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at once relieved and dismayed to hear that the widow and her daughter had gone to London, and wouldn't be back-oh, they couldn't tell when; not for a week or so, at earliest. They'd go about and enjoy themselves, not a doubt on it; and why shouldn't they as had got the means ?
“I'll warrant Widder Bright not to let grass grow under her feet. She knows how to make hay when the sun shines as well as any widder-woman alive,” was the coolly-critical observation of Mrs. Smith, the Brights' neighbour and William's cousin. “She'll keep the ball a flying, will Widder Bright. Never trust me if she don't. She's carried off her darter and her money to make the best account of both on 'em, don't you doubt it; and if she don't get her bread buttered o' both sides, it won't be her fault; and never you go for to think no other, William Ashford," solemnly concluded his relative, whose acknowledged worldly wisdom and liberal store of acrid saws were thus freely devoted to the work of warning and depressing the disappointed lover.
However, William Ashford was not without his fair share of " spirit” either. Perhaps indeed he would not have been so subdued by his love for pretty Lizzie, had he been a less manly fellow; since it seems that, from the time of Hercules to our own, the paradox is always being illustrated, that it requires much strength to become what is called “weak” in this respect. Feeble natures seldom so lose therselves. William's nature was not feeble, and the latent vigour could rouse itself on occasion. He responded to these cousinly attentions with a quiet reticence that left Mrs. Smith altogether at sea with regard to the true state of the case. If he was anxious, if he had doubts, he wasn't going to let the whole village into his confidence. No; it wasn't nobody's else's business but just Lizzie's and his. If Lizzie's head got turned with all this sudden prosperity, and if she thought good to give him up--well, he'd never say a word again it, and 'ud bear it to the best of his ability. But he didn't, couldn't think all that of Lizzie, yet. Till he was forced to it, he couldn't have no such thought on her. Of course, her mother was different. Her mother always had a keen eye for the main chance, and, though she had her good points too (and, above all, was Lizzie's mother), it was to be expected perhaps, that with this unexpected turn of fortune, she should begin to think that Lizzie might do better in a worldly way than
“Why, it's true enough; there's no disputing as I'm no match for her with her six hunderd pound and plate and furniture," went his soliloquy; "and as likely as not, if we were married, there's them as ’nd be ready to say as I'd took advantage on her, and held her to her promise, and wanted her for her money, like a mean scoundrel as never was. But as for that,” went on the suggestions of his honest, manly
good sense, " what need she or me care for such gabble ? If I'm true, and she's true, and we both know it, not all the money in Lonnon didn't ought to make no difference betwixt us two. Not but what I nat'rally wish as it had come to my side, if it was to come at all. It would ha' seemed more sootable like for me to ha' give her everything as she wanted,” thought poor William, tenderly; "but, since it's ruled otherwise, we must make the best on it, and I won't go for to torment myself no more, but wait patient till she comes back, or till she sends me a letter, for if she don't return in a day or so, she'll write to me, I know, and I'll wait patient.”
This exemplary determination was carried out at least as well as could be looked for under similar circumstances. He addressed himself to his work with more rather than less activity and energy,
thus finding a wholesome and profitable outlet for the restlessness which it was impossible for him not to feel during the ensuing time of suspense. For his sanguine anticipations failed one by one. The widow and her daughter did not return either on the second day, or the third, or the fourth. A whole week passed, and another began, and the little cottage remained shut up and desolate. And no letter came either to explain this continued absence, or console him for it. Not a linenot a word. Heavily the days went by, while the struggle in William Ashford's loyal heart was severe between his faith in Lizzie, and the evil deductions which could but reasonably be drawn from all this.
He was not alone in his complete ignorance of the Brights' proceedings. All the village was wondering what had become of the widow and her daughter. Mrs. Bright had promised to write to her friend at the shop, telling her how they got to London, and what they were doing, and when they were coming back; and Mrs. Brown was to prepare the cottage ready for their return, and see that all was comfortable and befitting the reception of people of property. But no letter came to Mrs. Brown any more than to William.
“Which I own I do wonder at,” commented the astute Mrs. Smith; “ for us as knows Widder Bright knows well as she'd ha' took a deal o' pleasure in writing a full and partickler account of the furnitur' and plate, and all the rest of it, as she's come into so sudden. I freely own as I didn't expect the widder 'ud let slip a chance of bragging about her noo possessions, and crowing over her neighbours according, so I didn't,” magnanimously concluded this village Sybil, whose utterances always found a respectful audience, and who had hardly ever been known to acknowledge berself “mistook" before.
Nearly a fortnight had elapsed now since that eventful evening on which William and Lizzie had last seen one another. On his way to and from work, the young man, every morning and evening, made a little circuit in order to come within sight of their—of her dwelling.
But it was a mournful thing to see the cottage, with its shuttered casements and grimly-closed door, and the garden, which, with the rank, rapid growth of summer weather, had already assumed a neglected look, more significant of change than anything else. Weeds in the usually tidy paths and well-kept beds, faded blossoms hanging on the rose trees, and great sprays of honeysuckle and jasmine drooping down with mute entreaty for something to cling to—all these evidences of careful, flower-loving Lizzie's absence gave an added pang to her lover's heart every time he saw them. How happy they had often been while working together in that little garden! How happy they might have been always, if it hadn't been for this money coming in to spoil it all! What did they want with money they didn't earn, working folks like them ? severely argued the young man. Even supposing as things went well after all, and Mrs. Bright behaved generous, and allowed her daughter to be true to him-why, he wished they'd never heard nothing of the money. He was getting on in the world by honest labour, and surely that was enough to be thankful for, and to live happy upon.
Thus was William pondering within himself on one particular morning as he went to work, a certain interview having taken place the previous evening between himself, Squire Thorpe, and Squire Thorpe's head gardener, William's commanding-officer. As usual, he went round by the lane whence he could see the cottage, and as usual, he looked keenly up as it came in view; but, not as usnal this time, he gave a start forward, and then stood still—with a beating heart, no doubt,-perceiving that the shutter of the kitchen casement was unclosed, and a light wreath of smoke issuing from the chimney. A moment more, and the crowning evidence of Lizzie's return was afforded by the appearance of Lizzie herself in the porch. Lizzie-paler, thinner, than when he last saw her, but with a look on her face that the eagerly-watching lover could not quite understand-half joyful, half troubled, he thought. Of course, like nineteen people out of twenty under similar conditions, William, now that the chance so longed for during the last two weeks was actually within reach, hesitated before availing himself thereof. He couldn't be sure yot; he must wait and see, and so on, temporizingly urged prudence, and pride, and their like; all the while that true, single-hearted love would have eagerly sprung to meet and welcome the returned wanderer.
But he waited to see her stand in the sweet morning light, the trailing garlands of the jasmine softly shading her face, which still wore that strange doubtful look. Presently she gathered one of the sprays of its white-star blossoms, and fastened it in the bosom of her dress tenderly, as if she loved it. Now that jasmine was no ordinary plant. It was one carefully reared by William, and presented by him
LOVE LAUGHS AT PHILOSOPHY.
to her. They had planted it together on the very day that she had * promised herself” to him; and—the foolishness of lovers is proverbial—this small incident seemed to him like a renewal of that promise, and he waited for no more, but rushed forward to the garden gate. In another minute he would have been at her side, but, “Now Lizzie, don't go keeping me waiting any longer," was heard in the dame's most trenchant voice, and a vision of that lady's cap suddenly appeared, blotting out Lizzie's brown hair. And then both mother and daughter disappeared into the cottage, and William after a brief struggle with himself, resolved to carry out his determination to “wait patient” a few hours longer, until, the day's work done, he might go there in the evening.
It must be confessed though, that he found it the hardest and longest day's work he had ever had in his whole life. Many times he repented bitterly that he had not at once ascertained his fate and “ done with it,”—whatever that might mean. Those last “ few hours" of suspense and anxiety worked him up into a more disturbed state of mind than all the ordeal of the previous fortnight.
Work over, he hurried along the road; reproach against Lizzie, anger with himself, and a general feeling of restlessness contending within him.
“ What a fool I've been," such was the tone of his meditations meanwhile, “to let her torment me so, all these weeks. Why, of course, if she'd cared a button for me, she'd ha' wrote to me and given explanation, straightforward and true, long before this; and why
? But I'll know it all, full and clear, before I'm an hour older,” concluded William, with awful sternness; "and if it's not to be—if she's not the girl I took her for—why, there's an end. There's other girls in the world besides Lizzie Bright.”
But there was no other girl in the world, probably, whose approach at that moment would have caused this rather cynical philosophizer to start and change colour in such a very unphilosophical manner. He stood transfixed for a moment, while Lizzie slackened her pace, and, looking strangely shy and drooping, at last held out her hand, and asked the usual common-place question, "How was he?" evidently afraid, for some reason, to say anything more familiar or less indifferent. Yet, as she glanced up at him for a moment, something in his look struck her into forgetfulness of all else, and she drew closer to him, and looked up again, anxiously.
“Oh, William, you haven't been ill ?” “No-oh, no!”
He made a great effort at self-possession, and succeeded in some measure, though he looked and felt pitiably awkward and wretched, as he asked her after her mother-hoped they'd enjoyed their trip,
and so on.
Lizzie listened, answered, and grew paler every moment. All this while they were slowly walking on together towards the cottage. At the gate they both stopped, as by mutual consent.
“Now,” thought William, "if she's not changed-if she's true, she'll say so, and she'll tell me to come in.”
But Lizzie said never a word, not even when, in another minute, William said, “Then I'll wish you a good evening,” and turned away, more angry even than grieved, in the first bitterness of utter disappointment.
“No need to explain; she's made it clear enough this time; and it'll not be me as 'll ask her to think better on it—not I. She may go her own way—it's nothing to me now.”
And, as signing and sealing his resolve to give up all interest in Lizzie Bright thenceforward, William struck his spade on the ground, and gave a defiant look back at the cottage-gate, where he had left her standing
She was standing there yet, in exactly the same position. He could see her face; and thereupon-what could have moved him to such an extraordinary and unlooked-for course of conduct, it is, of course, impossible to say-he rushed back, caught her hands, looked in her face till, all tears and blushes, it drooped aside from him, and gave expression to his cool resignation, fixed resolve, and general indifference, in these terms
"Lizzie, dear, I'm a fool, and I've been wrong besides; but, if you'd only ha' said one word, I should ha' known; and as for that money confound it !" cried William, driven to this bitter erpletive by stress of circumstances, “jist let's be as if it never was. You know me, and I know you, and we're true, and that's enough for us, and it's no business of no one's else's.”
What Lizzie would have replied to this highly lucid and wellarranged harangue, can never be known, for at this moment the widow appeared on the scene-who, hearing William's voice, and seeing her daughter's tears, no doubt thought it high time to come to the rescue.
“ There—there,” said she, “you needn't triumph over the poor girl; I warrant she'd ha' been true to you, with all her money. For richer or poorer, she'd ha' clung to you, and never thrown it in your face all your days, so you've no call to do otherwise by her. It's not your place to be hard on her, now she's cast down."
“Cast down!" echoed William, a suspicion of the truth gleaming on his bewilderment, “why, what do you mean?”
"Come, you're not going for to say as you don't know all about it?" cried the widow, fractiously; "stuff and nonsense, it's all over the village hours ago, I lay-ill noos always travels fast enough.”
William looked at Lizzie, and she answered the look.