Uzyskaj dostęp do tej i ponad 60000 książek od 6,99 zł miesięcznie
Lucian the dreamer written by J. S. Fletcher who was an English journalist and author. This book was published in 1903. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Liczba stron: 393
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Lucian the dreamer
J. S. Fletcher
THIS is the study of an artistic temperament in a generation not so far removed from our own as the hurried events of the last two decades would make it appear—the generation which fought in the Boer War. Mr. Fletcher has told us the life story of a boy, a “thinker” rather than a “doer”—Lucian the Dreamer. We follow with great interest his many love affairs while under the care of his uncle and aunt in the country. We enjoy with him the simple rustic beauties of Wellsby, and from the moment he arrives at the little village station until that final tragic scene in the dry-bed of a South African river we are held as in a vice.
Also by J. S. Fletcher
The railway station stood in the midst of an apparent solitude, and from its one long platform there was no sign of any human habitation. A stranger, looking around him in passing that way, might well have wondered why a station should be found there at all; nevertheless, the board which figured prominently above the white palings suggested the near presence of three places—Wellsby, Meadhope, and Simonstower—and a glance at a map of the county would have sufficed to show him that three villages of the names there indicated lay hidden amongst the surrounding woods, one to the east and two to the west of the railway. The line was a single one, served by a train which made three out-and-home journeys a day between the market-town of Oakborough and the village of Normanford, stopping on its way at seven intermediate stations, of which Wellsby was the penultimate one. These wayside stations sometimes witnessed arrivals and departures, but there were many occasions on which the train neither took up passengers nor set them down—it was only a considerable traffic in agricultural produce, the extra business of the weekly market-day, and its connection with the main line, that enabled the directors to keep the Oakborough and Normanford Branch open. At each small station they maintained a staff consisting of a collector or station-master, a booking-clerk, and a porter, but the duties of these officials were light, and a good deal of spare time lay at their disposal, and was chiefly used in cultivating patches of garden along the side of the line, or in discussing the news of the neighbourhood.
On a fine April evening of the early eighties the staff of this particular station assembled on the platform at half-past six o’clock in readiness to receive the train (which, save on market-days, was composed of an engine, two carriages, and the guard’s van), as it made its last down journey. There were no passengers to go forward towards Normanford, and the porter, according to custom, went out to the end of the platform as the train came into view, and held up his arms as a signal to the driver that he need not stop unless he had reasons of his own for doing so. To this signal the driver responded with two sharp shrieks of his whistle, on hearing which the porter turned away, put his hands in his pockets, and slouched back along the platform.
‘Somebody to set down, anyway, Mr. Simmons,’ said the booking-clerk with a look at the station-master. ‘I wonder who it is—I’ve only booked one up ticket to-day; James White it was, and he came back by the 2.30, so it isn’t him.’
The station-master made no reply, feeling that another moment would answer the question definitely. He walked forward as the train drew up, and amidst the harsh grinding of its wheels threw a greeting to the engine-driver, which he had already given four times that day and would give again as the train went back two hours later. His eyes, straying along the train, caught sight of a hand fumbling at the handle of a third-class compartment, and he hastened to open the door.
‘It’s you, is it, Mr. Pepperdine?’ he said. ‘I wondered who was getting out—it’s not often that this train brings us a passenger.’
‘Two of us this time,’ answered the man thus addressed as he quickly descended, nodding and smiling at the station-master and the booking-clerk; ‘two of us this time, Mr. Simmons. Ah!’ He drew a long breath of air as if the scent of the woods and fields did him good, and then turned to the open door of the carriage, within which stood a boy leisurely attiring himself in an overcoat. ‘Come, my lad,’ he said good-humouredly, ‘the train’ll be going on—let’s see now, Mr. Simmons, there’s a portmanteau, a trunk, and a box in the van—perhaps Jim there’ll see they’re got out.’
The porter hurried off to the van; as he turned away the boy descended from the train, put his gloved hands in the pockets of his overcoat, and stared about him with a deliberate and critical expression. His glance ran over the station, the creeping plants on the station-master’s house, the station-master, and the booking-clerk; his companion, meanwhile, was staring hard at a patch of bright green beyond the fence and smiling with evident enjoyment.
‘I’ll see that the things are all right,’ said the boy suddenly, and strode off to the van. The porter had already brought out a portmanteau and a trunk; he and the guard were now struggling with a larger obstacle in the shape of a packing-case which taxed all their energies.
‘It’s a heavy ’un, this is!’ panted the guard. ‘You might be carrying all the treasure of the Bank of England in here, young master.’
‘Books,’ said the boy laconically. ‘They are heavy. Be careful, please—don’t let the box drop.’
There was a note in his voice which the men were quick to recognise—the note of command and of full expectancy that his word would rank as law. He stood by, anxious of eye and keenly observant, while the men lowered the packing-case to the platform; behind him stood Mr. Pepperdine, the station-master, and the booking-clerk, mildly interested.
‘There!’ said the guard. ‘We ha’n’t given her a single bump. Might ha’ been the delicatest chiny, the way we handled it.’
He wiped his brow with a triumphant wave of the hand. The boy, still regarding the case with grave, speculative eyes, put his hand in his pocket, drew forth a shilling, and with a barely perceptible glance at the guard, dropped it in his hand. The man stared, smiled, pocketed the gift, and touched his cap. He waved his green flag vigorously; in another moment the train was rattling away into the shadow of the woods.
Mr. Pepperdine stepped up to the boy’s side and gazed at the packing-case.
‘It’ll never go in my trap, lad,’ he said, scratching his chin. ‘It’s too big and too heavy. We must send a horse and cart for it in the morning.’
‘But where shall we leave it?’ asked the boy, with evident anxiety.
‘We’ll put it in the warehouse, young master,’ said the porter. ‘It’ll be all right there. I’ll see that no harm comes to it.’
The boy, however, demanded to see the warehouse, and assured himself that it was water-tight and would be locked up. He issued strict mandates to the porter as to his safe-keeping of the packing-case, presented him also with a shilling, and turned away unconcernedly, as if the matter were now settled. Mr. Pepperdine took the porter in hand.
‘Jim,’ he said, ‘my trap’s at the Grange; maybe you could put that trunk and portmanteau on a barrow and bring them down in a while? No need to hurry—I shall have a pipe with Mr. Trippett before going on.’
‘All right, sir,’ answered the porter. ‘I’ll bring ’em both down in an hour or so.’
‘Come on, then, lad,’ said Mr. Pepperdine, nodding good-night to the station-master, and leading the way to the gate. ‘Eh, but it’s good to be back where there’s some fresh air! Can you smell it, boy?’
The boy threw up his face, and sniffed the fragrance of the woods. There had been April showers during the afternoon, and the air was sweet and cool: he drew it in with a relish that gratified the countryman at his side.
‘Yes,’ he answered. ‘I smell it—it’s beautiful.’
‘Ah, so it is!’ said Mr. Pepperdine; ‘as beautiful as—as—well, as anything. Yes, it is so, my lad.’
The boy looked up and laughed, and Mr. Pepperdine laughed too. He had no idea why he laughed, but it pleased him to do so; it pleased him, too, to hear the boy laugh. But when the boy’s face grew grave again Mr. Pepperdine’s countenance composed itself and became equally grave and somewhat solicitous. He looked out of his eye-corners at the slim figure walking at his side, and wondered what other folk would think of his companion. ‘A nice, smart-looking boy,’ said Mr. Pepperdine to himself for the hundredth time; ‘nice, gentlemanlike boy, and a credit to anybody.’ Mr. Pepperdine felt proud to have such a boy in his company, and prouder still to know that the boy was his nephew and ward.
The boy thus speculated upon was a lad of twelve, somewhat tall for his age, of a slim, well-knit figure, a handsome face, and a confidence of manner and bearing that seemed disproportionate to his years. He walked with easy, natural grace; his movements were lithe and sinuous; the turn of his head, as he looked up at Mr. Pepperdine, or glanced at the overhanging trees in the lane, was smart and alert; it was easy to see that he was naturally quick in action and in perception. His face, which Mr. Pepperdine had studied a good deal during the past week, was of a type which is more often met with in Italy than in England. The forehead was broad and high, and crowned by a mass of thick, blue-black hair that clustered and waved all over the head, and curled into rings at the temples; the brows were straight, dark, and full; the nose and mouth delicately but strongly carved; the chin square and firm; obstinacy, pride, determination, were all there, and already stiffening into permanence. But in this face, so Italian, so full of the promise of passion, there were eyes of an essentially English type, almost violet in colour, gentle, soft, dreamy, shaded by long black lashes, and it was in them that Mr. Pepperdine found the thing he sought for when he looked long and wistfully at his dead sister’s son.
Mr. Pepperdine’s present scrutiny passed from the boy’s face to the boy’s clothes. It was not often, he said to himself, that such a well-dressed youngster was seen in those parts. His nephew was clothed in black from head to foot; his hat was surrounded by a mourning-band; a black tie, fashioned into a smart knot, and secured by an antique cameo-pin, encircled his spotless man’s collar: every garment was shaped as if its wearer had been the most punctilious man about town; his neat boots shone like mirrors. The boy was a dandy in miniature, and it filled Mr. Pepperdine with a vast amusement to find him so. He chuckled inwardly, and was secretly proud of a youngster who, as he had recently discovered, could walk into a fashionable tailor’s and order exactly what he wanted with an evident determination to get it. But Mr. Pepperdine himself was a rustic dandy. Because of the necessities of a recent occasion he was at that moment clad in sober black—his Sunday-and-State-Occasion’s suit—but at home he possessed many wonderful things in the way of riding-breeches, greatcoats ornamented with pearl buttons as big as saucers, and sprigged waistcoats which were the despair of the young country bucks, who were forced to admit that Simpson Pepperdine knew a thing or two about the fashion and was a man of style. It was natural, then, Mr. Pepperdine should be pleased to find his nephew a petit-maître—it gratified an eye which was never at any time indisposed to regard the vanities of this world with complaisance.
Mr. Pepperdine, striding along at the boy’s side, presented the cheerful aspect of a healthy countryman. He was a tall, well-built man, rosy of face, bright of eye, a little on the wrong side of forty, and rather predisposed to stoutness of figure, but firm and solid in his tread, and as yet destitute of a grey hair. In his sable garments and his high hat—bought a week before in London itself, and of the latest fashionable shape—he looked very distinguished, and no one could have taken him for less than a churchwarden and a large ratepayer. His air of distinction was further improved by the fact that he was in uncommonly good spirits—he had spent a week in London on business of a sorrowful nature, and he was glad to be home again amongst his native woods and fields. He sniffed the air as he walked, and set his feet down as if the soil belonged to him, and his eyes danced with satisfaction.
The boy suddenly uttered a cry of delight, and stopped, pointing down a long vista of the woods. Mr. Pepperdine turned in the direction indicated, and beheld a golden patch of daffodils.
‘Daffy-down-dillies,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘And very pretty too. But just you wait till you see the woods about Simonstower. I always did say that Wellsby woods were nought to our woods—ah, you should see the bluebells! And as for primroses—well, they could stock all Covent Garden market in London town with ’em, and have enough for next day into the bargain, so they could. Very pretty is them daffies, very pretty, but I reckon there’s something a deal prettier to be seen in a minute or two, for here’s the Grange, and Mrs. Trippett has an uncommon nice way of setting out a tea-table.’
The boy turned from the glowing patch of colour to look at another attractive picture. They had rounded the edge of the wood on their right hand, and now stood gazing at a peculiarly English scene—a green paddock, fenced from the road by neat railings, painted white, at the further end of which, shaded by a belt of tall elms, stood a many-gabled farmhouse, with a flower-garden before its front door and an orchard at its side. The farm-buildings rose a little distance in rear of the house; beyond them was the stackyard, still crowded with wheat and barley stacks; high over everything rose a pigeon-cote, about the weather-vane of which flew countless pigeons. In the paddock were ewes and lambs; cattle and horses looked over the wall of the fold; the soft light of the April evening lay on everything like a benediction.
‘Wellsby Grange,’ said Mr. Pepperdine, pushing open a wicket-gate in the white fence and motioning the boy to enter. ‘The abode of Mr. and Mrs. Trippett, very particular friends of mine. I always leave my trap here when I have occasion to go by train—it would be sent over this morning, and we shall find it all ready for us presently.’
The boy followed his uncle up the path to the side-door of the farmhouse, his eyes taking in every detail of the scene. He was staring about him when the door opened, and revealed a jolly-faced, red-cheeked man with sandy whiskers and very blue eyes, who grinned delightedly at sight of Mr. Pepperdine, and held out a hand of considerable proportions.
‘We were just looking out for you,’ said he. ‘We heard the whistle, and the missis put the kettle on to boil up that minute. Come in, Simpson—come in, my lad—you’re heartily welcome. Now then, missis—they’re here.’
A stout, motherly-looking woman, with cherry-coloured ribbons in a nodding cap that crowned a head of glossy dark hair, came bustling to the door.
‘Come in, come in, Mr. Pepperdine—glad to see you safe back,’ said she. ‘And this’ll be your little nevvy. Come in, love, come in—you must be tired wi’ travelling all that way.’
The boy took off his hat with a courtly gesture, and stepped into the big, old-fashioned kitchen. He looked frankly at the farmer and his wife, and the woman, noting his beauty with quick feminine perception, put her arm round his neck and drew him to her.
‘Eh, but you’re a handsome lad!’ she said. ‘Come straight into the parlour and sit you down—the tea’ll be ready in a minute. What’s your name, my dear?’
The boy looked up at her—Mrs. Trippett’s memory, at the sight of his eyes, went back to the days of her girlhood.
‘My name is Lucian,’ he answered.
Mrs. Trippett looked at him again as if she had scarcely heard him reply to her question. She sighed, and with a sudden impetuous tenderness bent down and kissed him warmly on the cheek.
‘Off with your coat, my dear,’ she said cheerily. ‘And if you’re cold, sit down by the fire—if it is spring, it’s cold enough for fires at night. Now I’ll be back in a minute, and your uncle and the master’ll be coming—I lay they’ve gone to look at a poorly horse that we’ve got just now—and then we’ll have tea.’
She bustled from the room, the cherry-coloured ribbons streaming behind her. The boy, left alone, took off his overcoat and gloves, and laid them aside with his hat; then he put his hands in the pockets of his trousers, and examined his new surroundings.
Never before had Lucian seen the parlour of an English farmhouse, nor such a feast as that spread out on the square dinner-table. The parlour was long and wide and low-roofed, and the ceiling was spanned by beams of polished oak; a bright fire crackled in the old-fashioned grate, and a lamp burned on the table; but there were no blinds or curtains drawn over the latticed windows which overlooked the garden. Lucian’s observant eyes roved about the room, noting the quaint old pictures on the walls; the oil paintings of Mr. Trippett’s father and mother; the framed samplers and the fox’s brush; the silver cups on the sideboard, and the ancient blunderbuss which hung on the centre beam. It seemed to him that the parlour was delightfully quaint and picturesque; it smelled of dried roses and lavender and sweetbriar; there was an old sheep-dog on the hearth who pushed his muzzle into the boy’s hand, and a grandfather’s clock in one corner that ticked a solemn welcome to him. He had never seen such an interior before, and it appealed to his sense of the artistic.
Lucian’s eyes wandered at last to the table, spread for high tea. That was as new to him as the old pictures and samplers. A cold ham of generous proportions figured at one side of the table; a round of cold roast-beef at the other; the tea-tray filled up one end; opposite it space was left for something that was yet to come. This something presently appeared in the shape of a couple of roast fowls and a stand of boiled eggs, borne in by a strapping maid whose face shone like the setting sun, and who was sharply marshalled by Mrs. Trippett, carrying a silver teapot and a dish of hot muffins.
‘Now then, my dear,’ she said, giving a final glance over the table, ‘we can begin as soon as the gentlemen come, and I lay they won’t be long, for Mr. Pepperdine’ll be hungry after his journey, and so I’m sure are you. Come and sit down here and help yourself to an egg—they’re as fresh as morning dew—every one’s been laid this very day.’
The boy sat down and marvelled at the bountiful provision of Mrs. Trippett’s tea-table; it seemed to him that there was enough there to feed a regiment. But when Mr. Trippett and Mr. Pepperdine entered and fell to, he no longer wondered, for the one had been out in the fields all day, and the other had been engaged in the unusual task of travelling, and they were both exceptional trenchermen at any time. Mr. Trippett joked with the boy as they ate, and made sundry references to Yorkshire pudding and roast-beef which seemed to afford himself great satisfaction, and he heaped up his youthful visitor’s plate so generously that Lucian grew afraid.
‘Cut and come again,’ said Mr. Trippett, with his mouth full and his jaws working vigorously. ‘Nothing like a good appetite for growing lads—ah, I was always hungry when I was a boy. Never came amiss to me, didn’t food, never.’
‘But I’ve never eaten so much before,’ said Lucian, refusing his host’s pressing entreaty to have another slice off the breast, or a bit of cold ham. ‘I was hungry, too, or I couldn’t have eaten so much now.’
‘He’ll soon get up an appetite at Simonstower,’ said Mrs. Trippett. ‘You’re higher up than we are, Mr. Pepperdine, and the air’s keener with you. To be sure, our children have good enough appetites here—you should see them at meal times!—I’m sure I oft wonder wherever they put it all.’
‘It’s a provision of nature, ma’am,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘There’s some wonderful things in Nature.’
‘They’re wanting to see you, my dear,’ said Mrs. Trippett, ignoring her elder guest’s profound remark and looking at her younger one. ‘I told them Mr. Pepperdine was going to bring a young gentleman with him. You shall see them after tea—they’re out in the orchard now—they had their teas an hour ago, and they’ve gone out to play. There’s two of them—John and Mary. John’s about your own age, and Mary’s a year younger.’
‘Can’t I go out to them?’ said Lucian. ‘I will, if you will please to excuse me.’
‘With pleasure, my dear,’ said Mrs. Trippett. ‘Go by all means, if you’d like to. Go through the window there—you’ll hear them somewhere about, and they’ll show you their rabbits and things.’
The boy picked up his hat and went out. Mrs. Trippett followed him with meditative eyes.
‘He’s not shy, seemingly,’ she said, looking at Mr. Pepperdine.
‘Not he, ma’am. He’s an old-fashioned one, is the lad,’ answered Lucian’s uncle. ‘He’s the manners of a man in some things. I reckon, you see, that it’s because he’s never had other children to play with.’
‘He’s a handsome boy,’ sighed the hostess. ‘Like his father as I remember him. He was a fine-looking man, in a foreign way. But he’s his mother’s eyes—poor Lucy!’
‘Yes,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘He’s Lucy’s eyes, but all the rest of him’s like his father.’
‘Were you in time to see his father before he died?’ asked Mr. Trippett, who was now attacking the cold beef, after having demolished the greater part of a fowl. ‘You didn’t think you would be when you went off that morning.’
‘Just in time, just in time,’ answered Mr. Pepperdine. ‘Ay, just in time. He went very sudden and very peaceful. The boy was very brave and very old-fashioned about it—he never says anything now, and I don’t mention it.’
‘It’s best not,’ said Mrs. Trippett. ‘Poor little fellow!—of course, he’ll not remember his mother at all?’
‘No,’ said Mr. Pepperdine, shaking his head. ‘No, he was only two years old when his mother died.’
Mr. Trippett changed the subject, and began to talk of London and what Mr. Pepperdine had seen there. But when the tea-table had been cleared, and Mrs. Trippett had departed to the kitchen regions to bustle amongst her maids, and the two farmers were left in the parlour with the spirit decanters on the table, their tumblers at their elbows and their pipes in their mouths, the host referred to Mr. Pepperdine’s recent mission with some curiosity.
‘I never rightly heard the story of this nephew of yours,’ he said. ‘You see, I hadn’t come to these parts when your sister was married. The missis says she remembers her, ’cause she used to visit hereabouts in days past. It were a bit of a romance like, eh?’
Mr. Pepperdine took a pull at his glass and shook his head.
‘Ah!’ said he oracularly. ‘It was. A romance like those you read of in the story-books. I remember the beginning of it all as well as if it were yesterday. Lucy—that was the lad’s mother, my youngest sister, you know, Trippett—was a girl then, and the prettiest in all these parts: there’s nobody’ll deny that.’
‘I always understood that she was a beauty,’ said Mr. Trippett.
‘And you understood rightly. There wasn’t Lucy’s equal for beauty in all the county,’ affirmed Mr. Pepperdine. ‘The lad has her eyes—eh, dear, I’ve heard high and low talk of her eyes. But he’s naught else of hers—all the rest his father’s—Lucy was fair.’
He paused to apply a glowing coal to the tobacco in his long pipe, and he puffed out several thick clouds of smoke before he resumed his story.
‘Well, Lucy was nineteen when this Mr. Cyprian Damerel came along. You can ask your missis what like he was—women are better hands at describing a man’s looks than a man is. He were a handsome young man, but foreign in appearance, though you wouldn’t ha’ told it from his tongue. The boy’ll be like him some day. He came walking through Simonstower on his way from Scarhaven, and naught would content him but that he must set up his easel and make a picture of the village. He found lodgings at old Mother Grant’s, and settled down, and he was one of that sort that makes themselves at home with everybody in five minutes. He’d an open face and an open hand; he’d talk to high and low in just the same way; and he’d a smile for everybody.’
‘And naturally all the lasses fell in love with him,’ suggested Mr. Trippett, with a hearty laugh. ‘I’ve heard my missis say he’d a way with him that was taking with the wenches—specially them as were inclined that way, like.’
‘Undoubtedly he had,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘Undoubtedly he had. But after he’d seen her, he’d no eyes for any lass but our Lucy. He fell in love with her and she with him as naturally as a duckling takes to water. Ah! I don’t think I ever did see two young people quite so badly smitten as they were. It became evident to everybody in the place. But he acted like a man all through—oh yes! My mother was alive then, you know, Trippett,’ Mr. Pepperdine continued, with a sigh. ‘She was a straight-laced ’un, was my mother, and had no liking for foreigners, and Damerel had a livelyish time with her when he came to th’ house and asked her, bold as brass, if he might marry her daughter.’
‘I’ll lay he wo’d; I’ll lay he wo’d,’ chuckled Mr. Trippett.
‘Ay, and so he had,’ continued Mr. Pepperdine. ‘She was very stiff and stand-off, was our old lady, and she treated him to some remarks about foreigners and papists, and what not, and gave him to understand that she’d as soon seen her daughter marry a gipsy as a strolling artist, ’cause you see, being old-fashioned, she’d no idea of what an artist, if he’s up to his trade, can make. But he was one too many for her, was Damerel. He listened to all she had to say, and then he offered to give her references about himself, and he told her who he was, the son of an Italian gentleman that had come to live in England ’cause of political reasons, and what he earned, and he made it clear enough that Lucy wouldn’t want for bread and butter, nor a silk gown neither.’
‘Good reasoning,’ commented Mr. Trippett. ‘Very good reasoning. Love-making’s all very well, but it’s nowt wi’out a bit o’ money at th’ back on’t.’
‘Well, there were no doubt about Damerel’s making money,’ said Mr. Pepperdine, ‘and we’d soon good proof o’ that; for as soon as he’d finished his picture of the village he sold it to th’ Earl for five hundred pound, and it hangs i’ the dining-room at th’ castle to this day. I saw it the last time I paid my rent there. Mistress Jones, th’ housekeeper, let me have a look at it. And of course, seeing that the young man was able to support a wife, th’ old lady had to give way, and they were married. Fifteen year ago that is,’ concluded Mr. Pepperdine with a shake of the head. ‘Dear-a-me! it seems only like yesterday since that day—they made the handsomest bride and bridegroom I ever saw.’
‘She died soon, didn’t she?’ inquired Mr. Trippett.
‘Lived a matter of four years after the marriage,’ answered Mr. Pepperdine. ‘She wasn’t a strong woman, wasn’t poor Lucy—there was something wrong with her lungs, and after the boy came she seemed to wear away. He did all that a man could, did her husband—took her off to the south of Europe. Eh, dear, the letters that Keziah and Judith used to have from her, describing the places she saw—they read fair beautiful! But it were no good—she died at Rome, poor lass, when the boy was two years old.’
‘Poor thing!’ said Mr. Trippett. ‘And had all that she wanted, seemingly.’
‘Everything,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘Her life was short but sweet, as you may say.’
‘And now he’s gone an’ all,’ said Mr. Trippett.
Mr. Pepperdine nodded.
‘Ay,’ he said, ‘he’s gone an’ all. I don’t think he ever rightly got over his wife’s death—anyway, he led a very restless life ever after, first one place and then another, never settling anywhere. Sometimes it was Italy, sometimes Paris, sometimes London—he’s seen something, has that boy. Ay, he’s dead, is poor Damerel.’
‘Leave owt behind him like?’ asked Mr. Trippett sententiously.
Mr. Pepperdine polished the end of his nose.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘there’ll be a nice little nest-egg for the boy when all’s settled up, I dare say. He wasn’t a saving sort of man, I should think, but dear-a-me, he must ha’ made a lot of money in his time—and spent it, too.’
‘Easy come and easy go,’ said Mr. Trippett. ‘I’ve heard that’s the way with that sort. Will this lad take after his father, then?’
‘Nay,’ said Mr. Pepperdine, ‘I don’t think he will. He can’t draw a line—doesn’t seem to have it in him. Curious thing that, but it is so. No—he’s all for reading. I never saw such a lad for books. He’s got a great chest full o’ books at the station yonder—wouldn’t leave London without them.’
‘Happen turn out a parson or a lawyer,’ suggested Mr. Trippett.
‘Nay,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘It’s my impression he’ll turn out a poet, or something o’ that sort. They tell me there’s a good living to be made out o’ that nowadays.’
Mr. Trippett lifted the kettle on to the brightest part of the fire, mixed himself another glass of grog, and pushed the decanter towards his friend.
‘There were only a poorish market at Oakbro’ t’other day,’ he said. ‘Very low prices, and none so much stuff there, nayther.’
Mr. Pepperdine followed his host’s example with respect to the grog, and meditated upon the market news. They plunged into a discussion upon prices. Mrs. Trippett entered the room, took up a basket of stockings, planted herself in her easy-chair, and began to look for holes in toes and heels. The two farmers talked; the grandfather’s clock ticked; the fire crackled; the whole atmosphere was peaceful and homelike. At last the talk of prices and produce was interrupted by the entrance of the stout serving-maid.
‘If you please’m, there’s Jim Wood from the station with two trunks for Mr. Pepperdine, and he says is he to put ’em in Mr. Pepperdine’s trap?’ she said, gazing at her mistress.
‘Tell him to put them in the shed,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘I’ll put ’em in the trap myself. And here, my lass, give him this for his trouble,’ he added, diving into his pocket and producing a shilling.
‘And give him a pint o’ beer and something to eat,’ said Mr. Trippett.
‘Give him some cold beef and pickles, Mary,’ said Mrs. Trippett.
Mary responded ‘Yes, sir—Yes’m,’ and closed the door. Mr. Pepperdine, gazing at the clock with an air of surprise, remarked that he had no idea it was so late, and he must be departing.
‘Nowt o’ th’ sort!’ said Mr. Trippett. ‘You’re all right for another hour—help yourself, my lad.’
‘The little boy’s all right,’ said Mrs. Trippett softly. ‘He’s soon made friends with John and Mary—they were as thick as thieves when I left them just now.’
‘Then let’s be comfortable,’ said the host. ‘Dang my buttons, there’s nowt like comfort by your own fireside. And how were London town looking, then, Mr. Pepperdine?—mucky as ever, I expect.’
Mr. Pepperdine, with a replenished glass and a newly charged pipe, plunged into a description of what he had seen in London. The time slipped away—the old clock struck nine at last, and suddenly reminded him that he had six miles to drive and that his sisters would be expecting his arrival with the boy.
‘Time flies fast in good company,’ he remarked as he rose with evident reluctance. ‘I always enjoy an evening by your hospitable fireside, Mrs. Trippett, ma’am.’
‘You’re in a great hurry to leave it, anyhow,’ said Mr. Trippett, with a broad grin. ‘Sit ye down again, man—you’ll be home in half an hour with that mare o’ yours, and it’s only nine o’clock, and ten to one th’ owd clock’s wrong.’
‘Ay, but my watch isn’t,’ answered Mr. Pepperdine. ‘Nay, we must go—Keziah and Judith’ll be on the look-out for us, and they’ll want to see the boy.’
‘Ay, I expect they will,’ said Mr. Trippett. ‘Well, if you must you must—take another glass and light a cigar.’
Mr. Pepperdine refused neither of these aids to comfort, and lingered a few minutes longer. But at last they all went out into the great kitchen, Mrs. Trippett leading the way with words of regret at her guest’s departure. She paused upon the threshold and turned to the two men with a gesture which commanded silence.
The farmhouse kitchen, quaint and picturesque with its old oak furniture, its flitches of bacon and great hams hanging from the ceiling, its bunches of dried herbs and strings of onions depending from hooks in the corners, its wide fireplace and general warmth and cheeriness, formed the background of a group which roused some sense of the artistic in Mrs. Trippett’s usually matter-of-fact intellect. On the long settle which stretched on one side of the hearth sat four shock-headed ploughboys, leaning shoulder to shoulder; in an easy-chair opposite sat the red-cheeked maid-servant; close to her, on a low stool, sat a little girl with Mrs. Trippett’s features and eyes, whose sunny hair fell in wavy masses over her shoulders; behind her, hands in pockets, sturdy and strong, stood a miniature edition of Mr. Trippett, even to the sandy hair, the breeches, and the gaiters; in the centre of the floor, at a round table on which stood a great oil lamp, sat the porter, busy with a round of beef, a foaming tankard of ale, and a crusty loaf. Of these eight human beings a similar peculiarity was evident. Each one sat with mouth more or less open—the ploughboys’ mouths in particular had revolved themselves into round O’s, while the porter, struck as it were in the very act of forking a large lump of beef into a cavernous mouth, looked like a man who has suddenly become paralysed and cannot move. The maid-servant’s eyes were wider than her mouth; the little girl shrank against the maid’s apron as if afraid—it was only the sturdy boy in the rear who showed some symptoms of a faint smile. And the object upon which all eyes were fixed was Lucian, who stood on the hearth, his back to the fire, his face glowing in the lamplight, winding up in a low and thrilling voice the last passages of what appeared to be a particularly blood-curdling narrative.
Mr. Trippett poked Mr. Pepperdine in the ribs.
‘Seems to ha’ fixed ’em,’ he whispered. ‘Gow—the lad’s gotten the gift o’ the gab!—he talks like a book.’
‘H’sh,’ commanded Mrs. Trippett.
‘And so the body hung on the gibbet,’ Lucian was saying, ‘through all that winter, and the rain, and the hail, and the snow fell upon it, and when the spring came again there remained nothing but the bones of the brigand, and they were bleached as white as the eternal snows; and Giacomo came and took them down and buried them in the little cemetery under the cypress-trees; but the chain still dangles from the gibbet, and you may hear it rattle as you pass that way as it used to rattle when Luigi’s bones hung swaying in the wind.’
The spell was broken; the porter sighed deeply, and conveyed the interrupted forkful to his mouth; the ploughboys drew deep breaths, and looked as if they had arisen from a deep sleep; the little girl, catching sight of her mother, ran to her with a cry of ‘Is it true? Is it true?’ and Mr. Trippett brought everybody back to real life by loud calls for Mr. Pepperdine’s horse and trap. Then followed the putting on of overcoats and wraps, and the bestowal of a glass of ginger-wine upon Lucian by Mr. Trippett, in order that the cold might be kept out, and then good-nights and Godspeeds, and he was in the dogcart at Mr. Pepperdine’s side, and the mare, very fresh, was speeding over the six miles of highway which separated Mr. Trippett’s stable from her own.
While Mr. Pepperdine refreshed himself at his friend’s house, his sisters awaited the coming of himself and his charge with as much patience as they could summon to their aid. Each knew that patience was not only necessary, but inevitable. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Mr. Pepperdine to have driven straight home from the station and supped in his own parlour, and that, under the circumstances, would have seemed the most reasonable thing to do. But Mr. Pepperdine made a rule of never passing the gates of the Grange Farm, and his sisters knew that he would tarry there on his homeward journey, accept Mrs. Trippett’s invitation to tea, and spend an hour or two afterwards in convivial intercourse with Mr. Trippett. That took place every market-day and every time Mr. Pepperdine had occasion to travel by train; and the Misses Pepperdine knew that it would go on taking place as long as their brother Simpson and his friends at the Grange Farm continued to exist.
At nine o’clock Miss Pepperdine, who had been knitting by the parlour fire since seven, grew somewhat impatient.
‘I think Simpson might have come home straight from the station,’ she said in sharp, decided tones. ‘The child is sure to be tired.’
Miss Judith Pepperdine, engaged on fancy needlework on the opposite side of the hearth, shook her head.
‘Simpson never passes the Grange,’ she said. ‘That night I came with him from Oakborough last winter, I couldn’t get him to come home. He coaxed me to go in for just ten minutes, and we had to stop four hours.’
Miss Pepperdine sniffed. Her needles clicked vigorously for a few minutes longer; she laid them down at a quarter past nine, went across the parlour to a cupboard, unlocked it, produced a spirit-case and three glasses, and set them on the table in the middle of the room. At the same moment a tap sounded on the door, and a maid entered bearing a jug of hot water, a dish of lemons, and a bowl of sugar. She was about to leave the room after setting her tray down when Miss Pepperdine stopped her.
‘I wonder what the boy had better have, Judith?’ she said, looking at her sister. ‘He’s sure to have had a good tea at the Grange—Sarah Trippett would see to that—but he’ll be cold. Some hot milk, I should think. Bring some new milk in the brass pan, Anne, and another glass—I’ll heat it myself over this fire.’
Then, without waiting to hear whether Miss Judith approved the notion of hot milk or not, she sat down to her knitting again, and when the maid had brought the brass pan and the glass and withdrawn, the parlour became hushed and silent. It was an old-world room—there was not an article of furniture in it that was less than a hundred years old, and the old silver and old china arranged in the cabinets and on the side-tables were as antiquated as the chairs, the old bureau, and the pictures. Everything was old, good, and substantial; everything smelled of a bygone age and of dried rose-leaves.
The two sisters, facing each other across the hearth, were in thorough keeping with the old-world atmosphere of their parlour. Miss Keziah Pepperdine, senior member of the family, and by no means afraid of admitting that she had attained her fiftieth year, was tall and well-built; a fine figure of a woman, with a handsome face, jet-black hair, and eyes of a decided keenness. There was character and decision in her every movement; in her sharp, incisive speech; in her quick glance; and in the nervous, resolute click of her knitting needles. As she knitted, she kept her lips pursed tightly together and her eyes fixed upon her work: it needed little observation to make sure that whatever Miss Pepperdine did would be done with resolution and thoroughness. She was a woman to be respected rather than loved; feared more than honoured; and there was a flash in her hawk’s eyes, and a grimness about her mouth, which indicated a temper that could strike with force and purpose. Further indications of her character were seen in her attire, which was severely simple—a gown of black, unrelieved by any speck of white, hanging in prim, straight folds, and utterly unadorned, but, to a knowing eye, fashioned of most excellent and costly material.
Judith Pepperdine, many years younger than her sister, was dressed in black too, but the sombreness of her attire was relieved by white cuffs and collar, and by a very long thin gold chain, which was festooned twice round her neck ere it sought refuge in the watch-pocket at her waist. She had a slender figure of great elegance, and was proud of it, just as she was proud of the fact that at forty years of age she was still a pretty woman. There was something of the girl still left in her: some dreaminess of eye, a suspicion of coquetry, an innate desire to please the other sex and to be admired by men. Her cheek was still smooth and peach-like; her eyes still bright, and her brown hair glossy; old maid that she undoubtedly was, there were many good-looking girls in the district who had not half her attractions. To her natural good looks Judith Pepperdine added a native refinement and elegance; she knew how to move about a room and walk the village street. Her smile was famous—old Dr. Stubbins, of Normanfold, an authority in such matters, said that for sweetness and charm he would back Judith Pepperdine’s smile against the world.
There were many people who wondered why the handsome Miss Pepperdine had never married, but there was scarcely one who knew why she had remained and meant to remain single. Soon after the marriage of her sister Lucy to Cyprian Damerel, Judith developed a love-affair of her own with a dashing cavalry man, a sergeant of the 13th Hussars, then quartered at Oakborough. He was a handsome young man, the son of a local farmer, and his ambition had been for soldiering from boyhood. Coming into the neighbourhood in all his glory, and often meeting Judith at the houses of mutual friends, he had soon laid siege to her and captured her susceptible heart. Their engagement was kept secret, for old Mrs. Pepperdine had almost as great an objection to soldiers as to foreigners, and would have considered a non-commissioned officer beneath her daughter’s notice. The sergeant, however, had aspirations—it was his hope to secure a commission in an infantry regiment, and his ambition in this direction seemed likely to be furthered when his regiment was ordered out to India and presently engaged in a frontier campaign. But there his good luck came to an untimely end—he performed a brave action which won him the Victoria Cross, but he was so severely wounded in doing it that he died soon afterwards, and Judith’s romance came to a bitter end. She had had many offers of marriage since, and had refused them all—the memory of the handsome Hussar still lived in her sentimental heart, and her most cherished possession was the cross which he had won and had not lived to receive. Time had healed the wound: she no longer experienced the pangs and sorrows of her first grief. Everything had been mellowed down into a soft regret, and the still living affection for the memory of a dead man kept her heart young.
That night Judith for once in a while had no thought of her dead lover—she was thinking of the boy whom Simpson was bringing to them. She remembered Lucy with wondering thoughts, trying to recall her as she was when Cyprian Damerel took her away to London and a new life. None of her own people had ever seen Lucy again—they were stay-at-home folk, and the artist and his wife had spent most of their short married life on the Continent. Now Damerel, too, was dead, and the boy was coming back to his mother’s people, and Judith, who was given to dreaming, speculated much concerning him.
‘I wonder,’ she said, scarcely knowing that she spoke, ‘I wonder what Lucian will be like.’
‘And I wonder,’ said Miss Pepperdine, ‘if Damerel has left any money for him.’
‘Surely!’ exclaimed Judith. ‘He earned such large sums by his paintings.’
Miss Pepperdine’s needles clicked more sharply than ever.
‘He spent large sums too,’ she said. ‘I’ve heard of the way in which he lived. He was an extravagant man, like most of his sort. That sort of money is earned easily and spent easily. With his ideas and his tastes, he ought to have been a duke. I hope he has provided for the boy—times are not as good as they might be.’
‘You would never begrudge anything to Lucy’s child, sister?’ said Judith timidly, and with a wistful glance at Miss Pepperdine’s stern countenance. ‘I’m sure I shouldn’t—he is welcome to all I have.’
Tysiące ebooków i audiobooków
Ich liczba ciągle rośnie, a Ty masz gwarancję niezmiennej ceny.
Napisali o nas:
Nowy sposób na e-księgarnię
Czytelnicy nie wierzą
Legimi idzie na całość
Projekt Legimi wielkim wydarzeniem
Spotify for ebooks