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THE TALKER AND THE WORKER.

A HOME NARRATIVE.

BY J. E. CARPENTER.

V.

THE FALSE STEP.

JESSIE GRAY and Lucy Smith were constantly running over to one another's houses, and as Gray's second daughter, Pattie, was getting old enough to keep the other two out of mischief, the walks that Jessie was enabled to take with Lucy grew more frequent, though, somehow, there was so much to do that they grew later and later in the evening.

One day Mr. Gray was struck with several books lying on the parlour table, which he knew formed no portion of his limited library, but nothing was thought of it when he learned that Jessie had met William in one of her evening walks, and he had lent them to her. The books were frequently changed, but Donald had something else to do than take notice of them.

The beginning of January was certainly not the most congenial time of the year for young ladies to indulge in woodland rambles, or even walks upon the hard, dry road, but our fair ones were true country girls, and the muff had not then degenerated into the mere cuff, nor had the comfortable boa gone out of fashion.

Behold, then, the two friends trudging one fine, sharp, frosty evening along the road so frequently mentioned in the course of this narrative. The little village of Woodside is already out of sight, and from an eminence on the road, the crown of which they have just turned, the gaslights in the streets and in the tall mills, which seem like monster lanterns only made to be illuminated, blaze brightly in the still distant town beneath them. Almost simultaneously the huge beacons are extinguished, and the street gaslights, and the dim outline of large stacks of buildings and towering chimneys, alone mark the spot. Work is over there for the day; still the two friends move onward. The evening grows darker, and they walk as far from the hedge as possible. It cannot be for the mere pleasure of a walk that these two timid girls, who are frightened at the beating of their own hearts, are thus moving in a contrary way to their dwellings. Still they proceed onward, and now sharp, quick steps are heard upon the battered ground. They halt and listen, clinging still closer together in their uncertainty as to the approaching wayfarers. Hark! there is a low peculiar whistle. They recognise the signal, and in a few seconds are joined by Harry and William.

The four turn round and proceed on the way to Woodside. A little arrangement is necessary, however, for the homeward march. William takes Lucy under his protection, and Jessie hangs upon the arm of Harry Sharpe. Was this her first false step? No! and how or when it came about these chronicles detail not. It must have cost Jessie a struggle to make it; probably, most probably, she did meet Harry, first, by accident, and then promised to meet him again-for once. She would not do so,

however, alone, her friend Lucy should accompany her, and Harry took good care that William should accompany Lucy.

It would be interesting to contrast the earnest converse held between this two pair of lovers-for so in downright English we must call them, since there is no longer any necessity for disguising the fact. We, who are privileged to probe even their very thoughts, could do so, but we will merely accompany them to the entrance to Woodside, where, after some lingering adieux, and reiterated vows of constancy and truth, they parted for the night, the girls to coin some excuse for the lateness of their return, and William and Harry to pursue their four-mile walk to Chesterpool, of which it may easily be imagined they thought but little.

Poor Jessie! she was fairly caught in the ensnarer's toils; but then why should she doubt him? He was her brother's friend. Her mother, too, had never thought unfavourably of him, and he had spoken to her of his means, and of his desire to accomplish more. Yes! he was young, generous, talented, and noble.

As the time for Harry's departure drew near, the meetings in the evening were more frequent-more so, we fear, between Harry and Jessie than William was aware of; it is true that they did not take place at a distance, but nearer to her father's house. Suffice it to say, that when they parted for a time it was with vows of mutual fidelity-they were, in fact, betrothed. A correspondence, even more dangerous to Jessie, then took place; Harry was great at letter-writing-"'twas his vocation." Lucy was again the medium of communication, for the letters were enclosed to William at Chesterpool, and transferred to Lucy as opportunities occurred. The same method was adopted by Jessie in her replies, and so the affair was kept a profound secret from the old people. This was Jessie Gray's second false step.

And where was Edward Smith all this time? Did he never visit the cottage? He did; and in due time boldly declared his passion for Jessie. His father, grown old, had resolved to leave the farm and live upon his means, still in dear old Woodside, his native village.

The Foss Farm-such was the name it was known by, from a straight, narrow road, no longer used as a public way, which intersected it in the middle, and which antiquarians declared to have been made in the time of the Romans, the Foss Farm had been in the occupation of the Smiths for more than a century, and in accordance with the established rule on the estate, Edward was to succeed his father in the tenancy. He was thus at once enabled to offer Jessie all the comforts and advantages of a home.

That such a union would be highly satisfactory to the Grays must be evident; indeed, Donald had set his heart on it, and never doubted that his daughter's prudence, if not her inclination, would chime in unison with his own. There were not many girls in Woodside, it was true; certainly not one but would, as the saying is, have jumped at Edward's offer. Nay, the match would not have been a bad one for many a Chesterpool tradesman's daughter, but Edward preferred a wife who had been brought up in rustic simplicity, and Jessie Gray had long engrossed his affections.

William and Lucy were in a terrible state of alarm when they found the turn that affairs were likely to take, for although they had no idea

of committing matrimony themselves at present, they feared that an estrangement between the families was inevitable, and that their own relative positions might be compromised by such a circumstance; besides, now that Harry was away, they plainly saw the error they had committed, and felt as if they had sacrificed Jessie for their own personal gratification.

Mrs. Gray, too, now that Edward was to have the farm, fully appreciated the advantage of the match, and was equally desirous with her husband that it should take place.

At length, the storm that we have seen gathering, burst over this hitherto united family. Edward formally proposed to Jessie and was rejected. In vain her father pressed her to explain her objections to the union; tears fast and frequent were the only reply he could obtain. A letter found by Mrs. Gray in Jessie's bedroom a few days after explained the truth.

Donald was highly incensed, and peremptorily required that all Harry's letters should be given up to him. He threatened Jessie with the curse of the disobedient if she suffered him any longer to occupy her thoughts, and vowed that no power on earth would force him to consent to their union. The part Lucy had taken in the matter somehow transpired, and led to a scene of painful recrimination between her and Edward; old Mr. Smith was also apprised of it, and forbade the continuance of her intimacy with William, while the latter and Edward were, of course, no longer friends.

As soon as Donald had possessed himself of Harry's letters he forwarded them to his address, and gave him thoroughly to understand that all correspondence with his daughter must from that time cease.

It was a severe blow to the honest Scotsman to find his favourite, Edward, rejected; it wounded his pride, too, to think that the daughter he had cherished until she was on the very verge of womanhood-his eldest and only marriageable girl-should thus set an example of disobedience in his family, and fly in the face of his parental authority; but it wounded him still more that his first-born, William, should have been a conniver, if not an abettor, of the plot against him, for in that light did he unfortunately consider it.

There was a strange alteration in the family of the Grays from that time-William no longer came over to Woodside on the Sunday, and Donald went in and out from his meals preserving a sullen silence. He worked away at his garden as usual, and regularly attended the market in the town, but it was evident, for all that, he was a disappointed man.

Poor Jessie! hers was a weary lot-suspected by her father, and having to endure much of his ill-nature second-hand, for her mother, kept in a constant state of irritation by Donald, found a vent for her anxiety by retaliating upon her daughter. The children alone afforded her gratification; and when the summer came round, they were again sent to play in the little garden; and again Jessie took her work, and watched their gambols from her seat in the dear old porch.

But even the garden partook of the change that had occurred under Donald's roof-tree. The honeysuckles, no longer neatly trained over the trellis-work, hung in tangled bunches, and did not reach half so high as formerly. The dahlia-roots were duly planted as an article of commerce, and bid fair to maintain their former splendour; but several of the flower

beds had been dug up and planted with vegetables, just as if Donald had no longer any ambition in making his garden ornamental.

Time wore on. One day, when Jessie was sitting in the clear sunshine, she descried a figure coming towards the cottage. She could not be mistaken; he appeared careworn, and less respectably attired than when she last saw him, but it was Henry. He must not meet her-oh! not there. She rose in alarm. He comprehended the action instinctively, and paused. The children were at the further end of the garden, where they had put up a swing between two apple-trees. Donald had gone to market at Chesterpool, and her mother was busily engaged in the kitchen. Jessie's thoughts were not of joy for again beholding him; they were of home-of home that had been made wretched by her conduct, by theirs. Stealthily she flew to him down the little path that led to the road. They met, and in tremulous accents Jessie told him that it must be their last meeting. Not so: Harry must see her again; his life depended on their meeting in the evening; he had much to say, but he would only ask her then to grant him that one interview.

A loud cry from the children was heard-they would be discoveredshe had not time to argue her refusal. Yes, she would meet him, once more, that night.

Without waiting for his reply, she flew back to the garden. The swing had broken, and Pattie, who was getting somewhat too heavy for that branch of gymnastics, was rolling on the grass.

When Mrs. Gray came out, Jessie was repairing the rope in the primitive way that has long been established for such repairs-she was tying a knot. She had tied one stronger than she thought for a moment before, but her secret was safe.

What a long, dreary day was that to Jessie; she thought the dinner would never be over. Then the children would swing again in the afternoon it was a new toy to them. Then Donald returned with the boys, and the cart, and old Dobbin, and the boys were tired, and Jessie was sent to fetch old Dobbin's feed of corn from the granary, and then there was something hot to be prepared for Donald; then the market had been a dull one, and half the vegetables had been brought back again unsold; and then Donald had met William, who had been very ill and under the doctor's hands; and altogether everything was as uncomfortable as possible. Never before had home appeared to her more dreary.

At last the evening meal was spread. How different to the cheerful suppers of a short time back! Scarcely a word was spoken during the repast, and when it was over Jessie brought her father his slippers and his pipe. Somehow or other, Mrs. Gray was in a hurry to get to bed -probably she saw the mood that Donald was in, and wished to avoid the after-supper conversation. Many wives adopt these little stratagems, why not Mrs. Gray?

Why did Jessie go and kiss her father before she followed her mother up-stairs? Latterly she had not done so. Was it to lull him into security? Oh no, for she had firmly resolved in her own mind that her interview with Harry should be the last.

What a time Donald stayed down stairs that night smoking his pipe in the chimney corner. Jessie extinguished her light, first putting on a cloak and bonnet, and then stood listening for the sound of his footsteps on the stair.

Jan.-VOL. CIX. NO. CCCCXXXIII.

G

She half resolves to break her appointment with Harry. Hark! Donald is fastening up the doors and windows, protecting the cottage from interlopers from without. She trembles like an aspen; she can never unfasten that door without her father hearing her. At length his footsteps shake the stairs, and she hears the click of the lock as he fastens his bedroom door. But she does not venture even then; she waits another quarter of an hour-to her an age-once more she goes to the children's beds, and listens to their breathing; they are sleeping in each other's arms, dreaming, perhaps, those fairy dreams that only childhood knows.

Silently she unfastens her chamber door, but again she stops to listen -this time at the sanctuary of her unconscious parents; then she creeps cautiously down stairs. She dares not attempt the lock-the inner door leading through the little store-room to the parlour is unfastened— she gains the parlour, the shutter that protects the low bay-window is removed, and she stands out in the clear moonlight.

Beautiful was that moonlight scene. The far hills, shadowed forth in the distance, with just sufficient light to render their dim outlines distinguishable, seemed to mark the point where earth and heaven meet, all was so calm, so still.

Jessie had never before contemplated that peaceful valley under its present aspect. The scene appeared to her entirely changed; it was more like some dream of fairy regions than the familiar panorama she gazed on every day. The distant wood alone seemed like a blot on the fair face of nature; the fields and meadows slept in the mellow light, and the river flowed silently along, a streak of liquid silver. Why did she pause at such a moment to fold, as it were, that tranquil scene in her mind's embrace, and hold it there for ever? Had she some vague thought that memory only would reflect it for the time to come? There are moments when the past, the present, and the future seem so blended and confused, that the mind wavers, and we are incapable of action, and leave all to fate, or rather chance. It was so with Jessie. Everything around her appeared mysterious, and to herself she was the greatest mystery. A blind bat that struck against the window-pane aroused her from her reverie, and she passed through the garden, and stole cautiously down the narrow path.

Once more she turned round to look at the cottage; all was safe, the windows were all darkened, not a soul save herself seemed to be awake in the whole village of Woodside. She turned into the road, and the cottage was hidden behind a clump of trees; she felt her courage strengthened now that she had lost sight of the old place, and walked on faster until she reached a large oak-tree. It had been their place of meeting many times before, and, though she did not name it in the morning, she doubted not that Harry would await her there. She had guessed rightly, for as she approached, a form glided from under its ample shade, and again she was by her lover's side.

Never did man plead more eloquently to woman than Harry pleaded to Jessie on that calm and tranquil night; he pleaded for life, for life without love would be a blank; her presence, her love, was as essential to him as the air he breathed; what had he not suffered in her absence? What had he become? All would go well with him if she were by his side to cheer him.

Long and painful was the struggle that passed in Jessie's mind: she

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