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that the duchess's conscience reproached her for having ever harboured the shadow of suspicion against so immaculate, so invaluable a person, and forthwith a new silk gown or a becoming shawl would atone for the impropriety.
Mrs. Holdsworthy, who was a stately, commanding-looking person, kept all the inferior servants completely at arms' length-none but the second-table ones were ever honoured with her condescension. Of these, Mr. Hermitage, the equally stately butler, was long first favourite, and they very soon came to terms, and agreed that as soon as they made what they thought a sufficiency, they would marry, and retire on their fortune. In due time the amount being realised, the duchess heard with unfeigned regret of Mrs. Holdsworthy's intended "change of state," though of course she could not be so selfish as wish to keep her to herself; so she loaded her with presents, that what with her fourteen years' "puttings away," our housekeeper had very little occasion to break into the savings bank accumulations for other than the mere solid, unstealable articles of furniture.
When she left the castle, which she did in her own proper voiture— a fe-a-ton, as she called it—she felt an inward satisfaction, that though she had never let any one cheat their Graces, she had never missed a chance of doing so herself. She had mountains of linen"old rags," as she called them when she put them away, but very good linen now that it reappeared after its slumber in her boxes; China that was supposed long to have passed into that mausoleum of departed. crockery, the ash-hole; carpets, and curtains, and hangings, and covers, and brown holland, and house-flannel, and curtain-rings, and curtainholders, and old blinds, and old screens, and old fans, and old books, and things that had been so long withdrawn from sight as to be entirely forgotten. Nothing had ever come amiss to her; and by judicious tithing of the mattresses and feather-beds, she was enabled to furnish four very comfortable ones for herself. This had all been done by instalments, and carried out the same way by a pious niece, whom she used to have to instruct in the way she should go, and to whom, being then fit for service, she gave the "Fear the Lord" medal when she married.
Hermitage, too, had acted well his part; for though he did not sport a medal, yet his great intimacy with her who did operated in his favour, and often caused the duke to attribute discrepancies in the wine-account to the treachery of his own memory. So, what with his commission on tradesmen's bills-at least ten per cent.-presents from competitors, together with his wages-which latter, indeed, he looked upon much as a lawyer looks upon a retaining-fee, or a policeman his pay-he managed to feather his nest too.
Hestercombe House, with a hundred and twenty acres, chiefly grass and turnip land, just then coming vacant, they were installed therein at such a moderate rent as would have ruined a much more active man than Mr. Hermitage. He was quite a gentleman-farmer, rose at eight, breakfasted at nine, and after spelling a second-hand copy of the Post-for, like the duke, he was a Tory-he would sally forth, Norfolk spud in hand, crowned with a "drab rustic," a green cut-away coat with basket-buttons, white cords, and drab gaiters, to see what his people had been about. Very pompous and consequential he was, demanding the most humble Sept.-VOL. XCVI. NO. CCCLXXXI.
obsequiousness from the unaccustomed "chaws," who always called him the squire, though the wags christened him "Lord Hestercombe." That being done, his lordship returned to dinner, after which he would drive Lady Hestercombe out in the chay, for which purpose a draught would be laid idle.
During the winter he was a great patron of the major and his hounds, and went blundering about the country after them on a short-tailed machiner, flattening the fences like a clod-crusher. Once or twice during the season the hounds met before Hestercombe House, on which occasion there was an elegant déjeûner, with the comedy of “High Life below Stairs" enacted by Lord and Lady Hestercombe.
The consequence of all this was that the farm didn't answer, and from a very clean, well-conditioned one, which it was when they entered, it soon became a nasty, wild, foul, weed-run place. The fallows were as green as grass, the turnips were never half weeded, while, under the old plea of ploughing them out and laying them down better, one after another, he got all the old pastures turned into tillage. Mr. Easymind, the agent, found it was no use remonstrating, for if Hermitage couldn't get what he wanted out of him, forthwith Mrs. Hermitage ordered her fe-a-ton and drove off to the dear duchess; then in went the plough, and out went the grass; and if ever it was attempted to be laid down again, it was only with weeds. Letting farmers plough out old pastures, on the plea of laying them down better, is very much like persevering in the game of thimble-rig, each move making the field and the player worse. But to our story.
Although, of course, the major was not the greatest of the Hermitage acquaintance, still he was the greatest in the "reciprocity" line; for, though Pantile occasionally called at Hestercombe House-as much, perhaps, to say he had called as anything else he never took any refreshment, and always gave the Hermitages to understand it was a mere duty visit, which they need not return. Guinea, therefore, was the greatest acquaintance; and very grateful they were for his condescension. They made as much fuss about Guinea as Guinea would make about the duke, if his grace had honoured him with a visit. Very pleasant it is, this sliding-scale of condescention, whereby we all, however humble, may hope to come in for some one's admiration. Still the Hermitages were exclusive.
Dicky Dyke, instigated by his "good lady," no doubt, had made overtures for a visiting acquaintance, which they indignantly rejected, stating their surprise at a mere livery-servant thinking of such a thing.
Things were come to a pretty pass," Mrs. Hermitage said. But to our breakfast.
The cunning Guinea had made the meet at Hestercombe House for the purpose of letting Tom Hall see the estimation in which he was held; and one of the injunctions he laid on Billy Bidlington, as he saw him to his dog-cart after dinner, was to go Hestercombe House-wards home, and tell old Hermitage that young Mr. Hall, the banker's son, would be out. Now, there wasn't a name in the country so prized as that of "Hall;" for old "Sivin-and-four" issued his own notes; and Christmas, with its disagreeable concomitants then coming on, made people regard the nasty, greasy thumb-marked old things with additional affection. Indeed, the very name of Hall acted beneficially on Her
mitage, for he had about got to the end of his tether, and couldn't see his way to any more money. Rent, of course, he gave himself no uneasiness about; but he was behindhand with his labourers' wages; and certain malcontents in the township had begun to be inquisitive about the application of the highway-rates; just as if highway-rates were not the special emolument of the party undertaking the collection of them, and seeing to the couping of the field-stones into the cart-ruts.
Hermitage, therefore, rejoiced at the interruption that brought him from his nightcap of brandy-and-water to the door, at what, to a dun, he would have called an unseasonable hour of the night; and Billy having delivered his message, and declined all further nourishment, Hermitage hurried back to tell his "missis" what awaited them. She had been getting things up on a medium scale of gentility, for she wasn't sure that repetitions to the same audience-Bolus, the doctor; Waddleton, the retired flax-dresser; Bushel, the corn-factor; Ribs, the butcher; Felt, the hatter; Buckle, the saddler; and others of a like calibre-did them any good.
Mr. Hall coming made it quite a different case, and she was up betimes in the morning, looking out the best ducal "rag" of a tablecloth, with napkins, or rags of napkins, to match, and set Hermitage to polish up the richly-chased Louis-Quatorze-T.-Cox-Savory-plated tea and coffee service that Mr. Epergne, the silversmith, had presented them with on their marriage, over and above the ten per cent, Hermitage had on Epergne's bill. Very busy and bustling Mr. and Mrs. Hermitage were, far busier than ever they were at the duke's, where they used to command instead of work.
And now, leaving them for awhile toasting, and cake-making, and buttering, and bread-slicing, and ham-cutting, and egg-picking, and jelly-ejecting, and preserve-opening, we will suppose our friend Tom and the major jogging along to the meet—the major with a horn at the saddle of his carriage-horse hunter, all spruce and cap-à-pie.
"We must go in and see old Hermitage and his good lady," observed the major, as if the idea had suddenly struck him. "Excellent man, the Hermit; wife seen a great deal of good society-quite tip-top, indeed-very intimate with the duchess"—the major sinking the how, and treating it as a question of equality, or, at all events, of visiting.
"With all my heart," replied Tom, who was glad of a reprieve, however short, from the hunt; not that his horse was troubling him much, for, independently of his natural soft, sluggish disposition, Tights had put him on a very reduced allowance of corn, having arranged with one of those pony-keeping, light-cart-owning scamps, with which most countries are infested, to take whatever Tights could spare, or rather " prig." The horse was, therefore, far from fractious, quite a different animal to what he was on the Silverspring Firs day, and Tom and the major trotted along very pleasantly, admiring their breeches and taking care of their boots.
"Ah, here we are," at length exclaimed the major, as an old stoneroofed, mullion-windowed mansion, with massive chimneys, now peered above the trees, and Jonathan Falconer was seen with a slightly-formed circle around his little hounds in the last remaining grass-field before the house. It was a sad picture of desolation. The carriage-ring had long
been obliterated, and large docks, thistles, and coltsfoot, grew up to the polished steps of the portico. The entertaining rooms in front had long been dismantled, but a peep through the partially hoarded window disclosed the marble chimney-pieces and crimson-and-gold paper of the dining-room, now bagging and mouldering about the damp walls. It had been a good and hospitable mansion once-too good and hospitable, perhaps but the names of the feasters were almost forgotten.
The Hermitages only occupied the kitchen and back part, Mrs. Hermitage making what used to be the breakfast-room into a parlour. She was always "going" to furnish the once gold-papered drawing-room, but she never made any progress that way, having now no castle to draw upon for the needful. They attributed the deficiency to the repeal of the corn-laws, though we question that an eighty-shilling fixed duty would have enabled our friend to furnish out of the profits of his farm. However, it served as an excuse, it never doing for a man to blame himself for his misfortunes. The Hermitages were good actors.
No one, to see Mrs. Hermitage, would imagine for a moment that she had ever been anything but a would-be fine lady, so thoroughly unoccupied and disengaged was she. It was capital to see a woman who had been up before daybreak, putting out this, putting away that, opening out this, shutting up that, and who, at the last moment, was making bread and butter, and scolding her solitary farm-servant, all at once whip off her apron and throw herself into a chaise longue (stuffed, we are sorry to say, with Gormanstone Castle hair), and subside, Post in hand, into the elegant unconcerned lady of fashion. Indeed, she pretended to blink, and be taken by surprise, as her white-breeched husband came ushering our great master of hounds, followed by his hoped-for son-inlaw, into the little parlour, whose cackling wood-and-coal fire threw a cheerful radiance over the pictures, fans, and stolen finery around.
"Oh! Major Guineafowle! is it you?" exclaimed she, recovering her vision, and tendering him a turpentiney gloved hand. "I declare I quite forgot it was a hunting morning, though," simpered she, "I might have known by the breakfast-table," casting a glance over the snowwhite cloth and napkins (rags) that she had recently so carefully arranged. "But really," continued she, sighing, as she placed the Post behind a China monster on the mantelpiece, "I've been so dreadfully shocked at this 'orrid business of poor Lady Florence Mayfield's, that I haven't been myself since I read it. Poor thing! to think of her making such a match; knew her so well-nice, mild, modest, unassuming thing. However, I 'ope this will be a lesson to all mammas, how they let these nasty intriguing foreignering chaps come about their daughters-just as if there weren't English music-masters, and plenty too, without them. But - won't you introduce me to your friend?" continued she, sighing heavily again, as she looked at our Tom, who all this while had been standing, mouth open, lost in astonishment at the great society he was getting into. "I was going to do so," bowed old flexible-back, who had held Tom by the button for this purpose, and forthwith he pronounced the mystic words, "Mr. Thomas Hall, Mrs. Hermitage," which gave our hostess the privilege of turning the cock of her conversation upon Tom.
"Any relation of Sir Binjimin All's?" asked she, half of Tom, and half of the major.
"No, I believe not," replied the major; "Mr. Hall, great banker at Fleecyborough;" the major, in turn, now making the best of our
"Come, let's have breakfast!" growled Hermitage, giving the little hand-bell a hearty flourish, as if to drown his wife's loquacity, who, he feared, might mar a little project he had conceived for getting our Tom to assist a bit of his infirm paper through the bank. Breakfast!" repeated he, as the perspiring damsel answered the summons; and Mrs. Hermitage, motioning our friends to be seated, observed with a sigh, as she stroked down her dyed-green satin, that they would have had breakfast in the large room if she had known they'd been coming. But Hermitage, knowing it was no use trying the gammoning tack on before Guinea, who was in the same line of business himself, handed a pieceof biscuit out of his green coat-pocket to his wife, as a polite intimation to hold her tongue. Meanwhile, Tom, not feeling quite at home in such exalted society-a lady whose nerves were unstrung by the elopement of an earl's daughter-began to fidget about the room, pretending to stare at the nick-knacks, ornaments, and pictures, that were profusely scattered around; Mrs. Hermitage being now under no fear of any of the castle people coming at this early hour and catching them.
"Ah! that's a portrait of dear Lady Gertrude," observed she, as Tom halted before a coloured lithograph of a pretty girl feeding chickens out of a basket, with a lamb in a blue ribbon by her side. That's a por
trait of dear Lady Gertrude," repeated Mrs. Hermitage, with a sigh, for she was a great sigher. "Poor thing, I really think I must have it removed," observed she to her husband, "for the sight of her recals such painful recollections. Poor thing; did you know her, sir?" to our Tom, who was thinking she was not nearly so pretty as Laura.
"Nor," replied Tom, who did not aspire to such distinction.
"Made an unhappy match, poor thing," sighed Mrs. Hermitage"married Captain Rainbow, the great lady-killer-dessay you've 'erd of him. I strongly advised her off, but girls will be girls, Mr. All," sighed the lady, as she adjusted a profusion of mosaic manacles up her fine fly-away sleeves.
"And how's the duchess ?" asked the major, as if they were all as thick as thieves.
"The duchess is pretty well-at least, as well as ever she is at this time of year," replied the lady, "subject to a little cold and irritation of the mucous membrane; and that reminds me, my dear," added she, turning to her ponderous, badly-booted husband, "I shall want the fe—a— -ton to-morrow or next day, to drive over to the castle;" adding to the major, "she takes it unkind when one doesn't go over, though the days are so short that it's not very convenient, though I always say when one's in one's cage (carriage), it doesn't make much matter whether one goes five miles or ten ;" and as she was proceeding in this strain-rather raising than lowering the steam of her flash-our friend again dived into his pocket, and handed her a larger piece of biscuit than before. She took the hint this time, knowing she would "catch it" if she didn't, and gathering a fine machinery-lace scarf about her fat shoulders, and mopping the now rising perspiration from her brow with a fine cyphered but rather holey kerchief, she again addressed herself to our Tom, who had