Adventures of Don Lavington: Nolens Volens, Page 2George Manville Fenn
BLIND AS BATS.
That same evening Don Lavington did not walk home with his uncle, buthung back to see Jem Wimble lock-up, and then sauntered slowly with himtoward the little low house by the entrance gates, where the yard-man,as he was called, lived in charge.
Jem had been in the West India merchant's service from a boy, and no onewas more surprised than he when on the death of old Topley, JosiahChristmas said to him one morning,--
"Wimble, you had better take poor old Topley's place."
"And--and take charge of the yard, sir?"
"Yes. I can trust you, can't I?"
"Oh, yes, sir; but--"
"Ah! Yes. You have no wife to put in the cottage."
Jem began to look foolish, and examine the lining of his hat.
"Well, sir, if it comes to that," he faltered; and there was a weakcomical aspect in his countenance which made Don burst out laughing.
"I know, uncle," he cried, "he has got a sweetheart."
"Well, Master Don," said the young man, colouring up; "and nothing to beashamed on neither."
"Certainly not," said the merchant quietly. "You had better getmarried, Wimble, and you can have the cottage. I will buy and lend youold Topley's furniture."
Wimble begged pardon afterwards, for on hearing all this astoundingnews, he rushed out of the office, pulled off his leather apron, put onhis coat as he ran, and disappeared for an hour, at the end of whichtime he returned, went mysteriously up to Don and whispered,--
"It's all right, sir; she says she will."
The result was that Jem Wimble looked twice as important, and cocked hiscocked hat on one side, for he had ten shillings a week more, and thefurnished cottage, kept the keys, kept the men's time, and married awife who bore a most extraordinary likeness to a pretty little bantamhen.
This was three months before the scene just described, but though Jemspoke in authoritative tones to the men, it was with bated breath to hislittle wife, who was standing in the doorway looking as fierce as akitten, when Jem walked up in company with his young master.
"Which I will not find fault before Master Lindon, Jem," she said; "butyou know I do like you to be home punctual to tea."
"Yes, my dear, of course, of course," said Jem, apologetically. "Notmuch past time, and had to shut up first."
"That's what you always say when you're late. You don't know, MasterDon, what a life he leads me."
"'Tain't true, Master Don," cried Jem. "She's always a-wherritting me."
"Now I appeal to Master Don: was it me, sir, as was late? There's thetea ready, and the bread and butter cut, and the watercresses turninglimp, and the flies getting at the s'rimps. It arn't your fault, sir, Iknow, and I'm not grumbling, but there never was such a place as thisfor flies."
"It's the sugar, Sally," said Don, who had sauntered aimlessly in withJem, and as he stared round the neat little kitchen with the pleasantmeal all ready, he felt as if he should like to stay to tea instead ofgoing home.
"Yes, it's the sugar, sir, I know; and you'd think it would sweeten somepeople's temper, but it don't."
"Which if it's me you mean, and you're thinking of this morning--"
"Which I am, Jem, and you ought to be ashamed. You grumbled over yourbreakfast, and you reg'larly worried your dinner, and all on account ofa button."
"Well, then, you should sew one on. When a man's married he does expectto find buttons on his clean shirts."
"Yes, and badly enough you want 'em, making 'em that sticky as you do."
"I can't help that; it's only sugar."
"Only sugar indeed! And if it was my last words I'd say it--there _was_a button on the neck."
"Well, I know that," cried Jem; "and what's the good of a button beingon, if it comes off directly you touch it? Is it any good, Mas' Don?"
"Oh, don't ask me," cried the lad, half-amused, half annoyed, andwishing they'd ask him to tea.
"He dragged it off, Master Don."
"You did, Jem, and you know you did, just to aggravate me."
"Wasn't half sewn on."
"It was. I can't sew your buttons on with copper wire."
"You two are just like a girl and boy," cried Don. "Here you haveeverything comfortable about you, and a good place, and you're alwaysquarrelling."
"Well, it's his fault, sir."
"No, sir, it's her'n."
"It's both your faults, and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves."
"I'm not," said Sally; "and I wish I'd never seen him."
"And I'm sure I wish the same," said Jem despondently. "I never seesuch a temper."
"There, Master Don," cried the droll-looking little Dutch doll of awoman. "That's how he is always going on."
"There, Jem, now you've made your poor little wife cry. You are themost discontented fellow I ever saw."
"Come, I like that, Master Don; you've a deal to brag about, you have.Why, you're all at sixes and sevens at home."
This was such a home thrust that Don turned angrily and walked out ofthe place.
"There!" cried Sally. "I always knew how it would be. Master Don wasthe best friend we had, and now you've offended him, and driven himaway."
"Shouldn't ha' said nasty things then," grumbled Jem, sitting down andattacking his tea.
"Now he'll go straight to his uncle and tell him what a man you are."
"Let him," said Jem, with his mouth full of bread and butter.
"And of course you'll lose your place, and we shall be turned out intothe street to starve."
"Will you be quiet, Sally? How's a man to eat his tea with you going onlike that?"
"Turned out into the world without a chance of getting another place.Oh! It's too bad. Why did I ever marry such a man as you?"
"'Cause you were glad of the chance," grumbled Jem, raising his hand topour out some tea, but it was pushed aside indignantly, and the littlewoman busily, but with a great show of indignation, filled and sweetenedher husband's cup, which she dabbed down before him, talking all thewhile, and finishing with,--
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Jem."
"I am," he grumbled. "Ashamed that I was ever such a stupid as to marrya girl who's always dissatisfied. Nice home you make me."
"And a nice home you make me, sir; and don't eat your victuals so fast.It's like being at the wild beast show."
"That's right; go on," grumbled Jem, doubling his rate of consumption."Grudge me my meals now. Good job if we could undo it all, and be as wewas."
"I wish we could," cried the little woman, whose eyes seemed to say thather lips were not telling the truth.
"So do I," cried Jem, tossing off his third cup of tea; and then to hislittle wife's astonishment he took a thick slice of bread and butter ineach hand, clapped them together as if they were cymbals, rose from thetable and put on his hat.
"Where are you going, Jem?"
"To eat my bread and butter down on the quay."
"But why, Jem?"
"'Cause there's peace and quietness there."
_Bang_! Went the door, and little Mrs Wimble stood gazing at itangrily for a few moments before sitting down and having what she called"a good cry," after which she rose, wiped her eyes, and put away the teathings without partaking of any herself.
"Poor Jem!" she said softly; "I'm afraid I'm very unkind to himsometimes."
Just at that moment Jem was sitting on an empty cask, eating his breadand butter, and watching a boat manned by blue-jackets going off to thesloop of war lying out toward the channel, and flying her colours in theevening breeze.
"Poor little Sally!" he said to himself. "We don't seem to get onsomehow, and I'm afraid I'm a bit rough to her; but knives and scissors!What a temper she have got."
Meanwhile, in anything but a pleasant frame of mind, Don had gone hometo find that the tea was ready, and that he was being treated as alaggard.
"Come, Lindon," said his uncle quietly, "you have kept us waiting sometime."
The lad glanced quickly round the well-furnished room, bright withcuriosities brought in many a voyage from the west, and with the poisonof Mike's words still at work, he wondered how much of what he sawrightfully belonged to him.
The next moment his eyes lit on the soft sweet troubled face of hismother, full of appeal and reproach, and it seemed to Don that his unclehad been upsetting her by an account of his delinquencies.
"It's top bad, and I don't deserve it," he said to himself. "Everythingseems to go wrong now. Well, what are you looking at?" he added, tohimself, as he took his seat and stared across at his cousin, theplaymate of many years, whose quiet little womanly face seemed to repeather father's grave, reproachful look, but who, as it were, snatched hereyes away as soon as she met his gaze.
"They all hate me," thought Don, who was in that unhappy stage of aboy's life when help is so much needed to keep him from turning down oneof the dark side lanes of the great main route.
"Been for a walk, Don?" said his mother with a tender look.
"No, mother, I only stopped back in the yard a little while."
His uncle set down his cup sharply.
"You have not been keeping that scoundrel Bannock?" he cried.
"No, sir; I've been talking to Jem."
"Ho!" ejaculated the old merchant. "That's better. But you might havecome straight home."
Don's eyes encountered his Cousin Kitty's just then, as she gave herhead a shake to throw back the brown curls which clustered about herwhite forehead.
She turned her gaze upon her plate, and he could see that she wasfrowning.
"Yes," thought Don, "they all dislike me, and I'm only a worry andtrouble to my mother. I wish I was far away--anywhere."
He went on with his tea moodily and in silence, paying no heed to thereproachful glances of his mother's eyes, which seemed to him to say,and with some reason, "Don't be sulky, Don, my boy; try and behave as Icould wish."
"It's of no use to try," he said to himself; and the meal passed offvery silently, and with a cold chill on every one present.
"I'm very sorry, Laura," said her brother, as soon as Don had left theroom; "and I don't know what to do for the best. I hate finding faultand scolding, but if the boy is in the wrong I must chide."
"Try and be patient with him, Josiah," said Mrs Lavington pleadingly."He is very young yet."
"Patient? I'm afraid I have been too patient. That scoundrel at theyard has unsettled him with his wild tales of the sea; and if I allowedit, Don would make him quite a companion."
"There, don't look like that, my dear. I promised you I would play afather's part to the boy, and I will; but you must not expect me to be aweak indulgent father, and spoil him with foolish lenity. There, enoughfor one day. I daresay we shall get all right in time."
"Oh, yes," cried Mrs Lavington, earnestly. "He's a true-hearted, braveboy; don't try to crush him down."
"Crush him, nonsense!" cried the merchant, angrily. "You really are toobad, Laura, and--"
He stopped, for just then Don re-entered the room to flush up angrily ashe saw his mother in tears; and he had heard enough of his uncle'sremark and its angry tone to make him writhe.
"Ill using her now," he said to himself, as he set his teeth and walkedto the window.
The closing of the door made him start round quickly, to find that hismother was close behind him, and his uncle gone. "What has Uncle Josbeen saying to you, mother?" he cried angrily.
"Nothing--nothing particular, my boy," she faltered. "He has," criedDon fiercely; "and I won't have it. He may scold and abuse me as muchas he likes, but I will not have him ill use you."
"Ill use me, Don?" cried Mrs Lavington. "Nonsense, my dear boy. Youruncle is all that is kind and good; and he loves you very dearly, Don,if you could only try--try a little more, my dear boy, to do what helikes, and please him."
"I do try, mother, but it's no good."
"Don't say that, Don. Try a little harder--for my sake, dear, as wellas your own."
"I have tried, I am always trying, and it's of no use. Nothing pleasesuncle, and the men in the yard know it."
"Don, my boy, what foolish obstinate fit is this which has come overyou?" said Mrs Lavington tenderly.
"I'm not obstinate," he said sullenly; "only unhappy."
"Is it not your own fault, my darling?" she whispered; "believe me, youruncle is one of the kindest and best of men."
Don shook his head.
"Are you going to prefer the opinion of the men of the yard to mine,dear?"
"No, mother, but uncle is your brother, and you believe in him anddefend him. You know how harsh and unkind he is to me."
"Not unkind, Don, only firm and for your good. Now come, my boy, do,for my sake, try to drive away these clouds, and let us all be happyonce more."
"It's of no use to try, mother; I shall never be happy here, tied downto a desk. It's like being uncle's slave."
"What am I to say to you, Don, if you talk like this?" said MrsLavington. "Believe me you are wrong, and some day you will own it.You will see what a mistaken view you have taken of your uncle'streatment. There, I shall say no more now."
"You always treat me as if I were a child," said Don, bitterly. "I'mseventeen now, mother, and I ought to know something."
"Yes, my boy," said Mrs Lavington gently; "at seventeen we think weknow a good deal; and at forty we smile as we look back and see what avery little that `good deal' was."
Don shook his head.
"There, we will have no more sad looks. Uncle is eager to do all he canto make us happy."
"I wish I could think so," cried Don, bitterly.
"You may, my dear. And now, come, try and throw aside all thosefanciful notions about going abroad and meeting with adventures. Thereis no place like home, Don, and you will find out some day that istrue."
"But I have no home till I make one," said the lad gloomily.
"You have an excellent home here, Don, the gift of one who has kindlytaken the place toward you of your father. There, I will listen to nomore from you, for this is all foolish fighting of your worse againstyour better self."
There was a quiet dignity in his mother's words which awed Don for themoment, but the gentle embrace given the next minute seemed to undo thatwhich the firmness had achieved, and that night the cloud over the lad'slife seemed darker than ever.
"She takes uncle's side and thinks he is everything," he said gloomily,as he went to bed. "She means right, but she is wrong. Oh, how I wishI could go right away somewhere and begin life all over again."
Then he lay down to sleep, but slumber did not come, so he went onthinking of many things, to fall into a state of unconsciousness atlast, from which he awoke to the fact that it was day--a very eventfulday for him, but he did not awaken to the fact that he was very blind.