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Chapter 21

  • It was for the moment an inexpressible relief to Dolly, to recognise in th_erson who forced himself into the path so abruptly, and now stood directly i_er way, Hugh of the Maypole, whose name she uttered in a tone of delighte_urprise that came from her heart.
  • ‘Was it you?’ she said, ‘how glad I am to see you! and how could you terrif_e so!’
  • In answer to which, he said nothing at all, but stood quite still, looking a_er.
  • ‘Did you come to meet me?’ asked Dolly.
  • Hugh nodded, and muttered something to the effect that he had been waiting fo_er, and had expected her sooner.
  • ‘I thought it likely they would send,’ said Dolly, greatly reassured by this.
  • ‘Nobody sent me,’ was his sullen answer. ‘I came of my own accord.’
  • The rough bearing of this fellow, and his wild, uncouth appearance, had ofte_illed the girl with a vague apprehension even when other people were by, an_ad occasioned her to shrink from him involuntarily. The having him for a_nbidden companion in so solitary a place, with the darkness fast gatherin_bout them, renewed and even increased the alarm she had felt at first.
  • If his manner had been merely dogged and passively fierce, as usual, she woul_ave had no greater dislike to his company than she always felt—perhaps, indeed, would have been rather glad to have had him at hand. But there wa_omething of coarse bold admiration in his look, which terrified her ver_uch. She glanced timidly towards him, uncertain whether to go forward o_etreat, and he stood gazing at her like a handsome satyr; and so the_emained for some short time without stirring or breaking silence. At lengt_olly took courage, shot past him, and hurried on.
  • ‘Why do you spend so much breath in avoiding me?’ said Hugh, accommodating hi_ace to hers, and keeping close at her side.
  • ‘I wish to get back as quickly as I can, and you walk too near me, answere_olly.’
  • ‘Too near!’ said Hugh, stooping over her so that she could feel his breat_pon her forehead. ‘Why too near? You’re always proud to me, mistress.’
  • ‘I am proud to no one. You mistake me,’ answered Dolly. ‘Fall back, if yo_lease, or go on.’
  • ‘Nay, mistress,’ he rejoined, endeavouring to draw her arm through his, ‘I’l_alk with you.’
  • She released herself and clenching her little hand, struck him with right goo_ill. At this, Maypole Hugh burst into a roar of laughter, and passing his ar_bout her waist, held her in his strong grasp as easily as if she had been _ird.
  • ‘Ha ha ha! Well done, mistress! Strike again. You shall beat my face, and tea_y hair, and pluck my beard up by the roots, and welcome, for the sake of you_right eyes. Strike again, mistress. Do. Ha ha ha! I like it.’
  • ‘Let me go,’ she cried, endeavouring with both her hands to push him off. ‘Le_e go this moment.’
  • ‘You had as good be kinder to me, Sweetlips,’ said Hugh. ‘You had, indeed.
  • Come. Tell me now. Why are you always so proud? I don’t quarrel with you fo_t. I love you when you’re proud. Ha ha ha! You can’t hide your beauty from _oor fellow; that’s a comfort!’
  • She gave him no answer, but as he had not yet checked her progress, continue_o press forward as rapidly as she could. At length, between the hurry she ha_ade, her terror, and the tightness of his embrace, her strength failed her, and she could go no further.
  • ‘Hugh,’ cried the panting girl, ‘good Hugh; if you will leave me I will giv_ou anything—everything I have—and never tell one word of this to any livin_reature.’
  • ‘You had best not,’ he answered. ‘Harkye, little dove, you had best not. Al_bout here know me, and what I dare do if I have a mind. If ever you are goin_o tell, stop when the words are on your lips, and think of the mischie_ou’ll bring, if you do, upon some innocent heads that you wouldn’t wish t_urt a hair of. Bring trouble on me, and I’ll bring trouble and something mor_n them in return. I care no more for them than for so many dogs; not s_uch—why should I? I’d sooner kill a man than a dog any day. I’ve never bee_orry for a man’s death in all my life, and I have for a dog’s.’
  • There was something so thoroughly savage in the manner of these expressions, and the looks and gestures by which they were accompanied, that her great fea_f him gave her new strength, and enabled her by a sudden effort to extricat_erself and run fleetly from him. But Hugh was as nimble, strong, and swift o_oot, as any man in broad England, and it was but a fruitless expenditure o_nergy, for he had her in his encircling arms again before she had gone _undred yards.
  • ‘Softly, darling—gently—would you fly from rough Hugh, that loves you as wel_s any drawing-room gallant?’
  • ‘I would,’ she answered, struggling to free herself again. ‘I will. Help!’
  • ‘A fine for crying out,’ said Hugh. ‘Ha ha ha! A fine, pretty one, from you_ips. I pay myself! Ha ha ha!’
  • ‘Help! help! help!’ As she shrieked with the utmost violence she could exert, a shout was heard in answer, and another, and another.
  • ‘Thank Heaven!’ cried the girl in an ecstasy. ‘Joe, dear Joe, this way. Help!’
  • Her assailant paused, and stood irresolute for a moment, but the shout_rawing nearer and coming quick upon them, forced him to a speedy decision. H_eleased her, whispered with a menacing look, ‘Tell him: and see wha_ollows!’ and leaping the hedge, was gone in an instant. Dolly darted off, an_airly ran into Joe Willet’s open arms.
  • ‘What is the matter? are you hurt? what was it? who was it? where is he? wha_as he like?’ with a great many encouraging expressions and assurances o_afety, were the first words Joe poured forth. But poor little Dolly was s_reathless and terrified that for some time she was quite unable to answe_im, and hung upon his shoulder, sobbing and crying as if her heart woul_reak.
  • Joe had not the smallest objection to have her hanging on his shoulder; no, not the least, though it crushed the cherry-coloured ribbons sadly, and pu_he smart little hat out of all shape. But he couldn’t bear to see her cry; i_ent to his very heart. He tried to console her, bent over her, whispered t_er—some say kissed her, but that’s a fable. At any rate he said all the kin_nd tender things he could think of and Dolly let him go on and didn’_nterrupt him once, and it was a good ten minutes before she was able to rais_er head and thank him.
  • ‘What was it that frightened you?’ said Joe.
  • A man whose person was unknown to her had followed her, she answered; he bega_y begging, and went on to threats of robbery, which he was on the point o_arrying into execution, and would have executed, but for Joe’s timely aid.
  • The hesitation and confusion with which she said this, Joe attributed to th_right she had sustained, and no suspicion of the truth occurred to him for _oment.
  • ‘Stop when the words are on your lips.’ A hundred times that night, and ver_ften afterwards, when the disclosure was rising to her tongue, Dolly though_f that, and repressed it. A deeply rooted dread of the man; the convictio_hat his ferocious nature, once roused, would stop at nothing; and the stron_ssurance that if she impeached him, the full measure of his wrath an_engeance would be wreaked on Joe, who had preserved her; these wer_onsiderations she had not the courage to overcome, and inducements to secrec_oo powerful for her to surmount.
  • Joe, for his part, was a great deal too happy to inquire very curiously int_he matter; and Dolly being yet too tremulous to walk without assistance, the_ent forward very slowly, and in his mind very pleasantly, until the Maypol_ights were near at hand, twinkling their cheerful welcome, when Dolly stoppe_uddenly and with a half scream exclaimed,
  • ‘The letter!’
  • ‘What letter?’ cried Joe.
  • ‘That I was carrying—I had it in my hand. My bracelet too,’ she said, claspin_er wrist. ‘I have lost them both.’
  • ‘Do you mean just now?’ said Joe.
  • ‘Either I dropped them then, or they were taken from me,’ answered Dolly, vainly searching her pocket and rustling her dress. ‘They are gone, both gone.
  • What an unhappy girl I am!’ With these words poor Dolly, who to do her justic_as quite as sorry for the loss of the letter as for her bracelet, fel_-crying again, and bemoaned her fate most movingly.
  • Joe tried to comfort her with the assurance that directly he had housed her i_he Maypole, he would return to the spot with a lantern (for it was now quit_ark) and make strict search for the missing articles, which there was grea_robability of his finding, as it was not likely that anybody had passed tha_ay since, and she was not conscious that they had been forcibly taken fro_er. Dolly thanked him very heartily for this offer, though with no great hop_f his quest being successful; and so with many lamentations on her side, an_any hopeful words on his, and much weakness on the part of Dolly and muc_ender supporting on the part of Joe, they reached the Maypole bar at last, where the locksmith and his wife and old John were yet keeping high festival.
  • Mr Willet received the intelligence of Dolly’s trouble with that surprisin_resence of mind and readiness of speech for which he was so eminentl_istinguished above all other men. Mrs Varden expressed her sympathy for he_aughter’s distress by scolding her roundly for being so late; and the hones_ocksmith divided himself between condoling with and kissing Dolly, an_haking hands heartily with Joe, whom he could not sufficiently praise o_hank.
  • In reference to this latter point, old John was far from agreeing with hi_riend; for besides that he by no means approved of an adventurous spirit i_he abstract, it occurred to him that if his son and heir had been seriousl_amaged in a scuffle, the consequences would assuredly have been expensive an_nconvenient, and might perhaps have proved detrimental to the Maypol_usiness. Wherefore, and because he looked with no favourable eye upon youn_irls, but rather considered that they and the whole female sex were a kind o_onsensical mistake on the part of Nature, he took occasion to retire an_hake his head in private at the boiler; inspired by which silent oracle, h_as moved to give Joe various stealthy nudges with his elbow, as a parenta_eproof and gentle admonition to mind his own business and not make a fool o_imself.
  • Joe, however, took down the lantern and lighted it; and arming himself with _tout stick, asked whether Hugh was in the stable.
  • ‘He’s lying asleep before the kitchen fire, sir,’ said Mr Willet. ‘What do yo_ant him for?’
  • ‘I want him to come with me to look after this bracelet and letter,’ answere_oe. ‘Halloa there! Hugh!’
  • Dolly turned pale as death, and felt as if she must faint forthwith. After _ew moments, Hugh came staggering in, stretching himself and yawning accordin_o custom, and presenting every appearance of having been roused from a soun_ap.
  • ‘Here, sleepy-head,’ said Joe, giving him the lantern. ‘Carry this, and brin_he dog, and that small cudgel of yours. And woe betide the fellow if we com_pon him.’
  • ‘What fellow?’ growled Hugh, rubbing his eyes and shaking himself.
  • ‘What fellow?’ returned Joe, who was in a state of great valour and bustle; ‘_ellow you ought to know of and be more alive about. It’s well for the like o_ou, lazy giant that you are, to be snoring your time away in chimney-corners, when honest men’s daughters can’t cross even our quiet meadows at nightfal_ithout being set upon by footpads, and frightened out of their preciou_ives.’
  • ‘They never rob me,’ cried Hugh with a laugh. ‘I have got nothing to lose. Bu_’d as lief knock them at head as any other men. How many are there?’
  • ‘Only one,’ said Dolly faintly, for everybody looked at her.
  • ‘And what was he like, mistress?’ said Hugh with a glance at young Willet, s_light and momentary that the scowl it conveyed was lost on all but her.
  • ‘About my height?’
  • ‘Not—not so tall,’ Dolly replied, scarce knowing what she said.
  • ‘His dress,’ said Hugh, looking at her keenly, ‘like—like any of ours now? _now all the people hereabouts, and maybe could give a guess at the man, if _ad anything to guide me.’
  • Dolly faltered and turned paler yet; then answered that he was wrapped in _oose coat and had his face hidden by a handkerchief and that she could giv_o other description of him.
  • ‘You wouldn’t know him if you saw him then, belike?’ said Hugh with _alicious grin.
  • ‘I should not,’ answered Dolly, bursting into tears again. ‘I don’t wish t_ee him. I can’t bear to think of him. I can’t talk about him any more. Don’_o to look for these things, Mr Joe, pray don’t. I entreat you not to go wit_hat man.’
  • ‘Not to go with me!’ cried Hugh. ‘I’m too rough for them all. They’re al_fraid of me. Why, bless you mistress, I’ve the tenderest heart alive. I lov_ll the ladies, ma’am,’ said Hugh, turning to the locksmith’s wife.
  • Mrs Varden opined that if he did, he ought to be ashamed of himself; suc_entiments being more consistent (so she argued) with a benighted Mussulman o_ild Islander than with a stanch Protestant. Arguing from this imperfect stat_f his morals, Mrs Varden further opined that he had never studied the Manual.
  • Hugh admitting that he never had, and moreover that he couldn’t read, Mr_arden declared with much severity, that he ought to he even more ashamed o_imself than before, and strongly recommended him to save up his pocket-mone_or the purchase of one, and further to teach himself the contents with al_onvenient diligence. She was still pursuing this train of discourse, whe_ugh, somewhat unceremoniously and irreverently, followed his young maste_ut, and left her to edify the rest of the company. This she proceeded to do, and finding that Mr Willet’s eyes were fixed upon her with an appearance o_eep attention, gradually addressed the whole of her discourse to him, who_he entertained with a moral and theological lecture of considerable length, in the conviction that great workings were taking place in his spirit. Th_imple truth was, however, that Mr Willet, although his eyes were wide ope_nd he saw a woman before him whose head by long and steady looking at seeme_o grow bigger and bigger until it filled the whole bar, was to all othe_ntents and purposes fast asleep; and so sat leaning back in his chair wit_is hands in his pockets until his son’s return caused him to wake up with _eep sigh, and a faint impression that he had been dreaming about pickled por_nd greens— a vision of his slumbers which was no doubt referable to th_ircumstance of Mrs Varden’s having frequently pronounced the word ‘Grace’ with much emphasis; which word, entering the portals of Mr Willet’s brain a_hey stood ajar, and coupling itself with the words ‘before meat,’ which wer_here ranging about, did in time suggest a particular kind of meat togethe_ith that description of vegetable which is usually its companion.
  • The search was wholly unsuccessful. Joe had groped along the path a doze_imes, and among the grass, and in the dry ditch, and in the hedge, but all i_ain. Dolly, who was quite inconsolable for her loss, wrote a note to Mis_aredale giving her the same account of it that she had given at the Maypole, which Joe undertook to deliver as soon as the family were stirring next day.
  • That done, they sat down to tea in the bar, where there was an uncommo_isplay of buttered toast, and—in order that they might not grow faint fo_ant of sustenance, and might have a decent halting- place or halfway hous_etween dinner and supper—a few savoury trifles in the shape of great rasher_f broiled ham, which being well cured, done to a turn, and smoking hot, sen_orth a tempting and delicious fragrance.
  • Mrs Varden was seldom very Protestant at meals, unless it happened that the_ere underdone, or overdone, or indeed that anything occurred to put her ou_f humour. Her spirits rose considerably on beholding these goodl_reparations, and from the nothingness of good works, she passed to th_omethingness of ham and toast with great cheerfulness. Nay, under th_nfluence of these wholesome stimulants, she sharply reproved her daughter fo_eing low and despondent (which she considered an unacceptable frame of mind), and remarked, as she held her own plate for a fresh supply, that it would b_ell for Dolly, who pined over the loss of a toy and a sheet of paper, if sh_ould reflect upon the voluntary sacrifices of the missionaries in foreig_arts who lived chiefly on salads.
  • The proceedings of such a day occasion various fluctuations in the huma_hermometer, and especially in instruments so sensitively and delicatel_onstructed as Mrs Varden. Thus, at dinner Mrs V. stood at summer heat; genial, smiling, and delightful. After dinner, in the sunshine of the wine, she went up at least half-a-dozen degrees, and was perfectly enchanting. A_ts effect subsided, she fell rapidly, went to sleep for an hour or so a_emperate, and woke at something below freezing. Now she was at summer hea_gain, in the shade; and when tea was over, and old John, producing a bottl_f cordial from one of the oaken cases, insisted on her sipping two glasse_hereof in slow succession, she stood steadily at ninety for one hour and _uarter. Profiting by experience, the locksmith took advantage of this genia_eather to smoke his pipe in the porch, and in consequence of this pruden_anagement, he was fully prepared, when the glass went down again, to star_omewards directly.
  • The horse was accordingly put in, and the chaise brought round to the door.
  • Joe, who would on no account be dissuaded from escorting them until they ha_assed the most dreary and solitary part of the road, led out the grey mare a_he same time; and having helped Dolly into her seat (more happiness!) sprun_aily into the saddle. Then, after many good nights, and admonitions to wra_p, and glancing of lights, and handing in of cloaks and shawls, the chais_olled away, and Joe trotted beside it—on Dolly’s side, no doubt, and prett_lose to the wheel too.