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ON her part, Miss Brown recognized it was war to the knife, and she was not long in deciding on her plan of campaign. Her first idea was suggested, a day or two after her encounter with Merryweather, by a drowsy yawn from her dog, which was blinking in the sunshine of the garden. He was an easy-going, portly old fellow of no particular breed, and was called Rover because he disliked too much exercise and seldom went far from home. When Miss Brown walked over to where he lay, he rapped his tail once or twice on the ground and closed his eyes.
She left him to repose, and went straight off to the village carpenter, who on the following day sent a man to fix a notice-board beside her gate with "Beware of the Dog" in bold black letters on a white ground. When the man had gone, Miss Brown stepped into the lane and surveyed his handiwork with so much satisfaction that Rover trotted out and had a look also. If he felt dubious as to whether he could act up to it, he was not the only person who entertained doubts on the point, for at that moment Richard Merryweather came down the lane.
"Good day, Miss Brown," he said, raising his hat and bowing with great respect. "I hope you are well this morning."
"Thank you," she replied coldly. have nothing to complain of so far as my health is concerned."
Meanwhile Richard was flattering himself by thinking it was a good omen she did not leave him standing there alone, as she had done a few days before.
Bending down to pat Rover, he asked: "Is this the dog I am to beware of, Miss Brown?"
"You?" she answered, looking down upon him as he looked up at her. "Who said anything about you?"
Instead of replying to this question, he patted Rover once more and called him a "fine old fellow."
Then he added: "But, Miss Brown, if you really want a dog to protect the premises, I know of a splendid bulldog which the owner would be willing to part with. He is a capital watch-dog. You might leave your doors unbolted
all night with him about the place." "I have no intention of leaving my doors unbolted at night."
"At the same time, if you want a good house-dog, I can strongly recommend the one I speak of."
"I have no doubt you know the dog." "Oh, yes, I know him very well." "And the dog knows you?" "Yes, he knows me."
"Quite so. Thank you. I prefer my own dog," retorted Miss Brown.
She reëntered the garden, walked into the house, and shut the door. She was not very indignant at this sample of masculine treachery, for she felt that she had had the best of the engagement, and had shown how readily she could unmask the machinations of a villain.
Nevertheless, it had not escaped her notice that Rover wagged his tail when Richard Merryweather patted him, whereas he ought to have bitten a piece out of him. Possibly it might be as well to get an additional guardian of less amiable disposition, except that there were drawbacks to the presence about the place of a strange dog of uncertain temper. She thought the matter over, and when Miss Brown thought anything over, something usually came of it.
What came of it in the present instance was another notice-board, the erection of which cost her a slight twinge of conscience. In regard to the first board there had been nothing she could not reconcile with her homely, straightforward code of ethics; for she did really possess a dog who years before had pursued a boy who came to rob the orchard, and had not abandoned the chase until the culprit turned in desperation and picked up a stone. Still, this second notice merely said, "Man-Traps and Spring-Guns," which in itself was vague and meant nothing, when you came to think of it, unless people chose to infer that any person prowling about at unlawful hours ran the risk of being caught by the leg in a powerful gin, or complimented with a few slugs of a kind more injurious to human beings than to cabbages. What a convenient thing it would be, she thought, if her house were an old-fashioned grange with a moat and drawbridge!
One morning as she was giving an eye
sons don't come where they have no right," replied Miss Brown.
"But by some accident, even you or your niece might-" "They are mantraps," interposed Miss Brown.
"But the springguns, Miss Brown! The spring-guns!" "They are never loaded until night."
In for a penny, in for a pound; but Miss Brown was a bad hand at mendacity. Even when a child, she never told fibs, and she was more angry than ever with Richard for making
who just then emerged from an outhouse, and who was armed with an antiquated fowling-piece. He was on his way to the corn-field, his present duty being to scare birds by pretending to be a sportsman. "Yes, missus," he replied, as he came slowly towards her.
"Do you know this person?"
her feel how easily she could tell them when once she began. Nevertheless, it was very distasteful; so she determined to put an end to the conversation, especially as she detected a twinkle, a most impudent twinkle, in Richard's eye. She regarded him severely across the fence.
"Young man," she said, addressing him in a way she considered at once hurtful to his dignity and consistent with her own, "I believe you think there are not any guns about the place at all."
"How can I think so, Miss Brown, when I have your assurance to the contrary?" he said, motioning with his hand. toward the notice-board.
"If you did suppose so, you would be greatly mistaken. Robin Redyead, come here."
These last words were addressed to a youth of strikingly bucolic appearance
"Aye, I knows un. He be Measter Merryweather, he be." "Well, if you see Mr. Merryweather on any part of my premises, you have my orders to shoot at him."
"But if so be as I was to hit un bad, what 'un'd they do to I?"
"Whatever you do will be done by my orders, and I will answer for it."
"If so be as that be so, missus," said Robin, pulling his forelock to Richard, as if promising to do him a service for which he hoped to be remembered, "I'll shoot at un if I sees un anywheres hereabouts." So saying, he departed slowly, with heavy tread, an ordinary country clod. But as the townsman frequently looks less stupid than he is, the countryman is often not so stupid as he looks. While Robin was passing a bush near a corner of the house, a fair eavesdropper stopped him, and said, "O Robin, you won't really do it! Will you?"
After glancing cautiously round, he whispered:
"There be an't no shot in it, Miss Bella. It won't hurt nobody, if so be as they don't come close up agen it."
Nor was this the sole proof given by this unlettered swain that he grasped the situation. Soon after, when Richard was passing a hedge-corner where one might crouch concealed from observation, a voice called to him:
"Measter Merryweather! I zay, zur!"
"Well, Robin my lad, what is it?" said Richard, approaching him.
"Miss Brown, zur. She do give it them as don't do what she tells un. Ah, that she do. I don't know as I would n't sooner be had up at 'Sizes rayther nor not do what Miss Brown telled me."
Robin tapped his gun.
"There ain't no shot in it, but I could put in some old nails just to oblige."
"Yes, Robin, if you happened to think of it."
"Aye," responded Robin, with a grin; "that 's just how it be. If I happened to think on it."
"Well, here 's five shillings not to think of it."
"Thank 'ee, zur," said Robin.
"And I have no doubt, Robin," continued Richard in persuasive tones, "that if I gave you another five shillings one of these fine days, you could deliver a letter to Miss Croft for me?"
"To the young missus!" said Robin. "Well, I bean't no schollard; but if I knowed it was for she, I won't zay but what I might. You see, zur, I be just the sort o' chap as nobody 'u'd think it on."
Having thus hinted at superior opportunities resulting from his well-known. stupidity, the honest fellow went his way.
BEFORE the week had gone, a thing happened which absolutely astounded Dredgefield so that it could hardly find words to express its feelings. One morning Miss Brown missed Bella, but was too much occupied to notice the fact particularly, and supposed her to be somewhere about. Moreover, the precautions she had used seemed to be effective, Richard Merryweather not having been seen near the place for some time. It was not until dinner-time, when there was still no sign of Bella, that Miss Brown began to wonder where she could be.
Just then Robin Redyead came up to her, saying:
"Missus, I seed Measter Merryweather awhile since; but he wor n't on our land, and I had n't got no gun wi' me." "Oh, very well, Robin," said Miss
Brown, "that does n't matter. I only meant if he came trespassing."
"Yes, missus. It wor down by Beech Lane I seed him this time. I were coming back from Joe Sledge's wi' the mare as I'd took to be shod. He were standing there, Measter Merryweather were, by a coach and pair o' hosses, and he says to I, Measter Merryweather du, 'Robin Redyead,' says he, 'be you going back to Hollybush Varm?' 'Aye, sure,' says I. 'Where else 'u'd I be going?' 'Then,' says he, 'you give that there letter to Miss Brown.'
"What letter? Where is it?" cried Miss Brown.
"It be here," answered Robin, producing it with great deliberation.
"Why did n't you bring it to me at once?"
"Well, missus, as I were putting the mare back i' the stable, the colt got out, and it took I a rare while to catch un. And I'd to look arter that there mook as was i' the yard, and had to be teaken down to the fower-acre. And I says to myself, 'Who be Measter Merryweather?' says I. 'He bean't nobody to speak on. His business ain't got to come afore missus's wi' Robin Redyead. Hern 's got to come afore his'n.'
Miss Brown tore the letter open, and, after reading the first few words, turned the full torrent of her wrath upon the innocent bearer.
"Robin Redyead," she exclaimed, "you 're a fool!"
"Yes, missus," replied Robin, "I knows I be."
"You ought to have brought this letter to me at once-instantly!"
"Ought I to ha' done that?" said Robin, in amazement. "Well I du be sorry as I did n't."
"There, get away with you!" cried Miss Brown. "Go back to your work!"
Was Robin really as innocent as he appeared? Was he entirely ignorant of the fact that he had done wrong in retaining the letter for a good four hours after he had received it? On his way to work, after leaving his mistress, he took a golden sovereign from his pocket and, regarding it with an expression of genuine perplexity, said:
"Now I's got it, danged if I know what to do wi' it! I never can't spend it."
Miss Brown went to her own room and re-read the letter.
MY DEAR MISS BROWN: I fear I shall offend you more than I have already done by the step I am taking, but you have left me no alternative. I will really and truly do my best to make Bella happy, so I cannot understand why you object to her marrying me. We hope you will forgive us both when we return.
Your affectionate nephew,
P.S. I have ventured to call myself your nephew because, when you read this, we shall be man and wife.
In this hurried postscript Richard completely gave Robin Redyead away, but Miss Brown was too enraged to notice this; and as she tore the letter into fragments, upon which she deliberately trampled, she had no opportunity of referring to it afterward. For an hour she sat alone, with firmly set lips, knitted brows, and a face paler than usual. Then she descended to her household duties the woman she had been, only rather more so.
AFTER an absence of three weeks Richard reappeared in Dredgefield with his bride. The first thing Bella did was to send a letter of humble entreaty, begging for her aunt's forgiveness. Miss Brown replied that of all human faults ingratitude and deceit were the basest and the most hateful, and that, after Bella's conduct, she threw her off forever. She refused to speak to Bella in the public street. The poor girl returned to her new home in tears, and her husband had great difficulty in comforting her with the assurance that Miss Brown would come round in her own good time if she were left alone.
During the months which followed these momentous events the expression of Miss Brown's features became grimmer and the outlines of her person looked more rigid and uncompromising than ever. Nobody at Hollybush Farm was absolutely forbidden to speak of Bella, but every one knew her name was not to be mentioned.
When the anniversary of Bella's elopement came round, however, an extraordinary thing happened. Miss Brown
fell ill. Dredgefield was utterly dumfounded, and knew not what to make of it. Dredgefield was naturally anxious to know what was the matter with her, but the doctor himself seemed unable to give it a local habitation or a name; and, when questioned, said something vague about nervous debility. At this Dredgefield opened its eyes incredulously and shrugged its shoulders. Anyhow, she sent for Dr. Rowley, much to his, and to everybody's astonishment. He ordered Miss Brown to go to bed. She complied, and stayed there for several days, thinking she was getting to be a feeble old woman, not long for this world; which was quite a mistake, for in less than a fortnight she was almost herself again.
Dr. Rowley had a kind heart, and was eager to do a little office of peace and good-will outside his profession. He told Miss Brown that Bella had been constant in making inquiries about her. Miss Brown said, "Oh, indeed; had she?" in tones not wholly ungracious; so he was encouraged to add that she had been anxious to come to Hollybush Farm and nurse her aunt, but that he had absolutely forbidden it. Miss Brown stared at this, and he hastened to explain that the present state of Mrs. Merryweather's own health
"What!" cried Miss Brown, who had never dreamed of Bella's being ill.
"Oh, nothing to be alarmed about, Miss Brown," Dr. Rowley assured her. "Only at such times a little care andand circumspection is advisable. As much freedom as possible from all kinds of worry; that is all The mind should constantly be diverted from-fromHowever, Miss Brown, these are details in which you, as a single lady, cannot be supposed to take much interest."
So he took his departure, leaving her a good deal puzzled at first, but with the truth gradually dawning upon her.
WHEN the doctor paid his next visit he was surprised to find how Miss Brown who, as a rule, was remarkable for straightforward, not to say blunt, speech, contrived to get news of her niece from him without putting direct questions. It chanced he was rather busier than usual, and as by this time she was almost completely recovered from her indispo
''Ought I to ha' done that?' said Robin, in amazement. 'Well I du be sorry as I did n't'"
verge of incoherence. "Bella could n't rest, positively could n't rest," he exclaimed, "until I promised to come and tell you it was all right."
"Tell me what was all right?" demanded Miss Brown.
"We both made sure you 'd be glad to hear it. I say, Miss Brown," pleaded Richard, "do say you 're glad to hear it! Let me tell her you are. Dear girl! It will make her so happy!"
"Richard Merryweather," she said, glancing at him contemptuously, "what do you mean? Are you mad?"
"I think I am just a little. I can't help it. I've been so anxious, and it 's such a relief to have it over, and both of them doing famously. Dr. Rowley says. he never saw a finer child."
Hester was a woman after all, and could not help being subject to a few human weaknesses, however hard she had striven to be rid of the whole cata