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,
‘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.