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You ask me why I call that old great-grandmother black cat Chops? Well, thereby hangs a tale. I don't mean the black tail which is standing upright and quivering at your caresses, but a story that there will be time to tell you before Charlie gets home from market.
Seven years ago, Charlie had just finished his training both at an agricultural college and under a farmer, and was thinking of going out to Texas or to Canada, and sending for me when he should have been able to make a new home for me, when his godfather, Mr. Newton, offered to let him come down and look after the draining and otherwise reclaiming of this great piece of waste land. It had come to Mr. Newton through some mortgages, I believe, and he thought something might be made of it by an active agent. It was the first time Mr. Newton had shown the least interest in us, though he was a cousin of our poor mother's; and Charlie was very much gratified, more especially as when he had 150 pounds a year and a house, he thought I might leave the school where I was working as a teacher, and make a home with him.
Yes, this is the house; but it has grown a good deal since we settled down, and will grow more before you come to it for good. Then it was only meant for a superior sort of gamekeeper, and had only six rooms in it--parlour, kitchen, and back kitchen, and three bedrooms above them; but this we agreed would be ample for ourselves and Betsey, an old servant of our mother's, who could turn her hand to anything, and on the break-up of our home had begged to join us again whenever or wherever we should have a house of our own once more.
We have half a dozen cottages near us now; but then it seemed to us like a lodge in a vast wilderness--three miles away from everything, shop, house, or church. Betsey fairly sat down and cried when she heard how far away was the butcher, and it really seemed as if we were to have the inconveniences of colonisation without the honour of it. However, contrivances made us merry; we made our rooms pretty and pleasant, and as a pony and trap were essential to Charlie in his work, we were able to fetch and carry easily. Moreover, we had already a fair kitchen garden laid out, and there were outhouses for pigs and poultry, so that even while draining and fencing were going on, we raised a good proportion of our own provisions, and very proud of them we were; our own mustard and cress, which we sowed in our initials, tasted doubly sweet when we reaped them as our earliest crop.
Mr. Newton had always said that some day he should drop down and see how Charles was getting on, but as he hardly ever stirred from his office in London, and only answered letters in the briefest and most business-like way, we had pretty well left off expecting him.
We had been here about six months, and had killed our first pig--'a pretty little porker as ever was seen,' as Betsey said. It was hard to understand, after all the petting, admiration, and back- scratching Betsey had bestowed on him, how ready she was to sentence him, and triumph in his death; while I, feeble-minded creature, delayed rising in the morning that I might cower under the bedclothes and stop my ears against his dying squeals. However, when he was no more, the housekeeping spirit triumphed in our independence of the butcher, while his fry and other delicacies lasted, and Betsey was supremely happy over the saltings of the legs, etc., with a view to the more distant future.
It was a cold day of early spring. I had been down the lanes and brought in five tiny starved primroses with short stems, for which Betsey scolded me soundly, telling me that the first brood of chickens was always the same in number as the first primroses brought into the house. I eked them out with moss in a saucer, and then, how well I remember the foolish, weary feeling that I wished something would happen to break the quiet. We were out of the reach of new books, and the two magazines we took in would not be due for ten long days. I did not feel sensible or energetic enough to turn to one of the standard well-bound volumes that had been Charlie's school prizes, and at the moment I hated my needlework, both steady sewing and fancy work. It was the same with my piano. I had no new fashionable music, and I was in a mood to disdain what was good and classical. So, as the twilight came on, I sat drearily by the fire, fondling the cat--yes, this same black cat--and thinking that my life at the ladies' college had been a good deal livelier, and that if I had given it up for the sake of my brother's society, I had very little of that.
The hunt had gone by last week--what a treat it would be if some one would meet with a little accident and be carried in here!
Behold, I heard a step at the back door, and the loud call of 'Kitty! Kitty!' There stood Charlie, as usual covered with clay nearly up to the top of his gaiters--clay either pale yellow, or horrid light blue, according to the direction of his walk. He was beginning frantically to unbutton them, and as he beheld me he cried out, 'Kitty! he's coming!' and before I could say, 'Who?' he went on, 'Old Newton. His fly is working through the mud in Draggletail Lane. The driver hailed me to ask the way, and when I saw who it was, I cut across to give you notice. He'll stay the night to a dead certainty.'
What was to be done? A wild hope seized me that, at sight of the place, he would retain his fly and go off elsewhere for better accommodation.
Only, where would he find it? The nearest town, where the only railway station then was, was eight miles off, and he was not likely to plod back thither again, and the village inn, five miles away, was little more than a pot-house.
No, we must rise to the occasion, Betsey and I, while Charlie was making himself respectable to receive the guest. Where was he to sleep? What was he to eat? A daintily fed, rather hypochrondriacal old bachelor, who seldom stirred out of his comfortable house in London. What a guest for us!
The council was held while the gaiters were being unbuttoned. He must have my room, and I would sleep with Betsey. As to food, it was impossible to send to the butcher; and even if I could have sacrificed my precious Dorking fowls, there would have been scant time to prepare them.
There was nothing for it but to give him the pork chops, intended for our to-morrow's dinner, and if he did not like them, he might fall back upon poached eggs and rashers.
'Mind,' called Charlie, as I dashed into my room to remove my properties and light the fire, so that it might get over its first smoking fit,--'mind you lock up the cat. He hates them like poison.'
It was so long before the carriage appeared, that I began half to hope, half to fear, it was a false alarm; but at last, just as it was perfectly dark, we heard it stop at the garden gate, and Charlie dashed out to open the fly door, and bring in the guest, who was panting, nervous--almost terrified, at a wild drive, so contrary to all his experiences. When the flyman's demands had been appeased, and we had got the poor old gentleman out of his wraps, he turned out to be a neat, little, prim-looking London lawyer, clean-shaved, and with an indoor complexion. I daresay Charlie, with his big frame, sunburnt face, curly beard, and loud hearty voice, seemed to him like a kind of savage, and he thought he had got among the Aborigines.
After all, he had written to announce his coming. But he had not calculated on our never getting our letters unless we sent for them. He was the very pink of politeness to me, and mourned so much over putting me to inconvenience that we could only profess our delight and desire to make him comfortable.
On the whole, it went off very well. I gave him a cup of tea to warm and occupy him while the upstairs' chimney was coming to its senses; and then Charles took him upstairs. He reappeared in precise evening dress, putting us to shame; for Charles had not a dress-coat big enough for him to get into, and I had forgotten to secure my black silk before abandoning my room. We could not ask him to eat in the best kitchen, as was our practice, and he showed himself rather dismayed at our having only one sitting-room, saying he had not thought the cottage such a dog-hole, or known that it would be inhabited by a lady; and then he paid some pretty compliment on the feminine hand evident in the room. We had laid the table before he came down, but the waiting was managed by ourselves, or rather, by Charles, for Mr. Newton's politeness made him jump up whenever I moved; so that I had to sit still and do the lady hostess, while my brother changed plates and brought in relays of the chops from the kitchen. They were a great success. Mr. Newton eyed them for a moment distrustfully, but Betsey had turned them out beautifully--all fair and delicate with transparent fat, and a brown stripe telling of the gridiron. He refused the egg alternative, and greatly enjoyed them and our Brussels sprouts, speaking highly of the pleasure of country fare, and apologising about the good appetising effects of a journey, when Charlie tempted him with a third chop, the hottest and most perfect of all.
I think we also produced a rhubarb tart, and I know he commended our prudence in having no wine, and though he refused my brother's ale, seemed highly satisfied with a tumbler of brandy and water, when I quitted the gentlemen to see to the coffee, while they talked over the scheme for farm-buildings, which Charlie had sent up to him.
When I bade him good-night, a couple of hours later, he was evidently in a serene state of mind, regarding us as very superior young people.
In the middle of the night, Betsey and I were appalled by a tremendous knocking on the wall. I threw on a dressing-gown and made for the door, while Betsey felt for the matches. As I opened a crack of the door, Charlie's voice was to be heard, 'Yes, yes; I'll get you some, sir. You'll be better presently,' interspersed with heavy groans; then, seeing me wide awake, he begged that Betsey would go down and get some hot water--'and mustard,' called out a suffering voice. 'Oh, those chops!'
Poor Mr. Newton had, it appeared, wakened with a horrible oppression on his chest, and at once attributing it to his unwonted meal of pork chops, he had begun, in the dark, knocking and calling with great energy. Charlie had stumbled in in the dark, not waiting to light a candle, and indeed ours were chiefly lamps, which took time to light. Betsey had hers, however, and had bustled into some clothes, tumbling downstairs to see whether any water were still hot in the copper, Charlie running down to help her, while I fumbled about for a lamp and listened with awe to the groans from within, wondering which of us would have to go for the doctor.
Up came Charlie, in his shirt sleeves, with a steaming jug in one hand and a lamp in the other. Up came Betsey, in a scarlet petticoat and plaid shawl, her gray locks in curl-papers, and a tallow-candle in hand. The door was thrown open, Charlie observing,
'Now, sir,' then breaking out into 'Thunder and turf' (his favourite Hibernian ejaculation); 'Ssssssss!' and therewith, her green eyes all one glare, out burst this cat! She was the nightmare! She had been sitting on the unfortunate man's chest, and all her weight had been laid to the score of the chops!
No doubt she had been attracted by the fire, stolen up in the confusion of the house, remained hidden whilst Mr. Newton was going to bed, and when the fire went out, settled herself on his chest, as it seems he slept on his back, and it was a warm position.
Probably his knockings on the wall dislodged her; but if so, imagination carried on the sense of oppression, and with feline pertinacity she had returned as soon as he was still again.
Poor old gentleman! I am afraid he heard some irrepressible laughter, and it was very sore to him to be ridiculous. His grave dignity and politeness when he came down very late the next morning were something awful, and it must have been very dreadful to him that he could not get away till half the day was over.
So dry and short was he over matters of business that Charles actually thought we might begin to pack up and make our arrangements for emigrating. Grave, dry, and civil as ever, he departed, and I never saw him more, nor do I think he ever entirely forgave me. There did not, however, come any dismissal, and when Charlie had occasion to go up to his office and see him, he was just the same as ever, and acceded to the various arrangements which have made this a civilised, though still rather remote place.
And when he died, a year ago, to our surprise we found that this same reclaimed property was left to my brother. The consequence whereof you well know, my dear little sister that is to be. Poor old Chops! you had nearly marred our fortunes; and now, will you go with me to my home at the Rectory, or do you prefer your old abode to your old mistress?
 [In the book this genealogy is a diagram. It is rendered as text here.--DP] John Fulford: sons: John Fulford [127a] (married Margaret Lacy) and Henry [127b].
[127a] John Fulford and Margaret Lacy: Sir Edward Fulford (married Avice Lee--died after two years), Arthur, Q.C. (married Edith Ganler) [127c], Martyn (Professor, married Mary Alwyn) [127d], Charlotte, Emily, Margaret (married Rev. H. Druce) [127e].
[127b] Henry had a son called Henry--whose son was also Henry-- whose daughter was Isabel.
[127c] Arthur, Q.C. and Edith Ganler: Margaret called Metelill, Charlotte called Charley, Sons not at New Cove.
[127d] Martyn (Professor) and Mary Alwyn: Margaret called Pica, Avice and Uchtred.
[127e] Margaret and Rev. H. Druce: Jane and large family.
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