Martin's Tactics

It was necessary to the arrangement of Martin’s plan that he should stay at home that day. Accordingly he found no appetite for breakfast; and just about school-time took a severe pain about his heart, which rendered it advisable that, instead of setting out to the grammar-school with Mark, he should succeed to his father’s arm-chair by the fireside, and also to his morning paper. This point being satisfactorily settled, and Mark being gone to Mr. Summer’s class, and Matthew and Mr. Yorke withdrawn to the counting-house, three other exploits, nay four, remained to be achieved.

The first of these was to realize the breakfast he had not yet tasted, and with which his appetite of fifteen could ill afford to dispense; the second, third, fourth, to get his mother, Miss Moore, and Mrs. Horsfall successively out of the way before four o’clock that afternoon.

The first was, for the present, the most pressing, since the work before him demanded an amount of energy which the present empty condition of his youthful stomach did not seem likely to supply.

Martin knew the way to the larder, and knowing this way, he took it. The servants were in the kitchen, breakfasting solemnly with closed doors; his mother and Miss Moore were airing themselves on the lawn, and discussing the closed doors aforesaid; Martin, safe in the larder, made fastidious selection from its stores. His breakfast had been delayed—he was determined it should be recherché. It appeared to him that a variety on his usual somewhat insipid fare of bread and milk was both desirable and advisable; the savoury and the salutary he thought might be combined. There was store of rosy apples laid in straw upon a shelf; he picked out three. There was pastry upon a dish; he selected an apricot-puff and a damson tart. On the plain household bread his eye did not dwell, but he surveyed with favour some currant tea- cakes, and condescended to make choice of one. Thanks to his claspknife, he was able to appropriate a wing of fowl and a slice of ham; a cantlet of cold custard-pudding he thought would harmonize with these articles; and having made this final addition to his booty, he at length sallied forth into the hall.

He was already half-way across—three steps more would have anchored him in the harbour of the backparlour —when the front-door opened, and there stood Matthew. Better far had it been the Old Gentleman, in full equipage of horns, hoofs, and tail.

Matthew, sceptic and scoffer, had already failed to subscribe a prompt belief in that pain about the heart. He had muttered some words, amongst which the phrase ‘shamming Abraham’ had been very distinctly audible; and the succession to the armchair and newspaper had appeared to affect him with mental spasms. The spectacle now before him—the apples, the tarts, the tea-cake, the fowl, ham, and pudding, offered evidence but too well calculated to inflate his opinion of his own sagacity.

Martin paused ‘interdit’ one minute, one instant; the next he knew his ground, and pronounced all well. With the true perspicacity ‘des âmes élites,’ he at once saw how this at first sight untoward event might be turned to excellent account; he saw how it might be so handled as to secure the accomplishment of his second task, viz., the disposal of his mother. He knew that a collision between him and Matthew always suggested to Mrs. Yorke the propriety of a fit of hysterics; he further knew that, on the principle of calm succeeding to storm, after a morning of hysterics his mother was sure to indulge in an afternoon of bed. This would accommodate him perfectly.

The collision duly took place in the hall. A dry laugh, an insulting sneer, a contemptuous taunt, met by a nonchalant but most cutting reply, were the signals. They rushed at it. Martin, who usually made little noise on these occasions, made a great deal now. In flew the servants, Mrs. Yorke, Miss Moore. No female hand could separate them: Mr. Yorke was summoned.

‘Sons,’ said he, ‘one of you must leave my roof if this occurs again; I will have no Cain and Abel strife here.’

Martin now allowed himself to be taken off. He had been hurt; he was the youngest and slightest; he was quite cool, in no passion: he even smiled, content that the most difficult part of the labour he had set himself was over.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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