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Well, well, Mr. Wordsworth is neither here nor there in our affairs. We'll go up to Latriggs in the afternoon, Charlotte. I'll be ready at two o'clock."
“ And I, also, father.” Her face was flushed and thoughtful, and she had become suddenly quiet. The squire glanced at her, but without curiosity; he only thought, “What a pity she is a lass! I wish Harry had her good sense and her good heart; I do that."
CHAPTER II. —THE SHEEP-SHEARING.
The sheep-shearings at Up-Hill Farm were a kind of rural Olympics. Shepherds came there from far and near to try their skill against each other—young men in their prime mostly, with brown, ruddy faces, and eyes of that bright blue lustre which is only gained by a free, open-air life.
Hand in hand the squire and his daughter climbed the fellside. They had left home in high spirits, merrily flinging back the mother's and Sophia's last advices; but gradually they became silent, and then a little mournful. “I wonder why it is, father?" asked Charlotte; “ I'm not at all tired, and how can fresh air and sunshine make one melancholy ?”
Maybe, now, sad thoughts are catching. I was having a few. Eh? What?” “ I don't know. Why were you having sad thoughts ? "
Well, then, I really can't understand why. There's no need to fret over changes. At the long end the great change puts all right. Charlotte, I have been coming to Barf Latrigg's shearings for about half a century. I remember the first. I held my nurse's hand, and wore such a funny little coat, and such a big lace collar. And, dear me! was just such a day as this, thirtytwo years ago, that your mother walked up to the shearing with me, Charlotte; and I asked her if she would be my wife, and she said she would. Thou takes after her a good deal; she had the very same bright eyes and bonny face, and straight, tall shape thou has to-day. Barf Latrigg was sixty then, turning a bit gray, but able to shear with any man they could put against him. He'll be ninety now; but his father lived till he was more than a hundred, and most of his fore-elders touched the century. He's had his troubles too."
“I never heard of them."
“No. They are dead and buried. A dead trouble may be forgot: it is the living troubles that make the eyes dim, and the heart fail. Yes, yes; Barf is as happy as boy now, but I remember when he was back-set and fore-set with trouble. In life everything goes round like a cart-wheel. Eh? What?”
In a short time they reached the outer wall of the farm. Stone steps in the stone wall admitted them into the enclosure, and then they saw the low gray house spreading itself in the shadow of the noble sycamoreş.
As they approached, the old statesman strode to the open door to meet them. He was a very tall man, with a bright, florid face, and a great deal of fine, white hair. He had that independent manner which honourable descent and absolute ownership of house and land give; and he looked every inch a gentleman, though he wore only the old dalesman's costume- breeches of buckskin fastened at the knees with five silver buttons, home-knit stockings and low shoes, and a red waistcoat, open that day, in order to show the fine ruffles on his shirt. He was precisely what Squire Sandal would have been, if the Sandals had not been forced by circumstances into contact with a more cultivated and ambitious life.
"Welcome, Sandal! I have been watching for thee. There would be little prosperation in a shearing if thou wert absent. And a good day to thee, Charlotte. My Ducie was speaking of thee a minute ago. Here she comes to help thee off with thy things."
Charlotte was untying her bonnet as she entered the deep, cool porch, and a moment afterward Ducie was at her side. It was easy to see the women loved each other, though Ducie only smiled, and said, “Come in; I'm right glad to see you, Charlotte. Come into t’ best room, and cool your face a bit. And how is Mrs. Sandal and Sophia ? Be things at their usual, dear?”
" Thank you, Ducie; all and everything is well-I hope. We have not heard from Harry lately. I think it worrits father a little, but he is never the one to show it. Oh, how sweet this room is.”
The old room, with its oak walls, immense bed, carved awmries, drawers, and cupboards, made a fine environment for so much life and colour. But the peculiar sweetness which Charlotte noticed came from the polished oak floor, which was strewed with bits of rosemary and lavender, to prevent the slipping of the feet upon it.
“I would not do it, Ducie, for anyone,” she said. “Poor herbs of grace! What sins have they committed to be trodden under foot? I would not do it, Ducie: I feel as if it hurt them.”
“Nay, now; flowers grow to be pulled dear, just as lasses grow to be loved and married.”
“Is that what you think, Ducie? Some cherished in the jar; some thrown under the feet, and bruised to death- the feet of wrong and sorrow”.
“ Don't you talk that way, Charlotte. It isn't lucky for girls to talk of wrong and sorrow. Talking of things bespeaks them. There's always them that hear; them that we don't see.”
As Ducie talked, they went through the back door into a large yard walled in from the hillside, and having in it three grand old sycamores. One of these was at the top of the enclosure, and a circle of green shadow like a tent was around it. In this shadow the squire and the statesman were sitting. Their heads were uncovered, their long clay pipes in their hands; and, with a placid complacency, they were watching the score of busy men before them. Many had come long distances to try their skill
against each other; for the shearings at Latrigg's were a pastoral game, at which it was a local honour to be the winner. There the young statesman who could shear his six score a day found others of a like capacity, and it was Greek against Greek at Up-Hill shearing that afternoon.
“I had two thousand sheep to get over,” said Latrigg, “but they'll be bare by sunset, squire. That isn't bad for these days. When I was young we wouldn't have thought so much of two thousand, but every dalesman then knew what good shearing was. Now," and the old man shook his head slowly, “good shearers are few and far between.”
It was customary for young people of all conditions to give men as aged as Barf Latrigg the honourable name of “grandfather;" and Charlotte said, as she sat down in the breezy shadow beside him, “Who is first, grandfather ? ”
Why, our Stephen, to be sure! They'll have to be up before day-dawn to keep sidey with our Steve.—Steve, how many is thou ahead now?" The voice that asked the question, though full of triumph, was thin and weak; but the answer came back in full, mellow tones:
“ Fifteen ahead, grandfather.” Oh, I'm so glad !”
“Charlotte Sandal says she's so glad.' Now then, if thou loses ground, I wouldn't give a ha'penny for thee.”
Even before sundown, the last batch of sheep were fleeced and turned on to the hillside; and Charlotte, leaning over the wall, watched them wander contentedly up the fell, with their lambs trotting beside them. Grandfather and the squire had gone into the house; Ducie was calling her from the open door; she knew it was tea-time, and she was young and healthy and hungry enough to be glad of it.
At the table she met Stephen. The strong, bare-armed Hercules, whom she had watched tossing the sheep around for his shears as easily as if they had been kittens under his hands, was now dressed in a handsome tweed suit, and looking quite as much of a gentleman as the most fastidious maiden could desire. He came in after the meal had begun, flushed somewhat with his hard labour, and perhaps, also, with the hurry of his toilet; but there was no embarrassment in his manner. It had never yet entered Stephen's mind that there was any occasion for embarrassment, for the friendship between the squire's family and his own had been devoid of all sense of inequality. The squire was “the squire," and was perhaps richer than Latrigg, but even that fact was uncertain ; and the Sandals had been to court, and married into county families; but then the Latriggs had been for exactly seven hundred years the neighbours of Sandal-good neighbours, shoulder to shoulder with them in every trial or emergency.
The long friendship had never known but one temporary shadow, and this had been during the time that the present squire's mother ruled in Sandal; the Mistress Charlotte whose influence was still felt in the old seat. She had entirely disapproved the familiar affection with which Latrigg met her husband, and it is said the disputes which drove one of her sons from his home were caused by her determination to break up the companionship existing between the young people of the two houses at that time.
The squire remembered it. He had also, in some degree, regarded his mother's prejudices while she lived; but, after her death, Sophia and Charlotte, as well as their brother, began to go very often to Up-Hill Farm. Naturally Stephen, who was Ducie's son, became the companion of Harry Sandal; and the girls grew up in his sight like two beautiful sisters. It was only within the past year that he had begun to understand that one was dearer to him than the other; but though none of the three was now ignorant of the fact, it was as yet tacitly ignored. The knowledge had not been pleasant to Sophia ; and to Charlotte and Stephen it was such a delicious uncertainty, that they hardly desired to make it sure; and they imagined their secret was all their own, and were so happy in it, that they feared to look too curiously into their happiness.
Something was said at the table of other shearings to which Stephen must go if he would assure his claim to be “top-shearer," and of the wool-factories which the most astute statesmen were beginning to build. “If I were a younger man, I'd be in with them,” said Latrigg. “I'd spin and weave my own fleeces, and send them to Leeds market, with no go-between to share my profits.” And Steve put in a sensible word now and then, and passed the berry-cake and honey and cream; and withal met Charlotte's eyes, and caught her smiles, and was as happy as love and hope could make him.
After tea the squire wished to go; but Latrigg said, “Smoke one pipe with me, Sandal,” and they went into the porch together. Then Steve and Charlotte sauntered about the garden, or, leaning on the stone wall, looked down into the valley, or away off to the hills. Many things they said to each other which seemed to mean so little, but which meant so much when love was the interpreter.
After a while the squire lifted his eyes, and took in the bit of landscape which included them. The droop of the young heads towards each other, and their air of happy confidence, awakened a vague suspicion in his heart. Perhaps Latrigg was conscious of it; for he said, as if in answer to the squire's thought, “Steve will have all that is mine. It's a deal easier to die, Sandal, when you have a fine lad like Steve to leave the old place to." “Steve is in the female line. That's a deal different to having
Lasses are cold comfort for sons. Eh? What ? ” “ To be sure; but I've given Steve my name. Anyone not called Latrigg at C'p-Hill would seem like a stranger."
“ I know how you feel about that. A squire in Seat-Sandal out of the old name would have a very middling kind of time, I think. He'd have a sight of ill-will at his back.”
u Thon means with them!”
The squire nodded gravely; and after a minute's silence said, " It stands to reason they take an interest. I do in them. When I think of this or that Sandal, or when I look up at their faces as I sit smoking beside them, I'm sure I feel like their son; and I wouldn't grieve them any more than if they were to be seen and talked to. It's none likely, then, that they forget. I know they don't."
" I'm quite of thy way of thinking, Sandal; but Steve will be called Latrigg. He has never known any other name, thou sees.” "To be sure. Is Ducie willing ?”
Poor lass! She never names Steve's father. He'd no business in her life, and he very soon went out of it. Stray souls will get into families they have no business in, sometimes. They make a deal of unhappiness when they do."
Sandal sat listening with a sympathetic face. He hoped Latrigg was going to tell him something definite about his daughter's trouble; but the old man puffed, puffed, in silence a few minutes, and then turned the conversation. However, Sandal had been touched on a point where he was exceedingly sensitive; and he rose with a sigh, and said, “Well, well, Latrigg, good-by. I'll go down the fell now. Come, Charlotte.”
Unconsciously he spoke with an authority not usual to him, and the parting was a little silent and hurried. Only Latrigg walked to the gate with them. He looked after Sandal and his daughter with a grave, but not unhappy wistfulness; and turned towards the house, saying softly:
“It is like to be my last shearing. Very soon this life will have been, but through Christ's mercy I have the overhand of the future."
It was almost as hard to go down the fell as to come up it, for the road was very steep and stony. The squire took it leisurely, often standing still to look around him. The day had been very warm; and limpid vapours hung over the mountains, giving them an appearance of inconceivable grandeur. He made Charlotte notice them. “Maybe, many a year after this, you'll
. see the hills look just that way, dearie; then think on this evening and on me.”
She did not speak, but she looked into his face, and clasped his hand tightly. She was troubled with her own mood. Try as she would, it was impossible to prevent herself drifting into most unusual silences.
Before they reached home, the squire had also become silent. He came into the hall with the face of one dissatisfied and unhappy. The feeling spread through the house, as a drop of ink spreads itself through a glass of water. It almost suited Sophia's mood, and Mrs. Sandal was not inclined to discuss it until the squire was alone with her. Then she asked the question of all questions the most irritating, What is the matter with you, squire ?"