace Theatre as a local landmark. Of course I might have a play written round him,” he mused, “or even round ’em both. They would certainly ‘draw’ all Chipstone, especially with a carriage behind ’em. Odd, isn’t it? There’ll be scores of carriages waiting outside my theatre, yet to see one on the stage gives everybody a thrill. Lord, how the public does love to see natural things in unnatural places! As my old pa used to say—my real pa, I mean—put an idiot on the stage and he gives pleasure, put him in the stalls and he writes dramatic criticism! Ha, ha, ha!”
“Then you do want ’em?” said Will eagerly.
“If you’re ready to bring in the noble animals as part of the capital, I’ll look around for a dramatist to work ’em in.”
“You’d best look around for a capitalist,” retorted Will in angry disappointment. “I’ve told you before, I’m going into farming.”
“Then you’ll want the horses yourself.”
“They’re no good for farming,” Jinny corrected.
“Ain’t they?” said Tony, surveying them with a fresh eye. “Then why did he buy them?”
Will got angrier. “That’s my business. Do you want them or not?”
“I can always do with anything. A play’s a pie you can shove anything into. You’d look bully yourself, as you Americans say, riding just as you are: just a cowboy costume, that’s all you need. Will you do it?”
“Will I do what?”
“Play lead and supply your own horses.”
“Don’t be a fool—or try to make me one. I’m a plain farmer.”
Tony grinned. “Jinny don’t seem to think ’em suitable for plain farming. I reckon you’d better set up as undertaker. They’ll go lovely with a hearse. All you need is a corpse.”
“And I shan’t be long finding one!” hissed Will.
Tony clapped his hands. “That’s the style. Lord, man, what a wasted actor!”
Jinny could not suppress a smile. It brought Will’s temper to breaking-point. “These horses at least won’t be wasted,” he said to her at a white heat. “For I’ll take our friend’s advice.”
“Harness ’em to a hearse?” murmured Jinny.
“No, to a coach. I’ll put an end, miss, to your mannish ways.”
“Indeed!” Jinny bridled up, without, however, quite following the threat.
“You’ve done for yourself,” he explained. “You’ve forced me into competition. You’ve got me the horses—there’s no end of out-of-work coaches on the market to be got for an old song. I’ll carry passengers and luggage faster and cheaper than you, and heavier stuff too, and I’ll wipe you out.”
Jinny grew white, but at the venom of his words, not their business significance. Her instinct retorted with a smile. “And I got you the horn, too, don’t forget that.”
“I don’t—I was thinking of that. It’s all your doing—and serve you jolly well right.” He turned sneeringly to Mr. Flippance. “So I won’t be a wasted musician either.”
“Oho!” said Jinny. “And shall we see you on the box-seat all a-crowing and a-blowing?”
“I know you still think I can’t blow—but you shall see.”
“Seeing isn’t believing,” said Jinny.
“Had you there, old cock,” said Tony.
“She knows what I mean, right enough. I’ll start a coach-service ’twixt Little Bradmarsh and Chipstone, ay and farther too, passengers inside, luggage on the roof. I’ll wake up this sleepy old spot.” And his vigour seemed to communicate itself to his horses: they caracoled and stamped.
“Better let sleeping spots lie,” said Jinny. “I thought you hated Yankee going-ahead.”
“It’ll save you going ahead, anyhow,” said Will. “Why didn’t you let things sleep?”
“Me! How could I help helping Gran’fer?”
“Women have always got an excuse. ‘And the man gave unto me and I did eat.’ ”
“Lord! He’s been reading the Bible!” laughed Tony.
Will flushed. All those hours in quest of orthography passed through his mind. And what had all his painstaking letters led to? Quarrels, recriminations, miseries. Well, let him have done with it all. Ignore her, crush her, that was the best way. Once he had driven her out of the business, that tongue of hers would wag more meekly. Then, perhaps——!
A rousing blast on Jinny’s horn cut defiantly into his thoughts. It was at once a challenge and a mockery. Will turned his horses’ heads sharply and trotted out, Nip at their heels. But at the edge of the enclosure Nip looked back wistfully to beg his mistress to join the party. She, however, lowering her horn, cried, “Come here, you naughty dog. Come here at once.”
Nip stood in pathetic hesitation.
“It’s that animal my play shall be written round,” said Tony decisively. “How much do you want for him?”
“You know I wouldn’t, part with him for love or money,” said Jinny.
“Well, I haven’t got any money,” said Tony slowly. “But if you’d like the other thing——”
“Don’t be silly!” Jinny moved towards her cart.
“I mean it—a wife like you would be the making of a man.”
“Now you’ll have to walk home!” said Jinny, springing into her seat. It was too ironic a climax to the morning.
“Not in my slippers!” gasped Tony.
“You should have put on your boots!” said Jinny sternly.
“But listen!” He clung to the cart as if he would stop it. “It’s a heaven-sent opportunity.”
“It must be sent back,” said Jinny gravely.
“I mean for me,” he explained desperately. “You know how Polly objects to my marrying again. But I’ve got to break the deal with Duke to her, so I could work in the two at once. It couldn’t be worse.”
“I shall never marry,” said Jinny. “Gee up!”
“But whoa, whoa, you don’t carry only your husbands,” cried Tony. “Stop!”
He pursued Methusalem for some yards, but even Methusalem was too quick for him. And then, as he stood panting and perspiring and overcome by a dark upwelling of disbelief in life, he perceived the Duchess with her manuscript and his daughter returning from the histrionic consultation at “The Learned Pig.”
“Thank the Lord, Polly’s feeding out,” he murmured, as he slunk into a doorway. Then his face brightened up. “After all,” he thought, “I’ve only got to break to her about the theatre.”
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