to brighten considerably. He liked his employment in the fields, as well as all that followed it, so well, that, when on the ensuing Sunday he asked for leave to walk over to Bramleigh for the purpose of seeing his mother and Fanny, and was at once peremptorily denied, he felt that denial as no very great hardship; but soon made up his mind to spend the day as pleasantly as he could, and to write a letter to Fanny, detailing his thoughts and opinions, his likings and dislikings, instead.

These resolves he eventually put into execution: and, everything very probably might have gone on smoothly enough, had not a circumstance utterly unforeseen, occurred, whereby he himself was brought into a second dilemma with his mistress and Palethorpe, still worse than the previous one; and whereby, also, the plain-spoken epistle which he had secretly indited for the private and especial perusal of his mother and Fanny, was in an evil hour, thrown into the hands of the identical parties about whom, in its honest simplicity, it told so many truthful libels. But the shame of Miss Sowersoft was so deep, and the rage of Palethorpe so high, and the consequences of both to our hero so important, that I verily believe it will occupy nearly the whole of the next chapter to describe them.


Demonstrates, in the case of Miss Sowersoft and Mr. Samuel Palethorpe, the folly of people being too curious about the truth, in matters better left in the dark. Colin is subjected to a strict examination, in which the judge, instead of the culprit, is convicted. Colin's punishment.

THAT period of the year having now arrived when the days were materially lengthened, as well as increased in warmth, Colin selected an hour or two one evening after his day's labour was over, for the purpose of writing that letter to his mother and Fanny which he had projected some short time before. In order to do this, both by a good light, and away from the probability of intrusion, he selected a little spot of ground, formed by an obtuse angle of the brook, at the bottom of the garden; though divided from it by a thick clump of holly, intermingled with hawthorn and wild briar. On this grassy knoll he sat down to his task; making a higher portion of its slope serve as a natural table to hold his ink and paper.

Those vespers which Nature herself offers up to her Creator amidst the magnificent cathedral columns of her own tall trees; the loud songs of the blackbird and the thrush, and the occasional shrill cry of the discontented pewet as it swept in tempestuous circles over the dis. tant arable land, were loudly heard around him; while, some two or three yards below the spot where he sat, a ridge of large stone, placed across the rivulet for the greater convenience of crossing, partly held

up the water, and caused an eternal poppling murmur, as that portion which forced its escape between them, rushed with mimic velocity into the tiny gulf that lay some ten or twelve inches below. Colin felt elevated and happy. He could scarcely write many complainings there; although he had been so disappointed and ill-used on his arrival. At the same time he felt bound to tell the truth as far as it went, though not to represent himself as materially unhappy in consequence of the behaviour which had been adopted towards him. In this task, then, he proceeded, until the hundreds of bright twinkling leaves which at first glittered around him in the stray beams of sunlight, had all resolved themselves into one mass of broad shade; to this succeeded a red horizontal light upon the upper portions of the trees to the eastward, as though their tops were tipped with fire; which also rapidly faded, and left him, by the time he had about concluded his letter, scarcely able any longer to follow with his sight the course of his pen upon the paper.

Having wrapped his epistle awkwardly up, he placed it in his pocket, and was about to emerge from his rural study, when the leisurely tread of feet approaching down the garden-path, and the subdued sound of tongues which he too well knew, caused him to step back, and closer to the clumps of holly, in the hope of getting away unobserved, when the individuals he wished to avoid had passed. They still continued to converse ; and the first distinct words Colin heard were these:

"I am sure, out of the many, very many excellent offers, I have had made me excellent offers they were-I might have done so over and over again; but I never intended to be married. I always liked to be my own mistress and my own master; and, besides that, it does entail so much trouble on people in one way or another. Really, when I look on that great family of my brother Ted, I am fit to fancy it is pulling him down to the ground; and, I positively believe it would, if he did not take advantage of his situation in trade, and wrap and wring every farthing out of everybody in any way that he possibly can without being at all particular;-though they are sweet children, they are! Ay, but something must be risked, and something must be sacrificed; we cannot have it both ways—at least-a— humph!-I mean to say, that when people do get married, they must make up their minds to strike the best balance between them mutually that they are able. That is my candid opinion of things; and when I look upon them in that light-when I think about them in that man. ner, and say to myself, there is this on this side, and nothing on that side, which should I take? I lose my resolution-I don't know; I feel that, by a person to whom I had no objection in any other shape, I might, perhaps be superinduced to do as others have done, and to make a sacrifice of my little something, whatever it is, for the sake of spending our lives in that kind of domestic combination which binds

people together more than anything else ever can. I am weak on that point, I know; but then, the home affections, as Mr. Longstaff says, constitute a very worthy and amiable weakness."

Miss Sowersoft uttered this last sentence in such a peculiar tone of self-satisfied deprecation, as evidently proved that she considered her. self a much more eligible subject, on account of that identical weak. ness which she had verbally condemned, than she would have been if wholly free from it.

"Well, meesis,” replied Mr. Palethorpe, with considerate deliberation, "I should have no objection to our union, if it so happened that we were not doing very well as we are at present; and while we are making a little money to put by every week, I think it is as well just now to let good alone. I should like—"

"Oh, you misunderstand me!" exclaimed Miss Maria; "I did not make any allusions to you in particular. Oh, no! I have had very many most excellent offers, and could have them now for that matter; but then, you see, I was only just saying, as the thought came across my mind, that there is something to be said against being married, and something against keeping single. I remember the time when I could not bear the very thoughts of a man about me; but, somehow, as one gets older, we see so much more of the world, and one's ideas change almost as much as one's bodies; really, I am as different as another woman to what I once was. Somehow, I don't know how, but so it happens-Ah!" shrieked Miss Sowersoft, interrupting herself in the demonstration of this very metaphysical and abstruse point in her dis. course, "take hold of me, dear,-take hold of me! I've trod on a toad, I believe!"

At the same time she threw her arms up to Mr. Palethorpe for protection; and, very accidentally, of course, they chanced to alight round that worthy's neck. A round dozen of rough-bearded kisses, which even he, stoic as he was, could not refrain from bestowing upon her, in order to revive and restore her spirits, smacked loudly on the dusky air, and set poor little Colin a-laughing in spite of himself.

"Who the deuce is that!" earnestly whispered the farming-man. "There's somebody under the brook bank!" and, as he instantly disengaged Miss Sowersoft from his arms, he rushed round the holly. bushes, and caught fast hold of Colin, just as that unlucky lad was making a speedy retreat across the rivulet into the opposite orchard. "What it is you, you young devil, is it?" exclaimed he, in a fury, as he dragged the boy up the sloping bank, and bestowed upon him sundry kicks, scarcely inferior to those of a vicious horse, with his heavy, clench-nailed, quarter-boots. "You're listening after your meesis, now, are you? Dang your meddling carcass! I'll stop your ears for you!"

And, bang went his ponderous fist on Colin's organs of Secretiveness

and Acquisitiveness, until his head sung again throughout, like a seething caldron.

"That's right!" cried Miss Sowersoft; "make him feel; drag him up; my face burns with shame at him; I'm as hot as a scarlet-fever, I am a young scoundrel!"

And Colin was pulled up on to the level part of the garden, more like a half-killed rat than a half-grown human being.

"We'll know how this is, meesis," said Mr. Palethorpe, when he had fairly landed his cargo. "I'll see to th' bottom of it before he

goes into th' house. He sha'n't have a chance of being backed up in his impudence as he was t'other night."

“Take him into the thrashing-barn," advised Miss Sowersoft," and we can have him there in private."

Colin now found breath to put in a protest against the bill of indictment which they were preferring against him.

"I was not listening," said he; "I was only writing a letter to my mother, I'm sure!"

"What! at this dark hour?" ejaculated Palethorpe with a laugh. "Come along, you young liar! you sha'n't escape that way."

Accordingly he dragged the lad up the garden, and behind the house, into the spacious barn, of which Miss Sowersoft had spoken: and, while that innocent lady went to procure a lantern, her favourite held him tightly by the collar; save when, occasionally, to beguile the time until her return, he regaled him with a severe shake, and an additional curse or two upon his vagabond and mischievous carcass.

"Do you think he knows anything about it?" asked Miss Sowersoft aside to Palethorpe, as she entered the barn, and the dim light of her horn-lantern summoned to view the spectral appearances-rather than the distinct objects themselves-of various implements of husbandry, and of heaps of thrashed wheat and straw scattered around.


Well, I don't know; but I should think not much," said he.

I hope not," rejoined Miss Maria, "or it will get into everybody's mouth. But, we will question him very closely; we'll have it out of him by hook or by crook."

She then held a broken side of the lantern a little above Colin's face, in order to cast the better light upon it; and proceeded to ques

tion the culprit.

"Now, before I ask you a single question, promise to tell me the truth, and nothing but the truth. Now, mark; I shall know whether you speak the truth or not, so it will be of no use to try to deceive me. Tell me whether you heard me and Sammy talking in the gar den; and whether you saw him pick me up so very kindly when I slipped down; and then tell me for what purpose you were standing behind those trees? No falsehoods, now. The truth, nothing else. Take care; because if you say anything untrue I shall know it directy; and then woe be to you for your trouble !"

"I always do tell truth," replied Colin, crying, "without being frightened into it that way. I'm sure I had only been writing a letter to my mother and Fanny; and I stood there because I did not want anybody to catch me,"



And why did you not want anybody to catch you?"

Why, because I didn't," answered Colin,

"Because you didn't!" exclaimed Sammy, as he emerged from out the shadow of Miss Sowersoft's figure; "what answer is that, you sulky ill-looking whelp? Give her a proper answer, or I'll send my

fist in your face in a minnit!"

Miss Maria put her hand on Sammy's arm to keep him back,-not so much to prevent him carrying his threat into execution, as because his interference seemed to imply a doubt of her own abilities in worming all she wanted to know out of the boy before her.

"But why didn't you?" she asked again, more emphatically. "Because, they might want to read my letter."

"Oh, there's something in it, not to be seen, is there?" continued the inquisitor, as her cheeks reddened with fears of she knew not what.

I cannot let



“It is all truth,-every word of it!" contended Colin. “Ay, ay, my lad, we must see about that. a whole pack of falsehoods over to Bramleigh, and make as much mischief in my family as your mother made in Mr. Longstaff's. It is needful to look after your doings. Is the letter in your pocket?"

Having received an answer in the affirmative, she directed Palethorpe to search him for it; an operation which that amiable individual very soon concluded, by drawing the desired document from his trowsers.

"Oh, this is it, is it?" said Miss Maria, as she partly opened it to assure herself. "Well, well," folding it up again: "we'll read this by and by. Now, what did you hear us talking about? If you say anything shameful, now,-and we shall know whether it is true or not, directly that we hear it,-if you do not say something-a-. You know what Scripture tells you,-always to speak well of your mistress and master. Be careful now. What did we say ?"

"Please, 'um," replied Colin, "you said, that when people get married they strike a balance between them; and that if one thing was on one side, and nothing on the other, you should lose your resolution, and make a sacrifice of your little something, whatever it is."

"Oh, you little wretch!" ejaculated Maria.

"Go on with your

lies, go on! and you shall have it on your shoulders when you have done. What else, you vile toad?"

Colin stood mute.

"What next, I say!" stormed the lady, with a furious stamp of her right foot.

« 上一页继续 »