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This was what the omen meant, then! And the grey-haired father, of whom he had thought with a sort of hardness a few hours ago, as certain to live to be a thorn in his side was perhaps even then struggling with that watery death! This was the first thought that flashed through Adam’s conscience, before he had time to seize the coat and drag out the tall heavy body. Seth was already by his side, helping him, and when they had it on the bank, the two sons in the first moment knelt and looked with mute awe at the glazed eyes, forgetting that there was need for action–forgetting everything but that their father lay dead before them. Adam was the first to speak.

“I’ll run to Mother,” he said, in a loud whisper. “I’ll be back to thee in a minute.”

Poor Lisbeth was busy preparing her sons’ breakfast, and their porridge was already steaming on the fire. Her kitchen always looked the pink of cleanliness, but this morning she was more than usually bent on making her hearth and breakfast-table look comfortable and inviting.

“The lads ‘ull be fine an’ hungry,” she said, half-aloud, as she stirred the porridge. “It’s a good step to Brox’on, an’ it’s hungry air o’er the hill–wi’ that heavy coffin too. Eh! It’s heavier now, wi’ poor Bob Tholer in’t. Howiver, I’ve made a drap more porridge nor common this mornin’. The feyther ‘ull happen come in arter a bit. Not as he’ll ate much porridge. He swallers sixpenn’orth o’ ale, an’ saves a hap’orth o’ por-ridge–that’s his way o’ layin’ by money, as I’ve told him many a time, an’ am likely to tell him again afore the day’s out. Eh, poor mon, he takes it quiet enough; there’s no denyin’ that.”

But now Lisbeth heard the heavy “thud” of a running footstep on the turf, and, turning quickly towards the door, she saw Adam enter, looking so pale and overwhelmed that she screamed aloud and rushed towards him before he had time to speak.

“Hush, Mother,” Adam said, rather hoarsely, “don’t be frightened. Father’s tumbled into the water. Belike we may bring him round again. Seth and me are going to carry him in. Get a blanket and make it hot as the fire.”

In reality Adam was convinced that his father was dead but he knew there was no other way of repressing his mother’s impetuous wailing grief than by occupying her with some active task which had hope in it.

He ran back to Seth, and the two sons lifted the sad burden in heart-stricken silence. The wide-open glazed eyes were grey, like Seth’s, and had once looked with mild pride on the boys before whom Thias had lived to hang his head in shame. Seth’s chief feeling was awe and distress at this sudden snatching away of his father’s soul; but Adam’s mind rushed back over the past in a flood of relenting and pity. When death, the great Reconciler, has come, it is never our tenderness that we repent of, but our severity.

Chapter V

The Rector

BEFORE twelve o’clock there had been some heavy storms of rain, and the water lay in deep gutters on the sides of the gravel walks in the garden of Broxton Parsonage; the great Provence roses had been cruelly tossed by the wind and beaten by the rain, and all the delicate-stemmed border flowers had been dashed down and stained with the wet soil. A melancholy morning–because it was nearly time hay-harvest should begin, and instead of that the meadows were likely to be flooded.

But people who have pleasant homes get indoor enjoyments that they would never think of but for the rain. If it had not been a wet morning, Mr. Irwine would not have been in the dining-room playing at chess with his mother, and he loves both his mother and chess quite well enough to pass some cloudy hours very easily by their help. Let me take you into that dining-room and show you the Rev. Adolphus Irwine, Rector of Broxton, Vicar of Hayslope, and Vicar of Blythe, a pluralist at whom the severest Church reformer would have found it difficult to look sour. We will enter very softly and stand still in the open doorway, without awaking the glossy- brown setter who is stretched across the hearth, with her two puppies beside her; or the pug, who is dozing, with his black muzzle aloft, like a sleepy president.

The room is a large and lofty one, with an ample mullioned oriel window at one end; the walls, you see, are new, and not yet painted; but the furniture, though originally of an expensive sort, is old and scanty, and there is no drapery about the window. The crimson cloth over the large dining-table is very threadbare, though it contrasts pleasantly enough with the dead hue of the plaster on the walls; but on this cloth there is a massive silver waiter with a decanter of water on it, of the same pattern as two larger ones that are propped up on the sideboard with a coat of arms conspicuous in their centre. You suspect at once that the inhabitants of this room have inherited more blood than wealth, and would not be surprised to find that Mr. Irwine had a finely cut nostril and upper lip; but at present we can only see that he has a broad flat back and an abundance of powdered hair, all thrown backward and tied behind with a black ribbon–a bit of conservatism in costume which tells you that he is not a young man. He will perhaps turn round by and by, and in the meantime we can look at that stately old lady, his mother, a beautiful aged brunette, whose rich-toned complexion is well set off by the complex wrappings of pure white cambric and lace about her head and neck. She is as erect in her comely embonpoint as a statue of Ceres; and her dark face, with its delicate aquiline nose, firm proud mouth, and small, intense, black eye, is so keen and sarcastic in its expression that you instinctively substitute a pack of cards for the chess-men and imagine her telling your fortune. The small brown hand with which she is lifting her queen is laden with pearls, diamonds, and turquoises; and a large black veil is very carefully adjusted over the crown of her cap, and falls in sharp contrast on the white folds about her neck. It must take a long time to dress that old lady in the morning! But it seems a law of nature that she should be dressed so: she is clearly one of those children of royalty who have never doubted their right divine and never met with any one so absurd as to question it.

“There, Dauphin, tell me what that is!” says this magnificent old lady, as she deposits her queen very quietly and folds her arms. “I should be sorry to utter a word disagreeable to your feelings.”

“Ah, you witch-mother, you sorceress! How is a Christian man to win a game off you? I should have sprinkled the board with holy water before we began. You’ve not won that game by fair means, now, so don’t pretend it.”

“Yes, yes, that’s what the beaten have always said of great conquerors. But see, there’s the sunshine falling on the board, to show you more clearly what a foolish move you made with that pawn. Come, shall I give you another chance?”

“No, Mother, I shall leave you to your own conscience, now it’s clearing up. We must go and plash up the mud a little, mus’n’t we, Juno?” This was addressed to the brown setter, who had jumped up at the sound of the voices and laid her nose in an insinuating way on her master’s leg. “But I must go upstairs first and see Anne. I was called away to Tholer’s funeral just when I was going before.”

“It’s of no use, child; she can’t speak to you. Kate says she has one of her worst headaches this morning.”

“Oh, she likes me to go and see her just the same; she’s never too ill to care about that.”

If you know how much of human speech is mere purposeless impulse or habit, you will not wonder when I tell you that this identical objection had been made, and had received the same kind of answer, many hundred times in the course of the fifteen years that Mr. Irwine’s sister Anne had been an invalid. Splendid old ladies, who take a long time to dress in the morning, have often slight sympathy with sickly daughters.

But while Mr. Irwine was still seated, leaning back in his chair and stroking Juno’s head, the servant came to the door and said, “If you please, sir, Joshua Rann wishes to speak with you, if you are at liberty.”

“Let him be shown in here,” said Mrs. Irwine, taking up her knitting. “I always like to hear what Mr. Rann has got to say. His shoes will be dirty, but see that he wipes them Carroll.”

In two minutes Mr. Rann appeared at the door with very deferential bows, which, however, were far from conciliating Pug, who gave a sharp bark and ran across the room to reconnoitre the stranger’s legs; while the two puppies, regarding Mr. Rann’s prominent calf and ribbed worsted stockings from a more sensuous point of view, plunged and growled over them in great enjoyment. Meantime, Mr. Irwine turned round his chair and said, “Well, Joshua, anything the matter at Hayslope, that you’ve come over this damp morning? Sit down, sit down. Never mind the dogs; give them a friendly kick. Here, Pug, you rascal!”

It is very pleasant to see some men turn round; pleasant as a sudden rush of warm air in winter, or the flash of firelight in the chill dusk. Mr. Irwine was one of those men. He bore the same sort of resemblance to his mother that our loving memory of a friend’s face often bears to the face itself: the lines were all more generous, the smile brighter, the expression heartier. If the outline had been less finely cut, his face might have been called jolly; but that was not the right word for its mixture of bonhomie and distinction.

“Thank Your Reverence,” answered Mr. Rann, endeavouring to look unconcerned about his legs, but shaking them alternately to keep off the puppies; “I’ll stand, if you please, as more becoming. I hope I see you an’ Mrs. Irwine well, an’ Miss Irwine–an’ Miss Anne, I hope’s as well as usual.”

“Yes, Joshua, thank you. You see how blooming my mother looks. She beats us younger people hollow. But what’s the matter?”

“Why, sir, I had to come to Brox’on to deliver some work, and I thought it but right to call and let you know the goins-on as there’s been i’ the village, such as I hanna seen i’ my time, and I’ve lived in it man and boy sixty year come St. Thomas, and collected th’ Easter dues for Mr. Blick before Your Reverence come into the parish, and been at the ringin’ o’ every bell, and the diggin’ o’ every grave, and sung i’ the choir long afore Bartle Massey come from nobody knows where, wi’ his counter-singin’ and fine anthems, as puts everybody out but himself–one takin’ it up after another like sheep a-bleatin’ i’ th’ fold. I know what belongs to bein’ a parish clerk, and I know as I should be wantin’ i’ respect to Your Reverence, an’ church, an’ king, if I was t’ allow such goins-on wi’out speakin’. I was took by surprise, an’ knowed nothin’ on it beforehand, an’ I was so flustered, I was clean as if I’d lost my tools. I hanna slep’ more nor four hour this night as is past an’ gone; an’ then it was nothin’ but nightmare, as tired me worse nor wakin’.”

“Why, what in the world is the matter, Joshua? Have the thieves been at the church lead again?”

“Thieves! No, sir–an’ yet, as I may say, it is thieves, an’ a- thievin’ the church, too. It’s the Methodisses as is like to get th’ upper hand i’ th’ parish, if Your Reverence an’ His Honour, Squire Donnithorne, doesna think well to say the word an’ forbid it. Not as I’m a-dictatin’ to you, sir; I’m not forgettin’ myself so far as to be wise above my betters. Howiver, whether I’m wise or no, that’s neither here nor there, but what I’ve got to say I say–as the young Methodis woman as is at Mester Poyser’s was a- preachin’ an’ a-prayin’ on the Green last night, as sure as I’m a- stannin’ afore Your Reverence now.”

“Preaching on the Green!” said Mr. Irwine, looking surprised but quite serene. “What, that pale pretty young woman I’ve seen at Poyser’s? I saw she was a Methodist, or Quaker, or something of that sort, by her dress, but I didn’t know she was a preacher.”

“It’s a true word as I say, sir,” rejoined Mr. Rann, compressing his mouth into a semicircular form and pausing long enough to indicate three notes of exclamation. “She preached on the Green last night; an’ she’s laid hold of Chad’s Bess, as the girl’s been i’ fits welly iver sin’.”

“Well, Bessy Cranage is a hearty-looking lass; I daresay she’ll come round again, Joshua. Did anybody else go into fits?”

“No, sir, I canna say as they did. But there’s no knowin’ what’ll come, if we’re t’ have such preachin’s as that a-goin’ on ivery week–there’ll be no livin’ i’ th’ village. For them Methodisses make folks believe as if they take a mug o’ drink extry, an’ make theirselves a bit comfortable, they’ll have to go to hell for’t as sure as they’re born. I’m not a tipplin’ man nor a drunkard– nobody can say it on me–but I like a extry quart at Easter or Christmas time, as is nat’ral when we’re goin’ the rounds a- singin’, an’ folks offer’t you for nothin’; or when I’m a- collectin’ the dues; an’ I like a pint wi’ my pipe, an’ a neighbourly chat at Mester Casson’s now an’ then, for I was brought up i’ the Church, thank God, an’ ha’ been a parish clerk this two-an’-thirty year: I should know what the church religion is.”

“Well, what’s your advice, Joshua? What do you think should be done?”

“Well, Your Reverence, I’m not for takin’ any measures again’ the young woman. She’s well enough if she’d let alone preachin’; an’ I hear as she’s a-goin’ away back to her own country soon. She’s Mr. Poyser’s own niece, an’ I donna wish to say what’s anyways disrespectful o’ th’ family at th’ Hall Farm, as I’ve measured for shoes, little an’ big, welly iver sin’ I’ve been a shoemaker. But there’s that Will Maskery, sir as is the rampageousest Methodis as can be, an’ I make no doubt it was him as stirred up th’ young woman to preach last night, an’ he’ll be a-bringin’ other folks to preach from Treddles’on, if his comb isn’t cut a bit; an’ I think as he should be let know as he isna t’ have the makin’ an’ mendin’ o’ church carts an’ implemen’s, let alone stayin’ i’ that house an’ yard as is Squire Donnithorne’s.”

“Well, but you say yourself, Joshua, that you never knew any one come to preach on the Green before; why should you think they’ll come again? The Methodists don’t come to preach in little villages like Hayslope, where there’s only a handful of labourers, too tired to listen to them. They might almost as well go and preach on the Binton Hills. Will Maskery is no preacher himself, I think.”

“Nay, sir, he’s no gift at stringin’ the words together wi’out book; he’d be stuck fast like a cow i’ wet clay. But he’s got tongue enough to speak disrespectful about’s neebors, for he said as I was a blind Pharisee–a-usin’ the Bible i’ that way to find nick-names for folks as are his elders an’ betters!–and what’s worse, he’s been heard to say very unbecomin’ words about Your Reverence; for I could bring them as ‘ud swear as he called you a ‘dumb dog,’ an’ a ‘idle shepherd.’ You’ll forgi’e me for sayin’ such things over again.”

“Better not, better not, Joshua. Let evil words die as soon as they’re spoken. Will Maskery might be a great deal worse fellow than he is. He used to be a wild drunken rascal, neglecting his work and beating his wife, they told me; now he’s thrifty and decent, and he and his wife look comfortable together. If you can bring me any proof that he interferes with his neighbours and creates any disturbance, I shall think it my duty as a clergyman and a magistrate to interfere. But it wouldn’t become wise people like you and me to be making a fuss about trifles, as if we thought the Church was in danger because Will Maskery lets his tongue wag rather foolishly, or a young woman talks in a serious way to a handful of people on the Green. We must ‘live and let live,’ Joshua, in religion as well as in other things. You go on doing your duty, as parish clerk and sexton, as well as you’ve always done it, and making those capital thick boots for your neighbours, and things won’t go far wrong in Hayslope, depend upon it.”

“Your Reverence is very good to say so; an’ I’m sensable as, you not livin’ i’ the parish, there’s more upo’ my shoulders.”

“To be sure; and you must mind and not lower the Church in people’s eyes by seeming to be frightened about it for a little thing, Joshua. I shall trust to your good sense, now to take no notice at all of what Will Maskery says, either about you or me. You and your neighbours can go on taking your pot of beer soberly, when you’ve done your day’s work, like good churchmen; and if Will Maskery doesn’t like to join you, but to go to a prayermeeting at Treddleston instead, let him; that’s no business of yours, so long as he doesn’t hinder you from doing what you like. And as to people saying a few idle words about us, we must not mind that, any more than the old church-steeple minds the rooks cawing about it. Will Maskery comes to church every Sunday afternoon, and does his wheelwright’s business steadily in the weekdays, and as long as he does that he must be let alone.”

“Ah, sir, but when he comes to church, he sits an’ shakes his head, an’ looks as sour an’ as coxy when we’re a-singin’ as I should like to fetch him a rap across the jowl–God forgi’e me– an’ Mrs. Irwine, an’ Your Reverence too, for speakin’ so afore you. An’ he said as our Christmas singin’ was no better nor the cracklin’ o’ thorns under a pot.”

“Well, he’s got a bad ear for music, Joshua. When people have wooden heads, you know, it can’t be helped. He won’t bring the other people in Hayslope round to his opinion, while you go on singing as well as you do.”

“Yes, sir, but it turns a man’s stomach t’ hear the Scripture misused i’ that way. I know as much o’ the words o’ the Bible as he does, an’ could say the Psalms right through i’ my sleep if you was to pinch me; but I know better nor to take ’em to say my own say wi’. I might as well take the Sacriment-cup home and use it at meals.”

“That’s a very sensible remark of yours, Joshua; but, as I said before—-“

While Mr. Irwine was speaking, the sound of a booted step and the clink of a spur were heard on the stone floor of the entrance- hall, and Joshua Rann moved hastily aside from the doorway to make room for some one who paused there, and said, in a ringing tenor voice,

“Godson Arthur–may he come in?”

“Come in, come in, godson!” Mrs. Irwine answered, in the deep half-masculine tone which belongs to the vigorous old woman, and there entered a young gentleman in a riding-dress, with his right arm in a sling; whereupon followed that pleasant confusion of laughing interjections, and hand-shakings, and “How are you’s?” mingled with joyous short barks and wagging of tails on the part of the canine members of the family, which tells that the visitor is on the best terms with the visited. The young gentleman was Arthur Donnithorne, known in Hayslope, variously, as “the young squire,” “the heir,” and “the captain.” He was only a captain in the Loamshire Militia, but to the Hayslope tenants he was more intensely a captain than all the young gentlemen of the same rank in his Majesty’s regulars–he outshone them as the planet Jupiter outshines the Milky Way. If you want to know more particularly how he looked, call to your remembrance some tawny-whiskered, brown-locked, clear-complexioned young Englishman whom you have met with in a foreign town, and been proud of as a fellow- countryman–well-washed, high-bred, white-handed, yet looking as if he could deliver well from ‘the left shoulder and floor his man: I will not be so much of a tailor as to trouble your imagination with the difference of costume, and insist on the striped waistcoat, long-tailed coat, and low top-boots.

Turning round to take a chair, Captain Donnithorne said, “But don’t let me interrupt Joshua’s business–he has something to say.”

“Humbly begging Your Honour’s pardon,” said Joshua, bowing low, “there was one thing I had to say to His Reverence as other things had drove out o’ my head.”

“Out with it, Joshua, quickly!” said Mr. Irwine.

“Belike, sir, you havena heared as Thias Bede’s dead–drownded this morning, or more like overnight, i’ the Willow Brook, again’ the bridge right i’ front o’ the house.”

“Ah!” exclaimed both the gentlemen at once, as if they were a good deal interested in the information.

“An’ Seth Bede’s been to me this morning to say he wished me to tell Your Reverence as his brother Adam begged of you particular t’ allow his father’s grave to be dug by the White Thorn, because his mother’s set her heart on it, on account of a dream as she had; an’ they’d ha’ come theirselves to ask you, but they’ve so much to see after with the crowner, an’ that; an’ their mother’s took on so, an’ wants ’em to make sure o’ the spot for fear somebody else should take it. An’ if Your Reverence sees well and good, I’ll send my boy to tell ’em as soon as I get home; an’ that’s why I make bold to trouble you wi’ it, His Honour being present.”

“To be sure, Joshua, to be sure, they shall have it. I’ll ride round to Adam myself, and see him. Send your boy, however, to say they shall have the grave, lest anything should happen to detain me. And now, good morning, Joshua; go into the kitchen and have some ale.”

“Poor old Thias!” said Mr. Irwine, when Joshua was gone. “I’m afraid the drink helped the brook to drown him. I should have been glad for the load to have been taken off my friend Adam’s shoulders in a less painful way. That fine fellow has been propping up his father from ruin for the last five or six years.”

“He’s a regular trump, is Adam,” said Captain Donnithorne. “When I was a little fellow, and Adam was a strapping lad of fifteen, and taught me carpentering, I used to think if ever I was a rich sultan, I would make Adam my grand-vizier. And I believe now he would bear the exaltation as well as any poor wise man in an Eastern story. If ever I live to be a large-acred man instead of a poor devil with a mortgaged allowance of pocket-money, I’ll have Adam for my right hand. He shall manage my woods for me, for he seems to have a better notion of those things than any man I ever met with; and I know he would make twice the money of them that my grandfather does, with that miserable old Satchell to manage, who understands no more about timber than an old carp. I’ve mentioned the subject to my grandfather once or twice, but for some reason or other he has a dislike to Adam, and I can do nothing. But come, Your Reverence, are you for a ride with me? It’s splendid out of doors now. We can go to Adam’s together, if you like; but I want to call at the Hall Farm on my way, to look at the whelps Poyser is keeping for me.”

“You must stay and have lunch first, Arthur,” said Mrs. Irwine. “It’s nearly two. Carroll will bring it in directly.”

“I want to go to the Hall Farm too,” said Mr. Irwine, “to have another look at the little Methodist who is staying there. Joshua tells me she was preaching on the Green last night.”

“Oh, by Jove!” said Captain Donnithorne, laughing. “Why, she looks as quiet as a mouse. There’s something rather striking about her, though. I positively felt quite bashful the first time I saw her–she was sitting stooping over her sewing in the sunshine outside the house, when I rode up and called out, without noticing that she was a stranger, ‘Is Martin Poyser at home?’ I declare, when she got up and looked at me and just said, ‘He’s in the house, I believe: I’ll go and call him,’ I felt quite ashamed of having spoken so abruptly to her. She looked like St. Catherine in a Quaker dress. It’s a type of face one rarely sees among our common people.”

“I should like to see the young woman, Dauphin,” said Mrs. Irwine. “Make her come here on some pretext or other.”

“I don’t know how I can manage that, Mother; it will hardly do for me to patronize a Methodist preacher, even if she would consent to be patronized by an idle shepherd, as Will Maskery calls me. You should have come in a little sooner, Arthur, to hear Joshua’s denunciation of his neighbour Will Maskery. The old fellow wants me to excommunicate the wheelwright, and then deliver him over to the civil arm–that is to say, to your grandfather–to be turned out of house and yard. If I chose to interfere in this business, now, I might get up as pretty a story of hatred and persecution as the Methodists need desire to publish in the next number of their magazine. It wouldn’t take me much trouble to persuade Chad Cranage and half a dozen other bull-headed fellows that they would be doing an acceptable service to the Church by hunting Will Maskery out of the village with rope-ends and pitchforks; and then, when I had furnished them with half a sovereign to get gloriously drunk after their exertions, I should have put the climax to as pretty a farce as any of my brother clergy have set going in their parishes for the last thirty years.”

“It is really insolent of the man, though, to call you an ‘idle shepherd’ and a ‘dumb dog,'” said Mrs. Irwine. “I should be inclined to check him a little there. You are too easy-tempered, Dauphin.”

“Why, Mother, you don’t think it would be a good way of sustaining my dignity to set about vindicating myself from the aspersions of Will Maskery? Besides, I’m not so sure that they ARE aspersions. I AM a lazy fellow, and get terribly heavy in my saddle; not to mention that I’m always spending more than I can afford in bricks and mortar, so that I get savage at a lame beggar when he asks me for sixpence. Those poor lean cobblers, who think they can help to regenerate mankind by setting out to preach in the morning twilight before they begin their day’s work, may well have a poor opinion of me. But come, let us have our luncheon. Isn’t Kate coming to lunch?”

“Miss Irwine told Bridget to take her lunch upstairs,” said Carroll; “she can’t leave Miss Anne.”

“Oh, very well. Tell Bridget to say I’ll go up and see Miss Anne presently. You can use your right arm quite well now, Arthur,” Mr. Irwine continued, observing that Captain Donnithorne had taken his arm out of the sling.

“Yes, pretty well; but Godwin insists on my keeping it up constantly for some time to come. I hope I shall be able to get away to the regiment, though, in the beginning of August. It’s a desperately dull business being shut up at the Chase in the summer months, when one can neither hunt nor shoot, so as to make one’s self pleasantly sleepy in the evening. However, we are to astonish the echoes on the 30th of July. My grandfather has given me carte blanche for once, and I promise you the entertainment shall be worthy of the occasion. The world will not see the grand epoch of my majority twice. I think I shall have a lofty throne for you, Godmamma, or rather two, one on the lawn and another in the ballroom, that you may sit and look down upon us like an Olympian goddess.”

“I mean to bring out my best brocade, that I wore at your christening twenty years ago,” said Mrs. Irwine. “Ah, I think I shall see your poor mother flitting about in her white dress, which looked to me almost like a shroud that very day; and it WAS her shroud only three months after; and your little cap and christening dress were buried with her too. She had set her heart on that, sweet soul! Thank God you take after your mother’s family, Arthur. If you had been a puny, wiry, yellow baby, I wouldn’t have stood godmother to you. I should have been sure you would turn out a Donnithorne. But you were such a broad-faced, broad-chested, loud-screaming rascal, I knew you were every inch of you a Tradgett.”

“But you might have been a little too hasty there, Mother,” said Mr. Irwine, smiling. “Don’t you remember how it was with Juno’s last pups? One of them was the very image of its mother, but it had two or three of its father’s tricks notwithstanding. Nature is clever enough to cheat even you, Mother.”

“Nonsense, child! Nature never makes a ferret in the shape of a mastiff. You’ll never persuade me that I can’t tell what men are by their outsides. If I don’t like a man’s looks, depend upon it I shall never like HIM. I don’t want to know people that look ugly and disagreeable, any more than I want to taste dishes that look disagreeable. If they make me shudder at the first glance, I say, take them away. An ugly, piggish, or fishy eye, now, makes me feel quite ill; it’s like a bad smell.”

“Talking of eyes,” said Captain Donnithorne, “that reminds me that I’ve got a book I meant to bring you, Godmamma. It came down in a parcel from London the other day. I know you are fond of queer, wizardlike stories. It’s a volume of poems, ‘Lyrical Ballads.’ Most of them seem to be twaddling stuff, but the first is in a different style–‘The Ancient Mariner’ is the title. I can hardly make head or tail of it as a story, but it’s a strange, striking thing. I’ll send it over to you; and there are some other books that you may like to see, Irwine–pamphlets about Antinomianism and Evangelicalism, whatever they may be. I can’t think what the fellow means by sending such things to me. I’ve written to him to desire that from henceforth he will send me no book or pamphlet on anything that ends in ISM.”

“Well, I don’t know that I’m very fond of isms myself; but I may as well look at the pamphlets; they let one see what is going on. I’ve a little matter to attend to, Arthur,” continued Mr. Irwine, rising to leave the room, “and then I shall be ready to set out with you.”

The little matter that Mr. Irwine had to attend to took him up the old stone staircase (part of the house was very old) and made him pause before a door at which he knocked gently. “Come in,” said a woman’s voice, and he entered a room so darkened by blinds and curtains that Miss Kate, the thin middle-aged lady standing by the bedside, would not have had light enough for any other sort of work than the knitting which lay on the little table near her. But at present she was doing what required only the dimmest light– sponging the aching head that lay on the pillow with fresh vinegar. It was a small face, that of the poor sufferer; perhaps it had once been pretty, but now it was worn and sallow. Miss Kate came towards her brother and whispered, “Don’t speak to her; she can’t bear to be spoken to to-day.” Anne’s eyes were closed, and her brow contracted as if from intense pain. Mr. Irwine went to the bedside and took up one of the delicate hands and kissed it, a slight pressure from the small fingers told him that it was worth-while to have come upstairs for the sake of doing that. He lingered a moment, looking at her, and then turned away and left the room, treading very gently–he had taken off his boots and put on slippers before he came upstairs. Whoever remembers how many things he has declined to do even for himself, rather than have the trouble of putting on or taking off his boots, will not think this last detail insignificant.

And Mr. Irwine’s sisters, as any person of family within ten miles of Broxton could have testified, were such stupid, uninteresting women! It was quite a pity handsome, clever Mrs. Irwine should have had such commonplace daughters. That fine old lady herself was worth driving ten miles to see, any day; her beauty, her well- preserved faculties, and her old-fashioned dignity made her a graceful subject for conversation in turn with the King’s health, the sweet new patterns in cotton dresses, the news from Egypt, and Lord Dacey’s lawsuit, which was fretting poor Lady Dacey to death. But no one ever thought of mentioning the Miss Irwines, except the poor people in Broxton village, who regarded them as deep in the science of medicine, and spoke of them vaguely as “the gentlefolks.” If any one had asked old Job Dummilow who gave him his flannel jacket, he would have answered, “the gentlefolks, last winter”; and widow Steene dwelt much on the virtues of the “stuff” the gentlefolks gave her for her cough. Under this name too, they were used with great effect as a means of taming refractory children, so that at the sight of poor Miss Anne’s sallow face, several small urchins had a terrified sense that she was cognizant of all their worst misdemeanours, and knew the precise number of stones with which they had intended to hit Farmer Britton’s ducks. But for all who saw them through a less mythical medium, the Miss Irwines were quite superfluous existences–inartistic figures crowding the canvas of life without adequate effect. Miss Anne, indeed, if her chronic headaches could have been accounted for by a pathetic story of disappointed love, might have had some romantic interest attached to her: but no such story had either been known or invented concerning her, and the general impression was quite in accordance with the fact, that both the sisters were old maids for the prosaic reason that they had never received an eligible offer.

Nevertheless, to speak paradoxically, the existence of insignificant people has very important consequences in the world. It can be shown to affect the price of bread and the rate of wages, to call forth many evil tempers from the selfish and many heroisms from the sympathetic, and, in other ways, to play no small part in the tragedy of life. And if that handsome, generous-blooded clergyman, the Rev. Adolphus Irwine, had not had these two hopelessly maiden sisters, his lot would have been shaped quite differently: he would very likely have taken a comely wife in his youth, and now, when his hair was getting grey under the powder, would have had tall sons and blooming daughters–such possessions, in short, as men commonly think will repay them for all the labour they take under the sun. As it was–having with all his three livings no more than seven hundred a-year, and seeing no way of keeping his splendid mother and his sickly sister, not to reckon a second sister, who was usually spoken of without any adjective, in such ladylike ease as became their birth and habits, and at the same time providing for a family of his own–he remained, you see, at the age of eight-and-forty, a bachelor, not making any merit of that renunciation, but saying laughingly, if any one alluded to it, that he made it an excuse for many indulgences which a wife would never have allowed him. And perhaps he was the only person in the world who did not think his sisters uninteresting and superfluous; for his was one of those large-hearted, sweet-blooded natures that never know a narrow or a grudging thought; Epicurean, if you will, with no enthusiasm, no self-scourging sense of duty; but yet, as you have seen, of a sufficiently subtle moral fibre to have an unwearying tenderness for obscure and monotonous suffering. It was his large-hearted indulgence that made him ignore his mother’s hardness towards her daughters, which was the more striking from its contrast with her doting fondness towards himself; he held it no virtue to frown at irremediable faults.

See the difference between the impression a man makes on you when you walk by his side in familiar talk, or look at him in his home, and the figure he makes when seen from a lofty historical level, or even in the eyes of a critical neighbour who thinks of him as an embodied system or opinion rather than as a man. Mr. Roe, the “travelling preacher” stationed at Treddleston, had included Mr. Irwine in a general statement concerning the Church clergy in the surrounding district, whom he described as men given up to the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life; hunting and shooting, and adorning their own houses; asking what shall we eat, and what shall we drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed?–careless of dispensing the bread of life to their flocks, preaching at best but a carnal and soul-benumbing morality, and trafficking in the souls of men by receiving money for discharging the pastoral office in parishes where they did not so much as look on the faces of the people more than once a-year. The ecclesiastical historian, too, looking into parliamentary reports of that period, finds honourable members zealous for the Church, and untainted with any sympathy for the “tribe of canting Methodists,” making statements scarcely less melancholy than that of Mr. Roe. And it is impossible for me to say that Mr. Irwine was altogether belied by the generic classification assigned him. He really had no very lofty aims, no theological enthusiasm: if I were closely questioned, I should be obliged to confess that he felt no serious alarms about the souls of his parishioners, and would have thought it a mere loss of time to talk in a doctrinal and awakening manner to old “Feyther Taft,” or even to Chad Cranage the blacksmith. If he had been in the habit of speaking theoretically, he would perhaps have said that the only healthy form religion could take in such minds was that of certain dim but strong emotions, suffusing themselves as a hallowing influence over the family affections and neighbourly duties. He thought the custom of baptism more important than its doctrine, and that the religious benefits the peasant drew from the church where his fathers worshipped and the sacred piece of turf where they lay buried were but slightly dependent on a clear understanding of the Liturgy or the sermon. Clearly the rector was not what is called in these days an “earnest” man: he was fonder of church history than of divinity, and had much more insight into men’s characters than interest in their opinions; he was neither laborious, nor obviously self-denying, nor very copious in alms-giving, and his theology, you perceive, was lax. His mental palate, indeed, was rather pagan, and found a savouriness in a quotation from Sophocles or Theocritus that was quite absent from any text in Isaiah or Amos. But if you feed your young setter on raw flesh, how can you wonder at its retaining a relish for uncooked partridge in after-life? And Mr. Irwine’s recollections of young enthusiasm and ambition were all associated with poetry and ethics that lay aloof from the Bible.

On the other hand, I must plead, for I have an affectionate partiality towards the rector’s memory, that he was not vindictive–and some philanthropists have been so; that he was not intolerant–and there is a rumour that some zealous theologians have not been altogether free from that blemish; that although he would probably have declined to give his body to be burned in any public cause, and was far from bestowing all his goods to feed the poor, he had that charity which has sometimes been lacking to very illustrious virtue–he was tender to other men’s failings, and unwilling to impute evil. He was one of those men, and they are not the commonest, of whom we can know the best only by following them away from the marketplace, the platform, and the pulpit, entering with them into their own homes, hearing the voice with which they speak to the young and aged about their own hearthstone, and witnessing their thoughtful care for the everyday wants of everyday companions, who take all their kindness as a matter of course, and not as a subject for panegyric.

Such men, happily, have lived in times when great abuses flourished, and have sometimes even been the living representatives of the abuses. That is a thought which might comfort us a little under the opposite fact–that it is better sometimes NOT to follow great reformers of abuses beyond the threshold of their homes.

But whatever you may think of Mr. Irwine now, if you had met him that June afternoon riding on his grey cob, with his dogs running beside him–portly, upright, manly, with a good-natured smile on his finely turned lips as he talked to his dashing young companion on the bay mare, you must have felt that, however ill he harmonized with sound theories of the clerical office, he somehow harmonized extremely well with that peaceful landscape.

See them in the bright sunlight, interrupted every now and then by rolling masses of cloud, ascending the slope from the Broxton side, where the tall gables and elms of the rectory predominate over the tiny whitewashed church. They will soon be in the parish of Hayslope; the grey church-tower and village roofs lie before them to the left, and farther on, to the right, they can just see the chimneys of the Hall Farm.

Chapter VI

The Hall Farm

EVIDENTLY that gate is never opened, for the long grass and the great hemlocks grow close against it, and if it were opened, it is so rusty that the force necessary to turn it on its hinges would be likely to pull down the square stone-built pillars, to the detriment of the two stone lionesses which grin with a doubtful carnivorous affability above a coat of arms surmounting each of the pillars. It would be easy enough, by the aid of the nicks in the stone pillars, to climb over the brick wall with its smooth stone coping; but by putting our eyes close to the rusty bars of the gate, we can see the house well enough, and all but the very corners of the grassy enclosure.

It is a very fine old place, of red brick, softened by a pale powdery lichen, which has dispersed itself with happy irregularity, so as to bring the red brick into terms of friendly companionship with the limestone ornaments surrounding the three gables, the windows, and the door-place. But the windows are patched with wooden panes, and the door, I think, is like the gate–it is never opened. How it would groan and grate against the stone fioor if it were! For it is a solid, heavy, handsome door, and must once have been in the habit of shutting with a sonorous bang behind a liveried lackey, who had just seen his master and mistress off the grounds in a carriage and pair.

But at present one might fancy the house in the early stage of a chancery suit, and that the fruit from that grand double row of walnut-trees on the right hand of the enclosure would fall and rot among the grass, if it were not that we heard the booming bark of dogs echoing from great buildings at the back. And now the half- weaned calves that have been sheltering themselves in a gorse- built hovel against the left-hand wall come out and set up a silly answer to that terrible bark, doubtless supposing that it has reference to buckets of milk.

Yes, the house must be inhabited, and we will see by whom; for imagination is a licensed trespasser: it has no fear of dogs, but may climb over walls and peep in at windows with impunity. Put your face to one of the glass panes in the right-hand window: what do you see? A large open fireplace, with rusty dogs in it, and a bare boarded floor; at the far end, fleeces of wool stacked up; in the middle of the floor, some empty corn-bags. That is the furniture of the dining-room. And what through the left-hand window? Several clothes-horses, a pillion, a spinning-wheel, and an old box wide open and stuffed full of coloured rags. At the edge of this box there lies a great wooden doll, which, so far as mutilation is concerned, bears a strong resemblance to the finest Greek sculpture, and especially in the total loss of its nose. Near it there is a little chair, and the butt end of a boy’s leather long-lashed whip.

The history of the house is plain now. It was once the residence of a country squire, whose family, probably dwindling down to mere spinsterhood, got merged in the more territorial name of Donnithorne. It was once the Hall; it is now the Hall Farm. Like the life in some coast town that was once a watering-place, and is now a port, where the genteel streets are silent and grass-grown, and the docks and warehouses busy and resonant, the life at the Hall has changed its focus, and no longer radiates from the parlour, but from the kitchen and the farmyard.

Plenty of life there, though this is the drowsiest time of the year, just before hay-harvest; and it is the drowsiest time of the day too, for it is close upon three by the sun, and it is half- past three by Mrs. Poyser’s handsome eight-day clock. But there is always a stronger sense of life when the sun is brilliant after rain; and now he is pouring down his beams, and making sparkles among the wet straw, and lighting up every patch of vivid green moss on the red tiles of the cow-shed, and turning even the muddy water that is hurrying along the channel to the drain into a mirror for the yellow-billed ducks, who are seizing the opportunity of getting a drink with as much body in it as possible. There is quite a concert of noises; the great bull-dog, chained against the stables, is thrown into furious exasperation by the unwary approach of a cock too near the mouth of his kennel, and sends forth a thundering bark, which is answered by two fox- hounds shut up in the opposite cow-house; the old top-knotted hens, scratching with their chicks among the straw, set up a sympathetic croaking as the discomfited cock joins them; a sow with her brood, all very muddy as to the legs, and curled as to the tail, throws in some deep staccato notes; our friends the calves are bleating from the home croft; and, under all, a fine ear discerns the continuous hum of human voices.

For the great barn-doors are thrown wide open, and men are busy there mending the harness, under the superintendence of Mr. Goby, the “whittaw,” otherwise saddler, who entertains them with the latest Treddleston gossip. It is certainly rather an unfortunate day that Alick, the shepherd, has chosen for having the whittaws, since the morning turned out so wet; and Mrs. Poyser has spoken her mind pretty strongly as to the dirt which the extra nurnber of men’s shoes brought into the house at dinnertime. Indeed, she has not yet recovered her equanimity on the subject, though it is now nearly three hours since dinner, and the house-floor is perfectly clean again; as clean as everything else in that wonderful house- place, where the only chance of collecting a few grains of dust would be to climb on the salt-coffer, and put your finger on the high mantel-shelf on which the glittering brass candlesticks are enjoying their summer sinecure; for at this time of year, of course, every one goes to bed while it is yet light, or at least light enough to discern the outline of objects after you have bruised your shins against them. Surely nowhere else could an oak clock-case and an oak table have got to such a polish by the hand: genuine “elbow polish,” as Mrs. Poyser called it, for she thanked God she never had any of your varnished rubbish in her house. Hetty Sorrel often took the opportunity, when her aunt’s back was turned, of looking at the pleasing reflection of herself in those polished surfaces, for the oak table was usually turned up like a screen, and was more for ornament than for use; and she could see herself sometimes in the great round pewter dishes that were ranged on the shelves above the long deal dinner-table, or in the hobs of the grate, which always shone like jasper.

Everything was looking at its brightest at this moment, for the sun shone right on the pewter dishes, and from their reflecting surfaces pleasant jets of light were thrown on mellow oak and bright brass–and on a still pleasanter object than these, for some of the rays fell on Dinah’s finely moulded cheek, and lit up her pale red hair to auburn, as she bent over the heavy household linen which she was mending for her aunt. No scene could have been more peaceful, if Mrs. Poyser, who was ironing a few things that still remained from the Monday’s wash, had not been making a frequent clinking with her iron and moving to and fro whenever she wanted it to cool; carrying the keen glance of her blue-grey eye from the kitchen to the dairy, where Hetty was making up the butter, and from the dairy to the back kitchen, where Nancy was taking the pies out of the oven. Do not suppose, however, that Mrs. Poyser was elderly or shrewish in her appearance; she was a good-looking woman, not more than eight-and-thirty, of fair complexion and sandy hair, well-shapen, light-footed. The most conspicuous article in her attire was an ample checkered linen apron, which almost covered her skirt; and nothing could be plainer or less noticeable than her cap and gown, for there was no weakness of which she was less tolerant than feminine vanity, and the preference of ornament to utility. The family likeness between her and her niece Dinah Morris, with the contrast between her keenness and Dinah’s seraphic gentleness of expression, might have served a painter as an excellent suggestion for a Martha and Mary. Their eyes were just of the same colour, but a striking test of the difference in their operation was seen in the demeanour of Trip, the black-and-tan terrier, whenever that much- suspected dog unwarily exposed himself to the freezing arctic ray of Mrs. Poyser’s glance. Her tongue was not less keen than her eye, and, whenever a damsel came within earshot, seemed to take up an unfinished lecture, as a barrel-organ takes up a tune, precisely at the point where it had left off.

The fact that it was churning day was another reason why it was inconvenient to have the whittaws, and why, consequently, Mrs. Poyser should scold Molly the housemaid with unusual severity. To all appearance Molly had got through her after-dinner work in an exemplary manner, had “cleaned herself” with great dispatch, and now came to ask, submissively, if she should sit down to her spinning till milking time. But this blameless conduct, according to Mrs. Poyser, shrouded a secret indulgence of unbecoming wishes, which she now dragged forth and held up to Molly’s view with cutting eloquence.

“Spinning, indeed! It isn’t spinning as you’d be at, I’ll be bound, and let you have your own way. I never knew your equals for gallowsness. To think of a gell o’ your age wanting to go and sit with half-a-dozen men! I’d ha’ been ashamed to let the words pass over my lips if I’d been you. And you, as have been here ever since last Michaelmas, and I hired you at Treddles’on stattits, without a bit o’ character–as I say, you might be grateful to be hired in that way to a respectable place; and you knew no more o’ what belongs to work when you come here than the mawkin i’ the field. As poor a two-fisted thing as ever I saw, you know you was. Who taught you to scrub a floor, I should like to know? Why, you’d leave the dirt in heaps i’ the corners–anybody ‘ud think you’d never been brought up among Christians. And as for spinning, why, you’ve wasted as much as your wage i’ the flax you’ve spoiled learning to spin. And you’ve a right to feel that, and not to go about as gaping and as thoughtless as if you was beholding to nobody. Comb the wool for the whittaws, indeed! That’s what you’d like to be doing, is it? That’s the way with you–that’s the road you’d all like to go, headlongs to ruin. You’re never easy till you’ve got some sweetheart as is as big a fool as yourself: you think you’ll be finely off when you’re married, I daresay, and have got a three-legged stool to sit on, and never a blanket to cover you, and a bit o’ oat-cake for your dinner, as three children are a-snatching at.”

“I’m sure I donna want t’ go wi’ the whittaws,” said Molly, whimpering, and quite overcome by this Dantean picture of her future, “on’y we allays used to comb the wool for ‘n at Mester Ottley’s; an’ so I just axed ye. I donna want to set eyes on the whittaws again; I wish I may never stir if I do.”

“Mr. Ottley’s, indeed! It’s fine talking o’ what you did at Mr. Ottley’s. Your missis there might like her floors dirted wi’ whittaws for what I know. There’s no knowing what people WONNA like–such ways as I’ve heard of! I never had a gell come into my house as seemed to know what cleaning was; I think people live like pigs, for my part. And as to that Betty as was dairymaid at Trent’s before she come to me, she’d ha’ left the cheeses without turning from week’s end to week’s end, and the dairy thralls, I might ha’ wrote my name on ’em, when I come downstairs after my illness, as the doctor said it was inflammation–it was a mercy I got well of it. And to think o’ your knowing no better, Molly, and been here a-going i’ nine months, and not for want o’ talking to, neither–and what are you stanning there for, like a jack as is run down, instead o’ getting your wheel out? You’re a rare un for sitting down to your work a little while after it’s time to put by.”

“Munny, my iron’s twite told; pease put it down to warm.”

The small chirruping voice that uttered this request came from a little sunny-haired girl between three and four, who, seated on a high chair at the end of the ironing table, was arduously clutching the handle of a miniature iron with her tiny fat fist, and ironing rags with an assiduity that required her to put her little red tongue out as far as anatomy would allow.

“Cold, is it, my darling? Bless your sweet face!” said Mrs. Poyser, who was remarkable for the facility with which she could relapse from her official objurgatory to one of fondness or of friendly converse. “Never mind! Mother’s done her ironing now. She’s going to put the ironing things away.”

“Munny, I tould ‘ike to do into de barn to Tommy, to see de whittawd.”

“No, no, no; Totty ‘ud get her feet wet,” said Mrs. Poyser, carrying away her iron. “Run into the dairy and see cousin Hetty make the butter.”

“I tould ‘ike a bit o’ pum-take,” rejoined Totty, who seemed to be provided with several relays of requests; at the same time, taking the opportunity of her momentary leisure to put her fingers into a bowl of starch, and drag it down so as to empty the contents with tolerable completeness on to the ironing sheet.

“Did ever anybody see the like?” screamed Mrs. Poyser, running towards the table when her eye had fallen on the blue stream. “The child’s allays i’ mischief if your back’s turned a minute. What shall I do to you, you naughty, naughty gell?”

Totty, however, had descended from her chair with great swiftness, and was already in retreat towards the dairy with a sort of waddling run, and an amount of fat on the nape of her neck which made her look like the metamorphosis of a white suckling pig.

The starch having been wiped up by Molly’s help, and the ironing apparatus put by, Mrs. Poyser took up her knitting which always lay ready at hand, and was the work she liked best, because she could carry it on automatically as she walked to and fro. But now she came and sat down opposite Dinah, whom she looked at in a meditative way, as she knitted her grey worsted stocking.

“You look th’ image o’ your Aunt Judith, Dinah, when you sit a- sewing. I could almost fancy it was thirty years back, and I was a little gell at home, looking at Judith as she sat at her work, after she’d done the house up; only it was a little cottage, Father’s was, and not a big rambling house as gets dirty i’ one corner as fast as you clean it in another–but for all that, I could fancy you was your Aunt Judith, only her hair was a deal darker than yours, and she was stouter and broader i’ the shoulders. Judith and me allays hung together, though she had such queer ways, but your mother and her never could agree. Ah, your mother little thought as she’d have a daughter just cut out after the very pattern o’ Judith, and leave her an orphan, too, for Judith to take care on, and bring up with a spoon when SHE was in the graveyard at Stoniton. I allays said that o’ Judith, as she’d bear a pound weight any day to save anybody else carrying a ounce. And she was just the same from the first o’ my remembering her; it made no difference in her, as I could see, when she took to the Methodists, only she talked a bit different and wore a different sort o’ cap; but she’d never in her life spent a penny on herself more than keeping herself decent.”

“She was a blessed woman,” said Dinah; “God had given her a loving, self-forgetting nature, and He perfected it by grace. And she was very fond of you too, Aunt Rachel. I often heard her talk of you in the same sort of way. When she had that bad illness, and I was only eleven years old, she used to say, ‘You’ll have a friend on earth in your Aunt Rachel, if I’m taken from you, for she has a kind heart,’ and I’m sure I’ve found it so.”

“I don’t know how, child; anybody ‘ud be cunning to do anything for you, I think; you’re like the birds o’ th’ air, and live nobody knows how. I’d ha’ been glad to behave to you like a mother’s sister, if you’d come and live i’ this country where there’s some shelter and victual for man and beast, and folks don’t live on the naked hills, like poultry a-scratching on a gravel bank. And then you might get married to some decent man, and there’d be plenty ready to have you, if you’d only leave off that preaching, as is ten times worse than anything your Aunt Judith ever did. And even if you’d marry Seth Bede, as is a poor wool-gathering Methodist and’s never like to have a penny beforehand, I know your uncle ‘ud help you with a pig, and very like a cow, for he’s allays been good-natur’d to my kin, for all they’re poor, and made ’em welcome to the house; and ‘ud do for you, I’ll be bound, as much as ever he’d do for Hetty, though she’s his own niece. And there’s linen in the house as I could well spare you, for I’ve got lots o’ sheeting and table-clothing, and towelling, as isn’t made up. There’s a piece o’ sheeting I could give you as that squinting Kitty spun–she was a rare girl to spin, for all she squinted, and the children couldn’t abide her; and, you know, the spinning’s going on constant, and there’s new linen wove twice as fast as the old wears out. But where’s the use o’ talking, if ye wonna be persuaded, and settle down like any other woman in her senses, i’stead o’ wearing yourself out with walking and preaching, and giving away every penny you get, so as you’ve nothing saved against sickness; and all the things you’ve got i’ the world, I verily believe, ‘ud go into a bundle no bigger nor a double cheese. And all because you’ve got notions i’ your head about religion more nor what’s i’ the Catechism and the Prayer-book.”

“But not more than what’s in the Bible, Aunt,” said Dinah.

“Yes, and the Bible too, for that matter,” Mrs. Poyser rejoined, rather sharply; “else why shouldn’t them as know best what’s in the Bible–the parsons and people as have got nothing to do but learn it–do the same as you do? But, for the matter o’ that, if everybody was to do like you, the world must come to a standstill; for if everybody tried to do without house and home, and with poor eating and drinking, and was allays talking as we must despise the things o’ the world as you say, I should like to know where the pick o’ the stock, and the corn, and the best new-milk cheeeses ‘ud have to go. Everybody ‘ud be wanting bread made o’ tail ends and everybody ‘ud be running after everybody else to preach to ’em, istead o’ bringing up their families, and laying by against a bad harvest. It stands to sense as that can’t be the right religion.”

“Nay, dear aunt, you never heard me say that all people are called to forsake their work and their families. It’s quite right the land should be ploughed and sowed, and the precious corn stored, and the things of this life cared for, and right that people should rejoice in their families, and provide for them, so that this is done in the fear of the Lord, and that they are not unmindful of the soul’s wants while they are caring for the body. We can all be servants of God wherever our lot is cast, but He gives us different sorts of work, according as He fits us for it and calls us to it. I can no more help spending my life in trying to do what I can for the souls of others, than you could help running if you heard little Totty crying at the other end of the house; the voice would go to your heart, you would think the dear child was in trouble or in danger, and you couldn’t rest without running to help her and comfort her.”

“Ah,” said Mrs. Poyser, rising and walking towards the door, “I know it ‘ud be just the same if I was to talk to you for hours. You’d make me the same answer, at th’ end. I might as well talk to the running brook and tell it to stan’ still.”

The causeway outside the kitchen door was dry enough now for Mrs. Poyser to stand there quite pleasantly and see what was going on in the yard, the grey worsted stocking making a steady progress in her hands all the while. But she had not been standing there more than five minutes before she came in again, and said to Dinah, in rather a flurried, awe-stricken tone, “If there isn’t Captain Donnithorne and Mr. Irwine a-coming into the yard! I’ll lay my life they’re come to speak about your preaching on the Green, Dinah; it’s you must answer ’em, for I’m dumb. I’ve said enough a’ready about your bringing such disgrace upo’ your uncle’s family. I wouldn’t ha’ minded if you’d been Mr. Poyser’s own niece–folks must put up wi’ their own kin, as they put up wi’ their own noses–it’s their own flesh and blood. But to think of a niece o’ mine being cause o’ my husband’s being turned out of his farm, and me brought him no fortin but my savin’s—-“

“Nay, dear Aunt Rachel,” said Dinah gently, “you’ve no cause for such fears. I’ve strong assurance that no evil will happen to you and my uncle and the children from anything I’ve done. I didn’t preach without direction.”

“Direction! I know very well what you mean by direction,” said Mrs. Poyser, knitting in a rapid and agitated manner. “When there’s a bigger maggot than usial in your head you call it ‘direction’; and then nothing can stir you–you look like the statty o’ the outside o’ Treddles’on church, a-starin’ and a- smilin’ whether it’s fair weather or foul. I hanna common patience with you.”

By this time the two gentlemen had reached the palings and had got down from their horses: it was plain they meant to come in. Mrs. Poyser advanced to the door to meet them, curtsying low and trembling between anger with Dinah and anxiety to conduct herself with perfect propriety on the occasion. For in those days the keenest of bucolic minds felt a whispering awe at the sight of the gentry, such as of old men felt when they stood on tiptoe to watch the gods passing by in tall human shape.

“Well, Mrs. Poyser, how are you after this stormy morning?” said Mr. Irwine, with his stately cordiality. “Our feet are quite dry; we shall not soil your beautiful floor.”

“Oh, sir, don’t mention it,” said Mrs. Poyser. “Will you and the captain please to walk into the parlour?”

“No, indeed, thank you, Mrs. Poyser,” said the captain, looking eagerly round the kitchen, as if his eye were seeking something it could not find. “I delight in your kitchen. I think it is the most charming room I know. I should like every farmer’s wife to come and look at it for a pattern.”

“Oh, you’re pleased to say so, sir. Pray take a seat,” said Mrs. Poyser, relieved a little by this compliment and the captain’s evident good-humour, but still glancing anxiously at Mr. Irwine, who, she saw, was looking at Dinah and advancing towards her.

“Poyser is not at home, is he?” said Captain Donnithorne, seating himself where he could see along the short passage to the open dairy-door.

“No, sir, he isn’t; he’s gone to Rosseter to see Mr. West, the factor, about the wool. But there’s Father i’ the barn, sir, if he’d be of any use.”

“No, thank you; I’ll just look at the whelps and leave a message about them with your shepherd. I must come another day and see your husband; I want to have a consultation with him about horses. Do you know when he’s likely to be at liberty?”

“Why, sir, you can hardly miss him, except it’s o’ Treddles’on market-day–that’s of a Friday, you know. For if he’s anywhere on the farm we can send for him in a minute. If we’d got rid o’ the Scantlands, we should have no outlying fields; and I should be glad of it, for if ever anything happens, he’s sure to be gone to the Scantlands. Things allays happen so contrairy, if they’ve a chance; and it’s an unnat’ral thing to have one bit o’ your farm in one county and all the rest in another.”

“Ah, the Scantlands would go much better with Choyce’s farm, especially as he wants dairyland and you’ve got plenty. I think yours is the prettiest farm on the estate, though; and do you know, Mrs. Poyser, if I were going to marry and settle, I should be tempted to turn you out, and do up this fine old house, and turn farmer myself.”

“Oh, sir,” said Mrs. Poyser, rather alarmed, “you wouldn’t like it at all. As for farming, it’s putting money into your pocket wi’ your right hand and fetching it out wi’ your left. As fur as I can see, it’s raising victual for other folks and just getting a mouthful for yourself and your children as you go along. Not as you’d be like a poor man as wants to get his bread–you could afford to lose as much money as you liked i’ farming–but it’s poor fun losing money, I should think, though I understan’ it’s what the great folks i’ London play at more than anything. For my husband heard at market as Lord Dacey’s eldest son had lost thousands upo’ thousands to the Prince o’ Wales, and they said my lady was going to pawn her jewels to pay for him. But you know more about that than I do, sir. But, as for farming, sir, I canna think as you’d like it; and this house–the draughts in it are enough to cut you through, and it’s my opinion the floors upstairs are very rotten, and the rats i’ the cellar are beyond anything.”

“Why, that’s a terrible picture, Mrs. Poyser. I think I should be doing you a service to turn you out of such a place. But there’s no chance of that. I’m not likely to settle for the next twenty years, till I’m a stout gentleman of forty; and my grandfather would never consent to part with such good tenants as you.”

“Well, sir, if he thinks so well o’ Mr. Poyser for a tenant I wish you could put in a word for him to allow us some new gates for the Five closes, for my husband’s been asking and asking till he’s tired, and to think o’ what he’s done for the farm, and’s never had a penny allowed him, be the times bad or good. And as I’ve said to my husband often and often, I’m sure if the captain had anything to do with it, it wouldn’t be so. Not as I wish to speak disrespectful o’ them as have got the power i’ their hands, but it’s more than flesh and blood ‘ull bear sometimes, to be toiling and striving, and up early and down late, and hardly sleeping a wink when you lie down for thinking as the cheese may swell, or the cows may slip their calf, or the wheat may grow green again i’ the sheaf–and after all, at th’ end o’ the year, it’s like as if you’d been cooking a feast and had got the smell of it for your pains.”

Mrs. Poyser, once launched into conversation, always sailed along without any check from her preliminary awe of the gentry. The confidence she felt in her own powers of exposition was a motive force that overcame all resistance.

“I’m afraid I should only do harm instead of good, if I were to speak about the gates, Mrs. Poyser,” said the captain, “though I assure you there’s no man on the estate I would sooner say a word for than your husband. I know his farm is in better order than any other within ten miles of us; and as for the kitchen,” he added, smiling, “I don’t believe there’s one in the kingdom to beat it. By the by, I’ve never seen your dairy: I must see your dairy, Mrs. Poyser.”

“Indeed, sir, it’s not fit for you to go in, for Hetty’s in the middle o’ making the butter, for the churning was thrown late, and I’m quite ashamed.” This Mrs. Poyser said blushing, and believing that the captain was really interested in her milk-pans, and would adjust his opinion of her to the appearance of her dairy.

“Oh, I’ve no doubt it’s in capital order. Take me in,” said the captain, himself leading the way, while Mrs. Poyser followed.

Chapter VII

The Dairy

THE dairy was certainly worth looking at: it was a scene to sicken for with a sort of calenture in hot and dusty streets–such coolness, such purity, such fresh fragrance of new-pressed cheese, of firm butter, of wooden vessels perpetually bathed in pure water; such soft colouring of red earthenware and creamy surfaces, brown wood and polished tin, grey limestone and rich orange-red rust on the iron weights and hooks and hinges. But one gets only a confused notion of these details when they surround a distractingly pretty girl of seventeen, standing on little pattens and rounding her dimpled arm to lift a pound of butter out of the scale.

Hetty blushed a deep rose-colour when Captain Donnithorne entered the dairy and spoke to her; but it was not at all a distressed blush, for it was inwreathed with smiles and dimples, and with sparkles from under long, curled, dark eyelashes; and while her aunt was discoursing to him about the limited amount of milk that was to be spared for butter and cheese so long as the calves were not all weaned, and a large quantity but inferior quality of milk yielded by the shorthorn, which had been bought on experiment, together with other matters which must be interesting to a young gentleman who would one day be a landlord, Hetty tossed and patted her pound of butter with quite a self-possessed, coquettish air, slyly conscious that no turn of her head was lost.

There are various orders of beauty, causing men to make fools of themselves in various styles, from the desperate to the sheepish; but there is one order of beauty which seems made to turn the heads not only of men, but of all intelligent mammals, even of women. It is a beauty like that of kittens, or very small downy ducks making gentle rippling noises with their soft bills, or babies just beginning to toddle and to engage in conscious mischief–a beauty with which you can never be angry, but that you feel ready to crush for inability to comprehend the state of mind into which it throws you. Hetty Sorrel’s was that sort of beauty. Her aunt, Mrs. Poyser, who professed to despise all personal attractions and intended to be the severest of mentors, continually gazed at Hetty’s charms by the sly, fascinated in spite of herself; and after administering such a scolding as naturally flowed from her anxiety to do well by her husband’s niece–who had no mother of her own to scold her, poor thing!–she would often confess to her husband, when they were safe out of hearing, that she firmly believed, “the naughtier the little huzzy behaved, the prettier she looked.”

It is of little use for me to tell you that Hetty’s cheek was like a rose-petal, that dimples played about her pouting lips, that her large dark eyes hid a soft roguishness under their long lashes, and that her curly hair, though all pushed back under her round cap while she was at work, stole back in dark delicate rings on her forehead, and about her white shell-like ears; it is of little use for me to say how lovely was the contour of her pink-and-white neckerchief, tucked into her low plum-coloured stuff boddice, or how the linen butter-making apron, with its bib, seemed a thing to be imitated in silk by duchesses, since it fell in such charming lines, or how her brown stockings and thick-soled buckled shoes lost all that clumsiness which they must certainly have had when empty of her foot and ankle–of little use, unless you have seen a woman who affected you as Hetty affected her beholders, for otherwise, though you might conjure up the image of a lovely woman, she would not in the least resemble that distracting kittenlike maiden. I might mention all the divine charms of a bright spring day, but if you had never in your life utterly forgotten yourself in straining your eyes after the mounting lark, or in wandering through the still lanes when the fresh-opened blossoms fill them with a sacred silent beauty like that of fretted aisles, where would be the use of my descriptive catalogue? I could never make you know what I meant by a bright spring day. Hetty’s was a spring-tide beauty; it was the beauty of young frisking things, round-limbed, gambolling, circumventing you by a false air of innocence–the innocence of a young star- browed calf, for example, that, being inclined for a promenade out of bounds, leads you a severe steeplechase over hedge and ditch, and only comes to a stand in the middle of a bog.

And they are the prettiest attitudes and movements into which a pretty girl is thrown in making up butter–tossing movements that give a charming curve to the arm, and a sideward inclination of the round white neck; little patting and rolling movements with the palm of the hand, and nice adaptations and finishings which cannot at all be effected without a great play of the pouting mouth and the dark eyes. And then the butter itself seems to communicate a fresh charm–it is so pure, so sweet-scented; it is turned off the mould with such a beautiful firm surface, like marble in a pale yellow light! Moreover, Hetty was particularly clever at making up the butter; it was the one performance of hers that her aunt allowed to pass without severe criticism; so she handled it with all the grace that belongs to mastery.

“I hope you will be ready for a great holiday on the thirtieth of July, Mrs. Poyser,” said Captain Donnithorne, when he had sufficiently admired the dairy and given several improvised opinions on Swede turnips and shorthorns. “You know what is to happen then, and I shall expect you to be one of the guests who come earliest and leave latest. Will you promise me your hand for two dances, Miss Hetty? If I don’t get your promise now, I know I shall hardly have a chance, for all the smart young farmers will take care to secure you.”

Hetty smiled and blushed, but before she could answer, Mrs. Poyser interposed, scandalized at the mere suggestion that the young squire could be excluded by any meaner partners.

“Indeed, sir, you are very kind to take that notice of her. And I’m sure, whenever you’re pleased to dance with her, she’ll be proud and thankful, if she stood still all the rest o’ th’ evening.”

“Oh no, no, that would be too cruel to all the other young fellows who can dance. But you will promise me two dances, won’t you?” the captain continued, determined to make Hetty look at him and speak to him.

Hetty dropped the prettiest little curtsy, and stole a half-shy, half-coquettish glance at him as she said, “Yes, thank you, sir.”

“And you must bring all your children, you know, Mrs. Poyser; your little Totty, as well as the boys. I want all the youngest children on the estate to be there–all those who will be fine young men and women when I’m a bald old fellow.”

“Oh dear, sir, that ‘ull be a long time first,” said Mrs. Poyser, quite overcome at the young squire’s speaking so lightly of himself, and thinking how her husband would be interested in hearing her recount this remarkable specimen of high-born humour. The captain was thought to be “very full of his jokes,” and was a great favourite throughout the estate on account of his free manners. Every tenant was quite sure things would be different when the reins got into his hands–there was to be a millennial abundance of new gates, allowances of lime, and returns of ten per cent.

“But where is Totty to-day?” he said. “I want to see her.”

“Where IS the little un, Hetty?” said Mrs. Poyser. “She came in here not long ago.”

“I don’t know. She went into the brewhouse to Nancy, I think.”

The proud mother, unable to resist the temptation to show her Totty, passed at once into the back kitchen, in search of her, not, however, without misgivings lest something should have happened to render her person and attire unfit for presentation.

“And do you carry the butter to market when you’ve made it?” said the Captain to Hetty, meanwhile.

“Oh no, sir; not when it’s so heavy. I’m not strong enough to carry it. Alick takes it on horseback.”

“No, I’m sure your pretty arms were never meant for such heavy weights. But you go out a walk sometimes these pleasant evenings, don’t you? Why don’t you have a walk in the Chase sometimes, now it’s so green and pleasant? I hardly ever see you anywhere except at home and at church.”

“Aunt doesn’t like me to go a-walking only when I’m going somewhere,” said Hetty. “But I go through the Chase sometimes.”

“And don’t you ever go to see Mrs. Best, the housekeeper? I think I saw you once in the housekeeper’s room.”

“It isn’t Mrs. Best, it’s Mrs. Pomfret, the lady’s maid, as I go to see. She’s teaching me tent-stitch and the lace-mending. I’m going to tea with her to-morrow afternoon.”

The reason why there had been space for this tete-a-tete can only be known by looking into the back kitchen, where Totty had been discovered rubbing a stray blue-bag against her nose, and in the same moment allowing some liberal indigo drops to fall on her afternoon pinafore. But now she appeared holding her mother’s hand–the end of her round nose rather shiny from a recent and hurried application of soap and water.

“Here she is!” said the captain, lifting her up and setting her on the low stone shelf. “Here’s Totty! By the by, what’s her other name? She wasn’t christened Totty.”

“Oh, sir, we call her sadly out of her name. Charlotte’s her christened name. It’s a name i’ Mr. Poyser’s family: his grandmother was named Charlotte. But we began with calling her Lotty, and now it’s got to Totty. To be sure it’s more like a name for a dog than a Christian child.”

“Totty’s a capital name. Why, she looks like a Totty. Has she got a pocket on?” said the captain, feeling in his own waistcoat pockets.

Totty immediately with great gravity lifted up her frock, and showed a tiny pink pocket at present in a state of collapse.

“It dot notin’ in it,” she said, as she looked down at it very earnestly.

“No! What a pity! Such a pretty pocket. Well, I think I’ve got some things in mine that will make a pretty jingle in it. Yes! I declare I’ve got five little round silver things, and hear what a pretty noise they make in Totty’s pink pocket.” Here he shook the pocket with the five sixpences in it, and Totty showed her teeth and wrinkled her nose in great glee; but, divining that there was nothing more to be got by staying, she jumped off the shelf and ran away to jingle her pocket in the hearing of Nancy, while her mother called after her, “Oh for shame, you naughty gell! Not to thank the captain for what he’s given you I’m sure, sir, it’s very kind of you; but she’s spoiled shameful; her father won’t have her said nay in anything, and there’s no managing her. It’s being the youngest, and th’ only gell.”

“Oh, she’s a funny little fatty; I wouldn’t have her different. But I must be going now, for I suppose the rector is waiting for me.”

With a “good-bye,” a bright glance, and a bow to Hetty Arthur left the dairy. But he was mistaken in imagining himself waited for. The rector had been so much interested in his conversation with Dinah that he would not have chosen to close it earlier; and you shall hear now what they had been saying to each other.

Chapter VIII

A Vocation

DINAH, who had risen when the gentlemen came in, but still kept hold of the sheet she was mending, curtsied respectfully when she saw Mr. Irwine looking at her and advancing towards her. He had never yet spoken to her, or stood face to face with her, and her first thought, as her eyes met his, was, “What a well-favoured countenance! Oh that the good seed might fall on that soil, for it would surely flourish.” The agreeable impression must have been mutual, for Mr. Irwine bowed to her with a benignant deference, which would have been equally in place if she had been the most dignified lady of his acquaintance.

“You are only a visitor in this neighbourhood, I think?” were his first words, as he seated himself opposite to her.

“No, sir, I come from Snowfield, in Stonyshire. But my aunt was very kind, wanting me to have rest from my work there, because I’d been ill, and she invited me to come and stay with her for a while.”

“Ah, I remember Snowfield very well; I once had occasion to go there. It’s a dreary bleak place. They were building a cotton- mill there; but that’s many years ago now. I suppose the place is a good deal changed by the employment that mill must have brought.”

“It IS changed so far as the mill has brought people there, who get a livelihood for themselves by working in it, and make it better for the tradesfolks. I work in it myself, and have reason to be grateful, for thereby I have enough and to spare. But it’s still a bleak place, as you say, sir–very different from this country.”

“You have relations living there, probably, so that you are attached to the place as your home?”

“I had an aunt there once; she brought me up, for I was an orphan. But she was taken away seven years ago, and I have no other kindred that I know of, besides my Aunt Poyser, who is very good to me, and would have me come and live in this country, which to be sure is a good land, wherein they eat bread without scarceness. But I’m not free to leave Snowfield, where I was first planted, and have grown deep into it, like the small grass on the hill- top.”

“Ah, I daresay you have many religious friends and companions there; you are a Methodist–a Wesleyan, I think?”

“Yes, my aunt at Snowfield belonged to the Society, and I have cause to be thankful for the privileges I have had thereby from my earliest childhood.”

“And have you been long in the habit of preaching? For I understand you preached at Hayslope last night.”

“I first took to the work four years since, when I was twenty- one.”

“Your Society sanctions women’s preaching, then?”

“It doesn’t forbid them, sir, when they’ve a clear call to the work, and when their ministry is owned by the conversion of sinners and the strengthening of God’s people. Mrs. Fletcher, as you may have heard about, was the first woman to preach in the Society, I believe, before she was married, when she was Miss Bosanquet; and Mr. Wesley approved of her undertaking the work. She had a great gift, and there are many others now living who are precious fellow-helpers in the work of the ministry. I understand there’s been voices raised against it in the Society of late, but I cannot but think their counsel will come to nought. It isn’t for men to make channels for God’s Spirit, as they make channels for the watercourses, and say, ‘Flow here, but flow not there.'”

“But don’t you find some danger among your people–I don’t mean to say that it is so with you, far from it–but don’t you find sometimes that both men and women fancy themselves channels for God’s Spirit, and are quite mistaken, so that they set about a work for which they are unfit and bring holy things into contempt?”

“Doubtless it is so sometimes; for there have been evil-doers among us who have sought to deceive the brethren, and some there are who deceive their own selves. But we are not without discipline and correction to put a check upon these things. There’s a very strict order kept among us, and the brethren and sisters watch for each other’s souls as they that must give account. They don’t go every one his own way and say, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?'”

“But tell me–if I may ask, and I am really interested in knowing it–how you first came to think of preaching?”

“Indeed, sir, I didn’t think of it at all–I’d been used from the time I was sixteen to talk to the little children, and teach them, and sometimes I had had my heart enlarged to speak in class, and was much drawn out in prayer with the sick. But I had felt no call to preach, for when I’m not greatly wrought upon, I’m too much given to sit still and keep by myself. It seems as if I could sit silent all day long with the thought of God overflowing my soul–as the pebbles lie bathed in the Willow Brook. For thoughts are so great–aren’t they, sir? They seem to lie upon us like a deep flood; and it’s my besetment to forget where I am and everything about me, and lose myself in thoughts that I could give no account of, for I could neither make a beginning nor ending of them in words. That was my way as long as I can remember; but sometimes it seemed as if speech came to me without any will of my own, and words were given to me that came out as the tears come, because our hearts are full and we can’t help it. And those were always times of great blessing, though I had never thought it could be so with me before a congregation of people. But, sir, we are led on, like the little children, by a way that we know not. I was called to preach quite suddenly, and since then I have never been left in doubt about the work that was laid upon me.”

“But tell me the circumstances–just how it was, the very day you began to preach.”

“It was one Sunday I walked with brother Marlowe, who was an aged man, one of the local preachers, all the way to Hetton-Deeps– that’s a village where the people get their living by working in the lead-mines, and where there’s no church nor preacher, but they live like sheep without a shepherd. It’s better than twelve miles from Snowfield, so we set out early in the morning, for it was summertime; and I had a wonderful sense of the Divine love as we walked over the hills, where there’s no trees, you know, sir, as there is here, to make the sky look smaller, but you see the heavens stretched out like a tent, and you feel the everlasting arms around you. But before we got to Hetton, brother Marlowe was seized with a dizziness that made him afraid of falling, for he overworked himself sadly, at his years, in watching and praying, and walking so many miles to speak the Word, as well as carrying on his trade of linen-weaving. And when we got to the village, the people were expecting him, for he’d appointed the time and the place when he was there before, and such of them as cared to hear the Word of Life were assembled on a spot where the cottages was thickest, so as others might be drawn to come. But he felt as he couldn’t stand up to preach, and he was forced to lie down in the first of the cottages we came to. So I went to tell the people, thinking we’d go into one of the houses, and I would read and pray with them. But as I passed along by the cottages and saw the aged and trembling women at the doors, and the hard looks of the men, who seemed to have their eyes no more filled with the sight of the Sabbath morning than if they had been dumb oxen that never looked up to the sky, I felt a great movement in my soul, and I trembled as if I was shaken by a strong spirit entering into my weak body. And I went to where the little flock of people was gathered together, and stepped on the low wall that was built against the green hillside, and I spoke the words that were given to me abundantly. And they all came round me out of all the cottages, and many wept over their sins, and have since been joined to the Lord. That was the beginning of my preaching, sir, and I’ve preached ever since.”

Dinah had let her work fall during this narrative, which she uttered in her usual simple way, but with that sincere articulate, thrilling treble by which she always mastered her audience. She stooped now to gather up her sewing, and then went on with it as before. Mr. Irwine was deeply interested. He said to himself, “He must be a miserable prig who would act the pedagogue here: one might as well go and lecture the trees for growing in their own shape.”

“And you never feel any embarrassment from the sense of your youth–that you are a lovely young woman on whom men’s eyes are fixed?” he said aloud.

“No, I’ve no room for such feelings, and I don’t believe the people ever take notice about that. I think, sir, when God makes His presence felt through us, we are like the burning bush: Moses never took any heed what sort of bush it was–he only saw the brightness of the Lord. I’ve preached to as rough ignorant people as can be in the villages about Snowfield–men that looked very hard and wild–but they never said an uncivil word to me, and often thanked me kindly as they made way for me to pass through the midst of them.”

“THAT I can believe–that I can well believe,” said Mr. Irwine, emphatically. “And what did you think of your hearers last night, now? Did you find them quiet and attentive?”

“Very quiet, sir, but I saw no signs of any great work upon them, except in a young girl named Bessy Cranage, towards whom my heart yearned greatly, when my eyes first fell on her blooming youth, given up to folly and vanity. I had some private talk and prayer with her afterwards, and I trust her heart is touched. But I’ve noticed that in these villages where the people lead a quiet life among the green pastures and the still waters, tilling the ground and tending the cattle, there’s a strange deadness to the Word, as different as can be from the great towns, like Leeds, where I once went to visit a holy woman who preaches there. It’s wonderful how rich is the harvest of souls up those high-walled streets, where you seemed to walk as in a prison-yard, and the ear is deafened with the sounds of worldly toil. I think maybe it is because the promise is sweeter when this life is so dark and weary, and the soul gets more hungry when the body is ill at ease.”

“Why, yes, our farm-labourers are not easily roused. They take life almost as slowly as the sheep and cows. But we have some intelligent workmen about here. I daresay you know the Bedes; Seth Bede, by the by, is a Methodist.”

“Yes, I know Seth well, and his brother Adam a little. Seth is a gracious young man–sincere and without offence; and Adam is like the patriarch Joseph, for his great skill and knowledge and the kindness he shows to his brother and his parents.”

“Perhaps you don’t know the trouble that has just happened to them? Their father, Matthias Bede, was drowned in the Willow Brook last night, not far from his own door. I’m going now to see Adam.”

“Ah, their poor aged mother!” said Dinah, dropping her hands and looking before her with pitying eyes, as if she saw the object of her sympathy. “She will mourn heavily, for Seth has told me she’s of an anxious, troubled heart. I must go and see if I can give her any help.”

As she rose and was beginning to fold up her work, Captain Donnithorne, having exhausted all plausible pretexts for remaining among the milk-pans, came out of the dairy, followed by Mrs. Poyser. Mr. Irwine now rose also, and, advancing towards Dinah, held out his hand, and said, “Good-bye. I hear you are going away soon; but this will not be the last visit you will pay your aunt– so we shall meet again, I hope.”

His cordiality towards Dinah set all Mrs. Poyser’s anxieties at rest, and her face was brighter than usual, as she said, “I’ve never asked after Mrs. Irwine and the Miss Irwines, sir; I hope they’re as well as usual.”

“Yes, thank you, Mrs. Poyser, except that Miss Anne has one of her bad headaches to-day. By the by, we all liked that nice cream- cheese you sent us–my mother especially.”

“I’m very glad, indeed, sir. It is but seldom I make one, but I remembered Mrs. Irwine was fond of ’em. Please to give my duty to her, and to Miss Kate and Miss Anne. They’ve never been to look at my poultry this long while, and I’ve got some beautiful speckled chickens, black and white, as Miss Kate might like to have some of amongst hers.”

“Well, I’ll tell her; she must come and see them. Good-bye,” said the rector, mounting his horse.

“Just ride slowly on, Irwine,” said Captain Donnithorne, mounting also. “I’ll overtake you in three minutes. I’m only going to speak to the shepherd about the whelps. Good-bye, Mrs. Poyser; tell your husband I shall come and have a long talk with him soon.”

Mrs. Poyser curtsied duly, and watched the two horses until they had disappeared from the yard, amidst great excitement on the part of the pigs and the poultry, and under the furious indignation of the bull-dog, who performed a Pyrrhic dance, that every moment seemed to threaten the breaking of his chain. Mrs. Poyser delighted in this noisy exit; it was a fresh assurance to her that the farm-yard was well guarded, and that no loiterers could enter unobserved; and it was not until the gate had closed behind the captain that she turned into the kitchen again, where Dinah stood with her bonnet in her hand, waiting to speak to her aunt, before she set out for Lisbeth Bede’s cottage.

Mrs. Poyser, however, though she noticed the bonnet, deferred remarking on it until she had disburdened herself of her surprise at Mr. Irwine’s behaviour.

“Why, Mr. Irwine wasn’t angry, then? What did he say to you, Dinah? Didn’t he scold you for preaching?”

“No, he was not at all angry; he was very friendly to me. I was quite drawn out to speak to him; I hardly know how, for I had always thought of him as a worldly Sadducee. But his countenance is as pleasant as the morning sunshine.”

“Pleasant! And what else did y’ expect to find him but pleasant?” said Mrs. Poyser impatiently, resuming her knitting. “I should think his countenance is pleasant indeed! And him a gentleman born, and’s got a mother like a picter. You may go the country round and not find such another woman turned sixty-six. It’s summat-like to see such a man as that i’ the desk of a Sunday! As I say to Poyser, it’s like looking at a full crop o’ wheat, or a pasture with a fine dairy o’ cows in it; it makes you think the world’s comfortable-like. But as for such creaturs as you Methodisses run after, I’d as soon go to look at a lot o’ bare- ribbed runts on a common. Fine folks they are to tell you what’s right, as look as if they’d never tasted nothing better than bacon-sword and sour-cake i’ their lives. But what did Mr. Irwine say to you about that fool’s trick o’ preaching on the Green?”

“He only said he’d heard of it; he didn’t seem to feel any displeasure about it. But, dear aunt, don’t think any more about that. He told me something that I’m sure will cause you sorrow, as it does me. Thias Bede was drowned last night in the Willow Brook, and I’m thinking that the aged mother will be greatly in need of comfort. Perhaps I can be of use to her, so I have fetched my bonnet and am going to set out.”

“Dear heart, dear heart! But you must have a cup o’ tea first, child,” said Mrs. Poyser, falling at once from the key of B with five sharps to the frank and genial C. “The kettle’s boiling– we’ll have it ready in a minute; and the young uns ‘ull be in and wanting theirs directly. I’m quite willing you should go and see th’ old woman, for you’re one as is allays welcome in trouble, Methodist or no Methodist; but, for the matter o’ that, it’s the flesh and blood folks are made on as makes the difference. Some cheeses are made o’ skimmed milk and some o’ new milk, and it’s no matter what you call ’em, you may tell which is which by the look and the smell. But as to Thias Bede, he’s better out o’ the way nor in–God forgi’ me for saying so–for he’s done little this ten year but make trouble for them as belonged to him; and I think it ‘ud be well for you to take a little bottle o’ rum for th’ old woman, for I daresay she’s got never a drop o’ nothing to comfort her inside. Sit down, child, and be easy, for you shan’t stir out till you’ve had a cup o’ tea, and so I tell you.”

During the latter part of this speech, Mrs. Poyser had been reaching down the tea-things from the shelves, and was on her way towards the pantry for the loaf (followed close by Totty, who had made her appearance on the rattling of the tea-cups), when Hetty came out of the dairy relieving her tired arms by lifting them up, and clasping her hands at the back of her head.

“Molly,” she said, rather languidly, “just run out and get me a bunch of dock-leaves: the butter’s ready to pack up now.”

“D’ you hear what’s happened, Hetty?” said her aunt.

“No; how should I hear anything?” was the answer, in a pettish tone.

“Not as you’d care much, I daresay, if you did hear; for you’re too feather-headed to mind if everybody was dead, so as you could stay upstairs a-dressing yourself for two hours by the clock. But anybody besides yourself ‘ud mind about such things happening to them as think a deal more of you than you deserve. But Adam Bede and all his kin might be drownded for what you’d care–you’d be perking at the glass the next minute.”

“Adam Bede–drowned?” said Hetty, letting her arms fall and looking rather bewildered, but suspecting that her aunt was as usual exaggerating with a didactic purpose.

“No, my dear, no,” said Dinah kindly, for Mrs. Poyser had passed on to the pantry without deigning more precise information. “Not Adam. Adam’s father, the old man, is drowned. He was drowned last night in the Willow Brook. Mr. Irwine has just told me about it.”

“Oh, how dreadful!” said Hetty, looking serious, but not deeply affected; and as Molly now entered with the dock-leaves, she took them silently and returned to the dairy without asking further questions.

Chapter IX

Hetty’s World

WHILE she adjusted the broad leaves that set off the pale fragrant butter as the primrose is set off by its nest of green I am afraid Hetty was thinking a great deal more of the looks Captain Donnithorne had cast at her than of Adam and his troubles. Bright, admiring glances from a handsome young gentleman with white hands, a gold chain, occasional regimentals, and wealth and grandeur immeasurable–those were the warm rays that set poor Hetty’s heart vibrating and playing its little foolish tunes over and over again. We do not hear that Memnon’s statue gave forth its melody at all under the rushing of the mightiest wind, or in response to any other influence divine or human than certain short-lived sunbeams of morning; and we must learn to accommodate ourselves to the discovery that some of those cunningly fashioned instruments called human souls have only a very limited range of music, and will not vibrate in the least under a touch that fills others with tremulous rapture or quivering agony.

Hetty was quite used to the thought that people liked to look at her. She was not blind to the fact that young Luke Britton of Broxton came to Hayslope Church on a Sunday afternoon on purpose that he might see her; and that he would have made much more decided advances if her uncle Poyser, thinking but lightly of a young man whose father’s land was so foul as old Luke Britton’s, had not forbidden her aunt to encourage him by any civilities. She was aware, too, that Mr. Craig, the gardener at the Chase, was over head and ears in love with her, and had lately made unmistakable avowals in luscious strawberries and hyperbolical peas. She knew still better, that Adam Bede–tall, upright, clever, brave Adam Bede–who carried such authority with all the people round about, and whom her uncle was always delighted to see of an evening, saying that “Adam knew a fine sight more o’ the natur o’ things than those as thought themselves his betters”–she knew that this Adam, who was often rather stern to other people and not much given to run after the lasses, could be made to turn pale or red any day by a word or a look from her. Hetty’s sphere of comparison was not large, but she couldn’t help perceiving that Adam was “something like” a man; always knew what to say about things, could tell her uncle how to prop the hovel, and had mended the churn in no time; knew, with only looking at it, the value of the chestnut-tree that was blown down, and why the damp came in the walls, and what they must do to stop the rats; and wrote a beautiful hand that you could read off, and could do figures in his head–a degree of accomplishment totally unknown among the richest farmers of that countryside. Not at all like that slouching Luke Britton, who, when she once walked with him all the way from Broxton to Hayslope, had only broken silence to remark that the grey goose had begun to lay. And as for Mr. Craig, the gardener, he was a sensible man enough, to be sure, but he was knock-kneed, and had a queer sort of sing-song in his talk; moreover, on the most charitable supposition, he must be far on the way to forty.

Hetty was quite certain her uncle wanted her to encourage Adam, and would be pleased for her to marry him. For those were times when there was no rigid demarcation of rank between the farmer and the respectable artisan, and on the home hearth, as well as in the public house, they might be seen taking their jug of ale together; the farmer having a latent sense of capital, and of weight in parish affairs, which sustained him under his conspicuous inferiority in conversation. Martin Poyser was not a frequenter of public houses, but he liked a friendly chat over his own home- brewed; and though it was pleasant to lay down the law to a stupid neighbour who had no notion how to make the best of his farm, it was also an agreeable variety to learn something from a clever fellow like Adam Bede. Accordingly, for the last three years– ever since he had superintended the building of the new barn–Adam had always been made welcome at the Hall Farm, especially of a winter evening, when the whole family, in patriarchal fashion, master and mistress, children and servants, were assembled in that glorious kitchen, at well-graduated distances from the blazing fire. And for the last two years, at least, Hetty had been in the habit of hearing her uncle say, “Adam Bede may be working for wage now, but he’ll be a master-man some day, as sure as I sit in this chair. Mester Burge is in the right on’t to want him to go partners and marry his daughter, if it’s true what they say; the woman as marries him ‘ull have a good take, be’t Lady day or Michaelmas,” a remark which Mrs. Poyser always followed up with her cordial assent. “Ah,” she would say, “it’s all very fine having a ready-made rich man, but mayhappen he’ll be a ready-made fool; and it’s no use filling your pocket full o’ money if you’ve got a hole in the corner. It’ll do you no good to sit in a spring-cart o’ your own, if you’ve got a soft to drive you: he’ll soon turn you over into the ditch. I allays said I’d never marry a man as had got no brains; for where’s the use of a woman having brains of her own if she’s tackled to a geck as everybody’s a- laughing at? She might as well dress herself fine to sit back’ards on a donkey.”

These expressions, though figurative, sufficiently indicated the bent of Mrs. Poyser’s mind with regard to Adam; and though she and her husband might have viewed the subject differently if Hetty had been a daughter of their own, it was clear that they would have welcomed the match with Adam for a penniless niece. For what could Hetty have been but a servant elsewhere, if her uncle had not taken her in and brought her up as a domestic help to her aunt, whose health since the birth of Totty had not been equal to more positive labour than the superintendence of servants and children? But Hetty had never given Adam any steady encouragement. Even in the moments when she was most thoroughly conscious of his superiority to her other admirers, she had never brought herself to think of accepting him. She liked to feel that this strong, skilful, keen-eyed man was in her power, and would have been indignant if he had shown the least sign of slipping from under the yoke of her coquettish tyranny and attaching himself to the gentle Mary Burge, who would have been grateful enough for the most trifling notice from him. “Mary Burge, indeed! Such a sallow-faced girl: if she put on a bit of pink ribbon, she looked as yellow as a crow-flower and her hair was as straight as a hank of cotton.” And always when Adam stayed away for several weeks from the Hall Farm, and otherwise made some show of resistance to his passion as a foolish one, Hetty took care to entice him back into the net by little airs of meekness and timidity, as if she were in trouble at his neglect. But as to marrying Adam, that was a very different affair! There was nothing in the world to tempt her to do that. Her cheeks never grew a shade deeper when his name was mentioned; she felt no thrill when she saw him passing along the causeway by the window, or advancing towards her unexpectedly in the footpath across the meadow; she felt nothing, when his eyes rested on her, but the cold triumph of knowing that he loved her and would not care to look at Mary Burge. He could no more stir in her the emotions that make the sweet intoxication of young love than the mere picture of a sun can stir the spring sap in the subtle fibres of the plant. She saw him as he was–a poor man with old parents to keep, who would not be able, for a long while to come, to give her even such luxuries as she shared in her uncle’s house. And Hetty’s dreams were all of luxuries: to sit in a carpeted parlour, and always wear white stockings; to have some large beautiful ear- rings, such as were all the fashion; to have Nottingham lace round the top of her gown, and something to make her handkerchief smell nice, like Miss Lydia Donnithorne’s when she drew it out at church; and not to be obliged to get up early or be scolded by anybody. She thought, if Adam had been rich and could have given her these things, she loved him well enough to marry him.

But for the last few weeks a new influence had come over Hetty– vague, atmospheric, shaping itself into no self-confessed hopes or prospects, but producing a pleasant narcotic effect, making her tread the ground and go about her work in a sort of dream, unconscious of weight or effort, and showing her all things through a soft, liquid veil, as if she were living not in this solid world of brick and stone, but in a beatified world, such as the sun lights up for us in the waters. Hetty had become aware that Mr. Arthur Donnithorne would take a good deal of trouble for the chance of seeing her; that he always placed himself at church so as to have the fullest view of her both sitting and standing; that he was constantly finding reason for calling at the Hall Farm, and always would contrive to say something for the sake of making her speak to him and look at him. The poor child no more conceived at present the idea that the young squire could ever be her lover than a baker’s pretty daughter in the crowd, whom a young emperor distinguishes by an imperial but admiring smile, conceives that she shall be made empress. But the baker’s daughter goes home and dreams of the handsome young emperor, and perhaps weighs the flour amiss while she is thinking what a