The Highwayman (Bailey)/Chapter XI
It was always in after life alleged by Mr. Hadley that his steady interest in the family of his uncle was nothing but a desire to keep the old gentleman out of mischief. Sir John Burford was indeed of a temper too irascible to be safe with his bucolically English mind: a man who in throwing tankards at his servants and challenges at his friends was a source of continuous anxiety to his reasonable kinsfolk. But he had also a daughter.
She received the benevolent Mr. Hadley when on the morning after the explosions in Alison's house he came to see whether Sir John was still dangerous or his daughter any thinner. It was the latter purpose which he professed to Susan Burford. She was not annoyed. In her cradle she had been instructed that she was a jolly, fat girl, and through life she accepted the status, like every other which was given her, with great good humour. She was, in fact, no fatter than serves to give a tall woman an air of genial well-being. It was conjectured by her friends that her father, needing all his irascibility for himself, had allowed her to inherit only his physical qualities. She had indeed the largeness of Sir John and his open countenance. Her supreme equanimity perhaps came from her mother. She was by a dozen years at least younger than Mr. Hadley, and always thought him a very clever boy.
"Sir John is gone out to the pigs, Mr. Hadley. Perhaps you'll go too," she said, and looked innocent.
"Well, they are peaceful company, Susan. And you're so surly."
"I thought you would find some joke in that," said Susan, with kindly satisfaction.
"Damme, don't be so maternal. It's cloying to the male. Be discreet, Susan. You will talk as though you had weaned me but a year or two, and still wanted me at the breast."
Susan was not disconcerted. "Will you drink a tankard?" said she. "Or Sir John has some Spanish wine which he makes much of."
"Susan, you despise men. It is a vile infidel habit." He paused, and Susan dutifully smiled. "Why now, what are you laughing at? You! You don't know what I mean."
"To be sure, no," said Susan. "Does it matter?"
"Oh Lud, your repartees! Bludgeons and broadswords! I mean, ma'am, you think men are nought but casks—things to fill with drink and victuals. Is it not true?" Susan considered this, her head a little on one side and smiling. She wore a dress of dark blue velvet cut low about the neck, and so, nature having made her sumptuous, was very well suited. "Egad, now I know what you're like," Mr. Hadley cried. "You're one of Rubens' women, Susan; just one of those plump, spacious dames as healthy as milk and peaches, and blandly jolly about it."
Susan looked down at herself with her usual amiable satisfaction and patted the heavy coils of her yellow hair and said: "Sir John often talks of having me painted. But that's after dinner. Will you stay dinner, Mr. Hadley?"
"Damme, Susan, what should I say after dinner, if I say so much now?"
Susan smiled upon him with perfect calm. "Why, I never can tell what you will say. Can you?"
"You're a hypocrite, Susan. You look as simple as a baby, and the truth is you're deep, devilish deep. Here!" He fumbled in his pocket. "Here's a guinea for your thoughts if you tell them true. Now what are you thinking, ma'am?"
"Why, I am thinking that you came to see my father, and yet you stay here talking to me;" she gurgled pleasant laughter and held out her hand for the guinea.
Mr. Hadley still retained it. "That pleases you, does it?"
"Yes, indeed. You're so comical."
Mr. Hadley surrendered the guinea, looked at his empty left sleeve and made a wry face. "Lord, yes, I am comical enough. A lop-sided grotesque."
"That's not fair!" He had at last made her blush. "You know well I did not mean that. I think it makes you look—noble."
"It makes me feel a fool," said Mr. Hadley. "Lord, Susan, one arm's not enough to go round you."
"So we'll kill the Elstree hog for Christmas;" that apposite interruption came in her father's robust voice. Sir John strode rolling in. "What, Charles! In very good time, egad. You can come with me."
"What, sir, back to the swine? I profess Susan makes as pretty company."
Sir John was pleased to laugh. "Ay, the wench pays for her victuals, too. Damme, Sue, you look good enough to eat." He chucked her chin paternally. "Well, my lad, I ha' thought over that business and I'm taking horse to ride over to Tetherdown."
"Oh Lord," said Mr. Hadley. "And what then, sir?"
"I'll talk to Master Geoffrey."
"Oh Lord," said Mr. Hadley again. "Do it delicately."
"Delicate be damned," said Sir John.
"I had better ride with you," said Mr. Hadley.
"Good boy. Here, Roger—Mr. Hadley's horse."
Susan stood up. "Lud, sir, you will not be here to dinner then?"
Sir John shook his head. Mr. Hadley scratched his chin. "I am not so sure that Geoffrey will give us a dinner," said he.
"Why, sir," Susan was interested, "what's your business with Mr. Waverton?"
"To tell him he's a fool, wench," quoth Sir John.
"Oh. And will Mr. Waverton like that?"
"Like it! Odso, he'll like it well enough if he has sense."
Mr. Hadley grinned. "That's logic, faith. Well, sir, have with you."
So off they rode. On the way Sir John was pleased to expound to Mr. Hadley the profound sagacity of his new plan. He would rally Geoffrey on his flaccidity; accuse him of being an oaf; and, describing all the while in an inflammatory manner the charms of Alison, hint that Geoffrey's tutor had ambitions after them. "And if that don't wake up my gentleman, he may go to the devil for me and deserve it."
It crossed Mr. Hadley's lucid mind that a gentleman who required so much waking up did not deserve Miss Lambourne. But she was quite capable of discovering that for herself, if indeed she had not already. And certainly it would do Geoffrey no harm to be made uncomfortable. So Mr. Hadley rode on with right good will.
But when they came to Tetherdown it was announced that Mr. Waverton had gone riding. "Why, then we'll wait for him." Sir John strode in. The butler looked dubious. Mr. Waverton had said nothing of when he would come back.
"Why the devil should he?" Sir John stretched his legs before the fire. "He'll dine, won't he?"
The butler bowed.
"Prithee, William," says Mr. Hadley, "is Mr. Boyce in the house?"
"Mr. Boyce, sir, is gone walking."
Mr. Hadley shrugged. "Odso, away with you," Sir John waved the man off. "Let my lady know we are here."
The butler coughed. "My lady is in bed, Sir John."
"What, still?" quoth Sir John, for it was close upon noon.
"Hath been afoot, Sir John. But took to her bed half an hour since."
"What, what? Is she ailing?"
The butler could not say, but looked a volume of secrets, so that Sir John swore him out of the room.
"Vaporous old wench, Charles," Sir John snorted. And a second time Mr. Hadley shrugged.
In a little while the butler came back even more puffed up. Her ladyship hoped to receive the gentlemen in half an hour.