The Trumpet-Major by Thomas Hardy - HTML preview
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How They Lessened The Effect Of The Calamity
Meanwhile Anne Garland had gone home, and, being weary with her ramble in search of Matilda, sat silent in a corner of the room. Her mother was passing the time in giving utterance to every conceivable surmise on the cause of Miss Johnson's disappearance that the human mind could frame, to which Anne returned monosyllabic answers, the result, not of indifference, but of intense preoccupation. Presently Loveday, the father, came to the door; her mother vanished with him, and they remained closeted together a long time. Anne went into the garden and seated herself beneath the branching tree whose boughs had sheltered her during so many hours of her residence here. Her attention was fixed more upon the miller's wing of the irregular building before her than upon that occupied by her mother, for she could not help expecting every moment to see some one run out with a wild face and announce some awful clearing up of the mystery.
Every sound set her on the alert, and hearing the tread of a horse in the lane she looked round eagerly. Gazing at her over the hedge was Festus Derriman, mounted on such an incredibly tall animal that he could see to her very feet over the thick and broad thorn fence. She no sooner recognized him than she withdrew her glance; but as his eyes were fixed steadily upon her this was a futile manoeuvre.
'I saw you look round!' he exclaimed crossly. 'What have I done to make you behave like that? Come, Miss Garland, be fair. 'Tis no use to turn your back upon me.' As she did not turn he went on-- 'Well, now, this is enough to provoke a saint. Now I tell you what, Miss Garland; here I'll stay till you do turn round, if 'tis all the afternoon. You know my temper--what I say I mean.' He seated himself firmly in the saddle, plucked some leaves from the hedge, and began humming a song, to show how absolutely indifferent he was to the flight of time.
'What have you come for, that you are so anxious to see me?' inquired Anne, when at last he had wearied her patience, rising and facing him with the added independence which came from a sense of the hedge between them.'There, I knew you would turn round!' he said, his hot angry face invaded by a smile in which his teeth showed like white hemmed in by red at chess. 'What do you want, Mr. Derriman?' said she. '"What do you want, Mr. Derriman?"--now listen to that! Is that my encouragement?' Anne bowed superciliously, and moved away.
'I have just heard news that explains all that,' said the giant, eyeing her movements with somnolent irascibility. 'My uncle has been letting things out. He was here late last night, and he saw you.'
'Indeed he didn't,' said Anne.
'Upon my life, he said so! How can you do it, Miss Garland, when I, who have enough money to buy up all the Lovedays, would gladly come to terms with ye? What a simpleton you must be, to pass me over for him! There, now you are angry because I said simpleton!--I didn't mean simpleton, I meant misguided--misguided rosebud! That's it-- run off,' he continued in a raised voice, as Anne made towards the garden door. 'But I'll have you yet. Much reason you have to be too proud to stay with me. But it won't last long; I shall marry you, madam, if I choose, as you'll see.'
When he was quite gone, and Anne had calmed down from the not altogether unrelished fear and excitement that he always caused her, she returned to her seat under the tree, and began to wonder what Festus Derriman's story meant, which, from the earnestness of his tone, did not seem like a pure invention. It suddenly flashed upon her mind that she herself had heard voices in the garden, and that the persons seen by Farmer Derriman, of whose visit and reclamation of his box the miller had told her, might have been Matilda and John Loveday. She further recalled the strange agitation of Miss Johnson on the preceding evening, and that it occurred just at the entry of the dragoon, till by degrees suspicion amounted to conviction that he knew more than any one else supposed of that lady's disappearance.
It was just at this time that the trumpet-major descended to the mill after his talk with his brother on the down. As fate would have it, instead of entering the house he turned aside to the garden and walked down that pleasant enclosure, to learn if he were likely to find in the other half of it the woman he loved so well.
Yes, there she was, sitting on the seat of logs that he had repaired for her, under the apple-tree; but she was not facing in his direction. He walked with a noisier tread, he coughed, he shook a bough, he did everything, in short, but the one thing that Festus did in the same circumstances--call out to her. He would not have ventured on that for the world. Any of his signs would have been sufficient to attract her a day or two earlier; now she would not turn. At last, in his fond anxiety, he did what he had never done before without an invitation, and crossed over into Mrs. Garland's half of the garden, till he stood before her.When she could not escape him she arose, and, saying 'Good afternoon, trumpet-major,' in a glacial manner unusual with her, walked away to another part of the garden.
Loveday, quite at a loss, had not the strength of mind to persevere further. He had a vague apprehension that some imperfect knowledge of the previous night's unhappy business had reached her; and, unable to remedy the evil without telling more than he dared, he went into the mill, where his father still was, looking doleful enough, what with his concern at events and the extra quantity of flour upon his face through sticking so closely to business that day.
'Well, John; Bob has told you all, of course? A queer, strange, perplexing thing, isn't it? I can't make it out at all. There must be something wrong in the woman, or it couldn't have happened. I haven't been so upset for years.''Nor have I. I wouldn't it should have happened for all I own in the world,' said the dragoon. 'Have you spoke to Anne Garland to-day--or has anybody been talking to her?' 'Festus Derriman rode by half-an-hour ago, and talked to her over the hedge.' John guessed the rest, and, after standing on the threshold in silence awhile, walked away towards the camp.
All this time his brother Robert had been hastening along in pursuit of the woman who had withdrawn from the scene to avoid the exposure and complete overthrow which would have resulted had she remained. As the distance lengthened between himself and the mill, Bob was conscious of some cooling down of the excitement that had prompted him to set out; but he did not pause in his walk till he had reached the head of the river which fed the mill-stream. Here, for some indefinite reason, he allowed his eyes to be attracted by the bubbling spring whose waters never failed or lessened, and he stopped as if to look longer at the scene; it was really because his mind was so absorbed by John's story.
The sun was warm, the spot was a pleasant one, and he deposited his bundle and sat down. By degrees, as he reflected, first on John's view and then on his own, his convictions became unsettled; till at length he was so balanced between the impulse to go on and the impulse to go back, that a puff of wind either way would have been well-nigh sufficient to decide for him. When he allowed John's story to repeat itself in his ears, the reasonableness and good sense of his advice seemed beyond question. When, on the other hand, he thought of his poor Matilda's eyes, and her, to him, pleasant ways, their charming arrangements to marry, and her probable willingness still, he could hardly bring himself to do otherwise than follow on the road at the top of his speed.
This strife of thought was so well maintained that sitting and standing, he remained on the borders of the spring till the shadows had stretched out eastwards, and the chance of overtaking Matilda had grown considerably less. Still he did not positively go towards home. At last he took a guinea from his pocket, and resolved to put the question to the hazard. 'Heads I go; tails I don't.' The piece of gold spun in the air and came down heads.
'No, I won't go, after all,' he said. 'I won't be steered by accidents any more.' He picked up his bundle and switch, and retraced his steps towards Overcombe Mill, knocking down the brambles and nettles as he went with gloomy and indifferent blows. When he got within sight of the house he beheld David in the road.'All right--all right again, captain!', shouted that retainer. 'A wedding after all! Hurrah!' 'Ah--she's back again?' cried Bob, seizing David, ecstatically, and dancing round with him.
'No--but it's all the same! it is of no consequence at all, and no harm will be done! Maister and Mrs. Garland have made up a match, and mean to marry at once, that the wedding victuals may not be wasted! They felt 'twould be a thousand pities to let such good things get blue-vinnied for want of a ceremony to use 'em upon, and at last they have thought of this.''Victuals--I don't care for the victuals!' bitterly cried Bob, in a tone of far higher thought. 'How you disappoint me!' and he went slowly towards the house.
His father appeared in the opening of the mill-door, looking more cheerful than when they had parted. 'What, Robert, you've been after her?' he said. 'Faith, then, I wouldn't have followed her if I had been as sure as you were that she went away in scorn of us. Since you told me that, I have not looked for her at all.'
'I was wrong, father,' Bob replied gravely, throwing down his bundle and stick. 'Matilda, I find, has not gone away in scorn of us; she has gone away for other reasons. I followed her some way; but I have come back again. She may go.''Why is she gone?' said the astonished miller. Bob had intended, for Matilda's sake, to give no reason to a living soul for her departure. But he could not treat his father thus reservedly; and he told. 'She has made great fools of us,' said the miller deliberately; 'and she might have made us greater ones. Bob, I thought th' hadst more sense.' 'Well, don't say anything against her, father,' implored Bob. ''Twas a sorry haul, and there's an end on't. Let her down quietly, and keep the secret. You promise that?'
'I do.' Loveday the elder remained thinking awhile, and then went on--'Well, what I was going to say is this: I've hit upon a plan to get out of the awkward corner she has put us in. What you'll think of it I can't say.''David has just given me the heads.'
'And do it hurt your feelings, my son, at such a time?' 'No--I'll bring myself to bear it, anyhow! Why should I object to other people's happiness because I have lost my own?' said Bob, with saintly self-sacrifice in his air.
'Well said!' answered the miller heartily. 'But you may be sure that there will be no unseemly rejoicing, to disturb ye in your present frame of mind. All the morning I felt more ashamed than I cared to own at the thought of how the neighbours, great and small, would laugh at what they would call your folly, when they knew what had happened; so I resolved to take this step to stave it off, if so be 'twas possible. And when I saw Mrs. Garland I knew I had done right. She pitied me so much for having had the house cleaned in vain, and laid in provisions to waste, that it put her into the humour to agree. We mean to do it right off at once, afore the pies and cakes get mouldy and the blackpot stale. 'Twas a good thought of mine and hers, and I am glad 'tis settled,' he concluded cheerfully.'Poor Matilda!' murmured Bob. 'There--I was afraid 'twould hurt thy feelings,' said the miller, with self-reproach: 'making preparations for thy wedding, and using them for my own!'
'No,' said Bob heroically; 'it shall not. It will be a great comfort in my sorrow to feel that the splendid grub, and the ale, and your stunning new suit of clothes, and the great tablecloths you've bought, will be just as useful now as if I had married myself. Poor Matilda! But you won't expect me to join in--you hardly can. I can sheer off that day very easily, you know.''Nonsense, Bob!' said the miller reproachfully. 'I couldn't stand it--I should break down.'
'Deuce take me if I would have asked her, then, if I had known 'twas going to drive thee out of the house! Now, come, Bob, I'll find a way of arranging it and sobering it down, so that it shall be as melancholy as you can require--in short, just like a funeral, if thou'lt promise to stay?''Very well,' said the afflicted one. 'On that condition I'll stay.'
'Upon The Hill He Turned'
Having entered into this solemn compact with his son, the elder Loveday's next action was to go to Mrs. Garland, and ask her how the toning down of the wedding had best be done. 'It is plain enough that to make merry just now would be slighting Bob's feelings, as if we didn't care who was not married, so long as we were,' he said. 'But then, what's to be done about the victuals?''Give a dinner to the poor folk,' she suggested. 'We can get everything used up that way.' 'That's true' said the miller. 'There's enough of 'em in these times to carry off any extras whatsoever.'
'And it will save Bob's feelings wonderfully. And they won't know that the dinner was got for another sort of wedding and another sort of guests; so you'll have their good-will for nothing.'
The miller smiled at the subtlety of the view. 'That can hardly be called fair,' he said. 'Still, I did mean some of it for them, for the friends we meant to ask would not have cleared all.'
Upon the whole the idea pleased him well, particularly when he noticed the forlorn look of his sailor son as he walked about the place, and pictured the inevitably jarring effect of fiddles and tambourines upon Bob's shattered nerves at such a crisis, even if the notes of the former were dulled by the application of a mute, and Bob shut up in a distant bedroom--a plan which had at first occurred to him. He therefore told Bob that the surcharged larder was to be emptied by the charitable process above alluded to, and hoped he would not mind making himself useful in such a good and gloomy work. Bob readily fell in with the scheme, and it was at once put in hand and the tables spread.
The alacrity with which the substituted wedding was carried out, seemed to show that the worthy pair of neighbours would have joined themselves into one long ago, had there previously occurred any domestic incident dictating such a step as an apposite expedient, apart from their personal wish to marry.
The appointed morning came, and the service quietly took place at the cheerful hour of ten, in the face of a triangular congregation, of which the base was the front pew, and the apex the west door. Mrs. Garland dressed herself in the muslin shawl like Queen Charlotte's, that Bob had brought home, and her best plum-coloured gown, beneath which peeped out her shoes with red rosettes. Anne was present, but she considerately toned herself down, so as not to too seriously damage her mother's appearance. At moments during the ceremony she had a distressing sense that she ought not to be born, and was glad to get home again.
The interest excited in the village, though real, was hardly enough to bring a serious blush to the face of coyness. Neighbours' minds had become so saturated by the abundance of showy military and regal incident lately vouchsafed to them, that the wedding of middle-aged civilians was of small account, excepting in so far that it solved the question whether or not Mrs. Garland would consider herself too genteel to mate with a grinder of corn.
In the evening, Loveday's heart was made glad by seeing the baked and boiled in rapid process of consumption by the kitchenful of people assembled for that purpose. Threequarters of an hour were sufficient to banish for ever his fears as to spoilt food. The provisions being the cause of the assembly, and not its consequence, it had been determined to get all that would not keep consumed on that day, even if highways and hedges had to be searched for operators. And, in addition to the poor and needy, every cottager's daughter known to the miller was invited, and told to bring her lover from camp--an expedient which, for letting daylight into the inside of full platters, was among the most happy ever known.
While Mr. and Mrs. Loveday, Anne, and Bob were standing in the parlour, discussing the progress of the entertainment in the next room, John, who had not been down all day, entered the house and looked in upon them through the open door.'How's this, John? Why didn't you come before?' 'Had to see the captain, and--other duties,' said the trumpet-major, in a tone which showed no great zeal for explanations. 'Well, come in, however,' continued the miller, as his son remained with his hand on the door-post, surveying them reflectively. 'I cannot stay long,' said John, advancing. 'The Route is come, and we are going away.' 'Going away! Where to?' 'To Exonbury.' 'When?' 'Friday morning.' 'All of you?' 'Yes; some to-morrow and some next day. The King goes next week.'
'I am sorry for this,' said the miller, not expressing half his sorrow by the simple utterance. 'I wish you could have been here to-day, since this is the case,' he added, looking at the horizon through the window.
Mrs. Loveday also expressed her regret, which seemed to remind the trumpet-major of the event of the day, and he went to her and tried to say something befitting the occasion. Anne had not said that she was either sorry or glad, but John Loveday fancied that she had looked rather relieved than otherwise when she heard his news. His conversation with Bob on the down made Bob's manner, too, remarkably cool, notwithstanding that he had after all followed his brother's advice, which it was as yet too soon after the event for him to rightly value. John did not know why the sailor had come back, never supposing that it was because he had thought better of going, and said to him privately, 'You didn't overtake her?'
Bob, however, still loved Matilda too well to be other than dissatisfied with John and the event that he had precipitated, which the elder brother only too promptly perceived; and it made his stay that evening of short duration. Before leaving he said with some hesitation to his father, including Anne and her mother by his glance, 'Do you think to come up and see us off?'The miller answered for them all, and said that of course they would come. 'But you'll step down again between now and then?' he inquired.
'I'll try to.' He added after a pause, 'In case I should not, remember that Revalley will sound at half past five; we shall leave about eight. Next summer, perhaps, we shall come and camp here again.''I hope so,' said his father and Mrs. Loveday.
There was something in John's manner which indicated to Anne that he scarcely intended to come down again; but the others did not notice it, and she said nothing. He departed a few minutes later, in the dusk of the August evening, leaving Anne still in doubt as to the meaning of his private meeting with Miss Johnson.
John Loveday had been going to tell them that on the last night, by an especial privilege, it would be in his power to come and stay with them until eleven o'clock, but at the moment of leaving he abandoned the intention. Anne's attitude had chilled him, and made him anxious to be off. He utilized the spare hours of that last night in another way.
This was by coming down from the outskirts of the camp in the evening, and seating himself near the brink of the mill-pond as soon as it was quite dark; where he watched the lights in the different windows till one appeared in Anne's bedroom, and she herself came forward to shut the casement, with the candle in her hand. The light shone out upon the broad and deep mill-head, illuminating to a distinct individuality every moth and gnat that entered the quivering chain of radiance stretching across the water towards him, and every bubble or atom of froth that floated into its width. She stood for some time looking out, little thinking what the darkness concealed on the other side of that wide stream; till at length she closed the casement, drew the curtains, and retreated into the room. Presently the light went out, upon which John Loveday returned to camp and lay down in his tent.
The next morning was dull and windy, and the trumpets of the --th sounded Reveille for the last time on Overcombe Down. Knowing that the Dragoons were going away, Anne had slept heedfully, and was at once awakened by the smart notes. She looked out of the window, to find that the miller was already astir, his white form being visible at the end of his garden, where he stood motionless, watching the preparations. Anne also looked on as well as she could through the dim grey gloom, and soon she saw the blue smoke from the cooks' fires creeping fitfully along the ground, instead of rising in vertical columns, as it had done during the fine weather season. Then the men began to carry their bedding to the waggons, and others to throw all refuse into the trenches, till the down was lively as an ant-hill. Anne did not want to see John Loveday again, but hearing the household astir, she began to dress at leisure, looking out at the camp the while.
When the soldiers had breakfasted, she saw them selling and giving away their superfluous crockery to the natives who had clustered round; and then they pulled down and cleared away the temporary kitchens which they had constructed when they came. A tapping of tent-pegs and wriggling of picket-posts followed, and soon the cones of white canvas, now almost become a component part of the landscape, fell to the ground. At this moment the miller came indoors and asked at the foot of the stairs if anybody was going up the hill with him.
Anne felt that, in spite of the cloud hanging over John in her mind, it would ill become the present moment not to see him off, and she went downstairs to her mother, who was already there, though Bob was nowhere to be seen. Each took an arm of the miller, and thus climbed to the top of the hill. By this time the men and horses were at the place of assembly, and, shortly after the mill-party reached level ground, the troops slowly began to move forward. When the trumpet-major, half buried in his uniform, arms, and horsefurniture, drew near to the spot where the Lovedays were waiting to see him pass, his father turned anxiously to Anne and said, 'You will shake hands with John?'
Anne faintly replied 'Yes,' and allowed the miller to take her forward on his arm to the trackway, so as to be close to the flank of the approaching column. It came up, many people on each side grasping the hands of the troopers in bidding them farewell; and as soon as John Loveday saw the members of his father's household, he stretched down his hand across his right pistol for the same performance. The miller gave his, then Mrs. Loveday gave hers, and then the hand of the trumpet-major was extended towards Anne. But as the horse did not absolutely stop, it was a somewhat awkward performance for a young woman to undertake, and, more on that account than on any other, Anne drew back, and the gallant trooper passed by without receiving her adieu. Anne's heart reproached her for a moment; and then she thought that, after all, he was not going off to immediate battle, and that she would in all probability see him again at no distant date, when she hoped that the mystery of his conduct would be explained. Her thoughts were interrupted by a voice at her elbow: 'Thank heaven, he's gone! Now there's a chance for me.'She turned, and Festus Derriman was standing by her. 'There's no chance for you,' she said indignantly. 'Why not?' 'Because there's another left!' The words had slipped out quite unintentionally, and she blushed quickly. She would have given anything to be able to recall them; but he had heard, and said, 'Who?' Anne went forward to the miller to avoid replying, and Festus caught her no more. 'Has anybody been hanging about Overcombe Mill except Loveday's son the soldier?' he asked of a comrade. 'His son the sailor,' was the reply. 'O--his son the sailor,' said Festus slowly. 'Damn his son the sailor!'
The Two Households United
At this particular moment the object of Festus Derriman's fulmination was assuredly not dangerous as a rival. Bob, after abstractedly watching the soldiers from the front of the house till they were out of sight, had gone within doors and seated himself in the millparlour, where his father found him, his elbows resting on the table and his forehead on his hands, his eyes being fixed upon a document that lay open before him.'What art perusing, Bob, with such a long face?'
Bob sighed, and then Mrs. Loveday and Anne entered. ''Tis only a state-paper that I fondly thought I should have a use for,' he said gloomily. And, looking down as before, he cleared his voice, as if moved inwardly to go on, and began to read in feeling tones from what proved to be his nullified marriage licence:--
'"Timothy Titus Philemon, by permission Bishop of Bristol: To our well-beloved Robert Loveday, of the parish of Overcombe, Bachelor; and Matilda Johnson, of the same parish, Spinster. Greeting."'Here Anne sighed, but contrived to keep down her sigh to a mere nothing. 'Beautiful language, isn't it!' said Bob. 'I was never greeted like that afore!' 'Yes; I have often thought it very excellent language myself,' said Mrs. Loveday. 'Come to that, the old gentleman will greet thee like it again any day for a couple of guineas,' said the miller.
'That's not the point, father! You never could see the real meaning of these things. . . . Well, then he goes on: "Whereas ye are, as it is alleged, determined to enter into the holy estate of matrimony--" But why should I read on? It all means nothing now-- nothing, and the splendid words are all wasted upon air. It seems as if I had been hailed by some venerable hoary prophet, and had turned away, put the helm hard up, and wouldn't hear.'
Nobody replied, feeling probably that sympathy could not meet the case, and Bob went on reading the rest of it to himself, occasionally heaving a breath like the wind in a ship's shrouds.'I wouldn't set my mind so much upon her, if I was thee,' said his father at last. 'Why not?'
'Well, folk might call thee a fool, and say thy brains were turning to water.' Bob was apparently much struck by this thought, and, instead of continuing the discourse further, he carefully folded up the licence, went out, and walked up and down the garden. It was startlingly apt what his father had said; and, worse than that, what people would call him might be true, and the liquefaction of his brains turn out to be no fable. By degrees he became much concerned, and the more he examined himself by this new light the more clearly did he perceive that he was in a very bad way.
On reflection he remembered that since Miss Johnson's departure his appetite had decreased amazingly. He had eaten in meat no more than fourteen or fifteen ounces a day, but one-third of a quartern pudding on an average, in vegetables only a small heap of potatoes and half a York cabbage, and no gravy whatever; which, considering the usual appetite of a seaman for fresh food at the end of a long voyage, was no small index of the depression of his mind. Then he had waked once every night, and on one occasion twice. While dressing each morning since the gloomy day he had not whistled more than seven bars of a hornpipe without stopping and falling into thought of a most painful kind; and he had told none but absolutely true stories of foreign parts to the neighbouring villagers when they saluted and clustered about him, as usual, for anything he chose to pour forth-except that story of the whale whose eye was about as large as the round pond in Derriman's ewe-lease--which was like tempting fate to set a seal for ever upon his tongue as a traveller. All this enervation, mental and physical, had been produced by Matilda's departure.
He also considered what he had lost of the rational amusements of manhood during these unfortunate days. He might have gone to the neighbouring fashionable resort every afternoon, stood before Gloucester Lodge till the King and Queen came out, held his hat in his hand, and enjoyed their Majesties' smiles at his homage all for nothing--watched the picket-mounting, heard the different bands strike up, observed the staff; and, above all, have seen the pretty town girls go trip-trip-trip along the esplanade, deliberately fixing their innocent eyes on the distant sea, the grey cliffs, and the sky, and accidentally on the soldiers and himself.'I'll raze out her image,' he said. 'She shall make a fool of me no more.' And his resolve resulted in conduct which had elements of real greatness.
He went back to his father, whom he found in the mill-loft. ''Tis true, father, what you say,' he observed: 'my brains will turn to bilge-water if I think of her much longer. By the oath of a-- navigator, I wish I could sigh less and laugh more! She's gone--why can't I let her go, and be happy? But how begin?''Take it careless, my son,' said the miller, 'and lay yourself out to enjoy snacks and cordials.' 'Ah--that's a thought!' said Bob. 'Baccy is good for't. So is sperrits. Though I don't advise thee to drink neat.' 'Baccy--I'd almost forgot it!' said Captain Loveday.
He went to his room, hastily untied the package of tobacco that he had brought home, and began to make use of it in his own way, calling to David for a bottle of the old household mead that had lain in the cellar these eleven years. He was discovered by his father threequarters of an hour later as a half-invisible object behind a cloud of smoke.The miller drew a breath of relief. 'Why, Bob,' he said, 'I thought the house was a-fire!' 'I'm smoking rather fast to drown my reflections, father. 'Tis no use to chaw.'
To tempt his attenuated appetite the unhappy mate made David cook an omelet and bake a seed-cake, the latter so richly compounded that it opened to the knife like a freckled buttercup. With the same object he stuck night-lines into the banks of the mill-pond, and drew up next morning a family of fat eels, some of which were skinned and prepared for his breakfast. They were his favourite fish, but such had been his condition that, until the moment of making this effort, he had quite forgotten their existence at his father's backdoor.
In a few days Bob Loveday had considerably improved in tone and vigour. One other obvious remedy for his dejection was to indulge in the society of Miss Garland, love being so much more effectually got rid of by displacement than by attempted annihilation. But Loveday's belief that he had offended her beyond forgiveness, and his ever-present sense of her as a woman who by education and antecedents was fitted to adorn a higher sphere than his own, effectually kept him from going near her for a long time, notwithstanding that they were inmates of one house. The reserve was, however, in some degree broken by the appearance one morning, later in the season, of the point of a saw through the partition which divided Anne's room from the Loveday half of the house. Though she dined and supped with her mother and the Loveday family, Miss Garland had still continued to occupy her old apartments, because she found it more convenient there to pursue her hobbies of wool-work and of copying her father's old pictures. The division wall had not as yet been broken down.
As the saw worked its way downwards under her astonished gaze Anne jumped up from her drawing; and presently the temporary canvasing and papering which had sealed up the old door of communication was cut completely through. The door burst open, and Bob stood revealed on the other side, with the saw in his hand.
'I beg your ladyship's pardon,' he said, taking off the hat he had been working in, as his handsome face expanded into a smile. 'I didn't know this door opened into your private room.''Indeed, Captain Loveday!' 'I am pulling down the division on principle, as we are now one family. But I really thought the door opened into your passage.' 'It don't matter; I can get another room.' 'Not at all. Father wouldn't let me turn you out. I'll close it up again.' But Anne was so interested in the novelty of a new doorway that she walked through it, and found herself in a dark low passage which she had never seen before. 'It leads to the mill,' said Bob. 'Would you like to go in and see it at work? But perhaps you have already.' 'Only into the ground floor.' 'Come all over it. I am practising as grinder, you know, to help my father.'
She followed him along the dark passage, in the side of which he opened a little trap, when she saw a great slimy cavern, where the long arms of the mill-wheel flung themselves slowly and distractedly round, and splashing water-drops caught the little light that strayed into the gloomy place, turning it into stars and flashes. A cold mistladen puff of air came into their faces, and the roar from within made it necessary for Anne to shout as she said, 'It is dismal! let us go on.'
Bob shut the trap, the roar ceased, and they went on to the inner part of the mill, where the air was warm and nutty, and pervaded by a fog of flour. Then they ascended the stairs, and saw the stones lumbering round and round, and the yellow corn running down through the hopper. They climbed yet further to the top stage, where the wheat lay in bins, and where long rays like feelers stretched in from the sun through the little window, got nearly lost among cobwebs and timber, and completed their course by marking the opposite wall with a glowing patch of gold.
In his earnestness as an exhibitor Bob opened the bolter, which was spinning rapidly round, the result being that a dense cloud of flour rolled out in their faces, reminding Anne that her complexion was probably much paler by this time than when she had entered the mill. She thanked her companion for his trouble, and said she would now go down. He followed her with the same deference as hitherto, and with a sudden and increasing sense that of all cures for his former unhappy passion this would have been the nicest, the easiest, and the most effectual, if he had only been fortunate enough to keep her upon easy terms. But Miss Garland showed no disposition to go further than accept his services as a guide; she descended to the open air, shook the flour from her like a bird, and went on into the garden amid the September sunshine, whose rays lay level across the blue haze which the earth gave forth. The gnats were dancing up and down in airy companies, the nasturtium flowers shone out in groups from the dark hedge over which they climbed, and the mellow smell of the decline of summer was exhaled by everything. Bob followed her as far as the gate, looked after her, thought of her as the same girl who had half encouraged him years ago, when she seemed so superior to him; though now they were almost equal she apparently thought him beneath her. It was with a new sense of pleasure that his mind flew to the fact that she was now an inmate of his father's house. His obsequious bearing was continued during the next week. In the busy hours of the day they seldom met, but they regularly encountered each other at meals, and these cheerful occasions began to have an interest for him quite irrespective of dishes and cups. When Anne entered and took her seat she was always loudly hailed by Miller Loveday as he whetted his knife; but from Bob she condescended to accept no such familiar greeting, and they often sat down together as if each had a blind eye in the direction of the other. Bob sometimes told serious and correct stories about sea- captains, pilots, boatswains, mates, able seamen, and other curious fauna of the marine world; but these were directly addressed to his father and Mrs. Loveday, Anne being included at the clinching-point by a glance only. He sometimes opened bottles of sweet cider for her, and then she thanked him; but even this did not lead to her encouraging his chat.One day when Anne was paring an apple she was left at table with the young man. 'I have made something for you,' he said. She looked all over the table; nothing was there save the ordinary remnants. 'O I don't mean that it is here; it is out by the bridge at the mill-head.'
He arose, and Anne followed with curiosity in her eyes, and with her firm little mouth pouted up to a puzzled shape. On reaching the mossy mill-head she found that he had fixed in the keen damp draught which always prevailed over the wheel an AEolian harp of large size. At present the strings were partly covered with a cloth. He lifted it, and the wires began to emit a weird harmony which mingled curiously with the plashing of the wheel.'I made it on purpose for you, Miss Garland,' he said.
She thanked him very warmly, for she had never seen anything like such an instrument before, and it interested her. 'It was very thoughtful of you to make it,' she added. 'How came you to think of such a thing?''O I don't know exactly,' he replied, as if he did not care to be questioned on the point. 'I have never made one in my life till now.'
Every night after this, during the mournful gales of autumn, the strange mixed music of water, wind, and strings met her ear, swelling and sinking with an almost supernatural cadence. The character of the instrument was far enough removed from anything she had hitherto seen of Bob's hobbies; so that she marvelled pleasantly at the new depths of poetry this contrivance revealed as existent in that young seaman's nature, and allowed her emotions to flow out yet a little further in the old direction, notwithstanding her late severe resolve to bar them back.
One breezy night, when the mill was kept going into the small hours, and the wind was exactly in the direction of the water-current, the music so mingled with her dreams as to wake her: it seemed to rhythmically set itself to the words, 'Remember me! think of me!' She was much impressed; the sounds were almost too touching; and she spoke to Bob the next morning on the subject.
'How strange it is that you should have thought of fixing that harp where the water gushes!' she gently observed. 'It affects me almost painfully at night. You are poetical, Captain Bob. But it is too-- too sad!''I will take it away,' said Captain Bob promptly. 'It certainly is too sad; I thought so myself. I myself was kept awake by it one night.' 'How came you to think of making such a peculiar thing?' 'Well,' said Bob, 'it is hardly worth saying why. It is not a good place for such a queer noisy machine; and I'll take it away.' 'On second thoughts,' said Anne, 'I should like it to remain a little longer, because it sets me thinking.' 'Of me?' he asked with earnest frankness. Anne's colour rose fast. 'Well, yes,' she said, trying to infuse much plain matter-of-fact into her voice. 'Of course I am led to think of the person who invented it.' Bob seemed unaccountably embarrassed, and the subject was not pursued. About half-anhour later he came to her again, with something of an uneasy look.
'There was a little matter I didn't tell you just now, Miss Garland,' he said. 'About that harp thing, I mean. I did make it, certainly, but it was my brother John who asked me to do it, just before he went away. John is very musical, as you know, and he said it would interest you; but as he didn't ask me to tell, I did not. Perhaps I ought to have, and not have taken the credit to myself.''O, it is nothing!' said Anne quickly. 'It is a very incomplete instrument after all, and it will be just as well for you to take it away as you first proposed.'
He said that he would, but he forgot to do it that day; and the following night there was a high wind, and the harp cried and moaned so movingly that Anne, whose window was quite near, could hardly bear the sound with its new associations. John Loveday was present to her mind all night as an ill-used man; and yet she could not own that she had ill-used him.
The harp was removed next day. Bob, feeling that his credit for originality was damaged in her eyes, by way of recovering it set himself to paint the summer-house which Anne frequented, and when he came out he assured her that it was quite his own idea. 'It wanted doing, certainly,' she said, in a neutral tone.'It is just about troublesome.' 'Yes; you can't quite reach up. That's because you are not very tall; is it not, Captain Loveday?' 'You never used to say things like that.' 'O, I don't mean that you are much less than tall! Shall I hold the paint for you, to save your stepping down?' 'Thank you, if you would.' She took the paint-pot, and stood looking at the brush as it moved up and down in his hand. 'I hope I shall not sprinkle your fingers,' he observed as he dipped. 'O, that would not matter! You do it very well.' 'I am glad to hear that you think so.' 'But perhaps not quite so much art is demanded to paint a summer-house as to paint a picture?' Thinking that, as a painter's daughter, and a person of education superior to his own, she spoke with a flavour of sarcasm, he felt humbled and said-- 'You did not use to talk like that to me.' 'I was perhaps too young then to take any pleasure in giving pain,' she observed daringly. 'Does it give you pleasure?' Anne nodded. 'I like to give pain to people who have given pain to me,' she said smartly, without removing her eyes from the green liquid in her hand. 'I ask your pardon for that.' 'I didn't say I meant you--though I did mean you.'
Bob looked and looked at her side face till he was bewitched into putting down his brush. 'It was that stupid forgetting of 'ee for a time!' he exclaimed. 'Well, I hadn't seen you for so very long--consider how many years! O, dear Anne!' he said, advancing to take her hand, 'how well we knew one another when we were children! You was a queen to me then; and so you are now, and always.'
Possibly Anne was thrilled pleasantly enough at having brought the truant village lad to her feet again; but he was not to find the situation so easy as he imagined, and her hand was not to be taken yet.'Very pretty!' she said, laughing. 'And only six weeks since Miss Johnson left.'
'Zounds, don't say anything about that!' implored Bob. 'I swear that I never--never deliberately loved her--for a long time together, that is; it was a sudden sort of thing, you know. But towards you--I have more or less honoured and respectfully loved you, off and on, all my life. There, that's true.'Anne retorted quickly-- 'I am willing, off and on, to believe you, Captain Robert. But I don't see any good in your making these solemn declarations.' 'Give me leave to explain, dear Miss Garland. It is to get you to be pleased to renew an old promise--made years ago--that you'll think o' me.' 'Not a word of any promise will I repeat.'
'Well, well, I won't urge 'ee today. Only let me beg of you to get over the quite wrong notion you have of me; and it shall be my whole endeavour to fetch your gracious favour.'
Anne turned away from him and entered the house, whither in the course of a quarter of an hour he followed her, knocking at her door, and asking to be let in. She said she was busy; whereupon he went away, to come back again in a short time and receive the same answer.'I have finished painting the summer-house for you,' he said through the door. 'I cannot come to see it. I shall be engaged till supper-time.'
She heard him breathe a heavy sigh and withdraw, murmuring something about his bad luck in being cut away from the starn like this. But it was not over yet. When supper-time came and they sat down together, she took upon herself to reprove him for what he had said to her in the garden.
Bob made his forehead express despair. 'Now, I beg you this one thing,' he said. 'Just let me know your whole mind. Then I shall have a chance to confess my faults and mend them, or clear my conduct to your satisfaction.'
She answered with quickness, but not loud enough to be heard by the old people at the other end of the table--'Then, Captain Loveday, I will tell you one thing, one fault, that perhaps would have been more proper to my character than to yours. You are too easily impressed by new faces, and that gives me a BAD OPINION of you--yes, a BAD OPINION.'
'O, that's it!' said Bob slowly, looking at her with the intense respect of a pupil for a master, her words being spoken in a manner so precisely between jest and earnest that he was in some doubt how they were to be received. 'Impressed by new faces. It is wrong, certainly, of me.'
The popping of a cork, and the pouring out of strong beer by the miller with a view to giving it a head, were apparently distractions sufficient to excuse her in not attending further to him; and during the remainder of the sitting her gentle chiding seemed to be sinking seriously into his mind. Perhaps her own heart ached to see how silent he was; but she had always meant to punish him. Day after day for two or three weeks she preserved the same demeanour, with a self-control which did justice to her character. And, on his part, considering what he had to put up with--how she eluded him, snapped him off, refused to come out when he called her, refused to see him when he wanted to enter the little parlour which she had now appropriated to her private use, his patience testified strongly to his good-humour.
Military Preparations On An Extended Scale
Christmas had passed. Dreary winter with dark evenings had given place to more dreary winter with light evenings. Rapid thaws had ended in rain, rain in wind, wind in dust. Showery days had come-- the season of pink dawns and white sunsets; and people hoped that the March weather was over.
The chief incident that concerned the household at the mill was that the miller, following the example of all his neighbours, had become a volunteer, and duly appeared twice a week in a red, long-tailed military coat, pipe-clayed breeches, black cloth gaiters, a heelballed helmet-hat, with a tuft of green wool, and epaulettes of the same colour and material. Bob still remained neutral. Not being able to decide whether to enrol himself as a sea-fencible, a local militia-man, or a volunteer, he simply went on dancing attendance upon Anne. Mrs. Loveday had become awake to the fact that the pair of young people stood in a curious attitude towards each other; but as they were never seen with their heads together, and scarcely ever sat even in the same room, she could not be sure what their movements meant.
Strangely enough (or perhaps naturally enough), since entering the Loveday family herself, she had gradually grown to think less favourably of Anne doing the same thing, and reverted to her original idea of encouraging Festus; this more particularly because he had of late shown such perseverance in haunting the precincts of the mill, presumably with the intention of lighting upon the young girl. But the weather had kept her mostly indoors.
One afternoon it was raining in torrents. Such leaves as there were on trees at this time of year--those of the laurel and other evergreens--staggered beneath the hard blows of the drops which fell upon them, and afterwards could be seen trickling down the stems beneath and silently entering the ground. The surface of the mill-pond leapt up in a thousand spirts under the same downfall, and clucked like a hen in the rat-holes along the banks as it undulated under the wind. The only dry spot visible from the front windows of the mill-house was the inside of a small shed, on the opposite side of the courtyard. While Mrs. Loveday was noticing the threads of rain descending across its interior shade, Festus Derriman walked up and entered it for shelter, which, owing to the lumber within, it but scantily afforded to a man who would have been a match for one of Frederick William's Patagonians.
It was an excellent opportunity for helping on her scheme. Anne was in the back room, and by asking him in till the rain was over she would bring him face to face with her daughter, whom, as the days went on, she increasingly wished to marry other than a Loveday, now that the romance of her own alliance with the millet had in some respects worn off. She was better provided for than before; she was not unhappy; but the plain fact was that she had married beneath her. She beckoned to Festus through the window-pane; he instantly complied with her signal, having in fact placed himself there on purpose to be noticed; for he knew that Miss Garland would not be out-of-doors on such a day. 'Good afternoon, Mrs. Loveday,' said Festus on entering. 'There now--if I didn't think that's how it would be!' His voice had suddenly warmed to anger, for he had seen a door close in the back part of the room, a lithe figure having previously slipped through.Mrs. Loveday turned, observed that Anne was gone, and said, 'What is it?' as if she did not know.
'O, nothing, nothing!' said Festus crossly. 'You know well enough what it is, ma'am; only you make pretence otherwise. But I'll bring her to book yet. You shall drop your haughty airs, my charmer! She little thinks I have kept an account of 'em all.''But you must treat her politely, sir,' said Mrs. Loveday, secretly pleased at these signs of uncontrollable affection.
'Don't tell me of politeness or generosity, ma'am! She is more than a match for me. She regularly gets over me. I have passed by this house five-and-fifty times since last Martinmas, and this is all my reward for't!''But you will stay till the rain is over, sir?' 'No. I don't mind rain. I'm off again. She's got somebody else in her eye!' And the yeoman went out, slamming the door.
Meanwhile the slippery object of his hopes had gone along the dark passage, passed the trap which opened on the wheel, and through the door into the mill, where she was met by Bob, who looked up from the flour-shoot inquiringly and said, 'You want me, Miss Garland?''O no,' said she. 'I only want to be allowed to stand here a few minutes.' He looked at her to know if she meant it, and finding that she did, returned to his post. When the mill had rumbled on a little longer he came back. 'Bob,' she said, when she saw him move, 'remember that you are at work, and have no time to stand close to me.'
He bowed and went to his original post again, Anne watching from the window till Festus should leave. The mill rumbled on as before, and at last Bob came to her for the third time. 'Now, Bob--' she began.'On my honour, 'tis only to ask a question. Will you walk with me to church next Sunday afternoon?'
'Perhaps I will,' she said. But at this moment the yeoman left the house, and Anne, to escape further parley, returned to the dwelling by the way she had come. Sunday afternoon arrived, and the family was standing at the door waiting for the church bells to begin. From that side of the house they could see southward across a paddock to the rising ground further ahead, where there grew a large elm-tree, beneath whose boughs footpaths crossed in different directions, like meridians at the pole. The tree was old, and in summer the grass beneath it was quite trodden away by the feet of the many trysters and idlers who haunted the spot. The tree formed a conspicuous object in the surrounding landscape.
While they looked, a foot soldier in red uniform and white breeches came along one of the paths, and stopping beneath the elm, took from his pocket a paper, which he proceeded to nail up by the four corners to the trunk. He drew back, looked at it, and went on his way. Bob got his glass from indoors and levelled it at the placard, but after looking for a long time he could make out nothing but a lion and a unicorn at the top. Anne, who was ready for church, moved away from the door, though it was yet early, and showed her intention of going by way of the elm. The paper had been so impressively nailed up that she was curious to read it even at this theological time. Bob took the opportunity of following, and reminded her of her promise.'Then walk behind me not at all close,' she said. 'Yes,' he replied, immediately dropping behind. The ludicrous humility of his manner led her to add playfully over her shoulder, 'It serves you right, you know.' 'I deserve anything, but I must take the liberty to say that I hope my behaviour about Matil--, in forgetting you awhile, will not make ye wish to keep me ALWAYS behind?'
She replied confidentially, 'Why I am so earnest not to be seen with you is that I may appear to people to be independent of you. Knowing what I do of your weaknesses I can do no otherwise. You must be schooled into--''O, Anne,' sighed Bob, 'you hit me hard--too hard! If ever I do win you I am sure I shall have fairly earned you.'
'You are not what you once seemed to be,' she returned softly. 'I don't quite like to let myself love you.' The last words were not very audible, and as Bob was behind he caught nothing of them, nor did he see how sentimental she had become all of a sudden. They walked the rest of the way in silence, and coming to the tree read as follows:---------------------------------------------------------------------- -------- ADDRESS TO ALL RANKS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF ENGLISHMEN.
FRIENDS AND COUNTRYMEN,--The French are now assembling the largest force that ever was prepared to invade this Kingdom, with the professed purpose of effecting our complete Ruin and Destruction. They do not disguise their intentions, as they have often done to other Countries; but openly boast that they will come over in such Numbers as cannot be resisted.
Wherever the French have lately appeared they have spared neither Rich nor Poor, Old nor Young; but like a Destructive Pestilence have laid waste and destroyed every Thing that before was fair and flourishing.
On this occasion no man's service is compelled, but you are invited voluntarily to come forward in defence of everything that is dear to you, by entering your Names on the Lists which are sent to the Tything-man of every Parish, and engaging to act either as ASSOCIATED VOLUNTEERS BEARING ARMS, AS PIONEERS AND LABOURERS, or as DRIVERS OF WAGGONS.As Associated Volunteers you will be called out only once a week, unless the actual Landing of the Enemy should render your further Services necessary. As Pioneers or Labourers you will be employed in Breaking up Roads to hinder the Enemy's advance.
Those who have Pickaxes, Spades, Shovels, Bill-hooks, or other Working Implements, are desired to mention them to the Constable or Tything-man of their Parish, in order that they may be entered on the Lists opposite their Homes, to be used if necessary. . . .
It is thought desirable to give you this Explanation, that you may not be ignorant of the Duties to which you may be called. But if the love of true Liberty and honest Fame has not ceased to animate the Hearts of Englishmen, Pay, though necessary, will be the least Part of your Reward. You will find your best Recompense in having done your Duty to your King and Country by driving back or destroying your old and implacable Enemy, envious of your Freedom and Happiness, and therefore seeking to destroy them; in having protected your Wives and Children from Death, or worse than Death, which will follow the Success of such Inveterate Foes.
ROUSE, therefore, and unite as one man in the best of Causes! United we may defy the World to conquer us; but Victory will never belong to those who are slothful and unprepared. * -------------------------------------------------------------------- ----* Vide Preface. 'I must go and join at once!' said Bob. Anne turned to him, all the playfulness gone from her face. 'I wish we lived in the north of England, Bob, so as to be further away from where he'll land!' she murmured uneasily.
'Where we are would be Paradise to me, if you would only make it so.' 'It is not right to talk so lightly at such a serious time,' she thoughtfully returned, going on towards the church.
On drawing near, they saw through the boughs of a clump of intervening trees, still leafless, but bursting into buds of amber hue, a glittering which seemed to be reflected from points of steel. In a few moments they heard above the tender chiming of the church bells the loud voice of a man giving words of command, at which all the metallic points suddenly shifted like the bristles of a porcupine, and glistened anew.
''Tis the drilling,' said Loveday. 'They drill now between the services, you know, because they can't get the men together so readily in the week. It makes me feel that I ought to be doing more than I am!'
When they had passed round the belt of trees, the company of recruits became visible, consisting of the able-bodied inhabitants of the hamlets thereabout, more or less known to Bob and Anne. They were assembled on the green plot outside the churchyard-gate, dressed in their common clothes, and the sergeant who had been putting them through their drill was the man who nailed up the proclamation. He was now engaged in untying a canvas money-bag, from which he drew forth a handful of shillings, giving one to each man in payment for his attendance.
'Men, I dismissed ye too soon--parade, parade again, I say,' he cried. 'My watch is fast, I find. There's another twenty minutes afore the worship of God commences. Now all of you that ha'n't got firelocks, fall in at the lower end. Eyes right and dress!'As every man was anxious to see how the rest stood, those at the end of the line pressed forward for that purpose, till the line assumed the form of a bow. 'Look at ye now! Why, you are all a crooking in! Dress, dress!' They dressed forthwith; but impelled by the same motive they soon resumed their former figure, and so they were despairingly permitted to remain.
'Now, I hope you'll have a little patience,' said the sergeant, as he stood in the centre of the arc, 'and pay strict attention to the word of command, just exactly as I give it out to ye; and if I should go wrong, I shall be much obliged to any friend who'll put me right again, for I have only been in the army three weeks myself, and we are all liable to mistakes.''So we be, so we be,' said the line heartily. ''Tention, the whole, then. Poise fawlocks! Very well done!'
'Please, what must we do that haven't got no firelocks!' said the lower end of the line in a helpless voice.
'Now, was ever such a question! Why, you must do nothing at all, but think HOW you'd poise 'em IF you had 'em. You middle men, that are armed with hurdle-sticks and cabbage-stumps just to make-believe, must of course use 'em as if they were the real thing. Now then, cock fawlocks! Present! Fire! (Pretend to, I mean, and the same time throw yer imagination into the field o' battle.) Very good--very good indeed; except that some of you were a LITTLE too soon, and the rest a LITTLE too late.'
'Please, sergeant, can I fall out, as I am master-player in the choir, and my bass-viol strings won't stand at this time o' year, unless they be screwed up a little before the passon comes in?'
'How can you think of such trifles as churchgoing at such a time as this, when your own native country is on the point of invasion?' said the sergeant sternly. 'And, as you know, the drill ends three minutes afore church begins, and that's the law, and it wants a quarter of an hour yet. Now, at the word PRIME, shake the powder (supposing you've got it) into the priming-pan, three last fingers behind the rammer; then shut your pans, drawing your right arm nimble-like towards your body. I ought to have told ye before this, that at HAND YOUR KATRIDGE, seize it and bring it with a quick motion to your mouth, bite the top well off, and don't swaller so much of the powder as to make ye hawk and spet instead of attending to your drill. What's that man a-saying of in the rear rank?''Please, sir, 'tis Anthony Cripplestraw, wanting to know how he's to bite off his katridge, when he haven't a tooth left in 's head?'
'Man! Why, what's your genius for war? Hold it up to your right-hand man's mouth, to be sure, and let him nip it off for ye. Well, what have you to say, Private Tremlett? Don't ye understand English?''Ask yer pardon, sergeant; but what must we infantry of the awkward squad do if Boney comes afore we get our firelocks?' 'Take a pike, like the rest of the incapables. You'll find a store of them ready in the corner of the church tower. Now then-- Shoulder--r--r--r--'
'There, they be tinging in the passon!' exclaimed David, Miller Loveday's man, who also formed one of the company, as the bells changed from chiming all three together to a quick beating of one. The whole line drew a breath of relief, threw down their arms, and began running off.
'Well, then, I must dismiss ye,' said the sergeant. 'Come back-- come back! Next drill is Tuesday afternoon at four. And, mind, if your masters won't let ye leave work soon enough, tell me, and I'll write a line to Gover'ment! 'Tention! To the right--left wheel, I mean--no, no--right wheel. Mar--r--r--rch!'
Some wheeled to the right and some to the left, and some obliging men, including Cripplestraw, tried to wheel both ways.
'Stop, stop; try again! 'Cruits and comrades, unfortunately when I'm in a hurry I can never remember my right hand from my left, and never could as a boy. You must excuse me, please. Practice makes perfect, as the saying is; and, much as I've learnt since I 'listed, we always find something new. Now then, right wheel! march! halt! Stand at ease! dismiss! I think that's the order o't, but I'll look in the Gover'ment book afore Tuesday.' *
Many of the company who had been drilled preferred to go off and spend their shillings instead of entering the church; but Anne and Captain Bob passed in. Even the interior of the sacred edifice was affected by the agitation of the times. The religion of the country had, in fact, changed from love of God to hatred of Napoleon Buonaparte; and, as if to remind the devout of this alteration, the pikes for the pikemen (all those accepted men who were not otherwise armed) were kept in the church of each parish. There, against the wall, they always stood--a whole sheaf of them, formed of new ash stems, with a spike driven in at one end, the stick being preserved from splitting by a ferule. And there they remained, year after year, in the corner of the aisle, till they were removed and placed under the gallery stairs, and thence ultimately to the belfry, where they grew black, rusty, and worm-eaten, and were gradually stolen and carried off by sextons, parish clerks, whitewashers, window-menders, and other church servants for use at home as rake-stems, benefit-club staves, and pick-handles, in which degraded situations they may still occasionally be found.
But in their new and shining state they had a terror for Anne, whose eyes were involuntarily drawn towards them as she sat at Bob's side during the service, filling her with bloody visions of their possible use not far from the very spot on which they were now assembled. The sermon, too, was on the subject of patriotism; so that when they came out she began to harp uneasily upon the probability of their all being driven from their homes.Bob assured her that with the sixty thousand regulars, the militia reserve of a hundred and twenty thousand, and the three hundred thousand volunteers, there was not much to fear.
'But I sometimes have a fear that poor John will be killed,' he continued after a pause. 'He is sure to be among the first that will have to face the invaders, and the trumpeters get picked off.''There is the same chance for him as for the others,' said Anne. 'Yes--yes--the same chance, such as it is. You have never liked John since that affair of Matilda Johnson, have you?' 'Why?' she quickly asked.
'Well,' said Bob timidly, 'as it is a ticklish time for him, would it not be worth while to make up any differences before the crash comes?'
'I have nothing to make up,' said Anne, with some distress. She still fully believed the trumpet-major to have smuggled away Miss Johnson because of his own interest in that lady, which must have made his professions to herself a mere pastime; but that very conduct had in it the curious advantage to herself of setting Bob free.
'Since John has been gone,' continued her companion, 'I have found out more of his meaning, and of what he really had to do with that woman's flight. Did you know that he had anything to do with it?''Yes.' 'That he got her to go away?' She looked at Bob with surprise. He was not exasperated with John, and yet he knew so much as this. 'Yes,' she said; 'what did it mean?'
He did not explain to her then; but the possibility of John's death, which had been newly brought home to him by the military events of the day, determined him to get poor John's character cleared. Reproaching himself for letting her remain so long with a mistaken idea of him, Bob went to his father as soon as they got home, and begged him to get Mrs. Loveday to tell Anne the true reason of John's objection to Miss Johnson as a sister-inlaw.'She thinks it is because they were old lovers new met, and that he wants to marry her,' he exclaimed to his father in conclusion. 'Then THAT'S the meaning of the split between Miss Nancy and Jack,' said the miller. 'What, were they any more than common friends?' asked Bob uneasily. 'Not on her side, perhaps.'
'Well, we must do it,' replied Bob, painfully conscious that common justice to John might bring them into hazardous rivalry, yet determined to be fair. 'Tell it all to Mrs. Loveday, and get her to tell Anne.'
A Letter, A Visitor, And A Tin Box
The result of the explanation upon Anne was bitter self-reproach. She was so sorry at having wronged the kindly soldier that next morning she went by herself to the down, and stood exactly where his tent had covered the sod on which he had lain so many nights, thinking what sadness he must have suffered because of her at the time of packing up and going away. After that she wiped from her eyes the tears of pity which had come there, descended to the house, and wrote an impulsive letter to him, in which occurred the following passages, indiscreet enough under the circumstances:--
'I find all justice, all rectitude, on your side, John; and all impertinence, all inconsiderateness, on mine. I am so much convinced of your honour in the whole transaction, that I shall for the future mistrust myself in everything. And if it be possible, whenever I differ from you on any point I shall take an hour's time for consideration before I say that I differ. If I have lost your friendship, I have only myself to thank for it; but I sincerely hope that you can forgive.'After writing this she went to the garden, where Bob was shearing the spring grass from the paths. 'What is John's direction?' she said, holding the sealed letter in her hand. 'Exonbury Barracks,' Bob faltered, his countenance sinking.
She thanked him and went indoors. When he came in, later in the day, he passed the door of her empty sitting-room and saw the letter on the mantelpiece. He disliked the sight of it. Hearing voices in the other room, he entered and found Anne and her mother there, talking to Cripplestraw, who had just come in with a message from Squire Derriman, requesting Miss Garland, as she valued the peace of mind of an old and troubled man, to go at once and see him.'I cannot go,' she said, not liking the risk that such a visit involved. An hour later Cripplestraw shambled again into the passage, on the same errand. 'Maister's very poorly, and he hopes that you'll come, Mis'ess Anne. He wants to see 'ee very particular about the French.' Anne would have gone in a moment, but for the fear that some one besides the farmer might encounter her, and she answered as before.
Another hour passed, and the wheels of a vehicle were heard. Cripplestraw had come for the third time, with a horse and gig; he was dressed in his best clothes, and brought with him on this occasion a basket containing raisins, almonds, oranges, and sweet cakes. Offering them to her as a gift from the old farmer, he repeated his request for her to accompany him, the gig and best mare having been sent as an additional inducement. 'I believe the old gentleman is in love with you, Anne,' said her mother.'Why couldn't he drive down himself to see me?' Anne inquired of Cripplestraw. 'He wants you at the house, please.' 'Is Mr. Festus with him?' 'No; he's away to Budmouth.' 'I'll go,' said she. 'And I may come and meet you?' said Bob. 'There's my letter--what shall I do about that?' she said, instead of answering him. 'Take my letter to the post-office, and you may come,' she added. He said yes and went out, Cripplestraw retreating to the door till she should be ready. 'What letter is it?' said her mother. 'Only one to John,' said Anne. 'I have asked him to forgive my suspicions. I could do no less.' 'Do you want to marry HIM?' asked Mrs. Loveday bluntly. 'Mother!' 'Well; he will take that letter as an encouragement. Can't you see that he will, you foolish girl?' Anne did see instantly. 'Of course!' she said. 'Tell Robert that he need not go.'
She went to her room to secure the letter. It was gone from the mantelpiece, and on inquiry it was found that the miller, seeing it there, had sent David with it to Budmouth hours ago. Anne said nothing, and set out for Oxwell Hall with Cripplestraw.'William,' said Mrs. Loveday to the miller when Anne was gone and Bob had resumed his work in the garden, 'did you get that letter sent off on purpose?' 'Well, I did. I wanted to make sure of it. John likes her, and now 'twill be made up; and why shouldn't he marry her? I'll start him in business, if so be she'll have him.' 'But she is likely to marry Festus Derriman.'
'I don't want her to marry anybody but John,' said the miller doggedly. 'Not if she is in love with Bob, and has been for years, and he with her?' asked his wife triumphantly.'In love with Bob, and he with her?' repeated Loveday. 'Certainly,' said she, going off and leaving him to his reflections.
When Anne reached the hall she found old Mr. Derriman in his customary chair. His complexion was more ashen, but his movement in rising at her entrance, putting a chair and shutting the door behind her, were much the same as usual.
'Thank God you've come, my dear girl,' he said earnestly. 'Ah, you don't trip across to read to me now! Why did ye cost me so much to fetch you? Fie! A horse and gig, and a man's time in going three times. And what I sent ye cost a good deal in Budmouth market, now everything is so dear there, and 'twould have cost more if I hadn't bought the raisins and oranges some months ago, when they were cheaper. I tell you this because we are old friends, and I have nobody else to tell my troubles to. But I don't begrudge anything to ye since you've come.''I am not much pleased to come, even now,' said she. 'What can make you so seriously anxious to see me?'
'Well, you be a good girl and true; and I've been thinking that of all people of the next generation that I can trust, you are the best. 'Tis my bonds and my title-deeds, such as they be, and the leases, you know, and a few guineas in packets, and more than these, my will, that I have to speak about. Now do ye come this way.''O, such things as those!' she returned, with surprise. 'I don't understand those things at all.'
'There's nothing to understand. 'Tis just this. The French will be here within two months; that's certain. I have it on the best authority, that the army at Boulogne is ready, the boats equipped, the plans laid, and the First Consul only waits for a tide. Heaven knows what will become o' the men o' these parts! But most likely the women will he spared. Now I'll show 'ee.'He led her across the hall to a stone staircase of semi-circular plan, which conducted to the cellars. 'Down here?' she said.
'Yes; I must trouble ye to come down here. I have thought and thought who is the woman that can best keep a secret for six months, and I say, "Anne Garland." You won't be married before then?'
'O no!' murmured the young woman. 'I wouldn't expect ye to keep a close tongue after such a thing as that. But it will not be necessary.'
When they reached the bottom of the steps he struck a light from a tinder-box, and unlocked the middle one of three doors which appeared in the whitewashed wall opposite. The rays of the candle fell upon the vault and sides of a long low cellar, littered with decayed woodwork from other parts of the hall, among the rest stair- balusters, carved finials, tracery panels, and wainscoting. But what most attracted her eye was a small flagstone turned up in the middle of the floor, a heap of earth beside it, and a measuring-tape. Derriman went to the corner of the cellar, and pulled out a clamped box from under the straw. 'You be rather heavy, my dear, eh?' he said, affectionately addressing the box as he lifted it. 'But you are going to be put in a safe place, you know, or that rascal will get hold of ye, and carry ye off and ruin me.' He then with some difficulty lowered the box into the hole, raked in the earth upon it, and lowered the flagstone, which he was a long time in fixing to his satisfaction. Miss Garland, who was romantically interested, helped him to brush away the fragments of loose earth; and when he had scattered over the floor a little of the straw that lay about, they again ascended to upper air.'Is this all, sir?' said Anne. 'Just a moment longer, honey. Will you come into the great parlour?' She followed him thither.
'If anything happens to me while the fighting is going on--it may be on these very fields-you will know what to do,' he resumed. 'But first please sit down again, there's a dear, whilst I write what's in my head. See, there's the best paper, and a new quill that I've afforded myself for't.''What a strange business! I don't think I much like it, Mr. Derriman,' she said, seating herself. He had by this time begun to write, and murmured as he wrote--
'"Twenty-three and a half from N.W. Sixteen and three-quarters from N.E."--There, that's all. Now I seal it up and give it to you to keep safe till I ask ye for it, or you hear of my being trampled down by the enemy.''What does it mean?' she asked, as she received the paper.
'Clk! Ha! ha! Why, that's the distance of the box from the two corners of the cellar. I measured it before you came. And, my honey, to make all sure, if the French soldiery are after ye, tell your mother the meaning on't, or any other friend, in case they should put ye to death, and the secret be lost. But that I am sure I hope they won't do, though your pretty face will be a sad bait to the soldiers. I often have wished you was my daughter, honey; and yet in these times the less cares a man has the better, so I am glad you bain't. Shall my man drive you home?''No, no,' she said, much depressed by the words he had uttered. 'I can find my way. You need not trouble to come down.' 'Then take care of the paper. And if you outlive me, you'll find I have not forgot you.'
Festus Shows His Love
Festus Derriman had remained in the Royal watering-place all that day, his horse being sick at stables; but, wishing to coax or bully from his uncle a remount for the coming summer, he set off on foot for Oxwell early in the evening. When he drew near to the village, or rather to the hall, which was a mile from the village, he overtook a slim, quickeyed woman, sauntering along at a leisurely pace. She was fashionably dressed in a green spencer, with 'Mameluke' sleeves, and wore a velvet Spanish hat and feather.'Good afternoon t'ye, ma'am,' said Festus, throwing a sword-and-pistol air into his greeting. 'You are out for a walk?'
'I AM out for a walk, captain,' said the lady, who had criticized him from the crevice of her eye, without seeming to do much more than continue her demure look forward, and gave the title as a sop to his apparent character.'From the town?--I'd swear it, ma'am; 'pon my honour I would!' 'Yes, I am from the town, sir,' said she.
'Ah, you are a visitor! I know every one of the regular inhabitants; we soldiers are in and out there continually. Festus Derriman, Yeomanry Cavalry, you know. The fact is, the watering-place is under our charge; the folks will be quite dependent upon us for their deliverance in the coming struggle. We hold our lives in our hands, and theirs, I may say, in our pockets. What made you come here, ma'am, at such a critical time?''I don't see that it is such a critical time?' 'But it is, though; and so you'd say if you was as much mixed up with the military affairs of the nation as some of us.' The lady smiled. 'The King is coming this year, anyhow,' said she. 'Never!' said Festus firmly. 'Ah, you are one of the attendants at court perhaps, come on ahead to get the King's chambers ready, in case Boney should not land?'
'No,' she said; 'I am connected with the theatre, though not just at the present moment. I have been out of luck for the last year or two; but I have fetched up again. I join the company when they arrive for the season.'Festus surveyed her with interest. 'Faith! and is it so? Well, ma'am, what part do you play?'
'I am mostly the leading lady--the heroine,' she said, drawing herself up with dignity. 'I'll come and have a look at ye if all's well, and the landing is put off--hang me if I don't!
-Hullo, hullo, what do I see?'
Festus bounded on over the hedge, across the intervening patch of green, and into the field which Anne was still crossing. In a moment or two she looked back, and seeing the well-known Herculean figure of the yeoman behind her felt rather alarmed, though she determined to show no difference in her outward carriage. But to maintain her natural gait was beyond her powers. She spasmodically quickened her pace; fruitlessly, however, for he gained upon her, and when within a few strides of her exclaimed, 'Well, my darling!' Anne started off at a run.
Festus was already out of breath, and soon found that he was not likely to overtake her. On she went, without turning her head, till an unusual noise behind compelled her to look round. His face was in the act of falling back; he swerved on one side, and dropped like a log upon a convenient hedgerow-bank which bordered the path. There he lay quite still.
Anne was somewhat alarmed; and after standing at gaze for two or three minutes, drew nearer to him, a step and a half at a time, wondering and doubting, as a meek ewe draws near to some strolling vagabond who flings himself on the grass near the flock.'He is in a swoon!' she murmured.
Her heart beat quickly, and she looked around. Nobody was in sight; she advanced a step nearer still and observed him again. Apparently his face was turning to a livid hue, and his breathing had become obstructed.''Tis not a swoon; 'tis apoplexy!' she said, in deep distress. 'I ought to untie his neck.' But she was afraid to do this, and only drew a little closer still.
Miss Garland was now within three feet of him, whereupon the senseless man, who could hold his breath no longer, sprang to his feet and darted at her, saying, 'Ha! ha! a scheme for a kiss!'
She felt his arm slipping round her neck; but, twirling about with amazing dexterity, she wriggled from his embrace and ran away along the field. The force with which she had extricated herself was sufficient to throw Festus upon the grass, and by the time that he got upon his legs again she was many yards off. Uttering a word which was not exactly a blessing, he immediately gave chase; and thus they ran till Anne entered a meadow divided down the middle by a brook about six feet wide. A narrow plank was thrown loosely across at the point where the path traversed this stream, and when Anne reached it she at once scampered over. At the other side she turned her head to gather the probabilities of the situation, which were that Festus Derriman would overtake her even now. By a sudden forethought she stooped, seized the end of the plank, and endeavoured to drag it away from the opposite bank. But the weight was too great for her to do more than slightly move it, and with a desperate sigh she ran on again, having lost many valuable seconds.
But her attempt, though ineffectual in dragging it down, had been enough to unsettle the little bridge; and when Derriman reached the middle, which he did half a minute later, the plank turned over on its edge, tilting him bodily into the river. The water was not remarkably deep, but as the yeoman fell flat on his stomach he was completely immersed; and it was some time before he could drag himself out. When he arose, dripping on the bank, and looked around, Anne had vanished from the mead. Then Festus's eyes glowed like carbuncles, and he gave voice to fearful imprecations, shaking his fist in the soft summer air towards Anne, in a way that was terrible for any maiden to behold. Wading back through the stream, he walked along its bank with a heavy tread, the water running from his coat-tails, wrists, and the tips of his ears, in silvery dribbles, that sparkled pleasantly in the sun. Thus he hastened away, and went round by a by-path to the hall.
Meanwhile the author of his troubles was rapidly drawing nearer to the mill, and soon, to her inexpressible delight, she saw Bob coming to meet her. She had heard the flounce, and, feeling more secure from her pursuer, had dropped her pace to a quick walk. No sooner did she reach Bob than, overcome by the excitement of the moment, she flung herself into his arms. Bob instantly enclosed her in an embrace so very thorough that there was no possible danger of her falling, whatever degree of exhaustion might have given rise to her somewhat unexpected action; and in this attitude they silently remained, till it was borne in upon Anne that the present was the first time in her life that she had ever been in such a position. Her face then burnt like a sunset, and she did not know how to look up at him. Feeling at length quite safe, she suddenly resolved not to give way to her first impulse to tell him the whole of what had happened, lest there should be a dreadful quarrel and fight between Bob and the yeoman, and great difficulties caused in the Loveday family on her account, the miller having important wheat transactions with the Derrimans.'You seem frightened, dearest Anne,' said Bob tenderly.
'Yes,' she replied. 'I saw a man I did not like the look of, and he was inclined to follow me. But, worse than that, I am troubled about the French. O Bob! I am afraid you will be killed, and my mother, and John, and your father, and all of us hunted down!'
'Now I have told you, dear little heart, that it cannot be. We shall drive 'em into the sea after a battle or two, even if they land, which I don't believe they will. We've got ninety sail of the line, and though it is rather unfortunate that we should have declared war against Spain at this ticklish time, there's enough for all.' And Bob went into elaborate statistics of the navy, army, militia, and volunteers, to prolong the time of holding her. When he had done speaking he drew rather a heavy sigh.'What's the matter, Bob?' 'I haven't been yet to offer myself as a sea-fencible, and I ought to have done it long ago.' 'You are only one. Surely they can do without you?'
Bob shook his head. She arose from her restful position, her eye catching his with a shamefaced expression of having given way at last. Loveday drew from his pocket a paper, and said, as they slowly walked on, 'Here's something to make us brave and patriotic. I bought it in Budmouth. Isn't it a stirring picture?'
It was a hieroglyphic profile of Napoleon. The hat represented a maimed French eagle; the face was ingeniously made up of human carcases, knotted and writhing together in such directions as to form a physiognomy; a band, or stock, shaped to resemble the English Channel, encircled his throat, and seemed to choke him; his epaulette was a hand tearing a cobweb that represented the treaty of peace with England; and his ear was a woman crouching over a dying child. ** Vide Preface. 'It is dreadful!' said Anne. 'I don't like to see it.'
She had recovered from her emotion, and walked along beside him with a grave, subdued face. Bob did not like to assume the privileges of an accepted lover and draw her hand through his arm; for, conscious that she naturally belonged to a politer grade than his own, he feared lest her exhibition of tenderness were an impulse which cooler moments might regret. A perfect Paul-and-Virginia life had not absolutely set in for him as yet, and it was not to be hastened by force. When they had passed over the bridge into the millfront they saw the miller standing at the door with a face of concern.
'Since you have been gone,' he said, 'a Government man has been here, and to all the houses, taking down the numbers of the women and children, and their ages and the number of horses and waggons that can be mustered, in case they have to retreat inland, out of the way of the invading army.'
The little family gathered themselves together, all feeling the crisis more seriously than they liked to express. Mrs. Loveday thought how ridiculous a thing social ambition was in such a conjuncture as this, and vowed that she would leave Anne to love where she would. Anne, too, forgot the little peculiarities of speech and manner in Bob and his father, which sometimes jarred for a moment upon her more refined sense, and was thankful for their love and protection in this looming trouble.
On going upstairs she remembered the paper which Farmer Derriman had given her, and searched in her bosom for it. She could not find it there. 'I must have left it on the table,' she said to herself. It did not matter; she remembered every word. She took a pen and wrote a duplicate, which she put safely away.
But Anne was wrong. She had, after all, placed the paper where she supposed, and there it ought to have been. But in escaping from Festus, when he feigned apoplexy, it had fallen out upon the grass. Five minutes after that event, when pursuer and pursued were two or three fields ahead, the gaily-dressed woman whom the yeoman had overtaken, peeped cautiously through the stile into the corner of the field which had been the scene of the scramble; and seeing the paper she climbed over, secured it, loosened the wafer without tearing the sheet, and read the memorandum within. Unable to make anything of its meaning, the saunterer put it in her pocket, and, dismissing the matter from her mind, went on by the by-path which led to the back of the mill. Here, behind the hedge, she stood and surveyed the old building for some time, after which she meditatively turned, and retraced her steps towards the Royal watering-place.
The night which followed was historic and memorable. Mrs. Loveday was awakened by the boom of a distant gun: she told the miller, and they listened awhile. The sound was not repeated, but such was the state of their feelings that Mr. Loveday went to Bob's room and asked if he had heard it. Bob was wide awake, looking out of the window; he had heard the ominous sound, and was inclined to investigate the matter. While the father and son were dressing they fancied that a glare seemed to be rising in the sky in the direction of the beacon hill. Not wishing to alarm Anne and her mother, the miller assured them that Bob and himself were merely going out of doors to inquire into the cause of the report, after which they plunged into the gloom together. A few steps' progress opened up more of the sky, which, as they had thought, was indeed irradiated by a lurid light; but whether it came from the beacon or from a more distant point they were unable to clearly tell. They pushed on rapidly towards higher ground.
Their excitement was merely of a piece with that of all men at this critical juncture. Everywhere expectation was at fever heat. For the last year or two only five-and-twenty miles of shallow water had divided quiet English homesteads from an enemy's army of a hundred and fifty thousand men. We had taken the matter lightly enough, eating and drinking as in the days of Noe, and singing satires without end. We punned on Buonaparte and his gunboats, chalked his effigy on stage-coaches, and published the same in prints. Still, between these bursts of hilarity, it was sometimes recollected that England was the only European country which had not succumbed to the mighty little man who was less than human in feeling, and more than human in will; that our spirit for resistance was greater than our strength; and that the Channel was often calm. Boats built of wood which was greenly growing in its native forest three days before it was bent as wales to their sides, were ridiculous enough; but they might be, after all, sufficient for a single trip between two visible shores.
The English watched Buonaparte in these preparations, and Buonaparte watched the English. At the distance of Boulogne details were lost, but we were impressed on fine days by the novel sight of a huge army moving and twinkling like a school of mackerel under the rays of the sun. The regular way of passing an afternoon in the coast towns was to stroll up to the signal posts and chat with the lieutenant on duty there about the latest inimical object seen at sea. About once a week there appeared in the newspapers either a paragraph concerning some adventurous English gentleman who had sailed out in a pleasure-boat till he lay near enough to Boulogne to see Buonaparte standing on the heights among his marshals; or else some lines about a mysterious stranger with a foreign accent, who, after collecting a vast deal of information on our resources, had hired a boat at a southern port, and vanished with it towards France before his intention could be divined.
In forecasting his grand venture, Buonaparte postulated the help of Providence to a remarkable degree. Just at the hour when his troops were on board the flat-bottomed boats and ready to sail, there was to be a great fog, that should spread a vast obscurity over the length and breadth of the Channel, and keep the English blind to events on the other side. The fog was to last twenty-four hours, after which it might clear away. A dead calm was to prevail simultaneously with the fog, with the twofold object of affording the boats easy transit and dooming our ships to lie motionless. Thirdly, there was to be a spring tide, which should combine its manoeuvres with those of the fog and calm.
Among the many thousands of minor Englishmen whose lives were affected by these tremendous designs may be numbered our old acquaintance Corporal Tullidge, who sported the crushed arm, and poor old Simon Burden, the dazed veteran who had fought at Minden. Instead of sitting snugly in the settle of the Old Ship, in the village adjoining Overcombe, they were obliged to keep watch on the hill. They made themselves as comfortable as was possible in the circumstances, dwelling in a hut of clods and turf, with a brick chimney for cooking. Here they observed the nightly progress of the moon and stars, grew familiar with the heaving of moles, the dancing of rabbits on the hillocks, the distant hoot of owls, the bark of foxes from woods further inland; but saw not a sign of the enemy. As, night after night, they walked round the two ricks which it was their duty to fire at a signal--one being of furze for a quick flame, the other of turf, for a long, slow radiance--they thought and talked of old times, and drank patriotically from a large wood flagon that was filled every day.
Bob and his father soon became aware that the light was from the beacon. By the time that they reached the top it was one mass of towering flame, from which the sparks fell on the green herbage like a fiery dew; the forms of the two old men being seen passing and repassing in the midst of it. The Lovedays, who came up on the smoky side, regarded the scene for a moment, and then emerged into the light.'Who goes there?' said Corporal Tullidge, shouldering a pike with his sound arm. 'O, 'tis neighbour Loveday!' 'Did you get your signal to fire it from the east?' said the miller hastily. 'No; from Abbotsea Beach.' 'But you are not to go by a coast signal!'
'Chok' it all, wasn't the Lord-Lieutenant's direction, whenever you see Rainbarrow's Beacon burn to the nor'east'ard, or Haggardon to the nor'west'ard, or the actual presence of the enemy on the shore?''But is he here?' 'No doubt o't! The beach light is only just gone down, and Simon heard the guns even better than I.'
'Hark, hark! I hear 'em!' said Bob. They listened with parted lips, the night wind blowing through Simon Burden's few teeth as through the ruins of Stonehenge. From far down on the lower levels came the noise of wheels and the tramp of horses upon the turnpike road.
'Well, there must be something in it,' said Miller Loveday gravely. 'Bob, we'll go home and make the women-folk safe, and then I'll don my soldier's clothes and be off. God knows where our company will assemble!'
They hastened down the hill, and on getting into the road waited and listened again. Travellers began to come up and pass them in vehicles of all descriptions. It was difficult to attract their attention in the dim light, but by standing on the top of a wall which fenced the road Bob was at last seen.'What's the matter?' he cried to a butcher who was flying past in his cart, his wife sitting behind him without a bonnet. 'The French have landed!' said the man, without drawing rein. 'Where?' shouted Bob. 'In West Bay; and all Budmouth is in uproar!' replied the voice, now faint in the distance.
Bob and his father hastened on till they reached their own house. As they had expected, Anne and her mother, in common with most of the people, were both dressed, and stood at the door bonneted and shawled, listening to the traffic on the neighbouring highway, Mrs. Loveday having secured what money and small valuables they possessed in a huge pocket which extended all round her waist, and added considerably to her weight and diameter.
''Tis true enough,' said the miller: 'he's come! You and Anne and the maid must be off to Cousin Jim's at King's-Bere, and when you get there you must do as they do. I must assemble with the company.''And I?' said Bob. 'Thou'st better run to the church, and take a pike before they be all gone.'
The horse was put into the gig, and Mrs. Loveday, Anne, and the servant-maid were hastily packed into the vehicle, the latter taking the reins; David's duties as a fightingman forbidding all thought of his domestic offices now. Then the silver tankard, teapot, pair of candlesticks like Ionic columns, and other articles too large to be pocketed were thrown into a basket and put up behind. Then came the leave-taking, which was as sad as it was hurried. Bob kissed Anne, and there was no affectation in her receiving that mark of affection as she said through her tears, 'God bless you!' At last they moved off in the dim light of dawn, neither of the three women knowing which road they were to take, but trusting to chance to find it.
As soon as they were out of sight Bob went off for a pike, and his father, first newflinting his firelock, proceeded to don his uniform, pipe-claying his breeches with such cursory haste as to bespatter his black gaiters with the same ornamental compound. Finding when he was ready that no bugle had as yet sounded, he went with David to the cart-house, dragged out the waggon, and put therein some of the most useful and easilyhandled goods, in case there might be an opportunity for conveying them away. By the time this was done and the waggon pushed back and locked in, Bob had returned with his weapon, somewhat mortified at being doomed to this low form of defence. The miller gave his son a parting grasp of the hand, and arranged to meet him at King's-Bere at the first opportunity if the news were true; if happily false, here at their own house.
The bugle had been blown ere this, and Loveday the father disappeared towards the place of assembly, his empty cartridge-box behind him. Bob seized a brace of loaded pistols which he had brought home from the ship, and, armed with these and a pike, he locked the door and sallied out again towards the turnpike road.
By this time the yeomanry of the district were also on the move, and among them Festus Derriman, who was sleeping at his uncle's, and had been awakened by Cripplestraw. About the time when Bob and his father were descending from the beacon the stalwart yeoman was standing in the stable-yard adjusting his straps, while Cripplestraw saddled the horse. Festus clanked up and down, looked gloomily at the beacon, heard the retreating carts and carriages, and called Cripplestraw to him, who came from the stable leading the horse at the same moment that Uncle Benjy peeped unobserved from a mullioned window above their heads, the distant light of the beacon fire touching up his features to the complexion of an old brass clock-face.
'I think that before I start, Cripplestraw,' said Festus, whose lurid visage was undergoing a bleaching process curious to look upon, 'you shall go on to Budmouth, and make a bold inquiry whether the cowardly enemy is on shore as yet, or only looming in the bay.' 'I'd go in a moment, sir,' said the other, 'if I hadn't my bad leg again. I should have joined my company afore this; but they said at last drill that I was too old. So I shall wait up in the hay-loft for tidings as soon as I have packed you off, poor gentleman!''Do such alarms as these, Cripplestraw, ever happen without foundation? Buonaparte is a wretch, a miserable wretch, and this may be only a false alarm to disappoint such as me?' 'O no, sir; O no!' 'But sometimes there are false alarms?' 'Well, sir, yes. There was a pretended sally o' gunboats last year.' 'And was there nothing else pretended--something more like this, for instance?'
Cripplestraw shook his head. 'I notice yer modesty, Mr. Festus, in making light of things. But there never was, sir. You may depend upon it he's come. Thank God, my duty as a Local don't require me to go to the front, but only the valiant men like my master. Ah, if Boney could only see 'ee now, sir, he'd know too well there is nothing to be got from such a determined skilful officer but blows and musket-balls!''Yes, yes. Cripplestraw, if I ride off to Budmouth and meet 'em, all my training will be lost. No skill is required as a forlorn hope.' 'True; that's a point, sir. You would outshine 'em all, and be picked off at the very beginning as a too-dangerous brave man.'
'But if I stay here and urge on the faint-hearted ones, or get up into the turret-stair by that gateway, and pop at the invaders through the loophole, I shouldn't be so completely wasted, should I?'
'You would not, Mr. Derriman. But, as you was going to say next, the fire in yer veins won't let ye do that. You are valiant; very good: you don't want to husband yer valiance at home. The arg'ment is plain.'
'If my birth had been more obscure,' murmured the yeoman, 'and I had only been in the militia, for instance, or among the humble pikemen, so much wouldn't have been expected of me--of my fiery nature. Cripplestraw, is there a drop of brandy to be got at in the house? I don't feel very well.'
'Dear nephew,' said the old gentleman from above, whom neither of the others had as yet noticed, 'I haven't any spirits opened--so unfortunate! But there's a beautiful barrel of crab-apple cider in draught; and there's some cold tea from last night.'
'What, is he listening?' said Festus, staring up. 'Now I warrant how glad he is to see me forced to go--called out of bed without breakfast, and he quite safe, and sure to escape because he's an old man!--Cripplestraw, I like being in the yeomanry cavalry; but I wish I hadn't been in the ranks; I wish I had been only the surgeon, to stay in the rear while the bodies are brought back to him--I mean, I should have thrown my heart at such a time as this more into the labour of restoring wounded men and joining their shattered limbs together--u-u-ugh!--more than I can into causing the wounds--I am too humane, Cripplestraw, for the ranks!'
'Yes, yes,' said his companion, depressing his spirits to a kindred level. 'And yet, such is fate, that, instead of joining men's limbs together, you'll have to get your own joined-poor young sojer!--all through having such a warlike soul.'
'Yes,' murmured Festus, and paused. 'You can't think how strange I feel here, Cripplestraw,' he continued, laying his hand upon the centre buttons of his waistcoat. 'How I do wish I was only the surgeon!'
He slowly mounted, and Uncle Benjy, in the meantime, sang to himself as he looked on, 'TWEN-TY-THREE AND HALF FROM N.W. SIX-TEEN AND THREE-QUAR-TERS FROM N.E.''What's that old mummy singing?' said Festus savagely. 'Only a hymn for preservation from our enemies, dear nephew,' meekly replied the farmer, who had heard the remark. 'TWEN-TY-THREE AND HALF FROM N.W.'
Festus allowed his horse to move on a few paces, and then turned again, as if struck by a happy invention. 'Cripplestraw,' he began, with an artificial laugh, 'I am obliged to confess, after all--I must see her! 'Tisn't nature that makes me draw back--'tis love. I must go and look for her.''A woman, sir?' 'I didn't want to confess it; but 'tis a woman. Strange that I should be drawn so entirely against my natural wish to rush at 'em!'
Cripplestraw, seeing which way the wind blew, found it advisable to blow in harmony. 'Ah, now at last I see, sir! Spite that few men live that be worthy to command ye; spite that you could rush on, marshal the troops to victory, as I may say; but then--what of it? there's the unhappy fate of being smit with the eyes of a woman, and you are unmanned! Maister Derriman, who is himself, when he's got a woman round his neck like a millstone?''It is something like that.'
'I feel the case. Be you valiant?--I know, of course, the words being a matter of form--be you valiant, I ask? Yes, of course. Then don't you waste it in the open field. Hoard it up, I say, sir, for a higher class of war--the defence of yer adorable lady. Think what you owe her at this terrible time! Now, Maister Derriman, once more I ask ye to cast off that first haughty wish to rush to Budmouth, and to go where your mis'ess is defenceless and alone.''I will, Cripplestraw, now you put it like that!' 'Thank ye, thank ye heartily, Maister Derriman. Go now and hide with her.' 'But can I? Now, hang flattery!--can a man hide without a stain? Of course I would not hide in any mean sense; no, not I!' 'If you be in love, 'tis plain you may, since it is not your own life, but another's, that you are concerned for, and you only save your own because it can't be helped.' ''Tis true, Cripplestraw, in a sense. But will it be understood that way? Will they see it as a brave hiding?'
'Now, sir, if you had not been in love I own to ye that hiding would look queer, but being to save the tears, groans, fits, swowndings, and perhaps death of a comely young woman, yer principle is good; you honourably retreat because you be too gallant to advance. This sounds strange, ye may say, sir; but it is plain enough to less fiery minds.'
Festus did for a moment try to uncover his teeth in a natural smile, but it died away. 'Cripplestraw, you flatter me; or do you mean it? Well, there's truth in it. I am more gallant in going to her than in marching to the shore. But we cannot be too careful about our good names, we soldiers. I must not be seen. I'm off.'
Cripplestraw opened the hurdle which closed the arch under the portico gateway, and Festus passed under, Uncle Benjamin singing, TWEN-TY-THREE AND A HALF FROM N.W. with a sort of sublime ecstasy, feeling, as Festus had observed, that his money was safe, and that the French would not personally molest an old man in such a ragged, mildewed coat as that he wore, which he had taken the precaution to borrow from a scarecrow in one of his fields for the purpose.
Festus rode on full of his intention to seek out Anne, and under cover of protecting her retreat accompany her to King's-Bere, where he knew the Lovedays had relatives. In the lane he met Granny Seamore, who, having packed up all her possessions in a small basket, was placidly retreating to the mountains till all should be over.'Well, granny, have ye seen the French?' asked Festus. 'No,' she said, looking up at him through her brazen spectacles. 'If I had I shouldn't ha' seed thee!'
'Faugh!' replied the yeoman, and rode on. Just as he reached the old road, which he had intended merely to cross and avoid, his countenance fell. Some troops of regulars, who appeared to be dragoons, were rattling along the road. Festus hastened towards an opposite gate, so as to get within the field before they should see him; but, as ill-luck would have it, as soon as he got inside, a party of six or seven of his own yeomanry troop were straggling across the same field and making for the spot where he was. The dragoons passed without seeing him; but when he turned out into the road again it was impossible to retreat towards Overcombe village because of the yeomen. So he rode straight on, and heard them coming at his heels. There was no other gate, and the highway soon became as straight as a bowstring. Unable thus to turn without meeting them, and caught like an eel in a water-pipe, Festus drew nearer and nearer to the fateful shore. But he did not relinquish hope. Just ahead there were cross-roads, and he might have a chance of slipping down one of them without being seen. On reaching the spot he found that he was not alone. A horseman had come up the right-hand lane and drawn rein. It was an officer of the German legion, and seeing Festus he held up his hand. Festus rode up to him and saluted.'It ist false report!' said the officer.
Festus was a man again. He felt that nothing was too much for him. The officer, after some explanation of the cause of alarm, said that he was going across to the road which led by the moor, to stop the troops and volunteers converging from that direction, upon which Festus offered to give information along the Casterbridge road. The German crossed over, and was soon out of sight in the lane, while Festus turned back upon the way by which he had come. The party of yeomanry cavalry was rapidly drawing near, and he soon recognized among them the excited voices of Stubb of Duddle Hole, Noakes of Muckleford, and other comrades of his orgies at the hall. It was a magnificent opportunity, and Festus drew his sword. When they were within speaking distance he reined round his charger's head to Budmouth and shouted, 'On, comrades, on! I am waiting for you. You have been a long time getting up with me, seeing the glorious nature of our deeds to-day!''Well said, Derriman, well said!' replied the foremost of the riders. 'Have you heard anything new?' 'Only that he's here with his tens of thousands, and that we are to ride to meet him sword in hand as soon as we have assembled in the town ahead here.' 'O Lord!' said Noakes, with a slight falling of the lower jaw.
'The man who quails now is unworthy of the name of yeoman,' said Festus, still keeping ahead of the other troopers and holding up his sword to the sun. 'O Noakes, fie, fie! You begin to look pale, man.'
'Faith, perhaps you'd look pale,' said Noakes, with an envious glance upon Festus's daring manner, 'if you had a wife and family depending upon ye!'
'I'll take three frog-eating Frenchmen single-handed!' rejoined Derriman, still flourishing his sword.
'If they were three times armed,' said Festus--'ay, thrice three times--I would attempt 'em three to one. How do you feel now, my old friend Stubb?' (turning to another of the warriors.) 'O, friend Stubb! no bouncing health to our lady-loves in Oxwell Hall this summer as last. Eh, Brownjohn?''I am afraid not,' said Brownjohn gloomily.
'No rattling dinners at Stacie's Hotel, and the King below with his staff. No wrenching off door-knockers and sending 'em to the bakehouse in a pie that nobody calls for. Weeks of cut-and-thrust work rather!''I suppose so.'
'Fight how we may we shan't get rid of the cursed tyrant before autumn, and many thousand brave men will lie low before it's done,' remarked a young yeoman with a calm face, who meant to do his duty without much talking.
'No grinning matches at Mai-dun Castle this summer,' Festus resumed; 'no thread-theneedle at Greenhill Fair, and going into shows and driving the showman crazy with cocka-doodle-doo!''I suppose not.'
'Does it make you seem just a trifle uncomfortable, Noakes? Keep up your spirits, old comrade. Come, forward! we are only ambling on like so many donkey-women. We have to get into Budmouth, join the rest of the troop, and then march along the coast west'ard, as I imagine. At this rate we shan't be well into the thick of battle before twelve o'clock. Spur on, comrades. No dancing on the green, Lockham, this year in the moonlight! You was tender upon that girl; gad, what will become o' her in the struggle?''Come, come, Derriman,' expostulated Lockham--'this is all very well, but I don't care for 't. I am as ready to fight as any man, but--'
'Perhaps when you get into battle, Derriman, and see what it's like, your courage will cool down a little,' added Noakes on the same side, but with secret admiration of Festus's reckless bravery.'I shall be bayoneted first,' said Festus. 'Now let's rally, and on!'
Since Festus was determined to spur on wildly, the rest of the yeomen did not like to seem behindhand, and they rapidly approached the town. Had they been calm enough to reflect, they might have observed that for the last half-hour no carts or carriages had met them on the way, as they had done further back. It was not till the troopers reached the turnpike that they learnt what Festus had known a quarter of an hour before. At the intelligence Derriman sheathed his sword with a sigh; and the party soon fell in with comrades who had arrived there before them, whereupon the source and details of the alarm were boisterously discussed.
'What, didn't you know of the mistake till now?' asked one of these of the new-comers. 'Why, when I was dropping over the hill by the cross-roads I looked back and saw that man talking to the messenger, and he must have told him the truth.' The speaker pointed to Festus. They turned their indignant eyes full upon him. That he had sported with their deepest feelings, while knowing the rumour to be baseless, was soon apparent to all.
'Beat him black and blue with the flat of our blades!' shouted two or three, turning their horses' heads to drop back upon Derriman, in which move they were followed by most of the party.
But Festus, foreseeing danger from the unexpected revelation, had already judiciously placed a few intervening yards between himself and his fellow-yeomen, and now, clapping spurs to his horse, rattled like thunder and lightning up the road homeward. His ready flight added hotness to their pursuit, and as he rode and looked fearfully over his shoulder he could see them following with enraged faces and drawn swords, a position which they kept up for a distance of more than a mile. Then he had the satisfaction of seeing them drop off one by one, and soon he and his panting charger remained alone on the highway.
Danger To Anne
He stopped and reflected how to turn this rebuff to advantage. Baulked in his project of entering the watering-place and enjoying congratulations upon his patriotic bearing during the advance, he sulkily considered that he might be able to make some use of his enforced retirement by riding to Overcombe and glorifying himself in the eyes of Miss Garland before the truth should have reached that hamlet. Having thus decided he spurred on in a better mood.
By this time the volunteers were on the march, and as Derriman ascended the road he met the Overcombe company, in which trudged Miller Loveday shoulder to shoulder with the other substantial householders of the place and its neighbourhood, duly equipped with pouches, cross-belts, firelocks, flint-boxes, pickers, worms, magazines, priming-horns, heel-ball, and pomatum. There was nothing to be gained by further suppression of the truth, and briefly informing them that the danger was not so immediate as had been supposed, Festus galloped on. At the end of another mile he met a large number of pikemen, including Bob Loveday, whom the yeoman resolved to sound upon the whereabouts of Anne. The circumstances were such as to lead Bob to speak more frankly than he might have done on reflection, and he told Festus the direction in which the women had been sent. Then Festus informed the group that the report of invasion was false, upon which they all turned to go homeward with greatly relieved spirits.
Bob walked beside Derriman's horse for some distance. Loveday had instantly made up his mind to go and look for the women, and ease their anxiety by letting them know the good news as soon as possible. But he said nothing of this to Festus during their return together; nor did Festus tell Bob that he also had resolved to seek them out, and by anticipating every one else in that enterprise, make of it a glorious opportunity for bringing Miss Garland to her senses about him. He still resented the ducking that he had received at her hands, and was not disposed to let that insult pass without obtaining some sort of sweet revenge.
As soon as they had parted Festus cantered on over the hill, meeting on his way the Longpuddle volunteers, sixty rank and file, under Captain Cunningham; the Casterbridge company, ninety strong (known as the 'Consideration Company' in those days), under Captain Strickland; and others--all with anxious faces and covered with dust. Just passing the word to them and leaving them at halt, he proceeded rapidly onward in the direction of King's-Bere. Nobody appeared on the road for some time, till after a ride of several miles he met a stray corporal of volunteers, who told Festus in answer to his inquiry that he had certainly passed no gig full of women of the kind described. Believing that he had missed them by following the highway, Derriman turned back into a lane along which they might have chosen to journey for privacy's sake, notwithstanding the badness and uncertainty of its track. Arriving again within five miles of Overcombe, he at length heard tidings of the wandering vehicle and its precious burden, which, like the Ark when sent away from the country of the Philistines, had apparently been left to the instincts of the beast that drew it. A labouring man, just at daybreak, had seen the helpless party going slowly up a distant drive, which he pointed out.
No sooner had Festus parted from this informant than he beheld Bob approaching, mounted on the miller's second and heavier horse. Bob looked rather surprised, and Festus felt his coming glory in danger.'They went down that lane,' he said, signifying precisely the opposite direction to the true one. 'I, too, have been on the look-out for missing friends.'
As Festus was riding back there was no reason to doubt his information, and Loveday rode on as misdirected. Immediately that he was out of sight Festus reversed his course, and followed the track which Anne and her companions were last seen to pursue.
This road had been ascended by the gig in question nearly two hours before the present moment. Molly, the servant, held the reins, Mrs. Loveday sat beside her, and Anne behind. Their progress was but slow, owing partly to Molly's want of skill, and partly to the steepness of the road, which here passed over downs of some extent, and was rarely or never mended. It was an anxious morning for them all, and the beauties of the early summer day fell upon unheeding eyes. They were too anxious even for conjecture, and each sat thinking her own thoughts, occasionally glancing westward, or stopping the horse to listen to sounds from more frequented roads along which other parties were retreating. Once, while they listened and gazed thus, they saw a glittering in the distance, and heard the tramp of many horses. It was a large body of cavalry going in the direction of the King's watering-place, the same regiment of dragoons, in fact, which Festus had seen further on in its course. The women in the gig had no doubt that these men were marching at once to engage the enemy. By way of varying the monotony of the journey Molly occasionally burst into tears of horror, believing Buonaparte to be in countenance and habits precisely what the caricatures represented him. Mrs. Loveday endeavoured to establish cheerfulness by assuring her companions of the natural civility of the French nation, with whom unprotected women were safe from injury, unless through the casual excesses of soldiery beyond control. This was poor consolation to Anne, whose mind was more occupied with Bob than with herself, and a miserable fear that she would never again see him alive so paled her face and saddened her gaze forward, that at last her mother said, 'Who was you thinking of, my dear?' Anne's only reply was a look at her mother, with which a tear mingled.
Molly whipped the horse, by which she quickened his pace for five yards, when he again fell into the perverse slowness that showed how fully conscious he was of being the master-mind and chief personage of the four. Whenever there was a pool of water by the road he turned aside to drink a mouthful, and remained there his own time in spite of Molly's tug at the reins and futile fly-flapping on his rump. They were now in the chalk district, where there were no hedges, and a rough attempt at mending the way had been made by throwing down huge lumps of that glaring material in heaps, without troubling to spread it or break them abroad. The jolting here was most distressing, and seemed about to snap the springs.
'How that wheel do wamble,' said Molly at last. She had scarcely spoken when the wheel came off, and all three were precipitated over it into the road.
Fortunately the horse stood still, and they began to gather themselves up. The only one of the three who had suffered in the least from the fall was Anne, and she was only conscious of a severe shaking which had half stupefied her for the time. The wheel lay flat in the road, so that there was no possibility of driving further in their present plight. They looked around for help. The only friendly object near was a lonely cottage, from its situation evidently the home of a shepherd.
The horse was unharnessed and tied to the back of the gig, and the three women went across to the house. On getting close they found that the shutters of all the lower windows were closed, but on trying the door it opened to the hand. Nobody was within; the house appeared to have been abandoned in some confusion, and the probability was that the shepherd had fled on hearing the alarm. Anne now said that she felt the effects of her fall too severely to be able to go any further just then, and it was agreed that she should be left there while Mrs. Loveday and Molly went on for assistance, the elder lady deeming Molly too young and vacant-minded to be trusted to go alone. Molly suggested taking the horse, as the distance might be great, each of them sitting alternately on his back while the other led him by the head. This they did, Anne watching them vanish down the white and lumpy road.
She then looked round the room, as well as she could do so by the light from the open door. It was plain, from the shutters being closed, that the shepherd had left his house before daylight, the candle and extinguisher on the table pointing to the same conclusion. Here she remained, her eyes occasionally sweeping the bare, sunny expanse of down, that was only relieved from absolute emptiness by the overturned gig hard by. The sheep seemed to have gone away, and scarcely a bird flew across to disturb the solitude. Anne had risen early that morning, and leaning back in the withy chair, which she had placed by the door, she soon fell into an uneasy doze, from which she was awakened by the distant tramp of a horse. Feeling much recovered from the effects of the overturn, she eagerly rose and looked out. The horse was not Miller Loveday's, but a powerful bay, bearing a man in full yeomanry uniform.
Anne did not wait to recognize further; instantly re-entering the house, she shut the door and bolted it. In the dark she sat and listened: not a sound. At the end of ten minutes, thinking that the rider if he were not Festus had carelessly passed by, or that if he were Festus he had not seen her, she crept softly upstairs and peeped out of the window. Excepting the spot of shade, formed by the gig as before, the down was quite bare. She then opened the casement and stretched out her neck.
'Ha, young madam! There you are! I knew 'ee! Now you are caught!' came like a clap of thunder from a point three or four feet beneath her, and turning down her frightened eyes she beheld Festus Derriman lurking close to the wall. His attention had first been attracted by her shutting the door of the cottage; then by the overturned gig; and after making sure, by examining the vehicle, that he was not mistaken in her identity, he had dismounted, led his horse round to the side, and crept up to entrap her.
Anne started back into the room, and remained still as a stone. Festus went on--'Come, you must trust to me. The French have landed. I have been trying to meet with you every hour since that confounded trick you played me. You threw me into the water. Faith, it was well for you I didn't catch ye then! I should have taken a revenge in a better way than I shall now. I mean to have that kiss of ye. Come, Miss Nancy; do you hear?--'Tis no use for you to lurk inside there. You'll have to turn out as soon as Boney comes over the hill-Are you going to open the door, I say, and speak to me in a civil way? What do you think I am, then, that you should barricade yourself against me as if I was a wild beast or Frenchman? Open the door, or put out your head, or do something; or 'pon my soul I'll break in the door!'
It occurred to Anne at this point of the tirade that the best policy would be to temporize till somebody should return, and she put out her head and face, now grown somewhat pale.'That's better,' said Festus. 'Now I can talk to you. Come, my dear, will you open the door? Why should you be afraid of me?' 'I am not altogether afraid of you; I am safe from the French here,' said Anne, not very truthfully, and anxiously casting her eyes over the vacant down.
'Then let me tell you that the alarm is false, and that no landing has been attempted. Now will you open the door and let me in? I am tired. I have been on horseback ever since daylight, and have come to bring you the good tidings.'Anne looked as if she doubted the news. 'Come,' said Festus. 'No, I cannot let you in,' she murmured, after a pause.
'Dash my wig, then,' he cried, his face flaming up, 'I'll find a way to get in! Now, don't you provoke me! You don't know what I am capable of. I ask you again, will you open the door?''Why do you wish it?' she said faintly. 'I have told you I want to sit down; and I want to ask you a question.' 'You can ask me from where you are.'
'I cannot ask you properly. It is about a serious matter: whether you will accept my heart and hand. I am not going to throw myself at your feet; but I ask you to do your duty as a woman, namely, give your solemn word to take my name as soon as the war is over and I have time to attend to you. I scorn to ask it of a haughty hussy who will only speak to me through a window; however, I put it to you for the last time, madam.'There was no sign on the down of anybody's return, and she said, 'I'll think of it, sir.' 'You have thought of it long enough; I want to know. Will you or won't you?'
'Very well; I think I will.' And then she felt that she might be buying personal safety too dearly by shuffling thus, since he would spread the report that she had accepted him, and cause endless complication. 'No,' she said, 'I have changed my mind. I cannot accept you, Mr. Derriman.'
'That's how you play with me!' he exclaimed, stamping. '"Yes," one moment; "No," the next. Come, you don't know what you refuse. That old hall is my uncle's own, and he has nobody else to leave it to. As soon as he's dead I shall throw up farming and start as a squire. And now,' he added with a bitter sneer, 'what a fool you are to hang back from such a chance!''Thank you, I don't value it,' said Anne. 'Because you hate him who would make it yours?' 'It may not lie in your power to do that.' 'What--has the old fellow been telling you his affairs?' 'No.' 'Then why do you mistrust me? Now, after this will you open the door, and show that you treat me as a friend if you won't accept me as a lover? I only want to sit and talk to you.'
Anne thought she would trust him; it seemed almost impossible that he could harm her. She retired from the window and went downstairs. When her hand was upon the bolt of the door, her mind misgave her. Instead of withdrawing it she remained in silence where she was, and he began again--'Are you going to unfasten it?' Anne did not speak. 'Now, dash my wig, I will get at you! You've tried me beyond endurance. One kiss would have been enough that day in the mead; now I'll have forty, whether you will or no!'
He flung himself against the door; but as it was bolted, and had in addition a great wooden bar across it, this produced no effect. He was silent for a moment, and then the terrified girl heard him attempt the shuttered window. She ran upstairs and again scanned the down. The yellow gig still lay in the blazing sunshine, and the horse of Festus stood by the corner of the garden--nothing else was to be seen. At this moment there came to her ear the noise of a sword drawn from its scabbard; and, peeping over the window-sill, she saw her tormentor drive his sword between the joints of the shutters, in an attempt to rip them open. The sword snapped off in his hand. With an imprecation he pulled out the piece, and returned the two halves to the scabbard.
'Ha! ha!' he cried, catching sight of the top of her head. ''Tis only a joke, you know; but I'll get in all the same. All for a kiss! But never mind, we'll do it yet!' He spoke in an affectedly light tone, as if ashamed of his previous resentful temper; but she could see by the livid back of his neck that he was brimful of suppressed passion. 'Only a jest, you know,' he went on. 'How are we going to do it now? Why, in this way. I go and get a ladder, and enter at the upper window where my love is. And there's the ladder lying under that corn-rick in the first enclosed field. Back in two minutes, dear!'He ran off, and was lost to her view.
Anne Does Wonders
Anne fearfully surveyed her position. The upper windows of the cottage were of flimsiest lead-work, and to keep him out would be hopeless. She felt that not a moment was to be lost in getting away. Running downstairs she opened the door, and then it occurred to her terrified understanding that there would be no chance of escaping him by flight afoot across such an extensive down, since he might mount his horse and easily ride after her. The animal still remained tethered at the corner of the garden; if she could release him and frighten him away before Festus returned, there would not be quite such odds against her. She accordingly unhooked the horse by reaching over the bank, and then, pulling off her muslin neckerchief, flapped it in his eyes to startle him. But the gallant steed did not move or flinch; she tried again, and he seemed rather pleased than otherwise. At this moment she heard a cry from the cottage, and turning, beheld her adversary approaching round the corner of the building.'I thought I should tole out the mouse by that trick!' cried Festus exultingly. Instead of going for a ladder, he had simply hidden himself at the back to tempt her down.
Poor Anne was now desperate. The bank on which she stood was level with the horse's back, and the creature seemed quiet as a lamb. With a determination of which she was capable in emergencies, she seized the rein, flung herself upon the sheepskin, and held on by the mane. The amazed charger lifted his head, sniffed, wrenched his ears hither and thither, and started off at a frightful speed across the down.
'O, my heart and limbs!' said Festus under his breath, as, thoroughly alarmed, he gazed after her. 'She on Champion! She'll break her neck, and I shall be tried for manslaughter, and disgrace will be brought upon the name of Derriman!'
Champion continued to go at a stretch-gallop, but he did nothing worse. Had he plunged or reared, Derriman's fears might have been verified, and Anne have come with deadly force to the ground. But the course was good, and in the horse's speed lay a comparative security. She was scarcely shaken in her precarious half-horizontal position, though she was awed to see the grass, loose stones, and other objects pass her eyes like strokes whenever she opened them, which was only just for a second at intervals of half a minute; and to feel how wildly the stirrups swung, and that what struck her knee was the bucket of the carbine, and that it was a pistol-holster which hurt her arm.
They quickly cleared the down, and Anne became conscious that the course of the horse was homeward. As soon as the ground began to rise towards the outer belt of upland which lay between her and the coast, Champion, now panting and reeking with moisture, lessened his speed in sheer weariness, and proceeded at a rapid jolting trot. Anne felt that she could not hold on half so well; the gallop had been child's play compared with this. They were in a lane, ascending to a ridge, and she made up her mind for a fall. Over the ridge rose an animated spot, higher and higher; it turned out to be the upper part of a man, and the man to be a soldier. Such was Anne's attitude that she only got an occasional glimpse of him; and, though she feared that he might be a Frenchman, she feared the horse more than the enemy, as she had feared Festus more than the horse. Anne had energy enough left to cry, 'Stop him; stop him!' as the soldier drew near.
He, astonished at the sight of a military horse with a bundle of drapery across his back, had already placed himself in the middle of the lane, and he now held out his arms till his figure assumed the form of a Latin cross planted in the roadway. Champion drew near, swerved, and stood still almost suddenly, a check sufficient to send Anne slipping down his flank to the ground. The timely friend stepped forward and helped her to her feet, when she saw that he was John Loveday.'Are you hurt?' he said hastily, having turned quite pale at seeing her fall. 'O no; not a bit,' said Anne, gathering herself up with forced briskness, to make light of the misadventure. 'But how did you get in such a place?'
'There, he's gone!' she exclaimed, instead of replying, as Champion swept round John Loveday and cantered off triumphantly in the direction of Oxwell, a performance which she followed with her eyes.'But how did you come upon his back, and whose horse is it?' 'I will tell you.' 'Well?' 'I--cannot tell you.' John looked steadily at her, saying nothing. 'How did you come here?' she asked. 'Is it true that the French have not landed at all?' 'Quite true; the alarm was groundless. I'll tell you all about it. You look very tired. You had better sit down a few minutes. Let us sit on this bank.'
He helped her to the slope indicated, and continued, still as if his thoughts were more occupied with the mystery of her recent situation than with what he was saying: 'We arrived at Budmouth Barracks this morning, and are to lie there all the summer. I could not write to tell father we were coming. It was not because of any rumour of the French, for we knew nothing of that till we met the people on the road, and the colonel said in a moment the news was false. Buonaparte is not even at Boulogne just now. I was anxious to know how you had borne the fright, so I hastened to Overcombe at once, as soon as I could get out of barracks.'
Anne, who had not been at all responsive to his discourse, now swayed heavily against him, and looking quickly down he found that she had silently fainted. To support her in his arms was of course the impulse of a moment. There was no water to be had, and he could think of nothing else but to hold her tenderly till she came round again. Certainly he desired nothing more.
He waited, looking down upon her tired eyelids, and at the row of lashes lying upon each cheek, whose natural roundness showed itself in singular perfection now that the customary pink had given place to a pale luminousness caught from the surrounding atmosphere. The dumpy ringlets about her forehead and behind her poll, which were usually as tight as springs, had been partially uncoiled by the wildness of her ride, and hung in split locks over her forehead and neck. John, who, during the long months of his absence, had lived only to meet her again, was in a state of ecstatic reverence, and bending down he gently kissed her.Anne was just becoming conscious. 'O, Mr. Derriman, never, never!' she murmured, sweeping her face with her hand. 'I thought he was at the bottom of it,' said John. Anne opened her eyes, and started back from him. 'What is it?' she said wildly. 'You are ill, my dear Miss Garland,' replied John in trembling anxiety, and taking her hand. 'I am not ill, I am wearied out!' she said. 'Can't we walk on? How far are we from Overcombe?' 'About a mile. But tell me, somebody has been hurting you-- frightening you. I know who it was; it was Derriman, and that was his horse. Now do you tell me all.'
Anne reflected. 'Then if I tell you,' she said, 'will you discuss with me what I had better do, and not for the present let my mother and your father know? I don't want to alarm them, and I must not let my affairs interrupt the business connexion between the mill and the hall that has gone on for so many years.'
The trumpet-major promised, and Anne told the adventure. His brow reddened as she went on, and when she had done she said, 'Now you are angry. Don't do anything dreadful, will you? Remember that this Festus will most likely succeed his uncle at Oxwell, in spite of present appearances, and if Bob succeeds at the mill there should be no enmity between them.'
'That's true. I won't tell Bob. Leave him to me. Where is Derriman now? On his way home, I suppose. When I have seen you into the house I will deal with him--quite quietly, so that he shall say nothing about it.'
This put Anne into an unhappy mood, and they proceeded without much further talk till the mill chimneys were visible below them. John then said that he would leave her to go in by herself.'Ah, you are going back to get into some danger on my account?' 'I can't get into much danger with such a fellow as he, can I?' said John, smiling.
'Well, no,' she answered, with a sudden carelessness of tone. It was indispensable that he should be undeceived, and to begin the process by taking an affectedly light view of his personal risks was perhaps as good a way to do it as any. Where friendliness was construed as love, an assumed indifference was the necessary expression for friendliness.So she let him go; and, bidding him hasten back as soon as he could, went down the hill, while John's feet retraced the upland.
The trumpet-major spent the whole afternoon and evening in that long and difficult search for Festus Derriman. Crossing the down at the end of the second hour he met Molly and Mrs. Loveday. The gig had been repaired, they had learnt the groundlessness of the alarm, and they would have been proceeding happily enough but for their anxiety about Anne. John told them shortly that she had got a lift home, and proceeded on his way.
The worthy object of his search had in the meantime been plodding homeward on foot, sulky at the loss of his charger, encumbered with his sword, belts, high boots, and uniform, and in his own discomfiture careless whether Anne Garland's life had been endangered or not.
At length Derriman reached a place where the road ran between high banks, one of which he mounted and paced along as a change from the hard trackway. Ahead of him he saw an old man sitting down, with eyes fixed on the dust of the road, as if resting and meditating at one and the same time. Being pretty sure that he recognized his uncle in that venerable figure, Festus came forward stealthily, till he was immediately above the old man's back. The latter was clothed in faded nankeen breeches, speckled stockings, a drab hat, and a coat which had once been light blue, but from exposure as a scarecrow had assumed the complexion and fibre of a dried pudding-cloth. The farmer was, in fact, returning to the hall, which he had left in the morning some time later than his nephew, to seek an asylum in a hollow tree about two miles off. The tree was so situated as to command a view of the building, and Uncle Benjy had managed to clamber up inside this natural fortification high enough to watch his residence through a hole in the bark, till, gathering from the words of occasional passers-by that the alarm was at least premature, he had ventured into daylight again.
He was now engaged in abstractedly tracing a diagram in the dust with his walking-stick, and muttered words to himself aloud. Presently he arose and went on his way without turning round. Festus was curious enough to descend and look at the marks. They represented an oblong, with two semi-diagonals, and a little square in the middle. Upon the diagonals were the figures 20 and 17, and on each side of the parallelogram stood a letter signifying the point of the compass.
'What crazy thing is running in his head now?' said Festus to himself, with supercilious pity, recollecting that the farmer had been singing those very numbers earlier in the morning. Being able to make nothing of it, he lengthened his strides, and treading on tiptoe overtook his relative, saluting him by scratching his back like a hen. The startled old farmer danced round like a top, and gasping, said, as he perceived his nephew, 'What, Festy! not thrown from your horse and killed, then, after all!''No, nunc. What made ye think that?'
'Champion passed me about an hour ago, when I was in hiding--poor timid soul of me, for I had nothing to lose by the French coming-- and he looked awful with the stirrups dangling and the saddle empty. 'Tis a gloomy sight, Festy, to see a horse cantering without a rider, and I thought you had been--feared you had been thrown off and killed as dead as a nit.''Bless your dear old heart for being so anxious! And what pretty picture were you drawing just now with your walking-stick!'
'O, that! That is only a way I have of amusing myself. It showed how the French might have advanced to the attack, you know. Such trifles fill the head of a weak old man like me.''Or the place where something is hid away--money, for instance?' 'Festy,' said the farmer reproachfully, 'you always know I use the old glove in the bedroom cupboard for any guinea or two I possess.' 'Of course I do,' said Festus ironically.
They had now reached a lonely inn about a mile and a half from the hall, and, the farmer not responding to his nephew's kind invitation to come in and treat him, Festus entered alone. He was dusty, draggled, and weary, and he remained at the tavern long. The trumpet-major, in the meantime, having searched the roads in vain, heard in the course of the evening of the yeoman's arrival at this place, and that he would probably be found there still. He accordingly approached the door, reaching it just as the dusk of evening changed to darkness.
There was no light in the passage, but John pushed on at hazard, inquired for Derriman, and was told that he would be found in the back parlour alone. When Loveday first entered the apartment he was unable to see anything, but following the guidance of a vigorous snoring, he came to the settle, upon which Festus lay asleep, his position being faintly signified by the shine of his buttons and other parts of his uniform. John laid his hand upon the reclining figure and shook him, and by degrees Derriman stopped his snore and sat up.'Who are you?' he said, in the accents of a man who has been drinking hard. 'Is it you, dear Anne? Let me kiss you; yes, I will.'
'Shut your mouth, you pitiful blockhead; I'll teach you genteeler manners than to persecute a young woman in that way!' and taking Festus by the ear, he gave it a good pull. Festus broke out with an oath, and struck a vague blow in the air with his fist; whereupon the trumpet-major dealt him a box on the right ear, and a similar one on the left to artistically balance the first. Festus jumped up and used his fists wildly, but without any definite result.
'Want to fight, do ye, eh?' said John. 'Nonsense! you can't fight, you great baby, and never could. You are only fit to be smacked!' and he dealt Festus a specimen of the same on the cheek with the palm of his hand.'No, sir, no! O, you are Loveday, the young man she's going to be married to, I suppose? Dash me, I didn't want to hurt her, sir.'
'Yes, my name is Loveday; and you'll know where to find me, since we can't finish this to-night. Pistols or swords, whichever you like, my boy. Take that, and that, so that you may not forget to call upon me!' and again he smacked the yeoman's ears and cheeks. 'Do you know what it is for, eh?''No, Mr. Loveday, sir--yes, I mean, I do.' 'What is it for, then? I shall keep smacking until you tell me. Gad! if you weren't drunk,
I'd half kill you here to-night.'
'It is because I served her badly. Damned if I care! I'll do it again, and be hanged to 'ee! Where's my horse Champion? Tell me that,' and he hit at the trumpet-major.
John parried this attack, and taking him firmly by the collar, pushed him down into the seat, saying, 'Here I hold 'ee till you beg pardon for your doings to-day. Do you want any more of it, do you?' And he shook the yeoman to a sort of jelly.
'I do beg pardon--no, I don't. I say this, that you shall not take such liberties with old Squire Derriman's nephew, you dirty miller's son, you flour-worm, you smut in the corn! I'll call you out to-morrow morning, and have my revenge.'
'Of course you will; that's what I came for.' And pushing him back into the corner of the settle, Loveday went out of the house, feeling considerable satisfaction at having got himself into the beginning of as nice a quarrel about Anne Garland as the most jealous lover could desire.
But of one feature in this curious adventure he had not the least notion--that Festus Derriman, misled by the darkness, the fumes of his potations, and the constant sight of Anne and Bob together, never once supposed his assailant to be any other man than Bob, believing the trumpet-major miles away.
There was a moon during the early part of John's walk home, but when he had arrived within a mile of Overcombe the sky clouded over, and rain suddenly began to fall with some violence. Near him was a wooden granary on tall stone staddles, and perceiving that the rain was only a thunderstorm which would soon pass away, he ascended the steps and entered the doorway, where he stood watching the half-obscured moon through the streaming rain. Presently, to his surprise, he beheld a female figure running forward with great rapidity, not towards the granary for shelter, but towards open ground. What could she be running for in that direction? The answer came in the appearance of his brother Bob from that quarter, seated on the back of his father's heavy horse. As soon as the woman met him, Bob dismounted and caught her in his arms. They stood locked together, the rain beating into their unconscious forms, and the horse looking on.
The trumpet-major fell back inside the granary, and threw himself on a heap of empty sacks which lay in the corner: he had recognized the woman to be Anne. Here he reclined in a stupor till he was aroused by the sound of voices under him, the voices of Anne and his brother, who, having at last discovered that they were getting wet, had taken shelter under the granary floor.
'I have been home,' said she. 'Mother and Molly have both got back long ago. We were all anxious about you, and I came out to look for you. O, Bob, I am so glad to see you again!'
John might have heard every word of the conversation, which was continued in the same strain for a long time; but he stopped his ears, and would not. Still they remained, and still was he determined that they should not see him. With the conserved hope of more than half a year dashed away in a moment, he could yet feel that the cruelty of a protest would be even greater than its inutility. It was absolutely by his own contrivance that the situation had been shaped. Bob, left to himself, would long ere this have been the husband of another woman.
The rain decreased, and the lovers went on. John looked after them as they strolled, aquatinted by the weak moon and mist. Bob had thrust one of his arms through the rein of the horse, and the other was round Anne's waist. When they were lost behind the declivity the trumpet-major came out, and walked homeward even more slowly than they. As he went on, his face put off its complexion of despair for one of serene resolve. For the first time in his dealings with friends he entered upon a course of counterfeiting, set his features to conceal his thought, and instructed his tongue to do likewise. He threw fictitiousness into his very gait, even now, when there was nobody to see him, and struck at stems of wild parsley with his regimental switch as he had used to do when soldiering was new to him, and life in general a charming experience.
Thus cloaking his sickly thought, he descended to the mill as the others had done before him, occasionally looking down upon the wet road to notice how close Anne's little tracks were to Bob's all the way along, and how precisely a curve in his course was followed by a curve in hers. But after this he erected his head and walked so smartly up to the front door that his spurs rang through the court.
They had all reached home, but before any of them could speak he cried gaily, 'Ah, Bob, I have been thinking of you! By God, how are you, my boy? No French cut-throats after all, you see. Here we are, well and happy together again.''A good Providence has watched over us,' said Mrs. Loveday cheerfully. 'Yes, in all times and places we are in God's hand.' 'So we be, so we be!' said the miller, who still shone in all the fierceness of uniform. 'Well, now we'll ha'e a drop o' drink.' 'There's none,' said David, coming forward with a drawn face. 'What!' said the miller.
'Afore I went to church for a pike to defend my native country from Boney, I pulled out the spigots of all the barrels, maister; for, thinks I--damn him!--since we can't drink it ourselves, he shan't have it, nor none of his men.''But you shouldn't have done it till you was sure he'd come!' said the miller, aghast.
'Chok' it all, I was sure!' said David. 'I'd sooner see churches fall than good drink wasted; but how was I to know better?'
'Well, well; what with one thing and another this day will cost me a pretty penny!' said Loveday, bustling off to the cellar, which he found to be several inches deep in stagnant liquor. 'John, how can I welcome 'ee?' he continued hopelessly, on his return to the room. 'Only go and see what he's done!'
John said that he did not require anything at all; and then they all sat down to supper, and were very temperately gay with a drop of mild elder-wine which Mrs. Loveday found in the bottom of a jar. The trumpet-major, adhering to the part he meant to play, gave humorous accounts of his adventures since he had last sat there. He told them that the season was to be a very lively one--that the royal family was coming, as usual, and many other interesting things; so that when he left them to return to barracks few would have supposed the British army to contain a lighter-hearted man.
Anne was the only one who doubted the reality of this behaviour. When she had gone up to her bedroom she stood for some time looking at the wick of the candle as if it were a painful object, the expression of her face being shaped by the conviction that John's afternoon words when he helped her out of the way of Champion were not in accordance with his words to-night, and that the dimly-realized kiss during her faintness was no imaginary one. But in the blissful circumstances of having Bob at hand again she took optimist views, and persuaded herself that John would soon begin to see her in the light of a sister.
To cursory view, John Loveday seemed to accomplish this with amazing ease. Whenever he came from barracks to Overcombe, which was once or twice a week, he related news of all sorts to her and Bob with infinite zest, and made the time as happy a one as had ever been known at the mill, save for himself alone. He said nothing of Festus, except so far as to inform Anne that he had expected to see him and been disappointed. On the evening after the King's arrival at his seaside residence John appeared again, staying to supper and describing the royal entry, the many tasteful illuminations and transparencies which had been exhibited, the quantities of tallow candles burnt for that purpose, and the swarms of aristocracy who had followed the King thither.
When supper was over Bob went outside the house to shut the shutters, which had, as was often the case, been left open some time after lights were kindled within. John still sat at the table when his brother approached the window, though the others had risen and retired. Bob was struck by seeing through the pane how John's face had changed. Throughout the supper-time he had been talking to Anne in the gay tone habitual with him now, which gave greater strangeness to the gloom of his present appearance. He remained in thought for a moment, took a letter from his breast-pocket, opened it, and, with a tender smile at his weakness, kissed the writing before restoring it to its place. The letter was one that Anne had written to him at Exonbury.
Bob stood perplexed; and then a suspicion crossed his mind that John, from brotherly goodness, might be feigning a satisfaction with recent events which he did not feel. Bob now made a noise with the shutters, at which the trumpet-major rose and went out, Bob at once following him.'Jack,' said the sailor ingenuously, 'I'm terribly sorry that I've done wrong.' 'How?' asked his brother.
'In courting our little Anne. Well, you see, John, she was in the same house with me, and somehow or other I made myself her beau. But I have been thinking that perhaps you had the first claim on her, and if so, Jack, I'll make way for 'ee. I--I don't care for her much, you know--not so very much, and can give her up very well. It is nothing serious between us at all. Yes, John, you try to get her; I can look elsewhere.' Bob never knew how much he loved Anne till he found himself making this speech of renunciation.
'O Bob, you are mistaken!' said the trumpet-major, who was not deceived. 'When I first saw her I admired her, and I admire her now, and like her. I like her so well that I shall be glad to see you marry her.'
'But,' replied Bob, with hesitation, 'I thought I saw you looking very sad, as if you were in love; I saw you take out a letter, in short. That's what it was disturbed me and made me come to you.'
'O, I see your mistake!' said John, laughing forcedly.
At this minute Mrs. Loveday and the miller, who were taking a twilight walk in the garden, strolled round near to where the brothers stood. She talked volubly on events in Budmouth, as most people did at this time. 'And they tell me that the theatre has been painted up afresh,' she was saying, 'and that the actors have come for the season, with the most lovely actresses that ever were seen.'When they had passed by John continued, 'I AM in love, Bob; but--not with Anne.' 'Ah! who is it then?' said the mate hopefully.
'One of the actresses at the theatre,' John replied, with a concoctive look at the vanishing forms of Mr. and Mrs. Loveday. 'She is a very lovely woman, you know. But we won't say anything more about it--it dashes a man so.''O, one of the actresses!' said Bob, with open mouth. 'But don't you say anything about it!' continued the trumpet-major heartily. 'I don't want it known.' 'No, no--I won't, of course. May I not know her name?' 'No, not now, Bob. I cannot tell 'ee,' John answered, and with truth, for Loveday did not know the name of any actress in the world.
When his brother had gone, Captain Bob hastened off in a state of great animation to Anne, whom he found on the top of a neighbouring hillock which the daylight had scarcely as yet deserted.'You have been a long time coming, sir,' said she, in sprightly tones of reproach. 'Yes, dearest; and you'll be glad to hear why. I've found out the whole mystery--yes--why he's queer, and everything.' Anne looked startled. 'He's up to the gunnel in love! We must try to help him on in it, or I fear he'll go melancholy-mad like.' 'We help him?' she asked faintly. 'He's lost his heart to one of the play-actresses at Budmouth, and I think she slights him.' 'O, I am so glad!' she exclaimed. 'Glad that his venture don't prosper?' 'O no; glad he's so sensible. How long is it since that alarm of the French?' 'Six weeks, honey. Why do you ask?' 'Men can forget in six weeks, can't they, Bob?' The impression that John had really kissed her still remained.
'Well, some men might,' observed Bob judicially. '_I_ couldn't. Perhaps John might. I couldn't forget YOU in twenty times as long. Do you know, Anne, I half thought it was you John cared about; and it was a weight off my heart when he said he didn't.''Did he say he didn't?' 'Yes. He assured me himself that the only person in the hold of his heart was this lovely play-actress, and nobody else.' 'How I should like to see her!' 'Yes. So should I.'
'I would rather it had been one of our own neighbours' girls, whose birth and breeding we know of; but still, if that is his taste, I hope it will end well for him. How very quick he has been! I certainly wish we could see her.''I don't know so much as her name. He is very close, and wouldn't tell a thing about her.'
'Couldn't we get him to go to the theatre with us? and then we could watch him, and easily find out the right one. Then we would learn if she is a good young woman; and if she is, could we not ask her here, and so make it smoother for him? He has been very gay lately; that means budding love: and sometimes between his gaieties he has had melancholy moments; that means there's difficulty.'
Bob thought her plan a good one, and resolved to put it in practice on the first available evening. Anne was very curious as to whether John did really cherish a new passion, the story having quite surprised her. Possibly it was true; six weeks had passed since John had shown a single symptom of the old attachment, and what could not that space of time effect in the heart of a soldier whose very profession it was to leave girls behind him?
After this John Loveday did not come to see them for nearly a month, a neglect which was set down by Bob as an additional proof that his brother's affections were no longer exclusively centred in his old home. When at last he did arrive, and the theatre-going was mentioned to him, the flush of consciousness which Anne expected to see upon his face was unaccountably absent.
'Yes, Bob; I should very well like to go to the theatre,' he replied heartily. 'Who is going besides?'
'Only Anne,' Bob told him, and then it seemed to occur to the trumpet-major that something had been expected of him. He rose and said privately to Bob with some confusion, 'O yes, of course we'll go. As I am connected with one of the--in short I can get you in for nothing, you know. At least let me manage everything.''Yes, yes. I wonder you didn't propose to take us before, Jack, and let us have a good look at her.' 'I ought to have. You shall go on a King's night. You won't want me to point her out, Bob; I have my reasons at present for asking it?' 'We'll be content with guessing,' said his brother.
When the gallant John was gone, Anne observed, 'Bob, how he is changed! I watched him. He showed no feeling, even when you burst upon him suddenly with the subject nearest his heart.''It must be because his suit don't fay,' said Captain Bob.
At The Theatre Royal
In two or three days a message arrived asking them to attend at the theatre on the coming evening, with the added request that they would dress in their gayest clothes, to do justice to the places taken. Accordingly, in the course of the afternoon they drove off, Bob having clothed himself in a splendid suit, recently purchased as an attempt to bring himself nearer to Anne's style when they appeared in public together. As finished off by this dashing and really fashionable attire, he was the perfection of a beau in the dog-days; pantaloons and boots of the newest make; yards and yards of muslin wound round his neck, forming a sort of asylum for the lower part of his face; two fancy waistcoats, and coat-buttons like circular shaving glasses. The absurd extreme of female fashion, which was to wear muslin dresses in January, was at this time equalled by that of the men, who wore clothes enough in August to melt them. Nobody would have guessed from Bob's presentation now that he had ever been aloft on a dark night in the Atlantic, or knew the hundred ingenuities that could be performed with a rope's end and a marline-spike as well as his mother tongue.
It was a day of days. Anne wore her celebrated celestial blue pelisse, her Leghorn hat, and her muslin dress with the waist under the arms; the latter being decorated with excellent Honiton lace bought of the woman who travelled from that place to Overcombe and its neighbourhood with a basketful of her own manufacture, and a cushion on which she worked by the wayside. John met the lovers at the inn outside the town, and after stabling the horse they entered the town together, the trumpet-major informing them that the watering-place had never been so full before, that the Court, the Prince of Wales, and everybody of consequence was there, and that an attic could scarcely be got for money. The King had gone for a cruise in his yacht, and they would be in time to see him land.
Then drums and fifes were heard, and in a minute or two they saw Sergeant Stanner advancing along the street with a firm countenance, fiery poll, and rigid staring eyes, in front of his recruiting-party. The sergeant's sword was drawn, and at intervals of two or three inches along its shining blade were impaled fluttering one-pound notes, to express the lavish bounty that was offered. He gave a stern, suppressed nod of friendship to our people, and passed by. Next they came up to a waggon, bowered over with leaves and flowers, so that the men inside could hardly be seen.
'Come to see the King, hip-hip hurrah!' cried a voice within, and turning they saw through the leaves the nose and face of Cripplestraw. The waggon contained all Derriman's workpeople.'Is your master here?' said John. 'No, trumpet-major, sir. But young maister is coming to fetch us at nine o'clock, in case we should be too blind to drive home.' 'O! where is he now?' 'Never mind,' said Anne impatiently, at which the trumpet-major obediently moved on.
By the time they reached the pier it was six o'clock; the royal yacht was returning; a fact announced by the ships in the harbour firing a salute. The King came ashore with his hat in his hand, and returned the salutations of the well-dressed crowd in his old indiscriminate fashion. While this cheering and waving of handkerchiefs was going on Anne stood between the two brothers, who protectingly joined their hands behind her back, as if she were a delicate piece of statuary that a push might damage. Soon the King had passed, and receiving the military salutes of the piquet, joined the Queen and princesses at Gloucester Lodge, the homely house of red brick in which he unostentatiously resided.
As there was yet some little time before the theatre would open, they strayed upon the velvet sands, and listened to the songs of the sailors, one of whom extemporized for the occasion:--'Portland Road the King aboard, the King aboard! Portland Road the King aboard, We weighed and sailed from Portland Road !' * * Vide Preface.
When they had looked on awhile at the combats at single-stick which were in progress hard by, and seen the sum of five guineas handed over to the modest gentleman who had broken most heads, they returned to Gloucester Lodge, whence the King and other members of his family now reappeared, and drove, at a slow trot, round to the theatre in carriages drawn by the Hanoverian white horses that were so well known in the town at this date.
When Anne and Bob entered the theatre they found that John had taken excellent places, and concluded that he had got them for nothing through the influence of the lady of his choice. As a matter of fact he had paid full prices for those two seats, like any other outsider, and even then had a difficulty in getting them, it being a King's night. When they were settled he himself retired to an obscure part of the pit, from which the stage was scarcely visible.
'We can see beautifully,' said Bob, in an aristocratic voice, as he took a delicate pinch of snuff, and drew out the magnificent pocket-handkerchief brought home from the East for such occasions. 'But I am afraid poor John can't see at all.''But we can see him,' replied Anne, 'and notice by his face which of them it is he is so charmed with. The light of that corner candle falls right upon his cheek.'
By this time the King had appeared in his place, which was overhung by a canopy of crimson satin fringed with gold. About twenty places were occupied by the royal family and suite; and beyond them was a crowd of powdered and glittering personages of fashion, completely filling the centre of the little building; though the King so frequently patronized the local stage during these years that the crush was not inconvenient.
The curtain rose and the play began. To-night it was one of Colman's, who at this time enjoyed great popularity, and Mr. Bannister supported the leading character. Anne, with her hand privately clasped in Bob's, and looking as if she did not know it, partly watched the piece and partly the face of the impressionable John who had so soon transferred his affections elsewhere. She had not long to wait. When a certain one of the subordinate ladies of the comedy entered on the stage the trumpet-major in his corner not only looked conscious, but started and gazed with parted lips.'This must be the one,' whispered Anne quickly. 'See, he is agitated!' She turned to Bob, but at the same moment his hand convulsively closed upon hers as he, too, strangely fixed his eyes upon the newly-entered lady. 'What is it?'
Anne looked from one to the other without regarding the stage at all. Her answer came in the voice of the actress who now spoke for the first time. The accents were those of Miss Matilda Johnson.One thought rushed into both their minds on the instant, and Bob was the first to utter it. 'What--is she the woman of his choice after all?' 'If so, it is a dreadful thing!' murmured Anne.
But, as may be imagined, the unfortunate John was as much surprised by this rencounter as the other two. Until this moment he had been in utter ignorance of the theatrical company and all that pertained to it. Moreover, much as he knew of Miss Johnson, he was not aware that she had ever been trained in her youth as an actress, and that after lapsing into straits and difficulties for a couple of years she had been so fortunate as to again procure an engagement here.
The trumpet-major, though not prominently seated, had been seen by Matilda already, who had observed still more plainly her old betrothed and Anne in the other part of the house. John was not concerned on his own account at being face to face with her, but at the extraordinary suspicion that this conjuncture must revive in the minds of his best beloved friends. After some moments of pained reflection he tapped his knee.'Gad, I won't explain; it shall go as it is!' he said. 'Let them think her mine. Better that than the truth, after all.'
Had personal prominence in the scene been at this moment proportioned to intentness of feeling, the whole audience, regal and otherwise, would have faded into an indistinct mist of background, leaving as the sole emergent and telling figures Bob and Anne at one point, the trumpet-major on the left hand, and Matilda at the opposite corner of the stage. But fortunately the deadlock of awkward suspense into which all four had fallen was terminated by an accident. A messenger entered the King's box with despatches. There was an instant pause in the performance. The despatch-box being opened the King read for a few moments with great interest, the eyes of the whole house, including those of Anne Garland, being anxiously fixed upon his face; for terrible events fell as unexpectedly as thunderbolts at this critical time of our history. The King at length beckoned to Lord --, who was immediately behind him, the play was again stopped, and the contents of the despatch were publicly communicated to the audience.
Sir Robert Calder, cruising off Finisterre, had come in sight of Villeneuve, and made the signal for action, which, though checked by the weather, had resulted in the capture of two Spanish line-of-battle ships, and the retreat of Villeneuve into Ferrol.
The news was received with truly national feeling, if noise might be taken as an index of patriotism. 'Rule Britannia' was called for and sung by the whole house. But the importance of the event was far from being recognized at this time; and Bob Loveday, as he sat there and heard it, had very little conception how it would bear upon his destiny.
This parenthetic excitement diverted for a few minutes the eyes of Bob and Anne from the trumpet-major; and when the play proceeded, and they looked back to his corner, he was gone.'He's just slipped round to talk to her behind the scenes,' said Bob knowingly. 'Shall we go too, and tease him for a sly dog?' 'No, I would rather not.' 'Shall we go home, then?' 'Not unless her presence is too much for you?' 'O--not at all. We'll stay here. Ah, there she is again.' They sat on, and listened to Matilda's speeches which she delivered with such delightful coolness that they soon began to considerably interest one of the party.
'Well, what a nerve the young woman has!' he said at last in tones of admiration, and gazing at Miss Johnson with all his might. 'After all, Jack's taste is not so bad. She's really deuced clever.''Bob, I'll go home if you wish to,' said Anne quickly.
'O no--let us see how she fleets herself off that bit of a scrape she's playing at now. Well, what a hand she is at it, to be sure!'
Anne said no more, but waited on, supremely uncomfortable, and almost tearful. She began to feel that she did not like life particularly well; it was too complicated: she saw nothing of the scene, and only longed to get away, and to get Bob away with her. At last the curtain fell on the final act, and then began the farce of 'No Song no Supper.' Matilda did not appear in this piece, and Anne again inquired if they should go home. This time Bob agreed, and taking her under his care with redoubled affection, to make up for the species of coma which had seized upon his heart for a time, he quietly accompanied her out of the house.
When they emerged upon the esplanade, the August moon was shining across the sea from the direction of St. Aldhelm's Head. Bob unconsciously loitered, and turned towards the pier. Reaching the end of the promenade they surveyed the quivering waters in silence for some time, until a long dark line shot from behind the promontory of the Nothe, and swept forward into the harbour.'What boat is that?' said Anne.
'It seems to be some frigate lying in the Roads,' said Bob carelessly, as he brought Anne round with a gentle pressure of his arm and bent his steps towards the homeward end of the town.
Meanwhile, Miss Johnson, having finished her duties for that evening, rapidly changed her dress, and went out likewise. The prominent position which Anne and Captain Bob had occupied side by side in the theatre, left her no alternative but to suppose that the situation was arranged by Bob as a species of defiance to herself; and her heart, such as it was, became proportionately embittered against him. In spite of the rise in her fortunes, Miss Johnson still remembered--and always would remember--her humiliating departure from Overcombe; and it had been to her even a more grievous thing that Bob had acquiesced in his brother's ruling than that John had determined it. At the time of setting out she was sustained by a firm faith that Bob would follow her, and nullify his brother's scheme; but though she waited Bob never came.
She passed along by the houses facing the sea, and scanned the shore, the footway, and the open road close to her, which, illuminated by the slanting moon to a great brightness, sparkled with minute facets of crystallized salts from the water sprinkled there during the day. The promenaders at the further edge appeared in dark profiles; and beyond them was the grey sea, parted into two masses by the tapering braid of moonlight across the waves.
Two forms crossed this line at a startling nearness to her; she marked them at once as Anne and Bob Loveday. They were walking slowly, and in the earnestness of their discourse were oblivious of the presence of any human beings save themselves. Matilda stood motionless till they had passed.
'How I love them!' she said, treading the initial step of her walk onwards with a vehemence that walking did not demand.
'So do I--especially one,' said a voice at her elbow; and a man wheeled round her, and looked in her face, which had been fully exposed to the moon.
'Don't you remember, ma'am? We walked some way together towards Overcombe earlier in the summer.' Matilda looked more closely, and perceived that the speaker was Derriman, in plain clothes. He continued, 'You are one of the ladies of the theatre, I know. May I ask why you said in such a queer way that you loved that couple?''In a queer way?' 'Well, as if you hated them.' 'I don't mind your knowing that I have good reason to hate them. You do too, it seems?'
'That man,' said Festus savagely, 'came to me one night about that very woman; insulted me before I could put myself on my guard, and ran away before I could come up with him and avenge myself. The woman tricks me at every turn! I want to part 'em.'
'Then why don't you? There's a splendid opportunity. Do you see that soldier walking along? He's a marine; he looks into the gallery of the theatre every night: and he's in connexion with the press-gang that came ashore just now from the frigate lying in Portland Roads. They are often here for men.''Yes. Our boatmen dread 'em.' 'Well, we have only to tell him that Loveday is a seaman to be clear of him this very night.' 'Done!' said Festus. 'Take my arm and come this way.' They walked across to the footway. 'Fine night, sergeant.' 'It is, sir.' 'Looking for hands, I suppose?' 'It is not to be known, sir. We don't begin till half past ten.' 'It is a pity you don't begin now. I could show 'ee excellent game.'
'What, that little nest of fellows at the "Old Rooms" in Cove Row? I have just heard of 'em.'
'No--come here.' Festus, with Miss Johnson on his arm, led the sergeant quickly along the parade, and by the time they reached the Narrows the lovers, who walked but slowly, were visible in front of them. 'There's your man,' he said.