Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 18

The anxieties of the Lady Mallorings of this life concerning the moral welfare of their humbler neighbors are inclined to march in front of events. The behavior in Tryst's cottage was more correct than it would have been in nine out of ten middle or upper class demesnes under similar conditions. Between the big laborer and 'that woman,' who, since the epileptic fit, had again come into residence, there had passed nothing whatever that might not have been witnessed by Biddy and her two nurslings. For love is an emotion singularly dumb and undemonstrative in those who live the life of the fields; passion a feeling severely beneath the thumb of a propriety born of the age-long absence of excitants, opportunities, and the aesthetic sense; and those two waited, almost as a matter of course, for the marriage which was forbidden them in this parish. The most they did was to sit and look at one another.

On the day of which Felix had seen the dawn at Hampstead, Sir Gerald's agent tapped on the door of Tryst's cottage, and was answered by Biddy, just in from school for the midday meal.

"Your father home, my dear?"

"No, sir; Auntie's in."

"Ask your auntie to come and speak to me."

The mother-child vanished up the narrow stairs, and the agent sighed. A strong-built, leathery-skinned man in a brown suit and leggings, with a bristly little moustache and yellow whites to his eyes, he did not, as he had said to his wife that morning, 'like the job a little bit.' And while he stood there waiting, Susie and Billy emerged from the kitchen and came to stare at him. The agent returned that stare till a voice behind him said: "Yes, sir?"

'That woman' was certainly no great shakes to look at: a fresh, decent, faithful sort of body! And he said gruffly: "Mornin', miss. Sorry to say my orders are to make a clearance here. I suppose Tryst didn't think we should act on it, but I'm afraid I've got to put his things out, you know. Now, where are you all going; that's the point?"

"I shall go home, I suppose; but Tryst and the children--we don't know."

The agent tapped his leggings with a riding-cane. "So you've been expecting it!" he said with relief. "That's right." And, staring down at the mother-child, he added: "Well, what d'you say, my dear; you look full of sense, you do!"

Biddy answered: "I'll go and tell Mr. Freeland, sir."

"Ah! You're a bright maid. He'll know where to put you for the time bein'. Have you had your dinner?"

"No, sir; it's just ready."

"Better have it--better have it first. No hurry. What've you got in the pot that smells so good?"

"Bubble and squeak, sir."

"Bubble and squeak! Ah!" And with those words the agent withdrew to where, in a farm wagon drawn up by the side of the road, three men were solemnly pulling at their pipes. He moved away from them a little, for, as he expressed it to his wife afterward: "Look bad, you know, look bad--anybody seeing me! Those three little children--that's where it is! If our friends at the Hall had to do these jobs for themselves, there wouldn't be any to do!"

Presently, from his discreet distance, he saw the mother-child going down the road toward Tod's, in her blue 'pinny' and corn-colored hair. Nice little thing! Pretty little thing, too! Pity, great pity! And he went back to the cottage. On his way a thought struck him so that he well-nigh shivered. Suppose the little thing brought back that Mrs. Freeland, the lady who always went about in blue, without a hat! Phew! Mr. Freeland--he was another sort; a bit off, certainly--harmless, quite harmless! But that lady! And he entered the cottage. The woman was washing up; seemed a sensible body. When the two kids cleared off to school he could go to work and get it over; the sooner the better, before people came hanging round. A job of this kind sometimes made nasty blood! His yellowish eyes took in the nature of the task before him. Funny jam-up they did get about them, to be sure! Every blessed little thing they'd ever bought, and more, too! Have to take precious good care nothing got smashed, or the law would be on the other leg! And he said to the woman:

"Now, miss, can I begin?"

"I can't stop you, sir."

'No,' he thought, 'you can't stop me, and I blamed well wish you could!' But he said: "Got an old wagon out here. Thought I'd save him damage by weather or anything; we'll put everything in that, and run it up into the empty barn at Marrow and leave it. And there they'll be for him when he wants 'em."

The woman answered: "You're very kind, I'm sure."

Perceiving that she meant no irony, the agent produced a sound from somewhere deep and went out to summon his men.

With the best intentions, however, it is not possible, even in villages so scattered that they cannot be said to exist, to do anything without every one's knowing; and the work of 'putting out' the household goods of the Tryst family, and placing them within the wagon, was not an hour in progress before the road in front of the cottage contained its knot of watchers. Old Gaunt first, alone--for the rogue-girl had gone to Mr. Cuthcott's and Tom Gaunt was at work. The old man had seen evictions in his time, and looked on silently, with a faint, sardonic grin. Four children, so small that not even school had any use for them as yet, soon gathered round his legs, followed by mothers coming to retrieve them, and there was no longer silence. Then came two laborers, on their way to a job, a stone-breaker, and two more women. It was through this little throng that the mother-child and Kirsteen passed into the fast-being-gutted cottage.

The agent was standing by Tryst's bed, keeping up a stream of comment to two of his men, who were taking that aged bed to pieces. It was his habit to feel less when he talked more; but no one could have fallen into a more perfect taciturnity than he when he saw Kirsteen coming up those narrow stairs. In so small a space as this room, where his head nearly touched the ceiling, was it fair to be confronted by that lady--he put it to his wife that same evening--"Was it fair?" He had seen a mother wild duck look like that when you took away its young--snaky fierce about the neck, and its dark eye! He had seen a mare, going to bite, look not half so vicious! "There she stood, and--let me have it?--not a bit! Too much the lady for that, you know!--Just looked at me, and said very quiet: 'Ah! Mr. Simmons, and are you really doing this?' and put her hand on that little girl of his. 'Orders are orders, ma'am!' What could I say? 'Ah!' she said, 'yes, orders are orders, but they needn't be obeyed.' 'As to that, ma'am,' I said--mind you, she's a lady; you can't help feeling that 'I'm a working man, the same as Tryst here; got to earn my living.' 'So have slave-drivers, Mr. Simmons.' 'Every profession,' I said, 'has got its dirty jobs, ma'am. And that's a fact.' 'And will have,' she said, 'so long as professional men consent to do the dirty work of their employers.' 'And where should I be, I should like to know,' I said, 'if I went on that lay? I've got to take the rough with the smooth.' 'Well,' she said, 'Mr. Freeland and I will take Tryst and the little ones in at present.' Good-hearted people, do a lot for the laborers, in their way. All the same, she's a bit of a vixen. Picture of a woman, too, standin' there; shows blood, mind you! Once said, all over--no nagging. She took the little girl off with her. And pretty small I felt, knowing I'd got to finish that job, and the folk outside gettin' nastier all the time--not sayin' much, of course, but lookin' a lot!" The agent paused in his recital and gazed fixedly at a bluebottle crawling up the windowpane. Stretching out his thumb and finger, he nipped it suddenly and threw it in the grate. "Blest if that fellow himself didn't turn up just as I was finishing. I was sorry for the man, you know. There was his home turned out-o'-doors. Big man, too! 'You blanky-blank!' he says; 'if I'd been here you shouldn't ha' done this!' Thought he was goin' to hit me. 'Come, Tryst!' I said, 'it's not my doing, you know!' 'Ah!' he said, 'I know that; and it'll be blanky well the worse for THEM!' Rough tongue; no class of man at all, he is! 'Yes,' he said, 'let 'em look out; I'll be even with 'em yet!' 'None o' that!' I told him; 'you know which side the law's buttered. I'm making it easy for you, too, keeping your things in the wagon, ready to shift any time!' He gave me a look--he's got very queer eyes, swimmin', sad sort of eyes, like a man in liquor--and he said: 'I've been here twenty years,' he said. 'My wife died here.' And all of a sudden he went as dumb as a fish. Never let his eyes off us, though, while we finished up the last of it; made me feel funny, seein' him glowering like that all the time. He'll savage something over this, you mark my words!" Again the agent paused, and remained as though transfixed, holding that face of his, whose yellow had run into the whites of the eyes, as still as wood. "He's got some feeling for the place, I suppose," he said suddenly; "or maybe they've put it into him about his rights; there's plenty of 'em like that. Well, anyhow, nobody likes his private affairs turned inside out for every one to gape at. I wouldn't myself." And with that deeply felt remark the agent put out his leathery-yellow thumb and finger and nipped a second bluebottle....

While the agent was thus recounting to his wife the day's doings, the evicted Tryst sat on the end of his bed in a ground-floor room of Tod's cottage. He had taken off his heavy boots, and his feet, in their thick, soiled socks, were thrust into a pair of Tod's carpet slippers. He sat without moving, precisely as if some one had struck him a blow in the centre of the forehead, and over and over again he turned the heavy thought: 'They've turned me out o' there--I done nothing, and they turned me out o' there! Blast them--they turned me out o' there!'...

In the orchard Tod sat with a grave and puzzled face, surrounded by the three little Trysts. And at the wicket gate Kirsteen, awaiting the arrival of Derek and Sheila--summoned home by telegram--stood in the evening glow, her blue-clad figure still as that of any worshipper at the muezzin-call.

John Galsworthy