Naboth’s Vineyard - Fred M. White - ebook

Naboth’s Vineyard ebook

Fred M White



The story of Naboth, who owned a vineyard in Jezreel.Ahab, claims to be a Naboth vineyard. He says: „I want to use the land for a vegetable garden. I will give you the best vineyard.” Naboth. replies that he inherited this vineyard and is not going to dress him.

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Liczba stron: 63

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‘BUT it is such a pretty scheme, Heath. The place has been my envy for years; and now to let such an opportunity go by would be almost like flying in the face of Providence.’

Colonel Sandhurst spoke very warmly; in a way, indeed, which was quite a contrast to his usual calm judicious utterance. He had his long neatly clad limbs planted very widely apart before the fireplace of Mr Heath’s private office; while the latter gentleman sat at a desk stabbing a blotting-pad with a penknife, as if he were slaughtering his client’s arguments as they cropped up, hydra-headed, before this legal Hercules.

‘It is a pretty scheme,’ said he, with a certain dry irritation. ‘I’ve seen plenty of them in my time–mostly failures. And I don’t mind telling you in all candour that I hope this will be one. Why can’t you leave Mrs Charlesworth alone? Here you have one of the most beautiful places in Sussex, a handsome almost princely income to keep it up, and yet nothing but the possession of Fernleigh will content you.’

‘But don’t you see there is no house on my property down here?–three thousand acres in a ring-fence with Fernleigh and its five hundred right in the centre. It seems very hard–’

‘It is a great deal harder for my poor client, Mrs Charlesworth, to turn out of her old home.–Oh! of course as mortgagee you have a perfect right to foreclose, and I am a great fool to allow sentiment in business.’

‘But if the woman can’t afford to live there, what right has she to stay?’

‘Cannot you understand that if this long-delayed Chancery business was concluded, she would have ample means? I wish you would abandon this plan, Sandhurst; I do indeed. If you only knew how attached the poor little woman is to her home; how happy she is there with her daughter, and her blind boy–there, hang it, you couldn’t do it! Of course I am a weak-minded old man, but–’

The Colonel pulled his long moustaches in some perturbation of spirit. Usually speaking, he was a kind-hearted individual enough, and really felt very sorry for Mrs Charlesworth’s unmerited misfortunes. But at the same time it is very annoying, as most landed proprietors know, to have a long stretch of some one else’s property exactly in the centre of your own. And, moreover, the Bartonsham estate was celebrated for its preserves, while the unhappy owner of Fernleigh had no sympathy with the pursuit of either foxes or pheasants. Colonel Sandhurst had no personal antipathy to his neighbour; nevertheless, when an opportunity offered for a heavy mortgage, he jumped at the chance. And now that more than two years’ interest was in arrear, and the Colonel in a position to foreclose at any moment, the temptation was too strong to be resisted.

‘I do not see why I should drag a lot of sentiment into the matter,’ he said reflectively. ‘Of course I am very sorry, and all that kind of thing; but if I don’t have it, some one else will, you see.’

‘I am afraid so,’ the lawyer groaned parenthetically. ‘I see that plainly enough.’

‘Very well, then. Again, if it comes to a sale, I shall probably be run up to a fancy sum by one or more of the lady’s friends.–Come, I will make you a proposition. My mortgage is for seven thousand five hundred, and for this the property is legally mine. But I don’t want to appear grasping. Suppose we call it a sale, and I give you another two thousand five hundred for your client I call that a fairly generous offer.’

Mr Heath dug his knife three times in rapid succession into the blotting-pad and dropped it with a sigh of defeat. Of course it was a generous offer, an extremely generous offer, and yet beyond the folded blue papers and red tape and tin boxes, there was before his mind’s eye a picture framed by a long avenue of ancient fruit-trees: the vision of a gentle-faced little lady with a blind lad leaning on her arm, and the last words she had said to him were ringing in his ears now. They were such simple words, too: ‘If I lose this,’ she had said with a wistful glance, ‘I lose all hope–not for myself, but for the children.’

‘I should like to refuse it,’ observed the lawyer. ‘I should like, metaphorically speaking, to throw your mortgage in your face and snap my fingers at your legal rights. It all comes of this atrocious sentiment; and the worst of it is that your offer is so magnificent, that, speaking as a man of business, I dare not refuse it; only you must give us a week to think it over.’

Colonel Sandhurst smiled benignly, and expanded, as a man will who is conscious of having done a generous action. ‘Fernleigh is a beautiful old house,’ he observed complacently, ‘and will be the very place for Frank and his bride. The old soldiers are pretty tough in a general way; but hard service begins to tell after fifty,’ and I should like to see my boy settled before long. Ethel Morton is an extremely nice girl, and will make the lad a good wife,’

‘Provided always, as we say, that the lad is willing. I wouldn’t set my heart too firmly upon that match, if I were you, Colonel. Captain Frank is no longer a boy, to be commanded into matrimony.’

‘He was always a very obedient son, though; and by Jove, sir, one to be proud of. Of course you heard all about that Victoria Cross and the fearful wound he received; but he will be here next week to answer for himself. In his last letter he says that the six months at Madeira have quite set him up again. If anything had happened to him–’

Here the speaker paused and hummed a fragment of operatic music with a great show of palpably assumed gaiety, while Mr Heath looked out across Castleford’s principal street, deeply interested in the facetious conversation of two cabmen in the sunny sleepy square below.

‘Would you like to go over Fernleigh?’ he asked suddenly, his mind still dwelling uneasily on the old topic ‘It would ease my client’s mind to know that she is not in the hands of an investment-seeking ogre; and, as a matter of fact, I don’t believe she knows the name of her principal creditor.–What do you say to running over one day this week?’

‘Well, I don’t know,’ said the gallant warrior hesitatingly; ‘it seems almost like an intrusion, and in anything but the best taste. You see I–’

‘Yes, I see you haven’t pluck enough to face Mrs Charlesworth. But, as you are bound to meet some time, the sooner the better. I am going out there this afternoon, and will mention it.’

The Colonel nodded slightly with a perplexed smile on his lips, but he did not answer, for the simple reason that Mr Heath was right. There was a momentary silence between them, in which the humorous conversation of the cabmen could be distinctly heard.

‘I mean to remain in the neighbourhood till this matter is settled one way or another,’ replied the ex-dragoon at length; ‘and Frank will probably join me at the Green Dragon later on. And if it is a question of another thousand you will not find me obdurate.’

With this parting magnificence the colonel extended his neatly gloved hand, and took his way down the dark stairs, and thence into the High Town with the air of a man who has discharged a delicate commission in an eminently praiseworthy fashion.

But if he felt on such excellent terms with himself, not so Mr Heath. The worthy solicitor was fain to own himself beaten, and handsomely beaten at that, for it is really hard to quarrel with a man who insists upon making a total stranger a present of such a good round sum as three thousand and some odd hundreds of pounds.

Mr Heath felt genuinely sorry for his old friend and client, Mrs Charlesworth; a sympathy none the less keen because at one time, many years ago, there had been the dream of a home over which Margaret Hay was to have held the undisputed sway and sovereignty. As the practical business-man gazed out through the grimy windows, memory was very busy with him, jumbled up strangely with business instincts and vague shadowy plans for Margaret Charlesworth’s welfare. The old bachelor’s heart was still green enough to realise the poignant sorrow which the loss of her home would be to the only woman who had ever caused his pulses to beat the faster. And as he drove along the deep country lanes an hour later, he seemed more strongly to realise what a wrench it would be. In the valley lay Fernleigh, its twisted chimney stacks above the belt of immemorial elms, where the rooks were busy, and doves crooned in the peaceful silence of the afternoon. But a stone’s-throw down the road between high hedges, where violet and foxglove and dog-roses were blooming, were the gates, moss-grown and rusted, but still beautiful, for they had come from the foundry of Quintin Matsys, carried hither more than two hundred years ago by some art-loving Hay, who had followed the profession of the sword, as gentlemen did in those days. Beyond the gates lay a short circular sweep leading to the house, a gray stone building with pointed gables richly carved with birds and flowers, as one sees them occasionally in districts where the soldiers of the Commonwealth failed to penetrate; while on either side of the smoothly shaven lawn, with its spreading copper beeches, was a sloping bank topped by a thick laurel hedge, beyond which lay the gardens, each enclosed by high stone walls.

And if Mrs Charlesworth loved one part of her fair demesne better than another, it was the garden. There appeared to be no serious attempt at order, as one sees in such places nowadays, for the mossy paths were overgrown with eglantine and tulip and York roses, shaded by espaliers and arched bowers of the filbert and golden pippin, with just enough neatness in its elegant disorder to show the hand of care. There was a fragrance in the air, a scent of sweet brier and lavender, mingled with mignonette half-hidden under the fallen petals of the apple blossom. The same now as it might have been a century since; the same as its sorrowing mistress first remembered it, when as a tiny child she rode on her father’s shoulder and plucked the sunny peaches on the ripe south wall; the same as when her whitening hair was a tangled net of gold and her violet eyes stirred sleeping hearts in vain. For Fernleigh had been her own home before Vivian Charlesworth had distanced all rivals and won the heart of Margaret Hay; a place to see and love, but a place to leave with lingering and regret

Mr Heath walked his horse along the drive, under the shadow of an arching belt of chestnuts in the full glory of leaf and flower, past the open hall door with a cool dim vision of polished oak and blue china beyond. In the green court, wallflowers flourished on the stone buttresses, there were ferns on the stable roof amongst the stone-crop and celandine. There was no helper in the yard, so the visitor put up his own horse, and having done so, mounted a short flight of steps, and pushing back a little rustic gate under two cropped yew-trees, entered the garden. Walking there under the apple boughs was the mistress of Fernleigh, a book in her hand, the other resting on the shoulder of a boy some twelve years of age.

There were gray lines in the soft bright hair under the white lace cap, a subdued sadness in the fair face, otherwise untouched by the ruffling hand of time; and yet a pleasant beautiful face, for beauty at fifty is something we like to gaze upon again. As she looked up, her eyes fell upon Heath with a pleased smile of welcome.

‘This is very good of you,’ she said. ‘You guessed where we should be found. I thought Vivian had had enough music, so we came out here, and brought Vanity Fair with us.’

‘Which character do you like best, Mr Heath?’ asked the boy eagerly. ‘George Osborne or Major Dobbin? We prefer the Major.’

‘Being unpractical people, naturally,’ answered the lawyer.–‘Perhaps I have a sneaking affection for him myself; though, professionally speaking, I dare not say so openly.–So that is the last hero, Vivian?’

Vivian turned his wide blue eyes in the speaker’s direction–those sightless eyes, that seemed, none the less, to read the very soul of those they encountered–and a slightly puzzled expression crept into his face.

‘Why cannot you say what you think?’ he asked.

‘Because we do not dwell in the palace of Truth, my child.–And now, run away to your music while I talk business with the mother, though it does seem a sin to bring red tape into this pure atmosphere.’

The boy walked slowly away down the path, touching a leafy spray here and there with outstretched fingers. For a moment they both stood watching him; the one tenderly, almost yearningly, the other with a shade of sadness and pity in his honest gray eyes.

‘John,’ exclaimed Mrs Charlesworth, suddenly turning to her companion, ‘if it were not for him the parting would not be so keen.’

‘Keen enough to break your heart,’ returned the lawyer gruffly. ‘You cannot yet realise it, Margaret. I know your feelings, perhaps better than you comprehend them yourself. When yon love every inch of the ground–’

‘I do–that is true enough. And the thought of it all keeps me awake at nights, it haunts me as I walk here by day. Cannot you understand what it is to love every tree and leaf and flower–to have a tender association or wistful memory attached to each single foot of soil? There is everlasting youth for me here, but still–’

John Heath at this moment was seized with a sudden fit of coughing, a circumstance which perhaps accounted for the unusual dimness in his eyes. Conscious of some feeling of inherent weakness, he became more dry and business-like than usual; his habit when touched.

‘If this wonderful memory of yours would enable you to remember where your grandfather hid that precious assignment, it would be the better for all parties concerned. Allowing that the deed cannot be found, Miss Morton takes the whole of the funded property. But if we can only discover it, the fifty thousand pounds at present invested in consols goes to you, and the Kingswell estates besides.’

‘It never will be found; indeed, I almost doubt if it was ever executed,’ said Mrs Charlesworth wearily. ‘It is all so strange and puzzling.’

‘Not at all. When you married your cousin, Vivian Charlesworth, who was a great scoundrel, if I am any judge–’

‘John, he was my husband, and he is dead.’

‘And a good thing too,’ exclaimed the lawyer hotly.–‘Well, you know how angry your grandfather, Martin Hay, was about that, though you were his favourite grandchild. By his will he left everything to your cousin Mary, who afterwards married Wilfred Morton. Of course you remember how the old gentleman used to boast that he never altered his mind; and when his feelings changed towards you, he refused to make a new will. But by deed he assigned to you the income arising from the London property, and the Kingswell estates. There is no doubt whatever about that. The assignment was given into the custody of your father, and held by him up to the time of his death. And it is my opinion that when Vivian Charlesworth got hold of the title-deeds to this place and tried to raise money on them (as he did), he must have found it somewhere, and laid it aside for future use.’

Mrs Charlesworth followed this story with a vague idea as to her legal adviser’s meaning. Then, with some faint show of interest, she inquired if Heath knew anything of this unknown relative who seemed determined to take the full measure of her legal rights.

‘All I know is that she is young, and is, moreover, being well advised–that is, from a purely business point of view. You see they have everything on their side, and plenty of money to prosecute the suit. If they refuse to accept my offer of a compromise, Fernleigh must go.’

The listener caught the full significance of these last words, and her breath came a little more quickly. She looked up at the blue sky above the apple blooms, and away down the dim green avenue to the house beyond. How bitterly hard it seemed, doubly hard standing there in the full fresh beauty of the summer afternoon, hallowed by the sweet recollection of a thousand such, a maze of pleasant memory, back to the dim remembrance of childhood.

John Heath waited to allow the whole force of the declaration to strike home before he resumed again. ‘Believe me it is best to tell you this plainly, though it is painful enough to me. I have had a long talk with your mortgagee this afternoon, and he has made what I consider to be a handsome offer. Of course he can take the whole place as it stands at any moment; but he will do better than that: he will buy the place for three thousand five hundred over his claim.’

‘That is very generous,’ said Mrs Charlesworth with an unsteady smile. ‘Would not that sum invested at five per cent bring us in a hundred and seventy-five pounds a year? Three people can live on that.’

‘A great many people live on less. And besides, if I am any judge of Miss Gladys’ character, she will be no weight on your hands.–Margaret, you are singularly blessed in your daughter.’

‘I am blessed in both my children, John. Now I suppose you will want to bring my generous creditor over here soon? I wish I could feel sufficiently grateful, but I am rebellious as yet And if you can forget business for a time, perhaps a cup of tea–’

‘Not this afternoon, thank you; I must be in Castleford by six. I will let you know when the colonel is coming.’

They walked down the garden path side by side; and as Heath brought his trap round, Vivian stole from the house to his mother’s side. He seemed by some subtle instinct to feel her presence near him, as he could tell the footsteps of those he loved.

‘Mother, are you unhappy? he asked.

‘I, dear? Why should you think that?’

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This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.