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Peter's Mother, Page 2

Mrs. Henry De La Pasture


  Above Youlestone village, overlooking the valley and the river,and the square-towered church, stood Barracombe House, backed byBarracombe Woods, and owned by Sir Timothy Crewys, of Barracombe.

  From the terrace before his windows Sir Timothy could take abird's-eye view of his own property, up the river and down the river;while he also had the felicity of beholding the estate of his mostimportant neighbour, Colonel Hewel, of Hewelscourt, mapped out beforehis eyes, as plainly visible in detail as land on the opposite side ofa narrow valley must always be.

  He cast no envious glances at his neighbour's property. The Youlewas a boundary which none could dispute, and which could only beconveniently crossed by the ferry, for the nearest bridge was sevenmiles distant, at Brawnton, the old post-town.

  From Brawnton the coach still ran once a week for the benefit of theoutlying villages, and the single line of rail which threaded thevalley of the Youle in the year 1900 was still a novelty to theinhabitants of this unfrequented part of Devon.

  Sir Timothy sometimes expressed a majestic pity for Colonel Hewel,because the railway ran through some of his neighbour's best fields;and also because Hewelscourt was on the wrong side of the river--faceddue north--and was almost buried in timber. But Colonel Hewel wasperfectly satisfied with his own situation, though sorry for SirTimothy, who lived within full view of the railway, but was obligedto drive many miles round by Brawnton Bridge in order to reach thestation.

  The two gentlemen seldom met. They lived in different parishes, andadministered justice in different directions. Sir Timothy's dignitydid not permit him to make use of the ferry, and he rarely drovefurther than Brawnton, or rode much beyond the boundaries of his ownestate. He cared only for farming, whilst Colonel Hewel was devoted tosport.

  The Crewys family had been Squires of Barracombe, cultivating theirown lands and living upon them contentedly, for centuries before theHewels had ever been heard of in Devon, as all the village knewvery well; wherefore they regarded the Hewels with a mixture ofgood-natured contempt and kindly tolerance. The contempt was becauseHewelscourt had been built within the memory of living man, and onlytwo generations of Hewels born therein; the tolerance because thepresent owner, though not a wealthy man, was as liberal in hisdealings as their squire was the reverse.

  * * * * *

  In the reign of Charles I., one Peter Crewys, an adventurous youngerson of this obscure but ancient Devonshire family, had gained localnotoriety by raising a troop of enthusiastic yeomen for his Majesty'sservice; subsequently his own reckless personal gallantry won widerrecognition in many an affray with the parliamentary troops; and onthe death of his royal master, Peter Crewys was forced to fly thecountry. He joined King Charles II. in his exile, whilst his prudentelder brother severed all connection with him, denounced him as aswashbuckler, and made his own peace with the Commonwealth.

  The Restoration, however, caused Farmer Timothy to welcome hisrelative home in the warmest manner, and the brothers were not onlyreconciled in their old age, but the elder made haste to transferthe ownership of Barracombe to the younger, in terror lest his owndisloyalty should be rewarded by confiscation of the family acres.

  A careless but not ungrateful monarch, rejoicing doubtless to see hisfaithful soldier and servant so well provided for, bestowed on him abaronetcy, a portrait by Vandyck of the late king, his father, and thepromise of a handsome sum of money, for the payment of which thenew baronet forebore to press his royal patron. His services thusrecognized and rewarded, old Sir Peter Crewys settled down amicablywith his brother at Barracombe.

  Presumably there had always been an excellent understanding betweenthem. In any case no question of divided interests ever arose.

  Sir Peter enlarged the old Elizabethan homestead to suit his newdignity; built a picture-gallery, which he stocked handsomely withfamily portraits; designed terrace gardens on the hillside after afashion he had learnt in Italy, and adopted his eldest nephew as hisheir.

  Old Timothy meanwhile continued to cultivate the land undisturbed,disdaining newfangled ideas of gentility, and adhering in all ways tothe customs of his father. Presently, soldier and farmer also passedaway, and were laid to rest side by side on the banks of the Youle, inthe shadow of the square-towered church.

  Before the house rolled rich meadows, open spaces of cornland, andlow-lying orchards. The building itself stood out boldly on a shelf ofthe hill; successive generations of the Crewys family had improved orenlarged it with more attention to convenience than to architecture.The older portion was overshadowed by an imposing south front of whitestone, shaded in summer by a prolific vine, which gave it a foreignappearance, further enhanced by rows of green shutters. It wasscreened from the north by the hill, and from the east by a densewood. Myrtles, hydrangeas, magnolias, and orange-trees nourishedout-of-doors upon the sheltered terraces cut in the red sandstone.

  The woods of Barracombe stretched upwards to the skyline of the ridgebehind the house, and were intersected by winding paths, borderedby hardy fuchsias and delicate ferns. A rushing stream dropped fromheight to height on its rocky course, and ended picturesquely andusefully in a waterfall close to the village, where it turned an oldmill-wheel before disappearing into the Youle.

  If the Squire of Barracombe overlooked from his terrace gardenthe inhabitants of the village and the tell-tale doorway of themuch-frequented inn on the high-road below--his tenants in the valleyand on the hillside were privileged in turn to observe the goings-inand comings-out of their beloved landlord almost as intimately; nordid they often tire of discussing his movements, his doings, and evenhis intentions.

  His monotonous life provided small cause for gossip or speculation;but when the opportunity arose, it was eagerly seized.

  In the failing light of a February afternoon a group of labourersassembled before the hospitably open door of the Crewys Arms.

  "Him baint been London ways vor uppard of vivdeen year, tu my zurtainknowledge," said the old road-mender, jerking his empty pewter upwardsin the direction of the terrace, where Sir Timothy's solid dark formcould be discerned pacing up and down before his white house.

  "Tis vur a ligacy. You may depend on't. 'Twas vur a ligacy last time,"said a brawny ploughman.

  "Volk doan't git ligacies every day," said the road-mender,contemptuously. "I zays 'tis Master Peter. Him du be just the age whenbyes du git drubblezum, gentle are zimple. I were drubblezum myself asa bye."

  "'Twas tu fetch down this 'ere London jintle-man as comed on here wi'him to-day, I tell 'ee. His cousin, are zuch like. Zame name, anyways,var James Coachman zaid zo."

  "Well, I telled 'ee zo," said the road-mender. "He's brart down thenextest heir, var tu keep a hold over Master Peter, and I doan't blame'un."

  "James Coachman telled me vive minutes zince as zummat were up. 'Eezad such arders var tu-morrer morning, 'ee says, as niver 'ee hadbefar," said the landlord.

  "Thart James Coachman weren't niver lit tu come here," said theroad-mender, slyly. His toothless mouth extended into the perpetualsmile which had earned him the nickname of "Happy Jack," over sixtyyears since, when he had been the prettiest lad in the parish.

  "He only snicked down vor a drop o' brandy, vur he were clean rampin'mazed wi' tuth-ache. He waited till pretty nigh dusk var the oleladies tu be zafe. 'Ee says they du take it by turns zo long asdaylight du last, tu spy out wi' their microscopes, are zum zuch, asnone of Sir Timothy's volk git tarking down this ways. A drop o' myzider might git tu their 'yeds," said the landlord, sarcastically,"though they drinks Sir Timothy's by the bucket-vull up tuBarracombe."

  "'Tis stronger than yars du be," said Happy Jack. "There baint nowarter put tu't, Joe Gudewyn. The warter-varl be tu handy vur yurebrewin'."

  "Zum of my customers has weak 'yeds, 'tis arl the better for they,"said Goodwyn, calmly.

  "Then charge 'em accardin', Mr. Landlord, charge 'em accardin',zays I. Warter doan't cost 'ee nart, du 'un?" said Happy Jack,triumphantly.
r />   "'Ere be the doctor goin' on in's trap, while yu du be tarking zo,"said the ploughman. "Lard, he du be a vast goer, be Joe Blundell."

  "I drove zo vast as that, and vaster, when I kip a harse," said theroad-mender, jealously. "'Ee be a young man, not turned vifty. I mindhis vather and mother down tu Cullacott befar they was wed. Why doan'the go tu the war, that's what I zay?"

  "Sir Timothy doan't hold wi' the war," said the landlord.

  "Mar shame vor 'un," said Happy Jack. "But me and Zur Timothy, usmade up our minds tu differ long ago. I'm arl vor vightingvurriners--Turks, Rooshans, Vrinchmen; 'tis arl one tu I."

  "Why doan't 'ee volunteer thyself, Vather Jack? Thee baint turnednointy yit, be 'ee?" said a labourer, winking heavily, to convey tothe audience that the suggestion was a humorous one.

  "Ah, zo I wude, and shute Boers wi' the best on 'un. But theGovernmint baint got the zince tu ax me," said Happy Jack, chuckling."The young volk baint nigh zo knowing as I du be. Old Kruger wuden'tha' tuke in I, try as 'un wude. I be zo witty as iver I can be."

  Dr. Blundell saluted the group before the inn as he turned his horseto climb the steep road to Barracombe.

  No breath of wind stirred, and the smoke from the cottage chimneys waslying low in the valley, hovering over the river in the still air.

  A few primroses peeped out of sheltered corners under the hedge, andheld out a timid promise of spring. The doctor followed the red roadwhich wound between Sir Timothy's carefully enclosed plantations ofyoung larch, passed the lodge gates, which were badly in need ofrepair, and entered the drive.