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CHAPTER XXXIX THE LOOKALOFTS AND THE GREENACRES
On the whole, Miss Thorne's provision for the amusement and feeding of the outer classes in the exoteric paddock was not unsuccessful.
Two little drawbacks to the general happiness did take place, but they were of a temporary nature, and apparent rather than real. The first was the downfall of young Harry Greenacre, and the other was the uprise of Mrs Lookaloft and her family.
As to the quintain, it became more popular among the boys on foot, than it would ever have been among the men on horseback, even had young Greenacre been more successful. It was twirled round and round till it was nearly twisted out of the ground; and the bag of flour was used with great gusto in powdering the backs and heads of all who could be coaxed within the vicinity.
Of course it was reported all throughout the assemblage that Harry was dead, and there was a pathetic scene between him and his mother when it was found that he had escaped scatheless from the fall. A good deal of beer was drunk on the occasion, and the quintain was 'dratted' and 'bothered', and very generally anathematised by all the mothers who had young sons likely to be placed in similar jeopardy. But the affair of Mrs Lookaloft was of a more serious nature.
'I do tell 'ee plainly, - face to face - she be there in madam's drawing-room; herself and Gussy, and them two walloping gals, dressed up to their very eyeses.' This was said by a very positive, very indignant, and very fat farmer's wife, who was sitting on the end of a bench leaning on the handle of a huge cotton umbrella.
'But you didn't zee her, Dame Guffern?' said Mrs Greenacres, whom this information, joined to the recent peril undergone by her son, almost overpowered. Mr Greenacres held just as much land as Mr Lookaloft, paid his rent quite as punctually, and his opinion in the vestry-room was reckoned to be every whit as good. Mrs Lookaloft's rise in the world had been wormwood to Mrs Greenacre. She had not taste herself for the sort of finery which converted Barleystubb farm into Rosebank, and which had occasionally graced Mr Lookaloft's letters with the dignity of esquirehood. She had no wish to convert her own homeland into Violet Villa, or to see her goodman go about with a new-fangled handle to his name. But it was a mortal injury to her that Mrs Lookaloft should be successful in her hunt after such honours. She had abused and ridiculed Mrs Lookaloft to the extent of her little power. She had pushed against her going out of church, and had excused herself with all the easiness of equality. 'Ah, dame, I axes pardon; but you be grown so mortal stout these time.' She had inquired with apparent cordiality of Mr Lookaloft after 'the woman that owned him,' and had, as she thought, been on the whole able to hold her own pretty well against her aspiring neighbour. Now, however, she found herself distinctly put into a separate and inferior class. Mrs Lookaloft was asked into the Ullathorne drawing-room, merely because she called her house Rosebank, and had talked over her husband into buying pianos and silk dresses instead of putting his money by to stock farms for his sons.
Mrs Greenacre, much as she reverenced Miss Thorne, and highly as she respected her husband's landlord, could not but look on this as an act of injustice done to her and hers. Hitherto the Lookalofts had never been recognised as being of a different class from the Greenacres. Their pretensions were all self-pretensions, their finery was all paid for by themselves and not granted to them by others. The local sovereigns of the vicinity, the district fountains of honour, had hitherto conferred on them the stamp of no rank. Hitherto their crinoline petticoats, late hours, and mincing gait had been a fair subject of Mrs Greenacre's raillery, and this raillery had been a safety valve for her envy. Now, however, and from henceforward, the case would be very different. Now the Lookalofts would boast that their aspirations had been sanctioned by the gentry of the country; now they would declare with some show of truth that their claims to peculiar consideration had been recognised. They had sat as equal guests in the presence of bishops and baronets; they had been curtseyed to by Miss Thorne on her own drawing-room carpet; they were about to sit down to table in company with a live countess! Bab Lookaloft, as she had always been called by the young Greenacres in the days of their juvenile equality, might possibly sit next to the Honourable George, and that wretched Gussy might be permitted to hand a custard to the Lady Margaretta De Courcy.
The fruition of these honours, or such of them as fell to the lot of the envied family, was not such as should have caused much envy. The attention paid to the Lookalofts by the De Courcys was very limited, and the amount of society was hardly in itself a recompense for the dull monotony of their day. But of what they endured Mrs Greenacre took no account; she thought only of what she considered they must enjoy, and of the dreadfully exalted tone of living which would be manifested by the Rosebank family, as the consequence of their present distinction.
'But did 'ee zee 'em there, dame, did 'ee zee 'em then with your own eyes?' asked poor Mrs Greenacre, still hoping that there might be some ground for doubt.
'And how could I do that, unless so be I was there myself?' asked Mrs Guffen. 'I didn't set eyes on none of them this blessed morning, but I zee'd them as did. You know our John; well, he will be for keeping company with Betsey Rusk, madam's own maid, you know. And Betsey isn't one of your common kitchen wenches. So Betsey, she come out to our John, you know, and she's always vastly polite to me, is Betsey Rusk, I must say. So before she took so much as one turn with John, she told me every ha'porth that was going on up in the house.'
'Did she now?' said Mrs Greenacre.
'Indeed she did,' said Mrs Guffern.
'And she told you them people was up there in the drawing-room?'
'She told me she zee'd them come in - that they was dressed finer by half nor any of the family, with all their neckses and buzoms stark naked as a born babby.'
'The minxes!' exclaimed Mrs Greenacre, who felt herself more put about by this than any other mark of aristocratic distinction which her enemies had assumed.
'Yes, indeed,' continued Mrs Guffern, 'as naked as you please, while all the quality was dressed just as you and I be, Mrs Greenacre.'
'Drat their impudence' said Mrs Greenacre, from whose well-covered bosom all milk of human kindness was receding, as far as the family of the Lookalofts were concerned.
'So says I,' said Mrs Guffern; 'and so says my good-man Thomas Guffern, when he hear'd it. "Molly," says he to me, "if ever you takes to going about o' mornings with yourself all naked in them ways, I begs you won't come back no more to the old house." So says I, "Thomas, no more I wull." "But," says he, "drat it, how the deuce does she manage with her rheumatiz, and she not a rag on her:"' said Mrs Giffern, laughed loudly as she though of Mrs Lookalofts's probable sufferings from rheumatic attacks.
'But to liken herself that way to folk that ha' blood in their veins,' said Mrs Greenacre.
'Well, but that warn't all neither that Betsey told. There they all swelled into madam's drawing-room, like so many turkey cocks, as much to say, "and who dare say no to us?" and Gregory was thinking of telling them to come down here, only his heart failed him 'cause of the grand way they was dressed. So in they went; but madam looked at them as glum as death.'
'Well now,' said Mrs Greenacre, greatly relieved, 'so they wasn't axed different from us all then?'
'Betsey says that Gregory says that madam wasn't a bit too well pleased to see them where they was and that, to his believing, they was expected to come here just like the rest of us.'
There was great consolation in this. Not that Mrs Greenacre was altogether satisfied. She felt that justice to herself demanded that Mrs Lookaloft should not only not be encouraged, but that she should also be absolutely punished.
What had been done at that scriptural banquet, of which Mrs Greenacre so often read the account to her family? Why had not Miss Thorne boldly gone to the intruder and said: 'Friend, thou hast come up hither to high places not fitted for thee. Go down lower, and thou wilt find thy mates.' Let the Lookalofts be treated at the present moment with ever so cold a shoulder, they would still be enabled to boast hereafter of their position, their aspirations, and their honour.
'Well, with all her grandeur, I do wonder that she be so mean, continued Mrs Greenacre, unable to dismiss the subject. 'Did you hear, goodman?' she went on, about to repeat the whole story to her husband who then came up. 'There's dame Lookaloft and Bab and Gussy and the lot of 'em all sitting as grand as fivepence in madam's drawing-room, and they not axed no more nor you nor me. Did you ever hear tell the like o' that?'
'Well, and what for shouldn't they?' said Farmer Greenacre.
'Likening theyselves to the quality, as though they was estated folk, or the like o' that!' said Mrs Guffern.
'Well, if they likes it and madam likes it, they's welcome for me,' said the farmer. 'Now I likes the place better, cause I be more at home like, and don't have to pay for them fine clothes for the missus. Every one to his taste, Mrs Guffern, and if neighbour Lookaloft thinks that he has the best of it, he's welcome.'
Mrs Greenacre sat down by her husband's side to begin the heavy work of the banquet, and she did so in some measure of restored tranquillity, but nevertheless she shook her head at her gossip to show that in this instance she did not quite approve of her husband's doctrine.
'And I'll tell 'ee what, dames,' continued he; 'if so be that we cannot enjoy the dinner that madam gives us because Mother Lookaloft is sitting up there on a grand sofa, I think we ought all to go home. If we greet at that, what'll we do when true sorrow comes across us? How would you be now, dame, if the boy there had broke his neck when he got the tumble?'
Mrs Greenacre was humbled, and said nothing further on the matter. But let prudent men, such as Mr Greenacre, preach as they will, the family of the Lookalofts certainly does occasion a good deal of heart-burning in the world at large.
It was pleasant to see Mr Plomacy, as leaning on his stout stick he went about among the rural guests, acting as a sort of head constable as well as master of the revels. 'Now, young 'un, if you can't manage to get along without that screeching, you'd better go to the other side of the twelve-acre field, and take your dinner with you. Come, girls, what do you stand there for, twirling of your thumbs? come out, and let the lads see you; you've no need to be so ashamed of your faces. Hello! there, who are you? how did you make your way in here?'
This last disagreeable question was put to a young man of about twenty-four, who did not, in Mr Plomacy's eye, bear sufficient vestiges of a rural education and residence.
'If you please, your worship, Master Barrell the coachman let me in at the church wicket, 'cause I do be working mostly al'ays for the family.'
'Then Master Barrell the coachman may let you out again,' said Mr Plomacy, not even conciliated by the magisterial dignity which had been conceded to him. 'What's your name? And what trade are you, and who do you work for?'
'I'm Stubbs, your worship, Bob Stubbs; and - and - and - '
'And what's your trade, Stubbs?'
'Plaisterer, please your worship.'
'I'll plaister you and Barrell too; you'll just walk out of this 'ere field as quick as you walked in. We don't want no plaisterers; when we do, we'll send for 'em. Come, my buck, walk.'
Stubbs the plasterer was much downcast at the dreadful edict. He was a sprightly fellow, and had contrived since his egress into the Ullathorne elysium to attract to himself a forest nymph, to whom he was whispering a plasterer's usual soft nothings, when he was encountered by the great Mr Plomacy. It was dreadful to be thus dissevered from the dryad, and sent howling back to a Barchester pandemonium just as the nectar and ambrosia were about to descend on the fields of asphodel. He began to try what prayers would do, but city prayers were vain against the great rural potentate. Not only did Mr Plomacy order his exit, but raising his stick to show the way which led to the gate that had been left in the custody of that false Cerberus Barrell, proceeded himself to see the edict of banishment carried out.
The goddess Mercy, however, the sweetest goddess that ever sat upon a cloud, and the dearest to poor frail erring man appeared on the field in the person of Mr Greenacre. Never was interceding goddess more welcome.
'Come, man,' said Mr Greenacre, 'never stick at trifles such a day as this. I know the lad well. Let him bide at my axing. Madam won't miss what he can eat and drink, I know.'
Now Mr Plomacy and Mr Greenacre were sworn friends. Mr Plomacy had at his own disposal as comfortable a room as there was in Ullathorne House; but he was a bachelor, and alone there; and, moreover, smoking in the house was not allowed even to Mr Plomacy. His moments of truest happiness were spent in a huge arm-chair in the warmest corner of Mrs Greenacre's beautifully clean front kitchen. 'Twas there that the inner man dissolved itself, and poured itself out in streams of pleasant chat; 'twas there, and perhaps there only, that he could unburden himself from the ceremonies of life without offending the dignity of those above him, or incurring the familiarity of those below. 'Twas there that his long pipe was always to be found on the accustomed chimney board, not only permitted but encouraged.
Such being the state of the case, it was not to be supposed that Mr Plomacy could refuse such a favour to Mr Greenacre; but nevertheless he not grant it without some further show of austere authority.
'Eat and drink, Mr Greenacre! No. it's not what he eats and drinks; but the example such a chap shows, coming in where he's not invited - a chap of his age too. He too that never did a day's work about Ullathorne since he was born. Plaisterer! I'll plaister him!'
'He worked long enough for me, then Mr Plomacy. And a good hand he is at setting tiles as any in Barchester,' said the other, not sticking quite to veracity, as indeed mercy never should. 'Come, come, let him alone to-day, and quarrel with him to-morrow. You wouldn't shame him before his lass there?'
'It goes against the grain with me, then,' said Mr Plomacy. 'And take care, you Stubbs, and behave yourself. If I hear a row, I shall know where it comes from. I'm up to you Barchester journeymen; I know what stuff you're made of.'
And so Stubbs went off happy, pulling at the forelock of his shock head of hair in honour of the steward's clemency, and giving another double pull at it in honour of the farmer's kindness. And as he went he swore within his grateful heart, that if ever Farmer Greenacre wanted a day's work done for nothing, he was the lad to do it for him. Which promise it was not probable that he would ever be called upon to perform.
But Mr Plomacy was not quite happy in his mind for he thought of the unjust steward, and began to reflect whether he had not made for himself friends at the mammon of unrighteousness. This, however, did not interfere with the manner in which he performed his duties at the bottom of the long board; nor did Mr Greenacre perform his the worse at the top on account of the good wishes of Stubbs the plasterer. Moreover, the guests did not think it anything amiss when Mr Plomacy, rising to say grace, prayed that God would make them all truly thankful for the good things which Madam Thorne in her great liberality had set out before them!
All this time the quality in the tent on the lawn were getting on swimmingly; that is, champagne without restrictions can enable quality fold to swim. Sir Harkaway Gorse proposed the health of Miss Thorne, and likened her to a blood race-horse, always in condition, and not to be tired down by any amount of work. Mr Thorne returned thanks, saying he hoped his sister would always be found able to run when called upon, and than gave the health and prosperity of the De Courcy family. His sister was very much honoured by seeing so many of them at her poor board. They were all aware that important avocations made the absence of the earl necessary. As his duty to his prince had called him from his family hearth he, Mr Thorne, could not venture to regret that he did not see him at Ullathorne; but nevertheless he would venture to say - And so Mr Thorne became somewhat gravelled as a country gentleman in similar circumstances usually do; but he ultimately sat down, declaring that he had much satisfaction in drinking the noble earl's health, together with that of the countess, and all the family of De Courcy castle.
And then the Honourable George returned thanks. We will not follow him through the different periods of his somewhat irregular eloquence. Those immediately in his neighbourhood found it at first rather difficult to get him to his legs, but much greater difficulty was soon experience in inducing him to resume his seat. One of two arrangements should certainly be made in these days: either let all speech-making on festive occasions be utterly tabooed and made as it were impossible; or else let those who are to exercise the privilege be first subjected to a competing examination before the civil service examining commissioners. As it is now, the Honourable Georges do but little honour to our exertions in favour of British education.
In the dining-room the bishop went through the honours of the day with much more neatness and propriety. He also drank Miss Thorne's health, and did it in a manner becoming the bench which he adorned. The party there, was perhaps a little more dull, a shade less lively than that in the tent.
But what was lost in mirth, was fully made up in decorum.
And so the banquet passed off at the various tables with great eclat and universal delight.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XL ULLATHORNE SPORTS - ACT II