Farmer Fairweather Page 01
Originally appeared in the American Youth's Companion, in August 1886. This was the second of two stories collectively entitled 'The Victims of Circumstances: Discovered in Records of Old Trials' which dealt with serious miscarriages of justice. It was reprinted in The Boy's Own Paper in February 1887.
I AM THE last surviving witness who appeared at the trail, and unless I reduce to writing what I happen to know, there will be no record of the true particulars left after my death.
In the town of Betminster, and round about it for many a good English mile, I am known as Dame Roundwood. I have never been married, and at my present age, I never shall be. My one living relative, at the past time of which I now write, was my sister -- married to a man named Morcom. He was settled in France, as a breeder of horses. Now and then he crossed over to England on his business, and went back again.?
I took such a dislike to Morcom that I refused to be present at the wedding. This led, of course, to a quarrel. Nephews and nieces, if there had been any, might perhaps have reconciled me with my sister. As it was, we never wrote to each other after she went to France with her husband. And I never saw her again until she lay on her deathbed. So much about myself, to begin with.
Circumstances, which it is neither needful nor pleasant to dwell on in this place, occasioned the loss of my income, while I was still in the prime of my life. I had no choice but to make the best of a bad bargain, and to earn my bread by going out to service.
Having provided myself with good recommendations, I applied for the vacant place of housekeeper to Farmer Fairweather. I had heard of him as a well-to-do old bachelor, cultivating his land nigh on five miles in a northerly direction beyond Betminster. But I positively declare that I had never been in his house, or exchanged a word with him, on the day when I set forth for the farm.
The door was opened to me by a nice little girl. I noticed that her manners were pretty, and her voice was a remarkably strong one for her age. She had, I may also mention, the finest blue eyes I ever saw in any young creature's face. When she looked at you, there was just a cast, as they call it, in her left eye, barely noticeable, and not a deformity in any sense of the word. The one drawback that I could find in this otherwise pleasing young person was that she had a rather sullen look, and that she seemed to be depressed in her spirits.
But, like most people the girl was ready enough to talk about herself. I found that her name was Dina Coomb, and that she had lost both her parents. Farmer Fairweather was her guardian, as well as her uncle, and held a fortune of ten thousand pounds ready and waiting for her when she came of age.
What would become of the money if she died in her youth, was more than Dina could tell me. Her mother's timepiece had already been given to her, by directions in her mother's will. It looked of great value to my eyes, and it flattered her vanity to see how I admired her grand gold watch.
'I hope you are coming to stay here,' she said to me.
This seemed, as I thought, rather a sudden fancy to take to a stranger. 'Why do you want me to stay with you?' I asked.
And she hung her head, and had nothing to say. The farmer came in from his fields, and I entered on my business with him. At the same time I noticed, with some surprise, that Dina slipped out of the room by one door when her uncle came in by the other.
He was pleased with my recommendations, and he civilly offered me sufficient wages. Moreover, he was still fair to look upon, and not (as some farmers are) slovenly in his dress. So far from being an enemy to this miserable man, as has been falsely asserted, I gladly engaged to take my place at the farm on the next day at twelve o'clock, noon.
A friendly neighbour at Betminster, one Master Gouch, gave me a cast in his gig. We arrived true to the appointed time. While Master Gouch waited to bring my box after me, I opened the garden gate and rang the bell at the door. There was no answer. I had just rung once more, when I heard a scream in the house. There were words that followed the scream, in a voice which I recognised as the voice of Dina Coomb:
'Oh, uncle, don't kill me!'
I was too frightened to know what to do. Master Gouch, having heard that dreadful cry as I did, jumped out of the gig and tried the door. It was not fastened inside. Just as he was stepping over the threshold, the farmer bounced out of a room that opened into the passage, and asked what he did there.
My good neighbour answered, 'Here, sir, is Dame Roundwood, come to your house by your own appointment.'
Thereupon Farmer Fairweather said he had changed his mind, and meant to do without a housekeeper. He spoke in an angry manner, and he took the door in his hand, as if he meant to shut us out. But before he could do this, we heard a moaning in the room that he had just come out of.