Page images
[ocr errors]

after, in order to keep his head in the middle, fell to Colin's lot at the conclusion of this harangue; and a push at the back of the neck which followed directly, enabled him to get out of the room somewhat more speedily than he would have done without that assistance. But to all this—though taken much in dudgeon—being mildness itself as compared with what might have been expected, Colin submitted in a sturdy mood, and without saying anything; though he did not forget to promise himself at some future day to adjust the balances between them.

In consequence of the lack-a-daisical turn which Miss Sowersoft's interview with Sammy had taken on the preceding night, that lady denied to the household the pleasure of her company at breakfast, as she could not meet the ungrateful Mr. Palethorpe before company again, until an explanation in private had taken place. Poor old George, all benignity, and looking like an elder of some by.gone age, seemed more than usually anxious to promote good feeling amongst his fellows, and to restore that harmony which had been destroyed the evening before, on his account. But Palethorpe was unforgiving, and Abel unrepentant : so that, whatever might be the disposition of others, those two characters at least regarded each other over the table much in the same manner as, it might be supposed, would two of Mr. Wombwell's beasts placed on opposite sides of his menagerie, when before a meal-time they address each other in that language of the eyes of which poets speak, and seem to intimate a very unequivo. cal desire to dine upon one another.

That day Master Colin took his first lesson in field.craft, by being set to gather stones from off the wheat-sown lands, before the blade was more than an inch or two out of the ground. · His out-door labours were concluded at six in the evening; after which time, as the horses remained to be put up, he was drilled in the art of cleaning, bedding, harnessing, and managing those animals : and, after that was done, he was allowed, by way of amusement, to spend the re. maining few hours before bed-time in setting rat-traps, or accompany. ing some one or other of the men in weasel-shooting along the bank. sides and hedges.

Some few days elapsed without a reconcilement having taken place between Palethorpe and his mistress ; during which time our hero fared considerably better than otherwise he might have done ; partly because Miss Sowersoft's attention was not now so completely engrossed as it had hitherto been, by her favourite ; and partiy because that very pleasant personage himself, while unsupported by the smiles and attentions of his mistress, was by no means so formidable in his displays of courage as otherwise he would have been. The prospect which had broken on Colin's mind on his first introduction to Snitterton began accordingly

[ocr errors]

to brighten considerably. He liked his employment in the fields, as well as all that followed it, so well, that, when on the ensuing Sunday he asked for leave to walk over 10 Bramleigh for the purpose

of seeing his mother and Fanny, and was at once peremptorily denied, he felt that denial as no very great hardship; but soon made up his mind to spend the day as pleasantly as he could, and to write a letter to Fanny, detailing his thoughts and opinions, his likings and dislikings, instead.

These resolves he eventually put into execution : and, everything very probably might have gone on smoothly enough, had not a circumstance utterly unforeseen, occurred, whereby he himself was brought into a second dilemma with his mistress and Palethorpe, still worse than the previous one ; and whereby, also, the plain-spoken epistle which he had secretly indited for the private and especial perusal of his mother and Fanny, was in an evil hour, thrown into the hands of the identical parties about whom, in its honest simplicity, it told so many truthful libels. But the shame of Miss Sowersoft was so deep, and the rage of Palethorpe so high, and the consequences of both to our hero so important, that I verily believe it will occupy nearly the whole of the next chapter to describe them.


Demonstrates, in the case of Miss Sowersoft and Mr. Samuel Palethorpe, the folly

of people being too curious about the truth, in matters better left in the dark. Colin is subjected to a strict examination, in which the judge, instead of the cul. prit, is convicted. Colin's punishment.

That period of the year having now arrived when the days were materially lengthened, as well as increased in warmth, Colin selected an hour or two one evening after his day's labour was over, for the purpose of writing that letter to his mother and Fanny which he had projected some short time before. In order to do this, both by a good light, and away from the probability of intrusion, he selected a little spot of ground, formed by an obtuse angle of the brook, at the bottom of the garden; though divided from it by a thick clump of holly, intermingled with hawthorn and wild briar. On this grassy knoll he sat down to his task; making a higher portion of its slope serve as a natural table to hold his ink and paper.

Those vespers which Nature herself offers up to her Creator amidst the magnificent cathedral columns of her own tall trees; the loud songs of the blackbird and the thrush, and the occasional shrill cry of the discontented pewet as it swept in tempestuous circles over the dis. tant arable land, were loudly heard around him; while, some two or three yards below the spot where he sat, a ridge of large stone, placed across the rivulet for the greater convenience of crossing, partly held

up the water, and caused an eternal poppling murmur, as that portion which forced its escape between them, rushed with mimic velocity into the tiny gulf that lay some ten or twelve inches below. Colin felt elevated and happy. He could scarcely write many complainings there ; although he had been so disappointed and ill-used on his arrival. At the same time he felt bound to tell the truth as far as it went, though not to represent himself as materially unhappy in consequence of the behaviour which had been adopted towards him. In this task, then, he proceeded, until the hundreds of bright twinkling leaves which at first glittered around him in the stray beams of sunlight, had all resolved themselves into one mass of broad shade; to this succeeded a red horizontal light upon the upper portions of the trees to the eastward, as though their tops were tipped with fire; which also rapidly faded, and left him, by the time he had about concluded his letter, scarcely able any longer to follow with his sight the course of his pen upon the paper.

Having wrapped his epistle awkwardly up, he placed it in his pocket, and was about to emerge from his rural study, when the leisurely tread of feet approaching down the garden.path, and the subdued sound of tongues which he too well knew, caused him to step back, and closer to the clumps of holly, in the hope of getting away unobserved, when the individuals he wished to avoid had passed. They still continued to converse ; and the first distinct words Colin heard were these :

"I am sure, out of the many, very many excellent offers, I have had made me excellent offers they were--I might have done so over and over again ; but I never intended to be married. I always liked to be my own mistress and my own master; and, besides that, it does entail so much trouble on people in one way or another. Really, when I look on that great family of my brother Ted, I am fit to fancy it is pulling him down to the ground; and, I positively believe it would, if he did not take advantage of his situation in trade, and wrap und wring every farthing out of everybody in any way that he possi. bly can without being at all particular;—though they are sweet child. ren, they are ! Ay, but something must be risked, and something must be sacrificed; we cannot have it both ways—at least-ahumph!- I mean to say, that when people do get married, they must

their minds to strike the best balance between them mutually that they are able. That is my candid opinion of things; and when I look upon them in that light—when I think about them in that man: ner, and say to myself, there is this on this side, and nothing on that side, which should I take? I lose my resolution—I don't know; I feel that, by a person to whom I had no objection in any other shape, I might, perhaps be superinduced to do as others have done, and to make a sacrifice of my little something, whatever it is, for the sake of spending our lives in that kind of domestic combination which binds

make up

people together more than anything else ever can. I am weak on that point, I know; but then, the home affections, as Mr. Longstaff kays, constitute a very worthy and amiable weakness."

Miss Sowersoft utlered this last sentence in such a peculiar tone of self-satisfied deprecation, as evidently proved that she considered her. self a much more eligible subject, on account of that identical weak. ness which she had verbally condemned, than she would have been if wholly free from it.

“Well, meesis," replied Mr. Palethorpe, with considerate delibera. tion," I should have no objection to our union, if it so happened that we were not doing very well as we are at present; and while we are making a little money to put by every week, I think it is as well just now to let good alone. I should like"

"Oh, you misunderstand me!" exclaimed Miss Maria; "I did not make any allusions to you in particular. Oh, no! I have had very many most excellent offers, and could have them now for that matter; but then, you see, I was only just saying, as the thought came across my mind, that there is something to be said against being married, and something against keeping single. I remember the time when I could not bear the very thoughts of a man about me; but, somehow, as one gets older, we see so much more of the world, and one's ideas change almost as much as one's bodies ; really, I am as different as another woman to what I once was. Somehow, I don't know how, but so it happens-Ah!" shrieked Miss Sowersoft, interrupting herself in the demonstration of this very metaphysical and abstruse point in her dis. course,“ take hold of me, dear,--take hold of me! I've trod on a toad, I believe !"

At the same time she threw her arms up to Mr. Palethorpe for pro. tection ; and, very accidentally, of course, they chanced to alight round that worthy's neck. A round dozen of rough-bearded kisses, which even he, stoic as he was, could not refrain from bestowing upon her, in order to revive and restore her spirits, smacked loudly on the dusky air, and set poor little Colin a-laughing in spite of himself.

"Who the deuce is that!" earnestly whispered the farming-man. “ There's somebody under the brook bank!" and, as he instantly disengaged Miss Sowersoft from his arms, he rushed round the holly. bushes, and caught fast hold of Colin, just as that unlucky lad was making a speedy retreat across the rivulet into the opposite orchard. " What! it is you, you young devil, is it?" exclaimed he, in a fury, as he dragged the boy up the sloping bank, and bestowed upon him sundry kicks, scarcely inferior to those of a vicious horse, with his heavy, clench-nailed, quarter-boots. “ You're listening after your meesis, now, are you? Dang your meddling carcass! I'll stop your ears for you!"

And, bang went his ponderous fist on Colin's organs of Secretiveness

[ocr errors]

and Acquisitiveness, until his head sung again throughout, like a seething caldron.

"That's right !" cried Miss Sowersoft ; “ make him feel; drag him up; my face burns with shame at him ; I'm as hot as a scarlet-fever, I am—a young scoundrel!"

And Colin was pulled up on to the level part of the garden, more like a half-killed rat than a half-grown human being.

“We'll know how this is, meesis,” said Mr. Palethorpe, when he had fairly landed his cargo. “ I'll see to th' bottom of it before he goes into th' house. He sha'n't have a chance of being backed up in his impudence as he was t'other night."

“ Take him into the thrashing-barn," advised Miss Sowersoft, “and we can have him there in private.”

Colin now found breath to put in a protest against the bill of indict. ment which they were preferring against him.

" I was not listening,” said he; " I was only writing a letter to my mother, I'm sure !”

" What! at this dark hour?" ejaculated Palethorpe with a laugh. “Come along, you young


that way.”
Accordingly he dragged the lad up the garden, and behind the house,
into the spacious barn, of which Miss Sowersoft had spoken : and,
while that innocent lady went to procure a lantern, her favourite held
him tightly by the collar; save when, occasionally, to beguile the time
until her return, he regaled him with severe shake, and an additional
curse or two upon his vagabond and mischievous carcass.
“ Do

you think he knows anything about it?” asked Miss Sowersoft aside to Palethorpe, as she entered the barn, and the dim light of her horn-lantern summoned to view the spectral appearances—rather than the distinct objects themselves—of various implements of husbandry, and of heaps of thrashed wheat and straw scattered around.

“Well, I don't know; but I should think not much," said he.

"I hope not,” rejoined Miss Maria, “or it will get into everybody's mouth. But, we will question bim very closely; we'll have it out of him by hook or by crook.”

She then held a broken side of the lantern a little above Colin's face, in order to cast the better light upon it; and proceeded to ques. tion the culprit.

“ Now, before I ask you a single question, promise to tell me the truth, and nothing but the truth. Now, mark ; I shall know whether you speak the truth or not, so it will be of no use to try to deceive me. Tell me whether you heard me and Sammy talking in the gar. den

; and whether you saw him pick me up so very kindly when I slipped down; and then tell me for what purpose you were standing behind those trees? No falsehoods, now. The truth, nothing else. Take care ; because if you say anything untrue I shall know it directy; and then woe be to you for your trouble !"

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »