« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
thoroughly civilised country, that I could not even stay in private lodgings, where I had a great deal to think of, without this dull creature being forced upon me? But the Major so ordered it ; and I gave in.
There I must have stayed for the slowest three months ever passed without slow starvation, finishing my growth, but not knowing how to “ form my mind,” as I was told to do. Major Hockin came down, once or twice, to see me; and though I did not like him, yet it was almost enough to make me do so, to see a little liveliness. But I could not and would not put up with a frightful German baron of music, with a polished card like a toast-rack, whom the Major tried to impress on me. As if I could stop to take music-lessons !
“Miss Wood," said Major Hockin, in his strongest manner, the last time he came to see me: “I stand to you in loco parentis. That means, with the duties, relationships, responsibilities, and what not, of the unfortunate-I should say rather of the beloved-parent deceased. I wish to be more careful of you, than of a laughter of my own. A great deal more careful, ten times, Miss Wood. I may say a thousand times more careful, because you have not bad the discipline which a daughter of mine would have enjoyed. And you are so impulsive, when you take an idea. You judge everybody by your likings. That leads to error, error, error.”
“My name is not Miss Wood," I answered ; my name is 'Erema Castlewood.' Whatever need may have been on board ship for nobody knowing who I am, surely I may have my own name now.”
When anybody says “ surely,” at once up springs a question; nothing being sure, and the word itself at heart quite interrogative. The Major knew all those little things, which manage women so manfully. So he took me by the hand, and led me to the light, and looked at me.
I had not one atom of Russian twist, or dyed China-grass in my hair, or even the ubiquitous aid of horse and cow; neither in my
face or figure was I conscious of false presentment. The Major was welcome to lead me to the light and to throw up all his spectacles, and gaze with all his eyes. My only vexation was with myself, because I could not keep the weakness—which a stranger should not see—-out of my eyes; upon sudden remembrance, who it was that used to have the right to do such things to me. This it was, and nothing else, that made me drop my eyes perhaps.
" There, there, my dear!” said Major Hockin, in a softer voice than usual ;
pretty fit you are to combat with the world, and defy the world, and brave the world, and abolish the world--or at least the world's opinion ! 'Bo to a goose' you can say, my dear; but no 'bo'to a gander. No, no, do quietly what I advise-by-the-by, you have never asked my advice !"
I cannot have been hypocritical ; for of all things I detest that most; but in good faith I said, being conquered by the Major's relaxation of his eyes
“Oh, why have you never offered it to me? You knew that I never could ask for it."
For the moment he looked surprised, as if our ideas had gone crosswise; and then he remembered many little symptoms of my faith in his opinions; which was now growing inevitable, with his wife and daughters, and many grandchildren—all certain that he was a Solomon.
“Erema," he said, “ you are a dear good girl, though sadly, sadly, romantic. I had no idea that you had so much sense. I will talk with you, Erema, when we both have leisure.”
“I am quite at leisure, Major Hockin," I replied; "and only too happy to listen to you."
“Yes, yes, I dare say. You are in lodgings. You can do exactly as you please. But I have a basin of ox-tail soup, a cutlet, and a woodcock waiting for me, at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Bless me, I am five minutes late already! I will come and have a talk with you afterwards."
Thank you," I said; we had better leave it. It seems of no importance, compared-compared with "
“My dinner !” said the Major; but he was offended, and so was I a little, though neither of us meant to vex the other.
BRUNTSEA. It would be unfair to Major Hockin to take him for an extravagant man or a self-indulgent one, because of the good dinner he had ordered, and his eagerness to sit down to it. Through all the best years of his life he had been most frugal, abstemious, and self-denying, grudging every penny of his own expense, but sparing none for his family. And now, when he found himself so much better off, with more income and less outlay, he could not be blamed for enjoying good things, with the wholesome zest of abstinence.
For, coming to the point, and going well into the matter, the Major had discovered that the “little property " left to him, and which he was come to see to, really was quite a fine estate for any one who knew how to manage it, and would not spare courage and diligence. And of these two qualities he had such abundance, that without any outlet they might have turned him sour.
The property lately devised to him by his cousin, Sir Rufus Hockin, had long been far more plague than profit to that idle baronet. Sir Rufus hated all exertion, yet could not comfortably put up with the only alternative-extortion. Having no knowledge of his cousin Nick (except that he was indefatigable), and knowing his own son to be lazier even than himself had been, longing also to inflict even posthumous justice
upon the land-agent, with the glad consent of his heir he left this
distant, fretful, and naked spur of land to his beloved cousin, Major Nicholas Hockin.
The Major first heard of this unexpected increase of his belongings while he was hovering, in the land of gold, between his desire to speculate and his dread of speculation. At once he consulted our Colonel Gundry, who met him by appointment at Sacramento; and Uncle Sam having a vast idea of the value of land in England, which the Major naturally made the most of, now being an English landowner, they spent a most pleasant evening, and agreed upon the line marked out by Providence.
Thus it was that he came home, bringing (by kind arrangement) me, who was much more trouble than comfort to him, and at first disposed to be cold and curt. And thus it was that I was left so long in that wretched Southampton, under the care of a very kind person who never could understand me. And all this while (as I ought to have known, without any one to tell me) Major Hockin was testing the value and beating the bounds of his new estate, and prolonging his dinner from one to two courses, or three if he had been travelling. His property was large enough to afford him many dinners, and rich enough (when rightly treated) to insure their quality.
Bruntsea is a quiet little village on the south-east coast of England, in Kent or in Sussex, I am not sure which ; for it has a constitution of its OWII,
and says that it belongs to neither. It used to be a place of size and valour, furnishing ships, and finding money for patriotic purposes. And great people both embarked and landed, one doing this and the other that; though nobody seems to have ever done both, if history is to be relied upon. The glory of the place is still preserved in a seal and an immemorial stick, each of which is blest with marks as incomprehensible as could be wished, though both are to be seen for sixpence. The name of the place is written in more than forty different ways, they say; and the oldest inhabitant is less positive than the youngest how to spell it.
This village lies in the mouth, or rather at the eastern end of the mouth, of a long and wide depression among the hills, through which a sluggish river wins its muddy consummation. This river once went far along the sea-brink, without entering (like a child who is afraid to bathe), as the Adur does at Shoreham, and as many other rivers do. And in those days, the mouth and harbour were uuder the cliff at Bruntsea; whence its seal and corporation, stick, and other blessings. But three or four centuries ago the river was drawn by a violent storm, like a badger from his barrel, and forced to come straight out and face the sea, without any three miles of dalliance. The time-serving water made the best of this, forsook its ancient bed (as classic nymphs and fountains used to do), and left poor Bruntsea with a dry bank, and no haven for a cockle-shell. A new port, such as it is, incrusted the fickle jaw of the river; piles were driven and earthworks formed, lest the water should
return to its old love, and Bruntsea, as concerned her traffic, became but a mark of memory. Her noble corporation never demanded their old channel, but regarded the whole as the will of the Lord, and had the good sense to insist upon nothing, except their time-honoured ceremonies.
In spite of all these and their importance, land became of no value there. The owner of the Eastern Manor and of many ancient rights, having no means of getting at them, sold them for an song," which they were; and the buyer was one of the Hockin race, a shipwrecked mariner from Cornwall, who had been kindly treated thero, and took a fancy accordingly. He sold his share in some mine to pay for it, settled here, and died here; and his son, getting on in the world, built a house, and took to serious smuggling. In the chalk cliffs eastward he found holes of honest value to him, capable of cheap enlargement (which the Cornish holes were not), and much more accessible from France. Becoming a magistrate and deputy-lieutenant, he had the duty and privilege of inquiring into his own deeds, which enabled him to check those few who otherwise might have competed with him. He flourished, and bought more secure estates ; and his son, for activity against smugglers, was made a gentle baronet.
These things now had passed away, and the first fee-simple of the Hockin family became a mere load and incumbrance. Sir George, and Sir Robert, and Sir Rufus, one after another, did not like the hints about contraband dealings which met them whenever they deigned to come down there, till at last the estate (being left to an agent) cost a great deal more than he ever paid in. And thus- -as should have been more briefly told—the owner was our Major Hockin.
No wonder that this gentleman, with so many cares to attend to, had no time, at first, to send for me. And no wonder that when he came down to see me, he was obliged to have good dinners. For the work done by him in those three months surprised everybody except himself, and made in old Bruntsea a stir unknown since the time of the Spanish Armada. For he owned the house under the eastern cliff, and the warren, and the dairy farm inland, and the slope of the ground where the sea used to come, and fields where the people grew potatoes gratis, and all the eastern village, where the tenants paid their rents whenever they found it rational.
A hot young man, in a place like this, would have done a great deal of mischief. Either he would have accepted large views, and applauded this fine communism (if he could afford it, and had no wife), or else he would have rushed at everybody headlong, and butted them back to their abutments. Neither course would have created half the excitement which the Major's did. At least, there might have been more talk at first, but not a quarter so much in sum total. Of those things, however, there is time enough to speak, if I dare to say anything about them.
The things more to my mind (and therefore more likely to be made
plain to another mind) are not the petty flickering phantoms of the shadow we call human, and which alone we realise, and dwell inside it and upon it, as if it were all creation ; but the infinitely nobler things of ever-changing but perpetual beauty, and no selfishness. These, without deigning to us even sense to be aware of them, shape our little minds and bodies, and our large self-importance, and fail to know when the lord, or king, who owns, is buried under them. To have perception of such mighty truths is good for all of us; and I never had keener perception of them than when I sat down on the Major's camp-stool, and saw all his land around
me, and even the sea--where all the fish were his, as soon as he could catch them—and largely reflected that not a square foot of the whole world would ever belong to me.
“ Bruntlands," as the house was called, perhaps from standing well above the sea, was sheltered by the curve of the eastern cliff, which looked down over Bruntsea. The cliff was of chalk, very steep towards the sea, and showing a prominent headland towards the south, but prettily rising in grassy curves from the inland and from the westward. And then where it suddenly chined away from land-slope into sea-front, a long bar of shingle began at right angles to it, and, as level as a railroad, went to the river's mouth, a league or so now to the westward. And beyond that another line of white cliffs rose, and looked well till they came to their headland. Inside this bank of shingle, from end to end, might be traced the old course of the river, and to landward of that trough at the hither end stood, or lay, the calm old village.
Forsaken as it was by the river, this village stuck to its ancient site and home, and instead of migrating contracted itself, and cast off need. less members. Shrunken Bruntsea clung about the oldest of its churches, while the four others fell to rack and ruin, and settled into cow-yards and barns, and places where old men might sit and sigh. But Bruntsea distinctly and trenchantly kept the old town's division into east and west.
East Bruntsea was wholly in the Major's manor, which had a special charter; and most of the houses belonged to him. This ownership hitherto had meant only that the landlord should do all the tumbledown repairs (when the agent reported that they must be done), but nover must enter the door for his rent. The borough had been disfranchised, though the snuggest of the snug for generations; and the freemen, thus being robbed of their rights, had no power to discharge their duties. And to complicate matters yet further, for the few who wished to simplify them, the custom of “borough-English ” prevailed, and governed the descent of dilapidations, making nice niceties for clever men of law.
“You see a fine property here, Miss Wood," Major Hockin said to me, as we sat, on the day after I was allowed to come, enjoying the fresh breeze from the sea and the newness of the February air, and looking abroad very generally; "a very fine property, but neglected