Imagens das páginas



THE sunset yet made red bars above the full green of Hawley Scrub, when Sir William kept his appointment with Honor Smith.

Abe was from home, only Honor had sat up for a little time by the dilapidated and dirty lattice window. The fire was out in the hot weather, and the father and daughter would · have to content themselves with a cold supper.

The absence of any glow from the hearth served to increase the cheerlessness of the neglected house-place. But the coo of the cushet-dove came in from the scrub, and some woodruffe which Honor was drying—not without a likelihood of its being left to rot on the window-sill, filled the place with an odour which, in its sweet fragrance, has always a scent of decay. It seems to belong more to old memories, dead hopes, and graves with the

paths to them no longer trodden by lingering feet, than to the living fragrance of budding desires and happy expectations.

Honor was weary with a day's work as foreign to her as if she had been a lady, though she was strong with the strength of a fine physique and an open-air life. She was a picturesque but not a home-like figure, as she sat there in the gathering dusk with her brown fingers interlaced and her head, still covered by the red handkerchief which had shaded it from the sun, thrown back against the window-frame, catching the last rays of light. She was in a quandary, as she would have said.

• Whatever does he want here ? she asked herself, bewildered; "he is not the man to come on a hang-dog errand, and I am not the woman to whom he would come in that case. Whatever else I've been, I've been true to poor Hughie. How long it seems since I seed him last, lying a-dying in quad at Birkett ! I'm afraid I'm forgetting the very lines of his comely young face. But no man as knows me would liken me to a light lass, any more than he would liken the most delicate lady in the land. What is there between him and Miss Compton? What can there be save his lands and the “ Sir” before his name? and she ain't the one to sell herself, not if I know her. If anyone said I done it, I would be rare mad. Father said Squire were a kind of gentleman in his way-all the same, Sir William was reared a working man, and it do come out in him and pulls him down to his natural level. Some rises above it, sure and certain, like Uncle Sam ; but then they raise theirselves by their own struggles, and by slow degrees, learning as they go, and ain't tossed up as with a pitchfork and left to come to grief, like a larch-tree in a hothouse, or a living hare in a house-place, or a swallow in a cage.'

Sir William walked past the window as she spoke, and entered by the open door without the ceremony of knocking. His first actions were to toss his hat on the table, and to pull off his coat and fling it over the back of a chair. His first words were:

There, I'm rid of them, like some other fine things that were not for me, and were not all gold though they glittered.'

He stretched out his arms in his shirtsleeves, and then throwing himself down in a

chair, rested them on the table before him, and leant his head upon his hands.

'Does aught ail you, Sir William ? she asked with genuine anxiety; 'there is always gin or rum in the house. I know you don't taste drink as a rule, but when you are overdone and would be the better for a glass, wouldn't you have it? Just say the word.'

'No,' he said, looking up with a haggard face, don't ask me. Do you know, Honor, the last little straw between me and drowning in the lowest depths of sin and misery is that I forswore drink, at the word of a dying woman. But I'm not ill or in trouble-at least, I'm going to turn over a new leaf, and be all right after to-night. I am glad your father is out.'

“Why so, sir ? inquired Honor, a little coldly.

· Don't “ sir" me,' he forbade her hastily.

'But how can that be, when you are Sir William, and our squire and master ? she demanded with a startled laugh.

'I ain't Sir William to you—anyhow I don't want to be so any more, and if I continue your master, it is only on the understanding that you be my mistress. Honor, I'm glad your father is out, because I want to tell you all about myself--a poor subject,' he broke off with a bitter laugh.

'If you are in a story-telling humour, I ain't the one to baulk it,' said Honor, dying to hear what he had got to tell.

He started at once, as if eager to begin, describing his early days and the shifts his sister Jen had made to provide for their needs - details very patent to Honor's comprehension. He went on to his youthful outbreaks, not extenuating or omitting a single particular of his enlisting, his successful career as a soldier in India, marred by his habits of dissipation and wild recklessness, and his last outrage against military discipline till he lay in the cell awaiting the sentence of the lash. . Oh! poor lad, poor lad! This was worse even than my Hughie's fate,' cried Honor, moved to the depths of her soul by what she could so well understand. Forgetting the difference of rank she put her hand on his shoulder and began to stroke his arm.

He looked up at her, with his face wan from the strain of the last twenty-four hours, and the agony of the associations he had been recalling.

« AnteriorContinuar »