‘You old pig!’ said Una, nearly crying, for a cow’s tail can hurt.
‘Why didn’t you tie it down, child?’ said a voice behind her.
‘I meant to, but the flies are so bad I let her off—and this is what she’s done!’ Una looked round, expecting Puck, and saw a curly-haired girl, not much taller than herself, but older, dressed in a curious high-waisted, lavender-coloured riding-habit, with a high hunched collar and a deep cape and a belt fastened with a steel clasp. She wore a yellow velvet cap and tan gauntlets, and carried a real hunting-crop. Her cheeks were pale except for two pretty pink patches in the middle, and she talked with little gasps at the end of her sentences, as though she had been running.
‘You don’t milk so badly, child,’ she said, and when she smiled her teeth showed small and even and pearly.
‘Can you milk?’ Una asked, and then flushed, for she heard Puck’s chuckle.
He stepped out of the fern and sat down, holding Kitty Short-horn’s tail. ‘There isn’t much,’ he said, ‘that Miss Philadelphia doesn’t know about milk—or, for that matter, butter and eggs. She’s a great housewife.’
‘Oh,’ said Una. ‘I’m sorry I can’t shake hands. Mine are all milky; but Mrs Vincey is going to teach me butter-making this summer.’
‘Ah! I’m going to London this summer,’ the girl said, ‘to my aunt in Bloomsbury.’ She coughed as she began to hum, ‘“Oh, what a town! What a wonderful metropolis!”
‘You’ve got a cold,’ said Una.
‘No. Only my stupid cough. But it’s vastly better than it was last winter. It will disappear in London air. Every one says so. D’you like doctors, child?’
‘I don’t know any,’ Una replied. ‘But I’m sure I shouldn’t.’
‘Think yourself lucky, child. I beg your pardon,’ the girl laughed, for Una frowned.
‘I’m not a child, and my name’s Una,’she said.
‘Mine’s Philadelphia. But everybody except Rene calls me Phil. I’m Squire Bucksteed’s daughter—over at Marklake yonder.’ She jerked her little round chin towards the south behind Dallington. ‘Sure-ly you know Marklake?’
‘We went a picnic to Marklake Green once,’ said Una. ‘It’s awfully pretty. I like all those funny little roads that don’t lead anywhere.’
‘They lead over our land,’ said Philadelphia stiffly, ’and the coach road is only four miles away. One can go anywhere from the Green. I went to the Assize Ball at Lewes last year.’ She spun round and took a few dancing steps, but stopped with her hand to her side.
‘It gives me a stitch,’ she explained. ‘No odds. ’Twill go away in London air. That’s the latest French step, child. Rene taught it me. D’you hate the French, chi—Una?’
‘Well, I hate French, of course, but I don’t mind Ma’m’selle. She’s rather decent. Is Rene your French governess?’
Philadelphia laughed till she caught her breath again.
‘Oh no! Rene’s a French prisoner—on parole. That means he’s promised not to escape till he has been properly exchanged for an Englishman. He’s only a doctor, so I hope they won’t think him worth exchanging. My uncle captured him last year in the Ferdinand privateer, off Belle Isle, and he cured my uncle of a r-r-raging toothache. Of course, after that we couldn’t let him lie among the common French prisoners at Rye, and so he stays with us. He’s of very old family—a Breton, which is nearly next door to being a true Briton, my father says—and he wears his hair clubbed—not powdered. Much more becoming, don’t you think?’
‘I don’t know what you’re—’ Una began, but Puck, the other side of the pail, winked, and she went on with her milking.
‘He’s going to be a great French physician when the war is over. He makes me bobbins for my lace-pillow now—he’s very clever with his hands; but he’d doctor our people on the Green if they would let him. Only our Doctor—Doctor Break—says he’s an emp—or imp something—worse than imposter. But my Nurse says—’
‘Nurse! You’re ever so old. What have you got a nurse for?’ Una finished milking, and turned round on her stool as Kitty Shorthorn grazed off.
‘Because I can’t get rid of her. Old Cissie nursed my mother, and she says she’ll nurse me till she dies. The idea! She never lets me alone. She thinks I’m delicate. She has grown infirm in her understanding, you know. Mad—quite mad, poor Cissie!’
‘Really mad?’ said Una. ‘Or just silly?’
‘Crazy, I should say—from the things she does. Her devotion to me is terribly embarrassing. You know I have all the keys of the Hall except the brewery and the tenants’ kitchen. I give out all stores and the linen and plate.’
‘How jolly! I love store-rooms and giving out things.’
‘Ah, it’s a great responsibility, you’ll find, when you come to my age. Last year Dad said I was fatiguing myself with my duties, and he actually wanted me to give up the keys to old Amoore, our housekeeper. I wouldn’t. I hate her. I said, “No, sir. I am Mistress of Marklake Hall just as long as I live, because I’m never going to be married, and I shall give out stores and linen till I die!”’
‘And what did your father say?’
‘Oh, I threatened to pin a dishclout to his coat-tail. He ran away. Every one’s afraid of Dad, except me.’ Philadelphia stamped her foot. ‘The idea! If I can’t make my own father happy in his own house, I’d like to meet the woman that can, and—and—I’d have the living hide off her!’
She cut with her long-thonged whip. It cracked like a pistol- shot across the still pasture. Kitty Shorthorn threw up her head and trotted away.
‘I beg your pardon,’ Philadelphia said; ‘but it makes me furious. Don’t you hate those ridiculous old quizzes with their feathers and fronts, who come to dinner and call you “child” in your own chair at your own table?’
‘I don’t always come to dinner , said Una, ‘but I hate being called “child.” Please tell me about store-rooms and giving out things.’
Ah, it’s a great responsibility—particularly with that old cat Amoore looking at the lists over your shoulder. And such a shocking thing happened last summer! Poor crazy Cissie, my Nurse that I was telling you of, she took three solid silver tablespoons.’
‘Took! But isn’t that stealing?’ Una cried.
‘Hsh!’ said Philadelphia, looking round at Puck. ‘All I say is she took them without my leave. I made it right afterwards. So, as Dad says—and he’s a magistrate—, it wasn’t a legal offence; it was only compounding a felony.
‘It sounds awful,’ said Una.
‘It was. My dear, I was furious! I had had the keys for ten months, and I’d never lost anything before. I said nothing at first, because a big house offers so many chances of things being mislaid, and coming to hand later. “Fetching up in the lee-scuppers,” my uncle calls it. But next week I spoke to old Cissie about it when she was doing my hair at night, and she said I wasn’t to worry my heart for trifles!’
‘Isn’t it like ’em?’ Una burst out. ‘They see you’re worried over something that really matters, and they say, “Don’t worry”; as if that did any good!’
‘I quite agree with you, my dear; quite agree with you! I told Ciss the spoons were solid silver, and worth forty shillings, so if the thief were found, he’d be tried for his life.’
‘Hanged, do you mean?’Una said.
‘They ought to be; but Dad says no jury will hang a man nowadays for a forty-shilling theft. They transport ’em into penal servitude at the uttermost ends of the earth beyond the seas, for the term of their natural life. I told Cissie that, and I saw her tremble in my mirror. Then she cried, and caught hold of my knees, and I couldn’t for my life understand what it was all about,—she cried so. Can you guess, my dear, what that poor crazy thing had done? It was midnight before I pieced it together. She had given the spoons to Jerry Gamm, the Witchmaster on the Green, so that he might put a charm on me! Me!’
‘Put a charm on you? Why?’
‘That’s what I asked; and then I saw how mad poor Cissie was! You know this stupid little cough of mine? It will disappear as soon as I go to London. She was troubled about that, and about my being so thin, and she told me Jerry had promised her, if she would bring him three silver spoons, that he’d charm my cough away and make me plump—“flesh up,” she said. I couldn’t help laughing; but it was a terrible night! I had to put Cissie into my own bed, and stroke her hand till she cried herself to sleep. What else could I have done? When she woke, and I coughed—I suppose I can cough in my own room if I please—she said that she’d killed me, and asked me to have her hanged at Lewes sooner than send her to the uttermost ends of the earth away from me.’
‘How awful! What did you do, Phil?’
‘Do? I rode off at five in the morning to talk to Master Jerry, with a new lash on my whip. Oh, I was furious! Witchmaster or no Witchmaster, I meant to—’
Ah! what’s a Witchmaster?’
‘A master of witches, of course. I don’t believe there are witches; but people say every village has a few, and Jerry was the master of all ours at Marklake. He has been a smuggler, and a man-of-war’s man, and now he pretends to be a carpenter and joiner—he can make almost anything—but he really is a white wizard. He cures people by herbs and charms. He can cure them after Doctor Break has given them up, and that’s why Doctor Break hates him so. He used to make me toy carts, and charm off my warts when I was a child.’ Philadelphia spread out her hands with the delicate shiny little nails. ‘It isn’t counted lucky to cross him. He has his ways of getting even with you, they say. But I wasn’t afraid of Jerry! I saw him working in his garden, and I leaned out of my saddle and double-thonged him between the shoulders, over the hedge. Well, my dear, for the first time since Dad gave him to me, my Troubadour (I wish you could see the sweet creature!) shied across the road, and I spilled out into the hedge-top. Most undignified! Jerry pulled me through to his side and brushed the leaves off me. I was horribly pricked, but I didn’t care. “Now, Jerry,” I said, “I’m going to take the hide off you first, and send you to Lewes afterwards. You well know why.”
‘“Oh!” he said, and he sat down among his bee-hives. “Then I reckon you’ve come about old Cissie’s business, my dear.” “I reckon I justabout have,” I said. “Stand away from these hives. I can’t get at you there.” “That’s why I be where I be,” he said. “If you’ll excuse me, Miss Phil, I don’t hold with bein’ flogged before breakfast, at my time o’ life.” He’s a huge big man, but he looked so comical squatting among the hives that—I know I oughtn’t to—I laughed, and he laughed. I always laugh at the wrong time. But I soon recovered my dignity, and I said, “Then give me back what you made poor Cissie steal!”
‘“Your pore Cissie,” he said. “She’s a hatful o’ trouble. But you shall have ’em, Miss Phil. They’re all ready put by for you.” And, would you believe it, the old sinner pulled my three silver spoons out of his dirty pocket, and polished them on his cuff. “Here they be,” he says, and he gave them to me, just as cool as though I’d come to have my warts charmed. That’s the worst of people having known you when you were young. But I preserved my composure. “Jerry,” I said, “what in the world are we to do? If you’d been caught with these things on you, you’d have been hanged.”
‘“I know it,” he said. “But they’re yours now.”
‘“But you made my Cissie steal them,” I said.
‘“That I didn’t,” he said. “Your Cissie, she was pickin’ at me an’ tarrifyin’ me all the long day an’ every day for weeks, to put a charm on you, Miss Phil, an’ take away your little spitty cough.”
‘“Yes. I knew that, Jerry, and to make me flesh-up!” I said. “I’m much obliged to you, but I’m not one of your pigs!”
‘“Ah! I reckon she’ve been talking to you, then,” he said. “Yes, she give me no peace, and bein’ tarrified—for I don’t hold with old women—I laid a task on her which I thought ’ud silence her. I never reckoned the old scrattle ’ud risk her neckbone at Lewes Assizes for your sake, Miss Phil. But she did. She up an’ stole, I tell ye, as cheerful as a tinker. You might ha’ knocked me down with any one of them liddle spoons when she brung ’em in her apron.”
‘“Do you mean to say, then, that you did it to try my poor Cissie?” I screamed at him.
‘“What else for, dearie?” he said. “I don’t stand in need of hedge-stealings. I’m a freeholder, with money in the bank; and now I won’t trust women no more! Silly old besom! I do beleft she’d ha’ stole the Squire’s big fob-watch, if I’d required her.”
‘“Then you’re a wicked, wicked old man,” I said, and I was so angry that I couldn’t help crying, and of course that made me cough.
‘Jerry was in a fearful taking. He picked me up and carried me into his cottage—it’s full of foreign curiosities—and he got me something to eat and drink, and he said he’d be hanged by the neck any day if it pleased me. He said he’d even tell old Cissie he was sorry. That’s a great comedown for a Witchmaster, you know.
‘I was ashamed of myself for being so silly, and I dabbed my eyes and said, “The least you can do now is to give poor Ciss some sort of a charm for me.”
‘“Yes, that’s only fair dealings,” he said. “You know the names of the Twelve Apostles, dearie? You say them names, one by one, before your open window, rain or storm, wet or shine, five times a day fasting. But mind you, ’twixt every name you draw in your breath through your nose, right down to your pretty liddle toes, as long and as deep as you can, and let it out slow through your pretty liddle mouth. There’s virtue for your cough in those names spoke that way. And I’ll give you something you can see, moreover. Here’s a stick of maple, which is the warmest tree in the wood.”’
‘That’s true,’ Una interrupted. ‘You can feel it almost as warm as yourself when you touch it.’
‘“It’s cut one inch long for your every year,” Jerry said. “That’s sixteen inches. You set it in your window so that it holds up the sash, and thus you keep it, rain or shine, or wet or fine, day and night. I’ve said words over it which will have virtue on your complaints.”
‘“I haven’t any complaints, Jerry,” I said. “It’s only to please Cissie.”
‘“I know that as well as you do, dearie,” he said. And—and that was all that came of my going to give him a flogging. I wonder whether he made poor Troubadour shy when I lashed at him? Jerry has his ways of getting even with people.’
‘I wonder,’ said Una. ‘Well, did you try the charm? Did it work?’
‘What nonsense! I told Rene about it, of course, because he’s a doctor. He’s going to be a most famous doctor. That’s why our doctor hates him. Rene said, “Oho! Your Master Gamm, he is worth knowing,” and he put up his eyebrows—like this. He made joke of it all. He can see my window from the carpenter’s shed, where he works, and if ever the maple stick fell down, he pretended to be in a fearful taking till I propped the window up again. He used to ask me whether I had said my Apostles properly, and how I took my deep breaths. Oh yes, and the next day, though he had been there ever so many times before, he put on his new hat and paid Jerry Gamm a visit of state—as a fellow-physician. Jerry never guessed Rene was making fun of him, and so he told Rene about the sick people in the village, and how he cured them with herbs after Doctor Break had given them up. Jerry could talk smugglers’ French, of course, and I had taught Rene plenty of English, if only he wasn’t so shy. They called each other Monsieur Gamm and Mosheur Lanark, just like gentlemen. I suppose it amused poor Rene. He hasn’t much to do, except to fiddle about in the carpenter’s shop. He’s like all the French prisoners—always making knickknacks; and Jerry had a little lathe at his cottage, and so—and so—Rene took to being with Jerry much more than I approved of. The Hall is so big and empty when Dad’s away, and I will not sit with old Amoore—she talks so horridly about every one—specially about Rene.
‘I was rude to Rene, I’m afraid; but I was properly served out for it. One always is. You see, Dad went down to Hastings to pay his respects to the General who commanded the brigade there, and to bring him to the Hall afterwards. Dad told me he was a very brave soldier from India—he was Colonel of Dad’s Regiment, the Thirty-third Foot, after Dad left the Army, and then he changed his name from Wesley to Wellesley, or else the other way about; and Dad said I was to get out all the silver for him, and I knew that meant a big dinner. So I sent down to the sea for early mackerel, and had such a morning in the kitchen and the store- rooms. Old Amoore nearly cried.
‘However, my dear, I made all my preparations in ample time, but the fish didn’t arrive—it never does—and I wanted Rene to ride to Pevensey and bring it himself. He had gone over to Jerry, of course, as he always used, unless I requested his presence beforehand. I can’t send for Rene every time I want him. He should be there. Now, don’t you ever do what I did, child, because it’s in the highest degree unladylike; but—but one of our Woods runs up to Jerry’s garden, and if you climb—it’s ungenteel, but I can climb like a kitten—there’s an old hollow oak just above the pigsty where you can hear and see everything below. Truthfully, I only went to tell Rene about the mackerel, but I saw him and Jerry sitting on the seat playing with wooden toy trumpets. So I slipped into the hollow, and choked down my cough, and listened. Rene had never shown me any of these trumpets.’
‘Trumpets? Aren’t you too old for trumpets?’ said Una.
‘They weren’t real trumpets, because Jerry opened his short-collar, and Rene put one end of his trumpet against Jerry’s chest, and put his ear to the other. Then Jerry put his trumpet against Rene’s chest, and listened while Rene breathed and coughed. I was afraid I would cough too.
‘“This hollywood one is the best,” said Jerry. “’Tis won’erful like hearin’ a man’s soul whisperin’ in his innards; but unless I’ve a buzzin’ in my ears, Mosheur Lanark, you make much about the same kind o’ noises as old Gaffer Macklin—but not quite so loud as young Copper. It sounds like breakers on a reef—a long way off. Comprenny?”
‘“Perfectly,” said Rene. “I drive on the breakers. But before I strike, I shall save hundreds, thousands, millions perhaps, by my little trumpets. Now tell me what sounds the old Gaffer Macklin have made in his chest, and what the young Copper also.”
‘Jerry talked for nearly a quarter of an hour about sick people in the village, while Rene asked questions. Then he sighed, and said, “You explain very well, Monsieur Gamm, but if only I had your opportunities to listen for myself! Do you think these poor people would let me listen to them through my trumpet—for a little money? No?”—Rene’s as poor as a church mouse.
‘“They’d kill you, Mosheur. It’s all I can do to coax ’em to abide it, and I’m Jerry Gamm,” said Jerry. He’s very proud of his attainments.
‘“Then these poor people are alarmed—No?” said Rene.
‘“They’ve had it in at me for some time back because o’ my tryin’ your trumpets on their sick; and I reckon by the talk at the alehouse they won’t stand much more. Tom Dunch an’ some of his kidney was drinkin’ themselves riot-ripe when I passed along after noon. Charms an’ mutterin’s an’ bits o’ red wool an’ black hens is in the way o’ nature to these fools, Mosheur; but anything likely to do ’em real service is devil’s work by their estimation. If I was you, I’d go home before they come.” Jerry spoke quite quietly, and Rene shrugged his shoulders.
‘“I am prisoner on parole, Monsieur Gamm,” he said. “I have no home.”
‘Now that was unkind of Rene. He’s often told me that he looked on England as his home. I suppose it’s French politeness.
‘“Then we’ll talk o’ something that matters,” said Jerry. “Not to name no names, Mosheur Lanark, what might be your own opinion o’ some one who ain’t old Gaffer Macklin nor young Copper? Is that person better or worse?”
‘“Better—for time that is,” said Rene. He meant for the time being, but I never could teach him some phrases.
‘“I thought so too,” said Jerry. “But how about time to come?”
Rene shook his head, and then he blew his nose. You don’t know how odd a man looks blowing his nose when you are sitting directly above him.
‘“I’ve thought that too,” said Jerry. He rumbled so deep I could scarcely catch. “It don’t make much odds to me, because I’m old. But you’re young, Mosheur—you’re young,” and he put his hand on Rene’s knee, and Rene covered it with his hand. I didn’t know they were such friends.
‘“Thank you, mon ami,” said Rene. “I am much oblige. Let us return to our trumpet-making. But I forget”—he stood up—“it appears that you receive this afternoon!”
‘You can’t see into Gamm’s Lane from the oak, but the gate opened, and fat little Doctor Break stumped in, mopping his head, and half-a-dozen of our people following him, very drunk.
‘You ought to have seen Rene bow; he does it beautifully.
‘“A word with you, Laennec,” said Doctor Break. “Jerry has been practising some devilry or other on these poor wretches, and they’ve asked me to be arbiter.”
‘“Whatever that means, I reckon it’s safer than asking you to be doctor,” said Jerry, and Tom Dunch, one of our carters, laughed.
‘“That ain’t right feeling of you, Tom,” Jerry said, “seeing how clever Doctor Break put away your thorn in the flesh last winter.” Tom’s wife had died at Christmas, though Doctor Break bled her twice a week. Doctor Break danced with rage.
‘“This is all beside the mark,” he said. “These good people are willing to testify that you’ve been impudently prying into God’s secrets by means of some papistical contrivance which this person”—he pointed to poor Rene—“has furnished you with. Why, here are the things themselves!” Rene was holding a trumpet in his hand.
‘Then all the men talked at once. They said old Gaffer Macklin was dying from stitches in his side where Jerry had put the trumpet—they called it the devil’s ear-piece; and they said it left round red witch-marks on people’s skins, and dried up their lights, and made ’em spit blood, and threw ’em into sweats. Terrible things they said. You never heard such a noise. I took advantage of it to cough.
‘Rene and Jerry were standing with their backs to the pigsty. Jerry fumbled in his big flap pockets and fished up a pair of pistols. You ought to have seen the men give back when he cocked his. He passed one to Rene.
‘“Wait! Wait!” said Rene. “I will explain to the doctor if he permits.” He waved a trumpet at him, and the men at the gate shouted, “Don’t touch it, Doctor! Don’t lay a hand to the thing.”
‘“Come, come!” said Rene. “You are not so big fool as you pretend. No?”
‘Doctor Break backed toward the gate, watching Jerry’s pistol, and Rene followed him with his trumpet, like a nurse trying to amuse a child, and put the ridiculous thing to his ear to show how it was used, and talked of la Gloire, and l’Humanite, and la Science, while Doctor Break watched jerry’s pistol and swore. I nearly laughed aloud.
‘“Now listen! Now listen!” said Rene. “This will be moneys in your pockets, my dear confrere. You will become rich.”
‘Then Doctor Break said something about adventurers who could not earn an honest living in their own country creeping into decent houses and taking advantage of gentlemen’s confidence to enrich themselves by base intrigues.
‘Rene dropped his absurd trumpet and made one of his best bows. I knew he was angry from the way he rolled his “r’s.”
‘“Ver-r-ry good,” said he. “For that I shall have much pleasure to kill you now and here. Monsieur Gamm,”—another bow to Jerry—“you will please lend him your pistol, or he shall have mine. I give you my word I know not which is best; and if he will choose a second from his friends over there”—another bow to our drunken yokels at the gate—“we will commence.”
‘“That’s fair enough,” said Jerry. “Tom Dunch, you owe it to the Doctor to be his second. Place your man.”
‘“No,” said Tom. “No mixin’ in gentry’s quarrels for me.” And he shook his head and went out, and the others followed him.
‘“Hold on,” said Jerry. “You’ve forgot what you set out to do up at the alehouse just now. You was goin’ to search me for witch-marks; you was goin’ to duck me in the pond; you was goin’ to drag all my bits o’ sticks out o’ my little cottage here. What’s the matter with you? Wouldn’t you like to be with your old woman tonight, Tom?”
‘But they didn’t even look back, much less come. They ran to the village alehouse like hares.
‘“No matter for these canaille,” said Rene, buttoning up his coat so as not to show any linen. All gentlemen do that before a duel, Dad says—and he’s been out five times. “You shall be his second, Monsieur Gamm. Give him the pistol.”
‘Doctor Break took it as if it was red-hot, but he said that if Rene resigned his pretensions in certain quarters he would pass over the matter. Rene bowed deeper than ever.
‘“As for that,” he said, “if you were not the ignorant which you are, you would have known long ago that the subject of your remarks is not for any living man.”
‘I don’t know what the subject of his remarks might have been, but he spoke in a simply dreadful voice, my dear, and Doctor Break turned quite white, and said Rene was a liar; and then Rene caught him by the throat, and choked him black.
‘Well, my dear, as if this wasn’t deliciously exciting enough, just exactly at that minute I heard a strange voice on the other side of the hedge say, “What’s this? What’s this, Bucksteed?” and there was my father and Sir Arthur Wesley on horseback in the lane; and there was Rene kneeling on Doctor Break, and there was I up in the oak, listening with all my ears.
‘I must have leaned forward too much, and the voice gave me such a start that I slipped. I had only time to make one jump on to the pigsty roof—another, before the tiles broke, on to the pigsty wall—and then I bounced down into the garden, just behind Jerry, with my hair full of bark. Imagine the situation!’
‘Oh, I can!’ Una laughed till she nearly fell off the stool.
‘Dad said, “Phil—a—del—phia!” and Sir Arthur Wesley said, “Good Ged” and Jerry put his foot on the pistol Rene had dropped. But Rene was splendid. He never even looked at me. He began to untwist Doctor Break’s neckcloth as fast as he’d twisted it, and asked him if he felt better.
‘“What’s happened? What’s happened?” said Dad.
‘“A fit!” said Rene. “I fear my confrere has had a fit. Do not be alarmed. He recovers himself. Shall I bleed you a little, my dear Doctor?” Doctor Break was very good too. He said, “I am vastly obliged, Monsieur Laennec, but I am restored now.” And as he went out of the gate he told Dad it was a syncope—I think. Then Sir Arthur said, “Quite right, Bucksteed. Not another word! They are both gentlemen.” And he took off his cocked hat to Doctor Break and Rene.
‘But poor Dad wouldn’t let well alone. He kept saying, “Philadelphia, what does all this mean?”
‘“Well, sir,” I said, “I’ve only just come down. As far as I could see, it looked as though Doctor Break had had a sudden seizure.” That was quite true—if you’d seen Rene seize him. Sir Arthur laughed. “Not much change there, Bucksteed,” he said. “She’s a lady—a thorough lady.”
‘“Heaven knows she doesn’t look like one,” said poor Dad. “Go home, Philadelphia.”
‘So I went home, my dear—don’t laugh so!—right under Sir Arthur’s nose—a most enormous nose—feeling as though I were twelve years old, going to be whipped. Oh, I beg your pardon, child!’
‘It’s all right,’ said Una. ‘I’m getting on for thirteen. I’ve never been whipped, but I know how you felt. All the same, it must have been funny!’
‘Funny! If you’d heard Sir Arthur jerking out, “Good Ged, Bucksteed!” every minute as they rode behind me; and poor Dad saying, “’Pon my honour, Arthur, I can’t account for it!” Oh, how my cheeks tingled when I reached my room! But Cissie had laid out my very best evening dress, the white satin one, vandyked at the bottom with spots of morone foil, and the pearl knots, you know, catching up the drapery from the left shoulder. I had poor mother’s lace tucker and her coronet comb.’
‘Oh, you lucky!’ Una murmured. ‘And gloves?’
‘French kid, my dear’—Philadelphia patted her shoulder—‘and morone satin shoes and a morone and gold crape fan. That restored my calm. Nice things always do. I wore my hair banded on my forehead with a little curl over the left ear. And when I descended the stairs, en grande tenue, old Amoore curtsied to me without my having to stop and look at her, which, alas! is too often the case. Sir Arthur highly approved of the dinner, my dear: the mackerel did come in time. We had all the Marklake silver out, and he toasted my health, and he asked me where my little bird’s-nesting sister was. I know he did it to quiz me, so I looked him straight in the face, my dear, and I said, “I always send her to the nursery, Sir Arthur, when I receive guests at Marklake Hall.”’
‘Oh, how chee—clever of you. What did he say?’ Una cried.
‘He said, “Not much change there, Bucksteed. Ged, I deserved it,” and he toasted me again. They talked about the French and what a shame it was that Sir Arthur only commanded a brigade at Hastings, and he told Dad of a battle in India at a place called Assaye. Dad said it was a terrible fight, but Sir Arthur described it as though it had been a whist-party—I suppose because a lady was present.’
‘Of course you were the lady. I wish I’d seen you,’said Una.
‘I wish you had, child. I had such a triumph after dinner. Rene and Doctor Break came in. They had quite made up their quarrel, and they told me they had the highest esteem for each other, and I laughed and said, “I heard every word of it up in the tree.” You never saw two men so frightened in your life, and when I said, “What was ‘the subject of your remarks,’ Rene?” neither of them knew where to look. Oh, I quizzed them unmercifully. They’d seen me jump off the pigsty roof, remember.’
‘But what was the subject of their remarks?’ said Una.
‘Oh, Doctor Break said it was a professional matter, so the laugh was turned on me. I was horribly afraid it might have been something unladylike and indelicate. But that wasn’t my triumph. Dad asked me to play on the harp. Between just you and me, child, I had been practising a new song from London—I don’t always live in trees—for weeks; and I gave it them for a surprise.’
‘What was it?’said Una. ‘Sing it.’
‘“I have given my heart to a flower.” Not very difficult fingering, but r-r-ravishing sentiment.’
Philadelphia coughed and cleared her throat.
‘I’ve a deep voice for my age and size,’ she explained. ‘Contralto, you know, but it ought to be stronger,’ and she began, her face all dark against the last of the soft pink sunset:
Though I know it is fading away,
Though I know it will live but an hour
And leave me to mourn its decay!
‘Isn’t that touchingly sweet? Then the last verse—I wish I had my harp, dear—goes as low as my register will reach. ‘She drew in her chin, and took a deep breath:
I charge you be good to my dear!
She is all—she is all that I have,
And the time of our parting is near!’
‘Beautiful!’ said Una. ‘And did they like it?’
‘Like it? They were overwhelmed—accablés, as Rene says. My dear, if I hadn’t seen it, I shouldn’t have believed that I could have drawn tears, genuine tears, to the eyes of four grown men. But I did! Rene simply couldn’t endure it! He’s all French sensibility. He hid his face and said, “Assez, Mademoiselle! C’est plus fort que moi! Assez!” And Sir Arthur blew his nose and said, “Good Ged! This is worse than Assaye!” While Dad sat with the tears simply running down his cheeks.’
‘And what did Doctor Break do?’
‘He got up and pretended to look out of the window, but I saw his little fat shoulders jerk as if he had the hiccoughs. That was a triumph. I never suspected him of sensibility.’
‘Oh, I wish I’d seen! I wish I’d been you,’said Una, clasping her hands. Puck rustled and rose from the fern, just as a big blundering cock-chafer flew smack against Una’s cheek.
When she had finished rubbing the place, Mrs Vincey called to her that Pansy had been fractious, or she would have come long before to help her strain and pour off.
‘It didn’t matter,’ said Una; ‘I just waited. Is that old Pansy barging about the lower pasture now?’
‘No,’ said Mrs Vincey, listening. ‘It sounds more like a horse being galloped middlin’ quick through the woods; but there’s no road there. I reckon it’s one of Gleason’s colts loose. Shall I see you up to the house, Miss Una?’
‘Gracious, no! thank you. What’s going to hurt me?’ said Una, and she put her stool away behind the oak, and strolled home through the gaps that old Hobden kept open for her.