Possession (Roche, February 1923)/Part 2/Chapter 5

CHAPTER VEdmund

1.

Mr. Jerrold and Hobbs were leaning against a gate watching a stableman breaking in a colt in the paddock before them. Mr. Jerrold watched with an almost tender smile, the awkward, yet delicate movements of the beautiful young creature, so wistfully bewildered, so unconscious of its great strength. The hard, light eyes of Hobbs seemed only to appraise its fine points as that of something to be bought, sold, or put to tests of endurance or speed.

"Don't overdo it," called Mr. Jerrold. "That's enough for today."

Hobbs showed disapproval. "You stop the training," he said, "just as she's getting into the swing of it."

"I understand breaking in colts, I think. I don't want her worried."

"Oh, well, it's for you to say."

"Yes, it's for me to say—yet."

They stood in silence as the stableman led away the colt, then Hobbs said, cheerfully,

"Things are going from bad to worse at Grimstone, they say."

Mr. Jerrold turned to him anxiously. "In what way, Hobbs? I have scarcely seen anything of Vale since his marriage—seven or eight weeks ago, isn't it? He seems to want to be let alone."

"The trouble with him," said Hobbs, "is that he was too damned cock-a-hoop in the first place. He was so proud of owning the place, and so sure he could manage his farm, and his stock, and his Indians. He'd take no advice from anyone."

"I didn't notice that. What is the trouble now?"

"Well, Chard tells me that he has been going up to the shack almost every night gambling with his Indian brothers-in-law and Jammery, and getting so full he could hardly navigate his way home. The house has been overrun by the Indian kids, and the servant girl couldn't keep anything to eat in her cupboards. The fruit gets picked sometimes, and sometimes it don't."

"I'm sorry to hear this. Why didn't you tell me before?"

"Well, I knew Mr. Vale was a friend, and I thought maybe you wouldn't want to hear anything against him. Then, I'd seen you and him talking together several times, so I supposed you'd get a notion of what was going on."

"I knew things were rather bad, but I had no idea they were in that state."

"That isn't all. A couple of days ago he flew into a rage at the way they were imposing on him—I don't blame them—I think it served him right—and he simply drove them all off the place. Followed 'em to the gate and locked it after them. Chard was passing and says he looked wild, and white as a sheet. Now the thimbleberries are dropping off the canes, and there's nobody to pick them."

Grace Jerrold then rode up on her favourite horse, whose rounded sides shone with the brightness of a polished nut. She looked paler and more slender than formerly. Hobbs gazed at her keenly, trying to fathom the origin of her pallor which, he thought, was produced by one of three causes: either the extreme heat of the early summer; the anxiety arising from her father's serious financial position; or disappointment at Vale's marriage. He was inclined to credit the last reason, although she gave him a look of cold suspicion as she drew in her rein that he felt showed bitter resentment of his growing authority and liberty of action on the farm.

"Good morning, Miss Jerrold," he said, touching his hat, "and how is Darby this morning?"

"Very skittish," she replied. "I think he is getting more oats than is good for him."

"Ah! but you like him spirited, don't you? Think of the way he took you over that gate yesterday."

"That was his duty. It is not his duty to shy when passing the same gate this morning as though he had never seen it before."

Hobbs laughed and moved away, leaving the father and daughter together.

2.

He lifted her from her horse and they walked along the grassy lane together, he holding the rein loosely while Darby bent to crop the short new grass that had appeared since recent rain.

He said: "Do you know, Grace, Hobbs tells me that things are in a very bad state at Grimstone. Had you heard anything?"

"Yes." Her tone was reserved.

"From whom?"

"A house-maid. She would gossip as she was doing my room and—I couldn't help listening."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Oh, I couldn't bear to talk about it. You couldn't do anything, and you had worries enough of your own."

"Are we going to let Derek ruin himself and not put out a hand?"

"I have written to his brother."

"Written to his brother! He'll not thank you for that."

"I don't desire his thanks."

"Had his brother heard of the marriage?"

"Not a word. Derek had written to him only once, a strange sort of letter he said. He couldn't understand it. He's terribly upset. He has got leave and is coming to see. He should arrive to-day."

"Grace! And you were keeping all this from your father?"

"You keep things from me."

"What sort of things?"

"Things about Hobbs—and debts—and mistakes—and failures—only lately, too."

"My darling." He put his arm about her waist. "Only because I hate to see you worried."

She smiled up at him brightly. "Don't let's worry. Everything will come right. . . . With us, I mean."

They walked in silence for a space. The mellow light of the morning made known the imminence of autumn. Goldenrod rose, taller than the fences, its sprays imprisoning passing thistledown. The hips of the brier shone, plump and ruddy. Perhaps something of the gentle melancholy of the morning overtook those two people, usually so talkative when together, or perhaps each felt less certain of the other's state of mind than ever before.

When they came to the boundary between Durras and Grimstone they saw, crossing a field, the figures of two men. They were Derek and Edmund Vale.

"Shall we go on, or wait and speak to them?" asked Grace.

"We'll wait, don't you think so? They have seen us."

The two men hesitated, spoke together excitedly a moment, then Derek turned back and Edmund came on alone.

"I'm glad to see you back," said Mr. Jerrold when the greetings were over. "I suppose your brother is glad to have you."

"Oh, I don't know," replied the young man. "He was awfully surprised. I've had jollier home-comings." He looked searchingly at Grace, but she avoided his eyes, and, pulling a hip of the brier near her, had her finger pierced by a thorn.

"Silly girl," said her father, taking out a large, tobacco-smelling handkerchief and enfolding in it the bleeding finger.

"Miss Grace believes in grasping the thorn," said Edmund. "As for me, I dread everything unpleasant. Hips and haws may flourish unhurt for all of me, as long as they've thorns to protect 'em."

"Have you met your brother's wife?" asked Mr. Jerrold.

"Just for a moment. My God, isn't this an awful marriage? I was stunned when I heard of it. Just think, he never mentioned it when he wrote! But I knew there was something wrong—I thought of something quite different." He looked hard at Grace, and she met his eyes with a troubled smile.

"Come over, Captain Vale," said Mr. Jerrold, "and talk to my daughter. Tell her some enlivening doings of Halifax. She needs cheering up. I'll take Darby home." He felt that Edmund wanted to see Grace alone.

3.

"Why do you need cheering?" His tone was almost accusing, though with an assumed lightness.

"Life cannot be always smooth for anyone, can it?"

"It should be for you."

"I expect my share of trouble like others but, really—it is over others that I worry."

"You make me very envious."

"Why?"

"Well, I don't believe you'd worry much if I were to marry an Indian."

She flushed red. "Oh, I didn't mean that. I am worrying about my father. You see, he put everything he had into this place and now he's obliged to sell it just to meet his obligations. I am afraid there won't be much left."

Edmund coloured also. "I had no idea of such a thing. I thought of your father as absolutely secure—established here permanently. He gives one that feeling."

"I know. I really believe that if he were walking in the gutter carrying a sandwich-board, he would wear that look of well-being, and people would say—'What a dashing fellow!'"

"But I am awfully sorry. Can nothing be done?"

"Oh, no. It's all over. We are to have a sale on the twelfth of September. Shall you be here till then?"

"Yes. I have a decent leave this time. But, I say, does this mean that you must move away from here?"

"Thank heaven, no. We are going to keep a cottage—that one right on the shore—it has been used by Carss, one of the gardeners. It has a pretty garden, a few fruit trees, and the tiniest stable. Then, of course, we shall keep our dogs. Our good old cook is going with us, and we are to have one cow. Perhaps I shall have to milk. Can't you see me as a strapping milkmaid?" She spoke quickly, and with an air of suppressed excitement.

Edmund's mobile face was full of sympathy. "Strange," he murmured. "Derek did not say a word about this to me."

"Oh, I suppose not. He has his own affairs to contemplate." There was bitterness in her voice.

"Well, I must say they are in a sorry mess. How a fastidious chap like he is can ever hit it off with that girl—"

Grace sharply pressed the finger that had been torn by the brier. "It hurts," she explained.

"Too bad. Take the handkerchief off and let me see it. Maybe a bit of thorn is sticking in it."

"I believe it is. But I sha'nt undo it now. When I go home—" she nursed it in her other hand. "Didn't he speak of me at all?"

"He said he met you once—on the road."

She flashed a look of challenge at him. "Now do you blame me?"

"Not a bit. All I wonder is that you speak to me. You might be excused for washing your hands of the whole family."

"As though I could do such a thing! I'm not even angry at him now. I should like to be friends if it were possible."

Edmund thought a moment then he said: "I can't seem to get near Derek. He doesn't want to talk of his affairs at all. He just says he's done it and he wants to be let alone."

Her eyes filled with tears. "I am afraid you have come among very unhappy people for your holiday, Captain Vale."

"Don't pity me for that," he said, with a tremor in his voice. "Wherever you are, there is happiness for me."