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The Broom-Squire
by S. (Sabine) Baring-Gould
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"But, sir, what you state did not come out in the evidence."

"Did it not? So much the worse for the case. It wasn't properly got up. I'll tell you what, gents, if you and me can't agree, then after a time the jury will be dismissed, and the whole case will have to be tried again. Then the evidence will come up that you think you haven't heard now, and she'll be acquitted, and every one will say of this jury—that we were a parcel of noodles."

"Well, sir, not guilty," said the foreman. "What do you say, Mr. Lilliwhite?"

"Sir," answered the gentleman addressed, "I'd like to know what the cost to the county will be of an execution. I say it can't be done under a hundred pounds, if you calculate the carpentering and the timber, and the fees, and the payment of the constables to keep order, and of the hangman. I say it ain't worth it. There'll be another farthing stuck on the rates, all along of this young woman. I'm again' it. Not guilty. Let 'er go."

"And I," said the next juryman, "am averse to capital punishment. I wrote a little tract on the subject. I do not know if any of you gentlemen have seen it. I have copies in my pocket. I shall be happy to present each of you with a copy. I couldn't possibly say guilty and deliver her over to a violent death, without controverting my published opinions, and, so to speak, stultifying myself. So, really, sir, I must positively say not guilty, and would say as much on behalf of the most ferocious murderer, of Blue Beard himself, rather than admit anything which might lead to a sentence of capital punishment. Not guilty."

Nearly an hour and a half elapsed before the jury returned to the court. It was clear that there had been differences of opinion, and some difficulty in overcoming these, and bringing all the twelve, if not to one mind, at all events to one voice.

A silence fell on the whole court.

Mehetabel who had been allowed a seat, rose, and stood pale as death, with her eyes fixed on the jurymen, as they filed in.

The foreman stepped forward, and said: "We find the prisoner not guilty."

Then, in the stillness with which the verdict was received, Mehetabel's voice was heard, tremulous and pleading. She had dropped a curtsey, and said, "Thank you, gentlemen." Then turning to the judge, and again dropping a curtsey, she raised her eyes timidly, modestly, to the judge, and said, "Please, sir, may I go to my baby?"



CHAPTER XLIX.

WELCOME.

Mehetabel was not able to leave Kingston for several days. Her child was too ill to bear the journey to Thursley; and the good-natured jailer's wife kindly urged her to remain as her guest till she thought that the little being might be removed with safety. Joe Filmer would drive her back, and Joe consented to tarry. He had business to discharge, the settlement of the account with the solicitor, or turnkey as he called him, to haggle over the sum, and try to get him to abate a sovereign because paid in ready money. He had also to satisfy the girl who had recommended the attorney, and the ostler who had consulted the girl, and old Clutch, who having found his quarters agreeable at the stable of the Sun, was disinclined to depart, and pretended that he had the strangles, and coughed himself into convulsions. At length, towards the end of the week, Mehetabel thought the child was easier, and Joe having satisfied all parties to whom he was indebted, and Clutch having been denied his food unless he came forth and allowed himself to be harnessed, Mehetabel departed from Kingston, on her return journey.

The pace at which old Clutch moved was slow, the slightest elevation in the ground gave him an excuse for a walk, and he turned his head inquiringly from side to side as he went along, to observe the scenery. If he passed a hedge, or a field in which was a horse, he persisted in standing still and neighing. Whereupon the beast addressed, perhaps at the plough, perhaps a hunter turned out to graze, responded, and till the conversation in reciprocal neighs had concluded to the satisfaction of the mind of Clutch, that venerable steed refused to proceed.

"I suppose you've heard about Betty Chivers?" said Joe.

"About Betty! What?"

"She got a bad chill at the trial, or maybe coming to it; and she is not returned to Thursley. I heard she was gone to her sister, who married a joiner at Chertsey, for a bit o' a change, and to be nussed. Poor thing, she took on won'erful about your little affair. So you'll not see her at Thursley."

"I am sorry for that," said Mehetabel, "and most sorry that I have caused her inconvenience, and that she is ill through me."

"I heard her say it was damp sheets, and not you at all. Old wimen are won'erful tender, more so than gals. And, of course, you've heard about Iver."

"Iver! What of Iver?" asked Mehetabel, with a flush in her cheek.

"Well, Mister Colpus, he had a talk wi' Iver about matters at the Ship. He told him that the girl Polly were gettin' the upper hand in everythin', and that if he didn't look smart and interfere she'd be marryin' the old chap right off on end, and gettin' him to leave everythin' to her, farm and public house and all his savings. Though she's an innercent lookin' wench, and wi' a head like a suet puddin' she knows how to get to the blind side of the master, and though she's terrible at breakages, she is that smooth-tongued that she can get him to believe that the fault lies everywhere else but at her door. So Iver, he said he'd go off to Thursley at once, and send Polly to the right-abouts. And a very good thing too. I'll be glad to see the back of her. 'Twas a queer thing now, Iver gettin' on to jury, weren't it?"

"Yes, Joe, I was surprised."

"I reckon the Rocliffes didn't half like it, but they made no complaint to the lawyer, and so he didn't think there was aught amiss. You see, the Rocliffes be won'erful ignorant folk. If that blackguard lawyer chap as sed what he sed about you had known who Iver was, he'd have turned him out. That insolent rascal. I sed I'd punish him. I will. They told me he comes fishin' to the Frensham Ponds and Pudmoor. He stays at the Hut Inn. I'll be in waitin' for him next time, and give him a duckin' in them ponds, see if I don't."

The journey home was not to be made in a day when old Clutch was concerned, and it had to be broken at Guildford. Moreover, at Godalming it was interrupted by the obstinacy of the horse, which—whether through revival of latent sentiment toward the gray mare, or through conviction that he had done enough, refused to proceed, and lay down in the shafts in the middle of the road. Happily he did this with such deliberation, and after having announced his intention so unequivocally, that Mehetabel was able to escape out of the taxcart with her baby unhurt.

"It can't be helped," said Joe Filmer, "we'll never move him out but by levers; what will you do, Matabel? Walk on or wait?"

Mehetabel elected to proceed on foot. The distance was five miles. She would have to carry her child, but the babe was not a heavy weight. Gladly would she have carried it twice the distance if only it were more solid and a greater burden. The hands were almost transparent, the face as wax, and the nose unduly sharp for an infant of such a tender age.

"I daresay," said Joe aside, "that if I can blind old Clutch and turn him round so that he don't know his bearin's, that I may get him up and to run along, thinkin' he's on his way back to Gorlmyn. But he's deep—terrible deep."

Accordingly Mehetabel walked on, and walked for nearly two hours without being overtaken. She reached that point of the main road whence a way diverges on the right to the village of Thursley, whereas the Ship Inn lies a little further forward on the highway. She purposed going to the dame's schoolhouse, to ascertain whether Mrs. Chivers had returned. If she had not, then Mehetabel did not know what she should do, whither she should go. Return to the Punch-Bowl she would not. Anything was preferable to that. The house of Jonas Kink was associated with thoughts of wretchedness, and she could not endure to enter it again.

She reached the cottage and found it locked. She applied at the house of the nearest neighbor, to learn whether Betty Chivers was expected home shortly, and also whether she had left the key. She was told that news had reached Thursley that the schoolmistress was still unwell, and the neighbor added, that on leaving, Betty had carried the key of the cottage with her.

"May I sit down?" asked Mehetabel; her brow was bathed in perspiration, and her knees were shaking under her, whilst her arms ached and seemed to have lost the power to hold the precious burden any longer. "I have walked from Gorlmyn," she explained; "and can you tell me where I can be taken in for a night or two. I have a little money, and will pay for my lodgings."

The woman drew her lips together and signed to a chair. Presently she said in a restrained voice: "That there baby is feverish, and my man has had a hard day's work and wants his rest at night, and though 'tis true we have a spare room, yet I don't see as we can accommodate you. So they let you off—up at Kingston?"

"Yes, I was let off," answered Mehetabel, faintly.

"Hardly reckoned on it, I s'pose. Most folks sed as you'd swing for it. You mustn't try on them games again, or you won't be so lucky next time. The carpenter, Puttenham, has a bed at liberty, but whether he'll take you in I don't know."

Mehetabel rose, and went to the cottage of the wheelwright. The man himself was in his shop. She applied to his wife.

"I don't know," said Mrs. Puttenham. "They say you was off your head when you did it. How can I tell you're right in your intellecks now? You see, 'twould be mighty unpleasant to have anything happen to either Puttenham or me, if we crossed you in any way. I don't feel inclined to risk it. I mind when owd Sammy Drewitt was daft. They did up a sort of a black hole, and stuck he in, and fed him through a kind of a winder in the side, and they had the place cleaned out once a month, and fresh straw littered for him to lie on. Folk sed he ort to ha' been chained to the wall, but they didn't do that. He never managed to break through the door. They found him dead there one winter mornin' when the Hammer Ponds was froze almost a solid block. I reckon there's been nobody in that place since. The constable might send a man, and scrape it out, and accommodate you there. It's terrible dangerous havin' a maniac at large. Sammy Drewitt made a won'erful great noise, howlin' when the moon was nigh full, and folk as lived near couldn't sleep then. But he never knocked nobody on the head, as I've heard tell. I don't mind givin' you a cup o' tea, and some bread and butter, if you'll be quiet, and not break out and be uproarious. If you don't fancy the lock-up, there is a pound for strayed cattle. I reckon of that Mister Colpus keeps the key—that is if it be locked, but mostly it be open. But then there's no roof to that."

Mehetabel declined the refreshment offered her so ungraciously, and went to the cottage of Mrs. Caesar, the mother of Julia who had been dismissed from the service of Mr. Colpus.

Of her she made the same request as of the two last.

"I call that pretty much like cheek, I do," replied Mrs. Caesar. "Didn't you go and try to get into Colpus's, and oust my daughter?"

"Indeed, indeed, I did not."

"Indeed, you did. I heard all about it, as how you wanted to be took in at Colpus's when Julia was out."

"But Mrs. Caesar, that isn't ousting her. Julia was already dismissed!"

"Dismissed! Hoity-toity! My daughter gave notice because she was too put upon by them Colpuses. They didn't consider their servants, and give 'em enough to eat, and holidays when they wanted to go out with their sweethearts. And you had the face to ax to be taken there. No, I've no room for you;" and she shut the door of the house in Mehetabel's face.

The unhappy girl staggered away with her burden, and sank into a hedge. The evening was drawing on, and she must find a house to shelter her, or else seek out the cave where she had lodged before.

Then she recalled what Joe Filmer had said—that Iver had returned to the Ship. A light flashed through her soul at the thought.

Iver would care for her. He who had been her earliest and dearest friend; he, who through all his years of absence, had cherished the thought of her; he who had told her that the Ship was no home to him without her in it; that he valued Thursley only because she lived there; he who had clasped her with his arm, called her his own and only one; to him—to him—at last, without guilt, without scruples; she could fly to him and say, "Iver, I am driven from door to door; no one will receive me. Every one is suspicious of me, thinks evil of me. But you—yourself, who have known me from infancy—you who baptized me to save me from becoming a wanderer—see, a wanderer, homeless, with my poor babe, I come to you—do you provide that I may be housed and sheltered. I ask not for myself so much as for my little one! To Iver—to Iver—as my one refuge, my only hope!"

Then it was as though her heart were light, and her heels winged. She sprang up from where she had cast herself, and forgetful of her weariness, ran, and stayed not till she had reached the familiar porch of the dear old Ship.

And already through the bar window a light shone. The night had not set in, yet a light was shining forth, a ray of gold, to welcome the wanderer, to draw her in, with promise of comfort and of rest.

And there—there in the porch door stood Iver.

"What! Mehetabel! come here—here—after all! Come in at once. Welcome! A word together we must have! My little Mehetabel! Welcome! Welcome!"



CHAPTER L.

MOVE ON.

"Come in, little friend! dear Matabel! come into the kitchen, by the fire, and let us have a talk." His voice was cheery, his greeting hearty, his manner frank.

He drew her along the passage, and brought her into the little kitchen in which that declaration had taken place, the very last time she had been within the doors of the inn, and he seated her in the settle, the very place she had occupied when he poured out his heart to her.

Mehetabel could not speak. Her bosom was too full. Tears sparkled in her eyes, and ran down her cheeks. The glow of the peat and wood fire was on her face, and gave to it a color it did not in reality possess. She tried to say something, but her voice gave way. Half laughing in the midst of tears she stammered, "You are good to me, Iver."

He took the stool and drew it before the fire that he might look up into her agitated face.

"How have you come?" asked he.

"I walked."

"Where from—not Kingston?"

"Oh, no! only from Gorlmyn."

"But that is a long way. And did you carry the child?"

"Yes, Iver! But, oh! he is no weight. You have not seen him. Look at him. He is quiet now, but he has been very troublesome; not that he could help it, but he has been unwell." With the pride and love of a mother she unfolded the wraps that concealed her sleeping child, and laid it on her knees. The dancing light fell over it.

Iver drew his stool near, and looked at the infant.

"I am no judge of babies," he said, "but—it is very small."

"It is small, that is why I can carry him. The best goods are wrapped in the smallest parcels."

"The child looks very delicate—ill, I should say."

"Oh, no! it has been ill, but is much, much better now. How could even a strong child stand all that my precious one has had to go through without suffering? But that is over now. Now at length we shall have rest and happiness, baby and me, in each other." Then catching the child to her heart, she rocked herself, and with tears of love flowing, sang—

"Thou art my sceptre, crown and all."

She laid the child again on her lap and sat looking at it admiringly in the rosy light of the fire that suffused it. As the flames had given to her cheek a fictitious color, so did they now give to the infant a glow as of health that it did not actually possess.

"You must be tired," said Iver.

"I am tired; see how my limbs shake. That is why my baby trembles; but as for my arms, they are past tiredness, they are just one dead ache from the shoulder to the wrist."

"Are you hungry, Matabel?"

"Oh, no! All I want is rest, rest. I am weary."

Presently she asked, "Where is father?"

"He is away. Gone to the Dye House to see a cow that is bad. They sent for him, to have his opinion. Father is thought a great authority on cows."

"And Polly?"

"Oh! Polly," laughed Iver, "she's bundled off. Father has borne it like a philosopher. I believe in his heart he is rather pleased that I should have turned her neck and crop off the premises. It was high time. She had mastered the old man, and could make him do what she pleased."

"Whom have you got in her place?"

"Julia Caesar. She was sent away from the Colpuses for drawing the beer too freely. Well, here she can draw it whenever there are men who ask for drink, so she will be in her proper element. But she is only a stop gap. I engaged her because there really was for the moment no one else available, but she goes as soon as we can find a better."

"Will you take me?" asked Mehetabel, with a smile, and with some confidence that she would be gladly accepted.

"We shall see—there is another place for you, Matabel," said Iver. "Now let us talk of something else. Was it not a piece of rare good luck that I was stuck on the jury? Do you know, I believe all would have gone wrong but for me. I put my foot down and said, 'Not guilty,' and would not budge. The rest were almost all inclined to give against you, Matabel, but there was a fellow with a wist in his stupid noddle against capital punishment. He was just as resolute as I was, and between us, we worked the rest round to our way of thinking. But I should like to know the truth about it all, for it is marvellous to me."

"There is nothing for me to say, Iver," answered Matabel, "but that some words I uttered made Jonas spring back, and neither he nor I knew that there was a kiln behind, it was so overgrown with brambles, and he fell down that."

"And you laughed."

"Oh, Iver! I don't know what I did. I was so frightened, and my head was so much in a whirl that I remember nothing more. You do not really think that I laughed."

"They all said you did."

"Iver, you know me too well to believe that I was other than frightened out of my wits. There are times when a laugh comes because the tears will not break out—it is a gasp of pain, of horror, nothing more. I remember, at my confirmation, when the Bishop laid his hands on us, that the girl beside me laughed; but it was only that she was feeling more than she could give token of any other way."

"That's like enough," said Iver, and taking the poker he put the turf together to make it blaze; "I say, Matabel, they tell me that Jonas was a bad loser by the smash of the Wealden Bank, and that he was about to mortgage his little place. Of course, that is yours now—or belongs to the young shaver. There are a hundred pounds my mother left, and fifty given by my father, that I hold, and I don't mind doing anything in reason with it to prevent having the property get into the lawyer's hands. I wouldn't do it for Jonas; but I will for you or the shaver. Shall you manage the farm yourself? If I were you I would get Joe Filmer to do that. He's a good chap, honest as daylight, and worships you."

"I don't know or think anything about that," said Mehetabel.

"But you must do so. The Rocliffes have invaded the place, so my father says. They took possession directly Jonas was dead, and they are treating the farm as if it were their own. You are going to the Punch-Bowl at once, and I will assert your rights."

"I am not going to the Punch-Bowl again," said Mehetabel, decisively.

"You must. You have no other home."

"That can be no home to me."

"But—where are you going to live?"

"I ask—" she looked at Iver with something of entreaty in her eyes—"May I not come and be servant here? I will do my duty, you need not doubt that."

"I have no doubt about that," he answered. "But—but—" he hesitated, and probed the fire again, "you see, Matabel, it wouldn't do."

"Why not?"

"Oh, there are three or four reasons."

She looked steadily at him, awaiting more.

"In the first place," he said, with a little confusion, "there has been much chatter about me being on the jury, and some folk say that but for me you'd have been found guilty, and—" He did not complete the sentence. He had knocked a burning turf down on the hearth. He took the tongs, picked it up and replaced it. "I won't say there is not some truth in that. But that is not all, Matabel. I'm going to give up Guildford and live here."

"You are!" Her eyes brightened.

"Yes, at the Ship. For one thing, I am sick of giving lessons to noodles. More than half of those who take lessons are as incapable of making any progress as a common duck is of soaring to the clouds. It's drudgery giving lessons to such persons. The only pictures they turn out that are fit to be looked at are such as the master has drawn and corrected and finished off for them. I'll have no more of that."

"I am glad, Iver. Then you will be with the dear old father."

"Yes. He wants some one here to keep an eye on him. But, just because I shall be here, it is not possible for you to be in the house. There has been too much talk, you know, about us. And this matter of my being on the jury has made the talk more loud and unpleasant for me. I shall have to be on my P's and Q's, Mattie; and I doubt if I am acting judiciously for myself in bringing you into the house now. However, it is only for an hour, and the maid Julia is out, and father is at the Dye House, and no one was in the road; so I thought I might risk it. But, of course, you can't remain. You must go."

"I must go! What, now?"

"I won't hurry you for another ten minutes, but under the circumstances I cannot allow you to remain. There is more behind, Matabel. I have got engaged to Polly Colpus!"

"Engaged—to Polly Colpus?"

"Yes. You see she is the only child of James Colpus, and will have his land, which adjoins ours, and several thousand pounds as well. Her mother left her something, and her father has been a saving man; so I could not do better for myself. I have got tired of teaching imbeciles to draw and daub. You see, I knew nothing about a farm, but father will manage that, and when he is too infirm and old, then Mr. Colpus will work it along with his own, and save me the trouble. Polly is clever and manages very well, and I can trust her to govern the Ship and make money out of that. So my idea is to be here when I like, and when tired of being in the country, to go to London and sell my pictures, or amuse myself. With the farm and the inn I shall be free to do that without the worry of giving lessons. So you understand that not only must I avoid any scandal among the neighbors by harboring you here, but I must not make Polly Colpus jealous; and she might become that, and break off the engagement were you taken into the house. She is a good girl, and amiable, but might become suspicious. There are so many busybodies in a little place, and the smaller the place is the more meddlesome people are. It would not do for my engagement to be broken through any such an injudicious act on my part, and I should never forgive myself for having given occasion for the rupture. Consequently, as is plain as a pike-staff, we cannot possibly take you into the Ship. Not even for to-night. As for receiving you as a servant here, that is out of the question. There is really no place for you but the Punch-Bowl."

"I will not go back to the Punch-Bowl," said Mehetabel, her heart sinking.

"That is unreasonable. It is your natural home."

"I will not go back. I said so when I ran away. Nothing will induce me to return."

"Then I wash my hands of all concerning you," said Iver, irritably. "There really seems to be ill-luck attending you, and affecting all with whom you are brought in touch. Your husband—he is dead, and now you try to jeopardize my fortunes. 'Pon my word, Matabel," he stood up. "It cannot be. We are willing enough to take in most people here, but under the circumstances cannot receive you."

"The door," said the girl, also rising, "the door was open at one time to all but to you. Now it is open to all but to me."

"You must be reasonable, Matabel. I wish you every good in the world. You can't do better than take Joe Filmer and make yourself happy. Every one in this world must look first to himself; then to the things of others It is a law of Nature and we can't alter it."

Leisurely with sunk head on her bosom, Metabel moved to the door.

"If I can assist you with money," suggested Iven

She shook her head she could not speak.

"Or if you want any food—"

She shook her head again.

But at the door she stood, leaned against the jamb turned, and looked steadily at Iver.

"You are going to the Punch-Bowl?" he asked.

"No, I will not go there!"

"Then, where do you go?"

"I do not know, Iver—you baptized me lest I should become a wanderer, and now you cast me out, me and my baby to become wanderers indeed."

"I cannot help myself, dear Matabel. It is a law of Nature, like that of the Medes and Persians, unalterable."



CHAPTER LI.

THOR'S STONE AGAIN.

Stunned with the sense that her last hope was taken from her, the cable of her one anchor cut, Mehetabel left the Ship Inn, and turned from the village. It would be in vain for her to seek hospitality there. Nothing was open to her save the village pound and the cell in which the crazy man, Sammy Drewitt, had perished of cold. There was the cave in which she had found refuge the night before the death of Jonas. She took her way to that again, over the heath.

There was light in the sky, and a star was shining in the west, above where the sun had set.

How still her baby was in her arms! Mehetabel unfolded the shawl, and looked at the pinched white face in the silvery light from the sky. The infant seemed hardly to breathe. She leaned her cheek against the tiny mouth, and the warm breath played over it. Then the child uttered a sob, drew a long inspiration, and continued its sleep. The fresh air on the face had induced that deep, convulsive inhalation.

Mehetabel again covered the child's face, and walked on to the gully made by the ancient iron-workers, and descended into it.

But great was her disappointment to find that the place of refuge was destroyed. Attention had been drawn to it by the evidence of Giles Cheel and Sally Rocliffe. The village youths had visited it, and had amused themselves with dislodging the great capstone, and breaking down the sandstone walls. No shelter was now obtainable there for the homeless: it would no more become a playing place for the little children of the Dame's school.

She stood looking dreamily at the ruin. Even that last place of refuge was denied her, had been taken from her in wantonness.

Leisurely she retraced her steps; she saw again the light in the window of the Ship, and the open door. She, however, turned away—the welcome was not for her—and entered the village. Few were about, and such as saw her allowed her to pass without a salutation.

She staggered up some broken steps into the churchyard, and crossed it, towards the church. No friendly light twinkled through the window, giving evidence of life, occupation, within. The door was shut and locked. She seated herself wearily in the porch. The great building was like an empty husk, from which the spirit was passed, and it was kept fast barred lest its emptiness should be revealed to all. The stones under her feet struck a chill through her, the wall against which she leaned her back froze her marrow, the bench on which she sat was cold as well. Why had she come to the porch? She hardly knew. The period at which Mehetabel lived was not one in which the Church was loved as a mother, nestled into for rest and consolation. She performed her duties in a cold, perfunctory manner, and the late Vicar had, though an earnest man, taught nothing save what concerned the geography of Palestine, and the weights and measures of Scripture—enough to interest the mind, nothing to engage the heart, to fill and stablish the soul.

And now, as Mehetabel sat in the cold porch by the barred door, looking out into the evening sky, she extended, opened, and closed her right hand, as though trying to grasp, to cling to something, in her desolation and friendlessness, and could find nothing. Again a horror came over her, because her child lay so still. Again she looked at it, and assured herself that it lived—but the life seemed to be one of sleep, a prelude to the long last sleep.

She wiped her brow. Cold drops stood on it, as she struggled with this thought. Why was the child so quiet now, after having been so restless? Was it that it was really better? Was this sleep the rest of exhausted nature, recovering itself, or was it—was it—she dared not formulate the thought, complete the question.

Again, in the anguish of her mind, in her craving for help in this hour of despondency, she put forth her hand in the air gropingly, and clutched nothing. She fully opened her palm, extended it level before her, and then, wearily let it fall.

From where she sat she could not see even the star that had glimmered on her as she crossed the common.

She heard the crackling of the gravel of the path under a foot, and a figure passed the porch door, then came back, and stood looking at her.

She recognized the sexton.

"Who are you there?" he asked.

She answered him.

"Do you want to see where Jonas is laid? Come along with me, and I'll show you."

She shrank back.

"He's where the Kinks all are. You must look and see that it is all right. I haven't been paid my fee. Them Rocliffes buttoned up their pockets. They sed it was for you to pay. But I hear they have put their hands on the property. They thought you would be hanged, but as you ain't they'll have to turn out, and you'll have to pay me for buryin' of Jonas, I reckon."

The old fellow was much bowed, and hard of hearing. He came into the porch, laid hold of Mehetabel, and said, "I'm goin to lock the gate. You must turn out; I can't let you bide in the churchyard till you come to bide there forever. Be that your baby in your arms?"

"Yes, Mr. Linegar, it is."

"It don't make much noise. Ain't a very lively young Radical."

"Would you like to see my baby?" asked Mehetabel, timidly, and she uncovered the sleeping child.

The sexton bowed over the little face, and straightening himself as much as he could, said, "It seems not unlike as that the child be comin' to me."

"What do you mean?" Her heart stood still.

"If you hadn't showed it me as alive, I'd ha' sed it were dead, or dyin'. Well, come and tell me where it's to be laid. Shall it go beside Jonas?"

"Mister Linegar!" Mehetabel stood still trembling. "Why do you say that? My babe is well. He is sleeping very sound."

"He looks won'erful white."

"That's because of the twilight. You fancy he is white. He has the most beautiful little color in his lips and cheeks, just like the crimson on a daisy."

"Well, come along, and choose a place. It'll save comin' again. I'll let you see where Jonas lies. And if you want to put up a monument, that's half-a-guinea to the passon and half-a-crown to me. There, do you see that new grave? I've bound it down wi' withies, and laid the turf nice over it. It's fine in the sun, and a healthy situation," continued the sexton, pointing to a new grave. "This bit of ground is pretty nigh taken up wi' the folks of the Punch-Bowl, the Boxalls, and the Nashes, and the Snellings, and the Kinks, and the Rocliffes. We let 'em lie to themselves when dead, as they kep' to theirselves when livin'. Where would you like to lie, you and the baby—you may just as well choose now—it may save trouble. I'm gettin' old, and I don't go about more than I can help.

"If anything were to happen, Mr. Linegar, then let us be laid—me and my darling—on the other side of the church, where my father's grave is."

"That's the north side—never gets no sun. I don't reckon it over healthy."

"I would rather lie there. If it gets no sun on that side, my poor babe and I have been in shade all our lives, and so it fits us best to be on the north side."

"Well, there's no accountin for tastes," said the sexton. "But I've hear you be a little troubled in the intellecks."

"Is it strange," answered Mehetabel, "that one should wish to be laid beside a father—my poor father, who is alone?"

"Come, come," said the old man, "it is time for me to lock up the churchyard gate. I only left it open because I had been doing up Jonas Kink's grave with withies."

He made Mehetabel precede him down the path, saw her through the gate, and then fastened that with a padlock.

"Even the dead have a home—a place of rest," she said. "I have none. I am driven from theirs."

It was not true that she had no home, for she had one, and could claim it by indefeasible right, the farmhouse of the Kinks in the Punch-Bowl. But her heart revolted against a return to the scene of the greatest sorrows. Moreover, if, as it was told her, the Rocliffes had taken possession, then she could not enter it without a contest, and she would have perhaps to forcibly expel them. But even if force were not required, she was quite aware that Sally Rocliffe would make her position intolerable. She had the means, she could enlist the other members of the squatter community on her side, and how could she—Mehetabel—maintain herself against such a combination? To return to the Punch-Bowl would be to enter on ignoble broils, and to run the gauntlet of a whole clique united to sting, wound, bruise her to death. How could she carry on the necessary business of the farm when obstructed in every way? How manage her domestic affairs, without some little assistance from outside, which would be refused her?

She entertained no resentment against Iver Verstage for having excluded her from the inn, but a sense of humiliation at having ventured to seek his help unsolicited. Surely she had an excuse. He had always been to her the one to whom her thoughts turned in confidence and in hope. It was in him and through him that all happiness was to be found. He had professed the sincerest attachment to her. He had sought her out at the Punch-Bowl, when she shrank from him; and had she not been sacrificed—her whole life blighted for his sake? Surely, if he thought anything of her, if he had any spark of affection lingering in his heart for her, any care for her future, he would never leave her thus desolate, friendless, houseless!

She wandered from the churchyard gate, aimless, and before she was aware whither she was going, found herself in the confines of Pudmoor. How life turns in circles! Before, when she had run from the Ship, self-excluded, she had hasted to Pudmoor. Now, again, excluded, but by Iver, she turned instinctively to Pudmoor. Once before she had run to Thor's Stone, and now, when she found help nowhere else, she again took the same direction. She had asked assistance once before at the anvil, she would ask it there again. Before she had asked to be freed from Iver. She had no need to ask that now, he had freed himself from her. She would seek of the spirits, what was denied her by her fellow-men, a home where she might rest along with her baby.

The first time she had sought Thor's Stone she had been alone, with herself only to care for, though indeed for herself she had cared nothing. Now, on this second occasion, she was burdened with the child infinitely precious to her heart, and for the sake of which even a stumble must be avoided. The first time she had been fresh, in the full vigor of her strength. Now she was worn out with a long tramp, and all the elasticity gone out of her, all the strength of soul and body broken.

Slowly, painfully she crept along, making sure of every step. The full moon did not now turn the waters into gold, but the illumined twilight sky was mirrored below—as steel.

She feared lest her knees should fail, and she should fall. She dared not seat herself on a ridge of sand lest she should lack power to rise again. When she came to a crabbed fir she leaned against it and stooped to kiss her babe.

"Oh, my golden darling! My honeycomb! How cold you are! Cling closer to your mother's breast. She would gladly pour all the warmth out of her heart into your little veins."

Then on again, amidst the trilling of the natterjacks and the croaking of the frogs. Because of their noise she could not hear the faint breath of her infant. Although she walked slowly, she panted, and through panting could not distinguish the pulsation of the little one she bore from the bounding of her own veins. At last she saw, gleaming before her—Thor's Stone, and she hasted her steps to reach it.

Then she remembered that she was without a hammer. That mattered not. She would strike on the anvil with her fingers. The spirits—whatever they were—the good people—the country folk called them, would hear that. She reached the stone, and sank exhausted below it She was too weary to do more than lie, with her child in her lap, and hold up her face bathed in sweat, for the cool evening wind to wipe it, and at the same time feed with fresh breath her exhausted lungs.

Then looking up, she saw the little star again, the only one in the light-suffused heavens, but it twinkled faintly, with a feeble glitter, feeble as the frail life of the child on her lap.

And now a strange thing occurred.

As she looked aloft suddenly the vault was pervaded with a rosy illumination, like the flushing of a coming dawn, and through this haze of rosy light, infinitely remote, still flickered the tiny spark of the star.

What was this? Merely some highly uplifted vapor that caught the sun after it had long ceased to shine on the landscape.

There were even threads of amber traced in this remote and attenuated glory—and, lo—in that wondrous halo, the little star was eclipsed.

Suddenly—with an unaccountable thrill of fear, Mehetabel bent over her babe—and uttered a cry that rang over the Mere.

The hand she had laid on Thor's Stone to tap struck it not. She had nothing to ask; no wish to express. The one object for which she lived was gone from her.

The babe was dead in her lap.

Her hand fell from the stone.



CHAPTER LII.

THE ROSE-CLOUD.

Joe Filmer, driving old Clutch, drew up at the door of the Ship Inn. Iver Verstage came out and welcomed him.

"I've had a trouble with Clutch," said the ostler. "He lay down as we got out of Gorlmyn, and neither whip nor kicks 'ud make him stir. I tried ticklin', but t'wern't no good neither. How long this 'ud have gone on I dun know; I took him out o' th' shafts, and got him back to Gorlmyn, because some men helped me wi' him, and pulled at his tail, and twisted his carcass about till his nose pointed to the stable of the Angel. Then he condescended to get up and go to the inn. I shouldn't ha' got him away at all but that a notion came into my head as helped. I got the ostler to saddle and bride the gray mare, and mount her afore old Clutch's naked eyes. And I told the ostler to ride ahead a little way. Then, my word! what airs and jinks there were in Clutch; he gambolled and trotted like a colt. It was all a show-off afore the gray mare. The ostler—I knew him very well, he's called Tom Tansom, and it's a coorious thing now, he only cut his wise teeth about three months afore, and suffered won'erful in cutting 'em. But that's neither here nor there. Tom Tansom, he rode ahead, and old Clutch went after as if he were runnin' with the hounds. But I must tell you, whilst I was in Gorlmyn, that Widow Chivers came with the carrier, and as she was wantin' a lift, I just took her up and brought her on. She's been ter'ible bad, she tells me, with a cold, but she's better now—got some new kind o' lozenges, very greatly recommended. There's a paper given along wi' 'em with printed letters from all sorts o' people as has benefited by these lozenges. They're a shillin' and a ha'penny a box. Betty sez they've done her a power of good."

"Go on with your account of old Clutch. You're almost as bad as he with your stoppages."

"I'm tellin' right along. Well, the ostler he trotted on till he came to a turn in the road, and then he went down a lane out o' sight. But old Clutch have been racin' on all the way, thinkin' the mare had got a distance ahead. I'd a mighty difficulty to make him stop at the corner to set down Betty Chivers, and again here. Though he's roarin' like the roarin' of the sea, he wants to be on again and ketch up the gray mare. It's a pleasure that I've dun the old vagabond. Has Matabel been here?"

"Yes, she has; and has gone."

"Where to?"

"Of course, home, to the Bowl."

"Not she. She's got that screwed into her head tight as a nut, that she'll never go there again. There was the sexton at the corner, and he helped Betty with her bag, he said he turned Matabel out of the church porch."

"Then she may be in the churchyard."

"Oh, no, he turned her out of the churchyard, and the last he seed of her was goin' down to the Pudmoor. If she's queer in her head, or driven distracted wi' trouble—she oughtn't to be allowed to go there."

"Gone to Pudmoor!" exclaimed Iver. "I shouldn't wonder if she has sought Thor's Stone. She did that once before."

"I'll clap old Clutch in the stable, then go and look for her. Will you come, Mr. Iver?"

"Well—yes—but she cannot be received in here."

"No, there is no need. Betty Chivers will take her in as before. Betty expects her. I told her as we comed along that Matabel were before us, and we almost expected every minute to take her up. Though how we should ha' managed three in the trap I don't know, and Clutch would have been in an outrageous temper. Do you hear him snortin' there? That's because he's angry—the Radical!"

Beside Thor's Stone Iver and Joe Filmer found Mehetabel rocking her child, she had bared her bosom and held the little corpse against her palpitating heart, in the desperate hope of communicating to it some of her own heat; and if love could have given life the baby would have revived.

Again, as when her husband died, her brain was for a while unhinged, but she had the same kind and suitable nurse, the widow, Betty Chivers.

And now this story is all but done. Little more remains to be told.

Never again did Mehetabel return to the Punch-Bowl—never revisit it. The little property was sold, and after the debts of Jonas were paid, what remained went for her sustenance, as well as the money bequeathed by Susanna Verstage and that laid aside by Simon.

Years passed. Betty Chivers was gathered to the dust and in her place Mehetabel kept the Dame's school. It was thought that Joe Filmer had his eye on her, and on more than one occasion he dressed himself in his Sunday best and walked towards the school, but his courage ebbed away before he reached it, and he never said that which he had resolved to say.

On the north side of the church, near the monument of the murdered sailor, was a tiny mound, ever adorned with flowers, or when flowers were unattainable, with sprigs of holly and butcher's broom set with scarlet berries. At the beginning of the present century the decoration of a grave was rarely if ever practised. It was looked on as so strange in Mehetabel, and it served to foster the notion that she was not quite right in her head.

But in nothing else did the village schoolmistress show strangeness: in school and out of school she was beloved by her children, and their love was returned by her.

We live in a new age—one removed from that of Dame schools. A few years has transformed the system of education in the land.

In one of the voyages of Lemuel Gulliver, he reached the island of Lagado, where the system of construction adopted by the natives in the erection of an edifice was to begin at the top, the apex of a spire or roof, and to build downwards, laying the foundations last of all, or leaving them out altogether.

This is precisely the system of primary education adopted in our land, and if rent and ruin result, it is possibly due to the method being an injudicious one.

The face of Mehetabel acquired a sweetness and repose that were new to it, and were superadded to her natural beauty. And she was happy, happy in the children she taught, happy in the method she pursued, and happy in the results.

Often did she recall that visit to Thor's Stone on the night when her child died, and she remembered her look up into the evening sky. "I thought all light was gone from me, when my star, my little feeble star, was eclipsed, but instead there spread over the sky a great shining, glorious canopy of rosy light, and it is so,"—she looked after her dispersing school—"my light and life and joy are there."

The Vicar came up.

There had been a great change in the ecclesiastical arrangements of Thursley. It was no longer served occasionally and fitfully from the mother church. It had a parson of its own. Moreover a change had been effected in the church. It was no longer as a house left desolate.

"I have been thinking, Mrs. Kink," said the Vicar, "that I should much like to know your system of education. I hear from all quarters such good accounts of your children."

"System, sir!" she answered blushing, "oh, I have none."

"None, Mrs. Kink?"

"I mean," she answered, "I teach just what every child ought to know, as a matter of course."

"And that is?"

"To love and fear God."

"And next?"

With a timid smile:

"That C A T spells cat, and D O G spells dog."

"And next?"

"That two and two makes four, and three times four makes twelve."

"And next?"

She raised her modest dark eyes to the Vicar, and answered, smiling, "Mine is only a school for beginners. I lay the foundations. I do not profess to finish."

"You teach no more than these?"

"I lay the foundations on which all the rest can be raised," she answered.

"And you are happy?"

She smiled; it was as though the sun shone out of her face.

"Happy! Oh, so happy! I could not be happier." Then, after a pause, "Except when I and my own little one are together again, and that would be too much happiness for my heart now. But it will be able to bear the joy—then."



THE END.

[1] Not really in Hants, but in Surrey, adjoining the County demarcation.

[2]This is the beginning of a long ballad based on the incidents above mentioned, which is still current in the neighborhood.

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