THAT LASS O' LOWRIE'S
By Frances Hodgson Burnett
Charles Scribners Sons - 1877
THAT LASS O' LOWRIE'S
CHAPTER I - A Difficult Case
They did not look like women, or at least a stranger new to the district might easily have been misled by their appearance, as they stood together in a group, by the pit's mouth. There were about a dozen of them there—all "pit-girls," as they were called; women who wore a dress more than half masculine, and who talked loudly and laughed discordantly, and some of whom, God knows, had faces as hard and brutal as the hardest of their collier brothers and husbands and sweethearts. They had lived among the coal-pits, and had worked early and late at the "mouth," ever since they had been old enough to take part in the heavy labor. It was not to be wondered at that they had lost all bloom of womanly modesty and gentleness. Their mothers had been "pit-girls" in their time, their grandmothers in theirs; they had been born in coarse homes; they had fared hardly, and worked hard; they had breathed in the dust and grime of coal, and, somehow or other, it seemed to stick to them and reveal itself in their natures as it did in their bold unwashed faces. At first one shrank from them, but one's shrinking could not fail to change to pity. There was no element of softness to rule or even influence them in their half savage existence.
On the particular evening of which I speak, the group at the pit's mouth were even more than usually noisy. They were laughing, gossiping and joking,—coarse enough jokes,—and now and then a listener might have heard an oath flung out as if all were well used to the sound. Most of them were young women, though there were a few older ones among them, and the principal figure in the group—the center figure, about whom the rest clustered—was a young woman. But she differed from the rest in two or three respects. The others seemed somewhat stunted in growth; she was tall enough to be imposing. She was as roughly clad as the poorest of them, but she wore her uncouth garb differently. The man's jacket of fustian, open at the neck, bared a handsome sunbrowned throat. The man's hat shaded a face with dark eyes that had a sort of animal beauty, and a well-molded chin. It was at this girl that all the rough jokes seemed to be directed.
"I'll tell thee, Joan," said one woman, "we'st ha' thee sweetheartin' wi' him afore th' month's out."
"Aye," laughed her fellows, "so we shall. Tha'st ha' to turn soft after aw. Tha conna stond out again' th' Lunnon chap. We'st ha' thee sweetheartin', Joan, i' th' face o' aw tha'st said."
Joan Lowrie faced them defiantly:
"Tha'st noan ha' me sweetheartin' wi' siccan a foo'," she said, "I amna ower fond o' men folk at no time. I've had my fill on 'em; and I'm noan loike to tak' up wi' such loike as this un. An' he's no an a Lunnoner neither. He's on'y fro' th' South. An th' South is na Lunnon."
"He's getten' Lunnon ways tho'," put in another. "Choppin' his words up an' mincin' 'em sma'. He's noan Lancashire, ony gowk could tell."
"I dunnot see as he minces so," said Joan roughly. "He dunnot speak our loike, but he's well enow i' his way."
A boisterous peal of laughter interrupted her.
"I thowt tha' ca'ed him a foo' a minute sin'," cried two or three voices at once. "Eh, Joan, lass, tha'st goin' t' change thy moind, I see."
The girl's eyes flashed.
"Theer's others I could ca' foo's," she said; "I need na go far to foind foo's. Foo' huntin's th' best sport out, an' th' safest. Leave th' engineer alone an' leave me alone too. It 'll be th' best fur yo'."
She turned round and strode out of the group.
Another burst of derisive laughter followed her, but she took no notice of it She took no notice of anything—not even of the two men who at that very moment passed and turned to look at her as she went by.
"A fine creature!" said one of them.
"A fine creature!" echoed the other. "Yes, and you see that is precisely it, Derrick. 'A fine creature'—and nothing else."
They were the young engineer and his friend the Reverend Paul Grace, curate of the parish. There were never two men more unlike, physically and mentally, and yet it would have been a hard task to find two natures more harmonious and sympathetic. Still most people wondered at and failed to comprehend their friendship. The mild, nervous little Oxonian barely reached Derrick's shoulder; his finely cut face was singularly feminine and innocent; the mild eyes beaming from behind his small spectacles had an absent, dreamy look. One could not fail to see at the first glance, that this refined, restless, conscientious little gentleman was hardly the person to cope successfully with Riggan. Derrick strode by his side like a young son of Anak—brains and muscle evenly balanced and fully developed.
He turned his head over his shoulder to look at Joan Lowrie once again.
"That girl," said Grace, "has worked at the pit's mouth from her childhood; her mother was a pit girl until she died—of hard work, privation and ill treatment. Her father is a collier and lives as most of them do—drinking, rioting, fighting. Their home is such a home as you have seen dozens of since you came here; the girl could not better it if she tried, and would not know how to begin if she felt inclined. She has borne, they tell me, such treatment as would have killed most women. She has been beaten, bruised, felled to the earth by this father of hers, who is said to be a perfect fiend in his cups. And yet she holds to her place in their wretched hovel, and makes herself a slave to the fellow with a dogged, stubborn determination. What can I do with such a case as that, Derrick?"
"You have tried to make friends with the girl?" said Derrick.
Grace colored sensitively.
"There is not a man, woman or child in the parish," he answered, "with whom I have not conscientiously tried to make friends, and there is scarcely one, I think, with whom I have succeeded. Why can I not succeed? Why do I always fail? The fault must be with myself——"
"A mistake that at the outset," interposed Derrick. "There is no 'fault' in the matter; there is simply misfortune. Your parishioners are so unfortunate as not to be able to understand you, and on your part you are so unfortunate as to fail at first to place yourself on the right footing with them. I say 'at first' you observe. Give yourself time, Grace, and give them time too."
"Thank you," said the Reverend Paul. "But speaking of this girl—'That lass o' Lowrie's,' as she is always called—Joan I believe her name is. Joan Lowrie is, I can assure you, a weight upon me. I cannot help her and I cannot rid my mind of her. She stands apart from her fellows. She has most of the faults of her class, but none of their follies; and she has the reputation of being half feared, half revered. The man who dared to approach her with the coarse love-making which is the fashion among them, would rue it to the last day of his life. She seems to defy all the world."
"And it is impossible to win upon her?"
"More than impossible. The first time I went to her with sympathy, I felt myself a child in her hands. She never laughed nor jeered at me as the rest do. She stood before me like a rock, listening until I had finished speaking. 'Parson,' she said, 'if thal't leave me alone, I'll leave thee alone,' and then turned about and walked into the house. I am nothing but 'th' parson' to these people, and 'th' parson' is one for whom they have little respect and no sympathy."
He was not far wrong. The stolid heavy-natured colliers openly looked down upon 'th' parson.' A 'bit of a whipper snapper,' even the best-natured called him in sovereign contempt for his insignificant physical proportions. Truly the sensitive little gentleman's lines had not fallen in pleasant places. And this was not all. There was another source of discouragement with which he had to battle in secret, though of this he would have felt it almost dishonor to complain. But Derrick's keen eyes had seen it long ago, and, understanding it well, he sympathized with his friend accordingly. Yet, despite the many rebuffs the curate had met with, he was not conquered by any means. His was not an easily subdued nature, after all. He was very warm on the subject of Joan Lowrie this evening—so warm, indeed, that the interest the mere sight of the girl had awakened in Derrick's mind was considerably heightened. They were still speaking of her when they stopped before the door of Grace's modest lodgings.
"You will come in, of course?" said Paul.
"Yes," Derrick answered, "for a short time. I am tired and shall feel all the better for a cup of Mrs. Burnie's tea," pushing the hair back from his forehead, as he had a habit of doing when a little excited.
He made the small parlor appear smaller than ever, when he entered it. He was obliged to bend his head when he passed through the door, and it was not until he had thrown himself into the largest easy chair, that the trim apartment seemed to regain its countenance.
Grace paused at the table, and with a sudden flush, took up a letter that lay there among two or three uninteresting-looking epistles.
"It is a note from Miss Anice," he said, coming to the hearth and applying his pen-knife in a gentle way to the small square envelope.
"Not a letter, Grace?" said Derrick with a smile.
"A letter! Oh dear, no! She has never written me a letter. They are always notes with some sort of business object. She has very decided views on the subject of miscellaneous letter-writing."
He read the note himself and then handed it to Derrick.
It was a compact, decided hand, free from the suspicion of an unnecessary curve.
"Dear Mr. Grace,—
"Many thanks for the book. You are very kind indeed. Pray let us hear something more about your people. I am afraid papa must find them very discouraging, but I cannot help feeling interested. Grandmamma wishes to be remembered to you,
"With more thanks,
"Believe me your friend,
Derrick refolded the note and handed it back to his friend. To tell the truth, it did not impress him very favorably. A girl not yet twenty years old, who could write such a note as this to a man who loved her, must be rather too self-contained and well balanced.
"You have never told me much of this story, Grace," he said.
"There is not much to tell," answered the curate, flushing again. "She is the Rector's daughter. I have known her three years. You remember I wrote to you about meeting her while you were in India. As for the rest, I do not exactly understand myself how it is that I have gone so far, having so—so little encouragement—in fact having had no encouragement at all; but, however that is, it has grown upon me, Derrick,—my feeling for her has grown into my life. She has never cared for me. I am quite sure of that, you see. Indeed, I could hardly expect it. It is not her way to care for men as they are likely to care for her, though it will come some day, I suppose—with the coming man," half smiling. "She is simply what she signs herself here, my friend Anice Barholm, and I am thankful for that much. She would not write even that if she did not mean it."
"Bless my soul," broke in Derrick, tossing back his head impatiently; "and she is only nineteen yet, you say?"
"Only nineteen," said the curate, with simple trustfulness in his friend's sympathy, "but different, you know, from any other woman I have ever seen."
The tea and toast came in then, and they sat down together to partake of it Derrick knew Anice quite well before the meal was ended, and yet he had not asked many questions. He knew how Grace had met her at her father's house—an odd, self-reliant, very pretty and youthful-looking little creature, with the force and decision of half a dozen ordinary women hidden in her small frame; how she had seemed to like him; how their intimacy had grown; how his gentle, deep-rooted passion had grown with it; how he had learned to understand that he had nothing to hope for.
"I am a little fearful for the result of her first visit here," said Grace, pushing his cup aside and looking troubled. "I cannot bear to think of her being disappointed and disturbed by the half-savage state in which these people live. She knows nothing of the mining districts. She has never been in Lancashire, and they have always lived in the South. She is in Kent now, with Mrs. Barholm's mother. And though I have tried, in my short letters to her, to prepare her for the rough side of life she will be obliged to see, I am afraid it is impossible for her to realize it, and it may be a shock to her when she comes."
"She is coming to Riggan then?" said Derrick.
"In a few weeks. She has been visiting Mrs. Galloway since the Rector gave up his living at Ashley wolde, and Mrs. Barholm told me to-day that she spoke in her last letter of coming to them."
The moon was shining brightly when Derrick stepped out into the street later in the evening, and though the air was somewhat chill it was by no means unpleasant. He had rather a long walk before him. He disliked the smoke and dust of the murky little town, and chose to live on its outskirts; but he was fond of sharp exercise, and regarded the distance between his lodging and the field of his daily labor as an advantage.
"I work off a great deal of superfluous steam between the two places," he said to Grace at the door. "The wind coming across Boggart Brow has a way of scattering and cooling restless plans and feverish fancies, that is good for a man. Half a mile of the Knoll Road is often enough to blow all the morbidness out of a fellow."
To-night by the time he reached the corner that turned him upon the Knoll Road, his mind had wandered upon an old track, but it had been drawn there by a new object,—nothing other than Joan Lowrie, indeed. The impression made upon him by the story of Joan and her outcast life was one not easy to be effaced. The hardest miseries in the lot of a class in whom he could not fail to be interested, were grouped about that dramatic figure. He was struck, too, by a painful sense of incongruity.
"If she had been in this other girl's niche," he said, "if she had lived the life of this Anice——"
But he did not finish his sentence. Something, not many yards beyond him, caught his eye—a figure seated upon the road-side near a collier's cottage—evidently a pit girl in some trouble, for her head was bowed upon her hands, and there was a dogged sort of misery expressed in her very posture.
"A woman," he said aloud. "What woman, I wonder. This is not the time for any woman to be sitting here alone."
He crossed the road at once, and going to the girl, touched her lightly on the shoulder.
"My lass," he said good-naturedly, "what ails you?"
She raised her head slowly as if she were dizzy and bewildered. Her face was disfigured by a bruise, and on one temple was a cut from which the blood trickled down her cheek; but the moonlight showed him that it was Joan. He removed his hand from her shoulder and drew back a pace.
"You have been hurt!" he exclaimed.
"Aye," she answered deliberately, "I've had a hurt—a bad un."
He did not ask her how she had been hurt. He knew as well as if she had told him, that it had been done in one of her father's fits of drunken passion. He had seen this sort of thing before during his sojourn in the mining districts. But, shamefully repulsive as it had been to him, he had never felt the degradation of it as fiercely as he did now.
"You are Joan Lowrie?" he said.
"Aye, I'm Joan Lowrie, if it 'll do yo' ony good to know."
"You must have something done to that cut upon your temple."
She put up her hand and wiped the blood away, as if impatient at his persistence.
"It 'll do well enow as it is," she said.
"That is a mistake," he answered. "You are losing more blood than you imagine. Will you let me help you?"
She stirred uneasily.
Derrick took no notice of the objection. He drew his handkerchief from his pocket, and, after some little effort, managed to stanch the bleeding, and having done so, bound the wound up. Perhaps something in his sympathetic silence and the quiet consideration of his manner touched Joan. Her face, upturned almost submissively, for the moment seemed tremulous, and she set her lips together. She did not speak until he had finished, and then she rose and stood before him immovable as ever.
"Thank yo'," she said in a suppressed voice, "I canna say no more."
"Never mind that," he answered, "I could have done no less. If you could go home now——"
"I shall na go whoam to neet," she interrupted him.
"You cannot remain out of doors!" he exclaimed.
"If I do, it wunnot be th' first toime," meeting his startled glance with a pride which defied him to pity or question her. But his sympathy and interest must have stirred her, for the next minute her manner softened. "I've done it often," she added, "an' nowts nivver feared me. Yo' need na care, Mester, I'm used to it."
"But I cannot go away and leave you here," he said.
"You canna do no other," she answered.
"Have you no friends?" he ventured hesitatingly.
"No, I ha' not," she said, hardening again, and she turned away as if she meant to end the discussion. But he would not leave her. The spirit of determination was as strong in his character as in her own. He tore a leaf from his pocket-book, and, writing a few lines upon it, handed it to her. "If you will take that to Thwates' wife," he said, "there will be no necessity for your remaining out of doors all night."
She took it from him mechanically; but when he finished speaking, her calmness left her. Her hand began to tremble, and then her whole frame, and the next instant the note fell to the ground, and she dropped into her old place again, sobbing passionately and hiding her face on her arms.
"I wunnot tak' it!" she cried. "I wunnot go no wheer an' tell as I'm turned loike a dog into th' street."
Her misery and shame shook her like a tempest. But she subdued herself at last.
"I dunnot see as yo' need care," she protested half resentfully. "Other folk dunnot. I'm left to mysen most o' toimes." Her head fell again and she trembled from head to foot.
"But I do care!" he returned. "I cannot leave you here and will not. If you will trust me and do as I tell you, the people you go to need know nothing you do not choose to tell them."
It was evident that his determination made her falter, and seeing this he followed up his advantage and so far improved it that at last, after a few more arguments, she rose slowly and picked up the fallen paper.
"If I mun go, I mun," she said, twisting it nervously in her fingers, and then there was a pause, in which she plainly lingered to say something, for she stood before him with a restrained air and downcast face. She broke the silence herself, however, suddenly looking up and fixing her large eyes full upon him.
"If I was a lady," she said, "happen I should know what to say to yo'; but bein' what I am, I dunnot. Happen as yo're a gentleman yo' know what I'd loike to say an' canna—happen yo' do."
Even as she spoke, the instinct of defiance in her nature struggled against that of gratitude; but the finer instinct conquered.
"We will not speak of thanks," he said. "I may need help some day, and come to you for it."
"If yo' ivver need help at th' pit will yo' come to me?" she demanded. "I've seen th' toime as I could ha' gi'en help to th' Mesters ef I'd had th' moind. If yo'll promise that——"
"I will promise it," he answered her.
"An' I'll promise to gi' it yo'," eagerly. "So that's settled. Now I'll go my ways. Good neet to yo'."
"Good night," he returned, and uncovering with as grave a courtesy as he might have shown to the finest lady in the land, or to his own mother or sister, he stood at the road-side and watched her until she was out of sight.
CHAPTER II. - "Liz"
"Th' owd lad's been at his tricks again," was the rough comment made on Joan Lowrie's appearance when she came down to her work the next morning; but Joan looked neither right nor left, and went to her place without a word. Not one among them had ever heard her speak of her miseries and wrongs, or had known her to do otherwise than ignore the fact that their existence was well known among her fellow-workers.
When Derrick passed her on his way to his duties, she looked up from her task with a faint, quick color, and replied to his courteous gesture with a curt yet not ungracious nod. It was evident that not even her gratitude would lead her to encourage any advances. But, notwithstanding this, he did not feel repelled or disappointed. He had learned enough of Joan, in their brief interview, to prepare him to expect no other manner from her. He was none the less interested in the girl because he found himself forced to regard her curiously and critically, and at a distance.
He watched her as she went about her work, silent, self-contained and solitary.
"That lass o' Lowrie's!" said a superannuated old collier once, in answer to a remark of Derrick's. "Eh! hoo's a rare un, hoo is! Th' fellys is haaf feart on her. Tha' sees hoo's getten a bit o' skoolin'. Hoo con read a bit, if tha'll believe it, Mester," with a touch of pride.
"Not as th' owd chap ivver did owt fur her i' that road," the speaker went on, nothing loath to gossip with 'one o' th' Mesters.' "He nivver did nowt fur her but spend her wage i' drink. But theer wur a neet skoo' here a few years sen', an' th' lass went her ways wi' a few o' th' steady uns, an' they say as she getten ahead on 'em aw, so as it wur a wonder. Just let her set her mind to do owt an' she'll do it."
"Here," said Derrick to Paul that night, as the engineer leaned back in his easy chair, glowering at the grate and knitting his brows, "Here," he said, "is a creature with the majesty of a Juno—though really nothing but a girl in years—who rules a set of savages by the mere power of a superior will and mind, and yet a woman who works at the mouth of a coal-pit,—who cannot write her own name, and who is beaten by her fiend of a father as if she were a dog. Good Heaven! what is she doing here? What does it all mean?"
The Reverend Paul put up his delicate hand deprecatingly.
"My dear Fergus," he said, "if I dare—if my own life and the lives of others would let me—I think I should be tempted to give it up, as one gives up other puzzles, when one is beaten by them."
Derrick looked at him, forgetting himself in a sudden sympathetic comprehension.
"You have been more than ordinarily discouraged to-day," he said. "What is it, Grace?"
"Do you know Sammy Craddock?" was the reply.
"'Owd Sammy Craddock'?" said Derrick with a laugh. "Wasn't it 'Owd Sammy,' who was talking to me to-day about Joan Lowrie?"
"I dare say it was," sighing. "And if you know Sammy Craddock, you know one of the principal causes of my discouragement. I went to see him this afternoon, and I have not quite—. quite got over it, in fact."
Derrick's interest in his friend's trials was stirred as usual at the first signal of distress. It was the part of his stronger and more evenly balanced nature to be constantly ready with generous sympathy and comfort.
"It has struck me," he said, "that Craddock is one of the institutions of Riggan. I should like to hear something definite concerning him. Why is he your principal cause of discouragement, in the first place?"
"Because he is the man of all others whom it is hard for me to deal with,—because he is the shrewdest, the most irreverent and the most disputatious old fellow in Riggan. And yet, in the face of all this, because he is so often right, I am forced into a sort of respect for him."
"Right!" repeated Derrick, raising his eyebrows. "That's bad."
Grace rose from the chair, flushing up to the roots of his hair,—
"Right!" he reiterated. "Yes, right I say. And how, I ask you, can a man battle against the faintest element of right and truth, even when it will and must arraign itself on the side of wrong? If I could shut my eyes to the right, and see only the wrong, I might leave myself at least a blind content, but I cannot—i cannot. If I could look upon these things as Barholm does——" But here he stopped, suddenly checking himself.
"Thank God you cannot," put in Derrick quietly.
For a few minutes the Reverend Paul paced the room in silence.
"Among the men who were once his fellow-workers, Craddock is an oracle," he went on. "His influence is not unlike Joan Lowrie's. It is the influence of a strong mind over weaker ones. His sharp sarcastic speeches are proverbs among the Rigganites; he amuses them and can make them listen to him. When he holds up 'Th' owd parson' to their ridicule, he sweeps all before him. He can undo in an hour what I have struggled a year to accomplish. He was a collier himself until he became superannuated, and he knows their natures, you see."
"What has he to say about Barholm?" asked Derrick—without looking at his friend, however.
"Oh!" he protested, "that is the worst side of it—that is miserable—that is wretched! I may as well speak openly. Barholm is his strong card, and that is what baffles me. He scans Barholm with the eye of an eagle. He does not spare a single weakness. He studies him—he knows his favorite phrases and gestures by heart, and has used them until there is not a Riggan collier who does not recognize them when they are presented to him, and applaud them as an audience might applaud the staple jokes of a popular actor."
Explained even thus far, the case looked difficult enough; but Derrick felt no wonder at his friend's discouragement when he had heard his story to the end, and understood it fully.
The living at Riggan had never been happily managed. It had been presented to men who did not understand the people under their charge, and to men whom the people failed to understand; but possibly it had never before fallen into the hands of a man who was so little qualified to govern Rigganites, as was the present rector, the Reverend Harold Barholm. A man who has mistaken his vocation, and who has become ever so faintly conscious of his blunder, may be a stumbling-block in another's path; but restrained as he will be by his secret pangs of conscience, he can scarcely be an active obstructionist. But a man who, having mistaken the field of his life's labor, yet remains amiably self-satisfied, and unconscious of his unfitness, may do more harm in his serene ignorance than he might have done good if he had chosen his proper sphere. Such a man as the last was the Reverend Harold. A good-natured, broad-shouldered, tactless, self-sufficient person, he had taken up his work with a complacent feeling that no field of labor could fail to be benefited by his patronage; he was content now as always. He had been content with himself and his intellectual progress at Oxford; he had been content with his first parish at Ashley-wold; he had been content then with the gentle-natured, soft-spoken Kentish men and women; he had never feared finding himself unequal to the guidance of their souls, and he was not at all troubled by the prospect Riggan presented to him.
"It is a different sort of thing," he said to his curate, in the best of spirits, "and new to us—new of course; but we shall get over that—we shall get over that easily enough, Grace."
So with not a shadow of a doubt as to his speedy success, and with a comfortable confidence in ecclesiastical power, in whomsoever vested, he called upon his parishioners one after the other. He appeared at their cottages at all hours, and gave the same greeting to each of them. He was their new rector, and having come to Riggan with the intention of doing them good, and improving their moral condition, he intended to do them good, and improve them, in spite of themselves. They must come to church: it was their business to come to church, as it was his business to preach the gospel. All this implied, in half an hour's half-friendly, half-ecclesiastical conversation, garnished with a few favorite texts and religious platitudes, and the man felt that he had done his duty, and done it well.
Only one man nonplussed him, and even this man's effect upon him was temporary, only lasting as long as his call. He had been met with a dogged resentment in the majority of his visits, but when he encountered 'Owd Sammy Craddock' he encountered a different sort of opposition.
"Aye," said Owd Sammy, "an' so tha'rt th' new rector, art ta? I thowt as mich as another ud spring up as soon as th' owd un wur cut down. Tha parsens is a nettle as dunnot soon dee oot. Well, I'll leave thee to th' owd lass here. Hoo's a rare un fur gab when hoo' taks th' notion, an' I'm noan so mich i' th' humor t' argufy mysen today." And he took his pipe from the mantelpiece and strolled out with an imperturbable air. But this was not the last of the matter. The Rector went again and again, cheerfully persisting in bringing the old sinner to a proper sense of his iniquities. There would be some triumph in converting such a veteran as Sammy Craddock, and he was confident of winning this laurel for himself. But the result was scarcely what he expected. 'Owd Sammy' stood his ground like an old soldier. The fear of man was not before his eyes, and 'parsens' were his favorite game. He was as contumacious and profane as such men are apt to be, and he delighted in scattering his clerical antagonists as a task worthy of his mettle. He encountered the Reverend Harold with positive glee. He jeered at him in public, and sneered at him in private, and held him up to the mockery of the collier men and lads, with the dramatic mimicry which made him so popular a character. As Derrick had said, Sammy Craddock was a Riggan institution. In his youth, his fellows had feared his strength; in his old age they feared his wit. "Let Owd Sammy tackle him," they said, when a new-comer was disputatious, and hard to manage; "Owd Sammy's th' one to gi' him one fur his nob. Owd Sammy'll fettle him—graidely." And the fact was that Craddock's cantankerous sharpness of brain and tongue were usually efficacious. So he "tackled" Barholm, and so he "tackled" the curate. But, for some reason, he was never actually bitter against Grace. He spoke of him lightly, and rather sneered at his physical insignificance; but he did not hold him up to public ridicule.
"I hav' not quite settled i' my moind about th' little chap," he would say sententiously to his admirers. "He's noan siccan a foo' as th' owd un, for he's a graidely foo', he is, and no mistake. At any rate a little foo' is better nor a big un."
And there the matter stood. Against these tremendous odds Grace fought—against coarse and perverted natures,—worse than all, against the power that should have been ranged upon his side. And added to these discouragements, were the obstacles of physical delicacy, and an almost morbid conscientiousness. A man of coarser fibre might have borne the burden better—or at least with less pain to himself.
"A drop or so of Barholm's blood in Grace's veins," said Derrick, communing with himself on the Knoll Road after their interview—"a few drops of Barholm's rich, comfortable, stupid blood in Grace's veins would not harm him. And yet it would have to be but a few drops indeed," hastily. "On the whole I think it would be better if he had more blood of his own."
The following day Miss Barholm came. Business had taken Derrick to the station in the morning, and being delayed, he was standing upon the platform when one of the London trains came in. There were generally so few passengers on such trains who were likely to stop at Riggan, that the few who did so were of some interest to the bystanders. Accordingly he stood gazing, in rather a preoccupied fashion, at the carriages, when the door of a first-class compartment opened, and a girl stepped out upon the platform near him. Before seeing her face one might have imagined her to be a child of scarcely more than fourteen or fifteen. This was Derrick's first impression; but when she turned toward him he saw at once that it was not a child. And yet it was a small face, with delicate oval features, smooth, clear skin, and stray locks of hazel brown hair that fell over the low forehead. She had evidently made a journey of some length, for she was encumbered with travelling wraps, and in her hands she held a little flower-pot containing a cluster of early blue violets,—such violets as would not bloom so far north as Riggan for weeks to come. She stood upon the platform for a moment or so, glancing up and down as if in search of some one, and then, plainly deciding that the object of her quest had not arrived, she looked at Derrick in a business-like, questioning way. She was going to speak to him. The next minute she stepped forward without a shadow of girlish hesitation.
"May I trouble you to tell me where I can find a conveyance of some sort?" she said. "I want to go to the Rectory."
Derrick uncovered, recognizing his friend's picture at once.
"I think," he said with far more hesitancy than she had herself shown, "that this must be Miss Barholm."
"Yes," she answered, "Anice Barholm. I think," she said, "from what Mr. Grace has said to me, that you must be his friend."
"I am one of Grace's friends," he answered, "Fergus Derrick."
She managed to free one of her small hands, and held it out to him.
She had arrived earlier than had been expected, it turned out, and through some mysterious chance or other, her letters to her friends had not preceded her, so there was no carriage in waiting, and but for Derrick she would have been thrown entirely upon her own resources. But after their mutual introduction the two were friends at once, and before he had put her into the cab, Derrick had begun to understand what it was that led the Reverend Paul to think her an exceptional girl. She knew where her trunks were, and was quite definite upon the subject of what must be done with them. Though pretty and frail looking enough, there was no suggestion of helplessness about her. When she was safely seated in the cab, she spoke to Derrick through the open window.
"If you will come to the Rectory to-night, and let papa thank you," she said, "we shall all be very glad. Mr. Grace will be there, you know, and I have a great many questions to ask which I think you must be able to answer."
Derrick went back to his work, thinking about Miss Barholm, of course. She was different from other girls, he felt, not only in her fragile frame and delicate face, but with another more subtle and less easily defined difference. There was a suggestion of the development in a child of the soul of a woman.
Going down to the mine, Derrick found on approaching that there was some commotion among the workers at the pit's mouth, and before he turned in to his office, he paused upon the threshold for a few minutes to see what it meant. But it was not a disturbance with which it was easy for an outsider to interfere. A knot of women drawn away from their work by some prevailing excitement, were gathered together around a girl—a pretty but pale and haggard creature, with a helpless, despairing face—who stood at bay in the midst of them, clasping a child to her bosom—a target for all eyes. It was a wretched sight, and told its own story.
"Wheer ha' yo' been, Liz?" Derrick heard two or three voices exclaim at once. "What did you coom back for? This is what thy handsome face has browt thee to, is it?"
And then the girl, white, wild-eyed and breathless with excitement, turned on them, panting, bursting into passionate tears.
"Let me a-be:" she cried, sobbing. "There's none of yo' need to talk. Let me a-be! I didna coom back to ax nowt fro' none on you! Eh Joan! Joan Lowrie?"
Derrick turned to ascertain the meaning of this cry of appeal, but almost before he had time to do so, Joan herself had borne down upon the group; she had pushed her way through it, and was standing in the centre, confronting the girl's tormentors in a flame of wrath, and Liz was clinging to her.
"What ha' they been sayin' to yo', lass?" she demanded. "Eh! but yo're a brave lot, yo' are—women yo' ca' yo'rsens!—badgerin' a slip o' a wench loike this."
"I did na coom back to ax nowt fro' noan o' them," sobbed the girl. "I'd ray ther dee ony day nor do it! I'd rayther starve i' th' ditch—an' it's comin' to that."
"Here," said Joan, "gi' me th' choild."
She bent down and took it from her, and then stood up before them all, holding it high in her strong arms—so superb, so statuesque, and yet so womanly a figure, that a thrill shot through the heart of the man watching her.
"Lasses," she cried, her voice fairly ringing, "do yo' see this? A bit o' a helpless thing as canna answer back yo're jeers! Aye! look at it well, aw' on yo'. Some on yo's getten th' loike at whoam. An' when yo've looked at th' choild, look at th' mother! Seventeen year owd, Liz is, an' th' world's gone wrong wi' her. I wunnot say as th' world's gone ower reet wi' ony on us; but them on us as has had th' strength to howd up agen it, need na set our foot on them as has gone down. Happen theer's na so much to choose betwixt us after aw. But I've gotten this to tell yo'—them as has owt to say o' Liz, mun say it to Joan Lowrie!"
Rough, and coarsely pitiless as the majority of them were, she had touched the right chord. Perhaps the bit of the dramatic in her championship of the girl had as much to do with the success of her half-commanding appeal as anything else. But at least, the most hardened of them faltered before her daring, scornful words, and the fire in her face. Liz would be safe enough from them henceforth, it was plain.
That evening while arranging his papers before going home, Derrick was called from his work by a summons at the office door, and going to open it, he found Joan Lowrie standing there, looking half abashed, half determined.
"I ha' summat to ax yo'," she said briefly, declining his invitation to enter and be seated.
"If there is anything I can do for—" began Derrick.
"It is na mysen," she interrupted him. "There is a poor lass as I'm fain to help, if I could do it, but I ha' not th' power. I dunnot know of any one as has, except yo'rsen and th' parson, an' I know more o' yo' than I do o' th' parson, so I thowt I'd ax yo' to speak to him about th' poor wench, an ax him if he could get her a bit o' work as ud help to keep her honest."
Derrick looked at her handsome face gravely, curiously.
"I saw you defend this girl against some of her old companions, a few hours ago, I believe," he said.
She colored, but did not return his glance.
"I dunnot believe in harryin' women down th' hill," she said.
Then, suddenly, she raised her eyes.
"Th' little un is a little lass," she said, "an' I canna bide th' thowt o' what moight fa' on her if her mother's life is na an honest un—I canna bide the thowt on it."
"I will see my friend to-night," said Derrick, "and I will speak to him. Where can he find the girl?"
"Wi' me," she answered. "I'm taken both on 'em whoam wi' me."
CHAPTER III - The Reverend Harold Barholm
When the Reverend Paul entered the parlor at the Rectory, he found that his friend had arrived before him. Mr. Barholm, his wife and Anice, with their guest, formed a group around the fire, and Grace saw at a glance that Derrick had unconsciously fallen into the place of the centre figure. He was talking and the others were listening—Mr. Barholm in his usual restless fashion, Mrs. Barholm with evident interest, Anice leaning forward on her ottoman, listening eagerly.
"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Barholm, when the servant announced the visitor, "this is fortunate. Here is Grace. Glad to see you, Grace. Take a seat We are talking about an uncommonly interesting case. I dare say you know the young woman."
Anice looked up.
"We are talking about Joan Lowrie," she said. "Mr. Derrick is telling us about her."
"Most interesting affair—from beginning to end," continued the Rector, briskly. "Something must be done for the young woman. We must go and see her,—I will go and see her myself."
He had caught fire at once, in his usual inconsequent, self-secure style. Ecclesiastical patronage would certainly set this young woman right at once. There was no doubt of that. And who was so well qualified to bestow it as himself?
"Yes, yes! I will go myself," he said. "That kind of people is easily managed, when once one understands them. There really is some good in them, after all. You see, Grace, it is as I have told you—only understand them, and make them understand you, and the rest is easy."
Derrick glanced from father to daughter. The clear eyes of the girl rested on the man with a curious expression.
"Do you think," she said quickly, "that they like us to go and see them in that sort of way, papa? Do you think it is wise to remind them that we know more than they do, and that if they want to learn they must learn from us, just because we have been more fortunate? It really seems to me that the rebellious ones would ask themselves what right we had to be more fortunate."
"My dear," returned the Rector, somewhat testily—he was not partial to the interposition of obstacles even in suggestion—"My dear, if you had been brought into contact with these people as closely as I have, or even as Grace has, you would learn that they are not prone to regard things from a metaphysical stand-point. Metaphysics are not in their line. They are more apt to look upon life as a matter of bread and bacon than as a problem."
A shadow fell upon Anice's face, and before the visit ended, Derrick had observed its presence more than once. It was always her father who summoned it, he noticed. And yet it was evident enough that she was fond of the man, and in no ordinary degree, and that the affection was mutual. As he was contented with himself, so Barholm was contented with his domestic relations. He was fond of his wife, and fond of his daughter, as much, perhaps, through his appreciation of his own good taste in wedding such a wife, and becoming the father of such a daughter, as through his appreciation of their peculiar charms. He was proud of them and indulgent to them. They reflected a credit on him of which he felt himself wholly deserving.
"They are very fond of him," remarked Grace afterward to his friend; "which shows that there must be a great deal of virtue in the man. Indeed there is a great deal of virtue in him. You yourself, Derrick, must have observed a certain kindliness and—and open generosity," with a wistful sound in his voice.
There was always this wistful appeal in the young man's tone when he spoke of his clerical master—a certain anxiety to make the best of him, and refrain from any suspicion of condemnation. Derrick was always reminded by it of the shadow on Anice's face.
"I want to tell you something," Miss Barholm said this evening to Grace at parting. "I do not think I am afraid of Riggan at all. I think I shall like it all the better because it is so new. Everything is so earnest and energetic, that it is a little bracing—like the atmosphere. Perhaps—when the time comes—I could do something to help you with that girl. I shall try at any rate." She held out her hand to him with a smile, and the Reverend Paul went home feeling not a little comforted and encouraged.
The Rector stood with his back to the fire, his portly person expressing intense satisfaction.
"You will remind me about that young woman in the morning, Anice," he said. "I should like to attend to the matter myself. Singular that Grace should not have mentioned her before. It really seems to me, you know, that now and then Grace is a little deficient in interest, or energy."
"Surely not interest, my dear," suggested Mrs. Barholm, gently.
"Well, well," conceded the Rector, "perhaps not interest, but energy or—or appreciation. I should have seen such a fine creature's superiority, and mentioned it at once. She must be a fine creature. A young woman of that kind should be encouraged. I will go and see her in the morning—if it were not so late I would go now. Really, she ought to be told that she has exhibited a very excellent spirit, and that people approve of it. I wonder what sort of a household servant she would make if she were properly trained?"
"That would not do at all," put in Anice, decisively. "From the pit's mouth to the kitchen would not be a natural transition."
"Well, well, as usual, perhaps you are right. There is plenty of time to think of it, however. We can judge better when we have seen her."
He did not need reminding in the morning. He was as full of vague plans for Joan Lowrie when he arose as he had been when he went to bed. He came down to the charming breakfast-room in the most sanguine of moods. But then his moods usually were sanguine. It was scarcely to be wondered at. Fortune had treated him with great suavity from his earliest years. Wellborn, comfortably trained, healthy and easy-natured, the world had always turned its pleasant side to him. As a young man, he had been a strong, handsome fellow, whose convenient patrimony had placed him beyond the possibility of entire dependence upon his profession. When a curate he had been well enough paid and without private responsibilities; when he married he was lucky enough to win a woman who added to his comfort; in fact, life had gone smoothly with him for so long that he had no reason to suspect Fate of any intention to treat him ill-naturedly. It was far more likely that she would reserve her scurvy tricks for some one else.
Even Riggan had not perplexed him at all. Its difficulties were not such as would be likely to disturb him greatly. One found ignorance, and vice, and discomfort among the lower classes always; there was the same thing to contend against in the agricultural as in the mining districts. And the Rectory was substantial and comfortable, even picturesque. The house was roomy, the garden large and capable of improvement; there were trees in abundance, ivy on the walls, and Anice would do the rest. The break-fast-room looked specially encouraging this morning. Anice, in a pretty pale blue gown, and with a few crocuses at her throat, awaited his coming behind the handsomest of silver and porcelain, reading his favorite newspaper the while. Her little pot of emigrant violets exhaled a faint, spring-like odor from their sunny place at the window; there was a vase of crocuses, snow-drops and ivy leaves in the centre of the table; there was sunshine outside and comfort in. The Rector had a good appetite and an unimpaired digestion. Anice rose when he entered, and touched the bell.
"Mamma's headache will keep her upstairs for a while," she said. "She told me we were not to wait for her." And then she brought him his newspaper and kissed him dutifully.
"Very glad to see you home again, I am sure, my dear," remarked the Rector. "I have really missed you very much. What excellent coffee this is!—another cup, if you please." And, after a pause,
"I think really, you know," he proceeded, "that you will not find the place unpleasant, after all. For my part, I think it is well enough—for such a place; one cannot expect Belgravian polish in Lancashire miners, and certainly one does not meet with it; but it is well to make the best of things. I get along myself reasonably well with the people. I do not encounter the difficulties Grace complains of."
"Does he complain?" asked Anice; "I did not think he exactly complained."
"Grace is too easily discouraged," answered the Rector in off-handed explanation. "And he is apt to make blunders. He speaks of, and to, these people as if they were of the same fibre as himself. He does not take hold of things. He is deficient in courage. He means well, but he is not good at reading character. That other young fellow now—Derrick, the engineer—would do twice as well in his place. What do you think of that young fellow, by the way, my dear?"
"I like him," said Anice. "He will help Mr. Grace often."
"Grace needs a support of some kind," returned Mr. Barholm, frowning slightly, "and he does not seem to rely very much upon me—not so much as I would wish. I don't quite understand him at times; the fact is, it has struck me once or twice, that he preferred to take his own path, instead of following mine."
"Papa," commented Anice, "I scarcely think he is to blame for that. I am sure it is always best, that conscientious, thinking people—and Mr. Grace is a thinking man—should have paths of their own."
Mr. Barholm pushed his hair from his forehead. His own obstinacy confronted him sometimes through Anice in a finer, more baffling form.
"Grace is a young man, my dear," he said, "and—and not a very strong-minded one."
"I cannot believe that is true," said Anice. "I do not think we can blame his mind. It is his body that is not strong. Mr. Grace himself has more power than you and mamma and myself all put together."
One of Alice's peculiarities was a certain pretty sententiousness, which, but for its innate refinement, and its sincerity, might have impressed people as being a fault When she pushed her opposition in that steady, innocent way, Mr. Barholm always took refuge behind an inner consciousness which "knew better," and was fully satisfied on the point of its own knowledge.
When breakfast was over, he rose from the table with the air of a man who had business on hand. Anice rose too, and followed him to the hearth.
"You are going out, I suppose," she said.
"I am going to see Joan Lowrie," he said complacently. "And I have several calls to make besides. Shall I tell the young woman that you will call on her?"
Anice looked down at the foot she had placed on the shining rim of the steel fender.
"Joan Lowrie?" she said reflectively.
"Certainly, my dear. I should think it would please the girl to feel that we are interested in her."
"I should scarcely think—from what Mr. Grace and his friend say—that she is the kind of a girl to be reached in that way," said Anice.
The Rector shrugged his shoulders.
"My dear," he answered, "if we are always to depend upon what Grace says, we shall often find ourselves in a dilemma. If you are going to wait until these collier young women call on you after the manner of polite society, I am afraid you will have time to lose interest in them and their affairs."
He had no scruples of his own on the subject of his errand. He felt very comfortable as usual, as he wended his way through the village toward Lowrie's cottage, on the Knoll Road. He did not ask himself what he should say to the collier young woman, and her unhappy charge. Orthodox phrases with various distinct flavors—the flavor of encouragement, the flavor of reproof, the flavor of consolation,—were always ready with the man; he never found it necessary to prepare them beforehand. The flavor of approval was to be Joan's portion this morning; the flavor of rebuke her companion's. He passed down the street with ecclesiastical dignity, bestowing a curt, but not unamiable word of recognition here and there. Unkempt, dirty-faced children, playing hop-scotch or marbles on the flag pavement, looked up at him with a species of awe, not un-mingled with secret resentment; women lounging on door-steps, holding babies on their hips, stared in critical sullenness as he went by.
"Theer's th' owd parson," commented one sharp-tongued matron. "Hoo's goin' to teach some one summat, I warrant What th' owd lad dunnot know is na worth knowin'. Eh! hoo's a graidely foo', that hoo is. Our Tommy, if tha dost na let Jane Ann be, tha'lt be gettin' a hidin'."
Unprepossessing as most of the colliers' homes were, Lowrie's cottage was a trifle less inviting than the majority. It stood upon the roadside, an ugly little bare place, with a look of stubborn desolation, its only redeeming feature a certain rough cleanliness. The same cleanliness reigned inside, Barholm observed when he entered; and yet on the whole there was a stamp upon it which made it a place scarcely to be approved of. Before the low fire sat a girl with a child on her knee, and this girl, hearing the visitor's footsteps, got up hurriedly, and met him with a half abashed, half frightened look on her pale face.
"Lowrie is na here, an' neyther is Joan," she said, without waiting for him to speak. "Both on 'em's at th' pit. Theer's no one here but me," and she held the baby over her shoulder, as if she would like to have hidden it.
Mr. Barholm walked in serenely, sure that he ought to be welcome, if he were not.
"At the pit, are they?" he answered. "Dear me! I might have remembered that they would be at this time. Well, well; I will take a seat, my girl, and talk to you a little. I suppose you know me, the minister at the church—Mr. Barholm?"
Liz, a slender slip of a creature, large-eyed, and woe-begone, stood up before him, staring at him irresolutely as he seated himself.
"I—I dunnot know nobody much now," she stammered. "I—I've been away fro' Riggan sin' afore yo' comn—if yo're th' new parson," and then she colored nervously and became fearfully conscious of her miserable little burden, "I've heerd Joan speak o' th' young parson," she faltered.
Her visitor looked at her gravely. What a helpless, childish creature she was, with her pretty face, and her baby, and her characterless, frightened way. She was only one of many—poor Liz, ignorant, emotional, weak, easily led, ready to err, unable to bear the consequences of error, not strong enough to be resolutely wicked, not strong enough to be anything in particular, but that which her surroundings made her. If she had been well-born and well brought up, she would have been a pretty, insipid girl, who needed to be taken care of; as it was, she had "gone wrong." The excellent Rector of St. Michael's felt that she must be awakened.
"You are the girl Elizabeth?" he said.
"I'm 'Lizabeth Barnes," she answered, pulling at the hem of her child's small gown, "but folks nivver calls me nowt but Liz."
Her visitor pointed to a chair considerately. "Sit down," he said, "I want to talk to you."
Liz obeyed him; but her pretty, weak face told its own story of distaste and hysterical shrinking. She let the baby lie upon her lap; her fingers were busy plaiting up folds of the little gown.
"I dunnot want to be talked to," she whimpered. "I dunnot know as talk can do folk as is i' trouble any good—an' th' trouble's bad enow wi'out talk."
"We must remember whence the trouble comes," answered the minister, "and if the root lies in ourselves, and springs from our own sin, we must bear our cross meekly, and carry our sorrows and iniquities to the fountain head. We must ask for grace, and—and sanctification of spirit."
"I dunnot know nowt about th' fountain head," sobbed Liz aggrieved. "I amna religious an' I canna see as such loike helps foak. No Methody nivver did nowt for me when I war i' trouble an' want Joan Lowrie is na a Methody."
"If you mean that the young woman is in an unawakened condition, I am sorry to hear it," with increased gravity of demeanor. "Without the redeeming blood how are we to find peace? If you had clung to the Cross you would have been spared all this sin and shame. You must know, my girl, that this," with a motion toward the frail creature on her knee, "is a very terrible thing."
Liz burst into piteous sobs—crying like an abused child:
"I know it's hard enow," she cried; "I canna get work neyther at th' pit nor at th' factories, as long as I mun drag it about, an' I ha' not got a place to lay my head, on'y this. If it wur na for Joan, I might starve, and the choild too. But I'm noan so bad as yo'd mak' out. I—I wur very fond o' him—I wur, an' I thowt he wur fond o' me, an' he wur a gentleman too. He were no laboring-man, an' he wur kind to me, until he got tired. Them sort allus gets tired o' yo' i' time, Joan says. I wish I'd ha' towd Joan at first, an' axed her what to do."
Barholm passed his hand through his hair uneasily. This shallow, inconsequent creature baffled him. Her shame, her grief, her misery, were all mere straws eddying on the pool of her discomfort It was not her sin that crushed her, it was the consequence of it; hers was not a sorrow, it was a petulant unhappiness. If her lot had been prosperous outwardly, she would have felt no inward pang.
It became more evident to him than ever that something must be done, and he applied himself to his task of reform to the best of his ability. But he exhausted his repertory of sonorous phrases in vain. His grave exhortations only called forth fresh tears, and a new element of resentment; and, to crown all, his visit terminated with a discouragement of which his philosophy had never dreamed.
In the midst of his most eloquent reproof, a shadow darkened the threshold, and as Liz looked up with the explanation—"Joan!" a young woman, in pit girl guise, came in, her hat pushed off her forehead, her throat bare, her fus-tian jacket hanging over her arm. She glanced from one to the other questioningly, knitting her brows slightly at the sight of Liz's tears. In answer to her glance Liz spoke querulously.
"It's th' parson, Joan," she said. "He comn to talk like th' rest on 'em an' he maks me out too ill to burn."
Just at that moment the child set up a fretful cry and Joan crossed the room and took it up in her arms.
"Yo've feart th' choild betwixt yo'," she said, "if yo've managed to do nowt else."
"I felt it my duty as Rector of the parish," explained Barholm somewhat curtly, "I felt it my duty as Rector of the parish, to endeavor to bring your friend to a proper sense of her position."
Joan turned toward him.
"Has tha done it?" she asked.
The Reverend Harold felt his enthusiasm concerning the young woman dying out.
"I—I—" he stammered.
Joan interrupted him.
"Dost tha see as tha has done her any good?" she demanded. "I dunnot mysen."
"I have endeavored to the best of my ability to improve her mental condition," the minister replied.
"I thowt as much," said Joan; "I mak' no doubt tha'st done thy best, neyther. Happen tha'st gi'en her what comfort tha had to spare, but if yo'd been wiser than yo' are, yo'd ha' let her alone. I'll warrant theer is na a parson 'twixt here an' Lunnon, that could na ha' towd her that she's a sinner an' has shame to bear; but happen theer is na a parson 'twixt here an' Lunnon as she could na ha' towd that much to, hersen. Howivver, as tha has said thy say, happen it 'll do yo' fur this toime, an' yo' can let her be for a while."
Mr. Barholm was unusually silent during dinner that evening, and as he sat over his wine, his dissatisfaction rose to the surface, as it invariably did.
"I am rather disturbed this evening, Anice," he said.
Anice looked up questioningly.
"Why?" she asked.
"I went to see Joan Lowrie this morning," he answered hesitatingly, "and I am very much disappointed in her. I scarcely think, after all, that I would advise you to take her in hand. She is not an amiable young woman. In fact there is a positive touch of the vixen about her."
CHAPTER IV - "Love Me, Love My Dog"
Mr. Barholm had fallen into the habit of turn-ing to Anice for it, when he required information concerning people and things. In her desultory pilgrimages, Anice saw all that he missed, and heard much that he was deaf to. The rough, hard-faced men and boisterous girls who passed to and from their work at the mine, drew her to the window whenever they made their appearance. She longed to know something definite of them—to get a little nearer to their unprepossessing life. Sometimes the men and women, passing, caught glimpses of her, and, asking each other who she was, decided upon her relationship to the family.
"Hoo's th' owd parson's lass," somebody said. "Hoo's noan so bad lookin' neyther, if hoo was na sich a bit o' a thing."
The people who had regarded Mr. Barholm with a spice of disfavor, still could not look with ill-nature upon this pretty girl. The slatternly women nudged each other as she passed, and the playing children stared after their usual fashion; but even the hardest-natured matron could find nothing more condemnatory to say than, "Hoo's noan Lancashire, that's plain as th' nose on a body's face;" or, "Theer is na much on her, at ony rate. Hoo's a bit of a weakly-like lass wi'out much blood i' her."
Now and then Anice caught the sound of their words, but she was used to being commented upon. She had learned that people whose lives have a great deal of hard, common discomfort and struggle, acquire a tendency to depreciation almost as a second nature. It is easier to bear one's own misfortunes, than to bear the good-fortune of better-used people. That is the insult added by Fate to injury.
Riggan was a crooked, rambling, cross-grained little place. From the one wide street with its jumble of old, tumble-down shops, and glaring new ones, branched out narrow, up-hill or down-hill thoroughfares, edged by colliers' houses, with an occasional tiny provision shop, where bread and bacon were ranged alongside potatoes and flabby cabbages; ornithological specimens made of pale sweet cake, and adorned with startling black currant eyes, rested unsteadily against the window-pane, a sore temptation to the juvenile populace.
It was in one of these side streets that Anice met with her first adventure.
Turning the corner, she heard the sharp yelp of a dog among a group of children, followed almost immediately by a ringing of loud, angry, boyish voices, a sound of blows and cries, and a violent scuffle. Anice paused for a few seconds, looking over the heads of the excited little crowd, and then made her way to it, and in a minute was in the heart of it. The two boys who were the principal figures, were fighting frantically, scuffling, kicking, biting, and laying on vigorous blows, with not unscientific fists. Now and then a fierce, red, boyish face was to be seen, and then the rough head ducked and the fight waxed fiercer and hotter, while the dog—a small, shrewd sharp-nosed terrier—barked at the combatants' heels, snapping at one pair, but not at the other, and plainly enjoying the excitement.
"Boys!" cried Anice. "What's the mat-ter?"
"They're feighten," remarked a philosophical young by-stander, with placid interest,—"an' Jud Bates'll win."
It was so astonishing a thing that any outsider should think of interfering, and there was something so decided in the girlish voice addressing them, that almost at the moment the combatants fell back, panting heavily, breathing vengeance in true boy fashion, and evidently resenting the unexpected intrusion.
"What is it all about?" demanded the girl. "Tell me."
The crowd gathered close around her to stare, the terrier sat down breathless, his red tongue hanging out, his tail beating the ground. One of the boys was his master, it was plain at a glance, and, as a natural consequence, the dog had felt it his duty to assist to the full extent of his powers. But the other boy was the first to speak.
"Why could na he let me a-be then?" he asked irately. "I was na doin' owt t' him."
"Yea, tha was," retorted his opponent, a sturdy, ragged, ten-year-old.
"Nay, I was na."
"Yea, tha was."
"Well," said Anice, "what was he doing?"
"Aye," cried the first youngster, "tha tell her if tha con. Who hit th' first punse?" excitedly doubling his fist again. "I didna."
"Nay, tha didna, but tha did summat else. Tha punsed at Nib wi' thy clog, an' hit him aside o' th' yed, an' then I punsed thee, an' I'd do it agen fur—"
"Wait a minute," said Anice, holding up her little gloved hand. "Who is Nib?"
"Nib's my dog," surlily. "An' them as punses him, has getten to punse me."
Anice bent down and patted the small animal.
"He seems a very nice dog," she said. "What did you kick him for?"
Nib's master was somewhat mollified. A person who could appreciate the virtues of "th' best tarrier i' Riggan," could not be regarded wholly with contempt, or even indifference.
"He kicked him fur nowt," he answered. "He's allus at uther him or me. He bust my kite, an' he cribbed my marvels, didn't he?" appealing to the by-standers.
"Aye, he did. I seed him crib th' marvels my-sen. He wur mad 'cos Jud wur winnen, and then he kicked Nib."
Jud bent down to pat Nib himself, not without a touch of pride in his manifold injuries, and the readiness with which they were attested.
"Aye," he said, "an' I did na set on him at first neyther. I nivver set on him till he punsed Nib. He may bust my kite, an' steal my marvels, an' he may ca' me ill names, but he shanna kick Nib. So theer!"
It was evident that Nib's enemy was the transgressor. He was grievously in the minority. Nobody seemed to side with him, and everybody seemed ready—when once the tongues were loosed—to say a word for Jud and "th' best tarrier i'Riggan." For a few minutes Anice could scarcely make herself heard.
"You are a good boy to take care of your dog," she said to Jud—"and though fighting is not a good thing, perhaps if I had been a boy," gravely deciding against moral suasion in one rapid glance at the enemy—"perhaps if I had been a boy, I would have fought myself. You are a coward," she added, with incisive scorn to the other lad, who slinked sulkily out of sight.
"Owd Sammy Craddock," lounging at his window, clay pipe in hand, watched Anice as she walked away, and gave vent to his feelings in a shrewd chuckle.
"Eh! eh!" he commented; "so that's th' owd parson's lass, is it? Wall, hoo may be o' th' same mate, but hoo is na o' th' same grain, I'll warrant. Hoo's a rare un, hoo is, fur a wench."
"Owd Sammy's" amused chuckles, and exclamations of "Eh! hoo's a rare un—that hoo is—fur a wench," at last drew his wife's attention. The good woman pounced upon him sharply.
"Tha'rt an owd yommer-head," she said. "What art tha ramblin' about now? Who is it as is siccan a rare un?"
Owd Sammy burst into a fresh chuckle, rubbing his knees with both hands.
"Why," said he, "I'll warrant tha could na guess i' tha tried, but I'll gi'e thee a try. Who dost tha think wur out i' th' street just now i' th' thick of a foight among th' lads? I know thou'st nivver guess."
"Nay, happen I canna, an' I dunnot know as I care so much, neyther," testily.
"Why," slapping his knee, "th' owd parson's lass. A little wench not much higher nor thy waist, an' wi' a bit o' a face loike skim-milk, but steady and full o' pluck as an owd un."
"Nay now, tha dost na say so? What wor she doin' an' how did she come theer? Tha mun ha' been dreamin'!"
"Nowt o' th' soart. I seed her as plain as I see thee an' heerd ivvery word she said. Tha shouldst ha' seen her! Hoo med as if hoo'd lived wi' lads aw her days. Jud Bates and that young marplot o' Thorme's wur feightin about Nib—at it tooth and nail—an' th' lass sees 'em, an' marches into th' thick, an' sets 'em to reets. Yo' should ha' seen her! An' hoo tells Jud as he's a good lad to tak' care o' his dog, an' hoo does na know but what hoo'd fowt hersen i' his place, an' hoo ca's Jack Thorme a coward, an' turns her back on him, an' ends up wi' tellin' Jud to bring th' tarrier to th' Rectory to see her."
"Well," exclaimed Mrs. Craddock, "did yo' iwer hear th' loike!"
"I wish th' owd parson had seed her," chuckled her spouse irreverently. "That soart is na i' his loine. He'd a waved his stick as if he'd been king and council i' one, an' rated 'em fro' th' top round o' th' ladder. He canna get down fro' his perch. Th' owd lad'll stick theer till he gets a bit too heavy, an' then he'll coom down wi' a crash, ladder an' aw'—but th' lass is a different mak'."
Sammy being an oracle among his associates, new-comers usually passed through his hands, and were condemned, or approved, by him. His pipe, and his criticisms upon society in general, provided him with occupation. Too old to fight and work, he was too shrewd to be ignored. Where he could not make himself felt, he could make himself heard. Accordingly, when he condescended to inform a select and confidential audience that the "owd parson's lass was a rare un, lass as she was"—(the masculine opinion of Riggan on the subject of the weaker sex was a rather disparaging one)—the chances of the Rector's daughter began, so to speak, to "look up." If Sammy Craddock found virtue in the new-comer, it was possible such virtue might exist, at least in a negative form,—and open enmity was rendered unnecessary, and even impolitic. A faint interest began to be awakened. When Anice passed through the streets, the slatternly, baby-laden women looked at her curiously, and in a manner not absolutely unfriendly. She might not be so bad after all, if she did have "Lunnon ways," and was smiled upon by Fortune. At any rate, she differed from the parson himself, which was in her favor.
CHAPTER V - Outside the Hedge
Deeply as Anice was interested in Joan, she left her to herself. She did not go to see her, and still more wisely, she managed to hush in her father any awakening tendency toward parochial visits. But from Grace and Fergus Derrick she heard much of her, and through Grace she contrived to convey work and help to Liz, and encouragement to her protectress. From what source the assistance came, Joan did not know, and she was not prone to ask questions.
"If she asks, tell her it is from a girl like herself," Anice had said, and Joan had accepted the explanation.
In a very short time from the date of their first acquaintance, Fergus Derrick's position in the Barholm household had become established. He was the man to make friends and keep them. Mrs. Barholm grew fond of him; the Rector regarded him as an acquisition to their circle, and Anice was his firm friend. So, being free to come and go, he came and went, and found his unceremonious visits pleasant enough. On his arrival at Riggan, he had not anticipated meeting with any such opportunities of enjoyment He had come to do hard work, and had expected a hard life, softened by few social graces. The work of opening the new mines was a heavy one, and was rendered additionally heavy and dangerous by unforeseen circumstances. A load of responsibility rested upon his shoulders, to which at times he felt himself barely equal, and which men of less tough fibre would have been glad to shift upon others. Naturally, his daily cares made his hours of relaxation all the more pleasant Mrs. Barholm's influence upon him was a gentle and soothing one, and in Anice he found a subtle inspiration. She seemed to understand his trials by instinct, and even the minutiae of his work made themselves curiously clear to her. As to the people who were under his control, she was never tired of hearing of them, and of studying their quaint, rough ways. To please her he stored up many a characteristic incident, and it was through him that she heard most frequently of Joan. She did not even see Joan for fully two months after her arrival in Riggan, and then it was Joan who came to her.
As the weather became more spring-like she was oftener out in the garden. She found a great deal to do among the flower-beds and shrubbery, and as this had always been considered her department, she took the management of affairs wholly into her own hands. The old place, which had been rather neglected in the time of the previous inhabitant, began to bloom out into fragrant luxuriance, and passing Rigganites regarded it with admiring eyes. The colliers who had noticed her at the window in the colder weather, seeing her so frequently from a nearer point of view, felt themselves on more familiar terms. Some of them even took a sort of liking to her, and gave her an uncouth greeting as they went by; and, more than once, one or another of them had paused to ask for a flower or two, and had received them with a curious bashful awe, when they had been passed over the holly hedge.
Having gone out one evening after dinner to gather flowers for the house, Anice, standing before a high lilac bush, and pulling its pale purple tassels, became suddenly conscious that some one was watching her—some one standing upon the roadside behind the holly hedge. She did not know that as she stopped here and there to fill her basket, she had been singing to herself in a low tone. Her voice had attracted the passer-by.
This passer-by—a tall pit girl with a handsome, resolute face—stood behind the dark green hedge, and watched her. Perhaps to this girl, weary with her day's labor, grimed with coal-dust, it was not unlike standing outside paradise. Early in the year as it was, there were flowers enough in the beds, and among the shrubs, to make the spring air fresh with a faint, sweet odor. But here too was Anice in her soft white merino dress, with her basket of flowers, with the blue bells at her belt, and her half audible song. She struck Joan Lowrie with a new sense of beauty and purity. As she watched her she grew discontented—restless—sore at heart. She could not have told why, but she felt a certain anger against herself. She had had a hard day. Things had gone wrong at the pit's mouth; things had gone wrong at home. It was hard for her strong nature to bear with Liz's weakness. Her path was never smooth, but to-day it had been at its roughest. The little song fell upon her ear with strong pathos.
"She's inside o' th' hedge," she said to herself in a dull voice. "I'm outside, theer's th' difference. It a'most looks loike the hedge went aw' around an' she'd been born among th' flowers, and theer's no way out for her—no more than theer's a way in fur me."
Then it was that Anice turned round and saw her. Their eyes met, and, singularly enough, Anice's first thought was that this was Joan. Derrick's description made her sure. There were not two such women in Riggan. She made her decision in a moment. She stepped across the grass to the hedge with a ready smile.
"You were looking at my flowers," she said. "Will you have some?"
"I often give them to people," said Anice, taking a handful from the basket and offering them to her across the holly. "When the men come home from the mines they often ask me for two or three, and I think they like them even better than I do—though that is saying a great deal."
Joan held out her hand, and took the flowers, holding them awkwardly, but with tenderness.
"Oh, thank yo'," she said. "It's kind o' yo' to gi' 'em away."
"It's a pleasure to me," said Anice, picking out a delicate pink hyacinth. "Here's a hyacinth." Then as Joan took it their eyes met. "Are you Joan Lowrie?" asked the girl.
Joan lifted her head.
"Aye," she answered, "I'm Joan Lowrie."
"Ah," said Anice, "then I am very glad."
They stood on the same level from that moment. Something as indescribable as all else in her manner, had done for Anice just what she had simply and seriously desired to do. Proud and stubborn as her nature was, Joan was subdued. The girl's air and speech were like her song. She stood inside the hedge still, in her white dress, among the flowers, looking just as much as if she had been born there as ever, but some fine part of her had crossed the boundary.
"Ah! then I am glad of that," she said.
"Yo' are very good to say as much," she answered, "but I dunnot know as I quite understand—"
Anice drew a little nearer.
"Mr. Grace has told me about you," she said. "And Mr. Derrick."
Joan's brown throat raised itself a trifle, and Anice thought color showed itself on her cheek.
"Both on 'em's been good to me," she said, "but I did na think as—"
Anice stopped her with a little gesture, "It was you who were so kind to Liz when she had no friend," she began.
Joan interrupted her with sudden eagerness.
"It wur yo' as sent th' work an' th' things fur th' choild," she said.
"Yes, it was I," answered Anice. "But I hardly knew what to send. I hope I sent the right things, did I?"
"Yes, miss; thank yo'." And then in a lower voice, "They wur a power o' help to Liz an' me. Liz wur hard beset then, an' she's only a young thing as canna bear sore trouble. Seemed loike that th' thowt as some un had helped her wur a comfort to her."
Anice took courage.
"Perhaps if I might come and see her," she said. "May I come? I should like to see the baby. I am very fond of little children."
There was a moment's pause, and then Joan spoke awkwardly.
"Do yo' know—happen yo' dunnot—what Liz's trouble is? Bein' as yo're so young yorsen, happen they did na tell yo' all. Most o' toimes folk is na apt to be fond o' such loike as this little un o' hers."
"I heard all the story."
"Then come if yo' loike,—an' if they'll let yo', some ud think there wur harm i' th' choild's touch. I'm glad yo' dunna."
She did not linger much longer. Anice watched her till she was out of sight. An imposing figure she was—moving down the road in her rough masculine garb—the massive perfection of her form clearly outlined against the light. It seemed impossible that such a flower as this could blossom, and decay, and die out in such a life, without any higher fruition.
"I have seen Joan Lowrie," said Anice to Derrick, when next they met.
"Did she come to you, or did you go to her?" Fergus asked.
"She came to me, but without knowing that she was coming."
"That was best," was his comment.
Joan Lowrie was as much a puzzle to him as she was to other people. Despite the fact that he saw her every day of his life, he had never found it possible to advance a step with her. She held herself aloof from him, just as she held herself aloof from the rest. A common greeting, and oftener than not, a silent one, was all that passed between them. Try as he would, he could get no farther;—and he certainly did make some effort. Now and then he found the chance to do her a good turn, and such opportunities he never let slip, though his way of doing such things was always so quiet as to be unlikely to attract any observation. Usually he made his way with people easily, but this girl held him at a distance, almost ungraciously. And he did not like to be beaten. Who does? So he persevered with a shade of stubbornness, hidden under a net-work of other motives. Once, when he had exerted himself to lighten her labor somewhat, she set aside his assistance openly.
"Theer's others as needs help more nor me," she said. "Help them, an' I'll thank yo'."
In course of time, however, he accidentally discovered that there had been occasions when, notwithstanding her apparent ungraciousness, she had exerted her influence in his behalf.
The older colliers resented his youth, the younger ones his authority. The fact that he was "noan Lancashire" worked against him too, though even if he had been a Lancashire man, he would not have been likely to find over-much favor. It was enough that he was "one o' th' mesters." To have been weak of will, or vacillating of purpose, would have been death to every vestige of the authority vested in him; but he was as strong mentally as physically—strong-willed to the verge of stubbornness. But if they could not frighten or subdue him, they could still oppose and irritate him, and the contention was obstinate. This feeling even influenced the girls and women at the "mouth." They, too, organized in petty rebellion, annoying if not powerful.
"I think yo' will find as yo' may as well leave th' engineer be," Joan would say dryly. "Yo' will na fear him much, an' yo'll tire yo'rsens wi' yo're clatter. I donna see the good o' barkin' so much when yo' canna bite."
"Aye," jeered one of the boldest, once, "leave th' engineer be. Joan sets a power o' store by th' engineer."
There was a shout of laughter, but it died out when Joan confronted the speaker with dangerous steadiness of gaze.
"Save thy breath to cool thy porridge," she said. "It will be better for thee."
But it was neither the first nor the last time that her companions flung out a jeer at her "sweetheartin'." The shrewdest among them had observed Derrick's interest in her. They concluded, of course, that Joan's handsome face had won her a sweetheart. They could not accuse her of encouraging him; but they could profess to believe that she was softening, and they could use the insinuation as a sharp weapon against her, when such a course was not too hazardous.
Of this, Derrick knew nothing. He could only see that Joan set her face persistently against his attempts to make friends with her, and the recognition of this fact almost exasperated him at times. It was quite natural that, seeing so much of this handsome creature, and hearing so much of her, his admiration should not die out, and that opposition should rather invite him to stronger efforts to reach her.
So it was that hearing Miss Barholm's story he fell into unconscious reverie. Of course this did not last long. He was roused from it by the fact that Anice was looking at him. When he looked up, it seemed as if she awakened also, though she did not start.
"How are you getting on at the mines?" she asked.
"Badly. Or, at least, by no means well. The men are growing harder to deal with every day." "And your plans about the fans?" The substitution of the mechanical fan for the old furnace at the base of the shaft, was one of the projects to which Derrick clung most tenaciously. During a two years' sojourn among the Belgian mines, he had studied the system earnestly. He had worked hard to introduce it at Riggan, and meant to work still harder. But the miners were bitterly opposed to anything "newfangled," and the owners were careless. So that the mines were worked, and their profits made, it did not matter for the rest. They were used to casualties, so well used to them in fact, that unless a fearful loss of life occurred, they were not alarmed or even roused. As to the injuries done to a man's health, and so on—they had not time to inquire into such things. There was danger in all trades, for the matter of that. Fergus Derrick was a young man, and young men were fond of novelties.
Opposition was bad enough, but indifference was far more baffling. The colliers opposed Derrick to the utmost, the Company was rather inclined to ignore him—some members good-naturedly, others with an air of superiority, not unmixed with contempt. The colliers talked with rough ill-nature; the Company did not want to talk at all.
"Oh," answered Derrick, "I do not see that I have made one step forward; but it will go hard with me before I am beaten. Some of the men I have to deal with are as bat-blind as they are cantankerous. One would think that experience might have taught them wisdom. Would you believe that some of those working in the most dangerous parts of the mine have false keys to their Davys, and use the flame to light their pipes? I have heard of the thing being done before, but I only discovered the other day that we had such madmen in the pits here. If I could only be sure of them I would settle the matter at once, but they are crafty enough to keep their secret, and it only drifts to the master as a rumor."
"Have you no suspicion as to who they are?" asked Anice.
"I suspect one man," he answered, "but only suspect him because he is a bad fellow, reckless in all things, and always ready to break the rules. I suspect Dan Lowrie."
"Joan's father?" exclaimed Anice in distress.
Derrick made a gesture of assent.
"He is the worst man in the mines," he said, "The man with the worst influence, the man who can work best if he will, the man whose feeling against any authority is the strongest, and whose feeling against me amounts to bitter enmity."
"Against you? But why?"
"I suppose because I have no liking for him myself, and because I will have orders obeyed, whether they are my orders or the orders of the owners. I will have work done as it should be done, and I will not be frightened by bullies."
"But if he is a dangerous man—"
"He would knock me down from behind, or spoil my beauty with vitriol as coolly as he would toss off a pint of beer, if he had the opportunity, and chanced to feel vicious enough at the time," said Derrick, "But his mood has not quite come to that yet. Just now he feels that he would like to have a row,—and really, if we could have a row, it would be the best thing for us both. If one of us could thrash the other at the outset, it might never come to the vitriol."
He was cool enough himself, and spoke in quite a matter-of-fact way, but Anice suddenly lost her color. When, later, she bade him goodnight—
"I am afraid of that man," she said, as he held her hand for the moment. "Don't let him harm you."
"What man?" asked Derrick. "Is it possible you are thinking about what I said of Lowrie?"
"Yes. It is so horrible. I cannot bear the thought of it. I am not used to hear of such things. I am afraid for you."
"You are very good," he said, his strong hand returning her grasp with warm gratitude. "But I am sorry I said so much, if I have frightened you. I ought to have remembered how new such things were to you. It is nothing, I assure you." And bidding her good-night again, he went away quite warmed at heart by her innocent interest in him, but blaming himself not a little for his indiscretion.
CHAPTER VI - Joan and the Child
To the young curate's great wonder, on his first visit to her after the advent of Liz and her child, Joan changed her manner towards him. She did not attempt to repel him, she even bade him welcome in a way of her own. Deep in Joan's heart was hidden a fancy that perhaps the work of this young fellow who was "good enow fur a parson," lay with such as Liz, and those who like Liz bore a heavy burden.
"If yo' can do her any good," she said, "come and welcome. Come every day. I dunnot know much about such like mysen, but happen yo' ha' a way o' helpin' folk as canna help theirsens i' trouble—an' Liz is one on 'em."
Truly Liz was one of these. She clung to Joan in a hopeless, childish way, as her only comfort. She could do nothing for herself, she could only obey Joan's dictates, and this she did in listless misery. When she had work to do, she made weak efforts at doing it, and when she had none she sat and held the child upon her knee, her eyes following her friend with a vague appeal. The discomfort of her lot, the wretchedness of coming back to shame and tears, after a brief season of pleasure and luxury, was what crushed her. So long as her lover had cared for her, and she had felt no fear of hunger or cold, or desertion, she had been happy—happy because she could be idle and take no thought for the morrow, and was almost a lady. But now all that was over. She had come to the bitter dregs of the cup. She was thrown on her own resources, nobody cared for her, nobody helped her but Joan, nobody called her pretty and praised her ways. She was not to be a lady after all, she must work for her living and it must be a poor one too. There would be no fine clothes, no nice rooms, no flattery and sugar-plums. Everything would be even far harder, and more unpleasant than it had been before. And then, the baby? What could she do with it?—a creature more helpless than herself, always to be clothed and taken care of, when she could not take care of herself, always in the way, always crying and wailing and troubling day and night. She almost blamed the baby for everything. Perhaps she would not have lost her lover if it had not been for the baby. Perhaps he knew what a trouble it would be, and wanted to be rid of her before it came, and that was why he had gone away. The night Joan had brought her home she had taken care of the child, and told Liz to sit down and rest, and had sat down herself with the small creature in her arms, and after watching her for a while, Liz had broken out into sobs, and slipped down upon the floor at her feet, hiding her wretched, pretty face upon her friend's knee.
"I canna abide the sight o' it," she cried. "I canna see what it wur born fur, mysen. I wish I'd deed when I wur i' Lunnon—when he cared fur me. He wor fond enow o' me at th' first. He could na abide me to be out o' his sight. I niv-ver wur so happy i' my life as I wur then. Aye! I did na think then, as th' toime ud come when he'd cast me out i' th' road. He had no reet to do it," her voice rising hysterically. "He had no reet to do it, if he wur a gentleman; but it seems gentlefolk can do owt they please. If he did na mean to stick to me, why could na he ha' let me a-be."
"That is na gentlefolks' way," said Joan bitterly, "but if I wur i' yo're place, Liz, I would na hate th' choild. It has na done yo' as much harm as yo' ha' done it."
After a while, when the girl was quieter, Joan asked her a question.
"You nivver told me who yo' went away wi', Liz," she said. "I ha' a reason fur wantin' to know, or I would na ax, but fur a' that if yo' dun-not want to tell me, yo' need na do it against yo're will."
Liz was silent a moment.
"I would na tell ivverybody," she said. "I would na tell nobody but yo'. It would na do no good, an' I dunnot care to do harm. You'll keep it to yo'rsen, if I tell yo', Joan?"
"Aye," Joan answered, "as long as it needs be kept to mysen. I am na one to clatter."
"Well," said Liz with a sob, "it wur Mester Landsell I went wi'—young Mester Landsell—Mester Ralph."
"I thout as much," said Joan, her face darkening.
She had had her suspicions from the first, when Mr. Ralph Landsell had come to Riggan with his father, who was one of the mining company. He was a graceful, fair-faced young fellow, with an open hand and the air of a potentate, and his grandeur had pleased Liz. She was not used to flattery and "fine London ways," and her vanity made her an easy victim.
"He wur allus after me," she said, with fresh tears. "He nivver let me be till I promised to go. He said he would make a lady o' me an' he wur allus givin' me things. He wur fond o' me at first,—that he wur,—an' I wur fond o' him. I nivver seed no one loike him afore. Oh! it's hard, it is.—Oh! it's bitter hard an' cruel, as it should come to this."
And she wailed and sobbed until she wore herself out, and wearied Joan to the very soul.
But Joan bore with her and never showed impatience by word or deed. Childish petulances and plaints fell upon her like water upon a rock—but now and then the strong nature was rasped beyond endurance by the weak one. She had taken no small task upon herself when she gave Liz her word that she would shield her. Only after a while, in a few weeks, a new influence began to work upon Liz's protectress. The child for whom there seemed no place in the world, or in any pitying heart—the child for whom Liz felt nothing but vague dislike and resentment—the child laid its light but powerful hand upon Joan. Once or twice she noticed as she moved about the room that the little creature's eyes would follow her in a way something like its mother's, as if with appeal to her superior strength. She fell gradually into the habit of giving it more attention. It was so little and light, so easily taken from Liz's careless hold when it was restless, so easily carried to and fro, as she went about her household tasks. She had never known much about babies until chance had thrown this one in her path; it was a great novelty. It liked her strong arms, and Liz was always ready to give it up to her, feeling only a weak bewilderment at her fancy for it. When she was at home it was rarely out of her arms. It was no source of weariness to her perfect strength. She carried it here and there, she cradled it upon her knees, when she sat down by the fire to rest; she learned in time a hundred gentle woman's ways through its presence. Her step became lighter, her voice softer—a heavy tread, or a harsh tone might waken the child. For the child's sake she doffed her uncouth working-dress when she entered the house; for the child's sake she made an effort to brighten the dulness, and soften the roughness of their surroundings.
The Reverend Paul, in his visits to the house, observed with tremor, the subtle changes wrought in her. Catching at the straw of her negative welcome, he went to see Liz whenever he could find a tangible excuse. He had a sensitive dread of intruding even upon the poor privacy of the "lower orders," and he could rarely bring himself to the point of taking them by storm as a mere matter of ecclesiastical routine. But the oftener he saw Joan Lowrie, the more heavily she lay upon his mind. Every day his conscience smote him more sorely for his want of success with her. And yet how could he make way against her indifference. He even felt himself a trifle spell-bound in her presence. He often found himself watching her as she moved to and fro,—watching her as Liz and the child did.
But "th' parson" was "th' parson" to her still. A good-natured, simple little fellow, who might be a trifle better than other folks, but who certainly seemed weaker; a frail little gentleman in spectacles, who was afraid of her, or was at least easily confounded; who might be of use to Liz, but who was not in her line,—better in his way than his master in his; but still a person to be re-garded with just a touch of contempt.
The confidence established between Grace and his friend Fergus Derrick, leading to the discussion of all matters connected with the parish and parishioners, led naturally to the frequent discussion of Joan Lowrie among the rest. Over tea and toast in the small parlor the two men often drew comfort from each other. When Derrick strode into the little place and threw himself into his favorite chair, with knit brows and weary irritation in his air, Grace was always ready to detect his mood, and wait for him to reveal himself; or when Grace looked up at his friend's entrance with a heavy, pained look on his face, Derrick was equally quick to comprehend. There was one trouble in which Derrick specially sympathized with his friend. This was in his feeling for Anice.
Duty called Paul frequently to the house, and his position with regard to its inhabitants was necessarily familiar. Mr. Barholm did not spare his curate; he was ready to delegate to him all labor in which he was not specially interested himself, or which he regarded as scarcely worthy of his mettle.
"Grace makes himself very useful in some cases," he would say; "a certain kind of work suits him, and he is able to do himself justice in it. He is a worthy enough young fellow in a certain groove, but it is always best to confine him to that groove."
So, when there was an ordinary sermon to be preached, or a commonplace piece of work to be done, it was handed over to Grace, with a few tolerant words of advice or comment, and as commonplace work was rather the rule than the exception, the Reverend Paul's life was not idle, Anice's manner toward her father's curate was so gentle and earnest, so frank and full of trust in him, that it was not to be wondered at that each day only fixed her more firmly in his heart Nothing of his conscientious labor was lost upon her; nothing of his self-sacrifice and trial was passed by indifferently in her thoughts of him; his pain and his effort went to her very heart. Her belief in him was so strong that she never hesitated to carry any little bewilderment to him or to speak to him openly upon any subject. Small marvel, that he found it delicious pain to go to the house day after day, feeling himself so near to her, yet knowing himself so far from any hope of reaching the sealed chamber of her heart.
Notwithstanding her knowledge of her inability to alter his position, Anice still managed to exert some slight influence over her friend's fate.
"Do you not think, papa, that Mr. Grace has a great deal to do?" she suggested once, when he was specially overburdened.
"A great deal to do?" he said. "Well, he has enough to do, of course, my dear, but then it is work of a kind that suits him. I never leave anything very important to Grace. You do not mean, my dear, that you fancy he has too much to do?"
"Rather too much of a dull kind," answered Anice. "Dull work is tiring, and he has a great deal of it on his hands. All that school work, you know, papa—if you could share it with him, I should think it would make it easier for him."
"My dear Anice," the rector protested; "if Grace had my responsibilities to carry on his shoulders,—but I do not leave my responsibilities to him. In my opinion he is hardly fitted to bear them—they are not in his line;" but seeing a dubious look on the delicate face opposite him—"but if you think the young fellow has really too much to do, I will try to take some of these minor matters upon myself. I am equal to a good deal of hard work,"—evidently feeling himself somewhat aggrieved.
But Anice made no further comment; having dropped a seed of suggestion, she left it to fructify, experience teaching her that this was her best plan. It was one of the good rector's weaknesses, to dislike to find his course disapproved even by a wholly uninfluential critic, and his daughter was by no means an uninfluential critic. He was never exactly comfortable when her views did not strictly accord with his own. To find that Anice was regarding a favorite whim with questioning, was for him to begin to falter a trifle inwardly, however testily rebellious he might feel. He was a man who thrived under encouragement, and sank at once before failure; failure was unpleasant, and he rarely contended long against unpleasantness; it was not a "fair wind and no favor" with him, he wanted both the fair wind and the favor, and if either failed him he felt himself rather badly used. So it was, through this discreetly exerted influence of Anice's, that Grace, to his surprise, found some irksome tasks taken from his shoulders at this time. He did not know that it was Anice he had to thank for the temporary relief.