'What a good, brave King!' said Anne.
Loveday seemed anxious to come to more personal matters. 'Will you let me take you round to the other side, where you can see better?' he asked. 'The Queen and the princesses are at the window.'
Anne passively assented. 'David, wait here for me,' she said; 'I shall be back again in a few minutes.'
The trumpet-major then led her off triumphantly, and they skirted the crowd and came round on the side towards the sands. He told her everything he could think of, military and civil, to which Anne returned pretty syllables and parenthetic words about the colour of the sea and the curl of the foam—a way of speaking that moved the soldier's heart even more than long and direct speeches would have done.
'And that other thing I asked you?' he ventured to say at last.
'We won't speak of it.'
'You don't dislike me?'
'O no!' she said, gazing at the bathing-machines, digging children, and other common objects of the seashore, as if her interest lay there rather than with him.
'But I am not worthy of the daughter of a genteel professional man—that's what you mean?'
'There's something more than worthiness required in such cases, you know,' she said, still without calling her mind away from surrounding scenes. 'Ah, there are the Queen and princesses at the window!'
'Well, since you will make me speak, I mean the woman ought to love the man.'
The trumpet-major seemed to be less concerned about this than about her supposed superiority. 'If it were all right on that point, would you mind the other?' he asked, like a man who knows he is too persistent, yet who cannot be still.
'How can I say, when I don't know? What a pretty chip hat the elder princess wears?'
Her companion's general disappointment extended over him almost to his lace and his plume. 'Your mother said, you know, Miss Anne—'
'Yes, that's the worst of it,' she said. 'Let us go back to David; I have seen all I want to see, Mr. Loveday.'
The mass of the people had by this time noticed the Queen and princesses at the window, and raised a cheer, to which the ladies waved their embroidered handkerchiefs. Anne went back towards the pavement with her trumpet-major, whom all the girls envied her, so fine-looking a soldier was he; and not only for that, but because it was well known that he was not a soldier from necessity, but from patriotism, his father having repeatedly offered to set him up in business: his artistic taste in preferring a horse and uniform to a dirty, rumbling flour-mill was admired by all. She, too, had a very nice appearance in her best clothes as she walked along—the sarcenet hat, muslin shawl, and tight-sleeved gown being of the newest Overcombe fashion, that was only about a year old in the adjoining town, and in London three or four. She could not be harsh to Loveday and dismiss him curtly, for his musical pursuits had refined him, educated him, and made him quite poetical. To-day he had been particularly well-mannered and tender; so, instead of answering, 'Never speak to me like this again,' she merely put him off with a 'Let us go back to David.'
When they reached the place where they had left him David was gone.
Anne was now positively vexed. 'What shall I do?' she said.
'He's only gone to drink the King's health,' said Loveday, who had privately given David the money for performing that operation. 'Depend upon it, he'll be back soon.'
'Will you go and find him?' said she, with intense propriety in her looks and tone.
'I will,' said Loveday reluctantly; and he went.
Anne stood still. She could now escape her gallant friend, for, although the distance was long, it was not impossible to walk home. On the other hand, Loveday was a good and sincere fellow, for whom she had almost a brotherly feeling, and she shrank from such a trick. While she stood and mused, scarcely heeding the music, the marching of the soldiers, the King, the dukes, the brilliant staff, the attendants, and the happy groups of people, her eyes fell upon the ground.
Before her she saw a flower lying—a crimson sweet-william—fresh and uninjured. An instinctive wish to save it from destruction by the passengers' feet led her to pick it up; and then, moved by a sudden self- consciousness, she looked around. She was standing before an inn, and from an upper window Festus Derriman was leaning with two or three kindred spirits of his cut and kind. He nodded eagerly, and signified to her that he had thrown the flower.
What should she do? To throw it away would seem stupid, and to keep it was awkward. She held it between her finger and thumb, twirled it round on its axis and twirled it back again, regarding and yet not examining it. Just then she saw the trumpet-major coming back.
'I can't find David anywhere,' he said; and his heart was not sorry as he said it.
Anne was still holding out the sweet-william as if about to drop it, and, scarcely knowing what she did under the distressing sense that she was watched, she offered the flower to Loveday.
His face brightened with pleasure as he took it. 'Thank you, indeed,' he said.
Then Anne saw what a misleading blunder she had committed towards Loveday in playing to the yeoman. Perhaps she had sown the seeds of a quarrel.
'It was not my sweet-william,' she said hastily; 'it was lying on the ground. I don't mean anything by giving it to you.'
'But I'll keep it all the same,' said the innocent soldier, as if he knew a good deal about womankind; and he put the flower carefully inside his jacket, between his white waistcoat and his heart.
Festus, seeing this, enlarged himself wrathfully, got hot in the face, rose to his feet, and glared down upon them like a turnip-lantern.
'Let us go away,' said Anne timorously.
'I'll see you safe to your own door, depend upon me,' said Loveday. 'But—I had near forgot—there's father's letter, that he's so anxiously waiting for! Will you come with me to the post-office? Then I'll take you straight home.'
Anne, expecting Festus to pounce down every minute, was glad to be off anywhere; so she accepted the suggestion, and they went along the parade together.
Loveday set this down as a proof of Anne's relenting. Thus in joyful spirits he entered the office, paid the postage, and received the letter.
'It is from Bob, after all!' he said. 'Father told me to read it at once, in case of bad news. Ask your pardon for keeping you a moment.' He broke the seal and read, Anne standing silently by.
'He is coming home to be married,' said the trumpet-major, without looking up.
Anne did not answer. The blood swept impetuously up her face at his words, and as suddenly went away again, leaving her rather paler than before. She disguised her agitation and then overcame it, Loveday observing nothing of this emotional performance.
'As far as I can understand he will be here Saturday,' he said.
'Indeed!' said Anne quite calmly. 'And who is he going to marry?'
'That I don't know,' said John, turning the letter about. 'The woman is a stranger.'
At this moment the miller entered the office hastily.
'Come, John,' he cried, 'I have been waiting and waiting for that there letter till I was nigh crazy!'
John briefly explained the news, and when his father had recovered from his astonishment, taken off his hat, and wiped the exact line where his forehead joined his hair, he walked with Anne up the street, leaving John to return alone. The miller was so absorbed in his mental perspective of Bob's marriage, that he saw nothing of the gaieties they passed through; and Anne seemed also so much impressed by the same intelligence, that she crossed before the inn occupied by Festus without showing a recollection of his presence there.
XIV. LATER IN THE EVENING OF THE SAME DAY
When they reached home the sun was going down. It had already been noised abroad that miller Loveday had received a letter, and, his cart having been heard coming up the lane, the population of Overcombe drew down towards the mill as soon as he had gone indoors—a sudden flash of brightness from the window showing that he had struck such an early light as nothing but the immediate deciphering of literature could require. Letters were matters of public moment, and everybody in the parish had an interest in the reading of those rare documents; so that when the miller had placed the candle, slanted himself, and called in Mrs. Garland to have her opinion on the meaning of any hieroglyphics that he might encounter in his course, he found that he was to be additionally assisted by the opinions of the other neighbours, whose persons appeared in the doorway, partly covering each other like a hand of cards, yet each showing a large enough piece of himself for identification. To pass the time while they were arranging themselves, the miller adopted his usual way of filling up casual intervals, that of snuffing the candle.
'We heard you had got a letter, Maister Loveday,' they said.
'Yes; "Southampton, the twelfth of August, dear father,"' said Loveday; and they were as silent as relations at the reading of a will. Anne, for whom the letter had a singular fascination, came in with her mother and sat down.
Bob stated in his own way that having, since landing, taken into consideration his father's wish that he should renounce a seafaring life and become a partner in the mill, he had decided to agree to the proposal; and with that object in view he would return to Overcombe in three days from the time of writing.
He then said incidentally that since his voyage he had been in lodgings at Southampton, and during that time had become acquainted with a lovely and virtuous young maiden, in whom he found the exact qualities necessary to his happiness. Having known this lady for the full space of a fortnight he had had ample opportunities of studying her character, and, being struck with the recollection that, if there was one thing more than another necessary in a mill which had no mistress, it was somebody who could play that part with grace and dignity, he had asked Miss Matilda Johnson to be his wife. In her kindness she, though sacrificing far better prospects, had agreed; and he could not but regard it as a happy chance that he should have found at the nick of time such a woman to adorn his home, whose innocence was as stunning as her beauty. Without much ado, therefore, he and she had arranged to be married at once, and at Overcombe, that his father might not be deprived of the pleasures of the wedding feast. She had kindly consented to follow him by land in the course of a few days, and to live in the house as their guest for the week or so previous to the ceremony.
''Tis a proper good letter,' said Mrs. Comfort from the background. 'I never heerd true love better put out of hand in my life; and they seem 'nation fond of one another.'
'He haven't knowed her such a very long time,' said Job Mitchell dubiously.
'That's nothing,' said Esther Beach. 'Nater will find her way, very rapid when the time's come for't. Well, 'tis good news for ye, miller.'
'Yes, sure, I hope 'tis,' said Loveday, without, however, showing any great hurry to burst into the frantic form of fatherly joy which the event should naturally have produced, seeming more disposed to let off his feelings by examining thoroughly into the fibres of the letter-paper.
'I was five years a-courting my wife,' he presently remarked. 'But folks were slower about everything in them days. Well, since she's coming we must make her welcome. Did any of ye catch by my reading which day it is he means? What with making out the penmanship, my mind was drawn off from the sense here and there.'
'He says in three days,' said Mrs. Garland. 'The date of the letter will fix it.'
On examination it was found that the day appointed was the one nearly expired; at which the miller jumped up and said, 'Then he'll be here before bedtime. I didn't gather till now that he was coming afore Saturday. Why, he may drop in this very minute!'
He had scarcely spoken when footsteps were heard coming along the front, and they presently halted at the door. Loveday pushed through the neighbours and rushed out; and, seeing in the passage a form which obscured the declining light, the miller seized hold of him, saying, 'O my dear Bob; then you are come!'
'Scrounch it all, miller, don't quite pull my poor shoulder out of joint! Whatever is the matter?' said the new-comer, trying to release himself from Loveday's grasp of affection. It was Uncle Benjy.
'Thought 'twas my son!' faltered the miller, sinking back upon the toes of the neighbours who had closely followed him into the entry. 'Well, come in, Mr. Derriman, and make yerself at home. Why, you haven't been here for years! Whatever has made you come now, sir, of all times in the world?'
'Is he in there with ye?' whispered the farmer with misgiving.
'My nephew, after that maid that he's so mighty smit with?'
'O no; he never calls here.'
Farmer Derriman breathed a breath of relief. 'Well, I've called to tell ye,' he said, 'that there's more news of the French. We shall have 'em here this month as sure as a gun. The gunboats be all ready—near two thousand of 'em—and the whole army is at Boulogne. And, miller, I know ye to be an honest man.'
Loveday did not say nay.
'Neighbour Loveday, I know ye to be an honest man,' repeated the old squireen. 'Can I speak to ye alone?'
As the house was full, Loveday took him into the garden, all the while upon tenter-hooks, not lest Buonaparte should appear in their midst, but lest Bob should come whilst he was not there to receive him. When they had got into a corner Uncle Benjy said, 'Miller, what with the French, and what with my nephew Festus, I assure ye my life is nothing but wherrit from morning to night. Miller Loveday, you are an honest man.'
'Well, I've come to ask a favour—to ask if you will take charge of my few poor title-deeds and documents and suchlike, while I am away from home next week, lest anything should befall me, and they should be stole away by Boney or Festus, and I should have nothing left in the wide world? I can trust neither banks nor lawyers in these terrible times; and I am come to you.'
Loveday after some hesitation agreed to take care of anything that Derriman should bring, whereupon the farmer said he would call with the parchments and papers alluded to in the course of a week. Derriman then went away by the garden gate, mounted his pony, which had been tethered outside, and rode on till his form was lost in the shades.
The miller rejoined his friends, and found that in the meantime John had arrived. John informed the company that after parting from his father and Anne he had rambled to the harbour, and discovered the Pewit by the quay. On inquiry he had learnt that she came in at eleven o'clock, and that Bob had gone ashore.
'We'll go and meet him,' said the miller. ''Tis still light out of doors.'
So, as the dew rose from the meads and formed fleeces in the hollows, Loveday and his friends and neighbours strolled out, and loitered by the stiles which hampered the footpath from Overcombe to the high road at intervals of a hundred yards. John Loveday, being obliged to return to camp, was unable to accompany them, but Widow Garland thought proper to fall in with the procession. When she had put on her bonnet she called to her daughter. Anne said from upstairs that she was coming in a minute; and her mother walked on without her.
What was Anne doing? Having hastily unlocked a receptacle for emotional objects of small size, she took thence the little folded paper with which we have already become acquainted, and, striking a light from her private tinder-box, she held the paper, and curl of hair it contained, in the candle till they were burnt. Then she put on her hat and followed her mother and the rest of them across the moist grey fields, cheerfully singing in an undertone as she went, to assure herself of her indifference to circumstances.
XV. 'CAPTAIN' BOB LOVEDAY OF THE MERCHANT SERVICE
While Loveday and his neighbours were thus rambling forth, full of expectancy, some of them, including Anne in the rear, heard the crackling of light wheels along the curved lane to which the path was the chord. At once Anne thought, 'Perhaps that's he, and we are missing him.' But recent events were not of a kind to induce her to say anything; and the others of the company did not reflect on the sound.
Had they gone across to the hedge which hid the lane, and looked through it, they would have seen a light cart driven by a boy, beside whom was seated a seafaring man, apparently of good standing in the merchant service, with his feet outside on the shaft. The vehicle went over the main bridge, turned in upon the other bridge at the tail of the mill, and halted by the door. The sailor alighted, showing himself to be a well- shaped, active, and fine young man, with a bright eye, an anonymous nose, and of such a rich complexion by exposure to ripening suns that he might have been some connexion of the foreigner who calls his likeness the Portrait of a Gentleman in galleries of the Old Masters. Yet in spite of this, and though Bob Loveday had been all over the world from Cape Horn to Pekin, and from India's coral strand to the White Sea, the most conspicuous of all the marks that he had brought back with him was an increased resemblance to his mother, who had lain all the time beneath Overcombe church wall.
Captain Loveday tried the house door; finding this locked he went to the mill door: this was locked also, the mill being stopped for the night.
'They are not at home,' he said to the boy. 'But never mind that. Just help to unload the things and then I'll pay you, and you can drive off home.'
The cart was unloaded, and the boy was dismissed, thanking the sailor profusely for the payment rendered. Then Bob Loveday, finding that he had still some leisure on his hands, looked musingly east, west, north, south, and nadir; after which he bestirred himself by carrying his goods, article by article, round to the back door, out of the way of casual passers. This done, he walked round the mill in a more regardful attitude, and surveyed its familiar features one by one—the panes of the grinding-room, now as heretofore clouded with flour as with stale hoar- frost; the meal lodged in the corners of the window-sills, forming a soil in which lichens grew without ever getting any bigger, as they had done since his smallest infancy; the mosses on the plinth towards the river, reaching as high as the capillary power of the walls would fetch up moisture for their nourishment, and the penned mill-pond, now as ever on the point of overflowing into the garden. Everything was the same.
When he had had enough of this it occurred to Loveday that he might get into the house in spite of the locked doors; and by entering the garden, placing a pole from the fork of an apple-tree to the window-sill of a bedroom on that side, and climbing across like a Barbary ape, he entered the window and stepped down inside. There was something anomalous in being close to the familiar furniture without having first seen his father, and its silent, impassive shine was not cheering; it was as if his relations were all dead, and only their tables and chests of drawers left to greet him. He went downstairs and seated himself in the dark parlour. Finding this place, too, rather solitary, and the tick of the invisible clock preternaturally loud, he unearthed the tinder-box, obtained a light, and set about making the house comfortable for his father's return, divining that the miller had gone out to meet him by the wrong road.
Robert's interest in this work increased as he proceeded, and he bustled round and round the kitchen as lightly as a girl. David, the indoor factotum, having lost himself among the quart pots of Budmouth, there had been nobody left here to prepare supper, and Bob had it all to himself. In a short time a fire blazed up the chimney, a tablecloth was found, the plates were clapped down, and a search made for what provisions the house afforded, which, in addition to various meats, included some fresh eggs of the elongated shape that produces cockerels when hatched, and had been set aside on that account for putting under the next broody hen.
A more reckless cracking of eggs than that which now went on had never been known in Overcombe since the last large christening; and as Loveday gashed one on the side, another at the end, another longways, and another diagonally, he acquired adroitness by practice, and at last made every son of a hen of them fall into two hemispheres as neatly as if it opened by a hinge. From eggs he proceeded to ham, and from ham to kidneys, the result being a brilliant fry.
Not to be tempted to fall to before his father came back, the returned navigator emptied the whole into a dish, laid a plate over the top, his coat over the plate, and his hat over his coat. Thus completely stopping in the appetizing smell, he sat down to await events. He was relieved from the tediousness of doing this by hearing voices outside; and in a minute his father entered.
'Glad to welcome ye home, father,' said Bob. 'And supper is just ready.'
'Lard, lard—why, Captain Bob's here!' said Mrs. Garland.
'And we've been out waiting to meet thee!' said the miller, as he entered the room, followed by representatives of the houses of Cripplestraw, Comfort, Mitchell, Beach, and Snooks, together with some small beginnings of Fencible Tremlett's posterity. In the rear came David, and quite in the vanishing-point of the composition, Anne the fair.
'I drove over; and so was forced to come by the road,' said Bob.
'And we went across the fields, thinking you'd walk,' said his father.
'I should have been here this morning; but not so much as a wheelbarrow could I get for my traps; everything was gone to the review. So I went too, thinking I might meet you there. I was then obliged to return to the harbour for the luggage.'
Then there was a welcoming of Captain Bob by pulling out his arms like drawers and shutting them again, smacking him on the back as if he were choking, holding him at arm's length as if he were of too large type to read close. All which persecution Bob bore with a wide, genial smile that was shaken into fragments and scattered promiscuously among the spectators.
'Get a chair for 'n!' said the miller to David, whom they had met in the fields and found to have got nothing worse by his absence than a slight slant in his walk.
'Never mind—I am not tired—I have been here ever so long,' said Bob. 'And I—' But the chair having been placed behind him, and a smart touch in the hollow of a person's knee by the edge of that piece of furniture having a tendency to make the person sit without further argument, Bob sank down dumb, and the others drew up other chairs at a convenient nearness for easy analytic vision and the subtler forms of good fellowship. The miller went about saying, 'David, the nine best glasses from the corner cupboard!'—'David, the corkscrew!'—'David, whisk the tail of thy smock-frock round the inside of these quart pots afore you draw drink in 'em—they be an inch thick in dust!'—'David, lower that chimney-crook a couple of notches that the flame may touch the bottom of the kettle, and light three more of the largest candles!'—'If you can't get the cork out of the jar, David, bore a hole in the tub of Hollands that's buried under the scroff in the fuel-house; d'ye hear?—Dan Brown left en there yesterday as a return for the little porker I gied en.'
When they had all had a thimbleful round, and the superfluous neighbours had reluctantly departed, one by one, the inmates gave their minds to the supper, which David had begun to serve up.
'What be you rolling back the tablecloth for, David?' said the miller.
'Maister Bob have put down one of the under sheets by mistake, and I thought you might not like it, sir, as there's ladies present!'
'Faith, 'twas the first thing that came to hand,' said Robert. 'It seemed a tablecloth to me.'
'Never mind—don't pull off the things now he's laid 'em down—let it bide,' said the miller. 'But where's Widow Garland and Maidy Anne?'
'They were here but a minute ago,' said David. 'Depend upon it they have slinked off 'cause they be shy.'
The miller at once went round to ask them to come back and sup with him; and while he was gone David told Bob in confidence what an excellent place he had for an old man.
'Yes, Cap'n Bob, as I suppose I must call ye; I've worked for yer father these eight-and-thirty years, and we have always got on very well together. Trusts me with all the keys, lends me his sleeve-waistcoat, and leaves the house entirely to me. Widow Garland next door, too, is just the same with me, and treats me as if I was her own child.'
'She must have married young to make you that, David.'
'Yes, yes—I'm years older than she. 'Tis only my common way of speaking.'
Mrs. Garland would not come in to supper, and the meal proceeded without her, Bob recommending to his father the dish he had cooked, in the manner of a householder to a stranger just come. The miller was anxious to know more about his son's plans for the future, but would not for the present interrupt his eating, looking up from his own plate to appreciate Bob's travelled way of putting English victuals out of sight, as he would have looked at a mill on improved principles.
David had only just got the table clear, and set the plates in a row under the bakehouse table for the cats to lick, when the door was hastily opened, and Mrs. Garland came in, looking concerned.
'I have been waiting to hear the plates removed to tell you how frightened we are at something we hear at the back-door. It seems like robbers muttering; but when I look out there's nobody there!'
'This must be seen to,' said the miller, rising promptly. 'David, light the middle-sized lantern. I'll go and search the garden.'
'And I'll go too,' said his son, taking up a cudgel. 'Lucky I've come home just in time!'
They went out stealthily, followed by the widow and Anne, who had been afraid to stay alone in the house under the circumstances. No sooner were they beyond the door when, sure enough, there was the muttering almost close at hand, and low upon the ground, as from persons lying down in hiding.
'Bless my heart!' said Bob, striking his head as though it were some enemy's: 'why, 'tis my luggage. I'd quite forgot it!'
'What!' asked his father.
'My luggage. Really, if it hadn't been for Mrs. Garland it would have stayed there all night, and they, poor things! would have been starved. I've got all sorts of articles for ye. You go inside, and I'll bring 'em in. 'Tis parrots that you hear a muttering, Mrs. Garland. You needn't be afraid any more.'
'Parrots?' said the miller. 'Well, I'm glad 'tis no worse. But how couldst forget so, Bob?'
The packages were taken in by David and Bob, and the first unfastened were three, wrapped in cloths, which being stripped off revealed three cages, with a gorgeous parrot in each.
'This one is for you, father, to hang up outside the door, and amuse us,' said Bob. 'He'll talk very well, but he's sleepy to-night. This other one I brought along for any neighbour that would like to have him. His colours are not so bright; but 'tis a good bird. If you would like to have him you are welcome to him,' he said, turning to Anne, who had been tempted forward by the birds. 'You have hardly spoken yet, Miss Anne, but I recollect you very well. How much taller you have got, to be sure!'
Anne said she was much obliged, but did not know what she could do with such a present. Mrs. Garland accepted it for her, and the sailor went on—'Now this other bird I hardly know what to do with; but I dare say he'll come in for something or other.'
'He is by far the prettiest,' said the widow. 'I would rather have it than the other, if you don't mind.'
'Yes,' said Bob, with embarrassment. 'But the fact is, that bird will hardly do for ye, ma'am. He's a hard swearer, to tell the truth; and I am afraid he's too old to be broken of it.'
'How dreadful!' said Mrs. Garland.
'We could keep him in the mill,' suggested the miller. 'It won't matter about the grinder hearing him, for he can't learn to cuss worse than he do already!'
'The grinder shall have him, then,' said Bob. 'The one I have given you, ma'am, has no harm in him at all. You might take him to church o' Sundays as far as that goes.'
The sailor now untied a small wooden box about a foot square, perforated with holes. 'Here are two marmosets,' he continued. 'You can't see them to-night; but they are beauties—the tufted sort.'
'What's a marmoset?' said the miller.
'O, a little kind of monkey. They bite strangers rather hard, but you'll soon get used to 'em.'
'They are wrapped up in something, I declare,' said Mrs. Garland, peeping in through a chink.
'Yes, that's my flannel shirt,' said Bob apologetically. 'They suffer terribly from cold in this climate, poor things! and I had nothing better to give them. Well, now, in this next box I've got things of different sorts.'
The latter was a regular seaman's chest, and out of it he produced shells of many sizes and colours, carved ivories, queer little caskets, gorgeous feathers, and several silk handkerchiefs, which articles were spread out upon all the available tables and chairs till the house began to look like a bazaar.
'What a lovely shawl!' exclaimed Widow Garland, in her interest forestalling the regular exhibition by looking into the box at what was coming.
'O yes,' said the mate, pulling out a couple of the most bewitching shawls that eyes ever saw. 'One of these I am going to give to that young lady I am shortly to be married to, you know, Mrs. Garland. Has father told you about it? Matilda Johnson, of Southampton, that's her name.'
'Yes, we know all about it,' said the widow.
'Well, I shall give one of these shawls to her—because, of course, I ought to.'
'Of course,' said she.
'But the other one I've got no use for at all; and,' he continued, looking round, 'will you have it, Miss Anne? You refused the parrot, and you ought not to refuse this.'
'Thank you,' said Anne calmly, but much distressed; 'but really I don't want it, and couldn't take it.'
'But do have it!' said Bob in hurt tones, Mrs. Garland being all the while on tenter-hooks lest Anne should persist in her absurd refusal.
'Why, there's another reason why you ought to!' said he, his face lighting up with recollections. 'It never came into my head till this moment that I used to be your beau in a humble sort of way. Faith, so I did, and we used to meet at places sometimes, didn't we—that is, when you were not too proud; and once I gave you, or somebody else, a bit of my hair in fun.'
'It was somebody else,' said Anne quickly.
'Ah, perhaps it was,' said Bob innocently. 'But it was you I used to meet, or try to, I am sure. Well, I've never thought of that boyish time for years till this minute! I am sure you ought to accept some one gift, dear, out of compliment to those old times!'
Anne drew back and shook her head, for she would not trust her voice.
'Well, Mrs. Garland, then you shall have it,' said Bob, tossing the shawl to that ready receiver. 'If you don't, upon my life I will throw it out to the first beggar I see. Now, here's a parcel of cap ribbons of the splendidest sort I could get. Have these—do, Anne!'
'Yes, do,' said Mrs. Garland.
'I promised them to Matilda,' continued Bob; 'but I am sure she won't want 'em, as she has got some of her own: and I would as soon see them upon your head, my dear, as upon hers.'
'I think you had better keep them for your bride if you have promised them to her,' said Mrs. Garland mildly.
'It wasn't exactly a promise. I just said, "Til, there's some cap ribbons in my box, if you would like to have them." But she's got enough things already for any bride in creation. Anne, now you shall have 'em—upon my soul you shall—or I'll fling them down the mill-tail!'
Anne had meant to be perfectly firm in refusing everything, for reasons obvious even to that poor waif, the meanest capacity; but when it came to this point she was absolutely compelled to give in, and reluctantly received the cap ribbons in her arms, blushing fitfully, and with her lip trembling in a motion which she tried to exhibit as a smile.
'What would Tilly say if she knew!' said the miller slily.
'Yes, indeed—and it is wrong of him!' Anne instantly cried, tears running down her face as she threw the parcel of ribbons on the floor. 'You'd better bestow your gifts where you bestow your l—l—love, Mr. Loveday—that's what I say!' And Anne turned her back and went away.
'I'll take them for her,' said Mrs. Garland, quickly picking up the parcel.
'Now that's a pity,' said Bob, looking regretfully after Anne. 'I didn't remember that she was a quick-tempered sort of girl at all. Tell her, Mrs. Garland, that I ask her pardon. But of course I didn't know she was too proud to accept a little present—how should I? Upon my life if it wasn't for Matilda I'd—Well, that can't be, of course.'
'What's this?' said Mrs. Garland, touching with her foot a large package that had been laid down by Bob unseen.
'That's a bit of baccy for myself,' said Robert meekly.
The examination of presents at last ended, and the two families parted for the night. When they were alone, Mrs. Garland said to Anne, 'What a close girl you are! I am sure I never knew that Bob Loveday and you had walked together: you must have been mere children.'
'O yes—so we were,' said Anne, now quite recovered. 'It was when we first came here, about a year after father died. We did not walk together in any regular way. You know I have never thought the Lovedays high enough for me. It was only just—nothing at all, and I had almost forgotten it.'
It is to be hoped that somebody's sins were forgiven her that night before she went to bed.
When Bob and his father were left alone, the miller said, 'Well, Robert, about this young woman of thine—Matilda what's her name?'
'Yes, father—Matilda Johnson. I was just going to tell ye about her.'
The miller nodded, and sipped his mug.
'Well, she is an excellent body,' continued Bob; 'that can truly be said—a real charmer, you know—a nice good comely young woman, a miracle of genteel breeding, you know, and all that. She can throw her hair into the nicest curls, and she's got splendid gowns and headclothes. In short, you might call her a land mermaid. She'll make such a first-rate wife as there never was.'
'No doubt she will,' said the miller; 'for I have never known thee wanting in sense in a jineral way.' He turned his cup round on its axis till the handle had travelled a complete circle. 'How long did you say in your letter that you had known her?'
'Not very long.'
'It don't sound long, 'tis true; and 'twas really longer—'twas fifteen days and a quarter. But hang it, father, I could see in the twinkling of an eye that the girl would do. I know a woman well enough when I see her—I ought to, indeed, having been so much about the world. Now, for instance, there's Widow Garland and her daughter. The girl is a nice little thing; but the old woman—O no!' Bob shook his head.
'What of her?' said his father, slightly shifting in his chair.
'Well, she's, she's—I mean, I should never have chose her, you know. She's of a nice disposition, and young for a widow with a grown-up daughter; but if all the men had been like me she would never have had a husband. I like her in some respects; but she's a style of beauty I don't care for.'
'O, if 'tis only looks you are thinking of,' said the miller, much relieved, 'there's nothing to be said, of course. Though there's many a duchess worse-looking, if it comes to argument, as you would find, my son,' he added, with a sense of having been mollified too soon.
The mate's thoughts were elsewhere by this time.
'As to my marrying Matilda, thinks I, here's one of the very genteelest sort, and I may as well do the job at once. So I chose her. She's a dear girl; there's nobody like her, search where you will.'
'How many did you choose her out from?' inquired his father.
'Well, she was the only young woman I happened to know in Southampton, that's true. But what of that? It would have been all the same if I had known a hundred.'
'Her father is in business near the docks, I suppose?'
'Well, no. In short, I didn't see her father.'
'Her mother? No, I didn't. I think her mother is dead; but she has got a very rich aunt living at Melchester. I didn't see her aunt, because there wasn't time to go; but of course we shall know her when we are married.'
'Yes, yes, of course,' said the miller, trying to feel quite satisfied. 'And she will soon be here?'
'Ay, she's coming soon,' said Bob. 'She has gone to this aunt's at Melchester to get her things packed, and suchlike, or she would have come with me. I am going to meet the coach at the King's Arms, Casterbridge, on Sunday, at one o'clock. To show what a capital sort of wife she'll be, I may tell you that she wanted to come by the Mercury, because 'tis a little cheaper than the other. But I said, "For once in your life do it well, and come by the Royal Mail, and I'll pay." I can have the pony and trap to fetch her, I suppose, as 'tis too far for her to walk?'
'Of course you can, Bob, or anything else. And I'll do all I can to give you a good wedding feast.'
XVI. THEY MAKE READY FOR THE ILLUSTRIOUS STRANGER
Preparations for Matilda's welcome, and for the event which was to follow, at once occupied the attention of the mill. The miller and his man had but dim notions of housewifery on any large scale; so the great wedding cleaning was kindly supervised by Mrs. Garland, Bob being mostly away during the day with his brother, the trumpet-major, on various errands, one of which was to buy paint and varnish for the gig that Matilda was to be fetched in, which he had determined to decorate with his own hands.
By the widow's direction the old familiar incrustation of shining dirt, imprinted along the back of the settle by the heads of countless jolly sitters, was scrubbed and scraped away; the brown circle round the nail whereon the miller hung his hat, stained by the brim in wet weather, was whitened over; the tawny smudges of bygone shoulders in the passage were removed without regard to a certain genial and historical value which they had acquired. The face of the clock, coated with verdigris as thick as a diachylon plaister, was rubbed till the figures emerged into day; while, inside the case of the same chronometer, the cobwebs that formed triangular hammocks, which the pendulum could hardly wade through, were cleared away at one swoop.
Mrs. Garland also assisted at the invasion of worm-eaten cupboards, where layers of ancient smells lingered on in the stagnant air, and recalled to the reflective nose the many good things that had been kept there. The upper floors were scrubbed with such abundance of water that the old-established death-watches, wood-lice, and flour-worms were all drowned, the suds trickling down into the room below in so lively and novel a manner as to convey the romantic notion that the miller lived in a cave with dripping stalactites.
They moved what had never been moved before—the oak coffer, containing the miller's wardrobe—a tremendous weight, what with its locks, hinges, nails, dirt, framework, and the hard stratification of old jackets, waistcoats, and knee-breeches at the bottom, never disturbed since the miller's wife died, and half pulverized by the moths, whose flattened skeletons lay amid the mass in thousands.
'It fairly makes my back open and shut!' said Loveday, as, in obedience to Mrs. Garland's direction, he lifted one corner, the grinder and David assisting at the others. 'All together: speak when ye be going to heave. Now!'
The pot covers and skimmers were brought to such a state that, on examining them, the beholder was not conscious of utensils, but of his own face in a condition of hideous elasticity. The broken clock-line was mended, the kettles rocked, the creeper nailed up, and a new handle put to the warming-pan. The large household lantern was cleaned out, after three years of uninterrupted accumulation, the operation yielding a conglomerate of candle-snuffs, candle-ends, remains of matches, lamp-black, and eleven ounces and a half of good grease—invaluable as dubbing for skitty boots and ointment for cart-wheels.
Everybody said that the mill residence had not been so thoroughly scoured for twenty years. The miller and David looked on with a sort of awe tempered by gratitude, tacitly admitting by their gaze that this was beyond what they had ever thought of. Mrs. Garland supervised all with disinterested benevolence. It would never have done, she said, for his future daughter-in-law to see the house in its original state. She would have taken a dislike to him, and perhaps to Bob likewise.
'Why don't ye come and live here with me, and then you would be able to see to it at all times?' said the miller as she bustled about again. To which she answered that she was considering the matter, and might in good time. He had previously informed her that his plan was to put Bob and his wife in the part of the house that she, Mrs. Garland, occupied, as soon as she chose to enter his, which relieved her of any fear of being incommoded by Matilda.
The cooking for the wedding festivities was on a proportionate scale of thoroughness. They killed the four supernumerary chickens that had just begun to crow, and the little curly-tailed barrow pig, in preference to the sow; not having been put up fattening for more than five weeks it was excellent small meat, and therefore more delicate and likely to suit a town-bred lady's taste than the large one, which, having reached the weight of fourteen score, might have been a little gross to a cultured palate. There were also provided a cold chine, stuffed veal, and two pigeon pies. Also thirty rings of black-pot, a dozen of white-pot, and ten knots of tender and well-washed chitterlings, cooked plain in case she should like a change.
As additional reserves there were sweetbreads, and five milts, sewed up at one side in the form of a chrysalis, and stuffed with thyme, sage, parsley, mint, groats, rice, milk, chopped egg, and other ingredients. They were afterwards roasted before a slow fire, and eaten hot.
The business of chopping so many herbs for the various stuffings was found to be aching work for women; and David, the miller, the grinder, and the grinder's boy being fully occupied in their proper branches, and Bob being very busy painting the gig and touching up the harness, Loveday called in a friendly dragoon of John's regiment who was passing by, and he, being a muscular man, willingly chopped all the afternoon for a quart of strong, judiciously administered, and all other victuals found, taking off his jacket and gloves, rolling up his shirt-sleeves and unfastening his collar in an honourable and energetic way.
All windfalls and maggot-cored codlins were excluded from the apple pies; and as there was no known dish large enough for the purpose, the puddings were stirred up in the milking-pail, and boiled in the three-legged bell- metal crock, of great weight and antiquity, which every travelling tinker for the previous thirty years had tapped with his stick, coveted, made a bid for, and often attempted to steal.
In the liquor line Loveday laid in an ample barrel of Casterbridge 'strong beer.' This renowned drink—now almost as much a thing of the past as Falstaff's favourite beverage—was not only well calculated to win the hearts of soldiers blown dry and dusty by residence in tents on a hill-top, but of any wayfarer whatever in that land. It was of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset; free from streakiness of taste; but, finally, rather heady. The masses worshipped it, the minor gentry loved it more than wine, and by the most illustrious county families it was not despised. Anybody brought up for being drunk and disorderly in the streets of its natal borough, had only to prove that he was a stranger to the place and its liquor to be honourably dismissed by the magistrates, as one overtaken in a fault that no man could guard against who entered the town unawares.
In addition, Mr. Loveday also tapped a hogshead of fine cider that he had had mellowing in the house for several months, having bought it of an honest down-country man, who did not colour, for any special occasion like the present. It had been pressed from fruit judiciously chosen by an old hand—Horner and Cleeves apple for the body, a few Tom-Putts for colour, and just a dash of Old Five-corners for sparkle—a selection originally made to please the palate of a well-known temperate earl who was a regular cider-drinker, and lived to be eighty-eight.
On the morning of the Sunday appointed for her coming Captain Bob Loveday set out to meet his bride. He had been all the week engaged in painting the gig, assisted by his brother at odd times, and it now appeared of a gorgeous yellow, with blue streaks, and tassels at the corners, and red wheels outlined with a darker shade. He put in the pony at half-past eleven, Anne looking at him from the door as he packed himself into the vehicle and drove off. There may be young women who look out at young men driving to meet their brides as Anne looked at Captain Bob, and yet are quite indifferent to the circumstances; but they are not often met with.
So much dust had been raised on the highway by traffic resulting from the presence of the Court at the town further on, that brambles hanging from the fence, and giving a friendly scratch to the wanderer's face, were dingy as church cobwebs; and the grass on the margin had assumed a paper- shaving hue. Bob's father had wished him to take David, lest, from want of recent experience at the whip, he should meet with any mishap; but, picturing to himself the awkwardness of three in such circumstances, Bob would not hear of this; and nothing more serious happened to his driving than that the wheel-marks formed two serpentine lines along the road during the first mile or two, before he had got his hand in, and that the horse shied at a milestone, a piece of paper, a sleeping tramp, and a wheelbarrow, just to make use of the opportunity of being in bad hands.
He entered Casterbridge between twelve and one, and, putting up at the Old Greyhound, walked on to the Bow. Here, rather dusty on the ledges of his clothes, he stood and waited while the people in their best summer dresses poured out of the three churches round him. When they had all gone, and a smell of cinders and gravy had spread down the ancient high- street, and the pie-dishes from adjacent bakehouses had all travelled past, he saw the mail coach rise above the arch of Grey's Bridge, a quarter of a mile distant, surmounted by swaying knobs, which proved to be the heads of the outside travellers.
'That's the way for a man's bride to come to him,' said Robert to himself with a feeling of poetry; and as the horn sounded and the horses clattered up the street he walked down to the inn. The knot of hostlers and inn-servants had gathered, the horses were dragged from the vehicle, and the passengers for Casterbridge began to descend. Captain Bob eyed them over, looked inside, looked outside again; to his disappointment Matilda was not there, nor her boxes, nor anything that was hers. Neither coachman nor guard had seen or heard of such a person at Melchester; and Bob walked slowly away.
Depressed by forebodings to an extent which took away nearly a third of his appetite, he sat down in the parlour of the Old Greyhound to a slice from the family joint of the landlord. This gentleman, who dined in his shirt-sleeves, partly because it was August, and partly from a sense that they would not be so fit for public view further on in the week, suggested that Bob should wait till three or four that afternoon, when the road-waggon would arrive, as the lost lady might have preferred that mode of conveyance; and when Bob appeared rather hurt at the suggestion, the landlord's wife assured him, as a woman who knew good life, that many genteel persons travelled in that way during the present high price of provisions. Loveday, who knew little of travelling by land, readily accepted her assurance and resolved to wait.
Wandering up and down the pavement, or leaning against some hot wall between the waggon-office and the corner of the street above, he passed the time away. It was a still, sunny, drowsy afternoon, and scarcely a soul was visible in the length and breadth of the street. The office was not far from All Saints' Church, and the church-windows being open, he could hear the afternoon service from where he lingered as distinctly as if he had been one of the congregation. Thus he was mentally conducted through the Psalms, through the first and second lessons, through the burst of fiddles and clarionets which announced the evening-hymn, and well into the sermon, before any signs of the waggon could be seen upon the London road.
The afternoon sermons at this church being of a dry and metaphysical nature at that date, it was by a special providence that the waggon-office was placed near the ancient fabric, so that whenever the Sunday waggon was late, which it always was in hot weather, in cold weather, in wet weather, and in weather of almost every other sort, the rattle, dismounting, and swearing outside completely drowned the parson's voice within, and sustained the flagging interest of the congregation at precisely the right moment. No sooner did the charity children begin to writhe on their benches, and adult snores grow audible, than the waggon arrived.
Captain Loveday felt a kind of sinking in his poetry at the possibility of her for whom they had made such preparations being in the slow, unwieldy vehicle which crunched its way towards him; but he would not give in to the weakness. Neither would he walk down the street to meet the waggon, lest she should not be there. At last the broad wheels drew up against the kerb, the waggoner with his white smock-frock, and whip as long as a fishing-line, descended from the pony on which he rode alongside, and the six broad-chested horses backed from their collars and shook themselves. In another moment something showed forth, and he knew that Matilda was there.
Bob felt three cheers rise within him as she stepped down; but it being Sunday he did not utter them. In dress, Miss Johnson passed his expectations—a green and white gown, with long, tight sleeves, a green silk handkerchief round her neck and crossed in front, a green parasol, and green gloves. It was strange enough to see this verdant caterpillar turn out of a road-waggon, and gracefully shake herself free from the bits of straw and fluff which would usually gather on the raiment of the grandest travellers by that vehicle.
'But, my dear Matilda,' said Bob, when he had kissed her three times with much publicity—the practical step he had determined on seeming to demand that these things should no longer be done in a corner—'my dear Matilda, why didn't you come by the coach, having the money for't and all?'
'That's my scrimping!' said Matilda in a delightful gush. 'I know you won't be offended when you know I did it to save against a rainy day!'
Bob, of course, was not offended, though the glory of meeting her had been less; and even if vexation were possible, it would have been out of place to say so. Still, he would have experienced no little surprise had he learnt the real reason of his Matilda's change of plan. That angel had, in short, so wildly spent Bob's and her own money in the adornment of her person before setting out, that she found herself without a sufficient margin for her fare by coach, and had scrimped from sheer necessity.
'Well, I have got the trap out at the Greyhound,' said Bob. 'I don't know whether it will hold your luggage and us too; but it looked more respectable than the waggon on a Sunday, and if there's not room for the boxes I can walk alongside.'
'I think there will be room,' said Miss Johnson mildly. And it was soon very evident that she spoke the truth; for when her property was deposited on the pavement, it consisted of a trunk about eighteen inches long, and nothing more.
'O—that's all!' said Captain Loveday, surprised.
'That's all,' said the young woman assuringly. 'I didn't want to give trouble, you know, and what I have besides I have left at my aunt's.'
'Yes, of course,' he answered readily. 'And as it's no bigger, I can carry it in my hand to the inn, and so it will be no trouble at all.'
He caught up the little box, and they went side by side to the Greyhound; and in ten minutes they were trotting up the Southern Road.
Bob did not hurry the horse, there being many things to say and hear, for which the present situation was admirably suited. The sun shone occasionally into Matilda's face as they drove on, its rays picking out all her features to a great nicety. Her eyes would have been called brown, but they were really eel-colour, like many other nice brown eyes; they were well-shaped and rather bright, though they had more of a broad shine than a sparkle. She had a firm, sufficient nose, which seemed to say of itself that it was good as noses go. She had rather a picturesque way of wrapping her upper in her lower lip, so that the red of the latter showed strongly. Whenever she gazed against the sun towards the distant hills, she brought into her forehead, without knowing it, three short vertical lines—not there at other times—giving her for the moment rather a hard look. And in turning her head round to a far angle, to stare at something or other that he pointed out, the drawn flesh of her neck became a mass of lines. But Bob did not look at these things, which, of course, were of no significance; for had she not told him, when they compared ages, that she was a little over two-and-twenty?
As Nature was hardly invented at this early point of the century, Bob's Matilda could not say much about the glamour of the hills, or the shimmering of the foliage, or the wealth of glory in the distant sea, as she would doubtless have done had she lived later on; but she did her best to be interesting, asking Bob about matters of social interest in the neighbourhood, to which she seemed quite a stranger.
'Is your watering-place a large city?' she inquired when they mounted the hill where the Overcombe folk had waited for the King.
'Bless you, my dear—no! 'Twould be nothing if it wasn't for the Royal Family, and the lords and ladies, and the regiments of soldiers, and the frigates, and the King's messengers, and the actors and actresses, and the games that go on.'
At the words 'actors and actresses,' the innocent young thing pricked up her ears.
'Does Elliston pay as good salaries this summer as in—?'
'O, you know about it then? I thought—'
'O no, no! I have heard of Budmouth—read in the papers, you know, dear Robert, about the doings there, and the actors and actresses, you know.'
'Yes, yes, I see. Well, I have been away from England a long time, and don't know much about the theatre in the town; but I'll take you there some day. Would it be a treat to you?'
'O, an amazing treat!' said Miss Johnson, with an ecstasy in which a close observer might have discovered a tinge of ghastliness.
'You've never been into one perhaps, dear?'
'N—never,' said Matilda flatly. 'Whatever do I see yonder—a row of white things on the down?'
'Yes, that's a part of the encampment above Overcombe. Lots of soldiers are encamped about here; those are the white tops of their tents.'
He pointed to a wing of the camp that had become visible. Matilda was much interested.
'It will make it very lively for us,' he added, 'especially as John is there.'
She thought so too, and thus they chatted on.
XVII. TWO FAINTING FITS AND A BEWILDERMENT
Meanwhile Miller Loveday was expecting the pair with interest; and about five o'clock, after repeated outlooks, he saw two specks the size of caraway seeds on the far line of ridge where the sunlit white of the road met the blue of the sky. Then the remainder parts of Bob and his lady became visible, and then the whole vehicle, end on, and he heard the dry rattle of the wheels on the dusty road. Miller Loveday's plan, as far as he had formed any, was that Robert and his wife should live with him in the millhouse until Mrs. Garland made up her mind to join him there; in which event her present house would be made over to the young couple. Upon all grounds, he wished to welcome becomingly the woman of his son's choice, and came forward promptly as they drew up at the door.
'What a lovely place you've got here!' said Miss Johnson, when the miller had received her from the captain. 'A real stream of water, a real mill- wheel, and real fowls, and everything!'
'Yes, 'tis real enough,' said Loveday, looking at the river with balanced sentiments; 'and so you will say when you've lived here a bit as mis'ess, and had the trouble of claning the furniture.'
At this Miss Johnson looked modest, and continued to do so till Anne, not knowing they were there, came round the corner of the house, with her prayer-book in her hand, having just arrived from church. Bob turned and smiled to her, at which Miss Johnson looked glum. How long she would have remained in that phase is unknown, for just then her ears were assailed by a loud bass note from the other side, causing her to jump round.
'O la! what dreadful thing is it?' she exclaimed, and beheld a cow of Loveday's, of the name of Crumpler, standing close to her shoulder. It being about milking-time, she had come to look up David and hasten on the operation.
'O, what a horrid bull!—it did frighten me so. I hope I shan't faint,' said Matilda.
The miller immediately used the formula which has been uttered by the proprietors of live stock ever since Noah's time. 'She won't hurt ye. Hoosh, Crumpler! She's as timid as a mouse, ma'am.'
But as Crumpler persisted in making another terrific inquiry for David, Matilda could not help closing her eyes and saying, 'O, I shall be gored to death!' her head falling back upon Bob's shoulder, which—seeing the urgent circumstances, and knowing her delicate nature—he had providentially placed in a position to catch her. Anne Garland, who had been standing at the corner of the house, not knowing whether to go back or come on, at this felt her womanly sympathies aroused. She ran and dipped her handkerchief into the splashing mill-tail, and with it damped Matilda's face. But as her eyes still remained closed, Bob, to increase the effect, took the handkerchief from Anne and wrung it out on the bridge of Matilda's nose, whence it ran over the rest of her face in a stream.
'O, Captain Loveday!' said Anne, 'the water is running over her green silk handkerchief, and into her pretty reticule!'
'There—if I didn't think so!' exclaimed Matilda, opening her eyes, starting up, and promptly pulling out her own handkerchief, with which she wiped away the drops, and an unimportant trifle of her complexion, assisted by Anne, who, in spite of her background of antagonistic emotions, could not help being interested.
'That's right!' said the miller, his spirits reviving with the revival of Matilda. 'The lady is not used to country life; are you, ma'am?'
'I am not,' replied the sufferer. 'All is so strange about here!'
Suddenly there spread into the firmament, from the direction of the down:—
'Ra, ta, ta! Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta! Ra, ta, ta!'
'O dear, dear! more hideous country sounds, I suppose?' she inquired, with another start.
'O no,' said the miller cheerfully. ''Tis only my son John's trumpeter chaps at the camp of dragoons just above us, a-blowing Mess, or Feed, or Picket, or some other of their vagaries. John will be much pleased to tell you the meaning on't when he comes down. He's trumpet-major, as you may know, ma'am.'
'O yes; you mean Captain Loveday's brother. Dear Bob has mentioned him.'
'If you come round to Widow Garland's side of the house, you can see the camp,' said the miller.
'Don't force her; she's tired with her long journey,' said Mrs. Garland humanely, the widow having come out in the general wish to see Captain Bob's choice. Indeed, they all behaved towards her as if she were a tender exotic, which their crude country manners might seriously injure.
She went into the house, accompanied by Mrs. Garland and her daughter; though before leaving Bob she managed to whisper in his ear, 'Don't tell them I came by waggon, will you, dear?'—a request which was quite needless, for Bob had long ago determined to keep that a dead secret; not because it was an uncommon mode of travel, but simply that it was hardly the usual conveyance for a gorgeous lady to her bridal.
As the men had a feeling that they would be superfluous indoors just at present, the miller assisted David in taking the horse round to the stables, Bob following, and leaving Matilda to the women. Indoors, Miss Johnson admired everything: the new parrots and marmosets, the black beams of the ceiling, the double-corner cupboard with the glass doors, through which gleamed the remainders of sundry china sets acquired by Bob's mother in her housekeeping—two-handled sugar-basins, no-handled tea-cups, a tea-pot like a pagoda, and a cream-jug in the form of a spotted cow. This sociability in their visitor was returned by Mrs. Garland and Anne; and Miss Johnson's pleasing habit of partly dying whenever she heard any unusual bark or bellow added to her piquancy in their eyes. But conversation, as such, was naturally at first of a nervous, tentative kind, in which, as in the works of some minor poets, the sense was considerably led by the sound.
'You get the sea-breezes here, no doubt?'
'O yes, dear; when the wind is that way.'
'Do you like windy weather?'
'Yes; though not now, for it blows down the young apples.'
'Apples are plentiful, it seems. You country-folk call St. Swithin's their christening day, if it rains?'
'Yes, dear. Ah me! I have not been to a christening for these many years; the baby's name was George, I remember—after the King.'
'I hear that King George is still staying at the town here. I hope he'll stay till I have seen him!'
'He'll wait till the corn turns yellow; he always does.'
'How very fashionable yellow is getting for gloves just now!'
'Yes. Some persons wear them to the elbow, I hear.'
'Do they? I was not aware of that. I struck my elbow last week so hard against the door of my aunt's mansion that I feel the ache now.'
Before they were quite overwhelmed by the interest of this discourse, the miller and Bob came in. In truth, Mrs. Garland found the office in which he had placed her—that of introducing a strange woman to a house which was not the widow's own—a rather awkward one, and yet almost a necessity. There was no woman belonging to the house except that wondrous compendium of usefulness, the intermittent maid-servant, whom Loveday had, for appearances, borrowed from Mrs. Garland, and Mrs. Garland was in the habit of borrowing from the girl's mother. And as for the demi-woman David, he had been informed as peremptorily as Pharaoh's baker that the office of housemaid and bedmaker was taken from him, and would be given to this girl till the wedding was over, and Bob's wife took the management into her own hands.
They all sat down to high tea, Anne and her mother included, and the captain sitting next to Miss Johnson. Anne had put a brave face upon the matter—outwardly, at least—and seemed in a fair way of subduing any lingering sentiment which Bob's return had revived. During the evening, and while they still sat over the meal, John came down on a hurried visit, as he had promised, ostensibly on purpose to be introduced to his intended sister-in-law, but much more to get a word and a smile from his beloved Anne. Before they saw him, they heard the trumpet-major's smart step coming round the corner of the house, and in a moment his form darkened the door. As it was Sunday, he appeared in his full-dress laced coat, white waistcoat and breeches, and towering plume, the latter of which he instantly lowered, as much from necessity as good manners, the beam in the mill-house ceiling having a tendency to smash and ruin all such head-gear without warning.
'John, we've been hoping you would come down,' said the miller, 'and so we have kept the tay about on purpose. Draw up, and speak to Mrs. Matilda Johnson. . . . Ma'am, this is Robert's brother.'
'Your humble servant, ma'am,' said the trumpet-major gallantly.
As it was getting dusk in the low, small-paned room, he instinctively moved towards Miss Johnson as he spoke, who sat with her back to the window. He had no sooner noticed her features than his helmet nearly fell from his hand; his face became suddenly fixed, and his natural complexion took itself off, leaving a greenish yellow in its stead. The young person, on her part, had no sooner looked closely at him than she said weakly, 'Robert's brother!' and changed colour yet more rapidly than the soldier had done. The faintness, previously half counterfeit, seized on her now in real earnest.
'I don't feel well,' she said, suddenly rising by an effort. 'This warm day has quite upset me!'
There was a regular collapse of the tea-party, like that of the Hamlet play scene. Bob seized his sweetheart and carried her upstairs, the miller exclaiming, 'Ah, she's terribly worn by the journey! I thought she was when I saw her nearly go off at the blare of the cow. No woman would have been frightened at that if she'd been up to her natural strength.'
'That, and being so very shy of men, too, must have made John's handsome regimentals quite overpowering to her, poor thing,' added Mrs. Garland, following the catastrophic young lady upstairs, whose indisposition was this time beyond question. And yet, by some perversity of the heart, she was as eager now to make light of her faintness as she had been to make much of it two or three hours ago.
The miller and John stood like straight sticks in the room the others had quitted, John's face being hastily turned towards a caricature of Buonaparte on the wall that he had not seen more than a hundred and fifty times before.
'Come, sit down and have a dish of tea, anyhow,' said his father at last. 'She'll soon be right again, no doubt.'
'Thanks; I don't want any tea,' said John quickly. And, indeed, he did not, for he was in one gigantic ache from head to foot.
The light had been too dim for anybody to notice his amazement; and not knowing where to vent it, the trumpet-major said he was going out for a minute. He hastened to the bakehouse; but David being there, he went to the pantry; but the maid being there, he went to the cart-shed; but a couple of tramps being there, he went behind a row of French beans in the garden, where he let off an ejaculation the most pious that he had uttered that Sabbath day: 'Heaven! what's to be done!'
And then he walked wildly about the paths of the dusky garden, where the trickling of the brooks seemed loud by comparison with the stillness around; treading recklessly on the cracking snails that had come forth to feed, and entangling his spurs in the long grass till the rowels were choked with its blades. Presently he heard another person approaching, and his brother's shape appeared between the stubbard tree and the hedge.
'O, is it you?' said the mate.
'Yes. I am—taking a little air.'
'She is getting round nicely again; and as I am not wanted indoors just now, I am going into the village to call upon a friend or two I have not been able to speak to as yet.'
John took his brother Bob's hand. Bob rather wondered why.
'All right, old boy,' he said. 'Going into the village? You'll be back again, I suppose, before it gets very late?'
'O yes,' said Captain Bob cheerfully, and passed out of the garden.
John allowed his eyes to follow his brother till his shape could not be seen, and then he turned and again walked up and down.
XVIII. THE NIGHT AFTER THE ARRIVAL
John continued his sad and heavy pace till walking seemed too old and worn-out a way of showing sorrow so new, and he leant himself against the fork of an apple-tree like a log. There the trumpet-major remained for a considerable time, his face turned towards the house, whose ancient, many- chimneyed outline rose against the darkened sky, and just shut out from his view the camp above. But faint noises coming thence from horses restless at the pickets, and from visitors taking their leave, recalled its existence, and reminded him that, in consequence of Matilda's arrival, he had obtained leave for the night—a fact which, owing to the startling emotions that followed his entry, he had not yet mentioned to his friends.
While abstractedly considering how he could best use that privilege under the new circumstances which had arisen, he heard Farmer Derriman drive up to the front door and hold a conversation with his father. The old man had at last apparently brought the tin box of private papers that he wished the miller to take charge of during Derriman's absence; and it being a calm night, John could hear, though he little heeded, Uncle Benjy's reiterated supplications to Loveday to keep it safe from fire and thieves. Then Uncle Benjy left, and John's father went upstairs to deposit the box in a place of security, the whole proceeding reaching John's preoccupied comprehension merely as voices during sleep.
The next thing was the appearance of a light in the bedroom which had been assigned to Matilda Johnson. This effectually aroused the trumpet- major, and with a stealthiness unusual in him he went indoors. No light was in the lower rooms, his father, Mrs. Garland, and Anne having gone out on the bridge to look at the new moon. John went upstairs on tip- toe, and along the uneven passage till he came to her door. It was standing ajar, a band of candlelight shining across the passage and up the opposite wall. As soon as he entered the radiance he saw her. She was standing before the looking-glass, apparently lost in thought, her fingers being clasped behind her head in abstraction, and the light falling full upon her face.
'I must speak to you,' said the trumpet-major.
She started, turned and grew paler than before; and then, as if moved by a sudden impulse, she swung the door wide open, and, coming out, said quite collectedly and with apparent pleasantness, 'O yes; you are my Bob's brother! I didn't, for a moment, recognize you.'
'But you do now?'
'As Bob's brother.'
'You have not seen me before?'
'I have not,' she answered, with a face as impassible as Talleyrand's.
'I have not!' she repeated.
'Nor any of the —th Dragoons? Captain Jolly, for instance?'
'You mistake. I'll remind you of particulars,' he said drily. And he did remind her at some length.
'Never!' she said desperately.
But she had miscalculated her staying powers, and her adversary's character. Five minutes after that she was in tears, and the conversation had resolved itself into words, which, on the soldier's part, were of the nature of commands, tempered by pity, and were a mere series of entreaties on hers.
The whole scene did not last ten minutes. When it was over, the trumpet- major walked from the doorway where they had been standing, and brushed moisture from his eyes. Reaching a dark lumber-room, he stood still there to calm himself, and then descended by a Flemish-ladder to the bakehouse, instead of by the front stairs. He found that the others, including Bob, had gathered in the parlour during his absence and lighted the candles.
Miss Johnson, having sent down some time before John re-entered the house to say that she would prefer to keep her room that evening, was not expected to join them, and on this account Bob showed less than his customary liveliness. The miller wishing to keep up his son's spirits, expressed his regret that, it being Sunday night, they could have no songs to make the evening cheerful; when Mrs. Garland proposed that they should sing psalms which, by choosing lively tunes and not thinking of the words, would be almost as good as ballads.
This they did, the trumpet-major appearing to join in with the rest; but as a matter of fact no sound came from his moving lips. His mind was in such a state that he derived no pleasure even from Anne Garland's presence, though he held a corner of the same book with her, and was treated in a winsome way which it was not her usual practice to indulge in. She saw that his mind was clouded, and, far from guessing the reason why, was doing her best to clear it.
At length the Garlands found that it was the hour for them to leave, and John Loveday at the same time wished his father and Bob good-night, and went as far as Mrs. Garland's door with her.
He had said not a word to show that he was free to remain out of camp, for the reason that there was painful work to be done, which it would be best to do in secret and alone. He lingered near the house till its reflected window-lights ceased to glimmer upon the mill-pond, and all within the dwelling was dark and still. Then he entered the garden and waited there till the back door opened, and a woman's figure timorously came forward. John Loveday at once went up to her, and they began to talk in low yet dissentient tones.
They had conversed about ten minutes, and were parting as if they had come to some painful arrangement, Miss Johnson sobbing bitterly, when a head stealthily arose above the dense hedgerow, and in a moment a shout burst from its owner.
'Thieves! thieves!—my tin box!—thieves! thieves!'
Matilda vanished into the house, and John Loveday hastened to the hedge. 'For heaven's sake, hold your tongue, Mr. Derriman!' he exclaimed.
'My tin box!' said Uncle Benjy. 'O, only the trumpet-major!'
'Your box is safe enough, I assure you. It was only'—here the trumpet- major gave vent to an artificial laugh—'only a sly bit of courting, you know.'
'Ha, ha, I see!' said the relieved old squireen. 'Courting Miss Anne! Then you've ousted my nephew, trumpet-major! Well, so much the better. As for myself, the truth on't is that I haven't been able to go to bed easy, for thinking that possibly your father might not take care of what I put under his charge; and at last I thought I would just step over and see if all was safe here before I turned in. And when I saw your two shapes my poor nerves magnified ye to housebreakers, and Boneys, and I don't know what all.'
'You have alarmed the house,' said the trumpet-major, hearing the clicking of flint and steel in his father's bedroom, followed in a moment by the rise of a light in the window of the same apartment. 'You have got me into difficulty,' he added gloomily, as his father opened the casement.
'I am sorry for that,' said Uncle Benjy. 'But step back; I'll put it all right again.'
'What, for heaven's sake, is the matter?' said the miller, his tasselled nightcap appearing in the opening.
'Nothing, nothing!' said the farmer. 'I was uneasy about my few bonds and documents, and I walked this way, miller, before going to bed, as I start from home to-morrow morning. When I came down by your garden-hedge, I thought I saw thieves, but it turned out to be—to be—'
Here a lump of earth from the trumpet-major's hand struck Uncle Benjy in the back as a reminder.
'To be—the bough of a cherry-tree a-waving in the wind. Good-night.'
'No thieves are like to try my house,' said Miller Loveday. 'Now don't you come alarming us like this again, farmer, or you shall keep your box yourself, begging your pardon for saying so. Good-night t' ye!'
'Miller, will ye just look, since I am here—just look and see if the box is all right? there's a good man! I am old, you know, and my poor remains are not what my original self was. Look and see if it is where you put it, there's a good, kind man.'
'Very well,' said the miller good-humouredly.
'Neighbour Loveday! on second thoughts I will take my box home again, after all, if you don't mind. You won't deem it ill of me? I have no suspicion, of course; but now I think on't there's rivalry between my nephew and your son; and if Festus should take it into his head to set your house on fire in his enmity, 'twould be bad for my deeds and documents. No offence, miller, but I'll take the box, if you don't mind.'
'Faith! I don't mind,' said Loveday. 'But your nephew had better think twice before he lets his enmity take that colour.' Receding from the window, he took the candle to a back part of the room and soon reappeared with the tin box.
'I won't trouble ye to dress,' said Derriman considerately; 'let en down by anything you have at hand.'
The box was lowered by a cord, and the old man clasped it in his arms. 'Thank ye!' he said with heartfelt gratitude. 'Good-night!'
The miller replied and closed the window, and the light went out.
'There, now I hope you are satisfied, sir?' said the trumpet-major.
'Quite, quite!' said Derriman; and, leaning on his walking-stick, he pursued his lonely way.
That night Anne lay awake in her bed, musing on the traits of the new friend who had come to her neighbour's house. She would not be critical, it was ungenerous and wrong; but she could not help thinking of what interested her. And were there, she silently asked, in Miss Johnson's mind and person such rare qualities as placed that lady altogether beyond comparison with herself? O yes, there must be; for had not Captain Bob singled out Matilda from among all other women, herself included? Of course, with his world-wide experience, he knew best.
When the moon had set, and only the summer stars threw their light into the great damp garden, she fancied that she heard voices in that direction. Perhaps they were the voices of Bob and Matilda taking a lover's walk before retiring. If so, how sleepy they would be next day, and how absurd it was of Matilda to pretend she was tired! Ruminating in this way, and saying to herself that she hoped they would be happy, Anne fell asleep.
XIX. MISS JOHNSON'S BEHAVIOUR CAUSES NO LITTLE SURPRISE
Partly from the excitement of having his Matilda under the paternal roof, Bob rose next morning as early as his father and the grinder, and, when the big wheel began to patter and the little ones to mumble in response, went to sun himself outside the mill-front, among the fowls of brown and speckled kinds which haunted that spot, and the ducks that came up from the mill-tail.
Standing on the worn-out mill-stone inlaid in the gravel, he talked with his father on various improvements of the premises, and on the proposed arrangements for his permanent residence there, with an enjoyment that was half based upon this prospect of the future, and half on the penetrating warmth of the sun to his back and shoulders. Then the different troops of horses began their morning scramble down to the mill- pond, and, after making it very muddy round the edge, ascended the slope again. The bustle of the camp grew more and more audible, and presently David came to say that breakfast was ready.
'Is Miss Johnson downstairs?' said the miller; and Bob listened for the answer, looking at a blue sentinel aloft on the down.
'Not yet, maister,' said the excellent David.
'We'll wait till she's down,' said Loveday. 'When she is, let us know.'
David went indoors again, and Loveday and Bob continued their morning survey by ascending into the mysterious quivering recesses of the mill, and holding a discussion over a second pair of burr-stones, which had to be re-dressed before they could be used again. This and similar things occupied nearly twenty minutes, and, looking from the window, the elder of the two was reminded of the time of day by seeing Mrs. Garland's table- cloth fluttering from her back door over the heads of a flock of pigeons that had alighted for the crumbs.
'I suppose David can't find us,' he said, with a sense of hunger that was not altogether strange to Bob. He put out his head and shouted.
'The lady is not down yet,' said his man in reply.
'No hurry, no hurry,' said the miller, with cheerful emptiness. 'Bob, to pass the time we'll look into the garden.'
'She'll get up sooner than this, you know, when she's signed articles and got a berth here,' Bob observed apologetically.
'Yes, yes,' said Loveday; and they descended into the garden.
Here they turned over sundry flat stones and killed the slugs sheltered beneath them from the coming heat of the day, talking of slugs in all their branches—of the brown and the black, of the tough and the tender, of the reason why there were so many in the garden that year, of the coming time when the grass-walks harbouring them were to be taken up and gravel laid, and of the relatively exterminatory merits of a pair of scissors and the heel of the shoe. At last the miller said, 'Well, really, Bob, I'm hungry; we must begin without her.'
They were about to go in, when David appeared with haste in his motions, his eyes wider vertically than crosswise, and his cheeks nearly all gone.
'Maister, I've been to call her; and as 'a didn't speak I rapped, and as 'a didn't answer I kicked, and not being latched the door opened, and—she's gone!'
Bob went off like a swallow towards the house, and the miller followed like the rather heavy man that he was. That Miss Matilda was not in her room, or a scrap of anything belonging to her, was soon apparent. They searched every place in which she could possibly hide or squeeze herself, every place in which she could not, but found nothing at all.
Captain Bob was quite wild with astonishment and grief. When he was quite sure that she was nowhere in his father's house, he ran into Mrs. Garland's, and telling them the story so hastily that they hardly understood the particulars, he went on towards Comfort's house, intending to raise the alarm there, and also at Mitchell's, Beach's, Cripplestraw's, the parson's, the clerk's, the camp of dragoons, of hussars, and so on through the whole county. But he paused, and thought it would be hardly expedient to publish his discomfiture in such a way. If Matilda had left the house for any freakish reason he would not care to look for her, and if her deed had a tragic intent she would keep aloof from camp and village.
In his trouble he thought of Anne. She was a nice girl and could be trusted. To her he went, and found her in a state of excitement and anxiety which equalled his own.
''Tis so lonely to cruise for her all by myself!' said Bob disconsolately, his forehead all in wrinkles, 'and I've thought you would come with me and cheer the way?'
'Where shall we search?' said Anne.
'O, in the holes of rivers, you know, and down wells, and in quarries, and over cliffs, and like that. Your eyes might catch the loom of any bit of a shawl or bonnet that I should overlook, and it would do me a real service. Please do come!'
So Anne took pity upon him, and put on her hat and went, the miller and David having gone off in another direction. They examined the ditches of fields, Bob going round by one fence and Anne by the other, till they met at the opposite side. Then they peeped under culverts, into outhouses, and down old wells and quarries, till the theory of a tragical end had nearly spent its force in Bob's mind, and he began to think that Matilda had simply run away. However, they still walked on, though by this time the sun was hot and Anne would gladly have sat down.
'Now, didn't you think highly of her, Miss Garland?' he inquired, as the search began to languish.
'O yes,' said Anne, 'very highly.'
'She was really beautiful; no nonsense about her looks, was there?'
'None. Her beauty was thoroughly ripe—not too young. We should all have got to love her. What can have possessed her to go away?'
'I don't know, and, upon my life, I shall soon be drove to say I don't care!' replied the mate despairingly. 'Let me pilot ye down over those stones,' he added, as Anne began to descend a rugged quarry. He stepped forward, leapt down, and turned to her.
She gave him her hand and sprang down. Before he relinquished his hold, Captain Bob raised her fingers to his lips and kissed them.
'O, Captain Loveday!' cried Anne, snatching away her hand in genuine dismay, while a tear rose unexpectedly to each eye. 'I never heard of such a thing! I won't go an inch further with you, sir; it is too barefaced!' And she turned and ran off.
'Upon my life I didn't mean it!' said the repentant captain, hastening after. 'I do love her best—indeed I do—and I don't love you at all! I am not so fickle as that! I merely just for the moment admired you as a sweet little craft, and that's how I came to do it. You know, Miss Garland,' he continued earnestly, and still running after, ''tis like this: when you come ashore after having been shut up in a ship for eighteen months, women-folks seem so new and nice that you can't help liking them, one and all in a body; and so your heart is apt to get scattered and to yaw a bit; but of course I think of poor Matilda most, and shall always stick to her.' He heaved a sigh of tremendous magnitude, to show beyond the possibility of doubt that his heart was still in the place that honour required.
'I am glad to hear that—of course I am very glad!' said she, with quick petulance, keeping her face turned from him. 'And I hope we shall find her, and that the wedding will not be put off, and that you'll both be happy. But I won't look for her any more! No; I don't care to look for her—and my head aches. I am going home!'
'And so am I,' said Robert promptly.
'No, no; go on looking for her, of course—all the afternoon, and all night. I am sure you will, if you love her.'
'O yes; I mean to. Still, I ought to convoy you home first?'
'No, you ought not; and I shall not accept your company. Good-morning, sir!' And she went off over one of the stone stiles with which the spot abounded, leaving the friendly sailor standing in the field.
He sighed again, and, observing the camp not far off, thought he would go to his brother John and ask him his opinion on the sorrowful case. On reaching the tents he found that John was not at liberty just at that time, being engaged in practising the trumpeters; and leaving word that he wished the trumpet-major to come down to the mill as soon as possible, Bob went back again.
''Tis no good looking for her,' he said gloomily. 'She liked me well enough, but when she came here and saw the house, and the place, and the old horse, and the plain furniture, she was disappointed to find us all so homely, and felt she didn't care to marry into such a family!'
His father and David had returned with no news.
'Yes, 'tis as I've been thinking, father,' Bob said. 'We weren't good enough for her, and she went away in scorn!'
'Well, that can't be helped,' said the miller. 'What we be, we be, and have been for generations. To my mind she seemed glad enough to get hold of us!'
'Yes, yes—for the moment—because of the flowers, and birds, and what's pretty in the place,' said Bob tragically. 'But you don't know, father—how should you know, who have hardly been out of Overcombe in your life?—you don't know what delicate feelings are in a real refined woman's mind. Any little vulgar action unreaves their nerves like a marline-spike. Now I wonder if you did anything to disgust her?'
'Faith! not that I know of,' said Loveday, reflecting. 'I didn't say a single thing that I should naturally have said, on purpose to give no offence.'
'You was always very homely, you know, father.'
'Yes; so I was,' said the miller meekly.
'I wonder what it could have been,' Bob continued, wandering about restlessly. 'You didn't go drinking out of the big mug with your mouth full, or wipe your lips with your sleeve?'
'That I'll swear I didn't!' said the miller firmly. 'Thinks I, there's no knowing what I may do to shock her, so I'll take my solid victuals in the bakehouse, and only a crumb and a drop in her company for manners.'
'You could do no more than that, certainly,' said Bob gently.
'If my manners be good enough for well-brought-up people like the Garlands, they be good enough for her,' continued the miller, with a sense of injustice.
'That's true. Then it must have been David. David, come here! How did you behave before that lady? Now, mind you speak the truth!'
'Yes, Mr. Captain Robert,' said David earnestly. 'I assure ye she was served like a royal queen. The best silver spoons wez put down, and yer poor grandfer's silver tanket, as you seed, and the feather cushion for her to sit on—'
'Now I've got it!' said Bob decisively, bringing down his hand upon the window-sill. 'Her bed was hard!—and there's nothing shocks a true lady like that. The bed in that room always was as hard as the Rock of Gibraltar!'
'No, Captain Bob! The beds were changed—wasn't they maister? We put the goose bed in her room, and the flock one, that used to be there, in yours.'
'Yes, we did,' corroborated the miller. 'David and I changed 'em with our own hands, because they were too heavy for the women to move.'
'Sure I didn't know I had the flock bed,' murmured Bob. 'I slept on, little thinking what I was going to wake to. Well, well, she's gone; and search as I will I shall never find another like her! She was too good for me. She must have carried her box with her own hands, poor girl. As far as that goes, I could overtake her even now, I dare say; but I won't entreat her against her will—not I.'
Miller Loveday and David, feeling themselves to be rather a desecration in the presence of Bob's sacred emotions, managed to edge off by degrees, the former burying himself in the most floury recesses of the mill, his invariable resource when perturbed, the rumbling having a soothing effect upon the nerves of those properly trained to its music.
Bob was so impatient that, after going up to her room to assure himself once more that she had not undressed, but had only lain down on the outside of the bed, he went out of the house to meet John, and waited on the sunny slope of the down till his brother appeared. John looked so brave and shapely and warlike that, even in Bob's present distress, he could not but feel an honest and affectionate pride at owning such a relative. Yet he fancied that John did not come along with the same swinging step he had shown yesterday; and when the trumpet-major got nearer he looked anxiously at the mate and waited for him to speak first.
'You know our great trouble, John?' said Robert, gazing stoically into his brother's eyes.
'Come and sit down, and tell me all about it,' answered the trumpet-major, showing no surprise.
They went towards a slight ravine, where it was easier to sit down than on the flat ground, and here John reclined among the grasshoppers, pointing to his brother to do the same.
'But do you know what it is?' said Robert. 'Has anybody told ye?'
'I do know,' said John. 'She's gone; and I am thankful!'
'What!' said Bob, rising to his knees in amazement.
'I'm at the bottom of it,' said the trumpet-major slowly.
'Yes; and if you will listen I'll tell you all. Do you remember what happened when I came into the room last night? Why, she turned colour and nearly fainted away. That was because she knew me.'
Bob stared at his brother with a face of pain and distrust.
'For once, Bob, I must say something that will hurt thee a good deal,' continued John. 'She was not a woman who could possibly be your wife—and so she's gone.'
'You sent her off?'
'Well, I did.'
'John!—Tell me right through—tell me!'
'Perhaps I had better,' said the trumpet-major, his blue eyes resting on the far distant sea, that seemed to rise like a wall as high as the hill they sat upon.
And then he told a tale of Miss Johnson and the —th Dragoons which wrung his heart as much in the telling as it did Bob's to hear, and which showed that John had been temporarily cruel to be ultimately kind. Even Bob, excited as he was, could discern from John's manner of speaking what a terrible undertaking that night's business had been for him. To justify the course he had adopted the dictates of duty must have been imperative; but the trumpet-major, with a becoming reticence which his brother at the time was naturally unable to appreciate, scarcely dwelt distinctly enough upon the compelling cause of his conduct. It would, indeed, have been hard for any man, much less so modest a one as John, to do himself justice in that remarkable relation, when the listener was the lady's lover; and it is no wonder that Robert rose to his feet and put a greater distance between himself and John.
'And what time was it?' he asked in a hard, suppressed voice.
'It was just before one o'clock.'
'How could you help her to go away?'
'I had a pass. I carried her box to the coach-office. She was to follow at dawn.'
'But she had no money.'
'Yes, she had; I took particular care of that.' John did not add, as he might have done, that he had given her, in his pity, all the money he possessed, and at present had only eighteen-pence in the world. 'Well, it is over, Bob; so sit ye down, and talk with me of old times,' he added.
'Ah, Jack, it is well enough for you to speak like that,' said the disquieted sailor; 'but I can't help feeling that it is a cruel thing you have done. After all, she would have been snug enough for me. Would I had never found out this about her! John, why did you interfere? You had no right to overhaul my affairs like this. Why didn't you tell me fairly all you knew, and let me do as I chose? You have turned her out of the house, and it's a shame! If she had only come to me! Why didn't she?'
'Because she knew it was best to do otherwise.'
'Well, I shall go after her,' said Bob firmly.
'You can do as you like,' said John; 'but I would advise you strongly to leave matters where they are.'
'I won't leave matters where they are,' said Bob impetuously. 'You have made me miserable, and all for nothing. I tell you she was good enough for me; and as long as I knew nothing about what you say of her history, what difference would it have made to me? Never was there a young woman who was better company; and she loved a merry song as I do myself. Yes, I'll follow her.'
'O, Bob,' said John; 'I hardly expected this!'
'That's because you didn't know your man. Can I ask you to do me one kindness? I don't suppose I can. Can I ask you not to say a word against her to any of them at home?'
'Certainly. The very reason why I got her to go off silently, as she has done, was because nothing should be said against her here, and no scandal should be heard of.'
'That may be; but I'm off after her. Marry that girl I will.'
'You'll be sorry.'
'That we shall see,' replied Robert with determination; and he went away rapidly towards the mill. The trumpet-major had no heart to follow—no good could possibly come of further opposition; and there on the down he remained like a graven image till Bob had vanished from his sight into the mill.
Bob entered his father's only to leave word that he was going on a renewed search for Matilda, and to pack up a few necessaries for his journey. Ten minutes later he came out again with a bundle in his hand, and John saw him go diagonally across the lower fields towards the high- road.
'And this is all the good I have done!' said John, musingly readjusting his stock where it cut his neck, and descending towards the mill.
XX. HOW THEY LESSENED THE EFFECT OF THE CALAMITY
Meanwhile Anne Garland had gone home, and, being weary with her ramble in search of Matilda, sat silent in a corner of the room. Her mother was passing the time in giving utterance to every conceivable surmise on the cause of Miss Johnson's disappearance that the human mind could frame, to which Anne returned monosyllabic answers, the result, not of indifference, but of intense preoccupation. Presently Loveday, the father, came to the door; her mother vanished with him, and they remained closeted together a long time. Anne went into the garden and seated herself beneath the branching tree whose boughs had sheltered her during so many hours of her residence here. Her attention was fixed more upon the miller's wing of the irregular building before her than upon that occupied by her mother, for she could not help expecting every moment to see some one run out with a wild face and announce some awful clearing up of the mystery.