By Charles Reade
IT is the London Season! Come into the country! It is hot, and dusty, and muddy here; and this opening of all the drains, which is to bridle all the disorders by and by, poisons us dead meanwhile, O Board of Health! Come into the country!
In Oxfordshire, about two miles from the Thames, and on the skirts of the beech forest that lies between Wallingford and Hendley, stands an irregular farmhouse; it looks like two houses forced to pass for one; for one part of it is all gables, and tile, and chimney-corners, and antiquity; the other is square, slated, and of the newest cut outside and in. The whole occupies one entire side of its own farmyard, being separated from the straw only by a small Rubicon of gravel and a green railing; though at its back, out of the general view, is a pretty garden.
In this farmhouse and its neighborhood the events of my humble story passed, a very few years ago.
Mrs. Mayfield, proprietor of the farm, had built the new part of the house for herself, though she did little more than sleep in it. In the antique part lived her cousin, old Farmer Hathorn, with his wife and his son Robert. Hathorn was himself proprietor of a little land two miles off, but farmed Mrs. Mayfield's acres upon some friendly agreement, which they contrived to understand, but few else could, least of all a shrewd lawyer.
The truth is, the inmates, like the house, were a little behind their age: they had no relations that were not contained within these four walls, and the feeling and tie of blood was very strong between them all.
The Hathorns had one son, Robert, a character; he was silent, and passed with some for sulky; but he was not sulky, only reserved and thoughtful; he was, perhaps, a little more devoid of all levity than becomes a young man. He had great force and weight of character; you might see that in his brow, and his steady manner, free from flourishes. With the Hathorns lived Mr. Casenower, a retired London tradesman. This gentleman had been bought out of a London firm for his scientific way of viewing things: they had lost such lots of money by it.
He had come to the Hathorns for a month, and had now been with them a year, with no intention, on either side, of parting yet awhile. This good accord did not prevent a perpetual strife of opinions between Casenower and old Hathorn. Casenower, the science-bitten, had read all the books chemists wrote on agriculture, and permitted himself to believe every word. Hathorn read nothing on agriculture, but the sheep, the soil, the markets, and the clouds, etc., and sometimes read them wrong, but not so very often.
Rose Mayfield was a young widow, fresh, free, high-spirited, and jovial; she was fond of company, and its life and soul wherever she was. She loved flirtation, and she loved work; and when she could not combine them she would take them by turns; she would leave the farm every now and then, go to a friend at Oxford, Reading, or Abingdon, and flirt like wild-fire for a fortnight; then she would return to the farm, and men, boys, hordes and work would seem to go more lively before she had been back an hour.
Mrs. Mayfield was a grazier. Though she abandoned her arable land to her cousin's care, she divided with him her grass acres, and bred cattle, and churned butter, and made cheeses, and showed a working arm bare till dinner-time (one o'clock) six days in the week.
This little farmhouse then held a healthy, happy party; but one was not quite content. Parents are matrimonial schemers; they cannot help it; it's no use talking. Old Hathorn wanted Rose Mayfield to marry his son Robert, and so make all sure. The farmer was too wise to be always tormenting the pair to come together, but he secretly worked toward that end whenever he could without being seen through by them.
Their ages were much the same; and finer specimens of rustic stature and beauty in either sex were not to be seen for miles. But their dispositions were so different, that when, upon a kind word or a civility passing between them, old Hathorn used to look at Mrs. Hathorn, Mrs. Hathorn used to shake her head, as much as to say, "Maybe, but I doubt it."
One thing the farmer built on was this; that, though Mrs. Mayfield was a coquette, none of her beaux followed her to the farm. "She won't have them here," argued Hathorn, "and that shows she has a respect for Robert at bottom."
The good farmer's security was shaken by a little circumstance. Bix Farm, that lay but a mile from our ground, was to let, and, in the course of time, was taken by a stranger from Berkshire. Coming into a farm is a business of several months; but the new tenant, a gay, dashing young fellow, came one day to look over his new farm; and, to Hathorn's surprise, called on him, and inquired for Mrs. Mayfield. At sight of the new-comer that lady colored up to the eyes and introduced him to her cousin as Mr. Hickman. The name, coupled with her manner, struck Hathorn, but he said nothing to Rose. He asked his wife who this Hickman was. "He is a stranger to me," was the reply, "ask Rose; I hear he was her beau out Abingdon way."
Here was a new feature. The good farmer became very uneasy; but country-folks have plenty of tact. He said little--he only warned Robert (who did not seem dismayed by the intelligence), and held himself on his guard.
That same evening the whole family party were seated together, toward sundown, in Hathorn's dining-room--the farmer smoking a clay pipe, Mrs. Hathorn sewing, Mrs. Mayfield going in and out, making business; but Robert was painfully reading some old deeds he had got from Mrs. Mayfield the week before. This had been the young man's occupation for several evenings, and Mrs. Mayfield had shrugged her shoulders at him and his deeds more than once.
On the present occasion, finding the room silent and reposeful, a state of things she abhorred, she said to Mrs. Hathorn, in a confidential whisper, so bell-like, that they all heard it, as she meant them, "Has your Robert any thoughts of turning lawyer at present?"
The question was put so demurely that the old people smiled and did not answer, but looked toward Robert to answer. The said Robert smiled, and went on studying the parchment.
"He doesn't make us much the wiser, though; does he?" continued Mrs. Mayfield. "Silence!" cried the tormentor, the next moment, "he is going to say something. He is only waiting till the sun goes down."
"He is only waiting till he has got something to say," replied Robert, in his quiet way.
"Ah!" was the reply; "that is a trick you have got. I say, Jane, if I was to wait for that, what would become of the house?"
"It would not be so gay as it is, I dare say, Rose."
"And that would be a pity, you know. Well, Bob, when do you look to have something to say? to-morrow night--if the weather holds?"
"I think I shall have something to say as soon as I have read this through." He examined the last leaf--then laid it down. "I have something to say."
Mrs. Hathorn laid down her work.
"Cousin Mayfield," said Robert, "what do you think of Uxmoor Farm?"
Cousin Mayfield, who had been all expectation, burst into a fit of laughter that rang through the room like a little peal of bells. Mrs. Hathom looked vexed, and Robert colored for a moment, but he resumed coolly: "Why, it is two hundred acres, mostly good soil, and it marches with your up-hill land. Squire Phillips, that has just got it, counts it the cream of his estate."
"And what have I to do with Squire Phillips and Uxmoor?"
"Why, this, Rose. I think Uxmoor belongs to you."
"Nonsense--is the boy mad? Why, Squire Phillips got it along with Hurley, and Norton, and all the Lydalls' farms. Of course they are all mine by right of blood, if every one had their own; but they were all willed away from us fifty years ago. Who doesn't know that? No: Squire Phillips is rooted there too fast for us to take him up."
"It does not belong to Squire Phillips," was the cool reply.
"To whom, then?"
"To you, Rose; or, if not to you, to father yonder--but, unless I am much mistaken, it belongs to you. I am no great discourser," continued Robert; "so I have written it down to the best of my ability, here. I wish you would look at this paper, and you might read it over to father and mother, if you will be so good. I am going my rounds;" and out strolled Mr. Robert, to see that every cow was foddered, and every pig had his share of the trough.
Mrs. Mayfield took Robert's paper, and read what he had written--some score of little dry sentences, each of them a link in a chain of fact--and this was the general result: Fifty years ago Mrs. Mayfield's father's father had broken off all connection with his son, and driven him out of his house and disinherited him, and adopted in his stead the father of Squire Phillips. The disinherited, being supplied with money by his mother, had got on in the world, and consoled himself for the loss of his father's farms by buying one or two of his own. He died before his father, and bequeathed all he possessed to his daughter Rose. At last the old fellow died at an immense age, and under his will Squire Phillips took all his little estates: but here came in Robert's discovery. Of those four little estates, one had come into the old fellow's hands from his wife's father, and through his wife; and a strict settlement, drawn so long ago that all, except the old fellow who meant to cheat it, had forgotten it, secured the Uxmoor estate, after his parents' death, to Rose Mayfield's father, who by his will had unconsciously transferred it to Rose.
This, which looks clear, had been patiently disentangled from a mass of idle words by Robert Hathorn, and the family began to fall gradually into his opinion. The result was, Mrs. Mayfield went to law with Squire Phillips, and the old farmer's hopes revived; for he thought, and with reason, that all this must be another link between Robert and Rose; and so the months glided on. The fate of Uxmoor was soon to be tried at the Assizes. Mr. Hickman came over now and then, preparatory to settling on Bix. Mrs. Mayfield made no secret that she found him "very good company"--that was her phrase--and he courted her openly. Another month brought the great event of the agricultural year, "the harvest." This part of Oxfordshire can seldom get in its harvest without the assistance of some strange hands, and Robert agreed with three Irishmen and two Hampshire lads the afternoon before the wheat harvest. "With these and our own people we shall do well enough, father," said he.
Just before the sun set, Mrs. Hathorn was seated outside her own door with her work, when two people came through the farmyard to speak to her; a young woman and a very old man. The former stood a little in the rear; and the old man came up to Mrs. Hathorn, and, taking off his hat, begged for employment in tbe fields.
"Our number is made up, old man," was the answer.
The old man's head drooped; but he found courage to say: "One more or one less won't matter much to you, and it is the bread of life to us."
"Poor old man," said Mrs. Hathorn, "you are too old for harvest work, I doubt."
"No such thing, dame," said the old man, testily.
"What is it, mother?" cried Robert from the barn.
"An old man and his daughter come for harvest work. They beg hard for it, Robert."
"Give them their supper, mother, and let them go."
"I will, Robert; no doubt the poor things are hungry and weary and all:" and she put down her work to go to the kitchen, but the old man stopped her.
"We are here for work, not for charity," said he; "and won't take anything we don't earn."
Mrs. Hathorn looked surprised, and a little affronted. The girl stepped nearer.
"No need to speak so sharp, grandfather," said she, in a clear, cold, but winning voice; "charity is not so common. We thank you, dame. He is an old soldier, and prouder than becomes the like of us. Good even, and good luck to your harvest!"
They turned to go.
"Stop, girl!" said Mrs. Hathorn. "Robert," cried she, "I wish you would come here."
Robert put on his coat and came up. "It is an old soldier, Robert; and they seem decent folk, the pair of them."
"An old soldier!" said Robert, looking with some interest at the old man, who, though stiff in the joints, was very erect.
"Ay! young man," said the other boldly, "when I was your age I fought for the land; and now, you see, I must work upon it!"
Robert looked at his mother.
"Come, Robert," said she, "we may all live to be old if it pleases God."
"Well," said Robert, "it seems hard to refuse an old soldier; but he is very old, and the young woman looks delicate; I am sure I don't know how to bargain with them."
"Count our two sickles as one, sir," said the girl, calmly.
"So be it," said Robert; "anyway, we will give you a trial;" and he returned to his work. And Corporal Patrick, for that was the old soldier's name, no longer refused the homely supper that was offered him, since he could work it out in the morning.
The next morning at six o'clock the men and women were all in the wheat. Robert Hathorn at the head of them, for Robert was one of the best reapers in the countryside.
Many a sly jest passed at the expense of Patrick and his granddaughter Rachael. The old man often answered, but Rachael hardly ever. At the close of the day, they drew apart from all the rest, and seemed content when they were alone together.
In the course of a day or two, the reapers began to observe that Rachael was very handsome; and then she became the object of much coarse admiration. Rachael was as little affected by this as by their satire. She evaded it with a cold contempt which left little more to be said; and then her rustic admirers took part with the women against her.
Rachael was pale; and perhaps this was one reason why her beauty did not strike the eye all at once; but when you came to know her face, she was beautiful. Her long eyelashes were heavenly; her eye was full of soul; her features were refined, and her skin was white and transparent, and a slight blush came readily to it, at which moment she was lovely. It must be owned she did not appear to advantage in the field among the reapers; for there she seemed to feel at war; and her natural dignity degenerated into a certain doggedness. After a while Mrs. Hathorn took a fancy to her; and when she was beside this good, motherly creature her asperity seemed to soften down, and her coldness turned to a not unamiable pensiveness.
Mrs. Hathorn said one evening to Robert: "Robert, look at that girl. Do try and find out what is the matter with her. She is a good girl as ever broke bread; but she breaks my heart to look at her; she is like a marble statue. It is not natural at her years to be so reserved."
"Oh!" answered Robert, "let her alone, there are talkers enough in the world. She is a modest girl--the only one in the field, I should say--and that is a great ornament to all women, if they would but see it."
"Well, Robert, at all events, have your eye on them; they are strangers, and the people about here are vulgar-behaved to strangers, you know."
"I'll take care; and, as for Rachael, she knows how to answer the fools--I noticed that the first day."
Sunday evening came; the villagers formed in groups about the ale-house, the stocks, and the other points of resort, and their occasional laughter fell discordantly upon the ear, so holy and tranquil seemed the air and the sky. Robert Hathorn strolled out at the back of the house to drink the Sabbath sunset after a week of toil. At the back of the largest barn was a shed, and from this shed, as he drew near to it, there issued sounds that seemed to him as sweetly in unison with that holy sunset as the villagers' rude mirth was out of tune. He came to the back of the shed, and it was Rachael reading the Bible aloud to her grandfather. The words were golden, and fell like dew upon all the spirits within their reach--upon Robert who listened to them unseen; upon Patrick, whose testy nature was calmed and soothed; and upon Rachael herself, who seemed at this moment more hopeful, and less determined to shrink within herself. Her voice, always sweet and winning, became richer and mellower as she read; and when she closed the book, she said, with a modest fervor one would hardly have suspected her of, "Blessed be God for this book, grandfather! I do think it is the best thing of all the good things He has given the world, and it is very encouraging to people of low condition like us."
"Ay," said the old man, "those were bold words you read just now, 'Blessed are the poor.'"
"Let us take them to heart, old man, since, strange as they sound, they must be true."
Corporal Patrick pondered awhile in silence, then said he was weary. "Let us bless the good people whose bread we have eaten this while, and I will go to sleep; Rachael, my child, if it was not for you, I could wish not to wake again."
Poor old man, he was aweary; he had seen better days, and fourscore years is a great age; and he had been a soldier, and fought in great battles head erect, and now, in his feeble days, it was hard to have to bow the back and bend over the sickle among boys and girls who jeered him, and whose peaceful grandsires he had defended against England's enemies.
Corporal Patrick and his granddaughter went into the barn to sleep, as heretofore, on the straw. Robert Hathorn paced thoughtfully home, and about half an hour after this a cow-boy came into the barn to tell Corporal Patrick there were two truckle-beds at his service in a certain loft, which he undertook to show him. So the old soldier and Rachael bivouacked no longer in the barn.
"Who sent you," said Rachael to the boy.
After this Robert Hathorn paid considerable attention both to Patrick and Rachael, and she showed by degrees that she was not quite ice to a man that could respect her; not that her manner was inviting even to him, but at least it was courteous, and once or twice she even smiled on him, and a beautiful smile it was when it did come; and, whether from its beauty or its rarity, made a great impression on all who saw it.
It was a fine harvest time, upon the whole, and with some interruptions the work went merrily on; the two strangers, in spite of hard labor, improved in appearance. Mrs. Hathorn set this down to the plentiful and nourishing meals which issued twice a day from her kitchen; and, as they had always been her favorites, she drew Robert's attention to the bloom that began to spread over Rachael's cheek, and the old soldier's brightening eye, as her work in a great measure.
Mrs. Mayfield was away, and during her absence Hickman had not come once to visit his farm or Hathorn's. This looked ugly.
"Wife," said the farmer, one day, "what makes our Robert so moody of late?"
"Oh, you have noticed it, have you? Then I am right; the boy has something on his mind."
"That is easy to be seen, and I think I know what it is."
"Do you, John? what?"
"Why, he sees this Hickman is in a fair way to carry off Rose Mayfield."
"It is not that."
"Why, what else can it be?"
"It is a wonder to me," said Mrs. Hathorn, "that a man shouldn't know his own son better than you seem to know Robert. They are very good friends; but what makes you think Robert would marry her? Have you forgotten how strict he is about women? Why did he part with Lucy Blackwood, the only sweetheart he ever had?"
"Hanged if I remember."
"Because she got herself spoken of flirting at Oxford races once in a way; and Rose does mostly nothing else. And they do say that once or twice since her husband died, ahem! -- "
"She has kicked over the traces altogether? Fiddlestick! "
"Fiddlestick be it! She is a fine spirity woman, and such are apt to set folk talking more than they can prove. Well, Robert wouldn't marry a woman that made folk talk about her."
"Oh, he is not such a fool as to fling the farm to a stranger."
"When does Rose come home?"
"Next week, as soon as the Assizes are over, and the Uxmoor cause settled one way or other."
"Well, when she comes back, you will see him clear up directly, and then I shall know what to do. They must come together, and they shall come together; and if there is no other way, I know one that will bring them together, and I'll work that way if I'm hanged for it."
"With all my heart," said Mrs. Hathorn, calmly. "You can but try."
"I will try all I know."
Will it be believed that, while he was in this state of uneasiness about his favorite project, Mr. Casenower came and invited him to a friendly conference; announced to him that he admired Mrs. Mayfield beyond measure, and had some reason to think she was not averse to him, and requested the farmer's co-operation?
"Confound the jade," thought Hathorn, "she has been spreading the net for this one too, then; she will break my heart before I have done with her."
He answered demurely, "that he did not understand women; that his mind was just now in the harvest; and he hoped Mr. C. would excuse him, and try his luck himself--along with the rest," said the old boy, rather bitterly.
The harvest drew toward its close; the barns began to burst with the golden crops, and one fair rick after another rose behind them, like a rear-guard, until one fine burning-hot day in September there remained nothing but a small barley-field to carry.
In the house Mrs. Hathorn and the servants were busy preparing the harvest-home dinner; in the farmyard, Casenower and old Hathorn were arguing a point of husbandry; the warm haze of a September day was over the fields; the little pigs toddled about contentedly in the straw of the farmyard, rooting here, and grunting there; the pigeons sat upon the barn tiles in flocks, and every now and then one would come shooting down, and settle, with flapping wings, upon a bit of straw six inches higher than the level; and every now and then was heard the thunder of the horses' feet as they came over the oak floor of a barn, drawing a loaded wagon into it. Suddenly a halloo was heard down the road; Mr. Casenower and Hathorn looked over the wall, and it was Mrs. Mayfield's boy Tom, riding home full pelt, and hurrahing as he came along.
"We have won the day, farmer," shouted he; "you may dine at Uxmoor if you like. La bless you, the judge wouldn't hear a word against us. Hurrah! here comes the mistress; hurrah!" And, sure enough, Mrs. Mayfield was seen in her hat and habit, riding her bay mare up at a hand-gallop on the grass by the roadside. Up she came; the two men waved their hats to her, which salute she returned on the spot, in the middle of a great shy, which her mare made as a matter of course; but, before they could speak, she stopped their mouths. "Where is Robert? Not a word till he is by. I have not forgot to whom I owe it." She sprang from the saddle, and gave a hand to each of the men; but before they could welcome her, or congratulate her, she had the word again. "Why of course you are; you are going to tell me you have been as dull as ditch-water since I went, as if I didn't know that; and as for Uxmoor, we will all go there together in the afternoon, and I'll kiss your Robert then and there; and then he will faint away, and we'll come home in the cool of the evening. Is barley cart done yet?"
"No, you are just in time; they are in the last field."
"Well, I must run in and cuddle Jane, and help them on with the dinner a bit."
"Ay, do, Rose; put a little life into them."
In about ten minutes Mrs. Mayfield joined them again; and old Hathorn, who had spent that period in a brown study, began operations upon her, like a cautious general as he was.
His first step might be compared to reconnoitering the ground; and here, if any reader of mine imagines that country people are simple and devoid of art, for Heaven's sake let him resign that notion, which is entirely founded on pastorals written in metropolitan garrets.
Country people look simple; but that is a part of their profound art. They are the square-nosed sharks of terra firma. Their craft is smooth, plausible and unfathomable. You don't believe me, perhaps. Well, then, my sharp cockney, go, live, and do business in the country, and tell me at the year's end whether you have not found humble unknown Practitioners of Humbug, Flattery, Overreaching, and Maneuver, to whom thieves in London might go to school.
We hear much, from such as write with the butt-end of their grandfather's flageolet, about simple swains and downy meads; but, when you get there, you find the natives are at least as downy as any part of the concern.
"I thought you would be home to-day, Rose."
"Did you? Why?"
"Because Richard Hickman has been here twice this morning."
"Richard Hickman! what was his business here?"
"Well, they do say you and he are to go to church together one of these days-- the pair of you."
"Well, if the pair of us go to church, there will be a pair of weddings that day."
"How smooth a lie do come off a woman's tongue, to be sure!" thought Mr. Hathorn.
Mr. Casenower put in his word. "I trust I shall not offend you by my zeal, madam, but I hope to see you married to a better man than Hickman."
"With all my heart, Mr. Cas--hem! You find me a better man, and I won't make two bites at him--ha! ha! ha!"
"He bears an indifferent character--ask the farmer here."
"Oh," said the farmer, with an ostentation of candor, "I don't believe all I hear."
"I don't believe half, nor a quarter," said Mrs. Mayfield; "but, for Heaven's sake, don't fancy I am wrapped up in Richard Hickman, or in any other man; but he is as good company as here and there one, and he has a tidy farm nigh hand, and good land of his own out Newbury way by all accounts."
"Good land," shouted the farmer, "did you ever see it?"
"Rose," said Hathorn, solemnly (he had never seen it either), "it is as poor as death! covered with those long docks, I hear, and that is a sure sign of land with no heart in it, just as a thistle is a good sign. Do your books tell you that," said he, suddenly turning to Casenower.
"No," said that gentleman, with incredulous contempt.
"And it is badly farmed; no wonder, when the farmer never goes nigh it himself, trusts all to a sort of bailiff. Mind your eye, Rose. Why does he never go there? tell me that."
"Well, you know, of course; he tells me he left it out of regard for me."
"Haw! haw! haw! why, he has known you but six months, and he has not lived at home this five years. What do you think of it, Mr. Casenower? Mind your eye, Rose."
"I mean to," said Rose; and if you had seen the world of suppressed fun and peeping observation in the said eye, you would have felt how capable it was of minding itself, and of piercing like a gimlet even through a rustic Machiavel.
Mr. Casenower whispered to Hathorn, "Put in a word for me." He then marched up to Rose, and, taking her hand, said, with a sepulchral tenderness, at which Rose's eye literally danced in her head: "Know your own value, dear Mrs. Mayfield, and do not throw yourself away on an unworthy object." He then gave Hathorn a slight wink and disappeared, leaving his cause in that simple rustic's hands.
"It is all very fine, but if I am to wait for a man without a fault, I shall die an old--fool."
"That is not to be thought of," said Hathorn, smoothly; "but what you want is a fine, steady young man--like my Robert, now--"
"So you have told me once or twice of late," said the lady, archly. "Robert is a good lad, and pleases my eye well enough, for that matter; but he has a fault that wouldn't suit me, nor any woman, I should think, without she was a fool."
"Why, what is wrong about the boy?"
"The boy looks sharper after women than women will bear. He reads everything we do with magnifying glasses, and I like fun, always did, and always shall; and then he would be jealous--and then I should leave him the house to himself, that is all."
"No, no! you would break him into common sense."
"More likely he would make a slave of me; and, if I am to be one, let me gild the chain a bit, as the saying is."
"Now, Rose," said the tactician, "you know very well a woman can turn a man's head round her finger if he loves her."
"Of course I know that; but Robert does not happen to love me."
"Doesn't love you! Ay, but he does!"
"What makes you think that?"
"Oh, if you are blind, I am not. He tries to hide it, because you are rich, and he is poor and proud."
"Oh, fie! don't talk nonsense. What signifies who has the money?"
"The way I first found it out is, when they speak of your marrying that Hickman, he trembles all over like. Here comes his mother; you ask her," added the audacious schemer.
"No, no!" cried Mrs. Mayfield; "none of your nonsense before her, if you please;" and she ran off with a heightened color.
"I shall win the day," cried Hathorn to his wife. "I have made her believe Robert loves her, and now I'll tell him she dotes on him. Why, what is the matter with you? You seem put out. What ails you?"
"I have just seen Robert, and I don't like his looks. He is like a man in a dream this morning--worse than ever."
"Why, what can be the matter with him?"
"If I was to tell you my thought, it woudn't please you--and after all, I may be wrong. Hush! here he is. Take no notice, for Heaven's sake."
At this moment the object of his father's schemes and his mother's anxiety sauntered up to them, with his coat tied round his neck by the arms and a pitchfork over his shoulder.
"Father," said he, "you may tap the barrel; the last wagon is coming up the lane."
"Ay," was the answer; "and you go and offer your arm to Rose--she is come home--and ask her to dance with you."
"I am not in the humor to gallivant," was the languid answer. "I leave that to you, father."
"To me--at my time of life! Is that the way to talk at eight-and-twenty? And Rose Mayfield--the rose-tree in full blossom!"
"Yes; but too many have been smelling at the blossom for me ever to plant the tree in my garden."
"What does the boy mean?"
"To save time and words, father; because you have been at me about her once or twice of late."
"What! is it because she likes dancing and diversion at odd times? Is that got to be a crime, Parson Bob?"
"No! but I won't have a wife I couldn't trust at those pastimes," was the resolute answer.
"Oh, if you are one of the jealous-minded ones, don't you marry any one, my poor chap!"
"Father, there are the strange reapers to pay. Shall I settle with them for you?" said Robert, quietly.
"No! Let them come here; I'll pay them," answered Hathorn, senior, rather sullenly.
If you want to be crossed and thwarted, and vexed, set your heart, not on a thing you can do yourself, but on something somebody else is to do: if you want to be tormented to death, let the wish of your heart depend upon two people, a man and a woman, neither of them yourself. Now try this receipt; you will find it an excellent one.
Old Hathorn, seated outside his own door, with a table and money-bags before him, paid the Irishmen and the Hampshire lads, and invited each man to the harvest-home dinner. He was about to rise and put up his money-bags when Mrs. Hathorn cried to him from the house, "Here are two more that have not been paid;" and the next minute old Patrick and Rachael issued from the house and came in front of the table. Robert, who was going in to dress, turned round and leaned against the corner of the house, with his eyes upon the ground. "Let me see," said Hathorn, "what are you to have?"
"Count yourself," replied Patrick; "you know what you give the others."
"What I give the others! but you can't have done the work--"
"Not of two; no, we don't ask the wages of two."
"Of course you don't."
A spasm of pain crossed Robert's face at this discussion, but he remained with his eyes upon the ground. "Where's the dispute," said the old soldier angrily; "here are two that ask the wages of one; is that hard upon you?"
"There is no dispute, old man," said Robert, steadily. "Father, twenty-five times five shillings is six pounds five; that is what you owe them."
"Six pound five for a man of that age?"
"And my daughter; is she to go for nothing?"
"Your daughter, your daughter; she is not strong enough to do much, I'm sure."
Rachael colored: her clear, convincing voice fell upon the disputants. "We agreed with Master Robert to keep a ridge between us, and we have done it as well as the best reaper. Pay us as one good reaper then."
"That's fair! that is fair! If you agreed with my son, a bargain is a bargain; but, for all that, one good arm is better than two weak ones, and--"
This tirade received an unexpected interruption. Robert walked up to the table, without lifting his eyes from the ground, and said: "I ask your pardon, father; your bad leg has kept you at home this harvest; but I reaped at the head of the band, and I assure you the young woman did a man's share; and every now and then the old man took her place; and, so, resting by turns, they kept ahead of the best sickle there. And therefore I say," continued Robert, raising his eyes timidly, "on account of their poverty, their weary limbs, and their stout heart for work, you cannot pay them less than one good reaper."
"What is it, Robert?" said Mrs. Hathorn, who had come out to see the meaning of all this.
"But if he would be juster still, mother, like Him that measures his succor to the need, he would pay them as one and a half. I've said it."
Hathorn stared with ludicrous wonder. "And why not as two? Are you mad, Robert? taking their part against me?"
"Enough said," answered Patrick, with spirit. "Thank you, Master Robert, but that would be an alms, and we take but our due. Pay our two sickles as one, and let us go."
"You see, father," cried Robert, "these are decent people; and if you had seen how they wrought, your heart would melt as mine does. Oh, mother, it makes me ill to think there are poor Christians in the world so badly off that they must bow to work beyond their age and strength to bear. Take a thought, father. A man that might be your father--a man of fourscore years--and a delicate woman--to reap, the hardest of all country work, from dawn till sundown, under this scorching sun and wind, that has dried my throat and burned my eyes--let alone theirs. It is hard, father, and, if you have a feeling heart, you can't show it better than here."
"There! there!" cried the farmer, "say no more; it is all right. (You have made the girl cry, Bob.) Robert doesn't often speak, dame, so we are bound to listen when he does. There is the money. I never heard that chap say so many words before."
"We thank you all," said Patrick; "my blessing be on your grain, good folks; and that won't hurt you from a man of fourscore."
"That it will not, Daddy Patrick," said Mrs. Hathorn. "You will stay for harvest-home, both of you? Rachael, if you have a mind to help me wash some of the dishes."
"Ay!" cried the farmer: "and it is time you were dressed, Bob." And so the party separated.
A few minutes later Rachael came to the well and began to draw a bucket of water, This well worked in the following manner. A chain and rope were passed over a cylinder, and two buckets were attached to the several ends of the rope, so that the empty bucket descending helped in some slight degree the full bucket to mount. This cylinder was turned by an iron handle. The well was a hundred feet deep. Rachael drew the bucket up easily enough until the last thirty feet; and then she found it hard work. She had both hands on the iron handle, and was panting a little, like a tender fawn, when a deep, but gentle voice said in her ear: "Let go, Rachael;" and the handle was taken out of her hand by Robert Hathorn.
"Never mind me, Master Robert," said Rachael, giving way reluctantly.
"Always at some hard work or other," said he; "you will not be easy till you kill yourself." And with this he whirled the handle round like lightning with one hand, and the bucket came up in a few moments. He then filled the pitcher for her, which she took up, and was about to go into the house with it. "Stay one minute, Rachael."
"Yes, Master Robert."
"How old are you, Rachael?" Robert blushed after he had put this question; but he was obliged to say something, and he did not well know how to begin.
"Twenty-two," was Rachael's answer.
"Don't go just yet. Is this your first year's reaping?"
"No, the third."
"You must be very poor, I am afraid."
"Very poor indeed, Master Robert."
"Do you live far from here?"
"Don't you remember I told you I came twenty miles from here?"
"Why, Newbury is about that distance."
"I think your mother will want me."
"Well, don't let me keep you against your will."
Rachael entered the Hathorns' side.
Robert's heart sank. She was so gentle, yet so cold and sad. There was no winning her confidence, it appeared. Presently she returned with an empty basket, to fetch the linen from Mrs. Mayfield's side. As she passed Robert, who, in despair, had determined not to try any more, but who looked up sorrowfully in her face, she gave him a smile, a very faint one, but still it did express some slight recognition and thanks. His resolve melted at this one little ray of kindly feeling.
"Rachael," said he, "have you any relations your way?"
"Not now!" and Rachael was a beautiful statue again.
"But you have neighbors who are good to you?"
"We ask nothing of them."
"Would it not be better if you could both live near us?"
"I think not."
"Why? my mother has a good heart."
"Indeed she has."
"And Mrs. Mayfield is not a bad one either."
"I hear her well spoken of."
"And yet you mean to live on, so far away from all of us?"
"Yes! I must go for the linen." She waited a moment as it were for permission to leave him, and, nothing more being said, she entered Mrs. Mayfield's side.
Robert leaned his head sorrowfully on the rails, and fell into a reverie.
"I am nothing to her," thought he; "her heart is far away. How good, and patient, and modest she is, but oh, how cold! She turns my heart to stone. I am a fool; she has some one in her own country, to whom she is as warm, perhaps, as she is cold to us strangers--is that a fault? She is too beautiful, and too good, not to be esteemed by others besides me. Ah! her path is one way, mine another--worse luck--would to God she had never come here! Well, may she be happy! She can't hinder me from praying she may be happy, happier than she is now. Poor Rachael!"
A merry but somewhat vulgar voice broke incredibly harsh and loud, as it seemed, upon Hathorn's reverie.
"Good-day, Master Robert."
Robert looked up, and there stood a young farmer in shooting-jacket and gaiters, with a riding-whip in his hand.
"Good-morning, Mr. Hickman."
"The mistress is come home, I hear, and it is your harvest-home to-day, so I'll stop here, for I am tired, and so is my horse, for that matter."
Mr. Hickman wasted the latter part of this discourse on vacancy, for young Hathorn went coolly away without taking any further notice of him.
"I call that the cold shoulder," thought Hickman; "but it is no wonder; that chap wants to marry her himself, of course he does. Not if I know it, Bob Hathorn."
It was natural that Hickman, whose great object just now was Rose Mayfield, should put this reading on Robert's coldness: but in point of fact it was not so; the young man had no feeling toward Hickman but the quiet repugnance of a deep to a shallow soul, of a quiet and thoughtful to a rattling fellow. Only just now gayety was not in his heart, and as Hickman was generally gay, and always sonorous, he escaped to his own thoughts. Hickman watched his retreat, with an eye that said, "You are my rival, but not one I fear; I can outwit you." And it was with a smile of triumphant conscious superiority that Richard Hickman turned round to go into Mrs. Mayfield's house, and found himself face to face with Rachael, who was just coming out of it with the basket full of linen in her hand. Words cannot paint the faces of this woman and this man, when they saw one another. They both started, and were red and white by turns, and their eyes glared upon one another; yet, though the surprise was equal, the emotion was not quite the same. The woman stood, her bosom heaving slowly and high, her eye dilating, her lips apart, her elastic figure rising higher and higher. She stood there wild as a startled panther, uncertain whether to fight or to fly. The man, after the first start, seemed to cower under her eye, and half a dozen expressions that chased one another across his face left one fixed there--Fear! abject fear!
THEY eyed one another in silence: at last Hickman looked down upon the ground and said, in faltering, ill-assured tones, "H--how d'ye do, Rachael? I--I didn't expect to see you here."
"Nor I you."
"If you are busy, don't let me stop you, you know," said Hickman, awkwardly and confused, and, like one with no great resources, compelled to utter something.
Then Rachael, white as a sheet, took up her basket again, and moved away in silence! The young farmer eyed her apprehensively, and, being clearly under the influence of some misgiving as to her intentions, said: "If you blow me, it will do me harm and you no good, you know, Rachael. Can't we be friends?"
"Friends!--you and I?"
"Don't be in such a hurry--let us talk it over. I am a little better off than I used to be in those days."
"What is that to me?"
"Plenty; if you won't be spiteful, and set others against me in this part:" by "others" doubtless Hickman intended Mrs. Mayfield.
"I shall neither speak nor think of you," was the cold answer.
Had Richard Hickman been capable of fathoming Rachael Wright, or even of reading her present marble look and tone aright, he would have seen that he had little to apprehend from her beyond contempt, a thing he would not in the least have minded; but he was cunning, and, like the cunning, shallowish; so he pursued his purpose, feeling his way with her to the best of his ability.
"I have had a smart bit of money left me lately, Rachael."
"What is that to me?"
"What is it? why, a good deal, because I could assist you now, maybe."
"And what right have you to assist me now?"
"Confound it, Rachael, how proud you are!--why, you are not the same girl. Oh! I see! as for assisting you, I know you would rather work than be in debt to any one; but then there is another besides you, you know."
"What other?" said Rachael, losing her impassibility, and trembling all over at this simple word.
"What other? why, confound it, who ever saw a girl fence like this? I suppose you think I am not man enough to do what's right; I am, though, now I have got the means."
"To do what?"
"Why, to do my duty by him--to provide for him,"
"For whom?" cried Rachael, wildly, "WHEN HE IS DEAD!"
"Don't say so, Rachael; don't say so."
"He is dead!"
"Dead! I never thought I should have cared much; but that word do seem to knock against my heart. I'd give a hundred pounds to any one would tell me it is not true--poor thing! I've been to blame; I've been to blame."
"You were not near us when he came into the world; you were not near us when he went out of it. He lived in poverty with me; he died in poverty for all I could do, and it is against my will if I did not die with him. Our life or our death gave you no cares. While he lived, you received a letter every six months from me, claiming my rights as your wife."
Hickman nodded assent.
"Last year you had no letter."
"No more there was."
"And did not that tell you? Poor Rachael had lost her consolation and her hope, and had no more need of anything!"
"Poor Rachael!" cried the man, stung with sudden remorse. "Curse it all! Curse you, Dick Hickman!" Then, suddenly recovering his true nature, and, like us men, never at a loss for an excuse against a woman, he said angrily: "What is the use of letters?--why didn't you come and tell me you were so badly off?"
"Me come after you! The wrongdoer?"
"Oh, confound your pride! Should have sent the old man to me, then."
"My grandfather, an old soldier as proud as fire! Send him to the man who robbed me of my good name by cheating the law! You are a fool! Three times he left our house with his musket loaded to kill you-- three times I got him home again; but how?--by prayers, and tears, and force, all three, or you would not be here in life."
"The devil! what an old Tartar! I say, is he here alone with you?"
"Oh, you need not fear," said Rachael, with a faint expression of scorn, "he is going directly, and I am going too; and when I do go from here I shall have lost all the little pleasure and hope I have in the world," said Rachael sorrowfully; and, as she said this, she became unconscious of Hickman's presence, and moved away without looking at him; but that prudent person dared not part with her so. He was one of those men who say, "I know the women," and, in his sagacity, he dreaded this woman's tongue. He determined, therefore, to stop her tongue, and not to risk Rose Mayfield and thousands for a few pounds.
"Now, Rachael, listen to me. Since the poor child is dead, there is only you to think of. We can do one another good or harm, you and I; better good than harm, I say. Suppose I offered you twenty pounds, now, to keep dark?"
"You poor creature!"
"Well, thirty, then?"
"Oh, hold your tongue--you make me ashamed of myself as well as you."
"I see what it is, you want too much; you want me to be your husband."
"No; while my child lived, I claimed my right for his sake: but not now, not now;" and the poor girl suddenly turned her eyes on Hickman, with an indescribable shudder, that a woman would have interpreted to the letter; but no man could be expected to read it quite aright, so many things it said.
Hickman the sagacious chose to understand by it pique and personal hostility to him, and desire of vengeance; and, having failed to bribe her, he now resolved to try and outface her.
It so happened that at this very moment merry voices began to sound on every side. The clatter was heard of tables being brought out of the kitchen, and the harvest-home people were seen coming toward the place where Rachael and Hickman were; so Hickman said hastily, "Any way, don't think to blow me--for, if you do, I'll swear you out, my lass, I'll swear you out."
"No doubt you know how to lie," was the cold reply.
"There, Rachael," cried Hickman piteously, lowering his tone of defiance in a moment, "don't expose me before the folk, whatever you do. Here they all come, confound them!"
Rachael made no answer. She retired into the Hathorns' house, and in a few minutes the tables were set, just outside the house, and loaded with good cheer, and the rustics began to ply knife and fork as zealously as they had sickle, and rake, and pitchfork; and so, on the very spot of earth where Rachael had told Hickman her child was dead, and with him her heart, scarce five minutes afterward came the rattle of knives and forks, and peals of boisterous laughter and huge feeding. And thus it happens to many a small locality in this world--tragedy, comedy, and farce are acted on it by turns, and all of them in earnest. So harvest-home dinner proceeded with great zeal; and after the solids the best ale was served round ad libitum, and intoxication, sanctified by immemorial usage, followed in due course. However, as this symptom of harvest was a long time coming on upon the present occasion, owing to peculiar interruptions, the reader will not have to follow us so far, which let us hope he will not regret.
Few words worthy of being embalmed in an immortal story, warranted to live a month, were uttered during the discussion of the meats, for when the fruges consumere nati are let loose upon beef, bacon, and pudding, among the results dialogue on a large scale is not.
"Yet shall the Muse" embalm a conversation that passed on this occasion between the brothers Messenger, laborers aged about fifty, who had been on this farm nearly all their lives.
Bob Messenger was carving a loin of veal. Jem Messenger sat opposite him, eating bacon and beans on a very large scale.
Bob (aiming at extraordinary politeness). "Wool you have some veal along with your bacon, Jem?"
Jem. "That I wool not, Bob " (with a reproachful air, as one whom a brother had sought to entrap).
When the table was cleared of the viands, the ale-mugs and horns were filled, and Mrs. Mayfield and the Hathorns took part in the festive ceremony; that is, they did not sit at the table, but they showed themselves from time to time, and made their humble guests heartily welcome by word, and look, and smile, as their forefathers had done at harvest-time, each in their century and generation.
Presently Bob Messenger arose solemnly, with his horn of ale in his hand. The others rose after him, knowing well what he was going to do, and chanted with him the ancient harvest-home stave.--
"Here's a health unto our master,
The founder of the feast,
Not only to our master,
But to our mistress.
Two voices. Then drink, boys, drink,
And see as you do not spill,
For if you do, you shall drink to
Our health with a free good-will.
Chorus. Then drink, boys, drink," etc.
Corporal Patrick and Rachael left the table. They had waited only to take part in this compliment to their entertainers, and now they left. The reason was, one or two had jeered them before grace.
The corporal had shaved and made himself very clean, and he had put on his faded red jacket, which he always carried about, and Rachael had washed his neck-handkerchief, and tied it neatly about his neck, and had put on herself a linen collar and linen wristbands, very small and plain, but white and starched; and at this their humble attempt to be decent and nice one or two (who happened to be dirty at the time) could not help sneering. Another thing, Rachael and Patrick were strangers. Some natives cut a jest or two at their expense, and Patrick was about to answer by flinging his mug at one man's head, but Rachael restrained him, and said: "Be patient, grandfather. They were never taught any better. When the farmer's health has been drunk we can leave them."
People should be able to take jests, or to answer them in kind, not to take them to heart; but Rachael and Patrick had seen better days (they were not so very proud and irritable then), and now Patrick, naturally high-spirited, was sore, and could not bear to be filliped, and Rachael was become too cold and bitter toward all the vulgar natures that blundered up against her, not meaning her any good, nor much harm, either, poor devils!
A giggle greeted their departure; but it must be owned it was a somewhat uneasy giggle.
There was in the company a certain Timothy Brown John, who was naturaly a shoemaker, but was turned out into the stubble annually at harvest-time. The lad had a small rustic genius for music, which he illustrated by playing the clarionet in church, to the great regret of the clergyman. Now after the chorus one or two were observed to be nudging this young man, and he to be making those mock-modest difficulties which are part of a singer, in town or country.
"Ay, Tim," cried Mrs. Mayfield, "you sing us a song."
"He have got a new one, mistress!" put in a carter's lad, with saucer eyes.
"What is it about, boy?"
"Well," replied the youngster, "it is about love" (at which the girls giggled); "and I think it is about you, Dame Mayfield."
"About me! then it must be nice."
Chorus of Rustics. "Haw! haw! haw!"
"Come, Mr. Brown John, I will trouble you for it directly.--I can see the bottom of some of their mugs, Jane."
"Well," said Mr. Brown John, looking down, "I don't know what to say about it. Mayhap you mightn't like it quite so well before so much company."
"Why not, pray?"
"Well, you see, dame, I am afeard I shall give you a red face, like, with this here song."
"If you do, I'll give you one with this here hand."
Chorus. "Haw! haw! Ho!"
"Drat the boy, sing, and have done with it."
"I'll do my best, ma'am," replied Tim, gravely.
On this, Mr. Brown John drew from his pocket a diminutive flute, with one key, and sounded his G at great length. He then paused, to let his G enter his own mind and those around; he then composed his features like a preacher, and was about to enter on his undertaking, when the whole operation was suddenly, and remorselessly, and provokingly interrupted by Mr. Casenower, who, struck as it appeared with a sudden, irresistible idea, burst upon them all with this question:
"Do any of you know one Rebecca Reid, in this part of the world?"
The company stared.
Some, to whom this question had been put by him before, giggled; others scratched their heads; others got no further than a stricken look. A few mustered together their wits and assured Mr. Casenower they had never heard tell of "the wench."
"How devilish odd!" cried Casenower, "it is not such a common combination of sounds, one would think."
"I know Hannah Reid," squeaked a small cow-boy; he added with enthusiasm, "she is a capital slider, she is!!!" and he smiled at some reminiscence, perchance of a joint somersault upon the ice, last winter.
"Hannah does not happen to be Rebecca, young gentleman," objected Casenower; "sing away, John Brown."
"I'm a going, sir. G--g--g--g--" and he impressed the key-note once more upon their souls. Then sang Brown John the following song, and the rest made the laughing chorus, and, as they all laughed in different ways, though they began laughing from their heads, ended in laughing from their hearts. It was pleasant and rather funny, and proved so successful that after this Il Maestro Brown John and his song were asked to all the feasts in a circle of seven miles. There were eight verses: we will confine ourselves to two, because paper is not absolutely valueless, whatever the trivoluminous may think.
"When Richard appeared, how my heart pit-a-pat
With a tenderly motion, with which it was seized!
To hear the young fellow's gay, innocent chat
I could listen forever, O dear! I'm so pleased!
I'm so pleased! ha! ha! ha! ha!
I'm so pleased! ha! ha! ha! ha!
I'm a going to be married--O dear! I'm so pleased!
I'm a going to be married--O dear! I'm so pleased!
Chorus. I'm so pleased, etc.
"O sweet is the smell of the new-mown hay,
And sweet are the cowslips that spring in May;
But sweeter's my lad than the daisied lawn,
Or the hay, or the flower, or the cows at the dawn.
I'm so pleased," etc.
We writers can tell "the what," but not so very often "the how," of anything. I can give Tim's bare words, but it is not in my power nor any man's to write down the manner of Il Maestro in singing. How he dwelt on the short syllables, and abridged the long--his grave face till he came to his laugh--and then the enormous mouth that flew suddenly open, and the jovial peal that came ringing through two rows of teeth like white chess pawns--and with all this his quaint, indescribable, dulcet, rustic twang, that made his insignificant melody ring like church bells heard from the middle of a wood, and taste like metheglin come down to us in a yew-tree cask from the Druids!
During the song, one Robert Munday and his son, rural fiddlers, who by instinct nosed festivities, appeared at the gate, each with a green bag. A shriek of welcome greeted them; they were set in a corner, with beef and ale galore, and soon the great table was carried in, the ground cleared, the couples made, and the fiddles tuning.
The Messrs. Munday made some preliminary flourishes, like hawks hovering uncertain where to pounce, and then, like the same bird, they suddenly dashed into "The day in June."
Their style was rough, and bore a family likeness to plowing, but it was true, clean and spirited; the notes of the arpeggio danced out like starry sparks in fireworks.
Moreover, the Messrs. Munday played to the foot, which is precisely what your melted-butter violinist always fails to do, whether he happens to be washing out the soul of a waltz, or of a polka, or of a reel.
They also played so as to raise the spirits of all who heard them, young or old, which is an artistic effect of the very highest order, however attained, and never is and never will be attained by the melted-butter violinist.
The fiddlers being merry, the dancers were merry; the dancers being merry, the fiddlers said to themselves, "Aha! we have not missed fire," and so grew merrier still. And thus the electric fire of laughter and music darted to and fro. Dance, sons and daughters of toil! None had ever a better right to dance than you have this sunny afternoon in clear September. It was you that painfully plowed the stiff soil; it was you that trudged up the high, incommoding furrow, and painfully cast abroad the equal seed. You that are women bowed the back, and painfully drilled holes in the soil, and poured in the seed; and this month past you have all bent, and, with sweating brows, cut down and housed the crops that came from the seed you planted. Dance! for those yellow ricks, trophies of your labor, say you have a right to; those barns, bursting with golden fruit, swear you have a right to. Harvest-tide comes but once a year. Dance! sons and daughters of toil.
Exult over your work, smile with the smiling year, and, in this bright hour, oh, cease, my poor soul, to envy the rich and the great! Believe me, they are never, at any hour of their lives, so cheery as you are now. How can they be? With them dancing is tame work, an every-day business--no rarity, no treat. Don't envy them--God is just, and deals the sources of content with a more equal hand than appears on the surface of things. Dance, too, without fear; let no Puritan make you believe it is wrong; things are wrong out of season, and right in season; to dance in harvest is as becoming as to be grave in church. The Almighty has put it into the hearts of insects to dance in the afternoon sun, and of men and women in every age and every land to dance round the gathered crop, whether it be corn, or oil, or wine, or any other familiar miracle that springs up sixty-fold and nurtures and multiplies the life of man. More fire, fiddlers! play to the foot--play to the heart the sprightly "Day in June." Ay, foot it freely, lads and lasses; my own heart is warmer to think you are merry once or twice in your year of labor. Dance, my poor brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of toil!
After several dances, Mrs. Mayfield, who had been uneasy in her mind at remaining out of the fun, could bear inaction no longer; so she pounced on Robert Hathorn and drew him into the magic square. Robert danced, but in a very listless way; so much so, that his mother, who stood by, took occasion to give him a push and say: "Is that the way to dance?" at which poor Robert tried to do better, but his limbs, as well as his face, showed how far his heart was from his heels.
Now, in the middle of this dance, suddenly loud and angry sounds were heard approaching, and the voice of old Patrick was soon distinguished, and the next moment he was seen following Mr. Hickman, and hanging on his rear, loading him with invectives. Rachael was by his side, endeavoring, in vain, to soothe him, and to end what to her was a most terrible scene. At a gesture from Mrs. Mayfield, the fiddlers left off, and the rustics turned, all curiosity, toward the interruption. "There are bad hearts in the world," shouted Patrick to all present--"vermin that steal into honest houses and file* them--bad hearts, that rob the poor of that which is before life; oh, yes, far before life!" and, as he uttered these words, Patrick was observed to stagger.
* For defile.
"The old man is drunk," said Hickman. "I don't know what he means."
Rachael colored high and cried: "No, Master Robert, I assure you he is not drunk, but he is not himself; he has been complaining this hour past; see! look at his eye. Good people, my grandfather is ill;" and indeed, as she said these words, Patrick, who, from the moment he had staggered, had stared wildly and confusedly around him, suddenly bowed his head and dropped upon his knees; he would have fallen on his face, but Rachael's arm now held him up.
In a moment several persons came round them; among the rest, Robert and Mrs. Mayfield. Robert loosened his neckcloth, and, looking at the old man's face and eye, he said, gravely and tenderly: "Rachael, I have seen the like of this before--in harvest."
"Oh, Master Robert, what is it?"
"Rachael, it is a stroke of the sun!" He turned to his mother: "God forgive us all, the old man was never fit for the work we have put him to."
"Come, don't stand gaping there," cried Mrs. Mayfield; "mount my mare and gallop for the doctor--don't spare her--off with you! Betsey, get a bed ready in my garret."
"Eh, dear!" said Mrs. Hathorn, "I doubt the poor thing's troubles are over;" and she put up her apron and began to cry.
"Oh, no!" cried Rachael. "Grandfather--don't leave me!--don't leave me!"
Corporal Patrick's lips moved.
"I can't see ye! I can't see any of ye!" he said, half fretfully. "Ah!" he resumed, as if a light had broken in on him. "Yes!" said he, very calmly, "I think I am going;" but the next moment he cried in tones that made the bystanders thrill, so wild and piteous were they: "My daughter! my daughter!--she will miss me!"
Robert Hathorn fell on his knees, and took the old hand with one of those grasps that bring soul in contact with soul; the old soldier, who was at this moment past seeing or hearing, felt this grasp, and turned to it as an unconscious plant turns to the light. "I can't see you," said he faintly; "but, whoever you are, take care of my child!--she is such a good child!" The hands spoke to one another still; then the old soldier almost smiled, and the anxious, frightened look of his face began to calm. "Thank God," he faltered, "they are going to take care of my child!" And almost with these words he lost all sense, and lay pale, and calm, and motionless at their feet, and his hand could grasp Robert's no more. There was a moment of dead silence and inquiring looks. Robert looked into his face gravely and attentively.
When he had so inspected him a little while, he turned to them all, and he said, in a deep and almost a stern voice:
They all uncovered, and stood looking like stricken deer at the old soldier as he lay. The red jacket had nothing ridiculous now. When it was new and bright it had been in great battles. They asked themselves now, Had they really sneered at this faded rag of England's glory, and at that withered hero?
"Didn't think the old man was a going to leave us like that," said one of those rough penitents, "or I'd never ha wagged my tongue again un."
Mrs. Mayfield gave orders to have him carried up to her garret, and four stout rustics, two at his head and two at his feet, took him up the stairs and laid him there on a decent bed. When Rachael saw the clean floor, the little carpet round the foot of the bed, the bright walls and the windows, and the snowy sheets, made ready for her grandfather, she hid her face and wept, and said but two words--"Too late! too late!"
As Rachael was following her grandfather up the stairs, she met Hickman. That worthy had watched this sorrowful business in silence; he had tears in his eyes, and, coming to her, he whispered in her ear, "Rachael, don't fret--I will not desert you now." On the landing, a moment after, Rachael met Robert Hathorn. He said to her, "Rachael, your grandfather trusted you to me."
When Hickman said that to her, Rachael turned and looked at him.
When Robert said that to her, she lowered her eyes away from him.
THE poor battered soldier lay some hours between life and death. Just before sunrise Rachael, who had watched him all night, and often moistened his temples with vinegar, opened the window, and, as the morning air came into the room, a change for the better was observed in the patient--a slight color stole into his pale cheeks, and he seemed to draw a fuller breath, and his heart beat more perceptibly. Rachael kneeled and prayed for him, and then she prayed to him not to leave her alone; the sun had been up about an hour, and came fiery bright into the whitewashed room; for it looked toward the east, and Corporal Patrick's lips moved, but without uttering a sound. Rachael prayed for him again most fervently. About nine o'clock his lips moved, and this time he spoke:
"--Rear rank, right wheel!--"
The next moment a light shot into his eye. His looks rested upon Rachael: he smiled feebly, but contentedly, then closed his eyes and slumbered again.
Corporal Patrick lived. But it was a near thing, a very near thing--he was saved by one of those accidents we call luck--when Mrs. Mayfield's Tom rode for the doctor, the doctor was providentially out. Had he been in, our tale would be now bidding farewell to Corporal Patrick--for this doctor was one of the pig-sticking ones. He loved to stab men and women with a tool that has slain far more than the sword in modern days; it is called "the lancet." Had he found a man insensible, he would have stabbed him, poor man! he always stabbed a fellow-creature when he caught it insensible: not very generous, was it?--now, had he drawn from those old veins one tablespoonful of that red fluid which is the life of a man, the aged man would have come to his senses only to sink the next hour, and die for want of that vital stream stolen from him by rule.
As it was, he breathed, and came back to life by slow degrees. At first his right arm was powerless; then he could not move the right leg; but at last he recovered the use of his limbs, but remained feeble, and his poor head was sore confused: one moment he would be quite himself; another, his memory of recent events would be obscured--and then he would shake his head and sigh. But nature was strong in him; and he got better--but slowly.
As soon as he was able to walk, Rachael proposed to Mrs. Mayfield to return home, but Mrs. Hathorn interposed, and requested Rachael to take her own servant's place for another week, in order to let the servant visit her friends. On these terms Rachael remained, and did the work of the Hathorns' house, and it was observed that during this period more color came to her cheek, and her listlessness and languor sensibly diminished.
She was very active and zealous in her work, and old Hathorn was so pleased with her, that he said one day to Mrs. Hathorn: "I don't care if Betsy never comes back at all; this one is worth a baker's dozen of her, this Rachael."
"Betsy will serve our turn as well in the long run," said Mrs. Hathorn, somewhat dryly and thoughtfully.
"Betsy!" replied the former, contemptuously; "there is more sense in this Rachael's forefinger than in that wench's whole carcass."
It was about two days after this that the following conversation took place between Robert Hathorn and his mother:
"Is it true, what I hear, that Mr. Patrick talks about going next week?"
"Have not they been here long enough, Robert? I wish they may not have been here too long."
"Why too long, when you asked them to stay yourself, mother?"
"Yes, I did, and I doubt I did very wrong. But it is hard for a mother to deny her son."
"I am much obliged to you, mother, but I don't remember that ever I asked you."
"No! no. I don't say that you ever spoke your mind, Robert; but you looked up in my face, and showed your wish plain enough to my eye; and you see a poor foolish body like me doesn't know how to say no to her boy that never vexed her. I should have been a better friend to you if I had turned my head away, and made believe not to see what is in your heart."
Robert paused awhile, then, in a low, anxious voice, he whispered: " Don't you like her, mother?"
"Yes! I like her, my poor soul. What is there to dislike in her? But I don't know her."
"But I know her as well as if we had been seven years acquainted."
"You talk like a child! How can you know a girl that comes from a strange part?"
"I'd answer for her, mother."
"I wouldn't answer for any young wench of them all! I do notice she is very close; ten to one if she has not an acquaintance of some sort, good or bad."
"A bad acquaintance, mother! Never! If you had seen her through all the harvest month, as I did, respect herself and make others respect her, you would see that girl never could have made a trip in her life."
"Now, Robert, what makes you so sad, like, if you have no misgivings about her?"
"Because, mother, I don't think she likes me so well as I do her."
"All the better," said Mrs. Hathorn, dryly; "make up your mind to that."
"Do not say so! do not say so!" said Robert, piteously.
"Well, Robert, she does not hate you, you may be sure of that. Why is she in such a hurry to go away?"
"Because she has some one in her own country she likes better than me."
"Ay! that is the way you boys read women. More likely she is afraid of liking you too well, and making mischief in a family."
"Oh, mother, do you think it is that?"
"There, I am a fool to tell you such things."
"Oh, no, no, no! There is no friend like a mother."
"There is no fool like a mother, that is my belief."
"No, no! Give me some comfort, mother; tell me you see some signs of liking in her."
"Well, then, when she is quite sure you are not looking her way, I can see her eye dwell upon you as if it was at home."
"Oh, how happy you make me! But, mother, how you must have watched her!"
"Of course I watched her, and you too; I have seen a long while how matters were going."
"But you never spoke to Rose, or my father?"
"If I had, she would have been turned out of the house, and a good job too; but you would have fretted, you know;" and Mrs. Hathorn sighed.
"Mother, I must kiss you. I shall have courage to speak to father about it now."
"Take a thought, Robert. His heart is set upon your marrying your cousin. It would be a bitter pill to the poor old man, and his temper is very hasty. For Heaven's sake take a thought. I don't know what to do, I am sure."
"I must do it soon or late," said Robert, resolutely. "No time so good as now. Father is hasty, and he will be angry, no doubt; but after a while he will give in, I don't ask him favors every day. Do you consent, mother?"
"Oh, Robert, what is the use asking me whether I consent? I have only one son, and he is a good one. I am afraid I could not say no to your happiness, suppose it was my duty to say no; but your father is not such a fool as I am, and I am main doubtful whether he will ever consent. I wish you could think better of it."
"I will try him, mother, no later than to-day. Why, here he comes. Oh, there is Mr. Casenower with him; that is unlucky. You get him away, mother, and I'll open my mind to father."
Old Hathorn came past the window and entered the room where Robert and Mrs. Hathorn were. The farmer stumped in and sat down with some appearance of fatigue. Mr. Casenower sat down opposite him.
That gentleman had in his hand a cabbage. He was proving to the farmer that this plant is more nutritious than the potato. The theory was German in the first instance. "There are but three nourishing principles in all food," argued Mr. Casenower, "and of those, what we call 'fibrine' is the most effective. Now, see, I put my nail to this stalk, and it readily reduces itself to a bundle of little fibers; see, those are pure fibrine, and, taken into the stomach, make the man muscular. Can anything be clearer?"
Mr. Hathorn, who had shown symptoms of impatience, replied to this effect: "That he knew by personal experience that the cabbage turns to nothing but hot water in a man's belly."
"There are words to come out of a man's mouth!" objected Mrs. Hathorn.
"Better than cabbage going into it," grunted the farmer.
"Ah, you know nothing of chemistry, my good friend."
"Well, sir, you say there is a deal of heart in a cabbage?"
"Then I tell you what I'll do with you, sir. There is some fool has been and planted half an acre of cabbages in my barley-field--"
"It was not a fool," put in Mrs. Hathorn, sharply, "it was me."
"It was not a fool, you see, sir; it was a woman," responded Hathorn, mighty dryly. "Well, sir, you train on the Dame's cabbages for a month, and all that time I'll eat nothing stronger than beef and bacon, and at the end of the month I'll fight you for a pot of beer, if you are so minded."
"This is the way we reason in the country, eh, Mr. Robert?"
"Yes, sir, it would serve father right if you took him up, sir, with his game leg; but I don't hold with cabbages for all that; a turnip is watery enough, but a cabbage and a sponge are pretty much one, it seems to me."
"Mr. Casenower," put in Mrs. Hathorn, "didn't you promise to show me a pansy in your garden, that is to win the next prize at Wallingford?"
"I did, ma'am, but you should not call it 'Pansy'; 'Heart's-ease' is bad enough, without going back to 'Pansy.' Viola tricolor is the name of the flower--the scientific name."
"No," said old Hathorn, stoutly.
"No! What do you mean by no?"
"What are names for? To remember things by; then the scientifickest name must be the one that it is easiest to remember. Now, pansy is a deal easier to remember than 'vile tricolor.'"
"I am at your service, Mrs. Hathorn; come along, for Heaven's sake;" and off bustled Mr. Casenower toward the garden with Mrs. Hathorn.
"Father," said Robert, after an uneasy pause, "I have something to say to you, very particular."
"Have you, though? well, out with it, my lad!"
At this moment, in bustled Mr. Casenower again. "Oh, Mr. Robert, I forgot something. Let me tell you, now I think of it. I want you to find out this Rebecca Reid for me. She lives somewhere near, within a few miles. I don't exactly know how many. Can't you find her out?"
"Why, sir," said Robert, "it is like looking for one poppy in a field of standing wheat."
"No, no! When you go to market, ask all the farmers from different parishes whether they know her."
"Haw, haw, haw!" went Hathorn, senior. "Yes, do, Robert. Ho, ho!"
"Have you any idea what he is laughing at?" said Mr. Casenower, dryly.
"Father thinks you will make me the laughing-stock of the market, sir," said Robert, with a faint smile; "but never mind him, sir, I shall try and oblige you."
"You are a good fellow, Robert. I must go back to Mrs. Hathorn;" and off he bustled again.
"Father," began Robert; but before he could open his subject, voices were heard outside, and Mrs. Mayfield came in, followed by Richard Hickman.
"Tic! tic! tic!" said poor Robert, peevishly, for he foresaw endless interruptions.
Mr. Hickman had been for some minutes past employed in the agreeable occupation of bringing Mrs. Mayfield to the point; but, for various reasons, Mrs. Mayfield did not want to be brought to the point that forenoon. One of those reasons was, that although she liked Hickman well enough to marry him, she liked somebody else better, and she was not yet sure as to this person's intentions. She wanted, therefore, to be certain that she could not have Paul, before she committed herself to Peter. Now, certain ladies, when they do not want to be brought to the point, have ways of avoiding it that a man would hardly hit upon. One of them is, to be constantly moving about; for, they argue, "If he can't pin my body to one spot, he can't pin my soul, for my soul is contained in my body;" and there is a certain vulgar philosophy in this. Another is, to be absorbed in some small matter, that just then they cannot do justice to the larger question, and so modestly postpone it.
"Will I be yours till death us do part? now, how can I tell you just now? such a question demands at least some attention; and look at this hole in my lace collar, which I am mending; if I don't give my whole soul to it, how can I mend it properly?"
Mr. Hickman had no sooner shown Mrs. Mayfield that he wanted to bring her to the point, than he found himself in for some hard work; twice he had to cross the farmyard with her; he had to take up a sickly chicken and pronounce upon its ailments. He had to get some milk in a pail and give one of her calves a drink. He had to bring one cow from paddock to stall, and another from stall to paddock. Heaven knew why; and when all this and much more was done, the lady caught sight of our friends in the Hathorns' kitchen, and, crying briskly, "Come this way," led Mr. Hickman into company where she knew he could not press the inopportune topic.
"Curse her!" muttered the enamored one, as he followed her into the Hathorns' kitchen.
After the usual greetings, the farmer, observing Robert's impatience, said to Hickman: "If you will excuse me for a minute, farmer, Robert wants to speak to me; we are going toward the barn." He then beckoned Mrs. Mayfield, and whispered in her ear: "Don't let this one set you against my Robert, that is worth a hundred of him."
Mrs. Mayfield whispered in return: "And don't let your Robert shillyshally so, because this one does not--you understand--"
"All right," replied Hathorn; "ten to one if it is not you he wants to speak to me about."
Hathorn and his son then sauntered into the farmyard, and Hickman gained what he had been trying to for so long, a quiet téte-à-téte with Mrs. Mayfield; for all that, if a woman is one of those that have a wish, it is dangerous to drive her to the point.
"Well, Mrs. Mayfield," said he, quietly but firmly, "I am courting you this six months, and now I should be glad to have my answer. 'Yes,' or 'No,' if you please."
Mrs. Mayfield sidled toward the window; it commanded the farmyard. Robert and his father were walking slowly up and down by the side of the farmyard pond. Mrs. Mayfield watched them intently, then, half turning toward Hickman, she said slowly: "Why, as to that, Mr. Hickman, you have certainly come after me a while, and I'll not deny I find you very good company; but I have been married once and made a great mistake, as you have heard, I dare say; so now I am obliged to be cautious."
"What, are you afraid of my temper, Rose? I am not reckoned a bad tempered one, any more than yourself."
"Oh, no! I have no fault to find with you--only we have not been acquainted so very long."
"That is a fault will mend every day."
"Of course it will; well, when you are settled on Bix, we shall see you mostly every day, and then we shall know one another better; for, if you have no faults, I have; and then you will know better what sort of a bargain you are making: and then--we will see about it."
"Better tell the truth," said the all-observant Hickman.
"Ay, that the old man wants you to marry Bob Hathorn. Oh, I am down upon him this many a day."
"Robert Hathorn is nothing to me," replied the Mayfield; "but, since you put him in my head, I confess I might do worse."
"How could you do worse than marry a lad who has nothing but his two arms?"
Mrs. Mayfield, looking slyly through the window, observed Robert and his father to be in earnest conversation; this somewhat colored her answer. She replied quickly, "Better poor and honest, than half rich and three parts of a rogue!"
"Is that for me, if you please?" said Hickman, calmly but firmly.
"No! I don't say it is," replied the lady, fearful she had gone too far; "but still I wonder at your choosing this time for pressing me."
"Why not this time, as well as another, pray?" and Hickman eyed her intently, though secretly.
"Why not!" said she, and she paused; for the dialogue between Hathorn and his son was now so animated that the father's tones reached even to her ear.
"Ay! why not?" repeated Hickman.
The lady turned on him, and, with a sudden change of manner, said very sharply, "Ask your own conscience."
"I don't know what you mean!"
"I'll tell you. This old Patrick was miscalling you, when he fell ill. They say it was a stroke of the sun--maybe it was: but I should say passion had something to do with it too; the old man said words to you that none of the others noticed, but I did. He said as much as that you had robbed some one of what is before life in this world."
"Ay, and what is before life, I wonder?" said the satirical Hickman.
"Why, nothing," replied the frank Mrs. Mayfield, "if you go to that; but it is a common saying that a 'good name is before life,' and that is what the old man meant."
"I wonder you should take any notice of what the old man says, and above all his daughter."
"His daughter, Mr. Hickman! Why, I never mentioned his daughter, for my part. You have been and put your own bricks on my foundation."
Hickman looked confused.
"You are a fool, Richard Hickman! You have told me more than I knew, and I see more than you tell me. You have led that girl astray, and deserted her likely, you little scamp!" (Hickman was five foot ten.)
"Nonsense!" put in Hickman. "That Rachael shall never come between you and me; but I'll tell you who the girl stands between: you and your Robert, that the farmer wants to put in the traces with you against his will."
"You are a liar!" cried Rose Mayfield, coloring to her temples.
Hickman answered coolly: "Thank you for the compliment, Rose. No, it is the truth. You see, when a man is wrapped up in a woman, as I am in you, he finds out everything that concerns her; and your boy, Tom, tells me that Robert is as fond of her as a cow of a calf."
"He fond of that Rachael ? No!"
"Why, Rachael is a well-looking lass, if you go to that."
"And so she is," pondered Mrs. Mayfield; and in a moment many little circumstances in Robert's conduct became clear by this new light Hickman had given her. She struggled, and recovered her outward composure. "Well," said she stoutly, "what is it to me?"
"Why, not much, I hope. Give me your hand, Rose; I don't fancy any girl but you. And name the day, if you will be so good."
"No, no!" said Rose Mayfield, nearly crying with vexation. "I won't marry any of you--a set of rogues and blockheads. And, if it is true, I don't thank you for telling me. You are a sly, spiteful dog, and I don't care how often you ride past my house without hooking bridle to the gate, Dick Hickman."
Hickman bit his lips, but he kept his temper. "What! all this because Bob Hathorn's taste is not so good as mine! Ought I to suffer for his folly?"
"Oh, it is not for that, don't think it! But I don't want a lover that has ruined other women; it is not lucky, to say the least."
"What, all this because a girl jumped into my arms one day? Why, I am not so hard upon you. I hear tales about you, you know, but I only laugh--even about Frank Fairfield and you." (Mrs. Mayfield gave a little start.) "Neither you nor I are angels, you know. Why should we be hard on one another?"
Mrs. Mayfield, red as fire, interrupted him. "My faults, if I have any, have hurt me only; but yours never hurt you, and ruined others; and you say no more about me than you know, or you will get a slap in the mouth, and there's my door; you take it at a word, and I'll excuse any further visits from you, Mr. Hickman."
These words, with a finger pointing to the door, and a flashing eye, left nothing for Hickman but to retire, which he did, boiling with indignation, mortification, and revenge. "This is all along of Rachael. She has blown me," muttered he between his teeth. "I have got the bag; you shan't gain anything by it, Rachael!"
It will be remembered that when Patrick lay dying or dead, as he supposed, this Hickman had a good impulse, and told Rachael he would never desert her: in this he was perfectly sincere at the moment. People utterly destitute of principle abound in impulses. They have good impulses, which generally come to nothing or next to nothing; and bad impulses, which they put in practice.
Mr. Hickman had time to think over his good impulse, and, accordingly, he thought better of it, and found that Rose Mayfield was too great a prize to resign. He therefore kept out of the way more than a week (a suspicious circumstance, which Mrs. Mayfield did not fail to couple with old Patrick's words), and his pity for Rachael evaporated in all that time. "What the worse is she for me now? Hang her, I offered her money, and what not; but I suppose nothing will serve her turn but hooking me for life, or else having her spite out, and spilling my milk for me here."
It was a fixed notion in this man's mind that Rachael would do all she could to ruin his suit with Mrs. Mayfield, and when he got the "sack," or, as he vulgarly called it, "the bag," he attributed it, in spite of Rose Mayfield's denial, to some secret revelation on Rachael's part, and a furious impulse to be revenged on her took possession of him.
Now this bad impulse, unlike his good one, had no time to cool. As he went toward the stable, the Devil would have it he should meet Robert Hathorn. At sight of him our worthy acted upon his impulse. Robert, who was coming hastily from his father, with his brow knit and his countenance flushed, would have passed Hickman with the usual greeting, but Hickman would not let him off so easily.
"What, so you have got my old lass here still, Master Robert?"
"Your old lass! Not that I know of."
"Rachael Wright, you know."
"Rachael Wright your lass!"
"Ay! and a very nice lass too, till we fell out. She gave me a broad hint just now, but I am for higher game. You could not lend me a spur, could you, Mr. Robert? Mine is broken."
"Never mind; good-morning! good-morning!"
Hickman's looks and contemptuous tones had eked out the few words with which he had stabbed Robert, and, together with the libertine character of the man, had effectually blackened Rachael in Robert's eyes.
This done, away went the poisoner, and chuckled as he went.
Robert Hathorn stood pale as death, looking after him. To this stupefaction succeeded a feeling of sickness and a sense of despair, and Robert sat down upon the shaft of an empty cart, and gazed with stony eye upon the ground at his feet. His feelings were inexpressibly bitter. Where was he to hope to find a woman he could respect, if this paragon was a girl of loose conduct? Then came remorse: for this Rachael he had this moment all but quarreled with his father--their first serious misunderstanding. After a fierce struggle with himself, he forced himself to see that she must be wrenched out of his heart. He rose, pale but stern, after a silent agony that lasted a full hour, though to him it seemed but a minute, and went and looked after his father. He found him in the barn watching the threshers, but like one who did not see what he was looking at. His countenance was fallen and sad; the great and long-cherished wish of his heart had been shaken, and by his son; and then he had given that son bitter and angry words, and threatened him; and that son had answered respectfully, but firmly as iron, and the old man's heart began to sink.
He looked up, and there was Robert, pale and stern, looking steadfastly at him, with an expression he quite misunderstood. Old Hathorn lifted his head, and said sharply and bitterly to his son: "Well?"
"Father," said Robert, in a languid voice, "I am come to ask your pardon."
Farmer Hathorn looked astonished. Robert went on:
"I'll marry any woman you like, father--they are all one to me now."
"Why, what is the matter, Bob? that is too much the other way."
"And if I said anything to vex you, forgive me, father, if you please."
"No! no! no!" cried old Hathorn, "no more about it, Bob; there was no one to blame but my hasty temper--no more about it. Why, if the poor chap hasn't taken it quite to heart, hasn't a morsel of color left in his cheek!"
"Never mind my looks," gasped Robert.
"And don't you mind my words either, then. Robert, you have made me happier than I have been any time these twenty years!"
"I am glad of it," gasped Robert. "I'll look to this, if you have anything else to do." He wanted to be alone.
"Thank you, Bob; I want to go into the village; keep up your heart, my lad. She is the best looking woman I know, with the best heart I ever met, and I am older than you, and you see the worst of her the first day; her good part you are never at the bottom of; it is just the contrary with the sly ones. There, there! I'll say no more. Good-by." And away went the old farmer, radiant.
"Be happy," sobbed Robert; "I am glad there is one happy." And he sat down cold as a stone in his father's place. After awhile he rose and walked listlessly about, till at last his feet took him through habit into his father's kitchen; on entering it, his whole frame took a sudden thrill, for he found Rachael there tying up her bundle for a journey. She had heard his step, and her head was turned from the door; but near her was a small round old-fashioned mirror, and, glancing into this, Robert saw that tears were stealing down her face.
OLD Hathom paced down the village, with his oak stick, a happy man; but for all that he was a little mystified. But two hours ago Robert had told him he loved Rachael, and had asked his leave to marry her, and in answer to his angry, or, to speak more correctly, his violent refusal, had told him his heart was bound up in her, and he would rather die than marry any other woman. What could have worked such a sudden change in the young man's mind? "Maybe I shall find out," was his concluding reflection; and he was right; he did find out, and the information came from a most unexpected quarter. As he passed the village public-house he was hailed from the parlor window; he looked up, and at it was farmer Hickman, mug in hand. Now, to tell the truth, Hathorn was not averse to ale, especially at another man's expense, and, thought he, "Farmer is getting beery, looks pretty red in the face; however, I'll see if I can't pump something out of him and Rose." So he joined Hickman; and in about half an hour he also was redder in the face than at first.
If the wit is out when the wine is in, what must it be when the beer is in?
Old Hathorn and Hickman were much freer over their glass than they had ever been before, and Hathorn pumped Hickman; but inasmuch as Hickman desired to be pumped, and was rather cunninger half drunk than sober, the old farmer drew out of him nothing about Rose, but he elicited an artful and villainous mixture of truth and falsehood about Rachael Wright; it was not a vague sketch like that with which he had destroyed Robert's happiness; it was a long, circumstantial history, full of discolored truths and equivokes, and embellished with one or two good honest lies; but of these there were not many; poor Richard could not be honest even in dealing with the Devil--a great error, since that personage is not to be cheated; honesty is your only card in any little transaction with him. The symposium broke up. Hickman's horse was led round, he mounted, bade Hathorn good day, and went on. In passing the farm his red face turned black, and he shook his fist at it, and said, "Fight it out now among ye." And the poisoner cantered away.
In leading Robert Hathorn and others so far, we have shot ahead of some little matters which must not be left behind, since without them the general posture which things had reached when Robert found Rachael tying up her bundle could hardly be understood.
"When Mrs. Mayfield gave Hickman "the sack," or, as that coarse young man called it, "the bag," she was in a towering passion; and, not being an angel, but a female with decided virtues and abominable faults, she was just now in anything but a Christian temper, and woe to all who met her.
The first adventurer was Mr. Casenower: he saw her at a distance, for she had come out of the house, in which she found she could hardly breathe, and came toward her with a face all wreathed in smiles. Mr. Casenower had of late made many tenders of his affection to her, which she had parried, by positively refusing to see anything more than a jest in them; but Casenower, who was perfectly good-humored and light-hearted, had taken no offense at this, nor would he consider this sort of thing a refusal; in short, he told her plainly that it gave him great pleasure to afford her merriment, even at his own expense; only he should not leave off hoping until she took his proposal into serious consideration; that done, and his fate seriously pronounced, he told her she should find he was too much of a gentleman not to respect a lady's will; only, when the final "no" was pronounced, he should leave the farm, since he could not remain in it and see its brightest attraction given to another. Here he caught her on the side of her good-nature, and she replied, "Well, I am not anybody's yet." She said to herself, "The poor soul seems happy here, with his garden and his farm of two acres, and his nonsense, and why drive the silly goose away before the time?" so she suspended the final "No, "and he continued to offer admiration, and she to laugh at it.
It must be owned, moreover, that she began at times to have a sort of humorous terror of this man. A woman knows by experience that it is the fate of a woman not to do what she would like, and to do just what she would rather not, and often, though apparently free, to be fettered by sundry cobwebs, and driven into some unwelcome corner by divers whips of gossamer. One day Mesdames Hathorn and Mayfield had looked out of the parlor window into the garden, and there they saw Mr. Casenower, running wildly among the beds, with his hat in his hand.
"What is up now?" said Mrs. Mayfield scornfully.
"I dare say it is a butterfly," was the answer; "he collects them."
"What a fool he is, Jane."
"He is a good soul for all that."
"Fools mostly are, Jane!" said Mrs. Mayfield, very solemnly.
"Look at that man; look at him well, if you please. Of all the men that pester me, that is the one that is the most ridiculous in my eye. Ha! ha! the butterfly has got safe over the wall, I'm so glad! --Jane!"
"You mark my words--I shan't have the butterfly's luck."
"What do you mean?"
"That man is to be my husband!--that is all."
"La, Rose, how can you talk so! you know he is the last man you will ever take."
"Of course he is, and so he will take me; I feel he will; I can't bear the sight of him, so he is sure to be the man. You will see! you will see!" and, casting on her cousin a look that was a marvelous compound of fun and bitterness, she left the room bruskly, with one savage glance flung over her shoulder into the garden.
I do not say that such misgivings were frequent; this was once in a way; still it was characteristic, and the reader is entitled to it.
Mr. Casenower then came to Mrs. Mayfield, and presented her a clove-pink from the garden; he took off his hat with a flourish, and said, with an innocent, but somewhat silly playfulness, "Accept this, fair lady, in token that some day you will accept the grower."
The gracious lady replied by knocking the pink out of his hand and saying, "That is how I accept the pair."
Mr. Casenower colored very high, and the water came into his eyes; but Mrs. Mayfield turned her back on him, and flounced into her own house. When there, she felt she had been harsh, and looking out of the window she saw poor Casenower standing dejected on the spot where she had left him! she saw him stoop and pick up the pink; he eyed it sorrowfully, placed it in his bosom, and then moved droopingly away.
"What a brute I am!" was the Mayfield's first reflection. "I hate you!" was the second.
So then, being discontented with herself, she accumulated bitterness, and in this mood flounced into the garden, for she saw Mrs. Hathorn there. When she reached her, she found that her cousin was looking at Rachael, who was cutting spinach for dinner; while the old corporal, seated at some little distance, watched his granddaughter; and as he watched her his dim eye lighted every now and then with affection and intelligence.
Mrs. Mayfield did not look at the picture; all she saw was Rachael; and after a few trivial words she said to Mrs. Hathorn in an undertone, but loud enough to be heard by Rachael: "Are these two going to live with us altogether?"
Mrs. Hathorn did not answer; she colored and cast a deprecating look at her cousin: Rachael rose from her knees, and said to Patrick, in an undertone the exact counterpart of Mrs. Mayfield's: "Grandfather, we have been here long enough, come;" and she led him into the house.
There is a dignity in silent, unobtrusive sorrow, and some such dignity seemed to belong to this village girl, Rachael, and to wait upon all she said or did; and this seemed to put everybody in the wrong who did or said anything against her. When she led off her grandfather with those few firm, sad words, in the utterance of which she betrayed no particle of anger or pique, Mrs. Hathorn cast a glance of timid reproach at her cousin, and she herself turned paler directly; but she replied to Mrs. Hathorn's look only by a disdainful toss of the head; and, not choosing to talk upon the subject, she flounced in again and shut herself up in her own parlor; there she walked up and down like a little hyena. Presently she caught sight of the old farmer, standing like a statue, near the very place where Robert had left him after announcing his love for Rachael, and his determination to marry no other woman. At sight of the farmer an idea struck Mrs. Mayfield: "That Hickman is a liar, after all; don't let me be too hasty in believing all this about Robert and that girl. I'll draw the farmer."
"I'll draw the farmer!" My refined reader is looking to me to explain the lady's phraseology. That which in country parlance is called "drawing" is also an art, O pencil!--men that have lived thirty or forty years, and done business in this wicked world, learn to practice it at odd times. Women have not to wait for that; it is born with most of them an instinct, not an art. It works thus; you suspect something, but you don't know: you catch some one who does know, and you talk to him as if you knew all about it. Then, if he is not quite on his guard, he lets out what you wanted to know.
Mrs. Mayfield walked up to Hathorn with a great appearance of unpremeditated wrath, and said to him: "A fine fool you have been making of me, pretending your Robert looked my way, when he is over head and ears in love with that Rachael!"
"Oh," cried the farmer, "what, the fool has been and told you too!"
"So it is true, then?" cried the Mayfield, sharply.
Machiavel No. 2 saw his mistake too late, and tried to hark back. " No, he is not over head and ears; it is all nonsense and folly; it will pass; you set your back to mine, and we will soon bring the ninny to his senses."
"I back you to force your son my way!" cried Rose in a fury; "what do I care for you or your son either, you old fool! let him marry his Rachael! the donkey will find whether your mock-modest ones are better or worse than the frank ones--ha! ha!"
"Rose," cried the farmer, illuminated with sudden hope; " if you know anything against her, you tell me, and I'll tell Robert."
"No!" said she, throwing up her nose into the air in a manner pretty to behold, "I am no scandal-monger--it is your affair, not mine; let him marry his Rachael, ha! ha! oh!" and off she went, laughing with malice and choking with vexation.
There now remained to insult only Robert and Mrs. Hathorn. But the virago was afraid to scold Mrs. Hathorn, who she knew would burst out crying at the first hard word, and then she would have to beg the poor soul's pardon: and Robert she could not find just then. Poor fellow! at this very moment he was writhing under Hickman's insinuations, and tearing his own heart to pieces in his efforts to tear Rachael from it.
So the Mayfield ran upstairs to her own bedroom and locked herself in, for she did not want sense, and she began to see and feel that she was hardly safe to be about.
Meantime Rachael had come to take leave of Mrs. Hathorn; that good lady remonstrated, but feebly; she felt that there would never be peace now till the poor girl was gone; but she insisted upon one thing; the old man in his weak state should not go on foot.
"You are free to go or stay for me, Rachael," said she, "but, if you go, I will not have any harm come to the poor old man within ten miles of this door."
So, to get away, Rachael consented to take a horse and cart of the farmer's, and this is how it came about that Robert found Rachael tying up her bundle of clothes. Her tears fell upon her little bundle as she tied it.
ROBERT HATHORN had found in Hick-man's insinuation a natural solution of all that had puzzled him in Rachael. She was the deserted mistress of a man whom she still loved--acting on this he had apologized to his father, had placed his future fate with heart-sick indifference in that father's hands, and had despaired of the female sex, and resigned all hope of heart-happiness in this world. But all this time Rachael had been out of sight. She stood now before him in person, and the sight of her, beautiful, retiring, submissive, sorrowful, smote his heart and bewildered his mind. Looking at her, he could not see the possibility of this creature having ever been Hickman's mistress. He accused himself of having been too hasty; he would have given worlds to recall the words that had made his father so happy, and was even on the point of leaving the kitchen to do so; but on second thoughts he determined to try and learn from Rachael herself whether there was any truth in Hickman's scandal, and, if there was, to think of her no more.
"What are you doing, Rachael?"
"I am tying up my things to go, Master Robert."
"Yes! we have been a burden to your mother some time; still, as I did the work of the house, I thought my grandfather would not be so very much in the way; but I got a plain hint from Mrs. Mayfield just now."
"No, sir! we are not to forget months of kindness for a moment of ill-humor. So I am going, Mr. Robert, and now I have only to thank you for all your kindness and civility. We are very grateful, and wish we could make a return; but that is not in our power. But grandfather is an old man near his grave, and he shall pray for you by name every night, and so will I; so then, as we are very poor and have no hopes but from Heaven, it is to be thought the Almighty will hear us and bless you sleeping and waking for being so good to the unfortunate."
Robert hid his face in his hands a moment; this was the first time she had ever spoken to him so warmly and so sweetly, and at what a moment of dark suspicion did these words come to him! Robert recovered himself, and said to Rachael, "Are you sure that is the real cause of your leaving us so sudden?"
Rachael looked perplexed. "Indeed, I think so, Mr. Robert. At least I should not have gone this very day but for that."
"Ah! but you know very well you had made up your mind to go before that?"
"Of course, I looked to go, some day; we don't belong here, grandfather and I."
"That is not it, either. Rachael, there is an ill report sprung up about you."
"What is that, sir?" said Rachael, with apparent coldness.
"What is it? How can I look in your face and say anything to wound you?"
"Thank you, Mr. Robert. I am glad there is one that is inclined to show me some respect."
"Do something for me in return, dear Rachael; tell me your story, and I'll believe your way of telling it, and not another's; but, if you will tell me nothing, what can I do but believe the worst, impossible as it seems? Why are you so sorrowful? Why are you so cold, like?"
"I have nothing to tell you, Mr. Robert; if any one has maligned me, may Heaven forgive them; if you believe them, forget me. I am going away. Out of sight, out of mind."
"What! can a girl like you, that has won all our respects, go away and leave scandal behind her? No! stay and face it out, and let us put it down forever."
"Why should I trouble myself to do that, sir?"
"Because, if you do not, those who love you can love you no more."
Rachael sighed, but she wrapped herself in her coldness, and replied, "But I want no one to love me."
"You don't choose that any one should ever marry you, then?"
"No, Mr. Robert, I do not."
"You would not answer Richard Hickman so."
"Richard Hickman!" said Rachael, turning pale.
When she turned pale, Robert turned sick.
"He says as much as that you could not say 'No' to him."
"Richard Hickman speaks of me to you!" cried Rachael, opening her eyes wildly. Then in a moment she was ice again. " Well, I do not speak of him!"
"Rachael," cried Robert, "what is all this? For Heaven's sake, be frank with me. Don't make me tear the words out of you so; give me something to believe, or something to forgive. I should believe anything you told me: I am afraid I should forgive anything you had done."
"I do not ask you to do either, sir."
"She will drive me mad!" cried Robert, frantically. "Rachael, hear me. I love you more than a woman was ever loved before! You talk of being grateful to me. I don't know why you should, but you say so. If you are, be generous, be merciful! I leave it to you. Be my wife! and then, perhaps, you will not lock your heart and your story from your husband. I cannot believe ill of you. You may have been malinged, or you may have been deceived, but you cannot be guilty. There!" cried he wildly," no word but one! Will you be my wife, Rachael?"
Rachael did not answer, at least in words; she wept silently.
Robert looked at her despairingly. At last he repeated his proposal almost fiercely: "I ask you, Rachael, will you be my wife?"
As he repeated this question, who should stand in the doorway but Mrs. Mayfield. She was transfixed, petrified, at these words of Robert; but, being a proud woman, her impulse was to withdraw instantly, and hear no more. Ere she was out of hearing, however, Rachael replied.
"Forgive me, Mr. Robert! I must refuse you!"
"You refuse to be my wife!"
"I do, sir!" but still she wept.
Mrs. Mayfield, as she retreated, heard the words, but did not see the tears. Robert saw the tears, but could not understand them. He gave a hasty, despairing gesture, to show Rachael that he had no more to say to her, and then he flung himself into a chair, and laid his brow on the table. Rachael glided softly away. At the door she looked back on Robert, with her eyes thick with tears. She had hardly been gone a minute when Rose Mayfield returned, and came in and sat gently down opposite Robert, and watched him intently, with a countenance in which the most opposite feelings might be seen struggling for the mastery.
ROBERT lifted his head, and saw Mrs. Mayfield. He spoke to her sullenly. "So you turn away our servants?"
"Not I," replied Mrs. Mayfield sharply.
"It is not we that send away Rachael, it is you."
"I tell you no; do you believe that girl before me?"
"You affronted her. What had she done to you?"
"I only just asked her how long she meant to stay here, or something like that. Hang me, if I remember what I said to her! They are a bad breed, all these girls; haughty and spiteful; you can't say a word but they snap your head off." Mrs. Mayfield said no more, for at that moment Rachael came into the room with her grandfather and Mrs. Hathorn, who appeared to be smoothing matters down.
"No, Daddy Patrick," said she, in answer to some observation of the old man's, "nobody sends you away; you leave us good friends, and you are going to drink a cup of ale with us before you go."
A tray was then brought in and a jug of ale, and Patrick drank his mug of ale slowly; but Rachael put hers to her lips and set it down again.
Then Robert went and sat on the window-seat, and there he saw them bringing round the wagon to carry away Rachael and her grandfather. His heart turned dead sick within him. He looked round for help, and looking round he saw Mrs. Mayfield bending on him a look in which he seemed to read some compassion blended with a good deal of pique. In his despair he appealed to her: "There, they are really going; is it fair to send away like that folk that have behaved so well, and were minded to go of themselves only mother asked them to stay? See how that makes us look; and you that were always so kind-hearted, Mrs. Mayfield. Rose, dear Rose!"
Mrs. Mayfield did not answer Robert, whose appeal was made to her in an undertone; but she said to Mrs. Hathorn: "Jane, the house is yours; keep them if it suits you, I am sure it is no business of mine."
"Oh, thank you, Rose!" cried Robert; but his thanks were cut short by the voice of the elder Hathorn, who had just come in from the yard. "They are going," said he, "I make no complaint against them. There is no ill-will on either side; but I say they ought to go, and go they shall."
"Go they shall!" said the old corporal, with a mystified look.
The farmer spoke with a firmness and severity, and even with a certain dignity; and all felt he was not in a mood to be trifled with.
Robert answered humbly: "Father, you are master here--no one gainsays you; but you are a just man. If you were to be cruel to the poor and honest, you would be sorry for it all your days."
Before the farmer could answer, Rose Mayfield put in hastily: "There, bid them stay--you see your son holds to the girl, and you will have to marry them one day or other, and so best--that will put an end to all the nonsense they talk about the boy and me. I dare say Robert is fool enough to think I wanted him for myself."
"I, Mrs. Mayfield? never. What makes you fancy that?"
"And," cried Mrs. Mayfield, as if a sudden light broke in upon her, "what are we all doing here? we can't help folks' hearts. Robert loves her. Are we to persecute Robert, an innocent lad, that never offended one of us, and has been a good son to you, and a good friend and brother to me ever since we could walk? I think the Devil must have got into my heart; but I shall turn him out, whether he likes or no. I say he shall have the girl, old man; and more than that, I have got a thousand pounds loose in Wallingford Bank; they shall have it to stock a farm; it is little enough to give Robert--I owe him more than that for Uxmoor, let alone years of love and good-will. There now, he is going to cry, I suppose. Bob, don't cry, for Heaven's sake; I can't abide to see a man cry."
"It is you make me, Rose, praising me just when everybody seemed to turn against me."
"You are crying yourself, Rose," whimpered Mrs. Hathorn.
"If I am, I don't feel it," replied Mrs. Mayfield.
Rachael trembled; but she said in her low, firm voice: "We are going away of our own accord, Mistress Mayfield, and we thank you kindly for this, and for all--but we are going away."
"You don't love Robert, then?"
"No, Mrs. Mayfield," said Rachael, with the air of one confessing theft or sacrilege, "I don't love Mr. Robert!" and she lowered her eyes with their long lashes, and awaited her sentence.
"Tell that to the men," replied Rose, "you can't draw the wool over a sister's eye, young lady."
"The young woman is the only one among you that has a grain of sense," said old Hathorn, roughly. "Why don't you let her alone--she would thank you for it."
"Can you read a woman's words, you old ass?" was the contemptuous answer.
"I am not an ass, young woman," said Hathorn, gravely and sternly, "and I am in my own house, which you seem to forget"--Rose colored up to the eyes--"and I am the master of it, so long as it is your pleasure I should be here."
"John," cried Mrs. Hathorn, with a deprecating air.
"And I am that young man's father, and it is his duty to listen to me, and mine not to let him make a fool of himself. I don't pretend to be so particular as Robert is--used to be, I mean--and I was telling him only yesterday, that suppose you have kicked over the traces a bit, as you have never broken your knees, leastwise to our knowledge, Rose, it did not much matter."
"Thank you, Daddy Hathorn; much obliged to you, I am sure."
"But there's reason in roasting of eggs; this one has been off the course altogether, and therefore, I say again, she shows sense by going home, and you show no sense by trying to keep her here."
"Father," said Robert, "you go too far; we know nothing against Rachael, and till I know I won't believe anything."
"Why, Bob, I thought Hickman had told you all about it--I understood him so--ay, and he must too, or why did you come to me in the yard and eat humble pie?"
"I don't know what you mean by telling me all about it, father: he hinted as much as that he and Rachael had been too familiar once upon a time."
"Well! how often has he told the same lie of a dozen others? that is a common trick of Dick Hickman's, to pretend he has been thick with a girl, that perhaps does not know his face from Adam's. Father, I can't believe a known liar's tongue against such a face as that."
"Face as that! It is a comely one, but seems to me it does not look us so very straight in the face just now: and there's more than a liar's tongue on t'other side, there's chapter and verse, as the saying is."
"I don't understand your hints, and I don't believe that blackguard's. I am not so old as you, but I have learned that truth does not lie in hints."
"I'm older than you, and a woman's face can't make me blind and deaf to better witnesses."
"There are no better witnesses! For shame, father! Hickman is no authority with Hathorn."
"But the Parish Register is an authority," said the old man sternly, and losing all his patience.
"The Parish Register!"
"And if you look at the Parish Register of Long Compton, you will find the name of a child she is the mother of, and no father to show."
"Ask herself!-- you see she doesn't deny it."
All eyes turned and fastened upon Rachael; and those who saw her at this moment will carry her face and her look to their graves, so fearful was the anguish of a high spirit, ground into the dust and shame; her body seemed that moment to be pierced with a hundred poisoned arrows. She rose white to her very lips, and stood in the midst of them quivering like an aspen leaf, her eyes preternaturally bright and large, and she took one uncertain step forward, as if to fling herself on the weapons of scorn that seemed to hem her in; and she opened her mouth to speak, but her open lips trembled, and trembled, and no sound came. And all the hearts round, even the old farmer's, began now to freeze and fear at the sight of this wild agony; and at last, after many efforts, the poor soul would have said something, God knows what, but a sudden and most unexpected interruption came. Corporal Patrick was by her side, nobody saw how; and, seizing her firmly by the arm, he forbade her to speak. "Silence, girl!" cried the old soldier, fiercely. "I dare you to say a word to any of them!"
Then Rachael turned and clung convulsively to his shoulder, and trembled and writhed there in silence. All this while they had not observed the old man, or they would have seen that the mist had gradually cleared away from his faculties; his mind, brightened by his deep love for Rachael, was keenly awake to all that concerned her; and so her old champion stood in a moment by her side with scarce a sign left of age or weakness, upright and firm as a tower.
"Silence, girl! I dare you to say a word to any of them!"
"There," sobbed Mrs. Hathorn, "you thought the poor old man was past understanding, and now you make him drink the bitter cup, as well as her."
"Yes! I must drink my cup too," said old Patrick. "I thought I was going to die soon, and to die in peace; but I'll live and be young again, if it is but to tell ye ye are a pack of curs. The Parish Register! does the Parish Register tell you the man married her with a wife living in another part? Is it wrote down along with that child's name in the Parish Register how his father fell on his knees to his mother, a girl of seventeen, and begged, for the dear life, she wouldn't take the law of him and banish him the country? What was she to think? could she think that, when his sick wife died, he'd reward her for sparing him by flying the country, not to do her right? The Parish Register! You welcome this scoundrel to your house, and you hunt his victim out like a vagabond, ye d--d hypocrites! Come, Rachael, let us crawl away home, and die in peace."
"No! no! you must not go like that," cried Mrs. Hathorn, and Robert rose, and was coming to take his hand; but he waved his staff furiously over his head.
"Keep aloof, I bid ye all," he cried; "I have fought against Bonaparte, and I despise small blackguards." He seized Rachael and drew her to the door: then he came back at them again: "'Tisn't guilt you have punished; you have insulted innocence and hard fortune; you have insulted your own mothers, for you have insulted me, and I fought for them before the best and oldest of you was born--no skulking before the enemy, girl"--for Rachael was drooping and trembling--"right shoulders forward, MARCH!" and he almost tore her out of the house. He was great, and thundering, and terrible, in this moment of fury; he seemed a giant and the rest but two feet high. His white hair streamed, and his eyes blazed defiance and scorn. He was great and terrible by his passion and his age, and his confused sense of past battles and present insult. They followed him out almost on tiptoe. He lifted Rachael into the wagon, placed her carefully on a truss of hay in the wagon, and the carter came to the horses' heads, and looked to the house to know whether he was to start now.
Robert came out and went to Rachael's side of the wagon, but she turned her head away.
"Won't you speak to me, Rachael?" said Robert.
Rachael turned her head away and was silent.
"Very well," said Robert quietly, very quietly.
"Go on," cried old Hathorn.
The next moment there was a fearful scream from the women, and Robert was seen down among the horses' feet, and the carter was forcing them back, or the wagon would have been over him; the carter dragged him up--he was not hurt, but very pale; he told his mother, who came running to him, that he had felt suddenly faint and had fallen, and he gave a sickly smile, and bade her not be frightened, he was better.
Rose Mayfield was as white as a sheet.
"Go on," cried the farmer, again, and at a word from the carter the horses drew the wagon out of the yard, and went away down the lane with Rachael and Patrick.
They were gone.
CORPORAL PATRICK was correct in his details; the Parish Register gave a very vague outline of Rachael Wright's history. Mr. Hickman had gone through the ceremony of marrying her; nay, more, at the time, he had firmly intended the ceremony should be binding, for his wife lay dying a hundred miles off, and Rachael had at this period great expectations from her aunt, Mrs. Clayton. This Mrs. Clayton was the possessor of Bix Farm. She was a queer-tempered woman, and a severe economist; this did not prevent her allowing Patrick and Rachael a yearly sum, which helped to maintain them in homely comfort. And she used to throw out mysterious hints that, at her death, the pair would be better off than other relations of hers who dressed finer and held their heads higher at present. Unfortunately for Rachael this aunt was alive at the period when Hickman's bigamy was discovered by old Patrick. The said aunt had never done anything of the kind herself, nobody had ever married her illegally, and she could not conceive how such a thing could take place without the woman being in fault as well as the man; so she was very cross about it, and discontinued her good offices. The corporal wished to apply the law at once to Hickman; but he found means to disarm Rachael, and Rachael disarmed the old soldier. Rachael, young, inexperienced, and honest, was easily induced to believe in Hickman's penitence, and she never doubted that, upon his wife's death, who was known to be incurably ill, Richard would do her ample right. So meantime she agreed to do herself injustice.
Mrs. Hickman died within a short time of the exposure; but, unfortunately for Rachael, another person died a week or two before her, and that person was Rachael's aunt. No will appeared, except an old one, which was duly canceled by the old lady herself, in the following manner: First, all the words were inked out with a pen; secondly, most of them were scratched out with a knife; lastly, a formal document was affixed and witnessed, rendering the said instrument null as well as illegible. This unfortunate testament bequeathed Bix Farm to Jack White, her graceless nephew. He had offended her after the will was made, so she annuled the will. The graceless nephew could afford to smile at these evidences of wrath; he happened to be her heir-at-law, and succeeded to Bix in the absence of all testament to the contrary. Hickman was with his dying wife in Somersetshire. The news about Bix reached him, and he secretly resolved to have nothing more to do with Rachael. To carry out this with more security, the wretch wrote her affectionate letters from time to time, giving plausible excuses for remaining in Somersetshire; and so he carried on the game for three months after his wife was dead; he then quietly dropped the mask and wrote no more.
So matters went on for some years, until one day the graceless nephew, finding work a bore, announced Bix Farm to let. Poor Hickman had set his heart upon this Bix, and, as he could not have it for his own, he thought he should like to rent it; so he came up and made his offer, and was accepted as tenant. The rest the reader knows, I believe; but what iron passed through the hearts of Rachael and the old soldier all this time, that let me hope he knows not.
THE events we have recorded had no sooner taken place, than a great change seemed to come over Mrs. Mayfield. She went about her avocations as usual, but not with the same alacrity; and her spirits were so unstrung that every now and then she burst into tears. The female servants, honest country wenches that were not sublimely indifferent, like London domestics, to everybody in the house but themselves, seeing the gloom of the house, and Mrs. Mayfield continually crying who never cried before, began to whimper for sympathy, and the house was a changed house. Robert had disappeared; and they all felt it was a charity not to ask where, or to go near him for a while; all but the mother, who could not resist the yearnings of a mother's nature; she crept silently at a distance, and watched her boy, lest perchance evil should befall him.
Mrs. Mayfield then, after many efforts to go through her usual duties, gave way altogether, and sat herself down in her own parlor, and cried over all the sorrow that had come on the farm; and, as all generous natures do, if you give them time to think, she blamed herself more than any one else, and wished herself dead and out of the way, if by that means the rest could only be made happy as they used to be. While she was in this mood, her head buried in her hands, she heard a slight noise, and, looking up, saw a sorrowful face at the door. It was Mr. Casenower.
"I am come to bid you good-by, Mrs. Mayfield."
"Come to bid me good-by?"
"Yes; all my things are packed up except this, which I hope you will do me the favor to accept, since I am going away, and shall never tease you again."
"You never teased me, that I know," said Mrs. Mayfield, very gently. "What is it, sir?"
"It is my collection of birds' eggs. Will you look at it?"
"Yes. Why, here are a hundred different sorts, and no two kinds alike."
"No two kinds? I should think not. No two eggs, you mean."
"How beautiful they look when you see them in such numbers!"
"They are beautiful. Nature is very skillful; we don't take half as many hints from her as we might. Do you observe these eggs all of one color--these delicate blues, these exquisite drabs? If you ever wish to paint a room, take one of these eggs for a model, and you will arrive at such tints as no painter ever imagined out of his own head, I know. I once hoped we should make these experiments together; but it was not to be. Good-by, dear Mrs. Mayfield!"
"Oh, Mr. Casenower! I did not think you came to quarrel with me."
"Heaven forbid! But you love somebody else."
"No: I don't."
"Yes: you know you do; and you rejected me this morning."
"I remember I was rude to you, sir; I knocked a flower out of your hand. Does that rankle in your heart so long?"
"Mrs. Mayfield, it is for your sake I am going, not out of anger; you know that very well."
"I know no such thing, it is out of spite, and a pretty time to show your spite, when my heart is breaking. If you want to please me, you would wait till I bid you go."
"You don't bid me go, then?"
"It doesn't seem like it."
"You bid me stay?"
"Not I, sir. Don't let me keep you here against your will."
"But it is not against my will; only you seemed to hate me this morning."
"What signifies what I did this morning?" cried Mrs. Mayfield, sharply; "it is afternoon now. This morning they put me out; I wanted somebody to quarrel with; you came in my way, so I quarreled with you. Now I have made you all unhappy, so I am miserable myself, as I deserve; and now I want somebody to comfort me, and you come to me: but, instead of comforting me, all you can think of is to quarrel with me--oh! oh! oh!" This speech was followed by a flood of tears.
Casenower drew his chair close to hers, and took her hand, and promised to console her--to die for her, if necessary.
"Tell me your trouble," said he, "and you shall see how soon I will cure it, if a friend can cure it. Mrs. Mayfield--Rose--what is the matter?"
"Dear Mr. Casenower, Robert is in love with that Rachael--the farmer has insulted her, and sent her and her grandfather away--Robert is breaking his heart;--and all this began with a word of mine, though that blackguard Hickman is more to blame still. But I am a woman that likes to make people happy about me; I may say I live for that; and now they are all unhappy. And if I knew where to find a dose of poison I would not be long before I would take it this day. I can't bear to make people unhappy--oh! oh! oh!"
"Don't cry, dearest," said Casenower; "you shall have your wish; you shall make everybody happy!"
"Oh, no, no! that is impossible now."
"No such thing--there is no mischief that can't be cured. Look here, Rose, the old farmer is very fond of money; Rachael is poor; well, I am rich. I will soon find Robert a thousand pounds or two, and he shall have the girl he likes."
"Ah, Mr. Casenower, if money could do it I should have settled it that way myself. Oh, what a good creature you are! I love you--no, I don't, I hate you, because I see how all this is to end. No, no! we have insulted the poor things and set their hearts against us, and we have set poor Robert against the girl, who is worth the whole pack of us twice counted. They are gone, and the old man's curse hangs like lead upon the house and all in it."
"Where are they gone?"
"An hour and a half."
"In two hours I'll have them back here."
"Don't be a fool now, talking nonsense."
"Will you lend me your mare?"
"Yes! no! The old farmer would kill us."
"Hang the old farmer! Who cares for him? Is this your house or his?"
"Mine, to be sure."
"Then I shall bring them to this house."
"You have a right to do what you like in your own house, I suppose. Why, how scared you look! Where is all your spirit? You have plenty of it sometimes."
"Dear Mr. Casenower, don't tell anybody, I have not a grain of real spirit. I am the most chicken-hearted creature in the world, only I hide it when I fall in with other cowards, and so then I can bully them, you know. I have hectored it over you more than once, and so I would again; but it would be a shame, you are so good--and besides you have found me out."
"Well, I am not afraid of anybody, if I can please you. I will ride after them and fetch them here, and, if you are afraid to give them house-room, I will hire that empty house at the end of the lane, and this very night they shall be seated in a good house, by a good fire, before a good, supper, within fifty yards of your door."
"Let me go with you. You don't know the way."
"Thank you, I should be sure to lose the way by myself; go and get your habit on. Lose no time. I will saddle the horses."
"How a man takes the command of us," thought Mrs. Mayfield. "I shall have to marry you for this, I suppose," said she, gayly, shining through her late tears.
"Not unless you like," said Casenower, proudly. "I don't want to entrap you, or take any woman against her will."
The Mayfield colored up to her eyes.
"You had better knock me down," said she. "I know you would like to;" and, casting on her companion a glance of undisguised admiration, she darted upstairs for her habit.
Ten minutes later she was in the saddle, and, giving her mare the rein, she went after our poor travelers like a flash of lightning.
Casenower followed as he might.
IT was a glorious evening. The sun, gigantic and red, had just begun to tip the clouds with gold, and rubies, and promises of a fine day to-morrow; the farm was quiet; the farmer's homely supper was set on a table outside the door, and he and his wife sat opposite each other in silence.
Mrs. Hathorn helped herself to a morsel; but she did not care to eat it, and, in fact, she only helped herself to encourage her husband to eat. She did not succeed; Farmer Hathorn remained in a brown study, his supper untested before him.
"Eat your supper, husband."
"Thank you, wife; I am not hungry."
"Take a drop of beer, then."
"No, Jane, I am not dry."
"You are ill, then, John; you don't look well."
"I'm well enough, I tell you."
"You are in trouble, like many more in this house,"
"Me? No; I never was happier in my life!"
"Indeed! What is there to be happy about?"
"Come, now, what is it?" cried the farmer, angrily. "Out with it, and don't sit looking at me with eyes like an adder's."
"My man, you see your conscience in your wife's eyes; that is all the venom they have."
"You had better tell me Robert is in his senses to love that girl. I would cut my arm off at the shoulder sooner than consent to it."
"Would you cut your son off sooner?" said Mrs. Hathorn, with forced calmness.
"What do you mean?"
"You take very little notice of what passes, John."
"What do you mean?"
"Didn't you see what Robert tried for when the wagon started with them?"
"Oh, about his fainting! I could have kicked the silly fool if I hadn't been his father."
"Don't you think it is very odd he should faint like that--just under the wheel of a wagon?"
"Oh, when a chap swoons away, he can't choose the bed he falls on."
"A moment more, the wheel would have been on his head; if Thomas hadn't been lightsome and stopped the horses all in a minute, Robert Hathorn would have been a corpse in this house."
The old man lowered his voice: "You had better tell me you think he did it on purpose!"
Mrs. Hathorn leaned over the table to him.
"I don't think it, John; I am sure of it. Robert never fainted at all; he was as white as his shirt, but he knew what he was about, from first to last. He chose his time; and when Rachael turned her head from him, he just said, 'Very well, then,' and flung himself under the wheel. What did Thomas say, who dragged him up from the horses' feet?"
"I don't know," said old Hathorn, half sulkily, half trembling.
"He said, 'That is flying in the face of Heaven, young master.' Jane heard him say it; and you know Thomas is a man that speaks but little. What did Rose Mayfield say, as she passed him next minute? 'Would you kill your mother, Robert, and break all our hearts?' You cried out, 'Go on--go on.' Robert said his foot had slipped; and made as though he would smile at me. Ah! what a smile, John! If you had been as near it as I was, you wouldn't sleep this night." And Mrs. Hathorn began to sob violently and rocked herself to and fro.
"Then send for them back," cried the farmer, suddenly starting up. "Send, before worse ill comes--confound them!"
"They will never come back here. They are poor, but honest and proud; and we have stung them too bitterly, reproaching them with their hard lot."
"Where is he?"
"In the barn; with his face buried in the straw like one who wouldn't speak, or see, or hear the world again."
"Perhaps he is asleep?"
"No, he is not asleep."
"Give him time; he'll come to when he has cried his bellyful."
"He shed tears? Oh, no! it is too deep for that; he will die by his own hand, or fret to death. He won't be long here, I doubt. Look for dark days, old man!"
"Wife," said Hathorn, trembling, "you are very hard upon me. To hear you, one would say I am a bad father, and am killing my son."
"No--no--John! But we were too ambitious, and we have humbled the poor and the afflicted; and Heaven does not bless them that do so, and never will."
"I don't know what to do, Jane."
"No more do I, except pray to God. That is my resource in dangers and troubles."
"Ay! ay! that can do no harm any way."
While the old couple sat there, with gloomy and foreboding hearts, suddenly a cheerful cry burst upon their ears. It was Mrs. Mayfield's voice; she came cantering up the lane with Mr. Casenower. She dismounted, flung him the bridle, and ran into her own house, where she busied herself in giving orders, and preparing two rooms for some expected visitors. A few minutes more, and, to the astonishment of Hathorn and delight of his wife, the wagon hove in sight with Rachael and Patrick.
They descended from the wagon, and were led by Mr. Casenower into Mrs. Mayfield's house, and there, after all this day's fatigues and sorrows, they found a welcome and bodily repose. But Rachael showed great uneasiness; she had been very reluctant to return; but Mrs. Mayfield had begged them both so hard, with the tears in her eyes, and Patrick had shown so strong a wish to come back, that she had yielded a passive consent. When the news of their return was brought to Robert by his mother, he betrayed himself to her; he threw his arms round her neck like a girl--but in his downcast look, and dogged manner, none of the others could discover whether he was glad or sorry. He went about his work next morning, as usual, and did not even make an inquiry about Rachael.
It was about twelve o'clock the next day that Mrs. Mayfield observed him return from the field and linger longer than usual in the neighborhood of the house. She invited Rachael to come and look at her pet calf, and walked her most treacherously right up to Robert.
"Oh!" cried she, "you must excuse me, here is Robert, he will do as well. Robert, you take and show her my calf, the red and white one, that's a good soul, they want me indoors." And in a moment she was gone, and left Robert and Rachael looking alternately at each other and the ground.
When Rose left these two together, she thought, innocently enough, that the business was half done, as far as they were concerned. She had not calculated the characters of the parties, and their pride. They were little nearer each other now than at twenty miles distant.
"Well, Rachael," said Robert, "I am glad you are here again; they were wrong to insult you, and now they are right to bring you back; but it is no business of mine."
"No, Master Robert," said Rachael quietly, "and it is against my will I am here."
With these words she was moving away when Robert intercepted her, and, intercepting her, said: "Oh, I don't hinder you to stay or to go. The folk say a heap of things about you and me; but did I ever say a word to you more than civility?"
"No! nor would I have suffered it."
"Oh, you are proud! it suits your situation," said Robert, bitterly.
"A man and a Christian would think twice ere he reminded me of my situation," cried Rachael, with flashing eyes; "and, since you can't feel for it, why speak to me at all?"
"I did not mean to affront you," said Robert, with feeling. "I pity you."
"Keep your pity for one that asks it," was the spirited reply.
"What! are we to worship you?"
"Misfortune that does not complain should meet some little respect, I think."
"Yes, Rachael, but it would be more respected if you had not kept it so close."
"Master Robert," answered Rachael, in what we have already described as her dogged manner, "poor folk must work, and ought to work; and as they won't let a girl in my situation, as you call it, do work or be honest, I concealed my fault--if fault it was of mine."
"And I call it cruel to let a man love you, and hide your story from him."
"Nay, but I never encouraged any man to love me; so I owe my story to no man."
"Keep your secrets, then," said Robert, savagely; "nobody wants them, without it is Richard Hickman. I hear his cursed voice in the air somewhere."
"Richard Hickman!" gasped Rachael. "Oh, why did I come to this place to be tortured again?"
Richard Hickman had come here expressly to have a friendly talk with Mr. Patrick. Mr. Patrick owed this honor to the following circumstance.
As the wagon returned to the farm, Thomas had stopped at a certain wayside public-house, in which Mr. Hickman happened to be boozing. Patrick was breathing threats against Hickman, and insisting on Rachael's taking the law of him, and sending him out of the country. Rachael, to get rid of the subject, yielded a languid assent; and Hickman, who was intently listening, trembled in his shoes. To prevent this calamity, the prudent Richard determined to make a pseudo-spontaneous offer of some sort to the corporal, and hush up the whole affair.
At the sight of Hickman, the corporal was for laying on, as our elder dramatists have it; but Mr. Casenower, who was there, arrested his arm, and proposed to him to hear what the man had to say.
"Well," cried Patrick, "let him speak out then before them all--they have all seen us affronted through his villainy. Where is Rachael?"
So then the corporal came round to where Rachael stood, pale as death; and Robert sat pale, too, but clinching his teeth like one who would die sooner than utter a cry, though many vultures, called passions, were gnawing the poor lad's heart at this moment; and, to make matters worse, both Mr. and Mrs. Hathorn, seeing this assemblage, were drawn by a natural curiosity to join the group.
And here Mr. Hickman's brass enabled him to cut a more brilliant figure than his past conduct justified; he cast a sly, satirical look at them all, especially at poor Robert, and, setting his back to the railings, he opened the ball thus:
"I come to speak to Mrs. Mayfield; she says, 'Speak before all the rest.' With all my heart. I come to say three words to Mr. Patrick; 'Speak before all the rest,' says he; well, why not? it is a matter of taste. Mr. Patrick, I have done you wrong and I own it; but you have had your revenge. You have told the story your way, and the very boys are for throwing stones at me here, and you have set Mrs. Mayfield against me, that used to look at me as a cat does at cream."
"As a cat does at water, you mean--you impudent, ugly dog."
"Keep your temper, my darling; you were for having everything said in public, you know. Well, now let us two make matters smooth, old man. How much will you take to keep your tongue between your teeth after this?"
Patrick's reply came in form of a question addressed to the company in general.
"Friends, since Corporal Patrick of the 47th Foot was ill among you, and partly out of his senses, has he done any dirty action, that this fellow comes and offers him money in exchange for a good name?"
"No, Mr. Patrick," said Robert, breaking silence for the first time. "You are an honest man, and a better man than ever stood in Dick Hickman's shoes."
Hickman bit his lip, and cast a wicked glance a Robert.
"And your daughter is as modest a lass as ever broke bread, for all her misfortune," cried Mrs. Hathorn.
"And none but a scoundrel would hope to cure the mischief he has done with money," cried the Mayfield.
"Spare me, good people," said Hickman ironically.
"Ay, spare him," said Patrick, simply. "I have spared him this five years for Rachael's sake; but my patience is run out," roared the old man; and, lifting his staff, he made a sudden rush at the brazen Hickman. Casenower and Old Hathorn interposed.
"Let him alone," said Hickman; "you may be sure I shan't lift my hand against fourscore years. I'll go sooner," and he began to saunter off.
"What! you are a coward as well, are you?" roared Patrick. "Then I pity you. Begone, ye lump of dirt, with your idleness, your pride, your meanness, your money, and the shame of having offered it to a soldier like me, that has seen danger and glory."
"Well done, Mr. Patrick!" cried Hathorn; "that is an honor to a poor man to be able to talk like that."
"Yes, Mr. Patrick, that was well said."
"It is well said, and well done."
Every eye was now bent with admiration on Patrick, and from him they turned with a universal movement of disdain to Hickman. The man writhed for a moment under this human lightning, difficult to resist, and then it was he formed a sudden resolution that took all present by surprise. Conscience pricked him a little, Rachael's coldness piqued him, jealousy of Robert stung him, general disdain annoyed him, and he longed to turn the tables on them all. Under this strange medley of feelings and motives, he suddenly wheeled round, and faced them all, with an air of defiance that made him look much handsomer than they had seen him yet, and he marched into the middle of them.
"I'll show you all that I am not so bad as you make me out--you listen, old man. Rachael, you say that you love me still, and that 'tis for my sake you refuse Bob Hathorn, as I believe it is, and the Devil take me if I won't marry you now, for all that is come and gone." He then walked slowly and triumphantly past Robert Hathorn, on whom he looked down with superior scorn, and he came close up to Rachael, who was observed to tremble as he came near her. "Well, Rachael, my lass, I am Richard Hickman, and I offer you the ring before these witnesses--say yes, and you are mistress of Biz Farm, and Mrs. Hickman. Oh, I know the girl I make the offer to," added he maliciously; "if you could not find out what she is worth, I could. Where are you all now?--name the day, Rachael, here is the man."
Rachael made no answer.
It was a strange situation, so strange that a dead silence followed Hickman's words. Marriage offered to a woman before a man's face who had tried to kill himself for her but yesterday, and offered by a man who had neglected her entirely for five years, and had declined her under more favorable circumstances. Then the motionless silence of the woman so addressed--they all hung upon her lips, poor Mr. Casenower not excepted, who feared that, now Rachael was to be Mrs. Hickman, Robert might turn to Mrs. Mayfield and crush his new-raised hopes.
As for Robert, he did everything he could to make Rachael say "yes" to Hickman. He called up a dogged look of indifference, and held it on his face by main force. It is to be doubted, though, whether this imposed on Rachael. She stole a single glance at him under her long lashes, and at last her voice broke softly, but firmly, on them all, and it sounded like a bell, so hushed were they all, and so highly strung was their attention and expectation.
"I thank you, Richard Hickman; but I decline your offer."
"Are you in earnest, little girl?"
"Rachael," said Patrick, "think--are you sure you know your own mind?"
"Grandfather, to marry a man, I must swear in the face of Heaven to love and honor him. How could I respect Richard Hickman? If he was the only man left upon the earth, I could not marry him, and I would not. I would rather die!"
Robert drew a long breath.
"You have got your answer," said Patrick, "so now, if I was you, I'd be off."
"If I don't I'm a fool. I shall go to my uncle, he lives ninety miles from here, and you'll see I shall get a farm there and a wife and all, if so be you don't come there a reaping, Mr. Patrick."
"Heaven pardon you, then," said the old man, gravely. "You are but young; remember it is not too late to repair your ill conduct to us by good conduct to others--so now, good-afternoon."
"Good-afternoon, Daddy Patrick," said Hickman, with sudden humility. "Your servant, all the company," added he, taking off his hat. So saying, he went off. He had no sooner turned the corner than he repented him of the manner of his going; so, putting his hands in his pockets, he whistled the first verse of "The Plowboy," until out of hearing. As these last sounds of Hickman died away, they all looked at one another in silence. Old Hathorn was the first to speak.
"That was uncommon spirity to refuse Hickman," said he, bluntly; "but you have too much pride, both of you!"
"No, not I, farmer," said the old man sorrowfully; " I have been proud, and high-spirited, too; but it is time that passed away from me. I am old enough to see from this world into another, and from this hour to my last (and that won't be long, I hope), I am patient; the sky is above the earth; my child has had wrong--cruel, bitter, undeserved wrong; but we will wait for Heaven's justice, since man has none for us, and we will take it when it comes, here or hereafter."
The fiery old man's drooping words brought the water into all their eyes, and Robert, in whose mind so sore a struggle had been raging, sprang to his feet.
"You speak well," he cried; "you are a righteous man, and my ill pride falls before your words; it is my turn to ask your daughter of you. Rachael, you take me for a husband and friend for life. I loved you well enough to die for you, and now I love you well enough to live for you; Rachael, be my wife--if you please."
"She won't say 'No!' this time," cried Rose Mayfield, archly.
"Thank you, Robert," said Rachael, mournfully. " I am more your friend than to say 'Yes!'"
"Rachael," cried Mrs. Hathorn, "if it is on our account, I never saw a lass I would like so well for a daughter-in-law as yourself."
"No, mother," said Robert; "it is on account of father. Father, if you will not be offended, I shall put a question to you that I never thought to put to my father. Have I been a good son or a bad son to you these eight-and-twenty years?"
"Robert!" cried the old man, in a quivering tone, that showed these simple words had gone through and through his heart. Then he turned to Rachael: "My girl, I admire your pride; but have pity on my poor boy and me."
"And on yourself," put in Mrs. Mayfield.
"May Heaven bless you, Mr. Hathorn!" said Rachael. "If I say 'No!' to Robert, I have a reason that need offend no one. Folk would never believe I was not in fault; they would cast his wife's story in his teeth, and sting us both to death, for he is proud, and I am proud too. And what I have gone through--oh, it has made me as bitter as gall!--as bitter as gall!"
"Rachael Wright," cried the old corporal, sternly, " listen to me!"
"Rachael Wright," yelled Casenower. "Oh, gracious Heavens!--Rachael Wright--it is--it must be. I knew it was an odd combination--I got it into my head it was 'Rebecca Reid.' Is this Rachael Wright, sir?"
"Of course it is," said the corporal, peevishly.
"Then I have got something for her from my late partners. I'll find it--it is at the bottom of my seeds;" and away scampered Casenower.
He presently returned, and interrupted a rebuke Mr. Patrick was administering to Rachael, by giving her a long envelope. She opened it with some surprise, and ran her eye over it, for she was what they call in the country a capital scholar. Now, as she read, her face changed and changed like an April sky, and each change was a picture and a story. They looked at her in wonder as well as curiosity. At last a lovely red mantled in her pale cheek, and a smile like a rainbow, a smile those present had never seen on her face, came back to her from the past. The paper dropped from her hands as she stretched them out, like some benign goddess or nymph, all love, delicacy, and grace.
"Robert," she cried, and she need have said no more, for the little word "Robert," as she said it, was a volume of love-- "Robert, I love, I always loved you. I am happy--happy--happy!" and she threw her arm round Robert's neck, and cried and sobbed, and, crying and sobbing, told him again and again how happy she was.
"Hallo!" cried Hathorn, cheerfully, "wind has shifted in your favor, apparently, Bob."
Mrs. Mayfield picked up the paper. "This has done it," cried she, and she read it out pro bono. The paper contained the copy of a will made by Rachael's aunt, a year before she died. The sour old lady, being wroth with Rachael on account of her misconduct in getting victimized, but not quite so wroth as with her graceless nephew, had taken a medium course. She had not destroyed this will, as she did the other, by which graceless nephew was to benefit, but she hid it in the wall, safe as ever magpie hid thimble, and, dying somewhat suddenly, she died intestate to all appearance. This old lady was immeasurably fond of the old ramshackly house she lived in. So, after a while, to show his contempt of her, graceless nephew had the house pulled down; the workmen picked out of the wall the will in question. An old servant of the lady, whom graceless nephew had turned off, lived hard by, and was sorrowfully watching the demolition of the house, when the will was picked out. Old servant read the will, and found herself down for £100. Old servant took the will to a firm of solicitors, no other than Casenower's late partners. They sent down to Rachael's village; she and Patrick were gone; a neighbor said they were reaping somewhere in Oxfordshire. The firm sent a copy of the will to Casenower as a forlorn hope, and employed a person to look out for Rachael's return to her own place, as the best chance of doing business with her. By the will, £2,000 and Bix Farm were bequeathed to Rachael.
"Bix Farm! Three hundred acres!" cried Hathorn.
"Bix Farm--the farm Hickman is on," cried Rose Mayfield. "Kick him out, he has no lease. If you don't turn him out neck and crop before noon to-morrow, I am a dead woman."
"The farm is Robert's," said Rachael; "and so is all I have to give him, if he will accept it." And, though she looked at Mrs. Mayfield, she still clung to Robert.
Robert kissed her, and looked so proudly at them all! "Have I chosen ill?" said Robert's eyes.
WHEN everybody sees how a story will end, the story is ended.
Robert and Rachael live on their own farm, Bix; Corporal Patrick sits by their fireside.
People laugh at Mr. Casenower's eccentricities; but it is found unsafe to laugh at them in presence of Mrs. Casenower, late Mayfield.
I think I cannot conclude better than by quoting a few words that passed between Mrs. Hathorn and Corporal Patrick as they all sat round one table that happy evening.
"Rose," said this homely, good creature, "I do notice that trouble comes to all of us at one time or other; and I think they are the happiest that have their trouble (like these two children) in the morning of their days."
"Ay, dame," said the corporal, taking up the word, "and after that a bright afternoon, and a quiet evening--as mine will be now, please God!"
Friendly reader (for I have friendly as well as unfriendly readers), I do not wish you a day without a cloud, for you are human, and I, though a writer, am not all humbug. But, in ending this tale, permit me to wish you a bright afternoon, and a tranquil evening, and, above all, a clear sky when the sun goes down.
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