A Daughter of the Lodge

For a score of years the Rocketts had kept the lodge of Brent Hall. In the beginning Rockett was head gardener; his wife, the daughter of a shopkeeper, had never known domestic service, and performed her duties at the Hall gates with a certain modest dignity not displeasing to the stately persons upon whom she depended. During the lifetime of Sir Henry the best possible understanding existed between Hall and lodge. Though Rockett’s health broke down, and at length he could work hardly at all, their pleasant home was assured to the family; and at Sir Henry’s death the nephew who succeeded him left the Rocketts undisturbed. But, under this new lordship, things were not quite as they had been. Sir Edwin Shale, a middle-aged man, had in his youth made a foolish marriage; his lady ruled him, not with the gentlest of tongues, nor always to the kindest purpose, and their daughter, Hilda, asserted her rights as only child with a force of character which Sir Edwin would perhaps have more sincerely admired had it reminded him less of Lady Shale.

While the Hall, in Sir Henry’s time, remained childless, the lodge prided itself on a boy and two girls. Young Rockett, something of a scapegrace, was by the baronet’s advice sent to sea, and thenceforth gave his parents no trouble. The second daughter, Betsy, grew up to be her mother’s help. But Betsy’s elder sister showed from early years that the life of the lodge would afford no adequate scope for her ambitions. May Rockett had good looks; what was more, she had an intellect which sharpened itself on everything with which it came in contact. The village school could never have been held responsible for May Rockett’s acquirements and views at the age of ten; nor could the High School in the neighbouring town altogether account for her mental development at seventeen. Not without misgivings had the health- broken gardener and his wife consented to May’s pursuit of the higher learning; but Sir Henry and the kind old Lady Shale seemed to think it the safer course, and evidently there was little chance of the girl’s accepting any humble kind of employment: in one way or another she must depend for a livelihood upon her brains. At the time of Sir Edwin’s succession Miss Rockett had already obtained a place as governess, giving her parents to understand that this was only, of course, a temporary expedient—a paving of the way to something vaguely, but superbly, independent. Nor was promotion long in coming. At two-and-twenty May accepted a secretaryship to a lady with a mission—concerning the rights of womanhood. In letters to her father and mother she spoke much of the importance of her work, but did not confess how very modest was her salary. A couple of years went by without her visiting the old home; then, of a sudden, she made known her intention of coming to stay at the lodge ‘for a week or ten days.’ She explained that her purpose was rest; intellectual strain had begun that to tell upon her, and a few days of absolute tranquillity, such as she might expect under the elms of Brent Hall, would do her all the good in the world. ‘Of course,’ she added, ‘it’s unnecessary to say anything about me to the Shale people. They and I have nothing in common, and it will be better for us to ignore each other’s existence.’

These characteristic phrases troubled Mr. and Mrs. Rockett. That the family at the Hall should, if it seemed good to them, ignore the existence of May was, in the Rocketts’ view, reasonable enough; but for May to ignore Sir Edwin and Lady Shale, who were just now in residence after six months spent abroad, struck them as a very grave impropriety. Natural respect demanded that, at some fitting moment, and in a suitable manner, their daughter should present herself to her feudal superiors, to whom she was assuredly indebted, though indirectly, for ‘the blessings she enjoyed.’ This was Mrs. Rockett’s phrase, and the rheumatic, wheezy old gardener uttered the same opinion in less conventional language. They had no affection for Sir Edwin or his lady, and Miss Hilda they decidedly disliked; their treatment at the hands of these new people contrasted unpleasantly enough with the memory of old times; but a spirit of loyal subordination ruled their blood, and, to Sir Edwin at all events, they felt gratitude for their retention at the lodge. Mrs. Rockett was a healthy and capable woman of not more than fifty, but no less than her invalid husband would she have dreaded the thought of turning her back on Brent Hall. Rockett had often consoled himself with the thought that here he should die, here amid the fine old trees that he loved, in the ivy-covered house which was his only idea of home. And was it not a reasonable hope that Betsy, good steady girl, should some day marry the promising young gardener whom Sir Edwin had recently taken into his service, and so re-establish the old order of things at the lodge?

‘I half wish May wasn’t coming,’ said Mrs. Rockett, after long and anxious thought. ‘Last time she was here she quite upset me with her strange talk.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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