Mrs. Poyser "Has Her Say Out"
THE next Saturday evening there was much excited discussion at the Donnithorne Arms concerning an incident which had occurred that very day — no less than a second appearance of the smart man in top-boots said by some to be a mere farmer in treaty for the Chase Farm, by others to be the future steward, but by Mr. Casson himself, the personal witness to the stranger's visit, pronounced contemptuously to be nothing better than a bailiff, such as Satchell had been before him. No one had thought of denying Mr. Casson's testimony to the fact that he had seen the stranger; nevertheless, he proffered various corroborating circumstances.
"I see him myself," he said; "I see him coming along by the Crab-tree Meadow on a bald-faced hoss. I'd just been t' hev a pint — it was half after ten i' the fore-noon, when I hev my pint as reg'lar as the clock — and I says to Knowles, as druv up with his waggon, 'You'll get a bit o' barley to-day, Knowles,' I says, 'if you look about you'; and then I went round by the rick-yard, and towart the Treddles'on road, and just as I come up by the big ash-tree, I see the man i' top-boots coming along on a bald-faced hoss — I wish I may never stir if I didn't. And I stood still till he come up, and I says, 'Good morning, sir,' I says, for I wanted to hear the turn of his tongue, as I might know whether he was a this-country man; so I says, 'Good morning, sir: it 'll 'old hup for the barley this morning, I think. There'll be a bit got hin, if we've good luck.' And he says, 'Eh, ye may be raight, there's noo tallin',' he says, and I knowed by that" — here Mr. Casson gave a wink — "as he didn't come from a hundred mile off. I daresay he'd think me a hodd talker, as you Loamshire folks allays does hany one as talks the right language."
"The right language!" said Bartle Massey, contemptuously. "You're about as near the right language as a pig's squeaking is like a tune played on a key-bugle."
"Well, I don't know," answered Mr. Casson, with an angry smile. "I should think a man as has lived among the gentry from a by, is likely to know what's the right language pretty nigh as well as a schoolmaster."
"Aye, aye, man," said Bartle, with a tone of sarcastic consolation, "you talk the right language for you. When Mike Holdsworth's goat says ba-a-a, it's all right — it 'ud be unnatural for it to make any other noise."
The rest of the party being Loamsnire men, Mr. Casson had the laugh strongly against him, and wisely fell back on the previous question, which, far from being exhausted in a single evening, was renewed in the churchyard, before service, the next day, with the fresh interest conferred on all news when there is a fresh person to hear it; and that fresh hearer was Martin Poyser, who, as his wife said, "never went boozin' with that set at Casson's, a-sittin' soakin' in drink, and looking as wise as a lot o' cod-fish wi' red faces."
It was probably owing to the conversation she had had with her husband on their way from church concerning this problematic stranger that Mrs. Poyser's thoughts immediately reverted to him when, a day or two afterwards, as she was standing at the house-door with her knitting, in that eager leisure which came to her when the afternoon cleaning was done, she saw the old squire enter the yard on his black pony, followed by John the groom. She always cited it afterwards as a case of prevision, which really had something more in it than her own remarkable penetration, that the moment she set eyes on the squire she said to herself, "I shouldna wonder if he's come about that man as is a-going to take the Chase Farm, wanting Poyser to do something for him without pay. But Poyser's a fool if he does."
Something unwonted must clearly be in the wind, for the old squire's visits to his tenantry were rare; and though Mrs. Poyser had during the last twelvemonth recited many imaginary speeches, meaning even more than met the ear, which she was quite determined to make to him the next time he appeared within the gates of the Hall Farm, the speeches had always remained imaginary.
"Good-day, Mrs. Poyser," said the old squire, peering at her with his short-sighted eyes — a mode of looking at her which, as Mrs. Poyser observed, "allays aggravated me: it was as if you was a insect, and he was going to dab his finger-nail on you."
However, she said, "Your servant, sir," and curtsied with an air of perfect deference as she advanced towards him: she was not the woman to misbehave towards her betters, and fly in the face of the catechism, without severe provocation.
"Is your husband at home, Mrs. Poyser?"
"Yes, sir; he's only i' the rick-yard. I'll send for him in a minute, if you'll please to get down and step in."
"Thank you; I will do so. I want to consult him about a little matter; but you are quite as much concerned in it, if not more. I must have your opinion too."
"Hetty, run and tell your uncle to come in," said Mrs. Poyser, as they entered the house, and the old gentleman bowed low in answer to Hetty's curtsy; while Totty, conscious of a pinafore stained with gooseberry jam, stood hiding her face against the clock and peeping round furtively.
"What a fine old kitchen this is!" said Mr. Donnithorne, looking round admiringly. He always spoke in the same deliberate, well-chiselled, polite way, whether his words were sugary or venomous. "And you keep it so exquisitely clean, Mrs. Poyser. I like these premises, do you know, beyond any on the estate."
"Well, sir, since you're fond of 'em, I should be glad if you'd let a bit o' repairs be done to 'em, for the boarding's i' that state as we're like to be eaten up wi' rats and mice; and the cellar, you may stan' up to your knees i' water in't, if you like to go down; but perhaps you'd rather believe my words. Won't you please to sit down, sir?"
"Not yet; I must see your dairy. I have not seen it for years, and I hear on all hands about your fine cheese and butter," said the squire, looking politely unconscious that there could be any question on which he and Mrs. Poyser might happen to disagree. "I think I see the door open, there. You must not be surprised if I cast a covetous eye on your cream and butter. I don't expect that Mrs. Satchell's cream and butter will bear comparison with yours."
"I can't say, sir, I'm sure. It's seldom I see other folks's butter, though there's some on it as one's no need to see — the smell's enough."
"Ah, now this I like," said Mr. Donnithorne, looking round at the damp temple of cleanliness, but keeping near the door. "I'm sure I should like my breakfast better if I knew the butter and cream came from this dairy. Thank you, that really is a pleasant sight. Unfortunately, my slight tendency to rheumatism makes me afraid of damp: I'll sit down in your comfortable kitchen. Ah, Poyser, how do you do? In the midst of business, I see, as usual. I've been looking at your wife's beautiful dairy — the best manager in the parish, is she not?"
Mr. Poyser had just entered in shirt-sleeves and open waistcoat, with a face a shade redder than usual, from the exertion of "pitching." As he stood, red, rotund, and radiant, before the small, wiry, cool old gentleman, he looked like a prize apple by the side of a withered crab.
"Will you please to take this chair, sir?" he said, lifting his father's arm-chair forward a little: "you'll find it easy."
"No, thank you, I never sit in easy-chairs," said the old gentleman, seating himself on a small chair near the door. "Do you know, Mrs. Poyser — sit down, pray, both of you — I've been far from contented, for some time, with Mrs. Satchell's dairy management. I think she has not a good method, as you have."
"Indeed, sir, I can't speak to that," said Mrs. Poyser in a hard voice, rolling and unrolling her knitting and looking icily out of the window, as she continued to stand opposite the squire. Poyser might sit down if he liked, she thought; she wasn't going to sit down, as if she'd give in to any such smooth-tongued palaver. Mr. Poyser, who looked and felt the reverse of icy, did sit down in his three-cornered chair.
"And now, Poyser, as Satchell is laid up, I am intending to let the Chase Farm to a respectable tenant. I'm tired of having a farm on my own hands — nothing is made the best of in such cases, as you know. A satisfactory bailiff is hard to find; and I think you and I, Poyser, and your excellent wife here, can enter into a little arrangement in consequence, which will be to our mutual advantage."
"Oh," said Mr. Poyser, with a good-natured blankness of imagination as to the nature of the arrangement.
"If I'm called upon to speak, sir," said Mrs. Poyser, after glancing at her husband with pity at his softness, "you know better than me; but I don't see what the Chase Farm is t' us — we've cumber enough wi' our own farm. Not but what I'm glad to hear o' anybody respectable coming into the parish; there's some as ha' been brought in as hasn't been looked on i' that character."
"You're likely to find Mr. Thurle an excellent neighbour, I assure you — such a one as you will feel glad to have accommodated by the little plan I'm going to mention, especially as I hope you will find it as much to your own advantage as his."
"Indeed, sir, if it's anything t' our advantage, it'll be the first offer o' the sort I've heared on. It's them as take advantage that get advantage i' this world, I think. Folks have to wait long enough afore it's brought to 'em."