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´╗┐Title: The Broom-Squire
Author: Baring-Gould, S. (Sabine), 1834-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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      end of the file.



THE BROOM-SQUIRE

by

S. BARING-GOULD

Author of "Mehalah," "Court Royal," "The Gaverocks,"
"Noemi," "Eve," Etc., Etc.



New York and London
Frederick A. Stokes Company
Publishers

Copyright 1895,
By S. Baring-Gould.

Copyright 1896,
By Frederick A. Stokes Company.



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER                                           PAGE

         I. AT THE SIGN OF THE SHIP                  1

        II. WANDERING SOULS                          8

       III. THE PUNCH-BOWL                          14

        IV. WITHOUT A ROOF                          22

         V. MEHETABEL                               28

        VI. MEHETABEL IT MUST BE                    35

       VII. FALSE PERSPECTIVE                       41

      VIII. ONLY A CHARITY GIRL                     48

        IX. BIDEABOUT                               55

         X. INTO THE NET                            63

        XI. A SURNAME AT LAST                       70

       XII. UNEXPECTED                              77

      XIII. HOME                                    85

       XIV. NOT PARADISE                            92

        XV. IVER                                    98

       XVI. AGAIN IVER                             105

      XVII. DREAMS                                 112

     XVIII. REALITIES                              117

       XIX. BACK AGAIN                             124

        XX. GONE                                   131

       XXI. THOR'S STONE                           137

      XXII. IVER! COME                             144

     XXIII. A SHOT                                 149

      XXIV. THE IRONSTONE HAMMER                   156

       XXV. AN APPARITION                          162

      XXVI. A SECRET                               169

     XXVII. POISON                                 176

    XXVIII. A THREAT                               182

      XXIX. A HERALD OF STRIFE                     189

       XXX. A BEQUEST                              195

      XXXI. SURPRISES                              203

     XXXII. ANOTHER SURPRISE                       208

    XXXIII. MARKHAM                                216

     XXXIV. THE PICTURE                            222

      XXXV. THE ONLY CHANCE                        228

     XXXVI. THE SLEEPING DRAUGHT                   235

    XXXVII. A MENACED LIFE                         243

   XXXVIII. SHUT OUT                               249

     XXXIX. AT THE SILK MILL                       256

        XL. BY THE HAMMER POND                     262

       XLI. WANDERERS                              268

      XLII. THE CAVE                               275

     XLIII. AT COLPUS'S                            282

      XLIV. AGAIN-IRONSTONE                        288

       XLV. IN HOPE                                294

      XLVI. A TROUBLED HOPE                        300

     XLVII. BEFORE THE JUDGE                       307

    XLVIII. THE VERDICT                            314

      XLIX. WELCOME                                321

         L. MOVE ON                                327

        LI. THOR'S STONE AGAIN                     334

       LII. THE ROSE-CLOUD                         341



THE BROOM-SQUIRE



CHAPTER I.

AT THE SIGN OF THE SHIP.


On a September evening, before the setting of the sun, a man
entered the tavern of the Ship in Thursley, with a baby under his
arm.

The tavern sign, rudely painted, bore, besides a presentment of a
vessel, the inscription on one side of the board:--

  "Now before the hill you climb,
   Come and drink good ale and wine."

On the other side of the board the legend was different. It ran
thus:--

  "Now the hill you're safely over,
   Drink, your spirits to recover."

The tavern stood on the high-road side between Godalming and
Portsmouth; that is to say the main artery of communication between
London and Portsmouth.

After rising out of the rich overshadowed weald land, the road had
crossed long sandy wastes, where population was sparse, where were
no enclosures, no farms, only scattered Scottish firs; and in front
rose the stately ridge of sandstone that culminates in Hind Head
and Leith Hill. It was to prepare the wayfarer for a scramble to
the elevation of a little over nine hundred feet that he was
invited to "drink good ale and wine," or, if he were coming from
the opposite direction was called upon to congratulate himself in
a similar manner on having over-passed this ridge. The wayfarer
with the baby under his arm came from the Godalming side. He looked
up at the sign, which appealed at once to his heart, for he was
obviously a sailor, no less than did the invitation commend itself
to his condition.

He entered, tumbled the baby on to the tavern table that was
marked with wet rings from beer cans, and upset a saucer containing
fly poison, and said, with a sigh of relief--

"There you are! Blowed and all of a lather!"

He pulled out a blue cotton pocket-handkerchief, mopped his face
and shouted, "Beer!"

"Well, I never!" exclaimed the landlady. "Whoever heered afore or
saw of a babby lugged about wrong side uppermost. What would you
say if I was to bring you your tankard topsy-turvy?"

"I wouldn't pay for it," said the sailor.

"'Cos why?" asked the woman, planting herself arms akimbo, in front
of the wayfarer.

"'Cos it 'ud capsize the ale," he answered.

"Very well, ain't babbies got no in'ards to capsize?" asked the
landlady, defiantly. "And chucked in among the pison for killing
them dratted flies, too!"

"Never mind about the kid," said the man.

"I do mind about the child," retorted the woman; "look at him
there--the innocent--all in the nasty slops. What'll the mother say
to the mess and crumple you've made of the clothes?"

The landlady took the infant from the table, on one arm, and
proceeded to the bar to draw the beer.

Presently she returned, kissing the child and addressing it in
terms of affection. She thrust the pewter full of foaming ale on
the table towards the customer, with resentfulness in her action.

"He's a stomachy (sturdy) young chap," she said, patting the babe
with the now disengaged hand.

"He ain't a he at all," retorted the man. "He's a she."

"A girl, is it!" exclaimed the hostess; "and how came you by the
precious?"

"Best rights of all," answered the man; "'cos I'm the kid's father."

"Her mother ought to be ashamed of herself letting you haul about
the poor mite under your arm, just as though she was pertatoes."

"Her mother can't help it," said the man. "She's dead, and left
me wi' this here child a month or six weeks old, and I've been
sweating along the way from Lun'non, and she yowlin' enough to
tear a fellow's nerves to pieces." This said triumphantly; then in
an apologetic tone, "What does the likes o' me know about holdin'
babies? I were brought up to seamanship, and not to nussin'. I'd
joy to see you, missus, set to manage a thirty-pounder. I warrant
you'd be as clumsy wi' a gun as I be wi' a kid."

"D'r say," responded the landlady, "and where be you a-g'win to
with this here angel? Takin' her to sea to make a mermaid of her?"

"No, I aren't," said the mariner. "Her mother's dead--in lodgin's
down by the Katherine docks, and got no relatives and no friends
there. I'm off to sea again when I've dispodged o' this here
incumbrance. I'm takin' her down to her mother's sister--that way."
He indicated the down road with his thumb.

"It's a wonder you ain't made a crook of her backbone, it is,"
said the woman. "And if you'd gone and crippled she for life, what
would you think o' that?"

"I didn't carry her like that all the road," answered the sailor.
"Part ways I slung her over my back."

"Wonder she's alive. Owdatious strong she must be. Come in, my
cherry beam. I'll give you as good as mother's milk. Three parts
water and a bit o' shuggar. Little your father thinks o' your
wants so long as he gets his ale."

"I let her suck my thumb," said the sailor, timidly.

"Much good she got out o' that," retorted the landlady. "Yes,
yes, my syrup. I'll give you something."

"If you can stop her yowling, I'll thank you."

With a contemptuous look at the father, the hostess withdrew.

Then the sailor planted his elbows on the table, drank a long
draught of beer, and said, sententiously, "It's an institootion
is wimin."

"Woman is the joy of our lives," said a lanky, dark-haired man
at the table.

"'Tain't exactly that," answered the sailor, now first observing
that there were other men in the room. "'Tis that there's things
for everything--there's the capstan for hawlin' up the anchor, and
there's the woman for nussin'. They was ordained to it--not
men--never, no--not men. Look at my hand." The sailor extended
his arm across the table. "It's shakin' like a guitar-string when
a nigger's playing--and all along of that kid's yawls. Wimin
likes it."

"It's their moosic," said the lanky man.

Then in rushed the landlady with flashing eyes, and holding out
both palms before her said, "The child's mouth be that purple or
blue--it's fits."

"It's blackberries," answered the seaman. "They was nice and ripe,
and plenty of them."

"Blackberries!" almost shrieked the hostess, "and the child not
six weeks old! You've killed her! It's upset her blessed little
inside."

"I thought I'd done wrong," said the sailor, timidly, "that's why
I was a-carryin' of her topsy-turvy. I thought to ha' shooked the
blackberries out again."

"If that child dies," exclaimed the landlady, solemnly, "then
where will you go to, you unnat'ral parient?"

"I did it wi' the best intention," apologized the man.

"That's what Betsy Chaffers said when she gave wrong change. Oh
that heaven should ever a created man. They's terrible monsters."

She disappeared again after the child.

The sailor drank more beer, sighed, wiped his brow, then his
upper lip, and looked appealingly about him at the men who were
present. Of these there were four and a half. That is to say, four
men and a boy. Three of the men were at the table, and of these
the lanky sallow man was one.

These three men were strange, unpleasant-looking fellows, dressed up
in scraps of incongruous clothing, semi-nautical, semi-agricultural.
One was completely enveloped in a great-coat that had belonged to
a very tall and stout man, and he was short and thin. Another was
incompletely dressed, for what garments he had on were in rags
that afforded glimpses between them of tattered lining, of flesh,
but of no shirt.

The third man had the unmistakable lower jaw and mouth of an
Irishman.

By the fire sat an individual of a different type. He was a young
man with heavy brows and a large mouth devoid of lips, set tight
as a snapped man-trap. He had keen, restless, watchful eyes. His
hair was sandy, thrust forward over his brow, and hanging low
behind. On the opposite side of the hearth crouched a boy, a
timid, delicately formed lad with a large head and full lustrous
eyes.

"Come from far?" asked one of the ragamuffins at the table.

"Didn't yur hear me say from Lun'non town?" answered the sailor.
"Lagged that there dratted baby the whole way. I'll have another
glass of beer."

"And what distance are you going?" asked the lanky man.

"I shall put into the next port for the night, and tomorrow on to
Portsmouth, and stow away the kid with my wife's sister. Lord! I
wishes the morrer were well over."

"We're bound for Portsmouth," said the man in tatters. "What say
you? shall we keep company and relieve you of the kid? If you'll
pay the shot here and at the other end, and at the other pubs--can't
say but what we'll ease you."

"It's a bargain," exclaimed the sailor. "By George! I've had
enough of it from Lun'non here. As to money, look here," he put
his hand into his trousers pocket and pulled out a handful of
coins, gold, silver and copper together. "There is brass for all.
Just home, paid off--and find my wife dead--and me saddled with
the yowling kid. I'm off to sea again. Don't see no sport
wider-erring here all bebothered with a baby."

"We are very willing to accompany you," said the tattered man, and
turning to the fellow with sallow face and lantern jaws, he said,
"What's your opinion, Lonegon?"

"I'm willing, Marshall; what say you, Michael Casey?"

"Begorra--I'm the man to be a wet nuss."

The sailor called for spirits wherewith to treat the men who had
offered their assistance.

"This is a mighty relief to me," said he. "I don't think I could
ha' got on by myself."

"You've no expayrience, sir," said Casey. "It's I'm the boy for
the babbies. Ye must rig up a bottle and fill it with milk, and
just a whisk of a drop of the craytur to prevent it curdling, and
then stuff the mouth with a rag--and the darlin'll suck, and suck,
and be still as the evenin' star as I sees yonder glimmering at
the window."

"You'll have to start pretty sharp if you want to get on a stage
before dark," said the man by the fire.

"It's a lone road," threw in the boy shyly.

"What's the odds when we are four of us?" asked the man whose name
was Lonegon.

"And all of us pertecting the little cherub from ketching cold,"
threw in Casey.

"We ain't afraid--not we," said the ragged man.

"Not of bogies, at any rate."

"Oh, you need not fear bogies," observed the man at the fire, dryly.

"What is it, then?" asked Michael Casey. "Sure It's not highwaymen?"

The man by the fire warmed his palms, laughed, and said: "It would
take two to rob you, I guess, one to put the money into your pocket
and the second to take it out."

"You're right there," answered the Irishman, laughing. "It's my
pockets be that worn to holes wi' the guineas that have been in
them, that now they let 'em fall through."

The man by the fire rubbed his palms together and made a remark in
a low tone--addressed to the boy. Lonegon turned sharply round on
his seat and cried threateningly, "What's that you're hinting
agin us? Say it again, and say it aloud, and I'll knock your
silly, imperdent head off."

"I say it again," said the young man, turning his cunning head
round, like a jackdaw. "I say that if I were going over Hind Head
and by the Punch Bowl at night with as much money in my pocket as
has that seaman there--I'd choose my companions better. You haven't
heard what I said? I'd choose my companions better."



CHAPTER II.

WANDERING SOULS.


The long, lean fellow, Lonegon, leaped to his feet, and struck at
the man by the fire.

The latter was prepared for him. He had snatched a brand from the
hearth, and without losing the sarcastic laugh on his great mouth,
presented it sharply in the way of the descending fist, so as to
catch Lonegon's wrist.

The sparks flew about at the clash, and the man who had received the
blow uttered a howl of pain, for his wrist was torn by the firewood,
and his hand burnt by the fire.

With an imprecation and a vow to "do for" "eyes, liver, and lights"
of the "clodhopper," he rushed at him blindly. With a mocking laugh,
the man assailed thrust forth a leg, and Lonegon, stumbling across
it, measured his length on the floor.

The man called Marshall now interfered by snatching the pewter
tankard from the sailor, and aiming it at the head of him who had
overthrown his mate.

At the same time the boy, terrified, began to scream. "Mother!
mother! help! pray! they'll murder Bideabout."

The hostess speedily appeared, set her arms akimbo, planted her
feet resolutely on the floor, and said, in commanding tones--

"Now then! No fighting on the premises. Stand up, you rascal. What
have you done with the pewter? Ah, crushed out of all shape and use.
That's what Molly Luff sed of her new bonnet when she sat down on
it--Lawk, a biddy! Who'd ha' thought it?"

Lonegon staggered to his feet, and burst into a torrent of
recrimination against the man whom the boy had called Bideabout.

"I don't care where the rights are, or where be the wrongs. An
addled egg be nasty eating whether you tackle it one end or 'tother.
All I sez is--I won't have it. But what I will have is--I'll be
paid for that there tankard. Who threw it?"

"It was he--yonder, in tatters," said the boy.

"You won't get money out o' me," said Marshall; "my pockets--you may
turn 'em out and see for yourself--are rich in nothing but holes,
and there's in them just about as many of they as there are in the
rose o' a watering can."

"I shall be paid," asserted the hostess. "You three are mates, and
there'll be money enough among you."

"Look here, mistress," put in the sailor, "I'll stand the damage,
only don't let us have a row. Bring me another can of ale, and tell
me what it all comes to. Then we'll be on the move."

"The other fellows may clear off, and the sooner the better," said
the landlady. "But not you just now, and the baby has dropped off
into the sweetest of sleeps. 'Twere a sin to wake her."

"I'm going on to the Huts," said the seaman.

"And we're going with him as a guard to the baby," said the Irish
fellow.

"A blackguard set," threw in Bideabout.

"What about the color so long as it is effective?" asked Casey.

By degrees the anger of Lonegon was allayed, and he seated himself
growling at the table, and wiped the blood from his torn wrist on
his sleeve, and drawing forth a dirty and tattered red kerchief,
bound it round the bruised and wounded joint. The man, Bideabout,
did not concern himself with the wrath or the anguish of the man.
He rubbed his hands together, and clapped a palm on each knee, and
looked into the fire with a smirk on his face, but with an eye on
the alert lest his adversary should attempt to steal an advantage
on him.

Nor was he unjustified in being on his guard, judging by the
malignant glances cast at him by Lonegon.

"Whom may you be?" asked the tattered man.

"I'm Jonas Kink," answered the young fellow at the fire.

"He's Bideabout, the Broom-Squire," explained the landlady. Then
with a glimmering of a notion that this variation in names might
prove confusing, she added, "leastways that's what we calls him.
We don't use the names writ in the Church register here. He's the
Broom-Squire--and not the sort o' chap for you ragamuffins to
have dealings with--let me tell you."

"I don't kear what he be," said Lonegon, sullenly, "but dang it,
I'd like a sup o' ale with your leave," and without further
ceremony he took the new tankard from the sailor and quaffed off
half its contents.

The hostess looked from the drinker to the seaman and said, "Are
you standing tick for they?"

"I'll pay for their drink and they'll help me along the road with
the baby," said the sailor.

The landlady shrugged her shoulders contemptuously, and asked, "If
I may be so bold, what's her name?"

"What's whose name?"

"The baby's."

"Ha'n't got none," said the seaman.

"What, ain't she been christened yet?"

"No, I reckon not," answered the father. Then he proceeded to
explain. "You see my poor wife she was down in lodgings and
hadn't no friends nor relations no'ther nigh her, and she took
ill and never got over the birth of this here babe, and so it
couldn't be done. But the kid's aunt'll see to all that right
enough when I've got her there."

"What! you're trapsing about the country hugging a babe along
under your arm and slung over your shoulder and feeding her o'
blackberries and chucking her in among fly poison, and not a
Christian yet! My! What a world it is!".

"All in good time, missus."

"That's what Betsy Cole said o' her pork and 'ams when the pig
wor killed and her hadn't salt nor saltpetre. She'd see to it
some day. Meanwhile the maggots came and spiled the lot."

"It shall all be made right in a day or two."

"Ah! but what if it be too late? Then where will you go to some
day? How can you say but that the child wi' being hung topsy-turvy
and swinging like a pendiddlum may die of the apoplexy, or the
blackberries turn sour in her blessed stomach and she go off in
convulsions, or that she may ha' put out the end o' her tongue
and sucked some o' that there fly paper? Then where will you be?"

"I hope I shall be on board ship just before that comes to pass,"
said the sailor.

"Do you know what happens if a child dies and ha'n't been
christened? It becomes a wanderer."

"What do you mean?"

"It ain't a Christian, so it can't go to heaven. It ain't done
no evil, so it can't go to hell; and so the poor spirit wanders
about in the wind and never has no rest. You can hear them piping
in the trees and sobbin' at the winder. I've heard 'm scores of
times. How will you like that when at sea to have your own child
sighing and sobbin' up in the rigging of the vessel, eh?"

"I hope it will not come to that," said the sailor.

"That's what Susan Bay said when she put a darnin' needle into
the armchair cushion, and I sed, said I, 'twas a ticklesome thing
and might do hurt. She did it once too often. Her old man sat
down on it."

She brought some more ale at the request of the seaman, and as
she set down the tankard said:

"I won't be so bold as to say it's in Scriptur', but it's in
the Psalm-book I dare swear. Mother, she were a tip-top tearin'
religious woman, and she used to say it to me when I was younger
than I be now:--

  "'They flies in clouds and flap their shrouds
     When full the moon doth shine;
    In dead of night when lacketh light,
     We here 'em pipe and pine.

  "'And many a soul wi' hoot and howl
     Do rattle at the door,
    Or rave and rout, and dance about
     All on a barren moor.'

"And it goes on somehow like this. You can think on it as you go
over Hind Head in the dark:

  "'Or at the winder wail and weep,
     Yet never venture nigher;
    In snow and sleet, within to creep
     To warm 'em at the fire.'"

The child began to cry in the adjoining room.

"There," said the landlady, "'tis awake she is, poor mite without
a name, and not as much Christianity as could make a cat sneeze.
If that there child were to die afore you got to Portsmouth and
had her baptized, sure as my name is Susanna Verstage, I'd never
forgive myself, and I'd hear her for sure and certainty at the
winder. I'm a motherly sort of a woman, and there's a lot o' them
poor wanderers comes piping about the panes of an evening. But I
can do nothing for them."

"Now then, lads, let's be moving," said the mariner.

The three men at the table rose; and when standing exposed more of
their raggedness and the incongruity of their apparel than was
shown when they were seated.

The landlady reluctantly surrendered the child.

"A babe," said she, "mustn't be shaken after feeding;" then, "a
babe mustn't be allowed to get its little feet cold, or gripes
comes;" then, "you must mind and carry it with the head to your
shoulder, and away from the wind." Presently another item occurred
to the good woman, as the men left their places at the table: "You
must hold the child on your arm, between the wrist and the
elbow-jint."

As they went to the door she called, "And never be without a drop
o' dill water: it's comforting to babies."

As they made their exit--"And when nussin', mind, no green meat
nor fruit."

When all had departed the landlady turned to the man by the fire,
who still wore his sarcastic smirk, and said "Bideabout! What do
you think of they?"

"I think," answered the Broom-Squire, "that I never saw three
such cut-throat rascals as those who have gone off with the sailor;
and as for him--I take he's softish."

"I thought him a bit of a natural."

"He must be so to start on one of the lonesomest roads in England,
at fall of night, with such a parcel of jailbirds."

"Well, dear life!" exclaimed the good woman. "I hope nothing will
hap' to the poor child."

"Mother," said the boy, timidly, "it's not true is it about the
spirits of babies in the wind?"

"Of course it is. Where would you have them go? and they bain't
Christians. Hark! I won't say there be none flying about now. I
fancy I hear a sort of a kind o' whistling."

"Your boy Iver, he's coming with me to the Punch-Bowl," said the
Broom-Squire; "but I'll not go for half-an-hour, becos I don't
want to overtake that lanky, black-jawed chap as they call Lonegon.
He ain't got much love for me, and might try to repay that blow on
his wrist, and sprawl on the floor I gave him."

"What is Iver going to the Punch-Bowl for?" asked the landlady,
and looked at the boy, her son.

"It's a snipe's feather Bideabout has promised me," answered the
lad.

"And what do you want a snipe's feather for at this time o' night?"

"Mother, it's to make a paint brush of. Bideabout ain't at home
much by day. I've been over the road scores o' times."

"A paint brush! What do you want paint brushes for? Have you
cleaned out the pig-stye lately?"

"Yes, mother, but the pig lies abroad now; it's warm in the stye."

"Well, you may go. Dear life! I wish I could see that blessed babe
again, safe and sound. Oh, my!"

The good-hearted woman was destined to have her wish answered more
speedily than she could have anticipated.



CHAPTER III.

THE PUNCH-BOWL.


The Broom-Squire and the boy were on their way up the hill that
led towards the habitation of the former; or, to be more exact, it
led to the summit of the hill whence the Squire would have to
diverge at a sharp angle to the right to reach his home.

The evening had closed in. But that mattered not to them, for they
knew their way, and had not far to go.

The road mounted continuously, first at a slight incline, over
sand sprinkled with Scotch pines, and then more rapidly to the
range of hills that culminates in Hind Head, and breaks into the
singular cones entitled The Devil's Jumps.

This is one of the loveliest parts of fair England. The pine and
the oak and the Spanish chestnut luxuriate in the soil, the sand
tracts between the clumps are deep in heather, at intervals the
country is furrowed as by a mighty plough; but the furrowing was
done by man's hand to extract the metal of which the plough is
formed. From a remote antiquity this district of Surrey, as
well as the weald of Sussex, was the great centre of the iron
trade. The metal lies in masses in the sand, strangely smooth and
liver-colored, and going by the name of kidney iron. The forest of
Anderida which covered the weald supplied at once the ore and the
fuel for smelting.

In many places are "hammer ponds," pools of water artificially
constructed, which at one time served to turn wheels and work
mechanism for the beating out of the iron that had been won on
the spot.

The discovery of coal and iron together, or in close proximity,
in the North of England brought this industry of the counties of
Surrey and Sussex to an abrupt end. Now the deposits of ore are
no longer worked, no furnaces exist, only the traces of the old
men's mines and forges and smelting pits remain to attest that
from an age before Caesar landed in Kent, down to the close of
the last century, all the iron employed in England came from this
region.

Another singular feature of the district consists in the masses
of hard stone, gray with lichen, that lie about, here topping a
sandhill, there dropped at random in the plain. There was at one
time many more of these, but owing to their power of resisting
heat they were largely exploited as hearthstones. These masses,
there can be no doubt, are remains of superincumbent beds of hard
rock that have been removed by denudation, leaving but a few
fragments behind.

That superstition should attach to these blocks is not marvellous.
The parish in which lies the Punch-Bowl and rises Hind Head,
comprises one such Thors-stone, named perhaps after the Scandinavian
Thunder god. One of these strange masses of stone formerly occupied
a commanding position on the top of Borough Hill. On this those in
need knocked, whereupon the "Good People" who lived under it lent
money to the knockers, or any utensil desired in loan, on condition
that it was returned. One night, a petitioner, who was going to
give a feast at the baptism of his child, went to the stone, and
knocked, and asked in a loud voice for the loan of a cauldron.

This was at once thrust out from under the stone, and was carried
away and used for the christening feast. Unhappily, the applicant
for the cauldron neglected to return it at the time appointed, and
since then no more loans have been made. The cauldron, which is of
copper, is now preserved in Frensham parish church. It is two feet
in diameter, and stands on an iron trivet.

After the road had ascended some way, all trees disappeared. The
scenery was as wild and desolate as any in Scotland. On all sides
heathery slopes, in the evening light a broken patch of sand
showed white, almost phosphorescent, through contrast with the
black ling. A melancholy bird piped. Otherwise all was still. The
richly-wooded weald, with here and there a light twinkling on it,
lay far below, stretching to Lewes. When the high-road nearly
reached the summit, it was carried in a curve along the edge of
a strange depression, a vast basin in the sand-hills, sinking
three hundred feet to a marshy bottom full of oozing springs.
This is termed the Devil's Punch-Bowl. The modern road is carried
on a lower level, and is banked up against the steep incline. The
old road was not thus protected and ran considerably higher.

The night was gathering in, fold on fold, and obscuring all. The
Punch-Bowl that the Broom-Squire and the boy had on their right
was a bowl brimming with naught save darkness. Its depths could
not be fathomed by the eye at that time of night, nor did any
sound issue from it save a hissing as though some fluid were
seething in the bowl; yet was this produced solely by the wind
swirling in it among the harsh branches of the heather.

"So your mother don't like your drawing and painting," said the
Broom-Squire.

"No, Bideabout, she and father be terrible on at me to become a
publican, and carry along with the Ship, after father's got old
and gived up. But I don't fancy it; in fact, I hate the thought
of it. Of course," added the boy; "if they forces me to it, I must.
But anyhow I wouldn't like to have that there Ship sign at our door
so bad painted as she be. I could do better if I had the paints."

"Oh! drinkers don't care for beautiful pictures at the door, but
for good ale within."

"I don't like that there ship, and I wouldn't stand it--if the
inn were mine."

"You're a fool," said the Broom-Squire contemptuously. "Here's
the spot where the turn comes off the road to my house. Mind
where you walk, and don't roll over down the Punch-Bowl; it's all
a bog at the bottom."

"There's no light anywhere," observed the boy.

"No--no winders look this way. You can't say if a house is alive
or dead from here."

"How long have you had your place in the Punch-Bowl, Bideabout?"

"I've heard say my grandfather was the first squatter. But the
Rocliffes, Boxalls, Snellings, and Nashes will have it they're
older. What do I care so long as I have the best squat in the lot."

That the reader may understand the allusions a word or two must
be allowed in explanation of the settlements in the Punch-Bowl.

This curious depression in the sand range is caused by a number
of springs welling up several hundred feet below the summit of
the range. The rain that falls on the hills sinks through the sand
until it reaches an impervious bed of clay, when it breaks forth
at many orifices. These oozing springs in course of vast ages have
undermined and washed away the superincumbent sand and have formed
the crater called the Devil's Punch-Bowl. The bottom is one
impassable swamp, and the water from the springs flows away to
the north through an opening in the sand-hills.

At some unknown date squatters settled in the Punch-Bowl, at a
period when it was in as wild and solitary a region as any in
England. They enclosed portions of the slopes. They built themselves
hovels; they pastured their sheep, goats, cattle on the sides of
the Punch-Bowl, and they added to their earnings the profits of a
trade they monopolized--that of making and selling brooms.

On the lower slopes of the range grew coppices of Spanish chestnut,
and rods of this wood served admirably for broom-handles. The
heather when long and wiry and strong, covered with its harsh
leafage and myriad hard knobs, that were to burst into flower,
answered for the brush.

On account of this manufacture, the squatters in the Punch-Bowl
went by the designation of Broom-Squires. They provided with
brooms every farm and gentleman's house, nay, every cottage for
miles around. A wagon-load of these besoms was often purchased,
and the supply lasted some years.

The Broom-Squires were an independent people. They used the turf
cut from the common for fuel, and the farmers were glad to carry
away the potash as manure for their fields.

Another business supplemented farming and broom-making. That was
holly-cutting and getting. The Broom-Squires on the approach of
Christmas scattered over the country, and wherever they found holly
trees and bushes laden with berries, without asking permission,
regardless of prohibition, they cut, and then when they had a
cartload, would travel with it to London or Guildford, to attend
the Christmas market.

Not only did they obtain their fuel from the heaths, but much of
their victual as well. The sandy hills abound in rabbits, and the
lagoons and morasses at the foot of the hills in the flat land
teem with fish and wild fowl. At the present day the ponds about
Frensham are much in request for fishing--at the time of our tale
they were netted by the inhabitants of the neighborhood when they
felt a hankering after fish, and the "moors," as marshes are
locally termed, were prowled over for ducks, and the sand burrows
watched for rabbits, all without let and hindrance.

At the present date there are eight squatter families in the
Punch-Bowl, three belong to the branches of the clan of Boxall,
three to that of Snelling, and two to the less mighty clan of
Nash. At the time of which I write one of the best built houses
and the most fertile patches of land was in the possession of
the young man, Jonas Kink, commonly known as Bideabout.

Jonas was a bachelor. His father and mother were dead, and his
sister had married one of the Rocliffe's. He lived alone in his
tolerably substantial house, and his sister came in when she was
able to put it tidy for him and to do some necessary cooking.
He was regarded as close-fisted though young; his age about
twenty-three years. Hitherto no girl had caught his fancy, or had
caught it sufficiently to induce him to take one to wife.

"Tell'y what," said his sister, "you'll be nothing else but an old
hudger (bachelor)."

This was coming to be a general opinion. Jonas Kink had a heart
for money, and for that only. He sneered at girls and flouted them.
It was said that Jonas would marry no girl save for her money,
and that a monied girl might pick and choose for herself, and
such as she would most assuredly not make election of Bideabout.
Consequently he was foredoomed to be a "hudger."

"What's that?" suddenly exclaimed the Broom-Squire, who led the
way along a footpath on the side of the steep slope.

"It's a dead sheep, I fancy, Bideabout."

"A dead sheep--I wonder if it be mine. Hold hard, what's that
noise?"

"It's like a babe's cry," said the boy. "Oh, lawk! if it be dead
and ha' become a wanderer! I shu'd never have the pluck to go
home alone."

"Get along with your wanderers. It's arrant nonsense. I don't
believe a word of it."

"But there is the crying again. It is near at hand. Oh, Bideabout!
I be that terrified!"

"I'll strike a light. I'm not so sure about this being a dead
sheep."

Something lay on the path, catching what little light came from
the sky above.

Jonas stooped and plucked some dry grass. Then he got out his
tinderbox and struck, struck, struck.

The boy's eyes were on the flashing sparks. He feared to look
elsewhere. Presently the tinder was ignited, and the Broom-Squire
blew it and held dry grass haulms to the glowing embers till a
blue flame danced up, became yellow, and burst into a flare.

Cautiously Jonas approached the prostrate figure and waved the
flaming grass above it, whilst sparks flew about and fell over it.

The boy, shrinking behind the man, looked timidly forward, and
uttered a cry as the yellow flare fell over the object and illumined
a face.

"I thought as much," said the Broom-Squire. "What else could he
expect? Them three chaps ha' murdered him. They've robbed and
stripped him."

"Oh--Bideabout!"

"Aye. What other could come o' such companions. They've gone off
wi' his clothes--left his shirt--have they? That's curious, as
one of the blackguards had none."

Then the child's wailing and sobbing sounded more continuously
than before.

"The baby ain't far off," said Jonas. "I suppose we can't leave it
here. This is a pretty awkward affair. Tell'y what, Iver. You bide
by the dead man and grope about for that there baby, and I'll go
down to the houses and get help."

"Oh, Bideabout! I dursn't."

"Dursn't what?"

"Not be left alone--here--in the Punch-Bowl with a dead man."

"You're a fool," said Jonas, "a dead man can't hurt nobody, and
them rascals as killed him are for sure a long way off by this
time. Look here, Iver, you timid 'un, you find that squalling brat
and take it up. I don't mind a brass fardin' being here wi' a
corpse so long as I can have my pipe, and that I'll light. But I
can't stand the child as well. You find that and carry it down,
and get the Boxalls, or someone to take it in. Tell 'em there's a
murdered man here and I'm by the body, and want to get home and
can't till someone comes and helps to carry it away. Cut along
and be sharp. I'd ha' given a shilling this hadn't happened. It
may cost us a deal o' trouble and inconvenience--still--here it
is--and--you pick about and find that creature squealin' its
bellows out."

There was callousness unusual and repulsive in so young a man.
It jarred with the feelings of the frightened and nervous boy.
Tears of alarm and pity were in his eyes. He felt about in the
heather till he reached the infant. It was lying under a bush.
He took the poor little creature up, and the babe, as though
content to feel itself with strong arms under it, ceased to cry.

"What shall I do, Bideabout?"

"Do--cut along and raise the Boxalls and the Snellings, and bid
them come and remove the body, and get someone to take the child.
Confound the whole concern. I wish they'd done it elsewhere--or I
hadn't come on it. But it's like my ill-luck."



CHAPTER IV.

WITHOUT A ROOF.


The boy, Iver, trudged along carrying the infant in his arms. The
little face was against his cheek, and the warm breath played over
it. Whenever the child cried, he spoke, and his voice reassured
the babe, and it was quiet again. He walked cautiously, as the
path was narrow and the night dark. A false step might send him
rolling down the steep slope with his burden.

Iver had often been to the squatters' quarters, and he knew very
well his direction; but he was now agitated and alarmed.

After a while he reached bushes and could see trees standing
black against the sky, and caught the twinkling of lights. Before
him was a cottage, and a little garden in front. He opened a
wicket and went up to the door and rapped. A call of "Who is
there?" in response. The boy raised the latch and entered.

A red peat fire was burning on the hearth, and a man sat by it.
A woman was engaged at needlework by the light of a tallow candle.

"Tom Rocliffe!" exclaimed the boy. "There's been a murder. A
sailor--he's dead on the path--there's Bideabout Kink standing
by and wants you all to come and help and--here's the baby."

The man sprang to his feet. "A murder! Who's dead?"

"There was a sailor came to our place, it's he."

"Who killed him?"

"Some chaps as was drinking with him, so Bideabout says. They've
robbed him--he had a lot of brass."

"Dead--is he?" The man ran out.

"And what have you got there?" asked the woman.

"It's his baby."

"How came he by the baby?"

"I heard him say his wife was dead, and he were going to carry
the child to his wife's sister."

"What's the man's name?"

"I don't know."

"Where did he come from?"

"He was a seaman."

"Where was he going to put the baby?"

"I don't know 'xactly--somewhere Portsmouth way."

"What's the man's name?"

"I don't know."

"How'll you find her?"

"I don't know."

"Portsmouth is a large place. Are you sure she's in Portsmouth?"

"He said Portsmouth way, I think."

"Then there be a difficulty in finding her?"

"'Spose there will. Will you take the baby?"

"I-I--" The woman stared. "What's its name?"

"It ain't got none."

"Is it a boy or girl?"

"I think it's a girl."

"How old is it?"

"I think he said about six weeks."

"Is it healthy?"

"I don't know."

"Maybe it has the smallpox."

"I do not think so. Will you take it?"

"I--not I. I know nothin' about it. There's no saying, it might
bring diseases into the house, and I must consider my own children.
Is it terrible dirty?"

"I--I don't think so."

"And it hasn't got a name?"

"No; the sailor said it was not baptized."

"What's the color of its eyes?"

"I don't know."

"Has it got any hair?"

"I have not looked."

"P'raps it's an idjot?"

"I don't think so."

"And is deformed?"

"Oh, no."

"Well, I can't have no baby here as I don't know nothin about. You
can take it over to the Snellings. They may fancy it. I won't have
nothin' to do with a babe as ain't got no parents and no name, and
ain't got no hair and no color in its eyes. There is my Samuel
snorin'. Take the child away. I don't want no measles, and smallpox,
and scarlatina, and rickets brought into my house. Quick, take the
nasty thing off as fast as you can."

Iver shrunk away, left the house, and made his way, carrying the
baby, to another cottage a hundred yards distant. There was a lane
between them, with a stream running through it, and the banks were
high and made the lane dark. The boy stumbled and fell, and though
he probably had not hurt the child, he had frightened it, and it set
up loud and prolonged screams. With brow bathed in perspiration,
and heart beating from alarm, Iver hurried up to the second
squatter's cabin, and, without knocking, burst in at the door.

"I say," shouted he, "there's been a man killed, and here's a
baby yelling, and I don't know what's the matter with it. I
stumbled."

A man who was pulling off his boots started to his feet.

"Stop that darned noise," he said. "My wife--she's bad--got the
fever, and can't abide no noise. Stop that din instantly, or I'll
kick you out. Who are you, and what do'y mean rushing in on a
fellow that way?"

The boy endeavored to explain, but his voice was tremulous, and
the cries of the infant pitched at a higher note, and louder.

"I can't hear, and I don't want to," said the man. "Do you mind
what I sed? My wife be terrible bad wi' fever, and her head all of
a split, and can't bear no noise--and will you do what I say? Take
that brat away. Is this my house or is it yours? Take that 'orrid
squaller away, or I'll shy my boot at yer head."

"But," said Iver, "there's a man dead--been murdered up in the--"

"There'll be more afore long, if you don't cut. I'll heave that
boot at you when I've counted thrice, if you don't get out. Drat
that child! It'll wake my wife. Now, then, are you going?"

Iver retreated hastily as the man whirled his heavy boot above his
head by the lace.

On leaving the house he looked about him in the dark. The cottages
were scattered here and there, some in hollows by springs, others
on knolls above them, without a definite road between them, except
when two enclosures formed a lane betwixt their hedges.

The boy was obliged to step along with great care, and to feel his
way in front of him with his foot before planting it. A quarter
of an hour had elapsed before he reached the habitation of the
next squatter.

This was a ramshackle place put together of doors and windows
fitted into walls, made of boards, all taken from ruinous cottages
that had been pillaged, and their wreckage pieced together as best
could be managed. Here Iver knocked, and the door was opened
cautiously by an old man, who would not admit him till he had
considered the information given.

"What do you say? A man murdered? Where? When? Are the murderers
about?"

"They have run away."

"And what do you want me to do?"

"Would you mind taking in the poor little baby, and going to help
Master Bideabout Kink to carry the body down."

"Where to? Not here. We don't want no bodies here."

The old fellow would have slammed the door in Iver's face had not
the boy thrust in foot and knee.

Then a woman was heard calling, "What is that there, Jamaica? I
hear a babe."

"Please, Mrs. Cheel, here is a poor little creature, the child of
the murdered man, and it has no one to care for it," said the boy.

"A babe! Bless me! give the child to me," cried the woman. "Now
then, Jamaica, bundle out of that, and let me get at the baby."

"No, I will not, Betsy," retorted the man designated Jamaica. "Why
should I? Ask for an inch, and they'll have an ell. Stick in the
toe of the baby, and they'll have the dead father after it. I don't
want no corpses here."

"I will have the baby. I haven't set my eyes on a baby this
hundred years."

"I say you shan't have nothing of the sort."

"I say I shall. If I choose to have a baby, who's to say me nay?"

"I say you nay. You shan't have no babies here."

"This is my house as much as yourn."

"I'm master I reckon."

"You are an old crabstick."

"You're an old broom-handle."

"Say that again."

"I say it."

"Now then--are you going to hit me?"

"I intend to."

Then the old man and his wife fell to fighting, clawing and
battering each other, the woman screaming out that she would have
a baby, the man that she should not.

Iver had managed to enter. The woman snatched at the child, the
man wrenched it away from her. The boy was fain to escape outside
and fly from the house with the child lest the babe should be torn
in pieces between them. He knew old Cheel and his wife well by
repute--for a couple ever quarrelling.

He now made his way to another house, one occupied by settlers of
another family. There were here some sturdy sons and daughters.

When Iver had entered with the babe in his arms and had told his
tale, the young people were full of excitement.

"Bill," said one of the lads to his brother, "I say! This is
news. I'm off to see."

"I'll go along wi' you, Joe."

"How did they kill him?" asked one of the girls. "Did they punch
him on the head?"

"Or cut his throat?" asked Bill.

"Joe!" called one of the girls, "I'll light the lantern, and
we'll all go."

"Aye!" said the father, "these sort o' things don't happen but
once in a lifetime."

"I wouldn't be out of seeing it for nuthin'," said the mother.
"Did he die sudden like or take a long time about it?"

"I suppose they'll inquitch him," said one of the girls.

"There'll be some hanging come o' this," said one of the boys.

"Oh, my! There will be goings on," said the mother. "Dear life,
I may never have such a chance again. Stay for me, Betsy Anne.
I'm going to put on my clogs."

"Mother, I ain't agoing to wait for your clogs."

"Why not? He won't run away."

"And the baby?" asked Iver.

"Oh, bother the baby. We want to see the dead man."

"I wonder, now, where they'll take him to?" asked the mother.
"Shall we have him here?"

"I don't mind," said the father. "Then he'll be inquitched here;
but I don't want no baby."

"Nor do I nuther," said the woman. "Stay a moment, Betsy Anne!
I'm coming. Oh, my! whatever have I done to my stocking, it's
tore right across."

"Take the child to Bideabout," said one young man, "we want no
babies here, but we'll have the corpse, and welcome. Folks will
come and make a stir about that. But we won't have no babies.
Take that child back where you found it."

"Babies!" said another, scornfully, "they come thick as blackberries,
and bitter as sloes. But corpses--and they o' murdered men--them's
coorosities."

"But the baby?" again asked the boy.



CHAPTER V.

MEHETABEL.


Iver stood in the open air with the child in his arms. He was
perplexed. What should be done with it? He would have rubbed
his head, to rub an idea into it, had not both his arms been
engaged.

Large warm drops fell from the sky, like tears from an overcharged
heart. The vault overhead was now black with rain clouds, and a
flicker over the edge of the Punch-Bowl, like the quivering of
expiring light in a despairing eye, gave evidence that a thunderstorm
was gathering, and would speedily break.

The babe became peevish, and Iver was unable to pacify it.

He must find shelter somewhere, and every door was shut against the
child. Had it not been that the storm was imminent, Iver would have
hasted directly home, in full confidence that his tender-hearted
mother would receive the rejected of the Broom-Squire, and the
Ship Inn harbor what the Punch-Bowl refused to entertain.

He stumbled in the darkness to Jonas Kink's house, but finding the
door locked, and that the rain was beginning to descend out of the
clouds in rushes, he was obliged to take refuge in an out-house or
barn--which the building was he could not distinguish. Here he was
in absolute darkness. He did not venture to grope about, lest he
should fall over some of the timber that might be, and probably was,
collected there.

He supposed that he was in the place where Jonas fashioned his
brooms, in which case the chopping block, the bundles of twigs,
as well as the broom-sticks would be lying about. Bideabout was
not an orderly and tidy worker, and his material would almost
certainly be dispersed and strewn in such a manner as to trip
up and throw down anyone unaccustomed to the place, and unprovided
with a light.

The perspiration broke out on the boy's brow. The tears welled up
in his eyes. He danced the infant in his arms, he addressed it
caressingly, he scolded it. Then, in desperation, he laid it on
the ground, and ran forth, through the rain, to the cottage of an
old maid near, named Sally, stopping, however, at intervals in his
career, to listen whether the child were still crying; but unable
to decide, owing to the prolonged chime in his ears. It is not at
once that the drums of hearing obtain relief, after that they have
been set in vibration by acute clamor. On reaching the old maid's
door he knocked.

For some time Sally remained irresponsive.

"I knows very well," said she to herself under the bedclothes,
"it's that dratted boy who has been at the Rocliffe's."

Iver persisted in knocking. At length she appeared at the casement,
opened it, thrust forth her nightcapped head, and said peevishly,
"It ain't no manner o' use. I won't have no babies here, not to
my time o' life, thank'y. I sez I won't, and wot I sez that I
sticks to like toffee between the teeth. You may knock them there
knuckles of yorn into dimples, but open I won't. I won't. I won't."

The old woman stamped on her bedroom floor.

"I do not ask that, Sally," pleaded the boy. "I have set the baby
in Bideabout's barn, and there's no knowin', it may get hold of
the chopper and hack off its limbs, or pull down all the rick o'
broom-handles on Itself, or get smothered in the heather. I want
a lantern. I don't know how to pacify the creature, and 'tis
squeadling that terrible I don't know what's the matter."

"Is it a drawin' of the hind legs up, and stiffenin' of the back?"
asked the old maid.

"I think so," answered the boy, dubiously; then, with further
consideration, "I'm sure of it. It wriggled in my arms, like a worm
when one's gettin' it on a hook out fishing."

"That's convulsions," said Sally. "'Twill go off in one of they,
sure as eggs is eggs and ain't inions."

"Do you really say so?"

"It's that, or water on the brain. Wi' all this pouring rain, I
shouldn't wonder if 'twasn't the tother. Not, you know, that I've
any acquaintance wi babies. Only I've heard wimmin talk as has had
'em just like rabbits."

"Do they die when they have water on the brain?" asked the boy.

"Always. Babies can't stand it, no more nor can goslings gettin'
their backs wetted."

"Don't you think that perhaps it's only hunger?"

"Can't say. Has the babe been a grabbin' and a clawin' at your
nose, and a tryin' to suck it?"

"Once, Sally, when my nose got into the way."

"Then there's hunger too," said Sally, sententiously. "Them babies
has terrible apertites, like canibals, and don't know what's good
for 'em."

"Will you help me?" pleaded the boy. "Have you a feeding bottle?"

"Presarve and deliver us--I! What do you take me for, you imperant
bye?"

"I think any medicine bottle would do, if well washed out. I
shouldn't like, if there was any castor oil or senna tea dregs
left, you know. But properly washed out, it might do, with a
little milk in it."

"You'll choke the baby like that," said the old maid.

"I have seen how it is done. You stuff a bit of rag into the
throat of the bottle, and leave a tip o' rag hanging out."

"Dare say, but you byes seems to understand these things better
than I."

"Won't you come down and help me, Sally?"

"I'll come down presently when I've tumbled into some of my
clothes."

Then the head disappeared, and the casement was shut.

After the lapse of a few minutes, a light appeared at the window
of the lower room, and the door was slowly unlocked and unbarred.

Then the old woman appeared in the doorway. She wore her huge
white-frilled nightcap, that fluttered in the wind about the
shrivelled face it enclosed, but she presented an extremely limp
and attenuated appearance in her person.

"I've been a turnin' over in my head," she said, "and ten chances
to half-a-one, if that there child hev been squealin' so long,
it's either broke a blood vessel, or will die o' 'plexy. There'll
be a purty expense to the parish. There'll be two buryings laid
on it that oughten't to be. That means an extra penny in the
rates. If them there chaps wanted to murder a man, why didn't
they go and do it in Hampshire, and not go a burdenin' of this
county an' parish? There's rayson in everything."

"Do you really suppose the child will die?" asked the boy, more
concerned about the life than about the rates.

"How can I say? I've had precious little to do wi' babies, thanks
be. Now, sharp, what is it you want? I'm perishin' wi' cold."

"May I have a bottle and some milk, and a lantern?"

"You can have wot you wants, only I protest I'll have no babies
foist on me here." Then she added, "I will not trust you byes.
Show me your hands that you ain't hidin' of it behind yer back."

"I assure you the child is in Bideabout's shed. Do be quick, and
help. I am so afraid lest it die, and becomes a wanderer."

"If I can help it I will do what I can that it mayn't die, for
certain," said the woman, "anything but taking it in here, and
that I won't, I won't, I won't." Again she stamped.

Iver provided himself with the requisites as speedily as might be,
and hastened back to the outhouse. At the door a cat was miawling,
and rubbed itself against his shins. When he entered the cat
followed him.

The child was still sobbing and fitfully screaming, but was rapidly
becoming exhausted.

Iver felt the arms and head and body to ascertain whether any bone
was broken or battered by the fall, but his acquaintance with the
anatomy of a child was still rudimentary for him to come to any
satisfactory conclusion.

He held the bottle in one and, but was ignorant how to administer
the contents. Should the child be laid on its back or placed in a
sitting posture?

When he applied the moistened rag to its mouth he speedily
learned that position was immaterial. The babe fell to work
vigorously, with the large expectation of results. Some moments
elapsed before it awoke to the fact that the actual results were
hardly commensurate with its anticipations, nor with its exertions.

When roused to full consciousness that it was being trifled with,
then the resentment of the infant was vehement and vociferous.
It drew up its legs and kicked out. It battled with its hands, it
butted with its pate, and in its struggles pulled the plug out
of the mouth of the flask so that the milk gushed over its face
and into its mouth, at once blinding and choking it.

"Oh, dear, oh, dear, what shall I do?" he exclaimed, and began to
cry with vexation.

The cat now came to his assistance. It began to lick up the spilled
milk.

Iver seized the occasion.

"Look, see, pretty puss!" said he, caressingly, to the child.
"Stroke pussy. Don't be afraid. You see she likes the milk that you
wouldn't have. Naughty pussy eats little birds and mousies. But she
won't touch babies."

The cat having appropriated the spilled milk looked at the infant
with an uncanny way out of her glinting green eyes, as though by no
means indisposed to try whether baby was not as good eating as a
fledgling bird, as toothsome as a mouse.

Iver caught up the cat and scratched her under the chin and behind
the ears.

"Do you hear? The pussy purrs. Would that you also might purr. She
is pleased to make your acquaintance. Oh do, do, do be quiet!"

Then casting aside the cat he endeavored slowly to distil some of
the milk down the child's throat without suffering it to swallow
too much at once, but found the task difficult, if not impossible
for his hand shook.

"Wait a bit," said he. "There are straws here. I will cut one and
put it through the rag, and then you can tipple like a king upon
his throne."

He selected a stout barley straw, and finding a knot in it
endeavored to perforate the obstruction with a pin. When this
failed he looked about for another straw, and at last discovered
one that was strong, uninterrupted by knots, and sufficiently
long to serve his purpose.

For awhile he was so engrossed in his occupation that the child
remained unnoticed. But when the straw had been adjusted
satisfactorily, and the apparatus was in working order, as Iver
ascertained by testing it himself, then he looked round at his
charge.

The babe was lying silent and motionless.

His heart stood still.

"It is dead! It is going to die! It will become a wanderer!" he
exclaimed; and putting down the feeding bottle, snatched up the
lantern, crept on his knees to the child, and brought the little
face within the radius of the sickly yellow light.

"I cannot see! O, I can see nothing! There is no light worth
having!" he gasped, and proceeded to open the door in the lantern
side.

"What is do be done?" he asked despairingly. "I do not know if it
be dying or be in a fit. O! live! do, do live! I'll give you a
brass button and some twine out of my pocket! I promise you my
next lollipops if you will. Nasty, cross, disobliging thing."
He went to the barn door and looked out, saw that the rain was
coming down in torrents, came back. "Is it true," asked he,
"that you must be a wanderer, if you die unchristened? Shall I
ever hear you yowling in the wind? It is too, too dreadful!"

A chill came over the boy's heart.

Iver had never seen death. He was vastly frightened at the thought
that the little soul might fleet away whilst he was watching. He
dared not leave the child. He was afraid to stay. If he were to
desert the babe, and it expired--and to run home, would not the
soul come crying and flapping after him?

He considered with his hands to his head.

"I know what I will do!" exclaimed he, suddenly; "I'll make a
Christian of it, anyhow."

There was standing on the floor an old broken red bowl of coarse
pottery, out of which fowls had been fed. It was now empty.

Iver took it, wiped it out with his hand, and went with it to
the door, where a rude "launder" or shoot of wood carried the
water from the thatch immediately over the door, and sent the
collected moisture in a stream down one side. The boy held the
vessel under the shoot till he had obtained sufficient for his
purpose, and then, returning within, said, "I'll stop your
wandering," went up to the child, sprinkled some water over it
and said, "Mehetabel, I baptize thee--"

The cat made a spring and dashed past.

Down went the contents of the bowl over the babe, which uttered
a howl lusty, loud enough to have satisfied any nurse that the
baptism was valid, and that the devil was expelled.



CHAPTER VI.

MEHETABEL IT MUST BE.


In at the barn door came Mrs. Verstage, Iver's mother.

"Iver! Wot's up?"

"Oh, mother!"

"Where's that babe?"

"Here, mother, on the ground."

"On the ground! Good life! Sowsed, soaked through and through,
whatever have you been doin'? Holdin' it under the spout?"

"Baptizin' it, mother."

"Baptizin' of it?" The woman stared.

"I thought the creetur was dyin'."

"Well, and wot then?"

"Mother. Lest it shud take to wanderin'."

"Baptizin' of it. Dear life! And what did you call it?"

"Mehetabel."

"Mehetabel! 'Taint a human name."

"It is, mother. It's a Scriptur name."

"Never heard on it."

"Mehetabel was the wife of Hadar."

"And who the dickens was Hadar?"

"He was a dook--a dook of Edom."

In the churchyard of Thursley stands a large white stone, on
which is carved a medallion, that contains the representation
of a man falling on the ground, with one arm raised in deprecation,
whilst two men are robbing and murdering him, and a third is
represented as acting sentinel lest the ruffians should be
surprised. On the ground are strewn the garments of the man who
is being killed. Beneath this rudely sculptured group is this
inscription:--

  I N  M E M O R Y  O F

  A generous, but unfortunate Sailor,
  Who was barbarously murdered on Hind Head,
  On September 24th, 1786,

  B Y  T H R E E  V I L L A I N S,

  After he had liberally treated them and promised
  them his farther Assistance on the Road
  to Portsmouth.

In the "Royal Huts," a tavern, in which now very good entertainment
for man and beast may be had, a tavern which stands somewhat
further along the way to Portsmouth than Hind Head, may be seen
at this day some rude contemporary paintings representative of
the murder.

The ruffians after having killed their victim, robbed him, not
only of his money, but also of his clothes, and hastened on their
way.

A hue and cry were raised, when the corpse had been discovered,
and the men were arrested upon the following day at Sheet, near
Peterhead, and were found in possession of the clothing of the
deceased. In due course of time they were tried at Kingston, and
on the 7th of April, 1787, were hung and gibbeted in chains on
Hind Head Hill, beside the old road and close to the scene of
their crime.

A cross now marks the summit, and indicates the spot where stood
the gallows, and a stone for some time pointed out the locality
where the murder was committed. When, however, the new Portsmouth
Road was cut further down the hill, skirting the Punch-Bowl at a
lower level, then the stone was removed to the side of the new
road. At present it is an object visited by vast numbers of
holiday-makers, who seem to take almost as lively an interest
in the crime that was committed over a century ago as if it were
an event of the present day. At the time the murder aroused the
greatest possible excitement in the neighborhood, and pre-eminently
in the parish of Thursley.

As may be gathered from the wording of the inscription on the
tombstone that covers the victim, his name never transpired. No
relations claimed the right to bury him. None appeared to take
charge of his orphan child.

The parish fretted, it fumed, it protested. But fret, fume, and
protest availed nothing, it had to defray the cost of the funeral,
and receive and lap the child in its parochial mercies.

A deceased wife's sister undoubtedly existed somewhere. Such was
the conviction of every parishioner. The poor man was on his way
to Portsmouth to deposit his child with her when the tragic event
took place. Why did she not come forward? Why did she hold her
tongue?

Had there existed in her bosom one particle of natural feeling
she would not have remained mute and motionless, and allowed the
parish to bury her brother-in-law and encumber itself with her
niece.

So the parish talked, appealingly, argumentatively, blusteringly,
objurgatively, but all to no purpose. The deceased wife's sister
kept mum, and invisible. Reluctantly, resentfully, the parish was
finally obliged to face the facts, pay the expenses of the
interment, and settle that a weekly dole should be afforded for
the maintenance of the child, and as that deceased wife's sister
did not appear, the parochial bile overflowed upon the hapless
babe, who came to be regarded as an incubus on the ratepayers and
a general nuisance.

The one difficulty that solved itself--ambulando, was that as to
who would take charge of the child. That was solved by the hostess
of the Ship.

The parish endeavored to cajole the good woman into receiving the
babe as a gift from Heaven, and to exact no compensation for her
labors in rearing it, for the expense of clothing, feeding,
educating it. But Mrs. Verstage was deaf to such solicitations.
She would take charge of the child, but paid she must be. Eventually
the parochial authorities, after having called a vestry, and sat
three hours in consultation, and to "knuckle under," as the hostess
expressed it, and allow a trifle for the entertainment of the
little waif.

So the matter was settled.

Then another had to be determined. What about the christening
performed in the shed by Iver? What about the outlandish name
given the child? The landlady raised no question on these heads
till it was settled that the little being was to be an inmate of
her house, and under her care. Then she reasoned thus--"Either
this here child be a Mehetabel or she bain't. Either it's a
Christian or it's a heathen. What is it? Is it fish, is it flesh,
or is it good red herring? It ain't no use my calling her Mehetabel
if she bain't nothing of the sort. And it ain't no use teachin'
her the caterplasm, if she ha'n't been made a Christian. I'll go
and ax the pa'son."

Accordingly the good woman took Iver by the shoulder and dragged
him to Witley Vicarage, and stated her case and her difficulties.
The Vicar had already had wind of what had occurred. Thursley was
at the period a chapelry in the extensive parish of Witley, and
the church therein had, before the Reformation, been regularly
served by the monks of Witley Abbey. It was afterwards more or
less irregularly supplied with sacred ministrations from the
mother-church, and had no resident pastor.

In former days the parishioners were never very sure whether there
was to be a service in Church at Thursley or not. The sexton was
on the look-out, and if he saw the parson's wig glimmering over
the hedge top, as he rode along, then he at once rushed to the
bell-rope and announced to such of the parishioners as were within
hearing, that there was to be divine service. If there were no
service, then those who had come from a distance in expectation of
devotion, retired to the tavern and drank and gossiped, and were
not disposed to cavil. The Church of Thursley is curious, it has
a central bell-tower supported on huge beams of oak, such oaks they
must have been as are never seen now. Those desiring to see the
parson had to seek him in the Vicarage of the mother parish.

Mrs. Verstage accordingly had to go with her boy to Witley.

"If the boy gave a name," said the parson.

"He did, your Reverence, and such a name."

"What is it?"

"Mehetabel."

"Wherever did you pick up that name?" asked the Vicar, turning to
the boy.

"Please, sir, we was doin' the Dooks of Edom in Sunday-school.
We'd already learned David's mighty men, and could run 'em off
like one o'clock, and--I don't know how it was, sir, but the name
slipped out o' my mouth wi'out a thought. You see, sir, we had so
many verses to say for next Sunday, and I had some of the Dooks of
Edom to repeat."

"Oh! So you gave it the name of one of the Dukes."

"Please, sir, no. Mehetabel was the wife of one, she was married
to his Grace, Dook Hadar."

"Oh, Hadar! to be sure, quite so; quite so! Very good boy, glad
you are so well primed in all things necessary to salvation."

"And is the child to be called Mehetabel?" asked the woman.

"That depends," said the Vicar. "How did the boy perform the
sacred function?"

"Please, sir," said Iver, "I did it as your Honor does, after the
second lesson on Sunday afternoon, and the churching."

"He hadn't no surplice on," argued the mother.

"You had a bowl of pure water?" asked the parson.

"Yes, sir, rain water. I caught it out of the spout."

"And the words used?"

"The same as you say, sir; exactly."

The parson rubbed his chin.

"Was it done in thoughtlessness--in irreverent folly?"

"Oh, no, sir! I did it in sober earnest. I thought the child was
going to die."

"Of course," said the Vicar, "lay baptism is valid, even if
administered by a Dissenter; but--it is very unusual, very much so."

"I didn't do all that about the cross," observed Iver, "because the
cat jumped and upset the bowl."

"Of course, of course. That belongs to the reception into the
church, and you couldn't do that as it was--"

"In Bideabout's basin," said Iver.

"You are certain the water touched the child?"

"Soused her," responded the hostess. "She caught a tremendous
cold out o' it, and has been runnin' at the nose ever since."

"I think the very best thing we can do," said the Vicar, "is that
I should baptize the child conditionally, in church,--conditionally
mind."

"And call her by another name?" asked the woman.

"I do not think I can do that."

"It's a terrible mouthful," observed Mrs. Verstage.

"I daresay that in practice you will be able to condense it. As
for that boy of yours, ma'am, I should like a word with him, by
himself."

"So, the creetur must bide Mehetabel?"

"Mehetabel it must be."



CHAPTER VII.

FALSE PERSPECTIVE.


As this story concerns that child which received the name of
Mehetabel, it has been necessary to begin _de novo_ with her as
a babe, and to relate how she came by her name--that is her
Christian name--and how it was that she had no surname at all.
Also, how it was that she came to be an inmate of the Ship, and
how that her fortunes were linked at the very outset of her career,
on the one hand with Iver, who baptized her, and on the other
hand with the Broom-Squire, whose roof--that at least of his
shed--had sheltered her when every door of the squatter settlement
in the Punch-Bowl, was resolutely closed against her.

But although this story begins with Mehetabel before she could
speak, before she could assimilate anything more substantial than
milk, yet the author has no intention of inflicting on the reader
the record of her early days, of her acquisition of the power of
speech, and capacity for consuming solid food. Neither is it his
purpose to develop at large the growth of her mental powers, and
to describe the evolution of her features. Suffice it then to say
that Mehetabel grew up in the Ship Inn, almost as a child of the
hostess and of her husband, with Iver as her playmate, and somewhat
consequential patron.

By the parish at large, whether that of Witley or of its subdivision
Thursley, she was coldly regarded. She was but a charity girl, and
kind as Mrs. Verstage was, the hostess never forgot that.

Iver was fourteen years older than Mehetabel, and, above all, was
a boy, whereas Mehetabel was a waif, and only a girl.

Iver, moreover, regarded the child with gracious condescension. Had
he not baptized her? Did she not owe her name to him? Had he not
manufactured her first feeding-bottle?

As Mehetabel grew up, it is not surprising that she should regard
Iver with admiration and affection, that she cherished every
kindness he showed her, and in every way sought to deserve his
notice.

The child had an affectionate, a clinging nature, and she threw
the tendrils of her heart around the handsome boy, who was both
patron and playmate.

It is a matter wholly immaterial whether Mehetabel underwent the
ordeal of the customary childish maladies, measles, chicken-pox,
whooping-cough for certainty, and scarlet fever and smallpox as
possibilities, for none of them cut short the thread of her life,
nor spoiled her good looks; either of which eventualities would
have prevented this story proceeding beyond the sixth chapter. In
the one case, there would have been no one about whom to write,
in the other, had she been marked by smallpox or deafened by
scarlatina, the interest of the reader could not have been claimed
for her--so exacting is the reader of fiction. A heroine must be
good-looking, or she will not be read about.

Indeed, it is more than probable, that had the author announced his
story to be one of a very plain woman, he might have looked in
vain for a publisher to undertake the issue of the story.

Before proceeding further it will be well to assure the reader
that, from an early age, promise of beauty was given, and not of
beauty only, but of intelligence and robust health.

Mehetabel was sent by Mrs. Verstage not only to a day school, kept
by a widow, in Thursley, but also on the Lord's Day to the Vicar's
Sunday-school at Witley. The Vicar was an excellent man, kindly
disposed, earnest in his desire to do good, so long as the good was
to be done in a novel fashion, absolutely untried. Sunday-schools
were but a recent introduction, and he seized on the expedient with
avidity. Hitherto the children had been catechised in Church after
the second lesson in the afternoon, before their parents and the
entire congregation. But as this was an usage of the past the Vicar
rejected it in favor of the new system. According to the traditional
custom the children had been instructed in the Creed, the Lord's
Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. But this did not please the
innovating Vicar, who cast these out of his curriculum to make way
for a knowledge of the geography of Palestine, and an accurate
acquaintance with the genealogies that are to be found scattered
here and there in the pages of Holy Writ, The teaching of doctrine,
according to the Vicar, lay at the bottom of the divisions of
Christendom, but there could be no controversy over the latitude
and longitude of the sites mentioned in Scripture.

The landlord, proprietor of the Ship and of Mrs. Susanna Verstage,
was a dull, obstinate man, slow of thought and of speech, withal
kindly. Like many another dull man, if he did a stupid thing he
stuck to it; and the stupider the thing done, the greater the
tenacity with which he held to the consequences. His mind was
chiefly occupied with a small farm acquired out of the sand waste,
hedged about, dressed and cultivated, and increasing annually in
value. In this was his interest and pride; he cared nothing for
the tavern, save as an adjunct to the farm. All his energies were
devoted to the latter, and he allowed his wife to rule supreme in
the inn. Simon Verstage was a well-to-do man. He must have managed
very ill had he not made a farm answer for which he paid no rent,
save an acknowledgment of 6d. an acre to the lord of the manor. He
held the land on a head rent upon the lives of himself, his wife,
and his son. The public-house, well frequented by wayfarers, and
in good repute among the villagers, supplemented the profits made
out of the farm in good years, and made up for deficit in such
years as rain and deficiency in sun made bad agriculturally.

The inn stood at a junction of roads, or rather where two lanes
fell into the main London and Portsmouth road. It sometimes went
in consequence by the name of The Lane End Inn. In situation it
was fairly sheltered, a hillock of sand rock sheltered it on the
east from the bitter winds that swept the waste between Milford
and Thursley, and a growth of huge hollies was its protection
against the equally cold blasts from the north.

So long as Iver was a small boy, his father employed him about
the farm, to assist him in ploughing, to hoe potatoes, and wield
the muck-fork in the cow-house, or, to use the local term, the
cow-stall. He kept the lad hard at work from morning rise till set
of day.

Iver endured this, not entering with interest and pleasure into
the work of the farm. He had no perception of the points of a
bullock, and he had a prejudice in favor of ragged hedges.

Iver's neglect of duties, and forgetfulness of what was told him,
called forth reprimand and provoked chastisement. They were not
due to wilfulness or frivolity, but to preoccupation of the mind.
The boy had no natural taste for the labors of the field. He
disliked them; for everything else he had eyes, save for that
which pertained to the tasks imposed on him.

Throughout early boyhood this lack of interest and inattention had
caused much friction, and this friction became aggravated as he
grew older, and his natural bent became more marked.

It would be hard to find in one family two persons so utterly
dissimilar as Iver and his father. They seemed to have diverse
faculties seated in their several organs. They neither saw, heard,
nor smelt in the same manner, or rather saw, heard, and smelt so
differently as to feel in distinct fashion. What pleased the one
was distasteful to the other.

It was not possible for Iver to open his mind to his father,
because his father could not understand and appreciate his thoughts.

But if his heart was sealed to Simon Verstage, it was open to his
mother, who loved and spoiled him, and took his part invariably,
whether the boy were in the right or wrong. In every way possible
she humored his fancies; and she, unwisely, condoled with him on
what she was pleased to consider as his father's injustice. At
length there ensued a rupture so wide, so aggravated by mutual
recrimination, that Mrs. Verstage doubted her ability to bridge
it over.

This breach was occasioned by Iver one morning climbing to the
sign-board and repainting the stern of the vessel, which had long
irritated his eye because, whereas the ship was represented sideways,
the stern was painted without any attempt at fore-shortening; in
fact, full front, if such a term can be applied to a stern.

The laws of perspective were outraged in the original painting; of
such laws Iver knew nothing. What he did know was that the picture
was wrong. His eye, his natural instinct told him so. The matter
had been for long one of controversy between himself and his
father. The latter had been unable to understand that if the
portholes at the side were visible, the entire stern could not
possibly be viewed in full.

"She's got a stern, ain't she?" asked the old man. "If she has,
then wot's we to deny it her?"

At length Iver cut the controversy short, and brought the quarrel
to a crisis by climbing a ladder with a brush and some paints
obtained from the village carpenter, during the temporary absence
of his father, and putting the foreshortening to rights to the
best of his ability.

When the old man was aware what his son had done on his return
from Godalming, whither he had betaken himself to a fair, then he
was furious. He stormed at Iver for daring to disfigure the
sign-board, and at his wife for suffering him to do it unreproved.

Iver turned stubborn and sulky. He muttered an answer, lacking in
that respect due to a parent. The old man became abusive.

Mrs. Verstage intervened ineffectually; and when night arrived the
youth made a bundle of his clothes and left the house, with the
resolve not to return to it so long as his father lived.

Whither he had gone, for a long time was unknown. His mother wept,
so did Mehetabel. The old man put on an assumption of indifference,
was short and ungracious to his wife. He was constrained to engage
a man to do the farm work hitherto imposed upon Iver, and this
further tended to embitter him against his rebellious son. He
resented having to expend money when for so long he had enjoyed
the work of Iver free of cost.

The boy's pride prevented him from writing home till he had secured
himself a position in which he could maintain himself. When he did
communicate with Thursley, it was through Mehetabel, because Simon
had forbidden any allusion to the truant boy, and Mrs. Verstage was
not herself much of a scholar, and did not desire unnecessarily to
anger her husband by having letters in his handwriting come to her
by the post.

Years passed, during which the landlady's heart ached for her son:
and as she might not speak of him to Simon, she made a confidant
of Mehetabel.

Thus, the old woman and the girl were drawn closer together, and
Mehetabel glowed with the thought that she was loved by the hostess
as though she were her own daughter.

To talk about the absent one was the great solace of Susanna
Verstage's life. There ever gnawed at her heart the worm of
bereavement from the child in whom her best affections, her
highest pride, her sole ambitions were placed. It may be questioned
whether, without the sympathetic ear and heart of Mehetabel into
which to pour her troubles and to which to confide her hopes, the
woman would not have deteriorated into a hard-hearted virago.

Her love to Simon, never very hot, had dried up. He had wounded
her to the quick in unpardonable fashion in driving her only child
out of the house, and all for the sake of a two-penny-ha'penny
signboard.

Throughout her work she schemed, she thought for Iver; she toiled
and endured in the tavern only to amass a competence for him. She
clung to the place only because she trusted some day he would
return to it, and because every corner was sweet with recollections
of him.

When not at work she dreamed, waking or sleeping, and all her
dreams were of him. She built castles in the air--all occupied
by him. She had but one hope: to meet her son again. All her
activities, all her thoughts, all her aspirations, all her prayers
were so many lines focussing on one point, and that her son. To
Mehetabel she told her mind, and Mehetabel shared all her hopes;
the heart of the girl beat in entire sympathy with that of the
hostess. Iver's letters were read and re-read, commented on, and
a thousand things read into them by the love of the mother that
were not, and could not be there. These letters were ever in the
girl's bosom, kept there to be out of reach of old Simon, and to
be accessible at all moments to the hungering mother. They heard
that Iver had taken to painting, and that he was progressing in his
profession; that he gave lessons and sold pictures.

What musings this gave rise to! what imaginations! What expectations!

Mrs. Verstage never wearied of talking of Iver to Mehetabel, and
it never wearied the girl to speak with the mother about him.

The girl felt that she was indispensable to the old woman; but that
she was only indispensable to her so long as Iver was away never
entered into her imagination.

There is a love that is selfish as well as a love that is wholly
self-annihilating, and an inexperienced child is incapable of
distinguishing one from the other.

There is false perspective in the human heart as well as upon
signboards.



CHAPTER VIII.

ONLY A CHARITY GIRL.


Simon Verstage sat outside the door of his house, one hot June
evening, smoking his pipe.

By his side sat his wife, the hostess of the Ship. Eighteen years
have passed since we saw her last, and in these years she has
become more plump, a little more set in features, and mottled in
complexion, but hardly otherwise older in appearance.

She was one of those women who wear well, till a sickness or a
piercing sorrow breaks them down, and then they descend life's
ladder with a drop, and not by easy graduation.

Yet Mrs. Verstage had not been devoid of trouble, for the loss of
her son, the very apple of her eye, had left an ache in her heart
that would have been unendurable, were not the balm of hope
dropped into the wound. Mehetabel, or as she was usually called
Matabel, had relieved her of the most onerous part of her avocation.
Moreover, she was not a woman to fret herself to fiddle-strings;
she was resolute and patient. She had formed a determination to
have her son home again, even if she had to wait for that till
his father was put under ground. She was several years younger
than Simon, and in the order of nature might calculate on enjoyment
of her widowhood.

Simon and his wife sat in the wide porch. This had been constructed
as an accommodation for wayfarers, as an invitation to take shade
and shelter in hot weather or Mustering storm; but it also served
what was uncontemplated, as an ear to the house. Whatever was
uttered there was audible within--a fact very generally forgotten
or unsuspected by such as occupied the porch. And, indeed, on the
present occasion, this fact was wholly unconsidered by the taverner
and his spouse, either because it escaped their minds that the
porch was endowed with this peculiarity, or else because the only
person then in the house was Mehetabel, and her hearing or not
hearing what was said was an indifferent matter.

Had there been customers present, drinking, the two would not have
been together when and where they were, nor would the topic of
conversation between them have been of a private nature.

The innkeeper had begun with a remark which all the world might
hear, and none would controvert, viz., that it was fine hay-making
weather, and that next day he purposed carrying the crop.

But Mrs. Verstage was indisposed to discuss a matter so obvious as
the weather, and so certain as that it would be utilized for
saving the hay. She plunged at once into that which lay near her
heart, and said, "Simon, you'll answer that there letter now?"

"Whose? Iver's?"

"Of course, Iver's letter. Now you yourself have heard from him,
and what does that mean but he wants all square between you. He
has got into a famous business. He sells his pictures and gives
lessons in drawing and painting at Guildford. It's but a matter of
time and he will be a great man."

"What! as a drawing master? I'd as lief he played the fiddle and
taught dancing."

"How can you say that, Simon?"

"Because it is what I feels. Here he had a good farm, a good inn,
and a good business--one that don't dwindle but is on the increase,
and the land bettering every day--and yet off he went, chucked
aside the blessin's of Providence, to take up wi' scribblin' and
scrawlin' on paper. If it weren't a thing altogether shameful it
would be clear ridic'lous."

Simon sucked in smoke enough to fill his lungs, and then blew it
forth leisurely in a long spiral.

"Odds' life," said he, "I don't see why I shu'd concern myself
about the hay, nor anythin' else. I've enough to live upon and to
enjye myself. What more do I want now?"

"What more?" inquired the landlady, with a sigh and a catch in
her voice--a sigh of sorrow, a catch of resentment. "What more--when
your son is away?"

"Whose fault is that? Home weren't good enough for he. Even the
Old Ship on the sign-board didn't give him satisfaction, and he
must alter it. I don't see why I should worrit myself about the
hay or any other thing. I'll just put up my feet an enjye myself."

"Simon, I pray you answer Iver's letter. Opportunities be like
fleas, to be took sharp, or away they goes, they be terrible
long-legged. Opportunities only come now and then, and if not
caught are lost past recall. 'Twas so wi' Temperance Noakes, who
might a' had the chimbley-sweep if she'd a kissed him when he
axed. But she said, Wipe and wash your face fust--and she's an
old maid now, and goin' sixty. Consider, Simon. Iver be your son,
your only child. It's Providence makes us wot we is; that's why
you're a man and not a woman. Iver hadn't a gift to be a farmer,
but he had to paintin'. It can't be other--it's Providence orders
all, or you might be a mother and nursin' a baby, and I smokin'
and goin' after the plough in leggin's."

"That's all gammon," growled the landlord.

"We be gettin' old," pursued Mrs. Verstage. "In the end you'll
have to give up work, and who but Iver is to come after you here?"

"Him--Iver!" exclaimed Simon. "Your own self says 'e ain't fit to
be a farmer."

"Then he may let the farm and stick to the inn."

"He ain't got the makin' of a publican in him," retorted the man;
"he's just about fit for nothin' at all."

"Indeed, but he is, Simon," pleaded the woman, "only not in the
way you fancies. What good be you now in a public-house? You do
nothing there, it is I who have all the managin'."

"I attend to the farm. Iver can do neither. All the money you and
I ha' scraped together he'll chuck away wi' both hands. He'll let
the fences down I ha' set up; he'll let weeds overrun the fields
I ha' cleared. It shall not be. It never shall be."

"He may marry a thrifty wife, as you have done."

"And live by her labor!" he exclaimed, drawing his pipe from his
mouth and in knocking out the ash in his anger breaking the stem.
"That a child o' mine should come to that!"

"Iver is your own flesh and blood," persisted the woman, in great
excitement. "How can you be so hard on him? It's just like that
old fowl as pecked her eggs, and we had to wring her neck. It's
like rabbits as eat their own young. Nonsense! You must be
reconciled together. What you have you cannot leave to a stranger."

"I can do what I will with my own," retorted Simon. "Look here,
Susanna, haven't you had that girl, Matabel, with you in place of
a child all these years? Don't she work like a slave? Don't she
thoroughly understand the business? Has she ever left the hogs
unmeated, or the cow unmilked? If it pleases you to go to market,
to be away for a week, a fortni't you know that when you come
home again everything will be just as you left it, the house
conducted respectable, and every drop o' ale and ounce o' 'backy
accounted for."

"I don't deny that Matabel's a good girl. But what has that to do
with the matter?"

"What! Why everything. What hinders me leavin' the whole pass'l
o' items, farm and Ship to her? She'll marry a stiff man as'll look
after the farm, and she'll mind the public-house every mite as
well as ever have you, old woman. That's a gal as knows chalk from
cheese."

Mrs. Verstage leaned back with a gasp of dismay and a cramp at
her heart. She dropped her hands on her lap.

"You ain't speaking serious, Simon?"

"I might do wuss," said he; "and the wust I could do 'ad be to
give everythin' to that wastrel, Iver, who don't know the vally of
a good farm and of a well-established public-house. I don't want
nobody after I'm dead and gone to see rack and ruin where all
were plenty and good order both on land and in house, and that's
what things would come to wi' Iver here."

"Simon, he is a man now. He was a boy, and what he did as a boy
he won't do as a man."

"He's a dauber of paints still."

The taverner stood up. "I'll go and cast an eye over the hay-field,"
he said. "It makes me all of a rage like to think o' that boy."

He threw away the broken pipe and walked off.

Mrs. Verstage's brain spun like a teetotum; her heart turned cold.

She was startled out of her musings by the voice of Mehetabel, who
said, "Mother, it is so hot in the kitchen that I have come out to
cool myself. Where is father? I thought I heard him talking with
you?"

"He's gone to the hay-field. He won't answer Iver's letter. He's
just about as hard as one o' them Hammer Ponds when frozen to the
bottom, one solid lump."

"No, mother, he is not hard," said Mehetabel, "but he does not
like to seem to give way all at once. You write to Iver and tell
him to come here; that were better than for me to write. It will
not seem right for him to be invited home by me. The words from
home must be penned by you just as though spoke by you. He will
return. Then you will see that father will never hold out when he
has his own son before his eyes."

"Did you hear all that father and I was sayin'?" asked the hostess,
suspiciously.

"I heard him call out against Iver because he altered the
signboard; but that was done a long time agone."

"Nuthin' else?"

"And because he would never make a farmer nor an innkeeper."

"It's a dratted noosence is this here porch," muttered the
hostess. "It ort to 'a been altered ages agone, but lor', heart-alive,
the old man be that stubborn and agin' all change. And you heard
no more?"

"I was busy, mother, and didn't give attention to what didn't
concern me."

"Oh!" said Mrs. Verstage, "only listened, did you, to what did
concern you?"

A fear had come over the hostess lest the girl had caught Simon's
words relative to his notion, rather than intention, of bequeathing
what he had away from Iver and to the child that had been adopted.

Of course, Simon did not seriously purpose doing anything of the
sort. It was foolish, inconsiderate of him to give utterance to
such a thought, and that in such a place as the porch, whence
every whisper was conveyed throughout the interior of the house.

If Mehetabel had overheard his words, what a Fool's Paradise she
might create for herself! How her head might be turned, and what
airs she might give herself.

Leave the farm, the inn, everything to a girl with whom they were
wholly unconnected, and to the detriment of the son. Hoity-toity!
such a thought must not be allowed to settle, to take root, to
spring up and fructify.

"Mother," said the girl, "I think that you ought to write to Iver
with your own hand, though I know it will cost you trouble. But
it need not be in many words. Say he must come himself without
delay and see father. If Iver keeps at a distance the breakage
will never be mended, the wound will never be healed. Father is
a resolute man, but he is tender-hearted under all, and he's ever
been wonderful kind to me."

"Oh, yes, so long as he ain't crossed he's right enough with
anyone," answered Mrs. Verstage quickly. She did not relish the
allusion to the old man's kindness towards Mehetabel, it seemed to
her suspicious heart due to anticipation of what had been hinted
by him. She considered a moment, and determined to have the whole
matter out, and to dash any expectations the girl might have formed
at once and for ever. A direct woman Mrs. Verstage had ever been.

"Matabel," she said, and drew her lips together and contracted her
brows, "whatever father may scheme about making a will, it's all
gammon and nonsense. I don't know whether he's said any tomfoolery
about it to you, or may do so in time to come. Don't think nuthin'
of it. Why should he make a will? He has but Iver to whom he can
leave what he has. If he don't make a will--where's the odds? The
law will see to it; that everything goes to Iver, just as it ort."

"You will write to Iver to come?"

"Yes, I will. Matters can't be worse than they be, and they may
come to a betterment. O dear life of me! What I have suffered all
these years, parted from my only child."

"I have tried to do what I could for you, dear mother."

"Oh, yes"--the bitterness was still oozing up in the woman's heart,
engalling her own mind--"that I know well enough. But then you
ain't my flesh and blood. You may call me mother, and you may
speak of Simon as father, but that don't alter matters, no more
nor when Samuel Doit would call the cabbage plants broccaloes did
it make 'em grow great flower heads like passon's wigs. Iver is
my son, my very own child. You, Matabel, are only--"

"Only what, mother?"

"Only a charity girl."



CHAPTER IX.

BIDEABOUT.


The words were hardly spoken before a twinge of conscience made
Mrs. Verstage aware that she had given pain to the girl who had
been to her as a daughter.

Yet she justified herself to herself with the consideration that
it was in the end kindest to cut down ruthlessly any springing
expectation that might have started to life at the words of Simon
Verstage. The hostess cast a glance at Mehetabel, and saw that her
face was quivering, that all color had gone out of her cheeks, that
her hands were contracted as with the cramp.

"I had no wish to hurt you," said the landlady; "but facks are
facks, and you may pull down the blinds over 'em wi'out putting
them out o' existence. There's Laura Tickner--got a face like a
peony. She sez it's innade modesty; but we all knows it's
arrysippelas, and Matthew Maunder tells us his nose comes from
indigestion; but it's liquor, as I've the best reason to know.
Matabel, I love you well, but always face facks. You can't get rid
of facks any more than you can get rid of fleas out o' poultry."

Mrs. Verstage disappeared through the doorway. Mehetabel seated
herself on the bench. She could not follow the hostess, for her
limbs trembled and threatened to give way.

She folded her arms on her lap, and leaned forward, with her eyes
on the ground.

"A charity girl! Only a charity girl!"

She said the words to herself again and again. Her eyes burnt; a
spray hung on her eyelids. Her lips were contracted with pain,
spasms ran through her breast.

"Only a charity girl! She'd never, never a'sed that had she loved
me. She don't." Then came a sob. Mehetabel tried to check it, but
could not, and the sound of that sob passed through the house.
It was followed by no other.

The girl recovered herself, leaned back against the wall, and
looked at the twilight sky.

There was no night now. The season was near midsummer:--

  "Barnaby bright,
   All day and no night."

Into the luminous blue sky Mehetabel looked steadily, and did
battle with her own self in her heart.

That which had been said so shortly was true; had it been wrapped
up in filagree--through all disguise the solid unpleasant truth
would remain as core. If that were true, then why should she be
so stung by the few words that contained the truth?

It was not the words that had hurt her--she had heard them often
at school--it was that "Mother" had said them. It was the way in
which they had been uttered.

Mrs. Verstage had ever been kind to the girl; more affectionate
when she was quite a child than when she became older. Gradually
the hostess had come to use her, and using her as a servant, to
regard her in that light.

Susanna Verstage was one of those women to whom a baby is almost
a necessity, certainly a prime element of happiness. As she
philosophically put it, "Men likes 'baccy; wimin likes babies;
they was made so;" but the passion for a baby was doubly strong
in the heart of the landlady. As long as Mehetabel was entirely
dependent, the threads that held her to the heart of the hostess
were very strong, and very many, but so soon as she became
independent, these threads were relaxed. The good woman had a
blunt and peremptory manner, and she at times ruffled the girl by
sharpness of rebuke; but never previously had she alluded to her
peculiar position and circumstances in such a galling manner.

Why had she done this now? Why gone out of her way to do so?

Mehetabel thought how wonderful it was that she, a stranger,
should be in that house, treated almost, though not wholly, as
its child, whereas the son of the house was shut out from
it,--that against him only was the door fast, which was held
open with invitation to every one else.

It was the thought of this contrast, perhaps, that had been
working in Mrs. Verstage's mind, and had provoked the impatience
and occasioned the cruel words.

"Well," said Mehetabel to herself, "I must face it. I have only
the name that Iver gave me in the barn. I have no father, no
mother, and no other name than that which I am given in charity."
She looked at her gown. "I owe that to charity;" at her hands--"My
flesh is nourished out of charity." She wiped her eyes--the very
kerchief was a gift to her in charity. "It is so," she said. "I
must bear the thought and get accustomed to it. I was given a
name in charity, and in charity my father was granted a grave. All
I can look to as in some fashion my own--and yet they are not my
own--be the headstone in the churchyard to show how my real
father was killed, and the gallows on Hind Head, with the chains,
to tell where those hung who killed him. 'Tain't every one can
show that." She raised her head with a flash of pride. Human
Nature must find something on which to plume itself. If nothing
else can be found, then a murdered father and a gallows for the
murderers served.

Mehetabel was a handsome girl, and she knew it. She could not
fail to know it, situated as she was. The men who frequented the
public house would not leave a girl long in doubt whether she
were comely or the reverse.

But Mehetabel made small account of her appearance. No youth of
the neighborhood had won his way into her heart; and she blew away
the compliments lavished upon her as the men blew away the froth
from their tankards. What mattered it whether she were good-looking
or not, so long as she was only Mehetabel, without a surname,
without kin, without a penny!

When Iver had run away from home she had done all that lay in her
power to comfort the mother. She had relieved the landlady of half
of her work; she had stayed up her heart when downcast, despondent.
She had talked with her of the absent son, whose name the father
would not allow to be mentioned in his hearing; had encouraged her
with hopes, and, by her love, had sought to compensate for the loss.

It was due to her that the Ship Inn had a breath of youth and
cheerfulness infused into it. But for her, the absence and
indifference of the host, and the moroseness of the disappointed
hostess, would have driven custom away.

Mrs. Verstage had found her useful, even necessary. She could
hardly endure to be for an hour without her, and she had come to
rely upon her more and more in the conduct of business, especially
such as required sufficient scholarship to do correspondence and
keep accounts.

The hostess was proud of the girl's beauty and engaging manner,
and took to herself some of the credit of having her adopted
daughter regarded as the belle of Thursley. She was pleased to
see that the men admired her, not less than the women envied her.
There was selfishness in all this. Mrs. Verstage's heart was
without sincerity. She had loved Mehetabel as a babe, because the
child amused her. She liked her as a girl, because serviceable to
her, and because it flattered her vanity to think that her adopted
daughter should be so handsome.

Now, however, that the suspicion was engendered that her own son
might be set aside in favor of the adopted child, through Simon's
partiality, at once her maternal heart took the alarm, and turned
against the girl in resolution to protect the rights of Iver,
Mehetabel did not understand the workings of Susanna Verstage's
mind. She felt that the regard entertained for her was troubled.

She had heard Simon Verstage's remark about constituting her his
heir, but had so little considered it as seriously spoken, and
as embodying a resolution, that it did not now occur to her as an
explanation of the altered conduct of the "mother" towards herself.

Mehetabel felt instinctively that a vein of truer love throbbed
in the old host than in his wife; and now, with a hunger for some
word of kindness after the rebuff she had sustained, she stood up
and walked in the direction of the hayfield to meet Simon Verstage
on his return journey.

As she stepped along she heard a footfall behind her. The step
was quickened, and a hand was laid on her shoulder. She turned,
and exclaimed sharply:

"Bideabout--what do you want?"

"You, Matabel."

A man stayed her: the Broom-Squire.

"What with me?"

"I want you to listen to what I have to say."

"I can spare you a minute, not more. I expect father. He has gone
to look at the hay."

Mehetabel disengaged her shoulder from his grasp. She stepped
back. She had no liking for the Broom-Squire. Indeed, he inspired
her with a faint, undefined repugnance.

Jonas was now a middle-aged man, still occupying his farm in the
Punch-Bowl, making brooms, selling holly, cultivating his patch of
land, laying by money and still a bachelor.

He had rounded shoulders and a short neck; this made him thrust his
head forward in a peering manner, like a beast of prey watching for
a victim. His eyes were keen and restless. His hair was short-cut,
and his ears projected from the sides of his head like those of a
bat. Otherwise he was not a bad-looking man. His features were
good, but his expression was unpleasant. The thin lip was curled
contemptuously; and he had a trick of thrusting forth his sharp
tongue to wet his lips before making a spiteful remark.

He was a frequent visitor at the Ship, and indeed his inclination
for liquor was his one weakness.

Of late he had been much oftener at this inn than formerly.
Latterly he had been profuse in his compliments to Mehetabel,
which she had put aside, much as she brushed empty tankards, and
tobacco ash off the table. He was no welcome guest. His bitter
tongue was the occasion of strife, and a brawl was no infrequent
result of the appearance of the Broom-Squire in the public house.
Sometimes he himself became the object of attack, but usually he
succeeded in setting others by the ears and in himself escaping
unmolested. But on one of the former occasions he had lost two
front teeth, and through the gap thus formed he was wont to thrust
his tongue.

"I am glad to have caught you," said the Broom-Squire; "and caught
you alone--it is hard to find you so--as it's hard to find a
treacle cask without flies round it."

"What have you to say?"

"You have always slipped out of my way when I thought I had you."

"I did not know that you had a fancy to catch me alone." She made
as if to proceed on her course.

"Stand still," said he imperiously. "It must come out. Do not
look at me with that keep-your-distance air. I mean no incivility.
I care a deal more for you than for any one else."

"That is not saying much."

"I care for you alone in all the world."

"Except yourself."

"Of course."

He breathed as though relieved of a burden.

"Look here, Mehetabel, I've not been a marrying man. Wife and
family cost too much. I've been saving and not spending. But this
can't go on forever. All good things come to an end some time. It
has come to this, I must have a woman to mind the house. My sister
and I have had a tiff. You know her, Sarah Rocliffe. She won't do
as I like, and what I want. So I'll just shut the door in her face
and make a long nose at her, and say, 'Got some one else now.'"

"So," exclaimed Mehetabel, the color rushing to her cheeks in
anger, "you want me as your housekeeper that you may make a nose
at your sister and deny her the house."

"I won't have any other woman in my house but yourself."

"You will have to wait a long time before you get me."

"I mean all fair and honorable," said Jonas. "I didn't say
housekeeper, did I? I say wife. If any chap had said to me,
Bideabout, you are putting your feet into a rabbit net, and will
be caught, and--'" he made a sign as if knocking a rabbit's neck
to kill it--"I say, had any one said that, I'd a' laughed at him
as a fool."

"You may laugh at him still," said the girl. "No one that I know
has set any net for you."

"You have," he sniggered. "Aye, and caught me."

"I!" laughed Mehetabel contemptuously, "I spread a net for you?
It is you who pursue and pester me. I never gave you a thought
save how to make you keep at arm's length."

"You say that to me." His color went.

"It is ridiculous, it is insulting of you to speak to me of netting
and catching. What do I want of you save to be let go my way."

"Come, Mehetabel," said the Broom-Squire caressingly, "we won't
quarrel about words. I didn't mean what you have put on me. I want
you to come and be my wife. It isn't only that I've had a quarrel
with my sister. There's more than that. There is something like a
stoat at my heart, biting there, and I have no rest till you
say--'I'll have you, Jonas!'"

"The stoat must hang on. I can't say that."

"Why not?"

"I am not obliged to give a reason."

"Will you not have me?"

"No, Bideabout, I will not. How can I take an offer made in this
way? When you ask me to enable you to be rude to your sister, when
you speak of me as laying traps for you; and when you stay me on
my road as if you were a footpad."

Again she made an attempt to go in the direction of the hayfield.
Her bosom was heaving with anger, her nostrils were quivering.

Again he arrested her.

"If you will not let me go," said she, "I will call for help. Here
comes father. He shall protect me."

"I'll have you yet," said the Broom-Squire with a sneer. "If it
ain't you that nets me, then it'll be I net you, Mehetabel."



CHAPTER X.

INTO THE NET.


"We must have cake and ale for the hayfield," said Mrs. Verstage.
"Of ale there be plenty in the house, but for cake, I must bake.
It ort to ha' been done afore. Fresh cakes goes twice as fast as
stale, but blessin's on us, the weather have been that changeable
I didn't know but I might put it off to anywhen."

This was said on the morrow of the occurrence just described.

Whilst Mrs. Verstage was engaged in the baking she had not time for
much talk, but she asked abruptly: "What's that as to Bideabout?
Father said he'd come on you and him, and you was both in a sort
o' take on."

Mehetabel had no reason for reticence, and she told the hostess of
the suit of the Broom-Squire, and of the manner in which he made
his proposal. Mrs. Verstage said nothing at the time. She was
occupied--too occupied for comments. But when the cake was in the
oven, she seated herself at the kitchen table, with a sigh of
relief, and beckoned to Mehetabel to do the same.

Mrs. Verstage was warm, both on account of the heat of the morning,
but also because she had been hard at work. She fanned herself
with a dish, and as she did so looked at the girl.

"So--the Broom-Squire offered himself, did he?"

Mehetabel made a sign in the affirmative.

"Well," continued the hostess, "if he weren't so good a customer
here he would be suitable enough. But yet a good wife will soon
cure him. A hudger (bachelor) does things as a married man don't
allow himself."

Mehetabel looked questioningly at the landlady.


She said: "There must be good stuff in a man, or marriage won't
bring it out."

"Who says there ain't good stuff in Bideabout?"

"I have never seen the glint of it."

"You don't see the iron ore as lies under the sand, but there it
is, and when wanted it can be worked. I like a man to show his
wust side forefront. There's many a man's character is like his
wesket, red plush and flowers in front and calico in rags behind
hid away under his coat."

Mehetabel was surprised, troubled. She made no response, but color
drifted across her face.

"After all," pursued Mrs. Verstage, "he may ha' come here not after
liquor, but drawed by you. Then you see he's been alone all these
years, and scriptur' saith it ain't good for a man to be that.
They goes sour and mouldy--men do if unmarried. I think you'd be
fulfillin' your dooty, and actin' accordin' to the word o' God if
you took him."

"I--mother! I!" The girl shrank back. "Mother, let him take some
one else. I don't want him."

"But he wants you, and he don't want another. Matabel, it's all
moonshine about leap year. The time never comes when the woman can
ax the man. It's tother way up--and Providence made it so.
Bideabout has a good bit o' land, for which he is his own landlord,
he has money laid by, so folks tell. You might do worse. It's a
great complerment he's paid you. You see he's well off, and you
have nothin'. Men generally, nowadays, look out for wives that have
a bit o' money to help buy a field, or a cow, or nothin' more than
a hog. You see Bideabout's above that sort o' thing. If you can't
have butter to your bread, you must put up wi' drippin."

"I'm not going to take Bideabout," said Mehetabel.

"I don't say you should. But he couldn't a took a fancy to you
wi'out Providence ordainin' of it."

"And if I don't like him," threw in the girl, half angry, half
in tears, "I suppose that is the doings of Providence too?"

Mrs. Verstage evaded a reply to this. She said: "I do not press
you to take him. You are kindly welcome to stay on with us a bit,
till you've looked about you and found another. We took you up as
a babe and cared for you; but the parish allowance was stopped
when you was fourteen. It shan't be said of us that bare we took
you in and bare we turn you out. But marry you must. It's ordained
o' nature. There's the difference atwixt a slug and a snail. The
snail's got her own house to go into. A slug hasn't. When she's
uncomfortable she must go underground."

The hostess was silent for awhile. Mehetabel said nothing. Her
cheeks burned. She was choking.

Mrs. Verstage went on: "There was Betsy Purvis--she was a bit of
a beauty, and gave herself airs. She wouldn't have Farmer James,
as his legs was so long, he looked like a spider--and she wouldn't
have Odger Kay, as his was too short--he looked like a dachs-dog.
It came in the end she married Purvis, who had both his legs shot
off in the wars, 'cos and why? she couldn't get another. She'd
been too finical in choosin'."

"Are you tired of me?" gasped the girl. "Do you wish to be rid
of me?"

"Not at all," answered the landlady. "It's becos we're so fond
of you, father and I, that we want to see you well settled."

"And father--does he wish me to take Bideabout?"

Mrs. Verstage hesitated.

"He hasn't said that right out. You see he didn't know for certain
Jonas were hoppin' about you. But he'd be tremendous pleased to
have you well married."

"And you think I should be well married if I became Bideabout's
wife?"

"Of course. He's a great catch for the likes of you, who belong to
nobody and to no place, properly. Beggars mustn't be choosers."

Mehetabel sprang to her feet.

"It is so. I am a beggar. I am only a charity girl, nothing else."

She struck her head against the wall. "Let me beat my brains out
if I am in your way. Why should I be thrown into the arms of any
passer-by?

"You misjudge and misunderstand me," said Mrs. Verstage, hotly.
"Because you have been with me so long, and because I love you, I
want to see you settled. Because I can't give you a prince in
spangles and feathers you fly out against me."

"I don't ask for a prince, only to be let alone. I am happy here,
as a girl, working for you and father."

"But we shall not live forever. We are growing old, and shall
have to give up. Iver may return any day, and then--"

The hostess became crimson to the temples; she knew how handsome
the girl was, doubly handsome she seemed now, in her heat and
agitation, and it occurred to Mrs. Verstage that Iver with his
artistic appreciation of the beautiful, might also think her
handsome, that the old childish fancy for each other might spring
to new and to stronger life, and that he might even think of
Mehetabel as a wife. That would never, never do. For Iver something
better must be found than a girl without means, friends, and name.

"What then?" asked Mehetabel. "Suppose Iver do come here and keep
the inn. I can go with you wherever you go, and if you become old,
I can attend to you in your old age."

"You are good," said Mrs. Verstage; but although her words were
gracious, her manner was chilling. "It is for us to think of you
and your future, not you to consider for us. The Broom-Squire--"

"I tell you, mother, I don't like him."

"You must hear me out. You do not love him. Lawk-a-jimmeny! we
can't all marry for love. You don't suppose I was in love with
Simon when I took him? I was a good-looking wench in my day, and
I had many admirers, and were more of tragedy-kings than Simon.
But I had sense, and I took him for the sake of the Ship Inn and
the farm. We have lived happy together, and if it hadn't been for
that matter of Iver, there'd not ha' been a cloud between us. Love
grows among married folk, like chickweed in a garden. You can't
keep it out. It is thick everywhere, and is never out o' season.
I don't say there ain't a ripping of it out one day--but it comes
again, twice as thick on the morrow, and much good it does! I don't
think I cared for Simon when I took him any more than you care for
Jonas, but I took him, and we've fared well enough together." After
a pause the hostess said, "Talkin' of marriage, I have a fine
scheme in my head. If Iver comes back, as I trust he will, I want
him to marry Polly Colpus."

"Polly Colpus, mother!"

"She's James Colpus's only child, and will come in for money.
James Colpus is a wonderful thrivin' man."

"But she has a moustache."

"What of that, if she have money?"

"But--Iver--if he couldn't bear an ugly signboard to the house,
will he relish an ugly figure-head to his wife within it?"

"She has gold which will gild her moustache."

"I don't know," said Mehetabel; "Iver wouldn't take the business
at his father's wish, will he take a wife of his mother's
providing?"

"He will know which side his bread is buttered better than some
persons I could name."

"I fancy when folk look out for wives, they don't borrow their
mother's eyes."

"You cross me in everything to-day," said the hostess, peevishly.

Mehetabel's tears began to flow.

Mrs. Verstage was a woman who did not need much time or much
balancing to arrive at a determination, and when she had formed
her resolution, she clung to it with the same tenacity as her
husband did to his.

Her maternal jealousy had been roused, and the maternal instinct
is the strongest that exists in the female nature. Many a woman
would allow herself to be cut to bits for her child. But not only
will she sacrifice herself without hesitation, but also any one
else who in any way hinders the progress of her schemes for the
welfare of her child. Mrs. Verstage entertained affection for the
girl, an affection very real, yet not to the extent of allowing it
to blind her to the true interests of her own son. She was roused
to jealousy by the partiality of Simon for his adopted daughter, to
the prejudice of Iver. And now she was gravely alarmed lest on the
return of Iver, the young affection of the two children for each
other should take a new spell of life, assume a new form, and
intensify into passion.

Accordingly she was resolved, if possible, to remove the girl
from the Ship before the arrival of Iver. The proposal of the
Broom-Squire was opportune, and she was anxious to forward his
suit as the best means for raising an insuperable barrier between
her son and the girl, as well as removing her from Simon, who,
with his characteristic wrong-headedness, might actually do what
he had proposed.

"I don't see what you're crying about," said Mrs. Verstage,
testily. "It ain't no matter to you whether Iver takes Polly
Colpus or a Royal Princess."

"I don't want him to be worried, mother, when he comes home with
having ugly girls rammed down his throat. If you begin that with
him he'll be off again."

"Oh! you know that, do you?"

"I am sure of it."

"I know what this means!" exclaimed the angry woman, losing all
command over her tongue. "It means, in plain English, just
this--'I'm going to try, by hook or by crook, to get Iver for
myself.' That's what you're driving at, hussy! But I'll put you
by the shoulders out of the door, or ever Iver comes, that you
may be at none of them tricks. Do you think that because he
baptized you, that he'll also marry you?"

Mehetabel sprang through the door with a cry of pain, of wounded
pride, of resentment at the injustice wherewith she was treated,
of love in recoil, and almost ran against the Broom-Squire. Almost
without power to think, certainly without power to judge, fevered
with passion to be away out of a house where she was so misjudged,
she gasped, "Bideabout! will you have me now--even now. Mother
turns me out of doors."

"Have you? To be sure I will," said Jonas; then with a laugh out
of the side of his mouth, he added in an undertone, "Don't seem to
want that I should set a net; she runs right into my hands. Wimen
is wimen!"



CHAPTER XI.

A SURNAME AT LAST.


When Simon Verstage learned that Mehetabel was to be married to
the Broom-Squire, he was not lightly troubled. He loved the girl
more dearly than he was himself aware. He was accustomed to see
her about the house, to hear her cheerful voice, and to be welcomed
with a pleasant smile when he returned from the fields. There was
constitutional ungraciousness in his wife. She considered it
lowering to her dignity, or unnecessary, to put on an amiable face,
and testify to him pleasure at his presence. Little courtesies are
dear to the hearts of the most rugged men; Simon received them
from Mehetabel, and valued them all the more because withheld
from him by his wife. The girl had known how to soothe him when
ruffled, she had forestalled many of his little requirements, and
had exercised a moderating influence in the house. Mrs. Verstage,
in her rough, imperious fashion, had not humored him, and many a
domestic storm was allayed by the tact of Mehetabel.

Simon had never been demonstrative in his affection, and it was
only now, when he was about to lose her, that he became aware how
dear she was to his old heart. But what could he do, now that she
had given herself to Jonas Kink? Of the manner in which this had
been brought about he knew nothing. Had he been told he would
have stormed, and insisted on the engagement coming to an end. But
would this have mended matters? Would it not have made Mehetabel's
position in the house only more insupportable?

He remained silent and depressed for a week, and when the girl
was in the room followed her with his eyes, with a kindly,
regretful light in them. When she passed near him, he held out
his hand, took hers, squeezed it, and said, "Matabel, we shall
miss you:--wun'erful--wun'erful!"

"Dear father!" she would answer, and return the pressure of his
hand, whilst her eyes filled.

"I hope you'll be happy," he would say; then add, "I suppose you
will. Mother says so, and wimen knows about them sort o' things
better nor we."

To his wife Simon said, "Spare nothing. Give her a good outfit,
just as if she was our own daughter. She has been a faithful
child, and has saved us the expense and worrit of a servant,
and I will not have it said--but hang it! what odds to me what
is said? I will not have her feel that we begrudge her aught.
She has no father and mother other than we, and we must be to
her all that we can."

"Leave that to me," said the wife.

Mainly through the instrumentality of Mrs. Verstage the marriage
was hastened on; it was to be as soon as the banns had been called
thrice.

"Wot's the good o' waitin'?" asked Mrs. Verstage, "where all is
pleasant all round, and all agreed?"

Mehetabel was indifferent, even disposed to have the wedding
speedily, there was no advantage in postponing the inevitable. If
she were not wanted in the Ship, her presence was desired in the
Punch-Bowl, if not by all the squatters there, at all events by
the one most concerned.

She felt oppression in the house in which she had been at home
from infancy, and was even conscious that her adopted mother was
impatient to be rid of her. Mehetabel was proud, too proud to
withdraw from her engagement, to acknowledge that she had rushed
into it without consideration, and had accepted a man whom she
did not love. Too proud, in fine, to continue one day longer
than need be, eating the bread of charity.

Seamstresses were summoned, and every preparation made that
Mehetabel should have abundance of clothing when she left the Ship.

"Look here, Susanna," said Simon, "you'll have made a pocket in
them gownds, you mind."

"Yes, Simon, of course."

"Becos I means to put a little purse in for Matabel when she
goes from us--somethin' to be her own. I won't have the little
wench think we han't provided for her."

"How much?" asked Mrs. Verstage, jealously.

"That I'm just about considerin'," answered the old man cautiously.

"Don't you do nothin' reckless and unraysonable, Simon. What will
she want wi' money? Hasn't she got the Broom-Squire to pay for
all and everything?"

During the three weeks that intervened between the precipitate
and ill-considered engagement and the marriage, Mehetabel hardly
came to her senses. Sometimes when occupied with her work in the
house a qualm of horror came over her and curdled the blood in her
heart; then with a cold sweat suffusing her brow, and with pale
lips, she sank on a stool, held her head between her palms, and
fought with the thoughts that rose like spectres, and with the
despair that rolled in on her soul like a dark and icy tide. The
words spoken by the hostess had made it impossible for her to
retrace her steps. She could not understand what had come over
Mrs. Verstage to induce her to address her as she had. The after
conduct of the hostess was such as showed her that although wishing
her well she wished her away, and that though having a kindly
feeling towards her, she would not admit a renewal of former
relations. They might continue friends, but only on condition of
being friends at a distance. Mehetabel racked her brain to find in
what manner she had given offence to the old woman, and could find
none. She was thrust from the only bosom to which she had clung
from infancy, without a reason that she could discover. Meanwhile
she drew no nearer to Bideabout. He was delighted at his success,
and laid aside for a while his bitterness of speech. But she did
not admit him to nearer intimacy. His attempts at familiarity met
with a chilling reception; the girl had to exercise self-restraint
to prevent the repugnance with which she received his addresses
from becoming obvious to him and others.

Happily for her peace of mind, he was a good deal away, engaged in
getting his house into order. It needed clearing out, cleansing
and repairing. No money had been expended on dilapidations, very
little soap and water on purification, since his mother's death.

His sister, Mrs. Rocliffe, some years older than himself, living
but a few yards distant, had done for him what was absolutely
necessary, and what he had been unable to do for himself; but
her interest had naturally been in her own house, not in his.

Now that he announced to her that he was about to marry, Sarah
Rocliffe was angry. She had made up her mind that Jonas would
continue a "hudger," and that his house and land would fall to
her son, after his demise. This was perhaps an unreasonable
expectation, especially as her own conduct had precipitated the
engagement; but it was natural. She partook of the surly disposition
of her brother. She could not exist without somebody or something
to fall out with, to scold, to find fault with. Her incessant
recrimination had at length aroused in Jonas the resolve to cast
her wholly from his dwelling, to have a wife of his own, and to
be independent of her service.

Sarah Rocliffe ascertained that she had overstepped the mark in
quarrelling with her brother, but instead of blaming herself she
turned the fault on the head of the inoffensive girl who was to
supplant her. She resolved not to welcome her sister-in-law with
even a semblance of cordiality.

Nor were the other colonists of the Bowl favorably disposed. It
was a tradition among them that they should inter-marry. This
rule had once been broken through with disastrous results. The
story shall be told presently.

The squatter families of the Punch-Bowl hung together, and when
Sarah Rocliffe took it in dudgeon that her brother was going to
marry, then the entire colony of Rocliffes, Boxalls, Nashes, and
Snellings adopted her view of the case, and resented the engagement
as though it were a slight cast on them.

As if the Bowl could not have provided him with a mate meet for
him! Were there no good wenches to be found there, that he must
go over the lips to look for a wife? The girls within the Bowl,
thanks be, had all surnames and kindred. Matabel had neither.

It was not long before Bideabout saw that his engagement to
Mehetabel was viewed with disfavor by him immediate neighbors,
but he was not the man to concern himself about their opinions.
He threw about his jibes, which did not tend to make things
better. The boys in the Bowl had concocted a jingle which they
sang under his window, or cast at him from behind a hedge, and
then ran away lest he should fall on them with a stick. This was
their rhyme:--

  "A harnet lived in an 'ollow tree,
   A proper spiteful twoad were he.
   And he said as married and 'appy he'd be;
   But all folks jeered and laughed he-he!"

Mehetabel's cheeks were pale, and her brows were contracted and
her lips set as she went to Thursley Church on the wedding-day,
accompanied by Mrs. Verstage and some village friends.

Gladly would she have elected to have her marriage performed as
quietly as possible, and at an hour and on a day to which none
were privy save those most immediately concerned. But this
did not suit the pride of the hostess, who was resolved on making
a demonstration, of getting to herself the credit of having acted
a generous and even lavish part towards the adopted child.

Mehetabel held up her head, not with pride, but with resolution
not to give way. Her brain was stunned. Thought would no more
flow in it than veins of water through a frozen soil. All the
shapes of human beings that passed and circled around her were
as phantasms. In church she hardly gathered her senses to know
when and what to respond.

She could scarcely see the register through the mist that had
formed over her eyes when she was required to sign her Christian
name, or collect her thoughts to understand the perplexity of the
parson, as to how to enter her, when she was without a surname.

When congratulated with effusion by Mrs. Verstage, with courtesy
by the Vicar, and boisterously by the boys and girls who were
present, she tried to force a smile, but ineffectually, as her
features were set inflexibly.

The bridegroom kissed her cheek. She drew back as if she had been
stung, as a sensitive plant shrinks from the hand that grasps it.

The previous day had been one of rain, so also had been the night,
with a patter of raindrops on the roof above Mehetabel's attic
chamber, and a flow of tears beneath.

During the morning, on the way to church, though there had been
no rain, yet the clouds had hung low, and were threatening.

They separated and were brushed aside as the wedding party issued
from the porch, and then a flood of scorching sunlight fell over
the bride and bridegroom. For the first time Mehetabel raised her
head and looked up. The impulse was unconscious--it was to let
light shine into her eyes and down into the dark, despairing
chambers of her soul filled only with tears.

The villagers in the churchyard murmured admiration; as she issued
from the gates they cheered.

Bideabout was elate; he was proud to know that the handsomest girl
in the neighborhood was now his. It was rare for a sarcastic curl
to leave his lips and the furrow to be smoothed on his brow. Such
a rare occasion was the present. And the Broom-Squire had indeed
secured one in whom his pride was justifiable.

No one could say of Mehetabel that she had been frivolous and
forward. Reserved, even in a tavern: always able to maintain her
dignity; respecting herself, she had enforced respect from others.
That she was hard-working, shrewd, thrifty, none who visited the
Ship could fail to know.

Many a lad had attempted to win her favor, and all had been
repulsed. She could keep forward suitors at a distance without
wounding their self-esteem, without making them bear her a grudge.
She was tall, well-built and firmly knit. There was in her evidence
of physical as well as of moral strength.

Though young, Mehetabel seemed older than her years, so fully
developed was her frame, so swelling her bosom, so set were her
features.

Usually the girl wore a high color, but of late this had faded
out of her face, which had been left of an ashen hue. Her pallor,
however, only gave greater effect to the lustre and profusion of
her dark hair and to the size and to the velvet depth and softness
of her hazel eyes.

The girl had finely-moulded eyebrows, which, when she frowned
through anger, or contracted them through care, met in one band,
and gave a lowering expression to her massive brow.

An urchin in the rear nudged a ploughboy, and said in a low tone,
"Jim! The old harnet out o' the 'ollow tree be in luck to-day.
Wot'll he do with her, now he's ketched a butterfly?"

"Wot be he like to do?" retorted the bumpkin. "A proper spiteful
twoad such as he--why, he'll rumple all the color and booty out
o' her wings, and sting her till her blood runs pison."

Then from the tower pealed the bells.

Jonas pressed the arm of Mehetabel, and leering into her face,
said: "Come, say a word o' thanks. Better late than never. At the
last, through me, you've gotten a surname."



CHAPTER XII.

UNEXPECTED.


The wedding party was assembled at the Ship, which for this day
concerned itself not with outsiders, but provided only for such as
were invited to sit and drink, free of charge, to the health and
happiness of bride and bridegroom.

The invitation had been extended to the kinsfolk of Jonas in the
Punch-Bowl, as a matter of course; but none had accepted, one had
his farm, another his business, and a third could not go unless his
wife let him.

Consequently the bridegroom was badly supported. He was not the man
to make friends, and such acquaintances of his as appeared did
so, not out of friendship, but in expectation of eating and drinking
at the landlord's table.

This angered Jonas, who, in church, on looking around, had noticed
that his own family had failed to attend, but that they should
fail also at the feast was what surprised him.

"It don't matter a rush," scoffed he in Mehetabel's ear, "we can
get along without 'em, and if they won't come to eat roast duck
and green peas, there are others who will and say 'Thank'y.'"

The announcement of Jonas's engagement had been indeed too bitter
a morsel for his sister to swallow. She resented his matrimonial
project as a personal wrong, as a robbery committed on the Rocliffes.
Her husband was not in good circumstances; in fact, the family
had become involved through a marriage, to which allusion has
already been made; and had not thereafter been able to recover
from it.

She had felt the pressure of debt, and the struggle for existence.
It had eaten into her flesh like a canker, and had turned her
heart into wormwood. In her pinched circumstances, even the pittance
paid by her brother for doing his cooking and washing had been a
consideration. This now was to be withdrawn.

Sarah Rocliffe had set her ambition on the acquisition of her
brother's estate, by which means alone, as far as she could see,
would the family be enabled to shake off the incubus that oppressed
it. Content in her own lifetime to drudge and moil, she would have
gone on to the end, grumbling and fault-finding, indeed, but
satisfied with the prospect that at some time in the future her
son would inherit the adjoining farm and be lifted thereby out of
the sorry position in which was his father, hampered on all sides,
and without cheeriness.

But this hope was now taken from her. Jonas was marrying a young
and vigorous wife, and a family was certain to follow.

The woman had not the command over herself to veil her feelings,
and put on a semblance of good humor, not even the grace to put in
an appearance at the wedding.

The story must now be told which accounts for the embarrassed
circumstances of the Rocliffe family.

This shall be done by means of an extract from a periodical of the
date of the event which clouded the hitherto flourishing condition
of the Rocliffes. The periodical from which the quotation comes is
"The Royal Magazine, or Gentleman's Monthly Companion" for 1765.

"A few weeks ago a gentlewoman, about twenty-five years of age,
applied to a farmer and broom-maker, near Hadleigh, in Hants [1] for
a lodging, telling them that she was the daughter of a nobleman,
and forced from her father's house by his ill-treatment. Her manner
of relating the story so affected the farmer that he took her in,
and kindly entertained her.

"In the course of conversation, she artfully let drop that she
had a portion of L90,000, of which she should be possessed as soon
as her friends in London knew where she was.

"After some days' stay she told the farmer the best return in her
power for this favor would be to marry his son, Thomas (a lad
about eighteen), if it was agreeable to him. The poor old man was
overjoyed at the proposal, and in a short time they were married;
after which she informed her father-in-law she had great, interest
at Court, and if he could for the present raise money to equip
them in a genteel manner, she could procure a colonel's commission
for her husband.

"The credulous farmer thereupon mortgaged his little estate for
L100, and everything necessary being bought for the new married
couple, they took the rest of the money and set out for London,
accompanied by three of the farmer's friends, and got to the Bear
Inn, in the Borough, on Christmas eve; where they lived for about
ten days in an expensive manner; and she went in a coach every
morning to St. James's end of the town, on pretence of soliciting
for her husband's commission, and to obtain her own fortune. But
it was at length discovered that the woman was an impostor; and
the poor country people were obliged to sell their horses by
auction towards defraying the expenses of the inn before they
could set out on their return home, which they did on foot, last
Saturday morning."

If the hundred pounds raised on mortgage had covered all the
expenses incurred, the Rocliffes might have been satisfied.

Unhappily they got further involved. They fell into the hands of
a lawyer in Portsmouth, who undertook to see them righted, but the
only advantage they gained from his intervention was the acquisition
of certain information that the woman who had married Thomas had
been married before.

Accordingly Thomas was free, and he used his freedom some years
later, when of a ripe age, to marry Sarah Kink, the sister of
Bideabout.

Rocliffe had never been able to shake himself free of the ridicule
that attended to him, after the expedition to London, and what
was infinitely more vexatious and worse to endure was the burden
of debt that had then been incurred, and which was more than
doubled through the activity of the lawyer by whom he had been
inveigled into submitting himself and his affairs to him.

As the eating and drinking proceeded, the Broom-Squire drank
copiously, became noisy, boastful, and threw out sarcastic remarks
calculated to hit those who ate and drank with him, but were mainly
directed against those of his own family who had absented themselves,
but to whose ears he was confident they would be wafted.

Mehetabel, who saw that he was imbibing more than he could bear
without becoming quarrelsome lost her pallor, and a hectic flame
kindled in her cheek.

Mrs. Verstage looked on uneasily. She was familiar with the moods
of Bideabout, and feared the turn matters would take.

Presently he announced that he would sing a song, and in harsh
tones began:--

  "A cobbler there was, and he lived in a stall,
   But Charlotte, my nymph, had no lodging at all.
   And at a Broom-Squire's, in pitiful plight,
   Did pray and beseech for a lodging one night,
                            Derry-down, derry-down.

  "She asked for admittance, her story to tell.
   Of all her misfortunes, and what her befel,
   Of her parentage high,--but so great was her grief,
   Shed never a comfort to give her relief,
                            Derry-down, derry-down. [2]

"Now, look here," said Simon Verstage, interrupting the singer,
"We all of us know that there ballet, pretty well. It's vastly
long, if I remembers aright, something like fourteen verses; and
I think we can do very well wi'out it to-night. I fancy your
brother-inlaw, Thomas, mightn't relish it."

"He's not here," said the Broom-Squire.

"But I am here," said the landlord, "and I say that the piece is
too long for singing, 'twill make you too hoarse to say purty
speeches and soft things to your new missus, and it's a bit stale
for our ears."

"It's an ill bird that befouls its own nest," said a young fellow
present.

Bideabout overheard the remark. "What do you mean by that? Was
that aimed at me?" he shouted and started to his feet.

A brawl would have inevitably ensued, but for a timely interruption.

In the door stood a well-dressed, good-looking young man, surveying
the assembled company with a smile.

Silence ensued. Bideabout looked round.

Then, with a cry of joy, mingled with pain, Mrs. Verstage started
from her feet.

"It is Iver! my Iver!"

In another moment mother and son were locked in each other's arms.

The guests rose and looked questioningly at their host, before
they welcomed the intruder.

Simon Verstage remained seated, with his glass in his hand, gazing
sternly into it. His face became mottled, red spots appeared on
the temples, and on the cheekbones; elsewhere he was pale.

Mehetabel went to him, placed her hand upon his, and said, in a
trembling voice, "Dear father, this is my wedding day. I am about
to leave you for good. Do not deny me the one and only request I
make. Forgive Iver."

The old man's lips moved, but he did not speak. He looked steadily,
somewhat sternly, at the young man and mustered his appearance.

Meanwhile Iver had disengaged himself from his mother's embrace,
and he came towards his father with extended hand.

"See," said he cheerily, "I am free to admit, and do it heartily,
that I did wrong, in painting over the stern of the vessel, and
putting it into perspective as far as my lights went. Father! I
can remove the coat of paint that I put on, and expose that
outrageous old stern again. I will do more. I will violate all
the laws of perspective in heaven and earth, and turn the bows
round also, so as to thoroughly show the ship's head, and make
that precious vessel look like a dog curling itself up for a nap.
Will that satisfy you?"

All the guests were silent, and fixed their eyes anxiously on the
taverner.

Iver was frank in speech, had lost all provincial dialect, was
quite the gentleman. He had put off the rustic air entirely. He
was grown a very handsome fellow, with oval face, full hair on his
head, somewhat curling, and his large brown eyes were sparkling
with pleasure at being again at home. In his whole bearing there
was self-confidence.

"Simon!" pleaded Mrs. Verstage, with tears in her voice, "he's
your own flesh and blood!"

He remained unmoved.

"Father!" said Mehetabel, clinging to his hand, "Dear, dear
father! for my sake, whom you have loved, and whom you lose out
of your house to-day."

"There is my hand," said the old man.

"And you shall have the ship again just as suits your heart,"
said Iver.

"I doubt," answered the taverner, "it will be easier to get the
Old Ship to look what she ort, than it will be to get you to look
again like a publican's son."

The reconciliation on the old man's side was without cordiality,
yet it was accepted by all present with cheers and handshakings.

It was but too obvious that the modish appearance of his son had
offended the old man.

"Heaven bless me!" exclaimed Iver, when this commotion was somewhat
allayed. He was looking with undisguised admiration and surprise
at Mehetabel.

"Why," asked he, pushing his way towards her, "What is the meaning
of all this?"

"That is Matabel, indeed," explained his mother. "And this is her
wedding day."

"You married! You, Matabel! And, to-day! The day of my return!
Where is the happy man? Show him to me."

His mother indicated the bridegroom. Mehetabel's heart was too
full to speak; she was too dazed with the new turn of affairs to
know what to do.

Iver looked steadily at Jonas.

"What!" he exclaimed, "Bideabout! Never, surely! I cannot mistake
your face nor the look of your eyes. So, you have won the
prize--you!"

Still he looked at Jonas. He refrained from extending his hand in
congratulation. Whether thoughtlessly or not, he put it behind his
back. An expression passed over his face that the bride observed,
and it sent the blood flying to her cheek and temples.

"So," said Iver, and now he held out both hands, "Little Matabel,
I have returned to lose you!"

He wrung her hands, both,--he would not let them go.

"I wish you all joy. I wish you everything, everything that your
heart can desire. But I am surprised. I can't realize it all at
once. My little Matabel grown so big, become so handsome--and,
hang me, leaving the Old Ship! Poor Old Ship! Bideabout, I ought
to have been consulted. I gave Matabel her name. I have certain
rights over her, and I won't surrender them all in a hurry. Here,
mother, give me a glass, 'tis a strange day on which I come home."

Dissatisfaction appeared in his face, hardly to be expected in one
who should have been in cloudless radiance on his return after
years of absence, and with his quarrel with the father at an end.

Now old acquaintances crowded about him to ask questions as to how
he had lived during his absence, upon what he had been employed,
how the world had fared with him, whether he was married, and if
so, how many children he had got, and what were their respective
ages and sexes, and names and statures.

For a while bride and bridegroom were outside the circle, and
Iver was the centre of interest and regard. Iver responded
good-humoredly and pleaded for patience. He was hungry, he was
thirsty, he was dusty and hot. He must postpone personal details
till a more convenient season. Now his mind was taken up with the
thought, not of himself, but of his old playmate, his almost
sister, his--he might dare to call her, first love--who was
stepping out of the house, out of his reach, just as he stepped
back into it, strong with the anticipation of finding her there.
Then raising his glass, and looking at Matabel, he said: "Here's
to you, Matabel, and may you be very happy with the man of your
choice."

"Have you no good wish for me?" sneered the Broom-Squire.

"For you, Bideabout," answered Iver, "I do not express a wish. I
know for certainty that you, that any man, not may, but must be
happy with such a girl, unless he be a cur."



CHAPTER XIII.

HOME.


Bideabout was driving his wife home.

Home! There is no word sweeter to him who has created that reality
to which the name belongs; but there is no word more full of vague
fears to one who has it to create.

Home to Bideabout was a rattle-trap farmhouse built partly of
brick, mainly of timber, thatched with heather, at the bottom of
the Punch-Bowl.

It was a dwelling that served to cover his head, but was without
pleasant or painful associations--a place in which rats raced and
mice squeaked; a place in which money might be made and hoarded,
but on which little had been spent. It was a place he had known
from childhood as the habitation of his parents, and which now was
his own. His childhood had been one of drudgery without cheerfulness,
and was not looked back on with regret. Home was not likely to be
much more to him in the future than it was in the present. More
comfortable perhaps, certainly more costly. But it was other with
Mehetabel.

She was going to the unknown.

As we shudder at the prospect of passing out of this world into
that beyond the veil, so does many a girl shrink at the prospect
of the beyond seen through the wedding ring.

She had loved the home at the Ship. Would she learn to love the
home in the Punch-Bowl?

She had understood and made allowance for the humors of the
landlord and landlady of the tavern; did she know those of her
future associate in the farm? To many a maid, the great love that
swells her heart and dazzles her brain carries her into the new
condition on the wings of hope.

Love banishes fear. Confidence in the beloved blots out all mistrust
as to the future.

But in this case there was no love, nothing to inspire confidence;
and Mehetabel looked forward with vague alarm, almost with a
premonition of evil.

Jonas was in no mood for meditation. He had imbibed freely at the
inn, and was heavy, disposed to sleep, and only prevented from
dozing by the necessity he was under of keeping the lazy cob in
movement.

For if Jonas was in no meditative mood, the old horse was, and he
halted at intervals to ponder over the load he was drawing, and
ask why on this occasion he had to drag uphill two persons instead
of one.

The sun had set before the couple left the Ship.

The road ascended, at first gradually, then at a more rapid incline.
The cob could not be induced to trot by word or whip; and the walk
of a horse is slower than that of a man.

"It's bostall (a steep ascent, in the Wealden dialect) till we
come to the gallows," muttered Jonas; "then we have the drove-road
down into the Punch-Bowl."

Mehetabel tightened her shawl about her shoulders and throat. The
evening was chilly for the time of the year. Much rain had fallen,
and the air was charged with moisture, that settled in cold dew on
the cart, on the harness, on Bideabout's glazed hat, on the bride's
clothing, bathing her, all things, as in the tears of silent sorrow.

"One of us must get out and walk," said the bridegroom. "Old
Clutch--that's the 'oss--is twenty-five, and there's your box and
bundle behind."

He made no attempt to dismount, but looked sideways at the bride.

"If you'll pull up I'll get out and walk," she answered. "I shall
be glad to do so. The dew falls like rain, and I am chilled to the
marrow."

"Right then," assented the Broom-Squire, and drew the rein.

Mehetabel descended from her seat in the cart. In so doing
something fell on the road from her bosom. She stooped and picked
it up.

"Wots that?" asked Jonas, and pointed to the article with his
whip, that was flourished with a favor of white ribbons.

"It is a present father has made me," answered Mehetabel. "I was
in a hurry--and not accustomed to pockets, so I just put it into
my bosom. I ought to have set it in a safer place, in the new
pocket made to my gown. I'll do that now. Its money."

"Money!" repeated Bideabout. "How much may it be?"

"I have not looked."

"Then look at it, once now (at once)."

He switched the whip with its white favor about, but kept his eye
on Mehetabel.

"What did he give it you for?"

"As a wedding present."

"Gold, is it?"

"Gold and notes."

"Gold and notes. Hand 'em to me. I can count fast enough."

"The sum is fifteen pounds--dear, kind, old man."

"Fifteen pounds, is it? You might ha' lost it wi' your carelessness."

"I'll not be careless now."

"Good, hand it me."

"I cannot do that, Jonas. It is mine. Father said to me I was to
keep it gainst a rainy day."

"Didn't you swear in church to endow me with all your worldly
goods?" asked the Broom-Squire.

"No, it was you who did that. I then had nothing."

"Oh, was it so? I don't remember that. If you'd had them fifteen
pounds then, and the passon had knowed about it, he'd ha' made you
swear to hand it over to me--your lord and master."

"There's nothing about that in the Prayer-book."

"Then there ort to be. Hand me the money. You was nigh on losing
the lot, and ain't fit to keep it. Fifteen pounds!"

"I cannot give it to you, Bideabout; father told me it was to be
my very own, I was not to let it go out of my hands, not even into
yours, but to husband it."

"Ain't I your husband?"

"I do not mean that, to hoard it against an evil day. There is no
saying when that may come. And I passed my word it should be so."

He growled and said, "Look here, Matabel. It'll be a bostall road
with you an' me, unless there's give on one side and take on the
other."

"Is all the give to be on my side, and the take on yours?"

"In coorse. Wot else is matrimony? The sooner you learn that the
better for peace."

He whipped the cob, and the brute moved on.

Mehetabel walked forward and outstripped the conveyance. Old Clutch
was a specially slow walker. She soon reached that point at which
moorland began, without hedge on either side. Trees had ceased to
stud the heathy surface.

Before her rose the ridge that culminated where rose the gallows,
and stood inky black against the silvery light of declining day
behind them.

To the north, in the plain gleamed some ponds.

Curlew were piping sadly.

Mehetabel was immersed in her own thoughts, glad to be by herself.
Jonas had not said much to her in the cart, yet his presence had
been irksome. She thought of the past, of her childhood along with
Iver, of the day when he ran away. How handsome he had become! What
an expression of contempt had passed over his countenance when he
looked at Bideabout, and learned that he was the bridegroom--the
happy man who had won her! How earnestly he had gazed into her
eyes, till she was compelled to lower them!

Was Iver going to settle at the Ship? Would he come over to the
Punch-Bowl to see her? Would he come often and talk over happy
childish days? There had been a little romance between them as
children: long forgotten: now reviving.

Her hand trembled as she raised it to her lips to wipe away the
dew that had formed there.

She had reached the highest point on the road, and below yawned
the great crater-like depression, at the bottom of which lay the
squatter settlement. A little higher, at the very summit of the
hill, stood the gibbet, and the wind made the chains clank as it
trifled with them. The bodies were gone, they had mouldered away,
and the bones had fallen and were laid in the earth or sand beneath,
but the gallows remained.

Clink! clink! clank! Clank! clink! clink!

There was rhythm and music, as of far-away bells, in the clashing
of these chains.

The gibbet was on Mehetabel's left hand; on the right was the abyss.

She looked down into the cauldron, turning with disgust from the
gallows, and yet was inspired with an almost equal repugnance at
the sight of the dark void below.

She was standing on the very spot where, eighteen years before,
she had been found by Iver. He had taken her up, and had given her
a name. Now she was taken up by another, and by him a new name
was conferred upon her.

"Come!" said Jonas; "it's all downhill, henceforth."

Were the words ominous?

He had arrived near her without her hearing him, so occupied had
her mind been. As he spoke she uttered a cry of alarm.

"Afraid?" he asked. "Of what?"

She did not answer. She was trembling. Perhaps her nerves had
been overwrought. The Punch-Bowl looked to her like the Bottomless
Pit.

"Did you think one of the dead men had got up from under the
gallows, and had come down to talk with you?"

She did not speak. She could not.

"It's all a pass'l o' nonsense," he said. "When the dead be turned
into dust they never come again except as pertaties or the like.
There was Tim Wingerlee growed won'erful fine strawberries; they
found out at last he took the soil in which he growed 'em from
the churchyard. I don't doubt a few shovelfuls from under them
gallows 'ud bring on early pertaties--famous. Now then, get up
into the cart."

"I'd rather walk, Jonas. The way down seems critical. It is dark
in the Bowl, and the ruts are deep."

"Get up, I say. There is no occasion to be afraid. It won't do
to drive among our folk, to our own door, me alone, and you
trudgin', totterin' behind. Get up, I say."

Mehetabel obeyed.

There was a fragrance of fern in the night air that she had inhaled
while walking. Now by the side of Bideabout she smelt only the
beer and stale tobacco that adhered to his clothes.

"I am main glad," said he, "that all the hustle-bustle is over.
I'm glad I'm not wed every day. Fust and last time I hopes. The
only good got as I can see, is a meal and drink at the landlord's
expense. But he'll take it out of me someways, sometime. Folks
ain't liberal for nuthin'. 'Tain't in human nature."

"It is very dark in the Punch-Bowl," said Mehetabel. "I do not see
a glimmer of a light anywhere."

"That's becos the winders ain't looking this way. You don't suppose
it would be a pleasure to have three dead men danglin' in the wind
afore their eyes all day long. The winders look downward, or else
there's a fold of the hill or trees between. But I know where
every house is wi'out seeing 'em. There's the Nashes', there's
the Boxalls', there's the Snellings', there's my brother-in-law's,
Thomas Rocliffe's, and down there be I."

He pointed with his whip. Mehetabel could distinguish nothing
beyond the white favor bound to his whip.

"We're drivin to Paradise," said Jonas. And as to this remark she
made no response, he explained--"Married life, you know."

She said nothing.

"It rather looks as if we were going down to the other place," he
observed, with a sarcastic laugh. "But there it is, one or the
other--all depends on you. It's just as you make it; as likely to
be one as the other. Give me that fifteen pounds--and Paradise is
the word."

"Indeed, Jonas, do you not understand that I cannot go against
father's will and my word?"

The road, or rather track, descended along the steep side of the
Punch-Bowl, notched into the sand falling away rapidly on the left
hand, on which side sat Mehetabel.

At first she had distinguished nothing below in the blackness, but
now something like a dead man's eye looked out of it, and seemed
to follow and observe her.

"What is that yonder?" she asked.

"Wot is wot?" he asked in reply.

"That pale white light--that round thing glimmerin' yonder?"

"There's water below," was his explanation of the phenomenon.

In fact that which had attracted her attention and somewhat alarmed
her, was one of the patches of water formed in the marshy bottom
of the Punch-Bowl by the water that oozes forth in many springs
from under the sandstone.

The track now passed under trees.

A glimpse of dull orange light, and old Clutch halted, unbidden.

"Here we be, we two," said Jonas. "This is home. And Paradise, if
you will."



CHAPTER XIV.

NOT PARADISE.


At the moment that the cart halted, a black dog burst out of the
house door, and flew at Mehetabel as she attempted to descend.

"Ha, Tartar!" laughed Jonas. "The rascal seems to know his reign
is over. Go back, Tartar. I'll thrash you till the favor off my
whip is beat into your hide, if you don't be quiet. Hitherto he
has guarded my house, when I have been from home. Now that will
be your duty, Matabel. Can't keep a wife and a dog. 'Twould be
too extravagant. Tartar! Down! This is your mistress--till I get
rid of you."

The dog withdrew reluctantly, continuing to growl and to show his
fangs at Mehetabel.

In the doorway stood Sally Rocliffe, the sister of Jonas. Though
not so openly resentful of the intrusion as was Tartar, she
viewed the bride with ill-disguised bad humor; indeed, without an
affectation of cordiality.

"I thought you was never coming," was Sarah's salutation. "Goodness
knows, I have enough to do in my own house, and for my own people,
not to be kept dancin' all these hours in attendance, because
others find time for makin' fools of themselves. Now, I hope I
shall not be wanted longer. My man needs his meals as much as
others, and if he don't get 'em reglar, who suffers but I? Dooty
begins at home. You might have had more consideration, and come
earlier, Jonas."

The woman accorded to Mehetabel but a surly greeting. The young
bride entered the house. A single tallow dip was burning on the
table, with a long dock to it, unsnuffed. The hearth was cold.

"I didn't light a fire," said Mrs. Rocliffe; "you see it wouldn't
do. Now you have come as mistress, it's your place to light the
fire on the hearth. I've heard tell it's unlucky for any other
body to do it. Not as I knows." She shrugged her shoulders. It
seemed that this was a mere excuse put forward to disguise her
indolence, or to veil her malevolence.

Mehetabel looked around her.

There were no plates. There was nothing to eat prepared on the
kitchen table. No cloth; nothing whatever there, save the guttering
candle.

"I didn't lay out nuthin'," said Mrs. Rocliffe; "you see, how was
I to say you'd want vittles? I suppose you have had as much as is
good for you away where you come from--at the Ship. If you are
hungry--there's cold rabbit pie in the larder, if it ain't gone
bad. This weather has been bad for keepin' meat. There's bread in
the larder, if you don't mind the rats and mice havin' been at it.
That's not my fault. Jonas, he had some for his break'us, and
never covered up the pan, so the varmin have got to it. There's
ale, too, in a barrel, I know, but Jonas keeps the key to that
lest I should take a sup. He begrudges me that, and expects me
to work for him like a galley-slave."

Then the woman was silent, looking moodily down. The floor was
strewn with flakes of whitewash as though snow had fallen over it.

"You see," said Mrs. Rocliffe, "Jonas would go to the expense of
whitenin' the ceilin', just because you was comin.' It had done
plenty well for father and mother, and I don't mind any time it
were whitened afore, and I be some years the elder of Jonas. The
ceiling was that greasy wi' smoke, that the whitewashin' as it
dried 'as pealed off, and came down just about. You look up--the
ceilin' is ten times worse than afore. It looks as if it were
measly. I wouldn't sweep up the flakes as fell off just to let
Jonas see what comes of his foolishness. I told him it would be so,
but he wouldn't believe me, and now let him see for himself--there
it is."

With a sort of malignant delight the woman observed Mehetabel, and
saw how troubled and unhappy she was.

Again a stillness ensued. Mehetabel could hear her heart beat. She
could hear no other sound. She looked through the room towards
the clock. It was silent.

"Ah, now there," said Sarah Rocliffe. "There be that, to be sure.
Runned down is the weight. It wasn't proper for me now to wind up
the clock. As you be the new mistress in the house, it is your
place and dooty. I suppose you know that."

Then from without Mehetabel heard the grunts of the sow in the
stye that adjoined the house, and imparted an undesirable flavor
to the atmosphere in it.

"That's the sow in the pen," said Mrs. Rocliffe; "she's wantin'
her meat. She hain't been galliwantin', and marryin', and bein'
given in marriage. I'm not the mistress, and I've not the dooty to
provide randans and crammins for other folks' hogs. She'll be goin'
back in her flesh unless fed pretty smart. You'd best do that at
once, but not in your weddin' dress. You must get acquainted
together, and the sooner the better. She's regular rampagous wi'
hunger."

"Would you help me in with my box, Mrs. Rocliffe?" asked Mehetabel.
"Jonas set it down by the door, and if I can get that upstairs I'll
change my dress at once, and make the fire, clean the floor, wind
up the clock, and feed the hog."

"I've such a terrible crick in my back, I dussn't do it," answered
Sarah Rocliffe. "Why, how much does that there box weigh? I wonder
Jonas had the face to put it in the cart, and expect Clutch to draw
it. Clutch didn't like it now, did he?"

"But how can I get my box in and carried up? Jonas is with the
horse, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes, he is minding the horse. Clutch must be made comfortable,
and given his hay. I'll be bound you and Jonas have been eatin'
and drinkin' all day, and never given Clutch a mouthful, nor washed
his teeth with a pail o' water."

"I'm sure Joe Filmer looked to the horse at the Ship. He is very
attentive to beasts."

"On ordinary days, and when nuthin' is goin' on, I dare say--not
when there's weddin's and ducks and green peas goin' for any who
axes for 'em."

The report that ducks and green peas were to form an element of
the entertainment had been told everywhere before the day of the
marriage, and it was bitterness to Mrs. Rocliffe to think that
"on principle," as she put it, she had been debarred from eating
her share.

"Ducks and green peas!" repeated she. "I s'pose you don't reckon on
eating that every day here, no, nor on Sundays, no, not even at
Christmas. 'Taint such as we in the Punch-Bowl as can stuff
ourselves on ducks and green peas. Green peas and ducks we may
grow--but we sells 'em to the quality."

After some consideration Mrs. Rocliffe relented sufficiently to
say, "I don't know but what Samuel may be idlin'; he mostly is.
I'll go and send my son Samuel to help you with the box."

Then with a surly "Good-night" the woman withdrew.

After a couple of minutes, she returned: "I've come back," she
said, "to tell you that if old Clutch is off his meat--and I
shouldn't wonder if he was--wi' neglect and wi' drawing such a
weight--then you'd best set to work and make him gruel. Jonas
can't afford to lose old Clutch, just becos he's got a wife." Then
she departed again.

Jonas was indeed in the stable attending to the horse. He had,
moreover, to run the cart under shelter. Mehetabel put out a
trembling hand to snuff the candle. Her hand was so unsteady that
she extinguished the light. Where to find the tinder box she knew
not. She felt for a bench, and in the darkness when she had reached
it, sank on it, and burst into tears.

Such was the welcome to her new home.

For some time she sat with as little light in her heart as there
was without.

She felt some relief in giving way to her surcharged heart. She
sobbed and knitted her fingers together, unknitted them, and wove
them together again in convulsions of distress--of despair.

What expectation of happiness had she here? She was accustomed at
the Ship to have everything about her neat and in good order. The
mere look round that she had given to the room, the principal room
of the house she had entered, showed how ramshackle it was. To
some minds it is essential that there should be propriety, as
essential as that the food they consume should be wholesome, the
water they drink should be pure. They can no more accommodate
themselves to disorder than they can to running on hands and feet
like apes.

It was quite true that this house would be given up to Mehetabel
to do with it what she liked. But would her husband care to have
it other than it was? Would he not resent her attempts to alter
everything?

And for what purpose would she strive and toil if he disapproved of
her changes?

She had no confidence that in temper, in character, in mind, he and
she would agree, or agree to differ. She knew that he was grasping
after money, that he commended no man, but had a disparaging word
for every one, and envy of all who were prosperous. She had seen
in him no sign of generosity of feeling, no spark of honor. No
positive evil was said of him; if he were inclined to drink he was
not a drunkard; if he stirred up strife in himself he was not
quarrelsome. He over-reached in a bargain, but never did anything
actually dishonest. He was not credited with any lightness in his
moral conduct towards any village maid. That he was frugal, keen
witted, was about all the good that was said, and that could be
said of him. If he had won no one's love hitherto, was it likely
that there was anything lovable in him? Would he secure the
affections of his wife?

Thoughts rose and fell, tossed and broke in Mehetabel's brain; her
tears fell freely, and as she was alone in the house she was able
to sob without restraint.

Jonas had chained up Tartar, and the dog was howling. The pig
grunted impatiently. A rat raced across the floor. Cockroaches came
out in the darkness and stirred, making a strange rustling like
the pattering of fine rain.

Mehetabel could hear the voice of her husband in the yard. He was
thrusting the cart under a roof. He would be in the house shortly,
and she did not wish that he should find her in tears, that he
should learn how weak, how hopeless she was.

She put her hand into her pocket for a kerchief, and drew forth
one, with which she staunched the flow from her eyes, and dried
her cheeks. She put her knuckle to her lips to stay their quivering.
Then, when she had recovered some composure, she drew a long sigh
and replaced the sodden kerchief in her pocket.

At that moment she started, sprang to her feet, searched her pocket
in the darkness with tremulous alarm, with sickness at her heart.

Then, not finding what she wanted, she stooped and groped along
the floor, and found nothing save the flakes of fallen whitewash.

She stood up panting, and put her hand to her heart. Then Jonas
entered with a lantern, and saw her as she thus stood, one hand
to her brow, thrusting back the hair, the other to her heart; he
was surprised, raised his lantern to throw the light on her face,
and said:--"Wot's up?"

"I have been robbed! My fifteen pounds have been taken from me."

"Well I--"

"Jonas!" she said, "I know it was you. It was you who robbed me,
where those men robbed my father. Just as I got into the cart you
robbed me."

He lowered the lantern.

"Look here, Matabel, mind wot I said. In matrimony it's all give
and take, and if there ain't give on one side, then there's take,
take on the t'other. I ain't going to have this no Paradise if I
can help it."



CHAPTER XV.

IVER.


Next day was bright; but already some rime lay in the cold and
marshy bottom of the Punch-Bowl.

Mehetabel went round the farm with Bideabout, and with some pride
he showed her his possessions, his fields, his barn, sheds and
outhouses. Amongst these was that into which she had been taken
on the night of her father's murder.

She had often heard the story from Iver. She knew how that every
door had been shut against her except that of the shed in which
the heather and broom steels were kept that belonged to Jonas, and
which served as his workshop.

With a strange sense, as though she were in the hands of Fate
thrusting her on, she knew not whither, with remorseless cogency,
the young wife looked into the dark shed which had received her
eighteen years before.

It was wonderful that she should have begun the first chapter of
her life there, and that she should return to the same spot to
open the second chapter.

She felt relieved when Jonas left her to herself. Then she at
once set to work on the house, in which there was much to be done.
She was ambitious to get it into order and comfort before Mrs.
Verstage came to visit her in her new quarters.

As she worked, her mind reverted to the Ship. Would she be missed
there? Would the new maid engaged be as active and attentive as
she had been? Her place in the hearts of the old couple was now
occupied by Iver. However much the innkeeper might pretend to be
hard of reconciliation, yet he must yearn after his own son; he must
be proud of him now that Iver was grown so fine and independent,
and had carved for himself a place in the world.

When the first feeling of regret over her departure was passed
away, then all their thoughts, their aspirations, their pride
would be engrossed by Iver.

Mehetabel was scouring a saucepan. She lowered it, and her hands
remained inactive. Iver!--she saw him, as he stood before her in
the Ship, extending his hands to her. She almost felt his grasp
again.

Mehetabel brushed back the hair that had fallen over her face; and
as she did so a tear ran down her cheek.

Then she heard her husband's voice; he was speaking with Samuel
Rocliffe, his nephew; and it struck her as never before, how
harsh, how querulous was his intonation.

During the day, Mrs. Rocliffe came in, looked about inquisitively,
and pursed up her lips when she saw the change effected, and
conjectured that more was likely to follow.

"I suppose nuthin' is good enough as it was--but you must put
everything upside down?"

"On the contrary, I am setting on its feet everything I have
found topsy-turvy."

To the great surprise of all, on the following Sunday, Bideabout,
in his best suit, accompanied Mehetabel to church. He had never
been a church-goer. He begrudged having to pay tithes. He begrudged
having to pay something for his seat in addition to tithes to the
church, if he went to a dissenting chapel. If religious ministrations
weren't voluntary and gratuitous, "then," said Jonas, "he didn't
think nuthin' of 'em."

Jonas had been disposed to scoff at religion, and to work on
Sundays, though not so openly as on other days of the week. He
went to church now because he was proud of his wife; not out of
devotion, but vanity.

Some days later arrived a little tax-cart driven by Iver, with
Mrs. Verstage in it.

The hostess had already discovered what a difference it made in
her establishment to have in it a raw and dull-headed maid in
the room of the experienced and intelligent daughter. She did
not regret what she had done--she had removed Mehetabel out of
the reach of Iver, and had no longer any anxiety as to the disposal
of his property by Simon. For her own sake she was sorry, as she
plainly saw that her life was likely to run less smoothly in the
future in her kitchen and with her guests. Now that Mehetabel was
no longer dangerous, her heart unfolded towards her once more.

The young wife received Mrs. Verstage with pleasure. The flush
came into her cheeks when she saw her, and for the moment she had
no eyes, no thoughts, no welcome for Iver.

The landlady was not so active as of old, and she had to be assisted
from her seat. As soon as she reached the ground she was locked in
the embrace of her daughter by adoption.

Then Mehetabel conducted the old woman over the house, and showed
her the new arrangements she had made, and consulted her on certain
projected alterations.

Jonas had come to the door when the vehicle arrived; he was in his
most gracious mood, and saluted first the hostess and then her
son, with unwonted cordiality.

"Come now, Matabel," said Mrs. Verstage, when both she and the
young wife were alone together, "I did well to push this on, eh?
You have a decent house, and a good farm. All yours, not rented,
so none can turn you out. What more could you desire? I dare be
sworn Bideabout has got a pretty nest egg stuck away somewhere,
up the chimney or under the hearth. Has he shown you what he has?
There was the elder Gilly Cheel was a terrible skinflint. When he
died his sons hunted high and low for his money and couldn't find
it. And just as they wos goin' to bury him, the nuss said she
couldn't make a bootiful corpse of him, he were that puffed in
his mouth. What do you think, Matabel? The old chap had stuffed
his money into his mouth when he knew he was dyin'. Didn't want
nobody to have it but himself. Don't you let Bideabout try any
of them games."

"Have you missed me greatly, dear mother?" asked Mehetabel, who
had heard the story of Giles Cheel before.

Mrs. Verstage sighed.

"My dear, do you know the iron-stone bowl as belonged to my
mother. The girl broke it, and hadn't the honesty to say so, but
stuck it together wi' yaller soap, and thought I wouldn't see it.
Then one of the customers made her laugh, and she let seven
pewters fall, and they be battered outrageous. And she has been
chuckin' the heel taps to the hog, and made him as drunk as a
Christian. She'll drive me out of my seven senses."

"So you do miss me, mother?"

"My dear--no--I'm not selfish. It is all for your good. There wos
Martha Lintott was goin' to a dance, and dropped her bustle. Patty
Pickett picked it up, and thinkin' she couldn't have too much of
a good thing, clapped it on a top of her own and cut a fine figure
wi' it--wonderful. And Martha looked curious all up and down wi'out
one. But she took it reasonable, and said, 'What's one woman's loss
is another woman's gain.' O, my dear life! If Iver would but settle
with Polly Colpus I should die content."

"Is not the match agreed to yet?"

"No!" Mrs. Verstage sighed. "I've got my boy back, but not for
long. He talks of remaining here awhile to paint--subjects, he
calls 'em, but he don't rise to Polly as I should like. Polly is
a good girl. Master Colpus was at your weddin', and was very civil
to Iver. I heard him invite the boy to come over and look in on
him some evening--Sunday, for instance, and have a bite of supper
and a glass. But Iver hasn't been nigh the Colpuses yet; and when
I press him to go he shrugs his shoulders and says he has other
and better friends he must visit first."

Mrs. Verstage sighed again.

"Well, perhaps he doesn't fancy Polly," said Mehetabel.

"Why should he not fancy her? She will have five hundred pounds,
and old James Colpus's land adjoins ours. I don't understand
Iver's ways at all."

Mehetabel laughed. "Dear mother, you cannot expect that; he did
not think with his father's head when a boy. He will think only
with his own head now he is a man."

"Look here, Matabel. I'll leave Iver to you for half-an-hour. Show
him the cows. I'll make Bideabout take me to his sister. I want to
have it out with her for not coming to the wedding. I'm not the
person to let these things pass. Say a word to Iver about Polly,
there is a dear. I cannot bring them together, but you may, you
are so clever."

Meanwhile Iver and Jonas had been in conversation. The latter had
been somewhat contemptuous about the profession of an artist, and
was not a little astonished when he heard the prices realized by
pictures. Iver told the Broom-Squire that he intended making some
paintings of the Punch-Bowl, and that he had a mind to draw Kink's
farm.

In that case, said Bideabout, a percentage of the money such a
picture fetched would be due to him. He didn't see that anyone had
a right to take a portrait of his house and not pay him for it. If
Iver were content to draw his house, he must, on no account, include
that of the Rocliffes, for there was a mortgage on that, and there
might be trouble with the lawyers.

Mrs. Verstage proposed to Bideabout that she should go with him
to his sister's house, and he consented.

"Look here, Matabel," said he, "there is Mister Iver thinks he can
make a pictur' of the spring, if you'll get a pitcher and stand
by it. I dare say if it sells, he'll not forget us."

"I wish I could take Mehetabel and her pitcher off your hands, and
not merely the portrait of both," laughed Iver, to cover the
confusion of the girl, who reddened with annoyance at the grasping
meanness of Jonas.

When Iver was alone with her, as they were on their way to the
spring, he said, "Come, this will not do at all. For the first time
we are free to chat together, as in the old times when we were
inseparable friends. Why are you shy now, Matabel?"

"You must be glad to be home again with the dear father and
mother," she said.

"Yes, but I miss you; and I had so reckoned on finding you there."

"You will remain at the Ship now," urged she.

"I don't know that. I have my profession. I have leisure during
part of the summer and fall, making studies for pictures--but I
take pupils; they pay."

"You must consider the old folk."

"I do. I will visit them occasionally. But art is a mistress, and
an imperious one. When one is married one is no longer independent."

"You are married?" asked Mehetabel, with a flush in her cheeks.

"Yes, to my art."

"Oh! to paints and brushes! Tell me true, Iver! Has no girl won
your heart whilst you have been from home?"

"I have found many to admire, but my heart is free. I have had no
time to think of girls' faces--save as studies. Art is a mistress
as jealous as she is exacting."

Mehetabel drew a long breath. There went up a flash of light in
her mind, for which she did not attempt to account. "You are
free--that is famous, and can take Polly Colpus."

Then she laughed, and Iver laughed.

They laughed long and merrily together.

"This is too much," exclaimed Iver. "At home father is at me to
exchange the mahl-stick for an ox-goad, and mother wearies me with
laudation of Polly Colpus. I shall revolt and run away, as I did
not expect you to lend a hand with Polly."

"You must not run away," said Mehetabel, earnestly. "Iver! I was
all those years at the Ship, with mother, after you went, and I
have seen how her heart has ached for you. She is growing old.
Let her have consolation during the years that remain for the
sorrow of those that are past."

"I cannot take to farming, nor turn publican, and I will not
have Polly Colpus."

"Here is the spring," said Mehetabel.

She set the pitcher beside the water, leaned back in the hedge,
musing, with her finger to her chin, her eyes on the ground, and
her feet crossed.

"Stand as you are. That is perfect. Do not stir. I will make a
pencil sketch."

The spring gushed from under a bank, in a clear and copious jet.
It had washed away the sand, and had buried itself in a nook
among ferns and moss. On the top of the bank was a rude shed, open
at the side, with a cart at rest in it. Wild parsnips in full
flower nodded before the water.

"I could desire nothing better," said Iver, "and that pale blue
skirt of yours, the white stockings, the red kerchief round your
head--in color as in arrangement everything is admirable."

"You have not your paints with you."

"I will come another day and bring them. Now I will only sketch
in the outline."

Presently Iver laughed. "Matabel! If I took Polly she would be of
no use to me whatever, not even as a model."

Presently the Broom-Squire returned with Mrs. Verstage, and looked
over the shoulder of the artist.

"Not done much," he said.

"I shall have to come again and yet again, to put in the color,"
said Iver.

"Come when and as often as you like," said Bideabout. Neither of
the men noticed the shrinking that affected the entire frame of
Mehetabel, as Jonas said these words, but it was observed by Mrs.
Verstage, and a shade of anxiety swept over her face.



CHAPTER XVI.

AGAIN-IVER.


A few days after this first visit, Iver was again at the Kinks'
farm.

The weather was fine, and he protested that he must take advantage
of it to proceed with his picture.

Mehetabel was reluctant to stand. She made excuses that were at
once put aside.

"If you manage to sell pictures of our place," said Bideabout, "our
Punch-Bowl may get a name, and folk come here picnicking from
Godalming and Guildford and Portsmouth; and I'll put up a board with
Refreshments--Moderate, over the door, and Matabel shall make tea
or sell cake, and pick up a trifle towards; housekeeping."

A month was elapsed since Mehetabel's marriage, the month of honey
to most--one of empty comb without sweetness to her. She had drawn
no nearer to her husband than before. They had no interests, no
tastes in common. They saw all objects through a different medium.

It was not a matter of concern to Mehetabel that she was left
much alone by Jonas, and that her sister-in-law and the rest of
the squatters treated her as an interloper.

As a child, at the Ship, without associates of her own age, after
Iver's departure, she had lived much to herself, and now her soul
craved for solitude. And yet, when she was alone the thoughts of
her heart troubled her.

Jonas was attached, in his fashion, to his beautiful wife; he
joked, and was effusive in his expressions of affection. But she
did not respond to his jokes, and his demonstrations of affection
repelled her. Jonas was too dull, or vain, to perceive this, and
he attributed her coldness to modesty, real or affected, probably
the latter.

Mehetabel shrank from looking full in the face, the thought that
she must spend the rest of her life with this man. She was well
aware that she could not love him, could hardly bring herself to
like him, the utmost she could hope was that she might arrive at
enduring him.

Whilst in this condition of unrest and discouragement, Iver
appeared, and his presence lit up the desolation in which she was.
The sight of him, the sound of his voice, aroused old recollections,
helped to drive away the shadows that environed her, and that
clouded her mind. There was no harm in this, and yet she was
uneasy. Cheerful as she was when he was present, there was
something feverish in this cheerfulness, and it left her more
unhappy than before when he was gone, and more conscious of the
impossibility of accommodating herself to her lot.

The visit on one fine day was followed by another when the rain
fell heavily.

Iver entered the house, shook his wet hat and cloak, and with a
laugh, exclaimed--

"Here I am--to continue the picture."

"In such weather?"

"Little woman! When I started the wind was in the right quarter.
All at once it veered round and gave me a drenching. What odds?
You can stand at the window, and I can proceed with the figure.
It was tedious at the Ship. Between you and me and the post, I
cannot get along with the fellows who come there to drink. You
are the only person in Thursley with whom I can talk and be happy."

"Bideabout is not at home."

"I didn't come through the rain to see Bideabout, but you."

"Will you have anything to eat or drink?"

"Anything that you can give me. But I did not come for that. To
tell the truth, I don't think I'll venture on the picture. The
light is so bad. It is of no consequence. We can converse. I am
sick of public-house talk. I ran away to be with you. We are old
chums, are we not, dear Matabel?"

A fire of peat was on the hearth. She threw on skin-turf that flamed
up.

Iver was damp. His hands were clammy. His hair ends dripped. His
face was running with water. He spread his palms over the flame,
and smiled.

"And so you were tired of being at home?" she said, as she put the
turves together.

"Home is no home to me, now you are gone," was his answer.

Then, after a pause, during which he chafed his hands over the
dancing flame, he added: "I wish you were back in the old Ship. The
old Ship! It is no longer the dear old Ship of my recollections,
now that you have deserted. Why did you leave? It is strange to me
that my mother did not write and tell me that you were going to be
married. If she had done that--"

He continued drying his hands, looking dreamily into the flame,
and left the sentence incomplete.

"It is queer altogether," he pursued. "When I told her I was at
Guildford, and proposed returning, she put me off, till my father
was better prepared. She would break the news to him, see how--he
took it, and so on. I waited, heard no more, so came unsummoned,
for I was impatient at the delay. She knew I wished to hear about
you, Mattee, dear old friend and playmate. I asked in my letters
about you. You know you ceased to write, and mother labored at the
pen herself, finally. She answered that you were well--nothing
further. Why did she not tell me of your engagement? Have you any
idea, Matabel?"

She bowed over the turf, to hide her fate, but the leaping flame
revealed the color that mantled cheek, and throat, and brow. Her
heart was beating furiously.

"That marriage seems to me to have been cobbled up precious
quickly. Were you so mighty impatient to have the Broom-Squire
that you could not wait till you were twenty? A girl of eighteen
does not know her own mind. A pretty kettle of fish there will be
if you discover, when too late, that you have made a mistake, and
married the wrong man, who can never make you happy."

Mehetabel started upright, and went with heaving bosom to the
window, then drew back in surprise, for she saw the face of Mrs.
Rocliffe at the pane, her nose applied to and flattened against
the glass, and looking like a dab of putty.

She was offended at the woman's inquisitiveness, and went to the
door to inquire if she needed anything.

"Nuthin' at all," answered Sarah, with a laugh, "except to see
whether my brother was home. It's early days beginning this, I call
it."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, nuthin'."

"Iver is here," said Mehetabel, controlling herself. "Will you
please to come in?"

"But Jonas is not, is he?"

"No; he has gone to Squire Mellers about a load of stable-brooms."

"I wouldn't come in on no account," said Mrs. Rocliffe. "Two's
company, three's none," and she turned and departed.

After she had shut the door Mehetabel went hastily through the
kitchen into the scullery at the back. Her face was crimson, and
she trembled in all her joints.

Iver called to her; she answered hastily that she was engaged, and
presently, after she had put bread and cake and butter on the
table, she fled to her own room upstairs, seated herself on a
chair, and hid her burning face in her apron.

The voice of her husband below afforded sensible relief to her in
her mortification. He was speaking with Iver; cursing the weather
and his bad luck. His long tramp in the rain had been to no
purpose. The Squire, to whose house he had been, was out. She
washed her face, combed and smoothed her hair, and slowly descended
the stairs.

On seeing her Jonas launched forth in complaints, and showed
himself to be in an evil temper. He must have ale, not wish-wash
tea, fit only for old women. He would not stuff himself with cake
like a school child. He must have ham fried for him at once.

He was in an irritable mood, and found fault with his wife about
trifles, or threw out sarcastic remarks that wounded, and made
Iver boil with indignation. Jonas did not seem to bear the young
artist a grudge; he was, in fact, pleased to see him, and proposed
to him to stay the evening and have a game of cards.

It was distressing to Mehetabel to be rebuked in public, but she
made no rejoinder. Jonas had seized on the opportunity to let his
visitor see that he was not tied to his wife's apron string, but
was absolute master in his own house. The blood mounted to Iver's
brow, and he clenched his hands under the table.

To relieve the irksomeness of the situation Iver proceeded to undo
a case of his colored sketches that he had brought with him.

These water-colors were charming in their style, a style much
affected at that period; the tints were stippled in, and every
detail given with minute fidelity. The revolution in favor of
blottesque had not yet set in, and the period was happily far
removed from that of the impressionist, who veils his incapacity
under a term--an impression, and calls a daub a picture. Nature
never daubs, never strains after effects. She is painstaking,
delicate in her work, and reticent.

Whilst Mehetabel was engaged frying ham, Iver showed his drawings
to the Broom-Squire, who treated them without perception of their
beauty, and valued them solely as merchandise. But when supper was
ready, and whilst Jonas was eating, he had a more interested and
appreciative observer in Mehetabel, to whom the drawings afforded
unfeigned pleasure. In her delight she sat close to Iver; her warm
breath played over his cheek, as he held up the sketches to the
light, and pointed out the details of interest.

Once when these were minute, and she had to look closely to observe
them, in the poor light afforded by the candle, without thinking
what he was about, Iver put his hand on her neck. She started, and
he withdrew it. The action was unobserved by Bideabout, who was
engrossed in his rasher.

When Jonas had finished his meal, he thrust his plate away,
produced a pack of cards, and said--

"Here, Mr. Iver, are pictures worth all of yours. Will you come
and try your luck or skill against me? We'll have a sup of brandy
together. Matabel, bring glasses and hot-water."

Iver went to the door and looked out. The rain descended in
streams; so he returned to the table, drew up his chair and took
a hand.

When Mehetabel had washed the plates and dishes used at the meal,
she seated herself where she could see by the candle-light, took
up her needlework, and was prepared to snuff the wick as was
required.

Iver found that he could not fix his attention on the game.
Whenever Mehetabel raised her hand for the snuffers, he made a
movement to forestall her, then sometimes their eyes met, and she
lowered hers in confusion.

The artistic nature of Iver took pleasure in the beautiful; and
the features, coloring, grace of the young Broom-Squiress, were
such as pleased him and engaged his attention. He made no attempt
to analyze his feelings towards her. He was not one to probe his
own heart, nor had he the resolution to break away from temptation,
even when recognized as such. Easy-going, good-natured, impulsive,
with a spice of his mother's selfishness in his nature, he allowed
himself to follow his inclinations without consideration whither
they might lead him, and how they might affect others.

Iver's eyes, thoughts, were distracted from the game. He lost
money--five shillings, and Jonas urged him to play for higher
stakes.

Then Mehetabel laid her needlework in her lap, and said--

"No, Iver, do not. You have played sufficiently, and have lost
enough. Go home."

Jonas swore at her.

"What is that to you? We may amuse ourselves without your meddling.
What odds to you if he loses, so long as I win. I am your husband
and not he."

But Iver rose, and laughingly said:--

"Better go home with a wet jacket than with all the money run out
of my pocket. Good-night, Bideabout."

"Have another shot?"

"Not another."

"She put you up to this," with a spiteful glance at Mehetabel.

"Not a bit, Jonas. Don't you think a chap feels he's losing blood,
without being told he is getting white about the gills."

The Broom-Squire sulkily began to gather up the cards.

"What sort of a night is it, Mehetabel? Go to the door and see,"
said he.

The girl rose and opened the door.

Without, the night was black as pitch, and in the light that
issued the raindrops glittered as they fell. In the trees, in
the bushes, on the grass, was the rustle of descending rain.

"By Jove, it's worse than ever," said Iver: "lend me a lantern, or
I shall never reach home."

"I haven't one to spare," replied Bideabout; "the hogs and calves
must be tended, and the horse, Old Clutch, littered down. Best way
that you have another game with me, and you shall stay the night.
We have a spare room and bed."

"I accept with readiness," said Iver.

"Go--get all ready, Matabel. Now, then! you cut, I deal."



CHAPTER XVII.

DREAMS.


Iver remained the night in the little farm-house. He thought
nothing as he lay in bed of the additional shillings he had lost
to Jonas, but of the inestimable loss he had sustained in Mehetabel.

The old childish liking he had entertained for her revived. It did
more than revive, it acquired strength and heat. As a boy he had
felt some pride and self-consequence because of the child whom he
had introduced into the Christian Church, and to whom he had given
a name. Now he was elated to think that she was the most beautiful
woman he had seen, and angry with the consciousness that she was
snatched from him.

Why had he not returned to Thursley a day, half a day, earlier?
Why had Fate played such a cruel game with him? What a man this
Jonas Kink was who had won the prize. Was he worthy of it? Did he
value Mehetabel as he should? A fellow who could not perceive
beauty in a landscape and see the art in his drawings was not
one to know that his wife was lovely, or if he knew it did so in
a stupid, unappreciative manner. Did he treat Mehetabel kindly;
with ordinary civility? Iver remembered the rebukes, the slights
put on her in his own presence.

Iver's bedroom was neat, everything in it clean. The bed was one of
those great tented four-posters which were at the time much
affected in Surrey, composed of covering and curtains of striped--or
pranked--cotton, blue and white. Mehetabel, in the short while she
had been in the Punch-Bowl, had put the spare room in order. She
had found it used as a place for lumber, every article of furniture
deep in dust, and every curtain rent. The corners of the room had
been given over for twenty years as the happy hunting-ground of
spiders. Although Bideabout had taken some pains to put his house
in order before his marriage, repairs had been executed only on
what was necessary, and in a parsimonious spirit. The spare room had
been passed over, as not likely to be needed. To that as to every
other portion of the house, Mehetabel had turned her attention,
and it was now in as good condition to receive a guest as the
bedrooms in the Ship Inn.

Presently Iver went to sleep, lulled by the patter of the rain on
the roof, on the leaves, and the sobbing of the moist wind through
the ill-adjusted casement.

As he slept he had a dream.

He thought that he heard Thursley Church bells ringing. He believed
he had been to church to be married. He was in his holiday attire,
and was holding his bride by the hand. He turned about to see who
was his partner, and recognized Mehetabel. She was in white, but
whiter than her dress and veil was her bloodless face, and her
dark brows and hair marked it as with mourning.

There was this strange element in his dream, that he could not
leave the churchyard.

He endeavored to follow the path to the gate, outside which the
villagers were awaiting them with flowers and ready to cheer; but
he was unable to reach it. The path winded in and out among the
gravestones, and round and round the church, till at length it
reached the tomb of the murdered sailor.

All the while the ringers were endeavoring to give the young bridal
pair a merry peal, and failed. The ropes slid from their hands,
and only the sexton succeeded in securing one, and with that he
tolled. Distinctly Iver saw the familiar carving of the three
murderers robbing and killing their victim. He had often laughed
over the bad drawing of the figures--he laughed now, in sleep.

Then he thought that he heard Mehetabel reproach him for having
returned, to be her woe. And that between each sentence she sobbed.

Thereupon he again looked at her.

She was beautiful, more beautiful than ever--a beauty sublimated,
rendered almost transparent. As he looked she became paler, and
the hand he held grew colder. Now ensued a strange phenomenon.

She was sinking. Her feet disappeared in the spongy turf that
oozed with water after the long rain. Her large dark eyes were
fixed on him entreatingly, reproachfully.

Then she was enveloped to her knees, and as she went down, the
stain of the wet grass and the soil of the graveyard clay rose an
inch up her pure white garment.

She held his hand tenaciously, as the only thing to which she
could cling to save her from being wholly engulfed.

Then she was swallowed up to her waist, and he became aware that
if he continued to clasp her hand, she would drag him under the
earth. In his dream he reasoned with her. He pointed out to her
that it was impossible for him to be of any service to her, and
that he was jeopardizing his own self, unless he disengaged himself
from her.

He endeavored to release his hand. She clung the more obstinately,
her fingers were deadly cold and numbed him, yet he was resolute
in self-defence, and finally freed his hand. Then she sank more
rapidly, with despair in the upturned face. He tried to escape
her eyes, he could not. It was a satisfaction to him when the rank
grass closed over them and got between the lips that were opened
in appeal for help. Then ensued a gulp. The earth had swallowed
her up, and in dream, he was running for his pallet and canvas to
make a study of the spot where she had sunk, in a peculiarly
favorable light. He woke, shivering, and saw that the gray morning
was looking in at his window between the white curtains.

His hand, that had felt so chill, was out of the bed, and the
coverlet had slid off him, and was heaped on the floor.

The wind had shifted, and now pressed the clouds together, rolled
them up and swept them into the lumber-house of clouds below the
horizon. He dressed leisurely, shook himself, to shake off the
impression produced by his dream, and laughed at himself for
having been disturbed by it.

When he came downstairs he found that both Mehetabel and Jonas
were already on their feet, and that the former was preparing
breakfast. Her eyes were red, as if she had been crying.

"How did you sleep?" she asked, with faint smile--"and what were
your dreams?"

"They say that the first dream in new quarters comes true," threw
in the Broom-Squire; "but this is the idle chatter of old wives.
I make no count of it."

Mehetabel observed that Iver started and seemed disconcerted at
this question relative to his dream. He evaded an answer, and she
saw that the topic was unpleasant, and to reply inconvenient. She
said no more; and Jonas had other matters to think about more
substantial than dreams. Yet Mehetabel could not fail to perceive
that their guest was out of tune. Was he annoyed at having lost
money, or was he in reality troubled by something that had occurred
during the night? An hour later Iver prepared to leave.

"Come with me a little way," he pleaded with the hostess, "see me
safe off the premises."

She did as was desired, though not without inner reluctance. And
yet, at the same time she felt that with his departure a something
would be gone that could not be replaced, a light out of her sky,
a strain of music out of her soul.

The white fog lay like curd at the bottom of the Punch-Bowl. Here
and there a tree-top stood above the vapor, but only as a bosky
islet in the surface of mist, dense and chill. The smoke from the
chimneys of the squatter houses rose like steaming springs, but
the brick chimneys were submerged. So dense was the fog that it
muffled all sound, impeded the breath, struck cold to the marrow.
It smelt, for the savors of hog-pen and cow-stall were caught and
not allowed to dissipate.

A step, and those ascending the side of the great basin were out
of the mist, and in sunshine, but it still held their feet to the
knees; another step and they were clear, and then their shadows
were cast, gigantic, upon the white surface below, and about each
head was a halo of light and rainbow tints.

Every bush was twinkling as hung with diamonds of the purest
water. Larks were trilling, pouring forth in song the ecstasy
that swelled their hearts. The sky was blue as a nemophyla, and
cloudless.

As soon as Iver and Mehetabel had issued from the fog and were
upon the heath, and in the sunshine, she stayed her feet.

"I will go no further," she said.

"Look," said he, "how the fog lies below at the bottom of the
Punch-Bowl, as though it were snow. Above, on the downs all is
sunshine."

"Yes, you go up into the light and warmth," answered she. "I must
back and down into the cold vapors, cold as death."

He thought of his dream. There was despondency in her tone.

"The sun will pierce and scatter the vapors and shine over and
warm you below."

She shook her head.

"Iver," she said, "you may tell me now we are alone. What was
your dream?"

Again he appeared disconcerted.

"Of what, of whom did you dream?"

"Of whom else could I dream but you--when under your roof," said
he with a laugh.

"Oh, Iver! and what did you dream about me?"

"Arrant nonsense. Dreams go by contraries."

"Then what about me?"

"I dreamt of your marriage."

"Then that means death."

He caught her to him, and kissed her lips.

"We are brother and sister," he said, in self-exculpation. "Where
is the harm?"

She disengaged herself hastily.

She heard a cough and looked round, to see the mocking face of
Sarah Rocliffe, who had followed and had just emerged from the
curdling fog below.



CHAPTER XVIII.

REALITIES.


Iver was gone.

The light that had sparkled in Mehetabel's eyes, the flush, like
a carnation in her cheek, faded at once. She was uneasy that Mrs.
Rocliffe had surprised her and Iver, whilst he gave her that
ill-considered though innocent parting salute.

What mischief she might make of it! How she might sow suspicion of
her in the heart of Jonas, and Iver would be denied the house!
Iver denied the house! Then she would see him no more, have no
more pleasant conversations with him. Indeed, then the cold,
clammy fog into which she descended was a figure of the life hers
would be, and it was one that no sun's rays could dissipate.

After she had returned to the house she sank in a dark comer
like one weary after hard labor, and looked dreamily before her
at the floor. Her hands and her feet were motionless.

A smile that every moment became more bitter sat on her lips. The
muscles of her face became more rigid.

What if through jealousy, open discord broke out between her and
Jonas? Would it make her condition more miserable, her outlook
more desperate? She revolved in thought the events that were past.
She ranged them in their order--the proposal of Jonas, her refusal,
the humiliation to which she had been subjected by Mrs. Verstage
which had driven her to accept the man she had just rejected, the
precipitation with which the marriage had been hurried on, then
the appearance of Iver on her wedding day.

She recalled the look that passed over his face when informed that
she was a bride, the clasp of his hands, and now--now--his kiss
burned on her lips, nay, had sunk in as a drop of liquid fire, and
was consuming her heart with anguish and sweetness combined.

Was the kiss that of a brother to a sister? Was there in it, as
Iver said, no harm, no danger to herself? She thought of the journey
home from the Ship on her wedding evening, of the fifteen pounds of
which she had been robbed by her husband, the money given her by
"father" against the evil day. She had been deceived, defrauded by
the man she had sworn to honor, love, and obey. She had not
acquired love for him. Had he not by this act forfeited all claim
to both love and honor?

She thought again of Iver, of his brown, agate-like eyes, but eyes
in which there was none of the hardness of a stone. She contrasted
him with Jonas. How mean, how despicable, how narrow in mind and
in heart was the latter compared with the companion of her youth.

Mehetabel's face was bathed in perspiration. She slid to her knees
to pray; she folded her hands, and found herself repeating.
"Genesis, fifty chapters; Exodus, forty; Leviticus, twenty-seven;
Numbers, thirty-six; Deuteronomy, thirty-four; these are the books
that constitute the Pentateuch. The Book of Joshua--"

Then she checked herself. In her distress, her necessity, she
was repeating the lesson last acquired in Sunday-school, which
had gained her a prize. This was not prayer. It brought her no
consolation, it afforded her no strength. She tried to find
something to which to cling, to stay her from the despair into
which she had slipped, and could only clearly figure to herself
that "the country of the Gergesenes lay to the southeast of the
Sea of Tiberias and that a shekel weighed ten hundred-weights and
ninety-two grains, Troy weight, equal to in avoirdupois--" her brain
whirled. She could not work out the sum. She could not pray. She
could recall no prayer. She could look to nothing beyond the
country of the Gergesenes. And yet, never in her life had she so
needed prayer, strength, as now, when this new guilty passion
was waking in her heart.

Shuddering at the thought of revolt against her duty, unable
altogether to abandon the hope, the longing to see Iver again,
filled with vague terror of what the future might bring forth,
she remained as struck with paralysis, kneeling, speechless, with
head bowed, hands fallen at her side, seeing, hearing, knowing
nothing; and was roused with a start by the voice of Jonas who
entered, and asked--,

"Wot's up now?"

She could not answer him. She sprang to her feet and eagerly
flew to the execution of her domestic duties.

Iver returned from his visit to the Punch-Bowl with a mind occupied
and ill at ease.

He had allowed himself, without a struggle, to give way to the
impression produced on him by the beauty of Mehetabel. He enjoyed
her society--found pleasure in talking of the past. Her mind was
fresh; she was intelligent, and receptive of new ideas. She alone
of all the people of Thursley, whom he had encountered, was
endowed with artistic sense--was able to set the ideal above what
was material. He did not ask himself whether he loved her. He knew
that he did, but the knowledge did not trouble him. After a
fashion, Mehetabel belonged to him as to none other. She was
associated with his earliest and sunniest recollections.

Mehetabel could sympathize with him in his love for the beautiful
in Nature. She had ever been linked with his mother in love for
him. She had been the vehicle of communication between him and his
mother till almost the last moment; it was through her that all
tidings of home had reached him.

When his father had refused to allow Iver's name to be mentioned
in his presence, for hours daily the thoughts of him had been in
the hearts of his mother and this girl. With united pity and love,
they had followed his struggles to make his way.

There was much obstinacy in Iver.

Resolution to have his own way had made him leave home to follow
an artistic career, regardless of the heartache he would cause
his mother, and the resentment he would breed in his father.

Thus, without consideration of the consequences to himself, to
Mehetabel, to Jonas, he allowed his glowing affection for the
young wife to gather heat, without attempt to master or extinguish
it.

There is a certain careless happiness in the artistic soul that
is satisfied with the present, and does not look into the future.
The enjoyment of the hour, the banquet off the decked table, the
crown of roses freshly blown, suffice the artist's soul. It has no
prevision of the morrow--makes no provision for the winter.

That the marriage of Mehetabel with Jonas had raised barriers
between them was hardly considered. That the Broom-Squire might
resent having him hover round his young flower, did not enter
into Iver's calculations; least of all did it concern him that
he was breaking the girl's heart, and forever making it impossible
for her to reconcile herself to her position.

As Iver walked home over the common, and enjoyed the warmth and
brilliancy of the sun, he asked himself again, why his mother
had not prepared him for the marriage of Mehetabel.

Mehetabel had certainly not taken Jonas because she loved him.
She was above sordid considerations. What, then, had induced her
to take the man? She had been happy and contented at the Ship;
why, then, did she leave it?

On reaching home, he put the question to his mother. "It is a
puzzle to me, which I cannot unravel, why has Matabel become
Bideabout's wife?"

"Why should she not?" asked his mother in return. "It was a catch
for such as she--a girl without a name, and bare of a dower. She
has every reason to thank me for having pushed the marriage on."

Iver looked at his mother with surprise.

"Then you had something to do with it?"

"Of course I had," answered she. "I did my duty. I am not so young
as I was. I had to think for Matabel's future. She is no child of
mine. She can expect nothing from your father nor from me. When a
good offer came, then I told her to accept and be thankful. She
is a good girl, and has been useful in the house, and some people
think her handsome. But young men don't court a girl who has no
name, and has had three men hanged because of her."

"Mother! what nonsense! The men were executed because they murdered
her father."

"It is all one. She is marked with the gallows. Ill-luck attaches
to her. There has been a blight on her from the beginning. I mind
when her father chucked her down all among the fly-poison. Now she
has got the Broom-Squire, she may count herself lucky, and thank
me for it."

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Iver. "Then this marriage is your doing?"

"Yes--I told her that, before you came here, I must have her clear
out of the house."

"Why?"

A silence ensued. Mrs. Verstage looked at her son--into his great,
brown eyes--and what she saw there alarmed her. Her lips moved to
speak, but she could utter no words. She had let out her motive
without consideration in the frankness that was natural to her.

"I ask, mother, why did you stop Matabel from writing, and take
up the correspondence yourself at last; and then, when you did
write to me at Guildford, you said not one word about Mehetabel
being promised to the Broom-Squire?"

"I could not put all the news of the parish into my letter. How
should I know that this concerned you?"

"We were together as children. If ever there were friends in the
world, it was we."

"I am a bad writer. It takes me five minutes over one word, just
about. I said what I had to say, and no more, and I were a couple
o' days over that."

"Why did you ask me to postpone my coming home?--why seek to keep
me away till after Mehetabel's marriage?"

"There was a lot to do in the house, preparation for the weddin'--her
gownds--I couldn't have you here whilst all the rout was on. I
wanted to have you come when all was quiet again, and I could
think of you. What wi' preparations and schemin' my head was full."

"Was that the only reason, mother?"

She did not answer. Her eyes fell.

Iver threw his hat on the table, and went to his room. He was
incensed against his mother. He guessed the reason why she had
urged on the marriage, why she had kept him in ignorance of the
engagement, why she had delayed his return to Thursley.

She had made her plans. She wished to marry him to Polly Colpus,
and she dreaded his association with Mehetabel as likely to be
prejudicial to the success of her cherished scheme, now that the
girl was in the ripeness of her beauty and to Iver invested with
the halo of young associations, of boy romance.

If his mother had told him! If she had not bidden him postpone his
coming home! Then all would have turned out well. Mehetabel would
not have been linked to an undesirable man, whom she could not
love; and he would have been free to make her his own.

His heart was bitter as wormwood.

Mrs. Verstage saw but too plainly that her son was estranged from
her; and she could form a rough estimate of the reason. He addressed
her indeed with a semblance of love and showed her filial attention,
but her maternal instinct assured her that something stood between
them, something which took the reality and spontaneity out of his
demonstrations of affection.

Iver occupied himself with the picture of Mehetabel at the fountain.
It was his great pleasure to work thereon. If he was not engaged at
his canvas in the tavern, he was wandering in the direction of the
Punch-Bowl to make studies for pictures, so he said. His mother
saw that there was no prospect of retaining her son at the Ship
for long. What held him there was not love for her, desire to
recover lost ground with his father, not a clinging to his old
home, not a desire to settle and take up his father's work; it
was something else--she feared to give utterance to the thought
haunting her mind.

"You are a fool, old woman," said her husband to her one night.
"You and I might have been easy and happy in our old age had you
not meddled and made mischief. You always was a great person for
lecturin' about Providence, and it's just about the one thing you
won't let alone."

"What do you mean, Simon?" she asked, and her heart beat fast
with presage of what he would say.

"Why, Susan, if you had not thrust Mehetabel into the Broom-Squire's
arms when she didn't want to be there no more nor among brimbles,
then Iver would have taken her and all would have been peace."

"What makes you say that?" she asked, in a flutter of terror.

"Oh, I'll be bound it would have been so. Iver has been asking
all manner of questions about Matabel, and why she took Jonas.
I sed it was agin my wishes, but that you would have it, so
Matabel had to give in."

"Simon, why did you say that? You set the boy against me."

"I don't see that, Sanna. It is you who have put the fat in the
fire. If you try to turn a stream to run uphill, you will souse
your own field, and won't get the water to go where you drive it.
It's my belief that all the while he has been away, Iver has had
his mind set upon Matabel. I'm not surprised. You may go through
Surrey, and won't find her match. Now he comes home and finds that
you have spoiled his chance, with your meddlesomeness--and there'll
be the devil to pay, yet. That's my opinion."

The old man turned on his side and was asleep, but self-reproach
for what was past and doubt as to the future kept his wife awake
all night.



CHAPTER XIX.

BACK AGAIN.


Fever boiled in the heart of Mehetabel. A mill-race of ideas
rushed through her brain.

She found no rest in her household work, for it was not possible for
her to keep her mind upon it. Nor was there sufficient employment
to be found in the house to engage all her time.

Do what she would, make for herself occupation, there was still
space in which to muse and to torment herself with her thoughts.
Whilst her hands were engaged she craved for leisure in which to
think; when unemployed, the ferment within rendered idleness
intolerable.

When the work of the house was accomplished, she went to the
fountain where she had been drawn by Iver, and there saw again
the glowing brown of his eyes fixed on her, and reheard the tones
of his voice addressing her. Then she would start as though stung
by a wasp and go along the track up the Punch-Bowl, recalling
every detail of her walk with Iver, and feeling again his kiss
upon her lips. She tried to forget him; with a resolution of which
she was capable she shut against his entry every door of her heart.
But she found it was impossible to exclude the thoughts of him.
Had she not looked up to him from early childhood, and idolized
him? She had been accustomed to think of him, to talk of him daily
to his mother, after he had left the Ship. That mother who had
forcibly separated her from him had herself ingrafted Iver into
her inmost thoughts, made of him an integral portion of her mind.
She had been taught by Mrs. Verstage to bring him into all her
dreams of the future, as a factor without which that future would
be void and valueless, She had, indeed, never dreamed of him as a
lover, a husband; nevertheless to Mehetabel the future had always
been associated in a vague, yet very real, manner with Iver. His
return was to inaugurate the epoch of a new and joyous existence.
It was not practicable for her to pluck out of her heart this idea,
which had thrust its fibres through every layer and into every
corner of her mind. Those fibres were now thrilling with vitality,
asserting a vigorous life.

She asked herself the same question that had presented itself to
his mind, what if Iver had returned one day, one hour, before he
actually did? Then her marriage with Jonas would have been made
impossible. The look into his eyes, the pressure of his hand would
have bound her to him for evermore.

"Why, why, and oh why!" with a cry of pain, "had he not returned
in time to save her?"

"Why, why, and oh why!" with blood from her heart, "did he return
at all when too late to save her?"

Mehetabel had a clear and sound understanding. She was not one to
play tricks with her conscience, and to reason herself into
allowing what she was well aware was wrong. She nourished herself
in no delusion that her marriage with Jonas was formal and devoid
of the sanction of a spiritual bond.

She took her Prayer Book, opened the marriage service, and re-read
the vows she had made.

She had been asked, "Wilt thou have this man, Jonas, to thy wedded
husband, to live together after God's ordinance . . . and forsaking
all other keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?"
and thereto, in the sight of God and of the congregation, she had
promised. There was no escape from this.

She had said--"I, Mehetabel, take thee, Jonas, to be my wedded
husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better,
for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to
love, cherish and obey, till death us do part, according to God's
holy ordinance, and thereto I give thee my troth."

There was no proviso inserted, as a means of escape; nothing
like: I will be true to thee unless Iver return; unless, thou,
Bideabout, prove unworthy of my love and obedience; unless there
be incompatibility of temper; unless I get tired of thee, and
change my mind.

Mehetabel knew what the words meant, knew that she had been
sincere in intent when she said them. She knew that she was bound,
without proviso of any kind.

She knew that she could not love Iver and be guiltless. But she
was aware also, now, when too late, that she had undertaken towards
Jonas what was, in a measure, impossible.

Loyal to Jonas as far as outward conduct could make her, that she
was confident she would remain, but her heart had slipped beyond
her control, and her thoughts were winged and refused to be caged.

"I say, Matabel!"

The young wife started, and her bosom contracted. Her husband
spoke. He had come on her at a moment when, lost in day-dreams,
she least expected, desired, his presence.

"What do you want with me, Jonas?" she asked as she recovered her
composure.

"I want you to go to the Ship. The old woman there has fallen out
with the maid, and there are three gentlemen come for the shooting,
and want to be attended to. The old woman asked if you would help
a bit. I said 'Dun know:' but after a bit we agreed for a shilling
a day."

"Never!" gasped Mehetabel.

"I tried to screw more out of her necessity, but could not.
Besides, if you do well, you'll get half a crown from each of
the gents, and that'll be seven and six; and say three days at
the Inn, half-a-guinea all in all. I can spare you for that."

"Jonas, I do not wish to go."

"But I choose that you shall."

"I pray you allow me to remain here."

"There's Mr. Iver leaves to-day for his shop at Guildford, and I
reckon the old woman is put about over that, too."

After some hesitation Mehetabel yielded. The thought that Iver
would not be at the Ship alone induced her to consent.

She was hurt and angry that her husband had stipulated for payment
for her services. After the kindness, the generosity with which
she had been treated, this seemed ungracious in the extreme. She
said as much.

"I don't see it," answered Jonas. "When you wos a baby she made
the parish pay her for taking you. Now she wants you, it is her
turn to pay."

Bideabout did not allow his wife much time in which to make her
preparations. He had business in Godalming with a lawyer, and was
going to drive old Clutch thither. He would take Mehetabel with
him as far as Thursley.

On reaching the tavern Mrs. Verstage met her with effusion, and
Iver, hearing his mother's exclamation, ran out.

Mehetabel was surprised and confused at seeing him. He caught her
by the hand, helped her to descend from the cart, and retained his
hold of her fingers for a minute after it was necessary.

He had told his mother that he must return to Guildford that day;
and when she had asked for Mehetabel's help she had calculated on
the absence of her son, who had been packing up his canvas and
paints. To him she had not breathed a word of the likelihood that
Mehetabel would be coming to her aid.

"I daresay Bideabout will give you a lift, Iver," she said.

"I don't know that I can," said Jonas. "I've promised to pick up
Lintott, and there ain't room in the trap for more than two."

Then the Broom-Squire drove away.

"See, Matabel," said Iver, pointing to the signboard, "I've
redaubed the Old Ship, quite to my father's satisfaction. By Jove,
I told mother I should return to Guildford to-day--but now, hang
me, if I do not defer my departure for a day or two."

Mrs. Verstage looked reproachfully at her son.

"Mother," said he in self-exculpation. "I shall take in ideas, a
model costs me from a shilling to half-acrown an hour, and here
is Matabel, a princess of models, will sit for nothing."

"I shall be otherwise employed," said the girl, in confusion.

"Indeed, I shan't spare her for any of that nonsense," said Mrs.
Verstage.

The hostess was much perplexed. She had reckoned on her son's
departure before Mehetabel arrived. She would not have asked for
her assistance if she had not been convinced that he would take
himself off.

She expostulated. Iver must not neglect his business, slight
his engagements. He had resolved to go, and had no right to
shilly-shally, and change his mind. She required his room. He
would be in the way with the guests.

To all these objections Iver had an answer. In fine, said he, with
Mehetabel in the house he could not and he would not go.

What was Mehetabel to do? Jonas had locked up his house and had
carried away the key with him; moreover, to return now was a
confession of weakness. What was Mrs. Verstage to do? She had
three visitors, real gentlemen, in the house. They must be made
comfortable; and the new servant, Polly, according to her notion,
was a hopeless creature, slatternly, forgetful, impudent.

There was no one on whom the landlady could fall back, except
Mehetabel, who understood her ways, and was certain to give
satisfaction. Mrs. Verstage was not what she had once been, old
age, and more than that, an internal complaint, against which she
had fought, in which she had refused to believe, had quite recently
asserted itself, and she was breaking down.

There was consequently no help for it. She resolved to keep a sharp
lookout on the young people, and employ Mehetabel unremittingly.
But of one thing she was confident. Mehetabel was not a person to
forget her duty and self-respect.

The agitation produced by finding that Iver purposed remaining in
the house passed away, and Mehetabel faced the inevitable.

Wherever her eye rested, memories of a happy girlhood welled up in
her soft and suffering breast. The geraniums in the window she had
watered daily. The canary--she had fed it with groundsel. The
brass skillets on the mantelshelf--they had been burnished by her
hand. The cushion on "father's" chair was of her work. Everything
spoke to her of the past, and of a happy past, without sharp
sorrows, without carking cares.

Old Simon was rejoiced to see Mehetabel again in the house. He
made her sit beside him. He took her hand in his, and patted it.
A pleasant smile, like a sunbeam, lit up his commonplace features.

"Mother and I have had a deal to suffer since you've been gone,"
said Simon. "The girl Polly be that stupid and foreright (awkward)
we shall be drove mad, both of us, somewhen."

"Do you see that window-pane?" he asked, pointing to a gap in the
casement. "Polly put her broom handle through. There was not one
pane broke all the time you was with us, and now there be three
gone, and no glazier in the village to put 'em to rights. You
mind the blue pranked (striped) chiney taypot? Mother set great
store on that. Polly's gone and knocked the spout off. Mother's
put about terrible over that taypot. As for the best sheets,
Polly's burnt a hole through one, let a cinder fly out on it, when
airing. Mother's in a pretty way over that sheet. I don't know
what there'll be to eat, Polly left the larder open, and the dog
has carried off a leg of mutton. It has been all cross and contrary
ever since you went."

Simon mused a while, holding Mehetabel's hand, and said after a
pause, "It never ort to a' been. You was well placed here and never
ort to a' left. It was all mother's doing. She drove you into
weddin' that there Broom-Squire. Women can't be easy unless they
be hatchin' weddin's; just like as broody hens must be sittin' on
somethin'. If that had never been brought about, then the taypot
spout would not have been knocked off, nor the winder-pane broken,
nor the sheet riddled wi' a cinder, nor the dog gone off wi' the
leg o' mutton."

Mehetabel was unable to suppress a sigh.

"Winter be comin' on," pursued the old man, "and mother's gettin'
infirm, and a bit contrary. When Polly worrits her, then I ketches
it. That always wos her way. I don't look forward to winter. I
don't look forward to nuthin' now--" He became sorrowful. "All be
gone to sixes and sevens, now that you be gone, Matabel. What will
happen I dun' know, I dun' know."

"What may happen," said Mehetabel, "is not always what we expect.
But one thing is certain--lost happiness is past recovery."



CHAPTER XX.

GONE.


During the evening Iver was hardly able to take his eyes off
Mehetabel, as she passed to and fro in the kitchen.

She knew where was every article that was needed for the gentlemen.
She moved noiselessly, did everything without fuss, without haste.

He thought over the words she had uttered, and he had overheard:
Lost happiness is past recovery. Not only was she bereft of
happiness, but so was he. His father and mother, when too late,
had found that they also had parted with theirs when they had let
Mehetabel leave the house.

She moved gracefully. She was slender, her every motion merited
to be sketched. Iver's artistic sense was excited to admiration.
What a girl she was! What a model! Oh, that he had her as his own!

Mehetabel knew that she was watched, and it disconcerted her. She
was constrained to exercise great self-control; not to let slip
what she carried, not to forget what tasks had to be discharged.

In her heart she glowed with pride at the thought that Iver loved
her--that he, the prince, the idol of her childhood, should have
retained a warm place in his heart for her. And yet, the thought,
though sweet, was bitter as well, fraught with foreshadowings of
danger.

Mrs. Verstage also watched Mehetabel, and her son likewise, with
anxious eyes.

The old man left the house to attend to his cattle; and one of
the gentlemen came to the kitchen-door to invite Iver, whose
acquaintance he had made during the day, to join him and his
companions over a bowl of punch.

The young man was unable to refuse, but left with reluctance
manifest enough to his mother and Mehetabel.

Then, when the hostess was alone with the girl, she drew her to
her side, and said, "There is now nothing to occupy you. Sit by me
and tell me about yourself and how you get on with Bideabout. You
have no notion how pleased I am to have you here again."

Mehetabel kissed the old woman, and a tear from her eye fell on
the withering cheek of the landlady.

"I dare be bound you find it lonely in the new home," said Mrs.
Verstage. "Here, in an inn, there is plenty of life; but in the
farm you are out of the world. How does the Broom-Squire treat
you?"

She awaited an answer with anxiety, which she was unable to
disguise.

After a pause Mehetabel replied, with heightened color, "Jonas is
not unkind."

"You can't expect love-making every day," said the hostess. "It's
the way of men to promise the sun, moon, and planets, till you are
theirs, and after that, then poor women must be content to be
given a spark off a fallen star. There was Jamaica Cheel runn'd
away with his Betsy because he thought the law wouldn't let him
have her; she was the wife of another, you know. Then he found
she never had been proper married to the other chap, and when he
discovered he was fast tied to Betsy he'd a run away from her
only the law wouldn't let him. Jonas ain't beautiful and young,
that I allow."

"I knew what he was when I married him," answered Mehetabel. "I
cannot say I find him other than what I expected."

"But is he kind to you?"

"I said he was not unkind."

Mrs. Verstage looked questioningly at her adopted child. "I don't
know," she said, with quivering lips. "I suppose I was right. I
acted for the best. God knows I sought your happiness. Do not
tell me that you are unhappy."

"Who is happy?" asked Mehetabel, and turned her eyes on the
hostess, to read alarm and distress in her face. "Do not trouble
yourself about me, mother. I knew what I was doing when I took
Jonas. I had no expectation of finding the Punch-Bowl to be
Paradise. It takes a girl some time to get settled into fresh
quarters, and to feel comfortable among strangers. That is mainly
my case. I was perhaps spoiled when here, you were so kind to me.
I thank you, mother, that you have not forgotten me in your great
joy at getting Iver home again."

"There was Thomasine French bought two penn'orth o' shrimps, and
as her husband weren't at home thought to enjoy herself prodigious.
But she came out red as a biled lobster. With the best intentions
things don't always turn out as expected," said Mrs. Verstage,
"and the irritation was like sting nettles and--wuss." Then, after
a pause, "I don't know how it is, all my life I have wished to
have Iver by me. He went away because he wanted to be a painter;
he has come back, after many years, and is not all I desire. Now
he is goyn away. I could endure that if I were sure he loved me.
But I don't think he does. He cares more for his father, who sent
him packin' than he does for me, who never crossed him. I don't
understand him. He is not the same as he was."

"Iver is a child no longer," said Mehetabel. "You must not expect
of him more than he can give. What you said to me about a husband
is true also of a child. Of course, he loves you, but he does not
show it as fully as you desire. He has something else now to fill
his heart beside a mother."

"What is that?" asked Mrs. Verstage, nervously.

"His art," answered Mehetabel.

"Oh, that!" The landlady was not wholly satisfied, she stood up
and said with a sigh, "I fancy life be much like one o' them bran
pies at a bazaar. Some pulls out a pair of braces as don't wear
trousers, and others pull out garters as wears nuthin' but socks.
'Tis a chance if you get wot's worth havin. Well, I must go look
out another sheet in place of that Polly has burnt."

"Let me do that, mother."

"No, as you may remember, I have always managed the linen myself."

A few minutes later, after she had left the room, Iver returned.
He had escaped from the visitors on some excuse.

His heart was a prey to vague yearnings and doubts.

With pleasure he observed that his mother was no longer in the
kitchen. He saw Mehetabel hastily dry her eyes. He knew that she
had been crying, and he thought he could divine the cause.

"You are going to Guildford to-morrow morning, are you not?" she
asked hastily.

"I don't know."

Iver planted himself on a stool before the fire, where he could
look up into Mehetabel's face, as she sat in the settle.

"You have your profession to attend to," she said. "You do not
know your own mind. You are changeful as a girl."

"How can I go--with you here?" he exclaimed, vehemently.

She turned her head away. He was looking at her with burning eyes.

"Iver," she said, "I pray you be more loving to your mother. You
have made her heart ache. It is cruel not to do all you can now to
make amends to her for the past. She thinks that you do not love
her. She is failing in health, and you must not drip drops of
fresh sorrow into her heart during her last years."

Iver made a motion of impatience.

"I love my mother. Of course I love her."

"Not as truly as you should, Iver," answered Mehetabel. "You do
not consider the long ache--"

"And I, had not I a long ache when away from home?"

"You had your art to sustain you. She had but one thought--and that
of you."

"She has done me a cruel wrong," said he, irritably.

"She has never done anything to you but good, and out of love,"
answered the girl vehemently.

"To me; that is not it."

Mehetabel raised her eyes and looked at him. He was gazing moodily
at the fire.

"She has stabbed me through you," exclaimed Iver, with a sudden
outburst of passion. "Why do you plead my mother's cause, when
it was she--I know it was she, and none but she--who thrust you
into this hateful, this accursed marriage."

"No, Iver, no!" cried Mehetabel in alarm. "Do not say this. Iver!
talk of something else."

"Of what?"

"Of anything."

"Very well," said he, relapsing into his dissatisfied mood. "You
asked me once what my dream had been, that I dreamt that first
night under your roof. I will tell you this now. I thought that
you and I had been married, not you and Jonas, you and I, as it
should have been. And I thought that I looked at you, and your
face was deadly pale, and the hand I held was clay cold."

A chill ran through Mehetabel's veins. She said, "There is some
truth in it, Iver. You hold a dead girl by the hand. To you, I am,
I must be, forever--dead."

"Nonsense. All will come right somehow."

"Yes, Iver," she said; "it will so. You are free and will go
about, and will see and love and marry a girl worthy of you in
every way. As for me, my lot is cast in the Punch-Bowl. No power
on earth can separate me from Bideabout. I have made my bed and
must lie on it, though it be one of thorns. There is but one
thing for us both--we must part and meet no more."

"Matabel," he put forth his hand in protest.

"I have spoken plainly," she said, "because there is no good in
not doing so. Do not make my part more difficult. Be a man--go."

"Matabel! It shall not be, it cannot be! My love! My only one."

He tried to grasp her.

She sprang from the settle. A mist formed before her eyes. She
groped for something by which to stay herself.

He seized her by the waist. She wrenched herself free.

"Let me go!" she cried. "Let me go!"

She spoke hoarsely. Her eyes were staring as if she saw a spirit.
She staggered back beyond his reach, touched the jambs of the
door, grasped them with a grasp of relief. Then, actuated by a
sudden thought, turned and fled from the room, from the house.

Iver stood for a minute bewildered. Her action had been so
unexpected that he did not know what to think, what to do.

He went to the porch and looked up the road, then down it, and did
not see her.

Mrs. Verstage, came out. "Where is Matabel?" she asked, uneasily.

"Gone!" said Iver. "Mother--gone!"



CHAPTER XXI.

THOR'S STONE.


Mehetabel ran, neither along the way that led in the direction of
Portsmouth, nor along that to Godalming, but to the Moor.

"The Moor," is the marsh land that lies at the roots of the
sandstone heights that culminate in Hind Head, Leith Hill, and
the Devil's Jumps. As already said, the great mass of Bagshot sand
lies upon a substratum of clay. The sand drinks in every drop of
rain that falls on the surface. This percolates through it till
it reaches the clay, which refuses to absorb it, or let it sink
through to other beds. Thereupon the accumulated water breaks
forth in springs at the base of the hills, and forms a wide tract
of morass, interspersed with lagoons that teem with fish and wild
fowl. This region is locally known as "Moor," in contradistinction
to the commons or downs, which are the dry sandy upland.

"The Moor" is in many places impassable, but the blown sand has
fallen upon it, and has formed slight elevations, has drifted
into undulations, and these strips of rising ground, kept moist
by the water they absorb, have become covered with vegetation. It
is, moreover, possible by their means to penetrate to the heart
of, and even thread, the intricacies, and traverse the entire
region of the Moor.

But it is, at best, a wild and lonesome district, to be explored
with caution, a labyrinth, the way through which is known only to
the natives of the sandhills that dominate the marshy plain.

About thirty years ago a benevolent and beneficent landlord, in a
time of agricultural distress, gave employment to a large number
of men out of work in the construction of a causeway across the
Thursley "Moor."

But the work was of no real utility, and it is now overgrown with
weeds, and only trodden by the sportsman in pursuit of game and
the naturalist in quest of rare insects and water plants.

A considerable lake, Pudmere, or Pug--Puckmere, lies in the
Thursley marsh land, surrounded with dwarf willows and scattered
pines. These latter have sprung from the wind-blown seeds of the
plantations on higher ground. Throughout this part of the country
an autumn gale always results in the upspringing of a forest of
young pines, next year, to leeward of a clump of cone-bearing
trees. In the Moor such self-sown woods come to no ripeness. The
pines are unhealthy and stunted, hung with gray moss, and eaten
out with canker. The excessive moisture and the impenetrable
subsoil, and the shallowness of the congenial sand that encouraged
them to root make the young trees decay in adolescence.

An abundant and varied insect world has its home in the Moor. The
large brown hawkmoth darts about like an arrow. Dragon flies of
metallic blue, or striped yellow and brown, hover above the lanes
of water, lost in admiration of their own gorgeous selves reflected
in the still surface. The great water-beetle booms against the head
of the intruder, and then drops as a stone into the pool at his
feet. Effets, saffron yellow bellied, with striped backs, swim in
the ponds or crawl at their bottom. The natterjack, so rare
elsewhere, differing from a toad in that it has a yellow band down
its back, has here a paradise. It may be seen at eve perched on
a stock of willow herb, or running--it does not hop--round the
sundew, clearing the glutinous stamens of the flies that have been
caught by them, and calling in a tone like the warning note of
the nightingale. Sleeping on the surface the carp lies, and will
not be scared save by a stone thrown into the still water in which
it dreams away its life.

The sandy elevations are golden with tormintilla; a richer gold is
that which lies below, where the marsh glows with bog asphodel.
The flowering rush spreads its pale pink blossoms; a deeper crimson
is the marsh orchis showing its spires among the drooping clusters
of the waxy-pink, cross-leaved heath, and the green or pale and
rosy-tinted bog-mosses.

Near Pudmoor Pool stands a gray block of ironstone, a solitary
portion of the superincumbent bed that has been washed away. It
resembles a gigantic anvil, and it goes by the name of Thor's
Stone. The slopes that dip towards it are the Thor's-lea, and give
their name to the parish that includes it and them.

At one time there was a similar mass of iron at the summit of
Borough Hill, that looks down upon the morasses.

To this many went who were in trouble or necessity, and knocking
on the stone made known their requirements to the Pucksies, and
it was asserted, and generally believed, that such applicants had
not gone away unanswered, nor unrelieved.

It was told of a certain woman who one evening sought to be freed
by this means from the husband who had made her life unendurable,
that that same night--so ran the tale--he was returning from the
tavern, drunk, and stumbling over the edge of a quarry fell and
broke his neck. Thereupon certain high moralists and busybodies
had the mass of stone broken up and carted away to mend the roads,
with the expectation thereby of putting an end to what they were
pleased to term "a degrading superstition."

To some extent the destruction of the Wishing Block did check the
practice. But there continued to be persons in distress, and women
plagued with drunken husbands, and men afflicted with scolding
wives. And when the pilgrimage of such to Borough Hill ceased,
because of the destruction of the stone on it, then was it diverted,
and the current flowed instead to Thor's Stone--a stone that had
long been regarded with awe, and which now became an object of
resort, as it was held to have acquired the merits of the block
so wantonly demolished on Borough Hill.

Nevertheless, the object of the high moralists and busybodies was
partially attained, inasmuch as the difficulties and dangers
attending a visit to Thor's Stone reduced the number of those
seeking superhuman assistance in their difficulties. Courage was
requisite in one who ventured to the Moor at night, and made a
way to the iron-stone block, over tracts of spongy morass, among
lines of stagnant ooze, through coppices of water-loving willows
and straggling brier. This, which was difficult by day, was
dangerous in a threefold degree at night. Moreover, the Moor was
reputed to be haunted by spirits, shadows that ran and leaped,
and peered and jabbered; and Puck wi' the lantern flickered over
the surface of the festering bog.

If, then, the visits to Thor's Stone were not so many as to
the stone on Borough Hill, this was due less to the waning of
superstition than to the difficulties attending an expedition
to the former. Without considering what she was doing, moved by
a blind impulse, Mehetabel ran in the direction of Puck's Moor.

And yet the impulse was explicable. She had often thought over
the tales told of visits to the habitation of the "Good Folk"
on Borough Hill, and the transfer of the pilgrimage to Thor's
Stone. She had, of late, repeatedly asked herself whether, by a
visit thither, she might not gain what lay at her heart--an
innocent desire--none other than that Iver should depart.

Now that he had made open show of his passion, that all concealment
was over between them, every veil and disguise plucked away--now
she felt that her strength was failing her, and it would fail
completely if subjected to further trial.

One idea, like a spark of fire shooting through her brain, alone
possessed her at this moment. Her safety depended on one thing--the
removal of Iver. Let him go! Let him go! then she could bear her
lot. Let her see him no more! then she would be able to bring
her truant heart under discipline. Otherwise her life would be
unendurable, her tortured brain would give way, her overtaxed
heart would break.

She found no stay for her soul in the knowledge where was situated
the country of the Gergesenes, no succor in being well drilled
in the number of chapters in Genesis. She turned desperately, in
her necessity, to Thor's Stone, to the spirits--what they were
she knew not--who aided those in need, and answered petitions
addressed to them.

The night had already set in, but a full golden moon hung in the
sky, and the night was in no way dark and dreadful.

When she reached the Moor, Mehetabel ran among sheets of gold,
leaped ribbons of shining metal, danced among golden filagree--the
reflection of the orb in the patches, channels, frets of water.
She sprang from one dark tuft of rushes to another; she ran
along the ridges of the sand. She skipped where the surface
was treacherous. What mattered it to her if she missed her footing,
sank, and the ooze closed over her? As well end so a life that
could never be other than long drawn agony.

Before leaving the heath, she had stooped and picked up a stone.
It was a piece of hematite iron, such as frequently occurs in the
sand, liver-shaped, and of the color of liver.

She required a hammer, wherewith to knock on Thor's anvil, and
make her necessities known, and this piece of iron would serve
her purpose.

Frogs were croaking, a thousand natterjacks were whirring like
the nightjar. Strange birds screamed and rushed out of the trees
as she sped along. White moths, ghostlike, wavered about her,
mosquitoes piped. Water-rats plunged into the pools.

As a child she had been familiar with Pudmoor, and instinctively
she walked, ran, only where her foot could rest securely.

A special Providence, it is thought, watches over children and
drunkards. It watches also over such as are drunk with trouble,
it holds them up when unable to think for themselves, it holds
them back when they court destruction.

To this morass, Mehetabel had come frequently with Iver, in days
long gone by, to hunt the natterjack and the dragon-fly, to look
for the eggs of water fowl, and to pick marsh flowers.

As she pushed on, a thin mist spread over portions of the "Moor."
It did not lie everywhere, it spared the sand, it lay above the
water, but in so delicate a film as to be all but imperceptible.
It served to diffuse the moonlight, to make a halo of silver
about the face of the orb, when looked up to by one within the
haze, otherwise it was scarcely noticeable.

Mehetabel ran with heart bounding and with fevered brain, and yet
with her mind holding tenaciously to one idea.

After a while, and after deviations from the direct course, rendered
necessary by the nature of the country she traversed, Mehetabel
reached Thor's Stone, that gleamed white in the moonbeam beside a
sheet of water, the Mere of the Pucksies. This mere had the mist
lying on it more dense than elsewhere. The vapor rested on the
surface as a fine gossamer veil, not raised above a couple of feet,
hardly ruffled by a passing sigh of air. A large bird floated over
it on expanded wings, it looked white as a swan in the moonlight,
but cast a shadow black as pitch on the vaporous sheet that covered
the face of the pool.

It was as though, like Dinorah, this bird were dancing to its own
shadow. But unlike Dinorah, it was silent. It uttered no song,
there was even no sound of the rush of air from its broad wings.
When Mehetabel reached the stone she stood for a moment palpitating,
gasping for breath, and her breath passing from her lips in white
puffs of steam.

The haze from the mere seemed to rise and fling its long streamers
about her head and blindfold her eyes, so that she could see neither
the lake nor the trees, not even the anvil-stone. Only was there
about her a general silvery glitter, and a sense of oppression lay
upon her.

Mehetabel had escaped from the inn, as she was, with bare arms, her
skirt looped up.

She stood thus, with the lump of ironstone resting on the block,
the full flood of moonlight upon her, blinding her eyes, but
revealing her against a background of foliage, like a statue of
alabaster. Startled by a rustle in the bulrushes and willow growth
behind her, Mehetabel turned and looked, but her eyes were not
clear enough for her to discern anything, and as the sound ceased,
she recovered from her momentary alarm.

She had heard that a deer was in Pudmoor that was supposed to have
escaped from the park at Peperharow. Possibly the creature was
there. It was harmless. There were no noxious beasts there. It was
too damp for vipers, nothing in Pudmoor was hurtful save the gnats
that there abounded. Then, with her face turned to the north, away
from the dazzling glory of the moon, Mehetabel swung the lump of
kidney iron she had taken as hammer, once from east to west, and
once from west to east. With a third sweep she brought it down upon
Thor's Stone and cried:

"Take him away! Take him away!"



CHAPTER XXII.

IVER! COME.


She paused, drew a long breath.

Again she swung the hammer-stone. And now she turned round, and
passed the piece of iron into her left hand. She raised it and
struck on the anvil, and cried: "Save me from him. Take him away."
A rush, all the leaves of the trees behind seemed to be stirring,
and all the foliage falling about her.

A hand was laid on her shoulder roughly, and the stone dropped
from her fingers on the anvil. Mehetabel shrank, froze, as struck
with a sudden icy blast, and cried out with fear.

Then said a voice: "So! you seek the Devil's aid to rid you of me."

At once she knew that she was in the presence of her husband, but
so dazzled was she that she could not discern him.

His fingers closed on her arm, as though each were an iron screw.

"So!" said he, in a low tone, his voice quivering with rage, "like
Karon Wyeth, you ask the Devil to break my neck."

"No," gasped Mehetabel.

"Yes, Matabel. I heard you. 'Save me from him. Take him away.'"

"No--no--Jonas."

She could not speak more in her alarm and confusion.

"Take him away. Snap his spine--send a bullet through his skull;
cast him into Pug's mere and drown him; do what you will, only
rid me of Bideabout Kink, whom I swore to love, honor, and to obey."

He spoke with bitterness and wrath, sprinkled over, nay, permeated,
with fear; for, with all his professed rationalism, Jonas
entertained some ancestral superstitions--and belief in the
efficacy of the spirits that haunted Thor's Stone was one.

"No, Jonas, no. I did not ask it."

"I heard you."

"Not you."

"What," sneered he; "are not these ears mine?"

"I mean--I did not ask to have you taken away."

"Then whom?"

She was silent. She trembled. She could not answer his question.

If her husband had been at all other than he was, Mehetabel would
have taken him into her confidence. But there are certain persons
to whom to commit a confidence is to expose yourself to insult and
outrage. Mehetabel knew this. Such a confidence as she would have
given would be turned by him into a means of torture and humiliation.

"Now listen to me," said Jonas, in quivering tones of a voice that
was suppressed. "I know all now. I did not. I trusted you. I was
perhaps a fool. I believed in you. But Sarah has told me all--how
he--that painting ape--has been at my house, meeting you, befooling
you, pouring his love-tales into your ears, and watching till my
back was turned to kiss you."

She was unable to speak. Her knees smote together.

"You cannot answer," he continued. "You are unable to deny that it
was so. Sarah has kept an eye on you both. She should have spoken
before. I am sorry she did not. But better late than never. You
encouraged him to come to you. You drew him to the house."

"No, Jonas, no. It was you who invited him."

"Ah! for me he would not come. Little he cared for my society. The
picture-making was but an excuse, and you all have been in a league
against me."

"Who--Jonas?"

"Who? Why, Sanna Verstage and all. Did not she ask to have you at
the Ship, and say that the painting fellow was going or gone? And
is he not there still? She said it to get you and him together
there, away from me, out of the reach of Sarah's eyes."

"It is false, Jonas!" exclaimed Mehetabel with indignation, that
for a while overcame her fear.

"False!" cried Bideabout. "Who is false but you? What is false but
every word you speak? False in heart, false in word, and false in
act." He had laid hold of the bit of ironstone, and he struck the
anvil with it at every charge of falsehood.

"Jonas," said Mehetabel, recovering self-control under the
resentment she felt at being misunderstood, and her action
misinterpreted. "Jonas, I have done you no injury. I was weak.
God in heaven knows my integrity. I have never wronged you; but
I was weak, and in deadly fear."

"In fear of whom?"

"Of myself--my own weakness."

"You weak!" he sneered. "You--strong as any woman."

"I do not speak of my arms, Jonas--my heart--my spirit--"

"Weak!" he scoffed. "A woman with a weak and timorous soul would
not come to Thor's Stone at night. No--strong you are--in evil, in
wickedness, from which no tears will withhold you. And--that
fellow--that daub-paint--"

Mehetabel did not speak. She was trembling.

"I ask--what of him? Was not he in your thoughts when you asked
the Devil to rid you of me--your husband?"

"I did not ask that, Jonas."

"What of him? He has not gone away. He has been with you. You knew
he was not going. You wanted to be with him. Where is he--this
dauber of canvas--now?"

Then, through the fine gauze of condensing haze, came a call from
a distance--"Matabel! Where are you?"

"Oh, ho!" exclaimed the Broom-Squire. "Here he comes. By appointment
you meet him here, where you least expected that I would be."

"It is false, Jonas. I came here to escape."

"And pray for my death?"

"No, Jonas, to be rid of him."

Bideabout chuckled, with a sarcastic sneer in the side of his face.

"Come now," said he; "I should dearly like to witness this meeting.
If true to me, as you pretend, then obey me, summon him here, and
let me be present, unobserved, when you meet. If your wish be, as
you say, to be rid of him, I will help you to its fulfilment."

"Jonas!"

"I will it. So alone can you convince me."

She hesitated. She had not the power to gather her thoughts together,
to judge what she should do, what under the circumstances would be
best to be done.

"Come now," repeated Jonas. "If you are true and honest, as you
say, call him."

She put her trembling hand to her head, wiped the drops from her
brow, the tears from her eyes, the dew from her quivering lips.

Her brain was reeling, her power of will was paralyzed.

"Come, now," said Jonas once more, "answer him--here am I."

Then Mehetabel cried, "Iver, here am I!"

"Where are you, Mehetabel?" came the question through the silvery
haze and the twinkling willow-shoots.

"Answer him, by Thor's Stone," said Jonas.

Again she hesitated and passed her hand over her face.

"Answer him," whispered Jonas. "If you are true, do as I say. If
false, be silent."

"By Thor's Stone," called Mehetabel.

Then all the sound heard was that of the young man brushing his
way through the rushes and willow boughs.

In the terror, the agony overmastering her, she had lost all
independent power of will. She was as a piece of mechanism in the
hands of Jonas. His strong, masterful mind dominated her, beat
down for a time all opposition. She knew that to summon Iver was
to call him to a fearful struggle, perhaps to his death, and yet
the faculty of resistance was momentarily gone from her. She tried
to collect her thoughts. She could not. She strove to think what
she ought to do, she was unable to frame a thought in her mind
that whirled and reeled.

Bideabout stooped and picked up a gun he had been carrying, and
had dropped on the turf when he laid hold of his wife.

Now he placed the barrel across the anvil stone, with the muzzle
directed whence came the sound of the advance of Iver.

Jonas went behind the stone and bent one knee to the ground.

Mehetabel heard the click as he spanned the trigger.

"Stand on one side," said Jonas, in a low tone, in which were
mingled rage and exultation. "Call him again."

She was silent. Lest she should speak she pressed both her hands
to her mouth.

"Call him again," said Jonas. "I will receive him with a dab of
lead in his heart."

She would not call.

"On your obedience and truth, of which you vaunt," persisted Jonas.

Should she utter a cry of warning? Would he comprehend? Would that
arrest him, make him retrace his steps, escape what menaced?

Whether she cried or not he would come on. He knew Thor's Stone
as well as she. They had often visited it together as children.

"If false, keep silence," said Jonas, looking up at her from where
he knelt. "If true, bid him come--to his death, that I may carry
out your wish, and rid you of him. If the spirits won't help you,
I will."

Then she shrilly cried, "Iver, come!"



CHAPTER XXIII.

A SHOT.


After Bideabout had done his business in Godalming he had returned
to the Punch-Bowl.

The news had reached his ears that a deer had been seen on the
Moor, and he knew that on the following day many guns would be out,
as every man in Thursley was a sportsman. With characteristic
cunning he resolved to forestall his fellows, go forth at night,
which he might well do when the moon was full, and secure the deer
for himself.

As he left the house, he encountered his sister.

"Where are you going off to?" she inquired. "And got a gun too."

He informed her of his intention.

"Ah! you'll give us some of the venison," said she.

"I'm not so sure of that," answered the Broom-Squire, churlishly.

"So you are going stag-hunting? That's purely," laughed she.

"Why not?"

"I should have thought you'd best a' gone after your own wife, and
brought her home."

"She is all right--at the Ship."

"I know she is at the Ship--just where she ought not to be; just
where you should not let her be."

"She'll earn a little money."

"Oh, money!" scoffed Sarah Rocliffe. "What fools men be, and set
themselves up as wiser than all the world of women. You've had
Iver Verstage here; you've invited him over to paint your Matabel;
and here he has been, admiring her, saying soft things to her, and
turnin' her head. Sometimes you've been present. Most times you've
been away. And now you've sent her to the Ship, and you are off
stag huntin'." Then with strident voice, the woman sang, and looked
maliciously at her brother.

  "Oh, it blew a pleasant gale,
   As a frite under sail,
   Came a-bearing to the south along the strand.
   With her swelling canvas spread.
   But without an ounce of lead,
   And a signalling, alack t she was ill-manned."

With a laugh, and a snap of her fingers in Bideabout's face, she
repeated tauntingly:--

  "And a-signalling, alack I she was ill-manned."

Then she burst forth again:--

  "She was named the Virgin Dove,
   With a lading, all of love.
   And she signalled, that for Venus (Venice) she was bound.
   But a pilot who could steer.
   She required, for sore her fear,
   Lest without one she should chance to run aground."

"Be silent, you croaking raven," shouted the Broom-Squire. "If you
think to mock me, you are wrong. I know well enough what I am about.
As for that painting chap, he is gone--gone to Guildford."

"How do you know that?"

"Because the landlady said as much."

"What--to you?"

"Yes, to me."

Mrs. Rocliffe laughed mockingly.

"Oh, Bideabout," she said, "did not that open your eyes? What did
Sanna Verstage mean when she asked you to allow your wife to go to
the inn! What did she mean but this?" she mimicked the mistress,
"'Please, Master Bideabout, may Matabel come to me for a day or
two--that naughty boy of mine is away now. So don't be frightened.
I know very well that if he were at the Ship you might hesitate to
send Matabel there.'" Then in her own tones Sarah Rocliffe said.
"That is the meaning of it. But I don't believe that he is gone."

"Sanna Verstage don't tell lies."

"If he were gone, Matabel would not be so keen to go there."

"Matabel was not keen. She did not wish to go."

"She did wish it; but she made a pretence before you that she did
not."

"Hold your slanderous tongue," shouted Jonas. "I'll not hear another
word."

"Then you must shut your ears to what all the parish is saying."

Thereupon she told him what she had seen, with amplifications of
her own. She was glad to have the opportunity of angering or
wounding her brother; of sowing discord between him and his wife.

When he parted from her, she cast after him the remark--"I believe
he is still at the Ship."

In a mood the reverse of cheerful, angry with Mehetabel, raging
against Iver, cursing himself, and overflowing with spite against
his sister Jonas went to the Moor in quest of the strayed deer. He
knew very well that his sister bore Mehetabel a grudge; he was
sufficiently acquainted with her rancorous humor and unscrupulous
tongue to know that what she said was not to be relied on, yet
discount as he might what she had told him, he was assured that a
substratum of truth lay at the bottom.

Before entering the morass Jonas halted, and leaning on his gun,
considered whether he should not go to the tavern, reclaim his
wife and reconduct her home, instead of going after game. But he
thought that such a proceeding might be animadverted upon; he
relied upon Mrs. Verstage's words, that Iver was departing to his
professional work, and he was eager to secure the game for himself.

Accordingly he directed his course to the Moor, and stole along
softly, listening for the least sound of the deer, and keeping his
eye on the alert to observe her.

He had been crouching in a bush near the pool when he was startled
by the apparition of Mehetabel.

At first he had supposed that the sound of steps proceeded from the
advancing deer, for which he was on the watch, and he lay close,
with his barrel loaded, and his finger on the trigger. But in place
of the deer his own wife approached, indistinctly seen in the
moonlight, so that he did not recognize her. And his heart stood
still, numbed by panic, for he thought he saw a spirit. But as the
form drew near he knew Mehetabel.

Perplexed, he remained still, to observe her further movements.
Then he saw her approach the stone of Thor, strike on it with an
extemporized hammer, and cry, "Save me from him! Take him away!"

Perhaps it was not unreasonable that he at once concluded that she
referred to himself.

He knew that she did not love him. Instead of each day of married
life drawing more closely the bonds that bound them together, it
really seemed to relax such as did exist. She became colder,
withdrew more into herself, shrank from his clumsy amiabilities, and
kept the door of her heart resolutely shut against all intrusion.
She went through her household duties perfunctorily, as might a
slave for a hated master.

If she did not love him, if her married life was becoming
intolerable, then it was obvious that she sought relief from it,
and the only means of relief open to her lay through his death.

But there was something more that urged her on to desire this. She
not merely disliked him, but loved another, and over his coffin she
would leap into that other man's arms. As Karon Wyeth had aimed at
and secured the death of her husband, so did Mehetabel seek
deliverance from him.

Bideabout sprang from his lurking-place to check her in the midst
of her invocation, and to avert the danger that menaced himself.
And now he saw the very man draw nigh who had withdrawn the heart
of his wife from him, and had made his home miserable; the man on
behalf of whom Mehetabel had summoned supernatural aid to rid her
of himself.

Kneeling behind Thor's Stone, with the steel barrel of his gun laid
on the anvil, and pointed in the direction whence came Iver's
voice, he waited till his rival should appear, and draw within
range, that he might shoot him through the heart.

"Summon him again," he whispered.

"Iver come!" called Mehetabel.

Then through the illuminated haze, like an atmosphere of glow-worm's
light, himself black against a background of shining water, appeared
the young man.

Jonas had his teeth clenched; his breath hissed like the threat of
a serpent, as he drew a long inspiration through them.

"You are there!" shouted Iver, joyously, and ran forward.

She felt a thrill run through the barrel, on which she had laid
her hand; she saw a movement of the shoulder of Jonas, and was
aware that he was preparing to fire.

Instantly she snatched the gun to her, laid the muzzle against her
own side, and said: "Fire!" She spoke again. "So all will be well."

Then she cried in piercing tones, "Iver! run! run! he is here, and
he seeks to kill you."

Jonas sprang to his feet with a curse, and endeavored to wrest the
gun from Mehetabel's hand. But she held it fast. She clung to it
with tenacity, with the whole of her strength, so that he was unable
to pluck it away.

And still she cried, "Run, Iver, run; he will kill you!"

"Let go!" yelled Bideabout. He set his foot against Thor's Stone;
he twisted the gun about, he turned it this way, that way, to
wrench it out of her hands.

"I will not!" she gasped.

"It is loaded! It will go off!"

"I care not."

"Oh, no! so long as it shoots me."

"Send the lead into my heart!"

"Then let go. But no! the bullet is not for you. Let go, I say, or
I will brain you with the butt end, and then shoot him!"

"I will not! Kill me if you will!"

Strong, athletic, lithe in her movements, Mehetabel was a match for
the small muscular Jonas. If he succeeded for a moment in twisting
the gun out of her hands it was but for an instant. She had caught
the barrel again at another point.

He strove to beat her knuckles against Thor's Stone, but she was
too dexterous for him. By a twist she brought his hand against the
block instead of her own.

With an oath he cast himself upon her, by the impact, by the weight,
to throw her down. Under the burden she fell on her knees, but did
not relinquish her hold on the gun. On the contrary she obtained
greater power over it, and held the barrel athwart her bosom, and
wove her arms around it.

Iver was hastening to her assistance. He saw that some contest was
going on, but was not able to discern either with whom Mehetabel
was grappling nor what was the meaning of the struggle.

In his attempt to approach, Iver was regardless where he trod. He
sank over his knees in the mire, and was obliged to extricate
himself before he could advance.

With difficulty, by means of oziers, he succeeded in reaching firm
soil, and then, with more circumspection, he sought a way by which
he might come to the help of Mehetabel.

Meanwhile, regardless of the contest of human passion, raging close
by, the great bird swung like a pendulum above the mere, and its
shadow swayed below it.

"Let go! I will murder you, if you do not!" hissed Jonas. "You
think I will kill him. So I will, but I will kill you first."

"Iver! help!" cried Mehetabel; her strength was abandoning her.

The Broom-Squire dragged his kneeling wife forward, and then thrust
her back. He held the gun by the stock and the end of the barrel.
The rest was grappled by her, close to her bosom.

He sought to throw her on her face, then on her back. So only could
he wrench the gun away.

"Ah, ah!" with a shout of triumph.

He had disengaged the barrel from her arm. He turned it sharply
upward, to twist it out of her hold she had with the other arm.

Then--suddenly--an explosion, a flash, a report, a cry; and
Bideabout staggered back and fell.

A rush of wings.

The large bird that had vibrated above the water had been alarmed,
and now flew away.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE IRON-STONE HAMMER.


For a couple of minutes complete, death-like silence ensued.

Mehetabel, panting, everything swimming, turning before her eyes,
remained motionless on her knees, but rested her hands on Thor's
Stone, to save herself from falling on her face.

What had happened she hardly knew. The gun had been discharged, and
then had fallen before her knees. Whom had it injured? What was
the injury done?

She was unable to see, through the veil of tears that covered her
eyes. She had not voice wherewith to speak.

Iver, moreover, stood motionless, holding to a willow. He also was
ignorant of what had occurred. Was the shot aimed at him, or at
Mehetabel? Who had fired?

Crouching against a bush, into which he had staggered and then
collapsed, was the Broom-Squire. A sudden spasm of pain had shot
through him at the flash of the gun. That he was struck he knew,
to what extent injured he could not guess.

As he endeavored to raise one hand, the left, in which was the seat
of pain, he became aware that his arm was stiff and powerless. He
could not move his fingers.

The blood was coursing over his hand in a warm stream.

A horrible thought rushed through his brain. He was at the mercy of
that woman who had invoked the Devil against him, and of the lover
on whose account she had desired his death. She had called, and in
part had been answered. He was wounded, and incapable of defending
himself. This guilty pair would complete the work, kill him; blow
out his brains, beat his head with the stock of the gun, and cast
his body into the marsh.

Who would know how he came by his death? His sister was aware that
he had gone to the moor to stalk deer. What evidence would be
producible against this couple should they complete the work and
dispose of him?

Strangely unaccountable as it may seem, yet it was so, that at the
moment, rage at the thought that, should they kill him, Mehetabel
and Iver would escape punishment, was the prevailing thought and
predominant passion in Jonas's mind, and not by any means fear for
himself. This made him disregard his pain, indifferent to his fate.

"I have still my right hand and my teeth," he said. "I will beat
and tear that they may bear marks that shall awake suspicion."

But his head swam, he turned sick and faint, and became insensible.

When Jonas recovered consciousness he lay on his back, and saw faces
bowed over him--that of his wife and that of Iver, the two he hated
most cordially in the world, the two at least he hated to see
together.

He struggled to rise and bite, like a wild beast, but was held down
by Iver.

"Curse you! will you kill me so?" he yelled, snapping with his
great jaws, trying to reach and rend the hands that restrained him.

"Lie still, Bideabout," said the young painter, "are you crazed?
We will do you no harm. Mehetabel is binding up your arm. As far
as I can make out the shot has run up it and is lodged in the
shoulder."

"I care not. Let me go. You will murder me." Mehetabel had torn a
strip from her skirt and was making a bandage of it.

"Jonas," she said, "pray lie quiet, or sit up and be reasonable.
I must do what I can to stay the blood."

As he began to realize that he was being attended to, and that
Iver and Mehetabel had no intention to hurt him, the Broom-Squire
became more composed and patient.

His brows were knit and his teeth set. He avoided looking into the
faces of those who attended to him.

Presently the young painter helped him to rise, and offered his
arm. This Jonas refused.

"I can walk by myself," said he, churlishly; then turning to
Mehetabel, he said, with a sneer, "The devil never does aught but
by halves."

"What do you mean?"

"The bullet has entered my arm and not my heart, as you desired."

"Go," she said to the young artist; "I pray you go and leave me
with him. I will take him home."

Iver demurred.

"I entreat you to go," she urged. "Go to your mother. Tell her that
my husband has met with an accident, and that I am called away to
attend him. That is to serve as an excuse. I must, I verily must
go with him. Do not say more. Do not say where this happened."

"Why not?"

She did not answer. He considered for a moment and then dimly saw
that she was right.

"Iver," she said in a low tone, so that Jonas might not hear, "you
should not have followed me; then this would never have happened."

"If I had not followed you he would have been your murderer,
Matabel."

Then, reluctantly, he went. But ever and anon turned to listen or
to look.

When he was out of sight, then Mehetabel said to her husband, "Lean
on me, and let me help you along."

"I can go by myself," he said bitterly. "I would not have his arm.
I will have none of yours. Give me my gun."

"No, Jonas, I will carry that for you."

Then he put forth his uninjured right hand, and took the kidney-iron
stone from the anvil block, on which Mehetabel had left it.

"What do you want with that?" she asked.

"I may have to knock also," he answered. "Is it you alone who are
allowed to have wishes?"

She said no more, but stepped along, not swiftly, cautiously, and
turning at every step, to see that he was following, and that he
had put his foot on substance that would support his weight.

"Why do you look at me?" he asked captiously.

"Jonas, you are in pain, and giddy with pain. You may lose your
footing, and go into the water."

"So--that now is your desire?"

"I pray you," she answered, in distress, "Jonas, do not entertain
such evil thoughts."

They attained a ridge of sand. She fell back and paced at his side.

Bideabout observed her out of the corners of his eyes. By the
moonlight he could see how finely, nobly cut was her profile; he
could see the glancing of the moon in the tears that suffused her
cheeks.

"You know who shot me?" he inquired, in a low tone.

"I know nothing, Jonas, but that there was a struggle, and that
during this struggle, by accident--"

"You did it."

"No, Jonas. I cannot think it."

"It was so. You touched the trigger. You knew that the piece was
on full cock."

"It was altogether an accident. I knew nothing. I was conscious of
nothing, save that I was trying to prevent you from committing a
great crime."

"A great crime!" jeered he. "You thought only how you might save
the life of your love."

Mehetabel stood still and turned to him.

"Jonas, do not say that. You cruelly, you wrongfully misjudge me
I will tell you all, if you will I never would have hidden anything
from you if I had not known how you would take and use what I said.
Iver and I were child friends, almost brother and sister. I always
cared for him, and I think he liked me. He went away and I saw
nothing of him. Then, at our wedding, he returned home; and since
then I have seen him a good many times--you, yourself asked him to
the Punch-Bowl, and bade me stand for him to paint. I cannot deny
that I care for him, and that he likes me."

"As brother and sister?"

"No--not as brother and sister. We are children no longer. But,
Jonas, I have no wish, no thought other than that he should leave
Thursley, and that I should never, never, never see his face again.
Of thought, of word, of act against my duty to you I am guiltless.
Of thoughts, as far as I have been able to hold my thoughts in
chains, of words, of acts I have nothing to reproach myself with,
there have been none but what might be known to you, in a light
clearer than that poured down by this moon. You will believe me,
Jonas."

He looked searchingly into her beautiful, pale face--now white as
snow in the moonlight. After a long pause, he answered, "I do not
believe you."

"I can say no more," she spoke and sighed, and went forward.

He now lagged behind.

They stepped off the sand ridge, and were again in treacherous
soil, neither land nor water, but land and water tossed together
in strips and tags and tatters.

"Go on," he said. "I will step after you."

Presently she looked behind her, and saw him swinging his right
hand, in which was the lump of ironstone.

"Why do you turn your head?" he asked.

"I look for you."

"Are you afraid of me?"

"I am sorry for you, Jonas."

"Sorry--because of my arm?"

"Because you are unable to believe a true woman's word."

"I do not understand you."

"No--I do not suppose you can."

Then he screamed, "No, I do not believe." He leaped forward, and
struck her on the head with the nodule of iron, and felled her at
his feet.

"There," said he; "with this stone you sought my death, and with
it I cause yours."

Then he knelt where she lay motionless, extended, in the marsh,
half out of the water, half submerged.

He gripped her by the throat, and by sheer force, with his one
available arm, thrust her head under water.

The moonlight played in the ripples as they closed over her face;
it surely was not water, but liquid silver, fluid diamond.

He endeavored to hold her head under the surface. She did not
struggle. She did not even move. But suddenly a pang shot through
him, as though he had been pierced by another bullet. The bandage
about his wound gave way, and the hot blood broke forth again.

Jonas reeled back in terror, lest his consciousness should desert
him, and he sank for an instant insensible, face foremost, into
the water.

As it was, where he knelt, among the water-plants, they were
yielding under his weight.

He scrambled away, and clung to a distorted pine on the summit of
a sand-knoll.

Giddy and faint, he laid his head against the bush, and inhaled
the invigorating odor of the turpentine. Gradually he recovered,
and was able to stand unsupported.

Then he looked in the direction where Mehetabel lay. She had not
stirred. The bare white arms were exposed and gleaming in the
moonlight. The face he did not see. He shrank from looking towards
it.

Then he slunk away, homewards.



CHAPTER XXV.

AN APPARITION.


When Bideabout arrived in the Punch-Bowl, as he passed the house
of the Rocliffes, he saw his sister, with a pail, coming from the
cow-house. One of the cattle was ill, and she had been carrying
it a bran-mash.

He went to her, and said, "Sally!"

"Here I be, Jonas, what now?"

"I want you badly at my place. There's been an accident."

"What? To whom? Not to old Clutch?"

"Old Clutch be bothered. It is I be hurted terr'ble bad. In my arm.
If it weren't dark here, under the trees, you'd see the blood."

"I'll come direct. That's just about it. When she's wanted, your
wife is elsewhere. When she ain't, she's all over the shop. I'll
clap down the pail inside. You go on and I'll follow."

Jonas unlocked his house, and entered. He groped about for the
tinder-box, but when he had found it was unable to strike a light
with one hand only. He seated himself in the dark, and fell into
a cold sweat.

Not only was he in great pain, but his mind was ill at ease, full
of vague terrors. There was something in the corner that he could
see, slightly stirring. A little moonlight entered, and a fold
flickered in the ray, then disappeared again. Again something came
within the light. Was it a foot? Was it the bottom of a skirt? He
shrank back against the wall, as far as possible from this
mysterious, restless form.

He looked round to see that the scullery door was open, through
which to escape, should this thing move towards him.

The sow was grunting and squealing in her stye, Jonas hailed the
sound; there was nothing alarming in that. Had all been still in
and about the house, there might have come from that undefined
shadow in the comer a voice, a groan, a sigh--he knew not what.
With an exclamation of relief he saw the flash of Sally Rocliffe's
lantern pass the window.

Next moment she stood in the doorway.

"Where are you, Jonas?"

"I am here. Hold up the lantern, Sarah. What's that in the corner
there, movin'?"

"Where, Jonas?"

"There--you are almost touchin it. Turn the light."

"That," said his sister; "why don'ty know your own old oilcloth
overcoat as was father's, don'ty know that when you see it?"

"I didn't see it, but indistinct like," answered Jonas.

His courage, his strength, his insolence were gone out of him.

"Now, what's up?" asked Sarah. "How have you been hurted?"

Jonas told a rambling story. He had been in the Marsh. He had
seen the deer, but in his haste to get within range he had run,
caught his foot in a bramble, had stumbled, and the gun had been
discharged, and the bullet had entered his arm.

Mrs. Rocliffe at once came to him to examine the wound.

"Why, Jonas, you never did this up yourself. There's some one been
at your arm already. Here's this band be off Matabel's petticoat.
How came you by that?"

He was confounded, and remained silent.

"And where is the gun, Jonas?"

"The gun!"

He had forgotten all about it in his panic. Mehetabel had been
carrying it when he beat her down. He had thought of it no more.
He had thought of nothing after the deed, but how to escape from
the spot as speedily as possible.

"I suppose I've lost it," he said. "Somewhere in the Moor. You see
when I was wounded, I hadn't the head to think of anything else."

Mrs. Rocliffe was examining his arm. The sleeve of his coat had
been cut.

"I don't understand your tale a scrap, Jonas," she said. "Who used
his knife to slit up your sleeve? And how comes your arm to be
bandaged with this bit of Matabel's dress?"

Bideabout was uneasy. The tale he had told was untenable. There
was a necessity for it to be supplemented. But his condition of
alarm and pain made him unable readily to frame a story that would
account for all, and satisfy his sister.

"Jonas," said Sarah, "I'm sure you have seen Matabel, and she did
this for you. Where is she?"

Bideabout trembled. He thrust his sister from him, saying,
irritably, "Why do you worrit me with questions? My arm wants
attendin' to."

"I can't do much to that," answered the woman. "A doctor should
look to that. I'll go and call Samuel, and bid him ride away after
one."

"I won't be left alone!" exclaimed the Broom-Squire, in a sudden
access of terror.

Sarah Rocliffe deliberately took the lantern and held it to his face.

"Jonas," she said, "I'll do nuthin' more for you till I know the
whole truth. You've seen your wife and there's somethin' passed
between you. I see by your manner that all is not right. Where is
Matabel? You haven't been after the deer on the Moor. You have been
to the Ship."

"That is a lie," answered Bideabout. "I have been on the Moor. 'Tis
there I got shot, and, if you will have it all out, it was Matabel
who shot me."

"Matabel shot you?"

"Yes, it was. She shot me to prevent me from killin' him."

"Whom?"

"You know--that painter fellow."

"So that is the truth? Then where is she?"

The Broom-Squire hesitated and moved his feet uneasily.

"Jonas," said his sister, "I will know all."

"Then know it," he answered angrily. "Somehow, as she was helpin'
me along, her foot slipped and she fell into the water. I had but
one arm, and I were stiff wi' pains. What could I do? I did what
I could, but that weren't much. I couldn't draw her out o' the
mire. That would take a man wi' two good arms, and she was able
to scramble out if she liked. But she's that perverse, there's no
knowing, she might drown herself just to spite me."

"Why did you not speak of that at once?"

"Arn't I hurted terr'ble bad? Arn't I got a broken arm or somethin'
like it? When a chap is in racks o' pain he han't got all his wits
about him. I know I wanted help, for myself, first, and next, for
her; and now I've told you that she's in the Moor somewhere. She
may ha' crawled out, or she may be lyin' there. I run on, so fast
as possible, in my condition, to call for help."

"Where is she? Where did you leave her?"

"Right along between here and Thor's Stone. There's an old twisted
Scotch pine with magpies' nests in it--I reckon more nests than
there be green stuff on the tree. It's just about there."

"Jonas," said the sister, who had turned deadly white, and who
lowered the lantern, unable longer to hold it to her brother's face
with steady hand, "Jonas, you never ort to ha' married into a
gallus family; you've ketched the complaint. It's bad enough to
have men hanged on top o' Hind Head. We don't want another gibbet
down at the bottom of the Punch-Bowl, and that for one of ourselves."

Then voices were audible outside, and a light flickered through
the window.

In abject terror the Broom-Squire screamed "Sally, save me, hide
me; it's the constables!"

He cowered into a corner, then darted into the back kitchen, and
groped for some place of concealment.

He heard thence the voices more distinctly. There was a tramp of
feet in his kitchen; a flare of fuller light than that afforded by
Mrs. Rocliffe's lantern ran in through the door he had left ajar.

The sweat poured over his face and blinded his eyes.

Bideabout's anxiety was by no means diminished when he recognized
one of the voices in his front kitchen as that of Iver.

Had Iver watched him instead of returning to the Ship? Had he
followed in his track, spying what he did? Had he seen what had
taken place by the twisted pine with the magpies' nests in it?
And if so, had he hasted to Thursley to call out the constable, and
to arrest him as the murderer of his wife.

Trembling, gnawing the nails of his right hand, cowering behind
the copper, he waited, not knowing whither to fly.

Then the door was thrust open, and Sally Rocliffe came in and called
to him: "Jonas! here is Master Iver Verstage--very good he is to
you--he has brought a doctor to attend to your arm."

The wretched man grasped his sister by the wrist, drew her to him,
and whispered--"That is not true; it is the constable."

"No, Jonas. Do not be a fool. Do not make folk suspect evil," she
answered in an undertone. "There is a surgeon staying at the Ship,
and this is the gentleman who has come to assist you."

Mistrustfully, reluctantly, Jonas crept from his hiding place, and
came behind his sister to the doorway, where he touched his
forelock, looked about him suspiciously, and said--"Your servant,
gentlemen. Sorry to trouble you; but I've met with an accident. The
gun went off and sent a bullet into my arm. Be you a doctor, sir?"
he asked, eyeing a stranger, who accompanied Iver.

"I am a surgeon; happily, now lodging at the Ship, and Mr. Verstage
informed me of what had occurred, so I have come to offer my
assistance."

Jonas was somewhat reassured, but his cunning eyes fixed on Iver
observed that the young painter was looking around, in quest,
doubtless, of Mehetabel.

"I must have hot water. Who will attend to me?" asked the surgeon.

"I will do what is necessary," said Mrs. Rocliffe.

"Will you go to bed?" asked the surgeon, "I can best look to you
then."

Jonas shook his head. He would have the wound examined there, as
he sat in his arm-chair.

Then came the inquiry from Iver--"Where is your wife, Jonas? I
thought she had returned with you."

"My wife? She has lagged behind."

"Not possible. She was to assist you home."

"I needed no assistance."

"She ought to be here to receive instructions from the doctor."

"These can be given to my sister."

"But, Bideabout, where is she?"

Jonas was silent, confused, alarmed.

Iver became uneasy.

"Bideabout, where is Matabel. She must be summoned."

"It's nort to you where she be," answered the Broom-Squire savagely.

Then Mrs. Rocliffe stepped forward.

"I will tell you," she said. "My brother is that mad wi' pain, he
don't know what to think, and say, and do. As they was coming
along together, loving-like, as man and wife, she chanced to slip
and fall into the water, and Jonas, having his arm bad, couldn't
help her out, as he was a-minded, and he runned accordin' here, to
tell me, and I was just about sendin' my Samuel to find and help
her."

"Matabel in the water--drowned!"

"Jonas did not say that. She falled in."

"Matabel--fell in!"

Iver looked from Mrs. Rocliffe towards Jonas. There was something
in the Broom-Squire's look that did not satisfy him. It was not
pain alone that so disturbed his face, and gave it such ghastly
whiteness.

"Bideabout," said he, gravely, "I must and will have a proper
explanation. I cannot take your sister's story. Speak to me
yourself. After what I had seen between you and Matabel, I must
necessarily feel uneasy. I must have a plain explanation from your
own lips."

Jonas was silent; he looked furtively from side to side.

"I will be answered," said Iver, with vehemence.

"Who is to force me to speak?" asked the Broom-Squire, surlily.

"If I cannot, I shall fetch the constable. I say--where did you
leave Mehetabel?"

"My sister told you--under the tree."

"What--not in the water?"

"She may have fallen in. I had but one arm, and that hurting
terrible."

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Iver. "You came home whining over your
arm--leaving her in the marsh!"

"You don't suppose I threw her in?" sneered Jonas. "Me--bad of an
arm."

"I don't know what to think," retorted Iver. "But I will know where
Mehetabel is."

In the doorway, with her back to the moonlight, stood a female
figure.

The first to see it was Jonas, and he uttered a gasp--he thought he
saw a spirit.

The figure entered, without a word, and all saw that it was
Mehetabel.



CHAPTER XXVI.

A SECRET.


It was indeed Mehetabel.

She entered quietly, without a word, carrying Bideabout's gun, which
she placed in the corner, by the fireplace.

Jonas and his sister looked at her, at first terror-struck, as
though they beheld a ghost, then with unrest, for they knew not
what she would say.

She said nothing.

She was deadly pale, and Iver, looking at her, was reminded of the
Mehetabel he had seen in his dream.

At once she recognized that her husband's arm was being dressed,
and leisurely, composedly, she came forward to hold the basin of
water, and do whatever was required of her by the surgeon.

The first to speak was Iver, who said, "Matabel! We have just been
told you had fallen into the water."

"Yes. My dress is soaked."

"And you managed to get out?"

"Yes, when I fell I had hold of my husband's gun and that was
caught in a bush; it held me up."

"But how came you to fall?"

"I believe I was unconscious perhaps a faint."

Nothing further could be elicited from her, then or later. Had she
any suspicion that she had been struck down? This was a question
that, later, Jonas asked himself. But he never knew till--, but we
must not anticipate.

A day or two after that eventful night he made some allusion to a
blow on her head, when she appeared with a bandage round it.

"Yes," she said: "I fell, and hurt myself."

For some days Bideabout was in much pain and discomfort. His left
shoulder had been injured by the ball that had lodged in it, and
it was probable that he would always be stiff in that arm, and be
unable to raise it above the breast. He was irritable and morose.

He watched Mehetabel suspiciously and with mistrust of her
intentions. What did she know? What did she surmise? If she
thought that he had attempted to put an end to her life, would she
retaliate? In his suspicion he preferred to have his sister attend
to him, and Sarah consented to do for him, in his sickness, what
he required, not out of fraternal affection, but as a means of
slighting the young wife, and of observing the relations that
subsisted between her and Jonas.

Sarah Rocliffe was much puzzled by what had taken place. Her
brother's manner had roused her alarm. She knew that he had gone
forth with his jealousy lashed to fury. She had herself kindled the
fire. Then he had come upon Mehetabel and Iver on the Moor, she
could not doubt. How otherwise explain the knowledge of the
accident which led Iver to bring the surgeon to the assistance of
her brother?

But the manner in which the accident had occurred and the occasion
of it, all of this was dark to her. Then the arrival of Jonas alone,
and his reticence relative to his wife, till she had asked about
her; also his extraordinary statement, his manifest terror; and the
silence of Mehetabel on her reappearance, all this proved a mystery
involving the events of the night, that Sarah Rocliffe was desirous
to unravel.

She found that her every effort met with a rebuff from Jonas,
and elicited nothing from Mehetabel, who left her in the same
uncertainty as was Bideabout, whether she knew anything, or
suspected anything beyond the fact that she had fallen insensible
into the water. She had fallen grasping the gun, which had become
entangled in some bushes, and this together with the water weeds
had sustained her. When she recovered consciousness she had drawn
herself out of the marsh by means of the gun, and had seated
herself under an old pine tree, till her senses were sufficiently
clear. Thereupon she had made the best of her way homeward.

What did she think of Jonas for having left her in the water? asked
Mrs. Rocliffe.

Mehetabel answered, simply, that she had not thought about it. Wet,
cold, and faint, she had possessed no idea save how to reach home.

There was much talk in the Punch-Bowl as well as throughout the
neighborhood relative to what had taken place, and many forms were
assumed by the rumor as it circulated. Most men understood well
enough that Jonas had gone after the Peperharow deer, and was
attempting to forestall others--therefore, serve him right, was
their judgment, however he came by his accident.

Iver left Thursley on the day following and returned to Guildford.
The surgeon staying at the Ship Inn continued his visits to the
Punch-Bowl, as long as he was there, and then handed his patient
over to the local practitioner.

Mrs. Verstage was little better informed than the rest of the
inhabitants of Thursley, for her son had not told her anything
about the accident to Jonas, more than was absolutely necessary;
and to all her inquiries returned a laughing answer that as he had
not shot the Broom-Squire he could not inform her how the thing
was done.

She was too much engaged so long as the visitors were in the
house, to be able to leave it; and Mehetabel did not come near her.

As soon, however, as she was more free, she started in her little
trap for the Punch-Bowl, and arrived at a time when Jonas was not
at home.

This exactly suited her. She had Mehetabel to herself, and could
ask her any questions she liked without restraint.

"My dear Matabel," she said, "I've had a trying time of it, with
the house full, and only Polly to look to for everything. Will you
believe me--on Sunday I said I would give the gentlemen a little
plum-pudding. I mixed it myself, and told Polly to boil it, whilst
I went to church. Of course, I supposed she would do it properly,
but with those kind of people one must take nothing for granted."

"Did she spoil the pudding, mother?"

"Oh, no--the pudding was all right."

"Then what harm was done?"

"She spoiled my best nightcap."

"How so?"

"Boiled the puddin' in it, because she couldn't find a bag. I'll
never get it proper white again, nor the frills starched and made
up. And there is the canary bird, too."

"What of that, mother?"

"My dear, I told Polly to clean out the cage."

"And did she not do it?"

"Oh, yes--only too well. She dipped it in a pan of hot water and
soda--and the bird in it."

"What--the canary--is it dead?"

"Of course it is, and bleached white too. That girl makes the water
so thick wi' soda you could stand a spoon up in it. She used five
pounds in two days."

"Oh, the poor canary!" Mehetabel was greatly troubled for her pet.

"I don't quite understand the ways o' Providence," said Mrs.
Verstage. "I don't suppose I shall till the veil be lifted. I
understand right enough why oysters ain't given eyes--lest they
should see those who are opening their mouths to eat 'em. And if
geese were given wings like swallows, they wouldn't bide with us
over Michaelmas. But why Providence should ha' denied domestic
servants the gift of intelligence wherewith we, their masters and
mistresses, be so largely endowed--that beats me. Well," in a tone
of resignation, "one will know that some day, doubtless."

After a bit of conversation about the progress of Jonas to
convalescence, and the chance of his being able to use his arm,
Mrs. Verstage approached the topic uppermost in her mind.

"I should like to hear all about it, from your own mouth, Matabel.
There is such a number of wonderful tales going round, all
contradictory, and so, of course, all can't be true. Some even
tell that you fired the gun and wounded Jonas. But that is
ridiculous, as I said to Maria Entiknap. And actually one story
is that my Iver was in it somehow. Of course, I knew he heard
there was an accident. You told him when you was fetched away.
Who fetched you from the Ship? I left you in the kitchen."

"Oh, mother," said Mehetabel, "all the events of that terrible
night are confused in my head, and I don't know where to begin--nor
what is true and what fancy, so I'd as lief say nothing about it."

"If you can't trust me--" said Mrs. Verstage, somewhat offended.

"I could trust you with anything," answered Mehetabel hastily.
"Indeed, it is not that, but somehow I fell, and I suppose with
fright, and a blow I got in falling, every event got so mixed with
fancies and follies that I don't know where truth begins and fancy
ends. For that reason I do not wish to speak."

"Now look here," said Mrs. Verstage, "I've brought you a present
such as I wouldn't give to any one. It's a cookery book, as was
given me. See what I have wrote, or got Simon to write for me,
on the fly-leaf.

  "'Susanna Verstage, her book,
   Give me grace therein to look.
   Not only to look, but to understand,
   For learning is better than houses and land.
   When land is gone, and money is spent,
   Then learning is most excellent.'

"And the reason why I part with this Matabel, is because of that
little conversation we had together the other day at the Ship.
I don't believe as how you and Bideabout get along together first
rate. Now I know men, their ins and outs, pretty completely, and
I know that the royal road to their affections is through their
stomachs. You use this book of receipts, they're not extravagant
ones, but they are all good, and in six months Jonas will just
about worship you."

"Mother," said Mehetabel, after thanking her, "you are very kind."

"Not at all. I've had experience in husbands, and you're, so to
speak, raw to it. They are humorous persons, are men, you have to
give in a little here and take a good slice there. If you give up
to them there's an end to all peace and quietness. If you don't
give in enough the result is the same. What all men want is to make
their wives their slaves. You know, I suppose, how Gilly Cheel,
the younger, got his name of Jamaica?"

"I do not think I do."

"Why he and his Bessy are always quarrelling! Neither will yield
to the other. At last, by some means, Gilly got wind that in West
Indies, there are slaves, and he thought, if he could only get
out there with Bess that he'd be able to enslave her and make her
do what he wished. So he pretended that he'd got a little money
left him in Jamaica, and must needs go out there and settle. She
said she wouldn't go, and he had no call to go there, except just
for the sake of getting her under control. Then he talked big of
the beautiful climate, and all the cooking done by the sun, and no
washing needed, because clothing are unnecessary, and not only
no washing, but no mending neither, no stockings to knit, no buttons
to put on--a Paradise for wimen, said Gilly--but still he couldn't
get Bessy to hear of going out to the West Indies. At last, how it
was, I can't say, but she got wind of the institootion of slavery
there, and then she guessed at once what was working in Gilly's
mind. Since that day he's always gone by the name of Jamaica, and
fellows that want to tease him shout, 'Taken your passage yet for
you and Bessy to Jamaica?'"

"My dear mother," said Mehetabel, "I should not mind being a slave
in my husband's house, and to him, if there were love to beautify
and sanctify it. But it would not be slavery then, and now I am
afraid that you, mother, have perhaps took it unkind that I did not
tell you more about that shot. If so, let me make all good again
between us by telling you a real secret. There's no one else knows
it."

"What is that?" asked the hostess eagerly.

Mehetabel was nervous and colored.

"May I tell you in your ear?"

Mrs. Verstage extended an ear to her, she would have applied both
to Mehetabel's mouth had that been feasible.

The young wife, with diffidence, whispered something.

A beam of satisfaction lit up the old woman's face.

"That's famous. That's just as it ort. With that and with the
cookery book, Jonas'll just adore you. There's nuthin' like that
for makin' a home homely."

"And you'll come to me?"

"My dear, if alive and well, without fail."



CHAPTER XXVII.

POISON.


The Broom-Squire did not recover from his wound with the rapidity
that might have been expected. His blood was fevered, his head in
a whirl. He could not forget what his sister had said to him
relative to Mehetabel and Iver. Jealousy gnawed in his heart like
a worm. That the painter should admire her for her beauty--that
was nothing--who did not admire her? Had she not been an object
of wonder and praise ever since she had bloomed into womanhood at
the Ship? That he was envied his beautiful wife did not surprise
him. He valued her because begrudged him by others.

He looked at himself in a broken glass he had, and sneered and
laughed when he saw his own haggard face, and contrasted it with
that of the artist. It was true that he had seen nothing to render
him suspicious, when Iver came to his house, but he had not always
been present. He had actually forced his wife against her wishes
to go to the tavern where Iver was, had thrust her, so to speak,
into his arms.

He remembered her call in the Marsh to the spirits to rid her of
some one, and he could not believe her explanation. He remembered
how that to save Iver, she had thrust the muzzle of the gun against
her own side, and had done battle with him for mastery over the
weapon. Incapable of conceiving of honor, right feeling, in any
breast, he attributed the worst motives to Mehetabel--he held her
to be sly, treacherous, and false.

Jonas had never suffered from any illness, and he made a bad
patient now. He was irritable, and he spared neither his wife,
who attended to him with self-denying patience, nor his sister,
who came in occasionally. Mehetabel hoped that his pain and
dependence on her might soften his rancorous spirit, and break
down his antagonism towards her and every one. The longer his
recovery was delayed, the more unrestrained became his temper.
He spared no one. It seemed as though his wife's patience and
attention provoked into virulent activity all that was most venomous
and vicious in his nature. Possibly he was aware that he was
unworthy of her, but could not or would not admit this to himself.
His hatred of Iver grew to frenzy. He felt that he was morally the
inferior of both the artist and of his own wife. When he was at
their mercy they had spared his life, and that life of his lay
between them and happiness. Had he not sought both theirs? Would
he have scrupled to kill either had one of them been in the same
helpless position at his feet?

He had come forth in sorry plight from that struggle, and now he
was weakened by his accident, and unable to watch Mehetabel as
fully as he would have wished.

The caution spoken by the surgeon that he should not retard his
recovery by impatience and restlessness was unheeded.

He was wakeful at night, tossing on his bed from side to side. He
complained of this to the surgeon, who, on his next visit, brought
him a bottle of laudanum.

"Now look here," said he; "I will not put this in your hands. You
are too hasty and unreliable to be entrusted with it. Your wife
shall have it. It is useful, if taken in small quantities, just a
drop or two, but if too much be taken by accident, then you will
fall into a sleep from which there is no awaking. I can quite
fancy that you in your irritable mood, because you could not sleep,
would give yourself an overdose, and then--there would be the
deuce to pay."

"And suppose that my wife were to overdose me?" asked the sick man
suspiciously.

"That is not a suspicion I can entertain," said the surgeon, with
a bow of his head in the direction of Mehetabel, "I have found her
thoughtful, exact, and trustworthy. And so you have found her, I
will swear, Mr. Kink, in all your domestic life?"

The Broom-Squire muttered something unintelligible, and turned a
way.

When the laudanum arrived, he took the bottle and examined it. A
death's head and crossbones were on the label. He took out the
cork, and smelt the contents of the phial.

Though worn out with want of sleep he refused to touch any of the
sedative. He was afraid to trust Mehetabel with the bottle, and
afraid to mix his own portion lest in his nervous excitement he
might overdo the dose.

Neither would he suffer the laudanum to be administered to him by
his sister. As he said to her with a sneer, "A drop too much would
give you a chance of my farm, which you won't have so long as I
live."

"How can you talk like that?" said Sally. "Haven't you got a wife?
Wouldn't the land go to her?"

The land, the house--to Mehetabel, and with his removal, then the
way would be opened for Iver as well.

The thought was too much for Jonas. He left his bed, and carried
the phial of opium to a little cupboard he had in the wall, that
he kept constantly locked. This he now opened, and within it he
placed the bottle. "Better endure my sleepless nights than be
rocked to sleep by those who have no wish to bid me a good morrow."

Seeing that Mehetabel observed him he said, "The key I never let
from my hands."

He would not empty the phial out of the window, because--he thought
on the next visit of the surgeon he might get him to administer
the dose himself, and he would have to pay for the laudanum,
consequently to waste it would be to throw away two shillings.

It chanced one day, when the Broom-Squire was somewhat better, and
had begun to go about, that old Clutch was taken ill. The venerable
horse was off his feed, and breathed heavily. He stood with head
down, looking sulky.

Bideabout was uneasy. He was attached to the horse, even though
he beat it without mercy. Perhaps this attachment was mainly
selfish. He knew that if old Clutch died he would have to replace
him, and the purchase of a horse would be a serious expense.
Accordingly he did all in his power to recover his steed, short
of sending for a veterinary surgeon. He hastened to his cupboard
in the upper chamber, and unlocked it, to find a draught that he
might administer. When he had got the bottle, in his haste, being
one-handed, he forgot to re-lock and remove the key. Possibly he
did not observe that his wife was seated in the window, engaged in
needlework. Indeed, for some time she had been very busily engaged
in the making of certain garments, not intended for herself nor
for her husband. She worked at these in the upper chamber, where
there was more light than below in the kitchen, where, owing to
the shade of the trees, the room was somewhat dark, and where,
moreover, she was open to interruption.

When Bideabout left the room, Mehetabel looked up, and saw that he
had not fastened the cupboard. The door swung open, and exposed
the contents. She rose, laid the linen she was hemming on the
chair, and went to the open press, not out of inquisitiveness,
but in order to fasten the door.

She stood before the place where he kept his articles of value,
and mustered them, without much interest. There were bottles of
drenches for cattle, and pots of ointment for rubbing on sprains,
and some account books. That was all.

But among the bottles was one that was small, of dark color, with
an orange label on it marked with a boldly drawn skull and
crossbones, and the letters printed on it, "Poison."

This was the phial containing the medicine, the name of which she
could not recall, that the doctor had given to her husband to take
in the event of his sleeplessness continuing to trouble him. The
word "poison" was frightening, and the death's head still more so.
But she recalled what the surgeon had said, that the result of
taking a small dose would be to encourage sleep, and of an overdose
to send into a sleep from which there would be no awaking.

Mehetabel could hardly repress a smile, though it was a sad one,
as she thought of her husband's suspicions lest she should misuse
the draught on him. But her bosom heaved, and her heart beat as
she continued to look at it.

She needed but to extend her hand and she had the means whereby
all her sorrows and aches of heart would be brought to an end.
It was not as if there were any prospect before her of better
times. If sickness had failed to soften and sweeten the temper of
the Broom-Squire, then nothing would do it. Before her lay a hideous
future of self-abnegation, or daily, hourly misery, under his
ill-nature; of continuous torture caused by his cruel tongue. And
her heart was not whole. She still thought of Iver, recalled his
words, his look, the clasp of his arm, his kiss on her lips.

Would the time ever arrive when she could think of him without her
pulse bounding, and a film forming over her eyes?

Would it not be well to end this now? She had but to sip a few
drops from this bottle and then lay her weary head, and still more
weary heart, on the bed, and sleep away into the vast oblivion!

She uncorked the bottle and smelt the laudanum. The odor was
peculiar, it was unlike any other with which she was acquainted.
She even touched the cork with her tongue. The taste was not
unpleasant.

Not a single drop had been taken from the phial. It was precisely
in the condition in which it had arrived.

If she did not yield to the temptation, what was it that stayed
her? Not the knowledge that the country of the Gergesenes lay
southeast of the Lake of Tiberias, otherwise called the Sea of
Galilee; nor that the "lily of the field" was the Scarlet Martagon;
nor that the latitude and longitude of Jerusalem were 31 deg. 47
min. by 53 deg. 15 min., all which facts had been acquired by her
in the Sunday-school; but that which arrested her hand and made
her replace the cork and bottle was the sight of a little white
garment lying on the chair from which she had risen.

Just then she heard her husband's voice, and startled and confused
by what had passed through her mind, she locked the cupboard, and
without consideration slipped the key into her pocket. Then
gathering up the little garment she went into another room.

Bideabout did not miss the key, or remember that he had not locked
up the cupboard, for three days. The bottle with drench he had
retained in the stable.

When the old horse recovered, or showed signs of convalescence,
then Bideabout took the bottle, went to his room, and thrust his
hand into his pocket for the key that he might open the closet and
replace the drench.

Then, for the first time, did he discover his loss. He made no
great disturbance about it when he found out that the key was gone,
as he took for granted that it had slipped from his pocket in the
stable, or on his way through the yard to it. In fact, he discovered
that there was a hole in his pocket, through which it might easily
have worked its way.

As he was unable to find any other key that would fit the lock, he
set to work to file an odd key down and adapt it to his purpose.
Living as did the squatters, away from a town, or even a large
village, they had learned to be independent of tradesmen, and to
do most things for themselves.

Nor did Mehetabel discover that she was in possession of the key
till after her husband had made another that would fit. She had
entirely forgotten having pocketed the original key. Indeed she
never was conscious that she had done it. It was only when she
saw him unlock the closet to put away the bottle of horse medicine
that she asked herself what had been done with the key. Then she
hastily put her hand into her pocket and found it.

As Jonas had another, she did not think it necessary for her to
produce the original and call down thereby on herself a torrent
of abuse.

She retained it, and thus access to the poison was possible to
those two individuals under one roof.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

A THREAT.


One Sunday, the first snow had fallen in large flakes, and as
there had been no wind it had covered all things pretty evenly--it
had laden the trees, many of which had not as yet shed their leaves.
Mehetabel had not gone to church because of this snow; and Jonas
had been detained at home for the same reason, though not from
church. If he had gone anywhere it would have been to look for
holly trees full of berries which he might cut for the Christmas
sale of evergreens.

Towards noon the sun suddenly broke out and revealed a world of
marvellous beauty. Every bush and tree twinkled, and as the rays
melted the snow the boughs stooped and shed their burdens in shining
avalanches.

Blackbirds were hopping in the snow, and the track of hares was
distinguishable everywhere.

As the sun burst in at the little window it illumined the beautiful
face of Mehetabel and showed the delicate rose in her cheeks, and
shone in her rich dark hair, bringing out a chestnut glow not
usually visible in it.

Jonas, who had been sitting at his table working at his accounts,
looked up and saw his wife at the window contemplating the beauty
of the scene. She had her hands clasped, and her thoughts seemed
to be far away, though her eyes rested on the twinkling white world
before her.

Jonas, though ill-natured and captious, was fond of his wife, in
his low, animal fashion, and had a coarse appreciation of her
beauty. He was so far recovered from his accident that he could
sleep and eat heartily, and his blood coursed as usual through
his veins.

The very jealousy that worked in him, and his hatred of Iver, and
envy of his advantages of youth, good looks, and ease of manner,
made him eager to assert his proprietorship over his wife.

He stepped up to her, without her noticing his approach, put his
right arm round her waist and kissed her.

She started, and thrust him back. She was far away in thought,
and the action was unintentional. In very truth she had been
dreaming of Iver, and the embrace chimed in with her dream, and
the action of shrinking and repulsion was occasioned by the recoil
of her moral nature from any undue familiarity attempted by Iver.

But the Broom-Squire entirely misconceived her action. With
quivering voice and flashing eyes, he said--

"Oh, if this had been Iver, the daub-paint, you would not have
pushed me away."

Her eyebrows contracted, and a slight start did not pass unnoticed.

"I know very well," he said, "of whom you were thinking. Deny it
if you can? Your mind was with Iver Verstage."

She was silent. The blood rushed foaming through her head; but she
looked Bideabout steadily in the face.

"It is guilt which keeps you silent," he said, bitterly.

"If you are so sure that I thought of him, why did you ask?" she
replied, and now the color faded out of her face.

Jonas laughed mockingly.

"It serves me right," he said in a tone of resentment against
himself. "I always knew what women were; that they were treacherous
and untrue; and the worst of all are those who think themselves
handsome; and the most false and vicious of all are such as have
been reared in public-houses, the toast of drunken sots."

"Why, then, did you take me?"

"Because I was a fool. Every man commits a folly once in his life.
Even Solomon, the wisest of men, committed that folly; aye, and
many a time, too, for of wives he had plenty. But then he was a
king, and folly such as that mattered not to him. He could cut
off the head of, or shoot down any man who even looked at or spoke
a word to any of his wives. And if one of these were untrue to him,
he would put her in a sack and sink her in the Dead Sea, and--served
her right. To think that I--that I--the shrewd Broom-Squire, should
have been so bewitched and bedeviled as to be led into the bog of
marriage! Now I suffer for it." He turned savagely on his wife, and
said: "Have you forgotten that you vowed fidelity to me?"

"And you did you not swear to show me love?"

He broke into a harsh laugh.

"Love! That is purely! And just now, when I attempted to snatch a
kiss, you struck me and thrust me off, because I was Jonas Kink,
and not the lover you looked for?"

"Jonas!" said Mehetabel, and a flame of indignation started into
her cheek, and burnt there on each cheek-bone. "Jonas, you are
unjust. I swore to love you, and Heaven can answer for me that I
have striven hard to force the love to come where it does not exist
naturally. Can you sink a well in the sand-hill, and compel the
water to bubble up? Can you drain away the moor and bid it blossom
like a garden? I cannot love you--when you do everything to make me
shrink from you. You esteem nothing, no one, that is good. You
sneer at everything that is holy; you disbelieve in everything that
is honest; you value not the true, and you have no respect for
suffering. I do not deny that I have no love for you--that there is
much in you that makes me draw away--as from something hideous.
Why do not you try on your part to seek my love? Instead of that,
you take an ingenious pleasure in stamping out every spark of
affection, in driving away every atom of regard, that I am trying
so hard to acquire for you. Is all the strivin' to be on my
side?--all the thought and care to be with me? A very little pains
on your part, some small self-control, and we should get to find
common ground on which we could meet and be happy. As to Iver
Verstage, both he and I know well enough that we can never belong
to each other."

"Oh, I stand between you?"

"Yes you and my duty."

"Much you value either."

"I know my duty and will do it. Iver Verstage and I can never
belong to each other. We know it, and we have parted forever. I
have not desired to be untrue to you in heart; but I did not know
what was possible and what impossible in this poor, unhappy heart
of mine when I promised to love you. I did not know what love
meant at the time. Mother told me it grew as a matter of course
in married life, like chickweed in a garden."

"Am I gone crazed, or have you?" exclaimed Bideabout, snorting
with passion. "You have parted with Iver quite so but only till
after my death, which you will compass between you. I know that
well enough. It was because I knew that, that I would not suffer
you to give me doses of laudanum. A couple of drops, where one
would suffice, and this obstruction to your loves was removed."

"No, never!" exclaimed Mehetabel, with flashing eye.

"You women are like the glassy pools in the Moor. There is a smooth
face, and fair flowers floating thereon, and underneath the toad
and the effect, the water-rat and festering poison. I shall know
how to drive out of you the devil that possesses you this spirit
of rebellion and passion for Iver Verstage."

"You may do that," said Mehetabel, recovering her self-mastery, "if
you will be kind, forbearing, and gentle."

"It is not with kindness and gentleness that I shall do it,"
scoffed the Broom-Squire. "The woman that will not bend must be
broken. It is not I who will have to yield in this house I, who
have been master here these twenty years. I shall know how to bring
you to your senses."

He was in foaming fury. He shook his fist, and his short hair
bristled.

Mehetabel shrank from him as from a maniac.

"You have no need to threaten," she said, with sadness in her tone.
"I am prepared for anything. Life is not so precious to me that I
care for it."

"Then why did you crawl out of the marsh?"

She looked at him with wide-open eyes.

"Make an end of my wretchedness if you will. Take a knife, and
drive it into my heart. Go to your closet, and bring me that poison
you have there, and pour it between my lips. Thrust me, if you
will, into the Marsh. It is all one to me. I cannot love you unless
you change your manners of thought and act and speech altogether."

"Bah!" sneered he, "I shall not kill you. But I shall make you
understand to fear me, if you cannot love me." He gripped her
wrist. "Whether alive or dead, there will be no escape from me. I
will follow you, track you in all you do, and if I go underground
shall fasten on you, in spirit, and drag you underground as well.
When you married me you became mine forever."

A little noise made both turn.

At the door was Sally Rocliffe, her malevolent face on the watch,
observing all that passed.

"What do you want here?" asked the Broom-Squire.

"Nuthin', Jonas, but to know what time it is. Our clock is all
wrong when it does go, and now, with the cold and snow, I suppose,
it has stopped altogether."

Sally looked at the clock that stood in the comer, Jonas turned
sharply on his heel, took his hat, and went forth into the backyard
of his farm.

"So," said Mrs. Rocliffe, "my brother is in fear of his life of
you. I know very well how he got the shot in his elbow. It was not
your fault that it did not lodge in his head. And now he dare not
take his medicine from your hands lest you should put poison into
it. That comes of marrying into a gallows family."

Then slowly she walked away.

Mehetabel sank into the window seat.

However glorious the snow-clad, sunlit world might be without it
was nothing to her. Within her was darkness and despair.

She looked at her wrist, marked with the pressure of her husband's
fingers. No tears quenched the fire in her eyes. She sat and gazed
stonily before her, and thought on nothing. It was as though her
heart was frozen and buried under snow; as though her eyes looked
over the moor, also frozen and white, but without the sun flooding
it. Above hung gray and threatening clouds.

Thus she sat for many minutes, almost without breathing, almost
without pulsation.

Then she sprang to her feet with a sob in her throat, and hastened
about the house to her work. There was, as it were, a dark sea
tumbling, foaming, clashing within her, and horrible thoughts
rose up out of this sea and looked at her in ghostly fashion and
filled her with terror. Chief among these was the thought that
the death of Jonas could and would free her from this hopeless
wretchedness. Had the bullet indeed entered his head then now she
would have been enduring none of this insult, none of these
indignities, none of this daily torture springing out of his
jealousy, his suspicion, and his resentfulness.

And at the same time appeared the vision of Iver Verstage. She
could measure Jonas by him. How infinitely inferior in every
particular was Jonas to the young painter, the friend of her
childhood.

But Mehetabel knew that such thoughts could but breed mischief.
They were poison germs that would infect her own life, and make
her not only infinitely wretched but degrade her in her own eyes.
She fought against them. She beat them down as though she were
battling with serpents that rose up out of the dust to lash
themselves around her and sting her. The look at them had an
almost paralyzing effect. If she did not use great effort they
would fascinate her, and draw her on till they filled her whole
mind and lured her from thought to act.

She had not been instructed in much that was of spiritual advantage
when a child in the Sunday-school. The Rector, as has already been
intimated, had been an excellent and kindly man, who desired to
stand well with everybody, and who was always taking up one nostrum
after another as a panacea for every spiritual ill. And at the time
when Matabel was under instruction the nostrum was the physical
geography of the Holy Land. The only thing the parson did not teach
was a definite Christian belief, because he had entered into a
compromise with a couple of Dissenting farmers not to do so, and to
confine the instruction to such matters as could not be disputed.
Moreover, he was, himself, mentally averse to everything that
savored of dogma in religion. He would not give his parishioners
the Bread of Life, but would supply them with any amount of stones
geographically tabulated according to their strata.

However, Matabel had acquired a clear sense of right and wrong, at
a little dame's school she had attended, as also from Mrs. Verstage;
and now this definite knowledge of right and wrong stood her in
good stead. She saw that the harboring of such thoughts was wrong,
and she therefore resolutely resisted them. "He said," she sighed,
when the battle was over, "that he would follow me through life and
death, and finally drag me underground. But, can he be as bad as
his word?"



CHAPTER XXIX.

A HERALD OF STRIFE.


The winter passed without any change in the situation. Iver did not
come home for Christmas, although he heard that his mother was
failing in health and strength. There was much amusement in
Guildford, and he reasoned that it would be advantageous to his
business to take part in all the entertainments, and accept every
invitation made him to the house of a pupil. Thursley was not so
remote but that he could go there at any time. He was establishing
himself in the place, and must strike root on all sides.

This was a disappointment to Mrs. Verstage. Reluctantly she admitted
that her health was breaking down, and that, moreover, whilst Simon
remained tough and unshaken. The long-expected and hoped for time
when Iver should become a permanent inmate of the house, and she
would spend her declining years in love and admiration, had vanished
to the region of hopes impossible of fulfilment.

Simon Verstage took the decline of his wife's powers very
philosophically. He had been so accustomed to her prognostications
of evil, and harangues on her difficulties, that he was case-hardened,
and did not realize that there was actual imminence of a separation
by death.

"It's all her talk," he would say to a confidential friend; "she's
eighteen years younger nor me, and so has eighteen to live after
I'm gone. There ain't been much took out of her: she's not one as
has had a large family. There was Iver, no more; and women are
longer-lived than men. She talks, but it's all along of Polly that
worrits her. Let Polly alone and she'll get into the ways of the
house in time; but Sanna be always at her about this and about that,
and it kinder bewilders the wench, and she don't know whether to
think wi' her toes, and walk wi' her head."

In the Punch-Bowl the relations that subsisted between the
Broom-Squire and his wife were not more cordial than before. They
lived in separate worlds. He was greatly occupied with his solicitor
in Godalming, to whom he was constantly driving over. He saw little
of Mehetabel, save at his meals, and then conversation was limited
on his part to recrimination and sarcastic remarks that cut as a
razor. She made no reply, and spoke only of matters necessary. To
his abusive remarks she had no answer, a deepening color, a
clouding eye showed that she felt what he said. And it irritated
the man that she bore his insolence meekly. He would have preferred
that she should have retorted. As it was, so quiet was the house
that Sally Rocliffe sneered at her brother for living in it with
Mehetabel, "just like two turtle doves,--never heard in the
Punch-Bowl of such a tender couple. Since that little visit to
the Moor you've been doin' nothin' but billin and cooin'." Then
she burst into a verse of an old folks song, singing in harsh
tones--

  "A woman that hath a bad husband, I find
   By scolding won't make him the better.
   So let him be easy, contented in mind,
   Nor suffer his foibles to fret her.
   Let every good woman her husband adore,
   Then happy her lot, though t be humble and poor.
   We live like two turtles, no sorrows we know,
   And, fair girl! mind this when you marry."

"What happens, in my house is no concern of yours, Sally," Jonas
would answer sharply. "If some folk would mind their own affairs
they wouldn't be all to sixes and sevens. You look out that you
don't get into trouble yet over that foolish affair of Thomas and
the Countess. I don't fancy you've come to the end of that yet."

So the winter passed, and spring as well, and then came summer,
and just before the scythe cut the green swath, for the hay harvest,
Mehetabel became a mother.

The child that was born to her was small and delicate, it lacked the
sturdiness of its father and of the mother. So frail, indeed, did
the little life seem at first, that grave doubts were entertained
whether the babe would live to be taken to church to be baptized.

Mehetabel did not have the comfort of the presence of Mrs. Verstage.

During the winter that good woman's malady advanced with rapid
strides, and by summer she was confined to her room, and very
generally to her bed.

To Mehetabel it was not only a grief that she was deprived of the
assistance of her "mother," but also that, owing to her own
condition, she was unable to attend on the failing woman. Deprived
of the help of Mrs. Verstage, Mehetabel was thrown on that of her
sister-in-law, Sally Rocliffe. Occasions of this sort call forth
all that is good and tender in woman, and Sally was not at bottom
either a bad or heartless woman. She had been embittered by a
struggle with poverty that had been incessant, and had been allowed
free use of her tongue by a husband, all whose self-esteem had been
taken out of him by his adventure with the "Countess Charlotte,"
and the derision which had rained on him since. She was an envious
and a spiteful woman, and bore a bitter grudge against Mehetabel
for disappointing her ambition of getting her brother's farm
for her own son Samuel. But on the occasion when called to the
assistance of her sister-in-law, she laid aside her malevolence,
and the true humanity in the depths of her nature woke up. She
showed Mehetabel kindness, though in ungracious manner.

Jonas exhibited no interest in the accession to his family, he
would hardly look at the babe, and refused to kiss it.

At Mehetabel's request he came up to see her, in her room; he stood
aloof, and showed no token of kindliness and consideration. Sarah
went downstairs.

"Jonas," said the young mother, "I have wished to have a word with
you. You have been very much engaged, I suppose, and could not well
spare time to see me before."

"Well, what have you to say? Come to the point."

"That is easily done. Let all be well between us. Let the past be
forgotten, with its differences and misunderstandings. And now
that this little baby is given to us, let it be a bond of love
and reconciliation, and a promise of happiness to us both."

The Broom-Squire looked sideways at his wife, and said, sulkily,
"You remind one of Sanna Verstage's story of Gilly Cheel. He'd
been drinking and making a racket in the house, and was so
troublesome that she had to turn him out into the street by the
shoulders. What did he do, but set his back to the door, and kick
with his heels till he'd stove in some of the panels. Then he went
to the windows, and beat in the panes, and when he'd made a fine
wreck of it all, he stuck in his head, and said, 'This is to tell
you, Sanna Verstage, as how I forgive you in a Christian spirit.'"

"Bideabout! What has that to do with me?"

"Everything. Have you not wronged me, sought to compass my death,
given your love away from me to another, crossed me in all my
wishes?"

"No, Jonas; I have done none of this. I never sought your death,
only the removal of one who made happiness to me in my home
impossible. It was for you, because of you, that I desired his
removal. As for my love, I have tried to give it all to you, but
you must not forget that already from infancy, from the first
moment that I can remember anything, Iver was my companion, that
I was taught to look up to him, and to love him. But, indeed, I
needed no teachin' in that. It came naturally, just as the
buttercups in the meadow in spring, and the blush on the heather
in July. I had not seen him for many years, and I did not forget
him for all that. But I never had a thought of him other than as
an old playmate. He returned home, the very day we were married,
Jonas, as you remember. And since then, he often came to the
Punch-Bowl. You had nothin' against that. I began to feel like the
meadow when the fresh spring sun shines on it, that all the dead
or sleepin' roots woke up, and are strong again, or as the heather,
that seemed dry and lifeless, the buds come once more. But I knew
it must not be, and I fought against it; and I went to Thor's Stone
for that reason, and for none other."

"A likely tale," sneered Jonas.

"Yes, Bideabout, it is a likely tale; it is the only tale at all
likely concerning an honest heart such as mine. If there be truth
and uprightness in you, you will believe me. That I have gone
through a great fight I do not deny. That I have been driven almost
to despair, is also true. That I have cried out for help--that you
know, for you heard me, and I was heard."

"Yes--in that a lump of lead was sent into my shoulder."

"No, Jonas, in that this little innocent was given to my arms. You
need doubt me no more: you need fear for me and yourself no longer.
I have no mistrust in myself at all now that I have this." Lovingly,
with full eyes, the mother held up the child, then clasped it to
her bosom, and covered the little head and tiny hands with kisses.

"What has that to do with all that has been between us?" asked
Bideabout, sneeringly.

"It has everything to do," answered Mehetabel. "It is a little
physician to heal all our wounds with its gentle hand. It is a
tiny sower to strew love and the seeds of happiness in our united
lives. It is a little herald angel that appears to announce to us
peace and goodwill."

"I dun know," muttered Jonas. "It don't seem like to be any of
that."

"You have not looked in the little face, felt the little hands,
as I have. Why, if I had any ache and pain, those wee fingers
would with their touch drive all away. But indeed, Jonas, since
it came I have had no ache, no pain at all. All looks to me like
sunshine and sweet summer weather. Do you know what mother said to
me, many months ago, when first I told her what I was expecting?"

"Dun know that I care to hear."

"She gave me a cookery book, and she said to me that when the
little golden beam shone into this dark house it would fill it
with light, and that, with the baby and me--cooking you nice
things to eat, as wouldn't cost much, but still nice, then all
would be right and happy, and after all--Paradise, Jonas."

"It seems to me as Sanna Verstage knows nuthin about it."

"Jonas," pleaded Mehetabel, "give the little one a kiss. Take it
in your arms."

He turned away.

"Jonas," she said, in a tone of discouragement, after a pause, and
after having held out the child to him in vain, and then taken it
back to her bosom, "what are you stampin' for?"

He was beating his foot on the flooring.

"I want Sally to come up. I thought you had something to say, and
it seems there is nuthin'."

"Nothing, Jonas? Do not go. Do not leave me thus. This is the first
time you have been here since this little herald of goodwill
appeared in my sky. Do not go! Come to me. Put your hand in mine,
say that all is love and peace between us, and there will be no
more mistrust and hard words. I will do my duty by you to the very
best of my power, but, oh, Jonas, this will be a light thing to
accomplish if there be love. Without--it will be heavy indeed."

He continued stamping. "Will Sally never come?"

"Jonas! there is one thing more I desired to say, What is the name
to be given to the little fellow? It is right you should give him
one."

"I!" exclaimed the Broom-Squire, making for the stairs. "I! Call
him any name you will, but not mine. Call him," he turned his mean
face round, full of rancor, and with his lip drawn up on one side,
"as you like--call him, if it please you--Iver."

He went down the stairs muttering. What words more he said were
lost in the noise of his feet.

"Oh, my babe! my babe!" sobbed Mehetabel; "a herald not of goodwill
but of wicked strife!"



CHAPTER XXX.

A BEQUEST.


As Mehetabel became strong, the better feeling towards her in the
heart of Sally Rocliffe sank out of sight, and the old ill-humor
and jealousy took the upper hand once more. It was but too obvious
to the young mother that the woman would have been well content
had the feeble flame of life in the child been extinguished. This
little life stood between her son Samuel and the inheritance of the
Kink's farm.

Whatever was necessary for the child was done, but done grudgingly,
and Mehetabel soon learned that the little being that clung to
her, and drew the milk of life from her bosom, was without a
friend except herself, in the Punch-Bowl. Jonas maintained a cold
estrangement from both her and the babe, its aunt would have
welcomed its death.

The knowledge of this rendered her infant only more dear to
Mehetabel. Hers was a loving nature, one that hungered and panted
for love. She had clung as much as was allowed to the hostess at
the inn. She had been prepared with all her heart to love the man
to whom she had promised love. But this had been rendered difficult,
if not impossible, by his conduct. She would have forgiven whatever
wrong he had done her, had he shown the smallest token of affection
for his child. Now that he refused the poor, helpless creature the
least particle of the love that was its due, her heart that had
expanded towards him, turned away and poured all its warmth on the
child.

And in love for it she was satisfied. She could dispense with the
love of others. She thought, cared for, lived but for this one
little object which engrossed her entire horizon, filled every
corner of her heart.

Marvellous is maternal love above every other love on earth,
the most complete reflex of the love of the Creator for His
creatures. In connubial love there is something selfish. It
insists on reciprocity. In filial love there is an admixture
of gratitude for treatment in the past. In maternal love there
is nothing self-seeking, it is pure benevolence, giving, continuous
giving, of time, of thought, of body labor, of sleep, of everything.
It asks for nothing in return, it expects nothing.

Under the power of this mighty love Mehetabel rapidly became strong,
and bloomed. The color returned to her cheek, the brightness to her
eye, the smile to her lips, and mirth to her heart.

Whatever seeds of love for Iver had sprung up in her were smothered
under the luxuriance of this new love that left in her soul no
space for any other. She thought no more of Iver, for she had no
thought for any one other than her child.

She who had never had any one of her own round whom to throw her
arms, and to clasp to her heart, had now this frail infant; and
the love that might have been dispersed among many recipients was
given entire to the child--a love without stint, a love without
bounds, a love infinitely pure and holy as the love that reigns
in Heaven. So completely absorbed was Mehetabel in her love of the
child, that the ill-humors of Sarah Rocliffe affected her not, nor
did the callousness of her husband deeply wound her. So absorbed
was she, that she hardly gave a thought to Simon Verstage and
Susanna, and it was with a pang of self-reproach that she received
an urgent appeal from the latter to visit her, sent through a
messenger, along with a request that she would bring her infant
with her in the conveyance sent from the Ship Inn for the purpose.

With readiness and at once Mehetabel obeyed the summons. There was
a bright flush of pleasure in her cheek as she mounted to her place
in the little cart, assisted by Joe Filmer, the ostler at the Ship,
and folded her shawl about the living morsel that was all the world
to her.

"Well, upon my word," said Joe, "I think, Matabel, you've grown
prettier than ever, and if Bideabout bain't a happy man, he's
different constituted from most of us."

Joe might well express his admiration. The young mother was
singularly lovely now, with sufficient of the delicacy of her
late confinement still on her, and with the glow of love and pride
glorifying her face.

She was very pleased to go to the Ship, not so much because she
wanted to see the hostess, as because she desired to show her the
babe.

"How is mother?" she asked of Joe Filmer.

The ostler shook his head.

"I should say she hain't long to live. She changed terrible last
week. If it weren't for her stories about Gilly Cheel, and one or
another, one wouldn't believe it was the same woman. And the master,
he is that composed over it all--it is wonderful, wonderful."

Mehetabel was shocked. She was not prepared for this news, and the
brightness went out of her face. She was even more alarmed and
troubled when she saw Mrs. Verstage, on whose countenance the
shadow of approaching death was plainly lying.

But the hostess had lost none of the energy and directness of her
character.

"My dear Matabel," she said, "it's no use you wishin' an' hopin'.
Wishin' an' hopin' never made puff paste without lard. I haven't
got in me the one thing which could raise me up again--the power
to shake off my complaint. That is gone from me. I thought for
long I could fight it, and by not givin' way tire it out. You can
do that with a stubborn horse, but not with a complaint such as
mine. But there--no more about me, show me the young Broom-Squire."

After the usual scene incident on the exhibition of a babe that is
its mother's pride, a scene that every woman can fill in for
herself, and which every man would ask to be excused to witness,
Mrs. Verstage said: "Matabel, let there be no disguise between us.
How do you and your husband stand to each other now?"

"I would rather you did not ask me," was the young wife's answer,
after some hesitation.

"That tells me all," said the hostess. "I did hope that the birth
of a little son or daughter would have made all right, assisted by
the cookery book, but I see plainly that it has not. I have heard
some sort of talks about it. Matabel, now that I stand, not with
one, but with two feet on the brink of my grave, I view matters in
a very different light from what I did before, and I do not mind
tellin' you that I have come to the conclusion that I did a wrong
thing in persuadin' you to take Bideabout. I have had this troublin'
me for a long time, and it has not allowed me rest. I have not had
much sleep of late, because of the pain, and because I always have
been an active woman, and it puts me out to be a prisoner in my own
room, and not able to get about. Well, Matabel, I have fretted a
good deal over this, and have not been able to set my conscience at
ease. When Polly knocked off the spout of my china teapot, I said
to her, 'You must buy me another out of your wages.' She got one,
but 'twasn't the same. It couldn't be the same. The fashion is gone
out, and they don't make 'em as they did. It is the same with your
marriage with Bideabout. The thing is done and can't be undone. So
I need only consider how I can make it up in some other way."

"Mother, pray say nothing more about this. God has given me my
baby, and I am happy."

"God has given you that," said Mrs. Verstage, "but I have given you
nothing. I have done nothin' to make amends for the great wrong I
did you, and which was the spoiling of your life. It is not much I
can do, but do somethin' I must, and I will, or I shall not die
happy. Now, my plan is this. I have saved some money. I have for
many years been puttin' away for Iver, but he does not want it
greatly. I intend to leave to you a hundred pounds."

"Mother, I pray you do nothing of the kind.

"I must do it, Matabel, to ease my mind."

"Mother, it will make me miserable."

"Why so?"

Mehetabel did not answer.

"I intend this hundred pounds to be your own, and I shall so leave
it that it shall be yours, and yours only."

"Mother, it will make matters worse." After some hesitation, and
with a heightened color, she told Mrs. Verstage about the fifteen
pounds given her on the wedding day by Simon. She told it in such
a manner as to screen her husband to the utmost. "You know, mother,
Jonas has high notions about duty, and thinks it not well that we
should have separate purses. Of course he must judge in these
matters, and he is, no doubt, right, whereas I am wrong. But, as he
does hold this opinion, it would anger him were I to have this
money, and I know what the end would be, that I should have to give
it all up to him, so that there might be peace between us. I dare
say he is right."

"I have heard folks say that man should do the courtin' before
marriage, and the woman after, but I don't hold with it. You may
give way to them too much. There was Betsy Chivers was that mild
and humoring to her husband that at last he made her do everything,
even clean his teeth for him. The hundred pounds is for you, whether
you wish to have it or not. It is of no use your sayin' another
word."

"Do you mind, if it were given instead to the baby? May it be left
to him instead of me? Then there would not be the same difficulty?"

"Certainly, if you like it; but you don't want me to leave him the
use of it in his present condition. Why, he'd put it into his mouth
for certain. There must be some one to look after it for him till
he come of age, and take it upon himself, as the baptism service
says."

"There must, of course," said Mehetabel, meditatively.

"Money, edged tools, and fire--these are the three things children
mustn't meddle with. But it isn't children only as must be kept
off money. Men are just as bad. They have a way of getting rid of
it is just astonishin' to us females. They be just like jackdaws.
I know them creeturs--I mean jackdaws, not men, come in at the
winder and pull all the pins out of the cushion, and carry 'em off
to line their nest with 'em. And men--they are terrible secretive
with money. They can't leave a lump sum alone, but must be pickin
at it, for all the world like Polly and currant cake, or raisin
puddin'. As for men, they've exactly the same itchin after money.
If I leave the hundred pounds to your little mite, and I'm willin'
to do it, I must make some one trustee, and I don't fancy putting
that upon Bideabout."

"Of course Jonas would look to his own child's interests, yet--"

"I know. There's a complaint some folks have, they're always eatin'
and you can never see as their food has profited them. It's so
with Bideabout--he is ever picking up money, but it don't seem to
do him a scrap of good. What has he done with his money that he
has saved?"

"I do not know."

"And I don't suppose he does himself. No, if you wish me to leave
the hundred pounds to the child instead of to yourself then I will
do so, heartily, and look about for some one in whom I can place
confidence to undertake to be trustee. Simon is too old and he is
getting foolish. My word, if, after I'm dead and gone, Simon
should take it into his stupid head to marry Polly--I'd rise out
of my grave to forbid the banns."

"You need have no fear of that, mother."

"If you had been in the house you could have kept an eye on him.
There, again, my wrong deed finds me out. Matabel, it's my
solemn conviction that there's no foolishness men won't be up
to, especially widowers. They've been kept in order so long
that they break out when their wives are dead. Have you ever seen
a horse as has been clipped and kept all winter on hay in the
stables when he chances to get out into a meadow, up go his heels,
he turns frisky, gallops about, and there's no catching him
again--not even with oats. He prefers the fresh grass and his
freedom. That's just like widowers; or they're ginger beer
bottles, very much up, wi' their corks out. What a pity it is
Providence has given men so little common sense! Well, I'll see
to that matter of the trusteeship, and the little man shall have
a hundred pounds as a stand-by in the chance his father may have
fooled away his own money."



CHAPTER XXXI.

SURPRISES.


Jonas Kink not only raised no objection to having an entertainment
at the baptism of his child, but he expressed his hearty desire
that nothing should be spared to repay the gossips for what they
had done to assist the infant into the Christian Church, by feeding
them well, and giving them what they valued more highly, something
to drink.

Mehetabel was gratified, and hoped that this was a token that,
rude as his manner was, he would gradually unbend and become
amiable. On the day of the christening, Bideabout was in a bustle,
he passed from one room to another to see that all was in order;
he rubbed his palms and laughed to himself. Occasionally his eyes
rested on Sally Rocliffe, and then there was a malicious twinkle
in them. There was little affection lost between the two. Neither
took pains to conciliate the other. Each commented freely on
those characteristics of the other which were in fact common to
both.

In his ambition to make a man of comparative substance of his son
Jonas, the father had not dealt liberally by his daughter, and
this had rankled in Sarah's heart. She had irritated her brother
by continually raking up this grievance, and assuring him that a
brother with natural feeling would, out of generosity of his heart,
make amends for the injustice of the father.

Jonas had not the slightest intention of doing anything of the
sort, and this he conveyed to Sarah in the most bald and offensive
manner possible. For twenty years, ever since the father's death,
these miserable bickerings had gone on. Sally had not the sense to
desist, where the pursuit of the topic could avail nothing, nor
Jonas the kindliness to make her a present which might moderate her
sense of having been unjustly treated.

He had been obliged to employ his sister, and yet he suspected, not
without cause, that she took away from his house such scraps of
food and pots and pipkins as were not likely to be missed. The
woman justified her conduct to herself by the argument that she was
inadequately paid in coin, and that she was forced to pilfer in
order to recoup herself for the outlay of time and muscle in her
brother's habitation. Thomas Rocliffe was a quiet, harmless old
man, crushed not only by the derision which had clung to him like a
robe of Nessus ever since his escapade with the Countess Charlotte,
but also by the weight of his wife's tongue. He had sought peace
by non-resistance, and this had encouraged her to violence, and had
removed the only possible check to her temper. He was not a clever
man. Most people thought him soft. His son Samuel was stupid and
sullen, rendered both by his mother's treatment from infancy.
Thomas had not sufficient intelligence and spontaneity to make a
struggle to overcome his embarrassments, and force himself a way
out of his difficulties. Instead of the debt that hampered him
being gradually reduced, as it might have been by a man with
energy, it had increased. Nothing had been spent on the house since
the debt had been first contracted, and it was not water-tight.
Nothing had been done to the land to dress it, to increase the
stock, to open up another spring of revenue. When a bad year came
the family fell into actual distress. When a good year ensued no
margin was left to serve as a provision for one less favorable.

Mehetabel, pleased that her husband had put no hindrance in the
way of a christening feast, had begrudged none of the necessary
expense, was active and skilful in the preparation of cakes and
pies.

To the church she had to go, so as to be churched immediately
before the baptism, and Jonas remained at home, as he said, to
see that no one broke in and carried off the good things. Never,
within the memory of the oldest inhabitant of the Punch-Bowl;
never, it may safely be asserted, since the Punch-Bowl had been
formed, had there been seen a table so spread as that in the Kink's
farmhouse on the day of the christening, and whilst the party was
at the church. In the first place the table had on it a clean
linen cover, not riddled with holes nor spotted with iron mould.
It was exceptional for any table in the Punch-Bowl to be spread
with linen. There stood on it plated and red earthenware dishes,
and on the latter many good things. At one end was a cold rabbit
pie. Rabbits were, indeed, a glut in Thursley, but such a pie
was a phenomenon.

Bideabout's mind was exercised over it. He was curious to know
whether the interior corresponded to the promise without. He
inserted a knife and lifted the crust just sufficiently to allow
him to project his nose to the edge of the dish and inhale the
savor of the contents. "My word!" said he, "there's stuffin'.
Rabbit and stuffin'. Wot next--and egg. I can see the glimmer
of the white and yaller."

He rose from his stooping posture and saw Samuel Rocliffe at the
window.

He beckoned to him to enter, and then showed him the table. "Did
you ever see the likes?" he asked. "You ain't invited, Sam, but
you can look over it all. There's a posy of flowers in the middle
of the table, genteel like, as if it were a public house dinner
to a club, and look at this pie. Do you see how crinkled it is
all round, like the frill of your mother's nightcap? That was done
with the scissors, and there's a gloss over the top. That were
effected with white o' egg. Just think of that! using white o' egg
when eggs is eighteen a shilling, for making the pie shine like
your face o' Sundays after you've yaller-soaped it. There's stuffin'
inside."

"I wish there were in my inside," said Samuel, surlily.

"You ain't invited. Do you see that thing all of a trimble over
there, a sort of pale ornamental cooriosity? That's called a
blue-mange. It's made of isinglass and milk and rice flour. It's
not for ornament, but to be eaten, by such as is invited. There
they come! You cut away. If you was a few years older, we might
have invited you. But there ain't room for boys."

The unfortunate Samuel sulkily retired, casting envious eyes at
the more favored denizens of the Punch-Bowl who were arriving to
partake of the viands only shown to him.

The guests streamed in and took their places. They enjoyed the
feast prepared, and passed encomiums on their hostess for her
cookery. All fought shy at first of the blanc-mange. None had seen
such a confection previously, and each desired that his fellow
should taste before committing himself to a helping.

Mrs. Verstage had sent a present of half-a-dozen bottles of currant
wine, and these were attacked without any hesitation.

All the males at the table were in their shirt-sleeves. No man
thought of risking his Sunday coat by wearing it, even though the
viands were cold.

Jonas seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself. He looked about and
laughed, and rubbed his hands together under the table.

"Beware!" whispered Sally to her husband. "I can't understand
Bideabout. There's some joke as tickles his in'ards tremendous. Wot
it is, I don't see."

"He'll let it out presently," said Thomas.

As soon as every appetite was satisfied, and the guests had thrust
their plates from them into the midst of the table, Giles Cheel
stood up, and looking round cleared his throat, and said, "Ladies
and gem'men, neighbors all. I s'pose on such an occasion as this,
and after such a feed, it's the dooty of one of us to make a
speech. And as I'm the oldest and most respected of the Broom-Squires
of the Bowl, I think it proves as I should express the gen'ral
feelin' of satisfaction we all have. That there rabbit pie might
ha' been proud to call itself hare. The currant wine was comfortin',
especially to such as, like myself, has a touch of a chill below
the ribs, and it helps digestion. There be some new-fangled notions
comin' up about taytotallin. I don't hold by 'em. The world was
once drownded with water, and I don't see why we should have Noah's
Floods in our insides. The world had quite enough taytotallin'
then."

Giles was pulled backwards by the hand of his wife, which grasped
the strap of his waistcoat.

"Sit down, you're ramblin' from the p'int."

"Betsy, let go. I be ramblin' up to it."

"Sit down, they've had enough o' yer."

"They've hardly had a taste."

"Everyone be laughin' at yer."

"I'm just about bringin' tears into their eyes."

"If you go on, I'll clap my hand over yer mouth."

"And then I'll punch yer head."

The daily broil in the Cheel house was about to be produced in
public. It was stopped by Jonas, who rose to his feet, and with a
leer and chuckle round, he said, "Neighbors and friends and all.
Very much obliged for the complerment. But don't think it is all
about a baby. Nothin' of the kind. It is becos I wanted all,
neighbors and friends, to be together whilst I made an announcement
which will be pleasant hearin' to some parties, and astonishin' to
all. I ain't goin' to detain you very long, for what I've got to
say might be packed in a nutshell and carried away in the stomick
of a tomtit. You all of you know, neighbors and friends all, as
how my brother-in-law made a fool of himself, and was made a fool
of through the Countess Charlotte. And how that his farm got
mortgaged; and since then, with lawyers, got more charged; and the
family have led a strugglin' life since to keep their heads above
water. Well, I've got all their mortgage and debts into my hands,
and intend--"

He looked round with a malicious laugh. He saw a flutter of
expectation in his sister's eyes.

"No, Sally. I ain't going to give 'em up. I hold em, and ain't
goin' to stand no shilly-shally about payments when due. You may
be sure of that. And wot is more, I won't stand no nonsense from
you or Thomas or Samuel, but I expect you to be my very humble
servants, or I'll sell you up."

A look of blank consternation fell on the faces of the Rocliffes.
Others looked uneasy. Not the Rocliffes only were partially
submerged.

"I've somethin' also to say to Gilly Cheel. I ain't goin' to have
the Punch-Bowl made a Devil's cauldron of wi' his quarrels--"

"Hear, hear," from Betsy Cheel.

"And unless he lives peaceable, and don't trouble me wi' his noise
and she wi' her cattewawlin'."

"That's for you," said Jamaica, and nudged his wife.

"I'll turn 'em both out," proceeded Jonas. "For I've been gettin'
his papers into my hands also. And then, as to the Boxalls--"

The members of that clan now looked blank. Consternation was
spreading to all at table.

"As to the Boxalls," continued Jonas, "if their time hasn't come
just yet, it's comin'. I hope, neighbors and friends all, you've
enjyed the dessert."

A dead silence ensued. Every one felt that it would be better to
be in the power of a lawyer than of Bideabout.

Tears of mortification and resentment rose in the eyes of Sally
Rocliffe. Mehetabel hung her head in shame.

Then Thomas, stolid and surly, flung a letter across the table to
the Broom-Squire. "Take that," he said, "I don't wan't to be
burdened with nothin' of your'n. 'Tis a letter been lyin' at the
post for you, and Mistress Chivers gave it me. Wish I wos rid of
everything atwixt us as I be of that there letter now."

Jonas took the missive, turned it about, then carelessly opened it.

As he read his color faded, and he had hardly read to the end
before he sank back in his chair with a cry of rage and despair;
"The Wealden bank be broke. I'm a ruined man."



CHAPTER XXXII.

ANOTHER SURPRISE.


Among those present the only one who came to the assistance of Jonas
Kink was his brother-in-law, Thomas Rocliffe, who, thinking that
Bideabout was going to have a fit, ran to him and unloosed his
black satin cravat.

The revulsion of feeling in the rest was so sudden that it produced
a laugh. He who had been exulting in having put their necks under
his foot had been himself struck down in the moment of his triumph.
He had sought to humble them in a manner peculiarly mean, and no
compassion was felt for him now in his distress.

The guests filed out without a word of thanks for the meal of which
they had partaken, or an expression of pity for the downcast man.

For some while Bideabout remained motionless, looking at the letter
before him on the table. Mehetabel did not venture to approach or
address him. She watched him with anxiety, not knowing in which
direction the brooding rage within him would break forth. He was
now like a thunder-cloud charged with electricity and threatening
all with whom he came in contact.

Hearing the wail of her child, she was glad noiselessly to leave
the room and hasten to comfort it. Presently Jonas rose, and in a
half stupefied condition went to the stable and saddled old Clutch
that he might ride to Godalming and learn whether things were as
bad as represented.

In his impatience to announce to his guests that he had them under
his control he had been somewhat premature. It was true that the
negotiations were complete whereby their mortgages and obligations
were transferred to him, but the money that he was to pay therefor
had not been made over. Now it would not be possible for him to
complete the transaction. Not only so, but he had incurred expenses
by his employment of a solicitor to carry out his design which it
would be extremely difficult for him to meet, if the bank had
actually failed.

He alone of all the squires in the Punch-Bowl had put his savings
into a bank, and he had done this because he was so frequently
and so long from home that he did not dare to leave them anywhere
in his house, lest it should be broken into during his absence.

As the Broom-Squire approached Thursley village his horse cast a
shoe, and he was obliged to stop at the farrier's to have old
Clutch shod.

"How do'y do, Squire?" said the blacksmith. "Been christenin' your
baby, I hear."

Bideabout grunted in reply.

"One comes and another goes," said the farrier. "S'pose you've
heard the news?"

"Think I have," retorted Jonas, irritably. "It's them banks is
broke."

"I don't mean no banks," said the blacksmith. "But Susanna Verstage.
I s'pose you've heard she's gone?"

"Gone, where to?"

"That's not for me to say. She's been ailin' some time and now has
gone off, sudden like. O' course we knowed it must come, but nobody
didn't think it would ha' come so sudden--and she seemed such a
hearty woman, only a few months ago. Well, I s'pose it's ordained."

The Broom-Squire did not ask questions. He took very little
interest in the matter of the death of the hostess of the Ship.
His mind was engrossed in his own troubles.

As soon as old Clutch had his shoe fitted on, and the other shoes
looked to, Bideabout pursued his way.

His progress was not fast. Clutch was personally unaffected by the
failure of the bank, and could not be induced to accelerate his
speed. Beating only made him more stubborn, and when Bideabout
stretched his legs out to the furthest possible extent apart
that was possible, and then brought them together with a sudden
contraction so as to dig his heels into the horse's ribs, that
brought Clutch to an absolute standstill.

On reaching Godalming, the worst anticipations of Jonas were
confirmed. The bank was closed; his savings were lost. Nothing
had been withdrawn in time to secure them by giving him a hold
on the squatter settlements of his neighbors. And he himself had
incurred liabilities that might bring him into the same pit that
he had digged for his fellows.

He turned homewards in great discouragement and acridity of
heart. His fellows in the Punch-Bowl had never regarded him with
cordiality; now they would be his combined enemies. The thoughts
of his heart were gloomy. In no direction could he see light. He
now did not urge Clutch along beyond the pace at which the old
horse had made up his mind to go; it was immaterial to Jonas
whether he were on the road or at home. Nowhere would he be free
from his trouble.

He would, perhaps, have turned into the Ship for a glass of spirits
but, remembering that he had been told the hostess was dead, he
did not feel inclined to enter a house where he would be still
further depressed. He had not, however, gone far out of the
village, before he heard his name called from behind, and on
turning his head saw Joe Filmer in pursuit.

The ostler came up to him, panting and said--

"Ter'rible news, ain't it? The old lady gone. But that ain't why
I've stopped you. 'Tis she bade me give your missus a message--as
she hadn't forgot the bequest of money. But we're that muddled and
busy at the Ship, I can't go to the Punch-Bowl, so I just runned
after you. You'll take the message for me, won't you?"

"Money!" exclaimed Bideabout, reining in old Clutch, who now
objected to be stayed on his way to the familiar stable. "Money!"
repeated Bideatout, and then lugged at old Clutch's rein till he
had turned the brute about.

The horse had sufficient obstinacy in him to persist in his
intentions of not being stopped on the high-road, and though
turned round he continued to scramble along in the reverse direction
to his home.

"Hang you, you old toad!" exclaimed Jonas. "If you will, I don't
care. Be it so. We will go to the Ship. I say, Joe! What was that
about money?"

"It was that the missus made me promise to inform your missus,
that she'd not forgotten her undertakin', but had made provision
that she should have the money as she wished."

"The money--how much?"'

"I do not know. She did not say."

"And she has left money to Matabel?"

"I suppose so. She was always amazin' fond of her. She was a savin'
woman, and had put away something of her own."

"I'll go to the Ship. I will, certainly. I ought not to have passed
without a word with Simon on his loss. I suppose he's sure to know
how much it is?"

"I suppose so. Missus would consult him. She made a show o' that
always, but nevertheless followed her own head."

"And Simon is terrible cut up?"

"Bears it like a man."

"Here, take old Clutch; give him some oats, and kick him, he
deserves it, he's been so unruly. But, stay--no. Hold his head,
and I'll kick him, afore he's had his oats. He's a darned malicious
old Radical. Put in some pepper to his nose when he's done his
oats."

Bideabout went into the house, through the porch, and entered the
bar.

Simon was seated there smoking a long clay, with his feet on the
fender, before a glowing fire, and with a stiff glass of hot punch
on the table at his side.

"Sorry for you," was Jonas's brief address of salutation and
condolence.

Mr. Verstage shook his head. "That's what my old woman said."

Seeing an expression of surprise and query in the Broom-Squire's
face, he explained: "Not after, afore, in course. She said, 'Very
sorry for you, Simon, very. It's wus for you than for me, I shall
die--you'll make yourself ridic'lous.'"

"What did she mean?"

"Can't think," answered Simon, with great solemnity. "Will you have
a drop of something? In this vale of tears we want consolation."
Then, in a loud voice, "Polly--another glass."

After looking steadily and sadly into the embers, Mr. Verstage
said: "I don't believe that woman ever made a mistake in her
life--but once."

"When was that?"

"When she gave Matabel to you. We wanted her in this house. Her
proper place was here. It all comes wi' meddlin' wi' what ort to
be let alone--and that is Providence. There's never no sayin' but
Iver--"

Dimly the old host saw that he was floundering upon delicate
ground. "My doctrine is," said he, "let things alone and they'll
come right in the end."

Bideabout moved uneasily. He winced at the reference to Iver. But
what he now really was anxious to arrive at was the matter of money
left by Mrs. Verstage to Mehetabel.

"Now," said Simon, looking after the serving-maid, as she left the
bar, when she had deposited the tumbler beside Bideabout. "Now, my
old woman was amazin' set against that girl. Why--I can't think.
She's a good girl when let alone. But Sanna never would let her
alone. She were ever naggin' at her; so that she upset the poor
thing's nerve. She broke the taypot and chucked the beer to the
pigs, but that was because she were flummeried wi' my old woman
going on at her so. She said to me she really couldn't bear to
think how I'd go on after she were gone. I sed, to comfort her,
that I knowed Polly would do her best. 'She'll do the best she can
for herself,' answered Sanna, as sharp as she said 'Yes, I will,'
when we was married. I don't know what her meanin' was. You won't
believe it, but it's true what I'm going to tell you. She said to
me, did Susanna, 'Simon there was Mary Toft, couldn't die, because
there were wild-fowl feathers in her bed. They had to take her off
the four-poster and get another feather-bed, before she could die
right off. Now,' said Sanna, 'it's somethin' like that with me. I
ain't got wild-bird feathers under me, but there's a wild fowl in
the house, and that's Polly. So long as she's here die I can't,
and die I won't.' 'Well, old woman,' sed I, if that's all, to
accommodate you, I'll send Polly to her mother,' and so I did--and
she died right on end, peaceable."

"But Polly is here."

"Oh, yes--when Sanna were gone--we couldn't do wi'out her. She
knowed that well enough and came back--runnin' like a long dog,
and very good and thoughtful it was of her. Most young wimen ain't
considerate like that."

This was all wide of the subject that engrossed the interest of
Bideabout, and had induced him to revisit the Ship. As the host
made no allusion to the topic, the Broom-Squire plunged into the
matter, headforemost.

"Joe Filmer," said he, "called me back. I didn't wish to come in
and trouble you now. But Joe said as how you wanted to speak to me
about some money as your wife had left with you for my Matabel;
and I thought it might be botherin' your mind when you wanted to
turn it to religious thought, and so I came back to say I'd
relieve you of it and take it at once."

"Money! Oh!" Mr. Verstage was a little difficult to turn from one
line of thought to another. "Polly never stood out for higher
wages. Not like some who, when they've been with you just long
enough to learn the ways of the house, and to make themselves
useful, and not to break everything they handle, and spoil
everything they touch, ask, 'Please will you advance my wages?'
Polly never did that."

"I am not speakin' of Polly," said Jonas, peevishly, "but of some
money that Joe Filmer told me you wanted to tell me about. Something
that your poor wife desired you to give to Matabel."

"Oh, you mean that hundred pounds. I wasn't against it. On the
contrary, I said I'd add fifty to it. I always said Sanna did wrong
in giving Matabel to--I mean flying in the face of Providence."

"I shall be very glad to take it, and thus relieve your mind of
all care."

"Oh, it's no care at all."

"It must be, and besides--it must interfere with your turning your
mind to serious thoughts."

"Oh, not at all. I can't give you the money. It is not for you."

"No; but it is for Matabel, and we are one."

"Oh, no; it's not for Matabel."

"The hundred and fifty pounds is not for Matabel? And yet you said
it was intended to make up to her for something you did not exactly
explain."

"No, it is not for Matabel. Matabel might have had it, I daresay,
but my old woman said she was set against that."

"Then we are to be deprived of it by her folly?" The Broom-Squire
flushed purple.

"Oh, no. It is all right. It is for the child."

"For the child! That is all the same. I am the father, and will
take care of the money."

"But I can't give it you."

"Have you not got it?"

"The money is all right. Sanna's hundred pounds--I know where that
is, and my fifty shall go along with it. I was always fond of
Matabel. But the child was only baptized to-day, and won't be old
enough to enjoy it for many years."

"In the meantime it can be laid out to its advantage," urged
Bideabout.

"I daresay," said Simon, "but I've nothin' to do with that, and
you've nothin' to do with that."

"Then who has?"

"Iver, of course."

"Iver!" The Broom-Squire turned livid as a corpse.

"You see," pursued the host, "Sanna said as how she wouldn't make
me trustee, I was too old, and I might be dead, or done something
terrible foolish, before the child came of age to take it on itself,
to use her very words. So she wouldn't make me trustee, but she
put it all into Iver's hands to hold for the little chap. She were
a won'erful shrewd woman were Sanna, and I've no doubt she was
right."

"Iver trustee--for my child!"

"Yes--why not?"

The Broom-Squire stood up, and without tasting the glass of punch
mixed for him, without a farewell to the landlord, went forth.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

MARKHAM.


The funeral of Mrs. Verstage was conducted with all the pomp and
circumstance that delight the rustic mind. Bideabout attended, and
his hat was adorned with a black silk weeper that was speedily
converted by Mehetabel, at his desire, into a Sunday waistcoat.

In this silk waistcoat he started on old Clutch one day for
Guildford, without informing his wife or sister whither he was bound.

The child was delicate and fretful, engaging most of its mother's
time and engrossing all her thought.

She had found an old cradle of oak, with a hood to it, the whole
quaintly and rudely carved, the rockers ending in snakes' heads,
in which several generations of Kinks had lain; in which, indeed,
Jonas had spent his early infancy, and had pleaded for his mother's
love and clamored for her attention. Whether with the thought of
amusing the child, or merely out of the overflow of motherly love
that seeks to adorn and glorify the babe, Mehetabel had picked the
few late flowers that lingered on in spite of frost, some pinched
chrysanthemums, a red robin that had withstood the cold, some twigs
of butcher's broom with blood-red berries that had defied it, and
these she had stuck about the cradle in little gimlet holes that
had been drilled round the edge, probably to contain pegs that might
hold down a cover, to screen out glaring sun or cutting draught.

Now, as Mehetabel rocked the cradle and knitted, singing to the
sobbing child, the flowers wavered about the infant, forming a
wreath of color, and freshening the air with their pure fragrance.
Each flower in itself was without much perceptible savor, yet the
whole combined exhaled a healthy, clean, and invigorating waft as
of summer air over a meadow.

The wreath that surrounded the child was not circular but oblong,
almost as though engirding a tiny grave, but this Mehetabel did not
see.

Playing the cradle with her foot, with the sun shining in at the
window and streaking the foot, she sang--

  "My heart is like a fountain true
   That flows and flows with love to you;
   As chirps the lark unto the tree,
   So chirps my pretty babe to me.
   And it's O! sweet, sweet! and a lullaby."

But the answer was a peevish moan from the bed. The young mother
stooped over the cradle.

  "Oh, little lark! little lark! this is no chirp,
   Would you were as glad and as gay as the lark!"

Then, resuming her rocking, she sang,

  "There's not a rose where'er I seek
   As comely as my baby's cheek.
   There's not a comb of honey bee,
   So full of sweets as babe to me.
   And it's O! sweet, sweet! and a lullaby."

Again she bowed over the crib, and all the rocking flowers quivered
and stood still.

"Baby, darling! Why are there such poor roses in your little cheek?
I would value them above all the China roses ever grown! Look at
the Red Robin, my sweet, my sweet, and become as pink as is that."

  "There's not a star that shines on high
   Is brighter than my baby's eye.
   There's not a boat upon the sea
   Can dance as baby does to me.
   And it's O! sweet, sweet, and a lullaby."

  "No silk was ever spun so fine
   As is the hair of baby mine.
   My baby smells more sweet to me
   Than smells in spring the elder tree.
   And it's O! sweet, sweet, and a lullaby!"

The child would not sleep.

Again the mother stayed the rocking of the cradle, and the swaying
of the flowers.

She lifted the little creature from its bed carefully lest the
sharp-leafed butcher's broom should scratch it. How surrounded was
that crib with spikes, and they poisonous! And the red berries oozed
out of the ribs of the cruel needle-armed leaves, like drops of
heart's blood.

Mehetabel took her child to her bosom, and rocked her own chair,
and as she rocked, the sunbeam flashed across her face, and then
she was in shadow, then another flash, and again shadow, and from
her face, when sunlit, a reflection of light flooded the little
white dress of the babe, and illumined the tiny arm, and restless
fingers laid against her bosom.

  "A little fish swims in the well,
   So in my heart does baby dwell.
   A little flower blows on the tree,
   My baby is the flower to me.
   And It's O! sweet, sweet! and a lullaby!"

A wondrous expression of peace and contentment was on Mehetabel's
face. None of the care and pain that had lined it, none of the gloom
of hopelessness that had lain on it, had left now thereon a trace.
In her child all her hope was centred, all her love culminated.

  "The King has sceptre, crown and ball.
   You are my sceptre, crown and all,
   For all his robes of royal silk.
   More fair your skin, as white as milk.
   And it's O! sweet, sweet, and a lullaby!

  "Ten thousand parks where deer may run,
   Ten thousand roses in the sun.
   Ten thousand pearls beneath the sea.
   My babe, more precious is to me.
   And it's O! sweet, sweet, and a lullaby!"

Presently gentle sleep descended on the head of the child, the
pink eyelids closed, the restless hand ceased to grope and clutch,
and the breath came evenly. Mehetabel laid her little one again in
its cradle, and recommenced the rocking with the accompanying
swaying of the flowers.

Now that the child was asleep Mehetabel sat lightly swinging the
cradle, afraid to leave it at rest lest that of her infant should
again be broken.

She thought of the death of her almost mother Susanna Verstage,
the only woman that had shown her kindness, except the dame of the
school she had attended as a child.

Mehetabel's heart overflowed with tender love towards the deceased,
she fully, frankly forgave her the cruel blow whereby she had
wounded her, and had driven her out of her house and into that of
Jonas. And yet it was a deadly wrong: a wrong that could never be
redressed. The wound dealt her would canker her heart away; it was
of such a nature that nothing could heal it. Mehetabel was well
aware of this. She could see brightness before her in one direction
only. From her child alone could she derive hope and joy in
the future. And yet she forgave Mrs. Verstage with a generous
forgiveness which was part of her nature. She would forgive Jonas
anything, everything, if he would but acknowledge his wrong, and
turn to her in love.

And now she found that she could think of Iver without a quickening
of her pulses.

In her love for her babe all other loves had been swallowed up,
refined, reduced in force. She loved Iver still, but only as a
friend, a brother. Her breast had room for one prevailing love
only--that of her child.

As she sat, slightly rocking the cradle, and with a smile dimpling
her cheek, a knock sounded at the door, and at her call there
entered a young man whom she had seen during the winter with Jonas.
He was a gentleman, and she had been told that he had lodged at the
Huts, and she knew that he had engaged the Broom-Squire to attend
him, when duck-shooting, at the Fransham ponds.

Mehetabel apologized for not rising as he entered, and pointed to
the cradle.

"My name is Markham," said the young man, "I have come to see Mr.
Kink. This is his house, I believe?"

"Yes, sir; but he is not at home."

"Will he be long absent?"

"I do not know. Will you please to take a chair?"

"Thank you." The young gentleman seated himself, wiped his brow,
and threw his cap on the floor.

"I want some fishing. I made Mr. Kink's acquaintance, shooting,
during the winter. Excuse me, are you his sister or his wife?"

"His wife, sir."

"You are very young."

To this Mehetabel made no reply.

"And uncommonly pretty," pursued Mr. Markham, looking at her with
admiration. "Where the deuce did the Broom-Squire pick you up?"

The young mother was annoyed--a little color formed in her cheek.
"Can I give a message to Jonas?" she asked.

"A message? Tell him he's a lucky dog. By heaven! I had no idea
that a pearl lay at the bottom of the Punch-Bowl. And that is your
baby?"

"Yes, sir."

Mehetabel lightly raised the sheet that covered the child's head.

The stranger stooped and looked at the sleeping child, that seemed
to be made uneasy by his glance, and turned moaning away.

"It looks as if it were for another world--not this," said the
gentleman.

The flush spread over Mehetabel's brow. "Sir," she said in a
fluttering voice, "You are not a doctor, are you?"

"Oh, dear, no!--a barrister."

"Then," said she, in a tone of relief, "you do not know. The child
is very well, but young."

"That may be."

The young man returned to his seat.

"I have left a fishing-rod outside," he said. "I wanted Kink to
accompany me on one of the ponds where there is a punt. There must
be plenty of fish in these sheets of water?"

"I believe there are, sir. As Jonas is away, perhaps Samuel Rocliffe
can help you. He is my husband's nephew, and lives in the cottage,
a little further down."

"Thank you, I'll look him up. But, hang me, if I like to leave--with
such attractions here I do not care to leave."

After standing, considering a moment, hardly taking his eyes off
Mehetabel, he said--"My pretty little hostess, if ever I begrudged
a man in my life, I begrudge Jonas Kink--his wife. Come and tell me
when you find him intolerable, and see if I cannot professionally
help you to be rid of such a curmudgeon. Who knows?--the time may
come! My name is Markham."

Then he departed.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

THE PICTURE.


Meanwhile Bideabout was on his way to the town of Guildford. He
made slow progress, for old Clutch had no mind for speed. The horse
was mistrustful as to whither he was going, and how he would be
treated on reaching his destination. No amount of beating availed.
He had laid on his winter growth of hair, which served as a mat,
breaking the force of the strokes administered. He was proof against
kicks, for whenever Jonas extended his legs for the purpose of
bringing his heels sharply against the sides of Clutch, the old
horse drew a deep inspiration and blew himself out; thus blunting
the force of the heels driven into him.

At length, however, Jonas and old Clutch did reach Guildford. To
old Clutch's great astonishment he found himself in a town new to
him, more populous than Godalming; and being strongly convinced
that he had done enough, and that every house was an inn open to
receive him, and being eager to make himself comfortable, he
endeavored to carry his master into a china-shop, then into a
linen-draper's shop, and next into a green-grocer's.

Jonas was constrained to stable his obstinate steed in the first
tavern he came to, and to make the rest of his way on foot.

Guildford is, to this day, a picturesque old town, dominated by
the ruins of a fine royal castle, and with a quaint Grammar School
and hospital. At the present time it is going through immense
transformation. It has become a favorite retiring place for old
officers of the army, supplanting in this respect Cheltenham. But
at the period of this tale it was a sleepy, ancient, county town
that woke to life on market days, and rested through the remainder
of the week. It did not work six days and keep one Sabbath, but
held the Sabbath for six days and woke to activity on one only.

Now nobody quite knows who are all the new people that flow into
the villas, and flood the suburbs. At the period whereof we tell
there were no invaders of the place. Everybody knew every one else
in his own clique, and knew of and looked down on every one else in
the clique below him, and thanked God that he only knew of him,
and did not know him; and looked up at and slandered every one
else in the clique above him.

At the time of which we tell there was no greater joy to those in
each of the many cliques than to be able to stare at those who
belonged to a clique esteemed lower, and to ask who those people
were, and profess never to have heard their names, and to wonder
out of what dungheap they had sprung.

At that time the quintessence of society in the town consisted of
such as were called upon and returned the calls of the county
families. Now, alas, almost every country gentleman's house in the
neighborhood is no longer occupied by its ancient proprietors, and
is sold or let to successful tradespeople, so that the quintessence
of society in the town plumes itself on not knowing the occupants
of these stately mansions.

At that time the family that inhabited a house which had been
built fifty years before regarded with contempt those who occupied
one built only thirty years before. At that time those who had a
remote connection by cousinship twice removed with an Honorable,
deemed themselves justified in considering every one else, not so
privileged, as dishonorable.

Now all this is past, or is in process of passing away, and in
Guildford and its suburbs, as elsewhere, the old order changeth,
and the poll of a Parish Council teaches men their levels in the
general estimation.

Without much difficulty, Jonas Kink was able to discover where the
artist, Iver Verstage, had his house and his studio. The house was
small, in a side street, and the name was on the door.

Jonas was ushered into the workshop by an elderly maid, and then
saw Iver in a blouse with his arms tied about with string; a
mahl-stick in one hand and a brush in the other.

Iver was surprised to see the Broom-Squire, and indisposed to
welcome him. He purposely retained stick and brush in his hands,
so as not to be able to strike palms with the man who had deprived
him of the woman he admired and loved best in the world; and whom
he suspected of misusing her.

Jonas looked about the studio, and his eye was caught by a picture
of Mehetabel at the well head. The young artist had devoted his
best efforts to finishing his study, and working it up into an
effective and altogether charming painting.

The Broom-Squire held in the right hand the stick wherewith he had
thrashed old Clutch, and this he now transferred to the left,
whilst extending his right hand and forcing a smile on his leathery
face. The artist made a pretence of seeking out some place where
he could put down the articles encumbering his hands, but finding
none, he was unable to return the salutation.

"Let bygones be bygones," said Jonas, and he dropped his hand.
"Fine pictur' that, very like my wife. What, now, have you sold
that for?"

"It is not sold at all. I do not think I shall part with the
painting."

"Why not?" asked Jonas, with a malevolent twinkle in his eyes and
a flush on his cheek-bones.

"Because it is a good sample of my ability which I can show to
such as come as customers, and also because it reminds me of an
old friend."

"Then you may take my portrait," said Jonas, "and sell this. Mine
will do as well, and you knowed me afore you did Matabel."

"That is true," laughed Iver, "but I am not sure that you would
make so striking subject, so inspiring to the artist. Did you
come all the way from the Punch-Bowl to see the painting?"

"No, I didn't," answered Jonas.

"Then had you business in the town?"

"None particular."

"Was it to give me the pleasure of seeing you and asking after
old friends at Thursley?"

"Old friends," sneered Bideabout; "much the like o' you cares for
them as is old. It's the young and the bloomin' as is to your
fancy. And I reckon it ain't friends as you would ask about, but
a friend, and that's Matabel. Well, I don't mind tellin' of yer
that she's got a baby, but I s'pose you've heard that, and the
child ain't over strong and healthy, such as ort to be in the
Punch-Bowl, where we're all hard as nails."

"Aye, not in physique only?"

"I don't know nothin about physic. I didn't take it when I were
poorly, and nobody ever did in the Punch-Bowl as I've heard tell
on. I sent once to Gorlmyn (Godalming) for a sleepin' draught,
when I were bad wi' that shot in my shoulder as you knows of. But
I never took it, not I."

"So you've come to see me?"

"Oh, yes, I've come, civil and neighbor-like, to see you."

"What about? Will you sit down?"

"Thanky, I just about like to stand. Yes, I've come to see you--on
business."

"On business!"

"Yes, on business. You're trustee, I hear, for the child."

"To be sure I am. Mother put away a hundred pounds, and father has
added fifty to it--and it is for your little one, some day."

"Well," said Jonas, "what I've come about is I wants it now."

"What, the hundred and fifty pounds?"

"Aye, I reckon the hundred and fifty pounds."

"But the money is not left to you."

"I know it b'aint; I want it for the child."

"You are not going to have it."

"Look here. Master Iver Verstage, you never ort to ha' been made
trustee for my child. It's so much as puttin' a slight and an
insult on me. If that child be mine then I'm the one as should
have the trust. Don't I know best what the child wants? Don't I
know best how to lay it out for its advantage? The money ort to
ha' been put in my hands and in none other. That's my opinion."

"Bideabout!" answered Iver, "it is not a question as to what my
father and mother should have done. I did not seek to be made
trustee. It was a freak on the part of my dear mother. As she has
done it, there it is; neither you nor I can alter that."

"Yes. You can renounce trusteeship."

"That will not help. Then I suppose the money would go into
Chancery, and would be consumed there without any of it reaching
the child."

Jonas considered, and then shook his head.

"You can hand it over to me."

"Then I should be held responsible and have to refund when the
little fellow comes of age."

"He may never come of age."

"That neither you nor I can tell."

"Now look here," said the Broom-Squire, assuming an air of
confidence, "between you and me, as old acquaintances, and
me as gave you the feathers out o' a snipe's wing to make your
first brush--and, so to speak, launched you in your career of
greatness--between you and me I'm in an awkward perdic'ment.
Through the failure of the Wealden Bank, of which you've heard
tell, I've lost pretty much everything as I had managed to save
through years of toil and frugality. And now I'm menaced in my
little property. I don't know as I shall be able to hold it,
unless some friend comes to the help. Well, now, who'll that
little property go to but my son--that there precious darlin'
baby as we're talkin' about. He'll grow out o' his squawlin',
and he'll want his property unincumbered and clear, as it came
to me. That I can't give him unless helped. I don't ask that
there hundred and fifty pounds for myself. I know very well that
I can't have it for myself. But I demand it for the child; it is
now or never can the little estate in the Punch-Bowl be saved
from fallin' into the hands of them darned lawyers. A stitch in
time saves nine, and a little help now may be all that is wanted
to keep the property clean and clear and unembarrassed wi' debt.
If once we get our heads under water we'll all get drowned, me
and Matabel and the kid--sure as crabs ain't garden apples."

"That may be very true, Bideabout," answered Iver, "but for all
that I cannot let the money out of my control."

"Ain't you bound to spend it on the child?"

"I am bound to reserve it whole and intact for the child."

"But can you not see," persisted Jonas, "that you are doing that
for the child, it would wish above all, when come to years of
discretion."

"That is possible, but my hands are tied."

"In truth you will not."

"I cannot."

"I don't believe you. It is because you want to spite me that you
will not help."

"Not at all, Bideabout. I wish well to the child and its mother,
and, of course, to you. But I cannot break a trust."

"You will not?"

"If no other word will suit you--be it so--I will not."

Jonas Kink fumed blood red.

"You think to have me there. I shouldn't be surprised but it's you
who are at the bottom of all--and will buy me up and buy me out,
that you and Matabel may have the place to yourselves. It shall
never be. I know what was meant when Sanna Verstage made you
trustee. I am to be reckoned with. I can assure you of that. I
shall find means to keep my property from you and my wife also."

He raised his stick and fell to beating the picture of Mehetabel
with it; till it was rent to rags.

"Not even her picture shall you have--and I would it were her I
were slashin' and breakin' to pieces as I've done to this picture.
It may come to that in the end--but out of my power and into your
hands she shall never go."



CHAPTER XXXV.

THE ONLY CHANGE


Jonas Kink, after much objurgation and persuasion, had induced
old Clutch to leave his stable at Guildford, and return home by
way of Godalming.

But the horse was unfamiliar with the road. He had been ridden
along it in reverse direction in the morning, but, as every
one knows, a way wears quite a different aspect under such
circumstances. Old Clutch was mistrustful. Having been taken such
an unprecedentedly long journey, he was without confidence that his
master might not prolong the expedition to a still further distance.
Accordingly he was exceedingly troublesome and unmanageable on the
road from Guildford, and his behavior served to work the temper of
Jonas to the extremity of irritability.

The horse, on approaching Godalming, began to limp. Bideabout
descended, and examined each hoof. He could see no stone there,
nothing to account for the lameness of old Clutch, which, however,
became so pronounced as he entered the street of the little town
that he was obliged to stable the beast, and rest it.

Then he went direct to the offices of a small attorney of the name
of Barelegs, who had been engaged on his business.

As he entered the office, Mr. Barelegs looked up from a deed he
was reading, turned his head, and contemplated his client.

There was something in his manner that angered Jonas, already
excited and inclined to be annoyed at trifles, and he said
irritably,--

"You look at me. Mister Barelegs, just as does old Clutch when I
come into the stable, expectin' a feed of corn, he does."

"And no doubt he deserves it."

"He thinks he does, but he don't."

"And no doubt he gets his feed."

"There is doubt about it. He gets it when I choose to give it,
not when he glowers at me--that way, he's wonderful artificial is
old Clutch."

"I dare be sworn, Mr. Kink, if he has served you well, he expects
to be paid for it."

"He's an owdacious old Radical," observed Jonas. "Just now he's
shamming lame, becos I rode him into Guildford, and he likes the
inn here. There's an old broken-winded, galled gray mare, I reckon
he's set his fancy on in the same yard, and I'm pretty sure this
lameness means nothin' more nor less than that he wants to be
a-courtin'. To see them two hosses, when they meet, rubbin' heads,
is enough to make a fellow sick. And Clutch, at his age too--when
he ort to be thinkin' of his latter end!"

"We've all our little weaknesses, Mr. Kink, man and beast alike.
You courted--not so long ago."

"I never courted in the ridic'lous fashion of other folks. I'd
none of your yardin', and aiblen' to aiblen', and waistin'."

"What do you mean, Mr. Kink?"

"Don't you know the three stages o' courtin here? Fust o' all,
the young pair walks each other about a yard apart--that's yardin'.
Then they gits more familiar, and takes each other's arms. That's
wot we calls in these parts aiblen' to aiblen', and last, when
they curls their arms round each other, won'erful familiar, that's
called waistin'. No, I never went through none o' them courses in
my courtship. I weren't such a fool. But I was tellin' you about
old Clutch."

"I want to hear about that party. What if he does not receive his
feed. Doesn't he kick?"

Jonas laughed ironically.

"He tried that on once. But I got a halter, and fastened it to
his tail by the roots, and made a loop t'other end, and when he
put up his heels I slipped one into the loop, and he nigh pulled
his tail off at the stump."

"Then, perhaps he bites."

"He did try that on," Jonas admitted, "but he won't try that on
again."

"How did you cure him of biting?" asked the solicitor.

"I saw what he was up to, when I was a-grooming of him. He tried
to get hold of my arm. I was prepared for him. I'd slipped my arm
out o' my sleeve and stuffed the sleeve with knee-holm (butcher's
broom), and when he bit he got the prickles into his mouth so as
he couldn't shut it again, but stood yawnin' as if sleepy till I
pulled 'em out. Clutch and I has our little games together--the
teasy old brute--but I'm generally too much for him." After a
little consideration Bideabout added, "It's only on the road I
find him a little too cunnin' for me. Now he's pretendin to be
lame, all 'long of his little love-affair with that gray hoss.
Sometimes he lies down in the middle of the road. If I had my
fowlin' piece I'd shoot off blank cartridge under his belly, and
wouldn't old Clutch go up all fours into the air; but he knows well
enough the gun is at home. Let old Clutch alone for wickedness."

"Well, Mr. Kink, you haven't come here to get my assistance against
old Clutch, have you?"

"No," said Bideabout. "That's gospel. I ain't come here to
tell about old Clutch; and it ain't against him as I want your
assistance. It is against Iver Verstage, the painter chap at
Guildford."

"What has he been doing?"

"Nuthin'! that's just it. He's made treasurer, trustee, or whatever
you're pleased to call it, for my baby; and I want the money out."

"Out of his pocket and into yours?"

"Exactly. I don't see why I'm to have all the nussin' and feedin'
 and clothin' of the young twoad, and me in difficulties for money,
and he all the while coaxing up a hundred and fifty pounds, and
laying of it out, and pocketin' the interest, and I who have all
the yowls by night, and the washin' and dressin' and feedin' and
all that, not a ha'penny the better."

"How does this person you name come to be trustee for the child?"

"Becos his mother made him so; and that old idjot of a Simon
Verstage, his father, goes and makes the sum bigger by addin'
fifty pounds to her hundred, so now there's this tidy little sum
lies doin no good to nobody."

"I cannot help you. You cannot touch the principal till the child
is of age, and then it will go to the child, and not you."

"Why! that's twenty-one years hence. That's what I call reg'lar
foreright (awkward); and worse than foreright, it's unreasonable.
The child is that owdacious in the cradle, I shouldn't be surprised
when he's of age he would deny me the money."

"The interest will be paid to you."

"What is that--perhaps sixpence in the year. Better than nuthin',
but I want the lot of it. Look you here, Master Barelegs, I know
very well that I owe you money. I know very well that unless I can
raise two hundred pounds, and that pretty smart, I shall have to
mortgage my little bit of land to you. I don't forget that. But
I daresay you'd rather have the money down than my poor little
bit of lean and ribby take out o' the common. You shall have the
money if you'll help me to get it. If I can't get that money into
my fingers--I'm a done man. But it's not only that as troubles me.
It is that the Rocliffes, and the Snellings, and the Boxalls, and
Jamaica Cheel will make my life miserable. They'll mock at me, and
I shall be to them just as ridic'lous an object as was Thomas
Rocliffe after he'd lost his Countess. That's twenty-three years
agone, and he can't get over it. Up comes the Countess Charlotte
on every occasion, whenever any one gets across with him. It will
be the same with me. I told 'em all to their faces that I had got
them into my power, and just as the net was about to snap--then
the breaking of the bank upset all my reckonings, and spoiled the
little game--and what is worse, has made me their sport. But I
won't stand no nonsense from old Clutch, nor will I from them."

"I confess I do not quite understand about this money. Was it left
by will?"

"Left by will right enough," answered Bideabout. "You see the old
woman, Sanna Verstage, had a bit of property of her own when she
married, and then, when it came to her dyin', she set to write a
will, and wanted to leave a hundred pounds to the little twoad.
But she called up and consulted Simon, and he sed, 'Put on another
fifty, Sanna, and I'll make that up. I always had a likin' for
Matabel.' So that is how it came about as I've heard, and a
hundred pound came out of her estate, and Simon made up the other
fifty. And for why--but to spite me, I dun know, but they appointed
Iver to be trustee. Now, I'm in difficulties about the land. I
reckon when I'm dead it will go to the little chap, and go wi' all
the goodness drained out of it--acause I have had to mortgage it.
Whereas, if I could touch that money now, there'd be nothing of
the kind happen."

"I am very sorry for you," remarked the lawyer. "But that bequest
is beyond your reach so long as the child lives."

"What's that you say?"

"I say that unless the poor little creature should die, you cannot
finger the money."

"And if it did die, would it be mine?"

"Of course it would. By no other way can you get it, but, please
Heaven, the child may grow to be a strong man and outlive you."

"It's wonderful weakly," said Jonas, meditatively.

"Weakly in the cradle is sturdy at the table," answered the
solicitor, slightly altering a popular maxim.

"It's that peevish and perverse--"

"Then it takes after its father," laughed Mr. Barelegs. "You can't
complain of that, Kink."

The Broom-Squire took his hat and stick and rose to leave.

Mr. Barelegs stayed him with a wave of the hand, and, "A word with
you further, Mr. Kink. You gracefully likened me, just now, to
your horse Clutch expecting his feed of oats after having served
you well. Now I admit that, like Clutch, I have spent time and
thought and energy in your service, and, like Clutch, I expect my
feed of oats. I think we must have all clear and straight between
us, and that at once. I have made out my little account with you,
and here it is. You will remember that, acting on your instructions,
I have advanced money in certain transactions that have broken down
through the unfortunate turn in your affairs caused by the failure
of the Wealden Bank. There is a matter of two hundred, and something
you owe me for payments made and for services. I daresay you are a
little put about now, but it will be useful to you to know all your
liabilities so as to make provision for meeting them. I will not be
hard on you as a client, but, of course, you do not expect me to
make you a present of my money, and my professional service."

Jonas took the account reluctantly, and his jaw fell.

"I dare say," pursued the solicitor, "that among your neighbors
you may be able to borrow sufficient. The Rocliffes, your own
kinsmen, are, I fear, not very flush with money."

"Ain't got any to bless themselves with," said Jonas.

"But the Boxalls are numerous, and fairly flourishing. They have
probably put away something, and as neighbors and friends--"

"I've quarrelled with them. I can't borrow of them," growled
Bideabout.

"Then there are the Snellings--"

"I've offended them as well."

"But you have other friends."

"I haven't one."

"There is Simon Verstage, a warm man; he could help you in an
emergency."

"He's never been the same with me since I married Matabel, his
adopted daughter. He had other ideas for her, I fancy, and he is
short and nasty wi' me now. I can't ask him."

"Have you then, really, no friends?"

"Not one."

"Then there must be some fault in you, Kink. A man who goes through
life without making friends, and quarrels even with the horse that
carries him, is not one who will leave a gap when he passes out of
the world. I shall expect my money. If you see no other way of
satisfying me, I must have a mortgage on your holding. I'll not
press you at once--but, like Clutch, I shall want my feed of oats."

"Then," said Jonas, surlily, as he turned his hat about, and
looked down into it, "I don't see no other chance of gettin the
money than--"

"Than what?"

"That's my concern," retorted the Broom-Squire. "Now I'm goin' to
see whether old Clutch is ready--or whether he be shammin' still."



CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE SLEEPING DRAUGHT.


Jonas found that old Clutch was not lavishing endearments on the
gray mare over the intervening partition of stalls, but was lying
down on the straw. Nothing said or done would induce the horse to
rise, and the hostler told Bideabout that he believed the beast
was really lame. It had been overworked at its advanced age, and
must be afforded rest.

"He's a Radical," said the Broom-Squire. "You move that gray into
another stable and Clutch will forget about his lameness, I dare
swear. He's twenty-five and has a liquorish eye, still--it's
shameful."

Bideabout was constrained to walk from Godalming to the Punch-Bowl,
and this did not serve to mend his humor. He reached home late at
night, when the basin was full of darkness, and the only light
that showed came from the chamber where Mehetabel sat with her baby.

When Jonas entered, he saw by the rushlight that she was not
undressed, and heard by her voice that she was anxious.

"The baby is very unwell, Jonas," she said, and extending her hand,
lit a tallow candle at the meagre flame of the rushlight.

As the wick flared, so did something flare up in the face of the
Broom-Squire.

"Why do you look like that?" asked Mehetabel, for the look did not
escape her.

"Main't I look as I choose?" he inquired surlily.

"It almost seemed as if you were glad to hear that my poor darling
is ill," complained she.

"Ain't I glad to be home after bein' abroad all day a-wackin', and
abusin' of old Clutch, and then had to walk from Gorlmyn (Godalming),
and the aggravation of knowin' how as the hoss be shakin' his sides
laughin' at me for doin of it. Wot's up with the kid?"

"I really cannot tell, Jonas; he's been restless and moaning all
day. I have not been able to get him to sleep, and I am sure he
has had one or two fits. He became white and stiff. I thought he'd
a-died, and then my heartstrings were like breaking."

"Oh, drat your heartstrings, I don't care to hear of them. So, you
thort he was dyin'. Perhaps he may. More wun'erful things happen
than that. It's the way of half the babies as is born."

"It will kill me if mine is taken from me!" cried Mehetabel, and
cast herself on her knees and embraced the cradle, regardless of
the sprigs of spiked leaves she had stuck round it, and burst into
an agony of tears.

"Now look here," said Jonas; "I've been tried enough wi' old Clutch
to-day, and I don't want to be worreted at night wi' you. Let the
baby sleep if it is sleepin', and get me my vittles. There's others
to attend to in the world than squawlin' brats. It's spoilin' the
child you are. That's what is the meanin' of its goings-on. Leave
it alone, and take no notice, and it'll find out quick enough that
squeals don't pay. I want my supper. Go after the vittles."

Mehetabel lay in her clothes that night. The child continued to be
restless and fretted. Jonas was angry. If he was out all day he
expected to rest well at night; and she carried the cradle in her
arms into the spare room, where the peevishness of the child, and
the rocking and her lullaby could not disturb her husband. As she
bore the cradle, the sprigs of butcher's broom and withered
chrysanthemums fell and strewed her path, leaving behind her a
trail of dying flowers, and of piercing thorns, and berries like
blood-drops. No word of sympathy had the Broom-Squire uttered; no
token had he shown that he regarded her woes and was solicitous
for the welfare of his child. Mehetabel asked for neither. She had
learned to expect nothing from him, and she had ceased to demand
of him what he was incapable of giving, or unwilling to show.

Next morning Mehetabel was prompt to prepare breakfast for her
husband. The day was fine, but the light streaming in through the
window served to show how jaded she was with long watching, with
constant attention, and with harrowing care.

Always punctilious to be neat, she had smoothed her hair, tidied
her dress, and washed the tears from her face, but she could not
give brightness to the dulled eye or bloom to the worn cheek.

For a while the child was quiet, stupefied with weariness and long
crying. By the early light Mehetabel had studied the little face,
hungering after tokens of recovering powers, glad that the drawn
features were relaxed temporarily.

"Where are you going to-day, Bideabout?" she asked, timidly,
expecting a rebuff.

"Why do you ask?' was his churlish answer.

"Because--oh! if I might have a doctor for baby!"

"A doctor!" he retorted. "Are we princes and princesses, that we
can afford that? There's no doctor nigher than Hazelmere, and I
ain't goin' there. I suppose cos you wos given the name of a
Duchess of Edom, you've got these expensive ideas in your head.
Wot's the good of doctors to babies? Babies can't say what ails
them."

"If--if--" began Mehetabel, kindly, "if I might have a doctor, and
pay for it out of that fifteen pound that father let me have."

"That fifteen pound ain't no longer yours. And this be fine game,
throwin' money away on doctors when we're on the brink of ruin.
Don't you know as how the bank has failed, and all my money gone?
The fifteen pound is gone with the rest."

"If you had but allowed me to keep it, it would not have been lost
now," said Mehetabel.

"I ain't goin' to have no doctors here," said Bideabout, positively,
"but I'll tell you what I'll do, and that's about as much as can be
expected in reason. I'm goin' to Gorlmyn to fetch old Clutch; and
I'll see a surgeon there and tell him whatever you like--and get
a mixture for the child. But I won't pay more than half-a-crown,
and that's wasted. I don't believe in doctors and their paint and
water, as they gives us."

Jonas departed, and then the tired and anxious mother again turned
to her child. The face was white spotted with crimson, the closed
lids blue.

There was no certainty when Bideabout would return, but assuredly
not before evening, as he walked to Godalming, and if he rode home
on the lame horse, the pace would be slower than a walk.

Surely she could obtain advice and help from some of the mothers
in the Punch-Bowl. Sally Rocliffe she would not consult. The gleam
of kindness that had shone out of her when Mehetabel was in her
trouble had long ago been quenched.

When the babe woke she muffled it in her shawl and carried the
mite to the cottage of the Boxalls. The woman of that family,
dark-skinned and gypsy-like, with keen black eyes, was within, and
received the young mother graciously. Mehetabel unfolded her
treasure and laid it on her knees--the child was now quiet, through
exhaustion.

"I'll tell y' what I think," said Karon Boxall, "that child has
been overlooked--ill-wished."

Mehetabel opened her eyes wide with terror.

"That's just about the long and short of it," continued Mrs. Boxall.
"Do you see that little vein there, the color of 'urts. That's a
sure sign. Some one bears the poor creature no love, and has cast
an evil eye on it."

The unhappy mother's blood ran chill. This, which to us seems
ridiculous and empty, was a grave and terrible reality to her mind.

"Who has done it?" she asked below her breath.

"That's not for me to say," answered the woman. "It is some one
who doesn't love the babe, that's sure."

"A man or a woman?"

Mrs. Boxall stooped over the infant.

"A woman," she said, with assurance. "The dark vein be on the left
han' side."

Mehetabel's thoughts ran to Sally Rocliffe. There was no other
woman who could have felt ill-feeling against the hapless infant,
now on her lap.

"What can I do?" she asked.

"There's nothin'. Misfortune and wastin' away will be to the
child--though they do say, if you was to take it to Thor's Stone,
and carry it thrice round, way of the sun, you might cast off the
ill-wish. But I can't say. I never tried it."

"I cannot take it there," cried Mehetabel, despairingly, "the
weather is too cold, baby too ill."

Then clasping the child to her bosom, and swaying herself, she
sobbed forth--

  "A little fish swims in the well.
   So in my heart does baby dwell,
   The king has sceptre, crown and ball,
   You are my sceptre, crown and all."

She went home sobbing, and hugging her child, holding it away from
the house of Sarah Rocliffe, lest that woman might be looking forth
at her window, and deepen by her glance the spell that held and
broke down her child.

Towards evening fall Jonas returned.

Directly he crossed the threshold, with palpitating eagerness
Mehetabel asked--

"Have you seen the doctor?"

"Yes," he answered curtly.

"What did he say?"

"He'd got a pass'l o' learned names of maladies--I can't recollect
them all. Tain't like as I should."

"But--did he give you any medicine?"

"Yes, I had to pay for it too."

"Oh, Jonas, do give it me, and tell me, are you quite sure you
explained to him exactly what ailed baby?"

"I reckon I did."

"And the bottle, Jonas?"

"Don't be in such a won'erful hurry. I've other things to do than
get that put yet. How is the child?"

"Rather better."

"Better!" he echoed, and Mehetabel, who looked intently in his
face, saw no sign of satisfaction, rather of disappointment.

"Oh, Jonas!" she cried, "is it naught to you that baby is so ill?
You surely don't want him to die?"

He turned fiercely on her, his face hard and gray, and his teeth
shining--

"What makes you say that--you?"

"Oh, nothin', Jonas, only you don't seem to care a bit about baby,
and rather to have a delight in his bein' so ill."

"He's better, you say?"

"Yes--I really do think it."

There was an unpleasant expression in his face that frightened her.
Was it the eye of Jonas that had blighted the child? But no--Karon
Boxall had said that it was ill-wished by a woman. Jonas left the
room, ascended the stairs, and strode about in the chamber overhead.

Swaying in her chair, holding the infant to her heart, the sole
heart that loved it, but loved it with a love ineffable, she heard
her husband open the window, and then hastily shut it again. Then
there was a pause in his movement overhead, and he came shortly
after down the stairs. He held a phial in his hand--and without
looking at Mehetabel, thrust it towards her, with the curt
injunction, "Take."

"Perhaps," said the young mother, "as my darling is better, I need
not give him the medicine."

"That's just like your ways," exclaimed the Broom-Squire, savagely.
"Fust I get no rest till I promise to go to the doctor, and then
when I've put myself about to go, and bring the bottle as has cost
me half-a-crown, you won't have it."

"Indeed--it is only----"

"Oh, yes--only--to annoy me. The child is ill. I told the doctor
all, and he said, that this would set it to rights and give it
sleep, and rest to all of us." He was in a bad temper. Mehetabel
did not venture to say more. She took the phial and placed it on
the table. It was not wrapped up in paper.

Then Jonas hastily went forth. He had old Clutch to attend to.

Mehetabel remained alone, and looked at the medicine bottle; then
she laid the infant on her knees and studied the little face, so
blanched with dark rings round the eyes. The tiny hands were drawn
up on the breast and clasped; she unfolded and kissed them.

Then she looked again at the phial.

There was something strange about it. The contents did not appear
to have been well mixed, the upper portion of the fluid was dark,
the lower portion white. How came this about? Jonas had ridden old
Clutch home, and the movements of the horse were not smooth. The
bottle in the pocket of Bideabout must have undergone such shaking
as would have made the fluid contents homogeneous and of one hue.
She held the bottle between herself and the light. There was no
doubt about it, either the liquid separated rapidly, or had never
been mixed.

She withdrew the cork and applied the mouth of the phial to her
nose.

The scent of the medicine was familiar. It was peculiar. When had
she smelt that odor before. Then she started. She remembered the
little bottle containing laudanum, with the death's head on it, in
the closet upstairs.

Hastily, her heart beating with apprehension, she laid her babe in
the cradle, and taking the light, mounted to the upper chamber. She
possessed the key of the cabinet in the wall. She had retained it
because afraid to give it up, and Jonas had manufactured for
himself a fresh key.

Now she unlocked the closet, and at once discovered the laudanum
bottle.

It was half empty.

Some of it had been used.

How had it been used? Of that she had little doubt. The dangerous,
sleep-bringing laudanum had been put into the medicine for the
child. It was to make room for that that Jonas had opened the
window and poured forth some of the contents.

A drop still hung on the top of the phial.

She shut and relocked the cupboard, descended, with dismay, despair
in her heart, and taking the bottle from the table, dashed it into
the fire upon the hearth. Then she caught her babe to her, and
through floods of tears, sobbed: "There is none love thee but
I--but I--but only I! O, my babe, my babe! My sceptre, crown, and
all!"

In the blinding rain of tears, in the tumult of passion that
obscured her eyes, that confused her brain, Mehetabel saw, heard
nothing. She had but one sense--that of feeling, that thrilled
through one fibre only attached to the helpless, suffering morsel
in her arms--the infant she held to her breast, and which she would
have liked to bury in her heart away from all danger, concealed
from the malevolent eye, and the murderous hand.

All the mother's nature in her was roused and flared into madness.
She alone loved this little creature, she alone stood between it
and destruction. She would fight for it, defend it to her last
breath, with every weapon wherewith she was endowed by nature.

After the first paroxysm of passion was passed, and a lull of
exhaustion ensued, she looked up, and saw Bideabout enter, and
as he entered he cast a furtive glance at the table, then at the
child.

In a moment she resolved on the course she should adopt.

"Have you given the babe the draught?" he asked, with averted face.

"Not all."

"Of course, not all."

"Will it make baby sleep?" asked Mehetabel.

"O, sleep--sleep! yes--we shall have rest for one night--for many,
I trust. O, do not doubt. It will make it sleep!"



CHAPTER XXXVII.

A MENACED LIFE.


As soon as the Broom-Squire had gone out again to the "hog-pen," as a
pigstye is called in Surrey, to give the pig its "randams and
crammins," because Mehetabel was unable to do this because unable
to leave the child, then she knelt by the hearth, put aside the
turves, and, regardless of the fire, groped for the fragments of
the broken phial, that nothing might betray to Bideabout her
having rejected the medicine with which he had tampered.

She cut and burnt her fingers, but in the excitement of her
feelings, was insensible to pain.

She had removed and secreted the glass before he returned. The babe
was sleeping heavily, and snoring.

When Jonas came in and heard the sound from the cradle, a look of
expectation came over his face.

"The child's burrin' like a puckeridge (night-jar)," he said.
"Shouldn't wonder if the medicine ain't done him a lot o' good. It
don't need a doctor to come and see to prescribe for a baby. All
that little ones want is good sleep, and natur' does the rest."

Owing to the annoyance caused to Bideabout by the child's
fretfulness during the night, Mehetabel occupied a separate
chamber, the spare bedroom, along with her babe, and spent her
broken nights under the great blue and white striped tent that
covered the bed.

She had enjoyed but little sleep for several nights, and her days
had been occupied by the necessary attention to the suffering child
and the cares of the household. Because the babe was ill, that was
no reason why his father's meals should be neglected, and because
the mother was overwrought, he was not disposed to relieve her of
the duties to the pigs and cows save on this one occasion.

That the poor little infant was really more at ease was obvious to
the mother's watchful eye and anxious heart, but whether this were
due to its malady, whatever that was, having taken a felicitous
turn, or to mere exhaustion of powers, she was unable to decide,
and her fears almost overbalanced her hopes.

She retired to sleep that night without much expectation of being
able to obtain sleep. Her nerves were overstrung, and at times
thought in her mind came to a standstill; it was as though a
sudden hush came on all within her, so that neither did heart
beat nor breath come. But for these pauses, her mind might have
given way, a string have snapped, and her faculties have fallen
into disorder.

It is said of Talleyrand that he needed no sleep, as his pulse
ceased to beat after a certain number of strokes, for a brief
space, and then resumed pulsation. During that pause, his physical
and mental powers had time for recuperation. Be that as it may, it
is certain that to some persons whose minds and feelings are put
to extraordinary tension, greatly prolonged, there do come these
halts in which all is blank, the brain ceases to think, and the
heart to feel, and such gaps in the sequence of thought and emotion
have a salutary effect.

Mehetabel did not undress. She had not put off her clothing for
several nights. The night was cold, and she would probably have
to be incessantly on the move, to meet the little sufferer's
necessities, as they arose, and to watch it, whenever her fears
prevailed over her hopes, and made her think that a protracted
quiet was ominous.

The only light in the room emanated from a smouldering rush,
sustained in a tall iron holder, the lower end of which was planted
in a block of oak, and stood on the floor. Such holders, now
become very scarce, were furnished with snuffers, so contrived
that the rushlight had to be taken out of its socket and snuffed
by them, instead of their being brought to the rush.

Of rushlights there were two kinds, one, the simplest, consisted
of a dry rush dipped in a little grease. The light emitted from
such a candle was feeble in the extreme. The second, a superior
rushlight, had the rush pealed of its bark with the exception of
one small strip which held the pith from breaking. This pith was
dipped in boiling fat, and when the tallow had condensed it was
dipped again, and the candle given as many coats as was desired.
Such a rushlight was a far more useful candle, and if it did not
emit as large a flame and give forth so much light as a dip which
had a cotton wick it was sufficient to serve most purposes for
which in a farmhouse artificial illumination was required.

The first and inferior sort of rushlight was that which Matabel
allowed herself for the sick-room.

When she laid her head on the pillow and threw the patched-work
quilt over her shoulders the cool of the pillow struck through
her head and relieved the fire that had raged therein.

She could not sleep.

She thought over what had happened. She considered Bideabout's
action as calmly as possible. Was it conceivable that he should
seek the life of his own child? He had shown it no love, but it
was a far cry from lack of parental affection to deliberate
attempt at murder.

What gain would there be to him in the death of his child? She
was too innocent and simple to think of Mrs. Verstage's bequest
as supplying the motive. As far as she could find there was nothing
to account for Jonas' desire to hasten the child's death save
weariness at its cries which distressed him at night, and this
was no adequate reason. There was another, but that she put from
her in disgust. Bad as Bideabout might be she could not credit him
with that.

What was that bottle which Jonas had been given by the doctor when
his arm was bound up? Of laudanum she knew nothing, but remembered
that it had been recommended as a means for giving him the rest he
so required. It was a medicine intended to produce sleep. He had
refused it because afraid lest he should administer to himself,
or have administered to him, an overdose which would cause him to
sleep too soundly, and slide away into the slumber of death.

It was possible that the surgeon at Godalming knew that Jonas
possessed this phial, and had given him the medicine for the child
along with instructions as to how many drops of the laudanum he
was to add to the mixture, to make it serve its proper purpose.

If that were so, then the Broom-Squire had acted as directed by a
competent person and for the good of his child, and she, his wife,
had cruelly, wickedly, misjudged him. Gentle, generous, incapable
of harboring an evil thought, Matabel at once and with avidity
seized on this solution, and applied it to her heart to ease its
pain and relieve the pressure that weighed on it.

Under the lightening of her anxiety caused by this Mehetabel fell
asleep, for how long she was unable to guess. When she awoke it was
not that she heard the cry of her child, but that she was aware of
a tread on the floor that made the bed vibrate.

Instead of starting up, she unclosed her eyes, and saw in the
room a figure that she at once knew was that of Jonas. He was
barefooted, and but partially dressed. He had softly unhasped the
door and stolen in on tip-toe. Mehetabel was surprised. It was
not his wont to leave his bed at night, certainly not for any
concern he felt relative to the child; yet now he was by the
cradle, and was stooping over it with his head turned, so that
his ear was applied in a manner that showed he was listening to
the child's breathing. As his face was turned the feeble light of
the smouldering rushlight was on it.

Mehetabel did not stir. It was a pleasing revelation to her that
the father's heart had warmed to his child, and that he was
sufficiently solicitous for the feeble life to be disturbed
thereby at night.

Jonas remained listening for a minute, then he rose erect and
retreated from the chamber on tiptoe and closed the door noiselessly
behind him.

A smile of pleasure came on Mehetabel's lips, the first that had
creamed them for many a week, and she slipped away again into
sleep, to be aroused after a brief period by the restlessness and
exclamations of the child that woke with hunger.

Then promptly she rose up, went to the cradle, and lifted the
child out, coaxed it and sang to the infant as she seated herself
on the bedside nursing it.

As she swayed herself, holding the child, the door that was ajar
opened slightly, and by the feeble light of the rush she could
discern something without, and the flame was reflected in human
eyes.

"Is that you, Jonas?" she called.

There was no reply, but she could hear soft steps withdrawing in
the direction of his room.

"He is ashamed of letting me see how anxious he is, how really
fond of the poor pet he is in heart." As the child's hands relaxed,
and it sobbed off to sleep, Mehetabel laid it again in the cradle.
It was abundantly evident that the infant was getting better. In a
couple of days, doubtless, it would be well.

Glad of this, relieved of the care that had gnawed at her heart, she
now slipped between the sheets of the bed. The babe would probably
sleep on till dawn, and she could herself enjoy much-needed rest.

Then she dreamt that she and her little one were in a fair garden
full of flowers; the child had grown somewhat and could enjoy play.
She thought that she was plucking violets and making a crown for
her baby's head, and then a little staff covered with the same
purple, fragrant flowers, to serve as sceptre, and that she
approached her little one on her knees, and bent to it, and sang:--

  "The king has sceptre, crown and ball,
   You are my sceptre, crown, and all!"

But then there fell a shadow on them, and this shadow cut off all
light from her and from her child. She looked and saw Jonas. He
said nothing, but stood where the sun shone and he could obscure it.

She lifted her babe and moved it away from the blighting shadow
into warmth and brightness once more. Yet was this but for a
moment, as again the shadow of Jonas fell over them. Once more
she moved the child, but with like result. Then with a great effort
she rose from her knees, carrying the child to go away with it,
far, far from Jonas--and in her effort to do so woke.

She woke to see by the expiring rush-candle and the raw light of
early dawn, that the Broom-Squire was in the room, and was stooping
over the cradle. Still drunk with sleep, she did not stir, did not
rally her senses at once.

Then she beheld how he lifted the pillow from under the infants
head, went down on his knees, and thrust the pillow in upon the
child's face, holding it down resolutely with a hand on each side.

With a shriek of horror, Mehetabel sprang out of bed and rushed
at him, stayed his arms, and unable to thrust them back, caught
the cradle and plucked it to her, and released the babe, that
gasped--seized it in her arms, glued it to her bosom, and dashing
past Jonas before he had risen to his feet, ran down the stairs,
and left the house--never to enter it again.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

SHUT OUT.


A raw gray morning.

Mehetabel had run forth into it with nothing over her head, no
shawl about her shoulders, with hair tangled, and eyes dazed,
holding her child to her heart, with full resolve never again to
set foot across the threshold of the farmhouse of Jonas Kink.

No doubt whatever remained now in her mind that the Broom-Squire
had endeavored to compass the death of his child, first by means
of poison, and then by suffocation.

Nothing would ever induce her again to risk the precious life of
her child at his hands. She had no thought whither she should go,
how she should live--her sole thought was to escape from Jonas,
and by putting a distance between herself and him, place the infant
beyond danger.

As she ran up the lane from the house she encountered Sally Rocliffe
at the well head.

"Where be you goyne to, like that; and with the child, too?" asked
the woman.

Mehetabel drew the little face of the babe to her, lest the eye of
its aunt should light on it. She could not speak, palpitating with
fear, as she was.

"What be you runnin' out for this time o' the mornin'?" asked Mrs.
Rocliffe again.

"I cannot tell you," gasped the mother.

"But I will know."

"I shall never, never go back again," cried Mehetabel.

"Oh! he's kicked you out, has he? That's like Jonas."

"I'm runnin' away.

"And where be yo goyne to?"

"I don't know."

"But I do," said Mrs. Rocliffe with a chuckle.

Mehetabel gave no thought to her words. She thrust past her, and
ran on.

Fear, love, gave strength to her limbs. She had no consideration
for herself, that she was dishevelled and incompletely clad, that
she had eaten nothing; she sped up the side of the Common, to
escape from the Punch-Bowl, the place where she had weltered in
misery. There was no hope for her and her child till she had
escaped from that.

In the cold air, charged with moisture, the larks were singing.
A ploughboy was driving his horses to the field that was to be
turned up by the share.

As she passed him he stared at her with surprise. She reached the
village. The blacksmith was up and about; he was preparing to put
a tire on a cart-wheel. For this purpose he had just kindled a
fire of turf "bats," that were heaped round the fire on the ground
outside the forge. He looked up with astonishment as Mehetabel
sped past, and cast to her the question, "Wot's up?" which,
however, she did not stay to answer.

She made no tarry till she reached the Ship Inn. There she entered
the porch, and would have gone through the door into the house,
had she not been confronted by Polly, the maid, who at that moment
was coming up the passage from the bar.

Polly made no attempt to give room for Mehetabel to pass; she
saluted her with a stare and a look at her from head to feet, full
of insolence.

"Wot do you want?" asked the girl.

"I wish to see and speak to father," answered Mehetabel.

"I always heard as your father lies in Thursley Churchyard,"
answered the servant.

"I mean I should like to speak with Mr. Verstage."

"Oh! the landlord?"

"Yes; the landlord. Where is he?"

"Don' know. Somewhere about, I reckon."

"It is cold, and my child is ill. I would go into the kitchen, by
the fire."

"Why don't you then go home?"

"I have no home."

"Oh! it's come to that, is it?"

"Yes. Let me in."

"No, indeed. This ain't the place for you. If you think you're
goyne to be mistress and order about here you're mistaken. You go
along; I'm goyne to shut the door."

Mehetabel had not the spirit to resent this insolence.

She turned in the porch and left the inn, that had once been her
home, and the only home in which she had found happiness.

She made her way to the fields that belonged to Simon Verstage,
and after wandering through a ploughed glebe she found him.

"Ah, Matabel!" said he, "glad to see you. What brings you here so
early in the day?"

"Dear father, I cannot tell you all, but I have left Bideabout.
I can stay with him no longer, something has happened. Do not
press me to tell--at least not now. I can never return to the
Punch-Bowl. Will you take me in?"

The old man mused.

"I'll consult Polly. I don't know what she'll say to it. I'm rather
dependent on her now. You see, I know nothing of the house, I
always put that into Susanna's charge, and now poor Sanna is gone,
Polly has taken the management. Of course, she makes mistakes, but
wun'erfully few. In fact, it is wun'erful how she fits into Sanna's
place, and manages the house and all--just as if she had been
brought up to it. I'll go and ask her. I couldn't say yes without,
much as I might wish."

Mehetabel shook her head.

The old man was become feeble and dependent. He had no longer a
will of his own:

"I will not trouble you, dear father, to ask Polly. I am quite
sure what her answer will be. I must go further. Who is Guardian?"

"That's Timothy Puttenham, the wheelwright."

Then Mehetabel turned back in the direction of the village and
came in front of the shop. Puttenham and his apprentice were
engaged on the fire, and Mehetabel stood, with the babe folded
in her arms, watching them at work. They might not be disturbed
at the critical period when the tire was red hot and had to be
fitted to the wheel.

A circle of flame and glowing ashes and red-hot iron was on the
ground. At a little distance lay a flat iron disc, called the
"platform"; with a pole in the centre through which ran a spindle.
On this metal plate lay a new cast wheel, and the wright with a
bar screwed a nut so as to hold the cart-wheel down firmly on the
"platform."

"Now, boy, the pincers!"

Then he, grasping a long pair of forceps, his apprentice with
another, laid hold of the glowing tire, and raising it from the
fire carried it scintillating to the wheel, lifted it over the
spindle, and dropped it about the woodwork. Then, at once, they
seized huge hammers and began to belabor the tire, to drive it
on to the wheel, which smoked and flamed.

"Water, boy, water!"

The apprentice threw water from a pitcher over the tire throughout
its circumference, dulling its fire, and producing clouds of steam.

Mehetabel, well aware that at this juncture the wright must not be
interfered with, drew close to the fire, and kneeling by it warmed
herself and the sleeping child, whilst she watched the sturdy men
whirling their hammers and beating the tire down into place around
the wheel.

At length the wright desisted. He leaned on his great hammer; and
then Mehetabel timidly addressed him.

"Please, Mr. Puttenham, are you not Guardian of the Poor?"

"Certainly, Mrs. Kink."

"May I be put in the Poors' House?"

"You!"

The wheelwright opened his eyes very wide.

"Yes, Mr. Puttenham, I have no home."

"Why, Matabel! What is the sense of this? Your home is in the
Punch-Bowl."

"I have left it."

"Then you must return to it again."

"I cannot. Take me into the Poors' House."

"My good girl, this is rank nonsense. The Poor House is not for
you, or such as you."

"I need its shelter more than most. I have no home."

"Are you gone off your head?"

"No, sir. My mind is sound, but to the Punch-Bowl I cannot, and
will not, return. No, never!"

"Matabel," said the wheelwright, "I suppose you and Jonas have had
a quarrel. Bless you! Such things happen in married life, over and
over again, and you'll come together and love each other all the
better for these tiffs. I know it by experience."

"I cannot go back! I will not go back!"

"It is not cannot or will not--it is a case of must. That is your
home. But this I will do for you. Go in and ask my old woman to
let you have some breakfast, and I'll send Jack"--he signed to his
apprentice--"and bid him tell Bideabout where you are, and let
him fetch you. We mustn't have a scandal."

"If Jonas comes, I shall run away."

"Whither?"

That Mehetabel could not say.

"Where can you go? Nowhere, save to your husband's house. For
God's sake!" he suddenly exclaimed, knocking his hammer on the
tire, "don't say you are going to Guildford--to Iver Verstage."

Mehetabel raised her heavy eyes, and looked the wheelwright
frankly in the face. "I would rather throw myself and baby into
one of the Hammer Ponds than do that."

"Right! You're a good gal. But there was no knowing. Folks talk.
Come in! You shall have something--and rest a while."

The kind, well-intentioned man laid his large hand on her shoulder
and almost forced her, but gently, towards the house. She would
not enter the door till he had promised not to send for Jonas.

Selena Puttenham, the wright's wife, was a loquacious and inquisitive
woman, and she allowed Mehetabel no rest. She gave her bread and
milk with readiness, and probed her with questions which Mehetabel
could not answer without relating the whole horrible truth, and
this she was resolved not to do.

The wright was busy, and could not remain in his cottage. The wife,
with the kindest intentions, was unable to restrain herself from
putting her guest on the rack. The condition of Mehetabel was one
to rouse curiosity. Why was she there, with her baby, in the early
morning? Without having even covered her head; fasted and jaded?
Had there been a quarrel. If so--about what? Had Bideabout beaten
her? Had he thrust her out and locked the door? If so, in what had
she offended him? Had she been guilty of some grievous misdemeanor?

At length, unable further to endure the torture to which she was
subjected, Mehetabel sprang up, and insisted on leaving the cottage.

Without answering Mrs. Puttenham's question as to whither she was
going, what were her intentions, the unhappy girl hastened out of
the village clasping in her arms the child, which had begun to sob.

And now she made her way towards Witley, of which Thursley was a
daughter parish. She would find the Vicar, who had always treated
her with consideration, and even affection. The distance was
considerable, in her weary condition, but she plodded on in hopes.
He was a man of position and authority, and she could trust him to
protect her and the child. To him she would tell all, in confidence
that he would not betray her secret.

At length, so fagged that she could hardly walk, her arms cramped
and aching, her nerves thrilling, because the child was crying,
and would not be comforted, she reached the Vicarage, and rang at
the back door bell. Some time elapsed before the door was opened;
and then the babe was screaming so vociferously, and struggling in
her arms with such energy, that she was not able to make herself
heard when she asked for the Parson.

The woman who had answered the summons was a stranger, consequently
did not know Mehetabel. She made signs to her to go away.

The cries of the child became more violent, and the mother's
efforts were directed towards pacifying it. "Let me come in, I
pray! I pray!" she asked with a brow, in spite of the cold, bathed
in perspiration.

"I cannot! I must not!" answered the woman. She caught her by the
arm, drew her aside, and said--"Do you not know? Look! the blinds
are all down. He died in the night!"

"Dead!" cried Mehetabel, reeling back. "My God! whither shall I go?"



CHAPTER XXXIX.

AT THE SILK MILL.


Mehetabel sank on the grass by the drive.

"I am worn out. I can go no further," she said, and bowed her head
over the child.

"You cannot remain here. It is not seemly--a house of mourning,"
said the woman.

"He would not mind, were he alive," sobbed Mehetabel. "He would
have cared for me and my babe; he was always kind."

"But he is not alive; that makes the difference," said the servant.
"You really must still the child or go away."

"I cannot go another step," answered Mehetabel, raising her head
and sinking it again, after she had spoken.

"I don't know what to do. This is unreasonable; I'll go call the
gardener. If you won't go when asked you must be removed by force."

The woman retired, and presently the gardener came up. He knew
Mehetabel--that is to say, knew who she was.

"Come," said he, "my cottage is just yonder. You must not remain
here on the green, and in the cold. No wonder the child screams.
There is a fire in my house, and you can have what you like for a
while, till you are rested. Give me your hand."

Mehetabel allowed him to raise her, and she followed him mechanically
from the drive into the cottage, that was warm and pleasant.

"There now, missus," said the man; "make yourself comfortable for
an hour or two."

The rest, the warmth, were grateful to Mehetabel. She was almost
too weary to thank the man with words, but she looked at him with
gratitude, and he felt that her heart was over full for her to
speak. He returned to his work, and left her to herself. There was
no one else in the cottage, as he was a widower, and had no family.

After a considerable time, when Mehetabel had had time to recruit
her strength, he reappeared. The short winter day was already
closing in. The cold black vapors rose over the sky, obscuring the
little light, as though grudging the earth its brief period of
illumination.

"I thought I'd best come, you know," said the man, "just to tell
you that I'm sorry, but I can't receive you here for the night.
I'm a widower, and folk might talk. Why are you from home?"

"I ran away. I cannot return to the Punch-Bowl."

"Well, now. That's curious!" said the gardener. "Time out of mind
I've had it in my head to run away when my old woman was rampageous.
I've knowed a man who actually did run to Americay becos his wife
laid on him so. But I never, in my experience, heard of a woman
runnin' away from her husband, that is to say--alone. You ain't
got no one with you, now?"

"Yes, my baby."

"I don't mean that. Well, it is coorious, a woman runnin' away
with her baby. I'm terrible sorry, but I can't take you in above
another half-hour. Where are you thinking of goyne to?"

"I know of no where and no one."

"Why not try Missus Chivers at Thursley. You was at her school, I
suppose?"

"Yes, I was there."

"Try her, and all will come right in the end."

Mehetabel rose; her child was now asleep.

"Look here," said the gardener. "Here's a nice plaid shawl, as
belonged to my missus, and a wun'erful old bonnet of hers--as the
cat has had kittens in since she went to her rest--and left me to
mine. You are heartily welcome. I can't let you turn out in the
cold with nothing on your head nor over your shoulders."

Mehetabel gladly accepted the articles of clothing offered her.
She had already eaten of what the man had placed on the table for
her, when he left the house. She could not burden him longer with
her presence, as he was obviously nervous about his character,
lest it should suffer should he harbor her. Thanking him, she
departed, and walked back to Thursley through the gathering gloom.

Betty Chivers kept a dame's school, in which she had instructed
the children of Thursley in the alphabet, simple summing, and in
the knowledge and fear of God. With the march of the times we have
abolished dames schools, and cut away thereby a means of livelihood
from many a worthy woman; but what is worse, have driven the little
ones into board schools, that are godless, where they are taught
to despise manual labor, and to grow up without moral principle.
Our schools are like dockyards, whence expensively-equipped vessels
are launched provided with everything except ballast, which will
prevent their capsizing in the first squall. The Vicar of Witley
had been one of those men, in advance of his time, who had initiated
this system.

Whatever of knowledge of good, and of discipline of conscience
Mehetabel possessed, was obtained from Mrs. Susanna Verstage, or
from old Betty Chivers.

We are told that if we cast our bread on the waters, we shall find
it after many days. But simple souls are too humble to recognize
it.

So was it with Goodie Chivers.

That Mehetabel, through all her trials, acted as a woman of
principle, clung to what she knew to be right, was due very largely
to the old dame's instructions, but Betty was too lowly-minded for
one instant to allow this, even to suspect it.

Our Board School masters and mistresses have quite as little
suspicion that they have sowed the seed which sprung up in the
youths who are dismissed from offices for defalcation, and the
girls who leave menial service to walk the streets.

Mrs. Chivers was glad to see Mehetabel when she entered. She had
heard talk about her--that she had run away from her husband, and
was wandering through the country with her babe; and having a
tender heart, and a care for all her old pupils, she had felt
anxious concerning her.

Mehetabel pleaded to be taken in for the night, and to this Mrs.
Chivers readily consented. She would share her bed with the mother
and the child, as well as her crust of bread and cup of thin tea.
Of milk, in her poverty, the old woman allowed herself but a few
drops, and of butter with her bread none at all.

Yet what she had, that she cheerfully divided with Mehetabel.

On the morrow, after a restful sleep, the young wife started for a
silk mill on one of those Hammer ponds that occupied a depression
in the Common. These ponds were formed at the time when iron was
worked in the district, and the ponds, as their name implies, were
for the storage of water to beat out the iron by means of large
hammers, set in motion by a wheel. When these ponds were constructed
is not known. The trees growing on the embankments that hold back
the water are of great size and advanced age.

One of these ponds, at the time of our tale, was utilized for a
silk mill.

On reaching the silk mill, she timidly asked for the manufacturer.
She knew him slightly, as he had been occasionally to the "Ship,"
where he had lodged a guest at one time when his house was full,
and at another to call on a fisherman who was an acquaintance, and
who was staying there. He was a blunt man, with a very round head
and a very flat face. His name was Lilliwhite. He had exchanged
words with Mehetabel when she was at the inn, and had always been
kindly in his address.

When she was shown into his office, as ill-luck would have it at
once the child became fretful and cried.

"I beg your pardon," said Mehetabel. "I am sorry to trouble you,
but I wish you would be so good, sir, as to let me do some work
for you in the mill."

"You, Mehetabel! Why, what do you mean?"

"Please, sir, I have left the Punch-Bowl. I cannot stay there any
longer. Do not ask me the reasons. They are good ones, but I had
rather not tell them. I must now earn my own livelihood, and--"
She was unable to proceed owing to the wailing of the infant.

"Look here, my dear," said the silk weaver, "I cannot hear you on
account of the noise, and as I have something to attend to, I will
leave you here alone for a few minutes, whilst I look to my
business. I will return shortly, when the young dragon has ceased
rampaging. I dare say it is hungry."

Then the good-natured man departed, and Mehetabel used her best
endeavors to reduce her child to quiet. It was not hungry, it was
not cold. It was in pain. She could feed it, she could warm it, but
she knew not how to give it that repose which it so much needed.

After some minutes had elapsed, Mr. Lilliwhite looked in again,
but as the child was still far from pacified, he retired once more.

Twenty minutes to half-an-hour had passed before the feeble wails
of the infant had decreased in force, and had died away wholly,
and then the manufacturer returned, smiling, to his office.

"'Pon my soul," said he, "I believe this is the first time my
shop has been turned into a nursery. Come now, before the Dragon
of Wantley is awake and roaring, tell me what you want."

Mehetabel repeated her request.

"There is no one I would more willingly oblige," said he. "You
have ever conducted yourself well, and have been industrious. But
there are difficulties in the way. First and foremost, the Dragon
of Wantley."

"I beg your pardon, sir."

"I mean the child. What will you do with it? If you come here,
engaged by me, you must be at the mill at seven o'clock in the
morning. There is an hour for dinner at noon, and the mill hands
are released at five o'clock in the afternoon in winter and six in
summer. What will the Dragon do all the time its mother is spinning
silk? You cannot have the creature here--and away, who will care
for it? Who feed it?"

"I had thought of leaving my baby at Mrs. Chivers'."

"That is nonsense," said the silk weaver. "The Dragon won't be
spoon-fed. Its life depends on its getting its proper, natural
nourishment. So that won't do. As for having it here--that's an
impossibility. Much you would attend to the spindles when the
Dragon was bellowing. Besides, it would distract the other girls.
So you see, this won't do. And there are other reasons. I couldn't
receive you without your husband's consent. But the Dragon remains
as the insuperable difficulty. Fiddle-de-dee, Matabel! Don't think
of it. For your own sake, for the Dragon's sake, I say it won't do."



CHAPTER XL.

BY THE HAMMER POND.


Discouraged at her lack of success, Mehetabel now turned her steps
towards Thursley. She was sick at heart. It seemed to her as if
every door of escape from her wretched condition was shut against
her.

She ascended the dip in the Common through which the stream ran
that fed the Hammer ponds, and after leaving the sheet of water
that supplied the silk mill, reached a brake of willow and bramble,
through which the stream made its way from the upper pond.

The soil was resolved into mud, and oozed with springs; at the
sides broke out veins of red chalybeate water, of the color of
brick.

She started teal, that went away with a rush and frightened her
child, which cried out, and fell into sobs.

Then before her rose a huge embankment; with a sluice at the top
over which the pond decanted and the overflow was carried a little
way through a culvert, beneath a mound on which once had stood the
smelting furnace, and which now dribbled forth rust-stained springs.

The bank had to be surmounted, and in Mehetabel's condition it
taxed her powers, and when she reached the top she sank out of
breath on a fallen bole of a tree. Here she rested, with the child
in her lap, and her head in her hand. Whither should she go? To
whom betake herself? She had not a friend in the world save Iver,
and it was not possible for her to appeal to him.

Now, in her desolation, she understood what it was to be without a
relative. Every one else had some one tied by blood to whom to
apply, who would counsel, assist, afford a refuge. A nameless girl,
brought up by the parish, with--as far as she was aware--but one
relative in the world, her mother's sister, whose name she knew
not, and whose existence she could not be sure of--she was indeed
alone as no other could be.

The lake lay before her steely and cold.

The chill wind hissed and sobbed among the bulrushes, and in the
coarse marsh grass that fringed the water on all sides except that
of the dam.

The stunted willows shed their broad-shaped leaves that sailed and
drifted, formed fleets, and clustered together against the bank.

The tree bole on which she was seated was rotting away; a huge
fleshy fungus had formed on it, and the decaying timber emitted a
charnel-house smell.

Now the babe in Mehetabel's arms was quiet. It was asleep. She
herself was weary, and quivering in all her limbs, hot and yet
cold, with an aguish feeling. Her strength of purpose was failing
her. She was verging on despair.

She could not remain with Betty Chivers without paying for her
lodging and for her food. The woman did but just maintain herself
out of the little school and the post-office. She was generous and
kind, but she had not the means to support Mehetabel, nor could
Mehetabel ask it of her.

What should she do? What the silk manufacturer had said was quite
true. The babe stood in her way of getting employment, and the
babe she must not leave. That little life depended on her, and
her time, care, thought must be devoted to it.

Oh, if now she could but have had that fifteen pounds which Simon
Verstage in his providence had given her on her wedding day! With
that she would have been easy, independent.

When Jonas robbed her of the sum he cut away from her the chance
of subsistence elsewhere save in his house--at all events at such
a time as this.

She looked dreamily at the water, that like an eye exercised a
fascination on her.

Would it not be well to cast herself into this pool, with her
babe, and then both would be together at rest, and away from the
cruel world that wanted them not, that rejected them, that had
no love, no pity for them?

But she put the thought resolutely from her.

Presently she noticed the flat-bottomed boat usually kept on the
pond for the convenience of fishers; it was being propelled over
the stream in her direction. A minute later, a man seated in the
boat ran it against the bank and stepped out, fastened the point
to a willow stump, and came towards her.

"What--is this the Squiress?"

She looked up and recognized him.

The man who came to her and addressed her was Mr. Markham, the
young barrister, who had been to the Punch-Bowl to obtain the
assistance of Jonas in wild-duck shooting.

She recalled his offensively familiar manner, and was troubled to
see him again. And yet she remembered his last remark on leaving,
when he had offered his services to help her to free herself from
her bondage to Jonas. The words might have been spoken in jest,
yet now, she caught at them.

He stood looking at her, and he saw both how pale she was, with a
hectic flame in her cheek, and a feverish glitter in her eye, and
also how beautiful she thus was.

"Why," said he, "what brings you here?"

"I have been to the silk mill in quest of work."

"Work! Broom-Squiress, one such as you should not work. You missed
your vocation altogether when you left the Ship. Jonas told me you
had been there."

"I was happy then."

"But are you not so in the Punch-Bowl?"

"No. I am very miserable. But I will not return there again."

"What! fallen out with the Squire?"

"He has made it impossible for me to go back."

"Then whither are you bound?"

"I do not know."

He looked at her intently.

"Now, see here," said he. "Sit down on that log again from which
you have risen and tell me all. I am a lawyer and can help you, I
daresay."

"I have not much to tell," she answered, and sank on the tree bole.
He seated himself beside her.

"There are things that have happened which have made me resolve to
go anywhere, do anything, rather than return to Jonas. I promised
what I could not keep when I said I would love, honor, and obey him."

Then she began to sob. It touched her that this young man should
express sympathy, offer his help.

"Now listen to me," said Mr. Markham; "I am a barrister. I know the
law, I have it at my ringers' ends, and I place myself, my knowledge
and my abilities at your disposal. I shall feel proud, flattered to
do so. Your beauty and your distress appeal to me irresistibly.
Has the Squire been beating you?"

"Oh, no, not that."

"Then what has he done?"

"There are things worse to bear than a stick."

"What! Oh, the gay Lothario! He has been casting his eye about and
has lost his leathery heart to some less well-favored wench than
yourself."

Mehetabel moved further from him on the tree-bole.

He began picking at the great lichen that grew out of the decaying
tree, and laughed.

"Have I hit it? Jealous, eh? Jealousy is at the bottom of it all.
By Jove, the Broom-Squire isn't worth expending a jealous thought
on. He's a poor sordid creature. Not worthy of you. So jealous, my
little woman, eh?"

Mehetabel turned and looked steadily at him.

"You do not understand me," she said. "No Jonas has not sunk so
low as that."

"He would have been a fool to have cast aside a jewel for the sake
of quartz crystal," laughed Markham. "But, come. A lawyer is a
confessor. Tell me everything. Make no reservations. Open your
heart to me, and see if the law, or myself--between us we cannot
assist you."

Mehetabel hesitated. The manner in which the man offered his
services was offensive, and yet in her innocent mind she thought
that perhaps the fault lay in herself in not understanding and
receiving his address in the way in which it was intended. Besides,
in what other manner could she obtain relief? Every other means was
taken from her.

Slowly, reluctantly, she told him much that she had not told to any
one else--only not that Jonas had endeavored to kill the child.
That she would not relate.

When she had finished her tale, he said, "What you have told me is
a very sad story, and makes my heart ache for you. You can rely on
me, I will be your friend and protector. We have had a case on
lately, of a woman who was equally unhappy in her married life; her
name was Jane Summers. You may have seen it in the papers."

"I'll never see the papers. How did Jane Summers manage?"

"She had a crabbed, ill-conditioned husband, and she was a fine,
handsome, lusty woman. He fell ill, and she did not afford him all
that care and attention which was requisite in his condition. She
went out amusing herself, and left him at home with no one to see
to his necessities. The consequence was that he died, and she was
tried for it, but the case against her broke down. It could not be
proved that had she been devoted to him in his sickness he would
have recovered. The law takes cognizance of commission of a crime,
and not of neglect of duty."

Mehetabel opened her eyes. "If Jonas were ill I would attend him
day and night," she said. "But he is not ill--never was, till the
shot entered his arm, and then I was with him all day and all
night."

"How did he receive your ministry?"

"He was very irritable. I suppose the pain made him so."

"You got no thanks for your trouble?"

"None at all. I thought he would have been kinder when he recovered."

"Then," said the young man, laughing; "the man is not to be cured.
You must leave him."

"I have done so."

"And you are seeking a home and a protector?"

"I want to earn my living somewhere."

"A pretty young thing like you," said the stranger, "cannot fail
to make her way. Come! I have offered you my aid," he put his arm
round her and attempted to snatch a kiss.

"So!" exclaimed Mehetabel, starting to her feet. "This is the
friend and protector you would be! I trusted you with my troubles,
and you have taken advantage of my trust. Let me alone! Wherever
I turn there hell hath opened her mouth! A moment ago I thought of
ending all my troubles in this pond--that a thousand times before
trusting you further."

With beating heart--beating with anger--proudly raising her weary
head, she walked away.



CHAPTER XLI.

WANDERERS.


It occurred to Mehetabel that the rector of Milford had been over
at Thursley several times to do duty when the vicar of Witley was
ill, and she thought that perhaps she might obtain advice from him.

Accordingly she turned in the direction of that village as soon as
she had reached the road. She walked wearily along till she arrived
in this, the adjoining parish, separated from Thursley by a tract
of healthy common. At her request, she was shown into the library,
and she told the parson of her trouble.

He shrugged his shoulders, and read her a lecture on the duties of
wife to husband; and, taking his Bible, provided her with texts to
corroborate what he said.

"Please, sir," she said, "I was married when I did not wish it,
and when I did not know what I could do, and what was impossible.
As the Church married me, can it not undo the marriage, and set me
free again?"

"Certainly not. What has been joined together cannot be put
asunder. It is not impossible to obtain a separation, legally, but
you will have to go before lawyers for that."

Mehetabel flushed. "I will have nothing to do with lawyers," she
said hastily.

"You would be required to show good cause why you desire a
separation, and then it would be expensive. Have you money?"

"Not a penny."

"The law in England--everywhere--is only for the rich."

"Then is there nothing you can advise?"

"Only that you should go home again, and bear what you have to
bear as a cross laid on you."

"I will never go back."

"It is your duty to do so."

"I cannot, and will not."

"Then, Mrs. Kink, I am afraid the blame of this domestic broil
lies on your shoulders quite as much as on those of your husband.
Woman is the weaker vessel. Her duty is to endure."

"And a separation--"

"That is legal only, and unless you can show very good cause why
it should be granted, it may be refused. Has your husband beaten
you?"

"No, but he has spoken to me--"

"Words break no bones. I don't think words would be considered. I
can't say; I'm no lawyer. But remember--even if separated by law,
in the sight of God you would still be one."

Mehetabel left, little cheered.

As she walked slowly back along the high-road, she was caught up
by Betsy Cheel.

"Halloo!" said this woman; "where have you been?"

Mehetabel told her.

"Want to be separated from Jonas, do you? I'm not surprised. I
always thought him a bad fellow, but I doubt if he's worse than my
man, Jamaica."

After a while she said: "We'll walk together. Then we can chat.
It's dull going over the Common alone. I've been selling eggs in
Milford. They're won'erful dear now; nine a shillin'; but the hens
feel the cold, and don't lay this time of the year much. How's
the child? You didn't ort to be carryin' it about in this weather
and at this time o' the year."

"I have nowhere that I can leave it, and its only home is against
my heart, in my arms."

"You've run away?"

"Yes; I shall not go back to Jonas."

"I don't call that sense," said Bessy. "If you run away, run away
with some one who'll take care of you. That's what I did. My first
husband--well, I don't know as he was a proper husband. He called
me names, and took the stick to me when drunk; so I went off with
Jamaica. That I call reasonable. Ain't you got no one to run away
with?"

Mehetabel did not answer. She hastened her pace--she did not
relish association with the woman. "I'd have run away from Jamaica
scores o' times," continued Mrs. Cheel, "only I ain't so young as
I once as, and so the opportunities don't come. There's the pity. I
didn't start and leave him when I was good-looking and fresh. I
might have done better then. If you think a bad, cross-crabbed man
will mend as he grows older, you make a mistake. They grow wusser.
So you're right to leave Jonas. Only you've gone about in the wrong
way. There's Iver Verstage. I've heard talk about him and you. He
don't live such a terrible distance off. I hear he's doin' purty
well for himself at Guildford. Why don't you go to him? He's more
suitable in age, and he's a nice-lookin' young fellow."

"Mrs. Cheel," said Mehetabel, standing still, "will you go forward
a little faster? I cannot walk with you. I do not ask you for any
advice. I do not want to hear what you have to say. I have been to
the parson. It seems to me that I can get no help from heaven, but
that hell is holding out hands on all sides, offering assistance.
Go on your way. I shall sit here for half an hour. I am too weary
to walk at your pace."

"As you will," said Bessy Cheel. "I spoke out of good will,
and told what would be the best for you. If you won't take my
opinion--that's no odds to me, and it may turn out wuss for you."

Mehetabel drew aside, to a nodule of ironstone rock that capped the
first elevation of the Common, the first stage of the terraces
that rise to Hind Head.

Here she remained till all chance of association with Mrs. Cheel
was over. Then she went on to Thursley village, to find the Widow
Chivers in great excitement. Jonas Kink had been in the village
inquiring for his wife and child; and had learned that both had
been given shelter by the dame.

He had come to the school, and had demanded his wife and his little
son. Betty had taken charge of the infant and laid it to sleep in
her own bed and happily at this time it was asleep. When she told
Bideabout that Mehetabel had left the house in quest of work, he
had happily concluded that she had carried the child with her, and
had asked no further questions; but he had been violent and
menacing. He had threatened to fetch the constable and recover his
child, even if he let the mother go where she liked.

Mehetabel was greatly alarmed.

"I cannot stay here," she said, "in no case will I give up the babe.
When Iver Verstage baptized me it was lest I should become a
wanderer. I suppose the christening was a poor one--for my
wandering is begun, and it is not I only who am condemned to
wander, but my little child also."

With a heavy heart she left the dame's school. Had she been alone
she would have run to Godalming or Hazelmere, and sought a situation
as a domestic servant, but that was not possible to her now,
cumbered with the child.

Watching her opportunity, that none of the villagers might observe
her leaving the school and note the direction she took, she ran out
upon the heath, and turned away from the high-road.

On all sides, as already intimated at the opening of this tale, the
sandy commons near Thursley are furrowed as though a giant plough
had been drawn along them, but at so remote a period that since the
soil was turned the heather had been able to cast its deep brown
mantle of velvet pile over every irregularity, and to veil the scars
made in the surface.

These gullies or furrows vary in depth from ten to forty feet, and
run to various lengths. They were the subaerial excavations and
open adits made by miners in quest of iron ore. They are probably
of all dates from prehistoric antiquity to the reign of the Tudors,
after which the iron smelting of the weald came to an end. The
magnificent oaks of the forest of Anderida that stretched from
Winchelsea, in Kent, a hundred and twenty miles west, with a breadth
of thirty miles between the northern and southern chalk downs--these
oaks had been hewn down and used as fuel, in the fabrication of
military armor and weapons, and just as the wood was exhausted,
coal was discovered in the north, and the entire industry of iron
in the weald came to an end.

Mehetabel had often run up these gullies when a child, playing on
the commons with Iver, or with other scholars of Dame Chivers
school.

She remembered now that in one of these she and Iver had discovered
a cave, scooped out in the sandrock, possibly the beginning of an
adit, probably a place for storing smuggled goods. On a very small
scale it resembled the extraordinary labyrinth of subterranean
passages at Puttenham, that may be explored at the present day.
During the preceding century and the beginning of that in which we
live, an extensive business in smuggled spirits, tea, and tobacco
was carried on from the coast to the Thames; and there were certain
store places, well-known to the smugglers in the line of trade. In
Thursley parish is a farm that is built over vast vaults, carefully
constructed, with the entrance of them artfully disguised. The
Puttenham labyrinth has its openings in a dense coppice; and it had
this advantage, that with a few strokes of the pick a passage could
be blocked with sand from the roof.

The cave that Mehetabel had discovered, and in which she had spent
many a summer hour, opened out of the side of one of the most
profound of the trenches cut in the surface after ore. The entrance
was beneath a projecting slab of ironstone, and was concealed by
bushes of furze and bramble. It did not penetrate beyond thirty
feet into the sand rock, or if it had done so formerly, it was
choked when known to Mehetabel, with the falling in of the roof.
These sandstone caves are very dry, and the temperature within
agreeable.

Here Mehetabel resolved to bide for a while, till she had found
some place of greater security for herself and the child.

She did not leave Mrs. Chivers without having arranged with her for
the conveyance of food to a place agreed on between them.

With the shawl so kindly given her by the gardener, Mehetabel
could exclude all wintry air from her habitation, and abundance of
fuel was at hand in the gully, so that she could make and maintain
a fire that would be unnoticed, because invisible except to such as
happened to enter the ravine.

Mehetabel left the village and emerged on the path bearing that
precious but woeful burden, her little babe, in her arms folded
about it. Then, all at once, before her she saw that same young
lawyer who had insulted her at the Hammer Pond. He recognized her
at once, as she did him. She drew back and her heart beat furiously.

"What, Queen of the heath?" said he, "still about with your baby?"

She would not answer him. She stepped back.

"Do not be afraid; I wish you well--you and your little one. Come,
for the sake of that mite, accept my offer. What will you say to
yourself--how excuse yourself if it die through exposure, and
because of your silly scruples?"

She would not listen to him. She darted past, and fled over the
down.

She roamed about, lost, distracted. In her confusion she missed
the way to the cave, and the darkness was gathering. The moaning
little morsel of her flesh could not be comforted. She rocked it
violently, then gently. In neither way could she give it relief.
She knew not which direction she had taken, on what part of the
heath she was straying.

And now rain began to fall, and Mehetabel had to protect her child
from being drenched. For herself she had no thought. The rain came
down first in a slight sprinkle, and then in large drops, and a cold
wind swashed the drops into her face, blinding her.

All at once, in the uncertain light, she saw some dark gap open
before her as a grave. She would have fallen headlong into it had
she not arrested her foot in time. Then, with a gasp of relief she
recognized where she was.

She stood at the edge of the old mining ravine. This trench, cut in
the sandy down, had looked like a little bit of Paradise to the
child-eyes of the pupils of Betty Chivers in summer, when the air
was honey-sweet with the fragrance of the flowering furze, and
musical with the humming of bees; and the earth was clotted with
spilt raspberry cream--the many-tinged blossom of the heather--alas!
it was now sad, colorless, dripping, cold, and repellent.



CHAPTER XLII.

THE CAVE.


Mehetabel made her way down the steep side of the gully, and to the
cave, burdened with the babe she carried in her arms. She bore a
sack over her back that contained some dry turves, shavings, and a
few potatoes, given her by the school-dame. The place of refuge had
obviously been frequented by children long after the time when
Mehetabel and Iver had retired to it on hot summer days. The sides
of the entrance had been built up with stones, with moss driven
into their interstices. Within, the floor was littered with dry
fern, and in one place was a rude hearth, where fires had been
kindled; this was immediately under a vertical opening that served
as chimney, and prevented the smoke of a fire from filling the cave.

The young mother laid her child on the shawl she spread over the
bracken, and proceeded to kindle a fire with a tinder-box lent her
by Mrs. Chivers. It amused the babe to watch the sparks as they
flew about, and when the pile of turves and sticks and heather was
in combustion, to listen to the crackle, and watch the play and
leap of the flames.

As the fire burnt up, and the blue smoke stole through the natural
chimney, the whole cave glowed orange.

The air was not cold within, and in the radiation from the fire,
the place promised to be warm and comfortable.

The child crowed and stretched its feet out to the blaze.

She looked attentively at the babe.

What did that wicked young lawyer mean by saying that it would die
through exposure? It had cried and moaned. All children cry and
moan. They have no other means of making their wants known. Wet the
little creature was not; she had taken every precaution against
that, but her own garments steamed in the heat of the fire she had
kindled, and leaving the babe to watch the dancing flames, she
dried her wet gown and stockings in the glow.

Then by the reflection Mehetabel could see on the nether surface of
the sandstone slab at the entrance the initials of herself and Iver
that had been cut by the latter many years ago, with a true-lover's
knot uniting them. And there on that knot, lost in dream, was a
peacock butterfly that had retired to hibernate. The light from the
fire glowed in its purple and gold eyes, and the warm ascending air
fluttered the wings, but did not restore animation to the drowsy
insect. In corners were snails at the limit of their glazed tracks,
also in retreat before winter. They had sealed themselves up in
their houses against cold.

Mehetabel was constrained to pass in and out of her habitation
repeatedly so as to accumulate fuel that might serve through the
night. Happily, on her way she had noticed a little shelter hut,
probably constructed by a village sportsman, under which he might
conceal himself with his gun and await the game. This was made of
dry heather, and branches of fir and chestnut. She had no scruple
in pulling this to pieces, and conveying as much as she could carry
at a time to her cave.

The child, amused by the fire, did not object to her temporary
desertion, and it was too feeble and young to crawl near to the
flames.

After several journeys to and fro Mehetabel had contrived to form a
goodly pile of dry fuel at the back of her habitation, and now that
a sufficiency of ash had been formed proceeded to embed in it the
potatoes that Betty Chivers had given her.

How often had she and Iver, as children, talked of being savages
and living in wigwams and caves, and now she was driven to a life
of savagery in the midst of civilization. It would not, however,
be for long. She would search the neighborhood round for work, and
when she had got it move away from this den in the Common.

A stoat ran in, raised its head, looked at the fire, then at her,
with glistening eyes devoid of fear, but at a movement of the
child darted away and disappeared.

A Sabbath sense of repose came over Mehetabel. The babe was content
and crooning itself to sleep. Her nerves in tension all day were
now relaxed; her wearied body rested. She had no inquisitive
companion to worry her with questions, none overkind to try her
with injudicious attentions. She could sit on the fragrant fern
leaves, extend her feet, lean her head against the sandstone, and
watch the firelight play over the face of her child.

A slight sound attracted her attention. It was caused by a bramble
leaf caught in a cobweb, drawn in by the draught produced by the
fire, and it tapped at and scratched the covering stone. Mehetabel,
roused from her languor, saw what occasioned the sound, and lost
all concern about it. There were particles in the sand that
sparkled. It afforded her a childish pleasure to see the twinkles
on every side in the rise and fall of the flames. It was no exertion
to cast on another branch of heather, or even a bough of pine. It
was real pleasure to listen to the crackle and to see the sparks
shoot like rockets from the burning wood. The cave was a fairy
palace. The warmth was grateful. The potatoes were hissing in the
embers. Then Mehetabel dreamily noticed a black shadow stealing
along the lower surface of the roof stone. At first she saw it
without interest, without inquiry in her mind, but little by little
her interest came, and her attention centred itself on the dark
object.

It was a spider, a hairy insect with a monstrous egglike belly,
and it was creeping slowly and with caution towards the hibernating
butterfly. Perhaps its limbs were stiff with inaction, its blood
congealed; perhaps it dreaded lest by precipitation it might alarm
its prey and lose it.

Mehetabel put out her hand, picked up a piece of furze, and cast
it at the spider, which fell.

Then she was uneasy lest it would crawl along the ground and come
to her baby, and sting it. She inherited the common superstition
that spiders are poisonous insects.

She must look for it.

Only now, as she tried to raise herself, did she discover how stiff
her joints had become. She rose to her knees, and raked out some of
the potatoes from the ashes, and swept the floor where the spider
had dropped with a brush of Scottish pine twigs.

Then, all at once, she remained motionless. She heard steps and
voices outside, the latter in low converse. Next a face looked in,
and an exclamation followed, "Jamaica! There, sure enough, she be!"

The voice, the face--there was no mistaking either. They belonged
to Sally Rocliffe.

The power to cry out failed in Mehetabel. She hastily thrust her
child behind her, into the depths of the cave, and interposed
herself between it and the glittering eyes of the woman.

"Come on, Jamaica, we'll see how she has made herself comfortable,"
said Mrs. Rocliffe, and she entered, followed by Giles Cheel. Both
had to stoop at the opening, but when they were a few feet within,
could stand upright.

"Well, now, I call this coorious," said Sarah; "don't you, Jamaica?
Here's all the Punch-Bowl turned out. Some runnin' one way, some
another, all about Matabel. Some sez she's off her head; some
thinks she has drownded herself and the child. And there's Jonas
stormin', and in a purty takein'. There is my Thomas--gone with
him--and Jamaica and I come this way over the Common. But I had a
fancy you might be at the bottom o' one of them Hammer Ponds. I
was told you'd been to the silk mill."

"What be you run away for? What be you a hidin' for--just like a
wild beast?" asked Giles Cheel.

Mehetabel could not answer. How could she declare her reason? That
the life of the child was menaced by its own father.

"Now come back with us," said Jamaica, in a persuasive tone.

"I will not. I never will return," exclaimed Mehetabel with energy.
She was kneeling, with her hands extended to screen her child from
the eye of Sally Rocliffe.

"I told you so, did I not?" asked the woman.

"She sed as much to me yesterday mornin when I saw her run away."

"I will not go back. I will never go back," repeated Mehetabel

"Where is the child?" asked Sally.

"It is behind me."

"How is it?"

"It is well now, now we are out of the Punch-Bowl, where all hate
it and wish it dead."

"Now, look here, Matabel," said Cheel, "you be reasonable, and come
peaceably."

"I will not go back; I never will!" she answered with increased
vehemence.

"That's all very fine sayin'," pursued Giles Cheel. "But go back
you must when Jonas fetches you."

"I will not go back! Never! never!"

"He'll make you."

"Not if I will not go."

"Aye, but he can. If you won't go when he axes, he can get the
constable to force you to go home. The law of the land can help
him thereto."

"I will not go back! Never!"

"Where he is just now, I can't say," pursued Cheel. "But I have a
notion he's prowlin' about the moor, thinkin' you may have gone to
Thor's Stone. Come he will, and he'll take you and the baby, and
you may squeal and scratch, go back with him you must and will. So
I say go peaceable."

"I will not go back!" cried Mehetabel. She picked up a lump of
ironstone and said, passionately, "I will defend myself. I am as
strong as he. I am stronger, for I will fight for my child. I will
kill him rather than let him take my baby from me."

"Hear her!" exclaimed Sally Rocliffe. "She threatens she'll do
for Jonas. Every one knows she tried that on once afore, wi' his
gun."

"Yes," said Mehetabel, fiercely, "I will even do that. Rather than
go back and have my baby in that hated place again, I will fight
and kill him. Let him come here and try."

She set her teeth, her eyes glared, her breath came snorting
through her nostrils.

"I say, Gilly, I'll go back. It ain't safe here. She's possessed
with seven devils."

"I am not possessed, save with mother's love. I will never, never
go back and take my babe to the Punch-Bowl. Never, never, allow
you, Sally, to look at its innocent face again, nor Jonas to touch
it. There is no one cares for it, no one loves it, no one who does
not wish its death, but me, and I will fight, and never--"

Her strength gave way, her hands sank in the sand, and her hair
fell over her face, as she broke into a storm of sobs and tears.

"I say, Jamaica, come out," whispered Mrs. Rocliffe. "We'll talk
over wot's to be done."

Giles Cheel and Sally Rocliffe crept out of the cave backwards.
They did so, facing Mehetabel, with mistrust. Each believed that
she was mad.

When the two were outside, then Jonas's sister said to her companion
"I'll tell you what, Jamaica, I won't have nuthin' more to do with
this. There's somethin' queer; and whether Jonas has been doin'
what he ort not, or whether Matabel be gone rampagin' mad, that's
not for me to say. Let Jonas manage his own affairs, and don't let
us meddle no more."

"I am sure it's 'as nuthin' to me," said Cheel. "But this is a fine
thing. At the christenin' of that there baby he had words to say
about me and my Betsy, as if we was a disgrace to the Punch-Bowl,
becos we didn't always agree. But my Betsy and me never came to
such a pass as this. I'm willin'. Let's go back and have our
suppers, and let her be where she is."

"You need not tell Jonas that we have found her."

"No; not if you wishes."

"Let the matter alone altogether; I reckon she's in a dangerous
mood, and so is Jonas. Something may come of it, and I'd as lief
be out of it altogether."

"That's my doctrine, too," said Giles.

Then he put his head in at the cave door, and said "Good-night,
missus!"



CHAPTER XLII.

AT COLPUS'S.


On the morrow Mehetabel, carrying her babe, revisited the
schoolmistress, at an early hour, before the children assembled.

Betty Chivers received her with joy.

"Matabel," she said, "I've been thinking about you. There's James
Colpus and his daughter are in want of a woman. That girl, Julia
Caesar, as has been with them, got at the barrels of ale, and has
been givin' drink all round to the men, just when they liked. She'd
got a key to the cellar unbeknown to Master Colpus; so she has had
to walk off. Polly Colpus, she knows you well enough, and what a
managing girl you are. They couldn't do better than take you--that
is, if they can arrange with Bideabout, and don't object to the
baby."

Accordingly, somewhat later, Mehetabel departed for the farm of
James Colpus, that adjoined the land occupied by old Simon
Verstage.

James Colpus was preparing to go out fox-hunting when Mehetabel
arrived. He wore a tight, dark-colored suit, that made his red
face look the redder, and his foxy hair the foxier. His daughter
had a face like a full moon, flat and eminently livid;' fair,
almost white eyebrows, and an unmistakable moustache. She was
extraordinarily plain, but good-natured. She was pouring out
currant brandy for her father when Mehetabel arrived.

"Well!" exclaimed Colpus. "Here is the runaway wife. Tally-ho!
Tally-ho! We've got her. All the parish has been out after you,
and you run to earth here, do you?"

"If you please," said Mehetabel, "I have come to offer my services
in the place of Julia Caesar, who has been sent away. You know I
can work. You know I won't let nobody have the tap o' the beer--and
as for wages, I'll take what you are willing to give."

"That's all very fine, Miss Runaway, but what will Bideabout say
to that?"

"I am not going back to Bideabout," answered Mehetabel. "If you
cannot take me, I shall go to every farm and offer myself, and if
none in Thursley or Witley will have me, I'll beg my bread from
door to door, till I do find a house where I may honestly earn it.
Go back to the Punch-Bowl I will not."

"I'd like to take you," said Colpus. "Glad to have you. Never a
better girl anywhere, of that I am quite certain--only, how about
the Broom-Squire? I'm constable, and it must not be said that the
constable is keeping a man's wife away from him."

"You will not keep me from him. Nothing in the world will make me
go back to him."

"Then--what about the baby? Can you let Bideabout have that?"

Mehetabel flushed almost as red as Colpus and his daughter.

"Never!" she said, firmly.

"But, look here," said the farmer, "if I did agree to take you,
why, after a day or two, you'd be homesick, and wantin' to be back
in the arms of Jonas. It's always so with women."

"I shall never go back," persisted Mehetabel.

"So you say. But before the week is out you'll be piping another
song."

"You may bind me to stay--three months--six--a year,"

"That is all very well to say. Bind me, but how? What bind will
hold--when the marriage tie does not?"

"The marriage tie would have held me till death," answered
Mehetabel gravely, "if Jonas had not done that which makes it
impossible for me to remain. It is not for my sake that I am away.
Had I been alone I would have borne all till I died. But I have
other duties now. I am a mother. Here is my darling, a charge from
God. I owe it to God to do what I am here for--to find another
home, a place away from the Punch-Bowl."

"What do you mean?"

"I cannot explain."

"Is the Punch-Bowl unhealthy for the child?"

"Yes, it would die there."

"Who told you so?"

"I know it. My heart says so."

"Now look here," said Colpus, getting red as a poppy, "there's a
lot of talk in the place about you. Some say that Bideabout is in
the wrong, some say that the wrong lies with you. It is reported
that he beat you, and there are folks that tell as how you gave him
occasion. You must let me know the right of it all, or I can't take
you."

"Then I must go," said Mehetabel, "I cannot tell you all. You may
think ill of me if you choose, I cannot help that."

Colpus rubbed his foxy whiskers and head.

"You're a won'erful active woman, and do more work than three
ordinary gals. I'd like to have you in the house. But then--what
am I to say if Kink comes to claim you?"

"Say you will not give me up."

"But I ain't so sure but what he can force me to surrender you."

"You are the strongest man in Thursley."

"'Tain't that," said Colpus, gratified by the compliment. "'Tis he
might bring the law against me. I don't know nuthin' about law,
though I'm constable, but I reckon, if I was to keep a cow of his
as had strayed and refused to give her up, he could compel me. And
what's true of a cow is true of a wife. If I could be punished for
stealin' his goose I might be summonsed all on account of you. Then
there's the babe--that might be brought in as kidnappin'! I daren't
risk it."

"But, father," put in Polly. "How would it do for a time, just to
try."

"There's something in that, Polly.

"And Julia Caesar have left things in a terrible mess. We must have
all cleared up before another comes in. What if we take Matabel by
the day to clear up?"

"Look here, Polly," said Colpus, who visibly oscillated in mind
between his wishes to engage Mehetabel and his fears as to what the
consequences might be. "It's this," he touched his forehead, and
made a sign towards the applicant. "Folk do say it."

"Matabel," said the good-natured farmer's daughter, "you go along
to Thursley, and father and I will talk it over. If we think we
can take you--where shall we send to find you?"

"To Betty Chivers' house."

"Well, in half an hour I trust we shall have decided. Now go."

As Mehetabel withdrew, Polly said, "It's all gammon, father, about
her not being right in her head. Her eye is as steady as the
evenin' star. And it's all lies about there bein' any fault in her.
Matabel is as honest and true as sunlight."

Then old Colpus shouted after Mehetabel, who was departing by the
lane. "Don't go that way, over the field is the path--by the stile.
There's a lot o' water in the lane."

The young mother turned, thanked him with an inclination of the
head, and pressing her cheek to the child she bore, she took the
path that crossed a meadow, and which led to a tuft of holly, near
which was the stile, into the lane. She walked on, with her cheek
resting on the child's head, and her eyes on the trodden, cropped
wintry grass, with a flutter of hope in her bosom; for she was
almost certain that with the influence of Polly engaged on her
side, old Colpus would agree to receive her.

She did not walk swiftly. She had no occasion for haste. She hoped
that the objections of the farmer would give way before she had
reached the hedge, and that he would recall her.

She had almost arrived t the turf of holly, singing in a low tone
to the child in her arms, when, a voice made her start and cry out.

She looked up. Jonas was before her.

Unobserved by her he had entered the field. From the lane he had
seen her, and he had crossed the stile and come upon her.

She stood frozen to the spot. Each muscle became rigid; the blood
in her arteries tingled as though bees were making their way through
every vein. Her brows met in a black band across her face. She
trembled for a moment, and then was firm. A supreme moment, the
supreme moment in her life was come.

"So I have found you at last," sneered Jonas. Hatred, fury, were
in him and sent a quiver through the tones of his voice.

"Yes, you have found me," she answered with composure.

"You--do you know what you have done? Made me a derision and a talk
to all Thursley, a jest in every pot-house."

"I have not done this. It is your doing."

"Is it not enough that I have lost my money, but must I have this
scandal and outrage in my home?"

She did not answer him. She looked steadily at him, and he dared
not meet her eyes.

"You must come with me at once," he said.

"I will not go with you."

"I will make you."

"That you cannot."

"You are mad. You must be put under restraint."

"I will go to the madhouse, but not to the Punch-Bowl."

"You shall be forced to return."

"How?"

"I will have you tied. I will swear you are crazed. I will have you
locked up, and I will beat you till you learn to obey and behave as
I would have you."

"Jonas," said Mehetabel, "this is idle talk. Never, never will I go
back to you."

"Never!"

He approached, his eyes glaring, his white fangs showing, like
those of a dog about to bite.

Instinctively she put her hand into her pocket and drew forth a
lump of ironstone, that she had brandished the previous evening
before Sally Rocliffe and Giles Cheel; and which she carried with
her as her only weapon of defence.

"Jonas," said Mehetabel. "You may threaten, but your threats do not
move me. I can defend myself."

"Oh, with a stone? he scoffed.

"Yes, if need be with a stone. But I have better protection than
that."

"Indeed--let me hear it."

"If you venture to touch me--venture to threaten any more--then I
shall appeal for protection."

"To whom--to Iver?"

"Not to Iver," her heart boiled up, and was still again.

"To whom--to Farmer Colpus?"

"To the law."

"The law!" jeered Jonas. "It is the law that will send you back to
me."

"It is the law which will protect me from you," answered Mehetabel.

"I am fain to learn how."

"How! I have but to go before a magistrate and tell how you tried
to poison your own child--how, when that failed, you tried to
smother it. And, Jonas," she added--as she saw his face grow ashen,
and a foam bubble form on his lips--"and, Jonas," she stepped
forward, and he backed--his glassy eyes on her face, "and, Jonas,"
she said, "look here, I have this stone. With the like of this you
sought to kill me in the moor." She raised it above her head, "you
would-be murderer of your wife and your child--I am free from you."
She took another step forward--he reeled back and vanished--disappeared
instantly from her sight with a scream--instantly and absolutely,
as when the earth opened its mouth at the word of Moses and swallowed
up Korah.



CHAPTER XLIV.

AGAIN: IRONSTONE.


Mehetabel heard shouts, exclamations, and saw Thomas Rocliffe and
his son, Samuel, come up over the stile from the lane, and James
Colpus running towards her.

What had happened? Whither had Jonas vanished? She drew back and
passed her hand, still holding the ironstone, over her face.

Then she saw Thomas and Samuel stoop, kneel, and Thomas swing
himself down and also disappear; thereupon up came the farmer.

"What is it? Has he fallen in--into the kiln?"

That the reader may understand what had occurred, it is necessary
that a few words of explanation should be given.

At the time when the country was densely wooded with oaks, then the
farmers were wont annually to draw chalk from the quarries in the
flank of the Hog's Back, that singular ridge, steep as a Gothic
roof, running east and west from Guildford, and to cart this to
their farms. On each of these was a small brick kiln, constructed
in a sand-bank beside a lane, so that the chalk and fuel might be
thrown in from above, where the top of the kiln was level with the
field, and the burnt quicklime drawn out below and shovelled into a
cart that would convey it by the road to whatever field was thought
to require such a dressing.

But fuel became scarce, and when the trees had vanished, then sea
coal was introduced. Thereupon the farmers found it more convenient
to purchase quicklime at the kiln mouth near the chalk quarry, than
to cart the chalk and burn it themselves.

The private kilns were accordingly abandoned and allowed to fall to
ruin. Some were prudently filled in with earth and sand, but this
was exceptional. The majority were allowed to crumble in slowly;
and at the present day such abandoned kilns may be found on all
sides, in various stages of decay.

Into such a kiln, that had not been filled in, Jonas had fallen,
when he stepped backwards, unconscious of its existence.

Polly Colpus had followed her father, but kept in the rear, alarmed,
and dreading a ghastly sight. The farmer bent with hands on his
knees over the hole. Samuel knelt.

"Have you got him?" asked Colpus.

"Lend a hand," called Thomas from below, and with the assistance of
those above the body of Jonas Kink was lifted on to the bank.

"He's dead," said the farmer.

Then Mehetabel laughed.

The three men and Polly Colpus turned and looked at her with
estrangement.

They did not understand that there was neither mockery nor frivolity
in the laugh, that it proceeded involuntarily from the sudden
relaxation of overstrained nerves. At the moment Mehetabel was
aware of one thing only, that she had nothing more to fear, that
her baby was safe from pursuit. It was this thought that dominated
her and caused the laugh of relief. She had not in the smallest
degree realized how it was that this relief was obtained.

"Fetch a hurdle," said Colpus, "and, Polly, run in and send a couple
of men. We must carry him to the Punch-Bowl. I reckon he's pretty
well done for. I don't see a sign of life in him."

The Broom-Squire was laid on the gass.

Strange is the effect of death on a man's clothes. The moment the
vital spark has left the body, the garments hang about him as though
never made to fit him. They take none of the usual folds; they lose
their gloss--it is as though life had departed out of them as well.

Mehetabel seated herself on a bit of swelling ground and looked on,
without understanding what she saw; seeing, hearing, as in a dream;
and after the first spasm of relief, as if what was being done in
no way concerned her, belonged to another world to her own. It was
as though she were in the moon and saw what men were doing on the
earth.

When the Broom-Squire had been lifted upon a hurdle, then Polly
Colpus thought right to touch Mehetabel, and say in a low tone:
"You will follow him and go to the Punch-Bowl?"

"I will never, never go there again. I have said so," answered
Mehetabel.

Then to avoid being pressed further, she stood up and went away,
bearing her child in her arms.

The men looked after her and shook their heads.

"Bideabout has had a blow on the forehead," said Colpus.

Mehetabel returned to the school, entered without a word, and seated
herself by the fire.

"Have you succeeded?" asked the widow.

"How?"

"Will Farmer Colpus take you?"

"I don't know."

"What have you in your hand?"

Mehetabel opened her fingers and allowed Betty Chivers to remove
from her hand a lump of ironstone.

"What are you carrying this for, Matabel?"

"I defend baby with it," she answered.

"Well, you do not need it in my house," said the dame, and placed
the liver-colored lump on the table.

"How hot your hand is," she continued. "Here, let me feel again. It
is burning. And your forehead is the same. Are you unwell, Matabel?"

"I am cold," she answered dreamily.

"You have been over-worried and worked," said the kind old woman.
"I will get you a cup of tea."

"He won't follow me any more and try to take my baby away," said
Mehetabel.

"I am glad of that."

"And I also."

Then she moved her seat, winding and bending on one side.

"What is it, my dear?" asked Betty.

"His shadow. It will follow me and fall over baby."

"What do you mean?"

Mehetabel made no reply, and the widow buried herself in preparation
for the midday meal, a very humble one of bread and weak tea.

"There's drippin' in the bowl," she said, "you can put some o' that
on the bread. And now, give me the little chap. You are not afraid
of trusting him to me?"

"Oh, no!"

The mother at once surrendered the child, and Mrs. Chivers sat by
the fire with the infant in her lap.

"He's very like you," she said.

"I couldn't love him if he were like him," said Mehetabel.

"You must not say that."

"He is a bad man."

"Leave God to judge him."

"He has judged him," answered the girl, looking vacantly into the
fire, and then passed her hand over her eyes and pressed her brow.

"Have you a headache, dear?"

"Yes--bad. It is his shadow has got in there--rolled up, and I can't
shake it out."

"Matabel--you must go to bed. You are not well."

"No--I am not well. But my baby?"

"He is safe with me."

"I am glad of that, you will teach him A B C, and the Creed, and to
pray to and fear God. But you needn't teach him to find Abelmeholah
on the map, nor how many gallons of water the Jordan carries into
the Dead Sea every minute, nor how many generations there are in
Matthew. That is all no good at all. Nor does it matter where is
the country of the Gergesenes. I have tried it. The Vicar was a
good man, was he not, Betty?"

"Yes, very good."

"He would give the coat off his back, and the bread out of his
mouth to the poor. He gave beef and plum pudding all around at
Christmas, and lent out blankets in winter. But he never gave
anything to the soul, did he, Betty? Never made the heart warm. I
found it so. What I got of good for that was from you."

"My dear," said the old woman, starting up. "I insist on your going
to bed at once. I see by your eye, by the fire in your cheek, that
you are ill."

"I will go to bed; I do not want anything to eat, only to lay my
head down, and then the shadow will run out at my ear--only I fear
it may stain the pillow. When I'm rich I will buy you another. Baby
is rich; he has got a hundred and fifty pounds. What is his is
mine, and what is mine is his. He will not grudge you a new
pillow-case."

Mehetabel, usually reserved and silent, had become loquacious and
rambling in her talk. It was but too obvious, that she was in a
fever, and wandering. Mrs. Chivers insisted on her taking some tea,
and then she helped her upstairs to the little bedroom, and did not
leave her till she was asleep. The school children, who came in
after their dinner hour, were dismissed, so that Mrs. Chivers had
the afternoon to devote to the care of the child and of the sick
mother, who was in high fever.

She was in the bedroom when she heard a knock at the door, and
then a heavy foot below. She descended the rickety stairs as gently
as possible, and found Farmer Colpus in the schoolroom.

"How do you do, Mrs. Chivers? Can you tell me, is Matabel Kink
here?"

"Yes--if you do not mind, Mr. Colpus, to speak a little lower. She
is in bed and asleep."

"Asleep?"

"She came in at noon, rather excited and queer, and her hand
burnin' like a hot chestnut, so I gave her a dish o' tea and sent
her upstairs. I thought it might be fever--and her eyes were that
strange and unsteady--"

"It is rather odd," said the constable, "but my daughter observed
how calm and clear her eye was--only an hour before."

"Maybe," said Mrs. Chivers, "and yet she was that won'erful
wanderin' in her speech--"

"You don't think she was shamming?"

"Shammin'! Lord, sir--that Matabel never did, and I've knowed her
since she was two-year old. At three and a half she comed to my
school."

"By the way, what is that stone on your table?" asked Colpus.

"That, sir? Matabel had it in her hand when she comed in. I took
it away, and then I felt how burnin' she was, like a fire."

"Oh! she was still holding that stone. Did she say anything about
it?"

"Yes, sir, she said that she used it to defend herself and baby."

"From whom?"

"She didn't say--but you know, sir, there has been a bit of tiff
between her and the Broom-Squire, and she won't hear of goin back
to the Punch-Bowl, and she has a fancy he wants to take the baby
away from her. That's ridic'lous, of course. But there is no getting
the idea out of her head."

"I must see her."

"You can't speak to her, sir. She is asleep still." Colpus
considered.

"I'll ask you to allow me to take this stone away, Betty. And I
must immediately send for the doctor. He has been sent for to the
Punch-Bowl, and I'll stop him on the way back to Godalming. I must
be assured that Matabel is in a fit state to be removed."

"Removed, whither?"

"To the lock-up."

"The lock-up, sir?"

"To the lock-up. Do you know, Mrs. Chivers, that Jonas Kink is
dead, and that very strong suspicions attach to Matabel, that she
killed him?"

"Matabel killed him!"

"Yes, with that very stone."



CHAPTER XLV.

IN HOPE.


When the surgeon, on his return from the Punch-Bowl was called in
to see Mehetabel, he at once certified that she was not in a
condition to be removed, and that she would require every possible
attention for several days.

Accordingly, James Colpus allowed her to remain at the Dame's School,
but cautioned Betty Chivers that he should hold her responsible for
the appearance of Mehetabel when required.

Jonas Kink was not dead, as Colpus thought when lifted out of the
kiln into which he had been precipitated backwards, but he had
received several blows on the head which had broken in the skull
and stunned him. Had there been a surgeon at hand to relieve the
pressure on the brain, he might perhaps have recovered, but there
was none nearer than Godalming; the surgeon was out when the
messenger arrived, and did not return till late, then he was
obliged to get a meal, and hire a horse, as his own was tired, and
by the time he arrived at the Punch-Bowl Jonas had ceased to
breathe, and all he could do was to certify his death and the
cause thereof.

Mehetabel's nature was vigorous and elastic with youth. She
recovered rapidly, more so, indeed than Mrs. Chivers would allow
to James Colpus, as she was alarmed at the prospect of having to
break to her that a warrant was issued against her on the charge
of murder.

When she did inform her, Mehetabel could not believe what she was
told.

"That is purely," she said. "I kill Jonas! If he had touched me and
tried to take baby away I might have done it. I would have fought
him like a tiger, as I did before."

"When did you fight him?"

"In the Moor, by Thor's Stone, over the gun--there when the shot
went off into his arm."

"I never knew much of that, though there was at the time some talk."

"Yes. I need say nothing of that now. But as to hurting Jonas, I
never hurted nobody in my life save myself, and that was when I
married him. I don't believe I could kill a fly--and then only if
it were teasin' baby."

"There is Joe Filmer downstairs, has somethin' to say. Can he come
up?"

"Yes," answered Mehetabel. "He was always kind to me."

The ostler of the Ship stumbled up the stairs and saluted the sick
girl with cordiality and respect.

"Very sorry about this little affair. 'Tis a pity, I sez, that such
a fuss be made over trifles. There's been the crownin' of the body,
and now there's to be the hearin' of you afore the magistrates, and
then they say you'll have to go to the 'sizez, and there'll come
the hangin'. 'Tis terrible lot o' fuss all about Jonas as wasn't
worth it. No one'll miss him and if you did kill him, well, there
was cause, and I don't think the wuss o' you for it."

"Thank you, Joe, but I did not kill him."

"Well--you know--it's right for you to say so, 'cos you'll have to
plead not guilty. Polly, at our place never allows she's broke
nothin', but the chinay and the pipkins have got a terrible way of
committin' felo de se since she came to the Ship. She always sez
she didn't do it--and right enough. No one in this free country
is obliged to incriminate hisself. That's one of our glorious
institootions."

"I really am guiltless," urged Mehetabel.

"Quite right you should say so. Pleased to hear it. But I don't
know what the magistrates will say. Most folks here sez you did,
and all the Punch-Bowl will swear it. They sez you tried to kill
him wi' his own gun, but didn't succeed as you wished, so now you
knocked him on the head effectual like, and tippled his dead body
down into the kiln. He was an aggravatin' chap, was Bideabout, and
deserved it. But that is not what I come here to say."

"And that was--"

"Well, now, I mustn't say it too loud. I just slipped in when
nobody was about, as I don't want it to be known as I am here. The
master and I settled it between us."

"Settled what, Joe?"

"You see he always had a wonderful liking for you, and so had I.
He was agin you marryin' the Broom-Squire, but the missus would
have it so. Now he's goyne to send me with the trap to Portsmouth.
He's had orders for it from a gent as be comin' wild fowl shootin'
in the Moor. So my notion is I'll drive by here in the dark, and
you'll be ready, and come along wi' me, takin' the baby with you,
and I'll whip you off to Portsmouth, and nobody a penny the wiser.
I've got a married sister there--got a bit o' a shop, and I'll take
you to her, and if you don't mind a bit o' nonsense, I'll say you're
my wife and that's my baby. Then you can stay there till all is
quiet. I've a notion as Master Colpus be comin' to arrest you
to-morrow, and that would be comical games. If you will come along
wi' me, and let me pass you off as I sed, then you can lie hid till
the wind has changed. It's a beautiful plan. I talked it over with
the master, and he's agreeable; and as to money--well, he put ten
pound into my hand for you, and there's ten pound of my wages I've
saved and hid in the thatchin' of the cow-stall, and have no use
for; that's twenty pound, and will keep you and the baby goin' for
a while, and when that's done I daresay there'll be more to be had."

"I thank you, Joe," began Mehetabel, the tears rising in her eyes.

He cut her short. "The master don't want Polly to know nothin' of
it. Polly's been able to get the mastery in the house. She's got
the keys, and she's a'most got the old chap under lock. But it's
my experience as fellows when they get old get won'erful artful,
and master may be under her thumb in most things, but not all. And
he don't fancy the notion of your bein' hanged. So he gave me that
ten pound, and when I sed I'd drive you away afore the constable
had you--why, he just about jumped out o' his breeches wi' joy.
Only the first thing he said then was--'Not a word to Polly.'"

"Indeed, Joe, you are good, but I cannot go."

"You must go either to Portsmouth or to Gorlmyn. You may be a free
woman, but in hidin', or go to prison. There's the choice before
you. And if you b'ain't a fool, I know what you will take."

"I do not think it right to run away."

"Of course if you killed him deliberate, then you may go cheerful
like and be hanged for it. But wot I sez and most sez, but they in
the Punch-Bowl, is that it worn't deliberate. It were done under
aggravatin' sarcumstances. The squatters in the Bowl, they have
another tale. They say you tried to shoot him, and then to poison
him, and he lived in fear of his life of you, and then you knocked
him head over heels into the kiln, and served him right is my
doctrine, and I respect you for it. But then--wot our people in
Thursley sez is that it'll give the place a bad name if you're hung
on Hind Head. They've had three hangin' there already, along of wot
they did to your father. And to have another might damage the
character of the place. I don't fancy myself that farmer Colpus is
mighty keen on havin' you hanged."

"I shall not be hanged when I am guiltless," said Mehetabel.

"My dear," answered the hostler, "it all depends not on what you
are but on what the judge and jury think, and that depends on the
lawyers what they say in their harangues. There's chances in all
these things, and the chance may be as you does get found guilty
and be sentenced to the gallows. It might cause an unpleasantness
here, and that you would wish to avoid I don't say as even Sally
Rocliffe and Thomas would like it, for you're related to them
somehow, and I'm quite sure as Thursley villagers won't like it,
cos we've all respected you and have held Jonas cheap. And why we
should have you hanged becos he's dead--that's unanswerable I say.
So I'll be round after dark and drive you to Portsmouth."

"No, indeed, I cannot go."

"You can think it over. What about the little chap, the baby? If
they hang you, that'll be wuss for him than it was for you. For you
it were bad enough, because you had three men hanged all along of
your father, but for he it'll be far more serious when he goes
about the world as the chap as had his mother hanged."

"Joe, you insist on imagining the worst. It cannot, it will not, be
that I shall be condemned when guiltless."

"If I was you I'd make sure I wasn't ketched," urged the hostler.
"You may be quite certain that the master will do what he can for
you; but I must say this, he is that under Polly that you can't
depend on him. There was old Clutch on the day when Bideabout was
killed. The doctor came from Gorlmyn on a hired hoss, and it was
the gray mare from the inn there. Well, old Clutch seems to have
found it out, and with his nose he lifted the latch of the
stable-door and got out, and trotted away after the doctor or the
old mare all the road to Gorlmyn; and he's there now in a field
with the mare, as affable as can be with her. It's the way of old
horses--and what, then, can you expect of old men? Polly can lead
the master where she pleases."

"Joe," said Mehetabel, "I cannot accept your kind offer. Do not
think me ungrateful. I am touched to the heart. But I will not
attempt to run away; that would at once be taken as a token that I
was guilty and was afraid of the consequences. I will not do
anything to give occasion for such a thought. I am not guilty,
and will act as an innocent person would."

"You may please yourself," answered Filmer; "but if you don't go, I
shall think you what I never thought you before--a fool."

"I cannot help it; I must do what is right," said Mehetabel. "But I
shall never forget your kindness, Joe, at a time when there are
very few who are friends to me."

The period of Mehetabel's illness had been a trying one for the
infant, and its health, never strong, had suffered. Happily, the
little children who came to the Dame's school were ready and
suitable nurses for it. A child can amuse and distract a babe from
its woes in an exceptional manner, and all the little pupils were
eager to escape A B C by acting as nurses.

When the mother was better, the babe also recovered; but it was, at
best, a puny, frail creature.

Mehetabel was aware how feeble a life was that which depended on
her, but would not admit it to herself. She could not endure to
have the delicacy of the child animadverted upon. She found excuses
for its tears, explanations of its diminutive size, a reason for
every doubtful sign--only not the right one. She knew she was
deceiving herself, but clung to the one hope that filled her--that
she might live for her child, and her child might live for her.

The human heart must have hope. That is as necessary to its
thriving as sun is to the flowers. If it were not for the spring
before it, the flower-root would rot in the ground, the tree canker
at the core; the bird would speed south never to return; the insect
would not retreat under shelter in the rain; the dormouse would not
hibernate, the ant collect its stores, the bee its honey. There
could be no life without expectation; and a life without hope in
man or woman is that of a machine--not even that of an animal. Hope
is the mainspring of every activity; it is the spur to all
undertakings; it is the buttress to every building; it runs in all
youthful blood; it gives buoyancy to every young heart and vivacity
to every brain. Mehetabel had hope in her now. She had no thought
for herself save how it concerned her child. In that child her hope
was incorporate.



CHAPTER XLVI.

A TROUBLED HOPE.


On the following morning Mehetabel was conveyed to Godalming, and
was brought before the magistrates, assembled in Petty Sessions.

She was in no great anxiety. She knew that she was innocent, and
had a childlike, childish confidence that innocence must come out
clear of stain, and then only guilt suffered punishment.

Before the magistrates this confidence of hers was rudely shaken.
The evidence that would be produced against her at the Assizes was
gone through in rough, as is always done in these cases, and the
charge assumed a gravity of complexion that astonished and abashed
her. That she and her husband had not lived in harmony was shown;
also that he had asserted that she had attempted his life with his
gun; that he was afraid she would poison him if trusted with the
opiate prescribed for him when suffering from a wound. It was
further shown by Giles Cheel and Sarah Rocliffe that she had
threatened to kill her husband with a stone, if not that actually
used by her, and then on the table, by one so like it as to be
hardly distinguishable from it. This threat had been made on the
night previous to the death of Jonas Kink. On the morning she had
encountered her husband in a field belonging to Mr. James Colpus,
and this meeting had been witnessed by the owner of the field, his
daughter, and by Thomas Rocliffe and his son Samuel.

Colpus and his daughter had been at some distance in the rear, but
Thomas and Samuel Rocliffe had been close by, in a sunken lane;
they had witnessed the meeting from a distance of under thirty
feet, and were so concealed by the hedge of holly and the bank as
to render it improbable that they were visible to the accused.

James Colpus had seen that an altercation took place between
Mehetabel and the deceased, but was at too great a distance to
hear what was said. He had seen Mehetabel raise her hand, holding
something--what he could not say--and threaten Jonas with it; but
he did not actually see her strike him, because at that moment he
turned to say something to his daughter.

The evidence of Mary Colpus was to much the same effect. The
accused had come to her to ask for a situation vacant in the house,
through the dismissal of Julia Caesar, her former servant, and
some difficulty had been raised as to her reception, on account
of the doubt whether Jonas would allow his wife to go out into
service, and leave her home. She and her father had promised to
consider the matter, and with this understanding Mehetabel had
left, carrying her babe.

Just as she reached the further extremity of the field, she met
her husband, Jonas Kink, who came up over the stile, out of the
lane, apparently unobserved by Mehetabel; for, when he addressed
her, she started, drew back, and thrust her hand into her pocket
and pulled out a stone. With this she threatened to strike him; but
whether she carried her threat into execution, or what occasioned
his fall, she could not say, owing to her father having spoken to
her at that moment, and she had diverted her eyes from the two in
the field to him. When next she looked Jonas had disappeared, and
she heard the shouts, and saw the faces of Thomas and Samuel
Rocliffe, as they came through the hedge.

Then her father said, "Something has happened!" and started
running. She had followed at a distance, and seen the Rocliffes
pull the body of Jonas Kink out of the kiln and lay it on the grass.

Thomas Rocliffe was a stupid man, and the magistrates had difficulty
with him. They managed, however, to extract from him the following
statement on oath:

He and Samuel had been out the previous day along with Jonas Kink,
his brother-in-law, looking for Mehetabel. Jonas thought she had
gone to the Moor and had drowned herself, and he had said he did
not care "such a won'erful sight whether she had."

On the morning of the event of his death Jonas had come to them,
and asked them to attend him again, and from what he, Thomas, had
heard from Sally, he said that they had been on the wrong scent
the night before, and that they must look for Matabel nigher, in
or about the village.

They had gone together, he and Jonas and his son Samuel, along the
lane that led out of the Punch-Bowl towards Thursley by the
Colpus's farm, and as they went along, in the deep lane, Jonas
shouted out that he saw his wife coming along. Then he, Thomas
and Samuel looked, and they also saw her. She was walking very
slow, and "was cuddlin' the baby," and did not seem to know where
she was going, for she went wide of the stile. Then Jonas got up
over the stile, and told Thomas and Samuel to bide where they
were till he called them. They did so, and saw him address
Mehetabel, who was surprised when he spoke to her, and then
something was said between them, and she pulled a big stone out
of her pocket and raised it over her head, stepped forward,
"sharp-like," and knocked him with it, on the head, so that he
fell like one struck with a thunderbolt, backward into the kiln.
Thereupon he and Samuel came up over the hedge, and he jumped
into the kiln, and found his brother-in-law there, huddled up
in a heap at the bottom. He managed with difficulty to heave
him out, and with the assistance of Samuel and Farmer Colpus, to
lay him on the grass, when all three supposed he was dead.

When they said that he was dead, then Mehetabel laughed.

This statement produced a commotion in court. Then they got a
hurdle or gate, he couldn't say which, and lifted the deceased
on to it and carried him home to the Punch-Bowl. It was only when
they laid him on the bed that they saw he still breathed. They
heard him groan, and he moved one hand--the right. He was rather
stiff and awkward with his left since his accident.

This evidence was corroborated at every point by the testimony of
Samuel, who was quite positive that Mehetabel had struck Jonas on
the head. Like all stupid people, the two Rocliffes were ready to
swear to and maintain with tenacity those points which were false
or inaccurate, and to hesitate about asserting with confidence such
as were true, and could not be other than true. It is not always
in the power of a wise and observant man to discriminate between
facts and imagination, and a dull and undeveloped intelligence is
absolutely incapable of distinguishing between them.

The evidence of the surgeon was to the effect that Jonas Kink had
died from the consequences of fracture of the skull, but whether
caused by a blow from a stone or from a fall he was unable to
state. There were contusions on his person. He probably struck
his head against the bricks of the kiln as he fell or was thrown
into it. Abrasions of the skin were certainly so caused. When he,
the witness, arrived at the Punch-Bowl, Kink was already dead. He
might have been dead an hour, the body was not absolutely cold.
When asked whether the piece of ironstone on the table might have
dealt the blow which had broken in the skull of Jonas, he replied,
that it might have done so certainly, and the fracture of the skull
was quite compatible with the charge advanced that it had been so
caused.

The next witness summoned was Betty Chivers, who gave her evidence
with great reluctance, and with many tears. It was true that the
stone produced in court had been taken by her from the hand of the
accused, and that immediately on her return from the farm of Mr.
Colpus. Mehetabel had not told her that she had met her husband,
had not said that he was dead, but had admitted that she had armed
herself with the stone for the purpose of self-defence against
Jonas, her husband, who, she believed, desired to take the child
from her.

Mehetabel was asked if she had anything to say, and when she
declined to say anything, was committed for trial at the ensuing
assizes at Kingston.

Throughout the hearing she had been uneasy. The cell where she had
been confined was close to the court, and she had been obliged to
leave her child with a woman who had attended to her; and with this
person the infant would not be at rest. Faintly, and whenever there
was a lull in the court, she could hear the wail of her child, the
little voice rising and falling, and she was impatient to be back
with it, to still its cries and console the little heart, that was
frightened at the presence of strangers and separation from its
mother.

Through all the time that she was in court, Mehetabel was listening
for the voice of the little one, and paying far more attention to
that, than to the evidence produced against her.

It was not till Mehetabel was removed to Kingston on Thames and put
in the prison to await her trial, that the full danger that menaced
was realized by her, and then it was mainly as it affected her
child, that it alarmed her. Life had not been so precious, that
she valued it, save for the sake of this feeble child so dependent
on her for everything.

Her confidence in justice was no longer great. Ever since her
marriage--indeed, ever since Mrs. Verstage had turned against her,
she had been buffeted by Fortune, devoid of friends. Why should a
Court of Justice treat her otherwise than had the little world
with which she had been brought in contact.

In Kingston prison the wife of the jailer was kind, and took a
fancy to the unhappy young mother. She sat with and talked to her.

"If they hang me," said Mehetabel, "what will become of my baby?"

"It will go to a relation."

"It has no relations but Sally Rocliffe, and she has ill-wished it.
She will be unkind to it, she wants it to die; and if it lives,
she will speak to my child unkindly of me."

She wiped her eyes. "I cannot bear to think of that. I might make
up my mind to die, if I knew my baby would be kindly cared for and
loved--though none could love it and care for it as I do. But I
could not die thinking it was taught that I was a bad woman, and
heard untrue things said of me every day. I know Sally, she would
do that. I had rather my child went on the parish, as I did, than
that Sally Rocliffe should have it. I was a charity girl, and I
was well cared for by Susanna Verstage, but that was a chance, or
rather a Providence, and I know very well there are not many
Susanna Verstages in the world. There is not another in Thursley,
no, nor in Witley either."

"Your child could not go on the parish. Your husband, as I have
been told, had a freehold of his own and some money."

"He lost all his money."

"But the farm was his, and that must be worth a few hundred pounds,
so that it would not be possible for the child to go on the parish."

"Then it must go to Sally Rocliffe. There is no other relation."

This was now the great trouble of Mehetabel. She had accepted the
inevitable, that wrong judgment would be pronounced, and that she
would be hung. Then the thought that her little darling would be
placed under the charge of the woman who had embittered her married
life, the woman who believed her to be guilty of murder,--this
was more than she could endure.

She had passed completely from confidence that her innocence would
be acknowledged and that she would at once be released, a condition
in which she had rested previous to her appearance before the
magistrates at Godalming, into the reverse state, she accepted,
now that she was in prison, awaiting her trial, as a certainty that
she would be condemned and sentenced to the gallows.

This frame of mind in which she was affected the jailer's wife, and
made her suppose that Mehetabel was guilty of the crime wherewith
she was charged.

All Mehetabel's thoughts and schemings were directed towards the
disposal of her child and its welfare after she was taken from it.
All the struggle within her torn heart was to reconcile herself to
the parting, and to have faith in Providence that her child would
be cared for when she was removed.

How that could be she saw not; and she came at length to hope that
when she was taken away the poor little orphan babe would follow
her. In that thought she found more comfort than in the anticipation
of its living, ill-treated by its aunt, and brought up to be
ashamed of its mother.

"You say," said Mehetabel to the jaileress, "that they don't hang
women in chains now. I am glad of that. But where will I be buried?
Do you think it could be contrived that if my baby were to die at
some time after me it might be laid at my side? That is the only
thing I now desire--and that--oh! I think I could be happy if I
were promised that."



CHAPTER XLVII.

BEFORE THE JUDGE.


Previous to the Assizes, Joe Filmer arrived in Kingston in a trap
drawn by old Clutch. He was admitted into the prison on his
expressing his desire to see Mehetabel.

After the first salutations were passed, Joe proceeded to business.
"You see, Matabel," said he, "the master don't want you to think
he won't help you out o' this little mess you've got into. But he
don't want Polly to know it. The master, he's won'erful under that
young woman's--I can't say thumb, but say her big toe. So if he
does wot he does about you, it's through me, and he'll sit
innercent like by the fire twiddlin' of his thumbs, and talkin'
of the weather. Master would be crafty as an old fox if he weren't
stupid as an owl. I can't think how he can have allowed himself to
get so much into Polly's power. It is so; and when he wants to do
a thing without her knowin', he has to do it underhand ways. Well,
he thort if he let our 'oss and trap go, as Polly'd be suspectin'
something, and Polly's terrible set against you. So he told me to
take a holiday and visit a dyin' aunt, and borrow old Clutch and a
trap from the Angel at Gorlmyn. Clutch have been there all along,
ever since your affair. There's no keepin' him away. So I came
here; and won'erful slow Clutch was. When I came to Kingston I put
up at the Sun, and sez I to the ostler: Be there a good lawyer
hereabouts, think you? 'Well,' sez he, 'I'm a stranger to Kingston.
I were born and bred at Cheam, but I was ostler first in Chertsey,
and then for six months at Twickenham. But there's a young woman
I'm courtin', I think she does the washin' for a soort of a lawyer
chap, and I'll ax she at my dinner time.' So he did, and he came
back and told me as the gal sed her master was a lawyer. She didn't
think much of the missus, she was mean about perquisates, but the
master was decent enough, and never came pokin into the kitchen
except when he wanted to have his socks dried. So I reckon he'll do
the job for you. Well, I gave that there ostler threepence, and
axed him to do me the favor of tellin' that there lawyer that I'd
be glad to stand him a glass o' ale if he'd step over to the bar
of the Angel. I'd got a bit of business I wanted to consult him
about. Well, he came, affable enough, and I told him all--as how I
wanted him to defend you, and get you out of this tidy hobble you
was in, and wot it 'ud cost. Then he thought a bit, and said that
he could get up the case, but must engage counsel. He was only a
turnkey, or some name like that; I sed, sed I, he was to manage
all, and he might take it or lump it on these terms: Five and
twenty pounds if he got you off clear, and if he didn't, and you
was hanged, then nuthin'."

Joe smiled and rubbed his hands in self-satisfaction. Then he
continued: "You know the master stands behind me. He'll find the
money, so long as Polly don't know; but he thort, and so does I,
as it could be done cheapest if I took it on me. So I sed to the
lawyer chap, who was makin' faces as if he'd got a herrin' bone in
his teeth, sez I, 'I'm nort but an ostler in a little country inn,
and it's not to be supposed I've much savin's. Nor is Matabel any
relation, only she wos maid in the inn whilst I wos ostlin', so I
feels a sort o' a likin' for the girl, and I don't mind standin'
five and twenty pound to get her off. More I can't give.' That,
Matabel, was gammon. The master wouldn't stick at five and twenty,
but he told me to try on this little game. He's deep is the master,
for, all the innercence he puts on. I said to the ostler I'd give
him half-a-crown for the gal as washes, as she introduced me to the
lawyer. That there turnkey, as he calls himself, he sez he must get
the counsel, and I sez, that, of course, and it comes out of the
five and twenty. Then he made more faces, but I stuck to it, and I
believe he'll do it. He axed me about particulars, and I sed he wos
to consult you. The master sed that durin' the trial I wos to be
nigh the lawyer, and if he seemed to flag at all I wos to say,
'Another five pound, old ginger, if you gets her off.' So I think
we shall manage it, and Polly be never the wiser."

The Assizes began. Mehetabel, in her prison, could hear the church
bells ring merry peals to welcome the judge. She was in sore anxiety
about the child, that had failed greatly of late. The trouble in
which its mother had been involved had told on its never strong
constitution. Even had she been occupied with her own defence and
ultimate fate, the condition of the babe imperiously demanded that
the main solicitude of its mother should be devoted to it, to still
its cries, to relieve its pains, to lull it to necessary sleep.

When Mahetabel knew that she was in a few minutes to be summoned to
answer in court for her life, she hung over the little sufferer,
clasped it and its crib in her arms, and laid her cheek beside its
fevered face on the pillow. She could rest in no other position. If
she left the child, it was to pace the cell--if she turned her
thoughts to her defence, she was called back by a peevish cry to
consider the infant.

When finally summoned to the court she committed the babe to the
friendly and worthy jaileress, who undertook to care for it to the
best of her abilities. The appearance of Mehetabel in the court
produced at once a favorable impression. Her beauty, her youth, the
sweetness and pathos of expression in her intelligent face, and the
modesty with which she bore the stare of the crowd, sent a wave of
sympathy through all present, and stirred pity in every heart. When
Mehetabel had recovered the confusion and alarm into which she was
thrown by finding herself in the dock with heads all about her, eyes
fixed upon her, and mouths whispering comments, she timidly looked
up and around.

She saw the judge in his robes under the Royal arms, the barristers,
in gowns and wigs, she looked in the direction of the jury,
and with a start recognized one amongst them. By a strange chance
Iver Verstage had been chosen as one of the petty jury, and the
prosecution not suspecting that he was in any way mixed up in the
matter before the court, not knowing that he was acquainted with
the prisoner, that he came from the neighborhood of the scene of
the murder, suffered him to pass unchallenged. Iver did not turn
his face her way, and avoided meeting her eye.

Then she saw Joe Filmer's honest countenance; he sought what Iver
avoided, and greeted her with a smile and a nod.

There was one more present whom Mehetabel recognized, and that in
spite of his wig. She saw in the barrister who was to act as
counsel in the prosecution that same young man who had insulted
her on the dam of the Hammer Pond.

There was little fresh evidence produced beyond that elicited
before the magistrates. Almost the only new matter was what was
drawn from the two Rocliffes relative to the conversation that
had passed between the prisoner and the deceased previous to his
death. But neither father nor son could give a clear account, and
they contradicted each other and themselves. But both were confident
as to Mehetabel having struck Jonas on the head.

The counsel for the defence was able to make a point here. According
to their account they were in a lane, the level of which was
considerably lower than that of the field in which the altercation
took place. There was a hedge of holly intervening. Now holly does
not lose its leaves in winter. Holly does not grow in straggling
fashion, but densely. How were these two men able to see through
so close a screen? Moreover, if they could see the prisoner then
it was obvious she could see them, and was it likely that she would
strike her husband before their eyes. Neither Samuel nor Thomas
Rocliffe was able to explain how he saw through a hedge of holly,
but he had no hesitation in saying that see he did. They were both
looking and had chosen a spot where a view was possible, and that
Mehetabel did not know they were present was almost certain, as
she was looking at Jonas all the while and not in their direction.
The counsel was disappointed, he had hoped to make much of this
point.

Mehetabel was uneasy when she noticed now that the bewigged young
man who had spoken with her at the Hammer Pond labored to bring
out from the witnesses' admissions that would tell against her.
He was not content with the particulars of the death of Jonas, he
went back to the marriage of Mehetabel, and to her early history.
He forced from the Rocliffes, father and son, and also from Colpus
and his daughter the statement that when Mehetabel had been told
her husband was dead she had laughed.

Up to this the feeling of all in court had been unmistakably in her
favor, but now, as in the petty sessions, the knowledge that she
had laughed turned the current of sympathy from her.

When all the evidence had been produced, then the counsel for the
prosecution stood up and addressed the court. The case, said he,
was a peculiarly painful one, for it exhibited the blackest
ingratitude in one who owed, he might say, everything to the
deceased. As the court had heard--the accused had been brought
up in a small wayside tavern, the resort of sailors on their way
between London and Portsmouth, where she had served in the capacity
of barmaid, giving drink to the low fellows who frequented the
public-house, and he need hardly say that such a bringing up must
kill all the modesty, morality, sense of self-respect and common
decency out of a young girl's mind. She was good-looking, and had
been the object of familiarities from the drunken vagabonds who
passed and repassed along the road, and stayed to slake their
thirst, and bandy jokes with the pretty barmaid. From this situation
she had been rescued by Jonas Kink, a substantial farmer. Having
been a foundling she had no name. She had been brought up at the
parish expense, and had no relatives either to curb her propensities
for evil, or to withdraw her from a situation in which no young
woman, he ventured to say, could spend her early years without
moral degradation. It might almost be asserted that Jonas Kink,
the deceased, had lifted this unfortunate creature from the gutter.
He had given her his name, he had given her a home. He had treated
her with uniform kindness--no evidence had been produced that he
had ever maltreated her. On the contrary, as the widow Chivers had
admitted--the prisoner said herself that the deceased had never
struck her with a stick. That there had been quarrels he freely
admitted, that the deceased had spoken sharply was not to be
denied. But he asked: What husband would endure that the young
wife who was indebted to him for everything, should resume her
light and reprehensible conduct, or should show inclination to
do so, after he had made her his own? No doubt whatever that the
prisoner at the bar felt the monotony of a farmhouse irksome
after the lively existence in a public house. No doubt she missed
the society of topers, and their tipsy familiarities. But was
that reason why she should kill her husband?

He believed that he had been able to show that this murder had
been planned; that the prisoner had provided herself with the
implement wherewith it was her purpose to rid herself of the
husband who was distasteful to her. With deliberate intention to
free herself, she had waited to catch him alone, and where she
believed she was unobserved. The jury must consider how utterly
degraded a woman must be to compass the death of the man to whom
she had sworn eternal fidelity and love. A woman who could do this
was not one who should be suffered to live; she was a scandal to
her sex; she dishonored humanity.

The counsel proceeded to say: "Gentlemen of the jury, I have
anxiously looked about for some excuses, something that might
extenuate the atrocity of this crime. I have found none. The man
who steals bread to support his starving children must suffer
under the law for what he has done. Can you allow to go free a
woman, because young, who has wilfully, wantonly, and deliberately
compassed the murder of her husband, merely, as far as we can
judge, because he stood in her way pointing the direction to
morality and happiness. Whatever may be said in defence of this
unfortunate prisoner now on her trial, gentlemen of the jury, do
not mistake your office. You are not here to excuse crime and to
forgive criminals, but to judge them with justice. Do not be
swayed by any false feeling of commiseration because of the sex
and youth of the accused. Remember that a wife guilty of the
murder of her husband, who is allowed to run free, encourages
all others, possibly even your own, to rid themselves of their
husbands, whenever they resent a look or a word of reproach. I
will lose no more words, but demand a sentence of guilty against
Mehetabel Kink."

The young mother had hardly been able to endure the sense of shame
that overwhelmed her during the progress of the speech of the
counsel. Flushes of crimson swept through her face, at his
insinuations and statements affecting her character, and then the
color faded leaving her deadly white. This was an agony of death
worse than the gallows. She could have cried out, "Take my life--but
spare me this dishonor."

Joe Filmer looked troubled and alarmed; he worked his way to the
back of the bench, where sat the counsel for the defence, and
said: "Old Crock, five guineas--ten, if you'll get her off. Five
from the master, and five from me. And I'll kick that rascal who
has just spoken, as he comes out; I will, be Jiggers!"



CHAPTER XLVIII.

THE VERDICT.


When the counsel for the defense stood up, Mehetabel raised her
shame-stricken face. This man, she knew, would speak a good word
for her--had he not done so already? Had not all his efforts been
directed towards getting out of the witnesses something favorable
to her, and to showing contradictions in their statements which
told against her?

But she looked timidly towards him, and dared not meet the glances
of the crowd in the court. What must they think of her--that she
was an abandoned woman without self-restraint; a disgrace to her
sex, as that young barrister had said.

Again, it must be said, she was accustomed to injustice. She had
been unfairly treated by Susanna Verstage. She had met with cruel
wrong from her husband. By the whole of the Punch-Bowl she had been
received without generosity, without that openness of mind which
should have been manifested towards a stranger claiming its
hospitality. She had not received the kindness that was her due
from her sister-in-law. Even the well-disposed Joe Filmer believed
her to be guilty of murder. But perhaps she could have borne all
this better than the wounding insults offered her by the counsel
for the prosecution, blasting her character before the world.

The barrister engaged to defend her did his utmost, and did it with
ability. He charged the jury not to be deceived into believing that
this was a case of premeditated murder, even if they were satisfied
that Jonas had been killed by the stone carried by the defendant.

As he had brought out by the evidence of the widow Betty Chivers,
and by that of the surgeon, the prisoner had been off her head,
and was not responsible for what she said or did. What more likely
then that she raved in delirium when she asserted that she would
kill her husband, and what more evident token of having her brain
overbalanced than that she should be running about the country
hiding in caves, carrying her child with her, under the impression
that her husband desired to take it from her, and perhaps do it an
injury. That was not the conduct of a sane woman. Why should a
father seek to rob her of her child? Could he suckle it? Did he
want to be encumbered with an unweaned infant? Then as to the
alleged murder. Was the testimony of the two men, Thomas and Samuel
Rocliffe, worth a rush? Was not this Thomas a fool, who had been
enveigled into a marriage with a tramp who called herself a
countess? Did he not show when under cross-examination that he was
a man of limited intelligence? And was his son Samuel much better?
There was a dense holly hedge betwixt them and the prisoner. He
put it to any candid person, who can see so clearly through a
holly bush as to be able to distinguish the action of parties on
the further side? These two witnesses had fallen into contradiction
as to what they had heard said, through the holly hedge, and it was
much easier to hear than to see athwart such an obstruction.

There was enough to account for the death of Jonas Kink without
having recourse to the theory of murder. He had received a blow
on his head, but he had received more blows than one; when a man
falls backwards and falls down into a kiln that yawns behind him
he would strike his head against the side more than once, and with
sufficient force to break in his skull and kill him. How could they
be sure that he was not killed by a blow against the bricks of the
kiln edge? The accused had charged the deceased with having tried
to murder her baby. That was what both the witnesses had agreed
in, though one would have it she had asserted he tried to poison
it, and the other that he had endeavored to strangle it. Such a
charge was enough to surprise a father, and no wonder that he
started back, and in starting back fell into the kiln, the existence
of which he had forgotten if he ever knew of it. He the counsel,
entreated the jury not to be led away by appearances, but to weigh
the evidence and to pronounce as their verdict not guilty.

No sooner had he seated himself than he was nudged in the back,
and Joe Filmer said, in a loud whisper, "Famous! Shake hands, and
have a drop o' Hollands." Then the ostler thrust forward a bottle
that had been in his pocket. "It's first-rate stuff," he said. "The
master gave it me."

The Judge summed up and charged the jury. As Joe Filmer described
his address afterwards, "He said that there were six things again'
her, and about a half-a-dozen for her; there was evidence as went
one road and evidence as went t'other way. That she was either
guilty or not guilty, and the gem'men of the jury was to please
themselves and say wot they liked."

Thereupon the jury withdrew.

Now when the twelve men were in the room to which they had retired,
then the foreman said:--"Well, gents, what do you think now? You
give us your opinion, Mr. Quittenden."

"Then, sir," answered the gentleman addressed, an upholsterer. "I
should say 'ang 'er. It won't do, in my opinion, to let wives think
they can play old Harry with their 'usbands. What the gentleman
said as acted in the prosecution was true as gospel. It won't do
for us to be soft heads and let our wives think they can massacre
us with impunity. Women ain't reasonin' creatures, they're hanimals
of impulse, and if one of us comes 'ome with a drop too much, or
grumbles at the children bein' spoiled, then, I say, if our wives
think they can do it and get let off they'll up wi' the flat iron
and brain us. I say guilty. Ang 'er."

"Well, sir," said the foreman, "that's your judgment. Now let us
hear what Josias Kingerle has to say."

"Sir," said the gentleman addressed, who was in the tannery
business, "if she weren't so good-lookin' I'd say let her off."

As an expression of surprise found utterance Mr. Kingerle proceeded
to explain.

"You see, gentlemen of the jury, and you, Mr. Foreman, I have a
wife, and that good lady was in court, an' kept her eye on me all
the time like a rattlesnake. I couldn't steal a peep at the prisoner
but she was shakin' of her parasol handle at me, and though she
didn't say it with words yet I read it in her eye, 'Now then, Josiah,
none o' your games and gushes of pity over pretty gals.' It's as
much as my domestic felicity is worth, gentlemen, to say not guilty.
My wife would say, and your wives would all say, 'O yes! very fine.
Because she was 'andsome you have acquitted her. Had we--' I'm
speakin' as if it was our wives addressin' of us, gentlemen--'Had
we been in the dock, or had there been an ugly woman, you would
have said guilty at once.' So for peace and quietness I say guilty.
'Ang 'er."

"Well, Mr. Kingerle," said the foreman, "that is your opinion; you
agree with Mr. Quittenden. Now then, what say you, Mr. Wrist?"

The juryman addressed was a stout and heavy man. He stretched his
short legs, seated himself in his chair, and after a long pause
said, "I don't know as I care particular, as far as I'm concerned.
But it's better in my opinion to hang her, even if innocent, than
let her off. It's setting an example, a fine one, to the wimen. I
agree with Mr. Quittenden, and say--guilty. 'Ang 'er.'

"Now then, Mr. Sanson."

"I," answered a timid little apothecary, "I wouldn't wish to differ
from any one. I had rather you passed me over now, and just asked
the rest. Then I'll fall in with the general division."

"Very well, then--and you, Mr. Sniggins."

"I am rayther hard of hearing," answered that gentleman, "and I
didn't catch all that was said in evidence, and then I had a bad
night. I'd taken some lobster last evening, and it didn't agree
with me, and I couldn't sleep, and it was rayther hot in the court,
and I just closed my eyes now and again, and what with being hard
of hearing and closing my eyes, I'm not very well up in the case,
but I say--guilty. 'Ang 'er."

"And you, Mr.--I beg your pardon, I did not catch your name."

"Verstage."

"Not a Kingston gent?"

"Oh, no, from Guildford,"

"What say you, sir?"

"I--emphatically, not guilty." Iver threw himself back in his
chair, extended his legs, and thrust his hands into his trouser
pockets. "The whole thing is rank nonsense. How could a woman with
a baby in her arms knock a man down? You try, gents, any one of
you--take your last born, and whilst nursing it, attempt to pull
your wife's nose. You can't do it. The thing is obvious." He looked
round with assurance. "The man was a curmudgeon. He misused her.
He was in bad circumstances through the failure of the Wealden
Bank. He wanted money, and the child had just had a fortune left
it--something a little under two hundred pounds."

"How do you know that?" asked the foreman. "That didn't come out
in evidence."

"P'raps you shut your ears, as Mr. Sniggins shut his peepers.
P'raps it came out, p'raps it didn't. But it's true all the same.
And the fellow wanted the money. Matabel--I mean the prisoner at
the bar thought--rightly or wrongly matters not--that he wished
for the death of his child, and she ran away. She was not crazy;
she was resolved to protect her child. She swore that she would
defend it. That Giles Cheel and Mrs. Rocliffe said. What mother
would not do the same? As for those two men, Thomas and Samuel
Rocliffe, they never saw her knock down Jonas Kink, for the good
reason that she was holding the baby, and couldn't do it. But
when she told him, he was seeking his child's life--all for the
money left it--then he stumbled back, and fell into the kiln--not
guilty. If I sit here till I starve you all--not guilty."

"But, sir, what you state did not come out in the evidence."

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

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

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

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

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

A silence fell on the whole court.

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

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

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



CHAPTER XLIX.

WELCOME.


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

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

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

"About Betty! What?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, Joe, I was surprised."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Indeed, indeed, I did not."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there--there in the porch door stood Iver.

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



CHAPTER L.

MOVE ON.


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

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

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

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

"How have you come?" asked he.

"I walked."

"Where from--not Kingston?"

"Oh, no! only from Gorlmyn."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  "Thou art my sceptre, crown and all."

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

"You must be tired," said Iver.

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

"Are you hungry, Matabel?"

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

Presently she asked, "Where is father?"

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

"And Polly?"

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

"Whom have you got in her place?"

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

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

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

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

"And you laughed."

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

"They all said you did."

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

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

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

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

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

"You must. You have no other home."

"That can be no home to me."

"But--where are you going to live?"

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

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

"Why not?"

"Oh, there are three or four reasons."

She looked steadily at him, awaiting more.

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

"You are!" Her eyes brightened.

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

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

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

"I must go! What, now?"

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

"Engaged--to Polly Colpus?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She shook her head she could not speak.

"Or if you want any food--"

She shook her head again.

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

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

"No, I will not go there!"

"Then, where do you go?"

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

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



CHAPTER LI.

THOR'S STONE AGAIN.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She recognized the sexton.

"Who are you there?" he asked.

She answered him.

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

She shrank back.

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

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

"Yes, Mr. Linegar, it is."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"He looks won'erful white."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now a strange thing occurred.

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

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

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

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

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

The babe was dead in her lap.

Her hand fell from the stone.



CHAPTER LII.

THE ROSE-CLOUD.


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

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

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

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

"Yes, she has; and has gone."

"Where to?"

"Of course, home, to the Bowl."

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

"Then she may be in the churchyard."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vicar came up.

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

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

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

"None, Mrs. Kink?"

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

"And that is?"

"To love and fear God."

"And next?"

With a timid smile:

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

"And next?"

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

"And next?"

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

"You teach no more than these?"

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

"And you are happy?"

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

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



THE END.


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

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





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