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HALF A LIFETIME AGO.
A LOVE STORY IN FIVE CHAPTERS.
crevice of the gray rock, makes a
cool green spout for the sparkling HALF a lifetime ago there lived a stream. single woman, of the name of Susan The house is no specimen, at the Dixon, in one of the Westmoreland present day, of what it was in the dales. She was the owner of the lifetime of Susan Dixon. Then, every small farm-house where she resided, small diamond pane in the winand of some thirty or forty acres of dows glittered with cleanliness. You land by which it was surrounded. might have eaten off the floor ; you She had also an hereditary right to could see yourself in the pewter a sheep-walk, extending to the wild plates and the polished oaken awmry, fells that overhang Blea Tarn. In or dresser, of the state kitchen into the language of the country, she was which you entered. Few strangers a stateswoman. Her house is yet to penetrated further than this room. be seen on the Oxenfell road, be- Once or twice, wandering tourists, tween Skelwith and Coniston. You attracted by the lonely picturesquego along a moorland track, made by ness of the situation, and the exthe carts that occasionally come for quisite cleanliness of the house itself, turf from the Oxenfell. A brook made their way into this house-place, babbles and brattles by the wayside, and offered money enough (as they giving you a sense of companionship thought) to tempt the hostess to rewhich relieves the deep solitude in ceive them as lodgers. They would which this way is usually traversed. give no trouble, they said ; they Some miles on this side of Coniston would be out rambling or sketching there is a farmstead—a gray stone all day long; would be perfectly house and a square of farm buildings content with a share of the food surrounding a green space of rough which she provided for herself; or turf, in the midst of which stands a would procure what they required mighty, funereal, umbrageous yew, from the Waterhead Inn at Coniston. making a solemn shadow, as of death, But no liberal sum-no fair wordsin the very heart and centre of the moved her from her stony manner, light and heat of the brightest sum- or her monotonous tone of indifferent mer day. On the side away from refusal. No persuasion could induce the house, this yard slopes down to her to show any more of the house a dark-brown pool, which is supplied than that first room; no appearance with fresh water from the overflow- of fatigue procured for the weary an ings of a stone cistern, into which invitation to sit down and rest; and some rivulet of the brook before- if one more bold and less delicate mentioned continually and melo- sate down without being asked, Sudiously falls and bubbles. The cattle san stood by, cold and apparently drink out of this cistern. The house deaf, or only replying by the briefest hold bring their pitchers and fill them monosyllables, till the unwelcome with drinking-water by a dilatory, yet visitor had departed. Yet those with pretty process. The water-carrier whom she had dealing in the way of brings with her a leaf of the hound's- selling her cattle or her farm protongue fern, and, inserting it in a duce, spoke of her as keen after a bargain—a hard one to have to do having a certain kind of sober pleawith; and she never spared herself sure in amassing money, which ocexertion or fatigue, at market or in casionally made them miserable (as the field, to make the most of her they call miserly people up in the produce. She led the haymakers with north) in their old age; reading no her swift steady rake, and her noise- light or ephemeral literature, but the less evenness of motion. She was grave, solid books brought round by about among the earliest in the mar- the peddlers,—the Paradise Lost and ket, examining samples of oats, Regained, the Death of Abel, the pricing them, and then turning with Spiritual Quixote, and the Pilgrim's grim satisfaction to her own cleaner Progress, were to be found in nearly corn.
every house; the men occasionally She was served faithfully and long going off laking, i. c., playing, i.e., by those who were rather her fellow- drinking for days together, and havlaborers than her servants. She was ing to be hunted up by anxious even and just in her dealings with wives, who dared not leave their them. If she was peculiar and silent, husbands to the chances of the wild they knew her, and knew that she precipitous roads, but walked miles might be relied on. Some of them and miles, lantern in hand, in the had known her from childhood; and dead of night, to discover and guide deep in their hearts was an unspoken the solemnly-drunken husband home; -almost unconscious—pity for her; who had a dreadful headache the next for they knew her story, though they day, and the day after that came never spoke of it.
forth as grave, and sober, and virYes; the time had been when that tuous-looking as if there were no tall, gaunt, hard-featured, angular such things as malt and spirituous woman-who never smiled, and liquors in the world ; and who were hardly ever spoke an unnecessary seldom reminded of their misdoings word—had been a fine-looking girl, by their wives, to whom such occabright-spirited and rosy; and when sional outbreaks were as things of the hearth at the Yew Nook had been course, when once the immediate as bright as she, with family love and anxiety produced by them was over. youthful hope and mirth. Fifty or Such were—such are the characterfifty-one years ago, William Dixon istics of a class now passing away and his wife Margaret were alive; from the face of the land, as their and Susan, their daughter, was about compeers, the yeomen, have done eighteen years old--ten years older before. Of such was William Dixon. than the only other child, a boy, He was a shrewd, clever farmer, in named after his father. Williain and his day and generation, when shrewdMargaret Dixon were rather superior ness was rather shown in the breedpeople, of a character, belonging- ing and rearing of sheep and cattle as far as I have seen-exclusively to than in the cultivation of land. Owthe class of Westmoreland and Cum- ing to this character of his, statesberland statesmen-just, indepen- men from a distance from beyond dent, upright; not given to much Kendal, or from Borrowdale, of speaking; kind-hearted, but not greater wealth than he, would send demonstrative; disliking change, their sons to be farm-servants for a and new ways, and new people; year or two with him, in order to sensible and shrewd ; each household learn some of his methods before self-contained, and having little cu- setting up on land of their own. riosity as to their neighbors, with When Susan, his daughter, was about whom they rarely met for any social seventeeen, one Michael Hurst was intercourse, save at the stated times farm servant at Yew Nook. He of sheep-shearing and Christmas ; worked with the master and lived with the family, and was in all re- hams and bacon were cured ; he spects treated as an equal, except in came on with rapid strides, and the field. His father was a wealthy shooting arrows of portentous agony. statesman at Wythburne, up beyond Susan had never seen illness-never Grassmere; and through Michael's knew how much she loved her mother servitude the families had become till now, when she felt a dreadful inacquainted, and the Dixons went stinctive certainty that she was losing over to the High Beck sheep-shear her. Her mind was thronged with ing, and the Hursts came down by recollections of the many times she Red Bank and Loughrig. Tarn and had slighted her mother's wishes; across the Oxenfell when there was her heart was full of the echoes of the Christmas-tide feasting at Yew careless and angry replies that she Nook. The fathers strolled round had spoken. What would she not the fields together, examined cattle now give to have opportunities of and sheep, and looked knowing over service and obedience, and trials of each other's horses. The mothers her patience and love for that dear inspected the dairies and household mother who lay gasping in torture! arrangements, each openly admiring And yet Susan had been a good girl the plans of the other, but secretly and an affectionate daughter. preferring their own. Both fathers The sharp pain went off, and deand mothers cast a glance from time licious ease came on; yet still her to time at Michael and Susan, who mother sunk. In the midst of this were thinking of nothing less than languid peace she was dying. She farm or dairy, but whose unspoken motioned Susan to her bedside, for attachment was in all ways so suitable she could only whisper; and then and natural a thing that each parent while the father was out of the room, rejoiced over it, although with char- she spoke as much to the eager, hunacteristic reserve it was never spoken gering eyes of her daughter by the about—not even between husband motion of her lips, as by the slow and wife.
feeble sounds of her voice. Susan had been a strong, indepen- “Susan, lass, thou must not fret. dent, healthy girl; a clever help to It is God's will, and thou wilt have her mother and a spirited companion a deal to do. Keep father straight to her father; more of a man in her if thou canst; and if he goes out (as he often said) than her delicate Ulverstone ways, see that thou meet little brother ever would have. He him before he gets to the Old was his mother's darling, although Quarry. It's a dree bit for a man she loved Susan well. There was no who has had a drop. As for lile positive engagement between Mi- Will”—here the poor woman's face chael and Susan—I doubt if even began to work and her fingers to plain words of love had been spoken; move nervously as they lay on the when one winter-time Margaret bedquilt —"lile Will will miss me Dixon was seized with inflammation most of all. Father's often vexed consequent upon a neglected cold. with him because he's not a quick, She had always been strong and strong lad; he is not, my poor little notable, and had been too busy to chap. And father thinks he's saucy, attend to the earliest symptoms of because he cannot always stomach illness. It would go off, she said to cat-cake and porridge. There's the woman who helped in the kitch- better than three pound in th' old en ; or if she did not feel better black teapot on the top shelf of the when they had got the hams and cupboard. Just keep a piece of bacon out of hand, she would take loaf-bread by you, Susan, dear, for some herb tea and nurse up a bit. Will to come to when he's not taken But Death could not wait till the his breakfast. I have, may be, spoilt him; but there'll be no one to spoil his mother had been, from her greater him now."
activity, and perhaps also from her She began to cry a low feeble cry, originality of character, which often and covered up her face that Susan prompted her to perform her habitmight not see her. That dear face! ual actions in some new and racy those precious moments while yet manner. She was tender to lile the eyes could look out with love Will when she was prompt and sharp and intelligence. Susan laid her with everybody else—with Michael head down close by her mother's most of all; for somehow the girl ear.
felt that, unprotected by her mother, “Mother, I'll take tent of Will. she must keep up her own dignity, Mother, do you hear! He shall not and not allow her lover to see how want aught I can give or get for him, strong a hold he had upon her heart. least of all the kind words which He called her hard and cruel, and you had ever ready for us both. left her so; and she smiled softly to Bless you! bless you! my own herself when his back was turned to mother."
think how little he guessed how “Thou’lt promise me that, Susan, deeply he was loved. For Susan wilt thou? I can die easy if was merely comely and fine-looking ; thou'lt take charge of him. But Michael was strikingly handsome, he's hardly like other folk; he tries admired by all the girls for miles father at times, though I think around, and quite enough of a father'll be tender of him when I'm country coxcomb to know it and gone, for my sake. And, Susan, plume himself accordingly. He there's one thing more. I never was the second son of his father; spoke on it for fear of the bairn the eldest would have High Beck being called a tell-tale, but I just farm, of course, but there was a good comforted him up. He vexes Mich- penny in the Kendal bank in store ael at times, and Michael has struck for Michael. When harvest was him before now. I did not want to over, he went to Chapel Langdale make a stir; but he's not strong, to learn to dance; and at night, in and a word from thee, Susan, will his merry moods, he would do his go a long way with Michael.”. steps on the flag-floor of the Yew
Susan was as red now as she had Nook kitchen, to the secret admirabeen pale before: it was the first tion of Susan, who had never learned time that her influence over Michael dancing, but who flouted him perhad been openly acknowledged by a petually, even while she admired, in third person, and a flash of joy accordance with the rule she seemed came athwart the solemn sadness of to have made for herself about keepthe moment. Her mother had ing him at a distance so long as he spoken too much, and now came on lived under the same roof with her. the miserable faintness. She never One evening he sulked at some saucy spoke again coherently; but when remark of hers; he sitting in the her children and her husband stood chimney-corner with his arms on his by her bedside, she took lile Will's knees and his head bent forwards, hand and put it into Susan's, and lazily gazing into the wood fire on looked at her with imploring eyes. the hearth, and luxuriating in rest Susan clasped her arms round Will, after a hard day's labor; she sitting and leaned her head upon his curly among the geraniums on the long, pate, and vowed to herself to be as low window-seat, trying to catch the a mother to him.
last slanting rays of the autumnal Henceforward she was all in all to light to enable her to finish stitching her brother. She was a more spirited a shirt-collar for Will, who lounged and amusing companion to him than full length on the flags at the other side of the hearth to Michael, pok- of proof that making right is none ing the burning wood, from time to so easy." And she boxed his ears time, with a long hazel-stick to pretty sharply. He went back to bring out the leap of glittering his seat discomfited and out of temsparks.
per. She could no longer see to “And if you can dance a three- look, even if her face had not burnt some reel, what good does it do ye?" and her eyes dazzled, but she did not asked Susan, looking askance at choose to move her seat, so she still Michael, who had just been vaunt- preserved her stooping attitude, and ing his proficiency. “Does it help pretended to go on sewing. you plough, or reap, or even climb “Eleanor Hebthwaite may be the rocks to take a raven's nest ? If milk-and-water," muttered he, “but I were a man I'd be ashamed to give -confound thee, lad! what art in to such softness."
doing?” exclaimed Michael, as a “If you were a man you'd be glad great piece of burning wood was to do anything which made the cast into his face by an unlucky pretty girls stand round and admire.” poke of Will's. “Thou great loung
“As they do to you, eh! ho! ing, clumsy chap, I'll teach thee betMichael! that would not be my way ter!” and with one or two good o' being a man."
round kicks he sent the lad whim“What would then ?" asked he, pering away into the back kitchen. after a pause, during which he had When he had a little recovered himexpected in vain that she would go self from his passion, he saw Susan on with her sentence. No answer. standing before him, her face look
"I should not like you as a man, ing strange and almost ghastly by Susy; you'd be too hard and head- the reversed position of the shadows strong."
arising from the firelight shining up“Am I hard and headstrong?" wards right under it. asked she with as indifferent a tone “I tell thee what, Michael," said as she could assume, but which yet she, “that lad's motherless, but not had a touch of pique in it. His friendless." quick ear detected the inflexion. “His own father leathers him,
“No, Susy! You're wilful at and why should not I, when he's times, and that's right enough. I given me such a burn on my face?” don't like a girl without spirit. said Michael, putting up his hand to There's a mighty pretty girl comes his cheek as if in pain. to the dancing-class; but she is all “His father's his father, and there milk and water. Her eyes never is nought more to be said. But if flash like yours when you're put he did burn thee, it was by accident, out; why, I can see them flame and not o' purpose, as thou kicked across the kitchen like a cat's eyes him; it's a mercy if his ribs are not in the dark. Now, if you were a broken." man, I should feel queer before those “He howls loud enough, I'm sure. looks of yours; as it is, I rather I might a kicked many a lad twice like them, because—'
as hard, and they'd ne'er ha' said “Because what?”' asked she, look- aught; but yon lad must needs cry ing up and perceiving that he had out like a stuck pig if one touches stolen close up to her.
him,'' replied Michael, sullenly. “Because I can make all right in Susan went back to the windowthis way," said he, kissing her sud- seat, and looked absently out of the denly.
window at the drifting clouds for a “Can you ?” said she, wrenching minute or two, while her eyes filled herself out of his grasp and panting, with tears. Then she got up and half with rage. “Take that by way made for the outer door which led