by Hesba Stretton
Chapter 1. THE
HUT IN THE
Chapter 2. THE
Chapter 5. MISS
Chapter 6. THE
RED GRAVEL PIT
Chapter 7. POOR
STEPHEN AND THE
Chapter 10. THE
CABIN ON THE
STEPHEN AND THE
VISIT OF BLACK
Chapter 13. THE
Chapter 14. A
Chapter 17. A
Chapter 18. THE
Chapter 22. THE
Chapter 23. THE
Chapter 1. THE HUT IN THE HOLLOW
Just upon the border of Wales, but within one of the English
counties, there is a cluster of hills, rising one above the other in
gradual slopes, until the summits form a long, broad tableland, many
miles across. This tableland is not so flat that all of it can be seen
at once, but here and there are little dells, shaped like deep basins,
which the country folk call hollows; and every now and then there is a
rock or hillock covered with yellow gorse bushes, from the top of which
can be seen the wide, outspread plains, where hundreds of sheep and
ponies are feeding, which belong to the farmers and cottagers dwelling
in the valley below. Besides the chief valley, which divides the
mountains into two groups, and which is broad enough for a village to
be built in, there are long, narrow glens, stretching up into the very
heart of the tableland, and draining away the waters which gather there
by the melting of snow in the winter and the rain of thunderstorms in
summer. Down every glen flows a noisy mountain stream, dashing along
its rocky course with so many tiny waterfalls and impatient splashes,
that the gurgling and bubbling of brooks come up even into the
quietness of the tableland and mingle with the singing of the birds and
the humming of the bees among the heather. There are not many paths
across the hills, except the narrow sheep-walks worn by the tiny feet
of the sheep as they follow one another in long, single lines, winding
in and out through the clumps of gorse; and few people care to explore
the solitary plains, except the shepherds who have the charge of the
flocks, and tribes of village children who go up every summer to gather
the fruit of the wild and hardy bilberry wires.
The whole of this broad tableland, as well as the hills, are common
pasture for the inhabitants of the valleys, who have an equal right to
keep sheep and ponies on the uplands with the lord of the manor. But
the property of the soil belongs to the latter, and he only has the
power of enclosing the waste so as to make fields and plant woods upon
it, provided always that he leaves a sufficient portion for the use of
the villagers. In times gone by, however, when the lord of the manor
and his agent were not very watchful, it was the practice of poor
persons, who did not care how uncomfortably they lived, to seek out
some distant hollow, or the farthest and most hidden side of a hillock,
and there build themselves such a low, small hut, as should escape the
notice of any passer-by, should they chance to go that way. Little by
little, making low fences which looked like the surrounding gorse
bushes, they enclosed small portions of the waste land, or, as it is
called, encroached upon the common; and if they were able to keep their
encroachment without having their hedges broken down, or if the lord of
the manor neglected to demand rent for it for the space of twenty
years, their fields and gardens became securely and legally their own.
Because of this right, therefore, are to be found here and there little
farms of three or four fields apiece, looking like islands, with the
wide, open common around them; and some miles away over the breezy
uplands there is even a little hamlet of these poor cottages, all
belonging to the people who dwell in them.
Many years ago, even many years before my story begins, a poor
woman--who was far worse off than a widow, for her husband had just
been sentenced to transportation for twenty-one years--strayed down to
these mountains upon her sorrowful way home to her native place. She
had her only child with her, a boy five years of age; and from some
reason or other, perhaps because she could not bear to go home in shame
and disgrace, she sought out a very lonely hiding-place among the
hills, and with her own bands reared rough walls of turf and stones,
until she had formed such a rude hut as would just give shelter to her
and her boy. There they lived, uncared for and solitary, until the
husband came back, after suffering his twenty-one years' punishment,
and entered into a little spot of land entirely his own. Then, with the
assistance of his son, a strong, full-grown young man, he rebuilt the
cottage, though upon a scale not much larger or much more commodious
than his wife's old hut.
Like other groups of mountains, the highest and largest are those
near the centre, and from them the land descends in lower and lower
levels, with smaller hills and smoother valleys, until at length it
sinks into the plain. Then they are almost like children's hills and
valleys; the slopes are not too steep for very little feet to climb,
and the rippling brooks are not in so much hurry to rush on to the
distant river, but that boys and girls at play can stop them for a
little time with slight banks of mud and stones. In just such a smooth,
sloping dell, down in a soft green basin, called Fern's Hollow, was the
hiding-place where the convict's sad wife had found an unmolested
This dwelling, the second one raised by the returned convict and his
son, is built just below the brow of the bill, so that the back of the
hut is formed of the hill itself, and only the sides and front are real
walls. These walls are made of rubble, or loose, unhewn stones, piled
together with a kind of mortar, which is little more than clay baked
hard in the heat of the sun. The chimney is a bit of old stove-pipe,
scarcely rising above the top of the hill behind; and, but for the
smoke, we could look down the pipe, as through the tube of a telescope,
upon the family sitting round the hearth within. The thatch, overgrown
with moss, appears as a continuation of the slope of the hill itself,
and might almost deceive the simple sheep grazing around it. Instead of
a window there is only a square hole, covered by a shutter when the
light is not urgently needed; and the door is so much too small for its
sill and lintels as to leave large chinks, through which adventurous
bees and beetles may find their way within. You may see at a glance
that there is but one room, and that there can be no upstairs to the
hut, except that upper storey of the broad, open common behind it,
where the birds sleep softly in their cosy nests. Before the house is a
garden; and beyond that a small field sown with silver oats, which are
dancing and glistening in the breeze and sunshine; while before the
garden wicket, but not enclosed from the common, is a warm, sunny
valley, in the very middle of which a slender thread of a brook widens
into a lovely little basin of a pool, clear and cold, the very place
for the bill ponies to come and drink
Looking steadily up this pleasant valley from the threshold of the
cottage, we can just see a fine, light film of white smoke against the
blue sky. Two miles away, right down off the mountains, there is a
small coal-field and a quarry of limestone. In a distant part of the
country there are large tracts of land where coal and iron pits are
sunk on every side, and their desolate and barren pit-banks extend for
miles round, while a heavy cloud of smoke hangs always in the air. But
here, just at the foot of these mountains, there is one little seam of
coal, as if placed for the express use of these people, living so far
away from the larger coal-fields. The Botfield lime and coal works
cover only a few acres of the surface; but underground there are long
passages bored beneath the pleasant pastures and the yellow cornfields.
From the mountains, Botfield looks rather like a great blot upon the
fair landscape, with its blackened engine-house and banks of coal-dust,
its long range of limekilns, sultry and quivering in the summer
sunshine, and its heavy, groaning water-wheel, which pumps up the water
from the pits below. But the colliers do not think it so, nor their
wives in the scattered village beyond; they do not consider the lime
and coal works a blot, for their living depends upon them, and they may
rightly say, 'As for the earth, out of it cometh bread: and under it is
turned up as it were fire.'
Even Stephen Fern, who would a thousand times rather work out on the
free hill-side than in the dark passages underground, does not think it
a pity that the Botfield pit has been discovered at the foot of the
mountains. It is nearly seven o'clock in the evening, and he is coming
over the brow of the green dell, with his long shadow stretching down
it. A very long shadow it is for so small a figure to cast, for if we
wait a minute or two till Stephen draws nearer, we shall see that he is
no strong, large man, but a slight, thin, stooping boy, bending rather
wearily under a sack of coals, which he is carrying on his shoulders,
and pausing now and then to wipe his heated forehead with the sleeve of
his collier's flannel jacket. When he lifts up the latch of his home we
will enter with him, and see the inside of the hut at Fern's Hollow.
Chapter 2. THE DYING FATHER
Stephen stepped over the threshold into a low, dark room, which was
filled with smoke, from a sudden gust of the wind as it swept over the
roof of the hut. On one side of the grate, which was made of some
half-hoops of iron fastened into the rock, there was a very aged man,
childish and blind with years, who was crouching towards the fire, and
talking and chuckling to himself. A girl, about a year older than
Stephen, sat in a rocking-chair, and swung to and fro as she knitted
away fast and diligently at a thick grey stocking. In the corner
nearest to the fireplace there stood a pallet-bed, hardly raised above
the earthen floor, to which Stephen hastened immediately, with an
anxious look at the thin, white face of his father lying upon the
pillow. Beside the sick man there lay a little child fast asleep, with
her hand clasping one of her father's fingers; and though James Fern
was shaking and trembling with a violent fit of coughing from the
sudden gust of smoke, he took care not to loose the hold of those tiny
'Poor little Nan!' he whispered to Stephen, as soon as he could
speak. 'I've been thinking all day of her and thee, lad, till I'm nigh
'Do you feel worse, father?' asked Stephen anxiously.
'I'm drawing nearer the end,' answered James Fern,--'nearer the end
every hour; and I don't know for certain what the end will be. I'm
repenting; but I can't undo the mischief I've done; I must leave that
behind me. If I'd been anything like a decent father, I should have
left you comfortable, instead of poor beggars. And what is to become of
my poor lass here? See how fast she clips my hand, as if she was
afeared I was going to leave her! Oh, Stephen, my lad, what will you
'Father,' said Stephen, in a quiet and firm voice, 'I'm getting six
shillings a week wages, and we can live on very little. We haven't got
any rent to pay, and only ourselves and grandfather to keep, and Martha
is as good as a woman grown. We'll manage, father, and take care of
'Stephen and I are not bad, father,' added Martha, speaking up
proudly; 'I am not like Black Bess of Botfield. Mother always told me I
was to do my duty; and I always do it. I can wash, and sew, and iron,
and bake, and knit. Why, often and often we've had no more than
Stephen's earnings, when you've been to the Red Lion on reckoning
'Hush, hush, Martha!' whispered Stephen.
'No, it's true,' groaned the dying father; 'God Almighty, have mercy
on me! Stephen, hearken to me, and thee too, Martha, while I tell you
about this place, and what you are to do when I'm gone.'
He paused for a minute or two, looking earnestly at the crouching old
man in the chimney-corner.
'Grandfather's quite simple,' he said, 'and he's dark, too, and
doesn't know what any one is saying. But I know thee'lt be good to him,
Stephen. Hearken, children: your poor old grandfather was once in jail,
and was sent across the seas, for a thief.'
'Father!' cried Stephen, in a tone of deep distress; and he turned
quickly to the old man, remembering how often he had sat upon his knees
by the winter fire, and how many summer days he had rambled with him
over the uplands alter the sheep. His grandfather had been far kinder
to him than his own father; and his heart swelled with anger as he went
and laid his arm round the bending neck of the old man, who looked up
in his face and laughed heartily.
'Come back, Stephen; it's true,' gasped James Fern. 'Poor mother and
me came here, where nobody knew us, while he was away for more than
twenty years; and she built a hut for us to live in till he came back.
I was a little lad then, but as soon as I was big enough she made me
learn to read and write, that I might send letters to him beyond the
seas and none of the neighbours know. She'd often make me read to her
about a poor fellow who had left home and gone to a far country and
when he came home again, how his father saw him a long way off. Well,
she was just like that when she'd heard that he was landed in England;
she did nought but sit over the bent of the hill yonder, peering along
the road to Botfield; and one evening at sundown she saw something,
little more than a speck upon the turf, and she'd a feeling come over
her that it was he, and she fainted for real joy. After all, we weren't
much happier when we were settled down like. Grandfather had learned to
tend sheep out yonder, and I worked at Botfield; but we never laid by
money to build a brick house, as poor mother always wanted us. She died
a month or so afore I was married to your mother.'
James Fern was silent again for some minutes, leaning back upon his
pillow, with his eyes closed, and his thoughts gone back to the old
'If I'd only been like mother, you'd have been a hill-farmer now,
Steve,' he continued, in a tone of regret; 'she plotted out in her own
mind to take in the green before us, for rearing young lambs, and
ducks, and goslings. But I was like that poor lad that wasted all his
substance in riotous living; and I've let thee and thy sister grow up
without even the learning I could have given thee; and learning is
light carriage, But, lad, remember this house is thy own, and never
part with it; never give it up, for it is thy right. Maybe they'll want
to turn thee out, because thee art a boy; but I've lived in it nigh
upon forty years, and I've written it all down upon this piece of
paper, and that the place is thine, Stephen.'
'I'll never give it up, father,' said Stephen, in his steady voice.
'Stephen,' continued his father, 'the master has set his heart upon
it to make it a hill-farm; and thou'lt have hard work to hold thy own
against him. Thou must frame thy words well when he speaks to thee
about it, for he's a cunning man. And there's another paper, which the
parson at Danesford has in his keeping, to certify that mother built
this house and dwelt in it all the days of her life, more than thirty
years; if there's any mischief worked against thee, go to him for it.
And now, Stephen, wash thyself, and get thy supper, and then let's hear
thee read thy chapter.'
Stephen carried his basin of potatoes to the door-sill and sat there,
with his back turned to the dismal hut and his dying father, and his
face looking out upon the green hills. He had always been a grave and
thoughtful boy; and he had much to think of now. The deep sense of new
duties and obligations that had come upon him with his father's words,
made him feel that his boyhood had passed away. He looked round upon
the garden, and the field, and the hut, with the keen eye of an owner;
and he wondered at the neglected state into which they had fallen since
his father's illness. There could be no more play-time for him; no
bird's-nesting among the gorse-bushes; no rabbit-bunting with Snip, the
little white terrier that was sharing his supper. If little Nan and his
grandfather were to be provided for, he must be a man, with a man's
thoughtfulness, doing man's work. There seemed enough work for him to
do in the field and garden alone, without his twelve hours' toil in the
coal-pit; but his weekly wages would now be more necessary than ever.
He must get up early, and go to bed late, and labour without a moment's
rest, doing his utmost from one day to another, with no one to help
him, or stand for a little while in his place. For a few minutes his
brave spirit sank within him, and all the landscape swam before his
eyes; while Snip took advantage of his master's inattention to put his
nose into the basin, and help himself to the largest share of the
'I mean to be like grandmother,' said Martha's clear, sharp voice,
close beside him, and he saw his sister looking eagerly round her. 'I
shall fence the green in, and have lambs and sheep to turn out on the
hill-side, and I'll rear young goslings and ducks for market; and we'll
have a brick house, with two rooms in it, as well as a shed for the
coal. And nobody shall put upon us, or touch our rights, Stephen, or
they shall have the length of my tongue.'
'Martha,' said Stephen earnestly, 'do you see how a shower is raining
down on the master's fields at Botfield; and they've been scorched up
for want of water?'
'Yes, surely,' answered Martha; 'and what of that?'
'I'm thinking,' continued Stephen, rather shyly, 'of that verse in my
chapter: "He maketh the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and
sendeth rain on the just and the unjust." What sort of a man is the
'He's a bad, unjust, niggardly old miser,' replied Martha.
'And if God sends him rain, and takes care of him,' Stephen said,
'how much more care will He take of us, if we are good, and try to do
'I should think,' said Martha, but in a softer tone, 'I should really
think He would give us the green, and the lambs, and the new house, and
everything; for both of us are good, Stephen.'
'I don't know,' replied Stephen; 'if I could read all the Bible,
perhaps it would tell us. But now I must go in and read my chapter to
Martha went back to her rocking-chair and knitting, while Stephen
reached down from a shelf an old Bible, covered with green baize, and,
having carefully looked that his hard hands were quite clean, he opened
it with the greatest reverence. James Fern had only begun to teach the
boy to read a few months before, when he felt the first fatal symptoms
of his illness; and Stephen, with his few opportunities for learning,
had only mastered one chapter, the fifth chapter of St. Matthew's
Gospel, which his father had chosen for him to begin with. The sick man
lay still with closed eyes, but listening attentively to every word,
and correcting his son whenever he made any mistake. When it was
finished, James Fern read a few verses aloud himself, with low voice
and frequent pauses to regain his strength; and very soon afterwards
the whole family were in a deep sleep, except himself.
Chapter 3. STEPHEN'S FIRST VICTORY
James Fern did not live many more days, and he was buried the Sunday
following his death. All the colliers and pitmen from Botfield walked
with the funeral of their old comrade and made a great burial of it.
The parish church was two miles on the other side of Botfield, and four
miles from Fern's Hollow; so James Fern and his family had never, as he
called it, 'troubled' the church with their attendance. All the
household, even to little Nan, went with their father's corpse, to bury
it in the strange and distant churchyard. Stephen felt as if he was in
some long and painful dream, as he sat in the cart, with his feet
resting upon his father's coffin, with his grandfather on a chair at
the head, nodding and laughing at every jolt on the rough road, and
Martha holding a handkerchief up to her face, and carrying a large
umbrella over herself and little Nan, to keep the dust off their new
black bonnets. The boy, grave as he was, could hardly think; he felt in
too great a maze for that. The church, too, which he had never entered
before, seemed grand and cold and immense, with its lofty arches, and a
roof so high that it made him giddy to look up to it. Now and then he
heard a few sentences of the burial service sounding out grandly in the
clergyman's strange, deep voice; but they were not words he was
familiar with, and he could not understand their meaning. At the open
grave only, the clergyman said 'Our Father,' which his father had
taught him during his illness; and while his tears rolled down his
cheeks for the first time that day, Stephen repeated over and over
again to himself, 'Our Father! our Father!'
Stephen would have liked to stay in the church for the evening
service, for which the bells were already ringing; but this did not at
all suit the tastes of his father's old comrades. They made haste to
crowd into a public-house, where they sat and drank, and forced Stephen
to drink too, in order to 'drown his grief.' It was still a painful
dream to him; and more and more, as the long hours passed on, he
wondered how he came there, and what all the people about him were
doing. It was quite dark before they started homewards, and the poor
old grandfather was no longer able to sit up in his chair, but lay
helplessly at the bottom of the cart. Even Martha was fast asleep, and
leaned her head upon Stephen's shoulder, without any regard for her new
black bonnet. The cart was now crowded with as many of the people as
could get into it, who sang and shouted along the quiet Sunday road;
and, as they insisted upon stopping at every public-house they came to,
it was very late before they reached the lane leading up to Fern's
Hollow. The grandfather was half dragged and half carried along by two
of the men, followed by Stephen bearing sleepy little Nan in his arms,
and by Martha, who had wakened up in a temper between crying and
scolding. The long, strange, painful dream of father's funeral was not
over yet, and Stephen was still trying to think in a stupid, drowsy
fashion, when he fell heavily asleep on the bed beside his grandfather.
He awoke by habit very early in the morning, and aroused himself with
a great effort against dropping asleep again. He could realize and
understand his position better now. Father was dead; and there was no
one to earn bread for them all but himself. At this thought he sprang
up instantly, though his head was aching in a manner he had never felt
before. With some difficulty he awoke Martha to get his breakfast and
put up his dinner in a basket which he carried with him to the pit. She
also complained bitterly of her head aching, and moved about with a
listlessness very different to her usual activity. 'I only wish I knew
what was right,' said Stephen to himself; 'they told us we ought to
show respect for father, but I don't think he'd like this. Perhaps if I
could read the Bible all through, that would tell me everything.'
This thought reminded Stephen that he had promised his father to read
his chapter every day of his life till he knew how to read more; and,
carrying the old Bible to his favourite seat on the door-sill, a very
pleasant place in the cool, fresh summer morning, he read the verses
aloud, slowly and carefully, rather repeating than reading them, for he
knew his chapter better by heart than by the printed letters in the
book Thank God, Stephen Fern did begin to know it by heart!
It was not a bad day in the pit. All the colliers, men and boys, were
more gentle than usual with the fatherless lad; and even Black
Thompson, his master since his father's illness, who was in general a
fierce bully to everybody about him, spoke as mildly as he could to
Stephen. Yet all the day Stephen longed for his release in the evening,
thinking how much work there wanted doing in the garden, and how he and
Martha must be busy in it till nightfall. The clanking of the chain
which drew him up to the light of day sounded like music to him; but
little did he guess that an enemy was lying in wait for him at the
mouth of the pit. 'Hillo!' cried a voice down the shaft as they were
nearing the top; 'one of you chaps have got to carry a sack o' coals
The voice belonged to Tim Cole, who was the terror of the pit-bank,
from his love of mischief and his insatiable desire for fighting. He
was looking down the shaft now, with a grin and a laugh upon his red
face, round which his shaggy red hair hung like a rough mane. There
were only two other boys besides Stephen in the skip, and as their
fathers were with them it might be dangerous to meddle with them; so
Tim fixed upon Stephen as his prey.
'Thee has got to carry these coals, Steve,' he said, his eyes dancing
'I won't,' replied Stephen.
'Thee shalt,' cried Tim, with an oath.
'I won't,' Stephen repeated stedfastly.
'Then we'll fight for it,' said Tim, clenching his fists and squaring
his arms, while the men and boys formed a ring round the two lads, and
one and another spoke encouragingly to Stephen, who was somewhat
slighter and younger than Tim. He had beaten Tim once before, but that
was months ago; yet the blood rushed into Stephen's face, and he set
his lips together firmly. Up yonder, just within the range of his
sight, was Fern's Hollow, with its neglected garden, and his supper
waiting for him; and here was the heavy sack of coals to be carried for
a mile, or the choice of fighting with Tim.
'I wish I knew what I ought to do,' he said, speaking aloud, though
speaking to himself.
'Ay, ay, lad,' cried Black Thompson; 'it's a shame to make thee
fight, and thy father not cold in the graveyard yet. I say, Tim, what
is it thee wants?'
'These coals,' answered Tim doggedly, 'are to be carried to the New
Farm; and if Stevie Fern won't take them one mile, he must fight me
afore he goes off this bank.'
'Now, lads, I'll judge between ye this time,' said Black Thompson.
'Stevie shall carry them to the end of Red Lane, and cut across the
hill home: that's not much out of the way; and if Tim makes him go one
step farther, I'll lick thee myself to-morrow, lad, I promise thee.'
Stephen hoisted the sack upon his shoulders in silence, and strode
away with a swelling heart, in which a tumult of anger and perplexity
was raging. 'If I had only a commandment about these things!' he
thought. He was not quite certain whether it would not have been best
and wisest to fight with Tim and have it out; especially as Tim was all
the time taunting him for being a coward. But his father had read much
to him during the last three months; and though he could not remember
any particular commandment, he felt sure that the Bible did not
encourage fighting or drunkenness. Suddenly, and before they reached
the end of Red Lane, a light burst upon Stephen's mind.
'I say, Tim,' he said, speaking to him for the first time, 'it's four
miles to the New Farm, and I'll go with thee a mile farther than Red
'Eh!' cried Tim; 'and get Black Thompson to lick me to-morrow?'
'No,' said Stephen earnestly, 'I'll not tell Black Thompson; and if
he hears talk of it, I'll say I did it of my own mind. Come thy ways,
Tim; let's be sharp, for I've my potatoes to hoe when I get home
The boys walked briskly on for a few minutes, past the end of Red
Lane, though Stephen cast a wistful glance up it, and gave an impatient
jerk to the load upon his shoulders. Tim had been walking beside him in
silent reflection; but at last he came to a sudden halt.
'I can't make it out,' he said. 'What art thee up to, Stephen? Tell
me out plain, or I'll fight thee here, if Black Thompson does lick me
'Why, I've been learning to read,' answered Stephen, with some pride,
'and of course I know things I didn't used to know, and what thee
doesn't know now.'
'And what's that to do with it?' inquired Tim.
'My chapter says that if any man forces me to go one mile, I am to go
two,' replied Stephen; 'it doesn't say why exactly, but I'm going to
try what good it will be to me to do everything that my book tells me.'
'It's a queer book,' said Tim, after a pause. 'Does it say a chap may
make another chap do his work for him?'
'No,' Stephen answered; 'but it says we are to love our enemies, and
do good to them that hate us, that we may be the children of our Father
which is in heaven--that is God, Tim. So that is why I am going a mile
farther with thee.'
'I don't hate thee,' said Tim uneasily, 'but I do love fighting; I'd
liever thee'd fight than come another mile. Don't thee come any
farther, I've been bone lazy all day, and thee's been at work. And I
say, Stevie, I'll help thee with the potatoes to-morrow, to make up for
Stephen thanked him, and accepted his offer heartily. The load was
quickly transferred to Tim's broad back, and the boys parted in more
goodwill than they had ever felt before; Stephen strengthened by this
favourable result in his resolution to put in practice all he knew of
the Bible; and Tim deep in thought, as was evident from his muttering
every now and then on his way to the New Farm, 'Queer book that; and a
queer chap too!'
Chapter 4. THREATENING CLOUDS
Little Nan would be waiting for him, as well as his supper, and
Stephen forgot his weariness as he bounded along the soft turf, to the
great discomfiture of the brown-faced sheep, quite as anxious for their
supper as he was for his.
Stephen heard far off Snip's sharp, impatient bark, and it made him
quicken his steps still more, until, coming within sight of his own
Hollow, he stopped suddenly, and his heart beat even more vehemently
than when he was running up the hill-side.
There was, however, nothing very terrible in the scene. The hut was
safe, and the sun was shining brightly upon the garden, and little Nan
was standing as usual at the wicket. Only in the oat-field, with their
faces looking across the green, stood two men in close conversation.
These men were both of them old, and rather thin and shrivelled in
figure; their features bore great resemblance to each other, the eyes
being small and sunken, with many wrinkles round them, and both mouths
much fallen in. You would have said at once they were brothers; and if
you drew near enough to hear their conversation, you would have found
your guess was right.
'Brother Thomas,' said the thinnest and sharpest-looking, 'I intend
to enclose as far as we can see from this point. That southern bank
will be a first-rate place for young animals. I shall build a house,
with three rooms above and below, besides a small dairy; and I shall
plant a fir-wood behind it to keep off the east winds. The lime and
bricks from my own works will not cost me much more than the expense of
bringing them up here.'
'And a very pretty little hill-farm you'll make of it, James,'
replied Thomas Wyley admiringly. 'I should not wonder now if you got
£20 a year rent for it.'
'I shall get £25 in a few years,' said the other one: 'just think of
the run for ponies on the hill, to say nothing of sheep. A young,
hard-working man could make a very tidy living up here; and we shall
have a respectable house, instead of a pauper's family.'
'It will be a benefit to the neighbourhood,' observed Thomas Wyley.
The latter speaker, who was a degree pleasanter-looking than his
brother, was the relieving officer of the large union to which Botfield
belonged; and, in consequence, all poor persons who had grown too old,
or were in any way unable to work, were compelled to apply to him for
the help which the laws of our country provide for such cases. James
Wyley, the elder brother, was the owner of Botfield works, and the
master of all the people employed in them, besides being the agent of
the lord of the manor. So both these men possessed great authority over
the poor; and they used the power to oppress them and grind them down
to the utmost. It was therefore no wonder that Stephen stopped
instantly when he saw their well-known figures standing at the corner
of his oat-field; nor that he should come on slowly after he had
recovered his courage, pondering in his own mind what they were come up
to Fern's Hollow for, and how he should answer them if they should want
him to give up the old hut.
'Good evening, my lad,' said James Wyley, smiling a slow, reluctant
smile, as Stephen drew near to them with his cap in his hand. 'So you
buried your father yesterday, I hear. Poor fellow! there was not a
better collier at Botfield than James Fern.'
'Never troubled his parish for a sixpence,' added Thomas Wyley.
'Thank you, master,' said Stephen, the tears starting to his eyes, so
unexpected was this gentle greeting to him; 'I'll try to be like
'Well, my boy,' said Thomas Wyley, 'we are come up here on purpose to
give you our advice, as you are such a mere lad. I've been thinking
what can be done for you. There's your grandfather, a poor, simple,
helpless old man, and the little girl—why, of course we shall have to
receive them into the House; and I'll see there is no difficulty made
about it. Then we intend to get your sister into some right good
'I should not mind taking her into my own house,' said the master,
Mr. James Wyley; 'she would soon learn under my niece Anne. So you will
be set free to get your own living without encumbrance; you are earning
your six shillings now, and that will keep you well'
'Please, sir,' answered Stephen, 'we mean to live all together as
we've been used; and I couldn't let grandfather and little Nan come
upon the parish. Martha must stay at home to mind them; and I'll work
my fingers to the bone for them all, sir. Many thanks all the same to
you for coming up here to see after us.'
'Very fine indeed, my little fellow,' said Thomas Wyley; 'but you
don't understand what you are talking about. It is my place to see
after the poor, and I cannot leave you in charge of such a very old man
and such a child as this. No, no; they must be taken care of; and
they'll be made right comfortable in the House.'
'Father said,' replied Stephen, 'that I was never to let grandfather
and little Nan come upon the parish. I get my wages, and we've no rent
to pay; and the potatoes and oats will help us; and Martha can pick
bilberries on the hill, and carry bundles of firing to the village; and
we'll do well enough without the parish. Many thanks all the same to
'Hark ye, my lad,' said the master impatiently. 'I want to buy your
old hut and field from you. I'll give ye a ten-pound note for it; a
whole ten pounds. Why, a fortune for you!'
'Father said,' repeated Stephen, 'I was never to give up Fern's
Hollow; and I gave him a sure promise for that, and to take care of
little Nan as long as ever I lived.'
'Fern's Hollow is none of yours,' cried the master, in a rage;
'you've just been a family of paupers and squatters, living up here by
poaching and thieving. I'll unearth you, I promise ye; you have been a
disgrace to the manor long enough. So it is ten pounds or nothing for
your old hole; and you may take your choice.'
'Please, sir,' said Stephen firmly, 'the place is ours, and I'm never
to part with it I'll never poach, and I'll never trespass on the manor;
but I can't sell the old house, sir.'
'Now, just listen to me, young Fern,' said Thomas Wyley; 'you'll be
compelled to give up Fern's Hollow in right of the lord of the manor;
and then if you come to the House for relief, mark my words, I'll send
your grandfather off to Bristol, for that's his parish, and you'll
never see him again; and I'll give orders for you never to see little
Nan; and I'll apprentice you and your other sister in different places.
So you had better be reasonable, and take our advice while you can be
'Please, sir, I can't go against my promise,' answered Stephen, with
'What's the use of wasting one's breath?' said the master; 'this
place I want, and this place I'll have; and we'll see if this young
jail-bird will stand in my way. Ah, my fine fellow, it's no such secret
where your grandfather spent twenty-one years of his life; and you'll
have a sup of the same broth some day. You don't keep a dog like that
yelping cur for nothing; and I'll tell the gamekeeper to have his eye
Stephen stood motionless, watching them down the narrow path which
led to Botfield, until a rabbit started from beneath the hedge, and
Snip, with a sharp, short bark of excitement, gave it chase in the
direction of the two men. The master paused, and, looking back, shook
his stick threateningly at the motionless figure of the boy; while
Thomas Wyley threw a stone at the dog, whiich sent him back, yelping
piteously, to his young master's feet. Stephen clenched his hands, and
bit his lips till the blood started, but he did not move till the last
glimpse of his foes had passed away from the hillside. Martha had
hidden herself in the hut while they were present, for she had never
spoken to the dreaded master; but she could overhear their loud and
angry speeches, and now she came out and joined Stephen.
'Well, I'd have more spirit than to cry,' she said, as Stephen
brushed his eyes with his sleeve; 'I'd never have spoken so gingerly to
them, the wizen-faced old rascals. The place is ours, and they can't
turn us out. It's no use to be cowed by them, Stephen.'
'They can turn me off the works,' answered Stephen sadly.
'And whatever shall we do then?' asked Martha, in alarm. 'Still I
reckon you'll say we are to love those old wretches.'
'The Book says so,' replied Stephen.
'Well, I won't set up to try to do it for one,' continued Martha
decisively; 'it's not nature; it's being over good by half. I'm willing
to do my duty by you and grandfather and little Nan; but that goes
beyond me. If you'd just give way, Stevie, and give them a good rating,
you'd feel better after it.'
'I don't know that,' he answered, walking gloomily towards the door.
He felt so much passion and anger within him, that it did seem as if it
would be a relief to utter some of the terrible oaths which he heard
frequently in the pit, and which had been familiar enough in his own
mouth a few months ago, But now other words, familiar from daily
reading, the words that he had repeated to Tim so short a time before,
were being whispered, as it seemed, close by his ear: 'Love your
enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you; pray
for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.' There was a
deadly conflict going on in the boy's soul; and Martha's angry words
were helping the tempter. He sat down despondently on the door-sill,
and hid his face in his bands, while he listened to his sister's taunts
against his want of spirit, and her fears that he would give up their
home for his new notions.
He was about to answer her at last with the passion she was trying to
provoke, when a soft little cheek was pressed against his downcast
head, and little Nan lisped in her broken words, 'Me sleepy, Stevie; me
say “Our Father,” and go to bed.'
The child knelt down before him, and laid her folded hands upon his
knee, as she had done every evening since his father died, while he
said the prayer, and she repeated it slowly after him. He felt as
though he was praying for himself. A feeling of deep earnestness came
over him; and, though his voice faltered as he said softly, 'Forgive us
our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us,' it seemed
as if there was a spirit in his heart agreeing to the words, and giving
him power to say them. He did not know then that 'the Spirit itself
maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered;' but
while he prayed with little Nan, he received great comfort and
strength, though he was ignorant of the source from whence they came.
When the child's prayers were ended, he roused himself cheerfully to
action; and as long as the lingering twilight lasted, both Stephen and
Martha were busily at work in the garden,
Chapter 5. MISS ANNE
So thee's the only master here,' said Tim when he came up the hill
next evening, according to his promise, to help Stephen in his garden.
'And I'm the missis,' chimed in Martha, 'but I can't say how long it
may be afore we have to pack off;' and she gave Tim a very long account
of the master's visit the day before, finishing her description of
Stephen's conduct in a tone of mingled reproach and admiration: 'And he
never said a single curse at them!'
'Not when they were out of hearing?' exclaimed Tim.
'I couldn't,' answered Stephen; 'I knew what I ought to do then, if I
wasn't quite sure about fighting thee, Tim. My chapter says, “Swear not
at all”; and “Let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for
whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil"'
'What's the meaning of that?' asked Tim, opening his eyes widely.
'Father said it meant I was to stand to my word like a man, but not
swear about it. If I said Ay, to mean ay; and if I said No, to mean no,
and stick to it.'
'There'd be no room for telling lies, I reckon,' said Tim
'Of course not,' replied Stephen.
'That 'ud never answer down yonder,' said Tim, nodding towards the
distant village. 'I tell thee what, lad, I'll come and quarter with
thee, and help thee to be master. It 'ud be prime. Only maybe the
victuals wouldn't suit me. Last Sunday, afore thy father's buryin',
we'd a dinner of duck and green peas, and leg of lamb, and custard
pudden, and ale. Martha doesn't get a dinner like that for thee, I
'No,' answered Stephen shortly.
'Maybe it wouldn't suit. But what more is there in thy book?' asked
Tim, whose curiosity was aroused; and Stephen, proud of his new
accomplishment,—a rare one in those days among his own class,—would
not lose the opportunity given him by Tim's inquiry for the display of
his learning. He brought out his Bible with alacrity, and read his
chapter in a loud, clear, sing-song tone, while Tim overlooked him,
with his red face growing redder, and his eyebrows arched in amazement;
and Martha, leaning against the door-post, glanced triumphantly at his
wonder. Already, though his father had been dead only a week, Stephen
began to miscall many of the harder words; but his hearers were not
critical, and the performance gave unbounded satisfaction.
'That beats me!' cried Tim. 'What a headpiece thee must have,
Stephen! But what does it all mean, lad? Is it all English like?'
'How can I know?' answered Stephen, somewhat sadly; 'there's nobody
to learn me now; and it's very bard. There's the Pharisees, Tim, and
Raca; I don't know who they are.'
The conversation was stopped by Martha suddenly starting bolt
upright, and dropping two or three hurried curtseys. The boys looked up
from their book quickly, and saw a young lady passing through the
wicket and coming up the garden walk, with a smile upon her pleasant
face as she met their gaze.
'My boys,' she said, in a soft, kindly voice, 'I've been sitting on
the bank yonder, behind your cottage; and I heard one of you reading a
chapter in the Bible. Which of you was it?'
'It was him,' cried Tim and Martha together, pointing at Stephen.
'And you said you had no one to teach you,' continued the lady. 'Now
would you learn well, if I promised to teach you?'
Stephen looked up speechlessly into the smiling face before him. He
had never read of the angels, and scarcely knew that there were such
beings; but he felt as if this fair and sweet-looking lady, with her
gentle voice, and the kindly eyes meeting his own, was altogether of a
different order to themselves.
'I am Mr. Wyley's niece,' she added, 'and I am come to live at
Botfield for a while. Could you manage to come down to Mr. Wyley's
house sometimes for a lesson?'
'Please, ma'am,' said Martha, who was not at all afraid of speaking
to any lady, though she dare not face the master, 'he wants to turn us
out of our house; and he hates Stephen, because he won't give it up: so
he wouldn't let you teach him anything.'
'Then you are Stephen Fern?' said the lady; 'I heard my uncle talking
about you. Your father was buried at Longville church on Sunday. I saw
the funeral leave the churchyard, and I looked for some of you to come
in to the evening service. Now, Stephen, do you tell me all about your
reason for not letting my uncle buy your cottage.'
Then Stephen, with some hesitation, and a good deal of assistance
from Martha, told the whole history of his grandmother's settlement
upon the solitary hill-side, only withholding the fact of his
grandfather's transportation, because Tim was listening eagerly to
every word. Miss Anne listened, too, with deep attention; and once or
twice the tears rose to her eyes as she heard of the weary labours and
watchings of the desolate woman; and when Stephen repeated his
resolution to work hard and constantly for the maintenance of his
grandfather and little Nan-
'Yes, I will be your friend,' she said, reaching out her hand to him
when he had finished, 'even if my uncle is your enemy. God has not
given me much power, but what I have I will use for you; and you must
go on striving to do right, Stephen.'
'I can't read much,' replied Stephen anxiously, 'and Martha can't
read at all; but I hope we shall all get safe to heaven!'
'Knowing how to read will not take us to heaven,' said Miss Anne,
smiling, 'but doing the will of God from the heart; and the will of God
is that we should believe in the Lord Jesus, and follow in His steps.'
'Yea, ma'am,' answered Stephen; 'my chapter says, “Whosoever shall
break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be
called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and
teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
'Stephen, you know your chapter well,' said Miss Anne.
'I don't know anything else,' he answered; 'so I am always studying
at that in my head, up here and down in the pit.'
'He's always mighty solid over his work, ma'am,' said Tim, pulling
the front lock of his red hair, as he spoke to the young lady.
'Stephen, do you know that you have a namesake in the Bible?' asked
'No, sure!' exclaimed Stephen eagerly.
'It was the name of a man who had many enemies, only because he loved
the Lord Jesus; and at last they hated him so much as to kill him. He
was the very first person who ever suffered death for the Lord's sake.
Give me your Bible, and I will read to you how he died.'
Miss Anne's voice was very low and soft, like sweet music, as she
read these verses: 'And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and
saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried
with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he
had said this, he fell asleep.'
Stephen listened breathlessly, and his face glowed with intense
interest; but he was not a boy of ready speech, and, before he could
utter a word, Tim burst in before him with a question. 'Please, is
there a Tim in the Bible?' he asked.
'Yes,' answered Miss Anne, smiling again; 'he was a young man who
knew the Bible from his youth.'
'That ain't me, however,' said Tim in a despondent tone.
'There is nothing now to prevent you beginning to know it,' continued
Miss Anne. 'Listen: as Stephen cannot come to me at Botfield, you shall
meet me in the Red Gravel Pit at nine o'clock on a Sunday morning as
long as the summer lasts, and I will teach you all. Bring little Nan
with you, Stephen.'
Down the same narrow green pathway trodden by the feet of Stephen's
angry master and his brother the evening before, they now watched the
little light figure of the young lady, as she slowly vanished out of
their eight. When the gleaming of her dress was quite lost, Stephen
rubbed his eyes for a moment, and then turned to Martha and Tim.
'Is she a real woman, dost think?' he asked.
'A real woman!' repeated Martha rather scornfully; 'of course she is;
and it's a real silk gown she had on, I can tell thee. Spirits don't go
about in silk gowns and broad daylight, never as I heard tell of, lad.'
Chapter 6. THE RED GRAVEL PIT
At the entrance of the lane leading down to the works at Botfield
there stood a small square building, which was used as the
weighing-house for the coal and lime fetched from the pits, and as the
pay-office on the reckoning Saturday, which came once a fortnight. Upon
the Saturday evening after his interview with the master, Stephen
loitered in the lane with a very heavy heart, afraid of facing Mr.
Wyley, lest he should receive the sentence of dismission from the pit.
He did not know what he could turn his hand to if he should be
discharged from what had been his work since he was eight years old;
for even if he could get a place in one of the farmhouses about as
waggoner's boy, he would not earn more than three shillings a week; and
how very little that would do towards providing food, for the three
mouths at home Fearful of knowing the worst, he lingered about the
office until all the other work-men had been in and come out again
jingling their wages.
But the master and his brother Thomas had been taking counsel
together about the matter. Mr. Wyley was for turning the boy off at
once, and reducing him to the utmost straits of poverty; but his more
prudent brother was opposed to this plan.
'Look here, brother James,' he said; 'if we drive the young scamp to
desperation, there's no telling what he will do. Ten to one if he does
not go and tell a string of lies to some of the farmers about here, or
perhaps to the parson at Longville, and they may make an unpleasant
disturbance. Nobody knows and nobody cares about him as it is; but he
is a determined young fellow, or I'm mistaken. Better keep him at work
under your own eye, and make the place too hot for him by degrees.
Before long you will catch him poaching with his dog, and if he is let
off for a time or two because of his youth, and goes at it again, we
can make out a pretty case of juvenile depravity, without any character
from his employer, you know; and so he will be sent out of the way, and
boarded at the expense of the country for a few years or so.'
'Well,' said the master, 'I'll try him once again. If he'd go out
quietly, nobody else has any claim upon the cottage; and I want to set
to work there quickly.'
So when Stephen entered the office with trembling limbs and a very
pale face under its dusky covering, it happened that he met with a very
different reception to what he expected. The master sat behind a small
counter, upon which lay Stephen's twelve shillings, the only little
heap of money left; and as he gathered them nervously into his hand, he
wondered if this would be the last time. But his master's face was not
more threatening than usual; and he muttered his 'Thank you, sir,' and
was turning away with a feeling of great relief, when Mr. Wyley's harsh
voice brought him back again, trembling more than ever.
'Have you thought any more of my offer, Fern?' be asked. 'I shouldn't
mind, as you are an orphan, and have two sisters depending upon you, if
I made the ten pounds into fifteen; and you may leave the money at
interest with me till you are older.'
'And I've been thinking, Stephen,' added Thomas Wyley, who sat at a
high desk checking the accounts, 'that, as you seem set against being
separated, instead of taking your grandfather into the House, I'd get
him two shillings a week allowed him out of it; and that would pay the
rent of a nice two-roomed cottage down in Botfield, close to your work.
Come, that would make all of you comfortable.'
'You should bear in mind, Stephen,' said the master, 'that the place
does not of right belong to you at all; and the lord of the manor is
coming to shoot over the estate in September; and then I shall have
orders to remove you by force. So you had better take our offer.'
'Please, sir,' said Stephen, bowing respectfully, 'don't be angered
with me, but I can't go from what I said afore. Father told me never to
give up Fern's Hollow; and maybe he'd hear tell of it in heaven if I
broke my word to him. I can't do it, sir.'
'Well, wilful will have his way,' said Mr. Thomas, nodding at the
master; and as neither of them addressed Stephen again, he left the
office, amazed to find that he was not forbidden to return to work on
the following Monday.
The Red Gravel Pit, where Miss Anne had promised to meet her scholars
on Sunday morning, was a quarry cut out of the side of one of the
hills, from which the stones were taken for making and mending the
roads in the neighbourhood. The quarry had been hollowed out into a
kind of enclosed circle, only entered by the road through which the
waggons passed. All along the edge of the red rocks high overhead there
was a coppice of green hazel-bushes and young oaks, where the boys had
spent many a Sunday searching for wild nuts, and hunting the squirrels
from tree to tree. Stephen and Tim met half an hour earlier than the
time appointed by Miss Anne, and by dint of great perseverance and
strength rolled together five large stones, under the shadow of an oak
tree; and placed four of them in a row before the largest one, as Tim
had once seen the children sitting in the village school at Longville,
when he had taken a donkey-load of coals for the schoolmaster. Martha
came in good time with little Nan, both in their new black bonnets and
clean cotton shawls; and all were seated orderly in a row when Miss
Anne entered the Red Gravel Pit by the waggon road.
I need not describe to you how Miss Anne heard Stephen read his
chapter, and taught Tim and Martha, and even little Nan herself, the
first few letters of the alphabet; after which she made them all repeat
a verse of a hymn, and, when they could say it correctly, sang it with
them over and over again, in her sweet and clear voice, until Stephen
felt almost choked with a sob of pure gladness, that would every now
and then rise to his lips. Tim sang loudly and lustily, getting out of
tune very often. But little Nan was a marvel to hear, so soft and sweet
were her childish tones, so that Miss Anne bade her sing the verse
alone, which she did perfectly. Martha, too, was full, of admiration of
the lady's lilac silk dress and the white ribbon on her bonnet
That was the first of many pleasant Sunday mornings in the Red Gravel
Pit. When the novelty was worn away, Martha discovered that she had too
much to do at home to be able to leave it so early in the day; and Tim
sometimes overslept himself on a Sunday, when most of his comrades
spent the whole morning in bed. But Stephen and little Nan were always
there, and their teacher never failed to meet them. Nor did Miss Anne
confine her care of the orphan children to a Sunday morning only.
Sometimes she would mount the hill during the long summer evenings, and
pay their little household a visit, giving Martha many quiet hints
about her management and her outlay of Stephen's wages; hints which
Martha did not always receive as graciously as they were given. Miss
Anne would read also to the blind old grandfather, choosing very simple
and easy portions of the Bible, especially about the lost sheep being
found, as that pleased the old shepherd, and he could fully understand
its meaning. In general, Miss Anne was very cheerful, and she would
laugh merrily at times; but now and then her face looked pale and sad,
and her voice was very mournful while she talked and sang with them.
Once, even, when she bade Stephen 'good evening,' an exceedingly
sorrowful expression passed across her face, and she said to him, 'I
find it quite as hard work to serve God really and truly as you do,
Stephen. There is only one Helper for both of us; and we can only do
all things through Christ which strengtheneth us.'
But Stephen could not believe that good, gentle Miss Anne found it as
hard to be a Christian as he did. Everything seemed against him at the
works. The short indulgence from hard words and hard blows granted him
after his father's death was followed by what appeared to be a very
tempest of oppression. It was very soon understood that the master had
a private grudge against the boy; and though the workpeople were ground
down and wronged in a hundred ways by him, so as to fill them with
hatred and revenge, they were not the less willing to take advantage of
his spite against Stephen. His work underground, which had always been
distasteful to him compared with a shepherd's life on the hills, was
now made more toilsome and dangerous than ever, while Black Thompson
followed him everywhere and all day long with oaths and blows.
Stephen's evident superiority over the other boys was of course very
much against him; for he had never been much associated with them, as
his distant home had separated him from them excepting during the busy
hours of labour. Now, when, through his own self-satisfaction and Tim's
loud praises, his accomplishments became known, it is no wonder that a
storm of envy and jealousy raged round him; for not only the boys
themselves, but their fathers also, felt affronted at his wonderful
scholarship. To be sure, Tim never deserted him, and his partisanship
was especially useful on the bank, before he went down and after he
came up from the pit. But below, in the dark, dismal passages of the
pit, many a stripe, unmerited, fell upon his bruised shoulders, which
he learned to bear the more patiently after Miss Anne had taught and
explained to him the verse, 'But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was
upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.' Still Stephen, feeling
how hard it was to continue in the right way, and knowing how often he
failed, to his own sore mortification and the rude triumph of his
comrades, wondered exceedingly how it was possible for Miss Anne to
find it as hard to be a follower of Christ as he did.
Chapter 7. POOR SNIP
The middle weeks of August were come—sunny, sultry weeks; and from
the brow of the hill, all the vast plain lying westward for many miles
looked golden with the corn ripening for harvest. The oats in the
little field had already been reaped; and the fruit in the garden,
gathered and sold by Martha, had brought in a few shillings, which were
carefully hoarded up to buy winter clothing. It was now the time of the
yearly gathering of bilberries on the hills; and tribes of women and
children ascended to the tableland from all the villages round. It was
the pleasantest work of the year; and Martha, who had never missed the
bilberry season since she could remember, was not likely to miss it
now. Even little Nan could help to pick the berries, and she and Martha
were out on the hillsides all the livelong summer day. Their dwelling
on the spot gave them a good advantage over those who lived down in
Botfield; and each day, before any of the others could reach the best
bilberry-wires, they had already picked a quart of the small purple
berries, fresh and cool with the dew of the morning. Only the poor old
grandfather had to be left at home alone, with his dinner put ready for
him, which he was apt to eat up long before the proper dinner-hour
came; and then he had to wait until Stephen returned from his work, or
Martha and little Nan were driven home by the August thunderstorms.
Martha was wonderfully successful this year, and gained more money by
selling her bilberries than she thought necessary to show to Stephen;
though, on his part, he always brought her every penny of his wages.
Ever since their father's funeral there had been a subject of dispute
between the brother and sister. Martha was bent upon enclosing the
green dell, with its clear, cool little pond; and to this end she spent
all the time she could spare in raising a rough fence of stones and
peat round it. But Stephen would not consent to it; and neither
argument, scolding, nor coaxing could turn him. He always answered that
he had promised the master that he would not trespass on the manor; and
he must stand to his word, whatever they might lose by it; though,
indeed, he saw no harm in making green fields out of the waste land.
Martha, on her side, maintained her right as the eldest to act as she
judged best; and, moreover, urged the example of her thrifty
grandmother, who had planned this very enclosure, and whose pattern she
was determined follow. But before long the dispute was ended, and the
subject of it became a matter of heart-troubling wonder, for several
labourers from the master's farm began to fence in the very same
ground, as well as to prepare the turf behind Fern's Hollow for the
planting of young trees; and neither Stephen nor Martha could hide from
the other that these labours made them feel exceedingly uneasy.
'I say, Stephen,' said one of the hedgers, as he was going down from
his work one evening, and met the tired boy coming up from his, 'I'm
afeared there's some mischief brewing. There's master, and Mr. Thomas,
and Mr. Jones the gamekeeper, been talking with thy grandfather nigh
upon an hour. There'll be a upshot some day, I know; and Jones, he said
summat about leaving a keepsake for thee.'
'What could it be, Wi1liam?' asked Stephen anxiously
'How should I know?' said the man, with some reluctance. 'Only, lad,
I did hear a gun go off; and never heard Snip bark again, though I
listened for him. Stephen, Stephen, dunna thee go so mad like!'
But it was no use shouting after Stephen, as he ran frantically up
the bill. Snip was always basking lazily in the sunshine under the
hedge of the paddock, at the very point where he could catch the first
sight of his young master, after which there was no more idleness or
stillness in him. Stephen could hardly breathe when he found that Snip
was not at the usual place to greet him; but before he reached his home
he saw it—the dead body of his own poor Snip—hung on the post of the
wicket through which he had to pass. He flew to the place; he tore his
own hands with the nails that were driven through Snip's feet; and
then, without a thought of his grandfather or of his own hunger, he
bore away the dead dog in his arms, and wandered far out of sight or
sound of the hateful, cruel world, into one of the most solitary plains
upon the uplands.
Any one passing by might have thought that Stephen was fast asleep in
the last slanting rays of the sun, which shone upon him there some time
after the evening shadows had fallen upon Botfield; but a frenzy of
passion, too strong for any words, had felled him to the ground, where
he lay beside Snip. The gamekeeper, who had so many dogs that he did
not care for any one of them in particular, had killed this one
creature that was dearer to him than anything in the world, except
little Nan, and grandfather, and Martha. And Snip was dead, without
remedy; no power on earth could bring back the departed life. Oh, if he
could only punish the villain who had shot his poor faithful dog! But
he was nothing but a poor boy, very poor, and very helpless and
friendless, and people would only laugh at his trouble. All the world
was against him, and he could do nothing to revenge himself, but to
'Why, lad! why, Stephen! what ails thee?' said Black Thompson's
voice, close behind him. 'Eh! who's gone and shot Snip? That rascal
Jones, I'll go bail! Is he quite dead, Stephen? Stand up, lad, and
let's give a look at him.'
The boy rose, and faced Black Thompson and his comrade with eyes that
were bloodshot, though he had not shed a tear, and with lips almost
bitten through by his angry teeth. Both the men handled the dog gently
and carefully, but, after a moment's inspection, Thompson laid it down
again on the turf.
'It's a shame!' he cried, with an oath that sounded pleasantly in
Stephen's ears; 'it was one of the best little dogs about. I'd take my
vengeance on him for this. In thy place, I couldn't sleep till I'd done
'Ay!' said Stephen, with flashing eyes; 'I know where he's keeping a
covey of birds up against game day—nineteen of them. I've seen them
every day, and I could go to the place in the dark.'
'That's a brave lad!' said Black Thompson; 'he's got his father's
pluck after all, as I've always told thee, Davies, and we'll see him
righted. He's got his eyes in his head, has this lad!'
'They're down in the leasowe, between the Firspinny and Ragleth
Hill,' continued Stephen; 'and they're just prime, I can tell ye. And I
know, too, what he doesn't know himself. I know to some black game, far
away up the hill. He'd give his two eyes to see them, with their white
wing-feathers; and if he hadn't'-
Stephen stopped, with quivering lips, for he could not speak yet of
'Never take on, my lad,' said Black Thompson, clapping him on the
back; 'we'll spoil his sport for him. Come thy ways with us; it'll be
dark dusk afore we gain the spinny, and Jones is off to the Whitehurst
woods to-night. We'll have as rare sport as the lord of the manor
himself. Thee art a sharp one. I'd lay a round wager, now, thee knows
where all the sheep on the hillside fold of nights.'
'Ay, do I,' answered Stephen, walking briskly beside Black Thompson;
'I know every walk and every fold on the hills; ay, and many of the
sheep themselves. I keep my eyes wide open out of doors, I promise ye.'
'I'll swear to that,' said Black Thompson, glad to encourage the boy
in his foolish boasting. On their way they passed near to Fern's
Hollow, and Stephen heard little Nan's shrill voice calling his name,
as if she were seeking him weariedly; but when be hesitated for a
moment, his heart yearning to answer her, Black Thompson again patted
him on the back, and bade him never show the white feather, but
remember poor dead Snip; at which his passion for revenge returned, and
he pressed on eagerly to the fir-coppice.
It was quite dark when they entered the path leading through the
wood. No one spoke now, and they trod cautiously, lest there should be
any noise from their footsteps. The tall black fir-trees towered above
them to an unusual height; and through all the topmost branches there
ran a low, mournful sound, as if every tree was whispering about them,
and lamenting over them. Even the little brook, which in the sunshine
rippled so merrily along the borders of the wood, seemed to be sobbing
like a grieved and tired child in the night-time. Strange rustlings on
every side, and sudden groanings of the withered boughs in some of the
pines, made them start in fear; and once, in a little opening among the
trees, when the stars came out and looked down upon them, Stephen would
have given all he had in the world to be safe at home, with little Nan
singing hymns on his knee, or quietly asleep after the hot and busy
'It's lonesome enough to make a bull-dog afeared,' whispered Davies,
in a frightened tone. But before long they were out of the wood; and in
the glimmer of light that lasts all night through during the summer,
Stephen saw Black Thompson unwind a net, which had been wrapped round
his body under his collier's jacket. More than half the covey of
partridges were bagged; and they had such capital luck, as the men
called it, that Stephen soon entered into the daring spirit of the
adventure. It sent a thrill of excitement through him, in which poor
Snip was for the time forgotten; and when about midnight Black Thompson
and Davies said “Good-night' to him at his cottage door, calling him a
brave fellow, and giving him a fine young leveret, with the promise
that he should have his share of whatever money they received for their
spoil, he entered his dark home, where every one was slumbering
peacefully, and, without a thought of sorrow or repentance, was quickly
Chapter 8. STEPHEN AND THE GAMEKEEPER
Martha's exclamation of surprise and delight at seeing the leveret
was the first sound that Stephen heard in the morning; but he preserved
a sullen silence as to his absence the previous night, and Martha was
too shrewd to press him with questions. They had not been unused to
such fare during their father's lifetime; and it was settled between
them that she should come down from the bilberry-plain early in the
afternoon to make a feast of the leveret by the time of Stephen's
return from the pit.
All day long Stephen found himself treated with marked distinction
and favour by Black Thompson and his comrades, to some of whom he heard
him say, in a loud whisper, that 'Stephen 'ud show himself a chip of
the old block yet.' At dinner they invited him to sit within their
circle, where he laughed and talked with the best of them, and was
listened to as if he were already a man. How different to his usually
hurried meal beside the horses, that worked like himself in the dark,
close passages, but did not, like him, ascend each evening to the
grassy fields and the pure air of the upper earth! Stephen had a true
tenderness in his nature towards these dumb fellow-labourers, and they
loved the sound of his voice, and the kindly patting of his hand; but
somehow he felt as if they knew how he had left his faithful old Snip
unburied on the open hillside, where Black Thompson had found him in
his passion the evening before. He was not sorry for what he had done;
he would avenge himself on the gamekeeper again whenever there was an
opportunity. Even now, he promised Black Thompson, when they were away
from the other colliers, to show him the haunts of the scarce black
grouse, which would be so valuable to the gamekeeper; and he enjoyed
Black Thompson's applause. But there was a sore pang in his heart, as
he remembered dead Snip, unburied on the hillside.
Supper was ready when he reached home; and what a savoury smell came
through the open door, quite down to the wicket! Of course Snip was not
watching for him; and little Nan also, instead of looking out for him
as usual, was waiting eagerly to be helped; for, as soon as Stephen was
seen over the brow of the hill, Martha poured her dainty stew into a
large brown dish, and she had already portioned out a plateful for the
grandfather. Few words were uttered, for Martha was hot, and rather
testy; and Stephen felt a sullen weight hanging upon his spirits. Only
every now and then the old grandfather, chuckling and mumbling over the
uncommon delicacy, would call Stephen by his father's name of James,
and thank him for his rare supper.
'Good evening,' said Miss Anne's voice, and as the light from the
doorway was darkened, all the party looked up quickly, and Stephen felt
himself growing hot and cold by turns. 'Your supper smells very nice,
Martha; there has been some good cooking done to-day.'
'Oh, Miss Anne,' cried Martha, colouring up with excitement and fear,
'it is a young leveret Mrs. Jones, the gamekeeper's wife, gave me for
some knitting I'd done for her; she said it 'ud be a treat for
grandfather. I've been cooking it all evening, ma'am, and it's very
toothsome. If you'd only just taste a mouthful, it 'ud make me ever so
'Thank you, Martha,' said Miss Anne, smiling; 'I am quite hungry with
climbing the hill, and if it is as good as the bread you gave me the
other day, I shall enjoy having my supper with you.'
Stephen scarcely heard what Miss Anne said to him, while he watched
Martha bustling about to reach out a grand china plate, which was one
of the great treasures of their possessions; and he looked on silently
as she chose the daintiest of the stew; but when she moved the little
table nearer to the door, and laid the plate and knife and fork upon
it, before Miss Anne, he started to his feet, unable to sit still and
see her partake of the food which he had procured in such a manner.
'Don't touch it! don't taste it, Miss Anne!' he cried excitedly. 'Oh,
please to come out with me to the bent of the hill, and I'll tell you
why. But don't eat any of it!'
He darted out at the door before Martha could stop him, and ran down
the green path to a place where he was out of sight and hearing of his
home, waiting breathlessly for Miss Anne to overtake him. It was some
minutes before she came, and her face was overcast and troubled; but
she listened in silence, while, without concealment, but with many
bitter and passionate words against the gamekeeper, and excuses for his
own conduct, he confessed to her all the occurrences of the night
before. Every moment his agitation increased under her quiet, mournful
look of reproach, until, as he came to the close, he cried out in a
sorrowful but defiant tone, 'Oh, Miss Anne, I could not bear it!'
'Do you remember,' she asked, in a low and tender voice, 'how poor
Snip used to follow me down to this very spot, and sit here till I was
out of sight? I was very fond of poor old Snip, Stephen!' Yes, her
voice trembled, and tears were in her eyes. The proud bulwark which
Stephen had been raising against his grief was broken down in a moment.
He sank down on the turf at Miss Anne's feet; and, no longer checking
the tears which had been burning in his eyes all day, he wept and
sobbed vehemently, until his passion had worn away.
'And now,' said Miss Anne, sitting down beside him, 'I must tell you
that, though I am not surprised, I am very, very grieved, Stephen. If
you knew your Bible more, you would have read this verse in it, “God is
faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able;
but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be
able to bear it.” Did no way of escape open to you, Stephen?'
Then Stephen remembered how he had heard dear little Nan calling
piteously to him as he passed Fern's Hollow with Black Thompson; and
how his heart yearned to go to her, though he had resisted and
conquered this saving impulse.
'You do not know much,' continued Miss Anne, 'but if you had followed
out all you do know, instead of poaching with Black Thompson that you
might revenge yourself for Snip being killed, you would have been
praying for them that persecute you. The Bible says that not a sparrow
falls to the ground without our Father. So God knew that poor Snip was
'But why did He not hinder it?' asked Stephen, speaking low and
'Stephen,' said Miss Anne earnestly, 'suppose that I lived in a very
grand palace, where there were many things that you had never seen, and
I wanted little Nan to come and live with me, not as a servant, but as
my dear child; would it be unkind of me to send her first to a school,
where she could learn how to read the books, and understand the
pictures, and play the music she would find in my palace? Even if the
lessons were often hard, and some of her schoolfellows were cruel and
unkind to her, would it not be better for her to bear it for a little
while, until she was made ready to live with me as my own child?'
The young lady paused for a few minutes, while Stephen pictured to
himself the grand palace, and little Nan being made fit to live in it;
and when at last he raised his brown eyes to hers, bright with the
pleasant thought, she went on in a quiet, reverential tone:
'Perhaps we could not understand any of the things of heaven, so our
Father which is in heaven sends us to school here; we are learning
lessons all our life long. There is not a single trouble that comes to
us but it is to teach us the meaning of something we shall meet with
there. We should not be happy to hear the angels singing a song which
we could not understand, because we had missed our lessons down here.'
'Oh, Miss Anne,' cried Stephen, 'I feel as if I could bear anything
when I think of that! Only I wish I was as strong as an angel'
'Patience is better than strength,' said Miss Anne, in a tone as if
she were speaking to herself: 'patiently to bear the will of God, and
patiently to keep His commandments, is greater and more glorious than
the strength of an angel.'
'Black Thompson was so kind to me all to-day,' said Stephen, sighing;
'and now he'll be ten times worse if I go back from telling him where
the black game is.'
'You must do right,' replied Miss Anne, with a glance that brought
back true courage to the boy's heart; 'and remember that “blessed are
they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven.” Now, good-night, Stephen. Go and bury poor Snip
while there is daylight, in some quiet place where you can go and think
and read and play sometimes.
Stephen returned to the hut for a spade, and then went, with a
strange blending of grief and gladness, to the place where he had left
his poor dog. He chose a solitary yew tree on the hill for the burial
ground, and dug as deep a grave as he could among the far-spreading
roots. It was strange, only such things do happen now and then, that
while he was working away hard and fast, with the dead dog lying by
under the trunk of the yew tree, the gamekeeper himself passed that
way. He had been in a terrible temper all day, for he had discovered
the mischief done down in the fir-coppice, and the loss of his
carefully-preserved covey. The sight of Stephen and dead Snip irritated
him; though a feeling of shame crept over him as he saw how
tear-stained the boy's face was.
'Mr Jones,' said Stephen, 'I've something to say to you.'
'Be sharp, then,' replied the gamekeeper, 'and mind what you're
about. I'll not take any impudence from a young rascal like you.'
'It's no impudence,' answered Stephen; 'only I know to some black
game, and I wanted to tell you about them.'
'Black game!' he said contemptuously. 'A likely story. There's been
none these half-dozen years.'
'It's four years since,' answered Stephen; ' I remember, because
grandfather and I saw them the day mother died, when little Nan was
born. I couldn't forget them or mistake them after that. They are at
the head of the Black Valley, where the quaking noise begins. I'm sure
I'm right, sir.'
'You are not making game of me?' asked Jones, laughing heartily at
his own wit. 'Well, my lad, if this is true, it will be worth something
to me. Hark ye, I'm sorry about your dog, and you shall choose any one
of mine you like, if you'll promise to keep him out of mischief.'
'I couldn't have another dog in Snip's place,' replied Stephen in a
choked voice; 'at any rate not yet, thank you, sir.'
'Well,' said the gamekeeper, shouldering his gun, and walking off,
'I'll be your friend, young Fern, when it does not hurt myself.'
Chapter 9. HOMELESS
Of course Stephen's brief term of favour with Black Thompson was at
an end; but whether Miss Anne had given him a hint that the boy was
under her protection, and had confessed all to her, or because he might
be busy in some deeper scheme of wickedness, he did not display as much
anger as Stephen expected, when he refused to show him the haunts of
the grouse, or go with him again on a poaching expedition. Stephen was
more humble and vigilant than he had been before falling into
temptation. He set a close watch upon himself, lest he should be
betrayed into a self-confident spirit again; and Tim's loud praises
sounded less pleasantly in his ears, so that one evening he told him,
with much shame, into what sin he had been led by his desire to avenge
Snip's murder. Unfortunately, this disclosure so much heightened Tim's
estimation of his character, that from time to time he gave utterance
to mysterious hints of the extraordinary courage and spirit Stephen
could manifest when occasion required. These praises were, however, in
some measure balanced by Martha's taunts and reproaches at home.
The shooting season had commenced, and the lord of the manor was
come, with a number of his friends, to shoot over the hills and
plantations. He was a frank, pleasant-looking gentleman, but far too
grand and high for Stephen to address, though he gazed wistfully at him
whenever he chanced to meet him on the hills. One afternoon Martha saw
him and the master walking towards Fern's Hollow, where the fencing-in
of the green and of the coppice behind the hut were being finished
rapidly; and she crept with stealthy steps under the hedge of the
garden, until she came within earshot of them; but they were just
moving on, and all she heard of the conversation were these words, from
the lord of the manor: 'You shall have it at any rate you fix,
Wyley—at a peppercorn rent, if you please; but I will not sell a
square yard of my land out and out.' How Martha and Stephen did talk
about those words over and over again, and could never come to any
conclusion about them.
It was about noon on Michaelmas Day, a day which was of no note up at
Fern's Hollow, where there was no rent to be paid, and Martha was
busily banging out clothes to dry on the gorse bushes before the house,
when she saw a troop of labourers coming over the brow of the hill and
crossing the newly-enclosed pasture. They were armed with mattocks and
pickaxes; but as the peaceful little cottage rose before them, with
blind old Fern basking in the warm sunshine, and little Nan playing
quietly about the door-sill, the men gathered into a little knot, and
stood still with an irresolute, and ashamed aspect
'They know nothing about it,' said William Morris; 'look at them, as
easy and unconcerned as lambs. I was afeared there'd be a upshot, when
the master were after old Fern so long. I don't half like the job; and
Stephen isn't here. He does look a bit like a man, and we could argy
with him; but that old man, and that girl—they'll take on so.'
'I say, Martha,' shouted a bolder-hearted man, 'hasn't the master let
thee know thee must turn out to-day? He wants to lay the foundation of
a new house, and get the walls up afore the frost comes on and we are
come to pick the old place to the ground. He only told us an hour ago,
or we'd have seen thee was ready.'
'I don't believe thee; thee's only romancing,' said Martha, turning
very pale. 'The old place is our own, and no master has any right to
it, save Stephen.'
'It's no use wasting breath,' replied William Morris. 'The master
says he's bought the place from thy grandfather, lass; and he agreed to
turn out by noon on Michaelmas Day. Master doesn't want to be hard upon
you; and he says, if you've no place to turn in to, you may go to the
old cabin on the upper cinder-hill, till there's a cottage empty in
Botfield; and we'll help thee to move the things at wunst. We're to get
the roof off and the walls down afore nightfall.'
'Grandfather and little Nan!' screamed Martha; 'get into the house
this minute! It's no use you men coming up here on this errand. You
know grandfather's simple, and he hasn't sold the house; how could he?
He's no more sense than little Nan. No, no; you must go down to the
works, and hear what Stephen says. You're a pack of rascals, every one
of you, and the master's the biggest; and you'll all have to gnash your
teeth over this business some day, I reckon.'
By this time the old man and the child were safely within the house;
and Martha, springing quickly from the wicket, where she had kept the
men at bay, followed them in, and barred the door, before any one of
the labourers could thrust his shoulder in to prevent her. They held a
consultation together when they found that no arguments prevailed upon
her to open to them, to which Martha listened disdainfully through the
large chinks, but vouchsafed no answer.
'Come, come, my lass,' said William Morris soothingly; 'it's lost
time and strength, thee contending with the master. I don't like the
business; but our orders are clear, and we must obey them. Thee let us
in, and we'll carry the things down to the cinder-hill cabin for thee.
If thee won't open the door, we'll be forced to take the thatch off.'
'I won't,' answered Martha,—'not for the lord of the manor himself.
The house is ours, and I 'ware any of you to touch it. Go down to
Stephen and hear what he'll say. If thee takes the thatch off, thee
shan't move me out.'
But when the old stove-pipe, through which the last breath of the
household fire had passed, was drawn up, and the blue sky could be seen
through the cloud of dust and dirt with which the hut was filled,
choking the helpless old man and the frightened child, Martha's courage
failed her; and she went out, with little Nan clinging round her, and
spoke as calmly to the invaders as her rising sobs would let her.
'You know it's grandmother's own house,' she said; 'and the lord of
the manor himself has no right to it But I'll go down and fetch
Stephen, if you'll only wait.'
'We daren't wait, Martha,' answered Morris kindly; 'and it's no use,
lass; the master's too many for thee. But thee go down to Stephen; and
we'll move the things safe, as if they were our own, and put them where
they'll not be broken; and we'll take care of little Nan and thy poor
old grandfather. Tell Stephen we're desperately cut up about it
ourselves; but, if we hadn't done it, somebody that has no goodwill
towards him would have taken the job. So go thy poor ways with thee, my
lass; we are main sorry for thee and Stephen.'
The hot, choking smoke from the limekiln was blowing across the
works; and the dusty pit-bank was covered with busy men and boys and
girls, shouting, laughing, singing, and swearing, when Martha arrived
at Botfield. She was rarely seen at the pit, for her thrifty and
housewifely habits kept her busy at Fern's Hollow; and the rough, loud
voices of the banksmen, the regular beat of the engine, the clanking of
chains, and the dust and smoke and heat of the almost strange scene
bewildered the hillside girl. She made her way to the cabin, a little
hut built near the mouth of the shaft for the use of the people
employed about the pit; but before she could see Tim, or fix upon any
one to inquire about Stephen from, a girl of her own age, but with a
face sunburnt and blackened from her rough and unwomanly work, and in
an uncouth dress of sackcloth, which was grimed with coal-dust, came up
and peered boldly in her face.
'Why, it's Miss Fern!' she cried, with a loud laugh; 'Miss Fern,
Esq., of Fern's Hollow, come to learn us poor pit-folk scholarship and
manners. Here, lads! here's Mr. Stephen Fern's fine sister, as knows
more nor all of us put together. Give us a bit of your learning, Miss
'I know a black-bess when I see one,' replied Martha sharply; and all
the boys and girls joined in a ready roar of merriment against Bess
Thompson, whose nickname was the common country name for a beetle.
'That'll do!' they shouted; 'she knows a black-bess! Thee's got thy
answer, Bess Thompson.'
'What's brought thee to the pit?' asked Bess fiercely; 'we want no
scatter-witted hill girls here, I can tell ye. So get off the pit-bank,
afore I drive thee off.'
'What's all this hullabaloo?' inquired Tim, making his appearance at
the cabin door. 'Why, Martha, what brings thee at the pit? Come in
here, and tell me what's up now.'
Tim listened to Martha's tearful story with great amazement and
indignation; and, after a few minutes' consideration, he told her he
had nothing much to do, and he would get leave to take Stephen's place
for the rest of the day, so as to set him free to go home at once. He
left her standing in the middle of the cabin, for the rough benches
round it looked too black for her to venture to take a seat upon them;
and in a short time he shouted to her from a skep, which was being
lowered into the pit, promising her that Stephen should come up as soon
as possible. It seemed a terribly long time to wait amid that noise and
dust, and every now and then Black Bess relieved her feelings by making
hideous grimaces at her when she passed the cabin door; but Stephen
ascended at last, very stern-looking and silent, for Tim had told him
Martha's business; and he hurried her away from the pit-bank before he
would listen to the detailed account she was longing to give. Even when
they were in the lonely lane leading homewards, and she was talking and
sobbing herself out of breath, he walked on without a word passing his
lips, though his heart was sending up ceaseless prayers to God for help
to bear this trial with patience. Poor old home! There was all the
well-used household furniture carried out and heaped together on the
turf,—chairs and tables and beds,—looking so differently to what they
did when arranged in their proper order. The old man, with his grey
head uncovered, was wandering to and fro in sore bewilderment; and
little Nan had fallen asleep beside the furniture, with the trace of
tears upon her rosy cheeks. But the house was almost gone. The
door-sill, where Stephen had so often seen the sun go down as he rested
himself from his labours, was already taken up; the old grate, round
which they had sat all the winter nights that he had ever known, was
pulled out of the rock; and all the floor was open to the mocking
sunshine. It is a mournful thing to see one's own home in ruins; and a
tear or two made a white channel down the coal-dust on Stephen's
cheeks; but he subdued himself, and spoke out to the labourers like a
'I know it's not your fault,' he said, as they stood round him,
making explanations and excuses; 'but you know grandfather could not
sell the place. I'll get you to help me carry the things down to the
cinder-hill cabin. The sheep and ponies are corning down the hill, and
there'll be rain afore long; and it's not fit for grandfather and
little Nan to be out in it. You'll spare time from the work for that?'
'Ay, will we!' cried the men heartily; and, submitting kindly to
Stephen's quiet directions, they were soon laden with the household
goods, which were scanty and easily removed. Two or three journeys were
sufficient to take them all; and when the labourers returned for the
last time to their work of destruction, Stephen took little Nan in his
arms, and Martha led away the old man; while the sound of the pickaxes
and the crash of the rough rubble stones of their old home followed
their slow and lingering steps over the new pasture, and down the
hillside towards Botfield.
Chapter 10. THE CABIN ON THE CINDER-HILL
The cinder-hill cabin was situated at the mouth of an old shaft, long
out of use, but said to lead into the same pit as that now worked, the
entrance to which was about a quarter of a mile distant. The cabin was
about the same size as the hut from which the helpless family had been
driven; but the thatch wanted so much mending that Stephen and Martha
were obliged to draw over it one of their patchwork quilts, to shelter
them for the night from the rain which was threatened by the gathering
clouds. The door from the hut at Fern's Hollow was fortunately rather
too large instead of being too small for the doorway; and William
Morris promised to bring them a shutter for the window-place, where
there was no glass. Altogether, the cabin was not very inferior to
their old home; but, instead of the soft green turf and the fragrant
air of the hills, they were surrounded by barren cinder-heaps, upon
which nothing would grow but the yellow coltsfoot and a few weeds, and
the wind was blowing clouds of smoke from the limekilns over and round
the dismal cabin. Stephen, with the profound silence that began to
frighten Martha, made every arrangement he could think of for their
comfort during the quickly-approaching night; and as soon as this was
finished, he washed and dressed himself as upon a Sunday morning,
before going to meet Miss Anne in the Red Gravel Pit. He was leaving
the cabin without speaking, when little Nan, who had watched everything
in childish bewilderment and dismay, set up a loud, pitiful cry, which
he soothed with great difficulty.
'Stevie going to live here?' said the little child at last, with a
'Ay little Nan,' he answered; 'for a bit, darling. Please God, we'll
go home again some day. But little Nan shall always live with Stevie.
That'll do; won't it?
'Ay, Stevie,' sobbed the child; and Stephen, kissing her tenderly,
put her on to Martha's lap, and walked out into the moonlight. The
clouds were hanging heavily in the western sky, but the clearer heavens
shone all the brighter by the contrast. The mountains lay before him,
calm and immovable in the soft light; and he could see the round
outline of his own hollow, at which his heart throbbed for a minute
painfully. But there was a hidden corner at the side of the cabin and
there Stephen knelt down to pray earnestly before he went farther on
his errand, until, calm and quiet as the hills, and as the moon which
seemed to be gazing lovingly upon them, he went on with a brave and
stedfast spirit to the master's house.
Botfield Hall was a large, half-timbered farmhouse, with a gabled
roof, part of which was made of thatch and the rest of tiles. It stood
quite alone, at a little distance from the works, on the other side of
them to that where the village was built. The window-casements were
framed of stone; and the outer doors were of thick, solid oak, studded
with large-headed iron nails. The iron ring that served as a rapper on
the back door fell with a loud clang from Stephen's fingers upon the
nails, and startled him with its din, so that he could hardly speak to
the servant who answered his noisy summons. They crossed a kitchen,
into which many doors opened, to a kind of parlour beyond, fitted up
with furniture that looked wonderfully handsome and grand in Stephen's
eyes, and where the master was sitting by a comfortable fire. The
impatient servant pushed him within the door, and closed it behind her,
leaving him standing upon a mat, and shyly stroking his cap round and
round, while the master sat still, and gazed at him steadily with an
assumed air of amazement, though inwardly he was more afraid of the boy
than Stephen was of him. It makes a coward of a man or boy to do
anybody an injury.
'Pray, what business brings you here, young Fern?' he asked in a
'Sir,' said Stephen firmly, but without any insolence of manner, 'I
want to know who has turned us out of our own house. Is it the lord of
the manor, or you?'
'I've bought the place for myself,' answered the master, bringing his
hand down with a heavy blow upon the table before him, as if he would
like to knock Stephen down with the same force.
'There's nobody to sell it but me,' said the boy.
'You think so, my lad, do you? Why, if it were your own, you would
have no power over it till you are one-and-twenty. But the place was
your grandfather's, and he has sold it to me for £15. When your
grandfather returned from transportation his wife's hut became his; and
his right to it does not go over to anybody else till he is dead. It
never belonged to your father; and you can have no right to it. If you
want to see the deed of purchase, it is safe here, witnessed by my
brother Thomas and Jones the gamekeeper, and your grandfather's mark
put to it. I would show it to you; but I reckon, with all your
learning, you would not make much out of it.'
'Sir,' said Stephen, trembling, 'grandfather is quite simple and
dark. He couldn't understand that you were buying the place of him.
Besides, he's never had the money?'
'What do you mean, you young scoundrel?' cried the master. 'I gave it
into his own hands, and made him put it into his waistcoat pocket for
safety. Simple is he, and dark? He could attend his son's funeral four
miles off only a few months ago; and he can understand my niece Anne's
fine reading, which I cannot understand myself. Ask him for the three
five-pound notes I gave him, if you have not had them already.'
'How long ago is it?' inquired Stephen.
'You can't remember!' said the master, laughing: 'well, well, Jones
left you a keepsake at your garden wicket for you to remember the day
Stephen's face flushed into a wrathful crimson, but he did not speak;
and in a minute or two the master said sharply,—
'Come, be off with you, if you've got nothing else to say.'
'I have got something else to say,' answered Stephen, walking up to
the table and looking steadily into his master's face. 'God sees both
of us; and He knows you have no right to the place, and I have. I
believe some day we'll go back again, though you have pulled the old
house down to the ground. I don't want to make God angry with me. But
the Bible says He seeth in secret, and He will reward us openly.'
The master shrank and turned pale before the keen, composed gaze of
the boy and his manly bearing; but Stephen's heart began to fail him,
and, with trembling limbs and eyes that could scarcely see, he made his
way out of the room, and out of the house, down to the end of the
shrubbery. There he could bear up no longer, and he sat down under the
laurels, shivering with a feelingof despair. The worst was come upon
him now, and he saw no helper.
My poor boy,' said Miss Anne's gentle voice, and he felt her hand
laid softly on his shoulder. 'My poor Stephen, I have heard all, and I
know how bitterly hard it is to bear.'
Stephen answered her only with a low, half-suppressed groan and then
he sat speechless and motionless, as if his despair had completely
'Listen, Stephen,' she continued, with energy: 'you told me once that
the clergyman at Danesford has some paper belonging to you, about the
cottage. You must go to him, and tell him frankly your whole story. I
do not believe that what my uncle has done would stand in law, and I
myself, if it be necessary, would testify that your grandfather could
not understand such a transaction. But perhaps it could be settled
without going to the law, if the clergyman at Danesford would take it
in hand; for my uncle is very wishful to keep a good name in the
country. But if not, Stephen Fern, I promise you faithfully that should
Fern's Hollow ever come into my possession, and I be my uncle's only
relative, I will restore it to you as your rightful inheritance.'
She spoke so gravely, yet cheeringly, that a bright hope beamed into
Stephen's mind; and when Miss Anne held out her hand to him, as a
pledge of her promise, she felt a warm tear fall upon it. He rose up
from the ground now, and stood out into the moonlight before her,
looking up into her pale face.
'Stephen,' she said, more solemnly than before, 'do you find it
possible to endure this injury and temptation?'
'I've been praying for the master,' answered Stephen; but there was a
tone of bitterness in his voice, and his face grew gloomy again.
'He is a very miserable man,' said Miss Anne, sighing; 'I often hear
him walking up and down his room, and crying aloud in the night-time
for God to have mercy upon him; but he is a slave to the love of
riches. Years ago he might have broken through his chain, but he hugged
it closely, and now it presses upon him very hardly. All his love has
been given to money, till he cannot feel any love to God; and he knows
that in a few years he must leave all he loves for ever, and go into
eternity without it. He will have no rest to-night because of the
injury he has done you. He is a very wretched man, Stephen?
'I wouldn't change with him for all his money,' said Stephen
'Stephen,' continued Miss Anne, 'you say you pray for my uncle, and I
believe you do; but do you never feel a kind of spite and hatred
against him in your very prayers? Have you never seemed to enjoy
telling our Father how very evil he is?'
'Yes,' said the boy, hanging down his head, and wondering how Miss
Anne could possibly know that.
'Ah, Stephen,' she continued, 'God requires of us something more than
such prayers. He bids us really and truly to love our enemies—love
which He only can know of, because it is He who seeth in secret and
into the inmost secrets of our hearts. I may hear you pray for your
enemies, and see you try to do them good; but He alone can tell whether
of a truth you love them.'
'I cannot love them as I love you and little Nan,' replied Stephen.
'Not with the same kind of love,' said Miss Anne; 'in us there is
something for your love to take hold of and feed upon. “But if ye love
them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the
same?” Your affection for us is the kind that sinners can feel; it is
of this earth, and is earthly. But to love our enemies is heavenly; it
is Christ-like, for He died for us while we were yet sinners. Will you
try to do more than pray for my uncle and Black Thompson? Will you try
to love them. Will you try for Christ's sake?'
'Oh, Miss Anne, how can I?' he asked.
'It may not be all at once,' she answered tenderly; 'but if you ask
God to help you, His Holy Spirit will work within you. Only set this
before you as your aim, and resist every other feeling that will creep
in; remembering that the Lord Jesus Himself, who died for us, said to
us, “Love your enemies.” He can feel for you, for “He was tempted in
all points as we are.”
As she spoke the last words, they heard the master's voice calling
loudly for Miss Anne, and Stephen watched her run swiftly up the
shrubbery and disappear through the door. There was a great bolting and
locking and barring to be heard within, for it was rumoured that Mr.
Wyley kept large sums of money in his house, and no place in the whole
country-side was more securely fastened up by day or night. But Stephen
thought of him pacing up and down his room through the sleepless night,
praying God to have mercy upon him, yet not willing to give up his sin;
and as he turned away to the poor little cabin on the cinder-hill,
there was more pity than revenge in the boy's heart.
Chapter 11. STEPHEN AND THE RECTOR
The report of the expulsion of the family from Fern's Hollow spread
through Botfield before morning; and Stephen found an eager cluster of
men, as well as boys and girls, awaiting his appearance on the
pit-bank. There was the steady step and glance of a man about him when
he came—a grave, reserved air, which had an effect upon even the rough
colliers. Black Thompson came forward to shake hands with him, and his
example was followed by many of the others, with hearty expressions of
sympathy and attempts at consolation.
'It'll be put right some day,' said Stephen; and that was all they
could provoke him to utter. He went down to his work; and, though now
and then the recollection thrilled through him that there was no
pleasant Fern's Hollow for him to return to in the evening, none of his
comrades could betray him into any expression of resentment against his
In the meantime Miss Anne did not forget to visit the cabin, and
cheer, as well as she could, the trouble of poor Martha, whose good and
proud housewifery had kept Fern's Hollow cleaner and tidier than any of
the cottages at Botfield. It was no easy matter to rouse Martha to take
any interest in the miserable cabin where the household furniture had
been hastily heaped in the night before; but when her heart warmed to
the work, in which Miss Anne was taking an active part, she began to
feel something like pleasure in making the new home like the old one,
as far as the interior went. Out of doors, no improvement could be made
until soil could be carried up the barren and steep bank, to make a
little plot of garden ground. But within, the work went on so heartily
that, when Stephen returned from the pit, half an hour earlier than
usual,—for he had no long walk of two miles now,—he found his
grandfather settled in the chimney corner, apparently unconscious of
any removal, while both Martha and little Nan seemed in some measure
reconciled to their change of dwelling. Moreover, Miss Anne was waiting
to greet him kindly.
'Stephen,' she said, 'Martha has found the three notes in your
grandfather's pocket all safe. You had better take them with you to the
clergyman at Danesford, and do what he advises you with them. And now
you are come to live at Botfield, you can manage to go to church every
Sunday; even little Nan can go; and there is a night-school at
Longville, where you can learn to write as well as read. It will not be
all loss, my boy.'
The opportunity for going to Danesford was not long in coming, for
Black Thompson and Cole, who were the chief colliers in the pit, chose
to take a 'play-day' with the rest of their comrades; and the boys and
girls employed at the works were obliged to play also, though it
involved the forfeiture of their day's wages—always a serious loss to
Stephen. This time, however, he heard the news gladly; and, carefully
securing the three notes by pinning them inside his pocket, he set out
for his ten miles walk across the tableland to the other side of the
mountains, where Danesford lay. His nearest way led straight by Fern's
Hollow, and he saw that already upon the old site the foundation was
laid for a new house containing three rooms. In everything else the
aspect of the place remained unchanged; there still hung the creaking
wicket, where little Nan had been wont to look for his coming home,
until she could run with outstretched arms to meet him. The beehives
stood yet beneath the hedge, and the bees were flying to and fro,
seeking out the few flowers of the autumn upon the hillside. The fern
upon the uplands, just behind the hollow, was beginning to die, and its
rich red-brown hue showed that it was ready to be cut and carried away
for fodder; but a squatter from some other hill-hut had trespassed upon
Stephen's old domain. Except this one man, the whole tableland was
deserted; and so silent was it that the rustle of his own feet through
the fading ferns sounded like other footsteps following him closely.
The sheep were not yet driven down into the valleys, and they and the
wild ponies stood and stared boldly at the solitary boy, without
fleeing from his path, as if they had long since forgotten how the
bilberry gatherers had delighted in frightening them. Stephen was too
grave and manlike to startle them into memory of it, and he plodded on
mile after mile with the three notes in his pocket and his hand closed
upon them, pondering deeply with what words he should speak to the
unknown clergyman at Danesford.
When he reached Danesford, he found it a very quiet, sleepy little
village, with a gleaming river flowing through it placidly, and such
respectable houses and small clean cottages as put to shame the
dwellings at Botfield. So early was it yet, that the village children
were only just going to school; and the biggest boy turned back with
Stephen to the gate of the Rectory. Stephen had never seen so large and
grand a mansion, standing far back from the road, in a park, through
which ran a carriage drive up to a magnificent portico. He stole shyly
along a narrow side path to the back door, and even there was afraid of
knocking; but when his low single rap was answered by a
good-tempered-looking girl, not much older than Martha, his courage
revived, and he asked, in a straightforward and steady manner, if he
could see the parson. At which the servant laughed a little, and, after
inquiring his name, said she would see if Mr. Lockwood could spare time
to speak to him.
Before long the girl returned, and led Stephen through many winding
and twisting passages, more puzzling than the roads in the pit, to a
large, grand room, with windows down to the ground, and looking out
upon a beautiful flower-garden. It was like the palace Miss Anne had
spoken of, for he could not understand half the things that were in the
room; only he saw a fire burning in a low grate, the bars of which
shone like silver, and upon the carpeted hearth beside it was a sofa,
where a young lady was lying, and near to it was a breakfast-table, at
which an elderly gentleman was seated alone. He was a very keen,
shrewd-looking man, and very pleasant to look at when he smiled; and he
smiled upon Stephen, as he stood awe-struck and speechless at his own
daring in coming to speak to such a gentleman, and in such a place as
'So you are Stephen Fern, of Fern's Hollow,' said Mr. Lockwood; 'I
remember christening you, and giving you my own name, thirteen or
fourteen years since, isn't it? Your mother had been my faithful
servant for several years; and she brought you all across the hills to
Danesford to be christened. Is she well—my good Sarah Moore?'
'Mother died four years ago, sir,' murmured Stephen, unable to say
'Poor boy!' said the young lady on the sofa. 'Father, is there
anything we can do for him?'
'That is what I am going to hear, my child,' replied Mr. Lockwood.
'Stephen has not come over the hills without some errand. Now, my boy,
speak out plainly and boldly, and let me hear what has brought you to
your mother's old master.'
Thus encouraged, Stephen, with the utmost simplicity and frankness,
though with fewer words than Martha would have put into the narrative,
told Mr. Lockwood the whole history of his life; to which the clergyman
listened with ever-increasing interest, as he noticed how the boy was
telling all the truth, and nothing but the truth, even to his joining
Black Thompson in poaching. When he had finished, Mr. Lockwood went to
a large cabinet in the room, and, bringing out a bundle of old yellow
documents, soon found among them the paper James Fern had spoken of on
his death-bed. It was written by the clergyman living in Longville at
the time of old Martha Fern's death, to certify that she had settled,
and maintained her settlement on the hillside, without paying rent, or
having her fences destroyed, for upwards of twenty years, and that the
land was her own by the usages of the common.
'I don't know what use it will be,' said Mr. Lockwood, 'but I will
take legal advice upon it; that is, I will tell my lawyer all about it,
and see what we had best do. You may leave the case in my hands,
Stephen. But to-morrow morning we start for the south of France, where
my daughter must live all the winter for the benefit of the warm
climate; and I must go with her, for she is my only treasure now. Can
you live in your cabin till we come home? Will you trust yourself to
me, Stephen? I will not see a son of my old servant wronged.'
'Please, sir,' said Stephen, 'the cabin is good enough for us, and we
are nearer church and the night-school; only I didn't like to break my
word to father, besides losing the old home: we can stay all winter
well. I'll trust you, sir; but my work is dangersome, and please God I
should get killed, will you do the same for Martha and little Nan?'
'Ay!' answered Mr. Lockwood, coughing down his emotion at the young
boy's forethought and care for his sisters. 'If it pleases God, my boy,
you will live to make a right good, true-hearted Christian man; but if
He should take you home before me, I'll befriend your sisters as long
as I live. I like your Miss Anne, Stephen; but your master is a
terrible rascal, I fear.'
'Yes, sir,' said Stephen quietly.
'You don't say much about him, however,' replied Mr. Lockwood,
smiling at his few words.
'Please, sir, I am trying to love my enemies,' he answered, with a
feeling of shyness; 'if I was to call him a rascal, or any other bad
word, it 'ud throw me back like, and it's very hard work anyhow. I feel
as if I'd like to do it sometimes.'
'You are right, Stephen,' said Mr. Lockwood; 'you are wise in keeping
your tongue from evil speaking: for “therewith bless we God, even the
Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude
of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing.” You
have taught an old parson a lesson, my boy. You had better leave your
money with me until my lawyer gives us his opinion. Now go home in
peace, and serve your master faithfully; but if you should need a
friend before I return, come here and ask for the clergyman who is
going to take my duty. I will tell him about you, and he will help you
until I come home.'
That afternoon Stephen retraced his lonely path across the hills in
great gladness of heart; and when he came to Fern's Hollow, he leaped
lightly down the bank against which the old stove-pipe had been reared
as a chimney, and stood again on the site of the old hearth, in the
midst of the new walls of red bricks that were being built up. How the
master could remove the new house and restore the old hut was a
question of some perplexity to him; but his confidence in the parson at
Danesford was so perfect, that he did not doubt for a moment that he
could call Fern's Hollow his own again next spring.
Chapter 12. VISIT OF BLACK BESS
Everybody at Botfield was astonished at the change in Stephen's
manner; so cheerful was he, and light-hearted, as if his brief manhood
had passed away, with its burden of cares and anxieties, and his boyish
freedom and gladsomeness had come back again. The secret cause remained
undiscovered; for Martha, fluent in tongue as she was, had enough
discretion to keep her own counsel, and seal up her lips as close as
wax, when it was necessary. The people puzzled themselves in vain; and
Black Thompson left off hinting at revenge to Stephen. Even the master,
when the boy passed him with a respectful bow, in which there was
nothing of resentment or sullenness, wondered how he could so soon
forget the great injury he had suffered. Mr. Wyley would have been
better satisfied if the whole family could have been driven out of the
neighbourhood; but there was no knowing what ugly rumours and inquiries
might be set afloat, if the boy went telling his tale to nobody knows
Upon the whole, Martha did not very much regret her change of
dwelling, though she made a great virtue of her patience in submitting
quietly to it. To be sure, the cinder-hill was unsightly, and the cabin
blackened with smoke; and it was necessary to lock little Nan and
grandfather safely within the house whenever she went out, lest they
should get to the mouth of the open shaft, where Stephen often amused
the child by throwing stones down it, and listening to their rebound
against the sides. But still Martha had near neighbours; and until now
she had hardly even tasted the luxury of a thorough gossip, which she
could enjoy in any one of the cottages throughout Botfield. Moreover,
she could get work for herself on three days in the week, to help a
washerwoman, who gave her ninepence a day, besides letting little Nan
go with her, and have, as she said, 'the run of her teeth.' She had her
admirers, too—young collier lads, who told her truly enough she was
the cleanest, neatest, tidiest lass in all Botfield. So Martha Fern
regarded their residence on the cinder-hill with more complacency than
could have been expected. The only circumstance which in her secret
heart she considered a serious drawback was her very near neighbourhood
to Miss Anne.
'Stephen,' said Martha one Saturday night, after their work was done,
'I've been thinking how it's only thee that's trying to keep the
commandments. I'm not such a scholar as thee; but I've heard thy
chapter read till it's in my head, as well as if I could read it off
book myself. So I'm thinking I ought to love my enemies as well as
thee; and I've asked Black Bess to come and have a cup of tea with us
'Black Bess!' exclaimed Stephen, with a feeling of some displeasure.
'Ah,' said Martha, 'she's always calling me-a shame to be heard. But
I've quite forgiven her; and to-morrow I'll let her see I can make
pikelets as well as her mother; and we'll have out the three china
cups; only grandfather and little Nan must have common ones. I thought
I'd better tell thee; and then thee'lt make haste home from church in
'Black Bess isn't a good friend for thee,' answered Stephen, who was
better acquainted with the pit-girl's character than was Martha, and
felt troubled at the idea of any companionship between them.
'But we are to love our enemies,' persisted Martha, 'and do good to
them that hate us. At any rate I asked her, and she said she'd come.'
'I don't think it means we are to ask our enemies to tea,' said
Stephen, in perplexity. 'If she was badly off, like, and in want of a
meal's meat, it 'ud be another thing; I'd do it gladly. And on a Sunday
too! Oh, Martha, it doesn't seem right.'
'Oh, nothing's right that I do!' replied Martha pettishly; 'thee'rt
afraid I'll get as good as thee, and then thee cannot crow over me. But
I'll not spend a farthing of thy money, depend upon it. I'm not without
some shillings of my own, I reckon. Thee should let me love my enemies
as well as thee, I think; but thee'lt want to go up to heaven alone
Stephen said no more, though Martha continued talking peevishly about
Black Bess. She was not at all satisfied in her own mind that she was
doing right; but Bess had met her at a neighbour's house, where she was
boasting of her skill in making pikelets, and she had been drawn out by
her sneers and mocking to give her a kind of challenge to come and
taste them. She wanted now to make herself and Stephen believe that she
was doing it out of love and forgiveness towards poor Bess; but she
could not succeed in the deception. All the Sunday morning she was
bustling about, and sadly chafing the grandfather by making him move
hither and thither out of the way. It was quite a new experience to
have any one coming to tea; and all her hospitable and housekeeping
feelings were greatly excited by the approaching event.
When Stephen, with tired little Nan riding on his shoulder, returned
from church in the afternoon, they found Bess had arrived, and was
sitting in the warmest corner, close to a very large and blazing fire,
which filled the cabin with light and heat. Bess had dressed herself up
in her best attire, in a bright red stuff gown, and with yellow ribbons
tied in her hair, which bad been brought to a degree of smoothness
wonderful to Stephen, who saw her daily on the pit-bank. She had washed
her face and hands with so much care as to leave broad stripes of grime
round her neck and wrists, partly concealed by a necklace and bracelets
of glass beads; and her green apron was marvelously braided in a large
pattern. Martha, in her clean print dress, and white handkerchief
pinned round her throat, was a pleasant contrast to the tawdry girl,
who looked wildly at Stephen as he entered, as if she scarcely knew
what to do.
'Good evening, Bess,' he said, as pleasantly as he could. 'Martha
told me thee was coming to eat some pikelets with her, so I asked Tim
to come too; and after tea we'll have some rare singing. I often hear
thee on the bank, Bess, and thee has a good voice.'
Bess coloured with pleasure, and evidently tried her best to be
amiable and well-mannered, sitting up nearer and nearer to the fire
until her face shone as red as her dress with the heat. Martha moved
triumphantly about the house, setting the tea-table, upon which she
placed the three china cups, with a gratified glance at the undisguised
admiration of Bess; though three common ones had to be laid beside
them, for, as Tim was coming, Stephen must fare like grandfather and
little Nan. As soon as Tim arrived, she was very busy beating up the
batter for the pikelets, and then baking them over the fire; and very
soon the little party were sitting down to their feast—Bess declaring
politely, between each piece pressed upon her by Martha, that she had
never tasted such pikelets, never!
At last, when tea was quite finished, and the table carefully lifted
back to a safe corner at the foot of the bed, though Martha prudently
replaced the china cups in the cupboard, Tim and Stephen drew up their
stools to the front of the fire, and a significant glance passed
'Now then, Stevie,' said Tim, 'thee learn me the new hymn Miss Anne
sings with us; and let's teach Bess to sing too.'
Bess looked, round uneasily, as if she found herself caught in a
trap; but, as Tim burst off loudly into a hymn tune, in which Stephen
joined at the top of his voice, she had no time to make any objection.
Martha and the old grandfather, who had been a capital singer in his
day, began to help; and little Nan mingled her sweet, clear, childish
notes with their stronger tones. It was a long hymn, and, before it was
finished, Bess found herself shyly humming away to the tune, almost as
if it had been the chorus of one of the pit-bank songs. They sang more
and more, until she joined in boldly, and whispered to Martha that she
wished she knew the words, so as to sing with them. But the crowning
pleasure of the evening was when little Nan, sitting on Stephen's knee,
with his fingers stroking her curly hair, sang by herself a new hymn
for little children, which Miss Anne had been teaching her. She could
not say the word, very plainly, but her voice was sweet, and she looked
so lovely with her tiny hands softly folded, and her eyes lifted up
steadily to Stephen's face, that at last Black Bess burst out into a
loud and long fit of crying, and wept so bitterly that none of them
could comfort her, until the little child herself, who had been afraid
of her before, climbed upon her lap and laid her arms round her neck.
She looked up then, and wiped the tears from her face with the corner
of her fine apron.
'I had a sister once, just like little Nan,' she said, with a sob,
'and she minded me of her. Miss Anne told me she was singing somewhere
among the angels, and I thought she'd look like little Nan. But I'm
afraid I shall never go where she is; I'm so bad.'
'We'll teach thee how to be good,' answered Martha, 'Thee come to me,
Bess, and I'll teach thee the hymns, and the singing, and how to make
pikelets, and keep the house clean on a week-day. I'm going to love my
enemies, and do good to them that hate me; so don't thee be shy-like.
We'll be friends like Stephen and Tim; and weren't they enemies afore
Stephen learned to read?'
That night, as Stephen lay down to sleep, he said to himself, 'I'm
glad Black Bess came to eat pikelets with Martha. My chapter says,
“Whosoever shall do the commandments, and teach them, the same shall be
called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Perhaps Martha and me will be
called great in heaven, if we teach Bess how to do God's commandments.'
Chapter 13. THE OLD SHAFT
Black Bess began to visit the cinder-hill cabin very often. But there
was a fatal mistake, which poor Stephen, in his simplicity and
single-heartedness, was a long time in discovering. Martha herself had
not truly set out on the path of obedience to God's commandments; and
it was not possible that she could teach Bess how to keep them. A
Christian cannot be like a finger-post, which only points the way to a
place, but never goes there itself. She could teach Bess the words of
the hymn, and the tunes they were sung to; but she could tell her
nothing of the feeling of praise and love to the Saviour with which
Stephen sang them, and out of which all true obedience must flow. With
her lips she could say, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit,' and 'Blessed
are the meek,' and 'Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after
righteousness;' but she cared for none of these things, and felt none
of their blessedness in her own soul; and Bess very quickly found out
that she would far rather talk about other matters. And because our
hearts, which are foolish, and deceitful above all things, and
desperately wicked, soon grow weary of good, but are ever ready to
delight in evil, it came to pass that, instead of Martha teaching poor
ignorant Bess how to do God's will, Bess was leading her into all sorts
of folly and wickedness.
It would be no very easy task to describe how unhappy Stephen was
when, from day to day, he saw Martha's pleasant sisterly ways change
into a rude and careless harshness, and her thrifty, cleanly habits
give place to the dirty extravagance of the collier-folk at Botfield.
But who could tell how he suffered in his warm, tender-hearted nature,
when he came home at night, and found the poor old grandfather
neglected, and left desolate in his blindness; and little Nan herself
severely punished by Martha's unkindness and quick temper? Not that
Martha became bad suddenly, or was always unkind and neglectful; there
were times when she was her old self again, when she would listen
patiently enough to Stephen's remonstrances and Miss Anne's gentle
teaching; but yet Stephen could never feel sure, when he was at his
dismal toil underground, that all things were going on right in his
home overhead. Often and often, as he looked up to Fern's Hollow, where
the new red-brick house was now to be seen plainly, like a city set on
a bin, he longed to be back again, and counted the months and weeks
until the spring should bring home the good clergyman to Danesford.
One day, during the time allowed to the pit-girls for eating their
dinner, Bess came running over the cinder-bills in breathless haste to
the old cabin. Martha had been busy all the morning, and was still
standing at the washing-tub; but she was glad of an excuse for resting
herself, and when Bess sprang over the door-sill, she received her very
'Martha! Martha!' cried Bess; 'come away quickly. Here's Andrew the
packman in the lane, with such shawls, Martha! Blue and red and yellow
and green! Only five shillings a-piece; and thee canst pay him a
shilling a week. Come along, and be sharp with thee.'
'I've got no money to spend,' said Martha sullenly. 'Stephen ought to
let grandfather go into the House, and then we shouldn't be so pinched.
What with buying for him and little Nan, I've hardly a brass farthing
in the world for myself.'
'I'd not pinch,' Bess answered; 'let Stephen pinch if he will Why,
all the lads in Botfield are making a mock at thee, calling thee an
old-fashioned piece and Granny Fern. But come and look, anyhow; Andrew
will be gone directly.'
Bess dragged Martha by the arm to the top of the cinder-bill, where
they could see the pit-girls clustering round the packman in the lane.
The black linen wrapper in which his pack was carried was stretched
along the hedge, and upon it was spread a great show of bright-coloured
shawls and dresses, and the girls were flitting from one to another,
closely examining their quality; while Andrew's wife walked up and
down, exhibiting each shawl by turns upon her shoulders. The temptation
was too strong for Martha; she wiped the soap-suds from her arms upon
her apron, and ran as eagerly down to the lane as Black Bess herself.
'Eh! here's a clean, tight lass for you!' cried Andrew, comparing
Martha with the begrimed pit-girls about him. 'The best shawl in my
pack isn't good enough for you, my dear. Pick and choose. Just make
your own choice, and I'll accommodate you about the price.'
'I've got no money,' said Martha.
'Oh, you and me'll not quarrel about money,' replied Andrew; 'you
make your choice, and I'll wait your time. I'm coming my rounds pretty
regular, and you can put up a shilling or two agen I come, without
letting on to father. But maybe you're married, my dear?'
'No,' she answered, blushing.
'It's not far off, I'll be bound,' he continued, 'and with a shawl
like this, now, you'd look like a full-blown rose. Come, I'll not be
hard upon you, as it's the first time you've dealt with me. That
shawl's worth ten shillings if it's worth a farthing, and I'll let you
have it for seven shillings and sixpence; half a crown down, and a
shilling a fortnight till it's paid up.'
Andrew threw the shawl over her shoulders, and turned her round to
the envying view of the assembled girls, who were not allowed to touch
any of his goods with their soiled hands. Martha softly stroked the
bright blue border, and felt its texture between her fingers; while she
deliberated within herself whether she could not buy it from the fund
procured by the bilberry picking in the autumn. As Stephen had never
known the full amount, she could withdraw the half-crown without his
knowledge, and the sixpence a week she could save out of her own
earnings. In ten minutes, while Andrew was bargaining with some of the
others, she came to the conclusion that she could not possibly do any
longer without a new shawl; so, telling the packman that she would be
back again directly, she ran as swiftly as she could over the
In her hurry to accompany Bess to the lane, she had left her cabin
door unfastened, never thinking of the danger of the open pit to her
blind grandfather and the child. Little Nan had been wearying all
morning for a run in the wintry sunshine, out of the close steam of
washing in the small hut; but Martha had not dared to let her run about
alone, as she had been used to do at Fern's Hollow, in their safe
garden. After Martha and Black Bess had left her, the child stood
looking wistfully through the open door for some time; but at last she
ventured over the door-sill and her tiny feet painfully climbed the
frozen bank behind the house, whence she could see the group of girls
in the lane below. Perhaps she would have found her way down to them,
but Martha had been cross with her all the morning, and the child's
little spirit was frightened with her scolding. She turned back to the
cabin, sobbing, for the north wind blew coldly upon her; and then she
must have caught sight of the shaft, where Stephen had been throwing
stones down for her the night before, without a thought of the little
one trying to pursue the dangerous game alone. As Martha came over the
cinder-hill, her eyes fell upon little Nan, rosy, laughing, screaming
with delight as her tiny hands lifted a large stone high above her
curly head, while she bent over the unguarded margin of the pit. But
before Martha could move in her agony of terror, the heavy stone
dropped from her small fingers, and Nan, little Nan, with her rosy,
laughing face, had fallen after it.
Martha never forgot that moment. As if with a sudden awaking of
memory, there flashed across her mind all the child's simple, winning
ways. She seemed to see her dying mother again, laying the helpless
baby in her arms, and bidding her to be a mother to it. She heard her
father's last charge to take care of little Nan, when he also was
passing away. Her own wicked carelessness and neglect, Stephen's
terrible sorrow if little Nan should be dead, all the woeful
consequences of her fault, were stamped upon her heart with a sudden
and very bitter stroke. Those who were watching her from the lane saw
her stand as if transfixed for a moment; and then a piercing scream
which made every one within hearing start with terror, rang through the
frosty air, as Martha sprang forward to the mouth of the old pit, and,
peering down its dark and narrow depths, could just discern a litt1e
white figure lying motionless at the bottom of the shaft.
Chapter 14. A BROTHER'S GRIEF
In a very short time all the people at work on the surface of the
mine knew that Stephen Fern's little sister was dead—lying dead in the
very pit where he was then labouring for her, with the spirit and
strength and love of a father rather than a brother. Every face was
overcast and grave; and many of the boys and girls were weeping, for
little Nan had endeared herself to them all since she came to live at
the cinder-hill cabin. Tim felt faint and heart-sick, almost wishing he
could have perished in the child's stead, for poor Stephen's sake; but
he had to rouse himself, for one of the banksmen was going to shout the
terrible tidings down the shaft; and if Stephen should be near, instead
of being at work farther in the pit, the words would fall upon him
without any softening or preparation. He implored them to wait until he
could run and tell Miss Anne; but while he was speaking they saw Miss
Anne herself coming towards the pit, her face very pale and sorrowful,
for the rumour had reached the master's house, and she was hastening to
meet Stephen, and comfort him, if that were possible.
'Oh, Miss Anne!' cried Tim; 'it will kill poor Stephen, if it come
upon him sudden like. I know the way through the old pit to where poor
little Nan has fallen; and I'll go and find her. The roofs dropped in,
and only a boy could creep along. But who's to tell Stevie? Oh, Miss
Anne, couldn't you go down with me, and tell him gently your own self?'
'Yes, I will go,' said Miss Anne, weeping.
Underground, in those low, dark, pent-up galleries, lighted only here
and there by a glimmering lamp, the colliers were busy at their
labours, unconscious of all that was happening overhead. Stephen was at
work at some distance from the others, loading a train of small square
waggons with the blocks of coal which he and Black Thompson had picked
out of the earth. He was singing softly to himself the hymns that he
and little Nan had been learning during the summer in the Red Gravel
Pit; and he smiled as he fancied that little Nan was perhaps singing
them over as well by the cabin fire. He did not know, poor boy, that at
that moment Tim was creeping through the winding, blocked-up passages,
so long untrodden, to the bottom of the old shaft; and that when he
returned he would be bearing in his arms a sad, sad burden, upon which
his tears would fall unavailingly.
Stephen's comrades were all of a sudden very quiet, and their
pickaxes no longer gave dull muffled thumps upon the seam of coal; but
he was too busy to notice how idle and still they were. It was only
when Cole spoke to him, in a tone of extraordinary mildness, that the
boy paused in his rough and toilsome employment.
'My lad,' said Cole, 'Miss Anne's come down the pit, and she's asking
'She promised she'd come some day,' cried Stephen, with a thrill of
pleasure and a quicker throbbing of his heart, as he darted along the
narrow paths to the loftier and more open space near the bottom of the
shaft, where Miss Anne was waiting for him. The covered lamps gave too
little light for him to see how pale and sorrow-stricken she looked;
but the solemn tenderness of her voice sank deeply into his heart.
'Stephen, my dear boy,' she said, 'are you sure that I care for you,
and would not let any trouble come upon you if I could help it?'
'Yes, surely, Miss Anne,' answered the boy wonderingly.
'Your Father which is in heaven cares much more for you,' she
continued; 'but “whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth
every son whom He receiveth.” God is dealing with you as His son,
Stephen. Can you bear the sorrow which is sent by Him?'
'If the Lord Jesus will help me,' he murmured.
'He will help you, my poor boy,' said Miss Anne. 'Oh, Stephen,
Stephen, how can I tell you? Our little Nan, our precious little child,
has fallen down the old shaft.'
Stephen reeled giddily, and would have sunk to the ground, but Cole
held him up in his strong arms, while his comrades gathered about him
with tears and sobs, which prevented them uttering any words of
consolation. But he could not have listened to them. He fancied he
heard the pattering of Nan's little feet, and saw her laughing face.
But no! he heard instead the dull and lingering footsteps of Tim, and
saw a little lifeless form folded from sight in Tim's jacket.
'The little lass 'ud die very easy,' whispered Cole, passing his arm
tighter round Stephen; 'and she's up in heaven among the angels by this
time, I reckon.'
Stephen drew himself away from Cole's arm, and staggered forward a
step or two to meet Tim; when he took the sad burden from him, and sat
down without a word, pressing it closely to his breast. His perfect
silence touched all about him. Miss Anne hid her face in her hands, and
some of the men groaned aloud.
'The old pit ought to have been bricked up years ago,' said Cole;
'the child's death will be upon the master's head.'
'It'll all go to one reckoning,' muttered Black Thompson. But Stephen
seemed not to hear their words. Still, with the child clasped tightly
to him, he waited for the lowering of the skip, and when it descended,
he seated himself in it without lifting up his head, which was bent
over the dead child. Miss Anne and Tim took their places beside him,
and they were drawn up to the broad, glittering light of day on the
surface, where a crowd of eager bystanders was waiting for Stephen's
'Don't speak to me, please,' he murmured, without looking round; and
they made way for him in his deep, silent grief, as he passed on
homewards, followed by Miss Anne. Once she saw him look up to the
hills, where, at Fern's Hollow, the new house stood out conspicuously
against the snow; and when they passed the shaft, he shuddered visibly;
but yet he was silent, and scarcely seemed to know that she was walking
The cabin was full of women from Botfield, for Martha had fallen into
violent fits of hysterics, and none of their remedies had any effect in
soothing her. One of them took the dead child from Stephen's arms at
the door, and bade him go away and sit in her cottage till she came to
him. But he turned off towards the hills; and Miss Anne, seeing that
she could say nothing to comfort him just then, watched him strolling
along the old road that led to Fern's Hollow, with his arms folded and
his head bent down, is if he were still carrying that sad burden which
he had borne up from the pit, so closely pressed against his heart.
Chapter 15. RENEWED CONFLICT
'I'm a murderer, Miss Anne,' said Martha. with a look of settled
despair upon her face, on the evening of the next day.
She had been sitting all the weary hours since morning with her face
buried in her hands, hearing and heeding no one, until Miss Anne came
and sat down beside her, speaking to her in her own kind and gentle
tones. Upon a table in the corner of the cabin lay the little form of
the dead child, covered with a white cloth. The old grandfather was
crouching over the fire, moaning and laughing by turns; and Stephen was
again absent, rambling upon the snowy uplands.
'And for murderers there is pardon,' said Miss Anne softly.
'Oh, I never thought I wanted pardon,' cried Martha; 'I always felt
I'd done my duty better than any of the girls about here. But I've
killed little Nan; and now I remember how cross I used to be when
nobody was nigh, till she grew quite timmersome of me. Everybody knows
I've murdered her; and now it doesn't signify how bad I am. I shall
never get over that.'
'Martha,' said Miss Anne, 'you are not so guilty of the child's death
as my uncle, who ought to have had the pit bricked over safely when it
was no longer in use. But you say you never thought you wanted pardon.
Surely you feel your need of it now.'
'But God will never forgive me now,' replied Martha hopelessly; 'I
see how wicked I have been, but the chance is gone by. God will not
forgive me now; nor Stephen.'
'We will not talk about Stephen,' said Miss Anne; 'but I will tell
you about God. When He gave His commandments to mankind that they might
obey them, He proclaimed His own name at the same time. Listen to His
name, Martha: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious,
long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for
thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.” If you would
not go to Him for mercy when you did not feel your need of it, He was
keeping it for you against this time; saving and treasuring it up for
you, “that He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His
kindness towards us, through Christ Jesus.” He is waiting to pardon
your iniquity, for Christ's sake. Do you wish to be forgiven now? Do
you feel that you are a sinful girl, Martha?'
'I have thought of nothing else all day long,' whispered Martha; 'I
have helped to kill little Nan by my sins.'
'Yes,' said Miss Anne mournfully; 'if, like Stephen, you had opened
your heart to the gentle teaching of the Holy Spirit, if you had looked
to Jesus, trusted in Him, and followed Him, this grief would not have
come upon you and upon all of us. For Bess would not have persuaded you
to leave your own duties, and little Nan would have been alive still'
'Oh, I knew I'd killed her!' cried a voice behind them; and, looking
round, Miss Anne saw that the door had been softly opened, and Bess had
crept in unheard. Her face was swollen with weeping, and she stood
wringing her hands, as she cast a fearful glance at the white-covered
table in the corner.
'Come here, Bess,' said Miss Anne; and the girl crept to them, and
sat down on the ground at their feet. Miss Anne talked long with them
about little Nan's death, until they shed many tears in true contrition
of heart for their sinfulness; and when they appeared to feel their own
utter helplessness, she explained to them, in such simple and easy
language as Bess could understand, how they could obtain salvation
through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. After which they all knelt
down; and Miss Anne prayed earnestly for the weeping and heart-broken
girls, who, as yet, hardly knew how they could frame any prayers for
When Miss Anne left the cabin the night was quite dark, but the snow
which lay unmelted on the mountains showed their outlines plainly with
a pale gleaming of light, though the sky was overcast with more
snow-clouds. Her heart was full of sadness for Stephen, who was
wandering, no one knew whither, among the snowdrifts on the solitary
plains. She knew that he must be passing through a terrible trial and
temptation, but she could do nothing for him; her voice could not reach
him, nor her eye tell him by a silent look how deeply she felt for him.
Yet Miss Anne knew who it is that possesseth 'the shields of the
earth,' and in her earnest thanksgiving to God for Martha and Bess
Thompson, she prayed fervently that the boy might be shielded and
sheltered in his great sorrow, and that when he was tried he might come
forth as gold.
All the day long, Stephen, instead of going to his work in the pit,
had been rambling, without aim or purpose, over the dreary uplands;
here and there stretching himself upon the wiry heath, where the sun
had dried away the snow, and hiding his face from the light, while he
gave way to an anguish of grief, and broke the deep silence with a loud
and very bitter cry. It was death, sudden death, he was lamenting. Only
yesterday morning little Nan was clinging strongly to his neck, and
covering his face with merry kisses; and every now and then he felt as
if he was only dreaming, and he started down towards home, as though he
could not believe that those tender arms were stiffened and that rosy
mouth still in death. But before he could run many paces the truth was
borne in upon his aching heart that she was surely dead; and never more
in this life would he see and speak to her, or listen to her lisping
tongue. Little Nan, dearest of all earthly things,—perhaps dearer to
him in the infancy of his Christian life than the Saviour Himself,—was
removed from him so far that she was already a stranger, and he knew
nothing of her.
Towards evening he found himself, in his aimless wandering, drawing
near to Fern's Hollow, where she had lived. The outer shell of the new
house was built up, the three rooms above and below, with the little
dairy and coal-shed beside them, and Stephen, even in his misery, was
glad of the shelter of the blank walls from the cutting blast of the
north wind; for he felt that he could not go home to the cabin where
the dead child—no longer darling little Nan—was lying. Poor Stephen!
He sat down on a heap of bricks upon the new hearth, where no household
fire had ever been kindled; and, while the snow-flakes drifted in upon
him unheeded, he buried his face again in his hands, and went on
thinking, as he had been doing all day. He would never care to come
back now to Fern's Hollow. No! he would get away to some far-off
country, where he should never more hear the master's name spoken. Let
him keep the place, he thought, and let it be a curse to him, for he
had bought it with a child's blood. If the law gave him back Fern's
Hollow, it would not avenge little Nan's death; and he had no power.
But the master was a murderer; and Stephen knelt down on the desolate
hearth, where no prayer had ever been uttered, and prayed God that the
sin and punishment of murder might rest upon his enemy.
Was it consolation that filled Stephen's heart when he rose from his
knees? It seemed as if his spirit had grown suddenly harder, and in
some measure stronger. He did not feel afraid now of going down to the
cabin, where the little lifeless corpse was stretched out; and he
strode away down the hill with rapid steps. When the thought of Martha,
and his grandfather, and Miss Anne crossed his mind, it was with no
gentle, tender emotion, but with a strange feeling that he no longer
cared for them. All his love was gone with little Nan. Only the thought
of the master, and the terrible reckoning that lay before him, sent a
thrill through his heart. 'I shall be there at the judgment,' he
muttered half aloud, looking up to the cold, cloudy sky, almost as if
he expected to see the sign of the coming of the Lord. But there was no
sign there; and, after gazing for a minute or two, he turned in the
direction of the cabin, where he could see a glimmer of the light
within through the chinks of the door and shutter.
Bess and Martha were still sitting hand in hand as Miss Anne had left
them; but they both started up as Stephen entered, pale and ghastly
from his long conflict with grief and temptation on the hills. He was
come home conquered, though be did not know it; and the expression of
his face was one of hatred and vengeance, instead of sorrow and love.
He bade Black Bess to be off out of his sight in a voice so changed and
harsh, that both the girls were frightened, and Martha stole away
tremblingly with her. He was alone then, with his sleeping grandfather
on the bed, and the dead child lying in the corner, from which he
carefully averted his eyes; when there came a quiet tap at the door,
and, before he could answer, it was slowly opened, and the master
stepped into the cabin. He stood before the boy, looking into his white
face in silence, and when he spoke his voice was very husky and low.
'My lad,' he said, 'I'm very sorry for you; and I'll have the pit
bricked over at once. It had slipped my memory, Stephen; but Martha
knew of it, and she ought to have taken better care of the child. It is
no fault of mine; or it is only partly my fault, at any rate. But,
whether or no, I'm come to tell you I'm willing to bear the expenses of
the funeral in reason; and here's a sovereign for you besides, my lad.'
The master held out a glittering sovereign in his hand, but Stephen
pushed it away, and, seizing his arm firmly, drew him, reluctant as he
was, to the white-covered table in the corner. There was no look of
pain upon the pale, placid little features before them; but there was
an awful stillness, and all the light of life was gone out of the open
eyes, which were fixed into an upward gaze. The Bible, which Stephen
had not looked for that morning, had been used instead of a cushion,
and the motionless head lay upon it.
'That was little Nan yesterday,' said Stephen hoarsely; 'she is gone
to tell God all about you. You robbed us of our own home; and you've
been the death of' little Nan. God's curse will be upon you. It's no
use my cursing; I can do nothing; but God can punish you better than
me. A while ago I thought I'd get away to some other country where I'd
never hear of you; but I'll wait now, if I'm almost clemmed to death,
till I see what God will do at you. Take your money. You've robbed me
of all I love, but I won't take from you what you love. I'll only wait
here till I see what God can do.'
He loosed his grasp then, and opened the door wide. The master
muttered a few words indistinctly, but he did not linger in the cabin
beside that awful little corpse. The night had already deepened into
intense darkness; and Stephen, standing at the door to listen, thought,
with a quick tingling through all his veins, that perhaps the master
would himself fall down the open pit. But no, he passed on securely;
and Martha, coming in shortly afterwards, ventured to remark that she
had just brushed against the master in the lane, and wondered where he
was going to at that time of night.
Miss Anne came to see Stephen the next day; but, though he seemed to
listen to her respectfully, she felt that she had lost her influence
over him; and she could do nothing for him but intercede with God that
the Holy Spirit, who only can enter into our inmost souls and waken
there every memory, would in His own good time recall to Stephen's
heart all the lessons of love and forgiveness he had been learning, and
enable him to overcome the evil spirit that had gained the mastery over
All the people in Botfield wished to attend little Nan's funeral, but
Stephen would not consent to it. At first he said only Tim and himself
should accompany the tiny coffin to the churchyard at Longville; but
Martha implored so earnestly to go with them, that he was compelled to
relent. The coffin was placed in a little cart, drawn by one of the
hill-ponies, and led slowly by Tim; while Stephen and Martha walked
behind, the latter weeping many humble and repentant tears, as she
thought sorrowfully of little Nan; but Stephen with a set and gloomy
face, and a heart that pondered only upon the calamities that should
overtake his enemy,
Chapter 16. SOFTENING THOUGHTS
But God had not forsaken Stephen; though, for a little time, He had
left him to the working of his own sinful nature, that he might know of
a certainty that in himself there dwelt no good thing. God looks down
from heaven upon all our bitter conflicts; and He weighs, as a just
Judge, all the events that happen on earth. From the servant to whom He
has given but one talent, He does not demand the same service as from
him who has ten talents. Stephen's heavenly Father knew exactly how
much understanding and strength he possessed, for He Himself had given
those good gifts to the boy, and He knew in what measure He had
bestowed them. When the right time was come, 'He sent from above, He
took him, He brought him out of many waters. He brought him forth also
into a large place; He delivered him, because He delighted in him.'
After the great tribulation of those days Stephen fell into a long
and severe illness. For many weeks he was delirious and unconscious,
neither knowing what he said nor who was taking care of him. When Miss
Anne sat beside him, soothing him, as she sometimes could do, with
singing, he would talk of being in heaven, and listening to little Nan
among the angels. Bess shared many of Martha's weary hours of watching;
and so deeply had the child's death affected them, that now all their
thoughts and talk were about the things that Miss Anne diligently
taught them concerning Jesus and His salvation. It was not much they
knew; but as in former times a very small subject was sufficient for a
long gossip, so now the little knowledge of the Scriptures that was
lodged in either of their minds became the theme of fluent, if not very
learned conversation. Sometimes Stephen, as if their words caught some
floating memory, would murmur out a verse or two in his delirious
ramblings, or sing part of a hymn. Tim, also, who came for an hour or
two every evening, was always ready to read the few chapters he had
learned, and to give the girls his interpretation of them.
There was no pressing want in the little household, though their
bread-winner was unable to work. The miners made up Stephen's wages
among themselves at every reckoning, for Stephen had won their sincere
respect, though they had often been tempted to ill-treat him. Miss Anne
came every day with dainties from the master's house, without meeting
with any reproof or opposition, though the name of Stephen Fern never
crossed Mr. Wyley's lips. Still he used to listen attentively whenever
the doctor called upon Miss Anne, to give her his opinion how the poor
boy was going on.
When Stephen was recovering, his mind was too weak for any of the
violent passions that had preceded his illness. Moreover, the bounty of
his comrades, and the humble kindness of Martha and Bess, came like
healing to his soul; for very often the tenderness of others will seem
to atone for the injuries of our enemies, and at least soften our
vehement desire for revenge. Yet, in a quiet, listless sort of way,
Stephen still longed for God to prove His wrath against the master's
wrong-doing. It appeared so strange to hear that all this time nothing
had befallen him, that he was still strong and healthy, and becoming
more and more wealthy every day. Like Asaph, the psalmist, when he
considered the prosperity of the wicked, Stephen was inclined to say,
'How doth God know? and is there knowledge with the Most High? Behold,
these are the ungodly that prosper in the earth; they increase in
riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in
innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened
'Why does God let these things be?' he inquired of Miss Anne one day,
after he was well enough to rise from his bed and sit by the fire. He
was very white and thin, and his eyes looked large and shining in their
sunken sockets; but they gazed earnestly into his teacher's face, as if
he was craving to have this difficulty solved.
'You have asked me a hard question,' said Miss Anne; 'we cannot
understand God's way, for “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so
are His ways than our ways.” But shall we try to find out a reason why
God let these things be for little Nan's sake?'
'Yes,' said Stephen, turning away his eyes from her face.
'Our Lord Jesus Christ had one disciple, called John, whom He loved
more than the rest; and before John died he was permitted to see
heaven, and to write down many of the things shown to him, that we also
might know of them. He beheld a holy city, whose builder and maker is
God, and having the glory of God. It was built, as it were, of pure
gold, and the walls were of all manner of precious stones; the gates of
the city were of pearl, and the streets of gold, as clear and
transparent as glass. There was no need of the sun nor of the moon to
shine in it; for the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the
light thereof. He saw, too, the throne of God, and above it there was a
rainbow of emerald, which was a sign of His covenant with the people
upon earth. And round about the throne, nearer than the angels, there
were seats, upon which men who had been ransomed from this world of sin
and sorrow were sitting in white robes, and with crowns upon their
heads. There came a pure river of water of life out of the throne, and
on each side of the river, in the streets of the city, there was a tree
of life, the leaves of which are for the healing of all nations. Before
the throne stood a great multitude, which no man could number, clothed
in white robes, and with palms in their hands. And as John listened, he
heard a sound like the voice of many waters; then, as it became
clearer, it seemed like the voice of a great thunder; but at last it
rang down into his opened ears as the voice of many harpers, singing a
new song with their harps. And he heard a great voice out of heaven,
proclaiming the covenant of God with men: “Behold, the tabernacle of
God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His
people; and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God
shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more
death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more
pain.” The disciple whom Jesus loved saw many other things which he was
commanded to seal up; but these things were written for our comfort.'
'And little Nan is there,' murmured Stephen, as the tears rolled down
'Our Lord says of little children, “I say unto you, That in heaven
their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in
heaven,” continued Miss Anne. 'Stephen. do you wish her to be back
again in this sorrowful world, with Martha and you for companions,
instead of the angels?'
'Oh no!' sobbed Stephen.
'And now, why has God sent so many troubles to you, my poor Stephen?
As I told you before, we cannot understand His ways yet. But do not you
see that sorrow has made you very different to the other boys about
you? Have you not gained much wisdom that they do not possess? And
would you change your lot with any one of them? Would you even be as
you were yourself twelve months ago, before these afflictions came? We
are sent into this world for something more than food and clothing, and
work and play. Our souls must live, and they are dead if they are not
brought into submission to God's will. Even our own Lord and Saviour,
“though He were a son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He
suffered.” How much more do we need to suffer before we learn obedience
to the will of God!
'Then there is Martha,' continued Miss Anne, after a pause; 'she and
Bess are both brought to repentance by the death of our little child.
Surely I need not excuse God's dealings to you any more, Stephen.'
'But there comes no judgment upon the master,' said Stephen in a low
A flush of pain passed over Miss Anne's face as she met Stephen's
eager gaze, and saw something of the working of his heart in his
'Our God will suffer no sin to go unpunished for ever,' she answered
solemnly. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Listen,
Stephen: when our Lord spoke those “blessings” in your chapter, He
implied that on the opposite side there were curses corresponding to
them. But He did not leave this matter uncertain; I will read them to
you from another chapter: “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have
received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall
hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and lament.”
'That is the master,' said Stephen, his face glowing with
satisfaction, ' for he is rich and full, and he laughs now!'
'Yes, who can tell but that these woes will fall upon my uncle,' said
Miss Anne, and her head drooped low, and Stephen saw the tears
streaming down her cheeks; 'all my prayers and love for him may be
lost. His soul, which is as precious and immortal as ours, may perish
Stephen looked at her bitter weeping with a longing desire to say
something to comfort her, but he could not speak a word: for her grief
was caused by the thought of the very vengeance he was wishing for. He
turned away his head uneasily, and gazed deep down into the glowing
embers of the fire.
'Not my prayers and love only,' continued Miss Anne, 'but our
Saviour's also; all His griefs and sorrows may prove unavailing, as far
as my uncle is concerned. Perhaps He will say of him, “I have laboured
in vain, I have spent My strength for nought, and in vain.” O my
Saviour! because I love Thee, I would have every immortal soul saved
for Thy eternal glory.'
'And so would I, Miss Anne,' cried the boy, sinking on his knees.
'Oh, Miss Anne, pray to Jesus that I may love all my enemies for His
When Miss Anne's prayer was ended, she left Stephen alone to the deep
but gentler thoughts that were filling his mind. He understood now,
with a clearness that he had never had before, that 'love is of God;
and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.' He must
love his enemies because they were precious, as he himself had been, in
all their sin and rebellion, to their Father in heaven. Not only did
God send rain and sunshine upon the evil and unjust, but He had so
loved them as to give His only begotten Son to die for them; and if
they perished, so far it made the cross of Christ of none effect.
Henceforth the bitterness of revenge died out of his heart; and
whenever he bent his knees in prayer, he offered up the dying petition
of his namesake, the martyr Stephen, in behalf of all his enemies, but
especially of his master: 'Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.'
Chapter 17. A NEW CALLING
Stephen's recovery went on so slowly, that the doctor who attended
him said it would not be fit for him to resume his underground labour
for some months to come, if he were ever able to do so; and advised him
to seek some out-door employment. His old comrades began to find the
weekly subscription to make up his wages rather a tax upon their own
earnings; and Stephen himself was unwilling to be a burden upon them
any longer. As soon, therefore, as he was strong enough to bear the
journey, he resolved to cross the hills again to Danesford, to see when
Mr. Lockwood was coming home, and what help the clergyman left in
charge of his duty could give to him. Tim brought his father's donkey
for him to ride, and went with him across the uplands. The hard frosts
and the snow were over, for it was past the middle of March; but the
house at Fern's Hollow remained in precisely the same state as when
little Nan died; not a stroke of work had been done at it, and a
profound silence brooded over the place. Perhaps the master had lost
all pleasure in his ill-gotten possession!
So changed was Stephen, though Danesford looked exactly the same, so
tall had he grown during his illness, and so white was his formerly
brown face, that the big boy who had shown him the way to the rectory
did not know him again in the least. Probably Mr. Lockwood and his
daughter would not have recognised him; but they were still lingering
in a warmer climate, until the east winds had quite finished their
course. The strange clergyman, however, was exceedingly kind to both
the boys, and promised to send a full and faithful account to Mr.
Lockwood of all the circumstances they narrated to him; for Tim told of
many things which Stephen passed over. They had done right in coming to
him, he said; and he gave Stephen enough money to supply the immediate
necessities of his family, at the same time bidding him apply for more
if he needed any; for he knew that a boy of his principle and character
would never live upon other people's charity whenever he could work for
How refreshing and strengthening it was upon the tableland that
spring afternoon! The red leaf-buds of the bilberry-wires were just
bursting forth, and the clumps of gorse were tinged with the first
golden flowers. Every kind of moss was there carpeting the ground with
a bright fresh green from the moisture of the spring showers. As for
the birds, they seemed absolutely in a frenzy of enjoyment, and seemed
to forget that they had their nests to build as they flew from bush to
bush, singing merrily in the sunshine.
Tim wrapped a cloak round Stephen; and then they faced the breeze
gaily, as it swept to meet them with a pure breath over miles of heath
and budding flowers. No wonder that Stephen's heart rose within him
with a rekindled gladness and gratitude; while Tim became almost as
wild as the birds. But Stephen began to feel a little tired as they
neared Fern's Hollow, though they were still two miles from the
'Home, home!' he said, rather mournfully, pointing to the new house.
'Tim, I remember I used to feel in myself as if that was to be my own
home forever. I didn't think that God only meant it to be mine for a
little while, even if I kept it till I died. And when I thought I was
going to die, it seemed as if it didn't signify what kind of a place
we'd lived in, or what troubles had happened to us. Yesterday, Tim,
Miss Anne showed me a verse about us being strangers and pilgrims upon
'Perhaps we are pilgrims,' replied Tim, 'but we aren't much strangers
on these hills.'
'It means,' said Stephen, 'that we are no more at home here than a
stranger is when he is passing through Botfield. I'm willing now never
to go back to Fern's Hollow, if God pleases. Not that little Nan is
gone; but because I'm sure God will do what is best with me, and we're
to have no continuing city here. I think I shouldn't feel a bit angry
if I saw other people living there.'
'Hillo! what's that?' cried Tim.
Surely it could not be smoke from the top of the new chimney? Yes; a
thin, clear blue column of smoke was curling briskly up into the air,
and then floating off in a banner over the hillside. Somebody was
there, that was certain; and the first fire had been lighted on the
hearthstone. There was a sharp pang in Stephen's heart, and he cast
down his eyes for a moment, but then he looked up to the sky above him
with a smile; while Tim set up a loud shout, and urged the donkey to a
'It's Martha!' he cried; 'I saw her gown peeping round the corner of
the wall. I'll lay a wager it's her print gown. Come thy ways; we'll
make sure afore we pass.'
It was Martha waiting for them at the old wicket, and Bess was just
within the doorway. They were come so far to meet the travellers, and
had even prepared tea for them in the new kitchen, having cleared away
some of the bricks and mortar, and raised benches with the pieces of
planks left about. Tea was just ready for Stephen's refreshment, and he
felt that he was in the greatest need of it; so they sat down to it as
soon as Martha had laid out the provisions, among which was a cake sent
by Miss Anne. The fire of wood-chips blazed brightly, and gave out a
pleasant heat; and every one of the little party felt a quiet
enjoyment, though there were many tender thoughts of little Nan.
'We may be pilgrims,' said Tim reflectively, over a slice of cake,
'but there's lots of pleasant things sent us by the way.'
They were still at tea when the gamekeeper, who was passing by, and
who guessed from the smoke from the chimney, and the donkey grazing in
the new pasture, that some gipsies had taken possession of Fern's
Hollow, came to look through the unglazed window. He had not seen
Stephen since his illness, and there was something in his wasted face
and figure which touched even him.
'I'm sorry to see thee looking so badly, my lad,' he said; 'I must
speak to my missis to send you something nourishing, for I've not
forgotten you, Stephen. If ever there comes a time when I can speak up
about any business of yours without hurting myself, you may depend upon
me; but I don't like making enemies, and the Bible says we must live
peaceably with all men. I heard talk of you wanting some out-door work
for a while; and there's my wife's brother is wanting a shepherd's boy.
He'd take you at my recommendation, and I'd be glad to speak a word for
you. Would that do for you?'
Stephen accepted the offer gladly; and when the gamekeeper was gone,
they sang a hymn together, so blotting out by an offering of praise the
evil prayer which he had uttered upon that hearth on the night of his
desolation and strong conflict. Pleasant was the way home to the old
cabin in the twilight; pleasant the hearty 'Good-night' of Tim and
Bess; but most pleasant of all was the calm sense of truth, and the
submissive will with which Stephen resigned himself to the providence
The work of a shepherd was far more to Stephen's taste than his
dangerous toil as a collier. From his earliest years he had been
accustomed to wander with his grandfather over the extensive
sheep-walks, seeking out any strayed lambs, or diligently gathering
food for the sick ones of the flock. To be sure, he could only earn
little more than half his former wages, and his time for returning from
his work would always be uncertain, and often very late. But then,
sorrowful consideration! there was no little Nan to provide for now,
nor to fill up his leisure hours at home. Martha was earning money for
herself; and as yet the master had demanded no rent for their miserable
cabin; so his earnings as a shepherd's boy would do until Mr. Lockwood
came back. Still upon the mountains he would be exposed to the bleak
winds and heavy storms of the spring; while underground the temperature
had always been the same. No wonder that Miss Anne, when she looked at
the boy's wasted and enfeebled frame, listened with unconcealed anxiety
to his new project for gaining his livelihood; and so often as the
spring showers swept in swift torrents across the sky, lifted up her
eyes wistfully to the unsheltered mountains, as she pictured Stephen at
the mercy of the pitiless storm.
Chapter 18. THE PANTRY WINDOW
Stephen had been engaged in his new calling for about a fortnight,
and was coming home, after a long and toilsome day among the flocks,
two hours after sunset, with a keen east wind bringing the tears into
his eyes, when a few paces from his cabin door a tall dark figure
sprang up from a hollow in the cinder-hill, and laid a heavy hand upon
his shoulder. It was just light enough to discern the gloomy features
of Black Thompson; and Stephen inquired fearlessly what he wanted with
'I thought thee'd never be coming,' said Black Thompson impatiently.
'Lad, hast thee forgotten thy rights and thy wrongs, that thou comes to
yonder wretched kennel whistling as if all the land belonged to thee?
Where's thy promise to thy father, that thee'd never give up thy
rights? Jackson the butcher has taken Fern's Hollow, and it's to be
finished up in a week o rtwo; and thee'lt see thy own place go into the
hands of strangers.'
'It'll all be put right some day, Thompson, thank you,' said Stephen.
'Right!' repeated Thompson; 'who's to put wrong things right if we
won't take the trouble ourselves? Is it right for the master to grind
us down in our wages, and raise the rents over our heads, till we can
scarcely get enough to keep us in victuals, just that he may add money
to money to count over of nights? Was it right of him to leave the pit
yonder open, till little Nan was killed in it? Thee has a heavy
reckoning to settle with him, and I'd be wiping off some of the score.
If I was in thy place, I should have little Nan's voice calling me day
and night from the pit, to ask when I was going to revenge her.'
Black Thompson felt that Stephen trembled under his grasp, and he
went on with greater earnestness.
'Thee could revenge thyself this very night. Thee could get the worth
of Fern's Hollow without a risk, if thee'd listen to me. It's thy own,
lad, and thy wrongs are heavy—Fern's Hollow stolen from thee, and the
little lass murdered! How canst thee rest, Stephen?'
'God will repay,' said Stephen in a tremulous tone.
'Dost think that God sees?' asked Black Thompson scoffingly; 'if He
sees, He doesn't care. What does it matter to Him that poor folks like
us are trodden down and robbed? If He cared, He could strike the master
dead in a moment, and He doesn't. He lets him prosper and prosper, till
nobody can stand afore him. I'd take my own matter in my own hands, and
make sure of vengeance. God doesn't take any notice.'
'I'm sure God sees,' answered Stephen; 'He is everywhere; and He
isn't blind, or deaf, only we don't understand what He is going to do
yet. If He didn't take any notice of us, He wouldn't make me feel so
happy, spite of everything. Oh, Thompson, thee and the men were so kind
to me when I couldn't work, and I've never seen thee to thank thee. I
can do nothing for thee, except I could persuade thee to repent, and be
as happy as I am.'
'Oh, I'll repent some day,' said Black Thompson, loosing Stephen's
arm; 'but I've lots of things to do aforehand, and I reckon they can
all be repented of together. So, lad, it's true what everybody is
saying of thee—thee has forgotten poor little Nan, and thy promise to
'No, I've never forgotten,' replied Stephen, 'but I'll never try to
revenge myself now. I couldn't if I did try. Besides, I've forgiven the
master; so don't speak to me again about it, Thompson.'
'Well, lad, be sure I'll never waste my time thinking of thee again,'
said Black Thompson, with an oath; 'thy religion has made a poor,
spiritless, cowardly chap of thee, and I've done with thee altogether.'
Black Thompson strode away into the darkness, and was quickly out of
hearing, while Stephen stood still and listened to his rapid footsteps,
turning over in his mind what mischief he wished to tempt him to now,
The open shaft was only a few feet from him; but it had been safely
encircled by a high iron railing, instead of being bricked over, as it
had been found of use in the proper ventilation of the pit. From
Thompson and his temptation, Stephen's thoughts went swiftly to little
Nan, and how he had heard her calling to him upon that dreadful night
when he went away with the poachers. Was it possible that he could
forget her for a single day? Was she not still one of his most constant
and most painful thoughts? Yes, he could remember every pretty look of
her face, and every sweet sound of her voice; yet they were saying he
had forgotten her, while the pit was there for him to pass night and
morning—a sorrowful reminder of her dreadful death! A sharp thrill ran
through Stephen's frame as his outstretched hand caught one of the iron
railings, which rattled in its socket; but his very heart stood still
when up from the dark, narrow depths there came a low and stifled cry
of 'Stephen! Stephen!'
He was no coward, though Black Thompson had called him one; but this
voice from the dreaded pit, at that dark and lonely hour, made him
tremble so greatly that he could neither move nor shout aloud for very
fear. He leaned there, holding fast by the railing, with his hearing
made wonderfully acute, and his eyes staring blindly into the dense
blackness beneath him, In another second he detected a faint glimmer,
like a glow-worm deep down in the earth, and the voice, still muffled
and low, came up to him again.
'It's only me—Tim!' it cried. 'Hush! don't speak, Stephen; don't
make any noise. I'm left down in the pit. They're going to break into
the master's house to-night. They're going to get thee to creep through
the pantry window. If thee won't, Jack Davies is to go. They'll fire
the thatch, if they can't get the door open. Thee go and take care of
Miss Anne, and send Martha to Longville for help. Don't trust anybody
These sentences sounded up into Stephen's ears, one by one, slowly,
as Tim could give his voice its due tone and strength. He recollected
instantly all the long oppression the men had suffered from their
master. In that distant part of the county, where there were extensive
works, the colliers had been striking for larger wages; and some of
them had strolled down to Botfield, bringing with them an increase of
discontent and inquietude, which had taken deep root in the minds of
all the workpeople. It was well known that the master kept large sums
of money in his house, which, as I have told you, was situated among
lonely fields, nearly a mile from Botfield; and no one lived with him,
except Miss Anne, and one maid-servant. It was a very secure building,
with stone casements and strongly barred doors; but if a boy could get
through the pantry window, he could admit the others readily. How long
it would be before the attempt was made Stephen could not tell, but it
was already late, and Black Thompson had left him hurriedly. But at
least it must be an hour or two nearer midnight, and all hopes of
rescue and defence rested upon him and Martha only.
Martha was sitting by the fire knitting, and Bess Thompson was
pinning on her shawl to go home. Poor Bess! Even in his excitement
Stephen felt for her; but he dared not utter a word till she was gone.
But then Martha could not credit his hurried tidings and directions,
until she had been herself to the shaft to see the feeble gleam of
Tim's lamp, and hear the sound of his voice; for as soon as she rattled
the railings he spoke again.
'Be sharp!' he cried. 'I'm not afeared; but I can't stay here where
little Nan died. I'll go back to the pit, and wait till morning. Be
There was no need after that to urge Martha to hasten. After throwing
a shawl over her head, she started off for Longville with the swiftness
of a hare; and was soon past the engine-house, and threading her way
cautiously through Botfield, where she dreaded to be discovered as she
passed the lighted windows, or across the gleam of some open door. Many
of the houses were quite closed up and dark, but in some there was a
voice of talking; and here and there Martha saw a figure stealing like
herself along the deepest shadows. But she escaped without being
noticed; and, once through the village, her path lay along the silent
high-roads straight on to Longville.
Nor did Stephen linger in the cinder-hill cabin. He ran swiftly over
the pit-banks, and stole along by the limekilns and the blacksmith's
shop, for under the heavy door he could see a little fringe of light.
How loudly the dry cinders cranched under his careful footsteps! Yet,
quiet as the blacksmith's shop was, and soundless as the night without,
the noise did not reach the ears of those who were lurking within, and
Stephen went on in safety. There stood the master's house at last,
black and massive-looking against the dark sky; not a gleam from fire
or candle to be seen below, for every window was closely shuttered; but
on the second storey there shone a lighted casement, which Stephen knew
belonged to the master's chamber, The dog, which came often with Miss
Anne to the cinder-hill cabin, gave one loud bay, and then sprang
playfully upon Stephen, as if to apologize for his mistake in barking
at him. For some minutes the boy stood in deep deliberation, scarcely
daring to knock at the door, lest some of the housebreakers should be
already concealed near the spot, and rush upon him before it was
opened, or else enter with him into the defenceless dwelling. But at
length he gave one very quiet rap with his fingers, and after a
minute's pause his heart bounded with joy as he heard Miss Anne herself
asking who was there.
'Stephen Fern,' he answered, with his lips close to the keyhole, and
speaking in his lowest tones.
'What is the matter, Stephen?' she asked. 'I cannot open the door,
for my uncle always takes the keys with him into his own room.'
'Please to take the light into the pantry for one minute,' he
whispered cautiously, with a fervent hope that Miss Anne would do so
without requiring any further explanations; for he was lost if Black
Thompson or Davies were lying in wait near at hand. Very thankfully he
heard Miss Anne's step across the quarried floor, and in a moment
afterwards the light shone through a low window close by. It was
unglazed, with a screen of open lattice-work over it so as to allow of
free ventilation, It had one thick stone upright in the middle, leaving
such a narrow space as only a boy could creep through. He examined the
opening quickly and carefully while the light remained, and when Miss
Anne returned to the door he whispered again through the keyhole,
'Don't be afraid. It's me—Stephen; I'm coming in through the pantry
He knew his danger. He knew if any of the robbers came up they must
hear him removing the wooden lattice which was laid over the opening;
and unless they supposed it to be one of their accomplices at work, he
would be at once in their power, exposed to their ill-treatment, or
perhaps suffer death at their hands. And would Miss Anne within trust
to him instead of alarming the master? If he came down and opened the
door, all the designs of the evil men would be hastened and finished
before Martha could return from Longville. But Stephen did not listen,
nor did his fingers tremble over their work, though there was a rush of
thoughts and fears through his brain. He tore away the lattice as
quickly and quietly as he could and, with one keen glance round at the
dark night, he thrust his head through the narrow frame. He found it
was just possible to crush through; and, after a minute's struggle, his
feet rested upon the pantry floor.
Chapter 19. FIRE! FIRE!
Miss Anne was standing close to the pantry door, listening to
Stephen's mysterious movements in utter bewilderment, hardly knowing
whether she ought to call her uncle, but not coming to a decision about
it until the boy appeared before her. His first quick action was to
secure the door by fastening a rusty bolt which was on the outside, and
then, in a few hurried sentences, he explained his strange conduct by
telling her how Tim had conveyed to him the design of some of the
colliers for breaking into the master's house. There had been several
similar robberies in the country during the strike for wages, and Miss
Anne was greatly alarmed, while Stephen felt all the tender spirit of a
brave man aroused within him, as she sank faint and trembling upon the
'Don't be afraid,' he said courageously; 'they shall tear me to
pieces afore they touch you, Miss Anne. I'm stronger than you'd think;
but if I can't take care of thee, God can. Hasn't He sent me here,
afore they come, on purpose? They'd have come upon you unawares, but
'You are right, Stephen,' answered Miss Anne. 'He says, “Thou shalt
not be afraid for the terror by night” But what shall we do? How can we
make ourselves safer? I'll try not to be afraid; but we must do all we
can ourselves. Hark! there's a footstep already!'
Yes, there was a footstep, and not a very stealthy one, approaching
the house, and the dog bounded forward to the full length of his chain,
but he was beaten down with a blow that stunned him. The men were too
strong in numbers, and too secure in the extreme loneliness of the
dwelling, to care about taking many precautions. Miss Anne and Stephen
heard Mr. Wyley cross the floor of his room above, and open his window;
but there was silence again, and the chime of the house clock striking
eleven was the only sound that broke the silence until the casement
above was reclosed, and the master's footfall returned across the room.
'I must go and tell him,' said Miss Anne; 'perhaps he can secure some
of his money, lest Martha should be stopped on the way, or not come in
time. Stay here and watch, Stephen, and let me know if you hear
She stole up-stairs in the dark, lest those without should see the
glimmer of her candle through the fanlight in the hail; and then she
spoke softly to her uncle through his locked and bolted door.
Downstairs Stephen listened with his quickened hearing to the footsteps
gathering round the house; and presently the latch of the pantry door
was lifted with a sudden click that made him start and catch his
breath; but Jack Davies could come no further, now the rusty bolt was
drawn on the outside. There was a whispered conversation through the
pantry window, and the sound of some one getting out again; and then
Stephen crept across the dark kitchen into the hall through which Miss
Anne had gone. At the head of the staircase was the door of the
master's room, now standing open; and the light from it served to guide
him across the strange hall, and up the stairs, until he reached the
doorway, and could look in. The chamber had a low and sloping ceiling,
and a gable-window in the roof, which was defended by strong bars. Near
this window was an open cabinet, containing many little drawers and
divisions, all of which were filled with papers; while upon a leaf in
the front there lay rolls of bank notes, and heaps of golden money,
which the master had been counting over. He stood beside his cabinet as
if he had just risen from this occupation, and was leaning upon his
chair, panic-stricken at the tidings Miss Anne had uttered. His grey
hair was scattered over his forehead, instead of being smoothly brushed
back; and the long, loose coat, which hung carelessly around his
shrivelled form and stooping shoulders, made him look far older than he
did in the day-time. As Stephen's eyes rested upon the sunken form and
quaking limbs of the aged man, he felt, for the first time, how
helpless and infirm his enemy was, instead of the rich, full, and
prospering master he had always considered him.
'Keep off!' cried the old miser, as he caught sight of Stephen on the
threshold; and he raised his withered arm as if to ward him from his
treasures. 'Keep off! Stephen Fern, is it you? You've come to take your
revenge. The robbers and murderers have got in! God, have pity upon
'I'm come to take care of Miss Anne,' said Stephen. 'They've not got
in yet, master. And, please God, help will be here afore long with
Martha. The doors and windows are safe.'
'Anne, take him away!' implored Mr. Wyley. 'I don't know if it is
true, but take him away. I'm not safe while he's there; they will
murder me! Go, go!'
Miss Anne led Stephen away; and no sooner were they outside the room,
than the master rushed forward and locked and barred the door securely
behind them. There was a window in the landing, looking over the yard
where the housebreakers were, and they stood at it in silence,
straining their eyes into the darkness. But it did not remain dark
long; for a thin, bright flame burst up from behind the dairy wall, and
by its fitful blaze they could see the figures of four men coming
rapidly round from that corner of the old building.
'Fire! fire!' they shouted, in wild voices of alarm, and beating the
iron-studded door with heavy sticks.'Wake up, master! wake up! the
house is on fire!'
Their only answer was a frantic scream from the servant, who thrust
her head out of her window, and echoed their shouts with piercing
cries. But Stephen and Miss Anne did not move; only Miss Anne laid her
hand upon his arm, and he felt how much she trembled.
'They're only trying to frighten us,' he said quietly; 'that's only
the wood-stack on fire. They think to frighten us to open the door, by
making believe that the house is on fire. Miss Anne, I'm praying to God
all the while to send Martha in time.'
'So am I,' she answered, sobbing; 'but oh, Stephen, I am frightened.'
'Miss Anne,' he said, in a comforting tone, 'that chapter about faith
you've been teaching me, it says something about quenching fire.'
'“Quenched the violence of fire,”' she murmured; '“out of weakness
were made strong.”'
She hid her face for a minute or two in both her hands; and then she
was strong enough to go to the servant's room, where the terrified girl
was still calling for help. The wild shouts and the deafening clamour
at the door rang through the house; but the blaze was gone down again;
and when Stephen threw open the window just over the heads of the group
of men in the yard below, there was not light enough for him to
distinguish their faces.
'I'm here,' he said,—' Stephen Fern. I found out what you are up to,
and Martha's gone to Longville for help. She'll be here afore long, and
you can't force the door open. Put out the fire in the wood-stack, and
go home. Maybe if you're not found here you'll get off; for I've seen
none of you, and I can only guess at who you are. Go home, I say.'
There was a low, deep growl of disappointment, and a hurried
consultation among the men. But whether they would follow Stephen's
counsel, it was not permitted them to choose; for suddenly a strong,
bright flame burst up in a high column, like a beacon, into the
midnight air, and every one gazing upwards saw in a moment that the
thatch over the farthest gable had caught fire. The house itself was
now burning, and the light, blazing full upon their upturned faces,
revealed to Stephen the well-known features of four of his former
comrades. The shout that rang from their lips was one of real alarm
'Stephen, lad, open the door!' cried Black Thompson. 'We thought to
smoke the old fox out of his kennel, but it's took fire in earnest.
We'll not hurt him, nor Miss Anne. Lad! the old house will burn like
What a glaring light spread through the landing! The face of Miss
Anne coming from the servant's room shone rosy and bright in it, though
she was pale with fear. Through the open window drifted a suffocating
smoke of burning wood and thatch, and the crackling and splitting of
the old roof sounded noisily above their voices; but Miss Anne
commanded herself, and spoke calmly to Stephen.
'We must open the door to them now,' she said; 'God will protect us
from these wicked men. Uncle! uncle! the house is really on fire, and
we want the keys. Let me in.'
She knocked loudly at his door, and lifted up her voice to make him
hear, and Stephen shouted; but there was no answer. Without the keys of
the massive locks it would not be possible to open the doors, and he
had them in his own keeping; but he gave no heed to their calls, nor
the vehement screams of the frightened servant. Perhaps he had fallen
into a fit; and they had no means of entering his chamber, so securely
had he fastened himself in with his gold. Stephen and Miss Anne gazed
at one another in the dazzling and ominous light, but no words crossed
their trembling lips. Oh, the horror of their position! And already
other voices were mingled with those of the assailants; and every one
was shouting from without, praying them to open the door, and be saved
from their tremendous peril.
'I'll not open the door!' said Mr. Wyley from within; 'they will rob
and murder me. They are come to kill me, and I may as well die here.
There's no help.'
'There is help, dear uncle!' cried Miss Anne; 'there are other people
from Botfield; and help is coming from Longville. Oh, let me in!'
'No,' said the master, 'they all hate me. They'll kill me, and say it
was done in the fire. I'll not open to anybody.'
She prayed and expostulated in vain; he cared little for their
danger, so hardened was he by a selfish fear for himself. The fire was
gaining ground quickly, for a brisk wind had sprung up, and the
long-seasoned timber in the old walls burnt like touchwood The servant
lay insensible on the threshold of the master's chamber; and Miss Anne
and Stephen looked out from a front casement upon the gathering crowd,
who implored them, with frenzied earnestness, to throw open the door.
'Miss Anne,' cried Stephen, 'you can get through the pantry window;
you are little enough. Oh, be quick, and let me see you safe!'
'I cannot,' she answered: 'not yet! Not till the last moment. I dare
not leave my uncle and that poor girl. Oh, Stephen, if Martha would but
She rested her head against the casement, sobbing, as though her
grief could not be assuaged. Stephen felt heart-sick with his intense
longing for the arrival of help from Longville, as he watched the
progress of the fire; but at last, after what appeared ages of waiting,
they heard a shout in the distance, and saw a little band of horsemen
galloping up to the burning house.
'They are come from Longville, uncle,' cried Miss Anne. 'You must
open now; there is not a moment to spare. The fire is gaining upon us
He had seen their approach himself, and now he opened the doors, and
gave the keys to Miss Anne. He had collected all his papers and notes
in one large bundle, which he had clasped in his arms; and as soon as
the crowd swept in through the open doors, he cried aloud to the
constable from Longville to come and guard him. There was very little
time for saving anything out of the house, for before long the flames
gathered such volume and strength as to drive every one out before
them; and as Stephen stood beside the miserable old man, who was
shivering in the bitter night wind, he beheld his dwelling destroyed as
suddenly and entirely as the hut at Fern's Hollow had been.
Chapter 20. STEPHEN'S TESTIMONY
Mr. Wyley would not stir from the place where he could gaze upon his
old home burning to the ground. He stood rooted to the spot, like one
fascinated and enchained by a power he could not resist, grasping his
precious bundle to his breast, and clinging firmly to the arm of the
Longville doctor, who had been one of those who hastened to his rescue.
Now and then he broke out into a deep cry, which he did not seem to
hear himself; but even the grey dawn of the morning, brightening over
the rounded outlines of the mountains, did not awaken him from his
trance of terror and bewilderment. Miss Anne kept near to him all
night, and Stephen lingered about her, making a seat for her upon the
grass, and taking care that Martha also should be at hand to wait upon
her. There was a great buzzing of people about them, hurrying to and
fro; and every now and then they heard different conjectures as to how
the fire began. But it was not generally known that the constables from
Longville and Botfield had contrived to arrest Black Thompson and
Davies in the midst of the confusion, and had quietly taken them off to
the jail at Longville. When the daylight grew strong, it shone upon a
smouldering mass of ruins, and heaps of broken furniture piled upon the
down-trodden grass. The master had grown aged in that one night, and he
gazed helplessly about him, as if for some one to direct and guide him.
He no longer refused to quit the place, only he would not trust himself
anywhere near Botfield; and as soon as a carriage could be procured, he
and Miss Anne were driven off to Longville. There was nothing more to
wait for now; and Stephen went quietly home to breakfast in the
It was a good deal later than usual that morning when the engineman
at the works sent down the first skip-load of colliers into the pit.
Four of their number were absent, but that excited no surprise after
the events of the night; and even Bess Thompson supposed her father had
gone off to the public-house with the others. But what was the
amazement of the colliers when they found Tim at the bottom of the
shaft, fiercely hungry after his night's fasting, and as fiercely
anxious to hear what had been taking place overhead. He had the
prudence, however, to listen to their revelations without making any of
his own, and would not even explain how he came to be left behind in
the pit. He went up in the ascending skip, and, escaping from the
curiosity of the people on the bank, he darted as straight as an arrow
to Stephen's cabin.
'I'm nigh clemmed,' were his first words, as he seized the brown loaf
and cut off a slice, which he devoured ravenously. 'It seems like a
year,' he continued; 'thee'lt never catch me being left behind anywhere
again. Eh, Stephen, lad! many a time I shouted for fear I'd never see
daylight again; it's awful down there in the night. Thee hears them as
thee can't see punning agen the coal; and then there comes a downfall
like a clap of thunder. I wasn't so much afeared of little Nan: she
never did any harm when she was alive; and I thought God was too good
to send her out of heaven just to terrify a poor lad like me.'
'But how did thee get left behind?' asked Martha.
Then Tim told them how the horse-doctor had gone down to secure one
of the ponies in a large, strong net, in order to bring it to the
surface of the earth for a time; and that he had gone down with him
more for his own amusement than to help him. He had wandered a little
way into the winding galleries of the pit, and came back just as the
skip was going up for the last time but one. Thompson and Davies were
deep in conversation with the men who remained, and, stealing behind
them, he overheard their plot, and their intention of persuading
Stephen to join them. After that he dare not for his very life come
forward when the skip descended, and he watched them go up, leaving him
alone for the night in that dismal place. He had his father's lamp with
him, and so made his way to the bottom of the old shaft, and waited,
with what impatience and anxiety we may imagine, to hear Stephen return
from his work.
'It was awfully lonesome,' he said, 'and I thought Stephen would
never come, or I'd never make him hear. It wasn't much better after he
had come, only for thinking Miss Anne would be safe. My lamp went out,
and I reckon I said “Our Father” over a hundred times. Besides, I was
wondering what was being done overhead. I'll never be left behind
anywhere again, I can tell ye.'
'Well,' said Stephen, 'my sheep and lambs don't know about the fire,
and I must be off. They'll want me just as bad as if I'd been in bed
Still he could not help turning aside with Tim just for another
glimpse of the smouldering ruins, looking so black and desolate in the
daylight. But after that he did not loiter a minute, and spent the rest
of the morning in diligent attention to his duties, until, a little
before mid-day, he saw the farmer who employed him riding across the
sheep-walk; and when he ran forward to receive his orders, he bade him
make haste and go home to prepare himself for appearing before the
magistrate, to give his evidence against Black Thompson and his
When Stephen reached the cinder-hill cabin he found Tim there again,
and Bess Thompson waiting to see him. Poor Bess had been crying
bitterly, for by this time it was known that her father and Davies were
in jail; though the others, being young and single men, had fled at
once from the place, and escaped for the present. As soon as Stephen
entered, Bess threw herself on her knees at his feet, and looked up
imploringly into his face.
'Oh, dear, good Stephen,' she cried, 'thee canst save father! I'll
kneel here till thee has promised to save him. Oh, don't bear any spite
agen him, but forgive him and save him!'
'Get up, Bess,' said Stephen kindly; 'don't thee kneel down to a
fellow like me. I'll do anything for thy father; I've no spite agen
'Oh, I knew thee would!' she said; 'thee'lt tell the justice thee
never saw him there till the other folks came up from Botfield. Tim
says he didn't see anybody down in the pit, and he's promised not to
swear to their names. Don't thee swear to seeing anybody.'
'But I did see every one of them,' Stephen answered; 'and Tim knew
all their voices; and there'll be lots to tell who came up in the last
'There's nobody in Botfield will swear agen them,' pleaded Bess.
'Whose place is it to know who came up in the last skip, or who was at
the fire last night? Oh, Stephen, the Bible says we're to do good to
them that hate us. And if father's hated thee, thee canst save him
'Ay,' said Tim, 'Bess is right; there's not a mother's son in
Botfield to swear agen them for the master's sake. If he didn't see
them, nor Miss Anne, why need we know? I'll soon baffle the justice, I
promise ye. It's a rare chance to forgive Black Thompson, anyhow.'
'Bess and Tim,' answered Stephen, in great distress, 'I can't do it.
It isn't that I bear a grudge against thy father—I've almost forgotten
that he ever did anything to me. But it's not true; it's sure to come
out somehow. Why, I don't even know what I said to Miss Anne last
night; but if I hadn't told a word to anybody, I'd be bound to tell the
'Only say thee aren't certain,' urged Bess.
'Nay, lass,' said Stephen, 'I am certain. I'd do anything that was
right for thy sake, and to save thy father; but can't do this, and it
would be no use if I could. God seeth in secret, and He will reward men
openly. He's begun to reward the master already. We can do nothing for
thy father, but every one of us tell the truth, and pray to God for
'Father was good to thee when thou wert ill,' said Bess.
'Ay, I know it,' he replied; 'but if he was my own father, I could
not tell a lie to get him off. I'd do anything I could. Oh, Bess and
Tim, don't ask me to go agen the right!'
'It'll break mother's heart,' said Bess, bursting out into a loud
crying. 'We made sure of thee, because thee says so much about loving
thy enemies; and we were only afeared of Tim. Thee says we are to do to
another as we'd have them do to us. If thee was in father's place,
thee'd want him to do as I ask thee. Thee doesn't think father wants
thee to swear agen him?'
'Nay,' answered Stephen, 'the justice and Miss Anne would have me
tell the truth. It seems as if I can't do to everybody as they'd like
me; so I'll abide by telling the truth.'
There was no time for further discussion, for the constable from
Longville came in to conduct them before the magistrate, to give their
separate evidence concerning the events of the past night. Bess went
with them, weeping all the way beside them, and grieving Stephen's
heart by her tears, though she dared not speak a word in the
constable's presence. But he gave his testimony gravely and truthfully
and Tim and Martha followed his example; and, in consequence of their
joint evidence, Black Thompson and Davies were fully committed to take
their trial at the next assizes, and were removed that afternoon to the
Chapter 21. FORGIVENESS
Bess Thompson started off on her way to her desolate home, almost
heart-broken, and with such a wrathful resentment against Stephen, and
Martha, and Tim, as seemed to blot out all memory of the lessons she
had been learning from Miss Anne since the little child's death. She
could never bear to go near them, or speak to them again, since they
had sworn against her father; and had not he been good to them when
Stephen was ill, often sparing her to watch with Martha, as well as
helping to make up his wages? If this was their religion, she did not
care to have it; for nobody else in Botfield would have done the same.
And now she might as well give up all thoughts of getting to heaven,
where little Nan and her baby sister were; for there would be nobody to
care for her, and she would be obliged to go back to all her old ways.
These were her bitter thoughts as she walked homewards alone, for
Stephen was gone up to the doctor's house to inquire after the master
and Miss Anne, and the others were waiting for him in Longville. She
heard their voices after a while coming along the turnpike road, and
walking quickly as if to overtake her; so she turned aside into a
field, and hid herself under a hedge that they might pass by. She
crouched down low upon the grass, and covered her red and smarting eyes
from the sunshine with her shawl, and then she listened for their
footsteps to die away in the distance. But she felt an arm stealing
round her, and Martha's voice whispered close in her ear,—
'Bess, dear Bess, thee must not hide thyself from us. We love thee,
Bess; and we are sore sorry for thee. Stephen is ever so down-hearted
about thee and thy father. Oh, Bess, thee must have no spite at us.'
'Bess,' said Stephen, 'thy father owned I was telling the truth, and
said he forgave me for speaking agen him; and he shook hands with me
afore he went; and he said, “Stephen, thee be a friend to my poor lass
!” and I gave him a sure promise that I would.'
'Nobody'll ever look at me now,' cried Bess; 'nobody'll be friends
with me if father's transported.'
'We're thy friends,' answered Stephen, 'and thee has a Father in
heaven that cares for thee. Listen, Bess; it will do thee good, and
poor old grandfather no harm now. He was transported beyond the seas
once; and no one casts it up to him now, nor to us; and haven't we got
friends? Cheer up, Bess. Miss Anne says, maybe this very trouble will
bring thy father to repentance. He said he'd repent some time; and
maybe this will be the very time for him. And Miss Anne sends her kind
love to thee and thy mother, and she'll come and see thy mother as soon
as she can leave the master.'
Thus comforted, poor sorrowful Bess rose from the ground, and walked
on with them to Botfield. Most of the house doors were open, and the
women were standing at them in order to waylay them with inquisitive
questions; but Stephen's grave and steady face, and the presence of
Bess, who walked close beside him, as if there was shelter and
protection there, kept them silent; and they were compelled to satisfy
their curiosity with secondhand reports. Martha went on with Bess to
her own cottage to stay all night with her, and help her to console her
Though Martha was truly sorry for Black Thompson's family, she felt
her importance as one of the chief witnesses against him; especially as
the cinder-hill cabin was visited, not only by the gossips of Botfield,
but by more distinguished persons from all the farmhouses around; and
her thrilling narrative of her hazardous journey through Botfield along
the high road was listened to with greedy interest. In this foolish
talking she lost that true sympathy which she ought to have felt for
poor Bess, and forfeited the blessing which would have been given to
her own soul. But it was very different with Stephen in his lonely work
upon the mountains. There he thought over the crimes and punishment of
Black Thompson, until his heart was filled with an unutterable pity and
fellow-feeling both towards him and his family; and every night, as he
went home from his labour, he turned aside to the cottage, to read to
Bess and her mother some portion of the Scriptures which he had chosen
for their comfort, out of a pocket Bible given to him by Miss Anne.
About a fortnight after these events Stephen received a visitor upon
the uplands, where he was seeking a lamb that had strayed into a dwarf
forest of gorse-bushes, and was bleating piteously in its bewilderment.
A pleasant-sounding voice called 'Stephen Fern!' and when he got free
from the entangling thorns, with the rescued lamb in his arms, who
should be waiting for him but the lord of the manor himself! Stephen
knew his face again in an instant, and dropped the lamb that be might
take off his old cap, while the gentleman smiled at him with a hearty
'I am Danesford, of Danesford,' he said gaily; 'and I believe you are
Stephen Fern, of Fern's Hollow. I've brought you a message, my boy. Can
you guess what young lady has sent me over the hills after you?'
'Miss Anne,' answered Stephen promptly.
'No; there are other young ladies in the world beside Miss Anne!'
replied Mr. Danesford. 'Have you forgotten Miss Lockwood? She has not
forgotten you; and we are come home ready to give battle to your
enemies, and reinstate you in all your rights. She gives Mr. Lockwood
and me no rest until we have got Fern's Hollow, and everything else,
for you again.'
'Sir,' said Stephen, and his eyes filled with tears, 'nobody can give
me back little Nan.'
'No,' answered Mr. Danesford gravely; 'I know how hardly you have
been dealt with, my boy. Tell me truly, is your religion strong enough
to enable you to forgive Mr. Wyley indeed? Is it possible that you can
forgive him from your heart?'
Stephen was silent, looking down at the heath upon which his feet
were pressed, but seeing none of its purple blossoms. It was a question
that must not be answered rashly, for even that morning he had glanced
down the fatal shaft with a deep yearning after little Nan; and as he
passed the ruins of his master's house, his memory had recalled the
destruction of the old hut with something of a feeling of triumph.
'Sir,' he said, looking up to him, 'I'm afraid I can't explain
myself. You know it was for my sake that the Lord Jesus was killed, yet
His Father has forgiven me all my sins; and when I think of that, I can
forgive the master even for little Nan's death with all my heart. But I
don't always remember it; and then I feel a little glad at the fire. I
haven't got much religion yet. I don't know everything that's in the
'Yet I could learn some lessons from you, Stephen,' said Mr.
Danesford, after a pause. 'What do you suppose I should do if anybody
tried to take Danesford Hall from me?'
'I don't know, sir,' answered Stephen.
'Nor do I,' he said, smiling; 'at any rate, they should not have it
with my consent. Nor shall anybody take Fern's Hollow from you. I have
been down to Longville about it, but Mr. Wyley is too ill to see me. By
the way, I told Miss Anne I was coming up the hills after you. She
wants to see you, Stephen, as soon as possible after your work is
Mr. Danesford rode on over the bills, and Stephen walked some way
beside him, to put him into the nearest path for Danesford. After he
was gone he watched earnestly for the evening shadows, and when they
stretched far away across the plains, he hastened down to the cabin,
and then on to Longville, to his appointed interview with Miss Anne.
Chapter 22. THE MASTER'S DEATHBED
When the master at last consented to leave the sight of his old
dwelling burning into blackened heaps, he seemed to care nothing where
he might be taken. He was without a home, and almost without a friend.
It was not accident merely, but the long-provoked hatred of his people,
that had driven him from the old chambers and the old roof which had
sheltered him for so many years, and where all the habits and memories
of his life centred. Miss Anne had not been long enough at Botfield to
form friendships on her own account, except among the poor and ignorant
people on her uncle's works; and she accepted most thankfully the offer
of the doctor from Longville to give them a refuge in his house. No
sooner had they arrived there than it was discovered that the master
was struck with paralysis, brought on by the shock of the fire, and all
the terrifying circumstances attending it. He was carried at once to a
bedroom, and from that time Miss Anne had been fully occupied in
He had seemed to be getting better the last day or two, and his power
of speech had returned, though he spoke but rarely; only following Miss
Anne's movements with earnest eyes, and hardly suffering her to leave
him, even for necessary rest and refreshment. All that afternoon he had
been tossing his restless head from side to side, uttering deep, low
groans, and murmuring now and then to himself words which Miss Anne
could not understand. She looked white and ill herself, as if her
strength were nearly exhausted; but after the doctor had been in, and,
feeling the master's pulse, shook his head solemnly, she would not
consent to leave his bedside for any length of time.
'How long?' she whispered, going with the doctor to the outside of
'Not more than twenty-four hours,' was the answer.
'Will he be conscious all the time?' she asked again.
'I cannot tell certainly,' replied the doctor, 'but most probably
Only twenty-four hours! One day of swiftly-passing time, and then the
eternal future! One more sunsetting, and one more sun-rising, and then
everlasting night, or eternal day! For a minute Miss Anne leaned
against the doorway, with a fainting spirit. There was so much to do,
and so short a space for doing anything. All the real business of the
whole life had to be crowded into these few hours, if possible. As she
entered the room, her uncle's eyes met hers with a glance of
unspeakable anguish, and he called her in a trembling tone to her side.
'I heard,' he whispered. 'Anne, what must be done now?'
'Oh, uncle,' she said, 'have I not told you often, that “Christ Jesus
came into the world to save sinners”? There is no limit with God; with
him one day is as a thousand years, and He gives you still a day to
make your peace with Him.'
'There is no peace for my soul with God,' he answered; 'I've been at
enmity with Him all my life; and will He receive me at the last moment?
He is too just, too righteous, Anne. I'll not insult Him by offering
Him my soul now. You asked me once, “What shall it profit a man if he
shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mine is lost—lost,
and that without remedy. This gold is a millstone about my neck.'
'Uncle,' she said, commanding her voice with a great effort, 'the
thief upon the cross beside our Lord had a shorter time than you, for
he was to die at sunset that day; yet he repented and believed in the
crucified Saviour, who was able to pardon him. Christ is still waiting
to forgive; He is stretching out His arms to receive you. Only look at
Him with the same penitence and faith that the dying thief felt.'
'Nay,' groaned the dying man, 'he could show his faith by confessing
Him before all those who were crucifying the Lord, and it was a glory
to the Saviour to forgive him then. But what glory would it be to
pardon me on this death-bed, where I can do nothing for Him? No; I can
do nothing—nothing! All these years I could have worked for God; but
now I can do nothing!'
'Uncle,' said Miss Anne, 'our Lord was asked by some, “What shall we
do, that we might work the works of God?” and He answered them, “This
is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” Oh, that
is all! Believe on Him, and He will forgive you; and all the angels in
heaven will glorify Him for His mercy.'
'Anne,' he answered, fixing on her a look of despair, 'I cannot. My
heart is hard and heavy; I remember when it used to feel and care about
these things; but it is dead now, and my soul is lost forever. Anne,
even if Jesus is willing to pardon me, I cannot believe in
Miss Anne sank down by the bedside, unable to answer him, save by a
prayer, half aloud, to God for His mercy to be shown to him, if it were
possible! He lay there, helpless and hopeless, tossing to and fro upon
the pillows. At last he spoke again, in a sharp, clear, energetic tone,
'Anne, be quick!' he said; 'find me my will among those papers. Perhaps
if I could do something, I might be able to believe.'
He watched her with impatient eagerness as she turned over the
precious parcel of papers which he had rescued from the fire. There
were many documents and writings belonging to the property he had
gathered together, and it was some time before she could find the will.
The master tried to take it from her, but in vain; his right hand was
'Oh, I forgot!' he cried despairingly; 'this hand is useless, and I
cannot alter it now. God will not let me undo the mischief I have done.
Anne, I have left Fern's Hollow away from you to my brother Thomas,
lest you should restore it to Stephen; and now I can do nothing! Oh,
misery, misery! The robbery and murder of the fatherless children rest
upon my soul. Send quickly, Anne, send for Stephen Fern.'
Miss Anne sent a messenger to hasten Stephen; and after that the
master lay perfectly still, with closed eyes, as if he were treasuring
up the little strength remaining to him. The last sunset was over, and
the night-lamp was lighted once more; while Miss Anne sat beside him
watching, in an agony of prayer to God. There was no sound to be heard,
for every one in the house knew that the old man was dying, and they
kept a profound quietness throughout all the rooms. He had taken no
notice of anything since he asked for Stephen; but when a light rap was
heard at the door he opened his eyes, and turned his grey head round
anxiously to see whether he was come.
It was Stephen. He stood within the doorway, not liking to enter
farther, but looking straight forward at the master with a very pale
and sorrowful face, upon which there was no trace of triumph or hatred.
Miss Anne gazed earnestly at him, but she did not speak; she would not
place herself between him and his dying enemy now.
'Come here, Stephen,' said the master, in a voice of hopeless agony.
'When little Nan was lying dead, you said you would wait, and see what
God could do to me. Come near, and hear, and see. Death is nothing,
boy; it will be only a glory to you to die. But God is letting loose
His terrors upon me; He is mocking at my soul, and laughing at my
calamity. Soon, soon I shall be in eternity, without hope, and without
'Oh, master, master,' exclaimed Stephen, 'there is a time yet for our
Father to forgive thee! It doesn't take long to forgive! It didn't take
even me long to forgive; and oh, how quickly God can do it if you'll
only ask Him!'
'Do you forgive me?' asked the master, in astonishment.
Ah,' he cried, 'I forgave thee long since, directly after I was ill.
It was God who helped me; and wouldn't He rather forgive thee Himself?
Oh, He loves thee! He taught me how to love thee; and could He do that
if He didn't love thee His own self?'
'If I could only believe in being forgiven!' said the dying man.
'Oh, believe it, dear master! See, I am here; I have forgiven thee,
and I do love thee. Little Nan can never come back, and yet I love
thee, and forgive thee from my very heart. Will not Jesus much more
'Pray for me, Stephen. Kneel down there, and pray aloud,' he said;
and his eyelids closed feebly, and his restless head lay still, as if
he had no more power to move it.
'I cannot,' answered Stephen; 'I'm only a poor lad, and I don't know
how to do it up loud. Miss Anne will pray for thee.'
'If you have forgiven me, pray to God for me,' murmured the master,
opening his eyes again with a look of deep entreaty. Over Stephen's
pale face a smile was kindling, a smile of pure, intense love and
faith, and the light in his pitying eyes met the master's dying gaze
with a gleam of strengthening hope. He clasped the cold hand in both
his own, and, kneeling down beside him, he prayed from his very soul,
'Lord, lay not this sin to his charge.'
He could say no more; and Miss Anne, who knelt by him, was silent,
except that one sob burst from her lips. The master stirred no more,
but lay still, with his numb and paralyzed hand in Stephen's clasp; but
in a few minutes he uttered these words, in a tone of mingled entreaty
and assertion, 'God be merciful to me a sinner!'
That was all. An hour or two afterwards it was known throughout
Longville, and the news was on the way to Botfield, that the master of
Botfield works was dead,
Chapter 23. THE HOME RESTORED
Three months later in the year, when the new house at Fern's Hollow
was quite finished, with its dairy and coal-shed, and a stable put up
at Mr. Lockwood's desire, a large party assembled within the walls.
Martha had been diligently occupied all the week in a grand cleaning
down; and Tim and Stephen had been equally busy in clearing away the
litter left by the builders, and in restoring the garden to some order.
They had been obliged to contrive some temporary seats for their
visitors, for the old furniture had not yet been brought up from the
cinder-hill cabin; and the only painful thoughts Martha had were the
misgiving of its extreme scantiness in their house with six rooms. The
pasture before the cottage was now securely enclosed, and the wild
ponies neighed over the hedge in vain at the sight of the clear, cool
pool where they had been used to quench their thirst; and behind the
house there was a plantation of tiny fir-trees bending to and fro in
the wind, which they were to resist as they grew larger. Every place
was in perfect order; and the front room, which was almost grand enough
for a parlour, was beautifully decorated with flowers in honour of the
expected guests, who had sent word that they should visit Fern's Hollow
They could be seen far away from the window of the upper storey,
which, rising above the brow of the hill behind, commanded a wide view
of the mountain plains. They were coming on horseback across the almost
pathless uplands; dear Miss Anne, with Mr. Lockwood riding beside her;
and a little way behind them the lord of the manor and his young wife,
who was no other than Miss Lockwood herself. They greeted Stephen and
Martha with many smiles and words of congratulation; and when they were
seated in the decorated room, with the door and window opened upon the
beautiful landscape, Mr. Lockwood bade them come and sit down with
them; while Tim helped the groom to put up the horses in the stable.
'My boy,' said Mr. Lockwood, 'our business is finished at last. Mr.
Thomas Wyley will not try his right to Fern's Hollow by law; but we
have agreed to give him the £15 paid to your grandfather, and also to
pay to him all the actual cost of the work done here. Miss Anne and I
have had a quarrel on the subject, but she consents that I shall pay
that as a mark of my esteem for you, and my old servant your mother.
Mr. Danesford intends to make a gift to you of the pasture and
plantation, which were an encroachment upon the manor. And now I want
you to take my advice into the bargain. Jackson wants to come here, and
offers a rent of £20 a year for the place. Will you let him have it
till you are old enough to manage it properly yourself, Stephen?'
'Yes, if you please, sir,' replied Stephen, in some perplexity; for
he and Martha had quite concluded that they should come and live there
'Jackson will make a tidy little farm of it for you,' continued Mr.
Lockwood. 'My daughter proposes taking Martha into her service, and
putting her into the way of learning dairy-work, and many other things
of which she is now ignorant. Are you willing, Martha?'
'Oh yes, sir!' said Martha, with a look of admiration at young Mrs.
'In this case, Stephen,' Mr. Lockwood went on, 'you will have a
yearly income of £20, and we would like to hear what you will do with
'There's grandfather,' said Stephen diffidently.
'Right, my boy!' cried Mr. Lockwood, with a smile of satisfaction;
'well, Miss Anne thinks he would be very comfortable with Mrs.
Thompson, and she would be glad of a little money with him. But he
cannot live much longer, Stephen; he is very aged, and the doctor
thinks he will hardly get over the autumn. So we had better settle what
shall be done after grandfather is gone.'
'Sir,' said Stephen, 'I think Martha should have some good of
grandmother's work, if she is only a girl. So hadn't the rent better be
saved up for her till I'm old enough to come and manage the farm
Every face in the room glowed with approbation of Stephen's
suggestion; and Martha flushed crimson at the very thought of
possessing so much money; and visions of future greatness, more than
her grandmother had foreseen, passed before her mind.
'Why, Martha will be quite an heiress!' said Mr. Lockwood. 'So she is
provided for, and grandfather. And what do you intend to do with
yourself, Stephen, till you come back here?'
'I'm strong enough to go back to the pit,' replied Stephen bravely,
though inwardly he shrank from it; but how else could the rent of
Fern's Hollow be laid by for Martha? 'Now Miss Anne has raised the
wages, I should get eight shillings a week, and more as I grow older. I
shall do for myself very nicely, thank you, sir; and maybe I could
lodge with grandfather at Mrs. Thompson's.'
'No,' said Miss Anne, in her gentle voice, the sweetest voice in the
world to Stephen, now little Nan's was silent; 'Stephen is my dear
friend, and he must let me act the part of a friend towards him. I wish
to send him to live with a good man whom I know, the manager of one of
the great works at Netley, where he may learn everything that will be
necessary to become my bailiff. I shall want a true, trustworthy agent
to look after my interests here, and in a few years Stephen will be old
enough to do this for me. He shall attend a good school for a few hours
daily, to gain a fitting education; and then what servant could I find
more faithful, more true, and more loving than my dear friend Stephen?
He can come back here then, if he chooses, and perhaps have Martha for
his housekeeper, in their old home at Fern's Hollow.'
'Oh, Miss Anne!' cried Stephen, 'I cannot bear it! May I really be
your servant all my life?' and the boy's voice was lost in sobs.
'Come, Stephen,' said the lord of the manor, 'I want you to show us
some of your old haunts on the hills. If Miss Anne had not formed a
better plan, I should have proposed making you my gamekeeper; for Jones
has been telling me about the grouse last year. By the way, if I had
thought it would be any pleasure to you, I should have dismissed him
from my service for his share in this business; but I knew you would be
for begging him in again, so I only told him pretty strongly what a
sneak I thought him.'
They went out then across the uplands, a sunny ramble, to all
Stephen's favourite places. And it happened that when they reached the
solitary yew-tree near which Snip was buried, all the rest strolled on,
and left Stephen and Miss Anne alone. Before them, down at the foot of
the mountains, there stretched a wide plain many miles across,
beautiful with woods and streams; and on the far horizon there hung a
light cloud that was always to be seen there, the index of those great
works where Stephen was to dwell for some years. Near to them they
could discern, in the clear atmosphere, the spires and towers of the
county town, where Black Thompson, who had tempted him in these hills,
was now imprisoned for many years; and below, though hidden from their
sight, was Botfield and the cinder-hill cabin. A band of
bilberry-gatherers was coming down the hill with songs and shouts of
laughter; and the frightened flocks of sheep stood motionless on the
hillocks, ready to flee away in a moment at their approach. Both Miss
Anne and Stephen felt a crowd of thoughts, sorrowful and happy, come
thronging to their minds.
'Stephen,' said Miss Anne solemnly, 'our Lord says, “When ye shall
have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are
unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”'
'Yes, Miss Anne,' said Stephen, looking up inquiringly into his
'My dear boy,' she continued, 'are you taking care to say to
yourself, “I am an unprofitable servant”?'
'I have not done all those things which are commanded me,' he said
simply and earnestly; 'I've done nothing of myself yet. It's you that
have taught me, Miss Anne; and God has helped me to learn. I'm afeared
partly of going away to Netley; but if you're not there to keep me
right, God is everywhere.'
'Stephen,' Miss Anne said, 'you have forgiven all your enemies: Tim,
who is now your friend, and the gamekeeper, Black Thompson, and my poor
uncle; when you are saying the Lord's Prayer, do you feel as if you
should be satisfied for our Father to forgive you your trespasses in
the same measure and in the same manner as you have forgiven their
trespasses against you?'
'Oh no!' cried Stephen, in a tone of some alarm.
'Tell me why not.'
'It was a rather hard thing for me,' he said; 'it was very hard at
first, and I had to be persuaded to it; and every now and then I felt
as if I'd take the forgiveness back. I shouldn't like to feel as if our
Father found it a hard thing, or repented of it afterwards.'
'No,' answered Miss Anne. 'He is a God “ready to pardon;” and when He
has bestowed forgiveness, His “gifts and calling are without
repentance.” But there is something more, Stephen. Do you not seem in
your own mind to know them, and remember them most, by their unkindness
and sins towards you? When you think of Black Thompson, is it not more
as one who has been your enemy than one whom you love without any
remembrance of his faults? And you recollect my uncle as him who drove
you away from your own home, and was the cause of little Nan's death.
Their offences are forgiven fully, but not forgotten.'
'Can I forget?' murmured Stephen.
No,' she replied; 'but do you not see that we clothe our enemies with
their faults against us? Should our Father do so, should we stand
before Him bearing in His sight all our sins, would that forgiveness
content us, Stephen?'
'Oh no!' he cried again. 'Tell me, Miss Anne, what will He do for me
besides forgiving me?'
'Look, Stephen,' she replied, pointing to the distant sky where the
sun was going down amid purple clouds, and bidding him turn to the grey
horizon where the sun had risen in the morning; 'listen: “As far as the
east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from
us.” And again: “He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us;
He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all their sins into
the depths of the sea.” And again: “For I will be merciful to their
unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no
more.” This is the forgiveness of our Father, Stephen.'
'Oh, how different to mine!' cried Stephen, hiding his face in his
'Yet,' said Miss Anne, 'you may claim the promise made to us by our
Lord: “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will
also forgive you,” in a far richer measure, with infinite
long-suffering, and a multitude of tender mercies.'
'Lord, forgive me, for Jesus Christ's sake!' murmured Stephen.
But the dusk was gathering, and the others were returning to them
under the old yew-tree, for there was the long ride over the hills to
Danesford, and the time for parting was come. The day was done; and on
the morrow new work must be entered upon. The path of the commandments
had yet to be trodden, step by step, through temptation and conflict,
and weakness and weariness, until the end was reached.
Stephen felt something of this as he walked home for the last time to
the cinder-hill cabin; and, taking down the old Bible covered with
green baize, read aloud to his grandfather and Martha the chapter his
father had taught him on his death-bed; bending his head in deep and
humble prayer after he had read the last verse: 'Be ye therefore
perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.'