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Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Evan Harrington - Part 22

EVAN HARRINGTON; or, HE WOULD BE A GENTLEMAN.

BY GEORGE MEREDITH.

Evan Harrington - 25 - The Donkey-Cart.png

CHAPTER XXVIII.TOM COGGLESBY’S PROPOSITION.

The appearance of a curricle and a donkey-cart within the gates of Beckley Court, produced a sensation among the men of the lower halls, and a couple of them rushed out, with the left calf considerably in advance, to defend the house from violation. Towards the curricle they directed what should have been a bow, but was a nod. Their joint attention was then given to the donkey-cart, in which old Tom Cogglesby sat alone, bunchy in figure, bunched in face, shrewd grey eyes twinkling under the bush of his eyebrows.

“Oy, sir—you! my man!” exclaimed the tallest of the pair, resolutely. “This won’t do. Don’t you know driving this ’ere sort of conveyance slap along the gravel ’ere, up to the pillars ’ere, ’s unparliamentary? Can’t be allowed. Now, right about. Aimmediate!”

This address, accompanied by a commanding elevation of the dexter hand, seemed to excite Mr. John Raikes far more than Old Tom. He alighted from his perch in haste, and was running up to the stalwart figure, crying “Fellow! fellow!” when, as you tell a dog to lie down, Old Tom called out, “Be quiet, sir!” and Mr. John Raikes halted with prompt military obedience.

The sight of the curricle acting satellite to the donkey-cart quite staggered the two footmen.

“Are you lords?” sang out Old Tom.

A burst of laughter from the friends of Mr. John Raikes, in the curricle, helped to make the powdered gentlemen aware of a sarcasm, and one, with no little dignity, replied that they were not lords.

“Are ye judges?”

“We are not.”

“Oh! Then come and hold my donkey.”

Great irresolution was displayed at the injunction, but having consulted the face of Mr. Raikes, one fellow, evidently half overcome by what was put upon him, with the steps of Adam into exile, descended to the gravel and laid his hand on the donkey’s head.

“Hold hard!” cried Old Tom. “Whisper in his ear. He’ll know your language.”

“May I have the felicity of assisting you to terra firma?” interposed Mr. Raikes, with the bow of deferential familiarity.

“Done that once too often,” returned Old Tom, jumping out. “There. What’s the fee?”

Mr. Raikes begged that all minor arrangements with the menials should be left to him.

“What’s the fee?” Old Tom repeated. “There’s a fee for everything in this world. If you ain’t lords or judges, you ought to be paid for dressing like ’em. Come, there’s a crown for you that ain’t afraid of a live donkey; and there’s a sixpenny bit for you that are—to keep up your courage; and when he’s dead you shall have his skin—to shave by.”

“Excellent! Most admirable!” shouted Mr. Raikes. “Franco, you heard? Fred?”

“First-rate!” was the unanimous response from the curricle: nor was Old Tom altogether displeased at the applause of his audience. The receiver of the sixpenny bit gratified his contempt by spinning it in the air, and remarking to his comrade, as it fell: “Do for the beggars.”

“Must be a lord!” interjected Old Tom. “Ain’t that their style?”

Mr. Raikes laughed mildly. “When I was in Town, sir, on my late fortunate expedition, I happened to be driving round St. Paul’s. Rather a crush. Some particular service going on. In my desire to study humanity in all its aspects, I preferred to acquiesce in the blockade of carriages and avoid manslaughter. My optics were attracted by several effulgent men that stood and made a blaze at the lofty doors of the cathedral. Nor mine alone. A dame with an umbrella—she likewise did regard the pageant show. ‘Sir,’ says she to me. I leaned over to her, affably—as usual. ‘Sir, can you be so good as to tell me the names of they noblemen there?’ Atrocious grammar is common among the people, but a gentleman passes it by: it being his duty to understand what is meant by the poor creatures. You laugh, sir! You agree with me. Consequently I looked about me for the representatives of the country’s pride. ‘What great lords are they?’ she repeats. I followed the level of her umbrella, and felt—astonishment was uppermost. Should I rebuke her? Should I enlighten her? Never, I said to myself: but one, a wretch, a brute, had not these scruples, ‘Them ’ere chaps, ma’am?’ says he. ‘Lords, ma’am? why, Lor’ bless you, they’re the Lord Mayor’s footmen!’ The illusion of her life was scattered! I mention the circumstance to show you, sir, that the mistake is perfectly possible. Of course, the old dame in question, if a woman of a great mind, will argue that supposing Lord Mayor’s footmen to be plumed like estridges—gorgeous as the sun at Midsummer, what must Lord Mayors be, and semperannual Lords, and so on to the pinnacle?—the footmen the basis of the aristocratic edifice. Then again she may say, Can nature excel that magnificent achievement I behold, and build upon it? She may decide that nature cannot. Hence democratic leanings in her soul! For me, I know and can manage them. Thomas! hand in my card. Mr. John Feversham Raikes.”

Mr. Raikes spoke peremptorily; but a wink and the glimpse of his comic face exhibited his manner of management.

“And tell my lady, Tom Cogglesby’s come,” added the owner of that name. “Be off.”

“M.P. let us hope we may shortly append,” pursued Jack. “Methinks ’tis a purer ambition to have a tail than a handle to one’s name. Sir John F. Raikes were well. John F. Raikes, M.P., is to the patriotic intelligence better. I have heard also—into mine ear it hath been whispered—that of yon tail a handle may be made.”

“If your gab was paid by the yard, you’d have a good many thousands a year,” Old Tom interrupted this monologue.

“You flatter me,” returned Jack, sincerely. “The physiologists have said that I possess an eloquent feature or so. Ciceronic lips.”

“How was it you got away from the menagerie—eh?” said Old Tom.

“By the assistance of the jolliest old bear in the word, I believe,” Mr. Raikes replied. “In life I ride on his broad back: he to posterity shall ride on mine.”

“Ha! that’ll do,” said Old Tom, for whom Mr. Raikes was too strong.

“May we come to an understanding before we part, sir?” continued the latter. “Your allusion to a certain endroit—surely I am not wrong? Indiscreet, perhaps, but the natural emotions of gratitude!—a word would much relieve me.”

“Go about your business,” cried Old Tom; and was at that moment informed that her ladyship would see him, and begged Mr. Raikes to make himself at home.

“Artful!” mused Mr. Raikes, as Old Tom walked away: “Artful! but I have thee by a clue, my royal Henry. Thy very secret soul I can dissect. Strange fits of generosity are thine, beneath a rough exterior; and for me, I’d swear thee client of the Messrs. Grist.”

Mentally delivering this, Mr. Raikes made his way towards a company he perceived on the lawn. His friend Harrington chanced to be closeted with Sir Franks: the Countess de Saldar was in her chamber: no one was present whom he knew but Miss Jocelyn, who welcomed him very cordially, and with one glance of her eyes set the mercurial youth thinking whether they ought to come to explanations before or after dinner; and of the advantages to be derived from a good matrimonial connexion, by a young member of our Parliament. He soon let Miss Jocelyn see that he had wit, affording her deep indications of a poetic soul; and he as much as told her, that, though merry by nature, he was quite capable of the melancholy fascinating to her sex, and might shortly be seen under that aspect. He got on remarkably well till Laxley joined them; and then, despite an excessive condescension on his part, the old Fallowfield sore was rubbed, and in a brisk passage of arms between them, Mr. John Raikes was compelled to be the victor—to have the last word and the best, and to win the laughter of Rose, which was as much to him as a confession of love from that young lady. Then Juliana came out, and Mr. Raikes made apologies to her, rejecting her in the light of a spouse at the first perusal of her face. Then issued forth the swimming Countess de Saldar, and the mutual courtesies between her and Mr. Raikes were elaborate, prolonged, and smacking prodigiously of Louis Quatorze. But Rose suffered laughter to be seen struggling round her mouth; and the Countess dismayed Mr. Raikes by telling him he would be perfect by-and-by, and so dislocating her fair self from the ridicule she opened to him: a stroke which gave him sharp twinges of uneasiness, and an immense respect for her. The Countess subsequently withdrew him, and walked him up and down, and taught him many new things, and so affected him by her graces, that Mr. John Raikes had a passing attack of infidelity to the heiress.

While this lull occurs, we will follow Tom Cogglesby, as he chooses to be called.

Lady Jocelyn rose on his entering the library, and walking up to him, encountered him with a kindly full face.

“So I see you at last, Tom?” she said, without releasing his hand; and Old Tom mounted patches of red in his wrinkled cheeks, and blinked, and betrayed a singular antiquated bashfulness, which ended, after a mumble of “Yes, there he was, and he hoped her ladyship was well,” by his seeking refuge in a chair, where he sat hard, and fixed his attention on the leg of a table.

“Well, Tom, do you find much change in me?” she was woman enough to continue.

He was obliged to look up.

“Can’t say I do, my lady.”

“Don’t you see the grey hairs, Tom?”

“Better than a wig,” rejoined he.

Was it true that her ladyship had behaved rather ill to Old Tom in her youth? Excellent women have been naughty girls, and young beauties will have their train. It is also very possible that Old Tom had presumed upon trifles, and found it difficult to forgive her his own folly.

“Preferable to a wig? Well, I would rather see you with your natural thatch. You’re bent, too. You look as if you had kept away from Beckley a little too long.”

“Told you, my lady, I should come when your daughter was marriageable.

“Oho! that’s it? I thought it was the Election.”

“Election be—hem!—beg pardon, my lady.”

“Swear, Tom, if it relieves you. I think it bad to check an oath or a sneeze.”

“I’m come to see you on business, my lady, or I shouldn’t have troubled you.”

“Malice?”

“You’ll see I don’t bear any, my lady.”

“Ah! if you had only sworn roundly twenty-five years ago, what a much younger man you would have been! and a brave capital old friend whom I should not have missed all that time.”

“Come!” cried Old Tom, varying his eyes rapidly between her ladyship’s face and the floor, “you acknowledge I had reason to.”

“Mais, cela va sans dire.”

“Cobbler’s sons ain’t scholars, my lady.”

“And are not all in the habit of throwing their fathers in our teeth, I hope!”

Old Tom wriggled in his chair. “Well, my lady, I’m not going to make a fool of myself at my time o’ life. Needn’t be alarmed now. You’ve got the bell-rope handy and a husband on the premises.”

Lady Jocelyn smiled, stood up, and went to him. “I like an honest fist,” she said, taking his. “We’re not going to be doubtful friends, and we won’t snap and snarl. That’s for people who’re independent of wigs, Tom. I find, for my part, that a little grey on the top of my head cools the temper amazingly. I used to be rather hot once.”

“You could be peppery, my lady.”

“Now I’m cool, Tom, and so must you be; or, if you fight, it must be in my cause, as you did when you thrashed that saucy young carter. Do you remember?”

“If you’ll sit ye down, my lady, I’ll just tell you what I’m come for,” said Old Tom, who plainly showed that he did remember, and was alarmingly softened by her ladyship’s retention of the incident.

Lady Jocelyn returned to her place.

“You’ve got a marriageable daughter, my lady?”

“I suppose we may call her so,” said Lady Jocelyn, with a composed glance at the ceiling.

’Gaged to be married to any young chap?”

“You must put the question to her, Tom.”

“Ha! I don’t want to see her.”

At this Lady Jocelyn looked slightly relieved. Old Tom continued,

“Happen to have got a little money—not so much as many a lord’s got, I dare say; such as ’tis, there ’tis. Young fellow I know wants a wife, and he shall have best part of it. Will that suit ye, my lady?”

Lady Jocelyn folded her hands. “Certainly; I’ve no objection. What it has to do with me I can’t perceive.”

“Ahem!” went Old Tom. “It won’t hurt your daughter to be married now, will it?”

“Oh! my daughter is the destined bride of your ‘young fellow,” said Lady Jocelyn. “Is that how it’s to be?”

“She”—Old Tom cleared his throat—“she won’t marry a lord, my lady; but she—’hem—if she don’t mind that—’ll have a deuced sight more hard cash than many lord’s son’d give her, and a young fellow for a husband, sound in wind and limb, good bone and muscle, speaks grammar and two or three languages, and—”

“Stop!” cried Lady Jocelyn. “I hope this is not a prize young man? If he belongs, at his age, to the unco guid, I refuse to take him for a son-in-law, and I think Rose will, too.”

Old Tom burst out vehemently: “He’s a damned good young fellow, though he isn’t a lord.”

“Well,” said Lady Jocelyn, “I’ve no doubt you’re in earnest, Tom. It’s curious, for this morning Rose has come to me and given me the first chapter of a botheration, which she declares is to end in the common rash experiment. What is your ‘young fellow’s’ name? Who is he? What is he?”

“Won’t take my guarantee, my lady?”

“Rose—if she marries—must have a name, you know?”

Old Tom hit his knee. “Then there’s a pill for ye to swallow, for he ain’t the son of a lord.”

“That’s swallowed, Tom. What is he?”

“He’s the son of a tradesman, then, my lady.” And Old Tom watched her to note the effect he had produced.

“More’s the pity,” was all she remarked.

“And he’ll have his thousand a-year to start with; and he’s a tailor, my lady.”

Her ladyship opened her eyes.

“Harrington’s his name, my lady. Don’t know whether you ever heard of it.”

Lady Jocelyn flung herself back in her chair. “The queerest thing I ever met!” said she.

“Thousand a-year to start with,” Old Tom went on, and if she marries—I mean if he marries her, I’ll settle a thousand per ann. on the first baby—boy or gal.”

“Hum! Is this gross collusion, Mr. Tom?” Lady Jocelyn inquired.

“What does that mean?”

“Have you spoken of this before to any one?”

“I haven’t, my lady. Decided on it this morning. Hem! you got a son, too. He’s fond of a young gal, or he ought to be. I’ll settle him when I’ve settled the daughter.”

“Harry is strongly attached to a dozen, I believe,” said his mother. “Well, Tom, we’ll think of it. I may as well tell you: Rose has just been here to inform me that this Mr. Harrington has turned her head, and that she has given her troth and all that sort of thing. I believe such was not to be laid to my charge in my day.”

You were open enough, my lady,” said Old Tom. She’s fond of the young fellow? She’ll have a pill to swallow! poor young woman!”

Old Tom visibly chuckled. Lady Jocelyn had a momentary temptation to lead him out, but she did not like the subject well enough to play with it.

“Apparently Rose has swallowed it,” she said.

“Goose, shears, cabbage, and all!” muttered old Tom. “Got a stomach!—she knows he’s a tailor, then? The young fellow told her? He hasn’t been playing the lord to her?”

“As far as he’s concerned, I think he has been tolerably honest, Tom, for a man and a lover.”

“And told her he was born and bound a tailor?”

“Rose certainly heard it from him.”

Slapping his knee, Old Tom cried: “Bravo!” For though one part of his nature was disappointed, and the best part of his plot disarranged, he liked Evan’s proceeding and felt warm at what seemed to him Rose’s scorn of rank.

“She must be a good gal, my lady. She couldn’t ’a got it from ’tother side. Got it from you. Not that you——

“No,” said Lady Jocelyn, apprehending him. “I’m afraid I have no Republican virtues. I’m afraid I should have rejected the pill. Don’t be angry with me,” for Old Tom looked sour again; “I like birth and position, and worldly advantages, and, notwithstanding Rose’s pledge of the instrument she calls her heart, and in spite of your offer, I shall, I tell you honestly, counsel her to have nothing to do with——

“Anything less than lords,” Old Tom struck in. “Very well. Are ye going to lock her up, my lady?”

“No. Nor shall I whip her with rods.”

“Leave her free to her choice?”

“She will have my advice. That I shall give her. And I shall take care that before she makes a step she shall know exactly what it leads to. Her father, of course, will exercise his judgment.” (Lady Jocelyn said this to uphold the honour of Sir Franks, knowing at the same time perfectly well that he would be wheedled by Rose). “I confess I like this Mr. Harrington. But it’s a great misfortune for him to have had a notorious father. A tailor should certainly avoid fame, and this young man will have to carry his father on his back. He’ll never throw the great Mel off.”

Tom Cogglesby listened, and was really astonished at her ladyship’s calm reception of his proposal.

“Shameful of him! shameful!” he muttered perversely: for it would have made Old Tom desolate to have had to change his opinion of her ladyship after cherishing it, and consoling himself with it five-and-twenty years. Fearing the approach of softness, he prepared to take his leave.

“Now—your servant, my lady. I stick to my word, mind: and if your people here are willing, I—I’ve got a candidate up for Fall’field—I’ll knock him down, and you shall sneak in your Tory. Servant, my lady.”

Old Tom rose to go. Lady Jocelyn took his hand cordially, though she could not help smiling at the humility of the cobbler’s son in his manner of speaking of the Tory candidate.

“Won’t you stop with us a few days?”

“I’d rather not, I thank ye.”

“Won’t you see Rose?”

“I won’t. Not till she’s married.”

“Well, Tom, we’re friends now?”

“Not aware I’ve ever done you any harm, my lady.”

“Look me in the face.”

The trial was hard for him. Though she had been five-and-twenty years a wife she was stil very handsome: but he was not going to be melted, and when the perverse old fellow obeyed her, it was with an aspect of resolute disgust that would have made any other woman indignant. Lady Jocelyn laughed.

“Why, Tom, your brother Andrew’s here, and makes himself comfortable with us. We rode by Brook’s farm the other day. Do you remember Copping’s pond—how we dragged it that night? What days we had!”

Old Tom tugged once or twice at his imprisoned fist, while these youthful frolics of his too stupid self and the wild and beautiful Miss Bonner were being recalled.

I remember!” he said savagely, and reaching the door hurled out: “And I remember the Bull-dogs, too!—servant, my lady.” With which he effected a retreat to avoid a ringing laugh he heard in his ears.

Lady Jocelyn had not laughed. She had done no more than look and smile kindly on the old boy. It was at the Bull-dogs, a fall of water on the borders of the park, that Tom Cogglesby, then a hearty young man, had been guilty of his folly: had mistaken her frank friendliness for a return of his passion, and his stubborn vanity still attributed her rejection of his suit to the fact of his descent from a cobbler, or, as he put it, to her infernal worship of rank.

“Poor old Tom!” said her ladyship when alone. “He’s rough at the rind, but sound at the core.” She had no idea of the long revenge Old Tom cherished, and had just shaped into a plot to be equal with her for the Bull-dogs!