English Literature

A Life’s Eclipse by George Manville Fenn

A Life's Eclipse by George Manville Fenn

Chapter One.

“What insolence!”

John Grange’s brown, good-looking face turned of a reddish-brown in the cheeks, the warm tint mounting into his forehead, as he looked straight in the speaker’s eyes, and there was a good, manly English ring in his voice as he said sturdily—

“I didn’t know, Mr Ellis, that it was insolent for a man to come in a straightforward way, and say to the father of the young lady simply—yes, and humbly—‘I love your daughter, sir.’”

“But it is, sir, downright insolence. Recollect what you are, sir, only an under-gardener living at the bothy on thirty shillings a week.”

“I do recollect it, sir, but I don’t mean to be an under-gardener always.”

“Oh, indeed,” said James Ellis sarcastically, “but poor old Dunton is not dead yet, and when he does die, Mrs Mostyn is quite as likely to appoint Daniel Barnett to his place as you, and if she takes my advice, she’ll give the post to neither of you, but get some able, sensible man from Chiswick.”

“But, Mr Ellis—”

“That will do, John Grange,” said the owner of that name pompously. “I know what you are going to say. I am not ashamed of having been only a gardener once, but I am Mrs Mostyn’s bailiff and agent now, sir, and, so to speak, your master. Let me hear no more of this nonsense, sir. That will do. But one moment. Have you had the—I mean, does Mary—I mean, does Miss Ellis know that you were going to speak to me this evening?”

“No, sir,” said John Grange sternly. “I’m only an under-gardener, but I’ve heard that it was the proper thing to speak out openly first.”

“Then Mary does not know that you—I mean, that you think about her?”

“I hope and believe she does; sir,” said the young man warmly, and his eyes flashed, and a proud, joyful look came into his countenance.

“Then I beg you will not hope and believe anything of the kind, sir, again. My daughter will do precisely as I wish, and when I part with her, it will be to see her go to a substantial home. Good-evening!”

James Ellis tucked his walking-stick under his arm, took off his grey felt hat, drew a red silk handkerchief from the crown, rubbed his bald head, and made himself look hotter as he strode away, while after standing and watching him go toward the bailiff’s cottage just outside the park fence at The Hollows on the hill slope, a quarter of a mile away, the young man uttered a sigh and turned in at an open doorway in a high wall, whose top was fringed with young shoots of peaches, nectarines, and apricots, suggestive of the horticultural treasures within.

“What a slap in the face!” he muttered. “Under-gardener! Well, that’s all right. Give poor old Dunton’s place to Dan Barnett! Here, I can’t go in now, I must walk this off.”

John Grange pulled the open door to, so that it fastened with a snap, and turned off to make for the woods, where he could think alone.

His way was for a couple of hundred yards toward the pretty villa known as the bailiff’s cottage, and he had not gone half that distance when a sudden pang shot through him. For the place stood high, and he caught sight of two figures in the garden, one that of a man, the other that of some one in white muslin and a straw hat, coming toward the gate. The next minute the man was in the road, and half a minute later he was standing talking to Mrs Mostyn’s agent, while the white muslin that had been so plainly seen amongst the shrubs had disappeared into the cottage.

John Grange’s face grew dark with a look of despair, and he did not go off into the woods.

Dan Barnett, up there at the cottage talking to Mary, while he had been speaking to her father, and she had come down to the gate with her visitor.

Something very like a groan escaped the young man’s lips as he crossed the road to lean his arms upon the gate, and looked over into the park, feeling more miserable than ever before in his life.

“I’m a poor, weak fool,” he thought. “He’s good-looking, and knows the way to a girl’s heart. Better keep to my nailing and pruning. One from the father, two from Dan Barnett. Regular knock-down blows. Better get up again, go to work and forget it all—if I can.”

“Nice evening, John Grange. Drop o’ rain coming?”

“Eh? Yes, I think so, Tummus,” said the young man, turning to the dry, quaint old fellow who had spoken, and who now screwed up the bark on his face—it more resembled that than skin—showed three or four ancient, yellow teeth, and jerked his right thumb over his shoulder.

“I say—see that? Young Dan Barnett going courtin’, and now having it out with Miss Mary’s dad. You mark my words, Mr John, sir, if poor old Dunton dies, and Dan Barnett steps into his shoes, there’ll be a wedding yonder.”

“Think so, Tummus?” said John Grange, with a forced smile.

“Aye, that’s what I think, sir,” said the old man, and then showing his gums as well as his teeth, he continued, “and I thinks this ’ere too—that if I’d been a young, good-looking chap like some one I know, I wouldn’t ha’ let Dan Barnett shoulder me out, and stand in first with the prettiest and best young lady in these parts. Evening!”

“Here, hi! You!” came from behind them, and the person in question strode up, looking frowning and angry.

“You ca’ me, Mr Dan?”

“Yes; did you finish wheeling up that stuff?”

“Aye; I fishened it all ’fore I left work. Good-evening.”

He left the two young men standing together, and there was a peculiar, malicious look in the fresh-comer’s eyes as he gave John Grange a short nod.

“Mrs Mostyn say anything to you ’bout the cedar?”

“Yes; she said the broken stump was to be cut off to-morrow.”

“Then you’d better get the ladders and ropes ready first thing.”

“You mean we had better,” said John Grange quietly.

“No, I don’t. I’m not going to break my neck for thirty shillings a week. Heard how Dunton is?”

“Very bad. Doctor Manning was here again this evening.”

“Well, he’s nearly ninety—a man can’t expect to live for ever. Time he did go.”

John Grange walked away toward the head-gardener’s cottage to ask for the last news, and Daniel Barnett stood watching him with a frown on his rather handsome features.

“Poor old Dunton!” said John Grange to himself; “we shall miss him when he’s gone.”

“Hang him!” muttered Barnett, “that’s it. I saw him talking to the old man, but he hasn’t won yet. Insolence, eh? I like that. The Barnetts are as good as the Ellis’s, anyhow. Wait a bit, my lady, and I may take a bit of the pride out of you.”

Some men have a habit of thinking across the grain.

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