into the back-kitchen. Before she wards the house, walking slowly and reached it, however, she heard a low quietly except for a kind of sob voice, whose music made her thrill, which Willie could not repress. say

Susan took him to the pump and “Susan, Susan !".

washed his tear-stained face, till she Her heart melted within her, but thought she had obliterated all traces it seemed like treachery to her poor of the recent disturbance, arranging boy, like faithlessness to her dead his curls for him, and then she kissed mother to turn to her lover while the him tenderly, and led him in, hoptears which he had caused to flow ing to find Michael in the kitchen, were yet unwiped on Will's cheeks. and make all straight between them. So she seemed to take no heed, but But the blaze had dropped down passed into the darkness, and, guided into darkness; the wood was a heap by the sobs, she found her way to of gray ashes in which the sparks where Willie sat crouched among ran hither and thither; but even in disused tubs and churns.

the groping darkness Susan knew “ Come out wi' me, lad;" and by the sinking at her heart that they went into the orchard, where Michael was not there. She threw the fruit-trees were bare of leaves, another brand on the hearth and but ghastly in their tattered covering lighted the candle, and sate down to of gray moss; and the soughing No- her work in silence. Willie cowered vember wind came with long sweeps on his stool by the side of the fire, over the fells till it rattled among the eyeing his sister from time to time, crackling boughs, underneath which and sorry and oppressed, he knew the brother and sister sat in the dark: not why, by the sight of her grave, he in her lap, and she hushing his almost stern face. No one came. head against her shoulder.

They two were in the house alone. “Thou shouldst na' play wi' fire. The old woman who helped Susan It's a naughty trick. Thou'lt suffer with the household work had gone for it in worse ways nor this before out for the night to some friend's thou'st done, I'm afeared. I should dwelling. William Dixon, the father, ha' hit thee twice as lungeous kicks was up on the fells seeing after his as Mike, if I'd been in his place. sheep. Susan had no heart to preHe did na' hurt thee, I am sure," pare the evening meal. " she assumed, half as a question. “Susy, darling, are you angry

“ Yes! but he did. He turned with me?said Willie, in his little me quite sick.” And he let his head piping gentle voice. He had stolen fall languidly down on his sister's up to his sister's side. “I won't breast.

never play with fire again ; and I'll " Come, lad ! come, lad !" said not cry if Michael does kick me. she, anxiously, “be a man. It was Only don't look so like dead mother not much that I saw. Why, when -don't, don't-please don't!” he first the red cow came she kicked exclaimed, hiding his face on her me far harder for offering to milk shoulder. her before her legs were tied. See “I'm not angry, Willie," said thee! here's a peppermint drop, and she. “Don't be feared on me. I'll make thee a pasty to-night; only You want your supper, and you shall don't give way so, for it hurts me have it; and don't you be feared on sore to think that Michael has done Michael. He shall give reason for thee any harm, my pretty."

every hair of your head that he Willie roused himself up, and put touches-he shall." back the wet and ruffled hair from When William Dixon came home, his heated face; and he and Susan he found Susan and Willie sitting rose up and hand-in-hard went to- together, hand-in-hand, and apparHalf a Lifetime Ago.

ently pretty cheerful. He bade Soon Willie burst in. "Susan ! them go to bed, for that he would Susan! come with me; I've somesit up for Michael; and the next thing so pretty to show you. Round morning, when Susan came down, the corner of the barn-run ! run!she found that Michael had started He was dragging her along, half rean hour before with the cart for luctant, half desirous of some change lime. It was a long day's work; in that weary day, round the corSusan knew it' would be late, per- ner of the barn; and caught hold of haps later than on the preceding by Michael, who stood there awaiting night, before he returned-at any her. rate, past her usual bedtime; and O Willie !" cried she, “you on no account would she stop up a naughty boy. There is nothing moment beyond that hour in the pretty—what have you brought me kitchen, whatever she might do in here for ? Let me go; I won't be her bedroom. Here she sate and held.” watched till past midnight; and “Only one word. Nay, if you when she saw him coming up the wish it so much, you may go,' said brow with the carts, she knew full Michael, suddenly loosing his hold well, even in that faint moonlight, as she struggled. But now she was that his gait was the gait of a man in free, she only drew off a step or two, liquor. But though she was an- murmuring something about Willie. noyed and mortified to find in what “You are going, then?" said way he had chosen to forget her, Michael, with seeming sadness. the fact did not disgust or shock her “You won't hear me say a word of as it would have done many a girl, what is in my heart?" even at that day, who had not been “How can I tell whether it is brought up as Susan had, among a what I should like to hear ?” replied class who considered it as no crime, she, still drawing back. but rather a mark of spirit in a man “ That is just what I want you to to get drunk occasionally. Never- tell me; I want you to hear it, and theless, she chose to hold herself then to tell me if you like it or not." very high all the next day when “Well, you may speak," replied Michael was, perforce, obliged to she, turning her back, and beginning give up any attempt to do heavy to plait the hem of her apron. work, and hung about the out. He came close to her ear. buildings and farm in a very discon- “I am sorry I hurt Willie the solate and sickly state. Willie had other night. He has forgiven me. far more pity on him than Susan. Can you ?". Before evening Willie and he were “You hurt him very badly," she fast, and on his side, ostentatious replied. “But you are right to be friends. Willie rode the horses sorry. I forgive you." down to water; Willie helped him “Stop, stop !" said he, laying his to chop wood. Susan sate gloomily hand upon her arm. “There is at her work, hearing an indistinct something more I've got to say, I but cheerful conversation going on want you to be my— What is it in the shippon, while the cows were they call it, Susan?”. being milked. She almost felt irri- “I don't know," said she, halftated with her little brother, as if he laughing, but trying to get away with were a traitor, and had gone over to all her might now, and she was a the enemy in the very battle that strong girl, but she could not manshe was fighting in his cause. She age it. was alone, with no one to speak to, “You do. My— what is it I while they prattled on, regardless if want you to be?" she were glad or sorry.

“I tell you I don't know, and you

[blocks in formation]

had best be quiet, and just let me go thought might have as well been in, or I shall think you are as bad spared, and which it must be connow as you were last night."

fessed he did not much attend to, “And how did you know what I although he assented to every propowas last night? It was past twelve sition. Then Susan was called downwhen I came home. Were you stairs, and slowly came dropping watching? Ah, Susan ! be my wife, into view down the steps which led and you shall never have to watch from the two family apartments into for a drunken husband. If I were the house-place. She tried to look your husband, I would come straight composed and quiet, but it could not home, and count every minute an be done. She stood side by side hour till I saw your bonny face. with her lover, with her head droopNow you know what I want you to ing, her cheeks burning, not daring be. I ask you to be my wife. Will to look up or move, while her father you, my own dear Susan ?”

made the newly-betrothed a someShe did not speak for some time. what formal address, in which he gave Then she only said, “Ask father.” his consent, and many a piece of And now she was really off like a worldly wisdom beside. Susan lislapwing round the corner of the tened as well as she could for the barn, and up in her own little room, beating of her heart ; but when her crying with all her might, before the father solemnly and sadly referred to triumphant smile had left Michael's his own lost wife, she could keep face where he stood.

from sobbing no longer ; but throwThe “Ask father" was a mere ing her apron over her face, she sate form to be gone through. Old down on the bench by the dresser Daniel Hurst and William Dixon and fairly gave way to pent-up tears. had talked over what they could re- Oh, how strangely sweet to be comspectively give their children long forted as she was comforted, by tenbefore this; and that was the pa- der caresses, and many a low whisrental way of arranging such matters. pered promise of love. Her father When the probable amount of sate by the fire, thinking of the days worldly gear that he could give his that were gone; Willie was still out child had been named by each of doors; but Susan and Michael father, the young folk, as they said, felt no one's presence or absencemight take their own time in com- they only knew they were together ing to the point which the old men, as betrothed husband and wife. with the prescience of experience, In a week or two they were forsaw that they were drifting to; no mally told of the arrangements to be need to hurry them, for they were made in their favor. A small farm both young, and Michael, though in the neighborhood happened to active enough, was too thoughtless, fall vacant, and Michael's father old Daniel said, to be trusted with offered to take it for him, and be rethe entire management of a farm. sponsible for the rent for the first Meanwhile, his father would look year, while William Dixon was to about him, and see after all the contribute a certain amount of stock, farms that were to be let.

and both fathers were to help toMichael had a shrewd notion of wards the furnishing of the house. this preliminary understanding be- Susan received all this information tween the fathers, and so felt less in a quiet indifferent way; she did daunted than he might otherwise not care much for any of these prephave done at making the application arations, which were to hurry her for Susan's hand. It was all right; through the happy hours; she cared there was not an obstacle, only a least of all for the money amount of deal of good advice, which the lover dowry and substance. It jarred on her to be made the confidante of oc- “Nonsense !" replied Susan ; casional slight repinings of Michael's “don't be so foolish, ye little goodas one by one his future father-in-law for-nought.” But she crept up to set aside a beast or a pig for Susan's him in the hole he had made underportion, which were not always the neath the great brown sheafs of wood, best animals of their kind upon the and squeezed herself down by him. farm. But he also complained of “What for should folk seek after his own father's stinginess, which you, when you get away froin them somewhat, though not much, alle- whenever you can?'' asked she. viated Susan's dislike to being “ They don't want me to stay. awakened out of her pure dream of Nobody wants me. If I go with love to the consideration of worldly father, he says I hinder more than wealth.

I help. You used to like to have But in the midst of all this bustle, me with you. But now you've taken Willie moped and pined. He had up with Michael, and you'd rather I the same chord of delicacy running was away; and I can just bide away; through his mind that made his but I cannot stand Michael jeering body feeble and weak. He kept out at me. He's got you to love him, of the way, and was apparently oc- and that might serve him.” cupied in whittling and carving un- “But I love you, too, dearly, couth heads on hazel sticks in an lad !” said she, putting her arm outhouse. But he positively avoided round his neck. Michael, and shrunk away even from “Which on us do you like best?'' Susan. She was too much occupied to said he, wistfully, after a little pause, notice this at first. Michael pointed putting her arm away, so that he it out to her, saying, with a laugh, - might look in her face, and see if

“Look at Willie! he might be a she spoke truth. cast-off lover and jealous of me, he She went very red. looks so dark and downcast at me." "You should not ask such quesMichael spoke this jest out loud, and tions. They are not fit for you to Willie burst into tears, and ran out ask, nor for me to answer.' of the house.

“But mother bade you love me,” “Let me go. Let me go!" said said he, plaintively. Susan (for her lover's arm was “And so I do. And so I ever around her waist). “I must go to will do. Lover nor husband shall him if he's fretting. I promised come betwixt thee and me, lad, ne'er mother I would !" She pulled her a one of them. That I promised self away, and went in search of the thee, as I promised mother before, boy. She sought in byre and barn, in the sight of God and with her through the orchard, where indeed hearkening now, if ever she can in this leatless winter-time there was hearken to earthly word again. Only no great concealment, up into the I cannot abide to have thee fretting, room where the wool was usually just because my heart is large enough stored in the later summer, and, at for two." last she found him, sitting at bay, “And thou'lt love me always." like some hunted creature, up be “Always, and ever. And the more hind the wood-stack.

-the more thou'lt love Michael," “What are ye gone for, lad, and said she, dropping her voice. me seeking you everywhere?" asked "I'll try," said the boy, sighing, she, breathless.

for he remembered many a harsh "I did not know you would seek word and blow of which his sister me. I've been away many a time, knew nothing. She would have risen and no one has cared to seek me," up to go away, but he held her tight, sud he, crying afresh.

for here and now she was all his own, and he did not know when such a time experience of the danger of infection might come again. So the two sate, to dread it much. She did, indeed, crouched up and silent, till they heard wish from time to time that Michael the horn blowing at the field-gate, had been at home to have taken which was the summons home to any Willie over to his father's at High wanderers belonging to the farm, Beck; but then, again, the lad was and at this hour of the evening, sig- docile and useful to her, and his nified that supper was ready. Then recklessness in many things might the two went in.

make him be harshly treated by strangers, so perhaps it was as well

that Michael was away at Appleby CHAPTER II.

fair, or even beyond that, gone into SUSAN and Michael were to be mar- Yorkshire after horses. ried in April. He had already gone Her father grew worse ; and the to take possession of his new farm, doctor insisted on sending over a three or four miles away from Yew nurse from Coniston. Not a proNook, but that is neighboring, ac- fessed nurse ; Coniston could not cording to the acceptation of the have supported such a one; but a word, in that thinly populated dis- widow who was ready to go where trict, when William Dixon fell ill. the doctor sent her for the sake of He came home one evening, com- the payment. When she came, Susan plaining of headache and pains in suddenly gave way; she was felled his limbs, but seemed to loathe the by the fever herself, and lay unconposset which Susan prepared for him; scious for long weeks. Her conthe treacle - posset which was the sciousness returned to her one spring homely country remedy against an afternoon, early spring-April, her incipient cold. He took it to his wedding month. There was a little bed, with a sensation of exceeding fire burning in the small cornerweariness, and an odd, unusual look- grate, and the flickering of the blaze ing back to the days of his youth, was enough for her to notice in her when he was a lad living with his weak state. She felt that there was parents in this very house.

some one sitting on the window side The next morning he had forgot- of her bed, behind the curtain, but ten all his life since then, and did she did not care to know who it was; not know his own children, crying, it was even too great a trouble to her like a newly-weaned baby, for his languid mind to consider who it was mother to come and soothe away his likely to be. She would rather shut terrible pain. The doctor from her eyes, and melt off again into the Coniston said it was the typhus fever, gentle luxury of sleep. The next and warned Susan of its infectious time she wakened, the Coniston nurse character, and shook his head over perceived her movement, and made his patient. There were no friends her a cup of tea, which she drank near to come and share her anxiety, with eager relish; but still they did only good, kind old Peggy, who was not speak, and once more Susan lay faithfulness itself, and one or two motionless-not asleep, but strangely, laborers' wives, who would fain have pleasantly conscious of all the small helped her, had not their hands been chamber and household sounds; the tied by their responsibility to their fall of a cinder on the hearth, the fitown families. But somehow, Susan ful singing of the half-empty kettle, neither feared nor flagged. As for the cattle tramping out to field again fear, indeed, she had no time to give after they had been milked, the aged way to it, for every energy of both step on the creaking stair-old Pegbody and mind was required. Be- gy's, as she knew. It came to her sides, the young have had too little door, it stopped, the person outside

« ElőzőTovább »