The Trumpet-Major by Thomas Hardy - HTML preview
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Anne Is Kindly Fetched By The Trumpet-Major
After this, Anne would on no account walk in the direction of the hall for fear of another encounter with young Derriman. In the course of a few days it was told in the village that the old farmer had actually gone for a week's holiday and change of air to the Royal watering-place near at hand, at the instance of his nephew Festus. This was a wonderful thing to hear of Uncle Benjy, who had not slept outside the walls of Oxwell Hall for many a long year before; and Anne well imagined what extraordinary pressure must have been put upon him to induce him to take such a step. She pictured his unhappiness at the bustling watering-place, and hoped no harm would come to him.
She spent much of her time indoors or in the garden, hearing little of the camp movements beyond the periodical Ta-ta-ta-taa of the trumpeters sounding their various ingenious calls for watch-setting, stables, feed, boot-and-saddle, parade, and so on, which made her think how clever her friend the trumpet-major must be to teach his pupils to play those pretty little tunes so well.
On the third morning after Uncle Benjy's departure, she was disturbed as usual while dressing by the tramp of the troops down the slope to the mill-pond, and during the now familiar stamping and splashing which followed there sounded upon the glass of the window a slight smack, which might have been caused by a whip or switch. She listened more particularly, and it was repeated.
As John Loveday was the only dragoon likely to be aware that she slept in that particular apartment, she imagined the signal to come from him, though wondering that he should venture upon such a freak of familiarity.
Wrapping herself up in a red cloak, she went to the window, gently drew up a corner of the curtain, and peeped out, as she had done many times before. Nobody who was not quite close beneath her window could see her face; but as it happened, somebody was close. The soldiers whose floundering Anne had heard were not Loveday's dragoons, but a troop of the York Hussars, quite oblivious of her existence. They had passed on out of the water, and instead of them there sat Festus Derriman alone on his horse, and in plain clothes, the water reaching up to the animal's belly, and Festus' heels elevated over the saddle to keep them out of the stream, which threatened to wash rider and horse into the deep mill-head just below. It was plainly he who had struck her lattice, for in a moment he looked up, and their eyes met. Festus laughed loudly, and slapped her window again; and just at that moment the dragoons began prancing down the slope in review order. She could not but wait a minute or two to see them pass. While doing so she was suddenly led to draw back, drop the corner of the curtain, and blush privately in her room. She had not only been seen by Festus Derriman, but by John Loveday, who, riding along with his trumpet slung up behind him, had looked over his shoulder at the phenomenon of Derriman beneath Anne's bedroom window and seemed quite astounded at the sight. She was quite vexed at the conjunction of incidents, and went no more to the window till the dragoons had ridden far away and she had heard Festus's horse laboriously wade on to dry land. When she looked out there was nobody left but Miller Loveday, who usually stood in the garden at this time of the morning to say a word or two to the soldiers, of whom he already knew so many, and was in a fair way of knowing many more, from the liberality with which he handed round mugs of cheering liquor whenever parties of them walked that way.
In the afternoon of this day Anne walked to a christening party at a neighbour's in the adjoining parish of Springham, intending to walk home again before it got dark; but there was a slight fall of rain towards evening, and she was pressed by the people of the house to stay over the night. With some hesitation she accepted their hospitality; but at ten o'clock, when they were thinking of going to bed, they were startled by a smart rap at the door, and on it being unbolted a man's form was seen in the shadows outside.'Is Miss Garland here?' the visitor inquired, at which Anne suspended her breath. 'Yes,' said Anne's entertainer, warily.
'Her mother is very anxious to know what's become of her. She promised to come home.' To her great relief Anne recognized the voice as John Loveday's, and not Festus Derriman's.'Yes, I did, Mr. Loveday,' said she, coming forward; 'but it rained, and I thought my mother would guess where I was.' Loveday said with diffidence that it had not rained anything to speak of at the camp, or at the mill, so that her mother was rather alarmed. 'And she asked you to come for me?' Anne inquired.
This was a question which the trumpet-major had been dreading during the whole of his walk thither. 'Well, she didn't exactly ask me,' he said rather lamely, but still in a manner to show that Mrs. Garland had indirectly signified such to be her wish. In reality Mrs. Garland had not addressed him at all on the subject. She had merely spoken to his father on finding that her daughter did not return, and received an assurance from the miller that the precious girl was doubtless quite safe. John heard of this inquiry, and, having a pass that evening, resolved to relieve Mrs. Garland's mind on his own responsibility. Ever since his morning view of Festus under her window he had been on thorns of anxiety, and his thrilling hope now was that she would walk back with him.
He shifted his foot nervously as he made the bold request. Anne felt at once that she would go. There was nobody in the world whose care she would more readily be under than the trumpet-major's in a case like the present. He was their nearest neighbour's son, and she had liked his single-minded ingenuousness from the first moment of his return home.
When they had started on their walk, Anne said in a practical way, to show that there was no sentiment whatever in her acceptance of his company, 'Mother was much alarmed about me, perhaps?'
'Yes; she was uneasy,' he said; and then was compelled by conscience to make a clean breast of it. 'I know she was uneasy, because my father said so. But I did not see her myself. The truth is, she doesn't know I am come.'
Anne now saw how the matter stood; but she was not offended with him. What woman could have been? They walked on in silence, the respectful trumpet-major keeping a yard off on her right as precisely as if that measure had been fixed between them. She had a great feeling of civility toward him this evening, and spoke again. 'I often hear your trumpeters blowing the calls. They do it beautifully, I think.''Pretty fair; they might do better,' said he, as one too well-mannered to make much of an accomplishment in which he had a hand. 'And you taught them how to do it?' 'Yes, I taught them.'
'It must require wonderful practice to get them into the way of beginning and finishing so exactly at one time. It is like one throat doing it all. How came you to be a trumpeter, Mr. Loveday?'
'Well, I took to it naturally when I was a little boy,' said he, betrayed into quite a gushing state by her delightful interest. 'I used to make trumpets of paper, eldersticks, eltrot stems, and even stinging-nettle stalks, you know. Then father set me to keep the birds off that little barley-ground of his, and gave me an old horn to frighten 'em with. I learnt to blow that horn so that you could hear me for miles and miles. Then he bought me a clarionet, and when I could play that I borrowed a serpent, and I learned to play a tolerable bass. So when I 'listed I was picked out for training as trumpeter at once.''Of course you were.'
'Sometimes, however, I wish I had never joined the army. My father gave me a very fair education, and your father showed me how to draw horses---on a slate, I mean. Yes, I ought to have done more than I have.''What, did you know my father?' she asked with new interest.
'O yes, for years. You were a little mite of a thing then; and you used to cry when we big boys looked at you, and made pig's eyes at you, which we did sometimes. Many and many a time have I stood by your poor father while he worked. Ah, you don't remember much about him; but I do!'
Anne remained thoughtful; and the moon broke from behind the clouds, lighting up the wet foliage with a twinkling brightness, and lending to each of the trumpet-major's buttons and spurs a little ray of its own. They had come to Oxwell park gate, and he said, 'Do you like going across, or round by the lane?'
They entered the park, following the half-obliterated drive till they came almost opposite the hall, when they entered a footpath leading on to the village. While hereabout they heard a shout, or chorus of exclamation, apparently from within the walls of the dark buildings near them.'What was that?' said Anne. 'I don't know,' said her companion. 'I'll go and see.'
He went round the intervening swamp of watercress and brooklime which had once been the fish-pond, crossed by a culvert the trickling brook that still flowed that way, and advanced to the wall of the house. Boisterous noises were resounding from within, and he was tempted to go round the corner, where the low windows were, and look through a chink into the room whence the sounds proceeded.
It was the room in which the owner dined--traditionally called the great parlour--and within it sat about a dozen young men of the yeomanry cavalry, one of them being Festus. They were drinking, laughing, singing, thumping their fists on the tables, and enjoying themselves in the very perfection of confusion. The candles, blown by the breeze from the partly opened window, had guttered into coffin handles and shrouds, and, choked by their long black wicks for want of snuffing, gave out a smoky yellow light. One of the young men might possibly have been in a maudlin state, for he had his arm round the neck of his next neighbour. Another was making an incoherent speech to which nobody was listening. Some of their faces were red, some were sallow; some were sleepy, some wide awake. The only one among them who appeared in his usual frame of mind was Festus, whose huge, burly form rose at the head of the table, enjoying with a serene and triumphant aspect the difference between his own condition and that of his neighbours. While the trumpet-major looked, a young woman, niece of Anthony Cripplestraw, and one of Uncle Benjy's servants, was called in by one of the crew, and much against her will a fiddle was placed in her hands, from which they made her produce discordant screeches.
The absence of Uncle Benjy had, in fact, been contrived by young Derriman that he might make use of the hall on his own account. Cripplestraw had been left in charge, and Festus had found no difficulty in forcing from that dependent the keys of whatever he required. John Loveday turned his eyes from the scene to the neighbouring moonlit path, where Anne still stood waiting. Then he looked into the room, then at Anne again. It was an opportunity of advancing his own cause with her by exposing Festus, for whom he began to entertain hostile feelings of no mean force.
'No; I can't do it,' he said. ''Tis underhand. Let things take their chance.'
'Company? Farmer Derriman is not at home,' said Anne, and went on to the window whence the rays of light leaked out, the trumpet-major standing where he was. He saw her face enter the beam of candlelight, stay there for a moment, and quickly withdraw. She came back to him at once. 'Let us go on,' she said.Loveday imagined from her tone that she must have an interest in Derriman, and said sadly, 'You blame me for going across to the window, and leading you to follow me.' 'Not a bit,' said Anne, seeing his mistake as to the state of her heart, and being rather angry with him for it. 'I think it was most natural, considering the noise.' Silence again. 'Derriman is sober as a judge,' said Loveday, as they turned to go. 'It was only the others who were noisy.' 'Whether he is sober or not is nothing whatever to me,' said Anne. 'Of course not. I know it,' said the trumpet-major, in accents expressing unhappiness at her somewhat curt tone, and some doubt of her assurance.
Before they had emerged from the shadow of the hall some persons were seen moving along the road. Loveday was for going on just the same; but Anne, from a shy feeling that it was as well not to be seen walking alone with a man who was not her lover, said--'Mr. Loveday, let us wait here a minute till they have passed.'
On nearer view the group was seen to comprise a man on a piebald horse, and another man walking beside him. When they were opposite the house they halted, and the rider dismounted, whereupon a dispute between him and the other man ensued, apparently on a question of money.''Tis old Mr. Derriman come home!' said Anne. 'He has hired that horse from the bathingmachine to bring him. Only fancy!'
Before they had gone many steps further the farmer and his companion had ended their dispute, and the latter mounted the horse and cantered away, Uncle Benjy coming on to the house at a nimble pace. As soon as he observed Loveday and Anne, he fell into a feebler gait; when they came up he recognized Anne.
'And you have torn yourself away from King George's Esplanade so soon, Farmer Derriman?' said she.
'Yes, faith! I couldn't bide at such a ruination place,' said the farmer. 'Your hand in your pocket every minute of the day. 'Tis a shilling for this, half-a-crown for that; if you only eat one egg, or even a poor windfall of an apple, you've got to pay; and a bunch o' radishes is a halfpenny, and a quart o' cider a good tuppence three-farthings at lowest reckoning. Nothing without paying! I couldn't even get a ride homeward upon that screw without the man wanting a shilling for it, when my weight didn't take a penny out of the beast. I've saved a penn'orth or so of shoeleather to be sure; but the saddle was so rough wi' patches that 'a took twopence out of the seat of my best breeches. King George hev' ruined the town for other folks. More than that, my nephew promised to come there tomorrow to see me, and if I had stayed I must have treated en. Hey--what's that?'It was a shout from within the walls of the building, and Loveday said-- 'Your nephew is here, and has company.'
'My nephew HERE?' gasped the old man. 'Good folks, will you come up to the door with me? I mean--hee--hee--just for company! Dear me, I thought my house was as quiet as a church?'
They went back to the window, and the farmer looked in, his mouth falling apart to a greater width at the corners than in the middle, and his fingers assuming a state of radiation.
''Tis my best silver tankards they've got, that I've never used! O! 'tis my strong beer! 'Tis eight candles guttering away, when I've used nothing but twenties myself for the last halfyear!''You didn't know he was here, then?' said Loveday.
'O no!' said the farmer, shaking his head half-way. 'Nothing's known to poor I! There's my best rummers jingling as careless as if 'twas tin cups; and my table scratched, and my chairs wrenched out of joint. See how they tilt 'em on the two back legs--and that's ruin to a chair! Ah! when I be gone he won't find another old man to make such work with, and provide goods for his breaking, and house-room and drink for his tear-brass set!'
'Comrades and fellow-soldiers,' said Festus to the hot farmers and yeomen he entertained within, 'as we have vowed to brave danger and death together, so we'll share the couch of peace. You shall sleep here to-night, for it is getting late. My scram blue-vinnied gallicrow of an uncle takes care that there shan't be much comfort in the house, but you can curl up on the furniture if beds run short. As for my sleep, it won't be much. I'm melancholy! A woman has, I may say, got my heart in her pocket, and I have hers in mine. She's not much--to other folk, I mean--but she is to me. The little thing came in my way, and conquered me. I fancy that simple girl! I ought to have looked higher--I know it; what of that? 'Tis a fate that may happen to the greatest men.'
'Whash her name?' said one of the warriors, whose head occasionally drooped upon his epaulettes, and whose eyes fell together in the casual manner characteristic of the tired soldier. (It was really Farmer Stubb, of Duddle Hole.)
'Her name? Well, 'tis spelt, A, N--but, by gad, I won't give ye her name here in company. She don't live a hundred miles off, however, and she wears the prettiest cap-ribbons you ever saw. Well, well, 'tis weakness! She has little, and I have much; but I do adore that girl, in spite of myself!''Let's go on,' said Anne.
'Prithee stand by an old man till he's got into his house!' implored Uncle Benjy. 'I only ask ye to bide within call. Stand back under the trees, and I'll do my poor best to give no trouble.''I'll stand by you for half-an-hour, sir,' said Loveday. 'After that I must bolt to camp.' 'Very well; bide back there under the trees,' said Uncle Benjy. 'I don't want to spite 'em?' 'You'll wait a few minutes, just to see if he gets in?' said the trumpet-major to Anne as they retired from the old man. 'I want to get home,' said Anne anxiously. When they had quite receded behind the tree-trunks and he stood alone, Uncle Benjy, to their surprise, set up a loud shout, altogether beyond the imagined power of his lungs.
'Man a-lost! man a-lost!' he cried, repeating the exclamation several times; and then ran and hid himself behind a corner of the building. Soon the door opened, and Festus and his guests came tumbling out upon the green.''Tis our duty to help folks in distress,' said Festus. 'Man a-lost, where are you?' ''Twas across there,' said one of his friends. 'No! 'twas here,' said another.
Meanwhile Uncle Benjy, coming from his hiding-place, had scampered with the quickness of a boy up to the door they had quitted, and slipped in. In a moment the door flew together, and Anne heard him bolting and barring it inside. The revellers, however, did not notice this, and came on towards the spot where the trumpet-major and Anne were standing.
'Here's succour at hand, friends,' said Festus. 'We are all king's men; do not fear us.'
Anne would much rather have gone home alone, but seeing the remainder of the yeomanry party staggering up she thought it best to secure a protector of some kind. How to choose one without offending the other and provoking a quarrel was the difficulty.
'You must both walk home with me,' she adroitly said, 'one on one side, and one on the other. And if you are not quite civil to one another all the time, I'll never speak to either of you again.'They agreed to the terms, and the other yeomen arriving at this time said they would go also as rearguard. 'Very well,' said Anne. 'Now go and get your hats, and don't be long.' 'Ah, yes; our hats,' said the yeomanry, whose heads were so hot that they had forgotten their nakedness till then. 'You'll wait till we've got 'em--we won't be a moment,' said Festus eagerly. Anne and Loveday said yes, and Festus ran back to the house, followed by all his band. 'Now let's run and leave 'em,' said Anne, when they were out of hearing. 'But we've promised to wait!' said the trumpet-major in surprise. 'Promised to wait!' said Anne indignantly. 'As if one ought to keep such a promise to drunken men as that. You can do as you like, I shall go.' 'It is hardly fair to leave the chaps,' said Loveday reluctantly, and looking back at them.
But she heard no more, and flitting off under the trees, was soon lost to his sight. Festus and the rest had by this time reached Uncle Benjy's door, which they were discomfited and astonished to find closed. They began to knock, and then to kick at the venerable timber, till the old man's head, crowned with a tasselled nightcap, appeared at an upper window, followed by his shoulders, with apparently nothing on but his shirt, though it was in truth a sheet thrown over his coat.'Fie, fie upon ye all for making such a hullaballoo at a weak old man's door,' he said, yawning. 'What's in ye to rouse honest folks at this time o' night?' 'Hang me--why--it's Uncle Benjy! Haw--haw--haw ?' said Festus. 'Nunc, why how the devil's this? 'Tis I--Festus--wanting to come in.'
'O no, no, my clever man, whoever you be!' said Uncle Benjy in a tone of incredulous integrity. 'My nephew, dear boy, is miles away at quarters, and sound asleep by this time, as becomes a good soldier. That story won't do to-night, my man, not at all.''Upon my soul 'tis I,' said Festus. 'Not to-night, my man; not to-night! Anthony, bring my blunderbuss,' said the farmer, turning and addressing nobody inside the room. 'Let's break in the window-shutters,' said one of the others. 'My wig, and we will!' said Festus. 'What a trick of the old man!' 'Get some big stones,' said the yeomen, searching under the wall.
'No; forbear, forbear,' said Festus, beginning to he frightened at the spirit he had raised. 'I forget; we should drive him into fits, for he's subject to 'em, and then perhaps 'twould be manslaughter. Comrades, we must march! No, we'll lie in the barn. I'll see into this, take my word for 't. Our honour is at stake. Now let's back to see my beauty home.''We can't, as we hav'n't got our hats,' said one of his fellow-troopers--in domestic life Jacob Noakes, of Muckleford Farm. 'No more we can,' said Festus, in a melancholy tone. 'But I must go to her and tell her the reason. She pulls me in spite of all.' 'She's gone. I saw her flee across park while we were knocking at the door,' said another of the yeomanry.
'Gone!' said Festus, grinding his teeth and putting himself into a rigid shape. 'Then 'tis my enemy--he has tempted her away with him! But I am a rich man, and he's poor, and rides the King's horse while I ride my own. Could I but find that fellow, that regular, that common man, I would--'
'Yes?' said the trumpet-major, coming up behind him.
They then unceremoniously left Loveday, without wishing him good-night, and proceeded towards the barn. He crossed the park and ascended the down to the camp, grieved that he had given Anne cause of complaint, and fancying that she held him of slight account beside his wealthier rival.
The Match-Making Virtues Of A Double Garden
Anne was so flurried by the military incidents attending her return home that she was almost afraid to venture alone outside her mother's premises. Moreover, the numerous soldiers, regular and otherwise, that haunted Overcombe and its neighbourhood, were getting better acquainted with the villagers, and the result was that they were always standing at garden gates, walking in the orchards, or sitting gossiping just within cottage doors, with the bowls of their tobacco-pipes thrust outside for politeness' sake, that they might not defile the air of the household. Being gentlemen of a gallant and most affectionate nature, they naturally turned their heads and smiled if a pretty girl passed by, which was rather disconcerting to the latter if she were unused to society. Every belle in the village soon had a lover, and when the belles were all allotted those who scarcely deserved that title had their turn, many of the soldiers being not at all particular about half-an-inch of nose more or less, a trifling deficiency of teeth, or a larger crop of freckles than is customary in the Saxon race. Thus, with one and another, courtship began to be practised in Overcombe on rather a large scale, and the dispossessed young men who had been born in the place were left to take their walks alone, where, instead of studying the works of nature, they meditated gross outrages on the brave men who had been so good as to visit their village.
Anne watched these romantic proceedings from her window with much interest, and when she saw how triumphantly other handsome girls of the neighbourhood walked by on the gorgeous arms of Lieutenant Knockheelmann, Cornet Flitzenhart, and Captain Klaspenkissen, of the thrilling York Hussars, who swore the most picturesque foreign oaths, and had a wonderful sort of estate or property called the Vaterland in their country across the sea, she was filled with a sense of her own loneliness. It made her think of things which she tried to forget, and to look into a little drawer at something soft and brown that lay in a curl there, wrapped in paper. At last she could bear it no longer, and went downstairs.'Where are you going?' said Mrs. Garland. 'To see the folks, because I am so gloomy!' 'Certainly not at present, Anne.' 'Why not, mother?' said Anne, blushing with an indefinite sense of being very wicked.
'Because you must not. I have been going to tell you several times not to go into the street at this time of day. Why not walk in the morning? There's young Mr. Derriman would be glad to--''Don't mention him, mother, don't!'
'Well then, dear, walk in the garden.' So poor Anne, who really had not the slightest wish to throw her heart away upon a soldier, but merely wanted to displace old thoughts by new, turned into the inner garden from day to day, and passed a good many hours there, the pleasant birds singing to her, and the delightful butterflies alighting on her hat, and the horrid ants running up her stockings.
This garden was undivided from Loveday's, the two having originally been the single garden of the whole house. It was a quaint old place, enclosed by a thorn hedge so shapely and dense from incessant clipping that the mill-boy could walk along the top without sinking in--a feat which he often performed as a means of filling out his day's work. The soil within was of that intense fat blackness which is only seen after a century of constant cultivation. The paths were grassed over, so that people came and went upon them without being heard. The grass harboured slugs, and on this account the miller was going to replace it by gravel as soon as he had time; but as he had said this for thirty years without doing it, the grass and the slugs seemed likely to remain.
The miller's man attended to Mrs. Garland's piece of the garden as well as to the larger portion, digging, planting, and weeding indifferently in both, the miller observing with reason that it was not worth while for a helpless widow lady to hire a man for her little plot when his man, working alongside, could tend it without much addition to his labour. The two households were on this account even more closely united in the garden than within the mill. Out there they were almost one family, and they talked from plot to plot with a zest and animation which Mrs. Garland could never have anticipated when she first removed thither after her husband's death.
The lower half of the garden, farthest from the road, was the most snug and sheltered part of this snug and sheltered enclosure, and it was well watered as the land of Lot. Three small brooks, about a yard wide, ran with a tinkling sound from side to side between the plots, crossing the path under wood slabs laid as bridges, and passing out of the garden through little tunnels in the hedge. The brooks were so far overhung at their brinks by grass and garden produce that, had it not been for their perpetual babbling, few would have noticed that they were there. This was where Anne liked best to linger when her excursions became restricted to her own premises; and in a spot of the garden not far removed the trumpet-major loved to linger also.
Having by virtue of his office no stable duty to perform, he came down from the camp to the mill almost every day; and Anne, finding that he adroitly walked and sat in his father's portion of the garden whenever she did so in the other half, could not help smiling and speaking to him. So his epaulettes and blue jacket, and Anne's yellow gipsy hat, were often seen in different parts of the garden at the same time; but he never intruded into her part of the enclosure, nor did she into Loveday's. She always spoke to him when she saw him there, and he replied in deep, firm accents across the gooseberry bushes, or through the tall rows of flowering peas, as the case might be. He thus gave her accounts at fifteen paces of his experiences in camp, in quarters, in Flanders, and elsewhere; of the difference between line and column, of forced marches, billeting, and such-like, together with his hopes of promotion. Anne listened at first indifferently; but knowing no one else so good-natured and experienced, she grew interested in him as in a brother. By degrees his gold lace, buckles, and spurs lost all their strangeness and were as familiar to her as her own clothes.
At last Mrs. Garland noticed this growing friendship, and began to despair of her motherly scheme of uniting Anne to the moneyed Festus. Why she could not take prompt steps to check interference with her plans arose partly from her nature, which was the reverse of managing, and partly from a new emotional circumstance with which she found it difficult to reckon. The near neighbourhood that had produced the friendship of Anne for John Loveday was slowly effecting a warmer liking between her mother and his father.
Thus the month of July passed. The troop horses came with the regularity of clockwork twice a day down to drink under her window, and, as the weather grew hotter, kicked up their heels and shook their heads furiously under the maddening sting of the dun-fly. The green leaves in the garden became of a darker dye, the gooseberries ripened, and the three brooks were reduced to half their winter volume.
At length the earnest trumpet-major obtained Mrs. Garland's consent to take her and her daughter to the camp, which they had not yet viewed from any closer point than their own windows. So one afternoon they went, the miller being one of the party. The villagers were by this time driving a roaring trade with the soldiers, who purchased of them every description of garden produce, milk, butter, and eggs at liberal prices. The figures of these rural sutlers could be seen creeping up the slopes, laden like bees, to a spot in the rear of the camp, where there was a kind of market-place on the greensward.
Mrs. Garland, Anne, and the miller were conducted from one place to another, and on to the quarter where the soldiers' wives lived who had not been able to get lodgings in the cottages near. The most sheltered place had been chosen for them, and snug huts had been built for their use by their husbands, of clods, hurdles, a little thatch, or whatever they could lay hands on. The trumpet-major conducted his friends thence to the large barn which had been appropriated as a hospital, and to the cottage with its windows bricked up, that was used as the magazine; then they inspected the lines of shining dark horses (each representing the then high figure of two-and-twenty guineas purchase money), standing patiently at the ropes which stretched from one picket-post to another, a bank being thrown up in front of them as a protection at night.
They passed on to the tents of the German Legion, a well-grown and rather dandy set of men, with a poetical look about their faces which rendered them interesting to feminine eyes. Hanoverians, Saxons, Prussians, Swedes, Hungarians, and other foreigners were numbered in their ranks. They were cleaning arms, which they leant carefully against a rail when the work was complete.
On their return they passed the mess-house, a temporary wooden building with a brick chimney. As Anne and her companions went by, a group of three or four of the hussars were standing at the door talking to a dashing young man, who was expatiating on the qualities of a horse that one was inclined to buy. Anne recognized Festus Derriman in the seller, and Cripplestraw was trotting the animal up and down. As soon as she caught the yeoman's eye he came forward, making some friendly remark to the miller, and then turning to Miss Garland, who kept her eyes steadily fixed on the distant landscape till he got so near that it was impossible to do so longer. Festus looked from Anne to the trumpet-major, and from the trumpet-major back to Anne, with a dark expression of face, as if he suspected that there might be a tender understanding between them.'Are you offended with me?' he said to her in a low voice of repressed resentment. 'No,' said Anne. 'When are you coming to the hall again?' 'Never, perhaps.' 'Nonsense, Anne,' said Mrs. Garland, who had come near, and smiled pleasantly on Festus. 'You can go at any time, as usual.' 'Let her come with me now, Mrs. Garland; I should be pleased to walk along with her. My man can lead home the horse.' 'Thank you, but I shall not come,' said Miss Anne coldly. The widow looked unhappily in her daughter's face, distressed between her desire that Anne should encourage Festus, and her wish to consult Anne's own feelings. 'Leave her alone, leave her alone,' said Festus, his gaze blackening. 'Now I think of it I am glad she can't come with me, for I am engaged;' and he stalked away. Anne moved on with her mother, young Loveday silently following, and they began to descend the hill. 'Well, where's Mr. Loveday?' asked Mrs. Garland. 'Father's behind,' said John. Mrs. Garland looked behind her solicitously; and the miller, who had been waiting for the event, beckoned to her.
'I'll overtake you in a minute,' she said to the younger pair, and went back, her colour, for some unaccountable reason, rising as she did so. The miller and she then came on slowly together, conversing in very low tones, and when they got to the bottom they stood still. Loveday and Anne waited for them, saying but little to each other, for the rencounter with Festus had damped the spirits of both. At last the widow's private talk with Miller Loveday came to an end, and she hastened onward, the miller going in another direction to meet a man on business. When she reached the trumpet-major and Anne she was looking very bright and rather flurried, and seemed sorry when Loveday said that he must leave them and return to the camp. They parted in their usual friendly manner, and Anne and her mother were left to walk the few remaining yards alone.'There, I've settled it,' said Mrs. Garland. 'Anne, what are you thinking about? I have settled in my mind that it is all right.' 'What's all right?' said Anne.
'That you do not care for Derriman, and mean to encourage John Loveday. What's all the world so long as folks are happy! Child, don't take any notice of what I have said about Festus, and don't meet him any more.''What a weathercock you are, mother! Why should you say that just now?'
'It is easy to call me a weathercock,' said the matron, putting on the look of a good woman; 'but I have reasoned it out, and at last, thank God, I have got over my ambition. The Lovedays are our true and only friends, and Mr. Festus Derriman, with all his money, is nothing to us at all.''But,' said Anne, 'what has made you change all of a sudden from what you have said before?' 'My feelings and my reason, which I am thankful for!'
Anne knew that her mother's sentiments were naturally so versatile that they could not be depended on for two days together; but it did not occur to her for the moment that a change had been helped on in the present case by a romantic talk between Mrs. Garland and the miller. But Mrs. Garland could not keep the secret long. She chatted gaily as she walked, and before they had entered the house she said, 'What do you think Mr Loveday has been saying to me, dear Anne?'Anne did not know at all. 'Why, he has asked me to marry him.'
Our People Are Affected By The Presence Of Royalty
To explain the miller's sudden proposal it is only necessary to go back to that moment when Anne, Festus, and Mrs. Garland were talking together on the down. John Loveday had fallen behind so as not to interfere with a meeting in which he was decidedly superfluous; and his father, who guessed the trumpet-major's secret, watched his face as he stood. John's face was sad, and his eyes followed Mrs. Garland's encouraging manner to Festus in a way which plainly said that every parting of her lips was tribulation to him. The miller loved his son as much as any miller or private gentleman could do, and he was pained to see John's gloom at such a trivial circumstance. So what did he resolve but to help John there and then by precipitating a matter which, had he himself been the only person concerned, he would have delayed for another six months.
He had long liked the society of his impulsive, tractable neighbour, Mrs. Garland; had mentally taken her up and pondered her in connexion with the question whether it would not be for the happiness of both if she were to share his home, even though she was a little his superior in antecedents and knowledge. In fact he loved her; not tragically, but to a very creditable extent for his years; that is, next to his sons, Bob and John, though he knew very well of that ploughed-ground appearance near the corners of her once handsome eyes, and that the little depression in her right cheek was not the lingering dimple it was poetically assumed to be, but a result of the abstraction of some worn-out nether millstones within the cheek by Rootle, the Budmouth man, who lived by such practices on the heads of the elderly. But what of that, when he had lost two to each one of hers, and exceeded her in age by some eight years! To do John a service, then, he quickened his designs, and put the question to her while they were standing under the eyes of the younger pair.
Mrs. Garland, though she had been interested in the miller for a long time, and had for a moment now and then thought on this question as far as, 'Suppose he should, 'If he were to,' and so on, had never thought much further; and she was really taken by surprise when the question came. She answered without affectation that she would think over the proposal; and thus they parted.
Her mother's infirmity of purpose set Anne thinking, and she was suddenly filled with a conviction that in such a case she ought to have some purpose herself. Mrs. Garland's complacency at the miller's offer had, in truth, amazed her. While her mother had held up her head, and recommended Festus, it had seemed a very pretty thing to rebel; but the pressure being removed an awful sense of her own responsibility took possession of her mind. As there was no longer anybody to be wise or ambitious for her, surely she should be wise and ambitious for herself, discountenance her mother's attachment, and encourage Festus in his addresses, for her own and her mother's good. There had been a time when a Loveday thrilled her own heart; but that was long ago, before she had thought of position or differences. To wake into cold daylight like this, when and because her mother had gone into the land of romance, was dreadful and new to her, and like an increase of years without living them.
But it was easier to think that she ought to marry the yeoman than to take steps for doing it; and she went on living just as before, only with a little more thoughtfulness in her eyes.
'Yes; to Gloucester Lodge; and he will pass this way. He can't arrive till long past the middle of the night, if what they say is true, that he is timed to change horses at Woodyates Inn--between Mid and South Wessex--at twelve o'clock,' continued Loveday, encouraged by her interest to cut off the parsley-bed from the distance between them.Miller Loveday came round the corner of the house. 'Have ye heard about the King coming, Miss Maidy Anne?' he said. Anne said that she had just heard of it; and the trumpet-major, who hardly welcomed his father at such a moment, explained what he knew of the matter. 'And you will go with your regiment to meet 'en, I suppose?' said old Loveday.
Young Loveday said that the men of the German Legion were to perform that duty. And turning half from his father, and half towards Anne, he added, in a tentative tone, that he thought he might get leave for the night, if anybody would like to be taken to the top of the Ridgeway over which the royal party must pass.Anne, knowing by this time of the budding hope in the gallant dragoon's mind, and not wishing to encourage it, said, 'I don't want to go.' The miller looked disappointed as well as John. 'Your mother might like to?' 'Yes, I am going indoors, and I'll ask her if you wish me to,' said she.
She went indoors and rather coldly told her mother of the proposal. Mrs. Garland, though she had determined not to answer the miller's question on matrimony just yet, was quite ready for this jaunt, and in spite of Anne she sailed off at once to the garden to hear more about it. When she re-entered, she said--'Anne, I have not seen the King or the King's horses for these many years; and I am going.' 'Ah, it is well to be you, mother,' said Anne, in an elderly tone. 'Then you won't come with us?' said Mrs. Garland, rather rebuffed. 'I have very different things to think of,' said her daughter with virtuous emphasis, 'than going to see sights at that time of night.'
Mrs. Garland was sorry, but resolved to adhere to the arrangement. The night came on; and it having gone abroad that the King would pass by the road, many of the villagers went out to see the procession. When the two Lovedays and Mrs. Garland were gone, Anne bolted the door for security, and sat down to think again on her grave responsibilities in the choice of a husband, now that her natural guardian could no longer be trusted.A knock came to the door. Anne's instinct was at once to be silent, that the comer might think the family had retired.
The knocking person, however, was not to be easily persuaded. He had in fact seen rays of light over the top of the shutter, and, unable to get an answer, went on to the door of the mill, which was still going, the miller sometimes grinding all night when busy. The grinder accompanied the stranger to Mrs. Garland's door.'The daughter is certainly at home, sir,' said the grinder. 'I'll go round to t'other side, and see if she's there, Master Derriman.' 'I want to take her out to see the King,' said Festus.
Anne had started at the sound of the voice. No opportunity could have been better for carrying out her new convictions on the disposal of her hand. But in her mortal dislike of Festus, Anne forgot her principles, and her idea of keeping herself above the Lovedays. Tossing on her hat and blowing out the candle, she slipped out at the back door, and hastily followed in the direction that her mother and the rest had taken. She overtook them as they were beginning to climb the hill.'What! you have altered your mind after all?' said the widow. 'How came you to do that, my dear?'
'I thought I might as well come,' said Anne. 'To be sure you did,' said the miller heartily. 'A good deal better than biding at home there.'
John said nothing, though she could almost see through the gloom how glad he was that she had altered her mind. When they reached the ridge over which the highway stretched they found many of their neighbours who had got there before them idling on the grass border between the roadway and the hedge, enjoying a sort of midnight picnic, which it was easy to do, the air being still and dry. Some carriages were also standing near, though most people of the district who possessed four wheels, or even two, had driven into the town to await the King there. From this height could be seen in the distance the position of the watering-place, an additional number of lanterns, lamps, and candles having been lighted to-night by the loyal burghers to grace the royal entry, if it should occur before dawn.
Mrs. Garland touched Anne's elbow several times as they walked, and the young woman at last understood that this was meant as a hint to her to take the trumpet-major's arm, which its owner was rather suggesting than offering to her. Anne wondered what infatuation was possessing her mother, declined to take the arm, and contrived to get in front with the miller, who mostly kept in the van to guide the others' footsteps. The trumpet-major was left with Mrs. Garland, and Anne's encouraging pursuit of them induced him to say a few words to the former.'By your leave, ma'am, I'll speak to you on something that concerns my mind very much indeed?' 'Certainly.' 'It is my wish to be allowed to pay my addresses to your daughter.' 'I thought you meant that,' said Mrs. Garland simply. 'And you'll not object?' 'I shall leave it to her. I don't think she will agree, even if I do.' The soldier sighed, and seemed helpless. 'Well, I can but ask her,' he said.
The spot on which they had finally chosen to wait for the King was by a field gate, whence the white road could be seen for a long distance northwards by day, and some little distance now. They lingered and lingered, but no King came to break the silence of that beautiful summer night. As half-hour after half-hour glided by, and nobody came, Anne began to get weary; she knew why her mother did not propose to go back, and regretted the reason. She would have proposed it herself, but that Mrs. Garland seemed so cheerful, and as wide awake as at noonday, so that it was almost a cruelty to disturb her. The trumpet-major at last made up his mind, and tried to draw Anne into a private conversation. The feeling which a week ago had been a vague and piquant aspiration, was to-day altogether too lively for the reasoning of this warm-hearted soldier to regulate. So he persevered in his intention to catch her alone, and at last, in spite of her manoeuvres to the contrary, he succeeded. The miller and Mrs. Garland had walked about fifty yards further on, and Anne and himself were left standing by the gate.
But the gallant musician's soul was so much disturbed by tender vibrations and by the sense of his presumption that he could not begin; and it may be questioned if he would ever have broached the subject at all, had not a distant church clock opportunely assisted him by striking the hour of three. The trumpet-major heaved a breath of relief.'That clock strikes in G sharp,' he said. 'Indeed--G sharp?' said Anne civilly. 'Yes. 'Tis a fine-toned bell. I used to notice that note when I was a boy.' 'Did you--the very same?'
'Yes; and since then I had a wager about that bell with the bandmaster of the North Wessex Militia. He said the note was G; I said it wasn't. When we found it G sharp we didn't know how to settle it.''It is not a deep note for a clock.'
'O no! The finest tenor bell about here is the bell of Peter's, Casterbridge--in E flat. Tumm-m-m--that's the note--tum-m-m-m.' The trumpet-major sounded from far down his throat what he considered to be E flat, with a parenthetic sense of luxury unquenchable even by his present distraction.'Shall we go on to where my mother is?' said Anne, less impressed by the beauty of the note than the trumpet-major himself was. 'In one minute,' he said tremulously. 'Talking of music--I fear you don't think the rank of a trumpet-major much to compare with your own?' 'I do. I think a trumpet-major a very respectable man.' 'I am glad to hear you say that. It is given out by the King's command that trumpet-majors are to be considered respectable.' 'Indeed! Then I am, by chance, more loyal than I thought for.' 'I get a good deal a year extra to the trumpeters, because of my position.' 'That's very nice.' 'And I am not supposed ever to drink with the trumpeters who serve beneath me.' 'Naturally.'
'And, by the orders of the War Office, I am to exert over them (that's the government word) exert over them full authority; and if any one behaves towards me with the least impropriety, or neglects my orders, he is to be confined and reported.''It is really a dignified post,' she said, with, however, a reserve of enthusiasm which was not altogether encouraging. 'And of course some day I shall,' stammered the dragoon--'shall be in rather a better position than I am at present.' 'I am glad to hear it, Mr. Loveday.'
'And in short, Mistress Anne,' continued John Loveday bravely and desperately, 'may I pay court to you in the hope that--no, no, don't go away!--you haven't heard yet--that you may make me the happiest of men; not yet, but when peace is proclaimed and all is smooth and easy again? I can't put it any better, though there's more to be explained.''This is most awkward,' said Anne, evidently with pain. 'I cannot possibly agree; believe me, Mr. Loveday, I cannot.' 'But there's more than this. You would be surprised to see what snug rooms the married trumpet- and sergeant-majors have in quarters.' 'Barracks are not all; consider camp and war.'
'That brings me to my strong point!' exclaimed the soldier hopefully. 'My father is better off than most non-commissioned officers' fathers; and there's always a home for you at his house in any emergency. I can tell you privately that he has enough to keep us both, and if you wouldn't hear of barracks, well, peace once established, I'd live at home as a miller and farmer--next door to your own mother.''My mother would be sure to object,' expostulated Anne. 'No; she leaves it all to you.' 'What! you have asked her?' said Anne, with surprise.
'Yes. I thought it would not be honourable to act otherwise.' 'That's very good of you,' said Anne, her face warming with a generous sense of his straightforwardness. 'But my mother is so entirely ignorant of a soldier's life, and the life of a soldier's wife--she is so simple in all such matters, that I cannot listen to you any more readily for what she may say.''Then it is all over for me,' said the poor trumpet-major, wiping his face and putting away his handkerchief with an air of finality.
Anne was silent. Any woman who has ever tried will know without explanation what an unpalatable task it is to dismiss, even when she does not love him, a man who has all the natural and moral qualities she would desire, and only fails in the social. Would-be lovers are not so numerous, even with the best women, that the sacrifice of one can be felt as other than a good thing wasted, in a world where there are few good things.'You are not angry, Miss Garland?' said he, finding that she did not speak. 'O no. Don't let us say anything more about this now.' And she moved on.
When she drew near to the miller and her mother she perceived that they were engaged in a conversation of that peculiar kind which is all the more full and communicative from the fact of definitive words being few. In short, here the game was succeeding which with herself had failed. It was pretty clear from the symptoms, marks, tokens, telegraphs, and general byplay between widower and widow, that Miller Loveday must have again said to Mrs. Garland some such thing as he had said before, with what result this time she did not know.
As the situation was delicate, Anne halted awhile apart from them. The trumpet-major, quite ignorant of how his cause was entered into by the white-coated man in the distance (for his father had not yet told him of his designs upon Mrs. Garland), did not advance, but stood still by the gate, as though he were attending a princess, waiting till he should be called up. Thus they lingered, and the day began to break. Mrs. Garland and the miller took no heed of the time, and what it was bringing to earth and sky, so occupied were they with themselves; but Anne in her place and the trumpet-major in his, each in private thought of no bright kind, watched the gradual glory of the east through all its tones and changes. The world of birds and insects got lively, the blue and the yellow and the gold of Loveday's uniform again became distinct; the sun bored its way upward, the fields, the trees, and the distant landscape kindled to flame, and the trumpet-major, backed by a lilac shadow as tall as a steeple, blazed in the rays like a very god of war.
It was half-past three o'clock. A short time after, a rattle of horses and wheels reached their ears from the quarter in which they gazed, and there appeared upon the white line of road a moving mass, which presently ascended the hill and drew near.
Then there arose a huzza from the few knots of watchers gathered there, and they cried, 'Long live King Jarge!' The cortege passed abreast. It consisted of three travellingcarriages, escorted by a detachment of the German Legion. Anne was told to look in the first carriage--a post-chariot drawn by four horses--for the King and Queen, and was rewarded by seeing a profile reminding her of the current coin of the realm; but as the party had been travelling all night, and the spectators here gathered were few, none of the royal family looked out of the carriage windows. It was said that the two elder princesses were in the same carriage, but they remained invisible. The next vehicle, a coach and four, contained more princesses, and the third some of their attendants.'Thank God, I have seen my King!' said Mrs. Garland, when they had all gone by.
Nobody else expressed any thankfulness, for most of them had expected a more pompous procession than the bucolic tastes of the King cared to indulge in; and one old man said grimly that that sight of dusty old leather coaches was not worth waiting for. Anne looked hither and thither in the bright rays of the day, each of her eyes having a little sun in it, which gave her glance a peculiar golden fire, and kindled the brown curls grouped over her forehead to a yellow brilliancy, and made single hairs, blown astray by the night, look like lacquered wires. She was wondering if Festus were anywhere near, but she could not see him.
Before they left the ridge they turned their attention towards the Royal watering-place, which was visible at this place only as a portion of the sea-shore, from which the nightmist was rolling slowly back. The sea beyond was still wrapped in summer fog, the ships in the roads showing through it as black spiders suspended in the air. While they looked and walked a white jet of smoke burst from a spot which the miller knew to be the battery in front of the King's residence, and then the report of guns reached their ears. This announcement was answered by a salute from the Castle of the adjoining Isle, and the ships in the neighbouring anchorage. All the bells in the town began ringing. The King and his family had arrived.
How Everybody Great And Small Climbed To The Top Of The Downs
As the days went on, echoes of the life and bustle of the town reached the ears of the quiet people in Overcombe hollow--exciting and moving those unimportant natives as a ground-swell moves the weeds in a cave. Travelling-carriages of all kinds and colours climbed and descended the road that led towards the seaside borough. Some contained those personages of the King's suite who had not kept pace with him in his journey from Windsor; others were the coaches of aristocracy, big and little, whom news of the King's arrival drew thither for their own pleasure: so that the highway, as seen from the hills about Overcombe, appeared like an ant-walk--a constant succession of dark spots creeping along its surface at nearly uniform rates of progress, and all in one direction.
The traffic and intelligence between camp and town passed in a measure over the villagers' heads. It being summer time the miller was much occupied with business, and the trumpet-major was too constantly engaged in marching between the camp and Gloucester Lodge with the rest of the dragoons to bring his friends any news for some days.
At last he sent a message that there was to be a review on the downs by the King, and that it was fixed for the day following. This information soon spread through the village and country round, and next morning the whole population of Overcombe--except two or three very old men and women, a few babies and their nurses, a cripple, and Corporal Tullidge--ascended the slope with the crowds from afar, and awaited the events of the day.
The miller wore his best coat on this occasion, which meant a good deal. An Overcombe man in those days would have a best coat, and keep it as a best coat half his life. The miller's had seen five and twenty summers chiefly through the chinks of a clothes-box, and was not at all shabby as yet, though getting singular. But that could not be helped; common coats and best coats were distinct species, and never interchangeable. Living so near the scene of the review he walked up the hill, accompanied by Mrs. Garland and Anne as usual.
It was a clear day, with little wind stirring, and the view from the downs, one of the most extensive in the county, was unclouded. The eye of any observer who cared for such things swept over the wave-washed town, and the bay beyond, and the Isle, with its pebble bank, lying on the sea to the left of these, like a great crouching animal tethered to the mainland. On the extreme east of the marine horizon, St. Aldhelm's Head closed the scene, the sea to the southward of that point glaring like a mirror under the sun. Inland could be seen Badbury Rings, where a beacon had been recently erected; and nearer, Rainbarrow, on Egdon Heath, where another stood: farther to the left Bulbarrow, where there was yet another. Not far from this came Nettlecombe Tout; to the west, Dogberry Hill, and Black'on near to the foreground, the beacon thereon being built of furze faggots thatched with straw, and standing on the spot where the monument now raises its head. At nine o'clock the troops marched upon the ground--some from the camps in the vicinity, and some from quarters in the different towns round about. The approaches to the down were blocked with carriages of all descriptions, ages, and colours, and with pedestrians of every class. At ten the royal personages were said to be drawing near, and soon after the King, accompanied by the Dukes of Cambridge and Cumberland, and a couple of generals, appeared on horseback, wearing a round hat turned up at the side, with a cockade and military feather. (Sensation among the crowd.) Then the Queen and three of the princesses entered the field in a great coach drawn by six beautiful creamcoloured horses. Another coach, with four horses of the same sort, brought the two remaining princesses. (Confused acclamations, 'There's King Jarge!' 'That's Queen Sharlett!' 'Princess 'Lizabeth!' 'Princesses Sophiar and Meelyer!' etc., from the surrounding spectators.)
Anne and her party were fortunate enough to secure a position on the top of one of the barrows which rose here and there on the down; and the miller having gallantly constructed a little cairn of flints, he placed the two women thereon, by which means they were enabled to see over the heads, horses, and coaches of the multitudes below and around. At the march-past the miller's eye, which had been wandering about for the purpose, discovered his son in his place by the trumpeters, who had moved forwards in two ranks, and were sounding the march.'That's John!' he cried to the widow. 'His trumpet-sling is of two colours, d'ye see; and the others be plain.'
Mrs. Garland too saw him now, and enthusiastically admired him from her hands upwards, and Anne silently did the same. But before the young woman's eyes had quite left the trumpet-major they fell upon the figure of Yeoman Festus riding with his troop, and keeping his face at a medium between haughtiness and mere bravery. He certainly looked as soldierly as any of his own corps, and felt more soldierly than half-a-dozen, as anybody could see by observing him. Anne got behind the miller, in case Festus should discover her, and, regardless of his monarch, rush upon her in a rage with, 'Why the devil did you run away from me that night--hey, madam?' But she resolved to think no more of him just now, and to stick to Loveday, who was her mother's friend. In this she was helped by the stirring tones which burst from the latter gentleman and his subordinates from time to time.'Well,' said the miller complacently, 'there's few of more consequence in a regiment than a trumpeter. He's the chap that tells 'em what to do, after all. Hey, Mrs. Garland?' 'So he is, miller,' said she. 'They could no more do without Jack and his men than they could without generals.'
'Indeed they could not,' said Mrs. Garland again, in a tone of pleasant agreement with any one in Great Britain or Ireland.
It was said that the line that day was three miles long, reaching from the high ground on the right of where the people stood to the turnpike road on the left. After the review came a sham fight, during which action the crowd dispersed more widely over the downs, enabling Widow Garland to get still clearer glimpses of the King, and his handsome charger, and the head of the Queen, and the elbows and shoulders of the princesses in the carriages, and fractional parts of General Garth and the Duke of Cumberland; which sights gave her great gratification. She tugged at her daughter at every opportunity, exclaiming, 'Now you can see his feather!' 'There's her hat!' 'There's her Majesty's India muslin shawl!' in a minor form of ecstasy, that made the miller think her more girlish and animated than her daughter Anne.
In those military manoeuvres the miller followed the fortunes of one man; Anne Garland of two. The spectators, who, unlike our party, had no personal interest in the soldiery, saw only troops and battalions in the concrete, straight lines of red, straight lines of blue, white lines formed of innumerable knee-breeches, black lines formed of many gaiters, coming and going in kaleidoscopic change. Who thought of every point in the line as an isolated man, each dwelling all to himself in the hermitage of his own mind? One person did, a young man far removed from the barrow where the Garlands and Miller Loveday stood. The natural expression of his face was somewhat obscured by the bronzing effects of rough weather, but the lines of his mouth showed that affectionate impulses were strong within him--perhaps stronger than judgment well could regulate. He wore a blue jacket with little brass buttons, and was plainly a seafaring man.
Meanwhile, in the part of the plain where rose the tumulus on which the miller had established himself, a broad-brimmed tradesman was elbowing his way along. He saw Mr. Loveday from the base of the barrow, and beckoned to attract his attention. Loveday went halfway down, and the other came up as near as he could.'Miller,' said the man, 'a letter has been lying at the post-office for you for the last three days. If I had known that I should see ye here I'd have brought it along with me.'
The miller thanked him for the news, and they parted, Loveday returning to the summit. 'What a very strange thing!' he said to Mrs. Garland, who had looked inquiringly at his face, now very grave. 'That was Budmouth postmaster, and he says there's a letter for me. Ah, I now call to mind that there WAS a letter in the candle three days ago this very night--a large red one; but foolish-like I thought nothing o't. Who CAN that letter be from?'
A letter at this time was such an event for hamleteers, even of the miller's respectable standing, that Loveday thenceforward was thrown into a fit of abstraction which prevented his seeing any more of the sham fight, or the people, or the King. Mrs. Garland imbibed some of his concern, and suggested that the letter might come from his son Robert.
'I should naturally have thought that,' said Miller Loveday; 'but he wrote to me only two months ago, and his brother John heard from him within the last four weeks, when he was just about starting on another voyage. If you'll pardon me, Mrs. Garland, ma'am, I'll see if there's any Overcombe man here who is going to Budmouth to-day, so that I may get the letter by night-time. I cannot possibly go myself.'
So Mr. Loveday left them for awhile; and as they were so near home Mrs. Garland did not wait on the barrow for him to come back, but walked about with Anne a little time, until they should be disposed to trot down the slope to their own door. They listened to a man who was offering one guinea to receive ten in case Buonaparte should be killed in three months, and to other entertainments of that nature, which at this time were not rare. Once during their peregrination the eyes of the sailor before-mentioned fell upon Anne; but he glanced over her and passed her unheedingly by. Loveday the elder was at this time on the other side of the line, looking for a messenger to the town. At twelve o'clock the review was over, and the King and his family left the hill. The troops then cleared off the field, the spectators followed, and by one o'clock the downs were again bare.
They still spread their grassy surface to the sun as on that beautiful morning not, historically speaking, so very long ago; but the King and his fifteen thousand armed men, the horses, the bands of music, the princesses, the cream-coloured teams--the gorgeous centre-piece, in short, to which the downs were but the mere mount or margin--how entirely have they all passed and gone!--lying scattered about the world as military and other dust, some at Talavera, Albuera, Salamanca, Vittoria, Toulouse, and Waterloo; some in home churchyards; and a few small handfuls in royal vaults.In the afternoon John Loveday, lightened of his trumpet and trappings, appeared at the old mill-house door, and beheld Anne standing at hers. 'I saw you, Miss Garland,' said the soldier gaily. 'Where was I?' said she, smiling. 'On the top of the big mound--to the right of the King.' 'And I saw you; lots of times,' she rejoined. Loveday seemed pleased. 'Did you really take the trouble to find me? That was very good of you.' 'Her eyes followed you everywhere,' said Mrs. Garland from an upper window.
'Of course I looked at the dragoons most,' said Anne, disconcerted. 'And when I looked at them my eyes naturally fell upon the trumpets. I looked at the dragoons generally, no more.'
She did not mean to show any vexation to the trumpet-major, but he fancied otherwise, and stood repressed. The situation was relieved by the arrival of the miller, still looking serious.
'I am very much concerned, John; I did not go to the review for nothing. There's a letter a-waiting for me at Budmouth, and I must get it before bedtime, or I shan't sleep a wink.'
The Conversation In The Crowd
In the afternoon they drove off, John Loveday being nowhere visible. All along the road they passed and were overtaken by vehicles of all descriptions going in the same direction; among them the extraordinary machines which had been invented for the conveyance of troops to any point of the coast on which the enemy should land; they consisted of four boards placed across a sort of trolly, thirty men of the volunteer companies riding on each.
The popular Georgian watering-place was in a paroxysm of gaiety. The town was quite overpowered by the country round, much to the town's delight and profit. The fear of invasion was such that six frigates lay in the roads to ensure the safety of the royal family, and from the regiments of horse and foot quartered at the barracks, or encamped on the hills round about, a picket of a thousand men mounted guard every day in front of Gloucester Lodge, where the King resided. When Anne and her attendant reached this point, which they did on foot, stabling the horse on the outskirts of the town, it was about six o'clock. The King was on the Esplanade, and the soldiers were just marching past to mount guard. The band formed in front of the King, and all the officers saluted as they went by.
Anne now felt herself close to and looking into the stream of recorded history, within whose banks the littlest things are great, and outside which she and the general bulk of the human race were content to live on as an unreckoned, unheeded superfluity.
When she turned from her interested gaze at this scene, there stood John Loveday. She had had a presentiment that he would turn up in this mysterious way. It was marvellous that he could have got there so quickly; but there he was--not looking at the King, or at the crowd, but waiting for the turn of her head.'Trumpet-major, I didn't see you,' said Anne demurely. 'How is it that your regiment is not marching past?' 'We take it by turns, and it is not our turn,' said Loveday.
She wanted to know then if they were afraid that the King would be carried off by the First Consul. Yes, Loveday told her; and his Majesty was rather venturesome. A day or two before he had gone so far to sea that he was nearly caught by some of the enemy's cruisers. 'He is anxious to fight Boney single-handed,' he said.'What a good, brave King!' said Anne.
Loveday seemed anxious to come to more personal matters. 'Will you let me take you round to the other side, where you can see better?' he asked. 'The Queen and the princesses are at the window.'
Anne passively assented. 'David, wait here for me,' she said; 'I shall be back again in a few minutes.'
The trumpet-major then led her off triumphantly, and they skirted the crowd and came round on the side towards the sands. He told her everything he could think of, military and civil, to which Anne returned pretty syllables and parenthetic words about the colour of the sea and the curl of the foam--a way of speaking that moved the soldier's heart even more than long and direct speeches would have done.'And that other thing I asked you?' he ventured to say at last. 'We won't speak of it.' 'You don't dislike me?' 'O no!' she said, gazing at the bathing-machines, digging children, and other common objects of the seashore, as if her interest lay there rather than with him. 'But I am not worthy of the daughter of a genteel professional man-- that's what you mean?'
'There's something more than worthiness required in such cases, you know,' she said, still without calling her mind away from surrounding scenes. 'Ah, there are the Queen and princesses at the window!''Something more?' 'Well, since you will make me speak, I mean the woman ought to love the man.'
The trumpet-major seemed to be less concerned about this than about her supposed superiority. 'If it were all right on that point, would you mind the other?' he asked, like a man who knows he is too persistent, yet who cannot be still.'How can I say, when I don't know? What a pretty chip hat the elder princess wears?' Her companion's general disappointment extended over him almost to his lace and his plume. 'Your mother said, you know, Miss Anne--' 'Yes, that's the worst of it,' she said. 'Let us go back to David; I have seen all I want to see, Mr. Loveday.'
The mass of the people had by this time noticed the Queen and princesses at the window, and raised a cheer, to which the ladies waved their embroidered handkerchiefs. Anne went back towards the pavement with her trumpet-major, whom all the girls envied her, so fine-looking a soldier was he; and not only for that, but because it was well known that he was not a soldier from necessity, but from patriotism, his father having repeatedly offered to set him up in business: his artistic taste in preferring a horse and uniform to a dirty, rumbling flour-mill was admired by all. She, too, had a very nice appearance in her best clothes as she walked along--the sarcenet hat, muslin shawl, and tight-sleeved gown being of the newest Overcombe fashion, that was only about a year old in the adjoining town, and in London three or four. She could not be harsh to Loveday and dismiss him curtly, for his musical pursuits had refined him, educated him, and made him quite poetical. To-day he had been particularly well-mannered and tender; so, instead of answering, 'Never speak to me like this again,' she merely put him off with a 'Let us go back to David.'When they reached the place where they had left him David was gone. Anne was now positively vexed. 'What SHALL I do?' she said. 'He's only gone to drink the King's health,' said Loveday, who had privately given David the money for performing that operation. 'Depend upon it, he'll be back soon.' 'Will you go and find him?' said she, with intense propriety in her looks and tone. 'I will,' said Loveday reluctantly; and he went.
Anne stood still. She could now escape her gallant friend, for, although the distance was long, it was not impossible to walk home. On the other hand, Loveday was a good and sincere fellow, for whom she had almost a brotherly feeling, and she shrank from such a trick. While she stood and mused, scarcely heeding the music, the marching of the soldiers, the King, the dukes, the brilliant staff, the attendants, and the happy groups of people, her eyes fell upon the ground.
Before her she saw a flower lying--a crimson sweet-william--fresh and uninjured. An instinctive wish to save it from destruction by the passengers' feet led her to pick it up; and then, moved by a sudden self-consciousness, she looked around. She was standing before an inn, and from an upper window Festus Derriman was leaning with two or three kindred spirits of his cut and kind. He nodded eagerly, and signified to her that he had thrown the flower.
What should she do? To throw it away would seem stupid, and to keep it was awkward. She held it between her finger and thumb, twirled it round on its axis and twirled it back again, regarding and yet not examining it. Just then she saw the trumpet-major coming back.'I can't find David anywhere,' he said; and his heart was not sorry as he said it.
Anne was still holding out the sweet-william as if about to drop it, and, scarcely knowing what she did under the distressing sense that she was watched, she offered the flower to Loveday.
His face brightened with pleasure as he took it. 'Thank you, indeed,' he said.
'But I'll keep it all the same,' said the innocent soldier, as if he knew a good deal about womankind; and he put the flower carefully inside his jacket, between his white waistcoat and his heart.Festus, seeing this, enlarged himself wrathfully, got hot in the face, rose to his feet, and glared down upon them like a turnip-lantern. 'Let us go away,' said Anne timorously.
'I'll see you safe to your own door, depend upon me,' said Loveday. 'But--I had near forgot--there's father's letter, that he's so anxiously waiting for! Will you come with me to the post-office? Then I'll take you straight home.'Anne, expecting Festus to pounce down every minute, was glad to be off anywhere; so she accepted the suggestion, and they went along the parade together. Loveday set this down as a proof of Anne's relenting. Thus in joyful spirits he entered the office, paid the postage, and received the letter.
'It is from Bob, after all!' he said. 'Father told me to read it at once, in case of bad news. Ask your pardon for keeping you a moment.' He broke the seal and read, Anne standing silently by.'He is coming home TO BE MARRIED,' said the trumpet-major, without looking up.
Anne did not answer. The blood swept impetuously up her face at his words, and as suddenly went away again, leaving her rather paler than before. She disguised her agitation and then overcame it, Loveday observing nothing of this emotional performance.'As far as I can understand he will be here Saturday,' he said. 'Indeed!' said Anne quite calmly. 'And who is he going to marry?' 'That I don't know,' said John, turning the letter about. 'The woman is a stranger.'
At this moment the miller entered the office hastily. 'Come, John,' he cried, 'I have been waiting and waiting for that there letter till I was nigh crazy!'
John briefly explained the news, and when his father had recovered from his astonishment, taken off his hat, and wiped the exact line where his forehead joined his hair, he walked with Anne up the street, leaving John to return alone. The miller was so absorbed in his mental perspective of Bob's marriage, that he saw nothing of the gaieties they passed through; and Anne seemed also so much impressed by the same intelligence, that she crossed before the inn occupied by Festus without showing a recollection of his presence there.
Later In The Evening Of The Same Day
When they reached home the sun was going down. It had already been noised abroad that miller Loveday had received a letter, and, his cart having been heard coming up the lane, the population of Overcombe drew down towards the mill as soon as he had gone indoors- -a sudden flash of brightness from the window showing that he had struck such an early light as nothing but the immediate deciphering of literature could require. Letters were matters of public moment, and everybody in the parish had an interest in the reading of those rare documents; so that when the miller had placed the candle, slanted himself, and called in Mrs. Garland to have her opinion on the meaning of any hieroglyphics that he might encounter in his course, he found that he was to be additionally assisted by the opinions of the other neighbours, whose persons appeared in the doorway, partly covering each other like a hand of cards, yet each showing a large enough piece of himself for identification. To pass the time while they were arranging themselves, the miller adopted his usual way of filling up casual intervals, that of snuffing the candle.'We heard you had got a letter, Maister Loveday,' they said.
'Yes; "Southampton, the twelfth of August, dear father,"' said Loveday; and they were as silent as relations at the reading of a will. Anne, for whom the letter had a singular fascination, came in with her mother and sat down.
Bob stated in his own way that having, since landing, taken into consideration his father's wish that he should renounce a seafaring life and become a partner in the mill, he had decided to agree to the proposal; and with that object in view he would return to Overcombe in three days from the time of writing.
He then said incidentally that since his voyage he had been in lodgings at Southampton, and during that time had become acquainted with a lovely and virtuous young maiden, in whom he found the exact qualities necessary to his happiness. Having known this lady for the full space of a fortnight he had had ample opportunities of studying her character, and, being struck with the recollection that, if there was one thing more than another necessary in a mill which had no mistress, it was somebody who could play that part with grace and dignity, he had asked Miss Matilda Johnson to be his wife. In her kindness she, though sacrificing far better prospects, had agreed; and he could not but regard it as a happy chance that he should have found at the nick of time such a woman to adorn his home, whose innocence was as stunning as her beauty. Without much ado, therefore, he and she had arranged to be married at once, and at Overcombe, that his father might not be deprived of the pleasures of the wedding feast. She had kindly consented to follow him by land in the course of a few days, and to live in the house as their guest for the week or so previous to the ceremony.
''Tis a proper good letter,' said Mrs. Comfort from the background. 'I never heerd true love better put out of hand in my life; and they seem 'nation fond of one another.'
'Yes, sure, I hope 'tis,' said Loveday, without, however, showing any great hurry to burst into the frantic form of fatherly joy which the event should naturally have produced, seeming more disposed to let off his feelings by examining thoroughly into the fibres of the letter-paper.
'I was five years a-courting my wife,' he presently remarked. 'But folks were slower about everything in them days. Well, since she's coming we must make her welcome. Did any of ye catch by my reading which day it is he means? What with making out the penmanship, my mind was drawn off from the sense here and there.''He says in three days,' said Mrs. Garland. 'The date of the letter will fix it.'
On examination it was found that the day appointed was the one nearly expired; at which the miller jumped up and said, 'Then he'll be here before bedtime. I didn't gather till now that he was coming afore Saturday. Why, he may drop in this very minute!'
He had scarcely spoken when footsteps were heard coming along the front, and they presently halted at the door. Loveday pushed through the neighbours and rushed out; and, seeing in the passage a form which obscured the declining light, the miller seized hold of him, saying, 'O my dear Bob; then you are come!'
'Scrounch it all, miller, don't quite pull my poor shoulder out of joint! Whatever is the matter?' said the new-comer, trying to release himself from Loveday's grasp of affection. It was Uncle Benjy.
'Thought 'twas my son!' faltered the miller, sinking back upon the toes of the neighbours who had closely followed him into the entry. 'Well, come in, Mr. Derriman, and make yerself at home. Why, you haven't been here for years! Whatever has made you come now, sir, of all times in the world?''Is he in there with ye?' whispered the farmer with misgiving. 'Who?' 'My nephew, after that maid that he's so mighty smit with?'
'O no; he never calls here.' Farmer Derriman breathed a breath of relief. 'Well, I've called to tell ye,' he said, 'that there's more news of the French. We shall have 'em here this month as sure as a gun. The gunboats be all ready--near two thousand of 'em--and the whole army is at Boulogne. And, miller, I know ye to be an honest man.'Loveday did not say nay. 'Neighbour Loveday, I know ye to be an honest man,' repeated the old squireen. 'Can I speak to ye alone?'
As the house was full, Loveday took him into the garden, all the while upon tenter-hooks, not lest Buonaparte should appear in their midst, but lest Bob should come whilst he was not there to receive him. When they had got into a corner Uncle Benjy said, 'Miller, what with the French, and what with my nephew Festus, I assure ye my life is nothing but wherrit from morning to night. Miller Loveday, you are an honest man.'Loveday nodded.
'Well, I've come to ask a favour--to ask if you will take charge of my few poor title-deeds and documents and suchlike, while I am away from home next week, lest anything should befall me, and they should be stole away by Boney or Festus, and I should have nothing left in the wide world? I can trust neither banks nor lawyers in these terrible times; and I am come to you.'
Loveday after some hesitation agreed to take care of anything that Derriman should bring, whereupon the farmer said he would call with the parchments and papers alluded to in the course of a week. Derriman then went away by the garden gate, mounted his pony, which had been tethered outside, and rode on till his form was lost in the shades.
The miller rejoined his friends, and found that in the meantime John had arrived. John informed the company that after parting from his father and Anne he had rambled to the harbour, and discovered the Pewit by the quay. On inquiry he had learnt that she came in at eleven o'clock, and that Bob had gone ashore.'We'll go and meet him,' said the miller. ''Tis still light out of doors.'
So, as the dew rose from the meads and formed fleeces in the hollows, Loveday and his friends and neighbours strolled out, and loitered by the stiles which hampered the footpath from Overcombe to the high road at intervals of a hundred yards. John Loveday, being obliged to return to camp, was unable to accompany them, but Widow Garland thought proper to fall in with the procession. When she had put on her bonnet she called to her daughter. Anne said from upstairs that she was coming in a minute; and her mother walked on without her.
What was Anne doing? Having hastily unlocked a receptacle for emotional objects of small size, she took thence the little folded paper with which we have already become acquainted, and, striking a light from her private tinder-box, she held the paper, and curl of hair it contained, in the candle till they were burnt. Then she put on her hat and followed her mother and the rest of them across the moist grey fields, cheerfully singing in an undertone as she went, to assure herself of her indifference to circumstances.
'Captain' Bob Loveday Of The Merchant Service
While Loveday and his neighbours were thus rambling forth, full of expectancy, some of them, including Anne in the rear, heard the crackling of light wheels along the curved lane to which the path was the chord. At once Anne thought, 'Perhaps that's he, and we are missing him.' But recent events were not of a kind to induce her to say anything; and the others of the company did not reflect on the sound.
Had they gone across to the hedge which hid the lane, and looked through it, they would have seen a light cart driven by a boy, beside whom was seated a seafaring man, apparently of good standing in the merchant service, with his feet outside on the shaft. The vehicle went over the main bridge, turned in upon the other bridge at the tail of the mill, and halted by the door. The sailor alighted, showing himself to be a well-shaped, active, and fine young man, with a bright eye, an anonymous nose, and of such a rich complexion by exposure to ripening suns that he might have been some connexion of the foreigner who calls his likeness the Portrait of a Gentleman in galleries of the Old Masters. Yet in spite of this, and though Bob Loveday had been all over the world from Cape Horn to Pekin, and from India's coral strand to the White Sea, the most conspicuous of all the marks that he had brought back with him was an increased resemblance to his mother, who had lain all the time beneath Overcombe church wall.Captain Loveday tried the house door; finding this locked he went to the mill door: this was locked also, the mill being stopped for the night. 'They are not at home,' he said to the boy. 'But never mind that. Just help to unload the things and then I'll pay you, and you can drive off home.'
The cart was unloaded, and the boy was dismissed, thanking the sailor profusely for the payment rendered. Then Bob Loveday, finding that he had still some leisure on his hands, looked musingly east, west, north, south, and nadir; after which he bestirred himself by carrying his goods, article by article, round to the back door, out of the way of casual passers. This done, he walked round the mill in a more regardful attitude, and surveyed its familiar features one by one--the panes of the grinding-room, now as heretofore clouded with flour as with stale hoar-frost; the meal lodged in the corners of the windowsills, forming a soil in which lichens grew without ever getting any bigger, as they had done since his smallest infancy; the mosses on the plinth towards the river, reaching as high as the capillary power of the walls would fetch up moisture for their nourishment, and the penned mill-pond, now as ever on the point of overflowing into the garden. Everything was the same.
When he had had enough of this it occurred to Loveday that he might get into the house in spite of the locked doors; and by entering the garden, placing a pole from the fork of an apple-tree to the window-sill of a bedroom on that side, and climbing across like a Barbary ape, he entered the window and stepped down inside. There was something anomalous in being close to the familiar furniture without having first seen his father, and its silent, impassive shine was not cheering; it was as if his relations were all dead, and only their tables and chests of drawers left to greet him. He went downstairs and seated himself in the dark parlour. Finding this place, too, rather solitary, and the tick of the invisible clock preternaturally loud, he unearthed the tinder-box, obtained a light, and set about making the house comfortable for his father's return, divining that the miller had gone out to meet him by the wrong road.
Robert's interest in this work increased as he proceeded, and he bustled round and round the kitchen as lightly as a girl. David, the indoor factotum, having lost himself among the quart pots of Budmouth, there had been nobody left here to prepare supper, and Bob had it all to himself. In a short time a fire blazed up the chimney, a tablecloth was found, the plates were clapped down, and a search made for what provisions the house afforded, which, in addition to various meats, included some fresh eggs of the elongated shape that produces cockerels when hatched, and had been set aside on that account for putting under the next broody hen.
A more reckless cracking of eggs than that which now went on had never been known in Overcombe since the last large christening; and as Loveday gashed one on the side, another at the end, another longways, and another diagonally, he acquired adroitness by practice, and at last made every son of a hen of them fall into two hemispheres as neatly as if it opened by a hinge. From eggs he proceeded to ham, and from ham to kidneys, the result being a brilliant fry.
Not to be tempted to fall to before his father came back, the returned navigator emptied the whole into a dish, laid a plate over the top, his coat over the plate, and his hat over his coat. Thus completely stopping in the appetizing smell, he sat down to await events. He was relieved from the tediousness of doing this by hearing voices outside; and in a minute his father entered.'Glad to welcome ye home, father,' said Bob. 'And supper is just ready.' 'Lard, lard--why, Captain Bob's here!' said Mrs. Garland.
'And we've been out waiting to meet thee!' said the miller, as he entered the room, followed by representatives of the houses of Cripplestraw, Comfort, Mitchell, Beach, and Snooks, together with some small beginnings of Fencible Tremlett's posterity. In the rear came David, and quite in the vanishing-point of the composition, Anne the fair.'I drove over; and so was forced to come by the road,' said Bob. 'And we went across the fields, thinking you'd walk,' said his father.
'I should have been here this morning; but not so much as a wheelbarrow could I get for my traps; everything was gone to the review. So I went too, thinking I might meet you there. I was then obliged to return to the harbour for the luggage.'
Then there was a welcoming of Captain Bob by pulling out his arms like drawers and shutting them again, smacking him on the back as if he were choking, holding him at arm's length as if he were of too large type to read close. All which persecution Bob bore with a wide, genial smile that was shaken into fragments and scattered promiscuously among the spectators.
'Never mind--I am not tired--I have been here ever so long,' said Bob. 'And I--' But the chair having been placed behind him, and a smart touch in the hollow of a person's knee by the edge of that piece of furniture having a tendency to make the person sit without further argument, Bob sank down dumb, and the others drew up other chairs at a convenient nearness for easy analytic vision and the subtler forms of good fellowship. The miller went about saying, 'David, the nine best glasses from the corner cupboard!'-'David, the corkscrew!'--'David, whisk the tail of thy smock-frock round the inside of these quart pots afore you draw drink in 'em--they be an inch thick in dust!'--'David, lower that chimney-crook a couple of notches that the flame may touch the bottom of the kettle, and light three more of the largest candles!'--'If you can't get the cork out of the jar, David, bore a hole in the tub of Hollands that's buried under the scroff in the fuel-house; d'ye hear?--Dan Brown left en there yesterday as a return for the little porker I gied en.'
When they had all had a thimbleful round, and the superfluous neighbours had reluctantly departed, one by one, the inmates gave their minds to the supper, which David had begun to serve up.'What be you rolling back the tablecloth for, David?' said the miller. 'Maister Bob have put down one of the under sheets by mistake, and I thought you might not like it, sir, as there's ladies present!' 'Faith, 'twas the first thing that came to hand,' said Robert. 'It seemed a tablecloth to me.' 'Never mind--don't pull off the things now he's laid 'em down--let it bide,' said the miller. 'But where's Widow Garland and Maidy Anne?' 'They were here but a minute ago,' said David. 'Depend upon it they have slinked off 'cause they be shy.' The miller at once went round to ask them to come back and sup with him; and while he was gone David told Bob in confidence what an excellent place he had for an old man.
'Yes, Cap'n Bob, as I suppose I must call ye; I've worked for yer father these eight-andthirty years, and we have always got on very well together. Trusts me with all the keys, lends me his sleeve-waistcoat, and leaves the house entirely to me. Widow Garland next door, too, is just the same with me, and treats me as if I was her own child.' 'She must have married young to make you that, David.''Yes, yes--I'm years older than she. 'Tis only my common way of speaking.'
Mrs. Garland would not come in to supper, and the meal proceeded without her, Bob recommending to his father the dish he had cooked, in the manner of a householder to a stranger just come. The miller was anxious to know more about his son's plans for the future, but would not for the present interrupt his eating, looking up from his own plate to appreciate Bob's travelled way of putting English victuals out of sight, as he would have looked at a mill on improved principles.
David had only just got the table clear, and set the plates in a row under the bakehouse table for the cats to lick, when the door was hastily opened, and Mrs. Garland came in, looking concerned.
'I have been waiting to hear the plates removed to tell you how frightened we are at something we hear at the back-door. It seems like robbers muttering; but when I look out there's nobody there!''This must be seen to,' said the miller, rising promptly. 'David, light the middle-sized lantern. I'll go and search the garden.' 'And I'll go too,' said his son, taking up a cudgel. 'Lucky I've come home just in time!'
They went out stealthily, followed by the widow and Anne, who had been afraid to stay alone in the house under the circumstances. No sooner were they beyond the door when, sure enough, there was the muttering almost close at hand, and low upon the ground, as from persons lying down in hiding.'Bless my heart!' said Bob, striking his head as though it were some enemy's: 'why, 'tis my luggage. I'd quite forgot it!' 'What!' asked his father.
'My luggage. Really, if it hadn't been for Mrs. Garland it would have stayed there all night, and they, poor things! would have been starved. I've got all sorts of articles for ye. You go inside, and I'll bring 'em in. 'Tis parrots that you hear a muttering, Mrs. Garland. You needn't be afraid any more.''Parrots?' said the miller. 'Well, I'm glad 'tis no worse. But how couldst forget so, Bob?'
The packages were taken in by David and Bob, and the first unfastened were three, wrapped in cloths, which being stripped off revealed three cages, with a gorgeous parrot in each.
'This one is for you, father, to hang up outside the door, and amuse us,' said Bob. 'He'll talk very well, but he's sleepy to-night. This other one I brought along for any neighbour that would like to have him. His colours are not so bright; but 'tis a good bird. If you would like to have him you are welcome to him,' he said, turning to Anne, who had been tempted forward by the birds. 'You have hardly spoken yet, Miss Anne, but I recollect you very well. How much taller you have got, to be sure!'
Anne said she was much obliged, but did not know what she could do with such a present. Mrs. Garland accepted it for her, and the sailor went on--'Now this other bird I hardly know what to do with; but I dare say he'll come in for something or other.''He is by far the prettiest,' said the widow. 'I would rather have it than the other, if you don't mind.'
'Yes,' said Bob, with embarrassment. 'But the fact is, that bird will hardly do for ye, ma'am. He's a hard swearer, to tell the truth; and I am afraid he's too old to be broken of it.''How dreadful!' said Mrs. Garland. 'We could keep him in the mill,' suggested the miller. 'It won't matter about the grinder hearing him, for he can't learn to cuss worse than he do already!' 'The grinder shall have him, then,' said Bob. 'The one I have given you, ma'am, has no harm in him at all. You might take him to church o' Sundays as far as that goes.'
The sailor now untied a small wooden box about a foot square, perforated with holes. 'Here are two marmosets,' he continued. 'You can't see them tonight; but they are beauties--the tufted sort.''What's a marmoset?' said the miller. 'O, a little kind of monkey. They bite strangers rather hard, but you'll soon get used to 'em.' 'They are wrapped up in something, I declare,' said Mrs. Garland, peeping in through a chink.
'Yes, that's my flannel shirt,' said Bob apologetically. 'They suffer terribly from cold in this climate, poor things! and I had nothing better to give them. Well, now, in this next box I've got things of different sorts.'
The latter was a regular seaman's chest, and out of it he produced shells of many sizes and colours, carved ivories, queer little caskets, gorgeous feathers, and several silk handkerchiefs, which articles were spread out upon all the available tables and chairs till the house began to look like a bazaar.
'What a lovely shawl!' exclaimed Widow Garland, in her interest forestalling the regular exhibition by looking into the box at what was coming.
'O yes,' said the mate, pulling out a couple of the most bewitching shawls that eyes ever saw. 'One of these I am going to give to that young lady I am shortly to be married to, you know, Mrs. Garland. Has father told you about it? Matilda Johnson, of Southampton, that's her name.''Yes, we know all about it,' said the widow. 'Well, I shall give one of these shawls to her--because, of course, I ought to.' 'Of course,' said she. 'But the other one I've got no use for at all; and,' he continued, looking round, 'will you have it, Miss Anne? You refused the parrot, and you ought not to refuse this.' 'Thank you,' said Anne calmly, but much distressed; 'but really I don't want it, and couldn't take it.' 'But do have it!' said Bob in hurt tones, Mrs. Garland being all the while on tenter-hooks lest Anne should persist in her absurd refusal.
'Why, there's another reason why you ought to!' said he, his face lighting up with recollections. 'It never came into my head till this moment that I used to be your beau in a humble sort of way. Faith, so I did, and we used to meet at places sometimes, didn't we- that is, when you were not too proud; and once I gave you, or somebody else, a bit of my hair in fun.''It was somebody else,' said Anne quickly.
'Ah, perhaps it was,' said Bob innocently. 'But it was you I used to meet, or try to, I am sure. Well, I've never thought of that boyish time for years till this minute! I am sure you ought to accept some one gift, dear, out of compliment to those old times!'Anne drew back and shook her head, for she would not trust her voice.
'Well, Mrs. Garland, then you shall have it,' said Bob, tossing the shawl to that ready receiver. 'If you don't, upon my life I will throw it out to the first beggar I see. Now, here's a parcel of cap ribbons of the splendidest sort I could get. Have these--do, Anne!''Yes, do,' said Mrs. Garland.
'I promised them to Matilda,' continued Bob; 'but I am sure she won't want 'em, as she has got some of her own: and I would as soon see them upon your head, my dear, as upon hers.'
'I think you had better keep them for your bride if you have promised them to her,' said Mrs. Garland mildly.
'It wasn't exactly a promise. I just said, "Til, there's some cap ribbons in my box, if you would like to have them." But she's got enough things already for any bride in creation. Anne, now you shall have 'em--upon my soul you shall--or I'll fling them down the milltail!'
Anne had meant to be perfectly firm in refusing everything, for reasons obvious even to that poor waif, the meanest capacity; but when it came to this point she was absolutely compelled to give in, and reluctantly received the cap ribbons in her arms, blushing fitfully, and with her lip trembling in a motion which she tried to exhibit as a smile.'What would Tilly say if she knew!' said the miller slily.
'Yes, indeed--and it is wrong of him!' Anne instantly cried, tears running down her face as she threw the parcel of ribbons on the floor. 'You'd better bestow your gifts where you bestow your l--l-- love, Mr. Loveday--that's what I say!' And Anne turned her back and went away.'I'll take them for her,' said Mrs. Garland, quickly picking up the parcel.
'Now that's a pity,' said Bob, looking regretfully after Anne. 'I didn't remember that she was a quick-tempered sort of girl at all. Tell her, Mrs. Garland, that I ask her pardon. But of course I didn't know she was too proud to accept a little present--how should I? Upon my life if it wasn't for Matilda I'd--Well, that can't be, of course.''What's this?' said Mrs. Garland, touching with her foot a large package that had been laid down by Bob unseen. 'That's a bit of baccy for myself,' said Robert meekly.
The examination of presents at last ended, and the two families parted for the night. When they were alone, Mrs. Garland said to Anne, 'What a close girl you are! I am sure I never knew that Bob Loveday and you had walked together: you must have been mere children.'
'O yes--so we were,' said Anne, now quite recovered. 'It was when we first came here, about a year after father died. We did not walk together in any regular way. You know I have never thought the Lovedays high enough for me. It was only just--nothing at all, and I had almost forgotten it.'It is to be hoped that somebody's sins were forgiven her that night before she went to bed. When Bob and his father were left alone, the miller said, 'Well, Robert, about this young woman of thine--Matilda what's her name?' 'Yes, father--Matilda Johnson. I was just going to tell ye about her.' The miller nodded, and sipped his mug.
'Well, she is an excellent body,' continued Bob; 'that can truly be said--a real charmer, you know--a nice good comely young woman, a miracle of genteel breeding, you know, and all that. She can throw her hair into the nicest curls, and she's got splendid gowns and headclothes. In short, you might call her a land mermaid. She'll make such a first-rate wife as there never was.'
'No doubt she will,' said the miller; 'for I have never known thee wanting in sense in a jineral way.' He turned his cup round on its axis till the handle had travelled a complete circle. 'How long did you say in your letter that you had known her?''A fortnight.' 'Not VERY long.'
'It don't sound long, 'tis true; and 'twas really longer--'twas fifteen days and a quarter. But hang it, father, I could see in the twinkling of an eye that the girl would do. I know a woman well enough when I see her--I ought to, indeed, having been so much about the world. Now, for instance, there's Widow Garland and her daughter. The girl is a nice little thing; but the old woman--O no!' Bob shook his head.'What of her?' said his father, slightly shifting in his chair.
'Well, she's, she's--I mean, I should never have chose her, you know. She's of a nice disposition, and young for a widow with a grown-up daughter; but if all the men had been like me she would never have had a husband. I like her in some respects; but she's a style of beauty I don't care for.'
'O, if 'tis only looks you are thinking of,' said the miller, much relieved, 'there's nothing to be said, of course. Though there's many a duchess worse-looking, if it comes to argument, as you would find, my son,' he added, with a sense of having been mollified too soon.The mate's thoughts were elsewhere by this time.
'As to my marrying Matilda, thinks I, here's one of the very genteelest sort, and I may as well do the job at once. So I chose her. She's a dear girl; there's nobody like her, search where you will.''How many did you choose her out from?' inquired his father. 'Well, she was the only young woman I happened to know in Southampton, that's true. But what of that? It would have been all the same if I had known a hundred.' 'Her father is in business near the docks, I suppose?' 'Well, no. In short, I didn't see her father.' 'Her mother?'
'Her mother? No, I didn't. I think her mother is dead; but she has got a very rich aunt living at Melchester. I didn't see her aunt, because there wasn't time to go; but of course we shall know her when we are married.''Yes, yes, of course,' said the miller, trying to feel quite satisfied. 'And she will soon be here?'
'Ay, she's coming soon,' said Bob. 'She has gone to this aunt's at Melchester to get her things packed, and suchlike, or she would have come with me. I am going to meet the coach at the King's Arms, Casterbridge, on Sunday, at one o'clock. To show what a capital sort of wife she'll be, I may tell you that she wanted to come by the Mercury, because 'tis a little cheaper than the other. But I said, "For once in your life do it well, and come by the Royal Mail, and I'll pay." I can have the pony and trap to fetch her, I suppose, as 'tis too far for her to walk?''Of course you can, Bob, or anything else. And I'll do all I can to give you a good wedding feast.'
They Make Ready For The Illustrious Stranger
Preparations for Matilda's welcome, and for the event which was to follow, at once occupied the attention of the mill. The miller and his man had but dim notions of housewifery on any large scale; so the great wedding cleaning was kindly supervised by Mrs. Garland, Bob being mostly away during the day with his brother, the trumpet-major, on various errands, one of which was to buy paint and varnish for the gig that Matilda was to be fetched in, which he had determined to decorate with his own hands.
By the widow's direction the old familiar incrustation of shining dirt, imprinted along the back of the settle by the heads of countless jolly sitters, was scrubbed and scraped away; the brown circle round the nail whereon the miller hung his hat, stained by the brim in wet weather, was whitened over; the tawny smudges of bygone shoulders in the passage were removed without regard to a certain genial and historical value which they had acquired. The face of the clock, coated with verdigris as thick as a diachylon plaister, was rubbed till the figures emerged into day; while, inside the case of the same chronometer, the cobwebs that formed triangular hammocks, which the pendulum could hardly wade through, were cleared away at one swoop.
Mrs. Garland also assisted at the invasion of worm-eaten cupboards, where layers of ancient smells lingered on in the stagnant air, and recalled to the reflective nose the many good things that had been kept there. The upper floors were scrubbed with such abundance of water that the old-established death-watches, wood-lice, and flour-worms were all drowned, the suds trickling down into the room below in so lively and novel a manner as to convey the romantic notion that the miller lived in a cave with dripping stalactites.
They moved what had never been moved before--the oak coffer, containing the miller's wardrobe--a tremendous weight, what with its locks, hinges, nails, dirt, framework, and the hard stratification of old jackets, waistcoats, and knee-breeches at the bottom, never disturbed since the miller's wife died, and half pulverized by the moths, whose flattened skeletons lay amid the mass in thousands.
'It fairly makes my back open and shut!' said Loveday, as, in obedience to Mrs. Garland's direction, he lifted one corner, the grinder and David assisting at the others. 'All together: speak when ye be going to heave. Now!'
The pot covers and skimmers were brought to such a state that, on examining them, the beholder was not conscious of utensils, but of his own face in a condition of hideous elasticity. The broken clock-line was mended, the kettles rocked, the creeper nailed up, and a new handle put to the warming-pan. The large household lantern was cleaned out, after three years of uninterrupted accumulation, the operation yielding a conglomerate of candle-snuffs, candle-ends, remains of matches, lamp-black, and eleven ounces and a half of good grease--invaluable as dubbing for skitty boots and ointment for cart-wheels. Everybody said that the mill residence had not been so thoroughly scoured for twenty years. The miller and David looked on with a sort of awe tempered by gratitude, tacitly admitting by their gaze that this was beyond what they had ever thought of. Mrs. Garland supervised all with disinterested benevolence. It would never have done, she said, for his future daughter-in-law to see the house in its original state. She would have taken a dislike to him, and perhaps to Bob likewise.
'Why don't ye come and live here with me, and then you would be able to see to it at all times?' said the miller as she bustled about again. To which she answered that she was considering the matter, and might in good time. He had previously informed her that his plan was to put Bob and his wife in the part of the house that she, Mrs. Garland, occupied, as soon as she chose to enter his, which relieved her of any fear of being incommoded by Matilda.
The cooking for the wedding festivities was on a proportionate scale of thoroughness. They killed the four supernumerary chickens that had just begun to crow, and the little curly-tailed barrow pig, in preference to the sow; not having been put up fattening for more than five weeks it was excellent small meat, and therefore more delicate and likely to suit a town-bred lady's taste than the large one, which, having reached the weight of fourteen score, might have been a little gross to a cultured palate. There were also provided a cold chine, stuffed veal, and two pigeon pies. Also thirty rings of black-pot, a dozen of white-pot, and ten knots of tender and well-washed chitterlings, cooked plain in case she should like a change.
As additional reserves there were sweetbreads, and five milts, sewed up at one side in the form of a chrysalis, and stuffed with thyme, sage, parsley, mint, groats, rice, milk, chopped egg, and other ingredients. They were afterwards roasted before a slow fire, and eaten hot.
The business of chopping so many herbs for the various stuffings was found to be aching work for women; and David, the miller, the grinder, and the grinder's boy being fully occupied in their proper branches, and Bob being very busy painting the gig and touching up the harness, Loveday called in a friendly dragoon of John's regiment who was passing by, and he, being a muscular man, willingly chopped all the afternoon for a quart of strong, judiciously administered, and all other victuals found, taking off his jacket and gloves, rolling up his shirt-sleeves and unfastening his collar in an honourable and energetic way.
All windfalls and maggot-cored codlins were excluded from the apple pies; and as there was no known dish large enough for the purpose, the puddings were stirred up in the milking-pail, and boiled in the three-legged bell-metal crock, of great weight and antiquity, which every travelling tinker for the previous thirty years had tapped with his stick, coveted, made a bid for, and often attempted to steal.
In the liquor line Loveday laid in an ample barrel of Casterbridge 'strong beer.' This renowned drink--now almost as much a thing of the past as Falstaff's favourite beverage-was not only well calculated to win the hearts of soldiers blown dry and dusty by residence in tents on a hill-top, but of any wayfarer whatever in that land. It was of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset; free from streakiness of taste; but, finally, rather heady. The masses worshipped it, the minor gentry loved it more than wine, and by the most illustrious county families it was not despised. Anybody brought up for being drunk and disorderly in the streets of its natal borough, had only to prove that he was a stranger to the place and its liquor to be honourably dismissed by the magistrates, as one overtaken in a fault that no man could guard against who entered the town unawares.
In addition, Mr. Loveday also tapped a hogshead of fine cider that he had had mellowing in the house for several months, having bought it of an honest down-country man, who did not colour, for any special occasion like the present. It had been pressed from fruit judiciously chosen by an old hand--Horner and Cleeves apple for the body, a few TomPutts for colour, and just a dash of Old Five-corners for sparkle--a selection originally made to please the palate of a well-known temperate earl who was a regular ciderdrinker, and lived to be eighty-eight.
On the morning of the Sunday appointed for her coming Captain Bob Loveday set out to meet his bride. He had been all the week engaged in painting the gig, assisted by his brother at odd times, and it now appeared of a gorgeous yellow, with blue streaks, and tassels at the corners, and red wheels outlined with a darker shade. He put in the pony at half-past eleven, Anne looking at him from the door as he packed himself into the vehicle and drove off. There may be young women who look out at young men driving to meet their brides as Anne looked at Captain Bob, and yet are quite indifferent to the circumstances; but they are not often met with.
So much dust had been raised on the highway by traffic resulting from the presence of the Court at the town further on, that brambles hanging from the fence, and giving a friendly scratch to the wanderer's face, were dingy as church cobwebs; and the grass on the margin had assumed a paper-shaving hue. Bob's father had wished him to take David, lest, from want of recent experience at the whip, he should meet with any mishap; but, picturing to himself the awkwardness of three in such circumstances, Bob would not hear of this; and nothing more serious happened to his driving than that the wheel-marks formed two serpentine lines along the road during the first mile or two, before he had got his hand in, and that the horse shied at a milestone, a piece of paper, a sleeping tramp, and a wheelbarrow, just to make use of the opportunity of being in bad hands.
He entered Casterbridge between twelve and one, and, putting up at the Old Greyhound, walked on to the Bow. Here, rather dusty on the ledges of his clothes, he stood and waited while the people in their best summer dresses poured out of the three churches round him. When they had all gone, and a smell of cinders and gravy had spread down the ancient high-street, and the pie-dishes from adjacent bakehouses had all travelled past, he saw the mail coach rise above the arch of Grey's Bridge, a quarter of a mile distant, surmounted by swaying knobs, which proved to be the heads of the outside travellers.
'That's the way for a man's bride to come to him,' said Robert to himself with a feeling of poetry; and as the horn sounded and the horses clattered up the street he walked down to the inn. The knot of hostlers and inn-servants had gathered, the horses were dragged from the vehicle, and the passengers for Casterbridge began to descend. Captain Bob eyed them over, looked inside, looked outside again; to his disappointment Matilda was not there, nor her boxes, nor anything that was hers. Neither coachman nor guard had seen or heard of such a person at Melchester; and Bob walked slowly away.
Depressed by forebodings to an extent which took away nearly a third of his appetite, he sat down in the parlour of the Old Greyhound to a slice from the family joint of the landlord. This gentleman, who dined in his shirt-sleeves, partly because it was August, and partly from a sense that they would not be so fit for public view further on in the week, suggested that Bob should wait till three or four that afternoon, when the roadwaggon would arrive, as the lost lady might have preferred that mode of conveyance; and when Bob appeared rather hurt at the suggestion, the landlord's wife assured him, as a woman who knew good life, that many genteel persons travelled in that way during the present high price of provisions. Loveday, who knew little of travelling by land, readily accepted her assurance and resolved to wait.
Wandering up and down the pavement, or leaning against some hot wall between the waggon-office and the corner of the street above, he passed the time away. It was a still, sunny, drowsy afternoon, and scarcely a soul was visible in the length and breadth of the street. The office was not far from All Saints' Church, and the church-windows being open, he could hear the afternoon service from where he lingered as distinctly as if he had been one of the congregation. Thus he was mentally conducted through the Psalms, through the first and second lessons, through the burst of fiddles and clarionets which announced the evening-hymn, and well into the sermon, before any signs of the waggon could be seen upon the London road.
The afternoon sermons at this church being of a dry and metaphysical nature at that date, it was by a special providence that the waggon-office was placed near the ancient fabric, so that whenever the Sunday waggon was late, which it always was in hot weather, in cold weather, in wet weather, and in weather of almost every other sort, the rattle, dismounting, and swearing outside completely drowned the parson's voice within, and sustained the flagging interest of the congregation at precisely the right moment. No sooner did the charity children begin to writhe on their benches, and adult snores grow audible, than the waggon arrived.
Captain Loveday felt a kind of sinking in his poetry at the possibility of her for whom they had made such preparations being in the slow, unwieldy vehicle which crunched its way towards him; but he would not give in to the weakness. Neither would he walk down the street to meet the waggon, lest she should not be there. At last the broad wheels drew up against the kerb, the waggoner with his white smock-frock, and whip as long as a fishing-line, descended from the pony on which he rode alongside, and the six broadchested horses backed from their collars and shook themselves. In another moment something showed forth, and he knew that Matilda was there.
Bob felt three cheers rise within him as she stepped down; but it being Sunday he did not utter them. In dress, Miss Johnson passed his expectations--a green and white gown, with long, tight sleeves, a green silk handkerchief round her neck and crossed in front, a green parasol, and green gloves. It was strange enough to see this verdant caterpillar turn out of a road-waggon, and gracefully shake herself free from the bits of straw and fluff which would usually gather on the raiment of the grandest travellers by that vehicle.
'But, my dear Matilda,' said Bob, when he had kissed her three times with much publicity--the practical step he had determined on seeming to demand that these things should no longer be done in a corner-- 'my dear Matilda, why didn't you come by the coach, having the money for't and all?''That's my scrimping!' said Matilda in a delightful gush. 'I know you won't be offended when you know I did it to save against a rainy day!'
Bob, of course, was not offended, though the glory of meeting her had been less; and even if vexation were possible, it would have been out of place to say so. Still, he would have experienced no little surprise had he learnt the real reason of his Matilda's change of plan. That angel had, in short, so wildly spent Bob's and her own money in the adornment of her person before setting out, that she found herself without a sufficient margin for her fare by coach, and had scrimped from sheer necessity,
'Well, I have got the trap out at the Greyhound,' said Bob. 'I don't know whether it will hold your luggage and us too; but it looked more respectable than the waggon on a Sunday, and if there's not room for the boxes I can walk alongside.'
'I think there will be room,' said Miss Johnson mildly. And it was soon very evident that she spoke the truth; for when her property was deposited on the pavement, it consisted of a trunk about eighteen inches long, and nothing more.'O--that's all!' said Captain Loveday, surprised. 'That's all,' said the young woman assuringly. 'I didn't want to give trouble, you know, and what I have besides I have left at my aunt's.' 'Yes, of course,' he answered readily. 'And as it's no bigger, I can carry it in my hand to the inn, and so it will be no trouble at all.'
He caught up the little box, and they went side by side to the Greyhound; and in ten minutes they were trotting up the Southern Road.
Bob did not hurry the horse, there being many things to say and hear, for which the present situation was admirably suited. The sun shone occasionally into Matilda's face as they drove on, its rays picking out all her features to a great nicety. Her eyes would have been called brown, but they were really eel-colour, like many other nice brown eyes; they were well-shaped and rather bright, though they had more of a broad shine than a sparkle. She had a firm, sufficient nose, which seemed to say of itself that it was good as noses go. She had rather a picturesque way of wrapping her upper in her lower lip, so that the red of the latter showed strongly. Whenever she gazed against the sun towards the distant hills, she brought into her forehead, without knowing it, three short vertical lines--not there at other times--giving her for the moment rather a hard look. And in turning her head round to a far angle, to stare at something or other that he pointed out, the drawn flesh of her neck became a mass of lines. But Bob did not look at these things, which, of course, were of no significance; for had she not told him, when they compared ages, that she was a little over two-and-twenty?
As Nature was hardly invented at this early point of the century, Bob's Matilda could not say much about the glamour of the hills, or the shimmering of the foliage, or the wealth of glory in the distant sea, as she would doubtless have done had she lived later on; but she did her best to be interesting, asking Bob about matters of social interest in the neighbourhood, to which she seemed quite a stranger.'Is your watering-place a large city?' she inquired when they mounted the hill where the Overcombe folk had waited for the King.
'Bless you, my dear--no! 'Twould be nothing if it wasn't for the Royal Family, and the lords and ladies, and the regiments of soldiers, and the frigates, and the King's messengers, and the actors and actresses, and the games that go on.'At the words 'actors and actresses,' the innocent young thing pricked up her ears. 'Does Elliston pay as good salaries this summer as in--?' 'O, you know about it then? I thought--' 'O no, no! I have heard of Budmouth--read in the papers, you know, dear Robert, about the doings there, and the actors and actresses, you know.' 'Yes, yes, I see. Well, I have been away from England a long time, and don't know much about the theatre in the town; but I'll take you there some day. Would it be a treat to you?' 'O, an amazing treat!' said Miss Johnson, with an ecstasy in which a close observer might have discovered a tinge of ghastliness.
'You've never been into one perhaps, dear?' 'N--never,' said Matilda flatly. 'Whatever do I see yonder--a row of white things on the down?''Yes, that's a part of the encampment above Overcombe. Lots of soldiers are encamped about here; those are the white tops of their tents.' He pointed to a wing of the camp that had become visible. Matilda was much interested. 'It will make it very lively for us,' he added, 'especially as John is there.' She thought so too, and thus they chatted on.
Two Fainting Fits And A Bewilderment
Meanwhile Miller Loveday was expecting the pair with interest; and about five o'clock, after repeated outlooks, he saw two specks the size of caraway seeds on the far line of ridge where the sunlit white of the road met the blue of the sky. Then the remainder parts of Bob and his lady became visible, and then the whole vehicle, end on, and he heard the dry rattle of the wheels on the dusty road. Miller Loveday's plan, as far as he had formed any, was that Robert and his wife should live with him in the millhouse until Mrs. Garland made up her mind to join him there; in which event her present house would be made over to the young couple. Upon all grounds, he wished to welcome becomingly the woman of his son's choice, and came forward promptly as they drew up at the door.
'What a lovely place you've got here!' said Miss Johnson, when the miller had received her from the captain. 'A real stream of water, a real mill-wheel, and real fowls, and everything!'
'Yes, 'tis real enough,' said Loveday, looking at the river with balanced sentiments; 'and so you will say when you've lived here a bit as mis'ess, and had the trouble of claning the furniture.'
At this Miss Johnson looked modest, and continued to do so till Anne, not knowing they were there, came round the corner of the house, with her prayer-book in her hand, having just arrived from church. Bob turned and smiled to her, at which Miss Johnson looked glum. How long she would have remained in that phase is unknown, for just then her ears were assailed by a loud bass note from the other side, causing her to jump round.
'O la! what dreadful thing is it?' she exclaimed, and beheld a cow of Loveday's, of the name of Crumpler, standing close to her shoulder. It being about milking-time, she had come to look up David and hasten on the operation.'O, what a horrid bull!--it did frighten me so. I hope I shan't faint,' said Matilda.
The miller immediately used the formula which has been uttered by the proprietors of live stock ever since Noah's time. 'She won't hurt ye. Hoosh, Crumpler! She's as timid as a mouse, ma'am.'
But as Crumpler persisted in making another terrific inquiry for David, Matilda could not help closing her eyes and saying, 'O, I shall be gored to death!' her head falling back upon Bob's shoulder, which--seeing the urgent circumstances, and knowing her delicate nature
-he had providentially placed in a position to catch her. Anne Garland, who had been standing at the corner of the house, not knowing whether to go back or come on, at this felt her womanly sympathies aroused. She ran and dipped her handkerchief into the splashing mill-tail, and with it damped Matilda's face. But as her eyes still remained closed, Bob, to increase the effect, took the handkerchief from Anne and wrung it out on the bridge of Matilda's nose, whence it ran over the rest of her face in a stream. 'O, Captain Loveday!' said Anne, 'the water is running over her green silk handkerchief, and into her pretty reticule!'
'There--if I didn't think so!' exclaimed Matilda, opening her eyes, starting up, and promptly pulling out her own handkerchief, with which she wiped away the drops, and an unimportant trifle of her complexion, assisted by Anne, who, in spite of her background of antagonistic emotions, could not help being interested.'That's right!' said the miller, his spirits reviving with the revival of Matilda. 'The lady is not used to country life; are you, ma'am?' 'I am not,' replied the sufferer. 'All is so strange about here!' Suddenly there spread into the firmament, from the direction of the down:-- 'Ra, ta, ta! Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta! Ra, ta, ta!' 'O dear, dear! more hideous country sounds, I suppose?' she inquired, with another start.
'O no,' said the miller cheerfully. ''Tis only my son John's trumpeter chaps at the camp of dragoons just above us, a-blowing Mess, or Feed, or Picket, or some other of their vagaries. John will be much pleased to tell you the meaning on't when he comes down. He's trumpet-major, as you may know, ma'am.''O yes; you mean Captain Loveday's brother. Dear Bob has mentioned him.' 'If you come round to Widow Garland's side of the house, you can see the camp,' said the miller.
'Don't force her; she's tired with her long journey,' said Mrs. Garland humanely, the widow having come out in the general wish to see Captain Bob's choice. Indeed, they all behaved towards her as if she were a tender exotic, which their crude country manners might seriously injure.
She went into the house, accompanied by Mrs. Garland and her daughter; though before leaving Bob she managed to whisper in his ear, 'Don't tell them I came by waggon, will you, dear?'--a request which was quite needless, for Bob had long ago determined to keep that a dead secret; not because it was an uncommon mode of travel, but simply that it was hardly the usual conveyance for a gorgeous lady to her bridal.
As the men had a feeling that they would be superfluous indoors just at present, the miller assisted David in taking the horse round to the stables, Bob following, and leaving Matilda to the women. Indoors, Miss Johnson admired everything: the new parrots and marmosets, the black beams of the ceiling, the double-corner cupboard with the glass doors, through which gleamed the remainders of sundry china sets acquired by Bob's mother in her housekeeping-- two-handled sugar-basins, no-handled tea-cups, a tea-pot like a pagoda, and a cream-jug in the form of a spotted cow. This sociability in their visitor was returned by Mrs. Garland and Anne; and Miss Johnson's pleasing habit of partly dying whenever she heard any unusual bark or bellow added to her piquancy in their eyes. But conversation, as such, was naturally at first of a nervous, tentative kind, in which, as in the works of some minor poets, the sense was considerably led by the sound.'You get the sea-breezes here, no doubt?' 'O yes, dear; when the wind is that way.' 'Do you like windy weather?' 'Yes; though not now, for it blows down the young apples.' 'Apples are plentiful, it seems. You country-folk call St. Swithin's their christening day, if it rains?' 'Yes, dear. Ah me! I have not been to a christening for these many years; the baby's name was George, I remember--after the King.' 'I hear that King George is still staying at the town here. I HOPE he'll stay till I have seen him!' 'He'll wait till the corn turns yellow; he always does.' 'How VERY fashionable yellow is getting for gloves just now!' 'Yes. Some persons wear them to the elbow, I hear.' 'Do they? I was not aware of that. I struck my elbow last week so hard against the door of my aunt's mansion that I feel the ache now.'
Before they were quite overwhelmed by the interest of this discourse, the miller and Bob came in. In truth, Mrs. Garland found the office in which he had placed her--that of introducing a strange woman to a house which was not the widow's own--a rather awkward one, and yet almost a necessity. There was no woman belonging to the house except that wondrous compendium of usefulness, the intermittent maid-servant, whom Loveday had, for appearances, borrowed from Mrs. Garland, and Mrs. Garland was in the habit of borrowing from the girl's mother. And as for the demi-woman David, he had been informed as peremptorily as Pharaoh's baker that the office of housemaid and bedmaker was taken from him, and would be given to this girl till the wedding was over, and Bob's wife took the management into her own hands.
They all sat down to high tea, Anne and her mother included, and the captain sitting next to Miss Johnson. Anne had put a brave face upon the matter--outwardly, at least--and seemed in a fair way of subduing any lingering sentiment which Bob's return had revived. During the evening, and while they still sat over the meal, John came down on a hurried visit, as he had promised, ostensibly on purpose to be introduced to his intended sister-inlaw, but much more to get a word and a smile from his beloved Anne. Before they saw him, they heard the trumpet-major's smart step coming round the corner of the house, and in a moment his form darkened the door. As it was Sunday, he appeared in his full-dress laced coat, white waistcoat and breeches, and towering plume, the latter of which he instantly lowered, as much from necessity as good manners, the beam in the mill-house ceiling having a tendency to smash and ruin all such head-gear without warning.
'John, we've been hoping you would come down,' said the miller, 'and so we have kept the tay about on purpose. Draw up, and speak to Mrs. Matilda Johnson. . . . Ma'am, this is Robert's brother.''Your humble servant, ma'am,' said the trumpet-major gallantly.
As it was getting dusk in the low, small-paned room, he instinctively moved towards Miss Johnson as he spoke, who sat with her back to the window. He had no sooner noticed her features than his helmet nearly fell from his hand; his face became suddenly fixed, and his natural complexion took itself off, leaving a greenish yellow in its stead. The young person, on her part, had no sooner looked closely at him than she said weakly, 'Robert's brother!' and changed colour yet more rapidly than the soldier had done. The faintness, previously half counterfeit, seized on her now in real earnest.'I don't feel well,' she said, suddenly rising by an effort. 'This warm day has quite upset me!'
There was a regular collapse of the tea-party, like that of the Hamlet play scene. Bob seized his sweetheart and carried her upstairs, the miller exclaiming, 'Ah, she's terribly worn by the journey! I thought she was when I saw her nearly go off at the blare of the cow. No woman would have been frightened at that if she'd been up to her natural strength.'
'That, and being so very shy of men, too, must have made John's handsome regimentals quite overpowering to her, poor thing,' added Mrs. Garland, following the catastrophic young lady upstairs, whose indisposition was this time beyond question. And yet, by some perversity of the heart, she was as eager now to make light of her faintness as she had been to make much of it two or three hours ago.
The miller and John stood like straight sticks in the room the others had quitted, John's face being hastily turned towards a caricature of Buonaparte on the wall that he had not seen more than a hundred and fifty times before.
'Come, sit down and have a dish of tea, anyhow,' said his father at last. 'She'll soon be right again, no doubt.'
'Thanks; I don't want any tea,' said John quickly. And, indeed, he did not, for he was in one gigantic ache from head to foot.
The light had been too dim for anybody to notice his amazement; and not knowing where to vent it, the trumpet-major said he was going out for a minute. He hastened to the bakehouse; but David being there, he went to the pantry; but the maid being there, he went to the cart-shed; but a couple of tramps being there, he went behind a row of French beans in the garden, where he let off an ejaculation the most pious that he had uttered that Sabbath day: 'Heaven! what's to be done!'
And then he walked wildly about the paths of the dusky garden, where the trickling of the brooks seemed loud by comparison with the stillness around; treading recklessly on the cracking snails that had come forth to feed, and entangling his spurs in the long grass till the rowels were choked with its blades. Presently he heard another person approaching, and his brother's shape appeared between the stubbard tree and the hedge.'O, is it you?' said the mate. 'Yes. I am--taking a little air.' 'She is getting round nicely again; and as I am not wanted indoors just now, I am going into the village to call upon a friend or two I have not been able to speak to as yet.' John took his brother Bob's hand. Bob rather wondered why. 'All right, old boy,' he said. 'Going into the village? You'll be back again, I suppose, before it gets very late?' 'O yes,' said Captain Bob cheerfully, and passed out of the garden. John allowed his eyes to follow his brother till his shape could not be seen, and then he turned and again walked up and down.
The Night After The Arrival
John continued his sad and heavy pace till walking seemed too old and worn-out a way of showing sorrow so new, and he leant himself against the fork of an apple-tree like a log. There the trumpet-major remained for a considerable time, his face turned towards the house, whose ancient, many-chimneyed outline rose against the darkened sky, and just shut out from his view the camp above. But faint noises coming thence from horses restless at the pickets, and from visitors taking their leave, recalled its existence, and reminded him that, in consequence of Matilda's arrival, he had obtained leave for the night--a fact which, owing to the startling emotions that followed his entry, he had not yet mentioned to his friends.
While abstractedly considering how he could best use that privilege under the new circumstances which had arisen, he heard Farmer Derriman drive up to the front door and hold a conversation with his father. The old man had at last apparently brought the tin box of private papers that he wished the miller to take charge of during Derriman's absence; and it being a calm night, John could hear, though he little heeded, Uncle Benjy's reiterated supplications to Loveday to keep it safe from fire and thieves. Then Uncle Benjy left, and John's father went upstairs to deposit the box in a place of security, the whole proceeding reaching John's preoccupied comprehension merely as voices during sleep.
The next thing was the appearance of a light in the bedroom which had been assigned to Matilda Johnson. This effectually aroused the trumpet-major, and with a stealthiness unusual in him he went indoors. No light was in the lower rooms, his father, Mrs. Garland, and Anne having gone out on the bridge to look at the new moon. John went upstairs on tip-toe, and along the uneven passage till he came to her door. It was standing ajar, a band of candlelight shining across the passage and up the opposite wall. As soon as he entered the radiance he saw her. She was standing before the looking-glass, apparently lost in thought, her fingers being clasped behind her head in abstraction, and the light falling full upon her face.'I must speak to you,' said the trumpet-major.
She started, turned and grew paler than before; and then, as if moved by a sudden impulse, she swung the door wide open, and, coming out, said quite collectedly and with apparent pleasantness, 'O yes; you are my Bob's brother! I didn't, for a moment, recognize you.''But you do now?' 'As Bob's brother.' 'You have not seen me before?' 'I have not,' she answered, with a face as impassible as Talleyrand's. 'Good God!' 'I have not!' she repeated. 'Nor any of the --th Dragoons? Captain Jolly, for instance?' 'No.' 'You mistake. I'll remind you of particulars,' he said drily. And he did remind her at some length. 'Never!' she said desperately.
But she had miscalculated her staying powers, and her adversary's character. Five minutes after that she was in tears, and the conversation had resolved itself into words, which, on the soldier's part, were of the nature of commands, tempered by pity, and were a mere series of entreaties on hers.
The whole scene did not last ten minutes. When it was over, the trumpet-major walked from the doorway where they had been standing, and brushed moisture from his eyes. Reaching a dark lumber-room, he stood still there to calm himself, and then descended by a Flemish- ladder to the bakehouse, instead of by the front stairs. He found that the others, including Bob, had gathered in the parlour during his absence and lighted the candles.
Miss Johnson, having sent down some time before John re-entered the house to say that she would prefer to keep her room that evening, was not expected to join them, and on this account Bob showed less than his customary liveliness. The miller wishing to keep up his son's spirits, expressed his regret that, it being Sunday night, they could have no songs to make the evening cheerful; when Mrs. Garland proposed that they should sing psalms which, by choosing lively tunes and not thinking of the words, would be almost as good as ballads.
This they did, the trumpet-major appearing to join in with the rest; but as a matter of fact no sound came from his moving lips. His mind was in such a state that he derived no pleasure even from Anne Garland's presence, though he held a corner of the same book with her, and was treated in a winsome way which it was not her usual practice to indulge in. She saw that his mind was clouded, and, far from guessing the reason why, was doing her best to clear it.
At length the Garlands found that it was the hour for them to leave, and John Loveday at the same time wished his father and Bob good-night, and went as far as Mrs. Garland's door with her.
He had said not a word to show that he was free to remain out of camp, for the reason that there was painful work to be done, which it would be best to do in secret and alone. He lingered near the house till its reflected window-lights ceased to glimmer upon the mill-pond, and all within the dwelling was dark and still. Then he entered the garden and waited there till the back door opened, and a woman's figure timorously came forward. John Loveday at once went up to her, and they began to talk in low yet dissentient tones.
They had conversed about ten minutes, and were parting as if they had come to some painful arrangement, Miss Johnson sobbing bitterly, when a head stealthily arose above the dense hedgerow, and in a moment a shout burst from its owner.'Thieves! thieves!--my tin box!--thieves! thieves!' Matilda vanished into the house, and John Loveday hastened to the hedge. 'For heaven's sake, hold your tongue, Mr. Derriman!' he exclaimed. 'My tin box!' said Uncle Benjy. 'O, only the trumpet-major!' 'Your box is safe enough, I assure you. It was only'--here the trumpet-major gave vent to an artificial laugh--'only a sly bit of courting, you know.'
'Ha, ha, I see!' said the relieved old squireen. 'Courting Miss Anne! Then you've ousted my nephew, trumpet-major! Well, so much the better. As for myself, the truth on't is that I haven't been able to go to bed easy, for thinking that possibly your father might not take care of what I put under his charge; and at last I thought I would just step over and see if all was safe here before I turned in. And when I saw your two shapes my poor nerves magnified ye to housebreakers, and Boneys, and I don't know what all.'
'You have alarmed the house,' said the trumpet-major, hearing the clicking of flint and steel in his father's bedroom, followed in a moment by the rise of a light in the window of the same apartment. 'You have got me into difficulty,' he added gloomily, as his father opened the casement.'I am sorry for that,' said Uncle Benjy. 'But step back; I'll put it all right again.'
'What, for heaven's sake, is the matter?' said the miller, his tasselled nightcap appearing in the opening.
'Nothing, nothing!' said the farmer. 'I was uneasy about my few bonds and documents, and I walked this way, miller, before going to bed, as I start from home to-morrow morning. When I came down by your garden-hedge, I thought I saw thieves, but it turned out to be- -to be--'
'No thieves are like to try my house,' said Miller Loveday. 'Now don't you come alarming us like this again, farmer, or you shall keep your box yourself, begging your pardon for saying so. Good-night t' ye!'
'Miller, will ye just look, since I am here--just look and see if the box is all right? there's a good man! I am old, you know, and my poor remains are not what my original self was. Look and see if it is where you put it, there's a good, kind man.''Very well,' said the miller good-humouredly.
'Neighbour Loveday! on second thoughts I will take my box home again, after all, if you don't mind. You won't deem it ill of me? I have no suspicion, of course; but now I think on't there's rivalry between my nephew and your son; and if Festus should take it into his head to set your house on fire in his enmity, 'twould be bad for my deeds and documents. No offence, miller, but I'll take the box, if you don't mind.'
'Faith! I don't mind,' said Loveday. 'But your nephew had better think twice before he lets his enmity take that colour.' Receding from the window, he took the candle to a back part of the room and soon reappeared with the tin box.'I won't trouble ye to dress,' said Derriman considerately; 'let en down by anything you have at hand.' The box was lowered by a cord, and the old man clasped it in his arms. 'Thank ye!' he said with heartfelt gratitude. 'Good-night!' The miller replied and closed the window, and the light went out. 'There, now I hope you are satisfied, sir?' said the trumpet-major.
'Quite, quite!' said Derriman; and, leaning on his walking-stick, he pursued his lonely way.
That night Anne lay awake in her bed, musing on the traits of the new friend who had come to her neighbour's house. She would not be critical, it was ungenerous and wrong; but she could not help thinking of what interested her. And were there, she silently asked, in Miss Johnson's mind and person such rare qualities as placed that lady altogether beyond comparison with herself? O yes, there must be; for had not Captain Bob singled out Matilda from among all other women, herself included? Of course, with his worldwide experience, he knew best.
When the moon had set, and only the summer stars threw their light into the great damp garden, she fancied that she heard voices in that direction. Perhaps they were the voices of Bob and Matilda taking a lover's walk before retiring. If so, how sleepy they would be next day, and how absurd it was of Matilda to pretend she was tired! Ruminating in this way, and saying to herself that she hoped they would be happy, Anne fell asleep.
Miss Johnson's Behaviour Causes No Little Surprise
Partly from the excitement of having his Matilda under the paternal roof, Bob rose next morning as early as his father and the grinder, and, when the big wheel began to patter and the little ones to mumble in response, went to sun himself outside the mill-front, among the fowls of brown and speckled kinds which haunted that spot, and the ducks that came up from the mill-tail.
Standing on the worn-out mill-stone inlaid in the gravel, he talked with his father on various improvements of the premises, and on the proposed arrangements for his permanent residence there, with an enjoyment that was half based upon this prospect of the future, and half on the penetrating warmth of the sun to his back and shoulders. Then the different troops of horses began their morning scramble down to the mill-pond, and, after making it very muddy round the edge, ascended the slope again. The bustle of the camp grew more and more audible, and presently David came to say that breakfast was ready.'Is Miss Johnson downstairs?' said the miller; and Bob listened for the answer, looking at a blue sentinel aloft on the down. 'Not yet, maister,' said the excellent David. 'We'll wait till she's down,' said Loveday. 'When she is, let us know.'
David went indoors again, and Loveday and Bob continued their morning survey by ascending into the mysterious quivering recesses of the mill, and holding a discussion over a second pair of burr-stones, which had to be re-dressed before they could be used again. This and similar things occupied nearly twenty minutes, and, looking from the window, the elder of the two was reminded of the time of day by seeing Mrs. Garland's table-cloth fluttering from her back door over the heads of a flock of pigeons that had alighted for the crumbs.'I suppose David can't find us,' he said, with a sense of hunger that was not altogether strange to Bob. He put out his head and shouted. 'The lady is not down yet,' said his man in reply. 'No hurry, no hurry,' said the miller, with cheerful emptiness. 'Bob, to pass the time we'll look into the garden.' 'She'll get up sooner than this, you know, when she's signed articles and got a berth here,' Bob observed apologetically.
'Yes, yes,' said Loveday; and they descended into the garden. Here they turned over sundry flat stones and killed the slugs sheltered beneath them from the coming heat of the day, talking of slugs in all their branches--of the brown and the black, of the tough and the tender, of the reason why there were so many in the garden that year, of the coming time when the grass-walks harbouring them were to be taken up and gravel laid, and of the relatively exterminatory merits of a pair of scissors and the heel of the shoe. At last the miller said, 'Well, really, Bob, I'm hungry; we must begin without her.'They were about to go in, when David appeared with haste in his motions, his eyes wider vertically than crosswise, and his cheeks nearly all gone. 'Maister, I've been to call her; and as 'a didn't speak I rapped, and as 'a didn't answer I kicked, and not being latched the door opened, and--she's gone!'
Bob went off like a swallow towards the house, and the miller followed like the rather heavy man that he was. That Miss Matilda was not in her room, or a scrap of anything belonging to her, was soon apparent. They searched every place in which she could possibly hide or squeeze herself, every place in which she could not, but found nothing at all.
Captain Bob was quite wild with astonishment and grief. When he was quite sure that she was nowhere in his father's house, he ran into Mrs. Garland's, and telling them the story so hastily that they hardly understood the particulars, he went on towards Comfort's house, intending to raise the alarm there, and also at Mitchell's, Beach's, Cripplestraw's, the parson's, the clerk's, the camp of dragoons, of hussars, and so on through the whole county. But he paused, and thought it would be hardly expedient to publish his discomfiture in such a way. If Matilda had left the house for any freakish reason he would not care to look for her, and if her deed had a tragic intent she would keep aloof from camp and village.In his trouble he thought of Anne. She was a nice girl and could be trusted. To her he went, and found her in a state of excitement and anxiety which equalled his own. ''Tis so lonely to cruise for her all by myself!' said Bob disconsolately, his forehead all in wrinkles, 'and I've thought you would come with me and cheer the way?' 'Where shall we search?' said Anne.
'O, in the holes of rivers, you know, and down wells, and in quarries, and over cliffs, and like that. Your eyes might catch the loom of any bit of a shawl or bonnet that I should overlook, and it would do me a real service. Please do come!'
So Anne took pity upon him, and put on her hat and went, the miller and David having gone off in another direction. They examined the ditches of fields, Bob going round by one fence and Anne by the other, till they met at the opposite side. Then they peeped under culverts, into outhouses, and down old wells and quarries, till the theory of a tragical end had nearly spent its force in Bob's mind, and he began to think that Matilda had simply run away. However, they still walked on, though by this time the sun was hot and Anne would gladly have sat down.'Now, didn't you think highly of her, Miss Garland?' he inquired, as the search began to languish. 'O yes,' said Anne, 'very highly.' 'She was really beautiful; no nonsense about her looks, was there?' 'None. Her beauty was thoroughly ripe--not too young. We should all have got to love her. What can have possessed her to go away?'
'I don't know, and, upon my life, I shall soon be drove to say I don't care!' replied the mate despairingly. 'Let me pilot ye down over those stones,' he added, as Anne began to descend a rugged quarry. He stepped forward, leapt down, and turned to her.She gave him her hand and sprang down. Before he relinquished his hold, Captain Bob raised her fingers to his lips and kissed them.
'O, Captain Loveday!' cried Anne, snatching away her hand in genuine dismay, while a tear rose unexpectedly to each eye. 'I never heard of such a thing! I won't go an inch further with you, sir; it is too barefaced!' And she turned and ran off.
'Upon my life I didn't mean it!' said the repentant captain, hastening after. 'I do love her best--indeed I do--and I don't love you at all! I am not so fickle as that! I merely just for the moment admired you as a sweet little craft, and that's how I came to do it. You know, Miss Garland,' he continued earnestly, and still running after, ''tis like this: when you come ashore after having been shut up in a ship for eighteen months, women-folks seem so new and nice that you can't help liking them, one and all in a body; and so your heart is apt to get scattered and to yaw a bit; but of course I think of poor Matilda most, and shall always stick to her.' He heaved a sigh of tremendous magnitude, to show beyond the possibility of doubt that his heart was still in the place that honour required.
'I am glad to hear that--of course I am very glad!' said she, with quick petulance, keeping her face turned from him. 'And I hope we shall find her, and that the wedding will not be put off, and that you'll both be happy. But I won't look for her any more! No; I don't care to look for her--and my head aches. I am going home!''And so am I,' said Robert promptly. 'No, no; go on looking for her, of course--all the afternoon, and all night. I am sure you will, if you love her.'
'O yes; I mean to. Still, I ought to convoy you home first?' 'No, you ought not; and I shall not accept your company. Good-morning, sir!' And she went off over one of the stone stiles with which the spot abounded, leaving the friendly sailor standing in the field.
He sighed again, and, observing the camp not far off, thought he would go to his brother John and ask him his opinion on the sorrowful case. On reaching the tents he found that John was not at liberty just at that time, being engaged in practising the trumpeters; and leaving word that he wished the trumpet-major to come down to the mill as soon as possible, Bob went back again.
''Tis no good looking for her,' he said gloomily. 'She liked me well enough, but when she came here and saw the house, and the place, and the old horse, and the plain furniture, she was disappointed to find us all so homely, and felt she didn't care to marry into such a family!'His father and David had returned with no news. 'Yes, 'tis as I've been thinking, father,' Bob said. 'We weren't good enough for her, and she went away in scorn!' 'Well, that can't be helped,' said the miller. 'What we be, we be, and have been for generations. To my mind she seemed glad enough to get hold of us!'
'Yes, yes--for the moment--because of the flowers, and birds, and what's pretty in the place,' said Bob tragically. 'But you don't know, father--how should you know, who have hardly been out of Overcombe in your life?--you don't know what delicate feelings are in a real refined woman's mind. Any little vulgar action unreaves their nerves like a marlinespike. Now I wonder if you did anything to disgust her?''Faith! not that I know of,' said Loveday, reflecting. 'I didn't say a single thing that I should naturally have said, on purpose to give no offence.' 'You was always very homely, you know, father.' 'Yes; so I was,' said the miller meekly.
'I wonder what it could have been,' Bob continued, wandering about restlessly. 'You didn't go drinking out of the big mug with your mouth full, or wipe your lips with your sleeve?'
'That I'll swear I didn't!' said the miller firmly. 'Thinks I, there's no knowing what I may do to shock her, so I'll take my solid victuals in the bakehouse, and only a crumb and a drop in her company for manners.'
'You could do no more than that, certainly,' said Bob gently. 'If my manners be good enough for well-brought-up people like the Garlands, they be good enough for her,' continued the miller, with a sense of injustice.'That's true. Then it must have been David. David, come here! How did you behave before that lady? Now, mind you speak the truth!'
'Yes, Mr. Captain Robert,' said David earnestly. 'I assure ye she was served like a royal queen. The best silver spoons wez put down, and yer poor grandfer's silver tanket, as you seed, and the feather cushion for her to sit on--'
'Now I've got it!' said Bob decisively, bringing down his hand upon the window-sill. 'Her bed was hard!--and there's nothing shocks a true lady like that. The bed in that room always was as hard as the Rock of Gibraltar!''No, Captain Bob! The beds were changed--wasn't they maister? We put the goose bed in her room, and the flock one, that used to be there, in yours.' 'Yes, we did,' corroborated the miller. 'David and I changed 'em with our own hands, because they were too heavy for the women to move.'
'Sure I didn't know I had the flock bed,' murmured Bob. 'I slept on, little thinking what I was going to wake to. Well, well, she's gone; and search as I will I shall never find another like her! She was too good for me. She must have carried her box with her own hands, poor girl. As far as that goes, I could overtake her even now, I dare say; but I won't entreat her against her will--not I.'
Miller Loveday and David, feeling themselves to be rather a desecration in the presence of Bob's sacred emotions, managed to edge off by degrees, the former burying himself in the most floury recesses of the mill, his invariable resource when perturbed, the rumbling having a soothing effect upon the nerves of those properly trained to its music.
Bob was so impatient that, after going up to her room to assure himself once more that she had not undressed, but had only lain down on the outside of the bed, he went out of the house to meet John, and waited on the sunny slope of the down till his brother appeared. John looked so brave and shapely and warlike that, even in Bob's present distress, he could not but feel an honest and affectionate pride at owning such a relative. Yet he fancied that John did not come along with the same swinging step he had shown yesterday; and when the trumpet-major got nearer he looked anxiously at the mate and waited for him to speak first.'You know our great trouble, John?' said Robert, gazing stoically into his brother's eyes.
'Come and sit down, and tell me all about it,' answered the trumpet-major, showing no surprise.
They went towards a slight ravine, where it was easier to sit down than on the flat ground, and here John reclined among the grasshoppers, pointing to his brother to do the same.
'Yes; and if you will listen I'll tell you all. Do you remember what happened when I came into the room last night? Why, she turned colour and nearly fainted away. That was because she knew me.'Bob stared at his brother with a face of pain and distrust. 'For once, Bob, I must say something that will hurt thee a good deal,' continued John. 'She was not a woman who could possibly be your wife--and so she's gone.' 'You sent her off?' 'Well, I did.' 'John!--Tell me right through--tell me!' 'Perhaps I had better,' said the trumpet-major, his blue eyes resting on the far distant sea, that seemed to rise like a wall as high as the hill they sat upon.
And then he told a tale of Miss Johnson and the --th Dragoons which wrung his heart as much in the telling as it did Bob's to hear, and which showed that John had been temporarily cruel to be ultimately kind. Even Bob, excited as he was, could discern from John's manner of speaking what a terrible undertaking that night's business had been for him. To justify the course he had adopted the dictates of duty must have been imperative; but the trumpet-major, with a becoming reticence which his brother at the time was naturally unable to appreciate, scarcely dwelt distinctly enough upon the compelling cause of his conduct. It would, indeed, have been hard for any man, much less so modest a one as John, to do himself justice in that remarkable relation, when the listener was the lady's lover; and it is no wonder that Robert rose to his feet and put a greater distance between himself and John.'And what time was it?' he asked in a hard, suppressed voice. 'It was just before one o'clock.' 'How could you help her to go away?' 'I had a pass. I carried her box to the coach-office. She was to follow at dawn.' 'But she had no money.'
'Yes, she had; I took particular care of that.' John did not add, as he might have done, that he had given her, in his pity, all the money he possessed, and at present had only eighteen-pence in the world. 'Well, it is over, Bob; so sit ye down, and talk with me of old times,' he added.
'Ah, Jack, it is well enough for you to speak like that,' said the disquieted sailor; 'but I can't help feeling that it is a cruel thing you have done. After all, she would have been snug enough for me. Would I had never found out this about her! John, why did you interfere? You had no right to overhaul my affairs like this. Why didn't you tell me fairly all you knew, and let me do as I chose? You have turned her out of the house, and it's a shame! If she had only come to me! Why didn't she?''Because she knew it was best to do otherwise.' 'Well, I shall go after her,' said Bob firmly. 'You can do as you like,' said John; 'but I would advise you strongly to leave matters where they are.'
'I won't leave matters where they are,' said Bob impetuously. 'You have made me miserable, and all for nothing. I tell you she was good enough for me; and as long as I knew nothing about what you say of her history, what difference would it have made to me? Never was there a young woman who was better company; and she loved a merry song as I do myself. Yes, I'll follow her.''O, Bob,' said John; 'I hardly expected this!' 'That's because you didn't know your man. Can I ask you to do me one kindness? I don't suppose I can. Can I ask you not to say a word against her to any of them at home?' 'Certainly. The very reason why I got her to go off silently, as she has done, was because nothing should be said against her here, and no scandal should be heard of.' 'That may be; but I'm off after her. Marry that girl I will.'
'You'll be sorry.' 'That we shall see,' replied Robert with determination; and he went away rapidly towards the mill. The trumpet-major had no heart to follow--no good could possibly come of further opposition; and there on the down he remained like a graven image till Bob had vanished from his sight into the mill.
Bob entered his father's only to leave word that he was going on a renewed search for Matilda, and to pack up a few necessaries for his journey. Ten minutes later he came out again with a bundle in his hand, and John saw him go diagonally across the lower fields towards the high-road.'And this is all the good I have done!' said John, musingly readjusting his stock where it cut his neck, and descending towards the mill.