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- Love and Life - 6/60 -
horse-hoofs in the lane, divided from the field by a hedge of pollard willows, so high that she had never thought of being overlooked, till the cessation of the trotting sound struck her; and looking round she saw that a horseman had halted at the gate, and was gazing at their sports. It was from the distance of a field, but this was enough to fill Harriet with dismay. She drew herself up in a moment, signing peremptorily to Aurelia, who was flying about, her hat off, her one long curl streaming behind as she darted hither and thither, evading Eugene who was pursuing her.
As she paused, and Eugene clutched her dress with a shout of ecstasy, Harriet came up, glancing severely toward the gate, and saying, as she handed her sister the hat, "This comes of childishness! That we should be seen thus! What a hoyden he will think you!" as the hoofs went on and the red coat vanished.
"He! Who? Not the farmer?" said Aurelia. "This is not laid up for hay."
"No indeed. I believe it is he," said Harriet, mysteriously.
"He?" repeated Aurelia. "Not Mr. Arden, for he would be in black," and at Harriet's disgusted gesture, "I beg your pardon, but I did not know you had a new _he_. Oh! surely you are not thinking of the young baronet?"
"I am sure it was his figure."
"You did not see him yesterday?"
"No, but his air had too much distinction for any one from these parts."
"Could you see what his air was from this distance? I should never have guessed it, but you have more experience, being older. Come, Eugene, another race!"
"No, I will have no more folly. I was too good-natured to allow it. I am vexed beyond measure that he should have seen such rusticity."
"Never mind, dear Harriet. Most likely it was no such person, for it was not well-bred to sit staring at us; and if it were he, you were not known to him."
"Then he must have eyes as sharp as yours are for an air of distinction. Having only seen me in my blue and primrose suit, how should he know me in my present trim? Besides, I believe it was only young Dick Jewel in a cast coat of Squire Humphrey's."
The charm of the cowslip gathering was broken. Eugene found himself very hungry, and the noonchin was produced, after which the walk was continued to the farm-house, where the young people were made very welcome.
Farmers were, as a rule, more rustic than the present labourer, but they lived a life of far less care, if of more toil, than their successors, having ample means for their simple needs, and enjoying jocund plenty. The clean kitchen, with the stone floor, the beaupot of maythorn on the empty hearth, the shining walnut-wood table, the spinning-wheel, wooden chairs, and forms, all looked cool and inviting, and the visitors were regaled with home-made brown bread, delicious butter and honey, and a choice of new milk, mead, and currant wine.
Dame Jewel, in a white frill under a black silken hood, a buff turnover kerchief, stout stuff gown and white apron, was delighted to wait on them; and Eugene's bliss was complete among the young kittens and puppies in baskets on opposite sides of the window, the chickens before their coops, the ducklings like yellow balls on the grass, and the huge family of little spotted piglings which, to the scandal of his sisters, he declared the most delightful of all.
Their hostess knew nothing of the young baronet being in the neighbourhood, and was by no means gratified by the intelligence.
"Lack-a-day! Miss Harriet, you don't mean that the family is coming down here! I don't want none of them. 'Tis bad times for the farmer when any of that sort is nigh. They make nothing of galloping their horses a hunting right through the crops, ay, and horsewhipping the farmer if he do but say a word for the sweat of his brow."
"O Mrs. Jewel!" cried Aurelia, in whose ear lingered the courteous accents of her partner, "they would never behave themselves so."
"Bless you, Miss Orreely, I'll tell you what I've seen with my own eyes. My own good man, the master here, with the horsewhip laid about his shoulders at that very thornbush, by one of the fine gentlefolks, just because he had mended the gap in the hedge they was used to ride through, and my Lady sitting by in her laced scarlet habit on her fine horse, smiling like a painted picture, and saying, 'Thank you, sir, the rascals need to learn not to interfere with our sport,' all in that gentle sounding low voice of hers, enough to drive one mad."
"I thought Sir Jovian had been a kind master," said Harriet.
"This was not Sir Jovian. Poor gentleman, he was not often out a- hunting. This was one of the fine young rakish fellows from Lunnun as were always swarming about my Lady, like bees over that maybush. Sir Thomas Donne, I think they called him. They said he got killed by a wild boar, hunting in foreign parts, afterwards, and serve him right! But there! They would all do her bidding, whether for bad or good, so maybe it was less his fault than hers. She is a bitter one, is my Lady, for all she looks so sweet. And this her young barrowknight will be his own mother's son, and I don't want none of 'em down here. 'Tis a good job we have your good papa, the Major, to stand between her and us; I only wish he had his own, for a rare good landlord he would be."
The Dame's vain wishes were cut short by shrieks from the poultry-yard, where Eugene was discovered up to his ankles in the black ooze of the horse-pond, waving a little stick in defiance of an angry gander, who with white outspread wings, snake-like neck, bent and protruded, and frightful screams and hisses, was no bad representation of his namesake the dragon, especially to a child not much exceeding him in height.
The monster was put to rout, the champion dragged out of the pond, breathlessly explaining that he only wanted to look at the goslings when the stupid geese cackled and the gander wanted to fly at his eyes. "And I didn't see where I was going, for I had to keep him off, so I got into the mud. Will sister be angry?" he concluded, ruefully surveying the dainty little stockings and shoes coated with black mud.
But before the buckled shoon had been scraped, or the hosen washed and dried, the cheerful memory of boyhood had convinced itself that the enemy had been put to flight by his manful resistance; and he turned a deaf ear to Aurelia's suggestion that the affair had been retribution for his constant oblivion of Comenius' assertion that _auser gingrit,_ "the goose gagleth."
They went home more soberly, having been directed by Mrs. Jewel to a field bordered by a copse, where grew the most magnificent of Titania's pensioners tall, wearing splendid rubies in their coats; and in due time the trio presented themselves at home, weary, but glowing with the innocent excitement of their adventures. Harriet was the first to proclaim that they had seen a horseman who must be Sir Amyas. "Had sister seen him?"
"Only through the window of the kitchen where I was making puff paste."
"He called then! Did my papa see him?"
"My father was in no condition to see any one, being under the hands and razor of Palmer."
"La! what a sad pity. Did he leave no message?"
"He left his compliments, and hoped his late partner was not fatigued."
"Is he at the Great House? Will he call again?"
"He is on his way to make a visit in Monmouthshire, together with a brother office, who is related to my Lady Herries, and finding that their road led them within twenty miles of our town, the decided on making a diversion to see her. It was only from her that Sir Amyas understood how close he was to his mother's property, for my Lady is extremely jealous of her prerogative."
"How did you hear all this, sister?"
"Sir George Herries rode over this afternoon and sat an hour with my father, delighting him by averring that the young gentleman has his mother's charms of person, together with his father's solidity of principle and character, and that he will do honour to his name."
O, I hope he will come back by this route!" cried Harriet.
"Of that there is small likelihood," said Betty. "His mother is nearly certain to prevent it since she is sure to take umbrage at his having visited the Great House without her permission."
CHAPTER IV. MY LADY'S MISSIVE.
To the next coffee-house he speeds, Takes up the news, some scraps he reads.--GAY.
Though Carminster was a cathedral city, the Special General Post only came in once a week, and was liable to delay through storms, snows, mire and highwaymen, so that its arrival was as great an event as is now the coming in of a mail steamer to a colonial harbour. The "post" was a stout countryman, with a red coat, tall jackboots and a huge hat. He rode a strong horse, which carried, _en croupe_, an immense pack, covered with oiled canvas, rising high enough to support his back, while he blew a long horn to announce his arrival.
Letters were rare and very expensive articles unless franked by a Member of Parliament, but gazettes and newsletters formed a large portion of his freight. No private gentleman except the Dean and Sir George Herries went to the extravagance of taking in a newspaper on his own account, but there was a club who subscribed for the _Daily Gazetteer_, the _Tatler_, and one or two other infant forms of periodical literature. These were hastily skimmed on their first arrival at the club-room at the White Dragon, lay on the table to be more deliberately conned for a week, and finally were divided among the members to be handed about among the families and dependants as long as they would hold together.
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