Aunt Rachel by David Christie Murray
A critic, otherwise almost altogether friendly, protests, in
reviewing a recent book of mine, that no rustics ever would, could, or
will talk in real life as the rustics in that work are made to talk by
me. Since this criticism might apply still more pointedly, if it were
true, to Aunt Rachel than to Rainbow Gold, I desire to say a word
or two in self-defence. A little, a very little, of the average rustic
would go a long way in fiction. But I do not profess to deal with the
average rustic. I deal, and love to deal, with the rustic exceptional,
the village notable and wiseacre. Observant readers will have noticed
that the date of one story is 1853, and that the epoch of the other is
remoter by a dozen years. In my boyhood, in the Staffordshire Black
Country, the rustic people were saturated with the speech of the Bible,
the Church Service, and the Pilgrim's Progress. It is otherwise
to-day, and their English, when it pretends at all to a literary
flavor, is the English of the local weekly paper. The gravity, the slow
sententiousness, and purposed wisdom of the utterances of more than one
or two knots of habitual companions whom I can recall, were outside the
chances of exaggeration. Often these people were really wise and witty.
They were the makers of the local proverbial philosophy, and many of
their phrases are alive today. I recall and could set down here a score
of the quaintest bits of humor and good-sense, and one or two things
genuinely poetical, which were spoken in my childish hearing. But I
refrain myself easily from this temptation, because I have not written
my last Black Country story, and prefer to put these things in a form
as near their own as I can achieve. I only desire to say that I have
not exaggerated, but have fallen short of the characteristics I
have had to deal with.
D. Christie Murray.
Rochefort, Belgium, December, 1885.
A Rustic Sentimental Comedy.
A quartette partythree violins and a 'cellosat in summer evening
weather in a garden. This garden was full of bloom and odor, and was
shut in by high walls of ripe old brick. Here and there were
large-sized plaster castsVenus, Minerva, Mercury, a goat-hoofed Pan
with his pipes, a Silence with a finger at her lips. They were all
sylvan green and crumbled with exposure to the weather, so that, in
spite of cheapness, they gave the place a certain Old-world and stately
aspect to an observer who was disposed to think so and did not care to
look at them too curiously. A square deal table with bare top and
painted legs was set on the grass-plot beneath a gnarled apple-tree
whose branches were thick with green fruit, and the quartette party sat
about this table, each player with his music spread out before him on a
portable little folding stand.
Three of the players were old, stout, gray, and spectacled. The
fourth was young and handsome, with dreamy gray-blue eyes and a mass of
chestnut-colored hair. There was an audience of twoan old man and a
girl. The old man stood at the back of the chair of the youngest
player, turning his music for him, and beating time with one foot upon
the grass. The girl, with twined fingers, leaned both palms on the
trunk of the apple-tree, and reposed a clear-colored cheek on her
rounded arm, looking downward with a listening air. The youngest player
never glanced at the sheets which the old man so assiduously turned for
him, but looked straight forward at the girl, his eyes brightening or
dreaming at the music. The three seniors ploughed away business-like,
with intent frownings, and the man who played the 'cello counted
beneath his breath, One, two, three, fourone, two, three, four,
inhaling his breath on one set of figures and blowing on the next.
The movement closed, and the three seniors looked at each other like
men who were satisfied with themselves and their companions.
Lads, said the man with the 'cello, in a fat and comfortable
voice, that was proper! He's a pretty writer, this here Bee-thoven.
Rewben, the hallygro's a twister, I can tell thee. Thee hadst better
grease thy elbow afore we start on it. Ruth, fetch a jug o' beer,
theer's a good wench. I'm as dry as Bill Duke. Thee canst do a drop,
'Saiah, I know.
Why, yes, returned the second-fiddle. Theer's a warmish bit afore
us, and it's well to have summat to work on.
The girl moved away slowly, her fingers still knitted and her palms
turned to the ground. An inward-looking smile, called up by the music,
lingered in her eyes, which were of a warm, soft brown.
Reuben, said the second-fiddle, thee hast thy uncle's method all
over. I could shut my eyes an' think as I was five-and-twenty 'ear
younger, and as he was a-playin'. Dost note the tone, Sennacherib?
Note it? said the third senior. It's theer to be noted. Our
'Saiah's got it drove into him somehow, as he's the one in Heydon Hay
as God A'mighty's gi'en a pair of ears to.
An' our Sennacherib, retorted Isaiah, is the one as carries
Natur's license t' offer the rough side of his tongue to everybody.
I know it's a compliment, said the younger man, to say I have my
uncle's hand, though I never heard my uncle play.
No, lad, said the old man who stood behind his chair. Thee'rt a
finer player than ever I was. If I'd played as well as thee I might
have held on at it, though even then it ud ha' gone a bit agen the
Agen the grain? asked the 'cello-player, in his cheery voice.
With a tone like that? Why, I mek bold to tell you, Mr. Gold, as theer
is not a hammer-chewer on the fiddle, not for thirty or may be forty
mile around, as has a tone to name in the same day with Rewben.
There's a deal in what you say, Mr. Fuller, said the old man, who
had a bearing of sad and gentle dignity, and gave, in a curious and not
easily explainable way, the idea that he spoke but seldom and was
something of a recluse. There's a deal in what you say, Mr. Fuller,
but the fiddle is not a thing as can be played like any ordinary
instryment. A fiddle's like a wife, in a way of speaking. You must
offer her all you've got. If she catches you going about after other
It's woe betide you! Sennacherib interrupted.
You drive her heart away, the old man pursued. The fiddle's
jealouser than a woman. It wants the whole of a man. If Reuben was to
settle down to it twelve hours a day, I make no doubt he'd be a player
in a few years' time.
Twelve hours a day! cried Sennacherib. D'ye think as life was
gi'en to us to pass it all away a scrapin' catgut?
Why, no, Mr. Eld, the old man answered, smilingly. But to my mind
there's only two or three men in the world at any particular space o'
given time as has the power gi'en 'em by Nature to be fiddlers; that is
to say, as has all the qualities to be masters of the instryment. It is
so ordered as the best of qualities must be practised to be perfect,
and howsoever a man may be qualified to begin with, he must work hour
by hour and day by day for years afore he plays the fiddle.
I look upon any such doctrine as a sinful crime, said Sennacherib.
The fiddle is a recrehation, and was gi'en us for that end. So, in a
way, for them as likes it, is skittles. So is marvils, or kite-flyin',
or kiss-i'-the-ring. But to talk of a man sittin' on his hinder end,
and draggin' rosined hosshair across catgut hour by hour and day by day
for 'ears, is a doctrine as I should like to hear Parson Hales's
opinion on, if ever it was to get broached afore him.
Ruth, called the 'cello-player, as the girl reappeared, bearing a
tray with a huge jug and glasses, come along with the beer. And when
we've had a drink, lads, well have a cut at the hallygro. It's marked
'vivaysy,' Reuben, an' it'll tek thee all thy time to get the twirls
and twiddles i' the right placen.
Ruth poured out a glass of beer for each of the players, and, having
set the tray and jug upon the grass, took up her former place and
position by the apple-tree.
Wheer's your rosin, 'Saiah? asked Sennacherib.
I forgot to bring it wi' me, said Isaiah. I took it out of the
case last night, and was that neglectful as I forgot to put it back
My blessid! cried Sennacherib, I niver see such a man!
Well, well! said the 'cello-player, here's a bit. You seem to ha'
forgot your own.
What's that got to do wi' it? Sennacherib demanded. I shall live
to learn as two blacks mek a white by-an'-by, I reckon. There niver was
a party o' four but there was three wooden heads among 'em. The girl
glanced over her arm, and looked with dancing eyes at the youngest of
the party. He, feeling Sennacherib's eye upon him, contrived to keep a
grave face. The host gave the word and the four set to work, Reuben
playing with genuine fire, and his companions sawing away with a dogged
precision which made them agreeable enough to listen to, but droll to
look at. Ruth, with her chin upon her dimpled arm, watched Reuben as he
played. He had tossed back his chestnut mane of hair rather proudly as
he tucked his violin beneath his chin, and had looked round on his
three seniors with the air of a master as he held his bow poised in
readiness to descend upon the strings. His short upper lip and full
lower lip came together firmly, his brows straightened, and his
nostrils contracted a little. Ruth admired him demurely, and he gave
her ample opportunity, for this time he kept his eyes upon the text.
She watched him to the last stroke of the bow, and then, shifting her
glance, met the grave, fixed look of the old man who stood behind his
chair. At this, conscious of the fashion in which her last five minutes
had been passed, she blushed, and to carry this off with as good a
grace as might be, she began to applaud with both hands.
Bravo, father! bravo! Capital, Mr. Eld! capital!
Theer, said Sennacherib, ignoring the compliment, and scowling in
a sort of dogged triumph at the placid old man behind Reuben's chair,
d'ye think as that could be beat if we spent forty 'ear at it?
Theer wa'n't a fause note from start to finish, and time was kep' like
It's a warmish bit o' work, that hallygro, said old Fuller, in
milder self-gratulation, as he disposed his 'cello between his knees,
and mopped his bald forehead. A warmish bit o' work it is.
Come, now, said Sennacherib, d'ye think as it could be beat? A
civil answer to a civil question is no more than a beggar's rights, and
no less than a king's obligingness.
It was wonderful well played, Mr. Eld, the old man answered.
Beat! said Isaiah. Why it stands to natur' as it could be beat.
D'ye think Paganyni couldn't play a better second fiddle than I can?
Ought to play second fiddle pretty well thyself, returned
Sennacherib. Hast been at it all thy life. Ever since thee was
Come, come, come, said the fat 'cello-player. Harmony, lads,
harmony! How was it, Mr. Gold, as you come to give up the music.
Theer's them as is entitled to speak, and has lived i' the parish
longer than I have, as holds you up to have been a real noble player.
There's them, the old man answered, as would think the parish
church the finest buildin' i' the king-dom. But they wouldn't be them
as had seen the glories of Lichfield cathedral.
I'm speakin' after them as thinks they have a right to talk, said
I might at my best day have come pretty nigh to Reuben, the old
man allowed, though I never was his equal. But as for a real noble
Well, well, said Fuller, it ain't a hammer-chewer in a county as
plays like Reuben. Give Mr. Gold a chair, Ruth. I should like to hear
what might ha' made a man throw it over as had iver got as far.
I heard Paganini, the old man answered. I was up in London rather
better than six-and-twenty year ago, and I heard Paganini.
Well? asked Fuller.
That's all the story, said the old man, seating himself in the
chair the girl had brought him. I never cared to touch a bow again.
I don't seem to follow you, Mr. Gold.
I have never been a wine-drinker, said Gold, but I may speak of
wine to make clear my mean-in'. If you had been drinkin' a wonderful
fine glass of port or sherry wine, you wouldn't try to take the taste
out of your mouth with varjuice.
I've tasted both, said the 'cello-player, but they niver sp'iled
my mouth for a glass of honest beer.
I can listen to middlin'-class music now, said Gold, and find a
pleasure in it. But for a time I could not bring myself to take any
sort of joy in music. You think it foolish? Well, perhaps it was. I am
not careful to defend it, gentlemen, and it may happen that I might not
if I tried. But that was how I came to give up the fiddle. He was a
wonder of the world, was Paganini. He was no more like a common man
than his fiddlin' was like common fiddlin'. There was things he played
that made the blood run cold all down the back, and laid a sort of
terror on you.
I felt like that at the 'Hallelujah' first time I heerd it, said
Isaiah. Band an' chorus of a hundred. It was when they opened the big
Wesley Chapel at Barfield twenty 'ear ago.
We'll tek a turn at Haydn now, lads, said the host, genially.
I'm sorry to break the party up so soon, Reuben answered, but I
must go. There are people come to tea at father's, and I was blamed for
coming away at all. I promised to get back early and give them a tune
or two. He arose, and, taking his violin-case from the grass, wiped it
carefully all over with his pocket-handkerchief. I was bade to ask
you, sir, if Miss Ruth might come and pass an hour or two. My mother
would be particularly pleased to see her, I was to say.
The young fellow was blushing fierily as he spoke, but no one
noticed this except the girl.
Go up, my gell, and spend an hour or two, said her father. Reuben
'll squire thee home again.
Wait while I put on my bonnet, she said, as she ran past Reuben
into the house. Reuben blushed a little deeper yet, and knelt over his
violin-case on the grass, where he swaddled the instrument as if it had
been a baby, and bestowed it in its place with unusual care and
Reuben, said his uncle, as the young man arose, that's a thing as
never should be done. The young man looked inquiry. The poor thing's
screwed up to pitch, the old man explained, almost sternly. Ease her
down, lad, ease her down. The strain upon a fiddle is a thing too
little thought upon. You get a couple o' strong men one o' these days,
and make 'em pull at a set of strings, and see if they'll get them up
to concert pitch! I doubt if they'd do it, lad, or anything like. And
there's all that strain on a frail shell like that. I've ached to think
of it, many a time. A man who carries a weight about all day puts it
off to go to bed. Wondrous delicate an' powerful thing, said old
Fuller. Reminds you o' some o' them delicate-lookin' women as'll goo
through wi' a lot more in the way o' pain-bearin' than iver a man
Rubbidge! said Sennacherib. You'd think the women bear a lot.
They mek a outcry, to be sure, but theer's a lot more chatter than work
about a woman's sufferin', just as theer is about everythin' else her
does. Dost remember what the vicar said last Sunday was a wick? It 'ud
be a crime, he said, to think as the Lord made the things as is lower
in the scale o' natur' than we be to feel like us. The lower the scale
the less the feelin'. Stands to rayson, that does. I mek no manner of a
doubt as he's got Scripter for it.
Lower in the scale of natur', Mr. Eld? said Gold, turning his
ascetic face and mournful eyes upon Sennacherib.
Theer's two things, returned Sennacherib, as a man o' sense has
no particular liking to. He'll niver ask to have his cabbage twice
b'iled, nor plain words twice spoke. I said 'Lower in the scale o'
na-tur'.' Mek the most on it.
Sennacherib was short but burly, and between him and Gold there was
very much the sort of contrast which exists between a mastiff and a
I will not make the most of it, Mr. Eld, the old man said, with a
transient smile. I might think poorlier of you than I've a right to if
I did. When a rose is held lower in the scale of natur' than a turnip,
or the mastership in music is gi'en in again the fiddle in favor o' the
hurdy-gurdy, I'll begin to think as you and me is better specimens of
natur's handiwork than this here gracious bit o' sweetness as is coming
towards us at this minute. Good-evenin', Mr. Eld. Good-evenin', Isaiah.
Good-evenin', Mr. Fuller. Good-evenin', Reuben. No, I'm not goin' thy
way, lad. Call o' me to-morrow; I've a thing to speak of. Good-evenin',
When he had spoken his last good-by he folded his gaunt hands behind
him and walked away slowly, his shoulders rounded with an habitual
stoop and his eyes upon the ground. Ruth and Reuben followed, and the
three seniors reseated themselves, and each with one consent reached
out his hand to his tumbler.
Theer's a kind of a mildness o' natur' in Ezra Gold, said Isaiah,
passing the back of his hand across his lips, as gives me a curious
sort o' likin' for him.
Theer's a kind of a mildness o' natur' in a crab-apple, said
Sennacherib, as sets my teeth on edge.
Come, come, lads, harmony! said Fuller. He laid hold of his great
waistcoat with the palms of both hands and agitated it gently. It
beats me, he said, to think of his layin' by the music in that way,
and for sich a cause.
Well, said Sennacherib, I'll tell thee why he laid by the music.
I wonder at Gold settlin' up to git over men like me with a stoory so
What was it, then? asked Isaiah, bestowing a wink on Fuller.
It was a wench as did it, said Sennacherib. He was allays a man
as took his time to think about a thing. If he'd been a farmer he'd ha'
turned the odds about and about wi' regards to gettin' his seed into
the ground till somebody 'ud ha' told him it 'ud be Christmas-day next
Monday. He behaved i' that way wi' regards to matrimony. He put off
thinkin' on it till he was nigh on fortysix-an'-thirty he was at the
lowest. Even when he seemed to ha' made up what mind he'd got he'd goo
and fiddle to the wench instead o' courtin' her like a Christian, or
sometimes the wench 'ud mek a visit to his mother, and then he'd fiddle
to her at hum. He made eyes at her for all the parish to see, and the
young woman waited most tynacious. But when her had been fiddled at for
three or four 'ear, her begun to see as her was under no sort o' peril
o' losin' her maiden name with Ezra. So her walked theer an' thenmade
up her mind an' walked at oncewent into some foreign part of the
country to see if her couldn't find somebody theer as'd fancy a
nice-lookin' wench, and tek less time to find out what he'd took a
Was that it? asked Isaiah, with the manner of a man who finds an
explanation for an old puzzle. That 'ud be Rachel Blythe.
A quick eye our 'Saiah's got, said Sennacherib. He can see a hole
through a ladder when somebody's polished his glasses. Rachel Blythe
was the wench's name. Her was a little slip of a creator', no higher
than a well-grown gell o' twelve, but pretty in a sort o' way.
Why, Jabez, lad, cried Isaiah, thee lookest like a stuck pig.
What's the matter?
The host's eyes were rounded with astonishment, and he was staring
from one of his guests to the other with an air of fatuous wonder.
Why, said he, with an emphasis of astonishment which seemed not
altogether in keeping with so simple a discovery, this here Rachel
Blythe was my first wife's second cousin. Our Fanny Jane used to be
talkin' about her constant. Her had offers by the baker's dozen, so it
seemed, but her could never be brought to marry. Fanny Jane was a woman
as was gi'en a good deal up to sentiment, and her was used to say the
gell's heart was fixed on somebody at Heydon Hay. It 'ud seem to come
in wi' the probability of things as they might have had a sort of a
shortness betwixt 'em, and parted.
Theer was nobody after her here but Ezra Gold, said Sennacherib.
Nobody. I niver heard, howsever, as they got to be hintimate enough to
quarrel. But as for Paganyni, that's rubbidge. The man played regular
till Rachel Blythe left the parish, and then he stopped.
Well, well, said the host, contemplatively, it's too late in life
for both on 'em. Her's back again. Made us a visit yesterday. Her's
took that little cottage o' Mother Duke's on the Barfield Road.
Bless my soul! said Isaiah. I seen her yesterday as I was takin'
my walks abroad. But, Jabez, lad, her's as withered as a chip! The
littlest, wizen-edest, tiniest little old woman as ever I set eyes on.
Dear me! dear me! To think as six-an'-twenty 'ear should mek such a
difference. Her gi'en me a nod and a smile as I went by, but I niver
guessed as it was Rachel Blythe.
Rachel Blythe it was, though, returned old Fuller. Well, well! To
think as her and Mr. Gold should ha' kep' single one for another.
Here's a bit of a treeho, lads, as I bought in Brummagem the day afore
yesterday. It's by that new chap as wrote 'Elijah' for the festival.
Let's see. What's his name again? Mendelssohn. Shall us have a try at
The Earl of Barfield stood at the lodge gate on a summer afternoon
attired in a wondrously old-fashioned suit of white kerseymere and a
peaked cap. He was a withered old gentleman, with red-rimmed eyes,
broad cheek-bones, and a projecting chin. He had a very sharp nose, and
his close-cropped hair was of a harsh, sandy tone and texture. He was
altogether a rather ferret-like old man, but he had, nevertheless, a
certain air of dignity and breeding which forbade the least observant
to take him for anything but a gentleman. His clothes, otherwise
spotless, were disfigured by a trail of snuff which ran lightly along
all projecting wrinkles from his right knee to his right shoulder. This
trail was accentuated in the region of his right-hand waistcoat pocket,
where his lordship kept his snuff loose for convenience' sake. He was
over eighty, and his head nodded and shook involuntarily with the palsy
of old age, but his figure was still fairly upright, and seemed to
promise an activity unusual for his years. He rested one hand on the
rung of a ladder which leaned against the wall beside him, and glanced
up and down the road with an air of impatience. On the ground at his
feet lay a billhook and a hand-saw, and once or twice he stirred these
with his foot, or made a movement with his disengaged right hand as if
he were using one of them.
When he had stood there some ten minutes in growing impatience, a
young gentleman came sauntering down the drive smoking a cigar. Times
change, and nowadays a young man attired after his fashion would be
laughable, but for his day he looked all over like a lady-killer, from
his tasselled French cap to his pointed patent leathers. Behind him
walked a valet, carrying a brass-bound mahogany box, a clumsy easel,
and a camp-stool.
Going painting again, Ferdinand? said his lordship, in a tone of
some little scorn and irritation.
Yes, said Ferdinand, rather idly, I am going painting. Your man
hasn't arrived yet? He cast a glance of lazy amusement at the ladder
and at the tools that lay at its feet.
No, returned his lordship, irritably. Worthless scoundrel. Ah!
here he comes. Go away. Go away. Go and paint. Go and paint.
The young gentleman lifted his cap and sauntered on, turning once or
twice to look at his lordship and a queer lop-sided figure shambling
rapidly towards him.
Joseph Beaker, said the Earl of Barfield, shaking his hand at the
lop-sided man, you are late again. I have been waiting ten minutes.
What did I say yesterday? asked Joseph Beaker. His face was
lop-sided, like his figure, and his speech came in a hollow mumble
which was difficult to follow. Joseph was content to pass as the
harmless lunatic of the parish, but there was a shrewdly humorous
twinkle in his eye which damaged his pretensions with the more
discerning sort of people.
I do not want to know what you said yesterday, his lordship
answered, tartly. Take up the billhook and the saw. Now bring the
What I said yesterday, mumbled Joseph, shambling by the nobleman's
side, a little in the rear.
Joseph Beaker, said the earl, hold your tongue.
Niver could do it, replied Joseph; it slips from betwixt the
thumb and finger like a eel. What I said yesterday was, 'Why doesn't
thee set thy watch by the parish church?' Thee'st got Barfield time, I
reckon, and Barfield's allays a wick and ten minutes afore other
The aged nobleman twinkled and took snuff.
Joseph, said his lordship, I am going to make a new arrangement
Time you did, returned Joseph, pausing, ostensibly to shift the
ladder from one shoulder to the other, but really to feign
I find ninepence a day too much.
I've allays said so, Joseph answered, shambling a little nearer.
A sinful sight too much. And half on it wasted o' them white
I find myself a little in want of exercise, said his lordship. I
shall carry the ladder from the first tree to the second, and you will
carry it from the second to the third; then I shall carry it again, and
then you will carry it again. We shall go on in that way the
whole afternoon, and shall continue in that way so long as I stay
Joseph laughed. It was in his laugh that he chiefly betrayed the
shortcomings of character. His smile was dry and full of cunning, but
his laugh was fatuous.
Naturally, pursued the earl, I shall not pay you full wages for a
half-day's work. Joseph's face fell into a look of ludicrous
consternation. I shall be generous, howeverI shall be generous. I
shall give you sixpence. Sixpence a day, Joseph, and I shall do half
the work myself.
It ar'n't to be done, gaffer, said Joseph, resolutely stopping
short, and setting up the ladder in the roadway.
The old nobleman turned to face him with pretended anger.
You are impertinent, Joseph.
It caw't be done, my lord, his assistant mumbled, thrusting his
head through a space in the ladder.
Times are hard, Joseph, returned his lordship.
There had been a discernible touch of banter in his voice and manner
when he had rebuked Joseph a second or two before, but he was very
serious now indeed.
Times are hard; expenses must be cut down. I can't afford more.
Sixpence a day is three shillings a week, and three shillings a week is
one hundred and fifty-six shillings a yearseven pounds sixteen. That
is interest at three per cent, on a sum of two hundred and fifty-nine
pounds ten shillings. That is a great amount to lie waste. While I pay
you sixpence a day I am practically two hundred and fifty-nine pounds
ten shillings poorer than I should be if I kept the sixpence a day to
myself. I might just as well not have the moneyit is of no use to
Gi'e it to me, then, suggested Joseph, with a feeble gleam.
Sixpence a day, said his lordship, is really a great waste of
It's cruel hard o' me, returned Joseph, betraying a sudden
inclination to whimper. If I was a lord I'd be a lord, I would.
Joseph! Joseph! Joseph! cried his lordship, sharply.
It's cruel hard, said Joseph, whimpering outright. I'd be a man
or a mouse, if I was thee.
I shall be generous, said the aged nobleman, relenting. I shall
give you a suit of clothes. I shall give you a pair of trousers and a
waistcoata laced waistcoatand a coat.
Joseph laughed again, but clouded a moment later.
Theer's them as pets the back to humble the belly, and theer's them
as pets the belly to humble the back, he said, rubbing his bristly
chin on a rung of the ladder as he spoke. What soort o' comfort is
theer in a laced wescut, if a man's got nothing to stretch it out
Well, well, Joseph, returned the earl, sixpence a day is a great
deal of money. In these hard times I can't afford more.
What I look at, said Joseph, is, it robs me of my bit o' bacon.
If I was t'ask annybody in Heydon Hay, 'Is Lord Barfield the man to rob
a poor chap of his bit o' bacon?' they'd say, 'No.' That's what they'd
say. 'No,' they'd say; 'niver dream of a such-like thing as happening
His lordship fidgeted and took snuff.
What his lordship 'ud be a deal likelier to do, pursued Joseph,
declaiming, in imitation of his supposed interlocutor, with his head
through the ladder, and waving the billhook and the saw gently in
either hand, 'ud be to say as a poor chap as wanted it might goo up to
the Hall kitchen and have a bitethat's what annybody 'ud say in Hey
don Hay as happened to be inquired of.
Joseph's glance dwelt lingeringly and wistfully on his lordship's
face as he watched for the effect of his speech. The old earl took
snuff with extreme deliberateness.
Very well, Joseph, he said, after a pause, we will arrange it in
that way. Sixpence a day. And now and thennow and then, Joseph, you
may go and ask Dewson for a little cold meat. There is a great deal of
waste in the kitchen. It will make little differencelittle
Things being thus happily arranged, his lordship drew a slip of
paper from his pocket and began to study it with much interest as he
walked. He began to chuckle, and the fire of strategic triumph lit his
aged eyes. The day's itinerary was planned upon that slip of paper, and
Lord Barfield had so arranged it that Joseph should carry the ladder
all the long distances, while he himself should carry it all the short
ones. Joseph on his side was equally satisfied with the arrangement, so
far as he knew it, and gave himself up to the sweet influences of
fancy. He saw a glorified edition of himself, attired in my lord's
cast-off garments, and engaged in the act of stretching out the laced
waistcoat in the kitchen at the Hall. The prospect grew so glorious
that he could not hold his own joy and gratulation. It welled over in a
series of hollow chuckles, and his lordship twinkled dryly as he walked
in front, and took snuff with a double gusto.
We shall begin, said his lordship, at Mother Duke's. That
laburnum has been an eyesore this many a day. We must be resolute,
Joseph. I shall expect you to guard the ladder, and not to let it go,
even if she should venture to strike you.
Her took me very sharp over the knuckles with the rollin'-pin last
time, governor, said Joseph. But her'll be no more trouble to thee
now; her's gone away.
Gone away! Mother Duke gone away?
Yes, mumbled Joseph, her's gone away. There's a little old maid
as lives theer nowhas been theer a wick to-day.
That's a pitythat's a pity, said his lordship. I should have
liked another skirmish with Mother Duke. At least, Joseph, he added,
with the air of a man who finds consolation in disappointment, we'll
trim the laburnum this time. At all events, we'll make a fight for it,
Josephwe'll make a fight for it. Here he took the billhook and the
saw from his assistant, and strode on, swinging one of the tools in
Theer'll be no need for a fight, returned Joseph. Her's no higher
than sixpenn'orth o' soap after a hard day's washing.
That's wrong reckoning, Joseph, said the earl; wrong reckoning.
The smaller they are the more terrible they may be.
I niver fled afore a little un, said Joseph. I could allays face
a little un. He spoke with a retrospective tone. His lordship eyed him
askance with a twinkle of rich enjoyment, and took snuff with infinite
relish, as if he took Joseph's mental flavor with it and found it
delightful. Mother Duke could strike a sort of a fear into a man,
What did you say was the new tenant's name, Joseph? his lordship
Dunno, said Joseph. Her's a little unvery straight up. Goes
about on her heels like, to mek the most of herself.
A minute's further walk brought them to a bend in the lane, and,
passing this, they paused before a cottage. The front of this cottage
was overgrown with climbing roses, just then in full bloom, and a
disorderly patch of overgrown blossom and shrub lay on each side the
thread of gravel-walk which led from the gate to the door. A little
personage, attired in a tight-fitting bodice and a girlish-looking
skirt, was busily reducing the redundant growth to order with a pair of
quick-snapping shears. It gave his lordship an odd kind of shock when
this little personage arose and turned. The face was old. There was
youth in the eyes and the delicate dark-brown arch of the eyebrows, but
the old-fashioned ringlet which hung at either cheek beneath the
cottage bonnet she wore was almost white. The cheeks were sunken from
what had once been a charming contour, the delicate aquiline nose was
pinched ever so little, the lips were dry, and there were fine wrinkles
everywhere. There was something almost eerie in the youthfulness of the
eyes, which shone in the midst of all her faded souvenirs of beauty.
Had the eyes been old the face would have been beautiful still, but the
contrast they presented to their setting was too striking for beauty.
They gave the old face a curiously exalted look, an expression hardly
indicative of complete sanity, though every feature was expressive in
itself of keen good-sense, quick apprehension, and strong
The figure in its tight-fitting bodice looked like that of a girl of
seventeen, but the stature was no more than that of a well-grown girl
of twelve. The movement with which she had arisen and the attitude she
took were full of life and vivacity. His lordship was so taken aback by
the extraordinary mixture of age and girlishness she presented that he
stared for a second or two unlike a man of the world, and only
recovered himself by an effort.
Set up the ladder here, Joseph, he said, pointing with the
billhook to indicate the place. Joseph set down the ladder on the
pathway, and leaning it across the close-clipped privet hedge where
numberless small staring eyes of white wood betrayed the recent
presence of the shears, he propped it against the stout limb of a
well-pruned apple-tree. His lordship, somewhat ostentatiously avoiding
the eye of the inmate of the cottage, tucked his saw and his billhook
under his left arm and mounted slowly, while Joseph made a great show
of steadying the ladder. The little old woman opened the garden gate
with a click and slipped into the roadway. His lordship hung his saw
upon a rung of the ladder, and leaning a little over took a grasp of
the bough of a sweeping laburnum which overhung the road.
My lord, said a quick, thin voice, which in its blending of the
characteristics of youth and age matched strangely with the speaker's
aspect, this tenement and its surrounding grounds are my freehold. I
cannot permit your lordship to lay a mutilating hand upon them.
God bless my soul! said his lordship. That's Rachel Blythe! That
must be Rachel Blythe.
Rachel Blythe at your lordship's service, said the little old
lady. She dropped a curt little courtesy, at once as young and as old
as everything about her, and stood looking up at him, with drooping
hands crossed upon the garden shears.
God bless my soul! Dear me! said his lordship. Dear me! God bless
my soul! He came slowly down the ladder and, surrendering his billhook
to Joseph, advanced and proffered a tremulous white hand. Miss Blythe
accepted it with a second curt little courtesy, shook it once up and
down and dropped it. Welcome back to Heydon Hay, Miss Blythe, said
the old nobleman, with something of an air of gallantry. You have long
deprived us of your presence.
Perhaps Miss Blythe discerned a touch of badinage in his tone, and
construed it as a mockery. She drew up her small figure in exaggerated
dignity, and made much such a motion with her head and neck as a hen
makes in walking.
I have long been absent from Heydon Hay, my lord, she answered.
My good man, turning upon Joseph, you may remove that ladder. His
lordship can have no use for it here.
Oh, come, come, Miss Blythe, said his lordship. Manorial rights,
manorial rights. This laburnum overhangs the road and prevents people
of an average height from passing.
If your lordship is aggrieved I must ask your lordship to secure a
remedy in a legal manner.
But really now. Observe, Miss Blythe, I can't walk under these
boughs without knocking my hat off. He illustrated this statement by
walking under the boughs. His cap fell on the dusty road, and Joseph,
having picked it up, returned it to him.
Your lordship is above the average height, said Miss Blythe
No, no, the earl protested. Not at all, not at all.
I beg your lordship's pardon, said the little old lady, with
stately politeness. Nobody, she added, who was not profoundly
disloyal would venture to describe the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty
as undersized. I am but a barleycorn less in stature than her Most
Excellent Majesty, and your lordship is yards taller than myself.
My dear Miss Blythe his lordship began, with hands raised in
protest against this statement.
Your lordship will pardon me, Miss Blythe interposed, swiftly, if
I say that at my ageforgive me if I say at your lordship's alsothe
language of conventional gallantry is unbecoming.
The little old lady said this with so starched and prim an air, and
through this there peeped so obvious a satisfaction in rebuking him
upon such a theme, that his lordship had to flourish his handkerchief
from his pocket to hide his laughter.
I have passed the last quarter of a century of my life, pursued
Miss Blythe, in an intimate if humble capacity in the service of a
family of the loftiest nobility. I am not unacquainted with the airs
and graces of the higher powers, but between your lordship and myself,
at our respective ages, I cannot permit them to be introduced.
His lordship had a fit of coughing which lasted him two or three
minutes, and brought the tears to his eyes. Most people might have
thought that the cough bore a suspicious resemblance to laughter, but
no such idea occurred to Miss Blythe.
You are quite right, Miss Blythe, said the old nobleman, when he
could trust himself to speak. He was twitching and twinkling with
suppressed mirth, but he contained himself heroically. I beg your
pardon, and I promise that I will not again transgress in that manner.
But really, thatthatfit of coughing has quite exhausted me for the
moment. May I beg your permission to sit down?
Certainly, my lord, replied the little old lady, and in a
bird-like fashion fluttered to the gate. It was not until she had
reached the porch of the cottage that she became aware of the fact that
the earl was following her. Your lordship's pardon, she said then; I
will bring your lordship a chair into the garden. I am alone, she
added, more prim and starched than ever, and I have my reputation to
Miss Blythe entered the cottage and returned with a chair, which she
planted on the gravelled pathway. The old nobleman sat down and took
snuff, twitching and twinkling in humorous enjoyment.
How long is it since you left us? he asked. It looks as if it
were only yesterday.
I have been absent from Heydon Hay for more than a quarter of a
century, the little old lady answered.
Ah! said he, and for a full minute sat staring before him rather
forlornly. He recovered himself with a slight shake and resumed the
talk. You maintain your reputation for cruelty, Miss Blythe?
For cruelty, my lord? returned Miss Blythe, with a transparent
pretence of not understanding him.
Breaking hearts, said his lordship, eh? I was elderly before you
went away, you know, but I remember a disturbancea disturbance. He
rapped with the knuckles of his left hand on his white kerseymere
waistcoat. Miss Blythe tightened her lips and regarded him with an
Differences of sex, alone, my lord, she said, with decision,
should preclude a continuance of this conversation.
Should they? asked the old nobleman. Do you really think so? I
forget. I am a monument of old age, and I forget, but I fancy I used to
think otherwise. You were the beauty of the place, you know. Is that a
forbidden topic also?
Miss Blythe blushed ever so little, but her curiously youthful eyes
smiled, and it was plain she was not greatly displeased. The Earl of
Barfield went quiet again, and again stared straight before him with a
somewhat forlorn expression. The little old lady reminded him of her
mother, and the remembrance of her mother reminded him of his own
youth. He woke up suddenly. So you've come back? he said, abruptly.
You've bought the cottage?
The freehold of the cottage was purchased for me by my dear
mistress, said the little old lady. I desired to end my days where I
H'm! said my lord. We're going to be neighbors? We are
neighbors. We must dwell together in unity. Miss Blythewe must dwell
together in unity. I have my hands pretty full this afternoon, and I
must go. I'll just trim these laburnums, and alter
I beg your lordship's pardon, said Miss Blythe, with decision,
your lordship will do nothing of the sort.
Eh? Oh, nonsense, nonsense! Must clear the footway. Must have the
footway clearreally must. Besides, it improves the aspect of the
garden. Always does. Decidedly improves it. Joseph Beaker, hold the
Talking thus, the old gentleman had arisen from his chair and had
re-entered the roadway, but the little old lady skimmed past him and
faced him at the foot of the ladder.
If your lordship wants to cut trees, she said, your lordship may
cut your lordship's own.
Up thee goest, gaffer, said Joseph, handing over the little old
lady's head the billhook and the saw.
Miss Blythe turned upon him with terrible majesty.
Joseph Beaker? she said, regarding him inquiringly. Ah! The
passage of six-and-twenty years has not improved your intellectual
condition. Take up that ladder, Joseph Beaker. If you should ever dare
again to place it against a tree upon my freehold property I shall call
the policeman. I will set man-traps, pursued the little old lady,
shaking her curls vigorously at Joseph. I will have spring-guns placed
in the trees.
Her's wuss than t'other un, mumbled the routed Joseph, as he
shambled in his lop-sided fashion down the road. I should ha' thought
you could ha' done what you liked wi' a little un like that. I niver
counted on being forced to flee afore a little un.
The earl said nothing, and Miss Blythe, satisfied that the retreat
was real, had already gone back to her gardening.
In the mean time the young man in the tasselled cap and the
patent-leathers had strolled leisurely in the opposite direction to
that the earl had taken, and in a little whilestill followed by the
valet, who bore his painting toolshad climbed into a field knee-deep
in grass which was ready for the scythe. At the bottom of this meadow
ran a little purling stream, with a slant willow growing over it. In
obedience to the young gentleman's instructions, the valet set down his
burden here, and having received orders to return in an hour's time,
departed. The young gentleman sketched the willow and the brook in no
very masterly fashion, but at a sort of hasty random, and tiring of his
self-imposed task before half an hour was over, threw himself at length
beside the brook, and there, lulled by the ripple of the water and the
slumberous noise of insects, fell asleep. The valet's returning
footsteps awoke him. He rolled over idly and lit a new cigar.
Shall I take back the things to the Hall, sir? asked the servant.
Yes, take them back to the Hall, said the young gentleman, lazily.
Rising to his feet, he produced a small pocket-mirror, and having
surveyed the reflection of his features, arranged his scarf, cocked his
cap, and sauntered from the field. His way led him past a high
time-crumbled wall, over which a half score of trees pushed luxuriant
branches. The wall was some ten feet in height, and in the middle of it
was a green-painted door which opened inward. It was not quite closed,
and a mere streak of sunlit grass could be seen within.
As the idle young gentleman sauntered along with his hands folded
behind him, his eyes half closed, and his nose in the air, a sudden
burst of music reached his ears and brought him to a stand-still. It
surprised him a little, partly because it was extremely well played,
and partly because the theme was classic and but little known. He moved
his head from side to side to make out, if possible, the inmates of the
garden, but he could see nothing but the figure of a girl, who leaned
her hands upon a tree and her cheek upon her hands. This, however, was
enough to pique curiosity, for the figure was singularly graceful, and
had fallen into an attitude of unstudied elegance. He pushed the door
an inch wider, and so far enlarged his view that he could see the
musiciansthree old men and a young onewho sat in the middle of a
grassy space and ploughed away at the music with a will. Not caring to
be observed in his clandestine espial he drew back a little, still
keeping the figure of the girl in sight, and listened to the music.
He was so absorbed that the sudden spectacle of the Earl of
Barfield, who came round the corner with a ladder on his shoulder,
startled him a little. His lordship was followed by Joseph Beaker, who
bore the saw and the billhook, and the old nobleman was evidently
somewhat fatigued, and carried the ladder with difficulty. Seeing his
young friend, he propped his burden against the wall and mopped his
forehead, casting an upward glance at the boughs which stretched their
pleasant shadow overhead.
Well, Ferdinand, he said, in a discontented voice, what are you
I am listening to the music, said Ferdinand, in answer.
The music? said his lordship. That caterwauling? He waved a hand
towards the wall. Old Fuller and his friends.
They play capitally, said Ferdinand; for country people they play
capitally. They are amateurs, of course?
Do they? asked the earl, somewhat eagerly; do they, really? Tell
'em so, tell 'em so. Nothing so likelyhe dropped his voice to a
whispernothing so likely to catch old Fuller's vote as that. He's
mad on music. I haven't ventured to call on him for a long time. We had
quite a little fracas years ago about these overhanging boughs. They're
quite an eyesorequite an eyesore; but he won't have 'em touched;
won't endure it. Joseph, you can carry the ladder home. We'll go in,
Ferdinandit's an admirable opportunity. I've been wondering how to
approach old Fuller, and this is the very thingthe very thing.
Wait until they have finished, said the younger man; and Joseph
having shouldered the ladder and gone off with it in his own crab-like
way, the two stood together until the musicians in the garden had
finished the theme upon which they were engaged.
The earl pushed open the garden door and entered, Ferdinand
following in the rear. The girl turned at the noise made by the
shrieking hinges, and stood somewhat irresolutely, as if uncertain.
Finally, she bowed in a manner sufficiently distant and ceremonious.
Ferdinand put up an eye-glass and surveyed her with an air of
criticism, while the old nobleman advanced briskly towards the table
around which the musicians were seated.
Good-day, Fuller, good-day, he said, in a hearty voice; don't let
me disturb you, I beg. We heard your beautiful music as we passed by,
and stopped to listen to it. This is my young friend, Mr. De
Blacquaire, who's going to stand, you know, for this division of the
county. Mr. De Blacquaire is a great amateur of music, and was
delighted with your playingdelighted.
I was charmed, indeed, said Ferdinand. There are lovers of music
everywhere, of course, but I had not expected to find so advanced a
company of amateurs in Heydon Hay. That final passage was exquisitely
The earl stood with a smile distorted in the sunlight, looking
alternately from the candidate to the voters.
Exquisitely rendered, I am sure, he saidexquisitely rendered.
Praise from Mr. De Blacquaire is worth having, let me tell you, Fuller.
Mr. De Blacquaire is himself a distinguished musician. Ah! my old
friend Eld! How do you do? how do you do?
This greeting was addressed to Sennacherib, who had arisen on the
earl's arrival, had deliberately turned his back, and was now engaged
in turning over the leaves of music which lay on the table before him.
Sennacherib, said Isaiah, mildly, his lordship's a-talking to
I can hear, responded Sennacherib, as he's a-talking to one on
us. As for me, I'm none the better for being axed.
And none the worse, I hope, said his lordship, as cheerily as he
Nayther wuss nor better, so far as I can see, replied Sennacherib.
Come, come, Mr. Eld, said Fuller. Harmony! harmony!
I was a-tekin' my walks abroad this mornin', said Sennacherib,
still bending over his music, when I see that petted hound of the
vicar's mek a fly at a mongrel dog as had a bone. The mongrel run for
it and took the bone along with him. It comes into my mind now as if
the hound had known a month or two aforehand as he'd want that bone,
he'd ha' made friends wi' the mongrel.
This parable was so obviously directed at his lordship and his young
protégé that Sennacherib's companions looked and felt ill at ease.
Fuller was heard to murmur Harmony! but a disconcerted silence fell
on all, and his lordship took snuff while he searched for a speech
which should turn the current of conversation into a pleasanter
channel. The Earl of Barfield was particularly keen in his desire to
run Mr. Ferdinand de Blacquaire for the county, and to run him into
Parliament. Ferdinand himself was much less keen about the business,
and regarded it all as a mingled joke and bore. This being the case, he
felt free to avoid the ordinary allures of the parliamentary candidate,
and, apart from that, he had, with himself at least, a reputation to
sustain as a man of wit.
Has this mongrel a bone? he asked, in a silky tone. Let him keep
His lordship shot a glance of surprised wrath at him, almost of
horror, but Sennacherib began to chuckle.
Pup's got a bite in him, said Sennacheribgot a bite in him.
His lordship felt a little easier, and looking about him discovered
that everybody was smiling more or less, though on one or two faces the
smile sat uneasily.
Come, come, Mr. Eld, said Fuller, harmony!
Ah! cried the earl, seizing gladly on the word. Let us have a
little harmony. Don't let our presence disturb your music. Mr. Eld is a
local notability, Ferdinand. Mr. Eld speaks his mind to everybody. I'm
afraid he's on the other side, and in that case you'll have many a
tussle with him before you come to the hustings. Eh? That's so, isn't
it, Eld? Eh? That's so?
Oh, said Sennacherib, with the slow local drawl, we'll tek a bit
of a wrastle now and again, I mek no manner of a doubt.
And in the mean time, said his lordship, let us start
harmoniously. Give us a little music, Fuller. Go on just as if we were
Ruth, my wench, said Fuller, fetch his lordship a chair, and
bring another for Mr.- He hung upon the Mr., searching to recall
Devil-a-care, suggested Sennacherib.
De Blacquaire, said the earl, correcting him. Mr. Ferdinand de
The girl had already moved away, and Ferdinand, with an air in which
criticism melted slowly into approval, watched her through his
eye-glass. The only young man in the quartette party, Reuben Gold, eyed
Ferdinand with a look in which criticism hardened into disapproval,
and, turning away, fluttered the edges of the music sheets before him
with the tip of his bow.
Look here, lads, said Fuller, we'll have a slap at that there
sonata of B. Thoven's, eh?
Beethoven? asked Ferdinand, with a little unnecessary stress upon
the name to mark his pronunciation of it. You play Beethoven? This is
extremely interesting. He spoke to the earl, who rubbed his hands and
nodded. The young first-violin tossed his chestnut-colored mane on one
side with a gesture of irritation. Ruth reappeared with a chair in each
hand. They were old-fashioned and rather heavy, being built of solid
oak, but she carried them lightly and gracefully. Ferdinand started
forward and attempted to relieve her of her burden. At first she
resisted, but he insisting upon the point she yielded. The young
Ferdinand was less graceful than he had meant to be in the carriage of
the chairs, and Ruth looked at Reuben with a smile so faint as scarcely
to be perceptible. Reuben with knitted brows pored over his music, and
the girl returned to her old place and her old attitude by the
Ferdinand, having the placing of the chairs in his own hands, took
up a position in which, without being obtrusively near, he was close
enough to address Ruth if occasion should arise, as he was already
fairly resolved it should. The three elders were most drolly
provincial, to his mind, and their accent was positively barbarous to
his ears. Reuben was less provincial to look at, but to Mr. De
Blacquaire's critical eye the young man was evidently not a gentleman.
He had not heard him speak as yet, but could well afford to make up his
mind without that. Nobody but a boof could have employed Reuben's
tailor or his shoemaker. As for the girl, she looked like a lily in a
kitchen-garden, a flower among the coarse and commonplace things of
every-day consumption. It would be a deadly pity, he thought, if she
should have an accent like the rest. Her dress was perfectly refined
and simple, and Ferdinand guessed pretty shrewdly that this was likely
to be due to her own handiwork and fancy.
What a delightful, quaint old garden you have here, to be sure, he
With a perfect naturalness she raised a warning palm against him,
and at that instant the quartette party began their performance. She
had not even turned an eye in his direction, and he was a little
piqued. The hand which had motioned him to silence was laid now on the
gnarled old apple-tree, and she rested her ripe cheek against it. Her
eyes began to dream at the music, and it was evident that her
forgetfulness of the picturesque young gentleman beside her was
complete and unaffected. The picturesque young gentleman felt this
rather keenly. The snub was small enough, in all conscience, but it
was a snub, and he was sensitive, even curiously sensitive, to that
kind of thing. And he was not in the habit of being snubbed. He was
accustomed to look for the signs of his own power to please among young
women who moved in another sphere.
It was a very, very small affair, but then it is precisely these
very small affairs which rankle in a certain sort of mind. Ferdinand
dismissed it, but it spoiled his music for the first five minutes.
The Earl of Barfield was one of those people to whom music is
neither more nor less than noise. He loved quiet and hated noise, and
the four interpreters of the melody and harmony of Beethoven afforded
him as much delight as so many crying children would have done. It had
been a joke against him in his youth that he had once failed to
distinguish between God save the King and the Old Hundredth.
Harmony and melody here were alike divine in themselves, and were more
than respectably rendered, and he sat and suffered under them in his
young friend's behoof like a hero. They bored him unspeakably, and the
performance lasted half an hour. When it was all over he beat his
withered white hands together once or twice, and smiled in
self-gratulation that his time of suffering was over.
Admirably rendered! cried Ferdinand; admirablyadmirably
rendered. Will you forgive me just a hint, sir? He addressed
Sennacherib. A leetle more light and shade! A performance less level
P'raps the young man'll show us how to do it, said Sennacherib, in
a dry, mock humility, handing his fiddle and bow towards the critic.
The critic accepted them with a manner charmingly unconscious of the
intended satire, and walked round the table until he came behind
Reuben, when he turned back the music for a leaf or two.
Here, for example, he said, and tucking the instrument beneath his
chin, played through a score of bars with a certain exaggerated chic
which awakened Sennacherib's derision.
What dost want to writhe i' that fashion for? he demanded. Dost
find thine inwards twisted? It's a pretty tone, though, he allowed.
The young man can fiddle. Strikes me, young master, as thee'dst do
better at the Hopera than the House o' Commons. Tek a fool's advice and
Ferdinand smiled with genuine good-humor. This insolent old
personage began to amuse him.
Really I don't know, sir, he answered. Perhaps I may do pretty
well in the House of Commons, if you will be good enough to try me. One
can't please everybody, but I promise to do my best.
The best can do no more, said Fuller, in a mellow, peace-making
kind of murmur; the best can do no more.
I've no mind for that theer whisperin' and shout-in' in the course
of a piece of music, said Sennacherib. Pianner is pianner, and forte
is forte, but theer's no call to strain a man's ears to listen to the
one, nor to drive him deaf with t'other. Same time, if the young
gentleman 'ud like to come an' gi'e us a lesson now and then we'd tek
I'm not able to give you lessons, sir, returned Mr. De Blacquaire,
with unshaken good-humor; but if you'll allow me to take one now and
then by listening, I shall be delighted.
Nothin' agen that, is theer, Mr. Fuller? demanded Sennacherib.
Allays pleased to see the young gentleman, responded Fuller.
When may I come to listen to you again, gentlemen? asked
Ferdinand. His manner was full of bonhomie now, and had no trace
of affectation. It pleased everybody but Reuben, who had conceived a
distaste for him from the first. Perhaps, if he had not placed his
chair so near to Ruth, and had regarded her less often and with a less
evident admiration, the young man might have liked him better.
Well, said Fuller, we are here pretty nigh every evenin' while
the fine weather lasts. We happen to be here this afternoon because
young Mr. Gold is goin' away for to-night to Castle Barfield. You'll
find we here almost of any evenin'to-morrow, to begin with.
We had better be going now, Ferdinand, said his lordship, who
dreaded the new beginning of the music. Good-afternoon, Fuller.
Good-afternoon, Eld. Good-afternoon, Gold.
Good-day, my lord, said Reuben, rather gloomily. He had not spoken
until now, and Ferdinand had wished to note the accent. There was none
to note in the few words he uttered.
Your little girl is growing into a woman, Fuller, said his
That's the way wi' most gells, my lord, said Fuller.
Good-afternoon, Miss Ruth, said the old nobleman, nodding and
Good-afternoon, my lord, said Ruth. Ferdinand's attentive ear
noted again the absence of the district accent. He removed his cap and
bowed to her.
Good-afternoon. I may come to-morrow evening, then? The query was
addressed to her, but she did not answer it, either by glance or word.
She had answered his bow and turned away before he had spoken.
Ay, said Fuller; come and welcome.
He bowed and smiled all round, and walked away with his lordship. He
turned at the garden door for a final glance at the pretty girl, but
she had her back turned upon him, and was leaning both hands on her
The rustic little church at Heydon Hay made a nucleus for the
village, which, close at hand, clustered about it pretty thickly, but
soon began to fray off into scattered edges, as if the force of
attraction decreased with distance, after the established rule. Beside
the church-yard, and separated from it by a high brick wall, was a
garden, fronted by half a dozen slim and lofty poplars. Within the
churchyard the wall was only on a level with the topmost tufts of
grass, but on the garden side it stood six feet high, and was bulged
out somewhat by the weight of earth which pressed against it. Facing
the tall poplars was a house of two stories. It looked like a short row
of houses, for it boasted three front doors. Over each of these was
hung a little contrivance which resembled a section of that
extinguisher apparatus which is still to be found suspended above the
pulpit in some old-fashioned country churches. All the windows of the
old house were of diamond panes, and those of the upper story projected
from the roof of solid and venerable thatch. A pair of doves had their
home in a wicker cage which hung from the wall, and their cooing was
like the voice of the house, so peaceful, homely, and Old-world was its
Despite the three front doors, the real entrance to the house was at
the rear, to which access was had by a side gate. A path, moss-grown at
the edges, led between shrubs and flowers to a small circle of
brickwork, in the midst of which was a well with rope and windlass
above it, and thence continued to the door, which led to an antique,
low-browed kitchen. A small dark passage led from the kitchen to a
front room with a great fireplace, which rose so high that there was
but just enough room between the mantle-board and the whitewashed
ceiling for the squat brass candlesticks and the big foreign sea-shells
which stood there for ornament.
The diamonded window admitted so little light that on entering here
from the outer sunshine the visitor could only make out the details one
by one. When his eyes became accustomed to the semi-darkness he was
sure to notice a dozen or more green baize bags which hung upon the
walls, each half defining, in the same vague way as all the others, the
outline of the object it contained. Each green baize bag was closely
tied at the neck, and suspended at an equal height with the rest upon a
nail. There was something of a vault-like odor in the room, traceable
probably to the two facts that the carpet was laid upon a brick floor,
and that the chamber was rarely opened to the air.
Ezra Gold, seated upright in an oaken arm-chair, with a hand lightly
grasping the end of either arm, was at home in the close, cool shadow
of the place. The cloistered air, the quiet and the dim shade seemed to
suit him, and he to be in harmony with them. His eyes were open, and
alighted now and again with an air of recognition on some familiar
object, but otherwise he might have seemed asleep. On the central table
was a great pile of music-books, old-fashioned alike in shape and
binding. They exhaled a special cloistral odor of their own, as if they
had been long imprisoned. Ezra's eye dwelt oftener on these musty old
books than elsewhere.
He had sat still and silent for a long time, when the bells of the
church, with a startling nearness and distinctness, broke into a peal.
He made a slight movement when the sound first fell upon his ear, but
went back to his quiet and his dreams again at once.
Ten minutes went by and the bells were still pealing, when he heard
a sound which would have been inaudible in the midst of the metallic
clamor to ears less accustomed than his own. He had lived there all his
life, and scarcely noticed the noise which would almost have deafened a
stranger. The sound he had heard was the clicking of the gate, and
after a pause it was followed by the appearance of his nephew Reuben,
who looked about him with a dazzled and uncertain gaze.
Well, Reuben, lad? said the old man; but his voice was lost for
his nephew in the noise which shook the air. Dost not see me? he
cried, speaking loudly this time.
I'm fresh from the sunlight, Reuben shouted, with unnecessary
force. You spoke before. I couldn't hear you for the bells.
The old man with a half-humorous gesture put his hands to his ears.
No need to shout a man's head off, he answered. Come outside.
Rueben understood the gesture, though he could not hear the words,
and the two left the room together, and came out upon the back garden.
The sound of the bells was still clear and loud, but by no means so
overwhelming as it had been within-doors.
That's better, said Reuben. They're making noise enough for young
Young Sennacherib? asked his uncle. Young Eld? Is young Eld to be
Didn't you Know that? The procession is coming along the road this
minute. Old Sennacherib disapproves of the match, and we've had a scene
the like of which was never known in Heydon Hay before.
Ay? said Ezra, with grave interest, slowly, and with a look of a
man long imprisoned, to whom outside things are strange, but
interesting still. As how?
Why thus, returned Reuben, with a laugh in his eyes. Old
Sennacherib comes to his gate and awaits the wedding-party. Young Snac,
with his bride upon his arm, waves a braggart handkerchief at the
oldster, and out walks papa, plants himself straight in front of the
company, and brings all to a halt. 'I should like to tell thee,' says
the old fellow before them all, rolling that bull-dog head of his, 'as
I've made my will an' cut thee off with a shillin'!'
Dear me! said Ezra, seriously; dear me! And what answer made
young Snac to this?
Young Snac, said Reuben, was equal to his day. 'All right,' says
he; 'gi'e me the shillin' now, an' we'll drop in at the Goat and
split a quart together.' 'All right,' says the old bull-dog; 'it's th'
on'y chance I shall ever light upon of mekin' a profit out o' thee.' He
lugs out a leather bag, finds a shilling, bites it to make sure of its
value, hands it to the young bull-dog, and at the 'Goat' they actually
pull up together, and young Snac spends the money then and there.
'Bring out six pints,' cries Snac the younger. 'Fo'penny ale's as much
as a father can expect when his loving son is a-spendin' the whole of
his inheritance upon him.' Everybody sipped, the bride included, and
the two bull-dogs clinked their mugs together. I sipped myself, being
invited as a bystander, and toasted father and son together.
But, mind thee, lad, said Ezra, it's scarcely to be touched upon
as a laughing matter. Drollery of a sort theer is in it, to be sure;
but what Sennacherib Eld says he sticks to. When he bites he holds. He
was ever of that nature.
I know, said Reuben; but young Nip-and-Fasten has the breed of
old Bite-and-Hold-Fast in him, and if the old man keeps his money the
young one will manage to get along without it.
At this moment the bells ceased their clangor.
They've gone into the church, Reuben, said the old man. I'll do
no less than wish 'em happiness, though there's fewer that finds it
than seeks it by that gate.
It's like other gates in that respect, I suppose, Reuben answered.
Well, yes, returned the elder man, lingeringly. But it's the gate
that most of 'em fancy, and thereby it grows the saddest to look at,
lad. Come indoors again. There'll be no more bells this yet-awhile.
Reuben followed him into the cloistral odors and shadows of the
sitting-room. Ezra took his old seat, and kept silence for the space of
two or three minutes.
You said you wanted to speak to me, uncle, said the younger man,
Yes, yes, said Ezra, rising as if from a dream. You're getting to
have a very pretty hand on the fiddle, Reuben, andwell, it's a shame
to bury anything that has a value. Thishe arose and laid a hand on
the topmost book of the great pile of musicthis has never seen the
light for a good five-and-twenty year. Theer's some of it forgot,
notwithstanding that it's all main good music. But theer's no room i'
the world for th' old-fangled an' the newfangled. One nail drives out
another. But I've been thinking thee mightst find a thing or two herein
as would prove of value, and it's yours if you see fit to take it
Why, it's a library, said Reuben. You are very good, uncle,
Tek it, lad, tek it, if you'd like it, and make no words. And if it
shouldn't turn out to have been worth the carrying you can let th' old
chap think it waseh?
Worth the carrying? said Reuben, with a half-embarrassed little
laugh. I'm pretty sure you had no rubbish on your shelves, uncle. He
began to turn over the leaves of the topmost book. 'Études? he
read, 'pour deux violins, par Joseph Manzini.' This looks good.
Who was Joseph Manzini? I never heard of him.
Manzini? asked the old man, with a curious eagernessManzini.
His voice changed altogether, and fell into a dreamy and retrospective
tone. He laid a hand upon the open pages, and smoothed them with a
touch which looked like a caress.
Who was he? asked Reuben. Did you know him?
No, lad, returned the old man, coming out of his dream, and
smiling as he spoke, I never knew him. What should bring me to know a
German musician as was great in his own day?
I thought you spoke as if you knew him, said Reuben.
Hast a quick ear, said Ezra, and a searching fancy. No, lad, no;
I never knew him. But that was the last man I ever handled bow and
fiddle for. I left that open (he tapped the book with his fingers and
then closed it as he spoke)I left that open on my table when I was
called away on business to London. I found it open when I came home
again, and I closed it, for I never touched a bow again. I'd heard
Paganini in the mean time. Me and 'Saiah Eld tried that through
together, and since then I've never drawn a note out o' catgut.
I could never altogether understand it, uncle, said Reuben. What
could the man's playing have been like?
What was it like? returned the older man. What is theer as it
wa'n't like? I couldn't tell thee, ladI couldn't tell thee. It was
like a lost soul a-wailing i' the pit. It was like an angel a-sing-ing
afore the Lord. It was like that passage i' the Book o' Job, where 'tis
said as 'twas the dead o' night when deep sleep falleth upon men, and a
vision passed afore his face, and the hair of his flesh stood up. It
was like the winter tempest i' the trees, and a little brook in summer
weather. It was like as if theer was a livin' soul within the thing,
and sometimes he'd trick it and soothe it, and it'd laugh and sing to
do the heart good, an' another time he'd tear it by the roots till it
chilled your blood.
You heard him often? asked Reuben.
Never but once, said Ezra, shaking his head with great decision.
Never but once. He wa'n't a man to hear too often. 'Twas a thing to
know and to carry away. A glory to have looked at once, but not to live
in the midst on. Too bright for common eyes, ladtoo bright for common
I've heard many speak of his playing, said Reuben. But there are
just as many opinions as there are people.
There's no disputing in these matters, the older man answered.
I've heard him talked of as a Charley Tann, which I tek to be a kind
of humbugging pretender, but 'twas plain to see for a man with a soul
behind his wescut as the man was wore to a shadow with his feeling for
his music. 'Twas partly the man's own sufferin' and triumphin' as had
such a power over me. It is with music as th' other passions. % Theer's
love, for example. A lad picks out a wench, and spends his heart and
natur' in her behalf as free as if there'd niver been a wench i' the
world afore, and niver again would be. And after all a wench is a
commonish sort of a object, and even the wench the lad's in love with
is a commonish sort o' creature among wenches. But what's that to him,
if her chances to be just the sort his soul and body cries after?
Ah! said Reuben, if his soul cries after her. But if he
values goodness his soul will cry after it, and if he values beauty his
soul will cry after that. I never heard Paganini, but he was a great
player, or a real lover of music like you would never have found what
he wanted in him.
Yes, lad, his uncle answered, falling suddenly into his habitual
manner, the man was a player. Thee canst have the music any time thee
likst to send for it.
Reuben knew the old man and his ways. The talkative fit was
evidently over, and he might sit and talk, if he would, from then till
evening, and get no more than a monosyllable here and there in return
for his pains.
It will take a hand-cart to carry the books, he said; but I will
take Manzini now if you will let me. The old man, contenting himself
with a mere nod in answer, he took up the old-fashioned oblong folio,
tucked it under his arm, and shook hands with the donor. This is a
princely gift, uncle, he said, with the natural exaggeration of a
grateful youngster. I don't know how to say thank you for it.
Ezra smiled, but said nothing. Reuben, repeating his leave-taking,
went away, and coming suddenly upon the bright sunlight and the renewed
clangor of the bells, was half stunned by the noise and dazzled by the
glare. With all this clash and brilliance, as if they existed because
of her, and were a part of her presence, appeared Ruth Fuller in the
act of passing Ezra's house. Ruth had brightness, but it was rather of
the twilight sort than this; and the music which seemed fittest to
salute her apparition might have been better supplied by these same
bells at a distance of a mile or two. Reuben was perturbed, as any mere
mortal might expect to be on encountering a goddess.
Let us see the goddess as well as may be.
She was country-bred to begin with, and though to Heydon Hay her
appearance smacked somewhat of the town, a dweller in towns would have
called her rustic. She wore a straw hat which was in the fashion of the
time, and to the eyes of the time looked charming, though twenty years
later we call it ugly, and speak no more than truth. Beneath this straw
hat very beautiful and plenteous brown hair escaped in defiance of
authority, and frolicked into curls and wavelets, disporting itself on
a forehead of creamy tone and smoothness, and just touching the
eyebrows, which were of a slightly darker brown, faintly arched on the
lower outline, and more prominently arched on the upper. Below the
brows brown eyes, as honest as the day, and with a frank smile always
ready to break through the dream which pretty often filled them. A
short upper lip, delicately curved and curiously mobile, a full lower
lip, a chin expressive of great firmness, but softened by a dimpled
hollow in the very middle of its roundness, a nose neither Grecian nor
tilted, but betwixt the two, and delightful, and a complexion familiar
with sun and air, wholesome, robust, and fine. In stature she was no
more than on a level with Reuben's chin; but Reuben was taller than
common, standing six feet in his stockings. This fact of superior
height was not in itself sufficient to account for the graceful
inclination of the body which always characterized Reuben when he
talked with Ruth. There was a tender and unconscious deference in his
attitude which told more to the least observant observer than Reuben
would willingly have had known.
Ezra Gold saw the chance encounter through the window, and watched
the pair as they shook hands. They walked away together, for they were
bound in the same direction, and the old man rose from his seat and
walked to the window to look after them.
Well, well, lad, he said, speaking half aloud, after the fashion
of men who spend much of their time alone, theert beauty and goodness
theer, I fancy. Go thy ways, lad, and be happy.
They were out of sight already, and Ezra, with his hands folded
behind him, paced twice or thrice along the room. Pausing before one of
the green baize bags, he lifted it from its nail, and having untied the
string that fastened it, he drew forth with great tenderness an
unstrung violin, and, carrying it to the light, sat down and turned it
over and over in his hands. Then he took the neck with his left hand,
and, placing the instrument upright upon his knee, caressed it with his
Poor lass, he said, a' might think as thee was grieved to have
had ne'er a soul to sing to all these years. I've a half mind to let
thee have a song now, but I doubt thee couldst do naught but screech at
me. I've forgotten how to ask a lady of thy make to sing. Shalt go to
Reuben, lass; he'll mek thee find thy voice again. Rare and sweet it
used to berare and sweet.
He fell into a fit of coughing which shook him from head to foot,
but even in the midst of the paroxysm he made shift to lay down the
violin with perfect tenderness. When the fit was over he lay back in
his chair with his arms depending feebly at his sides, panting a
little, but smiling like a man at peace.
These had been a long spell of fair weather, and the Earl of
Barfield had carried on his warfare against all and sundry who
permitted the boughs of their garden trees to overhang the public
highway, for a space of little less than a month. The campaign had been
conducted with varying success, but the old nobleman counted as many
victories as fights, and was disposed, on the whole, to be content with
himself. He was an old and experienced warrior in this cause, and had
learned to look with a philosophic eye upon reverses.
But on the day following that which saw the introduction of his
lordship's parliamentary nominee to the quartette party, his lordship
encountered a check which called for all the resources of philosophy.
He was routed by his own henchman, Joseph Beaker.
The defeat arrived in this wise: his lordship having carefully
arranged his rounds so that Joseph should carry the ladder all the long
distances while he himself bore it all the short ones, had found
himself so flurried by the defeat he had encountered at the hands of
Miss Blythe, that he had permitted Joseph to take up the ladder and
carry it away from where it had leaned against the apple-tree in the
little old lady's garden. This unforeseen incident had utterly
disarranged his plans, and since he had been unadvised enough to post
his servitor in the particulars of the campaign, Joseph had been quick
to discover his own advantage.
We will go straight on to Willis's, Joseph, said his lordship,
when they began their rounds that afternoon. The stroke was simple,
but, if it should only succeed, was effective.
We bain't a-goin' to pass Widder Hotchkiss, be we, governor?
demanded Joseph, who saw through the device. His lordship decided not
to hear the question, and walked on a little ahead, swinging the
billhook and the saw.
Joseph Beaker revolved in his mind his own plan of action. In front
of Widow Hotchkiss's cottage the trees were unusually luxuriant, and
the boughs hung unusually low. When they were reached, Joseph contrived
to entangle his ladder and to bring himself to a stand-still, with
every appearance of naturalness.
My blessed! he mumbled, this here's a disgrace to the parish,
gaffer. Theer's nothin' in all Heydon Hay as can put a patch on it.
Thee bissent agoin' past this, beest? Her's as small-sperited as a
rabbitthe widder is.
We'll take it another time, Joseph, said his lordship, striving to
cover his confusion by taking a bigger pinch of snuff than
commonanother time, Joseph, another time.
Well, said Joseph, tossing his lop-sided head, as if he had at
last fathomed the folly and weakness of human nature, and resigned
himself to his own mournful discoveries, I should niver ha' thought
it. He made a show of shouldering the ladder disgustedly, but dropped
it again. We fled afore a little un yesterday, he said. I did look
for a show o' courage here, governor. His lordship hesitated. Why,
look at it, pursued Joseph, waving a hand towards the overhanging
verdure; it 'ud be a sinful crime to go by it.
Put up the ladder, Joseph, replied his lordship, in a voice of
sudden resolve. The Hotchkiss case was a foregone victory for him, and
his own desires chimed with Joseph's arguments, even while he felt
The widow sweetened the business by a feeble protest, and the Earl
of Barfield was lordly with ner.
Must come down, my good woman, said his lordship, firmly, must
come down. Obstruct the highway. Disgrace to the parish.
That's what I said, mumbled Joseph, as he steadied the ladder from
below. The widow watched the process wistfully, and my lord chopped and
sawed with unwonted gusto. Branch after branch fell into the lane, and
the aged nobleman puffed and sweated with his grateful labor. He had
not had such a joyful turn for many a day. The widow moaned like a
winter wind in a key-hole, and when his lordship at last descended from
his perch she was wiping her eyes with her apron.
I know full well what poor folks has got to put up with at the
hands o' them as the Lord has set in authority, said the widow, but
it's cruel hard to have a body's bits o' trees chopped and lopped i'
that way. When ourn was alive his lordship niver laid a hand upon 'em.
Ourn 'ud niver ha' bent himself to put up wi' it, that he niver would,
and Lord Barfield knows it; for though he was no better nor a
market-gardener, he was one o' them as knowed what was becomin' between
man and man, be he niver so lowly, and his lordship the lord o' the
manor for miles around.
Tut, tut, my good woman, returned his lordship. Pooh, pooh! Do
for firewood. Nice and dry against the winter. Much better there than
obstructing the high-roadmuch better. Joseph Beaker, take the
My turn next time, replied Joseph. Carried it here.
His lordship, a little abashed, feigned to consider, and took snuff.
Quite right, Joseph, he answered, quite right. Quite fair to
remind me. Perfectly fair. But he was a good deal blown and wearied
with his exertions, and though anxious to escape the moanings of the
widow he had no taste for the exercise which awaited him. He braced
himself for the task, however, and handing the tools to his henchman,
manfully shouldered the ladder and started away with it. The lane was
circuitous, and when once he had rounded the first corner he paused and
set down his burden. It's unusually warm to-day, Joseph, he said,
mopping at his wrinkled forehead.
Theer's a coolish breeze, replied Joseph, and a-plenty o'
Do you know, Joseph, said the earl, in a casual tone, I think I
shall have to get you to take this turn. I am a little tired.
Carried it last turn, said Joseph, decidedly. A bargain's a
Certainly, certainly, returned his lordship, a bargain is
a bargain, Joseph. He sat down upon one of the lower rungs of the
ladder and fanned himself with a pocket-handkerchief. But you know,
Joseph, he began again after a pause, nobody pushes a bargain too
hard. If you carry the ladder this time I will carry it next. Come
nowwhat do you say to that?
It's a quarter of a mile from here to Willis's, said Joseph, and
it ain't five score yards from theer to the Tan-yard. Theer's some, he
added, with an almost philosophic air, as knows when they are well
I'll give you an extra penny, said his lordship, condescending to
I'll do it for a extry sixpince, replied Joseph.
I'll make it twopence, said his lordshiptwopence and a screw of
I'll do it for a extry sixpince, Joseph repeated, doggedly.
Noblesse oblige. There was a point beyond which the Earl of
Barfield could not haggle. He surrendered, but it galled him, and the
agreeable sense of humor with which he commonly regarded Joseph Beaker
failed him for the rest of that afternoon. It happened, also, that the
people who remained to be encountered one and all opposed him, and with
the exception of his triumph over the Widow Hotchkiss the day was a day
When, therefore, his lordship turned his steps homeward he was in a
mood to be tart with anybody, and it befell that Ferdinand was the
first person on whom he found an opportunity of venting his gathered
sours. The young gentleman heaved in sight near the lodge gates,
smoking a cigar and gazing about him with an air of lazy nonchalance
which had very much the look of being practised in hours of private
leisure. Behind him came the valet, bearing the big square color-box,
the camp-stool, and the clumsy field easel.
Daubing again, I presume? said his lordship, snappishly.
Yes, said Ferdinand, holding his cigar at arm's-length and
flicking at the ash with his little finger, daubing again.
His lordship felt the tone and gesture to be irritating and
Joseph Beaker, he said, take the ladder to the stables. I have
done with you for to-day. Upon my word, Ferdinand, he continued, when
Joseph had shambled through the gateway with the ladder, I think you
answer me with very little consideration, forin short, I think your
manner a little wanting inI don't care to be addressed in that way,
I am sorry, sir, said Ferdinand. I did not mean to be
disrespectful. You spoke of my daubing. I desired to admit the justice
of the term. Nothing more, I assure you.
His lordship, in his irritated mood, felt the tone to-be more
irritating and offensive than before.
I tell you candidly, Ferdinand, that I do not approve of the manner
in which you spend your time here. If you imagine that you can walk
over the course here without an effort you are very much mistaken. I
take this idleness and indifference very ill, sir, very ill indeed, and
if we are beaten I shall know on whom the blame will rest. The times
are not what they were, Ferdinand, and constitutional principles are in
Really, sir, returned Ferdinand, one can't be electioneering all
the year round. There can't be a dissolution before the autumn. When
the time comes I will work as hard as you can ask me to do.
Pooh, pooh! said his lordship, irritably. I don't ask you to
spout politics. I ask you to show yourself to these people as a serious
and thoughtful fellow, and not as a mere dauber of canvas and scraper
of fiddles. You come here, he went on, irritated as much by his own
speech as by the actual circumstances of the case, as if you were
courting a constituency of dilettanti, and expected to walk in
by virtue of your little artistic graces. They don't want a man like
that. They won't have a man like that. They're hard-headed fellows, let
me tell you. These South Stafford fellows are the very deuce, let me
tell you, for knowing all about Free-trade, and the Cheap Loaf, and the
Very well, sir, said Ferdinand, laughing, I reform. Instead of
carrying easel and porte-couleur, Harvey shall go about with a
copy of 'The Wealth of Nations,' and when a voter passes I'll stop and
consult the volume and make a note. But l'homme sérieux is not
the only man for election times. I'll wager all I am ever likely to
make out of politics that I have secured a vote this afternoon, though
I have done nothing more than offer a farmer's wife a little artistic
advice about the choice of a bonnet. I told her that yellow was fatal
to that charming complexion, and advised blue. Old Holland is proud of
his young wife, and I hooked him to a certainty.
Holland! cried his lordship, more pettishly than everHolland is
conservative to the backbone. We were always sure of Holland.
Well, well, said Ferdinand, in a voice of toleration, we are at
least as sure of him as ever.
The allowance in the young man's manner exasperated the old
nobleman. But he liked his young friend in spite of his insolence and
tranquil swagger, and he dreaded to say something which might be too
strong for the occasion.
We will talk this question over at another time, he said,
controlling himself; we will talk it over after dinner.
I must go vote-catching after dinner, returned Ferdinand. I
promised to go and listen to the quartette party this evening.
Very well, returned his lordship, with a sudden frostiness of
manner. I shall dine alone. Good-evening.
He marched away, the senile nodding of his head accentuated into
pettishness; and Ferdinand stood looking after him for a second or two
with a smile, but presently thinking better of it, he hastened after
the angry old man and overtook him.
I am sorry, sir, if I disappoint you, he said. I don't want to do
that, and I won't do it if I can help it. The earl said nothing, but
walked on with an injured air which was almost feminine. Are you angry
at my proposing to go to see old Fuller? I understood you to say
yesterday that his vote was undecided, and that nothing was so likely
to catch him as a little interest in his musical pursuits.
I have no objections to offer to your proposal, replied his
lordship, frostilynone whatever.
I am glad to hear that, sir, said Ferdinand, with rather more
dryness than was needed. His lordship walked on again, and the young
man lingered behind.
The household ways at the Hall were simple, and the hours kept there
were early. It was not yet seven o'clock when Ferdinand, having already
eaten his lonely dinner, strolled down the drive, cigar in month, bound
for old Fuller's garden. He thought less of electioneering and less of
music than of the pretty girl he had discovered yesterday. She
interested him a little, and piqued him a little. Without being
altogether a puppy, he was well aware of his own advantages of person,
and was accustomed to attribute to them a fair amount of his own social
successes. He was heir to a baronetcy and to the estates that went with
it. It was impossible in the course of nature that he should be long
kept out of these desirable possessions, for the present baronet was
his grandfather, and had long passed the ordinary limits of old age.
The old man had outlived his own immediate natural heir, Ferdinand's
father, and now, in spite of an extraordinary toughness of
constitution, was showing signs of frailty which increased almost day
by day. And apart from his own personal advantages, and the future
baronetcy and the estates thereto appertaining, the young man felt
that, as the chosen candidate of the constitutional party for that
division of the county at the approaching election, he was something of
a figure in the place. It was rather abnormal that any pretty little
half-rustic girl should treat him with anything but reverence. If the
girl had been shy, and had blushed and trembled before him a little, he
could have understood it. Had she been pert he could have understood
it. Young women of the rustic order, if only they were a trifle
good-looking, had an old-established license to be pert to their male
social superiors. But this young woman was not at all disposed to
tremble before him, and was just as far removed from pertness as from
As he strolled along he bethought him, vaguely enoughfor he was
not a young gentleman who was accustomed to put too much powder behind
his purposesthat it would be rather an agreeable thing than otherwise
to charm this young woman, if only just to show her that she could be
charmed, and that he could be charming. He had been a little slighted,
and it would be nice to be a little revenged. He was not a puppy, in
spite of the fact that his head gave house-room to this kind of
nonsense. The design is commoner among girls than boys, but there are
plenty of young men who let their wits stray after this manner at
times, and some of them live to laugh at themselves.
But while Ferdinand was thinking, an idea occurred to him which
caused him to smile languidly. It would be amusing to awaken Barfield's
wrath by starting a pronounced flirtation with this village beauty. It
was scarcely consistent to have an inward understanding with himself,
that if the flirtation should take place it should be kept
secret from his noble patron of all men in the world. It would
certainly be great fun to take the little hussy from her pedestal. She
was evidently disposed to think of herself a good deal more highly than
she ought to think, and perhaps it might afford a useful lesson to her
to be made a little more pliant, a little less self-opinionated, a
little less disposed to snub young gentlemen of unimpeachable
attractions. Thinking thus, Ferdinand made up quite a contented mind to
be rustic beauty's school-master.
The green door in the garden wall was still a little open when he
reached it, but he could hear neither music nor voices.
The evening concert had not yet begun, and he was fain to stroll on
a little farther. This of itself was something of an offence to his
majesty, though he hardly saw on whom to fix it. He did not know his
way round to the front of the house, and did not care to present
himself at the rear unless there were somebody there to receive him. He
lit a new cigar to pass away the time, and re-enacted his first and
only interview with the girl he had made up his mind to subjugate. In
the course of this mental exercise he experienced anew the sense of
slight he had felt at her hands, but in a more piercing manner. He had
spoken to her, and she had waved her hand against him as if he had been
a child to be silenced. He had spoken to her again, and she had not
even responded. In point of fact she had ignored him. The more he
looked at it the more remarkable this fact appeared, and the more
uncomfortable and the more resolved he felt about it.
When his cigar was smoked half through he sighted the upright and
stalwart figure of Reuben Gold, who was striding at a great pace
towards him, swinging his violin-case in one hand. Ferdinand paused to
Good-evening, Mr. Gold, he said, as Reuben drew near.
Good-evening, said Reuben, raising his eyes for a moment, and
nodding with a preoccupied air. His rapid steps carried him past
Ferdinand in an instant, and before the young gentleman could propose
to join him he was so far in advance that it was necessary either to
shout or run to bring him to a more moderate pace. Ferdinand raised his
eye-glass and surveyed the retreating figure with some indignation, and
dropped it with a little click against one of his waistcoat-buttons.
Then he smiled somewhat wry-facedly.
A cool set, upon my word, he murmured. Boors, pure and simple.
He was half inclined to change his mind and stay away from the al
fresco concert, but then the idea of the duty he owed himself in
respect to that contumelious young beauty occurred to him, and he
decided to go, after all. He followed, therefore, in Reuben's hasty
footsteps, but at a milder pace, and, regaining the green door, looked
into the garden and saw the quartette party already assembled. Old
Fuller, who was the first to perceive him, came forward with rough
heartiness, and shook hands with a burly bow.
Good-evenin', Mr. De Blacquaire, said Fuller. We're pleased to
see you. If you'd care to tek a hand i'stead of settin' idle by to
listen, we shall be glad to mek room. Eh, lads?
No, no, thank you, Mr. Fuller, said Ferdinand, I would rather be
a listener. Ruth was standing near the table, and he raised his cap to
her. She answered his salute with a smile of welcome, and brought him a
chair. Good-evening, Miss Fuller, he said, standing cap in hand
before her. What unusually beautiful weather we are having. Do you
know, I am quite charmed with this old garden? There is something
delightfully rustic and homely and old-fashioned about it.
You are looking at the statues? she said, with half a laugh. They
are an idea of father's. He wants to have them painted, but I always
stand out against thatthey look so much better as they are.
Painted? answered Ferdinand, with a little grimace, and a little
lifting of the hands and shrinking of the body as if the idea hurt him
physically. Oh no. Pray don't have them painted.
Well, well. Theer! cried Fuller. Here's another as is in favor o'
grime an' slime! It's three to three now. Ruth and Reuben have allays
been for leavin' 'em i' this way.
Really, Mr. Fuller, said Ferdinand, you must be persuaded to
leave them as they are. As they are they are charming. It would be
quite a crime to paint them. It would be horribly bad taste to paint
After this partisan espousal of her cause, he was a little surprised
to notice an indefinable but evident change in the rustic beauty's
manner. Perhaps she disliked to hear a stranger accuse her
fatherhowever trulyof horribly bad taste, but this did not occur to
Ferdinand, who had intended to show her that a gentleman was certain to
sympathize with whatever trace of refinement he might discover in her.
Would it? said Fuller, simply. Well, theer's three of a mind, and
they'm likely enough to be right. Anny ways theer's no danger of a
brush coming anigh 'em while the young missis says 'No.' Her word's law
i' this house, and has been ever since her was no higher than the
Wasn't that a ring at the front door? asked Sennacherib, holding
up his hand.
Run and see, wench, said Fuller.
Ruth ran down the grass-plot and into the house. She neither
shuffled nor ambled, but skimmed over the smooth turf as if she moved
by volition and her feet had had nothing to do with the motion. She had
scarce disappeared, when Isaiah, who faced the green door, sung out,
Here's Ezra Gold, and bringin' a fiddle, too. Good-evenin', Mr.
Gold. Beest gooin' to tek another turn at the music?
No, said Ezra, advancing. I expected to find Reuben here. I've
got it on my mind as the poor old lady here he touched the green
baize bag he carried beneath his armis in a bit o' danger o' losin'
her voice through keeping silence all these length o' years, and I want
him to see what sort of a tone her's got left in her.
Reuben rose from his seat with sparkling eyes and approached his
Is that the old lady I've heard so much about? he asked.
Yes, replied Ezra, it's the old lady herself. I don't know, he
went on, looking mildly about him, as theer's another amateur player
as I'd trust her to. Wait a bit, lad, while I show her into daylight.
Reuben stood with waiting hands while the old man unknotted the
strings at the mouth of the green baize bag, and all eyes watched
Ezra's lean fingers. At the instant when the knot was conquered and the
mouth of the bag slid open, Ruth's clear voice was heard calling,
Father, here's Aunt Rachel! Come this way, Aunt Rachel. We're going
to have a little music.
Ezra Gold, seizing the violin gently by the neck, suffered the green
baize bag to fall to the ground at his feet, and then tenderly raising
the instrument in both hands, looked up and dropped it to the ground. A
little cry of dismay escaped from Reuben's lips, and he was on his
knees in an instant.
She's not hurt, he said, examining the violin with delicate care
not hurt at all.
Then he looked up, and at the sight of his uncle's face rose swiftly
to his feet. The old man's eyes were ghastly, and his cheeks, which had
usually a hectic flush of color too clear and bright for health, were
of a leaden gray. Ezra's hand was on his heart.
Not hurt? he said, in a strange voice. Art sure she's not hurt,
lad? That's fortunate.
The color came back to his face as suddenly as it had disappeared.
No, said Reuben, tapping the back of the fiddle lightly with his
finger-tips, and listening to the tone, though he kept his eyes fixed
upon his uncle'sshe's as sound as a bell.
That's well, lad, that's well, said Ezra, in the same strange
voice. The hands he reached out towards his nephew trembled, and Reuben
handed back the precious instrument in some solicitude. It was natural
that an old player should prize his favorite instrument, but surely, he
thought, a little chance danger to it should scarcely shake a man in
this way. Ezra's trembling hands began to tune the strings, and at the
sound of Ruth's voice Reuben turned away. His uncle's agitation shocked
him. He had known for years, as everybody had known, that Ezra had but
a weakly constitution, but he had never seen so striking a sign of it
before, and the old man's agitation awoke the young man's fears. There
was a very close and tender affection between them.
Reuben, Ruth was saying, this is my aunt Rachel. Aunt, this is
Mr. Reuben Gold. I don't suppose you remember him.
I do not remember Mr. Reuben Gold, said the little old lady,
mincingly. Is Mr. Gold a native of Heydon Hay? I do not think, from
Mr. Gold's appearance, that he was born when I quitted the village. I
think I recognize my old friends, the Elds, she went on, with an air
almost of patronage. This will be Mr. Isaiah? Yes! I thought so. Mr.
Isaiah was always mild in manner. And this will be Mr. Sennacherib?
Yes! Mr. Sennacherib was unruly. I recognize them by their
You remember me, Rachel? said Mr. De Blacquaire, who had been
watching the old lady since her arrival. She turned her head in a
swift, bird-like way, and fixed her curiously youthful eyes upon him
for an instant. The withered old face lit up with a smile which so
transfigured it that for the moment it matched the youth of her eyes.
Is it possible! she cried. Mr. Ferdinand! The dear, dear child!
She seized one of his hands and kissed it, but he drew it away, and
putting an arm about her shoulders, stooped to kiss her wrinkled cheek.
The grandson, she cried, turning on the others with an air of pride
and tender triumph, of my dear mistress, Lady De Blacquaire. I nursed
Mr. Ferdinand in his infancy. I bore him to the font, and in my arms he
received his baptismal appellation.
If she had laid claim to the loftiest of worldly distinctions she
could scarcely have done it with a greater air of pride.
Ezra's tremulous fingers were still at work at the violin keys when
Ruth addressed him.
I dare say you know my aunt Rachel, Mr. Gold, she said. Heydon
Hay was such a little place five-and-twenty years ago that everybody
must have known everybody.
It was my privilege to know Miss Blythe when she lived here, said
Ezra, looking up and speaking in a veiled murmur.
The little old lady started, turned pale, drew herself to her full
height, and turned away. Sennacherib, who was watching the pair, drove
out his clinched fist sideways with intent to nudge his brother Isaiah
in the ribs, to call his attention to this incident as a confirmation
of the history he had told the night before. He miscalculated his
distance, and landed on Isaiah's portly waistcoat with such force that
the milder brother grunted aloud, and, arising, demanded with
indignation to know why he was thus assaulted. For a mere second
Sennacherib was disconcerted, but recovering himself, he drew Isaiah on
one side and whispered in his ear,
I on'y meant to gi'e thee a nudge, lad. Dost mind what I tode thee
about 'em? Didst tek note how they met?
Thinkest thou'rt th' only man with a pair of eyes in his head?
demanded Isaiah, angrily and aloud. Sennacherib, by winks and nods and
gestures, entreated him to silence, but for a minute or two Isaiah
refused to be pacified, and sat rubbing at his waistcoat and darting
looks of vengeance at his brother. Punchin' a man at my time o' life
i' that way! he mumbled wrathfully; it's enough t' upset the systim
for a month or more.
Nobody noticed the brethren, however, for the other members of the
little party had each his or her preoccupation.
Mr. Ferdinand, said Miss Blythe, turning suddenly upon the young
gentleman, I must seize this opportunity to ask what news there is of
my dear mistress. I know that she is frail, and that correspondence
would tax her energies too severely, but I make a point of writing to
her once a week and presenting to her my respectful service.
She took his hand again as she addressed him, and Ferdinand noticed
that it was icy cold. She was trembling all over and her eyes were
troubled. He was just about to answer when a sharp twang caught his
ear, and turning his head he saw Ezra in the act of handing the violin
Have you got a fourth string, lad? asked Ezra, speaking unevenly
and with apparent effort; this has gi'en way. I'm no hand at a fiddle
nowadays, he added, with a pitiable smile, or else there's less
virtue in catgut than there used to be.
They make nothing as they used to do, said Reuben. He had drawn a
flat tin box from his pocket and had selected a string from it, when
Rachel drew Ferdinand on one side.
Let me bring you a chair, Mr. Ferdinand, she said. We will sit
here and you must tell me of my dear mistress.
Stay here, said Ferdinand, I will bring you a chair. He was not
sorry to be seen in this amiable light. It was agreeable to bend
condescendingly to his grandmother's attached and faithful servitor,
and to be observed. There was a genuine kindliness in him, too, towards
the little withered old woman who had nursed him in his babyhood, and
had taught him his first lessons. He brought the chairs and sat down
with his old nurse at the edge of the grass-plot at some little
distance from the others.
We will talk for a little time about my dear mistress, said
Rachel, and then I will ask you to take me away. She leaned forward
in her chair, looking up at her companion and laying both hands upon
his arm. I cannot stay here, she went on, in a whisper. There are
reasons. There is a person here I have not seen for more than a quarter
of a century. You have observed that I am sometimes a little flighty.
She withdrew one of her hands and tapped her forehead.
My dear Rachel! said Ferdinand, in smiling protestation.
Yes, yes, she insisted, in a mincing whisper, as if she were
laying claim to a distinction. A little flighty. You do no credit to
your own penetration, dear Mr. Ferdinand, if you deny it. That person
is the cause. I suffered a great wrong at that person's hands. Let us
say no more. Tell me about my dear mistress.
The varnish of unconscious affectation was transparent enough for
Ferdinand to see through. The little old woman minced and bridled, and
took quaintly sentimental airs, but she was moved a great deal, though
in what way he could not guess. He sat and talked to her with a
magnificent unbending, and she took his airs as no more than his right,
and was well contented with them.
And now, Reuben, cried Fuller, who, like everybody else, had
noticed Miss Blythe's curious behavior to Ezra and was disturbed by
itand now, Reuben, if thee hast got the old lady into fettle, let's
have a taste of her quality. It's maney an' maney a year now since I
had a chance of listenin' to her. Let's have a solo, lad. Gi'e us
summat old and flavorsome. Let's have 'The Last Rose o' Summer.'
Reuben sat down, threw one leg over the other, and began to play.
The evening was wonderfully still and quiet, but from far off, the mere
ghost of a sound, came the voice of church-bells. Their tone was so
faint and far away that at the first stroke of the bow they seemed to
die, and the lovely strain rose upon the air pure and unmingled with
another sound. Rachel ceased her emphatic noddings and her mincing
whisper, and sat with her hands folded in her lap to listen. Ezra, with
his gaunt hands folded behind him, stood with his habitual stoop more
marked than common, and stared at the grass at his feet. Ruth, from her
old station by the apple-tree, looked from one to the other. She had
heard Sennacherib's story from her father, and her heart was
predisposed to read a romance here, little as either of the actors in
that obscure drama of so many years ago looked like the figures of a
romance now. They had been lovers before she was born, and had
quarrelled somehow, and had each lived single. And now, when they had
met after this great lapse of years, the gray old man trembled, and the
wrinkled old woman turned her back upon him. The music was not without
its share in the girl's emotion. And there was Reuben, with manly head
and great shoulders, with strength and masculine grace in every line of
him, to her fancy, drawing the loveliest music from the long-silent
violin, and staring up at the evening sky as he played. Ah! if Reuben
and she should quarrel and part!
But Reuben had never spoken a word, and the girl, catching herself
at this romantic exercise, blushed for shame, and for one swift second
hid her face in her hands. Then with a sudden pretence of perfect
self-possession, such as only a woman could achieve on such short
notice, she glanced with an admirably casual air about her to see that
the gesture had not been observed. Nobody looked at her. Her father and
the two brothers were watching Reuben, Ezra preserved his old attitude,
Ferdinand was fiddling with his eye-glass, and moving his hand and one
foot in time to the music, and Rachel's strangely youthful eyes were
bright with tears. As the girl looked at her a shining drop brimmed
over from each eye and dropped upon the neat mantle of black silk she
wore. The little old maid did not discover that she had been crying
until Reuben's solo was over, and then she wiped her eyes composedly
and turned to renew her conversation with Ferdinand.
Ah! said Fuller, expelling a great sigh when Reuben laid down his
bow upon the table, theer's a tone! That's a noble instrument, Mr.
She'll be the better for being played upon a little, said Ezra,
Well, thee seest, said Isaiah, with a look of contemplation,
her's been a leadin' what you might call a hideal sort o' life this
five-and-twenty 'ear for a fiddle. Niver a chance of ketchin' cold or
gettin' squawky. Allays wrapped up nice and warm and dry. Theer ain't,
I dare venture to say it, a atom o' sap in the whole of her body. Her's
as dry as
As I be, interposed Sennacherib. It 'ud be hard for anything to
be drier. Let's have a drop o' beer, Fuller, and then we'll get to
Ruth ran into the house laughing, and the four musicians gathered
round the table. Ferdinand arose, strolled towards them, and took up a
position behind Sennacherib's chair. Ezra made an uncertain movement or
two, and finally, with grave resolve, crossed the grass-plot and took
the chair the young gentleman had vacated.
I am informed, Miss Blythe, he said, with a slow, polite
formality, as you have come once more to reside among us. She
inclined her head, but vouchsafed no other answer. The movement was
prim to the verge of comedy, but it was plain that she meant to be
chilly with him. He coughed behind his shaky white hand, and hesitated.
I do not know, Miss Blythe, he began again, with a new resolve, in
what manner I chanced to 'arn your grave displeasure. That is a thing I
never knew. She turned upon him with a swift and vivid scorn. A thing
I never knew, he repeated. If it is your desire to visit it upon me
at this late hour, I have borne it for so many 'ears that I can bear it
still. But I should like to ask, if I might be allowed to put the
question, how it come to pass. I have allays felt as there was a
misunderstandin' i' the case. It is a wise bidding in Holy Writ as
says, 'Let not the sun go down upon thy wrath.' And when the sun is the
sun of life the thing is the more important.
My good sir, said Rachel, rising from her seat and asserting every
inch of her small stature, I desire to hold no communication with you
now or henceforth.
That should be enough for a man, Miss Blythe, said Ezra, mildly.
But why? if I may make so bold.
I thought, said the little old lady, more starched and prim than
ever, I believed myself to have intimated that our conversation was at
You was not wont to be cruel nor unjust in your earlier days, Ezra
answered. But it shall be as you wish.
He left the seat, gave her a quaint old-fashioned bow, and returned
to his former standing-place. Ruth was back again by this time, and
Rachel crossed over to where she stood.
Niece Ruth, she said, speaking after a fashion which was frequent
with her, with an exaggerated motion of the lips, I shall be obliged
to you if you will accompany me to the house.
Certainly, aunt, the girl answered, and placing an arm around her
shoulders, walked away with her. There is something the matter, dear.
What is it?
There is nothing the matter, said the old lady, coldly.
There is something serious the matter, said Ruth. They were in the
house by this time, and sheltered from observation. You are trembling
and your hands are cold. Let me get you a glass of wine.
Aunt Rachel stood erect before her, and answered with frozen rebuke,
In my young days girls were not encouraged to contradict their
seniors. I have said there is nothing the matter.
Ruth bent forward and took the two cold, dry little hands in her own
warm grasp, and looked into her aunt's eyes with tender solicitude. The
hands were suddenly snatched away, and Aunt Rachel dropped into a seat,
and without preface began to cry. Ruth knelt beside her, twining a firm
arm and supple hand about her waist, and drawing down her head softly
until its gray curls were pressed against her own ripe cheek. Not a
word was spoken, and in five minutes the old maid's tears were over.
Say nothing of this, my dear, she said, as she kissed Ruth, and
began to smooth her ruffled ribbons and curls. Her manner was less
artificial than common, but the veneer of affectation was too firmly
fixed to be peeled off at a moment's notice. We are all foolish at
times. You will find that out for yourself, child, as you grow older. I
have been greatly disturbed, my dear, but I shall not again permit my
equilibrium to be shaken by the same causes. Tell me, child, is Mr.
Ezra Gold often to be found here?
Not often, said Ruth; he seems scarcely ever to move from home.
I am glad to know it, said Aunt Rachel. I cannot permit myself to
move in the same society with Mr. Ezra Gold.
We all like him very much, Ruth answered, tentatively.
Ah! said Aunt Rachel, pinching her lips and nodding. You do not
know him. I know him. A most despicable person. They will tell
you that I am a little flighty.
My dear aunt! What nonsense!
It is not nonsense, and you know it. I am a little
flightyat times. And I owe that to Mr. Ezra Gold. I owe a great deal
to Mr. Ezra Gold, and that among it. Now, dear, not a word of this to
anybody. Will you tell dear Mr. Ferdinand that I shall be honored if he
will grace my humble cottage with his presence? Thank you. Good-night,
child. And remember, not a word to anybody.
She dropped her veil and walked to the front door with her usual
crisp and bird-like carriage. At the door she turned.
Shun Mr. Ezra Gold, my dear. Shun all people who bear his name. I
know them. I have cause to know them. They are cheats! deceivers!
She closed her lips tightly after this, and nodded many times. Then
turning abruptly she hopped down the steps which led towards the garden
gate, and disappeared. Ruth stood looking into the quiet street a
moment, then closed the door and returned to the garden.
Not all, she said to herself, as she paused in sight and hearing
of the quartette party, who were by this time deep in an andante of
When Aunt Rachel had spent a fortnight or thereabouts in Heydon Hay,
and had got her own small dwelling-place into precise order, she began
to make a round of visits among the people she had known in her youth.
She had met most of the survivors of that earlier day at the parish
church on Sundays, and had had no occasion to find fault with the
manner of her reception at their hands. If there was not precisely that
warmth of greeting which she felt in her own heart, she found at least
a kindly interest in her return and a friendly curiosity as to her
past. To her, her return to her birthplace was naturally an event of
absorbing interest. To the other inhabitants of the village it was no
more than an episode, but nobody being distinctly cold or careless,
Rachel was not allowed to see the difference between their stand-point
and her own.
In her round of calls she left the house of Sennacherib Eld till the
last, though she and Mrs. Sennacherib had been school-fellows and close
friends. Perhaps she had not found Sennacherib's manner inviting, or
perhaps the fact that Ezra Gold's house lay between her own and his had
held her back a little. Everybody had supposed that she and Ezra Gold
were going to be married six-and-twenty years ago, Rachel herself being
among the believers, and having, it must be confessed, admirable ground
for the belief. Nobody knew how the match had come to be broken off. It
was so Old-world a bit of history that even in Heydon Hay, where
history dies hard, it had died and been buried long ago. Even Rachel's
return could not resuscitate it for more than one or two. But the story
that was dead for other people was still alive to her, and as fresh and
youngnow that it was back in its native air againas if it had been
an affair of yesterday. It was something of a task to her to pass the
house in which the faithless lover lived. It would be the first
achievement of that feat since Ezra had treated her so shamelessly, and
it was almost as difficult after six-and-twenty years as it might have
been after as many days.
She clinched her lips tightly as she came in sight of the tall
poplars which stood beyond the spire of the church, and rose to an
equal height with it, and at the lich-gate of the church she paused a
little, feigning to take interest in one or two tombstones which
recorded the death of people she had known. Her troubled eyes took no
note of the inscriptions, but in a while she found resolution Jo go on
again. With her little figure drawn uncompromisingly to its fullest
height, she rounded the corner of the church-yard and saw the familiar
walls. Ezra, contrary to his habit, was standing at the side door and
looking out upon the street. She was aware of his presence, but walked
stiffly past, disregarding him, and he coughed behind his wasted hand.
She thought the cough had a sound of embarrassed appeal or deprecation,
as perhaps it had, but she refused to take notice of it, except by an
added rigidity of demeanor.
Sennacherib's house stood back from the highway a hundred yards or
so beyond Ezra's. It was fenced all round by an ill-trimmed hedge of
hawthorn, and the only break in the hedge was made by the un-painted
wooden gate which led by a brick-paved walk to the three brick steps
before the door. The door stood open when Rachel reached it, and the
knocker being set high up and out of reach, she tapped upon the
wood-work with the handle of her sunshade. This summons eliciting no
response, she repeated it; but by-and-by the opening of a door within
the house let out upon her the sound of Sennacherib's voice, hitherto
audible only as an undefined and surly buzz.
Who's master i' this house? Sennacherib was askingthee or me?
If brag and swagger could ha' made a man the master, said a
feminine voice, in tones of feeble resignation, theer's no doubt it's
Brag and swagger? said Sennacherib.
Lord o' mercy! replied the feminine voice, what do you want to
shout a body deaf for? Brag and swagger was what I said, Sennacherib.
But if you think as a mother's heart is agoing to be overcome by that
sort o' talk, and as I shall turn my back upon my very own born child,
you've fell into the biggest error of your lifetime.
Rachel rapped again somewhat louder than before.
Canst choose betwixt that young rip and me, replied Sennacherib.
That's right; let the parish know your hard-heartedness! Theer's
somebody knockin' at the door. Go and tell 'em what you've made up your
wicked mind todo!
Sennacherib thrust his head into the hall and stared frowningly at
the visitor through his spectacles.
Good-morning, sir, said Rachel, with frigid politeness. I called
for the purpose of paying my respects to Mrs. Eld. If the moment is
inauspicious I will call again.
At the sound of her voice Mrs. Sennacherib appeareda large woman
of matronly figure but dejected aspect. She had been comely, but thirty
years of protest and resignation had lifted the inner ends of her
eyebrows and depressed the corners of her mouth until, even in her most
cheerful moments, she had a look of meek submission to unmeasured
Dear me! said Mrs. Sennacherib, sailing round her husband and down
the hall, it's Miss Blythe! Come in, my dear, and tek off your cloak
and bonnet. I'm glad to see you. I wondered if you was never comin' to
see me. And how be you? She bent over the little figure of her guest
and buried it in an embrace like that of a feather-bed. It's beautiful
weather for the time o' year, she continued, almost tearfully, and I
have been a-thinking of makin' a call upon you; but I'm short of
breath, and Eld is such a creetur he'd rather see a body stop in the
house as if it was a prison, than harness the pony and drive me half a
mile, to save his life.
Short o' breath! said Sennacherib. Thee talkest like one as is
short o' breath! Her talks enough, he added, addressing the visitor,
to break the wind of a Derby race-hoss.
Ah, said his wife, shaking her head in a kind of doleful triumph,
Miss Blythe won't ha' been long i' the village afore her'll know what
manner o' man you be, Sennacherib.
I'll leave thee to tell her, said Sennacherib, with a grunt of
scorn. If I'd ha' been the manner o' man you'd ha' liked for a
husband, I should ha' been despisable. My missishe addressed
his wife's visitor againought to ha' married a door-mat, then her
could ha' wiped her feet upon him wheniver the fancy took her.
With this he took his hat from a peg, stuck it at the back of his
head, and marched out at the open front door.
Ah, my dear, said Mrs. Sennacherib, you did a wise thing when you
made up your mind to be a single woman. The men's little more than a
worritthe best of 'emand even the childern, as is counted upon for
a blessin', brings trouble oftener nor j'y.
The visitor pinched her lips together and nodded, as if to say there
was no disputing this glaring statement. The hostess, stooping over
her, untied her bonnet-strings as if she had been a child, helped her
to remove her mantle, and then ushered her into a sitting-room which
looked upon a well-cultivated garden.
I wouldn't say, pursued the hostess, as I'd got a bad
husbandnot for the world. But he's that hard and unbendin' both i'
little things an' big uns. I've suffered under him now for thirty 'ear,
but I niver counted as he'd put the lad to the door and forbid his
mother to speak to him. Though as for that, my dear, he may forbid and
go on forbiddin' as long as theer's a breath in his body, but a
mother's heart is a mother's heart, my dear, though the whole world
should stand up again her.
Precisely, said Rachel.
The lad's just as unbendin' as his father, pursued Mrs.
Sennacherib, though in a lighter-hearted sort of a way. He's as gay as
the lark, our Snac is, even i' the face o' trouble, but there's no more
hope o' movin' him than theer'd be o' liftin' the parish church and
carryin' it to market. He's gone and married again his father's will,
and now his father's gone an' made his last dyin' testyment an' cut him
off wi' a shilling. He'll get my money, as is tied on me hard an' fast,
and that's my only comfort.
They may be reconciled, said Rachel. We must try to reconcile
Reconcile Sennacherib Eld! cried the wife, dolefully. Ah, my
dear, you don't know the man. Why, who's that? There's somebody
a-walkin' in as if the house belonged to 'em.
A young man in a stand-up collar, and trousers supernaturally tight,
appeared at the open door and nodded in a casual manner.
Mornin', mother, said the young man, cheerfully. Wheer's the
Mrs. Sennacherib screamed, and running at the new-comer began to
embrace him and to kiss him and cry over him.
Theer, theer! he said, after kissing her off-hand. Tek it easy.
Oh, Snac! cried his mother, if father should come in what should
Do? said the younger Sennacherib, why, set me down afore the
kitchen fire, an' mek me happetizin' afore he sets to work to eat me.
How be you, mum?
The younger Sennacherib's face was gay and impudent, with that
peculiar mingling of gayety and impudence which seems inseparable from
freckles. His face was mottled with freckles, and the backs of his
hands were of a dark yellowish brown with them.
This is Miss Rachel Blythe, said his mother, as was at school
with me when I was a gell. This is my poor persecuted child, Miss
Me, mum! said the persecuted child, standing with his feet wide
apart, and bending first one knee and then the other, and then bending
both together. The governor's out, is he?
He's only just gone, returned his mother. But, Snac, you'll only
anger him, comin' in i' this way. You'd better wait a bit and let
things blow over.
Well, said Snac, I shouldn't ha' come for any-thin' but business.
But I've got a chance o' doin' a bit o' trade with him. He's had his
mind set on Bunch's pony this two 'ear, an' Bunch an' him bein' at
daggers drawn theer was niver a chance to buy it. But me an' him bein'
split, old Bunch sells me the pony, and I called thinkin' he might like
to have it.
He laughed with great glee, and flicked one tightly clad leg with
the whip he carried.
Wait a bit, Snac, his mother besought him. Let it blow over a bit
afore approachin' him.
Wait for the Beacon Hill to blow over! said Snac, in answer. I've
no more expectations as the one 'll blow over than th' other. He'll do
what he says he'll do. That's the pattern he's made in. I've got no
more hopes of turnin' the governor than I should have if I was to go
and tell a hox to be a donkey. It's again his natur' to change, and
nothing short of a merracle 'll alter him. But as for livin' at enmity
with himwheer's the use o' that? He's all the feythers I've got, or
am like to find at my time o' life, and I must just mek the best on
A most commendable and Christian resolution, said Rachel,
Very nice and kind of you to say so, mum, Snac answered, setting
his hat a little more on one side, and bending both knees with a rakish
swagger. You can tell the governor as I called, mother. The pony's as
genuine a bit of blood as is to be found in Heydon Hay. The p'ints of a
hoss and a dog is a thing as every child thinks he knows about, but
bless your heart theer's nothing i' the world as is half so difficult
t' understand, unless it is the ladies. There was such an air of
compliment about the saving clause that Rachel involuntarily inclined
her head to it. You'll tell the governor as I was here, mother, Snac
concluded, stooping down to kiss her.
You mustn't ask me to do that, Snac, she answered. I dar' not
name your name.
Rubbidge! said Snac, genially. Does he bite?
It's for your sake, Snac, said his mother, not for mine. But I
dar' not do it.
Well, well, mayhap I shall light upon him i' the village. If I
shouldn't, I'll look in again. Good-mornin', mother, and good-day to
you, mum. I'm just goin' to drop in on Mr. Ezra Gold, seein' as I'm
this way. I'm told he wants to part with that shorthorn cow of hisn,
and I'm allays game for a bit o' trade.
Ah! said Mrs. Sennacherib, shaking her doleful head. He'll part
with everythin' earthly, poor man, afore he's much older.
Why, cried Snac, what's the matter with the man?
The young uns see nothin', Miss Blythe, said Mrs. Sennacherib,
shaking her head again, but this time with a sort of relish. But old
experienced folks can tell when any poor feller-creetur's time is
drawing nigh. His father went just at his time o' life by the same road
as he's a-takin'.
Well, what road is he takin'? her son demanded.
Look at his poor hands, said Mrs. Sennacherib, with a pitying
gusto. As thin as egg-shells, and with no more color in 'em than there
is in that cha-ney saucer. Hark to that dry cough as keeps on a
hack-hack-hackin' at him.
Pooh! cried young Sennacherib. He's been like that as long as I
can remember him.
Mark my words, his mother answered, with a stronger air of doleful
relish than before, he'll niver be like that much longer.
Theer's them as looks at the dark side, returned Snac, and them
as looks at the bright. Niver say die till your time comes. I'll go and
wake him up a bit, though he's no great hand at a bargain, and seems to
find less contentment in gettin' on the blind side of a man than most
on 'em. Good-mornin', mother; good-mornin', mum.
Snac took his way with a flourish, and his mother looked after the
tight-clad legs, the broad shoulders, the tall collar, and the rakish
hat with mournful admiration.
Do you think, asked the little old maid, coughing behind her hand,
and looking out of window as she spoke, as if the theme had but little
interest for her, that Mr. Ezra Gold is really unwell?
Yes, my dear, said Mrs. Sennacherib; he's got enough to last his
time, unless it should please the Lord to send him a new and suddener
affliction. I've seen a many go the same road. It's mostly the young as
bears his particular kind of sufferin', but it's on his face in as
plain readin' as the family Bible. He's a lonish sort of a man, save
for his nephew Reuben, but he'll ha' the parish for his mourners when
his time does come. The gentlest, harmlessest creetur as ever was a
neighbor is Ezra Gold.
Hem! said Aunt Rachel. The monosyllable was at once curt and
frozen. It implied as complete a denial as could have been expressed in
Why, what have you got again him? asked Mrs. Sennacherib.
I? said Rachel. Against whom, my dear creature?
Mrs. Sennacherib had spoken in the absolute certainty of impulse,
and found herself a little confused.
Mr. Gold, she answered, somewhat feebly.
What should I have against Mr. Gold? asked the old maid, with a
chill air of dignity and a pretence of surprise. She was not going to
take everybody into her confidence.
What, to be sure? said Mrs. Sennacherib, retiring from instinct.
In old days there used to be a sort of kindness between you; at least
it was said so.
It is a great pity that people cannot be taught to mind their own
business, said Rachel.
So it is, Miss Blytheso it is, Mrs. Sennacherib assented,
hastily. I hate them folks as has got nothing better to do than to
talk about their neighbors. But, as I was a-sayin', he's a-breakin' up
fast, poor man, and that's a thing as is only too clear to a old
experienced eye like mine. A beautiful sperrit the man's got, to be
sure, but allays a mild and sorrowful look with him. When me and
Sennacherib was first married, he'd a habit of coming over here with
'Saiah Eld and Mr. Fuller for the music. It was pretty to hear 'em, for
they'm all fine players, though mostly theer music was above my mark;
but sometimes they'd get him to play somethin' by himself, and then
'twas sweet. But he give up playin' all of a suddenI could niver mek
out why or wheer-for, an' I suppose it's over five-an'-twenty 'ear
since he touched the fiddle.
Now Mrs. Sennacherib, though not an untruthful woman as a general
thing, had an idea as to the why and wherefore of Ezra Gold's
withdrawal from the amateur ranks of Heydon Hay. She took most of her
ideas from her husband, though she was not accustomed to think so, and
it was he who had inoculated her with this one. She laid her small trap
for her old friend and school-fellow with an admirable nonchalance and
indifference of aspect, and looked at Rachel with an eye from which all
appearance of speculation was carefully abstracted.
He gave up playing? Rachel asked, with a tone of surprise.
Yes, said Mrs. Sennacherib, with a stolid-seeming nod. He give it
up clean. Why, now I come to think on it, I don't believe he iver
touched the music She paused in some confusion, and to cover this
feigned to consider. Let me see. He give up the music just about the
time as you went away to Barfield.
The old maid's lips twitched, her cheeks went pale, and a look of
absolute terror rose to her eyes.
I was always under the impression that nothing could have induced
him to give up his music. As I remember him he was peculiarly devoted
She did her best to speak indifferently, but her voice shook in
spite of her.
He give it up just about the time as you went away, repeated Mrs.
Sennacherib. I've heard our Sennacherib and his brother 'Saiah say
over and over again as since that time he niver so much as opened a
piece of music.
The little old maid arose with both hands on her heart,
tight-clasped there. Her eyes were wild and she panted as if for
Miss Blythe! cried the other, alarmed by her aspectRachel!
What's the matter? Why, my dear, you're ill! A glass o' wine; me own
mekin', my dear. Theer's no better elderberry i' the parish. Tek a
drop, now do; it'll do you good, I'm sure.
No, thank you, said Rachel, waving the proffered glass aside and
sinking back into her chair. It passes very soon. It is quite gone. I
thank you. Pray take no notice of my ailments, Mrs. Eld. I am sorry, to
have discommoded you, even for a moment.
She was her prim and mincing self again, though there was still a
tremor in her voice, and the exalted look in her young eyes was more
marked than common. After a little time she recovered herself
completely, and Mrs. Sennacherib entertained her for an hour with
mournful histories of death and burial. The good woman had a rare nose
for an invalid and a passion for nursing. Such of her old
school-fellows as had died since Rachel's departure had mostly been
nursed out of life under the care of Mrs. Sennacherib, and she was
intimate with the symptoms of all of them, from the earliest to the
latest. There was but little need for Rachel to talk at all when once
her hostess had entered upon this absorbing topic, and when the old
maid arose to go she had altogether recovered from the effect of
whatever emotion had assailed her.
She walked homeward so prim, so old, so withered, that ninety-nine
in a hundred would have laughed to know that she was living in the
heart of a love-story, and that story her own. But we rarely grow old
enough to forget our own griefs, howsoever cold the frost of age may
make us to the griefs of others.
The young Sennacherib, swaggering gayly from his unnatural parent's
door, was aware of something as nearly approaching a flutter as not
often disturbed the picturesque dulness of the village main street. By
some unusual chance there were half a dozen people in the road, and not
only did these turn to stare at him, but at least half a dozen others
peered at him from behind the curtains of cottage interiors, or boldly
flattened their noses against the bulbous little panes of glass in the
Theer's a look of summat stirrin' i' the place, gaffer, said Snac
to one ancient of the village.
Why, yis, Mr. Eld, theer is that sort of a air about the pläas
to-day, the old fellow answered, with a fine unconsciousness. But
then theer mostly is a bit of a crowd round our town pump.
The crowd about the town pump consisted of one slatternly small girl
and a puppy.
Can't a chap call on his feyther 'ithout the Midland counties
turnin' out to look at him? Snac asked, smilingly.
Yis, returned the ancient, who was conveniently deaf on a sudden.
Theer's been no such fine ripenin' weather for the wheat sence I wur a
Snac gave the riding-whip he carried a burlesque threatening
flourish, and the old boy grinned humorously.
Sin Joseph Beaker this mornin', Mr. Eld? he asked.
No, said Snac. What about him?
His lordship's gi'en him a set o' togs, said the old rustic, an'
he's drunker wi' the joy on 'em than iver I was with ode ale at
Aha! cried Snac, scenting a jest. Wheer is he?
Why, theer he is! said the rustic, and turning, Snac beheld Joseph
Beaker at that moment shambling round the corner of the graveyard wall,
followed closely by the youth of the village. The Earl of Barfield had
kept his promise, and had bestowed upon Joseph a laced waistcoata
waistcoat which had not been worn since the first decade of the
century, and was old-fashioned even then. It was of a fine crimson
cloth, and had a tarnished line of lace about the edge and around the
flaps of the pockets. Over this glorious garment Joseph wore a sky-bine
swallow-tail coat of forgotten fashion, and below it a pair of
knee-breeches which, being much too long for him, were adjusted midway
about his shrunken calves. A pair of hob-nailed bluchers and a battered
straw hat gave a somewhat feeble finish to these magnificences. As the
poor Joseph aired the splendors of his attire there was a faint and
far-away imitation of the Earl of Barfield in his gait, and he paused
at times after a fashion his lordship had, and perked his head from
side to side as if in casual observation of the general well-being.
Good-morning, Lord Barfield, cried Snac, as Joseph drew near.
It's a sight for sore eyes to see your lordship a-lookin' so young and
lusty. Joseph beamed at this public crowning of his loftiest hopes,
and would have gone by with a mere nod of lordly recognition but the
triumph was too much for him and he laughed aloud for joy. Well, bless
my soul! said Snac, in feigned astonishment, it's Mister Beaker. Send
I may live if I didn't tek him for the Right Honorable th' Earl o'
Barfield! Thee'st shake hands with an old friend, Mr. Beaker? That's
right. Theer's nothin' I admire so much as to see a man as refuses to
be carried away with pride. Joseph shook hands almost with enthusiasm.
Theer's nothin' o' that sort about me, Mr. Eld, he replied.
That I'm sure on, said Snac, with conviction. But how gay we be
to-day, Mr. Beaker.
It was my lord as gi'en me these, said Joseph, retiring a pace or
two to display his raiment, and gravely turning round in the presence
of the little crowd that surrounded him so that each might see the
fulness of its beauty.
At this moment Reuben Gold came swinging along the road with a green
baize bag under his arm. He was on his way to his uncle's house, and,
unobserved of Snac, took a place on the causeway to see what might be
the reason of this unusual gathering.
Now, said Snac, I never thought as Lord Barfield 'ud be so mean
as to do things in that half-an'-half manner. I should ha' fancied, if
Lord Barfield had took it into his head to set up an extra gentleman in
livery, he'd ha' done it thorough.
Joseph's countenance fell, and he surveyed his own arms and legs
with an air of criticism. Then he took hold of the gold-laced flaps of
the crimson waistcoat and laughed with a swift and intense approval.
Ain't this been done thorough? he demanded.
As far as it goes, Joseph, replied the jocular Snac, it's noble,
to be sure. Joseph became critical again, but again at the sight of
the gold-laced waistcoat his doubts vanished. But surely, surely,
Joseph, he should ha' gi'en you a pair o' them high collars as he
wears, and a cravat, to go along with a get out like that.
He might ha' done that, to be sure, said Joseph, tentatively.
Might ha' done it! cried Snac, with a voice of honest scorn. Ah!
and would ha' done it if he'd been half a man, let alone a peer of the
realm. For that's what he is, Josepha peer of the realm.
So he is, said the poor Joseph, who was rapidly sliding into the
trap which was set for him. You would have expected a peer of the
realm to do it thorough, wouldn't you?
Look here, Joseph, continued Snac, opening his trap wide, you go
and tell him. 'My lord,' says youa-speakin' like a man, Joseph, and
a-lookin' his lordship i' the face as a man in a suit of clothes like
them has got a right to do'my lord,' you says, 'you're as mean as
you're high,' says you. 'What for?' says he. 'Why,' says you, 'for
settin' a man out i' this half-an'-half mode for the folks to laugh at.
Give me a collar and a cravat this minute, you says,' or else be
ashamed o' thyself. Be ayther a man or a mouse.' That's the way to talk
to 'em, Joseph.
Think so? asked Joseph, with an air half martial and half
To be sure, cried Snac; and with one exception everybody in the
little crowd echoed To be sure!
I'll goo an' do it, said Joseph, thus fortified, this instant
Wait a bit Joseph, said Reuben Gold, I'm going that way. We'll go
a little of the road together.
Now, Mr. Gold, cried Snac, in a whisper, recognizing Reuben's
voice before he turned, don't you go an' spoil sport.
Snac, my lad, responded Reuben, smiling, it's poor sport.
He'd go an' tell him, said Snac, with a delighted grin. You can
mek him say annythin'.
That's why it's such poor sport, said Reuben. It's too easy. It's
sport to stand up for a bout with the sticks when the other man's a bit
better than you are, but it's no fun to beat a baby.
I like it better, Snac replied, with candor, when th' odds is on
t'other side. I like to be a bit better than t'other chap.
You like to win? That's natural. But you like to deserve a bit of
praise for winning; eh?
Reuben walked away with the rescued Joseph at his side. Joseph was
as yet unconscious of his rescue, and was fully bent upon his message
to the earl.
Theer's no denyin' that chap nothin, said Snac, looking after
Reuben's retiring figure. He's got that form an' smilin' manner as'll
tek no such thing as a no. An' lettin' that alone, he continued, again
relapsing into candor, he could punch my head if he wanted to, though
I'm a match for ere another man i' the parishand he'd do it too, at
anny given minute, for all so mild as he is.
He's the spit of what his uncle was, said the aged rustic. When
he was a lad he was the best cudgel-player, the best man of his hands,
and the prettiest man of his feet from here to Castle Barfield.
He's fell off of late 'ears, then, said Snac.
Ah! quavered the old fellow, it's time as is too many for the
best on us, Mr. Eld. Who'd think as I'd iver stood again all comers for
miles and miles around for the ten-score yards? I did though!
Didst? cried Snac. Then tek a shillin' and get a drop o' good
stuff wi' it, an' warm up that old gizzard o' thine wi' thinkin' o' thy
And away he swaggered, carrying his shilling's worth with him in the
commendations of the rustic circle. He was a young man who liked to be
well thought of, and to that end did most of his benefactions in the
In the mean time Reuben had disappeared with Joseph, and was already
engaged in spoiling the village sport. Joseph was so resolved upon the
collars and the cravat, and his imagination was so fired by the
prospect of those splendid additions to his toilet, that Reuben was
compelled to promise them from his own stores. Joseph became at once
amenable to reason, and promised to overlook his lordship's meanness.
Are you going to do anything for his lordship to-day, Joseph? his
protector asked him.
No, said Joseph. He's gi'en me a holiday. I tode him as 'twarn't
natural to think as a man 'ud want to go to work i' togs like thesen.
The fust day's wear, and all!
Well, if you should care to earn a shilling
I couldn't undertek a grimy job, said Joseph. Not to-day. A
A message? Could you take the message in a wheelbarrow, Joseph?
A barrer? Joseph surveyed his arms and legs, and then took a grip
of the laced waistcoat with both hands.
A message in a wheelbarrow for a shilling, and a pair of collars
and a black satin cravat to come I home in, Joseph.
Gaffer, said Joseph, it's a bargain.
Reuben's message was Ezra Gold's musical library, and the volumes
having been carefully built up in a roomy wheelbarrow, Joseph set out
with them at a leisurely pace towards his patron's home. Reuben on
first entering his uncle's house had laid the green baize bag upon the
table. When the books were all arranged, and Joseph had started away
with them, Reuben re-entered.
I've brought the old lady back again, uncle, he said.
You've eased her down, I hope, lad, said the old man, untying the
bag and drawing forth the violin. That's right. As for bringing her
back again, you remember what used to be the sayin' when you was a
child, 'Give a thing and take a thing, that's the devil's plaything.' I
meant thee to keep her, lad. It's a sin an' a shame as such a voice
should be silent.
Uncle, said Reuben, stammering somewhat, I scarcely like to take
her. It seems likelike trespassing on your goodness.
I won't demean th' old lady, returned Ezra. Her comes o' the
right breed to have all the virtues of her kind. Her's a Stradivarius,
Reuben, and my grandfather gi'en fifty guineas for her in the year
seventeen hundred an' sixty-one. A king might mek a present of her to a
king. And that's why in the natural selfishness of a man's heart I kep'
her all these 'ears hangin' dumb and idle on the wall here. I take some
shame to myself as I acted so, for you might ha' had her half a dozen
years ago, and ha' done her no less than as much justice as I could
iver ha' done her myself at the best days of my life. Her's yourn, my
lad, and I only mek one bargain. If you should marry and have children
of your own, and one of 'em should be a player, he can have her, but if
not, I ask you to will her to somebody as'll know her value, and handle
her as her deserves.
Reuben was embarrassed by the gift.
To tell the truth, uncle, he said, I should take her the more
readily if I'd coveted her less.
Bring her out into the gardin, lad, returned his uncle. Let's
hear the 'Last Rose' again.
Reuben followed the old man's lead. His uncle's house-keeper carried
chairs to the grass-plot, and there the old man and the young one sat
down together in the summer air, and Reuben, drawing a little
pitch-pipe from his pocket, sounded its note, adjusted the violin, and
played. Ezra set his elbows upon his knees and chin in his hands, and
sat to listen.
Lend her to me, lad, he said, when his nephew laid the instrument
across his knees. I don't knowI wonderLet's see if there is any of
the old skill left. His face was gray and his hands shook as he held
them out. Theer's almost a fear upon me, he said, as he took the
fiddle and tucked it beneath his chin. No, no, I dar' not. I doubt the
poor thing 'ud shriek at me.
Nonsense, uncle, answered Reuben, with a swift and subtle movement
of the fingers of the left hand, such as only a violin-player could
accomplish. I doubt if there is such a thing as forgetting when once
you have played. Try.
No, said the old man, handing back the fiddle. I dar' not. I
haven't the courage for it. It's a poor folly, maybe, for a man o' my
years to talk o' breakin' his heart over a toy like that, and yet, if
the tone wasn't to come after all! That 'nd be a bitter pill, Reuben.
No, no. It's a thousand to one the power's left me, but theer's just a
chance it hasn't. I feel it theer. The gaunt left-hand fingers made
just such a strenuous swift and subtle motion as Reuben's had made a
minute earlier. And yet it mightn't be. Reuben reached out the violin
towards him, but he recoiled from it and arose. No, no. I dar'n't
fail, he said, with a gray smile. I darn't risk it. Take her away,
lad. No, lend her here. A man as hasn't pluck enow in his inwards for a
thing o' that kindLend her here!
He seized the instrument, tucked it once more beneath his chin, and
with closed eyes laid the bow upon the strings. His left foot,
stretched firmly out in advance of the right, beat noiselessly upon the
turf, as if it marked the movement of a prelude inaudible except to
him. Then the bow gripped the strings, and sounded one soft,
long-drawn, melancholy note. A little movement of the brows, a scarcely
discernible nod of the head marked his approval of the tone, and after
marking anew the cadence of that airy prelude he began to play. For a
minute or more his resolve and excitement carried him along, but
suddenly a note sounded false and he stopped.
Ah-h-h! he cried, shaking his head as if to banish the sound from
his ears, take her, Reuben, take her. Give her a sweet note or two to
take the taste o' that out of her mouth. Poor thing! Strike up,
ladanything. Strike up!
Reuben dashed into The Wind that Shakes the Barley! and Ezra, with
his gaunt hands folded behind him, walked twice or thrice the length of
Theer's no fool like an old fool, he said, when he paused at his
nephew's side. Theer's nothing as is longed for like that as can niver
be got at. Good-day, lad. Tek her away and niver let anybody maul her
i' that fashion again, poor thing. I'll rest a while. Good-day,
Reuben thus dismissed shook hands and went his way, bearing his
uncle's gift with him. His way took him to Fuller's house, and finding
Ruth alone there he displayed his treasure and spent an hour in talk.
If he had said then and there what he wanted to say, the historic Muse
must needs have rested with him. But since, in spite of the promptings
of his own desire, the favorableness of the time, and the delightful
confusions of silence which overcame both Ruth and himself in the
course of his visit, he said no more than any enthusiast in music might
have said to any pretty girl who was disposed to listen to him, the
historic Muse is free to follow Joseph Beaker, with whom she has
In the ordinary course of things Joseph would have taken the
shortest cut to his patron's house, but to-day neither the weight of
the barrow-load, which was considerable, nor Joseph's objection to
labor, which was strongly rooted, could prevent him from taking the
lengthier route, which lay along the village main street, and therefore
took him where he had most chance of being observed. He made but slow
progress, being constantly stopped by his admirers, and making a
practice of sitting down outside any house the doors of which happened
to be closed, and there waiting to be observed. Despite the lingering
character of his journey he had already passed the last house but
oneMiss Blythe's cottageand was forecasting in the dim twilight of
his mind the impression he would make upon its inmate, when the little
old maid herself went by without a glance.
Arternoon, mum, said Joseph, setting down the wheelbarrow, and
spitting upon his hands to show how little he was conscious of the
glory of his own appearance.
Good-afternoon, said the old maid. Ah! Joseph Beaker? To
Joseph's great disappointment she took no notice of his attire, but her
eye happening to alight upon the books, she approached and turned one
of them over. Poor Joseph was not accustomed to read the signs of
emotion, or he might have noticed that the hand that turned the leaves
trembled curiously. What are these? she asked. Where are you taking
These be Mr. Ezra Gold's music-books, he answered. He's gi'en 'em
to his nevew, and I'm a-wheelin' of 'em home for him. Look heresee
what his lordship's gi'en to me.
But Miss Blythe was busily taking book after book, and was turning
over the leaves as if she sought for something. Her hands were
trembling more and more, and even Joseph thought it odd that so precise
and neat a personage should have let her parasol tumble and lie
unregarded in the dust.
Wheel them to my house, Joseph Beaker, she said at last, with a
covert eagerness. I want to look at them; I should like to look at
My orders was to wheel 'em straight home, returned Joseph. I
worn't told to let nobody handle 'em, but it stands to rayson as they
hadn't ought to be handled.
Wheel them to my door, said the little old maid, stooping for her
fallen sunshade. I will give you sixpence.
That's another matter, said Joseph, sagely. If a lady wants to
look at 'em theer can't be nothin' again that, I should think.
The barrow was wheeled to Miss Blythe's door, and Miss Blythe in the
open air, without waiting to remove bonnet, gloves, or mantle, began to
turn over the leaves of the books, taking one systematically after the
other, and racing through them as if her life depended on the task.
Rapidly as she went to work at this singular task, it occupied an hour,
and when it was all over the prim, starched old lady actually sat down
upon her own door-step with lax hands, and crushed her best new bonnet
against the door-post in a very abandonment of lassitude and fatigue.
Done? said Joseph, who had been sitting on the handle of the
wheelbarrow, occasionally nodding and dozing in the pleasant sunlight.
Miss Blythe arose languidly and gave him the promised sixpence. You'm
a wonner to read, you be, mum, he said, as he pocketed the coin. I
niver seed none on 'em goo at sich a pace as that. Sometimes my lord
'll look at one side of a noospaper for a hour together. I've sin him
Receiving no reply, he spat upon his hands again, and started on the
final course of his journey. Rachel closed the gate behind him, and
walked automatically into her own sitting-room.
There is no fool like an old fool, she said, mournfully. Then,
with sudden fire, I have known the man to be a villain these
six-and-twenty years. Why should I doubt it now?
And then, her starched dignity and her anger alike deserting her,
she fell into a chair and cried so long and so heartily that at last,
worn out with her grief, she fell asleep.
The church-bells made a pleasant music in Hey-don Hay on Sunday
mornings, and were naturally at their best upon a summer Sunday, when
the sunshine had thrown itself broadly down to sleep about the tranquil
fields. Heydon Hay was undisturbed by the presence of a single
conventicle in opposition to the parish church, and the leisurely
figures in the fields and lanes and in the village street were all bent
one way. In fine weather the worshippers were for the most part a
little in advance of time, and thereby found opportunity to gather in
knots about the lich-gate, or between it and the porch, where they
exchanged observations on secular affairs with a tone and manner dimly
tempered by the presence of the church.
Half a dozen people in voluminous broadcloth were already gathered
about the lich-gate when Fuller appeared, carrying his portly waistcoat
with a waddle of good-humored dignity, and mopping at his forehead. He
was followed by a small boy, who with some difficulty carried the
'cello in a big green baize bag. One or two of the loungers at the gate
carried smaller green bags, and while they and Fuller exchanged
greetings, Sennacherib and Isaiah appeared in different directions,
each with a baize-clothed fiddle tucked beneath his arm. The church of
Heydon Hay boasted a string band of such excellence that on special
occasions people flocked from all the surrounding parishes to listen to
its performances. The members of the band and choir held themselves
rather apart from other church-goers, like men who had special
dignities and special interests. They had their fringe of lay admirers,
who listened to their discussions on that theer hef sharp, which
ought to have sounded, or ought not to have sounded, in last Sunday's
Whether his lordship made a point of it or not, the Barfield
carriage was always a little late, and Ferdinand certainly approved of
the habit; but on this particular morning the young gentleman was
earlier than common and arrived on foot. The male villagers took off
their hats as he walked leisurely along, the female villagers bobbed
courtesies at him, and the children raced before him to do him a sort
of processional reverence. This simple incense was pleasant enough, for
he had spent most of his time in larger places than Heydon Hay, and had
experienced but little of the sweets of the territorial sentiment. He
walked along in high good-humor, and enjoyed his triumphal progress,
though he made himself believe that it was only the quaint, rural, and
Old-world smack of it which pleased him.
Here and there he paused, and was affable with a county elector, but
when he reached the lich-gate he was altogether friendly with Fuller
and Sennacherib, and shook hands with Isaiah with actual warmth.
Mr. Hales was dining at the Hall last night, he said. He told us
that some of the local people were in favor of an organ for the church,
and had talked about getting up a subscription, but he wouldn't listen
to the idea.
Should think not, said Sennacherib. Parson knows when he's well
Indeed he does, returned Ferdinand; he looks on the band as being
quite a part of the church, and says that he would hardly know the
place without it.
A horgin! grunted Sennacherib, scornfully. An' when they'd got
it, theer's some on 'em as 'ud niver be content till they'd got a
monkey in a scarlit coat to sit atop on it.
I hardly think they want that kind of organ, Mr. Eld, said
I do' know why they shouldn't, returned Sennacherib. It's nothin'
but their Christian humbleness as could mek 'em want it at all. The
Lord's made 'em a bit better off than their neighbors, an' they feel it
undeserved. It's castin' pearls afore swine to play for half on 'em
Fuller, with both hands posed on the baize-clad head of the 'cello,
which the small boy had surrendered to him some moments before, shook
his fat ribs at this so heartily that Sennacherib himself re laxed into
a surly grin, and then Ferdinand felt him self at liberty to laugh
You are rather severe upon your audience, Mr. Eld, he said.
A tongue like a file, our Sennacherib's got, said the mild Isaiah.
Touches nothin' but what he rasps clean through it.
Ferdinand raised his hat at this moment and made a forward step,
with his delicately gloved right hand extended.
Good-morning, Miss Fuller.
Mr. De Blacquaire prided himself, and not without reason, on his own
aplomb and self-possession, but he felt now a curious fluttering
sensation to which he had hitherto been an entire stranger.
Ruth accepted his proffered hand and responded to his salute, and
then shook hands with the two brethren. Ferdinand, with a jealousy at
which he shortly found time to be surprised, noticed that her manner in
shaking hands with these two stout and spectacled old vulgarians
differed in no way from her manner in shaking hands with him. This in
itself was a renewal of that calm, inexplicable disdain with which the
girl had treated him from the first. If rustic beauty had been
fluttered at his magnificent pressure, he could have gone his way and
thought no more about it; but when rustic beauty was just as cool and
unmoved by his appearance as if their social positions had been
reversed, the thing became naturally moving, and had in it a lasting
astonishment for leisure moments.
And there was no denying that the girl was surprisingly pretty.
Prettier than ever this Sunday morning, in a remarkably neat dress of
dove color, a demurely coquettish hat, and a bit of cherry-colored
ribbon. Rustic beauty was not altogether disdainful of town-grown aids,
it would seem, for Ferdinand's eye, trained to be critical in such
matters, noted that the girl was finely gloved and booted.
Her dress was like a part of her, but that, though the young
gentleman could not be supposed to know it, was a charm she owed to her
own good taste and her own supple fingers. The young gentleman might
have been supposed to know, perhaps, that her greatest charm of all was
her unconsciousness of charming, and it was certainly this which
touched him more than anything else about her.
There was no outer sign of the young Ferdinand's inward disturbance.
I am afraid, he said, resolute to draw her into talk with himself
if he could, though it were only for a moment, I am afraid that I have
made Mr. Eld very angry.
Ruth's brown eyes took a half-smiling charge of Sennacherib's surly
Seems, said Sennacherib, the young gentleman was a-dinin' last
night along with the vicar, and it appears as some o' the fools he
knows want to rob the parish church o' the band, and build a horgin.
The vicar won't listen to the idea, said Ferdinand. There was
only one opinion about it.
It would be a great shame to break up the band, Ruth answered,
speaking with vivacity, and addressing Ferdinand. Everybody would miss
it so. We would rather have the band than the finest organ in the
It happened, as such things will happen for the disturbance of
lovers, that just as Ruth turned to address Ferdinand, Reuben Gold
marched under the lich-gate and caught sight of the group. The girl,
her father, the two Elds, and the young gentleman were standing by this
time opposite the church porch, but as far away from it as the width of
the pathway would allow. Various knots of villagers, observing that his
lordship's guest had stayed to talk, stood respectfully apart to look
on, and, if it might be, to listen. Now Reuben, for reasons already
hinted at, disliked Mr. De Blacquaire. He was not, perhaps, quite so
conscious as Mr. De Blacquaire himself that all the advantage of the
differences between them rested on the young gentleman's side. Reuben
was not the sort of youngster who says to himself, I am a handsome
fellow, or I am a clever fellow, or I am a fellow of a good heart,
but in face of Ferdinand's obvious admiration of Ruth and his evident
desire to stand well in her graces he had sprung up at once to
self-measurement, and had set himself shoulder to shoulder with the
intruder for purposes of comparison. With all the good the love for a
good woman does us, with all the wheat and oil and wine it brings for
the nourishment of the loftier half of us, it must needs bring a
foolish bitter weed or two, which being eaten disturb the stomach and
summon singular apparitions. And when Reuben saw the girl of his heart
in vivacious public talk with a young man of another social sphere he
was quite naturally a great deal more perturbed than he need have been.
The gentleman admired her, and it was not outside the nature of things
that she might admire the gentleman. He came up, therefore, mighty
serious, and shook hands with Fuller and the brethren, and then with
Ruth, with an air of severity which was by no means usual with him. He
carried his violin case tucked beneath his arma fact which of itself
gave him an unworthy aspect in Ferdinand's eyesand he had shaken
hands with Ruth without raising his hat. A denizen of Heydon Hay who
had taken off his hat in the open air to a woman would have been
scoffed by his neighbors, and would probably have startled the woman
herself as much as his own sense of propriety. But all the same
Reuben's salute seemed mutilated and boorish to the man of more
finished breeding, and helped to mark him as unworthy to be the suitor
of so charming a creature as the rustic beauty.
Mr. De Blacquaire's a-tellin' us, Reuben, said old Fuller, as
theer's been some talk o' breaking up the church band and starting a
horgin i' the place on it.
That will end in talk, said Reuben, with a half-defiant,
half-scrutinizing look at Ferdinand, as if he charged him in his own
mind with having suggested the barbarism.
There is no danger that it will go further in the vicar's time,
returned Ferdinand. Besides, his lordship is as strongly opposed to
the change as anybody.
It's time we was movin' inside, lads, said Fuller, glancing up at
the church clock. Ruth inclined her head to Ferdinand, gave a nod and a
smile to Reuben (who nodded back rather gloomily), and passed like a
sunbeam into the shadow of the porch. Fuller took up his 'cello in a
big armful, and followed, with the brethren in his rear. Ferdinand,
feeling Reuben's company to be distasteful, lingered in it with a
perverse hope that the young man might address him, and Reuben stood
rather sullenly by to mark his own sense of social contrast by allowing
the gentleman to enter first.
Each being disappointed by the other's immobility and quiet, a
gradual sense of awkwardness grew up between them, and this was
becoming acute when Ezra appeared, and afforded a diversion. Under
cover of his uncle's arrival Reuben escaped into the church.
In the course of centuries the church-yard had grown so high about
the building that grass waved on a level with the sills of the lower
windows, and the church was entered by a small flight of downward
steps. The band and choir had a little bare back gallery to themselves,
and approached it by a narrow spiral stone staircase. There were no
side galleries, and band and choir had therefore an uninterrupted
survey of the building. Reuben valued his place because it gave him a
constant sight of Ruth, and perhaps, though the fancy is certain of
condemnation at the hands of some of the severer sort, the visible
presence of the maiden, for whose sake he hoped for all possible
excellences in himself, was no bad aid to devotion. She sat in a broad
band of tinted sunlight with her profile towards her lover, looking to
his natural fancy as if she caused the sunlight, and were its heart and
centre. Opposite to her and with his profile towards the music
gallery also, sat Ferdinand, and Reuben saw the young gentleman cast
many glances across the church in Ruth's direction. This spectacle
afforded no aid to devotion, and not even his music could draw the mind
or eyes of the lover from Ferdinand, whom he began to regard as being
an open rival.
There was enough in this reflection to spur the most laggard of
admirers into definite action, and before the service was over Reuben
had made up his mind. He would speak to Ruth after church, and at least
decide his own chances. The vicar's sermon was brief, for the good man
had no rival, and could afford to please himself; but its duration,
short as it was, gave Reuben ample time to be rejected and accepted a
score of times over, and to gild the future with the rosiest or cloud
it with the most tempestuous of colors. The Earl of Barfield, according
to his custom, had arrived late, and it comforted Reuben a little to
think that in his presence, at all events, the young gentleman could
make no progress with his love affairs. It comforted him further to see
that Ruth took no notice of the glances of her admirer, and that she
was to all appearance unconscious of them and of him.
But when once he had made up his mind to instant action, the vicar's
brief discourse began to drag itself into supernatural length. Facing
the preacher, and immediately beneath Reuben's feet, was a clock of
old-fashioned and clumsy structure, and the measured tick, tick of its
machinery communicated a faintly perceptible jar to a square foot or so
of the gallery flooring. The mechanical rhythm got into Reuben's brain
and nerves until every second seemed to hang fire for a phenomenal
time, and the twenty minutes' discourse dragged into an age. Even when
the vicar at last lifted his eyes from the neatly ranged papers which
lay on the pulpit cushion before him, laid down his glasses, and
without pause or change of voice passed on to the benediction, and even
when after the customary decent pause the outward movement of the
congregation began, Reuben's impatience had still to be controlled, for
it was the duty of the band to play a solemn selection from the works
of some old master while the people filed away. Reuben led, and since
the others must needs follow at the pace he set, the old master was led
to a giddier step than he had ever danced to in a church before.
Sennacherib was scandalized, and even the mild Fuller was conscious of
an inward rebellion. The taste in Heydon Hay was rather in favor of
drawl than chatter, and the old masters in their serious moods were
accustomed to be taken with something more than leisure.
Why, Reuben, lad, began Sennacherib, how didst come to let your
hand run away with your elber i' that way?
But Reuben, sticking his hat on anyhow, was gone before the old man
had finished his question, thrusting his violin into its case as he
made his way down the corkscrew stairs. A single glance assured him
that Ruth was no longer in the churchyard. The Earl of Barfield's
carriage blocked the way at the lich-gate, and the young fellow waited
in high impatience until the obstacle should disappear. His lordship,
in view of the approaching election, was much more amiable and
talkative than common, and he and his protégé stood exchanging talk
upon indifferent topics with a little crowd of church-goers, but in a
while the earl climbed slowly into the carriage. Ferdinand skipped
nimbly after him and the two were driven away. Reuben, with hasty nods
and good-mornings at one or two who would have detained him, strode
into the highway just in time to see the dove-colored dress turn at a
distant corner. He hurried after it at his swiftest walk, and reaching
the corner in the most evident violent hurry, narrowly escaped walking
over the object of the chase, who had halted in talk with Aunt Rachel
at the place where their homeward ways divided.
He had expected to find her still far ahead, and this sudden
encounter was amazingly disconcerting to him. To begin with, apart from
his real purpose he had no business whatsoever round that particular
corner. Then to pause suddenly in the midst of so violent a hurry was
in itself a plain proclamation of his intent, and his hot courage had
so rapidly gone cold that the change of inward temperature carried a
shock with it. Nevertheless, he stopped and stammered a disjointed
greeting to Rachel, who returned for sole answer an icy little nod,
pinching her lips together somewhat superciliously as she gave it.
Ruth, who would have been burdened by a shyness equalling Reuben's
own had he succeeded in catching her by herself, was bold enough in the
presence of one of her own sex, and observed the situation with a
delighted mischief. But this was changed, as swiftly as Reuben's
emotions themselves, to a state of freezing discomfort when Aunt Rachel
bolt upright, and with a mincing precision in her speech, demanded to
know if this youngahem!this person had any communication to make.
My dear aunt, said the poor girl, blushing scarlet, and casting an
appealing glance at Reuben.
You appeared to be in a hurry, Mr. Gold, said the terrible old
lady. My niece and I will not detain you.
Thank you, responded Reuben, shaken back into self-possession. I
am not in a hurry any longer.
Aunt Rachel turned right about face with an almost military
precision, and passing her arm through Ruth's led the girl away,
leaving Reuben shaken back into internal chaos. Ruth's blushing face
and humid brown eyes were turned towards him in momentary but keen
apology, and he was left standing alone on the cobbled pavement with a
feeling of perfect wreck.
Aunt Rachel! said the girl, as she suffered herself thus
ignominiously to be towed away. How could you make me behave so
Have nothing to do with those people, replied Aunt Rachel,
frigidly. They are bad, root and branch. I know them, my dear. That
young man has the audacity to admire you. You must not encourage him.
I am sure, said Ruth, guiltily, only half knowing what she said,
he has never spoken a word
It is not necessary to wait for words, returned the old lady. I
can see quite clearly. I am experienced. I know the Golds. I have been
familiar with the method of their villany for many years.
How can you speak so? the girl asked, recovering something of her
native spirit. I am sure that there is no better man in the world than
Mr. Ezra Gold. Everybody speaks well of him.
It is not quite accurate, my dear, said Aunt Rachel, to say that
everybody speaks well of him, when a person even so inconsiderable as
myself is in the act of speaking ill of him. The quaint veneer of
fashion with which for many years she had overlaid her speech and
manner was more apparent in this address than common, but suddenly she
broke through it and spoke with an approach to passion. I know them;
they are villains. Have nothing to do with any member of that family,
my dear, as you value your happiness. She pinched her niece's arm
tightly as she spoke, and for a little time they walked on in silence,
Ruth not knowing what to say in answer to this outburst, but by no
means convinced as yet of the villany either of Ezra or Reuben. Now,
my dear, Aunt Rachel began again, with a return to her customary
mincing tones, you are not far from your own residence. I observe,
with a swift glance over her shoulder, that the person still lingers
at the corner. But if he should attempt to follow you may rely upon me
to intercept him. My niece must act like my niece. You must show your
detestation of his odious advances in a proper manner.
But, Aunt Rachel! protested Ruth, he has never made any advances,
and II haven't any detestation.
All in good time, my dear, responded the old lady. In the mean
time, rely upon my protection. With this she stood up birdlike, and
pecked affectionately at Ruth's rosy cheek. The girl was well-nigh
crying, but restrained herself, and answered Rachel's God bless you
with some self-possession.
Good-morning, dear aunt. But you are quite, oh, quite mistaken.
Indeed, my dear, said Aunt Rachel, with a glitter in her youthful
eyes, and a compression of her mobile lips, I am nothing of the kind.
Ruth's eyes sank, and she blushed before the old lady's keen and
triumphant smile. She moved away downcast, while Aunt Rachel took the
opposite direction. The old lady wore a determined air which changed to
a sparkling triumph as she saw Reuben cross the road with an inelastic
step, and continue his homeward way with a head bent either in thought
When Reuben found time to gather himself together and to face his
own emotions he discovered himself to be more amazed than disconcerted.
He cast about in his mind for an explanation of the old lady's
displeasure, and found none. Why should she desire to insult him? In
what possible way could he have offended her? Even a lover (ingenious
as lovers always are in the art of self-torment) could not persuade
himself that Ruth was a willing party to her aunt's singular treatment
of him. The apology in her glance had been unmistakable.
He was altogether at a loss to understand in what way he could have
excited Miss Blythe's anger, but it was unpleasant to know that there
was an enemy in the camp which he had always thought entirely friendly.
With the exception of Ruth herself he had been sure of the approval of
His performance at the homely one o'clock dinner spread at his
mother's table was so poor as to be noticeable, and he had to endure
and answer many tender but unnecessary inquiries as to the state of his
health, and to pretend to listen while his mother related the
melancholy history of a young man who fell into a decline and died
through mere neglect of meal-times. When this narrative was over and
done with he escaped to his own room, carrying writing materials with
him, and sat down to express on paper the hopes he had fully meant to
express vocally an hour earlier. The golden rule for writing is to know
precisely what you want to say, but though Reuben seemed to know, he
found it hard to get upon paper. Half a score of torn sheets went into
the fire-grate, and were there carefully fired and reduced to ashes. It
was only the discovery that he was reduced to his final sheet of paper
which really screwed his courage to the sticking-point. Being once
there it held until the need for it was over; but when the letter was
written it would have followed its forerunners if there had but been
another sheet of paper in the house or the day had been anything but
Sunday. As it was, he let it stand perforce, enveloped and addressed it
in a sort of desperation, and put it in his pocket ready for personal
delivery. The quartette party always met on Sunday afternoons and
played sacred music. Not so long ago they had been used to meet in
church; but since the introduction of gas to the venerable building the
afternoon service had been abandoned and an evening service instituted
in its stead. The music-parties were held at Fuller's in the
summer-time, and Reuben's chance of a declaration by letter looked
simple and easy enough. It was but to slip the all-important note into
Ruth's hand with a petition to her to read it, and the thing was done.
He had time enough to do this over and over and over again in fancy as
he walked down the sunlit street with his violin case tucked under his
arm. He had time enough to be accepted and rejected just as oftento
picture and enjoy the rapture of the one event and the misery and
life-long loneliness entailed by the other. Every time his eager fancy
slipped the note into Ruth's fingers his heart leaped and his hands
went hot and moist, but if ever the screw of courage gave a backward
turn the thought of Ferdinand twisted it back to the sticking-point
again, and he was all resolve once more. The experience of ages has
declared that there is no better spur for the halting paces of a
laggard lover than that which is supplied by jealousy. The simplest
coquette that ever tortured hearts in a hay-field is aware of the fact,
and needs no appeal to the experience of ages to support her.
Reuben pushed the green gate aside, and entering upon the lawn,
found Fuller in the act of carrying the table to its customary place.
He had been so free of the house, and had been for years so accustomed
to enter it and leave it at his will, that there was nothing in the
world but his own restraining sense of shyness to prevent him from
walking past his host with the merest salutation and fulfilling his own
purpose then and there. But the trouble was that to his own disturbed
feeling Fuller would infallibly have guessed his purpose, and either of
the other members of the quartette arriving, or any chance visitor
strolling in, would have known in a moment that he could have no other
reason for entering the house than to ask Ruth's hand in marriage. So
he stood somewhat awkwardly by the table, while Fuller re-entered the
house and, after a little pause, returned with a pile of music.
This here's one of Ezra's books, I reckon, said the elder,
singling one volume from the pile. It's the one you browt here the day
he gi'en you his libery.
Ah! said Reuben, Manzini? That was the last music he opened for
his own playing, so he told me. He fluttered the leaves, glancing
towards the house meanwhile, but seeing nothing of his goddess. Fuller
contented himself with a mere grunt in answer to Reuben's statement,
and rolled off into the house once more, returning this time with his
'cello. He propped the instrument tenderly against the table, and,
seating himself near it, began to arrange the music. Reuben still stood
awkwardly fingering the leaves of Manzini's duets, when Ruth appeared
at the house door. He had made but a step towards her, and had not even
made a step in his mind towards reading the half-shy, half-appealing
aspect she wore, when the prim figure of Aunt Rachel appeared from
behind her, and the old woman, with defiance expressed in every line
and gesture, laid her mit-tened hand on the girl's arm and advanced by
her side. Reuben stood arrested, and made a bow which he felt to be
altogether awkward. Ruth's brown eyes drooped, and she blushed, but she
found courage a second or two later for a glance of appeal which Reuben
did not see. He offered chairs to the old woman and the young one as
they came near him, but Rachel, with a stony little nod, walked by,
taking her niece with her.
The young man took instant counsel with himself. He sat down near
the table with Manzini's oblong folio in his lap, and, turning the
pages here and there, selected a moment when he was unobserved, and
slipped his missive between the front board of the binding and the
first blank leaf. It would be strange if he could not find time to
whisper, Look in Manzini before the day was over; and even if that
course should fail he could at least forward his letter by the
penny-post, though that would imply a delay of twelve hours, and was
hardly tolerable to think of. If he missed the opportunity for that
hasty whisper he would carry Manzini away, and so re-secure possession
of his letter.
While he was planning thus, Rachel and her niece were walking up and
down the grass-plot, and the old lady was talking away at a great rate,
describing the glories of the house of Lady De Blacquaire, and
affecting to be absorbed in her theme. She was not so much absorbed,
however, that her manner did not clearly indicate her misliking sense
of Reuben's nearness every time she passed him, though she did not so
much as cast a glance in his direction. By-and-by the two Elds
appeared, and the customary business of the afternoon began. Reuben had
much ado to pin himself down to the music, but he succeeded fairly
well, and gave nobody reason to suppose that his mind wandered far and
often from his task. It was well for his repute for sanity, especially
after the wild leadership at morning service, that he was familiar with
the theme. Even when his thoughts wandered farthest he was mechanically
accurate. All the time the book with the all-important missive in it
lay on the table before him, and in his fancy disasters were constantly
happening which revealed his secret. He repeated the terms of the note
again and again, and added to it and altered it and resolved to rewrite
it, and again resolved to leave it as it was.
The afternoon party received an unusual addition in the persons of
Mrs. Sennacherib and Mrs. Isaiah, who arrived when the performers were
half-way through their programme.
I forgot to tell thee, Reuben, lad, said Fuller, Ruth's got a bit
of a tay-party this afternoon, and thee beest to stop with the rest on
Thank you, said Reuben; I shall stay with pleasure. He felt
Rachel's disapproving glance upon him, and looking up met it for a
moment, and returned it with a puzzled gravity. She was standing alone
at a little distance from the table, and Ruth and the two new arrivals
were in the act of entering the house. Reuben obeyed the impulse which
moved him, and rising from his place crossed over to where the little
old lady stood. May I ask, he said, how I came to fall under your
displeasure, Miss Blythe? He glanced over his shoulder to assure
himself that nobody took especial note of him, and spoke in a low and
Miss Blythe made the most of her small figure, glanced with extreme
deliberation from his eyes to his boots and back again, and, turning
away, followed her niece and the two new arrivals, walking with an air
of exaggerated dignity. Reuben, returning to his seat, had to make
great play with his pocket-handkerchief to cover the signs of confusion
which arose at this rebuff. Miss Blythe could scarcely have expressed a
livelier contempt for him if he had been a convicted pick-pocket.
His share of the music went so ill after this that he excited
something like consternation in the minds of his friends.
What's come to the lad, 'Saiah, asked Sennacherib.
Bist a bit out o' sorts, Reuben, bisent? said Isaiah, mildly
I can't play to-day, Reuben answered, almost fretfully. Let us
try again. No. There's nothing the matter. Nothing in the world. Let us
They tried again, and by dint of great effort Reuben kept control
over himself and escaped further disgrace, although at one time Ruth's
sympathetic, shy look almost broke him down, and at another, Rachel's
stony gaze so filled him with wonderment and anger that he had much ado
to save himself from falling.
Ruth retired to superintend the preparation of the tea-table
within-doors, and Rachel followed her. In their absence he got on
better, but it was almost as great a relief as he had ever known to
find that the concert at last was over, and that he could give
unrestrained attention to the thoughts which pressed upon him.
Tea is ready, said Ruth, standing in the doorway, and shading her
eyes from the afternoon sunlight with one hand. Rachel surveyed the
quartette party from the window, but Reuben could see that she was held
in talk by Mrs. Sennacherib.
This may be my only chance to-day, said the lover to himself, with
one great heart-beat and a series of flutterings after it. He
controlled himself as well as he might, and with a single glance
towards Ruth stood a little behind the rest and feigned to arrange the
music on the table.
Isaiah and Sennacherib went first, and Fuller waddled in their rear.
Reuben, after as long a pause as he dared to make, followed them, and
raising his eyes saw that Ruth stood just without the door-way making
room for her guests to pass. Would she give him a chance for a word?
The girl saw the unconscious pleading in his eyes, and blushing, looked
on the ground. But she kept her place, and Reuben coming up to her just
as Fuller's burly figure rolled out of sight through the door of the
sitting-room, took both her hands in his, not knowing in his eagerness
that he dared to advance so far, and murmured,
Ruth, look in the Manzini. The duets. The book my uncle gave me.
Niece Ruth, said Rachel's voice from the sitting-room door-way.
Reuben dropped the hands he held, becoming conscious in that action
only of the fact that he had taken them, and stepped into the dusky
passage, thankful for the gloom, for he felt that he was blushing like
a boy. Ruth had made a guilty start forward into the garden, and did
not pause until she had reached the table. I beg your pardon, sir,
said Rachel, frostily, as she moved aside to make room for Reuben to
pass her, but when she had once seen the young people wide apart she
was satisfied, and forbore to call the girl again.
Look in the Manzini, Reuben had said, and the girl, almost without
knowing it, had paused with her hands resting on the glazed brown
mill-board which bound it. He would think, if she opened the book at
once, that she was curiously eager to obey him, and her heart told her
pretty truly what she would find when she looked there. The fear almost
made her turn away; but then, since she was there, if she did not care
to look he would think her cruelly disdainful. Was anybody watching
her? In every nerve she felt the eyes of all the party in the
sitting-room as if they actually pierced and burned her. But standing
with bent head, with an attitude of reverie which she felt to be
unspeakably guilty, she raised the board with an air of chance, a
semblance of no interest touching her featuresas though that could
influence anybody, since her face was hiddenand saw a letter with her
name upon it. To lay one hand upon this, and to slip it into the pocket
of her dress while actually turning with a look of nonchalance towards
the sitting-room window, was felt by the criminal herself to be the
most barefaced and wickedest of pretences. To make the tour of the
garden afterwards with the letter in her pocket, and to gather flowers
for a bouquet for the tea-table, while tea was actually ready and
everybody was awaiting her, was at once a necessity, an hypocrisy, and
a dreadful breach of good-manners.
She took her place at the tea-table with perfect innocence and
unconsciousness of aspect; but Reuben looked guilty enough for two,
until the genuine gravity of the situation recalled him to himself,
when he began to look as solemn as a graven image, and returned wry
answers to the talk of those about him. There was no calling back his
declaration now, and he felt it to be clumsy beyond expression, and
inadequate alike to his sense of Ruth's perfections and his own poor
deserts. No man can quite know, until he has tried it, how severe an
ordeal it is to sit at table with the lady of his heart, while that
lady has his declaration, as yet unread, in her pocket.
Ruth was so self-possessed and tranquil that it was evident to her
lover's masculine understanding that she was ignorant of the nature of
his missive, and probably indifferent to it. Reuben's anxiety and
preoccupation were in themselves a gladness to the girl, for they bore
out the delightful prophecy of her own heart. She had always thought
Reuben, even when she was a school-girl, the handsomest and manliest
and cleverest of men. If it were unmaidenly to have thought so, and to
allow her heart to be captured by a man who had never spoken a word of
open love to her, she must be called unmaidenly. But there was never a
purer heart in the world, and the sophistications of experience,
vicarious or otherwise, had not touched her. It came natural to love
Reuben, and perhaps the young man's eyes had made more of an excuse for
her than would readily be fancied by those who have never experimented.
It may be, if the truth were known, that the maiden found the
situation almost as trying as her lover, for there was a most
tantalizing element of uncertainty in it, and uncertainty is especially
grievous to the feminine heart. But at last her duty as hostess no
longer severely holding her, she left the room, ostensibly to assist in
clearing away the tea-things, and was no sooner out of sight than she
skimmed like a swallow to her own chamber and there read Reuben's
letter. When she came back again Reuben knew that she had read it, and
knew, too, that she had read it with favor and acceptance. There was a
subtle, shy, inward happiness in Ruth's heart which diffused itself for
her lover's delight as if it had been a perfume. Not another creature
but himself and her knew of it, and yet to him it was real, and as
evident as anything he saw or touched.
Once or twice she looked at him so sweetly, so shyly, so tenderly,
and yet withal so frankly, that his heart ached with the desire he felt
to rise and clasp her in his arms and claim her for his own before them
all. Aunt Rachel looked at him once or twice also, as if she stabbed
him with an icicle, but he glanced back with a smile sunny enough to
have thawed the weapon if only the bearer of it had been within
Rachel did not read her niece, for the simple reason that she was
too resolved on reading what she supposed herself to have written to be
able to trace the characters of mere nature. But she partly read the
young man's triumph, and adjudged it as a piece of insolence,
determining that he should be punished for it richly, as he deserved.
She had exposed the character of the Golds to her niece, and had told
her that they were wicked and bad and shamelessmale jilts, whose one
delight it was to break feminine hearts. Ruth would certainly believe
what she had been told on such unimpeachable authority, and would never
dream of permitting herself to be duped by a man of whom she knew so
much beforehand. Any airs of triumph the young man might display were
therefore ridiculous and insolent, deserving both of chastisement and
Ruth's household occupations took her away a second time, and if she
chose to fill a mere two or three minutes by writing a note to a young
man who sat within six yards of her, nobody suspected her of being so
engaged. When she came back to her visitors, Reuben would fain have
made opportunity to be near her, but Rachel was unwinking in her
watchfulness, and he was compelled to surrender his design. The bells
began to ring for evening church, and Ruth and the womenfolk went
up-stairs to make ready for out-of-doors. The quartette party sat
downstairs with open windows, each of the three seniors pulling gravely
at a long church-warden, and the junior pretending to look at an
old-fashioned book of beauty, in which a number of impossible ladies
simpered on the observer from bowers of painted foliage.
Sitting near the window with his back to the garden, and deeply
absorbed in his own fancies, he found himself on a sudden impelled to
turn his head, not because of any sound that reached him, but because
of some curious intuition of Ruth's neighborhood to him. She was
walking towards him at that moment, her footsteps falling soundlessly
on the greensward, her face blushing and her eyes downcast. As she
passed him and entered the house she raised her eyes for a moment, and
Reuben read in them a sweet, enigmatical intelligence, and a charmed
shyness so delicious that he thrilled at it from head to feet.
He longed, as any lover may imagine of him, to exchange a word with
her. He was certain, but he desired to be more than certain. To know
was nothinghis heart demanded to hear the good news and to be
surfeited with hearing. But the small dragon still guarded his
Hesperides, and on the way to church he escorted Mrs. Isaiah, a matron
gaunt and stern, whose cheerful doctrine it was that any spoken word
not made actually necessary by the business of life was a sin. Mrs.
Isaiah's grim reticence was less of a trouble to him than it would have
been under ordinary circumstances, for he had his own thoughts to
think, and did not care to be drawn away from them.
At the lich-gate Aunt Rachel paused to shake hands with everybody
but Ruth and Reuben.
You had better take Manzini home to-night, Reuben, said Ruth. She
tried hard to make her voice commonplace; but to Reuben's ears there
was a meaning in it, and his eyes answered to the meaning with such a
flash of tenderness and assured joy that, in spite of all she could do,
Ruth must needs lower her head and blush again.
Rachel's youthful eyes flashed from one to the other.
I do not propose to attend the service this evening, Niece Ruth,
she said, a minute later, when Reuben and his confrere had
entered on the cavernous darkness of the winding stairway. I will call
for you, however, she added. I shall be in the porch at the close of
At the first clause of this speech Ruth rejoiced, but at the second
her sense of relief was spoiled.
Very well, dear, she answered. Aunt Rachel could not stand much
longer between her and Reuben, and if a fight should have to be made it
would be early enough to begin it when she had her father definitely on
her side, as she would have to-morrow. So she went into church and made
strenuous efforts to attend to the service and the sermon, and failed
dismally, and thought herself terribly profane.
Aunt Rachel, being left alone at the church porch, turned away and
walked straight back to the house she had left. The green door in the
high wall needed no more than a push to open it, and Rachel entered the
garden, and, walking straight to the table at which the quartette party
had sat playing an hour or two earlier, laid hands upon Manzini's
volume of duets for the violin. She took it by the back of the cover
and gave it a shake, and out from its pages fell a neatly folded little
note, addressed in her niece's hand to Mr. Reuben Gold, and sealed in
bronze wax with the impress of a rose. The little old lady pounced upon
it, and held it at arm's-length in both hands.
Infatuated child! she said, in her primmest and most fashionable
accent. My premonitions have not deceived me.
She placed the note in the bosom of her dress, set the book in its
former position upon the table, and left the garden. Nobody looking at
her could have supposed that she had been guilty of such an act; for if
ever conscious rectitude and high resolve for good shone in a human
face, they lighted hers. Once she stopped short in the lonely lane, and
stamped one small foot with lofty emphasis.
The very method! she said aloud, in a voice of scorn. For aught I
know, the very book! You shall not suffer as I have suffered, my poor
dear child. I thank Heaven that I am at hand to preserve you.
Thus animated by her own self-approval, Aunt Rachel, sometimes in
scorn, sometimes in tenderness, but of tener in triumph, walked
homeward, waited the due time, and walked back to church again. She
succeeded in getting Ruth away without a sight of Reuben, but the young
man passed them on their way with a step still quicker than he had used
that morning. He threw a gay good-night, Ruth, over his shoulder as
he walked, and Ruth felt the old lady's hand tighten on her arm, though
she was far from guessing the nature of the emotion which moved her.
Once out of sight in the summer dusk, Reuben ran. He reached the
green door, and with no surprise found it wide open. He approached the
table, seized the old folio? and turning it back downward so that
nothing could fall from it, sped home, hugging it by the way. When he
reached his own room he was breathless, but he struck a light, drew
down the blinds, and turned over the leaves of the music-book one by
one. In the centre of the book he paused, for there he seemed to find
the object of his search. A note, bearing for sole superscription Mr.
Gold, was pinned to the edge of the page. But was that quaint,
old-fashioned handwriting Ruth's? Why should she write to him on paper
so old and yellow and faded? Why should the very pin that held it to
the page be rusted as if it had been there for years?
The note was sealed with two wafers, and the paper cracked across as
he opened it. It began Dear Mr. Gold, and was signed R. It ran
I have not ansrd your estmd note until now, though in receipt of it
since Thursday, for I dare not seem precipitate in such a matter. But I
have consulted my own heart, and have laid it before the Throne,
knowing no earthly adviser. Dear Mr. Gold, it shall be as you wish, and
I trust God may help me to be a worthy helpmeet. So no more till I hear
again from you.
It was impossible that this should be meant for him, or that Ruth
should have written it; but though he searched the book from cover to
cover, there was no other missive to be found within it.
That is a very insolent young man, said Aunt Rachel, as Reuben
threw his hurried greeting over his shoulder in the dusk.
Indeed, aunt, the girl answered, a little more boldly than she
would have dared to speak had the light been clearerindeed, aunt,
you are quite mistaken about him, and I don't understand why you should
speak of Mr. Gold and his uncle as you do.
She cared less what Rachel thought or said of Reuben's uncle, though
she had always had a friendly and admiring friendship for the old
solitary, than she cared what was thought and said of Reuben. But it
was easier to champion the two together than to defend her lover alone.
You are a child, said Aunt Rachel, composedly. What do you know
of the opposite sex?
The question was obviously outside the range of discussion, but it
silenced Ruth for the moment. The elder woman presumed upon her
triumph, and continued:
Confidence is natural to youth. That is an axiom I have frequently
heard fall from the lips of my dear mistress. As you grow older you
will grow less positive in your opinions, and will be careful to have a
solid foundation for them. Now I know these people, and you do not.
My dear aunt, said Ruth, in protest, I have known Mr. Gold ever
since I could walk.
Of which Mr. Gold are we speaking? demanded Rachel.
It is true of both of them, Ruth answered. Neither of them would
harm a fly, or go a hair's-breadth from the truth for all the world.
They are the best men I have ever known.
Niece Ruth! said Rachel, stopping short in her walk, and bringing
Ruth to a halt also, upon the only occasion, since my return to Heydon
Hay, on which I have found myself in the society of Mr. Ezra Gold, I
took you into my confidence with respect to him. That is to say, I took
you into my confidence as much as I have ever taken anybody. Mr. Ezra
Gold is a mean and hypocritical person. Mr. Ezra Gold is a person who
would not stop at any act of baseness or cruelty. Mr. Ezra Gold is a
All this came from the old maid's lips with a chill and prim
precision, which troubled her hearer more than any heat or violence
could have done. But the old man's face and figure were before her with
a wonderful vivid clearness. The stoop was that of fatigue, and yet it
had a merciful mild courtesy in it too, and the gray face was eloquent
I can't believe it! cried the girl, warmly. Dear aunt, there must
have been some terrible mistake. I am sure he is a good man. You have
only to look at him to know that he is a good man.
A whited sepulchre, said Aunt Rachel, walking on again. She had
kept her mittened hand upon the girl's arm throughout the pause in
their walk, and her very touch told her that Ruth was wounded and
indignant. What I say, I say of my own knowledge. He is a deliberate
and a cruel villain.
The girl contained herself and was silent. In a little while she
began to think with an almost tragic sense of pity of the withered and
lonely old maid who walked beside her. She could pity thus profoundly
because she could image herself in the like case; and though the figure
she saw was far from being clear, her own terror of it and revolt from
it told her how terrible it was. If she and Reuben should part as her
aunt and Ezra had partedif she should ever come to think of Reuben as
Aunt Rachel thought of Ezra! The thought touched her with an arctic
sense of cold and desolation. She drew away from it with an inward
shudder, and in that instant of realization she saw the little old
maid's personality really and truly standing in the middle of that
bleak and frost-bound barrenness which she had dreamed as a possibility
for herself. For the first time she saw and understood, and anger and
bewilderment were alike swept away in the warm rush of sympathetic
The road was lonely, and Ruth, with both eyes brimming over, placed
her arm about her aunt's neck, and, stooping, kissed her on the cheek.
Two or three of the girl's tears fell warm on Rachel's face, and the
old maid started away from her with a sudden anger, which was less
unreasonable than it seemed. She had of late years had an inclination
to linger in talk about the theme of woman's trust and man's perfidy.
For Ruth, and for Ruth only, she had identified this theory of hers
with a living man who was known to both, but she had never intended
herself to be pitied. She had never asked for pity in insisting that a
righteous judgment should be dealt out to Ezra Gold. She had cried in
Ruth's presence after her meeting with Ezra, but she had persuaded
herself that her tears resulted from nothing more than the shock she
felt at meeting an old repulsion. And since she had got to believe
this, it followed as a thing of course that Ruth ought also to have
believed it. The girl's pity wounded her and shamed her.
Thank you, she said, in her chillest and primmest fashion, as she
withdrew from Ruth's embrace. I am not in want of pity. It was in her
mind to tell Ruth to beware lest she herself should be in need of pity
shortly; but she suppressed herself at considerable cost, and walked on
stiffly and uncomfortably upright.
I am very sorry, dear, said Ruth. I did not mean to hurt you.
But Rachel was very indignant, and it was only as she remembered the
purloined letter that she consented to be appeased. After all, she had
taken the girl's welfare in hand, and had interested herself so kindly
in her niece's behalf that she could not bear to be angry with her. So
she permitted a truce to be called, and on Ruth's renewed apologies
asked graciously that no more should be said about the matter. They
parted at the green door of the garden, and Rachel, walking homeward,
pondered on one important question. Ought she or ought she not to know
the contents of the letter? Without knowing them, how could she know
exactly the length to which her niece and the intending worker of her
ruin had already gone together? It was necessary to know that, and she
slid her hand into the bosom of her dress, and held the letter there,
half resolving to read it on her arrival at home. But although, as her
theft of the letter itself would prove, her ideas of honor were quaint,
they were strong. She had constituted herself Niece Ruth's guardian,
and she meant to fulfil all her self-imposed duties to the letter, but
there was one whose rights came before her own. The letter should be
opened in the presence of Ruth's father, and the two authorities should
consult together as to what might be done.
She cast about for a safe and unsuspicious resting-place for the
letter, and at last decided upon the tea-caddy.
She placed it there, locked it up, and by the aid of a chair and a
table stowed it securely away in the topmost corner of a tall cupboard.
Then, having hidden the key in the parlor chimney, she went to bed and
to sleep, profoundly convinced that she had adopted the wisest of
possible courses, and that Niece Ruth would be saved in the morning.
Meantime Aunt Rachel's antique griefs being out of sight for Ruth,
were out of mind. She had her own affairs to think of, and found them
at once pressing and delightful. By this time Reuben would have read
her note, and would know all it had to tell him. When she thought how
much it told him it seemed daring and strange, and almost terrible that
she should have written it. For it admitted that his letter had made
her very happy; she was not quite sure that she had not written very,
very happy, and wished it were to write again. But here in the
solitude of her own chamber she could kiss Reuben's letter, and could
rest it against her hot cheek in an ecstasy of fluttering
congratulations. How he looked, how he walked, how he talked, how he
smiled, how he played! How brave, how handsome, how altogether noble
and good and gifted he was! There was nobody to compare with him in
Heydon Hay, and the young men of Castle Barfield were contemptible by
comparison with him. A human sun before whose rays other young women's
luminaries paled like rush-lights! She seemed to have loved him always,
and always to have been sure that he loved her; and yet it was
wonderful to know it, and strange beyond strangeness to have told. She
fancied him in the act of reading her letter, and she kissed his as she
did so. Did he kiss hers? Was he as glad as she was? At these audacious
fancies she hid herself and blushed.
Reuben all this while, and until a much later hour, was bewildering
himself about the curious and old-fashioned missive he had discovered
between the melodious pages of Manzini. Over and over again he searched
through the volume, though he had already turned it leaf by leaf and
knew that there was no chance of his having overlooked anything. Almost
as often as he turned over the leaves of the music-book he reread the
note he had taken from it. He questioned himself as to the possibility
of his having allowed Ruth's note to fall, and mentally retraced his
own fashion of taking up the book, and step by step the way in which he
had carried it home. He was sure that nothing could have escaped from
its pages since he had laid hands upon it, and was confronted with a
double mystery. How had this time-stained epistle found its way into
the pages, and how had the more modern missive be had fully expected to
find there found its way out of it?
Suddenly an idea occurred to him which, though sufficiently
far-fetched, seemed as if it might by chance explain the mystery. Long
and long ago a son of the house of Gold had married a daughter of the
house of Fuller. It was not outside the reasonable that Ruth should
have had possession of this old document, in which a Ruth of that
far-distant day had accepted a member of his own household. She might
have chosen to answer him by this clear enigma, but a sense of
solemnity in the phrasing of the letter made him hope his guess untrue.
Desperate mysteries ask naturally for desperate guesses, and Reuben
guessed right and left, but the mystery remained as desperate as ever.
His thoughts so harried him that at last, though it was late for Heydon
Hay, he determined to go at once to Fuller's house and ask for Ruth.
He slipped quietly down-stairs, and, leaving the door ajar, walked
quickly along the darkened road, bearing poor Rachel's long-lost letter
with him; but his journey, as he might have expected, ended in blank
disappointment. Fuller's house was dark. He paced slowly home again,
refastened the door, and went to bed, where he lay and tossed till
broad dawn; and then reflecting that he would catch Ruth at her
earliest household duties, fell asleep, and lay an hour or two beyond
his usual time.
But if Reuben were laggard the innocent guardian dragon was early
astir. Fuller, in his shirt-sleeves and a broad-brimmed straw hat, was
pottering about his garden with a wheelbarrow and a pair of shears. He
saw her at the open door of the garden, and sang out cheerily,
Halloo, Miss Blythe! Beest early afoot this mornin'. I'm a lover o'
the mornin' air myself. Theer's no time to my mind when the
gardin-stuff looks half as well. The smell o' them roses is real
He gave a loud-sounding and hearty sniff, and smacked his lips after
it. Rachel seemed to linger a little at the door.
Come in, said Fuller, come in. There's nobody here as bites.
Beest come to see Ruth? I doubt if her's about as yet. We ode uns bin
twice as early risin' as the young uns, nowadaysen. Wait a bit and I'll
gi'e her a bit of a chi-hike. Her'll be down in a minute.
No, said Rachel, don't call her. I do not wish to see her yet. It
will be necessary to see her later on; but first of all I desire to
speak to you alone. Fuller looked a little scared at this exordium,
but Rachel did not notice him. He had never known her so precise and
picked in air and speech as she seemed to be that morning, and through
all this a furtive air of embarrassment peeped out plainly enough for
even him to become aware of it. May we sit down at this table? she
asked. I presume the chairs are aired already by the warm atmosphere
of the morning? There is no danger of rheumatism?
What's up? inquired Fuller, sitting down at once, and setting his
shirt-sleeved arms upon the table. Theer's nothin' the matter, is
You shall judge for yourself, replied Rachel. She drew a letter
from her pocket, and covering it with her hand laid it on the table. A
distinct odor of tea greeted Fuller's nostrils, and he noticed it even
then. I presume that you are not unacquainted with the character of
the Messrs. Gold?
It 'ud be odd if I warn't acquynted with 'em, said Fuller. I've
lived i' the same parish with 'em all my days.
That being so, said Rachel, you will be able to appreciate my
feelings when I tell you that almost upon my first arrival here I
discovered that the younger Gold was making advances to my niece Ruth.
Ah? said Fuller, interrogatively. I don't count on bein' able to
see no furder through a millstone than my neighbors, but I've been
aweer o' that for a day or two.
Ruth is motherless, pursued Rachel, a little too intent upon
saying things in a predetermined way to take close note of Fuller. A
motherless girl in a situation of that kind is always in need of the
guidance of an experienced hand.
Yis, yis, assented Fuller, heartily. Many thanks to you, Miss
Blythe, for it's kindly meant, I know.
Last night, said Rachel, I made a discovery. There was nothing
in the world of which she was more certain than she was of Fuller's
approving sanction. Only a few minutes before she had had her doubts
about it, and they had made her nervous. She was so very serious that
Fuller began to look grave. But he was built of loyalty and
unsuspicion; and though for a mere second a fear assailed him that the
old lady was about to charge Reuben with playing his daughter false, he
scouted the fancy hotly. In the warmth thus gained he spoke more
briskly than common.
Drive along, ma'am. Come to the root o' the matter.
This letter, said Rachel, taking Ruth's answer to Reuben in both
hands, was written last night. It is addressed in your daughter's
handwriting to Mr. Reuben Gold.
Tis, yis, yis, said Fuller, impatiently, not knowing what to make
of Rachel's funereal gravity.
It appeared to me, after long consideration, that the best and
wisest course I could adopt would be to bring it to you. I regard
myself as being in a sense, and subject always to your authority, one
of the child's natural guardians. If I did not view things in that
light, the old lady explained, making elaborate motions with her lips
for the distinct enunciation of every word, I should consider that I
was guilty of a sinful neglect of duty.
Well, said Fuller, as to sinful. But drive on, Miss Blythe.
It appeared to me, then, continued Rachel, that our plain duty
would be to read this together, and to consult upon it.
Wheer does the letter come from? Fuller demanded, with a look of
I discovered it in the
What! cried the old fellow, jumping from his chair and staring at
her across the table with red face and wrathful eyes.
I discovered it, replied Rachel, rising also and facing him with
her head thrown back and her youthful eyes flashing, I discovered it
in the music-book which was left last night upon this table. I saw it
placed there clandestinely by my niece Ruth.
Be you mad, Miss Blythe? asked Fuller, with a slow solemnity of
inquiry which would have made the question richly mirthful to an
auditor. Do you mean to tell me as you go about spyin' after wheer my
little wench puts her letters to her sweetheart? Why, fie, fie, ma'am!
That's a child's trick, not a bit like a growd-up woman.
Fuller was astonished, but Rachel's amazement transcended his own.
And you tell me, John Fuller, that you know the character of this
Know his character! cried Fuller. Who should know it better nor
me? The lad's well-nigh lived i' my house ever sence he was no higher
'n my elber. Know his character? Ah! Should think I did an' all. The
cliverest lad of his hands and the best of his feet for twenty mile
aroundas full o' pluck as a tarrier an' as kindly-hearted as a wench.
Bar his Uncle Ezra, theer niver was a mon to match him in Heydon Hay i'
my time. Know his character! He was unused to speak with so much
vigor, and he paused breathless and mopped his scarlet face with his
shirt-sleeve, staring across his arm at Rachel meanwhile in mingled
rage and wonder.
His Uncle Ezra? said Rachel, looking fixedly and scornfully back
at him. His Uncle Ezra is a villain!
For a second or two he stared at her with a countenance of pure
amazement, and then burst into a sudden gurgle of laughter. This so
overmastered him that he had to cling to the table for support, and
finally to resume his seat. His jolly face went crimson, and the tears
chased each other down his fat cheeks. When he seemed to have had his
laugh quite out, and sat gasping and mopping his eyes with his
shirt-sleeve, a chance look at Rachel reinspired the passion of his
mirth, and he laughed anew until he had to clip his wide ribs with his
palms as if to hold himself together. A mere gleam of surprise crossed
the scorn and anger of Rachel's face as she watched him, but it faded
quickly, and when once it had passed her expression remained unchanged.
Good-morning, Aunt Rachel, cried Ruth's fresh voice. You are
early. Rachel turned briskly round in time to see Ruth disappear from
a white-curtained upper window. Fuller rose with a face of sudden
sobriety, and began once more to mop his eyes. In a mere instant Ruth
appeared at the door running towards the pair with a face all smiles.
Why, father, she cried, kissing the old man on the cheek, what a
laugh! You haven't laughed so for a year. What is the joke, Aunt
She saw at a glance that, whatever the jest might be, Aunt Rachel
was no sharer in it.
I know of no joke, Niece Ruth, said the old lady, with mincing
Theer's summat serious at the bottom on it, but the joke's atop,
plain for annybody to see, said Fuller. But Miss Bly the's come here
this mornin' of a funny sort of a arrant, to my thinking, though her
seems to fancy it's as solemn a business as a burying.
What is the matter? asked Ruth, looking from one to the other.
Some movement of Rachel's eyes sent hers to the table, and she
recognized her own letter in a flash. She moved instinctively and laid
her hand upon it.
That's it, said her father, with a new gurgle. 'Twas your Aunt
Rachel, my dear, he explained, as see you put it somewheer last
night, an' took care on it for you. Ruth turned upon the little old
lady with a grand gesture, in which both hands were suddenly drawn down
and backward until they were clinched together, crushing the letter
between them behind her. Her comes to me this morning, pursued
Fuller, while the old woman and the young one looked at each other,
an' tells me plump an' plain as her wants t' open this letter and read
it, along with me.
Aunt Rachel! said Ruth, with a sort of intense quiet, how dare
I did nothing but my duty, said Rachel. If I have exposed to you
the character of these men in vain
Exposed! Exposed! cried Fuller. What's this here maggot about
exposin'? Who talks about exposin' a lad like that? The best lad i' the
country-side without a 'ception!
You tell me then, said Rachel, turning upon him slowly, as if
Ruth's eyes had an attraction for her, and she could scarcely leave
themyou tell me then that this Reuben Gold has your approval in
making approaches to your daughter?
Approval! shouted Fuller. Yis. I've seen 'em gettin' fond on each
other this five 'ear, and took a pleasure in it. What's agen the lad?
Nothin' but the mumblin' of a bumble-bee as an old maid's got in her
bonnet. A spite agen his uncle is a thing as is understandable.
Indeed, sir, said Aunt Rachel, with frigid politeness. Will you
tell me why?
Well, no, said Fuller. I'd rather I didn't. Look here. Let's have
harmony. I'm no hand at quarrelin', even among the men, let alone among
the petticuts. Let's have harmony. The wench has got her letter back,
and theer's no harm done. And if theer is, ye'd better fight it out
betwigst ye. With this he turned his back and waddled a pace or two.
Then he turned a laughing face upon them, moving slowly on his axis.
Mek it up, he said, mek it up. Let's have no ill blood i' the
family. Nothin' like harmony.
Having thus delivered himself he rolled in-doors, and there sat down
to his morning pipe. But anger and laughter are alike provocative of
thirst, and seeking a jug in the kitchen he took his way to the cellar,
and there had a copious draught of small beer, after which he settled
himself down in his arm-chair, prepared to make the best of anything
which might befall him.
The quarrel from which he had withdrawn himself did not seem so easy
to be made up as he had appeared to fancy. Ruth and Rachel stood face
to face in silence. To the younger woman the offence which had been
committed against her seemed intolerable, and it took this complexion
less because of the nature of the act itself than because of its
consequences. It had mocked Reuben, and it had made her seem as if she
were the mocker.
You are angry, child! said Rachel, at length. I was prepared for
that. But I was not prepared for your father's acquiescence in the
ruinous course upon which you have entered.
Ruinous course? said Ruth.
I repeat, said the old lady, the ruinous course upon which you
have entered. These men are villains.
Do they steal other people's letters? asked Ruth.
They are villains, repeated Aunt Rachel, ignoring this inquiry.
Villains, cheats, deceivers. You will rue this day in years to come.
Then, with prodigious sudden stateliness, I find my advice derided. My
counsels are rebuffed. I wish you a good-morning. I can entertain no
further interest in your proceedings.
Rachel marched from the garden and disappeared through the door-way
without a backward glance. The girl, holding the crumpled letter in
both hands behind her, beat her foot upon the greensward, and looked
downward with flushed cheeks and glittering eyes. Her life had not
hitherto been fruitful of strong emotions, and she had never felt so
angry or aggrieved as she felt now.
How did she dare? What can Reuben think of me?
These were the only thoughts which found form in her mind, and each
A knock sounded at the street door, and she moved mechanically to
answer it, but catching sight of her father's figure in the hall she
turned away, and seated herself at the musicians' table.
Fuller greeted Reubenfor the early visitor was no other than
hewith a broad grin, and stuck a facetious forefinger in his ribs.
Come in, lad, come in, he said, chuckling. I never seed such a
lark i' my born days as we've had here this mornin'.
Indeed! said Reuben. Can I He began to blush and stammer a
little. Can I see Miss Ruth, Mr. Fuller?
All i' good time, lad, replied Fuller. Come in. Sit thee down.
Reuben complied, scarcely at his ease, and wondered what was coming.
Was you expectin' any sort of a letter last night, Reuben? the old
fellow asked him, with a fat enjoying chuckle.
Yes, sir, said Reuben, blushing anew, but regarding his questioner
Was that what you took away the book o' duets for, eh?
Didst find the letter? Fuller was determined to make the most of
his history, after the manner of men who have stories ready made for
them but rarely.
I don't know, replied Reuben, to the old man's amazement. Do you
know what the letter was about, Mr. Fuller?
Don't know? cried Fuller. What beest hov-erin' about? Knowst
whether thee hadst a letter or not, dostn't?
I had a letter, said Reuben, but I can't think it was meant for
me. Perhaps I ought to have spoken first to you, sir, but I wrote to
Miss Ruth yesterday There he paused, asking himself how to put this
altogether sacred thing into words.
Didst now? asked Fuller, unctuously enjoying the young man's
discomfort. What might it ha' been about?
I wrote to ask her if she would marry me, said Reuben, with
Ah! said Fuller. And what says her to that?
I can't believe that I have had her answer, returned Reuben, with
much embarrassment. I found a letter in the book, but I thinkI am
sureit is not meant for me.
You'll find Ruth i' the gardin, said Fuller, puzzled in his turn.
Her'll tell you, mayhap. But wait a bit; her's rare an' wroth this
mornin', and I ain't sure as it's safe to be anigh her. Miss Blythe's
been here this mornin'Aunt Rachel, as the wench has allays called
her, though her's no more than her mother's second cousinand it seems
as th' old creetur found out about Ruth's letter, and went and took it
from wheer it was and marched it off. Her was here this mornin' t' ask
me to open it and read it along with her. Theer's no tekin' note of
her, Reuben, poor old ooman. Her's got a hive in her head. 'Do you know
this young man's character' her says. 'Why, yis,' I says; 'it'd be odd
if I didn't,' I says. 'Well,' her says, 'he's a villin.' 'Rubbidge,'
says I; 'theer's no moor esteemable feller i' the parish,' I says,
'onless it's his uncle Ezra.' Then her fires up and her says, 'His
uncle Ezra is a villin.' Then I bust out a-laughin' in her face. Her's
flighty, you know, lad, her's uncommon flighty. Six-and-twenty year
agoit was afore thee couldst toddleher left the parish because of
Because of my uncle? There were so many things to be amazed at in
this speech of Fuller's that the youngster hardly knew which to be
surprised at most.
Didst never hear o' that? asked Fuller. It's been the talk o' the
parish ever sence her come back to live in it. Your uncle used to be a
good deal at her mother's house from thirty to six-and-twenty 'ear ago,
and used to tek his fiddle theer and gie 'em a taste o' music now and
then. Her seems to ha' let it tek root in her poor head as he was
squirin' her and mekin' up to her for marriage; but after four or five
year her got tired and hopeless, I reckon, and went away. Then I expect
her begun to brood a bit, after the mode of a woman as is lonely, and
has got no such thing as a man around her, and that's how it is, lad.
My uncle! Reuben fell to pacing up and down the room, talking
aloud, but as if he addressed himself rather than his sweetheart's
father. Manzini was the last man whose works he playedthe last man
he ever handled bow and fiddle for. His own words. He left the book
open when he went away, and closed it when he came back again. He drew
the discolored note from his pocket, and stared at it with a look of
Be we all mad together? said Fuller. What's the matter with the
lad, i' the name o' wonder?
I'll explain everything, sir, answered Reuben, like a man
awakening from sleep. And yet I don't know that I can. I don't know
that I have a right to explain. I could ask Ruth's advice. It's hard to
know what to do in such a case.
Theer's no such thing as a straight wescut i' the house, worse
luck, said Fuller. Theer is a clothesline, if that 'ud serve
May I see Miss Ruth, sir? asked Reuben. I'll tell you all about
it if I can. But I think I have found out a very strange and mournful
Fuller threw open the window and called Ruth. She came in slowly,
and started when she saw Reuben there, and both she and he stood for a
moment in some confusion.
Gi'e the wench a kiss and ha' done with it, said Fuller. Her's as
ready as thee beest willin'.
Reuben acted on this sage counsel, and Ruth, though she blushed like
a rose, made no protest.
Theer, said papa, hugging his fat waistcoat, and rolling from the
room. Call me when I'm wanted.
He was not wanted for a long time, for the lovers had much to say to
each other, as was only natural. First of all, Ruth shyly gave Reuben
the letter she had written the night before, and he read it, and then
there were questions to be asked and answered on either side, asDid
she really love him? And why? And since when? And had she not always
known that he loved her? All which the reader shall figure out of his
or her own experience or fancy; for these things, though delightful in
their own time and place, are not to be written of, having a smack of
foolishness with much that is tender and charming.
Nextor rather interlaced with thiscame Ruth's version of Aunt
Rachel's curious behavior. And then said Reuben,
I think I hold the key to that. But whether I do or not remains to
be seen. I found this in Manzini. You see how old it looks. The very
pin that held it to the paper was rusted half through. You see,
turning it over, it is addressed to Mr. Gold. I am afraid it was meant
for my uncle, and that he never saw it. If it is a breach of faith to
show it you I cannot help it. Read it, darling, and tell me what you
think is best to be done.
Ruth read it, and looked up with a face pale with extreme
Reuben, she said, this is Aunt Rachel's handwriting. This is all
her story. She began to cry, and Reuben comforted her. What can we
do? she asked, gently evading him. Oh, Reuben, how pitiful, how
pitiful it is!
Should he have it after all these years? asked Reuben. What can
it be but a regret to him?
Oh yes, she answered, with clasped hands and new tears in her
eyes, he must have it. Think of his poor spirit knowing afterwards
that we had kept it from him?
It will be a sore grief for him to see it. I fear so. A sore
Aunt Rachel will be less bitter when she knows. But oh, Reuben, to
be parted in that way for so long! Do you see it all? He wrote to her
asking her to be his wife, and she wrote back, and he never had her
answer, and waited for it. And she, waiting and waiting for him, and
hearing nothing, thinking she had been tricked and mocked, poor thing,
and growing prouder and bitterer until she went away. I never, never
heard of anything so sad. She would have none of Reuben's consoling
now, though the tears were streaming down her cheeks. Go, she begged
himgo at once, and take it to him. Think if it were you and me!
It would never have happened to you and me, my darling, said
Reuben. I'd have had 'Yes' or 'No' for an answer. A man's offer of his
heart is worth a 'No, thank you,' though he made it to a queen.
Go at once, she besought him. I shall be unhappy till I know he
Well, my dear, said Reuben, if you say go, I go. But I'd as lief
put my hand in a fire. The poor old man will have suffered nothing like
this for many a day.
Stop an' tek a bit o' breakfast, lad, cried Fuller, as Reuben
hurried by him, at the door which gave upon the garden. It'll be ready
i' five minutes.
I have my orders, sir, said Reuben, with a pale smile. I can't
stop this morning, much as I should like to.
Like most healthy men of vivid fancy he was a rapid walker, and in a
few minutes he was in sight of his uncle's house. His heart failed him
and he stopped short irresolutely. Should he send the letter,
explaining where he found it, and how? He could hardly bear to think of
looking on the pain the old man might endure. And yet would it not be
kinder to be with him? Might he not be in need of some one? and if he
were, who was there but his nephewthe one man of his kindred left
I'll do it at once, said Reuben, and walking straight to the door,
he knocked. He would have given all he had to be away when this was
done, but he had to stand his ground, and he waited a long time while a
hand drew back the shrieking bolts and clattering chain within. Then
the key turned in the lock. The door opened and his uncle stood before
Beest early this morning, he said, with a smile. Theer's
something special brings thee here so 'soon?
Yes, answered Reuben, clearing his throat, something special.
Come in, lad, said Ezra. No trouble, I hope. Theer's a kind of a
troubled look upon you. What is it?
Reuben entered without an immediate answer, and Ezra closed the door
behind him. The gloom and the almost vault-like odors of the chamber
struck upon him with a cold sense of solitude and age. They answered to
the thoughts that filled himthe thoughts of his uncle's lonely and
Trouble! said the old man, in an inward voice. Theer's trouble
everywheer! What is it, lad?
Sit down, uncle, began Reuben, after a pause in which Ezra peered
at him anxiously. I find I must tell you some business of my own to
make myself quite clear. I wrote a note to Ruth last night, and I
learned from her that she had put an answer between the leaves of
Manzini. I took the book home and found a note addressed to Mr. Gold. I
opened it, and it was signed with an 'R,' and so I read it. But I can't
help thinking it belongs to you. The paper's very yellow and old, and I
think his voice grew treacherous, and he could scarcely command
itI think it must have lain there unnoticed for some years.
He held it out rustling and shaking in his hand. Ezra, breathing
hard and short, accepted it, and began to grope in his pockets for his
spectacle-case. After a while he found it, and tremblingly setting his
glasses astride his nose, began to unfold the paper, which crackled
noisily in the dead silence.
When he had unfolded it he glanced across at Reuben and walked to
Theer's summat wrong, he said, when he had stood there for a
minute or two, with the crisp, thick old paper crackling in his hand.
Summat the matter wi' my eyes. Read itout. His voice was ghastly
Reuben approached him and took the letter from his fingers. In this
exchange their hands met, and Ezra's was like ice. He laid it on
Reuben's shoulder, repeating, Read it out.
'Dear Mr. Gold,' read Reuben, I have not answered your esteemed
note until now, though in receipt of it since Thursday.'
Thursday? said Ezra.
Thursday, repeated Reuben. 'For I dare not seem precipitate in
such a matter. But I have consulted my own heart, and have laid it
before the Throne, knowing no earthly adviser.'
There was such a tremor in the hand which held him that Reuben's
voice failed for pure pity.
Yes, said Ezra. Goon.
'Dear Mr. Gold,' read Reuben, in a voice even less steady than
before, 'it shall be as you wish.' There he paused again, his voice
Go on, said Ezra.
'It shall be as you wish, and I trust God may help me to be a
worthy helpmeet. So no more till I hear again from you. R.'
That's all? asked Ezra.
Thank you, lad, thank you. He stooped as if in the act of sitting
down, and Reuben, passing an arm about his waist, led him to an
armchair. Thank you, lad, he said again. An eight-day clock ticked in
a neighboring room. That was how it came to pass, said the old man,
in a voice so strangely commonplace that Reuben started at it. Ah!
That was how it came to pass. He was silent again for two or three
minutes, and the clock ticked on. That was how it came to pass, he
said again. With great deliberation he set his hands together, finger
by finger, in the shape of a wedge, and then pushing them between his
knees, bent his head above them, and seemed to stare at the dim pattern
of the carpet. He was silent for a long time now, and sat as still as
if he were carved in stone. Who's there? he cried, suddenly looking
I am here, uncle, Reuben answered.
Yes, yes, said Ezra. Reuben. Yes, of course. And that was how it
came to pass.
Reuben, with a burning and choking sensation in his throat, stood in
his place, not knowing what to say or do.
Wheer is it? asked Ezra, looking up again. Reuben handed him the
note, and he sat with bent head above it for a long time. Reuben,
lad, he said then, I'll wish thee a good-mornin'. I'm like to be poor
company, and to tell the truth, lad, I want to be by mysen for a while.
I've been shook a bit, my lad, I've been shook a bit.
As he spoke thus he arose, and with his hands folded behind him
walked to and fro. His face was grayer than common, and the bright
color which generally marked his cheeks was flown; but it was plain to
see that he had recovered full possession of himself, though he was
still much agitated. Reuben went away in silence, and Ezra continued to
pace the room for an hour. His house-keeper appeared to tell him that
breakfast was on the table, but though he answered in his customary
manner he took no further notice. She came again to tell him with a
voice of complaint that everything was cold and spoiled.
Well, well, woman, said Ezra, leave it theer.
He went on walking up and down, until, without any acceleration of
his pace, he changed the direction of his walk and passed out at the
door, feeling in the darkened little passage for his hat.
You sha'n't goo out wi' nothing on your stomach, said the servant,
who had been watching and waiting to see what he would do. Ezra, to
satisfy her, poured out and drank a cup of coffee, and then walked out
into the street, bending his steps in the direction of Rachel's
cottage. Twice on the way he paused and half drew from his
waistcoat-pocket the yellow old note which had so long lingered on its
way to him, but each time he returned it without looking at it, and
walked on again.
He stood for a moment at the wicket-gate, and then opening it passed
through, suffering it to fall with a clatter behind him. His hand
trembled strangely as he lifted it to the door, and he knocked with a
tremulous loudness. When he had waited for a time he heard Rachel's
footsteps tapping on the oil-cloth of the passage which divided her toy
sitting-room from her bandbox of a parlor. His gray face went a shade
grayer, and he cleared his throat nervously, with the tips of his thin
fingers at his month. He heard the rattling of the door-chain, but it
seemed rather as if it were being put up than taken down, and this
suspicion was confirmed when it was opened with a little jar and
stopped short at the confines of the chain. Rachel's face looked round
the edge of the door. He had time to speak but a single wordRachel!
The door was vigorously slammed in his face, and he heard the
emphatic tapping of footsteps as she retired. He stood for a minute
irresolute, and then, quitting the porch, walked round the thread of
gravelled foot-path which led to the back of the cottage. He had but
rounded the corner of the building when the back door closed with a
clang, and he heard the bolts shot. Next, while he still stood
irresolute, he saw Rachel approach a window and vigorously apply
herself to the blind cord. In the mere instant which intervened between
this and the descent of the blind she looked at him with a profound and
passionate scorn. The old man sighed, and nodding his head up and down
retraced his steps, but lingering in the pathway in the little garden,
and surveying the house wistfully, he was again aware of Rachel, who
faced him once more with an unchanging countenance. This time she
appeared at the parlor window, and a second time the blind came down
between him and her gaze of uncompromising scorn.
Eh, dear! he said, tremblingly, as he turned away. Her's got
reason to think it, poor thing. It's hard to find out the ways o'
Providence. If it warn't for good it couldn't ha' happened, but it's a
heavy burden all the same.
Ezra walked home and sat there alone until evening. His house-keeper
routed him from his armchair for dinner and tea, and at each meal he
made a feeble pretence of eating and drinking, and, having been scolded
for his poor appetite, went back to his old place. He sat there till
the room was dark, scarcely moving, but wearing no very noticeable sign
of pain or trouble. The story was so old, and the misfortune it related
was so long past mending! He had been gray himself these many years,
and the things which surrounded him and touched him had long since
shared all his own want of color.
There was no relighting these old ashes. And yet, in defiance of
that avowed impossibility, they seemed now and again to glow. They
warmed him and lighted him back to a perception of lost odor and dead
color. They stung him into some remembrance of the pain of years ago.
And then, again, they were altogether cold and lifeless.
He said vaguely in a half whisper that it was a pity; and the phrase
rose to his lips a hundred timesoftener than not an utterance purely
mechanical, and expressing neither regret for Rachel nor for himself,
nor sorrow for their division. When he was not thinking of her or of
himself, he murmured that this was how it had come to pass, and did not
seem to care or feel at all.
When the gloom was deepening in Ezra's ill-lighted chamber, though
the light of the summer evening still lingered outside, the
house-keeper came in and drew the blinds, and left behind her a single
candle, which left the room as dusky as before. Shortly after this
Reuben came in, and Ezra, nodding, signed him to a chair. The young man
took a seat in silence.
Well, lad, said his uncle, when to the young man the continued
stillness had grown almost ponderous. The seconds had seemed to drop
one by one upon him from the audible ticking of the old clock in the
next room, each with an increasing weight of embarrassed sympathy.
Well, uncle? returned Reuben, trying to speak in his ordinary way,
and only succeeding in sounding shamefully flippant and unsympathetic
to his own ears.
I've a mind to have a talk with you, said Ezra. Is the door
Reuben rose to see, and murmuring that it was closed, resumed his
seat. He waited a while in expectation that his uncle was about to
confide in him.
When beest going to make up your mind to pluck up a courage and
speak to Ruth? the old man asked.
To Ruth, sir? returned Reuben. The question staggered him a
To Ruth, said Ezra.
I have spoken, answered Reuben. We are going to be married.
That's well, the old man said, mildly. But I looked to be told of
any such thing happening. Thee and me, lad, are all as is left o' th'
old stock i' this part o' the world.
Don't think I should have kept you ignorant of it, said Reuben. I
only knew this morning. I have not seen you since till now.
Well, lad, well, said Ezra, I wish thee happy. But I'm sure you
know that without need of any word o' mine. I asked because I meant to
give out a bit of a warning agen the danger of delay. Theer's not alone
the danger of it, but sometimes the cruelty of it. It's hard for a
young woman as has been encouraged to set her heart upon a man, to be
kept waitin' on the young man's pleasure. You see, lad, they'm
tongue-tied. Perhapshe offered this supposition with perfect
gravityperhaps it's the having been tongue-tied afore marriage as
makes some on 'em so lively and onruled in speech when marriage has set
There was a definite sense in Reuben's mind that the old man was not
saying what he wished to say, and this sense was strengthened when
Ezra, after moving once or twice in his seat, cleared his throat and
began to walk up and down the room.
Had you read that letter as you brought to me this morning, lad?
he asked, coughing behind his hand, and trying to speak as if the thing
were a commonplace trifle.
I read it because I thought that it must be addressed to me, said
Reuben. I had written to Ruth, and she told me to look in Manzini for
her answer. I found nothing but that letter in the book.
Why, how was that? asked Ezra, without turning towards him.
Her own note had been taken away before I got the book. Reuben
felt himself on dangerous ground. It was unpleasant to have to talk of
these things, and it looked impossible to reveal Rachel's eccentricity
to Ezra, knowing what he knew.
Ah! said Ezra, absent-mindedly. You read the letter then! He
went on pacing up and down. You understood it?
Iseemed to understand it, said Reuben. Ezra came back to his
chair and seated himself with a look of half resolve.
Reuben, he began, in a voice pathetically ill-disguised, it was
something of a cruelty as that letter should ha' been found at all
after such a lapse o' time. The rights of the case was these: As a
younger man than nowI was six-an'-thirty at the timeI wrote toI
wrote an offer of myself in marriage to a person as was then resident
i' this parish. The day but one after I wrote I had to go up to London
to see to some affairs as was in the lawyer's hands relating to thy
grandfather's property. He'd been dead a year or more, and the thing
was only just got straight. While theer, I heard Paganini, and I've
told you, more than once, I never cared to touch a bow theerafter. I
found Manzini on the music-stand and closed the pages. He was open
theer as I had left him, for I was a bit particular about my things,
and mother used to pretend as her dursn't lay a hand upon 'em. I waited
and waited for th' answer. I met the person as I had wrote to once, and
bowed to her. I've remembered often and often the start her gave, as if
I'd done her some sort of insult. I could never understand how or why.
I did not know as I had gi'en her any right to treat me thus
contemptuous. I thought her set a value upon herself beyond my
deservin's, and I abode to bear it. In the course of a two-three weeks
she left the parish, and I made up my mind as her'd left despising me.
I won't pretend as I might not ha' found her letter if her had been
less prideful and disdainous, for in the course of a little while I
might ha' gone back to the music if things had gone happier with me.
But it would ha' been kinder not to know the truth at all than find it
out so late.
He had spoken throughout in what was meant for his customary tone of
dry gravity, but it failed him often, though for a word only. At such
times he would pause and cough behind his wasted hand, and these
frequent breaks in the narrative made its quiet tones more touching to
the hearer than any declamation or any profession of profound regret,
however eloquently expressed, could possibly have been.
Have you explained to her since you received the letter? asked
Reuben. Don't you think, uncle, that she ought to know?
Ezra looked at him in a faint surprise. He supposed he had guarded
himself from any suspicion of betraying his old sweetheart's
Yes, he said, still bent upon this reservation. It happens as the
person I speak of came back to Heydon Hay some time ago, and was within
the parish this very day. I went to make a call upon her, and to show
how Providence had seen fit to deal with both of us, but her refused to
exchange speech with me. You see, Reuben, he went on, coughing with a
dry mildness of demeanor, it's doubtless been upon her mind for a many
years as I was making a sort of cruel and unmanly game of her. Seeing
her that offstanding, it seemed to me her valued me so lowly as to take
my letter for a kind of offence. It seems now as it was me, and not
her, as was too prideful.
They were both silent for a time, but Reuben was the first to speak
She ought to know, uncle. She should be told. Perhaps Ruth could
My lad, my lad! said Ezra, mournfully reproving him. How could I
tell another of a thing like this?
Well, sir, Reuben answered, I know now how the idea came into her
mind, though I was puzzled at first. But she is strongly opposed to my
being engaged to Ruth, and came down to tell Mr. Fuller this morning
that I was a villain. I am thinking of her own lonely life, and I am
sure that if Ruth and I are married she will never speak again to the
only relatives she has unless this is explained. For her own sake,
uncle, as well as yours, I think she ought to know the truth.
He was looking downward as he spoke, and did not see the questioning
air with which Ezra regarded him.
You know who it was, then, as wrote this letter?
Yes, said Reuben, looking up at him. Ruth knew the handwriting.
Reuben! cried the old man, sternly. He rose with more open signs
of agitation than Reuben had yet seen in him, and walked hurriedly to
and fro. Reuben! Reuben! he repeated, in a voice of keen reproach.
Ah! when was ever youth and folly separate? I never thought thee wast
the lad to cry thine uncle's trouble i' the market-place!
No, uncle, no! Don't think that of me, cried his nephew. I did
not know what to do. I asked Ruth's advice. I could not be certain that
the note was meant for you. Andguessing what I thought I guessedI
was afraid to bring it.
Well, well! Well, well! said Ezra. It's been too sad an' mournful
all along for me to go about to make a new quarrel on it. Let it pass.
I make no doubt you acted for the best. Art too good a lad to tek
pleasure in prying into the pain of an old manasloves thee. Leave
it alone, lad. Let's think a while, and turn it over and see what may
He went back to his arm-chair, and Reuben watched him in sympathetic
I know her to be bitter hard upon me in her thoughts, said Ezra,
after a time. The kind of scorn her bears for me is good for nobody,
not even if it happens to be grounded i' the right. It might be a blow
to her at first, but it 'ud be a blow as 'ud carry healing with it i'
the long run. Let the wench tek the letter. It'll be easier for her to
get it at a woman's hands.
He drew the cracked and faded letter from his waistcoat-pocket, and
held it out towards Reuben without looking at him.
I think that will be the best and kindest course, sir, said
Reuben, accepting the letter and placing it in his pocket-book. It may
not be easy for Ruth to speak to her just at first, for she is very
angry with her for having engaged herself to me.
I have heard word of her opposing it, answered Ezra. Theer are
them in Heydon Hay as elsewheerfolks, without being aythur
coarse-hearted or hard-minded, as talk of their neighbors' affairs, and
love to tell you whatever there is to be heard as is unpleasing. I have
been told as her describes me as a villin, and speaks in the same terms
of you, Reuben. And that's why I advised you to speak out before there
should be time to make mischief, if by any chance mischief might be
made. And I've seen enough to know as theer's no staple so easy to
mannyfacture as ill-will, even betwixt them as thinks well of each
other. But, Reuben, even the best of women are talkers, and I look for
it to be made a point on between Ruth and you, that no word of this is
breathed except between your two selves.
You may trust Ruth as much as you trust me, uncle, said Reuben.
Like enough, answered Ezra. And I've a warm liking for her. But
there'll be no unkind-ness in naming my particular wish i' this
No, no, answered Reuben. I will tell her what you say. You may
trust us both.
Let me know how things go, said the old man. And good-night,
A tender twilight still reigned outside, and Reuben, walking along
the village street, could see the softened mass of roofs and chimneys
and the dark green bulk of trees outlined clearly against the sky. The
air was soft and still, and something in the quiet and the dimness of
the hour seemed to bear a hint of memory or continuation of the scene
which had just closed. He was going to see Ruth at once, and she was
naturally in his mind, and presented herself as vividly there as if he
had been in her presence. The old man's trouble was so much more real
to a lover than it could have been to another man! If it were he and
Ruth who were thus parted! There lay a whole heartache. He loved Ezra,
and yet it did not seem possible to feel his grief half so well save by
seeing it as his own. Such a lonely terror lay in the thought of
parting from Ruth and living forever without her, that it awoke in him
an actual pang of pain for his uncle's trouble.
But, said Reuben, as he strode along, that is what was. He felt
it, no doubt, and felt it for many a dreary month. But it's over now,
for the most part. I could have cried for him this morning, and again
to-night, but it was more pity for the past than for the present.
Ezra had been a sad man always, since Reuben could remember him, and
yet not altogether an unhappy one. The sunshine of his life had seemed
veiled, but not extinguished. And could love do so little at its most
unfortunate and hapless ending? For some, maybe, but surely not for
Reuben! For him, if love should die, what could there be but clouds and
darkness forever and always? But the old take things tranquilly, and to
the young it seems that they must always have been tranquil. Uncle Ezra
a lover? A possible fancy. But Ezra loving as he loved? An
impossible fancy. And even six-and-thirty looked old to Reuben's eyes,
for he stood a whole decade under it.
I will go at once, said Ruth, so soon as she knew what was
required of her. I'll just tell father, and then I'll put on my hat
and be ready in a minute. Will you with an exquisite demureness and
simplicitywill you go with me, Reuben?
Go and see Aunt Rachel? cried old Fuller, when the girl had told
him her intention. Well, why not? Ruth ran up-stairs, and Fuller
waddled into the room where Reuben waited. Ruth talks about bringin'
th' ode wench back to rayson, he said, with a fat chuckle, but that's
a road Miss Blythe 'll niver travel again, I reckon. Her said good-by
to rayson, and shook hands a many hears ago. It's a bit too late i'
life to patch up the quarrel betwigst 'em now.
The old man's paces were so leisurely and heavy and Ruth's so quick
and light that she was in the room before he had formulated this
opinion, and stood at the looking-glass regarding Reuben's reflection
in its dimly illumined depths as she patted and smoothed the ribbons
beneath her chin.
Let us hope not, father, she said; and then turning upon Reuben,
I am ready.
He offered her his arm and she took it. It was the simple fashion of
the time and place. No engaged lovers took an airing of a dozen yards
without that outward sign of the tie between them. They walked along in
the soft summer evening, pitying Ezra and Rachel in gentle whispers.
I was thinking just now if you and I should part, dearif their
case were ours!
And so the grief of the old was a part of the joy of the young,
tender-hearted as they were. They played round the mournful old
But you would speak, Reuben? You would never let me go without a
And if I didn't speak, dear? If something held me back from
But you wouldn't let it hold you back.
Not now, darling. But I might have done yesterdaybefore I knew.
Before he knew! He must have always known! But of that she would say
In front of the one village shop in which the pair of window candles
still glimmered, they paused, while Reuben searched his pocket-book for
the note, and then went on again, in perfumed darkness, until they
reached the gate of Rachel's cottage.
Be brave, darling, Reuben whispered here. Don't let her repulse
Ruth entered at the gate, stole on tiptoe along the gravelled path,
knocked and listened. The whole front of the little house was in
darkness, but by-and-by even Reuben from his post behind the hedge
heard the faint noise made by slippered feet in the oil-clothed hall.
Who's there? said' a voice from within.
Dear aunt, Ruth answered, let me in. Do, please, let me in. I
want to speak to you.
Reuben, listening, heard the sound of the jarring chain, and the
door was opened. He peeped through the interstices of the hedge, and
saw Miss Blythe smiling in the light of the candle she carried in her
Dear niece, said Rachel, with an unusually fine and finicking
accent. Enter, you are welcome.
Ruth entered, the door was closed, and Reuben sat down on the bank
outside to await his sweetheart's return.
I understand, said Rachel. You are welcome, my child. I detest
rancor in families. I can forgive and forget. As she spoke thus she
led the way into her small sitting-room. To Ruth the poor creature's
unconsciousness seemed terrible. She laid her arms about Aunt Rachel's
withered figure, and cried a little as she leaned upon her shoulder.
There, there, said Aunt Rachel, with a note of patronage in her
voice, compose yourself, dear child, compose yourself. I am glad to
see you. Take your own time, dear child, your own time.
At this Ruth cried afresh. It was evident that Aunt Rachel supposed
her here to perform an office of penitence; and it was all so pitiful
to the girl's heart, which, tender enough by nature, had been made soft
and more tender still by her recent talk with Reuben in the lane.
Don't talk so. Don't speak so, she said, brokingly. Dear aunt,
read this, and then you will know why I am here.
Ah! sighed Aunt Rachel, with a world of meaning. What did I tell
you, my dear? She took the letter from her niece's hand, kissed the
charming bearer of it casually, as if in certainty that she would soon
be comforted, and began to search for her glasses.
Ruth, understanding the old lady's error, was moved still more by
it, but emotion and tender interest were at war, and she sat in a half
frightened silence, piteously wondering what would happen. Rachel had
found her glasses, had set the letter upon the table before her, and
now drawing the candle nearer, placed the spectacles deliberately
astride upon her fine little nose, snuffed the candle, and took up the
cracking old bit of paper with an air of triumph and hope fulfilled
which cut Ruth to the heart.
The younger woman hid her face in her hands, and furtively watched
the elder through her fingers.
Rachel read but a line, and then dropping the letter stared across
the candle at Ruth, and passed a hand across her forehead, brushing her
glasses away in the act. She groped for them, polished them with an
automatic look, and began again. Ruth, too frightened even to sob,
still looked at her, and save for the rustle of the withered paper in
the withered fingers the silence was complete.
What is this? cried Aunt Rachel, suddenly. Why do you bring me
this? She was standing bolt upright, with both hands clasped downward
on the letter.
It was only found last night, said Ruth, rising and making a
single step towards her. From the hour you wrote it until then it was
never seen. Reuben found it and brought it to me.
The old maid's face went white, and but that the chair she had
thrust away from her in rising rested against the mantle-piece, she
would have fallen. Ruth ran towards her and set a protecting arm about
her waist. Her own tears were falling fast, and her voice was
altogether broken. It was in Manzini, the book you took Reuben's
letter from. He found it there, and thought it came from me, until he
saw that the paper was old, and that it did not quite answer his own
letter. He took it to his uncle Ezra, and the poor old man's heart is
broken. Oh, aunt, his heart is broken! He had never seen it. He had
She could say no more, she was so agitated by her own words, and so
stricken by the stony face before her.
Suddenly the old maid melted into tears. Reuben, sitting and waiting
on the bank of the hedge without, had heard Ruth's broken voice, and
now he could hear Rachel weeping. The night was without a sound, and he
could hear nothing but the murmurs and sobbings from the little
sitting-room. Rachel cried unrestrainedly and long, and Reuben waited
with exemplary patience. At last Ruth came out and whispered to him,
Tell father I am going to stay with Aunt Rachel to-night.
Reuben, naturally enough, would have kept her there and questioned
her, but she ran back into the cottage before he could detain her, and
after lingering a while bareheaded before the casket which held her, he
took his way back to Fuller and gave him his daughter's message.
Ah! said Fuller. At that rate it 'ud seem to be pretty well
straightened out betwigst 'em. I'm glad to think it, for theer's
nothin' like, harmony among them as is tied together. But hows'ever her
an' the wench may mek it up, Reuben, thee'lt be a villin till the end
o' the chapter. The villany attributed to Reuben and Ezra tickled the
old man greatly, and his fat body was so agitated by his mirth that his
legs became unequal to their burden. He had to drop into his great
cushioned arm-chair to have his laugh out. That villany o' thine 'll
be the death o' me, he said, as he wiped his eyes.
Rachel and Ruth sat far into the night, and the old maid told over
and over again the story of the courtship and the misunderstanding
between herself and Ezra.
Even when he was young, she told her listener often, he was shy
and proud. And he would think I had treated him as though he had been
the dirt beneath my feet. I did. I did. He will never forgive me.
She always cried afresh tempestuously at this, but when the first
passion of her grief had worn itself out she came back to her story and
lauded Ezra without stint. He was proud, oh yes, he was proud, but then
it was not in a way to hurt anybody. He joined in the sports of the
other young men when she was quite a girl, a mere chit of a thing, my
dear, and he was master of them all. Then Ruth chimed in. And so was
Reuben now. Reuben was not like the rest of them. He was their master
in everything, and everybody who was old enough to remember said that
he was more like his uncle than like his father even. The duet of
praise, accompanied by the old maid's tears, murmured along for an
You will meet him now? Ruth suggested, rather timidly. You will
be friends again?
We could never bear to meet each other, cried Rachel. How could I
come before him? Then, I must go away.
No, no, Ruth pleaded, you must not go away. You must stay here.
You must be friends again. What shall we tell him, dear? He has found
the letter at last, and he sends to you. Can you let him think that you
are still against him?
No, said Rachel, almost wildly. You will tell him I went away
because I could not bear to see him. I ought to have known him too well
to have thought so basely of him.
It was his duty to speak to you. It was less your fault than his.
It was nobody's fault. It was a disaster. Ruth thought poorly of
Ezra's tactics as a lover, but she was not bent on expressing her own
opinions. Reuben would never have acted in such a way. He would have
known at least whether his letter had been received or no. Would any
man take silent contempt as a final answer from the woman he loved?
It was the man's real business to come conquering, whatever airs of
gentleness he might wear. And animated by these reflections the girl
became filled with impatience at the old maid's self-upbraidings. She
was sorry, sorry with all her heart, for both, but if there were fault
at all it lay on Ezra's side. I shall see him in the morning, she
said, finally, thinking of Reuben. He will go to his uncle.
Child, said Aunt Rachel, with the beginning of a return to her old
manner, do you think I can consent to have my affairs bandied from
messenger to messenger in this way? I will write.
She said this boldly enough, but her heart shrank from it. Her mind
went blank when she tried to figure what she should say. She could do
nothing but prostrate herself anew before the re-established idol. She
began to realize the fact that whatever disguise of hate and despite
her love had taken, she had done nothing but love him all along.
Ruth contented herself with the promise, but, as it happened, Rachel
never wrote, or had need to write, upon this question. For Reuben,
strolling early in the morning, and finding his feet wandering in the
direction of Rachel's cottage, encountered his uncle, and their talk
rendered the letter unnecessary. Ezra flushed and coughed behind his
hand in more than a commonly deprecatory way when he sighted his
Well, lad, he began.
Ruth took the letter, answered Reuben. I waited outside for her,
and I know Miss Blythe was deeply affected by it, because I heard her
crying. Ruth stayed all night with her, he continued, and I
supposewith a flush and a little hesitationI suppose she's there
That means as they two are reunited? said Ezra; and, without
saying much more, the old man took his nephew's arm and they strolled
by the cottage together.
Its inmates were early astir despite the lateness of the hour at
which they had retired; and hearing voices as they stood together in
the bedroom renewing the moving duet of the evening, they peeped
through the curtains and saw uncle and nephew go by arm-in-arm. At this
they flew together and embraced, and from that moment the duet became
broken and confused. The little maid who assisted Rachel in her
household affairs had not jet arrived; so the old lady herself lit the
fire and made tea, while Ruth established herself in ambush in the
parlor, and kept a watch upon the road. When Rachel came in to lay the
snowy table-cloth, the china and the spoons made an unusual clatter in
her trembling hands, and the two were in such a state of agitation that
breakfast was a pure pretence. While they were seated at table Reuben
and Ezra again strolled by; and Ruth divined the fact that not only was
Reuben waiting for her, which was to be expected, but Ezra was
attending the moment when she should quit the house in order that he
might make a call upon Aunt Rachel. So in such a state of
tremulous-ness as she had never experienced beforeeven when she took
Reuben's note from the pages of Manzini or hid her own thereshe
arose, and, protesting that her father would never breakfast in her
absence, and that she should be roundly scolded for being so late, she
put on her hat and gloves, kissed Aunt Rachel's cold cheek, and ran out
into the lane with blushes so charming and becoming that she might have
been taken for the very humanized spirit of the dawn, lingering an hour
or two beyond her time to make acquaintance with daylight. If this
simile should seem to border on the ridiculous, the responsibility of
it may be safely thrown upon Reuben, who not merely met her with it in
his mind, but conveyed it to her as they walked homeward together. Ezra
was even more bashful than Ruth, though in him the sentiment wrought
less attractive tokens of itself.
I'll walk about a little while farther, he said, awkwardly, when
he had bidden Ruth good-morning; and without need to watch him, they
knew that he had walked no farther than Rachel's cottage. The girl, on
leaving it, had neglected to close the door, and the old maid had not
dared to rise. He stood in the open door-way, and it gave him a mute
invitation to enter, though he had not courage to accept it. He knocked
faintly once or twice, and by-and-by was aware of a movement in the
parlor. He turned towards the door and saw it open slowly, and Rachel
looked out at him, trembling from head to foot, with signs of tears in
Miss Blythe, he began, shakily, I trust all ill-feelin' is at an
end between us. May an old friend exchange a word with you?
Pray come in, said Miss Blythe, in a frightened whisper; and he
entered. Will you take a seat? she asked him.
Rachel, he said, I was to blame, but never as you thought. But I
kept single for your sake, Rachel.
By what wonderful alchemy of nature the withered heart grew young
again at that moment, Heaven knows; but it was out of a heart suddenly
impassioned and warm with youth that she answered him,
And I will keep single for yours.
Ferdinand, in obedience to the call of the political situation, had
absented himself from Heydon Hay for a week or two. The Liberals had
put into the field a stronger man than he had expected to encounter,
and there was a sudden awakening in the constitutional camp. He had to
go the rounds and visit his bandsmen, and without being particularly
alert himself to see that everybody else was on the qui vive.
The constitutional candidate was, perhaps, as little interested in the
coming strife as any man in the limits of the constituency, but he had
allowed himself to be entered for the race, and was bound to a pretence
of warmth even if he could not feel it. Ruth was not much in his mind
while he was away, but when he came back again he found time once more
hanging heavy on his hands; and being greeted by her when he went to
listen to the quartette party precisely as he had been from the first,
he determined more than ever to start a pronounced flirtation with the
haughty little hussy, and bring her to a proper sense of her position.
So he went early to church afoot on Sunday morning, leaving his
lordship to follow alone in his carriage, and he chatted affably with
the members of the little crowd that lingered about the lich-gate and
the porch, and there awaited Ruth's coming.
Fuller was rather impressed with the young man's civility as a
general thing, being open to the territorial sentiment, and was proud
to be singled out from the rest by the Earl of Barfield's visitor, and
publicly talked to on terms of apparent equality. And Ruth, who
accompanied her father, was on this particular morning not quite what
she had been hitherto. When Ferdinand raised his hat and proffered her
his hand she blushed, and her eyes held a singular uncertainty he had
never before remarked in them. He could even feel in the few brief
seconds for which her hand lay in his own that it trembled slightly.
Aha! She began to awake, then. The young Ferdinand plumed himself and
spread himself for her vision. The old man, not unwilling that his
neighbors should remark him in familiar intercourse with the great of
the land, lingered at the porch, and for once Ruth did not desert his
side and run into the church alone.
Upon my word, said Ferdinand, there is something in the air of
Heydon Hay, Mr. Fuller, which would seem to be unusually favorable to
the growth of feminine charms. May I congratulate Miss Ruth upon her
aspect this morning?
He meant the little thing no harm. He could compliment her in her
father's presence as easily as out of it, and perhaps with a better
conscience. Whensoever loosed from the string the arrow of compliment
would find its mark. Besides, the very carelessness of his appreciation
would help its force. He might be a little kinder and more confidential
Well, sir, said Fuller, with a chuckle, her's bound to look her
best just now.
Father, said Ruth, with an amazingly sudden vivacity, I want to
speak to you. Excuse us, Mr. De Blacquaire.
Her face was of the color of the rose from brow to chin, and her
eyes were as shy as ever in spite of her vivacity. They met Ferdinand's
smiling, conquering glance for a moment, and no more. He raised his hat
and withdrew. He had shot his arrow, and had hit the white. He could
afford to retire contented for the moment, and he did so. But by-and-by
that young Gold, who played first fiddle in the quartette, came up with
his auburn mane, with his fiddle tucked under his arm, and stopped to
talk with Ruth and Fuller. Ferdinand, exchanging a friendly word or two
with a doubtful voter, watched with interest. She was blushing still,
and still surveying the ground, and marking patterns on it with the toe
of her pretty little bootconscious of his glance, the puss, no doubt,
and was posing a little for his admiration.
Ferdinand sat in the Barfield pew, and Ruth sat opposite. Why, the
philtre was working more and more! She was so conscious that she seemed
scarcely able to raise her eyes; and when, as happened no less than
three times, she met his glance, she looked down in the sweetest
confusion. The victorious young gentleman was so absorbed in his own
reflections that he took but little note of the service, and suffered
his attention to it to be for the most part mechanical. But on a sudden
a certain quite indefinable sense of general interest touched him.
Something was doing, or was going to be done, which was not altogether
in the common.
I publish banns of marriage, said Parson Hales, in those generous
old port-wine tones of his, between Reuben Gold, bachelor, and Ruth
Fuller, spinster, both of this parish, and
Mr. Ferdinand de Blacquaire realized with a shocking suddenness and
vividness that he was an ass and a puppy. He learned later on that he
was not absolutely either, but he gets a twinge out of I publish banns
of marriage, even unto this day.
Sennacherib, who sat near Reuben in the music-gallery, nudged him
with his elbow.
Knowest what's what? he whispered, to the younger man's prodigious
scandal and discomfort. Hast got the best wench i' the parish.
Reuben would willingly have chosen another time and place for the
receipt of congratulations.
Both Rachel and Ezra were in church, and each looked seriously and
sadly down, thinking of what might have been.
When service was over the ringers met by previous arrangement, and
startled Heydon Hay with a peal. Ezra was at Rachel's side when the
flood of sound descended on them and drowned his salutation. But they
shook hands, and walked away side by side until they reached the front
of Ezra's house, when Rachel turned to say good-by.
I'll walk a little way if you'll permit it, Miss Blythe, said
Ezra; and the old maid assenting, they walked on until the strenuous
clang of the bells was softened into music. They'll mek a handsome
couple, said Ezra, breaking the silence.
Upon acquaintance with the young man, said Rachel, I discover
many admirable qualities in him. The speech was prim still, and was
likely to continue so, but it had lost something, and had gained
something. It would be hard to say what it had lost or gained, and yet
the change was there, and Ezra marked it, and thought the voice
tenderer and more womanly. Perhaps the flood-tide of youth which had
swept over her heart at their reconciliation had not entirely ebbed
away, and its inward music lent an echo to her speech. If it were there
still, it was that which lent some of its own liquid sweetness to her
look. Not much, perhaps, and yet a little, and discernible.
There were half a dozen homeward-going worshippers ahead of them, a
hundred yards away, and a handful more a hundred yards behind, as
Ezra's backward glance discerned. They were all moving in the same
direction, and at pretty much the same pace. The air was very quiet,
and the clear music of the bells made no hinderance to their talk.
I'm thinkin', Miss Blythe, said Ezra, slowly, walking with his
hands clasped behind him and his downcast eyes just resting on her face
and gliding away again, I'm thinkin' as the spectacle of them two
young lives being linked the one with the other gives a sort of a
lonely seeming to the old age as you and me has got to look to.
Perhaps so, Mr. Gold, said Rachel, stopping with dry brevity in
her walk and holding out her hand. I must hasten homeward. I wish you
Ezra took her proffered hand in his, shook it gravely, and accepted
Not many newspapers came to Heydon Hay, and the few that found their
way thither reached the regular subscribers a day or two after their
news was stale to London readers. Ezra got his Argus regularly
every Tuesday morning, and in fine weather would sit in the garden to
read it. It happened that on the Tuesday after the first time of asking
of the banns, he sat beneath a full-leaved, distorted old cherry-tree,
gravely reading Our Paris Correspondence, when his eye fell upon an
item of news or fancy which startled him and then set him a-thinking.
All Paris, said our correspondent, was delightfully fluttered by the
approaching marriage of the Marquis of B. and Madame De X. Madame De X.
was a reigning beauty in the days of the Consul Plancus. It would be
unfair to reveal her precise age even if one knew it. The Marquis of B.
was turned seventy. The two had been lovers in their youth, and had
been separated by a misunderstanding. The lady had married, but the
gentleman for her sake had kept single. Monsieur X. had lived with his
bride for but a year, and had then succumbed to an attack of phthisis.
Now, after a separation of forty years, the two lovers had met again,
the ancient misunderstanding had been romantically explained, and they
had decided to spend the winter of their days together. Paris was
charmed, Paris was touched by this picture of a life-long devotion
presented by the Marquis of B.
Ezra, rising from his seat, laid the paper upon it and walked
soberly about the garden. Then he took up the journal, surrounded the
paragraph which related to the devotion of the Marquis of B. with heavy
ink-marks, waited patiently until the lines dried, folded up the paper,
put it in his pocket, and walked into the road. There he turned to the
left, and went straight on to Miss Blythe's cottage. There in the
garden was Miss Blythe herself, in a cottage bonnet and long gloves,
busily hoeing with little pecks at a raised flower-bed of the size of a
tea-tray. She looked up when Ezra paused at the gate, nodded with brisk
preciseness in answer to his salutation, and then went on industriously
pecking at the flower-bed.
My weekly paper has just arrived, Miss Blythe, said Ezra. It
appears to contain an unusual amount of interestin' matter, and I
thought I'd ask you in passing if you'd care to have a look at it.
You are remarkably obliging, Mr. Gold, said Rachel. I thank you
extremely. She took the newspaper from his hand and retired into the
house with it. Ezra lingered, and she returned to resume her
It is beautiful weather, said Ezra.
It is beautiful weather, indeed, said Rachel. Ezra lingered on,
but rather hopelessly, for she would not so much as glance in his
direction so far as he could see, but her features were entirely hidden
by the cottage bonnet.
I trust you will find a item or two as will be of interest, he
said, after a lengthy pause. Rachel contented herself with an
emphatic-seeming little nod at the flower-bed. Good-day, Miss Blythe.
Good-day, Mr. Gold, and thank you very much for being so good as to
think of me.
They did not encounter again until the following Sunday morning,
when the banns between Ruth and Reuben were called a second time. The
ringers were at work again when Ezra and Rachel met in the porch as the
church-goers streamed slowly away, and the two shook hands mutely. They
walked on side by side until Ezra's house was reached, and neither
spoke until then. Pausing before the door, Miss Blythe put out her
If I might be allowed to go a little farther, Miss Blythe, said
Ezra, gently. Rachel withdrew her hand and said nothing. So once more
they walked, apart from other home-going worshippers, down the lane
that led to Rachel's cottage.
Did you, began Ezra, pausing to cough behind his handdid you
tek a look at the paper, Miss Blythe? He received a nod for sole
answer, unless the pinching of the lips and an unconsciously affected
maiden drooping of the eyelids might be supposed to add to it. Did you
happen to read a particular item, said Ezra, pausing to cough behind
his hand again, a item in the letter from Paris?
Really, Mr. Gold, said Rachel, marching on with exceeding
stateliness, and looking straight before her, at our ages that piece
of news would offer a very frivolous theme for conversation.
Might we not talk of it without being frivolous, Miss Blythe?
Decidedly not, in my opinion, Miss Blythe responded.
To talk of love, pursued Ezra, glancing at her now and then, in
the sense young people use the word, between persons of the ages of
that lady and gentleman, 'ud be frivolous indeed. But I persoom, Miss
Blythe, they did not talk so.
I should think not, indeed, said Rachel, with decision. I should
But to talk of love as love is betwixt the elderlyto talk of
companionshipto talk of shelterin' one another again the loneliness
of late old ageto talk of each one tekin' up the little remnant of
life as was left to 'em and putting it i' the other's hands for kindly
keepin'! Should you think as that was ridiculous, Rachel?
I should think, said Rachel, that old fools are the greatest
fools of all. Ezra sighed. I do not know, she said at this, that
the poor-marquis is so much to blame, but the lady should have known
better than listen to his folly.
I had thought, said Ezra, patiently, you would ha' took a
different view of it, Rachel. They went on to the gate without another
word. Good-morning, Rachel, Ezra said there. Don't be afraid of me.
I will not come back again to this subject. I had hoped you would not
ha' looked on it with such mislikin'; but sence you do, I will say no
more about it.
So they parted, and met again and were good friends, and not
infrequent companions, and Ezra said no more.
The eve of Reuben's great day came round, and Reuben was dismissed
from his sweetheart's presence to wander where he would, for Ruth and
her assistants (among whom was none more important than Aunt Rachel)
had a prodigious deal to do. The lovers were to leave directly after
their marriage for no less a place than London, and there were dresses
to be tried on and finished and packed, and altogether the time was
trying. In his wanderings about the fields Reuben encountered the
younger Sennacherib, whom he strove vainly to avoid; not because he
disliked him, but because his own thoughts kept him in better company
just then than the younger Sennacherib was likely to provide in his own
person. But Snac was not a man to be lightly shaken off, and Reuben
bent himself to listen to him as best he might.
So, said young Sennacherib, thee beest goin' to enter into the
bounds of 'oly matterymony? Reuben laughed, and nodded an affirmative.
Well, theest done a very pretty thing for me amongst you.
For you? said Reuben. How?
Why this way, said Snac, bending his knees to make the tight
embraces of his cords endurable. Thee wast by when my feyther gi'en me
the farewell shillin'. Very well. I'd got nothin' i' the world, and he
knowed it. After a bit he begun to relent a bit, though nobody 'd iver
had expected sich a thing. But so it was. He took to sendin' me a sov a
week, onbeknownst to anybody, and most of all to mother. Well, mother
sends me a sov a week from the beginning unbeknownst to anybody, and
most of all him. Her'd ha' gone in fear of her life if her'd ha'
guessed he knowed it. And now my income's cut down to half, and all
because of this here weddin' o' thine.
I don't see how, said Reuben.
Why thus, said Snac, with a somewhat rueful grin. This here
Rachel Blythe as has come back to the parish has come to a reconciling
with your uncle, as was a by-gone flame of hern; and her tells my
mother as it's thee and thy bride as browt that to pass.
True enough, Reuben allowed; but still I don't see
An' niver will see, said Snac, till thee lettest me tell thee.
Her comes to my feyther's house, this Miss Blythe, an' tells mother
what a beautiful thing this reconcilin' is, and they fall to weepin'
and cry-in' to my feyther both together, an' all on a sudden, t'
everybody's mightiest astonishing, what's he to do but say, 'Theer, I
forgi'en him. Hold your jaw, the pair on you!' Well, now, see what a
pitch I'm let to fall on. Feyther durn't tell mother for his life as he
helped me; her durn't tell him as her helped me. So they mek up their
minds to gi'e me a pound a week betwigst the two on 'em, and that's how
it comes about with these here cussed reconcilings, as I'm done out o'
fifty per cent, o' my income. Look here, Mr. Gold, don't you goo about
reconcilin' no more of my relations.
Why, Snac, cried Reuben, it's none of my doing.
Well, Snac allowed, it'd be hard upon a man to mek him answerable
for all the doin's of his wife's mother's second cousin. But if it had
been a man as had ha' done it, I'd ha' had a try to punch his head for
him. I should ha' took a trial trip at you yourself, Mr. Gold, for all
so big and all so handy as you be.
Well, Snac, said Reuben, it will be all the bet-ter for you in
the end, and I hope it may mend sooner. But if the fact of my meaning
to get married has done so much good as you say it has, I'm very glad
to know it, and I'll take it as a happy sign.
It seemed an augury of happiness as he walked alone about the
fields, and dwelt upon it. It seemed a fitting thing that love should
spread peace abroad, and that peace should multiply itself.
On the morrow the ringers rang; and being inspired by plenitude of
beer and rich gratuity, and hearty good-will into the bargain, they
rang till sundown. And when the wedding was over, and the bride and
bridegroom had driven away with cheers and blessings in their train,
the wedding-guests sat in the garden with the sylvan statues standing
solemnly about, and the bells making joyful music. Everybody was very
sober and serious when the excitement of cheering away the wedded pair
was over, and in a while the guests began to go. Ezra and Rachel
lingered among the latest, and Rachel's going was the signal for Ezra
to say his good-bys and follow. She made no objection to his society,
and they walked on without speaking. The declining sun shone full in
their faces, and cast their shadows far behind. Except for themselves
the lane was lonely.
Did you see in last week's copy of the Argus, said Rachel,
suddenly, and with great dryness, that the Marquis of B. and the lady
I noted it, said Ezra. Do you think so badly of them as you did?
Rachel said nothing.
Do you think so badly of them as you did? he asked again, and
still Rachel said nothing. The lane was lonely. He laid a hand upon the
shoulder nearest him, and asked the question for a third time. Still
she said not a word, but bent her head, perhaps to avoid the level
sunlight. Shall we garner up the years that are left for us together,
She gave no answer still, but he seemed to understand. They walked
on side by side towards the sunset, and the joy-bells, half sad with
distance, sounded in their ears.