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?"
"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."
"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.