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- What's Mine's Mine - 2/89 -
There were two younger girls at the table, of whom I will say nothing more than that one of them looked awkward, promised to be handsome, and was apparently a good soul; the other was pretty, and looked pert.
The family possessed two young men, but they were not here; one was a partner in the business from which his father had practically retired; the other was that day expected from Oxford.
The mother, a woman with many autumnal reminders of spring about her, sat at the head of the table, and regarded her queendom with a smile a little set, perhaps, but bright. She had the look of a woman on good terms with her motherhood, with society, with the universe--yet had scarce a shadow of assumption on her countenance. For if she felt as one who had a claim upon things to go pleasantly with her, had she not put in her claim, and had it acknowledged? Her smile was a sweet white-toothed smile, true if shallow, and a more than tolerably happy one--often irradiating THE GOVERNOR opposite--for so was the head styled by the whole family from mother to chit.
He was the only one at the table on whose countenance a shadow--as of some end unattained--was visible. He had tried to get into parliament, and had not succeeded; but I will not presume to say that was the source of the shadow. He did not look discontented, or even peevish; there was indeed a certain radiance of success about him-only above the cloudy horizon of his thick, dark eyebrows, seemed to hang a thundery atmosphere. His forehead was large, but his features rather small; he had, however, grown a trifle fat, which tended to make up. In his youth he must have been very nice-looking, probably too pretty to be handsome. In good health and when things went well, as they had mostly done with him, he was sweet-tempered; what he might be in other conditions was seldom conjectured. But was that a sleeping thunder-cloud, or only the shadow of his eyebrows?
He had a good opinion of himself-on what grounds I do not know; but he was rich, and I know no better ground; I doubt if there is any more certain soil for growing a good opinion of oneself. Certainly, the more you try to raise one by doing what is right and worth doing, the less you succeed.
Mr. Peregrine Palmer had finished his breakfast, and sat for a while looking at nothing in particular, plunged in deep thought about nothing at all, while the girls went on with theirs. He was a little above the middle height, and looked not much older than his wife; his black hair had but begun to be touched with silver; he seemed a man without an atom of care more than humanity counts reasonable; his speech was not unlike that of an Englishman, for, although born in Glasgow, he had been to Oxford. He spoke respectfully to his wife, and with a pleasant playfulness to his daughters; his manner was nowise made to order, but natural enough; his grammar was as good as conversation requires; everything was respectable about him-and yet-he was one remove at least from a gentleman. Something hard to define was lacking to that idea of perfection.
Mr. Peregrine Palmer's grandfather had begun to make the family fortune by developing a little secret still in a remote highland glen, which had acquired a reputation for its whisky, into a great superterrene distillery. Both he and his son made money by it, and it had "done well" for Mr. Peregrine also. With all three of them the making of money had been the great calling of life. They were diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving Mammon, and founding claim to consideration on the fact. Neither Jacob nor John Palmer's worst enemy had ever called him a hypocrite: neither had been suspected of thinking to serve Mammon and God. Both had gone regularly to church, but neither had taught in a Sunday school, or once gone to a week-day sermon. Peregrine had built a church and a school. He did not now take any active part in the distillery, but worked mainly in money itself.
Jacob, the son of a ship-chandler in Greenock, had never thought about gentleman or no gentleman; but his son John had entertained the difference, and done his best to make a gentleman of Peregrine; and neither Peregrine nor any of his family ever doubted his father's success; and if he had not quite succeeded, I would have the blame laid on Peregrine and not on either father or grandfather. For a man to GROW a gentleman, it is of great consequence that his grandfather should have been an honest man; but if a man BE a gentleman, it matters little what his grandfather or grandmother either was. Nay--if a man be a gentleman, it is of the smallest consequence, except for its own sake, whether the world counts him one or not.
Mr. Peregrine Palmer rose from the table with a merry remark on the prolongation of the meal by his girls, and went towards the door.
"Are you going to shoot?" asked his wife.
"Not to-day. But I am going to look after my guns. I daresay they've got them all right, but there's nothing like seeing to a thing yourself!"
Mr. Palmer had this virtue, and this very gentlemanlike way--that he always gave his wife as full an answer as he would another lady. He was not given to marital brevity.
He was there for the grouse-shooting--not exactly, only "as it were." He did not care VERY much about the sport, and had he cared nothing, would have been there all the same. Other people, in what he counted his social position, shot grouse, and he liked to do what other people did, for then he felt all right: if ever he tried the gate of heaven, it would be because other people did. But the primary cause of his being so far in the north was the simple fact that he had had the chance of buying a property very cheap--a fine property of mist and cloud, heather and rock, mountain and moor, and with no such reputation for grouse as to enhance its price. "My estate" sounded well, and after a time of good preserving he would be able to let it well, he trusted. No sooner was it bought than his wife and daughters were eager to visit it; and the man of business, perceiving it would cost him much less if they passed their autumns there instead of on the continent, proceeded at once to enlarge the house and make it comfortable. If they should never go a second time, it would, with its perfect appointments, make the shooting there more attractive!
They had arrived the day before. The journey had been fatiguing, for a great part of it was by road; but they were all in splendid health, and not too tired to get up at a reasonable hour the next day.
A SHORT GLANCE OVER THE SHOULDER.
Mr. Peregrine was the first of the Palmer family to learn that there was a Palmer coat of arms. He learned it at college, and on this wise.
One day a fellow-student, who pleased himself with what he called philology, remarked that his father must have been a hit of a humorist to name him Peregrine:--"except indeed it be a family name!" he added.
"I never thought about it," said Peregrine. "I don't quite know what you mean."
The fact was he had no glimmer of what he meant.
"Nothing profound," returned the other. "Only don't you see Peregrine means pilgrim? It is the same as the Italian pellegrino, from the Latin, peregrinus, which means one that goes about the fields,--what in Scotland you call a LANDLOUPER."
"Well, but," returned Peregrine, hesitatingly, "I don't find myself much wiser. Peregrine means a pilgrim, you say, but what of that? All names mean something, I suppose! It don't matter much."
"What is your coat of arms?"
"I don't know."
"Why did your father call you Peregrine?"
"I don't know that either. I suppose because he liked the name."
"Why should he have liked it?" continued the other, who was given to the Socratic method.
"I know no more than the man in the moon."
"What does your surname mean?"
"Something to do with palms, I suppose."
"You see I don't go in for that kind of thing like you!"
"Any man who cares about the cut of his coat, might have a little curiosity about the cut of his name: it sits to him a good deal closer!"
"That is true--so close that you can't do anything with it. I can't pull mine off however you criticize it!"
"You can change it any day. Would you like to change it?"
"No, thank you, Mr. Stokes!" returned Peregrine dryly.
"I didn't mean with mine," growled the other. "My name is an historical one too--but that is not in question.--Do you know your crest ought to be a hairy worm?"
"Don't you know the palmer-worm? It got its name where you got yours!"
"Well, we all come from Adam!"
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