Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Irresolute Catherine
Author: Jacob, Violet
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Irresolute Catherine" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Public Library, Google, and the HathiTrust Digital Library.



IRRESOLUTE CATHERINE



IRRESOLUTE CATHERINE

BY VIOLET JACOB
(MRS. ARTHUR JACOB)

AUTHOR OF "THE SHEEPSTEALERS," "AYTHAN WARING," ETC.

LONDON
JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.
1908



COPYRIGHT, 1908, IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.



CONTENTS

          CHAPTER I
                            PAGE
BETHESDA                       9

          CHAPTER II
A NIGHT OF STARS              37

          CHAPTER III
TALGWYNNE FAIR                73

          CHAPTER IV
ACTION                       101

          CHAPTER V
PENCOED                      121

          CHAPTER VI
CATHERINE OPENS THE GATE     151



CHAPTER I

BETHESDA



CHAPTER I

BETHESDA

A DULL patter of sheep's hurrying feet came from behind a small knoll
that jutted into the track along the mountain. The level plateau was
wide and smooth below the towering slopes, and the threads of water
crossing it at intervals had laid the underlying rock bare. As the
sound neared, a travelling flock came round the knoll, herded thickly
together and running before a man on horseback like clouds scudding
before a gale. Forty pairs of light-coloured eyes, with their clear
black bar of pupil, stared limpidly into space, and the backs of the
flock bobbed and heaved as the hundred and sixty little cloven hoofs
set their mark on the earthy places over which they passed.

Heber Moorhouse, pressing hard on their heels, shouted now and again,
swinging the rope's end he carried and leaning far out of his saddle
as he drove the stragglers in. The rough-coated, weedy-looking pony
under him cantered on, stubborn in face and obedient in limb to the
rider's hand and balance. 'Black Heber' could bring in his sheep as
easily without his dog as with him.

It was nothing in his colouring that had earned him the title by which
some spoke of him, for his hair was of the same indefinite shade as
that of many of his neighbours, and his eyes were rather light than
dark. But they had a fire, on occasion, that suggested dark things
even to the ardent and sober Baptist community to which he belonged.
Though he was a young man he looked older than his years by reason of
his gauntness and his thin beard. He had sole charge of the flock on a
fair-sized sheep farm, and was counted by his employer a responsible,
if inconveniently independent, fellow. He was a convinced chapel-goer,
rather bigoted and with qualities which made certain wildnesses in him
doubly marked by contrast.

He looked wild enough this afternoon, with his battered, wide-brimmed
hat and the arm which swung the rope-end showing sharply against the
sky. He was a figure which by no stretch of imagination could be
supposed to belong to the valley lying below his feet, rich,
chequered, and green; its soft luxuriance pertained to another world
from that which had given birth to this crude son of action.

The afternoon was wearing on and he was anxious to get the crowd in
front of him to its destination in a pen farther along the plateau;
when the sheep were off his hands there would be other matters calling
him, and his mind was running on far before the flock.

Meanwhile, as he rode on the mountain turf, a little concourse of
people waited about among the trees at the head of the dingle farther
on. Where a primitive cart-road plunged through a grove of alders, a
two-storied house, scarcely more pretentious than a cottage, stood
back from it, facing the passer-by and parted from him by a wide yard.
An obliterated signboard, high on the rough-cast wall, showed that the
building had formerly been a house of entertainment, while it offered
no clue to the device it had once borne, nor suggested the name,
"Bethesda," by which it was now known. What gave the place
significance was the stream of water which crossed the road on its
downward course and dived in among the trees, falling from level to
level, and disappearing in the thicket of hazels and undergrowth.

Opposite to the house, but on the farther side of the way, a paved
channel was cut from the stream to a square pool the sides of which
were walled by slabs of stone. From this another channel led to the
edge of the high ground, but at the present moment it was blocked by a
single slab, the removal of which would drain the basin dry. The inlet
from the main flow was controlled in like manner, and now both these
sluices were closed and more than three feet of water lay in the pool,
dark, and spotted with islands of bursting bubbles. A couple of
two-wheeled vehicles rested on their shafts in the yard, while the
beasts belonging to them, tethered upon the grass, got all they could
out of their situation.

As Heber emerged from the outhouse in which he had tied up his pony to
approach the pool, two persons were standing apart from the rest, with
their backs turned to him, and he went towards a thick place, from
which he could see them without being noticed. The woman was a young,
slight creature, soft-eyed, and with a swift gentleness of movement
unlike that of the working class to which she belonged. Her clear skin
flushed when her companion spoke to her as she stood by him holding a
hymn-book and nervously turning its leaves. She had a sensitive mouth
and when she looked down her lashes rested in a broad fringe upon her
cheek.

The other was a human being of a very different type, a man of ruddy
complexion, with white teeth showing in a pleasant smile when he
spoke; he was well dressed and had the assured bearing of one who
expects well of the world. Moorhouse watched the pair from where he
stood in the background of alder stems. It was easy now to see why he
was called 'Black Heber.'

As more people arrived at the spot the girl seemed to shrink closer to
the man beside her; and when three women went off alone towards the
house, she gave her book into his hand and prepared to follow them.

"It's time now," she said tremulously. "I must go. You'll follow soon,
Charles."

"I suppose you must have your way, Catherine," he said.

He looked after her as she disappeared and the door of the old inn
closed behind her. Then a dark-coated man held up his hand for silence
and the whole assembly went down upon its knees; Heber, too, knelt in
his brake of alder. The dark-coated man began to pray aloud.

The prayer had continued a little time when Charles, who was looking
eagerly towards the house from under the hand with which he had
covered his face, saw the four women emerge again and come across the
yard.

They approached slowly, one behind the other, a grey-headed woman
first; and there was something in the solemn demeanour of each that
sent Charles Saunders's mind back to the woodcuts of martyrdoms and
executions he had seen as a boy in his school history-books. This
half-barbarous scene was heightening the barrier which his slightly
superior station had raised between himself and Catherine Dennis,
though he was to be married to her in a week, and though he believed
it to have fallen altogether. He frowned as the prayer ceased and he
took his hands from his eyes. So far as he was anything, he was a
Baptist by force of parentage and tradition, though the doctrine of
total immersion appealed neither to him nor to his family.
Nevertheless, he had promised her that he would embrace it
practically, and he glanced at the small knot of men who awaited their
turn to be baptized and with whom he was to present himself when the
women came up from the pool.

The quiet figures stood modestly in a row behind the minister,
Catherine and the grey-haired woman together; the girl's colour was
mounting and fading again in her face. She looked over for a moment at
her affianced husband, and he could see the exaltation that burned in
her eyes, suggesting to him more than ever the idea of martyrdom. That
sexless exaltation divided her from him too. He shifted from foot to
foot and a smouldering anger was in him. It grew as he noticed that,
though the other three wore boots and stockings, she had slipped her
feet into a pair of shoes only and her bare ankles could be seen under
her stuff petticoat. Heber's eyes, which looked dark indeed, were set
on her, and, as Saunders suddenly perceived him among the trees, the
anger kindled in him like a flame.

He knew little of the man, scarcely more than that he was Catherine's
old lover, and that the two had parted because of some trivial
disagreement; but he had once drawn from her the admission that she
had been afraid of Black Heber. Saunders, who worked for a well-to-do
cattle-breeding uncle, whom he was eventually to succeed in business,
was made of a different stuff from the tall shepherd whose ways were
in the hill; and though the two men belonged to the same sect they did
not go to the same chapel, for Saunders worshipped in Llangarth, where
he and his relation lived and drove their trade. Heber's looks
suggested a rebellion against all with which the other held, and the
independence that clothed him as a garment irked the richer man; for
he had a mortifying certainty that if the other envied him at all, it
was on Catherine's account alone. There was annoyance in the thought
that Heber Moorhouse would not have exchanged his sheep and his life
of exertion and hardship--the cold winter snow and starlight of the
mountain, its burning, shadeless summer heats--for the advantages
which had placed himself high in the consideration of Catherine's few
friends. Catherine was an orphan and her lot in life that of a
maidservant at a humble farm. She had caught Charles's affections in
spite of every prejudice he possessed and the fact spoke well for the
strength of his feelings.

The minister was beginning the opening line of a hymn. His voice was
not strong, but the first sharp note pierced the silence of the trees
and threw the murmur of falling water into the background. The sound
gathered volume as one and then another of the congregation struck in.
Saunders alone was silent; he had a rich voice which agreed with his
generous type of looks and he was fond of using it; but he stood dumb
in his place as verse after verse rose and fell. It seemed to him as
if everything--voices, prayers, the very trees and the air of the
early autumn afternoon--was conspiring to make a show of the girl who
was his own and who was set in front of these scores of eyes,
conspicuous, with her bare ankles.

As the last words of the hymn died out the minister stepped down into
the water. It swirled round his middle, for he was a small man, and
lapped against the stone sides of the pool; and the oddness of his
appearance as he stood, fully dressed, in the confined space, with
only the upper half of him visible, brought a smile to the lips of a
few present to whom the sight was strange.

Catherine was the last of the four to descend into the pool, and she
paused before entering it to help her grey-headed predecessor up the
slope of the bank. The old woman was bewildered from the shock of the
immersion, and her teeth chattered as the girl supported her for a
moment before her companions led her away to the house. The minister
looked after the retreating women with some concern. Every eye was
upon Catherine, who had drawn the shawl she wore more tightly about
her and stood waiting for the support of her pastor's hand. For a
minute her heart quailed at the coming chill and her lips trembled;
then she put forward one white ankle and found herself clinging to the
man's sleeve, and up to her waist in the pool. Her grasp loosened as
she felt her feet and she joined her hands together while he lifted
his voice, calling on God to look down on this woman, His servant, who
stood forth to be baptized before the little congregation of the
faithful. She did not unclasp her hands as he put one arm round her
while he gently forced her backwards with the other; her eyes were
closed as the water rose about her throat and over her forehead. Just
as she disappeared completely under the surface the minister put his
foot on a loose stone on the floor of the paved place and slipped. He
regained his balance in a moment, but as Catherine felt his support
waver, panic took her, and she made a convulsive effort to rise. The
water gripped at her shawl and the sudden weight almost dragged her
down.

She had fastened the heavy covering securely, but it broke loose and
floated, half submerged, on the pool. She stood up, pale and
terrified, in her white shift and thick petticoat. The linen clung,
dripping, to her shoulders and bosom, outlining every curve of her
body, and her loosened hair fell in a coil to her elbows. The minister
drew the shawl from the water and wrapped it about her.

Saunders had come a few paces nearer, and as she regained the bank the
girl could see, even through the streams pouring from her hair, his
look of steady rage. She hurried quickly into the house: the tears
were mingling with the colder drops that washed her cheeks. She sank
down on a chair, in the room where the other women were putting on
their dry clothes, and sobbed. One of them came to her and began to
unfasten her wet shift. A dry one lay in a corner, with her stockings
and the rest of her garments; she sobbed on, heeding no one, for her
thoughts were with the angry man outside. She was very timid and she
had looked forward to this day as to a day of happiness.

At the brink of the pool the men who were awaiting baptism were taking
off their coats and boots and Saunders stood back again as he saw them
making their preparations. The wrath which the sight of Catherine's
bare ankles and her thinly veiled body had raised turned every
instinct in revolt against the rite he had witnessed. His foolish
promise to share in it had been given in the glamour of some tender
moment and he felt it would be impossible to redeem it. The whole
thing disgusted him; he took his religion and its forms more as a
matter of course than as a matter of conviction; and baptism by
immersion struck him now as an absurdity for a man--a positive
indecency for a woman. As he saw the minister looking towards him he
turned away, and went, in a tumult of revulsion, in among the trees.
He would have no part with these people.

He felt a wide difference between himself and these men and women of
the hillside; and he would take care that his wife should have no more
to do with them. She had no relations, fortunately, to beset her with
their influence.

He strode over the channel which was the outlet of the pool, his head
down, his angry look fixed on the ground. He would have turned his
back upon Bethesda, there and then, had he not told Catherine that he
would walk home with her to the farmhouse at which she served. He knew
that most of the congregation was aware of his intention to be
baptized to-day, and he could not endure the well-meaning glances of
inquiry that followed him. He hated every creature in it.

He reached a large alder whose divided stems rose from a wet place,
dark with that touch of the unhallowed which is the charm of alder
trees; Heber was leaning against the trunk amid the thick brush of
leaves. He was so appropriate a figure to his surroundings that an
imaginative person might have been startled. Saunders, who had for the
time being forgotten his existence, stopped. He was not imaginative,
but Heber--or, rather, the religious aspect of him--stood in his mind
for everything he was rebelling against now; for at this moment
Charles felt ready to become an infidel. The other aspect of
Heber--the one which had been uppermost while he watched the woman he
loved from the alder brake--only struck him as the man spoke.

"I thought ye were to go down to the water alongside o' her," he said.
"I would ha' done better for her than that."

There was savage contempt in his voice.

"_You!_" exclaimed the other, catching his breath; "_you_, indeed!"

"Yes, I."

"Ah! you scoundrel!" cried Saunders suddenly, "you black scoundrel,
hiding there among the trees with your eyes on another man's girl!"

"She won't be yours long," replied Heber.

"No, that she won't!" shouted Saunders, "not if she's going to keep up
wi' you folks on the hill! not if she's to make a show of herself and
a shame! not if she's to go a different way to heaven from me that's
to be her husband! What'll take me there'll take her too, and she
shall know it!"

His voice was so loud that many of the congregation were turning in
his direction. By this time the minister had come up from the water
and was speaking to the newly baptized persons who were standing about
him. Catherine and the three women waited afar off in the yard of the
inn.

Charles controlled himself and his voice dropped. He went off to the
house, skirting the limits of the crowd.

"I must be going home now," said the girl nervously, as he joined her.

He made no reply, merely starting off down the road and bidding her
come quickly. The people beside the pool had begun to talk and laugh,
now that the business that had brought them together was over, and the
sound of their loosened tongues made him hurry out of earshot. When
they had gone a little way he turned upon Catherine. The fact that she
had made no mention of his broken promise showed her to be entirely
conscious of his mood.

"You're angry with me," she said as he was about to speak.

"Why did you come out i' the face of all the people without your
stockings and without your gown? What took you that you couldn't be
decent and modest like the other women? There were you in your smock
for all these gaping fellows to see--good-for-nothing rascals like
that Black Heber sneaking there among the trees--damn him! I have no
mind for my wife to be a sight for the like of him!"

Catherine looked up at him with an agonised face.

"I was ashamed of you--that's what I was," continued he, "and I'll
have no more of it! I tell you to be done with all these common folk
that can't get baptized without making a parade and a show of
themselves. I wonder that an honest old grandmother like the woman
beside you should let you go out of the house like that."

"But my shawl came off," protested Catherine, who was now crying
bitterly; "the water pulled it away from me."

"And where was your gown that should have kept you decent?"

"I've only got one," sobbed the girl, "an' I was afraid to spoil it;
I've been pinching an' saving to buy my wedding dress, and there's
only this one to my back. Mrs. Job lent me her shawl that I mightn't
spoil what I've got."

Charles hardly knew what to say. In his heart he really acquitted
Catherine of the immodest behaviour with which he had charged her, but
his humour demanded an outlet. What really wrung his withers was his
smarting sense of the gulf between himself and the community from
which he was taking a wife. His origin was no higher than that of the
people whose voices he could still hear as they chatted round the
precincts of Bethesda, but his uncle's business had led him into a
more sophisticated class, and he had identified himself passionately
with it. In this access of contempt and wrath he had been stung into
positive fury by the meeting with Heber Moorhouse; for he was a
jealous man, and the thought that the girl he loved had been the
promised wife of such an one as Black Heber was more than he could
bear. It had almost made him hate Catherine.

They walked on in silence. She turned her face from him and wept on;
and Saunders's sense of justice was beginning to be touched--as the
sense of justice in the weak so often is--not by the actual rights
of the matter, but by his own sentiments. He grew a little less
furious. By the time they neared their destination he put out his hand
and drew her closer to him.

"There, there," he said, speaking more gently, "we'll say no more
about it. You'll have more than one gown, I'll go bail, when we're man
an' wife."

Catherine Dennis's existence had been dependent upon the will of
others ever since she could remember and no thought of rebellion
against her lover's unreasonableness came to her. A so-called aunt had
brought her up and at her death she had gone into service; she had
never had any choice in her course of life until 'Black Heber' had
found his way into it. Even the quarrel which parted them had been the
work of a third person, and Catherine had suffered and wept in secret
and been barely consoled by those who never ceased telling her that he
was a wild fellow and that she was well rid of him.

Only one person had taken a different line, and that was Mrs. Job
Williams who lived near Pencoed Chapel, on the lower slope of the
Black Mountain.

"Mrs. Job," as she was called by her neighbours, was a sharp-featured,
middle-aged matron, whose absolute ascendency over her husband had
made him almost a negligible quantity with his acquaintance. Her own
personality was so marked, and the impression she made upon the minds
of her neighbours so keen, that it was considered a lucky thing for
Catherine Dennis, tossed about, as she was, to have found anchorage in
'Mrs. Job's' goodwill. Her mission was to keep the little Baptist
Chapel of Pencoed in order, and she lived in a cottage beside the
green track connecting that place with the more frequented ways along
the hill. She was a fervent Baptist and it was owing to her that
Catherine had been brought into the community. Only her feeling of
responsibility for the girl's soul had prevented her from turning her
angular back upon her when Heber arrived one evening at her door, and
she discovered that the two had parted; she had wrestled sorely with
herself in her determination to keep friendly with Catherine, and that
responsibility was probably the one thing that could have enabled her
to do so. The girl was impressionable and excitable; she was
determined that it should not be her fault if the lamb she had brought
into the fold wandered back into the Church. She it was who had
influenced Catherine to persuade Saunders to be rebaptized in Bethesda
pool. Mrs. Job's heart was hot within her, for she liked the shepherd
more than she did most people. She had no child and the lonely visions
that came to her of the son she might have borne wore the face of
Black Heber.

And now Catherine's wedding was only a few days off. It was to take
place at an early hour in the morning and she was to sleep at Mrs.
Job's house on the preceding night. But though her prospects were so
good and though she was leaving a life of hard work for one of
comparative ease; though Charles's wrath had cooled during their long
walk, she stood at the gate of the farm looking after him with a
downcast heart. She had expected to be so happy, but it had been a day
of tears. He had not said a word about his broken promise, and she had
not found courage to speak of it.



CHAPTER II

A NIGHT OF STARS



CHAPTER II

A NIGHT OF STARS

ON the night before Catherine Dennis's wedding the spangled sky
spread, still and cloudless, above Pencoed Chapel. The plain
squareness of the house of worship, and the treeless stretch
surrounding it and Mrs. Job's cottage hard by, looked all the plainer
for the white points of light that burned in remote solemnity over the
mountain. The building, but for the one insignificant dwelling, was,
as it were, the solitary feature in a bare world; and the starlight on
the grey walls gave them an even greater austerity than they had by
day.

In the moonless night the gravestones round the chapel, having no
shadows to throw them into relief, were merged into general neutrality
with the grass. The sharpest things in earth or heaven were the angles
of Cassiopeia's Chair, high among the constellations, which seemed not
to look down on the sleep-bound world but to be turning from it,
consciously aloof in their unwavering detachment; a sight to affect
some not at all; to oppress some by the comparison of infinitude with
their own individualities; to raise others, by that very comparison,
to the height of ecstasy--the dim foreknowledge of what that true
sense of proportion must be which swallows the individual into the
immutable and divine.

At the back of Mrs. Job's house the small barn, which had been made
habitable as a lodging for travelling preachers, contained a single
light; and Mrs. Job, whose eye had caught the glimmer, crossed the
intervening space in the darkness and pushed the door open. Catherine
Dennis rose from her knees at the bedside and faced her, startled,
with parted lips. Though it was late she had not undressed, and, for a
girl on the eve of her wedding to a man she was supposed to love, her
look was curious. Perhaps she stood in awe of the morrow and of the
changes it must bring. There was an air of tension hanging over the
bare little room with its scanty, rough furnishings. Catherine's hat
lay on the bed; it was as if she had touched nothing, displaced
nothing, since she entered the place; only the depressions made by her
elbows on the bedcover were so deep they looked like dark pools in the
coarse white material.

She confronted Mrs. Job with the face of one caught in some evil act.
The woman's sharp eyes took in every detail of the scene. She indulged
in no useless comment, for it was not her way.

"Well," said she, as though waiting for Catherine to speak.

"I couldn't rest--I don't think I can sleep," said the girl.

"Ah, you've made your bed and you must lie on it," said Mrs. Job
grimly.

There was a pause.

"You've made a bed that'll be hard," she continued, "not for your body
but your soul. You've taken a man that may give you down to lie on an'
trouble to wake to."

She seated herself bolt upright upon the single chair the room
contained. In the candlelight her thin, sharp nose looked sharper.

"You'll be goin' back to the Church next," she added conclusively.

"But Charles is a Baptist," said Catherine.

"A Baptist? A Baptist?" cried the other; "he's nothin'--not him--but a
lukewarm Christian. And you who might have been married to Heber!"

She looked at the girl as though she were dust beneath her feet; she
could not understand her. She had never yet mentioned Black Heber's
name to the harassed little bride-elect; but she seemed likely to make
up for that omission now.

"_That_ was a man," she went on, "not a soft, blow-hot-an'-cold fellow
that could behave to ye like Saunders behaved at Bethesda! Heber's a
man of his word, an' you broke your word to him, an' Saunders broke
his word to you; yes, an' will again too. If he can't keep faith wi'
his sweetheart what'll he do with his wife?"

"But he's a very good-living man," began Catherine.

"That may be," cried Mrs. Job, raising her voice; "but there's no
religion in him! He don't care for nothin' but his cattle an' his
money an' his buyin' an' sellin' an' layin' up riches. What's the use
o' that when his heart's proud before God an' the truth's not in him?
Maybe ye'll live to find it out, girl. An' when ye do, don't come to
me. Don't tell me I didn't warn ye. This is a sad night for ye,
Catherine Dennis, an' to-morrow may be a sadder day, if I'm not
mistaken.

"But I've warned ye," she said, rising; "an' may be the Lord robbed ye
o' your sleep this night that I might bring home the warning."

She lifted the latch and paused on the threshold, looking back into
the room like some ominous, uncouth shadow between Catherine and the
star-set night outside. Her steps were audible crossing the space
between the barn and her own house, and the bang of the door, and the
loud scrape of the key as she locked it, had a suggestive finality
that awed the listener sitting alone with the guttering candle.

Catherine remained crouched where she was; she did not go to bed, for
her body seemed as numb and frozen as her heart. The sound of the
shutting door brought home the truth that another door had closed for
good and all; though Mrs. Job befriended her still and was giving her
the hospitality of her roof on this last night of her girlhood, she
was as much cut off from her as if she had openly declared herself an
enemy. Catherine understood that. She felt herself lost, somehow, in
the incalculable ways of life; she knew herself to be timid and
irresolute to an absolutely fatal degree and she clung all the more to
any hand that was stretched forward.

She wondered why she had parted from Heber Moorhouse; for, in spite of
the half-hearted fear with which his uncommon personality and decided
doings inspired her, she had liked him better than Saunders. He might
look like an outlaw, but he was an honest man. Why had she listened to
her mistress at the farm when she told her nobody but a born fool
would refuse Charles Saunders? Heber was a proud man, she knew; an
unforgiving one, she believed. No doubt he hated her now and Mrs. Job
was turning away from her for ever. She remembered Charles's bitter
words and heavy-browed rage on the way home from Bethesda. She had
seen a new Charles that day. Was that the man she was to live with the
rest of her life, and for whose sake she was parting with her old ways
and her old friends? He had said a good deal to her about the home he
was going to give her and enumerated its comforts and glories many
times; and she had listened with pleasure and looked forward to the
realisation of his pictures; but now she did so no more. These things
were untried, terrible, full of pitfalls. And worse than any vision
she could raise, or any misgiving about her betrothed, was the
half-superstitious belief growing on her that she was doing wrong.

Catherine's fears had been worked on as much by Mrs. Job's grim
appearance and the menace in her voice as by any words she had said.
She was dazed and weary, so weary that the effort of undressing was
too much for her slackened will. There was no clock in the barn to
tell her how the hours went by, or how many lay between her and
to-morrow's fate. It seemed that everything had passed out of her
control and that she could only be still, a sad, helpless heap, her
hands clasped round her knees and her head bowed on the footboard of
the wooden bedstead. And this was the eve of her wedding!

She did not know how long she had stayed there when there was a sound
outside which made her sit upright to listen. Before she could collect
her wits, a smart, short rap fell upon the door and a hand passed over
the outside of it as though groping for the latch.

Despairing fear seized Catherine. She did not move nor answer and her
heart bounded in her as though it would beat her side to pieces. As
the knock sounded again she hid her face in her palms. When she looked
up the door was open, and a tall figure stood on the threshold, with a
star looking over either shoulder out of the patch of fathomless sky
framed in the doorway.

She could not even scream as Heber Moorhouse strode towards her, but
she was aware of a horse which stood outside and the warm contact of a
man's hands as they closed over her own.

"I've come for ye, Catherine," he said, drawing her to her feet.

She tried to free her hands, but he held them fast.

"Saunders shan't have ye," he went on. "When he comes to Pencoed in
the morning there'll be nobody to meet him but Mrs. Job. You're coming
with me."

"I can't--I can't--" she exclaimed desperately.

"He shan't have you," said Heber again, as if he had not heard her.
"D'ye think I've ridden all this way for nothing?"

"It's too late. There's nought to be done now," cried the girl.
"Go--go, Heber. Let me be! Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do?"

"You'll do what I bid you. Come, Catherine; it's best done first as
last. I've got a cloak for you there on the saddle."

The horse moved outside, and the sound sent Black Heber to the door.
All was as still as death, and he turned back.

"There's no time to lose," said he. "Come, be a good girl."

As he spoke an imperceptible stir of air flicked at the candle-flame
and its shine struck on the gold ring with a device of clasped hands
on Catherine's finger. He took her almost roughly by the wrist.

"Take that off," he said; "you'll need it no more."

She shook her head.

"Take it off," he repeated again, standing over her.

She hesitated and then obeyed.

It looked as though the action had decided her fate. He took the ring
from her and laid it on the table.

"Saunders 'll find it there safe," he observed, smiling, "and it's all
he'll find."

He drew her outside to the high doorstep, and, taking the cloak from
the strap on the saddle, he put it round her. She was as passive as if
the loss of her ring had mesmerised her. She felt destiny slipping
from her hold and the relief from its weight was well-nigh grateful to
her in her bewilderment. But she was being forced to do a terrible
thing, and she could not even tell whether or no it was against her
will. If only Mrs. Job would come back and either bid her go with this
man or save her from him!

It was not Heber's mountain pony that waited outside, but a big, dark
horse, seeming colossal to Catherine in the uncertainty of the night.
While she stood on the step he leaped into the saddle.

"Now," said he, "put your foot on mine and come."

She drew back, a last protest on her lips; as it left them he leaned
down and gripped her by both arms.

"Step up," he said.

The stone slab she stood on was a fair height above the level of the
horse's feet, and, as she set her foot upon the shepherd's boot, he
swung her up in front of him and turned the beast's head from the
barn. She gave a cry, clinging to him as they moved forward, and his
arm tightened round her, drawing her close.

"I won't let ye drop, my dear," said he: "no fear o' that, Catherine.
We're going to Talgwynne."

"To Talgwynne?"

"To my father's house. Nobody'll meddle with us there and we'll leave
it man and wife before long."

As they crossed the yard and turned the corner of Mrs. Job's house
stillness lay on the world round them as the tide lies on the sands.
But it was a strange thing that when they were a few yards distant on
the green road past Pencoed Chapel, a latch was raised softly in the
cottage.

And, as the tread of the dark horse died away, Mrs. Job, like Sarah in
the Scriptures, stood behind the door and laughed.

     *   *   *   *   *

Black Heber set his face to the open stretches below the mountain.
Above, treading the paths of the sky, the planets wheeled on their way
towards morning; the constellations had turned a little. The night, as
it approached its zenith, had lightened under the dominance of the
shining groups with their myriad companions.

Catherine was so slight that the double weight made small difference
to the animal which carried the pair. Heber's strong clasp held her
firmly in front of him in the large country saddle, and as she grew
more accustomed to the horse's movements she sat more upright, looking
into the darkness. To her eyes it was darkness positive, though to her
discarded but inalienable lover, with his keen shepherd's sight and
his familiarity with every rood of the ground in all aspects and
circumstances of weather, season, and hour, it was only comparative.
It struck her that she would not have felt so secure with Charles
under like conditions, though he considered himself a finer horseman
and though he was such a well-appointed figure when he rode into the
market-town on his sleek hackney. She would hardly have been a woman
had the thought not given her pleasure. They turned towards the hill
as the track opened into unconfined wideness. They had spoken little
and no caress had passed between the reunited couple; Heber had not so
much as kissed the woman in his arms. His attention was centred on the
dark course he was steering, or fixed on landmarks only visible to his
practised gaze. Nothing moved upon the hill-slopes rising on their
left hand to bank themselves against the stars.

The horse was a fast walker and they had kept to a foot's pace the
whole way. All at once a stone, loosened perhaps from its bed on a
higher level by the foot of some grazing sheep, came rolling down the
hillside. They could hear it coming almost from the start of its
downward career, though in the darkness it was impossible to guess at
what point it might cross their way. The horse cocked his ears and
sidled, and Heber shortened his rein, holding the girl as in a vice.

The thing bounded across their path, a dim, shapeless, momentary flash
of grey on its irresponsible journey from nowhere to nowhere, and the
startled beast planted his forefeet and would have turned but for
Heber's strong hand and the grip of his knees. As she felt the swerve,
Catherine threw her arms round the rider with a sob of terror and
clung to him with her face buried in his shoulder.

Then it was as if madness had entered into Black Heber with her clasp
and the close pressure of her cheek; and the mountain air that blew on
his forehead stung him with its associations of freedom, and space,
and action. He gave a shout that rang against the slopes and sent the
horse forward at a gallop.

They rushed on through the night; in the starlight the animal took his
way safely along the smooth turf. There was no obstacle and no rough
ground in the whole of the stretch before them. Wild exultation filled
Heber, and his right arm was wound round the slight creature, who was
as a child in his hold. As long as they galloped thus, so long, he
knew, she would cling to him; there was room in his mind for nothing
but the insane desire to race on for ever with the hill air smiting
his face and her arms about him. No, indeed, Saunders should not have
her! He laughed aloud to think of his discovery in the morning.

It was well enough for him to laugh, and gallop, and exult, and to
give free play to the spirit of madness that the events of the night
had awakened in his wild heart, but Catherine was almost fainting. She
had lost all power of speech and could only strain her trembling body
convulsively to him; her breath was coming in sobs, stifled by the
contact of his coat. At every moment she thought to be dashed into the
night-stricken void through which they were rushing. The wind of their
pace tore at her hair and was cold on her neck. The echoes of their
flying hoof-beats were flung back from the hill.

They raced on. They were nearing the end of the mountain when Heber
pulled up and she ventured to raise her head and turn her cramped
limbs. She was shaking all over. "Put me down," she entreated; but she
could scarcely finish her sentence for the kisses with which he was
covering her lips, her cheeks, the loosened hair upon her brow.
Saunders had never kissed her like that. She dared not struggle, for
the last half-mile had worn her out and she was afraid of falling; she
could only pray to be allowed to walk.

He set her upon the ground at last, and dismounted beside her. It was
some time before he could persuade her that she must go forward if she
did not want to spend the night upon the hills. She was completely
unnerved, and when she finally suffered him to put her in the saddle
he led the horse on, walking at its head. She sat with her knee
crooked on the saddle-tree, her white face drooping with fatigue; two
great plaits of hair were falling to her waist.

The appalling complications that life can weave round its victims had
never been brought home to her so forcibly before: she was too tired
and frightened even to think of the end of this crazy journey or of
what would be its results; she was adrift and cut off from every one
but the wild man who walked in front with his hand on the bridle. Her
back ached and she was bewildered and cold.

They plodded on till they had left the hill behind and were on the
road. Two o'clock was striking from the tower of Talgwynne church as
they entered the little town, and the sound rang over the empty
street. Heber stopped at a door in a by-lane, and bidding Catherine
remain on horseback, he flung a handful of small stones against an
upper window. The casement was opened with some caution and a head was
thrust out. Catherine started as she heard a woman speak.

"It's me," said Heber; "let me in."

Before he had ended his request the head was withdrawn, and in a few
minutes the door opened like a yawning mouth in the whitewashed wall.
The woman ran back for a light. Black Heber lifted Catherine from the
saddle, and she followed him in.

The striking of matches came from an adjacent room, and, when the
light flared up, the girl found herself looking into a flagged kitchen
from which emanated the faint warmth of a half-dead fire. The woman
who had admitted them was bending over the lamp she was lighting, with
its chimney, which she had taken off, in her hand; she replaced it,
screwing up the wick, and turned to Heber.

Her expression as she caught sight of the girl behind him was
singular, and she neither came forward nor spoke a word, but stood
looking at the shepherd, her reddish hair taking a redder glow from
the lamp. The colour ran up to her face and remained in a bright spot
on each of her high cheek-bones. Faint lines about her mouth and jaw
showed that she had passed her freshest youth, though her full figure
and unfaded eyes held all the attraction of womanhood in the
mid-thirties. She had hurried on a few clothes, but her bodice was
carelessly fastened and strained across her full bosom. When she
turned her attention to Catherine she seemed to be looking down at her
from a height.

"Here's my girl, Catherine Dennis," said Heber shortly. "Ye'll not
refuse her a bed to-night, Susannah."

There was a tentative ring through his words which Catherine had not
heard before.

"There's no bed but mine," said the other.

"She's dead tired," added Heber. "Where's father?"

"Asleep," answered Susannah. "It's nigh on morning."

Without more ado he turned, leaving the women together, and mounted
the stair outside the kitchen door.

The elder of the two pushed forward a chair with grudging hospitality
and motioned to the unexpected guest to take it. Catherine drew near
to what warmth there was left; she had been meek enough through all
Heber's vagaries, but there was something in her companion's manner
that stirred her blood, and her spirit was rising. Susannah threw some
wood upon the red embers in the grate and raked the bottom bar. Then
she stood with one hand on her hip, regarding Catherine, until the
silence became so irksome that the girl felt herself forced to speak.

"I'll stay here by the fire," she said. "I don't need a bed."

The other had made no offer of sharing her own with the stranger, but
the bare idea of being alone with Susannah in the dark frightened
Catherine. The tacit antagonism between them was stronger with each
breath they drew.

For a few minutes the sound of voices continued overhead and was heard
through the ceiling, and then the shepherd came down again. He went up
to Catherine and took her hand.

"You'll stay here," said he, "an' I'll go home wi' the horse. I'll
settle wi' them at the farm and be back in a day or two, an' the
minister 'll do the rest. Give me a kiss, Catherine."

Had she wished to refuse him, the intuitive knowledge that the other
woman would gladly have disputed her claim on Heber made her consent.
He kissed her heartily.

"What did uncle say?" demanded Susannah, watching the pair with her
defiant eyes.

Heber laughed. "Never you mind, my dear. You take care o' my girl, and
I'll tell you when I come back."

He went out, followed by Susannah, and mounted the horse. Susannah
shut the house door and locked it behind him.

Then she stole upstairs without returning to the kitchen and leaned
out of her window till long after he had turned the corner of the
bylane. She did not want to sleep when at last she lay down; but it
was no concern for the chilled and lonely guest at the hearth below
that kept her waking.

Catherine sat on by the fire, so tired that the silence fallen on the
house with the shutting of Susannah's window was a relief. She was
aching, and her limbs felt the strain of that gallop along the edge of
the hill. Surely there never was a woman so hard driven by the
caprices of contrary winds as she; never a bride who was to watch the
dawning of her expected wedding-day in such an untoward plight. Above
her head enmity--there was small doubt of that--and now Heber was
miles away. He had appeared, only to drag her from the beaten path to
the altar and to disappear again, leaving her stranded. Though, even
now, she did not actually regret Saunders, her soul was overwhelmed by
the things she had heard about the shepherd before the breaking of her
troth with him. People had called him "a wild man," shaking their
heads, but she had never been able to reconcile the accusation with
his strict principles and religious zeal. Out of chapel and in it he
was not the same man, though no one had yet made any definite
allegation against him. Labels play a large part in the imagination of
youth and she was young enough to be desperately impressed by
discrepancies and contradictions. Her association with him had been
short, and ran smoothly till its breaking, but she had learnt little
about men from it. Until their quiet courtship had begun, her lot had
been entirely with women. Her mistress had not given her much
latitude, and Heber had been seldom to the farm; their walks to and
from Pencoed chapel on Sundays had been almost the only meetings of
the engaged pair. The man who had dismounted at the door of Mrs. Job's
barn and whirled her, terrified, through the starlight, could not have
existed in those untroubled Sabbaths. He could not be the same person
as the Heber she had known. She did not suspect that, though he had
always existed, she had never seen him. A like puzzle had dismayed her
in Saunders; the same chameleon-like habit of turning, under new
circumstances, into a different being. Her simple philosophy and
experience had given her nothing with which to meet these problems.

She had sat some time when there was a movement above and a step came
quietly down the stairs. Catherine straightened herself, her eyes
dilating as Susannah entered. She carried no light, but the
intermittent flame in the grate played on her, alternately hiding and
revealing her face. She sat down at the table, leaning her elbow on
it, and her companion did not need the sudden illumination starting
from the fire to make her aware of her expression.

"I've heard about you," said Susannah.

Catherine turned away her head. It seemed to her that her best refuge
was in silence.

"There's not much Heber hides from me," continued the other; "it isn't
for nothing he comes back to his father's house time and again as he
do. He's reckoned a good son, is Heber."

The sly scorn of her laugh ran like an electric current through the
kitchen.

"I mind when he parted wi' you," she went on. "He come back to me. I
knew he'd come. 'That's over, my dear,' says he, 'an' over for good
an' all, too. A false woman's better found out before the ring's on
her hand.' An' false you are, too," added Susannah loudly--"to Heber
first and to Saunders last."

"But here I am all the same," rejoined Catherine, her spirit roused
where another woman was concerned.

Susannah laughed again.

"Well, why not?" she cried; "no one knows better nor me _why_ you're
here. Heber's not one to let the paying of his debts slip out of his
mind. 'Saunders shall never have her,' says he. 'I'll be even wi'
Saunders.' And like enough he'll be even wi' you, too, Catherine
Dennis. Are you goin' to stop here waitin' for him? Maybe you'll have
to wait longer than you think."

Defiance died out of the girl's face, and a chill went to her heart as
this new and dreadful idea reached her. Through the darkness Susannah
heard the catch of her breath. She rose, and coming close to
Catherine, she knelt down and thrust a stick from the bundle lying in
the chimney-corner between the bars. She crouched, devouring the other
with her fierce look as the fire blazed up.

"It's not a white-faced thing like you that's the match for a man like
him," she added.

Her companion watched her, fascinated. She felt small and poor in the
presence of Susannah's bold womanhood. The angles which the wear of
life and work had begun to accentuate strengthened, by contrast, her
untamed generosity of line. Her red lips were drawn back a little from
her even teeth, and her hair, tousled by contact with her pillow,
burned in hotter colours in the glow which came from the grate.

She had repelled Catherine so completely, that only at this moment did
she strike her as a creature of possible attraction, something more
than a mere sordid, sexless influence. But, with the warm light and
some undercurrent in Susannah's voice and talk, there came to the
younger woman a new view of her companion. This throb of revelation
was still quick in her when Susannah spoke again.

"Yes, you may wait," she said slowly; "you may sit and wait--and
you'll know something more at the end nor you do now. Have I lived
here for nigh upon three years under the old man's roof for nothin'?
Is Heber my own cousin for nothin'? D'ye think because I haven't got a
white face an' soft ways that no man has ever looked at me? D'ye
believe that when Heber comes home it's uncle that he comes for?"

She rose to her feet, and as she did so she shook her head, and her
rolled-up hair fell and hung below her waist. She picked up the horn
comb that clattered down upon the hearthstone.

"Look!" she cried, holding out the tangled mass. Her arm was at full
stretch, and as the ends of hair slipped away from between palm and
fingers, the sleeve of her coarse night-smock slipped back too and her
thick, round arm showed through the sleeve as a patch of the white
moon through the drifting of dusky cloud.

It began to dawn on Catherine that she was more than the sport of her
own evil luck; she was a pawn in the hands of Heber and of this
strange woman, who was making her, in spite of herself, feel her
almost brutal fascination. What could she do in such a trap? Even she,
with her timid, simple experiences, could guess that Susannah loved
her cousin, and her heart quailed at the bitter thought which was
assuming a certainty; it was revenge only that had prompted the
shepherd to snatch her from the man who had supplanted him, while she
had supposed, in her folly, that he loved her still; it was a double
revenge that Black Heber was wreaking on herself and on Saunders. The
blood ran to her face as she remembered his kisses at the end of their
headlong ride. He had but sought to make her humiliation more
complete. How meekly she had followed him out of the door at Pencoed!
She had distrusted herself all her life; and now she must despise
herself too, as she sat, a deluded fool, in front of Susannah, who
knew all, and was mocking her because of the knowledge.

When people have been a long time in learning some elementary truth,
the lesson, once made plain, takes complete hold of them. Catherine
had never yet attempted to act for herself and now she saw that she
must awake from her passiveness and free herself, once and for all,
from the web in which she was taken. As she looked at Susannah she
pierced beyond her into a new sequence of ideas. She had been hunted
into a corner because she had been too ready to run. All the people
she had known were so much stronger than she was that she had given up
her own will to theirs without a struggle. Her mistress at the farm,
Mrs. Job, Heber, and now Susannah; none of these suffered themselves
to be dragged about by circumstances and by others as she had done.
She was having hard measure from them all and it was time that,
independently of them all, she should choose her own life. Only
intense physical exhaustion kept her from running out of the house,
yet again, into the night, where she might be alone with her biting
mortification. The same roof should not shelter herself and Susannah.

Perhaps a shade of pity smote the elder woman at the sight of her
white cheeks and her heavy eyes, dark with weariness. She took her by
the shoulder.

"There," she said, "come you in here and lie down or you'll be dead
afore morning."

She opened a door and pushed her into a tiny room in which the flicker
from the kitchen fire showed the outline of a mattress on the floor.
Susannah bade her lie down while she fetched a covering and she
obeyed; she would have liked to rebel, but her fatigue was too great.
When the elder woman left her she lay still for a space, her one
thought of escape. Then she slept, worn out; to-morrow--somehow--she
would begin the world for herself.



CHAPTER III

TALGWYNNE FAIR



CHAPTER III

TALGWYNNE FAIR

ON the second morning after Heber and Catherine disturbed the sleeping
house, Talgwynne was also shaken out of its accustomed quiet by its
half-yearly horse-fair. But for the usual market this was the little
town's one explosion of business and pleasure; sheep and cattle
changed hands every week within sound of the clock on the square
church tower in larger or smaller quantities, but it was only in
spring and autumn that mountain ponies, hackneys, and carthorses
enlivened the place by their transitory presence.

On these occasions the west side of the town was by far its most
cheerful point, for the road sprawled out into the country, and, for a
flat quarter of a mile, was set apart as a show-ground by those who
had horses to sell. A rough fringe of grass on either side of the way
was the rallying place of the solid, who came to buy; the idle, who
came to look on; and the light-minded, who would assemble to jeer and
to goad unskilful horsemen with taunts and advice. After mid-day the
roadsides would be strewn with hats, wisps of straw, broken clay pipes
and the persons of those who had already succumbed to the pleasures of
the fair.

To Heber's father, crippled by rheumatism and well on in years, this
gathering was not a thing to be missed, for it was his one link with
the world as he had known it all the days of his life. The stream on
which he had plied in youth and manhood had taken an outward bend, as
it does for the very aged, and had left him on that sad, isolated
piece of shore which is the last resting-place for their living feet.
But Talgwynne fair could still give him the faces of a few old cronies
and the wry pleasure he could still experience at the sight of younger
men compulsorily parting company with their saddles.

He sat on a log, sheltered from the fresh wind by the hedge at his
back, with Susannah, to whom both horses and riders were interesting,
beside him. Though old Moorhouse was remarkable by reason of his
stature, which years and rheumatism had only slightly disguised, and
his niece, because of a vivid, indefinable something, which arrested
both male and female eyes, the couple was too ordinary a sight to
attract notice from regular haunters of the fair, and only a few
strangers let their minds wander from business to glance at them. The
interest of most people appeared to be centred in a prosperous-looking
man whose face was unfamiliar to Susannah, as he loitered with a knot
of farmers standing by their gigs on the grass. So many glances
followed him that she remarked on it to a lad who was watching him
with a half-curious grin and an elbow which jogged the ribs of a
neighbouring friend.

"That's him--Charles Saunders," replied the young fellow; "come to
look for 'is wench, a' s'pose. You be a bit behind the times, missus."

The two friends went off into the victorious crow which is the yokel's
recognition of another's discomfiture.

Susannah checked the exclamation on her tongue; there was hardly any
one in the world at that moment who interested her so much, and she
rose and pressed forward a little to get a better view of Charles,
whom she had never seen. As she surveyed him she wavered between her
sense of his inferiority to Heber as a masculine creature, and her
surprise that Catherine should have attracted so important a suitor.
She edged nearer to the group in which he stood, but the passing and
repassing of animals, and the varied sounds of the fair, prevented her
from hearing anything that was said by himself or by his companions.
Business was getting brisker as the sun climbed the sky, and it was
evident that Saunders and his friends were waiting for a horse to be
trotted out from the crowd choking the road at the entrance to the
town.

She stood lost in contemplation of Catherine's jilted bridegroom. So
many things were surging in her mind that the shouts along the road
were unheeded, and she only realised, when a hand pulled her back to
the grass, that a horse was almost upon her.

Roars of laughter were gathering density, like a snowball on its
career, and for an instant she imagined herself and her threatened
mishap to be their cause. A wrathful flush was on her cheek and it was
only on the beast's return journey that the redoubled merriment
undeceived her.

Every one was standing back to have a fuller view of the passing
horseman. He was a long, elderly man, whose appearance and demeanour
made the horse under him a mere adjunct to himself and commerce a
secondary matter. The lightning trot that formed his charger's chief
qualification was of such incredible swiftness that he had gone by
almost before the onlookers knew what had happened. In order that this
should not degenerate into a canter, the rider had laid himself
forward on the leggy creature's neck, and was firmly grasping its
ears, from between which his own face, crowned by a pot hat and framed
in streaming whiskers, stared into futurity. Behind him, the bellying
skirts of an old greatcoat flew high above tail and crupper and a gale
of laughter ran alongside him as he went, hanging in his wake like
rubbish in the draught of an express train.

Susannah had some humour, but it was of that unreliable sort which
flies from its owner at a personal touch, and not even the passage of
such a figure across her vision could divert her eyes from Saunders.
It did not escape her observation that, though he opened his mouth and
shouted with the rest of the world, he shut it again quickly; and
that, while his companions closed in on the road to get a last view of
the horseman as he disappeared into the town, he alone kept his place.
It was clear that he was pre-occupied; and the sullen uneasiness of
his expression when he was separated from his friends told the woman
who watched him something of his mind.

As the day went on, and horse after horse was led or ridden out for
the benefit of the farmers, old Moorhouse's stiff limbs were growing
uneasy on his log and he summoned his niece and began to move
homeward. Susannah was obliged to go with him, but she determined to
return when she had left him within safe distance of his own door; for
she had spread his midday bread and cheese on the kitchen table before
leaving the house, and there were possibilities waiting for her in
Talgwynne of which she had not dreamed as she set out for the fair. By
hook or by crook, she meant to have a word with Saunders.

Her uncle moved slowly, and the crowd made it so difficult for them to
get on, that they were forced to take the most devious way to avoid
it. Though she did not enter the house, it was almost an hour before
she found herself in the town and once more in the middle of the
throng. There was no sign of Saunders, and she guessed that he was
still on the road; but she stayed where she was, keeping as much as
possible in the background and shunning those acquaintances whom she
saw. She told herself that he must return to fetch his horse, for she
knew, by his splashed leggings and the whip under his arm, that he had
ridden to the fair. There would be a better chance of attracting his
attention quietly in the hurly-burly than on the open road.

She was standing in the shadow of a doorway when at last she saw him
and observed a greater geniality on his face. He was flushed, and his
hat sat at a more cheerful angle; and though his assured and steady
manner of threading the maze of people held him above all suspicion of
being drunk, Susannah suspected that he had been bolstering his fallen
spirits in the popular way. She edged again into the moving mass of
humanity and soon found herself close to him. He seemed to be
searching for some person, for it was nearly impossible to catch his
eye. She plucked him boldly by the sleeve.

Saunders turned round at once. She was as completely unknown to him as
he had been to her a few hours ago; but, thanks to a couple of visits
to the Hand of Friendship, his downhearted uneasiness had given way to
a more venturesome outlook on the world. Though Susannah wore a plain
black jacket and an unsuggestive hat, both of which had seen better
days, there was in her appearance that demand for attention from the
other sex which certain women carry with them wherever they go and
however they are clothed. Her direct eyes challenged those of Charles,
which now had a roving expression absent from them in the morning.

"Well, my dear," said he easily.

"What'll you give me for a bit o' news?" asked Susannah, answering his
look in kind. Her hand was still on his arm and she gave it a little
shake.

Saunders smiled. He did not quite know what to say in reply, nor what
turn he wished the situation to take; it seemed to have several
possibilities.

"It's good news, too," continued she, "and maybe I'll give it you for
nothin'. You've been used very bad, Mr. Saunders."

Charles's countenance changed. The certainty that he was a marked man
had dogged him all day. He had come to Talgwynne very unwillingly,
because his uncle, who wanted a horse, and whom he could not afford to
disoblige, had sent him to the fair to look for something suitable. He
had read in every face how completely his misfortunes were public
property, though the Hand of Friendship had helped to put his
humiliation from him for a little while. Every one he met knew how he
had arrived at Pencoed on his wedding morning to find himself there on
a fool's errand. No living creature had seen Catherine go; and all
that he or any one had been able to drag from Mrs. Job was the
admission that she had heard a horse pass her cottage long after she
was snug in bed. She had risen and stared into the darkness, but,
seeing nothing, had returned to her rest. As for the girl, she had
bidden her good-night, leaving her safe in the barn, hours before.

Charles had cursed and stormed. Heber came to his mind even before he
heard his detested name upon the lips of the best man, who spoke his
suggestion boldly. But there was no clue, no trace; nothing but the
marks of horse's feet printed about Mrs. Job's barn-door and crossing
the yard, only to lose themselves on the hard turf of the mountain.
While to every one possessed of the rudiments of good sense, these
were proofs of the shepherd's complicity, Heber was quietly at his
business at the farm. The best man, whose curiosity, draped in the
cloak of friendship for Saunders, urged him to the place, brought back
this news. But there was no sign of Catherine.

The sting of wounded pride was so sharp on Charles that the idea of a
search for the lost woman was far from him, and he was loud in his
resolve not to stir an inch in pursuit. Had he been able to injure
Heber he would have done so willingly, but Catherine should go free.
She had proved herself no fit wife for a man of his sort, and it was
not for him to take her back at a gift--not now. His tongue moved with
unclean freedom as he made known his opinion.

"Yes, you've been used shameful, but you'll have the laugh o' them
yet, and I'll help you to get it, if you'll listen to me," continued
Susannah. "I can tell you that much. Come you out of the crowd a bit.
We can't speak private enough here."

Charles looked round suspiciously, first on the elbowing mass and then
on the unknown woman at his side; not far off he saw one of the
farmers with whom he had been in company that morning. Certainly it
would not do to discuss his affairs in such publicity. Had his head
been perfectly clear he might not have been minded to discuss them at
all, but as it was, the mixture of sympathy and knowingness in
Susannah's voice had its effect. If she had been a man he would have
shaken her off, cursing her for her impudence; but he liked women, and
there was something about this one that impressed him and took his
fancy too. As he hesitated his name was shouted across the way.

"Here! let me go--I must be off!" he exclaimed, turning from her.
"There's a horse coming out for me to see."

The friend who had hailed him shouted again.

"There's a man just come who'll fetch him out for you," he called, his
hands trumpet-wise about his mouth; "you go up the road, Charlie, and
he'll bring him along!"

Saunders looked round for Susannah, but she was no longer beside him
and was already pushing her way on the pavement towards the western
entrance to the town. He followed, more slowly, and found her waiting
where the houses ended. She was panting a little. She fell into step
with him, and together they made for the place where old Moorhouse had
sat earlier in the day.

"Here's my news," said Susannah. "_I know where Catherine Dennis is._"

"I don't care a damn where she is, not I!" burst out Charles. "She's
with Heber Moorhouse that's been sneakin' after her these months past!
That's no news to me."

His companion paid no heed to the string of adjectives with which he
prefixed the shepherd's name.

"That she's not," replied she, with finality.

"Don't tell me lies!" cried Saunders, hurrying on as though to get rid
of her, "what's the use of that? _I_ don't want to know what's come of
her; another man's leavings are no good to the likes of me! Heber's
got her now, and he can keep her, an' welcome too."

"He's not got her, I tell you! And he won't neither, if you're any
kind of a man."

Charles cast a searching look upon her, stopping in the middle of the
road. His face was a little more flushed than when they started.

"You mind me, Mr. Saunders," said Susannah, stopping too and planting
herself in front of him. "The night afore the wedding Heber brought
her to our house an' knocked me out o' my bed to let him in. As white
as a sheet she was, for he'd ridden with her the whole way from
Pencoed, an' she was fit to lie down and die on the floor. I was sorry
for the poor thing; that I was. He left her there without so much as a
word, and she sat like a ghost by the fire until I made her lie down
an' sleep. I give her my own bed to lie in, Mr. Saunders. She were
that afraid of Heber she couldn't rest for shakin' an' tremblin', an'
it was easy enough to see she'd come sore against her will. It was
that old witch at Pencoed Chapel that turned her out--she's always
been a friend o' Heber's, has Mrs. Job; and between her and Heber,
what could the poor thing do?"

The puzzled astonishment on Charles's face grew as she unfolded her
blending of lies, facts, and half truths.

"And there she is, and Heber's to come back for her as soon as he
can."

"What's Heber got to do with you?" interrupted Charles, pushing his
hat back on his forehead. "Who are you? What the devil have you got to
do with me either?"

"I'm his own cousin," replied Susannah, "I live in his father's
house."

"You come and take her away," continued she, dropping her voice and
coming closer; "she frettin' sore for you, Mr. Saunders. She dursn't
go back to Mrs. Job, an' she hasn't got a penny piece in her pocket.
Heber knows that well enough, and he's no fear but she's safe till he
comes."

"_I_ don't want her!" he exclaimed again; "she's gone and disgraced
herself, woman."

"You can pay him back in his own coin," urged Susannah, as if she had
not heard his last words, "you've got a finer chance o' that than any
man ever had before. You found the nest empty yourself----"

She paused and broke into a laugh, which made his hot face grow
hotter.

"Come you, Mr. Saunders," she went on; "be a man. When it's too late
you'll be sorry there's anybody alive can laugh at you for gettin' the
worst of it like you've done. My! the talk I've heard this morning!
You're too well known in these parts for a thing like that to pass off
easy."

Had there been no Hand of Friendship in Talgwynne, Susannah might
merely have succeeded in irritating Charles without producing any
effect; his brain was muddled, though in a slight degree, by what he
had drunk, and he was in that unbraced humour in which rapid changes
of mind are possible. But he was annoyed too, and his vanity, which
had been so bitterly assailed, was as likely to turn him in one
direction as in another. The two had come to a standstill, when the
beat of hoofs made them look back.

The expected horse was emerging from between the houses in a series of
capers and pig-jumps that promised the man on its back an interesting
ride. Saunders had examined it in the fair, but, as the small boy in
charge had orders not to mount himself, the owner, a very old man, had
been obliged to look round for some one with pretensions to
horsemanship before the young, excitable animal could be trotted out
for Charles to see. Though everybody was not minded for the
responsibility, the difficulty had been overcome at last. While
Saunders watched the approaching rider, Susannah broke into an
exclamation, and, running towards a gap in the hedge, concealed
herself behind the trunk of a tree, which grew upon the bank.

"Afraid of horses, are ye?" called Saunders jeeringly, after her.

Susannah feared very few things; but she had sharp sight, and the man
on the horse was Heber.

As the fact dawned on Charles his expression changed. He stood at the
road-side, thrusting his hands into his pockets and feeling as though
he would choke.

Heber had been too much occupied, hand and eye, to observe Susannah,
but, as he drew near, the other man thought he could see a look of
triumph on his face. The shepherd had induced the horse to be quiet
and the creature trotted collectedly, a fine, strong, short-legged bay
with a blaze and two white stockings. But Saunders had no eye for its
paces, for the wrath he felt at the sight of Heber overcame him,
business instincts and all. For any heed that Heber took of him he
might have been a signpost or a milestone. Moorhouse turned back about
fifty yards farther on and came by again at a canter. This time
Saunders imagined that he was smiling.

"Take him away! I don't want to see him again!" he roared after the
retreating man.

Heber turned in his saddle and looked back. Charles was sure of the
smile now.

"Go on! take him away, I tell you!" he yelled, waving his arm. He
could almost have pelted him from the nearest stone-heap. Heber rode
quietly on into the town.

The moment that he was out of sight, Susannah came from behind the
tree, her eyes shining.

"Come with me--now--this minute!" she cried. "There's no time to lose!
Another half hour and it'll be too late. He's sure to come to the
house as soon as his business is done. I'd no notion he was to be at
the fair."

"You might have guessed it," said Saunders roughly.

"He told me, no more nor the night he came with Catherine, that none
o' them were to be down from the farm."

They set out together without another word. The sight of the shepherd
had done more to make up Charles's mind than all Susannah's arguments
and persuasions. She had escaped so narrowly from being seen by Heber
in Charles's company that she now piloted her companion to the cottage
through the same quiet ways she had traversed in the morning with her
uncle.

She entered the house and disappeared into the kitchen, leaving
Saunders in the passage. He stood waiting there like a keeper who has
just put his ferret down a rabbit-hole in a warren. In concert with
Susannah's tones he could hear the gruff quaver of the old man, and he
listened impatiently for Catherine's voice. His agitation was great,
for might not the next footfall in the by-street outside be Heber's
tread? At last, getting no summons, he pushed in.

Susannah was facing him, silent. Old Moorhouse, sitting at the hearth,
took his pipe out of his mouth.

"Her be gone," said he; "her be'ant here. When I come from the fair
her were gone."

The spark of excitement in his face had developed, for a moment, some
latent likeness to his son. It struck Charles Saunders like a blow,
and he turned round, slamming the door, and went out into the street.

He never doubted that Heber had forestalled him again. It wanted but
this to put the crown on his injuries, the fool's cap on his pride!
With some vague, whirling idea of seeking the man who had played him
the same trick twice, he made through the unfamiliar outskirts for the
centre of the town, his head down, looking neither to right nor left;
and, because he did not know his way, he took the exact course by
which Susannah had brought him. Had he gone straight towards the
market-place he would have met Heber hurrying to his father's door.
Unexpectedly, and at a moment's notice, the shepherd had been sent to
the fair by his employer, and his native thoroughness had forbidden
him to seek Catherine before his business was despatched. He had been
asked as a favour to trot out the horse just as he was starting for
the cottage; and now, having delivered the beast again to the boy in
charge, he was making up for the delay with a zest that his meeting
with Saunders had done nothing to lessen. Charles had scarcely been
gone five minutes when Heber's hand was on the latch.

Susannah had persuaded her uncle to go upstairs and rest upon his bed;
she had not told him that Heber was in the town, and she had her own
reasons for hoping that father and son would not meet.

Heber entered and looked round.

"Where is she?" he asked blankly.

"Gone," said Susannah.

"_Gone?_" cried he.

The woman could scarcely hide the smile that touched her mouth.

"Charles Saunders was here," she said. "They're gone."

For one moment the shepherd stood dumb. Then he also turned and rushed
out of the house.



CHAPTER IV

ACTION



CHAPTER IV

ACTION

IT was almost noon on the day before Talgwynne fair when Catherine
Dennis opened her eyes; she tried to sit up, but her head ached so
unpleasantly that she sank back at once and lay still. Her body and
limbs were so stiff that it was a torment to move, and when Susannah
came in and offered her food she could scarcely eat, though she had
tasted nothing for the last eighteen hours. When her own resolve to
escape returned to her mind, she knew herself to be, for the time
being at least, quite incapable of carrying it out.

The milk, with a plate of bread, had been left on the floor beside her
mattress, and she forced herself to eat and drink, knowing that she
must collect what strength she could muster if her feet were to carry
her away from the cottage and out of Talgwynne. To go to-day was out
of the question, but she determined to take any chance she could get
of slipping off unnoticed on the morrow.

She had no plans beyond her settled desire to turn her back on her own
humiliation and on Susannah, who had brought it home to her. She would
hide herself wherever she could, or tramp the roads as a beggar sooner
than be obliged to accept the grudging hospitality of Heber's cousin.
The idea of waiting under those scornful eyes for the man who might
never come was worse than destitution--worse than the workhouse. As
the day wore on and she was able to get up and sit by the fireside at
old Moorhouse's invitation, she formed a vague scheme of crossing the
Wye and trying for shelter and employment in one of the villages over
the Radnorshire border. She could get no speech of the old man, for
Susannah was never out of the kitchen and would hear every word she
said to him, every question she put. There was a faded glimmer of
amusement in his look, too, as it rested on her--his son's dupe. She
was more and more certain of her own part. Her only wish was never
again to meet any one she had known; but the first problem of escape
was beset with such great difficulty that she could hardly see beyond
it. She knew that Susannah would let her go willingly, but she wished
nobody to know so much as the direction of her own road to oblivion.
Black Heber had forsaken her, but it was just possible that Saunders
might be upon her track. She had not a tear for Saunders, though even
now, amid the stress of mortified pain, her heart swelled as she
thought of the shepherd. Perhaps--perhaps he loved her yet, in spite
of all Susannah had said. Her eyes filled. But she could not risk it
and wait; her pride, once roused, had scourged her so cruelly that it
had terrified her into slavery.

From the talk of uncle and niece she learned that Talgwynne fair would
take place next day and that both were going to it. That should be her
chance. She would profess herself too tired to accompany them, should
they invite her to do so, and as soon as they should be safely gone
she would make her venture. She had never been in the little town, but
her country eye knew the points of the compass and the direction in
which the river Wye ran. She would trust to luck and to what sagacity
she had in finding her way. Talgwynne lay high, and if she followed
the fall of the ground, with her face towards the river, which she had
seen daily from Pencoed, she would find her bearings and be able, when
she reached the Brecon high road, to ask her way to the bridge at
Losbury village, over which she would get into Radnorshire. The day
passed slowly and she went early to her mattress in the little room.
That prison should not contain her much longer.

The fair was in full swing next morning as she closed the door behind
her and hurried along the by-street. The whole world had been drawn as
one man to the centre of attraction, and she scarcely met a living
creature until she was far into the country. She knew her direction
well, once she was out of Talgwynne, for the Black Mountain was a
landmark by which it was easy to guide herself. She could see the
identical smooth stretch on which she had galloped with Heber
Moorhouse, and she was soon in a lane which she felt sure must bring
her down upon the high road. Stiff and weary as she still was, she
pressed on with no goal but Losbury bridge and nothing but chance as a
friend. Chance only stood between her and destitution.

She plodded on for some time, knowing that she could not long keep to
the beaten tracks and remain unseen; soon the dispersing fair would
pour men, women and animals along every road and lane. The sound of
some one following her on horseback made Catherine's heart jump into
her mouth. She rushed on and climbed over a gate, which was
fortunately only a few paces in front, and concealed herself behind
the hedge, crouching and peering between the leaves like some
frightened animal. She held her breath as Charles Saunders rode past
her hiding-place at the hurrying nondescript pace of one whose
prudence forbids him to trot downhill while his feelings will not
allow him to walk.

Saunders had lost his flushed appearance; he was pale now and his head
was perfectly clear. As he had not fallen in with Heber while on his
way from Moorhouse's cottage, he was firmly persuaded that the
shepherd had returned for Catherine before he reached it with
Susannah. Though the buying and selling had not abated, and the fair
would rage on for another couple of hours, he shook the dust of
Talgwynne off his feet, embittered by his own folly in listening to
the impudent woman who had made him forget what was due to himself and
led him into fresh ignominy and defeat. His enmity against the
shepherd was more keen than ever. His lips closed and unclosed as
though in speech with his rival.

As the sound of his going died away, the girl raised herself and
looked over the gate at his retreating figure. She felt as if she
never wished to see a man again. They were creatures moved by some
hidden spring that she could not divine nor understand--she, who stood
perplexed on the outskirts of life. Passion and jealousy and the deep
workings, set astir by womankind, of that primæval combat of male with
male were unlearned lessons.

She rose and pursued her way along the fields, afraid to return to the
lane, and resolving afresh, since she had seen Charles, not to venture
out upon the high-road till dusk. Then she reflected that her pocket
was empty and that when dusk came her prospects would be no better.
Her goal was Losbury bridge; but she would have to travel some way on
the other side of it before she reached the village she had in her
mind. There was a post office there, she knew, for she had once been
in it, and she meant to ask the post-mistress if there was anybody in
the place who needed a girl to do servant's work. It was a forlorn
hope, but Catherine had burned her boats; and, with the pathetic
trustfulness of youth, she did not believe that the world would let
her starve. For a coward, she had grown bold indeed.

The foregoing day had poured with rain, and the grass was wet and
heavy. She was so determined to keep far from all thoroughfares that
she was obliged to go many times out of the straight line. She pushed
her way through hedges and thickets and found herself, when the
afternoon was well advanced, in sight of the road. Her feet were
soaked, her boots coated with mud; and her skirts were soaked too, for
a smart shower had caught her in the open. The skies had become
overcast, and she shivered as she sat resting in the seclusion of a
hollow.

Tears began to roll down her cheeks; excitement and wounded pride and
the novelty of a definite object had kept her up; but at last these
guides and supporters were losing their hold and her heart was sinking
in the face of the cheerless outlook. Her teeth chattered and her head
felt like lead. When she got up she was shaking so much that she had
to lean against a tree. She dared not think of the miles between her
and that little village over Losbury bridge, and she could not afford
to await the falling of the light as she had meant to do before
trusting herself to the open road. Down below her was yet one more
pasture, and then she must emerge on the highway and take her chance
of meeting some wayfarer who might recognise her. She plodded on,
thinking less of that risk than of the increasing misery of dragging
herself forward. A climb down a steep hedge-grown bank would bring her
out not fifty yards from the whitewashed walls of a toll-house. Half a
mile east of it was Losbury bridge, spanning a reach of the river
above the flat, green meadows.

She looked up and down the road as she stood on the bank and bent back
the strong suckers in the gap she had chosen; there was not a human
creature within sight. A white milestone was on the hither side of the
white toll and the white gates which barred the way. The window stared
towards her up the vacant thoroughfare after the sleepless, vigilant
fashion of toll-house windows. She began to scramble down, clinging to
the tough whips of hazel; there was a cluster of nuts just by her
shoulder, and she paused to gather it. She was not hungry, but she
might be hungry yet and thankful for so much as a few filberts. As she
turned, stretching out her disengaged hand, her foot went from under
her. She was not the only person who had made a passage through that
gap, and the wet mud had been trodden into a slide by some one else's
heel. The springy bough flew upwards, tearing itself from her grasp as
she slipped and fell.

She lay at the roadside with one foot doubled beneath her. Movement
brought a feeling of such deathly sickness that she raised her head
only to drop it again on the moss of the bank. She felt sure that her
leg must be broken, and, not daring to stir, forgot all but the black,
imminent fear of pain; the moment's despair was enough for her without
the additional bewilderment of looking further.

She gathered her wits again to consider how long it might be before
some one passed, and she prayed for the sound of human approach as
earnestly as she dreaded it. But for the distant bark of a dog, the
encompassing rural life might have been extinct and she herself in the
desert of Sahara.

At last she was able to look up. Her leg could still move, she found,
and she got herself into a less cramped position. Timidly she touched
her ankle; it was already swollen, but, if it was not really broken,
she might try to get as far as the toll. With the help of the tangled
growth on the bank, she drew herself until she sat upright, and saw
that a short, broad figure was standing in front of the gate
contemplating her in an attitude suggesting interest, suspicion, and
the power to deal forcibly with anything. The woman--if woman it
were--stood, sharply outlined against the white bars, feet planted
wide apart, arms akimbo, and head at an attentive and purposeful
angle. Catherine raised herself on one arm and called as loudly as she
could, then, as a twinge of pain shot through her foot, she lay back
once more against the bank.

A minute afterwards she raised her eyes to a round, snub-nosed face
within a yard of her own. It was surmounted by a man's felt hat,
secured in its place by a piece of twine which was tied in a careful
bow under the chin. The loops of the bow were drawn to exact evenness
and the long ends hung down over a person shaped much like a beehive.
The notion that she had never seen any one wearing so many clothes
wandered across the girl's dazed brain.

"By Pharaoh! I thought ye was market-peart!" exclaimed a voice whose
depth, coming from a petticoated being, made Catherine start.
"Watchin' ye, I were, to see how soon ye'd plump down again, once ye
was up."

"I've hurt my foot," said the girl, with a catch in her breath--"maybe
it's broken."

"It's the 'edge that's broken," observed the other, looking up into
the gap. "Where d'ye come from?"

"Talgwynne," replied Catherine, the zealous caution of her day
forgotten.

"Talgwynne?" shouted her companion. "There's a good many'll copy ye
comin' from Talgwynne! Elijah Jones o' the Bush went by in 'is cart
not an hour since, singin' like a bird, an' Mrs. Jones 'oldin' 'im so
as 'e couldn't be sprawlin' over the 'orse's tail. 'E'd been out three
times between this and the last turnin', so her told me. 'By Pharaoh'!
says I, '_I'd_ larrup 'im'! When 'e 'eard that 'e was nigh out o' the
cart an' over the dashboard again."

"But I'm afeared my ankle's broken," said Catherine irrelevantly.

Her face was so grey and pinched that the woman's suspicions changed
to concern; she put a stout arm under her and managed to raise her
till she stood upright.

"Try if ye can't 'obble," said she, as they stood clinging together.

The girl obeyed and found that by resting her whole weight on her
companion's shoulder she could move forward, and the two set off
towards the toll as best they could. It was painful work, but relief
at the discovery that her bones were whole gave Catherine courage, and
her white lips were taking a little colour as they neared the house.
Above the conspicuous window was a black board which displayed in
white lettering, '_Maria Cockshow_, _Tollkeeper_'; and as Catherine
saw it she remembered hearing that a tollkeeper's widow from
Herefordshire, of whose looks and dealings rumour had strange tales,
was in charge of one of the gates near Losbury. It was, presumably, on
the shoulder of this person that she now leaned.

At their approach a white, smooth-haired dog of dubious ancestry burst
from regions behind the toll, and with the indecent instinct of low
breeding for the disastrous and unusual, set about its aggravation by
a storm of high-pitched barks. Catherine almost fell as Mrs. Cockshow
ducked down without warning, and, snatching up a stone from the road,
sent it thundering against the dog's ribs.

"That'll 'elp ye 'ome!" said she, as the animal dived with a yell
under the lowest bar of the gate.

There was a shed behind the house, with a considerable patch of
garden; and the honest smell of the manure-heap proclaimed the
neighbourhood of live stock to instructed noses. The dog was waiting
for the two women at the door with his tail tucked in. His senseless
face and the horrid length of leg that raised his body high above the
ground did not suggest youth, and reminded the observer less of a
puppy than of a foolish person on stilts. He followed, unabashed, but
without raising his tail, as Catherine and Mrs. Cockshow entered. A
person skilful to notice could have gained some clue to the
toll-woman's character from his demeanour; for even this vulgar
creature might be supposed to know his world.



CHAPTER V

PENCOED



CHAPTER V

PENCOED

AS Heber's appearance at her door in search of Catherine convinced
Susannah that the girl had fled alone, she longed to rush after his
rival and tell him of her discovery. She had not doubted that
Catherine was with the shepherd. The moment she realised that there
was still a chance of bringing Saunders and the truant together, her
spirits, which had been dashed to the earth on finding the bird flown,
rose again, and she cast about for some means of communicating with
Charles. Her only anxiety was lest the two men should meet in the town
and the shepherd learn how she had deceived him. She could but trust
to chance to prevent that; and, had she known it, chance had proved
kind, for Charles went straight to the Hand of Friendship, and,
mounting his horse without a word to anybody, set his angry face
homewards. In the course of the harassed evening which followed,
Susannah made up her mind to write to him.

Most people thought it a curious thing that Susannah's destiny seemed
to have nothing better in store than attendance upon a half-crippled
old man. But most people scarcely realise as a truth that, to the
accomplishment of any end, no matter how obvious or how commonplace,
there is required a procession of acquiescent circumstances which
would make the observer giddy, could he see it. Any human being who
meets a stranger in the road has only to think of the chain of
chances--each of which has fulfilled itself--to be forged before that
meeting can be brought about, and of the one link whose lack would be
the undoing of the whole. We speak of 'the hour and the man' as though
they were the only ingredients of fate, and as if their simultaneous
appearance were all that was needed. But the hour may come and the man
with it, and some untoward arrangement of detail may triumph over
both.

Everything had gone smoothly with Susannah but the one detail of her
own temperament. She had grasped life with both hands, caring no whit
how much good others got out of it and thinking only of the passing
day. She could not remember the time when masculine eyes had not
followed her, and now, though her sun had passed its zenith, they
followed her still. It was nearly three years since she had arrived to
keep house for her uncle and so been thrown against her cousin Heber.
Though few men had come to close quarters with her disturbing
personality without feeling its influence, the shepherd, unlike others
in this as in most of his ways, had treated her with the plain
friendliness he might have shown to a man. Perhaps it was this that
made Susannah feel for him what she had never felt for the many who
had courted her and whom she had looked upon as mere pleasant
accessories of life.

She was not a woman given to recognising failure under any
circumstances; where a man was concerned, never. Heber had touched her
imagination--and she had more of it than is given to most women of her
class--and her heart too. She would bring him to her yet, she promised
herself. There was a power in her that hard work and a cramped life
had not been able to destroy. The consciousness of femininity in a
working woman, should it be alive when its necessary function of
attracting a mate and securing a home is accomplished, seldom survives
the birth of her first child. Susannah Moorhouse had neither mate nor
child; but it is possible that, had she gone through the ordeal of
acquiring both, that consciousness would have endured, damaged,
perhaps, but living still. There were some large qualities in her and
persistence was one of them, though its roots were in her settled
belief in herself. She meant to employ every means to attain her
desire. She sought no witch and brewed no potion, though superstition
still lurked in the crevices of the country and one or two aged people
professed themselves able to heal cattle and to deal with scalds,
unrequited affection and other human difficulties, by the mild charms
they practised.

But Susannah's trust was in none of these; she knew herself to stand,
by virtue of some indefinable quality, in a different relationship to
men from that of the women about her. She would draw the man of her
choice to her by that unnamed force which she knew herself to possess
and which she had put forth so often in idleness. It was no wonder
that her neighbours, shrewish spinsters and toiling mothers of
families, had not a good word for her; the gulf between them was so
great.

Though Heber's engagement to Catherine was a staggering blow to her,
its breaking came soon enough to give her courage again. Nay, there
was a fatalism in her that had, perhaps, preserved her from
superstition by taking superstition's place; and it suggested to her
mind, preoccupied as it was with one idea, that larger powers than her
own were playing into her hands. When she heard that Charles Saunders
was to marry the girl she had never seen, and was more than ever
curious to see, she resolved to possess her soul in patience. She
smiled, standing before the cheap square of looking-glass that hung on
her wall. There were lines in the face before her to which she would
fain have been blind, but there were other things too. And all comes
to him who waits. She meant to wait--not passively, but intelligently.
Then Black Heber had brought the girl he loved, and, with the
miraculous blindness of manhood, had given her into the charge of the
woman who loved him.

If Susannah's views of life were more enterprising than those of her
neighbours her education had not differed from theirs, so it was a
laborious business to her to write a letter. She went through a good
deal of mental exercise before she lost sight of it in the maw of the
local postman's bag.


     "MISTER SAUNDERS, Sir," she had begun:

          "I take the liberty of writing these few lines. Mister
     Saunders you may spose Catherine Dennis is gone with Heber, but
     not she. He nows no more nor you where shes gone. She run from
     here for fere of him sir, if you look you will find her yet.

               "No more from your welwisher,

                    "SUSANNAH MOORHOUSE."


Whether or no she expected an answer to this letter, she hoped for
one; and when some days passed and brought no sign from Charles, she
began to grow restless. Heber had not returned, though, hitherto, he
had always contrived to pay a weekly visit to his father, if but for
five minutes. He was the old man's favourite son and the only one of
four brothers who lived within reach.

The uncertainty as to what was going on began to prey upon Susannah's
nerves. Events which meant so much to her had run quickly enough of
late to make inaction doubly unbearable; and, if she could not see
Saunders, she must at least see her cousin. Pencoed Chapel was the
only place in which she was sure of meeting him, and she informed her
uncle that she meant to go there on the following Sunday.

The distance from Talgwynne put walking out of the question; but she
descended from the farm gig in which an acquaintance had driven her as
near to Pencoed as wheels could go, to make the rest of her way on
foot. She had been obliged to start early to reach the chapel in time
for the meeting, and as she neared it the sound of singing came to her
on the wind. She paused outside the door; looking stealthily in, and
seeing the tall figure of Black Heber, she slipped noiselessly into a
seat.

The little, box-like building was half full of men and women; elderly
people, for the most part, in dark-coloured clothes. The windows,
which were small, with diamond leaded panes set low in the walls, let
in an even light on their subdued homeliness.

Apart from them, at a table covered with faded red cloth, was the same
man who had baptized Catherine in the pool at Bethesda.

The hymn was a long one and the singers were well embarked on it; the
predominance of men in the gathering gave it a fulness and strength of
sound; and, as it was one immensely popular in the district, its
solemn rhythm and swaying time were marred by no uncertainties. Heber
stood in a line with Susannah, by the opposite wall, head and
shoulders above the other worshippers, his eyes fixed on his book. She
could hear his strong, melodious voice separately, fervent, and
steady; and she listened to it as a person by a river's side will
listen to the tune of one particular eddy in the full underlying rush
of water.

It was easy to see, here in the quietness of the chapel, how much more
of youth there was in the man than in the impression he gave to
others. He was little over thirty and the lines on his face were not
lines of care, but the marks traced by exposure and hard exercise. His
eyes were the narrowed eyes of men who look over long distances in
rigorous weathers, and if his thin beard hid jaw and chin, the outline
of his chest and shoulders was sharp and young. Now and again he would
look up, throwing back his head as he sent a note from his expanded
lungs into the swell of the hymn. The words that floated out round her
had neither interest nor meaning for Susannah; for her there was only
a single person, a single voice, under that roof. They had reached the
last lines:


    "Ye men of God, lift up your souls,
        Nor halt with failing breath;
     Yet one more stream before us rolls,
        The dark blue flood of death.

     Across its waves our pathway lies,
        The hosts go on before;
     And Zion's city meets our eyes
        Set on the other shore."


As the singing ceased, Heber shut his book and looked round like one
awakened, straight at Susannah. The act was so spontaneous that
neither he nor the woman, whose gaze was fixed on him, had time to
return from the widely separated regions in which their respective
souls roamed.

In that instant there was revealed to the shepherd the thing that he
had never suspected. Perhaps the feelings roused by the strenuous,
half-militant spirit of the hymn and the beat of its swinging music
had lighted the whole range of his imagination; perhaps the shock of
the contrast between that seen by his inner and his outer vision
quickened it; in any case, the passion in Susannah's face shot its
message across the chapel and he stood stock still while the rest of
the congregation sat down. Then he thought of his cousin and Catherine
as he had seen them that night in the kitchen at Talgwynne, and the
blood ran hot to his tanned face.

Black Heber was not vain; he had no time for vanity, had it been in
him; nevertheless, Susannah's look pierced to his inactive, remote
self-consciousness. He resumed his seat, feeling as if a rough hand
had taken him by the collar. When a man without vanity loves a woman
as much as he loved Catherine Dennis, the unasked favour of another is
only a gyve to be shaken off. Unreturned love must be worn either as a
fetter or as a decoration; and though there are many men whose pride
it is to go through life decked out in the cheap jewellery of the
affections, the shepherd was not one of them. Had he found time to
think of such things they would have irritated him. He did not care
for ornaments; he only cared for freedom and for getting what he
wanted. Though he believed himself to have lost Catherine for good and
all, his freedom remained; and he felt now as though Susannah menaced
it.

The religious emotion that had such a hold upon his character was gone
for the time being and during the rest of the meeting he followed what
was going on mechanically, his mind struggling with problems that took
him far from the place in which he sat and the sermon to which his
ears were deaf. He was nothing if not shrewd, and he was groping on
the edge of a new suspicion. He was perplexed and disturbed, for the
two facts of Susannah's love for him--almost incredible as he found
that love--and Catherine's flight from her house struck him as
pregnant ones when taken together. He remembered his cousin's odd want
of cordiality when she received the girl. He resolved to evade her, if
he could, when his neighbours dispersed.

Mrs. Job, who was in chapel, was occupied with his affairs too. It was
some time since she had seen the shepherd; and the last sign she had
had of him was the sound of his horse's tread on the night when he had
ridden from Pencoed with Catherine. Though she had no acquaintance
with Susannah, she knew her by sight and was one of the few who had
observed her stealing into the place of worship. It did not take her
long to make the discovery that the stranger had come neither to pray,
nor to listen, nor to sing.

From where she sat, Susannah's face was perfectly plain to her, and
when she saw how her eyes were set on her cousin, and how no movement
of his, no turn of the head, no tone of the voice, escaped her, the
devout Mrs. Job ignored her Bible and let her thoughts dwell,
unrebuked, upon the pair. What revealed itself to the shepherd
revealed itself with a thousandfold more conviction to her. She was
not accustomed to take much notice of love at any time; but her warm
affection for Heber made her acutely alive to everything that
concerned him. While she was assured that Catherine Dennis was not
good enough for him, Susannah's air brought revulsion to her Puritan
nature. She began to dislike her with all her strength.

Almost at the final words of the final prayer Heber rose from his
place and made for the door, and Susannah, who was on her knees with
the rest of the assembly, had not courage to follow; for she was
hemmed in by a woman and two men, who had entered later than herself,
and who knelt immovably by her side. The shepherd gained the doorstep
just as the minister's voice ceased, and one or two people looked up,
curious at his unusual haste. He was often the last to go.

He crossed the grass road hurriedly and went to the other side of Mrs.
Job's house. From an outsider's point of view the deed was
ignominious, but his plain intention was to avoid Susannah, and, as
usual, he took the most direct way of doing it. He had meant to spend
a little time with his friend, but he left her dwelling behind him and
hurried towards the nearest dingle. Beside his distaste for the
discovery he had made, the sight of his cousin brought back his
trouble afresh.

Susannah and Mrs. Job came out of the chapel at the same moment. The
former looked round in search of Heber. He was nowhere to be seen and
she wondered if he had gone into her companion's cottage; with that
probability in her mind, she bid her good-day, introducing herself as
a member of the shepherd's family.

Mrs. Job replied shortly to her greeting and made no comment on the
information. They went across the grass, side by side, and when they
had reached the doorstep without any suggestion of hospitality passing
between them, the younger woman spoke again.

"Is Heber here?" she asked, nodding towards the walls.

"I'll see," said the other; and with that she entered, leaving her
companion outside.

Susannah's lips closed in an angry line; it was evident that she was
to get no encouragement. She was ignorant of the reason for this plain
hostility; but it only made her more certain that her suspicion was
correct and that the shepherd was not far off.

Mrs. Job reappeared, holding the door open to show a portion of her
face--no more.

"He be'ant here," she called.

But Susannah was not to be baffled so easily.

"Can ye give me a drink o' water?" she inquired. "It's dry work coming
up the hill."

The door was shut on her and she heard the pump working in the yard.
Apparently the latch was not to be lifted again, for when Mrs. Job
returned she came round the side of the house and handed her the
desired drink.

Susannah swallowed the water, feeling as if it would choke her.

"Thank ye," she said.

And, as the elder woman put out her hand to take the empty cup, she
dashed it on the ground at their feet. The china flew into shivers on
the step.

She went off along the track, leaving the other speechless, and when
she had gone a little way she sat down on the turf and looked back.
Mrs. Job had gone in and the chapel-goers were dispersing; black
figures scattered in retreating groups towards different quarters of
the landscape. Heber was with none of them and no one was going in her
own direction. It seemed as if they, with Mrs. Job and the shepherd,
were in the conspiracy against her. At last she rose and set out for
the place at which she was to find the gig. Her eyes were dry, because
she was too furious for tears.

About an hour afterwards Heber's perturbed wanderings came to an end:
he approached Pencoed again. It was not only Susannah's demeanour and
its suggestion that annoyed him, for, in his heart, he blamed her for
having let slip his regained treasure. It was an illogical feeling,
because he never doubted that Catherine had gone with Saunders, and
gone willingly, repenting the rash step she had taken. He did not
overlook the difference between himself and the richer man, though he
despised Charles. He had managed to convey news of what had happened
to Mrs. Job, and his heart was so sore that he longed for the sympathy
of the uncompromising and undemonstrative person whose partisanship
never failed him.

There was a grim explosiveness in Mrs. Job's manner as he entered the
house, though she listened patiently while he gave her the history of
Talgwynne fair-day. Her husband stole in, anxious for a pipe beside
the fire, but she motioned him out; her relentless predominance in the
household was a matter of course, and Job departed as humbly as he had
come.

"Maybe it's not Saunders as is at the bottom o' this," said she, when
the shepherd was silent. "Mind you, Heber, I've got eyes in my head,
an' ears too--not so long as some folks, but long enough to hear from
here to Talgwynne! Ah! That cousin o' yours be a bit o' stuff to burn
yer fingers wi', an' no mistake. I know that!"

Moorhouse frowned and his companion took his frown for a sign of
dissent. She raised her sharp nose higher.

"What's wrong wi' her?" he asked.

"Wrong wi' her? She've got her eye on you! An' I've got mine on _her_,
an' had in chapel, too. I can see a thing or two, b'lieve me!"

His brows drew still closer together.

"What made ye run out o' chapel like that?" demanded Mrs. Job, coming
closer. "It cost me a good chinay cup, that run o' yours did. She just
up wi' her hand an' down wi' the cup on the stones an' bruk it to
pieces--if it had been my head my lady would ha' been better pleased,
her would--askin' me for a drink. A drink indeed! Her wanted to get
into the house to see if ye was in it. But her didn't know _me!_"

She gave him no time for comment.

"_I_ saw her watchin' ye i' the chapel," she went on, "an' _I_ heard
o' her walkin' about Talgwynne fair wi' Saunders! Where was ye, Heber,
that day?"

"I wasn't no more'n an hour i' the town," said he, "an' I'd business
to do afore I could get to father's----"

"And Catherine was gone, sure enough, by then," broke in the other;
"an' if ye tell me that baggage didn't get rid o' her I won't believe
ye, that's all! Her may be wi' Saunders an' her mayn't."

If these new lights were dazzling the shepherd, they showed him his
vague suspicions in more definite shape. He stood staring at Mrs. Job
as if he could see into her brain. Mentally she travelled faster than
he did, but he was following.

"The sooner I get after Susannah the better," he said, as he turned
away.

"D'ye think _she'll_ tell ye the truth? Go home, ye foondy feller, an'
don't be wastin' shoe-leather!" she exclaimed loudly.

He said nothing but the obstinate determination on his face spoke
volumes.

After he passed the window a horrible fear shook her.

"You take up wi' that baggage at Talgwynne, an' I've done wi' you!"
she cried after him.

Black Heber never swore; it was against his particular assortment of
principles. But his lips moved as he passed out of earshot. He was on
the nearest way to Talgwynne, and he knew that he must overtake his
cousin if she were on foot; he knew also, from Mrs. Job's story of the
broken cup, that she had not started homewards at once. It was not
likely that she would tell him the truth, but he had a mad hope of
wresting it from her; how, he did not know. At any rate, he might
gather something from her bearing. He would be very cautious.

At last he saw her ahead of him. She did not hear his approach on the
turf until he was close to her.

Her heart beat tumultuously as they walked on together. She could not
understand why he had avoided her only to pursue her afterwards. The
silence by which each was seeking to compel the other's speech was
broken by the shepherd.

"You've had no chance to tell me anything, Susannah," he began.

"About Catherine? There's nothing to tell. I'm main sorry for ye,
that's all. They were gone when uncle and me got home from the fair."

"How d'ye know she be gone with Saunders? I went from the door like a
fool in my haste, but maybe I'm wiser now."

Susannah had provided herself with answers for all emergencies.

"She left a bit o' paper with writing on the kitchen table. '_Charles
Saunders is come_,' says she, '_an' I'm gone wi' him._' No more nor
that. Not a word of thanks to me, either."

"What did ye do with it?" exclaimed he, stopping short.

"Burnt it."

Heber made a smothered exclamation.

"But Saunders was at the fair till afternoon," said he, at the end of
a long pause, during which neither had looked at the other.

"I heard that. I s'pose he came back."

To the shepherd's practical mind there were discrepancies of time in
Susannah's account that he could not adjust. When he had reached
Talgwynne he had found the best part of the fair over; for noon saw
business ebb in the little hillside place. His tardy appearance had
been hailed with interest, and he was immediately secured to ride a
horse for the inspection of a man who, he was told, had been all day
in the town. The recollection of these facts sprang up to assort
itself very ill with his companion's words. He made up his mind to get
to Talgwynne on the first possible chance of absenting himself from
his work and to see what he could elicit from his father. He could not
tell how far the old man might be in Susannah's confidence. He did not
speak of his intention to her, and it struck him, when he turned to
take his way up the hill and they stood within sight of the waiting
gig, that she made no suggestion of his coming. It was the first time
in his recollection of her that she had seen him without pressing him
to come soon.

They had reached a dip in the ground which hid the wayside cottage
where the gig with Susannah's friends was drawn up. She had looked for
the expression of greater resentment from him, but he had cursed
neither fate nor Saunders. He spoke of Catherine's desertion of him
almost as if it had happened to some one else. There was no excitement
in his manner, even little concern; and, for a man who had so few
scruples about strong measures when they suited him, he seemed to
accept his defeat with curious calmness. If he had flung away from his
father's door with every sign of uncalculating bitterness, he was
different now. She told herself with triumph that he had taken
Catherine's measure at last. Perhaps Susannah paid too little heed to
those inconsistencies in him which surprised others.

As they parted she held out her hand and looked up at him with
half-closed, half-mocking eyes.

"Ah--you'll forget her in time, Heber," she said, her fingers clinging
to his as he touched them. She raised her face till it was close to
his own.

He thrust her away with one short, frightfully definite word.

When she got into the gig a few minutes afterwards she was as white as
a sheet.



CHAPTER VI

CATHERINE OPENS THE GATE



CHAPTER VI

CATHERINE OPENS THE GATE

TEN days had passed since the sturdy widow led her guest across the
threshold, and Catherine, with the remains of a badly twisted ankle,
was still under her roof. She had been molested by nobody. One of her
two lovers supposed her to be with the other; Mrs. Job did not know
where she was; and Susannah, equally ignorant, was only interested in
knowing where she was not.

The attraction of opposites had done its work between Mrs. Cockshow
and her housemate, for the two women were excellent friends. The
human-heartedness of the elder one, and her permanent fancy for other
people's business, made her deaf when Catherine began to speak of
leaving the place. She was still very lame and the toll-woman was
right when she took Pharaoh to witness that to travel on foot would be
insanity. Besides which, where was she going to? The question was
unanswerable; and finally it was settled between them that the
cleaning of the house, the cooking, and the minding of that mob of
fowls which dwelt at the bottom of the garden should devolve upon
Catherine, indefinitely, in return for her keep.

In this arrangement of Mrs. Cockshow's, convenience and charity, like
righteousness and peace, kissed each other. Her whole interest was
found outside her own walls; the road was her passion, her world; and
those who went up and down on it her pictures, her newspapers, and,
very often, her victims. To bandy words with her was the act of a
fool; and so well was this understood that the ridicule which her
strange appearance evoked when she first came into residence by the
gate had died a natural but by no means lingering death, and gossip
had taken its place. This was for the best, because the latter was
satisfactory to all, while the former had only been satisfactory to
Mrs. Cockshow.

The thing that suited Catherine's patroness best in their arrangement
was that the girl could be left in charge of the gate while she went
to Llangarth market. She was a woman of some means, who did a small
trade in eggs and poultry, and the difficulty of leaving her post on
Thursdays had been a weekly annoyance; for a market day was a
foretaste of Paradise to her. She owned a stout, aged pony of her late
husband's which she occasionally hired out to her neighbours for odd
jobs, and she now looked forward to journeying in comfort to the very
fountain-head of gossip. Besides this, it was delightful to her to
have under her roof the heroine of an episode of which she had been
almost the first to hear. She had dragged Catherine's secret from her
in the early hours of their acquaintance, and thought a great deal
more of her companion when she learnt that she had eluded two of the
opposite sex.

Mrs. Cockshow did not believe in men. Her own husband had drunk
heavily and persistently; and she had had time to visit his sins upon
him before he escaped into the next world. She was well acquainted
with Charles Saunders, and slightly so with Black Heber, for both had
passed through her gate at various times.

"Take care ye don't let the sun go over the 'ill, all the same," she
had said to Catherine; for though a despiser of men, she was an
advocate of marriage. To her, matrimony, with the whip hand, was the
ideal life.

So far, she had kept her tongue quiet on the subject of her guest.
Perhaps it pleased her to hug to her heart the gratification of
knowing more than any one else; to pet her knowledge, so to speak,
before using it as a boast. Catherine had been kept a prisoner indoors
for several days by her ankle, and when she went outside the walls it
was only to tend the poultry or to hang out the washing in the garden.
Never had so much washing been seen on the toll-house hedges before,
though Mrs. Cockshow, to whom soap was not important, eyed the display
contemptuously. Her cleanings consisted generally of what the
country-side called "a lick and a promise." The toll-house hid
Catherine from prying eyes on the road as she went about her business
in the garden, and she began to feel secure in her very public
retreat.

Between herself and Bungo, the white cur dog, no great friendship
existed. The girl was fond of all animals; but her efforts to be on
easy terms with this one had been useless, for he persisted in looking
with imperishable distrust at her out of his blinking eyes and
galloping away whenever she spoke to him. He would follow her to the
garden at a servile distance; but the first words she threw him would
send him flying across the cabbage beds, from the safe side of which
he would stun her ears with his insane barking. In Mrs. Cockshow, who
had hurled enough stones at him to pave a yard, he had implicit trust;
but he took each movement of Catherine's hand for a menace.

She had just returned from her hens one morning, with Bungo sneaking
in her wake, when she heard Mrs. Cockshow in loud altercation on the
road. The shrill, high voice of an old man was contending with that of
the widow, and Catherine ran to the window in the upper storey,
attracted by the increasing noise. Judging by the part that the word
"fourpence" played in the storm, the dispute was about money, and the
girl knew the toll-woman well enough to be sure that there could be
but one issue to the combat. She smiled, hearing the baffled fury in
the old man's tone, as the gate swung open for the wheels that went
grinding through it.

"A pint o' fourpences would be no more account to me nor a pint o'
ditchwater!" he screamed. "I've _thousands_ to leave behind me when I
go, I have!"

"An', by Pharaoh, I've got more than that!" cried Mrs. Cockshow at the
pitch of her lungs. "I've the world to leave be'ind me when I go!"

Catherine, at her vantage point in the upper window, pulled the
curtain aside as the gate closed, only to jump back as though she had
been fired at; for Bungo, who had joined his owner and was at the
farther side of the road, fell into a frenzy of barking as he heard
her movement at the open casement and saw her figure. The eyes of all
went upward. The old man in the gig below was Saunders's uncle, and
Catherine was looking straight into the upturned face of Charles.

When the gig had rolled on without any action on his part, she
breathed again freely. Mrs. Cockshow standing in her favourite spot in
the middle of the road, watched the vehicle out of sight, and when a
bend hid it she came close under the toll-house walls.

"'E's 'ad enough o' you!" she called up, her broad face all one smile.
"Did ye see the bald 'eaded old mawkin sittin' up beside 'im? If the
young feller's no better nor 'im, ye did well to give 'im the slip.
I've seen the old devil drivin' 'is cattle along this road many a
time. A proud look and a 'igh stomach 'e 'as, too; but that don't keep
'im from bastin' their ribs wi' a common stick cut out o' the
'edge--can't spare so much as would buy a decent bit o' ash plant. 'E
don't 'ave no cattle-man neither, an' 'im screechin' about 'is
thousands! They do say 'e starved 'is wife too. I know them that's
seen 'er----"

At this point the widow discovered herself to be shouting up into an
empty room; for Catherine had come out and was standing behind her,
with a scared face.

Mrs. Cockshow turned on her.

"Silly wench that ye be!" she exclaimed. "It's better to be sure than
sorry. I tell ye 'e 'ates the very sight of ye now, an' no wonder too.
Go an' get the dinner. It's nigh upon twelve, and Bungo 'asn't 'ad a
bite to-day. Come in, ye whelp!"

The last sentence was addressed, in a murderous tone, to the white
dog, who wagged his tail. He took it for a caress.

Mrs. Cockshow arose next morning in her most jovial humour. It was
Thursday; and now, for the first time for months, she was dispensing
with the services of that neighbour who called to take her eggs to
market and was looking forward to carrying them there herself.
Catherine also was happy; for the two Saunderses had driven by last
evening on their return journey, without so much as a look at the
toll-house windows, and she was sure the widow was right in saying
that Charles now hated the sight of her.

She was not afraid that Heber would pass, though she knew that he went
on Thursdays to Llangarth; for his way thither from the hill farm
joined the highroad some way east of the toll. She sighed. Could she
see him, while remaining invisible herself, she knew that she would
secretly be glad. But, admitting that, she put him from her thoughts
with a heightened colour. Since Susannah's plain speaking, she had
never let her mind dwell on the shepherd; yet she had learned of late
that if her pride had been cruelly handled, her heart had fared little
better. She could not think, looking back, how she had ever liked or
tolerated Saunders. She was bitter against Black Heber, as well she
might be; but she hated him and loved him at the same moment. For the
first time, the simple girl was in a terribly complicated state of
mind.

Mrs. Cockshow had tied on her late husband's hat with a new piece of
twine and loaded her person yet more completely with clothes. Before
she climbed into the antiquated side-saddle on her pony's back, she
went to the roadside and began to fill the most accessible of her
pockets with stones. While so engaged, she directed Catherine, who
looked on with astonishment, to shut the gate and tie the animal to
it. The girl obeyed, and when the widow approached, bulging more
strangely than usual, she helped her to mount. Mrs. Cockshow used the
toll bars as a horse-block. Then the egg basket was handed up to her,
a switch cut from the hedge, and Catherine was bidden to attend to the
needs of passers and to suffer no one to shirk payment. Before the
rider was out of sight, Bungo burst with a yell from the toll-house
and began to follow, raising a trail of dust as he went.

In one moment Mrs. Cockshow had turned and the air was one hail of
flying stones, while, through the cloud sent up by the sudden facing
about of the pony, her arm could be seen whirling above her head like
the arm of a mounted drummer through the smoke of battle; and as, in
the blinding hurricane of hard metal and abuse, Bungo flew homewards
like the greyhound which had evidently been too intimate with his
grandmother, Catherine realised as she had never realised before, the
infinite forethought of her protectress. She shut the dog into the
house and sat down to await her first summons from the public.

Mrs. Cockshow gained Llangarth without further inconvenience. Many
looks followed her as she rode up the street; but though there was a
smile on most faces, no one addressed her with levity. Having disposed
of the pony, she disappeared with her basket into the market-place.

The market had drawn more than one of the actors in our story to
Llangarth; for Charles and his uncle were among those inspecting
cattle in the street, and Heber, who had come on horseback to take
some sheep to the railway station, was in the town too.

Instead of answering Susannah's letter Saunders had put it into the
fire, for he was resolved that the episode of his acquaintance with
Catherine Dennis should be closed for good and all. He was ashamed of
it now, and felt that he had deserved all he got for meddling with a
woman so far beneath him in every possible way. There was some comfort
in assuring himself that he was well out of it and that he would take
care never to get into such a position again. He felt little
resentment against her; not because he was broad-minded or forgiving,
but because his rancour was so completely concentrated on Heber that
it put everything else out of his head. He would never forgive the
smile he had seen on the shepherd's face as he looked back at him from
the saddle on the Talgwynne road. It was constantly in his mind, and
he was thinking of it as he came out of the post-office door when his
business with the cattle was over. He turned down the street and saw
his enemy, who was on his way from the station, coming to meet him.

Heber looked grim and weary as he approached. Since Sunday, when he
had parted from Susannah, he had had no chance of leaving his work
either to question his father at Talgwynne or to make any other
attempt at discovering where Catherine had hidden herself. He did not
know what to believe; his doubt of his cousin's truthfulness was
strong and his opinion of Mrs. Job's wisdom great. Yet, as he looked
back in cold blood at their ride in the dark and at his own roughness,
he could not help seeing some likelihood in the girl's return to his
rival. He was not accustomed to considering himself from the
outside--few primitive men are; but he had thought a good deal as he
went about his business in the solitudes of the mountains; and failure
will open new vistas to those who are not eaten up by vanity. Though
not given to succumbing to circumstances, Heber was tried by the
enforced patience and inaction of the last week and his heart was
heavy in him.

If Susannah's letter had produced no effect on Charles, it had given
him the keen pleasure of knowing that Heber was made a fool of as well
as himself. The whole look of the man as he came to meet him sent the
warmth of satisfaction through Saunders, because it suggested to him
that he was out of spirits with the world. As the distance lessened
between them his own expression proclaimed the feeling; and back again
to his mind came the vision of their last meeting and Heber's smile.
It was his turn to smile now. He stopped.

"Well, have ye found her yet?" he asked.

The shepherd made no pretence of misunderstanding him; his methods
were too direct for that, and even the engrafted genteelness of
Charles's points of view could not blind him to a certain nobility in
the coarsely clad, weather-beaten fellow, which struck him at that
moment as an additional outrage on himself.

"I know where I won't find her, and that's wi' you," said Heber, at a
venture.

Charles was sharp enough to see where a vulnerable point would lie,
and the overmastering longing to wound Heber inspired his tongue.

"And that's where you're wrong," said he. "I've got her safe enough,
and I'll keep her too--for a bit."

The pupils of the shepherd's eyes seemed to be contracting as Saunders
watched his face with an ecstatic sense of the success of his own
words.

"If I follow ye till midnight," Heber said, at last, "I'll see whether
ye speak truth."

He spoke with a slow, cold emphasis.

Charles was a little disconcerted. Were the other to keep his word he
would be likely to prove the falseness of his statement; were he to
precede him to his house he would certainly do so. He suspected that
Heber knew where he lived.

"You'll have some way to go, then," said he. "A decent man doesn't
keep his wench under other folks' noses. If you've a mind to see
Catherine, I'll not stop you. I'm going out to see her myself, an'
perhaps the sight of the pair of us'll please her."

As he spoke, Saunders's eyes twinkled, for he was due at a village out
in the neighbourhood and was going to start almost immediately in the
gig. If Moorhouse chose to annoy him by following him, he would let
him have the wild-goose chase he deserved for his pains; and as he
left the shepherd standing in the street he could hardly keep himself
from bursting out laughing. He looked over his shoulder. Heber was a
few paces behind.

When Charles entered his house he saw that the shepherd was going to
carry out his threat, for he was standing on the pavement watching him
from the other side of the way; and as he emerged again to go into the
stable behind the dwelling to fetch his gig, he was a little
disappointed at finding that Heber had disappeared. But when he had
harnessed the cob and was driving out of the yard his cheerfulness
returned, for Heber had apparently only gone to get his horse--the
same which had carried him and Catherine to Talgwynne--and was waiting
for him at the end of the street. Just as Charles was starting, his
uncle called after him to stop, as he meant to accompany him; and
little as he desired the old man's company at the present juncture, he
had no choice but to accept it. He drove out of the town and on to the
Brecon road, with the trotting hoofs of the shepherd's horse following
steadily with a rhythmic beat that kept exact pace behind the gig,
neither increasing nor slackening.

It was only when they had left Llangarth behind that it occurred to
Charles what an egregious fool he had been. When he lured Heber after
him he had forgotten that, in order to reach his destination, he would
have to pass through Mrs. Cockshow's tollgate.

How he had perpetrated such an imbecility was beyond his
understanding. On ordinary occasions he reached the village he was
bound for by turning off the highway into a lane on the near side of
the gate; but he remembered now that this was under repair and barred,
and that he could only proceed by a cart track half a mile beyond the
tollhouse. There was nothing for him to do but to put the best face he
could on the business and to go forward. It was impossible to turn
back because of his uncle's presence beside him; for the old man was
not in his confidence, and Catherine's face at the window yesterday
had conveyed nothing to him. He did not know her by sight. He was
aware of the trick that his nephew's intended bride had played him,
and, because he had never favoured the marriage, he had made some very
sour jokes on the subject. As they neared the toll Charles prayed that
he might not have the chance of making more.

Still the tireless hoofs beat on behind them. Once he glanced back.
Heber was rising and falling mechanically in his stirrups with the
swing of the big horse's trot, apparently less interested in him and
his gig than in the fields on either side. They went by the mouth of
the closed lane. The bars were up and workmen were laying a seemingly
interminable drain-pipe along the very middle of it.

As the little white house came in sight Saunders stared earnestly
before him for Mrs. Cockshow and felt in his waistcoat pocket for the
gate-money. The widow was usually in the road, but to-day there was no
sign of her familiar and unforgettable shape. He drew a sharp breath
of annoyance. There would be shouting and waiting and all sorts of
untoward delays; possibly a fresh battle between Mrs. Cockshow and his
uncle. The latter was muttering already and beginning to look, as he
did when excited, like a crazy hen.

Heber sat, immovable and unconcerned, on his horse when they pulled
up, and Saunders raised his voice in the customary manner of
travellers. The shepherd's money was in his fingers, but when
Catherine came out of the tollhouse he almost dropped it into the
dust.

For an instant the suspicion that Charles's hateful insinuations were
true came to him like a cold blast. The girl hesitated, and then, with
a glance at the occupants of the gig, approached him first, holding
out her hand for the toll money. He leaned down towards her.

"What be you doing here, Catherine? How be you come here?"

She shrank back. There was suppressed vehemence in his tone.

"Don't be afeared o' me," he exclaimed, "I won't hurt ye, my girl."

"I live wi' Mrs. Cockshow," she faltered. "She's at the market."

"Come on, come on, ye slut!" screamed Saunders's uncle. "Am I to wait
here all day for you to be sweetheartin' wi' every vagabond feller on
the road?"

Heber had dismounted, and as Catherine, bewildered, was about to obey
the cattle-breeder, he held her back. He took no notice of the
outburst, but he led her up to the side of the gig on which Charles
sat.

"Tell me the truth, Catherine," he said, "be you livin' wi' this man
or be you not?"

"_Livin_' with him--with _him?_" she exclaimed.

"Yes, you be hussy enough for anything, I'll be bound!" cried the old
man's shrill voice. "Let me go on, I tell 'e; open the gate! Who cares
a damn who ye be livin' with?"

"He told me, not an hour back, that he was keepin' you," continued
Black Heber, unmoved, pointing at Charles. "Be that true? Answer me,
girl."

"It's a lie," cried Catherine, in a shaking voice. "So help me God,
it's a lie!"

He loosed his hold on her.

"Open the gate, Catherine," said he quietly. Then he took Charles's
cob by the head and looked up at its driver.

"Will ye drive on, like the lyin' cur ye are, or will ye come down now
and have it out wi' me?"

"Let my horse go!" screamed the cattle-breeder. "Who be you, ye thief,
stopping me an' my nephew in the road?"

Charles bent forward and cut at Heber with his whip.

"Go on, then, if you be afeared," said the shepherd, taking his hand
from the bit. "It's the wisest choice that you've made. And every time
ye see me, ye can remember that I know the coward ye are."

"He's forgotten to pay," said Catherine blankly to the shepherd as
they watched the gig disappear. "Oh! what'll Mrs. Cockshow say?"

Black Heber made no suggestion. There was only one question just then
which interested him, and he could read its answer in Catherine's
face.

"I'll tie up the horse and come in wi' you," said he. "Maybe I'd best
wait and explain it to her."


__________

Printed by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury.



Transcriber's Note

This transcription is based on a set of images digitized by Google
from a copy made available by the New York Public Library and posted
by Google at:

     https://books.google.com/books?id=MqUiAAAAMAAJ

The same set of images are also posted by the HathiTrust Digital
Library at:

     https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008665603

The cover image is courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.

The following changes were made to the printed text:

-- p. 26: speaking to the newly baptzied persons--Changed "baptzied"
to "baptized".

-- p. 30: as the sense of justice in in the weak so often is--Deleted
the second "in".

-- p. 83: and maybe I'll give it you for nothin.'--Moved the
apostrophe before the period.

-- p. 86: on the pavement towards the western entrance to the
town--Added a period at the end of the sentence.

-- p. 88: The night afore the wedding Heber brought her to our house
'an knocked me out o' my bed--Changed "'an" (for "and") to "an'".

-- p. 114: an' Mrs. Jones oldin' 'im so as 'e couldn't be sprawlin'
over the 'orse's tail.--Added an apostrophe at the beginning of
"oldin'".

-- p. 160: she knew that he went on Thursdays to Langarth--Changed
"Langarth" to "Llangarth".

-- p. 172: "I live wi' Mrs. Cockshow," she faltered. She's at the
market."--Added an opening double quotation mark before "She's".

-- p. 172: he held her back, He took no notice of the
outburst--Changed the comma after "back" to a period.

Alternate spellings within the text, such as "by-lane"/"bylane" and
"toll-house"/"tollhouse," have been preserved.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Irresolute Catherine" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home