GLADYS, THE REAPER
Author of Fay Arlington, Simplicity and Fascination, The Miller's Daughter, etc. etc.
... standing like Ruth amid the alien corn
Griffith Farran Browne & Co. Limited 35 Bow Street, Covent Garden London
THE FARMER'S WIFE.
It is an evening in June, and the skies that have been weeping of late, owing to some calamity best known to themselves, have suddenly dried their eyes, and called up a smile to enliven their gloomy countenances. The farmers, who have been shaking their heads at sight of the unmown grass, and predicting a bad hay-harvest, are beginning to brighten up with the weather, and to consult upon the propriety of mowing to-morrow. The barometer is gently tapped by many a sturdy hand, and the result is favourable; so that there are good prospects of a few weeks' sunshine to atone for the late clouds.
Sunshine: how gracious it is just now! Down yonder in the west, that ancient of days, the sun throws around him his evening glory, and right royally he does it. The rain-covered meadows glow beneath it, like so many lakes—the river looks up rejoicing, and the distant mountains are wrapped in garments dyed in the old king's own regal colours. The woods look as smooth and glossy as the braided locks of maidens prepared for conquests; and the roads and paths that wind here and there amongst the trees, are as gay as little streamlets in the sun's reflected light.
Suddenly a rainbow leaps, as it were, out of the river, and spans, with its mighty arch, the country scene before us.
'A rainbow at night Is the shepherd's delight;'
so the proverbially-grumbling farmers will have another prognostic to clear their countenances.
Perchance the worthy man who inhabits the farm we have just reached, may be congratulating himself upon it, as he jogs home from market this Saturday evening. If he could look upon his homestead with our eyes, I feel sure he would cease to despond. How cheerily the wide, slated roof gleams forth from amongst the trees, and returns the warm glance of the sun with one almost as warm, albeit proceeding from a very moist eyelid! How gladly the white smoke arises once more, spirally, from the large chimneys, after having been so long depressed by the heavy atmosphere! and how the massive ivy that covers the gable end, responds to the songs of the birds that warble their evening gladness amongst its gleaming leaves! The face of the dwelling is as cheerful as are the sun, river, mountains and meads, that it looks down upon from its slight elevation. Every leaf of the vine and pyrus-japonica that covers its front, is bedecked with a diamond; and the roses, laburnums, nasturtiums, and other gay flowers in the garden, drop jewels more freely than the maiden in the fairy tale, as they glisten beneath the rainbow.
This is what we see from the hawthorn lane below the house; but walking up into the highroad at the back, the scene changes, and just as our sympathies with beautiful nature were called forth below, so are they instantaneously assailed by our fellow-creatures above.
We come to the substantial gate that is the entrance to the pretty farm, and a curious and a motley group is there. We see such groups almost daily, here in Carmarthenshire; but as all the counties of England and Wales are not thoroughfares for the Irish from their country to England, we will describe these poor people as graphically as we can. There is evidently a consultation going on amongst them, and the general attention is directed to one individual of their party.
This is a young girl of some seventeen or eighteen years of age. She is seated on the ground, and leans her back against the stone wall that flanks the substantial gate afore mentioned. To judge from her general appearance she can scarcely belong to the ragged set that surround her, for there is an attempt at neatness and cleanliness in her attire, though it is poor enough, that the rest cannot boast of. She wears a cotton gown, shawl, straw bonnet, and shoes and stockings, which were once respectable and seem to have been originally intended for her. True, they are all worn and shabby-looking. The gown is faded, the bonnet very brown, and the shoes have holes in them; but they indicate a mind, or station, at least a degree above those of her companions. Her head is so inclined upon her breast, that it is difficult to see more than a pale face underneath the bonnet; but a pair of thin white hands that rest listlessly upon her lap, still tend to induce the notion that the girl cannot quite belong to the wild-looking company with which she is mixed up.
Right in front of her, and looking alternately from her to a man to whom she is talking, stands a middle-aged woman of good-natured but terrified aspect. A checked and ragged handkerchief confines her black, rough hair—a torn red cloak covers a portion of her body, and a curious collection of rags and tatters makes a vain effort to shelter the rest. In the large hood of the red cloak a hardy-looking infant is tied up, its little head and hand being alone visible, which are engaged in munching and holding a crust of bread. At the feet of the woman are sundry articles, amongst which a bundle of rags, an iron pot, and a tin saucepan, are the most conspicuous. The man to whom she is talking is a tall, gaunt specimen of Irish poverty and famine. He holds a rake and pitchfork in his hand, and leans upon them for support. Gazing into his face is a rough, surly-looking youth, who seems cordially to agree with all that he says.
Leaning against the wall that flanks the gate on the side opposite that which supports the girl, are another man and woman, who cast from time to time pitying glances at the pale face beneath the straw bonnet. These are as raggedly picturesque in their attire as the rest—a short red petticoat, a blanket substituted for a shawl, and a bundle on the back, distinguish the female; a long great coat and short trousers the male. They are deep in conversation upon the common theme. A young man of more stalwart figure stands beside the girl, and failing to attract her attention, kneels down on one knee and speaks low to her. A little boy is seated at her feet, alternately stroking her hands, and stirring up a small puddle of water with a short stick. Two other children are engaged at a little distance in making a lean cur beg for a mouthful of bread, which the generous urchins would evidently rather share with the dog than eat alone.
The one prevailing feature of the party is rags, and how they hold together no tongue can tell.
At last there is a general movement, as well as general clamour of voices and much gesticulation. All, old and young, with the exception of the girl, gather round the woman in the red cloak, and seem to be urging her to do something that she does not like to do. They point to the girl, and the appeal is not in vain.
The woman moves slowly and somewhat sulkily towards one of the boys, takes him by the hand, and returning to the gate, opens it, and walks down the good broad road that leads to the farm, the boy trotting by her side. We watch the bright red cloak till it disappears amongst the trees that surround the house; and turn again to wonder what can be the matter with the girl. She neither moves nor speaks, although her kindly companions in turn endeavour to attract her attention.
In the course of a few minutes the red cloak is again seen coming up the road, closely followed by another figure. We soon hear sounds of earnest pleading, in a broad Irish brogue, from our friend of the red cloak. As they approach the gate sound distinctly the words,—
'It's all thrue, my leddy—as thrue as the blessed gospel. I'm afeered she's dyin' if yer honour's glory won't lend us a hand.'
'I don't know how to believe you, my good woman, for some of you come every week and deceive me with all kinds of stories.'
'An' she's Welsh, yer honour. She's come to find out her friends, my leddy! God bless ye, ye've a kind eye and a gintle voice,'
Red cloak spoke the truth. The woman who is now added to the group has truly 'a kind eye and a gintle voice.' She is short and small of form, of middle age and matronly appearance; neatly and even handsomely dressed, as becomes the mistress of one of the largest and wealthiest farms of a country where large farms are rare. She has a handsome, placid face, and looks as if the world had moved on quietly and happily ever since she had been on its surface. Her dark eyes, that must once have been bright and piercing, are softened down to gentleness by the quieting hand of time; and the black hair is slightly streaked with white by the same unsparing fingers. But for this, age would seem to have little to do with the comely dame who is now bending her neatly-attired head before the shabby-looking girl against the wall,
'What is the matter with you, my poor girl?' says the 'gintle voice,'
These kind words have a power that the equally kind ones of the rough friends around had not. The brown straw bonnet is raised from the breast, and we perceive that the girl is neither dead nor sleeping. We perceive something more—a pair of the most painfully melancholy, and beautiful violet eyes that we ever looked into, which are languidly uplifted to the farm-lady. With the words, 'I am very tired, ma'am,' the eyes reclose, and we see long black fringes of soft hair rest upon the pale, thin cheek. The ready tear of compassion springs to the matron's eyes, as she stoops still lower to feel the pulse in the wan hand.
'What is the matter with her?' she inquires, turning to the bystanders.
'Tis tiert all out she is, my leddy. We come by say from Watherford to Milford, and thin, yer honour, we come on foot all trough Pembrokeshire, and County Carmarthin, and now she's jist kilt.'
'But what is she going to do? Why do you come away from Ireland at all?'
'Och, my leddy, shure we're starvin' there. And we jist come to luk for the work in the harvest, an' we're goin' to Herefordshire to git it. An' plaase yer honour's glory, she come wid us to this counthry to luk for her mother's relations that's Welsh, my leddy, small blame to thim, seein' her mother married an Irishman, and come to live in our counthry.'
'I will give you a night's lodging, and that is all I can do for you,' says the gentle mistress of the farm.
'The Lord bless ye, my leddy, the holy angels keep ye, the blessed Vargin and all the saints—'
'Oh, hush! hush!' exclaims the good woman, highly shocked. 'Help the poor girl, and come with me.'
The woman went towards the girl, and trying to assist her to rise, said,—
'Now, Gladys, asthore! An' shure, my leddy, she's a thrue Welsh name. I'll help ye, my darlin', there! Och! an it's betther she is already, as soon as she heerd of a night's lodgin'.'
The young man who was kneeling by the girl just now, goes to her other side, and succeeds in supporting her by putting his arm round her waist, whilst the woman holds her by one arm; and thus they follow the good mistress of the farm, followed in their turn by the rest of the party.
They move slowly down the road, underneath the fine oak and ash trees that shelter the back of the farm, until they reach a large farm-yard, wherein some thirty fine cows, of Welsh, English, and Alderney breed, are yielding their rich milk at the hands of some three or four rough-looking men and women who are kneeling down to get it.
'Come here, Tom,' cries the mistress, authoritatively.
Tom gives a knowing wink to the nearest girl, mutters, 'Irish again,' and goes to his mistress.
'See if there is good clean straw spread in the barn, Tom, and make haste.'
Tom goes to a large building outside the farm-yard, whither his mistress and the rest follow him.
'Plenty of straw, ma'am, good enough for such folk,' says Tom.
'Spread some more, and shut the window in the loft.'
This is done in a slow grumbling way.
The barn is a large, clean, airy building, that must look like a palace to these ragged, way-worn people.
'Now you may sleep here to-night, provided you go off early and quietly to-morrow morning. There is a good pump down below, where you can get water to wash yourselves, and at eight o'clock I shall lock the barn door; my husband always insists upon that.' Thus speaks the mistress.
'Heaven bless his honour, we're all honest. We wouldn't harm a hair of your blessed heads. We heerd o' ye many a time, and o' the good lodgin' and supper—the sun shine upon ye—ye give to the poor Irish on their thravels.' Thus answers the Irishwoman.
'You tell one another then! And this is why we have more calls than any one else!'
'The Lord love ye, and why wouldn't we? 'Tis the good as always gets the blessin'.'
Whilst this little conversation is going on, the girl, Gladys, is laid upon the shawl-blanket of the woman who wears that singular attire, and a pillow, half rags, half straw, is contrived for her head. The bonnet is taken off to increase her comfort, and, as her head falls languidly back upon the rough pillow, a wan, thin face is disclosed, that, from the regular outline of the profile, must be pretty, under happier circumstances, and is interesting.
Whilst the guests prepare to make themselves comfortable in different ways, the kindly farm-lady leaves them, amid many and enthusiastic blessings, and returns to the house.
In less than half-an-hour she reappears, followed by a female servant, both carrying tokens of a true hospitality that expects no return. She goes towards the poor girl with a small basin of good broth and a plate of toasted bread, such as might tempt the palate of a more dainty invalid; whilst the servant places a can of real Welsh broth, smelling strongly of the country emblem, the leek, in the midst of the hungry crew who are scattered over the barn. To this she adds various scraps of coarse bread and hard cheese, which she draws from a capacious apron, and evidently considers too good for the luckless vagabonds before her. She is soon, however, as much interested as her mistress in the sick girl, to whom the latter is administering the warm restorative. Spoonful after spoonful is applied to her lips, and greedily swallowed though with evident effort. The toasted bread is soaked in a portion of the broth, and is also devoured as speedily as offered, with an avidity made still more painful by the difficulty of swallowing, occasioned by some obstruction in the throat.
'God help you, poor girl,' says the good Samaritan, as she puts the last mouthful to the lips of the patient.
The eyes unclose, and a tear falls upon the wan cheek, as a murmured, 'Thank you, my lady,' is faintly heard.
The 'lady' turns away with a heavy sigh, whilst the servant begins to arrange the blanket-shawl and rags more comfortably, and finally takes off her large linsey-woolsey apron to make a softer resting-place for the head and neck of the girl. The grateful friends that stand around now bless the servant as zealously as they blessed her mistress, and if she understood the language in which the warm Irish hearts express their gratitude, she would probably wonder who 'the Vargin and all the holy saints and angels' are, that are invoked for her sake.
Again the farm-lady goes away, and returns bearing a small bottle of medicine, that she bids the red-cloaked woman give the sick girl in about an hour. She then leaves her patient and motley guests to their supper and night's repose, followed by such prayers as the poor alone know how to utter, and perhaps how to feel.
The rainbow was a true prophet; the sun that went down so gloriously last night amid the half-dried tears of a lately weeping earth, has arisen this morning with a resolution to dry up all the remaining tears, and to make the Sabbath as it should be—a day of rejoicing. Sunrise amongst the hills and valleys! I wish we all saw it oftener. Not only would the glorious spectacle make us wiser and better, but the early rising would be not only conducive to health and good spirits, but to the addition of a vast amount of time to the waking and working hours of our very short life.
All nature arouses herself by degrees, as the great source of light rises from his couch, curtained with rose and daffodil-coloured drapery. As these gorgeous curtains spread east and west, and he takes his morning bath in the clouds and vapours, rises up the proud monarch of the farm-yard, as if in bold rivalry, outspreads his fine plumage in emulation of the rose and daffodil curtains, and bids him welcome with a voice so loud and shrill, that he must almost hear it from his domed throne above. More arbitrary in his kingdom than the sun in his, this grand Turk insists on arousing all his subjects; and the sleepy inmates of his harem withdraw their heads from beneath their wings, and, one by one, begin to smooth their feathers, and to descend lazily from their dormitories. A faint twittering is heard amongst the ivy-leaves, in answer to 'the cock's shrill clarion,' and in a few seconds, the little sleepers amongst the oak and ash trees take it up, and by the time the sun has come out of his bath, and the cock has ceased crowing, there is a full chorus of heart stirring minstrelsy round about the quiet farm. Down below in the meadow, the cattle begin to shake off the dew-drops from their hides, and to send forth a plaintive low as they slowly seek their early breakfast in the spangled grass, or by the steaming river. Away among the hills, the faint bleat of the sheep echoes from heath to heath, whilst their white fleeces dot the plains. Over the face of happy nature creeps a glow that seems to come from the heart, and to make her look up, rejoicing, to the sun as part of herself, and yet a type of the Great Creator.
But whilst this Sabbath morning hymn thus rises, betimes, to the throne of Him who sits beyond the sunbeams, tired man sleeps on. The farmer's household is still slumbering, and after a week of hard labour, taking an additional hour's repose on that day which was graciously appointed as a day of rest. Scarcely can the sun peep in through the drawn curtains and shutters of the windows, and no song of birds, or low of cows, seems as yet to have reached the closed ears of the sleepers. Master and men alike obtain the bounteous gift of sleep so often denied to the less laborious rich.
We are wrong in supposing that all are slumbering in the farm-house. Quietly the mistress steps out of the back door which she has noiselessly opened, as if afraid of disturbing her household. As the brisk little figure moves across the farm-yard, it is instantly surrounded by a flock of poultry that seem intuitively to expect an alms at her hand, as do the poor Irish who haunt her dwelling. But she has nothing to give them thus early in the morning, and scarcely heeds their cackling and crowing. The fierce house-dog, however, will be noticed as bounding through the poultry, and knocking down one luckless hen, he jumps upon his mistress, and almost oversets her also. The 'Down Lion, down,' of the 'gintle voice,' serves only to make him more demonstrative, as he gambols roughly on her path as she proceeds towards the barn.
Mrs Prothero—such is the name of our farm-lady—had been haunted all night long by visions of the poor Irish girl. She had not slept as soundly as the other members of her family, because there was a fellow-creature suffering within her little circle. Although she had lived nearly fifty years in the world, and had been variously cheated and imposed upon by beggars of all kinds, her heart was still open to 'melting charity,' and liable to be again and again deceived. As she stopped before the barn door with the key in her hand, Lion began a low growl. He could never get over his antipathy to Irish beggars, and all his mistress's influence was necessary to prevent the growl becoming a bark. She put her ear to the door and listened, but no sound disturbed the stillness within. She knocked gently, but there was no answer. At last she thought she heard a feeble voice say something which she interpreted into 'Come in,' and she turned the key in the lock of the door and opened the top half of it. She looked in, and saw all her mendicant guests in profound repose, excepting the girl Gladys, who endeavoured to rise as she perceived the kindly face, but fell back again immediately. She unclosed the other half of the door, and carefully excluding Lion, by shutting it after her, walked softly across the barn to the rough couch on which Gladys lay. She appeared to be in the same state of exhaustion as on the previous night; and if she had noticed Mrs Prothero at all, the transient effort was over, and she remained with closed eyes and listless form, whilst the good woman looked at her and felt her pulse. Then her lips moved slightly, as if wishing to say something, but emitted no sound. What was to be done for one in such a helpless state? Mrs Prothero's kind heart sank within her.
As she did not like to disturb the weary wretches, who were sleeping so soundly in their rags amongst the hay and straw, she prepared to leave the barn; but as she moved away, the girl's eyes unclosed, and glanced dimly at her through a film of tears. Nourishment seemed the only remedy that presented itself to her mind. She smiled kindly at the girl, murmured 'I will come again,' and went through the sleepers towards the door, pausing, however, to look at the peaceful face of the baby, as it lay on its mother's arm, covered with the old red cloak.
She returned to the house, and went to the clean, large dairy, where she took a cup of the last night's milk, already covered with rich cream, from a pan and went with it to the back kitchen, where was a fire, kept up all night by means of the hard Welsh coal, and heat-diffusing balls. She warmed the milk, procured a piece of fine white bread, and once more returned to the barn.
She administered these remedies to her patient, who swallowed them with the same avidity and difficulty as she had done the broth. She fancied she again heard the words, 'God bless you, my lady,' but they were so faint that she was not sure.
Again she threaded her way amongst the sleepers, and left the barn. She went into her garden, and walked for a few moments amongst the flowers, as if for council. The bees were beginning to hum about the hives, and the butterflies to flit amongst the flowers. She stood and looked at the beautiful scene before her—the woods, hills, river, and above, the morning sun—and offered up a prayer and thanksgiving to the Giver of all good things. Her thoughtful face brightened into a smile, and her walk became more brisk as she left her garden, and went again into the farm-yard.
The cow-man was bringing up the cows to be milked, and he looked astonished as he greeted his mistress. So did the two ruddy, disheveled farm maidens, who had barely turned out of their beds to milk the cows, and had paid small attention either to their toilet or ablutions.
The house was perfectly quiet as she entered it, and she crept upstairs, and into her bedroom very softly, for fear of disturbing any one.
'Where in the world have you been, my dear?' greeted her, in a gruff voice from amongst the bed-clothes, that covered a large old-fashioned bed, hung with chintz curtains.
'Go to sleep and don't trouble, Davy, bach', [Footnote A Welsh term of endearment, equivalent to 'dear,' pronounced like the German.] quietly replied the brisk little dame.
'Go to sleep, indeed! Easier said than done, when one wakes up in a fright, and finds you gone, nobody knows where. Now where have you been? You 'ont let one sleep, even of a Sunday morning.'
'Well, now, don't get into a passion, my dear—I mean, don't be angry.'
'What have I to be angry about when I don't know what you've been doing?'
This was said in an injured tone, as if the heart under the bed-clothes were softer than the voice.
'I didn't mean to say you were angry, only I thought—'
'You thought what?'
'Well, my dear, I have only just been across to the barn.' This was uttered timidly and pleadingly, and as if our good housewife knew she had been doing wrong.
Suddenly, a large red face started up from amongst the bed-clothes, ornamented with a peculiarly-shaped white cap and tassel.
'Now you haven't been after them Irishers again?' exclaimed the owner of the red face. 'The idle vagabonds! I vow to goodness that all our money, and food and clothing, too, I believe, go to feed a set of good-for-nothing, ragged rascals.'
'Hush, Davy! Remember they are God's creatures, and this is Sunday.'
'I don't know that. And if it's Sunday, why mayn't I sleep in peace?'
'Indeed, I am very sorry. But that poor girl I told you of is so ill!'
'Hang the poor girl! Then send her to the workhouse, and they'll give her a lift home.'
'But if she has no home?'
'Then let her go to her parish.'
'But they don't seem to have any parishes in Ireland.'
'No parishes! I suppose that's the geography the vagabonds teach you? Well you pay dear enough for your lessons. But I tell you what, Mary, you just go and tell 'em all to decamp this minute.'
'But the girl is too weak and ill.'
'Then send her to the Union, I say, and they are bound to forward her.'
'But a Sunday! and the House miles away! Oh, Davy, we really cannot do it to-day!'
'What with the Irish, and one charity and another, I declare there's no peace in life! Name o' goodness, 'oornan, why do you harbour such folk? If the girl's too ill to go on with her gang, they must leave her at the Union, or else get the overseers to send for her.'
'Will you just go and look at her?'
'No, I 'ont, and that's plain speaking!'
Here the red face, and white night-cap and tassel, suddenly, disappeared amongst the bed-clothes.
Mrs Prothero considered a few minutes, and again left the room, and went to the barn. Here, all was confusion and consultation. They had tried to help Gladys to rise, and the girl could not stand.
A clamour of voices assailed Mrs Prothero, who was bewildered by the noise, and terrified at the remembrance of her husband.
'My good people, I don't know what to advise,' she said at last.
'She don't want to laive Carrmanthinshire, my leddy.'
'We'll be ruined intirely if we stop till she's cured, yer leddyship!'
'Niver a frind in the worrld, yer honour.'
'Her mother and father, sisthers and brothers, all dead of the faver and the famine.'
'Nobody left but her relations in Carrmarrthinshire, and, maybe, they're all dead and buried, yer honour's glory.'
'And what'll we do wid her, poor sowl?'
Mrs Prothero was looking compassionately on the poor girl, whilst sentence upon sentence was poured into her ear; and as the death of her relation was mentioned, she fancied she perceived a movement in her seemingly impassive features. She opened her eyes, and looked at Mrs Prothero, who went to her, and seeing her lips move, knelt down by her side.
'Let them go, and send me to the workhouse, if you please, my lady,' she murmured.
Mrs Prothero once more left the barn, promising to return shortly, and, with trembling steps, again sought the apartment where her lord and master was reposing. A very decided snore met her ear. She stood by the bedside, and looked at the tassel, which was the only portion visible of her better half. She sat down on a chair; she got up again; she fussed about the room; she even opened the drawers and took out the Sunday attire of that Somnus before her. But nothing she could do would arouse him.
At last she gently touched the face. A louder snore was the only reply. She gave a nervous push to the shoulder, and whispered into the bed-clothes, 'My dear.'
'Well, what now?' growled the justly irritated sleeper.
'My dear, I am very sorry, but the poor girl is too ill to move, and I really don't know what is to be done.'
'Upon my very deed, if you are not enough to provoke a saint!' broke out Mr Prothero, now fairly sitting up in bed. 'If you will encourage vagrants, get rid of 'em, and don't bother me. I'll tell you what it is, Mrs Prothero, if all of 'em are not off the farm before I'm up, I'll give 'em such a bit of my mind as 'll keep 'em away for the future; see if I don't.'
Mrs Prothero saw that her husband was redder in the face than usual, and she had a very great dread of putting him in a passion; still she ventured one word more very meekly.
'But the girl, David?'
'What's the girl to you or me! we've a girl of our own, and half-a-dozen servant girls. We don't want any more. Send her to the Union.'
'How can we send her?'
'Let the rascally Irish manage that, 'tis no affair of mine; but if you bother me any more, I vow I'll take a whip and drive 'em, girl and all, off the premises.'
'Very well, David,' said Mrs Prothero, submissively, and with a heavy sigh: 'but if the girl should die?'
She walked across to the door, paused on the threshold, and glanced back; but there was no change in the rubicund face. She went into the passage, and slowly closed the door, holding the handle in her hand for a few seconds as she did so. She walked deliberately down the passage, pausing at each step. Before she was at the end of it, a loud voice reached her ear. She joyfully turned back and re-entered the bedroom.
'Yes, David?' she said quietly.
'If the girl is really bad, send her in the cart, or let her have a horse, if you like,' growled Mr Prothero. 'Only I do wish, mother, you would have nothing to do with them Irishers.'
'Thank you, my dear,' said the quiet little woman. 'Then if the rest go away, I may manage about the girl?'
'Do what you like, only get rid of 'em somehow.'
'Oh, you needn't thank me! I'd as soon send every one of 'em to jail as not; but I can't stand your puffing and sighing just as if they were all your own flesh and blood.'
'We're all the same flesh and blood, my dear.'
'I'd be uncommon sorry to think so. I've nothing but Welsh flesh and blood about me, and should be loath to have any other, Irish, Scotch, or English either.'
Mrs Prothero disappeared.
'That 'ooman 'ould wheedle the stone out of a mill,' continued the farmer, rubbing his eyes, and deliberately taking off his night-cap, 'and yet she don't ever seem to have her own way, and is as meek as Moses. She has wheedled me out of my Sunday nap, so I suppose I may as well get up. Hang the Irish! There is no getting rid of 'em. She's given 'em a night's lodging, and a supper for so many years, that they come and ask as if it was their due. But I'll put a stop to it, yet, in spite of her, or my name isn't David Prothero.'
When Mr Prothero came forth from his dormitory, he was in his very best Sunday attire. As he walked across the farm-yard in search of his wife, there was an air about him that seemed to say, 'I am monarch of all I survey.' Indeed, few monarchs are as independent, and proud of their independence, as David Prothero of Glanyravon.
He was a tall, muscular man, of some fifty years of age. He was well made, and of that easy, swinging gait, that is rather the teaching of Dame Nature, than of the dancing mistress or posture master. His face was full and ruddy, betokening health, spirits, and that choleric disposition to which his countrymen are said to incline, whether justly or unjustly is not for me to determine. His hair had a reddish tinge, and his whiskers were decidedly roseate, bearing still further testimony to a slight irrascibility of temperament. But he was a good-looking man, in spite of his hair and whiskers, which, as his wife admired them, are not to be despised.
'Where's your mistress, Sam?' roared Mr Prothero across the farm-yard.
'In the barn, master,' answered a man, who was eating bread and cheese on the gate, and swinging his legs pleasantly about.
'Tell her I want her,'
In answer to the summons, immediately appeared his worthy helpmate. She carried a very beautiful half-blown rose in her hand, which, as soon as she approached her husband, she placed carefully in his button-hole, standing on tiptoe to perform this graceful Sunday morning service.
'Thank you, mother,' said Mr Prothero, smiling, and looking down complacently on his little wife.
What went with all his lecture upon the profligacy of Irish beggars? I suppose it was silently delivered from his breast to the rose, for none of it came to his lips, though it was quite ready to be heard when the rose made her appearance.
All the Irish are gone except the girl, Davy, bach' said quiet Mrs Prothero, 'and they are gone to the Overseer to tell him about her, and I will see that she is sent to the workhouse to-night, that is to say if I can.'
'I suppose you fed and clothed the ragged rascals?'
'I just gave them some scraps for breakfast, and indeed their blessings did me good,'
'I should think they must. People that left a dying girl behind 'em.'
'They promised to come back and see after her when the hay-harvest is over. They are going into Herefordshire to get work, and she, poor thing, is looking for her relations in this county, and meant to get work here.'
'Well, I want my breakfast. I promised brother Jonathan to go to church to-day. He is going to preach a charity sermon for the Church Building Society, and wants my shilling. He and Mrs Jonathan are to come to-morrow, you know, my dear. I hope in my heart everything is as fine as fippence, or my lady 'll turn up her nose.'
'I can't make things neater, Davy.'
This was said by Mrs Prothero, in a desponding tone, quite different from her former quiet cheerfulness, and she accompanied the words by rubbing her hands nervously one over the other.
'There now, don't look as if you were going to be smothered. Mrs Jonathan isn't so bad as all that. I wish to goodness Jonathan hadn't married a fine lady. But then she brought him a good fortune, and it's all the better for our children.'
'I don't want her money.'
'But if it wasn't for her, my dear, Rowland would never have had an Oxford edication.'
'I'd as soon he had gone to Lampeter, or been made a good Wesleyan minister, and then he might have been content to stay in Wales, instead of going off to England.'
'There, there! never mind! He'll be a bishop some day; and though you do still incline to the chapel, you'll be proud of that. Now, name o' goodness, let's have some breakfast.'
With this peculiarly Welsh interjection, Mr Prothero turned towards the farm, and, followed by his wife, went to the desired repast.
THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER.
'Nobody has come for that poor girl, Netta, and I have'n't the heart to send her away,' said Mrs Prothero to her only daughter Janetta, towards the close of the Sunday, the morning of which we noticed in the last chapter.
'I am sure, mother, you have been plagued quite enough with her already. You have neither been to church nor chapel, and scarcely eaten a morsel all the day. I can't imagine what pleasure you take in such people.'
'I wouldn't care if your father was at home; but I don't quite like to have her into the house without his leave, and she is not fit to be left in the barn.'
'Into the house, mother! That wild Irish beggar! Why, father would get into a fury, and I'm sure I should be afraid to sleep in the same place with such a creature.'
'Oh, my dear child! when will it please the Lord to soften your heart, and teach you that all men and women are brothers and sisters.'
'Never, I'm sure, in that kind of way.'
Whilst the mother and daughter continue their conversation about Gladys, of which the above is a specimen, we will glance at Janetta Prothero, the spoilt daughter of Glanyravon Farm.
She is decidedly a pretty girl? some might call her a beauty. She has dark eyes, black hair, a clear pink and white complexion, a round, dimpled cheek, a fair neck, a passable nose, and a very red-lipped, pouting mouth. She is small of stature—not much taller than her mother—but so well-formed, that her delicate little figure is quite the perfection of symmetry. Her movements are languid rather than brisk like her mother's, and she either has, or is desirous of having, more of the fine lady in her manners and appearance. We discern, as she talks, more of obstinacy than reason, and more of pride than sense, in her conversation, and the face rather expresses self-will than intellect, although not deficient in the latter.
We are led to suppose, from the appearance of the room in which the mother and daughter are located, that Miss Janetta is somewhat accomplished; more so than young ladies in her position commonly were some thirty or forty years ago. This is a large parlour, with some pretensions to be called a drawing-room. True, the furniture is of old-fashioned mahogany, the sofa of hair, the curtains of chintz, and all that appertains to the master and mistress of the house, of solid but ancient make. But the square piano, the endless succession of baskets, card-racks, etc., the footstools with the worsted-work dog and cat thereon emblazoned, the album and other books, so neatly and regularly placed round the table, and above all, three heads in very bad water-colours that adorn the walls—all proclaim the superior education of the daughter of the house, and her aspirations after modern gentility.
We will just take up the thread of the conversation of the mother and daughter at the end of it, and see what conclusions they have arrived at. In a somewhat doggedly excited tone, Miss Janetta says,—
'Well, mother, I know that father would be very angry, and that she might give us all low Irish fever. I shouldn't wonder if she brought a famine with her.'
'Remember, Netta, who said "and if ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."'
'If those people are one's brethren, as father says, the sooner we disown our relations the better.'
Whilst Miss Janetta was uttering this unchristian speech, and greatly shocking her mother thereby, a young man entered with a book in his hand, and throwing himself on the sofa, began to read. It was soon, however, evident that he was listening to the conversation, although he professedly kept his eyes on his book. Poor Mrs Prothero continued her efforts to enlist her daughter on the side of charity, but did not greatly prevail. The young man did not interfere, probably being aware that it is better to let two women finish their own quarrel.
Again, however, they were interrupted by the appearance of a fourth, and more animated personage.
'Good evening, Mrs Prothero. How do you do, Netta?' exclaimed the new comer, shaking Mrs Prothero's hand, and pulling Netta's curls. Hereupon the young man arose from the sofa, and bowing profoundly, said,—
'Good evening, Miss Gwynne,' with a tone as grave as his appearance.
'I beg your pardon, Mr Rowland,' said the young lady, who we now introduce in form as Miss Gwynne of Glanyravon Park.
With a very becoming grace, she advanced and held out her hand to Mr Rowland Prothero, eldest son of the good farmer and his wife, just returned from Oxford. Mr Rowland slightly touched the hand, bowed again gravely, and placed a chair for Miss Gwynne.
'I thought I should never come here again,' said that young lady, turning from Mr Rowland with a nod and a 'thank you,' and retreating towards the window where the mother and daughter were standing, 'what with the rain, and poor papa's nervous complaints, and all the affairs, I declare I have been as busy as possible.'
'Now, Miss Gwynne, I am sure you will agree with me,' cried Netta, suddenly brightening up and getting animated 'Do you think it right to encourage those Irish beggars?'
'Right! no, of course I don't.'
'And do you think people ought to allow them to come into the house—to take them in, and to—to shelter them in short?'
'Decidedly not. I hope you don't do such things, Mrs Prothero?'
There was a wicked twinkle in a merry eye as this was said.
'The truth is, Miss Gwynne,' said Mrs Prothero, slowly rubbing her hands one over another, 'there is a poor Irish girl in the barn almost dying, and it is impossible to send her to the Union to-night, or to leave her where she is.'
'Oh, I'll write an order for the Union in papa's name. You can't believe a word those Irish say. You had better get her sent off directly.'
This was said with the air of command and decision of one not accustomed to have her orders disputed.
'But, Miss Gwynne, if you only knew—' began the overwhelmed Mrs Prothero.
'I know quite well. We are obliged to commit dozens of them as vagrants, and I should not at all wonder if we should not be compelled to have you taken up some day for harbouring suspicious characters.'
The tears stood in Mrs Prothero's kind eyes. She had not much authority amongst the young people apparently.
'There, mother! I knew Miss Gwynne would agree with me.'
'And do you think the law of Christian charity would agree with you, Netta?' here broke in a grave and stern voice from the sofa.
Both the young ladies coloured at this interruption? Miss Gwynne with mortified dignity, Netta with anger. Mrs Prothero cast an appealing glance at her son, who came forward.
'She may have my bed, mother,' said the young man, colouring in his turn, as he met Miss Gwynne's defiant glance, that seemed to say, 'Who are you?'
'How very absurd, Mr Rowland,' said that young lady, laughing scornfully. 'I suppose, according to your law of Christian charity, we must fill our houses with all the Irish beggars that come through Carmarthenshire! A goodly company!'
'Have you seen this poor girl. Miss Gwynne?'
'No, certainly not, but I know by heart all she has to say.'
'If you would but just see her,' said Mrs Prothero entreatingly not daring to contradict the heiress of Glanyravon Park, who had a will of her own, if Mrs Prothero had not.
'With the greatest pleasure; but I know all the "my leddy's," "yer honour's," and "the sweet face o' ye," that I shall hear.'
'Don't go, Miss Gwynne, you may take the fever. I wouldn't go for the world,' cried Netta.
'I am not afraid of fevers or anything else, I hope,' said Miss Gwynne contemptuously. 'You will be afraid of catching a toothache from infection next,' and herewith she left the room, followed by Mrs Prothero.
During their short absence, Mr Rowland Prothero read his sister a very proper lecture for a clergyman, on Christian charity and filial obedience, to which she listened with pouting lips and knitted brow, but with no answering speech, good or bad. She was not silent because she had nothing to say, but because she was afraid of her brother, who was the only person of whom she was afraid. Her feelings, however, found vent in the leaves of a rose that she was pulling to pieces and scattering ruthlessly.
The lecturer on Christian charity was a tall, gentlemanly-looking young man, whose apparently habitual gravity of deportment warmed into earnestness and animation as he talked to his sister. He looked and spoke as if his soul were in the words he uttered, and as if it had been choice and not compulsion that led him to become a minister in Christ's family.
The entrance of Mrs Prothero and Miss Gwynne was a great relief to Netta. She looked up briskly at the latter, as if sure of sympathy, and if eyes full of tears could give it, she certainly was satisfied.
Mr Rowland Prothero perceived the tears, and retired to his sofa, taking up his book and pretending to read.
'Can I help you, Mrs Prothero? There does not seem a moment to lose. I will send for a doctor, or do anything I can,' said Miss Gwynne.
'Thank you, dear Miss Gwynne,' replied Mrs Prothero, 'I will put her in Owen's room.'
'Who can we get to bring her in? Shall I go and fetch one of the men? Netta, do get some one to help us.'
'I will help you, if you will allow me,' said Mr Rowland, rising from his sofa, and looking at Miss Gwynne with a glance of warm approval.
'Pray do; now; at once. I will go with you whilst your mother prepares the room. You could carry her quite well, for she is as thin as a ghost; I never saw such a wretched girl.'
Miss Gwynne hurried to the barn, followed by Rowland. They found Gladys with a farm-servant by her side, apparently either dead or asleep.
Rowland Prothero knelt down, and took her up gently in his arms, Miss Gwynne assisting. The poor girl unclosed her eyes, and looked wistfully at the face that was bending over her.
'You are with friends, and in God's hands,'said Rowland gently, as the eyes languidly reclosed.
He carried her upstairs to his brother's room, and having placed her on the bed, left her to the care of his mother and Miss Gwynne.
Whilst they were employed in getting her into bed, a house-servant came to say that Miss Gwynne was wanted. She found a footman awaiting her, who told her that his master had sent him in search of her, and was in a state of great anxiety about her. She ran up to Mrs Prothero for a few minutes.
'Really papa is too absurd, too provoking,' she said with a vexed voice; 'he has sent after me again, and I am sure he must know I am here. Let me hear if I can be of any service, Mrs Prothero; I will send anything in the way of medicine or nourishment. Good-bye, I will come again to-morrow.'
'Mr and Mrs Prothero, the Vicarage, come to-morrow,' said Mrs Prothero.
'Yes, they are to dine with us on Wednesday, and told me they meant to sleep here. Good evening. Dear me, how wretched that poor girl looks.'
Miss Gwynne was soon hastening homewards, heedless of the splendid sky above, or the glowing fields beneath. She was making reflections on the excellence of Mrs Prothero, the silliness of Netta, the precision of Rowland, and the misery of the girl Gladys. Thence she turned her thoughts upon herself, and suddenly discovered that she had been too decided in at once ordering any person to the workhouse, without at first knowing the case.
'But it is no wonder that I am too decided sometimes, when my father is so dreadfully weak and vacillating,' she said to herself; 'indeed I do not think, after all, that one can be too decided in this irresolute world.'
This very decided young lady is the only child and supposed heiress of Gwynne of Glanyravon, as her father is usually called. She is an aristocratic-looking personage, with a certain I-will-have-my-own-way air, that you cannot help recognising at once. She is rather taller than most tall women, and the tokens of decision in her carriage, eyes, voice, and general deportment would be disagreeable, but for the extreme grace of her figure, the unaffected ease of her manner, and the remarkable clearness and sweetness of her voice. She is handsome, too, with a noble forehead, sensible grey eyes, glossy chestnut hair, and a very fine complexion. The many of her nominal friends and admirers who at heart dislike her, prophesy that in a few years she will be coarse, and say that she is already too masculine; but the few who love her, think that she will improve both in person and mind, as she rubs off the pride and self-opinionativeness of twenty years of country life against the wholesome iron of society and the world. But we shall see.
At present she is fortunate enough to rule everybody she comes in contact with; her father, his servants, his tenants, the poor, the very mendicants that come to the door.
Certainly there is something very charming in her appearance, as she hurries up the fine old avenue that leads to her ancestral home. The ease of her port, the graceful dignity of her extreme haste, the heightened colour, and the glowing eye, are all very handsome, in spite of the coarseness in perspective. The poor footman can scarcely keep up with her; he has not found the last twenty years at Glanyravon productive of the same lightness of step to him, as to his young mistress, and wishes she were a little less agile.
A handsome country house in a good park has not often in itself much of the picturesque. Ruskin would not consider Glanyravon, with its heavy porch, massive square walls, and innumerable long windows, a good specimen of architectural beauty; still it is a most comfortable dwelling, beautifully situated; and the magnificent woods at the back, and grand view in front, would make the most unartistic building picturesque in appearance if not in reality.
Miss Gwynne ran up the broad stairs, through the large hall, and into a good library. Here a very tall, thin, sickly-looking man was seated in an easy-chair.
'My dear Freda, I am so thankful you are come!'
'My dear father, how I wish you would not send for me the very moment I go out. I really cannot be pestered with servants. It fidgets me to death to have a man walking and puffing after me.'
'But just consider, my love, the lateness of the hour.'
'It is scarcely eight o'clock now, papa, and as light as possible.'
'I am too nervous, my love, to bear your being out alone.'
Miss Gwynne rang the bell authoritatively, and the footman entered.
'Tell Mrs Davies to send some jelly, and whatever strengthening things there are in the house, to Glanyravon Farm immediately,' she said; then turning to her father, added, 'do you know, papa, Mrs Prothero has taken in a sick Irish girl, and I have abetted it.'
'You, child! I hope she has no infectious disease; it quite alarms me.'
'I really don't know. But Mr and Mrs Jonathan Prothero are going to Glanyravon to-morrow, and remember you invited them to dinner on Wednesday.'
'I am very sorry! that man kills me with the antiquities of the Welsh language, and heaven knows what old things that happened before the flood. But you must entertain them. I suppose we had better ask young Rowland.'
'Oh, papa! He is so dreadfully quiet and stiff, and thinks there is only one man who ever went to Oxford, and he is that man; and I can't endure him.'
'Perhaps not, my dear—indeed, perhaps not.'
'If we ask him, we must ask Netta. She has come home quite accomplished from boarding school, and would do in a quiet way. Mrs Jonathan would be pleased, and you know she is a lady, though awfully particular. I can't endure her either.'
'Perhaps you could invite Lady Mary, and Miss Nugent to meet them?'
'I don't think they would like it. They would not object to the two clergymen, because, as Lady Mary says, 'You see, my dear, the cloth is a passport to all grades of society;' but they would not approve of Netta. That is to say, Lady Mary would think herself insulted if we introduced her sweet Wilhelmina to a farmer's daughter.'
'She is a very superior woman, my love, and understands etiquette, and all that sort of thing, better than any one I ever met.'
'She seems to me to understand her own interests, papa, as well as most people. But I will tell her that Sir Hugh and the Protheros are coming, and that we have asked Netta, so she can accept or decline as she likes.'
'Do you think it wise, my dear, to put yourself so much on a level with Miss Prothero, as to invite her?'
'Oh! she understands how we are very well. It will be a source of pride and satisfaction to her, without making her presume more than before; and the vicar and his lady will like the attention.'
'I dread the vicar. His genealogies are too much for me.'
'Oh, I can put up with the vicar's antiquities, but not with the young vicar's pedantic Oxonianism. He does think so well of himself, and quite rules every one at home.'
'Oh! that is very fatiguing, I should think.'
'I wish he would fall in love with Miss Nugent, and she with him, and carry off her forty-thousand pounds. She is silly enough for anything, and it would be such a downfall to her mother's pride.'
'Her mother is much too careful, my dear, and by far too superior a woman. And Miss Wilhelmina is very accomplished and all that sort of thing, you know, and likely to make a fine match. She is very pretty, too.'
'Yes; she and Netta Prothero would run in harness. Pretty, silly, rather affected, and having drawn each four or five drawings, and learnt six tunes on the piano. Only the one is more fashionable than the other. Do you know, papa, Miss Nugent can play the Irish and Scotch quadrilles, and Netta 'Ar hydy Nos,' with small variations. We will have a concert; you know I have asked the Rice Rices?'
'Very well, my dear. Now I think I will read a sermon to the servants, so just ring the bell.'
Whilst Mr Gwynne is reading his sermon, and Mrs Prothero is nursing the mendicant Gladys, an event is passing in the neighbouring country-town, involving matters of interest to her, and those belonging to her. In a small bedroom over a little huckster's shop, an old man lies dangerously ill. By his side is seated a middle-aged woman watching. In a dark corner, behind the bed, stands a man, who is so deep in shadow that you scarcely know whether he is young or old.
The room is small and shabby, and contains apparently few comforts for one nearly approaching his last hour.
There is a tap at the door, upon which the man behind the bed goes out, and returns, almost immediately, followed by Rowland Prothero. He goes towards the bed, and stooping down, whispers to the sick man.
'Father, you wished to see Rowland—he is here.'
Rowland advances, and takes the seat vacated for him by the woman.
The three inmates of the room are Mr and Mrs Griffith Jenkins, and their only son, Howel. They are cousins of the Protheros, Mrs Jenkins being Mr Prothero's first cousin, and the members of the younger generation being consequently second cousins.
Griffith Jenkins motions to his wife and son to leave the room, which they do immediately. Rowland kneels beside his bed, the better to hear what he has to say. He appears, however to revive, and is distinct enough in his enunciation of the following words, though very slow.
'My son Howel is come back, Mr Rowland, and do promise to be study.'
'I am very glad to hear it; it must be a great comfort to you,'
'But I am not seure of him. He will be spending my money that I have been takking such pains to make.'
'I hope he may do good with it, Uncle Griff.'
'Good! no such thing. Squander, squander! Spend the beauty gold! Will you promise me to see to it? tak' care of it?'
'I, Uncle Griff! I have no power with Howel. Would it not be better to pray to God to guide Howel, and trust in a higher power than mine?'
Mr Jenkins put a long, thin, bony hand out of bed, and grasped Rowland's hand tightly. He fixed two keen black eyes upon him, and, as he half raised himself in bed, displayed a withered face, the most remarkable feature of which was a very prominent, hooked nose, like the beak of a large bird.
'You wasn't thinking I was going to die, was you, Rowland? I 'ont just awhile, see you. But tell you your father there's more gold than he is thinking of; and Howel'll be a husband for any one, much less for Miss Netta. Promise me to be lending him a hand, if he do keep constant to your sister.'
'I am sorry, Uncle Griff, that I cannot promise anything for Howel. If he grows steady as you say, there can be no objection; but he must prove it first. Would you like me to read to you, and pray to Almighty God, for Christ's sake, to change his and all our hearts?'
'I didn't be wanting a parson, but a relation, sir; and I don't be going to die yet. Look you here. There's money in the bank—there's more in mortgages on Davies, Llansadwn, and Rees, Llanarthney—there's more on loan to Griffiths, Pontardewe,—Jones, Glantewey,—Pugh the draper, Llansant—and others. And there's a box beside. Mind you, I 'ont die yet, but I tell you, because I can trust you; and Howel don't know nothing.'
'May I write it down for you, Uncle Griff; or would you have a lawyer?'
'No, no. I've had enough of law in paying for Howel, and nothing come of it. But you may be writing down a little. Here, in that chest, there's pen, ink and paper; tak' you my keys, and open you it.'
Griffith Jenkins took from under his pillow a bunch of keys, and fumbling amongst them, gave one to Rowland, with which he opened the chest, and procured the necessary writing apparatus.
'Give you me my keys—quick, quick!' cried the old man, again hiding them somewhere in his bed.'
At his dictation, Rowland wrote a list of the different moneys he possessed in various places, and was utterly astonished to find that he had soon written down between sixty and seventy thousand pounds. Everybody knew that Griffith Jenkins was rich, but nobody had guessed how rich he was.
'Now say, "I give and bequeath to my wife, 'Lizbeth Jenkins, ten thousand pound out of the aforesaid mortgage on Jacob Davies Llansadwn's property."'
'Is that all, Uncle Griff?'
'Yes, I sha'n't say no more.'
'And the box of gold?'
Again the miser grasped Rowland's hand, and fixed his keen eyes on his face.
'I 'ont be dying yet, and I 'ont be putting that down to-night. Tell you your father what there is, without the box, and without more mortgages and loans; but don't you be talking to anybody about it. Mind you, not to Howel nor to 'Lizbeth: promise me.'
The miser fell back exhausted.
'And now Uncle Griff, may I pray for you? Only think how soon you may be called to your account, to say exactly how you have employed your time, and the talents given—'
'I have done plenty—plenty—all out at interest, at five, six, even ten per cent.; none wrapped up in a napkin. I don't be calling a box a napkin, Rowland Prothero.'
'May I call in Mrs Jenkins and Howel, and pray for you? Think; oh think, of the great Judge, and great Mediator. O God, have mercy upon us, miserable sinners!'
As Rowland said this, he clasped his hands, and looked upwards, in unutterable supplication. The old man was alarmed.
'I don't be going to die, but you may call 'em in.'
Rowland rose and obeyed. Mrs Jenkins appeared with a candle in her hand. The old man rose with an effort as she drew near the bed.
'Put—out—the—candle,' he muttered.
As the night was fast drawing in, Mrs Jenkins hesitated.
'Put—out—the—candle,' repeated the dying man, with a still stronger effort to rise and extinguish it himself. 'The ruling passion strong in death' must be attended to, and the light was extinguished.
Rowland Prothero clasped his hands with a groan, and repeated aloud a prayer from the service for the dying. The terrified wife knelt down by the bed in the deep gloom, and in the still deeper gloom behind, the son buried his face in his arms, and leaned upon the little table.
Whilst Rowland Prothero was praying from the very depth of his heart for the soul that was thus awfully passing to its account, they were all aroused by the last fearful struggle between death and life of him who had made gold his god. For some time they feared to rekindle the light, but at last they ventured. It was but to witness the last dread pangs of one who had made wife and son secondary to the great absorbing passion of avarice; and now he was constrained to depart from the scene of his toil, and to leave all that he had grovelled for behind him, for ever!
We will not dwell upon the awful hours that succeeded his final words. He neither spoke nor was conscious again. Light and dark were alike to him. Save that he grasped something in his right hand with an iron hold, reason and power had left him; death was still fighting with life, and gradually gaining the last great victory.
A few hours afterwards, and when that victory had been gained, the scene was changed in that small house. The chamber of death was deserted, and the wretched clay of the miser, decently covered with a white sheet, lay heavy and still, where the spirit that formerly animated it had been accustomed to brood over the miserable gains of its clays and years on earth.
In the small sitting-room below, behind the little shop where these gains had been begun and continued for half-a-century or more, sat the widow, surrounded by a score of gossips, who had left their beds and homes at daybreak to condole with her.
It would have been much more unnatural than natural if Mrs Jenkins had grieved at heart for the husband she had lost. Married, or rather sold to him, when he was fifty and she thirty, she had lived five or six and twenty years of pure misery with him. She had starved with him, when she could not pilfer from him, and had endured patiently all these years what seemed past endurance in expectation of the closing scene. She had married and lived upon the prospect of his death, and it was come at last; and now that it was come, the awfulness of that last struggle overpowered her, and she wept and lamented as copiously as if her husband had been the kindest and most liberal in the world. Still, she was free, with competence, she hoped, in perspective? and this thought, together with the ever all-pervading one of her idol, her treasure, her only son, and his expectations, more than counterbalanced that of the death she had witnessed.
'Come you, don't you be takking on so,' said one old woman soothingly, as the widow rocked herself to and fro, and held her handkerchief to her eyes.
'Tak' you this drop o' tea,' said another, 'it'll be doing you good,'
'The Lord will be having mercy on his soul,' said a third, whose conscience was large when she was offering comfort.
'There now, keep up your spirits, Mrs Jinkins, fach,' said a fourth, entering with a comfortable glass of gin and water that did seem of an exhilarating nature.
'There's a comfort Howel will be to you now!' said a fifth triumphantly.
'Deed to goodness, Griffey Jinkins was a saving man, and you have lost him, Mrs Jinkins, fach,' began the friend with the gin and water; 'but I am seeing no use in takking on so. When John Jones died, he was leaving me with ten children, and they have all come on somehow. And you have only wan son, and he is so ginteel! Drink you this, my dear, and don't be down-hearted.'
Mrs Jenkins turned from the tea to the gin and water with no apparent reluctance, and swallowed a portion of it. Revived by the beverage, she responded to the condolences of her friends by more rockings, sobs, and applications of the handkerchief and finally unburdened herself of her grief in the following manner.
'My son Howel, oh yes, he'll be a blessing to me, I know. Says I to my poor Griffey—oh, dear, only to be thinking of him now!—says I, "Let us be giving Howel a good eddication, and he so clever as never was, and able to be learning everything he do put his mind to, and never daunted at nothing—grammar, nor music, nor Latin, nor no heathen languages, and able to read so soon as he could speak, and knowing all the beasts in the ark one from another, when he was no bigger than that," says I, to my poor Griffey; "oh, annwyl! we have only wan child, let him be a clargy, or a 'torney, or a doctor, or something smart," and says he, "I can't afford it." He was rather near or so, you know, was my poor Griffey; but I never was letting him rest day or night, and the only thing he wasn't liking was being much talked over. So says I, "Come you, Jinkins, bach,"—he liked to be called by his sirname—"if you do larn Howel well, he'll be making his fortune some day," for he do say so, he do be always saying, "I'll be a great man, and get as much money as father." I eused to put in the last words of myself, for Howel never was taking to making money, but 'ould as soon give it away as not. Only poor Griffey—oh dear! oh dear!—was never knowing that, because I did be hiding it from him as much as I could.'
Whilst the widow talks on in this strain to her sympathising friends, her son and Rowland Prothero are in another small room of the house, engaged in a very different style of conversation. The room in which they are is worth a few words of description, not for any beauty or desert of its own, but for its heterogeneous, contents. You would think a small music warehouse, a miniature tobacco shop, or branch depot of foreign grammars and dictionaries were before you. Every kind of musical instrument seems to have met with a companion in this tiny apartment. Here are a violin, violoncello, horn, and cornopean; there an old Welsh harp and unstrung guitar. On this shelf are pipes of all sorts and sizes, forms, and nations—the straight English, the short German, and the long Turkish; on that are cigar-boxes, snuff-boxes, and tobacco-boxes of various kinds and appearances. Scattered about the room are play-books without number, from Shakspeare to the dramatists of the present day; and, interspersed with these, collections of songs of all countries and of all grades of merit. Some few novels, mostly French, live with the plays and songs; and Latin, French, German, Italian, Welsh, Spanish, and English grammars and dictionaries take up their abode in every available corner. A quantity of fishing tackle and a gun are thrown upon the window seat, and an embroidered waistcoat, blue satin cravat, and a pair of yellow kid gloves lie on an unoccupied chair.
From the general appearance of this room, the imagination would conceive great things of its inmate. All we shall here say is that he is one who has the reputation of being a natural genius, and firmly believes that he is one.
As all natural geniuses are supposed to have something very remarkable in their appearance, we will just take a sketch of the miser's son, as he alternately leans on the table or stalks about the room during his earnest conversation with his cousin. He has decidedly sentimental hair; long, black, shining, and with a tendency to curl; he has what might be termed poetical eyes, bright, piercing, and very restless; the sharp, aquiline nose of his father, slightly modified; and a mouth and brow which curl and knit in a manner that may be poetic, but might be disagreeable, under less soothing influences. That he is very handsome no one could dispute, and it is equally certain that he has an air much above the position in which he was born; but the expression of his face inspires distrust rather than confidence, and conveys the impression that there is more of passion than feeling beneath the fiery eyes and compressed mouth.
A great contrast to this family genius is presented in the person of his cousin Rowland, now addressing him earnestly and seriously upon the grave subjects naturally uppermost at such a time. He, too, is sufficiently good-looking, with an open, though grave, cast of countenance, fine, soft, hazel eyes, and a tall, manly figure. By 'sufficiently good-looking,' I mean that he is neither very handsome nor ugly, and when his lady friends debate upon his outer man they generally wind up by saying, 'Well, if he isn't handsome, he is very genteel.'
We are not going to repeat here the well-known fable of the 'Hare and the Tortoise,' but something of the character of those animals may be found in the cousins. At their first dame's school, as well as at the more advanced grammar school of their little town. Howel was always able to beat Rowland in swiftness, whilst Rowland effectually distanced Howel in the long run. It was Rowland who carried off the prizes, when study and prolonged endeavour were necessary to obtain them, whilst Howel eclipsed all his contemporaries, if a theme were to be written, or a poem learnt.
Such differences are so frequent, and have been so often discussed that it is scarcely necessary to pursue the contrast further; but the result at the present stands thus. Howel, the elder of the two, has dipped a little into everything; has gained a reputation for genius; has been articled to an attorney—but is in no apparent danger of becoming one—has written various articles for the county papers, and has had the pleasure of seeing them printed; has acquired a smattering of several languages, and various styles of music; and has proved himself an admired beau amongst the ladies, and a favourite boon companion amongst the gentlemen. He has been idolised and spoilt by his mother, and stinted and pinched by his father, and having no very great respect or admiration for the talents or conduct of either parent, has not tried much to please them, save when it suited him.
The result of all this, if not already apparent, will doubtless be seen hereafter, for, at four or five and twenty, conduct and principles begin to establish themselves.
Rowland Prothero is very much the reverse of all this. From a child he had a desire to enter the Church, which desire was fostered by his uncle and aunt into a resolution, when he grew old enough to resolve. As they very nearly adopted and educated him, his parents made no objection, and as they were ambitious to raise their family in worldly position, they spared no expense.
Rowland was reckoned dull, but plodding, at Rugby, whither his uncle sent him. However, his dulness and plodding were more successful than the brightness of many, since they managed to gain a scholarship at school, which helped him at Oxford. He was called proud and obstinate, and he was both. Pride and obstinacy were the characteristics of his family, but in him they fortunately tended to good: inasmuch as his pride generally led him to do well, and his obstinacy kept up his pride.
At present, it would be difficult to say whether he is a young man likely to shine in the path he has chosen, or to walk quietly along it unnoticed. His friends do not anticipate anything remarkable, but they expect him to be slow and sure. He did very well at college, but gained no greater honours than the respect and goodwill of those he was known to. Query—Is not that worth as much, morally, as a first class?
At home, he is understood by few. He has not many associates, because, either from his own fault, or some mental peculiarity, he cannot fall in with those who are immediately about him; and consequently is rather feared by his acquaintances and reckoned proud, stiff, and conceited—above his birth, in short.
With him, as with Howel and every one else, the course of years will show the man. 'Handsome is that handsome does.'
'The fact is, Rowland,' said Howel, as he suddenly stood still in one of his rapid walks across the room, 'you and I never could agree in anything, and never shall.'
'I hope we may yet agree in many things,' said Rowland gently. 'At present, all I wish you to do is to pay your debts, go to London, take out your stamps, and become an attorney.'
'I am the best judge of that, and shall be my own master now. At all events, I can make some people ashamed of themselves.'
'I only wish to advise you for your good, now that you are your own master. Your poor father begged me—'
'Oh, Rowland, I can't stand any more about my father. Everybody knows what he was, and, I suppose, nobody expects me to live in the same line. I am emancipated, thank heaven! and the world shall soon know it.'
'Still, he was your father.'
'No one knows that better than I do, I should imagine; but if you expect me to mourn as others do for a parent, you will be disappointed. He never showed me one token of love, or acted by me as a father from the day of my birth till his death.'
'At least he has left you and your mother handsomely provided for, and with his last words, hoped that you were now very steady.'
'He did! I wonder who dares to say that I am not steady? But how do you know how we are provided for?'
'He begged me to write down what he was worth. I will give it you at some future period, but not now.'
'Why not now?'
'Because I think it is scarcely yet a time to consider money matters. After the last duties are performed you shall have the paper. Part of his property is written down, but a box of gold and some other sums he did not name. After that last sad scene one can scarcely think of anything earthly. Oh, Howel! I wish you would consider the shortness and uncertainty of life, and what is its end.'
'So awful do I consider its end that I mean to enjoy it while it lasts. But don't go off with the impression that I was not shocked and frightened with what we have just seen. It is one thing to read and write about a death-bed and another to witness it. But I cannot weep or pray as some people can.'
'You might do both if you would only seek aright.'
'There, enough! I am past being preached to as a naughty boy, and can now look forward to some enjoyment without robbing my own father, or getting my mother to rob him, to procure it. But I shall never forget that last struggle? no, never.'
Here, with a face of horror, Howel began his restless walk again. Rowland sat in melancholy silence.
'Rowland,' suddenly broke in Howel, 'how is Netta?'
'Quite well, I thank you,' answered Rowland gravely.
'I have not seen her for a long time? will you remember me to her?'
'I cannot promise to do so.'
'Do you think me a fiend, sir, that my name cannot be mentioned to my cousin? I will manage to convey my own remembrances.'
'Howel, you know how it is? I do not mean to be unkind. If only you would give up your old life, enter your profession, and begin another—'
'That is as I choose. I shall be glad of the paper you wrote for my father, and then you and I, Rowland, are best apart.'
'Good-bye then, Howel? perhaps some day you may know that I wish you well. I will bring the paper at the funeral.'
'For heaven's sake stay, or send some one else! I cannot bear to be alone here? his ghost will haunt me.'
'Then let me read to you.'
Howel assented gloomily and threw himself on the bed in the corner of the room. Rowland took a small Testament from his pocket and resolutely read several chapters.
During the reading Howel fell asleep.
THE FARMER'S SON.
At about ten o'clock on Monday morning Miss Gwynne rode up to the door of Glanyravon Farm, and, dismounting, entered the house. She was attended by a groom, and told him that she should not be long.
'How is that poor girl, Netta?' were her first words on entering the house.
'Very ill indeed, I believe,' said Netta, rather sulkily.
'Where is your mother?'
'She has been with the Irish beggar all the morning, and all night too. I don't know what father and uncle and aunt will think.'
'Will you ask your mother whether I can see her for a few minutes?'
'Netta, you must come and dine with us on Wednesday, with your uncle and aunt.'
'Thank you,' said Netta, brightening up as she left the room.
'I'm sure I scarcely know whether she will behave rightly,' muttered Miss Gwynne, tapping her hand with her riding-whip.
Mrs Prothero soon appeared.
'You good, clear Mrs Prothero!' exclaimed Miss Gwynne, running up to her and taking both her hands. 'You look quite worn out. How is that poor girl?'
'Alive, Miss Gwynne, and that is almost all,' was the reply very gravely uttered.
'Can we do anything? Did Dr Richards come?'
'Yes, Miss Gwynne, and was very kind. He has been again this morning.'
'I came to invite Mr Rowland and Netta to dinner on Wednesday, with Mr and Mrs Jonathan Prothero.'
'Thank you, Miss Gwynne, I will tell Rowland; but I really think Netta had better not go.'
'I have just told her of the invitation.'
'Dear me! I am really very sorry. I beg your pardon, Miss Gwynne, but it will put ideas into her head above her station.'
'We shall be very quiet.'
The conversation was interrupted by the sudden entrance of Rowland. He drew back on seeing Miss Gwynne, and bowed, as usual, profoundly. She also, as usual, advanced and held out her hand.
'My father begged me to ask if you would come and dine with us on Wednesday,' said Miss Gwynne.
'Thank you, I am much obliged,' stammered Rowland, whilst a bright Hush overspread his face, 'I shall be very happy, if I am not obliged to be elsewhere. Mother, poor Griffith Jenkins is dead. I have been there all the night.'
'Dead! I had no idea he was so ill! Oh, Rowland, how did he die?'
'Just as he lived, mother. With the key of his coffers so tightly clasped in one hand that it was impossible to take it from it after he was dead. And the said coffers hidden, nobody knows where. But poor Mrs Jenkins has no friend near who can be of any real comfort to her. I wish you could go to her for a few hours.'
'This poor girl, Rowland—what can I do with her? And your uncle and aunt coming.'
'I think I can manage my uncle and aunt till your return. As to the poor girl I really know not what to say.'
'Oh! if you will trust her to me, Mrs Prothero, I will nurse her till you come back!' exclaimed Miss Gwynne eagerly. 'I assure you I can manage capitally, and will send back the horses, and a message to papa.'
'I am afraid it would not be right—I think the girl has low fever—Mr Gwynne would object.'
'I assure you it would be quite right, and I don't fear infection and papa would let me do just as I like. In short, I mean to stay, and you must go directly. Is young Jenkins at home, Mr Rowland?'
'Yes, he returned a few hours before his father's death.'
'I suppose that horrid old man died as rich as Croesus, and, according to custom in such cases, his son will spend the money.'
'I wish he had not got it,' said Mrs Prothero.
'That is scarcely a fair wish, mother. Let us hope that he will do well with it.'
'Never, never. He was not born or bred in a way to make him turn out well.'
'Nothing is impossible, mother.'
'You must take care of Netta, Mrs Prothero. But now do go to that wretched Mrs Jenkins, and leave the poor girl to me, and Mr and Mrs Jonathan to Mr Rowland. I hope you have been studying the antiquities of Wales at Oxford, Mr Rowland?'
This was said as Mrs Prothero left the room; and Rowland was startled from a rather earnest gaze on Miss Gwynne's very handsome and animated face, by this sudden appeal to him, and by meeting that young lady's eyes as they turned towards him. A slight blush from the lady and a very deep one from the gentleman were the result. The lady was indignant with herself for allowing such a symptom of female weakness to appear, and said somewhat peremptorily,—
'Will you be so good as to tell Jones to take the horses home, and to let my father know that he must not wait luncheon, or even dinner for me?'
'Excuse me, Miss Gwynne,' said the young man, recovering his composure, 'but I do not think my mother would be justified in allowing you to attend upon that poor girl.'
'Allowing me! Really I do not mean to ask her. I choose to do it, thank you, and I will speak to the servant myself.'
It was now Miss Gwynne's turn to grow very red, as, with haughty port, she swept past Rowland, leaving him muttering to himself.
'What a pity that one so noble should be so determined and absolute. Let her go, however. Nobody shall say that I lent a hand to her remaining here. In the first place she runs the risk of infection, in the second every one else thinks she degrades herself by coming here as she does. Still, her desire to take care of the girl is a fine, natural trait of character. I must just go and look over the Guardian. A curacy in England I am resolved to get, away from all temptation. Yet I hate answering advertisements, or advertising. If my aunt's friends would only interest themselves in procuring me a London curacy, I think I should like to work there. That would be labouring in the vineyard, with a positive certainty of reaping some of the fruits.'
The soliloquy was interrupted by the reappearance of Mrs Prothero, dressed for her walk.
'Mother, you ought not to let Miss Gwynne stay.'
'I! my dear Rowland! Do you think she would mind what I say to her?'
Miss Gwynne entered.
'I have sent off the servant, and now let me go to the girl.'
This was said with the decision of an empress, and with equal grandeur and dignity was the bow made with which she honoured Rowland as she made her exit, followed meekly by Mrs Prothero.
A short time afterwards she was alone by the bedside of the sick girl. Every comfort had been provided for her by Mrs Prothero, and Miss Gwynne had little to do but to administer medicines and nourishment.
'Is there anything I can do for you, my poor girl?' she said, leaning over her bed. 'Anything you have to say—any letter I can write—any—'
'If—you—would—pray—my lady,' was the slow, almost inarticulate reply.
Pray! This was what Miss Gwynne could not do. 'Why,' she asked herself, 'can I not say aloud what I feel at my heart for this unhappy creature? I never felt so before, and yet I know not how to pray.'
She went to the head of the stairs, and called Netta.
'Will you ask your brother whether he will come and read a prayer to the poor girl?' she said.
A few seconds after there was a knock at the door. She opened it and admitted Rowland. He went to the bed, and began to whisper gently of the hope of salvation to those who believe. Gladys opened her eyes, and caught the hand extended to her.
'More—more,' she murmured. 'Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.'
Rowland read the Office for the Sick, from the prayer book, and she responded inwardly, her lips moving. Miss Gwynne came to the bed, and kneeling down, joined in the prayers.
Again Rowland spoke soothingly to the girl of the need of looking to Christ, the Saviour, alone in the hour of her extremity; and she murmured, 'He is my rock and my fortress.'
'Do you trust wholly in Him?'
'In whom else should I trust? All human friends are gone.'
'Not all, you have friends around you.'
'Have I? Thank you, sir? God bless you.'
'I will come again and read to you when you are able to bear it.'
Rowland said this and withdrew, without speaking again to Miss Gwynne, or even bowing as he left the room.
'He certainly reads most impressively,' thought Miss Gwynne; 'I could scarcely believe he was not English born and bred; but still he is quite a Goth in manners, and I am sure he thinks no one in the country so clever as himself.'
Rowland met Netta at the foot of the stairs.
'Netta, I really am ashamed to think that you can allow Miss Gwynne to wait upon that girl in your own house.'
'I'm sure, Rowland, Miss Gwynne needn't do it if she didn't choose. I don't want to catch the fever, and I never will run the risk by nursing such a girl as that.'
'Surely, Netta, you cannot be our mother's daughter, or you could not use such unchristian expressions.'
'I'm no more unchristian than other people, but you're always finding fault with me.'
The conversation was interrupted by a loud knocking at the house door, and Farmer Prothero's voice was heard without, calling,—
'Mother, mother, where are you? Here we are, all come!'
Netta flew to open the door, and was soon industriously kissing a lady and gentleman, who had just alighted from a little four-wheeled carriage, and were waiting, with her father, for admission. Rowland, also, in his turn, duly embraced the lady, who seemed much pleased to see him. They brought in various packages, and proceeded to the parlour.
'Where's mother, Netta?' exclaimed Mr Prothero.
Rowland answered for her.
'She is gone to Mrs Griffey Jenkins, father; perhaps you have not heard that Uncle Griff is dead.'
'Not I, indeed. Well! he's as good out of the world as in, though I'm sorry for the old fellow. But what'll we do without mother? She's always nursing somebody or other, either alive or dead.'
Rowland turned to his aunt, and said that his mother begged him to apologise for her necessary absence for a few hours.
'I shall do very well, I daresay,' said the aunt, whose countenance wore a somewhat austere expression.
She was a lady of middle age, who prided herself upon having a first cousin a baronet. Her father, a clergyman, rector of a good English living, was the younger son of Sir Philip Payne Perry, and she an only child, was his heiress. Mr Jonathan Prothero had been, in years gone by, his curate, and had succeeded in gaining the affections, as well as fortune, of the daughter, and in bringing both into his native country. He had the living of Llanfach, in which parish Glanyravon was situated, and lived in very good style in a pretty house that he had built something in the style of an English vicarage.
Mrs Jonathan Prothero, or Mrs Prothero, the Vicarage, as she was usually called, was tall and thin, very fashionably dressed, with a very long face, a very long nose, very keen greenish grey eyes, a very elaborately curled front, a very long neck, very thin lips, and very dainty manners. She was proud of her feet and hands, which were always well shod, stockinged, gloved, and ringed, and as these were the only pretty points about her, we cannot wonder at her taking care of them. People used to say she would have been an old maid, had not a certain auspicious day taken the Rev. Jonathan Prothero to her father's parish, who, having an eye after the fashion of servants of a lower grade, to 'bettering himself,' wisely made her a matron. Having no children of their own, they lavished their affections on their nephews and niece, and their money on their education.
'My dear Rowland,' said Mrs Jonathan, 'I think I have agreeable news for you. I wrote to my cousin, Sir Philip Payne Perry, whose wife's brother is, as you know, high in the church, and received this answer.'
She put a letter into Rowland's hands, and watched his countenance as he read it.
'My dear aunt, how very good of you!' exclaimed Rowland; 'the very thing I wished for. Oh, if I can only get it, I shall be quite happy. A curacy in London, father! Just read this. Sir Philip thinks I might not like it in the heart of the city, but that is really what I wish. Plenty to do all the week long. Oh, aunt, how can I thank you enough?'
'By making every effort to advance yourself in life, and to rise in the world, my dear nephew,' said Mrs Jonathan.
'What do you think, uncle?' asked Rowland, turning to Mr Jonathan Prothero, who was seated in the window, with a large book before him, that he had brought from the carriage.
'He! what! what did you ask?'
'Only what you think of this London curacy that my aunt has been so kind as to write about.'
'Me! I! Oh, capital! just the thing in my humble opinion. If you get it, you will be able to go to the Museum, and look up the old genealogy we were talking about. Do you know I have made a remarkable discovery about Careg Cennin Castle. It was built—'
'Never mind, my dear, just now; we were talking of Rowland's curacy,' interrupted Mrs Jonathan, who generally managed all business matters.
'To be sure, my dear, to be sure, you know best,' said Mr Jonathan absently, resuming his book.
'For my part, sister,' said the farmer, 'I 'ould rather he had a curacy in his own country, and so 'ould his mother; but he's so confoundedly ambitious.'
'Aunt, won't you come upstairs and take off your things?' asked Netta, interposing, for once in her life, at the right time.
'Thank you, my dear, I should be very glad,' and they accordingly disappeared.
'Father,' began Rowland, as soon as they were gone, 'I think it right to tell you, that we were obliged, out of sheer charity, to take that poor Irish girl into the house. It was impossible to move her without risk of instant death.'
'And upon my very deed, Rowland, if this isn't too bad,' cried the farmer, stamping his foot on the floor, and instantaneously swelling with passion. 'As if it wasn't enough to have paupers, and poor-rates, and sick and dying, bothering one all day long, without your bringing an Irish beggar into the house. I never saw such an 'ooman as your mother in my life; she's never quiet a minute. I 'ont stand it any longer; now 'tis a subscription for this, now a donation for that, then sixpence for Jack such a one, or a shilling for Sal the other, till I have neither peace nor money. Come you, sir, go and turn that vagabond out directly, or I'll do it before your mother comes home, hark'ee, sir.'
'I can't father, really.'
'Then I will.'
Off stalked the farmer in his passion, crying out in the passage, 'Shanno, come here!'
A servant girl quickly answered the summons.
'Where's that Irish vagabond?'
'In Mr Owen's room, sir.'
Upstairs went the farmer, leaving Shanno grinning and saying, 'He, he, he'll do be turning her out very soon, she will, he, he.'
Rowland ran upstairs after his father, calling out gently, 'Stop, father, Miss Gwynne—' but the father was in the bedroom before he heard the words, and had made the house re-echo the noise of his opening the door.
He was instantaneously checked in his career by seeing Miss Gwynne advance towards him, with her finger in the air.
'Hush, Mr Prothero,' she whispered, 'she is asleep. Look here; gently, very gently.'
She led the enraged farmer by one of his large brass buttons to the bedside, where the white-faced Gladys lay. She looked so much like a corpse, that he started back affrighted. Then Miss Gwynne led him out into the passage, and seeing from his angry face the state of the case, instantly said,—
'It was I who had her brought here, Mr Prothero; and by-and-by I will get her sent back to her parish, but until she is better we must take care of her.'
At these words from the all-powerful Miss Gwynne, Mr Prothero was fain to put such check upon his rising choler as the shortness of the notice would allow. He could not, however, fully restrain the whole of the invective that had been upon his lips a short time before.
'No offence, Miss Gwynne? but 'pon my soul, I'm sick to death of my missus's pensioners and paupers, and I'm determined to have no more of 'em. You may do as you please, miss, at your own house, and I'll do as I please in mine.'
Here Rowland popped his head out of a neighbouring bedroom
'Father, Miss Gwynne is taking upon herself a risk and encumbrance that should be wholly my mother's. She has nothing to do with the girl, beyond showing her great kindness.'
'Really, Mr Rowland Prothero,' began Miss Gwynne, drawing herself up to her fullest height, 'I wish you would allow me to manage my own affairs.'
'Yes, yes, Rowland. What, name o' goodness, have you to do with Miss Gwynne? I'm ashamed of the boy. I really beg your pardon, miss, but I believe he's so set up by having a chance of going to London, that he don't know whether he stands on his head or his heels. Go you away, Rowland, directly. I won't have you interfaring with me.'
Miss Gwynne could not help laughing as she saw Rowland's sense of duty struggle with his pride at this authoritative mandate; but she was very much surprised to see him bow politely to her and walk away. She wondered whether anything on earth could have induced her to obey a similar order.
She followed Mr Prothero downstairs and made herself so agreeable to him and Mrs Jonathan, that they quite forgot Mrs Prothero's absence, until the sudden return of that good woman set all matters right, and enabled Miss Gwynne to leave the farm.
THE MISER'S WIFE.
'I must have money,' said Howel Jenkins as he sat alone with his mother in their little parlour, the evening after Mrs Prothero had left them.
'My dear, there will be plenty when we can find it, be you sure of that. I do know well enough that your poor father was having a chest full, only he was keeping his door locked and barred so that I couldn't see him at it.'