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   Chapter 3 No.3

Aunt Rachel / A Rustic Sentimental Comedy By David Christie Murray Characters: 17145

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


In the mean time the young man in the tasselled cap and the patent-leathers had strolled leisurely in the opposite direction to that the earl had taken, and in a little while-still followed by the valet, who bore his painting tools-had climbed into a field knee-deep in grass which was ready for the scythe. At the bottom of this meadow ran a little purling stream, with a slant willow growing over it. In obedience to the young gentleman's instructions, the valet set down his burden here, and having received orders to return in an hour's time, departed. The young gentleman sketched the willow and the brook in no very masterly fashion, but at a sort of hasty random, and tiring of his self-imposed task before half an hour was over, threw himself at length beside the brook, and there, lulled by the ripple of the water and the slumberous noise of insects, fell asleep. The valet's returning footsteps awoke him. He rolled over idly and lit a new cigar.

"Shall I take back the things to the Hall, sir?" asked the servant.

"Yes, take them back to the Hall," said the young gentleman, lazily. Rising to his feet, he produced a small pocket-mirror, and having surveyed the reflection of his features, arranged his scarf, cocked his cap, and sauntered from the field. His way led him past a high time-crumbled wall, over which a half score of trees pushed luxuriant branches. The wall was some ten feet in height, and in the middle of it was a green-painted door which opened inward. It was not quite closed, and a mere streak of sunlit grass could be seen within.

As the idle young gentleman sauntered along with his hands folded behind him, his eyes half closed, and his nose in the air, a sudden burst of music reached his ears and brought him to a stand-still. It surprised him a little, partly because it was extremely well played, and partly because the theme was classic and but little known. He moved his head from side to side to make out, if possible, the inmates of the garden, but he could see nothing but the figure of a girl, who leaned her hands upon a tree and her cheek upon her hands. This, however, was enough to pique curiosity, for the figure was singularly graceful, and had fallen into an attitude of unstudied elegance. He pushed the door an inch wider, and so far enlarged his view that he could see the musicians-three old men and a young one-who sat in the middle of a grassy space and ploughed away at the music with a will. Not caring to be observed in his clandestine espial he drew back a little, still keeping the figure of the girl in sight, and listened to the music.

He was so absorbed that the sudden spectacle of the Earl of Barfield, who came round the corner with a ladder on his shoulder, startled him a little. His lordship was followed by Joseph Beaker, who bore the saw and the billhook, and the old nobleman was evidently somewhat fatigued, and carried the ladder with difficulty. Seeing his young friend, he propped his burden against the wall and mopped his forehead, casting an upward glance at the boughs which stretched their pleasant shadow overhead.

"Well, Ferdinand," he said, in a discontented voice, "what are you doing here?"

"I am listening to the music," said Ferdinand, in answer.

"The music?" said his lordship. "That caterwauling?" He waved a hand towards the wall. "Old Fuller and his friends."

"They play capitally," said Ferdinand; "for country people they play capitally. They are amateurs, of course?"

"Do they?" asked the earl, somewhat eagerly; "do they, really? Tell 'em so, tell 'em so. Nothing so likely"-he dropped his voice to a whisper-"nothing so likely to catch old Fuller's vote as that. He's mad on music. I haven't ventured to call on him for a long time. We had quite a little fracas years ago about these overhanging boughs. They're quite an eyesore-quite an eyesore; but he won't have 'em touched; won't endure it. Joseph, you can carry the ladder home. We'll go in, Ferdinand-it's an admirable opportunity. I've been wondering how to approach old Fuller, and this is the very thing-the very thing."

"Wait until they have finished," said the younger man; and Joseph having shouldered the ladder and gone off with it in his own crab-like way, the two stood together until the musicians in the garden had finished the theme upon which they were engaged.

The earl pushed open the garden door and entered, Ferdinand following in the rear. The girl turned at the noise made by the shrieking hinges, and stood somewhat irresolutely, as if uncertain. Finally, she bowed in a manner sufficiently distant and ceremonious. Ferdinand put up an eye-glass and surveyed her with an air of criticism, while the old nobleman advanced briskly towards the table around which the musicians were seated.

"Good-day, Fuller, good-day," he said, in a hearty voice; "don't let me disturb you, I beg. We heard your beautiful music as we passed by, and stopped to listen to it. This is my young friend, Mr. De Blacquaire, who's going to stand, you know, for this division of the county. Mr. De Blacquaire is a great amateur of music, and was delighted with your playing-delighted."

"I was charmed, indeed," said Ferdinand. "There are lovers of music everywhere, of course, but I had not expected to find so advanced a company of amateurs in Heydon Hay. That final passage was exquisitely rendered."

The earl stood with a smile distorted in the sunlight, looking alternately from the candidate to the voters.

"Exquisitely rendered, I am sure," he said-"exquisitely rendered. Praise from Mr. De Blacquaire is worth having, let me tell you, Fuller. Mr. De Blacquaire is himself a distinguished musician. Ah! my old friend Eld! How do you do? how do you do?"

This greeting was addressed to Sennacherib, who had arisen on the earl's arrival, had deliberately turned his back, and was now engaged in turning over the leaves of music which lay on the table before him.

"Sennacherib," said Isaiah, mildly, "his lordship's a-talking to thee."

"I can hear," responded Sennacherib, "as he's a-talking to one on us. As for me, I'm none the better for being axed."

"And none the worse, I hope," said his lordship, as cheerily as he could.

"Nayther wuss nor better, so far as I can see," replied Sennacherib.

"Come, come, Mr. Eld," said Fuller. "Harmony! harmony!"

"I was a-tekin' my walks abroad this mornin'," said Sennacherib, still bending over his music, "when I see that petted hound of the vicar's mek a fly at a mongrel dog as had a bone. The mongrel run for it and took the bone along with him. It comes into my mind now as if the hound had known a month or two aforehand as he'd want that bone, he'd ha' made friends wi' the mongrel."

This parable was so obviously directed at his lordship and his young protégé that Sennacherib's companions looked and felt ill at ease. Fuller was heard to murmur "Harmony!" but a disconcerted silence fell on all, and his lordship took snuff while he searched for a speech which should turn the current of conversation into a pleasanter channel. The Earl of Barfield was particularly keen in his desire to run Mr. Ferdinand de Blacquaire for the county, and to run him into Parliament. Ferdinand himself was much less keen about the business, and regarded it all as a mingled joke and bore. This being the case, he felt free to avoid the ordinary allures of the parliamentary candidate, and, apart from that, he had, with himself at least, a reputation to sustain as a man of wit.

"Has this mongrel a bone?" he asked, in a silky tone. "Let him keep it."

His lordship shot a glance of surprised wrath at him, almost of horror, but Sennacherib began to chuckle.

"Pup's got a bite in him," said Sennacherib-"got a bite in him."

His lordship felt a little easier, and looking about him discovered that everybody was smiling more or less, though on one or two faces the smile sat uneasily.

"Come, come, Mr. Eld," said Fuller, "harmony!"

"Ah!" cried the earl, seizing gladly on the word. "Let us have a little harmony. Don't let our presence disturb your music. Mr. Eld is a local notability, Ferdinand. Mr. Eld speaks his mind to everybody. I'm afraid he's on the other side, and in that case you'll have many a tussle with him before you come to the hustings. Eh? That's so, isn't it, Eld? Eh? That's so?"

"Oh," said Sennacherib, with the slow local drawl, "we'll tek a bit of a wrastle now and again, I mek no manner of a doubt."

"And in the mean time," said his lordship, "let us start harmoniou

sly. Give us a little music, Fuller. Go on just as if we were not here."

"Ruth, my wench," said Fuller, "fetch his lordship a chair, and bring another for Mr.---" He hung upon the Mr., searching to recall the name.

"Devil-a-care," suggested Sennacherib.

"De Blacquaire," said the earl, correcting him. "Mr. Ferdinand de Blacquaire."

The girl had already moved away, and Ferdinand, with an air in which criticism melted slowly into approval, watched her through his eye-glass. The only young man in the quartette party, Reuben Gold, eyed Ferdinand with a look in which criticism hardened into disapproval, and, turning away, fluttered the edges of the music sheets before him with the tip of his bow.

"Look here, lads," said Fuller, "we'll have a slap at that there sonata of B. Thoven's, eh?"

"Beethoven?" asked Ferdinand, with a little unnecessary stress upon the name to mark his pronunciation of it. "You play Beethoven? This is extremely interesting." He spoke to the earl, who rubbed his hands and nodded. The young first-violin tossed his chestnut-colored mane on one side with a gesture of irritation. Ruth reappeared with a chair in each hand. They were old-fashioned and rather heavy, being built of solid oak, but she carried them lightly and gracefully. Ferdinand started forward and attempted to relieve her of her burden. At first she resisted, but he insisting upon the point she yielded. The young Ferdinand was less graceful than he had meant to be in the carriage of the chairs, and Ruth looked at Reuben with a smile so faint as scarcely to be perceptible. Reuben with knitted brows pored over his music, and the girl returned to her old place and her old attitude by the apple-tree.

Ferdinand, having the placing of the chairs in his own hands, took up a position in which, without being obtrusively near, he was close enough to address Ruth if occasion should arise, as he was already fairly resolved it should. The three elders were most drolly provincial, to his mind, and their accent was positively barbarous to his ears. Reuben was less provincial to look at, but to Mr. De Blacquaire's critical eye the young man was evidently not a gentleman. He had not heard him speak as yet, but could well afford to make up his mind without that. Nobody but a boof could have employed Reuben's tailor or his shoemaker. As for the girl, she looked like a lily in a kitchen-garden, a flower among the coarse and commonplace things of every-day consumption. It would be a deadly pity, he thought, if she should have an accent like the rest. Her dress was perfectly refined and simple, and Ferdinand guessed pretty shrewdly that this was likely to be due to her own handiwork and fancy.

"What a delightful, quaint old garden you have here, to be sure," he said.

With a perfect naturalness she raised a warning palm against him, and at that instant the quartette party began their performance. She had not even turned an eye in his direction, and he was a little piqued. The hand which had motioned him to silence was laid now on the gnarled old apple-tree, and she rested her ripe cheek against it. Her eyes began to dream at the music, and it was evident that her forgetfulness of the picturesque young gentleman beside her was complete and unaffected. The picturesque young gentleman felt this rather keenly. The snub was small enough, in all conscience, but it was a snub, and he was sensitive, even curiously sensitive, to that kind of thing. And he was not in the habit of being snubbed. He was accustomed to look for the signs of his own power to please among young women who moved in another sphere.

It was a very, very small affair, but then it is precisely these very small affairs which rankle in a certain sort of mind. Ferdinand dismissed it, but it spoiled his music for the first five minutes.

The Earl of Barfield was one of those people to whom music is neither more nor less than noise. He loved quiet and hated noise, and the four interpreters of the melody and harmony of Beethoven afforded him as much delight as so many crying children would have done. It had been a joke against him in his youth that he had once failed to distinguish between "God save the King" and the "Old Hundredth." Harmony and melody here were alike divine in themselves, and were more than respectably rendered, and he sat and suffered under them in his young friend's behoof like a hero. They bored him unspeakably, and the performance lasted half an hour. When it was all over he beat his withered white hands together once or twice, and smiled in self-gratulation that his time of suffering was over.

"Admirably rendered!" cried Ferdinand; "admirably-admirably rendered. Will you forgive me just a hint, sir?" He addressed Sennacherib. "A leetle more light and shade! A performance less level in tone."

"P'raps the young man'll show us how to do it," said Sennacherib, in a dry, mock humility, handing his fiddle and bow towards the critic.

The critic accepted them with a manner charmingly unconscious of the intended satire, and walked round the table until he came behind Reuben, when he turned back the music for a leaf or two.

"Here, for example," he said, and tucking the instrument beneath his chin, played through a score of bars with a certain exaggerated chic which awakened Sennacherib's derision.

"What dost want to writhe i' that fashion for?" he demanded. "Dost find thine inwards twisted? It's a pretty tone, though," he allowed. "The young man can fiddle. Strikes me, young master, as thee'dst do better at the Hopera than the House o' Commons. Tek a fool's advice and try."

Ferdinand smiled with genuine good-humor. This insolent old personage began to amuse him.

"Really I don't know, sir," he answered. "Perhaps I may do pretty well in the House of Commons, if you will be good enough to try me. One can't please everybody, but I promise to do my best."

"The best can do no more," said Fuller, in a mellow, peace-making kind of murmur; "the best can do no more."

"I've no mind for that theer whisperin' and shout-in' in the course of a piece of music," said Sennacherib. "Pianner is pianner, and forte is forte, but theer's no call to strain a man's ears to listen to the one, nor to drive him deaf with t'other. Same time, if the young gentleman 'ud like to come an' gi'e us a lesson now and then we'd tek it."

"I'm not able to give you lessons, sir," returned Mr. De Blacquaire, with unshaken good-humor; "but if you'll allow me to take one now and then by listening, I shall be delighted."

"Nothin' agen that, is theer, Mr. Fuller?" demanded Sennacherib.

"Allays pleased to see the young gentleman," responded Fuller.

"When may I come to listen to you again, gentlemen?" asked Ferdinand. His manner was full of bonhomie now, and had no trace of affectation. It pleased everybody but Reuben, who had conceived a distaste for him from the first. Perhaps, if he had not placed his chair so near to Ruth, and had regarded her less often and with a less evident admiration, the young man might have liked him better.

"Well," said Fuller, "we are here pretty nigh every evenin' while the fine weather lasts. We happen to be here this afternoon because young Mr. Gold is goin' away for to-night to Castle Barfield. You'll find we here almost of any evenin'-to-morrow, to begin with."

"We had better be going now, Ferdinand," said his lordship, who dreaded the new beginning of the music. "Good-afternoon, Fuller. Good-afternoon, Eld. Good-afternoon, Gold."

"Good-day, my lord," said Reuben, rather gloomily. He had not spoken until now, and Ferdinand had wished to note the accent. There was none to note in the few words he uttered.

"Your little girl is growing into a woman, Fuller," said his lordship.

"That's the way wi' most gells, my lord," said Fuller.

"Good-afternoon, Miss Ruth," said the old nobleman, nodding and smiling.

"Good-afternoon, my lord," said Ruth. Ferdinand's attentive ear noted again the absence of the district accent. He removed his cap and bowed to her.

"Good-afternoon. I may come to-morrow evening, then?" The query was addressed to her, but she did not answer it, either by glance or word. She had answered his bow and turned away before he had spoken.

"Ay," said Fuller; "come and welcome."

He bowed and smiled all round, and walked away with his lordship. He turned at the garden door for a final glance at the pretty girl, but she had her back turned upon him, and was leaning both hands on her father's shoulder.

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