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Chapter 6

  • The boys were playing ball in the stables, but she did not feel as if sh_anted to romp with them. There was a stillness and a sweetness abroad whic_enetrated and absorbed her. She moved towards the paddock gate; the pony an_he donkey came towards her, and she rubbed their muzzles in turn. It was _leasure to touch anything, especially anything alive. She even noticed tha_he elm trees were strangely tall and still against the calm sky, and the ric_dour of some carnations which came through the bushes from the pleasure- ground excited her; the scent of earth and leaves tingled in her, and th_awing of the rooks coming home took her soul away skyward in an exquisit_onging; she was, at the same time, full of romantic love for the earth, an_f a desire to mix herself with the innermost essence of things. The beauty o_he evening and the sea breeze instilled a sensation of immortal health, an_he wondered if a young man came to her as young men came to the great ladie_n Sarah's books, how it would be to talk in the dusk, seeing the bat_litting and the moon rising through the branches.
  • The family was absent from Woodview, and she was free to enjoy the beauty o_very twilight and every rising moon for still another week. But she wearie_or a companion. Sarah and Grover were far too grand to walk out with her; an_argaret had a young man who came to fetch her, and in their room at night sh_elated all he had said. But for Esther there was nothing to do all the lon_ummer evenings but to sit at the kitchen window sewing. Her hands fell on he_ap, and her heart heaved a sigh of weariness. In all this world there wa_othing for her to do but to continue her sewing or to go for a walk on th_ill. She was tired of that weary hill! But she could not sit in the kitche_ill bedtime. She might meet the old shepherd coming home with his sheep, an_he put a piece of bread in her pocket for his dogs and strolled up the hill- side. Margaret had gone down to the Gardens. One of these days a young ma_ould come to take her out. What would he be like? She laughed the though_way. She did not think that any young man would bother much about her.
  • Happening at that moment to look round, she saw a man coming through th_unting gate. His height and shoulders told her that he was William. "Tryin_o find Sarah," she thought. "I must not let him think I am waiting for him."
  • She continued her walk, wondering if he were following, afraid to look round.
  • At last she fancied she could hear footsteps; her heart beat faster. He calle_o her.
  • "I think Sarah has gone to the Gardens," she said, turning round.
  • "You always keep reminding me of Sarah. There's nothing between us; anythin_here ever was is all off long ago…. Are you going for a walk?"
  • She was glad of the chance to get a mouthful of fresh air, and they wen_owards the hunting gate. William held it open and she passed through.
  • The plantations were enclosed by a wooden fence, and beyond them the bar_owns rose hill after hill. On the left the land sloped into a shallow valle_own with various crops; and the shaws about Elliot's farm were the las_rees. Beyond the farmhouse the downs ascended higher and higher, treeless, irreclaimable, scooped into long patriarchal solitudes, thrown into wil_rests.
  • There was a smell of sheep in the air, and the flock trotted past them in goo_rder, followed by the shepherd, a huge hat and a crook in his hand, and tw_haggy dogs at his heels. A brace of partridges rose out of the sainfoin, an_lew down the hills; and watching their curving flight Esther and William sa_he sea under the sun-setting, and the string of coast towns.
  • "A lovely evening, isn't it?"
  • Esther acquiesced; and tempted by the warmth of the grass they sat down, an_he mystery of the twilight found way into their consciousness.
  • "We shan't have any rain yet awhile."
  • "How do you know?"
  • "I'll tell you," William answered, eager to show his superior knowledge. "Loo_ue south-west, straight through that last dip in that line of hills. Do yo_ee anything?"
  • "No, I can see nothing," said Esther, after straining her eyes for a fe_oments.
  • "I thought not…. Well, if it was going to rain you would see the Isle of Wight."
  • For something to say, and hoping to please, Esther asked him where the race- course was.
  • "There, over yonder. I can't show you the start, a long way behind that hill, Portslade way; then they come right along by that gorse and finish up by Trul_arn—you can't see Truly barn from here, that's Thunder's barrow barn; they g_uite half a mile farther."
  • "And does all that land belong to the Gaffer?"
  • "Yes, and a great deal more, too; but this down land isn't worth much—not mor_han about ten shillings an acre."
  • "And how many acres are there?"
  • "Do you mean all that we can see?"
  • "Yes."
  • "The Gaffer's property reaches to Southwick Hill, and it goes north a lon_ay. I suppose you don't know that all this piece, all that lies between u_nd that barn yonder, once belonged to my family."
  • "To your family?"
  • "Yes, the Latches were once big swells; in the time of my great-grandfathe_he Barfields could not hold their heads as high as the Latches. My great- grandfather had a pot of money, but it all went."
  • "Racing?"
  • "A good bit, I've no doubt. A rare 'ard liver, cock-fighting, 'unting, 'orse- racing from one year's end to the other. Then after 'im came my grandfather; he went to the law, and a sad mess he made of it—went stony-broke and left m_ather without a sixpence; that is why mother didn't want me to go int_ivery. The family 'ad been coming down for generations, and mother though_hat I was born to restore it; and so I was, but not as she thought, b_arrying parcels up and down the King's Road."
  • Esther looked at William in silent admiration, and, feeling that he ha_ecured an appreciative listener, he continued his monologue regarding th_ealth and rank his family had formerly held, till a heavy dew forced them t_heir feet. In front of them was the moon, and out of the forlorn sky looke_own the misted valleys; the crests of the hills were still touched wit_ight, and lights flew from coast town to coast town, weaving a luminou_arland.
  • The sheep had been folded, and seeing them lying in the greyness of this hill- side, and beyond them the massive moonlit landscape and the vague sea, Esthe_uddenly became aware, as she had never done before, of the exceeding beaut_f the world. Looking up in William's face, she said—
  • "Oh, how beautiful!"
  • As they descended the drove-way their feet raised the chalk, and William said—
  • "This is bad for Silver Braid; we shall want some more rain in a day or two….
  • Let's come for a walk round the farm," he said suddenly. "The farm belongs t_he Gaffer, but he's let the Lodge to a young fellow called Johnson. He's th_hap that Peggy used to go after—there was awful rows about that, and wors_hen he forestalled the Gaffer about Egmont."
  • The conversation wandered agreeably, and they became more conscious of eac_ther. He told her all he knew about the chap who had jilted Miss Mary, an_he various burlesque actresses at the Shoreham Gardens who had captivate_inger's susceptible heart. While listening she suddenly became aware that sh_ad never been so happy before. Now all she had endured seemed accidental; sh_elt that she had entered into the permanent; and in the midst of vague bu_ntense sensations William showed her the pigeon-house with all the blue bird_ozing on the tiles, a white one here and there. They visited the workshop, the forge, and the old cottages where the bailiff and the shepherd lived; an_ll this inanimate nature—the most insignificant objects—seemed inspired, seemed like symbols of her emotion.
  • They left the farm and wandered on the high road until a stile leading to _ornfield beguiled and then delayed their steps.
  • The silence of the moonlight was clear and immense; and they listened to th_rilling of the nightingale in the copse hard by. First they sought t_iscover the brown bird in the branches of the poor hedge, and then the reaso_f the extraordinary emotion in their hearts. It seemed that all life wa_eating in that moment, and they were as it were inflamed to reach out thei_ands to life and to grasp it together. Even William noticed that. And th_oon shone on the mist that had gathered on the long marsh lands of th_oreshore. Beyond the trees the land wavered out into down land, the rive_leamed and intensely.
  • This moment was all the poetry of their lives. The striking of a match t_ight his pipe, which had gone out, put the music to flight, and all along th_hite road he continued his monologue, interrupted only by the necessity o_uffing at his pipe.
  • "Mother says that if I had twopence worth of pride in me I wouldn't hav_onsented to put on the livery; but what I says to mother is, 'What's the us_f having pride if you haven't money?' I tells her that I am rotten wit_ride, but my pride is to make money. I can't see that the man what is willin_o remain poor all his life has any pride at all…. But, Lord! I have argue_ith mother till I'm sick; she can see nothing further than the livery; that'_hat women are—they are that short-sighted…. A lot of good it would have don_e to have carried parcels all my life, and when I could do four mile an hou_o more, to be turned out to die in the ditch and be buried by the parish.
  • 'Not good enough,' says I. 'If that's your pride, mother, you may put it i_our pipe and smoke it, and as you 'aven't got a pipe, perhaps behind the ove_ill do as well,'—that's what I said to her. I saw well enough there wa_othing for me but service, and I means to stop here until I can get on thre_r four good things and then retire into a nice comfortable public-house an_o my own betting."
  • "You would give up betting then?"
  • "I'd give up backing 'orses, if you mean that…. What I should like would be t_et on to a dozen good things at long prices—half-a-dozen like Silver Brai_ould do it. For a thousand or fifteen hundred pounds I could have the 'Re_ion,' and just inside my own bar I could do a hundred-pound book on all th_ig races."
  • Esther listened, hearing interminable references to jockeys, publicans, weights, odds, and the certainty, if he had the "Red Lion," of being able t_et all Joe Walker's betting business away from him. Allusions to the police, and the care that must be taken not to bet with anyone who had not bee_roperly introduced, frightened her; but her fears died in the sensation o_is arm about her waist, and the music that the striking of a match had put t_light had begun again in the next plantation, and it began again in thei_earts. But if he were going to marry Sarah! The idea amused him; he laughe_oudly, and they walked up the avenue, his face bent over hers.