The Partners - II.
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CHAPTER IV.

CROSS CURRENTS


WHO will ever make clear to us all the complicated inconsistencies of the human heart?  The Hetty Waine who at the critical moment had been so high-spirited and self-respecting in Bracken Lane, and had so easily repelled a too-bold lover, was another and much weaker person when a few minutes later she threw herself upon the couch in the window recess of her own room.  She was limp, dispirited, disappointed.  All the woman in her was protesting.  She could feel that strong arm about her still, and every drop of blood in her body seemed to be surging up to that little spot on her cheek where the kiss would have fallen; whilst she thrilled at the thought of what might have been.  Right, honour, conscience, seemed mere words, and old maid Methodist had become for the time positively detestable.  She always knew it would be so: she was made for romance, for excitement; all the woman in her cried out for a handsome lover, an adventurous courtship, and a dream of bliss; and she knew all the time that she would make a humdrum match of unimpeachable respectability with some decent commonplace chapel-man.

    She thought for a moment of the letter she had to write; but in briefest time she was brooding over Frank and what he would do next.  Her rebuff in the lane had been so palpable that the high-spirited young tradesman would henceforth give her a wide berth.  That was right, as satisfactory as it could possibly be; yet at bottom it was not what she really wanted.  Wanted!  Why be hypocritical?  She knew it would not be so; it would make him more in earnest than ever, perhaps turn indefinite trifling into serious endeavour.  But the next moment she was asking herself whether she had not known this all along, and had repulsed him with the secret consciousness that it would stimulate his ardour.  And then Hetty Waine abhorred herself—an easy thing for her to do at any time.

    This humbling thought gave a momentary chance to Sam Broome, and he was soon getting a consideration which her slight knowledge of him did not quite justify, but which was prompted by a blind impulse of atonement.  And so the moments fled by, and phase after phase of her difficulties passed before her active mind until, more to escape from her perplexities than to settle them, she arose to write her letter.  More easily said than done.  It was not that she had no experience of the task, not that her mind was not made up; but—but—the good parts of Sam's long epistle all came crowding into her mind, and she found herself standing at the window and actually crying because she had to hurt another's feelings.

    Oh, was there nothing less she could do?  A new humility and tenderness were upon her.  Was there nothing gentler, less disappointing?  For, let him be what he might, this latest of her lovers was most dreadfully in earnest.  Couldn't she put him off?—write nothing that would greatly hurt, but nothing that would encourage, and just let him down gradually?  He was almost a stranger; but your real woman has always a tenderness for the man, however homely, who has paid her the compliment of a proposal, and so she hesitated and searched for a gentle subterfuge.  And as she wavered and delayed, her opportunity passed, for there was a knock at the door, and Jemima, spruce and shining in her Saturday afternoon gown, stood in the doorway holding out a note.  There was scornful disdain in her looks, and she held the letter as though loath to touch it.

    "And you're wanted."

    Hetty took and glanced at the missive, and then back at the housekeeper.

    "Wanted!  Who wants me?"

    Jemima, lofty and inscrutable, as though forbidding the thought that she had forgotten for an instant the doings of the morning, tossed her head, and answered, "A man."

    "A man?—not Mr.—"

    Frank had flashed into her mind—he was coming to apologize; but she checked herself, and asked coaxingly, "Who is it, Jim?"

    But Jemima, still unrelenting, was already halfway down the stairs, repeating laconically as she descended, "A man."

    Hetty, curious, but a little vexed, stepped back towards the window, and glanced again at her letter—her second letter—and hesitated whether to open it before she went down or not.  But perhaps the man, whoever he was, had brought the letter, and was waiting for an answer.  On opening the epistle, however, she gave a little gasp, and absently raised her hand to her heart.  It was signed "Frank Blandon."  She put it down somewhat hastily, and turned to descend the stairs.  Then she came back and took up the note, but stood wavering and undecided.  She must not keep the visitor waiting—she would go; but her eye caught the first lines of the communication, and the man downstairs was forgotten,

    Three times she went through that epistle before she could grasp its significance; it was a surprise, a perplexity, and an embarrassment.  It took the wind out of her sails; it accused, humbled, and excited her.  There was the expected apology; but it was strangely dignified, and had an undertone of protest, almost of rebuke, which put her in the wrong.  There was an avowal of love, full, frank, and unrestrained, which made her feel that she had been the aggressor, and had trifled with honest, wholehearted advances.  And then there was a declaration, a passionate, almost bitter complaint of the lightness of women, and the heartlessness with which they sported with the holy mystery of love; the whole closing with another avowal of devotion and an appeal for justice or at least a hearing.

    Hetty had gone hot and cold as she read, and the close of the third perusal left her almost dumfounded.  She was angry, she was ashamed, she was smitten all over with self-reproaches; every line of the letter was fresh amazement, every glowing word new rebuke, and even old maid Methodist within her seemed to have gone over for the nonce to the enemy.

    But there was another knock at the door.

    "Oh! Ah, yes, I'm coming, Jemima."

    The door was thrust open a little, and through the inch-wide aperture came the solemn rebuke, "So's Christmas."

    Aroused at last, Hetty glanced at her glass, brushed back a wayward lock or two, and surrendered to her keeper, who marched stolidly downstairs like a jailor leading a prisoner.  At the stairfoot she stood aside to let her young mistress pass, murmuring as she did so another of her quaint proverbs, "When fools have bethought themselves, the market's over."  But the crabbèd bit of philosophy missed its aim, as Hetty was already in the little drawing-room.  She would need all her courage, she told herself; she was going to be very firm, but very kind—yes, especially she must be very kind.

    "I had to come, ma'am.  I couldn't wait."  And she was aware that the little soft hand she had held out was being shaken and eagerly clung to; whilst two poorish eyes, suddenly alight and glowing, were devouring her with hungry, beseeching looks.

    "It was very kind of you, Mr.—Mr. Broome; but won't you sit?"

    "Sit, ma'am!  I can neither sit nor stand nor walk nor think.  I know I've been bold.  I've took you unawares, ma'am; but I couldn't —I couldn't do no other!"

    Hetty's heart sank.  His "ma'am" and his bad grammar chilled her, but—well she dare not look into his eyes.

    "You're very kind—much too kind but—"

    "Yes, ma'am, I know, ma'am; but I'm getting on, you know.  I'm a partner now—Blandon & Co., ma'am and I could keep you respectable."

    Hetty was recovering this kind of wooing helped her.  But she must be kind—very kind.

    "Yes; but I'm afraid I—"

    "Yes, ma'am, of course!  I'm not quality, and my folks are nobody; but I'm getting on, I am really!  I shall soon be ready—"

    "Yes, Mr. Broome; but you mistake me, I don't know you, and—and—"

    "Well, ask Mr. Blandon, ma'am, and he'll tell you; and oh, ma'am, I could just fall down afore you!"

    Oh! it was going to be much harder than she thought; these dull people are often very doggèd.

    "Yes, Mr. Broome; but you don't understand, I—"

    "No, ma'am, I don't; but you could teach me.  I'd learn anything, I would truly."

    "I—I was not thinking of that.  Don't imagine I desp—I think little of you; I should hate myself.  It is not that, Mr. Broome."

    "God bless you, ma'am!  I'm nothing, I know I am nothing; but a lady like you could—"

    "Oh, no!—no!"  And Hetty was shaking her head energetically; for the fellow would not see, and was turning all her words to his own advantage.  "Mr. Broome, this is a question of love, the great, awful, holy question of love" (this with a vivid blush); "marriage is a life-long union, and I haven't thought of such a thing—how could I?"

    Broome, his soft little eyes swimming with mystic light, snapped her up before she had finished.

    "No! no! you're wanting to try me, and prove me, ma'am, and find out all about me.  Yes, of course!  Ma'am, I'll wait.  I'll give you time!  I'll do anything on earth if you'll give me a chance."

    There was a pause.  Oh, why was she so weak? and who could have thought that this plain, uneducated nobody could affect her like this?  She must be firm.

    "Mr. Broome, I cannot listen to you, and—and you really must not think of it."

    This was said very slowly and deliberately—she really was taking a proper stand; but all at once some queer emotion, coming she scarce knew whence, welled up within her, and she added, "I really respect you very much—as far as I've known you, and I'm greatly obliged for your—your preference; but—well, I never thought of such a thing!  Never!"

    For twenty minutes more he pleaded, most of his arguments rubbing the woman in her the wrong way, and at last she had said the words she hoped never to need to say, and he sank back in his chair and buried his head in his hands; she really thought the fellow was crying.

    But Sam, uncultured and simple, was yet too much of a man for that; and when he lifted his head and rose to go, he had himself well in hand.

    "Miss Waine," he said, and his face was deadly white, whilst his small eyes were wells of anguish that haunted her for days—"Miss Hetty, you're above me, and since I've been here you've been going miles and miles higher every minute.  You're so kind, you make me feel like a—like a snail in its shell.  Every moment I stop here you go higher, and I sink lower.  I know now how awfully I've insulted you――"

    Hetty, with sudden tears in her eyes, sprang forward to protest; but with a strange new dignity he raised his hand and stopped her, and then went on:

    "I'm a circus clown putting up to an angel.  I can never have you, I see!  I don't know much about angels; but you've made me feel to-night what they must be like.  My inward parts has been washed in a wonderful bath, and I feel like a man in another world.  I'll not trouble you, I'll not even come near you; but I'll get that goodness you've got, and I'll love you for ever for showing me what it's like.  I've a broken heart, I've a hopeless future; but I've found out how grand it is to be good, and I'll love you as no man ever loved his wife for teaching me."

    It was the strangest speech Hetty had ever heard, and struck into her a tremulous awe.  She had no eyes nor tongue to speak; and when she came to herself, she was alone in the room, and could hear Jemima giving information about the weather to her departing guest as though her announcements were the newest of new discoveries.



    Joshua Sweetlove was a great diplomatist, and had a more substantial claim to that distinction than usually falls to the lot of his class, for he had achieved one brilliant success.  It occurred many years before our story opens, and had nothing to do with this history, except that it served always to remind Joshua of what was expected from him, and to stimulate him to further endeavours.  He had bought, for the proverbial old song, the little shop in which he carried on his business.  It was in a very advantageous position in Market Street, and had been coveted, waited for, and bidden for, both by owners of adjacent property and the ordinary local speculator, times out of mind during the previous years; and when everybody had given up the effort to obtain it, Jossy had gone and got it without any difficulty.

    A little low two-story affair, with a bow-window jutting upon the pavement, and giving the building a corpulent appearance, it stood wedged into the middle of a row of tall shops and offices which lined the principal street of the town.  It was at once an eyesore to the aesthetically minded, an aggravation to the town improvement advocates, a red rag to property jobbers, and a Naboth's vineyard to its neighbours.  A fine stone-fronted wine
-and-spirit merchant's store was on one side, and the most fashionable draper's shop in Grindell on the other.  These were both ornate triumphs of modern local architecture, and were always tastefully painted; whilst the barber's shop was always brazenly shabby, and seemed to glory in its lack of decoration.

    It was perfectly well known in the town that the sale of this little freehold would have enabled the barber to retire in a small way; but as the wine-and-spirit merchant, who had resorted to every possible expedient to get hold of the property, said to his friends whenever the provoking subject came up, "That jackass wouldn't part with it if he was starving!  Aggravation is milk and honey to him."

    That Joshua understood the situation to a nicety goes without saying, for not a week passed but he detailed for perhaps the twentieth time to some leisurely customer one or other of the deep, dark schemes which had been concocted for getting possession of his shop, and the triumphant manner in which he had detected the conspiracies and defeated them.  That the shop was still resorted to by most of the male tradesmen of Grindell, its owner's obstinacy and loquaciousness notwithstanding, can only be explained by the general inconsistency of human nature, though the barber himself naturally enough ascribed it to his own superior skill in his profession.

    There was a back entrance to the shop another neighbourly grievance—which enabled customers to come and go by Little Gungate, thus avoiding the publicity of the main street; and by this long passage young Blandon visited the barber on the very evening of the day on which he had been repulsed by Hetty Waine, and about an hour after he had dispatched to her the letter already described.  He was in a somewhat sore and fretful mood that was fast becoming chronic with him, and did not at first notice that his old antagonist was unusually bland and conciliatory.  The barber would attend to him himself, and in the inner room, a place usually reserved for favourites, friends, and the gentler sex, a double-barrelled favour which even the preoccupied builder could not help noticing.

    "Hair cut?  Moustache? and shave?  Right, sir!"  And the barber commenced to fix his cloths, humming as he did so a snatch of a Methodist tune in greatest good humour.

    "I've said it afore, sir, and I'll say it now to your face: you've the fashionablest shade of hair in this town, sir, bar none."

    A compliment from Jossy Sweetlove!  Frank could hardly believe his ears; but personal vanity was stronger in him even than suspicion, and he muttered something which the barber seemed too busy to notice.

    "For a gent, sir, of course; there's a lady in Grindell as beats you; but then ladies is ladies."

    Touched on another of his weaknesses, Frank was pricking his ears.

    "A lady?  Who may that be?"

    "It's just the exact shade, sir"—snip! snip!—"awful fashionable, and she's enough on it for a dozen grand ladies"—snip! snip! snip!

    "Indeed!  Who is it, Joshua?"

    "I don't think"—and the barber stood off to take a professional glance at his work, no!  I don't think as you'll know her"—snip! snip!—"not intimate.  She's one of our mission-room young ladies."

    There was a little intentional sting in the "young ladies," for the barber knew full well that Frank did not ordinarily give that title to the frequenters of the candle-loft.  Frank guessed instantly who was meant, and knew well enough how intimate the barber was with the Waines.  It happened also to be a subject upon which he was much interested just then; but it would never do to show it too easily, and so he ventured, "Not Edie Plewman?"

    "No, sir"—snip! snip!—"Miss Waine, sir—Waine, the grocer's daughter.  Ah! sir, it's a living treat; but I shouldn't talk to gay young fellers like you about sitch things"—snip! snip! snip!

    Frank had a fit of cold suspicion.  Was this most unusually civil barber pulling his leg or pumping him?  Had anybody seen anything?  Had Hetty gone home and blabbed?  She looked angry enough when she left him even for that, and these Methodists had some amazing notions of things.

    There was a pause, broken only by the sound of the scissors, until Jossy, who could never wait, went on, "They say she's turned out a beauty—a little on this side, sir—I'm no judge of sitch things, but I do know she's clever"—snip! snip!

    "Clever, is she?  They're not often pretty and clever."  And Frank was labouring to preserve his air of indifference, and also venting one of his pet notions; he disliked clever women.

    "Well, I know she's clever—and good too, as good as gold!"—snip! snip!—"she is that!"

    "She's a pattern Methodist, I suppose you mean?"  This with a perceptible sneer.

    Joshua's eyes were blazing, and he only just missed his customer's left ear.  "Methodist, sir?  Out-and-out!  That girl would give the very hair—grand hair—of her head to get a site for our new chapel."

    Frank nearly jammed his head into the scissors' point; but as the barber sprang back with an exclamation, he had time to recover himself, whilst a whole crowd of sudden schemes sprang into his brain.  The barber meanwhile was making hideous grimaces to himself in a glass which the visitor could not see.

    "I think she is rather pretty," drawled Frank, purposely ignoring the point and wishing to mislead him.

    "There's summat wrong with the law when folks can't get a bit a-land for payin' for it."

    Of all things Frank dreaded a political argument with such a redoubtable democrat as Jossy; but the barber's last remark put spurs to his already rapid thoughts.

    "Ah! you Methodists want land for nothing."

    "Nothin'?  We'd pay anything!  Twice times, four times the vally to get what we want.  Haven't we tried times and times again?"

    Frank knew all this as well as his informant; but the thoughts now racing so madly through his brain had suggestions in them which were tempting him sorely, and were as new as they were alluring—a whole scheme, in fact, was rapidly shaping itself within him.

    Joshua was delicately trimming the moustache, and talking, therefore, was perilous.

    "You're mixed up wi' property, Mr. Blandon; you don't happen to know"— snip! snip!—"of a good site"—snip!—"any price awmost"—snip! snip! snip!

    "I?  No—er—does she—is Miss Waine strong on getting the site?"

    "Strong!  I tell you, sir, that lady would do anythin' to get it, just anythin'!"

    Frank, lathered now up to the eyes, could not speak, and so Jossy, briskly rubbing the razor on his strop, went on, "There's one nice little site as we've all set our hearts on."

    Frank was still helpless; but his eyes asked the question the barber was angling for.

    "It's just a nice size, and conven—well, we'd pay double for that to some plots.  Mr. Waine and his daughter was talkin' about that site no longer gone nor yesterday—a little bit more back, sir."

    Frank was on a terrible strain of curiosity, but began to think that his very compulsory silence was helping him.

    "The man as sold us that there plot 'ud get God's blessin' on him as long as he lived."

    But that was a wasted shot.

    "He'd hearn all our gratitood—Mr. Waine's and Miss Hetty's too."

    The blinking of Frank's eyes told the wily barber all he wanted to know, and so he went on, "I can just see her now.  If she was hearing as we'd really got it—wouldn't she be beamin'!"

    "What plot is it?" asked Frank, forgetting his condition, and imperilling his chin in his eagerness.

    "Steady, sir!—steady!  Near touch that!  It's—er—it belongs to a gent as could spare it easy, and isn't bigoted, I hope.  We're all goin' to the same place, you know.  Towel, sir?'

    Frank had risen, and was wiping his face at the glass; whilst Jossy stood watchfully waiting for the next question, but careful not to discover any particular eagerness.

    "But you candle-garrets have no tin; you'd want it for nothing, I suppose?"

    "No, sir!  We can pay, thank goodness!" and then, with a sudden recollection of Hetty's charms, the barber added, "If we couldn't get it given, sir."

    "Given?  Absurd!  Land's land in these days, Jossy.  But where is it?"

    "It's yours, sir—bottom end of your wood-yard, sir; there's only lumber on it now."

    "O—h!" and Frank burst into a great laugh.  "That's your little game, is it!  Why, man, that site is worth a pot of money!"  And he paused, waiting somewhat eagerly for the reply.

    "Never mind, sir!  Anythin' in reason.  Can we have it, sir? that's the point!"

    "Have it?  It!  Why, man, that plot's a gold-mine!  My partner thinks it worth heaps!"

    "But can we have it?  Money's no object.  Let's have it, that's all!"

    And the barber would have argued the point; but Frank wanted time and solitude to consider all the bearings of the question, and so, slipping his pence on the table, he swung out, crying as he departed, "We'll see; but you must be prepared to pay for it, Jossy."


 
CHAPTER V.

A BARBER IN LOVE


FRANK had scarcely closed the hairdresser's little swing door when the barber executed a wild war-dance, stopping suddenly in the middle of it as a new idea broke upon him.  Then he treated himself to another spin round the room and a prolonged series of grimaces at the glass, threw off his apron, put on his coat, opened the inner door for a stern admonitory glance at his assistant, who was struggling with a series of stubbly week-old chins in the shop, and then followed Frank down the passage, and off towards Jessamine Cottage.

    Jossy always walked very fast; but on this occasion inward elation lent speed to his heels, and he almost skipped down little Gungate.  Coming to the cross street, however, he turned down Bob Lane, which led past the grocer's premises.  He never by any accident visited his friends by the front gate; it would have been a concession to formality which he scorned.  His pace slackened as he approached, and the gay triumph of his manner slowly changed to demure complacency, and from that to a wheedling, conciliatory expression which sat somewhat oddly upon him.

    As he neared the back gate he took a careful survey of his surroundings, "that young Turk of a Wess" being one of his pet aversions and his most ingenious and persistent persecutor.  Arrived at the back entrance, he dropped into an artificially indolent saunter, and became engrossed in cloud effects.  Truth to tell, Jossy was a victim of the tender passion; but his courtship was so irregular and so unpromising, that he who was pugnacity itself when visiting the master became meek to the point of abjectness when he waited upon the servant.  In his case, the course of true love not only never ran smooth, he could not be sure it ran at all; for Jemima had always proved a most difficult and obstinate Juliet, and the consummation seemed as far off as it had done when he commenced his suit eight years before.  The negotiations had so far been conducted in great secrecy; but Jossy had recently discovered, to his great perturbation, that Wess had found him out.  He did not realize, however, that the young rascal was tightening his grip on Jemima, and bringing her into more complete subserviency to himself by a skilful use of his invaluable knowledge.

    Jossy's study of meteorology was so profound that he did not appear to be conscious of the fact that he had opened the little gate quite noiselessly, and was taking his absent-minded steps so softly as not to be heard in the front garden or the more distant parts of the house.  It was purest accident also that he happened to note that Jemima was sitting with her knitting in the lattice porch of the kitchen door, and that the door leading into the inner apartments was closed.

    Not even the keenest of observers would have believed that at that moment the truculent barber was bursting with a great secret or inwardly struggling with the fierce uprisings of pride and hope.  He seemed to have surrendered his whole soul to the sweet witchery of nature, and to be utterly absorbed in the charms of that perfect summer's eve.  Jemima apparently neither heard nor saw him, though his shadow had fallen on the door-flag, and he had given a soft, deprecatory little cough.  Another admiring survey of nature, and he was standing on the edge of the flag.  Jemima was looking through him, past him, under him, over him—anywhere but at him.  Jossy coughed again, and began to hum a low tune; but Jemima's thoughts were a thousand miles away.

    The shuffle of shoes on the stone, a hungry glance at the three-legged stool by Jemima's side, another mysterious clearing of the throat; but Jemima absently withdrew her stare at vacancy, and took a glance of critical measurement at the stocking on her needles.  Another shuffle, a wandering glance around, and then the barber hazarded:

    "This weather looks like lastin'."

    "Like some folkses impidence!" and Jemima took another squint at her work.

    Jossy waited, took another survey of the clouds, and then, staring hard at the sinking sun, informed that luminary regretfully:

    "Some folks has no feelin's."

    Jemima's mouth corner relaxed into a little smirk, instantly repressed and turned into sternness, whilst the stocking was warningly notified:

    "An' some folks has no sense."

    Jossy glared at the sock with inward wrath; but the remembrance of his wonderful secret softened him, and with a sudden renewal of confidence he took the single step necessary to place him against the trellis-work, and propped his arm against one of its laths.  He had not often got as far as this before, and Jemima was a little astonished and curious, though she gave no sign.

    "Senseless folk has sense sometimes."

    And there was something in the tone that piqued Jemima; but assured that she was safe enough of any news, she went on with her banter, and merely remarked, "Seein's believin'."

    Jossy was beginning to fume; he changed legs, glanced maliciously at the busy needles, then at the rosy face above them, kicked at the edge of the flag upon which he stood, and then, unable to contain himself any longer, he burst out, "Jemima Grubb, I could make thy mouth water."

    Jemima affected to yawn, lugged a length of worsted from her ball, looked him over with provoking consideration, and replied, "Better my mouth nor my eyes."

    "Thy eyes 'ud cry for joy if they knowed what I know."

    This was palpable enough surely; but the question so artfully angled for did not come, and the aggravating creature actually yawned again.

    He could not stop now, however, and so he plunged on, "Some folks talks an' talks an' talks; I believe in doin'."

    Jemima laughed—that is, she made a peculiar sound which the intent hairdresser could only interpret in that way; but her face was as expressionless as ever, and just when he was going to burst out again she drawled sarcastically, "Aye, barbers is poor talkers."

    Goaded and desperate, Jossy sprang forward as though to annihilate her, checked himself abruptly, stood towering over her with blazing indignation, uttered a smothered word that sounded like "Jezebel," and, wheeling round haughtily, stalked off towards the yard-gate.

    There was the flicker of a smile playing around Jemima's firm mouth, and a little half-weary, half-protesting pucker in her brows; but she did not even raise her eyes to watch his departure, and in a moment he was back.

    "Woman! thou'd snigger an' snigger if a feller wur dyin' for thee."

    There was a pause, just long enough to make him realize that he was going rather far, and then she turned up a face as bland and innocent as that of a girl, and said smilingly, "Is it dyin' for me or livin' wi' me thou'rt after, Jossy?"

    "Mockin'!—mockin'!  That's all thou cares about t' new chappil?"  And the barber stepped back to watch the effect.

    "T' chappil!  Oh, I thought it was me thou wur goin' to die for!"

    "If I do summat for t' chappil it's summat for thee, isn't it?  Didn't thou say thou'd never be wed in nowt but t' new chappil?  Well, it's goin' to be, woman!  I've gotten t' site this vary night—nearly."

    Jemima now gave her first sign of genuine interest.

    "Aye, nearly! it's been nearly a dozen times; but I never said nothin' of the sort."

    "Thou never said!—well, woman, that bangs all!  Thou never said!"  And the poor barber stood gaping at her in speechless protest.

    Jemima, now in her most amiable mood, smiled up at him, and asked:

    "What have you been up to now?"

    "Did—you—say—you'd—be—married—in—that—new—chappil—or—did—you—not?" and he beat the words on the palm of his hand with a stumpy finger, and glared relentlessly down upon her.

    "I niver said I'd be married in no chappil in this wold—nor church neither."

    Jossy plunged off in another journey to the gate, but stopped halfway and came fiercely back.  "Woman, that site's as good as got!  That chappil 'ull be built afore thou're twelve months older; but if thou goes off thy bargain, I'll—I'll bust t' job!  'No marriage, no chappil,' says Jossy Sweetlove."

    Jemima's brows were raised in smiling protest.  "Joshua, nobody's stoppin' thee gettin' married!"

    But the barber's last utterances had risen to a shout, and there was a sound of footsteps in the lobby, and a hand was placed on the inner door-knob.  Jemima rose hurriedly, but assumed her most indifferent air, and as she turned to her favourite Wess, the tails of the barber's coat might have been seen disappearing through the yard-gate.



    It is one of the ironies of life that self-indulgent people, who take extraordinary pains to avoid pain, generally get more than their share of it.  Frank Blandon's one aim in life was personal ease and gratification, and in the pursuit he found more inconveniences than could have resulted from severest self-repression.  What a tangle and a torment his life had suddenly become!  Whichever way he turned, he was confronted with difficulty; the more he plotted and schemed, the more hopeless the muddle became.  He was very sorry for himself.  It was not as though he was bad, and had deliberately designed to do wrong; things had gone against him, and he had been driven to dubious courses by sheer force of circumstances.  Nobody wished to be honourable and straightforward more than he did; but if things were so perverse, what was he to do?

    When he made that ridiculous compact with his partner about Hetty Waine, he had intended, of course, to keep it.  She was only one of half a dozen girls who were mad about him, and he did not know that there was anything more about her than the rest, except that she was the latest he had "taken on."  He had not perhaps thought so much about the bargain before pledging himself as he ought to have done; but, then, he was in a hole, and the suggestion was really so ridiculous that nobody would think seriously about keeping it.  It was a pure accident that had thrown him in Hetty's way in Bracken Lane, and exposed him to that most unexpected rebuff; and if that action of hers had changed him, roused the devil in him, and made him long for her as he had never yet longed for a woman, why, that was her doing, and she must take the consequences.  Nothing could have been more opportune than his visit to the barber's that night; at any rate, it would pave the way for him until such time as he could get the girl's affections engaged—he could make love quicker than any lawyer could make a deed—and he had no personal objections to her Methodism.  Besides, the fact that he knew they probably could not have the land under any circumstances should not prevent him from using the idea as a bait until he had got the girl fast.  "All's fair in love and war."

    But here those miserable financial difficulties came in to complicate things; he must have money, and soon.  He had acted as he had done since his father's death because he knew that he could marry money if the worst came to the worst.  But the money lay in places where Methodism and Nonconformity were anathema, and in the one direction he was disposed to look the least trifling with Dissent would have been fatal.  More than once in his stroll along the less-frequented lanes on his way home from the barber's he had thought of the extreme course of marrying Hetty; but the reflection that Peter Waine's money, or such portion of it as would fall to Hetty, would not help him permanently in his difficulties, and would not be forthcoming at all until the old man's death, put this heroic expedient out of court.  The situation was perplexing enough to have entirely absorbed his mind; but it did not.  Again and again he was back in the quiet old lane and beholding the scornful little queen and her prudish indignation, and by the time he had reached his mother's villa and had settled down to a heavy tramp about the garden paths, business debts, complications, and all had been forgotten, and Hetty Waine, and Hetty Waine only, filled his brain and heart.

    The maid brought him two notes—a telegram and a letter.  When he had got a light and opened his notes, his face relaxed a little.  The telegram informed him Randaff bonds had gone up, and his venture had made him £180; it also offered urgent suggestions as to other movements, and asked for instructions.  He toyed with the flimsy note with a relieved look, and consulted a little book he kept under lock and key.

    The second note was from his friend Brimelow, inviting him to lunch next day, and hinting the allurement of "interesting company."  Frank knew well enough who the "interesting company" was, and once more, as he dropped into his easy-chair, he gave himself up to his perplexities.

    Brimelow was a sort of small "squarson" at Hapsby, a little hamlet lying on the borders of Grindell.  He was a High Churchman and exclusive, but had the best table and wines in the district.  Frank's occasional admission to the select circle, of which the vicar was the centre, had been considered his greatest social triumph; and though the patronage had never been extended to them, his mother and sisters thought and spoke of the connexion much as the poor relations of literature are made to speak of their kinsman peers.

    The interesting person named in the letter was Miss Ethel Diana Mellor, who had been presented at Court, was a substantial heiress, and ten years Frank's senior.  The young builder had met her the previous Christmas at one of Brimelow's parties, and since then the lady's visits to her parson uncle had been somewhat frequent; so much so, in fact, that the bachelor vicar had rallied Frank on his conquest, given him some details of Miss Mellor's financial condition, and hints sufficiently definite to justify the conclusion that his way was open—at least, so far as the lady's family, i.e. himself and another brother, were concerned.

    Though of almost Italian complexion, which ages early, Miss Mellor looked younger than she was, and made little secret of her partiality for the dashing young tradesman.  Complacent half-smiles played about Frank's mouth as he lighted his cigarette and lolled back in his chair; he did not often have two such comforting letters at once, and he was disposed to make the most of them.  But the light soon left his features again, for, with all he could do, the fresh young beauty of Hetty Waine seemed to bring out and emphasize Ethel Mellor's age and sallowness; and the more he saw the advantage—the absolute necessity—of securing the older woman, the more he longed for the other.

    Yes, there was the whole situation: if he turned to Ethel, it meant an entire change of position and a great social triumph; it meant also, permanent escape from financial worries, and in fact from business altogether.  If he decided on the more difficult conquest, it would not greatly relieve his monetary embarrassment, nor change his status; it would mean a nasty row with his women folk, and perhaps unpleasantness with his partner; and yet, and—yet all the distinction and affluence that were dangled before him, with Ethel herself into the bargain, did not seem at that moment worth one of Hetty's little fingers.  Far into the night he sat and brooded, cigar following cigarette, and pipe cigar; but when, long after midnight, he groped his way to bed, he had settled nothing.

    He awoke next morning to one of the finest Sundays of a remarkably fine season and when he presented himself just before church time at Hapsby Lodge, he was dressed as only he knew how to dress, and was in such high spirits that the fair Ethel, as she walked by his side to worship, felt that life had little else to give.  The villagers standing about the old lych-gate and lining the footpath through the yard put on demurest Sabbath looks as they passed, but broke into significant nods and winks as soon as they were by.  At Hapsby Frank was always a punctilious High Churchman; but this morning he was decorum itself, and contrived to give both the vicar and his niece exalted ideas of his devotion.  Nothing makes people of his temperament so easy with themselves as the consciousness that they are pleasing others, and, in spite of morning resolutions, the devout saint of the Church had become the sparkling, flattering, amorous lover before the end of their walk through the plantation and the Hapsby old woods.

    At lunch he surprised even himself, and kept the portly vicar rolling about in his chair and readjusting his napkin whilst he told story after story of most diverting character.  The repast over, the two males were left to themselves; but when at length the good vicar dropped off to sleep, his guest, softly opening the French window, let himself out upon the garden, where, as he shrewdly anticipated, he found Miss Mellor.  The soft, flower-scented air, the drone of the bees, and the wine he had taken at lunch, all had their sensuous effect upon him, and even the seasoned Ethel was a little surprised at the ardour of his attentions.

    They had found a garden-seat out of the view of the windows, and Frank was growing more ardent every moment, and moved closer to his companion.  Then a fit of sudden silence fell upon him, which the lady was fain to disturb.  He burst into fresh rhapsodies about her hair and eyes, took her hand, which, after the first gentle protest, she allowed him to retain.  He was now speaking of himself, and had suddenly discovered all sorts of imperfections and insufficiencies in himself; she was gently protesting, of course, and quite absently leaning a little more towards him.  His eyes were ablaze, his lips white and trembling, and the words of avowal were on his lips, when suddenly the voice of the vicar was heard, and they had to spring apart and emerge from their retirement to greet a lady caller.

    It took Frank some time to recover his naturally easy manner, and when that came back it was accompanied by a fit of coldness amounting almost to fear.  There was not, that he could think of, a solitary reason why he should not consummate what he had begun; the day was not over, and, if he judged rightly, Ethel Diana would give him his opportunity after dinner.  The arrangement would solve every difficulty, and remove every trouble he had; it would give him ease and modest luxury, and, above all, an unassailable position.  Why, then, did he feel so relieved, now that he was cool, at the vicar's interruption? and why was he so anxious to get away?  Ethel, putting her own construction upon his sudden dumbness, walked quietly by his side, and protectingly undertook the conversation as they paced about the sheltered side of the fine old house, and at last took the lady visitor indoors, giving her lover an expressive glance as she did so as though to relieve him of doubt.  But the easier and more certain the conquest, the more he wanted to fly.

    His invitation did not include dinner, but he could see that both the vicar and his niece were expecting him to stay; and even if he went away, he must return in a few hours with a definite offer, or the connexion he prized so much must be lost for ever.  Oh! why had he not been more cautious?  Why had he gone so fast and so far?  It was the easiest of all things for him to reason himself into the "can't-help-it-now" position, and thus swim with the tide; but he was encountering inward repugnance which surprised him scarcely less than it annoyed him.  He was saying "H'm" and "Yes" to the vicar's discourses on the good points of his favourite French roses; but his brain was on fire with the true coward's unreasoning fear, and he was wishing himself anywhere but where he was.

    But at that moment fate did him a good turn, for the vicar's coachman came round through a side-door from the yard and informed him that his mother had that morning fainted in the parish church, and was reported to be seriously ill.  The parson, full of sympathy, pressed the dog-cart upon him, and undertook to excuse him to the ladies; and Frank, his head singing like a bell that had been struck, and with thoughts of everything on earth but his ailing parent, jumped into the conveyance and hastened away.

    The report proved to have been exaggerated, for Mrs. Blandon, though still pale and shaky, was sitting up in her pretty back room, and seemed almost grateful for a sudden disorder which gave her such proofs of her son's devotion.  Frank was so grateful for his escape, however temporary, from his dilemma, that he lingered with her for some time, served her himself with afternoon tea, and positively refused to smoke even the innocent cigarette lest it should affect her.

    But the relief he was enjoying brought with it a natural reaction, and the rebound to easiness brought back some of the old desires.  He grew dull, bored, and taciturn, and accepted without even a show of reluctance his mother's affectionate dismissal.  Twenty minutes later he was reconnoitring Jessamine Cottage.


 
CHAPTER VI.

SCENES IN A SUMMER-HOUSE


NOW Hetty Waine, as she dropped into fitful slumbers on Saturday night, had decided that Frank's letter was not to be answered at all.  She was glad to have it, to be able to think better of him, and to know that he was not the coarse flirt she feared and popular rumour asserted; but the affair must go no farther.  The responsibility now rested with her, and it was best to give no opportunity for a continuation of the intercourse.  But she awoke next morning with quite other thoughts—with the delicious realization that she was the most desired object of two men's affections, and her first half-hour was a delightful dreamy reverie, such as maidens delight to enjoy.

    Slowly, however, the sense of the Sabbath stole in upon her, and brought a crowd of deeply cherished memories and associations, and in a few moments old maid Methodist was in full possession.  Sunday was always a busy day to her; but the heat took hold of her earlier than usual.  The long morning school, with her duties at the harmonium and in her class, followed by afternoon service in that stuffy, smelly upper room, exhausted her; so her thoughts were once more getting out of control, and as her head began to ache a little, she accepted her father's sympathetic suggestion that she should leave her instrumental duties to Wess—who was a local musical prodigy, and played so marvellously by ear that he could never be induced to learn music—and stay at home.  She was rather ashamed of the relief which the suggestion gave her, and fell in with the proposal; yet justified herself in part at least with the reflection that a girl who had had two offers of marriage in one day might be expected to be a little weary.

    Left to herself, the quiet of the house seemed to soothe and rest her; and after bathing her brows in eau-de-Cologne, she lay down on her favourite couch in the window of her own room and gave herself up to her own thoughts.  For a time all was well; her brain seemed suddenly to have a freak, and was occupied with things as remote as possible from the subjects which had been troubling her.

    Then she was seized with a sudden desire to read Frank's letter again, and the more she resisted the more persistent it became, until she wished most heartily that she had gone to worship.  She vowed also that she would burn both her offers before she slept that night.  She lay perfectly still, her hands behind her head, her small feet peeping out from under the bottom of her simple white gown, and her eyes fixed on a straw-framed text on the wall; but her face had uneasy flushes upon it, and stillness became more of an effort to her than activity.  She arose and looked out of the window, turned away again and began to pace the room, sat on the side of the settee for a moment, and then resumed her pacings.  Five or six times backwards and forwards, and she descended into the kitchen for Jemima's oracle, The Methodist Magazine.  A momentary glance at the portrait and pictures, and the publication was laid down with a fretful sigh.  The room became closer, and she wondered whether for the first time in her life she was going to faint.  Then she went to the window again.  The church bells had stopped ringing, everything was peaceful around her; but within was uneasy fear and restless, undefinable desire.  Then she started downstairs for the garden, paused on the first step and almost turned back, grew still again with a sudden impulse to go to the service late though it was, and finally with a strange waywardness picked up the rejected magazine, tossed an old garden-hat on her head, and strolled out to the summerhouse.

    She was not quite easy about her self-indulgence in staying away from worship, and was a little shy of being seen in the garden at that hour.  Once safely in the retreat, however, she would be hidden from prying eyes.  She was debating still with herself whether she ought to send young Blandon at least a formal acknowledgement of his note; she was partly to blame for his presumption.  He had asked her certainly for the rose she had given him last Thursday; but she need not have gratified his desire.  His note had effaced much of her resentment, and she need not do more than formally acknowledge it.  All the same, there was that within her which forbade the concession.  She knew much better than her father what Frank's reputation was; she knew also that some of the other girls with whom he had flirted in the town were as respectable as she was; she knew that he was a bigoted Churchman, and would never be anything else; and she knew that in her and her father's sense of the word he was not a Christian.

    She grew very grave and still as she turned the thoughts over.  She wanted to be loved passionately, utterly loved; she wanted an exciting, romantic courtship, and—ah! yes, she liked Frank Blandon all the better for the very boldness she had resented.  She sighed as she thought of these things; he was so handsome, so gentlemanly, so popular

    "Good evening, Miss Waine!"

    He was there before her very eyes, with his fashionable straw hat in his hand, and a grave, respectful, apologetic look on his face as he bowed.

    "I've rung the front-door bell three times; but I thought somebody must be at home, for the doors and windows were open"; and with another bow he was inside the summerhouse, and making as though he would have seated himself by her side.

    Her heart was in her mouth, and her face crimson; but some powerful uprising within her brought her to her feet, and he shrank back and propped himself lightly against the trellis-work entrance.

    "Pardon my intrusion!  I had offended you, and was desperate"; and he was devouring her with his eyes, whilst his tone was humility itself.

    "But—but"—and she dare not take her eyes from him—"how did you know?  I—I ought to have been at the service."

    There was no flinching in her look.  He realized that he would need all his resources, and had already backed another step.

    "I didn't know; my good angel brought me.  I've done wrong, and am seeking forgiveness."

    Oh, how handsome he was! how perfectly becoming his dress, and how subtly flattering his manner!  Hetty felt resistance melting rapidly away; but something within was helping her to preserve outward coldness, and so, keeping him away with her eyes, she demanded:

    "And if I forgive you, you will leave me?"

    He cast upon her a look that had reduced more than one Grindell maiden to clay in his hands.  Hetty felt that she was failing, was being mesmerized, and for her life she dared not flinch.

    "But you don't forgive me, even with your eyes."

    She dared not blink or move or even draw her breath; she had never known what real effort was before.

    "You are the most ravishing and the most lovely—"

    "Stop, sir!"

    She was white and stern, and every feature was rigid; but his burning words were still singing in her soul.

    "You are taking another great liberty—your third and worst.  Will you leave me, sir?"

    Oh! how beautiful she was as she stood up to him, a white incarnation of offended dignity; the means she was taking to repel him were inflaming his desires into madness.  She was the stronger of the two; eye to eye she was his master, and with a baffled sigh he took another half-conscious step backwards, crestfallen and abashed.  Had he understood her better, that was his opportunity, for no sooner was she sure of her conquest than all the woman came rushing back to plead for him, whilst his confused and beaten manner appealed to her as his boldness had never done.  Having him now at a safer distance, she was fain to seek the support she so sorely needed, and dropped into her seat, eyeing him watchfully as she did so.

    There was a long pause.  Every woman he had ever had amatory dealings with had been slightly different from every other; this, however, was an entirely new and immensely more difficult sample, and his courage did not respond as he expected, but left him nonplussed and humiliated.

    Then he had an idea; perhaps it was her Methodism that made the difference, perhaps these sectarians were as bigoted and prudish as he had always heard.  He eyed her over uneasily, moved a step nearer, and placed his hand on the trellis-work again.

    "I came partly to see your father."

    "He will be home by eight o'clock."

    She was leaning against the back of the summer-house now, and watching him under her long lashes.  There was a glint of curiosity in her eyes.

    "I would do anything to make atonement for my—my rudeness."

    "Except the atonement I most desire."

    "What is that?" and under cover of his somewhat eager question he was swinging himself a little nearer.

    She raised her eyes again and checked him, and then answered coldly, "That you will leave me at once."

    "Miss Waine, I—" and he would have been in the summer-house and at her side if she had not risen to repel him; as it was he moved back again and stood with explanatory hand in the air, a somewhat grotesque figure, and stammered out, "I—really am profoundly sorry, and will do anything to prove it."

    "No, you will not; you will not go."

    His hand had dropped to his side, and then both were raised to the lapels of his coat.  "I will go at once if you will forgive me—and let me come again."

    A long, discouraging shake of the head; she parted her lips to give a reason, but checked herself in time.

    "Will you let me prove my penitence by my actions?"

    "By one action—that of leaving me."

    "But I can do a really important thing I can get you a site for your new chapel."

    Hetty went hard and curious both at once, and unfortunately did not quite conceal the latter feeling; so he went on eagerly, "It may be difficult and expensive, but I will do it—anything on earth, dear Miss Waine, to please you."

    He was not helping his case; in fact, she was disappointed now at his lack of delicacy, and resented his assumption that he was offering to bribe her.  She was getting somewhat confused, however, so many points were claiming her attention at once.  Why had he mentioned this particular matter just now?  It was barely forty-eight hours since she had first heard of it from Jossy Sweetlove.  Surely the impetuous barber had not pushed his idea as far as to— And yet, why did this suitor of hers mention it now, and in this particular connexion?  Dearly would she have liked to question him.  Perhaps this accounted for the Bracken Lane incident, for the tone of his letter, and for his present intrusion.  But she was not sure enough of herself; to ask questions was to encourage his presence, and give possible openings; her only safety lay in laconic perseverance.  He was watching her narrowly all this time, perceived her hesitation, and formed his own conclusions.

    "I might become a Methodist, you know.  I'd turn over; you shall convert me.  Oh! I'd be a Jerusalem Jumper— Dear Miss Waine!" and he had plunged forward, dropped on one knee, and snatched at her hand, whilst his face, flushed with eager passion, was turned up to hers in eager entreaty.

    For that night, however, he had wrecked his last chance.  The things he spoke so lightly of held great places in her mind —greater, perhaps, than she had thought and the gulf that separated them seemed suddenly to yawn before her, profound and impassable.  She was on her feet almost before he touched her; fear, hesitation, and pity were alike forgotten, and she stood before him once more the indignant queen of the old lane.

    Picking up his straw hat, she handed it to him, and dismissed him with a cold courtesy that forbade protest.  In the same high manner she followed him out of the summerhouse and past the end of the cottage.  Twice he stopped and turned to protest, and twice with cold, disdainful eyes she compelled him to proceed.  She listened freezingly to his half-pleading, half-threatening appeal at the gate without a quiver, or so half-threatening much as a word; she fastened the gate after him, and even haughtily watched him as, still protesting, he went into the road; and then—ah! then she rushed with a broken sob indoors, and up to her own room, where she flung herself on her couch in a passion of tears.

    Forty minutes later, when the warm day was changing into a tender gloaming such as poets love, the little summer-house was occupied again.  Jossy Sweetlove had had a very trying day.  His easy-tempered, comfortable friend the grocer had been taciturn, distant, even sulky, all day.  The barber had a secret that would dispel it all, and make him the happiest of old men again, and he had never had a chance of telling him.  Never was proverbial hen more restive with importunate egg than Joshua had been all Sunday, and as the day wore on he became testy and morose, so that by the time the evening service was concluded he had taken the savage resolve that all the Peter Waines in Christendom should not drag his secret out of him.

    Force of habit, however, was strong, and as Sunday night would not have been Sunday night if he had not visited Jessamine Cottage, he poked his churchwarden up his sleeve and made his way to the accustomed place.  He found the summer-house filled with smoke, and the ex-grocer deep in moody meditation.  Filling his pipe, and lighting up in self-defence, he took his old seat, and sulkily waited for Peter to commence; but the old man did not seem aware of his presence.  Joshua eyed him in surly speculation for a time, and then demonstratively cleared his throat.  Peter glanced at him, shook his head in expressive melancholy, and emitted a contemptuous "Humph!"

    Then he glanced again at his companion, fixed his eyes on a broken bit of trellis-work, stared hard and dolefully at it, and once more wagged a woful head.

    "Rheumatiz?" demanded the barber, in tones of snarling concession to the requirements of politeness.

    Another and longer series of wags, culminating in a sigh that would have excited the curiosity of a stone pillar.

    "Collection down?"

    Wag, wag, wag went Peter's head, as though the question were so ridiculously wide of the mark as to be an aggravation of the original trouble.  Jossy scowled, stared hard at his friend, lifted his eyebrows in sudden, painful surprise, and cried, "No! not—she hasn't been again?"

    Peter shook his head once more, turned his eyes resignedly upwards with another sigh, and then, shutting his eyes tightly, groaned aloud—"Twice twice in two nights!"

    The barber's face lengthened in most genuine sorrow.  The departed Mrs. Waine had become a sort of second conscience to her husband, and any transgressions or derelictions of duty on his part were sure to be followed by a midnight visit from her.  These were times of great heart-searching for the old man; and, remembering her earthly anxiety about the new chapel, he had dreaded the time when she should take up this subject.  The discussion reported in our first chapter had convicted him of unfaithfulness to his trust—a thing never difficult to accomplish—and at last the blow had fallen. Joshua's eyes sought the ground, and the two sat in silence until the barber's pipe went out.

    "'Peter!' she said, 'Peter!'—and the old man was holding out his arm and extending his hand as though addressing a meeting—'"dost thou dwell in cedar houses, whilst the ark of the Lord is in a—a tallow-shop!'"  And the excited old fellow, whose voice was broken pathetically, dropped his head back against the wooden wall, turned his face upwards, and nipped his eyes together tightly to keep back the shame of unmanly tears.

    Joshua sat staring at his cold pipe in sudden discomfort.  Then he got up, and, stepping in front of the summer-house, took a long, critical survey of the speckless sky, hissed a few bars of a tune from between his teeth, and then, falling back into his seat, announced to himself, to the sky, to the breathing flowers, to anything and anybody, except the groaning Peter, "All things works together for good."

    Peter's head was again in rapid motion, and this time it was vigorous enough to express resentment as well as unbelief.

    Joshua dreely studied his pipe-head, and then declaimed, as though reading some inscription on the bowl:


God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform.


He put such intense expressiveness into his quotation, that it penetrated even the ex-grocer's heavy sorrow, and he held his breath to listen.

    "When the tale of bricks is doubled, Moses comes."

    The big head was again in motion, but much less decisively; and the experienced barber, knowing well the signs, prepared for his grand coup.

    He waited long enough to give impressiveness to his great announcement, eyed his man with calculating deliberation, and then, suddenly springing to his feet, he smote the woeful Peter heavily on the shoulder, and cried triumphantly, "That there site's as good as gotten!"

    And after all it was a misfire.  Peter did open his eyes, did slowly straighten himself to something like decent attention, but it was clear at a second glance that the shot had not told.  Joshua's look of eager expectation faded into disappointment, and then into impatience.  "Why, man," he cried, "I sattled it all last night!  That site 'ull be ours in a week from now!"

    Peter did not seem to hear.  He was staring in moody abstraction at the flowers outside the summer-house; then he lifted a heavy sigh, eyed the barber over from head to foot, dropped his head back against the wall, and groaned out despairingly

    "I wish I wur dead!"

    Amazement, exasperation, and serious alarm were all depicted on Joshua's expressive face.  This was a totally new Peter, and he sighed helplessly as he looked him over.

    "Peter Waine!"—and he shook the limp ex-grocer with petulant energy—"what's all this?  What's come over thee?"

    Peter sat like a log, and his ruddy face was almost white.

    "What's up, I say?—what's up?"  And Joshua began to look frightened, whilst the hands hanging at his side jerked about with helpless, restless movements.

    "Thou'rt ill! thou'rt bad!  I'll fetch Balshaw!"

    But Peter was rising to his feet, and held up an arresting hand.

    "Joshua Sweetlove, what am I? what does thou call me?"  And the stricken old man patted himself mournfully on the chest.

    "I call thee Peter—Peter Numskull."  And the barber looked much more fierce than he felt in his effort to arouse his friend.

    "Not Peter, but Jephthah!  I'm Jephthah Waine, the sinner!  Jephthah Waine, the wicked father, that's what I am!"

    "What's up with you?"  But there was a quiver in the barber's voice that more than neutralized its fierceness; his friend's condition was wringing his heart.

    "Didn't Jephthah sell his daughter for a word!  Didn't he spoil her life and break her heart for his religion?  That's me!—that's me O Hetty, my lass, thy father's a Jephthah!"

    The barber was fast becoming as distressed as his friend.  He stared at the grocer still on his feet, stared at his pipe, head, and his boots, stared round the summer-house, as though seeking some unseen oppressor with whom he could expostulate, and then fell back into his seat in temporary collapse.

    "There's thee staring at me every day, and t' mission-room staring at me every Sunday, and her staring at me in my very bed; it's enough to drive me stark crazy, that's what it is!"

    This was bringing it home to the meddlesome barber with a vengeance, his distress at Peter's condition lashing his conscience as he listened, and a whole vista of unconsidered dangers suddenly opening before him.  As sensitive as he was impetuous, he struggled for a while with his crowding and accusing thoughts, and then burst out, "Hang t' site! hang t' new chappil!  Let 'em go!  We'll stop wheer we are, an' be jolly!"

    Peter was still standing; but the bitterest was already past, and he was looking down on the self-reproaching barber with a tenderness that made his plain old face beautiful.

    "Jossy, that young feller isn't a Christian."

    The barber was nodding to himself, but could not look up.

    "I know nothing against him; but he isn't religious at all."

    Jossy was staring hard at his friend's boots, and as yet could find nothing to say.

    "My dear lass is a member, a joined member, and she's—she's no mother."

    Jossy winced suddenly, and his eyelids were blinking at a frightful rate.

    "She be a lamb among wolves, a rabbit among terriers."

    The barber was trying to speak, but could not.

    "I'd give every stick on earth I have for a site; but—but she's my daughter."

    The barber was suddenly still—very still.

    "I'm getting on, thou sees, and I'st not be long here, and I couldn't—couldn't sell her soul; now could I, Jossy?"

    The barber sprang up and snatched at his friend's hand; for a long moment they stood looking into each other's moist and glistening eyes; and then the agitated Joshua cried, "Peter Waine!  Souls is more nor sites ony day!  We've lived in t' tallow-shop, and we'll dee i' th' tallow-shop.  There's no landlords i' heaven, thank goodness!"  And then he burst away, and went flying along the garden path, and out for once at the front gate, noisily blowing his nose.



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