« AnteriorContinuar »
had read the ‘Racing Calendar' and the details of the last murder to old Lady Fermor.
But Honor could not abide books, whatever the subject. The very sight of print was disagreeable to her. She would not have listened even could Sir William have hit on registers recording the experience of mighty hunters and great sportsmen, or the nature-in-art of the word-painters of the woods and fields, with their teeming life, in which she had lived. She cared for the things themselves, but not for the finest reflections of them. The bare obstacles of his measured voice, and a style of expression less homely than she had been accustomed to, would have been enough to deprive her of all sympathy with the reader.
Lady Thwaite could hardly work unless in the coarsest make-shift for sewing, and she hated such woman's work next to listening to sermons, with which she always confounded listening to reading.
She moped and wandered about restlessly and aimlessly, went constantly to her father's at Hawley Scrub, at the most ill-timed seasons, and took to visiting her mother's kindred at the Quarries to pass the time.
Sir William began by accommodating himself to his wife's wild habits, for a longer time than could have been looked for from him. He had never shirked acknowledging his father-in-law or even his connections by marriage at the Quarries. What had he been that he should treat the roughest fellows as his inferiors, or behave as if he were ashamed to be seen in their company? He went with Lady Thwaite both in broad day and under cloud of night, when the fancy took her, to Hawley Scrub. He showed no provocation, which was, doubtless, because he cared too little for his privileges, on seeing, as he could not fail to see, that old Abe's ways were unchanged. Lady Thwaite was more aggrieved than Sir William, and went so far as to rate her father soundly for trenching on the rights of things. These birds and hares are Will's and mine, father. You are welcome to a share -your share of them, but you ought to be content with that. It ain't serving us fair to make them public property, or to put them away on the sly to fill your pocket when you've everything you could wish and nought stinted to you, and Will do have come down handsome to the boys.' At other times she took the matter as an excellent joke, and
laughed long and loud at the contradiction. For Abe himself, he was always complacent, cunning, and a trifle cringing.
Neither did Sir William decline to accompany his wife to the Quarries, or to be present when the Quarry gossips, men and women, came to Whitehills, to join in the family meals, marvel at the splendour of Honor's drawingroom, and soil its flaunting finery with their hob-nailed boots and smutty or greasy fingers. Sir William had returned to the ranks of the people, and he must accept his natural associates. So far as they were concerned, any momentary sense of feeling abashed, by finding themselves among surroundings so different from their own, vanished rapidly before their engrained brainless effrontery.
It was in connection with the Quarry folk that the smouldering discord in the situation took shape, and threatened to burst into a blaze. These natives of Eastham were a specially uncouth, violent, debauched set of people. They had no modesty, else they would have held back a little even from Lady Thwaite's boisterous, lavish invitations, and Sir William's grave endorsement of the same. The Quarry men and women had no respect for themselves or for others, otherwise they would have let the master of the house alone in his peculiarities, and would not have taken offence at his sobriety, with the comparative quietness and reasonableness it lent to his behaviour. He did not impose the restraint he put on himself on any of them. He did not even restrict the mistress of the house, when knowing what her guests liked bestwhat, if conspicuous by its absence, would render a feast flat, flavourless, and unendurable to their disorganized natures and morbid cravings—she caused ale and gin, rum and brandy to flow freely. The mirth grew fast and furious in consequence, the talkers shouted, quarrelled, and had occasionally to be dragged asunder, as they were about to close in handto-hand fights. Never had Whitehills seen grosser orgies, even in the drunken days of the Restoration, or the rude revels of Mediæval times. But Sir William was well enough acquainted with such scenes, though he had never before known how brutal and sickening they could present themselves to a sane onlooker, who endured them while he sought to keep the peace.
were by no means satisfied with being left to follow their debased inclinations in putting an enemy into their mouths to steal away their brains, and so suffered to degrade themselves into raging, insensate beasts. They felt affronted with their host or guest, as it might be, spoiling all true fellowship by not affording a good example in drinking deeply and steadily. They were secretly enraged with the man and inclined to vow vengeance upon him, when, with his conscience tormenting him and all the higher qualities he possessed reproaching him, he still doggedly indulged them to the top of their bent.
The women-the greatest gadders from house to house, the biggest scolds, the most ragged slatterns, and in self-defence, perhaps, the most frequent drunkards of all the working women far and near-turned, too, upon the man who, though he had a whole cellar full of drink at his disposal, was not enticing their men, by his abuse of it, to spend their children's bread in the ale-house. What business had Honor Smith with a husband who was not only a titled squire and had made her Lady Thwaite, but who could not take a glass like his neighbours ? For a young unmarried