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Title: "Seth"
Author: Burnett, Frances Hodgson
Language: English
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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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book ""Seth"" ***

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“SETH”

By Frances Hodgson Burnett

Copyright, 1877


He came in one evening at sun set with the empty coal-train--his dull
young face pale and heavy-eyed with weariness, his corduroy suit dusty
and travel-stained, his worldly possessions tied up in the smallest
of handkerchief bundles and slung upon the stick resting on his
shoulder--and naturally his first appearance attracted some attention
among the loungers about the shed dignified by the title of “dépôt.” I
say “naturally,” because arrivals upon the trains to Black Creek were so
scarce as to be regarded as curiosities; which again might be said to be
natural. The line to the mines had been in existence two months, since
the English company had taken them in hand and pushed the matter through
with an energy startling to, and not exactly approved by, the
majority of good East Tennesseeans. After the first week or so of
arrivals--principally Welsh and English miners, with an occasional
Irishman--the trains had returned daily to the Creek without a
passenger; and accordingly this one created some trifling sensation.

Not that his outward appearance was particularly interesting or
suggestive of approaching excitement. He was only a lad of nineteen or
twenty, in working English-cut garb, and with a short, awkward figure,
and a troubled, homely face--a face so homely and troubled, in fact,
that its half-bewildered look was almost pathetic.

He advanced toward the shed hesitatingly, and touched his cap as if
half in clumsy courtesy and half in timid appeal. “Mesters,” he said,
“good-day to yo’.”

The company bestirred themselves with one accord, and to the roughest
and most laconic gave him a brief “Good-day.”

“You’re English,” said a good-natured Welshman, “ar’n’t you, my lad?”

“Ay, mester,” was the reply: “I’m fro’ Lancashire.”

He sat down on the edge of the rough platform, and laid his stick and
bundle down in a slow, wearied fashion.

“Fro’ Lancashire,” he repeated in a voice as wearied as his
action--“fro’ th’ Deepton coalmines theer. You’ll know th’ name on ‘em,
I ha’ no doubt. Th’ same company owns ‘em as owns these.”

“What!” said an outsider--“Langley an ‘em?”

The boy turned himself round and nodded. “Ay,” he answered--“them. That
was why I comn here. I comn to get work fro’--fro’ _him_.”

He faltered in his speech oddly, and even reddened a little, at the same
time rubbing his hands together with a nervousness which seemed habitual
to him.

“Mester Ed’ard, I mean,” he added--“th’ young mester as is here. I heerd
as he liked ‘Merika, an’--an’ I comn.”

The loungers glanced at each other, and their glance did not mean high
appreciation of the speaker’s intellectual powers. There was a lack of
practicalness in such faith in another man as expressed itself in the
wistful, hesitant voice.

“Did he say he’d give you work?” asked the first man who had questioned
him, the Welshman Evans.

“No. I dunnot think--I dunnot think he’d know me if he seed me. Theer
wur so many on us.”

Another exchange of glances, and then another question: “Where are you
going to stay?”

The homely face reddened more deeply, and the lad’s eyes--dull, soft,
almost womanish eyes--raised themselves to the speaker’s. “Do yo’ knew
anybody as would be loikely to tak’ me in a bit” he said, “until I ha’
toime to earn th’ wage to pay? I wouldna wrong no mon a penny as had
trusted me.”

There was manifest hesitation, and then some one spoke: “Lancashire Jack
might.”

“Mester,” said the lad to Evans, “would you moind speakin’ a word fur
me? I ha’ had a long tramp, an’ I’m fagged-loike, an’”--He stopped and
rose from his seat with a hurried movement. “Who’s that theer as is
comin’?” he demanded. “Isna it th’ young mester?”

The some one in question was a young man on horseback, who at that
moment turned the corner and rode toward the shed with a loose rein,
allowing his horse to choose his own pace.

“Ay,” said the lad with an actual tremor in his excited voice--“it’s
him, sure enow,” and sank back on his seat again as if he had found
himself scarcely strong enough to stand. “I--I ha’ not ‘aten much fur
two or three days,” he said to Evans.

There was not a man on the platform who did not evince some degree of
pleasure at the approach of the new-comer. The last warm rays of the
sun, already sinking behind the mountains, seemed rather to take pride
in showing what a debonair young fellow he was, in glowing kindly
upon his handsome face and strong, graceful figure, and touching up to
greater brightness his bright hair.

The face was one to be remembered with a sentiment approaching gratitude
for the mere existence of such genial and unspoiled good looks, but
the voice that addressed the men was one to be loved, and loved without
stint, it was so clear and light-hearted and frank.

“Boys,” said he, “good-evening to you. Evans, if you could spare me a
minute”--

Evans rose at once.

“I’ll speak to _him_,” he said to the lad at his side. “His word will
go further with Lancashire Jack than mine would.” He went to the horse’s
side, and stood there for a few minutes talking in an undertone, and
then he turned to the stranger and beckoned. “Come here,” he said.

The lad took up his bundle and obeyed the summons, advancing with an
awkward almost stumbling step, suggestive of actual weakness as well
as the extremity of shyness. Reaching the two men, he touched his cap
humbly, and stood with timorous eyes upraised to the young man’s face.

Langley met his glance with a somewhat puzzled look, which presently
passed away in a light laugh. “I’m trying to remember who you are, my
lad,” he said, “but I shall be obliged to give it up. I know your face,
I think, but I have no recollection of your name. I dare say I have seen
you often enough. You came from Deepton, Evans tells me.”

“Ay, mester, fro’ Deepton.”

“A long journey for a lad like you to take alone,” with inward pity for
the heavy face.

“Ay, mester.”

“And now you want work?”

“If you please, mester.”

“Well, well!” cheerily, “we will give it to you. There’s work enough,
though it isn’t such as you had at Deepton. What is your name?”

“Seth, mester--Seth Raynor,” shifting the stick and bundle in uneasy
eagerness from one shoulder to another. “An’ I’m used to hard work,
mester. It wur na easy work we had at th’ Deepton mine, an’ I’m stronger
than I look. It’s th’ faggedness as makes me trembly--an’ hunger.”

“Hunger?”

“I ha’ not tasted sin’ th’ neet afore last,” shamefacedly. “I hadna th’
money to buy, an’ it seemt loike I could howd out.”

“Hold out!” echoed Langley in some excitement. “That’s a poor business,
my lad. Here, come with me. The other matter can wait, Evans.”

The downcast face and ungainly figure troubled him in no slight degree
as they moved off together, they seemed to express in some indescribable
fashion so much of dull and patient pain, and they were so much at
variance with the free grandeur of the scene surrounding them. It was as
if a new element were introduced into the very air itself. Black Creek
was too young yet to have known hunger or actual want of any kind. The
wild things on the mountain sides had scarcely had time to learn to fear
the invaders of their haunts or understand that they were to be driven
backward. The warm wind was fragrant with the keen freshness of pine
and cedar. Mountain and forest and sky were stronger than the human
stragglers they closed around and shut out from the world.

“We don’t see anything like that in Lancashire,” said Langley. “That
kind of thing is new to us, my lad, isn’t it?” with a light gesture
toward the mountain, in whose side the workers had burrowed.

“Ay, mester,” raising troubled eyes to its grandeur--“iverything’s new.
I feel aw lost some-toimes, an’ feared-loike.”

Langley lifted his hat from his brow to meet a little passing breeze,
and as it swept softly by he smiled in the enjoyment of its coolness.
“Afraid?” he said. “I don’t understand that.”

“I dunnot see into it mysen’, mester. Happen it’s th’ bigness, an’
quiet, an’ th’ lonely look, an’ happen it’s summat wrong in mysen’. I’ve
lived in th’ cool an’ smoke an/ crowd an’ work so long as it troubles me
in a manner to--to ha’ to look so high.”

“Does it?” said Langley, a few faint lines showing themselves on his
forehead. “That’s a queer fancy. So high!” turning his glance upward
to where the tallest pine swayed its dark plume against the clear blue.
“Well, so it is. But you will get used to it in time,” shaking off a
rather unpleasant sensation.

“Happen so, mester, in toime,” was the simple answer; and then silence
fell upon them again.

They had not very far to go. The houses of the miners--rough shanties
hurriedly erected to supply immediate needs--were most of them
congregated together, or at most stood at short distances from each
other, the larger ones signifying the presence o£ feminine members in
a family and perhaps two or three juvenile pioneers--the smaller ones
being occupied by younger miners, who lived in couples, or sometimes
even alone.

Before one of the larger shanties Langley reined in his horse. “A
Lancashire man lives here,” he said, “and I am going to leave you with
him.”

In answer to his summons a woman came to the door--a young woman whose
rather unresponsive face wakened somewhat when she saw who waited.

“Feyther,” she called out, “it’s Mester Langley, an’ he’s getten a
stranger wi’ him.”

“Feyther,” approaching the door, showed himself a burly individual, with
traces of coal-dust in all comers not to be reached by hurried and not
too fastidious ablutions. Clouds of tobacco-smoke preceded and followed
him, and much stale incense from the fragrant weed exhaled itself from
his well-worn corduroys. “I ha’ not nivver seed him afore,” he remarked
after a gruff by no means-ill-natured greeting, signifying the stranger
by a duck of the head in his direction.

“A Lancashire lad, Janner,” answered Langley, “I want a home for him.”

Janner regarded him with evident interest, but shook his head dubiously.
“Ax th’ missus,” he remarked succinctly: “dunnot ax me.”

Langley’s good-humored laugh had a touch of conscious power in it. If it
depended upon “th’ missus” he was safe enough. His bright good looks and
gay grace of manner never failed with the women. The most practical and
uncompromising melted, however unwillingly, before his sunshine, and the
suggestion of chivalric deference which seemed a second nature with him.
So it was easy enough to parley with “th’ missus.”

“A Lancashire lad, Mrs. Janner,” he said, “and so I know you’ll take
care of him. Lancashire folk have a sort of fellow feeling for each
other, you see; that was why I could not make up my mind to leave him
until I saw him in good hands; and yours are good ones. Give him a
square meal as soon as possible,” he added in a lower voice: “I will be
accountable for him myself.”

When he lifted his hat and rode away, the group watched him until he was
almost out of sight, the general sentiment expressing itself in every
countenance.

“Theer’s summat noice about that theer young chap,” Janner remarked with
the slowness of a man who was rather mystified by the fascination under
whose influence he found himself--“sum-mat as goes wi’ th’ grain loike.”

“Ay,” answered his wife, “so theer is; an’ its natur’ too. Coom along
in, lad,” to Seth, “an ha’ summat to eat: yo’ look faintish.”

Black Creek found him a wonderfully quiet member of society, the lad
Seth. He came and went to and from the mine with mechanical regularity,
working with the rest, taking his meals with the Janners, and sleeping
in a small shanty left vacant by the desertion of a young miner who had
found life at the settlement too monotonous to suit his tastes. No new
knowledge of his antecedents was arrived at. He had come “fro’ Deepton,”
 and that was the beginning and end of the matter. In fact, his seemed
to be a peculiarly silent nature. He was fond of being alone, and
spent most of his spare time in the desolate little shanty. Attempts at
conversation appeared to trouble him, it was discovered, and accordingly
he was left to himself as not worth the cultivating.

“Why does na’ tha’ talk more?” demanded Janner’s daughter, who was a
strong, brusque young woman, with a sharp tongue.

“I ha’ not gotten nowt to say,” was the meekly deprecating response.

Miss Janner, regarding the humble face with some impatience, remarkably
enough, found nothing to deride in it, though, being neither a beauty
nor in her first bloom, and sharp of tongue, as I have said, she was
somewhat given to derision as a rule. In truth, the uncomplaining
patience in the dull, soft eyes made her feel a little uncomfortable.

“I dunnot know what ails thee,” she remarked with unceremonious candor,
“but theer’s summat as does.”

“It’s nowt as can be cured,” said the lad, and turned his quiet face
away.

In his silent fashion he evinced a certain degree of partially for his
host’s daughter. Occasionally, after his meals, he lingered for a few
moments watching her at her work when she was alone, sitting by the
fire or near the door, and regarding her business-like movements with a
wistful air of wonder and admiration. And yet so unobtrusive were
these mute attentions that Bess Janner was never roused to any form of
resentment of them.

“Tha’s goin’ to ha’ a sweetheart at last, my lass,” was one of Janner’s
favorite witticisms, but Bess bore it with characteristic coolness. “I’m
noan as big a foo’ as I look,” she would say, “an’ I dunnot moind _him_
no more nor if he wus a wench hissen’.”

Small as was the element of female society at Black Creek, this
young woman was scarcely popular. She was neither fair nor fond: a
predominance of muscle and a certain rough deftness of hand were her
chief charms. Ordinary sentiment would have been thrown away upon her;
and, fortunately, she was spared it.

“She’s noan hurt wi’ good looks, our Bess,” her father remarked with
graceful chivalrousness on more than one occasion, “but hoo con heave
a’most as much as I con, an’ that’s summat.”

Consequently, it did not seem likely that the feeling she had evidently
awakened in the breast of their lodger was akin to the tender passion.

“Am I in yo’re way?” he would ask apologetically; and the answer was
invariably a gracious if curt one: “No--no more than th’ cat. Stay wheer
yo’ are, lad, an’ make yo’resen’ comfortable.”

There came a change, however, in the nature of their intercourse, but
this did not occur until the lad had been with them some three months.
For several days he had been ailing and unlike himself. He had been even
more silent than usual; he had eaten little, and lagged on his way
to and from his work; he looked thinner, and his step was slow and
uncertain. There was so great an alteration in him, in fact, that Bess
softened toward him visibly. She secretly bestowed the best morsels upon
him, and even went so far as to attempt conversation. “Let yo’re work go
a bit,” she advised: “yo’re noan fit fur it.”

But he did not give up until the third week of illness, and then one
warm day at noon, Bess, at work in her kitchen among dishes and pans,
was startled from her labors by his appearing at the door and staggering
toward her. “What’s up wi’ yo’?” she demanded. “Yo’ look loike death.”

“I dunnot know,” he faltered, and then, staggering again, caught at her
dress with feeble hands “Dunnot yo’,” he whispered, sinking forward--
“dunnot yo’ let no one--come anigh me.”

She flung a strong arm around him, and saved him from a heavy fall. His
head dropped helplessly against her breast.

“He’s fainted dead away,” she said: “he mun ha’ been worse than he thowt
fur.”

She laid him down, and, loosening his clothes at the throat, went for
water; but a few minutes after she had bent over him for the second
time an exclamation, which was almost a cry, broke from’ her. “Lord ha’
mercy!” she said, and fell back, losing something of color herself.

She had scarcely recovered herself even when, after prolonged efforts,
she succeeded in restoring animation to the prostrate figure under her
hands. The heavy eyes opening met hers in piteous appeal and protest.

“I--thowt it wur death comn,” said the lad. “I wur hopin’ as it wur
death.”

“What ha’ yo’ done as yo’ need wish that?” said. Bess; and then, her
voice shaking with excitement which got the better of her and forced her
to reveal herself, she added, “I’ve fun’ out that as yo’ve been hidin’.”

Abrupt and unprefaced as her speech was, it scarcely produced the effect
she had expected it would. Her charge neither flinched nor reddened.
He laid a weak, rough hand upon her dress with a feebly pleading touch.
“Dunnot yo’ turn agen me,” he whispered: “yo’ wouldna if yo’ knew.”

“But I dunnot know,” Bess answered, a trifle doggedly, despite her
inward relentings.

“I comn to yo’,” persisted the lad, “because I thowt yo’ wouldna turn
agen me: yo’ wouldna,” patiently again, “if yo’ knew.”

*****

Gradually the ponderous witticism in which Janner had indulged became an
accepted joke in the settlement. Bess had fallen a victim to the tender
sentiment at last. She had found an adorer, and had apparently succumbed
to his importunities. Seth spent less time in his shanty and more in
her society. He lingered in her vicinity on all possible occasions,
and seemed to derive comfort from her mere presence. And Bess not only
tolerated but encouraged him. Not that her manner was in the least
degree effusive: she rather extended a rough protection to her admirer,
and displayed a tendency to fight his battles and employ her sharper wit
as a weapon in his behalf.

“Yo’ may get th’ best o’ him,” she said dryly once to the wit of the
Creek, who had been jocular at his expense, “but yo’ conna get th’ best
o’ me. Try me a bit, lad. I’m better worth yo’re mettle.”

“What’s takken yo’, lass?” said her mother at another time. “Yo’re that
theer soft about th chap as theer’s no makkin’ yo’ out. Yo’ wur nivver
loike to be soft afore,” somewhat testily. “An’ it’s noan his good
looks, neyther.”

“No,” said Bess--“it’s noan his good looks.”

“Happen it’s his lack on ‘em, then?”

“Happen it is.” And there the discussion ended for want of material.

There was one person, however, who did not join in the jesting; and this
was Langley. When he began to understand the matter he regarded the two
with sympathetic curiosity and interest. Why should not their primitive
and uncouth love develop and form a tie to bind the homely lives
together, and warm and brighten them? It may have been that his own
mental condition at this time was such as would tend to often his heart,
for an innocent passion, long cherished in its bud, had burst into its
full blooming during the months he had spent amid the novel beauty and
loneliness, and perhaps his new bliss subdued him somewhat. Always
ready with a kindly word, he was specially ready with it where Seth was
concerned. He never passed him without one, and frequently reined in his
horse to speak to him at greater length. Now and then, on his way
home at night, he stopped at the shanty’s door, and summoning the lad
detained him for a few minutes chatting in the odorous evening air. It
was thoroughly in accordance with the impulses of his frank and generous
nature that he should endeavor to win upon him and gain his confidence.
“We are both Deepton men,” he would say, “and it is natural that we
should be friends, We are both alone and a long way from home.”

But the lad was always timid and slow of speech.

His gratitude showed itself in ways enough, but it rarely took the form
of words. Only, one night as the horse moved away, he laid his hand upon
the bridle and held it a moment, some powerful emotion showing itself
in his face, and lowering his voice until it was almost a whisper.
“Mester,” he said, “if theer’s ivver owt to be done as is hard an’ loike
to bring pain an’ danger, yo’ll--yo’ll not forget me?”

Langley looked down at him with a mingled feeling of warm pity and deep
bewilderment. “Forget you?” he echoed.

The dullness seemed to have dropped away from the commonplace face as if
it had been a veil; the eyes were burning with a hungry pathos and fire
and passion; they were raised to his and held him with the power of an
indescribable anguish. “Dunnot forget as I’m here,” the voice growing
sharp and intense, “ready an’ eager an’ waitin’ fur th’ toime to come.
Let me do summat or brave summat or suffer summat, for God’s sake!”

When the young man rode away it was with a sense of weight and pain
upon him. He was mystified. People were often grateful to him, but their
gratitude was not such as this; this oppressed and disturbed him. It
was suggestive of a mental condition whose existence seemed almost
impossible. What a life this poor fellow must have led since the
simplest kindliness aroused within him such emotion as this! “It is hard
to understand,” he murmured; “it is even a little horrible. One fancies
these duller natures do not reach our heights and depths of happiness
and pain, and yet----Cathie, Cathie, my dear,” breaking off suddenly
and turning his face upward to the broad free blue of the sky as he
quickened his horse’s pace, “let me think of _you_; this hurts me.”

But he was drawn nearer to the boy, and did his best to cheer and help
him. His interest in him grew as he saw him oftener, and there was not
only the old interest, but a new one. Something in the lad’s face--a
something which had struck him as familiar even at first--began to haunt
him constantly. He could not rid himself of the impression it left upon
him, and yet he never found himself a shade nearer a solution of the
mystery.

“Raynor,” he said to him on one of the evenings when he had stopped
before the shanty, “I wish I knew why your face troubles me so.”

“Does it trouble yo’, mester?”

“Yes,” with a half laugh, “I think I may say it troubles me. I have
tried to recollect every lad in Deepton, and I have no remembrance of
you.”

“Happen not, mester,” meekly. “I nivver wur much noticed, yo’ see: I’m
one o’ them as foak is more loike to pass by.”

An early train arriving next morning brought visitors to the Creek--a
business-like elderly gentleman and his daughter, a pretty girl, with
large bright eyes and an innocent rosy face, which became rosier and
prettier than ever when Mr. Ed ward Langley advanced from the dépôt shed
with uncovered head and extended hand. “Cathie!” he said, when the first
greetings had been interchanged, “what a delight this is to me! I did
not hope for such happiness as this.”

“Father wanted to see the mines,” answered Cathie, sweetly demure, “and
I--I wanted to see Black Creek; your letters were so enthusiastic.”

“A day will suffice, I suppose?” her paternal parent was wandering on
amiably. “A man should always investigate such matters for himself. I
can see enough to satisfy me between now and the time for the return
train.”

“I cannot,” whispered Langley to Cathie: “a century would not suffice.
If the sun would but stand still!”

The lad Seth was late for dinner that day, and when he entered the house
Bess turned from her dish-washing to give him a sharp, troubled look,
“Art tha’ ill again?” she asked.

“Nay,” he answered, “nobbut a bit tired an heavy-loike.”

He sat down upon the door-step with wearily-clasped hands, and eyes
wandering toward the mountain, whose pine-crowned summit towered above
him. He had not even yet outlived the awe of its majesty, but he had
learned to love it and draw comfort from its beauty and strength.

“Does tha’ want thy dinner?” asked Bess.

“No, thank yo’,” he said; “I couldna eat.”

The dish-washing was deserted incontinently, and Bess came to the
door, towel in hand, her expression at once softened and shaded with
discontent. “Summat’s hurt yo’,” she said. “What is it? Summat’s hurt
yo’ sore.”

The labor-roughened hands moved with their old nervous habit, and the
answer came in an odd, jerky, half-connected way: “I dunnot know why
it should ha’ done. I mun be mad, or summat. I nivver had no hope nor
nothin’: theer nivver wur no reason why I should ha’ had. Ay, I mun be
wrong somehow, or it wouldna stick to me i’ this road. I conna get rid
on it, an’ I conna feel as if I want to. What’s up wi’ me? What’s
takken howd on me?” his voice breaking and the words ending in a sharp
hysterical gasp like a sob.

Bess wrung her towel with a desperate strength which spoke of no small
degree of tempestuous feeling. Her brow knit itself and her lips were
compressed. “What’s happened?” she demanded after a pause. “I conna mak’
thee out.”

The look that fell upon her companion’s face had something of shame in
it. His eyes left the mountain side and drooped upon his clasped hands.
“Theer wur a lass coom to look at ‘th place today,” he said--“a lady
lass, wi’ her feyther--an’ him. She wur aw rosy red an’ fair white, an’
it seemt as if she wur that happy as her laughin’ made th’ birds mock
back at her. He took her up th’ mountain, an’ we heard ‘em both even
high up among th’ laurels. Th’ sound o’ their joy a-floatin’ down from
the height, so nigh th’ blue sky, made me sick an’ weak-loike. They wur
na so gay when they comn back, but her eyes wur shinin’, an’ so wur his,
an’ I heerd him say to her as ‘Foak didna know how nigh heaven th’ top
o’ th’ mountain wur.’”

Bess wrung her towel again, and regarded the mountain with manifest
impatience and trouble. “Happen it’ll coom reet some day,” she said.

“Reet!” repeated the lad, as if mechanically. “I hadna towd mysen’ as
owt wur exactly wrong; on’y I conna see things clear. I niwer could, an’
th’ more I ax mysen’ questions th’ worse it gets. Wheer--wheer could I
lay th’ blame?”

“Th’ blame!” said Bess. “Coom tha’ an’ get a bite to eat;” and she shook
out the towel with a snap and turned away. “Coom tha,” she repeated; “I
mun get my work done.”

That night, as Seth lay upon his pallet in the shanty, the sound of
Langley’s horse’s hoofs reached him with an accompaniment of a clear,
young masculine voice singing a verse of some sentimental modern
carol--a tender song ephemeral and sweet. As the sounds neared the cabin
the lad sprang up restlessly, and so was standing at the open door when
the singer passed. “Good-neet, mester,” he said.

The singer slackened his pace and turned his bright face toward him in
the moonlight, waving his hand. “Good-night,” he said, “and pleasant
dreams! Mine will be pleasant ones, I know. This has been a happy day
for me, Raynor. Goodnight.”

When the two met again the brighter face had sadly changed; its beauty
was marred with pain, and the shadow of death lay upon it.

Entering Janner’s shanty the following morning, Seth found the family
sitting around the breakfast-table in ominous silence. The meal stood
untouched, and even Bess looked pale and anxious. All three glanced
toward him questioningly as he approached, and when he sat down Janner
spoke: “Hasna tha’ heerd th’ news?” he asked.

“Nay,” Seth answered, “I ha’ heerd nowt.”

Bess interposed hurriedly: “Dunnot yo’ fear him, feyther,” she said.
“Happen it isna so bad, after aw. Four or live foak wur takken down ill
last neet, Seth, an’ th’ young mester wur among ‘em; an’ theer’s them as
says it’s cholera.”

It seemed as if he had not caught the full meaning of her words; he only
stared at her in a startled, bewildered fashion. “Cholera!” he repeated
dully.

“Theer’s them as knows it’s cholera,” said Janner, with gloomy
significance. “An’ if it’s cholera, it’s death;” and he let his hand
fall heavily upon the table.

“Ay,” put in Mrs. Janner in a fretful wail, “fur they say as it’s worse
i’ these parts than it is i’ England--th’ heat mak’s it worse--an’ here
we are i’ th’ midst o’ th’ summer-toime, an’ theer’s no knowin’
wheer it’ll end. I wish tha’d takken my advice, Janner, an’ stayed i’
Lancashire. Ay, I wish we wur safe at home. Better less wage an’ more
safety. Yo’d niwer ha’ coom if yo’d listened to me.”

“Howd thy tongue, mother,” said Bess, but the words were not ungently
spoken, notwithstanding their bluntness. “Dunnot let us mak’ it worse
than it need be. Seth, lad, eat thy breakfast.”

But there was little breakfast eaten. The fact was, that at the first
spreading of the report a panic had seized upon the settlement, and
Janner and his wife were by no means the least influenced by it A
stolidly stubborn courage upheld Bess, but even she was subdued and
somewhat awed.

“I niwer heerd much about th’ cholera,” Seth said to her after
breakfast. “Is this here true, this as thy feyther says?”

“I dunnot know fur sure,” Bess answered gravely, “but it’s bad enow.”

“Coom out wi’ me into th’ fresh air,” said the lad, laying his hand
upon her sleeve: “I mun say a word or so to thee.” And they went out
together.

There was no work done in the mine that day. Two of three new cases
broke out, and the terror spread itself and grew stronger. In fact,
Black Creek scarcely comported itself as stoically as might have been
expected. A messenger was dispatched to the nearest town for a doctor,
and his arrival by the night train was awaited with excited impatience.

When he came, however, the matter became worse. He had bad news to tell
himself. The epidemic had broken out in the town he had left, and great
fears were entertained by its inhabitants. “If you had not been so
entirely thrown on your own resources,” he said, “I could not have
come.”

A heavy enough responsibility rested upon his shoulders during the
next few weeks. He had little help from the settlement. Those who were
un-stricken looked on at the progress of the disease with helpless fear:
few indeed escaped a slight attack, and those who did were scarcely more
useful than his patients. In the whole place he found only two reliable
and unterrified assistants.

His first visit was to a small farm-house round the foot of the mountain
and a short distance from the mine. There he found the family huddled in
a back room like a flock of frightened sheep, and in the only chamber a
handsome, bright-haired young fellow lying, upon the bed with a pinched
and ominous look upon his comely face. The only person with him was
a lad roughly clad in miner’s clothes--a lad who stood by chafing his
hands, and who turned desperate eyes to the door when it opened. “Yo’re
too late, mester,” he said--“yo’re too late.”

But young as he was--and he was a very young man--the doctor had
presence of mind and energy, and he flung his whole soul and strength
into the case. The beauty and solitariness of his patient roused his
sympathy almost as if it had been the beauty of a woman; he felt drawn
toward the stalwart, helpless young figure lying upon the humble couch
in such apparent utter loneliness. He did not count much upon the lad
at first--he seemed too much bewildered and shaken--but it was not long
before he changed his mind. “You are getting over your fear,” he said.

“It wasna fear, mester,” was the answer he received; “or at least it
wasna fear for mysen’.”

“What is your name?”

“Seth Ray nor, mester. Him an’ me,” with a gesture toward the bed, “comn
from th’ same place. Th’ cholera couldna fear me fro’ _him_--nor nowt
else if he wur i’ need.”

So it was Seth Raynor who watched by the bedside, and labored with
loving care and a patience which knew no weariness, until the worst was
over and Langley was among the convalescent.

“The poor fellow and Bess Janner were my only stay,” the young doctor was
wont to say. “Only such care as his would have saved you, and you had a
close race of it as it was.”

During the convalescence nurse and invalid were drawn together with
a stronger tie through every hour. Wearied and weak, Langley’s old
interest in the lad became a warm affection. He could scarcely bear to
lose sight of the awkward boyish figure, and never rested so completely
as when it was by his bedside.

“Give me your hand, dear fellow,” he would say, “and let me hold it. I
shall sleep better for knowing you are near me.”

He fell asleep thus one morning, and awakened suddenly to a
consciousness of some new presence in the room. Seth no longer sat in
the chair near his pillow, but stood a little apart; and surely he would
have been no lover if the feeble blood had not leaped in his veins at
the sight of the face bending over him--the innocent, fair young face
which had so haunted his pained and troubled dreams. “Cathie!” he cried
out aloud.

The-girl fell upon her knees and caught his extended hand with a
passionate little gesture of love and pity. “I did not know,” she
poured forth in hurried, broken tones. “I have been away ever since
the sickness broke out at home. They sent me away, and I only heard
yesterday--Father, tell him, for I cannot.”

He scarcely heard the more definite explanation, he was at once so happy
and so fearful.

“Sweetheart,” he said, “I can scarcely bear to think of what may come
of this; and yet how blessed it is to have you near me again! The danger
for me is all over: even your dear self could not have cared for me more
faithfully than I have been cared for. Raynor there has saved my life.”

But Cathie could only answer with a piteous, remorseful jealousy: “Why
was it not I who saved it? why was it not I?”

And the place where Seth had stood waiting was vacant, for he had left
it at the sound of Langley’s first joyous cry. When he returned an hour
or so later, the more restful look Langley had fancied he had seen
on his face of late had faded out: the old unawakened heaviness had
returned. He was nervous and ill at ease, shrinking and conscious.

“I’ve comn to say good-neet to yo’,” he said hesitatingly to the
invalid. “Th’ young lady says as she an’ her feyther will tak’ my place
a bit. I’ll coom i’ th’ mornin’.”

“You want rest,” said Langley; “you are tired, poor fellow!”

“Ay,” quietly, “I’m tired; an’ th’ worst is over, yo’ see, an’ she’s
here,” with a patient smile. “Yo’ wunnot need me, and theer’s them as
does.”

From that hour his work at this one place seemed done. For several days
he made his appearance regularly to see if he was needed, and then his
visits gradually ended. He had found a fresh field of labor among the
sufferers in the settlement itself. He was as faithful to them as he had
been to his first charge. The same unflagging patience showed itself,
the same silent constancy and self-sacrifice. Scarcely a man or woman
had not some cause to remember him with gratitude, and there was not one
of those who had jested at and neglected him but thought of their jests
and neglect with secret shame.

There came a day, however, when they missed him from among them. If
he was not at one house he was surely at another, it appeared for some
time; but when, after making his round of visits, the doctor did not
find him, he became anxious. He might be at Janner’s; but he was not
there, nor among the miners, who had gradually resumed their work as the
epidemic weakened its strength and their spirits lightened. Making these
discoveries at nightfall, the doctor touched up his horse in some secret
dread. He had learned earlier than the rest to feel warmly toward this
simple co-laborer. “Perhaps he’s gone out to pay Langley a visit,” he
said: “I’ll call and see. He may have stopped to have a rest.”

But before he had passed the last group of cabins he met Langley
himself, who by this time was well enough to resume his place in the
small world, and, hearing his story, Langley’s anxiety was greater than
his own. “I saw him last night on my way home,” he said. “About this
time, too, for I remember he was sitting in the moonlight at the door
of his shanty. We exchanged a few words, as we always do, and he said he
was there because he was not needed, and thought a quiet night would do
him good. Is it possible no one has seen him since?” in sudden alarm.

“Come with me,” said his companion.

Overwhelmed by a mutual dread, neither spoke until they reached the
shanty itself. There was no sign of human life about it: the door
stood open, and the only sound to be heard was the rustle of the wind
whispering among the pines upon the mountain side. Both men flung
themselves from their horses with loudly-beating hearts.

“God grant he is not here!” uttered Langley. “God grant he is anywhere
else! The place is so drearily desolate.”

Desolate indeed! The moonbeams streaming through the door threw their
fair light upon the rough boards and upon the walls, and upon the quiet
figure lying on the pallet in one of the corners, touching with pitying
whiteness the homely face upon the pillow and the hand that rested
motionless upon the floor.

The doctor went down on his knees at the pallet’s side, and thrust his
hand into the breast of the coarse garments with a half-checked groan.

“Asleep?” broke from Langley’s white lips in a desperate whisper.
“Not--not”--

“Dead!” said the doctor--“dead for hours!” There was actual anguish in
his voice as he uttered the words, but another element predominated
in the exclamation which burst from him scarcely a second later. “Good
God!” he cried--“good God!”

Langley bent down and caught him almost fiercely by the arm: the
exclamation jarred upon him. “What is it?” he demanded, “What do you
mean?”

“It is--a woman!”

Even as they gazed at each other in speechless questioning the silence
was broken in upon. Swift, heavy footsteps neared the door, crossed the
threshold, and Janner’s daughter stood before them.

There was no need for questioning. One glance told her all. She made her
way to the moonlit corner, pushed both aside with rough strength, and
knelt down. “I might ha’ knowed,” she said with helpless bitterness--“I
might ha’ knowed;” and she laid her face against the dead hand in a
sudden passion of weeping. “I might ha’ knowed, Jinny lass,” she cried,
“but I didna. It was loike aw th’ rest as tha’ should lay thee down an’
die loike this. Tha’ wast alone aw along, an’ tha’’ wast alone at th’
last. But dunnot blame me, poor lass. Nay, I know tha’ wiltna.”

The two men stood apart, stirred by an emotion too deep for any spoken
attempt at sympathy. She scarcely seemed to see them: she seemed to
recognize no presence but that of the unresponsive figure upon its
lowly couch. She spoke to it as if it had been a living thing, her
voice broken and tender, stroking the hair now and then with a touch all
womanly and loving. “Yo’ were nigher to me than most foak, Jinny,” she
said; “an’ tha’ trusted me, I know.”

They left her to her grief until at last she grew calmer and her sobs
died away into silence. Then she rose and approaching Langley, who stood
at the door, spoke to him, scarcely raising her tear-stained eyes. “I
ha’ summat to tell yo’ an’ sum-mat to ax yo’,” she said, “an’ I mun tell
it to yo’ alone. Will yo’ coom out here?”

He followed her, wondering and sad. His heart was heavy with the pain
and mystery the narrow walls inclosed. When they paused a few yards from
the house, the one face was scarcely more full of sorrow than the other,
only that the woman’s was wet with tears. She was not given to many
words, Bess Janner, and she wasted few in the story she had to tell.
“Yo’ know th’ secret as she carried,” she said, “or I wouldna tell yo’
even now; an’ now I tell it yo’ that she may carry the secret to her
grave, an’ ha’ no gossiping tongue to threep at her. I dunnot want foak
starin’ an’ wonderin’ an’ makkin’ talk. She’s borne enow.”

“It shall be as you wish, whether you tell me the story or not,” said
Langley. “We will keep it as sacred as you have done.”

She hesitated a moment, seemingly pondering with herself before she
answered him. “Ay,” she said, “but I ha’ another reason behind. I want
summat fro’ yo’: I want yo’re pity. Happen it moight do her good even
now.” She did not look at him as she proceeded, but stood with her
face a little turned away and her eyes resting upon the shadow on
the mountain. “Theer wur a lass as worked at th’ Deepton mines,” she
said--“a lass as had a weakly brother as worked an’ lodged wi’ her. Her
name wur Jinny, an’ she wur quiet and plain-favored. Theer wur other
wenches as wur well-lookin’, but she wasna; theer wur others as had
homes, and she hadna one; theer wur plenty as had wit an’ sharpness,
but she hadna them neyther. She wur nowt but a desolate, homely lass, as
seemt to ha’ no place i’ th’ world, an’ yet wur tender and weak-hearted
to th’ core. She wur allus longin’ fur summat as she wur na loike to
get; an’ she nivver did get it, fur her brother wasna one as cared fur
owt but his own doin’s. But theer were one among aw th’ rest as nivver
passed her by, an’ he wur th’ mester’s son. He wur a bright, handsome
chap, as won his way ivverywheer, an’ had a koind word or a laugh fur
aw. So he gave th’ lass a smile, an’ did her a favor now and then--loike
as not without givin’ it more than a thowt--until she learned to live on
th’ hope o’ seein’ him. An’, bein’ weak an’ tender, it grew on her fro’
day to day, until it seemt to give th’ strength to her an’ tak’ it both
i’ one.”

She stopped and looked at Langley here. “Does tha’ see owt now, as I’m
getten this fur?” she asked.

“Yes,” he answered, his agitation almost master ing him. “And now I have
found the lost face that haunted me so.”

“Ay,” said Bess, “it was hers;” and she hurried on huskily: “When you
went away she couldna abide th’ lonesomeness, an’ so one day she said to
her brother, ‘Dave, let us go to th’ new mine wheer Mester Ed’ard is;’
an’ him bein’ allus ready fur a move, they started out together. But
on th’ way th’ lad took sick and died sudden, an’ Jinny wur left to
hersen’. An’ then she seed new trouble. She wur beset wi’ danger as
she’d niwer thowt on, an’ before long she foun’ out as women didna work
o’ this side o’ the sea as they did o’ ours. So at last she wur driv’
upon a strange-loike plan. It sounds wild, happen, but it wasna so wild
after aw. Her bits of clothes giv’ out an’ she had no money; an’ theer
wur Dave’s things. She’d wore th’ loike at her work i’ Deepton, an’ she
made up her moind to wear ‘em agen. Yo’ didna know her when she coom
here, an’ no one else guessed at th’ truth. She didna expect nowt, yo’
see; she on’y wanted th’ comfort o’ hearin’ th’ voice she’d longed an’
hungered fur; an’ here wur wheer she could hear it. When I fun’ her out
by accident, she towd me, an’ sin’ then we ‘ve kept th’ secret together.
Do yo’ guess what else theer’s been betwixt us, mester?”

“I think I do,” he answered. “God forgive me for my share in her pain!”

“Nay,” she returned, “it was no fault o’ thine. She niwer had a thowt o’
that. She had a patient way wi’ her, had Jinny, an’ she bore her trouble
better than them as hopes. She didna ax nor hope neyther; an’ when theer
coom fresh hurt to her she wur ready an’ waiting knowin’ as it moight
comn ony day. Happen th’ Lord knows what life wur give her fur--I
dunnot, but it’s ower now--an’ happen she knows hersen’. I hurried here
to-neet,” she added, battling with a sob, “as soon as I heerd as she was
missin’, th’ truth struck to my heart, an’ I thowt as I should be here
first, but I wasna I ha’ not gotten no more to say.”

They went back to the shanty, and with her own hands she did for the
poor clay the last service it would need, Langley and his companion
waiting the while outside. When her task was at an end she came to them,
and this time it was Langley who addressed himself to her. “May I go
in?” he asked.

She bent her head in assent, and without speaking he left them and
entered the shanty alone. The moonlight, streaming in as before, fell
upon the closed eyes, and hands folded in the old, old fashion upon the
fustian jacket: the low whisper of the pines crept downward like a sigh.
Kneeling beside the pallet, the young man bent his head and touched
the pale forehead with reverent lips. “God bless you for your love and
faith,” he said, “and give you rest!”

And when he rose a few minutes later, and saw that the little dead
flower he had worn had dropped from its place and lay upon the pulseless
breast, he did not move it, but turned away and left it resting; there.





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