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   Chapter 4 THE PERILS OF YOUTH.

Orley Farm By Anthony Trollope Characters: 14963

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Going to Leicestershire was quite out of the question for young Orme at this period of his life, but going to London unfortunately was not so. He had become acquainted at Oxford with a gentleman of great skill in his peculiar line of life, whose usual residence was in the metropolis; and so great had been the attraction found in the character and pursuits of this skilful gentleman, that our hero had not been long at The Cleeve, after his retirement from the university, before he visited his friend. Cowcross Street, Smithfield, was the site of this professor's residence, the destruction of rats in a barrel was his profession, and his name was Carroty Bob. It is not my intention to introduce the reader to Carroty Bob in person, as circumstances occurred about this time which brought his intimacy with Mr. Orme to an abrupt conclusion. It would be needless to tell how our hero was induced to back a certain terrier, presumed to be the pride of Smithfield; how a great match came off, second only in importance to a contest for the belt of England; how money was lost and quarrels arose, and how Peregrine Orme thrashed one sporting gent within an inch of his life, and fought his way out of Carroty Bob's house at twelve o'clock at night. The tale of the row got into the newspapers, and of course reached The Cleeve. Sir Peregrine sent for his grandson into his study, and insisted on knowing everything;-how much money there was to pay, and what chance there might be of an action and damages. Of an action and damages there did not seem to be any chance, and the amount of money claimed was not large. Rats have this advantage, that they usually come cheaper than race-horses; but then, as Sir Peregrine felt sorely, they do not sound so well.

"Do you know, sir, that you are breaking your mother's heart?" said Sir Peregrine, looking very sternly at the young man-as sternly as he was able to look, let him do his worst.

Peregrine the younger had a very strong idea that he was not doing anything of the kind. He had left her only a quarter of an hour since; and though she had wept during the interview, she had forgiven him with many caresses, and had expressed her opinion that the chief fault had lain with Carroty Bob and those other wretched people who had lured her dear child into their villainous den. She had altogether failed to conceal her pride at his having fought his way out from among them, and had ended by supplying his pocket out of her own immediate resources. "I hope not, sir," said Peregrine the younger, thinking over some of these things.

"But you will, sir, if you go on with this shameless career. I do not speak of myself. I do not expect you to sacrifice your tastes for me; but I did think that you loved your mother!"

"So I do;-and you too."

"I am not speaking about myself sir. When I think what your father was at your age;-how nobly-" And then the baronet was stopped in his speech, and wiped his eyes with his handkerchief. "Do you think that your father, sir, followed such pursuits as these? Do you think that he spent his time in the pursuit of-rats?"

"Well; I don't know; I don't think he did. But I have heard you say, sir, that you sometimes went to cockfights when you were young."

"To cockfights! well, yes. But let me tell you, sir, that I always went in the company of gentlemen-that is, when I did go, which was very seldom." The baronet in some after-dinner half-hour had allowed this secret of his youth to escape from him, imprudently.

"And I went to the house in Cowcross Street with Lord John Fitzjoly."

"The last man in all London with whom you ought to associate! But I am not going to argue with you, sir. If you think, and will continue to think, that the slaughtering of vermin is a proper pursuit-"

"But, sir, foxes are vermin also."

"Hold your tongue, sir, and listen to me. You know very well what I mean, sir. If you think that-rats are a proper pursuit for a gentleman in your sphere of life, and if all that I can say has no effect in changing your opinion-I shall have done. I have not many years of life before me, and when I shall be no more, you can squander the property in any vile pursuits that may be pleasing to you. But, sir, you shall not do it while I am living; nor, if I can help it, shall you rob your mother of such peace of mind as is left for her in this world. I have only one alternative for you, sir-." Sir Peregrine did not stop to explain what might be the other branch of this alternative. "Will you give me your word of honour as a gentleman that you will never again concern yourself in this disgusting pursuit?"

"Never, grandfather!" said Peregrine, solemnly.

Sir Peregrine before he answered bethought himself that any pledge given for a whole life-time must be foolish; and he bethought himself also that if he could wean his heir from rats for a year or so, the taste would perish from lack of nourishment. "I will say for two years," said Sir Peregrine, still maintaining his austere look.

"For two years!" repeated Peregrine the younger; "and this is the fourth of October."

"Yes, sir; for two years," said the baronet, more angry than ever at the young man's pertinacity, and yet almost amused at his grandson's already formed resolve to go back to his occupation at the first opportunity allowed.

"Couldn't you date it from the end of August, sir? The best of the matches always come off in September."

"No, sir; I will not date it from any other time than the present. Will you give me your word of honour as a gentleman, for two years?"

Peregrine thought over the proposition for a minute or two in sad anticipation of all that he was to lose, and then slowly gave his adhesion to the terms. "Very well, sir;-for two years." And then he took out his pocket-book and wrote in it slowly.

It was at any rate manifest that he intended to keep his word, and that was much; so Sir Peregrine accepted the promise for what it was worth. "And now," said he, "if you have got nothing better to do, we will ride down to Crutchley Wood."

"I should like it of all things," said his grandson.

"Samson wants me to cut a new bridle-path through from the larches at the top of the hill down to Crutchley Bottom; but I don't think I'll have it done. Tell Jacob to let us have the nags; I'll ride the gray pony. And ask your mother if she'll ride with us."

It was the manner of Sir Peregrine to forgive altogether when he did forgive; and to commence his forgiveness in all its integrity from the first moment of the pardon. There was nothing he disliked so much as being on bad terms with those around him, and with none more so than with his grandson. Peregrine well knew how to make himself pleasant to the old man, and when duly encouraged would always do so. And thus the family party, as they rode on this occasion through the woods of The Cleeve, discussed oaks and larches, beech and birches, as though there were no such animal as a rat in existence, and no such place known as Cowcross Street.

"Well, Perry, as you and Samson are both of one mind, I suppose the path must be made," said Sir Peregrine, as he got off his horse at the entrance of the stable-yard, and prepared to give his feeble aid to Mrs. Orme.

Shortly after this the following note was brought up to The Cleeve by a messenger from Orley Farm:-

My dear Sir Peregrine,

If you are quite disengaged at twelve o'clock to-morrow, I will wa

lk over to The Cleeve at that hour. Or if it would suit you better to call here as you are riding, I would remain within till you come. I want your kind advice on a certain matter.

Most sincerely yours,

Mary Mason.

Thursday.

Lady Mason, when she wrote this note, was well aware that it would not be necessary for her to go to The Cleeve. Sir Peregrine's courtesy would not permit him to impose any trouble on a lady when the alternative of taking that trouble on himself was given to him. Moreover, he liked to have some object for his daily ride; he liked to be consulted "on certain matters;" and he especially liked being so consulted by Lady Mason. So he sent word back that he would be at the farm at twelve on the following day, and exactly at that hour his gray pony or cob might have been seen slowly walking up the avenue to the farm-house.

The Cleeve was not distant from Orley Farm more than two miles by the nearest walking-path, although it could not be driven much under five. With any sort of carriage one was obliged to come from The Cleeve House down to the lodge on the Hamworth and Alston road, and then to drive through the town of Hamworth, and so back to the farm. But in walking one would take the path along the river for nearly a mile, thence rise up the hill to the top of Crutchley Wood, descend through the wood to Crutchley Bottom, and, passing along the valley, come out at the foot of Cleeve Hill, just opposite to Orley Farm Gate. The distance for a horseman was somewhat greater, seeing that there was not as yet any bridle-way through Crutchley Wood. Under these circumstances the journey between the two houses was very frequently made on foot; and for those walking from The Cleeve House to Hamworth the nearest way was by Lady Mason's gate.

Lady Mason's drawing-room was very pretty, though it was by no means fashionably furnished. Indeed, she eschewed fashion in all things, and made no pretence of coming out before the world as a great lady. She had never kept any kind of carriage, though her means, combined with her son's income, would certainly have justified her in a pony-chaise. Since Lucius had become master of the house he had presented her with such a vehicle, and also with the pony and harness complete; but as yet she had never used it, being afraid, as she said to him with a smile, of appearing ambitious before the stern citizens of Hamworth. "Nonsense, mother," he had replied, with a considerable amount of young dignity in his face. "We are all entitled to those comforts for which we can afford to pay without injury to any one. I shall take it ill of you if I do not see you using it."

"Oh, Sir Peregrine, this is so kind of you," said Lady Mason, coming forward to meet her friend. She was plainly dressed, without any full exuberance of costume, and yet everything about her was neat and pretty, and everything had been the object of feminine care. A very plain dress may occasion as much study as the most elaborate,-and may be quite as worthy of the study it has caused. Lady Mason, I am inclined to think, was by no means indifferent to the subject, but then to her belonged the great art of hiding her artifice.

"Not at all; not at all," said Sir Peregrine, taking her hand and pressing it, as he always did. "What is the use of neighbours if they are not neighbourly?" This was all very well from Sir Peregrine in the existing case; but he was not a man who by any means recognised the necessity of being civil to all who lived near him. To the great and to the poor he was neighbourly; but it may be doubted whether he would have thought much of Lady Mason if she had been less good looking or less clever.

"Ah! I know how good you always are to me. But I'll tell you why I am troubling you now. Lucius went off two days since to Liverpool."

"My grandson told me that he had left home."

"He is an excellent young man, and I am sure that I have every reason to be thankful." Sir Peregrine, remembering the affair in Cowcross Street, and certain other affairs of a somewhat similar nature, thought that she had; but for all that he would not have exchanged his own bright-eyed lad for Lucius Mason with all his virtues and all his learning.

"And indeed I am thankful," continued the widow. "Nothing can be better than his conduct and mode of life; but-"

"I hope he has no attraction at Liverpool, of which you disapprove."

"No, no; there is nothing of that kind. His attraction is-; but perhaps I had better explain the whole matter. Lucius, you know, has taken to farming."

"He has taken up the land which you held yourself, has he not?"

"Yes, and a little more; and he is anxious to add even to that. He is very energetic about it, Sir Peregrine."

"Well; the life of a gentleman farmer is not a bad one; though in his special circumstances I would certainly have recommended a profession."

"Acting upon your advice I did urge him to go to the bar. But he has a will of his own, and a mind altogether made up as to the line of life which he thinks will suit him best. What I fear now is, that he will spend more money upon experiments than he can afford."

"Experimental farming is an expensive amusement," said Sir Peregrine, with a very serious shake of his head.

"I am afraid it is; and now he has gone to Liverpool to buy-guano," said the widow, feeling some little shame in coming to so inconsiderable a conclusion after her somewhat stately prologue.

"To buy guano! Why could he not get his guano from Walker, as my man Symonds does?"

"He says it is not good. He analyzed it, and-"

"Fiddlestick! Why didn't he order it in London, if he didn't like Walker's. Gone to Liverpool for guano! I'll tell you what it is, Lady Mason; if he intends to farm his land in that way, he should have a very considerable capital at his back. It will be a long time before he sees his money again." Sir Peregrine had been farming all his life, and had his own ideas on the subject. He knew very well that no gentleman, let him set to work as he might with his own land, could do as well with it as a farmer who must make a living out of his farming besides paying the rent;-who must do that or else have no living; and he knew also that such operations as those which his young friend was now about to attempt was an amusement fitted only for the rich. It may be also that he was a little old-fashioned, and therefore prejudiced against new combinations between agriculture and chemistry. "He must put a stop to that kind of work very soon, Lady Mason; he must indeed; or he will bring himself to ruin-and you with him."

Lady Mason's face became very grave and serious. "But what can I say to him, Sir Peregrine? In such a matter as that I am afraid that he would not mind me. If you would not object to speaking to him?"

Sir Peregrine was graciously pleased to say that he would not object. It was a disagreeable task, he said, that of giving advice to a young man who was bound by no tie either to take it or even to receive it with respect.

"You will not find him at all disrespectful; I think I can promise that," said the frightened mother; and that matter was ended by a promise on the part of the baronet to take the case in hand, and to see Lucius immediately on his return from Liverpool. "He had better come and dine at The Cleeve," said Sir Peregrine, "and we will have it out after dinner." All of which made Lady Mason very grateful.

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