The darkest season in Jinny’s life—outwardly a feast of light—was come to the crowning mockery of its August splendour. Day after day there was the lazy pomp of high summer; massive white clouds in a blue sky, a spacious voluptuousness, a languid glory. But Jinny felt less melancholy on the rare days when sea-mists rolled in from the marshes and spectral sheep were heard tinkling from dim meadows. The corn was now cut, and this too was a curious alleviation of the gnawing at her heart. When the far-spreading wheat-fields had rustled in the sun like the hair of the earth-mother, an auburn gold touched with amber and purple lights, infinitely subtle and suffusive, the beauty of it all had been almost intolerable. Now that remorseless reapers had turned the wheat into rows of stooks that were more suggestive of the hair of a village girl in curl-papers, Jinny found it easier to jog on her sorely diminished business along the sunbaked roads.
It was not merely that Will had turned from a swain into an enemy, and from a figure of romance into a business rival. It was not merely that his hated handsome visage kept coming up in her mind at the oddest moments, to the confusion of her work. It was the pressure of his competition.
Hitherto Jinny had believed in mankind. Despite “The Seven Stages of Life,” by which her Spelling-Book combined instruction in old English print with detailed information on how the Devil blurs God’s image in man; despite the testifyings of her fellow-Peculiars to their own wickedness, she had regarded her fellow-beings as in the main virtuous and kindly. What was she to think of human nature when she saw this dashing innovator literally “carrying” all before him?
In her pique and distress she failed to allow for the sensation created by the advent of the small second-hand coach with its pair of high-stepping black horses. Nothing so great and momentous had happened in Bradmarsh from time immemorial. Even in Jinny’s own mind it loomed as large as any of the events in the Spelling-Book, from Noah’s Flood to Trafalgar. Throughout all those somnolent Essex by-ways the passage of the novel equipage brought everybody to door or window. It was equal to the passing of the County Flyer on the main roads, a thunder of wheels and a jingle of harness and a music of the horn. True, two horses are not four, and a driver who blows his own trumpet has not the grandeur of a coachman with a scarlet-coated guard, not to mention the absence of relays to paw the ground and be switched without loss of a second to the fiery vehicle. Still, with scarcely a hill to negotiate before Chipstone, two horses and a man seemed velocity and magnificence to villages accustomed to a crawling two-wheeled tilt-cart and a girl.
And the Flynt Flyer—as it styled itself in vainglorious paint—had created a demand, as well as a sensation, even if the want had been unfelt before. Starting three services a week instead of two, it moreover dashed and zigzagged into corners and by-roads that Jinny had never pretended to serve, the denizens of which had been content to wait at cross-roads and landmarks, or to deal with her through intermediary neighbours or houses of call. And besides these attractions of convenience and novelty, there was the comfort for passengers of riding in the body of the coach with their feet in the straw, instead of dangling uneasily from the narrow side-ledges in Jinny’s cart or sprawling in contorted adjustment to parcels and boxes. Persons who had always walked, now found it simpler to jump into the coach than to fag along in the heat. The carrying business saw itself transformed and extended.
In this elegant and epoch-making vehicle the non-human freight overflowing from the fore and hind boots was stacked on the roof, though the lucky first-comer had always space to sit beside Will and hear his stories of the great world. A shipmate from ’Frisco had boasted of driving in kid gloves a polished silk-lined cab and spanking fifteen-hundred-dollar steeds with silver-gleaming harness, and earning his three hundred dollars a month. The vision beglamoured Will’s own status on the box, and reconciled him to lifting the luggage of his labouring inferiors. He aped it by driving in his best Moses & Son suit, as though more of a sporting charioteer than a menial, touting for custom. And parcels and clients flung themselves into his arms. What wonder if the high-piled load soon out-topped Jinny’s, revealed in its nakedness on these sweltering days when she drove without her tilt! For gradually folk’s eyes seemed opened, unsealed of a spell. Without a word spoken it was as if something unnatural and monstrous had been wafted away, and the simple order of nature—in the shape of a male carrier—had been restored. Without being quite conscious of how they had lugged their own boxes for the puny female, customers were aware of a new facility. They did not so much turn against Jinny as forget her in this gravitation to the natural centre.
At first Will had—with a touch of considerateness—fixed his days on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, not to clash with Jinny’s Tuesdays and Fridays. But as his supply created new demands, as he found he could widen his ambit as far even as Brandy Hole Creek or Blackripple, he took on new circuits, first for Tuesday and then for Friday and dropping his Wednesdays to give his hard-worked horses a solid rest in mid-week. It was not these new routes of his that galled Jinny, nor his impinging on her days—possibly she was not altogether displeased to meet the rival vehicle. No, the iron that entered her soul was the loss of her previous customers, who, despite Will’s comparative magnanimity, had changed their day to suit the rival round. In the cases where she had imagined herself a friend rather than an employee, it was heart-breaking.
Hence this new and rankling doubt of her species, waxing daily as her business waned. Folk seemed to follow one another like sheep, and whenever now on a bit of miry road she came upon the serried footmarks of a flock, she shuddered with a sense of the ignoble pettiness of the pattern: no massive individual stamp like Methusalem’s, not even a characteristic dent like Nip’s, but an ignominious churning of mud by a multiplication of innumerable little identities. Pigs, too, supplied her with bitter comparisons when, with her cart void of passengers and almost empty of parcels, she passed at some cross-road the Flynt Flyer, stiflingly chock-full of both. For she had often noted in the feeding of swine that however abundant the food at its snout, master pig will always rush to the thickest jostling-point.
Such was the crowd, such was humanity, thought our little cynic; who was, however, no mere soured philosopher, but a harassed housekeeper, with a couple of aged dependents, whose rashers or oats were becoming seriously endangered. Methusalem had always lived from hoof to mouth, and as for her grandfather, had he not spent all his savings on her Angel-Mother’s debts? There were still potatoes in the store, and half a flitch in the larder, and beer in the barrel, and vegetables in the ground, and milk in the goats’ udders, but the reserves of provender, as of cash, were small, and Methusalem, whose appetite age could not abate, now began to loom as a deficit rather than an asset. Nip was the first to notice—and with pained astonishment—the parsimony of the new regime. Why keep a mistress if one is to be practically thrown back on one’s own resources?
In these circumstances it scarcely seemed on a par with the ethics of the Spelling-Book, or of a piece with Jinny’s character, that she should go to Miss Gentry and order a new Sunday dress of pink sprigged muslin of the latest design—a gown that but for its not hooking up at the back was absolutely ladylike. Still less that she should drive in it on Tuesdays and Fridays. Whether it was in emulation of her rival, on the theory that fashionableness was a factor of his success, whether it was to brighten up her spirits, or to exhibit a defiant prosperity, Jinny did not reveal, even to herself. But that it was worn at Will rather than on herself, may be deduced from the fact that the commission to the “French dressmaker” followed hard upon her first encounter with the Flynt Flyer at the cross-roads.
It was on this occasion—as at many subsequent meetings on Tuesdays or Fridays—that Nip was torn almost literally in two by his desire to be in both vehicles at once. That they should wish to pass each other without a halt or even a hail was amazing to the poor animal, and if his distraction usually ended in a leap on to the coach, where Will was never without a beguiling biscuit, he was always careful to rejoin the cart before the interval had become too spacious. Though a Nip-o’-both-sides, he was disloyal to neither: indeed, if ever creature did his best to bring two foolish mortals together, that creature was Nip. But they no longer even saluted each other. At first, indeed, the gentleman driver had doffed his hat gallantly, but Jinny’s face had remained a stone, though that stone was a ruby. Will, therefore, when he had to meet or pass her, flew by at a rate which by its air of insolent superiority only increased her resentment. Later, he had begun to slow down when he espied her lumbering along his route, and to play the “Buy a Broom” polka on his horn with malicious accuracy.
By way of retort Jinny once tied a label to Nip’s collar, marked “In charge of the guard.” It was meant to taunt Will with lacking the dignity of a true driver, who never blew a horn. But the somewhat periphrastic sarcasm seemed to miss fire, for Will took the label literally, and when Nip had executed his usual leap on to the coach, he kept him prisoner for several days. The faithful animal, though fed as never before, was as unhappy, tied on the roof, as Jinny was, and when her cart at last passed, and her horn blew imperiously for him, he made such a supercanine effort that his cord snapped, and in an instant he was snuggling hysterically in the legitimate lap; regardless of that flowery summery fabric. His label, she found, now bore the words, “Pay Up The Gloves.”
Alas, paying up—whether for wagers or fabrics—was out of Jinny’s power. That very morning Miss Gentry had handed her the bill, delicately wrapped in a tract. Such a situation was quite new to her, though not unprovided against in the Spelling-Book:
Weigh ev’ry small Expence and nothing waste,
Farthings, if sav’d, amount to Pounds in Haste.
This had been a large expense, yet she had not weighed it. It was her debts and not her savings that had in such haste amounted to pounds. Woe to the pride that had seduced her:
What the weak head with strongest bias rules
Is pride, the never-failing Vice of Fools.
She did not need her book’s reminder of her head’s weakness—only too dismally she recognized that strange slipperiness of memory which made it more difficult to execute her commissions in proportion as their number dwindled. Was not the little notebook, to which she must now have recourse, the abiding symbol of this paradoxical humiliation?
She was not psychologist enough to understand that it was the very perfection of her memory which was now tripping her up. So many of her clients had for so long demanded the same things so seasonably that she was automatically compelled to carry out commissions that had now lapsed. She was like an actress who knows her part even backwards, but is broken up and confused when cuts are made; finding the too familiar words not to be ousted. Jinny would mechanically purchase items for clients who had forsaken her, and then—so scatterbrained was she become—leave them at other customers’ houses! And on the other hand, she was capable of forgetting the orders of the few faithful. It was thus that under the combined strain of Miss Gentry’s bill, the sultry August weather, the sight of the packed coach and its jaunty driver, the frantic return of Nip with his mocking message, Jinny, whom necessity had compelled to keep Farmer Gale as a customer, clean forgot his urgent need of a wedding-cake. It was not that she had forgotten to order it or even to fetch it from the leading confectioner’s. The sudden union of Farmer Gale with the wealthy land-surveyor’s widow, whose piano-playing had excited the far-off admiration of Elijah Skindle, was too sensational an event, especially to herself, to permit of complete oblivion. It was only that she forgot to deliver the cake at Beacon Chimneys. She was actually within sight of the stag-headed poplars that marked the horizon of home, when, turning her head as Nip suddenly leapt for a rabbit, she saw the great elegant carton in the cart. And the wedding was on the morrow. Conscience-stricken, and morbidly feeling as though the marriage would scarcely be legal without this colossal confection, she resolved, worn out as she was with the heat, to drive back to the house. But she had reckoned without Methusalem. To turn back within the very smell of his stable was unprecedented: it violated every equine code. Like Nip, he now became aware of the instability of things—of a new order. But, more obstinate, he refused to recognize it. Nothing short of the whip—which would have moved him, not out of pain but out of astonishment—could have sufficed to turn him, and how could a mistress who knew him in the right and herself in the wrong, resort to that, especially after such a sultry day? So after every effort to coax him or to lead him by the bridle had failed and almost twenty minutes had been wasted, she decided—in view of her grandfather’s supper—to make a special journey the first thing in the morning.
As she gave Methusalem his glad head, she remembered that it was just before the turning to the hymeneal homestead that she had met that scandalously successful coach.
Before Jinny reached home that evening, a complainant had already called at Blackwater Hall to unload his grievance. Such visitors were, alas, no longer a novelty to Daniel Quarles, who had one day begun to find himself no merely nominal representative of the business, but a principal charged with derelictions. His virulent rebuttals of the reproaches did but increase the defections. The flouted customers made no allowances for the ferocities of senility, and, when told to go to hell, simply went to the Flynt Flyer—a much pleasanter alternative. Indeed, one suspects they welcomed the insult as justifying gravitation to the new star. The indelicacy, however, of divulging its existence to the nonagenarian was reserved for Mr. Elijah Skindle.
That rising practitioner’s patronage was not the least of Jinny’s humiliations. Even after his proposal of marriage, she had not been able to refuse to carry dogs to and from his establishment when so commanded by her clients, though she had drawn the line at orders originating from himself. Now, however, in justice to her grandfather, she could not but accept his commissions, even though she was aware they were largely artificial, mere canals for communication and courtship. Why, for example, could not Mr. Skindle, whose gig was often at gardens buzzing with beehives, not purchase his own honey? Why must she procure him an article linkable with “moons” and permitting fatuous references to “sweetness”? His protestations of lack of time were too brazen even for his own mouth: he stuttered and blushed like a schoolboy. It will be seen that Elijah’s deeper self had not accepted his “lucky” escape from her. Hope springs eternal, especially when the desirable one’s pride is bent, if not broken, by adversity. That proud stomach which had rejected his proffered luxuries with disdain now bade fair to be empty. While he, moreover, touched nothing he did not profit by, and through a lucky rise in animal sickness was fast overtaking the respectable Jorrow.
With an audacity almost Napoleonic he had conceived the idea of at once blazoning and curing his baldness, purchasing a hair-restorer through Jinny herself, so that she might be an accessory to the improvement at which he was—obviously for her sake—slaving. And there did actually begin to sprout on his cranium microscopic dots, like pepper sprinkled over an egg-shell. Elijah lost no opportunity now of lifting his cap at the sight of her, though he had not yet acquired the habit of removing it indoors.
“Whoa!” Elijah drew up his trap in the grassy lane before Blackwater Hall and jumped down. The afterglow of sunset was in the sky, but the Common was still torpid with the breezeless heat of the day. He was in his best flannel suit and smartest cap, though the same old pipe stuck in his blackened teeth. Removing it, he rapped at the door with it, knocking out the ashes with the same taps. As nothing happened, he tugged from his pocket a paper-wrapped pot and thudded at the door with that. He had been simulating rage, for he had come to denounce a mistake, though enchanted to have the opportunity of calling on Jinny. But now for fear she was not yet back—and vexed with himself for not choosing one of her domestic days—he began to get really ruffled. He lifted the latch unceremoniously, but the door seemed bolted. Re-pocketing the pot with an unsmothered oath, he moved towards the living-room wall and peeped through the wide-flung little casement. Pah! Only the Gaffer snoring in his favourite posture, head on the family Bible. The shabbiness of the ancient earth-coloured smock-frock, like the meanness of the furniture, added to Elijah’s disgust.
“Fancy her slaving in this heat,” he mused, “when she might be snoozing on my horsehair sofa!” He shouted angrily, “Wake up, you old codger.”
The nonagenarian obeyed with a start. “What’s amiss, my little mavis?” he yawned.
“I ain’t a mavis,” Elijah informed him irately, “I’m a veterinary surgeon.”
Daniel Quarles sprang to his feet. “Marciful powers! Anything wrong with Methusalem?”
“No, no—” Elijah assured him through the little window, “I’ve come about Jinny.”
The old man tottered and caught at his chair. “An accident to Jinny?”
“Stuff and nonsense! She’ll be home any minute. Can I come in and wait for her?”
Daniel growled and grumbled. “Don’t you see Oi’m busy readin’ the Scriptures?”
“I won’t interfere with that.” He moved back to the door and rattled the latch masterfully. He suddenly saw the possibility of pushing his suit with the grandfather. “Why do you lock yourself in?” he demanded, as the bolts creaked back.
“Don’t you see they’ve took the Dutch clock?” said the Gaffer pitifully. “She desarts me all day long, and Oi can’t have my eyes everywheres.”
Elijah glanced up at the clock in the ante-room, ticking as imperturbably as ever.
“Why, it’s up there!” he said, puzzled.
“Do ye don’t try to befool me. That’s the same face, but they’ve took out the works and put in rubbidge. But it ain’t works we’re justified by,” he added musingly.
Elijah, picking his way among the old cypress chests, followed him into the living-room, sat down unasked on the settle, and mechanically pulled out his pipe.
“Git out o’ my house!” roared Daniel.
Elijah’s pipe fell on the rush mat.
“Boldero hisself,” explained the ancient, “never durst smoke in my nostrils. And who be you?”
Who was Boldero, Elijah thought a more sensible question. But he picked up his pipe with an apology. “All right, uncle, no harm done.” He wiped his forehead. “Warm, ain’t it?”
“Then why do ye want hell-smoke?”
“I shouldn’t quite call this hell-smoke,” Elijah deprecated.
“There’s no smoke without hell-fire,” Daniel explained. “Farmer Thoroughgood, he smoked just such a pipe as yourn.”
“And he was thorough good, you see,” said Elijah with an air of victorious repartee.
“Thorough bad,” chuckled the Gaffer with a still greater air of wit. “Starved his missus to death. The neighbours as come, to see the corpse found her on a bed made out of a common sheep-hurdle, stood on bricks.” He tapped the Bible with a dirty thumb. “Do ye don’t yoke a hoss and ass together, says the Book. But that evil-doer used to plough a field with a cow and a donkey, and when it ploughed too hard, he’d harness an old sow in front of the donkey—there’s currant-trees there now what pays better, not needin’ no ploughin’.”
“Quite like the old song,” observed Elijah, still feeling superior and witty. “There was a cow went out to plough.”
“Chrissimus Day, Chrissimus Day,” hummed the old man. Set agoing, he quavered on:
“There was a pig went out to dig
On Chrissimus Day in the marning!
“Set ye down,” he broke off genially, though Elijah was already ensconced, leg over knee. “Jinny’ll be home in a jiffy.”
“I wonder she’s so long,” Elijah began tentatively, “when she’s got so little to do.”
“Ay,” assented the ancient, souring again. “ ’Tis me that’s got the whole work o’ the place. But gals likes to gad about in the summer, what becomes o’ the old folks never troubles the young ’uns nowadays.”
“They might just as well be married,” ventured Elijah boldly.
“Ay, their husbands ’ud make ’em work,” said the Gaffer, his eye gleaming maliciously. “But Oi don’t howd with starvin’ ’em, like Farmer Thoroughgood did his missus. When they come to see her corpse they found her on a bed made out of a common sheep-hurdle. Ay, and he used to plough his fields with a——”
Elijah, groaning inwardly, composed himself to hear the story again. Fortunately there was a fresh development at the finish. “One day ’twas a team o’ bullocks and a blind hoss he started droivin’. Powerful warrum it war—wuss than to-day—and the flies sow worritin’ that the bullocks set their tails up and bolted. The poor blind hoss couldn’t see where to goo and fell down. The oxen couldn’t drag him, and got tangled up in the traces.” He roared with laughter at the picture, and Elijah grinned too.
“Those flies do worrit,” he agreed, flicking at his forehead. “But about that Jinny of yours——” he added.
“She’ll onny have them harmless fly-papers, you see,” said Daniel, pointing to a coloured patch on the ceiling, blackened by a happy multitude. “Ef ye can’t wait for her,” he added amiably, “Oi’ll give her your message. A wet you said?”
“A veterinary surgeon, Mr. Elijah Skindle,” said Elijah grandly.
“Skindle!” The old man groped agitatedly in his memory. “That’s a name Oi know.”
“Known all over the Hundred,” said Elijah complacently. “Ay, and they’re hearing of my success at Colchester, too, where I come from.”
“Cowchester!” The old man sprang up. “That’s it—the man as married Annie! But that ain’t you—he had more hair to him.”
“Perhaps it was my father,” said Elijah, flushing.
“Nay, nay. Annie couldn’t have a son your soize,” the Gaffer pondered.
“My mother’s name is Annie,” said Elijah.
A strange fire crept into the old patriarch’s eyes. “A big-boned mawther of a girl, tall as the rod her father lit the lamps with, long raven hair and eyes as black as sloes, and a wunnerful fine buzzom,” he said with slow voluptuousness. “Your mother ain’t like that?”
“No,” admitted Elijah.
Daniel Quarles heaved a sigh. “Oi thought not, or you’d be more of a beauty.”
“Well, you’re wrong,” retorted Elijah. “For I’ve heard that my grandfather did use to light the lamps in Chipstone, and it’s a great shame the way my brothers and sisters all dump her on me to keep.”
The old man seized him suddenly by the coat-lapels. “She’s back in Chipstone?”
“Been back over two years—ever since father died.”
“He’s dead?” Elijah felt the hands trembling against his breast.
“Of course—and I’ve got her to keep, though I’m the youngest,” he grumbled.
“That’s the same luck as Oi had,” said the Gaffer, “with this bit of property, though Sidrach, he’s the first-born.” He dropped pensively back into his chair. “But Oi count Annie’s better off where she is, bein’ as Oi’ve got Jinny to keep and food gittin’ dearer every day, she says, something cruel. And happen Sidrach’ll come back too when he’s old, not havin’ landed property like me, ne yet no relations in Babylon. Never been sech a year since he went away—the Brad was all froze over.”
Elijah imprudently recollected—to the old man’s annoyance—that it had frozen equally in Queen Victoria’s first winter, and he brought up “Murphy’s coldest day,” the proverbial lucky hit of an almanack-maker. Fortunately the Gaffer recalled an ancient jest of Bundock’s: “Mother Gander’s gin-bottle’s froze over,” and relaxed in genial hysterics. “Ay, she’s conwerted now,” he said, wiping his rheumy eyes. “But what an adulteress in them days! Ye couldn’t get drunk at ‘The Black Sheep’ ef ye tried—beer without hops and wine without gripes.”
Mechanically drawing out his pipe and popping it back in alarm, Elijah reverted to Jinny. Daniel now blamed Methusalem for her lateness. Horses, too, were lazy and ungrateful, same as granddaughters.
“Why don’t you get rid of him?” said Elijah, with a sudden inspiration. That would cut her comb, he thought. Jinny docked of Methusalem would be ripe for the marriage-altar. “He’s long past his work.”
But Daniel Quarles shook his head. “Jinny wouldn’t like me to part with that. Besides, who’d buy him?”
“I would,” said Elijah, with a feeling of “All for love, or the world well lost.”
“You? Od rabbet, what for?”
“I’d give you a fiver!” parried the knacker in his reckless passion. “Though most people let me have ’em for the trouble of killing ’em,” he added incautiously.
The old man sprang up again. “Git out o’ my house! And don’t ye dare cross my doorstep agen!”
Elijah cowered back in his seat. “But I’ve come on business,” he protested.
“Oi bain’t a-gooin’ to sell Methusalem.”
“That’s not what I came for,” Elijah urged soothingly. “It’s about Jinny.”
“Oi bain’t a-gooin’ to sell Jinny neither.”
Elijah winced. Was it divination or drivel, he wondered.
“You might as well sell her,” he said boldly. “Look how she’s mucking up your business, muddling everything.” And rising and pulling out the pot again, he banged it down on the table.
“My Jinny muddle things! Git out o’ my house!”
Before the Gaffer’s blazing spectacles and furious fangs Elijah backed doorwards.
“Not before it’s set right,” he said, assured of his line of retreat.
“The Quarleses don’t make muddles. For a hundred year——”
“Oh, Jinny’s been all right the last hundred years,” he interrupted impatiently. “It’s the last few weeks I complain about! I hope it’s not sunstroke.”
“My Jinny!” The Gaffer’s anger died. “She went away singin’ as merry as could be, my little mavis,” he said anxiously.
“Then what do you make of that?” Elijah indicated the pot.
The old man unwrapped it slowly, and readjusting his spectacles spelt out the label. “Oliver’s Depil—Depil—” he stumbled on. “Is that pills?”
“No, it’s for the hair.”
“Well, that’s what you want, ain’t it?” he said naïvely.
Mr. Skindle coloured up. “But this is to take off the hair,” he explained.
“Well, you can’t do that,” chuckled Daniel, “bein’ more a ’Lisha than a ’Lijah.”
“Oh yes, I can,” said Elijah, his every dot bristling. “But if I hadn’t been a noticing man, I should have undone all the good of months of my pots of hair-restorer.”
“Whichever way it be, ’tis agen Nature,” said the Gaffer. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. But pots be as like as peas. That’s the shopman’s fault, not Jinny’s.”
“Oh, indeed!” cried Elijah savagely. “And what about her bringing me hairpins?”
“Hairpins!” gasped the Gaffer. “Hairpins for a man without hair!”
“Even Samson in his prime didn’t want hairpins!” Elijah pointed out angrily. “But that’s what she brought me a packet of last week, instead of tobacco.”
“Sarve ye right, ye unswept chimbley,” the Gaffer growled, with a grin.
“That ain’t serving me right,” riposted Elijah. “That’s serving me wrong,” he added with redoubled wit. “And wouldn’t take ’em back neither, the little minx, maintained I’d ordered ’em for my ma.”
“Well, she’d want hairpins, wouldn’t she, with all that beautiful raven hair,” said the Gaffer, turning serious. “Happen you ordered ’em for her.”
“I never order anything for her,” said Elijah, waiving the description of her chevelure.
“More shame to you, then, young man. Ye don’t desarve to have her. Same as ye’re too stingy to pay for the hairpins, ye’d best give ’em to her with Daniel Quarles’s love.”
“I’m not stingy!” retorted Elijah hotly. “Would I be keeping my mother, with the poorhouse so handy, and me the youngest, too, if Elijah Skindle wasn’t the most generous man in Chipstone? But I won’t pay for Jinny’s woolgathering. No wonder everybody’s going to the coach!”
“The coach?” repeated Daniel Quarles. “What coach?”
“Hasn’t Jinny told you?” cried Elijah, equally astonished. “The handsomest pair of black horses——”
“A funeral coach?” half-whispered the Gaffer, paling. The notion of slaughtering Methusalem had already brought the thought of death unpleasantly near.
“You and Jinny may well call it so, old sluggaby,” said Elijah grimly.
The old man fell back into his chair. “Nobody never needed no funeral coaches here!” he quavered. “Our shoulders on the corpse-path was good enough for us. ’Twas onny that obstinacious little Dap, when poor Pegs laid by the wall, as wanted one.”
“Who’s talking of funeral coaches?” snapped Mr. Skindle. “Anyhow I’ve got to have that pot changed.”
“Git out o’ my house!” repeated the ancient for the fourth time, hurling the pot out of the window. Luckily it fell on grass.
Elijah’s patience was at an end. Besides it had now occurred to him he might cut off Jinny on the route, away from this tiresome nonagenarian. The effort to woo her through him had been baffled by his inconsequence.
“Who’s hankering after your wooden chairs? I’ve got horsehair at home,” he retorted crushingly.
As he climbed into his trap he heard the bolts shot behind him. But just as he was clucking off his horse, the Gaffer’s head popped frenziedly through the casement.
“Stop thief!” it cried. “Stop!”
“You be careful what you’re saying, old cockalorum,” said Elijah angrily, lashing his horse with vicarious wrath. “And pick up that pot. I shan’t pay for it.”
“You’ve stole my spectacles! Oi can’t find ’em nowheres!”
“Why, you’ve got ’em on!” Elijah called back contemptuously.
So eagerly did his horse respond to the whip and the homeward impulse that Elijah had the satisfaction of passing the equally enthusiastic Methusalem before he could pull up. He was not even sure that this arrogantly gowned Jinny had acknowledged his salute. She would be at her door before he could turn—confound it! Why had he not waited another moment or started earlier and cut her off at a remoter point? To face that old dodderer again would be an anti-climax.
So swiftly did Daniel Quarles nod again over his big Bible that by the time Jinny had got Methusalem stabled, she could not rouse him to undo the bolts, and all her merry whistling as she neared the latch was a wasted pretence. This protective habit of his indoors was a recent development, coinciding curiously with the advent of the coach she was concealing from him, and these closed doors—even his bedroom was now locked from within—annoyed and alarmed her. She had visions of him agonizing in his bed and herself reduced to breaking open the door. Perhaps even now he was ill, dying, dead! She dashed to the living-room window—stumbling over a pot outside it. Ah, thank God, that dear, peaceful grey head, that sonorous snore!
Pausing now to pick up the mysterious pot, she was distressed again. The passing of Elijah was explained! Miss Gentry’s Depilatory she had brought to Mr. Skindle, Mr. Skindle’s Hair Restorer to Miss Gentry. He had come to complain, but unable to get admission, he had flung the pot on the path. Oh, plaguy similarity of potted pomades—fatal double error—she had killed two clients with one stone. Her eyes filled with tears: even with a notebook she could not keep straight.
So guilty did she look as she scrambled noiselessly through the casement, that an observer would have thought her a burglar. Creeping past her grandfather, she opened the house-door,—the gigantic key that used to hang on the beam was now always in the lock—brought in the carton with the wedding-cake from the cart, and placed it on the chest of drawers for unfailing reminder in the morning. Then swiftly changing into her old frock and hanging up the new behind a corner-curtain, she donned her apron and stole into the kitchen. Finally, to lay the table, she must with loving hands uplift the venerable head.
The ancient had not slept off his perturbation, though he did not remember the cause of it, and seeing his supper still unlaid, he was righteously wroth. “A muddler, mucking up everything—that’s what you be!” he said, repeating unconsciously Elijah’s indictment. And Jinny, remembering the pot that now stood by the wedding-cake, went about wanly, unresentfully, with movements lacking their wonted deftness. Her grandfather had already forgotten the suggestion of sunstroke, much as it had shaken him: for her actual pallor he had no eye.
When she finally brought in the meal, she found him risen and standing tranced before the great wedding-cake, gazing dazedly at its elaborately frosted architecture.
“You didn’t want to open it,” she cried with irrepressible petulance as she hooked down the pasteboard lid.
He ignored the reproach. “Weddin’s and funerals in one day,” he brooded. “Pomps and wanities.”
“Come to the table, Gran’fer,” she said more gently.
“Pomps and wanities!” he repeated. “Who’s this for?”
“It’s for Farmer Gale’s wedding—’twas too late to deliver it. Come along.”
“In my day folks made their own weddin’-cakes. And dedn’t want no funeral coaches neither. The church-path or the farm-wagon——”
“Come along!” She took his arm. “There’s no funeral coaches here.”
A whining and scratching at the door made a welcome diversion. Nip, back from the hunting-path, sneaked in, aware of sin, with ears flat, tail abased, and sidelong squint.
“Ain’t seen that for days,” said the Gaffer. “Where’s that been?”
“I don’t know,” she lied, glad of Nip’s guilty air, for to explain would reveal the coach. “On the razzle-dazzle, I suppose.”
After supper, she remembered a box must be put in the ante-room that had been left with her to be called for. It was stupid not to have brought it in at once, ere the cart had been put in its shed—as stupid as her pot-swapping. In a sudden fear that if unremoved to-night she would carry it off to Farmer Gale’s wedding just when the owner would be coming for it, she asked her grandfather to lend a hand with it. It was an unfortunate request, for as the still sinewy veteran was dragging his end over the sill, he said weirdly: “There ain’t no man in Bradmarsh more lugsome’n that. Who wants your new-fangled coach?”
“What coach?” murmured Jinny, half puzzled, half apprehensive.
“The funeral coach.” He stood still. “Where else ’ould a coffin goo?”
“Rubbish, Gran’fer. There’s no funeral coach.” Her little silvery voice rang out. “Heave away, my Johnny. Come along, Gran’fer, I’ve got to rub down Methusalem—you’ll be too tired now.”
“No funeral coach?” he repeated slowly, loosing the box.
“You’ve been dreaming, Gran’fer.”
“But the two black horses——”
Her heart beat like a criminal’s on the eve of detection. “Nightmares!” she laughed. “What did I say?”
“But he said——!”
“ ’Lijah, he calls hisself.”
“Elijah? And did he go up in a chariot of fire with the horses?” And more than ever incensed against Mr. Skindle, she hastily started her carrier’s chanty:
“There is Hey, there is Ree.”
Automatically his sepulchral bass exuded, and his arms reclasped the box:
“There is Hoo, there is Gee——”
Then together their antithetical voices rolled out joyously as the box moved forward:
“But the bob-tailed mare bears the bells away.”
Inwardly she was thinking that a “funeral coach” was just what it was. Did its bells not ring the knell of all the peaceful past? Yes, it was the hearse of her past, of her youth. And somehow—somehow—she must readjust herself to the strange raw cruelty of the present.
She resettled him before his Bible. But when she returned from the stable, he had wandered again to the chest of drawers, and was now holding up the pot.
“And ye told me Oi was dreamin’!” he said angrily. “Why did ye lie to me?”
“What do you mean, Gran’fer?” she said, flushing.
“How did that pot come here?”
“I brought it, of course.”
“No, you dedn’t. Annie’s good-for-nawthen son brought it.”
“But I brought it in,” she persisted. “It was lying on the path.”
“Ah! Oi mind me now—he threw it at me.”
“The wretch!” said Jinny, believing him. “Poor Gran’fer!” she cried with self-reproach, patting his hairy hand. “But it’s bedtime. Come along!”
“Why did ye lie to me?” he repeated, unappeased.
“There’s no funeral coach,” she persisted. But even as she spoke, the faint tooting of a horn was heard from afar. Nip, idly gulping at flies, pricked up his ears; the ancient uttered a cry:
“The coach! The coach!”
Jinny’s hand clutched his more tightly. They could now hear the distant rattling and jingling—the Flynt Flyer was incredibly coming their way, along that grass-grown road. What was it doing by that lonely Common, she wondered tremulously. What customers were there to steal here? Did the pirate hanker even after Uncle Lilliwhyte?
“You’ll lose your beauty sleep, Gran’fer!” She drew him towards the corkscrew staircase. But he broke from her convulsively and hobbled out into the path, and stood with hand at ear towards the advancing clatter. To be seen staring at its meteoric passing would be too dreadful.
“Go in, Nip,” she cried with unwonted harshness. “Are you coming, Gran’fer?” she said, following the dog, “or shall I bolt you out? Must bolt up against thieves, you know.” And she began singing cheerily:
“There is Hey, there is Ree”
“Nay, ’tis the black hosses that bears the bells away, curse ’em. What should coaches be doing in these parts?”
“Same as me, I suppose,” she said with desperate lightness. “It’s only that young man who fancies himself a-driving and a-blowing.”
“A young man come to steal my business!”
“Well, one can’t lock that up! Come in, Gran’fer.”
“Oi’ll lock him up! What’s the thief’s name?”
“He’s not a thief. It’s the young man from Frog Farm.”
“That whippersnapper! Come with a coach to drive over you and me——!”
“That’s just what he’d try to do if we stand here! Come inside—the jackanips’ll only think we’re envying his bonkka turn-out.”
The argument and the touch of idiom succeeded, though she could feel his form shaking with passion as she drew him in. “Why did ye keep it from me?” he asked pitifully.
“Because I knew you’d get in a state.” As she shot the bolts, the better to shut Will out, she realized that her beating heart was somehow left outside, and that it was drawing her after it through doors howsoever barred and windows howsoever fastened, if only to watch the pageant of his passing.
“A funeral coach,” the ancient was mumbling, “you and Jinny may well call it so, ole sluggaby.”
“Yes, indeed, we may, Gran’fer,” she said, smiling. “For it’s his own funeral he’s conducting. He’ll soon come a cropper.”
“Blast him!” growled the Gaffer.
“Hush!” Jinny was shocked. “It’s all as fair as fair.”
“For over a hundred year we’ve fetched and carried ’twixt Bradmarsh and Chipstone, and now this scallywag with his new-fangled black hosses——” A fit of coughing broke off the speech, and he suddenly looked so much like the last stage of man in the Spelling-Book that Jinny had to put him back into his chair.
“Didn’t I say you’d get into a state? But you know there’s more carrying than I—than we can manage. Haven’t you sent lots of our customers away?”
“Curse ’em!” said the Gaffer comprehensively. “Warmin! And Oi told ’em sow to their head!”
“He’s only got our leavings, you see.” And she burst out in gay parody:
“There is black, both of black,
Let ’em run till they crack,
’Tis Methusalem bears the bells away.”
But the bells were now jingling nearer and nearer—jingling in victorious arrogance. The old man started up again in his chair. “How dare Caleb Flynt’s lad set hisself up agen me?”
“Don’t, Gran’fer.” She pressed him down. “Competition, folks call it. He’s got to earn his living just like us.”
“Nobody shan’t come competitioning here.” He broke from her again. “Daniel shall be an adder what biteth the hoss heels.” He began unbolting the door.
“You’ll never be able to bite his horse heels,” she urged. “They fly by like the wind.”
She had a sick fear the old man would hurl himself at the bridles, be dragged to death. But to her astonishment, ere he had lifted the latch, she heard the horses slowing down. The eight sounding hoofs, the clanging swingle-trees and harness, the great road-grinding equipage, were actually coming to a halt at her porch.
“Whoa, Snowdrop! Easy there, Cherry-blossom!” She knew the humour of these names of theirs, as she knew from a hundred channels of gossip everything about their owner, even to the identity of the blonde young female from Foxearth Farm who was so persistently a passenger.
So he had been forced to humiliate himself, to make the first approach—it was she who had, after all, been the conqueror, who had held out the longer! And in a swift flood of emotion she felt more than ever the injustice of her grandfather’s standpoint. Will had not “come competitioning.” It had all been unpremeditated. The horses had been left on his hands by that harum-scarum Showman. And anyhow, was he not serving the countryside better than she with her ramshackle little cart? But whatever the rights and the wrongs, a scene between the two men must be prevented.
“He’s come to eat humble pie, Gran’fer,” she whispered. “But we don’t see people after office hours—and it’s your bedtime.”
“Oi’ll show him who’s who,” said the Gaffer, disregarding her.
“But you can’t do that like this!” she urged with the cunning of desperation. “Put on your Sunday smock.”
“Ay, ay! Oi’ll larn him to come crakin’ and vauntin’.” His face lit up with baleful satisfaction, as he thought of the rare stitching in the gathers and patterns of that frock of fine linen.
As Jinny, relieved, was sheep-dogging him up to his room, they heard the butt-end of a whip beating at the house-door.
“Daniel Quarles takes his time, young man,” the Gaffer observed to the cobwebbed corkscrew staircase. And to Jinny, when she shut his door on him, he called back: “Do ye don’t forgit to put out the beer. And two glasses.”
That imperious butt-end gave no time to change back to her own ostentatious costume. But she did not pause even to tear off her flecked apron. After all, in face of his surrender, she could forgo arrogance of appearance. Besides, he would scarcely have time to notice anything, so swiftly must she be rid of him—however she might savour his surrender—before her grandfather could re-descend upon him. True, the call for beer showed a relaxed tension, but who could predict the effect of quaffing it upon two hot-tempered males? Ignoring the injunction, she hurried to the house-door.
“Good evening, Miss Boldero.”
She was a shade disconcerted by the formality. But a great waft of the old friendship seemed to emanate from his frank eyes and the red hair his hat-lifting uncovered. She felt herself drawn to that flame like a poor little moth: she wanted to fall upon his magnanimous morning-jacket, to sob away her sin of pride.
“Good evening, Mr. Flynt,” she murmured.
He was astonished at the sight of her, and taken aback. Mentally he had shaken her off, had ridden over her by force of will, finding occupation and exhilaration in his new and prosperous adventure; finding consolation, too, in the creamy beauty of the girl who shuttled with such suspicious frequency in the Flynt Flyer. Blanche suggested not only cream but butter, so pliant and pattable did she seem, so ready to take the impress of Will’s personality. That was very restful after the intense irritativeness of the rival carrier.
For irritativeness still remained to him Jinny’s essence—even in their alienation. Her horn-blowing still jarred, her pink muslin dress was a new provocation. He was vexed at her jog-trot apathy when their vehicles passed, an apathy that took the sting out of his speed. He was piqued that she did not complain to any one of his competition, that she took no steps of reprisal, made no objection even to Nip’s visits to him. But the central irritation in all these fleeting glimpses and encounters had been her prettiness.
Now, seeing her close for the first time since their quarrel at the cattle-market, and without her being whisked away, he had a shock. Why, she was not pretty at all: she was shabby and wan! Where was the sparkle that had haunted the depths of him? The real Jinny was, it suddenly became patent, a worn creature with shadows under her eyes and little lines on her forehead. How could he ever have imagined her attractive? Why, Blanche was like a sultana beside her.
But if the thrill he had expected to feel was replaced by this dull disappointment, another emotion did not fail to supervene. It was pity—pity not unmixed with compunction. Had it been so manly as he had thought, to come interfering with her business, violating the immemorial local tradition which assigned the carrying to a Quarles?
“Won’t you come in?” she was forced to say, seeing him silent and petrified in the porch.
“Thank you—I’ve only brought this from Miss Gentry,” he answered in awkward negation. He had come to jeer, but now he held the pot of Hair Restorer apologetically.
Jinny went from white to red. It was the supreme humiliation. Not only had he not come to make it up: he had come at the culminating moment of his triumph—sent as a carrier to her! And sent not merely with a parcel, but with the proof of her blundering!
“How kind of her!” she said, taking it, but neither her hand nor her voice was steady. “Did she send any message with it?”
“Not particularly.” He had meant to rub in Miss Gentry’s denunciations of female stupidity, to demand the other pot, but his heart failed.
“Well, thank her for her present,” said poor Jinny, struggling hard for composure. “And tell her I’ll be giving her something in return on my next round.”
He suppressed a smile; shamed from it by the pathos of her courage.
“I guess she means it for your grandfather,” he said chivalrously.
“Perhaps she does,” Jinny murmured. She turned away to close the door on herself. The beautiful black horses pawed the ground impatiently. Will shuffled and squirmed less gracefully—there seemed nothing to do but to go. Had he not refused to step inside? But he had taken her at the end of his long round, he had deposited all his passengers and packages, and he felt loth to leave her thus. A resolution was forming within him—generating so rapidly in the warmth of compunction and renewed comradeship, that possibly the germs of it had already taken root in his subconsciousness when Nip’s label brought him her sneer at his lack of a guard.
“It’s very hot,” he fenced, lingering. “Can I have a glass of water?”
She started, remembering the Gaffer’s admonition.
“Oh, won’t you have a glass of beer?”
“No, thanks, just Adam’s ale.”
Almost liquefied herself by feeling this son of Adam needed her,—even thus slightly—she moved swiftly to and fro, returning with the glass. But not so swiftly that she had not smuggled Oliver’s Depilatory and the wedding-cake into the kitchen in case he should yet come in. He took the glass, managing to touch her cold trembling fingers.
“Much obliged,” he said, after a deep draught, and this time it was her fingers that were drawn, though less consciously, to touch his round the returned glass. Then, swallowing something harder than water, “I’ve been thinking about it all, Jinny, and I’m sorry——” he blurted.
“Ha!” Her heart leapt up again.
“Sorry for you,” he explained.
“For me?” Her face hardened.
“I—I—mean,” he corrected, stammeringly, “sorry to hurt your business.”
“You haven’t hurt my business! There’s room for both! It’s a fair competition.”
“It’s very forgiving of you to say so. But I said I’d start a coach-service and I had to make my word good, hadn’t I? A man can’t say a thing and leave it empty air.”
“No.” In her new humility she was prepared to admire such solid manhood.
“But that’s no reason why we should be bad friends, is it?”
She had thought that it was; now, that attitude of hers seemed childishly foolish. Self-abasement kept her dumb.
“No reason,” he repeated, mistaking her silence for obstinacy, “why we shouldn’t shake hands.”
“Only this glass,” she flashed more happily. But it shook in her hand.
“Ah!” He sighed with satisfaction. The way to his proposition lay open. He could broach it at once.
“Much better to pull together, eh?”
“Much,” she echoed. How sweet to see the mists of folly and bitterness rolling away, to feel the weight lifting from her heart. Impulsively she held out her left hand, and as he clasped it, the warmth that came to him from its cold firmness somewhat shook his sense of Blanche’s surpassing charm. Charm, in fact, seemed—to his bewilderment—to be independent of beauty. Or was it that what radiated from Jinny’s little hand was a sense of capable comradeship, missing from that large limp palm which received but did not give? Well, but comradeship was what he wanted, what he was now going to propose. And if charm was thrown in, so much the better for the partnership.
“Aha, Son of Belial! So ye’ve come to bog and vaunt your horn here!”
It was her forgotten grandfather. Startled from her daydream, she dropped the glass and it shivered to fragments. In the dusk Daniel Quarles, wizened though he was, loomed prophetic over them in snowy beard and smock, his forehead gloomed with thunder and his ancient beaver.
Will drew out his white handkerchief, and tying it on his whip waved it humorously.
The old man was disconcerted in his Biblical vein. “This be a rummy ’un, Jinny. Is he off his head?”
“No, Gran’fer—that’s a flag of truce. A signal he’s got something friendly to say.”
The Gaffer turned on her. “Then why don’t ye arx him inside like a Christian, ’stead o’ breakin’ my glasses?”
“Thank you, Mr. Quarles,” said Will swiftly. He lowered the flag, and almost rushed across the threshold. Jinny retreated before him, and the trio passed silently through the ticking ante-chamber.
“Why don’t ye loight the lamp?” the Gaffer grumbled. Jinny gratefully flew to hide her perturbation in the kitchen. True, she would only be throwing more light upon it. But the breathing-space was welcome.
“Hadn’t you better have a look at my coach before it gets darker?” Will was reminded to say.
“Curse your coach!” He had reawakened the prophet.
“Easy, there!” said Will, untying his handkerchief. “It’s to be a family coach now, you see.”
“Family coach!” repeated Daniel, puzzled.
Jinny, fumbling at the lamp with butter-fingers, was glad it had not yet illumined her blushes. For, mingled with the rapturous tumult at her heart was a shrinking sense of impending publicity, of ethereal emotions too swiftly and masterfully translated into gross commitments. How had her mere passive acquiescence in a better relationship warranted Will’s larger assumptions?
“Well, that’s what it’ll be if you accept my proposition, won’t it?” she heard Will say.
“Set ye down, set ye down!” said Daniel. “What’s your proposition? Jinny, why’re you lazying with that lamp?”
“In a moment, Gran’fer.”
She brought it in, its fat globe shedding a rosy glow over the dingy wall-paper, the squat chairs, and the china shepherdesses. But for herself she had no need of it. Everything seemed to her transfigured, steeped in a heavenly light.
“Where’s that beer?” the ancient roared, its absence illumined.
She was glad to escape into the kitchen with her jug. Will moved towards the front door.
“You come and see the coach, Mr. Quarles,” he persisted, “before it’s too dark.”
“Dang your coach!” But the imprecation was mild and the ancient shuffled to the door and surveyed the imposing equipage complete from box to boot, with its glossy sable steeds. Will, swelling with renewed pride, and mentally comparing it with the canvas-rotted, lumbering little carrier’s cart and the aged animal on its last legs, awaited with complacency the rapturous exclamations of the old connoisseur.
But they did not come. “Ay, quite soizable, not such a bad coach, rayther top-heavy. Where’s the leaders?”
“You don’t want more than two horses on these roads. Ain’t there plenty o’ pair-horse coaches? Besides it don’t set up for a coach exactly. I’m a carrier mainly!”
The old man winced at the word.
“You’ve called her the Flynt Flyer,” he said, peering at the painted legend.
“And fly she does!” said Will, recovering his complacency. “There’s life and spirit for you!” he added, as the horses pawed and tossed their heads.
“More like an adder biting their heels!” said Daniel balefully. “But Oi thought Oi heerd they was black!”
Will was outraged. “The Devil himself couldn’t be blacker!”
Daniel shook his head. “Mud-colour Oi should call the offside hoss.”
“Well, there’s black mud, ain’t there?”
“Nearside hoss seems wheezy,” Daniel said sympathetically, as it snorted with impatience.
“Wheezy? Cherry-blossom? Why, he could run ten miles more without turning a hair.”
“Why, he’s sweatin’ like one o’clock!”
“So am I.” Will wiped his forehead furiously. “But that’s only the weather.”
“Hosses don’t want to sweat when there’s nowt to carry.”
For a moment Will was knocked breathless. Recovering, he smiled complacently. “Why, it’s all delivered. And it was a deliverance. A terrible load. Phew!”
“Nothing to ours! Lord, what a mort o’ custom! Look at that whopping box we’ve just carried in.” He pointed to the ante-room. “And all they other boxes!” he added with an inspiration, staring at the lumber of his deceased and scattered family.
“Oh, I know,” Will conceded graciously, “that there are folks that stick to Jinny—I mean to you—for old sake’s sake.”
“Ay, and you’re hankerin’ arter our hundred years’ connexion!”
“Eh?” said Will, dazed. He stole a reassuring glance at his magnificent turn-out.
“Oi could see what ye were droivin’ at with your friendly proposition. Want us to take you into pardnership.”
Will slapped his knee. “Well, I’m danged.”
Daniel chuckled fatuously. “Ho, ho! Guessed it, did Oi? Ye can’t keep much from Daniel Quarles.” And in high good humour he laid his hand on the young man’s shoulder and moved him back into the house.
They found Jinny, who had just deposited the beer-jug on the table, flitting up the stairs.
“Where ye gooin’, Jinny?” the Gaffer called after her.
“You’ve got things to talk over,” she called back.
“It ain’t secrets,” he crowed.
“Don’t run away,” Will added. “You’re the person most concerned.”
But his blushing rival had disappeared. It was all too unnerving, especially when the cracked mirror, aided by the fat lamp, showed her what a shabby unkempt figure was setting out the beer-glasses on the tiger-painted tray. As she could not change into her grand gown under the invader’s eye, she was furtively carrying it up to her grandfather’s bedroom.
“Set ye down,” repeated the Gaffer. “Have a glass o’ beer.”
“No, thank you, I’ve had water.”
“And the glass too,” the old man chuckled. “That ain’t much of a chate. Have a shiver o’ cake.”
Will did not like to refuse the slice till the Gaffer, after looking round with growing grumpiness, brought in the great wedding-cake from the kitchen, naked of its carton.
“Muddlin’ things away,” he was murmuring, as he posed it pompously on the table, whence its high-built glory of frosted sugar shed a festal air over the room.
“No, thank you!” cried Will hastily, divining a mistake—on the Gaffer’s part, if not on Jinny’s. He guessed Farmer Gale was concerned with it, for the whole countryside was agog with the meanness of a wedding that did not include a labourers’ supper, nay, even a holiday for them. The old man glared, bread-knife in hand.
“It would give me stomach-ache,” Will apologized.
The confession arrested the ancient. “Never had gullion in my life,” he bragged, laying down the bread-knife. “But you young folks——!”
“It’s like this,” said Will, taking advantage of this better mood. “There’s not enough business to keep both of us going. Suppose I buy you out.”
“Buy me out!” The prophet of wrath resurged. His arm shot out for the bread-knife, pointing it door ward. “Git out o’ my house. For a hundred year——”
Will got angry. “If I do get out, it will be a hundred years before I come back. However,” he said, forcing a smile, “let’s put it another way. Jinny shall come and help my business.”
“Jinny’ll never give up Methusalem.”
“Well, Methusalem’ll give up Jinny before very long—he can’t last for ever. And she can keep him for Sundays—yes, that’ll be a good idea. She can drive to chapel with him, not being a business animal.” “And then she’d be clear of successors to Farmer Gale,” a side-thought added.
“But Oi thought ’twas me you had a proposition for,” said the Gaffer testily.
Will hastily readjusted his tactics. “Of course, of course. It’s really lumping our businesses, instead of competing, don’t you see?”
“Well, dedn’t Oi say ’twas a pardnership you was arter?”
“Quite right. Only we’ll give poor old Methusalem a retiring pension.”
“He, he!” croaked the Gaffer. He added honestly, “But Oi don’t droive much meself nowadays. ’Tis onny the connexion ye’d be getting and the adwice and counsel.”
“Just what I want,” said Will enthusiastically. “And I’m willing to share and share alike.”
“It’s not a bad notion,” admitted the ancient.
“It’s a ripping notion.”
“Arter all, as you say, there’s no reason we should come into colloosion.” He dropped the knife back on the table, and looked out of the still open window.
“Ay, it’s a grand coach!” he gurgled.
“The talk of the countryside—only needs a turnpike road to beat the train!” said Will, expanding afresh. “Snowdrop and Cherry-blossom I call these horses for fun—because they’re so black, you see.”
“Ay, black as the devil! And hark at ’em pawin’—there’s fire and sperrit for you. That’s as foine a coach as ever Oi took up from. It’ll not look amiss with Quarles painted ’stead o’ Flynt.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Will quickly. “Flynt must remain. The Flynt Flyer—you can’t alter that.”
“Why can’t you?”
“You can’t say the Quarles Flyer—the Quarles Creeper runs better off the tongue. The Flynt Flyer—that goes together.”
“But it’s you and me’s got to goo together,” retorted the obstinate old man. “Anyways it must be the Quarles and Flynt Flyer.”
“That’s too long. Besides the Flynt Flyer’s become a trade-mark—known everywhere.”
“And what about Daniel Quarles, Carrier? That’s a better known trade-mark. We’ll paint that.”
Will shook his head. “I can’t do that, but I’ll paint Flynt and Quarles, Carriers, underneath the name of the coach. And that’s the limit.”
“Daniel Quarles was always a peaceable man. . . . Quarles and Flynt!” breathed the Gaffer beatifically.
“No, Flynt and Quarles,” Will corrected. “Flynt must go first.”
“Don’t F come before Q? Folks would think we didn’t know our A B C.”
“It would be more scholardy,” Daniel admitted.
Will proffered a conclusive hand. “Then it’s a bargain!” But Daniel let the hand hover.
“Oi don’t droive much meself nowadays,” he repeated with anxious honesty.
“We don’t expect it of the head of the firm,” said Will grandly; “there’s substitutes and subordinates.” But his hand drooped with a sense of bathos.
“Ay,” said the old man, swelling, “subordinators and granddarters.” He fished for the hand.
“Oughtn’t we to let ’em know?” Will insinuated.
“Oi allus liked young Flynt, your father,” answered the Gaffer, squeezing his fingers heartily. “And there warn’t much amiss with your mother. A forthright family, aldoe Peculiar. Jinny droives a-Sundays to chapel with the buoy-oys!”
At which sudden failure—or rather resurgence—of memory, Will felt more urgently than ever the need of getting Jinny’s consent rather than the nonagenarian’s.
“You’re mighty lucky,” he said craftily, “to have a granddaughter so spry. I reckon we’d better have her down and tell her.”
“Ay, that Oi be,” replied the Gaffer. “ ’Tis heartenin’ to hear her singin’ up and down the house.”
Indeed a little silvery trill was reaching them now. To Will it recalled more than one moment of mockery, but he felt nothing provocative in this song except its parade of happiness. It seemed to fling back his compassion, to be ominous of a refusal of his proposition. Perhaps, on second thoughts, it might be better to leave the old man to present her with a finished fact.
“Well, I must be getting home,” he said. “Glad that’s settled.”
Daniel clutched the knife again. “And we’ll cut the cake upon it.”
“No, no.” Mistake or no mistake, it seemed sacrilegious to slice into this quasi-ecclesiastical magnificence.
“But it’s a bargain. Jinny shall cut it. Jinny!” he called up.
“Just coming, Gran’fer.”
“That’s too grand for a bargain,” Will remonstrated. “Would almost do for a wedding,” he added with sly malice.
“Well, ain’t this for a pardnership?” the old man cackled. He moved to the door and stood looking out on the horses. “Steady, my beauties,” he said proprietorially. He shuffled to them and rubbed a voluptuous hand along the satiny sheen of their skins. “Flynt and Quarles,” he murmured.
Will had taken the opportunity to escape from the house. He now prepared to light his lamps. Bats were swooping and darting, weaving their weird patterns, but the air was still uncooled.
“Ye’re not a-gooin’ afore the cake’s cut!” the Gaffer protested.
“I’d best not see Jinny—she might only fly at me.”
“Rubbidge. When we’ve made it up!”
“But I’m late, and I shouldn’t wonder if there’s a thunderstorm.”
“Won’t take half a jiffy!” He dashed into the house and seized the knife. Will was only in time to arrest his uplifted arm, and Jinny, descending on the tableau, had a tragi-comic sense of rushing betwixt a murderer and her lover.
“What are you doing, Gran’fer?” she gasped.
He surrendered the bread-knife blinkingly to her, and Will released his arm, struck breathless by the change in Jinny. Not only were apron and shabby gown replaced by the Gentry masterpiece, not only was her hair combed and braided in a style he had never seen, but the face which reduced all these fripperies to insignificance seemed years younger and fresher. The little lines were gone from the forehead, the hard defiance from the eyes, and the wanness from the cheeks: the whole face was mantled with a soft light. How shrewd he had been to suggest this partnership, he thought with a pleasant glow, forgetting its origin in pity. For assuredly this softly radiant person made no call on that emotion. The old man was equally astonished. “Why, Jinny, ye’re as smart as a carrot!” he cried naïvely. “Bless ye.” He kissed her fondly. “Willie wants to goo into pardnership—Quarles and Flynt.”
The young people looked at each other, both as carrots in hue.
“Well, Willie, where’s your tongue? Tell her how we’ve settled it.”
“He can tell me on Sunday,” said Jinny, not utterly unresentful of their masculine methods.
“On Sunday?” the Gaffer gasped.
“After chapel,” Jinny explained.
“Oi won’t have no such talk a-Sundays. It’s got to be now. Goo ahead, buoy-oy!”
“Oh, Gran’fer,” Jinny pleaded. “Can’t you go and light Will’s lamps?”
“Ye want to upset it all behind my back,” he said with a cunning air.
“No, I don’t.”
“Ye can’t diddle Daniel Quarles. It’s a fust-rate proposition, and don’t ye dare say ‘Noa.’ ”
“But, Gran’fer!” Jinny hung her head. “You might understand.”
“Oi understand better nor you. Look at that coach now—a grand coach—Quarles and Flynt.”
“Never mind the coach—light the lamps,” Jinny cried paradoxically.
Daniel moved out reluctantly. “It’s a hansum proposition, Jinny,” he said. “Where’s your tinder-box, Willie?”
“Here’s matches,” said Will. He looked uneasy. Her grandfather seemed to be irritating the girl—it boded ill for his proposition.
“Don’t be afeared, Willie. She won’t fly at ye now. Easy, my beauties. Steady, Snowdrop!”
“You don’t mind my clearing up,” said Jinny, pouncing upon Farmer Gale’s imperilled cake.
“Not if you don’t fly at me,” Will quoted with a nervous facetiousness.
Jinny smiled with equal nervousness: “Oh, I won’t fly at you—nor jump at you, neither.”
Will flinched. Had he not felt committed to her grandfather, he would have shrunk from the rebuff now menacing his proposition. Indeed, he was not quite clear as to how he could really amalgamate the two concerns. The notion of a girl guard, which had first flashed upon him as an inspiration, was now felt to be beset by obstacles. True, the operations of blowing such a long horn, taking so many fares, booking so many parcels, and locking and unlocking the boots, were a serious discount from the pleasures of driving, and a person familiar with the minutiæ of carrying, and a ready-reckoner incarnate, (and so agreeably incarnate) might well seem providential. But would the unfitness of so unconventional an occupation be glossed over by the existing acceptance of her in that line of business, and would his overlordship be a protection or an added scandal? Still, he was in for it now, unless she refused the post—which he hoped she would not! For after all, at the worst, with all these new circuits of his, he might still leave to her her little pottering round, counting it as a branch of the new Flynt and Quarles business. He would still have won the monopoly of the local carrying, and without the weight on his conscience of starving her out.
“I know you’ve got a deal of pride and all that,” he began diffidently, “but you’ll bear in mind your grandfather’s tickled with the notion.”
“It’s hardly Gran’fer’s business,” Jinny murmured, blushing.
“Oh, I quite understand that. Of course it’s your business really. Didn’t I ask you not to run away? I didn’t mean to reckon it settled unless you said ‘Yes.’ ”
“I should hope not,” said Jinny with a spirit that banished the blush. She carried the cake back to the top of the chest of drawers.
“Of course it’s silly our going on separate, don’t you think so?”
“I haven’t thought.” She took up the beer-jug to remove it.
“Well, I have—I’ve thought a good deal—that’s why I figured that with you as my partner—No, not for me, thank you.”
For Jinny was mechanically filling a glass. Flushing afresh, she poured the beer back. “But who’s to look after Gran’fer?” she said, her eyes averted. “How can I leave him?”
“I’ve thought of that—naturally when you’re so much with me, you can’t be much with him. But, you see, there’ll be plenty of dollars to share out—money, I mean—and we’d be able to get in a woman to take care of him.”
To get in a woman! So he was prepared to let poor old Gran’fer live with them! O exquisite, incredible magnanimity! It solved all difficulties in a flash. “And what about Methusalem?” she asked, expectant of a similarly sublime solution.
“Poor old Methusalem!” he laughed. “Won’t he like going to grass? Well, if he’s so very keen, suppose he trots around once a week on his own little affairs—hair-restorers and the like.”
Even the little dart failed to pierce. She was overwhelmed by this culminating magnanimity. This was indeed surrender. So she was not ignorant of horses, so her work had not been improper. She smiled responsively, but her voice shook. “You mean I can carry on?”
“Under the Flynt flag, of course.”
“You wouldn’t really mind?”
“All’s grist that comes to the mill. Besides, it would leave me free to branch out to Totfield Major, and perhaps even Colchester. Tuesdays, say, if you like.”
But she did not like. Her conception of a wife’s dignity boggled at the notion of driving around as before. Unmaidenly it was not—he had handsomely admitted it—but unwifely it assuredly was. A wife’s place, she felt instinctively, was the home. She shook her head. “I don’t think I ought to drive Methusalem any more.”
He gasped. “Well, you wouldn’t expect to handle a pair of horses, would you?”
If he meant she could not, Jinny was not so sure. But why argue so irrelevant a point? “No, of course not,” she murmured obediently. “I mean Methusalem will like going out to grass.”
He breathed freely again. The path to his project was clear at last. “But as a sort of guard now——” he ventured, With an indulgent air.
Jinny beamed at so facetious a picture. She saw herself in red, with big buttons and shorn hair. “So I’m to blow your horn for you after all!”
“Sure—once you’ve paid up the gloves!”
She laughed merrily. Even Miss Gentry’s bill was a dissipated nightmare now.
“But where shall I get the money?” she joked, for the pleasure of his reply.
“Oh, you’ll take all the money,” he instructed her seriously.
“I’ll have to allow you some, though,” she pointed out gaily.
“Half,” he explained. “We divide the takings equally—that’s my proposition. Snacks!”
“Oh, that’s much too much,” she protested as seriously.
The apparent admission pleased him, but increased his sense of magnanimity. “Share and share alike,” he repeated magnificently.
“But you don’t want to spend half the takings,” Jinny persisted. “How could I manage on a half?”
“Why, you’ll have much more than you ever had!”
Jinny was mystified. “But there’ll be the house to keep up and—and——” She paused with shy flaming cheeks.
Will was getting a bit puzzled too. “And your grandfather? But I’ve already offered to pay for him and his minder too—out of the joint takings, I mean. Surely half and half is the most you can expect.”
But it showed once more how little our Jinny had really been changed from early-Victorian womanhood by her exceptional experiences, that so unconventional a system of joint housekeeping made no appeal to her. “A quarter is the most you can expect,” she retorted.
“What!” Will was even more revolted by her ingratitude than by her impudence. “When you only bring in your wretched little cart, and I sank all my capital in the coach!”
“Your capital?” Jinny repeated blankly.
“You know what I had to pay for the horses!”
It was an unfortunate memory to stir up, and it helped a flood of raw light to burst upon her.
“You’re not really proposing I should be your guard?” she asked in a changed voice.
“Yes, I am,” he reassured her.
“For money?” she breathed incredulously.
“Of course. You don’t suppose I ask it for love! Business is——!”
Jinny turned on him like a tigress—anger was the only thing that could drown this dreadful sense of shame. “How dare you?” she cried. “How dare you ask me to work for you for money?”
Will winced before her passion. “You promised not to fly at me,” he reminded her glumly.
“I didn’t think you’d suggest that.”
“And what’s wrong in suggesting a partnership?”
“A partnership!” she sneered. “Do you suppose I’m going to pull you out of the mud?”
Will’s blood was up in its turn. “You pull me?”
“What else? You find yourself stuck and you come to me to save your funeral coach.”
“That’s what Gran’fer calls it. And you will find yourself carrying corpses if you go on cooping up your passengers in this weather. Your silly concern hasn’t got a tilt to take off, but at least you might put the luggage inside and the live-stock on top. Oh, don’t be frightened, I won’t charge for my advice. But you being young and raw——”
“Here! Stow that!” Will banged the floor with his whip. “Then you refuse my offer!”
“Offer? I call it a petition.”
“Me petitioning——!” His breath failed.
“It wasn’t me that came with a flag of truce.”
He snorted. “You’ll come one day with a cry for mercy.”
“Me! You’ll never see me at Frog Farm. I’d rather go to the poorhouse—to see you, I mean.”
Will set his teeth. “Very well then—my conscience is clear. I did think I might have been hard on you. But now——!”
“Now,” she echoed mockingly.
“I shall crush you.”
She laughed tauntingly “Pride goes before a fall.”
“I shall crush you without pity.”
“You young rapscallion!” It was the Gaffer hobbling back. Having lit the coach-lamps, he had lingered in voluptuous contemplation of what they illumined. But the noise of high words had reached him, and now with the astonishing muscularity that still lingered in his shrunken frame, the ancient seized the whip and wrenched it from Will’s grasp. Jinny flew between them, fearing he would strike as he stood there in prophetic fury, palpitating in his every limb. Her earlier intervention, though against a knife, had been comic: here was tragedy, she felt.
“You crush my Jinny! Why, Oi’ll snap ye in two like this whip.” And he hurled the pieces of the stock at Will’s feet.
Nip leapt for the butt-end and brought it back in his mouth with high-wagging tall, demanding another throw. He broke the tension of foolish mortality.
“Don’t excite yourself, Gran’fer,” said Jinny, leading him to his chair. “I’ll cut him out before he’s a month older.”
Will guffawed. “I offered her a fair chance, Mr. Quarles,” he said, taking the butt from Nip’s mouth. “You yourself said it was a handsome offer.”
“We don’t want your offers, ye pirate thief, nor your chances neither. Ye’ve only got our crumbles. Oi’ve sent a mort o’ customers to hell, and you can goo with ’em.”
“As you please.” Will picked up the whip-end quietly. But the old volcano was still rumbling.
“You crush my Jinny—you with your flags and rags. Why, all Bradmarsh ’ould give ye rough music. Ye’d be tin-kettled.”
“Very well! Only don’t say I didn’t give you a fair and friendly chance. Don’t blame me if you come to want bread.”
“Bread!” The old man sprang towards the chest of drawers and this time the cake was stabbed to the heart. “Have a shiver?” he cried magnificently, holding up a regal hunk on the knife-point.
Even Will was taken aback by this deed of derring-do. “Better save it up,” he said sullenly.
“Save it?” repeated Daniel hysterically. Nip was already on his hind legs begging for it—with a superb gesture the prodigal grandfather threw it at the tireless mouth. “Never you darken my doorstep again!” he cried to Will.
Will cracked his bit of whip with a scornful laugh. “Before you see me in this house again, you’ll have to carry me in!”
“Carry him in? D’ye hear that, Nip?” The ancient chuckled contemptuously. “That’s a good ’un.”
“Carry me in,” repeated Will fiercely. And holding up his hand, “So help me God!” he cried.
“Spare your swearings, buoy-oy,” said Daniel grimly, throwing the plaintive Nip another pile of sugary splendour. “Ye ’ont never cross this threshold agen save on your hands and knees.” And sending his knife quivering into the floor, he brought down his hand on his Bible. “On your hands and knees,” he repeated solemnly.
Will turned and strode out stiffly. He looked almost tall. A moment later they heard the clatter and jingle of the great equipage moving forwards and the jubilant winding of the long horn.
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