‘God bless you, Mr Harding,’ said Bunce; and ‘God bless you, Mr Harding, God bless you, sir: we know you was always our friend,’ was exclaimed by enough of the men to make it appear that the sentiment was general.
The archdeacon had been interrupted in his speech before he had quite finished it; but he felt that he could not recommence with dignity after this little ebullition, and he led the way back into the garden, followed by his father-in-law.
‘Well,’ said he, as soon as he found himself within the cool retreat of the warden’s garden; ‘I think I spoke to them plainly.’ And he wiped the perspiration from his brow; for making a speech under a broiling mid-day sun in summer, in a full suit of thick black cloth, is warm work.
‘Yes, you were plain enough,’ replied the warden, in a tone which did not express approbation.
‘And that’s everything,’ said the other, who was clearly well satisfied with himself; ‘that’s everything: with those sort of people one must be plain, or one will not be understood. Now,— I think they knew what I meant.’
The warden agreed. He certainly thought they had understood to the full what had been said to them.
‘They know pretty well what they have to expect from us; they know how we shall meet any refractory spirit on their part; they know that we are not afraid of them. And now I’ll just step into Chadwick’s, and tell him what I’ve done; and then I’ll go up to the palace, and answer this petition of theirs.’
The warden’s mind was very full — full nearly to overcharging itself; and had it done so — had he allowed himself to speak the thoughts which were working within him, he would indeed have astonished the archdeacon by the reprobation he would have expressed as to the proceeding of which he had been so unwilling a witness. But different feelings kept him silent; he was as yet afraid of differing from his son-in-law — he was anxious beyond measure to avoid even a semblance of rupture with any of his order, and was painfully fearful of having to come to an open quarrel with any person on any subject. His life had hitherto been so quiet, so free from strife; his little early troubles had required nothing but passive fortitude; his subsequent prosperity had never forced upon him any active cares — had never brought him into disagreeable contact with anyone. He felt that he would give almost anything — much more than he knew he ought to do — to relieve himself from the storm which he feared was coming. It was so hard that the pleasant waters of his little stream should be disturbed and muddied by rough hands; that his quiet paths should be made a battlefield; that the unobtrusive corner of the world which had been allotted to him, as though by Providence, should be invaded and desecrated, and all within it made miserable and unsound.