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- Under the Storm - 30/38 -
big black bear. Well, Stead, and are you all going to live with Jeph in his castle, and will you take me?"
"He asks me not," said Stead, and began to read the letter, to which Emlyn listened with many little remarks. "So Patience and Rusha wont go. I marvel at them, yet 'tis like sober-sided old Patty! And mayhap among the bogs and hills 'tis lonelier than in the gulley. I mind a trooper who had served in Ireland telling my father it was so desolate he would not banish a dog there. But what did he say about home, Stead, I thought it was all yours?"
Stead explained, and also the possibility of endeavouring to rebuild the farmhouse. If he could go to Mr. Elmwood with thirty pounds he thought it might be done. "And then, Emlyn, when that is saved (and I have five pounds already), will you come and make it your home for good and all?"
"Stead! oh Stead! You don't mean it--you-- Why, that's sweethearting!"
"Well, so it is, Emlyn," said Stead, a certain dignity taking the place of his shyness now it had come to the point. "I ask you to be my little sweetheart now, and my wife when I have enough to make our old house such as it was when my good mother was alive."
"Stead, Stead, you always were good to me! Will it take long, think you? I would save too, but I have but three crowns the year, and that sour-faced Rachel takes all the fees'"
"The thing is in the hands of God. It must depend on the crops, but with this hope before me, I will work as never man worked before," said Stead.
"And I will be mistress there!" cried Emlyn.
"My wife will be mistress wherever I am sweet."
"Ah, ha!" she laughed, "now I have something to look to, I shall heed little when the dame flouts me and scolds me, and Joan twits me with her cousin the 'prentice."
They had only just time to go through the ceremony of breaking a tester between them before a shrill call of "Emlyn" resounded down the garden. Mrs. Sloggett thought quite time enough had been wasted over the young man, and summoned the girl back to her sewing.
Emlyn made a face of disgust, very comical and very joyous, but as the good dame was actually coming in search of her no more could pass.
Stead went away overflowing with happiness, and full of plans of raising the means of bringing back this sunshine of his hearth. Perhaps it was well that, though slow of thought, Patience still had wit enough in the long hours of the day to guess that the nosegay boded something. She could not daunt or damp Steadfast's joy--nay, she had affection enough for the pretty little being she had cherished for seven years to think she shared it--but she knew all the time that there would be no place in that new farmhouse for her, and there was a chill over her faithful heart at times. But what would that signify, she thought, provided that Stead was happy?
"I'm the wealthy miller yet." TENNYSON.
Most devoted was the diligence with which Steadfast toiled and saved with the hope before him. Since the two young girls were no longer at home, and Ben had grown into a strong lad, Stead held that many little indulgences might be dispensed with, one by one, either because they cost money or prevented it from being acquired. No cheese was bought now, and he wanted to sell all the butter and all the apples that were not defective.
Patience contrived that Ben should never be stinted of his usual fare; and she would, not allow that he needed no warm coat for the winter, but she said nothing about the threadbare state of her own petticoat, and she stirred nothing but the thinnest buttermilk into her own porridge, and not even that when the little pigs required it. It was all for Stead.
Patience at twenty was not an uncomely maiden so far as kindly blue eyes, fresh healthy cheeks, and perfect neatness could make her agreeable to look at, but there was an air of carefulness, and of having done a great deal of hard work, which had made her seem out of the reach of the young men who loitered and talked with the maidens on the village green, and looked wistfully at the spot where the maypole had once stood.
Patience was the more amazed by a visit from the Miller Luck and his son. The son was a fine looking young man of three or four and twenty, who had about three years before married a farmer's daughter, and had lost her at the birth of her second child. There he stood, almost as bashful as Stead himself could have been under the circumstances, while his father paid the astonished Patience the compliment of declaring that they had put their heads together, and made up their minds that there was no wench in those parts so like to be a good mother to the babes, nor so thrifty a housewife as she; and, that, though there were plenty of maids to be had who could bring something in their hands, her ways were better than any portion she could bring.
It really was a splendid offer. The position of miller's wife was very prosperous, and the Lucks were highly respected. The old miller was good and kindly, Andrew Luck the steadiest of young men, and though not seen to much advantage as he stood sheepishly moving from leg to leg, he was a very fine, tall, handsome youth, with a certain sweetness and wistfulness in his countenance. Patience had no scruples about previous love and courtship. That was not the point as she answered--
"Thank you, Master Luck, you are very good; but I cannot leave my brothers."
"Let the big one get a wife of his own then," and, as Patience shook her head, and glanced at where Ben, shy of strangers, was cutting rushes, "and if you be tender on the young one, there would be work for him about the place. I know you have been a good mother to him, you'd be the same to our little ones. Come, Andrew, can't ye say a word for yourself?"
"Come, Patience, do 'ee come!" pleaded poor Andrew, and the tears even sprang to his eyes. "I'd be very good to thee, and I know thou would'st be to my poor babes."
Patience's heart really warmed to him, and still more to the babes, but she could only hold out.
"You must find another," she said.
"Come, you need not be coy, my lass," said the old miller. "You'll not get a better offer, and Andrew has no time nor heart either for running about courting. What he wants is a good wife to cheer him up, and see to the poor little children."
It was powerful pleading, and Patience felt it.
"Aye, Master Miller," she said, "but you see I'm bound not to leave Steadfast till he is married. He could not get on no ways without me."
"Then why--a plague on it--don't he wed and have done with it?"
"He cannot," said Patience, "till he has made up enough to build up our old house, but that won't be yet awhile--for years maybe; and he could not do it without me to help him."
"And what's to become of you when you've let your best years go by a- toiling for him, and your chance is gone by, and his wife turns you to the door?" said Master Luck, not very delicately.
"That God will provide," said Patience, reverently. "Anyway, I must cleave to Steadfast though 'tis very good of you, Master Luck and Master Andrew, and I never could have thought of such a thing, and I am right sorry for the little ones."
"If you would only come and see them!" burst out the poor young father. "You never see such a winsome little poppet as Bess. And they be so young now, they'd never know you were not their own mother."
"Don't, don't, Master Andrew!" cried Patience, "I tell you I'd come if I could, but you can't wait, and they can't wait; and you must find a good mother at once for them, for I have passed my word to hold by Stead till he is married, and I must keep to it."
"Very well, my lass," said the miller, grimly. "There's wenches better portioned and better favoured than you, and I hope you won't have to repent of missing a good offer."
Of course he said it as if he hoped she would. Patience cried heartily when they were gone. Ben came up to her and glowered after them, declaring he wouldn't have his Patty go to be only a step- mother to troublesome brats; but Stead, when he came to know of it, looked grave, and said it was very good of Pat; but he wished she could have kept the young fellow in play till she was ready for him.
Goody Grace, who was looking after the children till the stepmother could be found, came and expostulated with Patience, telling her she was foolish to miss such a chance, and that she would find out her mistake when Stead married and that little flighty, light-headed wench made the place too hot to hold her. What would she do then?
"Come and help you nurse the folk, Goody," said Patience, cheerfully.
Her heart would fail her sometimes at the outlook, but she was too busy to think much about it. Only the long evenings had been pleasanter when Stead used to teach Ben to read Dr. Eales's books and tell her bits such as she could understand than now when he grudged a candle big enough to be of any use, and was only plaiting rushes and reckoning up what everything would bring.
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