Hillingdon Hall was a charming example of the old-style manor house with its many haphazard additions and types of architecture. It was set in a pretty village, and the nearby river added to its attractions. Mr. Westbury, the former owner, had been an old-fashioned gentleman of talent and learning who spent his whole time in the country. Since he was a kind of patriarch for the district, the village wondered after his death who would be the new owner of the hall.
When the carriage drew up at the door, curious eyes were fastened on the new arrivals. The chaise was covered with dust. A package of apple trees lay on the roof, the coach boy clutched a huge geranium, and flowers and plants of all kinds were sticking out of the windows. A huge, fat man with roses in his back pocket got out, followed by his wife in stiff brocade. John Jorrocks, the new owner, had arrived.
Mrs. Flather announced the news to her blooming daughter Emma. The two ladies thought it would be only neighborly for them to call right away, especially since there might be a son in the family. At the time, Emma had an understanding with James Blake, who had been living at Hillingdon, but she was always on the alert for a better match. Mrs. Trotter, who was, if anything, quicker at gossip than Mrs. Flather, brought the news that Jorrocks was old and married and had no children.
Jorrocks tried hard to be a good gentleman farmer. He visited his tenants faithfully but found them a poor lot. They could scarcely understand his cockney accent, and they were full of complaints; besides, they knew much more than he did about farming. Mrs. Jorrocks got on better at first with her country folk. Traditionally, the lady of Hillingdon Hall was the patroness of the local school. When she visited the establishment, she was appalled at the drab uniforms worn by the girls. She immediately had an actress friend in London design new costumes in the Swiss mode. She forced these garments on the protesting girls. Unfortunately, when she had a new sign put up at the school, the spelling was bad; it announced to the world that the institution was “founder’d” by Julia Jorrocks.
One memorable day a magnificent coach drove up, and an impressive footman left a card from the Duke of Donkeyton. The Duke fancied himself as a politician. Thinking that Jorrocks might become a person of standing and feeling sure that he must be a Whig, the Duke wanted to make certain of his allegiance. The Jorrockses were still more astounded to receive an invitation to dine and stay the night at Donkeyton. Although much puzzled by the initials R.S.V.P., Jorrocks wrote a formal acceptance. Mrs. Flather and Emma were also invited, but characteristically they were thinking of the Duke’s son, the Marquis of Bray, as a possible suitor for Emma.
On the way to Donkeyton, Jorrocks contrived to get in the same carriage with Mrs. Flather, squeezed the poor lady, and stole a kiss or two. He continued his boisterous tactics at the castle. The Duke was impressed by Jorrocks’ appetite for food and drink. After dinner, he made the mistake of trying to keep up with Jorrocks in drinking toasts; consequently, he had to retire early and was unable to appear in time for breakfast.
The elegant and effeminate Marquis of Bray was quite impressed by Emma. He fell in with a scheme that Jorrocks and the Duke had for founding an agricultural society with Bray as president and Jorrocks as vice president. He readily agreed to come to an organizational meeting, since there he would see Emma again.
The meeting was a great success. Bray was horrified at the amount of food put away by Jorrocks and his farmers, but he did his best to keep up appearances. Jorrocks’ speech sounded good, although some of the farmers did not follow him very well. He advocated the growing of pineapples and the making of drain tile with sugar as the principal ingredient. Bray topped off the occasion by a speech lauding the ancient Romans. Afterward, he was able to visit Emma and capture her willing heart.
Joshua Sneakington—Sneak for short—was a jack-of-all-trades. Sneak had served as Jorrocks’ estate manager for some time. After he had arranged for fees and bribes to add to his income, Sneak thought himself well off. One morning, however, Jorrocks rose very early and decided to make a tour of inspection. In a secluded spot, he came upon Sneak netting pheasants. Furious at the trickery, he had Sneak sent to jail. His new manager was a doughty North Countryman, James Pigg, who had been with Jorrocks at Handley Cross.
The Duke showed favor to Jorrocks by giving him a prize bull, which won a ribbon at a fair, and by appointing him magistrate. Bray came again to visit, mostly to see Emma, but Jorrocks dragged him off to a rough farmers’ masquerade. Bray, who was a slender youth, made the mistake of dressing as a woman. A loutish farmer who would not be put off tried to kiss him. The boisterous treatment startled Bray so much that he wandered off in the night and got lost. He came upon a sleeping household and, after awaking the inhabitants, found he had blundered on the Flather’s house. After staying the night with the family, he had a chance to flirt with Emma at breakfast.
After that adventure, Emma and her mother confidently expected an offer from Donkeyton. When no word came, the desperate Mrs. Flather went to the castle. The Duchess was amused at the idea of her son’s marriage with a commoner, but the Duke was incensed; he knew that Bray had conducted himself properly, for he had read Chesterfield. The son had no voice in the matter at all. Later, Emma and her mother had to admit he had never made an outright profession of love.
The member of Parliament from the district died. The Duke immediately sent out a bid for Bray to fill the vacancy, and no opposition was expected. The Anti-Corn Law League wrote several times to Bray asking his stand on repeal of the grain tariff, but Bray knew nothing of the matter and did not reply. The League then put up its own candidate, Bill Bowker, a grifting friend of Jorrocks. To avoid a campaign, the Duke bought off Bowker for a thousand pounds and endorsed the proposals of the League.
It was a shocking action for the Duke to advocate removal of tariffs on grain. When the farmers next tried to sell their produce at market, they found that prices had tumbled. In their anger, they put forth the willing Jorrocks as their candidate. The Duke was hurt that a man to whom he had given a bull and whom he had elevated to a magistracy should run against his son, but Jorrocks was obdurate. At the hustings, although the Marquis of Bray won, Jorrocks’ supporters demanded a poll.
The farmers all worked to get every eligible voter to vote. Pigg was a little tricky because he persuaded the Quakers to vote for Jorrocks on the grounds that his candidate was a teetotaler. When the votes were counted, Jorrocks won by a margin of two. Elated at beating a Marquis and glad to go back to London, Jorrocks left Pigg in charge of Hillingdon Hall and went on to bigger things.
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