Possession (Roche, February 1923)/Part 2/Chapter 7

CHAPTER VIISale at Durras—Darby

1.

"I want to go to Brancepeth," announced Fawnie, "to buy some clothes. I ain't got a decent thing to wear, and Baby, he's just burstin' out of his little white dress, and his pink one is all iron rust, and his feet are bare, and he's got to have a baby carriage. I can't go around carryin' him on my back like I was a common squaw. I want to get him a wicker carriage with a silk parasol, and a lace cover with a pink bow, and pink kid slippers, and an embroidered dress. . . . How much money are you goin' to give me, Durek?"

"You evidently take me for a millionaire," said Derek. "Do you realize that I haven't got a cent from my thimbleberries; that I've just paid the help their wages, and the vet. his bill; that my taxes are due, and I've just lost a good milch cow?"

Fawnie laughed gaily. "Oh, you are stingy! You know you have heaps of money in the bank. Get me some of that. If you won't I will go and work for Mrs. Chard and earn some. And I'll tell Mr. Chard you beat me."

They were sitting on the shore watching the red harvest moon rise from the blackness of the lake. Fawnie held the baby on her lap. She had wrapped a shawl about him so that his downy head, still soft and unhardened in bone or cartilage projected. Derek, stretched on the sand, lazily watched the pair. Edmund, sitting on the breakwater at a little distance, smoked and dangled his legs in silence. His leave was almost up. He had to return to Halifax with no hope of winning Grace, but, on this warm September night, sweet with the smells of land and lake, he was pensive rather than sad.

Fawnie began to press the muscles of Derek's arm with her fingers. "You could beat me very hard," she said. "But you won't, will you, darling? (A new word she had recently acquired, along with "Jolly good," and the phrase—"as a matter of fac'") "You won't beat me, darling. You'll jus' give me a lot of money, and let Snailem drive me to Brancepeth, eh?"

Derek capitulated. "To-morrow is Mr. Jerrold's sale. The men would like a holiday, and I expect Snailem would sooner drive to Brancepeth than go to the sale. Would twenty dollars do, Fawnie?"

She turned her eyes on him reproachfully. "My goodness, no. The baby carriage alone will cost fifteen dollars. And, you know, Durek, I never had no proper clothes when I married you. I got to buy them now. I'm the finest lady about here, now Grace Jerrold's got to move into a little old cottage. And she ain't married anyhow. Yes—I'm the finest lady between Brancepeth and Mistwell." She gazed at the golden moon, in blissful meditation. Then—"It will take fifty dollars."

"Very well," assented Derek. "You shall have it. But be careful what you buy. You sha'n't get any more money till winter, mind. And I shouldn't buy Buckskin pink kid shoes if I were you. I'd buy him nice little brown shoes and two or three pairs of socks to match. They'll suit him better."

"I'll buy him whatever looks the best. I need some scented soap, too, and a pair of pink silk shirred garters with buckles at the side."

Edmund groaned from his perch on the breakwater. "I see the finish of that fifty dollars, Derek. You had better go with her."

"No," replied Derek, shortly. He had not appeared abroad with Fawnie yet, and he was in no hurry to do so. On the few occasions when he had gone to either of the villages alone, he had found himself an embarrassed object of interest. In the Duke of York he had seen a man nudge his neighbour and heard him whisper: "There's Mr. Vale, from down Mistwell way—him that married an Indian girl lately. They've got a tidy boy already, 'tis said, dark as a Arab, but his hair—man, they say it's as light as gold."

No . . . he would give Fawnie the fifty dollars and let her enjoy herself in her own way.

2.

She had carried the child to bed. Derek had helped her up the steep steps in the rock, and, when she had been swallowed by the darkness above, he wheeled and went down the shingle to the breakwater.

"There's something I want you to do for me, Ted," he said huskily.

"Fire away."

"You know that chestnut of Grace's?"

"Darby? Oh, yes."

"He's up for sale to-morrow. I want you to go and buy him in for me. I can't bear to think of her being without him."

"Aren't they keeping a horse at all?"

"Just the big grey that Mr. Jerrold rides. You see he can be driven in the trap as well. Darby has never been harnessed."

"How high will you go?"

"High enough to get him. But I don't believe it will be very steep. I think they've chosen a rotten time for the sale. But it was Hobbs's doing."

"Why rotten?"

"Well, you know the election is coming the twenty-first. All the fruit growers are afraid Laurier will be returned. They know Reciprocity would ruin them. They'll want to hang on to what money they have. They'll simply be afraid to buy."

"Why does Mr. Jerrold choose such a time for his sale?"

"I don't know. Suppose Hobbs urges him. He is the largest creditor. Mr. Jerrold is between the devil and the deep sea. If he waits till after the election conditions may be worse than ever. Imagine what it will mean to us if American fruit is allowed to be sent here duty free—and their season about three weeks in advance of ours."

"It would be a damned shame," agreed Edmund.

Derek sat down beside him, and after a pause, Edmund said: "I've asked her twice since that first time, but she's stuck to her guns. Won't have me. I'll get used to it, I suppose, but it's hard."

"I repeat that she doesn't love anyone but her father."

"No—I believe she loves you. The more I think over things she's said—and ways she's looked—I can't explain—but I'm sure it's you."

The lake murmured darkly to the leaning sky; fiery ripples curled below their feet; Derek gazed at that golden orb beloved by captives, and felt the galling of his chains.

3.

Derek spent a restless morning. He could not bear to see the hurrying buggies and motor cars going to the sale. They seemed to him like birds of prey skimming eagerly to the scene of a calamity. He could scarcely believe that the Jerrolds had left the big red house. Hugh had told him that they had moved to the cottage the afternoon before. Phœbe had seen Mr. Jerrold striding across the fields carrying a silver candelabrum in his arms. And Grace had been seen, with her one servant, hanging curtains at the windows of the cottage. "Mark my words!" Phœbe had cried. "We shall have Hobbs as our next neighbour in the great house. It makes me all of a boilin' stew to think of. The world's gone crazy, and no mistake. Hobbs weren't satisfied with being a gentleman agent—that's what he calls himself if you'll believe me—but he aims to be a gentleman as ever was. The very idear! With that burr to his tongue! They say he's raised his eyes to Miss Jerrold. I'd be glad to hear as one of his own prize cocks had pecked 'em out. If there's one thing I hate, it's folk gettin' out of their proper station. It puts me all in a boilin' stew it does."

She followed Derek up and down, and in and out, talking with heat. She made him a thimbleberry roly-poly for dinner. He wished he might have been allowed to forget the thimbleberries tie pictured himself as eating his way through the whole patch. She made him a custard to pour over the pudding. In short, she treated him as a prisoner who had been granted a few hours of freedom.

At four o'clock he heard a clatter of hoofs on the bridge, and, looking out the stable window—he was always tinkering at the harness—he saw Edmund and Hugh crossing it in the trap, the latter leading by a halter Grace's horse, Darby, who showed his disapproval of the proceeding by petulant jumpings and cavortings from side to side.

Derek went out to meet them. "I'm glad you were able to get him," he said, laying a soothing hand on the chestnut's quivering side. "Did he come high?"

"High eneuch," answered Hugh, smiling. "Captain Vale and Mr. Hobbs had it out between them. And I'm glad Hobbs didna get him."

Edmund jumped sulkily to the ground and turned towards the house.

"Put Darby in the loose box, Hugh," directed Derek, "and try to make him easy in his mind, if you can." Then he followed his brother. "Are you hungry?" he asked.

"I could take something substantial for tea. They gave us sandwiches and beer, at one o'clock. Yes, I'm rather hungry."

Derek ordered tea and they sat down in the dining room. Edmund picked up a month-old copy of Punch and began gloomily to read.

"What's the matter?" demanded Derek. "You seem peeved."

"Do you know where Fawnie is?"

"Snailem took her to Brancepeth to buy clothes. You knew that. What's she been up to? She should have been back long ago."

Edmund began to walk angrily up and down the room. "I'll tell you then. She ought to be thrashed. About an hour ago she and Snailem appeared at the sale. She holding the kid on her lap. Snailem looking half-full, and a pram tied on the back of the buggy. You can imagine the outfit. . . . I was thunder-struck. The crowd seemed to know who she was instantly. A lot of them thought I was you, and turned and grinned at me." He stopped before Derek and looked down at him accusingly.

"Well," said Derek, calmly. "Go on. What did she do?"

"Oh, she was as bold as brass. She alighted from her equipage. Snailem gave her his hand. Then he got the pram for her, and she set the kid in it. It was wicker, painted green, and there was a cover with a big pink bow. She'd got herself a hat with cherries on it and long green streamers. The auctioneer had to pound his hammer on the table to make the men look at him. They all wanted to stare at her. . . ." He picked up Punch again and began to read as Phœbe entered with the tray.

"What next?" asked Derek, when the door had closed behind her.

"Snailem tied his nag to the fence and joined some loafers on a back bench. Fawnie paraded up and down under that row of maples. Their leaves are all turning red and the whole effect was—garish. She'd toss her head so the green streamers would flutter—the kid had a toy balloon—and every now and again she'd trot round to the front of the pram and arrange the pink bow, or take a sweet out of a paper bag at his feet."

"Where is she now? Why didn't you bring her home?"

"Bring her home! I see myself. I got out as soon as I had paid for the horse. The last I saw of her she was on her way to the house where some furniture was to be sold. She was with a crowd of well-to-do men and their wives from Brancepeth. What do you suppose made her do it?"

"Pure cussedness. Nothing else under the sun."

Phœbe brought some boiled eggs and they ate in silence for a while, each contemplating Fawnie's wickedness from his own angle. Then Derek asked.

"How did things go?"

Edmund groaned. "About as badly as possible. The implements were the worst. Implements that had cost two hundred dollars, as good as new, went for thirty or forty. Separators, incubators—just given away. The stock wasn't so bad. But bad enough. I paid one hundred and eighty for Darby. Hobbs wanted him. He's a beast that fellow. He has bought the place and enough stock and implements to run it in a modest way. But he'll branch out. He'll do better for himself than he ever did for Jerrold. . . . He came over and spoke to me. Told me some of his plans. He was almost drunk with exhilaration but declared he was not 'cock-a-hoop' about it. Then he jerked his head towards Fawnie and said, 'Your sister-in-law is coming on like anything, isn't she, Captain Vale?'" Then Edmund swore with a fluency that showed that his years in the army had not been altogether wasted.

4.

They were sitting smoking in the porch. There had been a stream of vehicles, but the road was now resuming its accustomed quiet.

"I can't imagine what is keeping her," muttered Derek. "I'm beginning to get anxious."

"God knows," replied Edmund. "Probably hobnobbing with Hobbs. Each one assuring the other that they are not 'cock-a-hoop'."

Derek shifted in his willow chair, making it creak beneath him. He stared anxiously up the road. "There she comes, now," he exclaimed.

She was approaching along the edge of the bluffs, her figure, in its yellow dress and streamered hat, silhouetted against the burnished blue of the sky. She was wheeling the perambulator before her, and, as she descended and ascended the rolling side of the cliff, it was surprising that the child was not thrown from its seat. But they came steadily on, watched in silence by the brothers.

She descended the last steep, crossed the bridge, and began to climb the rise to the gate. Phœbe, seeing her from the kitchen window, where she was washing dishes, rushed out along the drive to meet the baby, her arms still wet with dishwater, her woolen slippers padding on the sand.

"Here comes the prince!" she cried. "See him in his fine new chaise! Oh, the poppetty poppet! Would he come to his Phœbe, then!"

"For goodness sake, take him, Phœbe," said Fawnie. "I'm tired out. I've had such a busy day. Everybody wantin' to shake hands with me an' see the baby. Well, Durek, did you think I was los'?"

She had crossed the lawn, and stood before them with an air of mingled fear and audacity, like a naughty child. Derek, his chin grasped in his hand, stared down at her.

"How did you dare," he said, "to go to that sale and flaunt yourself before every one in those ridiculous clothes? How do you suppose Ted felt when he saw you? What kept you so late?"

"He made me pretty mad," retorted Fawnie, "not lettin' on he knew me. Folks said to me afterwards, 'You and your husban' didn't seem to see each other, did you, Mrs. Vale?' And I says: 'That feller ain't my husban'. My husban's a handsome man with curly light hair like baby's. That's jus' his poor brother who's out of a job, an' we're keepin' him for a while.'" She showed her pearl-like little teeth in a malicious grin.

"Oh, you little devil," said Derek, and burst out laughing. But Edmund kept a sulky silence. Fawnie came up the steps and perched herself on the railing.

"Now I tell you what I been doin'," she said, arranging the streamers of her hat over one shoulder. "First Snailem an' me went to Brancepeth. Snailem's an old fool. I had to go an' bring him out of the Duke of York myself, or he'd have got full. I went to the very best store an' I bought a lovely white dress for myself—an' a hat—an' shoes—an' earrings an' new clothes for Baby—all sensible like you said. An' I had ten dollars left. Then, when we was drivin' home, we passed the sale, an' Snailem says, 'What's the hurry? Let's go in!' So we went in; an' after the pigs, an' cows, an' reapers, an' mowers was sold, the auctioneer he moved on up to the big house. Then"—she clasped her hands and nodded brightly—"then, I remembered my ten dollars. Oh, I was glad! I went with all the people, an' then I met Mr. Hobbs. I told him I wanted to buy something nice for my own room. He was awful kind. He stayed right beside me and helped me to bid. Said he wanted to be neighbourly." She cast a triumphant look at Edmund, who sat with folded arms, and face averted, the picture of disapproval.

"Good old Hobbs," said Derek, grinning. "And what did you buy?"

"Here comes Snailem with them now—a great big lookin'-glass, an' a little, little gold chair, see!"

Snailem was turning in at the gate, balancing with difficulty a tall pier glass that stood on the seat behind him. The little gilt chair was tied on behind. He gave a sheepish glance towards the group on the porch.

"I paid seven for the lookin'-glass an' three for the chair. I mus' see that he gets them safe upstairs." She stopped in the doorway. "I forgot to tell you, Durek, that Mr. Hobbs, he's bought the house an' some of the furniture. He's goin' to live in that big place all by hisself, an' great big Mr. Jerrold in a cottage, little as little. How fonny!" She flew out to give orders to Snailem and Hugh.

Derek broke into noisy laughter.

"What's amusing?" asked Ted savagely.

"Everything. It seems to me that life is just one howling joke after another."

5.

The sun had barely risen out of the lake when Derek led Darby through the stable yard. The air was sharp with a suspicion of frost, and sweet to the nostrils as a new-blown flower. An oriole in the orchard, freed from summer cares, poured forth the swinging sweetness of his song. The matted foliage of the old strawberry beds was filmed by innumerable glistening cobwebs, and, here and there, the redness of late strawberries caught the eye.

Darby had had a bad night. Nothing that Hugh could do for him had been enough to make him forget the strangeness of his new surroundings. He had refused his supper; he had refused his drink of fresh spring water. Perhaps some odour of the Welsh ponies had clung to the pail, for he had picked it up disgustingly in his teeth and hurled it to the floor. When Hugh had made him a thick bed of clean straw, he had kicked it out into the passage and slept on the bare boards. Consequently Derek had had to give him a thorough grooming this morning.

Now he picked his way petulantly among the fallen walnuts on the drive, puzzled and irritated by this stranger on his back who pressed a firm leg on either of his sides. He leapt sideways through the gate, he tripped sideways down the slope; sideways, with stampings of his polished hoofs, he crossed the bridge. With quivering nostrils he sniffed a field of clover, aftermath of one of the grain crops, then, suddenly, he smelled and saw his own stable-yard. In spite of Derek he would have plunged through the gateway, but the figure of Hobbs barred his way.

"You're out early," said Hobbs. "I suppose you were impatient to try your new horse. Well, you are welcome to him, for he's an ugly devil if ever there was one."

"You're early yourself," replied Derek over his shoulder.

"It's a fact," said Hobbs. "I never went to bed last night. Just excited. Not that I was——"

"Good-bye!" shouted Derek, for Darby was galloping furiously up the road.

The blinds of the cottage were drawn. It was half-hidden behind hydrangeas and climbing roses. Derek dismounted, unlatched the gate, and led Darby cautiously towards the little stable.

Scarcely had he opened the door of the stable when a loud whinny came from Mr. Jerrold's grey, inside. Darby answered joyously, and ran into the empty stall beside his friend, reaching around the partition to nose the familiar face. Derek tied, and unsaddled him, and, with his saddle over his arm stood watching them with a good deal of complaisance. He did not hear the light step on the drive, and it was only her cry of astonishment that made him turn and face Grace Jerrold, whom he had been trying to avoid.

"You!" she cried. "And Darby! What does this mean? I heard the whinnying and stamping in the stable and I was afraid something was wrong—so I came." She went quickly to Darby's head and laid her own head against it. The only sound for a moment was the soft blowing of her horse against her neck, and the crunching of a swede from the grey's stall.

Without being told she divined what he had done. She had been told that Darby had gone to Grimstone and had been glad, though fear that he had been bought for Fawnie to ride had crossed her mind. Now she did not dare to look at Vale, but with her eyes hidden against that satiny head she whispered,

"You must not do it. I cannot let you do it."

He answered gently, "It is the first thing I have done that has given me any pleasure in months."

"Well, only if you will let me pay you back some time."

"If you wish you may."

Then she raised her face and looked at him.

"Oh, to think that when we last met I did not speak to you!"

"Don't talk of that."

"I came back and tried to find you. I was crying. I had to keep my parasol before my face so the man would not see. I'm—afraid—I am going to cry now."

"Don't cry. Laugh! Be as happy as you can. See how happy Darby is. He's slobbering all over your shoulder."

"I know," she said, half-laughing, half-crying, "he's a naughty fellow." Then she held out her hand to him, and said, "Thank you," in a small, choked voice.

He took it, and they looked intently at each other, their eyes filled with longing, their lips compressed, their bodies tense. Then he dropped her hand and turned away. At the door he stopped, and said, without looking at her—"You refused Edmund."

"Yes."

"Because you loved me?"

"Yes."

"Good-bye, Grace—darling."

"Good-bye, Derek—darling."

He returned home, still carrying the saddle over his arm. He walked slowly, his eyes travelling across the September blue of the lake to the far horizon where a faery city reared its towers and battlements of rosy clouds above Niagara's spray.