« AnkstesnisTęsti »
taken advantage of his opportunities. The Leslies left London without any declaration on his part, and Bess, surprised and piqued, had begun to doubt if his admiration had not, after all, been of a semi-paternal and eminently unsatisfactory nature. And there was nobody else nor was it likely that there ever would be anybody else. Bess, for one, did not believe that her father's book would revolutionize their existence.
Kitty went up to her room and stood looking out of the window, her eyes dim with angry tears. Presently, however, she wiped these away and leaned out. She saw Sheba come out of the farm on the hill and go towards the gate, turning half-way to call out something to Mrs. Hardy, who stood in the doorway. She had divested herself of her apron and wore her hat, and was evidently on her way home. Now she passed through the gate and came out into the lane. Kitty drew back quickly, fearing that she would glance up at her window, as she nearly always did. But this time Sheba hurried past without turning her head. When she was out of sight Kitty leaned forward again. Mrs. Hardy had gone indoors, but presently Stephen appeared, and, instead of fol lowing Sheba, went round the house, and, passing through the yard at the back, emerged into the field that sloped upwards towards the wood.
It was on the chance of such an opportunity that Kitty had watched, and now she swiftly ran downstairs and out of the house, and in a few moments had come up with Stephen as he sauntered meditatively along the track which edged his wheatfield. He turned at the sound of her flying feet, but neither of them spoke until Kitty halted in front of him.
"I wish to tell you, Mr. Hardy," she began, endeavoring to speak calmly, though her voice trembled with wrath,
and her eyes positively blazed, "I wish to tell you that I am no party to my father's decision-in fact, I most strongly disapprove of it."
Stephen plucked a leaf from the hedge on his left, looked at it, and then threw it away; he made no attempt to answer.
"I wanted you to know this," went on Kitty, trying to steady her voice, "and also to set your mind at rest. Of course I know perfectly well, that, though you want to get rid of us, you have no personal grudge against my father or even my sister. I need not tell you that I know who the obnoxious person is."
"Obnoxious!" exclaimed Stephen.
"Yes," she returned hotly, "don't let's beat about the bush. You are anxious to get rid of one particular tenant-well, that one shall go. Whatever my father may say or do, nothing will induce me to stay on an hour longer than is absolutely necessary under any roof that belongs to you. Now we understand each other. If you will have the patience to wait a few weeks, Mr. Hardy, I will make arrangements."
"How do you mean-arrangements?"
"Oh, I am not quite destitute of friends," retorted Kitty, "I shall find some one to take me in till I can get a situation."
"A situation!" he exclaimed. "You!" "I suppose you think I am not competent to earn my living," cried Kitty, "but I imagine I could teach young children, or go out as a companion. I shouldn't care if I had to be a shop girl-anything would be better than the ignominy of staying here."
She looked fiercely at Stephen, whose eyes were bent upon the ground, and continued after a moment:
"It need not be for long. Though my father refuses to move until he has finished his book, he will of course
be quite willing to give up the Little Farm as soon as it is finished."
Stephen still remained silent, and she was about to turn away, when he suddenly stopped her.
"You used to call me your friend; you used to say that Rebecca and I helped you a little. I know it was very little, but I can truly say if we couldn't do much for you it was not for want of good will."
"Why are you throwing your favors in my teeth now?" exclaimed the girl quickly.
"God knows I've no mind to do that! I do but want to ask you for the sake of-of bygone days when we were good friends and neighbors to give up this notion."
He spoke with deep emotion, and Kitty, taken aback, gazed at him without replying.
"It's a thing," he went on confusedly, "that I can't bear to think on. Whatever I may have said or done, Miss Leslie, and whatever ye may think ye have against me, I haven't got to that yet-to drive you away from your family-to force you-you to work for your own bread-Can you really believe I could wish for such a thing?"
"Then what is the meaning of it?" she cried hotly. "Tell me what you do want Mr. Hardy. If it was not on my account that you wished my father to give up the Little Farm, what was your reason?"
Stephen stood stock-still, his arms hanging by his sides, his eyes, which before had eagerly scanned her face, once more cast down.
"Some things can't be explained," answered he after a pause. "You said so yourself once. Well, I say so, now. It was very ill-done of me to have asked Mr. Leslie to shift, and if I'd ha' thought you'd ever take it up as
you have I'd have cut out my tongue before doing it."
"But you did think it would be better for us to go," said Kitty, more gently. "It may not altogether be a personal reason, yet I dare say it is a good one. Perhaps I dare saySheba-"
She broke off in confusion, and Stephen raised his eyes and gazed at her steadily.
"I don't want to talk about Sheba," he said. "There's no need to do that. I acted too quick just now-I thought I was doing right-but I see now it couldn't be right. If you can make up your mind to stay after what's passed, Miss Kitty, I'll put things to rights in another way. Feelings can be got over easy enough if folks set their mind to do it. Likes and dislikescan all be got under."
He spoke half to himself, looking straight in front of him, and with a movement that was wholly unconscious brought forward his right hand, letting the fingers close in a resolute fashion as though crushing something. If ever a man looked capable of conquering inconvenient "feelings" Farmer Hardy was he.
"We can keep out of each other's road," he added. "We needn't interfere with each other, but I do ask you, Miss Leslie, not to put such an affront on me as to go out of the place like this."
Kitty looked up, at first disposed to adhere to her determination, but, meeting his glance, her eyes fell.
"Well," she said with a sigh, "I agree I don't understand-but it is quite true that some things can't be explained. I suppose as long as the world lasts," she added, with a little dreary sententiousness, which, had it been possible to doubt her sincerity at that moment, might have reminded Stephen of Bess-"as long as the world lasts people will go on misjudging each other."
She turned away upon this; and Stephen presently pursued his solitary ramble across the field.
On the following morning Sheba found him waiting for her by the milkhouse door. Having slept badly she had risen unusually early, and was surprised that he should be already afoot; no one else was about.
"I want a word with you, my girl," he said, and paused.
"What is it?" she asked quickly. "I thought you and me had words enough yesterday. I spoke out my mind plain for once.
It's to be me or her."
"See here, Sheba," said Stephen, "let's understand each other. I told you the truth about Miss Leslie and me, and I told you what I tell you again-I'd be glad if she was gone. I Went yesterday and asked her father to give up the house to me, and he said straight out he wouldn't do itnot for a few months anyhow. Now if they won't go willingly, I can't turn them out."
"You'd rather turn me out?" cried Sheba, with flashing eyes.
"No," he rejoined, "You know very well you're my promised wife, and you come first. But I have made up my mind to ask you to have patience. Mr. Leslie will leave as soon as he has finished some book he is writing. She, Miss Leslie, would go at once if I I would let her. She came to me yesterday."
"Did she?" exclaimed Sheba.
"She did. She said she knew very well that she was the one I wanted to get rid of, and she'd take a situation." Sheba laughed.
"A situation-what 'ud she be fit for?"
"Just so." returned he. "There are some things a man can't do, Sheba, and one is to turn the girl he once loved out o' doors, particularly when she's helpless and ignorant of the ways of the world. Come, Sheba,
you're my promised wife-the wife I chose for myself-won't you trust me, my maid?"
The two pairs of dark eyes looked searchingly into each other, and Sheba's face relaxed.
"You've never known me to go back on my word, have you?" he continued. "I'll be faithful to it, and to you. I'll always give you the best I have."
"The best ye have," she repeated slowly, "and what's that? Pity!"
She looked at him with a kind of agonized eagerness, as though searching for a contradiction, but Stephen did not speak, and her face fell.
"Well," she said, drawing in a long breath, "I'll try to content myself. I'd rather have the little you can give than another man's all. I'm like a beggar-thankful even for a crumb. I didn't ought to try your patience, same as I've a-been a-doing," she added humbly, "I'll not complain again. You did choose me-there's comfort in that thought."
They parted then, and Stephen went about his customary business.
Sheba remained very pensive, and. when her morning's work was concluded, stood for some time by the open door of the dairy, gazing downwards at the Little Farm. All at once she set out with her swinging, graceful gait down the path and across the lane to the Leslies' precincts. She had descried Kitty in the garden.
"I've summat to say to ye, miss," she began abruptly.
Kitty gazed at her half fearfully, half haughtily. Many emotions were warring in Sheba's heart, and the struggle was reflected in her face.
"Stephen did tell I what passed between you an' him yesterday," she said, "an' I thought I'd step across an' put in my word. I trust Stephen, Miss Leslie."
For a moment the girl's face was
beautiful; but it clouded over when Kitty replied earnestly:
"Indeed, you have every right to do He is a most honorable man." ""Tis a pity you didn't value him better, then," she broke out. "You treated him like dirt, an' Stephen bain't the man to stand that. There's no need for you to be so condescendin' now. If ye was to ax en to forgive ye on your bended knees, he wouldn't look at you."
"Really," cried Kitty, absolutely taken aback by the suddenness of the onslaught. "I don't know how you dare say such things to me! Go away. I have no wish to speak to you any more."
"Nay, bide a bit," said Sheba, in an altered tone. "I didn't come here to
insult ye. 'Twas quite t'other way
round, but it drives me mad to see how ye despise us-me an' Stephen."
"I don't," exclaimed Kitty, goaded into a denial.
"You do!" averred Sheba fiercely. "I see'd it in your eyes when ye come on me an' Stephen in the Lovers' Walk that day. 'Why should you think me likely to be surprised?' say you, meanin' that ye'd see'd me watchin' out for en time and again. I reckon ye thought I'd put myself in his road, The Times.
an' made up to en maybe-but I didn't. "Twas him as picked me out. He did say so hisself this marnin'. 'You're my promised wife, Sheba,' he says, 'I chose you.'"
She broke off, breathless. In reality she was speaking as much to reassure herself as to confound Kitty. The latter stood silent and motionless, curiously stung by the words. After a moment she found her voice.
"I do not doubt it," she said, at length, "but I really should be obliged if you would go away now. All this has no interest for me."
Sheba retired a few paces, and then paused again, with a half puzzled expression.
"I meant well," she muttered. come here meanin' well. I don't know why I've been sayin' all they things. I come here to ax ye to give up any notion o' lookin' for a situation, Miss Leslie. Arter what passed between me an' Stephen this marnin' I couldn't be jealous no more."
"Jealous!" ejaculated Kitty. She tried to laugh, but some sudden emotion seemed to catch her by the throat, and, moreover, there was that in Sheba's eyes which startled her―a tortured look.
"I think I ought to go," she said.
(To be continued.)
That the mothers of great men have, in nine cases out of ten, been great women is so well-worn a truth that most of us are tired of finding it underlined. That the mothers of famous women have with strange frequency left them early orphans is less generally noticed. But the curiousminded in such matters may excusably feel some wonder why it has chanced that the fathers of so many celebrated
authoresses have been such singularly selfish and trying persons.
There is "that clever dog Burney," as Dr. Johnson called him; there is the claretty-faced Mr. Edgeworth, so exasperating to Byron; there is taciturn Mr. Ferrier, brought up after the fashion of Rousseau, and no very convincing example of its success. Then, too, there is the Reverend Patrick Brontë, with his comfortless habit of taking
his meals by himself; Dr. Mitford, a "detestable humbug". even in the kindly eyes of gentle William Harness; and, finally, Mr. Moulton-Barrett, the anti-matrimonial, of whom too much has been said already, and who may, perhaps, be forgiven for indirectly supplying literature with one of the sweetest-scented manuscripts it holds, the love-letters of Robert Browning and "Aurora Leigh."
At first sight it may appear unjust to put the pleasant, successful, genial Dr. Burney in the same category as the eminently uninteresting Ferrier and the egotistical Brontë. But he possesses their common and very mischief-making quality-a lack of perception that the marked ability of their daughters entitled them to more freedom and less interference. That these were alike most devoted and submissive should by no means be forgotten when their praises are sounded, detractors being much too ready to deny the clever woman all but her cleverness.
In Fanny Burney's early diaries, the prettiest record of a merry girlhood ever put on paper, Dr. Burney figures bravely as an ideal father. Selfmade in the best sense of the word, his personal charm won him friends worth making in all quarters, and when he came to London the smart world crowded his modest Poland Street drawing-room to hear the stars from the prosperous Italian Opera, unconscious of the quiet fifteen-year-old satirist taking its measure for posterity. But he was no "strass engel, haus teufel," and Fanny's sparkling letters to her dear "Daddy Crisp" bring him before us in a winning light. When the demure "Fannikin" awoke to find herself famous, with Johnson raving of his "little Burney," and Sir Joshua Reynolds so absorbed in Evelina that he had to be fed whilst reading it, who so proud as Dr. Burney? We may smile at the humility of her ded
This is probably quite enough for most of us; but, after all, the prudent young writer herself closes wisely: "Accept the tribute, and forget the lay."
How did Dr. Burney requite this reverent homage? How did he treat the girl who could amuse all England? Jane Austen's sweet Anne Elliott likened herself, as we know, to "the inimitable Miss Larolles," of Cecilia, and pays a glowing tribute to the writer who lived long enough to welcome Vivian Grey with fresh enthusiasm, and to receive Macaulay's splendid panegyric after her death. The ablest men, the most brilliant women, gave Frances Burney an ovation almost without parallel in literary history; yet, in the glad heyday of youth and success, her father's remorseless hand turned the key upon the door of her prison. That prison was the dullest of all Courts. Thackeray has painted an impressionist picture of its dreary routine in a few swift, memorable touches; the diary of the victim has done the rest.
What glorious result did Dr. Burney, dazzled to blindness by the glitter of a crown, anticipate in vain for himself or his obedient daughter? Fanny's "niggard stars" were indeed in the ascendant when she was condemned to