tryin', Jossy, vary tryin; but we mun trust in God, and wait."
"Wait! I'm sick of waitin'! We'll be waitin' when the Judgement Day
comes at this rate! We mun do summat!" And little Joshua Sweetlove,
the emphatic and explosive Grindell barber, banged himself back into
the summer-house corner, and pulled furiously at his long, clay
Peter Waine moved uneasily in his chair. There was little use in
arguing when Jossy once got steam up. They were occupying the old
climber-covered summer-house at the far end of Peter Waine's back
garden; and, as the dull season was upon them, they had drifted back
to the old, intensely interesting, but wearisomely postponed topic
of the long-projected new Wesleyan chapel, for which they had great
need, substantial funds, but no possible site. For Grindell was
Jessamine Cottage was the last house in the town, for the villas
farther down the road called themselves the suburbs, or, more
frequently, 'The Avenue,' that being the fashionable title for the
highway still called by many the New Road, and by Jossy and his
democratic customers Ginger Lane. The cottage had a white front door
with brass knocker, and stood back some paces from the road. It had
also, as a concession to modernity as represented in the owner's
daughter, a French window in the gable end that opened upon a small
lawn studded round with rose-trees and old-fashioned flowering
plants. As charming a little spot, hidden there behind the great
hedge, and taking you by surprise as you opened the gate, as it
would have been possible to find in the county; and old Peter Waine,
retired grocer, took great pride in it.
Peter was a large-made man in everything but height, and had the
heavy, lumbering ways and easy complacency of his type. He had been
the first declared Methodist in Grindell, and for years, in his
heavy, stolid way, he had quietly endured and defied petty social
persecution, until he had gathered around him quite a nice little
society, which included Joshua Sweetlove before mentioned, and one
or two other Grindell characters. They had worshipped for many years
in the long, low upper room over Pixton's tallow-candle works, and
during most of that period they had worked and prayed and saved for
their new sanctuary. But all attempts to secure a site had so far
failed, and Jossy had worked himself, with his native impatience,
into the conviction that their leader, Peter, who in the old times
had done many a quietly heroic thing for his faith, was becoming in
the days of his ease and leisure rather too much reconciled to the
status quo, and had so long preached faith and patience that he had
ceased to make even such efforts as he might for the desired end. Many and many a fantastic scheme had the fertile brain of the
barber elaborated, and many and many a battle royal had these two
fought over their pipes in that summer-house; but lately Peter had
been suspiciously evasive and conciliatory, and to Jossy that was
more alarming than all his slow stubbornness.
"Faith, man!" he blustered, in reply to one of Peter's textual
quotations. "Faith without works is dead! The Lord helps them that
Peter ran his fingers through his long red hair, which was as yet
only thinly streaked with grey, and shook his head dubiously. He was
the figurehead of the society in Grindell, but often only the
cat's-paw of the volatile barber. More than once he had been made
ridiculous about this site question, and had also been the victim of
one very elaborate practical joke. But as he grew older he seemed to
become more sensitive to these things, or rather his daughter did,
which was even more important.
"I know about every inch o' land in this parish, and we've done
all we can do."
"All we will do, thou means."
Peter turned a reproachful eye towards Jossy's corner; but the
barber stared back, and puffed out columns of defiant smoke.
"I said as we're doin' everything as we knows on, and I say it again"; and Peter emphasized his statement with the end of his pipe-stem.
Jossy, having evidently got what he was fishing for, sprang to his
feet, thumped his fist on the hard table until Peter's tobacco-box
danced again, and shouted, glaring fiercely at his friend, "An' I
say we haven't!"
Peter half rose in sudden indignation at this blank contradiction
but on second thoughts he sank back, shook his head, and murmured
sulkily, "It's easy talkin', Jossy!"
"Aye, it is! Easy talkin' about faith an' waitin' an' patience. We've
been talkin' for twenty yer, and all the time the Lord has been
sayin', 'Stir yoursels! Why don't they stir thersels!' 'Do summat! Do sum-mat,' says the Sperit! An' we have done, haven't we?"
"I say as we've done everything that mortal man could do"; and Peter
rose sternly, and stood looking down at the barber.
"An' I say we've never done no sitch thing!" and the fierce little
barber sprang up to his friend as though responding to a challenge
The two eyed each other askance, for all the world like two young
cockerels at bay, each too intent on the point in hand to realize
how farcical the position was becoming.
"Joss Sweetlove, has thou come here today to insult me?"
"Peter Waine, are thou gettin' into a ungodly temper?"
"Well, of all—"
"Aye, of all—"
But these were only the growls of truculent retreat, and as each
sank back into his seat a strained and frosty silence fell upon
For three or four minutes there was nothing heard
but the monotonous p't p't of their pipes. Then Peter sighed heavily, shook his head
at a little knot of button roses peeping round the trellis-work
front of the summer-house, and finally stole a long, shy glance at
his companion. Joshua, who knew his man, pursed his lips more
prominently than ever, and stared before him with injured
resignation written on every feature of his obstinate face. Peter
shuffled his big feet and cleared his throat with unnecessary
energy, but the barber was as hard as stone.
Another long stare at the rose-buds, more shuffling of uneasy feet,
and then several sidelong glances towards the opposite corner; but
the barber's turned-worm sort of face relaxed not a muscle, only his
toe beat a steady tap on the boarded floor.
"There'll be a deal of apples this year," ventured Peter, gazing down
the garden at certain heavily laden fruit-trees. There was apology,
surrender, and pleading underneath his tones; but the adamantine
Joshua neither heard nor saw.
Peter rubbed the floor again with his slippers, beat impatient
ran-tans on his chair arm with the hand that was not occupied with
his pipe, reached for his brass tobacco-box, and then, jumping
suddenly to his feet, pipe in one hand and tobacco-box in the other
and the blood rushing to his indignant face, he strode up to his
tormentor and fiercely demanded, "What is there as mortal man could
do as I haven't done?"
Jossy threw back his head, lifted his eyes to recent cob-webs near
the summer-house roof, and laughed a hard unbelieving laugh.
"Bring it out, man! Don't sit there like a grinnin' gate-post. What
haven't I done? What wouldn't I do?"
The barber, secretly hugging himself for the success of his ruse,
had a face as flinty as ever.
"Trot it out, man!—trot it out!"
The sphinx was still—the sphinx.
"I'm ready, man!"—and here Peter, goaded to madness, excitedly
jerked himself to his full height—"I'm ready! Mention one
thing!—one little thing as could be done to get that land!
Suddenly Jossy jumped to his feet, stood sideways up to his man,
held out a stiff palm, and punctuating every word with a two-fingered slap upon it with the other hand, cried,
"There's land to
be gotten, an' thou can get it. But thou'll no more get it nor I'st
get a dukedom!" and he glared fiercely up into Peter's face.
And there they stood, eye to eye, the barber's blazing with accusing
light, and Peter's changing from resentment to wonder, and wonder to
surly doubt. Peter sighed and moved uneasily; but Jossy's eyes were
still holding him, and so, with a shake of his big body and a
protesting snort, he wrenched himself away and dropped back into his
chair, crying sulkily, "Aye, it's easy talkin'."
The ice having been once more broken, and Peter's curiosity aroused,
whilst his word had been pledged, the astute barber once more lapsed
into silence as he recharged his pipe.
Peter, as the other well knew, was on tenter-hooks. "Well, man, what
is it, an' where is it?"
"Thou won't get it, Peter, I know thou won't, an' it's as easy for
"Where is it, then?"
Jossy's pipe was going by this time; so, looking over the top of its
bowl at his friend, he set his face resolutely, and, as though
anticipating and defying resistance, he said, "It's t' lower corner
of Blandon's wood-yard."
Peter scowled, stared hard at his friend in an effort of
recollection, and then opened his eyes in blank amazement.
Jossy's foot was tapping the floor again, and as each looked at the
other the first flickers of amusement began to curl the corners of
his mouth. From amazement Peter passed to alarm, and the alarm
changed to odd confusion, as though some secret had been touched;
but as Jossy was watching him narrowly he had to fence.
"But what!—why!—haven't we tried for that afore?—twice afore?"
Jossy blinked his eyes in mute assent, but would not release the
"Young Frank's as big a Churchman as his father was."
Still the barber only nodded and blinked and if there had not been
such volumes of significance in his eyes, Peter might have breathed
more freely. As it was he only wriggled in his seat and rubbed his
The pause continued, the barber was actually grinning now, and
presently he got up, walked over to his friend, smote him on the
back, and cried, "It's Providence, Mr. Waine!—it's a blessed
Peter was struggling vainly to express his protest; it was the old
story of the spider and the fly, and the poor fly was already
realizing the inevitable. "But—but—why, man, it's ridic'lous!"
"When a man's i' love, Peter, when a man's i' love—think o' Queen
Esther!" and the merciless spider gloated over his wriggling victim.
"But!—but thou'rt talkin' Dutch! I don't know what thou'rt drivin'
Jossy, glowing with the pride of great discovery and greater
diplomacy, stood back and beamingly surveyed his companion. "She's a
beauty, an' she's a red-hot Methodis', an' she'll do it like a good
"Do what? What the plagues o' Babylon is the feller ravin' at?"
"Egyp', not Babylon, Peter; I'm talking about her." And he jerked
his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the house, "It's a
Providence, man! She's been raised up to do it!"
Confused and utterly dismayed, Peter gazed at his friend as the
mesmerized hare gazes at the serpent, and then with a sudden effort
he turned his back on his persecutor, deliberately picked up his
tobacco-box, whisked his long pipe under his arm, and started
without a word for the house. Jossy watched it all with demure
complacency, and, as he expected, before Peter got many yards away
he stopped and came stalking back, "Joshua Sweetlove, I'll give thee
one more chance: if thou's got owt to say to me, say it! I'm not
fond of Chinese riddles, if thou art!"
For answer the barber caught his friend by the coat, pulled him
unceremoniously into the summer-house and down into his chair, and
then, standing over him, he demanded, "Is young Blandon in love with
your Hetty or is he not?"
"How should I know? I never— And what if he is?" And Peter looked his
Jossy, suppressing another triumphant grin at Peter's giving of
himself away, braced himself for a second effort, and demanded,
"Does young Blandon own that there land, or does he not?" And
before the other could choke back his wrath to answer he went on,
"Well, then, there we are! Two and two makes four, and the
ground's as good as got!"
The scared, exasperated ex-grocer was perspiring profusely and
rubbing his big, round face with a red pocket-handkerchief. The
position was excruciating, and its whole difficulty was manifest
only to himself—and his tormentor. He lived in chronic suspicion of
his own spiritual loyalty, and was haunted ever with misgivings that
his easy-mindedness was at bottom worldliness and degeneracy. He was
the inspirer and sustainer of Grindell Methodism's ambition for a
new chapel, and he had another source of trouble known only to the
barber and himself. His dead wife had always been a better Methodist
than he, and, whenever he did anything
that came short of his full duty to his religion, this departed
saint was sure to visit his slumbers, and the one dread of his life
was that she would some day take up the chapel-site question. This
secret he had foolishly confided to his friend, and had no doubt
whatever that the barber would manage somehow to bring the departed
lady into the case some day or other. But, on the other hand, the
suggested plan was unthinkable. He was the very last person in the
world to interfere in the delicate details of a love affair of
anybody's; but when it was his own daughter's, and such a daughter,
the thing was plainly impossible. He had more than an ordinary
parent's shyness where their children's courtships are concerned,
and as he pictured himself suggesting Jossy's fantastic idea to
Hetty, he shuddered and groaned again.
"Joss Sweetlove," he burst out, "thou'st gotten the wickedest,
mischeevousest brain in this country—that's what thou hast!"
The barber smiled in sedate resignation.
"Now look here, Mr. Slyboots, thee go an' do that
"Me? I'm not her father!" and it was now the barber's turn to look
"Thou'rt her leader, an thou's a fine long tongue, and"
(Peter was just realizing his advantage) "thou'rt allus sayin' what thou'd do
an' what thou'd say an' how thou'd manage children. Speak to her
Joshua was sitting up in stern resignation. "Peter Waine, thou never
hed no delicacy—me?"
"Joss Sweetlove, thou never had no
consideration—I say thee!"
There was a pause. Joshua was feeling that something was slipping
from his grasp, and he had need of care; so he collected himself,
sank back into his corner, and cried with regretful sadness, "Oh,
if I wur her father!"
"Oh, if I wurn't her father!"
And there they stuck; the one defiant but uneasy, the other
disappointed but resolute, and there was a long silence.
"I thought I should ha' seen the new sanctuary afore I died," sighed
Joshua, with a pathos that went right to Peter's susceptible heart.
Tears were coming into his eyes, things he could never abide, and he
was just about to stammer out some lame encouragement in the old
vein when they heard the opening of a door and the flutter of
skirts, and as each jumped and sat up guiltily the figure of a
radiantly pretty girl framed itself in the doorway.
Yes, 'radiantly pretty' was Hetty Waine. After an unnoticeable
girlhood and an equivocal early womanhood, she had at twenty-three
suddenly blossomed into an undoubted beauty, with a perfect
complexion, large, dancing grey eyes, a tempting little mouth, and a
wealth of golden-brown hair. In perfect health, free from serious
care, and also from affectation, her high spirits gave animation to
her movements and light to her
features. Only recently had Grindell awakened to her existence; but
now all the males in the town, staid fathers and middle-aged
bachelors included, were at her feet, and she had come all
unconsciously into her own as reigning beauty of the old place.
"Whatever is the matter?" she cried laughingly, arching her eyebrows
and glancing from one to the other of the elders. What a noise you
do make; I could hear you all the way from Pottington's back door."
But the two men were too embarrassed to answer; guilty, scared looks
were on their faces, which they felt were giving them away; and
whilst Joshua shrank deep into his corner, wondering how much she
had overheard, and whether her advent at this moment might not be
another 'Providence,' Peter was feeling his fears of discovery
doubled by dread of what the barber might say. He could no more
introduce the subject under discussion to his daughter than he could
have made a political speech; but Joshua's delicacy, if he had any,
went by rules of contrary, and where should he hide his guilty head
if his friend broached the terrible subject?
"We were talking about that there site," said the barber sulkily,
and with a defiant glance at the terrified Peter.
"I might have known it," laughed Hetty, with a gesture of mock
wearisomeness. The site question seemed part of her life; she could
not remember a time when she had not heard it debated. "It appears
to me you ought to stop talking and do something;" and, pulling out
a little bundle of ' work,' skewered through with a long needle, she
stepped into the summer-house and sat down a little distance from
"Right, woman!—right! My stars! it is Providence!"
And the delighted Joshua smote his leg with his hand emphatically,
and then, springing at his confounded opponent, he stretched out a
challenging hand and demanded triumphantly, "Worn't I sayin' it not ten minutes
sin'? Worn't I sayin' them vary words?"
Peter, who had been momentarily relieved when his daughter sat down
near him, thus saving his face, and giving him an opportunity of
signalling and scowling at the barber without being seen, had a
sudden return of his terrors; and as Hetty, following the barber's
gestures, unconsciously turned her eyes toward him, he felt as
though the floor were opening under him, and was consumed with
nervous anxiety that Joshua should resume his seat.
"Sit down, man!—sit down!" he cried, inmost evident anxiety;
can't make sites, can we?" And as the barber protestingly obeyed,
Peter followed up his exhortation with a series of terrific
grimaces, one eye on his daughter and the other on the man in the
corner. But the fates were against the poor father, for Hetty, more
amused than interested, presently broke the silence that had fallen
upon them by saying smilingly, "Well, have you heard of another
"Yes, we have; t' best site in t' town! Made for t' job!"
Hetty had raised her eyes from her work to the barber's face, and
Peter, squeezing himself hard into his corner, was holding a
clenched fist close to the side of his head and shaking it with
intense fierceness at the man in the other corner. And before Hetty
could ask the question which Joshua's remark so plainly invited, he
burst in, "Oh! shut—Oh! O—h!"
Hetty turned quickly, with a little cry of sympathy; whilst Peter
kept on rubbing briskly at his outside leg, and to explain the
savage expression she had surprised on his
face, he cried, "It's that rheumatism! My opinion it's going to
Father's rheumatism was as old a topic to Hetty as the site
question, so her sympathetic glance was blended with curiosity, for
this troublesome complaint had a mysterious connexion with bad
collections at the mission-room, slack tenants of his property, and
other unpleasant experiences.
Meanwhile the barber, waiting like a terrier on the pounce, was
trying to avoid Peter's eye and catch that of his daughter's. The
ex-grocer, however, had a sudden inspiration, and continued to rub
his leg with brisk energy, scowling and groaning the while, and so,
as he intended, she hastened away to fetch a rug.
The moment her back was turned the two men sprang up and stood
glaring at each other in fiercest defiance.
"If thou breathes a word to that poor girl—"
"If thou flies in t' face o' Providence like this—"
But there was a flutter of skirts again, and Hetty found the barber
sitting in his corner as though an earthquake would not move him,
and her father rubbing his leg as for dear life; both men, however,
were very red in the face. Father took a long time to get his lower
limbs satisfactorily enwrapped, and made, during the process, many
suggestions which would have broken up the party if they had been
acted upon. But as Hetty knew how much her father enjoyed the
summerhouse, and how conversation, even fractious conversation, with
the barber relieved the tedium of his retired life, she ignored the
hints, and affectionately fussed about him, until he was fain to
acknowledge that his pain was 'easing off a bit.'
The barber, grim with sternest resolve, was biding his time. "As we
was a-sayin'—" he resumed, as soon as Hetty had settled into her old
"Oh! I say," broke in Peter with a nervous
trepidation oddly out of keeping with his sudden information, and
with drops of perspiration standing on his brow, "Withersedge has sent word he cannot preach on
Sunday, and he's sending young Stebbing."
The barber, a local preacher himself and a martinet in discipline,
would ordinarily have been effectually diverted by information like
this; but now he simply waited until Peter had finished, eyed him
over with pitiful disdain of his transparent subterfuge, and then
turning towards Hetty again he resumed, "As we wur sayin'
A shuffle, a groan, and a sudden burst of confused sound,
sufficiently curious to have interrupted anything, caused the barber
to pause; and as Hetty also lifted her eyes, poor Peter was fain to
look as easy as he could.
"As we wur sayin'," repeated the inexorable Jossy with slow
doggedness, "we've found a site, and a grand 'un"; and he turned and
fixed Peter with his eye as though defying him to contradict.
"You have! Where?" Hetty was less hopeful than her father, but she
liked to promote talk between the two.
The barber was watching the writhing man in the corner and feeling a
momentary pang, and so he merely shook his head, and said solemnly,
"A reg'ler grand 'un."
"But where is it, and are you sure about it?"
Jossy had burned his boats, or he must surely have relented as he
watched the excruciated, pleading face in the corner. But he knew he
dare not think, and so, staring fixedly at Hetty's left ear, he
replied huskily, "It nobbut wants a bit o' pluck and manewvering,
an' it's ours."
Hetty, genuinely interested at last in this stalest of stale topics,
asked eagerly, "Then, why don't we get it?"
The maddened father in the corner had tried to rise in protest; but
he fell back, sick with fear.
"There's nobbut one person i' this world as can
get that land for us."
"Who's that, pray?"
A perfect burst of smothered groans from the corner; but even the
tortured sufferer there was fast coming under the spell of the
conversation, and covered his cries with another vigorous rub of his
"Who is that, pray? Any friend?"
"One as ought to be a friend, as says she is a
"Oh! a woman, is it?—Mrs. Tudge?"
Mrs. Tudge was the magistrate's wife, who had been brought up a
"I?—I?" And Hetty's eyes widened with amazement.
"Yes, you! You could get it with a word, with a twiddle of your
Peter was sitting like one mesmerized, great beads of perspiration
all over his red face.
"Oh, Joshua!—I? Whose is the land, and where is it?"
"It's t' bottom plot in Blandon's Woodyard, and—"
But Hetty had suddenly sat bolt upright, her eyes distending, and
the blood leaving her face until her very lips were white. Then
there was a choking gasp, a long, frightened cry, and she fled from
the summer-house with her face hidden in her hands.
SELLING A SWEETHEART
BLANDON was a handsome
fellow; he was also by general consent the cleverest and most taking
young man in Grindell. That he knew it and presumed upon it was
accepted as one of life's inevitables; and considering that he had a
doting mother and three equally doting sisters, who lost no
opportunity of sounding his praises, nobody greatly wondered at his
vanity, especially as he was so pleasant and friendly with it. But
somehow he never looked quite himself in his dingy, sawdusty office;
and on the afternoon when he first becomes known to us, he looked
particularly out of place and uncomfortable. He was tall, lithe,
well built, and his clothes fitted him perfectly. Fair-complexioned, with brown hair, eyes, and moustache, he had that
engagingly frank and open expression which is at once the charm and
disappointment of his type, and which wrought so much both for good
and evil in the history of his and our Norman ancestors.
But this afternoon his face is dark, with a gloom that is
almost savage; his eyes are furtive with apprehension, and his
usually lightsome mind is racked with thoughts which make him that
he can neither sit nor stand. He is alone; and whilst the whir
of the saws drowns all other sounds, he paces his narrow office in a
vain endeavour to keep down excitement. Another turn across
the floor, an eager peep over the whitened lower half of the window,
an impatient survey of the yard and the entrance gate at the end of
it, one more glance at his watch, and with a smothered anathema he
flings himself into the only chair in the room with a tortured,
There was a twin rose-bud in his buttonhole which Hetty Waine
had given him that very morning; but neither flower nor giver
interested him just then, and he rose hastily and resumed his
sixteen-feet pacings across the floor.
"Never again!" he fumed; and then, as in approaching the
window he raised his head—, "never a ―― Ah!"
A telegraph-boy was coming up the yard, and Frank snatched up
a pen and put it behind his ear, hastily selected a pencil, and was
suddenly absorbed in oiled-paper building-plans. But the very
intensity of his expectation caused him to start violently at the
familiar knock, and he was so excited he forgot even to say, "Come
The second knock brought him with a bound to the door; and,
snatching at the salmon-coloured envelope, he banged the door in the
astonished messenger's face, and had reached the desk again when he
remembered to call "No answer!" A moment later he had been on
the high stool, and the chair, and at the window; but the telegram
was still unopened. Then he took it up, walking wildly about
and labouring to recover self-control.
"Hit or miss!" he cried thickly, holding the envelope at
arm's length as he staggered about. "Neck or nothing!
Life or death!"
There was the usual exaggeration in these tragic
exclamations. But when at last he tore open the missive and
glanced at the contents, his real fears were serious enough; and,
whilst his mouth half opened and his breath came quickly, a sickly
pallor took the places of his flushes, and a sudden, deadly calm
settled on him.
It was only a brief sentence in a mongrel code, but it told
him that the Grand Scienna shares, in which he had been making a
deal, had gone the wrong way, and he was some hundreds of pounds the
He stood for a long, strained moment in the middle of the
office, and then absently took out his watch. Another knock,
and this time he turned to the desk, set his face at the window,
struggling fiercely to obtain command of his features, whilst one
hand groped again for a pen.
The bank-clerk who was now entering found a man so immersed
in a building-plan that he had not heard.
"Beg pardon, sir! Borwood & Lyngate's bill—due to-day,
sir. We waited until nearly three—"
"Ah! Dixon, that you? Eh—what? A bill, did
you say?" and it was the easy, popular Frank Blandon who spoke, and
in his most comfortable manner.
"We expected you'd forgotten it, sir, but—"
"You're quite right, my friend! and"—with a glance at his
watch—"Oh, bless us, it's seven minutes to three! I was under
the impression—been so frightfully busy lately —that it was next
Friday." And he took down a patent file to reassure himself.
"Ah, bless us, it is, by Jove! Well, Dixon, this is a
pickle; what's to be done?"
Dixon would like to have said it didn't matter; but he knew a
little too much to make that true, so he changed from one foot to
the other with an equivocal smile.
"Ah! well, old fellow, it's awkward, but it cannot be helped;
you'll have to tell Wignall I'll call in the morning."
"We—that is, Mr. Wignall—will be in the bank an hour or two
yet," ventured Dixon.
"Oh, that's lucky! All right; the fact is, I—er—I—my
partner generally—yes, yes, I'll attend to it myself, Dixon."
Dixon's relief plainly showed how little he, thought of the
partner; the "myself" set him quite at his ease, and after a few
words more he departed.
"Oh, curse these shares! They were dead certs.
What shall I do?" And, flinging his pen upon the desk, Frank
resumed his painful pacings across the floor.
Two years before he had succeeded to his father's business,
though the founder of the concern in his last days introduced a
perfectly unnecessary partner. Whilst the firm had been simply
George Blandon, it was deemed "as safe as houses"; but Blandon & Co.
dealt in bills and other shifty financial expedients, and Grindell
pitied the popular Frank for the clog his father's folly had
fastened to his heels. Since his father's death he had been
urged again and again to get rid of his low partner, and more than
one substantial man had offered to join him. But to Frank's
great public credit it was noticed that he scrupulously regarded his
father's wishes, and even affected to respect the man to whom he was
thus so unfortunately tied. Sam Broome, the "Co.," came of
peasant stock, and the detrimental changes in the habits of the firm
were just such as might have been expected from such a source, and
synchronized with the date of the change. Frank had been so
constantly pitied that he had come to pity himself, and the man who
gets there has his feet on a dangerous slope.
Broome had been successively errand-boy, apprentice, workman,
and foreman before he was made a partner, and still confined his
attentions to inside management; whilst Frank, who had spent his
youth with a firm of architects in the county town, looked after the
outside affairs and the finances, or, as all feminine Grindell
sympathetically put it, "had all the harassing and worry of the
firm," and, in spite of his high spirits and wonderful constitution,
it was telling upon him. Of late he had looked haggard, and
was at times peevish at home, and Mrs. and the Misses Blandon would
very much like to have given "that Broome" a piece of their mind.
He took his share of the profits, and his sister had become dressy
and aggressive. Why didn't he take his share of the pains?
But that was the way of things in this unsatisfactory world; the
amiable and generous were always taken advantage of, and the coarse
and ungrateful always had the plums.
Frank Blandon listened to these domestic moralizings with a
beautiful resignation. Anything that might reflect on his
partner always had to be wrung out of him; and if there were so many
things which circumstances compelled him to allude to, how many more
must there have been which he kept locked up within his own faithful
breast! Of late, however, he had not spoken much of these
matters in the family circle, and it was noticed also that he did
not encourage any hope of a change in the partnership. Things
were not going very well just then in the business, and you "mustn't
swop horses whilst you're crossing the stream."
This unfortunate partnership was not the only injury under
which the handsome fellow was suffering. The firm of
architects with which his father had articled him had found that he
was so remarkably clever that they had kept him doing their own work
instead of giving him the requisite time to prepare for his
examinations; and so, of course, though others infinitely his
inferiors had 'passed,' he had continued unqualified until his
father, in a fit of indignation (at the firm, of course), had
fetched him home and put him into his own business, not many months
before he died, thus spoiling his career. It was a great shame
for a young fellow of his gifts to be confined to a mere trade, and
a greater shame still to be hampered and humiliated with such a
As young Blandon paced the dusty office that trying Friday
afternoon, scowling and imprecating under his breath, and looking
anything but a martyr, the door opened again, and that objectionable
partner walked in.
The contrast between the two was extreme. Broome was
five or six years older than his colleague, and looked even more.
The pinching poverty of his boyhood had left its mark upon him, and
he was sallow and plain-faced, with premature lines across his
forehead, and crow's-feet in the corner of his eyes. "British
working man" was written all over him, and the word that best
describes him is "common." He had common, dark hair, scanty,
uncertain sort of whiskers, and a half-sulky, half-diffident manner
which made a distinctly unfavourable impression. He looked as
though under better conditions he might have been stout, was taller
than he appeared, and was altogether devoid of anything that could
distinguish him. He came into the office much as he used to do
formerly in his character of errand-boy, and his manner was quietly
On hearing the hand on the door-latch, Frank had turned
hastily to the desk, and Sam, taking up a plan from the little
pay-counter as he passed, went and spread it on the other end of the
desk by the window, thus placing himself alongside his partner, but
some feet away. Neither spoke; and as the silence lengthened,
Sam, with his head still on his drawing, stole a long, anxious look
at Frank and stifled a sigh. Again he looked, but Frank was
utterly absorbed, the fact being that each was waiting for the other
Sam took another glance at his companion, another dree look
at the drawings, and then, with a dry little cough, turned towards
Frank, poring over his oiled paper, went a shade paler; and
when Sam had reached the narrow lobby outside, he mustered courage
to call "Sam!"
The junior partner came back, and stood with the door-handle
in his hands, but never spoke.
"Come here, man! here's something wrong."
Sam silently closed the door, and going over to the empty
fireplace turned his back to it, put his hands behind him, and
"Don't you know that Borwood & Lyngate's have a bill due
to-day—a three months' bill for two hundred odd?"
Sam glanced at the clock, which now stood at eight minutes
past three, and realized that bank hours were over; but he only
dropped his eyes to the floor, and waited. If he would only
speak, it might help Frank to blurt out all he had to say; but the
delicate instinct that talks in order to encourage difficult
admissions was apparently not in Sam Broome.
"We've only about thirty pounds in cash, and the bank
can't—well, they've stopped the over-draft."
It didn't appear that Sam had grasped the situation at all;
his eyes, which had been lifted to Frank's whilst he spoke, were now
wandering heedlessly about from clock to safe, and safe to
ironmongery shelf, and he lifted a long sigh that seemed suddenly to
become a stopper for his lips. As a matter of fact, he knew
little of the business part of their affairs, nobody esteemed him as
of any account, and until recently he had been quite content that it
should be so. He had so worshipped old George Blandon, and was
so proud of his position in the firm, that he never dreamed of
asserting himself. Latterly, however, Mr. Frank had seemed
quite anxious to consult him, and Sam was not to be outdone in
generosity; the more his partner honoured him, the more resolved was
he not to meddle.
"Well, man, can't you speak?'
Sam's eyes rolled to the dirty ceiling, a flattered smile
indenting one corner of his mouth. "I'll leave it to you, Mr.
"But you can't; we are in a hole, man! I don't know
where to get a blessed bob!"
The smile, so idiotic and aggravating to his overwrought
partner, still lingered on his face. It was nice to be thus
consulted, and trust must repay trust.
"You know, Mr. Frank; do just as you like—you know."
"Do! I'm stuck!—fast as a thief! For goodness'
sake, man, shut that door and be reasonable."
Sam, doing as he was bidden, let go the door handle, and,
rolling toward the desk, put himself into an attentive attitude; but
his smile of half-incredulous unconcern was as distinct as ever.
"I've kept these things to myself as long as I could; I've
struggled with them until I'm ill. We're up a tree, man! on
the edge of a precipice! If that bill isn't met, we've got to
shut up shop! Now do you understand?"
Sam plainly didn't. Mr. Frank was rather given to
exaggerated language, and the idea he suggested was simply
unthinkable. But Frank looked annoyed; and so he took another
shy glance round the office as though appealing to the fixtures for
a hint, scratched his head, and emitted a wavering, half-protesting
Another smile, a wriggle, and another look round, but not a
word of speech.
"Hang it, man! say something! Don't you see I'm ill?
I've struggled and striven and worried myself to death; I've tried
to spare you all I could; and now, when the pinch comes, you haven't
a word to throw at a dog."
Sam's head dropped in self-condemnation, his sallow, common
face flushed with shame, and he cried penitently, "Don't be vexed,
sir! It's awful kind of you to tell me things; but I'm such a
duffer. Go on, sir!"
It was a long, rambling statement, with awkward omissions and
contradictions which even the confiding partner could not help
noticing; but when it was over, and the "Co." had realized that
there was something to do, he became another man.
"But we aren't goin' to stick fast for a couple of hundred,
"I tell you we haven't got as many shillings, man!"
Sam stared hard at his partner, his soft eyes blinking
rapidly; and then he lapsed again into his usual silence, under the
evident presence of a new thought. The little American clock
ticked loudly, the drone of the saws filled the room, whilst Frank
watched his partner with fierce impatience, and changed from one leg
to the other as he waited; but no word came, for Sam was clearly off
"I have seen it coming for months, but did not want to
No answer; and Frank, on a rack of impatience, scowled and
bit his lips, whilst his partner, moving away from the desk, stared
vacantly at the back wall.
Frank's manner changed, his face took on a sudden meekness,
and, with a desperate attempt to swallow something, he said
apologetically, "You haven't—you couldn't—you don't know where you
could borrow it?"
Sam turned sharply round, glanced quickly at his companion,
his eyes blinking rapidly, and his breath coming short and fast; but
he only turned away again, and resumed his study of the back wall.
Frank watched and waited, eyeing the fellow beside him as though he
would like to have kicked him; but Sam neither saw nor heard.
"Curse the thing! The whole concern may go to Jericho
for me!" And Frank, exasperated beyond endurance, flung pen
and pencil madly at the dingy window and cracked a pane.
Sam's eyes came slowly back from dreamland, and he turned and
surveyed his angry partner with dull surprise. Frank had
dropped his elbows on the desk and buried his flushed face in his
hands. Comprehension came slowly back to Sam's wooden face; he
surveyed his companion from head to foot, opened his mouth to speak,
but checked himself, and then, turning away, resumed his stare at
There was another long silence, and a sense of the
ridiculousness of the situation was creeping into Frank's mind, when
Sam's eyes came slowly back from the wall, and he began to sidle
away towards the corner made by his end of the desk and the chimney.
Frank had turned to watch him, and their eyes met, and at last the
taciturn "Co." condescended to speak.
"Mr. Frank, do you really think owt of Hetty Waine?"
And as he spoke Sam crowded deeper into his corner in his
effort to get out of his partner's reach.
"Hetty Waine? What on earth!—stick to the point, man!"
and Frank was glaring at him in stupefied amazement.
Sam measured his partner over with envious admiration and
then, with a long, long sigh, he said, "You can just have any woman
you like, you can!"
Frank, still struggling with his astonishment, gasped out,
"Yes; but I'm not going to marry to save the business, if that's
what you mean."
Sam was still watching him intently, his low brow puckered
with scowls of craftiness.
"Then you don't think nowt on her, Mr. Frank?"
Frank was uneasy; his relations to Hetty Waine were common
property, it appeared, and to admit or deny just now was equally
"Oh! well, she's—But what has that to do with these dirty
money matters, man? Confound it! Talk sense!"
Sam stared and stared with the same crafty scowl and the same
inane backward shrinking.
"I'd give more nor two hundred pound to be in your place."
Frank gasped, and then smothered his cry. At another
time the idea of Sam Broome "putting up" to ravishing Hetty Waine
would have seemed a screaming joke; but he could not afford to
offend him just now, and so, to flatter him into complaisance, he
said, "Well, why not, man? The field's open yet, and you've
the same chance as—as the rest of the world."
Sam shook his head sadly, and then in melancholy tones he
groaned, "There's no chance for nobody whilst you're about, sir."
Frank smiled the smile of easy superiority. He had the
reputation of being a master-hand with the fair sex; but as he
smiled, his quick brain, still intent on escape from present
embarrassments, had an inspiration. He always had to put words
into the slow Sam's mouth for him, and so he asked half earnestly,
"You don't mean you'll buy me out, Sam?"
He blushed as he made the suggestion, and the now trembling
"Co." was blushing too. Sam was shrinking away again, and as
Frank, in spite of himself, burst into a great laugh, the partner
hung his head in shame and groaned, "God help me! I believe
I'd do anything to get her!"
Frank was thinking rapidly; relief from a difficulty much
more serious than it had been made to appear to Sam was the
all-absorbing idea in his mind. Money, instant money, was the
paramount need of the moment, and he suspected that his coarse
partner had it. He was not formally committed to Hetty Waine;
but the pressure of circumstances had been stimulating his fancies
of late, and Hetty's modest fortune might become absolutely
necessary to him, and even the prospect of it would make creditors
easier to deal with. But he had recently made another
conquest; and if this financial crisis could be tided over—well, at
any rate he would have time to look about him.
"Well, I'm riot engaged to Hetty as yet, but—"
"Oh! Mr. Frank," and the stolid Sam became quite excited, "I
wouldn't interfere wi' true love, you know." And to Frank it
sounded like the spoony protest of a novelette-reading servant-girl,
and he could scarcely keep contempt out of his tones.
"Well, I'm—Hetty's the finest of fine girls, you know, Sam;
but—well I'm not sure--er—that I'm quite—
"In love, sir? That's what I was meanin'; if you
aren't, sir, and it's only like—flirting, as it were—"
"If I'd stand out of the way and give you a clear board—"
"No, no, sir! not a clear board, there's lots after her; but
you're the one, sir, and nobody's no chance whilst you're in it."
There was that in Frank Blandon which was rising in indignant
protest against the wild-goose idea he was playing with. It
was debasing to himself, taking a mean advantage over a simple but
trusting man, and it was treason to her with whose name he was
trifling. But he was in desperate straits; trouble to him was
not a thing to be fought, but fled from; and so in that office that
Friday afternoon this ridiculous compact was made—that upon Sam
finding the money for present emergencies Frank was to leave Hetty
Waine to herself, and thus give his partner at least an opening.
For Sam seemed to have got a fixed idea that if she could not get
Frank, the next best thing in her eyes would be Frank's partner.
Poor Sam had much to learn of the hearts of women.
But when Frank discovered that his companion had money, he
suddenly remembered certain personal needs of his own, and suggested
to the working-man partner the loan of another hundred pounds.
Sam, who was standing again at the desk, looked round with
alarm, and began to retreat into the corner. "A hunderd pound
more, Mr. Frank!"
"Yes, I really need it for affairs of my own. A
personal loan, you know—nothing to do with the firm."
Sam looked appealingly at his friend, and then stammered out,
"It'll take all I have, Mr. Frank!"
"Yes, but it's only a loan—a brief loan; I'll pay it back
soon, and—er—well, I might be able to give you a lift with Hetty."
Sam stood suddenly bolt upright, and then came close to his
partner. "You'll speak a word for me? Help me with
her—you mean that?"
"Yes, yes; why not?"
"Why, Mr. Frank, if you'd do that, if you'd only—do that—"
"Certainly! If I don't have her, I'd sooner you than—"
"It's done!—it's done, sir!" and the simple fellow's
eagerness was pathetic. "No loan, sir; just help me, say a
good word for me. I'm not you, but I'm your partner; say one
good word for me, and the money's yours."
Presently they went together to see the bank-manager; but as
soon as they had parted, it came to Sam's slow-moving mind that Mr.
Frank could not speak to Hetty without seeking her society; and
though he had probably never heard of Miles Standish, he was
tortured with the fear that the dearly purchased help might turn out
the gravest hindrance, for just for the moment something had gone
wrong with his confidence in his partner.
person could possibly have mistaken the room into which Hetty Waine
entered when she fled from her father and his friend. It was
low and cornery, with two odd windows where you least expected them;
the furniture, four-post bed, big squat wardrobe, low settee, and
spindle-backed chairs were all of dark old oak, but so smothered in
covers, fringes, embroidery, antimacassars, and woman's needlework
of every conceivable kind that the sex of the occupant was
proclaimed in every corner and by every arrangement. It was
not necessary either to glance at the toilet-table with its array of
simple but mysterious knick-knacks; for every part of the room
proclaimed that here dwelt a woman, and a pretty, dainty woman too.
Hetty had thrown herself on the settee under the window which
looked over Godsham fields, and which was wide open. The
scent-laden breezes with their drone of soft nature-sounds filled
the room, the windowsill was occupied with a long box of mignonette,
whilst climbing roses festooned the sides and hung over the top.
But for once Hetty was oblivious to it all, and as she lay there,
with her hands folded behind her head and her lithe figure stretched
at full length on the couch, her eyes were closed, and the constant
changes that swept over her lovely face indicated unusual mental
disturbance. Only the heat kept her still, for her nimble
brain was hopping and skipping from point to point, and her thoughts
bounded from extreme interest to extreme alarm, whilst great
unheeded blushes swept over her face, dyeing even her eyelids with
deeper colour. The door was locked, there was no one to see,
no prying world to draw harsh conclusions; and her thoughts rushed
madly over each other in fierce efforts at self-assertion. The
idle gossip of two old men had upset the placid little lake of her
life, and she was suddenly struggling in roughest, coldest waters.
Her intimacy with Frank Blandon was so recent, so casual, and
so transparently unsignificant that if even anybody had seen
them ―― But here the blunt uncompromising Methodist in her,
often her most unpleasant companion, compelled her to admit that
though her outward behaviour to the young man had been the properest
and his to her the most respectful, she had insisted to herself that
it was more than common politeness, and the way he had begged the
rose from her that morning ―― But she was off again; the
middle-aged Methodist had vanished, and once more a beautiful woman
was dallying in an old tree-bowered lane with a handsome young
Adonis after love's eternal way. Six months ago Frank Blandon,
the Grindell lady-killer, would not have given her a second glance;
but now she was beautiful!—beautiful! He was such a king among
them that he treated all women a little patronizingly, even
flippantly, and they were proud to be noticed even on those terms;
but his manner to her—she might have been the Hon. Mary Grace
herself! He was only a tradesman, but he dressed in brown
leather gaiters, fancy waistcoat, and fine shooting-coat, and was on
easy terms with the Squire's nephew, and might have had any of the
dozen eligible 'quality' young ladies in the neighbourhood.
But, oh, she was now beautiful! he, the one man of taste
amongst them, had shown he thought so; but the sour-faced Miss
Methodism came back all at once, and she felt suddenly chilled.
He was a known trifler, his name had been linked with those of half
of the eligible girls she knew—more than one had gone suddenly old
and untidy—and Frank Blandon did not pretend even to the decent
morality of the average Churchman. The scene in Bracken Lane
was back with her—it had been with her most of the day—and in a few
moments she was in the Elysian fields of incipient flirtation again,
a smile played about her tempting little mouth, and lustrous light
was rising into her eyes, when, with a little start, she came back
to realities again. Her name would be linked with his—itself
almost a disgrace in her strict circle—and she was being regarded as
a providential instrument for the realization of a long-delayed
achievement. She was in the old lane again asking for the sale
of the land, she saw herself shyly announcing her success to her
father and his friend, saw the foundation-stone ceremony—Heigh
presto! she was watching Frank's face as he heard his and her names
associated, hearing his scornful laugh and his half-sneering lament
about "those petticoats." He would cut her in the street, she
would be spoken of pityingly as another of his victims, she would
lose her good looks and become a Grindell dowdy— And then she
began again, and went over it all a second time; and the more she
thought the more she shrank from the consequences of what she had
done, but the more, also, she felt sure that at the long last the
stern old Methodist in her would conquer, and she would do her
dreary duty. It always had been so, she had fought many a
little battle, had broken out many a time in rebellion; but that
sober, middle-aged Methodist double of hers was remorseless, and had
always had her way.
Meanwhile, what was she to do with her father and Jossy
Sweetlove? Her very manner of leaving them—silly that she
was—was suspicious, and confirmatory of the barber's contention.
There was nothing, nothing whatever in this very slightest intimacy.
Oh! it was absurd; but the middle-aged lady, now deep down and very
sulky, was contradicting, and it was ridiculous to discover that for
once that hard voice gave her pleasure and brought back her brighter
visions. But she could not even deny so intangible a thing
without confirming the very impression she wished to remove.
It was an absurd and most provoking position, and all she could do
was to laugh it down and disarm suspicion by gentle raillery.
But, unfortunately, the march of events gave her no time, for the
very next morning her problem became complicated by a most
unexpected and amazing circumstance.
The household of Jessamine Cottage consisted of four persons:
Hetty and her father; Wess (John Charles Wesley), her
fourteen-year-old brother; and Jim (Jemima) Grubb, their middle-aged
servant housekeeper. Hetty was titular mistress, and managed
her father, who required no particular regulation; but Jim was the
real ruler, and, though outwardly austere and uncompromising, she
was the devoted slave of the son and heir, so that the tail of the
family wagged the head, a condition of things which secretly amused
the father but awakened the occasional indignation of the daughter.
Jim was almost a gipsy in complexion, but was round-faced and warmly
coloured, whilst her high cheek-bones and decided chin admonished
discretion in all who had dealings with her.
The earlier meals of the day were taken in the large,
brick-floored kitchen, which was the acknowledged domain of Jim and
her idol, and Hetty was never allowed to forget for long that she
was there on sufferance. On the morning after the events
described in the last chapter—Saturday morning—the breakfast was
half over when Hetty appeared. She was too healthy to have
lost much sleep through her perturbations; but she arrived
downstairs in a—for her—severe mood, the ultimate feeling in her
mind about the occurrences of the day before having been that of
annoyance. Her fresh young beauty was too familiar a thing to
attract any notice from the rest of her family, and as she drew up
in her light morning gown to the table her father was busy with the
morning paper, whilst Jim surveyed her curiously from the pantry
door, and Wess had thrown back his curly black head in a vain
attempt to balance a fork on the end of his nose, and under cover of
this gymnastic freak was screwing his eyes round towards his
sister's plate to a degree that threatened a permanent glide.
"Wess dear, don't do that; you'll—"
But she stopped short; her hand had touched a letter lying
under the edge of her plate, and the first careless glance brought a
startled look in her eyes, whilst the second made her duck her head
over the missive as though scrutinizing the postmark, but in reality
to hide her face. She felt those 'horrid' hot blushes coming,
and instinctively looked up, partly to keep the tell-tale colour
back, and partly to discover if she was being observed.
Jim was rattling pots in the pantry with unnecessary
violence; and Wess was screwing his eyes round at a frightful angle
the other way, whilst the muscles of his face and the veins of his
neck betrayed that he was struggling fiercely to keep back a wicked
grin. Apparently his whole soul was absorbed in balancing the
Hetty's heart sank; she feared no one as she feared those
two, and she comprehended but too clearly that they had already
examined externally what the post had brought her. She put the
letter aside with a pretence of indifference; but even whilst
pouring out her coffee she let it over-run as she stole a second
glance at the missive. It was in a blue business envelope,
with Blandon & Co., Builders, Grindell, printed on the top edge of
the front. She sat up and tried to compose herself, abruptly
terminating her brother's performance by asking him to pass the
The preparation of the toast gave her opportunity for
glancing again at her note. It thrilled her to think that it
was from Frank; but no man would send a billet doux in a
business envelope—at any rate, Frank Blandon would not. The
writing, too, was poor and rather laboured—not a clerk's, certainly;
and yet surely it could not be his writing. Then she sat
abruptly up again, suddenly aware that two pairs of black eyes were
boring into her like searchlights. The optical torturing
instruments turned quickly away, and Wess was scowling ferociously
at an advertisement on the back of his father's paper. But she
was not deceived; they were dying of curiosity, and she would let
them. The note was probably one of those unnecessary little
messages which amorous young gentlemen usually find excuse for
sending to the girls they fancy in order to initiate correspondence;
but trifling though it was, she could not read it with those boring
eyes upon her. And yet to leave it and carry it away to her
room would only justify their silly suppositions.
But just then—oh, merciful interposition!—her father laid
aside his paper and called for the "Book," and Hetty was never more
thankful to drop on her knees in her life. A sober restraint
was upon them when they rose from family worship, and it just lasted
long enough to effect her deliverance, for with a sudden intuition
she turned, fixed her eyes on her persecutor, whilst her left hand
felt for the letter, and a moment later, with a meekly triumphant
little mock curtsey, she left Jim looking "dished" and Wess uttering
a subdued whistle of discomfiture, and scampered away to her own
retreat. But quick though she was, her old maid double entered
the room with her, and a pretty to-do there was before she could get
her letter opened.
"It is a letter—a real long letter," said Hetty the
beautiful, with a shy blush.
"It's tickets for the flower-show, and highly improper,"
retorted old maid Methodist.
"It's a request for an interview; it's long enough for a
propo—" began the happy maid.
"It's sent from the office on business paper, and
disrespectful," interrupted old maid Prudery.
"It is nothing!—nothing!" protested hopeful youth, somewhat
"It's the thin end of the wedge, and wicked," insisted sage
A little paper-knife settled the question, and a moment later
the happy maid was reading a veritable proposal, though the printed
heading did stare so at her whilst old maid Methodist made running
comments that were soon lost in astonished exclamations. It
was a long letter, and prolix and various, passionate enough for the
beauteous maid, but respectful and serious enough for solemn Miss
Methodism. The writing was common, the spelling not
immaculate; there were adoration and business, humble pleading and
harsh commercial boasting, as of one whose chief earthly glory was
his connexion with Blandon & Co.; and when the astounding production
had been got through and the signature reached, it would have been
hard to say whether Hetty the maid or Hetty the Methodist was the
more amazed. It was a proposal clear enough, and sufficiently
hot and eager for any woman; but it was not from handsome Frank
Blandon at all, but from his insignificant, commonplace partner, Sam
The first feeling that took definite shape in the welter of
emotions was that of disappointment, and the second was a sharp
sense of the impropriety of the first. She had a little thrill
at the discovery of another worshipper at the shrine of her beauty,
and several little stabs of inconsistent resentment as she realized
how much could be said from the commonsense point of view for this
latest aspirant. Ashamed of her first feeling of
disappointment, she now felt that she ought to be ashamed of her
lack of interest in the offer now made to her.
She turned the letter over absently, and studied its closely
written lines; but awoke presently to the discovery that she was
chiefly wondering whether Frank knew of the letter, and whether he
could have had anything to do with its composition. She tried
to realize herself as Mrs. Sam Broome, but found presently that she
was analysing Frank's manner when he asked for the little rose she
had given him. She compelled herself to recall all she knew
about Sam, and awoke to the fact that she was debating Frank's
seriousness and his reputation for flirting.
She read the epistle again, and yet again, for only certain
parts of it adhered to her memory, and the thing she knew most
definitely at the close was that Sam seemed inordinately proud of
his connexion with Blandon's, and evidently regarded that as his
chief recommendation. She even caught herself feeling very
serious as she wondered whether Frank would be pleased or otherwise
if she accepted Sam, and she was alarmed to discover that the
suggestion that Frank had been paving the way for his partner
Then it was the turn of the ludicrous site question, and she
found that the project might help to reconcile her father to parting
with her; but the momentary gratification thus created had to be
sternly resisted, for it was grounded on the immodest supposition
that Frank would be her husband. How would the site question
be affected by her acceptance of Sam Broome? Did the
much-coveted land belong to the firm or to the Blandon family?
But the question was, What did she think herself of Sam Broome?
Alas! in a moment she was deep in recollections of what Mrs. and the
Misses Broome had always said of that person.
Reflection was growing more painful, and so she turned once
more to the passionate parts of the letter just to recover herself.
And so that long, bright summer morning wore on, and two hours after
breakfast she was no nearer a decision than the moment she fled from
the kitchen. But domestic duties called her; presently she
would have the whole afternoon to herself, and meanwhile there was
work to be done. She stepped to her glass, brushed back her
hair, glanced absently at the condition of her dress, and descended
into the kitchen again, forgetting momentarily the danger that
lurked in that castle of her tormentors.
She had entered Jim's throne-room with her thoughts in the
clouds, but the bang brought her back to harsh realities again, and
there stood young Wess, his back to the door he had so promptly
closed, and a look of elfish triumph on his face; whilst Jim had
risen from her employment of floor-washing, and was standing arms
akimbo near the other door.
Wess gave a wild Indian whoop, and leered at her
victoriously; she had forgotten that it was Saturday morning, and
the young rascal would not be at school. Fairly at bay, Hetty
called up all her dignity; and, discreetly preferring her female
antagonist, she turned upon her coldly, and was about to demand
explanation, when Jim anticipated her by crying sternly:
"Miss Hetty, don't you think no better of yourself nor that?"
Jim's name never got its due length in that household except
under very serious circumstances.
"Are you a silly froth-top simpleton like t'rest on 'em
that's a disgrace to their sexes?"
Now, Hetty had hoped to find Jemima alone and obtain
information about Sam Broome, who until now had never particularly
interested her. The attentions of Frank Blandon were secrets
of her own, which she had imagined she could play with in perfect
security, and here they were presented to her as commonest
property—for there could be no doubt as to whom she meant. But
the things she was hearing were perfectly scandalous. Frank
did not belong to their circle; his name was scarcely ever mentioned
in the family; and she had assumed that the opinions held by her
lady friends about the young builder were the opinions of the whole
town. Her amazement at this attack, therefore, threw her off
her guard for a moment, and she turned in sheer stupefaction from
Jim to Wess, and almost gave herself away as she gasped, "Why, Wess,
what do you know about him?"
It was all that was required, and in a moment she was being
bombarded from first one and then the other.
"He's a bad 'un!—through an' through bad!"
"He's a low down 'un! Why, Het, he bets!"
"He's no more religion nor these here pattens!"
"He drinks! he's i' debt! He sitteth in the seat of the
scornful, and standeth in the way of sinners."
The excited denunciators were not more breathless than Hetty
herself. She had never heard more than the barest hints of
such things, and was simply astounded. These two were old
allies against her—the only two persons who ever crossed her; but at
this moment the family fighting instinct came to her rescue, she
drew herself up to her fullest height, stepped back a little, took
them both in with a glance of triumph, and, sweeping them a grand
curtsey, laughed in their faces, and said:
"Peeping and prying oft leads to crying (one of Jemima's pet
nursery proverbs). All this because you thought my letter was
from Mr. Blandon. Well, it was from somebody else."
Wess was clearly nonplussed; but Jemima, possessing knowledge
she was too discreet to impart even to her idol, looked grim and
Encouraged by his ally's look, Wess plucked up again, and
after a moment's hesitation he left his post, and, standing where he
could watch his sister's face, he cried:
"Well, you daren't show it to us, anyway!"
"Show it to you! how dare you, sir!"
"She daren't, Jim; see, she daren't! It was a
And then Hetty, generally quite a match for the allied
powers, and not averse on occasion to battle, made a slip.
With another taunting little curtsey, she avoided her brother's
eyes, and cried, "People don't usually send love-letters in business
But as she spoke the little evasion collided somehow with her
sturdy honesty, and sent a colour-signal to her cheeks, which the
watchful Wesley recognized instantly.
"It is, Jim! it's a love-letter! Look!—look!" and
pointing to his sister's now flaming cheeks, he turned to his fellow
conspirator and crowed in wicked triumph.
Hetty moved back a little with her head down to get time for
self-recovery, for Jemima's black eyes were boring holes in her hot
face. She remembered that in the three other prematurely
frustrated little "affairs of the heart" she had had, Wess had on
each occasion known all about matters almost before she had realized
them herself. She knew also that he had substantial reasons
for encouraging her suitors, and had been able to replenish
chronically depleted capital thereby. But the others were
quite ordinary persons, more after Sam Broome's style, whereas Frank
Blandon was known to be lavish of money. Why, then, was the
always mercenary Wess so fiercely prejudiced against the young
builder? and why was Jim, who always talked worldly prudence to her
on matrimonial matters, also so strong in her opposition?
There was evidently much to reflect upon and get to know in this
tangled affair, and she must have time to think. And so,
intent only on getting away, and too old now to fight her way out as
of yore, she said, with a show of jaunty defiance:
"And what if it is a love-letter? And what if it is
from Frank Blandon? What is that to either of you?"
They stood looking at her in evident doubt; and whilst
Jemima, understanding, of course, many things not apparent to Wess,
drew down her black brows and scowled in baffled perplexity, Wess,
full only of one abhorrent thought, drew himself up to his full
height, opened wide his eyes in amazed protest, and was just
commencing a reply that betrayed, even in its first sentences, much
more than juvenile prejudice, when the back door opened and in
A great fear leapt into Hetty's heart. Wess, who
usually thought that the less a parent knows about matters the
better, was now excited enough, she could see, to table the whole
thing then and there. She could manage them all separately;
but if the question were broached now, what Wess knew and Jemima
knew and her father knew put together, would make a terrible tale
indeed. And so in her desperation she plucked the hapless
cause of all this hubbub from her bodice, thrust it at the
astonished Wess, and cried:
"There, sir! there's the letter! read it for yourself, if you
It was a happy shot, springing from an unerring instinct; for
whilst Jemima made a sudden exclamation of protest, Wess drew back
with a haughty toss of the head and a scornful lip, and she,
confident at any rate of present safety, escaped from the kitchen.
That was the most restless day of Hetty Waine's life.
The flattered maiden and the suspicious woman struggled incessantly
within her, and the various issues of the complicated situation
chased each other through her brain the whole day long. She
had relied on being able to get from Jemima some particulars about
the man who had written to her, but that sententious lady now knew
too much to make inquiry safe. The opinions of her brother
about Frank were, she supposed, intensified editions of Miss Grubb's
own; but, on further reflection, she was not quite sure of that, and
if her surmise was not correct, then the case against the young
builder was so much the stronger. She persuaded herself that
Jemima's standard of conduct was so narrowly Methodistic, that Frank
would not in any case be able to satisfy her; but the language used
by her critics, though they were both addicted to exaggeration,
scarcely justified that conclusion.
Of Sam Broome she knew little; but she could easily
understand that he was credited with those homely virtues of
honesty, industry, and devotion to duty, which went for so much and
more than excused the absence of polish with such persons as Jemima,
Jossy Sweetlove, and even her father.
It really was a fine proposal—in parts, if she had cared at
all for Sam, it would have seemed a lovely letter; but here, instead
of passing to the serious question whether she cared for Sam or not,
she was suddenly falling in love with Joss Sweetlove's ridiculous
proposal of the day before, and revelling in the delicious idea that
what neither money nor influence nor prayer had been able to
accomplish for Grindell Methodism, a mere word of hers had done.
As the day wore on her restlessness increased; her father
obviously avoided her, and had an embarrassed, apologetic look when
they met; twice at least she surprised Wess and Jemima in solemn,
muttering converse, which she feared boded ill for her; her old maid
double seemed to have taken possession of the bedroom, and gave her
not a moment's rest; and there was that tantalizing letter, that
demanded some sort of answer at once. Oh, that she could
escape from it all into the woods and fields and solitude! The
little house felt like a prison.
And at last she succeeded. It was warm, and the air was
soft and fragrant. Her desire had been to get away and sit in
some cool shade or by some murmuring stream and think. But
Hetty was young and strong, and her thoughts were many, and took
tyrannical possession of her; and so she simply walked and walked,
and still walked, until, just as the sun was dipping behind Hapsby
Knob, she turned in at the top end of Bracken Lane with a sudden
sense of weariness.
The voice was low and respectful, though a trace too
familiar, and Hetty with a start and a blush turned round to greet
He wore a faultlessly-fitting light suit, and the rose she
had given him yesterday was in his buttonhole, surrounded with fresh
maidenhair. He was as smiling and handsome as ever, and would
have held the little shy hand she gave him had she permitted.
All the maiden was rising in her, she could scarcely speak for
choking, and her only hope was in walking on. He dropped
quietly into her step, and talked of the weather and the beauties
around them, and when twice at least his hand touched the little one
swinging at her side she drew it away. He still talked,
hinting compliments and playing with words as though on the verge of
open admiration, and she was praying that he might not see her
He talked and talked, and once almost touched her arm as
though he would have taken it; but she seemed to have eyes in her
elbows, and moved away. He still murmured on, and the very
lowness to which he had dropped his voice contained a subtle
flattery. All woman, only woman she seemed, and lovely enough
for summer's own goddess; but she was fighting her own battle, and
secretly despairing of the result. He stopped, but her feet
carried her on in spite of herself, and he caught her up with a
laugh and another compliment.
Fifty yards farther, the tumult within her became almost
unbearable, and then she pulled up and put out her hand to dismiss
him. They were not more than half-way through the lane, and he
"Good evening, Mr. Blandon! Yes, the air is delic――
He had clung to the hand she offered, and was drawing her
towards him. Then he let the hand go, and was throwing out an
arm to catch and kiss her. She had been fearing some such
thing for two minutes, that seemed two eternities; but it was quite
a new Hetty Waine who stood there in the lane, cold and proud as any
queen, and looking straight into his quailing eyes, until he felt a
perfect scoundrel before her, and could have sunk in shame at her
feet. It was a long moment, and when at last she spoke it was
the very last word he ever expected to hear from her—or from any
"I did not know you were so vulgar, Mr. Blandon!"
It was he who moved first. With flushed cheek and
dropped head he muttered some sort of apologetic protest, but came
no nearer, and a moment later he was going back up the lane; and
she, who had stood it out like an outraged empress, burst into a
half-hysterical little sob, and fled on swiftest foot towards home.
And when they both had gone and the lane was quiet, a slim
figure crawled out from behind the bole of an old tree in the hedge,
and a boy, nipping his hands together between his knees in ecstatic
triumph, cried, between rapturous chuckles:
"Good lad, Het! Old Het for ever! And bad luck to