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Golden Sally by Mrs. Francis Blundell

 

The long warm day was drawing to its close; over the sandhills yonder the sun was sinking in a great glory of scarlet and purple and gold. The air was warm still, and yet full of those myriad indescribable essences that betoken the falling of the dew; and mingling with, yet without dominating them, was the sweet penetrating odour of newly-cut hay.

John Dickinson walked moodily along the lane that led first to his uncle's wheat-field, and then to the sandhills. He was a tall, strapping young fellow, broad of shoulder and sturdy of limb, with nevertheless something about him which betokened that he was not country bred. His face was not brown enough, his hands were not rough enough, the shirt sleeves, rolled up above his elbow, were not only cleaner than those of the ordinary rustic after a hard day, but displayed arms whereof the tell-tale whiteness proclaimed that they were little used to such exposure. These arms ached sorely now; all day long had John been assisting in "carrying," and the hours spent in forking the hay from the ground to the cart had put his new-found ardour for a country life to a severe test.

John had been born and brought up in Liverpool, having since he left school acted as assistant in his father's shop. But on the latter's death, his affairs were found to be so hopelessly involved that it was impossible for his family to carry on the business. Mrs. Wilson and her daughters had obtained employment in "town," and John had announced his intention of taking to farming. Having been more or less master in his father's small establishment he could not brook the idea of accepting a subordinate post in the same way of business; and, indeed, as his mother's brother, burly old Richard Waring of Thornleigh, had offered to take him into his household and teach him his work, there seemed to be no reason why he should not adopt the career which was more to his mind.

John had frequently made expeditions into the country before, and had spent many pleasant hours in the company of his aunt and uncle, and their buxom daughter Jinny; but he found a vast difference between these pleasure excursions and the steady routine to which he was now subjected. All the household were abed at nine, an arrangement to which John objected. As his aunt opined that it was "a sin an' a shame to burn good lamps i' summer time when days was long enough for onybody as was reasonable," he bought a supply of candles out of his own meagre store, and, being fond of reading, spent an hour or two with book or paper before retiring to rest. But the worst of this arrangement was that when, as it appeared to him, he had just settled comfortably to his first sleep, it was time to be astir again. His uncle thumped at his door, his aunt, from the bottom of the stairs, called out shrilly that if he wanted any breakfast he had best make haste, for she was "goin' to side the things in a twothree minutes." Jinny made sarcastic comments on his tardy appearance, and laughed at his heavy eyes. That was the worst of it--Jinny was always laughing at him; she "made little" of him on every possible occasion. His "town" speech, his "finicky" ways, his state of collapse at the end of the day, his awkwardness in handling unaccustomed tools, were to her never-failing sources of amusement. John set his teeth and made no sign of being wounded or annoyed, the sturdy spirit inherited from his mother's people forbidding him to cry out when he was hurt; but his spirits were at a low ebb, and to-day he had walked forth after tea with a heart as sore and heavy as those over-strained arms of his. Jinny had come out to the field with the "drinkin's," and her face looked so bewitching under the sun-bonnet, and her waist so tempting and trim beneath the crisp folds of her clean bed-gown, that John had made bold in cousinly fashion to encircle it with his arm, whereupon she had freed herself with an impatient twirl, remarking that she didn't want no counter-jumpers to be measurin' of her--a sally which had been regarded as exquisitely humorous by the bystanders. John's cheeks burned as he thought of it.

"She needn't be afraid--I'll not come nigh her again," he muttered vengefully.

He was skirting the wheat-field now, the tall, green ears stirring with a pleasant rustling sound; in some distant reeds a bunting was warbling, a belated lark was circling slowly downwards over his head. From the village yonder voices and laughter fell faintly on his ear, and all these mingled sounds served but to accentuate the prevailing impression of peace and stillness; as John strolled onwards, his heavy steps crushing out the aromatic perfume of the thyme which grew profusely along the path, he was insensibly soothed and calmed by the evening quietude.

Over the wooden railings now, and across the dewy pasture and up the tallest sandhill, from the top of which he could, as he knew, look down upon the sea. The waters would be ruddy and golden at this hour, but by day ran brown and sluggish enough over the mud banks of the Alt. On the other side of the shining expanse the houses of New Brighton would stand forth all flecked with gold, and farther still the very smoke of Liverpool would appear as a luminous yellow haze, and the masts and riggings of the ships lying at anchor would be turned into bars of gold. John knew these things by heart, but was never tired of gazing upon them, and as he climbed the hill his heart grew lighter and lighter; the salt, tart breeze that lifted his hair as he topped it gave new vigour to his tired limbs, and a sudden sense of exhilaration to his whole being. He stood at last with folded arms on the summit letting it sing past him, and gazing about him in vague delight. A golden world indeed; just what he had expected to find. A golden sea, a golden sky, the very sand and grasses at his feet appeared to be golden too.

Now, what was that? About twenty paces beneath him, on the seaward side of the dune, he caught a glimpse of another golden object, an unusual object, the nature of which he did not at once identify. He shaded his eyes with his hand, and presently began to laugh softly. That golden thing which had caught his eye was the uncovered head of a girl. She was seated in a hollow of the hill, and the tall star-grass and blossoming ragwort grew so freely at this spot that only her head was visible. All at once a hand was thrust out from behind the screen, and a sudden shower of gold fell downwards from that glittering crown. John laughed again as the girl began very composedly to comb her hair.

He came down the hill, stepping as lightly as he could, and paused in front of her quaint 'tiring-room. She looked up as his shadow fell across her, paused a moment with the comb poised in mid-air, and then calmly drew it through her yellow locks. What hair it was! It fell round her like a veil as she sat: it would reach almost to her knees, John thought, if she were standing. He looked at her with a kind of awe; for a moment the strange tales he had so often heard of mermaids and witches recurring to his mind. But he was reassured on a closer inspection of the girl and her attire. She wore a bed-gown and apron like Jinny's, but not, alas! so neat or clean; her stuff petticoat, too, was ragged and old, and the feet, which were stretched forth from under its folds, were brown and bare as the hands which so deftly wielded the comb.

John's eyes rested with intense disapproval on these shapely feet, and travelled slowly backwards over the ragged petticoat and the pink cotton jacket--which, instead of being neatly buttoned over at the neck, fell loosely open, disclosing the girl's throat, firm and round as a pillar--and so on till they reached her face; then suddenly drooped before the disconcerting gaze of another pair of eyes, very large and bright.

"I hope ye'll know me again," said the girl.

John looked up with a grin. "It'll be hard work if you keep your face covered up with all that hair," he said.

She gathered together the heavy yellow masses with both hands, twisted them up with astonishing speed and deftness, and let her arms fall upon her lap.

"Theer!" she said.

It was not a pretty face John at first decided; tanned as it was to the colour of ripe corn, and the eyes, such a light blue and with such blue whites, looking so strange in this setting. The cheeks, moreover, were not rosy like those of his cousin Jinny, nor rounded in their contours--the chin was too pointed; yet even as John looked a sudden dimple flashed there, and a smile, swift and mischievous, lit up the whole face. Then he did not feel quite so sure.

[Illustration: GOLDEN SALLY "I hope ye'll know me again," said the girl]

"What in the name of fortune are you doing here?" he asked abruptly, almost roughly, for the smile nettled him. "Can't you find some better place than this to do your dressing in?"

"If I didn't comb my hair i' th' sandhills I wouldn't comb it at all," she returned. "It's the on'y place I have to do onythin' in. Mony a time when th' owd lad is fuddled, me an' my Aunt Nancy sleep on 'em."

"Sleep out o' doors!" ejaculated John, much scandalised.

"Aye, oftener than not, I can tell you. Tisn't so very coomfortable when theer's snow about--though we mak' up a bit o' fire an' that; but it's reet enough this time o' year. Aye, I like to lay awake lookin' up at the stars, an' listenin' to the wayter yon. The rabbits coom dancin' round us, an' th' birds fly ower we'r 'eads when the leet cooms. It's gradely."

John slowly lowered himself down on the sand beside her, as if to endeavour to look on this strange aspect of life from her level. His respectable commercial soul was shocked, but he was nevertheless interested.

"My word!" he ejaculated; and then, after a pause, "What's your name, if I may ask?"

"Sally."

"Sally? It's a good enough name. What's th' other one?"

"I haven't got no other one as I ever heerd on. My uncle's Jim Whiteside, an' soom folks call'n me Sally Whiteside, an' then he gets mad an' says 'tisn't none o' my name. An' soom folks call'n me 'Cockle Sally.' Aye, that's what they call'n me mostly."

Dickinson looked at her disapprovingly. He had heard of the wild, disreputable "Cockle Folk" who roamed about the sandhills; who were worse than tramps in the opinion of respectable people, and who had, many of them, no fixed abode of any kind.

"Well," he remarked, "it's a pity. I could ha' wished ye'd ha' belonged to different folks. I don't hold with these cocklers. They're a rough lot, ar'n't they?"

The girl laughed.

"My Aunt Nancy says I'm as rough as ony mysel'. Would ye like soom cockles?" she asked, breaking off suddenly. "I'd fetch ye soom to-morrow if I've ony luck. They're chep enough--an' big ones. Wheer do ye live?"

"At Mr. Waring's farm," responded John, distantly; adding, more truthfully than politely, "I doubt you'd best keep away though. My aunt 'll be none too pleased if you come yonder."

"Aye, I knows her. Hoo buys mony a quart of me, an' then hoo chivies me out o' th' road. I'll coom. If you're not there, I'll coom to the field."

"Well, you might do that," agreed John, accommodatingly. "Some o' th' other chaps 'ud be glad enough to take a few of these cockles off you. 'Twould be a bit of a change wi' th' bread and cheese. We're goin' to cut the big meadow to the right as you go to the village. Come to the top of the hill, and I'll show it you."

"Nay, I'll not go near field if they're all theer. I went once, an' farmer he said he'd set dog at me; an' th' lads began o' jokin' an' laughin' at me. Aye, I get mad wi' nobbut thinkin' on't."

She coloured as she spoke, and John's face clouded over, as though her indignation had infected him. In fact, he had too recently suffered from the rude jests and laughter of his fellow-labourers not to sympathise with Sally.

"I know them," he said bitterly, "and a rough lot they are. They leave me no peace; they give me plenty of their impudence too, if it's any comfort to you, Sally, to know that."

"Eh dear!" cried Sally in amazement. "Why, whatever can they find amiss wi' you?"

The blue eyes were upturned with such genuine and admiring astonishment that John could not but be touched and flattered. In this actual mood, moreover, when his spirit was still smarting from the remembrance of the manner in which scornful Jinny had turned him into a laughing-stock, Sally's respectful appreciation was doubly sweet to him.

"I'll bring ye th' cockles if ye'll coom up th' lane at dinner-time," she went on. "I'll stand near the white gate. Coom, I'll show ye."

She sprang up and began quickly to ascend the hill. Her figure had the erectness common to those accustomed to carry burdens on their heads, and also a grace and freedom of movement which impressed John with vague astonishment. As she turned upon the summit to point out the place of meeting, her face sparkling with animation, her eyes alight and eager, the golden coronet of hair radiant in the mellow glow, he gave a little gasp of amazement. The girl was beautiful! What a pity she should lead such a life!

"Yonder, see," she continued. "Aye--why do ye stare at me that way?"

"Sally," said practical, plain--spoken John, "I'm lookin' at you because I think you're real handsome, an' I think it's a terrible pity for ye to be traipsin' about like this. Why don't you leave your uncle and aunt and go to live with decent people--and put on shoes and stockings?" he added severely.

The girl gazed at him in amazement.

"Whatever put that i' your 'ead? Decent folks wouldn't have nought to say to me. I'd as soon go cocklin' as do onythin' else--an' I couldn't do wi' shoes an' stockin's."

"Didn't you ever go to school?"

"Nay, scarce at all. We was wonderful clever 'bout that. We shifted an' shifted an' gi'ed 'em all th' slip."

"Don't you go to church on Sundays?"

"Eh dear! I wonder what they'd say if me an' Aunt Nancy an' Uncle Jim was to go paddlin' in among all the fine folks--wi' bare feet an' all."

She laughed grimly.

"Will yo' coom yonder for the cockles?" she inquired presently.

John nodded, and, turning, she ran down the hill, fleet as a hare, and disappeared round its curved base.

John walked homewards thoughtfully, his own troubles quite forgotten in the consideration of Sally's lot. All that evening, and even during his work on the following morning, he pondered over it, and it was with a portentous face that he betook himself at noon to the trysting-place. So punctual was he that he stood there for some minutes before a musical cry of "Cockles! fine cockles!" came ringing down the lane, and presently Sally appeared, the basket poised upon her head throwing a deep shadow over her face, but the curves of her figure strongly defined by the brilliant summer sunlight. Halting by the gate she balanced her basket on the upper bar, and immediately measured out a quart by way of greeting.

"How much?" inquired business-like John.

"Ye may have 'em for nought; I've got plenty, see. They're fine ones, ar'n't they?"

"I'd sooner pay you for them. You want the money perhaps."

"Well, then," said Sally, and thrust out her brown palm.

"Sally," said John, seriously, "I've been thinking a deal about you. I think it is somethin' dreadful the way you are livin'--you so comely an' all. It's an awful thing to think you don't know anythin' and never go to church or that. Do you never say your prayers?"

Sally looked at him, and twisted open a cockle before replying.

"Nay, I dunnot. Aunt Nancy doesn't neither."

"Do you know who made you, Sally?"

"I larned at school, the on'y time I went, but I forget now."

"Well, Sally, I've been thinkin'--somebody ought to teach you. I could teach you myself of an evening if you'd come yonder to the big sandhill."

Sally looked reflective, but presently nodded.

"I will while I'm here," she said; "but we's be shiftin' afore aught's along--we're allus shiftin'. We have to be terrible careful not to get cotched for sleeping out. They're that sharp wi' us they won't let a body do naught, so we dursen't stay too long i' one place. But I'll coom, an' ye can teach me if ye've a mind. If ye dunnot see me when ye coom to th' top o' hill, jest call out 'Cockle Sally! Cockle Sally!' an' I'll coom."

"No; that's an ugly name," said John, who had been idly watching the play of the sunbeams on the little curling strands of hair which were lightly lifted by the summer breeze. "I could find you a better name than that, I think. You look like--"

He paused.

"What do I look like?" inquired Sally.

John's glance once more travelled over her whole figure. The faded buff jacket, the not altogether immaculate apron of unbleached calico, were transfigured by the all-pervading sunshine; golden lights outlined the tanned face and hands; as for the hair, it was at that moment a very glory.

"I reckon I'd call you Golden Sally," he said with a laugh. "You look as if you were made of gold this morning, and I'll engage you're as good as gold," he added gallantly.

"Coom, that's too fine a name for me," cried Sally, well pleased, nevertheless, and smiling broadly.

"I'll christen you by it all the same," replied John, smiling too. "You must be good and mind what I tell you," he added with mock severity. "If you don't, I must find some other name for you."

Sally's long eyelashes suddenly drooped, and she drummed on the gate nervously.

"I'll do my best to please ye," she said. "I'll coom when ye call," she added after a pause.

Lifting up her basket, and balancing it once more on her head, she raised her downcast lids, and flashed a farewell smile at John as she turned away. In another moment she was speeding in the opposite direction.

John was vexed and disappointed that she should terminate the meeting so abruptly, but consoled himself with the reflection that he was free to assume the office of instructor that very evening if he chose.

The long, toilsome day seemed slow of passing, the company of the farmer and his men more tedious even than usual, but by way of compensation Jinny's sallies seemed to have lost their power to wound him. It was late when, the last waggon-load having been conveyed from the field and the evening meal disposed of, he found himself free to attend to Sally's education. He strode along the sandy lane and across the field at a very different pace to that of the previous evening, and was almost breathless when he found himself on the top of the tall dune, gazing about with anxious eyes. No golden head was to be seen amid the star-grass and ragwort this time; no graceful girl's figure was outlined against the evening sky. His heart sank, and it was in a disconsolate, uncertain voice that he called aloud:

"Golden Sally! Golden Sally!"

Then, starting up, as if by magic, from some unsuspected place of ambush, she came quickly towards him. Her face was blushing and eager, her hands outstretched; and John was somehow so glad to see her after the chill disappointment of the moment before, that he not only grasped the hands, but kissed the glowing cheek.

It would be difficult to say how much Sally learnt from her zealous young instructor--for zealous he was, sincere and earnest in his desire to improve her mind. But he taught her one thing very rapidly and completely--to love himself with all her undisciplined heart. After a time she made no secret of this devotion, and John was oddly abashed and disconcerted by her occasional outbursts of affection. He was much interested in Sally, very much attracted by her. Her worship of him was distinctly pleasant, if a little too demonstrative. Now and then he himself could not refrain from a tender word or a caress; but he was thoroughly convinced of her inferiority, and nothing could have been further from his thoughts than the wish to marry her.

Sally sometimes made him presents: bags of cockles, which, on leaving her, he not infrequently dropped into a ditch; a few flowers, procured he knew not how; and once she astonished him by producing, carefully wrapped up in paper, a very handsome silk handkerchief, with a curious pattern of sprigs and flowers.

"Why, Sally," he cried, "I scarcely like to take this. It's worth a deal of money I'm sure."

"It is," said Sally, with an odd look. "Aye, I am fain that ye like it. I wish I could find summat better to give ye. Theer's nought too good for ye."

John, much flattered, and moreover sufficiently of a dandy to rejoice in the possession of a handsome and unusual article of wearing apparel, thanked her warmly, and assured her that he would value it all the days of his life.

On the following Sunday he was tempted to wear it, and came down to breakfast much pleased with his appearance; but he was both astonished and alarmed at his aunt's demeanour on beholding it.

"Lor', John, wheerever did ye get yon 'andkerchief? Dear, now, I could swear it's the same as the one Mr. Lambert, of Saltfield, lost a five or six week ago. Mrs. Lambert towd me 'bout it when we drove yon on neighbourin' day. Eh, hoo was in a way! It's been i' th' family for years an' years; and hoo'd weshed it hersel' an' put it on th' hedge to dry, an' soombry coom an' whipped it off. Eh, I mind it well. Hoo'd often showed it me. Hoo thought a dale of it."

John coloured up to his temples, a horrible suspicion darting through his mind; but he was nevertheless determined to carry off the situation in a high-handed manner.

"This can't be hers, anyhow," he returned angrily, "seein' it's mine."

"Well, I could ha' sworn it were the same," retorted his aunt. "Such an old-fashioned thing too. It's strange ye should get one of the same pattern. How long have ye had it, John? Happen them as stole it sold it again."

John hated telling a lie, but conceived it advisable to tell one now.

"I've had this years an' years. My father gave it to me."

"Well, if he gave it you so long ago as that it can't be the same, I suppose, but it's wonderful like it. I wonder wheer he got it. It's a pity we can't ask him, but he's dead, as how 'tis, poor fellow! Coom, pull up an' tak' your breakfast."

John dutifully drew his chair to the table, but he felt as though every morsel choked him. His own falsehood, to begin with, stuck in his throat, while the thought of Sally's possible perfidy seemed to turn the wholesome farmhouse bread to sand in his mouth. Was it possible, could it be possible, that this love-token of hers was stolen? Had she dared to offer him that which it was a disgrace to possess If such were the case, of what avail was all his teaching? To what purpose had he stooped to associate so constantly with one so much beneath him?

Meanwhile the eyes of all the Waring family were fixed upon his luckless neckerchief in a manner which made him feel more and more uncomfortable; and he was fairly beside himself when, after church, his aunt informed him that she was thinking of axin' Margery Formby, who was Mrs. Lambert's sister, to step round after dinner and have a look at it, "It's so amazin' like the one Mr. Lambert lost, I reckon it 'ud be a kind o' comfort if hoo could tell Mrs. Lambert hoo needn't set sich store by it, as sich things is easy to be got."

"Well, aunt, I'm not goin' to stop in to have Margery Formby pokin' and pryin' at my things. I never see such queer folk in my life. 'Tisn't thought manners in other places to be passin' remarks an' askin' questions about a fellow's clothes."

"Well I never!" ejaculated Mrs. Waring, scarlet with indignation. "Upon my word, John, if it's thought manners in town to be givin' impudence to your own aunt ye'd best go back theer. It's not thought manners here, and what's more, we won't put up with it. Your uncle'll ha' summat to say, I'll warrant."

John heard no more, for, seeing that the good woman was working herself up into a most unchristian fury, and being, moreover, in no mood to meet the astonished queries of Margery Formby, he went quickly out of the room and out of the house, resolved to extract an explanation from Sally without delay.

Very bitter and angry was his mood, far more bitter and angry than on the evening when he had first beheld her. That which he had originally dismissed as an unjust suspicion had now grown to be almost certainty; and he waited doggedly the word which must confirm it. His blood boiled within him as he thought of Sally's effrontery. It was an insult, an unpardonable impertinence; one which he was, indeed, resolved never to pardon. He would make her confess, and then he would have done with her for ever.

Had his temper been less wrathful he might have been touched at the joyful alacrity with which she sprang to meet him. It had needed no call to bring her to his side; some instinct seemed to have warned her of his coming, and she had caught sight of him while still a long way off and hastened towards him as he approached. She uttered a little cry of joy as her eyes fell upon her gift.

"Eh! ye've got it on! It looks gradely."

"It looks gradely, does it?" returned John grimly. "I've a word or two to say to you about this, Sally? Where did you get this? Is this the handkerchief that was stolen from Mr. Lambert of Saltfield?"

Sally looked back at him quite unabashed, and began to laugh.

"Think o' your guessin'!" she cried. "Well, doesn't it suit ye a dale better nor yon ugly owd chap?"

John turned quite pale; then, with an oath and a sudden fierce gesture, tore the handkerchief from his neck and threw it on the ground.

"How dare you?" he cried, turning on Sally with flashing eyes. "How dare you look me in the face after treating me like this? Insultin' me--makin' a laughin' stock of me--"

He stopped, stammering with rage. The angry colour had now returned to his face; it was Sally who was pale. She stared at him aghast, and presently began to sob like a frightened child.

"I'm sure I dunno whatever I've done to mak' ye so mad," she cried brokenly. "I did but look to please ye."

"Please me!" cried John, stamping his foot. "How could it please me for you to give me a thing that no respectable man ought to touch--a thing as was stolen? I was a fool to think it could have been honestly come by; but when you gave it me, looking so innocent, I never guessed you'd gone and picked it off a hedge."

"I didna," sobbed Sally. "I took it out of Aunt Nancy's bundle. Hoo'll be soom mad when hoo finds out, and hoo'll thrash me for 't. Hoo reckoned to pop it as soon as we'd getten a bit further away fro' Saltfield."

John turned quite sick. This gift of Sally's had, then, been doubly stolen. He had been wearing an adornment which had been stolen from a thief! Words failed him, but he looked at Sally as though he could slay her.

"Dunnot be so mad," she pleaded, laying her hand upon his arm. "I didn't think to vex ye. I nobbut looked about for the best I could find. They flowers ye didn't seem to set mich store by, and I could on'y get a twothree now and again when theer was nobry about."

He shook her off with an angry laugh. "So the flowers were stolen, too! Now, look you, Sally, I'm goin' to have an end o' this. You may pick up yon handkerchief and take yourself off. I'll have no more to say to you after this. I'll have nothing to say to a thief. Don't you ever think to come botherin' me again, for I'll have no more to do wi' you."

She stood looking at him stupidly for a minute or two, and then, to his great annoyance and discomfiture, flung her arms round his neck, sobbing out inarticulate words of entreaty and remonstrance. She didn't think to vex him, she didn't think it was any harm.

He shook her off roughly and impatiently. Sally had evidently no sense of decency or even decorum. "Get out of my sight," he cried fiercely, "or if it comes to that I can go myself. I've done with you, I tell you--ye needn't come after me no more."

She had been looking at him piteously, the big tears standing in those strange blue eyes of hers, and on her tanned cheeks; but now a curious sullen expression came over her face. Stooping and picking up the handkerchief, she tore at it fiercely, first with her hands and subsequently with her teeth. A kind of angry curiosity caused John to delay his departure.

"You've no right to make away with Mr. Lambert's handkerchief," he cried. "If I did what was right I'd give notice to the police."

"Well, why dunnot ye?" she retorted with a fierceness which startled him. "Ye can if ye've a mind."

And she walked away slowly, still plucking at the handkerchief.

* * * * *

A year later, on just such another Sunday afternoon, John stood on the same spot with a woman by his side--the woman was Jinny, and Jinny was his wife. Many things had happened since John had parted in wrath and bitterness from the girl whom he had once called "Golden Sally." His demeanour towards his aunt on the momentous morning alluded to had led to a violent quarrel with her and her husband, which had had unexpected results, for Jinny had taken his part--Jinny who was the idol of her parents and the pivot on which the whole establishment turned. John's whilom indifference had led first to pique on Jinny's part and then to interest. John, perturbed of spirit and sore of heart, had been grateful for her favour. The attachment which poor Sally had for a time diverted was soon re-established, and before six months had passed the young couple were courting in due form.

Farmer Waring was at first a little annoyed, but consoled himself with the reflection that blood was thicker than water. He had no son of his own; it would be pleasant to keep Jinny still at the farm with a husband whom he could "gaffer" and break in to his own ways; so, by and by, consent was given, and John Dickinson was treated with great respect by all at the farm, and already assumed the airs of a master. As for Sally, he had never set eyes on her since the moment of their parting. It had once come to his ears that she and her aunt were in prison for sleeping out of doors, and, shortly after their release, she had apparently "shifted" with the rest of her family. John thought of her as little as possible, for the mere recollection of the manner in which he had been duped, and, as he conceived it, disgraced, filled him with disgust.

There was certainly no memory of her in his mind now as he climbed the hill with Jinny on his arm. They had only been married a few days, and his attitude towards her was still that of a lover. They sat down on the summit of the hill, and John put his arm round Jinny's waist. After the manner of their kind they did not talk much, but were vaguely content with one another and their surroundings. Jinny had some sweets in her pocket, and crunched one occasionally. John did not care for sweets, but was thinking of having a pipe by and bye. The larks were singing, and the little sandpipers fluttering about them, uttering their curious call.

"Here's soombry comin'," remarked Jinny all at once, between two sucks of a lemon drop.

John looked round without removing his arm. He gave a start, however, as his eyes fell on the figure which was rapidly advancing towards them along the irregular crest of the hill. Half unconsciously he released Jinny, and turned over a little on the sand to avoid meeting the direct gaze of the new-comer.

"It's nobbut wan o' they cocklers. You've no need to mind," remarked Jinny a little petulantly. She had thought John's arm in the right place.

John made no answer. He did not dare to raise his eyes, but his ears were strained to catch the swift patter of the approaching bare feet. If Sally should recognise him--if, of course she must--if she should speak, what irreparable mischief might not be made in a few moments!

The steps came nearer; there was a pause, Dickinson's heart beating so loudly that he feared his wife must hear it. He did not raise his eyes, but from beneath their drooped lids he caught sight of Sally's well-known skirt. He made no sign, however, and after what seemed an interminable time the skirt brushed past, actually touching him, and the soft pat pat sounded a little farther off. Even then John did not raise his eyes, but continued to draw patterns on the sand with his forefinger. The silence seemed to him unbearable, and yet he did not dare to break it. He could hear Jinny crunching her sugar-plums with irritating persistency. Why did she not speak?

At last she edged round on the sand, and he felt that she was looking at him.

"What's the matter wi' you?" she cried peevishly. "You're as dull as dull. Can't you say summat?"

John rolled round, squinting up at the pouting, blooming face. "There's not much to say, is there? What's the good of talkin' if you're 'appy?"

"I'm glad to hear you're 'appy, I'm sure," retorted Jinny somewhat mollified. "I can't say as you look it, though," she added.

Words did not readily occur to John, but he made the best answer that was possible under the circumstances. Throwing out his arm he drew Jinny's face down to his and kissed it.

"Now do you believe I'm 'appy," he said.

"Well, if you ar'n't you ought to be," said Jinny coquettishly. "Did you see that cocklin' wench, Jack?"

"Her as went by just now?" inquired John indifferently. "Nay, I didn't take much notice."

"Hoo was a funny-lookin' lass," pursued Jinny. "A bit silly, I think. Hoo stood an' hoo stared at us same as if we was wild beasts or summat."

"Perhaps she wanted us to buy some of her cockles," remarked John, hurriedly volunteering the first explanation that came into his head.

"Eh! very like hoo did. My word, I wish I'd thought on axin' her to let us 'ave a quart--I'm rale fond o' cockles. Could we run arter her, think ye, Jack?"

This was the very last thing which John wished to do, and in order to divert Jinny's mind, he hastily proposed that they should hunt for cockles themselves.

"Nay," she returned, "I'll not go seechin' for cockles--I've got my weddin' dress on, see, an' my new boots an' all."

"Well, then, I will," cried John eagerly. "I need but to kick off my boots an' socks, an' turn up my trousers, an' paddle down yon by the river; there are plenty hereabouts, I know."

"Tide's comin' in--you'd best be careful," screamed Jinny as he bounded barefoot down the slope; but he was already out of earshot.

There sat Jinny on the sunny, wind-swept hill-top; her silk skirt carefully tucked up, and the embroidered frill of her starched white petticoat just resting on her sturdy, well-shod feet. One plump hand, in its tight kid glove, toying with her posy of roses and "old man," the other absently tapping John's discarded foot-gear. Her eyes followed the movements of the lithe young form that wandered hither and thither on the sandy expanse below; her lips were parted in a smile of idle content. All at once a shadow fell across her, and, looking up, she beheld the strange cockle girl standing beside her with folded arms. Jinny stared at her for a moment in astonishment from under the brim of her fine befeathered hat:

"Have ye got any cockles to-day?" she inquired at length.

"Nay, I haven't," responded the girl rudely; "an' if I had you shouldn't ha' none."

"My word!" exclaimed Jinny angrily, "ye might as well keep a civil tongue i' your 'ead. I don't want none o' your cockles, as it jest falls out--my 'usband's gone to get me some."

"Your 'usband," repeated the girl, clapping her hands together in what Jinny thought a very odd and uncalled-for way. "Your 'usband!"

Jinny felt very uncomfortable; the girl's demeanour was so strange that she began to think she had been drinking. Hastily collecting John's socks and boots she scrambled to her feet.

"He's gone cocklin', has he?" inquired Sally, fixing those queer blue eyes of hers on the wife's face with an extraordinary expression; "an' you're takkin' care o's shoon till he cooms back? Ha! ha!--happen he'll ne'er coom back."

Jinny turned very red and walked indignantly away; most certainly the girl was either mad or drunk. "Happen he'll ne'er coom back," indeed! Such impudence! Jinny did not quite like being left alone with her in that solitary place, and partly on this account, partly to disprove her ridiculous assertion, bent her steps towards the shore, calling loudly to her husband to return.

But a fresh breeze was blowing, and the waves were leaping shoreward with unusual haste and energy; her voice did not reach him, and he wandered still further away from her, stooping ever and anon to examine the sand. He had crossed the river some time before, and was now pacing the opposite shore. The muddy waters of this little tidal river had been shallow enough for him to wade through not half-an-hour previously, but were now rising rapidly. He would find his return difficult if not dangerous, and the difficulty and danger were increasing every moment. When Jinny realised this, which she did suddenly, she forgot all about her silk dress and her new boots, and ran frantically towards the water's edge, screaming with all her might; and at last John heard, and began to walk placidly towards the spot where he had originally crossed. The mud banks were out of sight now, and a broad belt of water was spreading rapidly on the other side. It was advancing rapidly also at his rear; soon the stretch of shore, half sand, half mud, on which he stood, would be entirely submerged.

"John! John! coom ower at once!" screamed Jinny, as he paused, looking about him.

"I'm in a fix," he called out. The breeze, which had baffled her endeavours to make herself heard, bore, nevertheless, his words to her. She beckoned and gesticulated, continuing her useless entreaties the while. John laid down his handkerchief full of cockles and began to roll up his trousers higher. Jinny fairly danced with impatience. He made a step or two forward--the water was up to his knees; he walked on, plunging deeper at every step.

Suddenly Jinny uttered an even wilder and more piercing scream--John had disappeared from her sight, and, for a moment, the only trace of him which was evident was his hat rolling and tossing on the brown wavelets. But, before she had time to reiterate the anguished cry, he reappeared, pale and drenched, on the opposite bank.

"Run lass," he cried, "run quick an' fetch a rope, else I'll be drowned. I can't get across the river--the water's nigh ower my head as 'tis, an' my feet keep sinkin' into the mud."

Almost before he had ceased speaking Jinny had turned and was staggering with trembling limbs towards the sandhills. How should she get help in time? There was no habitation within a mile at least, and the water was rising moment by moment. It would be better for him to make a bold dash for safety now. Surely he could get across where he had crossed before, by those brown stepping-stones.

What Jinny took for stepping-stones were in reality the remains of a submerged forest, and no doubt, if John could have discovered their whereabouts, would have afforded him a tolerably secure footing, but they were indistinguishable now beneath the brown, swirling waters. Oh! he would be drowned!--he would be drowned! The yielding sand crumbling beneath Jinny's feet rendered her faltering progress even more slow. She paused hesitating, ran distractedly backwards a few paces; then, as John imperatively waved his arms, plunged forward again and toiled up the slope. All at once her distracted eyes met those of the girl from whom she had fled a little while before, the cockling girl, who was seated very composedly on an out-jutting point of the sandhill, whence she must have had a good view of John and his recent struggle. Jinny, panting upwards, cast a desperate glance upon her.

"For God's sake help me! My 'usband 'll be drowned before my e'en. Wheer can we get help? Will ye run one way an' I'll tak' t' other?"

Sally looked down at the convulsed face. "I'm not goin' to run noways," she retorted. "Run yoursel'; I'm not goin' to be sent o' your arrands."

"But he'll be drowned!" gasped poor Jinny.

"He'll be a fool if he drowns then," retorted the girl with a sneer. "He can get across easy enough if he finds th' reet place."

"Oh, thank God for that!" cried Jinny with momentary hope. "Will ye show me wheer's th' reet place, quick, for the wayter's coomin' in awful fast. It's down by th' steppin'-stones yon, isn't it?"

"Aye," replied the girl, 'it's down theer; ye'd best go an' look for 'em."

"Eh dear! won't ye show me?" cried Jinny wringing her hands. "I'll gi'e you all as I 'ave i' th' world. My watch, see--an' I've money i' th' box a' whoam--I'll gi'e you everythin'. Eh, do run down wi' me now, else it'll be too late."

"I want noan o' your brass an' stuff," cried Sally violently. "He's nought to me--let him drown if he can't save hissel'. He's yourn an' not mine. Ye'd best see to him."

"Eh, you wicked, wicked wench!" sobbed Jinny. "'Owever can ye find it i' your 'eart--but I'll waste no more time on you."

She clambered on, and soon was flying down the slope on the farther side. How long she ran she could not tell--it seemed to her a century since she had left the shore behind. Her brain reeled, her heart throbbed to suffocation--the terrible thought was ever present to her mind: "At this moment perhaps he is drowning--I may find him dead when I go back." Her very desperation lent her speed, and, moreover, fortune favoured her quest, for it was in reality only a very few minutes after her parting with Sally that she came upon a loving couple seated by the road-side. The man was a fisherman well known to Jinny. How she explained and what she promised she never quite knew, but, in an inconceivably short space of time they were speeding back together, the man preceding her with long, swinging strides. There was no time to lose in looking for a rope--he thought he knew a place where he could get Mr. Dickinson across; if not available, he himself could swim.

But, lo and behold! when they reached the summit of the hill and were about to plunge downwards to the shore, an unlooked-for sight met their eyes. There, on the hither side of the river stood John, alive and well, though plastered with mud from head to foot, and by his side was Sally, with her drenched raiment clinging to her, and the water dripping from the loosened strands of her long hair.

"Seems soombry else has had the savin' of him," cried the fisherman, astonished and perhaps a little disappointed; Mrs. Dickinson had promised such wonderful things.

Jinny, speechless with joy, ran down the slope and flung herself upon her husband. His face was pale and all astir with emotion.

"Jinny," he said, when at length she allowed him to speak--"Jinny, she saved me."

Jinny turned to Sally. "Eh, how can I ever thank you," she cried brokenly. "You saved my 'usband arter all. I don't know how to thank you."

Sally looked round with a fierce light in her eyes. "Ye needn't thank me--I didn't save him for you."

"I'm sure," said John, in a voice husky with emotion, "I don't know what to say mysel'--it is more than I could have expected, that you should risk your life for my sake."

"'Twasn't for your sake neither then," said Sally still fiercely.

"Then, in the name of fortune! why did you do it?" he ejaculated.

"I did it--for mysel'," said Sally.

She turned away, the water dripping from her at every step, and bounded up the slope with the erect carriage and springing gait which John remembered of old.

The fisherman retired somewhat disconsolately, and husband and wife, still palpitating, walked slowly away together; while "Golden Sally," once more standing aloft on her sandy pinnacle, wrung the moisture out of her yellow hair.