Possession (Roche, February 1923)/Part 1/Chapter 2

CHAPTER IIMay Morning at Grimstone

1.

It was a rippling, throaty noise, sweet and oft-repeated; scarcely enough to rouse one from deep slumber. But the vibrant, clanging note which followed, effectually wakened him. The early sunlight was flooding the room, and, beyond the open window, the lake stretched, a vast shield of radiant blue and gold. He sat up in bed, half bewildered, staring. A spreading bush of bleeding-heart grew before the low window. It was in full bloom, its long sprays of deep, pink hearts hanging, like jewels, against the green of the wet lawn. A slow procession now passed: seven bronze turkey hens, with necks outstretched went by in single file, and a little space behind them, every feather bright with a metallic sheen, his wattles, blue and scarlet, dangling beneath his open beak, the gobbler. Close by his side, with light steps, a snow-white turkey-hen walked delicately.

Derek could have shouted, the picture was so beautiful, so arranged, as for a stage effect. He thought of it the while he dressed, and dashed his face with icy water from the ewer.

The table was set for him in the dining room. The sound of turning machinery and a loud voice singing came from the kitchen. Mrs. Machin appeared. In the daylight her face looked yellower, her eyes more like oysters, and her apron more snowy than ever. She twisted her pale lips into a smile.

"Good morning. Will ye take porridge?"

"Please. And bacon and eggs, Mrs. Machin."

"You don't want them all at once, do ye?" she answered sharply.

"Oh, no," he said, feeling rebuffed. He took his place at the table, and hoped she noticed his displeased silence while she served him. But he could not remain displeased; the food was good, his appetite sharp; he smiled at her like a boy, in spite of himself.

"What's the excitement in the kitchen?" he asked.

"Oh, that's Phoebe separatin'. She always hollers when she does it. I'll tell her to stop."

But the machine was stopping with a slow, whining rasp. Mrs. Machin went out. Silence prevailed in the kitchen. He heard Phoebe go singing towards the barn.

2.

A door opened from the dining room on the flagged yard. He stood there in the sunshine looking over his new possessions. A wide, rolling field stretched before him to the bank of the stream, and rose beyond it in a high, level meadow, fringed with warped trees whose stems and limbs were bent in a single direction, away from the gently rippling lake, cowered in their old age from the mutable master who had so cruelly lashed them when they were but striplings.

But the stately group of trees about the house, whose massive trunks supported such a fragile foliage that it scarcely threw a shade, seemed never to have been fretted, but towered in upright dignity above the solid walls. No shrubs or hedges softened the stern aspect of the place. Grimstone fronted an unbroken view of cliff, and lake, and sky. Yet all was not harshness, for a cherry orchard, in full bloom, crowded to the very kitchen doors, the moist ground beneath the trees already white with the tender petals that fell before the rough May wind. Behind the cherry orchard rose the ordered ranks of the apple orchard barely in bud, excepting a few crab-apple trees in pink flower, that filled the air with their lovely scent. West and south of the orchards were the plantations of small fruits, and, beyond them, fields and pastures, and a dark pine wood.

Derek could see a group of figures kneeling among the rows of an immense strawberry bed, over which the collie was scampering, barking in scatter-brain fashion at the circling gulls. He saw Newbigging and Gunn and three barelegged village boys placing little plants in a shallow trench. Mrs. Machin stood over them, directing the "puddling" of the roots in a basin of earth and water, and the position of them in the trench.

"We're settin' out some fresh strawberry plants," she explained. "Them's Mistwell lads helping us, and they'd do naught but scuffle if I didn't watch them."

"Where are the others?"

"Hugh McKay is plowing, and Windmill has gone back to look for the horses. Phoebe's feedin' the calves."

"What buildings are those on up the road?"

"Mr. Jerrold's stables, and Hobbs's house. You can't see Jerrold's house from here. Those are his orchards beyond the lane, and his house is hid by them. It stands far from the road, with its back against a big wood."

"I met the overseer, Hobbs, last night."

"He's a sharp 'un. But I don't see how Mr. Jerrold could get on without him. As it is, they can't raise fodder enough off that great place to feed their own creatures, but have to come buyin' hay off us."

Newbigging looked up from where he knelt.

"The men say that so long as they keep the horses and traps in fine order, Mr. Jerrold don't care a tinker's dam about anything else."

"Ay," said Gunn, sitting on his heels, "and Miss Jerrold has the gairdeners off their work half the time, plantin' daffydils in the woods, the way they grow wild in Scotland."

"The Jerrold's are gentry," said Mrs. Machin, "and you can't expect no better of them."

"I don't blame them," said Newbigging. "I like a place to look bonny, mysel'. Don't you call that a fine view over the sea, Mr. Vale?" He made a broad gesture of his hand that held a strawberry plant.

"They all talk about the sea," interrupted Mrs. Machin, "and they will have it there's a tide. I don't pay no heed to views or tides. I've never had no time for it."

"Jock!" shouted Gunn to the collie, "If ye'll no quit chasin' they seagulls, I'll sort ye."

The dog came bounding across the beds; the gulls rose, whimpering; two steamers, passing, saluted each other hoarsely. It was a jolly thing to be standing in the breeze on one's own land.

"Well, I'm off exploring," said Derek.

"Take a look at Chard's place. There's a farm in order. He's what I call a good man. He gets something out of every inch of his land."

"And gives no heed to bonny views," added Newbigging, slyly. Gunn and he chuckled and giggled, glad of any diversion from work.

3.

In two hours Derek had inspected his apple, cherry, plum, and pear trees; his thimbleberry, raspberry, and blackberry canes; leaned over the pig-sty and held friendly converse with a Yorkshire sow which was suckling eleven young; and searched for eggs in the poultry house. He had inspected the contents of the carriage-house; looked wisely at the small remainder of last year's crops; crossed the stepping-stones of the stream, and tried to make friends with the velvet-coated, dark-eyed Jersey herd, grazing in the meadow next the shore.

Now he was loitering up the lane, boundary between Grimstone and Durras, as the Jerrolds' place was named. White and red wood lilies, like children at play, peeped among the undergrowth along the fence; in every sheltered corner clumps of violets grew in moist seclusion.

He wished again that Edmund could see him. Edmund had been rather facetious about the farm. He had counselled Derek to rent or sell it. But Derek, though he liked his profession of architect, had often longed for more adventurous living than the pleasant, ordered days of Halifax could offer. He was thrilled by the thought that he owned all this cared-for, fertile land; these grazing creatures, who did not know him for their master; all these flowering trees, straining towards fruition; even the tender, helpless violets were his to protect. The desire to protect was (though unknown to himself) the strongest instinct of his nature.

His thoughts were interrupted by a chorus of shouts and halloos in some field ahead. There were cries of: "Head them off there! Whoa! Whoa! They're Vale's horses! Catch the mare! Whoa, girl!"

He began to run. Now there were open fields on either hand. There came a thud of horses' hoofs. Then he saw Newbigging, Gunn, and McKay trying to catch the galloping beasts, while Windmill stood astride of the fence and shouted orders. Some of Mr. Jerrold's men came running up headed by Hobbs. He was swearing vigorously.

"Why in Hell don't you fellows mend your fences? This is the second time in a week those horses have broken into our place."

"Make it a month, Hobbs," drawled Windmill.

"No. A week. . . . Look at that now! There'll be mischief done yet."

Derek now perceived that only six of the animals were his; and that the men were endeavouring to separate them from Mr. Jerrold's horses, a much handsomer lot, who were mingling wildly with the intruders, snorting and giving vicious kicks as they flew past. The Grimstone horses were led by two long-tailed Welsh ponies—mother and son, Derek afterwards learned, and it was absurd to see the heavy farm horses capering and careering at the beck of these vicious little fellows. The men ran till the sweat poured down their faces, yelling, waving their arms, and dodging kicks. At last Windmill leaped from the fence and joined the chase. Hobbs, seeing Derek, came to him.

"I hope you'll improve your fences, Mr. Vale. Your uncle never would. This sort of thing's a disgrace, happening every little while. Look at that now. I knew it would happen. Well, it's not our fault."

Blood was running down the flank of one of the Grimstone horses. He paused for a moment, trembling, then, with a plunge that sent a spray of red drops over the man who had approached him, he was off again. "Fools!" muttered Hobbs, and threw down his cap. Suddenly, springing, with surprising agility, in front of the ringleader, he caught her dexterously by the nose and brought her sharply to a halt. Her son, seeing his mother captured, stopped of his own accord, and laid his head across her shoulders. In a few minutes the horses were separated and Vale's were being led quietly through the break in the fence by the crestfallen men.

Derek could not but admire Hobbs for accomplishing in a flash what all these fellows had failed to do. He came up laughing, his face red, and self-conscious.

"I have to show 'em, every now and then," he said. "But it's nothing to be cock-a-hoop about. Any live man could have done it. Miss Jerrold and her father saw the whole thing. They are in the meadow beyond on their horses."

He pointed beyond the pasture. Derek saw a man on a tall grey horse, and a woman on a slender chestnut. She rode side-saddle. He could see a gleam of bright brown hair beneath her small black hat. He said:

"Mr. Jerrold looks to be a big man."

"He's the biggest man, and the handsomest man in the county. There's just the two of them. Always together. Come on across and I'll give ye an introduction."

"Thanks, not today. I'll have to see about my horse. He's bleeding pretty freely."

"Better telephone for the vet., and have him put a few stitches in. And you ought to get rid of those little Welsh devils. They're a perfect nuisance. They were just pets of your uncle's. Odd old fellow."

Derek resented Hobbs's interference. He determined to keep the ponies. Leaving Hobbs abruptly, he went to them where they stood together beneath a tree in the lane, reaching up with soft lips for the tender foliage. He patted the moist, shaggy sides, and they turned to stare at him, slowly drawing in the green leaves that projected from the corners of their mouths.

Looking up he saw that Hobbs had crossed the pasture and was talking to the Jerrolds. Telling them, doubtless, that he was not cock-a-hoop over what he had done. Perhaps telling them that their new neighbour had refused to be introduced. . . . Well, he did not care. He would meet the Jerrolds; but not through Hobbs.

4.

As he neared the house, he overtook a man on foot, driving a team of yellow-maned horses, harnessed to a harrow. Two little boys ran alongside. When the man was aware of Derek he drew up his horses and turned to him with a wide, pale smile.

"I am your next-door neighbour," he said, "H. P. Chard. I daresay you've heard of me. I'm pleased to welcome you to the neighbourhood. We need more enterprising young men around here."

They shook hands. Chard's smile deepened to a grin. "I do hope you'll soon feel at home here, and be one of us. I don't know what church you belong to, but we all go together to the Methodist Church at Mistwell. You'll get a hearty welcome there."

"Thanks. Are those your boys?"

"Yes. I've four boys, and four girls. And they all look alike."

Derek, observing the dingy tow heads of the youngsters, and their broad, pasty faces, of which the nostrils seemed the only noticeable feature, thought it a pity, but he said:

"They look lively."

"They are. And they're all trained to help as soon as they're able. We're great workers, Mr. Vale. And I must be moving on now. It's near dinner-time. Good day."

Derek watched his figure in soiled khaki shirt and trousers move away, with a strong feeling of distaste for the man.

As he sat at his midday dinner he suddenly remembered the harrow, and he stopped Phoebe as she was about to return to the kitchen.

"What harrow was that Chard was taking away?"

"Oh, it was ours. He always borrers it."

"Hasn't he one of his own?"

"No. Mrs. Machin lets him borrer anythink he wants. He's such a hard worker."

"Humph. What sort of pudding is this?"

"Spotted Dick."

"Spotted Dick! Good Lord! Why Dick? and why spotted?" He blew a spoonful. "It's awfully hot."

"It's spotted because of the raisins, and it's Dick—just 'cause it is. It's a clout puddin', y' see."

He did not see, but he attacked it vigorously.