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"Somebody said — I forget who it w/as — that if one had one's duty and a dream.
one had enough for life."

Page 207








"the life OF MIRABEAU" ETC.

Frontispiece by C. M. BUIiD





Copyright, 1910, by


New Yokk




Harry, the Squire



Harry's Wife



Parson Grant



Dr. Richard



Dr. Mark



The White Cottage



The Chantry



Sir John



My Lady



An Ending .



A Beginning





Some seventy years ago, when that coarse,
choleric, good-natured old gentleman, Wil-
liam IV., had just vacated the throne of
Britain; when sanitation and popular edu-
cation were not; when, with luck, one could
still find noble lords to frank one's letters,
and, without it, might still fight a duel or be
imprisoned for debt; when the railway sys-
tem was in its hopeful infancy, and the
stage-coach in a vigorous old age; when Is-
lington was a country suburb, and the only
fault of Tottenham and Highgate was to
be too remote and rural; when policemen
were called " peelers," and omnibuses " shilli-
beers"; when all young men looked (only
looked) immeasurably more serious and re-
spectable than any young men do now; when
young ladies bought, and wore on each side
of the face, three little curls, and daily


ironed them out iii^on the kitchen table to
keep them crisp and fresh; when a large
public really supposed that in Mrs. Hemans
and L.E.L. burnt the divine fire, and that
" Thaddeus of Warsaw " was a work of
genius; — in these darkly remote ages the vil-
lage of Basset lay a hundred coach miles
from London, five from the little town of
Dilchester, and three from any other ^-illage.
The word " lay " is used advisedly ; for
though Basset may be identified, it will not
be found. In the old man one can indeed
trace the boy; but, not the less, the boy —
with the boy's spirit and the boy's heart — is
gone for ever.

Basset had a much too large Norman
church, which the piety of a chatelaine of
Basset ^lanor — tempus George III. — had
" improved " with two galleries.

Without the church was the callage green,
where the local louts mooned and spat on
Sunday mornings during the service. On
the green were the disused stocks, and a
large slimy pond, which the village always
drank and never connected with the typhus
which, by some special dispensation of Prov-
idence, was not always epidemic.

Looking on to the green were some charm-


ingly picturesque, thatched cottages, with
roses creeping up them, and within, too
often, nameless vice and disease — the fruits
of over-crowding. Then there was the dame
school — which really did no harm; the public-
house — which did a good deal — though it
looked pastoral and guileless enough, with
the old, smock-frocked Hodges smoking their
long clay pipes and drinking their ale out of
mugs, on the rude bench outside the door.
The doctor's low, red house had a flagged
path up to it, and homely flowerbeds on
either side of the path — tended by the doc-
tor's good lady, with her skirt well pinned
up, and an expression of dogged resolution
upon her face. The very small, genteel, cot-
tage near the doctor's — the obsolete and
expressive word " genteel " was much in
vogue then — belonged to Miss Pilkington,
who was the daughter (of course) of a late
Rector of Basset, who had lived very com-
fortably and hospitably, keeping his horses
and carriages like a gentleman, and had
left his daughters useless and portionless.
The Rectory was a large, roomy place —
rather sunless and damp, only nobody
bothered about aspects in 1837 — with a
capital garden and a paddock.


On rising ground, looking down on the
village, stood the low, rambling house that
belonged to Sir John Railton, a real, live
baronet, who used periodically to try to en-
dure the quiet and tedium of Basset, in-
variably discover it was not to be done, let
the Chantry, and return to Crockford's and
Newmarket. A couple of prosperous farms
— these were the days of Protection — also
overlooked the village.

About half a mile from it — old, grey
stone, Elizabethan — lay Basset Manor. It
had a long row of sunny bedrooms and a
cheerful parlour on its upper floor, and, on
its lower, dark, oak-panelled living-rooms
and vast, rambling kitchens. Without, there
were first-rate stables, lawns and bowling-
green, grass paths through the high-walled
kitchen garden, and beds of untidj'^ flowers.
Here, the Squires of Basset had reigned
since the days of Queen Anne, sometimes
doing that which was evil in the sight of the
Lord, and sometimes that which was good,
but more often doing nothing in particular,
except enjoy themselves.

Just about the time of the demise of King
William, young Harry Latimer attained his
majority, and his mother, who had long


reigned, but not ruled, at Basset Manor,

From her portrait — that of a youngish
woman, with a vague blue eye and a pretty,
feeble face — it is easy to account for
the lax, hospitable, happy-go-lucky charac-
ter the Manor attained in her day; and
also for a certain spoiled obstinacy which
lay deep down in the character of her

Every person in Basset went into mourn-
ing when she died, and, of course, Harry
and his household into the most lugubrious
mourning of all. Then he set up to her
memory in Basset church, just above the
Manor pew, a huge and dreadful tablet, on
which were inscribed, in the richest tomb-
stone English, the virtues she had never

He used to read that inscription during
the Morning Service for many Sundays
after her death, with some emotion and a
comfortable sense of having amply done his
duty. After a while he gave it a bow of
mental acknowledgment only; and at last
entirely forgot its presence, and the colour-
less personality it commemorated; yawned
rather obviously through the sermon, winked


a cheery blue eye at a friend in the gallery,
and was himself again.

Presently he had a lively coming of age
dinner-party at the jNIanor, and a headache
next morning — and came into his own.

It is impossible to imagine a braver and
jollier figure than Harry Latimer at one and
twent3\ With his fair head and ruddy Eng-
lish face, his well-set person, already in-
clining to a little stoutness, his capital seat
on a horse, his first-rate animal spirits, his
generous share of pluck and daring, and his
love of sport and the open — he might have
sat for the typical British country gentle-
man of that day, but that he was not suffi-
ciently thick-headed.

True, Squire Hariy never opened a book
and only skimmed a newspaper, but he had
a shrewd enough mind, though it w^as chiefly
devoted to finding himself new pleasures.
For this young gentleman had plenty of
money for his amusements without working
for it, and an estate wdiich was not too ex-
tensive for a single agent to manage — or
to mismanage — unassisted.

About ten, then, every day — except on a
hunting morning — the Squire came down to
his breakfast, opened the post-bag, threw the


bills on to a side-table, and screwed the
moral advice from an aunt — his mother's
elder and sterner sister — into a ball and
aimed it neatly at the fire, or the fireplace.
He spread open the little Times — yester-
day's — on the sideboard, and gained an idea
of its contents (which was all he wanted)
as he cut himself cold beef.

His real interests were confined to Basset;
as all Basset's real interests were in itself.
Naturally, when one had to endure the
long discomforts of a stage-coach, or the
heavy expenses of posting, to reach one's
relations, one seldom attempted to reach
them; and when the recipient of their
verbose, heavy-weighted letters had to pay
the postage there was less than no induce-
ment to keep up a correspondence. While,
as for news from foreign countries, Harry,
in common with many Englishmen of his
class of that day, had never seen any, and
despised them; honestly pitied benighted per-
sons who spoke any language but his own;
and had been taught by Mrs. Latimer that
English would be the mother-tongue of

The agent, a thin-lipped and shifty-faced
person, arrived before Harry had finished


his second cup of coffee. Those blue eyes of
the Squire were by no means defective in
penetration of character, but it would have
been a confounded nuisance to be always
suspecting everybody, so Harry comfortably
assumed — on the principle of the negligent
mother, who invariably finds paragons of
nurses and governesses to do her own duty
by her cliildren — that the agent was honest
and diligent, and listened with half an ear to
his dull stories of land drainage and tumbhng

Mr. Phillips had his morning dram; and
sometimes Harry also — and Harry went out
to the stables.

A love and a knowledge of horseflesh
had been in the blood of the Latimers since
Latimers there w^ere. There was stabling
for a dozen horses in the great stables of
Basset Manor, and generally eight or ten
in possession of them. The stalwart, hand-
some boy, W'ith his beautiful roan mare,
Victoria — his coming-of-age present to him-
self — nosing up to him for the contents of
the breakfast sugar-basin, which he always
prodigally emptied into his pocket, would
have been a w^orthy subject for that very
rising genius Mr. Landseer. The stables


were much the best kept part of Harry's
household. The grooms and ostlers knew
their master's knowledge of their business;
and the extreme freedom of his expletives —
a freedom he shared with better men than
himself — kept them up to the mark.

In the garden he was frankly uninterested.
Flowers were the business of women, and
Harry would as soon have blacked his own
boots as worked in his own garden. So he
simply strolled round it, quite unobservant,
with his couple of pepper-and-salt dandie
pups at his heels. Sometimes he threw a
silver fourpenny bit and a good-natured
word to the dirty, grinning urchin who was
sweeping up leaves, and who knew quite
well that the fourpenny and the good-nature
were dependent, not in the least on his own
conduct, but entirely on his master's feel-
ings at the moment.

As Harry's housekeeping consisted simply
and entirely in sending the cook a glass of
port when the dishes were good, and return-
ing them with contumely to the kitchen when
they were bad, it did not occupy much of his
day; but occasionally the cook, a tall, thin
lady, to whom her master would by no means
have dared to give a conge, appeared in the


dining-room with a sheaf of bills, at the sum
total of which Harry always grumbled, in
the sanguine hope that the grumbling would
reduce their amount for future occasions.

Then he played with the dandies, Dim
and Tim, and wrote half a letter; played
with the dandies again, tore up the half
letter, and decided to write the whole to-
morrow, and by that time Victoria was at the
door. It was only on these leisurelj^ non-
hunting days that he had time to ride her
easily along the narrow country lanes or
the turnpike road to the five-mile distant

For Harry was the most regular, as he
was the straightest rider to hounds in the
county; the j oiliest and most fearless, of a
brave and jolly age, in the hunting-field.
He was Master of the Hounds at one and
twenty, and the Hunt breakfasts at Basset
Manor in those days are still proudly re-
membered in the village. The garden-boy —
he of the grin and the fourpence — is an old
man now, and can still recall something of
those fine, pleasant, chilly English morn-
ings, with the men in pink, and the impa-
tient dogs and horses, fretting to be gone,
on the drive in fix)nt of the Manor windows.


On the excellent personal testimony of the
kitchenmaid, sister to the garden boy, no
other Hunt breakfast-table groaned under
viands so many and costly as did Harry's.
On the word of the county, he was one of
the most popular Masters it ever knew, with
his fair, flushed face, and his loud, good
spirits; and yet, withal, taking his sport
with the gravity and earnestness befitting an

But on frosty days, or in the non-hunting
season, Harry and Victoria — Dim and Tim
having been left in tears in the dining-room
— rode leisurely through Basset village.

All the smock-frocked Hodges greeted him
as he went by, and were proud of such a well
set-up young lord, and Harry had a salute,
with his riding-whip, and a pleasant word for
everybody. His heart and pocket were al-
ways open to the tales of woe the old gran-
nies, with many an apologizing curtsey,
stopped him to tell him. As he gave his
guinea or his florin without investigating
the story, he was immensely popular with
those sufferers — the largest class — whose
stories do not bear being pried into, and
as he was irrevocably good-natured and in-
curably sanguine, he really had not the least


difficulty in honestly believing what he was

When, in one of his own outlying cot-
tages — a most picturesque, rose-covered
place, quite unfit for decent human habita-
tion — a man laj^ dying of typhus, the Squire
put a couple of bottles of port — the remedy
in those days for every human ill — into the
dee}) pockets of his riding-coat, and pleased
the sufferer by the present far more than if
he had rebuilt the cottage, whose insanitary
condition, neither Harry nor, indeed, any
one else held responsible for the suffering.

Sometimes, in the country lanes, he would
meet old Dr. Benet, trotting calmly by in
his gig. "Hie! doctor," says Harry, and
bethinking himself that there is no time like
the 2^resent, and that he lias felt the most
uncommon painful twinges in that left foot
lately, pulls up, and takes a httle "nonsense
and advice."

To be sure, if the advice took the form,
as it sometimes did (for Dr. Benet was per-
fectly honest as well as shrewd), of " patience
and flannel," or a few glasses less in the
evening, Harry changed the subject, Avaved
his whip in a farewell salute, and remem-
bered, as he rode off, the abysmal depths


of ignorance the faculty often displayed,
and the ghastly mistakes the cleverest made
at times, and had his usual quantity of port
at night. Whereas, if Dr. Benet did not
mention the port as a probable cause of
the ailment, Harry comfortably considered
it might be a cure — and had a couple of
glasses extra.

Sometimes, for he was really exceedingly
kind-hearted, he trotted around of an after-
noon and paid his respects to Miss Pilking-
ton, at the genteel cottage near the doctor's.
She was tremblingly delighted at his visit —
almost all old women loved Harry, and but
too many young. He spread a zone of mas-
culine largeness and untidiness in her nar-
row, prim parlour; and when she anxiously
produced cake and wine — these were the
dark ages before afternoon tea — he delighted
her by finishing the whole cake with his
healthy, young appetite, and swallowed a
couple of glasses of her unique feminine
brand of sherry wine as if he liked it. He
further prescribed for her canary; it had
lost all its feathers, and looked so undressed
and indecent she had covered up its cage
with a handkerchief, a proceeding which
caused her guest to roar with laughter, and


enjoy himself vastl3\ When he went away,
he seemed to take with him free air and the

His visit, and the pleasant things it came
naturally to him to say, lay warm about
Rachel Pilkington's heart, and she did not
know, or at least not for a long time, that
with the Squire, as with many other people,
out of sight was entirely out of mind, and
that for him there was no such thing as a
past or a future, but only the present

Now and again, riding by the Rectory
gate put him in mind of the grim old Par-
son, and he rode up to the windows of the
study — falsely so called in this instance — and
thumped on them with that ever-useful riding-

The Parson was a straight shot, and had
a military history before his clerical, so
Harry could resj)ect him, with self-respect.
While, if church-going had been any pass-
port to his favour, he should certainly have
liked Harr}'-, who was regular in attendance
there, and if the sermon were less dull than
usual, actually listened to it, with a hand on
each knee, and a rather surprised expression
of countenance; sang the psalm lustily, with


great enjoyment to himself; while once — at
least once — when a young man from Dil-
chester had occupied the pulpit, and been
very pathetic over a Ragged School, a close
observer might have surprised a moisture in
Harry's blue eyes.

If Harry's religion affected his emotions
rather than his conduct, emotionalism is,
after all, the whole religion of persons far
more professedly devout than the Squire of

Perhaps as often as once a week, when
there was nothing to hunt or shoot, Harry
rode, or drove his phaeton — he was an adept
at the ribbons — into Dilchester. There, he
would stand about in the courtyard of the
old inn, " The Case is Altered," and take
bets with the other idlers (waiting, as he
was, for the arrival of the coach from Lon-
don) as to the probability of these new rail-
roads, beginning to be opened all over the
country, ousting the good old coaches out of
it at last. Harry, who had on every subject
that delightful facility for believing that
what he did not wish could not possibly come
to pass, quite refused to foresee the decline
of horseflesh; so did the landlord, also a
stout, sanguine person.


At last, with a fine craclving of whips,
and a cheery noise and bustle, in comes the
coach to a minute; the frozen passengers
descended from the roof, and the asphyxiated
ones inside were pulled out from masses of
bags and bundles by the guard. The old
coachman used to point out Harry to the
passengers, with a sort of proprietary pride
in him and his smart phaeton and cobs.
Harry had an easy, all-men-are-equal air
with the coachman, as he had with every-
body; with the landlord's arch and ogling
daughter, and the ostler, whom he had just
damned impatiently for some neglect of duty.
The parcels of things he had ordered from
London — a fine new coat from the crack
tailor in Jermyn Street among them — were
packed into the phaeton; Harry drove off;
and the idlers looked after him, and envied,
and lazil}^ admired him.

Not seldom of an evening there was a
jolly bachelor party at Basset Manor.

At half-past five, Harry and a half a
dozen neighbouring squires sat down to dine
— and were still sitting at half-past eight.
Intoxication as a fashionable vice had passed,
or was fast passing, away, and Harry and
his friends were certainly not intoxicated.


But the quantity they drank would as cer-
tainly suffice to lay their degenerate grand-
sons under the table; and that the liveliness
of the parties was largely born of the bottle
need not be denied. Tim, the smaller dan-
die, used to search on the floor, lest the revel-
lers should luckily and inadvertently have
dropped anything toothsome. Dim would
sit on the hearth, with his vast, wide head
very much on one side, gravely considering
the lords of creation enjoying their noble
and rational pleasures.

Occasionally, the party played cards; once
they stole out and caught a couple of poach-
ers, red-handed, in the very act, in Harry's
modest preserves.

Of course, Harry cursed the offenders at
the moment, and, equally of course, let
them off in the sequel; a prosecution being
such a confounded lot of trouble! But
though Harry seldom took any except for
his pleasures, it must be accounted to him
for righteousness that for them he took
often a very great deal, that he enjoyed
with a refreshing heartiness and simplicity,
and was neither bored nor fastidious in his
amusements. If the Basset dinner-table was
overladen, it may be remembered that its


host had often been walking all day among
the turnips, with a shooting lunch consisting
of absolutely nothing but a hunch of bread
and cheese, stuffed into his pocket. He
would drive himself a dozen miles in his
phaeton to a dinner-party in the teeth of
a black North-Easter; and it is certainly on
record that one eventful night, in a bitter
midwinter, muffled to the eyes, he rode to
Dilchester to the assembly ball, through the
deepest snow of years.

The ball-room w^as uncomfortably stuffy
and crowded when he got there; wax candles
in great glass lustres lit the scene, and often
shed showers of wax over the good-tempered
dancers; the fiddlers in a gallery made up in
energy what they lacked in tune and time,
and the supper was principally distinguished
by an untidy plenty. But w'hat did that
matter? Harry was the best dancer and the
handsomest man in the room; and a steward
presently introduced him to Miss ^lary
JNIatthews, of Clayton Hall, near Dilchester,
aged eighteen, and vastly enjoying herself at
her very first ball, under the fond and strict
chaperonage of a mother in a cap and a grey
silk gown, sitting on a dais and watching^
not the party, but Mary at it.


Pollie was a very slight little creature, not
really pretty, but with such bright curls and
such a bright face that she conveyed an
impression of prettiness. The family history
records that she was dressed in white muslin
— which was then not simply a synonym for
the obsolete virtues, but a stiff fabric actu-
ally worn by young women at balls. Her
feet beneath it, in the satin slippers she had
made herself, were aching to be dancing and
off. Harry loved, first, her freshness and
vigour, her ndif and new delight in the party
and in life; and she loved Harry— prin-
cipally because she was at the age to love
somebody, and so far had scarcely spoken a
dozen times to any man under fifty except
her writing-master, who had been twice
widowed, and was of a homely, eruptive

Let it be added that Pollie was now, as
she was ever, a most generous, candid, quick-
tempered, honourable and intelligent little
person, with her bright wits certainly not
stifled by study, and with a mind and heart,
like the age in which she lived, full of be-
ginnings and possibilities.

She danced all the dances with Harry she
could, with Madam — ^herself aged about


thirty-eight, but feehng and seeming older
than a woman of sixty does now — con-
scientiously regarding her from the dais.
At the end of the evening — an immensely
long evening, and seeming so dreadfully
short! — it was Harry who handed INIadam
and Pollie to their landau, with old John-
Coachman, in his flaxen wig, and with liis
fat, friendly face smiling from his box at
our JMiss and the good-looking Squire in his
swallov\- tails and the handsomest waistcoat
the eye of man ever saw.

It was Harry who, the ver}^ next day, sat
down to compose a most serious letter —
making savage threats of kicking Dim and
Tim when they interrupted him — in which
he set forth in very manl}^ terms the state
of his heart and his fortune, and begged the
leave of her mother to pay his addresses
to JMiss ]Mary ISIatthews at once.

INIiss JNIary IMatthews being fatherless, her
mother had to take counsel with a pompous
and worldly uncle, with a stock and fob, who
looked very sharply and narrowly into
Harry's money affairs, and piously hoped
for the best regarding Harrj^'s character, or
shared the common, convenient belief that men
" for the most, become much more the better


for being a little bad." Then the Squire
rode over to Clayton Hall on Victoria, and
some very thin excuse about the character

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Online LibraryEvelyn Beatrice HallBasset, a village chronicle → online text (page 1 of 15)