Title: The Short Stories of Thomas Hardy
Author: Thomas Hardy
SKU: ZCEHI08

    CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF HARDY’S SHORT STORIES

    ALPHABETICAL LIST OF HARDY’S SHORT STORIES

      How I Built Myself a House

        Destiny and a Blue Cloak

        II

        III

        IV

        V

        The Thieves Who Couldn’t Help Sneezing

        The Duchess of Hamptonshire

        The Distracted Preacher

        II. HOW HE SAW TWO OTHER MEN.

        III. THE MYSTERIOUS GREAT-COAT.

        IV. AT THE TIME OF THE NEW MOON.

        V. HOW THEY WENT TO LULLSTEAD AND BACK.

        Fellow Townsmen

        I

        II

        III

        IV

        V

        IX

        The Honourable Laura

        What the Shepherd Saw

        A Tradition of Eighteen Hundred and Four

        The Three Strangers

        The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid

        I

        II

        III

        IV

        V

        X.

        IX

        X

        XI

        XII

        XIII

        XIV

        XV

        XVI

        XVII

        Interlopers at the Knap

        II

        III

        IV

        V

      A Mere Interlude

        I

        II

        III

        IV

        V

        A Tryst At An Ancient Earthwork

        Alicia’s Diary

        II. - NEWS INTERESTING AND SERIOUS

        III. — HER GLOOM LIGHTENS A LITTLE

        IV. — SHE BEHOLDS THE ATTRACTIVE STRANGER

        V. — HER SITUATION IS A TRYING ONE

        IX. — SHE WITNESSES THE END

        X. — SHE ADDS A NOTE LONG AFTER

        The Waiting Supper

        I

        II

        III

        IV

        V

        The Withered Arm

        I

        II

        III

        IV

        V

        IX

        A Tragedy of Two Ambitions

        I

        II

        III

        IV

        V

        The First Countess of Wessex

        Anna, Lady Baxby

        The Lady Icenway

        Lady Mottisfont

        The Lady Penelope

        The Marchioness of Stonehenge

        Squire Petrick’s Lady

        Barbara of the House of Grebe

        The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion

        I

        II

        III

        IV

        V

        Absent-Mindedness in a Parish Choir

        The Winters and the Palmleys

        For Conscience’ Sake

        I

        II

        III

        Incident in the Life of Mr. George Crookhill

        The Doctor’s Legend

        I

        II

        III

        Andrey Satchel and the Parson and Clerk

        The History of the Hardcomes

        Netty Sargent’s Copyhold

        On the Western Circuit

        I

        II

        III

        IV

        V

        A Few Crusted Characters

        The Superstitious Man’s Story

        Tony Kytes, The Arch-Deceiver

        To Please His Wife

        I

        II

        III

        The Son’s Veto

        I

        II

        III

        Old Andrey’s Experience as a Musician

        Our Exploits at West Poley

        CHAPTER I

        CHAPTER II

        CHAPTER III

        CHAPTER IV

        CHAPTER V

        CHAPTER VI

        Master John Horseleigh, Knight

        The Fiddler of the Reels

        An Imaginative Woman

        The Spectre of the Real

        I

        II

        III

        IV

        V

        A Committee-Man of ‘The Terror’

        The Duke’s Reappearance

        The Grave by the Handpost

        A Changed Man

        I

        II

        III

        IV

        V

        VI

        Enter a Dragoon

        I

        II

        III

        IV

        V

        Blue Jimmy: The Horse Stealer

        Old Mrs Chundle

        The Unconquerable

        I

        II

CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF HARDY’S SHORT STORIES

  • How I Built Myself a House

  • Destiny and a Blue Cloak

  • The Thieves Who Couldn’t Help Sneezing

  • The Duchess of Hamptonshire

  • The Distracted Preacher

  • Fellow Townsmen

  • The Honourable Laura

  • What the Shepherd Saw

  • A Tradition of Eighteen Hundred and Four

  • The Three Strangers

  • The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid

  • Interlopers at the Knap

  • A Mere Interlude

  • A Tryst At An Ancient Earthwork

  • Alicia’s Diary

  • The Waiting Supper

  • The Withered Arm

  • A Tragedy of Two Ambitions

  • The First Countess of Wessex

  • Anna, Lady Baxby

  • The Lady Icenway

  • Lady Mottisfont

  • The Lady Penelope

  • The Marchioness of Stonehenge

  • Squire Petrick’s Lady

  • Barbara of the House of Grebe

  • The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion

  • Absent-Mindedness in a Parish Choir

  • The Winters and the Palmleys

  • For Conscience’ Sake

  • Incident in the Life of Mr. George Crookhill

  • The Doctor’s Legend

  • Andrey Satchel and the Parson and Clerk

  • The History of the Hardcomes

  • Netty Sargent’s Copyhold

  • On the Western Circuit

  • A Few Crusted Characters

  • The Superstitious Man’s Story

  • Tony Kytes, The Arch-Deceiver

  • To Please His Wife

  • The Son’s Veto

  • Old Andrey’s Experience as a Musician

  • Our Exploits at West Poley

  • Master John Horseleigh, Knight

  • The Fiddler of the Reels

  • An Imaginative Woman

  • The Spectre of the Real

  • A Committee-Man of ‘The Terror’

  • The Duke’s Reappearance

  • The Grave by the Handpost

  • A Changed Man

  • Enter a Dragoon

  • Blue Jimmy: The Horse Stealer

  • Old Mrs Chundle

  • The Unconquerable

ALPHABETICAL LIST OF HARDY’S SHORT STORIES


  • A Changed Man

  • A Committee-Man of ‘The Terror’

  • A Few Crusted Characters

  • A Mere Interlude

  • A Tradition of Eighteen Hundred and Four

  • A Tragedy of Two Ambitions

  • A Tryst At An Ancient Earthwork

  • Absent-Mindedness in a Parish Choir

  • Alicia’s Diary

  • An Imaginative Woman

  • Andrey Satchel and the Parson and Clerk

  • Anna, Lady Baxby

  • Barbara of the House of Grebe

  • Blue Jimmy: The Horse Stealer

  • Destiny and a Blue Cloak

  • Enter a Dragoon

  • Fellow Townsmen

  • For Conscience’ Sake

  • How I Built Myself a House

  • Incident in the Life of Mr. George Crookhill

  • Interlopers at the Knap

  • Lady Mottisfont

  • Master John Horseleigh, Knight

  • Netty Sargent’s Copyhold

  • Old Andrey’s Experience as a Musician

  • Old Mrs Chundle

  • On the Western Circuit

  • Our Exploits at West Poley

  • Squire Petrick’s Lady

  • The Distracted Preacher

  • The Doctor’s Legend

  • The Duchess of Hamptonshire

  • The Duke’s Reappearance

  • The Fiddler of the Reels

  • The First Countess of Wessex

  • The Grave by the Handpost

  • The History of the Hardcomes

  • The Honourable Laura

  • The Lady Icenway

  • The Lady Penelope

  • The Marchioness of Stonehenge

  • The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion

  • The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid

  • The Son’s Veto

  • The Spectre of the Real

  • The Superstitious Man’s Story

  • The Thieves Who Couldn’t Help Sneezing

  • The Three Strangers

  • The Unconquerable

  • The Waiting Supper

  • The Winters and the Palmleys

  • The Withered Arm

  • To Please His Wife

  • Tony Kytes, The Arch-Deceiver

  • What the Shepherd Saw

How I Built Myself a House

My wife Sophia, myself, and the beginning of a happy line, formerly lived in the suburbs of London, in the sort of house called a Highly Desirable Semi-detached Villa. But in reality our residence was the very opposite of what we wished it to be. We had no room for our friends when they visited us, and we were obliged to keep our coals out of doors in a heap against the back-wall. If we managed to squeeze a few acquaintances round our table to dinner, there was very great difficulty in serving it; and on such occasions the maid, for want of sideboard room, would take to putting the dishes in the staircase, or on stools and chairs in the passage, so that if anybody else came after we had sat down, he usually went away again, disgusted at seeing the remains of what we had already got through standing in these places, and perhaps the celery waiting in a corner hard by. It was therefore only natural that on wet days, chimney-sweepings, and those cleaning times when chairs may be seen with their legs upwards, a tub blocking a doorway, and yourself walking about edgeways among the things, we called the villa hard names, and that we resolved to escape from it as soon as it would be politic, in a monetary sense, to carry out a notion which had long been in our minds.

This notion was to build a house of our own a little further out of town than where we had hitherto lived. The new residence was to be right and proper in every respect. It was to be of some mysterious size and proportion, which would make us both peculiarly happy ever afterwards — that had always been a settled thing. It was neither to cost too much nor too little, but just enough to fitly inaugurate the new happiness. Its situation was to be in a healthy spot, on a stratum of dry gravel, about ninety feet above the springs. There were to be trees to the north, and a pretty view to the south. It was also to be easily accessible by rail.

Eighteen months ago, a third baby being our latest blessing, we began to put the above-mentioned ideas into practice. As the house itself, rather than its position, is what I wish particularly to speak of, I will not dwell upon the innumerable difficulties that were to be overcome before a suitable spot could be found. Maps marked out in little pink and green oblongs clinging to a winding road, became as familiar to my eyes as my own hand. I learned, too, all about the coloured plans of Land to be Let for Building Purposes, which are exhibited at railway stations and in agents’ windows — that sketches of cabbages in rows, or artistically irregular, meant large trees that would afford a cooling shade when they had been planted and had grown up — that patches of blue showed fishponds and fountains; and that a wide straight road to the edge of the map was the way to the station, a corner of which was occasionally shown, as if it would come within a convenient distance, disguise the fact as the owners might.

After a considerable time had been spent in these studies, I began to see that some of our intentions in the matter of site must be given up. The trees to the north went first. After a short struggle, they were followed by the ninety feet above the springs. Sophia, with all wifely tenacity, stuck to the pretty view long after I was beaten about the gravel subsoil. In the end, we decided upon a place imagined to be rather convenient, and rather healthy, but possessing no other advantage worth mentioning. I took it on a lease for the established period, ninety-nine years.

We next thought about an architect. A friend of mine, who sometimes sends a paper on art and science to the magazines, strongly recommended a Mr Penny, a gentleman whom he considered to have architectural talent of every kind, but if he was a trifle more skilful in any one branch of his profession than in another, it was in designing excellent houses for families of moderate means. I at once proposed to Sophia that we should think over some arrangement of rooms which would be likely to suit us, and then call upon the architect, that he might put our plan into proper shape.

I made my sketch, and my wife made hers. Her drawing and dining rooms were very large, nearly twice the size of mine, though her doors and windows showed sound judgment. We soon found that there was no such thing as fitting our ideas together, do what we would. When we had come to no conclusion at all, we called at Mr Penny’s office. I began telling him my business, upon which he took a sheet of foolscap, and made numerous imposing notes, with large brackets and dashes to them. Sitting there with him in his office, surrounded by rolls of paper, circles, squares, triangles, compasses, and many other of the inventions which have been sought out by men from time to time, and perceiving that all these were the realities which had been faintly shadowed forth to me by Euclid some years before, it is no wonder that I became a puppet in his hands. He settled everything in a miraculous way. We were told the only possible size we could have the rooms, the only way we should be allowed to go upstairs, and the exact quantity of wine we might order at once, so as to fit the wine cellar he had in his head. His professional opinions, propelled by his facts, seemed to float into my mind whether I wished to receive them or not. I thought at the time that Sophia, from her silence, was in the same helpless state; but she has since told me it was quite otherwise, and that she was only a little tired.

I had been very anxious all along that the stipulated cost, eighteen hundred pounds, should not be exceeded, and I impressed this again upon Mr Penny.

“I will give you an approximate estimate for the sort of thing we are thinking of,” he said. “Linem.” (This was the clerk.)

“Did you speak, sir?”

“Forty-nine by fifty-four by twenty-eight, twice fourteen by thirty-one by eleven, and several small items which we will call one hundred and sixty.”

“Eighty-two thousand four hundred — ”

“But eighteen hundred at the very outside,” I began, “is what — ”

“Feet, my dear sir — feet, cubic feet,” said Mr Penny. “Put it down at sixpence a foot, Linem, remainders not an object.”

“Two thousand two hundred pounds.” This was too much.

“Well, try it at something less, leaving out all below hundreds, Linem.”

“About eighteen hundred and seventy pounds.”

“Very satisfactory, in my opinion,” said Mr Penny turning to me. “What do you think?”

“You are so particular, John, “ interrupted my wife. “I am sure it is exceedingly moderate: elegance and extreme cheapness never do go together.”

(It may be here remarked that Sophia never calls me “my dear” before strangers. She considers that, like the ancient practice in besieged cities of throwing loaves over the walls, it really denotes a want rather than an abundance of them within.)

I did not trouble the architect any further, and we rose to leave.

“Be sure you make a nice conservatory, Mr Penny,” said my wife; “something that has character about it. If it could only be in the Chinese style, with beautiful ornaments at the corners, like Mrs Smith’s, only better, “she continued, turning to me with a glance in which a broken tenth commandment might have been seen.

“Some sketches shall be forwarded, which I think will suit you,” answered Mr Penny pleasantly, looking as if he had possessed for some years a complete guide to the minds of all people who intended to build.

It is needless to go through the whole history of the plan-making. A builder had been chosen, and the house marked out, when we went down to the place one morning to see how the foundations looked.

It is a strange fact, that a person’s new house drawn in outline on the ground where it is to stand, looks ridiculously and inconveniently small. The notion it gives one is, that any portion of one’s after-life spent within such boundaries must of necessity be rendered wretched on account of bruises daily received by running against the partitions, door posts, and fireplaces. In my case, the lines showing sitting-rooms seemed to denote cells; the kitchen looked as if it might develop into a large box; whilst the study appeared to consist chiefly of a fireplace and a door. We were told that houses always looked so; but Sophia’s disgust at the sight of such a diminutive drawing-room was not to be lessened by any scientific reasoning. Six feet longer — four feet then — three it must be, she argued, and the room was accordingly lengthened. I felt rather relieved when at last I got her off the ground, and on the road home.

The building gradually crept upwards, and put forth chimneys. We were standing beside it one day, looking at the men at work on the top, when the builder’s foreman came towards us.

“Being your own house, sir, and as we are finishing the last chimney, you would perhaps like to go up,” he said.

“I am sure I should much, if I were a man,” was my wife’s observation to me. “The landscape must appear so lovely from that height.”

This remark placed me in something of a dilemma, for it must be confessed that I am not given to climbing. The sight of cliffs, roofs, scaffoldings, and elevated places in general, which have no sides to keep people from slipping off, always causes me to feel how infinitely preferable a position at the bottom is to a position at the top of them. But as my house was by no means lofty, and it was but for once, I said I would go up.

My knees felt a good deal in the way as I ascended the ladder; but that was not so disagreeable as the thrill which passed through me as I followed my guide along two narrow planks, one bending beneath each foot. However, having once started, I kept on, and next climbed another ladder, thin and weak-looking, and not tied at the top. I could not help thinking, as I viewed the horizon between the steps, what a shocking thing it would be if any part should break; and to get rid of the thought, I adopted the device of mentally criticising the leading articles in that morning’s Times; but as the plan did not answer, I tried to fancy that, though strangely enough it seemed otherwise, I was only four feet from the ground. This was a failure too; and just as I had commenced upon an idea that great quantities of feather-beds were spread below, I reached the top scaffold.

“Rather high,” I said to the foreman, trying, but failing to appear unconcerned.

“Well, no,” he answered; “nothing to what it is sometimes (I’ll just trouble you not to step upon the end of that plank there, as it will turnover); though you may as well fall from here as from the top of the Monument for the matter of life being quite extinct when they pick you up,” he continued, looking around at the weather and the crops, as it were.

Then a workman, with a load of bricks, stamped along the boards, and overturned them at my feet, causing me to shake up and down like the little servant-men behind private cabs. I asked, in trepidation, if the bricks were not dangerously heavy, thinking of a newspaper paragraph headed “Frightful Accident from an Overloaded Scaffold.”

“Just what I was going to say. Dan has certainly too many there,” answered the man. “But it won’t break down if we walk without springing, and don’t sneeze, though the mortar-boy’s hooping-cough was strong enough in my poor brother Jim’s case,” he continued abstractedly, as if he himself possessed several necks, and could afford to break one or two.

My wife was picking daisies a little distance off, apparently in a state of complete indifference as to whether I was on the scaffold, at the foot of it, or in St George’s Hospital; so I roused myself for a descent, and tried the small ladder. I cannot accurately say how I did get down; but during that performance, my body seemed perforated by holes, through which breezes blew in all directions. As I got nearer the earth, they went away. It may be supposed that my wife’s notion of the height differed considerably from my own, and she inquired particularly for the landscape, which I had quite forgotten; but the discovery of that fact did not cause me to break are solution not to trouble my chimneys again.

Beyond a continual anxiety and frequent journeyings along the sides of a triangle, of which the old house, the new house, and the architect’s office were the corners, nothing worth mentioning happened till the building was nearly finished. Sophia’s ardour in the business, which at the beginning was so intense, had nearly burned itself out, so I was left pretty much to myself in getting over the later difficulties. Amongst them was the question of a porch. I had often been annoyed whilst waiting outside a door on a wet day at being exposed to the wind and rain, and it was my favourite notion that I would have a model porch whenever I should build a house. Thus it was very vexing to recollect, just as the workmen were finishing off, that I had never mentioned the subject to Mr Penny, and that he had not suggested anything about one to me.

“A porch or no porch is entirely a matter of personal feeling and taste,” was his remark, in answer to a complaint from me; “so, of course, I did not put one without its being mentioned. But it happens that in this case it would be an improvements feature, in fact. There is this objection, that the roof will close up the window of the little place on the landing; but we may get ventilation by making an opening higher up, if you don’t mind a trifling darkness, or rather gloom.

My first thought was that this might tend to reduce myself and family to a state of chronic melancholy; but remembering there were reflectors advertised to throw sunlight into any nook almost, I agreed to the inconvenience, for the sake of the porch, though I found afterwards that the gloom was for all time, the patent reflector, naturally enough, sending its spot of light against the opposite wall, where it was not wanted, and leaving none about the landing, where it was.

In getting a house built for a specified sum by contract with a builder, there is a certain pit-fall into which unwary people are sure to step — this accident is technically termed “getting into extras.” It is evident that the only way to get out again without making a town-talk about yourself, is to pay the builder a large sum of money over and above the contract amount — the value of course of the extras. In the present case, I knew very well that the perceptible additions would have to be paid for. Commonsense, and Mr Penny himself perhaps, should have told me a little more distinctly that I must pay if I said “yes” to questions whether I preferred one window a trifle larger than it was originally intended, another a trifle smaller, second thoughts as to where a doorway should be, and so on. Then came a host of things “not included — a sink in the scullery, a rain-water tank and a pump, a trap-door into the roof, a scraper, a weather-cock and four letters, ventilators in the nursery, same in the kitchen, all of which worked vigorously enough, but the wrong way; patent remarkable bell-pulls; a royal letters extraordinary kitchen-range, which it would cost exactly three pence three — farthings to keep a fire in for twelve hours, and yet cook any joint in any way, warm up what was left yesterday, boil the vegetables, and do the ironing. But not keeping a strict account of all these expenses, and thinking myself safe in Mr Penny’s hands from any enormous increase, I was astounded to find that the additions altogether came to some hundreds of pounds. I could almost go through the worry of building another house, to show how carefully I would avoid getting into extras again.

Then they have to be wound up. A surveyor is called in from somewhere, and, by a fiction, his heart’s desire is supposed to be that you shall not be overcharged one halfpenny by the builder for the additions. The builder names a certain sum as the value of a portion — say double its worth, the surveyor then names a sum, about half its true value. They then fight it out by word of mouth, and gradually bringing their valuations nearer and nearer together, at last meet in the middle. All my accounts underwent this operation.

Families-removing van carried our furniture and effects to the new building without giving us much trouble; but a number of vexing little incidents occurred on our settling down, which I should have felt more deeply had not a sort of Martinmas summer of Sophia’s interest in the affair now set in, and lightened them considerably. Smoke was one of our nuisances. On lighting the study-fire, every particle of smoke came curling into the room. In our trouble, we sent for the architect, who immediately asked if we had tried the plan of opening the register to cure it. We had not, but we did so, and the smoke ascended at once. The last thing I remember was Sophia jumping up one night and frightening me out of my senses with the exclamation: “O that builder! Not a single bar of any sort is there to the nursery-windows. John, some day those poor little children will tumble out in their innocence — how should they know better? — and be dashed to pieces. Why did you put the nursery on the second floor?” And you may be sure that some bars were put up the very next morning.

Destiny and a Blue Cloak

“Good morning, Miss Lovill!” said the young man, in the free manner usual with him toward pretty and inexperienced country girls.

Agatha Pollin — the maiden addressed — instantly perceived how the mistake had arisen. Miss Lovill was the owner of a blue autumn wrapper, exceptionally gay for a village; and Agatha, in a spirit of emulation rather than originality, had purchased a similarly enviable article for herself, which she wore to-day for the first time. It may be mentioned that the two young women had ridden together from their homes to Maiden-Newton on this foggy September morning, Agatha prolonging her journey thence to Weymouth by train, and leaving her acquaintance at the former place. The remark was made to her on Weymouth esplanade.

Agatha was now about to reply very naturally, “I am not Miss Lovill,” and she went so far as to turn up her face to him for the purpose, when he added, “I’ve been hoping to meet you. I have heard of your — well, I must say it — beauty, long ago, though I only came to Beaminster yesterday.”

Agatha bowed — her contradiction hung back — and they walked slowly along the esplanade together without speaking another word after the above point-blank remark of his. It was evident that her new friend could never have seen either herself or Miss Lovill except from a distance.

And Agatha trembled as well as bowed. This Miss Lovill — Frances Lovill — was of great and long renown as the beauty of Cloton village, near Beaminster. She was five and twenty and fully developed, while Agatha was only the niece of the miller of the same place, just nineteen, and of no repute as yet for comeliness, though she undoubtedly could boast of much. Now, were the speaker, Oswald Winwood, to be told that he had not lighted upon the true Helen, he would instantly apologize for his mistake and leave her side,” contingency of no great matter but for one curious emotional circumstance — Agatha had already lost her heart to him. Only in secret had she acquired this interest in Winwood — by hearing much report of his talent and by watching him several times from a window; but she loved none the less in that she had discovered that Miss Lovill’s desire to meet and talk with the same intellectual luminary was in a fair way of approaching the intensity of her own. We are never unbiased appraisers, even in love, and rivalry usually operates as a stimulant to esteem even while it is acting as an obstacle to opportunity. So it had been with Agatha in her talk to Miss Lovill that morning concerning Oswald Winwood.

The Weymouth season was almost at an end, and but few loungers were to be seen on the parades, particularly at this early hour. Agatha looked over the iridescent sea, from which the veil of mist was slowly rising, at the white cliffs on the left, now just beginning to gleam in a weak sunlight, at the one solitary yacht in the midst, and still delayed her explanation. Her companion went on:

“The mist is vanishing, look, and I think it will be fine, after all. Shall you stay in Weymouth the whole day?”

“No. I am going to Portland by the twelve o’clock steam-boat. But I return here again at six to go home by the seven o’clock train.”

“I go to Maiden Newton by the same train, and then to Beaminster by the carrier.”

“So do I.”

“Not, I suppose, to walk from Beaminster to Cloton at that time in the evening?”

“I shall be met by somebody — but it is only a mile, you know.”

That is how it all began; the continuation it is not necessary to detail at length. Both being somewhat young and impulsive, social forms were not scrupulously attended to. She discovered him to be on board the steamer as it ploughed the emerald waves of Weymouth Bay, although he had wished her a formal good-bye at the pier. He had altered his mind, he said, and thought that he would come to Portland, too. They returned by the same boat, walked the velvet sands till the train started, and entered a carriage together.

All this time, in the midst of her happiness, Agatha’s conscience was sombre with guiltiness at not having yet told him of his mistake. It was true that he had not more than once or twice called her by Miss Lovill’s name since the first greeting in the morning; but he certainly was still under the impression that she was Frances Lovill. Yet she perceived that though he had been led to her by another’s name, it was her own proper person that he was so rapidly getting to love, and Agatha’s feminine insight suggested blissfully to her that the face belonging to the name would after this encounter have no power to drag him away from the face of the day’s romance.

They reached Maiden-Newton at dusk, and went to the inn door, where stood the old-fashioned hooded van which was to take them to Beaminster. It was on the point of starting, and when they had mounted in front the old man at once drove up the long hill leading out of the village.

“This has been a charming experience to me, Miss Lovill,” Oswald said, as they sat side by side. “Accidental meetings have a way of making themselves pleasant when contrived ones quite fail to do it.”

It was absolutely necessary to confess this time, though all her bliss were at once destroyed.

“I am not really Miss Lovill!” she faltered.

“What! not the young lady — and are you really not Frances Lovill?” he exclaimed, in surprise.

“O forgive me, Mr Winwood! I have wanted so to tell you of your mistake; indeed I have, all day — but I couldn’t — and it is so wicked and wrong of me! I am only poor Agatha Pollin, at the mill.”

“But why couldn’t you tell me?”

“Because I was afraid that if I did you would go away from me and not care for me any more, and I l — l — love you so dearly!”

The carrier being on foot beside the horse, the van being so dark, and Oswald’s feelings being rather warm, he could not for his life avoid kissing her there and then.

“Well,” he said, “it doesn’t matter; you are yourself anyhow. It is you I like, and nobody else in the world — not the name. But, you know, I was really looking for Miss Lovill this morning. I saw the back of her head yesterday, and I have often heard how very good-looking she is. Ah! suppose you had been she. I wonder — “

He did not complete the sentence. The driver mounted again, touched the horse with the whip, and they jogged on.

“You forgive me?” she said.

“Entirely — absolutely — the reason justified everything. How strange that you should have been caring deeply for me, and I ignorant of it all the time!”

They descended into Beaminster and alighted, Oswald handing her down. They had not moved from the spot when another female figure also alighted, dropped her fare into the carrier’s hand, and glided away.

“Who is that?” said Oswald to the carrier. “Why, I thought we were the only passengers!”

“What?” said the carrier, who was rather stupid.

“Who is that woman?”

“Miss Lovill, of Cloton. She altered her mind about staying at Beaminster, and is come home again.”

“Oh!” said Agatha, almost sinking to the earth. “She has heard it all. What shall I do, what shall I do?”

“Never mind it a bit,” said Oswald.

II

The mill stood beside the village high-road, from which it was separated by the stream, the latter forming also the boundary of the mill garden, orchard, and paddock on that side. A visitor crossed a little wood bridge embedded in oozy, aquatic growths, and found himself in a space where usually stood a waggon laden with sacks, surrounded by a number of bright-feathered fowls.

It was now, however, just dusk, but the mill was not closed, a stripe of light stretching as usual from the open door across the front, across the river, across the road, into the hedge beyond. On the bridge, which was aside from the line of light, a young man and girl stood talking together. Soon they moved a little way apart, and then it was apparent that their right hands were joined. In receding one from the other they began to swing their arms gently backward and forward between them.

“Come a little way up the lane, Agatha, since it is the last time,” he said. “I don’t like parting here. You know your uncle does not object.”

“He doesn’t object because he knows nothing to object to,” she whispered. And they both then contemplated the fine, stalwart figure of the said uncle, who could be seen moving about inside the mill, illuminated by the candle, and circumscribed by a faint halo of flour, and hindered by the whirr of the mill from hearing anything so gentle as lovers’ talk.

Oswald had not relinquished her hand, and, submitting herself to a bondage she appeared to love better than freedom, Agatha followed him across the bridge, and they went down the lane engaged in the low, sad talk common to all such cases, interspersed with remarks peculiar to their own.

“It is nothing so fearful to contemplate,” he said.” Many live there for years in a state of rude health, and return home in the same happy condition. So shall I.”

“I hope you will.”

“But aren’t you glad I am going? It is better to do well in India than badly here. Say you are glad, dearest; it will fortify me when I am gone.”

“I am glad,” she murmured faintly. “I mean I am glad in my mind. I don’t think that in my heart I am glad.”

“Thanks to Macaulay, of honoured memory, I have as good a chance as the best of them!” he said, with ardour. “What a great thing competitive examination is; it will put good men in good places, and make inferior men move lower down; all bureaucratic jobbery will be swept away.”

“What’s bureaucratic, Oswald?”

“Oh! that’s what they call it, you know. It is — well, I don’t exactly know what it is. I know this, that it is the name of what I hate, and that it isn’t competitive examination.”

“At any rate it is a very bad thing,” she said, conclusively.

“Very bad, indeed; you may take my word for that.”

Then the parting scene began, in the dark, under the heavy-headed trees which shut out sky and stars. “And since I shall be in London till the Spring,” he remarked, “the parting doesn’t seem so bad — so all at once. Perhaps you may come to London before the Spring, Agatha.”

“I may; but I don’t think I shall.”

“We must hope on all the same. Then there will be the examination, and then I shall know my fate.”

“I hope you’ll fail! — there, I’ve said it; I couldn’t help it, Oswald!” she exclaimed, bursting out crying. “You would come home again then!”

“How can you be so disheartening and wicked, Agatha! I — I didn’t expect — “

“No, no; I don’t wish it; I wish you to be best, top, very very best!” she said. “I didn’t mean the other; indeed, dear Oswald, I didn’t. And will you be sure to come to me when you are rich? Sure to come?”

“If I’m on this earth I’ll come home and marry you.”

And then followed the good-bye.

III

In the Spring came the examination. One morning a newspaper directed by Oswald was placed in her hands, and she opened it to find it was a copy of the Times. In the middle of the sheet, in the most conspicuous place, in the excellent neighbourhood of the leading articles, was a list of names, and the first on the list was Oswald Winwood. Attached to his name, as showing where he was educated, was the simple title of some obscure little academy, while underneath came public school and college men in shoals. Such a case occurs sometimes, and it occurred then.

How Agatha clapped her hands! for her selfish wish to have him in England at any price, even that of failure, had been but a paroxysm of the wretched parting, and was now quite extinct. Circumstances combined to hinder another meeting between them before his departure, and, accordingly, making up her mind to the inevitable in a way which would have done honour to an older head, she fixed her mental vision on that sunlit future — far away, yet always nearing — and contemplated its probabilities with a firm hope.

At length he had arrived in India, and now Agatha had only to work and wait; and the former made the latter more easy. In her spare hours she would wander about the river banks and into the coppices and there weave thoughts of him by processes that young women understand so well. She kept a diary, and in this, since there were few events to chronicle in her daily life, she sketched the changes of the landscape, noted the arrival and departure of birds of passage, the times of storms and foul weather — all which information, being mixed up with her life and taking colour from it, she sent as scraps in her letters to him, deriving most of her enjoyment in contemplating his.

Oswald, on his part, corresponded very regularly. Knowing the days of the Indian mail, she would go at such times to meet the post-man in early morning, and to her unvarying inquiry, “A letter for me?” it was seldom, indeed, that there came a disappointing answer. Thus the season passed, and Oswald told her he should be a judge some day, with many other details, which, in her mind, were viewed chiefly in their bearing on the grand consummation — that he was to come home and marry her.

Meanwhile, as the girl grew older and more womanly, the woman whose name she had once stolen for a day grew more of an old maid, and showed symptoms of fading. One day Agatha’s uncle, who, though still a handsome man in the prime of his life was a widower with four children, to whom she acted the part of eldest sister, told Agatha that Frances Lovill was about to become his second wife.

“Well!” said Agatha, and thought, “What an end for a beauty!”

And yet it was all reasonable enough, notwithstanding that Miss Lovill might have looked a little higher. Agatha knew that this step would produce great alterations in the small household of Cloton Mill, and the idea of having as aunt and ruler the woman to whom she was in some sense indebted for a lover, affected Agatha with a slight thrill of dread. Yet nothing had ever been spoken between the two women to show that Frances had heard, much less resented, the explanation in the van on that night of the return from Weymouth.

IV

On a certain day old farmer Lovill called. He was of the same family as Frances, though their relationship was distant. A considerable business in corn had been done from time to time between miller and farmer, but the latter had seldom called at Pollin’s house. He was a bachelor, or he would probably never have appeared in this history, and he was mostly full of a boyish merriment rare in one of his years. To-day his business with the miller had been so imperative as to bring him in person, and it was evident from their talk in the mill that the matter was payment. Perhaps ten minutes had been spent in serious converse when the old farmer turned away from the door, and, without saying good-morning, went toward the bridge. This was unusual for a man of his temperament.

He was an old man — really and fairly old — sixty-five years of age at least. He was not exactly feeble, but he found a stick useful when walking in a high wind. His eyes were not yet bleared, but in their corners was occasionally a moisture like majolica glaze — entirely absent in youth. His face was not shrivelled, but there were unmistakable puckers in some places. And hence the old gentleman, unmarried, substantial, and cheery as he was, was not doted on by the young girls of Cloton as he had been by their mothers in former time. Each year his breast impended a little further over his toes, and his chin a little further over his breast, and in proportion as he turned down his nose to earth did pretty females turn up theirs at him. They might have liked him as a friend had he not shown the abnormal wish to be regarded as a lover. To Agatha Pollin this aged youth was positively distasteful.

It happened that at the hour of Mr Lovill’s visit Agatha was bending over the pool at the mill head, sousing some white fabric in the water. She was quite unconscious of the farmer’s presence near her, and continued dipping and rinsing in the idlest phase possible to industry, until she remained quite still, holding the article under the water, and looking at her own reflection within it. The river, though gliding slowly, was yet so smooth that to the old man on the bridge she existed in duplicate — the pouting mouth, the little nose, the frizzed hair, the bit of blue ribbon, as they existed over the surface, being but a degree more, distinct than the same features beneath.

“What a pretty maid!” said the old man to himself. He walked up the margin of the stream, and stood beside her.

“Oh!” said Agatha, starting with surprise. In her flurry she relinquished the article she had been rinsing, which slowly turned over and sank deeper, and made toward the hatch of the mill-wheel.

“There — it will get into the wheel, and be torn to pieces!” she exclaimed.

“I’ll fish it out with my stick, my dear,” said Farmer Lovill, and kneeling cautiously down he began hooking and crooking with all his might. “What thing is it of much value?”

“Yes; it is my best one!” she said involuntarily.

“It — what is the it?”

“Only something — a piece of linen.” Just then the farmer hooked the endangered article, and dragging it out, held it high on his walking-stick — dripping, but safe.

“Why, it is a chemise!” he said.

The girl looked red, and instead of taking it from the end of the stick, turned away.

“Hee-hee!” laughed the ancient man. “Well, my dear, there’s nothing to be ashamed of that I can see in owning to such a necessary and innocent article of clothing. There, I’ll put it on the grass for you, and you shall take it when I am gone.”

Then Farmer Lovill retired, lifting his fingers privately, to express amazement on a small scale, and murmuring, “What a nice young thing! Well, to be sure. Yes, a nice child — young woman rather indeed, a marriageable woman, come to that; of course she is.”

The doting old person thought of the young one all this day in a way that the young one did not think of him. He thought so much about her, that in the evening, instead of going to bed, he hobbled privately out by the back door into the moonlight, crossed a field or two, and stood in the lane, looking at the mill — not more in the hope of getting a glimpse of the attractive girl inside than for the pleasure of realising that she was there.

A light moved within, came nearer, and ascended. The staircase window was large, and he saw his goddess going up with a candle in her hand. This was indeed worth coming for. He feared he was seen by her as well, yet hoped otherwise in the interests of his passion, for she came and drew down the window blind, completely shutting out his gaze. The light vanished from this part, and reappeared in a window a little further on.

The lover drew nearer; this, then, was her bedroom. He rested vigorously upon his stick, and straightening his back nearly to a perpendicular, turned up his amorous face.

She came to the window, paused, then opened it.

“Bess its deary-eary heart! it is going to speak to me!” said the old man, moistening his lips, resting still more desperately upon his stick, and straightening himself yet an inch taller. “She saw me then!”

Agatha, however, made no sign; she was bent on a far different purpose. In a box on her window-sill was a row of mignonette, which had been sadly neglected since her lover’s departure, and she began to water it, as if inspired by a sudden recollection of its condition. She poured from her water-jug slowly along the plants, and then, to her astonishment, discerned her elderly friend below.

“A rude old thing!” she murmured.

Directing the spout of the jug over the edge of the box, and looking in another direction that it might appear to be an accident, she allowed the stream to spatter down upon her admirer’s face, neck, and shoulders, causing him to beat a quick retreat. Then Agatha serenely closed the window, and drew down that blind also.

“Ah! she did not see me; it was evident she did not, and I was mistaken!” said the trembling farmer, hastily wiping his face, and mopping out the rills trickling down within his shirt-collar as far as he could get at them, which was by no means to their termination. “A pretty creature, and so innocent, too! Watering her flowers; how like a girl who is fond of flowers! I wish she had spoken, and I wish I was younger. Yes, I know what I’d do with the little mouse!” And the old gentleman tapped emotionally upon the ground with his stick.

V

“Agatha, I suppose you have heard the news from somebody else by this time?” said her Uncle Humphrey some two or three weeks later.

“I mean what Farmer Lovill has been talking to me about.”

“No, indeed” said Agatha.

“He wants to marry ye if you be willing.”

“O, I never!” said Agatha with dismay. “That old man!”

“Old? He’s hale and hearty; and what’s more, a man very well to do. He’ll make you a comfortable home, and dress ye up like a doll, and I’m sure ou’ll like that, or you baint a woman of woman born.”

“But it can’t be, uncle! other reasons — “

“What reasons?”

“Why, I’ve promised Oswald Winwood — years ago!”

“Promised Oswald Winwood years ago, have you?”

“Yes; surely you know it Uncle Humphrey. And we write to one another regularly.”

“Well, I can just call to mind that ye are always scribbling and getting letters from somewhere. Let me see — where is he now? I quite forget.”

“In India still. Is it possible that you don’t know about him, and what a great man he’s getting? There are paragraphs about him in our paper very often. The last was about some translation from Hindostani that he’d been making. And he’s coming home for me.”

“I very much question it. Lovill will marry you at once, he says.”

“Indeed, he will not.”

“Well, I don’t want to force you to do anything against your will, Agatha, but this is how the matter stands. You know I am a little behind in my dealings with Lovill — nothing serious, you know, if he gives me time — but I want to be free of him quite in order to go to Australia.”

“Australia!”

“Yes. There’s nothing to be done here. I don’t know what business is coming to — can’t think. But never mind that; this is the point: if you will marry Farmer Lovill, he offers to clear off the debt, and there will no longer be any delay about my own marriage; in short, away I can go. I mean to, and there’s an end on’t.”

“What, and leave me at home alone?”

“Yes, but a married woman, of course. You see the children are getting big now. John is twelve and Nathaniel ten, and the girls are growing fast, and when I am married again I shall hardly want you to keep house for me — in fact, I must reduce our family as much as possible. So that if you could bring your mind to think of Farmer Lovill as a husband, why, ‘twould be a great relief to me after having the trouble and expense of bringing you up. If I can in that way edge out of Lovill’s debt I shall have a nice bit of money in hand.”

“But Oswald will be richer even than Mr Lovill,” said Agatha, through her tears.

“Yes, yes. But Oswald is not here, nor is he likely to be. How silly you be.”

“But he will come, and soon, with his eleven hundred a year and all.

“I wish to Heaven he would. I’m sure he might have you.”

“Now, you promise that, uncle, don’t you?” she said, brightening. “If he comes with plenty of money before you want to leave, he shall marry me, and nobody else.”

“Ay, if he comes. But, Agatha, no nonsense. Just think of what I’ve been telling you. And at any rate be civil to Farmer Lovill. If this man Winwood were here and asked for ye, and married ye, that would be a very different thing. I do mind now that I saw something about him and his doings in the papers; but he’s a fine gentleman by this time, and won’t think of stooping to a girl like you. So you’d better take the one who is ready; old men’s darlings fare very well as the world goes. We shall be off in nine months, mind, that I’ve settled. And you must be a married woman afore that time, and wish us good-bye upon your husband’s arm.”

“That old arm couldn’t support me.”

“And if you don’t agree to have him, you’ll take a couple of hundred pounds out of my pocket; you’ll ruin my chances altogether — that’s the long and the short of it.”

Saying which the gloury man turned his back upon her, and his footsteps became drowned in the rumble of the mill.

VI

Nothing so definite was said to her again on the matter for sometime. The old yeoman hovered round her, but, knowing the result of the interview between Agatha and her uncle, he forbore to endanger his suit by precipitancy. But one afternoon he could not avoid saying, “Aggie, when may I speak to you upon a serious subject?”

“Next week,” she replied, instantly.

He had not been prepared for such a ready answer, and it startled him almost as much as it pleased him. Had he known the cause of it his emotions might have been different. Agatha, with all the womanly strategy she was capable of, had written post-haste to Oswald after the conversation with her uncle, and told him of the dilemma. At the end of the present week his answer, if he replied with his customary punctuality, would be sure to come. Fortified with his letter she thought she could meet the old man. Oswald she did not doubt.

Nor had she any reason to. The letter came prompt to the day. It was short, tender, and to the point. Events had shaped themselves so fortunately that he was able to say he would return and marry her before the time named for the family’s departure for Queensland.

She danced about for joy. But there was a postscript to the effect that she might as well keep this promise a secret for the present, if she conveniently could, that his intention might not become a public talk in Cloton. Agatha knew that he was a rising and aristocratic young man, and saw at once how proper this was.

So she met Mr Lovill with a simple flat refusal, at which her uncle was extremely angry, and her disclosure to him afterward of the arrival of the letter went but a little way in pacifying him. Farmer Lovill would put in upon him for the debt, he said, unless she could manage to please him for a short time.

“I don’t want to please him,” said Agatha.

“It is wrong to encourage him if I don’t mean it.”

“Will you behave toward him as the Parson advises you?”

The Parson! That was a new idea, and, from her uncle, unexpected.

“I will agree to what Mr Davids advises about my mere daily behaviour before Oswald comes, but nothing more,” she said. “That is, I will if you know for certain that he’s a good man, who fears God and keeps the commandments.”

“Mr Davids fears God, for sartin, for he never ventures to name Him outside the pulpit — and as for the commandments, ‘tis knowed how he swore at the church-restorers for taking them away from the chancel.”

“Uncle, you always jest when I am serious.”

“Well, well! at any rate his advice on a matter of this sort is good.”

“How is it you think of referring me to him?” she asked, in perplexity; “you so often speak slightingly of him.”

“Oh — well,” said Humphrey, with a faintly perceptible desire to parry the question, “I have spoken roughly about him once now and then; but perhaps I was wrong. Will ye go?”

“Yes, I don’t mind,” she said, languidly.

When she reached the Vicar’s study Agatha began her story with reserve, and said nothing about the correspondence with Oswald; yet an intense longing to find a friend and confidant led her to indulge in more feeling than she had intended and as a finale she wept. The genial incumbent, however, remained quite cool, the secret being that his heart was involved a little in another direction — one, perhaps, not quite in harmony with Agatha’s interests — of which more anon.

“So the difficulty is,” he said to her, “how to behave in this trying time of waiting for Mr Winwood, that you may please parties all round and give offence to none.”

“Yes, Sir, that’s it,” sobbed Agatha, wondering how he could have realised her position so readily. “And uncle wants to go to Australia.

“One thing is certain,” said the Vicar; “you must not hurt the feelings of Mr Lovill. Wonderfully sensitive man — a man I respect much as a godly doer.”

“Do you, Sir?”

“I do. His earnestness is remarkable.”

“Yes, in courting.”

“The cue is: treat Mr Lovill gently — gently as a babe! Love opposed, especially an old man’s, gets all the stronger. It is your policy to give him seeming encouragement, and so let his feelings expend themselves and die away.”

“How am I to? To advise is so easy.”

“Not by acting untruthfully, of course. You say your lover is sure to come back before your uncle leaves England,”

“I know he will.”

“Then pacify old Mr Lovill in this way: Tell him you’ll marry him when your uncle wants to go, if Winwood doesn’t come for you before that time. That will quite content Mr Lovill, for he doesn’t in the least expect Oswald to return, and you’ll see that his persecution will cease at once.”

“Yes; I’ll agree to it,” said Agatha promptly.

Mr Davids had refrained from adding that neither did he expect Oswald to come, and hence his advice. Agatha on her part too refrained from stating the good reasons she had for the contrary expectation, and hence her assent. Without the last letter perhaps even her faith would hardly have been bold enough to allow this palpable driving of her into a corner.

“It would be as well to write Mr Lovill a little note, saying you agree to what I have advised,” said the Parson evasively.

“I don’t like writing.”

“There’s no harm. ‘If Mr Winwood doesn’t come I’ll marry you,’ &c. Poor Mr Lovill will be content, thinking Oswald will not come; you will be content, knowing he will come; your uncle will be content being indifferent which of two rich men has you and relieves him of his difficulties. Then, if it’s the will of Providence, you’ll be left in peace. Here’s a pen and ink; you can do it at once.”

Thus tempted, Agatha wrote the note with a trembling hand. It really did seem upon the whole a nicely strategic thing to do in her present environed situation. Mr Davids took the note with the air of a man who did not wish to take it in the least, and placed it on the mantle-piece.

“I’ll send it down to him by one of the children,” said Aggy, looking wistfully at her note with a little feeling that she should like to have it back again.

“Oh, no, it is not necessary,” said her pleasant adviser. He had rung the bell; the servant now came, and the note was sent off in a trice.

When Agatha got into the open air again her confidence returned, and it was with a mischievous sense of enjoyment that she considered how she was duping her persecutors by keeping secret Oswald’s intention of a speedy return. If they only knew what a firm foundation she had for her belief in what they all deemed but an improbable contingency, what a life they would lead her; how the old man would worry her uncle for payment, and what general confusion there would be. Mr Davids’ advice was very shrewd, she thought, and she was glad she had called upon him.

Old Lovill came that very afternoon. He was delighted, and danced a few bars of a hornpipe in entering the room. So lively was the antique boy that Agatha was rather alarmed at her own temerity when she considered what was the basis of his gaiety; wishing she could get from him some such writing as he had got from her, that the words of her promise might not in any way be tampered with, or the conditions ignored.

“I only accept you conditionally, mind,” she anxiously said. “That is distinctly understood.”

“Yes, yes,” said the yeoman. “I am not so young as I was, little dear, and beggars musn’t be choosers. With my ra-ta-ta — say, dear, shall it be the first of November?”

“It will really never be.”

“But if he doesn’t come, it shall be the first of November?”

She slightly nodded her head.

“Clk! — l think she likes me!” said the old man aside to Aggy’s uncle, which aside was distinctly heard by Aggy.

One of the younger children was in the room, drawing idly on a slate. Agatha at this moment took the slate from the child, and scribbled something on it.

“Now you must please me by just writing your name here,” she saidin a voice of playful indifference.

“What is it?” said Lovill, looking over and reading. “‘If Oswald Winwood comes to marry Agatha Pollin before November, I agree to give her up to him without objection.’ Well, that is cool for a young lady under six feet, upon my word — hee-hee!” He passed the slate to the miller, who read the writing and passed it back again.

“Sign — just in courtesy,” she coaxed.

“I don’t see why — “

“I do it to test your faith in me; and now I find you have none. Don’t you think I should have rubbed it out instantly? Ah, perhaps I can be obstinate too!”

He wrote his name then. “Now I have done it, and shown my faith,” he said, and at once raised his fingers as if to rub it out again. But with hands that moved like lightning she snatched up the slate, flew up stairs, locked it in her box, and came down again.

“Souls of men — that’s sharp practice,” said the old gentleman.

“Oh, it is only a whim — a mere memorandum,” said she. “You had my promise, but I had not yours.”

“Ise wants my slate,” cried the child.

“I’ll buy you a new one, dear,” said Agatha, and soothed her.

When she had left the room old Lovill spoke to her uncle somewhat uneasily of the event, which, childish as it had been, discomposed him for the moment.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” said Miller Pollin assuringly; “only play — only play. She’s a mere child in nater, even now, and she did it only to tease ye. Why, she overheard your whisper that you thought she liked ye, and that was her playful way of punishing ye for your confidence. You’ll have to put up with these worries, farmer. Considering the difference in your ages, she is sure to play pranks. You’ll get to like ‘em in time.”

“Ay, ay, faith, so I shall! I was always a Turk for sprees! — eh, Pollin? hee-hee!” And the suitor was merry again.

VII

Her life was certainly much pleasanter now. The old man treated her well, and was almost silent on the subject nearest his heart. She was obliged to be very stealthy in receiving letters from Oswald, and on this account was bound to meet the postman, let the weather be what it would. These transactions were easily kept secret from people out of the house, but it was a most difficult task to hide her movements from her uncle. And one day brought utter failure.

“How’s this — out already, Agatha?” he said, meeting her in the lane at dawn on a foggy morning. She was actually reading a letter just received, and there was no disguising the truth.

“I’ve been for a letter from Oswald.”

“Well, but that won’t do. Since he don’t come for ye, ye must think no more about him.”

“But he’s coming in six weeks. He tells me all about it in this very letter.”

“What — really to marry you?” said her uncle incredulously.

“Yes, certainly.”

“But I hear that he’s wonderfully well off.”

“Of course he is; that’s why he’s coming. He’ll agree in a moment to be your surety for the debt to Mr Lovill.”

“Has he said so?”

“Not yet; but he will.”

“I’ll believe it when I see him and he tells me so. It is very odd, if he means so much, that he hev never wrote a line to me.”

“We thought — you would force me to have the other at once if he wrote to you,” she murmured.

“Not I, if he comes rich. But it is rather a cock-and-bull story, and since he didn’t make up his mind before now, I can’t say I be much in his favour. Agatha, you had better not say a word to Mr Lovill about these letters; it will make things deuced unpleasant if he hears of such goings on. You are to reckon yourself bound by your word. Oswald won’t hold water, I’m afeard. But I’ll be fair. If he do come, proves his income, marries ye willy-nilly, I’ll let it be, and the old man and I must do as we can. But barring that — you keep your promise to the letter.”

“That’s what it will be, uncle. Oswald will come.”

“Write you must not. Lovill will smell it out, and he’ll be sharper than you will like. ‘Tis not to be supposed that you are to send love-letters to one man as if nothing was going to happen between ye and another man. The first of November is drawing nearer every day. And be sure and keep this a secret from Lovill for your own sake.

The more clearly that Agatha began to perceive the entire contrast of expectation as to issue between herself and the other party to the covenant, the more alarmed she became. She had not anticipated such an arrowing of courses as had occurred. A malign influence seemed to be at work without any visible human agency. The critical time drew nearer, and, though no ostensible preparation for the wedding was made, it was evident to all that Lovill was painting and papering his house for somebody’s reception. He made a lawn where there had existed a nook of refuse; he bought furniture for a woman’s room. The greatest horror was that he insisted upon her taking his arm one day, and there being no help for it she assented, though her distaste was unutterable. She felt the skinny arm through his sleeve, saw over the wry shoulders, looked upon the knobby feet, and shuddered. What if Oswald should not come; the time for her uncle’s departure was really getting near. When she reached home she ran up to her bedroom.

On recovering from her dreads a little, Agatha looked from the window. The deaf lad John, who assisted in the mill, was quietly glancing toward her, and a gleam of friendship passed over his kindly face as he caught sight of her form. This reminded her that she had, after all, some sort of friend close at hand. The lad knew pretty well how events stood in Agatha’s life, and he was always ready to do on her part whatever lay in his power. Agatha felt stronger, and resolved to bear up.

VIII

Heavens! how anxious she was! It actually wanted only ten days to the first of November, and no new letter had come from Oswald.

Her uncle was married, and Frances was in the house, and the preliminary steps for emigration to Queensland had been taken. Agatha surreptitiously obtained newspapers, scanned the Indian shipping news till her eyes ached, but all to no purpose, for she knew nothing either of route or vessel by which Oswald would return. He had mentioned nothing more than the month of his coming, and she had no way of making that single scrap of information the vehicle for obtaining more.

“In ten days, Agatha,” said the old farmer. “There is to be no show or fuss of any kind; the wedding will be quite private, in consideration of your feelings and wishes. We’ll go to church as if we were taking a morning walk, and nobody will be there to disturb you. Tweedledee!” He held up his arm and crossed it with his walking-stick, as if he were playing the fiddle, at the same time cutting a caper.

“He will come, and then I shan’t be able to marry you, even th — th — though I may wish to ever so much,” she faltered, shivering. “I have promised him, and I must have him, you know, and you have agreed to let me.”

“Yes, yes,” said Farmer Lovill, pleasantly. “But that’s a misfortune you need not fear at all, my dear; he won’t come at this late day and compel you to marry him in spite of your attachment to me. But, ah — it is only a joke to tease me, you little rogue! Your uncle says so.”

“Agatha, come, cheer up, and think no more of that fellow,” said her uncle when they chanced to be alone together. “‘Tis ridiculous, you know. We always knew he wouldn’t come.”

The day passed. The sixth morning came, the noon, the evening. The fifth day came and vanished. Still no sound of Oswald. His friends now lived in London, and there was not a soul in the parish, save herself, that he corresponded with, or one to whom she could apply in such a delicate matter as this.

It was the evening before her wedding-day, and she was standing alone in the gloom of her bedchamber looking out on the plot in front of the mill. She saw a white figure moving below, and knew him to be the deaf miller lad, her friend. A sudden impulse animated Agatha. She had been making desperate attempts during the last two days to like the old man, and, since Oswald did not come, to marry him without further resistance, for the sheer good of the family of her uncle, to whom she was indeed indebted for much; but had only got so far in her efforts as not to positively hate him. Now rebelliousness came unsought. The lad knew her case, and upon this fact she acted. Gliding down stairs, she beckoned to him, and, as they stood together in the stream of light from the open mill door, she communicated her directions, partly by signs, partly by writing, for it was difficult to speak to him without being heard all over the premises.

He looked in her face with a glance of confederacy, and said that he understood it all. Upon this they parted.

The old man was at her house that evening, and when she withdrew wished her good-bye “for the present” with a dozen smiles of meaning. Agatha had retired early, leaving him still there, and when she reached her room, instead of looking at the new dress she was supposed to be going to wear on the morrow, busied herself in making up a small bundle of ordinary articles of clothing. Then she extinguished her light, lay down upon the bed without undressing, and waited for a preconcerted time.

In what seemed to her the dead of night, but which she concluded must be the time agreed upon — half-past five — there was a slight noise as of gravel being thrown against her window. Agatha jumped up, put on her bonnet and cloak, took up her bundle, and went down stairs without a light. At the bottom she slipped on her boots, and passed amid the chirping crickets to the door. It was unbarred. Her uncle, then, had risen, as she had half expected, and it necessitated a little more caution. The morning was dark as a cavern, not a star being visible; but knowing the bearings well, she went cautiously and in silence to the mill door. A faint light shone from inside, and the form of the mill-cart appeared without, the horse ready harnessed to it. Agatha did not see John for the moment, but concluded that he was in the mill with her uncle, who had just at this minute started the wheel for the day. She at once slipped into the vehicle and under the tilt, pulling some empty sacks over, as it had been previously agreed that she should do, to avoid the risk of discovery. After a few minutes of suspense she heard John coming from under the wall, where he had apparently been standing and watching her safely in, and mounting in front, away he drove at a walking pace.

Her scheme had been based upon the following particulars of mill business: Thrice a week it was the regular custom for John and another young man to start early in the morning, each with a horse and covered cart, and go in different directions to customers a few miles off, the carts being laden overnight. All that she had asked John to do this morning was to take her with him to a railway station about ten miles distant, where she might safely wait for an up train.

How will John act on returning — what will he say — how will he excuse himself she thought as they jogged along. “John!” she said, meaning to ask him about these things; but he did not hear, and she was too confused and weary after her wakeful night to be able to think consecutively on any subject. But the relief of finding that her uncle did not look into the cart caused a delicious lull in her, and while listlessly watching the dark gray sky through the triangular opening between the curtains at the fore part of the tilt, and John’s elbow projecting from the folds of one of them, showing where he was sitting on the outside, she fell asleep.

She awoke after a short interval — everything was just the same — jog, jog, on they went; there was the dim slit between the curtains infront, and, after slightly wondering that John had not troubled himself to see that she was comfortable, she dozed again. Thus Agatha remained until she had a clear consciousness of the stopping of the cart. It aroused her, and looking at once through a small opening at the back, she perceived in the dim dawn that they were turning right about; in another moment the horse was proceeding on the way back again.

“John, what are you doing” she exclaimed, jumping up, and pulling aside the curtain which parted them.

John did not turn.

“How fearfully deaf he is!” she thought, “and how odd he looks behind, and he hangs forward as if he were asleep. His hair is snow white with flour; does he never clean it, then?” She crept across the sacks, and slapped him on the shoulder. John turned then.

“Hee-hee, my dear!” said the blithe old gentleman; and the moisture of his aged eye glistened in the dawning light, as he turned and looked into her horrified face. “It is all right; I am John, and I have given ye a nice morning’s airing to refresh ye for the uncommon duties of to-day; and now we are going back for the ceremony — hee hee!”

He wore a miller’s smock-frock on this interesting occasion, and had been enabled to play the part of John in the episode by taking the second cart and horse and anticipating by an hour the real John in calling her.

Agatha sank backward. How on earth had he discovered the scheme of escape so readily; he, an old and by no means suspicious man? But what mattered a solution! Hope was crushed, and her rebellion was at an end. Agatha was awakened from thought by another stopping of the horse, and they were again at the mill-door.

She dimly recognized her uncle’s voice speaking in anger to her when the old farmer handed her out of the vehicle, and heard the farmer reply, merrily, that girls would be girls and have their freaks, that it didn’t matter, and that it was a pleasant jest on this auspicious morn. For himself, there was nothing he had enjoyed all his life so much as a practical joke which did no harm. Then she had a sensation of being told to go into the house, have some food, and dress for her marriage with Mr Lovill, as she had promised to do on that day.

All this she did, and at eleven o’clock became the wife of the old man.

When Agatha was putting on her bonnet in the dusk that evening, for she would not illuminate her ghastly face by a candle, a rustling came against the door. Agatha turned. Her uncle’s wife, Frances, was looking into the room, and Agatha could just discern upon her aunt’s form the blue cloak which had ruled her destiny.

The sight was almost more than she could bear. If, as seemed likely, this effect was intended, the trick was certainly successful. Frances did not speak a word.

Then Agatha said in quiet irony, and with no evidence whatever of regret, sadness, or surprise at what the act revealed: “And so you told Mr Lovill of my flight this morning, and set him on the track? It would be amusing to know how you found out my plan, for he never could have done it by himself, poor old darling.”

“Oh, I was a witness of your arrangement with John last night — that was all, my dear,” said her aunt pleasantly. “I mentioned it then to Mr Lovill, and helped him to his joke of hindering you.... You remember the van, Agatha, and how you made use of my name on that occasion, years ago, now?”

“Yes, and did you hear our talk that night? I always fancied otherwise.”

“I heard it all. It was fun to you; what do you think it was to me — fun, too? — to lose the man I longed for, and to become the wife of a man I care not an atom about?”

“Ah, no. And how you struggled to get him away from me, dear aunt!”

“And have done it, too.”

“Not you, exactly. The Parson and fate.”

“Parson Davids kindly persuaded you, because I kindly persuaded him, and persuaded your uncle to send you to him. Mr Davids is an old admirer of mine. Now do you see a wheel within a wheel, Agatha?”

Calmness was almost insupportable by Agatha now, but she managed to say: “Of course you have kept back letters from Oswald to me?”

“No, I have not done that,” said Frances. “But I told Oswald, who landed at Southampton last night, and called here in great haste at seven this morning, that you had gone out for an early drive with the man you were to marry to-day, and that it might cause confusion if he remained. He looked very pale, and went away again at once to catch the next London train, saying something about having been prevented by a severe illness from sailing at the time he had promised and intended for the last twelvemonth.”

The bride, though nearly slain by the news, would not flinch in the presence of her adversary. Stilling her quivering flesh, she said smiling: “That information is deeply interesting, but does not concern me at all, for I am my husband’s darling now, you know, and I wouldn’t make the dear man jealous for the world.” And she glided down stairs to the chaise.

The Thieves Who Couldn’t Help Sneezing

Many years ago, when oak-trees now past their prime were about as large as elderly gentlemen’s walking-sticks, there lived in Wessex a yeoman’s son, whose name was Hubert. He was about fourteen years of age, and was as remarkable for his candour and lightness of heart as for his physical courage, of which, indeed, he was a little vain.

One cold Christmas Eve his father, having no other help at hand, sent him on an important errand to a small town several miles from home. He travelled on horseback, and was detained by the business till a late hour of the evening. At last, however, it was completed; he returned to the inn, the horse was saddled, and he started on his way. His journey homeward lay through the Vale of Blackmore, a fertile but somewhat lonely district, with heavy clay roads and crooked lanes. In those days, too, a great part of it was thickly wooded.

It must have been about nine o’clock when, riding along amid the overhanging trees upon his stout-legged cob Jerry, and singing a Christmas carol, to be in harmony with the season, Hubert fancied that he heard a noise among the boughs. This recalled to his mind that the spot he was traversing bore an evil name. Men had been waylaid there. He looked at Jerry, and wished he had been of any other colour than light grey; for on this account the docile animal’s form was visible even here in the dense shade. “What do I care?” he said aloud, after a few minutes of reflection. “Jerry’s legs are too nimble to allow any highwayman to come near me.”

“Ha! ha! indeed,” was said in a deep voice; and the next moment a man darted from the thicket on his right hand, another man from the thicket on his left hand, and another from a tree-trunk a few yards ahead. Hubert’s bridle was seized, he was pulled from his horse, and although he struck out with all his might, as a brave boy would naturally do, he was over powered. His arms were tied behind him, his legs bound tightly together, and he was thrown into the ditch. The robbers, whose faces he could now dimly perceive to be artificially blackened, at once departed, leading off the horse.

As soon as Hubert had a little recovered himself, he found that by great exertion he was able to extricate his legs from the cord; but, in spite of every endeavour, his arms remained bound as fast as before. All, therefore, that he could do was to rise to his feet and proceed on his way with his arms behind him, and trust to chance for getting them unfastened. He knew that it would be impossible to reach home on foot that night, and in such a condition; but he walked on. Owing to the confusion which this attack caused in his brain, he lost his way and would have been inclined to lie down and rest till morning among the dead leaves had he not known the danger of sleeping without wrappers in a frost so severe. So he wandered further onwards, his arms wrung and numbed by the cord which pinioned him, and his heart aching for the loss of poor Jerry, who never had been known to kick, or bite, or show a single vicious habit. He was not a little glad when he discerned through the trees a distant light. Towards this he made his way, and presently found himself in front of a large mansion with flanking wings, gables, and towers, the battlements and chimneys showing their shapes against the stars.

All was silent; but the door stood wide open, it being from this door that the light shone which had attracted him. On entering he found himself in a vast apartment arranged as a dining-hall, and brilliantly illuminated. The walls were covered with a great deal of dark wainscoting, formed into moulded panels, carvings, closet-doors, and the usual fittings of a house of that kind. But what drew his attention most was the large table in the midst of the hall, upon which was spread a sumptuous supper, as yet untouched. Chairs were placed around, and it appeared as if something had occurred to interrupt the meal just at the time when all were ready to begin.

Even had Hubert been so inclined, he could not have eaten in his helpless state, unless by dipping his mouth into the dishes, like a pig or cow. He wished first to obtain assistance; and was about to penetrate further into the house for that purpose when he heard hasty footsteps in the porch and the words, “Be quick!” uttered in the deep voice which had reached him when he was dragged from the horse. There was only just time for him to dart under the table before three men entered the dining-hall. Peeping from beneath the hanging edges of the tablecloth, he perceived that their faces, too, were blackened, which at once removed any remaining doubts he may have felt that these were the same thieves.

“Now, then,” said the first — the man with the deep voice — ”let us hide ourselves. They will all be back again in a minute. That was a good trick to get them out of the house — eh?”

“Yes. You well imitated the cries of a man in distress,” said the second.

“Excellently,” said the third.

“But they will soon find out that it was a false alarm. Come, where shall we hide? It must be some place we can stay in for two or three hours, till all are in bed and asleep. Ah! I have it. Come this way! I have learnt that the further closet is not opened once in a twelvemonth; it will serve our purpose exactly.”

The speaker advanced into a corridor which led from the hall. Creeping a little farther forward, Hubert could discern that the closet stood at the end, facing the dining-hall. The thieves entered it, and closed the door. Hardly breathing, Hubert glided forward, to learn a little more of their intention, if possible; and, coming close, he could hear the robbers whispering about the different rooms where the jewels, plate, and other valuables of the house were kept, which they plainly meant to steal.

They had not been long in hiding when a gay chattering of ladies and gentlemen was audible on the terrace without. Hubert felt that it would not do to be caught prowling about the house, unless he wished to be taken for a robber himself; and he slipped softly back to the hall, out at the door, and stood in a dark corner of the porch, where he could see everything without being himself seen. In a moment or two a whole troop of personages came gliding past him into the house. There were an elderly gentleman and lady, eight or nine young ladies, as many young men, besides half-a-dozen men-servants and maids. The mansion had apparently been quite emptied of its occupants.

“Now, children and young people, we will resume our meal,” said the old gentleman. “What the noise could have been I cannot understand. In ever felt so certain in my life that there was a person being murdered outside my door.”

Then the ladies began saying how frightened they had been, and how they had expected an adventure, and how it had ended in nothing after all.

“Wait a while,” said Hubert to himself “You’ll have adventure enough by-and-by, ladies.”

It appeared that the young men and women were married sons and daughters of the old couple, who had come that day to spend Christmas with their parents.

The door was then closed, Hubert being left outside in the porch. He thought this a proper moment for asking their assistance; and, since he was unable to knock with his hands, began boldly to kick the door.

“Hullo! What disturbance are you making here?” said a footman who opened it; and, seizing Hubert by the shoulder, he pulled him into the dining-hall. “Here’s a strange boy I have found making a noise in the porch, Sir Simon.”

Everybody turned.

“Bring him forward,” said Sir Simon, the old gentleman before mentioned. “What were you doing there, my boy?”

“Why, his arms are tied!” said one of the ladies.

“Poor fellow!” said another.

Hubert at once began to explain that he had been waylaid on his journey home, robbed of his horse, and mercilessly left in this condition by the thieves.

“Only to think of it!” exclaimed Sir Simon.

“That’s a likely story,” said one of the gentleman-guests, incredulously.

“Doubtful, hey?” asked Sir Simon.

“Perhaps he’s a robber himself,” suggested a lady.

“There is a curiously wild wicked look about him certainly, now that I examine him closely,” said the old mother.

Hubert blushed with shame; and, instead of continuing his story, and relating that robbers were concealed in the house, he doggedly held his tongue, and half resolved to let them find out their danger for themselves.

“Well, untie him,” said Sir Simon. “Come, since it is Christmas Eve, we’ll treat him well. Here, my lad; sit down in that empty seat at the bottom of the table, and make as good a meal as you can. When you have had your fill we will listen to more particulars of your story.”

The feast then proceeded; and Hubert, now at liberty, was not at all sorry to join in. The more they ate and drank the merrier did the company become; the wine flowed freely, the logs flared up the chimney, the ladies laughed at the gentlemen’s stories; in short, all went as noisily and as happily as a Christmas gathering in old times possibly could do.

Hubert, in spite of his hurt feelings at their doubts of his honesty, could not help being warmed both in mind and in body by the good cheer, the scene, and the example of hilarity set by his neighbours. At last he laughed as heartily at their stories and repartees as the old Baronet, Sir Simon, himself. When the meal was almost over one of the sons, who had drunk a little too much wine, after the manner of men in that century, said to Hubert, “Well, my boy, how are you? Can you take a pinch of snuff?” He held out one of the snuff-boxes which were then becoming common among young and old throughout the country.

“Thank you,” said Hubert, accepting a pinch.

“Tell the ladies who you are, what you are made of, and what you can do,” the young man continued, slapping Hubert upon the shoulder.

“Certainly,” said our hero, drawing himself up, and thinking it best to put a bold face on the matter. “I am a travelling magician.”

“Indeed!”

“What shall we hear next?”

“Can you call up spirits from the vasty deep, young wizard?”

“I can conjure up a tempest in a cupboard,” Hubert replied.

“Ha-ha!” said the old Baronet, pleasantly rubbing his hands.

“We must see this performance. Girls, don’t go away: here’s something to be seen.”

“Not dangerous, I hope?” said the old lady.

Hubert rose from the table. “Hand me your snuff-box, please,” he said to the young man who had made free with him. “And now,” he continued, “without the least noise, follow me. If any of you speak it will break the spell.”

They promised obedience. He entered the corridor, and, taking off his shoes, went on tiptoe to the closet door, the guests advancing in a silent group at a little distance behind him. Hubert next placed a stool in front of the door, and, by standing upon it, was tall enough to reach to the top. He then, just as noiselessly, poured all the snuff from the box along the upper edge of the door, and, with a few short puffs of breath, blew the snuff through the chink into the interior of the closet. He held up his finger to the assembly, that they might be silent.

“Dear me, what’s that?” said the old lady, after a minute or two had elapsed.

A suppressed sneeze had come from inside the closet.

Hubert held up his finger again.

“How very singular,” whispered Sir Simon. “This is most interesting.”

Hubert took advantage of the moment to gently slide the bolt of the closet door into its place. “More snuff,” he said, calmly.

“More snuff,” said Sir Simon. Two or three gentlemen passed their boxes, and the contents were blown in at the top of the closet. Another sneeze, not quite so well suppressed as the first, was heard: then another, which seemed to say that it would not be suppressed under any circumstances whatever. At length there arose a perfect storm of sneezes.

“Excellent, excellent for one so young!” said Sir Simon. “I am much interested in this trick of throwing the voice — called, I believe, ventriloquism.”

“More snuff,” said Hubert.

“More snuff,” said Sir Simon. Sir Simon’s man brought a large jar of the best scented Scotch.

Hubert once more charged the upper chink of the closet, and blew the snuff into the interior, as before. Again he charged, and again, emptying the whole contents of the jar. The tumult of sneezes became really extraordinary to listen to — there was no cessation. It was like wind, rain, and sea battling in a hurricane.

“I believe there are men inside, and that it is no trick at all!” exclaimed Sir Simon, the truth flashing on him.

“There are,” said Hubert. “They are come to rob the house; and they are the same who stole my horse.”

The sneezes changed to spasmodic groans. One of the thieves, hearing Hubert’s voice, cried, “Oh! mercy! mercy! let us out of this!”

“Where’s my horse?” said Hubert.

“Tied to the tree in the hollow behind Short’s Gibbet. Mercy! mercy! let us out, or we shall die of suffocation!”

All the Christmas guests now perceived that this was no longer sport, but serious earnest. Guns and cudgels were procured; all the men-servants were called in, and arranged in position outside the closet. At a signal Hubert withdrew the bolt, and stood on the defensive. But the three robbers, far from attacking them, were found crouching in the corner, gasping for breath. They made no resistance; and, being pinioned, were placed in an out-house till the morning.

Hubert now gave the remainder of his story to the assembled company, and was profusely thanked for the services he had rendered. Sir Simon pressed him to stay over the night, and accept the use of the best bed-room the house afforded, which had been occupied by Queen Elizabeth and King Charles successively when on their visits to this part of the country. But Hubert declined, being anxious to find his horse Jerry, and to test the truth of the robbers’ statements concerning him.

Several of the guests accompanied Hubert to the spot behind the gibbet, alluded to by the thieves as where Jerry was hidden. When they reached the knoll and looked over, behold! there the horse stood, uninjured, and quite unconcerned. At sight of Hubert he neighed joyfully; and nothing could exceed Hubert’s gladness at finding him. He mounted, wished his friends “Good-night!” and cantered off in the direction they pointed out as his nearest way, reaching home safely about four o’clock in the morning.

The Duchess of Hamptonshire

DAME THE NINTH

BY THE QUIET GENTLEMEN.

Some fifty years ago the then Duke of Hamptonshire, fifth of that title, was incontestably the head man in his county, and particularly in the neighbourhood of Batton. He came of the ancient and loyal family of Saxelbye, which, before its ennoblement had numbered many knightly and ecclesiastical celebrities in its male line. It would have occupied a painstaking county historian a whole afternoon, to take rubbings of the numerous effigies and heraldic devices graven to their memory on the brasses, tablets, and altar-tombs in the aisle of the parish church. The Duke himself, however, was a man little attracted by ancient chronicles in stone and metal, even when they concerned his own beginnings. He allowed his mind to linger by preference on the many graceless and unedifying pleasures which his position placed at his command. He could on occasion close the mouths of his dependents by a good bomb-like oath, and he argued doggedly with the parson on the virtues of cock-fighting and baiting the bull.

This nobleman’s personal appearance was somewhat impressive. His complexion was that of the copper-beech tree. His frame was stalwart, though slightly stooping. His mouth was large, and he carried an unpolished sapling as his walking-stick, except when he carried a spud for cutting up any thistle he encountered on his walks. His castle stood in the midst of a park, surrounded by dusky elms, except to the southward; and when the moon shone out, the gleaming stone facade, backed by heavy boughs, was visible from the distant high-road as a white spot on the surface of darkness. Though called a castle, the building was little fortified, and had been erected with greater eye to internal convenience than those crannied places of defence to which the name strictly appertains. It was a castellated mansion as regular as a chessboard on its ground-plan, ornamented with make-believe bastions and machicolations, behind which were stacks of battlemented chimneys. On still mornings, at the fire-lighting hour, when. ghostly housemaids stalk the corridors, and thin streaks of light through the shutter-chinks lend startling winks and smiles to ancestors on canvas, twelve or fifteen thin stems of blue smoke sprouted upwards from these chimney-tops, and spread into a flat canopy on high. Around the site stretched ten thousand acres of good, fat, unimpeachable soil, plentiful in glades and lawns wherever visible from the castle windows, and merging in homely arable where screened from the too curious eye by ingeniously contrived plantations.

Some way behind the owner of all this came the second man in the parish, the rector, the Honourable and Reverend Mr. Oldbourne, a widower, over stiff and stern for a clergyman, whose severe white neckcloth, well-kept grey hair, and right-lined face betokened none of those sympathetic traits whereon depends so much of a parson’s power to do good among his fellow-creatures. The last, far-removed man of the series — altogether the Neptune of these local primaries — was the curate, Mr. Alwyn Hill. He was a handsome young deacon with curly hair, dreamy eyes — so dreamy that to look long into them was like ascending and floating among summer clouds — a complexion as fresh as a flower, and a chin absolutely beardless. Though his age was about twenty-five, he looked not much over nineteen.

The rector had a daughter called Emmeline, of so sweet and simple a nature that her beauty was discovered, measured, and inventoried by almost everybody in that part of the country before it was suspected by herself to exist. She had been bred in comparative solitude; a rencounter with men troubled and confused her. Whenever a strange visitor came to her father’s house she slipped into the orchard and remained till he was gone, ridiculing her weakness in apostrophes, but unable to overcome it. Her virtues lay in no resistant force of character, but in a natural inappetency for evil things, which to her were as unmeaning as joints of flesh to a herbivorous creature. Her charms of person, manner, and mind had been clear for some time to the Antinous in orders, and no less so to the Duke, who, though scandalously ignorant of dainty phrases, ever showing a clumsy manner towards the gentler sex, and, in short, not at all a lady’s man, took fire to a degree that was well-nigh terrible at sudden sight of Emmeline, a short time after she was turned seventeen.

It occurred one afternoon at the corner of a shrubbery between the castle and the rectory, where the Duke was standing to watch the heaving of a mole, when the fair girl brushed past at a distance of a few yards, in the full light of the sun, and without hat or bonnet. The Duke went home like a man who had seen a spirit. He ascended to the picture-gallery of his castle, and there passed some time in staring at the bygone beauties of his line as if he had never before considered what an important part those specimens of womankind had played in the evolution of the Saxelbye race. He dined alone, drank rather freely, and declared to himself that Emmeline Oldbourne must be his.

Meanwhile there had unfortunately arisen between the curate and this girl some sweet and secret understanding. Particulars of the attachment remained unknown then and always, but it was plainly not approved of by her father. His procedure was cold, hard, and inexorable. Soon the curate disappeared from the parish, almost suddenly, after bitter and hard words had been heard to pass between him and the rector one evening in the garden, intermingled with which, like the cries of the dying in the din of battle, were the beseeching sobs of a woman. Not long after this it was announced that a marriage between the Duke and Miss Oldbourne was to be solemnized at a surprisingly early date.

The wedding-day came and passed; and she was a Duchess. Nobody seemed to think of the ousted man during the day, or else those who thought of him concealed their meditations. Some of the less subservient ones were disposed to speak in a jocular manner of the august husband and wife, others to make correct and pretty speeches about them according as their sex and nature dictated. But in the evening, the ringers in the belfry, with whom Alwyn had been a favourite, eased their minds a little concerning the gentle young man, and the possible regrets of the woman he had loved.

‘Don’t you see something wrong in it all?’ said the third bell as he wiped his face. ‘I know well enough where she would have liked to stable her horses to-night, when they have done their journey.”

‘That is, you would know if you could tell where young Mr. Hill is living, which is known to none in the parish.’

‘Except to the lady that this ring o’ grandsire triples is in honour of.’

Yet these friendly cottagers were at this time far from suspecting the real dimensions of Emmeline’s misery, nor was it clear even to those who came into much closer communion with her than they, so well had she concealed her heart-sickness. But bride and bridegroom had not long been home at the castle when the young wife’s unhappiness became plainly enough perceptible. Her maids and men said that she was in the habit of turning to the wainscot and shedding stupid scalding tears at a time when a right-minded lady would have been overhauling her wardrobe. She prayed earnestly in the great church-pew, where she sat lonely and insignificant as a mouse in a cell, instead of counting her rings, falling asleep, or amusing herself in silent laughter at the queer old people in the congregation, as previous beauties of the family had done in their time. She seemed to care no more for eating and drinking out of crystal and silver than from a service of earthen vessels. Her head was, in truth, full of something else; and that such was the case was only too obvious to the Duke, her husband. At first he would only taunt her for her folly in thinking of that milk-and-water parson; but as time went on his charges took a more positive shape. He would not believe her assurance that she had in no way communicated with her former lover, nor he with her, since their parting in the presence of her father. This led to some strange scenes between them which need not be detailed; their result was soon to take a catastrophic shape.

One dark quiet evening, about two months after the marriage, a man entered the gate admitting from the highway to the park and avenue which ran up to the house. He arrived within two hundred yards of the walls, when he left the gravelled drive and drew near to the castle by a roundabout path leading into a shrubbery. Here he stood still. In a few minutes the strokes of the castle clock resounded, and then a female figure entered the same secluded nook from an opposite direction. There the two indistinct persons leapt together like a pair of dewdrops on a leaf; and then they stood apart, facing each other, the woman looking down.

‘Emmeline, you begged me to come, and here I am, Heaven forgive me!’ said the man hoarsely.

‘You are going to emigrate, Alwyn,’ she said in broken accents. ‘I have heard of it; you sail from Plymouth in three days in the Western Glory?’

‘Yes. I can live in England no longer. Life is as death to me here,’ says he.

‘My life is even worse — worse than death. Death would not have driven me to this extremity. Listen Alwyn — I have sent for you to beg to go with you, or at least to be near you — to do anything so that it be not to stay here.’

‘To go away with me?’ he said in a startled tone.

‘Yes, yes — or under your direction, or by your help in some way! Don’t be horrified at me — you must bear with me whilst I implore it. Nothing short of cruelty would have driven me to this. I could have borne my doom in silence had I been left unmolested; but he tortures me, and I shall soon be in the grave if I cannot escape.’

To his shocked inquiry how her husband tortured her, the Duchess said that it was by jealousy. ‘He tries to wring admissions from me concerning you,’ she said, ‘and will not believe that I have not communicated with you since my engagement to him was settled by my father, and I was forced to agree to it.’

The poor curate said that this was the heaviest news of all. ‘He has not personally ill — used you?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ she whispered.

‘What has he done?’

She looked fearfully around, and said, sobbing: ‘In trying to make me confess to what I have never done, he adopts plans I dare not describe for terrifying me into a weak state, so that I may own to anything! I resolved to write to you, as I had no other friend.’ She added, with dreary irony, ‘I thought I would give him some ground for his suspicion, so as not to disgrace his judgment.’

‘Do you really mean, Emmeline,’ he tremblingly inquired, ‘that you — that you want to fly with me?’

‘Can you think that I would act otherwise than in earnest at such a time as this?’

He was silent for a minute or more. ‘You must not go with me,’ he said.

‘Why?’

‘It would be sin.’

‘It cannot be sin, for I have never wanted to commit sin in my life; and it isn’t likely I would begin now, when I pray every day to die and be sent to Heaven out of my misery!’

‘But it is wrong, Emmeline, all the same.’

‘Is it wrong to run away from the fire that scorches you?’

‘It would look wrong, at any rate, in this case.’

‘Alwyn, Alwyn, take me, I beseech you!’ she burst out. ‘It is not right in general, I know, but it is such an exceptional instance, this. Why has such a severe strain been put upon me? I was doing no harm, injuring no one, helping many people, and expecting happiness; yet trouble came. Can it be that God holds me in derision? I had no supporter — I gave way; and now my life is a burden and a shame to me. . . . O, if you only knew how much to me this request to you is — how my life is wrapped up in it, you could not deny me!’

‘This is almost beyond endurance — Heaven support us,’ he groaned. ‘Emmy, you are the Duchess of Hamptonshire, the Duke of Hamptonshire’s wife; you must not go with me!’

‘And am I then refused? — O, am I refused?’ she cried frantically. ‘Alwyn, Alwyn, do you say it indeed to me?’

‘Yes, I do, dear, tender heart! I do most sadly say it. You must not go. Forgive me, for there is no alternative but refusal. Though I die, though you die, we must not fly together. It is forbidden in God’s law. Good-bye, for always and ever!’

He tore himself away, hastened from the shrubbery, and vanished among the trees.

Three days after this meeting and farewell, Alwyn, his soft, handsome features stamped with a haggard hardness that ten years of ordinary wear and tear in the world could scarcely have produced, sailed from Plymouth on a drizzling morning, in the passenger-ship Western Glory. When the land had faded behind him he mechanically endeavoured to school himself into a stoical frame of mind. His attempt, backed up by the strong moral staying power that had enabled him to resist the passionate temptation to which Emmeline, in her reckless trustfulness, had exposed him, was rewarded by a certain kind of success, though the murmuring stretch of waters whereon he gazed day after day too often seemed to be articulating to him in tones of her well-remembered voice.

He framed on his journey rules of conduct for reducing to mild proportions the feverish regrets which would occasionally arise and agitate him, when he indulged in visions of what might have been had he not hearkened to the whispers of conscience. He fixed his thoughts for so many hours a day on philosophical passages in the volumes he had brought with him, allowing himself now and then a few minutes’ thought of Emmeline, with the strict yet reluctant niggardliness of an ailing epicure proportioning the rank drinks that cause his malady. The voyage was marked by the usual incidents of a sailing-passage in those days — a storm, a calm, a man overboard, a birth, and a funeral — the latter sad event being one in which he, as the only clergyman on board, officiated, reading the service ordained for the purpose. The ship duly arrived at Boston early in the month following, and thence he proceeded to Providence to seek out a distant relative.

After a short stay at Providence he returned again to Boston, and by applying himself to a serious occupation made good progress in shaking off the dreary melancholy which enveloped him even now. Distracted and weakened in his beliefs by his recent experiences, he decided that he could not for a time worthily fill the office of a minister of religion, and applied for the mastership of a school. Some introductions, given him before starting, were useful now, and he soon became known as a respectable scholar and gentleman to the trustees of one of the colleges. This ultimately led to his retirement from the school and installation in the college as Professor of rhetoric and oratory.

Here and thus he lived on, exerting himself solely because of a conscientious determination to do his duty. He passed his winter evenings in turning sonnets and elegies, often giving his thoughts voice in ‘Lines to an Unfortunate Lady,’ while his summer leisure at the same hour would be spent in watching the lengthening shadows from his window, and fancifully comparing them with the shades of his own life. If he walked, he mentally inquired which was the eastern quarter of the landscape, and thought of two thousand miles of water that way, and of what was beyond it. In a word, he was at all spare times dreaming of her who was only a memory to him, and would probably never be more.

Nine years passed by, and under their wear and tear Alwyn Hill’s face lost a great many of the attractive characteristics which had formerly distinguished it. He was kind to his pupils and affable to all who came in contact with him; but the kernel of his life, his secret, was kept as snugly shut up as though he had been dumb. In talking to his acquaintances of England and his life there, he omitted the episode of Batton Castle and Emmeline as if it had no existence in his calendar at all. Though of towering importance to himself, it had filled but a short and small fragment of time, an ephemeral season which would have been well-nigh imperceptible, even to him, at this distance, but for the incident it enshrined.

One day, at this date, when cursorily glancing over an old English newspaper, he observed a paragraph which, short as it was, contained for him whole tomes of thrilling information — rung with more passion — stirring rhythm than the collected cantos of all the poets. It was an announcement of the death of the Duke of Hamptonshire, leaving behind him a widow, but no children.

The current of Alwyn’s thoughts now completely changed. On looking again at the newspaper he found it to be one that was sent him long ago, and had been carelessly thrown aside. But for an accidental overhauling of the waste journals in his study he might not have known of the event for years. At this moment of reading the Duke had already been dead seven months. Alwyn could now no longer bind himself down to machine-made synecdoche, antithesis, and climax, being full of spontaneous specimens of all these rhetorical forms, which he dared not utter. Who shall wonder that his mind luxuriated in dreams of a sweet possibility just laid open for the first time these many years? for Emmeline was to him now as ever the one dear thing in all the world. The issue of his silent romancing was that he resolved to return to her at the very earliest moment.

But he could not abandon his professional work on the instant. He did not get really quite free from engagements till four months later; but, though suffering throes of impatience continually, he said to himself everyday: ‘If she has continued to love me nine years she will love me ten; she will think the more tenderly of me when her present hours of solitude shall have done their proper work; old times will revive with the cessation of her recent experience, and every day will favour my return.’

The enforced interval soon passed, and he duly arrived in England, reaching the village of Batton on a certain winter day between twelve and thirteen months subsequent to the time of the Duke’s death.

It was evening; yet such was Alwyn’s impatience that he could not forbear taking, this very night, one look at the castle which Emmeline had entered as unhappy mistress ten years before. He threaded the park trees, gazed in passing at well-known outlines which rose against the dim sky, and was soon interested in observing that lively country-people, in parties of two and three, were walking before and behind him up the interlaced avenue to the castle gateway. Knowing himself to be safe from recognition, Alwyn inquired of one of these pedestrians what was going on.

‘Her Grace gives her tenantry a ball to-night, to keep up the old custom of the Duke and his father before him, which she does not wish to change.’

‘Indeed. Has she lived here entirely alone since the Duke’s death?’

‘Quite alone. But though she doesn’t receive company herself, she likes the village people to enjoy themselves, and often has ‘em here.’

‘Kind-hearted, as always!’ thought Alwyn.

On reaching the castle he found that the great gates at the tradesmen’s entrance were thrown back against the wall as if they were never to be closed again; that the passages and rooms in that wing were brilliantly lighted up, some of the numerous candles guttering down over the green leaves which decorated them, and upon the silk dresses of the happy farmers’ wives as they passed beneath, each on her husband’s arm. Alwyn found no difficulty in marching in along with the rest, the castle being Liberty Hall to-night. He stood unobserved in a comer of the large apartment where dancing was about to begin.

‘Her Grace, though hardly out of mourning, will be sure to come down and lead off the dance with neighbour Bates,’ said one.

‘Who is neighbour Bates?’ asked Alwyn.

‘An old man she respects much — the oldest of her tenant — farmers. He was seventy-eight his last birthday.

‘Ah, to be sure!’ said Alwyn, at his ease. ‘I remember.’

The dancers formed in line, and waited. A door opened at the further end of the hall, and a lady in black silk came forth. She bowed, smiled, and proceeded to the top of the dance.

‘Who is that lady?’ said Alwyn, in a puzzled tone. ‘I thought you told me that the Duchess of Hamptonshire — ’

‘That is the Duchess,’ said his informant.

‘But there is another?’

‘No; there is no other.’

‘But she is not the Duchess of Hamptonshire who used to — ’ Alwyn’s tongue stuck to his mouth, he could get no further.

‘What’s the matter?’ said his acquaintance. Alwyn had retired, and was supporting himself against the wall.

The wretched Alwyn murmured something about a stitch in his side from walking. Then the music struck up, the dance went on, and his neighbour became so interested in watching the movements of this strange Duchess through its mazes as to forget Alwyn for a while.

It gave him an opportunity to brace himself up. He was a man who had suffered, and he could suffer again. ‘How came that person to be your Duchess?’ he asked in a firm, distinct voice, when he had attained complete self-command. ‘Where is her other Grace of Hamptonshire? There certainly was another. I know it.’

‘Oh, the previous one! Yes, yes. She ran away years and years ago with the young curate. Mr. Hill was the young man’s name, if I recollect.’

‘No! She never did. What do you mean by that?’ he said.

‘Yes, she certainly ran away. She met the curate in the shrubbery about a couple of months after her marriage with the Duke. There were folks who saw the meeting and heard some words of their talk. They arranged to go, and she sailed from Plymouth with him a day or two afterward.’

‘That’s not true.’

‘Then ‘tis the queerest lie ever told by man. Her father believed and knew to his dying day that she went with him; and so did the Duke, and everybody about here. Ay, there was a fine upset about it at the time. The Duke traced her to Plymouth.’

‘Traced her to Plymouth?’

‘He traced her to Plymouth, and set on his spies; and they found that she went to the shipping-office, and inquired if Mr. Alwyn Hill had entered his name as passenger by the Western Glory; and when she found that he had, she booked herself for the same ship, but not in her real name. When the vessel had sailed a letter reached the Duke from her, telling him what she had done. She never came back here again. His Grace lived by himself a number of years, and married this lady only twelve months before he died.’

Alwyn was in a state of indescribable bewilderment. But, unmanned as he was, he called the next day on the, to him, spurious Duchess of Hamptonshire. At first she was alarmed at his statement, then cold, then she was won over by his condition to give confidence for confidence. She showed him a letter which had been found among the papers of the late Duke, corroborating what Alwyn’s informant had detailed. It was from Emmeline, bearing the postmarked date at which the Western Glory sailed, and briefly stated that she had emigrated by that ship to America.

Alwyn applied himself body and mind to unravel the remainder of the mystery. The story repeated to him was always the same: ‘She ran away with the curate.’ A strangely circumstantial piece of intelligence was added to this when he had pushed his inquiries a little further. There was given him the name of a waterman at Plymouth, who had come forward at the time that she was missed and sought for by her husband, and had stated that he put her on board the Western Glory at dusk one evening before that vessel sailed.

After several days of search about the alleys and quays of Plymouth Barbican, during which these impossible words, ‘She ran off with the curate, ‘became branded on his brain, Alwyn found this important waterman. He was positive as to the truth of his story, still remembering the incident well, and he described in detail the lady’s dress, as he had long ago described it to her husband, which description corresponded in every particular with the dress worn by Emmeline on the evening of their parting.

Before proceeding to the other side of the Atlantic to continue his inquiries there, the puzzled and distracted Alwyn set himself to ascertain the address of Captain Wheeler, who had commanded the Western Glory in the year of Alwyn’s voyage out, and immediately wrote a letter to him on the subject.

The only circumstances which the sailor could recollect or discover from his papers in connection with such a story were, that a woman bearing the name which Alwyn had mentioned as fictitious certainly did come aboard for a voyage he made about that time; that she took a common berth among the poorest emigrants; that she died on the voyage out, at about five days’ sail from Plymouth; that she seemed a lady in manners — and education. Why she had not applied for a first-class passage, why she had no trunks, they could not guess, for though she had little money in her pocket she had that about her which would have fetched it. ‘We buried her at sea,’ continued the captain. ‘A young parson, one of the cabin-passengers, read the burial-service over her, I remember well.’

The whole scene and proceedings darted upon Alwyn’s recollection in a moment. It was a fine breezy morning on that long-past voyage out, and he had been told that they were running at the rate of a hundred and odd miles a day. The news went round that one of the poor young women in the other part of the vessel was ill of fever, and delirious. The tidings caused no little alarm among all the passengers, for the sanitary conditions of the ship were anything but satisfactory. Shortly after this the doctor announced that she had died. Then Alwyn had learnt that she was laid out for burial in great haste, because of the danger that would have been incurred by delay. And next the funeral scene rose before him, and the prominent part that he had taken in that solemn ceremony. The captain had come to him, requesting him to officiate, as there was no chaplain on board. This he had agreed to do; and as the sun went down with a blaze in his face he read amidst the mall assembled: ‘We therefore commit her body to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body when the sea shall give up her dead.’

The captain also forwarded the addresses of the ship’s matron and of other persons who had been engaged on board at the date. To these Alwyn went in the course of time. A categorical description of the clothes of the dead truant, the colour of her hair, and other things, extinguished for ever all hope of a mistake in identity.

At last, then, the course of events had become clear. On that unhappy evening when he left Emmeline in the shrubbery, forbidding her to follow him because it would be a sin, she must have disobeyed. She must have followed at his heels silently through the darkness, like a poor pet animal that will not be driven back. She could have accumulated nothing for the journey more than she might have carried in her hand; and thus poorly provided she must have embarked. Her intention had doubtless been to make her presence on board known to him as soon as she could muster courage to do so.

Thus the ten years’ chapter of Alwyn Hill’s romance wound itself up under his eyes. That the poor young woman in the steerage had been the young Duchess of Hamptonshire was never publicly disclosed. Hill had no longer any reason for remaining in England, and soon after left its shores with no intention to return. Previous to his departure he confided his story to an old friend from his native town — grandfather of the person who now relates it to you.

A few members, including the Bookworm, seemed to be impressed by the quiet gentleman’s tale; but the member we have called the Spark — who, by the way, was getting somewhat tinged with the light of other days, and owned to eight-and-thirty-walked daintily about the room instead of sitting down by the fire with the majority, and said that for his part he preferred something more lively than the last story — something in which such long-separated lovers were ultimately united. He also liked stories that were more modern in their date of action than those he had heard to-day.

Members immediately requested him to give them a specimen, to which the Spark replied that he didn’t mind, as far as that went. And though the Vice President, the Man of Family, the Colonel, and others, looked at their watches, and said they must soon retire to their respective quarters in the hotel adjoining, they all decided to sit out the Spark’s story.

The Distracted Preacher

I. HOW HIS COLD WAS CURED

Something delayed the arrival of the Wesleyan minister, and a young man came temporarily in his stead. It was the thirteenth of January, 18 — , that Mr. Stockdale, the young man in question, made his humble entry into the village, unknown, and almost unseen. But when those of the inhabitants who styled themselves of his connection became acquainted with him, they were rather pleased with the substitute than otherwise, though he had scarcely as yet acquired ballast of character sufficient to steady the consciences of the hundred and forty Methodists of pure blood who, at this time, lived in Nether-Mynton, and to give in addition supplementary support to the mixed race which went to church in the morning and chapel in the evening, or when there was a tea — as many as a hundred and ten people more, all told, and including the parish-clerk in the winters time, when it was too dark for the vicar to observe who passed up the street at seven ‘o clock — which, to be just to him, he was never anxious to do.

It was owing to his overlapping of creeds that the celebrated population-puzzle arose among the denser gentry of the district around Nether-Mynton; how could it be that a parish containing fifteen score of strong, full-grown Episcopalians, and nearly thirteen score of well-matured Dissenters, numbered barely two-and-twenty score adults in all?

The young man being personally interesting those with whom he came in contact were content to waive for a while the graver question of his sufficiency. It is said that at this time of his life his eyes were affectionate, though without a ray of levity; that his hair was curly, and his figure tall; that he was, in short, a very lovable youth, who won upon his female hearers as soon as they saw and heard him, and caused them to say, “Why didn’t we know of this before he came, that we might have gied him a warmer welcome!”

The fact was that, knowing him to be only provisionally selected, and expecting nothing remarkable in his person or doctrine, they and the rest of his flock in Nether-Mynton had felt almost as indifferent about his advent as if they had been the soundest church-going parishioners in the country, and he their true and appointed parson. Thus when Stockdale set foot in the place nobody had secured a lodging for him, and though his journey had given him a bad cold in the head, he was forced to attend to that business himself. On inquiry he found that the only possible accommodation in the village would be found at the house of one Mrs. Lizzy Newberry, at the upper end of the street.

It was a youth who gave this information, and Stockdale asked him who Mrs. Newberry might be.

The boy said that she was a widow-woman, who had got no husband, because he was dead. Mr. Newberry, he added, had been a well-to-do man enough, as the saying was, and a farmer; but be had gone off in a decline. As regarded Mrs. Newberry’s serious side, Stockdale gathered that she was one of the trimmers who went to church and chapel both.

“I’ll go there,” said Stockdale, feeling that, in the absence of purely sectarian lodgings, bo could do no better.

“She’s a little particular, and won’t hae gover’ment folks, or curates, or the pa’son’s friends, or such like,” said the lad, dubiously.

“Ah, that may be a promising sign. I’ll call. Or no; just you go up and ask first if she can find room for me. I have to see one or two persons on another matter. You will find me down to the carrier’s.”

In a quarter of an hour the lad came back, and said that Mrs. Newberry would have no objection to accommodate him, whereupon Stockdale called at the house. It stood within a garden hedge, and seemed to be roomy and comfortable. He saw an elderly woman, with whom he made arrangements to come the same night, since there was no inn in the place, and he wished to house himself as soon as possible; the village being a local centre from which he was to radiate at once to the different small chapels in the neighbourhood. He forthwith sent his luggage to Mrs. Newberry’s from the carrier’s, where he had taken shelter, and in the evening walked up to his temporary home.

As he now lived there, Stockdale felt it unnecessary to knock at the door; and entering quietly, he had the pleasure of hearing footsteps scudding away like mice into the back quarters. He advanced to the parlor, as the front room was called, though its stone floor was scarcely disguised by the carpet, which overlaid only the trodden areas, leaving sandy deserts under the furniture. But the room looked snug and cheerful. The firelight shone out brightly, trembling on the bulging moldings of the table-legs, playing with brass knobs and handles, and lurking in great strength on the under surface of the chimney-piece. A deep arm-chair, covered with horse-hair, and studded with a countless throng of brass nails, was pulled up on one side of the fireplace. The tea-things were on the table, the teapot cover was open, and a little hand-bell had been laid at that precise point toward which a person seated in the great chair might be expected instinctively to stretch his hand.

Stockdale sat down, not objecting to his experience of the room thus far, and began his residence by tinkling the bell. A little girl crept in at the summons, and made tea for him. Her name, she said, was Marther Sarer, and she lived out there, nodding toward the road and village generally. Before Stockdale had got far with his meal a tap sounded on the door behind him, and on his telling the inquirer to come in, a rustle of garments caused him to turn his head. He saw before him a fine and extremely wellmade young woman, with dark hair, a wide, sensible, beautiful forehead, eyes that warmed him before he knew it, and a mouth that was in itself a picture to all appreciative souls.

“Can I get you anything else for tea?” she said, coming forward a step or two, an expression of liveliness on her features, and her hand waving the door by its edge.

“Nothing, thank you,” said Stockdale, thinking less of what he replied than of what might be her relation to the household.

“You are quite sure?” said the young woman, apparently aware that he had not considered his answer.

He conscientiously examined the tea-things, and found them all there. “Quite sure, Miss Newberry,” he said.

“It is Mrs. Newberry,” said she. “Lizzy Newberry. I used to be Lizzy Simpkins.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon, Mrs. Newberry.” And before he had occasion to say more she left the room.

Stockdale remained in some doubt till Martha Sarah came to clear the table. “Whose house is this, my little woman?” said he.

“Mrs. Lizzy Newberry’s, sir.”

“Then Mrs. Newberry is not the old lady I saw this afternoon?”

“No. That’s Mrs. Newberry’s mother. It was Mrs. Newberry who comed in to you just by now, because she wanted to see if you was good-looking.”

Later in the evening, when Stockdale was about to begin supper, she came again. “I have come myself, Mr. Stockdale,” she said. The minister stood up in acknowledgment of the honour. “I am afraid little Marther might not make you understand. What will you have for supper? There’s cold rabbit, and there’s a ham uncut.”

Stockdale said he could get on nicely with those viands, and supper was laid. He had no more than cut a slice when tap-tap came to the door again. The minister had already learned that this particular rhythm in taps denoted the fingers of his enkindling landlady, and the doomed young fellow buried his first mouthful under a look of receptive blandness.

“We have a chicken in the house, Mr. Stockdale; I quite forgot to mention it just now. Perhaps you would like Marther Sarer to bring it up?”

Stockdale had advanced far enough in the art of being a young man to say that he did not want the chicken, unless she brought it up herself but when it was uttered he blushed at the daring gallantry of the speech, perhaps a shade too strong for a serious man and a minister. In three minutes the chicken appeared, but, to his great surprise, only in the hands of Martha Sarah. Stockdale was disappointed, which perhaps it was intended that he should be.

He had finished supper, and was not in the least anticipating Mrs. Newberry again that night, when she tapped and entered as before.

Stockdale’s gratified look told that she had lost nothing by not appearing when expected. It happened that the cold in the head from which the young man suffered had increased with the approach of night, and before she had spoken he was seized with a violent fit of sneezing, which he could not anyhow repress.

Mrs. Newberry looked full of pity. “Your cold is very bad to-night, Mr. Stockdale.”

Stockdale replied that it was rather troublesome.

“And I’ve a good mind — ” she added, archly, looking at the cheerless glass of water on the table, which the abstemious young minister was going to drink.

“Yes, Mrs. Newberry?”

“I’ve a good mind that you should have something more likely to cure it than that cold stuff.”

“Well,” said Stockdale, looking down at the glass, “as there is no inn here, and nothing better to be got in the village, of course it will do.”

To this she replied, “There is something better, not far off, though not in the house. I really think you must try it, or you may be ill. Yes, Mr. Stockdale, you shall.” She held up her finger, seeing that he was about to speak. “Don’t ask what it is; wait, and you shall see.”

Lizzy went away, and Stockdale waited in a pleasant mood. Presently she returned with her bonnet and cloak on, saying, “I am so sorry, but you must help me to get it. Mother has gone to bed. Will you wrap yourself up, and come this way, and please bring that cup with you?”

Stockdale, a lonely young fellow; who had for weeks felt a great craving for somebody on whom to throw away superfluous interest, and even tenderness, was not sorry to join her, and followed his guide through the back door, across the garden to the bottom, where the boundary was a wall. This wall was low, and beyond it Stockdale discerned in the night-shades several gray headstones, and the outlines of the church roof or tower.

“It is easy to get up this way,” she said, stepping upon a bank which abutted on the wall; then putting her foot on the top of the stone-work, and descending by a spring inside, where the ground was much higher, as is the manner of grave-yards to be. Stockdale did the same, and followed her in the dusk across the irregular ground till they came to the tower door, which, when they had entered, she softly closed behind them.

“You can keep a secret?” she said, in a musical voice.

“Like an iron chest!” said he, fervently.

Then from under her cloak she produced a small lighted lantern, which the minister had not noticed that she carried at all. The light showed them to be close to the singing-gallery stairs, under which lay a heap of lumber of all sorts, but consisting mostly of decayed framework, pews, panels, and pieces of flooring, that from time to time had been removed from their original fixings in the body of the edifice and replaced by new.

“Perhaps you will drag some of those boards aside?” she said, holding the lantern over her head to light him better. “Or will you take the lantern while I move them?”

“I can manage it,” said the young man; and acting as she ordered, he uncovered, to his surprise, a row of little barrels bound with wood hoops, each barrel being about as large as the nave of a common wagon-wheel. When they were laid open Lizzy fixed her eyes on him, as if she wondered what he would say.

“You know what they are?” she asked, finding that he did not speak.

“Yes, barrels,” said Stockdale, simply. He was an inland man, the son of highly respectable parents, and brought up with a single eye to the ministry, and the sight suggested nothing beyond the fact that such articles were there.

“You are quite right; they are barrels,” she said, in an emphatic tone of candor that was not without a touch of irony.

Stockdale looked at her with an eye of sudden misgiving. “Not smugglers’ liquor?” he said.

“Yes,” said she. “They are tubs of spirits that have accidentally come over in the dark from France.”

In Nether-Mynton and its vicinity at this date people always smiled at the sort of sin called in the outside world illicit trading, and these little tubs of gin and brandy were as well known to the inhabitants as turnips. So that Stockdale’s innocent ignorance, and his look of alarm when he guessed the sinister mystery, seemed to strike Lizzy first as ludicrous, and then as very awkward for the good impression that she wished to produce upon him.

“Smuggling is carried out here by some of the people,” she said, in a gentle, apologetic voice. “It has been their practice for generations, and they think it no harm. Now, will you roll out one of the tubs?”

“What to do with it?” said the minister.

“To draw a little from it to cure your cold,” she answered. “It is so burning strong that it drives away that sort of thing in a jiffy. Oh, it is all right about our taking it. I may have what I like; the owner of the tubs says so. I ought to have had some in the house, and then I shouldn’t ha’ been put to this trouble; but I drink none myself, and so I often forget to keep it indoors.”

“You are allowed to help yourself, I suppose, that you may not inform where their hiding-place is?”

“Well, no, not that particularly, but I may take some if I want it. So help yourself.”

“I will, to oblige you, since you have a right to it,” murmured the minister; and though he was not quite satisfied with his part in the performance, he rolled one of the tubs out from the corner into the middle of the tower floor. “How do you wish me to get it out — with a gimlet, I suppose?”

“No; I’ll show you,” said his interesting companion. And she held up with her other hand a shoemaker’s awl and a hammer. “You must never do these things with a gimlet, because the wood-dust gets in; and when the buyers pour out the brandy, that would tell them that the tub had been broached. An awl makes no dust, and the hole nearly closes up again. Now tap one of the hoops forward.”

Stockdale took the hammer and did so.

“Now make the hole in the part that was covered by the hoop.”

He made the hole as directed. “It won’t run out,” he said.

“Oh yes, it will,” said she. “Take the tub between your knees and squeeze the heads, and I’ll hold the cup.”

Stockdale obeyed; and the pressure taking effect upon the tub, which seemed to be thin, the spirits spurted out in a stream. When the cup was full he ceased pressing, and the flow immediately stopped. “Now we must fill up keg with water,” said Lizzy, “or it will look like forty hens when it is handled, and show that ‘tis not full.”

“But they tell you you may take it?”

“Yes, the smugglers; but the buyers must not know that the smugglers have been kind to me at their expense.”

“I see,” said Stockdale, doubtfully. “I much question the honesty of this proceeding.”

By her direction be held the tub with the hole upward, and while he went through the process of alternately pressing and ceasing to press she produced a bottle of water, from which she took mouthfuls, then putting her pretty lips to the hole, where it was sucked in at each recovery of the cask from pressure. When it was again full be plugged the hole, knocked the hoop down to its place, and buried the tub in the lumber as before.

“Aren’t the smugglers afraid that you will tell?” he asked, as they recrossed the churchyard.

“Oh no; they are not afraid of that. I couldn’t do such a thing.”

“They have put you into a very awkward corner,” said Stockdale, emphatically. “You must, of course, as an honest person, sometimes feel that it is your duty to inform — really, you must.”

“Well, I have never particularly felt it as a duty; and, besides, my first husband — ” She stopped, and there was some confusion in her voice. Stockdale was so honest and unsophisticated that he did not at once discern why she paused; but at last he did perceive that the words were a slip, and that no women would have uttered “first husband” by accident unless she had thought pretty frequently of a second. He felt for her confusion, and allowed her time to recover and proceed. “My husband,” she said, in a self-corrected tone, “used to know of their doings, and so did my father, and kept the secret. I cannot inform, in fact, against anybody.”

“I see the hardness of it,” he continued, like a man who looked far into the moral of things. “And it is very cruel that you should be tossed and tantalised between your memories and your conscience. I do hope, Mrs. Newberry, that you will soon see your way out of this unpleasant position.”

“Well, I don’t just now,” she murmured.

By this time they had passed over the wall and entered the house, where she brought him a glass and hot water, and left him to his own reflections. He looked after her vanishing form, asking himself whether he, as a respectable man, and a minister, and a shining light, even though as yet only of the halfpenny-candle sort, were quite justified in doing this thing. A sneeze settled the question; and he found that when the fiery liquor was lowered by the addition of twice or thrice the quantity of water, it was one of the prettiest cures for a cold in the head that he had ever known, particularly at this chilly time of the year.

Stockdale sat in the deep chair about twenty minutes sipping and meditating, till he at length took warmer views of things, and longed for the morrow, when he would see Mrs. Newberry again. He then felt that, though chronologically at a short distance, it would, in an emotional sense, be very long before to-morrow came, and walked restlessly round the room. His eye was attracted by a framed and glazed sampler in which a running ornament of fir-trees and peacocks surrounded the following pretty bit of sentiment:

“Rose leaves smell when roses thrive,

Here’s my work while I’m alive;

Rose leaves smell when shrunk and shed,

Here’s my work when I am dead.

“Lizzie Simpkins. Fear God. Honor the King.

Aged 11 years.”

“ ‘Tis hers,” he said to himself. “Heavens, how I like that name!”

Before he had done thinking that no other name from Abigail to Zenobia would have suited his young landlady so well, tap-tap came again upon the door; and the minister started as her face appeared yet another time, looking so disinterested that the most ingenious would refrained from asserting that she had come to affect his feelings by her seductive eyes.

“Would you like a fire in your room, Mr. Stockdale, on account of your cold?”

The minister, being still a little pricked in the conscience for countenancing her in watering the spirits, saw here a way to self-chastisement.

“No, I thank you,” he said, firmly; “it is not necessary. I have never been used to one in my life, and it would be giving way to luxury too far.”

“Then I won’t insist,” she said, and disconcerted him by vanishing instantly. Wondering if she was vexed by his refusal, he wished that he had chosen to have a fire, even though it should have scorched him out of bed and endangered his self-discipline for a dozen days. However, he consoled himself with what was in truth a rare consolation for a budding lover, that he was under the same roof with Lizzy — her guest, in fact, to take a poetical view of the term lodger; and that he would certainly see her on the morrow.

The morrow came, and Stockdale rose early, his cold quite gone. He had never in his life so longed for the breakfast-hour as he did that day, and punctually at eight o’clock, after a short walk, to reconnoiter the premises, he re-entered the door of his dwelling. Breakfast passed, and Martha Sarah attended, but nobody came voluntarily as on the night before to inquire if there were other wants which he had not mentioned, and which she would attempt to gratify. He was disappointed, and went out, hoping to see her at dinner. Dinner-time came; he sat down to the meal, finished it, lingered on for a whole hour, although two new teachers were at that moment waiting at the chapel door to speak to him by appointment. It was useless to wait longer, and he slowly went his way down the lane, cheered by the thought that, after all, he would see her in the evening, and perhaps engage again in the delightful tub-broaching in the neighbouring church tower, which proceeding he resolved to render more moral by steadfastly insisting that no water should be introduced to fill up, though the tub should cluck like all the hens in Christendom. But nothing could disguise the fact that it was a queer business; and his countenance fell when he thought how much more his mind was interested in that matter than in his serious duties.

However, compunction vanished with the decline of day. Night came, and his tea and supper; but no Lizzy Newberry, and no sweet temptations. At last the minister could bear it no longer, and said to his quaint little attendant, “Where is Mrs. Newberry to-day?” judiciously handing a penny as he spoke.

“She’s busy,” said Martha.

“Anything serious happened?” he asked, handing another penny, and revealing yet additional pennies in the background.

“Oh no, nothing at all!” said she, with breathless confidence. “Nothing ever happens to her. She’s only biding upstairs in bed, because ‘tis her way sometimes.”

Being a young man of some honour, he would not question further, and assuming that Lizzy must have a bad headache, or other slight ailment, in spite of what the girl had said, he went to bed dissatisfied, not even setting eyes on old Mrs. Simpkins. “I said last night that I should see her to-morrow,” he reflected; “but that was not to be.”

Next day he had better fortune, or worse, meeting her at the foot of the stairs in the morning, and being favored by a visit or two from her during the day — once for the purpose of making kindly inquiries about his comfort, as on the first evening, and at another time to place a bunch of winter-violets on his table, with a promise to renew them when they drooped. On these occasions there was something in her smile which showed how conscious she was of the effect she produced, though it must be said that it was rather a humorous than a designing consciousness, and savored more of pride than of vanity.

As for Stockdale, he clearly perceived that he possessed unlimited capacity for backsliding, and wished that tutelary saints were not denied to Dissenters. He set a watch upon his tongue and eyes for the space of one hour and a half, after which he found it was useless to struggle further, and gave himself up to the situation. “The other minister will be here in a month,” he said to himself when sitting over the fire. “Then I shall be off, and she will distract my mind no more! . . . And then, shall I go on living by myself forever? No; when my two years of probation are finished, I shall have a furnished house to live in, with a varnished door and a brass knocker; and I’ll march straight back to her, and ask her flat, as soon as the last plate is on the dresser!”

Thus a titillative fortnight was passed by young Stockdale, during which time things proceeded much as such matters have done ever since the beginning of history. He saw the object of attachment several times one day, did not see her at all the next, met her when he least expected to do so, missed her when hints and signs as to where she should be at a given hour almost amounted to an appointment. This mild coquetry was perhaps fair enough under the circumstances of their being so closely lodged, and Stockdale put up with it as philosophically as he was able. Being in her own house, she could, after vexing or disappointing him of her presence, easily win him back by suddenly surrounding him with those little attentions which her position as his landlady put it in her power to bestow. When he had waited indoors half the day to see her, and on finding that she would not be seen, had gone off in a huff to the dreariest and dampest walk he could discover, she would restore equilibrium in the evening with “Mr. Stockdale, I have fancied you must feel draught o’ nights from your bedroom window, and so I have been putting up thicker curtains this afternoon while you were out.” or “I noticed that you sneezed twice again this morning, Mr. Stockdale. Depend upon it, that cold is hanging about you yet; I am sure it is — I have thought of it continually; and you must let me make a posset for you.”

Sometimes in coming home he found his sitting-room rearranged, chairs placed where the table had stood, and the table ornamented with the few fresh flowers and leaves that could be obtained at this season, so as to add a novelty to the room. At times she would be standing in a chair outside the house, trying to nail up a branch of the monthly rose which the winter wind had blown down; and of course he stepped forward to assist her, when their hands got mixed in passing the shreds and nails. Thus they became friends again after a disagreement. She would utter on these occasions some pretty and deprecatory remark on the necessity of her troubling him anew; and he would straightway say that he would do a hundred times as much for her if she should so require.

II. HOW HE SAW TWO OTHER MEN.

Matters being in this advanced state, Stockdale was rather surprised one cloudy evening, while sitting in his room, at hearing her speak in low tones of expostulation to some one at the door. It was nearly dark, but the shutters were not yet closed, nor the candles lighted; and Stockdale was tempted to stretch his head toward the window. He saw outside the door a young man in clothes of a whitish colour, and upon reflection judged their wearer to be the well-built and rather handsome miller who lived below. The miller’s voice was alternately low and firm, and sometimes it reached the level of positive entreaty; but what the words were Stockdale could in no way hear.

Before the colloquy had ended, the minister’s attention was attracted by a second incident. Opposite Lizzy’s home grew a clump of laurels, forming a thick and permanent shade. One of the laurel boughs now quivered against the light background of sky, and in a moment the head of a man peered out, and remained still. He seemed to be also much interested in the conversation at the door, and was plainly lingering there to watch and listen. Had Stockdale stood in any other relation to Lizzy than that of a lover, he might have gone out and examined I into the meaning of this; but being as yet but an unprivileged ally, he did nothing more than stand up and show himself in the lighted room, whereupon the listener disappeared, and Lizzy and the miller spoke in lower tones.

Stockdale was made so uneasy by the circumstance that as soon as the miller was gone, he said, “Mrs. Newberry, are you aware that you were watched just now, and your conversation heard?”

“When?” she said

‘When you were talking to that miller. A man was looking from the laurel-tree as jealously as if he could have eaten you”

She showed more concern than the trifling event seemed to demand, and he added, “Perhaps you were talking of things you did not wish to be overheard?”

“I was talking only on business,” she said.

“Lizzy, be frank!” said the young man. “If it was only on business, why should anybody wish to listen to you?”

She looked curiously at him. “What else do you think it could be, then?”

“Well, the only talk between a young woman and man that is likely to amuse an eavesdropper.”

“Ah, yes,” she said, smiling in spite of her preoccupation. “Well, Cousin Owlett has spoken to me about matrimony, every now and then, that’s true; but he was not speaking of it then. I wish he had been speaking of it, with all my heart. It would have been much less serious for me.”

“Oh, Mrs. Newberry!”

“It would. Not that I should ha’ chimed in with him, of course. I wish it for other reasons. I am glad, Mr. Stockdale, that you have told me of that listener. It is a timely warning, and I must see my cousin again.”

“But don’t go away till I have spoken,” said the minister. “I’ll out with it at once, and make no more ado. Let it be Yes or No between us. Lizzy, please do!” And he held out his hand, in which she freely allowed her own to rest, but without speaking.

“You mean Yes by that?” he asked, after waiting a while.

“You may be my sweetheart, if you will.”

“Why not say at once you will wait for me until I have a house and can come back to marry you?”

“Because I am thinking — thinking of something else,” she said, with embarrassment. “It all comes upon me at once, and I must settle one thing at a time.”

“At any rate, dear Lizzy, you can assure me that the miller shall not be allowed to speak to you except on business? You have never directly encouraged him?”

She parried the question by saying, “You see, he and his party have been in the habit of leaving things on my premises sometimes, and as I have not denied him, it makes him rather forward.”

“Things — what -things?”

“Tubs — they are called things here.”

“But why don’t you deny him, my dear Lizzy?”

“I cannot well.”

“You are too timid. It is unfair of him to impose so upon you, and get your good name into danger by his smuggling tricks. Promise me that the next time he wants to leave his tubs here you will let me roll them into the street?”

She shook her head. “I would not venture to offend the neighbours so much as that,” said she, “or do anything that would be so likely to put poor Owlett into the hands of the exciseman.”

Stockdale sighed, and said that he thought hers a mistaken generosity when it extended to assisting those who cheated the king of his dues.

“At any rate, you will let me make him keep his distance as your lover, and tell him flatly that you are not for him?”

“Please not, at present,” she said. “I don’t wish to offend my old neighbours. It is not only Owlett who is concerned.”

“This is too bad,” said Stockdale, impatiently.

“On my honour, I won’t encourage him as my lover,” Lizzy answered, earnestly. “A reasonable man will be satisfied with that.”

“Well, so I am,” said Stockdale, his countenance clearing.

III. THE MYSTERIOUS GREAT-COAT.

Stockdale now began to notice more particularly a feature in the life of his fair landlady which he had casually observed, but scarcely ever thought of before. It was that she was markedly irregularly in her hours of rising. For a week or two she would be tolerably punctual, reaching the ground-floor within a few minutes of halfpast seven; then suddenly she would not be visible till twelve at noon, perhaps for three or four days in succession; and twice he had certain proof that she did not leave her room till halfpast three in the afternoon. The second time that this extreme lateness came under his notice was on a day when he had particularly wished to consult with her about his future movements; and he concluded, as he always had done, that she had a cold, headache, or other ailment unless she had kept herself invisible to avoid meeting and talking to him, which he could hardly believe. The former supposition was disproved, however, by her innocently saying, some days later; when they were speaking on a question of health, that she had never had a moment’s heaviness, headache, or illness of any kind since the previous January twelvemonth.

“I am glad to hear it,” said he. “I thought quite otherwise.”

“What, do I look sickly?” she asked, turning up her face to show the impossibility of his gazing on it and holding such a belief for a moment.

“Not at all; I merely thought so from your being sometimes obliged to keep your room through the best part of the day.”

“Oh, as for that, it means nothing,” she murmured, with a look which some might have called cold, and which was the look that he worst liked to see upon her. “It is pure sleepiness, Mr. Stockdale.”

“Never!”

“It is, I tell you. When I stay in my room till half-past three in the afternoon you may always be sure that I slept soundly till three, or I shouldn’t have stayed there.”

“It is dreadful,” said Stockdale, thinking of the disastrous effects of such indulgence upon the household of a minister, should it become a habit of every-day occurrence.

“But then,” she said, divining his good and prescient thoughts, “it happens only when I stay awake all night. I don’t go to sleep till five or six in the morning sometimes.”

“Ah, that’s another matter,” said Stockdale.

“Sleeplessness to such an alarming extent is real illness. Have you spoken to a doctor?”

“Oh no, there is no need for doing that; it is all natural to me.” And she went away without further remark.

Stockdale might have waited a long time to know the real cause of her sleeplessness had it not happened that one dark night he was sitting in his bedroom jotting down notes for a sermon, which unintentionally occupied him for a considerable time after the other members of the household had retired. He did not get to bed till one o’clock. Before he had fallen asleep he heard a knocking at the door, first rather timidly performed, and then louder. Nobody answered it, and the person knocked again. As the house still remained undisturbed, Stockdale got out of bed, went to his window, which overlooked the door, and opening it, asked who was there.

A young woman’s voice replied that Susan Wallis was there, and that she had come to ask if Mrs. Newberry could give her some mustard to make a plaster with, as her father was taken very ill on the chest.

The minister, having neither bell nor servant, was compelled to act in person. “I will call Mrs. Newberry,” he said. Partly dressing himself, he went along the passage and tapped at Lizzy’s door. She did not answer, and, thinking of her erratic habits in the matter of sleep, he thumped the door persistently, when he discovered, by its moving ajar under his knocking, that it had only been gently pushed to. As there was now a sufficient entry for the voice, he knocked no longer, but said, in firm tones: “Mrs. Newberry, you are wanted.”

The room was quite silent; not a breathing, not a rustle, came from any part of it. Stock-dale now sent a positive shout through the open space of the door: “Mrs. Newberry!” still no answer, or movement of any kind within. Then he heard sounds from the opposite room, that of Lizzy’s mother, as if she had been aroused by his uproar though Lizzy had not, and was dressing herself hastily. Stockdale softly closed the younger woman’s door and went on to the other, which was opened by Mrs. Simpkins before he could reach it. She was in her ordinary clothes, and had a light in her hand.

“What’s the person calling about?” she said, in alarm.

Stockdale told the girl’s errand, adding, seriously: “I cannot wake Mrs. Newberry.”

“It is no matter,” said her mother. “I can let the girl have what she wants as well as my daughter.” And she came out of the room and went downstairs.

Stockdale retired toward his own apartment, saying, however, to Mrs. Simpkins from the landing, as if on second thoughts: “I suppose there is nothing the matter with Mrs. Newberry, that I could not wake her?”

“Oh no,” said the old lady, hastily. “Nothing at all.”

Still the minister was not satisfied. “Will you go in and see?” he said. “I should be much more at ease.”

Mrs. Simpkins returned up the staircase, went to her daughter’s room, and came out again almost instantly. “There is nothing at all the matter with Lizzy,” she said, and descended again to attend to the applicant, who, having seen the light, had remained quiet during this interval.

Stockdale went into his room and lay down as before. He heard Lizzy’s mother open the front door, admit the girl, and then the murmured discourse of both as they went to the store-cupboard for the medicament required. The girl departed, the door was fastened, Mrs. Simpkins came upstairs, and the house was again in silence. Still the minister did not fall asleep. He could not get rid of a singular suspicion, which was all the more harassing, in beings if true, the most unaccountable thing within his experience. That Lizzy Newberry was in her bedroom when he made such a clamor at her door he could not possibly convince himself, notwithstanding that he had heard her come upstairs at the usual time, go into her chamber and shut herself up in the usual way. Yet all reason was so much against her being elsewhere that he was constrained to go back again to the unlikely theory of a heavy sleep, though he had heard neither breath nor movement during a shouting and knocking loud enough to rouse the Seven Sleepers.

Before coming to any positive conclusion he fell asleep himself, and did not awake till day. He saw nothing of Mrs. Newberry in the morning, before he went out to meet the rising sun, as he liked to do when the weather was fine; but as this was by no means unusual, he took no notice of it. At breakfast-time he knew that she was not far off by hearing her in the kitchen, and though he saw nothing of her person, that back apartment being rigorously closed against his eyes, she seemed to be talking, ordering, and bustling about among the pots and skimmers in so ordinary a manner that there was no reason for his wasting more time in fruitless surmise.

The minister suffered from these distractions, and his extemporized sermons were not improved thereby. Already he often said Romans for Corinthians in the pulpit, and gave out hymns in strange cramped meters that hitherto had always been skipped because the congregation could not raise a tune to fit them. He fully resolved that as soon as his few weeks of stay approached their end he would cut the matter short, and commit himself by proposing a definite engagement, repenting at leisure if necessary.

With this end in view, he suggested to her on the evening after her mysterious sleep that they should take a walk together just before dark, the latter part of the proposition being introduced that they might return home unseen. She consented to go; and away they went over a stile, to a shrouded foot-path suited for the occasion. But, in spite of attempts on both sides, they were unable to infuse much spirit into the ramble.

She looked rather paler than usual, and. sometimes turned her head away.

“Lizzy,” said Stockdale, reproachfully, when they had walked in silence a long distance.

“Yes,” said she.

“You yawned — much my company is to you!” He put it in that way, but he was really wondering whether her yawn could possibly have more to do with physical weariness from the night before than mental weariness of that present moment. Lizzy apologized, and owned that she was rather tired, which gave him an opening for a direct question on the point; but his modesty would not allow him to put it to her, and he uncomfortably resolved to wait.

The month of February passed with alternations of mud and frost, rain and sleet, east winds and northwesterly gales. The hollow places in the plowed fields showed themselves as pools of water, which had settled there from the higher levels, and had not yet found time to soak away. The birds began to get lively, and a single thrush came just before sunset each evening, and sang hopefully on the large elm tree which stood nearest to Mrs. Newberry’s house. Cold blasts and brittle earth had given place to an oozing dampness more unpleasant in itself than frost; but it suggested coming spring, and its unpleasantness was of a bearable kind.

Stockdale had been going to bring about a practical understanding with Lizzy at least half a dozen times; but what with the mystery of her apparent absence on the night of the neighbour’s call, and her curious way of lying in bed at unaccountable times, he felt a check within him whenever he wanted to speak out. Thus they still lived on as indefinitely affianced lovers, each of whom hardly acknowledged the other’s claim to the name of chosen one. Stockdale persuaded himself that his hesitation was owing to the postponement of the ordained minister’s arrival, and the consequent delay in his own departure, which did away with all necessity for haste in his courtship; but perhaps it was only that his discretion was re-asserting itself, and telling him that he had better get clearer ideas of Lizzy before arranging for the grand contract of his life with her. She, on her part, always seemed ready to be urged further on that question than he had hitherto attempted to go; but she was none the less independent, and to a degree which would have kept from flagging the passion of a far more mutable man.

On the evening of the first of March he went casually into his bedroom about dusk, and noticed lying on a chair a great-coat, hat and breeches. Having no recollection of leaving any clothes of his own in that spot, he went and examined them as well as he could in the twilight, and found that they did not belong to him. He paused for a moment to consider how they might have got there. He was the only man living in the house; and yet these were not his garments, unless he had made a mistake. No, they were not his. He called up Martha Sarah.

“How did these things come in my room?” he said, flinging the objectionable articles to the floor.

Martha said that Mrs. Newberry had given them to her to brush, and that she had brought them up there, thinking they must be Mr. Stockdale’s, as there was no other gentleman a-lodging there.

“Of course you did,” said Stockdale. “Now take them down to your mis’ess, and say they are some clothes I have found here and know nothing about.”

As the door was left open he heard the conversation downstairs. “How stupid!” said Mrs. Newberry, in a tone of confusion. “Why, Marther Sarer, I did not tell you to take ‘em to Mr. Stockdale’s room!”

“I thought they must be his as they was so muddy,” said Martha humbly.

“You should have left ‘em on the clothes’ horse,” said the young mistress, severely; and she came upstairs with the garments on her arm quickly passed Stockdale’s room, and threw them forcibly into a closet at the end of a passage. With this the incident ended, and the house was silent again.

There would have been nothing remarkable in finding such clothes in a widow’s house had they been clean, or moth-eaten, or creased, or mouldy from long lying by; but that they should be splashed with recent mud bothered Stockdale a good deal. When a young pastor is in the aspen stage of attachment, and open to agitation at the merest trifles, a really substantial incongruity of this complexion is a disturbing thing. However, nothing further occurred at that time; but he became watchful and given to conjecture, and was unable to forget the circumstance.

One morning, on looking from his window, he saw Mrs. Newberry herself brushing the tails of a long drab great-coat, which, if he mistook not, was the very same garment as the one that had adorned the chair of his room. It was densely splashed up to the hollow of the back with neighbouring Nether-Mynton mud, to judge by its colour, the spots being distinctly visible to him in the sunlight. The previous day or two having been wet, the inference was irresistible that the wearer had quite recently been walking some considerable distance about the lanes and fields. Stockdale opened the window and looked out, and Mrs. Newberry turned her head. Her face became slowly red; she never had looked prettier or more incomprehensible. He waved his hand affectionately, and said good-morning; she answered with embarrassment, having ceased her occupation on the instant that she saw him, and rolled up the coat half-cleaned.

Stockdale shut the window. Some simple explanation of her proceeding was doubtless within the bounds of possibility; but he himself could not think of one; and he wished that she had placed the matter beyond conjecture by voluntarily saying something about it there and then.

But, though Lizzy had not offered an explanation at the moment, the subject was brought forward by her at the next time of their meeting. She was chatting to him concerning some other event, and remarked that it happened about the time when she was dusting some old clothes that had belonged to her poor husband.

“You keep them clean out of respect to his memory?” said Stockdale, tentatively.

“I air and dust them sometimes,” she said, with the most charming innocence in the world.

“Do dead men come out of their graves and walk in mud?” murmured the minister, in a cold sweat at the deception that she was practicing.

“What did you say?” asked Lizzy

“Nothing, nothing,” said he, mournfully.

“Mere words — a phrase that will do for my sermon next Sunday.” It was too plain that Lizzy was unaware that he had seen actual pedestrian splashes upon the skirts of the tell-tale overcoat, and that she imagined him to believe it had come direct from some chest or drawer.

The aspect of the case was now considerably darker. Stockdale was so much depressed by it that he did not challenge her explanation, or threaten to go off as a missionary to benighted islanders, or reproach her in any way whatever. He simply parted from her when she had done talking, and lived on in perplexity, till by degrees his natural manner became sad and constrained.

IV. AT THE TIME OF THE NEW MOON.

The following Thursday was changeable, damp, and gloomy, and the night threatened to be windy and unpleasant. Stockdale had gone away to Knollsea in the morning, to be present at some commemoration service there, and on his return he was met by the attractive Lizzy in the passage. Whether influenced by the tide of cheerfulness which had attended him that day, or by the drive through the open air, or whether from a natural disposition to let bygones alone, be allowed himself to be fascinated into forgetfulness of the great-coat incident, and, upon the whole, passed a pleasant evening; not so much in her society as within sound of her voice, as she sat talking in the back parlor to her mother, till the latter went to bed. Shortly after this Mrs. Newberry retired, and then Stockdale prepared to go upstairs himself. But before he left the room he remained standing by the dying embers a while, thinking long of one thing and another, and was only aroused by the flickering of his candle in the socket as it suddenly declined. and went out. Knowing that there were a tinder-box, matches, and another candle in his bedroom, he felt his way upstairs without a light. On reaching his chamber he laid his hand on every possible ledge and corner for the tinderbox, but for a long time in vain. Discovering it at length, Stockdale produced a spark and was kindling the brimstone when he fancied that he heard a movement in the passage. He blew harder at the lint, the match flared up, and looking by aid of the blue light through the door, which had been standing open all this time, he was surprised to see a male figure vanishing round the top of the staircase with the evident intention of escaping unobserved. The personage wore the clothes which Lizzy had been brushing, and something in the outline and gait suggested to the minister that the wearer was Lizzy herself.

But he was not sure of this; and, greatly excited, Stockdale determined to investigate the mystery, and to adopt his own way for doing it. He blew out the match without lighting the candle, went into the passage, and proceeded on tiptoe toward Lizzy’s room. A faint gray square of light in the direction of the chamber window as he approached told him that the door was open, and at once suggested that the occupant was gone. He turned and brought down his fist upon the hand-rail of the staircase: “It was she, in her late husband’s coat and hat!”

Somewhat relieved to find that there was no intruder in the case, yet none the less surprised, the minister crept down the stairs, softly put on his boots, overcoat, and hat, and tried the front door. It was fastened as usual; he went to the back door, found this unlocked, and emerged into the garden. The night was mild and moonless, and rain had lately been falling, though for the present it had ceased. There was a sudden dropping from the trees and bushes every now and then, as each passing wind shook their boughs. Among these sounds Stockdale heard the faint fall of feet upon the road outside, and he guessed from the step that it was Lizzy’s. He followed the sound, and, helped by the circumstance of the wind blowing from the direction in which the pedestrian moved, he got nearly close to her, and kept there, without risk of being overheard. While he thus followed her up the street or lane, as it might indifferently be called, there being more hedge than houses on either side, a figure came forward to her from one of the cottage doors. Lizzy stopped; the minister stepped upon the grass and stopped also.

“Is that Mrs. Newberry?” said the man who had come out, whose voice Stockdale recognized as that of one of the most devout members of his congregation.

“It is,” said Lizzy.

“I be quite ready — I’ve been here this quarterhour.”

“Ah, John,” said she, “I have bad news; there is danger to-night for our venture.”

“And d’ye tell o’t! I dreamed there might be.”

“Yes,” she said, hurriedly; “and you must go at once round to where the chaps are waiting, and tell them they will not be wanted till tomorrow night at the same time. I go to burn the lugger off.”

“I will,” he said, and instantly went off through a gate, Lizzy continuing her way.

On she tripped at a quickening pace till the lane turned into the turnpike-road, which she crossed, and got into the track for Ringsworth. Here he ascended the hill without the least hesitation, passed the lonely hamlet of Holworth, and went down the vale on the other side. Stockdale had never taken any extensive walks in this direction, but he was aware that if she persisted in her course much longer she would draw near to the coast, which was here between two and three miles distant from Nether-Mynton; and as it had been about a quarter-past eleven o’clock when they set out, her intention seemed to be to reach the shore about midnight.

Lizzy soon ascended a small mound, which Stockdale at the same time adroitly-skirted on the left; and a dull monotonous roar burst upon his ear. The hillock was about fifty yards from the top of the cliffs, and by day it apparently commanded a full view of the bay. There was light enough in the sky to show her disguised figure against it when she reached the top, where she paused, and afterward sat down. Stockdale, not wishing on any account to alarm her at this moment, yet desirous of being near her, sank upon his hands and knees, crept a little higher up, and there stayed still.

The wind was chilly, the ground damp, and his position one in which he did not care to remain long. However, before he had decided to leave it, the young man heard voices behind him. What they signified he did not know; but, fearing that Lizzy was in danger, he was about to run forward and warn her that she might be seen, when she crept to the shelter of a little bush which maintained a precarious existence in that exposed spot; and her form was absorbed in its dark and stunted outline as she had become part of it. She had evidently heard the men as well as he. They passed near him, talking in loud and careless tones, which could be heard above the uninterrupted washings of the sea, and which suggested that they were not engaged in any business at their own risk. This proved to be the fact; some of their words floated across to him, and caused him to forget at once the coldness of his situation.

“What’s the vessel?”

“A lugger, about fifty tons.”

“From Cherbourg, I suppose?”

“Yes, a b’lieve”.

“But it don’t all belong to Owlett?”

“Oh no. He’s only got a share. There’s another or two in it — a farmer and such-like, but the names I don’t know.”

The voices died away, and the heads and shoulders of the men diminished toward the cliff, and dropped out of sight.

“My darling has been tempted to buy a share by that unbeliever Owlett,” groaned the minister, his honest affection for Lizzy having quickened to its intensest point during these moments of risk to her person and name. “That’s why she’s here,” he said to himself. “Oh, it will be the ruin of her.”

His perturbation was interrupted by the sudden bursting out of a bright and increasing light from the spot where Lizzy was in hiding. A few seconds later, and before it had reached the height of a blaze, he heard her rush past him down the hollow like a stone from a sling, in the direction of home. The light now flared high and wide, and showed its position clearly. She had kindled a bough of furze and stuck it into the bush under which she had been crouching; the wind fanned the flame, which crackled fiercely, and threatened to consume the bush as well as the bough. Stockdale paused just long enough to notice thus much, and then followed rapidly the route taken by the young woman. His intention was to overtake her, and reveal himself as a friend; but run as he would he could see nothing of her. Thus he flew across the open country about Holworth, twisting his legs and ankles in unexpected fissures and descents, till, on coming to the gate between the downs and the road, he was forced to pause to get breath. There was no audible movement either in front or behind him, and he now concluded that she had not outrun him, but that, hearing him at her heels, and believing him one of the excise party, she had hidden herself somewhere on the way, and let him pass by.

He went on at a more leisurely pace toward the village. On reaching the house he found his surmise to be correct, for the gate was on the latch, and the door unfastened, just as he had left them. Stockdale closed the door behind him, and waited silently in the passage. In about-ten minutes he heard the same light footstep that he had heard in going out; it paused at the gate, which opened and shut softly, and then the door-latch was lifted and Lizzy came in.

Stockdale went forward and said at once, “Lizzy, don’t be frightened. I have been waiting up for you.”

She started, though she had recognized the voice. “It is Mr. Stockdale, isn’t it?” she said.

“Yes,” he answered, becoming angry now that she was safe indoors, and not alarmed. “And a nice game I’ve found you out in tonight. You are in man’s clothes, and I am ashamed of you!”

Lizzy could hardly find a voice to answer this unexpected reproach.

“I am only partly in man’s clothes,” she faltered, shrinking back to the wall. “It is only his great-coat and hat and breeches that I’ve got on, which is no harm, as he was my own husband; and I do it only because a cloak blows about so, and you can’t use your arms. I have got my own dress under just the same — it is only tucked in. Will you go away upstairs and let me pass? I didn’t want you to see me at such a time as this.”

“But I have a right to see you. How do you think there can be anything between us now?” Lizzy was silent.

“You are a smuggler,” he continued sadly.

“I have only a share in the run,” she said.

“That makes no difference. Whatever did you engage in such a trade as that for, and keep it such a secret from me all this time?”

“I don’t do it always. I do it only in wintertime when ‘tis new moon.”

“Well, I suppose that’s because it can’t be done anywhen else. You have regularly upset me, Lizzy.”

“I am sorry for that,” Lizzy meekly replied.

“Well now,” said he, more tenderly, “no harm is done as yet. Won’t you, for the sake of me, give up this blamable and dangerous practice altogether?”

“I must do my best to save this run,” said she, getting rather husky in the throat. “I don’t want to give you up — you know that; but I don’t want to lose my venture. I don’t know what to do now! Why I have kept it so secret from you is that I was afraid you would be angry if you knew.”

“I should think so. I suppose if I had married you without finding this out you’d have gone on with it just the same?”

“I don’t know. I did not think so far ahead. I only went to-night to burn the folks off, because we found that the excisemen knew where the tubs were to be landed.”

“It is a pretty mess to be in altogether, is this,” said the distracted young minister. “Well, what will you do now?”

Lizzy slowly murmured the particulars of their plan, the chief of which were that they meant to try their luck at some other point of the shore the next night; that three landing-places were always agreed upon before the run was attempted, with the understanding that, if the vessel was burned off from the first point, which was Ringsworth, as it had been by her to-night the crew should attempt to make the second, which was Lullstead, on the second night; and if there, too, danger threatened, they should on the third night try the third place, which was behind a headland further west.

“Suppose the officers hinder them landing there too?” he said, his attention to this interesting programme displacing for a moment his concern at her share in it.

“Then we shan’t try anywhere else all this dark — that’s what we call the time between moon and moon — and perhaps they’ll string the tubs to a stray-line, and sink ‘em a little ways from shore, and take the bearings; and then when they have a chance they’ll go to creep for ‘em.”

“What’s that?”

“Oh, they’ll go out in a boat and drag a creeper — that’s a grapnel — along the bottom till it catch hold of the stray-line.”

The minister stood thinking; and there was no sound within doors but the tick of the clock on the stairs, and the quick breathing of Lizzy, partly from her walk and partly from agitation, as she stood close to the wall, not in such complete darkness but that he could discern against its whitewashed surface the great-coat and broad hat which covered her.

“Lizzy, all this is very wrong,” he said. “Don’t you remember the lesson of the tribute-money — ’Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s?’ Surely you have heard that read times enough in your growing up?”

“He’s dead,” she pouted.

“But the spirit of the text is in force just the same.”

“My father did it, and so did my grandfather, and almost everybody in Nether-Mynton lives by it; and life would be so dull if it wasn’t for that, that I should not care to live at all.”

“I am nothing to live for, of course,” he replied, bitterly. “You would not think it worth while to give up this wild business and live for me alone?”

“I have never looked at it like that.”

“And you won’t promise, and wait till I am ready?”

“I cannot give you my word to-night.” And, looking thoughtfully down, she gradually moved and moved away, going into the adjoining room and closing the door between them. She remained there in the dark till he was tired of waiting, and had gone up to his own chamber.

Poor Stockdale was dreadfully depressed all the next day by the discoveries of the night before. Lizzy was unmistakably a fascinating young woman, but as a minister’s wife she was hardly to be contemplated. “If I had only stuck to father’s little grocery business, instead of going in for the ministry, she would have suited me beautifully!” he said, sadly, until he remembered that in that case he would never have come from his distant home to Nether-Mynton, and never have known her.

The estrangement between them was not complete, but it was sufficient to keep them out of each other’s company. Once during the day he met her in the garden path, and said, turning a reproachful eye upon her, “Do you promise, Lizzy?” But she did not reply. The evening drew on, and he knew well enough that Lizzy would repeat her excursion at night — her half-offended manner had shown that she had not the slightest intention of altering her plans at present. He did not wish to repeat his own share of the adventure; but, act as he would, his uneasiness on her account increased with the decline of day. Supposing that an accident should befall her, he would never forgive himself for not being there to help, much as he disliked the idea of seeming to countenance such unlawful escapades.

V. HOW THEY WENT TO LULLSTEAD AND BACK.

As he had expected, she left the house at the same hour at night, this time passing his door without stealth, as if she knew very well that he would be watching, and were resolved to brave his displeasure. He was quite ready, opened the door quickly, and reached the back door almost as soon as she.

“Then you will go, Lizzy?” he said, as he stood on the step beside her, who now again appeared as a little man with a face altogether unsuited to his clothes.

“I must,” she said, repressed by his stern manner.

“Then I shall go too,” said he.

“And I am sure you will enjoy it!” she exclaimed, in more buoyant tones. “Everybody does who tries it.”

“God forbid that I should,” he said. “But I must look after you.”

They opened the wicket and went up the road abreast of each other, but at some distance apart, scarcely a word passing between them. The evening was rather less favorable to smuggling enterprise than the last had been, the wind being lower, and the sky somewhat clear toward the north.

“It is rather lighter,” said Stockdale.

“ ‘Tis, unfortunately,” said she. “But it is only from those few stars over there. The moon was new to-day at four o’clock, and I expected clouds. I hope we shall be able to do it this dark, for when we have to sink ‘em for long it makes the stuff taste bleachy, and folks don’t like it so well.”

Her course was different from that of the preceding night, branching off to the left over Lord’s Barrow as soon as they had got out of the lane and crossed the highway. By the time they reached Chaldon Down, Stockdale, who had been in perplexed thought as to what he should say to her, decided that he would not attempt expostulation now, while she was excited by the adventure, but wait till it was over, and endeavor to keep her from such practices in future. It occurred to him once or twice, as they rambled on, that should they be surprised by the excisemen, his situation would be more awkward than hers, for it would be difficult to prove his true motive in coming to the spot; but the risk was a slight consideration beside his wish to be with her.

They now arrived at a ravine which lay on the outskirts of Chaldon, a village two miles on their way toward the point of the shore they sought.

Lizzy broke the silence this time: “I have to wait here to meet the carriers. I don’t know if they have come yet. As I told. you, we go to Lullstead to-night, and it is two miles further than Ringsworth.”

It turned out that the men had already come; for while she spoke two or three dozen heads broke the line of the slope, and a company of men at once descended from the bushes where they had been lying in wait. These carriers were men whom Lizzy and other proprietors regularly employed to bring the tubs from the boat to a hiding-place inland. They were young fellows of Nether-Mynton, Chaldon, and the neighbourhood, quiet and inoffensive persons, who simply engaged to carry the cargo for Lizzy and her cousin Owlett, as they would have engaged in any other labour for which they were fairly well paid.

At a word from her, they closed in together. “You had better take it now,” she said to them, and handed to each a packet. It contained six shillings, their remuneration for the night’s undertaking, which was paid beforehand without reference to success or failure; but, besides this, they had the privilege of selling as agents when the run was successfully made. As soon as it was done, she said to them, “The place is the old one at Lullstead;” the men till that moment not having been told whither they were bound, for obvious reasons. “Owlett will meet you there,” added Lizzy. “I shall, follow behind, to see that we are not watched.”

The carriers went on, and Stockdale and Mrs. Newberry followed at the distance of a stone’s throw, “What do these men do by day?” he said.

“Twelve or fourteen of them are labouring men. Some are brickmakers, some carpenters, some masons, some thatchers. They are all known to me very well. Nine of ‘em are of your own congregation.”

“I can’t help that,” said Stockdale.

“Oh, I know you can’t. I only told you. The others are more church-inclined, because they supply the pa’son with all the spirits he requires, and they don’t wish to show unfriendliness to a customer.”

“How do you choose them?” said Stockdale.

“We choose ‘em for their closeness, and because they are strong and sure-footed, and able to carry a heavy load a long way without being tired.”

Stockdale sighed as she enumerated each particular, for it proved how far involved in the business a woman must be who was so well acquainted with its conditions and needs. And yet he felt more tenderly toward her at this moment than he had felt all the foregoing day. Perhaps it was that her experienced manner and bold indifference stirred his admiration in spite of himself.

“Take my arm, Lizzy,” he murmured.

“I don’t want it,” she said.

“Besides, we may never be to each other again what we once have been.”

“That depends upon you,” said he, and they went on again as before.

The hired carriers paced along over Chaldon Down with as little hesitation as if it had been day, avoiding the cart-way, and leaving the village of East Chaldon on the left, so as to reach the crest of the hill at a lonely, trackless place not far from the ancient earthwork called Round Pound. An hour’s brisk walking brought them within sound of the sea, not many hundred yards from Lullstead Cove. Here they paused, and Lizzy and Stockdale came up with them, when they went on together to the verge of the cliff. One of the men now produced an iron bar, which he drove firmly into the soil a yard from the edge, and attached to it a rope that he had uncoiled from his body. They all began to descend, partly stepping, partly sliding down the incline, as the rope slipped through their hands.

“You will not go to the bottom, Lizzy?” said Stockdale, anxiously.

“No; I stay here to watch,” she said. “Owlett is down there.”

The men remained quite silent when they reached the shore; and the next thing audible to the two at the top was the dip of heavy oars, and the dashing of waves against a boat’s bow. In a moment the keel gently touched the shingle, and Stockdale heard the footsteps of the thirty-six carriers running forward over the pebbles toward the point of landing.

There was a sousing in the water as of a brood of ducks plunging in, showing that the men had not been particular about keeping their legs, or even their waists, dry from the brine; but it was impossible to see what they were doing, and in a few minutes the shingle was trampled again. The iron bar sustaining the rope, on which Stockdale’s hand rested, began to swerve a little, and the carriers one by one appeared climbing up the sloping cliff, dripping audibly as they came, and sustaining themselves by the guide-rope. Each man on reaching the top was seen to be carrying a pair of tubs, one on his back and one on his chest, the two being slung together by cords passing round the chine hoops, and resting on the carrier’s shoulders. Some of the stronger men carried three by putting an extra one on the top behind, but the customary load was a pair, these being quite weighty enough to give their bearer the sensation of having chest and backbone in contact after a walk of four or five miles.

“Where is Owlett?” said Lizzy to one of them.

“He will not come up this way,” said the carrier. “He’s to bide on shore till we be safe off.” Then, without waiting for the rest, the foremost men plunged across the down; and when the last had ascended, Lizzy pulled up the rope; wound it round her arm, wriggled the bar from the sod, and turned to follow the carriers.

“You are very anxious about Owlett’s safety,” said the minister.

“Was there ever such a man!” said Lizzy. “Why, isn’t he my cousin?”

“Yes. Well, it is a bad night’s work,” said Stockdale, heavily. “But I’ll carry the bar and rope for you.”

“Thank God, the tubs have got so far all right,” said she.

Stockdale shook his head, and taking the bar, walked by her side toward the down, and the moan of the sea was heard no more.

“ls this what you meant the other day when you spoke of having business with Owlett?” the young man asked.

“This is it,” she replied. “I never see him on any other matter.”

“A partnership of that kind with a young man is very odd”

“It was begun by my father and his, who were brother-laws.”

Her companion could not blind himself to the fact that where tastes and pursuits were so akin as Lizzy’s and Owlett’s, and where risks were shared, as with them, in every undertaking, there would be a peculiar appropriateness in her answering Owlett’s standing question on matrimony in the affirmative. This did not soothe Stockdale, its tendency being rather to stimulate in him an effort to make the pair as inappropriate as possible, and win her away from this nocturnal crew to correctness of conduct and a minister’s parlor in some far-removed inland county.

They had been walking near enough to the file of carriers for Stockdale to perceive that, when they got into the road to the village, they split up into two companies of unequal size, each of which made off in a direction of its own. One company, the smaller of the two, went toward the church, and by the time that Lizzy and Stockdale reached their own house these men had scaled the churchyard wall and were proceeding noiselessly over the grass within.

“I see that Owlett has arranged for one batch to be put in the church again,” observed Lizzy. “Do you remember my taking you there the first night you came?”

“Yes, of course,” said Stockdale. “No wonder you had permission to broach the tubs — they were his, I suppose?”

“No, they were not — they were mine; I had permission from myself. The day after that they went several miles inland in a wagon-load of manure, and sold very well.”

At this moment the group of men who had made off to the left some time before began leaping one by one from the hedge opposite Lizzy’s house, and the first man, who had no tubs upon his shoulders, came forward.

“Mrs. Newberry, isn’t it?” he said, hastily.

“Yes, Jim,” said she. “What’s the matter?”

“I find that we can’t put any in Badger’s Clump to-night, Lizzy,” said Owlett. “The place is watched. We must sling the apple-tree in the orchard if there’s time. We can’t put any more under the church lumber than I have sent on there, and my mixen hev already more in en than is safe.”

“Very well,” she said. “Be quick about it — that’s all. What can I do?”

“Nothing at all, please. Ah! it is the minister! — you two that can’t do anything had better get indoors and not be seed.”

While Owlett thus conversed, a tone so full of contraband anxiety and so free from lover’s jealousy, the men who followed him had been descending one by one from the hedge; and it unfortunately happened that when the hindmost took his leap, the cord which sustained his tubs slipped; the result was that both the kegs fell into the road, one of them being stove in by the blow.

“ ‘Od drown it all!” said Owlett, rushing back.

“It is worth a good deal, I suppose?” said Stockdale.

“Oh, no — about two guineas and a half to us now,” said Lizzy, excitedly. “It isn’t that — it is the smell! It is so blazing strong before it had been lowered by water that it smells dreadfully when spilled in the road like that! I do hope Latimer won’t pass by till it is gone off. “

Owlett and one or two others picked up the burst tub and began to scrape and trample over the spot, to disperse the liquor as much as possible; and then they all entered the gate of Owlett’s orchard, which adjoined Lizzy’s garden on the right. Stockdale did not care to follow them, for several on recognizing him had looked wonderingly at his presence, though they said nothing. Lizzy left his side and went to the bottom of the garden, looking over the hedge into the orchard, where the men could be dimly seen bustling about, and apparently hiding the tubs. All was done noiselessly, and without a light; and when it was over they dispersed in different directions, those who had taken their cargoes to the church having already gone off to their homes.

Lizzy returned to the garden gate, over which Stockdale was still abstractedly leaning. “It is all finished; I am going indoors now,” she said, gently. “I will leave the door ajar for you.”

“Oh no, you needn’t,” said Stockdale; “I am coming, too.”

But before either of them had moved, the faint clatter of horses’ hoofs broke upon the ear, and it seemed to come from the point where the track across the down joined the hard road.

“They are just too late!” cried Lizzy, exultingly.

“Who?” said Stockdale.

“Latimer, the riding-officer, and some assistant of his. We had better go indoors.”

They entered the house, and Lizzy bolted the door. “Please don’t get a light, Mr. Stockdale,” she said.

“Of course I will not,” said he.

“I thought you might be on the side of the Ring,” said, Lizzy, with faintest sarcasm.

“I am,” said Stockdale. “But, Lizzy Newberry, I love you, and you know it perfectly well; and you ought to know, if you do not, what I have suffered in my conscience on your account these last few days!”

“I guess very well,” she said, hurriedly. “Yet I don’t see why. Ah, you are better than I!”

The trotting of the horses seemed to have again died away, and the pair of listeners touched each other’s fingers in the cold “good-night” of those whom something seriously divided. They were on the landing, but before they had taken three steps apart the tramp of the horsemen suddenly revived, almost close to the house. Lizzy turned to the staircase window, opened the casement about an inch, and put her face close to the aperture. “Yes one of ‘em is Latimer,” she whispered. “He always rides a white horse. One would think it was the last colour for a man in that line.”

Stockdale looked, and saw the white shape of the animal as it passed by; but before the riders had gone another ten yards Latimer reined in his horse, and said something to his companion which neither Stockdale nor Lizzy could hear. Its drift was, however, soon made evident, for the other man stopped also; and sharply turning the horses’ heads they cautiously retraced their steps. When they were again opposite Mrs. Newberry’s garden, Latimer dismounted, the man on the dark horse did the same. Lizzy and Stockdale, intently listening and observing the proceedings, naturally put their heads as close as possible to the slit formed by the slightly opened casement; and thus it occurred that at last their cheeks came positively into contact. They went on lIstening, as if they did not know of the singular circumstance which had happened to their faces, and the pressure of each to each rather increased than lessened with the lapse of time.

They could hear the excisemen sniffing the air like hounds as they paced slowly along. When they reached the spot where the tub had burst, both stopped on the instant.

“Ay, ay, ‘tis quite strong here,” said the second officer. “Shall we knock at the door?”

“Well, no,” said Latimer. “Maybe this is only a trick to put us off the scent. They wouldn’t kick up this stink anywhere near their hiding place. I have known such things before.”

“Anyhow, the things, or some of ‘em, must have been brought this way,” said the other.

“Yes,” said Latimer, musingly. “Unless ‘tis all done to tole us the wrong way. I have a mind that we go home for to-night without saying a word, and come the first thing in the morning with more hands. I know they have storages about here, but we can do nothing by this owl’s light. We will look round the parish and see if everybody is in bed, John; and if all is quiet, we will do as I say.”

They went on, and the two inside the window could hear them passing leisurely through the whole village, the street of which curved round at the bottom and entered the turnpike-road at another junction. This way the excisemen followed, and the amble of their horses died quite away.

“What will you do?” said Stockdale, withdrawing from his position.

She knew that he alluded to the coming search by the officers, to divert her attention from their own tender incident by the casement, which he wished to be passed over as a thing rather dreamed of than done. “Oh, nothing,” she replied, with as much coolness as she could command under her disappointment at his manner. “We often have such storms as this. You would not be frightened if you knew what fools they are. Fancy riding o’ horseback through the place; of course they will hear and see nobody while they make that noise; but they are always afraid to get off, in case some of our fellows should burst out upon ‘em, and tie them up to the gatepost, as they have done before now. Good-night, Mr. Stockdale.”

She closed the window and went to her room, where a tear fell from her eyes; and that not because of the alertness of the riding-officers.

VI. THE GREAT SEARCH AT NETHER-MYNTON.

Stockdale was so excited by the events of the evening, and the dilemma that he was placed in between conscience and love, that he did not sleep, or seven doze, but remained as broadly awake as at noonday. As soon as the gray light began to touch ever so faintly the whiter objects in his bedroom, he arose, dressed himself, and went downstairs into the road.

The village was already astir. Several of the carriers had heard the well-known tramp of Latimer’s horse while they were undressing in the dark that night, and had already communicated with one another and Owlett on the subject. The only doubt seemed to be about the safely of those tubs which had been left under the church gallery stairs, and after a short discussion at the corner of the mill, it was agreed that these should be removed before it got lighter, and hidden in the middle of a double hedge bordering the adjoining field. However, before anything could be carried into effect, the footsteps of many men were heard coming down the lane from the highway.

“D — it, here they be,” said Owlett, who, having already drawn the hatch and started his mill for the day, stood stolidly at the mill door covered with flour, as if the interest of his whole soul was bound up in the shaking walls around him.

The two or three with whom he had been talking dispersed to their usual work, and when the excise officers and the formidable body of men they had hired reached the village cross, between the mill and Mrs. Newberry’s house, the village wore the natural aspect of a place beginning its morning labours.

“Now,” said Latimer to his associates, who numbered thirteen men in all, “what I know is that the things are somewhere in this here place. We have got the day before us, and ‘tis hard if we can’t light upon ‘em and get ‘em to Budmouth Custom-house before night. First we will try the fuel-houses, and then we’ll work our way into the chimmers, and then to the ricks and stables, and so creep round. You have nothing but your noses to guide ye, mind, so use ‘em to-day if you never did in your lives before.”

Then the search began. Owlett, during the early part, watched from his mill window, Lizzy from the door of her house, with the greatest self-possession. A farmer down below, who also had a share in the run, rode about with one eye on his fields and the other on Latimer and his myrmidons, prepared to put them off the scent if he should be asked a question. Stockdale, who was no smuggler at all, felt more anxiety than the worst of them, and went about his studies with a heavy heart, coming frequently to the door to ask Lizzy some question or other on the consequences to her of the tubs being found.

“The consequences,” she said, quietly, “are simply that I shall lose ‘em. As I have none in the house or garden, they can’t touch me personally.”

“But you have some in the orchard?”

“Owlett rents that of me, and he lends it to others. So it will be hard to say who had any tubs there if they should be found.”

There was never such a tremendous sniffing known as that which took place in Nether-Mynton parish and its vicinity this day. All was done methodically, and mostly on hands and knees. At different hours of the day they had different plans. From daybreak to breakfast time the officers used their sense of smell in a direct and straightforward manner only, pausing nowhere but at such places as the tubs might be supposed to be secreted in at that very moment, pending their removal on the following night. Among the places tested and examined were:

Hollow trees.

Potato-graves.

Fuel-houses.

Bedrooms.

Apple-lofts.

Cupboards.

Clock-cases.

Chimney-flues.

Rain-water butts.

Pigsties.

Culverts.

Hedgerows.

Fagot-ricks.

Haystacks.

Coppers and ovens.

After breakfast they recommenced with renewed vigor, taking a new line; that is to say, directing their attention to clothes that might be supposed to have come in contact with the tubs in their removal from the shore, such garments being usually tainted with the spirits, owing to its oozing between the staves. They now sniffed at

Smock-frocks.

Old shirts and waistcoats.

Coats and hats.

Breeches and leggings.

Women’s shawls and gowns.

Smiths’ and shoemakers’ aprons.

Knee-naps and hedging-gloves.

Tarpaulins.

Market-cloaks.

Scarecrows.

And, as soon as the mid-day meal was over, they pushed their search into places where the spirits might have been thrown away in alarm:

Horse-ponds.

Stable-drains.

Cinder-heaps.

Mixens.

Wet ditches.

Cesspools.

Sinks in yards.

Road-scrapings.

Back-door gutters.

But still these indefatigable excisemen discovered nothing more than the original telltale smell in the road opposite Lizzy’s house, which even yet had not passed off.

“I’ll tell ye what it is, men,” said Latimer, about three o’clock in the afternoon, “we must begin over again. Find them tubs I will.”

The men, who had been hired for the day, looked at their hands and knees, muddy with creeping on all fours so frequently, and rubbed their noses, as if they had had almost enough of it; for the quantity of bad air which had passed into each one’s ‘nostril had rendered it nearly as insensible as a flue. However, after a moment’s hesitation, they prepared to start anew, except three, whose power of smell had quite succumbed under the excessive wear and tear of the day.

By this time not a male villager was to be seen in the parish. Owlett was not at his mill, the farmers were not in their fields, the parson was not in his garden, the smith had left his forge, and the wheelwright’s shop was silent.

“Where the devil are the folk gone?” said Latimer, waking up to the fact of their absence, and looking round.

“I’ll have ‘em up for this! Why don’t they come and help us? There’s not a man about the place but the Methodist parson, and he’s an old woman. I demand assistance in the king’s name!”

“We must find the jineral public afore we can demand that,” said his lieutenant.

“Well, well, we shall do better without ‘em,” said Latimer, who changed his moods at a moment’s notice. “But there’s great cause of suspicion in this silence and this keeping out of sight, and I’ll bear it in mind. Now we will go across to Owlett’s orchard, and see what we can find there.”

Stockdale, who heard this discussion from the garden gate, over which he had been leaning, was rather alarmed, and thought it a mistake of the villagers to keep so completely out of the way. He himself, like the excisemen, had been wondering for the last half-hour what could have become of them. Some labourers were of necessity engaged in distant fields, but the master-workmen should have been at home; though one and all, after just showing themselves at their shops, had apparently gone off for the day. He went in to Lizzy, who sat at a back window sewing, and said, “Lizzy, where are the men?”

Lizzy laughed. “Where they mostly are when they are run so hard as this.” She cast her eyes to heaven. “Up there,” she said.

Stockdale looked up. “What — on the top of the church tower?” he asked, seeing the direction of her glance.

“Yes. “

“Well, I expect they will soon have to come down,” said he, gravely. “I have been listening to the officers and they are going to search the orchard over again and then every nook in the church.”

Lizzy looked alarmed for the first time. “Will you go and tell our folk?” she said. “They ought to be let know.” Seeing his conscience struggling within him like a boiling pot she added, “No, never mind, I’ll go myself.”

She went out, descended the garden, and climbed over the churchyard wall at the same time that the preventivemen were ascending the road to the orchard. Stockdale could do no less than follow her. By the time that she reached the tower entrance he was at her side, and they entered together.

Nether-Mynton church tower was, as in many villages, without a turret, and the only way to the top was by going up to the singers’ gallery, and thence ascending by a ladder to a square trap-door in the floor of the bell-loft, above which a permanent ladder was fixed, passing through the bells to a hole in the roof. When Lizzy and Stockdale reached the gallery and looked up, nothing but the trap-door and the five holes for the bell-ropes appeared, The ladder was gone.

“There’s no getting up,” said Stockdale.

“Oh yes, there is,” said she. “There’s an eye looking at us at this moment through a knot-hole in that trap-door.”

And as she spoke the trap opened, and the dark line of the ladder was seen descending against the whitewashed wall. When it touched the bottom Lizzy dragged it to its place, and said, “If you’ll go up, I’ll follow.”

The young man ascended, and presently found himself among consecrated bells for the first time in his life, nonconformity having been in the Stockdale blood for some generations. He eyed them uneasily, and looked round for Lizzy. Owlett stood here, holding the top of the ladder “What, be you really one of us?” said the miller.

“It seems so,” said Stockdale, sadly.

“He’s not,” said Lizzy, who overheard. “He’s neither for nor against us. He’ll do us no harm.”

She stepped up beside them, and then they went on to the next stage, which, when they had clambered over the dusty bell-carriages, was of easy ascent, leading toward the hole through which the pale sky appeared, and into the open air. Owlett remained behind for a moment to pull up the lower ladder.

“Keep down your heads,” said a voice, as soon as they set foot on the flat.

Stockdale here beheld all the missing parishioners, lying on their stomachs on the tower roof, except a few who, elevated on their hands and knees, were peeping through the embrasure of the parapet. Stockdale did the same, and saw the village lying like a map below him, over which moved the figures of the excisemen, each foreshortened to a crab-like object, the crown of his hat forming a circular disk in the centre of him. Some of the men had turned their heads when the young preacher’s figure arose among them.

“What, Mr. Stockdale?” said Matt Grey, in a tone of surprise.

“I’d’ as lief that it hadn’t been,” said Jim Clarke. “If the pa’son should see him a trespassing here in his tower, ‘twould be none the better for we, seeing how ‘a do hate chapel members. He’d never buy a tub of us again, and he’s as good a customer as we have got this side o’ Warm’ll,”

“Where is the pa’son?” said Lizzy.

“In his house, to be sure, that he may see nothing of what’s going on — where all good folks ought to be, and this young man likewise.”

“Well, he has brought some news,” said Lizzy. “They are going to search the orchet and church; can we do anything if they should find?”

“Yes,” said her cousin Owlett. “That’s what we’ve been talking o’, and we have settled our line. Well, be dazed!”

The exclamation was caused by his perceiving that some of the searchers, having got into the orchard, and begun stooping and creeping hither and thither, were pausing in the middle, where a tree smaller than the rest was growing. They drew closer, and bent lower than ever upon the ground.

“Oh, my tubs!” said Lizzy, faintly, as she peered through the parapet at them.

“They have got ‘em, ‘a b’lieve,” said Owlett.

The interest in the movements of the officers was so keen that not a single eye was looking in any other direction; but at that moment a shout from the church beneath them attracted the attention of the smugglers, as it did also of the party in the orchard, who sprang to their feet and went toward the church-yard wall. At the same time those of the Government men who had entered the church unperceived by the smugglers cried aloud, “Here be some of ‘em at last.”

The smugglers remained in a blank silence, uncertain whether “some of ‘em” meant tubs or men; but again peeping cautiously over the edge of the tower they learned that tube were the things described; and soon these fated articles were brought one by one into the middle of the church-yard from their hiding-place under the gallery stairs.

“They are going to put ‘em on Hinton’s vault till they find the rest,” said Lizzy, hopelessly. The excisemen had, in fact, begun to pile up the tubs on a large stone slab which was fixed there; and when all were brought out from the tower, two or three of the men were left standing by them, the rest of the party again proceeding to the orchard.

The interest of the smugglers in the next maneuvers of their enemies became painfully intense. Only about thirty tubs had been secreted in the lumber of the tower, but seventy were hidden in the orchard, making up all that they had brought ashore as yet, the remainder of the cargo. having been tied to a sinker and dropped overboard for another night’s operations. The excisemen, having re-entered the orchard, acted as if they were positive that here lay hidden the rest of the tubs, which they were determined to find before nightfall. They spread themselves out round the field, and advancing on all fours as before, went anew round every apple-tree in the inclosure. The young tree in the middle again led them to pause, and at length the whole company gathered there in a way which signified that a second chain of reasoning had led to the same results as the first.

When they had examined the sod hereabouts for some minutes, one of the men rose, ran to a disused porch of the church where tools were kept, and returned with the sexton’s pickax and shovel, with which they set to work.

“Are they really buried there?” said the minister, for the grass was so green and uninjured that it was difficult to believe it had been disturbed. The smugglers were too interested to reply, and presently they saw, to their chagrin, the officers stand two on each side of the tree; and, stooping and applying their hands to the soil, they bodily lifted the tree and the turf around it. The apple-tree now showed itself to be growing in a shallow box, with handles for lifting at each of the four sides. Under the site of the tree a square hole was revealed, and an exciseman went and looked down.

“It is all up now,” said Owlett, quietly. “And now all of ye get down before they notice we are here; and be ready for our next move. I had better bide here till dark, or they may take me on suspicion, as ‘tis on my ground. I’ll be with ye as soon as daylight begins to pink in.”

“And I?” said Lizzy.

“You please look to the linchpins and screws; then go indoors and know nothing at all. The chaps will do the rest.”

The ladder was replaced, and all but Owlett descended, the men passing off one by one at the back of the church, and vanishing on their respective errands.

Lizzy walked boldly along the street, followed closely by the minister.

“You are going indoors, Mrs. Newberry?” he said.

She knew from the words “Mrs. Newberry” that the division between them had widened yet another degree.

“I am not going home,” she said. “I have a little thing to do before I go in. Martha Sarah will got your tea.”

“Oh, I don’t mean on that account,” said Stockdale. “What can you have to do further in this unhallowed affair?”

“Only a little,” she said.

“What is that? I’ll go with you.”

“No, I shall go by myself. Will you please go indoors? I shall be there in less than an hour.”

“You are not going to run any danger, Lizzy?” said the young man, his tenderness reasserting itself.

“None whatever — worth mentioning,” answered she, and went down toward the cross.

Stockdale entered the garden gate, and stood behind it looking on. The excisemen were still busy in the orchard, and at last he was tempted to enter, and watch their proceedings. When he came closer he found that the secret cellar, of whose existence he had been totally unaware, was formed by timbers placed across from side to side about a foot under the ground, and grassed over.

The excisemen looked up at Stockdale’s fair and downy countenance, and evidently thinking him above suspicion, went on with their work again. As soon as all the tubs were taken out, they began tearing up the turf, pulling out the timbers, and breaking in the sides, till the cellar was wholly dismantled and shapeless, the apple tree lying with its roots high to the air. But the hole which had in its time held so much contraband merchandise was never completely filled up, either then or afterward, a depression in the greensward marking the spot to this day.

VII. THE WALK TO WARM’ELL CROSS; AND AFTERWARD.

As the goods had all to be carried to Budmouth that night, the excisemen’s next object was to find horses and carts for the journey, and they went about the village for that purpose. Latimer strode hither and thither with a lump of chalk in his hand, marking broad arrows so vigorously on every vehicle and set of harness that he came across that it seemed as if he would chalk broad arrows on the very hedges and roads. The owner of every conveyance so marked was bound to give it up for Government purposes. Stockdale, who had had enough of the scene, turned indoors, thoughtful and depressed. Lizzy was already there, having come in at the back, though she had not yet taken off her bonnet. She looked tired, and her mood was not much brighter than his own. They had but little to say to each other; and the minister went away and attempted to read; but at this he could not succeed, and he shook the little bell for tea.

Lizzy herself brought in the tray, the girl having run off into the village during the afternoon, too full of excitement at the proceedings to remember her state of life. However, almost before the sad lovers had said anything to each other, Martha came in in a steaming state.

“Oh, there’s such a stoor, Mrs. Newberry and Mr. Stockdale! The king’s excisemen can’t get the carts ready nohow at all! They pulled Thomas Ballam’s, and William Roger’s, and Stephen Sprake’s carts into the road, and off came the wheels, and down fell the carts; and they found there was no linchpins in the arms; and then they tried Samuel Shane’s wagon, and found that the screws were gone from he, and at last they looked at the dairyman’s cart, and he’s got none neither! They have gone now to the blacksmith’s to get some made, but he’s nowhere to be found!”

Stockdale looked at Lizzy, who blushed very slightly, and went out of the room, followed by Martha Sarah; but before they had got through the passage there was a rap at the front door, and Stockdale recognized Latimer’s voice addressing Mrs. Newberry, who had turned back.

“For God’s sake, Mrs. Newberry, have you seen Hardman the blacksmith up this way? If we could get hold of him, we’d e’en a’most drag him by the hair of his head to his anvil, where he ought to be.”

“He’s an idle man, Mr. Latimer,” replied Lizzy, archly. “What do you want him for?”

“Why, there isn’t a horse in the place that has got more than three shoes on, and some have only two. The wagon-wheels be without strakes, and there’s no linchpins to the carts. What with that, and the bother about every set of harness being out of order, we shan’t be off before nightfall — upon my soul we shan’t. ‘Tis a rough lot, Mrs. Newberry, that you’ve got about you here; but they’ll play at this game once too often, mark my words they will! There’s not a man in the parish that don’t deserve to be whipped.”

It happened that Hardman was at that moment a little further up the lane, smoking his pipe behind a holly-bush. When Latimer had done speaking he went on in this direction, and Hardman, hearing the exciseman’s steps, found curiosity too strong for prudence. He peeped out from the bush at the very moment that Latimer’s glance was on it. There was nothing left for him to do but to come forward with unconcern.

“I’ve been looking for you for the last hour!” said Latimer, with a glare in his eye.

“Sorry to hear that,” said Hardman. “I’ve been out for a stroll, to look for more hid tubs, to deliver ‘em up to Gover’ment.”

“Oh yes, Hardman, we know it,” said Latimer, with withering sarcasm. “We know that you’ll deliver ‘em up to Gover’ment. We know that all the parish is helping us, and have been all day! Now, you please walk along with me down to your shop, and kindly let me hire ye in the king’s name.”

They went down the lane together, and presently there, resounded from the smithy the ring of a hammer not very briskly swung. However, the carts and horses were got into some sort of traveling condition, but it was not until after the clock had struck six, when the muddy roads were glistening under the horizontal light of the fading day. The smuggled tubs were soon packed into the vehicles, and Latimer, with three of his assistants, drove slowly out of the village in the direction of the port of Budmouth, some considerable number of miles distant, the other excisemen being left to watch for, the remainder of the cargo, which they knew to have been sunk somewhere between Ringsworth and Lullstead Cove, and to unearth Owlett, the only person clearly implicated by the discovery of the cave.

Women and children stood at the doors as the carts, each chalked with the Government pitchfork, passed in the increasing twilight; and as they stood they looked at the confiscated property with a melancholy expression that told only too plainly the relation which they bore to the trade.

“Well, Lizzy,” said Stockdale, when the crackle of the wheels had nearly died away, “this is a fit finish to your adventure. I am truly thankful that you have got off without suspicion, and the loss only of the liquor. Will you sit down and let me talk to you?”

“By-and-by,” she said. “But I must go out now. “

“Not to that horrid shore again?” he said, blankly.

“No, not there. I am only going to see the end of this day’s business.”

He did not answer to this, and she moved toward the door slowly, as if waiting for him to say something more.

“You don’t offer to come with me,” she added, at last. “I suppose that’s because you hate me after all this?”

“Can you say it, Lizzy, when you know I only want to save you from such practices? Come with you? Of course I will, if it is only to take care of you. But why will you go out again?”

“Because I cannot rest indoors. Something is happening, and I must know what. Now come!” And they went into the dusk together. When they reached the turnpike road she turned to the right, and he soon perceived that they were following the direction of the excisemen and their loads. He had given her his arm, and every now and then she suddenly pulled it back, to signify that he was to halt a moment and listen. They had walked rather quickly along the first quarter of a mile, and on the second or third time of standing still she said, “I hear them ahead — don’t you?”

“Yes,” he said; “I hear the wheels. But what of that?”

“I only want to know if they get clear away from the neighbourhood.”

“Ah,” said he, a light breaking upon him. “Something desperate is to be attempted — and now I remember, there was not a man about the village when we left.”

“Hark!” she murmured. The noise of the cart-wheels had stopped, and given place to another sort of sound.

“ ‘Tis a scuffle,” said Stockdale. “There’ll be murder! Lizzy, let go my arm; I am going on. On my conscience, I must not stay here and do nothing!”

“There’ll he no murder, and not even a broken head,” she said. “Our men are thirty to four of them; no harm will be done at all.”

“Then there is an attack!” exclaimed Stockdale; “and you knew it was to be. Why should you side with men who break the laws like this?”

“Why should you side with men who take from country traders what they have honestly bought wi’ their own money in France?” said’ she, firmly.

“They are not honestly bought,” said he.

“They are,” she contradicted. “I and Owlett and the others paid thirty shillings for every one of the tube before they were put on board at Cherbourg, and if a king who is nothing to us sends his people to steal our property, we have a right to steal it back again.”

Stockdale did not stop to argue the matter, but went quickly in the direction of the noise, Lizzy keeping at his side. “Don’t you interfere, will you, dear Richard?” she said, anxiously, as they drew near. “Don’t let us go any closer; ‘tis at Warm’ell Cross where they are seizing ‘em. You can do no good, and you may meet with a hard blow!”

“Let us see first what is going on,” he said But before they had got much further the noise of the cart-wheels began again, and Stockdale soon found that they were coming toward him. In another minute the three carts came up, and Stockdale and Lizzy stood in the ditch to let them pass.

Instead of being conducted by four men, as had happened when they went out of the village, the horses and carts were now accompanied by a body of from twenty to thirty, all of whom, as Stockdale perceived to his astonishment, had blackened faces. Among them walked six or eight huge female figures, whom, from their wide strides, Stockdale guessed to be men in disguise. As soon as the party discerned Lizzy and her companion four or five fell back, and when the carts had passed came close to the pair.

“There is no walking up this way for the present,” said one of the gaunt women, who wore curls a foot long, dangling down the sides of her face, in the fashion of the time. Stockdale recognized this lady’s voice as Owlett’s.

“Why not?” said Stockdale. “This is the public highway.”

“Now, look here, youngster,” said Owlett — “oh, ‘tis the Methodist parson! — what, and Mrs. Newberry! Well, you’d better not go up that way, Lizzy. They’ve all run off, and folks have got their own again.”

The miller then hastened on and joined his comrades. Stockdale and Lizzy also turned back. “I wish all this hadn’t been forced upon us,” she said, regretfully. “But if those excisemen had got off with the tubs, half the people in the parish would have been in want for the next month or two.”

Stockdale was not paying much attention to her words, and he said, “I don’t think I can go back like this. Those four poor excisemen may be murdered, for all I know.”

“Murdered!” said, Lizzy, impatiently. “We don’t do murder here.”

“Well, I shall go as far as Warm’ell Cross to see,” said Stockdale, decisively; and without wishing her safe home or anything else, the minister turned back. Lizzy stood, looking at him till his form was absorbed in the shades; and then, with sadness, she went in the direction of Nether-Mynton.

The road was lonely, and after nightfall at this time of the year there was often not a passer for hours. Stockdale pursued his way without hearing a sound beyond that of his own footsteps, and in due time he passed beneath the trees of the plantation which surrounded the Warm’ell Crossroad. Before he had reached the point of intersection he heard voices from the thicket.

“Hoi-hoi-hoi! Help! help!”

The voices were not at all feeble, or despairing, but they were unmistakably anxious. Stockdale had no weapon, and before plunging into the pitchy darkness of the plantation he pulled a stake from the hedge to use in case of need.

When he got among the trees he shouted, “What’s the matter — where are you?”

“Here!” answered the voices; and pushing through the brambles in that direction, he came near the objects of his search.

“Why don’t you come forward?” said Stockdale.

“We be tied to the trees.”

“Who are you?”

“Poor Will Latimer the exciseman!” said one, plaintively. “Just come and cut these cords, there’s a good man! We were afraid nobody would pass by to-night.”

Stockdale soon loosened them, upon which they stretched their limbs and stood at their ease.

“The rascals!” said Latimer, getting now into a rage, though: he had seemed quite meek when Stockdale first came up. “ ‘Tis the same sort of fellows. I know they were Mynton chaps to a man.”

“But we can’t swear to ‘em,” said another.

“Not one of ‘em spoke.”

“What are you going to do?” said Stockdale. “I’d fain go back to Mynton, and have at ‘em again,” said Latimer.

“So would we!” said his comrades.

“Fight till we die!” said Latimer.

“We will, we will!” said his men.

“But,” said Latimer, more frigidly, as they came out of the plantation, “we don’t know that these chaps with black faces were Mynton men. And proof is a hard thing.”

“So it is,” said the rest.

“And therefore we won’t do nothing at all,” said Latimer with complete dispassionateness. “For my part, I’d sooner be them than we. The clitches of my arms are burning like fire from the cords those two strapping women, tied round ‘em. My opinion, is, now I have had time to think o’t, that you may serve your gover’ment at too high a price. For these two nights and days, I have not had an hour’s rest; and, please God, here’s for home-along.”

The other officers agreed heartily to this course,’ and thanking Stockdale for his timely assistance, they parted from him at the cross, taking themselves the western road and Stockdale going back to Nether-Mynton.

During that walk the minister was lost in reverie of the most painful kind. As soon as he got into the house, and before entering his own rooms, he advanced to the door of the little back parlor in which Lizzy usually sat with her mother. He found her there alone. Stockdale went forward, and, like a man in a dream, looked down upon the table that stood between him and the young woman, who had her bonnet and cloak still on. As he did not speak, she looked up from her chair at him, with misgiving in her eye.

“Where are they gone?” he then said, listlessly.

“Who? — I don’t know. I have seen nothing of them since. I came straight in here.”

“If your men can manage to get off with those tubs it will be a great profit to you, I suppose?”

“A share will be mine, a share my cousin Owlett’s, a share to each of the two farmers, and a share divided among the men who helped us.”

“And you still think,” he went on very slowly, “that you will not give this business up?”

Lizzy rose, and put her hand upon his shoulder.

“Don’t ask that,” she whispered. “You don’t know what you are asking. I must tell you, though I meant not to do it. What I make by that trade is all I have to keep my mother and myself with.”

He was astonished. “I did not dream of such a thing,” he said. “I would rather have swept the streets, had I been you. What is money compared with a clear conscience?”

“My conscience is clear. I know my mother but the king I have never seen. His dues are nothing to me. But it is a great deal to me that my mother and I should live.”

“Marry me, and promise to give it up. I will keep your mother.”

“It is good of you,” she said, trembling a little. “Let me think of it by myself. I would rather not answer now.”

She reserved her answer till the next day, and came into his room with a solemn face. “I cannot do what you wished” she said, passionately.

“It is too much to ask. My whole life ha’ been passed in this way.” Her words and manner showed that before entering she had been struggling with herself in private, and that the contention had been strong.

Stockdale turned pale, but he spoke quietly.

“Then, Lizzy, we must part. I cannot go against my principles in this matter, and I cannot make my profession a mockery. You know how I love you, and what I would do for you; but this one thing I cannot do.”

“But why should you belong to that profession?” she burst out. “I have got this large house; why can’t you marry me and live here with us, and not be a Methodist preacher any more? I assure you, Richard, it is no harm, and I wish you could only see it as I do! We only carry it on in winter; in summer it is never done at all. It stirs up one’s dull life at this time o’ the year, and gives excitement, which I have got so used to now that I should hardly know how to do ‘ithout it. At nights, when the wind blows, instead of being dull and stupid, and not noticing whether it do blow or not, your mind is afield, even if you are not afield yourself; and you are wondering how the chaps are getting on; and you walk up and down the room, and look out o’ window, and then you go off yourself and know your way about as well by night as by day, and have hair-breadth escapes from old Latimer and his fellows, who are too stupid ever to really frighten us, and only make us a bit nimble.”

“He frightened you a little last night, anyhow; and I would advise you to drop it before it is worse.”

She shook her head. “No, I must go on as I have begun. I was born to it. It is in my blood, and I can’t be cured. Oh, Richard, you cannot think what a hard thing you have asked, and how sharp you try me when you put me between this and my love for ‘ee!”

Stockdale was leaning with his elbow on the mantel-piece, his hands over his eyes. “We ought never to have met, Lizzy,” he said. “It was an ill day for us. I little thought there was anything so hopeless and impossible in our engagement as this. Well, it is too late now to regret consequences in this way. I have had the happiness of seeing you and knowing you at least.”

“You dissent from Church and I dissent from State,” she said, “and I don’t see why we are not well-matched.”

He smiled sadly, while Lizzy remained looking down, her eyes beginning to overflow.

That was an unhappy evening for both of them, and the days that followed were unhappy days. Both she and he went mechanically about their employments, and his depression was marked in the village by more than one of his denomination with whom he came in contact. But Lizzy, who passed her days indoors, was unsuspected of being the cause; for it was generally understood that a quiet engagement to marry existed between her and her cousin Owlett, and had existed for some time.

Thus uncertainly the week passed on, till one morning Stockdale said to her: “I have had a letter, Lizzy. I must call you that till I am gone.”

“Gone?” said she, blankly.

“Yes,” he said. “I am going from this place. I felt it would be better for us both that I should not stay after what has happened. In fact, I couldn’t stay here, and look on you from day to day, without becoming weak and faltering in my course. I have just heard of an arrangement by which the other minister can arrive here in about a week and let me go elsewhere.”

That he had all this time continued so firmly fixed in his resolution came upon her as a grievous surprise. “You never loved me!” she said, bitterly.

“I might say the same,” he returned, “but I will not. Grant me one favour. Come and hear my last sermon on the day before I go.”

Lizzy, who was a church-goer on Sunday mornings, frequently attended Stockdale’s chapel in the evening with the rest of the double-minded, and she promised.

It became known that Stockdale was going to leave, and a good many people outside his own sect were sorry to hear it. The intervening days flew rapidly away, and on the evening of the Sunday which preceded the morning of his departure Lizzy sat in the chapel to hear him for the last time. The little building was full to overflowing, and he took up the subject which all had expected, that of the contraband trade so extensively practiced among them. His hearers, in laying his words to their own hearts, did not perceive that they were most particularly directed against Lizzy, till the sermon waxed warm and Stockdale nearly broke down with emotion. In truth, his own earnestness, and her sad eyes looking up at him, were too much for the young man’s equanimity. He hardly knew how he ended. He saw Lizzy, as through a mist, turn and go away with the rest of the congregation, and shortly afterward followed her home.

She invited him to supper, and they sat down alone, her mother having, as was usual with her on Sunday nights, gone to bed early.

“We will part friends, won’t we?” said Lizzy, forced gayety, and never alluding to the sermon — a reticence which rather disappointed him.

“We will,” he said, with a forced smile on his part; and they sat down.

It was the first meal that they had ever shared together in their lives, and probably the last that they would so share. When it was over, and the indifferent conversation could no longer be continued, he arose and took her hand.

“Lizzy,” he said, “do you say we must part — do you?”

“You do,” she said, solemnly “I can say no more.”

“Nor I,” said he. “If that is your answer, good-by!”

Stockdale bent over her and kissed her, and she involuntarily returned his kiss. “I shall go early,” he said; hurriedly. “I shall not see you again.”

And he did leave early. He fancied, when stepping into the gray morning light, to which was to carry him away, that he saw between the parted curtains of Lizzy’s window; but the light was faint, and the panes glistened with wet; so he could not be sure. Stockdale mounted the vehicle, and was gone; and on the following Sunday the new minister preached in the chapel of the Mynton Wesleyans.

One day, two years after the parting, Stockdale, now settled in a midland town, came into Nether-Mynton by carrier in the original way. Jogging along in the van that afternoon, he had put questions to the driver, and the answers that he received interested, the minister deeply. The result of them was that he went without the least hesitation to the door of his former lodging. It was about six o’clock in the evening, and the same time of year as when he had left; now, too, the ground was damp and glistening, the west was bright, and Lizzy’s snowdrops were raising their heads in the border under the wall.

Lizzy must have caught sight of him from the window, for by the time that he reached the door she was there holding it open; and then, as if she had not sufficiently considered her act of coming out, she drew herself back, saying, with some constraint: “Mr. Stockdale!”

“You knew it was,” said Stockdale, taking her hand. “I wrote to say I should call.”

“Yes, but you did not say when,” she answered.

“I did not. I was not quite sure when my business would lead me to these parts.” “You only came because business brought you near?”

“Well, that is the fact; but I have often thought I should like to come on purpose to see you. But what’s all this that has happened? I told you how it would be, Lizzy, and you would not listen to me.”

“I would not,” she said, sadly. “But I had been brought up to that life, and it was second nature to me. However, it is all over now. The officers have blood-money for taking a man dead or alive, and the trade is going to nothing. We were hunted down like rats.”

“Owlett is quite gone, I hear?”

“Yes, he is in America. We had a dreadful struggle that last time, when they tried to take him. It is a perfect miracle that he lived through and it is a wonder that I was not killed. I was shot in the hand. It was not by aim; the shot was really meant for my cousin; but I was behind, looking on as usual, and the bullet came to me. It bled terribly, but I got home without fainting, and it healed after a time. You know how he suffered?”

“No,” said Stockdale. “I only heard that he just escaped with his life.”

“He was shot in the back, but a rib turned the ball. He was badly hurt. We would not let him be took. The men carried him all night across the meads to Bere, and hid him in a barn, dressing his wound as well as they could, till he was so far recovered as to be able to get about. He had gied up his mill for some time, and at last he got to Bristol, and took a passage to America, and he’s settled in Wisconsin. “

“What do you think of smuggling now?” said the minister, gravely.

“I own that we were wrong,” said she. “But I have suffered for it. I am very poor now, and my mother has been dead these twelve months. But won’t you come in, Mr. Stockdale?”

Stockdale went in; and it is to be presumed that they came to an understanding, for a fortnight later there was a sale of Lizzy’s furniture, and after that a wedding at a chapel in a neighbouring town.

He took her away from her old haunts to the home that he had made for himself in his native county, where she studied her duties as a minister’s wife with praiseworthy assiduity. It is said that in after-years she wrote an excellent tract called “Render unto Caesar; or, The Repentant Villagers,” in which her own experience was anonymously used as the introductory story. Stockdale got it printed, after making some corrections, and putting in a few powerful sentences of his own; and many hundreds of copies were distributed by the couple in the course of their married life.

THE END.

Fellow Townsmen
I

The shepherd on the east hill could shout out lambing intelligence to the shepherd on the west hill, over the intervening town chimneys, with out great inconvenience to his voice, so nearly did the steep pastures encroach upon the burghers’’ back-yards. And at night it was possible to stand in the very midst of the town and hear from their native paddocks on the lower levels of greensward the mild lowing of the farmers’ heifers, and the profound, warm blowings of breath in which those creatures indulge. But the community which had jammed itself in the valley thus flanked formed a veritable town, with a real mayor and corporation, and a staple manufacture.

During a certain damp evening five-and-thirty years ago, before the twilight was far advanced, a pedestrian of professional appearance carrying a small bag in his hand and an elevated umbrella, was descending one of these hills by the turnpike-road when he was overtaken by a phaeton.

“Holloa, Downe! is that you?” said the driver of the vehicle, a young man of pale and refined appearance. “Jump up here with me, and ride down to your door. “

The other turned a plump, cheery rather self-indulgent face over his shoulder toward the hailer.

“Oh, good evening, Mr. Barnet! thanks,” he said, and mounted beside his acquaintance.

They were fellow-burgesses of the town which lay beneath them, but though old and very good friends, they were differently circumstanced. Barnet was a richer man than the struggling young lawyer Downe — a fact which was to some extent perceptible in Downe’s manner toward his companion, though nothing of it ever showed in Barnet’s manner toward the solicitor. Barnet’s position in the town was none of his own making; his father had been a very successful flax merchant in the same place, where the trade was still carried on as briskly as the small capacities of its quarters would allow. Having acquired a fair fortune, old Mr. Barnet had retired from business, bringing up his son as a gentleman-burgher, and, it must be added, as a well-educated, liberal-minded young man.

“How is Mrs. Barnet?” asked Downe.

“Mrs. Barnet was very well when I left home,” the other answered, constrainedly, exchanging his meditative regard of the horse for one of self-consciousness.

Mr. Downe seemed to regret his inquiry, and immediately took up another thread of conversation. He congratulated his friend on his election as a councilman; he though the had not seen him since that event took place; Mrs. Downe had meant to call and congratulate Mrs. Barnet, but he feared that she had failed to do so as yet.

Barnet seemed hampered in his replies. “We should have been glad to see you. I — my wife would welcome Mrs. Downe at any time, as you know.... Yes, I am a member of the corporation — rather an inexperienced member, some of them say. It is quite true; and I should have declined the honour as premature — having other things on my hands just now, too — if it had not been pressed upon me so very heartily.”

“There is one thing you have on your hands which I can never quite see the necessity for,” said Downe, with good-humored freedom.

“What the deuce do you want to build that new mansion for, when you have already got such an excellent house as the one you live in?”

Barnet’s face acquired a warmer shade of colour; but as the question had been idly asked by the solicitor while regarding the surrounding flocks and fields, he answered after a moment, with no apparent embarrassment.

“Well, we wanted to get out of the town, you know; the house I am living in is rather old and inconvenient.”

Mr. Downe declared that he had chosen a pretty site for the new building. They would be able to see for miles and miles from the windows. Was he going to give it a name? he supposed so.

Barnet thought not. There was no other house near that was likely to be mistaken for it. And he did not care for a name.

“But I think it has a name!” Downe observed. “I went past — when was it? – this morning; and I saw something — ‘Chateau Ringdale,’ I think it was, stuck up on a board!”

“It was an idea she — we had for a short time,” said Barnet, hastily. “But we have decided finally to do without a name — at any rate, such a name as that. It must have been a week ago that you saw it. It was taken down last Saturday. Upon that matter I am firm!” he added, grimly.

Downe murmured in an unconvinced tone that he thought he had seen it yesterday.

Talking thus, they drove into the town. The street was unusually still for the hour of seven in the evening; an increasing drizzle had prevailed since the afternoon, and now formed a gauze across the yellow lamps, and trickled with a gentle rattle down the heavy roofs of stone tile, that bent the house-ridges hollow-backed with its weight, and in some instances caused the walls to bulge outward in the upper story. Their route took them past the little town-hall, the Black Bull Hotel, and onward to the junction of a small street on the right, consisting of a row of those two-and-two brick residences of no particular age, which are exactly alike wherever found, except in the people they contain.

“Wait — I’ll drive you up to your door,” said Barnet, when Downe prepared to alight at the corner. He thereupon turned into the narrow street, when the faces of three little girls could be discerned close to the panes of a lighted window a few yards ahead, surmounted by that of a young matron, the gaze of all four being directed eagerly up the empty street. “You are a fortunate fellow, Downe,” Barnet continued, as mother and children disappeared from the window to run to the door. “You must be happy if anyman is. I would give a hundred such houses as my new one to have a home like yours.”

“Well, yes, we get along pretty comfortably,” replied Downe, complacently.

“That house, Downe, is none of my ordering,” Barnet broke out, revealing a bitterness hitherto suppressed, and checking the horse a moment to finish his speech before delivering up his passenger. “The house I have already is good enough for me, as you supposed. It is my own freehold; it was built by my grandfather, and is stout enough for a castle. My father was born there, lived there, and died there. I was born there, and have always lived there; yet. I must needs build a new one.’

“Why do you?” said Downe.

“Why do I? To preserve peace in the household. I do anything for that; but I don’t succeed. I was firm in resisting ‘Chateau Ringdale,’ however; not that I would not have

put up with the absurdity of the name, but it was too much to have your house christened after Lord Ringdale, because your wife once had a fancy for him. If you only knew everything, you would think all attempt at reconciliation hopeless. In your happy home you have had no such experiences; and God forbid that you ever should. See, here they are all ready to receive you!”

“Of course! And so will your wife be waiting to receive you,” said Downe. “Take my word for it, she will! And with a dinner prepared for you far better than mine.”

“I hope so,” Barnet replied, dubiously.

He moved on to Downe’s door, which the solicitor’s family had already opened. Downe descended, but being encumbered with his bag and umbrella, his foot slipped, and he fell upon his knees in the gutter.

“Oh, my dear Charles!” said his wife, running down the steps; and, quite ignoring the presence of Barnet, she seized hold of her husband, pulled him to his feet, and kissed him, exclaiming, “I hope you are not hurt, darling!” The children crowded round, chiming in piteously, “Poor papa!”

“He’s all right,” said Barnet, perceiving that Downe was only a little muddy, and looking more at the wife than at the husband. Almost at any other time – certainly during his fastidious bachelor years — he would have thought her a too demonstrative woman; but those recent circumstances of his own life to which he had just alluded made Mrs. Downe’s solicitude so affecting that his eye grew damp as he witnessed it. Bidding the lawyer and his family good-night, he left them, and drove slowly into the main street toward his own house.

The heart of Barnet was sufficiently impressionable to be influenced by Downe’s parting prophecy that he might not be so unwelcome home as he imagined; the dreary night might, at least on this one occasion, make Downe’s forecast true. Hence it was in a suspense that he could hardly have believed possible that he halted at his door. On entering, his wife was nowhere to be seen, and he inquired for her. The servant informed him that her mistress had the dressmaker with her, and would be engaged for some time.

“Dressmaker at this time of day!”

“She dined early, sir, and hopes you will excuse her joining you this evening.

“But she knew I was coming tonight?”

“Oh yes, sir.”

“Go up and tell I her I am come.”

The servant did so; but the mistress of the house merely repeated her former words.

Barnet said nothing more, and presently sat down to his lonely meal, which was eaten abstractedly, the domestic scene he had lately witnessed still impressing him by its contrast with the situation here. His mind fell back into past years upon a certain pleasing and gentle being whose face would loom out of their shades at such times as these. Barnet turned in his chair, and looked with unfocused eyes in a direction southward from where he sat, as if he saw not the room but a long way beyond. “I wonder if she lives there still!” he said.

II

He rose with a sudden rebelliousness, put on his hat and coat, and went out of the house, pursuing his way along the glistening pavement while eight o’clock was striking from St. Mary’s tower, and the apprentices and shopmen were slamming up the shutters from end to end of the town. In two minutes only those shops which could boast of no attendant save the master or the mistress remained with open eyes. These were ever somewhat less prompt to exclude customers than the others; for their owners’ ears the closing-hour had scarcely the cheerfulness that it possessed for the hired servants of the rest. Yet, the night being dreary, the delay was not for long, and their windows, too, blinked together one by one.

During this time Barnet had proceeded with decided step in a direction at right angles to the broad main thoroughfare of the town, by a long street leading due southward. Here, though his family had no more to do with the flax manufacture, his own name occasionally greeted him on gates and warehouses, being used allusively by small rising tradesmen as a recommendation, in such words as “Smith, from Barnet & Co.” — “Robinson, late manager at Barnet’s.” The sight led him to reflect upon his father’s busy life, and he questioned if it had not been far happier than his own.

The houses along the road became fewer, and presently open ground appeared between them on either side, the tract on the right hand rising to a higher level till it merged in a knoll. On the summit a row of builders’ scaffold-poles probed the indistinct sky like spears, and at their bases could be discerned the lower courses of a building lately begun. Barnet slackened his pace and stood for a few moments without leading the centre of the road, apparently not much interested in the sight, till suddenly his eye was caught by a post in the fore part of the ground, bearing a white board at the top. He went to the rails, vaulted over, and walked in far enough to discern painted upon the board, “Chateau Ringdale.”

A dismal irony seemed to lie in the words, and its effect was to irritate him. Downe, had then spoken truly. He stuck his umbrella into the sod, and seized the post with both hands, as if intending to loosen and throw it down. Then, like one bewildered by an opposition which would exist none the less though its manifestations were removed, he allowed his arms to sink to his side.

“Let it be,” he said to himself. “I have declared there shall be peace – if possible.”

Taking up his umbrella, he quietly left the inclosure, and went on his way, still keeping his back to the town. He had advanced with more decision since passing the new building, and soon a hoarse murmur rose upon the gloom; it was the sound of the sea. The road led to the harbor, at a distance of a mile from the town, from which the trade of the district was fed. After seeing the obnoxious name-board, Barnet had forgotten to open his umbrella and the rain tapped smartly on his hat, and occasionally stroked his face as he went on.

Though the lamps were still continued at the road-side, they stood at wider intervals than before, and the pavement had given place to common road. Every time he came to a lamp an increasing shine made itself visible upon his shoulders, till at last they quite glistened with wet. The murmur from the shore grew stronger, but it was still some distance off when he paused before one of the smallest of the detached houses by the way-side, standing in its own garden, the latter being divided from the road by a row of wooden palings. Scrutinizing the spot to insure that he was not mistaken, he opened the gate and gently knocked at the cottage door.

When he had patiently waited minutes enough to lead any man in ordinary cases to knock again, the door was heard to open; though it was impossible to see by whose hand, there being no light in the passage. Barnet said at random, “Does Miss Savile live here?”

A youthful voice assured him that she did live there, and by a sudden after-thought asked him to come in. It would soon get a light, it said; but the night being wet, mother had not thought it worth while to trim the passage lamp.

“Don’t trouble yourself to get a light for me,” said Barnet, hastily; “it is not necessary at all. Which is Miss Savile’s sitting-room?”

The young person, whose white pinafore could just be discerned, signified a door in the side of the passage, and Barnet went forward at the same moment, so that no light should fall upon his face. On entering the room he closed the door behind him, pausing till he heard the retreating footsteps of the child.

He found himself in an apartment which was simply and neatly, though not poorly furnished; everything, from the miniature chiffonier to the shining little daguerreotype which formed the central ornament of the mantel-piece, being in scrupulous order. The picture was inclosed by a frame of embroidered cardboard — evidently the work of feminine hands — and it represented a thin-faced, elderly lieutenant in the navy. From behind the lamp on the table a female form now rose into view: it was that of a young girls and a resemblance between her and the portrait was early discoverable. She had been so absorbed in some occupation on the other side of the lamp as to have barely found time to realise her visitor’s presence.

They both remained standing for a few seconds without speaking. The face that confronted Barnet had a beautiful outline; the Raphaelesque oval of its contour was remarkable for an English countenance, and that countenance housed in a remote country-road to an unheard-of harbor. But her features did not do justice to this splendid beginning: Nature had recollected that she was not in Italy; and the young lady’s lineaments, though not so inconsistent as to make her plain, would have been accepted rather as pleasing than as correct. The preoccupied expression which, like images on the retina, remained with her for a moment after the state that caused it had ceased, now changed into a reserved, half-proud, and slightly indignant look, in which the blood diffused itself quickly across her cheek, and additional brightness broke the shade of her rather heavy eyes.

“I know I have no business here,” he said, answering the look; “but I had a great wish to see you, and inquire how you were. You can give your hand to me, seeing how often I have held it in past days?”

“I would rather forget than remember all that, Mr. Barnet,” she answered, as she coldly complied with the request. “When I think of the circumstances of our last meeting I can hardly consider it kind of you to allude to such a thing as our past, or, indeed, to come here at all.”

“There was no harm in it surely? I don’t trouble you often, Lucy.”

“I have not had the honour of a visit from you for a very long time, certainly, and I did not expect it now, she said, with the same stiffness in her air. “I hope Mrs. Barnet is very well?”

“Yes, yes!” he impatiently returned. “At least I suppose so — though I only speak from inference.

“But she is your wife, sir,” said the young girl, tremulously.

The unwonted tones of a man’s voice in that feminine chamber had startled a canary that was roosting in its cage by the window; the bird awoke hastily, and fluttered against the bars. She went and stilled it by laying her face against the cage and murmuring a coaxing sound. It might partly have been done to still herself.

“I didn’t come to talk of Mrs. Barnet,” he pursued; “I came to talk of you, of yourself alone; to inquire how you are getting on since your great loss.” And he turned toward the portrait of her father.

“I am getting on fairly well, thank you.”

The force of her utterance was scarcely borne out by her look; but Barnet courteously reproached himself for not having guessed a thing so natural; and to dissipate all embarrassment, added, as he bent over the table, “What were you doing when I came? — painting flowers, and by candle-light?”

“Oh no,” she said, “not painting them — only sketching the outlines. I do that at night to save time — I have to get three dozen done by the end of the month.

Barnet looked as if he regretted it deeply. “You will wear your poor eyes out,” he said, with more sentiment than he had hitherto shown. “You ought not to do it. There was a time when I should have said you must not. Well — I almost wish I had never seen light with my own eyes when I think of that!”

“Is this a time or place for recalling such matters?” she asked, with dignity. “You used to have a gentlemanly respect for me, and for yourself. Don’t speak any more as you have spoken, and don’t come again. I cannot think that this visit is serious, or was closely considered by you.”

“Considered! Well, I came to see you as an old and good friend; not to mince matters, to visit a woman I loved. Don’t be angry! I could not help doing it, so many things brought you into my mind....This evening I fell in with an acquaintance, and when I saw how happy he was with his wife and family welcoming him home, though with only one-tenth of my income and chances, and thought what might have been in my case, it fairly broke down my discretion, and off I came here. Now I am here I feel that I am wrong to some extent. But the feeling that I should like to see you, and talk of those we used to know in common, was very strong.”

“Before that can be the case, a little more time must pass,” said Miss Savile, quietly; “a time long enough for me to regard with some calmness what at present I remember far too impatiently — though it may be you almost forget it. Indeed you must have forgotten it long before you acted as you did.” Her voice grew stronger and more vivacious as she added, “But I am doing my best to forget it too; and I know I shall succeed, from the progress I have made already! “

She had remained standing till now, when she turned and sat down, facing half away from him.

Barnet watched her moodily. “Yes, it is only what I deserve,” he said. “Ambition pricked me on — no, it was not ambition, it was wrong-headedness! Had I but reflected.... “ He broke out vehemently, “But always remember this, Lucy: if you had written tome only one little line after that misunderstanding, I declare I should have come back to you. That ruined me!” He slowly walked as far as the little room would allow him to go, and remained with his eyes on the skirting.

“But, Mr. Barnet,” how could I write to you? There was no opening for my doing so.”

“Then there ought to have been,” said Barnet, turning. “That was my fault!”

“Well, I don’t know anything about that; but as there had been nothing said by me which required any explanation by letter, I did not send one. Everything was so indefinite, and, feeling your position to be so much wealthier than mine, I fancied I might have mistaken your meaning. And when I heard of the other lady — a woman of whose family even you might be proud — I thought how foolish I had been, and said nothing.

“Then, I suppose it was destiny — accident — I don’t know what, that separated us, dear Lucy. Anyhow, you were the woman I ought to have made my wife — and I let you slip, like the foolish man that I was!”

“Oh, Mr. Barnet,” she said, almost in tears, “don’t revive the subject to me; I am the wrong one to console you. Think, sir. You should not be here — it would be so bad for me if it were known!”

“It would — it would indeed,” he said, hastily. “I am not right in doing this, and I won’t do it again.”

“It is a very common folly of human nature, you know, to think the course you did not adopt must have been the best,” she continued, with gentle solicitude, as she followed him to the door of the room. “And you don’t know that I should have accepted you, even if you had asked me to be your wife.” At this his eye met hers, and she dropped her gaze. She knew that her voice belied her. There was a silence till she looked up to add, in a voice of soothing playfulness, “My family was so much poorer than yours, even before I lost my dear father, that perhaps your companions would have made it unpleasant for us on account of my deficiencies.”

“Your disposition would soon have won them round,” said Barnet.

She archly expostulated, “Now, never mind my disposition; try to make it up withyour wife. Those are my commands to you. And now you are to leave me at once.”

“I will. I must make the best of it all, I suppose,” he replied, more cheerfully than he had as yet spoken. “But I shall never again meet with such a dear girl as you!” And he suddenly opened the door, and left her alone. When his glance again fell on the lamps that were sparsely ranged along the dreary level road, his eyes were in a state which showed straw-like motes of light radiating from each flame into the surrounding air.

On the other side of the way Barnet observed a man under an umbrella, walking parallel with himself. Presently this man left the foot-way, and gradually converged on Barnet’s course. The latter then saw that it was Charlson, a surgeon of the town, who owed him money. Charlson was a man not without ability; yet he did not prosper. Sundry circumstances stood in his way as a medical practitioner; he was needy; he was not a coddle; he gossiped with men instead of with women; he had married a stranger instead of one of the town young ladies; and he was given to conversational buffoonery. Moreover, his look was quite erroneous. Those only proper features in the family doctor, the quiet eye, and the thin, straight, passionless lips which never curl in public either for laughter or for scorn, were not his; he had a full curved mouth, and a bold black eye that made timid people nervous. His companions were what in old times would have been called boon companions — an expression which, though of irreproachable root, suggests fraternization carried to the point of unscrupulousness. All this was against him in the little town of his adoption.

Charlson had been in difficulties, and to oblige him Barnet had put his name to a bill; and, as he had expected, was called upon to meet it when it fell due. It had been a matter of only fifty pounds, which Barnet could well afford to lose, and he bore no ill-will to the thriftless surgeon on account of it. But Charlson had a little too much brazen indifferentism in his composition to be altogether a desirable acquaintance.

“I hope to be able to make that little bill-business right with you in the course of three weeks, Mr. Barnet, “ said Charlson, with hail-fellow friendliness.

Barnet replied good-naturedly that there was no hurry.

This particular three weeks had moved on in advance of Charlson’s present with the precision of a shadow for some considerable time.

“I’ve had a dream,” Charlson continued. Barnet knew from his tone that the surgeon was going to begin his characteristic nonsense, and did not encourage him, “I’ve had a dream,” repeated Charlson, who required no encouragement. “I dreamed that a gentleman, who has been very kind to me, married a haughty lady in haste, before he had quite forgotten a nice little girl he knew before, and that one wet evening, like the present, as I was walking up the harbor-road, I saw him come out of that dear little girl’s present abode.”

Barnet glanced toward the speaker. The rays from a neighbouring lamp struck through the drizzle under Charlson’s umbrella, so as just to illumine his face against the shade behind, and show that his eye was turned up under the outer corner of its lid, whence it leered with impish jocoseness as he thrust his tongue into his cheek.

“Come,” said Barnet, gravely, “we’ll have no more of that.”

“No, no — of course not,” Charlson hastily answered, seeing that his humor had carried him too far, as it had done many times before. He was profuse in his apologies, but Barnet did not reply. Of one thing he was certain — that scandal was a plant of quickroot, and that he was bound to obey Lucy’s injunction for Lucy’s own sake.

III

He did so to the letter; and though, as the crocus followed the snow-drop and the daffodil the crocus in Lucy’s garden, the harbor-road was a not unpleasant place to walk in, Barnet’s feet never trod its stones, much less approached her door. He avoided a saunter that way as he would have avoided a dangerous dram and took his airings along distance northward, among severely square and brown plowed fields, where no other townsman came. Sometimes he went round by the lower lanes of the borough, where the rope-walks stretched in which his family formerly had share, and looked at the rope-makers walking backward, overhung by apple-trees and bushes, and intruded on by cows and calves, as if trade had established itself there at considerable inconvenience to Nature.

One morning, when the sun was so warm as to raise a steam from the southeastern slopes of those flanking hills that looked so lovely above the old roofs, but made every low-chimneyed house in the town as smoky as Tophet, Barnet glanced from the windows of the town-council room for lack of interest in what was proceeding within. Several members of the corporation were present, but there was not much business doing, and in a few minutes Downe came leisurely across to him, saying that he seldom saw Barnet now.

Barnet owned that he was not often present.

Downe looked at the crimson curtain which hung down beside the panes, reflecting its hot hues into their faces, and then out of the window. At that moment the repassed along the street a tall, commanding lady, in whom the solicitor recognized Barnet’s wife. Barnet had done the same thing, and turned away.

“It will be all right some day,” said Downe, with cheering sympathy. “You have heard, then, of her last outbreak?”

Downe depressed his cheerfulness to its very reverse in a moment. “No, I have not heard of anything serious,” he said, with as long a face as one naturally round could be turned into at short notice. “I only hear vague reports of such things.”

“You may think it will be all right,” said Barnet, dryly; “but I have a different opinion...No, Downe, we must look the thing in the face. Not poppy nor mandragora — however, how are your wife and children?”

Downe said that they were all well, thanks; they were out that morning somewhere; he was just looking to see if they were walking that way. Ah, there they were, just coming down the street, and Downe pointed to the figures of two children with a nurse-maid and a lady walking behind them.

“You will come out and speak to her?” he asked.

“Not this morning. The fact is, I don’t care to speak to anybody just now.”

“You are too sensitive, Mr. Barnet. At school I remember you used to get as red as a rose if anybody uttered a word that hurt your feelings.”

Barnet mused. “Yes,” he admitted, “there is a grain of truth in that. It is because of that I often try to make peace at home. Life would be tolerable then at any rate, even if not particularly bright.”

“I have thought more than once of proposing a little plan to you,” said Downe, with some hesitation. “I don’t know whether it will meet your views; but take it or leave it, as you choose. In fact, it was my wife who suggested it; that she would be very glad to call on Mrs. Barnet aid get into her confidence. She seems to think that Mrs. Barnet is rather alone in the town, and without advisers. Her impression is that your wife will listen to reason. Emily has a wonderful way of winning the hearts of people of her own sex.”

“And of the other sex too, I think. She is a charming woman, and you were a lucky fellow to find her.”

“Well, perhaps I was,” simpered Downe, trying to wear an aspect of being the last man in the world to feel pride. “However, she will be likely to find out what ruffles Mrs.Barnet. Perhaps it is some misunderstanding, you know — something that she is too proud to ask you to explain, or some little thing in your conduct that irritates her because she does not fully comprehend you. The truth is, Emily would have been more ready to make advances if she bad been quite sure of her fitness for Mrs. Barnet’s society, who has of course been accustomed to London people of good position, which made Emily fearful of intruding.”

Barnet expressed his warmest thanks for the well-intentioned proposition. There was reason in Mrs. Downe’s fear — that be owned. “But do let her call,” he said. “There is no woman in England I would so soon trust on such an errand. I am afraid there willnot be any brilliant result; still, I shall take it as the kindest and nicest thing if she will tryit, and not be frightened at a repulse.”

When Barnet and Downe had parted the former went to the town savings-bank, of which he was a trustee, and endeavored to forget his troubles in the contemplation of low sums of money and figures in a network of red and blue lines. He sat and watched the working-people making their deposits, to which at intervals he signed his name. Before he left in the afternoon Downe put his head inside the door.

“Emily has seen Mrs. Barnet,” he said, in a low voice. “She has got Mrs. Barnet’s promise to take her for a drive down to the shore to-morrow, if it is fine. Good-afternoon!”

Barnet shook Downe by the hand without speaking, and Downe went away.

IV

The next day was as fine as the arrangement could possibly require. As the sun passed the meridian and declined westward, the tall shadows from the scaffold-poles of Barnet’s rising residence streaked the ground as far as to the middle of the highway. Barnet himself was there inspecting the progress of the works for the first time during several weeks. A building in an old-fashioned town five-and-thirty years ago did not, as in the modern fashion rise from the sod like a booth at a fair. The foundations and lower courses were put in and allowed to settle for many weeks before the superstructure was built up, and a whole summer of drying was hardly sufficient to do justice to the important issues involved. Barnet stood within a window-niche which had as yet received no frame, and thence looked down a slope in to the road. The wheels of a chaise were heard, and then his handsome Xanthippe, in the company of Mrs. Downe, drove past on her way to the shore. They were driving slowly; there was a pleasing light in Mrs. Downe’s face, which seemed faintly to reflect itself upon the countenance of her companion — that politessedu coeur which was so natural to her having possibly begun already to work results. But whatever the situation, Barnet resolved not to interfere, or do anything to hazard the glory of the day. He might well afford to trust the issue to another when he could never direct it but to ill himself. His wife’s clinched rein-hand in its lemon-coloured glove, her stiff, erect figure, clad in velvet and lace, and her boldly outlined face, passed on, exhibiting their owner as one fixed forever above the level of her companion — socially by her early breeding, and materially by her higher cushion.

Barnet decided to allow them a proper time to themselves, and then stroll down to the shore and drive them home. After lingering on at the house for another hour, he started with this intention. A few hundred yards below “Chateau Ringdale” stood the cottage in which the late lieutenant’s daughter had her lodging. Barnet had not been so far that way for a long time, and as he approached the forbidden ground a curious warmth passed into him, which led him to perceive that, unless he were careful, he might have to fight the battle with himself about Lucy over again. A tenth of his present excuse would, however, have justified him in traveling by that road to-day.

He came opposite the dwelling, and turned his eyes for a momentary glance into the little garden that stretched from the palings to the door. Lucy was in the enclosure; she was walking and stooping to gather some flowers, possibly for the purpose of painting them, for she moved about quickly, as if anxious to save time. She did not see him; he might have passed unnoticed; but a sensation which was not in strict unison with his previous sentiments that day led him to pause in his walk and watch her. She went nimbly round and round the beds of anemones, tulips, jonquils, polyanthuses and other old-fashioned flowers, looking a very charming figure in her half-mourning bonnet, and with an incomplete nosegay in her left hand. Raising herself to pull down a lilac-blossom, she observed him.

“Mr. Barnet!” she said, innocently smiling. “Why, I have been thinking of you many times since your pony-carriage went by, and now here you are!”

“Yes, Lucy,” he said.

Then she seemed to recall particulars of their last meeting, and he believed that she flushed, though it might have been only the fancy of his own supersensitiveness.

“I am going to the harbor,” he added.

“Are you?” Lucy remarked, simply. A great many people begin to go there, now the summer is drawing on.”

Her face had come more into his view as she spoke, and he noticed how much thinner and paler it was than when he had seen it last, “Lucy, how weary you look! tell me, can I help you?” he was going to cry out. “If I do,” he thought, “it will be the ruin of us both.” He merely said that the afternoon was fine, and went on his way.

As he went a sudden blast of air came over the hill as if in contradiction to his words, and spoiled the previous quiet of the scene. The wind had already shifted violently, and now smelled of the sea.

The harbor-road soon began to justify its name. A gap appeared in the rampart of hills which shut out the sea, and on the left of the opening rose a vertical cliff coloured a burning orange by the sunlight, the companion cliff on the right being livid in shade. Between these cliffs, like the Libyan bay which sheltered the shipwrecked Trojans, was a little haven, seemingly a beginning made by Nature herself of a perfect harbor, which appealed to the passer-by as only requiring a little human industry to finish it and make it famous, the ground on each side as far back as the daisied slopes that bounded the interior valley being a mere layer of blown sand. But the Port-Bredy burgesses a mile inland had, in the course of ten centuries, responded many times to that mute appeal, with the result that the tides had invariably choked up their works with sand and shingle as soon as completed. There were but few houses here: a rough pier, a few boats, some stores, an inn, a residence or two, a ketch unloading in the harbor, were the chief features of the settlement. On the open ground by the shore stood his wife’s pony-carriage, empty, the boy in attendance holding the horse.

When Barnet drew nearer he saw an indigo-coloured spot moving swiftly along beneath the radiant base of the eastern cliff, which proved to be a man in a jersey, running with all his might. He held up his hand to Barnet, as it seemed, and they approached each other. ‘The man was local, but a stranger to him.

“What is it, my man?” said Barnet.

“A terrible calamity!” the boatman hastily explained. Two ladies had been capsized in a boat — they were Mrs. Downe and Mrs. Barnet, of the old town; they had driven down there that afternoon; they had alighted; and it was so fine that, after walking about a little while, they had been tempted to go out for a short sail round the cliff. Justas they were putting into the shore the wind shifted with a sudden gust, the boat listed over, and it was thought they were both drowned. How it could have happened was beyond his mind to fathom, for John Green knew how to sail a boat as well as any man there.

“Which is the way to the place?” said Barnet.

It was just round the cliff.

“Run to the carriage, and tell the boy to bring it to the place as soon as you can. Then go to the Harbor Inn and tell them to ride to town for a doctor. Have they been got out of the water?”

“One lady has.”

“Which?”

“Mrs. Barnet. Mrs. Downe, it is feared, has fleeted out to sea.

Barnet ran on to that part of the shore which the cliff had hitherto obscured from his view, and there discerned, a long way ahead, a group of fishermen standing. As soon as he came up one or two recognized him, and, not liking to meet his eye, turned aside with misgiving. He went amid them and saw a small sailing-boat lying draggled at the water’s edge; and, on the sloping shingle beside it, a soaked and sandy woman’s form in the velvet dress and yellow gloves of his wife.

V

All had been done that could be done. Mrs. Barnet was in her own house under medical hands, but the result was still uncertain. Barnet had acted as if devotion to his wife were the dominant passion of his existence. There had been much to decide — whether to attempt restoration of the apparently lifeless body as it lay on the shore, whether to carry her to the Harbor Inn, whether to drive with her at once to his own house. The first course, with no skilled help or appliances near at hand, had seemed hopeless. The second course would have occupied nearly as much time as a drive to the town, owing to the intervening ridges of shingle and the necessity of crossing the harbor by boat to get to the house, added to which much time must have elapsed before a doctor could have arrived down there. By bringing her home in the carriage some precious moments had slipped by; but she had been laid in her own bed in seven minutes, a doctor called to her side, and every possible restorative brought to bear upon her.

At what a tearing pace he had driven up that road through the yellow evening sunlight, the shadows flapping irksomely into his eyes as each wayside object rushed past between him and the west. Tired workmen with their baskets at their backs had turned on their homeward journey to wonder at his speed. Half-way between the shore and Port-Bredy town he had met Charlson, who had been the first surgeon to hear of the accident. He was accompanied by his assistant in a gig. Barnet had sent on the latter to the coast in case that Downe’s poor wife should by that time have been reclaimed from the waves, and had brought Charlson back with him to the house.

Barnet’s presence was not needed here, and he felt it to be his next duty to setoff at once and find Downe, that no other than himself might break the news to him.

He was quite sure that no chance had been lost for Mrs. Downe by his leaving the shore. By the time that Mrs. Barnet had been laid in the carriage, a much larger group had assembled to lend assistance in finding her friend, rendering his own help superfluous. But the duty of breaking the news was made doubly painful by the circumstance that the catastrophe which had befallen Mrs. Downe was solely the result of her own and her husband’s loving-kindness toward himself.

He found Downe in his office. When the solicitor comprehended the intelligence he turned pale, stood up, and remained for a moment perfectly still, as if bereft of his faculties; then his shoulders heaved, he pulled out his handkerchief and began to cry like a child. His sobs might have been heard in the next room. He seemed to have no idea of going to the shore, or of doing anything; but when Barnet took him gently by the hand, and proposed to start at once, he quietly acquiesced, neither uttering any further word nor making any effort to repress his tears.

Barnet accompanied him to the shore, where, finding that no trace had as yet been seen of Mrs. Downe, and that his stay would be of no avail, he left Downe with his friends and the young doctor and once more hastened back to his own house.

At the door he met Charlson. “Well?” Barnet said.

“I have just come down,” said the doctor; “we have done everything, but without result. I sympathize with you in your bereavement.”

Barnet did not much appreciate Charlson’s sympathy, which sounded to his ears as something of a mockery from the lips of a man who knew what Charlson knew about their domestic relations, indeed there seemed an odd spark in Charlson’s full black eye as he said the words; but that might have been imaginary.

“And, Mr. Barnet,” Charlson resumed, “that little matter between us — I hope to settle it finally in three weeks at least.”

“Never mind that now, said Barnet, abruptly. He directed the surgeon to go to the harbor in case his services might even now be necessary there; and himself entered the house.

The servants were coming from his wife’s chamber, looking helplessly at one another and at him. He passed them by and entered the room, where he stood mutely regarding the bed for a few minutes, after which he walked into his own dressing-room adjoining, and there paced up and down. In a minute or two he noticed what a strange and total silence had come over the upper part of the house; his own movements, muffled as they were by the carpet, seemed noisy; and his thoughts to disturb the air like articulate utterances. His eye glanced through the window. Far down the road to the harbor a roof detained his gaze; out of it rose a red chimney, and out of the red chimney a curl of smoke, as from a fire newly kindled. He had often seen such a sight before. In that house lived Lucy Savile, and the smoke was from the fire which was regularly lighted at this time to make her tea.

After that he went back to the bedroom, and stood there some time regarding his wife’s silent form. She was a woman some years older than himself, but had not by any means over passed the maturity of good looks and vigor. Her passionate features, well-defined, firm, and statuesque in life, were doubly so now; her mouth and brow, beneath her purplish black hair, showed only too clearly that the turbulency of character which had made a bear-garden of his house had been no temporary phase of her existence. While he reflected, he suddenly said to himself, “I wonder if all has been done?”

The thought was led up to by his having fancied that his wife’s features lacked incomplete form the expression which he had been accustomed to associate with the faces of those whose spirits have fled forever. The effacement of life was not so marked but that, entering uninformed, he might have supposed her sleeping. Her complexion was that seen in the numerous faded portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds; it was pallid in comparison with life, but there was visible on a close inspection the remnant of what had once been a flush; the keeping between the cheeks and the hollows of the face being thus preserved, although positive colour was gone. Long orange rays of evening sun stole in through chinks in the blind, striking on the large mirror, and being thence reflected upon the crimson hangings and wood-work of the heavy bedstead, so that the general tone of light was remarkably warm; and it was probable that something might be due to this circumstance. Still the fact impressed him as strange. Charlson had been gone more than a quarter of an hour; could it be possible that he had left too soon, and that his attempts to restore her had operated so sluggishly as only now to have made themselves felt? Barnet laid his hand upon her chest, and fancied that ever and anon a faint flutter of palpitation, gentle as that of a butterfly’s wing, disturbed the stillness there — ceasing for a time, then struggling to goon, then breaking down in weakness and ceasing again.

Barnet’s mother had been an active practitioner of the healing art among her poorer neighbours, and her inspirations had all been derived from an active volume of Domestic Medicine, which at this moment was lying, as it had lain for many years, on a shelf in Barnet’s dressing-room. He hastily fetched it, and there read, under the head “Drowning”:

“Exertions for the recovery of any person who has not been immersed for a longer period than half an hour should be continued for at least four hours, as there have been many cases in which returning life has made itself visible even after a longer interval.

“Should, however, a weak action of any of the organs show itself when the case seems almost hopeless, our efforts must be redoubled; the feeble spark in this case requires to be solicited; it will certainly disappear under a relaxation of labour.”

Barnet looked at his watch; it was now barely two hours and a half from the time when he had first heard of the accident. He threw aside the book, and turned quickly to reach a stimulant which had previously been used. Pulling up the blind for more light, his eye glanced out of the window.

There he saw that red chimney still smoking cheerily, and that roof, and through the roof that somebody. His mechanical movements stopped, his hand remained on the blind-cord, and he seemed to become breathless, as if he had suddenly found himself treading a high rope.

While he stood a sparrow lighted on the window-sill, saw him, and flew away. Next a man and a dog walked over one of the green hills which bulged above the roofsof the town. But Barnet took no notice.

We may wonder what were the exact images that passed through his mind during those minutes of gazing upon Lucy Savile’s house, the sparrow, the man and the dog, and Lucy Savile’s house again. There are honest men who will not admit to their thoughts, even as idle hypotheses, views of the future that assume as done a deed which they would recoil from doing; and there are other honest men for whom morality ends at the surface of their own heads, who will deliberate what the first will not so much as suppose. Barnet had a wife whose presence distracted his home; she now lay as in death; by merely doing nothing — by letting the intelligence which had gone forth to the world lie undisturbed — he would effect such a deliverance for himself as he had never hoped for, and open up an opportunity of which till now he had never dreamed. Whether the conjuncture had arisen through any unscrupulous, ill-considered impulse of Charlson to help out of a strait the friend who was so kind as never to press him for what was due could not be told; there was nothing to prove it; and it was a question which could never be asked. The triangular situation — himself, his wife, Lucy Savile – was the one clear thing.

From Barnet’s actions we may infer that he supposed such and such a result for a moment, but did not deliberate. He withdrew his hazel eyes from the scene without, calmly turned, rang the bell for assistance, and vigorously exerted himself to learn if life still lingered in that motionless frame. In a short time another surgeon was in attendance, and then Barnet’s surmise, proved to be true. The slow life timidly heaved again; but much care and patience were needed to catch and retain it, and a considerable period elapsed before it could be said with certainty that Mrs. Barnet lived. When this was the case, and there was no further room for doubt, Barnet left the chamber. The blue evening smoke from Lucy’s chimney had died down to an imperceptible stream, and as he walked about downstairs he murmured to himself, “My wife was dead, and she is alive again.”

It is not so with Downe. After three hours’ immersion his wife’s body had been recovered, life, of course, being quite extinct. Barnet, on descending, went straight to his friend’s house, and there learned the result. Downe was helpless in his wild grief, occasionally even hysterical. Barnet said little, but finding that some guiding hand was necessary in the sorrow-stricken household, took upon him to supervise and manage till Downe should be in a state of mind to do so for himself.

VI

One September evening, four months later, when Mrs. Barnet was in perfect health, and Mrs. Downe but a weakening memory, an errand-boy paused to rest himself in front of Mr. Barnet’s old house, depositing his basket on one of the window-sills. The street was not yet lighted, but there were lights in the house, and at intervals a flitting shadow fell upon the blind at his elbow. Words, also, were audible from the same apartment, and they seemed to be those of persons in violent altercation. But the boy could not gather their purport, and he went on his way.

Ten minutes afterward the door of Barnet’s house opened, and a tall, closely veiled lady in a traveling-dress came out and descended the freestone steps. The servant stood in the doorway watching her as she went with a measured tread down the street. When she had been out of sight for some minutes Barnet appeared at the door from within.

“Did your mistress leave word where she was going?” he asked.

“No, sir.”

“Is the carriage ordered to meet her anywhere?”

“No, sir.”

“Did she take a latch-key?”

“No, sir.”

Barnet went in again, sat down in his chair, and leaned back. Then in solitude and silence he brooded over the bitter emotions that filled his heart. It was for this that he had gratuitously restored her to life, and made his union with another impossible! The evening drew on, and nobody came to disturb him. At bedtime he told the servants to retire, that he would sit up for Mrs. Barnet himself; and when they were gone he leaned his head upon his hand and mused for hours.

The clock struck one, two; still his wife came not, and, with impatience added to depression, he went from room to room till another weary hour had passed. This was not altogether a new experience for Barnet; but she had never before so prolonged her absence. At last he sat down again and fell asleep.

He awoke at six o’clock to find that she had not returned. In searching about the rooms he discovered that she had taken a case of jewels which had been hers before her marriage. At eight a note was brought him; it was from his wife, in which she stated that she had gone by the coach to the house of a distant relative near London, and expressed a wish that certain boxes, articles of clothing, and so on, might be sent to her forthwith. The note was brought to him by a waiter at the Black Bull Hotel, and had been written by Mrs. Barnet immediately before she took her place in the stage.

By the evening this order was carried out, and Barnet, with a sense of relief, walked out into the town. A fair had been held during the day, and the large clear moon which rose over the most prominent hill flung its light upon the booths and standings that still remained in the street, mixing its rays curiously with those from the flaring naphtha lamps. The town was full of country-people who had come in to enjoy themselves, and on this account Barnet strolled through the streets unobserved. With a certain recklessness he made for the harbor-road, and presently found himself by the shore, where he walked on till he came to the spot near which his friend the kindly Mrs. Downe had lost her life, and his own wife’s life had been preserved. A tremulous pathway of bright moonshine now stretched over the water, which had ingulfed them, and not a living soul was near.

Here he ruminated on their characters, and next on the young girl in whom he now took a more sensitive interest than at the time when he had been free to marry her. Nothing, so far as he was aware, had ever appeared in his own conduct to show that such an interest existed. He had made it a point of the utmost strictness to hinder that feeling from influencing in the faintest degree his attitude toward his wife; and this was made all the more easy for him by the small demand Mrs. Barnet made upon his attentions, for which she ever evinced the greatest contempt; thus unwittingly giving him the satisfaction of knowing that their severance owed nothing to jealousy, or, indeed, to any personal behavior of his at all. Her concern was not with him or his feelings, as she frequently told him; but that she had, in a moment of weakness, thrown herself away upon a common burgher when she might have aimed at, and possibly brought down, a peer of the realm. Her frequent depreciation of Barnet in these terms had at times been so intense that he was sorely tempted to retaliate on her egotism by owning that he loved at the same low level on which he lived; but prudence had prevailed, for which he was now thankful.

Something seemed to sound upon the shingle behind him over and above the raking of the wave. He looked round, and a slight girlish shape appeared quite close to him. He could not see her face because it was in the direction of the moon.

“Mr. Barnet?” the rambler said, in timid surprise. The voice was the voice of Lucy Savile.

“Yes,” said Barnet. “How can I repay you for this pleasure?”

“I only came because the night was so clear. I am now on my way home. “

“I am glad we have met. I want to know if you will let me do something for you, to give me an occupation, as an idle man? I am sure I ought to help you, for I know you are almost without friends.

She hesitated. “Why should you tell me that?” she said.

“In the hope that you will be frank with me.”

“I am not altogether without friends here. But I am going to make a little change in my life — to go out as a teacher of free-hand drawing and practical perspective, of course I mean on a comparatively humble scale, because I have not been specially educated for that profession. But I am sure I shall like it much.”

“You have an opening?”

“I have not exactly got it, but I have advertised for one.”

“Lucy, you must let me help you!”

“Not at all.”

“You need not think it would compromise you, or that I am indifferent to delicacy. I bear in mind how we stand. It is very unlikely that you will succeed as teacher of the class you mention, so let me do something of a different kind for you. Say what you would like, and it shall be done.”

“No; if I can’t be a drawing-mistress or governess, or something of that sort, I shall go to India and join my brother.”

“I wish I could go abroad, anywhere, everywhere with you, Lucy, and leave this place and its associations forever!”

She played with the end of her bonnet-string, and hastily turned aside. “Don’t ever touch upon that kind of topic again,” she said, with a quick severity not free from anger. “It simply makes it impossible for me to see you, much less receive any guidance from you. No, thank you, Mr. Barnet; you can do nothing for me at present; and as I suppose my uncertainty will end in my leaving for India, I fear you never will. If ever I think you can do anything, I will take the trouble to ask you, Till then, good-by.”

The tone of her latter words was equivocal, and while he remained in doubt whether a gentle irony was or was not inwrought with their sound, she swept lightly round and left him alone. He saw her form get smaller and smaller along the damp belt of sea-sand between ebb and flood; and when she had vanished round the cliff into the harbor-road, he himself followed in the same direction.

That her hopes from an advertisement should be the single thread which held Lucy Savile in England was too much for Barnet. On reaching the town he went straight to the residence of Downe, now a widower with four children. The young motherless brood had been sent to bed about a quarter of an hour earlier, and when Barnet entered he found Downe sitting alone. It was the same room as that from which the family had been looking out for Downe at the beginning of the year, when Downe had slipped into the gutter and his wife had been so enviably tender toward him. The old neatness had gone from the house; articles lay in places which could show no reason for their presence, as if momentarily deposited there some months ago, and forgotten ever since; there were no flowers; things were jumbled together on the furniture which should have been in cupboards; and the place in general had that stagnant, unrenovated air which usually pervades the maimed home of the widower.

Downe soon renewed his customary full-worded lament over his wife, and even when he had worked himself up to tears, went on volubly, as if a listener were a luxury to be enjoyed whenever he could be caught.

“She was a treasure beyond compare, Mr. Barnet! I shall never see such another. Nobody now to nurse me — nobody to console me in those daily troubles, you know, Barnet, which make consolation so necessary to a nature like mine. It would be unbecoming to repine, for her spirit’s home was elsewhere — the tender light in her eyes always showed it; but it is a long dreary time that I have before me, and nobody else can ever fill the void left in my heart by her loss — nobody — nobody!” And Downe wiped his eyes again.

“She was a good woman in the highest sense,” gravely answered Barnet, who, though Downe’s words drew genuine compassion from his heart, could not help feeling that a tender reticence would have been a finer tribute to Mrs. Downe’s really sterling virtues than such a second-class lament as this.

“I have something to show you,” Downe resumed, producing from a drawer a sheet of paper on which was an elabourate design for a canopied tomb. “This has been sent me by the architect, but it is not exactly what I want.

“You have got Jones to do it, I see, the man who is carrying out my house,” said Barnet, as he glanced at the signature to the drawing.

“Yes, but it is not quite what I want. I want something more striking — more like a tomb I have seen in St. Paul’s Cathedral. Nothing less will do justice to my feelings, and how far short of them, that will fall!”

Barnet privately thought the design a sufficiently imposing one as it stood, even extravagantly ornate; but, feeling that he had no right to criticism, he said, gently, “Downe, should you not live more in your children’s lives at the present time, and soften the sharpness of regret for your own past by thinking of their future?”

“Yes, yes; but what can I do more?” asked Downe, wrinkling his forehead hopelessly.

It was with anxious slowness that Barnet produced his reply — the secret object of his visit tonight. “Did you not say one day that you ought by rights to get a governess for the children?”

Downe admitted that he had said so, but that he could not see his way to it. “The kind of woman I should like to have,” he said, “would be rather beyond my means. No; I think I shall send them to school in the town when they are old enough to go out alone.

“Now I know of something better than that. The late Lieutenant Savile’s daughter, Lucy, wants to do something for herself in the way of teaching. She would be inexpensive, and would answer your purpose as well as anybody for six or twelvemonths. She would probably come daily if you were to ask her, and so your house-keeping arrangements would not be much affected.”

“I thought she had gone away,” said the solicitor, musing. “Where does she live?”

Barnet told him, and added that, if Downe should think of her as suitable, he would do well to call as soon as possible or she might be on the wing. “If you do see her,” he said, “it would be advisable not to mention my name. She is rather stiff in her ideas of me, and it might prejudice her against a course if she knew that I recommended it.”

Downe promised to give the subject his consideration, and nothing more was said about it just then. But when Barnet rose to go, which was not till nearly bedtime, he reminded Downe of the suggestion, and went up the street to his own solitary home with a sense of satisfaction at his promising diplomacy in a charitable cause.

VII

The walls of his new house were carried up nearly to their full height. By a curious though not infrequent reaction, Barnet’s feelings about that unnecessary structure had undergone a change; he took considerable interest in its progress as a long-neglected thing, his wife before her departure having grown quite weary of it as a hobby. Moreover, it was an excellent distraction for a man in the unhappy position of having to live in a provincial town with nothing to do. He was probably the first of his line who had ever passed a day without toil, and perhaps something like an inherited instinct disqualifies such men for a life of pleasant inaction, such as lies in the power of those whose leisure is not a personal accident, but a vast historical accretion which has become part of their natures.

Thus Barnet got into a way of spending many of his leisure hours on the site of the new building, and he might have been seen on most days at this time trying the temper of the mortar by punching the joints with his stick, looking at the grain of a floor-board, and meditating where it grew or picturing under what circumstances the last fire would be kindled in the at present sootless chimney. One day when thus occupied he saw three children pass by in the company of a fair young woman whose sudden appearance caused him to flush perceptibly.

“Ah, she is there,” he thought. “That’s a blessed thing.”

Casting an interested glance over the rising building and the busy workmen, Lucy Savile and the little Downes passed by; and after that time it became a regular though almost unconscious custom of Barnet to stand in the half-completed house and look from the ungarnished windows at the governess as she tripped toward the sea-shore with her young charges, which she was in the habit of doing on most fine afternoons. It was on one of these occasions, when he had been loitering on the first-floor landing, near the hole left for the staircase, not yet erected, that there appeared above the edge of the floor a little hat, followed by a little head.

Barnet withdrew through a doorway, and the child came to the top of the ladder, stepping on to the floor and crying to her sisters and Miss Savile to follow. Another head rose above the floor, and another, and then Lucy herself came into view. The troop ran hither and thither through the empty, shaving-strewn rooms, and Barnet came forward.

Lucy uttered a small exclamation; she was very sorry that she had intruded; she had not the least idea that Mr. Barnet was there; the children had come up, and she had followed.

Barnet replied that he was only too glad to see them there. “And now, let me show you the rooms,” he said.

She passively assented, and he took her round. There was not much to show insuch a bare skeleton of a house, but he made the most of it, and explained the different ornamental fittings that were soon to be fixed here and there. Lucy made but few remarks in reply, though she seemed pleased with her visit, and stole away down the ladder, followed by her companions.

After this the new residence became yet more of a hobby for Barnet. Downe’s children did not forget their first visit, and when the windows were glazed, and the handsome staircase spread its broad low steps into the hall, they came again, prancing in unwearied succession through every room from ground-floor to attics, while Lucy stood waiting for them at the door. Barnet, who rarely missed a day in coming to inspect progress, stepped out from the drawing-room.

“I could not keep them out,” she said, with an apologetic blush. “I tried to do so very much; but they are rather willful, and we are directed to walk this way for the sea air.”

“Do let them make the house their regular play-ground, and you yours,” said Barnet. “There is no better place for children to romp and take their exercise in than an empty house, particularly in muddy or damp weather, such as we shall get a good deal of now; and this place will not be furnished for a long, long time — perhaps never. I am not at all decided about it.”

“Oh, but it must!” replied Lucy, looking round at the hall. “The rooms are excellent, twice as high as ours; and the views from the windows are so lovely.”

“I dare say — I dare say,” he said, absently.

“Will all the furniture be new?” she asked.

“All the furniture be new — that’s a thing I have not thought of. In fact, I only come here and look on. My father’s house would have been large enough for me, but another person had a voice in the matter, and it was settled that we should build. However, the place grows upon me; its recent associations are cheerful, and I am getting to like it fast.”

A certain uneasiness in Lucy’s manner showed that the conversation was taking too personal a turn for her. “Still, as modern tastes develop, people require more room to gratify them in,” she said, withdrawing to call the children; and serenely bidding him good-afternoon, she went on her way.

Barnet’s life at this period was singularly lonely, and yet he was happier than he could have expected. His wife’s estrangement and absence, which promised to be permanent, left him free as a boy in his movements, and the solitary walks that he took gave him ample opportunity for chastened reflection on what might have been his lot if he had only shown wisdom enough to claim Lucy Savile when there was no bar between their lives, and she was to be had for the asking. He would occasionally call at the house of his friend Downe; but there was scarcely enough in common between their two natures to make them more than friends of that excellent sort whose personal knowledge of each other’s history and character is always in excess of intimacy, whereby they are not so likely to be severed by a clash of sentiment as in cases where intimacy springs up in excess of knowledge. Lucy was never visible at these times, being either engaged in the schoolroom, or in taking an airing out-of-doors; but, knowing that she was now comfortable, and had given up the, to him, depressing idea of going off to the other side of the globe, he was quite content.

The new house had so far progressed that the gardeners were beginning to grass down the front. During an afternoon which he was passing in marking the curve for the carriage-drive, he beheld her coming in boldly toward him from the road. Hitherto Barnet had only caught her on the premises by stealth, and this advance seemed to show that at last her reserve had broken down.

A smile gained strength upon her face as she approached, and it was quite radiant when she came up, and said, without a trace of embarrassment, “I find I owe you a hundred thanks — and it comes to me quite as a surprise! It was through your kindness that I was engaged by Mr. Downe. Believe me, Mr. Barnet, I did not know it until yesterday, or I should have thanked you long and long ago!”

“I had offended you — just a trifle — at the time, I think?” said Barnet, smiling, “and it was best that you should not know.”

“Yes, yes,” she returned, hastily. “Don’t allude to that; it is past and over, and we will let it be. The house is finished almost, is it not? How beautiful it will look when the evergreens are grown! Do you call the style Palladian, Mr. Barnet?

“I — really don’t quite know what it is. Yes, it must be Palladian, certainly. But I’ll ask Jones, the architect; for, to tell the truth, I had not thought much about the style; Ihad nothing to do with choosing it, I am sorry to say.”

She would not let him harp on this gloomy refrain, and talked on bright matters till she said, producing a small roll of paper which he had noticed in her hand all the while, “Ah. Downe wished me to bring you this revised drawing of the late Mrs. Downe’s tomb, which the architect has just sent him, He would like you to look it over.

The children came up with their hoops, and she went off with them down the harbor-road as usual. Barnet had been glad to get those words of thanks; he had been thinking for many months that he would like her to know of his share in finding her a home, such as it was; and what he could not do for himself Downe had now kindly done for him. He returned to his desolate house with a lighter tread; though in reason he hardly knew why his tread should be light.

On examining the drawing, Barnet found that, instead of the vast altar-tomb and canopy Downe had determined on at their last meeting, it was to be a more modest memorial even than had been suggested by the architect; a coped tomb of good solid construction, with no useless elabouration at all. Barnet was truly glad to see that Downe had come to reason of his own accord; and he returned the drawing with a note of approval.

He followed up the house-work as before, and as he walked up and down the rooms, occasionally gazing from the windows over the bulging green hills and the quiet harbor that lay between them, he murmured words and fragments of words which, if listened to, would have revealed all the secrets of his existence. Whatever his reason in going there, Lucy did not call again; the walk to the shore seemed to be abandoned; he must have thought it as well for both that it should be so, for he did not go anywhere out of his accustomed ways to endeavor to discover her.

VIII

The winter and the spring had passed, and the house was complete. It was a fine morning in the early part of June, and Barnet, though not in the habit of rising early, had taken a long walk before breakfast, returning by way of the new building. A sufficiently exciting cause of his restlessness to-day might have been the intelligence which had reached him the night before, that Lucy Savile was going to India after all, and notwithstanding the representations of her friends that such a journey was unadvisable in many ways for an unpracticed girl, unless some more definite advantage lay at the end of it than she could show to be the case. Barnet’s walk up the slope to the building betrayed that he was in a dissatisfied mood. He hardly saw that the dewy time of day lent an unusual freshness to the bushes and trees which had so recently put on their summer habit of heavy leafage, and made his newly-laid lawn look as well established as an old manorial meadow. The house had been so adroitly placed between six tall elms, which were growing on the site beforehand, that they seemed like real ancestral trees; and the rooks, young and old, cawed melodiously to their visitor.

The door was not locked, and he entered, No workmen appeared to be present, and he walked from sunny window to sunny window of the empty rooms, with a sense of seclusion which might have been very pleasant but for the antecedent knowledge that his almost paternal care of Lucy Savile was to be thrown away by her willfulness. Footsteps echoed through an adjoining room; and bending his eyes in that direction, he perceived Mr. Jones, the architect. He had come to look over the building before giving the contractor his final certificate. They walked over the house together. Everything was finished except the papering; there were the latest improvements of the period in bell-hanging, ventilating, smoke-jacks, fire-grates, and French windows. The business was soon ended, and Jones, having directed Barnet’s attention to a roll of wall-paper patterns which lay on a bench for his choice, was leaving to keep another engagement, when Barnet said: “Is the tomb finished yet for Mrs. Downe?”

“Well, yes; it is at last,” said the architect, coming back and speaking as if he were in a mood to make a confidence. “I have had no end of trouble in the matter, and, to tell the truth, I am heartily glad it is over.”

Barnet expressed his surprise. “I thought poor Downe had given up those extravagant notions of his? Then he has gone back to the altar and canopy, after all? Well, he is to be excused, poor fellow!”

“Oh no, he has not at all gone back to them — quite the reverse,” Jones hastened to say. “He has so reduced design after design that the whole thing has been nothing but waste labour for me; till in the end it has become a common head-stone, which a mason put up in half a day.

“A common head-stone?” said Barnet.

“Yes. I held out for some time for the addition of a foot-stone at least. But he said: ‘Oh no, he couldn’t afford it.”

“Ah, well, his family is growing up, poor fellow, and his expenses are getting serious.”

“Yes, exactly,” said Jones, as if the subject were none of his. And again directing Barnet’s attention to the wall-papers, the bustling architect left him to keep some other engagement.

“A common head-stone,” murmured Barnet, left again to himself. He mused a minute or two, and next began looking over and selecting from the patterns; but had not long been engaged in the work when he heard another footstep on the gravel without and somebody enter the open porch.

Barnet went to the door — it was his manservant in search of him.

“I have been trying for some time to find you, sir,” he said. “This letter has come by the post, and it is marked immediate. And there’s this one from Mr. Downe, who called just now wanting to see you.” He searched his pocket for the second.

Barnet took the first letter; it had a black border, and bore the London postmark. It was not in his wife’s handwriting, or in that of any person he know; but conjecture soon ceased as he read the page, wherein he was briefly informed that Mrs. Barnet had died suddenly on the previous day, at the furnished villa she had occupied near London.

Barnet looked vaguely round the empty hall, at the blank walls, out of the doorway. Drawing a long, palpitating breath, and with eyes downcast, he turned and climbed the stairs slowly, like a man who doubted their stability. The fact of his wife having, as it were, died once already, and lived on again, had entirely dislodged the possibility of her actual death from his conjecture. He went to the landing, leaned over the balusters, and after a reverie, of whose duration he had but the faintest notion, turned to the window and stretched his gaze to the cottage further down the road, which was visible from his landing, and from which Lucy still walked to the solicitor’s house by a cross path. The faint words that came from his moving lips were simply: “At last!”

Then, almost involuntarily, Barnet fell down on his knees and murmured some incoherent words of thanksgiving. Surely his virtue in restoring his wife to life had been rewarded! But, as if the impulse struck uneasily on his conscience, he quickly rose, brushed the dust from his trousers, and set himself to think of his next movements. He could not start for London for some hours; and as he had no preparations to make that could not be made in half an hour, he mechanically descended and resumed his occupation of turning over the wall-papers. They had all got brighter for him, those papers. It was all changed; who would sit in the rooms that they were to line? He went on to muse upon Lucy’s conduct in so frequently coming to the house with the children; her occasional blush in speaking to him her evident interest in him. What woman can in the long run avoid being interested in a man whom she knows to be devoted to her? If human solicitation could ever affect anything, there should be no going to India for Lucy now. All the papers previously chosen seemed wrong in their shades, and he began from the beginning to choose again.

While entering on the task he heard a forced “Ahem!” from without the porch, evidently uttered to attract his attention, and footsteps again advancing to the door. His man, whom he had quite forgotten in his mental turmoil, was still waiting there.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” the man said from round the doorway, “but here’s the note from Mr. Downe that you didn’t take. He called just after you went out, and as he couldn’t wait, he wrote this on your study table.”

He handed in the letter — no black-bordered one now, but a practical-looking one in the well-known writing of the solicitor.

“DEAR BARNET” — it ran — “Perhaps you will be prepared for the information I am about to give — that Lucy Savile and myself are going to be married this morning. I have hitherto said nothing as to my intention to any of my friends, for reasons which I am sure you will fully appreciate. The crisis has been brought about by her expressing her intention to join her brother in India. I then discovered that I could not do without her. “It is to be quite a private wedding; but it is my particular wish that you comedown here quietly at ten, and go to church with us; it will add greatly to the pleasure I shall experience in the ceremony, and, I believe, to Lucy’s also. I have called on you very early to make the request, in the belief that I should find you at home, but you are beforehand with me in your early rising.

“Yours sincerely, C. Downe.”

“Need I wait, sir,” said the servant, after a dead silence.

“That will do, William. No answer,” said Barnet, calmly.

When the man had gone, Barnet re-read the letter. Turning eventually to the wall-papers, which he had been at such pains to select, he deliberately tore them into halves and quarters and threw them into the empty fireplace. Then he went out of the house, locked the door, and stood in the front a while. Instead of returning into the town, be went down the harbor-road and thoughtfully lingered about by the sea, near the spot where the body of Downe’s late wife had been found and brought ashore.

Barnet was a man with a rich capacity for misery, and there is no doubt that he exercised it to its fullest extent now. The events that had, as it were, dashed themselves together in one half-hour of this day showed that curious refinement of cruelty in their arrangement which often proceeds from the bosom of the whimsical god at other times known as blind Circumstance. That his few minutes of hope between the reading of the first and second letters had carried him to extraordinary heights of rapture was proved by the immensity of his suffering now. The sun blazing into his face would have showed a close watcher that a horizontal line, which he had never noticed before, but which was never to be gone thereafter, was somehow gradually forming itself in the smooth of his forehead. His eyes, of a light hazel, had a curious look which can only be described by the word bruised; the sorrow that looked from them being largely mixed with the surprise of a man taken unawares.

The secondary particulars of his present position, too, were odd enough, though for some time they appeared to engage little of his attention. Not a soul in the town knew, as yet, of his wife’s death, and he almost owed Downe the kindness of not publishing it till the day was over — the conjuncture, taken with that which had accompanied the death of Mrs. Downe, being so singular as to be quite sufficient to darken the pleasure of the impressible solicitor to a cruel extent if made known to him. But as Barnet could not set out on his journey to London, where his wife lay, for some hours (there being at this date no railway within a distance of eighty miles), no great reason existed why he should leave the town.

Impulse in all its forms characterized Barnet, and when he heard the distant clock strike the hour of ten, his feet began to carry him up the harbor-road with the manner of a man who must do something to bring himself to life. He passed Lucy Savile’s old house, his own new one, and came in view of the church. Now he gave a perceptible start, and his mechanical condition went away. Before the church-gate were a couple of carriages, and Barnet then could perceive that the marriage between Downe and Lucy was at that moment being solemnized within. A feeling of sudden, proud self-confidence, an indocile wish to walk unmoved in spite of grim environments, plainly possessed him, and when he reached the wicket-gate he turned in without apparent effort. Pacing up the paved foot-way he entered the church and stood for a while in the nave passage. A group of people was standing round the vestry door; Barnet advanced through these and stepped into the vestry.

There they were busily signing their names. Seeing Downe about to look round, Barnet averted his somewhat disturbed face for a second or two; when he turned again front to front he was calm quite smiling: it was a creditable triumph over himself, and deserved to be remembered in his native town. He greeted Downe heartily, offering his congratulations.

It seemed as if Barnet expected a half-guilty look upon Lucy’s face; but no, save the natural flush and flurry engendered by the service just performed, there was nothing whatever in her bearing which showed a disturbed mind; her gray-brown eyes carried in them now as at other times the well-known expression of common-sensed rectitude which never went so far as to touch on hardness. She shook hands with him, and Downe said, warmly: “I wish you could have come sooner; I called on purpose to ask you. You’ll drive back with us now?”

“No, no,” said Barnet; “I am not at all prepared; but I thought I would look in upon you for a moment, even though I had not time to go home and dress. I’ll stand back and see you pass out, and observe the effect of the spectacle upon myself as one of the public.”

Then Lucy and her husband laughed, and Barnet laughed and retired; and the quiet little party went gliding down the nave and toward the porch, Lucy’s new silk dress sweeping with a smart rustle round the base-moldings of the ancient font, and Downe’s little daughters following in a state of round-eyed interest in their position, and that of Lucy, their teacher and friend.

So Downe was comforted after his Emily’s death, which had taken place twelvemonths, two weeks, and three days before that time.

When the two flys had driven off and the spectators had vanished, Barnet followed to the door and went out into the sun. He took no more trouble to preserve a spruce exterior; his step was unequal, hesitating, almost convulsive; and the slight changes of colour which went on in his face seemed refracted from some inward flame. In the churchyard he became pale as a summer cloud, and finding it not easy toproceed, he sat down on one of the tombstones and supported his head with his hand.

Hard by was a sexton filling up a grave which he had not found time to finish on the previous evening. Observing Barnet, he went up to him, and recognizing him, said: “Shall I help you home, sir?”

“Oh no, thank you,” said Barnet, rousing himself and standing up. The sexton returned to his grave, followed by Barnet, who, after watching him a while, stepped into the grave, now nearly filled, and helped to tread in the earth.

The sexton apparently thought his conduct a little singular, but he made no observation, and when the grave was full, Barnet suddenly stopped, looked far away, and with a decided step proceeded to the gate and vanished. The sexton rested on his shovel and looked after him for a few moments, and then began banking up the mound.

In those short minutes of treading in the dead man Barnet had formed a design, but what it was the inhabitants of that town did not for some long time imagine. He went home, wrote several letters of business, called on his lawyer, an old man of the same place who had been the legal adviser of Barnet’s father before him, and during the evening overhauled a large quantity of letters and other documents in his possession. By eleven o’clock the heap of papers in and before Barnet’s grate had reached formidable dimensions, and he began to burn them. This, owing to their quantity, it was not so easy to do as he had expected, and he sat long into the night to complete the task.

The next morning Barnet departed for London, leaving a note for Downe to inform him of Mrs. Barnet’s sudden death, and that he was gone to bury her; but when a thrice sufficient time for that purpose had elapsed lie was not seen again in his accustomed walks, or in his new house, or in his old one. He was gone for good, nobody knew whither. It was soon discovered that he had empowered his lawyer to dispose of all his property, real and personal, in the borough, and pay in the proceeds to the account of an unknown person at one of the large London banks. The person was by some supposed to be himself under an assumed name; but few, if any, had certain knowledge of that fact.

The elegant new residence was sold with the rest of his possessions; and its purchaser was no other than Downe, now a thriving man in the borough, and one whose growing family and new wife required more roomy accommodation than was afforded by the little house up the narrow side street. Barnet’s old habitation was bought by the trustees of the Congregational Baptist body in that town, who pulled down the time-honoured dwelling and built a new chapel on its site. By the time the last hour of that, to Barnet, eventful year had chimed, every vestige of him had disappeared from the precincts of his native place, and the name became extinct in the borough of Port-Bredy, after having been a living force therein for more than two hundred years.

IX

Twenty-one years and six months do not pass without setting a mark even upon durable stone and triple brass; upon humanity such a period works nothing less than transformation. In Barnet’s old birthplace vivacious young children with bones like India-rubber had grown up, to be stable men and women, men and women had dried in the skin, stiffened, withered, and sunk into decrepitude; while selections from every class had been consigned to the outlying cemetery. Of inorganic differences the greatest was that a railway had invaded the town, tying it on to a main line at a junction a dozen miles off. Barnet’s house on the harbor-road, once so insistently new, had acquired a respectable mellowness, with ivy, Virginia creepers, lichens, damp patches, and even constitutional infirmities of its own like its elder fellows. Its architecture, once so very improved and modern, had already become stale in style, without having reached the dignity of being old-fashioned. Trees about the harbor-road had increased in circumference or disappeared under the saw; while the church had had such a tremendous practical joke played upon it by some facetious restorer or other as to be scarce recognizable by its dearest old friends.

During this long interval George Barnet had never once been seen or heard of in the town of his fathers.

It was the evening of a market-day, and some half-dozen middle-aged farmers and dairymen were lounging round the bar of the Black Bull Hotel, occasionally dropping a remark to one another, and less frequently to the two barmaids who stood within the pewter-topped counter in a perfunctory attitude of attention, these latter sighing and making a private observation to each other at odd intervals, on more interesting experiences than the present.

“Days get shorter,” said one of the dairymen, as he looked toward the street, and noticed that the lamplighter was passing by.

The farmers merely acknowledged by their countenances the propriety of this remark, and finding that nobody else spoke, one of the barmaids said “yes,” in a tone of painful duty.

“Come fair-day we shall have to light up before we start for home-along.

“That’s true,” his neighbour conceded, with a gaze of blankness.

“And after that we shan’t see much further difference all’s winter.”

The rest were not unwilling to go even so far as this.

The barmaid sighed again and raised one of her hands from the counter on which they rested to scratch the smallest surface of her face with the smallest of her fingers. She looked toward the door, and presently remarked, “I think I hear the ‘bus coming in from station.”

The eyes of the dairymen and farmers turned to the glass door dividing the hall from the porch, and in a minute or two the omnibus drove up outside. Then there was a lumbering down of luggage, and then a man came into the hall, followed by a porter with a portmanteau on his poll, which he deposited on a bench.

The stranger was on elderly person, with curly ashen-white hair, a deeply creviced outer corner to each eyelid, and a countenance baked by in-numerable suns to the colour of terra-cotta, its hue and that of his hair contrasting like heat and cold respectively. He walked meditatively and gently, like one who was fearful of disturbing his own mental equilibrium. But whatever lay at the bottom of his breast had evidently made him so accustomed to its situation there that it caused him little practical inconvenience.

He paused in silence while, with his dubious eyes fixed on the barmaids, he seemed to consider himself. In a moment or two he addressed them, and asked to be accommodated for the night. As he waited he looked curiously round the hall, but said nothing. As soon as invited he disappeared up the staircase, preceded by a chambermaid and candle, and followed by a lad with his trunk. Not a soul had recognized him.

A quarter of an hour later, when the farmers and dairymen had driven off to their homesteads in the country, he came downstairs, took a biscuit and one glass of wine, and walked out into the town, where the radiance from the shop windows had grown so in volume of late years as to flood with cheerfulness every standing cart, barrow, stall, and idler that occupied the wayside, whether shabby or genteel. His chief interest at present seemed to lie in the names painted over the shop-fronts and on doorways, as far as they were visible; these now differed to an ominous extent from what they had been one-and-twenty years before.

The traveler passed on till he came to the booksellers, where he looked in through the glass door. A fresh-faced young man was standing behind the counter; otherwise the shop was empty. The gray-haired observer entered, asked for some periodical by way of paying for his standing, and with his elbow on the counter began to turn over the pages he had bought, though that he read nothing was obvious.

At length he said, “Is old Mr. Watkins still alive?” in a voice which had a curious youthful cadence in it even now.

“My father is dead, sir, “ said the young man,

“Ah, I am sorry to hear it,” said the stronger.

“But it is so many years since I last visited this town that I could hardly expect it should be otherwise.” After a short silence he continued, “And is the firm of Barnet, Browse & Co. still in existence? — they used to be large flax merchants and twine-spinners here?”

“The firm is still going on, sir, but they have dropped the name of Barnet. I believe that was a sort of fancy name — at least, I never knew of any living Barnet. ‘Tis now Browse & Co.”

“And does Andrew Jones still keep on as architect?”

“He’s dead, sir.”

“And the vicar of St. Mary’s — Mr. Melrose?”

“He’s been dead a great many years.”

“Dear me!” He paused yet longer, and cleared his voice.

“Is Mr. Downe, the solicitor, still in practice?”

“No, sir, he’s dead. He died about seven years ago.”

Here it was a longer silence still; and an attentive observer would have noticed that the paper in the strangers hand increased its imperceptible tremor to a visible shake. The gray-haired gentleman noticed it himself, and rested the paper on the counter. “Is Mrs. Downe still alive?” he asked, closing his lips firmly as soon as the words were out of his mouth, and dropping his eyes.

“Yes, sir, she’s alive and well. She’s living at the old place.”

“In East Street?”

“Oh no; at Chateau Ringdale. I believe it has been in the family for some generations.”

“She lives with her children, perhaps?”

“No; she has no children of her own. There were some Misses Downe; I think they were Mr. Downe’s daughters by a former wife; but they are married and living in other parts of the town. Mrs. Downe lives alone.”

“Quite alone?”

“Yes, sir; quite alone.”

The newly arrived gentleman went back to the hotel and dined; after which he made some change in his dress, shaved back his beard to the fashion that had prevailed twenty years earlier, when he was young and interesting, and once more emerging, bent his steps in the direction of the harbor-road. Just before getting to the point where the pavement ceased and the houses isolated themselves, he overtook a shambling, stooping, unshaven man, who at first sight appeared like a professional tramp, his shoulders having a perceptible greasiness as they passed under the gaslight. Each pedestrian momentarily turned and regarded the other, and the tramp-like gentleman started back.

“Good — why — is that Mr. Barnet? ‘Tis Mr. Barnet, surely!”

“Yes; and you are Charlson?”

“Yes — ah — you notice my appearance. The Fates have rather ill-used me. By-the-by, that fifty pounds. I never paid it, did I? ... But I was not ungrateful!” Here the stooping man laid one hand emphatically in the palm of the other. “I gave you a chance, Mr. George Barnet, which many men would have thought full value received – the chance to marry your Lucy. As far as the world was concerned, your wife was a drowned woman, hey?”

“Heaven forbid all that, Charlson!”

“Well, well, ‘twas a wrong way of showing gratitude, I suppose. And now a drop of something to drink for old acquaintance sake! And Mr. Barnet, she’s again free — there’s a chance now if you care for it — ha, ha!” And the speaker pushed his tongue into his hollow cheek and slanted his eye in the old fashion.

“I know all,” said Barnet, quickly; and slipping a small present into the hands of the needy, saddening man, he stepped ahead and was soon in the outskirts of the town.

He reached the harbor-road, and paused before the entrance to a well-known house. It was so highly bosomed in trees and shrubs planted since the erection of the building that one would scarcely have recognized the spot as that which had been a mere neglected slope till chosen as a site for a dwelling. He opened the swing-gate, closed it noiselessly, and gently moved into the semicircular drive, which remained exactly as it had been marked out by Barnet on the morning when Lucy Savile ran in to thank him for procuring her the post of governess to Downe’s children. But the growth of trees and bushes which revealed itself at every step was beyond all expectation; sunproof and moon proof bowers vaulted the walks and the walls of the house were uniformly bearded with creeping plants as high as the first-floor windows.

After lingering for a few minutes in the dusk of the bending boughs, the visitor rang the doorbell, and on the servant appearing he announced himself as “an old friend of Mrs. Downe’s.”

The hall was lighted, but not brightly, the gas being turned low, as if visitors were rare. There was a stagnation in the dwelling: it seemed to be waiting. Could it really be waiting for him? The partitions which had been probed by Barnet’s walking stick when the mortar was green were now quite brown with the antiquity of their varnish, and the ornamental wood-work of the staircase, which had glistened with a pale yellow newness when first erected, was now of a rich wine-colour. During the servant’s absence the following colloquy could be dimly heard through the nearly closed door of the drawing-room.

“He didn’t give his name?”

“He only said ‘An old friend,’ ma’am.”

“What kind of gentleman is he?”

“A staidish gentleman, with gray hair.”

The voice of the second speaker seemed to affect the listener greatly. After a pause, the lady said, “Very well, I will see him.”

And the stranger was shown in face to face with the Lucy who had once been Lucy Savile. The round cheek of that formerly young lady had, of course, alarmingly flattened its curve in her modern representative; a pervasive grayness overspread her once dark brown hair, like morning rime on heather. The parting down the middle was wide and jagged; once it had been a thin white line, a narrow crevice between two high banks of shade. But there was still enough left to form a handsome knob behind; and some curls beneath, in wrought with a few hairs like silver wires, were very becoming. In her eyes the only modification was that their originally mild rectitude of expression had become a little more stringent than heretofore. Yet she was still girlish — a girl who had been gratuitously weighted by destiny with a burden of five-and-forty years instead of her proper twenty.

“Lucy, don’t you know me?” he said, when the servant had closed the door.

“I knew you the instant I saw you!” she returned, cheerfully. “I don’t know why, but I always thought you would come back to your old town again.”

She gave him her hand, and then they sat down.

“They said you were dead,” continued Lucy, “but I never thought so. We should have heard of it for certain if you had been.”

“It is a very long time since we met.”

“Yes; what you must have seen, Mr. Barnet, in all these roving years, in comparison with what I have seen in this quiet place!” Her face grew more serious. “You know my husband has been dead a long time? I am a lonely old women now, considering what I have been; though Mr. Downe’s daughters — all married — keep me pretty cheerful.”

“And I am a lonely old man, and have been all these twenty years.”

“But where have you kept yourself? And why did you go off so mysteriously?”

“Well, Lucy, I have kept myself a little in America, and a little in Australia, a little in India, a little at the Cape, and so on; I have not stayed in any place for a long time, as it seems to me, and yet more than twenty years have flown. But when people get to my age two years go like one! Your second question, why did I go away so mysteriously is surely not necessary. You guessed why, didn’t you?”

“No, I never once guessed,” she said, simply; “nor did Charles, nor did anybody, as far as I know.”

“Well, indeed! Now think it over again and then look at me, and say if you can’t guess?”

She looked him in the face with an inquiring smile. “Surely not because of me?” she said, pausing at the commencement of surprise.

Barnet nodded, and smiled back again; but his smile was sadder than hers.

“Because I married Charles?” she asked.

“Yes; solely because you married him on the day I was free to ask you to marry me. My wife died four-and-twenty hours before you went to church with Downe. The fixing of my journey at that particular moment was because of her funeral; but once away, I knew I should have no inducement to come back and took my steps accordingly.”

Her face assumed an aspect of gentle reflection, and she looked up and down his form with great interest in her eyes. “I never thought of it!” she said. “I knew, of course, that you had once implied some warmth of feeling toward me, but I concluded that it passed off. And I have always been under the impression that your wife was alive at the time of my marriage. Was it not stupid of me! But you will have some tea or something? I have never dined late, you know, since my husband’s death. I have got into the way of making a regular meal of tea. You will have some tea with me, will you not?”

The traveled man assented quite readily, and tea was brought in. They sat and chatted over the meal, regardless of the flying hour. “Well, well!” said Barnet, presently, as for the first time he leisurely surveyed the room; “how like it all is, and yet how different! Just where your piano stands was a board on a couple of trestles, bearing the patterns of wall-papers, when I was last there. I was choosing them — standing in this way, as it might be. Then my servant came in at the door, and handed me a note, so. It was from Downe, and announced that you were just going to be married to him. I chose no more wall-papers — tore up all those I had selected, and left the house. I never entered it again till now.”

“Ah, at last I understand it all,” she murmured.

They had both risen and gone to the fireplace. The mantel came almost on a level with her shoulder, which gently rested against it, and Barnet laid his hand upon the shelf close beside her shoulder. “Lucy,” he said, “better late than never. Will you marry me now?”

She started back, and the surprise which was so obvious in her wrought even greater surprise in him that it should be so. It was difficult to believe that she had been quite blind to the situation, and yet all reason and common sense went to prove that she was not acting.

“You take me quite unawares by such a question!” she said, with a feverish laugh of uneasiness. It was the first time she had shown any embarrassment at all. “Why” she added, “I couldn’t marry you for the world.”

“Not after all this! Why not?”

“It is — I would — I really think I may say it would upon the whole rather marry you, Mr. Barnet, than any other man I have ever met, if I ever dreamed of marriage again. But I don’t dream of it — it is quite out of my thoughts; I have not the least intention of marrying again.”

“But — on my account — couldn’t you alter your plans a little? Come!”

“Dear Mr. Barnet,” she said, with a little flutter, “I would on your account if on anybody’s in existence. But you don’t know in the least what it is you are asking – such an impracticable thing — I won’t say ridiculous, of course, because I see that you are really in earnest, and earnestness is never ridiculous to my mind.”

“Well, yes,” said Barnet, more slowly, dropping her hand, which he had taken at the moment of pleading, “I am in earnest. The resolve, two months ago, at the Cape, to come back once more was, it is true, rather sudden, and as I see now, not well-considered. But I am in earnest in asking.”

“And I in declining. With all good feeling and all kindness, let me say that I am quite opposed to the idea of marrying a second time.”

“Well, no harm has been done, “ he answered with the same subdued and tender humorousness that he had shown on such occasions in early life. “If you really won’t accept me, I must put up with it, I suppose.” His eye fell on the clock as he spoke. “Had you any notion that it was so late?” he asked. “How absorbed I have been!”

She accompanied him to the hall, helped him to put on his overcoat, and let him out of the house herself.

“Good-night,” said Barnet, on the door-step, as the lamp shone in his face. “You are not offended with me?”

“Certainly not. Nor you with me?”

“I’ll consider whether I am or not,” he pleasantly replied. “Good-night.”

She watched him safely through the gate; and when his footsteps had died away upon the road, closed the door softly and returned to the room. Here the modest widow long pondered his speeches with eyes dropped to an unusually low level. Barnet’s urbanity under the blow of her refusal greatly impressed her. After having his long period of probation rendered useless by her decision, he had shown no anger, and philosophically taken her words as if he deserved no better ones. It was very gentlemanly of him, certainly; it was more than gentlemanly: it was heroic and grand. The more she meditated, the more she questioned the virtue of her conduct in checking him so peremptorily, and went to her bedroom in a mood of dissatisfaction. On looking in the glass she was reminded that there was not so much remaining of her former beauty as to make his frank declaration an impulsive natural homage to her cheeks and eyes; it must have undoubtedly arisen from an old stanch feeling of his, deserving tenderest consideration. She recalled to her mind with much pleasure that he had told her he was staying at the Black Bull Hotel; so that if, after waiting a day or two, he should not, in his modesty, call again, she might then send him a nice little note. To alter her views for the present was far from her intention but, she would allow herself to be induced to reconsider the case, as any generous woman ought to do.

The morrow came and passed, and Mr. Barnet did not drop in. At every knock, light youthful hues flew across her cheek; and she was abstracted in the presence of her other visitors. In the evening she walked about the house, not knowing what to do with herself; the conditions of existence seemed totally different from those which ruled only four-and-twenty short hours ago. What had been at first a tantalising elusive sense getting acclimatized within her as time it was a definite hope, and her person was so informed by that emotion that she might almost have stood as its emblematical representative by the time the clock struck ten. In short, an interest in Barnet precisely resembling that of her early youth led her present heart to belie her yesterday’s words to him, and she longed to see him again.

The next day she walked out early, thinking she might meet him in the street. The growing beauty of her romance absorbed her, and she went from the street to the fields, and from the fields to the shore without any consciousness of distance, till reminded by her weariness that she could go no further. He had nowhere appeared. In the evening she took a step which under the circumstances seemed justifiable; she wrote a note to him at the hotel, inviting him to tea with her at seven precisely, and signing her note “Lucy.”

In a quarter of an hour the messenger came back. Mr. Barnet had left the hotel early in the morning of the day before, but he had stated that he would probably return in the course of the week.

The note was sent back to be given to him immediately on his arrival.

There was no sign from the inn that this desired event had occurred, either the next day or the day following. On both nights she had been restless, and had scarcely slept an hour.

On the Saturday, putting off all diffidence, Lucy went herself to the Black Bull, and questioned the staff closely.

Mr. Barnet had cursorily remarked when leaving that he might return on the Thursday or Friday, but they were directed not to reserve a room for him unless he should write.

He had left no address.

Lucy sorrowfully took back her note, went home, and resolved to wait.

She did wait — years and years — but Barnet never reappeared.

The Honourable Laura

Dame the Tenth

By the Spark.

It was a cold and gloomy Christmas Eve. The mass of cloud overhead was almost impervious to such daylight as still lingered; the snow lay several inches deep upon the ground, and the slanting downfall which still went on threatened to increase its thickness considerably before the morning. The Prospect Hotel, a building standing near the wild north coast of Lower Wessex, looked so lonely and so useless at such a time as this that a passing wayfarer would have been led to forget summer possibilities, and to wonder at the commercial courage which could invest capital, on the basis of the popular taste for the picturesque, in a country subject to such dreary phases. That the district was alive with visitors in August seemed but a dim tradition in weather so totally opposed to all that tempts mankind from home. However, there the hotel stood immovable; and the cliffs, creeks, and headlands which were the primary attractions of the spot, rising in full view on the opposite side of the valley, were now but angular outlines, while the town let in front was tinged over with a grimy dirtiness rather than the pearly grey that in summer lent such beauty to its appearance.

Within the hotel commanding this outlook the landlord walked idly about with his hands in his pockets not in the least expectant of a visitor, and yet unable to settle down to any occupation which should compensate in some degree for the losses that winter idleness entailed on his regular profession. So little, indeed, was anybody expected, that the coffee-room waiter — a genteel boy, whose plated buttons in summer were as close together upon the front of his short jacket as peas in a pod — now appeared in the back yard, metamorphosed into the unrecognizable shape of a rough country lad in corduroys and hobnailed boots, sweeping the snow away, and talking the local dialect in all its purity, quite oblivious of the new polite accent he had learned in the hot weather from the well-behaved visitors. The front door was closed, and, as if to express still more fully the sealed and chrysalis state of the establishment, a sand-bag was placed at the bottom to keep out the insidious snowdrift, the wind setting in directly from that quarter.

The landlord, entering his own parlour, walked to the large fire which it was absolutely necessary to keep up for his comfort, no such blaze burning in the coffee-room or elsewhere, and after giving it a stir returned to a table in the lobby, whereon lay the visitors’ book, — now closed and pushed back against the wall. He easily opened it; not a name had been entered there since the 19th of the previous November, and that was only the name of a man who had arrived on a tricycle, who, indeed, had not been asked to enter at all.

While he was engaged thus the evening grew darker; but before it was as yet too dark to distinguish objects upon the road winding round the back of the Cliffs, the landlord perceived a black spot on the distant white, which speedily enlarged itself and drew near. The probabilities were that this vehicle — for a vehicle of some sort it seemed to be — would pass by and pursue its way to the nearest railway-town as others had done. But, contrary to the landlord’s expectation, as he stood conning it through the yet unshuttered window, the solitary object, on reaching the corner, turned into the hotel-front, and drove up to the door.

It was a conveyance particularly unsuited to such a season and weather, being nothing more substantial than an open basket-carriage drawn by a single horse. Within sat two persons, of different sexes, as could soon be discerned, in spite of their muffled attire. The man held the reins, and the lady had got some shelter from the storm by clinging close to his side. The landlord rang the hostler’s bell to attract the attention of the stable-man, for the approach of the visitors had been deadened to noiselessness by the snow, and when the hostler had come to the horse’s head the gentleman and lady alighted, the landlord meeting them in the hall.

The male stranger was a foreign-looking individual of about eight-and-twenty. He was close-shaven, excepting a moustache, his features being good, and even handsome. The lady, who stood timidly behind him, seemed to be much younger — possibly not more than eighteen, though it was difficult to judge either of her age or appearance in her present wrappings.

The gentleman expressed his wish to stay till the morning, explaining somewhat unnecessarily, considering that the house was an inn, that they had been unexpectedly benighted on their drive. Such a welcome being given them as landlords can give in dull times, the latter ordered fires in the drawing and coffee rooms, and went to the boy in the yard, who soon scrubbed himself up, dragged his disused jacket from its box, polished the buttons with his sleeve, and appeared civilized in the hall. The lady was shown into a room where she could take off her snow-damped garments, which she sent down to be dried, her companion, meanwhile, putting a couple of sovereigns on the table, as if anxious to make everything smooth and comfortable at starting, and requesting that a private sitting-room might be got ready. The landlord assured him that the best upstairs parlour — usually public — should be kept private this evening, and sent the maid to light the candles. Dinner was prepared for them, and, at the gentleman’s desire, served in the same apartment; where, the young lady having joined him, they were left to the rest and refreshment they seemed to need.

That something was peculiar in the relations of the pair had more than once struck the landlord, though wherein that peculiarity lay it was hard to decide. But that his guest was one who paid his way readily had been proved by his conduct, and dismissing conjectures he turned to practical affairs.

About nine o’clock he re-entered the hall, and, everything being done for the day, again walked up and down, occasionally gazing through the glass door at the prospect without, to ascertain how the weather was progressing. Contrary to prognostication, snow had ceased falling, and, with the rising of the moon, the sky had partially cleared, light fleeces of cloud drifting across the silvery disk. There was every sign that a frost was going to set in later on. For these reasons the distant rising road was even more distinct now between its high banks than it had been in the declining daylight. Not a track or rut broke the virgin surface of the white mantle that lay along it, all marks left by the lately arrived travellers having been speedily obliterated by the flakes falling at the time.

And now the landlord beheld by the light of the moon a sight very similar to that he had seen by the light of day. Again a black spot was advancing down the road that margined the coast. He was in a moment or two enabled to perceive that the present vehicle moved onward at a more headlong pace than the little carriage which had preceded it; next, that it was a brougham drawn by two powerful horses; next, that this carriage, like the former one, was bound for the hotel door. This desirable feature of resemblance caused the landlord once more to withdraw the sandbag and advance into the porch.

An old gentleman was the first to alight. He was followed by a young one, and both unhesitatingly came forward.

‘Has a young lady, less than nineteen years of age, recently arrived here in the company of a man some years her senior?’ asked the old gentleman, in haste. ‘A man cleanly shaven for the most part, having the appearance of an opera-singer, and calling himself Signor Smittozzi?’

‘We have had arrivals lately,’ said the landlord, in the tone of having had twenty at least — not caring to acknowledge the attenuated state of business that afflicted Prospect Hotel in winter.

‘And among them can your memory recall two persons such as those I describe? — the man a sort of baritone?’

‘There certainly is or was a young couple staying in the hotel; but I could not pronounce on the compass of the gentleman’s voice.’

‘No, no; of course not. I am quite bewildered. They arrived in a basket-carriage, altogether badly provided?’

‘They came in a carriage, I believe, as most of our visitors do.’

‘Yes, yes. I must see them at once. Pardon my want of ceremony, and show us in to where they are.’

‘But, sir, you forget. Suppose the lady and gentleman I mean are not the lady and gentleman you mean? It would be awkward to allow you to rush in upon them just now while they are at dinner, and might cause me to lose their future patronage.’

‘True, true. They may not be the same persons. My anxiety, I perceive, makes me rash in my assumptions!’

‘Upon the whole, I think they must be the same, Uncle Quantock,’ said the young man, who had not till now spoken. And turning to the landlord: ‘You possibly have not such a large assemblage of visitors here, on this somewhat forbidding evening, that you quite forget how this couple arrived, and what the lady wore?’ His tone of addressing the landlord had in it a quiet frigidity that was not without irony.

‘Ah! what she wore; that’s it, James. What did she wear?’

‘I don’t usually take stock of my guests’ clothing’ replied the landlord drily, for the ready money of the first arrival had decidedly biassed him in favour of that gentleman’s cause. ‘You can certainly see some of it if you want to,’ he added carelessly, ‘for it is drying by the kitchen fire.’

Before the words were half out of his mouth the old gentleman had exclaimed, ‘Ah!’ and precipitated himself along what seemed to be the passage to the kitchen; but as this turned out to be only the entrance to a dark china-closet, he hastily emerged again, after a collision with the inn crockery had told him of his mistake.

‘I beg your pardon, I’m sure; but if you only knew my feelings (which I cannot at present explain), you would make allowances. Anything I have broken I will willingly pay for.’

‘Don’t mention it, sir,’ said the landlord. And showing the way, they adjourned to the kitchen without further parley. The eldest of the party instantly seized the lady’s cloak, that hung upon a clothes-horse, exclaiming: ‘Ah! yes, James, it is hers. I knew we were on their track.’

‘Yes, it is hers,’ answered the nephew quietly, for he was much less excited than his companion.

‘Show us their room at once,’ said the uncle.

‘William, have the lady and gentleman in the front sitting-room finished dining?’

‘Yes, sir, long ago,’ said the hundred plated buttons.

‘Then show up these gentlemen to them at once. You stay here to-night, gentlemen, I presume? Shall the horses be taken out?’

‘Feed the horses and wash their mouths. Whether we stay or not depends upon circumstances,’ said the placid younger man, as he followed his uncle and the waiter to the staircase.

‘I think, Nephew James,’ said the former, as he paused with his foot on the first step — I think we had better not be announced, but take them by surprise. She may go throwing herself out of the window, or do some equally desperate thing!’

‘Yes, certainly, we’ll enter unannounced.’ And he called back the lad who preceded them.

‘I cannot sufficiently thank you, James, for so effectually aiding me in this pursuit!’ exclaimed the old gentleman, taking the other by the hand. ‘My increasing infirmities would have hindered my overtaking her to-night, had it not been for your timely aid.’

‘I am only too happy, uncle, to have been of service to you in this or any other matter. I only wish I could have accompanied you on a pleasanter journey. However, it is advisable to go up to them at once, or they may hear us.’ And they softly ascended the stairs.

On the door being opened a room too large to be comfortable was disclosed, lit by the best branch candlesticks of the hotel, before the fire of which apartment the truant couple were sitting, very innocently looking over the hotel scrap-book and the album containing views of the neighbourhood. No sooner had the old man entered than the young lady — who now showed herself to be quite as young as described, and remarkably prepossessing as to features — perceptibly turned pale. When the nephew entered she turned still paler, as if she were going to faint. The young man described as an opera-singer rose with grim civility, and placed chairs for his visitors.

‘Caught you, thank God!’ said the old gentleman breathlessly.

‘Yes, worse luck, my lord!’ murmured Signor Smittozzi in native London-English, that distinguished Italian having, in fact, first seen the light as the baby of Mr. and Mrs. Smith in the vicinity of the City Road. ‘She would have been, mine to-morrow. And I think that under the peculiar circumstances it would be wiser — considering how soon the breath of scandal will tarnish a lady’s fame — to let her be mine to-morrow, just the same.’

‘Never!’ said the old man. ‘Here is a lady under age, without experience — child-like in her maiden innocence and virtue — whom you have plied by your vile arts, till this morning at dawn — ’

‘Lord Quantock, were I not bound to respect your grey hairs — ’

‘Till this morning at dawn you tempted her away from her father’s roof. What blame can attach to her conduct that will not, on a full explanation of the matter, be readily passed over in her and thrown entirely on you? Laura, you return at once with me. I should not have arrived, after all, early enough to deliver you, if it had not been for the disinterestedness of your cousin, Captain Northbrook, who, on my discovering your flight this morning, offered with a promptitude for which I can never sufficiently thank him, to accompany me on my journey, as the only male relative I have near me. Come, do you hear? Put on your things; we are off at once.’

‘I don’t want to go!’ pouted the young lady.

‘I dare say you don’t,’ replied her father drily. ‘But children never know what’s best for them. So come along, and trust to my opinion.’

Laura was silent, and did not move, the opera gentleman looking helplessly into the fire, and the lady’s cousin sitting meditatively calm, as the single one of the four whose position enabled him to survey the whole escapade with the cool criticism of a comparative outsider.

‘I say to you, Laura, as the father of a daughter under age, that you instantly come with me. What? Would you compel me to use physical force to reclaim you?’

‘I don’t want to return!’ again declared Laura.

‘It is your duty to return nevertheless, and at once, I inform you.’

‘I don’t want to!’

‘Now, dear Laura, this is what I say: return with me and your cousin James quietly, like a good and repentant girl, and nothing will be said. Nobody knows what has happened as yet, and if we start at once, we shall be home before it is light to-morrow morning. Come.’

‘I am not obliged to come at your bidding, father, and I would rather not!’

Now James, the cousin, during this dialogue might have been observed to grow somewhat restless and even impatient. More than once he had parted his lips to speak, but second thoughts each time held him back. The moment had come, however, when he could keep silence no longer.

‘Come, madam!’ he spoke out, ‘this farce with your father has, in my opinion, gone on long enough. Just make no more ado, and step downstairs with us.’

She gave herself an intractable little twist, and did not reply.

‘By the Lord Harry, Laura, I won’t stand this!’ he said angrily. ‘Come, get on your things before I come and compel you. There is a kind of compulsion to which this talk is child’s play. Come, madam — instantly, I say!’

The old nobleman turned to his nephew and said mildly: ‘Leave me to insist, James. It doesn’t become you. I can speak to her sharply enough, if I choose.’

James, however, did not heed his uncle, and went on to the troublesome young woman: ‘You say you don’t want to come, indeed! A pretty story to tell me, that! Come, march out of the room at once, and leave that hulking fellow for me to deal with afterward. Get on quickly — come!’ and he advanced toward her as if to pull her by the hand.

‘Nay, nay, expostulated Laura’s father, much surprised at his nephew’s sudden demeanour. ‘You take too much upon yourself. Leave her to me.’

‘I won’t leave her to you any longer!’

‘You have no right, James, to address either me or her in this way; so just hold your tongue. Come, my dear.’

‘I have every right!’ insisted James.

‘How do you make that out?’

‘I have the right of a husband.’

‘Whose husband?’

‘Hers.’

‘What?’

‘She’s my wife.’

‘James!’

‘Well, to cut a long story short, I may say that she secretly married me, in spite of your lordship’s prohibition, about three months ago. And I must add that, though she cooled down rather quickly, everything went on smoothly enough between us for some time; in spite of the awkwardness of meeting only by stealth. We were only waiting for a convenient moment to break the news to you when this idle Adonis turned up, and after poisoning her mind against me, brought her into this disgrace.’

Here the operatic luminary, who had sat in rather an abstracted and nerveless attitude till the cousin made his declaration, fired up and cried: ‘I declare before Heaven that till this moment I never knew she was a wife! I found her in her father’s house an unhappy girl — unhappy, as I believe, because of the loneliness and dreariness of that establishment, and the want of society, and for nothing else whatever. What this statement about her being your wife means I am quite at a loss to understand. Are you indeed married to him, Laura?’

Laura nodded from within her tearful handkerchief. ‘It was because of my anomalous position in being privately married to him,’ she sobbed, ‘that I was unhappy at home — and — and I didn’t like him so well as I did at first — and I wished I could get out of the mess I was in! And then I saw you a few times, and when you said, “We’ll run off,” I thought I saw a way out of it all, and then I agreed to come with you-oo-oo!’

‘Well! well! well! And is this true?’ murmured the bewildered old nobleman, staring from James to Laura, and from Laura to James, as if he fancied they might be figments of the imagination. ‘Is this, then, James, the secret of your kindness to your old uncle in helping him to find his daughter? Good Heavens! What further depths of duplicity are there left for a man to learn!’

‘I have married her, Uncle Quantock, as I said,’ answered James coolly. ‘The deed is done, and can’t be undone by talking here.’

‘Where were you married?’

‘At St. Mary’s, Toneborough.’

‘When?’

‘On the twenty-ninth of September, during the time she was visiting there.’

‘Who married you?’

‘I don’t know. One of the curates — we were quite strangers to the place. So, instead of my assisting you to recover her, you may as well assist me.’

‘Never! never!’ said Lord Quantock. ‘Madam, and sir, I beg to tell you that I wash my hands of the whole affair. If you are man and wife, as it seems you are, get reconciled as best you may. I have no more to say or do with either of you. I leave you, Laura, in the hands of your husband, and much joy may you bring him; though the situation, I own, is not encouraging.’

Saying this, the indignant speaker pushed back his chair against the table with such force that the candlesticks rocked on their bases, and left the room.

Laura’s wet eyes roved from one of the young men to the other, who now stood glaring face to face, and, being much frightened at their aspect, slipped out of the room after her father. Him, however, she could hear going out of the front door, and, not knowing where to take shelter, she crept into the darkness of an adjoining bedroom, and there awaited events with a palpitating heart.

Meanwhile the two men remaining in the sitting-room drew nearer to each other, and the opera-singer broke the silence by saying, ‘How could you insult me in the way you did, calling me a fellow, and accusing me of poisoning her mind toward you, when you knew very well I was as ignorant of your relation to her as an unborn babe?’

‘O yes, you were quite ignorant; I can believe that readily,’ sneered Laura’s husband.

‘I here call Heaven to witness that I never knew!’

‘Recitativo — the rhythm excellent, and the tone well sustained. Is it likely that any man could win the confidence of a young fool her age, and not get that out of her? Preposterous! Tell it to the most improved new pit-stalls.’

‘Captain Northbrook, your insinuations are as despicable as your wretched person!’ cried the baritone, losing all patience. And springing forward he slapped the captain in the face with the palm of his hand.

Northbrook flinched but slightly, and calmly using his handkerchief to learn if his nose was bleeding, said, ‘I quite expected this insult, so I came prepared.’ And he drew forth from a black valise which he carried in his hand a small case of pistols.

The baritone started at the unexpected sight, but recovering from his surprise said, ‘Very well, as you will,’ though perhaps his tone showed a slight want of confidence.

‘Now,’ continued the husband, quite confidingly, we want no parade, no nonsense, you know. Therefore we’ll dispense with seconds?’

The signor slightly nodded.

‘Do you know this part of the country well?’ Cousin James went on, in the same cool and still manner. ‘If you don’t, I do. Quite at the bottom of the rocks out there, just beyond the stream which falls over them to the shore, is a smooth sandy space, not so much shut in as to be out of the moonlight: and the way down to it from this side is over steps cut in the cliff, and we can find our way down without trouble. We — we two — will find our way down; but only one of us will find his way up, you understand?’

‘Quite.’

‘Then suppose we start; the sooner it is over the better. We can order supper before we go out — supper for two; for though we are three at present — ’

‘Three?’

‘Yes; you and I and she — ’

‘O yes.’

‘ — We shall be only two by and by; so that, as I say, we will order supper for two; for the lady and a gentleman. Whichever comes back alive will tap at her door, and call her in to share the repast with him — she’s not off the premises. But we must not alarm her now; and above all things we must not let the inn people see us go out; it would look so odd for two to go out, and only one come in. Ha! ha!’

‘Ha! ha! exactly.’

‘Are you ready?’

‘Oh — quite.’

‘Then I’ll lead the way.’

He went softly to the door and downstairs, ordering supper to be ready in an hour, as he had said; then making a feint of returning to the room again, he beckoned to the singer, and together they slipped out of the house by a side door.

The sky was now quite clear, and the wheelmarks of the brougham which had borne away Laura’s father, Lord Quantock, remained distinctly visible. Soon the verge of the down was reached, the captain leading the way, and the baritone following silently, casting furtive glances at his companion, and beyond him at the scene ahead. In due course they arrived at the chasm in the cliff which formed the waterfall. The outlook here was wild and picturesque in the extreme, and fully justified the many praises, paintings, and photographic views to which the spot had given birth. What in summer was charmingly green and grey, was now rendered weird and fantastic by the snow.

From their feet the cascade plunged downward almost vertically to a depth of eighty or a hundred feet before finally losing itself in the sand, and though the stream was but small, its impact upon jutting rocks in its descent divided it into a hundred spirts and splashes that sent up a mist into the upper air. A few marginal drippings had been frozen into icicles, but the centre flowed on unimpeded.

The operatic artist looked down as he halted, but his thoughts were plainly not of the beauty of the scene. His companion with the pistols was immediately in front of him, and there was no handrail on the side of the path towards the chasm. Obeying a quick impulse, he stretched out his arm, and with a superhuman thrust sent Laura’s husband reeling over. A whirling human shape, diminishing downward in the moon’s rays further and further toward invisibility, a smack-smack upon the projecting ledges of rock — at first louder and heavier than that of the brook, and then scarcely to be distinguished from it — then a cessation, then the splashing of the stream as before, and the accompanying murmur of the sea, disturbed the customary flow of the lofty waterfall.

The singer waited in a fixed attitude for a few minutes, then turning, he rapidly retraced his steps over the intervening upland towards the road, and in less than a quarter of an hour was at the door of the hotel. Slipping quietly in as the clock struck ten, he said to the landlord, over the bar hatchway —

‘The bill as soon as you can let me have it, including charges for the supper that was ordered, though we cannot stay to eat it, I am sorry to say. ‘He added with forced gaiety, ‘The lady’s father and cousin have thought better of intercepting the marriage, and after quarrelling with each other have gone home independently.’

‘Well done, sir!’ said the landlord, who still sided with this customer in preference to those who had given trouble and barely paid for baiting the horses. “‘Love will find out the way!” as the saying is. Wish you joy, sir!’

Signor Smittozzi went upstairs, and on entering the sitting-room found that Laura had crept out from the dark adjoining chamber in his absence. She looked up at him with eyes red from weeping, and with symptoms of alarm.

‘What is it? — where is he?’ she said apprehensively.

‘Captain Northbrook has gone back. He says he will have no more to do with you.’

‘And I am quite abandoned by them! — and they’ll forget me, and nobody care about me any more!’ She began to cry afresh.

‘But it is the luckiest thing that could have happened. All is just as it was before they came disturbing us. But, Laura, you ought to have told me about that private marriage, though it is all the same now; it will be dissolved, of course. You are a wid — virtually a widow.’

‘It is no use to reproach me for what is past. What am I to do now?’

‘We go at once to Cliff-Martin. The horse has rested thoroughly these last three hours, and he will have no difficulty in doing an additional half-dozen miles. We shall be there before twelve, and there are late taverns in the place, no doubt. There we’ll sell both horse and carriage to-morrow morning; and go by the coach to Downstaple. Once in the train we are safe.’

‘I agree to anything,’ she said listlessly.

In about ten minutes the horse was put in, the bill paid, the lady’s dried wraps put round her, and the journey resumed.

When about a mile on their way they saw a glimmering light in advance of them. ‘I wonder what that is?’ said the baritone, whose manner had latterly become nervous, every sound and sight causing him to turn his head.

‘It is only a turnpike,’ said she. ‘That light is the lamp kept burning over the door.’

‘Of course, of course, dearest. How stupid I am!’

On reaching the gate they perceived that a man on foot had approached it, apparently by some more direct path than the roadway they pursued, and was, at the moment they drew up, standing in conversation with the gatekeeper.

‘It is quite impossible that he could fall over the cliff by accident or the will of God on such a light night as this,’ the pedestrian was saying. ‘These two children I tell you of saw two men go along the path toward the waterfall, and ten minutes later only one of ‘em came back, walking fast, like a man who wanted to get out of the way because he had done something queer. There is no manner of doubt that he pushed the other man over, and, mark me, it will soon cause a hue and cry for that man.’

The candle shone in the face of the Signor and showed that there had arisen upon it a film of ghastliness. Laura, glancing toward him for a few moments, observed it, till, the gatekeeper having mechanically swung open the gate, her companion drove through, and they were soon again enveloped in the white silence.

Her conductor had said to Laura, just before, that he meant to inquire the way at this turnpike; but he had certainly not done so.

As soon as they had gone a little further the omission, intentional or not, began to cause them some trouble. Beyond the secluded district which they now traversed ran the more frequented road, where progress would be easy, the snow being probably already beaten there to some extent by traffic; but they had not yet reached it, and having no one to guide them their journey began to appear less feasible than it had done before starting. When the little lane which they had entered ascended another hill, and seemed to wind round in a direction contrary to the expected route to Cliff-Martin, the question grew serious. Ever since overhearing the conversation at the turnpike, Laura had maintained a perfect silence, and had even shrunk somewhat away from the side of her lover.

‘Why don’t you talk, Laura,’ he said with forced buoyancy, ‘and suggest the way we should go?’

‘O yes, I will,’ she responded, a curious fearfulness being audible in her voice.

After this she uttered a few occasional sentences which seemed to persuade him that she suspected nothing. At last he drew rein, and the weary horse stood still.

‘We are in a fix,’ he said.

She answered eagerly: ‘I’ll hold the reins while you run forward to the top of the ridge, and see if the road takes a favourable turn beyond. It would give the horse a few minutes’ rest, and if you find out no change in the direction we will retrace this lane, and take the other turning.’

The expedient seemed a good one in the circumstances, especially when recommended by the singular eagerness of her voice; and placing the reins in her hands — a quite unnecessary precaution, considering the state of their hack — he stepped out and went forward through the snow till she could see no more of him.

No sooner was he gone than Laura, with a rapidity which contrasted strangely with her previous stillness, made fast the reins to the corner of the phaeton, and slipping out on the opposite side, ran back with all her might down the hill, till, coming to an opening in the fence, she scrambled through it, and plunged into the copse which bordered this portion of the lane. Here she stood in hiding under one of the large bushes, clinging so closely to its umbrage as to seem but a portion of its mass, and listening intently for the faintest sound of pursuit. But nothing disturbed the stillness save the occasional slipping of gathered snow from the boughs, or the rustle of some wild animal over the crisp flake-bespattered herbage. At length, apparently convinced that her former companion was either unable to find her, or not anxious to do so in the present strange state of affairs, she crept out from the bushes, and in less than an hour found herself again approaching the door of the Prospect Hotel.

As she drew near, Laura could see that, far from being wrapped in darkness, as she might have expected, there were ample signs that all the tenants were on the alert, lights moving about the open space in front. Satisfaction was expressed in her face when she discerned that no reappearance of her baritone and his pony-carriage was causing this sensation; but it speedily gave way to grief and dismay when she saw by the lights the form of a man borne on a stretcher by two others into the porch of the hotel.

‘I have caused all this,’ she murmured between her quivering lips. ‘He has murdered him!’ Running forward to the door, she hastily asked of the first person she met if the man on the stretcher was dead.

‘No, miss,’ said the labourer addressed, eyeing her up and down as an unexpected apparition. ‘He is still alive, they say, but not sensible. He either fell or was pushed over the waterfall; ‘tis thoughted he was pushed. He is the gentleman who came here just now with the old lord, and went out afterward (as is thoughted) with a stranger who had come a little earlier. Anyhow, that’s as I had it.’

Laura entered the house, and acknowledging without the least reserve that she was the injured man’s wife, had soon installed herself as head nurse by the bed on which he lay. When the two surgeons who had been sent for arrived, she learnt from them that his wounds were so severe as to leave but a slender hope of recovery, it being little short of miraculous that he was not killed on the spot, which his enemy had evidently reckoned to be the case. She knew who that enemy was, and shuddered.

Laura watched all night, but her husband knew nothing of her presence. During the next day he slightly recognized her, and in the evening was able to speak. He informed the surgeons that, as was surmised, he had been pushed over the cascade by Signor Smittozzi; but he communicated nothing to her who nursed him, not even replying to her remarks; he nodded courteously at any act of attention she rendered, and that was all.

In a day or two it was declared that everything favoured his recovery, notwithstanding the severity of his injuries. Full search was made for Smittozzi, but as yet there was no intelligence of his whereabouts, though the repentant Laura communicated all she knew. As far as could be judged, he had come back to the carriage after searching out the way, and finding the young lady missing, had looked about for her till he was tired; then had driven on to Cliff-Martin, sold the horse and carriage next morning, and disappeared, probably by one of the departing coaches which ran thence to the nearest station, the only difference from his original programme being that he had gone alone.

During the days and weeks of that long and tedious recovery Laura watched by her husband’s bedside with a zeal and assiduity which would have considerably extenuated any fault save one of such magnitude as hers. That her husband did not forgive her was soon obvious. Nothing that she could do in the way of smoothing pillows, easing his position, shifting bandages, or administering draughts, could win from him more than a few measured words of thankfulness, such as he would probably have uttered to any other woman on earth who had performed these particular services for him.

‘Dear, dear James,’ she said one day, bending her face upon the bed in an excess of emotion. ‘How you have suffered! It has been too cruel. I am more glad you are getting better than I can say. I have prayed for it — and I am sorry for what I have done; I am innocent of the worst, and — I hope you will not think me so very bad, James!’

‘O no. On the contrary, I shall think you very good — as a nurse,’ he answered, the caustic severity of his tone being apparent through its weakness.

Laura let fall two or three silent tears, and said no more that day.

Somehow or other Signor Smittozzi seemed to be making good his escape. It transpired that he had not taken a passage in either of the suspected coaches, though he had certainly got out of the county; altogether, the chance of finding him was problematical.

Not only did Captain Northbrook survive his injuries, but it soon appeared that in the course of a few weeks he would find himself little if any the worse for the catastrophe. It could also be seen that Laura, while secretly hoping for her husband’s forgiveness for a piece of folly of which she saw the enormity more clearly every day, was in great doubt as to what her future relations with him would be. Moreover, to add to the complication, whilst she, as a runaway wife, was unforgiven by her husband, she and her husband, as a runaway couple, were unforgiven by her father, who had never once communicated with either of them since his departure from the inn. But her immediate anxiety was to win the pardon of her husband, who possibly might be bearing in mind, as he lay upon his couch, the familiar words of Brabantio, ‘She has deceived her father, and may thee.’

Matters went on thus till Captain Northbrook was able to walk about. He then removed with his wife to quiet apartments on the south coast, and here his recovery was rapid. Walking up the cliffs one day, supporting him by her arm as usual, she said to him simply, ‘James, if I go on as I am going now, and always attend to your smallest want, and never think of anything but devotion to you, will you — try to like me a little?’

‘It is a thing I must carefully consider,’ he said, with the same gloomy dryness which characterized all his words to her now. ‘When I have considered, I will tell you.’

He did not tell her that evening, though she lingered long at her routine work of making his bedroom comfortable, putting the light so that it would not shine into his eyes, seeing him fall asleep, and then retiring noiselessly to her own chamber. When they met in the morning at breakfast, and she had asked him as usual how he had passed the night, she added timidly, in the silence which followed his reply, Have you considered?’

‘No, I have not considered sufficiently to give you an answer.’

Laura sighed, but to no purpose; and the day wore on with intense heaviness to her, and the customary modicum of strength gained to him.

The next morning she put the same question, and looked up despairingly in his face, as though her whole life hung upon his reply.

‘Yes, I have considered,’ he said.

‘Ah!’

‘We must part.’

‘O James!’

‘I cannot forgive you; no man would. Enough is settled upon you to keep you in comfort whatever your father may do. I shall sell out, and disappear from this hemisphere.’

‘You have absolutely decided?’ she asked miserably. ‘I have nobody now to c-c-care for — ’

‘I have absolutely decided,’ he shortly returned. ‘We had better part here. You will go back to your father. There is no reason why I should accompany you, since my presence would only stand in the way of the forgiveness he will probably grant you if you appear before him alone. We will say farewell to each other in three days from this time. I have calculated on being ready to go on that day.’

Bowed down with trouble she withdrew to her room, and the three days were passed by her husband in writing letters and attending to other business matters, saying hardly a word to her the while. The morning of departure came; but before the horses had been put in to take the severed twain in different directions, out of sight of each other, possibly for ever, the postman arrived with the morning letters.

There was one for the captain; none for her — there were never any for her. However, on this occasion something was enclosed for her in his, which he handed her. She read it and looked up helpless.

‘My dear father — is dead!’ she said. In a few moments she added, in a whisper, ‘I must go to the Manor to bury him.... Will you go with me, James?’

He musingly looked out of the window. ‘I suppose it is an awkward and melancholy undertaking for a woman alone,’ he said coldly. ‘Well, well — my poor uncle! — Yes, I’ll go with you, and see you through the business.’

So they went off together instead of asunder, as planned. It is unnecessary to record the details of the journey, or of the sad week which followed it at her father’s house. Lord Quantock’s seat was a fine old mansion standing in its own park, and there were plenty of opportunities for husband and wife either to avoid each other, or to get reconciled if they were so minded, which one of them was at least. Captain Northbrook was not present at the reading of the will. She came to him afterwards, and found him packing up his papers, intending to start next morning, now that he had seen her through the turmoil occasioned by her father’s death.

‘He has left me everything that he could!’ she said to her husband. ‘James, will you forgive me now, and stay?’

‘I cannot stay.

‘Why not?’

‘I cannot stay,’ he repeated.

‘But why?’

‘I don’t like you.’

He acted up to his word. When she came downstairs the next morning she was told that he had gone.

Laura bore her double bereavement as best she could. The vast mansion in which she had hitherto lived, with all its historic contents, had gone to her father’s successor in the title; but her own was no unhandsome one. Around lay the undulating park, studded with trees a dozen times her own age; beyond it, the wood; beyond the wood, the farms. All this fair and quiet scene was hers. She nevertheless remained a lonely, repentant, depressed being, who would have given the greater part of everything she possessed to ensure the presence and affection of that husband whose very austerity and phlegm — qualities that had formerly led to the alienation between them — seemed now to be adorable features in his character.

She hoped and hoped again, but all to no purpose. Captain Northbrook did not alter his mind and return. He was quite a different sort of man from one who altered his mind; that she was at last despairingly forced to admit. And then she left off hoping, and settled down to a mechanical routine of existence which in some measure dulled her grief, but at the expense of all her natural animation and the sprightly wilfulness which had once charmed those who knew her, though it was perhaps all the while a factor in the production of her unhappiness.

To say that her beauty quite departed as the years rolled on would be to overstate the truth. Time is not a merciful master, as we all know, and he was not likely to act exceptionally in the case of a woman who had mental troubles to bear in addition to the ordinary weight of years. Be this as it may, eleven other winters came and went, and Laura Northbrook remained the lonely mistress of house and lands without once hearing of her husband. Every probability seemed to favour the assumption that he had died in some foreign land; and offers for her hand were not few as the probability verged on certainty with the long lapse of time. But the idea of remarriage seemed never to have entered her head for a moment. Whether she continued to hope even now for his return could not be distinctly ascertained; at all events she lived a life unmodified in the slightest degree from that of the first six months of his absence.

This twelfth year of Laura’s loneliness, and the thirtieth of her life drew on apace, and the season approached that had seen the unhappy adventure for which she so long had suffered. Christmas promised to be rather wet than cold, and the trees on the outskirts of Laura’s estate dripped monotonously from day to day upon the turnpike-road which bordered them. On an afternoon in this week between three and four o’clock a hired fly might have been seen driving along the highway at this point, and on reaching the top of the hill it stopped. A gentleman of middle age alighted from the vehicle.

‘You need drive no further,’ he said to the coachman. ‘The rain seems to have nearly ceased. I’ll stroll a little way, and return on foot to the inn by dinner-time.’

The flyman touched his hat, turned the horse, and drove back as directed. When he was out of sight the gentleman walked on, but he had not gone far before the rain again came down pitilessly, though of this the pedestrian took little heed, going leisurely onward till he reached Laura’s park gate, which he passed through. The clouds were thick and the days were short, so that by the time he stood in front of the mansion it was dark. In addition to this his appearance, which on alighting from the carriage had been untarnished, partook now of the character of a drenched wayfarer not too well blessed with this world’s goods. He halted for no more than a moment at the front entrance, and going round to the servants’ quarter, as if he had a preconceived purpose in so doing, there rang the bell. When a page came to him he inquired if they would kindly allow him to dry himself by the kitchen fire.

The page retired, and after a murmured colloquy returned with the cook, who informed the wet and muddy man that though it was not her custom to admit strangers, she should have no particular objection to his drying himself, the night being so damp and gloomy. Therefore the wayfarer entered and sat down by the fire.

‘The owner of this house is a very rich gentleman, no doubt?’ he asked, as he watched the meat turning on the spit.

‘ ‘Tis not a gentleman, but a lady,’ said the cook.

‘A widow, I presume?’

‘A sort of widow. Poor soul, her husband is gone abroad, and has never been heard of for many years.’

‘She sees plenty of company, no doubt, to make up for his absence?’

‘No, indeed — hardly a soul. Service here is as bad as being in a nunnery.’

In short, the wayfarer, who had at first been so coldly received, contrived by his frank and engaging manner to draw the ladies of the kitchen into a most confidential conversation, in which Laura’s history was minutely detailed, from the day of her husband’s departure to the present. The salient feature in all their discourse was her unflagging devotion to his memory.

Having apparently learned all that he wanted to know — among other things that she was at this moment, as always, alone — the traveller said he was quite dry; and thanking the servants for their kindness departed as he had come. On emerging into the darkness he did not, however, go down the avenue by which he had arrived. He simply walked round to the front door. There he rang, and the door was opened to him by a liveried man-servant whom he had not seen during his sojourn at the other end of the house.

In answer to the servant’s inquiry for his name, he said ceremoniously, ‘Will you tell the Honourable Mrs. Northbrook that the man she nursed many years ago, after a frightful accident, has called to thank her?’

The footman retreated, and it was rather a long time before any further signs of attention were apparent. Then he was shown into the drawing-room, and the door closed behind him.

On the couch was Laura, trembling and pale. She parted her lips and held out her hands to him, but could not speak. But he did not require speech, and in a moment they were in each other’s arms.

Strange news circulated through that mansion and the neighbouring town on the next and following days. But the world has a way of getting used to things, and the intelligence of the return of the Honourable Mrs. Northbrook’s long-absent husband was soon received with comparative calm.

A few days more brought Christmas, and the forlorn home of Laura Northbrook blazed from basement to attic with light and cheerfulness. Not that the house was overcrowded with visitors, but many were present, and the apathy of a dozen years came at length to an end. The animation which set in thus at the close of the old year did not diminish on the arrival of the new; and by the time its twelve months had likewise run the course of their predecessors, a son had been added to the dwindled line of the Northbrook family.

At the conclusion of this narrative the Spark was thanked, with a manner of some surprise, for nobody had credited him with a taste for tale-telling. Though it had been resolved that this story would be the last, a few of the weather-bound listeners were for sitting on into the small hours over their pipes and glasses, and raking up yet more episodes of family history. But the majority murmured reasons for soon getting to their lodgings.

It was quite dark without, except in the immediate neighbourhood of the feeble street-lamps, and before a few shop-windows which had been hardily kept open in spite of the obvious unlikelihood of any chance customer traversing the muddy thoroughfares at that hour.

By one, by two, and by three the benighted members of the Field-Club rose from their seats, shook hands, made appointments, and dropped away to their respective quarters, free or hired, hoping for a fair morrow. It would probably be not until the next summer meeting, months away in the future, that the easy intercourse which now existed between them all would repeat itself. The crimson maltster, for instance, knew that on the following market-day his friends the President, the Rural Dean, and the Bookworm would pass him in the street, if they met him, with the barest nod of civility, the President and the Colonel for social reasons, the Bookworm for intellectual reasons, and the Rural Dean for moral ones, the latter being a staunch teetotaller, dead against John Barleycorn. The Sentimental Member knew that when, on his rambles, he met his friend the Bookworm with a pocket-copy of something or other under his nose, the latter would not love his companionship as he had done to-day; and the President, the aristocrat, and the farmer knew that affairs political, sporting, domestic, or agricultural would exclude for a long time all rumination on the characters of dames gone to dust for scores of years, however beautiful and noble they may have been in their day.

The last member at length departed, the attendant at the museum lowered the fire, the curator locked up the rooms, and soon there was only a single pirouetting flame on the top of a single coal to make the bones of the ichthyosaurus seem to leap, the stuffed birds to wink, and to draw a smile from the varnished skulls of Vespasian’s soldiery.

THE END

What the Shepherd Saw

A Tale of Four Moonlight Nights

FIRST NIGHT

The genial Justice of the Peace — now, alas, no more who made himself responsible for the facts of this story, used to begin in the good old-fashioned way with a bright moonlight night and a mysterious figure, an excellent stroke for an opening, even to this day, if well followed up.

The Christmas moon (he would say) was showing her cold face to the upland, the upland reflecting the radiance in frost — sparkles so minute as only to be discernible by an eye near at hand. This eye, he said, was the eye of a shepherd lad, young for his occupation, who stood within a wheeled hut of the kind commonly in use among sheep-keepers during the early lambing season, and was abstractedly looking through the loop-hole at the scene without.

The spot was called Lambing Corner, and it was a sheltered portion of that wide expanse of rough pasture — land known as the Marlbury Downs, which you directly traverse when following the turnpike-road across Mid-Wessex from London, through Aldbrickham, in the direction of Bath and Bristol. Here, where the hut stood, the land was high and dry, open, except to the north, and commanding an undulating view for miles. On the north side grew a tall belt of coarse furze, with enormous stalks, a clump of the same standing detached in front of the general mass. The clump was hollow, and the interior had been ingeniously taken advantage of as a position for the before-mentioned hut, which was thus completely screened from winds, and almost invisible, except through the narrow approach. But the furze twigs had been cut away from the two little windows of the hut, that the occupier might keep his eye on his sheep.

In the rear, the shelter afforded by the belt of furze bushes was artificially improved by an enclosure of upright stakes, interwoven with boughs of the same prickly vegetation, and within the enclosure lay a renowned Marlbury-Down breeding flock of eight hundred ewes.

To the south, in the direction of the young shepherd’s idle gaze, there rose one conspicuous object above the uniform moonlit plateau, and only one. It was a Druidical trilithon, consisting of three oblong stones in the form of a doorway, two on end, and one across as a lintel. Each stone had been worn, scratched, washed, nibbled, split, and otherwise attacked by ten thousand different weathers; but now the blocks looked shapely and little the worse for wear, so beautifully were they silvered over by the light of the moon. The ruin was locally called the Devil’s Door.

An old shepherd presently entered the hut from the direction of the ewes, and looked around in the gloom. ‘Be ye sleepy?’ he asked in cross accents of the boy.

The lad replied rather timidly in the negative.

‘Then,’ said the shepherd, ‘I’ll get me home-along, and rest for a few hours. There’s nothing to be done here now as I can see. The ewes can want no more tending till daybreak — ’tis beyond the bounds of reason that they can. But as the order is that one of us must bide, I’ll leave ‘ee, d’ye hear. You can sleep by day, and I can’t. And you can be down to my house in ten minutes if anything should happen. I can’t afford ‘ee candle; but, as ‘tis Christmas week, and the time that folks have holler days, you can enjoy yerself by falling asleep a bit in the chair instead of biding awake all the time. But mind, not longer at once than while the shade of the Devil’s Door moves a couple of spans, for you must keep an eye upon the ewes.’

The boy made no definite reply, and the old man, stirring the fire in the stove with his crook-stem, closed the door upon his companion and vanished.

As this had been more or less the course of events every night since the season’s lambing had set in, the boy was not at all surprised at the charge, and amused himself for some time by lighting straws at the stove. He then went out to the ewes and new-born lambs, re-entered, sat down, and finally fell asleep. This was his customary manner of performing his watch, for though special permission for naps had this week been accorded, he had, as a matter of fact, done the same thing on every preceding night, sleeping often till awakened by a smack on the shoulder at three or four in the morning from the crook-stem of the old man.

It might have been about eleven o’clock when he awoke. He was so surprised at awaking without, apparently, being called or struck, that on second thoughts he assumed that somebody must have called him in spite of appearances, and looked out of the hut window towards the sheep. They all lay as quiet as when he had visited them, very little bleating being audible, and no human soul disturbing the scene. He next looked from the opposite window, and here the case was different. The frost-facets glistened under the moon as before; an occasional furze bush showed as a dark spot on the same; and in the foreground stood the ghostly form of the trilithon. But in front of the trilithon stood a man.

That he was not the shepherd or any one of the farm labourers was apparent in a moment’s observation, his dress being a dark suit, and his figure of slender build and graceful carriage. He walked backwards and forwards in front of the trilithon.

The shepherd lad had hardly done speculating on the strangeness of the unknown’s presence here at such an hour, when he saw a second figure crossing the open sward towards the locality of the trilithon and furze clump that screened the hut. This second personage was a woman; and immediately on sight of her the male stranger hastened forward, meeting her just in front of the hut window. Before she seemed to be aware of his intention he clasped her in his arms.

The lady released herself and drew back with some dignity.

‘You have come, Harriet — bless you for it!’ he exclaimed fervently.

‘But not for this,’ she answered, in offended accents. And then, more good-naturedly, ‘I have come, Fred, because you entreated me so! What can have been the object of your writing such a letter? I feared I might be doing you grievous ill by staying away. How did you come here?’

‘I walked all the way from my father’s’

‘Well, what is it? How have you lived since we last met?’

‘But roughly; you might have known that without asking. I have seen many lands and many faces since I last walked these downs, but I have only thought of you.

‘Is it only to tell me this that you have summoned me so strangely?’

A passing breeze blew away the murmur of the reply and several succeeding sentences, till the man’s voice again became audible in the words, ‘Harriet — truth between us two! I have heard that the Duke does not treat you too, well.’

‘He is warm — tempered, but be is a good husband.’

‘He speaks roughly to you, and sometimes even threatens to lock you out of doors.’

‘Only once, Fred! On my honour, only once. The Duke is a fairly good husband, I repeat. But you deserve punishment for this night’s trick of drawing me out. What does it mean?’

‘Harriet, dearest, is this fair or honest? Is it not notorious that your life with him is a sad one — that, in spite of the sweetness of your temper, the sourness of his embitters your days? I have come to know if I can help you. You are a Duchess, and I am Fred Ogbourne; but it is not impossible that I may be able to help you. . . . By God! The sweetness of that tongue ought to keep him civil, especially when there is added to it the sweetness of that face!’

‘Captain Ogbourne!’ she exclaimed, with an emphasis of playful fear. ‘How can such a comrade of my youth behave to me as you do? Don’t speak so and stare at me so! Is this really all you have to say? I see I ought not to have come. ‘Twas thoughtlessly done.’

Another breeze broke the thread of discourse for a time.

‘Very well. I perceive you are dead and lost to me,’ he could next be heard to say; ‘ “Captain Ogbourne” proves that. As I once loved you I love you now, Harriet, without one jot of abatement; but you are not the woman you were — you once were honest towards me; and now you conceal your heart in made-up speeches. Let it be; I can never see you again.’

‘You need not say that in such a tragedy tone, you silly. You may see me in an ordinary way — why should you not? But, of course, not in such a way as this. I should not have come now, if it had not happened that the Duke is away from home, so that there is nobody to check my erratic impulses.’

‘When does he return?’

‘The day after to-morrow, or the day after that.’

‘Then meet me again to-morrow night.’

‘No, Fred, I cannot.’

‘If you cannot to-morrow night, you can the night after; one of the two before he comes please bestow on me. Now, your hand upon it! To-morrow or next night you will see me to bid me farewell!’ He seized the Duchess’s hand.

‘No, but Fred — let go my hand! What do you mean by holding me so? If it be love to forget all respect to a woman’s present position in thinking of her past, then yours maybe so, Frederick. It is not kind and gentle of you to induce me to come to this place for pity of you, and then to hold me tight here.’

‘But see me once more! I have come two thousand miles to ask it.’

‘O, I must not! There will be slanders — Heaven knows what! I cannot meet you. For the sake of old times don’t ask it.’

‘Then own two things to me; that you did love me once, and that your husband is unkind to you often enough now to make you think of the time when you cared for me.’

‘Yes — I own them both,’ she answered faintly. ‘But owning such as that tells against me; and I swear the inference is not true.’

‘Don’t say that; for you have come — let me think the reason of your coming what I like to think it. It can do you no harm. Come once more!’

He still held her hand and waist. ‘Very well, then,’ she said. ‘Thus far you shall persuade me. I will meet you to-morrow night or the night after. Now, O let me go.’

He released her, and they parted. The Duchess ran rapidly down the hill towards the outlying mansion of Shakeforest Towers, and when he had watched her out of sight, he turned and strode off in the opposite direction. All then was silent and empty as before.

Yet it was only for a moment. When they had quite departed, another shape appeared upon the scene. He came from behind the trilithon. He was a man of stouter build than the first, and wore the boots and spurs of a horseman. Two things were at once obvious from this phenomenon: that he had watched the interview between the Captain and the Duchess; and that, though he probably had seen every movement of the couple, including the embrace, he had been too remote to hear the reluctant words of the lady’s conversation — or, indeed, any words at all — so that the meeting must have exhibited itself to his eye as the assignation of a pair of well-agreed lovers. But it was necessary that several years should elapse before the shepherd-boy was old enough to reason out this.

The third individual stood still for a moment, as if deep in meditation. He crossed over to where the lady and gentleman had stood, and looked at the ground; then he too turned and went away in a third direction, as widely divergent as possible from those taken by the two interlocutors. His course was towards the highway; and a few minutes afterwards the trot of a horse might have been heard upon its frosty surface, lessening till it died away upon the ear.

The boy remained in the hut, confronting the trilithon as if he expected yet more actors on the scene, but nobody else appeared. How long he stood with his little face against the loophole he hardly knew; but he was rudely awakened from his reverie by a punch in his back, and in the feel of it he familiarly recognized the stem of the old shepherd’s crook.

‘Blame thy young eyes and limbs, Bill Mills — now you have let the fire out, and you know I want it kept in! I thought something would go wrong with ‘ee up here, and I couldn’t bide in bed no more than thistledown on the wind, that I could not! Well, what’s happened, fie upon ‘ee?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Ewes all as I left ‘em?’

‘Yes.’

‘Any lambs want bringing in?’

‘No.’

The shepherd relit the fire, and went out among the sheep with a lantern, for the moon was getting low. Soon he came in again.

‘Blame it all — thou’st say that nothing have happened; when one ewe have twinned and is like to go off, and another is dying for want of half an eye of looking to! I told ‘ee, Bill Mills, if anything went wrong to come down and call me; and this is how you have done it.’

‘You said I could go to sleep for a hollerday, and I did.’

‘Don’t you speak to your betters like that, young man, or you’ll come to the gallows-tree! You didn’t sleep all the time, or you wouldn’t have been peeping out of that there hole! Now you can go home, and be up here again by breakfast-time. I be an old man, and there’s old men that deserve well of the world; but no — I must rest how I can!’

The elder shepherd then lay down inside the hut, and the boy went down the hill to the hamlet where he dwelt.

SECOND NIGHT

When the next night drew on the actions of the boy were almost enough to show that he was thinking of the meeting he had witnessed, and of the promise wrung from the lady that she would come there again. As far as the sheep-tending arrangements were concerned, to-night was but a repetition of the foregoing one. Between ten and eleven o’clock the old shepherd withdrew as usual for what sleep at home he might chance to get without interruption, making up the other necessary hours of rest at sometime during the day: the boy was left alone.

The frost was the same as on the night before, except perhaps that it was a little more severe. The moon shone as usual, except that it was three-quarters of an hour later in its course; and the boy’s condition was much the same, except that he felt no sleepiness whatever. He felt, too, rather afraid; but upon the whole he preferred witnessing an assignation of strangers to running the risk of being discovered absent by the old shepherd.

It was before the distant clock of Shakeforest Towers had struck eleven that he observed the opening of the second act of this midnight drama. It consisted in the appearance of neither lover nor Duchess, but of the third figure — the stout man, booted and spurred who came up from the easterly direction in which he had retreated the night before. He walked once round the trilithon, and next advanced towards the clump concealing the hut, the moonlight shining full upon his face and revealing him to be the Duke. Fear seized upon the shepherd-boy: the Duke was Jove himself to the rural population, whom to offend was starvation, homelessness, and death, and whom to look at was to be mentally scathed and dumbfounded. He closed the stove, so that not a spark of light appeared, and hastily buried himself in the straw that lay in a corner.

The Duke came close to the clump of furze and stood by the spot where his wife and the Captain had held their dialogue; he examined the furze as if searching for a hiding-place, and in doing so discovered the hut. The latter he walked round and then looked inside; finding it to all seeming empty, he entered, closing the door behind him and taking his place at the little circular window against which the boy’s face had been pressed just before.

The Duke had not adopted his measures too rapidly, if his object were concealment. Almost as soon as he had stationed himself there eleven o’clock struck, and the slender young man who had previously graced the scene promptly reappeared from the north quarter of the down. The spot of assignation having, by the accident of his running forward on the foregoing night, removed itself from the Devil’s Door to the clump of furze, he instinctively came thither, and waited for the Duchess where he had met her before.

But a fearful surprise was in store for him to-night, as well as for the trembling juvenile. At his appearance the Duke breathed more and more quickly, his breathings being distinctly audible to the crouching boy. The young man had hardly paused when the alert nobleman softly opened the door of the hut, and, stepping round the furze, came full upon Captain Fred.

‘You have dishonoured her, and you shall die the death you deserve!’ came to the shepherd’s ears, in a harsh, hollow whisper through the boarding of the hut.

The apathetic and taciturn boy was excited enough to run the risk of rising and looking from the window, but he could see nothing for the intervening furze boughs, both the men having gone round to the side. What took place in the few following moments he never exactly knew. He discerned portion of a shadow in quick muscular movement; then there was the fall of something on the grass; then there was stillness.

Two or three minutes later the Duke became visible round the corner of the hut, dragging by the collar the now inert body of the second man. The Duke dragged him across the open space towards the trilithon. Behind this ruin was a hollow, irregular spot, overgrown with furze and stunted thorns, and riddled by the old holes of badgers, its former inhabitants, who had now died out or departed. The Duke vanished into this depression with his burden, reappearing after the lapse of a few seconds. When he came forth he dragged nothing behind him.

He returned to the side of the hut, cleansed something on the grass, and again put himself on the watch, though not as before, inside the hut, but without, on the shady side. ‘Now for the second!’ he said.

It was plain, even to the unsophisticated boy, that he now awaited the other person of the appointment his wife, the Duchess — for what purpose it was terrible to think. “He seemed to be a man of such determined temper that he would scarcely hesitate in carrying out a course of revenge to the bitter end. Moreover — though it was what the shepherd did not perceive — this was all the more probable, in that the moody Duke was labouring under the exaggerated impression which the sight of the meeting in dumb show had conveyed.

The jealous watcher waited long, but he waited in vain. From within the hut the boy could hear his occasional exclamations of surprise, as if he were almost disappointed at the failure of his assumption that his guilty Duchess would surely keep the tryst. Sometimes he stepped from the shade of the furze into the moonlight, and held up his watch to learn the time.

About half-past eleven he seemed to give up expecting her. He then went a second time to the hollow behind the trilithon, remaining there nearly a quarter of an hour. From this place he proceeded quickly over a shoulder of the declivity, a little to the left, presently returning on horseback, which proved that his horse had been tethered in some secret place down there. Crossing anew the down between the hut and the trilithon, and scanning the precincts as if finally to assure himself that she had not come, he rode slowly downwards in the direction of Shakeforest Towers.

The juvenile shepherd thought of what lay in the hollow yonder; and no fear of the crook-stem of his superior officer was potent enough to detain him longer on that hill alone. Any live company, even the most terrible, was better than the company of the dead so, running with the speed of a hare in the direction pursued by the horseman, he overtook the revengeful Duke at the second descent (where the great western road crossed before you came to the old park entrance on that side — now closed up and the lodge cleared away, though at the time it was wondered why, being considered the most convenient gate of all).

Once within the sound of the horse’s footsteps, Bill Mills felt comparatively comfortable; for, though in awe of the Duke because of his position, he had no moral repugnance to his companionship on account of the grisly deed he had committed, considering that powerful nobleman to have a right to do what he chose on his own lands. The Duke rode steadily on beneath his ancestral trees, the hoofs of his horse sending up a smart sound now that he had reached the hard road of the drive, and soon drew near the front door of his house, surmounted by parapets with square-cut battlements that cast a notched shade upon the gravelled terrace. These outlines were quite familiar to little Bill Mills, though nothing within their boundary had ever been seen by him.

When the rider approached the mansion a small turret door was quickly opened and a woman came out. As soon as she saw the horseman’s outlines she ran forward into the moonlight to meet him.

‘Ah dear — and are you come?’ she said. ‘I heard Hero’s tread just when you rode over the hill, and I knew it in a moment. I would have come further if I had been aware — ’

‘Glad to see me, eh?’

‘How can you ask that?’

‘Well; it is a lovely night for meetings.’

‘Yes, it is a lovely night.’

The Duke dismounted and stood by her side. ‘Why should you have been listening at this time of night, and yet not expecting me?’ he asked.

‘Why, indeed! There is a strange story attached to that, which I must tell you at once. But why did you come a night sooner than you said you would come? I am rather sorry — I really am!’ (shaking her head playfully) ‘for as a surprise to you I had ordered a bonfire to be built, which was to be lighted on your arrival to-morrow; and now it is wasted. You can see the outline of it just out there.’

The Duke looked across to a spot of rising glade, and saw the faggots in a heap. He then bent his eyes with a bland and puzzled air on the ground, ‘What is this strange story you have to tell me that kept you awake?’ he murmured.

‘It is this — and it is really rather serious. My cousin Fred Ogbourne — Captain Ogbourne as he is now — was in his boyhood a great admirer of mine, as I think I have told you, though I was six years his senior. In strict truth, he was absurdly fond of me.’

‘You have never told me of that before.’

‘Then it was your sister I told — yes, it was. Well, you know I have not seen him for many years, and naturally I had quite forgotten his admiration of me in old times. But guess my surprise when the day before yesterday, I received a mysterious note bearing no address, and found on opening it that it came from him. The contents frightened me out of my wits. He had returned from Canada to his father’s house, and conjured me by all he could think of to meet him at once. But I think I can repeat the exact words, though I will show it to you when we get indoors.

‘MY DEAR COUSIN HARRIET,’ the note said, ‘After this long absence you will be surprised at my sudden reappearance, and more by what I am going to ask. But if my life and future are of any concern to you at all, I beg that you will grant my request. What I require of you, is, dear Harriet, that you meet me about eleven to-night by the Druid stones on Marlbury Downs, about a mile or more from your house. I cannot say more, except to entreat you to come. I will explain all when you are there. The one thing is, I want to see you. Come alone. Believe me, I would not ask this if my happiness did not hang upon it — God knows how entirely ! I am too agitated to say more — Yours. FRED.’

‘That was all of it. Now, of course, I ought not to have gone, as it turned out, but that I did not think of then. I remembered his impetuous temper, and feared that something grievous was impending over his head, while he had not a friend in the world to help him, or anyone except myself to whom he would care to make his trouble known. So I wrapped myself up and went to Marlbury Downs at the time he had named. Don’t you think I was courageous?’

‘Very.’

‘When I got there — but shall we not walk on; it is getting cold?’ The Duke, however, did not move. ‘When I got there he came, of course, as a full grown man and officer, and not as the lad that I had known him. When I saw him I was sorry I had come. ‘I can hardly tell you how he behaved. What he wanted I don’t know even now; it seemed to be no more than the mere meeting with me. He held me by the hand and waist — O so tight — and would not let me go till I had promised to meet him again. His manner was so strange and passionate that I was afraid of him in such a lonely place, and I promised to come. Then I escaped — then I ran home — and that’s all. When the time drew on this evening for the appointment — which, of course, I never intended to keep — I felt uneasy, lest when he found I meant to disappoint him he would come on to the house; and that’s why I could not sleep. But you are so silent!’

‘I have had a long journey.

‘Then let us get into the house. Why did you come alone and unattended like this?

‘It was, my humour.’

After a moment’s silence, during which they moved on, she said, I have thought of something which I hardly like to suggest to you. He said that if I failed to come to-night he would wait again to-morrow night. Now, shall we to-morrow night go to the hill together — just to see if he is there; and if he is, read him a lesson on his foolishness in nourishing this old passion, and sending for me so oddly, instead of coming to the house?’

‘Why should we see if he’s there?’ said her husband moodily.

‘Because I think we ought to do something in it. Poor Fred! He would listen to you if you reasoned with him, and set our positions in their true light before him. It would be no more than Christian kindness to a man who unquestionably is very miserable from some cause or other. His head seems quite turned.’

By this time they had reached the door, rung the bell, and waited. All the house seemed to be asleep; but soon a man came to them, the horse was taken away, and the Duke and Duchess went in.

THIRD NIGHT

There was no help for it. Bill Mills was obliged to stay on duty, in the old shepherd’s absence, this evening as before, or give up his post and living. He thought as bravely as he could of what lay behind the Devil’s Door, but with no great success, and was therefore in a measure relieved, even if awe-stricken, when he saw the forms of the Duke and Duchess strolling across the frosted greensward. The Duchess was a few yards in front of her husband and tripped on lightly.

‘I tell you he has not thought it worth while to come again!’ the Duke insisted, as he stood still, reluctant to walk further.

‘He is more likely to come and wait all night; and it would be harsh treatment to let him do it a second time.’

‘He is not here; so turn and come home.’

‘He seems not to be here, certainly; I wonder if anything has happened to him. If it has, I shall never forgive myself!’

The Duke, uneasily, ‘O, no. He has some other engagement.’

‘That is very unlikely.’

‘Or perhaps he has found the distance too far.’

‘Nor is that probable.’

‘Then he may have thought better of it.’

‘Yes, he may have thought better of it; if, indeed, he is not here all the time — somewhere in the hollow behind the Devil’s Door. Let us go and see; it will serve him right to surprise him.’

‘O, he’s not there.’

‘He may be lying very quiet because of you,’ she said archly.

‘O, no — not because of me!’

‘Come, then. I declare, dearest, you lag like an unwilling schoolboy to-night, and there’s no responsiveness in you! You are jealous of that poor lad, and it is quite absurd of you.’

‘I’ll come! I’ll come! Say no more, Harriet!’ And they crossed over the green.

Wondering what they would do, the young shepherd left the hut, and doubled behind the belt of furze, intending to stand near the trilithon unperceived. But, in crossing the few yards of open ground he was for a moment exposed to view.

‘Ah, I see him at last !’ said the Duchess.

‘See him!’ said the Duke. ‘Where?’

‘By the Devil’s Door; don’t you notice a figure there? Ah, my poor lover-cousin, won’t you catch it now?’ And she laughed half-pityingly. ‘But what’s the matter?’ she asked, turning to her husband.

‘It is not he!’ said the Duke hoarsely.

‘It can’t be he!’

‘No, it is not he. It is too small for him. It is a boy.’

‘Ah, I thought so! Boy, come here.’

The youthful shepherd advanced with apprehension.

‘What are you doing here?’

‘Keeping sheep, your Grace.’

‘Ah, you know me! Do you keep sheep here every night?’

‘Off and on, my Lord Duke.’

‘And what have you seen here to-night or last night?’ inquired the Duchess. ‘Any person waiting or walking about?’

The boy was silent.

‘He has seen nothing,’ interrupted her husband, his eyes so forbiddingly fixed on the boy that they seemed to shine like points of fire. ‘Come, let us go. The air is too keen to stand in long.’

When they were gone the boy retreated to the hut and sheep, less fearful now than at first — familiarity with the situation having gradually overpowered his thoughts of the buried man. But he was not to be left alone long. When an interval had elapsed of about sufficient length for walking to and from Shakeforest Towers, there appeared from that direction the heavy form of the Duke. He now came alone.

The nobleman, on his part, seemed to have eyes no less sharp than the boy’s, for he instantly recognized the latter among the ewes, and came straight towards him.

‘Are you the shepherd lad I spoke to a short time ago?’

‘I be, my Lord Duke.’

‘Now listen to me. Her Grace asked you what you had seen this last night or two up here, and you made no reply. I now ask the same thing, and you need not be afraid to answer. Have you seen anything strange these nights you have been watching here?’

‘My Lord Duke, I be a poor heedless boy, and what I see I don’t bear in mind.’

‘I ask you again,’ said the Duke, coming nearer, have you seen anything strange these nights you have been watching here?’

‘O, my Lord Duke! I be but the under-shepherd boy, and my father he was but your humble Grace’s hedger, and my mother only the cinder-woman in the back-yard! If all asleep when left alone, and I see nothing at all!’

The Duke grasped the boy by the shoulder, and, directly impending over him stared down into his face, ‘Did you see anything strange done here last night, I say?’

‘O, my Lord Duke, have mercy, and don’t stab me!’ cried the shepherd, falling on his knees. ‘I have never seen you walking here, or riding here, or lying-in-wait for a man, or dragging a heavy load!’

‘H’m!’ said his interrogator, grimly, relaxing his hold. It is well to know that you have never seen those things. Now, which would you rather — see me do those things now, or keep a secret all your life?’

‘Keep a secret, my Lord Duke!’

‘Sure you are able?’

‘O, your Grace, try me!’

‘Very well. And now, how do you like sheep keeping?’

‘Not at all. ‘Tis lonely work for them that think of spirits, and I’m badly used.’

‘I believe you. You are too young for it. I must do something to make you more comfortable. You shall change this smock-frock for a real cloth jacket, and your thick boots for polished shoes. And you shall be taught what you have never yet heard of, and be put to school, and have bats and balls for the holidays, and be made a man of. But you must never say you have been a shepherd boy, and watched on the hills at night, for shepherd boys are not liked in good company.’

‘Trust me, my Lord Duke.’

‘The very moment you forget yourself, and speak of your shepherd days — this year, next year, in school, out of school, or riding in your carriage twenty years hence –at that moment my help will be withdrawn, and smash down you come to shepherding forthwith. You have parents, I think you say?’

‘A widowed mother only, my Lord Duke.’

‘I’ll provide for her, and make a comfortable woman of her, until you speak of — what?’

‘Of my shepherd days, and what I saw here.’

‘Good. If you do speak of it?’

‘Smash down she comes to widowing forthwith!’

‘That’s well — very well. But it’s not enough. Come here.’ He took the boy across to the trilithon, and made him kneel down.

‘Now, this was once a holy place,’ resumed the Duke. ‘An altar stood here, erected to a venerable family of gods, who were known and talked of long before the God we know now. So that an oath sworn here is doubly an oath. Say this after me: “May all the host above — angels and archangels, and principalities and powers — punish me; may I be tormented wherever I am — in the house or in the garden, in the fields or in the roads, in church or in chapel, at home or abroad, on land or at sea; may I be afflicted in eating and in drinking, in growing up and in growing old, in living and dying, inwardly and outwardly, and for always, if I ever speak of my life as a shepherd-boy, or of what I have seen done on this Marlbury Down. So be it, and so let it be. Amen and a men. “Now kiss the stone.’

The trembling boy repeated the words, and kissed the stone, as desired.

The Duke led him off by the hand. That night the junior shepherd slept in Shakeforest Towers, and the next day he was sent away for tuition to a remote village. Thence he went to a preparatory establishment, and in due course to a public school.

FOURTH NIGHT

On a winter evening many years subsequent to the above-mentioned occurrences, the ci-devant shepherd sat in a well-furnished office in the north wing of Shakeforest Towers in the guise of an ordinary educated man of business. He appeared at this time as a person of thirty-eight or forty, though actually he was several years younger. A worn and restless glance of the eye now and then, when he lifted his head to search for some letter or paper which had been mislaid, seemed to denote that his was not a mind so thoroughly at ease as his surroundings might have led an observer to expect. His pallor, too, was remarkable for a countryman. He was professedly engaged in writing, but he shaped not a word. He had sat there only a few minutes, when, laying down his pen and pushing back his chair, he rested a hand uneasily on each of the chair-arms and looked on the floor.

Soon he arose and left the room. His course was along a passage which ended in a central octagonal hall crossing this he knocked at a door. A faint, though deep, voice told him to come in. The room he entered was the library, and it was tenanted by a single person only — his patron the Duke.

During this long interval of years the Duke had lost all his heaviness of build. He was, indeed, almost a skeleton; his white hair was thin, and his hands were nearly transparent. ‘Oh — Mills?’ he murmured. ‘Sit down. What is it?’

‘Nothing new, your Grace. Nobody to speak of has written, and nobody has called.’

‘Ah — what then? ‘You look concerned.’

‘Old times have come to life, owing to something waking them.’

‘Old times be cursed — which old times are they?’

‘That Christmas week twenty-two years ago, when the late Duchess’s cousin Frederick implored her to meet him on Marlbury Downs. I saw the meeting — it was just such a night as this — and I, as you know, saw more. She met him once, but not the second time.’

‘Mills, shall I recall some words to you — the words of an oath taken on that hill by a shepherd-boy?’

‘It is unnecessary. He has strenuously kept that oath and promise. Since that night no sound of his shepherd life has crossed his lips — even to yourself. But do you wish to hear more, or do you not, your Grace?’

‘I wish to hear no more,’ said the Duke sullenly.

Very well; let it be so. But a time seems coming — may be quite near at hand — when, in spite of my lips, that episode will allow itself to go undivulged no longer.’

‘I wish to hear no more!’ repeated the Duke.

‘You need be under no fear of treachery from me,’ said the steward, somewhat bitterly. ‘I am a man to whom you have been kind — no patron could have been kinder. You have clothed and educated me; have installed me here; and I am not unmindful. But what of it — has your Grace gained much by my stanchness? I think not. There was great excitement about Captain Ogbourne’s disappearance, but I spoke not a word. And his body has never been found. For twenty-two years I have wondered what you did with him. Now I know. A circumstance that occurred this afternoon recalled the time tome most forcibly. To make it certain to myself that all was not a dream, I went up therewith a spade; I searched, and saw enough to know that something decays there in a closed badger’s hole.’

‘Mills, do you think the Duchess guessed?’

‘She never did, I am sure, to the day of her death.’

‘Did you leave all as you found it on the hill?’

‘I did.’

‘What made you think of going up there this particular afternoon?’’What your Grace says you don’t wish to be told.’ The Duke was silent; and the stillness of the evening was so marked that there reached their ears from the outer air the sound of a tolling bell.

‘What is that bell tolling for?’ asked the nobleman.

‘For what I came to tell you of, your Grace.’

‘You torment me — it is your way!’ said the Duke loudly. ‘Who’s dead in the village?’

‘The oldest man — the old shepherd.’

‘Dead at last — how old is he?’

‘Ninety-four.’’And I am only seventy. I have four-and-twenty years to the good!’

‘I served under that old man when I kept sheep on Marlbury Downs. And he was on the hill that second night, when I first exchanged words with your Grace. He was on the hill all the time; but I did not know he was there — nor did you.’

‘Ah!’ said the Duke, starting up. ‘Go on — I yield the point — you may tell!’

‘I heard this afternoon that he was at the point of death. It was that which set me thinking of that past time — and induced me to search on the hill for what I have told you. Coming back I heard that he wished to see the Vicar to confess to him a secret he had kept for more than twenty years — ”out of respect to my Lord the Duke” — something that he had seen committed on Marlbury Downs when returning to the flock on a December night twenty-two years ago. I have thought it over. He had left me in charge that evening; but he was in the habit of coming back suddenly, lest I should have fallen asleep. That night I saw nothing of him, though he had promised to return. He must have returned, and — found reason to keep in hiding. It is all plain. The next thing is that the Vicar went to him two hours ago. Further than that I have not heard.’

‘It is quite enough. l will see the vicar at daybreak to-morrow.’

‘What to do?’

‘Stop his tongue for four-and-twenty years — till I am dead at ninety-four, like the shepherd.’

‘Your Grace — while you impose silence on me, I will not speak, even though my neck should pay the penalty. I promised to be yours, and I am yours. But is this persistence of any avail?’

‘I’ll stop his tongue, I say!’ cried the Duke with some of his old rugged force. ‘Now, you go home to bed, Mills, and leave me to manage him.’

The interview ended, and the steward withdrew. The night, as he had said was just such an one as the night of twenty-two years before, and the events of the evening destroyed in him all regard for the season as one of cheerfulness and goodwill. He went off to his own house on the further verge of the park, where he led a lonely life, scarcely calling any man friend. At eleven he prepared to retire to bed — but did not retire. He sat down and reflected. Twelve o’clock struck; he looked out at the colourless moon, and, prompted by he knew not what, put on his hat and emerged into the air. Here William Mills strolled on and on, till he reached the top of Marlbury Downs, a spot he had not visited at this hour of the night during the whole score-and-odd years.

He placed himself, as nearly as he could guess the spot where the shepherd’s hut had stood. No lambing was in progress there now, and the old shepherd who had used him so roughly had ceased from his labours that very day. But the trilithon stood up white as ever; and, crossing the intervening sward, the steward fancifully placed his mouth against the stone. Restless and self-reproachful as he was, he could not resist a smile as he thought of the terrifying oath of compact, sealed by a kiss upon the stones of a Pagan temple. But he had kept his word, rather as a promise than as a formal vow, with much worldly advantage to himself, though not much happiness; till increase of years had bred reactionary feelings which led him to receive the news of to-night with emotions akin to relief.

While leaning against the Devil’s Door and thinking on these things, he became conscious that he was not the only inhabitant of the down. A figure in white was moving across his front with long, noiseless strides. Mills stood motionless, and when the form drew quite near he perceived it to be that of the Duke himself in his nightshirt — apparently walking in his sleep. Not to alarm the old man, Mills clung close to the shadow of the stone. The Duke went straight on into the hollow. There he knelt down, and began scratching the earth with his hands like a badger. After a few minutes he arose, sighed heavily, and retraced his steps as he had come.

Fearing that he might harm himself, yet unwilling to arouse him, the steward followed noiselessly. The Duke kept on his path unerringly, entered the park, and made for the house, where he let himself in by a window that stood open — the one probably by which he had come out. Mills softly closed the window behind his patron, and then retired homeward to await the revelations of the morning, deeming it unnecessary to alarm the house.

However, he felt uneasy during the remainder of the night, no less on account of the Duke’s personal condition than because of that which was imminent next day. Early in the morning he called at Shakeforest Towers. The blinds were down, and there was something singular upon the porter’s face when he opened the door. The steward inquired for the Duke.

The man’s voice was subdued as he replied: ‘Sir, I am sorry to say that his Grace is dead! He left his room some time in the night, and wandered about nobody knows where. On returning to the upper floor he lost his balance and fell downstairs.’

The steward told the tale of the Down before the Vicar had spoken. Mills had always intended to do so after the death of the Duke. The consequences to himself he underwent cheerfully; but his life was not prolonged. He died, a farmer at the Cape, when still somewhat under forty-nine years of age.

The splendid Marlbury breeding flock is as renowned as ever, and, to the eye, seems the same in every particular that it was in earlier times; but the animals which composed it on the occasion of the events gathered from the Justice are divided by many ovine generations from its members now. Lambing Corner has long since ceased to be used for lambing purposes, though the name still lingers on as the appellation of the spot. This abandonment of site may be partly owing to the removal of the high furze bushes which lent such convenient shelter at that date. Partly, too, it may be due to another circumstance. For it is said by present shepherds in that district that during the nights of Christmas week flitting shapes are seen in the open space around the trilithon, together with the gleam of a weapon, and the shadow of a man dragging a burden into the hollow. But of these things there is no certain testimony.

Christmas 1881.

A Tradition of Eighteen Hundred and Four

The widely discussed possibility of an invasion of England through a Channel tunnel has more than once recalled old Solomon Selby’s story to my mind.

The occasion on which I numbered myself among his audience was one evening when he was sitting in the yawning chimney-corner of the inn-kitchen, with some others who had gathered there, and I entered for shelter from the rain. Withdrawing the stem of his pipe from the dental notch in which it habitually rested, he leaned back in the recess behind him and smiled into the fire. The smile was neither mirthful nor sad, not precisely humorous nor altogether thoughtful. We who knew him recognized it in a moment: it was his narrative smile. Breaking off our few desultory remarks we drew up closer, and he thus began : —

‘My father, as you mid know, was a shepherd all his life, and lived out by the Cove four miles yonder, where I was born and lived likewise, till I moved here shortly a fore I was married. The cottage that first knew me stood on the top of the down, near the sea; there was no house within a mile and a half of it; it was built o’ purpose for the farm-shepherd, and had no other use. They tell me that it is now pulled down, but that you can see where it stood by the mounds of earth and a few broken bricks that are still lying about. It was a bleak and dreary place in winter-time, but in summer it was well enough, though the garden never came to much, because we could not get up a good shelter for the vegetables and currant bushes; and where there is much wind they don’t thrive.

‘Of all the years of my growing up the ones that bide clearest in my mind were eighteen hundred and three, four, and five. This was for two reasons: I had just then grown to an age when a child’s eyes and ears take in and note down everything about him, and there was more at that date to bear in mind than there ever has been since with me. It was, as I need hardly tell ye, the time after the first peace, when Bonaparte was scheming his descent upon England. He had crossed the great Alp mountains, fought in Egypt, drubbed the Turks, the Austrians, and the Proossians, and now thought he’d have a slap at us. On the other side of the Channel, scarce out of sight and hail of a man standing on our English shore, the French army of a hundred and sixty thousand men and fifteen thousand horses had been brought together from all parts, and were drilling every day. Bonaparte had been three years a-making his preparations; and to ferry these soldiers and cannon and horses across he had contrived a couple of thousand flat-bottomed boats. These boats were small things, but wonderfully built. A good few of ‘em were so made as to have a little stable on board each for the two horses that were to haul the cannon carried at the stern. To get in order all these, and other things required, he had assembled there five or six thousand fellows that worked at trades — carpenters, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, saddlers, and what not. O ‘twas a curious time!

‘Every morning Neighbour Boney would muster his multitude of soldiers on the beach, draw ‘em up in line, practise ‘em in the maneuver of embarking, horses and all, till they could do it without a single hitch. My father drove a flock of ewes up into Sussex that year, and as he went along the drover’s track over the high downs thereabout he could see this drilling actually going on — the accoutrements of the rank and file glittering in the sun like silver. It was thought and always said by my uncle Job, sergeant of foot(who used to know all about these matters), that Bonaparte meant to cross with oars on a calm night. The grand query with us was, Where would my gentleman land? Many of the common people thought it would be at Dover; others, who knew how unlikely it was that any skilful general would make a business of landing just where he was expected, said he’d go either east into the River Thames, or west’ard to some convenient place, most likely one of the little bays inside the Isle of Portland, between the Beal and St. Alban’s Head — and for choice the three-quarter-round Cove, screened from every mortal eye, that seemed made o’ purpose, out by where we lived, and which I’ve climmed up with two tubs of brandy across my shoulders on scores o’ dark nights in my younger days. Some had heard that a part o’ the French fleet would sail right round Scotland, and come up the Channel to a suitable haven. However, there was much doubt upon the matter; and no wonder, for after-years proved that Bonaparte himself could hardly make up his mind upon that great and very particular point, where to land. His uncertainty came about in this wise, that he could get no news as to where and how our troops lay in waiting, and that his knowledge of possible places where flat-bottomed boats might be quietly run ashore, and the men they brought marshalled in order, was dim to the last degree. Being flat-bottomed, they didn’t require a harbour for unshipping their cargo of men, but a good shelving beach away from sight, and with a fair open road toward London. How the question posed that great Corsican tyrant (as we used to call him),what pains he took to settle it, and, above all, what a risk he ran on one particular night in trying to do so, were known only to one man here and there; and certainly to no maker of newspapers or printer of books, or my account o’t would not have had so many heads shaken over it as it has by gentry who only believe what they see in printed lines.

‘The flocks my father had charge of fed all about the downs near our house, overlooking the sea and shore each way for miles. In winter and early spring father was up a deal at nights, watching and tending the lambing. Often he’d go to bed early, and turn out at twelve or one; and on the other hand, he’d sometimes stay up till twelve or one, and then turn into bed. As soon as I was old enough I used to help him, mostly in the way of keeping an eye upon the ewes while he was gone home to rest. This is what I was doing in a particular month in either the year four or five — I can’t certainly fix which, but it was long before I was took away from the sheepkeeping to be bound prentice to a trade. Every night at that time I was at the fold, about half a mile, or it may be a little more, from our cottage, and no living thing at all with me but the ewes and young lambs. Afeard? No; I was never afeard of being alone at these times; for I had been reared in such an out-step place that the lack o’ human beings at night made me less fearful than the sight of ‘em. Directly I saw a man’s shape after dark in a lonely place I was frightened out of my senses.

‘One day in that month we were surprised by a visit from my uncle Job, the sergeant in the Sixty-first foot, then in camp on the downs above King George’s watering-place, several miles to the west yonder. Uncle Job dropped in about dusk, and went up with my father to the fold for an hour or two. Then he came home, had a drop to drink from the tub of sperrits that the smugglers kept us in for housing their liquor when they’d made a run, and for burning ‘em off when there was danger. After that he stretched himself out on the settle to sleep. I went to bed: at one o’clock father came home, and waking me to go and take his place, according to custom, went to bed himself. On my way out of the house I passed Uncle Job on the settle. He opened his eyes, and upon my telling him where I was going he said it was a shame that such a youngster as I should go up there all alone; and when he had fastened up his stock and waist-belt he set off along with me, taking a drop from the sperrit-tub in a little flat bottle that stood in the corner-cupboard.

‘By and by we drew up to the fold, saw that all was right, and then, to keep ourselves warm, curled up in a heap of straw that lay inside the thatched hurdles we had set up to break the stroke of the wind when there was any. To-night, however, there was none. It was one of those very still nights when, if you stand on the high hills anywhere within two or three miles of the sea, you can hear the rise and fall of the tide along the shore, coming and going, every few moments like a sort of great snore of the sleeping world. Over the lower ground there was a bit of a mist, but on the hill where we lay the air was clear, and the moon, then in her last quarter, flung a fairly good light on the grass and scattered straw.

‘While we lay there Uncle Job amused me by telling me strange stories of the wars he had served in and the wownds he had got. He had already fought the French in the Low Countries, and hoped to fight ‘em again. His stories lasted so long that at last I was hardly sure that I was not a soldier myself, and had seen such service as he told of. The wonders of his tales quite bewildered my mind, till I fell asleep and dreamed of battle, smoke, and flying soldiers, all of a kind with the doings he had been bringing up tome.

‘How long my nap lasted I am not prepared to say. But some faint sounds over and above the rustle of the ewes in the straw, the bleat of the lambs, and the tinkle of the sheep-bell brought me to my waking senses. Uncle Job was still beside me; but he too had fallen asleep. I looked out from the straw, and saw what it was that had aroused me. Two men, in boat-cloaks, cocked hats, and swords, stood by the hurdles about twenty yards off.

‘I turned my ear thitherward to catch what they were saying, but though I heard every word o’t, not one did I understand. They spoke in a tongue that was not ours — in French, as I afterward found. But if I could not gain the meaning of a word, I was shrewd boy enough to find out a deal of the talkers’ business. By the light o’ the moon I could see that one of ‘em carried a roll of paper in his hand, while every moment he spoke quick to his comrade, and pointed right and left with the other hand to spots along the shore. There was no doubt that he was explaining to the second gentleman the shapes and features of the coast. What happened soon after made this still clearer to me.

‘All this time I had not waked Uncle Job, but now I began to be afeared that they might light upon us, because uncle breathed so heavily through’s nose. I put my mouth to his ear and whispered, ‘Uncle Job.”

‘ “What is it, my boy?” he said, just as if he hadn’t been asleep at all.

‘ “Hush!” says I. “ Two French generals — ”

‘ “French ? “ says he.

‘ “Yes,” says I. “ Come to see where to land their army!”

‘I pointed ‘em out ; but I could say no more, for the pair were coming at that moment much nearer to where we lay. As soon as they got as near as eight or ten yards, the officer with a roll in his hand stooped down to a slanting hurdle, unfastened his roll upon it, and spread it out. Then suddenly he sprung a dark lantern open on the paper, and showed it to be a map.

‘ “What be they looking at?” I whispered to Uncle Job.

‘ “A chart of the Channel, says the sergeant (knowing about such things).

‘The other French officer now stooped likewise, and over the map they had a long consultation, as they pointed here and there on the paper, and then hither and thither at places along the shore beneath us. I noticed that the manner of one officer was very respectful toward the other, who seemed much his superior, the second in rank calling him by a sort of title that I did not know the sense of. The head one, on the other hand, was quite familiar with his friend, and more than once clapped him on the shoulder.

‘Uncle Job had watched as well as I, but though the map had been in the lantern-light, their faces had always been in shade. But when they rose from stooping over the chart the light flashed upward, and fell smart upon one of ‘em’s features. No sooner had this happened than Uncle Job gasped, and sank down as if he’d been in a fit.

‘ “What is it — what is it, Uncle Job ? “ said I.

‘ “O good God!” says he, under the straw.

‘ “What?” says I,

‘ “Boney!” he groaned out.

‘ “Who?” says I.

‘ “Bonaparty,” he said. “The Corsican ogre. O that I had got but my new-flinted firelock, that there man should die! But I haven’t got my new-flinted firelock, and that there man must live. So lie low, as you value your life!”

‘I did lie low, as you mid suppose. But I couldn’t help peeping. And then I too, lad as I was, knew that it was the face of Bonaparte. Not know Boney ? I should think I did know Boney. I should have known him by half the light o’ that lantern. If I had seen a picture of his features once, I had seen it a hundred times. There was his bullet head, his short neck, his round yaller cheeks and chin, his gloomy face, and his great glowing eyes. He took off his hat to blow himself a bit, and there was the forelock in the middle of his forehead, as in all the draughts of him. In moving, his cloak fell a little open, and I could see for a moment his white-fronted jacket and one of his epaulets.

‘But none of this lasted long. In a minute he and his general had rolled up the map, shut the lantern, and turned to go down toward the shore.

‘Then Uncle Job came to himself a bit. “Slipped across in the night-time to see how to put his men ashore,” he said. “The like o’ that man’s coolness eyes will never again see! Nephew, I must act in this, and immediate, or England’s lost!”

‘When they were over the brow, we crope out, and went some little way to look after them. Half-way down they were joined by two others, and six or seven minutes brought them to the shore. Then, from behind a rock, a boat came out into the weak moonlight of the Cove, and they jumped in; it put off instantly, and vanished in a few minutes between the two rocks that stand at the mouth of the Cove as we all know. We climmed back to where we had been before, and I could see, a short way out, a larger vessel, though still not very large. The little boat drew up alongside, was made fast at the stern as I suppose, for the largest sailed away, and we saw no more.

‘My uncle Job told his officers as soon as he got back to camp; but what they thought of it I never heard — neither did he. Boney’s army never came, and a good Job for me; for the Cove below my father’s house was where he meant to land, as this secret visit showed. We coast-folk should have been cut down one and all, and I should not have sat here to tell this tale.’

We who listened to old Selby that night have been familiar with his simple grave-stone for these ten years past. Thanks to the incredulity of the age his tale has been seldom repeated. But if anything short of the direct testimony of his own eyes could persuade an auditor that Bonaparte had examined these shores for himself with a view to a practicable landing-place, it would have been Solomon Selby’s manner of narrating the adventure which befell him on the down.

Christmas 1882.

The Three Strangers

Among the few features of agricultural England, which retain an appearance but little modified by the lapse of centuries, may be reckoned the long, grassy and furzy downs, coombs, or ewe-leases, as they are called according to their kind, that fill a large area of certain counties in the south and south-west. If any mark of human occupation is met with hereon, it usually takes the form of the solitary cottage of some shepherd.

Fifty years ago such a lonely cottage stood on such a down, and may possibly be standing there now. In spite of its loneliness, however, the spot, by actual measurement, was not three miles from a country-town. Yet that affected it little. Three miles of irregular upland, during the long inimical seasons, with their sleets, snows, rains, and mists, afford withdrawing space enough to isolate a Timon or a Nebuchadnezzar; much less, in fair weather, to please that less repellent tribe, the poets, philosophers, artists, and others who “conceive and meditate of pleasant things.”

Some old earthen camp or barrow, some clump of trees, at least some starved fragment of ancient hedge is usually taken advantage of in the erection of these forlorn dwellings. But, in the present case, such a kind of shelter had been disregarded. Higher Crowstairs, as the house was called, stood quite detached and undefended. The only reason for its precise situation seemed to be the crossing of two footpaths at right angles hard by, which may have crossed there and thus for a good five hundred years. Hence the house was exposed to the elements on all sides. But, though the wind up here blew unmistakably when it did blow, and the rain hit hard whenever it fell, the various weathers of the winter season were not quite so formidable on the down as they were imagined to be by dwellers on low ground. The raw rimes were not so pernicious as in the hollows, and the frosts were scarcely so severe. When the shepherd and his family who tenanted the house were pitied for their sufferings from the exposure, they said that upon the whole they were less in convenienced by ‘wuzzes and flames’ (hoarses and phlegms) than when they had lived by the stream of a snug neighbouring valley.

The night of March 28, 182 — , was precisely one of the nights that were wont to call forth these expressions of commiseration. The level rainstorm smote walls, slopes, and hedges like the clothyard shafts of Senlac and Crecy. Such sheep and outdoor animals as had no shelter stood with their buttocks to the winds; while the tails of little birds trying to roost on some scraggy thorn were blown inside-out like umbrellas. The gable-end of the cottage was stained with wet, and the eaves droppings flapped against the wall. Yet never was commiseration for the shepherd more misplaced. For that cheerful rustic was entertaining a large party in glorification of the christening of his second girl.

The guests had arrived before the rain began to fall, and they were all now assembled in the chief or living room of the dwelling. A glance into the apartment at eight o’clock on this eventful evening would have resulted in the opinion that it was as cosy and comfortable a nook as could be wished for in boisterous weather. The calling of its inhabitant was proclaimed by a number of highly-polished sheep-crooks without stems that were hung ornamentally over the fireplace, the curl of each shining crook varying from the antiquated type engraved in the patriarchal pictures of old family Bibles to the most approved fashion of the last local sheep-fair. The room was lighted by half-a-dozen candles, having wicks only a trifle smaller than the grease which enveloped them, in candlesticks that were never used but at high-days, holy-days, and family feasts. The lights were scattered about the room, two of them standing on the chimney-piece. This position of candles was in itself significant. Candles on the chimney-piece always meant a party.

On the hearth, in front of a back-brand to give substance, blazed a fire of thorns, that crackled “like the laughter of the fool.”

Nineteen persons were gathered here. Of these, five women, wearing gowns of various bright hues, sat in chairs along the wall; girls shy and not shy filled the window bench; four men, including Charley Jake the hedge-carpenter, Elijah New the parish-clerk, and John Pitcher, a neighbouring dairyman, the shepherd’s father-in-law, lolled in the settle; a young man and maid, who were blushing over tentative pourparlers on a life-companionship sat beneath the corner-cupboard; and an elderly engaged man of fifty or upward moved restlessly about from spots where his betrothed was not to the spot where she was. Enjoyment was pretty general, and so much the more prevailed in being unhampered by conventional restrictions. Absolute confidence in each other’s good opinion begat perfect ease, while the finishing stroke of manner, amounting to a truly princely serenity, was lent to the majority by the absence of any expression or trait denoting that they wished to get on in the world, enlarge their minds, or do any eclipsing thing whatever — which nowadays so generally nips the bloom and bonhomie of all except the two extremes of the social scale.

Shepherd Fennel had married well, his wife being a dairyman’s daughter from a vale at a distance, who brought fifty guineas in her pocket — and kept them there, till they should be required for ministering to the needs of a coming family. This frugal woman had been somewhat exercised as to the character that should be given to the gathering. A sit still party had its advantages; but an undisturbed position of ease in chairs and settles was apt to lead on the men to such an unconscionable deal of toping that they would sometimes fairly drink the house dry. A dancing-party was the alternative; but this, while avoiding the foregoing objection on the score of good drink, had a counterbalancing disadvantage in the matter of good victuals, the ravenous appetites engendered by the exercise causing immense havoc in the buttery. Shepherdess Fennel fell back upon the intermediate plan of mingling short dances with short periods of talk and singing, so as to hinder any ungovernable rage in either. But this scheme was entirely confined to her own gentle mind: the shepherd himself was in the mood to exhibit the most reckless phases of hospitality.

The fiddler was a boy of those parts, about twelve years of age, who had a wonderful dexterity in jigs and reels, though his fingers were so small and short as to necessitate a constant shifting for the high notes, from which he scrambled back to the first position with sounds not of unmixed purity of tone. At seven the shrill tweedle-dee of this youngster had begun, accompanied by a booming ground-bass from Elijah New, the parish-clerk, who had thoughtfully brought with him his favourite musical instrument, the serpent. Dancing was instantaneous, Mrs. Fennel privately enjoining the players on no account to let the dance exceed the length of a quarter of an hour.

But Elijah and the boy in the excitement of their position quite forgot the injunction. Moreover, Oliver Giles, a man of seventeen, one of the dancers, who was enamoured of his partner, a fair girl of thirty-three rolling years, had recklessly handed a new crown-piece to the musicians, as a bribe to keep going as long as they had muscle and wind. Mrs. Fennel seeing the steam begin to generate on the countenances of her guests, crossed over and touched the fiddler’s elbow and put her hand on the serpent’s mouth. But they took no notice, and fearing she might lose her character of genial hostess if she were to interfere too markedly, she retired and sat down helpless. And so the dance whizzed on with cumulative fury, the performers moving in their planet-like courses, direct and retrograde, from apogee to perigee, till the hand of the well-kicked clock at the bottom of the room had travelled over the circumference of an hour.

While these cheerful events were in course of enactment within Fennel’s pastoral dwelling an incident having considerable bearing on the party had occurred in the gloomy night without. Mrs. Fennel’s concern about the growing fierceness of the dance corresponded in point of time with the ascent of a human figure to the solitary hill of Higher Crowstairs from the direction of the distant town. This personage strode on through the rain without a pause, following the little-worn path which, further on in its course, skirted the shepherd’s cottage.

It was nearly the time of full moon, and on this account, though the sky was lined with a uniform sheet of dripping cloud, ordinary objects out of doors were readily visible. The sad wan light revealed the lonely pedestrian to be a man of supple frame; his gait suggested that he had somewhat passed the period of perfect and instinctive agility, though not so far as to be otherwise than rapid of motion when occasion required. At a rough guess, he might have been about forty years of age. He appeared tall, but a recruiting sergeant, or other person accustomed to the judging of men’s heights by the eye, would have discerned that this was chiefly owing to his gauntness, and that he was not more than five-feet-eight or -nine.

Notwithstanding the regularity of his tread there was caution in it, as in that of one who mentally feels his way; and despite the fact that it was not a black coat nor a dark garment of any sort that he wore, there was something about him which suggested that he naturally belonged to the black-coated tribes of men. His clothes were of fustian, and his boots hobnailed, yet in his progress he showed not the mud-accustomed bearing of hobnailed and fustianed peasantry.

By the time that he had arrived abreast of the shepherd’s premises the rain came down, or rather came along, with yet more determined violence. The outskirts of the little settlement partially broke the force of wind and rain, and this induced him to stand still. The most salient of the shepherd’s domestic erections was an empty sty at the forward corner of his hedgeless garden, for in these latitudes the principle of masking the homelier features of your establishment by a conventional frontage was unknown. The traveller’s eye was attracted to this small building by the pallid shine of the wet slates that covered it. He turned aside, and, finding it empty, stood under the pent-roof for shelter.

While he stood the boom of the serpent within the adjacent house, and the lesser strains of the fiddler, reached the spot as an accompaniment to the surging hiss of the flying rain on the sod, its louder beating on the cabbage-leaves of the garden, on the straw hackles of eight or ten beehives just discernible by the path, and its dripping from the eaves into a row of buckets and pans that had been placed under the walls of the cottage. For at Higher Crowstairs, as at all such elevated domiciles, the grand difficulty of housekeeping was an insufficiency of water; and a casual rainfall was utilized by turning out, as catchers, every utensil that the house contained. Some queer stories might be told of the contrivances for economy in suds and dishwaters that are absolutely necessitated in upland habitations during the droughts of summer. But at this season there were no such exigencies; a mere acceptance of what the skies bestowed was sufficient for an abundant store.

At last the notes of the serpent ceased and the house was silent. This cessation of activity aroused the solitary pedestrian from the reverie into which he had lapsed, and, emerging from the shed, with an apparently new intention, he walked up the path to the house-door. Arrived here, his first act was to kneel down on a large stone beside the row of vessels, and to drink a copious draught from one of them. Having quenched his thirst he rose and lifted his hand to knock, but paused with his eye upon the panel. Since the dark surface of the wood revealed absolutely nothing, it was evident that he must be mentally looking through the door, as if he wished to measure thereby all the possibilities that a house of this sort might include, and how they might bear upon the question of his entry.

In his indecision he turned and surveyed the scene around. Not a soul was anywhere visible. The garden-path stretched downward from his feet, gleaming like the track of a snail; the roof of the little well (mostly dry), the well-cover, the top rail of the garden-gate, were varnished with the same dull liquid glaze; while, far away in the vale, a faint whiteness of more than usual extent showed that the rivers were high in the meads. Beyond all this winked a few bleared lamplights through the beating drops-lights that denoted the situation of the county-town from which he had appeared to come. The absence of all notes of life in that direction seemed to clinch his intentions, and he knocked at the door.

Within, a desultory chat had taken the place of movement and musical sound. The hedge-carpenter was suggesting a song to the company, which nobody just then was inclined to undertake, so that the knock afforded a not unwelcome diversion.

“Walk in!” said the shepherd promptly.

The latch clicked upward, and out of the night our pedestrian appeared upon the door-mat. The shepherd arose, snuffed two of the nearest candles, and turned to look at him.

Their light disclosed that the stranger was dark in complexion and not unprepossessing as to feature. His hat, which for a moment he did not remove, hung low over his eyes, without concealing that they were large, open, and determined, moving with a flash rather than a glance round the room. He seemed pleased with his survey, and, baring his shaggy head, said, in a rich deep voice, “The rain is so heavy, friends, that I ask leave to come in and rest awhile.”

“To be sure, stranger,” said the shepherd. “And faith, you’ve been lucky in choosing your time, for we are having a bit of a fling for a glad cause — though, to be sure, a man could hardly wish that glad cause to happen more than once a year.”

“Nor less,” spoke up a woman. “For ‘tis best to get your family over and done with, as soon as you can, so as to be all the earlier out of the fag o’t.”

“And what may be this glad cause?” asked the stranger.

“A birth and christening,” said the shepherd.

The stranger hoped his host might not be made unhappy either by too many or too few of such episodes, and being invited by a gesture to a pull at the mug, he readily acquiesced. His manner, which, before entering, had been so dubious, was now altogether that of a careless and candid man.

“Late to be traipsing athwart this coomb — hey?” said the engaged man of fifty.

“Late it is, master, as you say. I’ll take a seat in the chimney-corner, if you have nothing to urge against it, ma’am; for I am a little moist on the side that was next the rain.”

Mrs. Shepherd Fennel assented, and made room for the self-invited comer, who, having got completely inside the chimney-corner, stretched out his legs and his arms with the expansiveness of a person quite at home.

“Yes, I am rather cracked in the vamp,” he said freely, seeing that the eyes of the shepherd’s wife fell upon his boots, “and I am not well fitted either. I have had some rough times lately, and have been forced to pick up what I can get in the way of wearing, but I must find a suit better fit for working-days when I reach home.”

“One of hereabouts?” she inquired.

“Not quite that — further up the country.”

“I thought so. And so be I; and by your tongue you come from my neighbourhood.”

“But you would hardly have heard of me,” he said quickly. “My time would be long before yours, ma’am, you see.”

This testimony to the youthfulness of his hostess had the effect of stopping her cross-examination.

“There is only one thing more wanted to make me happy,” continued the new-comer. “And that is a little baccy, which I am sorry to say I am out of.”

“I’ll fill your pipe,” said the shepherd.

“I must ask you to lend me a pipe likewise.”

“A smoker, and no pipe about ‘ee?”

“I have dropped it somewhere on the road.”

The shepherd filled and handed him a new clay pipe, saying, as he did so, “Hand me your baccy-box — I’ll fill that too, now I am about it.”

The man went through the movement of searching his pockets.

“Lost that too?” said his entertainer, with some surprise.

“I am afraid so,” said the man with some confusion. “Give it to me in a screw of paper.” Lighting his pipe at the candle with a suction that drew the whole flame into the bowl, he resettled himself in the corner and bent his looks upon the faint steam from his damp legs, as if he wished to say no more.

Meanwhile the general body of guests had been taking little notice of this visitor by reason of an absorbing discussion in which they were engaged with the band about a tune for the next dance. The matter being settled, they were about to stand up when an interruption came in the shape of another knock at the door.

At sound of the same the man in the chimney-corner took up the poker and began stirring the brands as if doing it thoroughly were the one aim of his existence; and a second time the shepherd said, “Walk in!” In a moment another man stood upon the straw-woven door-mat. He too was a stranger.

This individual was one of a type radically different from the first. There was more of the commonplace in his manner, and a certain jovial cosmopolitanism sat upon his features. He was several years older than the first arrival, his hair being slightly frosted, his eyebrows bristly, and his whiskers cut back from his checks. His face was rather full and flabby, and yet it was not altogether a face without power. A few grog-blossoms marked the neighbourhood of his nose. He flung back his long drab greatcoat, revealing that beneath it he wore a suit of cinder-grey shade throughout, large heavy seals, of some metal or other that would take a polish, dangling from his fob as his only personal ornament. Shaking the water-drops from his low-crowned glazed hat, he said, “I must ask for a few minutes’ shelter, comrades, or I shall be wetted to my skin before I get to Casterbridge.”

“Make yourself at home, master,” said the shepherd, perhaps a trifle less heartily than on the first occasion. Not that Fennel had the least tinge of niggardliness in his composition; but the room was far from large, spare chairs were not numerous, and damp companions were not altogether desirable at close quarters for the women and girls in their bright-coloured gowns.

However, the second comer, after taking off his greatcoat, and hanging his hat on a nail in one of the ceiling-beams as if he had been specially invited to put it there, advanced and sat down at the table. This had been pushed so closely into the chimney-corner, to give all available room to the dancers, that its inner edge grazed the elbow of the man who had ensconced himself by the fire; and thus the two strangers were brought into close companionship. They nodded to each other by way of breaking the ice of unacquaintance, and the first stranger handed his neighbour the family mug — a huge vessel of brownware, having its upper edge worn away like a threshold by the rub of whole generations of thirsty lips that had gone the way of all flesh, and bearing the following inscription burnt upon its rotund side in yellow letters: —

THERE iS NO FUN

UNTiLL i CUM.

The other man, nothing loth, raised the mug to his lips, and drank on, and on, and on — till a curious blueness overspread the countenance of the shepherd’s wife, who had regarded with no little surprise the first stranger’s free offer to the second of what did not belong to him to dispense.

“I knew it!” said the toper to the shepherd with much satisfaction. “When I walked up your garden before coming in, and saw the hives all of a row, I said to myself, ‘Where there’s bees there’s honey, and where there’s honey there’s mead.’ But mead of such a truly comfortable sort as this I really didn’t expect to meet in my older days.” He took yet another pull at the mug, till it assumed anominous elevation.

“Glad you enjoy it!” said the shepherd warmly.

“It is goodish mead,” assented Mrs. Fennel, with an absence of enthusiasm which seemed to say that it was possible to buy praise for one’s cellar at too heavy a price. “It is trouble enough to make — and really I hardly think we shall make any more. For honey sells well, and we ourselves can make shift with a drop o’ small mead and metheglin for common use from the comb-washings.”

“O, but you’ll never have the heart!” reproachfully cried the stranger in cinder-grey, after taking up the mug a third time and setting it down empty.” I love mead, when ‘tis old like this, as I love to go to church o’ Sundays, or to relieve the needy any day of the week.”

“Ha, ha, ha!” said the man in the chimney-corner, who, in spite of the taciturnity induced by the pipe of tobacco, could not or would not refrain from this slight testimony to his comrade’s humour.

Now the old mead of those days, brewed of the purest first-year or maiden honey, four pounds to the gallon — with its due complement of white of eggs, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, mace, rosemary, yeast, and processes of working, bottling, and cellaring — tasted remarkably strong; but it did not taste so strong as it actually was. Hence, presently, the stranger in cinder-grey at the table, moved by its creeping influence, unbuttoned his waistcoat, threw himself back in his chair, spread his legs, and made his presence felt in various ways.

“Well, well, as I say,” he resumed, “I am going to Casterbridge, and to Casterbridge I must go, I should have been almost there by this time; but therain drove me into your dwelling, and I’m not sorry for it.”

“You don’t live in Casterbridge?” said the shepherd.

“Not as yet; though I shortly mean to move there.”

“Going to set up in trade, perhaps?”

“No, no,” said the shepherd’s wife. “It is easy to see that the gentleman is rich, and don’t want to work at anything.”

The cinder-grey stranger paused, as if to consider whether he would accept that definition of himself. He presently rejected it by answering, “Rich is not quite the word for me, dame. I do work, and I must work. And even if I only get to Casterbridge by midnight I must begin work there at eight to-morrow morning. Yes, het or wet, blow or snow, famine or sword, my day’s work to-morrow must be done.”

“Poor man! Then, in spite o’ seeming, you be worse off than we?” replied the shepherd’s wife.

“ ‘Tis the nature of my trade, men and maidens. ‘Tis the nature of my trade more than my poverty. . . . But really and truly I must up and off, or I shan’t get a lodging in the town.” However, the speaker did not move, and directly added, “There’s time for one more draught of friendship before I go; and I’d perform it at once if the mug were not dry.”

“Here’s a mug o’ small,” said Mrs. Fennel. “Small, we call it, though to be sure ‘tis only the first wash o’ the combs.”

“No,” said the stranger disdainfully. “I won’t spoil your first kindness by partaking o’ your second. “

“Certainly not,” broke in Fennel. “We don’t increase and multiply everyday, and I’ll fill the mug again.” He went away to the dark place under the stairs where the barrel stood. The shepherdess followed him.

“Why should you do this?” she said reproachfully, as soon as they were alone. “He’s emptied it once, though it held enough for ten people; and now he’s not contented wi’ the small, but must needs call for more o’ the strong! And a stranger unbeknown to any of us. For my part, I don’t like the look o’ the man at all.”

“But he’s in the house, my honey; and ‘tis a wet night, and a christening. Daze it, what’s a cup of mead more or less? There’ll be plenty more next bee-burning. “

“Very well — this time, then,” she answered, looking wistfully at the barrel. “But what is the man’s calling, and where is he one of, that he should come in and join us like this?”

“I don’t know. I’ll ask him again.”

The catastrophe of having the mug drained dry at one pull by the stranger in cinder-grey was effectually guarded against this time by Mrs. Fennel. She poured out his allowance in a small cup, keeping the large one at a discreet distance from him. When he had tossed off his portion the shepherd renewed his inquiry about, the stranger’s occupation.

The latter did not immediately reply, and the man in the chimney-corner, with sudden demonstrativeness, said, “Anybody may know my trade — I’m a wheelwright.”

“A very good trade for these parts,” said the shepherd.

“And anybody may know mine — if they’ve the sense to find it out,” said the stranger in cinder-grey.

“You may generally tell what a man is by his claws,” observed the hedge-carpenter, looking at his own hands, “My fingers be as full of thorns as an old pin-cushion is of pins.”

The hands of the man in the chimney-corner instinctively sought the shade, and he gazed into the fire as he resumed his pipe. The man at the table took up the hedge-carpenter’s remark, and added smartly, “True; but the oddity of my trade is that, instead of setting a mark upon me, it sets mark upon my customers.”

No observation being offered by anybody in elucidation of this enigma the shepherd’s wife once more called for song. The same obstacles presented themselves as at the former time — one had no voice, another had forgotten the first verse. The stranger at the table, whose soul had now risen to a good working temperature, relieved the difficulty by exclaiming that, to start the company, he would sing himself. Thrusting one thumb into the arm-hole of his waistcoat, he waved the other hand in the air, and, with an extemporizing gaze at the shining sheep-crooks above the mantelpiece, began: —

“Oh, my trade it is the rarest one,

Simple shepherds all —

My trade is a sight to see;

For my customers I tie, and take them up on high

And waft ‘em to a far countree!”

The room was silent when he had finished the verse with one exception, that of the man in the chimney-corner who, at the singer’s word, “Chorus!” joined him in a deep bass voice of musical relish —

“And waft ‘em to a far countree!

Oliver Giles, John Pitcher the dairyman, the parish-clerk the engaged man of fifty, the row of young women again the wall, seemed lost in thought not of the gayest kind. The shepherd looked meditatively on the ground, the shepherdess gazed keenly at the singer, and with some suspicion she was doubting whether this stranger were merely singing an old song from recollection, or was composing one there and then for the occasion. All were as perplexed at the obscure revelation as the guests at Belshazzar’s Feast, except the man in the chimney-corner, who quietly said, “Second verse, stranger,” and smoked on.

The singer thoroughly moistened himself from his lips inwards, and went onwith the next stanza as requested: —

“My tools are but common ones,

Simple shepherds all —

My tools are no sight to see;

A little hempen string, and a post whereon to swing,

Are implements enough for me!”

Shepherd Fennel glanced round. There was no longer any doubt that the stranger was answering his question rhythmically. The guests one and all started back with suppressed exclamations. The young woman engaged to the man of fifty fainted half-way, and would have proceeded, but finding — him wanting in alacrity for catching her she sat down trembling.

“O, he’s the — !” whispered the people in the background, mentioning the name of an ominous public officer. “He’s come to do it! ‘Tis to be at Casterbridge jail to-morrow — the man for sheep-stealing — the poor clockmaker we heard of, who used to live away at Shottsford and had no work to do — Timothy Summers, whose family were a-starving, and so he went out of Shottsford by the high-road, and took a sheep in open daylight, defying the farmer and the farmer’s wife and the farmer’s lad, and every man jack among ‘em. He” (and they nodded towards the stranger of the deadly trade) “is come from up the country to do it because there’s not enough to do in his own county-town, and he’s got the place here now our own county man’s dead; he’s going to live in the same cottage under the prison wall.”

The stranger in cinder-grey took no notice of this whispered string of observations, but again wetted his lips. Seeing that his friend in the chimney-corner was the only one who reciprocated his joviality in any way, he held out his cup towards that appreciative comrade, who also held out his own. They clinked together, the eyes of the rest of the room hanging upon the singer’s actions. He parted his lips for the third verse; but at that moment another knock was audible upon the door. This time the knock was faint and hesitating. The company seemed scared; the shepherd looked with consternation towards the entrance, and it was with some effort that he resisted his alarmed wife’s deprecatory glance, and uttered for the third time the welcoming words, “Walk in!”

The door was gently opened, and another man stood upon the mat. He, like those who had preceded him, was a stranger. This time it was a short, small personage, of fair complexion, and dressed in a decent suit of dark clothes.

“Can you tell me the way to — ?” he began: when, gazing round the room to observe the nature of the company amongst whom he had fallen, his eyes lighted on the stranger in the cinder-grey. It was just at the instant when the latter, who had thrown his mind into his song with such a will that he scarcely heeded the interruption, silenced all whispers and inquiries by bursting into his third verse: —

“To-morrow is my working day,

Simple shepherds all —

To-morrow is a working day for me:

For the farmer’s sheep is slain, and the lad who did

it ta’en,

And on his soul may God ha’ merc-y!”

The stranger in the chimney-corner, waving cups with the singer so heartily thathis mead splashed over on the hearth repeated in his bass voice as before: —

“And on his soul may God ha’ merc-y!”

All this time the third stranger had been standing in the doorway. Finding now that he did not come forward or go on speaking, the guests particularly regarded him. The noticed to their surprise that he stood before them the picture of abject terror — his knees trembling, his hand shaking so violently that the door-latch by which he supported himself rattled audibly: his white lips were parted, and his eyes fixed on the merry officer of justice in the middle the room. A moment more and he had turned, closed the door, and fled.

“What a man can it be?” said the shepherd.

The rest, between the awfulness of their late discovery and the odd conduct of this third visitor, looked as if they knew not what to think, and said nothing. Instinctively they withdrew further and further from the grim gentleman in their midst, whom some of them seemed to take for the Prince of Darkness himself, till they formed a remote circle, an empty space of floor being left between them and him —

“. . . circulus, cujus centrum diabolus.”

The room was so silent — though there were more than twenty people in it — that nothing could be heard but the patter of the rain against the window-shutters, accompanied by the occasional hiss of a stray drop that fell down the chimney into the fire, and the steady puffing of the man in the corner, who had now resumed his pipe of long clay.

The stillness was unexpectedly broken. The distant sound of a gun reverberated through the air — apparently from the direction of the county-town.

“Be jiggered!” cried the stranger who had sung the song, jumping up.

“What does that mean?” asked several.

“A prisoner escaped from the jail — that’s what it means.

All listened. The sound was repeated, and none of them spoke but the man in the chimney-corner, who said quietly, “I’ve often been told that in this county they fire a gun at such times; but I never heard it till now.”

“I wonder if it is my man?” murmured the personage in cinder-grey.

“Surely it is!” said the shepherd involuntarily. “And surely we’ve zeed him! That little man who looked, in at the door by now, and quivered like a leaf when he zeed ye and heard your song!”

“His teeth chattered, and the breath went out of his body,” said the dairyman.

“And his heart seemed to sink within him like a stone,” said Oliver Giles.

“And he bolted as if he’d been shot at,” said the hedge carpenter.

“True — his teeth chattered, and his heart seemed to sing and he bolted as if he’d been shot at,” slowly summed up the man in the chimney-corner.

“I didn’t notice it,” remarked the hangman.

“We were all a — wondering what made him run off in such a fright,” faltered one of the women against the wall, “and now ‘tis explained!”

The firing of the alarm-gun went on at intervals, low and sullenly, and their suspicions became a certainty. The sinister gentleman in cinder-grey roused himself. “Is there a constable here?” he asked, in thick tones. “If so, let him step forward.”

The engaged man of fifty stepped quavering out from the wall, his betrothed beginning to sob on the back of the chair.

“You are a sworn constable?”

“I be, sir.”

“Then pursue the criminal at once, with assistance, and bring him back here. He can’t have gone far.”

“I will, sir, I will — when I’ve got my staff. I’ll go home and get it, and come sharp here, and start in a body.”

“Staff! — never mind your staff; the man’ll be gone!”

“But I can’t do nothing without my staff — can I, William, and John, and Charles Jake? No; for there’s the king’s royal crown a painted on en in yaller and gold, and the lion and the unicorn, so as when I raise en up and hit my prisoner, ‘tis made a lawful blow thereby. I wouldn’t ‘tempt to take up a man without my staff — no, not I. If I hadn’t the law to gie me courage, why, instead o’ my taking up him he might take up me!”

“Now, I’m a king’s man myself, and can give you authority enough for this,” said the formidable officer in grey. “Now then, all of ye, be ready. Have ye any lanterns?’

“Yes — have ye any lanterns? — I demand it!” said the constable.

“And the rest of you able-bodied — ”

“Able-bodied men — yes — the rest of ye!” said the constable.

“Have you some good stout staves and pitchforks — ”

“Staves and pitchforks — in the name o’ the law! And take ‘em in yer hands and go in quest, and do as we in authority tell ye!”

Thus aroused, the men prepared to give chase. The evidence was, indeed, though circumstantial, so convincing, that but little argument was needed to show the shepherd’s guests that after what they had seen it would look very much like connivance if they did not instantly pursue the unhappy third stranger, who could not as yet have gone more than a few hundred yards over such uneven country.

A shepherd is always well provided with lanterns; and, lighting these hastily, and with hurdle-staves in their hands, they poured out of the door, taking a direction along the crest of the hill, away from the town, the rain having fortunately a little abated.

Disturbed by the noise, or possibly by unpleasant dreams of her baptism, the child who had been christened began to cry heart-brokenly in the room overhead. These notes of grief came down through the chinks of the floor to the ears of the women below, who jumped up one by one, and seemed glad of the excuse to ascend and comfort the baby, for the incidents of the last half-hour greatly oppressed them. Thus in the space of two or three minutes the room on the ground-floor was deserted quite.

But it was not for long. Hardly had the sound of footsteps died away when a man returned round the corner of the house from the direction the pursuers had taken. Peeping in at the door, and seeing nobody there, he entered leisurely. It was the stranger of the chimney-corner, who had gone out with the rest. The motive of his return was shown by his helping himself to a cut piece of skimmer cake that lay on a ledge beside where he had sat, and which he had apparently forgotten to take with him. He also poured out half a cup more mead from the quantity that remained, ravenously eating and drinking these as he stood. He had not finished when another figure came in just as quietly — his friend in cinder-grey.

“O — you here?” said the latter, smiling. “I thought you had gone to help in the capture.” And this speaker also revealed the object of his return by looking solicitously round for the fascinating mug of old mead.

“And I thought you had gone,” said the other, continuing his skimmer-cake with some effort.

“Well, on second thoughts, I felt there were enough without me,” said the first confidentially, “and such a night as it is, too. Besides, ‘tis the business o’ the Government to take care of its criminals — not mine.”

“True; so it is. And I felt as you did, that there were enough without me.”

“I don’t want to break my limbs running over the humps and hollows of this wild country.”

“Nor I neither, between you and me.”

“These shepherd-people are used to it — simple-minded souls, you know, stirred up to anything in a moment. They’ll have him ready for me before the morning, and no trouble to me at all.”

“They’ll have him, and we shall have saved ourselves all labour in the matter.”

“True, true. Well, my way is to Casterbridge; and ‘tis as much as my legs will do to take me that far. Going the same way?”

“No, I am sorry to say! I have to get home over there” (he nodded indefinitely to the right), “and I feel as you do, that it is quite enough for my legs to do before bedtime.”

The other had by this time finished the mead in the mug, after which, shaking hands heartily at the door, and wishing each other well, they went their several ways.

In the meantime the company of pursuers had reached the end of the hog’s-back elevation which dominated this part of the down. They had decided on no particular plan of action; and, finding that the man of the baleful trade was no longer in their company, they seemed quite unable to form any such plan now. They descended in all directions down the hill, and straightway several of the party fell into the snare set by Nature for all misguided midnight ramblers over this part of the cretaceous formation. The “lanchets,” or flintslopes, which belted the escarpment at intervals of a dozen yards, took the less cautious ones unawares, and losing their footing on the rubbly steep they slid sharply downwards, the lanterns rolling from their hands to the bottom, and there lying on their sides till the horn was scorched through.

When they had again gathered themselves together the shepherd, as the man who knew the country best, took the lead, and guided them round these treacherous inclines. The lanterns, which seemed rather to dazzle their eyes and warn the fugitive than to assist them in the exploration, were extinguished, due silence was observed; and in this more rational order they plunged into the vale. It was a grassy, briery, moist defile, affording some shelter to any person who had sought it; but the party perambulated it in vain, and ascended on the other side. Here they wandered apart, and after an interval closed together again to report progress. At the second time of closing in they found themselves near a lonely ash, the single tree on this part of the coomb, probably sown there by a passing bird some fifty years before. And here, standing a little to one side of the trunk, as motionless as the trunk itself, appeared the man they were in quest of, his outline being well defined against the sky beyond. The band noiselessly drew up and faced him.

“Your money or your life!” said the constable sternly to the still figure.

“No, no,” whispered John Pitcher. “ ‘Tisn’t our side ought to say that. That’s the doctrine of vagabonds like him, and we be on the side of the law.”

“Well, well,” replied the constable impatiently; “I must say something, mustn’t I? and if you had all the weight o’ this undertaking upon your mind, perhaps you’d say the wrong thing too! — Prisoner at the bar, surrender, in the name of the Father — the Crown, I mane!”

The man under the tree seemed now to notice them for the first time, and, giving them no opportunity whatever for exhibiting their courage, he strolled slowly towards them. He was, indeed, the little man, the third stranger; but his trepidation had in a great measure gone.

“Well, travellers,’ he said, ‘did I hear ye speak to me?”

“You did: you’ve got to come and be our prisoner at once!” said the constable. “We arrest ‘ee on the charge of not biding in Casterbridge jail in a decent proper manner to be hung to-morrow morning. Neighbours, do your duty, and seize the culpet!”

On hearing the charge the man seemed enlightened, and, saying not another word, resigned himself with preternatural civility to the search-party, who, with their staves in their hands, surrounded him on all sides, and marched him back towards the shepherd’s cottage.

It was eleven o’clock by the time they arrived. The light shining from the open door, a sound of men’s voices within, proclaimed to them as they approached the house that some new events had arisen in their absence.

On entering they discovered the shepherd’s living room to be invaded by two officers from Casterbridge jail, and a well-known magistrate who lived at the nearest country-seat, intelligence of the escape having become generally circulated.

“Gentlemen,” said the constable, “I have brought back your man — not without risk and danger; but every one must do his duty! He is inside this circle of able-bodied persons, who have lent me useful aid, considering their ignorance of Crown work. Men, bring forward your prisoner!” And the third stranger was let to the light.

“Who is this?” said one of the officials.

“The man,” said the constable.

“Certainly not,” said the turnkey; and the first corroborated his statement.

“But how can it be otherwise?” asked the constable. “Or why was he so terrified at sight o’ the singing instrument of the law who sat there?” Here he related the strange behaviour of the third stranger on entering the house during the hangman’s song.

“Can’t understand it,” said the officer coolly.

“All I know is that it is not the condemned man. He’s quite a different character from this one; a gauntish fellow, with dark hair and eyes, rather good-looking, and with a musical bass voice that if you heard it once you’d never mistake as long as you lived.”

“Why, souls — ’twas the man in the chimney-corner!”

“Hey — what?” said the magistrate, coming forward after inquiring particulars from the shepherd in the background. “Haven’t you got the man after all?”

“Well, sir,” said the constable, “he’s the man we were in search of, that’s true; and yet he’s not the man we were in search of. For the man we were in search of was not the man we wanted, sir, if you understand my every-day way; for ‘twas the man in the chimney-corner!”

“A pretty kettle of fish altogether!” said the magistrate.

“You had better start for the other man at once.”

The prisoner now spoke for the first time. The mention of the man in the chimney-corner seemed to have moved him as nothing else could do. “Sir,” he said, stepping forward to the magistrate, “take no more trouble about me. The time is come when I may as well speak. I have done nothing; my crime is that the condemned man is my brother. Early this afternoon I left home at Shottsford to tramp it all the way to Casterbridge jail to bid him farewell. I was benighted, and called here to rest and ask the way. When I opened the door I saw before me the very man, my brother, that I thought to see in the condemned cell at Casterbridge. He was in this chimney corner; and jammed close to him, so that he could not have got out if he had tried, was the executioner who’d come to take his life, singing a song about it and not knowing that it was his victim who was close by, joining in to save appearances. My brother threw a glance of agony at me, and I knew he meant, ‘Don’t reveal what you see; my life depends on it.’ I was so terror-struck that I could hardly stand, and, not knowing what I did, I turned and hurried away.”

The narrator’s manner and tone had the stamp of truth and his story made a great impression on all around. “And do you know where your brother is at the present time?” asked the magistrate.

“I do not. I have never seen him since I closed this door.”

“I can testify to that, for we’ve been between ye ever since,” said the constable.

“Where does he think to fly to? — what is his occupation?”

“He’s a watch-and-clock-maker, sir.”

“ ‘A said ‘a was a wheelwright — a wicked rouge,” said the constable.

“The wheels of clocks and watches he meant, no doubt,” said Shepherd Fennel.

“I thought his hands were palish for’s trade.”

“Well, it appears to me that nothing can be gained by retaining this poor man in custody,” said the magistrate: your business lies with the other, unquestionably.”

And so the little man was released off-hand; but he looked nothing the less sad on that account, it being beyond the power of magistrate or constable to raze out the written troubles in his brain, for they concerned another whom he regarded with more solicitude than himself. When this was done, and the man had gone his way, the night was found to be so far advanced that it was deemed useless to renew the search before the next morning.

Next day, accordingly, the quest for the clever sheep-stealer became general and keen, to all appearance at least. But the intended punishment was cruelly disproportioned to the transgression, and the sympathy of a great many country-folk in that district was strongly on the side of the fugitive. Moreover, his marvellous coolness and daring in hob-and-nobbing with the hangman, under the unprecedented circumstances of the shepherd’s party, won their admiration. So that it may be questioned if all those who ostensibly made themselves so busy in exploring woods and fields and lanes were quite so thorough when it came to the private examination of their own lofts and outhouses. Stories were afloat of a mysterious figure being occasionally seen in some old overgrown trackway or other, remote from turnpike roads; but when a search was instituted in any of these suspected quarters nobody was found. Thus the days and weeks passed without tidings.

In brief, the bass-voiced man of the chimney-corner was never recaptured. Some said that he went across the sea, others that he did not, but buried himself in the depths of a populous city. At any rate, the gentleman in cinder-grey never did his morning’s work at Casterbridge, nor met any where at all, for business purposes, the genial comrade with whom he had passed an hour of relaxation in the lonely house on the slope of the coomb.

The grass has long been green on the graves of Shepherd Fennel and his frugal wife; the guests who made up the christening party have mainly followed their entertainers to the tomb; the baby in whose honour they all had met is a matron in the sere and yellow leaf. But the arrival of the three strangers at the shepherd’s that night, and the details connected therewith, is a story as well known as ever in the country about Higher Crowstairs.

The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid
I

It was half-past four o’clock (by the testimony of the land-surveyor, my authority for the particulars of this story, a gentleman with the faintest curve of humour on his lips); it was half-past four o’clock on a May morning in the eighteen forties. A dense white fog hung over the Valley of the Exe, ending against the hills on either side.

But though nothing in the vale could be seen from higher ground, notes of differing kinds gave pretty clear indications that bustling life was going on there. This audible presence and visual absence of an active scene had a peculiar effect above the fog level. Nature had laid a white hand over the creatures ensconced within the vale, as a hand might be laid over a nest of chirping birds.

The noises that ascended through the pallid coverlid were perturbed lowings, mingled with human voices in sharps and flats, and the bark of a dog. These, followed by the slamming of a gate, explained as well as eyesight could have done, to any inhabitant of the district, that Dairyman Tucker’s undermilker was driving the cows from the meads into the stalls. When a rougher accent joined in the vociferations of man and beast, it would have been realised that the dairy-farmer himself had come out to meet the cows, pail in hand, and white pinafore on; and when, moreover, some women’s voices joined in the chorus, that the cows were stalled and proceedings about to commence.

A hush followed, the atmosphere being so stagnant that the milk could be heard buzzing into the pails, together with occasional words of the milkmaids and men.

‘Don’t ye bide about long upon the road, Margery. You can be back again by skimming-time.’

The rough voice of Dairyman Tucker was the vehicle of this remark. The barton-gate slammed again, and in two or three minutes a something became visible, rising out of the fog in that quarter.

The shape revealed itself as that of a woman having a young and agile gait. The colours and other details of her dress were then disclosed — a bright pink cotton frock (because winter was over); a small woollen shawl of shepherd’s plaid (because summer was not come); a white handkerchief tied over her head-gear, because it was so foggy, so damp, and so early; and a straw bonnet and ribbons peeping from under the handkerchief, because it was likely to be a sunny May day.

Her face was of the hereditary type among families down in these parts: sweet in expression, perfect in hue, and somewhat irregular in feature. Her eyes were of a liquid brown. On her arm she carried a withy basket, in which lay several butter-rolls in a nest of wet cabbage leaves. She was the ‘Margery’ who had been told not to ‘bide about long upon the road.’

She went on her way across the fields, sometimes above the fog, sometimes below it, not much perplexed by its presence except when the track was so indefinite that it ceased to be a guide to the next stile. The dampness was such that innumerable earthworms lay in couples across the path till, startled even by her light tread, they withdrew suddenly into their holes. She kept clear of all trees. Why was that? There was no danger of lightning on such a morning as this. But though the roads were dry the fog had gathered in the boughs, causing them to set up such a dripping as would go clean through the protecting handkerchief like bullets, and spoil the ribbons beneath. The beech and ash were particularly shunned, for they dripped more maliciously than any. It was an instance of woman’s keen appreciativeness of nature’s moods and peculiarities: a man crossing those fields might hardly have perceived that the trees dripped at all.

In less than an hour she had traversed a distance of four miles, and arrived at a latticed cottage in a secluded spot. An elderly woman, scarce awake, answered her knocking. Margery delivered up the butter, and said, ‘How is granny this morning? I can’t stay to go up to her, but tell her I have returned what we owed her.’

Her grandmother was no worse than usual: and receiving back the empty basket the girl proceeded to carry out some intention which had not been included in her orders. Instead of returning to the light labours of skimming-time, she hastened on, her direction being towards a little neighbouring town. Before, however, Margery had proceeded far, she met the postman, laden to the neck with letter-bags, of which he had not yet deposited one.

‘Are the shops open yet, Samuel?’ she said.

‘O no,’ replied that stooping pedestrian, not waiting to stand upright. ‘They won’t be open yet this hour, except the saddler and ironmonger and little tacker-haired machine-man for the farm folk. They downs their shutters at half-past six, then the baker’s at half past seven, then the draper’s at eight.’

‘O, the draper’s at eight.’ It was plain that Margery had wanted the draper’s.

The postman turned up a side-path, and the young girl, as though deciding within herself that if she could not go shopping at once she might as well get back for the skimming, retraced her steps.

The public road home from this point was easy but devious. By far the nearest way was by getting over a fence, and crossing the private grounds of a picturesque old country house, whose chimneys were just visible through the trees. As the house had been shut up for many months, the girl decided to take the straight cut. She pushed her way through the laurel bushes, sheltering her bonnet with the shawl as an additional safeguard, scrambled over an inner boundary, went along through more shrubberies, and stood ready to emerge upon the open lawn. Before doing so she looked around in the wary manner of a poacher. It was not the first time that she had broken fence in her life; but somehow, and all of a sudden, she had felt herself too near womanhood to indulge in such practices with freedom. However, she moved forth, and the house-front stared her in the face, at this higher level unobscured by fog.

It was a building of the medium size, and unpretending, the façade being of stone; and of the Italian elevation made familiar by Inigo Jones and his school. There was a doorway to the lawn, standing at the head of a flight of steps. The shutters of the house were closed, and the blinds of the bedrooms drawn down. Her perception of the fact that no crusty caretaker could see her from the windows led her at once to slacken her pace, and stroll through the flower-beds coolly. A house unblinded is a possible spy, and must be treated accordingly; a house with the shutters together is an insensate heap of stone and mortar, to be faced with indifference.

On the other side of the house the greensward rose to an eminence, whereon stood one of those curious summer shelters sometimes erected on exposed points of view, called an all-the-year-round. In the present case it consisted of four walls radiating from a centre like the arms of a turnstile, with seats in each angle, so that whencesoever the wind came, it was always possible to find a screened corner from which to observe the landscape.

The milkmaid’s trackless course led her up the hill and past this erection. At ease as to being watched and scolded as an intruder, her mind flew to other matters; till, at the moment when she was not a yard from the shelter, she heard a foot or feet scraping on the gravel behind it. Some one was in the all-the-year-round, apparently occupying the seat on the other side; as was proved when, on turning, she saw an elbow, a man’s elbow, projecting over the edge.

Now the young woman did not much like the idea of going down the hill under the eyes of this person, which she would have to do if she went on, for as an intruder she was liable to be called back and questioned upon her business there. Accordingly she crept softly up and sat in the seat behind, intending to remain there until her companion should leave.

This he by no means seemed in a hurry to do. What could possibly have brought him there, what could detain him there, at six o’clock on a morning of mist when there was nothing to be seen or enjoyed of the vale beneath, puzzled her not a little. But he remained quite still, and Margery grew impatient. She discerned the track of his feet in the dewy grass, forming a line from the house steps, which announced that he was an inhabitant and not a chance passer-by. At last she peeped round.

II

A fine-framed dark-mustachioed gentleman, in dressing-gown and slippers, was sitting there in the damp without a hat on. With one hand he was tightly grasping his forehead, the other hung over his knee. The attitude bespoke with sufficient clearness a mental condition of anguish. He was quite a different being from any of the men to whom her eyes were accustomed. She had never seen mustachios before, for they were not worn by civilians in Lower Wessex at this date. His hands and his face were white — to her view deadly white — and he heeded nothing outside his own existence. There he remained as motionless as the bushes around him; indeed, he scarcely seemed to breathe.

Having imprudently advanced thus far, Margery’s wish was to get back again in the same unseen manner; but in moving her foot for the purpose it grated on the gravel. He started up with an air of bewilderment, and slipped something into the pocket of his dressing-gown. She was almost certain that it was a pistol. The pair stood looking blankly at each other.

‘My Gott, who are you?’ he asked sternly, and with not altogether an English articulation. ‘What do you do here?’

Margery had already begun to be frightened at her boldness in invading the lawn and pleasure-seat. The house had a master, and she had not known of it. ‘My name is Margaret Tucker, sir,’ she said meekly. ‘My father is Dairyman Tucker. We live at Silverthorn Dairy-house.’

‘What were you doing here at this hour of the morning?’

She told him, even to the fact that she had climbed over the fence.

‘And what made you peep round at me?’

‘I saw your elbow, sir; and I wondered what you were doing?’

‘And what was I doing?’

‘Nothing. You had one hand on your forehead and the other on your knee. I do hope you are not ill, sir, or in deep trouble?’ Margery had sufficient tact to say nothing about the pistol.

‘What difference would it make to you if I were ill or in trouble? You don’t know me.’

She returned no answer, feeling that she might have taken a liberty in expressing sympathy. But, looking furtively up at him, she discerned to her surprise that he seemed affected by her humane wish, simply as it had been expressed. She had scarcely conceived that such a tall dark man could know what gentle feelings were.

‘Well, I am much obliged to you for caring how I am,’ said he with a faint smile and an affected lightness of manner which, even to her, only rendered more apparent the gloom beneath. ‘I have not slept this past night. I suffer from sleeplessness. Probably you do not.’

Margery laughed a little, and he glanced with interest at the comely picture she presented; her fresh face, brown hair, candid eyes, unpractised manner, country dress, pink hands, empty wicker-basket, and the handkerchief over her bonnet.

‘Well,’ he said, after his scrutiny, ‘I need hardly have asked such a question of one who is Nature’s own image. . . . Ah, but my good little friend,’ he added, recurring to his bitter tone and sitting wearily down, ‘you don’t know what great clouds can hang over some people’s lives, and what cowards some men are in face of them. To escape themselves they travel, take picturesque houses, and engage in country sports. But here it is so dreary, and the fog was horrible this morning!’

‘Why, this is only the pride of the morning!’ said Margery. ‘By-and-by it will be a beautiful day.’

She was going on her way forthwith; but he detained her — detained her with words, talking on every innocent little subject he could think of. He had an object in keeping her there more serious than his words would imply. It was as if he feared to be left alone.

While they still stood, the misty figure of the postman, whom Margery had left a quarter of an hour earlier to follow his sinuous course, crossed the grounds below them on his way to the house. Signifying to Margery by a wave of his hand that she was to step back out of sight, in the hinder angle of the shelter, the gentleman beckoned to the postman to bring the bag to where he stood. The man did so, and again resumed his journey.

The stranger unlocked the bag and threw it on the seat, having taken one letter from within. This he read attentively, and his countenance changed.

The change was almost phantasmagorial, as if the sun had burst through the fog upon that face: it became clear, bright, almost radiant. Yet it was but a change that may take place in the commonest human being, provided his countenance be not too wooden, or his artifice have not grown to second nature. He turned to Margery, who was again edging off, and, seizing her hand, appeared as though he were about to embrace her. Checking his impulse, he said, ‘My guardian child — my good friend — you have saved me!’

‘What from?’ she ventured to ask.

‘That you may never know.’

She thought of the weapon, and guessed that the letter he had just received had effected this change in his mood, but made no observation till he went on to say, ‘What did you tell me was your name, dear girl?’

She repeated her name.

‘Margaret Tucker.’ He stooped, and pressed her hand. ‘Sit down for a moment — one moment,’ he said, pointing to the end of the seat, and taking the extremest further end for himself, not to discompose her. She sat down.

‘It is to ask a question,’ he went on, ‘and there must be confidence between us. You have saved me from an act of madness! What can I do for you?’

‘Nothing, sir.’

‘Nothing?’

‘Father is very well off, and we don’t want anything.’

‘But there must be some service I can render, some kindness, some votive offering which I could make, and so imprint on your memory as long as you live that I am not an ungrateful man?’

‘Why should you be grateful to me, sir?’

He shook his head. ‘Some things are best left unspoken. Now think. What would you like to have best in the world?’

Margery made a pretence of reflecting — then fell to reflecting seriously; but the negative was ultimately as undisturbed as ever: she could not decide on anything she would like best in the world; it was too difficult, too sudden.

‘Very well — don’t hurry yourself. Think it over all day. I ride this afternoon. You live — where?’

‘Silverthorn Dairy-house.’

‘I will ride that way homeward this evening. Do you consider by eight o’clock what little article, what little treat you would most like of any.’

‘I will, sir,’ said Margery, now warming up to the idea. ‘Where shall I meet you? Or will you call at the house, sir?’

‘Ah — no. I should not wish the circumstances known out of which our acquaintance rose. It would be more proper — but no.’

Margery, too, seemed rather anxious that he should not call. ‘I could come out, sir,’ she said. ‘My father is odd — tempered, and perhaps — ’

It was agreed that she should look over a stile at the top of her father’s garden, and that he should ride along a bridle-path outside, to receive her answer. ‘Margery,’ said the gentleman in conclusion, ‘now that you have discovered me under ghastly conditions, are you going to reveal them, and make me an object for the gossip of the curious?’

‘No, no, sir!’ she replied earnestly. ‘Why should I do that?’

‘You will never tell?’

‘Never, never will I tell what has happened here this morning.’

‘Neither to your father, nor to your friends, nor to any one?’

‘To no one at all’, she said.

‘It is sufficient,’ he answered. ‘You mean what you say, my dear maiden. Now you want to leave me. Good-bye!’

She descended the hill, walking with some awkwardness; for she felt the stranger’s eyes were upon her till the fog had enveloped her from his gaze. She took no notice now of the dripping from the trees; she was lost in thought on other things. Had she saved this handsome, melancholy, sleepless, foreign gentleman who had had a trouble on his mind till the letter came? What had he been going to do? Margery could guess that he had meditated death at his own hand. Strange as the incident had been in itself, to her it had seemed stranger even than it was. Contrasting colours heighten each other by being juxtaposed; it is the same with contrasting lives.

Reaching the opposite side of the park there appeared before her for the third time that little old man, the foot-post. As the turnpike-road ran, the postman’s beat was twelve miles a day; six miles out from the town, and six miles back at night. But what with zigzags, devious ways, offsets to country seats, curves to farms, looped courses, and triangles to outlying hamlets, the ground actually covered by him was nearer one and-twenty miles. Hence it was that Margery, who had come straight, was still abreast of him, despite her long pause.

The weighty sense that she was mixed up in a tragical secret with an unknown and handsome stranger prevented her joining very readily in chat with the postman for some time. But a keen interest in her adventure caused her to respond at once when the bowed man of mails said, ‘You hit athwart the grounds of Mount Lodge, Miss Margery, or you wouldn’t ha’ met me here. Well, somebody hev took the old place at last.’

In acknowledging her route Margery brought herself to ask who the new gentleman might be.

‘Guide the girl’s heart! What! don’t she know? And yet how should ye — he’s only just a-come. — Well, nominal, he’s a fishing gentleman, come for the summer only. But, more to the subject, he’s a foreign noble that’s lived in England so long as to be without any true country: some of his letters call him Baron, some Squire, so that ‘a must be born to something that can’t be earned by elbow-grease and Christian conduct. He was out this morning a-watching the fog. “Postman,” ‘a said, “good-morning: give me the bag.” O, yes, ‘a’s a civil genteel nobleman enough.’

‘Took the house for fishing, did he?’

‘That’s what they say, and as it can be for nothing else I suppose it’s true. But, in final, his health’s not good, ‘a b’lieve; he’s been living too rithe. The London smoke got into his wyndpipe, till ‘a couldn’t eat. However, I shouldn’t mind having the run of his kitchen.’

‘And what is his name?’

‘Ah — there you have me! ‘Tis a name no man’s tongue can tell, or even woman’s except by pen-and-ink and good scholarship. It begins with X, and who, without the machinery of a clock in’s inside, can speak that? But here ‘tis — from his letters.’ The postman with his walking-stick wrote upon the ground,

‘BARON VON XANTEN’

III

The day, as she had prognosticated, turned out fine; for weather-wisdom was imbibed with their milk-sops by the children of the Exe Vale. The impending meeting excited Margery, and she performed her duties in her father’s house with mechanical unconsciousness.

Milking, skimming, cheesemaking were done. Her father was asleep in the settle, the milkmen and maids were gone home to their cottages, and the clock showed a quarter to eight. She dressed herself with care, went to the top of the garden, and looked over the stile. The view was eastward, and a great moon hung before her in a sky which had not a cloud. Nothing was moving except on the minutest scale, and she remained leaning over, the night-hawk sounding his croud from the bough of an isolated tree on the open hill side.

Here Margery waited till the appointed time had passed by three-quarters of an hour; but no Baron came. She had been full of an idea, and her heart sank with disappointment. Then at last the pacing of a horse became audible on the soft path without, leading up from the water-meads, simultaneously with which she beheld the form of the stranger, riding home, as he had said.

The moonlight so flooded her face as to make her very conspicuous in the garden-gap. ‘Ah my maiden — what is your name — Margery!’ he said. ‘How came you here? But of course I remember — we were to meet. And it was to be eight — proh pudor! — I have kept you waiting!’

‘It doesn’t matter, sir. I’ve thought of something.’

‘Thought of something?’

‘Yes, sir. You said this morning that I was to think what I would like best in the world, and I have made up my mind’.

‘I did say so — to be sure I did,’ he replied, collecting his thoughts. ‘I remember to have had good reason for gratitude to you.’ He placed his hand to his brow, and in a minute alighted, and came up to her with the bridle in his hand. ‘I was to give you a treat or present, and you could not think of one. Now you have done so. Let me hear what it is, and I’ll be as good as my word.’

‘To go to the Yeomanry Ball that’s to be given this month.’

‘The Yeomanry Ball - Yeomanry Ball?’ he murmured, as if, of all requests in the world, this was what he had least expected. ‘Where is what you call the Yeomanry Ball?’

‘At Exonbury.’

‘Have you ever been to it before?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Or to any ball?’

‘No.’

‘But did I not say a gift — a present?’

‘Or a treat?’

‘Ah, yes, or a treat,’ he echoed, with the air of one who finds himself in a slight fix. ‘But with whom would you propose to go?’

‘I don’t know. I have not thought of that yet.’

‘You have no friend who could take you, even if I got you an invitation?’

Margery looked at the moon. ‘No one who can dance,’ she said; adding, with hesitation, ‘I was thinking that perhaps — ’

‘But, my dear Margery,’ he said, stopping her, as if he half-divined what her simple dream of a cavalier had been; ‘it is very odd that you can think of nothing else than going to a Yeomanry Ball. Think again. You are sure there is nothing else?’

‘Quite sure, sir,’ she decisively answered. At first nobody would have noticed in that pretty young face any sign of decision; yet it was discoverable. The mouth, though soft, was firm in line; the eyebrows were distinct, and extended near to each other. ‘I have thought of it all day,’ she continued, sadly. ‘Still, sir, if you are sorry you offered me anything, I can let you off.’

‘Sorry? — Certainly not, Margery,’ he said, rather nettled. ‘I’ll show you that whatever hopes I have raised in your breast I am honourable enough to gratify. If it lies in my power,’ he added with sudden firmness, ‘you shall go to the Yeomanry Ball. In what building is it to be held?’

‘In the Assembly Rooms.’

‘And would you be likely to be recognized there? Do you know many people?’

‘Not many, sir. None, I may say. I know nobody who goes to balls.’

‘Ah, well; you must go, since you wish it; and if there is no other way of getting over the difficulty of having nobody to take you, I’ll take you myself. Would you like me to do so? I can dance.’

‘O, yes, sir; I know that, and I thought you might offer to do it. But would you bring me back again?’

‘Of course I’ll bring you back. But, by-the-bye, can you dance?’

‘Yes.’

‘What?’

‘Reels, and jigs, and country-dances like the New-Rigged Ship, and Follow-my-Lover, and Haste-to-the-Wedding, and the College Hornpipe, and the Favourite Quickstep, and Captain White’s dance.’

‘A very good list — a very good! but unluckily I fear they don’t dance any of those now. But if you have the instinct we may soon cure your ignorance. Let me see you dance a moment.’

She stood out into the garden-path, the stile being still between them, and seizing a side of her skirt with each hand, performed the movements which are even yet far from uncommon in the dances of the villagers of merry England. But her motions, though graceful, were not precisely those which appear in the figures of a modern ball-room.

‘Well, my good friend, it is a very pretty sight,’ he said, warming up to the proceedings. ‘But you dance too well — you dance all over your person — and that’s too thorough a way for the present day. I should say it was exactly how they danced in the time of your poet Chaucer; but as people don’t dance like it now, we must consider. First I must inquire more about this ball, and then I must see you again.’

‘If it is a great trouble to you, sir, I — ’

‘O no, no. I will think it over. So far so good.’

The Baron mentioned an evening and an hour when he would be passing that way again; then mounted his horse and rode away.

On the next occasion, which was just when the sun was changing places with the moon as an illuminator of Silverthorn Dairy, she found him at the spot before her, and unencumbered by a horse. The melancholy that had so weighed him down at their first interview, and had been perceptible at their second, had quite disappeared. He pressed her right hand between both his own across the stile.

‘My good maiden, Gott bless you!’ said he warmly. ‘I cannot help thinking of that morning! I was too much overshadowed at first to take in the whole force of it. You do not know all; but your presence was a miraculous intervention. Now to more cheerful matters. I have a great deal to tell — that is, if your wish about the ball be still the same?’

‘O yes, sir — if you don’t object.’

‘Never think of my objecting. What I have found out is something which simplifies matters amazingly. In addition to your Yeomanry Ball at Exonbury, there is also to be one in the next county about the same time. This ball is not to be held at the Town Hall of the county-town as usual, but at Lord Toneborough’s, who is colonel of the regiment, and who, I suppose, wishes to please the yeomen because his brother is going to stand for the county. Now I find I could take you there very well, and the great advantage of that ball over the Yeomanry Ball in this county is, that there you would be absolutely unknown, and I also. But do you prefer your own neighbourhood?’

‘O no, sir. It is a ball I long to see — I don’t know what it is like; it does not matter where.’

‘Good. Then I shall be able to make much more of you there, where there is no possibility of recognition. That being settled, the next thing is the dancing. Now reels and such things do not do. For think of this — there is a new dance at Almack’s and everywhere else, over which the world has gone crazy.’

‘How dreadful!’

‘Ah — but that is a mere expression — gone mad. It is really an ancient Scythian dance; but, such is the power of fashion, that, having once been adopted by society, this dance has made the tour of the Continent in one season.’

‘What is its name, sir?’

‘The polka. Young people, who always dance, are ecstatic about it, and old people, who have not danced for years, have begun to dance again on its account. All share the excitement. It arrived in London only some few months ago — it is now all over the country. Now this is your opportunity, my good Margery. To learn this one dance will be enough. They will dance scarce anything else at that ball. While, to crown all, it is the easiest dance in the world, and as I know it quite well I can practise you in the step. Suppose we try?’

Margery showed some hesitation before crossing the stile: it was a Rubicon in more ways than one. But the curious reverence which was stealing over her for all that this stranger said and did was too much for prudence. She crossed the stile.

Withdrawing with her to a nook where two high hedges met, and where the grass was elastic and dry, he lightly rested his arm on her waist, and practised with her the new step of fascination. Instead of music he whispered numbers, and she, as may be supposed, showed no slight aptness in following his instructions. Thus they moved round together, the moonshadows from the twigs racing over their forms as they turned.

The interview lasted about half an hour. Then he somewhat abruptly handed her over the stile and stood looking at her from the other side.

‘Well,’ he murmured, ‘what has come to pass is strange! My whole business after this will be to recover my right mind!’

Margery always declared that there seemed to be some power in the stranger that was more than human, something magical and compulsory, when he seized her and gently trotted her round. But lingering emotions may have led her memory to play pranks with the scene, and her vivid imagination at that youthful age must be taken into account in believing her. However, there is no doubt that the stranger, whoever he might be and whatever his powers, taught her the elements of modern dancing at a certain interview by moonlight at the top of her father’s garden, as was proved by her possession of knowledge on the subject that could have been acquired in no other way.

His was of the first rank of commanding figures, she was one of the most agile of milkmaids, and to casual view it would have seemed all of a piece with nature’s doings that things should go on thus. But there was another side to the case; and whether the strange gentleman were a wild olive tree, or not, it was questionable if the acquaintance would lead to happiness. ‘A fleeting romance and a possible calamity;’ thus it might have been summed up by the practical.

Margery was in Paradise; and yet she was not at this date distinctly in love with the stranger. What she felt was something more mysterious, more of the nature of veneration. As he looked at her across the stile she spoke timidly, on a subject which had apparently occupied her long.

‘I ought to have a ball dress, ought I not, sir?’

‘Certainly. And you shall have a ball dress’.

‘Really?’

‘No doubt of it. I won’t do things by halves for my best friend. I have thought of the ball-dress, and of other things also.’

‘And is my dancing good enough?’

‘Quite — quite.’ He paused, lapsed into thought, and looked at her. ‘Margery,’ he said, ‘do you trust yourself unreservedly to me?’

‘O yes, sir,’ she replied brightly; ‘if I am not too much trouble: if I am good enough to be seen in your society.’

The Baron laughed in a peculiar way. ‘Really, I think you may assume as much as that. — However, to business. The ball is on the twenty-fifth, that is next Thursday week; and the only difficulty about the dress is the size. Suppose you lend me this?’ And he touched her on the shoulder to signify a tight little jacket she wore.

Margery was all obedience. She took it off and handed it to him. The Baron rolled and compressed it with all his force till it was about as large as an apple-dumpling, and put it into his pocket.

‘The next thing,’ he said, ‘is about getting the consent of your friends to your going. Have you thought of this?’

‘There is only my father. I can tell him I am invited to a party, and I don’t think he’ll mind. Though I would rather not tell him.’

‘But it strikes me that you must inform him something of what you intend. I would strongly advise you to do so.’ He spoke as if rather perplexed as to the probable custom of the English peasantry in such matters, and added, ‘However, it is for you to decide. I know nothing of the circumstances. As to getting to the ball, the plan I have arranged is this. The direction to Lord Toneborough’s being the other way from my house, you must meet me at Three-Walks-End in Chillington Wood, two miles or more from here. You know the place? Good. By meeting there we shall save five or six miles of journey — a consideration, as it is a long way. Now, for the last time: are you still firm in your wish for this particular treat and no other? It is not too late to give it up. Cannot you think of something else — something better — some useful household articles you require?’

Margery’s countenance, which before had been beaming with expectation, lost its brightness: her lips became close, and her voice broken. ‘You have offered to take me, and now — ’

‘No, no, no,’ he said, patting her cheek, ‘We will not think of anything else. You shall go.’

IV

But whether the Baron, in naming such a distant spot for the rendezvous, was in hope she might fail him, and so relieve him after all of his undertaking, cannot be said; though it might have been strongly suspected from his manner that he had no great zest for the responsibility of escorting her.

But he little knew the firmness of the young woman he had to deal with. She was one of those soft natures whose power of adhesiveness to an acquired idea seems to be one of the special attributes of that softness. To go to a ball with this mysterious personage of romance was her ardent desire and aim; and none the less in that she trembled with fear and excitement at her position in so aiming. She felt the deepest awe, tenderness, and humility towards the Baron of the strange name; and yet she was prepared to stick to her point.

Thus it was that the afternoon of the eventful day found Margery trudging her way up the slopes from the vale to the place of appointment. She walked to the music of innumerable birds, which increased as she drew away from the open meads towards the groves. She had overcome all difficulties. After thinking out the question of telling or not telling her father, she had decided that to tell him was to be forbidden to go. Her contrivance therefore was this: to leave home this evening on a visit to her invalid grandmother, who lived not far from the Baron’s house; but not to arrive at her grandmother’s till breakfast-time next morning. Who would suspect an intercalated experience of twelve hours with the Baron at a ball? That this piece of deception was indefensible she afterwards owned readily enough; but she did not stop to think of it then.

It was sunset within Chillington Wood by the time she reached Three-Walks-End — the converging point of radiating track-ways, now floored with a carpet of matted grass, which had never known other scythes than the teeth of rabbits and hares. The twitter overhead had ceased, except from a few braver and larger birds, including the cuckoo, who did not fear night at this pleasant time of year. Nobody seemed to be on the spot when she first drew near, but no sooner did Margery stand at the intersection of the roads than a slight crashing became audible, and her patron appeared. He was so transfigured in dress that she scarcely knew him. Under a light great-coat, which was flung open, instead of his ordinary clothes he wore a suit of thin black cloth, an open waistcoat with a frill all down his shirt-front, a white tie, shining boots, no thicker than a glove, a coat that made him look like a bird, and a hat that seemed as if it would open and shut like an accordion.

‘I am dressed for the ball — nothing worse,’ he said, drily smiling. ‘So will you be soon.’

‘Why did you choose this place for our meeting, sir?’ she asked, looking around and acquiring confidence.

‘Why did I choose it? Well, because in riding past one day I observed a large hollow tree close by here, and it occurred to me when I was last with you that this would be useful for our purpose. Have you told your father?’

‘I have not yet told him, sir.’

‘That’s very bad of you, Margery. How have you arranged it, then?’

She briefly related her plan, on which he made no comment, but, taking her by the hand as if she were a little child, he led her through the undergrowth to a spot where the trees were older, and standing at wider distances. Among them was the tree he had spoken of — an elm; huge, hollow, distorted, and headless, with a rift in its side.

‘Now go inside,’ he said, ‘before it gets any darker. You will find there everything you want. At any rate, if you do not you must do without it. I’ll keep watch; and don’t be longer than you can help to be.’

‘What am I to do, sir?’ asked the puzzled maiden.

‘Go inside, and you will see. When you are ready wave your handkerchief at that hole.’

She stooped into the opening. The cavity within the tree formed a lofty circular apartment, four or five feet in diameter, to which daylight entered at the top, and also through a round hole about six feet from the ground, marking the spot at which a limb had been amputated in the tree’s prime. The decayed wood of cinnamon-brown, forming the inner surface of the tree, and the warm evening glow, reflected in at the top, suffused the cavity with a faint mellow radiance.

But Margery had hardly given herself time to heed these things. Her eye had been caught by objects of quite another quality. A large white oblong paper box lay against the inside of the tree; over it, on a splinter, hung a small oval looking glass.

Margery seized the idea in a moment. She pressed through the rift into the tree, lifted the cover of the box, and, behold, there was disclosed within a lovely white apparition in a somewhat flattened state. It was the ball-dress.

This marvel of art was, briefly a sort of heavenly cobweb. It was a gossamer texture of precious manufacture, artistically festooned in a dozen flounces or more.

Margery lifted it, and could hardly refrain from kissing it. Had any one told her before this moment that such a dress could exist, she would have said, ‘No; it’s impossible!’ She drew back, went forward, flushed, laughed, raised her hands. To say that the maker of that dress had been an individual of talent was simply understatement: he was a genius, and she sunned herself in the rays of his creation.

She then remembered that her friend without had told her to make haste, and she spasmodically proceeded to array herself. In removing the dress she found satin slippers, gloves, a handkerchief nearly all lace, a fan, and even flowers for the hair. ‘O, how could he think of it!’ she said, clasping her hands and almost crying with agitation. ‘And the glass — how good of him!’

Everything was so well prepared, that to clothe herself in these garments was a matter of ease. In a quarter of an hour she was ready, even to shoes and gloves. But what led her more than anything else into admiration of the Baron’s foresight was the discovery that there were half a dozen pairs each of shoes and gloves, of varying sizes, out of which she selected a fit.

Margery glanced at herself in the mirror, or at as much as she could see of herself: the image presented was superb. Then she hastily rolled up her old dress, put it in the box, and thrust the latter on a ledge as high as she could reach. Standing on tiptoe, she waved the handkerchief through the upper aperture, and bent to the rift to go out.

But what a trouble stared her in the face. The dress was so airy, so fantastical, and so extensive, that to get out in her new clothes by the rift which had admitted her in her old ones was an impossibility. She heard the baron’s steps crackling over the dead sticks and leaves.

‘O sir!’ she began in despair.

‘What — can’t you dress yourself?’ he inquired from the back of the trunk.

‘Yes; but I can’t get out of this dreadful tree!’


He came round to the opening, stooped, and looked in. ‘It is obvious that you cannot,’ he said, taking in her compass at a glance; and adding to himself, ‘Charming! who would have thought that clothes could do so much! — Wait a minute, my little maid: I have it!’ he said more loudly.

With all his might he kicked at the sides of the rift, and by that means broke away several pieces of the rotten touch-wood. But, being thinly armed about the feet, he abandoned that process, and went for a fallen branch which lay near. By using the large end as a lever, he tore away pieces of the wooden shell which enshrouded Margery and all her loveliness, till the aperture was large enough for her to pass without tearing her dress. She breathed her relief: the silly girl had begun to fear that she would not get to the ball after all.

He carefully wrapped round her a cloak he had brought with him: it was hooded, and of a length which covered her to the heels.

‘The carriage is waiting down the other path,’ he said, and gave her his arm. A short trudge over the soft dry leaves brought them to the place indicated. There stood the brougham, the horses, the coachman, all as still as if they were growing on the spot, like the trees. Margery’s eyes rose with some timidity to the coachman’s figure.

‘You need not mind him,’ said the Baron. ‘He is a foreigner, and heeds nothing.’

In the space of a short minute she was handed inside; the Baron buttoned up his overcoat, and surprised her by mounting with the coachman. The carriage moved off silently over the long grass of the vista, the shadows deepening to black as they proceeded. Darker and darker grew the night as they rolled on; the neighbourhood familiar to Margery was soon left behind, and she had not the remotest idea of the direction they were taking. The stars blinked out, the coachman lit his lamps, and they bowled on again.

In the course of an hour and a half they arrived at a small town, where they pulled up at the chief inn, and changed horses: all being done so readily that their advent had plainly been expected. The journey was resumed immediately. Her companion never descended to speak to her, whenever she looked out there he sat upright on his perch, with the mien of a person who had a difficult duty to perform, and who meant to perform it properly at all costs. But Margery could not help feeling a certain dread at her situation — almost, indeed, a wish that she had not come. Once or twice she thought, ‘Suppose he is a wicked man, who is taking me off to a foreign country, and will never bring me home again.’

But her characteristic persistence in an original idea sustained her against these misgivings except at odd moments. One incident in particular had given her confidence in her escort: she had seen a tear in his eye when she expressed her sorrow for his troubles. He may have divined that her thoughts would take an uneasy turn, for when they stopped for a moment in ascending a hill he came to the window. ‘Are you tired, Margery?’ he asked kindly.

‘No, sir.’

‘Are you afraid?’

‘N — no, sir. But it is a long way.’

‘We are almost there,’ he answered. ‘And now, Margery,’ he said in a lower tone, ‘I must tell you a secret. I have obtained this invitation in a peculiar way. I thought it best for your sake not to come in my own name, and this is how I have managed. A man in this county, for whom I have lately done a service, one whom I can trust, and who is personally as unknown here as you and I, has (privately) transferred his card of invitation to me. So that we go under his name. I explain this that you may not say anything imprudent by accident. Keep your ears open and be cautious.’ Having said this the Baron retreated again to his place.

‘Then he is a wicked man after all!’ she said to herself; ‘for he is going under a false name.’ But she soon had the temerity not to mind it: wickedness of that sort was the one ingredient required just now to finish him off as a hero in her eyes.

They descended a hill, passed a lodge, then up an avenue; and presently there beamed upon them the light from other carriages, drawn up in a file, which moved on by degrees; and at last they halted before a large arched doorway, round which a group of people stood.

‘We are among the latest arrivals, on account of the distance,’ said the Baron, reappearing. ‘But never mind; there are three hours at least for your enjoyment.’

The steps were promptly flung down, and they alighted. The steam from the flanks of their swarthy steeds, as they seemed to her, ascended to the parapet of the porch, and from their nostrils the hot breath jetted forth like smoke out of volcanoes, attracting the attention of all.

V

The bewildered Margery was led by the Baron up the steps to the interior of the house, whence the sounds of music and dancing were already proceeding. The tones were strange. At every fourth beat a deep and mighty note throbbed through the air, reaching Margery’s soul with all the force of a blow.

‘What is that powerful tune, sir — I have never heard anything like it?’ she said.

‘The Drum Polka,’ answered the Baron. ‘The strange dance I spoke of and that we practised — introduced from my country and other parts of the continent.’

Her surprise was not lessened when, at the entrance to the ballroom, she heard the names of her conductor and herself announced as ‘Mr. and Miss Brown.’

However, nobody seemed to take any notice of the announcement, the room beyond being in a perfect turmoil of gaiety and Margery’s consternation at sailing under false colours subsided. At the same moment she observed awaiting them a handsome, dark-haired, rather petite lady in cream — coloured satin. ‘Who is she?’ asked Margery of the Baron.

‘She is the lady of the mansion,’ he whispered. ‘She is the wife of a peer of the realm, the daughter of a marquis, has five Christian names; and hardly ever speaks to commoners, except for political purposes.’

‘How divine — what joy to be here!’ murmured Margery, as she contemplated the diamonds that flashed from the head of her ladyship, who was just inside the ball-room door, in front of a little gilded chair, upon which she sat in the intervals between one arrival and another. She had come down from London at great inconvenience to herself, openly to promote this entertainment.

As Mr. and Miss Brown expressed absolutely no meaning to Lady Toneborough (for there were three Browns already present in this rather mixed assembly), and as there was possibly a slight awkwardness in poor Margery’s manner, Lady Toneborough touched their hands lightly with the tips of her long gloves, said, ‘How d’ye do,’ and turned round for more comers.

‘Ah, if she only knew we were a rich Baron and his friend, and not Mr. and Miss Brown at all she wouldn’t receive us like that, would she?’ whispered Margery confidentially.

‘Indeed she wouldn’t!’ drily said the Baron. ‘Now let us drop into the dance at once; some of the people here, you see, dance much worse than you.’

Almost before she was aware she had obeyed his mysterious influence, by giving him one hand, placing the other upon his shoulder, and swinging with him round the room to the steps she had learnt on the sward.

At the first gaze the apartment had seemed to her to be floored with black ice; the figures of the dancers appearing upon it upside down. At last she realised that it was highly-polished oak, but she was none the less afraid to move.

‘I am afraid of falling down,’ she said.

‘Lean on me; you will soon get used to it,’ he replied. ‘You have no nails in your shoes now, dear.’

His words, like all his words to her, were quite true. She found it amazingly easy in a brief space of time. The floor, far from hindering her, was a positive assistance to one of her natural agility and litheness. Moreover, her marvellous dress of twelve flounces inspired her as nothing else could have done. Externally a new creature, she was prompted to new deeds. To feel as well-dressed as the other women around her is to set any woman at her ease, whencesoever she may have come: to feel much better dressed is to add radiance to that ease.

Her prophet’s statement on the popularity of the polka at this juncture was amply borne out. It was among the first seasons of its general adoption in country houses; the enthusiasm it excited tonight was beyond description, and scarcely credible to the youth of the present day. A new motive power had been introduced into the world of poesy — the polka, as a counterpoise to the new motive power that had been introduced into the world of prose — steam.

Twenty finished musicians sat in the music gallery at the end, with romantic mop-heads of raven hair, under which their faces and eyes shone like fire under coals.

The nature and object of the ball had led to its being very inclusive. Every rank was there, from the peer to the smallest yeoman, and Margery got on exceedingly well, particularly when the recuperative powers of supper had banished the fatigue of her long drive.

Sometimes she heard people saying, ‘Who are they? — brother and sister — father and daughter? And never dancing except with each other — how odd?’ But of this she took no notice.

When not dancing the watchful Baron took her through the drawing-rooms and picture-galleries adjoining, which tonight were thrown open like the rest of the house; and there, ensconcing her in some curtained nook, he drew her attention to scrap-books, prints, and albums, and left her to amuse herself with turning them over till the dance in which she was practised should again be called. Margery would much have preferred to roam about during these intervals; but the words of the Baron were law, and as he commanded so she acted. In such alternations the evening winged away; till at last came the gloomy words, ‘Margery, our time is up.’

‘One more — only one!’ she coaxed, for the longer they stayed the more freely and gaily moved the dance. This entreaty he granted; but on her asking for yet another, he was inexorable. ‘No,’ he said. ‘We have a long way to go.’

Then she bade adieu to the wondrous scene, looking over her shoulder as they withdrew from the hall; and in a few minutes she was cloaked and in the carriage. The Baron mounted to his seat on the box, where she saw him light a cigar; they plunged under the trees, and she leant back, and gave herself up to contemplate the images that filled her brain. The natural result followed: she fell asleep.

She did not awake till they stopped to change horses; when she saw against the stars the Baron sitting as erect as ever. ‘He watches like the Angel Gabriel, when all the world is asleep!’ she thought.

With the resumption of motion she slept again, and knew no more till he touched her hand and said, ‘Our journey is done — we are in Chillington Wood.’

It was almost daylight. Margery scarcely knew herself to be awake till she was out of the carriage and standing beside the Baron, who, having told the coachman to drive on to a certain point indicated, turned to her.

‘Now,’ he said, smiling, ‘run across to the hollow tree you know where it is. I’ll wait as before, while you perform the reverse operation to that you did last night.’ She took no heed of the path now, nor regarded whether her pretty slippers became scratched by the brambles or no. A walk of a few steps brought her to the particular tree which she had left about nine hours earlier; It was still gloomy at this spot, the morning not being clear.

She entered the trunk, dislodged the box containing her old clothing, pulled off the satin shoes, and gloves, and dress, and in ten minutes emerged in the cotton gown and shawl of shepherd’s plaid.

The Baron was not far off. ‘Now you look the milkmaid again,’ he said, coming towards her. ‘Where is the finery?’

‘Packed in the box, sir, as I found it.’ She spoke with more humility now. The difference between them was greater than it had been at the ball.

‘Good,’ he said. ‘I must just dispose of it; and then away we go.’

He went back to the tree, Margery following at a little distance. Bringing forth the box, he pulled out the dress as carelessly as if it had been rags. But this was not all. He gathered a few dry sticks, crushed the lovely garment into a loose billowy heap, the gloves, fan, and shoes on the top, then struck a light and ruthlessly set fire to the whole.

Margery was agonized. She ran forward; she implored and entreated. ‘Please, sir — do spare it — do! My lovely dress — my dear, dear slippers — my fan — it is cruel! Don’t burn them, please!’

‘Nonsense. We shall have no further use for them if we live a hundred years.’

‘But spare a bit of it — one little piece, sir — a scrap of the lace — one bow of the ribbon — the lovely fan — just something!’

But he was as immoveable as Rhadamanthus. ‘No,’ he said with a stern gaze of his aristocratic eye. ‘It is of no use for you to speak like that. The things are my property. I undertook to gratify you in what you might desire because you had saved my life. To go to a ball, you said. You might much more wisely have said anything else, but no; you said, to go to a ball. Very well — I have taken you to a ball. I have brought you back. The clothes were only the means, and I dispose of them my own way. Have I not a right to?’

‘Yes, sir,’ she said meekly.

He gave the fire a stir, and lace and ribbons, and the twelve flounces, and the embroidery, and all the rest crackled and disappeared. He then put in her hands the butter basket she had brought to take on to her grandmother’s and accompanied her to the edge of the wood, where it merged in the undulating open country in which her granddame dwelt.

‘Now, Margery,’ he said, ‘here we part. I have performed my contract — at some awkwardness, if I was recognized. But never mind that. How do you feel — sleepy?’

‘Not at all, sir,’ she said.

‘That long nap refreshed you eh? Now you must make me a promise. That if I require your presence at any time, you will come to me. . . . I am a man of more than one mood,’ he went on with sudden solemnity; ‘and I may have desperate need of you again, to deliver me from that darkness as of Death which sometimes encompasses me. Promise it, Margery — promise it; that no matter what stands in the way, you will come to me if I require you.’

‘I would have if you had not burnt my pretty clothes!’ she pouted.

‘Ah — ungrateful!’

‘Indeed, then, I will promise, sir,’ she said from her heart. ‘Wherever I am, if I have bodily strength I will come to you.’

He pressed her hand. ‘It is a solemn promise,’ he replied. ‘Now I must go, for you know your way.’

‘I shall hardly believe that it has not been all a dream!’ she said, with a childish instinct to cry at his withdrawal. ‘There will be nothing left of last night — nothing of my dress, nothing of my pleasure, nothing of the place!’

‘You shall remember it in this way,’ he said. ‘We’ll cut our initials on this tree as a memorial, so that whenever you walk this path you will see them.’

Then with a knife he inscribed on the smooth bark of a beech tree the letters M.T., and underneath a large X.

‘What, have you no Christian name, sir?’

‘Yes, but I don’t use it. Now, good-bye, my little friend. — What will you do with yourself today, when you are gone from me?’ he lingered to ask.

‘Oh — I shall go to my granny’s,’ she replied with some gloom; ‘and have breakfast, and dinner, and tea with her, I suppose; and in the evening I shall go home to Silverthorn Dairy, and perhaps Jim will come to meet me, and all will be the same as usual.’

‘Who is Jim?’

‘O, he’s nobody — only the young man I’ve got to marry some day.’

‘What! — you engaged to be married? — Why didn’t you tell me this before?’

‘I don’t know, sir.’

‘What is the young man’s name?’

‘James Hayward.’

‘What is he?’

‘A master lime burner’.

‘Engaged to a master lime-burner, and not a word of this to me! Margery, Margery! when shall a straightforward one of your sex be found! Subtle even in your simplicity! What mischief have you caused me to do, through not telling me this? I wouldn’t have so endangered anybody’s happiness for a thousand pounds. Wicked girl that you were; why didn’t you tell me?’

‘I thought I’d better not!’ said Margery, beginning to be frightened.

‘But don’t you see and understand that if you are already the property of a young man, and he were to find out this night’s excursion, he may be angry with you and part from you for ever? With him already in the field I had no right to take you at all; he undoubtedly ought to have taken you; which really might have been arranged, if you had not deceived me by saying you had nobody.’

Margery’s face wore that aspect of woe which comes from the repentant consciousness of having been guilty of an enormity. ‘But he wasn’t good enough to take me, sir!’ she said, almost crying; ‘and he isn’t absolutely my master until I have married him, is he?’

‘That’s a subject I cannot go into. However, we must alter our tactics. Instead of advising you, as I did at first to tell of this experience to your friends, I must now impress on you that it will be best to keep a silent tongue on the matter — perhaps for ever and ever. It may come right some day, and you may be able to say “All’s well that ends well.” Now, good morning, my friend. Think of Jim, and forget me.’

‘Ah, perhaps I can’t do that,’ she said, with a tear in her eye, and a full throat.

‘Well — do your best. I can say no more.’

He turned and retreated into the wood, and Margery, sighing, went on her way.

VI

Between six and seven o’clock in the evening of the same day a young man descended the hills into the valley of the Exe, at a point about midway between Silverthorn and the residence of Margery’s grandmother, four miles to the east.

He was a thoroughbred son of the country, as far removed from what is known as the provincial, as the latter is from the out-and-out gentleman of culture. His trousers and waistcoat were of fustian, almost white, but he wore a jacket of old-fashioned blue West-of-England cloth, so well preserved that evidently the article was relegated to a box whenever its owner engaged in such active occupations as he usually pursued. His complexion was fair, almost florid, and he had scarcely any beard.

A novel attraction about this young man, which a glancing stranger would know nothing of, was a rare and curious freshness of atmosphere that appertained to him, to his clothes, to all his belongings, even to the room in which he had been sitting. It might almost have been said that by adding him and his implements to an over-crowded apartment you made it healthful. This resulted from his trade. He was a lime-burner; he handled lime daily; and in return the lime rendered him an incarnation of salubrity. His hair was dry, fair, and frizzled, the latter possibly by the operation of the same caustic agent. He carried as a walking-stick a green sapling, whose growth had been contorted to a corkscrew pattern by a twining honeysuckle.

As he descended to the level ground of the water-meadows he cast his glance westward, with a frequency that revealed him to be in search of some object in the distance. It was rather difficult to do this, the low sunlight dazzling his eyes by glancing from the river away there, and from the ‘carriers’ (as they were called) in his path — narrow artificial brooks for conducting the water over the grass. His course was something of a zigzag from the necessity of finding points in these carriers convenient for jumping. Thus peering and leaping and winding, he drew near the Exe, the central river of the miles-long mead.

A moving spot became visible to him in the direction of his scrutiny, mixed up with the rays of the same river. The spot got nearer, and revealed itself to be a slight thing of pink cotton and shepherd’s plaid, which pursued a path on the brink of the stream. The young man so shaped his trackless course as to impinge on the path a little ahead of this coloured form, and when he drew near her he smiled and reddened. The girl smiled back to him; but her smile had not the life in it that the young man’s had shown.

‘My dear Margery — here I am!’ he said gladly in an undertone, as with a last leap he crossed the last intervening carrier, and stood at her side.

‘You’ve come all the way from the kiln, on purpose to meet me, and you shouldn’t have done it,’ she reproachfully returned.

‘We finished there at four, so it was no trouble; and if it had been — why, I should ha’ come.’

A small sigh was the response.

‘What, you are not even so glad to see me as you would be to see your dog or cat!’ he continued. ‘Come, Mis’ess Margery, this is rather hard. But, by George, how tired you dew look! Why, if you’d been up all night your eyes couldn’t be more like tea-saucers. You’ve walked tew far, that’s what it is. The weather is getting warm now, and the air of these low-lying meads is not strengthening in summer. I wish you lived up on higher ground with me, beside the kiln. You’d get as strong as a hoss! Well, there; all that will come in time.’

Instead of saying yes, the fair maid repressed another sigh.

‘What, won’t it, then?’ he said.

‘I suppose so,’ she answered. ‘If it is to be, it is.’

‘Well said — very well said, my dear.’

‘And if it isn’t to be it isn’t’.

‘What? Who’s been putting that into your head? Your grumpy granny, I suppose. However, how is she? Margery, I have been thinking today — in fact, I was thinking it yesterday and all the week — that really we might settle our little business this summer.’

‘This summer?’ she repeated, with some dismay. ‘But the partnership? Remember it was not to be till after that was completed.’

‘There I have you!’ said he, taking the liberty to pat her shoulder, and the further liberty of advancing his hand behind it to the other. ‘The partnership is settled. ‘Tis “Vine and Hayward, lime-burners,” now, and “Richard Vine” no longer. Yes, Cousin Richard has settled it so, for a time at least, and ‘tis to be painted on the carts this week — blue letters — yaller ground. I’ll hoss one of ‘em, and drive en round to your door as soon as the paint is dry, to show ‘ee how it looks?’

‘Oh, I am sure you needn’t take that trouble, Jim; I can see it quite well enough in my mind,’ replied the young girl — not without a flitting accent of superiority.

‘Hullo,’ said Jim, taking her by the shoulders, and looking at her hard. ‘What dew that bit of incivility mean? Now, Margery, let’s sit down here, and have this cleared.’ He rapped with his stick upon the rail of a little bridge they were crossing, and seated himself firmly, leaving a place for her.

‘But I want to get home along, dear Jim,’ she coaxed.

‘Fidgets. Sit down, there’s a dear. I want a straightforward answer, if you please. In what month, and on what day of the month, will you marry me?’

‘O, Jim,’ she said, sitting gingerly on the edge, ‘that’s too plain-spoken for you yet. Before I look at it in that business light I should have to — to — ’

‘But your father has settled it long ago, and you said it should be as soon as I became a partner. So, dear, you must not mind a plain man wanting a plain answer. Come, name your time.’

She did not reply at once. What thoughts were passing through her brain during the interval? Not images raised by his words, but whirling figures of men and women in red and white and blue, reflected from a glassy floor, in movements timed by the thrilling beats of the Drum Polka. At last she said slowly, ‘Jim, you don’t know the world, and what a woman’s wants can be.’

‘But I can make you comfortable. I am in lodgings as yet, but I can have a house for the asking; and as to furniture, you shall choose of the best for yourself — the very best.’

‘The best! Far are you from knowing what that is!’ said the little woman. ‘There be ornaments such as you never dream of; work tables that would set you in amaze; silver candlesticks, tea and coffee pots that would dazzle your eyes; teacups, and saucers, gilded all over with guinea-gold; heavy velvet curtains, gold clocks, pictures, and looking-glasses beyond your very dreams. So don’t say I shall have the best.’

‘H’m!’ said Jim gloomily; and fell into reflection. ‘Where did you get those high notions from, Margery?’ he presently inquired. ‘I’ll swear you hadn’t got ‘em a week ago?’ She did not answer, and he added, ‘Yew don’t expect to have such things, I hope; deserve them as you may?’

‘I was not exactly speaking of what I wanted,’ she said severely. ‘I said, things a woman could want. And since you wish to know what I can want to quite satisfy me, I assure you I can want those!’

‘You are a pink-and-white conundrum, Margery,’ he said; ‘and I give you up for tonight. Anybody would think the devil had showed you all the kingdoms of the world since I saw you last!’

She reddened. ‘Perhaps he has!’ she murmured; then arose, he following her; and they soon reached Margery’s home, approaching it from the lower or meadow side — the opposite to that of the garden top, where she had met the Baron.

‘You’ll come in, won’t you, Jim?’ she said, with more ceremony than heartiness.

‘No — I think not tonight,’ he answered. ‘I’ll consider what you’ve said.’

‘You are very good, Jim,’ she returned lightly. ‘Goodbye.’

VII

Jim thoughtfully retraced his steps. He was a village character, and he had a villager’s simplicity: that is, the simplicity which comes from the lack of a complicated experience. But simple by nature he certainly was not. Among the rank and fIle of rustics he was quite a Talleyrand, or rather had been one, till he lost a good deal of his self-command by falling in love.

Now, however, that the charming object of his distraction was out of sight he could deliberate, and measure, and weigh things with some approach to keenness. The substance of his queries was, What change had come over Margery — whence these new notions?

Ponder as he would he could evolve no answer save one, which, eminently unsatisfactory as it was, he felt it would be unreasonable not to accept: that she was simply skittish and ambitious by nature, and would not be hunted into matrimony till he had provided a well-adorned home.

Jim retrod the miles to the kiln, and looked to the fires. The kiln stood in a peculiar, interesting, even impressive spot. It was at the end of a short ravine in a limestone formation, and all around was an open hilly down. The nearest house was that of Jim’s cousin and partner, which stood on the outskirts of the down beside the turnpike-road. From this house a little lane wound between the steep escarpments of the ravine till it reached the kiln, which faced down the miniature valley, commanding it as a fort might command a defile.

The idea of a fort in this association owed little to imagination. For on the nibbled green steep above the kiln stood a bye-gone, worn-out specimen of such an erection, huge, impressive and difficult to scale even now in its decay. It was a British castle or entrenchment, with triple rings of defence, rising roll behind roll, their outlines cutting sharply against the sky, and Jim’s kiln nearly undermining their base. When the lime-kiln flared up in the night, which it often did, its fires lit up the front of these ramparts to a great majesty. They were old friends of his, and while keeping up the heat through the long darkness, as it was sometimes his duty to do, he would imagine the dancing lights and shades about the stupendous earthwork to be the forms of those giants who (he supposed) had heaped it up. Often he clambered upon it, and walked about the summit, thinking out the problems connected with his business, his partner, his future, his Margery.

It was what he did this evening, continuing the meditation on the young girl’s manner that he had begun upon the road, and still, as then, finding no clue to the change.

While thus engaged he observed a man coming up the ravine to the kiln. Business messages were almost invariably left at the house below, and Jim watched the man with the interest excited by a belief that he had come on a personal matter. On nearer approach Jim recognized him as the gardener at Mount Lodge some miles away. If this meant business, the Baron (of whose arrival Jim had vaguely heard) was a new and unexpected customer.

It meant nothing else, apparently. The man’s errand was simply to inform Jim that the Baron required a load of lime for the garden.

‘You might have saved yourself trouble by leaving word at Mr. Vine’s,’ said Jim.

‘I was to see you personally,’ said the gardener, ‘and to say that the Baron would like to inquire of you about the different qualities of lime proper for such purposes.’

‘Couldn’t you tell him yourself?’ said Jim.

‘He said I was to tell you that,’ replied the gardener; ‘and it wasn’t for me to interfere.’

No motive other than the ostensible one could possibly be conjectured by Jim Hayward at this time; and the next morning he started with great pleasure, in his best business suit of clothes. By eleven o’clock he and his horse and cart had arrived on the Baron’s premises, and the lime was deposited where directed; an exceptional spot, just within view of the windows of the south front.

Baron von Xanten, pale and melancholy, was sauntering in the sun on the slope between the house and the all-the-year-round. He looked across to where Jim and the gardener were standing and the identity of Hayward being established by what he brought, the Baron came down, and the gardener withdrew.

The Baron’s first inquiries were, as Jim had been led to suppose they would be, on the exterminating effects of lime upon slugs and snails in its different conditions of slaked and unslaked, ground and in the lump. He appeared to be much interested by Jim’s explanations, and eyed the young man closely whenever he had an opportunity.

And I hope trade is prosperous with you this year,’ said the Baron.

‘Very, my noble lord,’ replied Jim, who, in his uncertainty on the proper method of address, wisely concluded that it was better to err by giving too much honour than by giving too little. ‘In short, trade is looking so well that I’ve become a partner in the firm.’

‘Indeed; I am glad to hear it. So now you are settled in life.’

‘Well, my lord; I am hardly settled, even now. For I’ve got to finish it — I mean, to get married.’

‘That’s an easy matter compared with the partnership.’

‘Now a man might think so, my baron’ said Jim getting more confidential. ‘But the real truth is, ‘tis the hardest part of all for me.’

‘Your suit prospers, I hope?’

‘It don’t,’ said Jim. ‘It don’t at all just at present. In short, I can’t for the life o’ me think what’s come over the young woman lately.’ And he fell into deep reflection.

Though Jim did not observe it, the Baron’s brow became shadowed with self-reproach as he heard those simple words, and his eyes had a look of pity. Indeed — since when?’ he asked.

‘Since yesterday, my noble lord.’ Jim spoke meditatively. He was resolving upon a bold stroke. Why not make a confidant of this kind gentleman, instead of the parson, as he had intended? The thought was no sooner conceived than acted on. ‘My lord,’ he resumed, ‘I have heard that you are a nobleman of great scope and talent, who has seen more strange countries and characters than I have ever heard of, and know the insides of men well. Therefore I would fain put a question to your noble lordship, if I may so trouble you, and having nobody else in the world who could inform me so trewly.’

‘Any advice I can give is at your service Hayward. What do you wish to know?’

‘It is this, my baron. What can I do to bring down a young woman’s ambition that’s got to such a towering height there’s no reaching it or compassing it: how get her to be pleased with me and my station as she used to be when I first knew her?’

‘Truly that’s a hard question, my man. What does she aspire to?’

‘She’s got a craze for fine furniture.’

‘How long has she had it?’

‘Only just now.’

The Baron seemed still more to experience regret. ‘What furniture does she specially covet?’ he asked.

‘Silver candlesticks, work-tables, looking-glasses, gold tea-things, silver tea pots, gold clocks, curtains, pictures, and I don’t know what all — things I shall never get if I live to be a hundred — not so much that I couldn’t raise the money to buy ‘em, as that I ought to put it to other uses, or save it for a rainy day.’

‘You think the possession of those articles would make her happy?’

‘I really think they might, my lord.’

‘Good. Open your pocket-book and write as I tell you.’ Jim in some astonishment did as commanded, and elevating his pocket-book against the garden-wall, thoroughly moistened his pencil, and wrote at the Baron’s dictation:

‘Pair of silver candlesticks: inlaid work-table and work-box: one large mirror: two small ditto: one gilt china tea and coffee service: one silver tea-pot, coffee-pot, sugar basin, jug, and dozen spoons: French clock: pair of curtains: six large pictures.’

‘Now,’ said the Baron, ‘tear out that leaf and give it to me. Keep a close tongue about this; go home, and don’t be surprised at anything that may come to your door.’

‘But, my noble lord, you don’t mean that your lordship is going to give — ’

‘Never mind what I am going to do. Only keep your own counsel. I perceive that, though a plain countryman, you are by no means deficient in tact and understanding. If sending these things to you gives me pleasure, why should you object? The fact is, Hayward, I occasionally take an interest in people, and like to do a little for them. I take an interest in you. Now go home, and a week hence invite Marg — the young woman and her father, to tea with you. The rest is in your own hands.’

A question often put to Jim in after times was why it had not occurred to him at once that the Baron’s liberal conduct must have been dictated by something more personal than sudden spontaneous generosity to him, a stranger. To which Jim always answered that, admitting the existence of such generosity, there had appeared nothing remarkable in the Baron selecting himself as its object. The Baron had told him that he took an interest in him; and self-esteem, even with the most modest, is usually sufficient to over-ride any little difficulty that might occur to an outsider in accounting for a preference. He moreover considered that foreign noblemen, rich and eccentric, might have habits of acting which were quite at variance with those of their English compeers.

So he drove off homeward with a lighter heart than he had known for several days. To have a foreign gentleman take a fancy to him — what a triumph to a plain sort of fellow, who had scarcely expected the Baron to look in his face. It would be a fine story to tell Margery when the Baron gave him liberty to speak out.

Jim lodged at the house of his cousin and partner, Richard Vine, a widower of fifty odd years. Having failed in the development of a household of direct descendants this tradesman had been glad to let his chambers to his much younger relative, when the latter entered on the business of lime manufacture; and their intimacy had led to a partnership. Jim lived upstairs; his partner lived down, and the furniture of all the rooms was so plain and old fashioned as to excite the special dislike of Miss Margery Tucker, and even to prejudice her against Jim for tolerating it. Not only were the chairs and tables queer but with due regard to the principle that a man’s surroundings should bear the impress of that man’s life and occupation, the chief ornaments of the dwelling were a curious collection of calcinations, that had been discovered from time to time in the lime-kiln — misshapen ingots of strange substance, some of them like Pompeian remains.

The head of the firm was a quiet-living, narrow-minded, though friendly, man of fifty; and he took a serious interest in Jim’s love-suit, frequently inquiring how it progressed, and assuring Jim that if he chose to marry he might have all the upper floor at a low rent, he, Mr. Vine, contenting himself entirely with the ground level. It had been so convenient for discussing business matters to have Jim in the same house, that he did not wish any change to be made in consequence of a change in Jim’s domestic estate. Margery knew of this wish and of Jim’s concurrent feeling; and did not like the idea at all.

About four days after the young man’s interview with the Baron, there drew up in front of Jim’s house at noon a waggon laden with cases and packages, large and small. They were all addressed to ‘Mr. Hayward,’ and they had come from the largest furnishing warehouses in that part of England.

Three-quarters of an hour were occupied in getting the cases to Jim’s rooms. The wary Jim did not show the amazement he felt at his patron’s munificence; and presently the senior partner came into the passage, and wondered what was lumbering upstairs.

‘Oh — it’s only some things of mine,’ said Jim coolly.

‘Bearing upon the coming event — eh?’ said his partner. ‘Exactly,’ replied Jim.

Mr. Vine, with some astonishment at the number of cases, shortly after went away to the kiln; whereupon Jim shut himself into his rooms, and there he might have been heard ripping up and opening boxes with a cautious hand, afterwards appearing outside the door with them empty, and carrying them off to the outhouse.

A triumphant look lit up his face when, a little later in the afternoon, he sent into the vale to the dairy, and invited Margery and her father to his house to supper.

She was not unsociable that day, and, her father expressing a hard and fast acceptance of the invitation, she perforce agreed to go with him. Meanwhile at home, Jim made himself as mysteriously busy as before in those rooms of his, and when his partner returned he too was asked to join in the supper.

At dusk Hayward went to the door, where he stood till he heard the voices of his guests from the direction of the low grounds, now covered with their frequent fleece of fog. The voices grew more distinct, and then on the white surface of the fog there appeared two trunkless heads, from which bodies and a horse and cart gradually extended as the approaching pair rose towards the house.

When they had entered Jim pressed Margery’s hand and conducted her up to his rooms, her father waiting below to say a few words to the senior lime burner.

‘Bless me,’ said Jim to her, on entering the sitting-room; ‘I quite forgot to get a light beforehand; but I’ll have one in a jiffy. ‘

Margery stood in the middle of the dark room, while Jim struck a match; and then the young girl’s eyes were conscious of a burst of light, and the rise into being of a pair of handsome silver candlesticks containing two candles that Jim was in the act of lighting. ‘Why — where — you have candlesticks like that?’ said Margery. Her eyes flew round the room as the growing candle-flames showed other articles. ‘Pictures too — and lovely china — why I knew nothing of this, I declare.’

‘Yes — a few things that came to me by accident,’ said Jim in quiet tones.

‘And a great gold clock under a glass, and a cupid swinging for a pendulum; and O what a lovely work-table — woods of every colour — and a work-box to match. May I look inside that work box, Jim? — whose is it?’

‘Oh yes; look at it, of course. It is a poor enough thing but ‘tis mine; and it will belong to the woman I marry, whoever she may be, as well as all the other things here.’

‘And the curtains and the looking-glasses why I declare I can see myself in a hundred places.’

‘That tea-set,’ said Jim, placidly pointing to a gorgeous china service and a large silver tea pot on the side table, ‘I don’t use at present, being a bachelor-man; but, says I to myself, “whoever I marry will want some such things for giving her parties; or I can sell em” — but I haven’t took steps for’t yet — ‘

‘Sell ‘ em — no, I should think not,’ said Margery with earnest reproach. ‘Why I hope you wouldn’t be so foolish! Why, this is exactly the kind of thing I was thinking of when I told you of the things women could want — of course not meaning myself particularly. I had no idea that you had such valuable — ‘ Margery was unable to speak coherently so much was she amazed at the wealth of Jim’s possessions.

At this moment her father and the lime-burner came upstairs; and to appear womanly and proper to Mr. Vine, Margery repressed the remainder of her surprise. As for the two elderly worthies, it was not till they entered the room and sat down that their slower eyes discerned anything brilliant in the appointments. Then one of them stole a glance at some article, and the other at another; but each being unwilling to express his wonder in the presence of his neighbours, they received the objects before them with quite an accustomed air; the lime-burner inwardly trying to conjecture what all this meant, and the dairyman musing that if Jim’s business allowed him to accumulate at this rate, the sooner Margery became his wife the better. Margery retreated to the worktable, work-box, and tea-service, which she examined with hushed exclamations.

An entertainment thus surprisingly begun could not fail to progress well. Whenever Margery’s crusty old father felt the need of a civil sentence, the flash of Jim’s fancy articles inspired him to one; while the lime-burner, having reasoned away his first ominous thought that all this had come out of the firm, also felt proud and blithe.

Jim accompanied his dairy friends part of the way home before they mounted. Her father, finding that Jim wanted to speak to her privately, and that she exhibited some elusiveness, turned to Margery and said, ‘Come, come, my lady; no more of this nonsense. You just step behind with that young man, and I and the cart will wait for you.’

Margery, a little scared at her father’s peremptoriness, obeyed. It was plain that Jim had won the old man by that night’s stroke, if he had not won her.

‘I know what you are going to say, Jim,’ she began, less ardently now, for she was no longer under the novel influence of the shining silver and glass. ‘Well, as you desire it, and as my father desires it, and as I suppose it will be the best course for me, I will fix the day — not this evening, but as soon as I can think it over.’

VIII

Notwithstanding a press of business, Jim went and did his duty in thanking the Baron. The latter saw him in his fishing tackle room, an apartment littered with every appliance that a votary of the rod could require.

And when is the wedding-day to be, Hayward?’ the Baron asked, after Jim had told him that matters were settled.

‘It is not quite certain yet, my noble lord,’ said Jim cheerfully. ‘But I hope ‘twill not be long after the time when God A’mighty christens the little apples.’

‘And when is that?’

‘St. Swithin’s — the middle of July. ‘Tis to be some time in that month, she tells me.’

When Jim was gone the Baron seemed meditative. He went out, ascended the mount, and entered the weather-screen, where he looked at the seats, as though re-enacting in his fancy the scene of that memorable morning of fog. He turned his eyes to the angle of the shelter, round which Margery had suddenly appeared like a vision, and it was plain that he would not have minded her appearing there then. The juncture had indeed been such an impressive and critical one that she must have seemed rather a heavenly messenger than a passing milkmaid, more especially to a man like the Baron, who, despite the mystery of his origin and life, revealed himself to be a melancholy, emotional character — the Jacques of this forest and stream.

Behind the mount the ground rose yet higher, ascending to a plantation which sheltered the house. The Baron strolled up here, and bent his gaze over the distance. The valley of the Exe lay before him, with its shining river, the brooks that fed it, and the trickling springs that fed the brooks. The situation of Margery’s house was visible, though not the house itself; and the Baron gazed that way for an infinitely long time, till, remembering himself, he moved on.

Instead of returning to the house he went along the ridge till he arrived at the verge of Chillington Wood, and in the same, desultory manner roamed under the trees, not pausing till he had come to Three-Walks-End, and the hollow elm hard by. He peeped in at the rift. In the soft dry layer of touch-wood that floored the hollow Margery’s tracks were still visible, as she had made them there when dressing for the ball.

‘Little Margery!’ murmured the Baron.

In a moment he thought better of this mood, and turned to go home. But behold, a form stood behind him — that of the girl whose name had been on his lips.

She was in utter confusion. ‘I — I — did not know you were here, sir!’ she began. ‘I was out for a little walk.’ She could get no further; her eyes filled with tears. That spice of wilfulness, even hardness, which characterized her in Jim’s company, magically disappeared in the presence of the Baron.

‘Never mind, never mind,’ said he, masking under a severe manner whatever he felt. ‘The meeting is awkward, and ought not to have occurred, especially if, as I suppose, you are shortly to be married to James Hayward. But it cannot be helped now. You had no idea I was here, of course. Neither had I of seeing you. Remember you cannot be too careful,’ continued the Baron in the same grave tone; ‘and I strongly request you as a friend to do your utmost to avoid meetings like this. When you saw me before I turned, why did you not go away?’

‘I did not see you, sir. I did not think of seeing you. I was walking this way, and I only looked in to see the tree.’

‘That shows you have been thinking of things you should not think of,’ returned the Baron. ‘Good morning.’

Margery could answer nothing. A browbeaten glance, almost of misery, was all she gave him. He took a slow step away from her; then turned suddenly back and, stooping, impulsively kissed her cheek, taking her as much by surprise as ever a woman was taken in her life.

Immediately after he went off with a flushed face and rapid strides, which he did not check till he was within his own boundaries.

The haymaking season now set in vigorously, and the weir-hatches were all drawn in the meads to drain off the water. The streams ran themselves dry, and there was no longer any difficulty in walking about among them. The Baron could very well witness from the elevations about his house the activity which followed these preliminaries. The white shirt-sleeves of the mowers glistened in the sun, the scythes flashed, voices echoed, snatches of song floated about, and there were glimpses of red waggon-wheels, purple gowns, and many-coloured handkerchiefs.

The Baron had been told that the haymaking was to be followed by the wedding, and had he gone down the vale to the dairy he would have had evidence to that effect. Dairyman Tucker’s house was in a whirlpool of bustle, and among other difficulties was that of turning the cheese-room into a genteel apartment for the time being, and hiding the awkwardness of having to pass through the milk-house to get to the parlour door. These household contrivances appeared to interest Margery much more than the great question of dressing for the ceremony and the ceremony itself. In all relating to that she showed an indescribable backwardness, which later on was well remembered.

‘If it were only somebody else, and I was one of the bridesmaids, I really think I should like it better!’ she murmured one afternoon.

‘Away with thee — that’s only your shyness!’ said one of the milkmaids.

It is said that about this time the Baron seemed to feel the effects of solitude strongly. Solitude revives the simple instincts of primitive man, and lonely country nooks afford rich soil for wayward emotions. Moreover, idleness waters those unconsidered impulses which a short season of turmoil would stamp out. It is difficult to speak with any exactness of the bearing of such conditions on the mind of the Baron — a man of whom so little was ever truly known — but there is no doubt that his mind ran much on Margery as an individual, without reference to her rank or quality, or to the question whether she would marry Jim Hayward that summer. She was the single lovely human thing within his present horizon, for he lived in absolute seclusion; and her image unduly affected him.

But, leaving conjecture, let me state what happened. One Saturday evening, two or three weeks after his accidental meeting with her in the wood, he wrote the note following: —

Dear Margery,

You must not suppose that, because I spoke somewhat severely to you at our chance encounter by the hollow tree, I have any feeling against you. Far from it. Now, as ever, I have the most grateful sense of your considerate kindness to me on a momentous occasion which shall be nameless.

You solemnly promised to come and see me whenever I should send for you. Can you call for five minutes as soon as possible and disperse those plaguy glooms from which I am so unfortunate as to suffer? If you refuse I will not answer for the consequences. I shall be in the summer shelter of the mount tomorrow morning at half-past ten. If you come I shall be grateful. I have also something for you.

Yours,

X.

In keeping with the tenor of this epistle the desponding, self-oppressed Baron ascended the mount on Sunday morning and sat down. There was nothing here to signify exactly the hour, but before the church bells had begun he heard somebody approaching at the back. The light footstep moved timidly, first to one recess, and then to another; then to the third, where he sat in the shade. Poor Margery stood before him.

She looked worn and weary, and her little shoes and the skirts of her dress were covered with dust. The weather was sultry, the sun being already high and powerful, and rain had not fallen for weeks. The Baron, who walked little, had thought nothing of the effects of this heat and drought in inducing fatigue. A distance which had been but a reasonable excercise on a foggy morning was a drag for Margery now. She was out of breath; and anxiety, even unhappiness was written on her everywhere.

He rose to his feet, and took her hand. He was vexed with himself at sight of her. ‘My dear little girl!’ he said. ‘You are tired — you should not have come.’

‘You sent for me, sir; and I was afraid you were ill; and my promise to you was sacred.’

He bent over her, looking upon her downcast face, and still holding her hand; then he dropped it, and took a pace or two backwards.

‘It was a whim, nothing more,’ he said, sadly. ‘I wanted to see my little friend, to express good wishes — and to present her with this.’ He held forward a small morocco case, and showed her how to open it, disclosing a pretty locket, set with pearls. ‘It is intended as a wedding present,’ he continued. ‘To be returned to me again if you do not marry Jim this summer — it is to be this summer, I think?’

‘It was, sir,’ she said with agitation. ‘But it is so no longer. And, therefore, I cannot take this.’

‘What do you say?’

‘It was to have been today; but now it cannot be.’

‘The wedding today — Sunday?’ he cried.

‘We fixed Sunday not to hinder much time at this busy season of the year,’ replied she.

‘And have you, then, put it off — surely not?’

‘You sent for me, and I have come,’ she answered humbly, like an obedient familiar in the employ of some great enchanter. Indeed, the Baron’s power over this innocent girl was curiously like enchantment, or mesmeric influence. It was so masterful that the sexual element was almost eliminated. It was that of Prospero over the gentle Ariel. And yet it was probably only that of the cosmopolite over the recluse, of the experienced man over the simple maid.

‘You have come — on your wedding-day! — O Margery, this is a mistake. Of course, you should not have obeyed me, since, though I thought your wedding would be soon, I did not know it was today.’

‘I promised you, sir; and I would rather keep my promise to you than be married to Jim.’

‘That must not be — the feeling is wrong!’ he murmured, looking at the distant hills. ‘There seems to be a fate in all this; I get out of the frying-pan into the fire. What a recompense to you for your goodness! The fact is, I was out of health and out of spirits, so I — but no more of that. Now instantly to repair this tremendous blunder that we have made — that’s the question.’

After a pause, he went on hurriedly, ‘Walk down the hill; get into the road. By that time I shall be there with a phaeton. We may get back in time. What time is it now? If not, no doubt the wedding can be tomorrow; so all will come right again. Don’t cry my dear girl. Keep the locket of course — you’ll marry Jim.’

IX

He hastened down towards the stables, and she went on as directed. It seemed as if he must have put in the horse himself, so quickly did he reappear with the phaeton on the open road. Margery silently took her seat, and the Baron seemed cut to the quick with self-reproach as he noticed the listless indifference with which she acted. There was no doubt that in her heart she had preferred obeying the apparently important mandate that morning to becoming Jim’s wife; but there was no less doubt that had the Baron left her alone she would quietly have gone to the altar.

He drove along furiously, in a cloud of dust. There was much to contemplate in that peaceful Sunday morning — the windless trees and fields, the shaking sunlight, the pause in human stir. Yet neither of them heeded, and thus they drew near to the dairy. His first expressed intention had been to go indoors with her, but this he abandoned as impolitic in the highest degree.

‘You may be soon enough,’ he said, springing down, and helping her to follow. ‘Tell the truth: say you were sent for to receive a wedding present — that it was a mistake on my part — a mistake on yours; and I think they’ll forgive. . . . And, Margery, my last request to you is this: that if I send for you again, you do not come. Promise solemnly, my dear girl, that any such request shall be unheeded.’

Her lips moved, but the promise was not articulated. ‘O, sir, I cannot promise it!’ she said at last.

‘But you must; your salvation may depend on it!’ he insisted almost sternly. ‘You don’t know what I am.’

‘Then, sir, I promise,’ she replied. ‘Now leave me to myself, please, and I’ll go indoors and manage matters.’

He turned the horse and drove away, but only for a little distance. Out of sight he pulled rein suddenly. ‘Only to go back and propose it to her, and she’d come!’ he murmured.

He stood up in the phaeton, and by this means he could see over the hedge. Margery still sat listlessly in the same place; there was not a lovelier flower in the field. ‘No,’ he said; ‘no, no — never!’ He reseated himself, and the wheels sped lightly back over the soft dust to Mount Lodge.

Meanwhile Margery had not moved. If the Baron could dissimulate on the side of severity she could dissimulate on the side of calm. He did not know what had been veiled by the quiet promise to manage matters indoors. Rising at length she first turned away from the house; and, by-and-by, having apparently forgotten till then that she carried it in her hand, she opened the case, and looked at the locket. This seemed to give her courage. She turned, set her face towards the dairy in good earnest, and though her heart faltered when the gates came in sight, she kept on and drew near the door.

On the threshold she stood listening. The house was silent. Decorations were visible in the passage, and also the carefully swept and sanded path to the gate, which she was to have trodden as a bride; but the sparrows hopped over it as if it were abandoned; and all appeared to have been checked at its climacteric, like a clock stopped on the strike. Till this moment of confronting the suspended animation of the scene she had not realised the full shock of the convulsion which her disappearance must have caused. It is quite certain — apart from her own repeated assurances to that effect in later years — that in hastening off that morning to her sudden engagement, Margery had not counted the cost of such an enterprise; while a dim notion that she might get back again in time for the ceremony, if the message meant nothing serious, should also be mentioned in her favour. But, upon the whole, she had obeyed the call with an unreasoning obedience worthy of a disciple in primitive times. A conviction that the Baron’s life might depend upon her presence — for she had by this time divined the tragical event she had interrupted on the foggy morning — took from her all will to judge and consider calmly. The simple affairs of her and hers seemed nothing beside the possibility of harm to him.

A well-known step moved on the sanded floor within, and she went forward. That she saw her father’s face before, just within the door, can hardly be said: it was rather Reproach and Rage in a human mask.

‘What! ye have dared to come back alive, hussy, to look upon the dupery you have practised on honest people! You’ve mortified us all; I don’t want to see ‘ee; I don’t want to hear ‘ee; I don’t want to know anything!’ He walked up and down the room, unable to command himself. ‘Nothing but being dead could have excused ‘ee for not meeting and marrying that man this morning; and yet you have the brazen impudence to stand there as well as ever! What be you here for?’


‘I’ve come back to marry Jim, if he wants me to,’ she said faintly. ‘And if not — perhaps so much the better. I was sent for this morning early. I thought — ’ She halted. To say that she had thought a man’s death might happen by his own hand if she did not go to him would never do. ‘I was obliged to go,’ she said. ‘I had given my word.’

‘Why didn’t you tell us then, so that the wedding could be put off, without making fools o’ us?’

‘Because I was afraid you wouldn’t let me go, and I had made up my mind to go.’

‘To go where?’

She was silent; till she said, ‘I will tell Jim all, and why it was; and if he’s any friend of mine he’ll excuse me.’

‘Not Jim — he’s no such fool. Jim had put all ready for you, Jim had called at your house, a-dressed up in his new wedding clothes, and a-smiling like the sun; Jim had told the parson, had got the ringers in tow, and the clerk awaiting; and then — you was gone! Then Jim turned as pale as rendlewood, and busted out, “If she don’t marry me today,” ‘a said, “she don’t marry me at all! No; let her look elsewhere for a husband. For tew years I’ve put up with her haughty tricks and her takings,” ‘a said, “I’ve droudged and I’ve traipsed, I’ve bought and I’ve sold, all wi’ an eye to her; I’ve suffered horseflesh,” he says — yes, them was his noble words — “but I’ll suffer it no longer. She shall go!” “Jim,” says I, “you be a man. If she’s alive, I commend ‘ee; if she’s dead, pity my old age.” “She isn’t dead,” says he; “for I’ve just heard she was seen walking off across the fields this morning, looking all of a scornful triumph.” He turned round and went, and the rest o’ the neighbours went; and here be I left to the reproach o’t.’

‘He was too hasty,’ murmured Margery. ‘For now he’s said this I can’t marry him tomorrow, as I might ha’ done; and perhaps so much the better.’

‘You can be so calm about it, can ye? Be my arrangements nothing, then, that you should break ‘em up, and say offhand what wasn’t done today might ha’ been done tomorrow, and such flick-flack? Out o’ my sight! I won’t hear any more. I won’t speak to ‘ee any more.’

‘I’ll go away, and then you’ll be sorry!’

‘Very well, go. Sorry — not I.’

He turned and stamped his way into the cheese-room. Margery went upstairs. She too was excited now, and instead of fortifying herself in her bedroom till her father’s rage had blown over, as she had often done on lesser occasions, she packed up a bundle of articles, crept down again, and went out of the house. She had a place of refuge in these cases of necessity, and her father knew it, and was less alarmed at seeing her depart than he might otherwise have been. This place was Rook’s Gate, the house of her grandmother, who always took Margery’s part when that young woman was particularly in the wrong.

The devious way she pursued, to avoid the vicinity of Mount Lodge, was tedious, and she was already weary. But the cottage was a restful place to arrive at, for she was her own mistress there — her grandmother never coming down stairs — and Edy, the woman who lived with and attended her, being a cipher except in muscle and voice. The approach was by a straight open road, bordered by thin lank trees, all sloping away from the south-west wind-quarter, and the scene bore a strange resemblance to certain bits of Dutch landscape which have been imprinted on the world’s eye by Hobbema and his school.

Having explained to her granny that the wedding was put off, and that she had come to stay, one of Margery’s first acts was carefully to pack up the locket and case, her wedding present from the Baron. The conditions of the gift were unfulfilled, and she wished it to go back instantly. Perhaps, in the intricacies of her bosom there lurked a greater satisfaction with the reason for returning the present than she would have felt just then with a reason for keeping it.

To send the article was difficult. In the evening she wrapped herself up, searched and found a gauze veil that had been used by her grandmother in past years for hiving swarms of bees, buried her face in it, and sallied forth with a palpitating heart till she drew near the tabernacle of her demi-god the Baron. She ventured only to the back-door where she handed in the parcel addressed to him, and quickly came away.

Now it seems that during the day the Baron had been unable to learn the result of his attempt to return Margery in time for the event he had interrupted. Wishing, for obvious reasons, to avoid direct inquiry by messenger, and being too unwell to go far himself, he could learn no particulars. He was sitting in thought after a lonely dinner when the parcel intimating failure was brought in. The footman, whose curiosity had been excited by the mode of its arrival, peeped through the keyhole after closing the door, to learn what the packet meant. Directly the Baron had opened it he thrust out his feet vehemently from his chair, and began cursing his ruinous conduct in bringing about such a disaster, for the return of the locket denoted not only no wedding that day, but none tomorrow, or at any time.

‘I have done that innocent woman a great wrong!’ he murmured. ‘Deprived her of, perhaps, her only opportunity of becoming mistress of a happy home!’

X

A considerable period of inaction followed among all concerned.

Nothing tended to dissipate the obscurity which veiled the life of the Baron. The position he occupied in the minds of the country folk around was one which combined the mysteriousness of a legendary character with the unobtrusive deeds of a modern gentleman. To this day whoever takes the trouble to go down to Silverthorn in Lower Wessex and make inquiries will find existing there almost a superstitious feeling for the moody melancholy stranger who resided in the Lodge some forty years ago.

Whence he came, whither he was going, were alike unknown. It was said that his mother had been an English lady of noble family who had married a foreigner not unheard of in circles where men pile up ‘the cankered heaps of strange-achieved gold’ — that he had been born and educated in England, taken abroad, and so on. But the facts of a life in such cases are of little account beside the aspect of a life; and hence though doubtless the years of his existence contained their share of trite and homely circumstance, the curtain which masked all this was never lifted to gratify such a theatre of spectators as those of Silverthorn. Therein lay his charm. His life was a vignette, of which the central strokes only were drawn with any distinctness, the environment shading away to a blank.

He might have been said to resemble that solitary bird the heron. The still, lonely stream was his frequent haunt: on its banks he would stand for hours with his rod, looking into the water, beholding the tawny inhabitants with the eye of a philosopher, and seeming to say, ‘Bite or don’t bite it’s all the same to me.’ He was often mistaken for a ghost by children; and for a pollard willow by men, when, on their way home in the dusk, they saw him motionless by some rushy bank, unobservant of the decline of the day.

Why did he come to fish near Silverthorn? That was never explained. As far as was known he had no relatives near; the fishing there was not exceptionally good; the society thereabout was decidedly meagre. That he had committed some folly or hasty act, that he had been wrongfully accused of some crime, thus rendering his seclusion from the world desirable for a while, squared very well with his frequent melancholy. But such as he was there he lived, well supplied with fishing-tackle, and tenant of a furnished house, just suited to the requirements of such an eccentric being as he.

Margery’s father, having privately ascertained that she was living with her grandmother, and getting into no harm, refrained from communicating with her, in the hope of seeing her contrite at his door. It had, of course, become known about Silverthorn that at the last moment Margery refused to wed Hayward, by absenting herself from the house. Jim was pitied, yet not pitied much, for it was said that he ought not to have been so eager for a woman who had shown no anxiety for him.

And where was Jim himself? It must not be supposed that that tactician had all this while withdrawn from mortal eye to tear his hair in silent indignation and despair. He had, in truth, merely retired up the lonesome defile between the downs to his smouldering kiln, and the ancient ramparts above it; and there, after his first hours of natural discomposure, he quietly waited for overtures from the possibly repentant Margery. But no overtures arrived, and then he meditated anew on the absorbing problem of her skittishness, and how to set about another campaign for her conquest, notwithstanding his late disastrous failure. Why had he failed? To what was her strange conduct owing? That was the thing which puzzled him.

He had made no advance in solving the riddle when, one morning, a stranger appeared on the down above him, looking as if he had lost his way. The man had a good deal of black hair below his felt hat, and carried under his arm a case containing a musical instrument. Descending to where Jim stood, he asked if there were not a short cut across that way to Tivworthy, where a fete was to be held.

‘Well, yes, there is,’ said Jim. ‘But ‘tis an enormous distance for ‘ee.’

‘Oh, yes,’ replied the musician. ‘I wish to intercept the carrier on the highway.’

The nearest way was precisely in the direction of Rook’s Gate where Margery, as Jim knew, was staying. Having some time to spare, Jim was strongly impelled to make a kind act to the lost musician a pretext for taking observations in that neighbourhood, and telling his acquaintance that he was going the same way, he started without further ado.

They skirted the long length of meads, and in due time arrived at the back of Rook’s Gate, where the path joined the high road. A hedge divided the public way from the cottage garden. Jim drew up at this point and said, ‘Your road is straight on: I turn back here.’

But the musician was standing fixed, as if in great perplexity. Thrusting his hand into his forest of black hair, he murmured, ‘Surely it is the same — surely!’

Jim, following the direction of his neighbour’s eyes, found them to be fixed on a figure till that moment hidden from himself — Margery Tucker — who was crossing the garden to an opposite gate with a little cheese in her arms, her head thrown back, and her face quite exposed.

‘What of her?’ said Jim.

‘Two months ago I formed one of the band at the Yeomanry Ball given by Lord Toneborough in the next county. I saw that young lady dancing the polka there in robes of gauze and lace. Now I see her carry a cheese!’

‘Never!’ said Jim incredulously.

‘But I do not mistake. I say it is so!’

Jim ridiculed the idea; the bandsman protested, and was about to lose his temper, when Jim gave in with the good nature of a person who can afford to despise opinions, and the musician went his way.

As he dwindled out of sight Jim began to think more carefully over what he had said. The young man’s thoughts grew quite to an excitement, for there came into his mind the Baron’s extraordinary kindness in regard to furniture, hitherto accounted for by the assumption that the nobleman had taken a fancy to him. Could it be, among all the amazing things of life, that the Baron was at the bottom of this mischief, and that he had amused himself by taking Margery to a ball?

Doubts and suspicions which distract some lovers to imbecility only served to bring out Jim’s great qualities. Where he trusted he was the most trusting fellow in the world; where he doubted he could be guilty of the slyest strategy. Once suspicious, he became one of those subtle, watchful characters who, without integrity, make good thieves; with a little, good jobbers; with a little more, good diplomatists. Jim was honest, and he considered what to do.

Retracing his steps, he peeped again. She had gone in; but she would soon reappear, for it could be seen that she was carrying little new cheeses one by one to a spring cart and horse tethered outside the gate — her grandmother, though not a regular dairywoman, still managing a few cows by means of a man and maid. With the lightness of a cat Jim crept round to the gate, took a piece of chalk from his pocket, and wrote upon the boarding ‘The Baron.’ Then he retreated to the other side of the garden where he had just watched Margery.

In due time she emerged with another little cheese, came on to the garden-door, and glanced upon the chalked words which confronted her. She started; the cheese rolled from her arms to the ground, and broke into pieces like a pudding.

She looked fearfully round, her face burning like sunset, and, seeing nobody, stooped to pick up the flaccid lumps. Jim, with a pale face, departed as invisibly as he had come. He had proved the bandsman’s tale to be true. On his way back he formed a resolution. It was to beard the lion in his den — to call on the Baron.

Meanwhile Margery had recovered her equanimity, and gathered up the broken cheese. But she could by no means account for the handwriting. Jim was just the sort of fellow to play her such a trick at ordinary times, but she imagined him to be far too incensed against her to do it now; and she suddenly wondered if it were any sort of signal from the Baron himself.

Of him she had lately heard nothing. If ever monotony pervaded a life it pervaded hers at Rook’s Gate; and she had begun to despair of any happy change. But it is precisely when the social atmosphere seems stagnant that great events are brewing. Margery’s quiet was broken first, as we have seen, by a slight start, only sufficient to make her drop a cheese; and then by a more serious matter.

She was inside the same garden one day when she heard two watermen talking without. The conversation was to the effect that the strange gentleman who had taken Mount Lodge for the season was seriously ill.

‘How ill?’ cried Margery through the hedge, which screened her from recognition.

‘Bad abed,’ said one of the watermen.

‘Inflammation of the lungs,’ said the other.

‘Got wet, fishing,’ the first chimed in.

Margery could gather no more. An ideal admiration rather than any positive passion existed in her breast for the Baron: she had of late seen too little of him to allow any incipient views of him as a lover to grow to formidable dimensions. It was an extremely romantic feeling, delicate as an aroma, capable of quickening to an active principle, or dying to ‘a painless sympathy,’ as the case might be.

This news of his illness, coupled with the mysterious chalking on the gate, troubled her, and revived his image much. She took to walking up and down the garden-paths, looking into the hearts of flowers, and not thinking what they were: His last request had been that she was not to go to him if he should send for her; and now she asked herself, was the name on the gate a hint to enable her to go without infringing the letter of her promise? Thus unexpectedly had Jim’s maneuver operated.

Ten days passed. All she could hear of the Baron were the same words, ‘Bad abed,’ till one afternoon, after a gallop of the physician to the Lodge, the tidings spread like lightning that the Baron was dying.

Margery distressed herself with the question whether she might be permitted to visit him and say her prayers at his bedside; but she feared to venture; and thus eight-and-forty hours slipped away, and the Baron still lived. Despite her shyness and awe of him she had almost made up her mind to call when, just at dusk on that October evening, somebody came to the door and asked for her.

She could see the messenger’s head against the low new moon. He was a man-servant. He said he had been all the way to her father’s, and had been sent thence to her here. He simply brought a note, and, delivering it into her hands, went away.

DEAR MARGERY TUCKER (ran the note) — They say I am not likely to live, so I want to see you. Be here at eight o’clock this evening. Come quite alone to the side-door, and tap four times softly. My trusty man will admit you. The occasion is an important one. Prepare yourself for a solemn ceremony, which I wish to have performed while it lies in my power.

VON XANTEN.

XI

Margery’s face flushed up, and her neck and arms glowed in sympathy. The quickness of youthful imagination, and the assumptiveness of woman’s reason sent her straight as an arrow this thought: ‘He wants to marry me!’

She had heard of similar strange proceedings, in which the orange-flower and the sad cypress were intertwined. People sometimes wished on their death-beds from motives of esteem, to form a legal tie which they had not cared to establish as a domestic one during their active life.

For a few minutes Margery could hardly be called excited; she was excitement itself. Between surprise and modesty she blushed and trembled by turns. She became grave, sat down in the solitary room, and looked into the fire. At seven o’clock she rose resolved, and went quite tranquilly upstairs, where she speedily began to dress.

In making this hasty toilet nine-tenths of her care were given to her hands. The summer had left them slightly brown, and she held them up and looked at them with some misgiving, the fourth finger of her left hand more especially. Hot washings and cold washings, certain products from bee and flower known only to country girls, everything she could think of, were used upon those little sunburnt hands, till she persuaded herself that they were really as white as could be wished by a husband with a hundred titles. Her dressing completed, she left word with Edy that she was going for a long walk, and set out in the direction of Mount Lodge.

She no longer tripped like a girl, but walked like a woman. While crossing the park she murmured ‘Baroness von Xanten’ in a pronunciation of her own. The sound of that title caused her such agitation that she was obliged to pause, with her hand upon her heart.

The house was so closely neighboured by shrubberies on three of its sides that it was not till she had gone nearly round it that she found the little door. The resolution she had been an hour in forming failed her when she stood at the portal. While pausing for courage to tap, a carriage drove up to the front entrance a little way off, and peeping round the corner she saw alight a clergyman, and a gentleman in whom Margery fancied that she recognized a well-known solicitor from the neighbouring town. She had no longer any doubt of the nature of the ceremony proposed. ‘It is sudden — but I must obey him!’ she murmured: and tapped four times.

The door was opened so quickly that the servant must have been standing immediately inside. She thought him the man who had driven them to the ball — the silent man who could be trusted. Without a word he conducted her up the back staircase, and through a door at the top, into a wide corridor. She was asked to wait in a little dressing-room, where there was a fire and an old metal-framed looking glass over the mantel-piece, in which she caught sight of herself. A red spot burnt in each of her cheeks; the rest of her face was pale; and her eyes were like diamonds of the first water.

Before she had been seated many minutes the man came back noiselessly, and she followed him to a door covered by a red and black curtain, which he lifted, and ushered her into a large chamber. A screened light stood on a table before her, and on her left the hangings of a tall dark four-post bedstead obstructed her view of the centre of the room. Everything here seemed of such a magnificent type to her eyes that she felt confused, diminished to half her height, half her strength, half her prettiness. The man who had conducted her retired at once, and some one came softly round the angle of the bedcurtains. He held out his hand kindly — rather patronisingly: it was the solicitor whom she knew by sight. The gentleman led her forward, as if she had been a lamb rather than a woman, till the occupant of the bed was revealed.

The Baron’s eyes were closed, and her entry had been so noiseless that he did not open them. The pallor of his face nearly matched the white bed-linen and his dark hair and heavy black moustache were like dashes of ink on a clean page. Near him sat the parson and another gentleman, whom she afterwards learnt to be a London physician; and on the parson whispering a few words the Baron opened his eyes. As soon as he saw her he smiled faintly, and held out his hand.

Margery would have wept for him, if she had not been too overawed and palpitating to do anything. She quite forgot what she had come for, shook hands with him mechanically, and could hardly return an answer to his weak ‘Dear Margery, you see how I am — how are you?’

In preparing for marriage she had not calculated on such a scene as this. Her affection for the Baron had too much of the vague in it to afford her trustfulness now. She wished she had not come. On a sign from the Baron the lawyer brought her a chair, and the oppressive silence was broken by the Baron’s words.

‘I am pulled down to death’s door, Margery,’ he said; ‘and I suppose I soon shall pass through. . . . My peace has been much disturbed in this illness, for just before it attacked me I received — that present you returned, from which, and in other ways, I learnt that you had lost your chance of marriage. . . . Now it was I who did the harm, and you can imagine how the news has affected me. It has worried me all the illness through, and I cannot dismiss my error from my mind. . . . I want to right the wrong I have done you before I die. Margery, you have always obeyed me, and, strange as the request may be, will you obey me now?’

She whispered ‘Yes.’

‘Well, then,’ said the Baron, ‘these three gentleman are here for a special purpose: one helps the body — he’s called a physician; another helps the soul — he’s a parson; the other helps the understanding — he’s a lawyer. They are here partly on my account, and partly on yours.’

The speaker then made a sign to the lawyer, who went out of the door. He came back almost instantly, but not alone. Behind him, dressed up in his best clothes, with a flower in his buttonhole and a bridegroom’s air, walked — Jim.

XII

Margery could hardly repress a scream. As for flushing and blushing, she had turned hot and turned pale so many times already during the evening, that there was really now nothing of that sort left for her to do; and she remained in complexion much as before. O, the mockery of it! That secret dream — that sweet word ‘Baroness!’ — which had sustained her all the way along. Instead of a Baron there stood Jim, white waistcoated, demure, every hair in place, and, if she mistook not, even a deedy spark in his eye.

Jim’s surprising presence on the scene may be briefly accounted for. His resolve to seek an explanation with the Baron at all risks had proved unexpectedly easy: the interview had at once been granted, and then, seeing the crisis at which matters stood, the Baron had generously revealed to Jim the whole of his indebtedness to and knowledge of Margery. The truth of the Baron’s statement, the innocent nature as yet of the acquaintanceship, his sorrow for the rupture he had produced, was so evident that, far from having any further doubts of his patron, Jim frankly asked his advice on the next step to be pursued. At this stage the Baron fell ill, and, desiring much to see the two young people united before his death, he had sent anew to Hayward, and proposed the plan which they were now about to attempt — a marriage at the bedside of the sick man by special licence. The influence at Lambeth of some friends of the Baron’s, and the charitable bequests of his late mother to several deserving Church funds, were generally supposed to be among the reasons why the application for the licence was not refused.

This, however, is of small consequence. The Baron probably knew, in proposing this method of celebrating the marriage, that his enormous power over her would outweigh any sentimental obstacles which she might set up — inward objections that, without his presence and firmness, might prove too much for her acquiescence. Doubtless he foresaw, too, the advantage of getting her into the house before making the individuality of her husband clear to her mind.

Now, the Baron’s conjectures were right as to the event, but wrong as to the motives. Margery was a perfect little dissembler on some occasions, and one of them was when she wished to hide any sudden mortification that might bring her into ridicule. She had no sooner recovered from her first fit of discomfiture than pride bade her suffer anything rather than reveal her absurd disappointment. Hence the scene progressed as follows:

‘Come here, Hayward,’ said the invalid. Hayward came near. The Baron, holding her hand in one of his own, and her lover’s in the other, continued, ‘Will you, in spite of your recent vexation with her, marry her now if she does not refuse?’

‘I will, sir,’ said Jim promptly.

‘And Margery, what do you say? It is merely a setting of things right. You have already promised this young man to be his wife, and should, of course, perform your promise. You don’t dislike Jim?’

‘O, no sir,’ she said, in a low, dry voice.

‘I like him better than I can tell you,’ said the Baron. ‘He is an honourable man, and will make you a good husband. You must remember that marriage is a life contract, in which general compatability of temper and wordly position is of more importance than fleeting passion, which never long survives. Now, will you, at my earnest request, and before I go to the South of Europe to die, agree to make this good man happy? I have expressed your views on the subject, haven’t I, Hayward?’

‘To a T, sir,’ said Jim emphatically; with a motion of raising his hat to his influential ally, till he remembered he had no hat on. ‘And, though I could hardly expect Margery to gie in for my asking, I feels she ought to gie in for yours.’

‘And you accept him, my little friend?’

‘Yes, sir,’ she murmured, ‘if he’ll agree to a thing or two.’

‘Doubtless he will — what are they?’

‘That I shall not be made to live with him till I am in the mind for it; and that my having him shall be kept unknown for the present.’

‘Well, what do you think of it, Hayward?’

‘Anything that you or she may wish I’ll do my noble lord,’ said Jim.

‘Well, her request is not unreasonable, seeing that the proceedings are, on my account, a little hurried. So we’ll proceed. You rather expected this, from my allusion to a ceremony in my note, did you not, Margery?’

‘Yes, sir,’ said she, with an effort.

‘Good; I thought so; you looked so little surprised.’

We now leave the scene in the bedroom for a spot not many yards off.

When the carriage seen by Margery at the door was driving up to Mount Lodge it arrested the attention not only of the young girl, but of a man who had for some time been moving slowly about the opposite lawn, engaged in some operation while he smoked a short pipe. A short observation of his doings would have shown that he was sheltering some delicate plants from an expected frost, and that he was the gardener. When the light at the door fell upon the entering forms of parson and lawyer — the former a stranger, the latter known to him — the gardener walked thoughtfully round the house. Reaching the small side entrance he was further surprised to see it noiselessly open to a young woman, in whose momentarily illuminated features he discerned those of Margery Tucker.

Altogether there was something curious in this. The man returned to the lawn front, and perfunctorily went on putting shelters over certain plants, though his thoughts were plainly otherwise engaged. On the grass his footsteps were noiseless, and the night moreover being still, he could presently hear a murmuring from the bedroom window over his head.

The gardener took from a tree a ladder that he had used in nailing that day, set it under the window, and ascended halfway hoodwinking his conscience by seizing a nail or two with his hand and testing their twig-supporting powers. He soon heard enough to satisfy him. The words of a church-service in the strange parson’s voice were audible in snatches through the blind: they were words he knew to be part of the solemnization of matrimony, such as ‘wedded wife,’ ‘richer for poorer,’ and so on; the less familiar parts being a more or less confused sound.

Satisfied that a wedding was in progress there, the gardener did not for a moment dream that one of the contracting parties could be other than the sick Baron. He descended the ladder and again walked round the house, waiting only till he saw Margery emerge from the same little door, when fearing that he might be discovered, he withdrew in the direction of his own cottage.

This building stood at the lower corner of the garden, and as soon as the gardener entered he was accosted by a handsome woman in a widow’s cap, who called him father, and said that supper had been ready for a long time. They sat down, but during the meal the gardener was so abstracted and silent that his daughter put her head winningly to one side and said, ‘What is it, father dear?’

‘Ah — what is it!’ cried the gardener. ‘Something that makes very little difference to me, but may be of great account to you, if you play your cards well. There’s been a wedding at the Lodge tonight!’ He related to her, with a caution to secrecy, all that he had heard and seen.

‘We are folk that have got to get their living,’ he said, ‘and such ones mustn’t tell tales about their betters, — Lord forgive the mockery of the word! — but there’s something to be made of it. She’s a nice maid; so, Harriet, do you take the first chance you get for honouring her, before others know what has happened. Since this is done so privately it will be kept private for some time — till after his death, no question; when I expect she’ll take this house for herself, and blaze out as a widow-lady ten thousand pound strong. You being a widow, she may make you her company-keeper; and so you’ll have a home by a little contriving.’

While this conversation progressed at the gardener’s Margery was on her way out of the Baron’s house. She was, indeed, married. But, as we know, she was not married to the Baron. The ceremony over she seemed but little discomposed, and expressed a wish to return alone as she had come. To this, of course, no objection could be offered under the terms of the agreement, and wishing Jim a frigid good-bye, and the Baron a very quiet farewell, she went out by the door which had admitted her. Once safe and alone in the darkness of the park she burst into tears, which dropped upon the grass as she passed along. In the Baron’s room she had seemed scared and helpless; now her reason and emotions returned. The further she got away from the glamour of that room, and the influence of its occupant, the more she became of the opinion that she had acted foolishly. She had disobediently left her father’s house, to obey him here. She had pleased everybody but herself.

However, thinking was now too late. How she got into her grandmother’s house she hardly knew; but without a supper, and without confronting either her relative or Edy, she went to bed.

XIII

On going out into the garden next morning, with a strange sense of being another person than herself, she beheld Jim leaning mutely over the gate.

He nodded. ‘Good morning, Margery,’ he said civilly.

‘Good morning,’ said Margery in the same tone.

‘I beg your pardon,’ he continued. ‘But which way was you going this morning?’

‘I am not going anywhere just now, thank you. But I shall go to my father’s by-and-by with Edy.’ She went on with a sigh, ‘I have done what he has all along wished, that is, married you; and there’s no longer reason for enmity atween him and me.’

‘Trew — trew. Well, as I am going the same way, I can give you a lift in the trap, for the distance is long.’

‘No thank you — I am used to walking,’ she said.

They remained in silence, the gate between them, till Jim’s convictions would apparently allow him to hold his peace no longer. ‘This is a bad job!’ he murmured.

‘It is,’ she said, as one whose thoughts have only too readily been identified. ‘How I came to agree to it is more than I can tell!’ And tears began rolling down her cheeks.

‘The blame is more mine than yours, I suppose,’ he returned. ‘I ought to have said No, and not backed up the gentleman in carrying out this scheme. ‘Twas his own notion entirely, as perhaps you know. I should never have thought of such a plan; but he said you’d be willing, and that it would be all right; and I was too ready to believe him.’

‘The thing is, how to remedy it,’ said she bitterly. ‘I believe, of course, in your promise to keep this private, and not to trouble me by calling.’

‘Certainly,’ said Jim. ‘I don’t want to trouble you. As for that, why, my dear Mrs. Hayward — ‘

‘Don’t Mrs. Hayward me!’ said Margery sharply. ‘I won’t be Mrs. Hayward!’

Jim paused. ‘Well, you are she by law, and that was all I meant,’ he said mildly.

‘I said I would acknowledge no such thing, and I won’t. A thing can’t be legal when it’s against the wishes of the persons the laws are made to protect. So I beg you not to call me that any more.’

‘Very well, Miss Tucker,’ said Jim deferentially. ‘We can live on exactly as before. We can’t marry anybody else, that’s true; but beyond that there’s no difference, and no harm done. Your father ought to be told, I suppose, even if nobody else is? It will partly reconcile him to you and make your life smoother.’

Instead of directly replying, Margery exclaimed in a low voice:

‘O, it is a mistake — I didn’t see it all, owing to not having time to reflect! I agreed, thinking that at least I should get reconciled to father by the step. But perhaps he would as soon have me not married at all as married and parted. I must ha’ been enchanted — bewitched — when I gave my consent to this! I only did it to please that dear good dying nobleman — though why he should have wished it so much I can’t tell!’

‘Nor I neither,’ said Jim. ‘Yes, we’ve been fooled into it, Margery,’ he said, with extraordinary gravity. ‘He’s had his way wi’ us, and now we’ve got to suffer for it. Being a gentleman of patronage and having bought several loads of lime o’ me, and having given me all that splendid furniture, I could hardly refuse — ‘

‘What, did he give you that?’

‘Ay sure — to help me win ye.’

Margery covered her face with her hands; whereupon Jim stood up from the gate and looked critically at her. ‘‘Tis a footy plot between you two men to — snare me!’ she exclaimed. ‘Why should you have done it — why should he have done it — when I’ve not deserved to be treated so. He bought the furniture — did he! O, I’ve been taken in — I’ve been wronged!’ The grief and vexation of finding that long ago, when fondly believing the Baron to have lover-like feelings himself for her, he was still conspiring to favour Jim’s suit, was more than she could endure.

Jim with distant courtesy waited, nibbling a straw, till her paroxysm was over. ‘One word, Miss Tuck — Mrs. — Margery,’ he then recommenced gravely. ‘You’ll find me man enough to respect your wish, and to leave you to yourself — forever and ever, if that’s all. But I’ve just one word of advice to render ‘ee. That is, that before you go to Silverthorn Dairy yourself you let me drive ahead and call on your father. He’s friends with me, and he’s not friends with you. I can break the news, a little at a time, and I think I can gain his good will for you now, even though the wedding be no natural wedding at all. At any count, I can hear what he’s got to say about ‘ee, and come back here and tell ‘ee.’

She nodded a cool assent to this, and he left her strolling about the garden in the sunlight while he went on to reconnoitre as agreed. It must not be supposed that Jim’s dutiful echoes of Margery’s regret at her precipitate marriage were all gospel; and there is no doubt that his private intention, after telling the dairy-farmer what had happened, was to ask his temporary assent to her caprice, till, in the course of time, she should be reasoned out of her whims and induced to settle down with Jim in a natural manner. He had, it is true, been somewhat nettled by her firm objection to him, and her keen sorrow for what she had done to please another; but he hoped for the best.

But, alas for the astute Jim’s calculations! He drove on to the dairy, whose white walls now gleamed in the morning sun; made fast the horse to a ring in the wall, and entered the barton. Before knocking, he perceived the dairyman walking across from a gate in the other direction, as if he had just come in. Jim went over to him. Since the unfortunate incident on the morning of the intended wedding they had merely been on nodding terms, from a sense of awkwardness in their relations.

‘What — is that thee?’ said Dairyman Tucker, in a voice which unmistakably startled Jim by its abrupt fierceness. ‘A pretty fellow thou be’st!’

It was a bad beginning for the young man’s life as a son-in-law, and augured ill for the delicate consultation he desired.

‘What’s the matter?’ said Jim.

‘Matter! I wish some folks would burn their lime without burning other folks’ property along wi’ it. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You call yourself a man, Jim Hayward, and an honest lime-burner, and a respectable, market-keeping Christian, and yet at six o’clock this morning, instead o’ being where you ought to ha’ been — at your work, there was neither veIl or mark o’ thee to be seen!’

‘Faith, I don’t know what you are raving at,’ said Jim.

‘Why — the sparks from thy couch-heap blew over upon my hay-rick, and the rick’s burnt to ashes; and all to come out o’ my well-squeezed pocket. I’ll tell thee what it is, young man. There’s no business in thee. I’ve known Silverthorn folk, quick and dead, for the last couple o’ score year, and I’ve never knew one so three-cunning for harm as thee, my gentleman lime-burner; and I reckon it one o’ the luckiest days o’ my life when I ‘scaped having thee in my family. That maid of mine was right; I was wrong. She seed thee to be a drawlacheting rogue, and ‘twas her wisdom to go off that morning and get rid o’ thee. I commend her for’t, and I’m going to fetch her home tomorrow.’

‘You needn’t take the trouble. She’s coming home-along tonight of her own accord. I have seen her this morning, and she told me so.’

‘So much the better. I’ll welcome her warm. Nation! I’d sooner see her married to the parish fool than thee. Not you — you don’t care for my hay. Tarrying about where you shouldn’t be, in bed, no doubt; that’s what you was a-doing. Now, don’t you darken my doors again, and the sooner you be off my bit o’ ground the better I shall be pleased.’

Jim looked as he felt, stultified. If the rick had been really destroyed, a little blame certainly attached to him, but he could not understand how it had happened. However, blame or none, it was clear he could not, with any self-respect, declare himself to be this peppery old gaffer’s son-in-law in the face of such an attack as this.

For months — almost years — the one transaction that had seemed necessary to compose these two families satisfactorily was Jim’s union with Margery. No sooner had it been completed than it appeared on all sides as the gravest mishap for both. Stating coldly that he would discover how much of the accident was to be attributed to his negligence and pay the damage, he went out of the barton, and returned the way he had come.

Margery had been keeping a look-out for him particularly wishing him not to enter the house, lest others should see the seriousness of their interview; and as soon as she heard wheels she went to the gate, which was out of view.

‘Surely father has been speaking roughly to you!’ she said, on seeing his face.

‘Not the least doubt that he have,’ said Jim.

‘But is he still angry with me?’

‘Not in the least. He’s waiting to welcome ‘ee.’

‘Ah! because I’ve married you.’

‘Because he thinks you have not married me! He’s jawed me up hill and down. He hates me; and for your sake I have not explained a word.’

Margery looked towards home with a sad, severe gaze. Mr. Hayward,’ she said, ‘we have made a great mistake, and we are in a strange position.’

‘True, but I’ll tell you what, mistress — I won’t stand — ’ He stopped suddenly. ‘Well, well; I’ve promised!’ he quietly added.

‘We must suffer for our mistake,’ she went on. ‘The way to suffer least is to keep our own counsel on what happened last evening, and not to meet. I must now return to my father.’ He inclined his head in indifferent assent, and she went indoors, leaving him there.

XIV

Margery returned home, as she had decided, and resumed her old life at Silverthorn. And seeing her father’s animosity towards Jim, she told him not a word of the marriage.

Her inner life, however, was not what it once had been. She had suffered a mental and emotional displacement — a shock, which had set a shade of astonishment on her face as a permanent thing.

Her indignation with the Baron for collusion with Jim, at first bitter, lessened with the lapse of a few weeks, and at length vanished in the interest of some tidings she received one day.

The Baron was not dead, but he was no longer at the Lodge. To the surprise of the physicians, a sufficient improvement had taken place in his condition to permit his removal before the cold weather came. His desire for removal had been such, indeed, that it was advisable to carry it out at almost any risk. The plan adopted had been to have him borne on men’s shoulders in a sort of palanquin to the shore near Idmouth, a distance of several miles, where a yacht lay awaiting him. By this means the noise and jolting of a carriage, along irregular bye-roads, were avoided. The singular procession over the fields took place at night, and was witnessed by but few people, one being a labouring man, who described the scene to Margery. When the seaside was reached a long, narrow gangway was laid from the deck of the yacht to the shore, which was so steep as to allow the yacht to lie quite near. The men, with their burden, ascended by the light of lanterns, the sick man was laid in the cabin, and, as soon as his bearers had returned to the shore, the gangway was removed, a rope was heard skirting over wood in the darkness, the yacht quivered, spread her woven wings to the air, and moved away. Soon she was but a small, shapeless phantom upon the wide breast of the sea.

It was said that the yacht was bound for Algiers.

When the inimical autumn and winter weather came on, Margery wondered if he were still alive. The house being shut up, and the servants gone, she had no means of knowing, till, on a particular Saturday, her father drove her to Exonbury market. Here, in attending to his business, he left her to herself for awhile. Walking in a quiet street in the professional quarter of the town, she saw coming towards her the solicitor who had been present at the wedding and who had acted for the Baron in various small local matters during his brief residence at the Lodge.

She reddened to peony hues, averted her eyes, and would have passed him. But he crossed over and barred the pavement, and when she met his glance he was looking with friendly severity at her. The street was quiet, and he said in a low voice, ‘How’s the husband?’

‘I don’t know, sir,’ said she.

‘What — are your stipulations about secrecy and separate living still in force?’

‘They will always be,’ she replied decisively. ‘Mr. Hayward and I agreed on the point, and we have not the slightest wish to change the arrangement.’

‘H’m. Then ‘tis Miss Tucker to the world; Mrs. Hayward to me and one or two others only?’

Margery nodded. Then she nerved herself by an effort, and, though blushing painfully, asked ‘May I put one question, sir? Is the Baron dead?’

‘He is dead to you and to all of us. Why should you ask?’

‘Because, if he’s alive, I am sorry I married James Hayward. If he is dead I do not much mind my marriage.’

‘I repeat, he is dead to you,’ said the lawyer emphatically. ‘I’ll tell you all I know. My professional services for him ended with his departure from this country; but I think I should have heard from him if he had been alive still. I have not heard at all: and this, taken in connection with the nature of his illness, leaves no doubt in my mind that he is dead.’

Margery sighed, and thanking the lawyer she left him with a tear for the Baron in her eye. After this incident she became more restful; and the time drew on for her periodical visit to her grandmother.

A few days subsequent to her arrival her aged relative asked her to go with a message to the gardener at Mount Lodge (who still lived on there, keeping the grounds in order for the landlord). Margery hated that direction now, but she went. The Lodge, which she saw over the trees, was to her like a skull from which the warm and living flesh had vanished. It was twilight by the time she reached the cottage at the bottom of the Lodge garden, and, the room being illuminated within, she saw through the window a woman she had never seen before. She was dark, and rather handsome and when Margery knocked she opened the door. It was the gardener’s widowed daughter, who had been advised to make friends with Margery.

She now found her opportunity. Margery’s errand was soon completed, the young widow, to her surprise treating her with preternatural respect, and afterwards offering to accompany her home. Margery was not sorry to have a companion in the gloom, and they walked on together. The widow, Mrs. Peach, was demonstrative and confidential; and told Margery all about herself. She had come quite recently to live with her father — during the Baron’s illness, in fact — and her husband had been captain of a ketch.

‘I saw you one morning, ma’am,’ she said. ‘But you didn’t see me. It was when you were crossing the hill in sight of the Lodge. You looked at it, and sighed. ‘Tis the lot of widows to sigh, ma’am, is it not?’

‘Widows — yes, I suppose; but what do you mean?’

Mrs. Peace lowered her voice. ‘I can’t say more, ma’am, with proper respect. But there seems to be no question of the poor Baron’s death; and though these foreign princes can take (as my poor husband used to tell me) what they call left-handed wives, and leave them behind when they go abroad, widowhood is widowhood, left-handed or right. And really, to be the left-handed wife of a foreign baron is nobler than to be married all round to a common man. You’ll excuse my freedom, ma’am; but being a widow myself, I have pitied you from my heart; so young as you are, and having to keep it a secret and (excusing me) having no money out of his vast riches because ‘tis swallowed up by Baroness Number One.’

Margery did not understand a word more of this than the bare fact that Mrs. Peach suspected her to be the Baron’s undowered widow, and such was the milkmaid’s nature that she did not deny the widow’s impeachment. The latter continued —

‘But ah, ma’am, all your troubles are straight backward in your memory — while I have troubles before as well as grief behind.’

‘What may they be, Mrs. Peach?’ inquired Margery, with an air of the Baroness.

The other dropped her voice to revelation tones: ‘I have been forgetful enough of my first man to lose my heart to a second!’

‘You shouldn’t do that — it is wrong. You should control your feelings.’

‘But how am I to control my feelings?’

‘By going to your dead husband’s grave, and things of that sort.’

‘Do you go to your dead husband’s grave?’

‘How can I go to Algiers?’

‘Ah — too true! Well, I’ve tried everything to cure myself — read the words against it, gone to the Table the first Sunday of every month, and all sorts. But, avast, my shipmate! — as my poor man used to say — there ‘tis just the same. In short, I’ve made up my mind to encourage the new one. ‘Tis flattering that I, a new-comer, should have been found out by a young man so soon.’

‘Who is he?’ said Margery listlessly.

‘A master lime-burner.’

‘A master lime-burner?’

‘That’s his profession. He’s a partner-in-co., doing very well indeed.’

‘But what’s his name?’

‘I don’t like to tell you his name, for, though ‘tis night, that covers all shame-facedness, my face is as hot as a ‘Talian iron, I declare! Do you just feel it.’

Margery put her hand on Mrs. Peach’s face, and, sure enough, hot it was. ‘Does he come courting?’ she asked quickly.

‘Well — only in the way of business. He never comes unless lime is wanted in the neighbourhood. He’s in the Yeomanry, too, and will look very fine when he comes out in regimentals for drill in May.’

‘Oh — in the Yeomanry,’ Margery said, with a slight relief. ‘Then it can’t — is he a young man?’

‘Yes, junior partner-in-co.’

The description had an odd resemblance to Jim, of whom Margery had not heard a word for months. He had promised silence and absence, and had fulfilled his promise literally, with a gratuitous addition that was rather amazing, if indeed it were Jim whom the widow loved. One point in the description puzzled Margery: Jim was not in the Yeomanry, unless, by a surprising development of enterprise, he had entered it recently.

At parting Margery said, with an interest quite tender, ‘I should like to see you again, Mrs. Peach, and hear of your attachment. When can you call?’

‘Oh — any time, dear Baroness, I’m sure — if you think I am good enough.’

‘Indeed, I do, Mrs. Peach. Come as soon as you’ve seen the lime-burner again.’

XV

Seeing that Jim lived several miles from the widow, Margery was rather surprised, and even felt a slight sinking of the heart, when her new acquaintance appeared at her door so soon as the evening of the following Monday. She asked Margery to walk out with her, which the young woman readily did.

‘I am come at once,’ said the widow breathlessly, as soon as they were in the lane, ‘for it is so exciting that I can’t keep it. I must tell it to somebody, if only a bird, or a cat, or a garden snail.’

‘What is it?’ asked her companion.

‘I’ve pulled grass from my husband’s grave to cure it — wove the blades into true lover’s knots; took off my shoes upon the sod; but avast, my shipmate, — ,

‘Upon the sod — why?’

‘To feel the damp earth he’s in, and make the sense of it enter my soul. But no. It has swelled to a head; he is going to meet me at the Yeomanry Review.’

‘The master lime burner?’

The widow nodded.

‘When is it to be?’

‘Tomorrow. He looks so lovely in his accoutrements! He’s such a splendid soldier; that was the last straw that kindled my soul to say yes. He’s home from Exonbury for a night between the drills,’ continued Mrs. Peach. ‘He goes back tomorrow morning for the Review, and when it’s over he’s going to meet me. . . . But, guide my heart, there he is!’

Her exclamation had rise in the sudden appearance of a brilliant red uniform through the trees, and the tramp of a horse carrying the wearer thereof. In another half-minute the military gentleman would have turned the corner, and faced them.

‘He’d better not see me; he’ll think I know too much,’ said Margery precipitately. ‘I’ll go up here.’

The widow, whose thoughts had been of the same cast, seemed much relieved to see Margery disappear in the plantation, in the midst of a spring chorus of birds. Once among the trees, Margery turned her head, and, before she could see the rider’s person she recognised the horse as Tony, the lightest of three that Jim and his partner owned, for the purpose of carting out lime to their customers.

Jim, then, had joined the Yeomanry since his estrangement from Margery. A man who had worn the young Queen Victoria’s uniform for seven days only could not be expected to look as if it were part of his person, in the manner of long-trained soldiers; but he was a well-formed young fellow, and of an age when few positions came amiss to one who has the capacity to adapt himself to circumstances.

Meeting the blushing Mrs. Peach (to whom Margery in her mind sternly denied the right to blush at all), Jim alighted and moved on with her, probably at Mrs. Peach’s own suggestion; so that what they said, how long they remained together, and how they parted, Margery knew not. She might have known some of these things by waiting; but the presence of Jim had bred in her heart a sudden disgust for the widow, and a general sense of discomfiture. She went away in an opposite direction, turning her head and saying to the unconscious Jim, ‘There’s a fine rod in pickle for you, my gentleman, if you carry out that pretty scheme!’

Jim’s military coup had decidedly astonished her. What he might do next she could not conjecture. The idea of his doing anything sufficiently brilliant to arrest her attention would have seemed ludicrous, had not Jim by entering the Yeomanry, revealed a capacity for dazzling exploits which made it unsafe to predict any limitation to his powers.

Margery was now excited. The daring of the wretched Jim in bursting into scarlet amazed her as much as his doubtful acquaintanceship with the demonstrative Mrs. Peach. To go to that Review, to watch the pair, to eclipse Mrs. Peach in brilliancy, to meet and pass them in withering contempt — if she only could do it! But, alas! she was a forsaken woman. ‘If the Baron were alive, or in England,’ she said to herself (for sometimes she thought he might possibly be alive), ‘and he were to take me to this Review, wouldn’t I show that forward Mrs. Peach what a lady is like, and keep among the select company, and not mix with the common people at all.’

It might at first sight be thought that the best course for Margery at this juncture would have been to go to Jim, and nip the intrigue in the bud without further scruple. But her own declaration in after days was that whoever could say that was far from realising her situation. It was hard to break such ice as divided their two lives now, and to attempt it at that moment was a too humiliating proclamation of defeat. The only plan she could think of — perhaps not a wise one in the circumstances — was to go to the Review herself, and be the gayest there.

A method of doing this with some propriety soon occurred to her. She dared not ask her father, who scorned to waste time in sight-seeing, and whose animosity towards Jim knew no abatement; but she might call on her old acquaintance, Mr. Vine, Jim’s partner, who would probably be going with the rest of the holiday folk, and ask if she might accompany him in his spring trap. She had no sooner perceived the feasibility of this, through her being at her grandmother’s, than she decided to meet with the old man early the next morning.

In the meantime Jim and Mrs. Peach had walked slowly along the road together, Jim leading the horse, and Mrs. Peach informing him that her father, the gardener, was at Jim’s village further on, and that she had come to meet him. Jim, for reasons of his own, was going to sleep at his partner’s that night, and thus their route was the same. The shades of eve closed in upon them as they walked, and by the time they reached the lime-kiln, which it was necessary to pass to get to the village, it was quite dark. Jim stopped at the kiln, to see if matters had progressed rightly in his seven days’ absence, and Mrs. Peach, who stuck to him like a teazle, stopped also, saying she would wait for her father there.


She held the horse while he ascended to the top of the kiln. Then rejoining her, and not quite knowing what to do, he stood beside her looking at the flames, which tonight burnt up brightly, shining a long way into the dark air, even up to the ramparts of the earthwork above them, and overhead into the bosoms of the clouds.

It was during this proceeding that a carriage, drawn by a pair of dark horses, came along the turnpike road. The light of the kiln caused the horses to swerve a little, and the occupant of the carriage looked out. He saw the bluish, lightning-like flames from the limestone, rising from the top of the furnace, and hard by the figures of Jim Hayward, the widow, and the horse standing out with spectral distinctness against the mass of night behind. The scene wore the aspect of some unholy assignation in Pandaemonium, and it was all the more impressive from the fact that both Jim and the woman were quite unconscious of the striking spectacle they presented. The gentleman in the carriage watched them till he was borne out of sight.

Having seen to the kiln, Jim and the widow walked on again, and soon Mrs. Peach’s father met them, and relieved Jim of the lady. When they had parted, Jim, with an expiration not unlike a breath of relief, went on to Mr. Vine’s, and, having put the horse into the stable entered the house. His partner was seated at the table, solacing himself after the labours of the day by luxurious alternations between a long clay pipe and a mug of perry.

‘Well,’ said Jim eagerly, ‘what’s the news — how do she take it?’

‘Sit down — sit down,’ said Vine. ‘‘Tis working well; not but that I deserve something o’ thee for the trouble I’ve had in watching her. The soldiering was a fine move; but the woman is a better! — who invented it?’

‘I myself,’ said Jim modestly.

‘Well; jealousy is making her rise like a thunderstorm, and in a day or two you’ll have her for the asking, my sonny. What’s the next step?’

‘The widow is getting rather a weight upon a feller, worse luck,’ said Jim. ‘But I must keep it up until tomorrow, at any rate. I have promised to see her at the Review, and now the great thing is that Margery should see we a-smiling together — I in my full-dress uniform and clinking arms o’ war.’ ‘Twill be a good strong sting, and will end the business, I hope. Couldn’t you manage to put the hoss in and drive her there? She’d go if you were to ask her.’

‘With all my heart,’ said Mr. Vine, moistening the end of a new pipe in his perry. ‘I can call at her grammer’s for her — ‘twill be all in my way.’

XVI

Margery duly followed up her intention by arraying herself the next morning in her loveliest guise, and keeping watch for Mr. Vine’s appearance upon the high road, feeling certain that his would form one in the procession of carts and carriages which set in towards Exonbury that day. Jim had gone by at a very early hour, and she did not see him pass. Her anticipation was verified by the advent of Mr. Vine about eleven o’clock, dressed to his highest effort; but Margery was surprised to find that, instead of her having to stop him, he pulled in towards the gate of his own accord. The invitation planned between Jim and the old man on the previous night was now promptly given, and, as may be supposed, as promptly accepted. Such a strange coincidence, she had never before known. She was quite ready, and they drove onward at once.

The Review was held on some high ground a little way out of the city, and her conductor suggested that they should put up the horse at the inn, and walk to the field — a plan which pleased her well, for it was more easy to take preliminary observations on foot without being seen herself than when sitting elevated in a vehicle.

They were just in time to secure a good place near the front, and in a few minutes after their arrival the reviewing officer came on the ground. Margery’s eye had rapidly run over the troop in which Jim was enrolled, and she discerned him in one of the ranks, looking remarkably new and bright, both as to uniform and countenance. Indeed, if she had not worked herself into such a desperate state of mind she would have felt proud of him then and there. His shapely upright figure was quite noteworthy in the row of rotund yeomen on his right and left; while his charger Tony expressed by his bearing, even more than Jim, that he knew nothing about lime-carts whatever, and everything about trumpets and glory. How Jim could have scrubbed Tony to such shining blackness she could not tell, for the horse in his natural state was ingrained with lime-dust, that burnt the colour out of his coat as it did out of Jim’s hair. Now he pranced martially, and was a war-horse every inch of him.

Having discovered Jim her next search was for Mrs. Peach, and, by dint of some oblique glancing Margery indignantly discovered the widow in the most forward place of all, her head and bright face conspicuously advanced; and, what was more shocking, she had abandoned her mourning for a violet drawn-bonnet and a gay spencer, together with a parasol luxuriously fringed in a way Margery had never before seen. ‘Where did she get the money?’ said Margery, under her breath. ‘And to forget that poor sailor so soon!’

These general reflections were precipitately postponed by her discovering that Jim and the widow were perfectly alive to each other’s whereabouts, and in the interchange of telegraphic signs of affection, which on the latter’s part took the form of a playful fluttering of her handkerchief or waving of her parasol. Richard Vine had placed Margery in front of him, to protect her from the crowd, as he said, he himself surveying the scene over her bonnet. Margery would have been even more surprised than she was if she had known that Jim was not only aware of Mrs. Peach’s presence, but also of her own, the treacherous Mr. Vine having drawn out his flame-coloured handkerchief and waved it to Jim over the young woman’s head as soon as they had taken up their position.

‘My partner makes a tidy soldier, eh — Miss Tucker?’ said the senior lime-burner. ‘It is my belief as a Christian that he’s got a party here that he’s making signs to — that handsome figure o’ fun straight over-right him.’

‘Perhaps so,’ she said.

‘And it’s growing warm between ‘em if I don’t mistake,’ continued the merciless Vine.

Margery was silent, biting her lip; and the troops being now set in motion, all signalling ceased for the present between soldier Hayward and his pretended sweetheart.

‘Have you a piece of paper that I could make a memorandum on, Mr. Vine?’ said Margery.

Vine took out his pocket-book and tore a leaf from it, which he handed her with a pencil.

‘Don’t move from here — I’ll return in a minute,’ she continued, with the innocence of a woman who means mischief. And, withdrawing herself to the back, where the grass was clear, she pencilled the words

‘JIM’S MARRIED.’

Armed with this document she crept into the throng behind the unsuspecting Mrs. Peach, slipped the paper into her pocket on the top of her handkerchief, and withdrew unobserved, rejoining Mr. Vine with a bearing of nonchalance.

By-and-by the troops were in different order, Jim taking a left-hand position almost close to Mrs. Peach. He bent down and said a few words to her. From her manner of nodding assent it was surely some arrangement about a meeting by-and-by when Jim’s drill was over, and Margery was more certain of the fact when, the Review having ended, and the people having strolled off to another part of the field where sports were to take place, Mrs. Peach tripped away in the direction of the city.

‘I’ll just say a word to my partner afore he goes off the ground, if you’ll spare me a minute,’ said the old lime-burner. ‘Please stay here till I’m back again.’ He edged along the front till he reached Jim.

‘How is she?’ said the latter.

‘In a trimming sweat,’ said Mr. Vine. ‘And my counsel to ‘ee is to carry this tarry no further. ‘Twill do no good. She’s as ready to make friends with ‘ee as any wife can be; and more showing off can only do harm.’

‘But I must finish off with a spurt,’ said Jim. ‘And this is how I am going to do it. I have arranged with Mrs. Peach that, as soon as we soldiers have entered the town and been dismissed, I’ll meet her there. It is really to say good-bye, but she don’t know that; and I wanted it to look like a lopement to Margery’s eyes. When I’m clear of Mrs. Peach I’ll come back here and make it up with Margery on the spot. But don’t say I’m coming, or she may be inclined to throw off again. Just hint to her that I may be meaning to be off to London with the widow.’

The old man still insisted that this was going too far.

‘No, no, it isn’t,’ said Jim. ‘I know how to manage her. ‘Twill just mellow her heart nicely by the time I come back. I must bring her down real tender, or ‘twill all fail.’

His senior reluctantly gave in and returned to Margery. A short time afterwards the Yeomanry band struck up, and Jim with the regiment followed towards Exonbury.

‘Yes, yes; they are going to meet,’ said Margery to herself, perceiving that Mrs. Peach had so timed her departure as to be in the town at Jim’s dismounting.

‘Now we will go and see the games,’ said Mr. Vine; ‘they are really worth seeing. There’s greasy poles, and jumping in sacks and other trials of the intellect, that nobody ought to miss who wants to be abreast of his generation.’

Margery felt so indignant at the apparent assignation, which seemed about to take place despite her anonymous writing, that she helplessly assented to go anywhere, dropping behind Vine, that he might not see her mood.

Jim followed out his programme with literal exactness. No sooner was the troop dismissed in the city than he sent Tony to stable and joined Mrs. Peach, who stood on the edge of the pavement expecting him. But this acquaintance was to end: he meant to part from her for ever and in the quickest time, though civilly; for it was important to be with Margery as soon as possible. He had nearly completed the manoeuvre to his satisfaction when, in drawing her handkerchief from her pocket to wipe the tears from her eyes, Mrs. Peach’s hand grasped the paper, which she read at once.

‘What! is that true?’ she said, holding it out to Jim.

Jim started and admitted that it was, beginning an elabourate explanation and apologies. But Mrs. Peach was thoroughly roused, and then overcome. ‘He’s married, he’s married!’ she said, and swooned, or feigned to swoon, so that Jim was obliged to support her.

‘He’s married, he’s married!’ said a boy hard by who had watched the scene with interest.

‘He’s married, he’s married!’ said a hilarious group of other boys near, with smiles several inches broad, and shining teeth; and so the exclamation echoed down the street.

Jim cursed his ill-luck; the loss of time that this dilemma entailed grew serious; for Mrs. Peach was now in such a hysterical state that he could not leave her with any good grace or feeling. It was necessary to take her to a refreshment room, lavish restoratives upon her, and altogether to waste nearly half an hour. When she had kept him as long as she chose, she forgave him; and thus at last he got away, his heart swelling with tenderness towards Margery. He at once hurried up the street to effect the reconciliation with her.

‘How shall I do it?’ he said to himself. ‘Why, I’ll step round to her side, fish for her hand, draw it through my arm as if I wasn’t aware of it. Then she’ll look in my face, I shall look in hers, and we shall march off the field triumphant, and the thing will be done without takings or tears.’

He entered the field and went straight as an arrow to the place appointed for the meeting. It was at the back of a refreshment tent outside the mass of spectators, and divided from their view by the tent itself. He turned the corner of the canvas, and there beheld Vine at the indicated spot. But Margery was not with him.

Vine’s hat was thrust back into his poll. His face was pale, and his manner bewildered. ‘Hullo? what’s the matter?’ said Jim. ‘Where’s my Margery?’

‘You’ve carried this footy game too far, my man!’ exclaimed Vine, with the air of a friend who has ‘always told you so.’ ‘You ought to have dropped it several days ago, when she would have come to ‘ee like a cooing dove. Now this is the end o’t!’

‘Hey! what, my Margery? Has anything happened, for God’s sake?’

‘She’s gone.’

‘Where to?’

‘That’s more than earthly man can tell! I never see such a thing! ‘Twas a stroke o’ the black art — as if she were sperrited away. When we got to the games I said — mind, you told me to! — I said, “Jim Hayward thinks o’ going off to London with that widow woman” — mind you told me to! She showed no wonderment though a’ seemed very low. Then she said to me, “I don’t like standing here in this slummocky crowd. I shall feel more at home among the gentlepeople.” And then she went to where the carriages were drawn up, and near here there was a grand coach, a-blazing with lions and unicorns, and hauled by two coal-black horses. I hardly thought much of it then, and by degrees lost sight of her behind it. Presently the other carriages moved off, and I thought still to see her standing there. But no, she had vanished; and then I saw the grand coach rolling away, and glimpsed Margery in it, beside a fine dark gentleman with black mustachios, and a very pale prince-like face. As soon as the horses got into the hard road they rattled on like hell-and-skimmer and went out of sight in the dust, and — that’s all. If you’d come back a little sooner you’d ha’ caught her.’

Jim had turned whiter than his pipeclay ‘O, this is too bad — too bad!’ he cried in anguish, striking his brow. ‘That paper and that fainting woman kept me so long. Who could have done it? But ‘tis my fault. I’ve stung her too much. I shouldn’t have carried it so far.’

‘You shouldn’t — just what I said,’ replied his senior.

‘She thinks I’ve gone off with that cust widow; and to spite me she’s gone off with the man. Do you know who that stranger wi’ the lions and unicorns is? Why, ‘tis that foreigner who calls himself a Baron, and took Mount Lodge for six months last year to make mischief — a villain! O, my Margery — that it should come to this! She’s lost, she’s ruined! — Which way did they go?’

Jim turned to follow in the direction indicated, when, behold, there stood at his back her father, Dairyman Tucker.

‘Now look here, young man,’ said Dairyman Tucker. ‘I’ve just heard all that wailing — and straightway will ask ‘ee to stop it sharp. ‘Tis like your brazen impudence to teave and wail when you be another woman’s husband; yes, faith, I see’d her a-fainting in yer arms when you wanted to get away from her, and honest folk a-standing round who knew you’d married her, and said so. I heard it, though you didn’t see me. “He’s married!” they say. Some sly register-office business, no doubt; but sly doings will out. As for Margery — who’s to be called higher titles in these parts hencefor’ard — I’m her father, and I say it’s all right what she’s done. Don’t I know private news, hey? Haven’t I just learnt that secret weddings of high people can happen at expected deathbeds by special licence, as well as low people at registrars’ offices? And can’t husbands come back and claim their own when they choose? Begone, young man, and leave noblemen’s wives alone; and I thank God I shall be rid of a numskull!’

Swift words of explanation rose to Jim’s lips, but they paused there and died. At that last moment he could not, as Margery’s husband, announce Margery’s shame and his own, and transform her father’s triumph to wretchedness at a blow.

‘I — I — must leave here,’ he stammered. Going from the place in an opposite course to that of the fugitives, he doubled when out of sight, and in an incredibly short space had entered the town. Here he made inquiries for the emblazoned carriage, and gained from one or two persons a general idea of its route. They thought it had taken the highway to London. Saddling poor Tony before he had half eaten his corn, Jim galloped along the same road.

XVII

Now Jim was quite mistaken in supposing that by leaving the field in a roundabout manner he had deceived Dairyman Tucker as to his object. That astute old man immediately divined that Jim was meaning to track the fugitives, in ignorance (as the dairyman supposed) of their lawful relation. He was soon assured of the fact, for, creeping to a remote angle of the field, he saw Jim hastening into the town. Vowing vengeance on the young lime-burner for his mischievous interference between a nobleman and his secretly wedded wife, the dairy-farmer determined to balk him.

Tucker had ridden on to the Review ground, so that there was no necessity for him, as there had been for poor Jim, to re-enter the town before starting. The dairyman hastily untied his mare from the row of other horses, mounted, and descended to a bridle-path which would take him obliquely into the London road a mile or so ahead. The old man’s route being along one side of an equilateral triangle, while Jim’s was along two sides of the same, the former was at the point of intersection long before Hayward.

Arrived here, the dairyman pulled up and looked around. It was a spot at which the highway forked; the left arm, the more important, led on through Sherton Abbas and Melchester to London; the right to Idmouth and the coast. Nothing was visible on the white track to London; but on the other there appeared the back of a carriage, which rapidly ascended a distant hill and vanished under the trees. It was the Baron’s who, according to the sworn information of the gardener at Mount Lodge, had made Margery his wife.

The carriage having vanished, the dairyman gazed in the opposite direction, towards Exonbury. Here he beheld Jim in his regimentals, labouriously approaching on Tony’s back.

Soon he reached the forking roads, and saw the dairyman by the wayside. But Jim did not halt. Then the dairyman practised the greatest duplicity of his life.

‘Right along the London road, if you want to catch ‘em!’ he said.

‘Thank ‘ee, dairyman, thank ‘ee!’ cried Jim, his pale face lighting up with gratitude, for he believed that Tucker had learnt his mistake from Vine, and had come to his assistance. Without drawing rein he diminished along the road not taken by the flying pair. The dairyman rubbed his hands with delight, and returned to the city as the cathedral clock struck five.

Jim pursued his way through the dust, up hill and down hill; but never saw ahead of him the vehicle of his search. That vehicle was passing along a diverging way at a distance of many miles from where he rode. Still he sped onwards, till Tony showed signs of breaking down; and then Jim gathered from inquiries he made that he had come the wrong way. It burst upon his mind that the dairyman, still ignorant of the truth, had misinformed him. Heavier in his heart than words can describe he turned Tony’s drooping head, and resolved to drag his way home.

But the horse was now so jaded that it was impossible to proceed far. Having gone about half a mile back he came again to a small roadside hamlet and inn, where he put up Tony for a rest and feed. As for himself, there was no quiet in him. He tried to sit and eat in the inn kitchen; but he could not stay there. He went out, and paced up and down the road.

Standing in sight of the white way by which he had come he beheld advancing towards him the horses and carriage he sought, now black and daemonic against the slanting fires of the western sun.

The why and wherefore of this sudden appearance he did not pause to consider. His resolve to intercept the carriage was instantaneous. He ran forward, and doggedly waiting barred the way to the advancing equipage.

The Baron’s coachman shouted, but Jim stood firm as a rock, and on the former attempting to push past him Jim drew his sword, resolving to cut the horses down rather than be displaced. The animals were nearly thrown back upon their haunches, and at this juncture a gentleman looked out of the window. It was the Baron himself.

‘Who’s there?’ he inquired.

‘James Hayward!’ replied the young man fiercely, ‘and he demands his wife.’

The Baron leapt out, and told the coachman to drive back out of sight and wait for him.

‘I was hastening to find you,’ he said to Jim. ‘Your wife is where she ought to be, and where you ought to be also — by your own fireside. Where’s the other woman?’

Jim, without replying, looked incredulously into the carriage as it turned. Margery was certainly not there. ‘The other woman is nothing to me,’ he said bitterly. ‘I used her to warm up Margery; I have now done with her. The question I ask, my lord, is, what business had you with Margery today?’

‘My business was to help her regain the husband she had seemingly lost. I saw her; she told me you had eloped by the London road with another. I, who have — mostly — had her happiness at heart, told her I would help her to follow you if she wished. She gladly agreed; we drove after, but could hear no tidings of you in front of us. Then I took her — to your house — and there she awaits you. I promised to send you to her if human effort could do it, and was tracking you for that purpose.’

‘Then you’ve been a-pursuing after me?’

‘You and the widow.’

‘And I’ve been pursuing after you and Margery! . . . My noble lord, your actions seem to show that I ought to believe you in this; and when you say you’ve her happiness at heart, I don’t forget that you’ve formerly proved it to be so. Well, Heaven forbid that I should think wrongfully of you if you don’t deserve it! A mystery to me you have always been, my noble lord, and in this business more than in any.’

‘I am glad to hear you say no worse. In one hour you’ll have proof of my conduct — good or bad. Can I do anything more? Say the word, and I’ll try.’

Jim reflected. ‘Baron,’ he said, ‘I am a plain man, and wish only to lead a quiet life with my wife, as a man should. You have great power over her — power to any extent, for good or otherwise. If you command her anything on earth, righteous or questionable, that she’ll do. So that, since you ask me if you can do more for me, I’ll answer this, you can promise never to see her again. I mean no harm, my lord; but your presence can do no good; you will trouble us. If I return to her, will you for ever stay away?’

‘Hayward,’ said the Baron, ‘I swear to you that I will disturb you and your wife by my presence no more.’ And he took Jim’s hand, and pressed it within his own upon the hilt of Jim’s sword.

In relating this incident to the present narrator Jim used to declare that, to his fancy, the ruddy light of the setting sun burned with more than earthly fire on the Baron’s face as the words were spoken; and that the ruby flash of his eye in the same light was what he never witnessed before nor since in the eye of mortal man. After this there was nothing more to do or say in that place. Jim accompanied his never-to-be-forgotten acquaintance to the carriage, closed the door after him, waved his hat to him, and from that hour he and the Baron met not again on earth.

A few words will suffice to explain the fortunes of Margery while the foregoing events were in action elsewhere. On leaving her companion Vine she had gone distractedly among the carriages, the rather to escape his observation than of any set purpose. Standing here she thought she heard her name pronounced, and turning, saw her foreign friend, whom she had supposed to be, if not dead, a thousand miles off. He beckoned, and she went close. ‘You are ill — you are wretched,’ he said, looking keenly in her face. ‘Where’s your husband?’

She told him her sad suspicion that Jim had run away from her. The Baron reflected, and inquired a few other particulars of her late life. Then he said: ‘You and I must find him. Come with me.’ At this word of command from the Baron she had entered the carriage as docilely as a child, and there she sat beside him till he chose to speak, which was not till they were some way out of the town, at the forking ways, and the Baron had discovered that Jim was certainly not, as they had supposed, making off from Margery along that particular branch of the fork that led to London.

‘To pursue him in this way is useless, I perceive,’ he said. ‘And the proper course now is that I should take you to his house. That done I will return and bring him to you if mortal persuasion can do it.’

‘I didn’t want to go to his house without him, sir,’ said she, tremblingly.

‘Didn’t want to!’ he answered. ‘Let me remind you, Margery Hayward, that your place is in your husband’s house. Till you are there you have no right to criticize his conduct, however wild it may be. Why have you not been there before?’

‘I don’t know, sir,’ she murmured, her tears falling silently upon her hand.

‘Don’t you think you ought to be there?’

She did not answer.

‘Of course you ought.’

Still she did not speak.

The Baron sank into silence, and allowed his eye to rest on her. What thoughts were all at once engaging his mind after those moments of reproof? Margery had given herself into his hands without a remonstrance. Her husband had apparently deserted her. She was absolutely in his power, and they were on the high road.

That his first impulse in inviting her to accompany him had been the legitimate one denoted by his words cannot reasonably be doubted. That his second was otherwise soon became revealed, though not at first to her, for she was too bewildered to notice where they were going. Instead of turning and taking the road to Jim’s, the Baron, as if influenced suddenly by her reluctance to return thither if Jim was playing truant, signalled to the coachman to take the branch road to the right, as her father had discerned.

They soon approached the coast near Idmouth. The carriage stopped. Margery awoke from her reverie.

‘Where are we?’ she said, looking out of the window, with a start. Before her was an inlet of the sea, and in the middle of the inlet rode a yacht, its masts repeating as if from memory the rocking they had practised in their native forest.

‘At a little sea-side nook, where my yacht lies at anchor,’ he said tentatively. ‘Now Margery, in five minutes we can be aboard, and in half an hour we can be sailing away all the world over. Will you come?’

‘I cannot decide,’ she said in low tones.

‘Why not?’

‘Because — ’

Then on a sudden, Margery seemed to see all contingencies: she became white as a fleece, and a bewildered look came into her eyes. With clasped hands she leant on the Baron.

Baron von Xanten observed her distracted look, averted his face, and coming to a decision opened the carriage door, quickly mounted outside, and in a second or two the carriage left the shore behind, and ascended the road by which it had come.

In about an hour they reached Jim Hayward’s home. The Baron alighted, and spoke to her through the window. ‘Margery, can you forgive a lover’s bad impulse, which I swear was unpremeditated?’ he asked. ‘If you can, shake my hand.’

She did not do it, but eventually allowed him to help her out of the carriage. He seemed to feel the awkwardness keenly; and seeing it, she said, ‘Of course I forgive you, sir, for I felt for a moment as you did. Will you send my husband to me?’

‘I will, if any man can,’ said he. ‘Such penance is milder than I deserve! God bless you and give you happiness! I shall never see you again!’ He turned, entered the carriage, and was gone; and having found out Jim’s course, came up with him upon the road as described.

In due time the latter reached his lodging at his partner’s. The woman who took care of the house in Vine’s absence at once told Jim that a lady who had come in a carriage was waiting for him in his sitting-room. Jim proceeded thither with agitation, and beheld, shrinkingly ensconced in the large slippery chair, and surrounded by the brilliant articles that had so long awaited her, his long-estranged wife.

Margery’s eyes were round and fear-stricken. She essayed to speak, but Jim, strangely enough, found the readier tongue then. ‘Why did I do it, you would ask,’ he said. ‘I cannot tell. Do you forgive my deception? O Margery — you are my Margery still! But how could you trust yourself in the Baron’s hands this afternoon, without knowing him better?’

‘He said I was to come, and I went,’ she said, as well as she could for tearfulness.

‘You obeyed him blindly.’

‘I did. But perhaps I was not justified in doing it.’

‘I don’t know,’ said Jim musingly. ‘I think he’s a good man.’ Margery did not explain. And then a sunnier mood succeeded her tremblings and tears, till old Mr. Vine came into the house below, and Jim went down to declare that all was well, and sent off his partner to break the news to Margery’s father, who as yet remained unenlightened.

The dairyman bore the intelligence of his daughter’s untitled state as best he could, and punished her by not coming near her for several weeks, though at last he grumbled his forgiveness, and made up matters with Jim. The handsome Mrs. Peach vanished to Plymouth, and found another sailor, not without a reasonable complaint against Jim and Margery both that she had been unfairly used.

As for the mysterious gentleman who had exercised such an influence over their lives, he kept his word, and was a stranger to Lower Wessex thenceforward. Baron or no Baron, Englishman or foreigner, he had shown a genuine interest in Jim, and real sorrow for a certain reckless phase of his acquaintance with Margery. That he had a more tender feeling toward the young girl than he wished her or any one else to perceive there could be no doubt. That he was strongly tempted at times to adopt other than conventional courses with regard to her is also clear, particularly at that critical hour when she rolled along the high road with him in the carriage, after turning from the fancied pursuit of Jim. But at other times he schooled impassioned sentiments into fair conduct, which even erred on the side of harshness. In after years there was a report that another attempt on his life with a pistol, during one of those fits of moodiness to which he seemed constitutionally liable, had been effectual; but nobody in Silverthorn was in a position to ascertain the truth.

There he is still regarded as one who had something about him magical and unearthly. In his mystery let him remain; for a man, no less than a landscape, who awakens an interest under uncertain lights and touches of unfathomable shade, may cut but a poor figure in a garish noontide shine.

When she heard of his mournful death Margery sat in her nursing-chair, gravely thinking for nearly ten minutes, to the total neglect of her infant in the cradle. Jim, from the other side of the fireplace, said: ‘You are sorry enough for him, Margery. I am sure of that.’

‘Yes, yes,’ she murmured, ‘I am sorry.’ After a moment she added: ‘Now that he’s dead I’ll make a confession, Jim, that I have never made to a soul. If he had pressed me — which he did not — to go with him when I was in the carriage that night beside his yacht, I would have gone. And I was disappointed that he did not press me.’

‘Suppose he were to suddenly appear now, and say in a voice of command, “Margery, come with me!”‘

‘I believe I should have no power to disobey,’ she returned, with a mischievous look. ‘He was like a magician to me. I think he was one. He could move me as a loadstone moves a speck of steel. . . . Yet no,’ she added, hearing the infant cry, ‘he would not move me now. It would be so unfair to baby.’

‘Well,’ said Jim, with no great concern (for ‘la jalousie retrospective,’ as George Sand calls it, had nearly died out of him), ‘however he might move ‘ee, my love, he’ll never come. He swore it to me: and he was a man of his word.’

Interlopers at the Knap

The north road from Casterbridge is tedious and lonely, especially in winter-time. Along a part of its course it connects with Long-Ash Lane, a monotonous track without a village or hamlet for many miles, and with very seldom a turning. Unapprized wayfarers who are too old, or too young, or in other respects too weak for the distance to be traversed, but who, nevertheless, have to walk it, say, as they look wistfully ahead, “Once at the top of that hill, and I must surely see the end of Long-Ash Lane!” But they reach the hilltop, and Long-Ash Lane stretches in front as mercilessly as before.

Some few years ago a certain farmer was riding through this lane in the gloom of a winter evening. The farmer’s friend, a dairyman, was riding beside him. A few paces in the rear rode the farmer’s man. All three were well horsed on strong, round-barrelled cobs; and to be well horsed was to be in better spirits about Long-Ash Lane than poor pedestrians could attain to during its passage.

But the farmer did not talk much to his friend as he rode along. The enterprise which had brought him there filled his mind; for in truth it was important. Not altogether so important was it, perhaps, when estimated by its value to society at large; but if the true measure of a deed be proportionate to the space it occupies in the heart of him who undertakes it, Farmer Charles Darton’s business to-night could hold its own with the business of kings.

He was a large farmer. His turnover, as it is called, was probably thirty thousand pounds a year. He had a great many draught horses, a great many milch cows, and of sheep a multitude. This comfortable position was, however, none of his own making. It had been created by his father, a man of a very different stamp from the present representative of the line.

Darton, the father, had been a one-idea’d character, with a buttoned-up pocket and a chink-like eye brimming with commercial subtlety. In Darton the son, this trade subtlety had become transmuted into emotional, and the harshness had disappeared; he would have been called a sad man but for his constant care not to divide himself from lively friends by piping notes out of harmony with theirs. Contemplative, he allowed his mind to be a quiet meeting place for memories and hopes. So that, naturally enough, since succeeding to the agricultural calling, and up to his presentage of thirty-two, he had neither advanced nor receded as a capitalist a stationary result which did not agitate one of his unambitious, unstrategic nature, since he had all that he desired. The motive of his expedition to-night showed the same absence of anxious regard for Number One.

The party rode on in the slow, safe trot proper to night-time and bad roads, Farmer Darton’s head jigging rather unromantically up and down against the sky, and his motions being repeated with bolder emphasis by his friend Japheth Johns; while those of the latter were travestied in jerks stillness softened by art in the person of the lad who attended them. A pair of whitish objects hung one on each side of the latter, bumping against him a teach step, and still further spoiling the grace of his seat. On close inspection they might have been perceived to be open rush baskets — one containing a turkey, and the other some bottles of wine.

“D’ye feel ye can meet your fate like a man, neighbour Darton?” asked Johns, breaking a silence which had lasted while five-and-twenty hedgerow trees had glided by.

Mr. Darton with a half-laugh murmured, “Ay — call it my fate! Hanging and wiving go by destiny.” And then they were silent again.

The darkness thickened rapidly, at intervals shutting down on the land in a perceptible flap, like the wave of a wing. The customary close of day was accelerated by a simultaneous blurring of the air. With the fall of night had come a mist just damp enough to incommode, but not sufficient to saturate them. Countrymen as they were born, as may be said, with only an open door between them and the four seasons — they regarded the mist but as an added obscuration, and ignored its humid quality.

They were travelling in a direction that was enlivened by no modern current of traffic, the place of Darton’s pilgrimage being an old-fashioned village — one of the Hintocks (several villages of that name, with a distinctive prefix or affix, lying thereabout) — where the people make the best cider and cider-wine in all Wessex, and where the dunghills smell of pomace instead of stable refuse as elsewhere. The lane was sometimes so narrow that the brambles of the hedge, which hung forward like anglers’ rods over a stream, scratched their hats and hooked their whiskers as they passed. Yet this neglected lane had been a highway to Queen Elizabeth’s subjects and the cavalcades of the past. Its day was over now, and its history as a national artery done for ever.

“Why I have decided to marry her,” resumed Darton (in a measured musical voice of confidence which revealed a good deal of his composition), as he glanced round to see that the lad was not too near, “is not only that I like her, but that I can do no better, even from a fairly practical point of view. That I might ha’ looked higher is possibly true, though it is really all nonsense. I have had experience enough in looking above me. ‘No more superior women for me,’ said I — you know when. Sally is a comely, independent, simple character, with no make-up about her, who’ll think me as much a superior to her as I used to think — you know who I mean — was to me.”

“Ay,” said Johns. “However, I shouldn’t call Sally Hall simple. Primary, because no Sally is; secondary, because if some could be, this one wouldn’t. ‘Tis a wrong denomination to apply to a woman, Charles, and affects me, as your best man, like cold water. ‘Tis like recommending a stage play by saying there’s neither murder, villainy, nor harm of any sort in it, when that’s what you’ve paid your half-crown to see.”

“Well; may your opinion do you good. Mine’s a different one.” And turning the conversation from the philosophical to the practical, Darton expressed a hope that the said Sally had received what he’d sent on by the carrier that day.

Johns wanted to know what that was.

“It is a dress,” said Darton. “Not exactly a wedding dress; though she may use it as one if she likes. It is rather serviceable than showy — suitable for the winter weather.”

“Good,” said Johns. “Serviceable is a wise word in a bridegroom. I commend ‘ee, Charles.”

“For,” said Darton, “why should a woman dress up like a rope-dancer because she’s going to do the most solemn deed of her life except dying?”

“Faith, why? But she will, because she will, I suppose,” said Dairyman Johns.

“H’m,” said Darton.

The lane they followed had been nearly straight for several miles, but they now left it for a smaller one which after winding uncertainly for some distance forked into two. By night country roads are apt to reveal ungainly qualities which pass without observation during day; and though Darton had travelled this way before, he had not done so frequently, Sally having been wooed at the house of a relative near his own. He never remembered seeing at this spot a pair of alternative ways looking so equally probable as these two did now. Johns rode on a few steps.

“Don’t be out of heart, sonny,” he cried. “Here’s a handpost. Ezra — come and climb this post, and tell us the way.”

The lad dismounted, and jumped into the hedge where the post stood under a tree.

“Unstrap the baskets, or you’ll smash up that wine!” cried Darton, as the young man began spasmodically to climb the post, baskets and all.

“Was there ever less head in a brainless world?” said Johns. “Here, simple Ezzy, I’ll do it.” He leapt off, and with much puffing climbed the post, striking a match when he reached the top, and moving the light along the arm, the lad standing and gazing at the spectacle.

“I have faced tantalization these twenty years with a temper as mild as milk!” said Japheth; “but such things as this don’t come short of devilry!” And flinging the match away, he slipped down to the ground.

“What’s the matter?” asked Darton.

“Not a letter, sacred or heathen — not so much as would tell us the way to the town of Smokey hole — ever I should sin to say it! Either the moss and mildew have eat away the words, or we have arrived in a land where the natives have lost the art o’ writing, and should ha’ brought our compass like Christopher Columbus.”

“Let us take the straightest road,” said Darton placidly; “I shan’t be sorry to get there — ’tis a tiresome ride. I would have driven if I had known.”

“Nor I neither, sir,” said Ezra. “These straps plough my shoulder like a zull. If ‘tis much further to your lady’s home, Maister Darton, I shall ask to be let carry half of these good things in my innerds — hee, hee!”

“Don’t you be such a reforming radical, Ezra,” said Johns sternly. “Here, I’ll take the turkey.”

This being done, they went forward by the right-hand lane, which ascended a hill, the left winding away under a plantation. The pit-a-pat of their horses’ hoofs lessened up the slope; and the ironical directing-post stood in solitude as before, holding out its blank arms to the raw breeze, which brought a snore from the wood as if Skrymir the Giant were sleeping there.

II

Three miles to the left of the travelers, along the road they had not followed, rose an old house with mullioned windows of Ham-hill stone, and chimney so flavish solidity. It stood at the top of a slope beside King’s-Hintock village-street, only a mile or two from King’s-Hintock Court, yet quite shut away from that mansion and its precincts. Immediately in front of it grew a large sycamore tree, whose bared roots formed a convenient staircase from the road below to the front door of the dwelling. Its situation gave the house what little distinctive name it possessed, namely, “The Knap.” Some forty yards off a brook dribbled past, which, for its size, made a great deal of noise. At the back was a dairy barton, accessible for vehicles and live-stock by a side “drong.” Thus much only of the character of the homestead could be divined out of doors at this shady evening-time.

But within there was plenty of light to see by, as plenty was construed at Hintock. Beside a Tudor fireplace, whose moulded four-centred arch was nearly hidden by a figured blue-cloth blower, were seated two women — mother and daughter — Mrs. Hall, and Sarah, or Sally; for this was a part of the world where the latter modification had not as yet been effaced as a vulgarity by the march of intellect. The owner of the name was the young woman by whose means Mr. Darton proposed to put an end to his bachelor condition on the approaching day. The mother’s bereavement had been so long ago as not to leave much mark of its occurrence upon her now, either in face or clothes. She had resumed the mob-cap of her early married life, enlivening its whiteness by a few rose-du-Barry ribbons. Sally required no such aids to pinkness. Rose ate good-nature lit up her gaze; her features showed curves of decision and judgment; and she might have been regarded without much mistake as a warm-hearted, quick-spirited, handsome girl.

She did most of the talking, her mother listening with a half-absent air, as she picked up fragments of red-hot wood ember with the tongs, and piled them upon the brands. But the number of speeches that passed was very small in proportion to the meanings exchanged. Long experience together often enabled them to see the course of thought in each other’s minds without a word being spoken. Behind them, in the centre of the room, the table was spread for supper, certain whiffs of air laden with fat vapours, which ever and anon entered from the kitchen, denoting its preparation there.

“The new gown he was going to send you stays about on the way like himself,” Sally’s mother was saying.

“Yes, not finished, I daresay,” cried Sally independently. “Lord, I shouldn’t be amazed if it didn’t come at all! Young men make such kind promises when they are near you, and forget ‘em when they go away. But he doesn’t intend it as a wedding-gown — he gives it to me merely as a gown to wear when I like — a travelling-dress is what it would be called by some. Come rathe or come late it don’t much matter, as I have a dress of my own to fall back upon. But what time is it?”

She went to the family clock and opened the glass, for the hour was not otherwise discernible by night, and indeed at all times was rather a thing to be investigated than beheld, so much more wall than window was there in the apartment. “It is nearly eight,” said she.

“Eight o’clock, and neither dress nor man,” said Mrs. Hall.

“Mother, if you think to tantalise me by talking like that, you are much mistaken! Let him be as late as he will — or stay away altogether — I don’t care,” said Sally. But a tender, minute quaver in the negation showed that there was something forced in that statement.

Mrs. Hall perceived it, and drily observed that she was not so sure about Sally not caring. “But perhaps you don’t care so much as I do, after all,” she said. “For I see what you don’t, that it is a good and flourishing match for you; a very honourable offer in Mr. Darton. And I think I see a kind husband in him. So pray God ‘twill go smooth, and wind up well.”

Sally would not listen to misgivings. Of course it would go smoothly, she asserted. “How you are up and down, mother!” she went on. “At this moment, whatever hinders him, we are not so anxious to see him as he is to be here, and his thought runs on before him, and settles down upon us like the star in the east. Hark!” she exclaimed, with a breath of relief, her eyes sparkling. “I heard something. Yes — here they are!”

The next moment her mother’s slower ear also distinguished the familiar reverberation occasioned footsteps clambering up the roots of the sycamore.

“Yes it sounds like them at last,” she said. “Well, it is not so very late after all, considering the distance.”

The footfall ceased, and they arose, expecting a knock. They began to think it might have been, after all, some neighbouring villager under Bacchic influence, giving the centre of the road a wide berth, when their doubts were dispelled by the new-comer’s entry into the passage. The door of the room was gently opened, and there appeared not the pair of travellers with whom we have already made acquaintance, but a pale-faced man in the garb of extreme poverty — almost in rags.

“O, it’s a tramp — gracious me!” said Sally, starting back.

His cheeks and eye-orbits were deep concaves — rather, it might be, from natural weakness of constitution than irregular living, though there were indications that he had led no careful life. He gazed at the two women fixedly for a moment: then with an abashed, humiliated demeanour, dropped his glance to the floor, and sank into a chair without uttering a word.

Sally was in advance of her mother, who had remained standing by the fire. She now tried to discern the visitor across the candles.

“Why — mother,” said Sally faintly, turning back to Mrs. Hall. “It is Phil, from Australia!”

Mrs. Hall started, and grew pale, and a fit of coughing seized the man with the ragged clothes. “To come home like this!” she said. “O, Philip — are you ill?”

“No, no, mother,” replied he impatiently, as soon as he could speak.

“But for God’s sake how do you come here — and just now too?”

“Well, I am here,” said the man. “How it is I hardly know. I’ve come home, mother, because I was driven to it. Things were against me out there, and went from bad to worse.”

“Then why didn’t you let us know? — you’ve not writ a line for the last two or three years.”

The son admitted sadly that he had not. He said that he had hoped and thought he might fetch up again, and be able to send good news. Then he had been obliged to abandon that hope, and had finally come home from sheer necessity — previously to making a new start. “Yes, things are very bad with me,” he repeated, perceiving their commiserating glances at his clothes.

They brought him nearer the fire, took his hat from his thin hand, which was so small and smooth as to show that his attempts to fetch up again had not been in a manual direction. His mother resumed her inquiries, and dubiously asked if he had chosen to come that particular night for any special reason.

For no reason, he told her. His arrival had been quite at random. Then Philip Hall looked round the room, and saw for the first time that the table was laid somewhat luxuriously, and for a larger number than themselves; and that an air of festivity pervaded their dress. He asked quickly what was going on.

“Sally is going to be married in a day or two,” replied the mother; and she explained how Mr. Darton, Sally’s intended husband, was coming there that night with the groomsman, Mr. Johns, and other details. “We thought it must be their step when we heard you,” said Mrs. Hall.

The needy wanderer looked again on the floor. “I see — I see,” he murmured. “Why, indeed, should I have come to-night? Such folk as I are not wanted here at these times, naturally. And I have no business here — spoiling other people’s happiness.”

“Phil,” said his mother, with a tear in her eye, but with a thinness of lip and severity of manner which were presumably not more than past events justified; “since you speak like that to me, I’ll speak honestly to you. For these three years you have taken no thought for us. You left home with a good supply of money, and strength and education, and you ought to have made good use of it all. But you come back like a beggar; and that you come in a very awkward time for us cannot be denied. Your return to-night may do us much harm. But mind you are welcome to this home as long as it is mine. I don’t wish to turn you adrift. We will make the best of a bad job; and I hope you are not seriously ill?”

“O no. I have only this infernal cough.”

She looked at him anxiously. “I think you had better go to bed at once,” she said.

“Well — I shall be out of the way there,” said the son wearily.

“Having ruined myself, don’t let me ruin you by being seen in these togs, for Heaven’s sake. Who do you say Sally is going to be married to — a Farmer Darton?”

“Yes — a gentleman — farmer — quite a wealthy man. Far better in station than she could have expected. It is a good thing, altogether.”

“Well done, little Sal!” said her brother, brightening and looking up at

he with a smile. “I ought to have written; but perhaps I have thought of you all the more. But let me get out of sight. I would rather go and jump into the river than be seen here. But have you anything I can drink? I am confoundedly thirsty with my long tramp.”

“Yes, yes, we will bring something upstairs to you,” said Sally, with grief in her face.

“Ay, that will do nicely. But, Sally and mother — ” He stopped, and they waited.

“Mother, I have not told you all,” he resumed slowly, still looking on the floor between his knees. “Sad as what you see of me is, there’s worse behind.”

His mother gazed upon him in grieved suspense, and Sally went and leant upon the bureau, listening for every sound, and sighing. Suddenly she turned round, saying, “Let them come, I don’t care! Philip, tell the worst, and take your time.”

“Well, then,” said the unhappy Phil, “I am not the only one in this mess. Would do Heaven I were! But — ”

“O, Phil!

“I have a wife as destitute as I.”

“A wife?” said his mother.

“Unhappily!”

“A wife! Yes, that is the way with sons!”

“And besides — ” said he.

“Besides! O, Philip, surely — ”

“I have two little children.”

“Wife and children!” whispered Mrs. Hall, sinking down confounded.

“Poor little things!” said Sally involuntarily.

His mother turned again to him. “I suppose these helpless beings are left in Australia?”

“No. They are in England.”

“Well, I can only hope you’ve left them in a respectable place.”

“I have not left them at all. They are here — within a few yards of us. In short, they are in the stable.”

“Where?”

“In the stable. I did not like to bring them indoors till I had seen you, mother, and broken the bad news a bit to you. They were very tired, and are resting out there on some straw.”

Mrs. Hall’s fortitude visibly broken down. She had been brought up not without refinement, and was even more moved by such a collapse of genteel aims as this than a substantial dairyman’s widow would in ordinary have been moved. “Well, it must be borne,” she said, in a low voice, with her hands tightly joined. “A starving son, a starving wife, starving children! Let it be. But why is this come to us now, to-day, to-night? Could no other misfortune happen to helpless women than this, which will quite upset my poor girl’s chance of a happy life? Why have you done us this wrong, Philip? What respectable man will come here, and marry open-eyed into a family of vagabonds?”

“Nonsense, mother!” said Sally vehemently, while her face flushed. “Charley isn’t the man to desert me. But if he should be, and won’t marry me because Phil’s come, let him go and marry elsewhere. I won’t be ashamed of my own flesh and blood for any man in England — not I!” And then Sally turned away and burst into tears.

“Wait till you are twenty years older and you will tell a different tale, “replied her mother.

The son stood up. “Mother,” he said bitterly, “as I have come, so I will go. All I ask of you is that you will allow me and mine to lie in your stable to-night. I give you my word that we’ll be gone by break of day, and trouble you no further!”

Mrs. Hall, the mother, changed at that. “O no,” she answered hastily; “never shall it be said that I sent any of my own family from my door. Bring ‘em in, Philip, or take me out to them.”

“We will put ‘em all into the large bedroom,” said Sally, brightening, “and make up a large fire. Let’s go and help them in, and call Rebekah.” (Rebekah was the woman who assisted at the dairy and housework; she lived in a cottage hard by with her husband, who attended to the cows.)

Sally went to fetch a lantern from the back-kitchen, but her brother said, “You won’t want a light. I lit the lantern that was hanging there.”

“What must we call your wife?” asked Mrs. Hall.

“Helena,” said Philip.

With shawls over their heads they proceeded towards the back door.

“One minute before you go,” interrupted Philip. “I haven’t confessed all.” “Then Heaven help us!” said Mrs. Hall, pushing to the door and clasping her hands in calm despair.

“We passed through Evershead as we came,” he continued, “and I just looked in at the ‘Sow-and-Acorn’ to see if old Mike still kept on there as usual. The carrier had come in from Sherton Abbas at that moment, and guessing that I was bound for this place — for I think he knew me — he asked me to bring on a dressmaker’s parcel for Sally that was marked ‘immediate.’ My wife had walked on with the children. ‘Twas a flimsy parcel, and the paper was torn, and I found on looking at it that it was a thick warm gown. I didn’t wish you to see poor Helena in a shabby state. I was ashamed that you should — ’twas not what she was born to. I untied the parcel in the road, took it on to her where she was waiting in the Lower Barn, and told her I had managed to get it for her, and that she was to ask no question. She, poor thing, must have supposed I obtained it on trust, through having reached a place where I was known, for she put it on gladly enough. She has it on now. Sally has other gowns, I daresay.”

Sally looked at her mother, speechless.

“You have others, I daresay!” repeated Phil, with a sick man’s impatience, “I thought to myself, ‘Better Sally cry than Helena freeze.’ Well, is the dress of great consequence? ‘Twas nothing very ornamental, as far as I could see.”

“No — no; not of consequence,” returned Sally sadly, adding in a gentle voice, “You will not mind if I lend her another instead of that one, will you?”

Philip’s agitation at the confession had brought on another attack of the cough, which seemed to shake him to pieces. He was so obviously unfit to sit in a chair that they helped him upstairs at once; and having hastily given him a cordial and kindled the bedroom fire, they descended to fetch their unhappy new relations.

III

It was with strange feelings that the girl and her mother, lately so cheerful, passed out of the back door into the open air of the barton, laden with hay scents and the hereby breath of cows. A fine sleet had begun to fall, and they trotted across the yard quickly. The stable-door was open; a light shone from it — from the lantern which always hung there, and which Philip had lighted, as he said. Softly nearing the door, Mrs. Hall pronounced the name “Helena!”

There was no answer for the moment. Looking in she was taken by surprise. Two people appeared before her. For one, instead of the drabbish woman she had expected, Mrs. Hall saw a pale, dark-eyed, ladylike creature, whose personality ruled her attire rather than was ruled by it. She was in a new and handsome gown, Sally’s own, and an old bonnet. She was standing up, agitated; her hand was held by her companion — none else than Sally’s affianced, Farmer Charles Darton, upon whose fine figure the pale stranger’s eyes were fixed, as his were fixed upon her. His other hand held the rein of his horse, which was standing saddled as if just led in.

At sight of Mrs. Hall they both turned, looking at her in a way neither quite conscious nor unconscious, and without seeming to recollect that words were necessary as a solution to the scene. In another moment Sally entered also, when Mr. Darton dropped his companion’s hand, led the horse aside, and came to greet his betrothed and Mrs. Hall.

“Ah!” he said, smiling — with something like forced composure — ”this is around about way of arriving, you will say, my dear Mrs. Hall. But we lost our way, which made us late. I saw a light here, and led in my horse at once — my friend Johns and my man have gone onward to the little inn with theirs, not to crowd you too much. No sooner had I entered than I saw that this lady had taken temporary shelter here — and found I was intruding.”

“She is my daughter-in-law,” said Mrs. Hall calmly. “My son, too, is in the house, but he has gone to bed unwell.”

Sally had stood staring wonderingly at the scene until this moment, hardly recognizing Darton’s shake of the hand. The spell that bound her was broken by her perceiving the two little children seated on a heap of hay. She suddenly went forward, spoke to them, and took one on her arm and the other in her hand.

“And two children?” said Mr. Darton, showing thus that he had not been there long enough as yet to understand the situation.

“My grandchildren,” said Mrs. Hall, with as much affected ease as before.

Philip Hall’s wife, in spite of this interruption to her first rencounter, seemed scarcely so much affected by it as to feel any one’s presence in addition to Mr. Darton’s. However, arousing herself by a quick reflection, she threw a sudden critical glance of her sad eyes upon Mrs. Hall; and, apparently finding her satisfactory, advanced to her in a meek initiative. Then Sally and the stranger spoke some friendly words to each other, and Sally went on with the children into the house. Mrs. Hall and Helena followed, and Mr. Darton followed these, looking at Helena’s dress and outline, and listening to her voice like a man in a dream.

By the time the others reached the house Sally had already gone upstairs with the tired children. She rapped against the wall for Rebekah to come in and help to attend to them, Rebekah’s house being a little “spit-and-daub” cabin leaning against the substantial stonework of Mrs. Hall’s taller erection. When she came a bed was made up for the little ones, and some supper given to them. On descending the stairs after seeing this done Sally went to the sitting-room. Young Mrs. Hall entered it just in advance of her, having in the interim retired with her mother-in-law to take off her bonnet, and otherwise make herself presentable. Hence it was evident that no further communication could have passed between her and Mr. Darton since their brief interview in the stable.

Mr. Japheth Johns now opportunely arrived, and broke up the restraint of the company, after a few orthodox meteorological commentaries had passed between him and Mrs. Hall by way of introduction. They at once sat down to supper, the present of wine and turkey not being produced for consumption tonight, lest the premature display of those gifts should seem to throw doubt on Mrs. Hall’s capacities as a provider.

“Drink hearty, Mr. Johns drink hearty,” said that matron magnanimously. “Such as it is there’s plenty of. But perhaps cider-wine is not to your taste? — though there’s body in it.”

“Quite the contrary, ma’am — quite the contrary,” said the dairyman. “For though I inherit the malt-liquor principle from my father, I am a cider-drinker on my mother’s side. She came from these parts, you know. And there’s this to be said for’t — ’tis a more peaceful liquor, and don’t lie about a man like your hotter drinks. With care, one may live on it a twelve month without knocking down a neighbour, or getting a black eye from an old acquaintance.”

The general conversation thus begun was continued briskly, though it was in the main restricted to Mrs. Hall and Japheth, who in truth required but little help from anybody. There being slight call upon Sally’s tongue, she had ample leisure to do what her heart most desired, namely, watch her intended husband and her sister-in-law with a view of elucidating the strange momentary scene in which her mother and herself had surprised them in the stable. If that scene meant anything, it meant, at least, that they had met before. That there had been no time for explanations Sally could see, for their manner was still one of suppressed amazement at each other’s presence there. Darton’s eyes, too, fell continually on the gown worn by Helena as if this were an added riddle to his perplexity; though to Sally it was the one feature in the case which was no mystery. He seemed to feel that fate had impishly changed his vis-a-vis in the lover’s jig he was about to foot; that while the gown had been expected to enclose a Sally, a Helena’s face looked out from the bodice; that some long-lost hand met his own from the sleeves. Sally could see that whatever Helena might know of Darton, she knew nothing of how the dress entered into his embarrassment. And at moments the young girl would have persuaded herself that Darton’s looks at her sister-in-law were entirely the fruit of the clothes query. But surely at other times a more extensive range of speculation and sentiment was expressed by her lover’s eye than that which the changed dress would account for.

Sally’s independence made her one of the least jealous of women. But there was something in the relations of these two visitors which ought to be explained.

Japheth Johns continued to converse in his well-known style, interspersing his talk with some private reflections on the position of Darton and Sally, which, though the sparkle in his eye showed them to be highly entertaining to himself, were apparently not quite communicable to the company. At last he withdrew for the night, going off to the roadside inn half-a-mile ahead, whither Darton promised to follow him in a few minutes.

Half-an-hour passed, and then Mr. Darton also rose to leave, Sally and her sister-in-law simultaneously wishing him good-night as they retired upstairs to their rooms. But on his arriving at the front door with Mrs. Hall a sharp shower of rain began to come down, when the widow suggested that he should return to the fireside till the storm ceased.

Darton accepted her proposal, but insisted that, as it was getting late, and she was obviously tired, she should not sit up on his account, since he could let himself out of the house, and would quite enjoy smoking a pipe by the hearth alone. Mrs. Hall assented; and Darton was left by himself. He spread his knees to the brands, lit up his tobacco as he had said, and sat gazing into the fire, and at the notches of the chimney-crook which hung above.

An occasional drop of rain rolled down the chimney with a hiss, and still he smoked on; but not like a man whose mind was at rest. In the long run, however, despite his meditations, early hours afield and a long ride in the open air produced their natural result. He began to doze.

How long he remained in this half-unconscious state he did not know. He suddenly opened his eyes. The back-brand had burnt itself in two, and ceased to flame; the light which he had placed on the mantelpiece had nearly gone out. But in spite of these deficiencies there was a light in the apartment, and it came from elsewhere. Turning his head he saw Philip Hall’s wife standing at the entrance of the room with a bed-candle in one hand, a small brass tea-kettle in the other, and his gown, as it certainly seemed, still upon her.

“Helena!” said Darton, starting up.

Her countenance expressed dismay, and her first words were an apology. “I did not know you were here, Mr. Darton,” she said, while a blush flashed to her cheek. “I thought every one had retired — I was coming to make a little water boil; my husband seems to be worse. But perhaps the kitchen fire can be lighted up again.”

“Don’t go on my account. By all means put it on here as you intended, “said Darton. “Allow me to help you.” He went forward to take the kettle from her hand, but she did not allow him, and placed it on the fire herself.

They stood some way apart; one on each side of the fireplace, waiting till the water should boil, the candle on the mantel between them, and Helena with her eyes on the kettle. Darton was the first to break the silence. “Shall I call Sally?” he said.

“O no,” she quickly returned. “We have given trouble enough already. We have no right here. But we are the sport of fate, and were obliged to come.”

“No right here!” said he in surprise.

“None. I can’t explain it now,” answered Helena. “This kettle is very slow.”

There was another pause; the proverbial dilatoriness of watched pots was never more clearly exemplified.

Helena’s face was of that sort which seems to ask for assistance without the owner’s knowledge — the very antipodes of Sally’s, which was self-reliance expressed. Darton’s eyes travelled from the kettle to Helena’s face, then back to the kettle, then to the face for rather a longer time. “So I am not to know anything of the mystery that has distracted me all the evening?” he said. “How isit that a woman, who refused me because (as I supposed) my position was not good enough for her taste, is found to be the wife of a man who certainly seems to be worse off than I?”

“He had the prior claim,” said she.

“What! you knew him at that time?”

“Yes, yes! And he went to Australia, and sent for me, and I joined him out

there!”

“Ah — that was the mystery!”

“Please say no more,” she implored. “Whatever, my errors, I have paid for them during the last five years!”

The heart of Darton was subject to sudden overflowings. He was kind to a fault. “I am sorry from my soul,” he said, involuntarily approaching her. Helena withdrew a step or two, at which he became conscious of his movement, and quickly took his former place. Here he stood without speaking, and the little kettle began to sing.

“Well, you might have been my wife if you had chosen,” he said at last. “But that’s all past and gone. However, if you are in any trouble or poverty I shall be glad to be of service, and as your relation by marriage I shall have aright to be. Does your uncle know of your distress?”

“My uncle is dead. He left me without a farthing. And now we have two children to maintain.”

“What, left you nothing? How could he be so cruel as that?”

“I disgraced myself in his eyes.”

“Now,” said Darton earnestly, “let me take care of the children, at least while you are so unsettled. You belong to another, so I cannot take care of you.”

“Yes you can,” said a voice; and suddenly a third figure stood beside them. It was Sally. “You can, since you seem to wish to?” she repeated. “She no longer belongs to another. . . . My poor brother is dead!”

Her face was red, her eyes sparkled, and all the woman came to the front. “I have heard it!” she went on to him passionately. “You can protect her now as well as the children!” She turned then to her agitated sister-in-law. “I heard something,” said Sally (in a gentle murmur, differing much from her previous passionate words), “and I went into his room. It must have been the moment you left. He went off so quickly, and weakly, and it was so unexpected, that I couldn’t leave, even to call you.”

Darton was just able to gather from the confused discourse which followed that, during his sleep by the fire, Sally’s brother whom he had never seen had become worse; and that during Helena’s absence for water the end had unexpectedly come. The two young women hastened upstairs, and he was again left alone.

After standing there a short time he went to the front door and looked out; till, softly closing it behind him, he advanced and stood under the large sycamore-tree. The stars were flickering coldly, and the dampness which had just descended upon the earth in rain now sent up a chill from it. Darton was in a strange position, and he felt it. The unexpected appearance, in deep poverty, of Helena young lady, daughter of a deceased naval officer, who had been brought up by her uncle, a solicitor, and had refused Darton in marriage years ago — the passionate, almost angry demeanour of Sally at discovering them, the abrupt announcement that Helena was a widow; all this coming together wasaconjuncture difficult to cope with in a moment, and made him question whether he ought to leave the house or offer assistance. But for Sally’s manner he would unhesitatingly have done the latter.

He was still standing under the tree when the door in front of him opened, and Mrs. Hall came out. She went round to the garden-gate at the side without seeing him. Darton followed her, intending to speak. Pausing outside, as if in thought, she proceeded to a spot where the sun came earliest in spring-time, and where the north wind never blew; it was where the row of beehives stood under the wall. Discerning her object, he waited till she had accomplished it.

It was the universal custom thereabout to wake the bees by tapping at their hives whenever a death occurred in the household, under the belief that if this were not done the bees themselves would pine away and perish during the ensuing year. As soon as an interior buzzing responded to her tap at the first hive Mrs. Hall went on to the second, and thus passed down the row. As soon as she came back he met her.

“What can I do in this trouble, Mrs. Hall?” he said.

“O nothing, thank you, nothing,” she said in a tearful voice, now just perceiving him. “We have called Rebekah and her husband, and they will do everything necessary.” She told him in a few words the particulars of her son’s arrival, broken in health — indeed, at death’s very door, though they did not suspect it — and suggested, as the result of a conversation between her and her daughter, that the wedding should be postponed.

“Yes, of course,” said Darton. “I think now to go straight to the inn and tell Johns what has happened.” It was not till after he had shaken hands with her that he turned hesitatingly and added, “Will you tell the mother of his children that, as they are now left fatherless, I shall be glad to take the eldest of them, if it would be any convenience to her and to you?”

Mrs. Hall promised that her son’s widow should be told of the offer, and they parted. He retired down the rooty slope and disappeared in the direction of the inn, where he informed Johns of the circumstances.

Meanwhile Mrs. Hall had entered the house. Sally was downstairs in the sitting-room alone, and her mother explained to her that Darton had readily assented to the postponement,

“No doubt he has,” said Sally, with sad emphasis. “It is not put off for a week, or a month, or a year. I shall never marry him, and she will!”

IV

Time passed, and the household on the Knap became again serene under the composing influences of daily routine. A desultory, very desultory correspondence, dragged on between Sally Hall and Darton, who, not quite knowing how to take her petulant words on the night of her brother’s death, had continued passive thus long, Helena and her children remained at the dairy-house, almost of necessity, and Darton therefore deemed it advisable to stay away.

One day, seven months later on, when Mr. Darton was as usual at his farm, twenty miles from King’s-Hintock, a note reached him from Helena. She thanked him for his kind offer about her children, which her mother-in-law had duly communicated, and stated that she would be glad to accept it as regarded the eldest, the boy. Helena had, in truth, good need to do so, for her uncle had left her penniless, and all application to some relatives in the north had failed. There was, besides, as she said, no good school near Hintock to which she could send the child.

On a fine summer day the boy came. He was accompanied half-way by Sally and his mother — to the “White Horse,” the fine old Elizabethan inn at Chalk Newton,* where he was handed over to Darton’s bailiff in a shining spring-cart, who met them there.

He was entered as a day-scholar at a popular school at Casterbridge, three or four miles from Darton’s, having first been taught by Darton to ride a forest-pony, on which he cantered to and from the aforesaid fount of knowledge, and (as Darton hoped) brought away a promising headful of the same at each diurnal expedition. The thoughtful taciturnity into which Darton had latterly fallen was quite dissipated by the presence of this boy.

When the Christmas holidays came it was arranged that he should spend them with his mother. The journey was, for some reason or other, performed in two stages, as at his coming, except that Darton in person took the place of the bailiff, and that the boy and himself rode on horseback.

Reaching the renowned “White Horse,” Darton inquired if Miss and young Mrs. Hall were there to meet little Philip (as they had agreed to be). He was answered by the appearance of Helena alone at the door.

“At the last moment Sally would not come,” she faltered.

That meeting practically settled the point towards which these long-severed persons were converging. But nothing was broached about it for some time yet. Sally Hall had, in fact, imparted the first decisive motion to events by refusing to accompany Helena. She soon gave them a second move by writing the following note: —

[Private.]

DEAR CHARLES, — Living here so long and intimately with Helena, I have naturally learnt her history, especially that of it which refers to you. I am sure she would accept you as a husband at the proper time, and I think you ought to give her the opportunity. You inquire in an old note if I am sorry that I showed temper (which it wasn’t) that night when I heard you talking to her. No, Charles, I am not sorry at all for what I said then. —

Yours sincerely, SALLY HALL.

Thus set in train, the transfer of Darton’s heart back to its original quarters proceeded by mere lapse of time. In the following July, Darton went to his friend Japheth to ask him at last to fulfill the bridal office which had been in abeyance since the previous January twelvemonths.

“With all my heart, man o’ constancy!” said Dairyman Johns warmly. “I’ve lost most of my genteel fair complexion haymaking this hot weather, ‘tis true, but I’ll do your business as well as them that look better. There be scents and good hair-oil in the world yet, thank God, and they’ll take off the roughest o’myedge. I’ll compliment her. ‘Better late than never, Sally Hall, “I’ll say.”

“It is not Sally,” said Darton hurriedly. “It is young Mrs. Hall.”

Japheth’s face, as soon as he really comprehended, became a picture of reproachful dismay. “Not Sally?” he said. “Why not Sally? I can’t believe it! Young Mrs. Hall! Well, well — where’s your wisdom?”

Darton shortly explained particulars; but Johns would not be reconciled. “She was a woman worth having if ever woman was,” he cried. “And now to let her go!”

“But I suppose I can marry where I like,” said Darton.

“H’m,” replied the dairyman, lifting his eyebrows expressively. “This don’t become you, Charles — it really do not. If I had done such a thing you would have sworn I was a curst no’thern fool to be drawn off the scent by such a red-herring doll-oll-oll.”

Farmer Darton responded in such sharp terms to this laconic opinion that the two friends finally parted in a way they had never parted before. Johns was to be no groomsman to Darton after all. He had flatly declined. Darton went off sorry, and, even unhappy, particularly as Japheth was about to leave that side of the county, so that the words which had divided them were not likely to be explained away or softened down.

A short time after the interview Darton was united to Helena at a simple matter-of-fact wedding; and she and her little girl joined the boy who had already grown to look on Darton’s house as home.

For some months the farmer experienced an unprecedented happiness and satisfaction. There had been a flaw in his life, and it was as neatly mended as was humanly possible. But after a season the stream of events followed less clearly, and there were shades in his reveries. Helena was a fragile woman, of little staying power, physically or morally, and since the time that he had originally known her — eight or ten years before she had been severely tried. She had loved herself out, in short, and was now occasionally given to moping. Sometimes she spoke regretfully of the gentilities of her early life, and instead of comparing her present state with her condition as the wife of the unlucky Hall, she mused rather on what it had been before she took the first fatal step of clandestinely marrying him. She did not care to please such people as those with whom she was thrown as a thriving farmer’s wife. She allowed the pretty trifles of agricultural domesticity to glide by her as sorry details, and had it not been for the children Darton’s house would have seemed but little brighter than it had been before.

This led to occasional unpleasantness, until Darton some times declared to himself that such endeavours as his to rectify early deviations of the heart by harking back to the old point mostly failed of success. “Perhaps Johns was right,” he would say. “I should have gone on with Sally. Better go with the tide and make the best of its course than stem it at the risk of a capsize.” But he kept these unmelodious thoughts to himself, and was outwardly considerate and kind.

This somewhat barren tract of his life had extended to less than a year and half when his ponderings were cut short by the loss of the woman they concerned. When she was in her grave he thought better of her than when she had been alive; the farm was a worse place without her than with her, after all. No woman short of divine could have gone through such an experience as hers with her first husband without becoming a little soured. Her stagnant sympathies, her sometimes unreasonable manner, had covered a heart frank and well meaning, and originally hopeful and warm. She left him a tiny red infant in white wrappings. To make life as easy as possible to this touching object became at once his care.

As this child learnt to walk and talk Darton learnt to see feasibility in a scheme which pleased him. Revolving the experiment which he had hither to made upon life, he fancied he had gained wisdom from his mistakes and caution from his miscarriages.

What the scheme was needs no penetration to discover. Once more he had opportunity to recast and rectify his ill-wrought situations by returning to Sally Hall, who still lived quietly on under her mother’s roof at Hintock. Helena had been a woman to lend pathos and refinement to a home; Sally was the woman to brighten it. She would not, as Helena did, despise the rural simplicities of a farmer’s fireside. Moreover, she had a pre-eminent qualification for Darton’s household; no other woman could make so desirable a mother to her brother’s two children and Darton’s one as Sally — while Darton, now that Helena had gone, was a more promising husband for Sally than he had ever been when liable to reminders from an uncured sentimental wound.

Darton was not a man to act rapidly, and the working out of his reparative designs might have been delayed for some time. But there came a winter evening precisely like the one which had darkened over that former ride to Hintock, and he asked himself why he should postpone longer, when the very landscape called for a repetition of that attempt.

He told his man to saddle the mare, booted ad spurred himself with a younger horseman’s nicety, kissed the two youngest children, and rode off. To make the journey a complete parallel to the first, he would fain have had his old acquaintance Japheth Johns with him. But Johns, alas! was missing. His removal to the other side of the county had left unrepaired the breach which had arisen between him and Darton; and though Darton had forgiven him a hundred times, as Johns had probably forgiven Darton, the effort of reunion in present circumstances was one not likely to be made.

He screwed himself up to as cheerful a pitch as he could without his former crony, and became content with his own thoughts as he rode, instead of the words of a companion. The sun went down; the boughs appeared scratched in like an etching against the sky; old crooked men with faggots at their backs said “Good-night, sir,” and Darton replied “Good-night” right heartily.

By the time he reached the forking roads it was getting as dark as it had been on the occasion when Johns climbed the directing-post. Darton made no mistake this time. “Nor shall I be able to mistake, thank Heaven, when I arrive,” he murmured. It gave him peculiar satisfaction to think that the proposed marriage, like his first, was of the nature of setting in order things long awry, and not a momentary freak of fancy.

Nothing hindered the smoothness of his journey, which seemed not half its former length. Though dark, it was only between five and six o’clock when the bulky chimneys of Mrs. Hall’s residence appeared in view behind the sycamore-tree. On second thoughts he retreated and put up at the ale-house as in former time; and when he had plumed himself before the inn mirror, called for something to drink, and smoothed out the incipient wrinkles of care, he walked on to the Knap with a quick step.

V

That evening Sally was making “pinners” for the milkers, who were now increased by two, for her mother and herself no longer joined in milking the cows themselves. But upon the whole there was little change in the household economy, and not much in its appearance, beyond such minor particulars as that the crack over the window, which had been a hundred years coming, was a trifle wider; that the beams were a shade blacker; that the influence of modernism had supplanted the open chimney corner by a grate; that Rebekah, who had worn a cap when she had plenty of hair, had left it off now she had scarce any, because it was reported that caps were not fashionable; and that Sally’s face had naturally assumed a more womanly and experienced cast.

Mrs. Hall was actually lifting coals with the tongs, as she had used to do.

“Five years ago this very night, if I am not mistaken — ” she said, laying on an ember.

“Not this very night — though t’was one night this week,” said the correct Sally.

“Well, ‘tis near enough. Five years ago Mr. Darton came to marry you, and my poor boy Phil came home to die.” She sighed. “Ah, Sally,” she presently said, “if you had managed well Mr. Darton would have had you, Helena or none.”

“Don’t be sentimental about that, mother,” begged Sally. “I didn’t care to manage well in such a case. Though I liked him, I wasn’t so anxious. I would never have married the man in the midst of such a hitch as that was,” she added with decision; “and I don’t think I would if he were to ask me now.”

“I am not sure about that, unless you have another in your eye.”

“I wouldn’t; and I’ll tell you why. I could hardly marry him for love at this time o’ day. And as we’ve quite enough to live on if we give up the dairy to-morrow, I should have no need to marry for any meaner reason. . . . I am quite happy enough as I am, and there’s an end of it.”

Now it was not long after this dialogue that there came a mild rap at the door, and in a moment there entered Rebekah, looking as though a ghost had arrived. The fact was that that accomplished skimmer and churner (now a resident in the house) had overheard the desultory observations between mother and daughter, and on opening the door to Mr. Darton thought the coincidence must have a grisly meaning in it. Mrs. Hall welcomed the farmer with warm surprise, as did Sally, and for a moment they rather wanted words.

“Can you push up the chimney-crook for me, Mr. Darton? the notches hitch,” said the matron. He did it, and the homely little act bridged over the awkward consciousness that he had been a stranger for four years.

Mrs. Hall soon saw what he had come for, and left the principals together while she went to prepare him a late tea, smiling at Sally’s recent hasty assertions of indifference, when she saw how civil Sally was. When tea was ready she joined them. She fancied that Darton did not look so confident as when he had arrived; but Sally was quite light-hearted, and the meal passed pleasantly.

About seven he took his leave of them. Mrs. Hall went as far as the door to light him down the slope. On the doorstep he said frankly —

“I came to ask your daughter to marry me; chose the night and everything, with an eye to a favourable answer. But she won’ t.”

“Then she’s a very ungrateful girl!” emphatically said Mrs. Hall.

Darton paused to shape his sentence, and asked, “I — I suppose there’s nobody else more favoured?’

“I can’t say that there is, or that there isn’t,” answered Mrs. Hall. “She’s private in some things. I’m on your side, however, Mr. Darton, and I’ll talk to her.”

“Thank ‘ee, thank ‘ee!” said the farmer in a gayer accent; and with this assurance the not very satisfactory visit came to an end. Darton descended the roots of the sycamore, the light was withdrawn, and the door closed. At the bottom of the slope he nearly ran against a man about to ascend.

“Can a jack-o’-lent believe his few senses on such a dark night, or can’t he?” exclaimed one whose utterance Darton recognized in a moment, despite its unexpectedness. “I dare not swear he can, though I fain would!” The speaker was Johns.

Darton said he was glad of this opportunity, bad as it was, of putting an end to the silence of years, and asked the dairyman what he was travelling that way for.

Japheth showed the old jovial confidence in a moment. ‘I’m going to see your — relations — as they always seem to me,” he said — ”Mrs. Hall and Sally. Well, Charles, the fact is I find the natural barbarousness of man is much increased by a bachelor life, and, as your leavings were always good enough for me, I’m trying civilisation here.” He nodded towards the house.

“Not with Sally — to marry her?” said Darton, feeling something like a rill of ice-water between his shoulders.

“Yes, by, the help of Providence and my personal charms. And I think I shall get her. I am this road every week — my present dairy is only four miles off, you know, and I see her through the window. ‘Tis rather odd that I was going to speak practical to-night to her for the first time. You’ve just called?”

“Yes, for a short while. But she didn’t say a word about you.”

“A good sign, a good sign. Now that decides me. I’ll swing the mallet and get her answer this very night as I planned.”

A few more remarks, and Darton, wishing his friend joy of Sally in a slightly hollow tone of jocularity, bade him good-bye. Johns promised to write particulars, and ascended, and was lost in the shade of the house and tree. A rectangle of light appeared when Johns was admitted, and all was dark again.

“Happy Japheth!” said Darton. “This then is the explanation!”

He determined to return home that night. In a quarter of an hour he passed out of the village, and the next day went about his swede-lifting and storing as if nothing had occurred.

He waited and waited to hear from Johns whether the wedding-day was fixed: but no letter came. He learnt not a single particular till, meeting Johns one day at a horse-auction, Darton exclaimed genially — rather more genially than he felt — ”When is the joyful day to be?”

To his great surprise a reciprocity of gladness was not conspicuous in Johns. “Not at all,” he said, in a very subdued tone. “ ‘Tis a bad job; she won’t have me.”

Darton held his breath till he said with treacherous solicitude, “Try again — ’tis coyness.”

“O no,” said Johns decisively. “There’s been none of that. We talked it over dozens of times in the most fair and square way. She tells me plainly, I don’t suit her. ‘Twould be simply annoying her to ask her again. Ah, Charles, you threw a prize away when you let her slip five years ago.”

“I did — I did,” said Darton.

He returned from that auction with a new set of feelings in play. He had certainly made a surprising mistake in thinking Johns his successful rival. It really seemed as if he might hope for Sally after all.

This time, being rather pressed by business, Darton had recourse to pen-and-ink, and wrote her as manly and straightforward a proposal as any woman could wish to receive. The reply came promptly: —

DEAR MR. DARTON, — I am as sensible as any woman can be of the goodness that leads you to make me this offer a second time. Better women than I would be proud of the honour, for when I read your nice long speeches on mangold — wurzel, and such like topics, at the Casterbridge Farmers’ Club, I do feel it an honour, I assure you. But my answer is just the same as before. I will not try to explain what, in truth, I cannot explain — my reasons; I will simply say that I must decline to be married to you. With good wishes as informer times, I am, your faithful friend, SALLY HALL.

Darton dropped the letter hopelessly. Beyond the negative, there was just a possibility of sarcasm in it — ”nice long speeches on mangold-wurzel” had a suspicious sound. However, sarcasm or none, there was the answer, and he had to be content.

He proceeded to seek relief in a business which at this time engrossed much of his attention — that of clearing up a curious mistake just current in the county, that he had been nearly ruined by the recent failure of a local bank. A farmer named Darton had lost heavily, and the similarity of name had probably led to the error. Belief in it was so persistent that it demanded several days of letter — writing to set matters straight, and persuade the world that he was as solvent as ever he had been in his life. He had hardly concluded this worrying task when, to his delight, another letter arrived in the handwriting of Sally.

Darton tore it open; it was very short.

DEAR MR. DARTON, — We have been so alarmed these last few days by the report that you were ruined by the stoppage of — ’s Bank, that, now it is contradicted, I hasten, by my mother’s wish, to say how truly glad we are to find there is no foundation for the report. After your kindness to my poor brother’s children. I can do no less than write at such a moment. We had a letter from each of them a few days ago, —

Your faithful friend, SALLY HALL.

“Mercenary little woman!” said Darton to himself with a smile. “Then that was the secret of her refusal this time she thought I was ruined.”

Now, such was Darton, that as hours went on he could not help feeling too generously towards Sally to condemn her in this. What did he want in a wife? he asked himself. Love and integrity. What next? Worldly wisdom. And was there really more than worldly wisdom in her refusal to go aboard a sinking ship? She now knew it was otherwise. “Begad,” he said, “I’ll try her again.”

The fact was he had so set his heart upon Sally, and Sally alone, that nothing was to be allowed to baulk him; and his reasoning was purely formal.

Anniversaries having been unpropitious, he waited on till a bright day late in May — a day when all animate nature was fancying, in its trusting, foolish way, that it was going to bask under blue sky for evermore. As he rode through Long-Ash Lane it was scarce recognizable as the track of his two winter journeys. No mistake could be made now, even with his eyes shut. The cuckoo’s note was at its best, between April tentativeness and midsummer decrepitude, and the reptiles in the sun behaved as winningly as kittens on a hearth. Though afternoon, and about the same time as on the last occasion, it was broad day and sunshine when he entered Hintock, and the details of the Knap dairy-house were visible far up the road. He saw Sally in the garden, and was set vibrating. He had first intended to go on to the inn; but “No,” he said; “I’ll tie my horse to the garden-gate. If all goes well it can soon be taken round: if not, I mount and ride away.”

The tall shade of the horseman darkened the room in which Mrs. Hall sat, and made her start, for he had ridden by a side path to the top of the slope, where riders seldom came. In a few seconds he was in the garden with Sally.

Five — ay, three minutes — did the business at the back of that row of bees. Though spring had come, and heavenly blue consecrated the scene, Darton succeeded not. “No,” said Sally firmly. “I will never, never marry you, Mr. Darton. I — would have done it once; but now I never can.”

“But!” — implored Mr. Darton. And with a burst of real eloquence he went on to declare all sorts of things that he would do for her. He would drive her to see her mother every week — take her to London — settle so much money upon her — Heaven knows what he did not promise, suggest, and tempt her with. But it availed nothing. She interposed with a stout negative which closed the course of his argument like an iron gate across a highway. Darton paused.

“Then,” said he simply, “you hadn’t heard of my supposed failure when you declined last time?”

“I had not,” she said. “That you believed me capable of refusing you for such a reason does not help your cause.”

And ‘tis not because of any soreness from my slighting you years ago?”

“No. That soreness is long past.”

“Ah — then you despise me, Sally!”

“No,” she slowly answered. “I don’t altogether despise you. I don’t think you quite such a hero as I once did — that’s all. The truth is, I am happy enough as I am; and I don’t mean to marry at all. Now may I ask a favour, sir?” She spoke with an ineffable charm, which, whenever he thought of it, made him curse his loss of her as long as he lived.

“To any extent.”

Please do not put this question to me any more. Friends as long as you like, but lovers and married never.”

“I never will,” said Darton. “Not if I live a hundred years.”

And he never did. That he had worn out his welcome in her heart was only too plain.

When his step-children had grown up and were placed out in life all communication between Darton and the Hall family ceased. It was only by chance that, years after, he learnt that Sally, notwithstanding the solicitations her attractions drew down upon her, had refused several offers of marriage, and steadily adhered to her purpose of leading a single life.

* It is now pulled down, and its site occupied by a modern one in red brick (1912). — T.H.

A Mere Interlude

I

The traveler in schoolbooks, who vouched in dryest tones for the fidelity to fact of the following narrative, used to add a ring of truth to it by opening with a nicety of criticism on the heroine’s personality. People were wrong, he declared, when they surmised that Baptista Trewthen was a young woman with scarcely emotions or character. There was nothing in her to love, and nothing to hate — so ran the general opinion. That she showed few positive qualities was true. The colours and tones which changing events paint on the faces of active womankind were looked for in vain upon hers. But still waters run deep; and no crisis had come in the years of her early maidenhood to demonstrate what lay hidden within her, like metal in a mine.

She was the daughter of a small farmer in St. Maria’s, one of the Isles of Lyonesse beyond Off-Wessex, who had spent a large sum, as there understood, on her education, by sending her to the mainland for two years. At nineteen she was entered at the Training College for Teachers, and at twenty-one nominated to a school in the country, near Tor-upon-Sea, whither she proceeded after the Christmas examination and holidays.

The months passed by from winter to spring and summer, and Baptista applied herself to her new duties as best she could, till an uneventful year had elapsed. Then an air of abstraction pervaded her bearing as she walked to and fro, twice a day, and she showed the traits of a person who had something on her mind. A widow, by name Mrs. Wace, in whose house Baptista Trewthen had been provided with a sitting room and bedroom till the schoolhouse should be built, noticed this change in her youthful tenant’s manner, and at last ventured to press her with a few questions.

“It has nothing to do with the place, nor with you,” said Miss Trewthen.

“Then it is the salary?”

“No, nor the salary.”

“Then it is something you have heard from home, my dear.”

Baptista was silent for a few moments. “It is Mr. Heddegan,” she murmured. “Him they used to call David Heddegan before he got his money.”

“And who is the Mr. Heddegan they used to call David?”

“An old bachelor at Giant’s Town, St. Maria’s, with no relations whatever, who lives about a stone’s throw from father’s. When I was a child he used to take me on his knee and say he’d marry me someday. Now I am a woman the jest has turned earnest, and he is anxious to do it. And father and mother say I can’t do better than have him.”

“He’s well off?”

“Yes — he’s the richest man we know — as a friend and neighbour.”

“How much older did you say he was than yourself’?”

“I didn’t say. Twenty years at least.”

“And an unpleasant man in the bargain perhaps?”

“No — he’s not unpleasant.”

“Well, child, all I can say is that I’d resist any such engagement if it’s not palatable to ‘ee. You are comfortable here, in my little house, I hope. All the parish like ‘ee: and I’ve never been so cheerful, since my poor husband left me to wear his wings, as I’ve been with ‘ee as my lodger.”

The schoolmistress assured her landlady that she could return the sentiment. “But here comes my perplexity,” she said. “I don’t like keeping school. Ah, you are surprised — you didn’t suspect it. That’s because I’ve concealed my feeling. Well, I simply hate school. I don’t care for children — they are unpleasant, troublesome little things, whom nothing would delight so much as to hear that you had fallen down dead. Yet I would even put up with them if it was not for the inspector. For three months before his visit I didn’t sleep soundly. And the Committee of Council are always changing the Code, so that you don’t know what to teach, and what to leave untaught. I think father and mother are right. They say I shall never excel as a schoolmistress if I dislike the work so, and that therefore I ought to get settled by marrying Mr. Heddegan. Between us two, I like him better than school; but I don’t like him quite so much as to wish to marry him.”

These conversations, once begun, were continued from day to day; till at length the young girl’s elderly friend and landlady threw in her opinion on the side of Miss Trewthen’s parents. All things considered, she declared, the uncertainty of the school, the labour, Baptista’s natural dislike for teaching, it would be as well to take what fate offered, and make the best of matters by wedding her father’s old neighbour and prosperous friend.

The Easter holidays came round, and Baptista went to spend them as usual in her native isle, going by train into Off-Wessex and crossing by packet from Pen-zephyr. When she returned in the middle of April her face wore a more settled aspect.

“Well?” said the expectant Mrs. Wace.

“I have agreed to have him as my husband,” said Baptista, in an off-hand way. “Heaven knows if it will be for the best or not. But I have agreed to do it, and so the matter is settled.”


Mrs. Wace commended her; but Baptista did not care to dwell on the subject; so that allusion to it was very infrequent between them. Nevertheless among other things, she repeated to the widow from time to time in monosyllabic remarks that the wedding was really impending; that it was arranged for the summer, and that she had given notice of leaving the school at the August holidays. Later on she announced more specifically that her marriage was to take place immediately after her return home at the beginning of the month aforesaid.

She now corresponded regularly with Mr. Heddegan. Her letters from him were seen, at least on the outside, and in part within, by Mrs. Wace. Had she read more of their interiors than the occasional sentences shown her by Baptista she would have perceived that the scratchy, rusty handwriting of Miss Trewthen’s betrothed conveyed little more matter than details of their future housekeeping, and his preparations for the same, with innumerable ‘my dears’ sprinkled in disconnectedly, to show the depth of his affection without the inconveniences of syntax.

II

It was the end of July — dry, too dry, even for the season, the delicate green herbs and vegetables that grew in this favored end of the kingdom tasting rather of the watering-pot than of the pure fresh moisture from the skies. Baptista’s boxes were packed, and one Saturday morning she departed by a wagonette to the station, and thence by train to Pen-zephyr, from which port she was, as usual, to cross the water immediately to her home, and become Mr. Heddegan’s wife on the Wednesday of the week following.

She might have returned a week sooner. But though the wedding day had loomed so near, and the banns were out, she delayed her departure till this last moment, saying it was not necessary for her to be at home long beforehand. As Mr. Heddegan was older than herself, she said, she was to be married in her ordinary summer bonnet and gray silk frock, and there were no preparations to make that had not amply made by her parents and intended husband.

In due time, after a hot and tedious journey, she reached Pen-zephyr. She here obtained some refreshment, and then went toward the pier, where she learnt to her surprise that the little steamboat plying between the town and the islands had left at eleven o’clock; the usual hour of departure in the afternoon having been forestalled in consequence of the fogs which had for a few days prevailed toward evening, making twilight navigation dangerous.

This being Saturday, there was now no other boat till Tuesday, and it became obvious that here she would have to remain for the three days, unless her friends should think fit to rig out one of the island sailing-boats and come to fetch her — a not very likely contingency, the sea distance being nearly forty miles.

Baptista, however, had been detained in Pen-zephyr on more than one occasion before, either on account of bad weather or some such reason as the present, and she was therefore not in any personal alarm. But, as she was to be married on the following Wednesday, the delay was certainly inconvenient to a more than ordinary degree, since it would leave less than a day’s interval between her arrival and the wedding ceremony.

Apart from this awkwardness she did not much mind the accident. It was indeed curious to see how little she minded. Perhaps it would not be too much to say that, although she was going to do the critical deed of her life quite willingly, she experienced an indefinable relief at the postponement of her meeting with Heddegan. But her manner after making discovery of the hindrance was quiet and subdued, even to passivity itself; as was instanced by her having, at the moment of receiving information that the steamer had sailed, replied ‘Oh,’ so coolly to the porter with her luggage, that he was almost disappointed at her lack of disappointment.

The question now was, should she return again to Mrs. Wace, in the village of Lower Wessex, or wait in the town at which she had arrived. She would have preferred to go back, but the distance was too great; moreover, having left the place for good, and somewhat dramatically, to become a bride, a return, even for so short a space, would have been a trifle humiliating.

Leaving, then, her boxes at the station, her next anxiety was to secure a respectable, or rather genteel, lodging in the popular seaside resort confronting her. To this end she looked about the town, in which, though she had passed through it half-a-dozen times, she was practically a stranger.

Baptista found a room to suit her over a fruiterer’s shop; where she made herself at home, and set herself in order after her journey. An early cup of tea having revived her spirits she walked out to reconnoiter.

Being a schoolmistress she avoided looking at the schools, and having a sort of trade connection with books, she avoided looking at the booksellers; but wearying of the other shops she inspected the churches; not that for her own part she cared much about ecclesiastical edifices; but tourists looked at them, and so would she — a proceeding for which no one would have credited her with any great originality, such, for instance, as that she subsequently showed herself to possess. The churches soon oppressed her. She tried the Museum, but came out because it seemed lonely and tedious.

Yet the town and the walks in this land of strawberries, these headquarters of early English flowers and fruit, were then, as always, attractive. From the more picturesque streets she went to the town gardens, and the Pier, and the Harbour, and looked at the men at work there, loading and unloading as in the time of the Phoenicians.

“Not Baptista? Yes, Baptista it is!”


The words were uttered behind her. Turning round she gave a start and became confused, even agitated, for a moment. Then she said in her usual undemonstrative manner, “O — is it really you, Charles?”

Without speaking again at once, and with a half-smile, the new-comer glanced her over. There was much criticism, and some resentment — even temper — in his eye.

“I am going home,” continued she. “But I have missed the boat.”

He scarcely seemed to take in the meaning of this explanation, in the intensity of his critical survey. “Teaching still? What a fine schoolmistress you make, Baptista, I warrant!” he said with a slight flavor of sarcasm, which was not lost upon her.

“I know I am nothing to brag of,” she replied. “That’s why I have given up.”

“O — given up? You astonish me.”

“I hate the profession.”

“Perhaps that’s because I am in it.”

“O, no, it isn’t. But I am going to enter on another life altogether. I am going to be married next week to Mr. David Heddegan.”

The young man — fortified as he was by a natural cynical pride and passionateness — winced at this unexpected reply, notwithstanding.

“Who is Mr. David Heddegan?” he asked, as indifferently as lay in his power.

She informed him the bearer of the name was a general merchant of Giant’s Town, St. Maria’s Island — her father’s nearest neighbour and oldest friend.

“Then we shan’t see anything more of you on the mainland?” inquired the schoolmaster.

“O, I don’t know about that,” said Miss Trewthen.

“Here endeth the career of the belle of the boarding school your father was foolish enough to send you to. A ‘general merchant’s’ wife in the Lyonesse Isles. Will you sell pounds of soap and pennyworths of tin tacks, or whole bars of saponaceous matter, and great tenpenny nails?”

“He’s not in such a small way as that!” she almost pleaded. “He owns ships, though they are rather little ones!”

“O well, it is much the same. Come, let us walk on; it is tedious to stand still. I thought you would be a failure in education,” he continued, when she obeyed him and strolled ahead. “You never showed power that way. You remind me much of some of those women who think they are sure to be great actresses if they go on the stage because they have a pretty face, and forget that what we require is acting. But found your mistake, didn’t you?”

“Don’t taunt me, Charles.” It was noticeable that the young schoolmaster’s tone led her no anger or retaliatory passion; far otherwise: there was a tear in her eye. “How is it you are at Pen-zephyr?” she inquired.

“I don’t taunt you. I speak the truth, purely in a friendly way, as I should to any I wished well. Though for that matter I might have some excuse even for taunting you. Such a terrible hurry as you’ve been in. I hate a woman who is in such a hurry.”

“How do you mean that?”

“Why — to be somebody’s wife or other — anything’s wife rather than nobody’s. You couldn’t wait for me, O, no. Well, thank God, I’m cured of all that!”

“How merciless you are!” she said bitterly. “Wait for you? What does that mean, Charley? You never showed — anything to wait for — anything special toward me.”

“O, come, Baptista dear; come!”

“What I mean is, nothing definite,” she expostulated. “I suppose you liked me a little; but it seemed to me to be only a pastime on your part, and that you never meant to make an honourable engagement of it.”

“There, that’s just it! You girls expect a man to mean business at the first look. No man when he first becomes interested in a woman has any definite scheme of engagement to marry her in his mind, unless he is meaning a vulgar mercenary marriage. However, I did at least mean an honourable engagement, as you call it, come to that.”

“But you never said so, and an indefinite courtship soon injures a woman’s position and credit, sooner than you think.”

“Baptista, I solemnly declare that in six months I should have asked you to marry me.”

She walked along in silence, looking on the ground, and appearing very uncomfortable. Presently he said, “Would you have waited for me if you had known?” To this she whispered in a sorrowful whisper, “Yes!”

They went still farther in silence — passing along one of the beautiful walks on the outskirts of the town, yet not observant of scene or situation. Her shoulder and his were close together, and he clasped his fingers round the small of her arm — quite lightly, and without any attempt at impetus; yet the act seemed to say, “Now I hold you, and my will must be yours.”

Recurring to a previous question of hers he said, “I have merely run down here for a day or two from school near Trufal, before going off to the north for the rest of my holiday. I have seen my relations at Redrutin quite lately, so I am not going there this time. How little I thought of meeting you! How very different the circumstances would have been if, instead of parting again as we must in half-an-hour or so, possibly forever, you had been now just going off with me, as my wife, on our honeymoon trip. Ha — ha — well — so humorous is life!”

She stopped suddenly. “I must go back now — this is altogether too painful, Charley! It is not at all a kind mood you are in today.”

“I don’t want to pain you — you know I do not,” he said more gently. “Only it just exasperates me — this you are going to do. I wish you would not.”

“What?”

“Marry him. There, now I have showed you my true sentiments.”

“I must do it now,” said she.

“Why?” he asked, dropping the offhand masterful tone he had hitherto spoken, and becoming earnest; still holding her arm, however, as if she were his chattel to be taken up or put down at will. “It is never too late to break off a marriage that’s distasteful to you. Now I’ll say one thing; and it is truth: I wish you would marry me instead of him, even now, at the last moment, though you have served me so badly.”

“O, it is not possible to think of that!” she answered hastily, shaking her head. “When I get home all will be prepared — it is ready even now — the things for the party, the furniture, Mr. Heddegan’s new suit, and everything. I should require the courage of a tropical lion to go home there and say I wouldn’t carry out my promise!”

“Then go, in Heaven’s name! But there would be no necessity for you to go home and face them in that way. If we were to marry, it would have to be at once, instantly; or not at all. I should think your affection not worth the having unless you agreed to come back with me to Trufal this evening, where we could be married by license on Monday morning. And then no Mr. David Heddegan or anybody else could get you away from me.”

“I must go home by the Tuesday boat,” she faltered. “What would they think if I did not come?”

“You could go home by that boat just the same. All the difference would be that I should go with you. You could leave me on the quay, where I’d have a smoke, while you went and saw your father and mother privately; you could then tell them what you had done, and that I was waiting not far off; that I was a schoolmaster in a fairly good position, and a young man you had known when you were at the Training College. Then I would come boldly forward; and they would see that it could not be altered, and so you wouldn’t suffer a lifelong misery by being the wife of a wretched old gaffer you don’t like at all. Now, honestly; you do like me best, don’t you, Baptista?”

“Yes.”

“Then we will do as I say.”

She did not pronounce a clear affirmative. But that she consented to the novel proposition at some moment or other of that walk was apparent by what occurred a little later.

III

An enterprise of such pith required, indeed, less talking than consideration. The first thing they did in carrying it out was to return to the railway station, where Baptista took from her luggage a small trunk of immediate necessaries which she would in any case have required after missing the boat. That same afternoon they traveled up the line to Trufal.

Charles Stow (as his name was), despite his disdainful indifference to things, was very careful of appearances, and made the journey independently of her though in the same train. He told her where she could get board and lodgings in the city; and with merely a distant nod to her of a provisional kind, went off to his own quarters, and to see about the license.

On Sunday she saw him in the morning across the nave of the pro-cathedral. In the afternoon they walked together in the fields, where he told her that the license would be ready next day, and would be available the day after, when the ceremony could be performed as early after eight o’clock as they should choose.

His courtship, thus renewed after an interval of two years, was as impetuous, violent even, as it was short. The next day came and passed, and the final arrangements were made. Their agreement was to get the ceremony over as soon as they possibly could the next morning, so as to go on to Pen-zephyr at once, and reach that place in time for the boat’s departure the same day. It was in obedience to Baptista’s earnest request that Stow consented thus to make the whole journey to Lyonesse by land and water at one heat, and not break it at Pen-zephyr; she seemed to be oppressed with a dread of lingering anywhere, this great first act of disobedience to her parents once accomplished, with the weight on her mind that her home had to be convulsed by the disclosure of it. To face her difficulties over the water immediately she had created them was, however, a course more desired by Baptista than by her lover; though for once he gave way.

The next morning was bright and warm as those which had preceded it. By six o’clock it seemed nearly noon, as is often the case in that part of England in the summer season. By nine they were husband and wife. They packed up and departed by the earliest train after the service; and on the way discussed at length what she should say on meeting her parents, Charley dictating the turn of each phrase. In her anxiety they had traveled so early that when they reached Pen-zephyr they found there were nearly two hours on their hands before the steamer’s time of sailing.

Baptista was extremely reluctant to be seen promenading the streets of the watering-place with her husband till, as above stated, the household at Giant’s Town should know the unexpected course of events from her own lips; and it was just possible, if not likely, that some Lyonessian might be prowling about there, or even have come across the sea to look for her. To meet any one to whom she was known, and to have to reply to awkward questions about the strange young man at her side before her well-framed announcement had been delivered at proper time and place, was a thing she could not contemplate with equanimity. So, instead of looking at the shops and harbor, they went along the coast a little way.

The heat of the morning was by this time intense. They clambered up on some cliffs, and while sitting there, looking around at St. Michael’s Mount and other objects, Charles said to her that he thought he would run down to the beach at their feet, and take just one plunge into the sea.

Baptista did not much like the idea of being left alone; it was gloomy, she said. But he assured her he would not be gone more than a quarter of an hour at the outside, and she passively assented.

Down he went, disappeared, appeared again, and looked back. Then he again proceeded, and vanished, till, as a small waxen object, she saw him emerge from the nook that had screened him, cross the white fringe of foam, and walk into the undulating mass of blue. Once in the water he seemed less inclined to hurry than before; he remained a long time; and, unable either to appreciate his skill or criticize his want of it at that distance, she withdrew her eyes from the spot, and gazed at the still outline of St. Michael’s — now beautifully toned in gray.

Her anxiety for the hour of departure, and to cope at once with the approaching incidents that she would have to manipulate as best she could, sent her into a reverie. It was now Tuesday; she would reach home in the evening — a very late time they would say; but, as the delay was a pure accident, they would deem her marriage to Mr. Heddegan tomorrow still practicable. Then Charles would have to be produced from the background. It was a terrible undertaking to think of, and she almost regretted her temerity in wedding so hastily that morning. The rage of her father would be so crushing; the reproaches of her mother so bitter; and perhaps Charles would answer hotly, and perhaps cause estrangement till death. There had obviously been no alarm about her at St. Maria’s, or somebody would have sailed across to inquire for her. She had, in a letter written at the beginning of the week, spoken of the hour at which she intended to leave her country schoolhouse; and from this her friends had probably perceived that by such timing she would run a risk of losing the Saturday boat. She had missed it, and as a consequence sat here on the shore as Mrs. Charles Stow.

This brought her to the present, and she turned from he outline of St. Michael’s Mount to look about for her husband’s form. He was, as far as she could discover, no longer in the sea. Then he was dressing. By moving a few steps she could see where his clothes lay. But Charles was not beside them.

Baptista looked back again at the water in bewilderment, as if her senses were the victim of some sleight of hand. Not a speck or spot resembling a man’s head or face showed anywhere. By this time she was alarmed, and her alarm intensified when she perceived a little beyond the scene of her husband’s bathing a small area of water, the quality of whose surface differed from that of the surrounding expanse as the coarse vegetation of some foul patch in a mead differs from the fine green of the remainder. Elsewhere it looked flexuous, here it looked vermiculated and lumpy, and her marine experiences suggested to her in a moment that two currents met and caused a turmoil at this place.

She descended as hastily as her trembling limbs would allow. The way down was terribly long, and before reaching the heap of clothes it occurred to her that, after all, it would be best to run first for help. Hastening along in a lateral direction she proceeded inland till she met a man, and soon afterwards two others. To them she exclaimed, “I think a gentleman who was bathing is in some danger. I cannot see him as I could. Will you please run and help him, at once, if you will be so kind?”


She did not think of turning to show them the exact spot, indicating it vaguely by the direction of her hand, and still going on her way with the idea of gaining more assistance. When she deemed, in her faintness, that she had carried the alarm far enough, she faced about and dragged herself back again. Before reaching the now dreaded spot she met one of the men.

“We can see nothing at all, Miss,” he declared.

Having gained the beach, she found the tide in, and no sign of Charley’s clothes. The other men whom she had besought to come had disappeared, it must have been in some other direction, for she had not met them going away. They, finding nothing, had probably thought her alarm a mere conjecture, and given up the quest.

Baptista sank down upon the stones near at hand. Where Charley had undressed was now sea. There could not be the least doubt that he was drowned, and his body sucked under by the current; while his clothes, lying within high-water mark, had probably been carried away by the rising tide.

She remained in a stupor for some minutes, till a strange sensation succeeded the aforesaid perceptions, mystifying her intelligence, and leaving her physically almost inert. With his personal disappearance, the last three days of her life with him seemed to be swallowed up, also his image, in her mind’s eye, waned curiously, receded far away, grew stranger and stranger, less and less real. Their meeting and marriage had been so sudden, unpremeditated, adventurous, that she could hardly believe that she had played her part in such a reckless drama. Of all the few hours of her life with Charles, the portion that most insisted in coming back to memory was their fortuitous encounter on the previous Saturday, and those bitter reprimands with which he had begun the attack, as it might be called, which had piqued her to an unexpected consummation.

A sort of cruelty, an imperiousness, even in his warmth, had characterized Charles Stow. As a lover he had ever been a bit of a tyrant; and it might pretty truly have been said that he had stung her into marriage with him at last. Still more alien from her life did these reflections operate to make him; and then they would be chased away by an interval of passionate weeping and mad regret. Finally, there returned upon the confused mind of the young wife the recollection that she was on her way homeward, and that the packet would sail in three-quarters of an hour.

Except the parasol in her hand, all she possessed was at the station awaiting her onward journey.

She looked in that direction; and, entering one of those undemonstrative phases so common with her, walked quietly on.

At first she made straight for the railway; but suddenly turning she went to a shop and wrote an anonymous line announcing his death by drowning to the only person she had ever heard Charles mention as a relative. Posting this stealthily, and with a fearful look around her, she seemed to acquire a terror of the late events, pursuing her way to the station as if followed by a specter.

When she got to the office she asked for the luggage that she had left there on the Saturday as well as the trunk left on the morning just lapsed. All were put in the boat, and she herself followed. Quickly as these things had been done, the whole proceeding, nevertheless, had been almost automatic on Baptista’s part ere she had come to any definite conclusion on her course.

Just before the bell rang she heard a conversation on the pier, which removed the last shade of doubt from her mind, if any had existed, that she was Charles Stow’s widow. The sentences were but fragmentary, but she could easily piece them out.

“A man drowned — swam out too far — was a stranger to the place — people in boat — saw him go down — couldn’t get there in time.”

The news was little more definite than this as yet; though it may as well be stated once for all that the statement was true. Charley, with the over-confidence of his nature, had ventured out too far for his strength, and succumbed in the absence of assistance, his lifeless body being at that moment suspended in the transparent mid-depths of the bay. His clothes, however, had merely been gently lifted by the rising tide, and floated into a nook hard by, where they lay out of sight of the passersby till a day or two after.

IV

In ten minutes they were steaming out of the harbor for their voyage of four or five hours, at whose ending she would have to tell her strange story.

As Pen-zephyr and all its environing scenes disappeared behind Mousehole and St. Clement’s Isle, Baptista’s ephemeral, meteor-like husband impressed her yet more as a fantasy. She was still in such a trance-like state that she had been an hour on the little packet-boat before she became aware of the agitating fact that Mr. Heddegan was on board with her. Involuntarily she slipped from her left hand the symbol of her wifehood.

“Hee — hee! Well, the truth is, I wouldn’t interrupt ‘ee. “I reckon she don’t see me, or won’t see me,” I said, “and what’s the hurry? She’ll see enough o’ me soon!” I hope ye be well, mee deer?”

He was a hale, well-conditioned man of about five and fifty, of the complexion common to those whose lives are passed on the bluffs and beaches of an ocean isle. He extended the four quarters of his face in a genial smile, and his hand for a grasp of the same magnitude. She gave her own in surprised docility, and he continued:

“I couldn’t help coming across to meet ‘ee. What an unfortunate thing you missing the boat and not coming Saturday! They meant to have warned ‘ee that the time was changed, but forgot it at the last moment. The truth is that I should have informed ‘ee myself, but I was that busy finishing up a job last week, so as to have this week free, that I trusted to your father for attending to these little things. However, so plain and quiet as it is all to be, it really do not matter so much as it might otherwise have done, and I hope ye haven’t been greatly put out. Now, if you’d sooner that I should not be seen talking to ‘ee — if ‘ee feel shy at all before strangers — just say. I’ll leave ‘ee to yourself till we get home.”

“Thank you much. I am indeed a little tired, Mr. Heddegan.”

He nodded urbane acquiescence, strolled away immediately, and minutely inspected the surface of the funnel, till some female passengers of Giant’s Town tittered at what they must have thought a rebuff — for the approaching wedding was known to many on St. Maria’s Island, though to nobody elsewhere. Baptista coloured at their satire, and called him back, and forced herself to commune with him in at least a mechanically friendly manner.

The opening event had been thus different from her expectation, and she had adumbrated no act to meet it. Taken aback she passively allowed circumstances to pilot her along; and so the voyage was made.

It was near dusk when they touched the pier of Giant’s Town, where several friends and neighbours stood awaiting them. Her father had a lantern in his hand. Her mother, too, was there, reproachfully glad that the delay had at last ended so simply. Mrs. Trewthen and her daughter went together along the Giant’s Walk, or promenade, to the house, rather in advance of her husband and Mr. Heddegan, who talked in loud tones which reached the women over their shoulders.

Some would have called Mrs. Trewthen a good mother; but though well meaning she was maladroit, and her intentions missed their mark. This might have been partly attributable to the slight deafness from which she suffered. Now, as usual, the chief utterances came from her lips.

“Ah, yes, I’m so glad, my child, that you’ve got over safe. It is all ready, and everything so well arranged, that nothing but misfortune could hinder you settling as, with God’s grace, becomes ‘ee. Close to your mother’s door a’most, ‘twill be a great blessing, I’m sure; and I was very glad to find from your letters that you’d held your word sacred. That’s right — make your word your bond always. Mrs. Wace seems to be a sensible woman. I hope the Lord will do for her as he’s doing for you no long time hence. And how did ‘ee get over the terrible journey from Tor-upon-Sea to Pen-zephyr? Once you’d done with the railway, of course, you seemed quite at home. Well, Baptista, conduct yourself seemly, and all will be well.”

Thus admonished, Baptista entered the house, her father and Mr. Heddegan immediately at her back. Her mother had been so didactic that she had felt herself absolutely unable to broach the subjects in the centre of her mind.

The familiar room, with the dark ceiling, the well-spread table, the old chairs, had never before spoken so eloquently of the times ere she knew or had heard of Charley Stow. She went upstairs to take off her things, her mother remaining below to complete the disposition of the supper, and attend to the preparation of tomorrow’s meal, altogether composing such an array of pies, from pies of fish to pies of turnips, as was never heard of outside the Western Duchy. Baptista, once alone, sat down and did nothing; and was called before she had taken off her bonnet.

“I’m coming,” she cried, jumping up, and speedily disappareling herself, brushed her hair with a few touches and went down.

Two or three of Mr. Heddegan’s and her father’s friends had dropped in, and expressed their sympathy for the delay she had been subjected to. The meal was a most merry one except to Baptista. She had desired privacy, and there was none; and to break the news was already a greater difficulty than it had been at first. Everything around her, animate and inanimate, great and small, insisted that she had come home to be married; and she could not get a chance to say nay.

One or two people sang songs, as overtures to the melody of the morrow, till at length bedtime came, and they all withdrew, her mother having retired a little earlier. When Baptista found herself again alone in her bedroom the case stood as before: she had come home with much to say, and she had said nothing.

It was now growing clear even to herself that Charles being dead, she had not determination sufficient within her to break tidings which, had he been alive, would have imperatively announced themselves. And thus with the stroke of midnight came the turning of the scale; her story should remain untold. It was not that upon the whole she thought it best not to attempt to tell it; but that she could not undertake so explosive a matter. To stop the wedding now would cause a convulsion in Giant’s Town little short of volcanic. Weakened, tired, and terrified as she had been by the day’s adventures, she could not make herself the author of such a catastrophe. But how refuse Heddegan without telling? It really seemed to her as if her marriage with Mr. Heddegan were about to take place as if nothing had intervened.

Morning came. The events of the previous days were cut off from her present existence by scene and sentiment more completely than ever. Charles Stow had grown to be a special being of whom, owing to his character, she entertained rather fearful than loving memory. Baptista could hear when she awoke that her parents were already moving about downstairs. But she did not rise till her mother’s rather rough voice resounded up the staircase as it had done on the preceding evening.

“Baptista! Come, time to be stirring! The man will be here, by Heaven’s blessing, in three-quarters of an hour. He has looked in already for a minute or two — and says he’s going to the church to see if things be well forward.”

Baptista arose, looked out of the window, and took the easy course. When she emerged from the regions above she was arrayed in her new silk frock and best stockings, wearing a linen jacket over the former for breakfasting, and her common rippers over the latter, not to spoil the new ones on the rough precincts of the dwelling.

It is unnecessary to dwell at any great length on this part of the morning’s proceedings. She revealed nothing; and married Heddegan, as she had given her word to do, on that appointed August day.

V

Mr. Heddegan forgave the coldness of his bride’s manner during and after the wedding ceremony, full well aware that there had been considerable reluctance on her part to acquiesce in this neighbourly arrangement, and, as a philosopher of long standing, holding that whatever Baptista’s attitude now, the conditions would probably be much the same six months hence as those which ruled among other married couples.

An absolutely unexpected shock was given to Baptista’s listless mind about an hour after the wedding service. They had nearly finished the midday dinner when the now husband said to her father, ‘we think of starting about two. And the breeze being so fair we shall bring up inside Pen-zephyr new pier about six at least.’

“What — are we going to Pen-zephyr?” said Baptista. “I don’t know anything of it.”

“Didn’t you tell her?” asked her father of Heddegan.

It transpired that, owing to the delay in her arrival, this proposal too, among other things, had in the hurry not been mentioned to her, except some time ago as a general suggestion that they would go somewhere. Heddegan had imagined that any trip would be pleasant, and one to the mainland the pleasantest of all.

She looked so distressed at the announcement that her husband willingly offered to give it up, though he had not had a holiday off the island for a whole year. Then she pondered on the inconvenience of staying at Giant’s Town, where all the inhabitants were bonded, by the circumstances of their situation, into a sort of family party, which permitted and encouraged on such occasions as these oral criticism that was apt to disturb the equanimity of newly married girls, and would especially worry Baptista in her strange situation. Hence, unexpectedly, she agreed not to disorganize her husband’s plans for the wedding jaunt, and it was settled that, as originally intended, they should proceed in a neighbour’s sailing boat to the metropolis of the district.

In this way they arrived at Pen-zephyr without difficulty or mishap. Bidding adieu to Jenkin and his man, who had sailed them over, they strolled arm in arm off the pier, Baptista silent, cold, and obedient. Heddegan had arranged to take her as far as Plymouth before their return, but to go no further than where they had landed that day. Their first business was to find an inn; and in this they had unexpected difficulty, since for some reason or other — possibly the fine weather — many of the nearest at hand were full of tourists and commercial travelers. He led her on till he reached a tavern which, though comparatively unpretending, stood in as attractive a spot as any in the town; and this, somewhat to their surprise after their previous experience, they found apparently empty. The considerate old man, thinking that Baptista was educated to artistic notions, though he himself was deficient in them, had decided that it was most desirable to have, on such an occasion as the present, an apartment with “a good view” (the expression being one he had often heard in use among tourists); and he therefore asked for a favorite room on the first floor, from which a bow window protruded, for the express purpose of affording such an outlook.

The landlady, after some hesitation, said she was sorry that particular apartment was engaged; the next one, however, or any other in the house, was unoccupied.

“The gentleman who has the best one will give it up tomorrow, and then you can change into it,” she added, as Mr. Heddegan hesitated about taking the adjoining and less commanding one.

“We shall be gone tomorrow, and shan’t want it,” he said.

Wishing not to lose customers, the landlady earnestly continued that since he was bent on having the best room, perhaps the other gentleman would not object to move at once into the one they despised, since, though nothing could be seen from the window, the room was equally large.

“Well, if he doesn’t care for a view,” said Mr. Heddegan, with the air of a highly artistic man who did.

“O, no — I am sure he doesn’t,” she said. “I can promise that you shall have the room you want. If you would not object to go for a walk for half an hour, I could have it ready, and your things in it, and a nice tea laid in the bow-window by the time you come back?”

This proposal was deemed satisfactory by the fussy old tradesman, and they went out. Baptista nervously conducted him in an opposite direction to her walk of the former day in other company, showing on her wan face, had he observed it, how much she was beginning to regret her sacrificial step for mending matters that morning.

She took advantage of a moment when her husband’s back was turned to inquire casually in a shop if anything had been heard of the gentleman who was sucked down in the eddy while bathing.

The shopman said, “Yes, his body has been washed ashore,” and had just handed Baptista a newspaper on which she discerned the heading, “A Schoolmaster drowned while bathing,” when her husband turned to join her.

She might have pursued the subject without raising suspicion; but it was

more than flesh and blood could do, and completing a small purchase almost

ran out of the shop.

“What is your terrible hurry, mee deer?” said Heddegan, hastening after.

“I don’t know — I don’t want to stay in shops,” she gasped.

“And we won’t,” he said. “They are suffocating this weather. Let’s go back and have some tay!”

They found the much desired apartment awaiting their entry. It was a sort of combination bed and sitting room, and the table was prettily spread with high tea in the bow window, a bunch of flowers in the midst, and a best-parlor chair on each side. Here they shared the meal by the ruddy light of the vanishing sun. But though the view had been engaged, regardless of expense, exclusively for Baptista’s pleasure, she did not direct any keen attention out of the window. Her gaze as often fell on the floor and walls of the room as elsewhere, and on the table as much as on either, beholding nothing at all.

But there was a change. Opposite her seat was the door, upon which her eyes presently became riveted like those of a little bird upon a snake. For, on a peg at the back of the door, there hung a hat; such a hat — surely, from its peculiar make, the actual hat — that had been worn by Charles. Conviction grew to certainty when she saw a railway ticket sticking up from the band. Charles had put the ticket there — she had noticed the act.

Her teeth almost chattered; she murmured something incoherent. Her husband jumped up and said, “You are not well! What is it? What shall I get ‘ee?”

“Smelling salts!” she said, quickly and desperately; “‘at that chemist’s shop you were in just now.”

He jumped up like the anxious old man that he was, caught up his own hat from a back table, and without observing the other hastened out and downstairs.

Left alone she gazed and gazed at the back of the door, then spasmodically rang the bell. An honest-looking country maid-servant appeared in response.

“A hat!” murmured Baptista, pointing with her finger. “It does not belong to us,”

“O yes, I’ll take it away,” said the young woman with some hurry “It belongs to the other gentleman.”

She spoke with a certain awkwardness, and took the hat out of the room. Baptista had recovered her outward composure. “The other gentleman?” she said. “Where is the other gentleman?”

“He’s in the next room, ma’am. He removed out of this to oblige ‘ee.”

“How can you say so? I should hear him if he were there,” said Baptista, sufficiently recovered to argue down an apparent untruth.

“He’s there,” said the girl, hardily.

“Then it is strange that he makes no noise,” said Mrs. Heddegan,

convicting the girl of falsity by a look.

“He makes no noise; but it is not strange,” said the servant.

All at once a dread took possession of the bride’s heart, like a cold hand laid thereon; for it flashed upon her that there was a possibility of reconciling the girl’s statement with her own knowledge of facts.

“Why does he make no noise?” she weakly said.

The waiting-maid was silent, and looked at her questioner. “If I tell you, ma’am, you won’t tell missis?” she whispered.

Baptista promised.

“Because he’s a-lying dead!” said the girl. “He’s the schoolmaster that was drownded yesterday.”

“O!” said the bride, covering her eyes. “Then he was in this room till just now?”

“Yes,” said the maid, thinking the young lady’s agitation natural enough. “And I told missis that I thought she oughtn’t to have done it, because I don’t hold it right to keep visitors so much in the dark where death’s concerned; but she said the gentleman didn’t die of anything infectious; she was a poor, honest, innkeeper’s wife, she says, who had to get her living by making hay while the sun sheened. And owing to the drownded gentleman being brought here, she said, it kept so many people away that we were empty, though all the other houses were full. So when your good man set his mind upon the room, and she would have lost good paying folk if he’d not had it, it wasn’t to be supposed, she said, that she’d let anything stand in the way. Ye won’t say that I’ve told ye, please, m’m? All the linen has been changed and as the inquest won’t be till tomorrow, after you are gone, she thought you wouldn’t know a word of it, being strangers here.”

The returning footsteps of her husband broke off further narration.

Baptista waved her hand, for she could not speak. The waiting-maid quickly

withdrew, and Mr. Heddegan entered with the smelling salts and other

nostrums.

“Any better?” he questioned.

“I don’t like the hotel,” she exclaimed, almost simultaneously. “I can’t bear it — it doesn’t suit me!”

“Is that all that’s the matter?” he returned pettishly (this being the first time of his showing such a mood). “Upon my heart and life such trifling is trying to any man’s temper, Baptista! Sending me about from here to yond, and then when I come saying ‘ee don’t like the place that I have sunk so much money and words to get for ‘ee. ‘Od dang it all, ‘tis enough to — But I won’t say anymore at present, mee deer, though it is just too much to expect to turn out of the house now. We shan’t get another quiet place at this time of the evening — every other inn in the town is bustling with rackety folk of one sort and t’other, while here ‘tis as quiet as the grave — the country, I would say. So bide still, d’ye hear, and tomorrow we shall be out of the town altogether — as early as you like.”

The obstinacy of age had, in short, overmastered its complaisance, and the young woman said no more. The simple course of telling him that in the adjoining room lay a corpse which had lately occupied their own might, it would have seemed, have been an effectual one without further disclosure, but to allude to that subject, however it was disguised, was more than Heddegan’s young wife had strength for. Horror broke her down. In the contingency one thing only presented itself to her paralyzed regard — that here she was doomed to abide, in a hideous contiguity to the dead husband and the living, and her conjecture did, in fact, bear itself out. That night she lay between the two men she had married — Heddegan on the one hand, and on the other through the partition against which the bed stood, Charles Stow.

VI

Kindly time had withdrawn the foregoing event three days from the present of Baptista Heddegan. It was ten o’clock in the morning; she had been ill, not in an ordinary or definite sense, but in a state of cold stupefaction, from which it was difficult to arouse her so much as to say a few sentences. When questioned she had replied that she was pretty well.

Their trip, as such, had been something of a failure. They had gone on as far as Falmouth, but here he had given way to her entreaties to return home. This they could not, very well do without repassing through Pen-zephyr, at which place they had now again arrived.

In the train she had seen a weekly local paper, and read there a paragraph detailing the inquest on Charles. It was added that the funeral was to take place at his native town of Redrutin on Friday.

After reading this she had shown no reluctance to enter the fatal neighbourhood of the tragedy, only stipulating that they should take their rest at a different lodging from the first; and now comparatively braced up and calm — indeed a cooler creature altogether than when last in the town, she said to David that she wanted to walk out for a while, as they had plenty of time on their hands.

“To a shop as usual, I suppose, mee deer?”

“Partly for shopping,” she said. “And it will be best for you, dear, to stay in after trotting about so much, and have a good rest while I am gone.”

He assented; and Baptista sallied forth. As she had stated, her first visit was made to a shop, a draper’s. Without the exercise of much choice she purchased a black bonnet and veil, also a black stuff gown; a black mantle she already wore. These articles were made up into a parcel which, in spite of the saleswoman’s offers, her customer said she would take with her. Bearing it on her arm she turned to the railway, and at the station got a ticket for Redrutin.

Thus it appeared that, on her recovery from the paralyzed mood of the former day, while she had resolved not to blast utterly the happiness of her present husband by revealing the history of the departed one, she had also determined to indulge a certain odd, inconsequent, feminine sentiment of decency, to the small extent to which it could do no harm to any person. At Redrutin she emerged from the railway carriage in the black attire purchased at the shop, having during the transit made the change in the empty compartment she had chosen. The other clothes were now in the bandbox and parcel. Leaving these at the cloakroom she proceeded onward, and after a wary survey reached the side of a hill whence a view of the burial ground could be obtained.

It was now a little before two o’clock. While Baptista waited a funeral procession ascended the road. Baptista hastened across, and by the time the procession entered the cemetery gates she had unobtrusively joined it. In addition to the schoolmaster’s own relatives (not a few), the paragraph in the newspapers of his death by drowning had drawn together many neighbours, acquaintances, and onlookers. Among them she passed unnoticed, and with a quiet step pursued the winding path to the chapel, and afterwards thence to the grave. When all was over, and the relatives and idlers had withdrawn, she stepped to the edge of the chasm. From beneath her mantle she drew a little bunch of forget-me-nots, and dropped them in upon the coffin. In a few minutes she also turned and went away from the cemetery. By five o’clock she was again in Pen-zephyr.

“You have been a mortal long time!” said her husband, crossly. “I allowed you an hour at most, mee deer.”

“It occupied me longer,” said she.

“Well — I reckon it is wasting words to complain. Hang it, ye look so tired and wisht that I can’t find heart to say what I would!”

“I am — weary and wisht, David; I am. We can get home tomorrow for certain, I hope?”

“We can. And please God we will!” said Mr. Heddegan heartily, as if he too were weary of his brief honeymoon. “I must be into business again on Monday morning at latest.”

They left by the next morning steamer, and in the afternoon took up their residence in their own house at Giant’s Town.

The hour that she reached the island it was as if a material weight had been removed from Baptista’s shoulders. Her husband attributed the change to the influence of the local breezes after the hot-house atmosphere of the mainland. However that might be, settled here, a few doors from her mother’s dwelling, she recovered in no very long time much of her customary bearing, which was never very demonstrative. She accepted her position calmly, and faintly smiled when her neighbours learned to call her Mrs. Heddegan, and said she seemed likely to become the leader of fashion in Giant’s Town.

Her husband was a man who had made considerably more money by trade than her father had done: and perhaps the greater profusion of surroundings at her command than she had heretofore been mistress of, was not without an effect upon her. One week, two weeks, three weeks passed; and, being pre-eminently a young woman who allowed things to drift, she did nothing whatever either to disclose or conceal traces of her first marriage; or to learn if there existed possibilities — which there undoubtedly did — by which that hasty contract might become revealed to those about her at any unexpected moment.

While yet within the first month of her marriage, and on an evening just before sunset, Baptista was standing within her garden adjoining the house, when she saw passing along the road a personage clad in a greasy black coat and battered tall hat, which, common enough in the slums of a city, had an odd appearance in St. Maria’s. The tramp, as he seemed to be, marked her at once — bonnetless and unwrapped as she was her features were plainly recognizable — and with an air of friendly surprise came and leant over the wall.

“What! don’t you know me?” said he.

She had some dim recollection of his face, but said that she was not acquainted with him.

“Why, your witness to be sure, ma’am. Don’t you mind the man that was mending the church window when you and your intended husband walked up to be made one; and the clerk called me down from the ladder, and I came and did my part by writing my name and occupation?”

Baptista glanced quickly around; her husband was out of earshot. That would have been of less importance but for the fact that the wedding witnessed by this personage had not been the wedding with Mr. Heddegan, but the one on the day previous.

“I’ve had a misfortune since then, that’s pulled me under, continued her friend. “But don’t let me damp yer wedded joy by naming the particulars. Yes, I’ve seen changes since; though ‘tis but a short time ago — let me see, only a month next week, I think; for ‘twere the first or second day in August.”

“Yes — that’s when it was,” said another man, a sailor, who had come up with a pipe in his mouth, and felt it necessary to join in (Baptista having receded to escape further speech). “For that was the first time I set foot in Giant’s Town; and her husband took her to him the same day.”

A dialogue then proceeded between the two men outside the wall, which Baptista could not help hearing.

“Ay, I signed the book that made her one flesh,” repeated the decayed glazier. “Where’s her goodman?”

“About the premises somewhere; but you don’t see ‘em together much,” replied the sailor in an undertone. “You see, he’s older than she.”

“Older? I should never have thought it from my own observation,” said the glazier. “He was a remarkably handsome man.”

“Handsome? Well, there he is — we can see for ourselves.”

David Heddegan had, indeed, just shown himself at the upper end of the garden, and the glazier, looking in bewilderment from the husband to the wife, saw the latter turn pale.

Now that decayed glazier was a far-seeing and cunning man — too far-seeing and cunning to allow himself to thrive by simple and straightforward means — and he held his peace, till he could read more plainly the meaning of this riddle, merely adding carelessly, “Well — marriage do alter a man, ‘tis true. I should never ha’ knowed him!”

He then stared oddly at the disconcerted Baptista, and moving on to where he could again address her, asked her to do him a good turn, since he once had done the same for her. Understanding that he meant money, she handed him some, at which he thanked her, and instantly went away.

VII

She had escaped exposure on this occasion; but the incident had been an awkward one, and should have suggested to Baptista that sooner or later the secret must leak out. As it was, she suspected that at any rate she had not heard the last of the glazier.

In a day or two, when her husband had gone to the old town on the other side of the island, there came a gentle tap at the door, and the worthy witness of her first marriage made his appearance a second time.

“It took me hours to get to the bottom of the mystery — hours!” he said with a gaze of deep confederacy which offended her pride very deeply. “But thanks to a good intellect I’ve done it. Now, ma’am, I’m not a man to tell tales, even when a tale would be so good as this. But I’m going back to the mainland again, and a little assistance would be as rain on thirsty ground.”

“I helped you two days ago,” began Baptista.

“Yes — but what was that, my good lady? Not enough to pay my passage to Pen-zephyr. I came over on your account, for I thought there was a mystery somewhere. Now I must go back on my own. Mind this — ’twould be very awkward for you if your old man were to know. He’s a queer temper, though he may be fond.”

She knew as well as her visitor how awkward it would be; and the hush-money she paid was heavy that day. She had, however, the satisfaction of watching the man to the steamer, and seeing him diminish out of sight. But Baptista perceived that the system into which she had been led of purchasing silence thus was one fatal to her peace of mind, particularly if it had to be continued.

Hearing no more from the glazier she hoped the difficulty was past. But another week only had gone by, when, as she was pacing the Giant’s Walk (the name given to the promenade), she met the same personage in the company of a fat woman carrying a bundle.

“This is the lady, my dear,” he said to his companion. “This, ma’am, is my wife. We’ve come to settle in the town for a time, if so be we can find room.”

“That you won’t do,” said she. “Nobody can live here who is not privileged.”

“I am privileged,” said the glazier, “by my trade.”

Baptista went on, but in the afternoon she received a visit from the man’s wife. This honest woman began to depict, in forcible colours, the necessity for keeping up the concealment.

“I will intercede with my husband, ma’am,” she said. “He’s a true man if rightly managed; and I’ll beg him to consider your position. ‘Tis a very nice house you’ve got here,” she added, glancing round, “and well worth a little sacrifice to keep it.”

The unlucky Baptista staved off the danger on this third occasion as she had done on the previous two. But she formed a resolve that, if the attack were once more to be repeated she would face a revelation — worse though that must now be than before she had attempted to purchase silence by bribes. Her tormentors, never believing her capable of acting upon such an intention, came again; but she shut the door in their faces. They retreated, muttering something; but she went to the back of the house, where David Heddegan was.

She looked at him, unconscious of all. The case was serious; she knew that well. and all the more serious in that she liked him better now than she had done at first. Yet, as she herself began to see, the secret was one that was sure to disclose itself. Her name and Charles’s stood indelibly written in the registers; and though a month only had passed as yet it was a wonder that his clandestine union with her had not already been discovered by his friends. Thus spurring herself to the inevitable, she spoke to Heddegan.

“David, come indoors. I have something to tell you.”

He hardly regarded her at first. She had discerned that during the last week or two he had seemed preoccupied, as if some private business harassed him. She repeated her request. He replied with a sigh, “Yes, certainly, mee deer.”

When they had reached the sitting room and shut the door she repeated, faintly, “David, I have something to tell you — a sort of tragedy I have concealed. You will hate me for having so far deceived you; but perhaps my telling you voluntarily will make you think a little better of me than you would do otherwise.”

“Tragedy?” he said, awakening to interest. “Much you can know about tragedies, mee deer, that have been in the world so short a time!”

She saw that he suspected nothing, and it made her task the harder. But on she went steadily. “It is about something that happened before we were married,” she said.

“Indeed!”

“Not a very long time before — a short time. And it is about a lover,” she faltered.

“I don’t much mind that,” he said mildly. “In truth, I was in hopes ‘twas more.”

“In hopes!”

“Well, yes.”

This screwed her up to the necessary effort. “I met my old sweetheart. He scorned me, chid me, dared me, and I went and married him. We were coming straight here to tell you all what we had done; but he was drowned; and I thought I would say nothing about him: and I married you, David, for the sake of peace and quietness. I’ve tried to keep it from you, but have found I cannot. There — that’s the substance of it, and you can never, never forgive me, I am sure!”

She spoke desperately. But the old man, instead of turning black or blue, or slaying her in his indignation, jumped up from his chair, and began to caper around the room in quite an ecstatic emotion. “O, happy thing! How well it falls out!” he exclaimed, snapping his fingers over his head. “Ha — ha — the knot is cut — I see a way out of my trouble — ha — ha!”


She looked at him without uttering a sound, till, as he still continued smiling joyfully, she said, “O — what do you mean? Is it done to torment me?”

“No — no! O, mee deer, your story helps me out of the most heart-aching quandary a poor man ever found himself in! You see, it is this — I’ve got a tragedy, too; and unless you had had one to tell, I could never have seen my way to tell mine!”

“What is yours — what is it?” she asked, with altogether a new view of things.

“Well — it is a bouncer; mine is a bouncer!” said he, looking on the ground and wiping his eyes.

“Not worse than mine?”

“Well — that depends upon how you look at it. Yours had to do with the past alone; and I don’t mind it. You see, we’ve been married a month, and it don’t jar upon me as it would if we’d only been married a day or two. Now mine refers to past, present, and future; so that — ”

“Past, present, and future!” she murmured. “It never occurred to me that you had a tragedy too.”

“But I have!” he said, shaking his head. “In fact, four.”

“Then tell ‘em!” cried the young woman.

“I will — I will. But be considerate, I beg ‘ee, mee deer. Well — I wasn’t a bachelor when I married ‘ee, anymore than you were a spinster. Just as you was a widow-woman, I was a widow-man.”

“Ah!” said she, with some surprise. “But is that all? — then we are nicely balanced,” she added, relieved.

“No — it is not all. There’s the point. I am not only a widower.”

“O, David!”

“I am a widower with four tragedies — that is to say, four strapping girls — the eldest taller than you. Don’t ‘ee look so struck — dumb-like! It fell out in this way. I knew the poor woman, their mother, in Pen-zephyr for some years; and — to cut a long story short — I privately married her at last, just before she died. I kept the matter secret, but it is getting known among the people here by degrees. I’ve long felt for the children — that it is my duty to have them here, and do something for them. I have not had courage to break it to ‘ee, but I’ve seen lately that it would soon come to your ears, and that hev worried me.”

“Are they educated?” said the ex-schoolmistress.

“No. I am sorry to say they have been much neglected; in truth, they can hardly read. And so I thought that by marrying a young schoolmistress I should get some one in the house who could teach ‘em, and bring ‘em into genteel condition, all for nothing. You see, they are growed up too tall to be sent to school.”

“O, mercy!” she almost moaned. “Four great girls to teach the rudiments to, and have always in the house with me spelling over their books; and I hate teaching, it kills me. I am bitterly punished — I am, I am!”

“You’ll get used to ‘em mee deer, and the balance of secrets — mine against yours — will comfort your heart with a sense of justice. I could send for ‘em this week very well — and I will! In faith, I could send this very day.

Baptista, you have relieved me of all my difficulty!”

Thus the interview ended, so far as this matter was concerned. Baptista was too stupefied to say more, and when she went away to her room she wept from very mortification at Mr. Heddegan’s duplicity. Education, the one thing she abhorred; the shame of it to delude a young wife so!

The next meal came round. As they sat, Baptista would not suffer her eyes to turn toward him. He did not attempt to intrude upon her reserve, but every now and then looked under the table and chuckled with satisfaction at the aspect of affairs. “How very well matched we be!” he said, comfortably.

Next day, when the steamer came in, Baptista saw her husband rush down to meet it; and soon after there appeared at her door four tall, hipless, shoulderless girls, dwindling in height and size from the eldest to the youngest, like a row of Pan pipes; at the head of them standing Heddegan. He smiled pleasantly through the gray fringe of his whiskers and beard, and turning to the girls said, “Now come forrard, and shake hands properly with your stepmother.”


Thus she made their acquaintance, and he went out, leaving them together. On examination the poor girls turned out to be not only plain-looking, which she could have forgiven, but to have such a lamentably meager intellectual equipment as to be hopelessly inadequate as companions. Even the eldest, almost her own age, could only read with difficulty words of two syllables; and taste in dress was beyond their comprehension. In the long vista of future years she saw nothing but dreary drudgery at her detested old trade without prospect of reward.

She went about quite despairing during the next few days — an unpromising, unfortunate mood for a woman who had not been married six weeks. From her parents she concealed everything. They had been amongst the few acquaintances of Heddegan who knew nothing of his secret, and were indignant enough when they saw such a ready-made household foisted upon their only child. But she would not support them in their remonstrances.

“No, you don’t yet know all,” she said.

Thus Baptista had sense enough to see the retributive fairness of this issue. For some time, whenever conversation arose between her and Heddegan, which was not often, she always said, “I am miserable, and you know it. Yet I don’t wish things to be otherwise.”

But one day when he asked, “How do you like ‘em now?” her answer was unexpected. “Much better than I did,” she said, quietly. “I may like them very much someday.”

This was the beginning of a serener season for the chastened spirit of Baptista Heddegan. She had, in truth, discovered, underneath the crust of uncouthness and meager articulation which was due to their Troglodytean existence, that her unwelcomed daughters had natures that were unselfish almost to sublimity. The harsh discipline accorded to their young lives before their mother’s wrong had been righted, had operated less to crush them than to lift them above all personal ambition. They considered the world and its contents in a purely objective way, and their own lot seemed only to affect them as that of certain human beings among the rest, whose troubles they knew rather than suffered.

This was such an entirely new way of regarding life to a woman of Baptista’s nature, that her attention, from being first arrested by it, became deeply interested. By imperceptible pulses her heart expanded in sympathy with theirs. The sentences of her tragicomedy, her life, confused till now, became clearer daily. That in humanity, as exemplified by these girls, there was nothing to dislike, but infinitely much to pity, she learnt with the lapse of each week in their company. She grew to like the girls of unpromising exterior, and from liking she got to love them; till they formed an unexpected point of junction between her own and her husband’s interests, generating a sterling friendship at least, between a pair in whose existence there had threatened to be neither friendship nor love.

October 1885.

A Tryst At An Ancient Earthwork

At one’s every step forward it rises higher against the south sky, with an obtrusive personality that compels the senses to regard it and consider. The eyes may bend in another direction, but never without the consciousness of its heavy, high-shouldered presence at its point of vantage. Across the intervening levels the gale races in a straight line from the fort, as if breathed out of it hitherward. With the shifting of the clouds the faces of the steeps vary in colour and in shade, broad lights appearing where mist and vagueness had prevailed, dissolving in their turn into melancholy grey, which spreads over and eclipses the luminous bluffs. In this so-thought immutable spectacle all is change.

Out of the invisible marine region on the other side birds soar suddenly into the air, and hang over the summits of the heights with the indifference of long familiarity. Their forms are white against the tawny concave of cloud, and the curves they exhibit in their floating signify that they are sea-gulls which have journeyed inland from expected stress of weather. As the birds rise behind the fort, so do the clouds rise behind the birds, almost, as it seems, stroking with their bagging bosoms the uppermost flyers.

The profile of the whole stupendous ruin, as seen at a distance of a mile eastward, is cleanly cut as that of a marble inlay. It is varied with protuberances, which from hereabouts have the animal aspect of warts, wens, knuckles, and hips. It may indeed be likened to an enormous many-limbed organism of an antediluvian time — partaking of the cephalopod in shape — lying lifeless, and covered with a thin green cloth, which hides its substance, while revealing its contour. This dull green mantle of herbage stretches down towards the levels, where the ploughs have essayed for centuries to creep up near and yet nearer to the base of the castle, but have always stopped short before reaching it. The furrows of these environing attempts show themselves distinctly, bending to the incline as they trench upon it; mounting in steeper curves, till the steepness baffles them, and their parallel threads show like the striae of waves pausing on the curl. The peculiar place of which these are some of the features is “Mai-Dun,” “The Castle of the Great Hill,” said to be the Dunium of Ptolemy, the capital of the Durotriges, which eventually came into Roman occupation, and was finally deserted on their withdrawal from the island.

The evening is followed by a night on which an invisible moon bestows a subdued, yet pervasive light — without radiance, as without blackness. From the spot whereon I am ensconced in a cottage, a mile away, the fort has now ceased to be visible; yet, as by day, to anybody whose thoughts have been engaged with it and its barbarous grandeurs of past time the form asserts its existence behind the night gauzes as persistently as if it had a voice. Moreover, the southwest wind continues to feed the intervening arable flats with vapours brought directly from its sides.

The midnight hour for which there has been occasion to wait at length arrives, and journey towards the stronghold in obedience to a request urged earlier in the day. It concerns an appointment, which I rather regret my decision to keep now that night is come. The route thither is hedgeless and treeless — I need not add deserted. The moonlight is sufficient to disclose the pale ribandlike surface of the way as it trails along between the expanses of darker fallow. Though the road passes near the fortress it does not conduct directly to its fronts. As the place is without an inhabitant, so it is without a trackway. So presently leaving the macadamized road to pursue its course else whither, I step off upon the fallow, and plod stumblingly across it. The castle looms out off the shade by degrees, like a thing waking up and asking what I want there. It is now so enlarged by nearness that its whole shape cannot be taken in at one view. The ploughed ground ends as the rise sharpens, the sloping basement of grass begins, and I climb upward to invade Mai-Dun.

Impressive by day as this largest Ancient-British work in the kingdom undoubtedly is, its impressiveness is increased now. After standing still and spending a few minutes in adding its age to its size, and its size to its solitude, it becomes appallingly mournful in its growing closeness. A squally wind blows in the face with an impact which proclaims that the vapours of the air sail low tonight. The slope that I so labouriously clamber up the wind skips sportively down. Its track can be discerned even in this light by the undulations of the withered grass-bents — the only produce of this upland summit except moss. Four minutes of ascent, and a vantage-ground of some sort is gained. It is only the crest of the outer rampart. Immediately within this a chasm gapes; its bottom is imperceptible, but the counterscarp slopes not too steeply to admit of a sliding descent if cautiously performed. The shady bottom, dank and chilly, is thus gained, and reveals itself as a kind of winding lane, wide enough for a waggon to pass along, floored with rank herbage, and trending away, right and left, into obscurity, between the concentric walls of earth. The towering closeness of these on each hand, their impenetrability, and their ponderousness, are felt as a physical pressure. The way is now up the second of them, which stands steeper and higher than the first. To turn aside, as did Christian’s companion, from such a Hill Difficulty, is the more natural tendency; but the way to the interior is upward. There is, of course, an entrance to the fortress; but that lies far off on the other side. It might possibly have been the wiser course to seek for easier ingress there.

However, being here, I ascend the second acclivity. The grass stems — the grey beard of the hill — sway in a mass close to my stooping face. The deadheads of these various grasses — fescues, fox-tails, and ryes-bob and twitch as if pulled by a string underground. From a few thistles a whistling proceeds; and even the moss speaks, in its humble way, under the stress of the blast.

That the summit of the second line of defence has been gained is suddenly made known by a contrasting wind from a new quarter, coming over with the curve of a cascade. These novel gusts raise a sound from the whole camp or castle, playing upon it bodily as upon a harp. It is with some difficulty that a foothold can be preserved under their sweep. Looking aloft for a moment I perceive that the sky is much more overcast than it has been hitherto, and in a few instants a dead lull in what is now a gale ensues with almost preternatural abruptness. I take advantage of this to sidle down the second counterscarp, but the time the ditch is reached the lull reveals itself to be but the precursor of a storm. It begins with a heave of the whole atmosphere, like the sigh of a weary strong man on turning to recommence unusual exertion, just as I stand here in the second fosse. That which now radiates from the sky upon the scene is not so much light as vaporous phosphorescence.

The wind, quickening, abandons the natural direction it has pursued on the open upland, and takes the course of the gorge’s length, rushing along therein helter-skelter, and carrying thick rain upon its back. The rain is followed by hailstones which fly through the defile in battalions — rolling, hopping, ricochetting, snapping, clattering down the shelving banks in an undefinable haze of confusion. The earthen sides of the fosse seem to quiver under the drenching onset, though it is practically no more to them than the blows of Thor upon the giant of Jotun-land. It is impossible to proceed further till the storm somewhat abates, and I draw up behind a spur of the inner scarp, where possibly a barricade stood two thousand years ago; and thus await events.

The roar of the storm can be heard travelling the complete circuit of the castle — a measured mile — coming round at intervals like a circumambulating column of infantry. Doubtless such a column has passed this way in its time, but the only columns which enter in these latter days arc the columns of sheep and oxen that are sometimes seen here now; while the only semblance of heroic voices heard are the utterances of such, and of the many winds which make their passage through the ravines.

The expected lightning radiates round, and a rumbling as from its subterranean vaults — if there are any — fills the castle. The lightning repeats itself, and, coming after the aforesaid thoughts of martial men, it bears a fanciful resemblance to swords moving in combat. It has the very brassy hue of the ancient weapons that here were used. The so sudden entry upon the scene of this metallic flame is as the entry of a presiding exhibitor who unrolls the maps, uncurtains the pictures, unlocks the cabinets, and effects a transformation by merely exposing the materials of his science, unintelligibly cloaked till then. The abrupt configuration of the bluffs and mounds is now for the first time clearly revealed — mounds whereon, doubtless, spears and shields have frequently lain while their owners loosened their sandals and yawned and stretched their arms in the sun. For the first time, too, a glimpse is obtainable of the true entrance used by its occupants of old, some way ahead.

There, where all passage has seemed to be inviolably barred by an almost vertical facade, the ramparts are found to overlap each other like loosely clasped fingers, between which a zigzag path may be followed — a cunning construction that puzzles the uninformed eye. But its cunning, even where not obscured by dilapidation, is now wasted on the solitary forms of a few wild badgers, rabbits, and hares. Men must have often gone out by those gates in the morning to battle with the Roman legions under Vespasian; some to return no more, others to come back at evening, bringing with them the noise of their heroic deeds. But not a page, not a stone, has preserved their fame.

Acoustic perceptions multiply to-night. We can almost hear the stream of years that have home those deeds away from us. Strange articulations seem to float on the air from that point, the gateway, where the animation in past times must frequently have concentrated itself at hours of coming and going, and general excitement. There arises an ineradicable fancy that they are human voices; if so, they must be the lingering air-borne vibrations of conversations uttered at least fifteen hundred years ago. The attentions is attracted from mere nebulous imaginings about yonder spot by a real moving of something close at hand.

I recognize by the now moderate flashes of lightning, which are sheet-like and nearly continuous, that it is the gradual elevation of a small mound of earth. At first no larger than a man’s fist it reaches the dimensions of a hat, then sinks a little and is still. It is but the heaving of a mole who chooses such weather as this to work in from some instinct that there will be nobody abroad to molest him. As the fine earth lifts and lifts and falls loosely aside fragments of burnt clay roll out of it — clay that once formed part of cups or other vessels used by the inhabitants of the fortress.

The violence of the storm has been counterbalanced by its transitoriness. From being immersed in well-nigh solid media of cloud and hail shot with lightning, I find myself uncovered of the humid investiture and left bare to the mild gaze of the moon, which sparkles now on every wet grass-blade and frond of moss.

But I am not yet inside the fort, and the delayed ascent of the third and last escarpment is now made. It is steeper than either. The first was a surface to walk up, the second to stagger up, the third can only be ascended on the hands and toes. On the summit obtrudes the first evidence which has been met with in these precincts that the time is really the nineteenth century; it is in the form of a white notice-board on a post, and the wording can just be discerned by the rays of the setting moon:

CAUTION. — Any Person found removing Relics, Skeletons, Stones, Pottery, Tiles, or other Material from this Earthwork, or cutting up the Ground, will be Prosecuted as the Law directs.

Here one observes a difference underfoot from what has gone before: scraps of Roman tile and stone chippings protrude through the grass in meager quantity, but sufficient to suggest that masonry stood on the spot. Before the eye stretches under the moonlight the interior of the fort. So open and so large is it as to be practically an upland plateau, and yet its area lies wholly within the walls of what may be designated as one building. It is a long-violated retreat; all its corner-stones, plinths, and architraves were carried away to build neighbouring villages even before mediaeval or modern history began. Many a block which once may have helped to form a bastion here rests now in broken and diminished shape as part of the chimney-corner of some shepherd’s cottage within the distant horizon, and the corner-stones of this heathen altar may form the base-course of some adjoining village church.

Yet the very bareness of these inner courts and wards, their condition of mere pasturage, protects what remains of them as no defences could do. Nothing is left visible that the hands can seize on or the weather overturn, and a permanence of general outline at least results, which no other condition could ensure.

The position of the castle on this isolated hill bespeaks deliberate and strategic choice exercised by some remote mind capable of prospective reasoning to a far extent. The natural configuration of the surrounding country and its bearing upon such a stronghold were obviously long considered and viewed mentally before its extensive design was carried into execution. Who was the man that said, “Let it be built here!” — not on that hill yonder, or on that ridge behind, but on this best spot of all? Whether he were some great one of the Belgae, or of the Durotriges, or the travelling engineer of Britain’s united tribes, must for ever remain time’s secret; his form cannot be realised, nor his countenance, nor the tongue that he spoke, when he set down his foot with a thud and said, “Let it be here!”

Within the innermost enclosure, though it is so wide that at a superficial glance the beholder has only a sense of standing on a breezy down, the solitude is rendered yet more solitary by the knowledge that between the benighted sojourner herein and all kindred humanity are those three concentric walls of earth which no being would think of scaling on such a night as this, even were he to hear the most pathetic cries issuing hence that could be uttered by a spectre-chased soul. I reach a central mound or platform — the crown and axis of the whole structure. The view from here by day must be of almost limitless extent. On this raised floor, dais, or rostrum, harps have probably twanged more or less tuneful notes in celebration of daring, strength, or cruelty; of worship, superstition, love, birth and death; of simple loving-kindness perhaps never. Many a time must the king or leader have directed his keen eyes hence across the open lands towards the ancient road the Icening Way, still visible in the distance, on the watch for armed companies approaching either to succour or to attack.

I am startled by a voice pronouncing my name. Past and present have become so confusedly mingled under the associations of the spot that for a time it has escaped my memory that this mound was the place agreed on for the aforesaid appointment. I turn and behold my friend. He stands with a dark lantern in his hand and a spade and light pickaxe over his shoulder. He expresses both delight and surprise that I have come. I tell him I had set out before the bad weather began.

He, to whom neither weather, darkness, nor difficulty seems to have any relation or significance, so entirely is his soul wrapt up in his own deep intentions, asks me to take the lantern and accompany him. I take it and walk by his side. He is a man about sixty, small in figure, with grey old-fashioned whiskers cut to the shape of a pair of crumb-brushes. He is entirely in black broadcloth — or rather, at present, black and brown, for he is bespattered with mud from his heels to the crown of his low hat. He has no consciousness of this — no sense of anything but his purpose, his ardour for which causes his eyes to shine like those of a lynx, and gives his motions all the elasticity of an athlete’s.

“Nobody to interrupt us at this time of night!” he chuckles with fierce enjoyment.

We retreat a little way and find a sort of angle, an elevation in the sod, a suggested squareness amid the mass of irregularities around. Here, he tells me, if anywhere, the king’s house stood. Three months of measurement and calculation have confirmed him in this conclusion.

He requests me now to open the lantern, which I do, and the light streams out upon the wet sod. At last divining his proceedings I say that I had no idea, in keeping the tryst, that he was going to do more at such an unusual time than meet me for a meditative ramble through the stronghold. I ask him why, having a practicable object, he should have minded interruptions and not have chosen the day? He informs me, quietly pointing to his spade, that it was because his purpose is to dig, then signifying with a grim nod the gaunt notice-post against the sky beyond. I inquire why, as a professed and well-known antiquary with capital letters at the tail of his name, he did not obtain the necessary authority, considering the stringent penalties for this sort of thing; and he chuckles fiercely again with suppressed delight, and says, “Because they wouldn’t have given it!”

He at once begins cutting up the sod, and, as he takes the pickaxe to follow on with, assures me that, penalty or no penalty, honest men or marauders, he is sure of one thing, that we shall not be disturbed at our work till after dawn.

I remember to have heard of men who, in their enthusiasm for some special science, art, or hobby, have quite lost the moral sense which would restrain them from indulging it illegitimately; and I conjecture that here, at last, is an instance of such an one. He probably guesses the way my thoughts travel, for he stands up and solemnly asserts that he has a distinctly justifiable intention in this matter; namely, to uncover, to search, to verify a theory or displace it, and to cover up again. He means to take away nothing — not a grain of sand. In this he says he sees no such monstrous sin. I inquire if this is really a promise to me? He repeats that it is a promise, and resumes digging. My contribution to the labour is that of directing the light constantly upon the hole. When he has reached something more than a foot deep he digs more cautiously, saying that, be it much or little there, it will not lie far below the surface; such things never are deep. A few minutes later the point of the pickaxe clicks upon a stony substance. He draws the implement out as feelingly as if it had entered a man’s body. Taking up the spade he shovels with care, and a surface, level as an altar, is presently disclosed. His eyes flash anew; he pulls handfuls of grass and mops the surface clean, finally rubbing it with his handkerchief. Grasping the lantern from my hand he holds it close to the ground, when the rays reveal a complete mosaic — a pavement of minute tesserae of many colours, of intricate pattern, a work of much art, of much time, and of much industry. He exclaims in a shout that he knew it always — that it is not a Celtic stronghold exclusively, but also a Roman; the former people having probably contributed little more than the original framework which the latter took and adapted till it became the present imposing structure.

I ask, What if it is Roman?

A great deal, according to him. That it proves all the world to be wrong in this great argument, and himself alone to be right! Can I wait while he digs further?

I agree — reluctantly; but he does not notice my reluctance. At an adjoining spot he begins flourishing the tools anew with the skill of a navvy, this venerable scholar with letters after his name. Sometimes he falls on his knees, burrowing with his hands in the manner of a hare, and where his old-fashioned broadcloth touches the sides of the hole it gets plastered with the damp earth. He continually murmurs to himself how important, how very important, this discovery is! He draws out an object; we wash it in the same primitive way by rubbing it with the wet grass, and it proves to be a semi-transparent bottle of iridescent beauty, the sight of which draws groans of luxurious sensibility from the digger. Further and further search brings out a piece of a weapon. It is strange indeed that by merely peeling off a wrapper of modern accumulations we have lowered ourselves into an ancient world. Finally a skeleton is uncovered, fairly perfect. He lays it out on the grass, bone to its bone.

My friend says the man must have fallen fighting here, as this is no place of burial. He turns again to the trench, scrapes, feels, till from a corner he draws out a heavy lump — a small image four or five inches high. We clean it as before. It is a statuette, apparently of gold, or, more probably, of bronze-gilt — a figure of Mercury, obviously, its head being surmounted with the petasus or winged hat, the usual accessory of that deity. Further inspection reveals the workmanship to be of good finish and detail, and, preserved by the limy earth, to be as fresh in every line as on the day it left the hands of its artificer.

We seem to be standing in the Roman Forum and not on a hill in Wessex. Intent upon this truly valuable relic of the old empire of which even this remote spot was a component part, we do not notice what is going on in the present world till reminded of it by the sudden renewal of the storm. Looking up I perceive that the wide extinguisher of cloud has again settled down upon the fortress-town, as if resting upon the edge of the inner rampart, and shutting out the moon. I turn my back to the tempest, still directing the light across the hole. My companion. digs on unconcernedly; he is living two thousand years ago, and despises things of the moment as dreams. But at last he is fairly beaten, and standing up beside me looks round on what he has done. The rays of the lantern pass over the trench to the tall skeleton stretched upon the grass on the other side. The beating rain has washed the bones clean and smooth, and the forehead, cheek-bones, and two-and-thirty teeth of the skull glisten in the candle-shine as they lie.

This storm, like the first, is of the nature of a squall, and it ends as abruptly as the other. We dig no further. My friend says that it is enough — he has proved his point. He turns to replace the bones in the trench and covers them. But they fall to pieces under his touch: the air has disintegrated them, and he canonly sweep in the fragments. The next act of his plan is more than difficult, but is carried out. The treasures are inhumed again in their respective holes: they are not ours. Each deposition seems to cost him a twinge; and at one moment I fancied I saw him slip his hand into his coat pocket.

“We must re-bury them all,” say I.

“O yes,” he answers with integrity. “I was wiping my hand.”

The beauties of the tesselated floor of the governor’s house are once again consigned to darkness; the trench is filled up; the sod laid smoothly down; he wipes the perspiration from his forehead with the same handkerchief he had used to mop the skeleton and tesserae clean; and we make for the eastern gate of the fortress.

Dawn bursts upon us suddenly as we reach the opening. It comes by the lifting and thinning of the clouds that way till we are bathed in a pink light. The direction of his homeward journey is not the same as mine, and we part under the outer slope.

Walking along quickly to restore warmth I muse upon my eccentric friend, and cannot help asking myself this question: Did he really replace the gilded image of the god Mercurius with the rest of the treasures? He seemed to do so; and yet I could not testify to the fact. Probably, however, he was as good as his word.

It was thus I spoke to myself, and so the adventure ended. But one thing remains to be told, and that is concerned with seven years after. Among the effects of my friend, at that time just deceased, was found, carefully preserved, a gilt statuette representing Mercury, labelled “Debased Roman.” No record was attached to explain how it came into his possession. The figure was bequeathed to the Casterbridge Museum.

Detroit Post,

March 1885.

Alicia’s Diary

I. — SHE MISSES HER SISTER

July 7. — I wander about the house in a mood of unutterable sadness, for my dear sister Caroline has left home to-day with my mother, and I shall not see them again for several weeks. They have accepted a long-standing invitation to visit some old friends of ours, the Marlets, who live at Versailles for cheapness — my mother thinking that it will be for the good of Caroline to see a little of France and Paris. But I don’t quite like her going. I fear she may lose some of that childlike simplicity and gentleness which so characterize her, and have been nourished by the seclusion of our life here. Her solicitude about her pony before starting was quite touching, and she made me promise to visit it daily, and see that it came to no harm.

Caroline gone abroad, and I left here! It is the reverse of an ordinary situation, for good or ill-luck has mostly ordained that I should be the absent one. Mother will be quite tired out by the young enthusiasm of Caroline. She will demand to be taken everywhere — to Paris continually, of course; to all the stock shrines of history’s devotees; to palaces and prisons; to kings’ tombs and queens’ tombs; to cemeteries and picture-galleries, and royal hunting forests. My poor mother, having gone over most of this ground many times before, will perhaps not find the perambulation so exhilarating as will Caroline herself. I wish I could have gone with them. I would not have minded having my legs walked off to please Caroline. But this regret is absurd: I could not, of course, leave my father with not a soul in the house to attend to the calls of the parishioners or to pour out his tea.

July 15. — A letter from Caroline to-day. It is very strange that she tells me nothing which I expected her to tell — only trivial details. She seems dazzled by the brilliancy of Paris — which no doubt appears still more brilliant to her from the fact of her only being able to obtain occasional glimpses of it. She would see that Paris, too, has a seamy side if you live there. I was not aware that the Marlets knew so many people. If, as mother has said, they went to reside at Versailles for reasons of economy, they will not effect much in that direction while they make a practice of entertaining all the acquaintances who happen to be in their neighbourhood. They do not confine their hospitalities to English people, either. I wonder who this M. de la Feste is, in whom Caroline says my mother is so much interested.

July 18. — Another letter from Caroline. I have learnt from this epistle that M. Charles de la Feste is ‘only one of the many friends of the Marlets’; that though a Frenchman by birth, and now again temporarily at Versailles, he has lived in England many many years; that he is a talented landscape and marine painter, and has exhibited at the Salon, and I think in London. His style and subjects are considered somewhat peculiar in Paris — rather English than Continental. I have not as yet learnt his age, or his condition, married or single. From the tone and nature of her remarks about him he sometimes seems to be a middle-aged family man, sometimes quite the reverse. From his nomadic habits I should say the latter is the most likely. He has travelled and seen a great deal, she tells me, and knows more about English literature than she knows herself.

July 21. — Letter from Caroline. Query: Is ‘a friend of ours and the Marlets,’ of whom she now anonymously and mysteriously speaks, the same personage as the ‘M. de la Feste’ of her former letters? He must be the same, I think, from his pursuits. If so, whence this sudden change of tone ? . . . I have been lost in thought for at least a quarter of an hour since writing the preceding sentence. Suppose my dear sister is falling in love with this young man — there is no longer any doubt about his age; what a very awkward, risky thing for her! I do hope that my mother has an eye on these proceedings. But, then, poor mother never sees the drift of anything: she is in truth less of a mother to Caroline than I am. If I were there, how jealously I would watch him, and ascertain his designs! I am of a stronger nature than Caroline. How I have supported her in the past through her little troubles and great griefs! Is she agitated at the presence of this, to her, new and strange feeling? But I am assuming her to be desperately in love, when I have no proof of anything of the kind. He may be merely a casual friend, of whom I shall hear no more.

July 24 — Then he is a bachelor, as I suspected. ‘If M. de la Feste ever marries he will,’ etc. So she writes. They are getting into close quarters, obviously. Also, ‘Something to keep my hair smooth, which M. de la Feste told me he had found useful for the tips of his moustache.’ Very naively related this; and with how much unconsciousness of the intimacy between them that the remark reveals! But my mother - what can she be doing? Does she know of this? And if so, why does she not allude to it in her letters to my father? . . . I have been to look at Caroline’s pony, in obedience to her reiterated request that I would not miss a day in seeing that she was well cared for. Anxious as Caroline was about this pony of hers before starting, she now never mentioned the poor animal once in her letters. The image of her pet suffers from displacement.

August 3. — Caroline’s forgetfulness of her pony has naturally enough extended to me, her sister. It is ten days since she last wrote, and but for a note from my mother I should not know if she were dead or alive.

II. - NEWS INTERESTING AND SERIOUS

August 5. — A cloud of letters. A letter from Caroline, another from mother; also one from each to my father.

The probability to which all the intelligence from my sister has pointed of late turns out to be a fact. There is an engagement, or almost an engagement, announced between my dear Caroline and M. de la Feste — to Caroline’s sublime happiness, and my mother’s entire satisfaction; as well as to that of the Marlets. They and my mother seem to know all about the young man - which is more than I do, though a little extended information about him, considering that I am Caroline’s elder sister, would not have been amiss. I half feel with my father, who is much surprised, and, I am sure, not altogether satisfied, that he should not have been consulted at all before matters reached such a definite stage, though he is too amiable to say so openly. I don’t quite say that a good thing should have been hindered for the sake of our opinion, if it is a good thing; but the announcement comes very suddenly. It must have been foreseen by my mother for some time that this upshot was probable, and Caroline might have told me more distinctly that M. de la Feste was her lover, instead of alluding so mysteriously to him as only a friend of the Marlets, and lately dropping his name altogether. My father, without exactly objecting to him as a Frenchman, ‘wishes he were of English or some other reasonable nationality for one’s son-in-law,’ but I tell him that the demarcations of races, kingdoms, and creeds, are wearing down every day, that patriotism is a sort of vice, and that the character of the individual is all we need think about in this case. I wonder if, in the event of their marriage, he will continue to live at Versailles, or if he will come to England.

August 7. — A supplemental letter from Caroline, answering, by anticipation, some of the aforesaid queries. She tells me that ‘Charles,’ though he makes Versailles his present home, is by no means bound by his profession to continue there; that he will live just where she wishes, provided it be not too far from some centre of thought, art, and civilization. My mother and herself both think that the marriage should not take place till next year. He exhibits landscapes and canal scenery every year, she says; so I suppose he is popular, and that his income is sufficient to keep them in comfort. If not, I do not see why my father could not settle something more on them than he had intended, and diminish by a little what he had proposed for me, whilst it was imagined that I should be the first to stand in need of such.

‘Of engaging manner, attractive appearance, and virtuous character,’ is the reply I receive from her in answer to my request for a personal description. That is vague enough, and I would rather have had one definite fact of complexion, voice, deed, or opinion. But of course she has no eye now for material qualities; she cannot see him as he is. She sees him irradiated with glories such as never appertained and never will appertain to any man, foreign, English, or Colonial. To think that Caroline, two years my junior, and so childlike as to be five years my junior in nature, should be engaged to be married before me. But that is what happens in families more often than we are apt to remember.

August 16. — Interesting news to-day. Charles, she says, has pleaded that their marriage may just as well be this year as next; and he seems to have nearly converted my mother to the same way of thinking. I do not myself see any reason for delay, beyond the standing one of my father having as yet had no opportunity of forming an opinion upon the man, the time, or anything. However, he takes his lot very quietly, and they are coming home to talk the question over with us; Caroline having decided not to make any positive arrangements for this change of state till she has seen me. Subject to my own and my father’s approval, she says, they are inclined to settle the date of the wedding for November, three months from the present time, that it shall take place here in the village, that I, of course, shall be bridesmaid, and many other particulars. She draws an artless picture of the probable effect upon the minds of the villagers of this romantic performance in the chancel of our old church, in which she is to be chief actor — the foreign gentleman dropping down like a god from the skies, picking her up, and triumphantly carrying her off. Her only grief will be separation from me, but this is to be assuaged by my going and staying with her for long months at a time. This simple prattle is very sweet to me, my dear sister, but I cannot help feeling sad at the occasion of it. In the nature of things it is obvious that I shall never be to you again what I hitherto have been: your guide, counsellor, and most familiar friend.

M. de la Feste does certainly seem to be all that one could desire as protector to a sensitive fragile child like Caroline, and for that I am thankful. Still, I must remember that I see him as yet only through her eyes. For her sake I am intensely anxious to meet him, and scrutinize him through and through, and learn what the man is really made of who is to have such a treasure in his keeping. The engagement has certainly been formed a little precipitately; I quite agree with my father in that: still, good and happy marriages have been made in a hurry before now, and mother seems well satisfied.

August 20. — A terrible announcement came this morning; and we are in deep trouble. I have been quite unable to steady my thoughts on anything to-day till now — half-past eleven at night - and I only attempt writing these notes because I am too restless to remain idle, and there is nothing but waiting and waiting left for me to do. Mother has been taken dangerously ill at Versailles: they were within a day or two of starting; but all thought of leaving must now be postponed, for she cannot possibly be moved in her present state. I don’t like the sound of hemorrhage at all in a woman of her full habit, and Caroline and the Marlets have not exaggerated their accounts I am certain. On the receipt of the letter my father instantly decided to go to her, and I have been occupied all day in getting him off, for, as he calculates on being absent several days, there have been many matters for him to arrange before setting out - the chief being to find some one who will do duty for him next Sunday — a quest of no small difficulty at such short notice; but at last poor old feeble Mr. Dugdale has agreed to attempt it, with Mr. Highman, the Scripture reader, to assist him in the lessons.

I fain would have gone with my father to escape the irksome anxiety of awaiting her; but somebody had to stay, and I could best be spared. George has driven him to the station to meet the last train by which he will catch the midnight boat, and reach Havre some time in the morning. He hates the sea, and a night passage in particular. I hope he will get there without mishap of any kind; but I feel anxious for him, stay-at-home as he is, and unable to cope with any difficulty. Such an errand, too; the journey will be sad enough at best. I almost think I ought to have been the one to go to her.

August 21. — I nearly fell asleep of heaviness of spirit last night over my writing. My father must have reached Paris by this time; and now here comes a letter. . . .

Later. — The letter was to express an earnest hope that my father had set out. My poor mother is sulking, they fear. What will become of Caroline? O’ how I wish I could see mother; why could not both have gone ?

Later. — I get up from my chair, and walk from window to window, and then come and write a line. I cannot even divine how poor Caroline’s marriage is to be carried out if mother dies. I pray that father may have got there in time to talk to her and receive some directions from her about Caroline and M. de la Feste — a man whom neither my father nor I have seen. I, who might be useful in this emergency, am doomed to stay here, waiting in suspense.

August 23. — A letter from my father containing the sad news that my mother’s spirit has flown. Poor little Caroline is heart-broken - she was always more my mother’s pet than I was. It is some comfort to know that my father arrived in time to hear from her own lips her strongly expressed wish that Caroline’s marriage should be solemnized as soon as possible. M. de la Feste seems to have been a great favourite of my dear mother’s; and I suppose it now becomes almost a sacred duty of my father to accept him as a son-in-law without criticism.

III. — HER GLOOM LIGHTENS A LITTLE

September 10. — I have inserted nothing in my diary for more than a fortnight. Events have been altogether too sad for me to have the spirit to put them on paper. And yet there comes a time when the act of recording one’s trouble is recognized as a welcome method of dwelling upon it. . . .

My dear mother has been brought home and buried here in the parish. It was not so much her own wish that this should be done as my father’s, who particularly desired that she should lie in the family vault beside his first wife. I saw them side by side before the vault was closed — — two women beloved by one man. As I stood, and Caroline by my side, I fell into a sort of dream, and had an odd fancy that Caroline and I might be also beloved of one, and lie like these together — an impossibility, of course, being sisters. When I awoke from my reverie Caroline took my hand and said it was time to leave.

September 14. — The wedding is indefinitely postponed. Caroline is like a girl awakening in the middle of a somnambulistic experience, and does not realise where she is, or how she stands. She walks about silently, and I cannot tell her thoughts, as I used to do. It was her own doing to write to M. de la Feste and tell him that the wedding could not possibly take place this autumn as originally planned. There is something depressing in this long postponement if she is to marry him at all; and yet I do not see how it could be avoided.

October 20. — I have had so much to occupy me in consoling Caroline that I have been continually overlooking my diary. Her life was much nearer to my mother’s than mine was. She has never, as I, lived away from home long enough to become self-dependent, and hence in her first loss, and all that it involved, she drooped like a rain-beaten lily. But she is of a nature whose wounds soon heal, even though they may be deep, and the supreme poignancy of her sorrow has already passed.

My father is of opinion that the wedding should not be delayed too long. While at Versailles he made the acquaintance of M. de la Feste, and though they had but a short and hurried communion with each other, he was much impressed by M. de la Feste’s disposition and conduct, and is strongly in favour of his suit. It is odd that Caroline’s betrothed should influence in his favour all who come near him. His portrait, which dear Caroline has shown me, exhibits him to be of a physique that partly accounts for this; but there must be something more than mere appearance, and it is probably some sort of glamour or fascinating power — the quality which prevented Caroline from describing him to me with any accuracy of detail. At the same time, I see from the photograph that his face and head are remarkably well formed; and though the contours of his mouth are hidden by his moustache, his arched brows show well the romantic disposition of a true lover and painter of Nature. I think that the owner of such a face as this must be tender and sympathetic and true.

October 30. — As my sister’s grief for her mother becomes more and more calmed, her love for M. de la Feste begins to reassume its former absorbing command of her. She thinks of him incessantly, and writes whole treatises to him by way of letters. Her blank disappointment at his announcement of his inability to pay us a visit quite so soon as he had promised was quite tragic. I, too, am disappointed, for I wanted to see and estimate him. But having arranged to go to Holland to seize some aerial effects for his pictures, which are only to be obtained at this time of the autumn, he is obliged to postpone his journey this way, which is now to be made early in the new year. I think myself that he ought to have come at all sacrifices, considering Caroline’s recent loss, the sad postponement of what she was looking forward to, and her single-minded affection for him. Still, who knows; his professional success is important. Moreover, she is cheerful, and hopeful, and the delay will soon be overpast.

IV. — SHE BEHOLDS THE ATTRACTIVE STRANGER

February 16. — We have had such a dull life here all the winter that I have found nothing important enough to set down, and broke off my journal accordingly. I resume it now to make an entry on the subject of dear Caroline’s future. It seems that she was too grieved, immediately after the loss of our mother, to answer definitely the question of M. de la Feste how long the postponement was to be; then, afterwards, it was agreed that the matter should be discussed on his autumn visit; but as he did not come, it has remained in abeyance till this week, when Caroline, with the greatest simplicity and confidence, has written to him without any further pressure on his part, and told him that she is quite ready to fix the time, and will do so as soon as he arrives to see her. She is a little frightened now, lest it should seem forward in her to have revived the subject of her own accord; but she may assume that his question has been waiting on for an answer ever since, and that she has, therefore, acted only within her promise. In truth, the secret at the bottom of it all is that she is somewhat saddened because he has not latterly reminded her of the pause in their affairs — that, in short, his original impatience to possess her is not now found to animate him so obviously. I suppose that he loves her as much as ever; indeed, I am sure he must do so, seeing how lovable she is. It is mostly thus with all men when women are out of their sight; they grow negligent. Caroline must have patience, and remember that a man of his genius has many and important calls upon his time. In justice to her I must add that she does remember it fairly well, and has as much patience as any girl ever had in the circumstances. He hopes to come at the beginning of April at latest. Well, when he comes we shall see him.

April 5. — I think that what M. de la Feste writes is reasonable enough, though Caroline looks heart-sick about it. It is hardly worth while for him to cross all the way to England and back just now, while the sea is so turbulent, seeing that he will be obliged, in any event, to come in May, when he has to be in London for professional purposes, at which time he can take us easily on his way both coming and going. When Caroline becomes his wife she will be more practical, no doubt; but she is such a child as yet that there is no contenting her with reasons. However, the time will pass quickly, there being so much to do in preparing a trousseau for her, which must now be put in hand in order that we may have plenty of leisure to get it ready. On no account must Caroline; be married in half-mourning; I am sure that mother, could she know, would not wish it, and it is odd that Caroline should be so intractably persistent on this point, when she is usually so yielding.

April 30. — This month has flown on swallow’s wings. We are in a great state of excitement — I as much as she — I cannot quite tell why. He is really coming in ten days, he says.

May 9. Four p.m. — I am so agitated I can scarcely write, and yet am particularly impelled to do so before leaving my room. It is the unexpected shape of an expected event which has caused my absurd excitement, which proves me almost as much a school-girl as Caroline.

M. de la Feste was not, as we understood, to have come till to-morrow; but he is here — just arrived. All household directions have devolved upon me, for my father, not thinking M. de la Feste would appear before us for another four-and-twenty hours, left home before post time to attend a distant consecration; and hence Caroline and I were in no small excitement when Charles’s letter was opened, and we read that he had been unexpectedly favoured in the dispatch of his studio work, and would follow his letter in a few hours. We sent the covered carriage to meet the train indicated, and waited like two newly strung harps for the first sound of the returning wheels. At last we heard them on the gravel; and the question arose who was to receive him. It was, strictly speaking, my duty; but I felt timid; I could not help shirking it, and insisted that Caroline should go down. She did not, however, go near the door as she usually does when anybody is expected, but waited palpitating in the drawing-room. He little thought when he saw the silent hall, and the apparently deserted house, how that house was at the very same moment alive and throbbing with interest under the surface. I stood at the back of the upper landing, where nobody could see me from downstairs, and heard him walk across the hall — a lighter step than my father’s — and heard him then go into the drawing-room, and the servant shut the door behind him and go away.

What a pretty lovers’ meeting they must have had in there all to themselves! Caroline’s sweet face looking up from her black gown - how it must have touched him. I know she wept very much, for I heard her; and her eyes will be red afterwards, and no wonder, poor dear, though she is no doubt happy. I can imagine what she is telling him while I write this - her fears lest anything should have happened to prevent his coming after all - gentle, smiling reproaches for his long delay; and things of that sort. His two portmanteaus are at this moment crossing the landing on the way to his room. I wonder if I ought to go down.

A little later. — I have seen him! It was not at all in the way that I intended to encounter him, and I am vexed. Just after his portmanteaus were brought up I went out from my room to descend, when, at the moment of stepping towards the first stair, my eyes were caught by an object in the hall below, and I paused for an instant, till I saw that it was a bundle of canvas and sticks, composing a sketching tent and easel. At the same nick of time the drawing-room door opened and the affianced pair came out. They were saying they would go into the garden; and he waited a moment while she put on her hat. My idea was to let them pass on without seeing me, since they seemed not to want my company, but I had got too far on the landing to retreat; he looked up, and stood staring at me — engrossed to a dream-like fixity. There upon I, too, instead of advancing as I ought to have done, stood moonstruck and awkward, and before I could gather my weak senses sufficiently to descend, she had called him, and they went out by the garden door together. I then thought of following them, but have changed my mind, and come here to jot down these few lines. It is all I am fit for. . . . He is even more handsome than I expected. I was right in feeling he must have an attraction beyond that of form: it appeared even in that momentary glance. How happy Caroline ought to be. But I must, of course, go down to be ready with tea in the drawing-room by the time they come indoors.

11 p.m. — I have made the acquaintance of M. de la Feste; and I seem to be another woman from the effect of it. I cannot describe why this should be so, but conversation with him seems to expand the view, and open the heart, and raise one as upon stilts to wider prospects. He has a good intellectual forehead, perfect eyebrows, dark hair and eyes, an animated manner, and a persuasive voice. His voice is soft in quality — too soft for a man, perhaps; and yet on second thoughts I would not have it less so. We have been talking of his art: I had no notion that art demanded such sacrifices or such tender devotion; or that there were two roads for choice within its precincts, the road of vulgar money-making, and the road of high aims and consequent in appreciation for many long years by the public. That he has adopted the latter need not be said to those who understand him. It is a blessing for Caroline that she has been chosen by such a man, and she ought not to lament at postponements and delays, since they have arisen unavoidably. Whether he finds hers a sufficiently rich nature, intellectually and emotionally, for his own, I know not, but he seems occasionally to be disappointed at her simple views of things. Does he really feel such love for her at this moment as he no doubt believes himself to be feeling, and as he no doubt hopes to feel for the remainder of his life towards her?

It was a curious thing he told me when we were left for a few minutes alone; that Caroline had alluded so slightly to me in her conversation and letters that he had not realised my presence in the house here at all. But, of course, it was only natural that she should write and talk most about herself. I suppose it was on account of the fact of his being taken in some measure unawares that I caught him on two or three occasions regarding me fixedly in a way that disquieted me somewhat, having been lately in so little society; till my glance aroused him from his reverie, and he looked elsewhere in some confusion. It was fortunate that he did so, and thus failed to notice my own. It shows that he, too, is not particularly a society person.

May 10. — Have had another interesting conversation with M. de la Feste on schools of landscape painting in the drawing-room after dinner this evening my father having fallen asleep, and left nobody but Caroline and myself for Charles to talk to. I did not mean to say so much to him, and had taken a volume of Modern Painters from the bookcase to occupy myself with, while leaving the two lovers to themselves; but he would include me in his audience, and I was obliged to lay the book aside. However, I insisted on keeping Caroline in the conversation, though her views on pictorial art were only too charmingly crude and primitive.

To-morrow, if fine, we are all three going to Wherryborne Wood, where Charles will give us practical illustrations of the principles of colouring that he has enumerated to-night. I am determined not to occupy his attention to the exclusion of Caroline, and my plan is that when we are in the dense part of the wood I will lag behind, and slip away, and leave them to return by themselves. I suppose the reason of his attentiveness to me lies in his simply wishing to win the good opinion of one who is so closely united to Caroline, and so likely to influence her good opinion of him.

May 11. Late. — I cannot sleep, and in desperation have lit my candle and taken up my pen. My restlessness is occasioned by what has occurred to-day, which at first I did not mean to write down, or trust to any heart but my own. We went to Wherryborne Wood — Caroline, Charles and I, as we had intended - and walked all three along the green track through the midst, Charles in the middle between Caroline and myself. Presently I found that, as usual, he and I were the only talkers, Caroline amusing herself by observing birds and squirrels as she walked docilely alongside her betrothed. Having noticed this I dropped behind at the first opportunity and slipped among the trees, in a direction in which I knew I should find another path that would take me home. Upon this track I by and by emerged, and walked along it in silent thought till, at a bend, I suddenly encountered M. de la Feste standing stock still and smiling thoughtfully at me.

‘Where is Caroline?’ said I.

‘Only a little way off,’ says he. ‘When we missed you from behind us we thought you might have mistaken the direction we had followed, so she has gone one way to find you and I have come this way.’

We then went back to find Caroline, but could not discover her anywhere, and the upshot was that he and I were wandering about the woods alone for more than an hour. On reaching home we found she had given us up after searching a little while, and arrived there some time before. I should not be so disturbed by the incident if I had not perceived that, during her absence from us, he did not make any earnest effort to rediscover her; and in answer to my repeated expressions of wonder as to whither she could have wandered he only said, ‘Oh, she’s quite safe; she told me she knew the way home from any part of this wood. Let us go on with our talk. I assure you I value this privilege of being with one I so much admire more than you imagine;’ and other things of that kind. I was so foolish as to show a little perturbation - I cannot tell why I did not control myself; and I think he noticed that I was not cool. Caroline has, with her simple good faith, thought nothing of the occurrence; yet altogether I am not satisfied.

V. — HER SITUATION IS A TRYING ONE

May 15. — The more I think of it day after day, the more convinced I am that my suspicions are true. He is too interested in me — well, in plain words, loves me; or, not to degrade that phrase, has a wild passion for me; and his affection for Caroline is that towards a sister only. That is the distressing truth; how it has come about I cannot tell, and it wears upon me.

A hundred little circumstances have revealed this to me, and the longer I dwell upon it the more agitating does the consideration become. Heaven only can help me out of the terrible difficulty in which this places me. I have done nothing to encourage him to be faithless to her. I have studiously kept out of his way; have persistently refused to be a third in their interviews. Yet all to no purpose. Some fatality has seemed to rule, ever since he came to the house, that this disastrous inversion of things should arise. If I had only foreseen the possibility of it before he arrived, how gladly would I have departed on some visit or other to the meanest friend to hinder such an apparent treachery. But I blindly welcomed him — indeed, made myself particularly agreeable to him for her sake.

There is no possibility of my suspicions being wrong; not until they have reached absolute certainty have I dared even to admit the truth to myself. His conduct to-day would have proved them true had I entertained no previous apprehensions. Some photographs of myself came for me by post, and they were handed round at the breakfast table and criticised. I put them temporarily on a side table, and did not remember them until an hour afterwards when I was in my own room. On going to fetch them I discovered him standing at the table with his back towards the door bending over the photographs, one of which he raised to his lips.

The witnessing this act so frightened me that I crept away to escape observation. It was the climax to a series of slight and significant actions all tending to the same conclusion. The question for me now is, what am I to do? To go away is what first occurs to me, but what reason can I give Caroline and my father for such a step ? Besides, it might precipitate some sort of catastrophe by driving Charles to desperation. For the present, therefore, I have decided that I can only wait, though his contiguity is strangely disturbing to me now, and I hardly retain strength of mind to encounter him. How will the distressing complication end ?

May 19. — And so it has come! My mere avoidance of him has precipitated the worst issue — a declaration. I had occasion to go into the kitchen garden to gather some of the double ragged-robins which grew in a corner there. Almost as soon as I had entered I heard footsteps without. The door opened and shut, and I turned to behold him just inside it. As the garden is closed by four walls and the gardener was absent, the spot ensured absolute privacy. He came along the path by the asparagus-bed, and overtook me.

‘You know why I come, Alicia?’ said he, in a tremulous voice.

I said nothing, and hung my head, for by his tone I did know.

‘Yes,’ he went on, ‘it is you I love; my sentiment towards your sister is one of affection too, but protective, tutelary affection - no more. Say what you will I cannot help it. I mistook my feeling for her, and I know how much I am to blame for my want of self-knowledge. I have fought against this discovery night and day; but it cannot be concealed. Why did I ever see you, since I could not see you till I had committed myself? At the moment my eyes beheld you on that day of my arrival, I said, “This is the woman for whom my manhood has waited.” Ever since an unaccountable fascination has riveted my heart to you. Answer one word!’

‘O, M. de la Feste!’ I burst out. What I said more I cannot remember, but I suppose that the misery I was in showed pretty plainly, for he said, ‘Something must be done to let her know; perhaps I have mistaken her affection, too; but all depends upon what you feel.’

‘I cannot tell what I feel,’ said I, ‘except that this seems terrible treachery; and every moment that I stay with you here makes it worse! . . . ‘Try to keep faith with her — her young heart is tender; believe me there is no mistake in the quality of her love for you. Would there were! This would kill her if she knew it!’

He sighed heavily. ‘She ought never to be my wife,. he said. ‘Leaving my own happiness out of the question, it would be a cruelty to her to unite her to me.’

I said I could not hear such words from him, and begged him in tears to go away; he obeyed, and I heard the garden door shut behind him. What is to be the end of the announcement, and the fate of Caroline ?

May 20. — I put a good deal on paper yesterday, and yet not all. I was, in truth, hoping against hope, against conviction, against too conscious self-judgment. I scarcely dare own the truth now, yet it relieves my aching heart to set it down. Yes, I love him - that is the dreadful fact, and I can no longer parry, evade, or deny it to myself, though to the rest of the world it can never be owned. I love Caroline’s betrothed, and he loves me. It is no yesterday’s passion, cultivated by our converse; it came at first sight, independently of my will; and my talk with him yesterday made rather against it than for it, but, alas, did not quench it. God forgive us both for this terrible treachery.

May 25. — All is vague; our courses shapeless. He comes and goes, being occupied, ostensibly at least, with sketching in his tent in the wood. Whether he and she see each other privately I cannot tell, but I rather think they do not; that she sadly awaits him, and he does not appear. Not a sign from him that my repulse has done him any good, or that he will endeavour to keep faith with her. O, if I only had the compulsion of a god, and the self-sacrifice of a martyr!

May 31. — It has all ended - or rather this act of the sad drama has ended - in nothing. He has left us. No day for the fulfilment of the engagement with Caroline is named, my father not being the man to press any one on such a matter, or, indeed, to interfere in any way. We two girls are, in fact, quite defenceless in a case of this kind; lovers may come when they choose, and desert when they choose; poor father is too urbane to utter a word of remonstrance or inquiry. Moreover, as the approved of my dead mother, M. de la Feste has a sort of autocratic power with my father, who holds it unkind to her memory to have an opinion about him. I, feeling it my duty, asked M. de la Feste at the last moment about the engagement, in a voice I could not keep firm.

‘Since the death of your mother all has been indefinite - all!’ he said gloomily. That was the whole. Possibly, Wherryborne Rectory may see him no more.

June 7. — M. de la Feste has written — one letter to her, one to me. Hers could not have been very warm, for she did not brighten on reading it. Mine was an ordinary note of friendship, filling an ordinary sheet of paper, which I handed over to Caroline when I had finished looking it through. But there was a scrap of paper in the bottom of the envelope, which I dared not show any one. This scrap is his real letter: I scanned it alone in my room, trembling, hot and cold by turns. He tells me he is very wretched; that he deplores what has happened, but was helpless. Why did I let him see me, if only to make him faithless. Alas, alas!

June 21. — My dear Caroline has lost appetite, spirits, health. Hope deferred maketh the heart sick. His letters to her grow colder — if indeed he has written more than one. He has refrained from writing again to me - he knows it is no use. Altogether the situation that he and she and I are in is melancholy in the extreme. Why are human hearts so perverse?

VI. - HER INGENUITY INSTIGATES HER

September 19. — Three months of anxious care - till at length I have taken the extreme step of writing to him. Our chief distress has been caused by the state of poor Caroline, who, after sinking by degrees into such extreme weakness as to make it doubtful if she can ever recover full vigour, has to-day been taken much worse. Her position is very critical. The doctor says plainly that she is dying of a broken heart - and that even the removal of the cause may not now restore her. Ought I to have written to Charles sooner? But how could I when she forbade me? It was her pride only which instigated her, and I should not have obeyed.

Sept. 26. — Charles has arrived and has seen her. He is shocked, conscience-stricken, remorseful. I have told him that he can do no good beyond cheering her by his presence. I do not know what he thinks of proposing to her if she gets better, but he says little to her at present: indeed he dares not: his words agitate her dangerously.

Sept. 28. — After a struggle between duty and selfishness, such as I pray to Heaven I may never have to undergo again, I have asked him for pity’s sake to make her his wife, here and now, as she lies. I said to him that the poor child would not trouble him long; and such a solemnization would soothe her last hours as nothing else could do. He said that he would willingly do so, and had thought of it himself; but for one forbidding reason: in the event of her death as his wife he can never marry me, her sister, according to our laws. I started at his words. He went on: ‘On the other hand, if I were sure that immediate marriage with me would save her life, I would not refuse, for possibly I might after a while, and out of sight of you, make myself fairly content with one of so sweet a disposition as hers; but if, as is probable, neither my marrying her nor any other act can avail to save her life, by so doing I lose both her and you.’ I could not answer him.

Sept. 29. — He continued firm in his reasons for refusal till this morning, and then I became possessed with an idea, which I at once propounded to him. It was that he should at least consent to a form of marriage with Caroline, in consideration of her love; a form which need not be a legal union, but one which would satisfy her sick and enfeebled soul. Such things have been done, and the sentiment of feeling herself his would inexpressibly comfort her mind, I am sure. Then, if she is taken from us, I should not have lost the power of becoming his lawful wife at some future day, if it indeed should be deemed expedient; if, on the other hand, she lives, he can on her recovery inform her of the incompleteness of their marriage contract, the ceremony can be repeated, and I can, and I am sure willingly would, avoid troubling them with my presence till grey hairs and wrinkles make his unfortunate passion for me a thing of the past. I put all this before him but he demurred.

Sept. 30. — I have urged him again. He says he will consider. It is no time to mince matters, and as a further inducement I have offered to enter into a solemn engagement to marry him myself a year after her death.

Sept. 30 Later. — An agitating interview. He says he will agree to whatever I propose, the three possibilities and our contingent acts being recorded as follows: First, in the event of dear Caroline being taken from us, I marry him on the expiration of a year: Second, in the forlorn chance of her recovery I take upon myself the responsibility of explaining to Caroline the true nature of the ceremony he has gone through with her, that it was done at my suggestion to make her happy at once, before a special licence could be obtained, and that a public ceremony at church is awaiting her: Third, in the unlikely event of her cooling, and refusing to repeat the ceremony with him, I leave England, join him abroad, and there wed him, agreeing not to live in England again till Caroline has either married another or regards her attachment to Charles as a bygone matter. I have thought over these conditions, and have agreed to them all as they stand.

11 p.m. — I do not much like this scheme, after all. For one thing, I have just sounded my father on it before parting with him for the night, my impression having been that he would see no objection. But he says he could on no account countenance any such unreal proceeding; however good our intentions, and even though the poor girl were dying, it would not be right. So I sadly seek my pillow.

October 1. — I am sure my father is wrong in his view. Why is it not right, if it would be balm to Caroline’s wounded soul, and if a real ceremony is absolutely refused by Charles — moreover is hardly practicable in the difficulty of getting a special licence, if he were agreed? My father does not know, or will not believe, that Caroline’s attachment has been the cause of her hopeless condition. But that it is so, and that the form of words would give her inexpressible happiness, I know well; for I whispered tentatively in her ear on such marriages, and the effect was great. Henceforth my father cannot be taken into confidence on the subject of Caroline. He does not understand her.

12 o’clock noon. — I have taken advantage of my father’s absence to-day to confide my secret notion to a thoughtful young man, who called here this morning to speak to my father. He is the Mr. Theophilus Higham, of whom I have already had occasion to speak - a Scripture reader in the next town, and is soon going to be ordained. I told him the pitiable case, and my remedy. He says ardently that he will assist me — would do anything for me (he is, in truth, an admirer of mine); he sees no wrong in such an act of charity. He is coming again to the house this after-noon before my father returns, to carry out the idea. I have spoken to Charles, who promises to be ready. I must now break the news to Caroline.

11 o’clock p.m. — I have been in too much excitement till now to set down the result. We have accomplished our plan; and though I feel like a guilty sinner, I am glad. My father, of course, is not to be informed as yet. Caroline has had a seraphic expression upon her wasted, transparent face ever since. I should hardly be surprised if it really saved her life even now, and rendered a legitimate union necessary between them. In that case my father can be informed of the whole proceeding, and in the face of such wonderful success cannot disapprove. Meanwhile poor Charles has not lost the possibility of taking unworthy me to fill her place should she — . But I cannot contemplate that alternative unmoved, and will not write it. Charles left for the South of Europe immediately after the ceremony. He was in a high-strung, throbbing, almost wild state of mind at first, but grew calmer under my exhortations. I had to pay the penalty of receiving a farewell kiss from him, which I much regret, considering its meaning; but he took me so unexpectedly, and in a moment was gone.

Oct. 6. — She certainly is better, and even when she found that Charles had been suddenly obliged to leave, she received the news quite cheerfully. The doctor says that her apparent improvement may be delusive; but I think our impressing upon her the necessity of keeping what has occurred a secret from papa, and everybody, helps to revive her a zest for life.

Oct. 8. — She is still mending. I am glad to have saved her — my only sister — if I have done so; though I shall now never become Charles’s wife.

VII. — A SURPRISE AWAITS HER

Feb. 5. — Writing has been absolutely impossible for a long while; but I now reach a stage at which it seems possible to jot down a line. Caroline’s recovery, extending over four months, has been very engrossing; at first slow, latterly rapid. But a fearful complication of affairs attends it!

O what a tangled web we weave

When first we practise to deceive!

Charles has written reproachfully to me from Venice, where he is. He says how can he fulfil in the real what he has enacted in the counterfeit, while he still loves me? Yet how, on the other hand, can he leave it unfulfilled? All this time I have not told her, and up to this minute she believes that he has indeed taken her for better, for worse, till death them do part. It is a harassing position for me, and all three. In the awful approach of death, one’s judgment loses its balance, and we do anything to meet the exigencies of the moment, with a single eye to the one who excites our sympathy, and from whom we seem on the brink of being separated for ever.

Had he really married her at that time all would be settled now. But he took too much thought; she might have died, and then he had his reason. If indeed it had turned out so, I should now be perhaps a sad woman; but not a tempest-tossed one. . . . The possibility of his claiming me after all is what lies at the root of my agitation. Everything hangs by a thread. Suppose I tell her the marriage was a mockery; suppose she is indignant with me and with him for the deception - and then? Otherwise, suppose she is not indignant but forgives all; he is bound to marry her; and honour constrains me to urge him thereto, in spite of what he protests, and to smooth the way to this issue by my method of informing her. I have meant to tell her the last month - ever since she has been strong enough to bear such tidings; but I have been without the power — the moral force. Surely I must write, and get him to come and assist me.

March 14. — She continually wonders why he does not come, the five months of his enforced absence having expired; and still more she wonders why he does not write oftener. His last letter was cold, she says, and she fears he regrets his marriage, which he may only have celebrated with her for pity’s sake, thinking she was sure to die. It makes one’s heart bleed to hear her hovering thus so near the truth, and yet never discerning its actual shape.

A minor trouble besets me, too, in the person of the young Scripture reader, whose conscience pricks him for the part he played. Surely I am punished, if ever woman were, for a too ingenious perversion of her better judgment!

April 2. — She is practically well. The faint pink revives in her cheek, though it is not quite so full as heretofore. But she still wonders what she can have done to offend ‘her dear husband,’ and I have been obliged to tell the smallest part of the truth — an unimportant fragment of the whole, in fact, I said that I feared for the moment he might regret the precipitancy of the act, which her illness caused, his affairs not having been quite sufficiently advanced for marriage just then, though he will doubtless come to her as soon as he has a home ready. Meanwhile I have written to him, peremptorily, to come and relieve me in this awful dilemma. He will find no note of love in that.

April 10. — To my alarm the letter I lately addressed to him at Venice, where he is staying, as well as the last one she sent him, have received no reply. She thinks he is ill. I do not quite think that, but I wish we could hear from him. Perhaps the peremptoriness of my words had offended him; it grieves me to think it possible. I offend him! But too much of this. I must tell her the truth, or she may in her ignorance commit herself to some course or other that may be ruinously compromising. She said plaintively just now that if he could see her, and know how occupied with him and him alone is her every waking hour, she is sure he would forgive her the wicked presumption of becoming his wife. Very sweet all that, and touching. I could not conceal my tears.

April 15. — The house is in confusion; my father is angry and distressed, and I am distracted. Caroline has disappeared — gone away secretly. I cannot help thinking that I know where she is gone to. How guilty I seem, and how innocent she! O that I had told her before now!

1 o’clock. — No trace of her as yet. We find also that the little waiting-maid we have here in training has disappeared with Caroline, and there is not much doubt that Caroline, fearing to travel alone, has induced this girl to go with her as companion. I am almost sure she has started in desperation to find him, and that Venice is her goal. Why should she run away, if not to join her husband, as she thinks him? Now that I consider, there have been indications of this wish in her for days, as in birds of passage there lurk signs of their incipient intention; and yet I did not think she would have taken such an extreme step, unaided, and without consulting me. I can only jot down the bare facts — I have no time for reflections. But fancy Caroline travelling across the continent of Europe with a chit of a girl, who will be more of a charge than an assistance! They will be a mark for every marauder who encounters them.

Evening 8 o’clock. — Yes, it is as I surmised. She has gone to join him. A note posted by her in Budmouth-Regis at daybreak has reached me this afternoon — thanks to the fortunate chance of one of the servants calling for letters in town to-day, or I should not have got it until to-morrow. She merely asserts her determination of going to him, and has started privately, that nothing may hinder her; stating nothing about her route. That such a gentle thing should suddenly become so calmly resolute quite surprises me. Alas, he may have left Venice — she may not find him for weeks — may not at all.

My father, on learning the facts, bade me at once have everything ready by nine this evening, in time to drive to the train that meets the night steam-boat. This I have done, and there being an hour to spare before we start, I relieve the suspense of waiting by taking up my pen. He says overtake her we must, and calls Charles the hardest of names. He believes, of course, that she is merely an infatuated girl rushing off to meet her lover; and how can the wretched I tell him that she is more, and in a sense better than that - yet not sufficiently more and better to make this flight to Charles anything but a still greater danger to her than a mere lover’s impulse. We shall go by way of Paris, and we think we may overtake her there. I hear my father walking restlessly up and down the hall, and can write no more.

VIII. — SHE TRAVELS IN PURSUIT

April 16. Evening, Paris, Hotel . — There is no overtaking her at this place; but she has been here, as I thought, no other hotel in Paris being known to her. We go on to-morrow morning.

April 18. Venice. - A morning of adventures and emotions which leave me sick and weary, and yet unable to sleep, though I have lain down on the sofa of my room for more than an hour in the attempt. I therefore make up my diary to date in a hurried fashion, for the sake of the riddance it affords to ideas which otherwise remain suspended hotly in the brain.

We arrived here this morning in broad sunlight, which lit up the sea-girt buildings as we approached so that they seemed like a city of cork floating raft-like on the smooth, blue deep. But I only glanced from the carriage window at the lovely scene, and we were soon across the intervening water and inside the railway station. When we got to the front steps the row of black gondolas and the shouts of the gondoliers so bewildered my father that he was understood to require two gondolas instead of one with two oars, and so I found him in one and myself in another. We got this righted after a while, and were rowed at once to the hotel on the Riva degli Schiavoni where M. de la Feste had been staying when we last heard from him, the way being down the Grand Canal for some distance, under the Rialto, and then by narrow canals which eventually brought us under the Bridge of Sighs — harmonious to our moods! — and out again into open water. The scene was purity itself as to colour, but it was cruel that I should behold it for the first time under such circumstances.

As soon as we entered the hotel, which is an old-fashioned place, like most places here, where people are taken en pension as well as the ordinary way, I rushed to the framed list of visitors hanging in the hall, and in a moment I saw Charles’s name upon it among the rest. But she was our chief thought. I turned to the hall porter, and — knowing that she would have travelled as ‘Madame de la Feste’ — I asked for her under that name, without my father hearing. (He, poor soul, was making confused inquiries outside the door about ‘an English lady,’ as if there were not a score of English ladies at hand.)

‘She has just come,’ said the porter. ‘Madame came by the very early train this morning, when Monsieur was asleep, and she requested us not to disturb him. She is now in her room.’

Whether Caroline had seen us from the window, or overheard me, I do not know, but at that moment I heard footsteps on the bare marble stairs, and she appeared in person descending.

‘Caroline!’ I exclaimed, ‘why have you done this?’ and rushed up to her.

She did not answer; but looked down to hide emotion, which she conquered after the lapse of a few seconds, putting on a practical tone that belied her.

‘I am just going to my husband,’ she said. ‘I have not yet seen him. I have not been here long.’ She condescended to give no further reason for her movements, and made as if to move on. I implored her to come into a private room where I could speak to her in confidence, but she objected. However, the dining-room, close at hand, was quite empty at this hour, and I got her inside and closed the door. I do not know how I began my explanation, or how I ended it, but I told her briefly and brokenly enough that the marriage was not real.

‘Not real?’ she said vacantly.

‘It is not,’ said I. ‘You will find that it is all as I say.’

She could not believe my meaning even then. ‘Not his wife?’ she cried. ‘It is impossible. What am I, then?’

I added more details, and reiterated the reason for my conduct as well as I could; but Heaven knows how very difficult I found it to feel a jot more justification for it in my own mind than she did in hers.

The revulsion of feeling, as soon as she really comprehended all, was most distressing. After her grief had in some measure spent itself she turned against both him and me.

‘Why should have I been deceived like this?’ she demanded, with a bitter haughtiness of which I had not deemed such a tractable creature capable, ‘Do you suppose that anything could justify such an imposition?

What, O what a snare you have spread for me!’

I murmured, ‘Your life seemed to require it,’ but she did not hear me.

She sank down in a chair, covered her face, and then my father came in. ‘O, here you are!’ he said. ‘I could not find you! And Caroline!’

‘And were you, papa, a party to this strange deed of kindness ?

‘To what?’ said he.

Then out it all came, and for the first time he was made acquainted with the fact that the scheme for soothing her illness, which I had sounded him upon, had been really carried out. In a moment he sided with Caroline. My repeated assurance that my motive was good availed less than nothing. In a minute or two Caroline arose and went abruptly out of the room, my father followed her, leaving me alone to my reflections.

I was so bent upon finding Charles immediately that I did not notice whither they went. The servants told me that M. de la Feste was just outside smoking, and one of them went to look for him, I following; but before we had gone many steps he came out of the hotel behind me. I expected him to be amazed; but he showed no surprise at seeing me, though he showed another kind of feeling to an extent which dismayed me. I may have revealed something similar; but I struggled hard against all emotion, and as soon as I could I told him she had come. He simply said ‘Yes’ in a low voice.

‘You know it, Charles?’ said I.

‘I have just learnt it,’ he said.

‘O, Charles,’ I went on, ‘having delayed completing your marriage with her till now, I fear — it has become a serious position for us. Why did you not reply to our letters?’

‘I was purposing to reply in person: I did not know how to address her on the point — how to address you. But what has become of her?’

‘She has gone off with my father,’ said I; ‘indignant with you, and scorning me.’

He was silent: and I suggested that we should follow them, pointing out the direction which I fancied their gondola had taken. As the one we got into was doubly manned we soon came in view of their two figures ahead of us, while they were not likely to observe us, our boat having the ‘felze’ on, while theirs was uncovered. They shot into a narrow canal just beyond the Giardino Reale, and by the time we were floating up between its slimy walls we saw them getting out of their gondola at the steps which lead up near the end of the Via 22 Marzo. When we reached the same spot they were walking up and down the Via in consultation. Getting out he stood on the lower steps watching them. I watched him. He seemed to fall into a reverie.

‘Will you not go and speak to her?’ said I at length.

He assented, and went forward. Still he did not hasten to join them, but, screened by a projecting window, observed their musing converse. At last he looked back at me; whereupon I pointed forward, and he in obedience stepped out, and met them face to face. Caroline flushed hot, bowed haughtily to him, turned away, and taking my father’s arm violently, led him off before he had had time to use his own judgment. They disappeared into a narrow calle, or alley, leading to the back of the buildings on the Grand Canal.

M. de la Feste came slowly back; as he stepped in beside me I realised my position so vividly that my heart might almost have been heard to beat. The third condition had arisen - the least expected by either of us. She had refused him; he was free to claim me.

We returned in the boat together. He seemed quite absorbed till we had turned the angle into the Grand Canal, when he broke the silence. ‘She spoke very bitterly to you in the salle-a’-manger,’ he said. ‘I do not think she was quite warranted in speaking so to you, who had nursed her so tenderly.’

‘O, but I think she was,’ I answered. It was there I told her what had been done; she did not know till then.’

‘She was very dignified - very striking,’ he murmured. ‘You were more.’

‘But how do you know what passed between us?’ said I. He then told me that he had seen and heard all. The dining-room was divided by folding-doors from an inner portion, and he had been sitting in the latter part when we entered the outer, so that our words were distinctly audible.

‘But, dear Alicia,’ he went on, ‘I was more impressed by the affection of your apology to her than by anything else. And do you know that now the conditions have arisen which give me liberty to consider you my affianced?’ I had been expecting this, but yet was not prepared. I stammered out that we would not discuss it then.

‘Why not?’ said he. ‘Do you know that we may marry here and now? She has cast off both you and me.’

‘It cannot be,’ said I firmly. ‘She has not been fairly asked to be your wife in fact — to repeat the service lawfully; and until that has been done it would be grievous sin in me to accept you.’

I had not noticed where the gondoliers were rowing us. I suppose he had given them some direction unheard by me, for as I resigned myself in despairing indolence to the motion of the gondola, I perceived that it was taking us up the Canal, and, turning into a side opening near the Palazzo Grimani, drew up at some steps near the end of a large church.

‘Where are we?’ said I.

‘It is the Church of the Frari,’ he replied. ‘We might be married there.

At any rate, let us go inside, and grow calm, and decide what to do.’

When we had entered I found that whether a place to marry in or not, it was one to depress. The word which Venice speaks most constantly - decay - was in a sense accentuated here. The whole large fabric itself seemed sinking into an earth which was not solid enough to bear it. Cobwebbed cracks zigzagged the walls, and similar webs clouded the windowpanes. A sickly-sweet smell pervaded the aisles. After walking about with him a little while in embarrassing silences, divided only by his cursory explanations of the monuments and other objects, and almost fearing he might produce a marriage licence, I went to a door in the south transept which opened into the sacristy.

I glanced through it, towards the small altar at the upper end. The place was empty save of one figure; and she was kneeling here in front of the beautiful altarpiece by Bellini. Beautiful though it was she seemed not to see it. She was weeping and praying as though her heart was broken. She was my sister Caroline. I beckoned to Charles, and he came to my side, and looked through the door with me.

‘Speak to her,’ said I. ‘She will forgive you.’

I gently pushed him through the doorway, and went back into the transept, down the nave, and onward to the west door. There I saw my father, to whom I spoke. He answered severely that, having first obtained comfortable quarters in a pension on the Grand Canal, he had gone back to the hotel on the Riva degli Schiavoni to find me; but that I was not there. He was now waiting for Caroline, to accompany her back to the pension, at which she had requested to be left to herself as much as possible till she could regain some composure.

I told him that it was useless to dwell on what was past, that I no doubt had erred, that the remedy lay in the future and their marriage. In this he quite agreed with me, and on my informing him that M. de la Feste was at that moment with Caroline in the sacristy, he assented to my proposal that we should leave them to themselves, and return together to await them at the pension, where he had also engaged a room for me. This we did, and going up to the chamber he had chosen for me, which overlooked the Canal, I leant from the window to watch for the gondola that should contain Charles and my sister.

They were not long in coming. I recognized them by the colour of her sunshade as soon as they turned the bend on my right hand. They were side by side of necessity, but there was no conversation between them, and I thought that she looked flushed and he pale. When they were rowed in to the steps of our house he handed her up. I fancied she might have refused his assistance, but she did not. Soon I heard her pass my door, and wishing to know the result of their interview I went downstairs, seeing that the gondola had not put off with him. He was turning from the door, but not towards the water, intending apparently to walk home by way of the calls which led into the Via 22 Marzo.

‘Has she forgiven you?’ said I.

‘I have not asked her,’ he said.

‘But you are bound to do so,’ I told him.

He paused, and then said, ‘Alicia, let us understand each other. Do you mean to tell me, once for all, that if your sister is willing to become my wife you absolutely make way for her, and will not entertain any thought of what I suggested to you any more ?’

‘I do tell you so, said I with dry lips. ‘You belong to her - how can I do otherwise?’

‘Yes; it is so; it is purely a question of honour,’ he returned. ‘Very well then, honour shall be my word, and not my love. I will put the question to her frankly; if she says yes, the marriage shall be. But not here. It shall be at your own house in England.’

‘When?’ said I.

‘I will accompany her there,’ he replied, ‘and it shall be within a week of her return. I have nothing to gain by delay. But I will not answer for the consequences.’

‘What do you mean?’ said I. He made no reply, went away, and I came back to my room.

IX. — SHE WITNESSES THE END

April 20. Milan, 10:30 p.m. - We are thus far on our way homeward. I, being decidedly de trop, travel apart from the rest as much as I can. Having dined at the hotel here, I went out by myself, regardless of the proprieties, for I could not stay in. I walked at a leisurely pace along the Via Allesandro Manzoni till my eye was caught by the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, and I entered under the high glass arcades till I reached the central octagon, where I sat down on one of a group of chairs placed there. Becoming accustomed to the stream of promenaders, I soon observed, seated on the chairs opposite, Caroline and Charles. This was the first occasion on which I had seen them en tete a tete since my conversation with him. She soon caught sight of me; averted her eyes; then, apparently abandoning herself to an impulse, she jumped up from her seat and came across to me. We had not spoken to each other since the meeting in Venice.

‘Alicia,’ she said, sitting down by my side, ‘Charles asks me to forgive you, and I do forgive you.’

I pressed her hand, with tears in my eyes, and said, ‘And do you forgive him?’

‘Yes,’ said she shyly.

‘And what’s the result?’ said I.

‘We are to be married directly we reach home.’

This was almost the whole of our conversation; she walked home with me, Charles following a little way behind, though she kept turning her head, as if anxious that he should overtake us. ‘Honour and not love’ seemed to ring in my ears. So matters stand. Caroline is again happy.

April 25. — We have reached home, Charles with us. Events are now moving in silent speed, almost with velocity, indeed; and I sometimes feel oppressed by the strange and preternatural ease which seems to accompany their flow. Charles is staying at the neighbouring town; he is only waiting for the marriage licence; when obtained he is to come here, be quietly married to her, and carry her off. It is rather resignation than content which sits on his face; but he has not spoken a word more to me on the burning subject or deviated one hair’s breadth from the course he laid down. They may be happy in time to come: I hope so. But I cannot shake off depression.

May 6. — Eve of the wedding. Caroline is serenely happy, though not blithe. But there is nothing to excite anxiety about her. I wish I could say the same of him. He comes and goes like a ghost, and yet nobody seems to observe this strangeness in his mien. I could not help being here for the ceremony; but my absence would have resulted in less disquiet on his part, I believe. However, I may be wrong in attributing causes: my father simply says that Charles and Caroline have as good a chance of being happy as other people. Well, to-morrow settles all.

May 7. — They are married: we have just returned from church. Charles looked so pale this morning that my father asked him if he was ill. He said, ‘No: only a slight headache;’ and we started for the church. There was no hitch or hindrance; and the thing is done.

4 p.m. — They ought to have set out on their journey by this time; but there is an unaccountable delay. Charles went out half-an-hour ago, and has not yet returned. Caroline is waiting in the hall; but I am dreadfully afraid they will miss the train. I suppose the trifling hindrance is of no account; and yet I am full of misgivings. . . .

Sept. 14. — Four months have passed; only four months! It seems like years. Can it be that only seventeen weeks ago I set on this paper the fact of their marriage? I am now an aged woman by comparison!

On that never to be forgotten day we waited and waited, and Charles did not return. At six o’clock, when poor little Caroline had gone back to her room in a state of suspense impossible to describe, a man who worked in the water-meadows came to the house and asked for my father. He had an interview with him in the study. My father then rang his bell, and sent for me. I went down; and I then learnt the fatal news. Charles was no more. The waterman had been going to shut down the hatches of a weir in the meads when he saw a hat on the edge of the pool below, floating round and round in the eddy, and looking into the pool saw something strange at the bottom. He knew what it meant, and lowering the hatches so that the water was still, could distinctly see the body. It is needless to write particulars that were in the newspapers at the time. Charles was brought to the house, but he was dead.

We all feared for Caroline; and she suffered much; but strange to say, her suffering was purely of the nature of deep grief which found relief in sobbing and tears. It came out at the inquest that Charles had been accustomed to cross the meads to give an occasional half-crown to an old man who lived on the opposite hill, who had once been a landscape painter in an humble way till he lost his eyesight; and it was assumed that he had gone thither for the same purpose to-day, and to bid him farewell. On this information the coroner’s jury found that his death had been caused by misadventure; and everybody believes to this hour that he was drowned while crossing the weir to relieve the old man. Except one: she believes in no accident. After the stunning effect of the first news, I thought it strange that he should have chosen to go on such an errand at the last moment, and to go personally, when there was so little time to spare, since any gift could have been so easily sent by another hand. Further reflection has convinced me that this step out of life was as much a part of the day’s plan as was the wedding in the church hard by. They were the two halves of his complete intention when he gave me on the Grand Canal that assurance which I shall never forget: ‘Very well, then; honour shall be my word, not love. If she says “Yes,” the marriage shall be.’

I do not know why I should have made this entry at this particular time; but it has occurred to me to do it — to complete, in a measure, that part of my desultory chronicle which relates to the love-story of my sister and Charles. She lives on meekly in her grief, and will probably outlive it; while I — but never mind me.

X. — SHE ADDS A NOTE LONG AFTER

Five years later. — I have lighted upon this old diary, which it has interested me to look over, containing, as it does, records of the time when life shone in more warmly in my eye than it does now. I am impelled to add one sentence to round off its record of the past. About a year ago my sister Caroline, after a persistent wooing, accepted the hand and heart of Theophilus Higham, once the blushing young Scripture reader who assisted at the substitute for a marriage I planned, and now the fully-ordained curate of the next parish. His penitence for the part he played ended in love. We have all now made atonement for our sins against her: may she be deceived no more.

1887

The Waiting Supper
I

Whoever had perceived the yeoman standing on Squire Everard’s lawn in the dusk of that October evening fifty years ago, might have said at first sight that he was loitering there from idle curiosity. For a large five-light window of the manor-house in front of him was unshuttered and uncurtained, so that the illuminated room within could be scanned almost to its four corners. Obviously nobody was ever expected to be in this part of the grounds after nightfall.

The apartment thus swept by an eye from without was occupied by two persons; they were sitting over dessert, the tablecloth having been removed in the old-fashioned way. The fruits were local, consisting of apples, pears, nuts, and such other products of the summer as might be presumed to grow on the estate. There was strong ale and rum on the table, and but little wine. Moreover, the appointments of the dining-room were simple and homely even for the date, betokening a countrified household of the smaller gentry, without much wealth or ambition — formerly a numerous class, but now in great part ousted by the territorial landlords.

One of the two sitters was a young lady in white muslin, who listened somewhat impatiently to the remarks of her companion, an elderly, rubicund personage, whom the merest stranger could have pronounced to be her father. The watcher evinced no signs of moving, and it became evident that affairs were not so simple as they first had seemed. The tall farmer was in fact no accidental spectator, and he stood by premeditation close to the trunk of a tree, so that had any traveller passed along the road without the park gate, or even round the lawn to the door, that person would scarce have noticed the other, notwithstanding that the gate was quite near at hand, and the park little larger than a paddock. There was still light enough in the western heaven to brighten faintly one side of the man’s face, and to show against the trunk of the tree behind the admirable cut of his profile; also to reveal that the front of the manor-house, small though it seemed, was solidly built of stone in that never-to-be surpassed style for the English country residence — the mullioned and transomed Elizabethan.

The lawn, although neglected, was still as level as a bowling green — which indeed it might once have served for; and the blades of grass before the window were raked by the candle-shine, which stretched over them so far as to touch the yeoman’s face in front.

Within the dining-room there were also, with one of the twain, the same signs of a hidden purpose that marked the farmer. The young lady’s mind was straying as clearly into the shadows as that of the loiterer was fixed upon the room — nay, it could be said that she was quite conscious of his presence outside. Impatience caused her foot to beat silently on the carpet, and she more than once rose to leave the table. This proceeding was checked by her father, who would put his hand upon her shoulder and unceremoniously press her down into her chair, till he should have concluded his observations. Her replies were brief enough, and there was factitiousness in her smiles of assent to his views. A small iron casement between two of the mullions was open, and some occasional words of the dialogue were audible without.

‘As for drains — how can I put in drains? The pipes don’t cost much, that’s true; but the labour in sinking the trenches is ruination. And then the gates — they should be hung to stone posts, otherwise there’s no keeping them up through harvest.’ The Squire’s voice was strongly toned with the local accent, so that he said ‘drains’ and ‘geats’ like the rustics on his estate.

The landscape without grew darker, and the young man’s figure seemed to be absorbed into the trunk of the tree. The small stars filled in between the larger, the nebulae between the small stars, the trees quite lost their voice; and if there was still a sound, it was from the cascade of a stream which stretched along under the trees that bounded the lawn on its northern side.

At last the young girl did get to her feet and secure her retreat. ‘I have something to do, papa,’ she said. I shall not be in the drawing-room just yet.’

‘Very well,’ replied he. ‘Then I won’t hurry.’ And closing the door behind her, he drew his decanters together and settled down in his chair.

Three minutes after that a woman’s shape emerged from the drawing room window, and passing through a wall-door to the entrance front, came across the grass. She kept well clear of the dining-room window, but enough of its light fell on her to show, escaping from the dark-hooded cloak that she wore, stray verges of the same light dress which had figured but recently at the dinner-table. The hood was contracted tight about her face with a drawing-string, making her countenance small and baby-like, and lovelier even than before.

Without hesitation she brushed across the grass to the tree under which the young man stood concealed. The moment she had reached him he enclosed her form with his arm. The meeting and embrace, though by no means formal, were yet not passionate; the whole proceeding was that of persons who had repeated the act so often as to be unconscious of its performance. She turned within his arm, and faced in the same direction with himself, which was towards the window; and thus they stood without speaking, the back of her head leaning against his shoulder. For a while each seemed to be thinking his and her diverse thoughts.

‘You have kept me waiting a long time, dear Christine,’ he said at last. ‘I wanted to speak to you particularly, or I should not have stayed. How came you to be dining at this time o’ night?’

‘Father has been out all day, and dinner was put back till six. I know I have kept you; but Nicholas, how can I help it sometimes, if I am not to run any risk? My poor father insists upon my listening to all he has to say; since my brother left he has had nobody else to listen to him; and tonight he was particularly tedious on his usual topics — draining, and tenant-farmers, and the village people. I must take daddy to London; he gets so narrow always staying here.’

‘And what did you say to it all?’

‘Well, I took the part of the tenant-farmers, of course, as the beloved of one should in duty do.’ There followed a little break or gasp, implying a strangled sigh.

‘You are sorry you have encouraged that beloving one?’

‘O no, Nicholas ... What is it you want to see me for particularly?’

‘I know you are sorry, as time goes on, and everything is at a dead-lock, with no prospect of change, and your rural swain loses his freshness! Only think, this secret understanding between us has lasted near three year, ever since you was a little over sixteen.’

‘Yes; it has been a long time.’

‘And I an untamed, uncultivated man, who has never seen London, and knows nothing about society at all.’

‘Not uncultivated, dear Nicholas. Untravelled, socially unpractised, if you will,’ she said, smiling. Well, I did sigh; but not because I regret being your promised one. What I do sometimes regret is that the scheme, which my meetings with you are but apart of, has not been carried out completely. You said, Nicholas, that if I consented to swear to keep faith with you, you would away and travel, and see nations, and peoples, and cities, and take a professor with you, and study books and art, simultaneously with your study of men and manners; and then come back at the end of two years, when I should find that my father would by no means be indisposed to accept you as a son-in-law. You said your reason for wishing to get my promise before starting was that your mind would then be more at rest when you were far away, and so could give itself more completely to knowledge than if you went as my unaccepted lover only, fuming with anxiety as to how I should be when you came back. I saw how reasonable that was; and solemnly swore myself to you in consequence. But instead of going to see the world you stay on and on here to see me.’

‘And you don’t want me to see you?’

‘Yes — no — it is not that. It is that I have latterly felt frightened at what I am doing when not in your actual presence. It seems so wicked not to tell my father that I have a lover close at hand, within touch and view of both of us; whereas if you were absent my conduct would not seem quite so treacherous. The realities would not stare at one so. You would be a pleasant dream to me, which I should be free to indulge in without reproach of my conscience; I should live in hopeful expectation of your returning fully qualified to boldly claim me of my father. There, I have been terribly frank, I know.’

He in his turn had lapsed into gloomy breathings now. ‘I did plan it as you state,’ he answered. ‘I did mean to go away the moment I had your promise. But, dear Christine, I did not foresee two or three things. I did not know what a lot of pain it would cost to tear myself from you. And I did not know that my stingy uncle — heaven forgive me calling him so! — would so flatly refuse to advance me money for my purpose — the scheme of travelling with a first-rate tutor costing a formidable sum o’ money. You have no idea what it would cost!’

‘But I have said that I’ll find the money.’

‘Ah, there,’ he returned, ‘you have hit a sore place. To speak truly, dear, I would rather stay unpolished a hundred years than take your money.’

‘But why? Men continually use the money of the women they marry.’

‘Yes; but not till afterwards. No man would like to touch your money at present, and I should feel very mean if I were to do so in present circumstances. That brings me to what I was going to propose. But no — upon the whole I will not propose it now.’

‘Ah! I would guarantee expenses, and you won’t let me! The money is my personal possession: it comes to me from my late grandfather, and not from my father at all.’

He laughed forcedly and pressed her hand. ‘There are more reasons why I cannot tear myself away,’ he added. ‘What would become of my uncle’s farming? Six hundred acres in this parish, and five hundred in the next — a constant traipsing from one farm to the other; he can’t be in two places at once. Still, that might be got over if it were not for the other matters. Besides, dear, I still should be a little uneasy, even though I have your promise, lest somebody should snap you up away from me.’

‘Ah, you should have thought of that before. Otherwise I have committed myself for nothing.’

‘I should have thought of it,’ he answered gravely. But I did not. There lies my fault, I admit it freely. Ah, if you would only commit yourself a little more, I might at least get over that difficulty! But I won’t ask you. You have no idea how much you are to me still; you could not argue so coolly if you had. What property belongs to you I hate the very sound of; it is you I care for. I wish you hadn’t a farthing in the world but what I could earn for you!’

‘I don’t altogether wish that,’ she murmured.

‘I wish it, because it would have made what I was going to propose much easier to do than it is now. Indeed I will not propose it, although I came on purpose, after what you have said in your frankness.’

‘Nonsense, Nic. Come, tell me. How can you be so touchy? ‘

‘Look at this then, Christine dear.’ He drew from his breast-pocket a sheet of paper and unfolded it, when it was observable that a seal dangled from the bottom.

‘What is it?’ She held the paper sideways, so that what there was of window-light fell on its surface. ‘I can only read the Old English letters — why — our names! Surely it is not a marriage-licence?’

‘It is.’

She trembled. ‘O Nic! how could you do this — and without telling me!’

‘Why should I have thought I must tell you? You had not spoken “frankly” then as you have now. We have been all to each other more than these two years, and I thought I would propose that we marry privately, and that I then leave you on the instant. I would have taken my travelling-bag to church, and you would have gone home alone. I should not have started on my adventures in the brilliant manner of our original plan, but should have roughed it a little at first; my great gain would have been that the absolute possession of you would have enabled me to work with spirit and purpose, such as nothing else could do. But I dare not ask you now — so frank as you have been.’

She did not answer. The document he had produced gave such unexpected substantiality to the venture with which she had so long toyed as a vague dream merely, that she was, in truth, frightened a little. I — don’t know about it!’ she said.

‘Perhaps not. Ah, my little lady, you are wearying of me!’

‘No, Nic,’ responded she, creeping closer. ‘I am not. Upon my word, and truth, and honour, I am not, Nic.’

‘A mere tiller of the soil, as I should be called,’ he continued, without heeding her. ‘And you — well, a daughter of one of the — I won’t say oldest families, because that’s absurd, all families are the same age — of the longest chronicled families about here, whose name is actually the name of the place.’

‘That’s not much, I am sorry to say! My poor brother — but I won’t speak of that. . . . Well,’ she murmured mischievously, after a pause, ‘you certainly would not need to be uneasy if I were to do this that you want me to do. You would have me safe enough in your trap then; I couldn’t get away!’

‘That’s just it!’ he said vehemently. ‘It is a trap — you feel it so, and that though you wouldn’t be able to get away from me you might particularly wish to! Ah, if I had asked you two years ago you would have agreed instantly. But I thought I was bound to wait for the proposal to come from you as the superior!’

‘Now you are angry, and take seriously what I meant purely in fun. You don’t know me even yet! To show you that you have not been mistaken in me, I do propose to carry out this licence. I’ll marry you, dear Nicholas, tomorrow morning.’

‘Ah, Christine! I am afraid I have stung you on to this, so that I cannot — — ’

‘No, no, no!’ she hastily rejoined; and there was something in her tone which suggested that she had been put upon her mettle and would not flinch. ‘Take me whilst I am in the humour. What church is the licence for?’

‘That I’ve not looked to see — why our parish church here, of course. Ah, then we cannot use it! We dare not be married here.’

‘We do dare,’ said she. ‘And we will too, if you’ll be there.’

‘If I’ll be there!’

They speedily came to an agreement that he should be in the church-porch at ten minutes to eight on the following morning, awaiting her; and that, immediately after the conclusion of the service which would make them one, Nicholas should set out on his long-deferred educational tour, towards the cost of which she was resolving to bring a substantial subscription with her to church. Then, slipping from him, she went indoors by the way she had come, and Nicholas bent his steps homewards.

II

Instead of leaving the spot by the gate, he flung himself over the fence, and pursued a direction towards the river under the trees. And it was now, in his lonely progress, that he showed for the first time outwardly that he was not altogether unworthy of her. He wore long water-boots reaching above his knees, and, instead of making a circuit to find a bridge by which he might cross the Froom — the river aforesaid — he made straight for the point whence proceeded the low roar that was at this hour the only evidence of the stream’s existence. He speedily stood on the verge of the waterfall which caused the noise, and stepping into the water at the top of the fall, waded through with the sure tread of one who knew every inch of his footing, even though the canopy of trees rendered the darkness almost absolute, and a false step would have precipitated him into the pool beneath. Soon reaching the boundary of the grounds, he continued in the same direct line to traverse the alluvial valley, full of brooks and tributaries to the main stream — in former times quite impassable, and impassable in winter now. Sometimes he would cross a deep gully on a plank not wider than the hand; at another time he ploughed his way through beds of spear-grass, where at a few feet to the right or left he might have been sucked down into a morass. At last he reached firm land on the other side of this watery tract, and came to his house on the rise behind — Elsenford — an ordinary farmstead, from the back of which rose indistinct breathings, belchings, and snortings, the rattle of halters, and other familiar features of an agriculturist’s home.

While Nicholas Long was packing his bag in an upper room of this dwelling, Miss Christine Everard sat at a desk in her own chamber at Froom-Everard manor-house, looking with pale fixed countenance at the candles.

‘I ought — I must now! ‘ she whispered to herself. I should not have begun it if I had not meant to carry it through! It runs in the blood of us, I suppose.’ She alluded to a fact unknown to her lover, the clandestine marriage of an aunt under circumstances somewhat similar to the present. In a few minutes she had penned the following note: —

October 13, 183-

DEAR MR. BEALAND — Can you make it convenient to yourself to meet me at the Church to-morrow morning at eight? I name the early hour because it would suit me better than later on in the day. You will find me in the chancel, if you can come. An answer yes or no by the bearer of this will be sufficient. CHRISTINE EVERARD.

She sent the note to the rector immediately, waiting at a small side-door of the house till she heard the servant’s footsteps returning along the lane, when she went round and met him in the passage. The rector had taken the trouble to write a line, and answered that he would meet her with pleasure.

A dripping fog which ushered in the next morning was highly favourable to the scheme of the pair. At that time of the century Froom-Everard House had not been altered and enlarged; the public lane passed close under its walls; and there was a door opening directly from one of the old parlours — the south parlour, as it was called — into the lane which led to the village. Christine came out this way, and after following the lane for a short distance entered upon a path within a belt of plantation, by which the church could be reached privately. She even avoided the churchyard gate, walking along to a place where the turf without the low wall rose into a mound, enabling her to mount upon the coping and spring down inside. She crossed the wet graves, and so glided round to the door. He was there, with his bag in his hand. He kissed her with a sort of surprise, as if he had expected that at the last moment her heart would fail her.

Though it had not failed her, there was, nevertheless, no great ardour in Christine’s bearing — merely the momentum of an antecedent impulse. They went up the aisle together, the bottle-green glass of the old lead quarries admitting but little light at that hour, and under such an atmosphere. They stood by the altar-rail in silence, Christine’s skirt visibly quivering at each beat of her heart.

Presently a quick step ground upon the gravel, and Mr. Bealand came round by the front. He was a quiet bachelor, courteous towards Christine, and not at first recognizing in Nicholas a neighbouring yeoman (for he lived aloofly in the next parish), advanced to her without revealing any surprise at her unusual request. But in truth he was surprised, the keen interest taken by many country young women at the present day in church decoration festivals being then unknown.

‘Good morning,’ he said; and repeated the same words to Nicholas more mechanically.

‘Good morning,’ she replied gravely. ‘Mr. Bealand, I have a serious reason for asking you to meet me — us, I may say. We wish you to marry us.’

The rector’s gaze hardened to fixity, rather between than upon either of them, and he neither moved nor replied for some time.

‘Ah!’ he said at last.

‘And we are quite ready.’

‘I had no idea — — ’

‘It has been kept rather private,’ she said calmly.

‘Where are your witnesses?’

They are outside in the meadow, sir. I can call them in a moment,’ said Nicholas.’Oh — I see it is — Mr. Nicholas Long’ said Mr. Bealand, and turning again to Christine, ‘Does your father know of this?’

‘Is it necessary that I should answer that question, Mr. Bealand?’

‘I am afraid it is — highly necessary.’

Christine began to look concerned.

‘Where is the licence?’ the rector asked ‘since there have been no banns.’

Nicholas produced it, Mr. Bealand read it, an operation which occupied him several minutes — or at least he made it appear so; till Christine said impatiently, ‘We are quite ready, Mr. Bealand. Will you proceed? Mr. Long has to take a journey of a great many miles today.’

‘And you?’

‘No. I remain.’

Mr. Bealand assumed firmness. ‘There is something wrong in this,’ he said. ‘I cannot marry you without your father’s presence.’

‘But have you a right to refuse us?’ interposed Nicholas. ‘I believe we are in a position to demand your fulfilment of our request.’

‘No, you are not! Is Miss Everard of age? I think not. I think she is months from being so. Eh, Miss Everard?’

‘Am I bound to tell that?’

‘Certainly. At any rate you are bound to write it. Meanwhile I refuse to solemnize the service. And let me entreat you two young people to do nothing so rash as this, even if by going to some strange church, you may do so without discovery. The tragedy of marriage — — ‘

‘Tragedy?’

‘Certainly. It is full of crises and catastrophes, and ends with the death of one of the actors. The tragedy of marriage, as I was saying, is one I shall not be a party to your beginning with such light hearts, and I shall feel bound to put your father on his guard, Miss Everard. Think better of it, I entreat you! Remember the proverb, “Marry in haste and repent at leisure.” ‘

Christine, spurred by opposition, almost stormed at him. Nicholas implored; but nothing would turn that obstinate rector. She sat down and reflected. By-and-by she confronted Mr. Bealand.

‘Our marriage is not to be this morning, I see,’ she said. ‘Now grant me one favour, and in return I’ll promise you to do nothing rashly. Do not tell my father a word of what has happened here.’

‘I agree — if you undertake not to elope.’

She looked at Nicholas, and he looked at her. ‘Do you wish me to elope, Nic?’ she asked.

‘No,’ he said.

So the compact was made, and they left the church singly, Nicholas remaining till the last, and closing the door. On his way home, carrying the well-packed bag which was just now to go no further, the two men who were mending water-carriers in the meadows approached the hedge, as if they had been on the alert all the time.

‘You said you mid want us for zummat sir?’

‘All right — never mind,’ he answered through the hedge. ‘I did not require you after all.’

III

At a manor not far away there lived a queer and primitive couple who had lately been blessed with a son and heir. The christening took place during the week under notice, and this had been followed by a feast to the parishioners. Christine’s father, one of the same generation and kind, had been asked to drive over and assist in the entertainment, and Christine, as a matter of course, accompanied him.

When they reached Athelhall, as the house was called, they found the usually quiet nook a lively spectacle. Tables had been spread in the apartment which lent its name to the whole building — the hall proper — covered with a fine open-timbered roof, whose braces, purlins, and rafters made a brown thicket of oak overhead. Here tenantry of all ages sat with their wives and families, and the servants were assisted in their ministrations by the sons and daughters of the owner’s friends and neighbours. Christine lent a hand among the rest.

She was holding a plate in each hand towards a huge brown platter of baked rice-pudding, from which a footman was scooping a large spoonful, when a voice reached her ear over her shoulder: ‘Allow me to hold them for you.’

Christine turned, and recognized in the speaker the nephew of the entertainer, a young man from London, whom she had already met on two or three occasions. She accepted the proffered help, and from that moment, whenever he passed her in their marchings to and fro during the remainder of the serving, he smiled acquaintance. When their work was done, he improved the few words into a conversation. He plainly had been attracted by her fairness.

Bellston was a self-assured young man, not particularly good-looking, with more colour in his skin than even Nicholas had. He had flushed a little in attracting her notice, though the flush had nothing of nervousness in it — the air with which it was accompanied making it curiously suggestive of a flush of anger and even when he laughed it was difficult to banish that fancy.

The late autumn sunlight streamed in through the window panes upon the beads and shoulders of the venerable patriarchs of the hamlet, and upon the middle-aged, and upon the young; upon men and women who had played out, or were to play, tragedies or tragicomedies in that nook of civilization not less great, essentially, than those which, enacted on more central arenas, fix the attention of the world. One of the party was a cousin of Nicholas Long’s, who sat with her husband and children.

To make himself as locally harmonious as possible, Mr. Bellston remarked to his companion on the scene —

‘It does one’s heart good,’ he said, ‘to see these simple peasants enjoying themselves.’

‘O Mr. Bellston!’ exclaimed Christine; ‘don’t be too sure about that word “simple”! You little think what they see and meditate! Their reasonings and emotions are as complicated as ours.’

She spoke with a vehemence which would have been hardly present in her words but for her own relation to Nicholas. The sense of that produced in her a nameless depression thenceforward. The young man, however, still followed her up.

‘I am glad to hear you say it,’ he returned warmly. I was merely attuning myself to your mood, as I thought. The real truth is that I know more of the Parthians, and Medes, and dwellers in Mesopotamia — almost of any people, indeed — than of the English rustics. Travel and exploration are my profession, not the study of the British peasantry.’

Travel. There was sufficient coincidence between his declaration and the course she had urged upon her lover, to lend Bellston’s account of himself a certain interest in Christine’s ears. He might perhaps be able to tell her something that would be useful to Nicholas, if their dream were carried out. A door opened from the hall into the garden, and she somehow found herself outside, chatting with Mr. Bellston on this topic, till she thought that upon the whole she liked the young man. The garden being his uncle’s, he took her round it with an air of proprietorship; and they went on amongst the Michaelmas daisies and chrysanthemums, and through a door to the fruit-garden. A green-house was open, and he went in and cut her a bunch of grapes.

‘How daring of you! They are your uncle’s.’

‘O, he won’t mind — I do anything here. A rough old buffer, isn’t he?’

She was thinking of her Nic, and felt that, by comparison with her present acquaintance, the farmer more than held his own as a fine and intelligent fellow; but the harmony with her own existence in little things, which she found here, imparted an alien tinge to Nicholas just now. The latter, idealised by moonlight, or a thousand miles of distance, was altogether a more romantic object for a woman’s dream than this smart new-lacquered man; but in the sun of afternoon, and amid a surrounding company, Mr. Bellston was a very tolerable companion.

When they re-entered the hall, Bellston entreated her to come with him up a spiral stair in the thickness of the wall, leading to a passage and gallery whence they could look down upon the scene below. The people had finished their feast, the newly-christened baby had been exhibited, and a few words having been spoken to them they began, amid a racketing of forms, to make for the greensward without, Nicholas’s cousin and cousin’s wife and cousin’s children among the rest. While they were filing out, a voice was heard calling —

‘Hullo! — here, Jim; where are you?’ said Bellston’s uncle. The young man descended, Christine following at leisure.

‘Now will ye be a good fellow,’ the Squire continued, ‘and set them going outside in some dance or other that they know? I’m dog-tired, and I want to have a few words with Mr. Everard before we join ‘em — hey, Everard? They are shy till somebody starts ‘em; afterwards they’ll keep gwine brisk enough.’

‘Ay, that they wool,’ said Squire Everard.

They followed to the lawn; and here it proved that James Bellston was as shy, or rather as averse, as any of the tenantry themselves, to acting the part of fugleman. Only the parish people had been at the feast, but outlying neighbours had now strolled in for a dance.

‘They want “Speed the Plough,” ‘ said Bellston, coming up breathless. ‘It must be a country dance, I suppose? Now, Miss Everard, do have pity upon me. I am supposed to lead off; but really I know no more about speeding the plough than a child just born! Would you take one of the villagers? — just to start them, my uncle says. Suppose you take that handsome young farmer over there — I don’t know his name, but I dare say you do — and I’ll come on with one of the dairyman’s daughters as a second couple.’

Christine turned in the direction signified, and changed colour — though in the shade nobody noticed it. ‘Oh, yes — I know him,’ she said coolly. ‘He is from near our own place — Mr. Nicholas Long.’

‘That’s capital — then you can easily make him stand as first couple with you. Now I must pick up mine.’

‘I — I think I’ll dance with you, Mr. Bellston,’ she said with some trepidation. ‘Because, you see,’ she explained eagerly, ‘I know the figure and you don’t — so that I can help you; while Nicholas Long, I know, is familiar with the figure, and that will make two couples who know it — which is necessary, at least.’

Bellston showed his gratification by one of his angry-pleasant flushes — he had hardly dared to ask for what she proffered freely; and having requested Nicholas to take the dairyman’s daughter, led Christine to her place, Long promptly stepping up second with his charge. There were grim silent depths in Nick’s character; a small deed spark in his eye, as it caught Christine’s, was all that showed his consciousness of her. Then the fiddlers began — the celebrated Mellstock fiddlers who, given free stripping, could play from sunset to dawn without turning a hair. The couples wheeled and swung, Nicholas taking Christine’s hand in the course of business with the figure, when she waited for him to give it a little squeeze; but he did not.

Christine had the greatest difficulty in steering her partner through the maze, on account of his self-will, and when at last they reached the bottom of the long line, she was breathless with her hard labour. Resting here, she watched Nic and his lady; and, though she had decidedly cooled off in these later months, began to admire him anew. Nobody knew these dances like him, after all, or could do anything of this sort so well. His performance with the dairyman’s daughter so won upon her, that when ‘Speed the Plough’ was over she contrived to speak to him.

‘Nic, you are to dance with me next time.’

He said he would, and presently asked her in a formal public manner, lifting his hat gallantly. She showed a little backwardness, which he quite understood, and allowed him to lead her to the top, a row of enormous length appearing below them as if by a magic as soon as they had taken their places. Truly the Squire was right when he said that they only wanted starting.

‘What is it to be?’ whispered Nicholas.

She turned to the band. ‘The Honeymoon,’ she said.

And then they trod the delightful last-century measure of that name, which if it had ever been danced better, was never danced with more zest. The perfect responsiveness which their tender acquaintance threw into the motions of Nicholas and his partner lent to their gyrations the fine adjustment of two interacting parts of a single machine. The excitement of the movement carried Christine back to the time — the unreflecting passionate time, about two years before — when she and Nic had been incipient lovers only; and it made her forget the carking anxieties, the vision of social breakers ahead, that had begun to take the gilding off her position now. Nicholas, on his part, had never ceased to be a lover; no personal worries had as yet made him conscious of any staleness, flatness, or unprofitable ness in his admiration of Christine.

‘Not quite so wildly, Nic,’ she whispered. ‘I don’t object personally; but they’ll notice us. How came you here?’

‘I heard that you had driven over; and I set out — on purpose for this.’

‘What — you have walked?’

‘Yes. If I had waited for one of uncle’s horses I should have been too late.’

‘Five miles here and five back — ten miles on foot — merely to dance!’

‘With you. What made you think of this old “Honeymoon” thing?’

‘O! it came into my head when I saw you, as what would have been a reality with us if you had not been stupid about that licence, and had got it for a distant church.’

‘Shall we try again?’

‘No — I don’t know. I’ll think it over.’

The villagers admired their grace and skill, as the dancers themselves perceived; but they did not know what accompanied that admiration in one spot, at least.

‘People who wonder they can foot it so featly together should know what some others think,’ a waterman was saying to his neighbour. ‘Then their wonder would be less.’

His comrade asked for information.

‘Well — really I hardly believe it — but ‘tis said they be man and wife. Yes, sure — went to church and did the job a’ most afore ‘twas light one morning. But mind, not a word of this; for ‘would be the loss of a winter’s work to me if I had spread such a report and it were not true.’

When the dance had ended she rejoined her own section of the company. Her father and Mr. Bellston the elder had now come out from the house, and were smoking in the background. Presently she found that her father was at her elbow.

‘Christine, don’t dance too often with young Long — as a mere matter of prudence, I mean, as volk might think it odd, he being one of our own neighbouring farmers. I should not mention this to ‘ee if he were an ordinary young fellow; but being superior to the rest it behoves you to be careful.’

‘Exactly, papa,’ said Christine.

But the revived sense that she was deceiving him threw a damp over her spirits. ‘But, after all,’ she said to herself, ‘he is a young man of Elsenford, handsome, able, and the soul of honour; and I am a young woman of the adjoining parish, who have been constantly thrown into communication with him. Is it not, by nature’s rule, the most proper thing in the world that I should marry him, and is it not an absurd conventional regulation which says that such a union would be wrong?’

It may be concluded that the strength of Christine’s large-minded argument was rather an evidence of weakness than of strength in the passion it concerned, which had required neither argument nor reasoning of any kind for its maintenance when full and flush in its early days.

When driving home in the dark with her father she sank into pensive silence. She was thinking of Nicholas having to trudge on foot all those miles back after his exertions on the sward. Mr. Everard, arousing himself from a nap, said suddenly, ‘I have something to mention to ‘ee, by George — so I have, Chris! You probably know what it is?’

She expressed ignorance, wondering if her father had discovered anything of her secret.

‘Well, according to him you know it. But I will tell ‘ee. Perhaps you noticed young Jim Bellston walking me off down the lawn with him? — whether or no, we walked together a good wh