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indulgent, gentle woman, adoring her son and fearing her husband; and who always entreated him for her sake, as well as his own, to yield to an authority she would have thought it both sinful and impossible to resist.
The only friend Vincent had was Joe Jebb, the son of the blacksmith of the village, whose forge at the extremity of it he necessarily passed several times in the course of the day, and where he generally contrived to solace himself with a little gossip, and hear of those sports and pastimes he was not allowed to partake of. It unfortunately happened that Joe was not the best companion for him in the world; but, in the first place, he had no choice, and, in the second, he had necessarily little discernment. He knew that his father did not like Joe; but who did he like that was not as stiff and rigid as himself ? His reprobation, in his son's opinion, proved nothing against Joe—it only put Vincent on his guard to conceal their intimacy. When Jacob Halloway was in sight Vincent passed the forge with a cold nod of recognition; and though many a one had seen him chatting and laughing there, nobody would have told tales of the
lad whose father treated him so harshly.'
This acquaintance had lasted sometime without leading to any consequences; but the time was come that Vincent wanted a helping hand in a matter Joe could manage better than anybody else, and now Vincent congratulated himself on having so serviceable a friend.
The merriest season in the year, indeed the only merry season poor Vincent had, was the harvest-time. There was the fun in the fields, when the father was too busy to have his eye always on him; the carrying, and the supper the old man was obliged to give, whether he would or not, with the light-hearted lads and lasses that had come to help at the reaping. But of all the harvest-homes Vincent had yet enjoyed, the last had been rendered the pleasantest by the bright black eyes and rosy cheeks of Bessy Mure, the daughter of a poor widow who had not been long an inhabitant of the village. It was quite a new sensation to Vincent when he found his heart begin to stir whenever he caught sight of Bessy's lithe figure, and the blood rushed through his veins like wildfire if, in binding up the sheaves, their fingers came in contact. Then Bessy would blush, and withdraw her little hand; and when she gave him one of her roguish smiles—for she was a merry creature—her teeth shone like Oriental pearls. Often when Vincent went home he did not know whether he was walking on his head or his heels; and instead of sleeping all night till his father roused him from his unwilling bed in the morning, he lay awake in a sort of ecstacy through the still hours, and delighted the old man by hastening to the field with the earliest dawn of light, so that Jacob observed, it was clear to him that Vincent was getting to be an industrious lad, and to like his work.
It was about three weeks after this harvest - home, when the bright September moon was shining in the clear heavens, that Vincent crept out of bed, as we have said above, and after lifting a corner of the white muslin curtain that shaded the lattice, either to take a peep at the night, or to see if the coast was clear, advanced on tiptoe to the door of his room, and gently, gently opened it. It was a provoking door, for it would creak, although he had that evening stolen a bit of butter from the tea-table and carefully greased the hinges. Yes, it creaked still, and Vincent set his teeth and grinned with anxiety and vexation, for his father and mother lay in the adjoining room, with the key of the house door under their pillow. But they slept the heavy sleep of toil; for though well to do in the world, they worked on as they had done when they began life, and as if the name of Jacob Halloway was not inscribed in the ledgers of Threadneedle Street.
They slept, and on crept Vincent stealthily, down the stairs to the front door, which was bolted and locked; but he had a key in his pocket that Joe had made for him after the exact pattern of the one on which old Jacob was sleeping above so soundly. It was a ticklish thing to draw back those heavy bolts and turn that large key, and Vincent paused between each operation to breathe and listen. But all was still above; and he opened the door, and felt the fresh air of the night blowing on his face, and stepping out, he gently closed it. Then how his heart bounded with delight! It was his first assignation-his first midnight meeting with Bessy: he was going to see her face to face for the first time without witnesses. Since the reaping and the harvest-supper, they had met on the high road and in the fields-meetings contrived by one or the other; but momentary, constrained, and perilous—and so unsatisfactory! There was no bearing it, and one day Vincent said so; and that once, just once, Bessy must meet him where he could see her alone for a few minutes. He had so much to say! And Bessy promised, and Joe made the key; and now Vincent is striding to the haven of his bliss over ditch and dike, instead of through the village, in order to keep clear of the neighbours' cottages, watchdogs, and wakeful eyes.
Bessy had fewer difficulties in her way. Her mother, simple and fond, suspected nothing; and her youngest daughter Nancy, who slept with her, had not yet dreamed of lovers' midnight meetings. Bessy lay in a little room alone, and it was easy to slip down stairs with her shoeless feet, and let herself out.
She had not far to go, and she was first at the rendezvous; for Vincent had not dared to stir till his parents had been long enough in bed to afford a reasonable hope that they might have fallen asleep.
Who shall paint such a first meeting? A boy and girl, little better-in the bloom and vigour of health and freshness, and of eager, unconscious passion! Discourse there was none; only exclamations and interjections, and wishings, wishings, wishings that Bessy were but his own for ever-his dear, dear little wife, as assuredly one day she should be! And to insure this blessed consummation, and defend them from all the perils of accident or change, what vows were demanded, what promises given !
But wherefore record them? How often has the moon listened to such vows and wishes! How often seen the vows broken and turned into curses, or the wishes realised to the hopeless misery of the wisher !
But in the meantime, whilst the intoxication lasts, and the heart beats high, and the eyes dance, and the ground we tread upon seems air, the unforeseeing visionaries are blest. They are off the earth; they have inhaled the ethereal breath of love, and are away, floating in far regions which the sober dwellers on the planet dream not of. They are dancing with the stars, carousing with the moon; they are robed in sunbeams, bathed in the perfume of the sweetest flowers; they are men no more, but gods !
But then come the dregs of this inebriating cup; and they, alas ! are poison.
And so these young lovers met again and again ; and it would have been carious to observe the gradual influence of such stolen interviews on their characters : how Bessy was at first anxious and conscious, and yet with an indescribable expression of happiness in her girlish countenance; how she cared less for her former companions and their sports; how she liked to sit musing on a stile, her eyes following the pasturing sheep, that yet she saw not; how she sometimes smiled at her own pleasant thoughts; bow she blushed, and pretended not to hear when Vincent's name was mentioned, and how, when the young girls of the village remarked how handsome he was, and how beautifully his brown hair curled over his forehead, and how he looked in his Sunday clothes as genteel as the squire, she would laugh, and say, for her part, she saw nothing particular in him. This was at first. By and by she grew less thoughtful, less fond of solitude, and her blushes were not so near her cheeks; and when any of the young people hazarded a jest about Vincent—for slight suspicions of what was going on were beginning to arise-she grew angry; exclaimed: “What nonsense !' and recommended them to mind their own business, and it would be all the better for them. The expression of her features changed too somewhat : she no longer looked so very young.
Her face became the face of a woman; before, it had been almost that of a child.
Vincent changed too. At first he was dreamy and absent, but evidently much happier and more contented than he had previously been; but Joe Jebb soon got hold of his secret, and quizzed him about it unmercifully. The key of course had suggested something like the truth to Joe's experienced mind, and determined to find out who the damsel was who had inspired the milksop, as he called him, with so much boldness, he watched and discovered. When he taxed Vincent with it, and laughed at him, the young lover looked quite shy, and blushed like a girl; but by and by his delicacy grew less susceptible, and he could laugh too. This was a bad sign for poor Bessy. However, he became more of a man, less boyish, timid, and obedient. The young girls of the village thought him much improved; his mother grew prouder of him; but his father said he was afraid Vincent would require a tight hand and a sharp eye yet.'
In process of time the key that Joe Jebb had made was not always used for the same purpose. The meetings with Bessy continued, but they were less frequent; and sometimes, on other evenings, Vincent would slip out to spend a few hours of conviviality with the lads of the village. Still, these latter hours were harmlessly enough spent. The worst part of them was the habit of concealment they engendered; but for that he could scarcely be blamed. Where the legitimate pleasures of youth are denied, they are not the less desired; and it is demanding a greater sacrifice of another's will and inclinations to our own than we are entitled to, when we insist that they should be relinquished in compliance with our opinions and prejudices.
Well, the winter, spring, and summer had come and gone, and it was harvest-time again; but by this time things were greatly changed. Bessy consorted no more with her young companions : the rosy cheek was pale and thin ; the light step heavy, and the bright eye dim; whilst Vincent seemed more thoughtful and less alert than usual. They addressed each other seldom; and instead of contriving, as on the previous year, to work always near each other, they were together or apart just as chance directed. Last season Bessy had been the prettiest and merriest girl at the supper, and had sung the best song : now she was the gravest.; and as her beauty had been much augmented by her gaiety and freshness, there were now others prettier than she. All who had known her before saw the change, and some said Bessy Mure was going into a decline. Others looked for another cause ; but old Jacob. surmised nothing, for his son paid her no attentions: they did not even sit at the same table.
The month of September was come, and the evenings were getting dark and chill. Elizabeth Mure and her elder daughter were sitting in the dusk, with no light but what gleamed up fitfully from the bit of fire on the hearth. Formerly Bessy used to say: 'Oh mother, let's get a light; it's so moping to sit in the dark so!' But Bessy did not mind moping now: she no longer wearied of doing nothing, but stared into the fire with a vacant gaze; and she could sit still with her hands before her an hour at a time without stirring or speaking. The mother was as silent as the daughter-neither uttered a word. By and by Nancy, who had been going in and out with the restlessness of childhood-for she was little more than twelve years of age—came running in with a letter, which a neighbour, who had been to Taunton market, had just brought.
John Stokes says that he saw Uncle Philpots at the market, mother, and that he 's a-coming over here to see us.'
Did he say so ?' said Bessy. “He told John Stokes so,' answered Nancy. 'I'm so glad! I wonder if Aunt Philpots 'll come too.'
When's he coming ?' inquired Mrs Mure. 'I believe to-morrow; but he did not say when,' answered Nancy. * Perhaps the letter tells. Shall I get a light, mother?
Do, child,' said Mrs Mure, turning the letter from side to side, and examining it by the light of the fire.
People who have letters every day, often more than they want, have.no respect for them: they tear them open rashly, and force themselves into their confidence without the slightest delicacy or scruple; but it is quite a different matter with those who only get one now and then. They never attempt to penetrate into the interior till they have familiarised themselves with the physiognomy of the stranger. With them wonder seems to take precedence of curiosity; and they can postpone their desire to learn the contents of a letter till they have made out the half-effaced post-mark, or deciphered the motto on the dab of wax.
When Elizabeth Mure had turned the letter from side to side a dozen times, and held it to the light in every possible position, she at length broke the seal and began to decipher its contents, whilst Nancy looked over her shoulder in a state of eager excitement.
* Does uncle say he's coming, mother?' asked Bessy.
He don't say,' answered Mrs Mure. But presently observing the letters T.O. at the bottom of the page, she turned the leaf and read the following postscript : 'P.S.-My old woman says she must come along with me, so I suppose I must let her have her way.'
Oh, I'm so glad,' cried Nancy, jumping for joy. 'Ain't you glad, Bessy ?
• What should I be glad for?' said Bessy. “ 'Cause uncle and aunt's coming !' answered Nancy. · Pooh!' said Bessy. 'La! Bessy, you 're so cross getting—you're never glad at nothing !' 'I wish, mother, you'd send Nancy to bed. I'm sure it's past nine!'
'I shan't go to bed for you!' said Nancy, far from pleased at the suggestion.
'Go into neighbour Wrightsore's a bit, Nance, and see how she is. I heard she'd got the rheumatics,' said Mrs Mure.
· Very well! I know you want me to go away, that Bessy and you may talk secrets about- I know who!' said Nancy, ready enough to go nevertheless.
'I wish aunt wasn't coming !' said Bessy. 'I wouldn't have minded uncle, but aunt's so prying.'
“It's my opinion, Bessy,' said Mrs Mure, that my brother Philpots would be the best to advise us, and that we'd as good tell him all about it.'
'Oh, mother ! how can you say so ?' cried Bessy. "I'm as certain as I'm sitting here, that if you do he'll go and tell old Mr Halloway.'
• Well, let him!' answered her mother: “it's no more than that young scapegrace deserves !'
Very well, mother,' said Bessy fretfully; ' I see you'll just be the ruin of us, you're so obstinate.'
'I'm no such thing, Bessy,' said Elizabeth, who was the most gentle and least obstinate of mortals ; and I'm sure if I only thought that he'd make it all right by and by
* And don't he say he will, mother? and havn't I got his hand of write upon it? What can he do more? He says it's just as binding as if he'd been to church with me.'
* There's no saying,' answered Mrs Mure. "Some says a bit of paper's binding in law, and some says it isn't; but no doubt my brother Philpots could tell.'
But poor Bessy would have preferred remaining in ignorance rather than apply to Uncle Philpots for information. She had not only her honest shame to contend with, but she dreaded his reproof, and still more that of his wife, and she looked upon their visit as most unfortunate and ill-timed.
On the following morning she contrived to waylay Vincent, and make known to him the impending danger.
· How unlucky!' said he; ' but can't you make your mother hold her tongue ?'
But even if I could, it wouldn't be of no use I'm afear'd; for Aunt Philpots is such a ferret, there's no hiding nothing from her.'
It was a terrible crisis ; for although Vincent had certainly gained some confidence, and in a slight degree emancipated himself, yet the idea of his rigid father's becoming acquainted with this unfortunate connection, and con