PRESSURE OF CIRCUMSTANCES
The early breakfast over, Leland was walking up and down beneath the red beeches that grew close up to the old arched gateway of Barrock-holme, one of his fellow guests beside him, and a gun under his arm. Looking in through the quadrangle, they saw a young groom holding with some difficulty a restive, champing horse that pawed the gravel and shook his head impatiently.
"He doesn't like waiting either," said Leland's companion to the groom. "How long have you been holding him here?"
"About half an hour, Mr. Terry," said the groom.
Terry glanced at Leland with a little uplifting of his brows, and again addressed the groom.
"You can't pack all of us into that dog-cart, and it's four miles, anyway, to the edge of Garberry moor," he said. "Do you know how we are expected to get there?"
"Mr. Parsons of the Dell farm keeps a smart cart, and he promised to lend it Mr. James when he heard we had the tire loose on our other one. It should have been here."
"Then why isn't it?"
Leland fancied that a suspicion of a smile flickered in the man's eyes.
"I don't know, sir, unless Mr. James forgot to let him know when we wanted it."
"I should consider it very probable," said Terry drily. "Have you any objections to walking on as far as the Dell, Leland? It wouldn't astonish me greatly if Jimmy kept us waiting an hour yet."
Leland having no objections, they strode away together. Beech-mast crackled underfoot between the colonnades of lichened trunks, whose great branches stayed the high, vaulted roof of gold and crimson leaves. Looking out through the openings between, one could see the sweep of rolling champaign stretch away into the horizon through gradations of blueness, and the rigid line of the fells smeared with warm brown patches of withered bracken.
"It's rather a shame that Jimmy and his father should have a place of this kind in their hands at all," said Terry. "Still, for the credit of the country, I should like to explain that there are not very many English properties run on the same lines. In fact, the Denhams are an exception to everything, but I really think Jimmy might have got up in time for once in a way."
Leland laughed. "The loss of an hour's shooting seems to count with you."
"It does. You see, like a good many other people, I have to work rather hard for my living, and time is of a little more value to me than it apparently is to Jimmy Denham. Besides, my stay here has cost me a good deal more than I expected, and, being engaged in commerce, I can't help feeling that I ought to get something in return for my money."
"I don't quite understand that last remark."
"No?" said Terry. "Well, perhaps you don't. In fact, I have had a fancy that you were a bona-fide guest. You see, two or three of us aren't."
"Will you make that a little clearer?" And Leland looked astonished, though he remembered now several little incidents that had struck him as strange.
"With pleasure. Indeed, I feel I owe it to Jimmy for his losing us an hour or two every day. Our amusement costs two or three of us a good deal directly, as well as the other way. Branscombe Denham, naturally, doesn't advertise Barrock-holme as a shooting hotel, but, though affairs are arranged more tastefully, it amounts to much the same thing. You share expenses of watching and turning down hand-reared birds, and you get so many days' shooting with entertainment thrown in. The latter, however, is usually costly. One way or the other, Jimmy has taken one hundred pounds out of me."
"Ah," said Leland. "Is that sort of thing common in this country? I had a notion that you were rather proud of yourselves. It wouldn't strike us as quite nice in Western Canada."
"No," said the other man. "Still, it's done occasionally, and, as to family pride, you are not likely to come across anybody who has more of it than the Denhams. How they reconcile it with some of the things they do is a different matter; but you can take it as a rule that the less people have to congratulate themselves upon, the prouder they are. In fact, Jimmy Denham, who, though one can't help liking him, is a downright bad egg, was at first a little shy of me. I am a partner in a concern making a certain advertised specialty, you see."
"I wonder," said Leland reflectively, "if the girls quite understand the position."
"I don't think they do. Anyway, not exactly. Indeed, it's a little difficult to believe they're daughters of Branscombe Denham, or sisters of Jimmy. They show some trace of sense and temper, whilst you can't ruffle Jimmy. Still, I fancy, if it were necessary, they would stand by their delightful relatives through thick and thin."
Leland lapsed into thoughtful silence. He fancied that his companion was right, for he had seen a good deal of Carrie Denham during the month he had now spent at Barrock-holme. She had been, in her own reserved fashion, gracious to him, and Leland did not in the least resent the fact that there was in all she said a suggestion of condescension that he surmised was unconscious. Indeed, this struck him as being what it should be. Though quite aware of his own value where men were concerned, he had seen very few women, and regarded them in general with a vague, uncomprehending respect. Furthermore, the girl's physical beauty, her pride and almost stately coldness, made a strong appeal to him. She was, he was quite willing to admit, a being of a very different order from a plain Western farmer. Besides that, she was the one person who had quite come up to his expectations, for his visit to the old country had in most respects brought him disillusionment.
His father had often spoken of it with all the exile's appreciation of the home he had left, and he could remember his mother's daintiness and refinement; it was, perhaps, not astonishing that he had learned to idealise the old land and those who lived in it. It was also unfortunate that, whilst it might have happened differently, the few English men and women he had met on any terms of intimacy during his stay in London had resembled the Denhams more or less, and it had hurt him to discover what he considered was the reality. For Jimmy and his father he had a tolerant contempt, and it was, in fact, only the presence of Carrie Denham that had kept him at Barrock-holme so long. He was sorry for her, and had a vague fancy that she might need a friend. There was a vein of chivalry in him, and he was also a just man. His sense of justice led him to play billiards periodically for somewhat heavy stakes with Jimmy. It was one way of getting even, as he expressed it, for he did not care to be indebted to a man he looked down upon. Jimmy, who was skilful and almost suspiciously fortunate at both billiards and cards, had also no objections to emptying the pockets of his guests, though, as Leland was aware, the chance stranger very seldom leaves a ranch of Western Canada any poorer than when he came there.
In the meanwhile it happened that Branscombe Denham sat talking to his son in what he called his library. The few books in it for the most part related to the estate, for Denham had reasons for not trusting his affairs altogether to a steward or country lawyer. He was, in some respects, a handsome man, though his eyes were of too pale a blue, and his thin face, in spite of its unmistakable stamp of refinement, lacked character. The room was in the old tower, ceiled with dark wood and sombrely panelled, with one long, narrow leaded-glass window. The tall, sparely-framed man with his white hands and immaculate dress seemed out of place there. He was essentially modern, the room belonged to the more virile past. There was a pile of letters before him, and he took one up delicately.
"If I could have foreseen that it would lead to this kind of thing, I should never have consented to your grandfather's breaking the entail," he said, with a little whimsical smile. "Lancely has written me in his usual stand-and-deliver style again: – 'I am now directed to inform you that, unless the last instalment with arrears of interest is remitted me by next quarter-day, my clients will regretfully feel themselves compelled to foreclose.'"
He laid down the letter with a little lifting of his brows. "I really think they mean it at last, and their mortgage covers most of the Dell, and the leys on Stapleton's holding. I suppose it is no use asking if you could dispense with your next allowance."
Jimmy Denham laughed, though he was quite aware that the occasion was serious enough. "I'm afraid not, sir. In fact, as I had regretfully to admit, unless I can raise two hundred pounds in addition to it before my leave runs out, I shall probably have to send in my papers. Fortunately, I think I can manage it."
He spoke quite frankly, and there was nothing in the attitude of either to suggest that one was a father embarrassed by financial difficulties and the other a spendthrift son. Indeed, they faced each other as comrades, one could almost have said confederates, for in spite of their shortcomings, which were somewhat plentiful, the Denhams at least recognised the family bond, standing by one another in everything.
"In that case," said Branscombe Denham, "the allowance must stand, though I don't know at present where it is to come from. The other affair is more difficult. In fact, unless we face it resolutely it might become serious."
"So one would imagine," said Jimmy, reflectively. "The Dell is the best farm we have, and to let those fellows have it would make things a little too plain to everybody. Besides, it's splitting up the property. To a certain extent, of course, we are living upon our credit."
Branscombe Denham nodded, though there was a curious look in his pale blue eyes as he fixed them on his son.
"I'm rather afraid you don't quite grasp the point," he said. "You see, Lancely's man holds a mortgage on most of the Dell; but, as you, perhaps, remember, Lennox lent me a couple of thousand, with the plough-land in the bottom as security. He did it as a friend, and didn't worry much about his papers, while I'm not sure I remembered to mention Lancely's bond to him, so there is what one might call a certain overlapping of the mortgages. Then I found it necessary to realise a little on the oaks and beeches at Arkil bank."
Jimmy's face grew grave. "I rather fancy they brought you in a good deal. They were unusually good trees. You sold the timber after you raised the money on the mortgages?"
"I did. That is just the point of it. I needn't say that I had then a scheme of retrenchment in my mind which would provide a kind of sinking fund to meet the interest, and in due time extinguish the loan, in which case the question of the timber would, naturally, never have been raised. Unfortunately, the fall in rents and one or two other matters – rendered it unworkable."
Jimmy made a gesture of comprehending sympathy. "I'm afraid it would look rather bad, sir, if it came out. Lancely's man might make a good deal of trouble if he wants his timber and finds it isn't there, to say nothing of what Lennox, who, it seems, has a claim on it as well, might do. Still, no doubt, you did what you could, sir, and I'm rather afraid it was one or two of my little extravagances that put some of the pressure on you. I needn't say that if there is anything I can do, down to cutting the service – or bearing part of the responsibility – "
"Thanks," said Denham, as if he meant it. "You were not very extravagant, Jimmy, as young men go, and we have hitherto, at least, always stood by each other. Still, I'm not sure that it's my son I can count on now."
"Ah," and Jimmy's voice was a trifle sharper. "I'm afraid I never liked that notion, sir. I think I've mentioned it. There's a good deal of the beast in Aylmer. Has he said anything?"
A curious look crept into Denham's face, and it suggested repugnance as well as anxiety. "He came to me yesterday, and his ideas of a settlement were liberal. I pointed out a few of my difficulties to him, and he mentioned rather tastefully that he fancied they could be got over if he had my good will in the other matter. In fact, he left me with the impression that the mortgage bonds would be handed Carrie after the wedding."
Jimmy Denham's face appeared a trifle flushed, though he was considered a rather hard case by a certain officers' mess.
"I don't like it, sir," he said again. "I can't claim to be very particular, but that man is rather too much for me."
"Then have you any proposition to make?"
Jimmy sat still for at least a minute, apparently lost in thought, which was in his case a very unusual thing.
"The whole affair is a little unpleasant, and I think you won't mind my saying that much. Still, it's evident that we have to face the circumstances, and I scarcely think Carrie will flinch when she understands the necessity. There might, however, be a more suitable man than Aylmer. In fact, I almost think I know of one."
"Exactly. Anyway, the man is wholesome, which is more than anybody could say of Aylmer, and I rather fancy he will be a person of considerable importance by-and-bye, in his own country. If, as I suppose, you haven't given Aylmer a definite answer yet, I might suggest that you tell him he must make his own running, and leave the rest to me. Though she's not fond of any of us but Carrie, I've no doubt that Eveline Annersly would stand by me."
There was silence again for almost a minute, and then Denham sighed.
"Well," he said, with a little gesture, "you will remember that there is not very much time left. In the meanwhile aren't you keeping the rest of them waiting?"
Jimmy went out, and none of the three men he drove to the Garberry moor could have suspected that he had a single care. They would certainly not have believed, had he told them, that he was, for once, sincerely disgusted with himself as well as his father, and troubled with a very unusual sense of shame. There was courage of a kind in the Denhams, and they could, at least, hide their feelings very well. He inspired the rest with good-humour and shot rather better than he generally did, but he had grown grave again when he had an interview with Mrs. Annersly shortly before dinner that evening. She listened to him with a little frown.
"Jimmy," she said, "you are almost as deficient in estimable qualities as your father is."
"Well," said Jimmy humbly, "I know I am, but you might leave the governor out. I think he is a little older than you are – and he is my father. Anyway, though you mightn't believe it, I feel a trifle sick when I think of Aylmer."
"What do you expect from me?"
Jimmy smiled. "Not a great deal. Only a persistence in your original policy. I have rather a fancy that you and I have had the same thing in our minds."
Mrs. Annersly looked thoughtful. "If it must be one or the other, I'll do what I can. In fact, I don't mind admitting that, seeing what it would probably come to, I have, as you surmise, had the affair in hand already. Still, it was not to make things easier for either you or your father."